Thoughts On Art And Money – Art Basel 2013

20131210-181257.jpgArt Basel is a big art show that focuses on Modern and Contemporary art, that began in Basel, Switzerland. A little more than 10 years ago, the Art Basel franchise was expanded to include a show in Miami Beach. Since then, the Miami Beach Art Basel show has grown every year, with as many as 70,000 people estimated to have attended the main Art Basel Miami Beach event and other satellite events this year.

Though I had gone to some of the smaller Art Basel events years ago, Mr PoP had never been. So this year we decided to take a little mini trip and “get our art on” for the day – as well as to see the main event to see what all the fuss was about.

Here were some of our takeaways…


Art As Flea Market

20131210-181316.jpgThe main Art Basel event was huge. And packed. The entire Miami Beach Convention Center was mapped out into cubicle-style mini galleries. I normally have a great sense of direction, but here I managed to get completely turned around and lost my way multiple times. There’s just THAT MUCH ART.

But the thing is, it was really hard to enjoy it. The sheer number of people and the amount of art made it difficult to really take it all in. When Mr PoP described it later as feeling “like a flea market” I couldn’t have agreed more. Yet, it was a flea market where I would have gagged to know the prices of the pieces – especially the piece that was damaged by the crowd. (There was a giant ceramic squid with tentacles probably 8 feet long on the ground with no barriers, and one of the tentacles had been broken off about a foot from the end. An expensive “oops!”, I presume.)

Friends of ours went with the intention of looking for pieces to purchase and knew they were approaching it as more of a shopping trip than a gallery viewing. In hindsight, this was totally the correct approach. FWIW, they didn’t buy anything and have found that art valuations are getting hot again.


Please Do Not Sit On The Art

After hours and hours of wandering around South Beach to various smaller venues, and then becoming overwhelmed with the convention center, we ended up at Design Miami. Design Miami is an auxiliary event to Art Basel Miami Beach, and focuses on modern and contemporary design. It’s a lot like Art Basel, but with fewer pieces that are intended to be hung on the wall and more chairs.

A lot of chairs, actually.

Were there really that many, or is it the fact that by this time I wanted a chair oh-so-badly? And yet it seemed that while there was a chair in nearly every direction I turned, each had a tiny little folded sign on the seat asking nicely, “Please do not sit on the art.” So frustrating!

Ah well, Design Miami was still quite neat and one of the highlights for me here was a Nakashima rocking chair that looked as though you could just live in it.


Is It Art If You Have to Tell The Viewer?

ofcourseartyoufoolI get that art can be functional – just look at the Nakashima works. But there gets to be a strange line when the art needs to explicitly proclaim itself as “ART”.

Case in point was found in Design Miami – a relatively plain medicine-style cabinet with a white exterior, with a door opening to a mirror-backed interior with small glass shelves. But what sets it apart from the medicine cabinet in your grandmother’s old house? The black lettering across the front that states aggressively in all caps, “OF COURSE IT’S ART YOU FOOL“.

Maybe I’m outing myself as a complete plebeian here, but if the art is really THAT defensive about where it stands in the world, it seems to indicate a real lack of confidence. After all, if a woman starts telling everyone she meets “I AM A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN YOU FOOL”, after a while wouldn’t you start to wonder if she really believes that. After all, if she believed it and accepted it as truth, wouldn’t she not need to hear it stated so often?


And The Cost…

20131210-181239.jpgMost of the art we came across did not have price tags. In general I imagined how much I’d be willing to spend on a piece and then estimated that it would require 2 or 3 more zeros on the end of that number, if not even a few more beyond that.

But there was one piece in particular that stuck out to me for not only its simplicity – honestly it looked like something that most people could put together in a few hours with some balsa sheets and a little white paint. But the price tag next to it astounded me.


For that? Really? At that price, the artist could at least have come up with a title…


Luckily Public Art And Talking With Local Artisans Is Free…

20131210-181251.jpgThe parts I enjoyed the most was the time we spent in the sculpture garden erected in Collins Park and wandering through and getting to speak with some of the local artisans when we walked through the Art Center of South Florida and got to meet a few of the local artists who were present and some working on new pieces.

It’s this kind of bringing art to people and making it accessible that I appreciated the most. We all deserve to have some beauty in our lives, and public and local art can help accomplish that for many on a daily basis.


What Did All This Insight Cost?

All told we spent ~$210 on this little excursion.

  • $40ish in gas and tolls
  • $110 for two tickets to the Art Basel and Design Miami
  • $60 for both of us eating out all day

When we do it again (I say when since I know there is still so much that we missed that I think we’ll go again in a couple years), we’ll likely skip the main Art Basel event in favor of the more satellite events. Not only will this allow us to avoid the flea-market type atmosphere of the convention center, but luckily enough it’s also the more frugal choice as most of these events are free or a much lower cost.


Anybody else ever go to an event like this? How much have you spent on art and experiencing it over the years?

38 comments to Thoughts On Art And Money – Art Basel 2013

  • I have one piece of genuine art – everything else is cheapos and mass produced, etc. I had to have a valuation for my insurance and in four years it went up 50%! Nowhere near your $100,000… thing :)

    I love art, but I hate busy crowds,… Especially when you said it was like a flea market. I would be out in a heartbeat.
    Alicia recently posted..Troubleshoot my Personal Finances.My Profile

    • Up 50% in 4 years seems to be pretty realistic over the past 4-5 years – I was reading that art valuations are now back up above the 2007 values… much like the stock market, actually. =)

      The only problem with paying so much for the tickets is that you feel like you have to stay a while to get your money’s worth even if it’s not the experience you were hoping for…

  • That’s eye-opening, I don’t think I own a single piece of real “art”. And I definitely could not put up with your experience without rolling my eyes, and quite often. :-)
    FI Pilgrim recently posted..FI 101: Two Stages Of DebtMy Profile

  • I love art but couldn’t bring myself to pay anything outrageous for it. I love Nancy Noel paintings and she has a gallery near our home. I have treated myself to a few of her prints before but that’s all I’m willing to pay for!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..House Shopping: We Found “The One”My Profile

  • Yes. Add to your experience that it was hot and they charged five dollars for a water bottle. Never again.

    • It was in the mid-80’s, sunny, and not at all humid… plus one of the venues had free perrier of which I partook in a few. So these were not among my complaints. =)

  • I’m a big fan of art shows. We attended one on Hilton Head earlier this year and turned a free walk into a very, very expensive trip. Magic!

    BTW – Are you suggesting that I should stop wearing my HOT DUDE RIGHT HERE, OF COURSE! hat around town?
    AverageJoe recently posted..How To Sell Your House During The Holidays ā€“ 2 Guys and Your Money 58My Profile

  • I have thought about taking my art and selling it. It falls in that modern art category. But I see the prices my friends charge for their work and I freak out. No way am I asking 5k for a painting I did in about 5 hours one weekend. Yikes!
    Michelle @fitisthenewpoor recently posted..Wait. I Paid How Much Interest This Year?My Profile

    • Are there any local galleries or shops/restaurants where you might be able to place your pieces? You don’t have to charge an arm and a leg just because others do…

  • How interesting! I’ve never been to one. My eyes bugged out with that $100,000 price tag. Maybe the artist doesn’t really want to sell it. I remember when I was little, we had to make something to put on sale in an arts and crafts type show. I made a bag but I liked it so much I didn’t really want to sell it. So, I put a hefty price tag on it and someone still bought it! I was so mad!
    H @ Minding My Cents recently posted..Our 529 College Savings AccountMy Profile

    • At least you had a nice big pile of cash to wipe your tears with! =) That’s definitely a lesson on pricing… you’ll need to go really high if you don’t want it sold…

  • Anne

    $100,000?!?! For what looks like an IKEA assembly? They are out of their minds.

    We don’t own any real art, after the wedding I plan to start decorating our home and will buy a few things, but mostly the mass produced cheap stuff. We will probably end up with a winter scene Kinkade my fiance wants, but that should still just be a few hundred (and might double as a Christmas gift next year).

  • I’m glad you went! And I agree that that $100k piece probably deserves a title, maybe “Buyers Remorse in Waiting”? These sort of events are my private nightmare, not because of the people but because of the art itself, which always leaves me confused and feeling kind of stupid. I generally feel like a pretty smart guy but put me in front of paintings or sculptures and I turn into a five year old looking at algebra.
    Done by Forty recently posted..Budget PornMy Profile

    • haha, I like your title idea.

      As for feeling confused and stupid, I think I can get that way to if forced to “connect to the deeper meaning” that isn’t at all clear. Another piece was just a stack of Charlotte Bronte paperbacks. All identical copies of the book Villette. I totally didn’t get it (maybe I need to read the novel??), but just moved on to the next piece and didn’t stress about it.

  • Jonathan

    I suspect that the price tag on the “white painted wood” is part of the joke.

    • Um… it wasn’t really on the piece, off to the side. And other pieces in that gallery had similar tags nearby with prices listed. If the price was part of the joke, it went over my head.

  • Hey Mrs. Pop, sounds like you had a great time. I’ve never been to a gathering like this, but I’ve probably spent $5,000 or so in all the art I have in my home and office. Thanks for the great read!
    Joshua with recently posted..Why An Extreme Frugal Mindset Could Be Stopping You From Becoming RichMy Profile

  • Marcie

    I looked up the artist Sol LeWitt (the creator of the $100,000 piece) on Wikipedia. It definitely matters who the artist is and what role he/she plays in the art scene. LeWitt is considered a founder of both Minimal and Conceptual Art. He has artworks on permanent display at the Tate Modern in London, the Pompidou in Paris, and the National Museum in Washington DC and he has had solo exhibits in many famous museums throughout America and Europe. He is also dead, which would add value to his art since, in economic terms, now there is a cap on the supply. Knowing something about the artist and the context in which it was produced might make the viewer appreciate it a bit more. It sounds like the show curator didn’t do a very good job: making a maze of rooms, providing little seating, allowing the exhibit to become overcrowded to the point of damaging a piece, and especially by providing poor information on the artwork. A good gallery show would minimally provide a biography of each artist, especially if they wanted to sell anything. Museums usually charge somewhere between Free and $30 or so to get in, so $55 each seems expensive, especially because of the problems. To answer your question, I’d go to the satellite exhibits too and skip the main event, though, if given the opportunity, I would give the museum in Basil a visit.

    • Thanks for doing some digging on the artist of the wood with white paint piece. Conceptually I get why his background and now death add to the value of the piece, but I still can’t seem to get over the price if it’s something that virtually anyone could make a replica of fairly easily.
      There were gallery representatives sprinkled around, but the sheer volume of attendees meant that it was really only worth stopping and talking to them if you were really interested in the pieces and were interested in a possible purchase.

  • Brian

    I go to a couple art fairs a year just to wonder around. I have yet to purchase anything because what I like is usually waaaaaay more than I would be willing to pay for it. We sometimes do a “first Friday” art show too. Again, we don’t purchase anything, but it is nice to see what people are making.

    We went to a museum locally that had a modern art exhibit… I walked out thinking “I don’t get it.” I have come to realize in general me and modern art don’t see eye to eye.

    • First Fridays are great! Especially when they’re handing out free wine, too! =)

      I’ve come to a detente with modern art… I used to get worked up over not getting it, or what the point is… but now if a piece doesn’t strike me, I move on to the next one. There’s pretty much always something that I really appreciate for one reason or another, even if not the “intent” of the artist.

  • I know art is important – but $100,000 for some white cubes?! To each his own, I suppose. Thankfully there are so many museums that are free or cheap to experience art without destroying your budget, and lots of places have totally free art walks.
    Laura @ recently posted..Lending Club Update December 2013My Profile

  • I love free street and park art. There’s a sculpture garden in Astoria, Queens that is free to the public and always has some great showings that change constantly so it’s great to come back. Plus it’s right next to Costco so it’s a great way to kill two birds with one stone. šŸ˜‰
    Tara @ Streets Ahead Living recently posted..Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s healthy!My Profile

  • We have Art-o-matic in the DC area which I’ve been to a few times, I have a friend that exhibits there (and it’s free, the only reason she can get me to go). I can spend about 1s or less appreciating art, then I’m bored out of my mind, so I just don’t spend on some types of art. Photos and realistic digital art (a la digital blasphemy) I tend to spend on though.
    Mom @ Three is Plenty recently posted..Freezing Cold Weather and No PowerMy Profile

  • The main Art Basel sounds super hectic, I would have a hard time appreciating any of the art. I agree $100k is incredibly pricy – maybe the artist is well known? Otherwise I’m not really understanding it. I like to peruse museums whenever I’m traveling, and there’s Night at Ray’s in SD where art galleries are open later than usual. I mostly go to support friends, but haven’t “invested’ in any art.
    anna recently posted..My Holiday TraditionsMy Profile

  • I’ve never been to an event like this but prefer smaller, local art gather openings that are free and serve free wine and apps. :) Plus it just feels so much less overwhelming. And truthfully I’m less into art than I am photography.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted..How I Made 10k in Side IncomeMy Profile

  • My husband is an artist, and he prices his pieces based on how much time they took him to create. So it’s funny, because I see weird, crappy modern art pieces that I think, “You want WHAT for that????” But I also have to deal with friends asking if hubs will make them things, but thinking it will be cheap, and not understanding why he prices the way he does. He’s a metal artist, so if they want him to make them, say, a bowl, he takes a flat sheet of metal and bangs it into shape with a hammer. So…yeah…that takes some time, which means it’s going to cost them money. Most people just don’t get it.

    In other words, I’ve seen both sides of the coin!

  • Looks like a fun event, I imagine the satellite activities are numerous too. I am not a big art fan, I prefer live performances rather than static paintings and sculptures. My boyfriend has a huge art collection, mostly paintings from Guatemalan artists. His goal is to turn a profit selling smaller pieces to keep the main ones at no cost to him. And he gets to enjoy the art in the meanwhile. He is well connected so the markup he can make on art flips is impressive.
    Pauline @RFIndependence recently posted..Why your mindset is more important than strategies when reaching financial independence.My Profile

  • $0. Call me uncultured but I just have no appreciation for art. The kind of stuff I do like is cool street art like you find in Brussels, Berlin, SF, even in DC…
    eemusings recently posted..Confession: Our finances are a mess right now (and Iā€™m okay with that)My Profile

  • […] Weekend – We head off to Art Basel. Art Basel Miami Beach only comes around once/year, and living life is important! On Sunday, Mr PoP removed some drywall […]