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No traces of recession felt at Art Basel 2002 thanks to Documenta

Art Basel '02 fair report

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For the large majority of gallery owners participating in the Basel Fair, which closed on 17 June, the event was a great success. Basel is devoted to modern and contemporary art, and it manifestly benefited from the proximity of Documenta in Kassel this year (see pp.23-25), drawing large numbers of collectors.

Fifty thousand visitors, the catalogue sold out and, according to the organisers, “ a large increase in the number of private planes landing and taking off at the nearby airport of Mulhouse-Basel”: the 33rd edition of the Basel Fair kept all its promises.

The ground floor of the fair was devoted to Modern art and the secondary market. Wittrock of Düsseldorf was offering a watercolour by Nolde dated 1910 for e96,000, and a collage by Kurt Schwitters dated 1921 for e110,000. On the same stand were two admirable paintings by Max Beckmann, one of which found a buyer on the first day.

The Berlin Galerie Brusberg was showing a Magritte of 1928, priced at $290,000. Two weeks after the record sales in New York, and the crazy auction at which a Francis Bacon raised $6.71 million. Marlborough Gallery made lavish display of his work. More recent glory was on view as well; for example Wolfgang Tillmans, who was projecting his most recent pieces for Daniel Buchholz (Cologne). “Lights video” is an impressive short film attached to the lights of a night-club. You would, however, need $14,000 to enjoy this kind of Saturday night fever.

The collectors were there in droves and the morale of the gallery owners sky high. “Basel still attracts the whole world. It was an excellent fair, and it has continued the revival in its fortunes begun two years ago”, Daniel Templon, the Paris gallery owner, told the Art Newspaper. He sold pieces by Jan Fabre, Daniel Buren and François Rouan. Even though the total of the pieces he sold came to no more than $100,000, he noted that “the public’s heart was in it and the desire to buy was tangible.”

Although still waiting for confirmation from one or two buyers, Mathias Arndt from Arndt & Partners thought that he will have cleared 25% more in sales this year than last. Among these sales were some proven items, like the photographs by Massimo Vitali (a photographic polyptych in four sections offered at e36,000), but also some confirmations for newcomers to the gallery such as the young Yannick Demmerle, whose 11 pieces all found buyers.

Thomas Hirschorn’s “Communal House”, which took up considerable space on Arndt’s stand, seduced the American collector Martin Z. Margulies and will join his large collection in Miami. The same future awaits Gilles Barbier’s “Hospice”, presented by Galerie Georges-Philippe and Nathalie Vallois for e70,000. This cynical, spectacular installation placed aging super heroes in the middle of the “Art Unlimited” section, a huge separate hanger for large installations and videos.

The aisles of the fair were full of Americans. “This must have something to do with Documenta”, Mathias Arndt said, pointing out the timing of the Basel Fair was perfect, with its opening following the inauguration of Documenta in Kassel by a few days. Georges-Philippe Vallois agreed, talking about an “incredible success” for the artists showing with his gallery, including Joachim Mogarra and Alain Bublex. “We have been showing these artists for 10 years and this is the first time we have had any real success with foreign collectors”, the gallery owner said gleefully; he is expecting some excellent returns. Roger Paihas, who has a gallery in Marseilles, is negotiating for the sale of “Atlantic”, a triple projection by Pierre Huyghe (1997), to an American.

Just as important as these sales is the fact that the work of these young artists has attracted the attention of their colleagues: “My aim is simple. They need to be represented by me, an American gallery and a European gallery so that we can work as a threesome, and they can continue to work in their home town, Marseilles”, Paihas concluded.

The fair set itself the task of discovering new talents in a special section, “Art Statement”. On the stand belonging to Spencer Brownstone (New York), it was possible to check out the talent of Sven Pälhsson. With his virtual project Sprawlville (www.sprawlville.com), the Swedish artist paints a silent, cynical picture of the American suburbs. Carol Bove, invited by the Team Gallery (New York), produces an iconographic repertory from the 1960s and 1970s, mingling sex, New Age and Charles Manson. On shelves and on the ground this young artist sums up part of American counter-culture in collages and arrangements of books. A successful return for the artist, who was born in Switzerland.

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