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Art Basel: A Banner Year Marked By Quality, Quantity and Diversity

With across-the-board high quality and attendance topping 60,000—up from last year’s total of 56,000—the 38th edition of Art Basel again proved itself to be one of the biggest and best among modern and contemporary art fairs. Held in exhibition halls of the Messe Basel, the fair ran from June 13-17.

BASEL—With across-the-board high quality and attendance topping 60,000—up from last year’s total of 56,000—the 38th edition of Art Basel again proved itself to be one of the biggest and best among modern and contemporary art fairs. Held in exhibition halls of the Messe Basel, the fair ran from June 13-17.

Henry Kravis, among other mega-collectors, literally broke into a run when the doors opened for the “First Choice” preview at precisely 11 a.m. on June 12. The brisk pace never faltered.

The earliest activity centered around recent art, priced up to $500,000, with several galleries reporting virtual sellouts the first day. But for works exceeding $1 million, collectors took more considered approach.

Two Types of Buyers: Hares and Tortoises

Mathias Rastorfer, of Galerie Gmurzynska (Cologne, Zug and Zurich), called sales extremely strong, with a broader base of collectors than before. “Today there are really two different markets,” he told ARTnewsletter. “One is the race to snag the hottest ticket, with most of the business concentrated in the first two days; the other is comprised of seasoned, well-informed collectors who take three or four days to make their choices.”

Among the sales at Galerie Gmurzynska were Claude Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, 1901, which fetched $2.5 million; and two paintings by Yves Klein that made around $1 million each.

Sees ‘Bit of a Pop Comeback’

Robert Pincus-Witten, a consultant to L&M Arts of New York, pointed to the comeback of Pop art pioneers, whose prices have been ratcheting upwards. He singled out Tom Wesselmann’s Great American Nude #38, 1963, and Robert Indiana’s New Castle, 1969, as two examples. New York’s Acquavella Galleries also discerned “a bit of a Pop comeback,” illustrated by the sale of James Rosenquist’s work, Circles of Confusion and Lite Bulb, 1966.

There was a plethora of works by Andy Warhol. The quality varied widely, however, as one observer pointed out. A standout was Sixteen Jackies, 1964, at Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich, which sold for $29 million to an American collector. Ammann’s Georg Frei termed it “an extremely important historical piece.” The gallery also sold three of Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shadows, 1979, for $1 million each.

On the fair’s second floor, where art tends to be edgier and the prices lower, the same high quality applied. Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, reported more interest in “new art,” singling out Zilla Leutenegger’s video/drawing editions, including her amusing Polar Bear, which sold out at €15,000/18,000 ($19,900/23,900).

Shadows on the Façade, an installation comprising four digital prints mounted on aluminum plus text, by hot young Georgian artist Andro Wekua, made €40,000 ($53,200).

Another Zurich gallery, Eva Presenhuber, showed two pairs of Untitled (Doors), sculptural installations by Urs Fischer, which were snapped up by important European and American collectors. Presenhuber also sold a painting, Letters from a Brimingham City Jail, 2006, by Tim Rollins + K.O.S., to a “very major” American collector for x22,000; and two Ugo Rondinone cast-aluminum masks—Sunrise February and Sunrise April, from 2004—for €80,000/100,000.

The New York gallery Lehmann Maupin reports that the missile-and-weapon-patterned floor covering Bad Floor, 2007, by Ashley Bickerton, fell to a Europe collector for $150,000.

Gallerist Rachel Lehmann says she sold Ethos, 2004, by Gilbert & George, for an undisclosed price; and edition of three multitiered hanging works of glass-like resin, Cause and Effect, 2007, by Korean artist Do-Ho Suh, for £90,000/200,000; and Tracey Emin’s Hotel International quilt, 1993, and new neon piece Sleeping with You, 2007, for $800,000/1.2 million add £35,000, ($46,500), respectively.

The “Art Unlimited” section was dedicated to pieces that exceeded the size limitations of normal exhibition space. Works on display included Christoph Büchel’s Unplugged (Simply Botiful), 2006-07, a massive computer pileup, presented by Hauser & Wirth, Zurich, and Maccarone, New York. Tomas Saraceno’s On Water, 2006, an installation of light filtered through a large puddle of water suspended on plastic sheeting, was presented by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, and Anderson S, Copenhagen.

Six Satellite Fairs

The number of satellite fairs swelled to six this year, with Print Basel and Scope Basel the two newcomers. Fabian and Claude Walter, who have galleries in Zurich and Basel and have participated in Scope New York, Scope Miami Beach and Scope London, say the Basel version got off to a “great start” and praise its organization.

The Walters enjoyed success with a series of carefully crafted works by German photographer Sonja Braas, The Quiet of Dissolution, 2006-07, selling for €14,000/15,000 ($18,600/19,900).

Munich-based Galerie Andreas Binder sold six paintings, both cityscapes and waterscapes, by Matthias Meyer, a student of Gerhard Richter’s, for €6,500/8,500 ($8,600/11,000).

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