The Bass Museum, Miami. Sylvie Fleury, Eternity Now, 2014. Collection of The Bass. Photography by Silvia Ros. Image courtey The Bass.

Art advisor Karen Boyer shares what art fairs and market trends she’ll be watching this year at Miami Art Week. 

“Art is among the hottest markets on earth” declared the headline of a recent Wall Street Journal article—and, rightfully so. Sotheby’s recently clocked their most successful sale in history with the $676 million Macklowe collection (for quick reference, Sotheby’s was founded in 1744). Among the most notable lots that night was Giacometti’s sculpture Le Nez (1947), which sold for $78.4 million to crypto billionaire and tech entrepreneur Justin Sun

Immediately prior to that record-breaking auction, Christie’s sold a physical sculpture by the “NFT artist” Beeple (Mike Winklemann) for $29 million— more than $10 million above its high estimate and, by all accounts, the artist’s first sale ever of an actual IRL sculpture. Meanwhile, “Banksy’s auction sales reached $133 million in the first nine months of the year, surpassing Monet and making him the fourth best-selling artist, after Picasso, Basquiat, and Warhol, according to Artnet Analytics.” And, following their record-breaking Macklowe sale, Sotheby’s achieved “the most money ever paid at auction for a work by a Latin American artist,” when Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait, Diego y yo, sold for $34.9 million.

New mediums are now ranking alongside post-modern masterpieces in terms of market viability and institutional interest. Case in point: the ICA Miami recently acquired a CryptoPunk NFT for its permanent collection. “Ultra-contemporary artists,” or artists born after 1974, are also having a moment and have seen auction sales more than double in the last three years alone. 

With capital flowing across both the traditional and digital art markets, buttressed by crypto millionaires, the newly minted (get it?) HNW investor class being courted by every art dealer on the planet, it’s a brave new art world. 

And now, Art Basel Miami is beckoning. After almost two years of social distancing, the art world is about to reconvene in the art deco playground that is Miami Beach. The anticipation is palpable. 

To gain some perspective on this year’s fairs, we caught up with Karen Boyer, an art advisor based in Miami and an executive member of the Association of Professional Art Advisors (APAA). Karen is a trained lawyer with a background in finance who studied art at both Berkeley and the Sorbonne—making her a triple threat and a highly sought-after advisor. 

In between client trips to New York (for the ADAA Show) and Texas (for the Dallas Art Fair), Karen sat down with us on zoom to discuss this year’s Miami calendar, her “must-see” museums and private collections in town, and what art market trends she’s keeping an eye on, for better or worse. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Art advisor Karen Boyer of Elements in Play. Image courtesy Karen Boyer.

AA: What’s on your Miami Art Week calendar? And what are the fairs, museums and collections in town that you recommend visiting?

KB: On Monday, I will be taking several clients to the opening day of Untitled, which is a fair that will open in a tent on South Beach, right on the beach. My job is to take clients around a fair and facilitate them buying works. I get a lot of previews from a lot of the galleries, so I usually have a plan on what to show people. 

For my first client, I can put works on hold. Galleries will typically let you reserve a work for one hour from the opening of the fair. So I can only do it for my first client. Sometimes that requires zigzagging around to go to the pieces that are on hold. Then I can show my other clients around at a more leisurely pace.

I also have gallery dinners, collection openings, and other events that I’ll attend every night, but it should be noted that everything is very pared down this year compared to years past. People are still trying to abide by Covid restrictions, although we're very fortunate in Miami that we can be outside year round, including in December. And most people in the art world, I believe, are vaccinated at this point. So I think that makes everybody feel better about attending these events.

Tuesday is the private opening of Art Basel. I will take several clients around the fair in the same way, zigzagging the first person and then walking around in a more orderly sort of manner—in theory— with my other clients. 

On Wednesday, I'll go to the opening of NADA, and take various clients around that fair and then I have an event that night. And then on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I'll take other clients to Art Basel and maybe to a couple of other fairs. 

The Rubell Museum. Installation view, left to right, Kehinde Wiley, Keith Haring, and Gilbert & George. Image courtesy the Rubell Museum.

Beyond the fairs, I recommend visiting The Rubell Museum. The Rubells are collectors who opened their museum in December of 2019, during the last Art Basel Miami, and they have a spectacular collection. They did a beautiful job building this museum and displaying the works.  

I really recommend paying more attention than usual to the wall texts because it says when they bought the works, which is interesting because they really got in early on a lot of artists and their track record for discovering young talent is very impressive. 

This year, for example, the Rubells spotlight artist is Kennedy Yanko and her career has already taken off in anticipation of her showing at the Rubell Museum. 

The de la Cruz collection is a private museum right next to the ICA Museum in the Miami Design District. So those are two things you can do at the same time because they're literally right next door. The ICA has some great shows up right now, and the de la Cruz always has a great collection on view which they rotate throughout the year. Jeffery Deitch will mount an exhibition at the Moore Building in the Design District again and that’s always worth seeing. 

The PAMM is exceptional—the building alone is so beautiful—but they also have several good shows on view. And The Bass is also a great museum that’s only one block away from the convention center where Art Basel is held, so it’s very easy to visit. Finally, the Faena Hotel has a nonprofit platform— Faena Art— devoted to immersive and site-specific art that usually mounts an installation on the beach, and the Margulies Collection is always a treat to visit as well.

Installation shot: Ugo Rondinone at The Bass. Photo by Zachary BalberR. Image courtesy The Bass.

AA: Coming from a legal and financial background, what led you to pivot and become an art advisor? 

KB: I have a bit of an unusual background for an art advisor, having worked both in finance and in the legal realm prior to working with art. My mom is an artist though, and I grew up in Los Angeles always being surrounded by a lot of art and going to museums and galleries with my family. 

I studied art while an undergrad at Berkeley, but not as a major and not with any intention of working in the art business. In fact, in college, I'm pretty sure I didn't know there was an art business—I just really loved art. After college, I spent a year in Paris and studied art history at the Sorbonne. 

Then I moved to New York and ended up going to law school and becoming a lawyer. But, during that time, I also joined various museum groups — at MoMA and the Whitney — and met art collectors and art professionals and became really interested in the art market. When I got my first job in the hedge fund business, I went to the very first Art Basel in Miami Beach in 2002. I got swept up in the moment, and ended up buying a piece of art. 

After that, I started spending all of my free time traveling around with the groups from the museums and my various friends—we would do our own trips—and I started collecting art. Once I started doing that, I mean really putting my hard-earned cash into art, I started doing more due diligence, and really just spending all my time looking at art. I loved it so much that I decided to take a job at a gallery that did both primary and secondary market transactions. 

I then decided to go out on my own because people were asking me to help them find art, and I couldn't really help people outside of the gallery where I was working at—I didn't think it was proper to recommend art that my gallery wasn't selling directly. So, I decided to go out on my own as an advisor and I've had my own business for more than 11 years. 

I help people buy and sell art, and I work with a number of people that have never bought art before. There's always a bit of an education period where I teach people about the art market and about art and about acquiring art, and I often help clients figure out what they like. 

Then I help them acquire the art and get it delivered and installed in their homes and help with insurance and estate planning and anything else that is necessary. I also work with people that have been buying art for various periods of time on their own, but never in any sort of meaningful way—maybe they want help focusing in a certain area, or they need access to the very sought-after artists that they can't get on their own. I help people sell their art too, so I have all different kinds of clients. 

My legal and finance backgrounds are certainly helpful in my current role as an advisor. I’m comfortable selling expensive works and also treating art as an asset class because people do look at it as an asset, particularly when it gets past a certain dollar amount. 

I can talk about investing in art and do different comps between the same different works by the same artist or different artists that are similar to try to figure out if the prices are right and to talk to my clients about that. My finance background has been helpful in that way. 

My legal background helps me be able to think through certain things — having had an analytical education — and I’m also very comfortable with the contractual aspect of art acquisitions and negotiations, due to my background.

Installation view, Amoako Boafo at the Rubell Museum. Image courtesy the Rubell Museum.

AA: What are your thoughts on “art as an investment” and what are some art market trends you’ve noticed recently? 

KB: I firmly believe that art can be an asset, but I don't think that buying just anything is the way to invest in art. 

I know people get swept up in the moment, and they read the headlines, and they think that all art will appreciate. And, that's absolutely not the case. In fact, the vast majority of art does not appreciate— a lot of art does, but a lot of it doesn't. 

I think you have to be very, very careful when thinking about what you might purchase. I do believe that you can buy art that will appreciate, but you have to buy wisely. If bought correctly, art can be a way to preserve your capital and that can work as an inflationary hedge, so that — at the very least— you can get your money back. 

There are several so-called “trends” in the art market that have been going on for a number of years now. One is African American and African Diaspora artists, and I believe that will continue. It's filling a gap, historically, in museums — I think it's really great and long overdue to have those artists represented in institutions and also in a lot of private collections. 

With younger collectors, I think they're interested in buying art of their time. I think that’s true in terms of the younger artists that are coming to the market now. I think younger collectors really understand the messages that these ultra-contemporary artists are conveying and that’s why they really resonate with new collectors.

Another trend has been sort of looking back and rediscovering artists that were from a certain time period— like the Abstract Expressionists. I’m not talking about Jackson Pollock and those people that everybody already knows, but artists who worked at the same time as them — or even drank with them at the Cedar Tavern. In fact, a lot of the artists that are being rediscovered right now are women, which I also think is an important gap to fill in art history, and in collections. So that has been a big trend as well. 

Finally, a trend that I don't want to spend too much time on—because I have very conflicting opinions on it—is NFTs, which a lot of the younger people now are interested in buying and investing in. Some NFTs have sold for millions and millions of dollars; but, I would caution again that it's not a great place to start collecting art and very few NFTs will actually appreciate in value.

Generationally, younger people are very used to looking at everything on a computer screen or on their phone—so the digital medium resonates with them. Some people don't consider it art at all, depending on what it is, but I do think generationally that it's something that we have to pay attention to. A lot of the NFT buyers are crypto billionaires and people who only transact in that currency— that phenomenon also skews younger.  So, I believe that's a generational thing that we do need to pay attention to in the art market.

Currently, there are two different groups of people: there's a group buying NFT's, and a group buying traditional IRL art, if you will. However, the auction houses have really jumped on the bandwagon and actually put their stamp of approval on NFTs— in my opinion, a little bit too early— but everybody's trying to cash in, and they are hoping to convert some of those new buyers from crypto-art buyers to traditional art collectors.

I can honestly say that none of my clients have asked me about buying NFT's. If a client came to me and said, “I have $69 million should I buy a Beeple?” I would much rather they buy a Pollock, a Krasner, a Warhol, a Basquiat, a Joan Mitchell, a Helen Frankenthaler, etc. and so on. You could build a really amazing collection for $69 million, and you don't have the risk of it disappearing or being stolen by hackers. 

Installation shot: Lawrence Weiner, SHELLS USED TO BUILD... The Bass, Miami. Image courtesy The Bass. 

AA: Back to Miami—is Art Basel Miami a marathon? Or a sprint?

KB: I would say it's a sprint, for many reasons. 

One reason is that most people come at the beginning of the week, and they leave by Friday. So they're in and out, they go to one to three fairs and then they go to a party, go to dinner, and go to the beach for five minutes and then go home. It's very fast paced.

It's not like, “let's go on Tuesday and make a decision on Saturday,” — you go on a Tuesday, and you decide what works to buy right then and there—that second—otherwise someone else is going to buy them out from under you.

AA: What advice do you have for new collectors? Why would a new collector need an art advisor such as yourself?

KB: It definitely depends on what your goals are; but, if you want to really collect art, I do not recommend starting out by going to Art Basel and trying to make purchases. 

In general, art fairs are not the best places to buy art, unless you know exactly what you're looking at. That’s because a gallery booth will usually have one work from every artist they represent, and if you like that one work, it could be the only work you actually like by that artist. So, I always recommend that people ask the gallery to see other work by that artist, because, quite possibly, it's the only work you like— in which case you don't actually like the artist—or it's the worst work they've ever made.

So, I do recommend doing a lot of due diligence and asking questions. 

At an art fair, especially when everything is trading so fast and people are running around and it's crowded, etc., it's hard to tune out all that noise. So, for “first timers,” I wouldn't recommend jumping in and buying at a fair, and I obviously think that it's a good idea to have an art advisor— especially one who’s a member of the APAA

That's a good place to start because we're a membership organization that's invite only and you have to be approved by the membership committee, which really means that you have to have a real business for at least five years. We all have to agree to a code of ethics, which, amongst other things, dictates that we cannot accept commissions from galleries—which no art advisor should, but some do. 

We also can't hold inventory that we then turn around and try to sell to our clients because that's a conflict of interest. Anybody can say they're an art advisor, but that doesn't really mean anything. So I have found this organization to be very helpful in developing art advisory standards and I think they've done a really great job at that.

With the proliferation of more online avenues for buying art, in addition to all the galleries and auction houses and everybody trying to disintermediate each other, I think it's more important than ever to have an art advisor. There's more noise and more confusion and more competition than ever before— and the more entrants into the art market have also made buying certain artworks really difficult. 

I've never, ever been this busy, the art market is crazy active right now. I can't complain, it’s great. I mean, I don't sleep much anymore, but a lot of what I do is is competing for works and it’s nearly impossible to get a lot of art without an art advisor—unless you're a big collector in your own right—but you can't just enter the market right now, roll up to a gallery and buy something that's popular. You'll be put on a waiting list for the rest of your life.  

Even going to an art fair— it's really hard to walk into that convention center and know where to go and who to talk to and what to buy. The fair is huge and chaotic and people are running around—and this will be the first one in two years so it's going to be crazy.

I think an art advisor can help navigate the room, first and foremost, and then the larger art market in general.  I can walk into a booth and have a conversation with somebody that's also talking to somebody else and I can put something on hold while they’re engaged in another conversation, just because they just know me and we can do it in five seconds.

AA: What are your thoughts on the recent gallery influx to South Florida? Do you think Miami could become the next gallery hotspot? 

KB: Tons and tons of people have been moving to Miami, or, at a minimum, buying additional homes in Miami since the pandemic first started. A lot of sophisticated people have been coming from New York and California and other places. 

I think that if the galleries continue to see more sales coming from this region, then other galleries might do pop ups or open permanent spaces. At least three of the galleries that did pop ups last year— Gallery Lelong, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, and Goodman Gallery—are doing pop ups again this year in the Design District, which bodes well for the local art market.

A lot of galleries have opened satellite spaces in Palm Beach, which is less than two hours from Miami. I think those galleries chose Palm Beach over Miami because there's more known art buyers there, and “longer-term collectors”— so it’s sort of a safer bet for the gallerists.

So, we'll see what happens. I'm hopeful that more galleries will continue to come to Miami from other places. Miami has some very good galleries that show emerging artists, but we don't really have local galleries showing more blue chip works—or even really mid-career artists—so I would love to see more of that. Miami is ready for it. 

To learn more about Karen’s art advisory, Elements in Play, visit her website

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