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Top-Notch Works, Strong Sales at Art Basel

A record crowd of 62,500 art aficionados from around the world transformed this normally staid city on the Rhine into a six-day art extravaganza for the 41st edition of Art Basel, which brought together more than 300 galleries from 36 countries on June 16–20.

BASEL—A record crowd of 62,500 art aficionados from around the world transformed this normally staid city on the Rhine into a six-day art extravaganza for the 41st edition of Art Basel, which brought together more than 300 galleries from 36 countries on June 16–20. The number of satellite fairs increased to eleven from 10 last year, ranging from Basel regular Liste, the “Young Art Fair,” now in its 15th year, to the Verge Art Fair, making its first appearance in Switzerland.

Within minutes of the opening of the First Choice preview, Geneva’s Galerie Krugier sold Pablo Picasso’s Personnage sculpture, 1960—one of 26 works by the artist in its booth—for $15million. Many galleries, however, reported that in general buyers were taking their time and making carefully considered selections. But all agreed that collectors were willing to pay top dollar for blue-chip artworks, which were in abundance.

U.S. galleries were the most numerous, with 72 at the fair. Paul Gray, director of the Richard Gray Gallery, New York and Chicago, told ARTnewsletter, “We sold a wide range of works—from young American sculptor Malia Jensen’s little soap sculpture ($4,000) to Picasso’s Head of a Woman, ca. 1940s, at close to $4million.”

Skarstedt Gallery reported selling seven works within the first 90 minutes, including two pieces by George Condo: the bronze sculpture The Madman, 2005, for $375,000 and the painting The Colorful Banker, 2010, for $222,000. Another work that sold early was Are We Having Fun Yet?, 1987, a silk-screened photograph on vinyl by Barbara Kruger, which was purchased for $700,000, according to associate director Valerie Marquez.

It didn’t take long for Cheim & Reid to sell Louise Bourgeois’s Les Fleurs, an ensemble of 28 watercolors completed shortly before her death, last month, to an American collector for $1.4million or Joan Mitchell’s large painting Untitled, 1952, to a U.S. museum for $2.8 million, according to gallery principal Howard Read. “As a matter of fact, we had more than one buyer competing for both of them,” he added.

Carolina Nitsch, a New York–based publisher of high-end editions, showed some impressive Bour­geois works, including “Spirals,” 2005, a series of 12 woodcuts, which she said was sold to “a prominent Swiss collector” for about $200,000, and The Curved House, 2010, a pink marble sculpture, which sold for $180,000.

Paris dealer Thaddaeus Ropac called the latest edition “the best fair since 2007. People felt the energy and made quick decisions, which surprised us.” Among the 35 works sold by the gallery were four oils by Georg Baselitz, including Ach, Mädchen grün; Trauerseeschwalbe; and Das Akademiemitglied, all 2010, which sold for €400,000 each; Anselm Kiefer’s monumental painting Paul Celan, 2006, for €600,000; and two embroidered canvases—Search and Destroy, 2010, and Lazy for Life, 2010—by Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri for $180,000 each, according to Ropac.

Jonathan Green, deputy executive chairman of Richard Green Gallery, London, noted that there were two tiers of buyers: “Those who go for top-quality art at the right price, and the more speculative buyers who go for new art in the $100,000 to $200,000 range.” Green reported selling a half dozen works in the $2million/10million price bracket, as well as Gerhard Richter’s painting Abstraktes Bild, 1989, for $1.8million.

“It took a while to calm down from the frantic opening moments to the serious business of negotiating and reflecting,” observed Georg Frei, senior partner of Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich, who described business as “very strong.” Two works by Andy Warhol—Electric Chair, 1964–65, and Self-Portrait, 1966–67—sold quickly for prices in the $3million/5million range. “Our quiet corner of drawings was a big success,” as well, Frei said, with seven out of 14 sold, including a Cy Twombly for about $800,000 and a Picasso for $300,000.

More stands were curated this year, rather than simply hung. One of the standouts was the booth of Eva Presenhuber, Zurich, who lined up a series of four large rectangular sculptural works by the Swiss artist Valentin Carron and sold them all for €30,000 ($37,000) each. Presenhuber was also in the process of selling Diary of Clouds, a large installation by Ugo Rondinone comprising 52 wax “clouds” cast from clay and lined up on four shelves, with a $380,000 price tag.

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