Art Basel Miami: Day 1 Takeaway
The psychology of a major art fair is equal parts fascinating and, if you’re looking to buy, perilous. The reality is that the event is one giant trap for collectors. The illusion of scarcity is amplified dramatically. As much ground as there is to cover inside the convention center, there is also a bizarre sense that the fair is the entire art world. Practically every major global gallery has a booth, thereby creating the mirage of completeness.
But the twist is the consequence of that mirage: It feels as if the handful of pieces each booth is exhibiting equates to all that’s left on the market - or at the very least, all that’s left at the highest level of the market - worldwide, when overall this is a blatant falsehood.
To make matters worse, a collector also constantly feels the threat of her competitors (possible and actual) at the fair in a way that she usually doesn’t in a gallery setting. Yes, collectors often compete behind the scenes to an extent. But aside from gallery openings (which are usually not even the first look that a valued collector gets at new work), it’s rare to see one’s rival in the same space at the same time.
Not so at an art fair. The sprawling venue is like an ant colony milling with other visitors, each of whom could very well be looking to secure a prized piece before you can manage to do so yourself. Everyone in sight could be a threat. The aphrodisiac effect of competition becomes tangible; a kind of Black Friday atmosphere sets in.
So combine these two things - an amplified illusion of scarcity and an amplified sense of competition - and then ask yourself how many truly sound investment decisions are likely to come out of that scenario. Not every acquisition is a bad one, certainly, but gallerists have a major advantage over their clientele here. If they weren’t exploiting that edge, then I’m sure that the art fair sub-industry would not be expanding nearly as dramatically as it has over the course of the past decade. Based on my experience Wednesday, I don’t see that trend slowing or reversing anytime soon.