Basel may find art of the deal tougher this year
By Scott E. Pacheco
There are signs dealers at globally famed contemporary art fair Art Basel Miami Beach will have to fight the economic downturn despite optimism from event officials.
"Lately we are seeing caution in contemporary [art] sales," said Eileen Kinsella, editor of New York-based ARTnewsletter.
Ms. Kinsella said overall sales volume dropped "by quite a bit" at October auctions of contemporary art in London after doing "really well in the past three to four years."
But an official with Art Basel is tight-lipped about forecasting and says interest is as "strong as it's ever been."
"We would rather not speculate as to what the future is or how economic conditions might impact Art Basel Miami Beach," said Bob Goodman, Florida representative of Art Basel.
There are ways, however, to gauge how the economy could affect the Dec. 4-7 fair, which in the past has been the hub of a cluster of lavish events throughout the area.
One is to look at it from the perspective of art vendors looking to rent commercial space, said Tony Cho, president/broker of Metro 1 Properties.
"Art Basel, in terms as an event, has been growing exponentially year over year," he said. "Budgets have been slashed… there is a high demand for space, but the budget for that space has been slashed by about 30%."
"More people now are probably keen to renting their space out than before… [Landlords] are offering more concessions, they are being more flexible."
Another gauge may be the willingness of buyers and sellers to make a deal, said Stephen Cohen, president of Art Fairs Inc., which produces photo MIAMI, a contemporary art fair for photo-based art, video and new media that will take place during the Basel event in Wynwood.
"It's definitely a buyer's market," he said. "It is an opportunity for people to make the best deal they could make. It seems like this is the best time for the best deal and to workout a payment plan that makes everybody comfortable."
While he said "everyone's concerned that's involved in the art world," he also said contemporary art remains a good investment that is more consistent than stocks.
"Generally, when people have been good with their research and their purchases, art will hold its value and appreciate."
Watching sales will be "interesting," said Tim Fleming, director of photo MIAMI.
"People are watching — they are watching the election, they are watching auctions and such," he said. "We'll see how it comes out."
If there are cutbacks in Basel, it would be "understandable," said Robert Parente, director of the Miami mayor's office of film & cultural arts.
"You would have had to be living under a rock not to know and appreciate what is happening," he said. "I certainly believe Basel, for the most part, will go on… there'll be great art and hopefully there'll be some sales, too."
Art Basel's Mr. Goodman said the presence of 20-some "parallel" art shows, like photo MIAMI, won't hinder Basel.
"They bring people — we don't view it as competition, we view it as sharing the platform," he said. "If they can all flourish, then that means there are more people seeing and buying art."