Just how fresh can you get?
Art created to be unveiled at the fair proves popular in Miami— but not everyone is impressed
By Julia Halperin.
Marilyn Minter’s installation of specially created paintings at Salon 94 (M4)
Be careful not to stand too close to the works on show at Art Basel Miami Beach—the paint may not yet be dry. Dozens of artists including Marilyn Minter, Luis Gispert, Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch have created works especially for this year’s fair, sometimes adding the final touches inside the convention centre.
Team Gallery (G8) flew the artist Daniel Turner to Miami so that he could make Untitled (priced at $25,000) by abrading the wall of the gallery’s stand using bronze wool. Meanwhile, the Norwegian artist Matias Faldbakken burned part of his charred cabinet sculpture, Parts Cabinet 2, 2013, in a Miami car park last weekend before installing it in the booth of Reena Spaulings Fine Art (K25), where it sold for $55,000. Trecartin and Fitch created a series of sculptures for Andrea Rosen Gallery (M10) that relate to their well-received installations at this year’s Venice Biennale. Three of the works, including Drop Cause, 2013, sold for prices ranging from $55,000 to $60,000 within the first 15 minutes of the fair opening to VIPs on Wednesday.
Over the past five years, new bodies of work have increasingly been given their debuts at art fairs, and not just at exhibitions in art dealers’ galleries. “It is a phenomenon,” the art adviser Wendy Cromwell says. “The pace of information is so much faster that clients don’t want to wait for a gallery show to see new work, and galleries can’t afford to wait either.”
Some see a downside to this development. Andreas Gegner of Sprüth Magers (L16) says that his gallery avoids asking artists to make work for fairs, because it “can end up looking like art-fair material and puts unfair pressure on the artists—you’d have to ask them for a new piece every month”. And Cromwell says that the trend encourages artists to produce homogenous works. “People will see something they can’t get and the gallery says: ‘Don’t worry, we’ll have one at the next fair,’” she says. Fair-ready work can also look rushed. “I won’t say it’s a minus, but it certainly isn’t a plus if it was made under deadline pressure, barely in time to be screwed to the wall,” says the art adviser Todd Levin, the director of the Levin Art Group.
Even dealers showing work made for the fair are conflicted. There is a danger that future exhibitions could suffer because key works have already been seen or sold, Andrea Rosen says. “It’s like a musician who makes an entire album: playing one song in isolation could devalue the experience,” she says.
Less established galleries that are selected for the emerging sections of major fairs, such as Nova and Positions in Miami this week, are now almost expected to produce mini-exhibitions of new work for their stands, Levin says. “What should ideally have functioned as an exhibition that gets a full month of critical thought at the gallery is instead monetised in a period of five days,” he says.
Made to measure
Others argue that art tailor-made for art fairs fulfils the demand from collectors for fresh material and gives artists an opportunity to get immediate feedback on any new direction. “It’s more interesting than just hauling out stuff from your racks,” says Adam Sheffer of Cheim & Read (L8). His gallery sent the dimensions of its stand to the Israeli artist Tal R, who then made eight works on paper to fit, priced at $15,000 each. (A museum in New England bought the series, which was inspired by the artist’s recent trip to Iceland, on Wednesday.)
The practice also makes it easier for galleries to present a cohesive display; some artists have made pieces in response to other works their galleries planned to present at this year’s fair. The Canadian artist Andrew Dadson created a layered white painting, Make up, 2013, to complement Simon Starling’s 1, 1, 2, 2011 (priced at €150,000)—an elaborate white marble hanging sculpture—at Galleria Franco Noero (L10). Dadson’s painting sold for €30,000.
Works made especially for fairs “can be part of a larger strategy” to drum up interest in an exhibition, says Bethanie Brady of Paul Kasmin Gallery (A5). The artist Nir Hod worked for two years on a sculpture of an oil rig—Once Everything Was Much Better Even The Future, 2013—on the understanding that it would make its debut at the fair as a teaser for his show at the gallery next autumn. The edition of three (priced at $250,000 each) sold out during the VIP preview. “With a show in New York, you’re reaching New York clients. This is international,” Brady says.
The practice can also help galleries to secure sales. After Marilyn Minter agreed to create four paintings for Salon 94’s stand (M4), the gallery arranged for interested collectors to visit her studio to see the works in progress. Two were subsequently placed on hold before the fair; three sold within hours of the VIP opening for prices up to $550,000.
While art dealers and art advisers wrestle with the pros and cons of showing new work for the first time at fairs, the artists themselves—once the fiercest opponents of these commercial events—are sanguine. “I try to approach it the same as I would any show,” Matias Faldbakken says. He considers the work he made for Miami to be “part of a series that I present in different places”. And while Minter acknowledges that exhibitions and fairs are “different animals”, she tries not to focus too much on where her works are shown. “I have control up to the minute the work leaves the studio, but then it’s out of my hands,” she says.