Purple Art

[June 22 2012]

Art Basel 2012, Switzerland

One night in Basel 2012
Every year I make plans to book a hotel in Basel soon after leaving to avoid the disaster of finding one last minute the next year.
Every year I tell myself I really shouldn’t go back as it is simply too overwhelming to cover in one go.
Every year June rolls around; and I book a flight a week before the fair and text my friends to save my ass with a spare bathtub to crash in.
Every year I craft the best possible strategy to hit and quit as many venues and satellite fairs as humanly possible in 24 hours; with adequate water, Bratwurst, booze and socialising breaks in between. 

As usual, the main fair had a selection of blue chip works including a $78 million Rothko that required its own security detail, pieces by major mid-career artists, some exciting emerging ones and a large amount of predictable or uninteresting filler material. As opposed to times when dealers said business was ok, i.e. pretty bad, this year the word in the aisles was extremely good! 

Like children, visitors were lured into each stand with colourful things that move around, make noises, glitter and glow. Some even have video footage of Lindsay Lohan (Richard Phillips at Unlimited) or are alive and naked, like the man and woman in Marina Abramovic‘s performance piece at Sean Kelly. There’s not much left to grab the eye and imagination after walking into and around 300 busy booths crammed into an unattractive exhibition hall: if you are lucky you stumble across something new, familiar but beloved; or something surprising and moving. Other times, you catch a gallery girl’s eyes glazing over from lack of sleep, food and fresh air. Not to mention the pain of her stilettos after standing for days. But this never lasts, for the cold fear of missing her sales targets promptly whips her into action again. 

DesignMiami/Basel provided some respite from the crowds with its spacious layout and soothing lighting. Young satellite fair Volta was rather empty and disappointing in comparison with previous outings. Its alternative, Liste 17, proved trendy and energetic with a slightly more engaging and edgy offering. When you’ve made it this far, a key highlight is always the excellent Bratwurst grill. 

Additional larger-than-life gratification could be had at the beautiful Beyeler Foundation, courtesy of Jeff Koons. The understated Parreno and Calder exhibitions left a more lasting impression. 

Of course I won’t be going back again next year…

Photo and text Janina Joffe

Subscribe to our newsletter