Basel’s position on the borders of France and Germany makes the city a sort of Swiss Maastricht, and this year it hosted the third edition of Cultura, the TEFAF offsplit. The fair concentrates on antiquities and Asian art, but not to the exclusion of everything else. In fact the ground floor of the exhibition hall housing Cultura is slightly surreal in its mélange of categories: art deco furniture, 18th-century costume, Tibetan art, German expressionist painting, along with vintage cars, watches and jewellery. The upper floor is more homogeneous, with most of the antiquity, ethnographic and Asian art dealers. This is an extremely high-quality show and getting better as it matures.
The international situation is hardly an incentive to spend money on art and this, coupled with more local problems such as the widely publicised difficulties of Swiss Air and even a spell of glorious weather, was blamed for poor attendance (although the opening night attracted over 3,000 visitors). Sales seem to have been patchy, with a number of dealers said to have had a tough time. Those I spoke to, however, declared themselves happy. In pole position right at the entrance was Richard Philp, a last-minute arrival after the cancellation of the Haughton fair. He sold his star painting, a charming Dutch portrait of a young girl, dating from about 1640, for £45,000, and made some other sales: a pair of 15th-century Piedmontese angels, two Old Master drawings and some ceramics. “It was not too bad, considering everything,” he said. Charles Ede was also satisfied, having a “serious reserve” from a museum on a finely sculpted Middle Kingdom double limestone statue for which he was asking CHF 720,000 (£1.65 million, $2.3 million). He had sold another Middle Kingdom piece, a small lion once in the collection of the great Egyptologist Howard Carter, and some vases. Like Richard Philp, he was a last-minute arrival and was full of praise for the organisers’ help in getting him in.
Martin Clist of Rupert Wace reported good sales, with 30 items sold, and said they were “50% up on last year,” but that there was “not quite the same buzz” at the event.
The fair also has very good textiles, both Oriental and Pre-Colombian. Galerie Ruf was selling a whole collection of 18th-century costume for CHF 3.5 million (£8 million) and reported serious museum interest; but most dealers noted a resistance to the higher prices, with a ceiling of about CHF 30,000 (£70,000, $97,000). “People are much more cautious at the moment,” said Mr Clist.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Tough times, but there were some good sales'