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On Art Basel 2010 (1): by Deborah Doering

Guest blogger Deborah Adams Doering, who I interviewed for this blog back in March, will be writing some posts about her trip to Art Basel in Switzerland, which took place in the middle of June, 2010. Deborah's website address is

Art Basel in Switzerland has been going for 41 years, and it is considered by many curators and collectors to be the most comprehensive art fair in the world. I attended for the first time this year from June 14 -18 (the fair was officially open from June 16 - 20). Why did I go? I wanted to increase my understanding of visual art in the context of global culture, and to experience both the non-commercial and commercial aspects of visual art as they relate to collecting, curating, exhibiting, and creating. 

Even though I attended the fair for five days, there was so much to see and do that it was difficult to choose, and therefore it’s difficult to condense the whole experience into a few blog posts. But for brevity's sake, I’ll start with a brief overview, and then follow up with a post on Halls 1 and 2, and then the Satellite Fairs.
(From left) Glenn, me, and Lowell outside the main hall

Arriving in Basel on June 14, and attending the "Art Unlimited" preview in the evening, was a good way to "ease into" the fair. Our friend and guide, Lowell, had secured VIP passes for both me and my husband Glenn, and provided some guidance related to navigating the immense series of offerings, which was extremely helpful. There was great excitement and festivity as we rode the tram to Hall 1, one of two major exhibition venues that anchor Art Basel. It was very energizing to see so many people who were excited about art. The fair was bustling with people every moment of every day—there didn’t seem to be much of a lull in attendance at any time. 
Looking down into the atrium of the exhibition hall

Art Basel exhibits all styles of art, both Modern and Contemporary, with no single style predominating. It was reported that art with a history and artists with museum exhibition records were the most sought after by collectors. It’s true that Picassos and Warhols and other "blue chip" artists were shown by numerous galleries, but there were also plenty of other objects and images for the viewer interested in something riskier.

As we departed the tram, we saw that on the facade of Hall 1 was a gigantic photographic banner, entitled Basel Time II, 2010 by German-Iranian artist Bettina Pousttchi (b. 1971, Mainz). This was one of many public works displayed throughout Basel. Pousttchi was quoted in The Art Newspaper, a free publication given to guests each morning of the fair, as saying: "The clock is a symbol of the fair and a symbol Switzerland as well. But it also represents the possibility of photography to freeze a moment." The artist hopes to photograph and display large banners of clocks in every time zone of the world as part of this series, all with same time displayed—a few minutes to two.
Pousttchi banner at Art Basel

What struck me about Pousttchi's work is that it was direct, easy to comprehend, visually aesthetic, and LARGE. My overall impression of the presentation of most the art at Basel was similar. Basel exhibitors did not present their art as philosophical or overly concept-driven. If I were forced to choose one word that summed up Art Basel's philosophy, it would be "accessible." 

Price, of course, is another matter. Prints of Pousttchi's work in an edition of 6 were listed for 16,000 euros each. Gallerists were not shy about naming prices, and each issue of The Art Newspaper listed whose works had sold and for how much. Prices keep Art Basel exclusive, and this extends to accommodation, as most hotels triple or quadruple prices when the fair is being held. If you don’t have a friend or acquaintance who can advise you on attending and on where to stay, my advice is to plan at least 4 or 5 months in advance. Near-by cities provide accommodation options, and Swiss trains provide excellent connections to Basel.

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