Art Basel 41: Two Antipodean Premieres

The galleries holding up the Anzac flag are only two, and both of them are first-timers among the 303 international galleries represented and this year’s Art Basel, chosen from over 1,100 applications. Yet both Art Basel rookies – Anna Schwartz Gallery of Melbourne and Sydney, and Michael Lett from Auckland – are already very happy with this most important of Art Basel rituals, the day for invited guests only, aptly named ‘First Choice’.

The day seems to be true to its name: Michael Lett sold two of an edition of 3 by young New Zealand video artist Sriwhana Spong (born 1979). Her work ‘Lethe-wards’ was snapped up and at Euro 8,000 and a relative bargain. Michael Lett commented: ‘People come to Basel to buy, not just to look. For them, it is nice to know that we hail from New Zealand, but really, location is irrelevant to the visitors to Basel. Buying at Basel might add prestige to a purchase, just as buying at an evening auction rather than a day sale can.’

A first within Art Basel is the section Art Feature, which gives 20 galleries the opportunity to curate a project of their choosing. Anna Schwartz features during her first exhibition the work of Shaun Gladwell, and this choice has also paid off already. Director Simeon Kronenberg said: ‘Visitors recognise Gladwell’s work from the Venice Biennale. We have sold ‘Double Field / Viewfinder (Tarin Kowt)’ this morning, and a Swiss institution has shown great interest in it as well.’ The price of Euro 45,000 reflects the artist’s growing international reputation – which has also seen an Australian auction record for a video work in August 2007, when AU$ 84,000 including buyer’s premium was paid for ‘Storm Sequence’. Kronenberg added: ‘Exhibiting at Art Basel allows us to position Australian artists – and our gallery – on an international playing field. However, we have already seen quite a few Australian collectors today who continue to support Australian artists.’

Obviously, Art Basel has not lost any of its pulling power, neither on galleries nor on artists – and certainly not on visitors. Hundreds of collectors and celebrities were waiting patiently in front of closed doors until the fair opened with Swiss precision exactly at 11 o’clock.

abramovichAmong them we spotted Roman Abramovich, not only owner of the Chelsea football club, but also of major paintings by Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon (reputedly purchased in 2008 for £ 61.4 million) and worth US $ 23.5 billion according to Forbes magazine, so plenty of money to spend in Basel.

Simon de Pury of Phillips de Pury Fine Art Auctioneers and legendary Australian gallery owner and former exhibitor Roslyn Oxley were also waiting in the grey drizzling morning to get their first taste of Art Basel 41 as soon as the doors opened.

Once inside, actor Val Kilmer of ‘Batman Forever’ fame was seen chatting at high-profile Swiss Gallery Bischofberger, sitting most comfortably amidst works by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Until the end of the fair, 60,000 visitors are expected to attend the fair, and in doing so, demonstrate the strength of modern and contemporary art – and by extension its market.

– Article originally published in Australian Art Sales Digest

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