Art 101

What Is Art Basel?

What Is Art Basel?
Theaster Gates | White Cube Art Basel 2013 (Courtsey Art Basel)

The Art Basel franchise has become such a force in the art world that the premier fair was recently renamed "Art Basel in Basel"—so as not to be confused with "Art Basel in Hong Kong" and "Art Basel in Miami Beach." The preview of the Swiss edition, launched in 1970, kicks off today and opens to the public on Thursday, where it can expect some 65,000 visitors to pass through its doors. The Swiss edition of the fair is held in halls one and two of the Messeplatz, andwill bring together the work of more than 4,000 artists for the viewing of collectors, dealers, and art lovers the world over.

A defining characteristic of Art Basel is its division into “sectors," eight distinct areas or venues for different kinds of presentation. There's the traditional gallery-style sector, where 230 galleries from around the world will exhibit work, and which takes up the majority of the fair's real estate. Then there's the “Feature” sector for more highly curated projects, often featuring solo or two-person displays, such as, this year, bitforms gallery's exhibition of work by Manfred Mohr, and a show of Robert Morris at Leo Castelli Gallery. In a similar format, “Statements” presents the work of up-and-coming artists, such as Antoine Catala at 47 Canal, while “Edition” features print and editions publishers from Three Star Books and Crown Point Press, among others. Finally, “Parcours” takes art outside the exhibition hall, with 17 site-specific works; a week-long curated series of films make up the “Film” sector; and “Magazines” presents dozens of publications the world over.

However, many observers consider the “Unlimited” sector the fair's centerpiece. It has been curated for the second year by Gianni Jetzer and is meant to defy traditional expectations for fair booths by showing oversized works in a variety of media—more akin to a museum exhibition. This year’s edition draws 79 works, the largest number to date, from artists such as Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, Sean Scully, Pierre Huyghe, and Carl Andre. However one chooses to experience this year’s Art Basel–on film, in the booths, or among the huge curated projects—there's something for everyone to see.


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