BASEL, Switzerland – Art Basel opened on Thursday for its 50th edition with an offering that includes works from iconic artists such as Joan Miro, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol alongside emerging artists in an environment seemingly oblivious to trade wars and political crises.
“This is a little bubble, no one speaks of crises at all here,” Guillermo Romero, director of Spanish gallery Parra & Romero, which is exhibiting works by Alejandro Cesarco and Ian Wallace within the main building, told EFE on Thursday.
Also absent is the growing threat of protectionism that has plagued other commercial sectors.
Within the austere walls of the Messe Basel New Hall designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, American, Asian and European collectors mingle and search for the next work for their trove.
The collectors, who year on year seem younger, make the most of the bullet train between Milan and Basel and combine visiting the Venice Biennale with the prestigious Swiss art fair.
For six days, the first two of which open exclusively for collectors, 300 international galleries exhibit over 4,000 artworks.
“It is, with a difference, the best art fair in the world,” Isabel Mignoni, a regular at the event with the Madrid Elvira Gonzalez gallery.
“The level of the collectors who come is incomparable to any other, and the quality of the artworks that we exhibit is what sets it apart,” Mignoni added.
The Elivra Gonzalez gallery sits on the first floor, the area reserved for the most established contemporary art galleries, and is selling works by Antoni Tàpies, Eduardo Chillida and Miquel Barcelo, as well as one of Alexander Calder’s coveted mobiles featuring minimalist geometric shapes in primary colors.
Perhaps the most photographed artwork and one of the most controversial is Jeff Koons’ “Sacred Heart.”
The American artist, who is well known for his pop culture references and recreation of banal objects, recently broke a record by selling his stainless steel sculpture “Rabbit” for $9.1 million, the highest price paid for a living artist.
Steve Cohen, a millionaire who was rumored to have been the secret buyer, was at the first day of the collectors opening alongside other well-known names such as the Mexican, Eugenio Lopez Alonso.
The second floor of the venue is dedicated to younger artists and features an interesting range of Latin American galleries such as OMR from Mexico, the Argentinian Barro gallery and Casas Riegner from Colombia.
“It’s difficult for a Latin American gallery to get here, there aren’t many spaces and it is foremost a European fair, so we feel very proud to have made it,” Paula Bossa of Casas Riegner told Efe.
The Argentinian Barro gallery, which hails from the humble Boca neighborhood in Buenos Aires, exhibits a series of “statements” by Gabriel Chaile, featuring a collection of pots that have been adorned with indigenous motifs from his native region of Tucuman.
Chaile has collected the pots from community kitchens that feed the most vulnerable, especially during Argentina’s economic crisis (1998-2002), and he has woven these with his past, Federico Curuchet, who traveled to the art fair with the artist, explained to Efe.
“These types of commercial events have come under criticism for offering their elite clientele something they would not otherwise buy,” Curuchet, who has flogged several to clients from the United States and Singapore, said.