The Art Basel weeks always comes with its share of surprises, disappointments and incredulousness. First and foremost, I was most disappointed in myself: I didn’t manage to submit a text every day like in 2017. Why? I blame my body for it, which, like a watery tomato grown industrially in an Andalusian greenhouse, suddenly starts to rot after three days. Honestly, I could have spent the second half of the week naked in a hospital bed binge-watching Rupaul’s Drag Race. I also didn’t manage to see the many exciting institutional shows on view in Basel – Theaster Gates, Sam Gilliam, Bruce Nauman, etc – even though I was told by many people missing them (especially the latter) would be a crime. I guess I’m an art world criminal now!
I was most surprised by the amount of solid painting on view at the Swiss Art Awards, one of the only things I managed to convince myself I should go see again on Sunday: between Garrett Nelson’s ballet of references, Marius Margot’s take on 1960s sci-fi, Louisa Gagliardi’s intimate surrealism and Markus Weggenmann’s abstracted portraits, I was confronted with the exciting possibilities of a medium that definitely isn’t dead. I was also pleasantly surprised by the food offered at Liste’s Saturday night dinner: next to being a celebration of the fair’s director Peter Bläuer, the event was also, for many people, a celebration of their first satisfying meal in a week. I might be projecting, but if you’ve survived on greasy bratwurst and low-quality sandwiches for seven days, feeling the crunch of a well-seasoned chickpea or the refinement of a pickled radish feels truly emotional.
I once again couldn’t believe the snobbery, smugness and lack of courtesy so blatantly displayed by certain gallerists. Yes, the preview days are mega stressful, and the stakes are high, I get it. But being more conceited than a Kardashian at a Calabasas salad bar honestly feels counter-productive. Plenty of stressed art dealers seem to manage just fine at being considerate and friendly, even if only for 10 seconds. Maybe some of these people are just very rich, very dumb or very foreign to good manners, and so they are oblivious to the potentially damaging consequences of such attitudes not only for their business, but also for the artists they represent. It’s a mystery not even Scooby-Doo will ever be able to solve.
But enough bitchery: Ultimately, like every year, I was incredulous at the high-quality art, genuinely pleasant interactions, amount of fascinating people and high density of well-designed accessories I was lucky to witness. On my way to the aforementioned dinner, I sat on a boat crossing the Rhine with my friends Laura and James, the sky rosy and the waters glistering in the evening light; we looked at each other, blissful yet almost in disbelief of the scenery. Basel remains special, and I once again felt astonishingly privileged.