For one long weekend every summer, Art Basel turns a somnolent Swiss town into the world's art-trading capital. Last year a record 61,000 visitors got a snapshot of the market and a chance to rub shoulders with the cognoscenti who anoint the art world's Next Big Thing.
Fairgoers spend a day or two at the main attraction, a sprawling hall where the hottest booths will hawk pieces by minimalist Dan Flavin, Korean sculptor Do Ho Suh, and the legendary Louise Bourgeois. Smaller side fairs like Liste draw shoppers looking for newer names, while the youth-driven Volta fits right in with its edgy home in Basel's Dreispitzhalle neighborhood. People looking to be seen book tables at Chez Donati or the Restaurant Kunsthalle; those wanting an unencumbered meal settle for the casual Bodega zum Strauss. This year there's an added element to the fair: Art Parcours, 10 large-scale works installed throughout the city.
In preparation for this year's fair, scheduled for June 16-20, Bloomberg Businessweek asked insiders to share the sights and scenes that have proven worth their while.
Liste shows avant-garde work by young artists in a labyrinthine former brewery. It attracts hipster gallerists sporting asymmetrical haircuts and cool specs, and it's not everyone's favorite: "Liste is a place to discover new talent, but it's in a tough setting that's not so flattering for the art" says art adviser Wendy Cromwell.
In 2009, Art Basel's most- buzzed-about sale was a collaboration between musician Pharrell Williams and Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami; the duo's The Simple Things sold for $2 million within 20 minutes of the show's opening.
Shock-master performance artist Paul McCarthy and veteran dealer Irving Blum—one of Andy Warhol's first fans—engage in battles of wits as part of the Conversations series hosted by fair organizers.
Dealers and fellow éminences grises drink negronis at Restaurant Kunsthalle: "Go for the atmosphere, the Italian-Swiss cuisine, the service, and the great alfresco terrasse," says Brussels-based dealer Rodolphe Janssen.
Major Talking Point
New work by 99-year-old Louise Bourgeois. Although the French-born sculptor is known for 30-foot metal spiders, she's now showing the fabric composition at the booth of New York gallery Hauser & Wirth.
Basel summers can be steamy, and some hotels lack air conditioning. Locals typically jump in the Rhine to cool off. (They change into swimsuits and float their clothes beside them in plastic bags.) "It's very clean and has a nice current," says Art Basel exhibitor Friedrich Petzel. "You just glide, and let the current take you....If you are not completely drunk, you survive."
Armani-clad dealers, billionaire buyers, and blue-jeans-wearing artists all clamber aboard the ultra-efficient BVB light rail. "It's Basel's greatest asset," says art adviser Lisa Austin.
The glitzy Three Kings hotel might be booked solid, but cocktails, though pricey, are still available at the hotel's riverfront bar.
"I highly recommend two national Swiss grocery chains: Migros and Coop." - Katja Zigerlig, director of fine art insurance for private AIG clients
Hotly Anticipated Show
Curatorial powerhouse Fondation Beyeler presents a comprehensive Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit of 100 works including Basquiat's Untitled (Boxer), which sold for $13.5 million in 2008. "It's the greatest Basquiat show of all time," says collector Adam Lindemann. "And the most important thing to see in Basel, full stop." The museum itself is an airy Renzo Piano design plunked between cow pastures. "The location and light are beautiful, and the shows are always inspiring," says dealer Claudia Altman-Siegel.