At the first VIP preview day for Art Basel on Tuesday, David Zwirner gallery parted with a 1966 painting by Gerhard Richter for $20 million and a Yayoi Kusama pumpkin sculpture for $1.8 million—the first sale in the gallery’s physical booth, and the second online.
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The price for the 2015 Kusama piece is the highest paid so far for any artwork in Zwirner’s online viewing room. As it happens, the current record for a Kusama sculpture is $1.8 million for a pumpkin piece sold last month at Christie’s Hong Kong.
Zwirner has been presenting rotating exhibitions in the online space since early 2017, and is on pace for 30 such virtual shows this year. This week, for the first time, Zwirner created an online viewing room especially for Art Basel—an approach that Gagosian gallery has also experimented with—and has so far seen numerous sales at a range of price points.
The sale of the Kusama is not the only sign of growth in the online space. According to a gallery representative, sales are up 200 percent year-on-year in the Zwirner viewing room, and 2018 saw 10,000 new sign-ups for subscriptions to access materials digitally.
Zwirner’s online viewing room for Basel opened at 4 p.m. in Basel on Monday, timed for the opening of the fair’s “Unlimited” section for large-scale works. By 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the gallery had sold a Donald Judd sculpture for $900,000—the second-highest price paid in its online room—as well as a painting by Harold Ancart for $45,000 and two paintings by Josh Smith.
Elena Soboleva, who is in charge of the online viewing room along with a staff of five, called the Basel viewing room a “parallel art fair experience” and said the gallery considers it a sixth space. (Zwirner currently runs five physical gallery spaces around the world, and the 10 most-expensive works sold from the viewing room have all gone to collectors in cities where there is no Zwirner location.) Soboleva said that half of the collectors who buy online are new to the gallery. The buyer of the Judd, for instance, is a San Francisco collector who couldn’t make it to the fair. A work by Carol Bove went to a collector in Houston, Texas, who similarly couldn’t make it. The virtual viewing room, Soboleva says, allows for “meeting collectors where they are spending their time.”