At Art Basel, no American is a problem
(Bloomberg) – The number of attendees at Art Basel’s first VIP day in Switzerland seemed to surprise almost everyone.
“There were days when no one wanted to go, there were days when we were like, ‘No one will be here, but we have to do it anyway. “It was very high in the air,” said Marc Glimcher, president of the mega gallery Pace. It was only last week, he says, “that I had the feeling that it was going to be good”.
Art Basel is known as the world’s most prestigious art fair, with 272 galleries selling hundreds of works of art for millions of dollars to the world’s super-rich. During normal years, anticipation and hype lead to a (kind) melee at the opening, as collectors rush to their favorite booths to purchase works before they are blown away by someone from the outside. ‘other.
That rush was eliminated in 2020, with the in-person fair being canceled entirely and moved to online viewing rooms. Then the 2021 edition was postponed to September. Since then, several fairs have dipped their feet in the waters of the art market, but none have been on the scale – or import of the market – of Art Basel. This means that the art world had to wait more than two years for the concentration of the Swiss fair in high-quality and expensive materials to constitute a real test of the market.
At first, the enthusiasm seemed to be muted. It would be an exaggeration to say that there was a rush for anything other than the pre-fair champagne breakfast, and many attendees seemed content to just linger in the convention hall courtyard, drinking and talking well. after the doors to the room were unlocked at 11 a.m.
“It seems calmer than previous editions, but it’s not calm,” says Alex Logsdail, executive director of the Lisson Gallery, which has offices in New York, London and Shanghai. “In a regular year, it’s my ideal balance,” he continues. “There has to be some kind of environment where you can have real conversations, not 30-second pitches where you look over someone’s shoulder to see who you need to talk to next.”
Most of the discussions on the first day appeared to be in German and French, a product of the fact that while vaccinated Americans can easily enter Europe, they still have to provide a negative Covid test to re-enter the United States. The threat of having to quarantine in Switzerland has proven to be a major deterrent to American collectors who would otherwise have attended.
“It’s weird,” says Wendy Olsoff, co-founder of New York gallery PPOW. “There isn’t the usual hubbub of American voices.”
This, for Olsoff, was a relief. She had brought a variety of pieces to her booth, the most striking of which was a single work by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, consisting of 44 photographs taken from 1978 to 1979, which carries the asking price of $ 850,000. “A lot of people from America, who we don’t actually do any business with, use a lot of energy,” she says. “So having a minute with collectors that we don’t know is great.”
Nice, but not necessary
This seemed to be the somewhat surprising conclusion of the most Eurocentric Art Basel in recent memory: even though the US market still accounts for about 42% of the global art market’s sales value, Americans themselves are kind. but not necessary for business.
“There aren’t a lot of Americans here,” says Glimcher, who sold 20 works of art in the first three hours of the fair. “But of course we didn’t need them.”
This year, Glimcher filled their booth with relatively affordable works of art by Robert Longo, Sam Gilliam and Latifa Echakhch; the most expensive was a painting by Chuck Close, priced at $ 5 million. “We didn’t go looking for $ 20 million paintings for this fair, I just wasn’t that confident,” Glimcher said. “But I would really like to have it.”
Art Basel is divided into three main areas. Unlimited, which opens a day earlier than the main fair, is located on the second floor of a convention hall adjacent to the building that houses all the stands; there the galleries traditionally stage large-scale installations like, say, Urs Fischer’s all-bread house, which they hope will go to a museum or a private foundation.
In the main hall of the fair, the ground floor is mainly filled with merchants selling top notch contemporary art. The floor is aimed at younger galleries – age, in this case, being vibe rather than something specific – showing generally less established artists at lower prices.
A European rush
On the second floor, it was the same story. “The majority of Americans we work with regularly will not be coming this year,” explains Daniel Wichelhaus, director of the Society gallery in Berlin. This did not prevent him from selling 10 works, priced at € 10,000 to € 100,000 ($ 11,726 to $ 117,267), within the first 45 minutes of the fair. By the end of the day, he had sold 20 more.
Four of the 30 works of art were sold to Americans, according to Wichelhaus, two of whom stayed at home and purchased the work remotely. “The energy was already excellent in the last two weeks before the show,” he says. “It was sort of boiling.”
After two years of relying on hectic online showrooms instead of in-person art fairs, in which most galleries have managed to thrive, Art Basel’s success this week is being closely watched by dealers as a barometer for future art fairs.
“The past two years have shown people that they don’t have to steal, have art fairs once a month, especially when you’re selling to the same people you already know,” says Logsdail. “It seems extremely unnecessary and depletes everyone’s mental and physical abilities. “
Still, he says, the first day of the fair could bode well for businesses as a whole.
“We’re still in a pandemic,” he says, “and trust is everything. “
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