June 14, 2006

Rare Picassos big draw at Swiss art show

By Robert Evans

BASEL, Switzerland (Reuters) - Rare works by painter Pablo
Picasso were a top draw for collectors and investors at the art
world's biggest annual fair of modern and contemporary works
which opened to the public on Wednesday.

Officials of the show, Art Basel, said buyers were
purchasing canvases by Chinese and Japanese painters, as well
as big-scale "project" works including a mirror maze with
drills and a silver airport luggage carousel.

"Given the prices Picasso is fetching on the market, it is
not surprising that a range of his works hardly seen before are
here this year," said London gallery owner and Art Basel
exhibitor Thomas Gibson.

At least one -- a 1969 "Man with a Pipe" -- by the Spanish
artist has never before been on public display, while others
have never been on the open market or even reproduced in books
of his work.

The four-day Art Basel, now in its 37th year, is often
dubbed the "El Dorado" of the art business and there is fierce
competition among galleries -- and artists -- to be selected to
set up shop there.

This year 297 commercial galleries -- ranging from one from
China and three from Brazil to 56 from Germany and 68 from the
United States -- were chosen by the show's expert jury to take
part, out of over 800 applicants.

After a special viewing for professionals and invited
guests on Tuesday, officials said one of the Picasso's --
"Reclining Nude" from 1971 -- priced at $12 million by a Zurich
gallery, had been reserved by a French agent.


A huge acrylic canvas from the studio of Japanese artist
Takashi Murakami, completed only two weeks before the fair and
with a tag of $1.5 million, also sold quickly. But no final
selling price was revealed.

Across the city's Exhibition Square, annex show Art
Unlimited, was doing good business, including the sale of
Paris-based Kadar Attia's maze-and-drill installation,
Infinities 2006, to an unidentified U.S. collector.

Also attracting potential buyers in the hall was a vast
canvas on the human rights theme created in three parts in 1998
by U.S. artist James Rosenquist.

Experts say Art Basel -- which in 2002 launched an
Americas-based sister fair Art Basel Miami Beach now held
annually in December in the Florida resort -- is increasingly
the scene of art investment activity.

Swiss global banking giant UBS, which sponsors the Basel
show, has had its own Art Banking department since 1998,
offering advice to wealthy clients on buying and selling and
structuring their art portfolio.