With a population of just over 175,000 people, Basel couldn’t really be described as a large city. But all the same, it is famous for two events that lead the world in their respective sectors: Baselworld for watches and jewellery, and Art Basel.
The art show is a relatively recent arrival in comparison with events such as the Venice Biennale, founded back in 1895: Art Basel was founded in 1970 by three art gallery owners in Basel. In the space of 46 years it has become the world’s most important contemporary art event, and in 2002, Art Basel Miami Beach became the world’s favourite winter art show.
In 2010, the Parcours sector enabled the Basel show to expand out from the Messeplatz halls and into the city, with site-specific artworks in a number of locations. This year, these included the city’s cathedral, and a tunnel underneath the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois. In 2013, Art Basel Hong Kong began its mission to build a bridge between western culture and the vibrant new art of the Asia-Pacific region.
So what’s the secret of its success? Probably, it’s the fundamental role given to art galleries. They are invited to participate, but only after their work has been assessed by a panel of international gallerists. Every year, a few long-time exhibitors are rejected by the committee, and this year Bernd Klüser, who was presented the FEAGA (Federation of European Art Galleries Association) Lifetime Award for his work, also saw his application turned down.
In June 2016, Art Basel comprised 286 premier galleries from 33 countries, exhibiting about 4,000 artists. In the main hall, 220 galleries presented paintings, sculptures, drawing installations, photography, video and installation work. The ‘Feature’ sector included 32 galleries from 12 countries, presenting specific curatorial projects. ‘Statements’ was a section giving art lovers the chance to discover work by emerging artists. Considering the 19 film screenings and the ‘Conversation and Salon’ events, Art Basel covered all the different facets of modern and contemporary art.