I live in Bologna, Italy, a mere five and a half-hour drive from Basel, Switzerland, which hosts one of the most important annual modern and contemporary art shows in the world, Art Basel. In my two years of living in Bologna, did it ever occur to me to make a trip to Basel? No. Why not? Good question. Laziness…money…ignorance perhaps…I guess it gets the best of us sometimes. Our own backyards are sometimes the last place we explore. In this case, I was lucky enough that my friend Zong rescued me from my remiss by inviting me to meet him at his gallery’s exhibition this year at Art Basel.
Having virtually no visual arts education and not being a fan of fairs and trade shows in general, my decision to go was in the spirit of adventure, friendship, and trust in Art Basel’s excellent reputation. And, well, why not? The exhibition spanned a full week in Basel, with about 300 galleries exhibiting, strictly chosen from a group of 2,000 applicants. It sounded promising.
Simply put, Art Basel wholly lived up to its reputation and in scale, was truly the most impressive collection of modern and contemporary art I have seen in my life. And I really can’t stress this enough – you don’t need to know anything about art to enjoy an exhibition like this. From all-star artists like Picasso and Warhol, furniture and design displays, photography, and installation art, there is something for everyone. And don’t even try looking at everything – there’s no time. Just stop and look at what really gets you.
Statistically speaking, there is something for everyone, and because this is not your average art show, that something is likely to be, well, amazing. I will never forget the moment I walked into one of the exhibit halls at Art Basel, roughly the size of a football field, and realized the entire hall was dedicated to installation art. This is not the sort of thing you find every day. I suddenly felt like an eight-year-old that just walked into Disneyland. I spent the afternoon weaving my way between larger than life paintings with their own soundtracks (think Moby Dick dressed in costume complete with whale sounds and a recorded reading), huge sculptures, through installed walls of fictional deserted businesses on an urban street, and into countless dark rooms with video projects, each one like a treasure waiting to be pulled out of a grab bag. By the end of the day, my mind was soaring from all the stimulation from so many visual delights. I was thrilled. I even managed to convince my athletic and left-brained travel companion, David, to come. He found solace in the visual mind tricks from architecturally inspired installations.
And the cherry on top of the fabulousness that was Art Basel was the beautiful, accessible, and relaxed city of Basel. While the city was packed with people attending the exhibition, there was plenty of room for everyone (aside from the steep hotel prices – book in advance). I spent a relaxing evening enjoying a stroll along the River Rhine, soaking in the beautiful architecture and the wonderfully relaxed vibe. My friend David spent the day hiking along the river, which he filled me in on with his iPhone photos when we met later for dinner at a local favorite for beer, The Fischerstube.
Reuniting with Zong in what really did turn out to be a mecca of modern and contemporary art, I really started kicking myself for not being more proactive with my travel adventure research and coming to Art Basel sooner. How many other amazing places are there to explore and things to do in the world am I missing because, well, no one has invited me? I’ve really got to get on this…Next year, Venice Biennale, here I come!
Here’s a slide show of my favorite photos from Basel: