Art Fairs Change the Music

Any event as big as Art Basel can signal a sea change in the art market, the birth of fads, a lineup switch in the major players. All those are going on here.

Walking the aisles, what does it  — works by 2,000 artists — look like this year? Think intellectual, painterly elegance, an ersatz movement that could be called “Cerebral Pretty.”   Kenneth Noland’s stripe paintings, Mark Rothko blocks of sunrise colors, Simon Evans pastel-colored pieces. (By and large, the works are by artists just famous enough to impress your friends and pretty enough to please your decorator, without the pushiness of Pop art.) Julian Schnabel sold maps marked with slashes of paint, a savvy on-market mixture of “art” and “smart.”

There’s surprisingly little “kooky”, political, confrontational or sexual art at the main fair, and not much at other ones (save the occasional nude or giant porcelain dildo, but , then, this is the art world.) Video artworks are sporadic.  While a handful of dealers had promised to bring “emerging” artists, classics dominate. Typical in its mix is Mary Boone’s booth: she brought David Salle, Eric Fischl and, for variety, younger artist Terence Koh.

Street art, graffiti, “text” art is a significant, even unprecedented slice of the offerings. Shepard Fairey’s images, Keith Haring’s squiggles, Jack Pierson’s giant word sculptures are apparently signs of the times. Some dealers are betting that an upcoming show of “street art” at Jeffrey Deitch’s Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art will juice the category.

As for the shoppers, there are no Germans left in Europe, they’re all at Nobu South Beach ordering sushi. Europeans are out in full force at the fairs, but Germans dominate the discussions. Was it just coincidence that Larry Gagosian’s huge Andy Warhol portrait of Goethe was one of the first things to sell?

Next: The purchases and the parties

Art Fairs Change the Music