Art Basel: A Strong Opening for the One Percent

by Paddy Johnson on December 1, 2011 Art Fair

The Miami Convention Center

Buoyed by Wednesday's big rally on the stock market, Art Basel opened with bang. Crowds of VIPs arrived early, and without fail every dealer AFC talked to had made sales by early afternoon. “Sometimes things sell in the afternoon or in later days,” dealer Zach Feuer told us after explaining that he had sold work immediately upon the show's opening, “You just don't know. But we're doing well and I get the feeling other people are too.”

Amplifying the feeling that this year's VIP crowd was thicker than usual is the fair's new floor plan, which places all the blue chip galleries at the front and the emerging galleries at the back. This is not a positive direction. Collectors crowded near the front of the fair, whereas other parts of the fair saw far fewer visitors. Compare this to previous years, when Basel ensured more distributed foot traffic by placing the larger galleries throughout the fair's grid.

Hauser and Wirth installation view

Still, but for a few galleries like Hauser and Wirth who had to design their booths around a column, dealers weren't complaining much. Strong sales engender positive spirits for everyone at Basel.

As for the art, it's a better year than most. Gallerie Nascht St. Stephan brought several new Katherina Grosse abstract paintings, Gavin Brown's showcased a striking combination of Rob Pruitt paintings and Nate Lowman sculptures, and Nicolai Wallner's Jeppe Hein metalic wall works and hilarious David Shrigley drawings all stood out. Like most fairs, Basel has its fair share of overly familiar work — regular fair goers will likely have grown tired of looking at Nick Cave sound suits for example — but even this problem is small compared to past years.

Overduin and Kite

Art Positions, the section of the fair dedicated to one-work-only booths, generally underperformed. Past underwhelming work, the size of these spaces is very small, so any blue chip gallery with plenty of square footage could achieve the same ends with their closet. So too did Art Nova, a section that required dealers to showcase works made by two to three artists that had been made in the last two years. Longtime emerging exhibitors such as Canada and Nicole Klagsburn left Basel for NADA this year, which is a loss for Basel: in past years, names like these went a long way towards strengthening Basel’s otherwise notoriously weak new art dealer program. There were exceptions though, in particular Overduin and Kite's booth of Eileen Quilian, Marc Camille Chaimowicz, and Dianna Molzan. Founded in 2007, the gallery is already outperforming its neighbors and the better part of the general fair. They also reported strong sales.

That Basel opened to such prosperity should be good news to the satellite fairs that open today, which includes NADA, Pulse, and Verge. Mary-Anne Martin reflected the general sentiment: “There's just a bouyancy to the air here.”

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