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Roman Abramovich’s partner Dasha Zhukova, model Naomi Campbell and actor Will Ferrell were among VIPs yesterday at the world’s largest fair of modern and contemporary art in Switzerland, which opened with a spending spree on works such as a $5.5 million Mark Rothko abstract.

Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, daughter of the emir of Qatar, and the U.S. collectors Eli Broad and Don and Mera Rubell were also at the 42rd Art Basel’s packed preview. Exhibitors were reminded of free-spending fairs before the 2008 financial crisis cut prices and demand.

The event features works by more than 2,500 artists valued at more than $1.75 billion, shown by 300 galleries from 35 countries. In its first hours, both experienced and new wealthy buyers were looking for alternative forms of investment to counter concerns about low interest rates, stock prices and weak economic growth.

“This year’s Art Basel reminds me of the boom,” said Philip Hoffman, chief executive of the London-based Fine Art Fund, which sold four pieces priced at more than 5 million pounds ($8.2 million) through exhibiting dealers. “Wealthy people are looking to art as a hedge against recession. And they’re being better advised than they were in 2007. Then I saw some idiots buying anything.”

The Rothko, a 1969 orange work in oils on paper mounted on canvas offered by New York-based L & M Arts, was one of the early confirmed sales of more than $5 million. The fair is bristling with substantially priced works by major-name 20th- century artists.

Euro Prices

“Some of the prices are a little high, but the euro is strong against the dollar,” the New York-based collector Alberto Mugrabi said in an interview. “The quality is good this year, and things are moving.”

The Swiss dealer Galerie Bruno Bischofberger presented the 1980 Andy Warhol screen printed canvas “Onehundredandfifty Black/ White/ Grey Marilyns,” measuring 33 feet (10 meters) wide and priced at $80 million. It attracted a reserve from a European collector during the fair’s opening minutes. The reserve was lifted a few hours later when the seller’s family decided to withdraw it, according to the gallery director, Tobias Mueller.

“There’s a lot of good stuff here,” said the New York- based art adviser and dealer Cristin Tierney. “The secondary market for blue-chip works has been healthy. The collectors you want to see are here, and they’re buying. People are particularly looking at works from the 1960s and 1970s.”

Warhol, Hirst

The Zurich dealer Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG presented a striking silver-walled booth exclusively devoted to Warhol and Damien Hirst. The centerpiece was a row of 13 Warhol screen- printed boxes of Campbell’s Tomato Juice, dating from 1964 and sourced from private collections. Priced at $1.1 million each, two found buyers during the first few hours of the fair.

“It’s like 2007 again in some ways,” said Alex Logsdail, associate director of the Lisson Gallery, who had sold 15 pieces within the first four hours. “People have more time to make decisions than then, though they did have to hurry today.”

Lisson sold a black wall sculpture by Anish Kapoor for 550,000 pounds and a stereogram by Haroon Mirza -- who won the Silver Lion for the most promising young artist at this year’s Venice Biennale -- for 16,000 pounds.

“The rich are getting richer,” said Wendy Goldsmith, a London-based art adviser. “They come off the plane and want to buy. People who sell privately to dealers are asking high prices, yet most of the things I asked about had already been sold.”

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Wednesday, 11 May 2011 00:54

Art Basel makes move into Asia

In a move that could boost South Florida’s reach in the international art world, the company that owns Art Basel Miami Beach announced Friday it is expanding into Asia.

Soon, there will not only be Art Basel Switzerland and Art Basel Miami Beach, but also Art Basel Hong Kong — an addition that was welcomed warmly in Miami’s art scene.

MCH Swiss Exhibition (Basel) Ltd., which owns and organizes the Basel fairs, has signed a purchase agreement with Asian Art Fairs Ltd, the owners of ART HK – Hong Kong International Art Fair, the leading art fair in Asia since 2008.

The MCH Group will take a majority ownership stake in Asian Art Fairs Ltd. as of July 1. But the name change will wait awhile.

The Hong Kong show will retain its current name for 2012, but will move from its current late-May time slot to early February, staggering the show between Art Basel’s June fair in Switzerland and its December show in Miami Beach.

In future years, organizers plan to rebrand the Asian show with the Art Basel name. The Basel Switzerland show, dubbed “Basel, Basel” by locals, is considered the largest and most prestigious contemporary art fair in the world.

In an interview with The Miami Herald, co-directors Annette Schönholzer and Marc Spiegler stressed that the Basel presence in Hong Kong was an expansion and that Art Basel planned to stay in Miami Beach, which will be in its 10th year in December.

“We are totally committed to Art Basel Miami Beach,” Schönholzer said. “If anything, we are hoping that the Art Basel brand would strengthen and that we would see more people coming to Miami Beach to see the fair.”

Art Basel organizers have been attentive to the exploding Asian art market for more than 10 years, and have been engaging Asian collectors, galleries and artists, often times bringing them to Art Basel Miami Beach with success.

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