I don’t know about you, but I was shocked to find out that Art Basel has not always been a who’s-where-in-what-with-who Miami Beach blowout for celebrities, overwhelmingly made up of models and quote-unquote influencers under the age of thirty. It was created nearly fifty years ago in Basel (I get it now), Switzerland, by gallerists, Trudi Bruckner, Balz Hilt, and Ernst Beyeler, “Europe’s pre-eminent dealer in modern art,” according to the New York Times.
With 16,000 spectators, 90 galleries and 30 publishers involved, the first edition of this international art fair was evidently a hit from the start. New York Times critic Hilton Kramer described it as a “mammoth indoor ‘flea market’ of 20th-century art,” as gallerists would hang their own stalls while artists schmoozed among spectators in the crowd. Can you believe that?! It’s such a fantastic image; 1970 artists, collectors, and critics gathering in a small Swiss cobblestoned city to buy, sell, and critique not only art, but, yes – each other.
Basel’s edition today is still the foremost affair of its kind, where an elite VIP preview is held for worthy international buyers, who only have ten or fifteen minutes to decide whether or not they want to splurge, while other equally eager collectors wait their turn. Now don’t get me wrong, Miami Beach has VIP days of its own, which this year included some v. hefty sales. And it should be no surprise that in addition to those sales, the polygamous marriage of art to money and Miami has given us DJ Paris Hilton and five-foot neon signs in the shape of an orgasming vagina – which, I have to admit, is friggin’ awesome.
And one has to appreciate how Art Basel evolved to what it is today in Miami Beach, year after year creating headlines, staying interesting, and attracting the most glamorous, eclectic, and affluent individuals from each and every far-reaching corner of the world.
So then I must ask – which Basel would you choose? And be honest, because I think we would all like to think that we would choose the sophisticated event in its purist form, but it’s hard to say no to witnessing a wandering, hooded Leonardo DiCaprio bargain for a Basquiat or a crab boil hosted by the some of the chicest rappers in the game.
What captivates us? Why do we spend money on the things we spend money on? Is it for necessity, entertainment, status? Is it to be seen at the right place at the right time with the right people? Probably. And is that wrong? No! The forces that drive us do so for a reason. They encourage us to go places, like Art Basel Miami Beach, that entrance us and transport us away from our daily routines. And those very same forces drove a few people to spend a teeny tiny bit of money on the below in Miami last week:
Lévy Gorvy sold Ellsworth Kelly’s Sumac (1959) for $4-5 million
Paul Kasmin Gallery sold Lee Krasner’s Sun Woman for $7 million
Bruce Nauman’s installation Untitled (Two Wolves, Two Deer) (1989) was placed by Hauser & Wirth into a collection in Asia
Rumoured sale of Roy Lichtenstein’s 1969 Study for “Peace Through Chemistry” sold for $12 million by Galerie Gmurzynska