Cohen, Marron Descend on ‘Riotous’ Art Basel Shopping Spree

1992 Oehlen Painting
Skarstedt gallery sold a 1992 Oehlen painting of oil on fabric for $1 million. Source: The artist and Skarstedt New York/London via Bloomberg

It’s like Black Friday shopping at Art Basel, where mega-rich collectors jostle each other.

Donald Marron, chairman of Lightyear Capital, said he was interested in a Cy Twombly drawing at the fair’s VIP preview on Tuesday but it was sold by the time he arrived at the booth of Xavier Hufkens gallery.

Still, attending the world’s largest modern and contemporary art fair is important “to adjust your eye and to keep up-to-date with the market,” Marron said.

Billionaires Daniel Loeb, Steven Cohen and Laurence Graff were among the throng of collectors shopping at the fair in the quiet Swiss city on the Rhine River. Many booths were so packed it was hard to move around and see the art. The fair showcases 284 galleries representing 4,000 artists. The value of the works on view is $3.4 billion, according to insurer Axa Art.

“It’s been riotous,” said David Zwirner, whose gallery empire includes spaces in New York and London. “It’s probably the strongest start we’ve ever had.”

Cohen said he admired what he called a “beautiful” white 1961 painting by Robert Ryman at Dominique Levy’s booth. Its asking price was about $18 million, the gallery said. It was still available Tuesday afternoon.

Plenty of other works sold within the first hours of the opening.

Seven Silkscreens

Pace gallery sold seven silkscreens by Robert Rauschenberg priced at $450,000 to $1 million. Luhring Augustine said it sold a 2004 painting by Albert Oehlen, the subject of a solo exhibition at the New Museum in New York, for 600,000 euros ($675,000). Skarstedt gallery sold a 1992 Oehlen painting of oil on fabric for $1 million.

Works by Christopher Wool were popular with collectors. Luhring Augustine sold a 14-foot-tall sculpture priced at $2 million. Van de Weghe Fine Art sold a 2009 Wool painting with an asking price of $5.5 million.

“The first half hour of Art Basel is the most exciting time in the art season,” said Jeffrey Deitch, an art dealer and former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. “There really is the joy of the chase.”

As the doors opened at 11 a.m. on a rainy morning, Deitch rushed to the booth of JTT gallery, a first-time Art Basel participant, where Borna Sammak’s electronic paintings on high definition television screens pulsated with color and energy.

Deitch said he purchased two works, priced at $25,000 each, for a private museum of billionaire Indonesian collector Budi Tek, for whom he advises on art acquisitions.

First People

“It’s something completely fresh,” Deitch said of the work, which includes armature and coiled power chords in bright pink and yellow. “Young artists go very quickly. We wanted to be the first people at the booth.”

Zwirner’s booth sold a $1 million painting by Yayoi Kusama and a $250,000 abstract painting by Oscar Murillo. A painting depicting a young woman by Marlene Dumas, who has a solo exhibition at the Beyeler Foundation, sold for $3.5 million.

Murillo, whose works were priced at less than $10,000 just four years ago, was an example of how much some markets have moved. While his painting sold at Zwirner, a $400,000 sprawling installation featuring 53 placards and 15 mannequin heads with wigs went unsold at the preview at Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie.

Trend Line

“When prices start to exceed their trend lines, you have to ask yourself: Why?” Marron said about rising art prices. “Is this a new trend line? Or is it a bubble?”

Beirut-based collectors Tony and Elham Salame purchased at least a dozen works including those by Tauba Auerbach and John Armleder, as well as an Oehlen painting for 280,000 euros. They will join the couple’s collection of more than 2,000 contemporary pieces.

“It’s an addiction,” said Tony Salame, who is a fashion entrepreneur. “We don’t count. Otherwise you don’t come to Art Basel.”

Some expensive art didn’t fly off the shelves while more modestly priced works moved faster.

At Pace, a 1971 painting by Brice Marden, priced at $7 million to $8 million, was unsold by the end of the day.

Mark Rothko’s 1955 “Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange),” which had belonged to Paul and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, was priced at $50 million at Helly Nahmad’s booth, 37 percent more than the $36.6 million the painting fetched at Sotheby’s in November. There were no immediate takers, the gallery said.

Murakami Paintings

A 5-inch-tall red and black mobile by Alexander Calder sold for $450,000 at Van de Weghe.

“When good things are priced well there’s business,” said gallery owner Christophe Van de Weghe.

Galerie Perrotin said it sold seven paintings by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, including two priced at $1.1 million each. The gallery hosted a dinner for the artist on a moored boat Tuesday night with 200 people, including Cohen, who drank sake and sat beside women dressed as traditional Japanese female entertainers known as geishas.

Art fair fatigue was setting in for some collectors.

“I really don’t like to buy art at a fair,” jeweler Graff said earlier. “It’s too much pressure. You keep hearing, ‘This is reserved. This has sold.’”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE