Art Basel kicks off with a ‘cooling’ market while maintaining strong buyer interest

More than 280 galleries exhibited everything from paintings and sculpture to video installations and performance art
In frame: The artwork Interieur a La Fougere Noire (1948) by French artist Henri Matisse is on display at the international art show Art Basel
In frame: The artwork Interieur a La Fougere Noire (1948) by French artist Henri Matisse is on display at the international art show Art Basel

Multimillion-dollar works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yayoi Kusama and Alberto Giacometti went on the market this week as the Art Basel fair opened in Switzerland. Thousands flooded the exhibition center for VIP previews before doors open to public Thursday.

Arriving guests strolled through a large plaza filled with stems of wheat resembling a field, a work by conceptual artist Agnes Denes that was first staged in 1982. More than 280 galleries exhibited everything from paintings and sculpture to video installations and performance art.

GEORGIOS KEFALAS via AP
In frame: The artwork Interieur a La Fougere Noire (1948) by French artist Henri Matisse is on display at the international art show Art Basel
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“Art Basel is like the Super Bowl of the art world,” art market expert Magnus Resch said. The Art Market Report 2024, published by Art Basel and a Swiss investment bank, found that sales fell by 4 per cent year-on-year in 2023, to an estimated USD 65 billion, against a backdrop of high interest rates, inflation and political instability. Sales were particularly thinner at the top end of the market.

GEORGIOS KEFALAS via AP

Once the buzz of the art world, sales in art-related NFTs — or non-fungible tokens — on NFT platforms outside the art market declined sharply, according to the report, from a peak of USD 2.9 billion in 2021 to USD 1.2 billion last year.

But there is still enthusiasm. The report found transaction volume grew in 2023 by 4 per cent driven by sales at lower price levels.

In frame: The artwork Interieur a La Fougere Noire (1948) by French artist Henri Matisse is on display at the international art show Art Basel
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Austrian gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac said that “I think people are now reflecting a bit more, taking a bit of time, but they are still very, very active."

Some dismissed any dour analysis. In an opening day sales report, the president of international gallery Hauser & Wirth, Iwan Wirth, described it as “doom porn” while New York-based Sean Kelly said the market had already turned a corner since last year. “There’s always something to be concerned about. But the market has proven to be extremely resilient," Kelly said.

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