Art Basel 2017 – ARTiger Jetset in the art of art

Art Basel

© Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Our people are better than your people), 94/2016 Courtesy of the artist and the gallery

Art Basel is THE Swiss export hit and jet set event when it comes to art. It is also the most important art fair in the world, taking place annually in the early summer. Regarded as the international art market’s epicentre, it attracts gallery owners, collectors, curators, and the art-interested public. In 2017, the Art Basel is scheduled from the 15th to the 18th of June, and in Switzerland’s art capital, anyone who is anyone in the business makes an appearance… plus those who aspire to becoming part of that exclusive circle. Great gallery figures like Larry Gagosian or David Zwirner will come as well as famous collectors, for example the actor Silvester Stallone or rock star Lenny Kravitz. “Old money” is also present on the scene, of course, but moving rather discreetly and without attracting too much attention.

You can also be there, when 291 galleries from 34 countries present the work of about 4,000 modern and contemporary artists. A lecture program by artworld as well as exhibitions and events at various cultural institutions in Basel round off this exclusive art program. Those who prefer warmer climes or want to visit Asia, should pay a visit to the Art Basel Miami Beach or check out the Hong Kong branch, respectively.

In 1970, the Art Basel saw the light of day: Basel-based gallery owners Ernst Beyeler, Trudi Bruckner, and Balz Hilt organised the first fair, which took place from the 11th until the 16th of June. From the very beginning, it was a stunning success: More than 16,000 visitors came to the first edition, to see what more than 90 galleries and 30 publishers from 10 nations had put on show.


In 2002, the art fair had its foreign debut in Miami Beach, where it managed to attract even more celebrities. It is the place-to-be in Florida, not least because the Art Miami concludes each art year. The first edition started with 160 galleries from 23 countries and attracted 30,000 visitors. In 2013, Hong Kong followed as an additional fair location where the show put 60,000 visitors under its spell.

The art laymen may well suspect that many visitors regard the presented artworks as pure lifestyle items, which are purchased and resold soon after yielding a return. Seen in this light, the crowd-funding initiative by Art Basel is even more laudable: Together with Kickstarter it launched a campaign in September 2014 to support public art institutions.

It’s a fact: Those who buy art in Basel tend to be part of the “old money” circle, while in Hong Kong mostly elites of the “new money” are spending their fortunes. For sure deals are made in Miami, too, or at least instigated, but the US edition’s focus is on party. The biggest turnover, however, is still happening at the Swiss original: In 2015 for example, a Warhol work was sold for 35 million euro.

To actually buy art at the Art Basel is rather difficult for mere mortals: Even if you disregard the monetary aspect, in recent years “normal” visitors were only allowed into the sacred grounds from day three onwards.  Before them, the “Preview” VIPs get the choice of what’s left after the “First Choice” VIPs went in.

For those who are not planning to invest 35 million into art, or those who are unable to obtain a “First Choice” or “Preview” invite should take a look at the satellite fairs Scope, Volta and Liste, where new discoveries can be made and (still) affordable art can be bought.