BASEL REPORT: Massive Sales of Magritte, Marden, and More

BASEL REPORT: Massive Sales of Magritte, Marden, and More
Detail of Albert Oehlen's "Ich seh Dich II (Self portrait: Dreiauge)," (1983), which sold for $500,000 at Skardstedt Gallery
(Courtesy Skardstedt Gallery)

BASEL — Brisk sales continued at the 44th edition of Art Basel as the big fair opened to the general public following two full days of limited access by VIP card-holding visitors.

The biggest transaction took place at Montreal’s Landau Fine Art, where a ravishing Surrealist oil by Rene Magritte, “Une peu de l’ame des bandits (a little of the spirit of bandits)” (1960), sold in the region of the $12.5-million asking price. The painting ranks as the most expensive transaction so far in the action-packed fair, which runs through the 16th.

Still, there are other spectacular works contending to find new homes, including the standout charcoal on paper by Piet Mondrian, “Composition in Circle (Church Façade?)” (1915), a stunning abstraction that the artist kept in his studio throughout his life. It is priced at approximately $8 million at Geneva’s Blondeau & Cie.

Mondrian brought the drawing to New York when he moved from Europe in 1940, attaching it to a board and then signing and mistakenly dating it 1913, two years off the mark, according to the artist’s catalogue raisonne. There are seven versions on paper from the church façade series of 1914-15. This one is the last and most abstract, according to the gallery’s Philippe Davet. It easily ranks as one of the most important and rare modern works in the fair.

Zurich's Thomas Ammann Fine Art made a major postwar score, selling Brice Marden's “Attendant 4 (Monk)” (1996-99), a majestically loopy, red and green-lined abstraction in oil on linen. It reportedly went for somewhere in the region of the $9-million asking price.

Of the more important — though monetarily less spectacular — sales, an elegant group of five black crayon paper studies by Egon Schiele at New York’s Galerie St. Etienne sold for slightly under a million dollars, according to partner Jane Kallir, a world-class Schiele expert. Though not exactly sexy — the subject of the 1917  studies was “Portrait of Dr. Franz Martin Haberditzl” — the grouping looked sensational. It was consigned by his heirs.

The buyer was identified as a contemporary “artist,” though Kallir declined to further identify the new owner of these ravishing drawings.

The gallery also sold two related portraits by another Austrian expressionist painter, Oskar Kokoschka: “Portrait of Friedrich (Fritz) Wolff-Knize” (1927), which went in the high six-figures, and “Portrait of Annie Wolff-Knize” (1934-35), for slightly under $500,000. “I’ve never had an art fair like this before,” said Kallir. “It’s as if they’re drunk or eaten something that’s made them mad. I’m up late all night writing invoices.”

On the contemporary side, New York/London’s Skarstedt Gallery had a slew of big sales to report: George Condo’s densely packed, 85-by-80-inch figure painting, “Internal Space” (2005) for a million dollars; Cady Noland’s detritus-filled sculpture, “Chicken in a Basket” (1989), featuring a rubber chicken and plenty of empty and crumpled beer cans, for $425,000; and Thomas Schutte’s bronze head, “Wichte” (2006), from an edition of six plus two artist proofs, for $300,000.

“That’s how I feel at the end of the day,” said gallery owner Per Skarstedt, gesturing towards another work, Albert Oehlen’s three-eyed, blurry image of face “Ich seh Dich II (Self portrait: Dreiauge)” (1983). It had been snapped up at $500,000.

A larger and decidedly more abstract Oehlen, “Untitled” (1988), sold at New York’s Luhring Augustine in the region of the $950,000 asking price, as did a pale, rust-colored and patterned abstraction by Christopher Wool, “Untitled” (2001), which went for approximately $1.5 million. “We’ve done our last rehang,” said gallery partner Lawrence Luhring, referring to the practice of replacing sold works in the booth. “We have no more things to hang.”

A rather small but stunning oil-on-found-wood panel by Britain's leading artist Howard HodgkinA small thing but my own” (1983-85), sold at London's Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert in the region of £400,000.

New York’s Mnuchin Gallery, recently separated from the partnership L&M Arts, staged an impressive stand of mostly postwar classics, including a 30-by-40-inch oil-on-vellum composition by Willem de Kooning, “Cross-Legged Figure” (1959), part of the artist’s “Roma” series, that sold in excess of $2 million. “We’ve made more sales,” said gallery owner Robert Mnuchin, “but I don’t want to publicize them.”

Of the still-available offerings, Frank Stella’s magisterial “Hollis Frampton” (1963), part of Stella’s shaped canvas “Purple Paintings” series, was on offer in the range of $15 million. Potential buyers — as well as tire kickers — have through Sunday to make up their minds.

Watch ARTINFO video of 60 Works in 60 Second from Basel here.