Two things have become quite obvious to me on this trip to Basel: 1. I need more wall space and 2. If I'm going to continue being an art writer, I need to get a very rich boyfriend. When one's favorite Gerhard Richter at Dominique Levy sells for $25,000,000 before you can even snap a picture, you know that you're in the wrong tax bracket.
Today was the day we went in and rubbed elbows with the big guns. Prepare to be disgusted, because the name of the game is money, and lots of it.
Whispers of conversations here are not for the faint of heart, and romantic notions are best left in the coat check. Art moves into the area of strict commodity with verbal exchanges between advisor and collector going something like this: Collector: "Is so and so buying this yet?" Advisor: "No." Collector: "If he's not buying it, then I'm not. I need something with staying power."
The major New York galleries were all in attendance and, without a doubt, put their best foot forward showing works from some heavily traded contemporary favorites.
Anish Kapoor's wall sculptures have shifted from round bowl into potato chip form with one of the new versions bringing in nearly $1,100,000. Two artists currently in the limelight at the Venice Biennale, Sarah Sze and Ragnar Kjartansson, who typically produce large scale works more appropriate for museums, have pieces available for those unable to devote an entire room to them. Sarah Sze's teeny tiny installation, Standing Pile (Cairn) (2013), a mere 48" tall, was sold for $32,000.
Kjartansson's dealer, Luhring Augustine, is showing Song (2011), a video where three singing waifs hypnotically rotate on a bed while brushing their hair. The entrancing piece, which was on view at MOCA last year, is available for sale in an edition of six here in Basel.
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Those selling works and writing invoices have been quoted as saying that buyers here appear drunk or feverish, purchasing to their heart's content, but it's nice to know there are still a few things that cannot be bought. Sitting between the main halls is Jonathan Horowitz's Free Store (2009-2013), an environment where visitors without deep pockets are invited to exchange goods. And the London gallery Herald St is presenting a performance piece by Pablo Bronstein. It's titled Marie Antoinette and Robespierre Engage In An Irritable Post-Coital Conversation (2013), where a man and woman, posed as lovers, ironically sit and ignore each other.
Wait, did I just see Steve Cohen purchase the guy on the right? I suppose what they say is true: everything is for sale, especially here at Basel -- just name the price.
Writer Seanica Howe will be reporting from Art Basel in Basel throughout its run. Check back tomorrow for more photos and insights from Switzerland.