306 galleries from 36 countries with more than 2,500 artists are showcasing at the world’s most important contemporary art fair in Switzerland this week, but there is not one Australian gallery at Art Basel 43 represented, write David Hulme and Brigitte Banziger. However, Art Basel co-director Marc Spiegler is upbeat about the prospect of leading Australian commercial art galleries again showing on the main floors.
Marc Spiegler believes the standard of Australian art and galleries to be very high, but admitted that their exposure to Europe may be limited. He said that he was delighted to see and talk with many Australian galleries at Art Hong Kong (of which Art Basel owns the majority shareholding). For Australians of course the 8 hour flight to Hong Kong is short, whereas Spiegler admitted that 7 hours for him make for a long trip. And probably therein lies part of the problem when it comes to participating or even just attending: the tyranny of distance.
But there might be other reasons, as Mr Spiegler said that perhaps quality galleries from Australia wouldn’t even apply. He commented that is was not necessarily unusual for Art Basel to ask a gallery to apply rather than the other way round. The decision is down to the selection committee made up of seven art dealers – six European and one US-American – and they now have to choose from 950 gallery applications. Once in does not give a free pass ever after though – every gallery has to go through the painstaking process every year and pay the 500 Swiss Francs non-refundable application fee.
Apart from that, setting up a stand at Art Basel comes at considerable cost. This was reiterated by Michael Lett of Lett Gallery, Auckland. The gallery has participated at Art Basel and Liste for eight years now. Costs to show at Art Basel can be in the order of $ 300,000 he said. If you are selling less expensive works, this would be extremely difficult to recoup.
Lett Gallery is showing the work of New Zealand, Berlin-based artist Simon Denny. All his works sold on the first day, with the major work priced at 45,000 Euro going to an important collection in Miami, leaving slower fair visitors vocally disappointed at having missed out. To top it off, Denny was one of the two winners of the prestigious Baloise Art Prize worth 30,000 Swiss Francs, plus acquisitive commissions and museum exhibitions, amounting to some 250,000 Swiss francs. Denny’s work deals with the changing role of media and TV – the folding of independent New Zealand TV channel TVNZ 7 due to the cutting of government funding.
Michael Lett pointed out that this year there was no friendly small talk about Lord of the Rings and New Zealand’s beautiful scenery – all was focussed on the art. Still, he said he felt rather the lone Antipodean these days with no other Aussie or Kiwi galleries present.
That’s not to say that works by Australian artists cannot be found at this year’s Art Basel.
Two very prominently displayed works by Australian artists are exhibited almost side by side, and in two of the world’s major contemporary art galleries. Ron Mueck’s sculpture Woman with sticks is currently on hold for a client and priced at a very healthy £1.4 million with Hauser & Wirth, London and New York. Next door at Xavier Hufkens of Brussels, a large David Noonan canvas from his Origami series is displayed with a somewhat less prohibitive price tag of £44,000, (still available at the time of writing).
It does seem after all that there is hope for a stronger presence for art and galleries from Down Under – especially now that we can look forward to Art Basel Hong Kong to be held for the first time next year from 23 to 26 May.
Article originally published in the Australian Art Sales Digest