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Art Basel 2023 as the most prestigious brand among art fairs

Reviews and Presentations, 18 October 2023

This year, the summer 2023 edition of Art Basel took place in Basel on its regular dates, from June 15 to 18. During the week, the fair attracted 82,000 visitors, thus consolidating its position as the most important gathering of the art world in Europe. The focus remained on the presentations of 284 galleries from 36 countries, of which 21 participated in the fair for the first time, and 12 galleries made their debut in the central part of the fair. In addition to the established sectors, Galleries, Unlimited, Feature, Statements, Edition, Parcours, Film, Messeplatz Project, Conversations in Magazines, this year, following the example of the fairs in Hong Kong and Miami Beach, they also introduced Kabinett, an initiative encouraging select galleries to stage small thematic presentations in their stands.

After the change of ownership, new directors and a new vision

In November 2020, James Murdoch, through his private investment company Lupa Systems, invested €46 million in the MCH Group, becoming both its main shareholder and the owner of the Art Basel fairs. In October 2022, Marc Spiegler, who had successfully led Art Basel for 15 years, resigned as a Global Director. Noah Horowitz replaced him with the new title of a Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Horowitz returned to Art Basel from Sotheby's, where he had served for a year as the head of private sales and gallery services; before that, he had been Art Basel's director for the Americas, responsible for the Miami Beach fair, for six years. The new CEO introduced a new management structure. Vincenzo de Bellis supervises the management of all four fairs, each of which now has its own director: Maike Cruse for Basel, Bridget Finn for Miami Beach, Angelle Siyang-Le for Hong Kong and Clément Delépine for Paris.

James Murdoch, discussing his vision for Art Basel in a rare interview published on Artnet's The Art Angle podcast expressed admiration for the business model of the Formula 1 “travelling circus”, which takes place around the world. “Formula 1 is probably the best example ‒ when it sets down in a city, there are lots of different events happening. There’s a race, there’s culture, people come from all over, and then they get their things and they go to the next town or city, much like a travelling circus,” he said. Murdoch based his vision on the convergence between art and entertainment, with a different offer at each location.

In a conversation published on the Artelligence podcast, Noah Horowitz said that an art fair is not just a place to buy art, but that the “experience” and “brand” are more important. There is also a “lifestyle” component to consider. During the fair, there were many complaints regarding the poor offer in the city of Basel itself, so the fair is now working with the Basel tourism sector to improve it. They also plan to include other cultural sectors such as fashion, film, music and design in order to gain new audiences and new potential buyers.

Stagnation of the art market due to the high interest rates

In The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2023, published in April this year, Clare McAndrew from Arts Economics estimated worldwide gallery and auction sales at $67.8 billion in 2022. Global art sales increased by 3% year-on-year, the second year of growth after a strong recovery in sales of 31% in 2021. The market is thus higher than the level before the pandemic in 2019. The key driver of growth continued to be the high end of the market. The USA retained its premier position in the global ranks, with 45% share of sales by value. The UK market moved back into second place with 18% of sales, and China’s share decreased by 3% to 17%, falling back into third position. Other key findings in the report are robust recovery for the US market, further reduction in online spending, and higher share of female artists.

However, in the first half of this year, value-based sales decreased considerably, both in auction houses and at art fairs. This was also evident at the Basel fair, where many galleries cut prices by a third. The reason for this could be the uncertain financial climate due to high interest rates. Even in this case, the top segment of the market fared better. The Hauser & Wirth gallery achieved sales of €65 million during the five days of the fair. The biggest contributor to this achievement was “Spider” (1996), by Franco-American artist Louise Bourgeois, bought by an American collector for $22.5 million. The other mega galleries did not reveal all the figures, but they did publish the names of the artists who sold best. In the White Cube Gallery, they are Mark Bradford, Noah Davis and Anselm Kiefer, and in the David Zwirner Gallery, Alice Neel, Robert Ryman, Gerhard Richter and Bridget Riley. The works in the Unlimited sector also performed well. The South Africa's Goodman Gallery has found a buyer for the installation “The African Library”, by British-Nigerian artist Yinko Shonibara, who was a member of the Young British Artists movement (£1.5 million). Galleria Continua received 850,000 euros for the video “Jam Proximus Ardet”, in which Franco-Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed filmed himself on a burning ship.

An extremely interesting view of the report and the results of the fair sales can be read in the article by Scott Reyburn, published in the fair issue of The Art Newspaper, with the eloquent title “Missing: where are the new billionaires?” He stated that since 2011, when the market recovered from the global financial crisis, despite inflation, estimates of worldwide art sales in better years have flatlined at between $63 billion and 68$ billion. During that period, the number of billionaires doubled, according to Forbes. Why did the enrichment of the richest not affect the increase in the sale of art? Why is art industry immune to growth? The answer could be that the new Ultra High Net Worth individuals are more interested in luxury than in arts. Auction houses have confirmed this trend, multiplying sales of handbags and watches as they foresee a higher demand for luxury items than for artistic ones. This could also be the reason why Murdoch and Horowitz put so much emphasis on concepts such as brand, experience and lifestyle.

How to overcome gender barriers in the art market?

This was the title of one of the panels in the section Conversations, with the participation of the gallerist Amrita Jhaveri (Jhaveri Contemporary), curator Kate Fowle (Hauser & Wirth), economists Clare McAndrew (Arts Economics), co-founder of an AI fintech company Sophie Perceval (Wondeur), and strategic adviser Charlotte Burns (Studio Burns and Burns Halperin Report). According to the aforementioned report The Art Market 2023, the proportion of women artists represented by galleries has been steadily increasing over the past few years. However, the market continues to undervalue their work.

Although art publications and exhibitions frequently speak about gender equality, the auction market as a whole fails to reflect anything close to it. In 2022, the auction houses sold $11 billion worth of artworks. Of this total, the works by male artists accounted for $9.7 billion, while the works by female artists accounted for just over $1 billion, or 9.3% of the total. The top sales by women artists went to works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell, and Tamara de Lempicka. Over the last decade (2012-2022), the top auction sale for a work by a woman artist was Georgia O'Keeffe's “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1” (1936), sold for $44.4 million at Sotheby's in 2014.

That total ranks it as the 154th-most expensive work of that decade. Furthermore, the second and third placed record come from Sotheby’s sales: Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait “Diego y yo” (1949), for $34.9 million in 2021, and Louise Bourgeois’ “Spider” (1996) for $32.8 million in May this year. Many more information can be find in The Women Artists Market Report 2023, published by Artsy.

On the other hand, over the past decade, private and institutional collections have committed to exhibiting and acquiring more works by female, non-Western, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+, suggesting that a shift may also be taking place in the market. The Baloise Art Prize, worth 30,000 Swiss francs, awarded each year to an artist in the Statements sector of the Swiss edition of Art Basel, is always open to new trends: this year's winners are Sky Hopinka and Sin Wai Kin. The Broadway gallery (New York) presented Hopinka's film “Just a Soul Responding”, which presents images of landscapes with overlaid texts referring to colonisation and indigenous history. A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, Sky Hopinka recently showed his work at LUMA Westbau in Zurich. The Soft Opening gallery (London), which represents Sin Wai Kin, presented “Portraits”, five works in moving images, influenced by Cantonese and Peking opera, featuring deities and fantastical beings, as a commentary on masculinity and gender binary. The artist were nominated for the Turner Prize in 2022 and are having a solo exhibition at the Memmo Foundation in Rome until the end of October.



Monika Osvald
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Quotation: Monika Osvald, Art Basel 2023 as the most prestigious brand among art fairs , Bilten SUZD, 39/2 [18. 10. 2023], 2023(http://www.suzd.si/bilten/prispevki/1578-bilten-suzd-39-2020-02[date of reading]).

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