Art Basel Miami Beach starts on Thursday, and the word "test" is being used instead of "expectation." Even though there have been signs this month that the art market is turning the corner (or at least trying), caution remains pervasive, and the market is still seen to be fragile. The fair's organizers have said that profits will be down at least 20 percent for everyone involved, because of lower prices and a decline in the number of exhibitors.
Sixty of last year's participants have dropped out already, and the number of satellite art fairs around Art Basel Miami Beach has fallen from 22 to 16. Layout changes are taking the shift in participation and making it benefit those who remain. Exhibit space has been increased by 20 percent, and booths in the main art galleries area will be larger, as a result. This is where most of the action is. Eighty-five percent of the dealers have come back, and the number of stands has increased from 265 to 270.
Though prices are expected to be down at the Miami fair this year, artists and galleries aren't giving their work away. Emmanuel Perrotin, the Paris gallery, is trying to move Takashi Murakami's "Warp," painted this year, for $1.5 million. The same gallery is also pushing a Duane Hanson sculpture for $425,000 and a photographic print by Paola Pivi for $33,000. Edward Tyler Nahem, a first-timer at Art Basel Miami Beach, has a room full of paintings by Alejandra Icaza, which are selling for $35,000 a piece.
The crowd in Miami is likely to be a return to past decades, in which art collectors and investors -- rather than what Todd Levin, director of Levin Art Group calls the "fashionista crowd" -- dominate the scene. Art Basel Miami Beach thus might become an art fair again.