The 44th edition of Art Basel took place in Switzerland the 19th -22nd June this year. As always, upon arrival at the airport, and as you travel through Basel towards the Messeplatz, you are struck by how well organized this event is and, that how the locals, with their neat infrastructure, appear to get behind this event like they might a home friendly game of Basel FC.
Art Basel was a success this year as you get exactly what you expect to from undoubtedly the World’s smartest, art shopping mall, showcasing artwork from over 300 galleries. If you are in town intending to own a piece of art history, old or new, you will not be left disappointed. The usual suspects in terms of artists were all on display, despite the notable absence of several longstanding galleries from the host city itself.
The exhibition hall, which greets you and houses the main fair, seems more than fit for purpose and this year’s trip was certainly tinged with a slight sadness that it will soon be knocked down to make way for a new architectural monument.
Security is tight and run by a team of female security guards who politely search all bags as you enter the fair and the welcoming staff, manning the event, more than make up for the ever baffling, but obviously standard, lack of basic welcomes offered by many of the galleries housed within.
Those seeking to own a Bridget Riley, Damian Hirst or Anish Kapoor, who judging by their prominence on several stands are in high demand, would not have been left disappointed. And, although it seems inappropriate to show too great a level of excitement outwardly as you browse, our ability to enjoy up close and personal works by Auerbach, Basquiat, Giacometti and Balthus was a privilege.
The need to present controversial or conceptual art was muted and the presence of own able art, ready to take home and hang (on walls, very large walls), was notable.
OVERHEARD AT THE FAIR:
1) ‘She wants to buy a Picasso but, it’s only $2.5 million. It’s not expensive enough. I mean it must be a fake or something?’
2) ‘Oh darling I love that! Wouldn’t it look perfect next to our donkey’
3) ‘The Basquiat? It’s £350,000’
Basel has always been a place to be seen but, in an understated, incredibly stylishly groomed, Swiss way. This year, a notable increase in visitors, who may have thought they were in Miami as opposed to Basel, were present and somewhat out of place. Although a large dose of ‘performance’ was present in these attention seekers, traditional ‘Performance artists’ also flocked to Basel to take advantage of the increased arty activity and publicity opportunities.
Nudity is not an unusual occurrence, after all we are in Europe, and as the woman sat in front of us on the plane watching her borderline pornographic ‘art film’ on her Mac, to the considerable discomfort of the non European passenger seated next to her, proved.
However, this year the Swiss artist Milo Moiré’s (apart from her art glasses and painted words where clothes would have been expected) walk through the city to Art Basel on Thursday caused an unusual stir making the front page of the local newspaper on Friday. Upon reaching the fair after a tram ride, and attempting to gain entrance, Milo was respectfully told, as only the Swiss could, that as she was technically ‘presenting as a piece of art’ she could not gain admittance to the building as all artwork goes through a strict vetting process that commences months before the fair opens. The ‘walk of shame’ now takes on a newly art contextualized meaning.
Overall, the 2014 Art Basel had a renewed buzz to it compared to the past few years. Deals had already been done with much work enquired about having been sold in the preceding days. Whereas two years ago we had witnessed gallerists happy to have any sales enquiry from visitors, even if it was for their bookcase, we sensed that this year’s exhibitors would be leaving with less art than they arrived with but, all their stand furniture on Sunday.
Our Top Three Stands at Basel 2014:
1) ShangART, one of only 3 Chinese exhibitors this year
2) For East London representation: Wilkinson Gallery who presented Dara Birnbaum’s video installation work, (A)Drift of Politics, 1978
3) For pure, unadulterated ‘real’ art: Landau Fine Art – by far the busiest stand at the fair
Three Things to Expect When You are at Art Basel:
1) You have to ask the price (If you dare) – £, $ or € signs are in short supply here on info tags
2) See a veritable bevvy of intentionally nonchalant, gallery assistants working for linen suited, heavy black rimmed glasses wearing, middle distance staring, gallerists
3) To leave with a sense that Art will always have a place in the world
Three Things to Do Whilst At Art Basel:
1) Enjoy the opportunity to see enormous installation art en masse in the cleverly curated Unlimited section of the fair (Curated this year by Gianni Jetzer)
2) Visit the ever beautifully presented Beyeler Foundation stand
3) Take copious selphies in front of artwork
Three Things to do Next Year:
1) Set aside a whole day to visit the satellite fairs – especially Volta
2) Convince a gallerist, any gallerist, to crack a smile
3) Spend more time in the UBS VIP lounge