Art Basel Miami Beach—Plus Rivals for Attention

Museum debuts, vivid installations and the fair itself compete for hordes of collectors

This year, a glut of competing art events has put pressure on the fair to wrangle collectors’ attention. Of course, the main event, which started in 2002, retains its art-world cachet as the year’s last art-buying hurrah,​drawing the usual hordes of collectors wearing chunky neon sneakers and flip-flops.​

But all over town, artists have set up eye-candy installations. They range from a colorful neon-lined nightclub with a black-and-white interior designed by German artist Carsten Höller to a group of spindly turrets and gilded pianos that Miami artist Peter Tunney salvaged from an Atlantic City casino and half-buried in the sand beyond the Faena Hotel Miami Beach, “Planet of the Apes”-style.

Miami’s museums have also jockeyed for time. The Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami is using fair week to open its new, expanded building. Earlier this week, the Bass Museum of Art opened an exhibition of the often-surreal work of Argentine Mika Rottenberg to showcase its own recent overhaul.

The exterior of the new building for the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami.

The exterior of the new building for the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami. Photo: Iwan Baan

But fair organizers said collectors are still carving out time to shop. Hundreds lined up outside the Miami Beach Convention Center on Wednesday morning to attend the fair’s VIP preview, including celebrities like actor Brad Pitt, supermodel Cindy Crawford and pop singer Ricky Martin. Organizers expect at least 70,000 people to attend the fair before it ends on Sunday.

Boulders and rocks turned up in artworks throughout the fair this time around. Berlin artist Alicja Kwade suspended rocks in oversize metal rings, and Ugo Rondinone piled rocks into colorful totems. At Revolver Gallery, artist Ishmael Randall-Weeks set chunks of silver and copper on a rotating, circular staircase that led to nowhere. Other artists like Carl Mannov toyed with furniture, turning sofas on their sides or attaching oversize claw feet to metal desks.

Major sales included Hauser & Wirth’s $9.5 million sale of Bruce Nauman’s suspended foam creatures, “Untitled (Two Wolves, Two Deer), 1989,” to an Asian collector. The gallery also sold a triptych by abstract painter Mark Bradford for $5 million. Pace Gallery sold Yoshitomo Nara’s 2012 painting of a “Young Mother” for $2.9 million. With some exceptions, most of the first-day sales hovered around $1 million or less.

Plenty of dealers also brought lesser-known artists, betting on the fair’s reputation for transforming young or overlooked creators into international stars. A few highlights:

FRANCESCA DIMATTIO

The daughter of a New York ceramist, this artist first broke through as a painter but has lately won raves for her topsy-turvy vases and ceramic sculptures that sit at the intersection of anthropomorphism and “Alice in Wonderland.” Major collectors like Dennis Scholl, Charles Saatchi and Anita Zabludowicz have purchased her work. For the fair, Salon 94 showed “Boucherouite V,” a new glazed porcelain and stoneware piece that looks like a woman covered in a black-and-white patterned tribal print. As of Friday afternoon, it was still available for around $50,000.

Francesca DiMattio’s ‘Boucherouite V.’

Francesca DiMattio’s ‘Boucherouite V.’ Photo: Elizabeth Lippman for The Wall Street Journal

SERGE ALAIN NITEGEKA

Born in Burundi and forced out of his home—and later, Rwanda—by civil war and genocide, Mr. Nitegeka is best known for arranging black planks of wood at odd angles that require visitors to tiptoe around them, a nod to the fragile instability of life as an immigrant. Newer works at the fair by the artist, who is now based in South Africa, involve thin, wooden sheets bent into curled, cleanly formal shapes. The Stevenson gallery booth was selling them for $22,000 apiece. “He’s interested in tension,” said Lerato Bereng, the South African gallery’s associate director.

Serge Alain Nitegeka’s ‘Found Form IV,’ left, and ‘Found Form V.’

Serge Alain Nitegeka’s ‘Found Form IV,’ left, and ‘Found Form V.’ Photo: Elizabeth Lippman for The Wall Street Journal

LUCY DODD

This New York painter might someday be sighted shopping for art materials at a farmers market: Her earthy abstractions contain a range of organic materials rarely combined, even on a plate. “Jupiter’s Folly,” her 12-foot-square work at the booth of New York gallery David Lewis, includes ingredients like charcoal, wild walnut, yerba maté, squid ink and kukicha, or Japanese twig tea. Last year, her career got a boost when the Whitney Museum of American Art gave her a show. “Jupiter’s Folly” sold the first day of the fair for $125,000, and her gallery said the buyer has promised to give it to a U.S. museum.

Lucy Dodd’s ‘Jupiter’s Folly.’

Lucy Dodd’s ‘Jupiter’s Folly.’ Photo: Elizabeth Lippman for The Wall Street Journal

CHANNING HANSEN

Crafts meets math for this Los Angeles artist, who hand-dyes and spins yarn, then knits it into patterns he’s created using algorithms derived from research into his own DNA. Major museums own his work, including hometown institutions like the Hammer Museum as well as Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum. For the fair, London dealer Stephen Friedman brought a group of Mr. Hansen’s latest knit works, including 2017’s “Software,” a $50,000 piece stretching across a pair of wooden frames.

Channing Hansen’s ‘Software.’

Channing Hansen’s ‘Software.’ Photo: Mark Blower

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