From a near collision with a tram to the week's hottest parties: what went down at Art Basel 2021

A dancer performing Monster Chetwynd's TEARS (2021) Courtesy of Art Basel

A dancer performing Monster Chetwynd's TEARS (2021) Courtesy of Art Basel

Plastic fantastic almost ends in Tears

Art Basel visitors crossing the Messeplatz square have been enthralled this week by Tears, an eye-popping performance created by the artist Monster Chetwynd, who let loose a throng of giant transparent balls filled with lithe men and women in sequinned leotards. Pedestrians milling around have been leaping out of the way of the plastic pods—known as zorbs—which create a scene of “celebratory poetic absurdity”, fair organisers say. But disaster was narrowly averted when one of the zorbs rolled towards the nearby tram lines, prompting the performer inside to jump out and yank it back to safety by hand. Phew!

Michèle Lamy performed an atmospheric spoken-word piece at the Audemars Piguet party during Art Basel Photo: © Courtesy of Owenscorp

Basel faithful find their post-pandemic groove

While this year’s Art Basel may be slightly more subdued, that certainly hasn’t dampened the week’s evening festivities. Things kicked off on Monday night when crowds descended on Les Trois Rois hotel to talk shop and shoot figures in its oak-panelled bar (where a certain mega-dealer was denied entry at peak hour). On Tuesday, Ryoji Ikeda set retinas on fire with a spectacular light-and-sound installation inside a church, before the collector and style icon Michèle Lamy performed an atmospheric spoken-word piece accompanied by a DJ. Party hoppers could take their pick on Wednesday, which saw the Vitra Campus’s annual summer party roll into a sweaty (and not exactly Covid-friendly) rave. We can confirm that the evening didn’t stop until well into the wee hours. Its attendees could most likely be found on Thursday clutching XL coffees and praying that no one asks them a thing about art.

David Shrigley's AR wom crawling up Les Trois Rois Courtesy of Ruinart

Shrigley’s got wriggle room

It’s not every day you see a giant pink worm winding its way around some of Basel’s most striking landmarks, including Les Trois Rois hotel. That surreal sight comes courtesy of the UK artist David Shrigley, who has created an augmented reality work for the Acute Art smartphone app. Giant Worm was commissioned by the French champagne house Ruinart, which invited the acerbic artist to its vineyard in Reims. Daniel Birnbaum, Acute Art’s artistic director, says Basel is just the beginning. “The worm will be quite visible this fall; he will follow the art crowd wherever they go, from Milan, Berlin and Basel to London and Miami,” he quips. This worm is not for turning.

Raven Smith in Art Basel Diaries © Hauser & Wirth

The virgin diaries

Vogue columnist Raven Smith is in town this week filming Art Basel Diaries, a video series for Hauser & Wirth gallery chronicling his experience as a Basel virgin. One vignette sees him sampling a mammoth, icing-sugar- sprinkled Swiss pastry—“like kissing a baker on Christmas morning”—and poring over blue-chip works by Cindy Sherman and Philip Guston as Iwan Wirth hangs the gallery’s Art Basel stand. “The scale of [the fair] is really impressive,” he muses, but the Basel fashionistas are best in show. “At Frieze [London], people are real peacocks but here people are subtly fabulous. It’s much more understated—but in a way more fabulous.”

Basel Art on a Billboard © Serge Hasenböhler

Art really is everywhere (in Basel)

Eagle-eyed visitors and residents of Art Basel will notice quirky text works all over the city this week in the form of posters emblazoned with messages such as “A Bad Place” and “Have You Ever Seen Me?” These typographical teasers were created by the established UK collective Art & Language who splashed their subversive billboards across New York in the 1970s. The Basel works come from the “10 Posters” silkscreen series printed in 2019 by the German publisher René Schmitt in 2019. This week, 200 of the mischievous posters will appear along the leafy city streets and around tram stations, “transforming [the locations] “into signposts and signifiers of contemporary art”, says a statement. Schmitt says the Art & Language posters “can be read in many different ways, depending on the viewer", and that he really “enjoys looking at them on my tram journeys between Art Basel and my hotel”. Art really is everywhere (just keep your eyes peeled). 

Leopold Weinberg and Carmen Knoebel Gareth Harris

Imi Bar window is a tonic

One of Basel’s swankiest hotel bars boasts an eye-catching stained glass window work by German artist Imi Knoebel which should be a tonic for drinkers and revellers. Leopold Weinberg, owner of the Volkshaus Basel Hotel, describes how the 240-pane window design was conceived and made for the so-called Imi Bar. “We were first under the impression that Imi would do something with the walls but he was not interested at all,” says Weinberg. The windows are a feat of engineering with every pane a different colour. “Every green is a different green, every yellow is a different yellow,” he adds. Carmen, Imi Knoebel’s wife who was instrumental in creating and installing the stained glass, ran the legendary Ratinger Hof pub in Düsseldorf which became the centre of the city’s punk scene in the 1970s. She recalls visiting London at the same time to see the city’s hippest groups. “I was often there for concerts, and saw live groups such as The Raincoats. Now London is so clean!” she declares, lamenting how times have changed in the UK capital.

Alison Jacques in denim Gareth Harris

Hug, kiss or go in for the bump?

In the age of Covid, everyone it seems is struggling with how to meet and greet each other—do you go in for a handshake, fist bump or just hug the hell out of someone? A completely random straw poll on the Art Basel fair floor elicited varying responses but the consensus among art world folk is that after months in lockdown, people just gotta hug. Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s global director, agreed that there are “some people I just cannot not hug”. A veteran Swiss dealer, who shall remain nameless, said “it all depends on how well I know the collector—fist bump if I’m feeling casual, full-on embrace if I love them”. But we’re most impressed with London dealer Alison Jacques’s strategy—place your hands in the deep pockets of a jumpsuit, thereby overcoming any coronavirus embarrassment and unnecessary fumbling.


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