Fairs Venice Biennale Switzerland

Venice makes the art world go round

As collectors swap Italy for Switzerland, will strong sales at the Biennale boost Art Basel?

Destined for an African museum: Edson Chagas’s work for the Angola pavilion won the Golden Lion award for best national presentation at the Venice Biennale

As dealers report strong sales at Art Basel, works in all media are also selling well at the other major art fair this summer—the Venice Biennale. The Italian exhibition is ostensibly a non-commercial event, but in reality, there are hundreds of new works available for purchase in the main show, “The Encyclopaedic Palace”, organised this year by Massimiliano Gioni, the associate director of New York’s New Museum, and in the national pavilions and collateral displays elsewhere in the city.

The Angola pavilion, the winner of the Golden Lion for best national presentation, has found a permanent home in Africa. Jochen Zeitz, the director of the luxury-goods group Kering (formerly PPR), has bought the installation by the artist Edson Chagas. It consists of stacks of photographs taken in the Angolan capital, Luanda; they are displayed in Venice alongside Renaissance paintings in a 16th-century palace. The work, which was acquired from the A Palazzo Gallery in Brescia, Italy, is destined for a planned museum in Africa. “My collection acquires as much as possible from biennials,” Zeitz says. “Artists push themselves, and the critical dialogue and context that their curators provide results in evocative and powerful work.”

Mark Coetzee, the curator of the Zeitz Collection, has bought 85 works for the collection at this year’s Biennale, including numerous pieces from the South Africa pavilion, such as a series of photographs by Zanele Muholi from the Cape Town- and Johannesburg-based Stevenson gallery (S8 at Art Basel), and three large sculptures by Michele Mathison in the Zimbabwe pavilion from Cape Town’s Whatiftheworld gallery. “You get access to artists and galleries in Venice that you would never see at Art Basel,” Coetzee says.

In the Arsenale, a massive, immersive work by the Los Angeles-based artist Ryan Trecartin will go to the London-based collector Anita Zabludowicz once the Biennale is over. The Zabludowicz Collection helped to fund the production of the as-yet-untitled work. It was bought from the Andrea Rosen Gallery (2.0/B5) and Regen Projects (2.1/N6).

A similar arrangement is behind the screening of Imitation of Life, a video by Mathias Poledna, in the Austrian pavilion. The collector Francesca von Habsburg helped to fund the production of the Disney-esque animation of a singing donkey and has acquired the work for her Viennese foundation. Other pieces that sold before they went on display in Venice include a series of paintings by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, which were bought by the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, and the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery in the south-west of England with funding from the UK’s Contemporary Art Society, via Tommaso Corvi-Mora of the Corvi-Mora gallery, London.

Best sales pitch ever

Back in Basel, dealers who are normally keen to publicise their sales are unusually coy about discussing transactions in Venice. “The Biennale is not about sales” was the official line taken by several of the galleries we approached. Nevertheless, a major display in the Italian city is one of the most effective sales tools at a dealer’s disposal at the Swiss fair.

Numerous galleries with artists on show in Venice have brought work by the same artists to Basel. A small sculpture of four fake rocks balanced on top of a concrete block by Sarah Sze—Standing pile (Cairn), 2013—sold at Victoria Miro (2.1/N7) for a five-figure sum in the opening minutes of the fair. “Since she was announced as the artist for the US pavilion, any time we’ve taken a sculpture by her to an art fair, it’s sold within 15 minutes of the opening,” says Glenn Scott Wright, a co-director of the gallery.

A mixed-media sculpture by the Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere is on offer with Galleria Continua (2.1/M20) for €250,000. Kreupelhout—Cripplewood, 2013, was made “in parallel” with the much larger version on display in the Belgian pavilion at the Biennale. The gallery’s owner, Lorenzo Fiaschi, says a European foundation is “in pole position” to buy the Venetian installation.

Berlin’s Galerie Thomas Schulte (2.1/K7) is offering six editions of a lightbox by Alfredo Jaar, priced at €150,000 each. Milan, 1946, 2013, shows Lucio Fontana visiting the ruins of his studio after the Second World War. Another edition is on display in the artist’s solo presentation in the Chile pavilion in Venice, which also includes a huge model of the Giardini. Venezia, Venezia, 2013, which sinks into a pool of water every three minutes, is a unique piece, but there is also an artist’s proof at half the size, says one of Jaar’s dealers, Liza Essers of South Africa’s Goodman Gallery (2.1/N12). A display at the Biennale “can shift [collectors’] consciousness of an artist”, she says, which can significantly boost their market.

So why are so many dealers unwilling to acknowledge the commercial side of the Venice Biennale, let alone discuss details of sales? “There is this idea that the world of commerce and the world of pure, unpolluted art should remain separate,” says Olav Velthuis, an associate professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at the University of Amsterdam and the author of Talking Prices, an examination of the workings of the art market. “But the truth is that these two worlds need each other. Venice needs Basel and Basel needs Venice.”

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19 Jun 13
14:40 CET


I fully agree, the Venice Biennale makes the world go round.

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