Art Basel in Basel opened its doors to First Choice and VIP ticket holders this morning, who lined up in the rain outside the Messsehalle to slowly pass through the fair's new security screening.
Some sought shelter from the rain inside Oscar Tuazon's wooden installation Zome Alloy, an adaptation of Steve Baer's 1972 Zome House.
Once inside the fair, visitors were greeted with one of the better editions of the European fair in memory. In particular, the Gianni Jetzer-curated Unlimited sector, dedicated to institution-sized works, offered a thoughtful array of strong and at-times difficult and political works.
Collectors responded with enthusiasm: Gallery Chemould sold the Unlimited project by Mithu Sen, titled Museum of Unbelongings, for an undisclosed amount, and Hauser & Wirth sold Paul McCarthy's Tomato Head (Green) (1994) to an American private collection for $4,750,000.
The gallery also sold two more McCarthy works from their booth, including Michael Jackson Inflatable Drawings (2003) for $650,000 and the unique sculpture WS, White Snow Flower Girl #3 (2016) for $575,000.
At higher price ranges, Vija Celmins's drawing Sea Drawing with Whale (1969) sold in excess of $1,500,000, and Maria Lassnig's paintings Macht des Schicksals (The Power of Fate) (2006) and Das Traumpaar (The Dream Couple) (2004) sold for $1.2 million and €550,000 ($616,824) respectively.
Mnuchin Gallery could also boast some six-figure sales: Brice Marden's First Window Painting, for $4.5 million, and John Chamberlain's Honest508, for $3 million.
Skarstedt Gallery sold Mike Kelley's Reconstructed History, another highlight of the Unlimited section, for $1.5 million.
On the whole, gallerists clearly trotted out the most stellar works that they could get their hands on, a level of quality that was evident even at a first glance.
We spotted work by Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie—a recent auction darling—at Pace and at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Ropac also wowed with a large 1983 mixed-media Robert Rauschenberg collage, Untitled (Spread), featuring an image of a bald eagle and calling to mind his controversial "Combine" work Canyon, which became unsaleable years after it was created because of a stuffed bald eagle on the canvas.
Visitors swarmed the Gagosian Gallery booth, where the blue-chip works on offer included Jeff Koons gazing ball sculptures, a huge Damien Hirststeel pill cabinet, and works by Ed Ruscha. Also somewhat surprising for an art fair of this caliber, Gagosian had his own private security detail, with several guards sporting blue berets stationed throughout the booth–much the same as he does with various Manhattan gallery shows, where private security guards in dark black suits dot his cavernous spaces.
During the packed press conference on Tuesday afternoon, fair director Marc Spiegler addressed reporters: "This show takes place within a much more dynamic moment than last year's. There are political elections and major referendums coming at us, mass migration within Europe, and economic uncertainties. My experience tells me that these kinds of times—these interesting kinds of times—generate a much stronger type of art. Indeed, you see a lot of great political work throughout the show."
Marian Goodman Gallery, which also had a stellar booth featuring work by Steve McQueen, William Kentridge, Julie Mehretu, and Tacita Dean, reported strong sales within the first few hours.
South Africa's Goodman Gallery also found success, selling Kentridge's Patrice Lumumba (2016) for $120,000 and a full set of his Shadow Figure Bronzes (2016) for $320,000. Other works that found buyers included Walter Oltmann's Caterpillar Suit IV (2916) for €25,000 ($28,000), Kudzanai Chiurai's painting Untitled (Office for the Enregisterment of Slaves) (2016), for $30,000, and Nolan Oswald Dennis's ink and collage on paper, No conciliation is possible I (2016) for €3,500 ($3,900).
On the fair's second level, contemporary art dealers did not disappoint either, nor did they shy away from daring, experimental presentations.
Esther Schipper showed Pierre Huyghe's Name Announcer, an actual human attendant who called out the names of visitors as they entered the booth, or ascribed them random "roles." The gallery also showed Roman Ondak's Clockwork, in which a performer writes visitors' names next to the time of day when they entered the booth. After only a couple of hours, a long column of names filled one wall.
Kamel Mennour, who recently opened his third space in Paris, reported "fantastic" sales for paintings and sculptures by Camille Henrot, ranging from €22,000–28,000 ($24,700–31,400). Mennour was especially excited about a sculpture by Huang Yong Ping, who is currently featured at Monumenta in Paris's Grand Palais, with a giant skeleton of a snake. The work on offer was created from a mistake in the Monumenta cast of the work, which the artist has transformed into a new piece. A foundation was interested in the work, which goes from €300,000 ($336,600).
Galerie König, which also represents Henrot, staged an exciting presentation, including sculptures from various gallery artists arranged around an open floor plan. There's only a single wall erected for the booth; large-scale paintings change every day. For the preview, König opted for Katharina Grosse.
The ambitious idea seemed to speak to collectors. Within the first two hours, the gallery sold a sculpture by Jeppe Hein (€60,000, or $67,300), two by Henrot (€45,000, or $50,500), two by David Zink Yi (€42,000, or $47,000), and new work by Elmgreen & Dragset, with whom the gallery has only recently started working, for €85,000 ($95,300).
Over at Jack Shainman, most works sold within the first hour. The gallery placed Barkley Hendricks's The Twins (1977) with a private collector for $450,000, a painting by Kerry James Marshall for $350,000, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye's Peregrine (2016) with a European collector for $100,000.
At Casey Kaplan's, the atmosphere was relaxed, as the gallery had already sold most of the booth, with works by Jonathan Gardner, Kevin Beasley, and Matthew Brannon, for undisclosed amounts. "We're not rehanging," Kaplan told artnet News when asked if the booth would include new works the following day. "The context of the gallery is important, the design is specific, and we wouldn't want to lessen the experience."
Spotted at the booth was Norwegian collector Erling Kagge, publisher and author of A Poor Collector's Guide to Buying Great Art, who was on the hunt. "I bought drawings by Matias Faldbakken, a new work by Reena Spaulings and Ian Cheng, and I've got my mind set on a piece by Trisha Donnelly that I'm hoping to get," he told artnet News.