Art Basel 2013 (1)

Evelina Cajacob, Hand Arbeit 2011

It is huge and totally bewildering, the Art Basel fair. It’s dynamic history dating back to 1970 and three Basel gallerists explains to some extent why it is the world’s foremost gathering of galleries, collectors, investors, art lovers, etc. Nowhere else can you see more than 300 art galleries presenting more than 4000 artists and making business to the alleged sum of about US$ 2 billion in just four days.

Washington Post’s Kartherine Boyle has an interesting angle on it all: What does Art Basel tell us about wealth and the general economy? It is not the only angle, of course, but what you do experience is, indeed, the perverse commercialization of everything art at the art “market”. Today’s art world consists of promotion of marketable status symbols at often ridiculously high prices without even the slightest relation to whatever you may believe could be called quality.

Art lover in front of Louise Lawler's "Salon Hodler", 1992-93 © Jan Oberg 2013
Art lover in front of Louise Lawler’s “Salon Hodler”, 1992-93 © Jan Oberg 2013

“It’s all about marketing, there is no other criteria today”, as a British art dealer friend of mine laments. And having been in the business for more than four decades, he knows. And he still comes here every year because – yes, exactly – it is, at the same time, damn exciting to experience all that happens.

There are no stops or breaks. The arts – i.e. human artistic creation – continues unabated as chaotic, diverse, globalized and ever-changing. There may have been some kind of art historical categories, or “schools” but forget about it today. Everything is weird, surprising – or not surprising at all – and the rubbish appears right next to the sublime.

C’est la vie. If you loathe chaos and being unable to get an overview of anything – no structure, no “order” – you should probably nt stop in Basel. If you are open and excited about all kinds of art, submerge yourself. Which is what I do.

Sean Scully, Night and Day 2012 that I find very powerful

I am not…

I’m not an art critic and also not trying to become one. If I write here about an exhibition, it is notes. Notes, simply! Reflection in a non-systematic order, there is no wish – and no point – in trying to do an academic analysis. It is a kind of shared diary of what I have seen these few days. I am not taking you through it or trying to be “representative” or “do justice”. I am not out to judge trends and I don’t even bother to offer arguments for my judgements. Finally, I am also not using the language you so often read in art catalogues, books, intros or experts’ comments – that is totally incomprehensible to a broader audience, keeps on keeping people out and some little elite crowd in.

Who comes here?
Well, of course the connoisseurs, the dealers, the art lovers – with or without money – art students and young people trying to make it into certain snobbish Basel circuits and who need to be able to speak about what is spoken about by all all over town. (Art Basel is a very very important event for Basel which, with its less than 200.000 inhabitants, is the art hub of Switzerland (and pretty much so too for all of Europe and now also, with Art Basel Miami and Art Basel Hong Kong for the world). And some have turned themselves into a walking art piece.

clownOne may indeed need a rest, with or without clowns…

He comes the wealthy, the very wealthy, elites out of Basel and the world. One indicator – I’ve landed many times at Basel Airport but never seen so many private jets there as these very days. A typical category is the somewhat older, grey haired man in elegant silk jacket, white trousers, loafers and Rolex watch (of course!) – “casual, casual, it’s very important” – accompanied with a much younger woman in skimpy dress, enough jewellery to make a point and being able to converse about art in terms such as – “oh, just for the sake of clarity, you said 80.000 for that painting over there, but are you talking Euros, Swiss Francs, or dollars”?

Finally, a corner of Sean Kelly Gallery’s stand with some amazing paintings and Frank Thiel’s huge photo from Teufelsberg, Berlin behind the lady.


Art Basel (2) Some observations and trends >>


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