Robust sales at Art Basel Miami Beach

Color And Light by Michelangelo Pistoletto at Art Basel in Miami.
Color And Light by Michelangelo Pistoletto at Art Basel in Miami. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK • A pair of hands - cuffed and protruding from a wall as they clutch a wad of cash - intrigued Wilbur Ross.

The United States Commerce Secretary asked the gallery to e-mail him more information about the 2009 sculpture created by Swiss artist Fredy Hadorn, who called it Made Off because it was inspired by Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Mr Ross, 81, was among tens of thousands of people who descended on Miami recently for myriad fairs anchored by Art Basel Miami Beach, the largest contemporary and modern art trade show in the US.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Blackstone Group vice-chairman Tom Hill browsed the aisles. Former casino mogul Steve Wynn held a fundraiser attended by 80 people on his US$215 million (S$295 million) yacht Aquarius. U2 lead singer Bono raised money to fight Aids.

Dealers reported robust sales despite mounting global trade tensions and volatile stock markets.

New York art dealer Christophe van de Weghe, a long-time exhibitor at Art Basel Miami Beach, feared he would not sell a thing.

Instead, he quickly unloaded a Picasso priced at US$17 million and went on to find buyers for other works by the Spanish master, as well as Warhol and Tom Wesselmann.

All told, Mr van de Weghe sold about US$28 million of art.

"It was my best Art Basel in Miami," he said. "People who came to see me wanted to buy."

The US$17 million Picasso was among the priciest works to sell during the week, while many others lingered on the walls, including a US$50 million Mark Rothko painting and a US$30 million Fernand Leger canvas.

But emerging art moved briskly, especially works by black artists, a growing trend marked by sold-out booths and long wait lists.

About 120 people signed up for future works by Derek Fordjour after eight of his paintings - featuring enigmatic characters inspired by marching bands and cheerleaders - sold for US$26,000 to US$48,000, according to Josh Lilley, whose London gallery represents the New York-based artist. A Fordjour sculpture went for US$65,000.

Collectors snapped up figurative and abstract paintings by Vaughn Spann, a 2018 graduate of the Yale School of Art with a sold-out exhibition in New York.

One painting quickly sold for US$25,000 at Art Basel Miami Beach, at the David Castillo Gallery. Across Biscayne Bay, at Nada art fair, a double-headed portrait went for US$7,500 at Half Gallery.

Hauser & Wirth Gallery sold a large abstract painting by Mark Bradford for US$5 million and, for US$175,000, a portrait of a man on a pink background by Amy Sherald, whose Michelle Obama now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

"You can direct more of your investment dollars to artworks because you're less concerned about missing out on the more rapid returns that a bull market can offer," said Mr Roger Kass, a collector who purchased five paintings during the week.

The top of the art market was quieter.

"There weren't a lot of Europeans or hedge fund guys," said Mr Stavros Merjos, a private art dealer from Los Angeles.

"People are apprehensive about the world. You are going to be more conservative no matter how much money you have."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2018, with the headline 'Robust sales at Art Basel Miami Beach'. Print Edition | Subscribe