Sunday 17 December 2017

Billionaire art lovers underpin 'gilded age' at Basel

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Katya Kazakina

Billionaire hedge fund manager Dan Loeb and Lightyear Capital chairman Don Marron are among the collectors who will head to the Swiss city of Basel this week to check out the world's largest modern and contemporary art fair.

Art Basel opens to invited guests today in the quiet Swiss city on the Rhine.

The fair's 46th edition includes 284 galleries from 33 countries showing works by 4,000 artists. Insurer AXA Art estimates there's €3bn of art on view, about the same as last year.

Last month's New York auctions set new records as $2.7bn (€2.4bn) of art changed hands - up 23pc from a year earlier - and a Picasso painting fetched $179m (€159m).

"Interest rates are so low that people have so much money they don't know what to do with it," said Robert Landau, owner of Landau Fine Art, which is offering a $30m (€26.7m) Pablo Picasso painting.

He said one of his clients is a 37-year-old man who retired after earning a fortune and is "sailing around the world and buying paintings to put on the boat".

Warren Buffett's NetJets, a sponsor of the fair for the 12th year, said it has booked about 110 private flights in and out of Basel, a 10pc increase from a year ago.

Mr Loeb, who owns hedge fund Third Point, and Mr Marron are planning to attend, along with Warren Eisenberg, Bed, Bath & Beyond's co-chairman.

Tad Smith and Patricia Barbizet, the recently appointed chief executive officers of rivals Sotheby's and Christie's, respectively, are set to attend as well, the companies said.

"It's another gilded age," said New York collector Lenore Schorr. "A lot of people have a lot of money."

Many galleries are bringing works by artists who had strong performance at auctions in May, and those who are featured at important current exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale.

Pablo Picasso's $30m painting of two lovers - a two-metre-wide 1965 painting 'Les Dormeurs', depicting the artist and his second wife Jacqueline Roque - will be the star of Mr Landau's booth.

"When people see auction prices they think everything we have is very cheap," said Mr Landau, owner of the Montreal and Meggen, Switzerland-based gallery. "The auctions are helping us. They are raising prices on everything."

Good material is getting harder to find as galleries have to compete with the auction houses and stock their booths at dozens of fairs each year.

Last year, one of the top prices at Art Basel was an Andy Warhol painting with the asking price of $32m (€28.5m) at Skarstedt gallery's booth. It sold on the fair's first day.

This year, the New York and London-based gallery doesn't have an artwork of that value. It will show a large torso sculpture by Willem de Kooning, priced at $6.5m (€5.8m).

"It's a hard one to repeat," said the owner Per Skarstedt.


Irish Independent

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