MIAMI—As the flights begin pouring into Florida for this year’s edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, one question unites the shark-suited dealers, the avid collectors, the hopeful artists, the curious curators, the plugged-in art advisors, and the five-to-a-room revelers (who are mainly interested in how this question affects the parties): Is the market back? It’s not an easy question to answer — if “back” means to 2008 levels, well, good luck — but it’s safe to say that in Miami this year the recessionary hair shirt will be doffed in favor of bikinis and champagne. Why?
Across the country the downturn’s aftertaste lingers, and jobs recovery proceeds at a barely discernible trickle. But the art market is resurgent, and roaring. A week of contemporary art auctions made $750 million in early November, with records being broken left and right for name artists, and speculation on up-and-coming talents — a critical, if criticized, aspect of a go-go market — is back in a big way. Quality is sought, but trophies are sought more. (How else to explain the sale of a Matisse bronze made 24 year’s after his death — essentially a replica — for an artist-record $49 million?) And pools of fresh collectors in emergent regions are making larger and larger bets on art, particularly in China and the Middle East. (C.f. the Art Asia and Zoom fairs during ABMB week.)
It’s no coincidence that just two years after pushing the economy off a cliff, the financial sector is back in a big way, too. Firms across Wall Street are experiencing growth spurts, with controversial bonuses somewhat replaced by heightening pay. High living and hefty expenditures seem again to be the order of the day. Odds are they will be out in Miami in force, taking lessons at the Skate’s Insiders Club Meeting this Thursday on how to treat and bundle art like a liquid asset class. “The art market has in fact come back with real strength,” Christie’s postwar art powerhouse Amy Cappellazzo told Reuters, with American collectors in particular returning “with great exuberance this season.” This is reflected at Art Basel Miami Beach: booth applications for this month’s edition were up 20 percent from last year’s cautious fair.