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Richter, Twombly Lead $2 Billion Basel Art Fair

"A.B. Courbet," a 1986 abstract by Gerhard Richter. The work was sold by the New York-based Pace Gallery at the Art Basel fair in Switzerland, previewing on June 12-13. The work was priced between $20 million and $25 million. Source: Pace Gallery via Bloomberg.

A Gerhard Richter abstract is the lead item of $2 billion of art for sale at the world’s oldest and biggest fair devoted to modern and contemporary works.

The Richter oil painting priced at more than $20 million is being offered at Art Basel in Switzerland this week by New York’s Pace Gallery. The VIP preview has been extended to two days this year -- tomorrow and June 13 -- as demand grows from established collectors and new investors looking for bankable names as alternatives to unsettled financial markets.

The UBS-sponsored event, now in its 43rd edition, features 300 galleries from 36 countries and remains the must-see fair for curators, advisers and collectors in an increasingly crowded calendar. Art Basel, which has offshoots in Miami Beach (Dec. 6-9) and Hong Kong (May 23-26 2013), tops about 190 fairs held annually worldwide, up from about 70 in 2005.

“There’s been a lot of talk about art as an alternative investment over the last five years,” said Robert Read, fine art expert at specialist art insurer Hiscox Ltd. “It does resonate. The world’s mega-rich have piles of cash at the moment, and there’s nothing for them in the bond markets or equities.” The value of works for sale has increased by at least 10 percent from last year’s $1.75 billion, he said.

Pace is selling Richter’s monumental 1986 red, blue and yellow abstract “A.B. Courbet.” The German artist is on a bull run at auctions, with a record $21.8 million paid at Christie’s International on May 8 for the 1993 painting “Abstraktes Bild (798-3).” Pace also has the 1961 Alexander Calder mobile “Sumac,” priced at $8 million to $10 million.

Gagosian’s Hirst

This year Gagosian is bringing an estimated $250 million of works by Damien Hirst and other artists from the gallery’s stable, said dealers. Gagosian doesn’t comment on sales figures. It sold $45 million of art in the first quarter of an hour of the preview last year as the fair attracted a record 65,000 visitors.

New buyers are entering the market, said Thomas Dane, whose London-based dealership is one of eight to debut in the Main Galleries sector of the fair.

“What people don’t tend to see is that the market is in constant flux with some prices going down for certain artists while others are in great demand,” Dane said. “Overall my perception is one of less risk and more interest in artists with a history behind them.” He will be offering a 2007-2008 “Travel Picture Rose” diptych by the Los Angeles-based photographer Walead Beshty marked at $55,000.

Greve’s Twombly

The Swiss dealership Galerie Karsten Greve has the 1966 blackboard painting “Hill (Rome)” by Cy Twombly with a price tag of more than $12 million.

New York-based McCaffrey Fine Art will be holding a curated show devoted to the Japanese collective “Gutai,” which exhibited from 1954-1972, in the project-based Art Feature sector. Works on its booth are priced from $50,000 to $1.7 million.

Sprueth Magers will be bringing the unsettling 2012 Barbara Kruger digital print “Tears,” marked at $275,000. Hauser & Wirth will be offering an untitled 2012 bronze head by Thomas Houseago for $175,000.

Art Basel runs at the Messe Basel through June 17. The fair’s specialist offshoot Design Miami/Basel runs concurrently nearby, as do the satellite contemporary-art shows Liste, Volta and Scope at other venues in the Swiss city.


(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include James Pressley on books, John Mariani on wine and Robert Heller on pop music.

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