I started my week-long hike on the Basel trail under the guidance of alcohol and my friend Barbara Rüdiger, a woman who can pull off head-to-toe Pleats Please and knows everything about everyone, which never ceases to baffle me. Ten minutes after arriving at Liste, which once again felt more like a Kafkaesque hammam than an art fair, I’d already smoked to many cigarettes and was ready to take a nap; but I fought the urge to bask in inactivity and proceeded to wander the premises. Almost immediately, I lost B in the crowds and took it upon me to explore things on my own, without the pleasure of her equally expert and entertaining running comment.
While last year Liste seemed overly crowded not only with sweaty bodies, but also with the sort of figuration that says “let me show you the anxieties of a white Royal College MFA student”, 2018 appears to be more balanced. Some things I really wished I could own: sombre ceramics by Pia Camil at Sultana, baleful paintings by Julien Ceccaldi at House of Gaga, glossy maelstroms of text by Nora Turato at Lambdalambdalambda, sexually explicit (and pleasantly disturbing) pottery by Urara Tsuchiya at Union Pacific. The altogether quality seemed very good, although it appears that nowadays, no art fair is complete without a bunch of trivial canvases painted by Chinese copyists yet officially authored by some exceedingly-hyped Städelschule alumnus.
In the afternoon, I met up with artist Louisa Clement, who smuggled me into the VIP preview of Art Basel Unlimited. We strolled through the absurdly gigantic exhibition space, impatient to get our first glass of champagne. It is a known fact that free bubbles are everybody’s main motivation at such an event: in fact, I bumped into Louisa Gagliardi and Adam Cruces, who both look so dapper it’s only a question of time til they end up in a Vogue Paris spread about glamorous artist couples, and they agreed with this unspoken albeit universal truth. An hour later, the first corks were popped, which saw three thousand people instantly forget about the art and stressfully walk towards the bar like a herd of wildebeests on the brink of dehydration, this author included. Alas, it all went away too quickly; I let the flow carry me and ended up at Design Miami, where more of the golden liquid was available.
My next stop were the lovely Swiss Art and Design Awards. I was hoping to have a closer look at the many works and projects on view, but alas, alcohol had robbed me of any capacity to look at things seriously. As I stumbled from acquaintance to acquaintance, I ended up finding Barbara again: the magic Basel circle of losing people only to find them again by coincidence 8 hours later was completed, and after pizza with friends and a cringeworthy episode of Criminal Minds (in French, which makes it all the more distressing), my first day came to an end.