There’s plenty of paint and canvas at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach. What’s far less in abundance? Screens, augmented-reality art and excessive talk of NFTs. The 20th anniversary of one of America’s most-ambitious art fairs runs until Sunday in Miami, a city that became a focal point for digital currencies prior to the crypto winter that we now find ourselves in (the basketball arena is rather awkwardly named after scandal-ridden crypto exchange FTX). In contrast to 2021’s fair, when even the most reluctant gallerists were being urged to get on the NFT bandwagon, it feels as though the sugar rush is over, replaced by a yearning for the tangible, the handmade, the solid.
“It’s refreshing,” one San Francisco gallerist tells me, in the throes of a healthy trade on the day-two vernissage. Indeed, beyond crypto’s travails, the broader economic headwinds of the moment have yet to fully reach Biscayne Bay. On the opening night, there was a $7m (€6.7m) sale of a 1998 work by Agnes Martin, among other hefty but never absurd deals.
“Oh, my God, look at those bathing suits!” is a common refrain in the Meridians section, which is host to large-scale work that wouldn’t fit in the booths. They include an assemblage by Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade, who spent about 10 years collecting discarded Speedos on a beach in Recife and has now squeezed them onto clay torsos. The curator of this section, Magalí Arriola of Mexico City’s Museo Tamayo, thinks that the emphasis on materiality and handmade media comes from a renewed desire to engage with older forms with deeper roots. She might well be right.
But enough about the art because we all know that it’s only one side of the story at Art Basel Miami Beach. It’s equally important to get on the right party list and there’s no sign that this year’s bashes are following the lead of the art and unplugging. Speaking of which, there’s a wristband across town with my name on it.
Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor.