Art Basel aims to attract big spenders

The Art Unlimited section includes a giant work by Richard Serra

The annual art fair which describes itself as the world's largest "temporary art museum" is underway in Basel.

This content was published on June 18, 2003 - 16:57

This year it is showcasing works by over 1,000 great and - so far at least - less well-known artists.

But not all the 50,000 visitors expected at Art Basel will go there just to admire a broad canvas ranging from classic modernism to the cutting edge of contemporary art.

Before the fair closes on June 23, some collectors will have paid large sums for works by artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Warhol, because this is much more than an art event. It is also big business involving sales worth millions of dollars.

Budget buys

However, not all the buyers are leading art museums and seriously rich private collectors. A survey conducted at last year's fair revealed that 27 per cent of the works exhibited were on sale for less than €5,000 (SFr7,800).

This is considerably less than the millions spent on paintings so expensive they don't carry anything as vulgar as a price tag.

"We did the survey in response to people who said the event was aimed at buyers with huge budgets," Art Basel director Samuel Keller told swissinfo.

"Our aim was to show that art works are accessible to a wider public than many visitors realise."

Keller added that not all the less expensive works were by up-and-coming artists. They also include examples of "multiple editions" by some of the big names of the past century.

This year 270 galleries from all over the world have stands at Art Basel, which has strict criteria for allowing them to exhibit. The total number of applications was over 900.

US interest

More than 50 of the galleries represented are from the United States, reflecting a growing North American interest in the fair engendered by Art Basel Miami Beach, a sister event held last year for the first time.

Art Basel organisers describe their fair as the world's leading art show and in terms of scale it is literally huge. One section, called "Art Unlimited", is devoted to works too big to be accommodated in most galleries or museums.

Keller expects business to be brisk despite the weakness of the world economic climate.

Collectors are tending to travel less, but he says that because of its reputation, they prefer not to miss Art Basel: "Many North American visitors combine our fair with a trip to Venice for the Art Biennale."

Art Basel is in the city's exhibition centre until June 23.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

Art summary

The 34th Art Basel is expected to attract 50,000 visitors before it closes on June 23.
Nine hundred galleries from all over the world applied to be represented, but only 270 were approved.
Art works worth millions are on sale alongside objects costing considerably less.
A survey conducted at last year's fair revealed that 27 per cent of the works exhibited were on sale for less than €5,000 (SFr7,800).
Art Basel Miami Beach is a sister event taking place this year from December 4-7.

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