Thursday, December 1, 2011


A happy medium
Why painting is all over the floor at this year’s fair

By Georgina Adam, Charlotte Burns and Riah Pryor. From Art Basel Miami Beach daily edition
Published online: 01 December 2011

Miami. A panorama of paintings greeted guests at yesterday’s preview of Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), with two-dimensional works dominating the booths near the VIP entrance and beyond. Michael Werner Gallery (B1) features work by artists including Georg Baselitz and Enrico David; Galerie Gmurzynska (B2), with an Art Kabinett booth, has fire paintings by Yves Klein and oils by John Cage; and Acquavella’s stand (C4) is hung with paintings by Twombly, Picasso and Freud.

Three-dimensional works were in abundance last year, but many of this year’s offerings come in a frame. Sculpture is more expensive to make, crate and ship—and is slower to sell. Against a backdrop of economic turmoil, is this an indication of a more cautious market?

“Painting always sells better than sculpture, and its prices have always been higher, in any period in modern art history,” said the top art adviser Allan Schwartzman. “During times of crisis, people seek objects. At the moment, it is really a triumph of painting—it is a safe store of value,” said Olivier Bélot of Yvon Lambert (L14), which is showing an ensemble of 12 paintings by the Mexican artist Carlos Amorales. “The art market is largely untouched by the crisis so far,” he said, “but everyone is nervous about what next year will bring.”

Every inch counts at the fair, and sculpture takes up valuable space. “We want to present the artist’s work as a whole, and you can pack more in with two-dimensional works,” said Pamela Echeverria, the director of Labor (P14), which is displaying works by the Mexican artist Jorge Satorre.

“There is a tremendous energy in painting right now, particularly abstract,” said Jeffrey Deitch, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. “The show I am preparing for April is called ‘The Painting Factory’, with 12 American artists. It’s about abstract painting after Andy Warhol. [Painting] is very much in the air, and there are some fantastic examples at the fair.”

“I think it is a myth that painting is more conservative: it can be radical,” said Carol Greene, the director of Greene Naftali Gallery (E2). “It is always an interesting question, what’s possible in painting, and artists are experimenting. The history of art is so indebted to this medium, and it’s come to the fore again.” Filling the back wall of her stand is Untitled, 2009 ($225,000), by Guyton/Walker, an array of canvas, paint, silkscreen and paint pots. Greene calls it a “post-painting painting”. The colourful, large-scale work is on hold for a North American museum.

The trend is international. “For Brazil, this is a good moment for painting. There are lots of young artists around 30 working with paint right now,” said Rodrigo Editore, the director of Casa Triângulo (C25). The gallery has sold Passeio Noturno (Night Walk) , 2011, a large-scale painting by Eduardo Berliner, for $24,000, and Untitled, 2011, a canvas by Mariana Palma, for $36,000, both to private Brazilian buyers.

“Painting is a return to the traditional, and this year there are fewer weird kinetic sculptures in the fair,” said Helene Winer, the co-founder of Metro Pictures Gallery (E1), which has sold Claire Fontaine’s I was allowed to have any feeling I had, 2011, for $28,000 to a private European foundation.

Nonetheless, painting is by no means the only medium on view. Among the installations are brightly coloured bundles of soft toys: Mike Kelley’s Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites, 1991-99, at Tony Shafrazi Gallery (H8), priced around $4.5m. Just as playful is the squishy blue monster by one of Ryan Gander’s alter egos, Santo Sterne. Say no if you can, say no-no, 1996 (but actually made in 2011), is at Lisson Gallery (J1), priced $50,000. A display of William O’Brien’s chunky ceramics and an assemblage at Marianne Boesky Gallery (B13), with prices ranging from $6,500 to $12,000, is proving popular, with 19 selling by mid-afternoon yesterday. There is little video on show, but those with 71 minutes to spare can watch Street, 2011, James Nares’s hymn to Manhattan ($45,000, edition of six plus two artist’s proofs), at Paul Kasmin Gallery (B14).

Sculpture and installation rule the roost in the sections devoted to younger dealers: Art Positions and Art Nova, where “the work can be more adventurous”, said Floor Wullems, the director of Annet Gelink Gallery (N23). “The committee wants to show more experimental work rather than just picking what sells,” she said.

As Louboutin-shod ladies tottered around, Schwartzman offered a more down-to-earth explanation for the popularity of painting: “Gallerists don’t like it when people fall over sculptures, so I suspect the decision is very pragmatic.”

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