While Art Basel, the international fine arts fair founded in 1970 by Ernst Beyeler, Trudl Bruckner, and Balz Hilt has three major events a year, spaced around the globe, it is its eponymous event, Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland, that is the gem of the set. At Basel Basel, over 4000 artists and 400 galleries vie for the attention, and the wallets, of 100,000 visitors which include not only wealthy collectors, patrons, and investors, but also representatives from art museums around the world.
According to Marc Payot, partner at the international chain of art galleries Hauser and Wirth, calls Basel “the most important fair, more important than all the other fairs combined.”
Typically, exhibitors spend nine months or more planning every aspect of their booth setup for the fair. It’s all crucial, every detail might be the one crucial stroke that brings your art to the right buyer’s eye and makes them imagine it on their own walls. Peak locations in the exhibition hall are fought over, sometimes viciously. Successful sellers have clung to their same layouts, locations, and lighting for decades, knowing they work to funnel visitors right to them.
2020 has thrown all of their playbooks far, far out the window. For the first time, Art Basel Basel won’t be held in the cavernous Messeplatz, but online, as the world’s largest digital art fair. And all of those artists and owners who had been planning their booths since last June had to begin all over, in a whole new world of entrepreneurial design.
Many coalitions of artists teamed up, creating curated portfolios of their available works like little art museums of their own. Galleries hired drone operators to record their art and spaces into 3D virtual walk-throughs, or brought their most hopeful works to physical spaces in and around Basel, allowing potential buyers in by appointment only.
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 will affect the sales of expensive luxuries like high-end art, during this fair and for years to come. But the swift pivot to an entirely new medium for traditional art sales shows that the participants of Basel Basel are ready for the new normal.
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