Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

At Art Basel, Lessons from Curators ; Fair Shows High Demand for Artists with Recent Museum Exhibitions

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

At Art Basel, Lessons from Curators ; Fair Shows High Demand for Artists with Recent Museum Exhibitions

Article excerpt

At the giant fair that runs through Sunday, booth after booth is filled with masters like Warhol, Picasso, Bacon and Calder or artists who have been the subject of recent museum exhibitions.

A few doors down from a Starbucks in an obscure upstairs space here is a setting that looks like it was frozen in the 1970s. The walls are faux wood and mirrors; the furniture, mostly from Ikea, is covered in a patchwork of African textiles and the floors are a mix of linoleum, wood and carpets. There is a bar too, with lava lamps and a fake copper ceiling. Seventies hits by Aretha Franklin, Donna Summer, Diana Ross and others play every night at ear-piercing decibels. But on Wednesday morning, standing in the middle it of it all dressed in baggy pants and a T-shirt was Mickalene Thomas, the 42-year-old Brooklyn artist who created the environment for the Absolut Art Bureau. It's the Swedish vodka company's partnership with Art Basel, the holy grail of contemporary art fairs that opened to V.I.P's here on Tuesday, and "Better Days," as Ms. Thomas's installation is called, is named after a group of her mother's friends who would throw parties, theater productions and fashion shows to raise money for sickle cell anemia, a disease that runs in Ms. Thomas's family.

"I've done environments before but this is the most three- dimensional," said Ms. Thomas, whose much-praised exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, which closed in January, allowed officials from Absolut to see her work. Paintings by Ms. Thomas are also on display at the fair a five-minute walk from "Better Days." Her Chelsea dealer, Lehmann Maupin, was showing several of them, including "Hair Portrait Series #10," a wood panel with acrylic and rhinestones that Ms. Thomas made this year. Depicting four African-American women's braided hair, it was snapped up for $55,000 just hours after the fair opened.

"Collectors these days are looking for artists that have museum and curatorial support," said David Maupin, one of the gallery's founders.

Walking around the cavernous convention center where the fair is on view through Sunday, booth after booth is filled with blue-chip masters like Warhol, Picasso, Bacon and Calder or artists who, like Ms. Thomas, have been the subject of recent museum exhibitions or are featured at this year's Venice Biennale, which opened this month. There are also works similar to those that brought enormous prices at the May auctions in New York.

"Galleries bring what they know the market wants," said Allan Schwartzman, a New York-based art adviser who noted that the quality at this year's fair seemed better than it was last year.

As large and lively as ever with 304 galleries exhibiting from 39 countries, Art Basel is still a magnet for big-money collectors and museum directors. Spotted at the invitation-only opening Tuesday were the New York financiers Donald B. Marron and Leon Black, the Miami collectors Donald and Mera Rubell and the Russian oligarch Roman A. Abramovich. Also seen perusing booths were Richard Armstrong, who runs the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Alain Seban, president of the Pompidou Center in Paris; and Sir Nicholas Serota from the Tate in London.

"I've been coming here since the 1980s when dealers would bring works they couldn't sell in their galleries," said Jeffrey Deitch, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. "Now these dealers are like museum curators, working for months on their installations."

Just weeks after the successful May sales in New York, collectors still appear to have money to spend. Among those who reported brisk sales was the Helly Nahmad Gallery. …

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