Art world flexes its muscles
Sculptural, shiny or stripped down, it’s a bulked up Art Basel
By Georgina Adam, Charlotte Burns and Melanie Gerlis. From Art Basel daily edition
Published online: 15 June 2011
basel. As the “first choice” invitees clambered—literally—into the 42nd Art Basel vernissage yesterday, they were faced with more than 300 stands spread across two floors. While the fair may seem a confusing compendium of more than a century of art, a few significant trends clearly emerge, particularly in comparison with recent editions.
Collectors must have plenty of space to display their acquisitions, judging by the number of huge works on offer this year. Dasha Zhukova is one who has no space issues. She bought Jason Rhoades’ installation at Art Unlimited for close to $1m (through David Zwirner/Hauser & Wirth). But how many others could hang the mural sized-painting by James Rosenquist at Richard Feigen (The Holy Roman Empire through Checkpoint Charlie, 1994, $2.75m, 2.0/A7) or the large-scale painting suite Quartet, 2011, by Satoko Nachi at Tomio Koyama for $70,000 (2.1/K17)? Italian collector Jean Pigozzi rushed to buy the Nachi series as the fair opened. “For the first hour, I run. I’m like a horse with blinkers,” said Pigozzi. Richard Nagy (2.0/A8) wanted to “stop people in their tracks” with the hulking Loss of the Lisbon Rhinoceros, 2008, by Walton Ford, on offer for around €1.8m. Simon Fujiwara’s ambitious installation, Letters from Mexico, 2010, €45,000, comprising curtains in the colours of the Mexican flag and suspended glass cases, dominated Gió Marconi’s booth (2.1/N17). “It makes sense to show something strong in Basel, and it’s the right time to be bold,” said Esther Quiroga, the gallery’s director.
The third dimension
The growth hormone that has been injected into two-dimensional works also appears to be bulking up sculpture. Collectors who have covered their walls can take their pick of large-scale sculptures including Thomas Houseago’s Yet To Be Titled (Large Head #1), 2010, at Xavier Hufkens (2.0/B18) for €250,000, or Matthew Monahan’s towering Grand Falconer, 2011, for $260,000 at Anton Kern (2.1/K8). Liza Lou’s Biblical The Damned, 2003-04, on offer for just under $1m, set the tone at L&M (2.0/B19). This gold-beaded couple is an “exaggerated version of the Expulsion”, said Sarah Watson, the director of the gallery’s LA outpost. “The shake-up in the market has made people look at things differently,” she added.
The gilded, spangly surface of Lou’s sculpture points to another trend: shiny objects reflecting the viewer. From the habitual, highly polished Anish Kapoor works (on show at Massimo Minini, 2.1/P1, and Lisson, 2.1/K12) to the mirrored Pistolettos at galleries including Luhring Augustine (2.0/F11) and Continua (2.1/M20), there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to check out their own reflections. The shattered glass of Doug Aitken’s $250,000 wall-piece 1968 (Broken), 2011, at 303 Gallery (2.1/J18) proved popular, attracting three reserves by 2pm, finally selling to a European private collector. “Two years ago everything was in silver, so it’s just an evolution of that,” said gallery director Mari Spirito, adding that this work is about “fragmented self-reflection”. Posing in front of Pistoletto’s vast Bugo Nero, 2010, for €450,000, a more cynical Lorenzo Fiaschi of Continua suggested that the taste for mirrors indicates a “sort of contemporary narcissism”.
Paper, scissors, stone…
At the other end of the aesthetic scale there is a decided turn towards the simplicity of European modernism, especially artists from the Arte Povera and Zero movements, on both floors. “A lot of young US artists and collectors are looking at that period. It’s an influence for the artists, and it’s a generally undervalued group from the collectors’ point of view. Everyone knows it in Italy, but we don’t necessarily in the US,” said Adrian Turner, a director at Marianne Boesky (2.1/M2). One notable favourite is Jannis Kounellis, on show at several stands including Bernier/Eliades (2.1/N13), Kewenig Galerie (2.0/C6) and Margo Leavin (2.0/A13), where Kounellis’s sewing-machine wall-piece, Untitled, 1989, is on offer for $175,000. The artist is “reasonably priced”, said gallery director Wendy Brandow, adding: “If you buy an artist straight out of grad school for $100,000 you’re betting, whereas an artist with a solid exhibition history is an intelligent choice.”
The sky’s the limit
The presence of several stands with truly breathtaking prices is a sign of the growing market confidence. Probably the most expensive work, which is also over ten metres long, is Andy Warhol’s One Hundred and Fifty Black/White/Grey Marilyns, 1980, at Bischofberger (2.0/C10), priced at $80m. At Marlborough (2.0/D13), a booth mainly devoted to Francis Bacon features a lilac-hued triptych, Three Studies of the Human Body, 1970, on offer for $50m. Unsurprisingly, Pablo Picasso holds sway with a $15m Nu Debout, 1968, at Acquavella (2.0/E16) and a $14m L'homme a la Pipe from the same year at Helly Nahmad (2.0/E6). “The strongest market is at this level. People still want the best,” claimed Nahmad, although he had not confirmed any sales at the end of the first day.
Our sales report will be in our final edition, 17 to 19 June, and online from Friday, 17 June
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