“The fair in Basel is very serious,” says Marilyn Fields, who, along with her husband, Larry, is one of the most respected contemporary art collectors in Chicago. “People who go are truly concerned with seeing the best art anywhere, under one roof.” Indeed, each year the apex of the international summer contemporary art marathon is Art Basel Switzerland. Now in its 44th year, the esteemed show distinguishes itself from the myriad other events with its unflinching curatorial rigor, consistently presenting the highest quality work and featuring a global, geographically diverse selection of galleries (representing a whopping 39 countries at this year’s June 13–16 run). The recent expansion into Hong Kong gives the Art Basel team an unparalleled three-continent, year-round engagement with the art world.
“Collectors from all parts of the globe travel to Art Basel’s show in Switzerland for a unique experience,” says Marc Spiegler, director of the shows. “The Swiss edition presents the strongest concentration of European galleries of any show, but also features the largest percentage of exhibitors from Asia and the Asia-Pacific in the history of Art Basel.” In addition to the main fair, the unique sectors, particularly Unlimited and Parcours, highlight characteristics specific to this fair. “The Unlimited sector shows museum-quality works that transcend the traditional art fair booth,” Spiegler says. Parcours (which literally means “distance covered” or “to rove”) presents site-specific works, performances, and installations sprinkled throughout the city of Basel. Energized by a new curator, Florence Derieux, Parcours will lead visitors this year through Klingental, one of the city’s most culturally diverse quarters, located along the right bank of the Rhine.
The unveiling of renowned Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron’s newly designed expansion of Hall 1 in the Messeplatz—where highly anticipated portions of the show such as Conversations and Salons will take place—is also of interest. Rumor has it that the traditional exhibition space has been transformed into a three-story, ultramodern building flooded with natural light.
But every insider knows that the true secret to Art Basel’s appeal is the city’s long list of world-class private collections, foundations, and museums. “The art show is complemented by extraordinary exhibitions presented by local institutions,” Spiegler notes. Sure to be at the top of every visitor’s list is the major retrospective by Max Ernst, paired with a show of work by Italian prankster Maurizio Cattelan, at the storied Fondation Beyeler. (The museum houses the stellar collection of dealer Ernst Beyeler and his wife, Hildy; Beyeler also happened to cofound the Art Basel show in 1970 and, though deceased, remains a beloved figure in the art world.) The sentimental favorite will likely be the presentation of Pablo Picasso’s work at the Kunstmuseum, featuring special pieces from many local collections.
The Art Basel team prepares to welcome its 65,000-plus guests to Switzerland on the heels of hosting the first Art Basel in Hong Kong just a few weeks earlier. “In this first edition we had 245 of the world’s leading galleries, 48 of which had never before exhibited in any Hong Kong art fair,” says Spiegler. “We successfully brought new faces, new artists, and new ideas to the region in addition to having built strong relationships with the local art scene. It’s a ton of work, but totally exciting for us and for many of our friends in the art world.” For Fields, the greatest thrill is discovering the emerging stars of tomorrow. “The most exciting aspect of the art world now is the young, talented artists popping up on the scene,” she says. “There is a lot of great creativity being unleashed.”