Art in the Aftermath: A Conversation about Miami and Thereafter

Unpublished final post for my Art:21 blogger-in-residence tenure. ◊◊

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In my two-week journalistic foray on Art:21’s blog into the effects of Sandy on the lives and livelihoods in the art world, I planned one last post about the art fairs in Miami last month, as a look towards national and international reverberations. In the weeks leading up to my blogger residency, I had contacted a number of galleries who were affected by the storm and were not able to re-open. As expected, I did not hear back from a single one. I did, however, notice that a number of these galleries posted their booth addresses for Miami alongside those of their inhospitable New York locations. It made me wonder whether the fairs provided a welcomed surrogate space for galleries, or were instead poorly timed sources of stress. Because galleries from around the world gather at the Miami fairs, it seemed to me that I could use them as some sort of litmus test for the global market now and into the future, perhaps even more representative than the major auctions in November.

Unable to see for Miami myself this year, I had interviewed two of my mentors and former supervisors who make the yearly commute; one is a collector and former museum executive, and the other is an art advisor. Both wished to remain anonymous for reasonable professional and personal reasons, so I will call them L and J. Unfortunately my editor could not allow me to publish anonymous interviews on Art:21 (also reasonable), so I thought I’d post our conversation here, because this insight could be valuable to an interested readership. I am extremely grateful to have been able to steal a bit of their time and get their opinion on not only the fairs but the future of the art world around us. Please find the conversation below.

I’ve heard a number of galleries that haven’t had the means to reopen in New York had fair booths in Miami. I’m curious as to whether you thought that galleries weren’t as prepared for the fair this year, or that they found the fairs a welcome second chance to exhibit artists that they couldn’t show in their regular spaces?  

L: The quality of the art fairs were surprisingly high, given Sandy. In The Art Newspaper’s daily fair edition, it was reported that not one gallery pulled out Art Basel Miami Beach [because of the hurricane].  The galleries impacted by the flood definitely rallied in a wonderful way, and went to work to make sure they had quality art to sell. [The fairs] mattered more than ever because in many cases it really was [galleries’]  first chance since Sandy to exhibit art to the public. Galleries were also more proactive  in sending out previews of what they planned to bring to Art Basel Miami Beach, or NADA; the previews of those galleries impacted by Sandy tended to be longer than in other years. Interestingly, the only gallery booths that seemed a bit sparser than usual were blue chip Chelsea galleries that had suffered in Sandy’s hands. The younger gallerists were more nimble, but also tended to have younger artists who also need to get to work on making new art because they do not have the same financial security compared to the more established artists of the bigger Chelsea galleries.

J: Although I did not have a huge amount of time to talk at length to galleriests at the fairs about this particular issue, the ones I did speak to about it seemed very happy to have an outlet for sales and the chance to have face time with all the collectors after such an event.

The hurricane must have been on the minds of the gallerists in various capacities, and I imagine there must have been more pressure than usual. Was there anything collectors had to be mindful of this year in particular, because of the hurricane and the losses?

L: The utmost concern in dealers’ minds was to make sure they sold enough art at the fair to rebuild, or in some cases, to bridge their disrupted cash flow caused by Sandy. Collectors understood this and, I think, bought more, or made sure to buy from the gallerists that they knew and were hurt by Sandy. And they decided that now was the time to buy the artists they had been looking at. I think also that most collectors did not want to negotiate prices as much as they might usually, and just asked what they thought was fair.

J: There were rumors that many of the works being brought by New York galleries had been “worked on” or conserved—we did not buy any work at the fair that would have fallen into that category.  [Typically,] if we were looking at a work at a Chelsea gallery, we would have asked a question [about conservation work] before closing a sale. Some galleries mentioned stocking their booths with work by artists who did not have studios in NY, so I am sure some last minute substitutions were made.  Everything looked very polished and professional at the fair, though.

Miami tends to have a greater New York gallery representation than other art fairs (like the upcoming one in LA in January, or the ones abroad). How much do you think that the reverberations of New York’s loss will affect the global market? Does it affect the contemporary and the old-master markets differently?

L: I think it will take a while to play out, but, generally, will serve to make it more difficult to acquire top contemporary art, and tighten up the market. Plenty of works were damaged or lost, and those works cannot be replaced; there will be fewer examples of an artist’s work from which to choose. The only other impact is that, if any galleries do end up closing, it will be hard for the displaced emerging artists to find a good new home. This may ultimately temporarily or permanently derail these artists’ careers.

J: Some galleries were affected MUCH more than others, but there seemed to be enough inventory to at least fill a booth at the fair. Many gallerists were eager to make sales, but became more relaxed when everything came through.

Linda Yablonsky said in her Sandy-related article that the hurricane put a stop to the hard-won momentum of the art market since 2008. Do you think there will be an upside to the hurricane in terms of thinking about the art market in the long run? Or do you think we’ll be recovering for quite a while? 

L: The upside, and there are few, is that it does offer galleries that need to rebuild an opportunity to revamp their stable of artists.

J: Hard to say, there was a lot of activity at the auctions [in November], but that was not at the emerging end of the market.  Then there was a lot of activity at Nada in that area. I would guess that January is going to be a tougher time after the spending frenzy of November/December is over.  That is traditionally the hardest time of year for galleries.  Some, like Wallspace, are still operating out of another gallery (they are using the viewing room at Harris Lieberman).  Zach Feuer was doing brisk sales at Nada although his gallery was devastated.  Big galleries have done quick makeovers and are putting forth a good face.

Images courtesy of W Magazine and Port Magazine.

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