Art Basel Switzerland 2015 reports




Inside Art Basel With Independent Curator Christine Messineo

Artist Sam Falls installing Untitled (Books for Jamie), 2014, in the Unlimited section of Art Basel.
Photo: Christine Messineo

Arriving in Basel—let me make this clear—there is no leisurely adjustment to the time zone. Sharing an airport taxi with the crew from Marian Goodman Gallery (themselves recovering from a London opening the night before), I was swiftly dropped off at the Messeplatz. Already streaming with people—mostly gallery insiders who are setting up their booths in the convention center—this plaza will be where the action happens all week.

Luggage still in hand, I ran to meet Los Angeles-based artist Sam Falls as he put the finishing touches on his Unlimited project. Unlimited is a section of Art Basel curated by Gianni Jetzer that exhibits ambitious work and is always a favorite. Rirkrit Tiravanija was also in the midst of his installation in the center of Messeplatz, and I was fortunate to be an early participant, sampling curries that would be a culinary highlight of Basel. This was just the beginning of a week of great art, dinners, reunions with friends, and stunningly beautiful sunsets—and one sunrise!

Basel is a go-to fair for fantastic blue-chip finds, but I focused on hunting down the odd work. I found a fantastic series of black-and-white photographs by Tom Burr from the 1990s titled Unearthing the Public Restrooms. There isn’t much work available by Burr from that time period, but it’s a critical juncture in his career. It was a gem of a find. I felt the same way about a Haim Steinbach work from the 1980s in Tanya Bonakdar’s booth.

See Christine Messineo’s Art Basel highlights in the slideshow above.

Artist Sam Falls installing Untitled (Books for Jamie), 2014, in the Unlimited section of Art Basel.
Photo: Christine Messineo

AO Preview – Basel, Switzerland: Art Basel Art Fair, June 18th-21st, 2015

June 15th, 2015

Outside Art Basel, via Art Basel
Outside Art Basel, via Art Basel

The doors are set to open at Messeplatz in Basel, Switzerland this week, for the 46th edition of the Art Basel art fair, the massive fair exhibition that has come to define the early summer months in Europe.  Bringing the massively international scope of the world’s elite galleries, this year’s Art Basel promises another strong outing. 


Zander Blom at Galerie Hans Mayer

As expected, the world’s top galleries will return to the sprawling floor plans of the exhibition center for another dizzyingly large exhibition, bringing world-class collections of work with them.  Skarstedt will be presenting a series of works from Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger and Richard Prince, among others, while Team Gallery will bring a selection of works by Cory Arcangel, Alex Bag, Andrew Gbur, Ryan McGinley, and Tabor Robak.  Gagosian will also present a strong group booth, featuring works by John Currin, Richard Prince and Georg Baselitz.  At Metro Pictures, works by Nina BeierOlaf Breuning, and a score of other artists should also prove a strong booth.

Kader Attia Untitled (Detail) (2014), via Lehmann Maupin
Kader Attia, Untitled (Detail) (2014), via Lehmann Maupin

The fair’s Parcours section will continue its exploration of the capital’s urban landscapes, bringing works by Nate LowmanAlicja Kwade and Jonathan Monk to contend with the history and architecture of Basel itself.  Also popular is Basel’s massive Unlimited section, where a number of large-scale projects, installations and sculptural works will take over one of the Messe Basel’s massive exhibition halls.  Early highlights include an installation of Robert Irwin’s Black, a series of overlapping scrims focusing pale grey squares into a zone of absolute blackness.  In a more audience-focused installation, David Shrigley is presenting Life Model, a figure drawing class in which visitors are welcome to draw a bizarrely proportioned animatronic figure.

Teresa Burga at Galerie Barbara Thumm

Gerhard Richter at Dominique Levy

The fair will also feature a new performance installation by Rikrit Tiravanija, architects Nikolaus Hirsch and Michel Müller, and chef Antto Melasniemi, titled DO WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY, a site-based work where visitors are invited to enjoy a meal prepared in the space, with compensation determined by labor within the site, or contributions to the functioning of the work (washing dishes, etc.).

David Shrigley, Life Model, via Anton Kern
David Shrigley, Life Model, via Anton Kern

Art Basel ‘s satellite fair, Liste, also returns this year, bringing a group of smaller galleries and project spaces to offer a more grounded counterpoint to Art Basel’s blue-chip firepower.  This year, 47 Canal will take part, bringing a series of new works by Stewart Uoo and Anicka Yi.  Clearing Gallery will also be on site, presenting new works by Calvin Marcus.

Anicka Yi, Best Friend's Arm (2015), via 47 Canal
Anicka Yi, Best Friend’s Arm (2015), via 47 Canal

Other exhibitions will also be taking place throughout the city, with particular attention paid to Fondation Beyeler, where a major Paul Gauguin exhibition is underway, prominently featuring the work When Will You Marry? now the world’s most expensive work of art following its reported $300 million sale.  The touring Marlene Dumas retrospective, which has commanded attention and critical praise in Europe these past months, is also on view currently at the Fondation.

The events kick off this week, with the fair opening its doors on June 18th.


Constant at Borzo Gallery

Alicja Kwade at 303 Gallery

Wwi-Liu-via-Aye-GalleryWei Liu at Aye Gallery

Atul-Dodiya-via-Chemould-Prescott-RoadAtul Dodiva at Chemould Prescott Road

A.R.-Penck-via-Daniel-BlauA.R. Penck at Daniel Blau

Lesley-Vance-via-David-KordanskyLesley Vance at David Kordansky

Oscar-Murillo-via-David-ZwirnerOscar Murillo at David Zwirner

George-Grosz-Galerie-St.-EtienneGeorge Grosz at Galerie St. Etienne

Joan-Miro-Galerie-ThomasJoan Miro at Galerie Thomas

Michelangelo-Pistoletto-Galleria-ContinuaMichelangelo Pistoletto at Galleria Continua

Magnus-Plessen-Gerhardsen-GernerMagnus Plessen at Gerhardsen Gerner

Pail-McCarthy-Hauser-&-WirthPaul McCarthy at Hauser & Wirth

Sarah-Lucas-Sadie-ColesSarah Lucas at Sadie Coles

Shinro-Ohtake-Take-NinagawaShinro Ohtake at Take Ninagawa

Caio-Reisewitz-Luciana-Brito-GaleriaCaio Reisewitz at Luciano Brito Galeria

Ai Weiwei at Galerie Urs Meile

Olafur Eliasson, Your solar nebula (2015), via Neugerriemschneider
Olafur Eliasson, Your solar nebula (2015), via Neugerriemschneider

Robert Irwin, Black (2008), via White Cube
Robert Irwin, Black (2008), via White Cube

— D. Creahan

– See more at:




“Untitled,” by Teresa Burga, an 80-year-old Peruvian artist, will be shown at Art Basel this year. Credit Teresa Burga/Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin/Photo by Nici Wegener

Fresh on the heels of the New York auctions that gave the art market its first-ever $2 billion week, Art Basel, the original high-end art fair, opens its doors for the 46th time from June 18 to June 21 in the Swiss city.

Some 284 dealers from 33 countries will gather in the exhibition hall on Messeplatz, in the center of Basel, for the last springtime stop on what the New York dealer Jack Shainman has called “the art world’s moveable feast.”

For those wowed by the recent headline-grabbing records, Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s director, pointed out that the artists in question — Picasso, Rothko and Giacometti — represented only a tiny sector of the market, and of the fair’s offerings.


An artist’s rendering of “Do We Dream Under the Same Sky,” an installation by the conceptual artist Rirkit Tiranvanija outside the main Art Basel building.  The work mixes the functions of both farm and restaurant and will eventually form part of “the land,” a self-sustaining artistic community in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Credit Rirkrit Tiravanija, Nikolaus Hirsch, Michel Müller and Antto Melasniemi

Dealers are certainly betting on continued buoyancy. Marc Glimcher, the president of Pace Gallery, said the atmosphere at Basel generally was “no holds barred,” even when compared to the fair’s notoriously revved-up Miami edition.

“You don’t worry about something being too expensive there,” Mr. Glimcher said. “You can sell a $20 million painting in Basel.”

The Pace booth features several works by the Pop Art icon Robert Rauschenberg, a longtime star in the Pace stable, in addition to pieces by Brice Marden and Louise Nevelson. “Bob was like family to us,” Mr. Glimcher said.

The works, which come from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, will be priced from $500,000 to $1 million, Mr. Glimcher said, and include the painting “Porcelain (Salvage)” from 1984.

The big news in Basel this year comes in the fair’s layout. Even veteran collectors will need to study the map before entering with checkbook or credit card in hand.

“We have done a fairly radical reconfiguration of the floor plan,” Mr. Spiegler said of the fair’s main section, Galleries. “It’s pretty big. We’ve moved dozens of galleries.”


“Retina #21” (1990) by Shinro Ohtake.  Some 284 deaders from 33 countries will be present at the Art Basel fair. Credit Shinro Ohtake, courtesy of Take Ninagawa, Tokyo/Photo by: Kei Okano

The rearrangement was not capricious. Over the years, dealers trading in similar artworks had ended up at opposite ends of the fair.

“It didn’t have the kind of coherence that we have in our Hong Kong and in our Miami shows,” Mr. Spiegler said. “What we’ve really done is to put all the galleries that deal exclusively or partially in work from pre-1970 on one side of the hall.”

Another change is that the Feature section, for focused presentations, has been expanded to 30 galleries from 24.

“It allows us to work with a broader range of galleries,” Mr. Spiegler said. “It also allows us to have more precise curation, because the Feature projects are chosen specifically based on a proposal.”

He added that Feature was “extremely popular with connoisseur collectors, museum directors and curators.”

In this year’s section, the Berlin-based dealer Barbara Thumm is showing the work of the 80-year-old Peruvian artist Teresa Burga, who merges the figurative and the conceptual in her self-portraits and images of other women. Some of her past work has incorporated analysis of own blood and other medical data.


“I Looked and Looked but Failed to See What so Terrified You,” a 2003 photograph by the American artist Carrie Mae Weems. Credit Carrie Mae Weems/Jack Shainman Gallery, New York/Photo by Jeremy Lawson

“She asks what is it that comprises a person,” Ms. Thumm said. “Is the data a person?”

Although self-portraits are an age-old artistic tradition, the practice is not encouraged for fair-goers. Mr. Spiegler noted that selfie sticks were banned from the fair. “And if I could ban selfies, I would,” he said, because of the “million close calls” that have involved visitors backing up precariously close to valuable artworks.

Ms. Thumm said Basel was the right place to have Ms. Burga’s works on display, since “it’s the top fair worldwide, and all the museum curators go there.”

She added, “There are so many gaps in museum collections for fantastic female artists.”

Also in Feature, Mr. Shainman will be showing works by the American artist Carrie Mae Weems, a MacArthur fellow best known for her work in photography, including the image “Untitled (Woman Brushing Hair),” from 1990.

“It’s so fast-forward at an art fair,” Mr. Shainman said. “But when you have the chance to present just one artist, you can really take something away from the experience.”


“Bananas,”  2013, a watercolor by Alexis Rockman, one of several works on the theme of food that are sprinkled throughout the fair. Credit Alexis Rockman/Sperone Westwater, New York

Food-themed pieces are sprinkled throughout the fair this year. The New York gallery Sperone Westwater will be showing Bruce Nauman’s neon work “EAT DEATH” from 1972 and Alexis Rockman’s watercolor “Bananas” from 2013.

In the Statements section, the New York gallery Wallspace is presenting Nancy Lupo’s mixed-media installation “One, Two, One and Toe,” which tackles fad diets and alternate sources of nourishment, among other topics. “‘Green’ is often a technique to sell you something,” Ms. Lupo said.

Perhaps the fair’s most ambitious project also deals with food, but will take place outside the walls of the exhibition hall. The fair organizers asked the conceptual artist Rirkrit Tiravanija to do a project on the Messeplatz, and he has enlisted an international team to help recreate part of “the land,” a self-sustaining artistic community he created in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with the artist Kamin Lertchaiprasert.

“Do We Dream Under the Same Sky,” as the work is known, will mix the functions of both farm and restaurant, and will have a purpose-built structure that will get shipped to Thailand to be part of “the land” once Art Basel is over. His collaborators on “Do We Dream” are the German architects Nikolaus Hirsch and Michel Müller and the Finnish chef Antto Melasniemi.

“We will serve food, and it’s free — but it’s not catered,” said Mr. Tiravanija, who said he was influenced by the activist food writer Michael Pollan. “It’s a lab for growing it, preparing it, serving and talking about it.” Some of the cooking will involve produce from a Swiss supermarket chain that would normally have been thrown away.

Mr. Tiravanija said that he liked doing something outside the confines of the red-hot art market.

“Art fairs are always a bit problematic: It’s a commercial space, and trying to do public art is a little battle,” he said, adding, “We are a bridge between these two spaces.”

Cohen, Marron Descend on ‘Riotous’ Art Basel Shopping Spree
by Katya Kazakina
June 16, 2015 — 9:00 PM PDT

Skarstedt gallery sold a 1992 Oehlen painting of oil on fabric for $1 million. Source: The artist and Skarstedt New York/London via Bloomberg

Skarstedt gallery sold a 1992 Oehlen painting of oil on fabric for $1 million. Source: The artist and Skarstedt New York/London via Bloomberg

It’s like Black Friday shopping at Art Basel, where mega-rich collectors jostle each other.

Donald Marron, chairman of Lightyear Capital, said he was interested in a Cy Twombly drawing at the fair’s VIP preview on Tuesday but it was sold by the time he arrived at the booth of Xavier Hufkens gallery.

Still, attending the world’s largest modern and contemporary art fair is important “to adjust your eye and to keep up-to-date with the market,” Marron said.

Billionaires Daniel Loeb, Steven Cohen and Laurence Graff were among the throng of collectors shopping at the fair in the quiet Swiss city on the Rhine River. Many booths were so packed it was hard to move around and see the art. The fair showcases 284 galleries representing 4,000 artists. The value of the works on view is $3.4 billion, according to insurer Axa Art.

“It’s been riotous,” said David Zwirner, whose gallery empire includes spaces in New York and London. “It’s probably the strongest start we’ve ever had.”

Cohen said he admired what he called a “beautiful” white 1961 painting by Robert Ryman at Dominique Levy’s booth. Its asking price was about $18 million, the gallery said. It was still available Tuesday afternoon.

Plenty of other works sold within the first hours of the opening.
Seven Silkscreens

Pace gallery sold seven silkscreens by Robert Rauschenberg priced at $450,000 to $1 million. Luhring Augustine said it sold a 2004 painting by Albert Oehlen, the subject of a solo exhibition at the New Museum in New York, for 600,000 euros ($675,000). Skarstedt gallery sold a 1992 Oehlen painting of oil on fabric for $1 million.

Works by Christopher Wool were popular with collectors. Luhring Augustine sold a 14-foot-tall sculpture priced at $2 million. Van de Weghe Fine Art sold a 2009 Wool painting with an asking price of $5.5 million.

“The first half hour of Art Basel is the most exciting time in the art season,” said Jeffrey Deitch, an art dealer and former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. “There really is the joy of the chase.”

As the doors opened at 11 a.m. on a rainy morning, Deitch rushed to the booth of JTT gallery, a first-time Art Basel participant, where Borna Sammak’s electronic paintings on high definition television screens pulsated with color and energy.

Deitch said he purchased two works, priced at $25,000 each, for a private museum of billionaire Indonesian collector Budi Tek, for whom he advises on art acquisitions.
First People

“It’s something completely fresh,” Deitch said of the work, which includes armature and coiled power chords in bright pink and yellow. “Young artists go very quickly. We wanted to be the first people at the booth.”

Zwirner’s booth sold a $1 million painting by Yayoi Kusama and a $250,000 abstract painting by Oscar Murillo. A painting depicting a young woman by Marlene Dumas, who has a solo exhibition at the Beyeler Foundation, sold for $3.5 million.

Murillo, whose works were priced at less than $10,000 just four years ago, was an example of how much some markets have moved. While his painting sold at Zwirner, a $400,000 sprawling installation featuring 53 placards and 15 mannequin heads with wigs went unsold at the preview at Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie.
Trend Line

“When prices start to exceed their trend lines, you have to ask yourself: Why?” Marron said about rising art prices. “Is this a new trend line? Or is it a bubble?”

Beirut-based collectors Tony and Elham Salame purchased at least a dozen works including those by Tauba Auerbach and John Armleder, as well as an Oehlen painting for 280,000 euros. They will join the couple’s collection of more than 2,000 contemporary pieces.

“It’s an addiction,” said Tony Salame, who is a fashion entrepreneur. “We don’t count. Otherwise you don’t come to Art Basel.”

Some expensive art didn’t fly off the shelves while more modestly priced works moved faster.

At Pace, a 1971 painting by Brice Marden, priced at $7 million to $8 million, was unsold by the end of the day.

Mark Rothko’s 1955 “Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange),” which had belonged to Paul and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, was priced at $50 million at Helly Nahmad’s booth, 37 percent more than the $36.6 million the painting fetched at Sotheby’s in November. There were no immediate takers, the gallery said.
Murakami Paintings

A 5-inch-tall red and black mobile by Alexander Calder sold for $450,000 at Van de Weghe.

“When good things are priced well there’s business,” said gallery owner Christophe Van de Weghe.

Galerie Perrotin said it sold seven paintings by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, including two priced at $1.1 million each. The gallery hosted a dinner for the artist on a moored boat Tuesday night with 200 people, including Cohen, who drank sake and sat beside women dressed as traditional Japanese female entertainers known as geishas.

Art fair fatigue was setting in for some collectors.

“I really don’t like to buy art at a fair,” jeweler Graff said earlier. “It’s too much pressure. You keep hearing, ‘This is reserved. This has sold.’”


Pablo Picasso's Les Dormeurs. Source: Landau Fine Art via Bloomberg

Pablo Picasso’s Les Dormeurs. Source: Landau Fine Art via Bloomberg

Gilded Age of Art Draws Billionaires to Basel Fair
by Katya Kazakina
June 14, 2015 — 9:00 PM PDT

Billionaire hedge fund manager Dan Loeb and Lightyear Capital Chairman Don Marron are among the collectors who will head to the Swiss city of Basel to check out the world’s largest modern and contemporary art fair.

Art Basel opens to invited guests on June 16 in the quiet Swiss city on the Rhine River. The fair’s 46th edition includes 284 galleries from 33 countries showing works by 4,000 artists. Insurer AXA Art estimates there’s 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) of art on view, about the same as last year.

Last month’s New York auctions set new records as $2.7 billion of art changed hands — up 23 percent from a year earlier — and a Picasso painting fetched $179.4 million.

“Interest rates are so low that people have so much money they don’t know what to do with it,” said Robert Landau, owner of Landau Fine Art, which is offering a $30 million Pablo Picasso painting. He said one of his clients is a 37-year-old man who retired after earning a fortune and is “sailing around the world and buying paintings to put on the boat.”

Warren Buffett’s NetJets Inc., a sponsor of the fair for the 12th year, said it has booked about 110 private flights in and out of Basel, a 10 percent increase from a year ago.
Important Shows

Loeb, who owns hedge fund Third Point, and Marron are planning to attend, along with Warren Eisenberg, Bed, Bath & Beyond’s co-chairman, according to people briefed on their plans. Tad Smith and Patricia Barbizet, the recently appointed chief executive officers of rivals Sotheby’s and Christie’s, respectively, are set to attend as well, the companies said.

“It’s another gilded age,” said New York collector Lenore Schorr. “A lot of people have a lot of money.”

Many galleries are bringing works by artists who had strong performance at auctions in May, and those who are featured at important current exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale.

Pablo Picasso’s $30 million painting of two lovers — a 2-meter-wide (6.5 feet) 1965 painting “Les Dormeurs,” depicting the artist and his second wife Jacqueline Roque — will be the star of Landau’s booth.

“When people see auction prices they think everything we have is very cheap,” said Landau, owner of the Montreal and Meggen, Switzerland-based gallery. “The auctions are helping us. They are raising prices on everything.”
Dubuffet Group

Landau is also bringing eight paintings by Jean Dubuffet. Leading the group by price is a $15 million work from the French artist’s Paris Circus series.

A larger painting from the group, “Paris Polka” fetched $24.8 million at auction in May, more than three times the artist’s previous record of $7.4 million.

Dominique Levy gallery will show Alberto Giacometti’s $6 million sculpture of his brother. At Christie’s, Giacometti’s bronze pointing man fetched $141.3 million, a record for a sculpture at auction.

Good material is getting harder to find as galleries have to compete with the auction houses and stock their booths at dozens of fairs each year.

“I’ve been through at least 25 packing lists and I have seen very few ‘Oh my God’ pieces,” said Todd Levin, director of Levin Art Group, whose clients have included Leonardo DiCaprio and hedge fund manager Adam Sender. “It seems harder to fill the booths.”
Neon Sculpture

One work that has caught his eye was Bruce Nauman’s 1972 neon sculpture, “Eat Death,” offered by Sperone Westwater gallery from New York. Another piece from the edition of six is currently on view at the Venice Biennale.

The price is in the seven figures, the gallery said, declining to be more specific. The auction record for a neon sculpture by Nauman is $4 million, reached in 2009, according to Artnet.

“I’ve been asked about this work more than anything else,” said Angela Westwater, a co-owner of the gallery. “It’s an eye-catching piece with a lot of wall power.”

Don’t look for a $179 million Picasso at Art Basel — most works are priced under $5 million, dealers said.

“People who are buying at auction are unlikely to buy through galleries,” said Paul Gray, director of Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago and New York. Asian collectors, who have been big buyers at recent auctions, are particularly finicky, he said.

“They are extremely brand conscious,” Gray said. “It’s not just the artists. It’s also the Sotheby’s and Christie’s provenance.”

Last year, one of the top prices at Art Basel was an Andy Warhol painting with the asking price of $32 million at Skarstedt gallery’s booth. It sold on the fair’s first day. This year, the New York- and London-based gallery doesn’t have an artwork of that value. It will show a large torso sculpture by Willem de Kooning, priced at $6.5 million.

“It’s a hard one to repeat,” said the owner Per Skarstedt.



A Warhol “fright wig” self-portrait sold at Art Basel last year for around $34 million. Credit Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

The hundreds of gallery owners who apply each year to secure a coveted booth at Art Basel, the Swiss art fair, spend weeks on their admission applications. They describe the evolution of their galleries, track the history of their exhibitions and list the biographies of their artists. Then there is the matter of the “mock booths,” intricate sketches, miniature models, even virtual tours, of their planned exhibition spaces, complete with tiny reproductions of the exact works they hope toexhibit.

All to impress the fair’s selection jury, six fellow dealers who have become among the most powerful gatekeepers — and tastemakers — in the art world.

“It is like the Olympics,” said the New York dealer Fergus McCaffrey, “or the European Champions League, and every good gallery and their artists wants desperately to compete.”

As the art market explodes in value and collecting becomes a global treasure hunt, the importance of showing at art fairs has soared, too. Fairs now account for about 40 percent of gallery sales by value, and as collectors flock to destination bazaars in places like Paris, London, New York, Miami and Maastricht in the Netherlands, dealers, museum curators and art-world groupies follow.

Interactive Graphic

The Art Basel Fair: A Tough Club to Crack

Galleries seeking to exhibit at Art Basel encounter an intense, juried competition. While the fair says it works to find new faces, prime selling space on the ground floor is dominated by a roster of established dealers.

OPEN Interactive Graphic

And perhaps no fair, dealers say, is harder to get into than Basel, where for the privilege of paying $50,000 to $80,000, galleries get to sell to the highest of high-end collectors, build relationships and burnish their reputations by sharing space with the best dealers in the world.

“It is like getting admitted to a club,” said Jeffrey Deitch, a private art dealer and former museum director and gallerist who waited seven years before the doors opened to him in 2006.

At first glance, the chances of being selected for the fair, which begins on Tuesday, don’t seem so slim, with about 900 galleries from around the world vying for the nearly 300 booths. But a look at the last seven years of the Basel lineup reveals a reality of much longer odds for newcomers, as a roster of veteran galleries end up dominating the fair year after year.

The result for Basel aspirants can be a regimen of yearly disappointment, even for well-established names.

Anke Kempkes, a respected Manhattan dealer, has applied unsuccessfully at least five times. Dorsey Waxter, who is president of the Art Dealers Association of America and helps organize the popular New York Art Show, has failed for years to get in.

“I have been with the in-crowd at the Art Show but I am not in Basel,” Ms. Waxter said.


Lucy Mitchell-Innes, a gallery owner and an Art Basel juror. Credit Misha Friedman for The New York Times

A Little Fair Grows Bigger

It wasn’t always this way. When Art Basel began 45 years ago in a staid Swiss town best known for banking regulations, it was primarily a fair for European galleries hoping to sell Modern and contemporary art to the growing ranks of mainly European collectors.

Galleries were usually invited back year after year. But a jury system, introduced later in the 1970s to screen applicants, gradually became more rigorous as Basel leveraged its Swiss efficiency, convenient location and five-star service to attract and cultivate an ever wealthier and more demanding clientele.

Today, V.I.P. collectors are lavished with Champagne breakfasts, lectures, tours, BMW car service, and most important, early access to the fair so they can buy the best art first.

These days Basel draws about 92,000 visitors to its six days of connoisseurship, selling and schmoozing. Many attendees are just window shoppers paying $50 for a day pass to watch the world’s richest people buy the planet’s most expensive art, like the person who paid around $34 million last year to walk away with a Warhol “fright wig” self-portrait (sold by Skarstedt, of New York and London). Axa, an insurance company that is one of the fair’s sponsors, estimates that more than $3 billion worth of art will be put up for sale at the fair this year.

As Art Basel’s influence has grown, so too has the power of its jurors, each of whom typically serves for five to 10 years.


The fair draws about 92,000 visitors to its six days of connoisseurship, selling and schmoozing. Credit Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

“I imagine,” said Amy Cappellazzo, an art adviser, with perhaps a touch of understatement, “being a member of this committee would make you popular among your peer group.”

Marc Spiegler, the director of Art Basel, a Swiss company that also runs art fairs in Miami and Hong Kong, said he chooses the committee for Basel with an eye to balancing geography and taste, seeking experienced jurors of such standing that other dealers will accept being judged by them. Because five of the six votes are needed to readmit an existing gallery and four of six to put a new gallery into contention for the remaining slots, he said there was no way for a single juror to torpedo a gallery’s chances.

The jurors, who separately operate German, Swiss, Italian and American galleries, begin their work about 11 months before the fair. In a series of gatherings, they and their advisers discuss their selections, vote, consider appeals and ponder larger questions: Should they include contemporary Chinese artists? Yes. Art by artists coming of age in the digital era? Definitely.

Once the fair starts, jurors arrive each morning at 8 to make sure that galleries that have sold items the day before do not replace the empty spaces on their walls with inferior art. If they have, dealers could be shown the door.

For their efforts, jurors are paid a small honorarium and expenses, and they routinely have their ears chewed by eager supplicants.

“Someone is trying to kiss you somewhere — metaphorically speaking,” a former juror, Claes Nordenhake, said of the lobbying. “And you know that the reason is not because they love or respect you but because they want to come close to the fair.”


The jurors, clockwise from top left: Tim Neuger, Eva Presenhuber, Jochen Meyer, Marc Blondeau, Lucy Mitchell-Innes, and Franco Noero. Credit Mr. Neuger: J. Pat Carter/Associated Press; Presenhuber: Mr. Lorenzo Nencioni for The New York Times; and Ms. Mitchell-Innes: Misha Friedman for The New York Times

The process has its critics.

Gerd Harry Lybke, director of a German gallery, Eigen +Art, a frequent Basel exhibitor who was denied admission in 2011 but readmitted the next year and now regularly shows, said the selection panel should consist of museum directors and curators rather than rival dealers.

“If it were a car fair, would the judges be other car companies?” he said.

Dealers have sued (unsuccessfully), and in the late 1990s the Swiss authorities, reacting to the fair’s market power, reviewed whether the fair violated the country’s antitrust provisions. No violations were found, but the authorities convinced the fair to create an appeals process for rejected galleries. (About 50 galleries a year appeal; about five eventually get in, after the fair asks them to up their games.)

“We bend over backwards to be fair,” said Lucy Mitchell-Innes, a juror, who formerly ran Sotheby’s contemporary art department and co-owns the New York gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash.

The committee looks for galleries that, among other things, are cutting edge, reflect geographic diversity in the art market and can demonstrate they have developed an artist’s career.


A Virtual Tour of an Art Basel Booth

The Sean Kelly Gallery’s proposed booth for the 2014 fair. The gallery was admitted.

Publish Date June 12, 2015. Photo by Sean Kelly Gallery.

“They have to evolve,” Mr. Spiegler said of the galleries.

He said he travels the world encouraging emerging galleries to apply.

“There is no tenure at Art Basel,” Mr. Spiegler said. “There is no seniority.”

But that depends on how you define tenure and seniority.

Try, Try, Try Again

Most galleries admitted for the first time, or after at least one year’s absence, end up in second-tier locations at the fair, according to six years of fair data. And most are not invited back the next year. More established dealers — the Gagosians, Paces and Zwirners, who derive power from their superstar clients and artists — dominate the inner aisles of the ground and second floors of the main hall, considered by many the most sought-after real estate in the art fair world.


The gallerist Dorsey Waxter has failed for years to break into Art Basel. Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

On the ground floor, home to more than 100 galleries, typically about 90 percent were in the fair the prior year.

Mr. Spiegler said the fair had reconfigured the ground floor layout this year to place booths exhibiting similar art next to one another, a decision that meant lots of galleries had to switch places. And the lineup of roughly 220 dealers in the fair’s main section, known as the Galleries sector, will feature a host of faces not present five years ago, he said.

“We feel that a turnover of 60 galleries in five years in the Galleries sector is a reflection of the development and changes within the art market,” he said.

Newcomers do break into the elite ranks and stick around, sometimes replacing veteran galleries. Consider Mr. McCaffrey, the New York dealer, who first applied for the 2011 fair, was admitted in 2012 and has returned every year since. He described his selection as “one of the most memorable moments of my life.”

Commercially, it makes sense to favor galleries whose status and drawing power is part of the fair’s appeal. “These galleries make the whole fair stronger to the benefit of everyone,” said Sam Keller, Mr. Spiegler’s predecessor in directing the fair. “You think twice before you kick any of them out.”

And the veterans do not approach the fair lightly. A representative for the Manhattan gallery David Zwirner said that it saves its best material for Basel. A glossy catalog of Zwirner artists goes out to 1,500 buyers on the eve of the fair.

Smaller galleries keep trying for Basel, and its alluring imprimatur. “It confers legitimacy,” said Cristin Tierney, a New York gallerist who failed to win entry this year but still plans to visit Basel.

Mr. Spiegler says the fair’s power sits heavily with those who make the decisions. “We know it is an existential issue for some galleries,” he said.

Ms. Waxter, who was rejected again this year, said she had no hard feelings. “That is what happens,” she said. “That’s life.”

Correction: June 14, 2015
An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misspelled the surname of a juror. He is Tim Neuger, not Euger.

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