Art Basel in Basel wrapped up its latest edition on Sunday and once again proved that it remains the gold standard of contemporary art fairs. Returning to its usual June dates for the first time since 2019—COVID-19 having forced changes in the interim—the fair welcomed over 70,000 guests who visited displays from 289 international galleries from 40 countries and territories.
In addition to its core booths, Art Basel featured a wide assortment of specialty sections including Unlimited, a selection of 70 show-stopping installations, curated by Giovanni Carmine, director of the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, on view in the hall adjacent to the main fair.
Add to all this other worthwhile stops on any art lover’s itinerary—June Art Fair, proudly scrappy; Liste Art Fair Basel, chock-full of rising talent; exhibitions of masters from Mondrian to El Greco at Basel’s many museums; a benefit concert for Ukraine by Pussy Riot—and this quaint city on the Rhine again enjoyed its annual position as the pulsing center of the art world.
Portrait of Kaysy J. Gotay II, 2022
Stephen Friedman Gallery
Strip Tease, 1961
William Nelson Copley
Outside of this northern canton, financial chaos roiled the markets. Various indexes headed into bear-market territory, crypto continued to tank, and ongoing recession worries beset the global economy, but little of that stress was evident on the balance sheets at the fair. “Sales were strong, and the atmosphere in the opening hours was just like the good old pre-pandemic days. Decisions came quickly, with the competition for the best works brisk,” David Zwirner wrote in the fair’s closing report.
Indeed, one of the marquee sales of the fair was reported in even non-arts-related press: Hauser & Wirth sold Louise Bourgeois’s Spider (1996) for $40 million, a figure that tops the artist’s auction record, set at Christie’s in 2019, by nearly $8 million.
Islander Empress, 2022
Mariane Ibrahim Gallery
If you think Bourgeois’s work carries a sticker shock, it’s important to realize that it’s a museum-quality piece, an iconic example of one of her most recognizable motifs, and would be right at home in any world-class collection. And it was far from the only seven-figure sale at Art Basel in Basel, with many blue-chip names fetching sky-high prices. Marc Glimcher, CEO of Pace, noted “a particularly dynamic balance of demand for primary market and secondary market works this year,” which allied the gallery “to present 20th-century masters alongside emerging artists with very successful results.”
Hauser & Wirth had several other million-dollar sales. An Arshile Gorky work on paper, a preparatory piece for his Betrothal paintings of 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) went for $3.5 million; and George Condo’s oil on linen Large Reclining Nude, also from this year, sold for $2.8 million. Paintings also sold 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.From Richard Gray Gallery, Sturtevant’s copycat Johns Flag (1965–66) sold for $3 million.Xavier Hufkens sold Milton Avery’s colorful waterside Bikini Bather (1962) for $2.5 million and Lynda Benglis’s nearly eight-foot-tall Power Tower (2019), a gold-hued bronze abstract sculpture, for $1.2 million.Hannah Wilke’s snaking sculpture Rosebud (1976), crafted from latex, Liquitex, and metal snaps, sold from Alison Jacques for $1.5 million.Mnuchin Gallery sold Ed Clark’s lush New York Ice Cream (2003) for approximately $1.2 million to a private collector.
Pace Gallery’s biggest reported sale was Joan Mitchell’s nearly 10-foot-tall painting Bergerie (1961–62), which sold for $16.5 million. Its other $1 million–plus moves included a 2022 self-portrait by Adrian Ghenie, a 1960 canvas by Richard Pousette-Dart, and Robert Rauschenberg’s Rose Dam (Shiner) (1987), which sold for $1.2 million. And several of Jeff Koons’s much buzzed-about Moon Phase NFTs sold for $2 million apiece.Rauschenberg was also popular at Thaddaeus Ropac, which sold a silkscreen collage painting and a transfer-and-glaze on ceramic piece, both from the 1980s, for $3.5 million and $1.5 million. The gallery also sold works by Sturtevant, Georg Baselitz, and Alex Katz in the low seven figures.David Zwirner also sold a litany of works by big-name artists for $1 million and above, including a string of lights by Felix Gonzalez-Torres ($12.5 million); paintings by Marlene Dumas ($8.5 and $2.6 million), Alice Neel ($3.5 million), Neo Rauch ($1.5 million), Josef Albers ($1.5 and $1.1 million), and Elizabeth Peyton ($1 million); and a freestanding wire sculpture from circa 1963 by Ruth Asawa ($1 million).
But even though most of these works were made years if not decades ago, the lion’s share of sales were of pieces of much more recent vintage. Here, too, key sales came from already established stars and major galleries: for example, a 2021 Eddie Martinez painting, filled with the cushy, colorful forms that have become a recognizable motif in his work ($300,000 from Blum & Poe); a classic Kehinde Wiley flower-filled portrait from this year ($700,000 from Stephen Friedman Gallery); and a new painted cork, wood, and styrofoam sculpture by Huma Bhabha that exudes her signature haunting, totemic style (in the range of $250,000–$300,000 from David Kordansky Gallery).
On the Changing Skin of the moment, 1991
Galerie Ceysson & Bénétière
Untitled , 2022
In terms of newness, though, some of the most interesting sales came from galleries making their Art Basel in Basel debuts. Perhaps most surprising on that list is Mariane Ibrahim, if only because, by this point, her ambitious program (with spaces in Chicago and Paris) seems such a major part of the contemporary landscape that it would be easy to assume that she’s exhibited universally. This debut “marked a monumental and awaited moment for our program,” she said, adding that the booth was rehung several times. Her sales included works by Peter Uka ($80,000), Raphaël Barontini ($25,000), and Ayanna V. Jackson ($18,500). Other first-timers included:
Dakar’s OH Gallery, which sold a piece by Aliou Diack to a private collection in Paris for €8,000. Océane Harati, the gallery’s founder and director, hailed the experience as “a great achievement” and said the fair has made her even more excited to discover young and emerging artists to showcase. Galerie Ceysson & Bénétière, with spaces in Lyon, Paris, Saint-Etienne, Koerich, and New York, presented an impressive booth of Nancy Graves’s work that looks shockingly contemporary despite being made 30 or even 40 years ago. The gallery sold the artist’s paintings in the range of €60,000–€150,000.Galerie Maria Bernheim, based in Zurich and London, featured Ebecho Muslimova’s playful works, selling a set of eight lithographs for $120,000 and two paintings for $75,000 and $55,000, with one going to an institution in Hong Kong.
Untitled , 1994
Galerie Christophe Gaillard
Water Woman Red / Violet Shadow, 2004
Lynn Hershman Leeson
Many galleries making their debuts showed outside the core galleries section at the fair, presenting in more specialized programs where they were able to focus on highlighting a particular artist or theme. The success in these areas—gallerist Tina Kim, who exhibited work by Mire Lee, praised what she called “a great mix of collectors with dynamic, forward-thinking collections, prestigious institutions, and curious onlookers”—shows that there remains an appetite among collectors for more than just chasing flashy names, and that art fairs remain points of discovery: of new artists, artists on the rise, and established talents viewed in a new light.
Galerie Christophe Gaillard sold eight paintings by Romani activist and artist Ceija Stojka, mainly to new French and German collectors, all in the range of €40,000–€70,000.Kasmin sold three works by William N. Copley, each in the range of $300,000–$425,000.Bridget Donahue co-presented with Altman Siegel the work of Lynn Hershman Leeson, selling several of her collages in the range of $35,000–$45,000.Kohn Gallery offered a joint exhibition of Chiffon Thomas and Bruce Conner, selling several works by the former from $22,000–$45,000, with at least one going to a major foundation in Europe. Joshua Friedman, partner of the gallery, noted that he “felt a particularly strong presence of collectors and museums from Germany, France, and Italy this year.”Two Palms, which offered etchings and monoprints from Matthew Barney, Peter Doig, and Chris Ofili, sold several Doig monotypes for $75,000 and 30 of his etchings for $3,500–$7,500 each.
Jet Set, 2021
While the conclusion of Art Basel in Basel marks the unofficial start of the art world’s slow season, its return to its normal June slot also provided a conveniently jumping-off point for those looking to visit other nearby events: the Biennale in Venice, Documenta in Kassel, Jeff Koons’s exhibition at the Deste Foundation’s space in Hydra. And this year’s edition of the fair also showed that collectors remain hungry, even after a pandemic when possible recession lies ahead. Time will tell what the coming months have in store for the broader economy. But if Art Basel was any indication, boom or bust, buyers will continue seeking out noteworthy art.