It would be unfair to accuse the 43rd edition of Art Basel of middle-age spread—co-directors Annette Schönholzer and Marc Spiegler promise to deliver the usual range of tightly edited and scrutinised gallery sections—but the latest edition, which kicks off to invited collectors and curators on 12 June, is not going to break with tradition either. In fact, for Art Basel regulars, the most noticeable difference may be the noisily emerging, elevated, Herzog & de Meuron-designed extension bridging halls one and three, scheduled to open next year—and the extension of the VIP entrance hours, increased from one to two days (12 and 13 June). First tier collectors (the so-called First Choice preview) will be allowed in at 11am, second tier at 3pm on Tuesday, with both groups allowed in at 11am on Wednesday, while the third and final tranche will be admitted for the official vernissage which is now 3pm to 8pm on the second day. Meanwhile, who gets the coveted VIP tickets, especially the First Choice group, will now be largely influenced by participating galleries.
According to Art Basel, the result of all this will be a “more selective” preview. It should certainly put paid to the undignified scrum that kicked off last year’s Art Basel: top collectors, some of whom climbed over the barriers at the First Choice preview, are not, it seems, used to waiting in orderly queues, even in Switzerland. Once inside, visitors will see the customary selection in the 250 or so Art Galleries section (just eight new entrants, plus two galleries returning after a gap, including Eigen+Art, controversially deselected last year).
Turnover at the very top art fairs, which include Art Basel for contemporary and modern and Tefaf Maastricht for older art and objects, is inevitably slow, with fierce competition to show in the main sections. “Many, many galleries have been saving up their best work for this fair, and we have some great new additions, such as Long March Space from China and Chemould Prescott Road from Mumbai,” Spiegler says. Accusations of same-ness are unfair, he adds: “If you look at the numbers over the course of three years, there’s a 20% turnover which shows how dynamic the art world is.”
There are some changes of course. The ever-popular Art Unlimited, for large-scale projects, has a new curator, Gianni Jetzer, director of the independent Swiss Institute—Contemporary Art, in Manhattan, while the three-year old Art Feature section, for “curated” exhibitions, has 19 out of 20 new galleries, for example. The Art Parcours public projects programme moves this time to the St Johann area (and features works by Pablo Bronstein and Los Carpinteros among the list). But the majority of the international collectors who come to Art Basel aren’t looking for outrageous novelty so much as high quality: a quality that Art Basel will be expected to deliver—very much as usual.
Art Basel 43
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Art Basel in tiers to keep collectors in order'