Art Basel is the world’s leading platform connecting collectors, galleries and artists. This year’s edition proved Basel to be a ‘must’, with some true gems of 20th and 21st century art finding admirers and buyers
In the first full, in-person edition of the fair since 2019, this June’s Art Basel hosted a wide selection of sculptures, paintings, installations and art performances in the city of Basel, among them a number of big-ticket items – such as a $40 million Louise Bourgeois spider, a $22 million painting by Francis Bacon and an exquisite $6.5 million bust by Alberto Giacometti – coming from 289 renowned galleries from 40 countries and territories. In 2020, the 50th edition of the fair in Basel was initially postponed, pushed back to September, only to later be cancelled entirely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while the 2021 exhibition took a hybrid form. In 2022, 19 galleries from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas participated for the first time in a mostly live but still hybrid event, thus reaching the widest possible audience both on-site and online. Some of the site-specific works were shown throughout Basel’s Old Town.
Art Basel is a for-profit, privately owned and managed, international art fair that’s staged annually in Basel, Switzerland; Miami Beach; Hong Kong and, as of October 2022, Paris. Founded in 1970 by a trio of Swiss gallerists comprising Ernst Beyeler, Trudl Bruckner, and Balz Hilt, it was their vision that brought together the artists they represented. Their initial idea was to allow local galleries to reach their target market and improve sales, but the event soon grew beyond the parameters of its beginnings. It restored its pre-pandemic glory this June by exhibiting (and selling) some of the most sought-after enigmatic large-scale sculptures, installations and thought-provoking art, proving itself to be the gold standard of contemporary art fairs. It also attracted a total of 70,000 visitors from all over the world, who were eager to see good and very expensive art. That was slightly below the total of 93,000 visitors who visited Art Basel in Basel in 2019.
In the words of the organisers, “Art Basel is a meeting place for artists, art collectors and many celebrities from the art scene. The high-calibre exhibitions showcase various art forms, with works by both modern masters and emerging talents. Art Basel brings the art world to life – which is probably why it is so successful”.
This fair is pure joy for the soul and mind for some visitors, while for others it represents a busy shopping season. Based on the volume of sales, it seems as though some of the wealthiest collectors were willing to spend more than ever before at this year’s fair.
Art Basel Paris will take place in October 2022 at the prestigious Grand Palais in Paris. This new project will build bridges with France’s cultural industries – from fashion and design, to film and music. The new fair will initially take place on the Champ-de-Mars, until the 2024 completion of restoration works on the Grand Palais.
“We knew people would return,” said dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, whose booth included works by Georg Baselitz, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein. Despite weakening economies, demand for artworks was “stronger than we could have imagined”, said Ropac speaking to members of the press.
Another reason for this is the fact that the owners of many of the most expensive artworks, which had been held in private collections for years, assessed demand as being right this spring. The same also occurred in New York and elsewhere this year, with collectors seeking premium prices. In the words of David Zwirner, “sales were strong, and the atmosphere in the opening hours was just like the good old pre-pandemic days. Decisions came quickly, with competition for the best works brisk”.
Many dealers brought works cooked in their own collections for a while before they decided the time is right to pull them out.
Nonetheless, the fair’s second floor, which was filled with galleries selling lower-priced contemporary art, also experienced high demand, despite prices being high. Importantly, these high prices were not connected to inflation, but rather to the quality of works exhibited being far above those seen during Covid-era fairs.
Some experts nonetheless see other reasons for collectors and artist themselves being eager to display their best artworks: a looming crisis.
Art adviser Alex Glauber told gathered media that he bought multiple works for clients having in mind that the window of opportunity to sell might close soon. He was referring to the nose-diving equity markets, combined with looming rises in rates akin to those seen in 2008
Art adviser Alex Glauber told gathered media that he bought multiple works for clients having in mind that the window of opportunity to sell might close soon. He was referring to the nose-diving equity markets, combined with looming rises in rates akin to those seen in 2008.
The experience still suggests that physical assets weathered the crisis better than stock market assets, thus suggesting that being in art is a better investment. Interestingly, 20th-century masters sold as well as some emerging artists. Consider that Louise Bourgeois’s Spider (1996) sold for $40 million – up nearly $8 million on the artist’s auction record set at Christie’s in 2019. An Arshile Gorky work on paper, a preparatory piece for his Betrothal paintings from the late 1940s, went for $5.5 million.
An early 1940s Francis Picabia painting of bathers sold for $4 million; Mark Bradford’s new mixed-media Cobra (2022) sold for $3.5 million; and George Condo’s oil on linen Large Reclining Nude, also from this year, sold for $2.8 million. Other paintings sold includes works by Frank Bowling ($2.75 million), Philip Guston (two works at $2.5 million each), and Glenn Ligon ($2 million), and another Bourgeois — this one a dye, drypoint, ink and embroidery on cloth piece — went for $1.1 million. John Flag (1965–66) sold for $3 million, Milton Avery’s colourful waterside Bikini Bather (1962) went for $2.5 million and Lynda Benglis’s Power Tower (2019) was snapped up for $1.2 million, Hannah Wilke’s snaking sculpture Rosebud (1976), sold for $1.5 million. Ed Clark’s lush New York Ice Cream (2003) sold to a private collector for approximately $1.2 million.
Art Basel 2023 is scheduled to take place from 15th to 18th June 2023.