Cate Blanchett, Leonardo DiCaprio, Stephanie Seymour and Dasha Zhukova were but a few of the famous faces descending on Basel’s newly-redesigned Messeplatz Tuesday for the VIP preview of the 44th edition of Art Basel. The undisputed leader on the fair circuit, Art Basel brings together the art world at its most impressive, with over three hundred of the top galleries from around the globe, including London staples White Cube and Lisson Gallery; New York heavyweights David Zwirner, Barbara Gladstone and Matthew Marks; Los Angeles strongholds Blum + Poe, Regen Projects and David Kordansky; and of course, the near-ubiquitous Gagosian Gallery, which might have been founded in Los Angeles, but now commands more than thirteen international outposts.
If the art world has been suffering fatigue -- after all, it’s been a month of back-to-back events, from the Venice Biennale to fledgling fairs like Frieze New York and Art Basel Hong Kong -- that exhaustion was nowhere to be found within the fair itself, which came on as strong and breathtaking as always. This might owe something to the architectural revitalization of the Messeplatz, whose sleeker, sexier layout is courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron. The architects covered the previously open-air public areas for a seamless transition into an auxiliary exhibition space, currently home to Design Miami/Basel. If either fair has been hit by economic downturn, no one could tell, as mega-collectors like Don and Mera Rubell, Roman Abramovich, Rosa de la Cruz, Maria Baibakova, and David and Susan Gersh glided back and forth between the buildings, pausing only for air kisses and wifi signals.
This year, Art Basel prefaced its official, invitation-only preview with a 9:30 a.m. champagne breakfast in the central courtyard. While the hour may have bordered on unseemly for some, the gesture offered a subtle solution to the indignities of past openings, when the 11 a.m. start time sparked a flurry of “Early Choice” elbows, all angling to get through the narrow turnstiles at the entrance. Now allowed in at a more leisurely pace, collectors and their advisors strategized over their maps as champagne flowed freely. (Confoundingly long lines awaited those who preferred water.)
Of course, the critical mass of collectors, curators, artists, and their admirers brings with it a frenzy of art-themed activity, which temporarily transforms the otherwise-sleepy city of Basel into a cosmopolitan hub. In addition to a number of formidable museum shows -- such as Steve McQueen at Schaulager, or the Beyeler Foundation’s curious double billing of Max Ernst and Maurizio Cattelan – the city hosts its share of satellite fairs and pop-up projects. Housed in the abandoned Warteck factory, the Liste Fair offers an edgier selection of emerging galleries, such as Peres Projects (Berlin), Labor (Mexico City), Rodeo (Istanbul) and Karma International (Zurich).
Yesterday, designer Raf Simons was spotted milling around Balice Hertling’s third floor space, where featured artist Sam Fells was causing quite the commotion. Meanwhile, in the stairwell, MOCA’s Jeffrey Deitch, the Whitney Museum’s Scott Rothkopf and the New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni (fresh from his stint at the Venice Biennale) crossed paths in pursuit of the young, the restless, and the ready-for-their-museum-debuts. Another fixture on the fair scene is Volta, which, along with the Armory Show, is part of the holdings of Chicago-based conglomerate Merchandise Mart. Settled into the warehouse area of Dreispitzhalle, Volta featured galleries as far-flung as Athr (Jeddah), Rena Bransten (San Francisco), and New York’s The Hole, a raucous project headed up by Deitch protégée Kathy Grayson.
Still, there are plenty of options for those who would prefer to operate outside the fairs altogether. For instance, after 6 p.m., a banner adorned with a skimpily-sketched nude unfurls above the Confiserie Schiesser, a chocolate shop in the center of the city’s Marktplatz. Those in the know can enter the store after hours, slipping into the back stairwell and up one flight to an apartment lavishly outfitted with the paintings of William Copley, the Los Angeles dealer who specialized in Surrealist art, but secretly indulged his own private, more subject matter on the side. As if the off kilter erotica weren’t sweet enough, guests are treated to platters of chocolate and endless tumblers of cognac. A joint project by New York-based dealers Paul Kasmin and Adam Lindemann, Confiserie CPLY will be open to the inquisitive from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night this week, ensuring an enjoyable aperitif to the nightly gathering’s at the Kunsthalle Bar.