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Has Art Basel lost out to Venice and Documenta?

European museums are at the fair, but some dealers say that US institutions are less prominent

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The great European summer of art (the Venice Biennale, Art Basel, Documenta in Kassel and Sculpture Project in Münster) may be a dream for art-lovers, but is a test for the budgets and staff time available to cash-strapped museums. Even before The Art Newspaper team left London and New York, there were rumours that some museums might not make it to all four events. And with Venice every two years, Documenta every five and Münster every ten, there was always a risk that the annual Art Basel fair might be the one that was skipped, at least by patrons’ groups. The Guggenheim told us that its Young Collectors’ Council would have “a full programme of events at the Venice Biennale but the group is not going to Art Basel”. San Francisco MoMA said “we are taking the Collectors’ Forum to Documenta and then Münster, but we are not organising a tour of Art Basel this year.”

Javier Peres, of Peres Projects at Liste, confirmed: “A lot of museum curators thought that they had to do the intellectual thing, and that means Venice and Documenta. Nearly all the curators I have talked to are from Europe, and most of the works by US artist Dan Colen that I have sold have gone to European institutions.” But he did acknowledge that American museums were at the fair, and had bought from him, but not as many as usual.

Adam Sheffer, director at Cheim & Read (B1), agreed, saying: “We have seen a number of museum curators—but nearly all European so far. Some came with their trustees, who were encouraging the curators to buy for their museums, which is refreshing.” C heim & Read have a commitment from a prominent Euro- pean collection to buy Jannis Kounellis’s Untitled, 2006, on sale for around $200,000. Xavier Hufkens, of Hufkens, Brussels (E3), added: “We have mainly spoken to European museums.” Thaddaeus Ropac (D2) sold an Alex Katz, Jessica 2007, to the Albertina in Vi- enna for $190,000 and a 2006 Antony Gormley to the Kunsthalle Rotterdam for a undisclosed amount. Annely Juda (G1) sold a Man Ray, Lampshade, 1969, to a European museum for €87,000 ($113,000).

But other dealers report several sales to American institutions. These include Marcel Broodthaers’ Moules, 1965, at Michael Werner (G3) to the Dallas Museum of Art for around $1m. Also much in evidence, were Kentucky collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, who announced plans at Art Basel to build a $200m residential, commercial and cultural development in Austin, Texas, modelled closely on heir 21C museum-hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Their purchases for the Austin complex includes pieces from both Venice and Basel, and they are still buying.

Art Basel organisers say that there has, in fact, been a rise in attendance by museum patron groups this year. A spokesman for the fair said last year museum groups numbered approximately 30 while this year the figure was over 40. For the first time, he said, groups from Asia and Russia visited Art Basel. Figures do not include visits by individual curators.

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