by Rahul KumarMar 15, 2021
The 50th edition of Art Basel had many new and exciting things to offer. Galleries were excited about the new sliding scale price model that allowed smaller booths to pay less per square meter. Another first at the fair in Switzerland is that it actually had one of the exhibiting galleries, New York’s Essex Street, put up work for rent. Artist Cameron Rowland's artworks were not for sale but for rent. Art Basel reported buoyant sales, attracting collectors from over 80 countries and an overall attendance of 93,000 viewers showcasing artwork from 290 premier art galleries from across the globe. While Europe continued to dominate the market, participating galleries from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America established a marked presence.
At the preview on June 11, 2019, Art Basel global director, Marc Spiegler acknowledged broad art market challenges, including the opposition that smaller, younger galleries face. “We live, let’s be honest, in a difficult time for galleries,” he said, “It’s a time of consolidation. It’s a time when the market often focuses on a few galleries and a few artists.” Art Basel is the biggest and most important fair in the world and it has retained its position because of its ability to innovate and adapt.
Among the fair's most talked-about highlights was Aggregate (2017-2019) by Romanian artist Alexandra Pirici. Conceived as a time capsule, in which fragments from nature, vernacular culture, art history, and everyday life are given new embodiments, the work was presented on Messeplatz in a purpose-built pavilion designed by Andrei Dinu, a frequent collaborator of Pirici's.
Predictably the ground floor at Art Basel featured mostly the masters - or the classics. The higher floor was a selection of contemporary art that is seen as fresher, current and usually more ‘hip’. This year also featured Art Unlimited –a large section of the fair which by its name has ‘unlimited possibilities’ and unique platforms, curated by curator and art critic, Giovanni Carmine.
“People come from all over the world to Basel to buy art because the blue chip galleries will always have something more to offer,” says Shireen Gandhy director of Chemould Prescott Road who participated this year with a booth of her own. For example a collector who has a Gerard Richter of a certain period missing he paid 20 million dollars exceeding all records to buy it at an art fair. “Those are the kind of records the art fair makes,” says Gandhy. However she points out that the mid size galleries often suffer. “It’s not just Indian galleries - but galleries from all over the world in similar categories that often don’t have the buyers for their level of artists... it could be because of the 'unknown quantity', or they’ve spent their money elsewhere. Basel has huge choices so they might want to pay for an artist who is of similar value but more familiar to them,” observes Gandhy.
Chemould Prescott featured artists Atul Dodiya’s Petals and Atoms, a set of five pairs of digital prints along with his canvases featuring Mahatma Gandhi. Bhuvanesh Gowda’s sculptural work examined the composition of architectural forms their attributes and materials. Chemould has been hugely successful in Basel - selling to museums, foundations and very good private collectors. “However, this year was overall slow for the mid-sized galleries. We made fewer sales and had fewer visitations,” says Gandhy. There was a general buzz that many collectors were ‘absent’. “I would wait and watch, because while a fair like Basel is expensive- it is also undoubtedly an exposure you could never otherwise get. We sold several artists but would have expected more in a fair like this.”
Roshini Vadehra, of the Vadehra Art Gallery fame also participated in the fair with a booth dedicated to Binod Bihari Mukherjee. The gallery showed works from the later part of his career, vibrant compositions of found paper and bright, simple shapes (prices range from $22,000 to $30,000). The works evidence the artist’s indomitable drive to create. The international gallery that caught Vadhera’s eye was David Zwirner’s. “I chose his gallery for their brilliant presentation of artists, across generations and geography - showing works by artists like Gerhard Richter and Njideka Akunyili Crosby,” she says.
Hauser & Wirth 2019 represented the galleries largest-ever presence in the Unlimited sector, and included installations from six artists: Larry Bell, Zoe Leonard, Fausto Melotti, Mika Rottenberg, Franz West, and Paul McCarthy, whose virtual reality experiment represents the first time the gallery has presented an artwork in VR at an art fair. The gallery also showed works by Hans Arp, Larry Bell, Louise Bourgeois, John Chamberlain, Lucio Fontana, Günther Förg, Philip Guston and Annie Leibovitz, to name a few. The gallery is selling the body of Leibovitz photographs in an edition of four, priced at $275,000. By mid-afternoon of the preview, one had already sold.
The selection of 63 photographs were taken from 1970–84, of people in cars - including famous personalities such as Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Mick Jagger, and Jane Fonda. “I just realised how strong of an artist she is from an American perspective, of reflecting what America is,” said partner and vice president Marc Payot.
The gallery also recently began representing the estate of John Chamberlain, whose sculptures were on view. The booth featured his PARISIANESCAPADE (1999), a small crushed metal sculpture, for $750,000, and throughout the week, the booth included two additional works by the artist - teasers for a big Chamberlain show the gallery will mount in September.
Also notable were Brazilian gallery A Gentil Carioca, that displayed a riff on Marcel Duchamp’s famed Fountain (1917) - a urinal-turned-artwork. Rio de Janeiro–based art collective Opavivará managed to add something new to the mix by turning a toilet into a drinking fountain that burbles cachaça. White plastic cups sit on the ledge, tempting fairgoers in need of a happy hour.