Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  
    Buying at Basel
by Walter Robinson
Time for Art 30 Basel
Calder and Warhol at Thomas Ammann
Clyfford Still at Marlborough
Thea Westreich
Mondrian and Kandinsky at Helly Nahmad
Bernard Frize
Suit Segord, 1981
at Galerie Evelyne Canus
Carl Andre
Diamondback, 1998
at Konrad Fischer
Barbara Bloom
Carpet, 1999
at Peter Blum
Cecily Brown
Pyjama Games, 1999
at Julie Sylvester
Ira Schneider
Stop Graffiti, 1999
at Artelier
Photo by Hendrick Håkansson at Brändström
Håkansson's installation
Dan Asher
I have only one question for you. Have you started your art collection yet?

The secret of art collecting is simple -- buy art. And that's exactly what collectors old and young are doing at the 30th Basel Art Fair, which takes place in the city of Basel, Switzerland, June 16-21, 1999.

"The quality of works on offer is simply extraordinary," said New York dealer Peter Blum. "From contemporary to classical, Basel is by far the best." Blum is one of 271 dealers exhibiting at the fair (selected from about 800 applicants), who present a total of approximately 5,000 works by more than 1,000 artists.

This year Art Basel features special sections dedicated to photography, prints and graphics, massive sculpture and cutting-edge art -- along with the core constituency of blue-chip contemporary and modernist dealers. With such an impressive range, there is something for everyone.

On view at the booth of Zurich dealer Thomas Ammann, for instance, are works by Alexander Calder and Andy Warhol. At Marlborough, a huge 1959 Clyfford Still holds pride of place. Paintings by Picasso and Paul Klee are interspersed with African masks at Jan Krugier. Galerie Beaubourg focuses on Picabia, Galerie Bischofberger on Francesco Clemente and Studio Casoli on Lucio Fontana. At PaceWildenstein, a formidable Henry Moore Reclining Figure (1945-46) is juxtaposed with a serene and golden Donald Judd box from 1977.

During the vernissage, New York art advisor Thea Westreich and Dada expert Francis Naumann were spotted admiring pendant modernist works by Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky in the masterpiece-packed booth of London dealer Helly Nahmad. The experts agreed that an astute collector would acquire both paintings, which harmonize in hue as much as they vary in esthetic approach.

Mondrian's pristine Composition with Blue and Yellow (1931), painted in Paris and measuring about 20 inches square, can be had for $5 million, while Kandinsky's epochal The Last Judgment (1910), complete with archangel and praying supplicant, is $15 million.

Perhaps you would like something more contemporary? How about Suit Segord (1981) by the French painter Bernard Frize, a forcefully eye-catching work that is all bright circles of colorful enamel (though it's done in acrylic). It's on view at the booth of his dealer, Galerie Evelyne Canus from La Colle sur Loup, France. But you can't have it! Evelyne sold the painting in the first hours of the fair for 45,000 Swiss Francs ($1 =1.55 CHF). Though well-known in Europe as a "pure painter," Frize has only shown in the U.S. at NYU's Grey Art Gallery in 1989.

Or perhaps you have a large space in need of something … remarkable. Would you be interested in a massive new timber construction by Minimalist Carl Andre? Titled Diamondback (1998), the work is over 10 meters long and is constructed of 42 identical cedar blocks (measuring 30 x 30 x 90 cm) arranged into six linked diamond shapes -- thus the titular allusion to the famous rattlesnake. The work is presented by Konrad Fischer Galerie from Düsseldorf and can be yours for $500,000.

More interested in something … useful? Then Barbara Bloom's Carpet (1999), at the aforementioned Peter Blum is for you. This lovely wool broadloom in green, black and lavender measures 8 x 15 feet and takes its design from the cover of Vladimir Nabakov's own copy of the first edition of Lolita, complete with his scribbled notes for revisions woven in violet yarn. The brand new work -- hot off the loom, so to speak -- is in an edition of 15 and is priced at $8,500.

Prints are a great way to get started as a collector, since prices can be relatively low. Paragon Press from London is presenting a new suite of 13 large screenprints by British bad boy Damien Hirst. Called "The Last Supper," the series takes its design from medicine-box labels (as seen in the artist's popular "Pharmacy" medicine cabinets) and combines the exotic chemical names of medicines with pseudo-grocery logos like "Salad™" and "Beans™" and "HirstDamien." The entire suite of prints, measuring 60 x 40 inches, is priced at £15,000 in an edition of 150. Besides being beautiful, they seem a good prescription for profit!

Monoprints by Cecily Brown, another member of the British Brat Pack (who has now settled in New York), are on offer at Julie Sylvester Editions. Brown is famous for her expressionist scenes of sexual abandon, and her work here is much in the same vein. In the best British manner, Pyjama Games (1999) shows one young lady administering a paddling to another. It measures ca. 30 x 29 inches and is priced at $3,500.

These days, photographs can be had from almost any avant-garde gallery, as well as from traditional photography specialists. Artelier, operated in Graz since 1985 by Petra and Ralph Schilcher, presents comical photographs by the New York video artist Ira Schneider, who once married his TV (he called it "Sonya"). He also did a birthday photo self-portrait with the slogan, "Celebrating 50 years of watching television." Here, his digital print, Stop Graffiti (1999), is only 560 CHF.

Artelier also features paparazzi photographs by the Austrian artist team known only by the cryptic initials G.R.A.M. On view are guerrilla snaps of Faye Dunaway and Dennis Hopper, priced at 2,850 CHF. They're fantastic images of the other side of celebrity. "But they won't sell to newspapers," laughs Petra. "They only make unique works." G.R.A.M.'s pedigree includes a show at the new Black Dragon Gallery in Los Angeles, recently profiled here in Artnet Magazine.

Perhaps the liveliest area of the fair is the "Statements" section, which is devoted to young artists. Crowds were gathered at Jack Tilton from New York, where young body artist Patty Chang was performing, and at I-20, also from New York, watching the videotaped arrest of nude-in photographer Spencer Tunick in Times Square.

Finally, for those of us who are feeling a little … bugged out …there's the installation by Henrik Håkansson at Galleri Andreas Brändström, Stockholm. Håkansson seeks a new, different kind of relationship with the insect kingdom. To this end, his installation at the fair featured a tiny colony of crickets, whose bluish, videotaped images were cast live upon the four walls of the booth. Outside the booth were large color photos of insects resting on the artist's hand, as if he were some St. Francis of the arthropods, along with small drawings in ink. The installation is priced at $30,000, while photos are $4,500 and drawings only $250.

Even a few artists can be found at Art 30 Basel. The East Village veteran Dan Asher dropped in for a look. He shows his photographs and drawings from Antarctica at Grant Selwyn in New York next fall.

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.