Art Basel Switzerland 2023: The Most Valuable Pieces Sold

This year’s Art Basel in Switzerland had its fair share of coveted works, including a $22.5 million Louise Bourgeois spider sculpture. 

The art market has been experiencing a steady rise in activity since the pandemic, and a good indicator of this is the notable success of Art Basel in its different locations. The fair is known as a “barometer of the industry,” and the “single most important annual event in the global art market,” according to Art Basel’s newest chief executive, Noah Horowitz

This year's Art Basel in Switzerland boasts 284 galleries in their roster of exhibitors
This year’s Art Basel in Switzerland boasts 284 galleries in their roster of exhibitors/Photo via Twitter @ArtBasel

READ ALSO: A Euphoric Return: The Most Valuable Pieces At Art Basel Hong Kong 2023 Including A Kinetic Video Sculpture That Sold For $9 Million

Held in four different locations across Asia, the US, and Europe, Art Basel’s Hong Kong iteration made a strong comeback this year. Its Asia edition boasted 177 galleries from 32 different countries, and a plethora of great art that fetched seven-figure prices. 

Art Basel takes place in Miami Beach, Hong Kong, and more recently, Paris; however, its flagship location is in none other than Basel, Switzerland.

Art Basel held in Basel, Switzerland
A visitor at this year’s Art Basel held in Basel, Switzerland/Photo via Twitter @ArtBasel

The fair was first launched in the 1970s by gallerists Ernst Beyeler, Trudl Bruckner, and Balz Hilt, meeting critical success with more than 16,000 visitors. In the past 50 years, it continues to be the gold standard when it comes to international art fairs. This year’s Art Basel held in Switzerland’s Messe Bassel was no exception. 

The fair took place from June 15 to 18—with a VIP opening on June 13—and had an impressive 284 galleries in its roster of exhibitors. Among them was the illustrious Acquavella Galleries, with a 1955 Mark Rothko painting worth $60 million, and Pace Gallery with a $14 million Joan Mitchell work. 

An array of other coveted works fetched for millions in this year’s Art Basel Switzerland, including:

“Spider IV” (1996) by Louise Bourgeois 

This bronze arachnid sculpture by French artist Louise Bourgeois fetched one of the highest prices in this year’s Art Basel. Esteemed Swiss gallery, Hauser & Wirth, sold the piece to a US collector for a whopping $22.5 million. Completed in 1996, the sculpture depicts a spider crawling on a wall. Arachnids were Bourgeois’ visual motif of choice, as the artist created multiple pieces of the eight-legged creatures throughout her career. 

Bourgeois' "Spider IV"
Bourgeois’ “Spider IV”/Photo from Sotheby’s official website

“Four Heads” (1975) by Philip Guston

Hauser & Wirth also sold Philip Guston’s “Four Heads” for $9.5 million during the fair. The Canadian-American painter used ink on paper to create the work. As the name suggests, the piece depicts the top of four heads peeking out from a sea of red. The piece showcases Guston’s abstract expressionist style that borders on cartoonish. The artist created paintings that were both mundane and satirical with their incisive political commentary. 

Guston's "Four Heads"
Guston’s “Four Heads”/Photo from Hauser & Wirth’s official website

“Figures in a Garden” (2009) by George Condo

American artist George Condo’s “Figures in a Garden” sold for $5.5 million. The acrylic on linen piece depicts a cacophony of figures with distorted faces that comprise Condo’s recognizable style. Unusual, grotesque, and surreal physical features characterize the artist’s portraits. His abstractions take inspiration from masters like Picasso and Diego Velázquez. 

Condo's "Figures in a Garden"
Condo’s “Figures in a Garden”/Photo by iheartmyart from the George Condo: Mental States exhibition

“2000 Acres Listed” (2023) by Mark Bradford 

Mark Bradford’s “2000 Acres Listed” sold for $3.5 million at the Basel art fair. Bradford’s large-scale pieces usually integrate visual elements of city streets with art history. The artist incorporates phrases from “signs, billboards, and the floors of beauty salons” into his works, instilling them with “the history and memory of a place,” according to a Christie’s essay

Bradford's use of urban messages can be seen in this work, entitled "Promise Land"
Bradford’s use of urban messages can be seen in this work, entitled “Promise Land”/Photo from Christie’s official website

“I want my materials to actually have the memories—the cultural, personal memories that are lodged in the object. You can’t erase history, no matter what you do. It bleeds through,” Bradford once shared in Aspen Art Museum’s book Mark Bradford: Merchant Posters

“Golden Spaces” (1971) by Jack Whitten 

Jack Whitten’s “Golden Spaces” sold for $3.2 million in this year’s Art Basel. The late American artist was famous for his unique  experimental techniques that added exciting textural elements to his pieces. 

Whitten's "Quantum Wall, VIII" exhibits his use of dried acrylic tiles
Whitten’s “Quantum Wall, VIII” exhibits his use of dried acrylic tiles/Photo by Genevieve Hanson from Hauser & Wirth’s official website

Whitten often stuck layers of acrylic ribbons or tiles of dried acrylic onto canvases, which were sometimes drenched in uneven layers of wet paint. He would also create marks and textures using Afro combs, squeegees, and rakes.

The artist’s abstract and conceptual pieces often allude to the civil rights movement under Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the African-American experience

“Stranger #95” (2023) by Glen Ligon 

“Stranger #95” by American conceptual artist Glen Lignon sold for its asking price of $2 million. The piece features a textural black surface created using oil stick, silkscreen, coal dust, acrylic, and pencil on canvas. The pieces in Lignon’s oeuvre provide critical commentaries on American history, society, and literature like Afrocentric coloring books and photographs. 

“Stranger #95” (2023) by Glen Ligon 
Lignon’s “Stranger #95″/Photo from Art Basel’s official website

Much like Whitten, Lignon’s pieces explore issues concerning the civil rights movement as well as the history of slavery and sexual politics within the US. 

A close-up of Lignon’s “Stranger #95″/Photo from Art Basel’s official website

“Gray Motion” (2008) by Ed Clark 

It appears that works from abstract artists were quite popular in Art Basel, as yet another abstract expressionist piece fetched seven figures. Ed Clark’s “Gray Motion” sold for $1.5 million at the fair. Clark was the pioneer of the New York School in the 1950s, and spent several decades experimenting with applications of color and abstract form. 

“Gray Motion” (2008) by Ed Clark 
An example of Clark’s use of shaped canvases is his work “The Big Egg”/Photo from Ed Clark’s official website

Not to mention, he was the first artist credited for exhibiting his work in circular or oval canvases. This is a method that continues to be used by many contemporary artists today. 

Banner photo via Twitter @ArtBasel.

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