In the meeting point between the borders of Switzerland, France and Germany, the city of Basel has been historically a strategic location for commerce and culture. Today it also ranks as one of the main art hubs in the world, and ArtBasel has played a major role in this accomplishment. It first took place in 1970, founded by gallerists Ernst Beyeler, Trudi Bruckner and Balz Hilt, who assembled 90 galleries from 10 countries for that first event. The initial show attracted around 16,000 visitors. Fast forward to last year when the show welcomed 65,000 visitors over five days and counted more than 300 galleries from 38 countries and the work of over 40,000 artists. The show gathered such momentum that what happens in Basel didn’t stay in Basel, and it has now spilled over to two spin-off events in America and the Far East. ArtBasel Miami was held for the first time in 2002 and immediately became the must-go art show in the US, and ArtBasel Hong Kong launched for the first time this year to rave reviews.
The show is organized into different segments in order to better take in the sheer volume of work on display. Galleries is the anchor, with a selection of the world’s leading galleries of Modern and Contemporary art. They each have a booth and present 20th and 21st century artworks. As you stroll through this maze of wonders your eye skips from Bacon to Warhol to Haring and is suprised by the work of artists that you may had never heard of before. Almost the entirety of work on display is available for purchase although the big ticket items are usually already spoken for during the preview day, even before the show is open to the public, a day on which private collectors and celebrities jet in and out to scoop up works that are either new and exciting or are a unique piece that had previously been held in private collections and has briefly resurfaced on the market as Magritte’s painting “Un peu de l’ame des bandits”, reported by Bloomberg.com to be offered at $12.5 million or Picasso’s drawing “Man Smoking a Pipe” at $4 to $5 million.
If you are starting your art collection, this is a great show to attend because of the many different styles and media but also because of the range of prices. The gallery will arrange for specialized shipping of your piece, but it you can’t wait and your choice is portable enough, you can cash and carry right there. In fact, it is not unusual to see people leaving the show with a parcel under their arm and a big smile on their faces.
The Statements section presents new solo projects by young, emerging artists which gives this show that particular energy of the established ushering in the new. Unlimited is a huge space that just got even bigger with the addition of an extension to Hall 1, is devoted to projects that by their nature are not usually seen in a traditional gallery setting, such as outsized sculpture, video, large installations and live performances. There are multiple other interesting areas for books, film, and Parcours, a collection of works installed in public places to bring the exhibition out of the halls and onto the streets of Basel.
The show has developed a force field that has by far transcended the boundaries of its halls. In fact the satellite events such as Liste, Volta and Scope, to name the main ones, create as much of a buzz as the core event. Obviously too much to see in a day, even a whole week would seem too short when you have this much quality and quantity in one place at the same time.
Tip: Although it is a place to see and be seen and you’ll want to look your best, remember to wear comfortable shoes. You’ll see what I mean when you get there. The place is vast.
Messe Basel, Switzerland (on the border with France and Germany)
ArtBasel Future Dates
Miami Beach 2013, December 5–8
Hong Kong 2014, May 15–18
Basel 2014, June 19–22