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Art Basel

Acceptance of reduced sales felt at Art Basel

Lower prices and lesser works marked this year’s event although the attitude was nevertheless one of survival

In contrast to the pervading mood of fear and uncertainty of last year, the atmosphere from 17 to 22 June this year was one of resignation: the crisis is upon us; there’s no end to it in sight, but we still have to be here. Various small signs of the times point to this, including the ready availability of hotel rooms. The days of mad spending are gone and exhibitors are looking to cover their costs and pay back the bank as soon as possible. Stands that set out to rival museums are pretty much a thing of the past, with only Jan Krugier of Geneva holding out here. There were also considerably fewer one-man shows, with only Beyeler of Basel offering Baselitz, Pauli of Lausanne showing Jim Dine, and Edward Totah of London with Adami proving the exceptions to this rule. Another new phenomenon was the downturn in dealers offering works fresh out of the salerooms. One exception was De Chirico’s “Natura morta evangelica” (Evangelical still life), shown by Malingue, sold by the Museum of Modern Art, New York at Sotheby’s in 1988 for $5.28 million and now priced at $7.5 million. Worth remembering is the fact that it was offered here last year by Waddington for 20% more than that.

Prices have come down by between 30% and 50% but dealers are simply not exposing major works which they know will not find a buyer and may become unsaleable as a consequence. Take Gmurzynska from Cologne, who in past years have offered outstanding works by Kandinsky; this year their best effort was a small Schlemmer from 1928 priced at SF365,000 ($137,200; $250,400). The outstanding classic stand remains that of Jan Krugier of Geneva; several Picasso’s of Marina, and an outstanding 1953 Francis Bacon, offered at the reasonable figure of $2.4 million. Elsewhere, Waddington of London are still offering important pieces, although not quite up to previous years, and at rather high prices compared to nearby stands: a 1949 Dubuffet “Joie de vivre” for SF1.28 million (£481,200; $878,200); and a wonderful 1938 Miró watercolour at SF2.3 million (£864,700; $1.57 million). Elsewhere Karsten Greve of Cologne was asking a big price for a big picture: SF2.5 million for a huge Twombly, while the soon to be closed Galerie Nierendorf of Berlin showed a four metre wide Morris Louis priced at $530,900 (£290,900). Among a group of interesting, works London’s Anthony D’Offay offered “Defence of Nature” by Joseph Beuys for $647,000 (£354,500) and a Gerhard Richter from 1970 for $325,000 (£178,000), a price in line with recent auction results.