Todd Levin, hedge fund manager Adam Sender’s art curator, did most of his shopping before going to Art Basel, where previews began on Tuesday.
“We don’t buy much at the fair,” said Levin, who oversees the $100 million Sender Collection from New York. “Art fairs have morphed into a ‘fairorama’ and consumer paradise or hell that is not conducive to spending time to investigate a work.”
The Swiss fair’s organizers expect 56,000 people to spend $500 million at 300 dealers, including Larry Gagosian and Doris Ammann, through 17 June. Sender bought new works by John Baldessari, Jeff Wall, Alighiero e Boetti, Sterling Ruby, the Tobias Brothers and Andro Wekua from galleries in advance of the event, Levin said. Another hedge-fund manager said he reserved five works at the fair.
Hedge fund managers are reshaping the art market, often working through advisers. They’re also caught in a wave of buying by new billionaires from Russia and Asia.
“Some of the hedge funds are changing or driving the market,” said Sam Keller, Art Basel’s director. “But they aren’t the whole market.”
Sender, who runs Exis Capital Management Inc., has bought 800 works since 1998, when Levin, 46, joined him. Based on current prices for his artists, including Damien Hirst, the art is worth more now than in March, when Sender, 38, valued it at “more than $100 million,” though he wouldn’t give a new estimate.
Daniel Loeb, David Ganek, Steven Cohen and Sender are all big collectors, said Tobias Meyer, worldwide head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s. Cohen made $900 million last year, according to Alpha magazine, and buys some of the most expensive works.
As many as 8,000 VIP collectors, museum curators and art professionals are expected at the Messe Basel on Tuesday. Art consultant Sandy Heller, who advises hedge-fund managers and real-estate entrepreneurs, will be there. “It’s the one fair I would never miss,” Heller said.
On the stands will be works by artists such as Luc Tuymans, Baldessari, Jim Lambie and Francis Alys, though collectors entering the fair “may find these works already on hold,” Levin said. Young artists whose pieces may be hard to find include Wangechi Mutu and Banks Violette, according to Levin’s research.
Ed Ruscha and Cy Twombly both are advertised by 12 dealers on Art Basel’s website. Elizabeth Peyton is represented by six galleries and Urs Fischer by five. Andy Warhol, whose car-crash picture sold for more than $70 million at auction in May, is listed by 30 dealers.
Twenty-five years ago, contemporary art dealers convened at one or two big fairs annually in Basel and Chicago, Levin said. Now, they may go to 12 events a year in cities including London, Miami, Moscow and Dubai. They don’t have enough good works, and they tend to peddle flashier art that doesn’t have to be explained, he said.
“There’s been a proliferation of ‘art fair art’ produced specifically for art fairs,” said Levin, who previously worked for Sotheby’s and as an independent curator. “It has a certain kind of wall power and can be digested and consumed very quickly.”
Tuesday’s opening isn’t what he’s going for, he said.
“When things calm down later, I’ll have a chance to see all these galleries. We’ll have lunch or coffee or time in the booth. They can show me some young artists, or talk about exhibitions they’re planning.” Levin will be mostly “just looking”—notably at Galerie Michael Janssen’s Tobias Brothers installation.
“One also goes hoping for those ‘wow’ experiences where one will encounter a true masterpiece by Picasso or Fontana or Warhol,” Levin said.
Last year, Sender sold at auction 30 items by artists including Richard Prince, Tom Friedman and Andreas Gursky, making a six-fold profit in five years, he said.
“The way prices have appreciated, it’s foolish not to expect a correction,” Sender said in March. His art has a virtual museum at www.sendercollection.com.
Zurich-based UBS AG, Europe’s biggest bank by assets, is Art Basel’s main backer. Robert Gober’s show at the Schaulager, a private Basel museum, is a must-see, collectors said.