As I was about to write more about my experience of the Venice Biennale, I found I was already on a plane to Basel for the most acclaimed art fair of the year! The art world is exhausting!
Venice and Basel are the most important and unmissable dates in the year of the contemporary art collector. The essence of contemporary creativity is on display in Venice and the best of the global art market is out in force in Basel.
As much as Venice receives you with its history and sensuality, so Basel welcomes you with the all seriousness and rigor of the German Swiss culture. In Basel I was not tempted to laze around, to drift in and out of the fair and indulge my shopaholic behavior, as I was in Venice.
It's also hilarious how they treat you in Basel. The security guards check your bags with threatening eyes as if you were going to steal a Picasso in your hip mini bag that can't even hold a lip gloss! You'd be better off bringing a packed lunch and a chair for your desperately needed restorative break...
When you go to Art Basel, you are not playing: you go to gauge the market. All the serious collectors are there. This is proper art, in a proper and serious fair. In all the booths merchants display the best of their upcoming and acclaimed artists: Rudolf Stingel, Louise Bourgeois, Albert Oehlen, Baselitz, Sarah Sze (from the US pavilion in Venice), Picasso, Calder, Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol, Ugo Rondinone, Urs Fischer, Rebecca Warren, Ai WeiWei...
Walking in the aisles, you experience a concentrated distillation of today's global art market: with galleries from New York, London, Berlin, Paris and more; curators, buyers, collectors and businessmen and women. In some of the booths you felt as if you had been invited spontaneously to a very select cocktail party at a gallery... you could find yourself rubbing shoulders with Ambramovich and his beautiful wife, or Leonardo diCaprio...
In this fair the best pieces are gone the minute it opens. People are literally fighting for them, but with grace, and in silence. A very polite and polished market behaviour hides fierce competition between collectors and buyers alike.
Art is becoming one of the most attractive investments in the world: it attracts global fortunes and especially the new ones. This hunger calls to passionate people and to patrons, but it also frightens small collectors. The market is really hot for the top artists priced above £200k, some artists have seen their prices multiplied by a factor of five in the last 10 years... but the market has not been as stratospheric for the upcoming artists in Basel. Although the young artists section of the fair was showing interesting pieces I did not have nor the time nor the viewing capacity to visit it. My eyes and mind were already filled enough with dreams by the main fair.
What is going on in the market? Everybody is really puzzled by the extreme rise of contemporary art market prices when other periods of art can hardly find their bottom price in the auction rooms. Are we experiencing a total split in the market, the contemporary thriving where all others are threatened?
There is definitely a frenzy that is benefiting many artists today... a kind of a folie des grandeurs.
Basel and other art fairs are demonstrating the rise of a new rich society which is playing in the market of contemporary art because it is a great investment - but also because it is socially defining.
Basel had a section called Unlimited showing major installations sponsored by galleries. It is an attempt to almost make us forget that this fair is about big money. Oh yes, don't forget, it is also about creativity! I loved Roni Horn with her huge glass sculptures... I was not disappointed by the sculptural installation Drift from Anthony Gormley... loved Claudio Parmiggiani's huge book shelf painting, was amazed by Carl Andre's wood blocks installation, amused by Aaron Curry's coloured and psychedelic 'daft dank space', was impressed by the work of Liu Wei's Library, was caressed by the soft room Doesn't Care in Words from Karla Black, was appeased by Chiharu Shiota's In Silence installation, and quite liked the installation from the very hip Colombian artist, Oscar Murillo.
I felt like Basel was a great way to learn more about the global art market but mostly I enjoyed seeing so many amazing pieces at once.
My favourite was Urs Fischer's hanging stone with a bird from the Eva Presenhuber gallery. You would need to be able to raise stratospheric funds to even consider buying it. But don't bother. It was sold to someone who must be a very serious collector indeed - before the fair even opened its door...