BASEL, Switzerland — Some say there are too many worldwide artwork gala’s — almost 300, in response to one current report — however there may be little doubt that they’re the most handy approach for the rich to get entangled in the modern artwork market.
Art Basel, whose 50th version previewed in Switzerland this previous week, is the most vital honest of all of them, with main sellers providing their most vital works to their biggest-spending purchasers. The occasion sometimes attracts about 90,000 guests, with the next proportion of critical collectors and curators in Venice Biennale years reminiscent of this; 290 galleries had been hoping to take benefit.
“Basel will always be Basel. Everyone comes here,” stated Rolf A. Hoff, a Norwegian collector with a personal museum in the Lofoten Islands. “There are so many good things. If you want a nice piece by an artist, you’ll find it. But it has always been expensive.”
“Basel Week,” like the week of the Frieze honest in London, is one of the few moments when the curtains half to disclose what is going on in the so-called major market — the intently guarded commerce in artworks offered by galleries for the first time. We may discover out what sellers are charging after they re-offer items. That glimpse can inform us the place collectors’ tastes — and their cash — are heading.
Last month, at a series of auctions in New York that took in more than $2 billion, a 1975 double portrait by Barkley L. Hendricks sold for $3.7 million at Sotheby’s, adding to a recent run of record prices for works by hitherto undervalued African-American artists.
At Art Basel, the New York dealer Jack Shainman, who specializes in African-American and African artists, sold a smaller Hendricks portrait, “Andy,” for $1.5 million at the Tuesday preview. The circular canvas was entered for sale by the family of the sitter, a friend of the artist.
Mr. Shainman sold six of the nine works he had on display within an hour of the fair’s opening, including a new canvas by Kerry James Marshall, “To Be Titled,” priced at $3.5 million.
Mr. Hendricks died in 2017, and the inclusion of his works that year in the Tate Modern exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” helped galvanize his market. The presence of paintings in Ralph Rugoff’s curated presentation at the Venice Biennale, “May You Live in Interesting Times,” had a similar effect at Art Basel for Jill Mulleady, a Swiss-Uruguyan artist based in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles dealer Freedman Fitzpatrick showed an installation of mixed media works by Ms. Mulleady that evoke the life of an imaginary family, incorporated in elements from a demolished house. Helped by institutional validation and approachable price points, all nine works sold on the first day for $15,000 to $30,000.
“The gallerists have answered the demand of the global and diverse market by focusing their supply on female artists and artists of color,” said Kristy Stubbs, a Dallas dealer who was visiting Art Basel on behalf of clients. “At this level of sophisticated buyers, who consume blue chip modern and contemporary works, the consumption almost seems unlimited.”
Elsewhere at the fair, international mega-galleries were offering the sort of works by white male artists that investment-minded collectors have snapped up in recent years for millions of dollars.
David Zwirner sold Gerhard Richter’s “Versammlung,” a rare 1966 painting of a crowd scene based on a photograph, for $20 million. Levy-Gorvy found buyers for a 2009 abstract silk-screen by Christopher Wool (about $6 million) and for a trademark Mark Grotjahn “face” painting from 2014 (about $5 million).
Jeff Koons’s 1994-2007 stainless steel sculpture “Sacred Heart (Magenta/Gold),” from the artist’s admired “Celebration” series, took pride of place in Gagosian’s ever-crowded booth.
It had not sold by Thursday afternoon, but overall sales at the booth were double those in 2018, Larry Gagosian, the gallery’s founder, said, without offering further details.
The asking price of the Koons sculpture was $14.5 million, far below not only the $91.1 million that the artist’s rabbit sculpture brought last month at Christie’s — an auction record for a work by a living artist — but also the $23.6 million that “Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold)” from the “Celebration” series achieved at auction in 2007.
As collectors’ tastes change — and spending patterns shift — will seasoned white male artists such as Richter, Wool, Grotjahn and Koons still be regarded as blue-chip investments? Works by Mr. Koons, for instance, raised $38.2 million at auction last year, according to data supplied by Artnet. In 2014, his works generated $170.8 million in auction sales.
Could these shifts in the market be one reason for bigger offerings from major galleries at Art Basel? In addition to its booth, Gagosian opened a new gallery in Basel with a show of 21 abstract American postwar works. Hauser & Wirth created a lavish 450-page hardback catalog to accompany its booth. David Zwirner introduced a dedicated online viewing room to coincide with the fair.
“The amount of stuff being offered is overwhelming,” said Guy Jennings, managing director of the Fine Art Group, an advisory company based in London. “The stands are becoming just agglomerations of merchandise.”
As an exception at the fair, Mr. Jennings pointed to the Italian dealer Tornabuoni Art, which presented a contextualized display of 11 of the 200 “Mappe” hangings that the conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti produced with Afghan weavers from 1971 to 1994. Priced at as much as 15 million euros, or nearly $17 million, two pieces sold at the preview — one for €1.7 million and the other for €2.3 million.
The white, male and long-dead Boetti might not be the hottest name in the art market, but his prescient woven maps show us how much the world has changed.
The art world is changing, too.