Art Basel in Basel, 2015: Resource Crunch
By HG Masters
“People are so desperate to find ways to spend their money,” a dealer quipped at 11:10 am, on Tuesday, June 16, just minutes into the first hour of Art Basel’s 2015 edition, as collectors jockeyed for artworks that may have been sold just minutes earlier—or, just as likely, even days ago. The day before Art Basel opened, another gallery director had conceded that “the fair actually began weeks ago, when we sent the PDF [of works heading to Art Basel] to our clients.” Even though the practice of pre-selling works is officially forbidden by the fair, it is something that nearly everyone does but no one will admit to; and in this super-heated market it is adding to the scarcity problems. That same multi-continental gallery was having trouble finding top-quality works to bring to Art Basel that hadn’t already been sold, or that wouldn’t already arrive in Switzerland with formidably long “reserve” lists packed with institution directors and super-collectors starting their own foundations, effectively meaning they were already off the market even before they went on display in Basel.
Art Basel’s woes are those of the one percent of the global 0.01 percent, which have been brought on by the insatiable competition for rarefied objects and the evident need of the super-rich to plough reserve cash into unregulated non-pecuniary assets, to be protected in tax-free storage havens or by the ennobled security blanket of a nonprofit foundation. Of course, not all of the 284 galleries at Art Basel have such extravagantly premium merchandise, nor can all of Art Basel’s top VIPs compete for works at this stratospheric level. Fortunately for the rest of the 0.01 percent who flock to Basel for the scene-and-be-seen atmosphere, there was USD 3.4 billion dollars worth of art on view at the Messe Halle, much of it more challenging to sell, much of it unaffected by—or possibly even suffering from—the price inflation at the highest end of the art market. Here is ArtAsiaPacific’s quick look around at some of the artworks and booths from the 2015 edition of Art Basel, midway through the hottest year of this current art-commodity bubble.