Hot Black Artists, Hotter Scene at Art Basel

It seemed like the right time and the right place for black talent this year. And then there were the parties.

Venturelli/WireImage; Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for HL Group;Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images
Venturelli/WireImage; Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for HL Group;Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images

By any standard, four sales for one gallery in the opening hour of an art show is impressive, but when all four artists are black, it’s just short of amazing. The Tilton Gallery chose to show more than half a dozen black artists during the Art Basel Miami Beach show, something gallery associate Ryan McKenna said “is more than we would normally show,” but he added that these are the “artists we’re really interested in right now.” McKenna said it is not just black artists who are hot right now, but “multicultural is the new direction of contemporary art.”  (See The Root’s slideshow of selected works by black artists.)

Welcome to the 10th year of ABMB, which took place in Florida’s Miami Beach Convention Center from Dec. 1-4. It is considered one of the most prestigious art shows in America, where six- and seven-figure sales are not uncommon, and black artists from all over the world have a strong foothold. More than 260 top galleries from North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa took part, showing works by more than 2,000 artists. The show attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year and is a “must do” for anyone and everyone in the art world.

One of the big stars of ABMB this year is Theaster Gates, a multidisciplinary artist who works with sculpture, performance and urban planning as well as other art forms. Every Gates piece that the Kavi Gupta Gallery displayed sold out, including 24 sculptures shown outside the convention center in the Collins Park public space, which went for $30,000 each. Gates, who was partying it up with several other black artists at an event thrown by New York gallery owner Jack Shainman — where shrimp cocktail, ribs, coleslaw and potato salad were served — said “he’s humbled” by his success.

Shainman, who represents some of the biggest black contemporary artists, noted that there were so many galleries around his own in the convention center showing black artists, it was like “a small ghetto.”

He meant that in the most endearing way.

Shainman has been a go-to-guy for African and African-American artists seeking representation. He remembers his first ABMB in 2002, when, he said, very few dealers aside from him were bringing black artists to sell. Now, he said, black artists are “finally getting the recognition they deserve,” and not only are people buying their work, but they’re buying at the same prices that white artists command.