"It's too early to tell," says bewhiskered Upper East Side art dealer Robert Mnuchin, a little more than an hour into the blockbuster and busy Art Basel Miami fair. The event begins its second day at noon today but, in one sense, the jury's already in; a quick sprint across the floor of the Miami Convention Center shows some artists who've already hit the jackpot because powerhouse dealers are displaying them alongside bigger names.
Who's in good company? (Remember these names.) In Mnuchin's booth, vet L.A. artist David Hammons gets pride of place next to Warhol. Gagosian's booth anoints Mark Grotjahn, whose sleek abstracts hang not far from vet Mark Tansey. At Mitchell-Innes and Nash, a Roy Lichtenstein sculpture abuts seventies feminist pioneer Martha Rosler — and former Whitney Museum of Art president Joel Ehrenkranz is getting apoplectic protesting that he can't buy one from her sold-out Vietnam series. In Jeffrey Deitch's buzzy booth, the entrance is marked by a striking life-size nude by Brooklyn painter Kurt Kauper (a Whitney Bienniel veteran). Nearby, people are squinting at the card and scribbling down the artist's name. Insiders know the anchor piece in Deitch's booth is traditionally done by an artist poised for takeoff. Previous ones were Vanessa Beecroft, Kehinde Wiley, and Barry McGee, whose showcase Art Basel piece one year was snapped up by MoMA president Jerry Speyer. Nothing's cheap here — Monaco dealer David Nahmad offers the prize of the fair, an exquisite 1932 Picasso portrait priced at $100 million. (He admits it's high, but "I think I don't really want to sell it," he says.) Leading Chinese-contemporary-art dealer Larry Warsh complains about the prices but says he'll probably end of buying as he's got an "addiction." The mood is good, the celebs are walking the floor: Lance Armstrong draws a crowd, and Tom Wolfe lounges in the VIP.
In the weeks since New York's big contemporary-art auctions did surprisingly well, "business has been frenetic," says Lucy Mitchell-Innes. She says even she was surprised to sell several million-dollar pieces in the few days leading up to the fair. At Pace, John Chamberlain and Chinese contemporary artists have already sold.
In Larry Gagosian's energetic booth, three art advisers and their clients stand almost shoulder-to-shoulder, shopping as the fair enters its fourth hour. Amid the busyness, a staffer asks Larry for the okay to slip out for a late lunch with friends (including the art-acquisitive wife of a hedge-fund manager). The gallery's been so busy, she says, she hasn't eaten since breakfast. He agrees, but says wearily, "I haven't eaten in a month." —Alexandra Peers