What Makes This Art Fair So Special
Art Basel has been dubbed the Olympic Games of modern artistic commerce: it’s the biggest contemporary art fair in the world, offers the chance to see an array of post-1900 artworks that would put virtually any gallery in the world to shame, attracts almost 100’000 paying visitors in 6 days (but mind you: the elite has already seen everything in the VIP preview days), and is famous for its record sales.
It is the intricate, courtly dance of a thousand discreet business deals that makes the event so gripping, writes journalist Tom Horan. Indeed, if you visit on a normal day, gallerists are for the most part so busy to talk to buyers, that they hardly look at people who only went to visit.
With more than 4’000 artworks from allover the world, massive sculpture and paintings, large-scale installations, video projections and live performances in the Unlimited section, Art Basel is almost impossible to summarise. Just imagine you walk into a big, hip museum – but everything is on sale.
Hyper-efficient Swiss system, tight security to enter and exit, perfect organisation. But people come and go, browse while watching their phones or dragging their bags along…and risk to damage the precious paintings, that are exposed without any protection. When a piece of art costs a 7 digits figure, staff is often nervous about tourists and people like me, who simply came to watch (and not to buy) – this is another characteristic or Art Basel.
You See This Booth? It’s All Sold
You see all this? It’s all gone the first day! Said our guide. And there are many more galleries who have already sold most of their pieces.
How To Buy Without Money
Another story I greatly enjoyed was about artist Georges Vantongerloo. He has never been featured by Art Basel before, and this year, for the first time, one of his paintings (Fonction de Lignes – Noir Rouge, 1936) can be seen – and bought (probably for a 7 digits sum) – at the fair.
Vantongerloo lived very simply and always refused to sell his paintings. When collectors would try to buy, he would answer that he already had enough to live. Finally a collector asked him if he at least had a wish. Vantongerloo answered that he had always wanted to see the Northern Lights. The collector arranged a taxi to pick him up, chaffeur him to the airport, go and watch the Norhtern lights for as long as he wanted, and then bring him back home. Back to his studio, the painter agreed to sell one painting.
It’s impossible to show the best works of art at the fair – they are far too many. Here is a small example, and if you happen to have time do go to Basel: the fair it’s open until the weekend.