report on miami

adamw_-081205_005

i’m getting lots of phone calls and e-mails asking what happened in miami…     who was there?   what sold?    which fairs looked good?    how badly did the economy affect the fairs?      here’s my read.

the economy is horrible.    most everyone has less disposable income, or at the very least, feels like they need to be more cautious.  last week could have been a blood bath.    but it wasn’t.

first of all, miami was still really fun.    it remains the best opportunity in the u.s. to meet or re-connect with colleagues, collectors, curators and art groupies.   the weather is good (decent by california standards and excellent by those of the rest of the country) and the energy is great.   which in some ways makes up for the ugliness of the city, the low quality of the food and service, the hummers and the un-earthly boob jobs.

absent were art speculators — relying on rumors of what’s hot and who is buying whom and how much you’ll be able to make when you flip it in a year.    they’ve been over-paying for crap in miami (and china and chelsea) for the last five years and they now feel had.   rather than snapping up atrocities at the opening of the NADA fair and otherwise over-consuming, they’ve been trying to dump their art-world equivalents of mortgage-backed securities at the phillips evening sale.  they aren’t people i’ve ever sold to (my program isn’t interesting to them), so i don’t miss them.

there were far fewer curators in miami this year.    two reasons.   one,  budget cuts.    both travel and acquisition budgets have been shaved as institutions go into survival mode.   two, many of the museum donors that curators have been acting as personal shoppers for in the past few years, are no longer shopping.   last year, you’d be talking to someone about a work, and they’d snap a photo on their phone and call their favorite curator for an opinion about  it.    not as bad as being on the other end of the conversation –  talking to a curator and  being constantly interrupted by people calling for approval.   you’d think that curators would be there just to see what’s currently being made.     some were.    but i guess it’s just not as much fun to look as it is to buy…

there were fewer europeans.   no surprise, as the euro has fallen against the dollar, we’ve noticed a significant drop in sales to europe.

who was there?   the quality of traffic at aqua wynwood – the fair we were in – was better this year than last.   there were  well-educated, well-informed people from all over the country –  heavily new yorkers, californians and (at least part-time) residents of miami.  but also people from the midwest, texas and eastern seaboard.     there were a disproportionate number of collectors in their 50’s and 60’s.    people who’ve been looking at art and living with it for a long time.     sophisticated viewers.   they bought in a considered manner, but they bought.   there were some young collectors buying, but fewer.     except for one piece, everything we sold went to people we haven’t worked with before.   what did we sell?    jim campbell, marco maggi, nicole fein, emil lukas, crystal liu, timothy horn and gideon rubin.

the consensus was that the basel fair looked good.   safe.   salable.    there was good energy at pulse and the aqua hotel fair.   aqua wynwood, with 12-foot high (rather than 10), plywood-backed walls and skylights looked the best.    the energy at art miami (plagued by management issues, galleries attempting to pull out at the last minute and threats of law suits) was toxic.   the new asian fair, the photo fair, red dot and bridge got low marks by all accounts, on all counts.

few sales closed at the openings.   people mostly came back on friday and saturday to buy the things they’d seen earlier in the week.   there were  bargain hunters.    lots of rumors of people making low-ball offers for artists who had waiting lists two years ago.   the best “deals” were on things that were over-priced to begin with and that aren’t moving without the fuel of a speculative market.    as  a san francisco collector said to me on the flight home, “you know things have changed when they’re nice to you at sikkema and white cube….    a couple of years ago i couldn’t get them to return my calls.”

at every fair, high-quality work continued to sell.     most gallerists are saying they broke even.   a few are saying they made money.

with the economy in the state it’s in, it’s a wonder any sales happened at all.

i think people have been pulling back for a while – say since april.    new yorkers (who are living too close to the ground zero of the financial services trainwreck to be able to put it out of their minds even momentarily) are currently buying less than people from other parts of the country.   but real collectors, people who look at art and buy it because they love it, have continued and will continue to buy art.    and if they’ve been holding back for a few months, they released some of their pent-up desire at miami.     the collector on the plane on the way home said this year he’d spent 1/2 of what he spent last year.    i postulated that last year he probably spent 1/2 of what he had the year before, and he seemed to agree.     but in the next breath he talked about works by two artists he’s still actively pursuing.    for a segment of the population, art   – viewing, collecting and the culture around those activities –  has become like a religion.    they build museums instead of cathedrals, read art magazines instead of theology and do the rounds of art fairs and international biennials instead of making pilgrimages.    we’re seeing corrections in the excesses of the last few years, but the last few years also bred and nurtured an enormous population of the art obsessed.     while even the obsessed are cautious during difficult times, miami proved they don’t go completely away.

the photo was taken by ( and copyrighted to) a seattle based photographer –  Adam L Weintraub – http://www.adamw.com

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