Thursday, June 5, 2008

At Art Basel, Old Names and Few Showstoppers

Please read about the latest during Basel Art in Switzerland. Good article written by Carol Vogel of the NY Times.

Published: June 5, 2008
BASEL, Switzerland
— Twenty-four hours before Art Basel’s invitation-only opening on Tuesday, scores of the art elite gathered, sheeplike, on a wooden ramp at a related event in a cavernous installation space. Word had spread that there was something exciting to see: a dusty old train car whose windows flashed black-and-white images of troubled moments from China’s past.

Art Basel The work they were waiting patiently in line to view was “Staring Into Amnesia,” an installation by Qiu Anxiong, a 36-year-old artist from Shanghai. A first-timer, he had traveled here to see what Art Basel, the legendary contemporary art fair, was all about.

“It’s a piece devoted to memory — not what we remember but what we forget,” said Mr. Qiu, who was clearly floored by the growing line of eager spectators.

“Staring Into Amnesia” was an instant hit for an audience hungry to make just such discoveries. But moments like these are scarce here this year. Although several satellite fairs dotting the city are devoted to emerging artists like Mr. Qiu, Art Basel 2008 primarily features examples of new works by the already-hot. Yet there are fewer showstoppers than usual, in part because such multimillion-dollar works are getting harder to find.

For Allan Schwartzman, a Manhattan art adviser, this was not altogether a bad thing. “Although there were fewer new names to discover and fewer blockbusters at the high end, there were still good things to see and the opportunity to buy them,” he said. “Last year felt like a feeding frenzy. Within an hour after the opening, everything I tried to buy had been sold. But this year the pace is not so crazy.”

Other dealers grumbled that soaring auction prices had led to a shortage of classic top-quality work. And some complained that fairs like Art Basel are outgrowing their usefulness, as collectors cultivate relationships with dealers and art advisers who reserve the best works for them.

“There used to be a sense of urgency,” said Susan Dunne, a vice president of the PaceWildenstein Gallery in New York. “But now there are just too many art fairs, making it difficult to keep the level of quality up fair after fair.”

Timing was difficult this year too. The fair, which ends on Sunday, was scheduled a week earlier than usual to minimize the overlap with the Euro 2008 soccer matches. (Several are scheduled here this month, including an opener on Saturday.) The convergence of soccer fans and art lovers has nonetheless overwhelmed the city, with hotel rooms scarcer than ever.

Yet some American collectors stayed away out of a reluctance to make two June trips to Europe. (The big spring London auctions take place at the end of the month.) The weak dollar was not helping either, some dealers said.

Art Basel is still a place to see and be seen however. The Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich was observed perusing the booths, as were museum directors like Glenn D. Lowry of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Alfred Pacquement of the Pompidou Center in Paris. Among the artists spotted were Takashi Murakami, Ellsworth Kelly, Tony Oursler and Lawrence Weiner

A piece by Frederick Kiesler.

There was even some Hollywood glamour, with Brad Pitt and the director Sofia Coppola in attendance. Fair officials and dealers said there was considerable buying this year from Russia and the Middle East. While there were fewer American collectors than in years past, Agnes Gund, the former president of the Museum of Modern Art, was on hand along with the newsprint magnate Peter Brant and the hedge fund manager Daniel S. Loeb.

Photo: Christian Flierl for The New York Times

Other top sellers included two new photographic self-portraits by Cindy Sherman at Metro Pictures, the Chelsea gallery. Originally made for French Vogue, each went for $150,000. Janelle Reiring, a partner in Metro Pictures, said this was the first time that Ms. Sherman had turned to digital photography.

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