Art Basel has opened its doors, kicking off a marathon week of sales and shows in the Swiss city that marks another year for the landmark giant of contemporary and modern art selling. Marking the terminus for the first half of the year’s major primary market activity, the fair once again showed why its impressive scale and appointments makes it such a draw for collectors, artists and dealers.
All were out in force this year, with sightings of Thelma Golden, Tracey Emin, Uli Sigg, Arnold Lehman, Raf Simons and many more wandering across the aisles of the fair, often pausing to greet a familiar face or to browse the works on view.
Sales were robust at galleries across all levels of the market and all corners of the globe numerous locations, with a number of high-profile works placed with both private collectors and institutions. Salon 94 sold 12 ceramic works by Takuro Kawata, ranging from $8,000 to $28,000 each, while Pace Gallery notched the sale of a striking David Hockney piece from 1996, which brought $2.5 million. A joint show by Perrotin and Simon Lee Gallery sold out their presentation of 18 paintings by Bernard Frize, each for a price in the range of €30,000 to €150,000. David Zwirner also had a particularly robust opening day, selling all of its presentations at Unlimited within the first hour, including Francis Alÿs’s striking video piece Tornado for $450,000, and Carol Bove’s staggering sculptural work, which brought $1.5 million.
Perhaps the most striking work at Unlimited, however, was Robert Longo’s Death Star, a massive orb made from 40,000 suspended rifle bullets, a sobering reminder of the seemingly endless spate of mass shootings in the United States over the past two decades. Creating a daunting bulk of material, the piece was easily among the most concise and powerful in the section, showing that it doesn’t always require maximum space to make the most resounding statement. The piece, co-presented by Metro Pictures and Galerie Thaddeus Ropac sold for $1.5 million to a European museum.
Outside the fair grounds, the far’s Parcours section was also getting underway, with pieces spread out in subtle, quiet arrangements across the city limits. Contrasting with prior editions of the event, which often presented the city as a sort of sculpture park, these pieces have delved deeper into the fabric of the city, selecting certain sites and animating them with unique architectural qualities. Artist Jessica Stockholder, for instance, had coated a statue by the river with one of her signature geometric abstractions, an arrangement of objects that made for a particularly compelling, and somewhat dissonant, counterpoint to the space around it. Also of note was an installation at Allgemeine Lesegesellschaft of Pierre Huyghe’s Exomind sculpture, a human figure with a beehive for a head, filling the space around it with bees.
With the fair’s opening salvos now in the books, it should be interesting to see how sales continue over the following days. The fair closes June 17th.
— D. Creahan