Basel's Big Sales

The Gerhard Richter painting we showed you on Wednesday -- with an asking price of $20 million -- led sales at the world’s biggest fair of modern and contemporary art.

Savvy art collectors of Art Kabinett social network are providing continuous updates on all the excitement at Art 43 Basel.

The New York-based collector Alberto Mugrabi and U.K. artist Tracey Emin joined other well-known faces at the UBS- sponsored Art Basel in Switzerland, now in its 43rd edition, with 300 galleries from 36 countries.

Richter’s huge 1986 red, blue and yellow abstract “A.B. Courbet” was sold by Pace Gallery of New York on behalf of an unidentified collector. The dealership’s staff members confirmed the transaction, saying the buyer was a U.S. based collector. They would not announce the final price.

The German artist is a darling at auctions, with a record $21.8 million paid at Christie’s International on May 8 for the 1993 painting “Abstraktes Bild (798-3).”

Richter’s average auction price in 2012 is $3.1 million, compared to $290,112 in 2009, although some of the works are not comparable in terms of size.

The 1954 Mark Rothko abstract from a Swiss collection, shown above and featuring a block of orange above a band of pale pink, is still unsold priced at $78 million at London-based Marlborough Fine Art.

The price is set just below the record $86.9 million achieved for a 1961 abstract at Christie’s in New York, also on May 8.

“Negotiations are still cooking,” Marlborough’s director Gilbert Lloyd said in an interview. South American and Russian clients were interested in the work, he said.

“It’s quite classical and safe this year,” the Brussels- based art adviser Henry Bounameaux said in an interview. “I’m seeing a lot of familiar names. It must reflect what is going on in the economy. No one knows what is going to happen, and yet the art market still goes on.”

The diamond dust-encrusted 1981 Andy Warhol painting “Joseph Beuys” was among the first day’s sales. This had been marked at about $10 million on the booth of the New York dealer Acquavella. It was also purchased by a U.S.-based collector.

Damien Hirst’s 2006 sculpture “Stripper,” a vitrine containing hundreds of surgical instruments, was also available, priced at £3.75 million in the booth of White Cube. The London-based dealership had sold several other works, including Mark Bradford’s 2012 mixed-media painting, “Witch in a Bottle,” for $550,000.

Art Basel is a critical fair for curators, advisers and collectors in an increasingly crowded calendar.

In fact, this year's preview was extended to two days -- with VIP's showing up in the midst of a summer downpour -- to meet growing demand from established collectors and new buyers looking to art as an alternative to turbulent financial markets.