Stepping out of the shadow

Sari Anne Tuschman

Modern art is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, emerging from the shadow contemporary art has long cast


Contemporary art usually immediately comes to mind when considering the art-fair world, but that tide has been changing in the last several years, with Modern art experiencing something of a resurgence, and its galleries this year are definitely must-visit destinations at the Miami Beach Convention Center. ‘We first participated in Art Basel Miami Beach in 2007, and since that time the fair has increased the number of dealers who show Modern American art,’ says Edward De Luca, director of  DC Moore Gallery in New York City, whose booth this year focuses on significant and rare abstract paintings and collages by Romare Bearden, complemented by paintings by other 20th-century American artists. ‘By expanding the number of Modern art dealers, Art Basel has created a stronger and more balanced group of galleries in the show.’ De Luca says he has also seen the interest in collecting Modern works on the rise. ‘The primary and secondary markets for the estates and artists we represent have been consistently strong and parallel over the years,’ he says. ‘But during the past 10 years, the collector base—especially for mid-20th-century American art—has increased.’

Susan Sheehan of the  Susan Sheehan Gallery in New York City, too, has noticed an increased focus on Modern art as of late. ‘I’ve been attending Art Basel since the 1980s, and I have always thought the fair committee took great care and thought to represent both Modern and contemporary art—especially in recent years,’ she says. ‘In today’s world there is an emphasis on cutting-edge contemporary art, but Art Basel fairly represents both.’ Sheehan says she is planning on exhibiting masterworks of printmaking by Vija Celmins David Hockney Jasper JohnsEllsworth KellyBrice MardenEd Ruscha, and Cy Twombly, among others, this week.

As Modern art galleries make their presence more known, they are also finding new and innovative ways to collaborate with their contemporary counterparts. ‘Contemporary galleries are more and more mixing their program between contemporary and Modern,’ says Georges-Philippe Vallois of  Galerie Vallois in Paris. Heading to the show in Miami for the first time this year in the Galleries sector, Vallois is bringing works by historical artists such as  Niki de Saint Phalle, John De Andrea,  Jacques Villeglé, and  Peter Stämpfli, as well as works by younger artists including  Gilles Barbier and Martin Kersels.

David Fleiss has also found that his gallery, Paris’  Galerie 1900-2000, is intersecting with the contemporary world more frequently. ‘Lately, there has been a stronger interest in Modern galleries and Modern artists, and we have started collaborating with contemporary dealers,’ he says. ‘We lend them works from our inventory for their shows or booth. We even curated a show at David Zwirner gallery in New York in September.’ Fleiss says that at this year’s Miami show his gallery will stick to its specialty, showcasing Dada, Surrealism and other avant-garde works of the 20th century, mixing paintings, drawings, and photographs from European, American, and South American artists. In comparing the primary and secondary markets, Fleiss says, ‘We used to sell to very different collectors in the two markets. That has changed a lot since contemporary galleries have been mixing their program with Modern art. We now see their collectors come to our booth.’

It seems this year’s fair may witness a significant shift in where the attention of both collectors and curators lies. ‘What I have learned from recent auctions, the evolution of gallery programs and museum shows is that separate Modern and contemporary arenas makes less and less sense,’ says Vallois. ‘I think art fairs should now evolve in a curatorial way independent from historical boundary.’

This story originally appeared in the 2018 edition of Art Basel Miami Beach magazine, which can be downloaded here.

Top image: David Hockney, Afternoon Swimming (detail), 1979. Courtesy of the artist and Susan Sheehan Gallery, New York City.