Art 41 Basel: Town of Art where the world’s largest fair and art galleries connect each other

Art Public : Ai Weiwei / Field 2010

We saw a huge box of rusted-iron color. It was “Signal Control Tower” designed by Herzog & de Meuron. The train proceeded into the Basel station. This is the largest border station in Europe, where Switzerland, Germany and France meet. Getting off at this station always gives me a little bit of an exotic air.
Going through the neo-baroque façade, we got on the tram to run through the medieval town, and soon after things came into our sight, we arrived in the Messe venue.

The world’s largest exposition of art, Art Basel, celebrated its 41st anniversary this year. Every year, the fair takes place before Europe goes into the holiday season. This year, it was held for 5 days, from June 16 through June 20. The preview on the 15th was a spectacular opening with invites and media people, as usual, by welcoming world’s renowned representatives of art galleries from various countries, including gallerists, curators, critics and VIPs.

Participating in Art Basel means equal to receive the honor as one of the top selected galleries in the world. More than 300 leading galleries were carefully selected out of approx. 1100 applied galleries from 37 countries in North and South Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. From modern art to cutting-edge contemporary art, the artworks by more than 2500 artists all gathered here.

One of the regulars from Japan, a ceramic art piece by Yoshitomo Nara from Tomio Koyama Gallery, was one of them. Hiroshi Sugimoto and Marlene Dumas from Gallery Koyanagai, Kohei Nara and JJoonho from SCAI BATHHOUSE were amont others from Japan. Teppei Kaneujifrom Shugorats, Yuki Kimura and Garcia Torres from Taka Ishii Gallery, and so on, followed. Each gallery expands its collectors and fans every year.

During those days of the Fair, the World Cup in South Africa was demonstrating its exciting games coincidentally. Adjacent to the main venue, at the café in the building where the media center was setup, the gallerists taking a break and other guests were all cheering.

Last year, a solid black cross was displayed at the front of the site, with Art Basel-like irony, and very tense atmosphere was observed in every gallery. However, with this year’s relaxed air, it appeared that the pleasure to walk around to enjoy art pieces was back.

The flow from the previous fair that was intended to overcome the financial crisis, and return to the basics to face the art, seemed more stabilized, which resulted well in the firm sales.

While The Art Basel Secretariat announced the high quality of the works and unexpected results, what they boasted especially as a success was the record breaking attendance of 62,500 from around the globe, showing the high level of interest and knowledge of those who came to see the show.

Ernst Beyeler, the founder of Fondation Beyeler, who established the Art Basel in 1971 with his freind, passed away this February.
During the period of Art Basel, a demonstration developed by having “ACANTUS” by Henri Matisse as the core, was introduced in the special venue. At the Hall 2 site, with a booth very close to the entrance every year, Mr. in the photo was smiling gently. The birds that Matisse, one of his favorite aritsts, brought from the Polinasian sky were flying high.

Art Basel plays a role of the place where artworks representing the present time are exhibited. The Fair this year received quite a lot of criticisms of not being fresh, in that sense, because many works from the 19th and 20th centuries were displayed. While it was true that the number of works classified as modern art and conceptual art such as those by Milo, Picasso, Kandinsky and Giacometti have increased, there were too many artworks that were easy to understand and worthy of comfortable investments.

A few week ago, one article caught my eye. It was talking about one exhibition in an art gallery in Japan, and it described with an adjectival clause, “as if shown in a textbook…” I was pretty sure that it was a criticism but as I read further, I realized it was just contrary, and it was a praise expressing that it was incredible to see such wonderful famous artworks arranged side by side. It was just like the scales fell from my eyes.

If expressed in such a manner, Art Basel demonstrates the works of the masters in the art history or geniuses who died early, or emerging contemporary artists with momentum, appearing in front of your eyes, as if you are turning the pages of the complete collection of art around the world, or very thick books of collected works in art galleries.

I heard that the fair, when it started, had brought controversy because art was sold just like electric appliances or furniture. However, in the last 40 years, pros and cons or the meaning of the fair have changed tremendously.
Although that might be true, I assumed for the first-timer visitors to actually see with their own eyes that the distribution was clearly taking place on site at the booths of the fair, instead of at the back of a gallery’s salon or grand auctions, would be quite something and surprising.

From various corners in the venue, including Timothy Taylor Gallery from London, the comment, “very healthy market” was heard quite often.

We heard that the trend in the last few years of investing in huge “contemporary art” because of the advice of financial consults, although it might be beyond one’s comprehension, has died down. Apart from moving to the art galleries, art fans or top collectors gathered here to judge art with their own eyes, to be impressed and to select the one they wanted to have. The role to influence the world and the importance of accumulation of Art Basel took pride in a serious manner.

Iwan Wirth of Hauser &Wirth that has galleries in Zurich, London and New York, said in his interview, “I was impressed to see such huge interest among collectors, not only for established positions, but also for quality work by young artists. The market is back and stronger than ever, as collectors are confident to make decisions.”

A young couple was talking with the gallerist in front of the work by Christo. Soon, 2 or 3 works were brought out from the back. Fortunately, as I just happened to walk by, I was also invited to see the series of his work.

While it was said that notable works would have buyers already at the preview, many people still “purchased” at the site on weekdays, as artworks came and went.
Garsons clad in black, carrying the bottle of Veuve Clicquot in the wagon of ice, were walking around the hallway.

While these works were exhibited in the 300 galleries in the Hall 2, large-scale installations that were literally surpassing the size limit, or 3-dimentional works or videos were exhibited in the adjacent Art Unlimited in Hall 1, across the courtyard, and you could go through those, experiencing one by one. As the space is opened up from the floor all the way to the ceiling, it gave us a fun feeling of experiment of participating in a part of the art, just like you were playing in a swimming pool.

Since the size was too large to carry in a car, those who wanted to purchase had to discuss somewhere else.

Michael Beutler, Galerie Christian Nagel | Köln; Galerie Bärbel Grässlin | Frankfurt am Main; Pierre Bismuth, Team Gallery | New York Photo:Art Basel

In conjunction with Art Basel, galleries in Basel held major exhibitions during the same period of time.

“Prayer Sheet with the Wound and the Nail” and “RESTRAINT” by Mattew Barny, who is one of the hottest artists and the partner of singer Bjork, were held in Museum.
Drawing Exhibition by Trockel was in Kunstmuseum Basel. Jean-Michel Basqiat Exhhibition and Felix Gonzalez-Torres Exhibition, both of whom died young, were held concurently in Fondation Beyeler.

Furthermore, Rodney Graham Exhhibition in The Museum für Gegenwartskunst, and Robot Dreams Exhibiton in Mueseum were other major ones to note.

Looking at many art galleries in Basel, from the view points of architecture and smart planning, Basel surpasses Zurich as a town of art, as one would expect, which makes me understand the mutual relationship to simulate each other.

A medieval town of pointed towers mixed with the culture is very interesting. Art Basel, called the Queen of the World, spreads the cutting-edge contemporary art just like tree branches in this neighborhood, and creates a function of interlocking.

Galleries: FOUNDATION BEYELER | Basel (2)/ Helly Nahmad Gallery |New York/ Galerie Gmurzynska|Zug/ Shafrazi Gallery | New York/Sikkema Jenkins & Co.|New York/Sperone Westwater|New York(2)/Marlborough Galerie GmbH|Zurich/Sies + Höke| Düsseldorf/ Peter Kilchmann|Zurich (2)/Richard Gray Gallery|Chicago/Bob van Orsouw|Zurich/David Zwirner|New York/Galleria Continua|San Gimignano Italy/Max Hetzler|Berlin/Hans Mayer| Düsseldorf/Gallery|Seoul/ó Marconi Gallery|Milano/Waddington Galleries|London/Galerie Hans Mayer | Düsseldorf

Photo:©Mieko Yagi

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Less expected but Powerful Success


Art Basel, the world’s largest art fair held in June every year, celebrated its 40th birthday this year.
More than 300 world’s topnotch galleries strictly selected from 29 countries out of more than 800 galleries around the world, gathered here in Basel. Works of approximately 2500 artists were exhibited and welcomed 61000 visitors in total.

The three-dimensional object placed almost in the center of the venue is brought from Presenhuber, a gallery in Zurich. It was a work by VALLENTIN CARRON, a humongous black cross that stood straight up in the blue sky of early summer.

Swiss newspaper, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, commented, “In front of the exhibition building at Basel a black cross towers to the sky, as if the Art Basel would be brought to a grave at its 40th birthday. But the fatal event did not happen!” and reported a great success despite the effects of the sluggish economy.

Brad Pitt in jeans dropped in casually, and Gunter Netzer, a soccer player living in Zurich showed up, and Naomi Campbell and Karl Lagerfeld came as a couple. All the shots were flown around the world the following day of the Preview. Ultrarich Russian, Roman Abramovich, was one of the visitors, as well as the directors of the world’s major art galleries, including, of course, MOMA, Pompidou and the Louvre. Private jets carried all the top-class collectors around the world to this venue in Basel.


Galerie Bernd Klüser | Müchen
Galerie Karsten Greve | Koeln

Galerie Karsten Greve | Koeln

Although there are less number of galleries from the USA compared to the last year, the list contains big names such as Blum & Poe, Matthew Marks Gallery, Richard Gray Gallery and so on.
As we expected, those that still have effective magnetic attraction and raises the overall quality are galleries from Berlin, although they dominate in number as well. For example, nuegerriemschneider, Esther Schipper, Galerie Max Hetzler, Galerie Eigen + Art. Others include Kewenig Galerie from Cologne, and Galerie Bernd Klüser from Munich.
Regulars from London are White Cube and Stephen Friedman Gallery. Others include Galerie Hopkins-Custot from Paris where Basquiat and Milo vividly stand side by side, and Hans Bellmer or Picabia. This is Galeria 1900-2000 that includes old masters. Kurimazutto from Mexico City stands out for its high level of quality.
From Japan, Toio Koyama Gallery, Gallery Koyanagi, SCAI THE BATHHOUSE, ShartugoArts, and Taka Ishii Gallery joined this year as well.

In the neighboring Art Unlimited, the exhibition is categorized by the name of creator and the artwork. Photographs, video works, as well as paintings, installations or huge 3-dimentional works are displayed. Any possible artworks in any possible forms are presented here.
Lot of visitors go in and out of a small house, Torre de Málaga, created by Michitomo Nara, and it is one of the most popular artworks here.

kurimanzutto | México City
Bharti Kher, Hauser & Wirth Zuerich | Zuerich, London

Bharti Kher, Hauser & Wirth Zuerich | Zuerich, London


Franz Erhard Walther 55Handlungsbahnen, Galeria Vera Munro | Hambulg


Yoshitomo Nara Torre de Málaga, Marianne Boesky Gallery New York; Blum & Poe | Los Angeles; Tomio Koyama | Tokyo

Bruno Bischofberger | Zürich

By the way, it is not well known that Zurich is, as a matter of fact, one of the principal hubs of modern art, such as Pairs, London and New York. However, it is a city that has developed various activities in the art history in the 20th century, especially from the middle of the 19th century, together with Basel where the Art Fair has been held.

Hauser & Wirth Zürich, Peter Kilchmann, and May36 from Zurich, have demonstrated surprising plans as we had expected. The strategy by Bruno Bishofger was to exhibit only 1 artwork “Big Retrospective Paintin 1979” by Andy Warhal. The artwork of 207×1080cm occupied the whole wall, and some chairs were placed so that visitors can sit and view the artwork. Prior to the preview, even locally, it was a big topic that who would purchase it. Just for your reference, the price was 80 million Swiss Franc, or approximately 7 billion yen. After the exhibition, lot of gallerists published comments. Bob van Orsow  of Zurich mentioned in one newspaper interview, “The Art Basel is the queen of the art exhibitions. The gallery does not expect ‘quick’ customers, and nobody would like to be asked, whether he hasn’t bought any art.”

However, this queen is noble, beautiful and very clever. She has a great eye for art, can read the times, and she is a serious and dynamic strategist equipped with the marketing abilities that can lead the market.

While the visitors saw “Foundation Beyeler” as the first booth on the right when you entered the first floor of the venue, which gave the prestigious impression to start with, noble tension and intellectual restraint were felt in the overall atmosphere of the floor.

Each gallery booth demonstrated very sophisticated show that could open its door right on the following day at any international city in the world, as it was as an exhibition. If not successful, they might have to forget about the next year. Therefore, every gallery had strong concept and clearly displayed its theme. They were provocative for the viewers.

Art 40 Basel has been recognized as a humongous success despite the low expectations. Guesstimated figures of the sales are still up in the air.

Various people who are involved in modern art, such as artists, top collectors, curators and media, gathered together or encountered for the first time. It appeared like having a big wave of the times that brought about the leading-edge interchange of art-related people.

It was different from last year or the year before. Especially the expressions by the gallerist gave us a sense of something different. Having read the press releases, I found the hint of this difference in this year’s fair. “Art 40 Basel witnesses a return to the roots of the art market. Knowledge, sustainability and seriousness move back to the foreground and the program-driven galleries especially benefit from this phenomenon.” Mathias Rastorfer, Galerie Gmurzynska,” said Mathias Rastonfer Galerie Gmurzynska, Zurich/St.Moriz/Zug



Photos by Art 40 Basel 2009

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