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A Bustling Marketplace for Choice Art:
The 35th Art Basel 2004

Clusters of people at the entrance, crowds filling the passageways on the ground floor - waiting for that undisturbed moment to view the Art Statements a story above: it's Art Basel time. For db artmag, Dr. Christina Schroeter-Herrel, Director of Art Consulting, Private Wealth Management, Deutsche Bank AG, summarizes the trends and tendencies of the largest art fair worldwide.

Impression Art Basel 2004, Courtesy Art Basel

At this year's art fair in Basel, a number of purchasing decisions were already made on June 15, prior to the official opening. The noticeably large number of red dots indicated that it wasn't only art enthusiasts making the rounds, but numerous collectors who knew exactly what they were looking for.

This year, Art Basel was as popular among visitors as it was among exhibitors. 850 galleries applied, which is understandable considering that presence at this eminently renowned art fair is essential to a gallery's sales intake and positioning on the market. The jury accepted 270 galleries, ten more than last year. With its 58 participants, the United States provided the largest number of galleries from any single country, followed by 54 German and 37 Swiss galleries. 22 galleries were from France and 20 from Great Britain, while 18 came from Italy and the remainder from other countries. Around 30 galleries are showing for the first time this year, most of them concentrating on contemporary art or classical photography.

Impression Art Basel 2004, Courtesy Art Basel

Over 52,000 visitors could be counted through the last day of the fair on June 21 - around 2,000 more than in 2003. "As every year, the Basel fair is the highlight of my gallery work. One meets the crème de la crème of the art world, who always love to buy in Basel," said the Frankfurt-based gallery dealer Bärbel Grässlin , voicing an assessment that many exhibitors shared.

The Zurich-based Amman Gallery, for instance, succeeded in selling the two glamorous Warhol silkscreens Diamond Dust Shoes from 1980 right at the beginning of the fair. "This year, we sold something every day. The collectors knew exactly what they wanted - it was great," agreed Doris Ammann at the end of the fair. Without question, the exhibitors' strategy paid off; as in previous years, they tended to go with quality and big 20th-century artists' names, without losing sight of new tendencies in contemporary art.

Impression Art Basel 2004, Courtesy Art Basel

Only a few weeks previously, Picasso's key work Boy with Pipe (1905) from the Blue Period changed owners at Sotheby's for an auction house record of around 104 million dollars. Thus, it was understandable that some gallery dealers featured whatever Picassos they had in the best possible way. Works by the artist were offered by more than 27 galleries. For the most part, however, it was a matter of paintings from later periods, such as the female portrait of 1937 from Dora Maar's collection ( Jan Krugier Gallery) or the portrait Sylvette sur fond rouge ( Marlborough Gallery) from 1954. Visitors could just as often encounter works by Joan Miró, whom the Fondation Beyeler in Basel-Riehen has dedicated particular attention to in the remarkable exhibition Calder - Miró, which can be seen through September 15. In terms of art from the first half of the 20th century, which is traditionally concentrated on the ground floor, Josef Albers, Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet, Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, Fernand Léger, and Henri Matisse were amply represented, among others.

Impression Art Basel 2004, Courtesy Art Basel

Art Basel's particular strength has always been in the area of 20th-century classics. Yet for a number of years already, there's been some concern about giving contemporary art more space than before. This tendency carries into the current year, as well, hence the fair's organizers were proud to report that "there's no fair with more galleries for contemporary art (ca. 200)" than the 35th Art Basel 2004.

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