Art Basel Miami 2019 - Inside the Fair

Art Basel Miami 2019 - Inside the Fair


By now you have probably heard about the $120,000 duct-taped banana on Perrotin’s gallery wall at Art Basel Miami Beach. A very expensive bite which transformed into a performance art after David Datuna ate it. Indeed, as Perrotin’s museum relations director stated regarding Datuna’s snack, “He did not destroy the artwork. The banana is the idea”. Maurizio Cattelan, the creator behind this ironic work, attached a Certificate of Authenticity to the fruit encouraging its owner to change the banana when needed. With its 269 exhibitors and 80 000 visitors per year, Art Basel fairs have kept the spotlight on themselves even with the endless number of art fairs all over the world. Art Basel Miami Beach has been drawing a public of art aficionados and important art market players to the Florida capital. Actually, this year, the fair organizers teamed up with the city of Miami, increasing the budget for the event and enabling a more important scope of side-events to attract a more local crowd. 

Art Basel Miami -ABMB

This year, the fair hosted mostly an all-American crowd. According to Lelong Gallery, the Asian and European fever for Basel has been decreasing from the 2000s. The French gallery Lelong (based both in Paris and NYC) has had the privilege of witnessing the fair’s evolution as they have been participating since its beginning. This year, they sold a Kounellis for $150k, some works from Leonardo Drew for $80k and some from Samuel Levi Jones.

To target the American audience, another French gallery, Templon, showed American artists such as George Segal, Jim Dine or Philip Perstein that were addressing the body theme. They sold some pieces from Omar Ba between $30k and $120k, added to a big format of Kehinde Wiley for $250k. Of course, multi-billionaires’ transactions clustered again on the “blue-chip” galleries’ booths; two Rauschenberg went for $1M at Pace the first day and an Agnes Martin for $1.5M the last one; 1 canvas from Bridget Riley and Chris Ofili went for $1.5M and $1.1M at Zwirner; a Baselitz was sold for $3.5M at Ropac; a Carmen Herrera quadriptych at 2,5M$ at Lisson and a David Hammons at $2.4M at Hauser & Wirth. The last day, Hammer sold a Chagall for $2M and of course Perrotin sold the famous aforementioned banana, composed of 3 pieces, for the modest price of $120k to two public institutions and one private collector.

Following the common trend adopted at Frieze and FIAC, reducing prices for smaller galleries enabled us to discover a couple of emerging galleries that turned out to be very successful. The African fever struck again at Mariane Ibrahim’s booth, as they organized a solo show of the Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo (from 25k to $40k). The Zurich based Maria Bernheim Gallery honored Kyle Dunn on her “Project” booth and sold the artist’s melancholic canvas from $5k to $15k on the first day to Chinese collectors. The participation of the Mexican “Gaga” praised young creators, such as Vivian Suter or Anna Uddenberg, and seduced Spanish and Asian aficionados. Another solo show went quite well at the Brazilian gallery Bergamin&Gomide, who chose to represent their country with Luciano Lorenzato’s paintings.

Eventually, Cattelan’s bananas (other fruits were duct-taped in different places in Miami) were more than a success for Perrotin, not only from an economic standpoint ($120k for a duct-taped fruit…) but also for the tremendous amount of people and media it drove! So much so that Perrotin had to reposition its rails on the last day to avoid the crowd damaging one of the expensive pieces displayed on the neighboring booths. And for the short story, Cattelan did an allusion to the comedian Lucile Bluth with a gag making fun of rich people not knowing the price of a banana. By presenting “Comedians” in one of the most expensive fairs and glitzy cities in the world, the artist forced us to question how value is placed on material goods.

Around the fair

Basel Miami bestowed an artistic shape to the city: indeed, private and public entities teamed up to encourage street artists such as Sheppard Farey or WhIsbe to paint murals in different neighbourhoods. Wynwood, an ex-worker district, became the rendez-vous for street artists and mural aficionados while Allapattah, on the west side, welcomed quite recently the Rubell Museum sheltering more than 7200 artworks from American artists such as Cindy Shermann, Jeff Koons or Keith Haring.

The Satellites

In addition to Basel and its swarm of copious parties, product debuts, panel discussions, exhibitions, and champagne receptions, at least 18 other art fairs were taking place during Miami Art Week. Next door to Basel, Design Miami hosted 15 exhibitors showing everything from furniture and decorative objects to high-concept design installations. Broadening the range of items on view, Kerr Fine Art  presented ceremonial works from Africa and the Erik Thomsen Gallery’s  medieval ceramic storage jars from Japan.

Art Miami, showed, in “a more laid-back vibe” a wide variety of material, with an emphasis on big names of the modern era. Scope Miami aspired to breed the next generation of collectors through its promise to display what’s new in emerging contemporary art. To decompress after buying a couple of gold bananas, visitors could, for more affordable costs taste some in cocktails or tapas in the calm and pleasant atmosphere of Pulse. Under the thematic The Calm in the Palms, the viewers had the opportunity to chill among the booths of 63 exhibitors, mostly Latino in the oceanfront fair’s home at Indian Beach Park.

Untitled proved a rich ground for art enthusiasts looking for African American and Latino artists. For example, fairgoers could appreciate works of the South African photographer Zanele Muholi and emerging artists including the Ghanian painter Patrick Quarm and recent Pratt Institute graduate Alanna Fields. African American artists, including some with long productive careers, have experienced a surge in sales and critical appraisal in this woke artworld moment. Finally, NADA was an extraordinary success due to its selection of emerging artists and more affordable art. Collectors who don’t necessarily want to invest half a million dollars were satisfied to entrust artists which are anyways very likely to be displayed at Basel in the coming years.


At the crossroads of two Americas, and taking advantage of its opening on the sea, Basel is decisive in maintaining customer relationship loyalty between Asia and America. If the fair does not attract so many European dealers anymore it however compensates with Asian collectors and Latinos. 18 years after its first edition, Basel’s success lies in its capacity to attract, first customers for dealers, and second, artworks for collectors, which would be inaccessible otherwise.

December 12, 2019