With the early hours of Sunday morning comes the last sales of Art Basel’s flagship fair in Switzerland, as dealers begin to close up shop and begin their treks home from the Messe Basel, beginning the more relaxed summer months. This recess begins on something of a high note, as the contemporary market pushed onwards in the face of foreboding predictions for a weak buying market. Sales remained consistently strong across the course of the event, with a number of major sales occurring both in the early hours of the VIP Previews (which saw an impressive line of collectors outside the exhibition, patiently standing through the rainy weather), onwards throughout the rest of the week.
Highlights of the fair included the massive Frank Stella work presented jointly by Dominique Lévy and Marianne Boesky, a monumentally scaled work in the fair’s Unlimited section that ultimately brought a $5 million price tag. Another Unlimited section piece, Mike Kelley’s Reconstructed History, presented by Skarstedt, saw a strong sale at $1.5 million.
Mitchell-Innes and Nash also sold a variety of pieces in the first days of the fair, including Kenneth Noland’s Hot Spot for $350,000, and at Massimo De Carlo, a Rudolf Stingel piece sold to an unnamed collector for $1.8 million. Also of note was Julian Schnabel’s return to Pace Gallery, where a series of new works by the artist was selling for $375,000. Several of them had sold over the course of the week, hinting at a step back into the spotlight for the influential painter.
Overall, the fair atmosphere seemed to follow the consistent stream of sales. While the rapid correction of the market has not come with the same intensity expected, the rush for prime works is by no means as intense has it has been in recent editions of Art Basel. As a result, purchases continued at a steady clip through the course of the week, even into the public viewing days, when Acquavella Galleries sold a Tom Wesselmann from 1964 for a $3.5 million.
Even with a decreased urgency, there seems to be no shortage of buyers in Europe at the moment, as fair week signals a continued interest in the contemporary market. It will take the following two weeks of auction sales to see if the secondary market follows suit, or if the trophy prices paid for the works currently on view in London will do little to attract this week’s collectors in Basel.
— D. Creahan