The first impression compared with other editions of this juggernaut of contemporary art was something I can only describe as clarity. Although it was packed to the rafters –70,000 visitors over four days – the flow was smoother and the little practical things were easier. Small details like access, or finding a place to sit to take a break at the central food court, make a difference in the precious time and energy you have to fully take in this exciting and thoroughly enriching experience. If you like art, or are planning to start your art collection, and you have never been to this pow-wow on the Rhine, in the point of confluence of Switzerland, Germany and France, mark your 2015 calendar for June 19-22, or its overseas offshoots in Hong-Kong in May and Miami in December.
The Galleries section didn’t disappoint. It is the cornerstone of the fair, with the presence of the world’s leading galleries of modern and contemporary art. It has been a banner year with an Andy Warhol self-portrait priced at more than $30 million leading a rush of early sales that mostly favoured paintings. Both primary and secondary markets revealed a healthy pulse and the majority of presales were in the bag before VIP’s even hit the floor. For an insider’s take on the fair Matt Carey-Williams of White Cube, standing beside the striking Jake and Dino’s Chapman’s Sturm und Drang, said “this has been not only one of the best ArtBasels we’ve ever been to, I would say this has been one of the best art fairs we have ever attended.” Galérie Hopkins Paris remarked on the fresh interest in the €850,000 oil on canvas by Soulages, following the opening of the new museum in the painter’s hometown of Rodez, France. Galleries are here to attract the eye and make a memorable impact, but mainly the massive fair is serious business and they are there to sell the work of the artists they represent.
Unlimited, the huge hangar devoted to 78 large-scale artworks outsized sculpture, video, large installations and live performances is always exciting. It invariably invites you to pay attention and take notice of where you walk, what you hear, and of course what you see. I could hear Matias Faldbakken installation 20,000 Gun Shells before I could see it, it sounded like an old cash register or the rattling of coins in a pocket as people walked around a room with thousands of empty shell casings underfoot. I’m sure there is an irony in there somewhere.
Far too much to see in one day (or in one weekend, for that matter) the hours ran out before there was time for Parcours, a collection of works installed in public places to bring the exhibition out of the halls and onto the streets of Basel, 14 Rooms, live art performances in 14 spaces by 14 different artists, Statements, for individual artists pieces or installations, and the satellite events Liste, Volta and Scope, to name the main ones, which create as much of a buzz as the core event. Can’t wait for next year.
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