Collector's Diary: A Day at Art Basel Miami Beach With Amy Phelan

Collector's Diary: A Day at Art Basel Miami Beach With Amy Phelan
Amy Phelan at the Art Basel Miami Beach VIP Preview
(Courtesy Billy Farrell Agency)

Almost everyone leaves Art Basel Miami Beach tired. As Andrew Berardini wrote in Artforum this week, “Miami fair week is stressful: Dealers stressing about collectors. Collectors stressing about outgunning other collectors. Curators stressed by trustees. Most everyone in the business stressed out about dinners and parties.” But just what is it that collectors do all day at art fairs — and how do they go about outgunning each other, exactly?

ARTINFO chatted with indefatigable contemporary art collector Amy Phelan, Guggenheim trustee and chair of ArtCrush, the Aspen Museum of Art's annual summer benefit, to find out what a day at the fair is really like for those who are there not just to look and party, but also to buy.

Phelan’s lively art collection, which she began assembling in 2002 after moving to New York to marry hedge fund manager John Phelan, includes a mix of the flirtatious, daring, and straight-up sexy. In her Aspen home, a Marilyn Minter closeup of sparkling lips — which just happen to be Phelan's own — accompany Will Cotton's painting of a busty Katy Perry, and Damien Loeb's portrait of his model wife in the nude. In New York, the Phelans’ Park Avenue apartment features a still of showgirls by Matthew Barney from the famed “Cremaster” series, nude photographs by Helmet Newton, and an Ed Ruscha text painting reading “toy.” Phelan, who does not work with an art advisor, talked to ARTINFO about what her day looks like during Art Basel Miami Beach. Here's what she told us, hour by hour:

8:00 a.m.: Wake up, get dressed, and have breakfast by 10. We stayed at the Loews Hotel. We like to stay at different places — most of the time it’s the Delano or the Setai, but we were late getting our reservation. We walked over to the fair for the opening at 11.

11:00 a.m.: Everyone who has a pass to get in for first choice starts queuing up around 10:30. It was something of a mob scene, with people pushing and trying to angle their way up — it’s a little supermarket showcase showdown. I’m not a big fan of shoving, so we waited to the side. There is something very special about getting there at 11, though, since it's the earliest entry time and they offer different levels of passes with different entry times.

11:20 a.m.: After everyone got in and felt like they could breathe, the crowd felt totally manageable and it had a really good energy. First, we wanted to go see a few works we put on hold at Gagosian and Rodolphe Janssen — we always start out that way since you want to be courteous to the galleries who are saving things for you. Galleries often send out e-mails to their clients with a preview of what they’re bringing, and if you see something that you’re interested in, sometimes they will hold things.

One of the works we put on hold was an Anselm Reyle piece at Gagosian. It was a square purple foil piece encased in purple plexi. We saw it on a jpeg and when they pulled it out for us, it was even more beautiful in person. We decided to noodle it for a bit and walk around. We couldn’t stop thinking about it, so we called and said we'd buy it.

12 p.m.: We like to start at one end and loop around, going up and down each aisle so we don’t miss anything. It was a little tricky to make your way up and down the aisles this year; they laid it out a little differently. One piece I really liked was by Rodrigo Torres; he meticulously cut and collaged outdated and unused currency from different countries. A couple different galleries had great Nick Cave soundsuits. Jack Shainman Gallery had a wonderful piece by Kerry James Marshall. It was a rectangular painting with a gray grid, which featured a black woman with purple star-glittered pasties on her breasts, purple gloves, and a really terrific afro. Gabriel de la Mora, a Mexican artist, had a great piece at OMR made from post-its, and others made from human hair. I thought Sperone Westwater also had some terrific pieces by Tom Sachs. There was also a very cool photograph by Luis Gispert from Rhona Hoffman Gallery, a photograph of a car interior. This particular car was all black Chanel. We bought the Gispert piece right away — we own some of his other work.

1 p.m.: The browsing continues. It’s almost like being at a perfume counter when you’re looking for a new scent. You smell so many that you have to smell coffee beans because they all start smelling the same. We go in hoping that we’re going to see something we’ve never seen before, and we always do. We buy what we can’t live without and what we love. We put things on hold and we come back, but a lot of times it’s pretty visceral.

2 p.m.: We went to the collector’s lounge and had a little snack — sushi, coconut shrimp, mini Kobe beef sliders, and champagne. We saw some of our friends who are also collectors, like Edward and Agnes Lee, Peter Kraus, and Maria Bell. People always ask each other, “So, did you buy anything?” And everybody always responds coyly, “Ehhh, maybe a few things.” I’m sure everyone has purchased some really great stuff, but people don’t want to spill the beans, because it feels strange, ostentatious. If it’s a great emerging artist, it feels good. But sometimes people don’t want to talk about that either, because then there will be more competition for the work. The whole dynamic of the collectors and the collector’s lounge is pretty funny.  

3 p.m.: We walked through the fair with Glenn Fuhrman, a friend of John’s who owns the FLAG Art Foundation, for a little while. We try to do half the fair before lunch, and then concentrate on the other half after we refuel. It stays pretty busy throughout the day but the energy of the crowd does change. It starts out very frenetic, like a treasure hunt, and then people have lunch and drink some champagne, so they’re a bit more chilled out. But they’re still on a mission.

6 p.m.: We finished the fair and went back to our hotel to change for the night’s events. There’s always far more going on than you can possibly begin to do.

7 p.m.: We took a taxi to Alex Rodriguez’s house to see an installation he organized for artist Nate Lowman. We didn’t stay too long — just popped in and popped out.

7:30 p.m.: We headed to a crazy party hosted by the Kingdom of Morocco, Maybach, Maria and Bill Bell, and Jeffrey Deitch at the Raleigh. It was very decadent — it felt like stepping into a Moroccan tent. It was also incredibly well attended — and what I mean by that is, extremely crowded.

9:00 p.m.: We hopped out and had a quick bite to eat — more sushi. Then we went to the Soho House for Dasha Zhukova’s beach BBQ party, and that was pretty insane too. A lot of scantily clad women — nothing wrong with that. It was a very beautiful crowd, and there was lots of dancing and drinking.

12:30 a.m.: We headed home. We couldn’t sleep in too late — the next day we were headed back to the fair.