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Art Basel becomes more global

"Staring into Amnesia" by Chinese artist Qui Anxiong features a huge railway carriage

Art Basel, billed as the world's premier show for contemporary and modern art, is welcoming more participation from rising art stars such as China this year.

The show, which opened on Wednesday, is presenting a dazzling display of works from all four corners of the globe. Established Swiss galleries and artists are also aiming to make a splash.

“Our hope is that this year’s show will be as successful as the previous ones have been,” Art Basel co-director Annette Schönholzer told swissinfo.

All the signs are that it will be. The 39th Art Basel is showcasing works by more than 2,000 artists. In all, 300 galleries are taking part, whittled down through tough selection criteria from more than 1,000 applications – a show record.

Around 60,000 visitors are expected.

Schönholzer said this year’s fair was more globalised. “Many of the participating galleries are expanding their artists’ programme and including artists from countries that were formerly not included in their programme,” she said.

This includes works from India, Asia, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, she explained.

China boost

China, which is undergoing an art boom, is well represented. Among the pieces on display is “Staring into Amnesia” by Qiu Anxiong.

This consists of a huge railway carriage. Inside there are videos projected onto the windows which document some of the most brutal moments in East Asian history.

Another work, by the Yangjiang Group, shows an irreverent take on a traditional Chinese garden.

There are four Chinese galleries at the fair, including first-timers, the Beijing Art Now Gallery, which specialises in avant-garde art.

“This is very important for us because Art Basel is a high-level art fair and maybe we can find new collectors and new curators,” owner Huang Liaoyuan told swissinfo.

The strongest participation still comes from United States, with 72 galleries, followed by 49 from Germany and 35 from Switzerland itself.

Home view

Elsbeth Bisig from Galerie Tschudi, which is based in the Swiss towns of Glarus and Zuoz, likened the experience of being chosen for Art Basel to gaining a Michelin star in cuisine.

“It’s very important for us because in Basel we meet the international collectors, many Americans, but also from India and everywhere in the world. It’s a real honour to take part in Art Basel,” she said.

Several big names in Swiss art are also represented at the fair, including Christine Streuli, who is showing “I don’t believe you”, based on Japanese woodcuts, and Thomas Hirschhorn, with his “Hotel Democracy” installation.

Hirschhorn, the enfant terrible of the Swiss art scene, is returning to Art Basel, having decided to stay out of the country while the controversial rightwing Swiss People’s Party figurehead Christoph Blocher sat in government. Blocher was ousted last December.

The fair will last for five days and goes head to head with the Euro 2008 football championships which kick off on Saturday in Basel.

Schönholzer said that there had been some tight shaves in terms of hotel rooms, but that it had all worked out in the end.

“Actually I hope that for some of our visitors it’s an added value as lots of art lovers love sports as well,” she said.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Basel

Art 39 Basel takes place June 4–8, 2008 and features 300 leading galleries from North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa. 99% of last year’s exhibitors reapplied.

On show are paintings, sculptures, drawings, installations, photographs, video and editioned works. Those attending include art collectors, art dealers, artists, curators and other art enthusiasts.

The New York Times has called Art Basel the “Olympics of the Art World”.

Annette Schönholzer and Marc Spiegler now share the directorship following the departure of Samuel Keller for the Beyeler Foundation.

Art Basel’s American counterpart, Art Basel Miami Beach, takes place December 4-7, 2008.

LISTE – the Young Art Fair in Basel: presents new and important galleries and highly contemporary young art, (June 3–8)

VOLTA4: contemporary art galleries of global repute with exciting emerging artists, “to bridge a gap between Basel’s pre-existing fairs”, (June 2-7)

Scope Basel: cutting-edge contemporary art fair, currently with other fairs in New York, London, Miami, and the Hamptons, (June, 3-8)

Design Miami/Basel: “global forum for collecting, exhibiting, discussing and creating design”, (June 2-5)

Bâlelatina HOT ART: curated contemporary art fair showcasing international galleries and artists mostly for the first time on the European art market, (June 3-8)

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