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Works by younger artists for cheaper prices favoured at Art Basel 2003

Art Basel '03 fair report

Commerce and culture are so closely entwined within contemporary art that by this point it is impossible to distinguish official museum retrospectives from dealer’s machinations let alone the Venice Biennale from Art Basel. There are as many trade deals struck at Venice as there are outstanding exhibitions at Basel and one cannot but suspect that the undoubtable success of this year’s fair was partly due to unpleasant conditions at the Biennale.

Unbearably hot and overcrowded Venice served as “Art Purgatory” so the delicious climate and clean Swiss efficiency of Basel seemed like relative heaven and everyone from collectors to curators reacted accordingly. “If Venice feels bad people are buying less there and saving themselves for here, the very positive atmosphere at this fair is partly a reaction to the Biennale,” said Janelle Reiring of Metro Pictures. She had sold out her booth by the third morning like so many of the hotter, younger galleries gathered on the second floor. Cindy Sherman’s latest clown images at $60,000 (edition of seven) were being held back for her forthcoming NY show but they’d sold as many as they wanted to. “It’s weird, the world is falling apart, the economy is terrible but people are still buying art.”

Downstairs amongst the “grown-ups” things were certainly a little slower but those peddling blue chip versions of fashionable names were not sweating. For example, Per Skarsdat had sold a Sherman 1979 hitchhiker for $350,000, the original buyer still having her receipt from Reiring’s home address (Metro had not even opened yet) for $300. However Skarsdat had been absolutely fair, only making $100,000 itself. The gallery had sold an equally iconic 1987 Laurie Simmons of herself as a camera to the Guggenheim for $45,000.

One might hazard that the younger and cheaper, the more overtly “contemporary”, the better the results, certainly numerous teenage galleries such as Sadie Coles, Interim or Gavin Brown had sold everything by the end of the first packed evening and full re-hangs were obligatory. “I wish I’d brought four of everything” as Sean Kelly put it. Super hot artists under 50 could name their prices, a typically outrageous example being Maurizio Cattalan’s small ceramic edition of his most famous image, the felled Pope, 10 copies that sold out instantly at an amazing $950,000 each, though only one had actually yet been made. Marian Goodman, who like White Cube absolutely refuses to divulge prices, was understandably content as with its major Jeff Wall sale. Sticking points of date and price were certainly in evidence.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The younger and cheaper the better'