Saturday, June 13, 2009

Recession Creeps Up on Basel

Switzerland's Galerie Gmurzynska parted with Alexander Calder’s vivid gouache "Striped Man: Striped Sweater" (1953) for just under $200,000.
Courtesy Galerie Gmurzynska

More reports from Basel.
This one is from ArtInfo.

BASEL—Dealers at Art|40|Basel continued to rack up sales on day two, but gone was the early euphoria of opening day that came with the realization that the art market hadn’t died.
“It’s fine,” said David Nahmad of London and New York’s Helly Nahmad, strolling out of the stand’s solo display of late Joan Miró works, “but I think business is a little bit quiet.”

The gallery sold one painting, Femmes et oiseaux dans la nuit (1968), for $6 million, according to Nahmad — an enormous sum for that period Miró — “to a known but anonymous client in the first minute of the fair.”

Pausing in thought, Nahmad added, “Maybe it’s difficult to sell, but it’s much more difficult to buy in this market because there’s very little material around.”

That sounded odd, standing in the midst of acres of paintings and works of art by the world’s best modern and contemporary artists, but that’s what one notable secondary-market guru felt.

Another one-person exhibition just down the aisle from Nahmad was at Madrid’s González gallery, which showcased six Donald Judd wall reliefs, “Progressions - 1960’s/1970’s.” Only one of the works had sold — the largest, a stainless-steel Untitled (1976), for more than $1.5 million, according to dealer Fernando Mignoni.

“We have to take into account,” said Mignoni, “how things are right now and how things have been over the past two years. This is a business, and we have to be realistic. The bottom line is, we’ve done that, so we’re happy.”

That more somber take was also evident at Chicago/New York dealer Richard Gray’s stand, which was rich in secondary-market works by modern and contemporary masters, including a major David Hockney canvas, The Conversation (1980), and Pablo Picasso’s La Famille du Jardinier (1965) and Femme ecrivant (Marie–Therese) (1934).

Paul Gray declined to give details on any of the gallery’s transactions, other than citing sale prices ranging from $15,000 to $5 million. “I’m reasonably pleased, but we’re certainly down from last year, though not depressingly so," he said. "None of the significant sales are things I want to publicize, and the reason is, we have these things because the sellers want to be discreet.”

As Gray observed, “There are things we have this year that we wouldn’t have had last year [from consignors], because the auction houses no longer hold the advantage by throwing money at consignors. We have the advantage now.”

But when pressed for details on gallery sales, the usually affable Gray grew testy and said, “I’m not feeling so cooperative today. All the headlines that the market is back are just wrong. It’s not doom and gloom, but there’s a lot more nuance now that doesn’t play well in headlines.”

The recession seemed to lie heavily on everyone’s mind, and both dealers and collectors seemed to be working hard at playing fair in a tougher climate.

“Collectors aren’t asking for 30 to 40 percent off on asking prices,” said Natalia Sacasa of New York’s Luhring Augustine. “It’s more like 10 to 15 percent. It’s a discussion not fraught with what kind of deal you can get in a recession.”

The gallery had already sold a new Christopher Wool painting from 2009, Untitled (P575) in enamel on linen, to a European collector for $370,000 and several untitled works at $18,000 and $24,000 by 33-year-old gallery artist Josh Smith, currently showing in the New Museum’s “Younger Than Jesus” exhibition. It also sold Albert Oehlen’s large abstraction Nachthimmel (2006) for approximately $250,000.

Sacasa said a lot of pieces went from the stand’s “backroom” closet, adding that she and her colleagues had begun to joke among themselves that next year they would build a giant closet and no booth, since collectors seemed to prefer what wasn’t on the walls.

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