Art Basel Feels Like Last Season’s Trunk Sale

by Paddy Johnson on December 3, 2015 · 1 comment Art Fair + Reviews

Not sure who this is

Outside the Miami Convention Center this reproduction of Charles C. Ebbets famous photograph “Workers at Lunch” circled the block. Meanwhile, Uber promoters stationed nearby gave out $20 coupons to their customers.

My Art Basel experience will sound familiar to almost everyone following the fairs. After a day at Art Basel Miami, most dealers I spoke to still had work available. Sales were slower than the usual mad opening rush we’ve become accustomed to over the last few years. According to art consultant Josh Baer, that’s not because the art was bad, but because collectors have become more thoughtful.

Yeah right. Collectors have not suddenly transformed into more curious and discerning people. They’re just not oblivious to the obvious: most of the art on view looked like B-rate work we’d seen a hundred times already. Even people who have nothing to do all day but buy things will eventually get bored of that.

Some of the dealers I spoke pushed the story that people were missing out on great deals. “It makes me sick that this Robert Morris piece for $50,000 at Untitled has gone unsold,” one dealer told me, remarking on how great secondary market work was being overlooked. (He considered this a steal). It was four hours into the fair.

Jitters that early in the day seemed a little absurd to me (if that’s even what they were), but the comment did gesture towards a larger issue. If there’s a quality problem amongst blue chip galleries, the cause has to do with the fact that same 40 artists are expected to make all the work that’s going to be sold at these things. That doesn’t happen without artists turning themselves into factories. Until dealers find a way to introduce some new blood into the market, we’re going to be reporting on shitty, boring art fairs.

Let the Lowlights begin.


Doug Aitken

AFC’s Michael Anthony Farley identified this lit wall mounted sculpture by Doug Aitken as the most photographed work of 2012. Well, here it is again. I understand that many people like Aitken—he is apparently quite affable—but at what point do we get to concede that these light box pieces are almost completely vacuous?

Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman

Oddly enough the black and white image of a house by Robert Longo looks a lot like his contemporary  Laurie Simmons while the Cindy Sherman self portrait looks like a Longo. Basically, these two works look like bad knock offs of their contemporaries. Not good.

Nick Cave at Jack Shainman

Usually, Jack Shainman brings between five and eight of these Nick Cave sound suits. This year, there’s just one. A sign of dealer restraint at Art Basel? 

Damien Hirst logo painting at White Cube

Damien Hirst logo painting at White Cube. Is there anything more infinitely reproducible and soul crushingly boring than this? No.

Smiley face

Honestly, these Dan McCarthy ceramic pieces at Anton Kern are kinda funny, but it’s not like the artist just made two. These things are everywhere, and much like a good joke, experience it too many times, and it’s not funny anymore.


Christin Tourney

Definitely check out Cristin Tierney’s mini-retrospective of Peter Campus’s late seventies videos. A pioneer in the field of digital video, Campus’s creepy pieces often show faces merging and separating in some way. Usually, the videos take on a viral or sickly quality that makes them difficult to watch but oddly compelling.

Seis and Hoke

Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs at Sies + Hoke. Best work in the fair, IMO, but sadly blocked by collectors every time I entered the booth. Each picture in this booth shows some kind of formal illusion or pictorial similarity, be it lines that coincidentally line up, or cars that appear burnt in the light. It’s very clever.

Louise Nevelson

In a previous life, I spent a long time working for a corporate collection that owned one of these Louise Nevelson pieces now on view at Pace. During that time, I experienced the extra-ordinary qualities of this work. The nooks and crannies and shelves upon shelves are endlessly fascinating giving the works a near endless wall life. Perfect for any art connoisseur.

Jack Early

The background of these Jack Early works at Fergus McCaffry makes the work. It’s wallpaper from Early’s childhood, altered to make the two soldiers hold hands. It’s sweet and compelling fusion of sexual metaphor and personal history.

Sarah Lucas

Sarah Lucas, Eros, 2013, Sadie Coles. I’m not sure this dick on a crushed car is great, but I liked how easily the men-like-cars metaphor played out. But also, the idea of ending a slideshow with a giant dick laid out on a car appealed to me. 

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