In June Art Basel is THE place to be in the art world, at least when it comes to trading this special asset. During the fair huge sales are being made and major works by widely known artist are being shown. It is a place where Art History is being written and the art scene meets.
Just a few weeks ago the most important Art fair for Contemporary Art took place in Basel, Switzerland. Art Basel is being held in two huge fair halls which are being seperated into different sections. One hall features international galleries that are exhibiting on two floors, the second one – Art Unlimited – is reserved for selected artists showing works of art accompanied with scheduled Art talks and discussions. There is a huge program planned to complement the regular fair which consists mostly of booths designed by every exhibiting gallery which the visitors can walk through.
As you see: It is not only looking at art, it is experiencing it. With this rich side-program many visitors are being attracted but it also drives people away from the actual fair hall. There are no Art talks or special events in the first hall, there is only the booths with art shown in high density.
Normally, this is why people come to see the show. At Art Basel there is an opportunity to see works of famous artists but also emerging ones. There is a mixture of generations and styles. If you look closely, you can spot a masterpiece or discover a new talent. The fair garantees with its high application standarts that a certain quality of art is being shown. It is hard to get a booth there at as a gallery but once you’ve made it, the good reputation is sticking to you. Art Basel is also a warrantor of quality somehow (or what is considered quality).
But this is not enough to attract visitors. At this issue of Art Basel it became visible that a side-program is necessary to get people to visit the fair. There were clearly less visitors at the gallery hall than the years before but a majority of visitors at the seperate halls containing “events”. Besides the Art Unlimited-hall there also had been another hall, called “14 rooms”. A project by Kunsthalle Basel and Art Basel, curated by a famous curator featuring Performance Art. By opening doors to each of the rooms individually, the visitors get their own experience of the art shown. It is all about the individual experience.
With the Art Unlimited feature it is almost the same. The visitor can experience art as well by walking through it. It is a bundle of artworks, selected and arranged to give them what they seek: an event. Along with Art mediation through Art talks and guided tours even visitors outside the Art business get addressed.
But it is not only at Art Basel where it becomes noticeable that art shows have to provide a “event”-esque factor to attract visitors. One example is a highly visited art work of Tomas Saraceno at K21 in Düsseldorf which was shown there in the beginning of 2014. The work itself was a kind of spider web spanned underneath the roof of the building which could be mounted by five people at a time. Sitting there in this gigantic web over the area way with a view down onto the entrance hall the art work became a huge attraction. Art has to deliver this individual experience to be worth seeing nowadays.
This could be worrisome for the development of art especially when it is excessively shown at trend-setting institutions such as fairs. The more people seek this character in art other art works might get suppressed and get rejected by the canon of arthistoriography because the audience’s taste also influences it. On the other hand it blocks and competes with the remaining arts as seen at the fair. With less visitors coming to the described first hall, making sales was harder this year than the previous ones. Even exhibitors at another art fair, Liste, in Basel acutalized this during the duration of this satellite fair.
It seems like everything has to be an event nowadays to be worth visiting, even a museum. But what will we do when the events presented are not enough anymore?