Art Basel is upon us, and it arrives not a minute too soon to test the changing market.
Still some things remain the same—the world’s premier modern and contemporary art fair is the place to find rare, coveted things you won’t find elsewhere (or so they say). Many of the top works you’ll see in those packed aisles are installed to capitalize on significant recent and current museum exhibitions.
I hear dealers are pre-selling art at a steady clip, but that many Americans aren’t going. Why? Some collectors are still burnt out from the art avalanche in New York this May, when a jumbo-sized cluster of fairs and auctions overpowered the market. Some are in a wait-and-see mode. “Reset” is the operating word in the trade, but the picture is nuanced and complex.
“It’s a time for rational pricing and fresh material,” said Marc Glimcher, president of Pace gallery.
A lot of finance-minded folks are talking about opportunity costs. What else can you buy for the same amount that will make you more money down the line? During the interest-free days of yesteryear, art didn’t seem like a subpar investment just because it wasn’t yielding any dividends—after all, neither did the U.S. treasuries. Also, you could borrow against art and buy assets that were yielding a lot more. That arbitrage was sweet! Sadly, many of those art-financing deals were done at a floating interest rate, which means people’s debt service is now twice or three times as high as it was a year ago. Money is no longer free, which is a weird situation for a whole generation art folks who came of age since the financial crisis of 2008.
Hence, price sensitivity. Frieze New York wasn’t great for many galleries, but they would still rather not sell at all than sell at a huge discount, advisers said. In just the past week, more people have begun making lowball offers on the secondary market—which, for now, are getting rejected. On the primary market, a slew of galleries have started reaching out to advisers and collectors to offer works by artists who until recently had waiting lists.
We’ll have a much better sense of the market after Basel. Curiously, while auction houses avoided a bloodbath in May by slashing the reserves and withdrawing artworks—at times from sales that were well underway—there are some sellers who still feel comfortable adding chunky premiums to their recently purchased artworks.
For example, Landau Fine Art, known for its holdings of Impressionist and Modern art, is bringing to Basel a Picasso that sold for $9.9 million at Sotheby’s as part of David Solinger’s collection in November. The asking price now is $25 million, according to the gallery’s OVR presentation. A Roy Lichtenstein that fetched $6.9 million in November is being offered at $10 million.
Whether such works will find new homes in the era of more sober pricing remains to be seen.
“Dealers bring what they think people would like to buy,” said veteran gallerist Bill Acquavella. “It’s exciting for people to come to Basel and see these things. The availability is not easy. That’s what makes this fair unique.”
Here’re some of the top artworks of Art Basel 2023:
Gallery: Acquavella Galleries
Asking price: $60 million
The most expensive painting for sale at Art Basel this year will hang on the booth of New York’s esteemed Acquavella Galleries. Painted in 1955, the 6.75-foot-tall canvas spent years in the collection of Paul Mellon and was auctioned as part of his wife Bunny Mellon’s estate sale at Sotheby’s in 2014, where it fetched $36.6 million.
Reporting from the white-glove auction at the time, my colleague Eileen Kinsella spotted the buyers: “At the last minute, the Nahmad family of art dealers decided to jump back into the contest they had participated in just minutes before.” The family took the painting home and showed it at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2018, where it was priced at $50 million. The picture’s current owner is mega-collector Steve Wynn.
Louise Bourgeois, (1996)
Gallery: Hauser & Wirth
Asking price: $22.5 million
On the back of the new $32.8 million auction record for Louise Bourgeois at Sotheby’s last month, Hauser & Wirth is bringing a large-scale, wall-mounted arachnid, priced at $22.5 million. Titled (1996), the bronze sculpture was made famous by Peter Bellamy’s photograph of the artist hugging the creature. It last appeared at auction in April, 2022, fetching $16.5 million at Sotheby’s. The current asking price represents a 36 percent increase in just over a year.
Bourgeois’s first image of a spider appeared in a small drawing in 1947. In 1994, she began making spiders out of found materials and later casting them in bronze and steel.
Joan Mitchell, (1963)
Asking price: $14 million
The triptych comes from a private collection in Paris and has never appeared at auction. It was inspired by Mitchell’s frequent trips to a small coastal village of Girolata in Corsica, France, early on in her passionate and tumultuous relationship with fellow Abstract Expressionist Jean-Paul Riopelle. One of Mitchell’s first large-scale triptychs, it spans more than 10 feet across and includes three human-height canvases. It was included in Mitchell’s 2021 retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “Each of three white canvases is dominated by a large, dark-green mass—like a giant clenched fist,” critic Lance Esplund wrote about the work in the . “The forms are in tension with one another—separate yet connected; fixed yet ascending.”
Pablo Picasso, (1963-64)
Gallery: Helly Nahmad
Asking price: $11 million
The subject of this painting is Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s late-life muse and second wife whom he married in 1961, ushering “L’Epoque Jacqueline” in his art, as the artist’s biographer John Richardson would later proclaim. Picasso explored the theme of the artist in his studio in the 1920s and 1930s, returning to it with a series of works in 1963-’64, working at a breakneck speed and producing two dozen canvases in March 1963 alone. Helly Nahmad’s painting depicts a reclining nude in a studio, observed by the artist’s looming, dark figure. It was last on the market in 2004, fetching $2.1 million at Christie’s. The Artnet Price Database lists 54 paintings with the same title and similar composition created between 1963 and 1964, with the highest auction price of $13.6 million achieved in 2006.
Andy Warhol, (1973)
Gallery: Jeffrey Deitch
Asking price: $10 million
This artwork last traded in 2015, when it fetched $14.5 million at Sotheby’s. The owner now consigned it to Deitch with an asking price of $10 million. “I’ve adjusted to the current market so that it’s a very attractive price,” Deitch said. (Curiously, Di Donna Galleries will also have a Mao in Basel, albeit a smaller one, with the asking price of $4.5 million).
As Warhol returned to painting after being shot in 1968 by Valerie Solanas, the Mao series became his first significant body of work. It was inspired by U.S. President Richard Nixon’s visit to China to meet Chairman Mao Zedong in 1972 after years of diplomatic isolation between the two countries. Watching the news unfold, Warhol found his next muse. In the following year he created 199 silkscreen paintings of Mao in five scales, the smallest of which is 12 inches high. The largest —almost 15 feet tall —is currently on view at the Brant Foundation in New York, on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which received it as a gift from Peter Brant). Deitch said he was inspired by the installation at the Brant foundation, where the big Mao looms over the cavernous space, and decided to include the four-foot-tall Mao in his Art Basel presentation.
Yayoi Kusama, (2017)
Gallery: David Zwirner
Asking price: $6 million
David Zwirner is bringing a group of artworks to mark the gallery’s decade-long representation of the international sensation Yayoi Kusama. One of the highlights is a large-scale 2017 painting, , priced at $6 million. The six-by-eight-foot canvas is part of the artist’s series of abstract paintings that began in the 1950s and encapsulated her interest in obsession and accumulation. The “Nets” series yielded Kusama’s auction record of $10.5 million, achieved for a 1959 at Phillips in New York in May 2022.
Keith Haring, (1985)
Asking price: $6 million
A billboard-size painting by Keith Haring at Skarstedt is a shout-out to the Pop artist’s retrospective at The Broad in Los Angeles, which opened in May with 120 artworks, archival materials, and ephemera. Painted on a large piece of tarp, the mazelike black-and-white composition depicts the artist’s signature human figures, one marked with a single red X. The work was last offered for sale in 2014, when it was featured in a show at Gladstone Gallery in New York.