Art Basel is known for big sales - and the world’s biggest fair for modern and contemporary art stayed true to its image in this year’s (44th ) edition.
Abstract Art was clearly sought after at this week’s start of the Show, which was attended by US actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, former German football star Michael Ballack and other celebrities. VIP guests were invited to sample the offerings from 39 countries for two days, before the general public was admitted.
Some of the more than 300 galleries from five continents did not have to wait long for their big deals. Only half an hour after the fair opened on Tuesday, the New York Gallery, Cheim & Read, sold a large painting by the late US artist Joan Mitchell, one of the leading abstract expressionists. Mitchell’s jumble of large brushstrokes in muted colours sold for 6 million dollars. Works by German painter Gerhard Richter were being traded in the same price range. US Gallerist Richard Gray offered Richter’s abstract paintings for 6.5 million dollars. Richter is among the most expensive living artists. In May, auctioneer Sotheby’s sold his painting of Milan’s Cathedral Square for 37.1 million dollars in New York, breaking the 81-year-old’s own auction record. Last year, Richter’s Abstract Painting went to a bidder for 21.3 million pounds (33.2 million dollars) in London. The Berlin Gallery, Max Hetzler, also took only a few hours to make its first big sale, a poetically abstract work by the German Albert Oehlen. “Collectors want quieter, more intellectual Art with more depth now. The years of loud, colourful and kitschy pieces are over,” Swiss Art expert Bob van Orsouw said.
However, restraint was definitely not the main theme of the Fair’s Art Unlimited section, which showed 79 giant installations and paintings that would have been too big for the Galleries’ normal trade booths. These monumental pieces were shown by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron in the new Exhibition Hall, which is sheathed in ripples of metal mesh. Measuring 22 by 7 metres, one of the biggest pieces was the installation, ‘Two into One Becomes Three’, by US artist Matt Mullican – consisting of giant panels of yellow pictograms and historical images.
With its three venues in Basel, Hong Kong and Miami Beach in the United States, Art Basel had become a global player in the Art world, its Director Marc Spiegler said. However, Basel would remain the main of the three venues, he said. This was evident at Basel’s airport, which was expecting up to 150 private jets flying in wealthy Art collectors this week, despite a strike of French Air Traffic Controllers.