Home Tech Phones The $120,000 Banana Wins Art Basel

The $120,000 Banana Wins Art Basel


Maurizio Cattelan.

The first flight of V.I.P. collectors had barely arrived at Art Basel Miami Beach, the art fair that some call the “Running of the Billionaires,’’ and the satirical Italian artist had already won the battle for Instagram.

All he needed was a banana and some duct tape. In a gesture straight out of the Duchamp playbook, Mr. Cattelan emerged from productive hibernation with his first sculpture created for an art fair in 15 years. The piece, titled “Comedian,’’ was the endpoint in a creative process that saw him cycling through renditions of the fruit in resin and bronze, before settling on the real thing.

Now more than ever at this fair, art dealers ship in their choicest inventory; Mr. Cattelan’s competition included Picasso, Basquiat and Georg Baselitz. Still, minutes after the gun went off for a V.I.P. preview on Wednesday morning (the fair would not open to the public for another day) collectors were already making a beeline for the Galerie Perrotin booth and Mr. Cattelan’s banana, offered in a limited edition of three with one artist’s proof, at a cost of $120,000 apiece.

once described as “the most successful oil trader’’ of his generation. “It was as if dealers were doing you a special favor by inviting you to see the item earlier.’’

“All the galleries now send you PDFs, and for three or four days before the fair your inbox is swamped by emails from all the usual suspects peddling their wares,” Mr. Hall added.

Rubell Museum, 100,000 square feet of linked industrial structures in Allapattah, a working-class neighborhood filled with modest housing, auto repair shops and light industry.

As recently as 2002, when Art Basel Miami Beach was inaugurated, this neighborhood, bound by Interstate 95 to the east, was considered desolate and sketchy, the kind of place where, legend had it, mobsters were dispatched before their bodies were chopped in half and ditched in the Everglades for alligators to do their work.

Now, Allapattah (the word is derived from the Seminole Indian term for alligator) is being burnished as the next Miami arts district, with as its anchor the stupendous collection of contemporary art amassed over decades by Mera Rubell and her husband Don, whose brother Steve was a founder of Studio 54.

“I was thinking about references from Christian Dior, 1955 to 1963, and a lot of the sketches were of Miami and Florida in this early age of the Jet Set,’’ said Kim Jones, the creative director of Dior Men. “It was an incredibly glamorous time.’’

For this collection Mr. Jones collaborated on graphics with Shawn Stussy, the surfer, skateboarder and streetwear entrepreneur, and drew on the branding savvy that makes him one of fashion’s top guns for hire. Whether or not a market exists for python Dior short-shorts, there is little question that the bags and sweaters and bucket hats scrawled with Mr. Stussy’s neo-graffiti Dior should keep the lights on at LVMH, its parent company, for quite a while.

Luka Sabbat, Playboi Carti, Pusha T and David Beckham, the soccer god who would seem to have exceeded his reasonable use-by date as a commercial commodity.

There was Honey Dijon, the globe-trotting D.J., and, as a surprise performer at the after-party, Orville Peck, the gay Canadian country singer whose rise must be a result of the photogenic Lone Ranger mask he affects and not his vocal skills.

Instagram strikes once again. “We left immediately after the show,’’ Michael Shvo, a real estate investor, said referring to the Dior hullabaloo. “People don’t care if things are fun anymore. They care how it photographs.’’

New Art Dealers Alliance, a satellite fair that is a favorite among savvy insiders.

“Digital media, social media and the rise of the fairs changed the market narrative,’’ Mr. Higgs said. “The art world in the late 20th century was still conditioned or determined by a gallery as the primary place of encounter. In the fashion world, things are now live-screened contemporaneously and sold immediately and there is an idea that you don’t need to see these things in person.’’

Still, Mr. Higgs said, no experience beats experiencing art for yourself, in person, in analog space. And that belief was borne out by the buzzy atmosphere that prevailed in the main hall at the Miami Convention Center during Wednesday’s V.I.P. showing.

The big shark collectors — each guided by a personal remora, or art adviser — stalked works like an $8.5 million Calder mobile (Helly Nahmad Gallery), a $1 million oil on lead by Günther Förg (Galerie Max Hetzler) and a $5 million landscape by Georgia O’Keeffe (Menconi and Schoelkopf). One forlorn couple stood in front of a set of Julie Mehretu monotypes (White Cube) they had missed buying by seconds for the relatively bargain price of $40,000 apiece.

“Sure, there are those who come with a list,’’ said Angela Westwater, the seasoned gallery owner, referring to showy “wall power’’ works by the brand-name artists that are favored by hedge fund investors. “Mark Grotjahn is on the list obviously, and Christopher Wool and Rashid Johnson,’’ Ms. Westwater said of three artists whose work has recently set auction records and remains in hot demand.

“Bruce Nauman is not a trophy name,’’ Ms. Westwater added, referring to the multimedia artist that her gallery, Sperone Westwater, represents and whom many consider the greatest American artist alive. “There are imbalances there, shall we say? Maybe it’s your moment and maybe it’s not. If you’ve been doing this long enough, you learn that it always cycles around over time.’’

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