Following the New York sales, attention turned to Switzerland for the market’s biggest and arguably its most illustrious fair, Art Basel.
Question marks remained going into the occasion. The results in New York had been middling, with the prevailing conclusion being the market is undergoing a subtle correction. This shouldn’t come as a particular surprise.
The world is in an uncertain moment, geopolitically and financially. War rages on in Ukraine, the election cycle in the U.S. has just begun, and interest rates have swiftly risen having been held at artificially low levels for more than a decade.
Moreover, inflation is up. Crucially that means people who had been storing wealth in art and using it as collateral to borrow more have been hit with a new reality.
Against this backdrop, what were the key takeaways from the fair?
Blue-chip takes centre stage
In the previous year, there was a noticeable emphasis on younger contemporary artists at the high-end galleries. This year however saw a fastidious return to classic blue-chip fare. Stand-out was Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange), bought at Sotheby’s from the Paul Mellon Collection in 2014, which hung at Acquavella Galleries’ booth with an asking price of $60 million.
The strategy delivered tangible results, as seen in the several major sales across the week. Hauser & Wirth placed Louise Bourgeois’ bronze Spider VI for $22.5 million, alongside another work by the artist for $7.5 million. David Zwirner sold an untitled Joan Mitchell for $20 million and Pace sold a triptych by the artist for $14 million. Cecily Brown and Gerhard Richter were some of the other big names to sell at multi-million-dollar prices.
Asian collectors back in force
There was a healthy presence from across Asia at Art Basel this year. Amongst the most notable names were Chinese collector Yan Du, founder of the Asymmetry Art Foundation; Tank Shanghai founder Qiao Zhibing; Timothy Tan from the Philippines; Taiwan’s Rudy Tseng, who is also a writer and a curator; and Jenny Yeh, founder of the Winsing Foundation, based in Taipei.
Gagosian’s Hong Kong-based senior director, Nick Simunovic, reflected, “We have noticed a pronounced increase in attendance from Asia this year, including important institutional and private collectors as well as emerging collectors, all of whom have been actively buying work at all price points.”
Emerging artists still in demand
Although blue-chip was very much the order of the week, primary market works by ultra-contemporary emerging artists did find buyers with ease. Some of the most impressive offerings were Jacqueline de Jong at Pippy Houldsworth, Ulala Imai and Xavier Hufkens, and Lucy Bull at David Kordansky with the latter selling for between $100,000 and $150,000.
Despite much publicised big figure sales, one of the prevailing sentiments from the fair was that it is now a buyer’s market. David Zwirner announcing his surprise decision to no longer disclose prices on secondary-market sales to the press – i.e. increasing market opacity – appears to be based on a ‘bunker’ mentality.
Buyers from the fair also commented that it was easier to acquire works that would have been inaccessible 24 months earlier. This was particularly apparent around the ‘hot’ emerging artists, where galleries were more accommodating.
Despite the subdued post-auction mood, sales from the fair were encouraging. Gallerists were generally doing better in both sales volume and value compared to last year and there was a decidedly international attendance.
Nevertheless, there were fewer record-setting prices and above all, noticeably more considered buying.
Next stop: London
Attention turns to London for the upcoming auctions, where Sotheby’s recently announced a rare Gustav Klimt portrait with a $80 million estimate will be coming to the auction block.