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Collectors at Art Basel vie for works by established artists

Art Basel '10 fair report

Art Basel began with a bang yesterday at the preview of the 41st edition of the modern and contemporary fair. As they crowded into the stands, collectors reported a renewed sense of excitement at the fair.

“There’s an energy level here, a vibrancy—more than I’ve seen in the past two fairs,” said Miami billionaire Norman Braman, as he peered into a cupboard on David Juda’s stand (B10). Collectors Howard and Cindy Rachofsky of Dallas, the Rubells and De La Cruzs from Miami, Dimitris Daskalopoulos, the contemporary Chinese art collector Uli Sigg and Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich accompanied by his partner Dasha Zhukova were also among the collectors attending the fair

At Gavin Brown (N6), publishing mogul Peter Brandt was examining works by Spencer Sweeney, with movie-star Val Kilmer who said he was “seeing some friends and trying to learn new things”. Mick Jagger’s ex-wife Bianca Jagger, on her first visit to Art Basel, was eyeing up Billy Childish’s paintings at Neugerriemschneider (H2).

While the crowds were typical of every edition of the fair, the art on offer this year reflects the market’s changing tastes. “The tone of the fair has changed: it’s far more intellectual,” said art adviser Todd Levin, noting there were fewer works by artists popular before the financial crisis, such as Anselm Reyle. “There is a big interest in art from the 1970s, because there have been so many museum shows of this period,” said Mary Sabbatino, vice president of Lelong in New York (E3), showing works by Jannis Kounellis, Nancy Spero and Hannah Wilkie. “Lots of people are rediscovering artists from around 20 to 25 years ago, such as Ross Bleckner,” said Michael Briggs of Patrick Painter (P17). “It’s a cycle—they were huge in the 1980s, things change and then they cycle back.”

“There is renewed interest in artists who were overlooked but were part of very important movements,” said Michael Short of Sperone Westwater (E4). “People are most confident with artists with museum records, solo exhibitions and works in permanent collections. Validation is more important than price. If a work doesn’t have that history then there is not so much interest,” said Theodore Bonin of Alexander and Bonin of New York (P11).

Recent auction results have also increased confidence.

“We brought better and more expensive things this year, the price points are higher,” said Andrew Fabricant of Richard Gray (E7). Smaller galleries did the same. Umberto Raucci of the Neapolitan gallery Raucci/Santamaria (K1) said he was feeling “more confident” than last year and had raised some prices.

Sales were swift from the start: five minutes into the opening, Jan Krugier (A2) sold Picasso’s Personnage 1960, Cannes for $15m to a European collector. “That does tend to put a smile on one’s face,” said gallery associate Martin Summers. The sculpture is one of 26 works by Picasso on the gallery’s stand. Indeed Picasso and Warhol continue to underpin the entire market for blue-chip art with no less than 23 galleries showing the former and 28 the latter.

Meanwhile contemporary art was also selling briskly: two collectors even said they had to compete to buy work and, in both cases, were disappointed. Skopia (M17) sold a massive charcoal drawing by the Swiss artist Alain Huck to Olivier Varenne, the London-based curator, who buys art for David Walsh, the Tasmanian gambling millionaire opening a museum in Hobart next year. The work, Le Banquet, 2010, was inspired by battle scenes from the Vatican and newspaper photographs of the Iraq War, priced at SwFr50,000. A set of five dwarves from Paul McCarthy’s “White Snow” series sold to a European collector for $3m at Hauser & Wirth (B19). Meanwhile, Pace (B20) sold one of the largest pieces in Art Unlimited, a 32-foot sphinx by Chinese artist Zhang Huan, to Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, priced at $1.8m.

On the ground floor, Skarstedt (E12) reported seven sales in the first 90 minutes, including Rosemarie Trockel’s unravelling knitting, Untitled, 1986 ($175,000), and Kippenberger’s Fred the Frog Rings the Bell, 1990 ($450,000), as well as two George Condos and a Barbara Kruger. “People are looking for security in their acquisitions,” said associate director Valerie Marquez.

On the whole, visitors seemed impressed with the art on display. First time visitor, New York financier Stefan Kaluzny was enthusiastic, calling the fair “unparallelled”. “There is a seriousness and focus here which is good for the art,” said Maureen Paley (P10); “Art should address serious issues—they are all part of our time.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Most wanted: established artists'