Yesterday marked the end of the most highly-attended Art Basel to date. The 41st annual contemporary art fair boasted 306 galleries from 36 countries, and AO was on site to peruse the work of some 2,5000 artists. 62,500 dealers, collectors, curators, high-profile shoppers, artists, and art appreciators navigated installations, browsed gallery booths, mingled, and enjoyed the city of Basel. Artists, established and newcomers both, showcased works ranging from Polaroids to performance pieces, paintings to videos, sculptures to large-scale installations. A social and teeming affair with an obvious commercial edge, Basel’s sales were optimistic. Picasso, Warhol, Prince, Hirst, de Kooning, Pollock, and other similarly established artists reigned supreme as the focus of this year’s event. Franck Giraud, a New York dealer, spoke to the New York Times about the lack of prominently featured up-and-comers: “Is it because that’s what the market wants, or is it because dealers didn’t want to take risks? I think it was a bit of both.” Nonetheless, certain galleries used Basel as a platform to introduce new artists and show off their latest signings.
Despite the attention major sales of Miró and Matisse garnered, lesser-known names were visible in prominent booths. Barbara Gladstone notably offered prime positions to newly-signed artists such as Cecilia Edefalk, already famous in her native Sweden, and Richard Gray Gallery presented artist Jan Tichy from the Czech Republic, who sold an installation for $25,000. A comma off from the prices Gray’s gallery typically fetches, the gallerist argues that featuring new artists is a sensible way to give them an edge, despite the strategy lacking short-term financial sense. Forward-thinkers like Gray acknowledge the need to feature trophy pieces in addition to the work of up-and-comers, as a way to both profit and add credibility to the new signings: at Basel, Gray sold a $4 million 1947 Picasso and a $2 Giacometti bust. London’s Frith Street gallery used a similar tactic, taking advantage of its prominence to introduce artists who are not yet household names. Frith Street featured an installation called The Knots that Bind are the Knots by a group of Indian artists known as the Raqs Media Collective, which sold to insurance company Hiscox for €45,000. Casey Kaplan gallery took the opportunity to introduce and sell works by three new artists, including a sculpture of actress Lucille Ball by Marlo Pascual that sold to a trustee of the Dallas Museum of Art for $18,000. Sculptor Anthony James also debuted at the fair, with Los Angeles dealer Patrick Painter generating buzz for the artist by selling his 2010 Birch for $125,000 to a German collector. Andrew Richards, director of New York’s Marian Goodman Gallery tells The Art Newspaper that such pieces have been selling at high volume, despite pieces in the several million dollar range being slower to sell than in 2007. He adds, “But it’s never going to go back to where it was–that was a freak moment in time.”
Les Fleurs, Louise Bourgeois, 2010, Cheim & Read, Art Basel. Image via The Art Newspaper.
Nonetheless, confidence was high at Art 41 Basel, a tribute to booming auction prices of late. Collectors such as Michael Ovitz, Roman Abramovich, Peter Brandt, Val Kilmer, Bianca Jagger, and Pauline Karpidas perused Basel during its VIP opening and purchased notable pieces by Picasso, Barbara Kruger, Louise Bourgeois, and Paul McCarthy. Donald Rubell, a Miami collector, told the New York Times that unlike last year, when gallerists and dealers navigated the fair with trepidation, 2010’s Basel saw artists and galleries pulling out their most high-profile pieces. Buyers responded by snapping up major pieces within the first few hours of Basel’s opening. “People are now realizing that art is an international currency,” Rubell concluded; his wife, Mera, added that the couple was not going home empty-handed: “How can you resist?” Indeed, many buyers did not resist: a Picasso sculpture sold for $15 million, a Hirst for $3.48 million, and a Murakami for $1.3 million, from Krugier Gallery, White Cube, and Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, respectively.
Experts credit the success of this year’s Basel to confident auction prices, noting that the first pieces to go were those by high-profile artists or less-established up-and-comers whose pieces were relatively inexpensive. Dealer Nicholas Maclean told Bloomberg News that “The middle-quality modern works haven’t returned to the levels of 2007,” indicating that collectors are currently focusing on major purchases by established masters or investing in young artists with promising pieces. “The value of art has changed forever. It’s never going to go back. The market has split. It’s bipolar. There’s no middle market money any more. There’s the affordable stuff, and there’s a top tier of trophy works priced at $1 million up. Anything in between is in no man’s land,” concurred collector Adam Lindemann to Bloomberg News. Lindemann notes that private collectors such as Don and Mera Rubell, Dakis Joannou, and Francois Pinault are driving the art market, more so than galleries, museums, and art dealers. Wealthy collectors hold exhibitions of emerging artists themselves, finding talent before galleries and museums do. “The private foundations have taken on such momentum that the museums are afraid of them,” he elaborated. Lindemann is among the ranks of collectors he cites as game-changers, having purchased works by Schnabel, Warhol, Basquiat, Fischer, Hirst, and Murakami. He purchased a Koons sculpture for $4 million from Gagosian Gallery in 2005, and sold it for $23.6 million at Sotheby‘s in 2007, the highest paid for a work by a living artist at the time. Even Lindemann, not one to shy away from major purchases by not-yet-established artists, has reconsidered his spending habits. “I’m more risk-averse these days. I feel safer with more established contemporary artists. I’m looking to buy better works, bigger works,” he said.
Dirk’s Pod by Richard Serra, Art Basel. Image via The Huffington Post.
Lindemann is not alone in this attitude, one that is, sadly, making it difficult for emerging artists to establish themselves. A conservative art market with all-around reduced prices has affected every price point. Galleries, however, avoid risk by displaying their most high-profile pieces, which in turn leaves less room for young or lesser-known artists. Museums like Beyeler Foundation in Basel and Punta della Dogana in Venice started by private collectors may be the future of contemporary art. “Perhaps one day, if I’m lucky enough to have the right works, I might even have my own Beyeler,” said Lindemann.
Field, Ai Weiwei, 2010, Art Basel. Image via The Huffington Post.
Art Basel’s addition to this year’s fair, Art Feature, was a resounding success, critically and otherwise. Art Unlimited featured 56 works by young artists such as Urs Fischer and Kader Attia, as well as legends Dan Flavin, Yayoi Kusama, Sigmar Polke, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, and Michelangelo Pistoletto. The Art Statements section presented 26 single-artist projects from artists and galleries around the world. Artists Simon Fujiwara at Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt, and Claire Hooper at Hollybush Garens, London, were awarded Bâloise Art Prizes of CHF 30,000. The Bâloise Insurance Group will again this year purchase the winning pieces and donate them to the Hamburger Kunsthalle and MUMOK Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation in Vienna. Art Public, featuring 14 works by artists such as Ai Weiwei and Eric Hattan, was the prominently-featured arena in Art Basel’s front halls. Art Parcours, an exhibition project for site-specific works and performances, was also a new feature for Basel and a successful draw for new visitors and return guests alike. Artists Ryan Gander, Daniel Buren, and many more took to the monuments, institutions, and universities of Basel for inspiration and setting, creating art within the culturally rich city. At the Stadtkino Basel, filmmakers such as Shirin Neshat screened projects for the established Art Film program.
Highlights of the art world rendezvous included June 16th Artist Talks with Paul McCarthy and Massimillano Gioni, Art Conversations with Irving Blum and Jeffrey Deitch, and a talk on the future of museums moderated by Hans Ulrich Obrist. Museum shows such as Basquiat and Gonzales Torres at Foundation Beyeler, Matthew Barney at the Schaulager, and Rodney Graham at Kunstmuseum were stimulating and powerful. The intellectual tone of the fair was obvious, a feature attributable to the caution buyers have been exercising since 2007 and the complexity of the pieces exhibited by this year’s artists. As first-timers and established collectors rubbed shoulders, and up-and comers shared booths with the likes of Matisse, it was disappointing to see that not one of the forty most-featured artists at Basel was a woman. AO caught up with Belinda Kielland, partner at Galleri MGM, Oslo, who said, “The fact is that the most valued–in terms of market prices–contemporary artists are men. Think Warhol, Hirst, and Koons. An obvious exception is Louise Bourgeois, who died very recently.” Kielland also noted the exposure of established artists, telling us that “There was definitely a ‘flight to quality’ by the galleries. Instead of risking lesser-known or totally new artists, there was a safer feeling to their choices.” Kielland also notes that sales were “optimistic and brisk,” with Picasso’s $15 million Personnage selling within five minutes to a European collector, collectors competing to buy several pieces, and Skarstedt reporting seven sales within an hour and a half, from a list of well-known artists that includes Kippenberger and Kruger.
The record drove at Art 41 Basel comes on the heels of renewed enthusiasm from collectors and confident pricing by gallerists. Arguably the most successful Basel yet, the caution exhibited by buyers is clearly not hindering sales; in fact, clients seeking long-term investments might just be a boon to art dealers.
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