MIAMI - Thursday of Miami fair week: Time to get serious. Or silly? There was a little bit of both as the non-VIP crowds started taking over Art Basel Miami Beach and the evening parties rolled on without a break (Soho Beach House was on the verge of imploding from its multiple events and pushy lines of eager guests).

The big-time collectors were wrapping up their business by the end of the day, having gotten a jump on things (if they were smart). Little red dots (sold!) were starting to appear on the wall labels next to Juan Gris still lifes and Elizabeth Turk marble sculptures.

Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Red and Orange on Salmon) from 1969. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Courtesy of Helly Nahmad.

Certainly Mark Rothko paintings were holding their own as a market favorite, with their mesmerizing bands of color, most frequently red and orange.  At Helly Nahmad, no less than three examples held court: Untitled (Red and Orange on Salmon), 1969, No. 1, 1957 and Untitled, 1958. Seoul’s Kukje Gallery and New York’s Tina Kim Gallery were offering the very strong Untitled, 1968. And Rothko’s influence was palpable in contemporary work too: Hard not to discern it in Matt Connors rectangular abstraction Le Rayon Jaune, 2012, featured at London’s Herald St. Gallery. Should we call it a Roth-faux?

Richard Diebenkorn’s paintings seemed to be getting a little more love in booths this year. Perhaps it’s because of the touring show from earlier this year “Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series,” focusing on his most famous works. Greenberg Van Doren was showing off Untitled, Berkeley #67, a classic landscape-like abstraction in a Matissean palette of pink, green and blue. And Acquavella Galleries had a somewhat unusual figural piece, Man Drawing, 1956.

Richard Diebenkorn’s Man Drawing from 1956. © 2012 Richard Diebenkorn; Courtesy of Acquavella Gallery.

Although video art is still vital, there was a subtle shift this year toward what I would call “moving paintings.” Instead of a monitor playing some kind of scene that had to be paused over and apprehended, there were several framed pieces that looked for all the world like paintings—but upon closer inspection there was slight motion, more decorative that a traditional video piece but actually quite powerful in its subtlety. The best example of these was at Pace: Michal Rovner’s Yaar (Forest), 2012.  The Israeli artist has given a lot of attention to border crossings and national identity, and the tiny figures moving slowly across her work’s landscape attracted attention from anyone who passed it. There was always a crowd around it.

Michal Rovner’s Crossing, from 2012. © 2012 Michal Rovner/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy Pace Gallery.

As I rushed out of ABMB to get over the causeway to Pulse, usually my favorite of the satellite fairs, I was stopped by a new work at Mary Boone Gallery by David Salle, Charge! This talented painter hasn't gotten the attention he deserves in the last few years. I visited his studio in 2011 and chatted with him, and was impressed by what he had underway. This riff on a history painting, dotted by soldiers on horseback, is overlaid with a gestural intervention of sorts, in the form of waves of an Yves Klein-style blue. It held the wall with authority.

David Salle’s Charge! from 2012. © David Salle; Courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York.


Pulse, located in the arts district, had a lot of strong offerings, and the atmosphere was a little less tense than at the main fair. People looked happy rather than nervous about the prospect of buying a painting or a photo (that might be an effect of the price point). But after an hour it was already time to head back to the beach for my last dinner of fair week: the Absolut Art Bureau dinner at Temple House, an enormous former private home now used for events.

The Absolut Art Bureau dinner at Temple House on Thursday night.

The “dinnerscape” of tables, candles, flowers and trees was the loveliest I saw all week. One half of Los Carpinteros, the art duo who programmed a lively beachside “art bar” for the Absolut Art Bureau, was on hand, as were assorted journalists, curators and collectors. Art Basel chief honcho Marc Spiegler presided, and gave a mercifully short speech—as a former journalist, he understands the power of brevity, all the more striking in a week of unbridled excess. As with a Rothko, or even a Roth-faux, sometimes less is more.