Miami Beach, Florida – Kendra Jayne Patrick’s suite was ringing in Art Basel on Tuesday during the VIP opening as visitors thronged to admire — and consider purchasing — pieces by textile artist Qualeasha Wood, whose work is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In the past, Patrick was not eligible to participate in the exhibition, because her New York gallery does not have a physical permanent space. But over the past year, Art Basel has changed its admission requirements and made a concerted effort to invite previously marginalized galleries to apply.
“We wanted to lower the barriers to entry – not about quality, but about how long you have to work and the nature of your business,” said Mark Spiegler, Art Basel Global Director. “These showrooms have enough hurdles without us having these regulations, which are outdated.”
This shift was noteworthy, given that Art Basel’s online iteration in June 2020 did not include a single African-American-owned gallery. The 253 galleries at the Miami Beach Convention Center this year feature many first-time participants of color, including four owned by Black Americans, three from Africa, eight from Latin America and one from Korea.
This increased diversity was just one way the pandemic changed Art Basel Miami Beach’s first in-person gathering since 2019. There were also required health checks, on-time entry for visitors and mandatory masks (with megaphone reminders to keep). Some galleries reported not receiving art pieces (and booth furniture) in time due to supply chain issues.
The Galleries from South Africa have arrived at the gallery just under the wires, due to the emergence of the Omicron variant and President Biden’s decision to restrict travel from the country from November 29. Rather than feeling ostracized, these galleries said visitors went out of their way to welcome them to the fair—despite some of the jokes slapping you off.
The discussion of NFTs—the non-fungible tokens—has also been floating around in fair air, though it has been slow to catch up with seasoned collectors. Pace Gallery made its first sale for the NFT art gallery – a collaboration between Amsterdam’s Studio Drift and musician Don Diablo for $500,000 (plus $50,000 donated to climate protection efforts).
Overall, however, the exhibition—as well as its myriad satellite events, such as Untitled, NADA, and Design Miami—provided further evidence that the art market is largely immune to social and political upheaval.
Most galleries, especially premium dealers, reported strong sales, including a Noah Davis painting that sold for $1.4 million and Ad Reinhardt’s summary of more than $7 million in David Zwirner, as well as Keith Haring for $1.75 million and an Elizabeth Murray painting for $725,000 in Gladstone. Salon 94 has sold a double Dutch jump rope figurine by Karon Davis for $150,000 to street fashion mogul James Wittner.
“It felt a little bit like Groundhog Day,” said Tim Blum of Blum & Poe Gallery. “If you went through the exhibition, you might think that this is 2019.”
Indeed, the evenings were filled with dinner and parties—Alicia Keys performed at the immersive Superblue exhibition space in the Miami Design District—with most guests not wearing masks (and bemoaning the traffic). Many have noted how happy they are to physically gather in Miami Beach to see art and hug each other again (yes, air kissing is back).
“There is nothing quite like seeing people in person and having interactive conversations,” said Jo Stella Sauica, senior director of Goodman Gallery, which has locations in Johannesburg, Cape Town and London, adding that she was already traveling to Florida when news of the new alternative broke.
While the timed entry to the gallery prevented the usual opening bell shoving through the doors—and some collectors worried they weren’t getting the slots they wanted—gallery makers said more spaced entry allowed for quieter, more substantive conversations with visitors.
Although a lot of the artwork was – as usual – sold previously through online previews or PDFs sent by email, many dealers said many of the pieces were purchased at the gallery itself.
Art galleries have always been considered ready for correction or consolidation, due to their ubiquity and expense. The new company LGDR – four powerful dealers united – She intends to rule out such events in the United States.
But several first-time galleries have said Art Basel is an important show (among them are the Riley Gallery from Lagos, which recently opened a branch in Los Angeles, and Nicolas Fasel, who just opened in Chelsea, Manhattan).
“Miami Basel is very international,” Patrick, a New York trader, He said, “You can meet a large segment of clients.”
Joost Bosland of the South African gallery Stephenson had only planned to come briefly to Art Basel, before Omicron changed all that.
“I was supposed to stay here for a day,” he said. “Then the rest of the team didn’t succeed.”
SMAC Gallery, which has locations in Cape Town and Johannesburg, has barely made it to Miami. “We had to, otherwise the booth would have been empty,” said Paylon Sandri, one of the directors, adding that the ban was “unfair” because South Africa only specified the existence of the new alternative.
“Not coming was not an option – Basel art is a hell of a chance,” said Bonolo Cavolla, the artist featured by SMAC who was at the booth.
“I’m not here just for myself,” she added. “It shows other artists back home that this is possible.”
KJ Freeman, the owner of housing a gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, was another newcomer who benefited from the expanded participation of smaller galleries. She planned to show artist Arleen Wandera, whose sculptural piece did not arrive. So Freeman focused on introducing Nathaniel Oliver. When all of Oliver’s work was sold out, she taped a QR code on the wall of her booth from which visitors could view Wandera’s work.
“I used to be a performing artist,” Freeman said. “So I can do the installation pretty much any day of the week.”
While Freeman said she was happy to be invited to apply to the show, she also said that her modest operation doesn’t necessarily match the behemoths.
“I’ve never sold anything beyond five figures — five figures are low,” she said, adding that Wandera’s job cost between $5,000 and $22,000 and Oliver’s between $3,000 and $18,000.
Among the dealers invited at Art Basel to apply was Daudi Karunji of Afriart Gallery in Uganda, who appreciated the communication. He said, “It is better for me to knock on this door.”
The Karungi booth, which houses a solo display of the work of Tanzanian artist Sungi Mlengeya, sold out quickly, with each piece priced between $50,000 and $75,000.
Ivy N. Jones of Welancora Gallery, located in the brownstone of Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, said it was an “honour” to bring the work of Helen Evans Ramsaran, an American sculptor in her seventies. “There are a lot of older artists out there who need someone to believe in them,” Jones said.
Similarly, Marcus Jura, co-founder of the First Floor Gallery in Zimbabwe, said the exhibition gave important insight to an artist like the one he exhibited in Miami, Troy Makazza, who combines painting and sculpture. “We were growing and building,” Gora said. “This is our gateway to the North American market.”
Karungi of Afriart said that participating in the gallery nearly 20 years after his gallery’s creation seemed to be an important milestone and that he hopes to serve as a model for other African galleries. “I started from the bottom in the industry,” he said. “Now we are here.”