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Art Basel 2018

How Art Basel can inspire the Venice Biennale

Artistic director likens fair booths to cabinets of curiosities

Ralph Rugoff Mark Atkins

Ralph Rugoff, the artistic director of the Venice Biennale, wanted to invite 100 artists to spend a month in Venice, where they would make work for next year’s event—but the idea was quickly scrapped, Rugoff said in an Art Basel Conversation on 14 June. “Nobody can afford to do that or take off that much time. It would also be too expensive to house and feed everybody.” Another challenge of mounting a major biennial is having to cater for an ever-growing audience. “In my pessimistic moments,” Rugoff said, “I think many people are just there to take selfies. So how do you get them to engage with the art and not just use it as a background for social media?” Art Basel seems to offer inspiration. Walking around the fair, Rugoff said he began to liken the stands to a cabinets of curiosities. “Part of a visit [to the latter] was the performance of being told about the collection, which, in museums, is now played out by docents who repeat third-hand information. At a fair, a gallerist talks to you in detail about the artist and the work—that makes a huge difference. That could be translated into a biennial format.”