Sarah Thornton’s Economist.com report on Art Basel makes the clever connection between the art market’s lack of pricing information and the appeal it holds for persons who consider themselves experts in markets. Oh, and it was also a good fair by all accounts:
Art Basel’s buoyancy this year has several causes: the return of fervent collectors who prefer to buy in a down market; the swift reaction of dealers willing to lower their prices to ensure a sale (collectors were in a good mood because “$100,000 means something again”); the perception that art is more solid than some other asset classes; and the keenness of many buyers to divert savings out of their Swiss bank accounts. […]
Getting hard numbers on how much business was done was more difficult. “Everything is anecdotal,” said Marc Spiegler, the fair’s co-director, who admits that he gathers his best market intelligence from informal conversations at the Kunsthalle beer garden. Connoisseurs revel in the art market’s illegibility. “Knowledge and effort are rewarded,” explains John Smith, an art collector and director of Bain & Company, a management consultancy. “The art market is one of the last bastions of inefficiency and that’s what makes it so fascinating.”
By all nebulous barometers, business in Basel was satisfactory, possibly even very good. Many dealers reported transactions at around $1m for artists such as Anish Kapoor, Martin Kippenberger, Neo Rauch, Barbara Kruger and even youngsters like Raqib Shaw. Hauser and Wirth sold Christoph Büchel’s “Wallet (Lost)”, a ready-made sculpture that consists of the artist’s wallet containing credit cards, identity documents and a few Swiss francs. It was screwed to the floor of the gallery’s stand; the screw and washer were included in the €55,000 ($76,346) sale price. 303 Gallery also did well with the work of Hans-Peter Feldmann. Among other pieces, it sold a large-scale black-and-white photograph of the artist’s own bookshelves for €60,000. It was one of a handful of works acquired by Don Marron, the chief executive of Lightyear Capital and a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Jeffrey Deitch sold Kehinde Wiley’s “Lamentation over the Dead Christ” for a little less than $175,000 to Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, who plans to hang it alongside the Old Masters at her palace in Regensburg.
Recession Appeal (Economist.com)