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Art 42 Basel

by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp
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The night before the VIP preview of Art 42 Basel, June 15-19, 2011, Lehmann Maupin and White Cube galleries hosted a seated dinner at the nearby glass-encased Voltahalle for the artist Ashley Bickerton, sporting his eternal Bali beachcomber tan and surrounded by friends like artist Marc Quinn and collectors like Attila and Bamu Tacir. According to the gallery, the Tacirs are among the Turkish collectors now fascinated by Bickerton’s new works, which show the dark side of Edenic island life, and which are priced at between $85,000 and $135,000. Joanne Heyler was there on behalf of Eli Broad, a longtime supporter of the artist. The disco was revving up but most headed hotelward so as to be fresh when the doors to the fair opened at 11 am the next day.

When the time came, a scrum of men in colored trousers and tanned women with orange Birkin bags flooded the gates to the enormous hall, housing 240 art galleries showing some 2,500 artists, from the very young and unknown to John Baldessari, who turns 80 this week and whose work can be seen at the booths of both Margo Leavin and Marion Goodman Galleries, which represent him, as well as countless others. Gemini GEL editions has lined one wall with his recent prints, though most of its booth is dedicated to gorgeous giant works on paper by Richard Serra, a nod to the artist's stunning show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the comparative exhibition of his works and works by Constantin Brancusi at the Foundation Beyeler in Basel.

Los Angeles collectors Cliff and Mandy Einstein marveled at the quality of offerings at the fair, a sentiment echoed by many visitors. At Acquavella Gallery, collector Manny Simkowitz was taken by a rare 1959 Lucio Fontana, a pale gray aniline tone with black pastel marks, one of two made by the artist and on offer at $1.7 million. “The quality is better than I've seen in a while,” he said.

In fact, works by Fontana and other Italians from the same period are popular offerings at a number of galleries, and Italian collectors were out in abundance. Galleria Tega from Milan installed its scarlet Fontana, priced at €950,000, between a Piero Manzoni (€1.3 million) and a late Giorgio de Chirico (€500,000).  

Paula Cooper, who has sold all six editions of Christian Marclay's immensely popular Clock video (the price is undisclosed, but thought to be around $400,000), had sold a small white piece for $20,000. She also announced that she now represents the estate of the late Conceptual artist Douglas Huebler, and presented a work that she originally showed in 1969. It is priced at $125,000.

Mollie Dent Brocklehurst helmed the Pace Gallery booth, which is giving a big boost to the indefatigable Sterling Ruby. As director of the new Pace London, she said the location will be announced this week.

Frank Lloyd Gallery from Los Angeles is a newcomer to Basel, and brought a show of works by Craig Kauffman. Lloyd represents the estate of the seminal 1960s L.A. artist who used vacuum-formed plastic to make large wall reliefs in otherworldly, synthetic colors. On hand was the largest piece ever made by the artist, priced at $250,000. Guggenheim Museum director Richard Armstrong called him a “fantastic artist.” He had organized a show of the work while a curator at the Whitney Museum. I like his work, too -- I am writing the text for a Kauffman monograph.

Typically, visitors to Basel enjoy its mix of historical material with contemporary art. Michael Werner presented sculptures by the German neo-classicist Wilhelm Lehmbruck, ranging in price from $266,000 to $888,000, alongside drawings by Joseph Beuys, priced at $60,000-$90,000. And while there were any number of Andy Warhol works on view, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger came out with a stunning, 34-foot-long black-and-white Marilyns for a cool $80 million.

HUNTER DROHOJOWSKA-PHILP writes about contemporary art in Los Angeles.