If you’re into art, you know Art Basel is the world’s top art fair and a destination event for collectors, gallerists, curators, artists, and art lovers. Conceived by Basel gallerists in 1970, today Art Basel brings the international art world together with 291 of the world’s leading galleries showing the works of over 4,000 artists. In 2002, a Miami Beach show was launched and in 2013, a Hong Kong show was added. However, the Basel fair in June remains the main attraction on a global scale.
Last week, over 95,000 visitors from over 100 countries descended on the small Swiss city of Basel for the fair. For the past three months, I’ve been living in Basel and have been looking forward to this prestigious event. What’s cool about Art Basel is it’s more than just a fair. Over the years, it has inspired a region-wide art week. Cultural institutions offer special exhibitions and events, companies host parties, and local businesses run promotions. All of Basel becomes alive with the art buzz and it was exciting to be in the midst of it.
This year, Julian and I received preview tickets through his company. This means we had the opportunity to see the fair two days before it opened to the general public. The preview days are when the who’s who of the art world and high-net-worth individuals come together, compare notes, and network. It’s also when the collectors do their buying. This year the collectors were not afraid to spend the big bucks with many of the galleries reporting record sales. Personally, we were not at the fair to buy but we enjoyed viewing the exhibits without the large crowds and had a lot of fun people watching. If you want to see some outrageous fashions, go to Art Basel!
Art Basel is absolutely immense and it would take several days to see everything. Julian and I went on two different evenings and were still unable to see it all. On the first evening, we attended the Unlimited Exhibition. In the fair’s words, Unlimited is Art Basel’s exhibition platform for projects that transcend the classical art-show stand, including massive sculpture and paintings, video projections, large-scale installations, and live performances. In my words, it’s like art on steroids.
Below I have included some photos from this dramatic exhibition. While much of the power of these pieces comes from seeing their sheer size, movement, or physicality in person, I hope these photos will convey a sense of their scale and resonance. I am not an art critic so I will not add my personal opinions about these works. Besides, the great thing about art is it’s perceived differently by every person who comes into contact with it. Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to a piece of art, it’s your own interpretation. However, for exhibitions like Unlimited I would suggest going with a guide. A guide can give you the context behind the pieces, as well as the artist’s intent, and I personally think this makes for a much richer viewing experience.
On our second evening at the fair, Julian and I visited the Galleries sector. The Galleries is the “anchor” of the show with modern and contemporary works including paintings, drawings, sculpture, installations, prints, photography, video and digital art by more than 4,000 artists. In this section, works by many acclaimed artists such as Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor were for sale.
The second night we also took the time to walk around Messe Basel, the exhibition complex designed by renowned Basel architects Herzog & de Meuron. Messe Basel is a sight in itself. It is a modern architectural marvel and one of the most important exhibition centers in Europe. This year, its plaza had a carnival vibe with music, dancing, and games.
Besides the art, another reason to love Art Basel is the parties. Every night of the week there are multiple parties across town thrown by companies catering to Art Basel’s clientele. While Art Basel Miami is famous for its parties, the original Art Basel gives Miami a run for its money.
Vitra Summer Party
By far the coolest and most fun party we attended during Art Basel was Vitra’s annual Summer Party. Vitra is a Swiss furniture company that manufactures some of the works of the most internationally renowned furniture designers. But Vitra not only makes furniture, it also has its own Campus with buildings by prominent architects such as Nicholas Grimshaw, Frank Gehry, and Zaha Hadid. Today it serves simultaneously as a fully operational production site and as a field of experimentation for architecture and design. Ever since Julian took a tour of it, I had been dying to visit Vitra’s Campus.
Located just outside of Basel, Vitra’s sprawling, otherworldly Campus was the perfect setting for a huge summer party. It also had all of the elements of a killer party– great DJ, cool people, awesome setting, and never-ending free drinks.
Midway through the party, we took a break from dancing to visit VitraHaus. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, VitraHaus is not only an incredible building but also Vitra’s flagship store. It’s where you can view their furniture in different design styles, including Vitra’s classic pieces, such as the Eames chair, and their latest contemporary designs. I especially loved the all-pink Alice in Wonderland themed room which is both avant-garde and nostalgic. You can also try out their sofas and chairs for yourself. Even cooler, you can watch your own Lounge Chair be handcrafted in the Lounge Chair Atelier.
A party, however, is not the best time to see all that Vitra’s Campus has to offer. I hope to return soon for a full day of exploring this campus and its famous Design Museum.