The Market Cooks at Art Basel, Sometimes at a Simmer, Sometimes at a Boil

The feel-good pill of market-recovery magic continued to have its invigorating effect on thesecond floor of Art Basel main hall, where the pulse of the primary market for contemporary works is taken.

“It’s great,” said Jeff Poe of Los Angeles gallery Blum & Poe. “It’s like 2006 again. The market’s not on fire, but it’s simmering.” The dealer saw a relative absence of an American presence on the buying front, with Europeans taking home most of the spoils. His partner Tim Blum concurred, adding that the disparity did little to slow the market down. “Basically everything sold,” he said. That included TakashiMurakamis 2010 acrylic on canvas Korin Dokuro, which sold for $550,000, and a2009 Murakami diptych representing a reprise on canvas of his famed, randy sculpture duo My Lonesome Cowboy and Hiropon. The platinum-leaf diptych debuted at the gallery’s new space last fall, but had to travel to Basel this week to find a buyer, selling for a little over a milliondollars “to Asia.”

Blum said at least 40 percent of the buyers were new to the gallery. “That’s hardcore!” exclaimed the dealer. Blum & Poe also sold two CarrollDunham mixed-media paintings for $150,000 apiece, including the 2009 Hers/Dirt/Two and two thickly impastoed and scored 2010 "face" paintings by MarkGrotjahnUntitled (Unmounted Face 41.01) and Untitled (Unmounted Face 41.02) — for $90,000 apiece. A larger Grotjahn in the backroom closet, Untitled (Cream Butterfly), soldfor $200,000.

Lesser-known gallery artists also made a splash, as an untitled 7-by-8-foot Disney-like painting by FriedrichKunath, rendered in India ink, acrylic, lacquer, watercolor, and silkscreen on canvas and dating from 2010, sold for $50,000. The gallery also placed Zhang Huan HeroNo. 1 cow-skin sculpture, sited under the Pace Gallery banner as one of the 56 projects in the Art Unlimited section of the fair, to a Japanese collector for something less than the $1.8 million retail price, according to Blum.

There was more Murakami action at Paris-based Galerie Emmanuel Perrotins duplex stand as YumeLion, a unique and terribly cute sculpture in aluminum, bronze, steel with a Corian base went to a European collector for $1.3 million. Perrotin also sold Tatiana Trouvés realistic-looking bronze mélange Rocks (2008-10) for €90,000 ($111,000).

Sculpture was in demand as well at the booth of Antwerp’s ZenoX Gallery, where new superstar MarkManders 2010 Unfired Clay Head, composed of wood, painted epoxy, iron, and offset print on paper, sold to a Great Britain–based collector for €50,000 ($61,600). Manders was recently featured in the NewMuseum exhibition “Skin Fruit,” a Jeff Koons-curated take oncollector Dakis Joannous collection, and will be shown in September at the Hammer Gallery in Los Angeles.

Zeno X Gallery also sold a number of figurative oil paintings, includingMichaelBorremans The Shoes (2008) and Girl with Feathers (2010),at €85,000 ($105,000) apiece, as well as two untitled paintings by JohannesKahrs at €85,000 ($105,000) and €50,000 ($61,600) respectively. The gallery, which represented MarleneDumas well before her great leap to international stardom, didn’t have any works works by the artist on view. “She just had a show with DavidZwirner in New York and just broken her right arm in Amsterdam after falling on the tram tracks,” explained gallerist FrankDemaegd.

The dealer said he found that collectors' appetites have returned, but chiefly for delicacies. “If you have great things, there is no problem to sell them,” according to Demaegd. “It’s not like three years agowhen people just jumped in on it just for the name. Now, if it’s not the right piece or price, people will walk away.” A few aisles away, GalleryKoyanagi of Tokyo sold Canary Death, a small–scaled but haunting 2006 Dumas painting for an undisclosed price to a European buyer.

Primary-market works were snapped up with great confidence at London’s LissonGallery, which sold two versions of a threatening-looking sculptureby the Puerto Rican duo Allora & Calzadilla for $55,000 each. The work, a camouflaged army helmet in painted bronze titled The bird of Hermes is my name, eating my wings to make me tame, was affixed with actual wings and sported a telescopic sight. There is one more available from the edition of three.

Lisson also sold two recent circular mirror pieces by AnishKapoor in the  £500,000 ($742,000) range, though the sculptures never got unpacked for viewing. One sold to a Swiss collector and the other to a buyer from South America, according to associate directorAlexLogsdail. An unnamed museum acquired Cory Arcangels 2010 PhotoShopCS, a large framed C-print abstraction for $34,000. According to Logsdail, the full title of the work contains the precise PhotoShop instructions “on how to make the piece yourself,” as long as you can paythe enormous costs of printing the image.

The gallery also placed Slip Ring (2010), a new kinetic work by the 31-year-old U.K.-based artist HaroonMirza for a modest £8,000 ($11,900). The cleverly constructed soundsculpture consists of a vintage Grundig Transistor radio, a lamp, fabric, flex, an energy-saving light bulb, a motor, metal, and a CD, among other components.

However, the electricity of the current market was best expressed by the sea of fat red dots at Berlin’s neugerriemschneider, where oil and charcoal on linen paintings and prints from BillyChildishs installation I Am Their Damaged Megaphone, were selling well. The 14 paintings in the booth had sold at prices ranging from €15,000 to €20,000 ($18,500 to $24,600), and prints starting at €500 were selling quickly. Resembling paintings by EdvardMunch and packed with obscure literary references about the modernist Swiss writer RobertWalser, who died in 1956, the installation seemed to thrill fair goers. Childish is literally a Sunday painter, making a weekly habit of visiting his mum in the seaside town of Whitstable, and the paintings evoke a refreshing breath of fresh air. It didn’t hurt that the squeaky floorboards — an interlocking wood and mirrored art piece by JorgePrado — added to the experience. The booth also featured a batch of Ai Weiwei's foundantique Chinese chairs that encircled the big table in the center of the stand. Ai Weiwei brought a thousand of the flea-market-sourced chairs to the last Documenta, and a bunch are being offered now at €3,000 ($3,700) apiece.

Blue-chip art of very recent vintage was also moving at London’s WhiteCube, where DamienHirst's glitzy cabinet Memories of Love (2010), standing over five-feet-tall in stainless steel and glass with 6,000 glass-and-lab gemstones, sold for £2.35 million ($3.49 million). White Cube also sold Luc Tuymans 2001 Rumour for $750,000, and Gary Humes 2009 View from a Balcony in gloss paint on aluminium for £125,000 ($185,000). Jeff Walls 2007 graveyard inkjet print piece Ossuary Headstone sold for $350,000 as well. The gallery had reserves on the gender-bent MarcQuinn bronze Buck with Cigar, but made a huge noise when it was knocked over during the VIP-vernissage blitz yesterday.

Taking refuge under the eaves of the outdoor courtyard, where hungry andthirsty fairgoers were paying huge prices for their bratwurst and Cokes, seasoned New York private dealer JimJacobs summed up the mood. “I’m embarrassed to sound so upbeat,” said the dealer, who has been in the art biz for decades, “but I think it’s a very powerful moment now, to see how up people are about collecting. I’m pretty amazed.”