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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

ART OF THE PAST HAS LESSONS FOR THE PRESENT



Art of the past has lessons for the present
Modern masterpieces and contemporary works with historic references resonate at Art Basel

By Georgina Adam, Gareth Harris and Riah Pryor. From Art Basel daily edition
Published online: 13 June 2012

One of the major talking points as Art Basel opened its doors to the first of two waves of VIP guests yesterday was Rothko’s Untitled, 1954, a $78m yellow-and-peach painting watched over by a security guard on Marlborough Fine Art’s stand (2.0/D13).

Such works are rarely offered openly on the secondary market: this piece was charmed out of a private Swiss collection after another work by the late artist, Orange, Red, Yellow, 1961, sold for $86.9m at Christie’s New York last month. “It is exceptional to get a piece like this; it is every bit as important as that Rothko,” said Andrew Renton, the director of Marlborough Contemporary, who is confident that the work will sell at the fair.

Although the economic outlook is worse than gloomy, this did not seem to deter most of the big-name collectors from trying to push their way in before the official 11am opening (none succeeded). Among the early arrivals were the collectors Michael and Susan Hort, Don and Mera Rubell, Pauline Karpidas, Lawrence Graff and Peter Brant; the museum directors Chris Dercon, Nicholas Serota and Anders Kold of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark; and Caroline Bourgeois, the curator for the owner of Christie’s, François Pinault. Other familiar faces included the German collectors Nicolas Berggruen and Christian Boros, the Lebanese retail magnate Tony Salamé and the art adviser Allan Schwartzman.

So how have dealers responded to the economic climate, and what are they showing at the fair this year? Recent auction results have shown that the top end of the art market is doing just fine, as some collectors—notably the mega-rich—seem to be parking some of their fortunes in art.

“Art is portable, and liquid, and can be traded in different currencies,” said Andrew Fabricant, a director at Richard Gray Gallery (2.0/E4). However, offering the sort of works that attract collectors at this level is tough for dealers. “It is harder to get early 20th-century material and, now, even later material,” said Edward Tyler Nahem of New York’s Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art (2.0/F8). “There is great competition, [due to] both scarcity and demand.” As a result, major pieces by pre-war masters, as well as top abstract expressionist, pop and minimalist works, are becoming scarce.


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