Ahh Art Basel, Switzerland… the King de Ka of art fairs… that old chestnut. Right off the bat I’ll say that it is a bit of a pain in the ass to get to because it has a smallish airport, and everything is obviously in Swiss francs so it’s expensive. But those Swiss sure know how to do things right (I should know, I married one) so, should you even bother to go? The answer is yes, yes, yes!
Why it’s such a big deal –
Dubbed by many the “Olympics of the art world”, the original Art Basel was founded by three local gallerists in 1970 as an alternative to the then leading fair, Art Cologne. Since 1973 it has become the largest and most important fair in the world where more than 300 galleries from 6 continents strut their stuff. It’s also an amazing fair to see rare Modern artworks in the $50 million plus range in person. In the 2012 edition for example, Mark Rothko’s 1954 Untitled was up for grabs for at Marlborough Fine Arts at an asking price of $78 million and it sold, of course.
Why you should go –
If you only need one reason to be convinced, go for Unlimited. It’s a section of the fair dedicated to out-of-the-box projects and installations where everything is larger than life. It’s like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. There are artistic performances, colossal sculptures, surreal monochrome worlds… it’s truly epic. You’ll feel small in a world of giants!
Out of all the tens of cities that host art fairs around the world, I’d say that Basel is very… vanilla. Yes, vanilla is the adjective I would use to describe it. It’s not “happening”, it’s not an electrifying city. It’s Germanic. It’s beautiful in a rigid kind of way and hey, that’s ok because I will show you some of its gems!
3 full days are needed to absorb Art Basel, Switzerland
Getting there: You can either fly directly into Basel and the airport is 20 mins from the city center or fly to Zurich and take a 50 minute train conveniently from the airport directly to Basel HB. 2nd class will do, it’s not India, it’s Switzerland.
Anywhere around Messeplatz is fantastic because you’ll be walking distance from the fair but of course it’s more expensive, of course, so what else is new?
Best Western Stuecki Hotel – corporate hotel of about 15 stories, completely austere, very clean, aesthetically cold and the duvets are folded on the mattress vertically (it’s very weird but I’ve learnt it’s a very Swiss thing). It’s 20 minutes walking from the fair through a bit of a dodgy highway but let’s not be picky.
Teufelhof – Located in the center of old town is this very charming little hotel with a very classic restaurant. After a hectic art day, this is a great place to put some food in your belly.
Torstübli – This place is so yummy (I could not think of a better adjective!). It’s very local, old and rustic. If I love it, I know you’ll love it too.
Acqua – Want to have an delicious dinner in a room with incredible chandeliers, exposed brick walls and then go to a great bar for a drink? This is the place, two for one.
Kunsthalle Restaurant – I really love this place for lunch or dinner. It has a huge courtyard, the food is very good (Swiss/mediterranean cuisine) and it’s in a museum! It doesn’t get better than that. Obviously you must see the museum as well – it’s always a highlight in Basel.
*Take a tram from Messeplatz up to the Fondation Beyeler. It takes about 20 minutes and as long as you’re headed the right direction, trust me, everyone on that tram will be heading to exactly same place as you are so just get off when the other 50 people in the tram vanish. Fondation Beyeler was designed by Renzo Piano and it houses the incredible Modern art collection of the late Ernst and Hildy Beyeler. A big part of their permanent collection is always on display and they have highlights from the careers of artists like Giacometti, Andy Warhol, Van Gogh, Picasso and Francis Bacon amongst others. It is located within a very beautiful, very green garden, on a hill.
*After a tour of the exhibition on view have a coffee in their little restaurant overlooking a monumental Alexander Calder sculpture. Best 20 CHF you’ll ever spend. Alternatively…
*Close by is Wenkenpark, a beautiful park dubbed by many the Versailles of Switzerland. And if you have time – have a coffee there at Reithalle Wenkenhof, it looks like a small palace out of a fairy tale!
*Across the street from the main fair is Design Miami where – you guessed it – it’s all design! My favorite and the most unique stand always is Louisa Guinness. She specializes in artist jewelry by the likes of Man Ray, Calder, Anish Kapoor and Lalanne. She also gets pretty creative with her booths recreating the atelier of old jewelers. Unless you’re actually into design – just walk in to see her.
*Another satellite art fair I love is Liste! It’s close by and the building is amazing. This is where you can find smaller but very interesting international galleries like Mor Charpentier (Paris), Southard Reid (London) and Instituto de Vision (Bogotá).
*After dinner go to the bar of Les Trois Rois hotel for a drink on their terrace overlooking the Rhine – it’s where all the dealers and collectors go to hang.
*Lastly, when in Switzerland, chocolate is a must and of course I have just the place for you: Confiserie Schiesser. It’s located opposite of the townhall which is one of Basel’s landmarks. After lunch save space for coffee and sweets and take a digestive walk here!
Image: Les Trois Rois courtesy of http://www.lestroisrois.com/en
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