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All-a-buzz in Basel
Basel was booming. The streets were crowded, the cafés and restaurants were packed, the ticket lines were long, the shuttles heading to other fairs were full, and the smiles were abundant all around...

Published on Monday, June 20th, 2011

After a hiatus of several years, if Basel were an indicator, it would seem that the art market is back in full swing.  Rumor has it that 300 private jets touched down at the Basel-Mulhouse airport at the beginning of the week, just in time for the VIP preview. Many of the jets came from China and Russia, others from various European cities. Very few came from the United States, due to the weakness of the dollar.

The buying was competitive as collectors elbowed their way to the prized pieces. By the time the fair opened to the public on Wednesday, the gallerists were exhausted and happy, having secured a return on their initial costs and, in most cases, making a hefty profit as well. Yet the buying was far from over. There was a steady flow of visitors throughout the week and over the weekend, and people were not just there to look, but to buy. One New York gallery said that, by Friday morning, they had already re-hung their entire stand three times as the works rapidly disappeared in the arms of new happy owners. 

With over 300 galleries from 35 countries, showing an estimated 1.25 billion Euros worth of art, the prices of the individual works varied. A photograph by the young German artist Philipp Goldbach, from his wonderful Blackboard series, was selling for €2,200 at the London gallery Annely Juda Fine Art; Rome’s Magazzino sold a large collage by Alessandro Piangiamore for €6,000; the German gallery Bochum was hoping to attract an institutional buyer for a sculpture by Lee Ufan (whose retrospective is opening at the Guggenheim in New York next week, boosting his prices considerably) consisting of a light bulb hanging in the middle of a circle of rocks at a hefty €300,000, early John Baldessari’s were going for €400,000 at Marian Goodman.  And of course there are always the art world classics that are guaranteed to sell high, such as Andy Warhol’s cartons of Campbell’s tomato juice that sold for 1.1 million dollars each. Most of the sales clocked in at under a million Euros, with only a couple rarities going over the 2 million mark.

Art Unlimited and Art Statements which occupies Hall 1 of Messe Basel and is dedicated to monumental installations and solo shows of emerging artists is a pleasant break from the frenzied marketplace of Hall 2, where the fair occupies a dense two floors. Of particular note was the installation by 26-year old Jacob Kassay, Untitled, consisting of eight all-silver paintings which magically reflect the light, shadow and colors of their surroundings. The installation was sold to an unnamed museum for an approximate $400,000, strategically keeping the young artist in the public eye and not behind the closed doors of a private collection, where most of his work is currently situated.

However, Art Basel is just the beginning. Surrounding the main fair is a plethora of satellite fairs, juried awards and institutional exhibitions, which are all an integral part of the Basel Art Week.  Art Basel is why people come and everything else is why they stay.

Many Art Basel visitors made their way down to Hall 5, where Design Miami/Basel was taking place, featuring 35 galleries, including Paris’ Patrick Seguin, Geneva’s mitterand+kramer and Zurich’s Dansk Møbelkunst Gallery. Frances Perkins, director of New York’s R 20th Century says, “collectors are increasingly interested in following the career of young designers and of constituting a design collection of rare and unique pieces.” Which, in the case of this gallery means tables, chairs and lamps costing anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000.


Across Messeplatz is the Swiss Art Awards, the oldest federal art contest in Switzerland, created in 1899, the contestants and winners - emerging Swiss artists and architects under the age of forty - are shown in a yearly exhibition always held during Art Basel. Usually a small gem of a show, this year proved to be extremely disappointing in the quality and presentation of the work. Several works stood above the rest: an abstract mural by Claudia Comte, a video starring fake terrorists by Seline Baumgartner, an installation by Rotterdam/Mendrisio and a series of paintings and drawings by Damiàn Navarro. Unfortunately, however, amateur video art, uselessly complicated installations and exaggerated gestural paintings made up the majority of the exhibition. Hopefully, this year’s Swiss Art Awards is not an indication of the current state of Swiss art.
From behind Hall 2, free shuttles leaving every seven minutes took visitors to Volta7, a smaller fair situated in two large halls of the Dreispizhalle. This year’s fair presented 71 galleries showing 165 artists in more intimate spaces. Many galleries presented solo or two-person shows, giving the viewer a more complete view of single artists’ work. 

Participants and organizers were pleased with the turnout, stating that attendance was slow but steady, sales were better than expected, and many known collectors made an appearance. Gallery owners were happy to spend time talking about the work on display, and a general convivial atmosphere prevailed. The prices, while certainly more affordable than Art Basel, were still not cheap for the first-time collector, ranging from €2,000 to €25,000, and averaging at about €5,000. 

Carlos Aires, a Spanish artist represented by the Barcelona gallery ADN, was chosen by the fair organizers to create the official Volta7 limited edition work, in which he combined one of his signature choices of material, vinyl records, with two iconoclastic art historical figures, DegasSmall Dancer and Robert Indiana’s LOVE.  Many more of Aires’ pieces – bold, funny, kitsch, provocative, seductive - could be seen at ADN’s stand and constituted one of the highlights of the fair. Another highlight was the poetic and wistful work of the Japanese artist Ken Matsubara, represented by Tokyo’s MA2 Gallery. A handful of small videos were inset into different boxes and frames and mounted on the wall, portraying a table covered with a simple white tablecloth turning on itself, papers silently falling from the sky, or water methodically washing over someone’s feet.  They were selling between €4,000 and €5,000 and had no problem finding buyers. Artfinder Galerie from Hamburg had a wonderful installation of works by Thorsten Brinkmann, a young German artist who creates amusing and colorful photographic portraits of animals, people and objects, as well as some quirky sculptures and wallpaper (€3,000-€10,000).


A must-see in Basel is always Liste: the Young Art Fair, which takes place in the old Werkraum brewery and is the hippest fair in town. It is at Liste that you see the most creative eye-wear, the most diversity in Converse shoes, retro jumpsuits and interesting facial hair. It is young, and it is cool. Liste, in its 16th edition, is known for young galleries (many established less than five years ago) with a good eye representing talented emerging artists (under the age of 40). For some reason, this year’s selection left the talent at home. A couple of galleries stood out: Wallspace from New York, with some beautiful pieces by Shannon Ebner and Daniel Gordon; Kauffman Repetto from Milan, and Stigter from Amsterdam with works by Amalia Pica, an Argentinean artist based in London whose work is featured in this years’ Venice Biennial. However the good work was few and far between, quite disenchanting compared to years past.

The whirlwind of Basel is done and all one can do is wait for the next contemporary art rendezvous, hoping that the works and artists discovered, the people met, the rösti and beer consumed, and the conversations had, will be enough to tie one over until next time.

curated by clara kauffman jannet

From June 15th to June 19th 2011

Art 42 Basel Venue

Opening Hours: Wednesday, June 15, to Sunday, June 19,  from 11am to 7pm  



Reserved Reproduction