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Trends Around Miami: NFTs in Hiding, Covid Protocols Thrown to the Wind, and More

Art Basel, NADA, Untitled, high-profile parties, runway shows, concerts, gallery dinners, performance art—there’s been a whole lot to see and do this week in Miami. Although the mood may have been slightly dampened by continued travel restrictions and the prospect of continued Covid spread, activity largely progressed as planned. But what did it all mean? And what might we stand to learn about the state of the market and art world at large? Below, six trends that could be gleaned by shuttling around Miami this week.

NFTs in Hiding

NFTs, which over the past year have sold for prices rising to millions of dollars, might seem to be dominating the art market. But it is telling where NFTs have appeared this week and where they have not. Within Art Basel itself, there were some works made in the medium. Pace Gallery said it sold an NFT by the artist duo DRIFT for $550,000, and Galerie Nagel Draxler, of Cologne, Berlin, and Munich, dedicated a portion of its booth to new NFT works by Kenny Schachter. But in general there weren’t many NFTs to be seen in the confines of the fair—which makes sense, given the medium’s digital form. Instead, most NFT-related events took place outside the fair in ritzy surroundings.

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The sustainable NFT initiative Aorist, for example, sold a Refik Anadol work for a whopping $851,130 at an auction held at the Faena Hotel, with the proceeds headed toward ReefLine, which will help build environmental habitats off the coast of South Beach. If the Anadol piece had sold at Art Basel, it would have been among the most expensive works at the fair. That it was bought outside Art Basel may be another sign that there is still a gap between what could be called the traditional art world and the world of NFTs. Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s global director, seemed to speak for a lot of people in the former category when he called NFTs “confusing” at the fair’s VIP opening on Tuesday.

The Mask Comes Off, But the Covid Wristband Stays On

With the Omicron variant having now been located in the U.S., there are reasons to be worried about the spread of Covid. But pandemic anxiety seems to have been checked at the door of the fairs this week—literally. Art Basel, NADA, and Untitled all required visitors to show proof of vaccination, a recent negative Covid test, or documentation of recovery from the virus, and at Art Basel, attendees weren’t allowed in without a wristband to indicate that they had done as much. The fairs said in advance that people would still need to wear masks inside, and most people adhered. Yet as long-separated colleagues reconnected, the masks started to come off. (Florida itself does not have a state-wide mask mandate.) At certain events, such as an opening at the Rubell Collection packed with crowds that threatened to tip over a Yayoi Kusama sculpture, the situation was even more extreme—it was a rarity to see anyone with a mask at all.

Diversity Becomes a Priority at Art Basel

Art Basel Miami Beach’s selection committee relaxed its requirements for galleries this year in an attempt to allow in newer spaces and diversify the exhibitor list. Doing so brought in more Black-owned spaces, such as Housing and Kendra Jayne Patrick, as well as a few more galleries from Africa, including Zimbabwe’s First Floor Harare and Nigeria’s Rele Gallery. Generally, however, the exhibitor list looked familiar to those who follow fairs. But what many galleries brought to the fair looked different than in the past—there was a greater emphasis on work by young Black artists than ever before and strong showings of art by artists of all generations from Latin America. One could be optimistic and say that it’s good that artists of color are finally being showcased more frequently at fairs of Art Basel’s scale. One could also be cynical and consider it a market-driven attempt by blue-chip galleries to cash in on the effects of a larger systemic grappling with racism. The question is whether this diversity will continue going forward.

Virgil Abloh’s Memory Lingers Around Miami

Just before Art Basel opened, Spiegler took time during a press conference to sound an elegiac note for one of his colleagues, the fashion designer Virgil Abloh, who died at 41 at on Sunday. Spiegler recalled texting with Abloh as late as Saturday about Rammellzee, the late street artist whose work, as it happens, is featured at the booth of Jeffrey Deitch gallery, which just started representing his estate. “Then he stopped texting back,” Spiegler said with evident melancholy. As creative director of Louis Vuitton and, before that, as founder of the brand Off-White, Abloh touched the hearts and minds of many in the art world. And while his work wasn’t seen at the fair itself, it could be spotted in a Louis Vuitton runway show where models wore oversized garments in rainbow colors. Rihanna, Bella Hadid, and Joe Jonas were among those reportedly in attendance.

Galleries Bring Out Understated Art for Darker Times

At the last Art Basel Miami Beach, in 2019, Perrotin made a big bid for attention with Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian (2019), a banana duct-taped to a wall. That piece irked those who couldn’t believe it was art and amused others who are fans of Cattelan’s pesky readymades. Cattelan returned to the fair this year, showing taxidermically preserved pigeons at Marian Goodman Gallery’s booth. Even an artist who usually resorts to shock tactics seemed to have watered down his provocations this time. And in general, there was few stunts mounted at the fair—no one seemed to be trying for the Page Six headlines that the Cattelan banana piece generated. Still, mirror pieces, which tend to act as selfie fodder at art fairs, were present. One at Galerie Frank Elbaz’s booth by Mungo Thomson resembles a Time magazine cover bearing the words “Democracy Under Attack.” When viewers stand before it, they can see themselves reflected in place of an unseen cover star. During the opening hours of the fair, it went largely ignored.

A New Sculptural Style Emerges at Art Basel

The craze for figurative painting seems to be here to stay for a while, but there also appears to be a new desire for a very specific kind of sculpture in which human bodies morph into furniture-like forms. The style is not entirely new—Sarah Lucas, who had one such work made in 2021 at Gladstone Gallery’s booth, has been crafting lumpy abstract female bodies that loll against chairs since the ’90s. But other younger artists also appear to be picking up on the trend. At Simone Subal’s booth, Cameron Clayborn is showing a sculpture featuring grey-toned, fleshy limbs that appear to sprout from a divan. At Central gallery’s showcase, Marlena Manhães has a series of floorbound works in which bodily forms are placed beneath fabrics and accompanied by light bulbs, as though they are kinky design objects. They screeched with sound, too, as though they were living.

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