June 13 (Bloomberg) -- An Andy Warhol soup-can painting and a Mark Rothko abstract are among items worth more than $1.75 billion set to tempt billionaire collectors at the world’s largest modern and contemporary art fair, in Switzerland.
VIPs browsing the 42nd Art Basel, which previews tomorrow, can choose from more than 2,500 artists, organizers said in an e-mailed statement. The 300 galleries representing 35 countries are competing with auction houses for business from the estimated 60,000 people who will attend. In previous years, the VIPs have included Roman Abramovich, Aditya Mittal, Howard Rachofsky, Laurence Graff and actors Brad Pitt and Val Kilmer.
Demand for contemporary works has made a gradual recovery after the 2008-9 slump, encouraging commercial fair organizers to expand. Art Basel, founded in 1970, remains the year’s must-attend event, even with the calendar crowded by competing fairs, according to collectors. It will test demand for museum-quality paintings, sculptures, drawings, installations, photographs, video and editioned works.
“Basel is the most important fair,” Steve Rosenblum, founder of the Paris-based private foundation Rosenblum Collection and Friends, said in an interview. “It is an opportunity to regularly meet the gallerists and keep an eye on what is produced by the artists we support.”
Art Basel, held inside two exhibition halls in the center of the Swiss town, covers 441,000 square feet (41,000 square meters), and combines dealers representing young contemporaries with specialists in classic 20th-century works.
New York-based L & M Arts, one of 73 U.S. dealers at the fair, will be bringing the Warhol can painting from 1965, as well as the Rothko, a 1969 orange work in oils on paper mounted on canvas. Both are priced at between $5 million and $6 million.
The total value of the works insured this year is about $1.75 billion, said Robert Read, head of art and private clients at Hiscox Ltd. That’s higher than last year, with the 10 most expensive works accounting for $1 billion, Read said.
More than 50 of the exhibitors had booths last month at Art HK in Hong Kong, before collectors and curators moved to Venice for the opening of the Biennale on June 4.
Rival organizer Frieze said last month that it would be holding a new fair in New York on May 3-6, 2012. Art Basel’s owner, MCH Group AG, also said in May it acquired a majority stake in Art HK. Next year’s Asian event is now scheduled for May 17-20, two weeks after Frieze New York and six months after Art Basel’s sister Miami Beach fair.
“The expansion of these fairs gives momentum to the primary market,” said Iwan Wirth, owner of the Zurich- and London-based dealer Hauser & Wirth, who showed in Hong Kong. “This global presence gives dealers the opportunity to compete with the auction houses.”
Wirth has been exhibiting at Art Basel for 10 years. This week his booth will feature Eva Hesse’s 1967 white relief “Compass,” priced at $3.5 million. Subodh Gupta’s 2011 canvas “Untitled,” showing cutlery gleaming over a plate, is marked at 200,000 euros ($287,000) -- similar to prices asked for the Indian artist’s canvases in June 2008.
“Art has become more international,” L & M director Robert Mnuchin said. “There are more countries with collectors wanting to buy contemporary works from outside their region.”
That said, the fair’s exhibitor list still reflects the art market’s traditional balance of power. The U.S. has the most exhibitors, followed by Germany (50), Switzerland (32), the U.K. (31) and France (23). Brazil, China, India and Russia have a combined total of 12.
New York-based Michael Werner Gallery will be offering new sculptures by the Italian artist Enrico David, whose works are showing in Venice. The snake-like bronze-and-rubber “Study for a Body as a Dog’s Training Camp,” from an edition of five, will be priced at $100,000.
``People want to participate at the beginning of a market,'' Werner director Gordon Veneklasen said. ``When an artist reaches mid-career, it becomes more difficult.''
Emerging talents are presented by dealers in 27 solo shows as part of the ``Art Statements'' section of the fair, as well as at satellite events such as Liste, Scope and Volta.
London-based dealer Kate MacGarry is a first-timer at Basel, showing a 16mm-film by Ben Rivers that charts the demise of a family-run factory in the U.K. capital. ``Sack Barrow'' is in an edition of five, priced at 15,000 pounds ($24,363).
``I'm expecting to have some long-term discussions with curators and museum directors,'' MacGarry said. ``Art Basel has authority. It has old money and new, collectors for contemporary and modern works. It's a smaller city, so the focus is on the fair more than in London and New York.''
MacGarry, like a number of younger dealers, feels more ambivalent about the global expansion of contemporary-art fairs, particularly after participating in Art Hong Kong.
``The big-brand dealers do well,'' she said. ``Being at a fair in China can be very expensive for smaller galleries, and sales do not necessarily come immediately if you're presenting emerging artists: You have to take a long term view.''
Art Basel’s main sponsor is UBS AG. The event takes place at Messe Basel, Messeplatz, 4005 Basel through June 19.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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