Art Basel Recap: The Art Market is Safe and Strong

Gerhard Richter, installation view of Strip-Tower, 2023, in David Zwirner’s presentation at Art Basel Unlimited in Basel, 2023. Courtesy of Art Basel.

If you only pay attention to one art fair, you look at Art Basel. Widely considered the premier art event in the world, Art Basel just closed its biggest fair to date, and set the tone that the art market is stronger than ever. 

Art Basel has outpost fairs in Miami, Paris and Hong Kong throughout the year, with the next being Paris in the fall. Over 80,000 visitors toured collections from almost 300 galleries over the course of five days in Switzerland.  Online galleries were open an extra 5 days, but the majority of deals closed in person during previews. Many of the booths rotated what was on view, leading to a highly dynamic atmosphere. While the Swiss version has fewer A-list celebrities than Miami, it is a practically mandatory event for galleries, art dealers, and collectors who gather to network and gauge trends. 

Lingering uncertainties about the economy did not dampen the mood. Seven and eight figure sales were reported by Artsy, with mega gallery Hauser & Wirth being the frontrunner. A bronze spider by Louise Bourgeois that was constructed in 1996 sold for 22.5 million by Hauser Wirth, and the painting Four Heads by Phillip Guston sold for 9.5 million. 

David Zwirner fueled speculation throughout the fair by declining to report anything that wasn’t a primary sale. This is notable as resale figures can be higher than primaries, leaving an air of intrigue around their dealings. The majority of sales were in the mid to high six figures for established artists, and five to six figures for emerging artists. 

At Art Basel itself, the majority of galleries played it safe with their usual roster, which made the lineup within the Statements section, and at nearby Liste Art Basel, stand out for its emphasis on emerging talent. One of the most talked about presentations was by 84 year old Jacqueline de Jong, who stole the show with her bold paintings represented by Pippy Houldsworth gallery. 


Painting is the dominant force of the fair, but photography and sculpture both had an unusually strong showing this year. Large scale installations overtook the Unlimted section, while 24 site-specific installations were found throughout the city as a part of the Art Basel Parcours program. A film program highlighting documentaries and a program on sci-fi and magical realism was also included. 

Painting is the dominant force of the fair, but photography and sculpture both had an unusually strong showing this year.

Debuting for the first time this year was the Kabinett sector, which consisted of booths within the gallery booths dedicated to showing new work or recently rediscovered practices from 29 artists. David Hockney is well known for his paintings, but showcased his prowess with a series of digital paintings using iPads in this sector, allowing the viewer a unique insight into his process. 

Initially started as a trade fair over 50 years ago, the experience of Art Basel now is more akin to a biennial, or an open air museum of the highest quality. The visitor has access to critically acclaimed art that overtakes the senses and leaves one in awe of both the artistic creativity and the curatorial vision that is on display. 

Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho, Photo: Charlie Hui, Viswerk.