The art market returns to its pre-pandemic splendor at the Basel trade fair

The art market returns to pre-pandemic splendor at the Basel Art Fair despite war in Ukraine and turbulent markets, and inflation gives wealthy collectors another reason to afford a multi-million dollar canvas.

From the early hours of Art Basel, Switzerland’s largest art fair, which takes place from 16 to 19 June, leading galleries have closed a very large sale.

Zurich-based Hauser & Wirth has set a new record for a spider by French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois, which brought in $ 40 million (38 million euros).

But it also multiplied sales to seven figures, selling in particular a work by Armenian painter Arshile Gorky for 5.5 million and an oil on canvas by Francis Picabia for 4 million. On the first day alone, sales were around $ 75 million.

German gallery David Zwirner sold a work by concept artist Félix Gonzalez-Torres for $ 12.5 million and a painting by South African artist Marlene Dumas for $ 8.5 million.

“The fair benefits from an intense energy with many collectors that we had not seen for so long,” said Marc Glimcher, director of the American gallery Pace, which sold an oil on canvas. by Joan Mitchell for $ 16.5 million and placed several of Jeff Koons’ future NFTs, which come with a lunar sculpture, at $ 2 million each.

Like sales of yachts, luxury cars, fine watches and jewelry, the art market got off to a strong start in 2021 after the shock of the pandemic in 2020 with the sharp recovery in the stock market last year, which has inflated the legacy of very large fortunes.

After falling by 22% in 2020, the art market regained 29% in 2021 to climb back to $ 65.1 billion, according to an estimate by Clare McAndrew, author of a report for Art Basel, which notes that collector budgets have also increased significantly over the last year.

But in the meantime, the war in Ukraine and the tightening of the central bank’s key interest rates in the face of inflation have caused major shocks to financial markets.

– Alternative to the stock exchange –

For now, insurance companies specializing in the art market have not observed any break in the insurance amounts since the invasion of Ukraine.

“The art market is growing rapidly,” notes Nicolas Kaddeche at Hiscox. The return of trade shows, as health restrictions are lifted, is forcing collectors to return to buy. “But there is another important phenomenon that will have a positive effect on the art market, which is inflation,” he believes.

“In my opinion, art, even more than before, will be a safe haven from galloping inflation,” he said in an interview with AFP, noting a strong request for all collectibles, such as cars.

The same observation at Axa XL, where Hans Laenen, customer manager for Asia-Pacific and Europe, expects the increase to continue, with the exception of major upheavals “in a situation that could change very quickly”.

“With the stock markets being more volatile, the art market can be seen as a more stable investment. This may even attract other investors who will turn to works of art rather than the stock market,” he believes, especially as the high prices at auction feed the buyer. confidence.

Periods of concern for the economy, however, tend to favor values ​​that are considered safe to the detriment of young artists.

“In the case of risk aversion, people tend to focus on artists they know,” Clare McAndrew admitted in an interview with AFP.

“But I imagine that may change this year,” she predicts, with the return of fairs that allow you to come back and discover young artists.

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