Surviving Art Basel: A guide for beginners


If you hadn’t noticed yet, last weekend from June 15th until 18th Switzerland was opening its doors to strangers from all over the world. Is my native country improving its immigration policies? No, it was the 48th edition of Art Basel, one of the leading fairs for modern and contemporary art in the world.

So, let’s get our facts straight:

Art Basel was founded by Swiss gallerists Ernest Beyeler, Trudi Bruckner and Balz Hilt in the 70s and takes its name from its place of origin; Basel, a ravishing little town set at the borders between Switzerland and Germany.

Alexander and Bonin © Courtesy Art Basel
Fondation Beyeler © Courtesy Art Basel

The show, recorded from the beginning as a great success, became in few years the Mecca for Modern and Contemporary art, being at the forefront of the best and newest artists and galleries as well as expanding internationally with shows in Miami Beach and Hong Kong. “La crème de la crème” in other words!

The fair is organised over 3 full days and offers a variety of events such as talks, films, performances, photography, but the actual core of Art Basel are the galleries, counting up to 291 spaces and featuring the artworks of more than 4,000 artists.

If you had as little time as I did to enjoy this wonderful concentration of culture and art, let’s say that you will probably get out looking like one of Picasso’s paintings (mine was probably similar to “La Femme qui Pleure” (1937)).

Anthony Meier Fine Arts © Courtesy Art Basel
Cheim and Read © Courtesy Art Basel
Campoli Presti © Courtesy Art Basel

Getting to my personal experience:

Was it… a cultural marathon? A safari into a jungle of hysterical people and incredibly expensive masterpieces? A Modern & Contemporary Odyssey?

Ok, now I’m being dramatic. But one thing is sure: at the end of the day, there will only be your phone’s picture gallery to make you remember what you’ve actually seen.

I decided to make my creative excursion on Saturday. Feeling like Dora the explorer with my backpack and map, my partner in crime and I entered smoothly in the establishment. I opened the map – immediately felt overwhelmed by the over 200 galleries exhibiting on two floors and a second hall called Unlimited curated by Gianni Jetzer.

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After one hour lingering and critically commenting the stunning selection of artworks and galleries, we gave a second look to the map. Realising that we still had more than half of the first floor to visit. It was time to bring out our swiss efficiency and come out with a proper strategy.

Gagosian © Courtesy Art Basel
Hauser and Wirth © Courtesy Art Basel
Casey Kaplan © Courtesy Art Basel

We ended up finishing the first floor, with a special stop at some galleries such Hauser & Wirth, Gagosian, Carzaniga and White Cube. Despite the heat and the horde of people, I was feeling rejuvenated.

Before hitting the second floor, we explored the interior court, where a happy crowd was having a snack break. What you should know is that at Art Basel not only the artworks have skyrocketing prices; here a vulgar box of thai noodles, normally costing between 3 to 6 Euros maximum, was sold at more than 20 Swiss Francs (more or less 20 Euros). Mini heart attack!

© Courtesy Art Basel
Unlimited, 47 Canal, Metro Pictures, Anicka Yi © Courtesy Art Basel
Unlimited, The Box, Stan VanDerBeek © Courtesy Art Basel

Overall, I had a positive impression even if at the end I couldn’t even remember my name.

The galleries part was the definitely the highlight of the day. Regarding Unlimited, what striked me the most were two: a Multimedia installation from Stan VanDerBeek named Movie Mural (1965), which I would describe as a kind of psychedelic dream. J’adore! And APEX (2013), a 8min long sequence of imagery by Arthur Jafa representing what the artists calls “black potention”. The film subjugated me. It was so disturbing and shocking, but at the same time so captivating and real.

Source: Surviving Art Basel: A guide for beginners – Artconnect Blog & Shop