Highlights of Art Basel, Switzerland, 13- 16 June 2019

First established in 1970 by a group of local gallerists, Art Basel is widely regarded as the world’s biggest contemporary art fair, and certainly one of it’s oldest.

Now in it’s 50th edition, this year’s fair on 13-16 June attracted over 93,000 visitors, with many art dealers claiming it was their strongest year ever. This year’s fair coincided with the 58th edition of the Venice Biennale, reflected in the number of works from Venetian artists displayed across booths.

Despite some wider market jitters, booths were full to bursting with collectors and VIP visitors keen to view the blue-chip works on offer. With solid early sales being reported from many galleries, alongside the burgeoning practice of pre-selling works – especially amongst primary market pieces.

The controversy that surrounds the world’s most expensive living artist – Jeff Koons – showed no signs of diminishing. His huge Sacred Heart from the artist’s “Celebration” series took centre stage in Gagosian’s booth, with sources estimating the sale price at $14 million to $15 million. With nearby Mnuchin’s booth also hosting Koon’s iconic stainless steel bust Louis XIV from 1986, priced at $10 million.

David Zwirner launched his new online gallery “Basel Online” alongside his booth in the physical fair. The brainchild of Zwirner’s Online Sales Director, Elena Soboleva, the virtual gallery listed twenty carefully curated pieces, from a $1.8 million stainless steel pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, to a $45,000 painting of a matchstick by Harold Ancart. Both of which were snapped up in the first few hours. Face-to-face sales showed similar good health with the gallery selling a $20 million Gerhard Richter Versammlung (1966), a $1.2 million work by painter Luc Tuymans to a Taiwanese collector, and a Lisa Yuskavage painting worth $1 million being the most notable sales.
This year’s Art Basel wasn’t without it’s share of controversy. Andrea Bower’s ode to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement Open Secrets (2018) showed the image of abuse survivor Helen Donahue without her consent, leading to the artist having to apologise and remove the panel from her piece worth $300,000.

A first for this year’s Art Basel fair, was the launch of the Art Basel Global Guide. An app that includes a suite of services aimed at encouraging visitors back into galleries throughout the year. This digital initiative provides users with detailed information on more than 500 galleries in over 130 cities worldwide. It also includes expert recommendations on the four “travel essentials” of the art world – where to eat and drink, where to stay, what to see in galleries and what to see in institutions.

Any initiative to keep footfall in galleries high throughout the year, and not just during art fairs, will be welcomed by the wider art community.