Steady sales of works at Art Basel

German artist Gerhard Richter’s digital print 930-7 Strip (2015, above) was picked up for €3 million (S$4.6 million).
German artist Gerhard Richter’s digital print 930-7 Strip (2015, above) was picked up for €3 million (S$4.6 million). PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

ZURICH • The rain and falling stock markets failed to spoil collectors' shopping mood during the opening hours of Art Basel, the world's biggest modern and contemporary art fair, on Tuesday in Switzerland. 

Jetsetters and billionaires waited in long lines underneath umbrellas to get the dibs on the paintings and sculptures offered by 286 galleries.

Works priced at US$500,000 (S$678,000) or less sold briskly, while more expensive pieces, including billionaire Steven Cohen's US$20-million Gerhard Richter painting, lingered.

"It was a steady hum of business," said art adviser Benjamin Godsill, who bought several works for more than US$500,000 on behalf of clients. "I don't see any retreat for contemporary blue-chip artists, which is mostly where I play."

Insurer Axa Art estimates as much as €3 billion (S$4.6 billion) of works will be on view this week at the fair's 47th edition.

The sales are being watched closely after last month's auctions in New York fell by more than 50 per cent compared with the same period last year, as stock- market swings unnerved collectors.

Art Basel is seen by many as a litmus test for the gallery and dealer segment of the art market, which represented 53 per cent of the global art trade last year.

Metro Pictures Gallery quickly sold several photographs by American photographer Cindy Sherman, priced from US$275,000 to US$400,000, and two 3m-wide charcoal drawings by US artist Robert Longo, each priced at US$500,000.

First-time exhibitor Van Doren Waxter gallery, which mounted a survey of American painter Richard Diebenkorn works on paper, said it sold more than US$1 million worth of art in the first few hours.

Goodman Gallery from Johannesburg and Cape Town placed at least 10 works, with prices ranging from US$3,367 to US$320,000 for a piece by South African William Kentridge. Jack Shainman Gallery said it sold three works for a combined US$900,000 during the fair's first 15 minutes.

David Zwirner Gallery sold more than 30 artworks on the opening day. Several works sold for US$1 million or more, including a 1988 piece by German artist Sigmar Polke that went for €6.5 million.

Ms Patricia Amberg, head of the Art Competence Center at UBS, the fair's long-time sponsor, said: "People are still buying, the market is very active, but collectors watch the market before they buy. And fairs like Art Basel are ideal for this. You see the same artist at different booths and get an impression what a reasonable price would be, in a market where it's very difficult to get reliable pricing information."

New works by prominent living artists moved fast. German artist Richter's 11m-wide digital print 930-7 Strip (2015), priced at €3 million, sold at Marian Goodman Gallery. Gagosian Gallery sold New York-based artist Rudolf Stingel's 4.9m-wide 2015 gold painting, priced at US$3.5 million.

At the Unlimited section populated by enormous works, Paul McCarthy's 1994 sculptural installation Tomato Head (Green) was bought from Hauser & Wirth for US$4.75 million.

While there was not the frenzied buying of recent years, "it was a very strong steady day overall", said Mr Todd Levin, director of Levin Art Group in New York. "No one complained. Galleries were talking about switching over the booths for Wednesday."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'Steady sales of works at Art Basel'. Print Edition | Subscribe