Tasting Art Basel

Art Basel aerial

Art Basel in Basel 2014. © Photo by Daniela & Tonatiuh

Art Baaaasel (Not Basil, Bazeel or any variation thereof and believe me — I’ve heard them all!) in Basel, Switzerland is, at 45 years old, arguably the most important modern and contemporary art fair in the world. This year, my intrepid colleague Trevor Smith, Curator of the Present Tense, and I packed our bags for yet another adventure!

How could an art fair in a small city two hours outside of Switzerland’s capital be so important? Well, in the span of a single week, you and 91,999 other people are able to see the work of over 4,000 artists presented by 285 galleries from 34 countries all of which is for sale. That’s in addition to the work that can be seen at the city’s other satellite fairs and museums.

That’s a lot of art, right? Well, having worked for Art Basel for many years prior to joining the PEM team, I can tell you that there’s only one way to take it all in and that means having as many cups of coffee as possible!

CoffeeThis high concentration of the artwork brings the best collectors, museum directors, curators and patrons, journalists and tastemakers from across U.S., Europe and Asia. So, whether it’s exchanging ideas with collaborators from Boston, Beijing or Berlin, investigating new work from emerging talents, rediscovering historic work from the masters or excitedly expecting the unexpected that is invariably waiting around the next corner, Art Basel is the place to be each June!

With so much to see, where do you start? Well, that’s always an easy answer for me! Art Unlimited, or the art fun house as I like to call it, is one of the few places in the world where I’ve always thought one can have a window into an artist’s dream world. Housed in an airplane hangar size space, you’re instantly dwarfed by this year’s 78 mammoth-sized sculptures, paintings, video projections and installations that all seem to have a life unto their own.

Large_Art Unlimited 1 Opening Entrance Courtesy Nicole Polletta

Art Unlimited entrance. Photo by Nicole Polletta

Art Basel in Basel 2014 | Unlimited | Nick Mauss | 303 Gallery. Courtesy of Art Basel

Art Basel in Basel 2014. Art Unlimited. Nick Mauss. 303 Gallery. Courtesy of Art Basel

Art Unlimited 3 Julio Parc Courtesy Art Basel

Art Unlimited. Julio Parc. Photo by Nicole Polletta

Art Basel in Basel 2014

Art Unlimited. Heimo Zobernig. Galeria Juana de Aizpuru. Photo courtesy of Art Basel.

Art Unlimited 5 Haegue Yang Courtesy Art Basel

Art Unlimited. Haegue Yang. Courtesy Art Basel

Next up is the actual fair where Trevor and I spent the entire day walking the aisles, talking with art world colleagues near and far about all the exciting things we’re working on and learning what they’ve been working on.  The following day we can’t wait to go back to the fair and actually start looking at the art!

Art Basel in Basel 2014

Esther Schipper, Photo courtesy of Art Basel

Art Basel in Basel 2014

Meyer Riegger, Photo courtesy of Art Basel

Art Basel in Basel 2014

Gladstone Gallery, New York, Brussels. Photo courtesy of Art Basel

After we’ve visited Art Basel, it’s time to see exciting new work by the next generation of contemporary artists. First we head to the LISTE fair in a former brewery that has that old high school kind of feeling and then to the Scope fair housed in the Klybeckquai, the new art and culture center of Basel.

What goes better with contemporary art than design, right? And so we headed off to Design Miami/a design fair that showcases a dizzying array of contemporary furniture, lighting, jewelry and objects d’art. Both new and familiar materials used in unexpected ways abound as you’re shown how a chair or a table or a mirror could be re-imagined into something altogether different.

Design Miami 1 Entrance Courtesy Nicole Polletta

Design Miami entrance. Photo be Nicole Polletta

Once we’ve done the fairs, it’s on to the museums. Fun fact: In an area of just over 14 square miles, Basel has over 40 museums, some of which exhibit the best modern and contemporary art in the world. Of these, my perennial must-sees are the Kunstmuseum Basel, the Schaulager, the Museum für Gegenwartskunst  and my favorite museum in the world, the Fondation Beyeler.  Close by and just over the border in Weil am Rhein, Germany is the Vitra Design Museum, with a campus that features an Airsteam Kiosk (something all of us at PEM now know and love following our Airstream in residence) as well as an of buildings designed by some of the world’s most renowned architects.

Talking with collaborators old and new, discovering or re-discovering artists, observing new ways of presenting art — all of these things are important and inspiring. So, I think it’s fitting that this was the last piece of art that we saw on our trip:

Art Makes People Powerful Courtesy Nicole Polletta

Photo by Nicole Polletta



  1. gail spilsbury says:

    This was fascinating to read–art saturation and joy in it. How did you do it all? What ideas did it inspire? Loved the pictures!

  2. Nicole Polletta says:

    Thanks, Gail! One of the biggest inspirations was the fantastic way that one’s sense of scale was being played with and thinking about how that could be used in future event designs.

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