Art in Basel and Art Basel 2015

Entrance to Art Basel © Jan Oberg 2013
Entrance to Art Basel © Jan Oberg 2013 – Click on any photo here to see its details.

I was there – were you?

This year I basically “write” about the Basel Art week through my pictures. You’ll find some in this blog post, some on Pinterest at a board called “Picture At An Exhibition” (oh no, no ref to Mussorgsky who just happened to entitle his piano suite similarly) and some on Instagram and some inside my newsletter, “Shoot” (which you may subscribe to by sending your mail address of

I’m out a little late in relation to Art Basel that took place about a month ago but I am not a reporter and I take pride in processing and/or playing with raw images and make personal presentations rather than upload endless fast snapshot photographs on the spot.

Some readers belonging to the gallery world may recognise their own booth/gallery with art pieces and visitors on the mentioned links above – which, btw., are not only taken at Art Basel.

From Art Basel 2015 © Jan Oberg 2015
From Art Basel 2015 © Jan Oberg 2015


Not an art review – what matters is what we like and therefore share

That said, this is no review of Art Basel, the world’s largest art fair. That would be impossible at least for me. I go there for inspiration, not for comparative studies or judgement. And neither am I an art critic. I just take pictures.

One reason I go to Basel every year is that I love to see my favourites ‘live’ – Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Hockney, Richter, Scully, Johns, Motherwell and many others – too many to mention. Another is that I want to get a sense, just a tiny one, of everything exciting that happens in the so-called art world. And, third, to tell you the truth, I go to even steal an idea or two or, as I said above, to get inspired.

With almost 300 galleries there – mainly Western but also quite a few from around the world – it is simply too big and too overwhelming to get hold of. I calculated that I must have seen a good 6.000 works during 4 days or 30+ hours.

So when you read in all those expert magazines that there are ten “must-sees” or that they know what is the best or most  amazing, it’s a choice – perhaps a result of “group think” among a small elite. It can certainly not be based on a thorough review of everything exhibited.

I can tell that because I spend the whole day there from Thursday morning to Sunday evening – or 4 x 7-8 hours and I know I have not seen all that could be seen or  – much less – really taken in/digested/understood a fraction of what I have seen.

Therefore, to me it is more honest to say that I simply liked this or that gallery, artist or art piece. I know what I like – which is why I write and share. And I know what leaves me indifferent and what I think is phony, crap or utterly boring.


Art Basel yes – but then there are all the other venues

As the title above suggests, there is Art Basel and then there is all the rest.

Art Basel itself consists of the main two, huge floors and a series of other venues such as Unlimited, Parcours, Editions etc. Here is Art Basel’s YouTube Channel with much more, including this year’s changes as told by Art Basel’s director Marc Spiegler.

While it is understandable that the international, general press – to the extent that it bothers about contemporary art – focuses on the famous Art Basel/ (+Miami/Hongkong) venue, there is a lot to be gained by also visiting SCOPE, Liste and, from 2015, PhotoBasel – the latter a really delightful addition to this art metropolis’ palette during this intensive week in June.

All these places are very different from the elitist, commercial and quite posh Art Basel show, more relaxed, informal, sometimes even humouristic – and surprising…

Video sculpture by Marck at Licht Feld Gallery at SCOPE

So, when you go, set off max 50% of your time to Art Basel and stroll around to the other places through this wonderful Basel cornucopia of art. They can all be reached on foot and you anyhow need to relax you eyes in between (and the coffee is cheaper and better in the street cafés than at Art Basel).

And, well, I should mention too that Basel is blessed also with the Kunsthalle, the Kunstmuseum (under expansion) and The Beyeler Foundation in Riehen, a few kilometres out of Basel, and the Tinguely Museum along the Rheine. And there are many very advanced, diverse private art galleries.

Finally, there is The Solo Project set up by Paul Kusseneers gallery in Brussels and “supported by an array of established galleries (30+) in order to address a number of qualities we consider to be missing from the international art agenda.”

Now, you may think that with so many famous art places Basel is a huge city; it actually isn’t, only about 195.000 inhabitants. But since the 1970s Basel with its finance capitalists, art connoissurs, gallerist and visionary niche-creating leadership has done what many other cities could probably also have done to themselves on the world map – with art or something else.

It’s an early, successful attempt at art branding decades before that word became comme il-faut. And an evidence that business and art can thrive together, more or less commercially oriented.


A few highlights…

I’m not going into details and using a lot of words, instead I encourage you to use the links below.

★ Shen Chen

Born in 1955 in Shanghai, living in New York and shown at SCOPE by Cynthia Reeves‘ amazing gallery.

Shen Chen, Untitled, ink on watercolour paper
Shen Chen, Untitled, ink on watercolour paper

His works attracted me immediately, perhaps because of my love of Eastern/Japanese aesthetics and, for sure, because of their silent, simple beauty in an environment where so many are competing about being most flashy and splashy.

From a fine catalogue that Cynthia generously gave me, I quote critic Robert C. Morgan, “The colour is so faint one might have to test one’s vision to be certain it is there.” And “Chen realized long ago, at the outset of his journey into painting, a discovery whereby the mystic wave of ink became the means to transform the wetness of acrylic into something both ancient and fully modern at the same moment.”

Untitled No.33113-13 Acrylic on Canvas 44X56in. 2013 - Image from Shen's homepage.
Untitled No.33113-13 Acrylic on Canvas 44X56in. 2013 – Image from Shen Chen’s homepage.

★ Elisabeth Sunday

Also at SCOPE, I was drawn to Elisabeth Sunday’s amazing black-and-white photography from Africa – distinct idea or concept executed with beauty and perfection.

Anima 12
“Anima 12” from Sunday’s homepage.

Photography and Photo Basel

Year by year I find more and more photographic or photo-related art at Art Basel. Many galleries now mix painting and prints with art photography and there are numerous examples of mixed media too. It should be obvious to everyone that art photography – not all photography, that is – is a recognized art form on par with paintings, sculptures and prints. The days are over where serious people can talk about “art and photography”. Thus the title of this blog.

That said, it can of course be discussed whether photography  should be integrated fully into art fairs like Art Basel or, rather, create its own venue. I think both/and since photography can be both completely integrated and still deserve a place of its own. And the people behind the first photo fair in Switzerland made a fine debut during this week – risking to drown among so many other established art places but seemingly attracting quite a few visitors (albeit enigmatically closed on the Sunday) .

Here is how this wonderful new initiative presents its vision. It was hosted in a fine, intimate building at St. Johanns-Vorstadt – not too big, not too small – and here is a how the fair was created and what it looks like. About 25 galleries from around the world, exclusively devoted to art photography – from the classical black and white to highly experimental.

A snapshot from from Bildhalle’s booth and Carmen Mitrotta’s enigmatically beautiful photography on the wall:

Father and Daughter at Photo Basel © Jan Oberg 2015

On one of the floors in this old building, I find exquisite amanasalto with its concept of platinum printing – “limited edition photographic prints, books, and portfolios of the highest quality and durability.” You may add the word “beauty” to that sentence…

Lots of galleries and artists ought to be mentioned here. But let me end by pointing to the experimental photography exhibited by Photo Edition Berlin – among the finest experiences at this first Photo Basel fair.

Photo Basel has come to stay. It’s a superb addition to the wealth of Basel, the world art hub.



This fair is housed in an old brewery in the heart of Basel; imagine something like Tate Modern and make it much smaller and intimate – you walk around in strange old rooms, a huge tent, winding stairs and even a tall tower, all full of history. The milieu itself is a piece of art, couldn’t be better to show art in. I took a lot of photos there.

Now in its 20th anniversary year, Liste continues to be “dedicated to new galleries and young art”. Here it is…

The old brewery in which you experience the Liste fair Liste2



Stairway at the old brewery
Stairway at the old brewery

The wealth and diversity here is breath-taking and the atmosphere is free-and-easy. Here a short video from Jeanine Hofland’s gallery in Amsterdam:

And here a print by Tobias Kaspar from the booth of Silberkuppe in Berlin. (If you can’t beat the disturbing reflections in the glass, you may try to exploit them).

Print by Tobias Kaspar
Print by Tobias Kaspar © Jan Oberg 2015

During my visit I did what I always do: take pictures of people who watch art. I’m fascinated by the non-permanent, stage-like character of art exhibitions, of people’s ways of viewing and presenting art, of the body languages and the interaction between people and the art pieces. I’m certainly not the first; Eric Fischl, Thomas Struth and David Hockney, to name a few, have been curious about these things and how to turn them into art works.

By way of ending this report, let me repeat: A few of these pictures will eventually find their ways to my photo homepage and there will be a blog post shortly about it. And – perhaps, who knows? – an exhibition of them in my studio.

Until further, there are some 60 sketch-like works in one of the boards “Pictures At An Exhibition” on my Pinterest page. You are welcome there and perhaps – if you are a gallery person – you’ll find yourself among them…


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