Art Basel Recession Proof Switzerland Fuels Market Confidence

Review – Art Basel really got underway yesterday with their official opening day festivities, that is, it opened the doors to the actual public!  Basel is an affair that seems endlessly packed with previews, pre pre views, opening night galas,vernissages (both French and German) and after parties. It is a place where socialising and hanging with the man, is as important as designing an outstanding display of tempting blue chip masterpieces, to sell on to the few high net individuals who still have a disposable million or two.
This is not to say that people were not buying… Quite the contrary red stickers and art handlers were in abundance and everyone of the British galleries that I spoke with were having a good fair. In fact one English dealer stated; “The recession certainly isn’t in effect here, as it is in England”. This raises questions as to who is actually buying Contemporary and Modern Art.

I noticed less Chinese buyers this year, than at the last few international fairs I’ve visited. Some of the Chinese dealers were seemingly having a good fair, selling to the Europeans and Americans. Others seemed rather quiet. There were a lot of Americans at Basel this year, as in the past. What they were buying I couldn’t quite put a finger on. I could guess, but the answer lays in gallery disclosure and that has always been a grey area, as such a degree of secrecy has always been a code of practice, at these types of feeding frenzies.

Large scaled installations were popular on many of the stands. Most had a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, ranging from the disposable to the semi precious. Don’t get me wrong,I like installations, but many of the offerings lacked wit and grace. In fact several had little attention paid to basic design or form and ended up resembling the contents of domestic rubbish skips. This is so old hat,coat, string and quite possibly just a load of old crap!!!! Come on galleries you can do far better than this!!!!

There were quantities of quality sculpture and wall pieces on offer for the domestic collector as well. A variety of works by established British artists including Frank Auerbach, Leon Kosoff, Bridget Riley, Julian Opie, Grayson Perry, Tracey Emin, Gilbert & George and the inevitable Damien Hirsts were plentiful. The Lisson Gallery, White Cube, Victoria Miro, all reported a good start to the fair on Wednesday.

The high point for me was the very bold Art Unlimited entries this year with the largest unassembled sculpture I have ever seen at Basel. It was created by Franz West and courtesy of the Gagosian Gallery. West has created a twisted baby pink  sculpture resembling human entrails. The sculpture, titled Gekröse (2011),  translates into English as “bowel,” is the largest of West’s work. It sold on the first day of the fair, so says Larry.

There were also truly first rate examples of Modern Masters most notably a special exhibition of the Der Brucke painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner at Galerie Henze & Ketterer and the display of museum quality masterpieces at Landau Fine Art, Montreal who had a Modigliani that I had once seen at the Metropolitan in New York, but alas there it was hanging on the wall at Basel. Where they got it, I could not bring myself to ask, but in any event it was the jaw dropper of the fair. Unfortunately evident were far too many late Picassos to count. The man who never threw anything away, resurfaces again with potboiler after potboiler tarnishing the career of the most prolific painter of all time.

So to round up Basel, it is an exciting vibrant fair with many surprises and interesting galleries from Berlin to Beijing. Will this prove that Switzerland is recession proof? I doubt it. But it is evident that England is feeling the crunch a lot more then this mountainous dairy producing, Banking outpost.

Words/Photo Paul Carter Robinson © 2012 ArtLyst

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