Economic blues on back burner as collectors flock to Art Basel

What to expect at the Swiss fair, including new faces and a funfair in the Messeplatz


With the presidential election in France in the rearview mirror, and spring auctions in New York bringing reassuring prices for top-flight material, collectors may feel that the political and economic instability roiling the Western art market in the first half of the year has begun to abate. The 291 dealers at this year’s Art Basel fair, now in its 48th year, are poised to meet the sustained demand for exceptional, undiscovered material, but are also coming armed with works that speak to the contemporary moment.

The new class of exhibitors this year includes 17 brand-new to the fair. Salon 94, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler are among the returnees elevated to the main Galleries sector. The Statements solo projects sector welcomes eight emerging first-timers at Art Basel, including Cairo’s Gypsum Gallery, Auckland’s Hopkinson Mossman, and Shanghai’s Antenna Space, which is presenting Guan Xiao’s sensorial-Situationist installation Air Freshener, Spray (2017).

Politics, a major theme of the Film programme, is present at the macro and micro levels. Bringing the rising waters of the Pacific Ocean closer to the landlocked Swiss canton, Filipino artist Martha Atienza—exhibiting at the Silverlens gallery in Statements—will show her eco-video installation Our Islands. Arratia Beer will mount a two-part installation by Omer Fast that shows a US drone operator’s live-fire mission. In the Unlimited monumental sculpture sector, Andrea Bowers will cover one wall with a panoply of feminist protest signs on cardboard (courtesy Andrew Kreps, Kauf­mann Repetto and Vielmetter).

Among the core Modern dealers, German Expressionism is the focus at Galerie St Etienne’s stand, where a life-size portrait of the opera singer Elisabeth Stüntzner (1932) by Otto Dix takes centre stage, with backup from Max Beckmann’s Portrait of Irma Simon (1924), hitting the market for the first time. Beckmann’s prints from the 1910s and 20s are the focus at Jörg Maass Kunsthandel, while Galerie Thomas of Munich has works by Emil Nolde, August Macke and Max Pechstein.

Borzo Gallery of Amsterdam offers seven variations on 20th and 21st-century monochromes by artists including Bram Bogart, Ewerdt Hilgemann, Jan Schoonhoven and Esther Tielemans. More monochromes can be found in the Feature sector at Peter Blum Gallery, with works by Robert Ryman.

Continuing the participatory trend seen at Frieze New York, Sadie Coles HQ is featuring The Kiss by Urs Fischer, after the famous sculpture by Rodin on the centenary of his death. Fischer’s large-scale version will invite fairgoers to leave their mark—literally—on the white Plasticine sculpture, another version of which was shown earlier this year in the London gallery. Unlike earlier works in dried clay or candle wax, which eventually degrade, the Plasticine sculptures (which Fischer previously undertook with a copy of Maillol’s The River) undergo a continuous morphing at the hands of viewers.

Outside, Claudia Comte will refashion the Messeplatz as a funfair curated by Chus Martínez, palindromically titled NOW I WON. Amid competitive games such as darts, bowling and minigolf, Comte’s target paintings and wood sculptures will set the stage for the grand prize up for grabs: an original work of art by the artist herself.

• Art Basel, Messe Basel, Switzerland, 15-18 June