Art Basel special: focus on the Unlimited section


Every other Friday Artprice posts an auction ranking highlighting the Art Market’s major trends. This week – dedicated to Art Basel – Artprice looks at the 10 most expensive artists in Basel Art Fair’s ‘Unlimited’ sector.

Art Basel (13-16 June 2019), the world’s most prestigious Contemporary art fair, is currently in full swing, attracting tens of thousands of visitors every day. Besides the fair’s standard booths, there is the Unlimited sector designed to host monumental works. Since its inception in 2000, Unlimited is an unmissable feature of the show whose popularity exploded with Instagram. The enormous space offers a wide range of works, including sculptures, paintings, video projections, installations and live shows. This year it boasts some 75 large-scale works curated by 49 year-old Gianni Jetzer, curator at the Hirshhorn Museum and the Sculpture Garden in Washington DC.

Famous and emerging…

Unlimited focuses primarily on Contemporary art with more than 80% of the works created by artists who are still alive and active. Nevertheless, today’s Artprice ranking – based on the personal auction records of each artist reveals several artists in the Unlimited section who are no longer with us today: Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004), Jannis Kounellis (1936- 2017) and Steven Parrino (1958-2004) are among the Top 10. This ranking effectively represents a Contemporary art elite, long appreciated by the Art Market, whose best works can fetch millions of dollars (Fontana’s auction record of $29 million was set in 2015). The other artists in this ranking are Kerry James Marshall, Antony Gormley, Paul Mccarthy, Giuseppe Penone, Ugo Rondinone, Ellen Gallagher… and they are all over 50 with superb CVs, all supported by powerful galleries and all highly sought-after on the secondary market.

The Unlimited sector also shows off works by a new generation of artists in their thirties, with the American Jacolby Satterwhite, the Russian Vajiko Chachkhiani (presented at the 57th Venice Biennale) and the Brazilian Jonathas De Andrade. The youngest artist in the section is Bunny Rogers, presented by Société gallery. A New York artist and poet born in 1990, she is showing a new series of 15 computer-generated self-portraits (each 2 metres high) highlighting ambivalent reactions to the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. A first generation “Internet addict”, Bunny Rogers’ work has not yet hit the secondary market, but she has already pierced the ‘art world’ with exhibitions at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, Paris’s Museum of Modern Art and the Louis Vuitton Foundation, Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof and the Marciano Foundation in Los Angeles. She is the only artist under 30 in the Unlimited sector.



Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Lucio FONTANA (1899-1968) 29 173 000 Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio 2015-11-10 Christie’s New York
2 Kerry James MARSHALL (1955) 21 114 500 Past Times
2018-05-16 Sotheby’s New York
3 Tom WESSELMANN (1931-2004) 10 681 000 Great American Nude No.48 2008-05-14 Sotheby’s New York
4 Antony GORMLEY (1950) 6 911 977 A Case for an Angel I
2017-10-06 Christie’s London
5 Paul MCCARTHY (1945) 4 562 500 Tomato Head (Green) 2011-11-08 Christie’s New York
6 Jannis KOUNELLIS (1936-2017) 2 064 821 Untitled 2014-02-11 Christie’s London
7 Giuseppe PENONE (1947) 1 325 000 Idee di pietra 2015-05-13 Phillips New York
8 Ugo RONDINONE (1964) 1 131 000 A Day Like This.Made of Nothing and Nothing Else 2018-11-15 Sotheby’s New York
9 Ellen GALLAGHER (1965) 987 750 DeLuxe 2013-05-16 Christie’s New York
10 Steven PARRINO (1958-2004) 963 203 Purple Monster Shifter 2015-11-10 Christie’s New York
copyright © 2019


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The exhibition of certain works represents a real challenge. This was the case in 2014 for Hanne Darboven The Children of the World (1990-96), an installation consisting of books, toys and more than 2,000 musical scores spread over 500 square meters. Such installations are sure to stand out, but the cost of setting them up is commensurate with the scale of the works… i.e. very big. Nevertheless, the galleries expect an economic return, even on works that are not made to fit into living rooms (or standard art fair booths for that matter).

Selling the works (and/or installations) is still of course one of the primary objectives, and to judge by its longevity (Unlimited has been a permanent feature since 2000) and the recurring presence of its gallery participants, the Unlimited sector satisfies that requirement as well. Gallery owner Peter Freeman claims to have participated in the Unlimited platform a dozen times and to have sold works to museums and private foundations, including a 30-metre painting by Mel Bochner purchased by the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim and a work measuring approximately 18 metres by Robert Rauschenberg acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum. Last year, Thaddaeus Ropac and Metro Pictures galleries teamed up to present an exceptional work by Robert Longo: Death Star II, a giant sphere covered with 40,000 bullets, created in response to the proliferation of mass shootings in the United States. The work was apparently sold for $1.5 million to the German Schauwerk Foundation (Sindelfingen). The gallerists committed to donating 20% of the net proceeds to the American nonprofit organization Everytown for Gun Safety (with a ceiling of $250,000).

Museums and foundations play a fundamental role in the success of Unlimited and the context seems favorable with lots of major museums having opened around the world in recent years. In addition, major collectors have invested huge amounts in the refurbishment of large spaces, often former industrial buildings, in order to be able to accommodate giant or extremely heavy artworks.