Everyone Plays Safe at Art Basel


BASEL, Switzerland — Psychologists call this the “exposure-only effect”: People like things they already know, whether it’s people, places, products or works of art.

There was an absolutely reassuring familiarity with many of the works exhibited in its 51st edition. Art BaselIt opened for preview on Tuesday and will run until Sunday. After three pandemic delays Since June last year, with prints online meanwhile, this was the first major in-person international art fair held in Europe since March 2020. Tefaf Maastricht closed early after a participant tests positive.

“The emphasis is on the solemn and predictable,” said Matthew Armstrong, a New York-based arts consultant and curator. “People want the assurance of what they know,” he added, noting, like others, the superiority of modern and contemporary paintings over established names.

Armstrong was among the few American exhibitors at the fair after the US State Department released a Covid-19.don’t travelWarning for Switzerland on 30 August. All visitors are required to wear masks and wristbands showing proof of vaccination, no matter where they come from.

Swiss MCH exhibition groupArt Basel is the world’s leading art fair brand, with shows held annually in Hong Kong in March and Miami Beach in December (pandemic permits). The last two June editions of the flagship European show supposed to be online only activities. But like the New York fairs frieze, Armory and Standalone Art Basel, which has recently returned to face-to-face formats, embraces the art world and its new investors, James Murdoch. Lupa Systems group – that the business is back to IRL.

“I was missing the energy of the Americans in the first hours,” said Glenn Scott Wright, co-director of London-based Victoria Miro, one of the 272 exhibits on display at the fair. “I thought we would have a long day without them. But in the end we did a pretty good job,” he added.

Instead of showing the work of her stable young contemporaries, Victoria Miro showed the work of well-known figurative painters: Milton Avery, Alice Neel and Paula Rego. Wright said the gallery had sold seven works on day one ranging from $200,000 to $1.2 million, including Neel’s 1955 portrait “Julian Brody.”

Neel, who passed away in 1984, was the current artist for Art Basel and is now the subject of a major retrospective. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Alongside New York dealers David Zwirner and Cheim & Read, there were also impressive portraits of Xavier Hufkens in Brussels, priced for up to $2 million, in their booths.

The Swiss edition of Art Basel has long had a reputation as the main art fair where top sellers offer museum-quality mugs. But this year, lacking wealthy collectors from both America and Asia, masterpieces were scarce.

“Galleries are being careful,” said Marta Gnyp, a Berlin-based arts consultant and seller. “They didn’t bring in a lot of knockout art. You save them for those moments when you’re 100 percent sure you’ll sell them – there’s a lot of uncertainty right now.”

However, the large-scale Jean-Michel Basquiat blue and yellow duo “Hardware Store” from 1983 attracted a lot of attention at the booth of New York dealer Christophe van de Weghe.

Van de Weghe described the work’s $40 million price tag as “very accurate,” given that the three Basquiat paintings have sold for higher numbers at auction this year. However, all three of these works included the artist’s trademark black skull motif, which was not included in the Basel duo painting. Friday morning, still not sold.

While Art Basel and its exhibiting dealers relied on digital channels to sell art during the pandemic, it seemed more likely than ever before the show to pre-sell art online. But while there will still be a lot of upfront purchases based on photos, some dealers said they used Art Basel’s physical return as an opportunity to re-establish personal contacts with them. Serious buyers especially from Europe.

“We prioritized European institutions and private collections,” said Friedrich Petzel, owner of New York franchise Petzel. “We told them that if Asian and American collectors said they wanted to reserve the artifacts, they should come to the show.”

One of the pioneers of body awareness painting, Austrian artist Maria Lassnig’s 1987 canvas “Fernsehkind (TV Child)” proudly took its place at Petzel’s stand. A companion piece to a similarly themed 1987 work in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection, it sold for $1.1 million and $155,000 alongside paintings by Dana Schutz and Derek Fordjour.

But trending dealers like Petzel had to re-hang their booths after day one, while other smaller, less fashionable galleries struggled to meet their costs.

Aware of the challenges these galleries are facing in 2021, Art Basel announced on September 6 that it has set up a “one-off solidarity fund” of 1.5 million Swiss Francs, worth approximately $1.6 million. The fund is designed to provide at least 10 percent discount on booth costs for low-selling galleries. Successful participants can opt out by increasing their share of funds, which will be distributed equally to the struggling dealers.

Art Basel’s global director, Marc Spiegler, told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that many major dealers have already said they won’t be asking for a share of the fund. Art Basel said by email on Friday it would not comment on the funding and reveal any galleries that did not participate until after the fair.

Vanessa Carlos, co-founder of the London-based Carlos/Ishikawa gallery and a vocal advocate of subsidizing small galleries at high-cost art fairs, said Art Basel’s solidarity fund “probably won’t make a big difference, but I appreciate it as a gesture.” He added that he would have to wait until the end of the fair “when I see all total sales against all total costs” before deciding whether to claim the fund.

Carlos/Ishikawa was definitely busy on the first preview day, selling two new large oil-on-velvet works by British painter Issy Wood for more than $100,000 each. Like many “emerging” artists whose works are exhibited at Art Basel, Wood has already emerged. His paintings have sold for more than $300,000 at auction and are one of 31 artists featured in the exhibition. “Mixing: Painting Today” It is on display at the Hayward Gallery in London.

“Exhibitions now work for known processes, not to capture the unknown,” said New York-based art consultant Heather Flow, one of Art Basel’s usual American visitors who didn’t attend this year. “Generally, I don’t find fairs a productive place to explore emerging art,” he added in an email.

The widespread perception by in-person visitors that Art Basel’s painting-heavy “Covid comeback” edition is somehow conservative or playing it safe suggests they’ve forgotten what the high end of the art market has become. Thanks to Instagram, WhatsApp and JPGs, the market is already known when a seller showcases an artist at Art Basel.



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