June 29, 2022

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Sales at Art Basel Fair Don’t Show Signs of Downturn

2 min read

BASEL, Switzerland — War is raging in Ukraine. Stocks are down 20 percent; inflation is up more than 8 percent. The crypto economy is collapsing.

But back in the bubble of the international art world, the wealthy, for the moment at least, appear to be on a spending spree. Following on from May’s bumper two-week series of marquee auctions in New York that raised more than $2.5 billion, collectors were on the hunt for further desirable modern and contemporary works at the 52nd edition of the Art Basel fair in Switzerland, which opened to V.I.P. guests Tuesday. An iconic “Spider” sculpture by the artist Louise Bourgeois, priced at $40 million, was announced as the biggest of numerous big-ticket sales.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this was the first in-person, full-scale Art Basel fair held in Switzerland in its customary June slot since 2019. A slightly reduced edition, held last year in September, was hampered by an unfamiliar date and continuing Covid-19 restrictions.

“September was down,” the New York-based dealer Sean Kelly said in an interview on the first floor of the main exhibition building, where contemporary gallerists are concentrated. But this year, he said, “Sales have been strong.”

Kelly was one of 289 exhibitors at this year’s fair, up from 272 in 2021. There are “hardly any” Chinese collectors, Kelly added, “but it feels like we’re very much back. Some major buyers have been here.” Kelly made more than 20 sales in the $30,000 to $250,000 price range within the first six hours of the opening.

The fair, along with the rest of Europe’s luxury retail businesses, has been adversely affected by the Covid-related restrictions on “unnecessary” travel that China imposed in May. The masks and coronavirus tests were gone this year, and Art Basel was back to relative normality. But the crowds were somewhat thinner, the pace slower and the lunchtime lines at the wurst stalls slightly shorter than in the boom years of the…

Scott Reyburn

2022-06-16 15:23:29

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