The boom time success of a single artist isn’t enough to sustain the entire market, and the market is still recovering from the correction that followed the high water mark of a few years ago, but the fact that the Basquiat was such an infectiously successful lot—a bona fide crossover pop culture moment—gave galleries confidence to bring serious work to Art Basel. And, from speaking with sources today, collectors responded in kind, buying frequently even at such an early point in the week. Multiple galleries, including Hauser & Wirth and David Zwirner, said it was their best first day ever in their histories of coming to the fair.
For those focused on Basquiat, the potential upside at the fair is enormous.
“There’s a lot of interest as he’s become this huge phenomenon,” said Andrew Fabricant, the director of Richard Gray Gallery. We were standing in his booth, where in front of us was Basquiat’s Untitled (Solanamum), 1984, a seven-foot-tall painting on sale for $14 million. Fabricant knows the work well—he had been the first to sell it, in the year that it was made, while he was a dealer at Gagosian Gallery. The original price, before being sold many times over, was $4,500.
One booth over, Acquavella Galleries had managed to sell a Basquiat in the opening hours, the five-by-five-foot painting Three Delegates (1982), which carried an asking price of $18 million. Again, the seller wanted to take advantage of a frenzy for the work of the artist, who died at the age of 27, leaving a scarce number of works produced during his peak years.
“Surely they want to take advantage of selling at good prices, but if it’s a good painting, it’s a good painting,” said Acquavella director Michael Findlay.
But other dealers who brought Basquiats to the fair insisted that their arrangements had been made prior to the Sotheby’s sale, and that sudden demand for work did not affect prices, regardless of what a potential client might now be willing to pay. Brett Gorvy, a partner in Lévy Gorvy gallery, arranged to sell Baby Boom (1984) before the auction at Sotheby’s, and was chosen to offer the work in his booth mostly on the basis of his track record selling Basquiat’s work at auction. In 2016, while Gorvy was chairman of the postwar and contemporary department at Christie’s, a work he pried from the wall of collector Adam Lindemann became the previous record-holder for a Basquiat at auction. Once the price for this year’s offering of Baby Boom was set at $30 million—which makes it the priciest Basquiat work at the fair—it stayed there, despite piqued interest following the sale at Sotheby’s where the piece was purchased by the Japanese collector Yusaka Maezawa. (The seller of Baby Boom is Peter Brant, chairman of the parent company of ARTnews.)
“People are certainly looking more for the work,” Gorvy said, even if, by late afternoon, this particular work had yet to sell.
“I have not raised my prices—some potential clients want to sell at these high prices now, but I don’t take them,” Christophe Van de Weghe, the gallery’s owner, said.
But he acknowledged that perhaps the demand in the work could facilitate a bump in prices when work hits other fairs down the line.
“I get five emails a day for people asking for Basquiats,” van de Weghe said. “The amount of interest in Basquiat after the auction is incredible.”
Of course the fair has much more on offer than a few pricy works by a market stalwart—the galleries sector alone has 226 participants, and a strong squadron of collectors gathered in the center courtyard for a champagne breakfast that began at the decadent hour of 9:30 a.m. The likes of the Rubells, the Broads, Dasha Zhukova, and plenty of others all streamed into the convention center at the Messeplatz as soon as handlers rolled back the doors. The collector Steven A. Cohen was spotted going through the David Zwirner booth—what else to do after spending $165 million on a single work of art but fly to an art fair that has $3 billion work of art for sale?
The Gagosian booth sold most of its work by lunchtime, racking up around $50 million, per a source. Among those sold by the first minutes of the fair were two editions of Urs Fischer’s Bruno & Yoyo (2015), a paraffin wax sculpture of the dealer Bruno Bischofberger and his wife, first put on view at Vito Schnabel Gallery in St. Moritz, which took over the gallery space that Bischofberger himself had occupied for decades. The couple is sitting, which makes for a creepy pairing with the work placed above: a Warhol electric chair. The work didn’t sell in St. Moritz, but the two available editions were snapped up for around a $1 million apiece before the fair started today.
(For those wondering, though Fischer’s wax sculptures are supposed to be lit on fire to be activated—so that they melt down and the owner orders another fabrication to melt down again, ad infinitum—there were no open flames among the fair aisles on Tuesday morning. “Yeah, Art Basel would not let us do that,” a Gagosian employee said.)
Mnuchin Gallery came with a booth anchored by a $12 million Warhol gun painting, and while that had yet to sell by mid-afternoon, a work by Mark Bradford (also riding a Biennale bump after representing the United States in Venice) sold for $5.5 million, a higher-end mark for the artist at a fair.
Anthony Meier hadn’t yet sold the gargantuan Donald Judd stack from 1988 at his booth—the Judd stack is a staple at fairs, but this is perhaps the biggest ever shown at one, eclipsing 15 feet. It was priced at $18.5 million. Also unsold was an ultra-rare early Richard Serra, Candle Piece (1967)—the only other of its kind is in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum—at Peter Freeman.
But not everyone was hanging out on the Messeplatz to flex spending muscles. While I was looking at the Isa Genzken sculptures at the Buchholz gallery booth, in walked Albert Oehlen, who has work all over the fair, including an abstraction in the Gagosian booth and a giant paint-on-metal work that dominates at Galerie Max Hetzler. When I stopped to say I liked the work, he smiled innocently, as if he didn’t know any of it was here.