The Most Staggering Sales at Art Basel 2011

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Art Basel, the most legendary, prestigious art fair in the world — which this year featured $1.8 billion in art — closed with a spectacular bang Sunday. Galleries boasted of epic sales, Gagosian selling $45 million worth of art within the first 45 minutes of the fair, and works by artists like Mark Rothko, Maurizio Cattelan, Anish Kapoor, and Bridget Riley fetching well over $2 million. Bloomberg declared that the art the market was officially back to, if not above, “peak of the boom” 2007-2008 levels and Forbes called the fair a feeding frenzy, reporting that billionaires and celebrities were sweeping up artworks at world-record prices. If the soaring sales at Basel serve as any sort of economic barometer, it’s clear that the disparity between the rich and the poor is graver than ever. The following list chronicles ten of the most mind-boggling sales at Basel this year.

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol’s screen-printed canvas One Hundred and Fifty Black/White/Grey Marilyns, was priced at whopping $80 million. Bloomberg reports that minutes after the fair opened, the iconic painting was put on reserve by a European collector. After seeing the quick interest in the work, the seller’s family changed their mind, decided not to sell the painting after all, and officially withdrew it from the fair.

Not all of Warhol’s work was priced so high. Thirteen 1964 Warhol screenprinted boxes of Campbell’s Tomato Juice were marked at economical $1.1 million each. All 13 works were snapped up within the first few hours of the fair.

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon, Three Studies of the Human Body, 1970. Photo courtesy of The Curated Object

Several works by Francis Bacon, the UK artist famous for his shattering psychological paintings that feature mutated faces swirling in gusts of paint, were also on sale. Bloomberg reports that prices of several works were undisclosed but rumored to be well over $20 million. The price of his 1970 triptych Three Studies of the Human Body, was public, and marked at $60 million.

Maurizio Cattelan

Maurizio Cattelan, Frankie and Jamie, 2002. Photo courtesy of Colectiva

Maurizio Cattelan, touted by the BBC as “the court jester of the art world and the cartoonist of Conceptualism,” is famous for using irony to scathingly critique systems of power and government. His 2002 Frankie and Jamie, a wax sculpture of two policeman standing on their heads, sold for $3 million.

Louise Bourgeois

An installation view of Louise Bourgeois’ sculptures outside the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art in Hannam. Image includes Eye Benches, 1996-97 and Maman, 1997.

The late Louise Bourgeois, a fiercely feminist artist known for her formidable, often sensually grotesque work — colossal sculptures of spiders and tangled bodies — has been hugely influential on the current generation of artists (and collectors as well). Her 2001 Eye, a massive peeled eyeball with eerily vacant pupils, sold for $2 million.

Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter, Kleine Strasse, 1987. Photo courtesy of Christies

Kleine Strasse — a photo-based image of a desolate country road winding into a vacant landscape of trees and meadow, topped by a murky gray sky — by Gerhard Richter, dated 1987, fetched nearly $8 million. The painting last sold for $4.5 million.

Yves Klein

Yves Klein, IKB 162, 1952

Klein’s eye-scorching, pitch-blue canvas, IKB 162, 1952, sold for $3.5 million. Galleries and collectors have reported an increased demand in modern painters, Business World Online noting that “In times of low interest rates, many investors seek to diversify their portfolios, and masterpieces by 20th-century artists like Picasso and Miro.” The French artist is no exception.

David Smith

David Smith, Vertical Pistol Structure, 1952. Photo courtesy of ArtInfo.com

David Smith’s 1952, Vertical Pistol Structure, a brash steel sculpture that merges phallic motifs with guns, fetched just under its $6 million sticker price.

Mark Rothko

Rothko in front of one of his massive canvases. Photo courtesy of art-wallpaper.org

A 1969 orange Rothko in oils on paper mounted on canvas sold for $5.5 million. Perhaps one of the most famous painters of the later 20th century, we’re likely to see the abstract expressionist’s spiritually seductive works rise following this sale.

Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley, Streak 2, 1979. Photo courtesy of Art News Worldwide

Bridget Riley’s dizzying works secured the Op-Art movement — art that makes use of optical illusions — within the contemporary art canon. His 1979 Streak 2 fetched approximately $3 million.

Paul McCarthy

Paul McCarthy, White Snow Dwarf 7, 2010—2011. Photo courtesy of Artinfo.com

The Los Angeles-based artist, famous for his bulging, cartoonish statues of pigs and people often entwined in vulgar-looking orgies, sold his White Snow Dwarf 7 for nearly $3 million.