Basel is the cultural capital of Switzerland. Only 23km² in size, it is smaller than 1/3 of Hong Kong Island and yet it is the place where over 40 art museums and private galleries are situated. Art Basel, taking place in June, is named ‘Olympics of the Art World’ by New York Times. Working with the UEFA schedule, the launch was pushed forward to 4th June 2008. ‘Liste08’, ‘Scope’, ‘Vista’ and ‘Hot Art’ also took place in the same week. The schedule was boosted with a weeks’ worth of launch parties, outdoor exhibitions, performances, and film screenings alike. Even with the official shuttle bus and boat shuttle, things are no less hectic.
Flight tickets and hotel rooms hit peak time during the art fair. With the UEFA dates approaching, ‘Art Basel’, ‘Liste08’ and ‘Scope’ were my priorities for the two days I had.
Art Basel was described as an art supermarket, presenting art as consumer goods. Like going into a candy shop, the over-saturation would cast a brief impression but not much more. Although I am a ‘newbie’, I did not expect this experience to be leisure-ly, for the fair stretching across Messe Basel buildings was composed of the work of over 300 galleries and 2000 artists.
Art Basel was divided into 8 sections, namely ‘Art Galleries’, ‘Art Unlimited’(showing oversize installations), ‘Public Art Project’, ‘Art Statements’ (showing 30 young artists), ‘Art Premiere’ (showing 16 well known galleries), ‘Art Editions’ (showing limited edition pieces), ‘Art Conversation’ and ‘Art Lobby’ (holding relevant talks). The events attracted not just potential buyers, but also students and tourists alike.
The fair was officially launched on 4th June 2008. The press and VIP preview was two days prior, for art collectors, art dealers and art organisers. The preview was even more crowded than I expected, allowing one to take mere glimpses of the art.
Compare to the dazzling Art Galleries section, Art Unlimited is much more systematic. It was situated in the building covered entirely with eye-popping pink fabric, next to Art Galleries. Housing the work of 70 international artists from 27 cities, each of these pieces demanded plenty of space around. Simon Lamuniere, the curator of Art Unlimited since 2000, is also a multi-media artist. Therefore it was only natural that pieces such as ‘Morakot (Emerald)’ by Weerasethakul and ‘Heathers’ by Karen Kilimnik were in presence. Art Unlimited provided a platform for multi-media art to enter the commercial market.
Apart from the administrative work, I believe space-planning is the biggest challenge for a curator. With eight years of experience under his belt, Lamuniere certainly had adopted his own style. Either isolated with separate walls, or placed right in the middle of where the crowd is, Lamuniere uses his space wisely. For example, ‘Lament for the Children’ by Carl Andre (composed of several stone memorial pillars) was scattered in a loose line, but still it managed to withhold the spacious and sacred quality.
Although Art Basel is often considered as overly commercial by the art industry, but personally I feel that being able to witness such work like ‘Lament for the Children’ already makes this trip worthwhile.