“Prices are up—the crisis is over!” Jan Coene and Luc Haenen, two Belgian collectors exclaimed without irony during the VIP opening frenzy of this year’s 42nd Art Basel. My first stop during this preview was Galerie Jan Mot, which, before I got there, had already sold Time (1970), a small-scale black-and-white photograph and instructions for a performance by David Lamelas for a very respectable $85,000. I guess I don’t have the legs of a hardcore collector. At Perrotin, Takashi Murakami’s Jesus (2010) was also gone, sold for $1.1 million; downstairs L+M Arts were happy with the sale of an untitled 1959 Mark Rothko painting that added roughly $5 million to their coffers.
First-day sales were extremely good at Lisson, which within the first hours sold two works by Anish Kapoor totaling close to $4 million. But Annette Hoffmann, director of the gallery’s soon-to-be-opened Milan branch, told A.i.A. “there were too many people at the 11 A.M. First Choice opening, which meant that important collectors could not devote enough time.” Behind the scenes other gallerists reported that the distribution of tickets for VIPs, which is traditionally staggered in three phases, was mishandled. Some dealers spoke of a veritable opening “crush” of too many “VIPs.”
Berlin collector Axel Haubrok, whom I met in the aisle in front of the booth of Meyer Riegger during the opening hours, confirmed. “It’s crazy,” Haubrok said. “There are too many people fighting for the works. This is something I don’t like.” At around lunchtime, I ended up at the booth of The Modern Institute standing beside art lover Andreas Varnavides, who was visibly disappointed upon hearing that a 4’8″-tall sculpture, Sea Air and Tears (2011), by 2011 Turner Prize nominee Martin Boyce was already sold. Nevertheless, he was sure, “I will find another one.”
Galleries in this year’s Art Basel showed slightly more grit than last year. L&M Arts brought Liza Lou’s roughly 7-foot-tall, golden The Damned (2003–04), while neugerriemschneider showed Ai Weiwei’s seven 6-foot-tall not-for-sale ceramic Pillars (2006). Witte de With curator Nicolaus Schaffhausen suggested that the strategies of innovate gestures at Art Basel was “monotonous, since the difference between innovative ‘program’ galleries and market-orientated galleries is disappearing.”