As the famed fair celebrates its 20th anniversary, celebrity collectors—from Leonardo DiCaprio and Pharrell to Venus Williams and Martha Stewart—are in full force again. Among the highlights are a $20 million Basquiat, a $7.5 million Jeff Koons and a $75,000 ATM that announces your net worth.
By Isabel Lord
In the early 2000s, a group of art collectors and real estate magnates developed a bold plan: Bring a posh Swiss art fair to the sun-drenched, party-filled city of Miami Beach. Not everyone was on board. “I thought it was a crazy idea,” says Marc Spiegler, the global director of Art Basel Miami Beach for the past 15 years, who was an art journalist at the time. “And I wasn’t alone in that skepticism. The city of Miami Beach was very resistant—they thought that this fair would never be able to fill hotel rooms. “Now these are some of the most expensive hotel rates of the year.”
When it opened its doors in 2002 with 200 galleries on display, Art Basel Miami Beach immediately became one of the most important art fairs in America, linking curators from more than 23 countries around the globe. And over the past twenty years, its importance has grown significantly: The fair’s attendance grew steadily up until the pandemic, drawing in as many as 83,000 visitors in 2018—about as large as the population of Miami Beach itself.
Craig Robins, a local real estate developer and the founder of sister fair Design Miami, was one of Art Basel Miami Beach’s early champions. “Miami was known as a party town, a ‘have fun in the sun’ place. Now, people associate Miami with art, architecture and design in a much more enlightened way,” Robins says. “[The city] took the power of Art Basel and the sex appeal of Miami and created this global cultural happening.”
To celebrate its 20th anniversary this year: Art Basel Miami Beach attracted a record number of exhibitors—282 from 38 countries—and celebrity collectors (including Pharrell, Venus Williams and Martha Stewart), who flocked to the booths of industry stalwarts such as Jeffrey Deitch and White Cube during the VIP preview earlier this week.
Deitch’s booth, devoted to the theme of goddesses, included deities by Judy Chicago, photography by Nadia Lee Cohen and was anchored around Bisa Butler’s 10-foot-tall textile portrait of Salt-N-Pepa, Hot, Cool and Vicious, a personal favorite of Robins. “Bisa makes these incredible tapestries that connect to her life, and they just have this energy. It’s very impactful,” he says.
“What I love about the work is that she is almost painting with different textiles,” says Alia Dahl, a managing director at Deitch. “She’s using fabrics from Ghana, found fabrics, and she’s also commissioning friends on very specialized fabrics.” Priced at $175,000, it’s “reserved for someone special,” according to Dahl.
Because, at the end of the day, Art Basel Miami Beach is about sales. While the total value of the works at the fair is unknown, insurance underwriters estimated it to be around $2 billion, according to Spiegler. Adding to the tally this year: A $20 million work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ruffians, at the Van de Weghe booth. The five-foot-tall painting is from 1982, considered the height of Basquiat’s career, and features three crowned figures with strong faces—desirable elements to collectors. Across from it is an $11 million Picasso from 1936, a portrait of his lover Dora Maar, from a private collection.
Contemporary gallery White Cube also didn’t shy away from blue-chip artists, including Jeff Koons’ Bowl of Eggs, a ten-foot-wide $7.5 million resin sculpture. One of five editions, and the only bowl in yellow, it’s the first of the collection to come up on the secondary market, says Leila Alexander, a director at the gallery. “The yellow reflects the yolk, and it’s about new life and resurrection,” she says, “it’s a bowl of potential.” It was accompanied by another Basquiat, priced at $2 million, and a $675,000 Fish Cabinet from Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde-filled Natural History collection.
More museum-worthy names can be found around the fair. In Meridians, a space for large-scale pieces, there was a 20-foot-long Judy Chicago tapestry, Birth, that used more than one million stitches to outline the figure of a woman in labor. “It’s a way for her to restate the importance of women in traditional art history,” says Magalí Arriola, who curated Meridians. “It’s one of the works that I think opens this whole sector.”
Back in the main space, numerous works by Kehinde Wiley could be found: Sean Kelly had two bronze busts—Barthélémy Senghor and Mame Kéwé Aminata Lô, priced at $175,000—as well as the Portrait of Soukeyna Diouf ($700,000), which was on hold for an American institution. At Templon Galleries, Wiley’s 13-foot-long $1.25 million portrait Morpheus (Ndeye Fatou Mbaye) depicted a model on a bed of flowers and leaves. It was part of his supersized Venice Biennale exhibition at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini this year, a smaller version of which is currently on view at Paris’ Musée d’Orsay.
The late sculptor Alexander Calder also has a big presence: His $7.5 million Clouds Over Mountain (1962) spanned 14 feet. At Edward Tyler Nahem, an early untitled work by the late Keith Haring that appeared in his first solo exhibition covered 21 feet and came with a $4.5 million price tag. “I haven’t seen anything like this,” says gallery director Stacie Khandros, “and we sell a lot of Haring.”
Art Basel Miami Beach visitors saw a lot of Haring, too. Down the hall, at Gladstone Gallery, another work—Untitled, 1981, one of his smiling faces painted on a yellow tarp—fetched the top publicly disclosed sale price of day two: $4.5 million. It was followed by Alex Katz’s Carnations 3 (2022), which sold for $1.2 million, also from Gladstone.
But as much as Art Basel Miami Beach could fill a Bingo card worth of brand-name artists, it was also a place for new talent. One example, tucked among the miles of walls and spinning from the ceiling, was a golden disco ball shaped like Nefertiti from a 34-year-old Ethiopian-American artist looking to rebrand himself. Awol Erizku gained fame as the photographer behind Beyoncé’s 2017 pregnancy announcement, then the most-liked post in Instagram history, but, as a new addition to Sean Kelly’s gallery roster, his work in painting and sculpture is what he hopes will bring him a new audience. It’s working: Nefertiti: Miles Davis (Gold) sold this week for $70,000.
And 38-year-old Ghanian artist Amoako Boafo further solidified his position as an art-world darling—a title he claimed in 2020 after years spent struggling to sell his works—with pieces dotting the fair, most notably at Gagosian, where his Brides Reflection (2021) sold to a U.S. museum for an undisclosed amount.
In Nova, gallerist Nicola Vassell’s sold-out booth was what she called a “Caribbean love song.” It featured works by Trinidadian painter Che Lovelace and Barbadian-Scottish artist Alberta Whittle. Whittle’s Imprinting Mas As Love, a mixed-media piece juxtaposing colonization with contemporary Caribbean life through a cloth figure dressed in doilies for Mas, or Carnival, sold for $60,000.
In Meridians, Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade’s $120,000 installation Lost And Found recreated forgotten swim trunks, which the artist had collected over the past decade, in clay on upside-down torsos. Each was sculpted by an artist who rarely worked in the medium, resulting in cracks and imperfections. “This is a way for him to prompt a conversation between traditional artisans,” says Arriola. “And it’s also a conversation on the concept of masculinity and the way it’s perceived and represented.”
Elsewhere, the fair continued to turn things on their heads. Two works by New York-based artist Gina Beavers appeared at Marianne Boesky Gallery, including “a painting of her painting [Elaine] Sturtevant’s paintings of Jasper Johns—but on her own lips,” explains Kelly Woods, a director at the gallery. “She’s reappropriating the appropriation of Johns.” Meanwhile, Patrizio di Massimo’s $35,000 Untitled (Monsters) at the Rodolphe Janssen booth, of what appears to be a grisly sexual interaction between man and monster, reportedly caught the eye of one notable collector: Leonardo DiCaprio.
But perhaps the most thought-provoking piece at Art Basel Miami Beach was, at first glance, the simplest: An ATM. Installed at the Perrotin booth by the 30-person Brooklyn art collective MSCHF, the functioning—and fee-free—machine comes with a catch: Whenever a user withdraws cash, it snaps their photograph and displays their remaining account balance on a leaderboard for all to see. As of December 2, the highest-scoring attendee was Diplo, the acclaimed club DJ whose lucrative gigs have spun at least $3 million into his bank account.
“People have been coming back and changing the amounts in their accounts,” said Gabe Whaley, a member of MSCHF. “You’ll see $420, $69.” The ATM sold earlier in the week for $75,000 to a local collector who plans to make it available to the public. “It’s kind of funny,” says Whaley, “There’s a meta-irony that someone bought the thing that’s making fun of people who buy things.”
As with many of MSCHF’s works, the goal was to hold up to the art world. “Look around, everyone’s wearing these fancy watches. You walk outside, there are Lamborghinis and Ferraris,” Whaley continues. “Let’s just cut to the chase. We’re all here to flex.”