After what sometimes seemed like more eleventh-hour drama than a New Year’s Eve party attended solely by couple’s therapy dropouts, Art Basel’s flagship fair indeed returned to the Messeplatz this week. The event has proven to be a mix of comfort food and novelty for the post-vaccine art market.
The big story from opening day was the meager number of U.S. collectors who made the trip. European buyers dominated the aisles to an extent unseen in many years, with VIPs like Guillaume Houzé, Walter Vanhaerents, Füsun Eczacıbaşı, Francesco Taurisano, and Anita Zabludowicz all present.
Yet sales at the fair have been healthy anyway, albeit with two potential asterisks further separating this year from the Basel norm: apex-level dealers seemed to bring somewhat more conservatively priced fare, and preselling seemed to approach an all-time high.
Still, partly thanks to demand from international collectors and advisers participating remotely, top-end deals called out from the fair’s main section included…
- $6.5 million for Philip Guston’s The Poet (1975) at Hauser and Wirth.
- Between $5 million and $5.5 million for an untitled Keith Haring (1982) at Gladstone. (The gallery was asking $5.2 million.)
- $4.95 million for Mark Bradford’s Kryptonite (2006) at White Cube, per ARTnews.
Art Basel Unlimited moved units too, in no small part because big paintings had a bigger presence than usual. (The high contrast was all the more reason Urs Fischer’s literal Bread House, installed by Jeffrey Deitch, sopped up so much attention ahead of the section’s opening.) Payouts made for the giants on opening day included…
- $4.5 million from an unidentified European institution for Robert Rauschenberg’s canvas Rollings (Salvage) presented by Thaddaeus Ropac.
- $3 million for an untitled Dan Flavin light installation from 1974 presented by David Zwirner, per ARTnews.
- “An undisclosed sum” pending from a private European museum to hold Sean Scully’s painting suite Dark Windows (2020) co-presented by Kewenig and Lisson galleries.
Another 2021 change-up: Art Basel also introduced its audience to (you guessed it) NFTs. More accurately, the shepherds were the folks at Galerie Nagel Draxler, who collaborated with the participating artists and curator Kenny Schachter to make their booth’s back room into an eye-catching physical addendum to their recent exhibition “NFTism.”
Along with plenty of attendance and curiosity on opening day, sales for editions included…
- €40,000 for a token by Kevin Abosch
- 8 Ether (about €25,000) for Olive Allen’s Post-death or the Null Address (2021)
- £20,000 for Anna Ridler’s three-screen Mosaic Virus
All NFT acquisitions were supposed to be made in cryptocurrency on the OpenSea marketplace, but Nagel Draxler wisely made a few exceptions on the fair floor. With the artists’ sign-off, the gallery invoiced collectors for old-fashioned fiat currency, purchased the works with its own crypto wallet, and agreed to transfer them to the end client upon payment.
As always in the art market, where there’s a will, there’s a way…
The Bottom Line
Compared to Art Basel 2019, when David Zwirner led the sales pack by placing a $20 million Gerhard Richter, even the priciest transactions at this year’s edition of the fair feel uncharacteristically approachable.
At the same time, gallery-sector deals above $1 million are objectively good outcomes almost anytime and almost anywhere—but especially after the exhibitors, artists, collectors, suppliers, and Basel staff had to white-knuckle their way through the Delta variant demolition derby to ensure the live fair happened at all. Even more important to the ecosystem are the abundance of sales in the five- and six-figure ranges reported by galleries showing in the fair’s more earthbound reaches.
So it seems the gain for many exhibitors was worth the pain. But for now, the only people who will know for sure are the galleries themselves, the fair execs responsible for wooing them back next year (if not to Miami Beach in two months), and the independent auditor administrating Basel’s one-time solidarity fund, whose CHF 1.5 million ($1.6 million) participating galleries can tap into to offset their costs starting this Monday. Those are all stories yet to be told.
This week, Wet Paint sketched out the burning market for Nashville-based artist Shannon Cartier Lucy, whose just-opened show at Lubov Gallery in New York was crammed with heat-seeking art heads—and who has amassed a waitlist of 196 names for the six available paintings there, according to Lubov founder Francisco Correa Cordero.
Early patrons of the artist’s work (with an aesthetic once described as “Norman Rockwell meets David Lynch”) include Massimo De Carlo partner Alberto Chehebar, a senior director of Hauser & Wirth, and even a former Playboy bunny. Her primary-market prices have swelled from $7,000 in 2019 to a minimum of $30,000 today, Correa Cordero said.
Demand from the sell-side is growing, too. Sources say Cartier Lucy already turned away an offer from White Cube for a solo OVR last summer, as well as an overture from “at least one prominent downtown New York gallery.” And while her work hasn’t yet appeared at auction either, it’s only a matter of time before the first flipper makes their play.
Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday…
- Liste premiered alongside Art Basel—only this time, in one of the larger fair’s main halls rather than the labyrinthine ex-brewery Liste normally calls home.
- Early sales at Liste were led by Piktogram’s presentation of artist Nils Alix-Tabeling, whose “life-size chariot, commanded by commedia dell’arte-style characters and drawn by wild felines,” will go to a private buyer for €50,000 unless the Polish ministry of culture exercises a standing option to acquire it first.
- Cosmoscow, Moscow’s contemporary art expo, brought out a different crop of buyers than the oligarchs operating at the market’s peak.
- Sotheby’s will offer Frida Kahlo’s double portrait of herself and Diego Rivera, estimated in excess of $30 million, at its newly renamed modern evening sale (formerly the Imp-mod evening sale) in New York in November. If the painting reaches its estimate, it would become the priciest work by a woman artist ever sold at auction.
- Christie’s will accept live bids in ether for its Postwar to the Present sale in New York on October 1.
- Peres Projects will open a second space in Seoul early next year; Kacey Choi will lead the new location as the gallery’s director of Asia.
- Gagosian now represents Rick Lowe of “Project Row Houses” fame. The gallery has work by the social-practice artist (and MacArthur “Genius” Award winner) at Art Basel this week and will present a solo exhibition in New York in September 2022.
- Buzzy figurative painter Hilary Pecis joined David Kordansky (where she formerly worked as a registrar). Her first solo show there will arrive in 2023.
- The Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will debut in 2026, according to director Richard Armstrong in The Art Newspaper. That’s a full 20 years after the institution was originally planned to open.
- The Walker Art Center named Seena Hodges, founder of the DEI consulting firm Woke Coach, its next board president. This makes Hodges (who is Black) the first person of color ever to hold the post.
The National Gallery in London tapped venture capitalist, philanthropist, and Tory backer John Booth to be its new board chair. Despite Booth’s long track record of cultural patronage, his political affiliation has rekindled accusations that Boris Johnson is loading the country’s institutions with conservative leaders.
NFTs and More
- On the “and More” front: starchitect David Adjaye will serve as exhibition designer of “King Pleasure,” a show of never-before-seen Jean-Michel Basquiat works being organized in New York by the artist’s family. Doors open April 9, 2022, in Chelsea’s historic Starrett-Lehigh Building.
The Hammer Bounces Back
Sales of fine art at auction have been just as boisterous as sales at art fairs in the first half of 2021, if not even moreso. The houses moved $7.8 billion worth of fine art from January through June—138 percent more by value than the equivalent period last year, and 12 percent more than the same frame in the blissful pre-social-distancing ignorance of 2019.
The results by volume were even more impressive. A staggering 181,438 fine-art lots changed hands in the opening six months of this year, the highest number since the art auction market’s all-time peak in the mid-2010s.
What’s behind the ascent? For the answer to that and more questions about the art market in 2021—as well as the rest of this decade—download the newest issue of the Artnet News Intelligence Report below.