‘Art Basel’ – an exclusive art show nestled in a historical city
You are thinking about Switzerland. Perhaps you are planning a trip there, or maybe you are already walking in its green pastures or hiking along its rocky mountain ranges. You may already know Switzerland’s long history.
You may be aware of its varied landscapes, different linguistic identities, or its renown chocolate makers (yes, I’m pretty sure you know about the chocolate). What you
‘Art Basel’ – an exclusive art show nestled in a historical city
What you probably don’t know is that Switzerland is also the host of one of the largest and most famous art shows worldwide! It is called ‘Art Basel’, and, as the title hints, it is in the wonderful city of Basel, at the border with France and Germany.
An overview of the fair
‘Art Basel’ is an ongoing Modern and Contemporary art fair which attracts thousands of artists, gallerists and museum curators from all over the world. For one week in the middle of June, thousands of visitors crowd the streets of this historical city.
Basel undergoes a transformation: its streets become dotted with countless pieces of artwork, installations, shows and much more. If you are interested, know that ‘Art Basel’ always happens on the third week of June, except for 2020. In 2020 it will start on September the 17th and continue until the 20th: from Thursday to Sunday. The other editions of ‘ Art Basel ‘ are in Miami (December) and Hong Kong (March).
Arriving a bit before
If you feel like experiencing the show in full, you can always get there beforehand. Most of the participants will travel to Basel prior to the public opening for the many events that start at the beginning of the week (bare in mind though that these events are by invitation only!).
Yet, if you want to feel the full buildup to the fair, visit the city while it’s still relatively quiet. Mingle with the artists before the large crowds of visitors arrive. We strongly recommend to travel there early in the week!
The fair is everywhere
The fair involves the entire town, as many museums host special exhibits, and each neighbourhood in Basel will have its own special attractions and events. However, the main show is held by the large ‘Messe Basel Exhibition Centre‘, which opens from Thursday to Sunday from 11am to 7pm.
How much is the entry to Art Basel?
The box office for the 2018 edition was open in April. If you are wondering about the costs, the previous edition of the fair had Day tickets for 60CHF (roughly equivalent to 65USD) and permanent Tickets, which give you access for the whole week, at 140CHF. The fair also offers several other ticket combinations which will allow you to save money depending on your needs and length of stay.
Tickets purchase at Banhoff Station
Tickets are available upon arrival and can be purchased directly at the ‘Banhof SBB’ train station, the ‘Badischer Banhof’ train station and in the ‘Marktplatz’: the market square. There are discounts available to customers who buy the tickets online (available up to the last day of the show!) and to the ones who travels to Basel by train. There are also several discounts available for groups, families, students and seniors!
‘Art Basel’ is divided into several, content and context dependant sections. You can easily choose to see the ones that interest you the most. Keep in mind, that considering the sheer size of the exhibits and the number of events to attend, you will have to study the program carefully to avoid missing out!
This is the main section of the fair at the Exhibition Centre. It is called ‘Galleries’ because the exhibitors are all galleries that are eager to promote and show their latest finds and artistic talents! In Basel, you will mostly see works done by European artists, but there will also be gallerists coming from all over the world, ranging from South America to East Asia. You will be able to see drawings, paintings, installations, sculptures, digital art, prints, photography and videos from more than 4000 artists!
The ‘Feature’ section in the Centre is curated by ‘Art Basel‘ collaborating gallerists. It showcases various projects by established and historical solo artists. What you will see may vary greatly depending on which artists are present: there will be presentations, juxtapositions, and thematic exhibits, from artists with very different cultural backgrounds and artistic approaches.
This section is very similar to the ‘Feature’ one, with one peculiar difference: all the artists present here are emerging artists! They are here to compete for the prestigious Baloise Art Prize, offered by the Baloise Group. The award winning artist will see their artwork purchased by the Group and then donated to major European artistic institutions.
This exhibition is limited to printed projects, showcased by some of the best publishers of prints in the world such as Niels Borch Jensen Gallery and Editions and Paragon. The artists work closely with the publishers to keep on challenging and improving this medium.
Created by the ‘Art Basel’ curator Gianni Jetzer, this is a pioneering exhibition that transcends the usual limitations of an art show. Presenting large scale installations, massive sculptures and live performances. If you think that contemporary art should also be sensational and overwhelming, do not miss out on this one.
The ‘Parcours’ section is what engages the whole city in celebrating ‘Art Basel’. All around the city’s neighbourhoods there will be several works displayed directly on the streets. You should also expect live performances throughout the day and night. Make sure you get a map of the city and a schedule of the many events.
Maxa Zoller is a film curator and art lecturer who presented experimental films in some of the major museums and galleries around Europe. At ‘Art Basel’ she coordinates and organises a week worth of films by artists, and about artists.
This is a series of talks and dialogues concerning the global contemporary art scene. There will be several artists, publishers, gallerists, curators and architects delivering their point of view on the world of modern and contemporary art. There will be a full schedule available, but, if for some reason you end up missing a particular ‘conversation’, you can catch them later on the ‘Art Basel’ YouTube channel.
At the Exhibition Centre there will be several stands of many leading art magazines which display their work. Also, many publishers and editors of these magazines will be present at the show and they will deliver their insights on the world of arts in some of the ‘conversations’.
As you can see, the program for ‘Art Basel’ is very diverse and covers all the aspects of the vast world of the arts. Your days at the fair will be busy and full of different activities to pursue!
For this reason, we have included here a few tips we feel you could follow to have the best experience at ‘Art Basel’.
All in all, ‘Art Basel’ is an unmissable event; whether you are already planning a trip to Switzerland in June, or you are considering attending art fairs in Europe, this is the place to go to!
Fear not though, if after reading this article you have felt all the fascination for the fair but you can’t travel to the Swiss city, know that ‘Art Basel’ is also an itinerary show that touches many other cities around the world. Alternatively, you can also try to make it to ‘Art Basel’ as an artist! Their website is open to free submissions on artwork and you could actually end up be invited to their next edition of the show!
The world of modern and contemporary art has never been more accessible!
Make timely arrangements, as the show will attract many visitors from all over Europe. Many accommodations may become fully booked for the week of the fair.
2# Stay longer
We would recommend to stay in Basel for more than one or two days. ‘Art Basel’ is very large and you can’t be everywhere all the time. If you want to see every section of the festival, we would advise you to stay for a whole week, especially if you would like to visit the city’s attractions as well. (Arguably, even if you would stay the whole week, you would end up missing something nonetheless; only the most dedicated planner can hope to see everything!)
3# Explore the city
‘Art Basel’ is much more than just the fair grounds at the ‘Messe Basel Exhibition Centre‘, thanks to its ‘Unlimited’ program. You will have an excuse to explore the city whilst enjoying the fair at the same time.
4# Experience the art
‘Art Basel’ is a very friendly art show, and by that, we mean that it cares about its visitors. Do not think of it as some sort of limited access event where the most prominent sections are closed off to the public, unless you are a high end art collector or art buff. ‘Art Basel’ has something for everybody! It collaborates closely with the city to offer an all-round engaging experience, it organises children’s activities and several guided tours for the ones less versed in the arts! Even if art is not your forte, ‘Art Basel’ is the perfect occasion to experience for the first time the vast world of contemporary art while visiting one of the most stunning cities in Switzerland. If you are planning a trip to Basel, might as well aim for the days of the fair.
5# Do’s and Don’ts
The organisers do offer a series of dos and don’ts to make sure that the fair and your experience of it goes as smoothly as possible; we would recommend to have a look at them. They have very strict policies on bag allowance on the festival grounds, and beware that pets are not allowed at all! Make sure you leave your large backpacks and your furry friends at home to avoid disappointment.
What to Do?
Explore the city!
If you would like to leave the fair for a while, and dedicate yourself to the many wonders that Basel has to offer, then we would recommend taking advantage of its advantageous geographical location and history! The city is in fact full of old churches, historical sights and museums. Having been built on a strategic location on the river Rhine, Basel has been a flourishing city throughout the centuries. We would advise you to check out the Basel Minster before anything else!
At Night Time
If you would also like to keep busy in the evening, Basel has a vibrant theatrical and musical scene. The city is home to the largest orchestra in Switzerland after all, and it is famous for its contribution to classical music. You could go listen to some classical (or even Jazz) suites at the magnificent Stadtcasino Musiksaal!
Where to Stay?
There is a place in Basel where you can experience the nostalgia of the golden age of the hotels of the past century. It is called the ‘Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois‘, and it lives up to its name!
The ‘Grand Hotel‘ is one of the oldest hotels in Europe and it’s located in the very centre of Basel, at walking distance from the fair grounds. In the Middle Ages, in its location, there was once a dock for ships that transported salt over the Rhine to the rest of Europe. Now, instead, there stands a wonderful 5 star hotel.
With its rooms overlooking the river, a wide selection of room types, multiple restaurants inside the building, an entire room with leather couches dedicated to cigar smoking (they call it ‘Salon du Cigare’), you can’t aim at finding anything better.
If you are looking forward to reminisce a better past, to sleep in the same chambers where Pablo Picasso and James Joyce once rested, to be spoiled by a great establishment, to stay in the best hotel that Basel has to offer, then it may be worth checking out the ‘Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois’.
Maybe your priority is to stay as close to the fair grounds as possible. If that is the case, Hotel Wettstein is the one that would suit your need. Offering rooms for up to 4 people, making it ideal for family stay, the Wettstein has all the comforts that you would look for in a hotel of its category.
It also has a wonderful private garden, a bike rental system, a gym and a playing area for kids. It is guaranteed that many fair goers will stay at the Wettstein, and you could be one of them!
If you are travelling with a large group or you would rather discard the amenities offered by the hotels, without having to compromise on overall quality, then the Jugendherberge Basel (youth hostel) is the place for you. Offering places in 6 bedded rooms, as well as standard double room, this hostel is where quality and affordability meet with style.
It is also very close to the ‘Messe Basel Exhibition Centre’ and the city centre; all you have to do is crossing the river!
There are also numerous stunning camping sites near Basel, where you could either stay in an RV or tent, but be advised that you will then need to travel to the city as the closest camping site is at no less than 10km away. For the rest, Basel offers several other options, and there are many other hotels, B&Bs and independent apartments for rent in the city, you will just have to go ahead and find what you think is best for you!
Where to eat?
Enjoy the food!
Basel is an extremely international city, and so is its cuisine! The selection of different foods you can have is as varied as the world’s countries. Because of its location, it is incredibly easy to find very good Italian, German and French restaurants, but also Japanese, Thai, American, Indian and much more. You’ll just have to explore all the options!
Want Japanese food?
Yet, if you’re looking for a place near the fair grounds, and you want a taste of Japanese food, then we will certainly recommend ‘Restaurant Minamoto‘. Other than serving good dishes from the Japanese tradition, it has a wonderful modern architecture and gives to its patrons the possibility to dine outside!
Brasserie Les Trois Rois
Remember also when we were talking about the wonders at the historical ‘Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois’? Well, if you would like to visit the hotel, (it is a stunning building), and enjoy its food without having to spend the night, you can go dine at their ‘Brasserie Les Trois Rois‘ to enjoy a selection of the local cuisine while sitting in a gorgeous room overlooking the river. After a meal, you could even explore their terraced bar outside!
Make your own!
If you are willing to cross the river, you could also try the ‘1777 Kaffee Restaurant Bar’. It has a very peculiar way of serving food: customers can choose each single ingredient they desire from a custom menu, and assemble their own dish. This makes it the perfect vegan friendly restaurant!
At the Fair
Alternatively, at the fair grounds there are many cafés and restaurants scattered through the the Exhibition Centre and many more that surround it. If you are looking for a quick fix, there is also a number of fast food chains nearby. If you are looking to have a good dining experience during the days of the festival though, after a long day spent looking at art, we would strongly advise to book in advance, as the more popular places tend to fill up quickly!
How to Get There?
Probably the easiest way to get to Basel is by plane. There are two international airports close by. One is the ‘Euro Airport Basel’, which is less than 10km away from Basel city centre and has several shuttle buses that will take you to the city, as well as a train link that will connect directly to ‘Basel SBB’ train station.
From there, you can easily walk to the city centre and the fair grounds, or use public transport. Alternatively, you can land at ‘Zurich Airport’ which is less than 100km away, and you can also reach Basel rather easily (and cheaply!) taking a train from the airport to ‘Basel SBB’.
Basel is located on the river Rhine, and it borders France and Germany, (where some suburbs of the city are in fact in a different country!), so it’s very easy to get there by train from any other european nation.
The city has direct connections with Italy, Germany, France, Benelux countries and Austria. Both stations in the city, ‘Basel SBB/SNCF’ and ‘Basel Badischer Bahnhof’ are located at walking distance from the fair grounds.
‘Art Basel’ is also easy to reach by car, it’s just off the A2 motorway. Leave the motorway following the “Messe” exit, and the road will lead directly to the fair grounds. There is a dedicated car park for the venue that accommodates up to 1200 vehicles.
To make it even better, the city is very bike and pedestrian friendly, and it’s small enough that you can walk around the centre without having to use public transport. However, there are multiple buses, trams and taxis that go through the city at all hours, and you won’t have trouble navigating your way around at all!
Art Basel History
‘Art Basel‘ was born because of the will of two men and a woman; three Swiss gallerists from Basel that had the vision of creating a large art fair uniting various gallerists around Europe. The first edition of the fair ran in 1970 and it quickly became a success, with 90 galleries from 10 different countries which attracted more than 16.000 visitors.
Over the years it has grown to be the large festival that it is now, introducing, firstly, its ‘Film’ section during the 90′ and then, a decade after, its characteristic ‘Unlimited’ section which pushed the boundaries of the concept of the classic exhibition booth. Today, it has grown so much that it attracts over 98.000 visitors during the week of the fair, and it is currently expanding to several other cities in the world!