Art Basel

The Art Angle Podcast: How Art Basel Did (and Didn’t) Change After a Two-Year Hiatus


Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Midnight Publishing Group News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more with input from our own writers and editors as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

 

 

An art industry ritual returned after an unprecedented hiatus—on a Monday evening last week, art advisors, dealers, and collectors ceremoniously filed into the formidable fairgrounds of Switzerland’s Art Basel.

The premier art fair’s 50th edition was set to take place across a balmy week in June 2020, but it slid back nearly a year and half, its plans marred by a raging public health crisis, limitations on travel, and restrictions on events and gatherings. After so much uncertainty about the state of the art market, more than 270 dealers calculated their risks and ultimately took a leap of faith and brought the best of their rosters to the Rhine. It seems the gambit really paid off—by the late afternoon on preview day, gallerists seemed to really exhale for the first time in months or even a year.

Was it business as usual? Yes and no. The event ran with incredible smoothness, with no issues save for a few spats on Twitter over whether the absence of U.S. collectors was a boon for European deal-making or not. Restaurants were booked out across town for lavish dinners, but being on the guest list wasn’t the only prerequisite—proof of vaccination was required. Sales were strong, but not quite like the old days. And NFTs made a flashy debut.

On the whole, everyone seemed deeply relieved to be back in their booths or perusing the aisles. On this week’s episode, Midnight Publishing Group News’s European Editor Kate Brown was joined in Basel by European Market Editor, Naomi Rea, and Senior Market Editor, Eileen Kinsella to take the temperature of the scene.

 

Listen to Other Episodes:

The Art Angle Podcast: Writer Roxane Gay on What Art Can Teach Us About Trauma and Healing

The Art Angle Podcast: Keltie Ferris and Peter Halley on the Mysterious Joys of Making a Painting

The Art Angle Podcast: How Facebook and the Helsinki Biennial Share a Vision for the Art World’s Future

The Art Angle Podcast: Artists in Residence at the World Trade Center Reflect on 9/11

The Art Angle Podcast: Genesis Tramaine on How Faith Inspires Her Art

The Art Angle Podcast: The Bitter Battle Over Bob Ross’s Empire of Joy

The Art Angle Podcast: How Britney Spears’s Image Inspired Millennial Artists

The Art Angle Podcast: How the Medicis Became Art History’s First Influencers

The Art Angle Podcast: How Two Painters Helped Spark the Modern Conservation Movement

 

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The Best and Worst of the Art World This Week


Get Intelligent! – The fall 2021 edition of the Midnight Publishing Group Intelligence Report is here! With new technology trends, K-Pop collecting habits, plus the best party galleries, it is a must-read.

Libras Unite – Art meets astrology in our new series helmed by Katie White, and this month it’s dedicated to the season of the seventh sign.

Roxane Gay Talks Art – On our 100th (!) episode of the Art Angle, writer Roxane Gay speaks to Midnight Publishing Group News’s Noor Brara about the deeply moving paintings of Calida Rawles.

What’s in a Hat – A bicorn hat donned by the infamously diminutive emperor Napoleon Bonaparte just fetched a whopping $1.4 million at Sotheby’s this week.

Kerry James Marshall’s Stained Glass – Kerry James Marshall was tapped to create racial justice-themed stained-glass windows to replace the Confederate images that once adorned D.C.’s National Cathedral.

A Benin Bronze Barter – A guild of Nigerian artists has proposed a new way to get their native Benin Bronzes back from the U.K: offering their own works to the U.K. in exchange.

Basquiat’s Bartender Buddy – Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat gave a cocktail recipe book to his favorite mixologist, adorned with personal inscriptions. Now, it’s going up for sale.

Tracey Emin Comes Home – After defeating cancer, the British artist has returned to her hometown to cement her legacy and build a museum.

Basel Is Back – Despite scores of setbacks, Art Basel’s flagship fair in Switzerland was in full swing this year, boding well for the rest of the year’s market calendar.

Picasso’s Daughter Trades Art for Taxes – In lieu of paying an inheritance tax, the artist’s daughter just donated nine works to France’s Picasso Museum.

Frida Portrait Could Break Records – Frida Kahlo self-portrait estimated at $30 million could smash records for a female artist when it comes to auction at Sotheby’s.

Longtime Gardner Heist Suspect Dead at 85 – Bobby Gentile, long suspected by the FBI of orchestrating the notorious museum robbery in Boston, has died—perhaps taking the truth with him to his grave.

NFT Exec Nabbed for Insider Trading – An executive at OpenSea was busted for insider trading, and now has stepped down from his role.

The Met’s Big Sell-Off  – Taking advantage of a pandemic-era loophole, the museum is deaccessioning seven figures worth of photos and prints to fill a budget shortfall.

Bouvier Beats Billionaire’s Charges – A prosecutor dismissed criminal charges against Yves Bouvier levied by Dmitry Rybolovlev, ruling the dealer committed no fraud or money laundering.

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Switzerland Has Given an Eleventh-Hour Reprieve From Costly Additional Testing for Art Basel Visitors Who Received the AstraZeneca Vaccine


Art Basel has updated its health and safety advice for fairgoers after Switzerland changed its policy to allow people vaccinated with AstraZeneca outside of the E.U. to get the country’s Covid certificate.

From today, September 20, foreign visitors who were vaccinated abroad with any jab approved by the European Medicines Agency (including AstraZeneca) will be able to obtain the certificate allowing them to enter restaurants and large-scale events, including Art Basel. It is welcome news for fairgoers from the U.K., India, and Israel who received the AstraZeneca vaccine, as previously only vaccines approved for use in Switzerland (AstraZeneca is not yet approved there) were allowed to get the document (with the exception of E.U. citizens, as the country agreed to accept the E.U.’s Covid certificate).

The development comes after visitors who received the jab in the U.K. and elsewhere were frustrated to discover earlier this month that they would have to repeat a rapid lateral flow test—costing CHF37 ($40)—every 48 hours to gain access to the fair, or else pay for a more expensive PCR test every 72 hours.

The fair scrambled to find a solution for exhibitors who were affected by offering to pay for PCR tests that would exempt them from further testing. While most dealers were satisfied with the fair’s solution, the requirement for extra testing was an additional deterrent for foreign visitors who were already hesitant, with London-based art advisor Wendy Goldsmith telling Midnight Publishing Group News that authorities not recognizing the AstraZeneca vaccine was “the last straw” for her in deciding not to attend the fair. 

“We are pleased to inform our visitors to Art Basel in Basel 2021 that in line with new regulations announced by the Swiss Federal Council, as of Monday, September 20, all guests vaccinated with a vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will be granted access to our halls without the need to test,” a statement from the fair said.

The EMA has approved the Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and the AstraZeneca vaccines. 

“Upon presentation of their vaccination certificate at our designated Covid-19 Certification Center, visitors will receive an Art Basel wristband that grants them entry into the fair,” the fair said.

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Top Tennis Player Fined Over Gallery Sponsorship, Art Basel’s Last-Ditch Effort to Keep Dealers From Fleeing + More Art-World Gossip


Every week, Midnight Publishing Group News brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops by our crack team of reporters. This week, we welcome Julie Baumgardner into the mix… 

ART WORLD TO USTA: WHERE’S THE LOVE? 

Usually fashion lays claim to tennis as its sport, but there’s news out of the U.S. Open that crashes into the art world. American singles player Reilly Opelka recently was fined by the United States Tennis Association for sporting a pink tote bag from Belgium’s Tim Van Laere Gallery.

No, the problem wasn’t that tote bags are contributing big time to the climate crisis. It was that the branded bag was “unapproved” (under USTA rules, players cannot wear any gear on the court with logos that exceed four square inches). Opelka—the highest ranking American men’s player in the U.S. Open, who has been deemed the “next great hope” for U.S. men’s tennis—was summarily slapped with a $10,000 fine.

It didn’t take long for the situation to catapult this little pink tote into a blurry confluence of art project, practical object, cult status symbol… and, as Venus Williams joked on Instagram, a $10,000 asset for which she got in at the “seed round.” (In reality, Reilly gave her one of the now-cult bags as a gift.)

Opelka is the only professional tennis player with a gallery as a sponsor—and his tote marked the first time an art organization has been visible on the court.

The partnership derived from the two men’s shared passion for art and tennis. While Opelka is a dedicated collector, Van Laere played tennis professionally for two years after playing in college (“at a lower level,” the dealer clarifies). The only other art-collecting men’s tennis player to come to mind is, of course, John McEnroe. And the comparisons between the two Americans have already started, with McEnroe himself calling Opelka “a dangerous” player.

Under the terms of their arrangement, Van Laere sports a gallery patch on his shirt sleeve and uses the branded tote to carry necessary equipment (like shoes for third, fourth, and fifth sets, we’re told).

The gallery pays Opelka in exchange—Van Laere declined to state how much, but assured us it’s not at the level of a sportswear brand. Opelka and Van Laere “prefer to call it a partnership not a sponsorship,” the gallerist says, seeing it as an opportunity to elevate the arts through tennis. “It’s not about money, it’s about being creative in our collaboration and finding more opportunities to mix both worlds,” Van Laere explains.

Both men were scandalized by the pricey slap on the wrist. “Reilly was just in Toronto for the Open final. He brought it [the tote] in the French Open, everyone thought it was cool,” Van Laere recounts. “He didn’t have a problem. Only in the U.S. Open did he get fined.” (Opelka, for his part, groused on Twitter: “U.S. open ticket sales must be strugglin this year.”)

The art-tennis crew may have gotten the last laugh. Van Laere rallied some of the artists Opelka collects, who also happen to be tennis players themselves—Rinus Van de Velde and Friedrich Kunath—to toss in a bit of performance-protest.

Kunath, who traveled from L.A. to watch his friend play, turned the bags inside out and scribbled in marker, “UNAPPROVED.” Opelka debuted the modified version in his match against Lloyd Harris in the Round of 16. Sadly, Opelka is now out of the Open, but the pink bag will live on (and it’s probably already tripled in value).

BASEL CRAWLS BACK FROM THE BRINK

A visitor arrives at the 2019 edition of Art Basel, the last in-person version of the fair. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images.)

A visitor arrives at the 2019 edition of Art Basel, the last in-person version of the fair. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images.)

While the flurry of fair activity descends upon New York as the Armory Show settles into its new home at the Jacob Javits Center and Independent sets up shop at Cipriani South Street, the buzz around town isn’t just about the revival of these fairs and how weird it is to see people from the top of the nose up. Instead, Basel is the word on everyone’s lips—and speculation about who’s going and who’s not has become a guessing game with deeper implications. Last weekend, a reliable tipster urgently told Wet Paint, “a mega-gallery is pulling out of Basel, expect the news to drop on Monday.”

Around the same time, a group of galleries—led by Lisson—sent a letter to Basel organizers asking that the show not go on. (The gallery did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

We spent all weekend furiously texting the majors to get ahead of the news. A representative for Gagosian said, “We are packing and shipping works as we speak, so it would seem we are going.” A sales director for Hauser & Wirth responded, “We’re packed and have our hotel rooms booked, so yes I am definitely going.” A representative from Pace flat-out denied any rumor, and while David Zwirner’s official channels have yet to comment, an employee said, “I’m looking at a shipping list so if we aren’t going, that would be weird?”

We went further afield. With the news that Lévy GorvyAmalia Dayan, and Salon 94 are forming a conglomerate and pulling out of all fairs but those in Asia (all the better to reach newer, younger collectors), it would seem rather obvious that one gallery (or all three!) wouldn’t be attending. Last we checked, Europe isn’t Asia—but LGDR also doesn’t formally debut until next year. Salon’s Jeanne Greenberg, who apologized for being occupied with Rosh Hashanah dinner, said, “we’ve shipped the works, so we better be there!” while a rep for Lévy Gorvy assured us that their original Basel plans have not changed. Denials also came in from more than half a dozen other dealers.

In the end, Basel may have managed, by the skin of its teeth, to keep dealers in line with the announcement of a $1.6 million “Solidarity Fund” designed to help participants offset some of their potential losses after the fact (but only, of course, if they don’t pull out).

In a conversation with Wet Paint, Art Basel’s global director Marc Spiegler confirmed that more than a handful of galleries had the intention of calling it quits. But “every single gallery,” he said proudly, “is now confirmed. We met fears with facts and we stepped up in an uncertain moment to calm the market. That came from being in dialogue with our galleries, and the ones who were planning to cancel or had reservations about attending are now enthusiastic and on board.”

With only two weeks ’til the show goes up—and many artworks already in transit—the window for any gallery on the fence to play Humpty Dumpty is closing fast.

SCENE SPOTTING

A screen shot of Cynthia Talmadge's work on Platform.

A screen shot of Cynthia Talmadge’s work on Platform.

***When word got out that work by in-demand artist Cynthia Talmadge, who has an impossibly long wait list at 56 Henry, had sold out within 20 minutes of going live on Platform, the David Zwirner-backed e-commerce initiative, it perplexed some buyers who logged onto the site the minute the batch went live, only to find them unavailable. Mystery solved: Wet Paint has learned that Zwirner provides participating galleries with VIP pre-sale codes so that preferred buyers can get in early. One dealer likened the arrangement to “an art fair where you pre-sell works” —which sure is all fine and dandy, except that Zwirner himself told the New York Times back in May, “We’re not sitting there and saying, ‘You get to buy it and you don’t.’ It’s first come, first served.” The gallery did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

*** Speaking of Platform, the art world’s hottest bachelor appears to be gallery scion (and Platform honcho) Lucas Zwirner—who was apparently dodging suitors at former Wet Paint scribe Nate Freeman’s recent wedding, with one reveler calling it “the groomsmen effect.” Another insider revealed that Lucas has been spotted multiple times a week at his family-backed restaurant Il Buco with “a different brunette” (the exception being recent dinner companion/ex Sienna Miller, who is blonde).

*** The gallery [On Approval], which has space in San Francisco‘s Minnesota Street Project gallery hub, is—appropriately for Silicon Valley—pivoting to an app. Founder Andrew McClintock, who also runs Ever Gold [Projects], has developed an online platform for “communal ownership” of contemporary art. Currently the app is in beta, and we hear they’re being particularly picky about which collectors they’re letting test out the concept.

*** In June, Wet Paint discovered that Mendes Wood is slated to open an upstate gallery in Germantown—turns out, they’re not going alone. They’re partnering with frequent collaborators Blum & Poe on a shared space a few doors down from the famed tavern Gaskins.

BLIND ITEMS

A sculpture by the artist Hugo Farmer at the Glastonbury Festival in the U.K. (Photo by Barry Lewis/In Pictures via Getty Images)

A sculpture by the artist Hugo Farmer at the Glastonbury Festival in the U.K. (Photo by Barry Lewis/In Pictures via Getty Images)

*** Which untouchable Minimalist master (who would’ve rejected that moniker) had a torrid affair with the country’s now-top art critic just back when they were getting their start? *** Which power dealer had a Rashid Johnson installed in their child’s New York University freshman dorm—which, according to a classmate, the spawn didn’t even like? *** Which 57th Street dealer has earned the nickname “Son of Sam” due in part to his father’s name, and also to his reputation for being rather terrifying to deal with? ***

PARTING SHOT

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As Health and Administrative Hurdles Mount, Some Participants Worry That This Year’s Art Basel Could Become a Very Costly Flop


The postponed edition of Art Basel’s flagship Swiss fair will finally take place in person this month. Normally at this time, just a few weeks out from the fair, organizers would be putting the final touches on the opening party. But in this pandemic year, they are instead scrambling to get their heads around mounting administrative hurdles to bring the long-awaited IRL fair across the finish line. 

The fair is capping floor capacity at 12,000 this year, about 20 percent fewer people than in previous years. But as the Delta variant spreads and new health requirements are put in place, the worry these days may be less about restricting visitors than about if they will even show up.

Most people planning to travel to Art Basel this year are already aware of a number of bureaucratic obstacles in place, from completing the Swiss entry form to securing proof of vaccination (or negative Covid tests). Now, visitors to the fair will also have to provide an E.U. COVID-19 certificate, or, for non-E.U. residents, the equivalent Swiss Covid certificate (which requires coordinating with Swiss authorities ahead of arrival). 

Meanwhile, news yesterday that Swiss authorities will only recognize the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines—and not AstraZeneca—for entry to large-scale events such as Art Basel, caused consternation in the U.K. art world. While those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine in the E.U. will be covered by their E.U. certificate, those who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine in the U.K. will have to repeat a rapid lateral flow test, which will be available at the fair for CHF37 ($40), every 48 hours, or else pay for a (more expensive) PCR test to gain access for 72 hours. 

Art Basel, in Switzerland. Courtesy Art Basel.

To reduce strain on dealers, the fair has promised to foot the bill for PCR tests for non-E.U. exhibitors who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine. And, if they test negative, they will not have to repeat the test.

Some participants, including the U.K.- and South Africa-based Goodman Gallery and London-based Kate MacGarry, told Midnight Publishing Group News that they were satisfied with the fair’s response to the AstraZeneca conundrum, and said that this development would not impact their commitment to attend the fair. 

For others, the vaccine complication is proving to be one inconvenience too many. “I’m afraid the final straw seems to be not recognizing the AstraZeneca vaccine, which means I couldn’t go anyway,” London-based art advisor Wendy Goldsmith told Midnight Publishing Group News. “This is the vaccine that the majority of Brits have had, so it feels like advisors and clients may just have to wait it out for Frieze. The logistics for galleries must be overwhelming.”  

While Goldsmith had booked flights to travel to Switzerland several weeks ago, they were recently cancelled by the airline and she has been having trouble rebooking. She also heard rumors that Swiss hotels and restaurants have been turning U.K. guests away in recent weeks because they were unable to recognize the QR code of the U.K.’s vaccination app (though this should be resolved for those who can acquire a Swiss Covid certificate.)  

“While the entire art world wants this postponed Basel to succeed, sadly, it may be proving too early, with a perfect storm of problems appearing on the horizon,” Goldsmith said.

“[T]o be frank up front, the current conditions are not what we had hoped for when we rescheduled the fair to September,” wrote Art Basel director Marc Spiegler and head of business and management in Europe Andreas Bicker in a letter to exhibitors yesterday.

They went on to outline some new concessions for participants. Galleries can now withdraw participation and roll over their full booth fees to 2022 in the event that Switzerland introduces new restrictions barring gallerists and staff entry into the country, or entry subject to quarantine. And if any exhibitors feel uncomfortable attending the fair themselves, Art Basel “will mobilize the resources” from its satellite booths to provide personnel.

Organizers also offered the option of staging “ghost booths,” as they did at the most recent version of Art Basel Hong Kong. “Should you wish to convert your booth entirely to a satellite booth, please contact us,” they wrote, adding that they would collaborate on arrangements while reducing the booth fee by 15 percent.

A scaled down version of Frieze New York was held at The Shed in May. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

A scaled-down version of Frieze New York was held at The Shed in May. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.

While the added health precautions are designed to keep Art Basel from becoming a superspreader event, they inevitably increase the odds that galleries and fairgoers could get tied up in unexpected delays. The more tests that are required, the greater the chance that someone will test positive and be forced into a 10-day quarantine, which will mean prolonging their stay in Switzerland at great expense, not to mention the risk posed to the health of their staff.

We have a responsibility toward our staff and yet we can’t guarantee they will be O.K., especially at a large indoor event in Europe where there isn’t good mask compliance,” one U.S. gallerist said. (Art Basel has said it will mandate masks throughout the grounds, both indoors and outdoors).

Kate MacGarry said that one way her gallery is trying to minimize risk is through participating in a shared booth with London gallery the Approach as a way to support each other and reduce the numbers of staff on the floor.

Even those who are not affected by the latest changes related to the recognized vaccines have been deterred from attending the fair. Art journalist and author Georgina Adam told Midnight Publishing Group News that while she had initially intended to go to Basel, she has been put off by the travel complications.

“I am double vaccinated with Pfizer, but even so it does seem a lot of administration to enter the fair, plus of course the U.K. has quite stringent requirements for the return, which includes a pricey PCR test,” she said. 

Meanwhile, dealers and visitors from the U.S. have been grappling with a hurdle all their own: Switzerland has just been placed on the State Department’s “do not travel” advisory due to rising cases. 

The landscape seems to be shifting daily, maybe even hourly,” U.S. art advisor Megan Fox Kelly told Midnight Publishing Group News. Kelly decided a few weeks ago to give Basel a miss this year because none of her clients were able to commit, citing concerns about the virus or schedule conflicts. She added that she has received numerous emails from other advisors this week looking for people to take over their hotel reservations in Basel.

“I feel for the fair organizers, and even more so for the dealers, who have had to commit a lot of time and resources to make their presentations—and now the audience they anticipated coming may be considerably diminished,” she said.

Some dealers voiced concern that museums would not be willing to take the risk of sending curators or patron groups. My sense is that U.S. exhibitors are hedging their bets by planning for a reduced presence in terms of inventory and staffing,” a representative for one blue-chip gallery in the U.S. told Midnight Publishing Group News. Others stressed the importance of showing works concurrently in the fair’s online viewing room with the hope that knowing buyers are competing at the live event will add a missing dose of urgency to the online sales.

For many U.S. dealers, the return of the Armory Show in New York is their immediate focus. “As we prepare for Armory next week I’m in a bit of a lather that the [Swiss] fair organizers have not cancelled, same with the rest of the fairs through 2021,” one U.S. gallerist said. “It seems to me that the deal goes like this: the galleries pay a lot of money to bring their artwork and staff to these fairs and the organizers’ job is to guarantee a quality and robust audience. I am worried that they are not going to be able to fulfill their side of the bargain.”

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