It’s no secret that exhibiting at Art Basel is expensive, but for the galleries presenting at Art Basel Unlimited, where larger pieces are shown, the costs are truly astronomical. According to Mary Sabbatino of Galerie Lelong & Co., the fee to exhibit at Unlimited lies somewhere between $18,000 and $20,000. However, this does not account for additional fees and costs associated with bringing and installing the work at Basel.
The fee for Unlimited comes at an additional cost to the normal booth fee that galleries pay, which reportedly ranges from $12,000 for a small space for young galleries, to as much as $100,000 for a mega-sized space for a blue-chip, with choice of location. In total, galleries can spend as much as $400,000 exhibiting at the fair, once you factor in lodging, dinners, parties, and promotion. Then there are the construction costs of building walls and reinforcing existing structures and the hiring of security guards to man the space.
Despite these colossal expenses however, galleries remain optimistic about the effort expended to bring their works to Art Basel, and some have even found clever ways to avoid these financial hurdles. To bring down costs, Dealer Susan Vielmetter, of the L.A.-based gallery Vielmetter, has artist Kennedy Yanko’s sculpture By means other than the known senses (2022), crafted in Europe rather than Brooklyn, where she is based.
However, considering that the Unlimited space was designed for large scale works, it follows that the gallerists that make the cut are usually those that can offer ambitious works and can afford to display them. It’s no surprise, for example, that heavy-hitting galleries and dealers such as David Zwirner, Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth are regular participants, often presenting several works at a time. Additionally, there is a kind of pride in pulling something like this off, a weight that carries, of course, into the main exhibiting floors of Art Basel.
The question of whether or not the cost is worth it can be answered by looking at the proportionally more astronomical prices paid for works sold at the Art Fair. This year, a giant steel spider by Louise Bourgeois sold for a price listed at $40 million at Art Basel in Switzerland marks the highest known price for the late artist, and the priciest sale reported during Art Basel’s bustling VIP preview.