Art goes virtual: Visiting Art Basel from the Hamptons will test new online mod...

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For the past 25 years, Christophe Van de Weghe never missed the event that transforms a quiet Swiss town into the art world’s epicenter each June.

Art Basel has become a destination for collectors, with more than $3 billion of modern and contemporary blue-chip works offered. As an exhibitor, Van de Weghe spends as much as $200,000 to ship works by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder and Jean-Michel Basquiat from New York, insure them, pay for the booth, host client dinners at Chez Donati and stay at the Three Kings hotel. On the eve of each VIP opening, he jumps into the frigid Rhine for a 3-mile swim.

But the art dealer isn’t taking that plunge this week for the fair’s 50th edition because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, buyers are invited to virtual booths, starting with Wednesday’s VIP opening. The fair’s online viewing rooms launched in March with mixed results.

Van de Weghe is participating from the Hamptons, where many wealthy art patrons fled from Manhattan, and just opened a small gallery in East Hampton, displaying many of the works featured in his Art Basel online viewing room. One of them is a 1978 Roy Lichtenstein painting, priced at $7.5 million.

“Everybody is a VIP here,” Van de Weghe said.

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@MassimoDeCarlogallery's digital presentation titled ‘HERSTORY’ is a cross-generational investigation on abstraction and figuration by a selection of women artists, including Jennifer Guidi (pictured above). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Questioning reality from the feminine perspective, in a time when physicality is under siege, ‘HERSTORY’ presents works by Carla Accardi, Monster Chetwynd, Dadamaino, Jennifer Guidi, Karin Gulbran, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Marisa Merz, Paola Pivi, Kaari Upson, Andra Ursuta, Yeesokyung, and Andrea Zittel. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ @JenGuidi, ‘Ace of Wands (Painted Universe Mandala SF #2H, White, Multicolour Ground)’, sand, acrylic and oil on linen ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #jenniferguidi #massimodecarlogallery #artbaselOVR #artbasel

A post shared by Art Basel (@artbasel) on Jun 17, 2020 at 3:36pm PDT

Plunging Revenue

Some galleries that recently reopened are using their spaces to exhibit works offered at Art Basel’s online viewing rooms. The stakes are high. Online platforms became a lifeline for galleries and auction houses during the lockdown. More than 150 U.S. galleries expect second-quarter revenue to plunge 73% from a year earlier, according to an Art Dealers Association of America survey.

Wealthy buyers snapped up works by emerging talents during the lockdown, asking for discounts of as much as 30%, according to dealers and advisers. But pieces above $5 million were a much harder sell because collectors usually want to see them in the flesh.

“Do you think anyone will buy an $8 million painting online?” Van de Weghe said. “I don’t. You need to see the presence of it.”

Art Basel will test this notion.

David Zwirner gallery is offering a new sculpture by Jeff Koons, “Balloon Venus Lespugue (Red),” for $8 million in its online viewing room only. Skarstedt gallery will offer a Willem de Kooning painting for $8.5 million online and at its new East Hampton branch.

In London, Richard Nagy hung works by Kees van Dongen, Egon Schiele and Henri Matisse at his gallery’s reopening on Monday. They’ll be featured on Art Basel’s website, with prices as high as $5 million.

Rival Fair

Applicat-Prazan, a Paris gallery focusing on postwar French art, installed six paintings in its Left Bank showroom, which reopened last month. Titled “Online NOT Only!” the presentation includes works by Pierre Soulages, Serge Poliakoff and Zao Wou-Ki. Clients received an email with a catalogue and video.

“What’s important for them is to know that we are not just putting ‘stuff’ online,” said owner Franck Prazan.

That approach didn’t work in March, when the gallery uploaded images of available works during Art Basel Hong Kong, Prazan said. None sold. Curating a real-life exhibition has already made a difference. A client bought an abstract 1956 canvas by Poliakoff, priced at 780,000 euros ($876,000) and another work by Karel Appel priced at 480,000 euros.

In Berlin, Johann Koenig went a step further, launching a separate art fair at his gallery in the former St. Agnes church.

Titled “The Messe in St. Agnes,” the event features about 300 pieces. They include his Art Basel presentation as well as works consigned by other galleries, collectors and artists without gallery representation. By the second day, red dots appeared beside many of the offerings.

More than 1.5 million euros of art sold, Koenig said.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

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