Sun, Dec 16, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Scenesters take over Art Basel

America’s hippest art fair has a reputation for pool parties and hedonism, even as the serious collector base has grown in recent years

By David Batty  /  The Guardian, Miami

The value of the work offered for sale by the more than 260 participating galleries at ABMB is estimated to be close to US$2.5 billion. Notable early sales included Hirst’s Capaneus, a kaleidoscopic assemblage of moths, butterflies, spiders and beetles that sold for US$966,700, and Jeff Koons’s almost life-size sculpture of silent film star Buster Keaton, with an asking price of between US$4.8 million and US$5.6 million.

Koons provoked a bigger stir with the news that he would be showing with gallery owner David Zwirner next year in an apparent defection from Zwirner’s archrival Larry Gagosian, the world’s most powerful art dealer.

new stars

However, there are more than the usual star names on offer. Although only 10 percent of the participating galleries are Latin American, the fair offers perhaps the most significant international exposure for artists from the region. This reflects the growing importance of wealthy South American collectors, particularly from Brazil, which the fair has helped to spur. The White Cube opened a new space in Sao Paulo just before this year’s ABMB, with Gagosian set to follow next year.

Among the works on display from Sao Paulo-based Galeria Nara Roesler is Brigida Baltar’s The Singing of the Rebel Bird, a video installation comprising a film displayed in a wooden box that resembles a theatre stage, inspired by a house built by a Brazilian industrialist for his opera-singer mistress. Nearby, at the booth of Lima-based gallery Revolver, Jose Carlos Martinat’s Experimental Protoype Community of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow offers a look at the dark side of Disney, with images of strikes by Disney staff, a rapist who wore a Mickey Mouse costume and a girl crushed between two rides at the Epcot center in Orlando. Mexican artist Jose Davila’s work, including ghostly photographic cutouts, also attracts deserved praise and attention.

Elsewhere, Cuban art duo Los Carpinteros have created a latticed, circular bar installation on the South Beach waterfront. One of the artists, Dagoberto Rodriguez Sanchez, explains that the panopticon-shaped space, called Guiro, was inspired by the interior of a notorious Cuban jail -- only here the jailer is a bartender and the prisoners are the drinkers.

The installation, done in collaboration with Absolut Art Bureau, an offshoot of the vodka brand, is one of the less bling commercial artworks around the fair. Less subtle, but knowingly so, is BMW’s display of a Le Mans racing car custom-painted by the American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer -- known for her text aphorisms -- emblazoned with the words “Protect me from what I want.”

Craig Robins, a Miami businessman who runs a property development firm, sees nothing wrong with this kind of commercial partnership. Indeed Robins, who is also a major collector and founder of the Design Miami fair, says ABMB’s example has helped to spur gentrification of much of the city. His revitalization of what is now known as the Design District involved turning abandoned factories into an artists’ community and an upmarket shopping center.

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