At the Basel Fair, the return of alumni and business

One of Art Basel’s most remarkable pavilions is located outside the walls, in the small park facing the modern and contemporary art fair. It is a large tent, set up on the site usually occupied by the circus tent Knie, one of the most popular in Switzerland, which occurs there in June, the customary date of Art Basel. But, pandemic obliges, it has postponed its opening to this month of September and the pavilion makes it possible to verify that all visitors are in possession of a health pass or a valid test. Once this formality is completed, they are given a small bracelet that will serve as a sesame for their entire stay.

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Nothing unusual for the Swiss: they must present their pass (and an identity document) in bars, restaurants, hotels, etc. Some foreign visitors are more surprised, especially since the cost of the tests is very high. Others, who have no money problems, however preferred not to come, either because the quarantines imposed on return to the country are restrictive (this is the case in particular for Asians), or for fear of contamination. And in fact, cancellations by regular visitors have been numerous, and we will be far from the crowds of yesteryear – around 90,000 admissions each year.

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The virtual absence of Americans and Asians caused uncertainty for the gallery owners present at the fair: they represent nearly 80% of buyers! But two factors helped to reassure: distance sales, developed during confinement, have now become commonplace, many transactions being concluded on video; and the massive return of European, but also Swiss, collectors, frightened by the enormous caravanserai that had become the norm in previous years.

Historical coins

The oldest observers felt they had stepped back thirty years, when the fair, which was already the most beautiful in the world, attracted a much smaller audience, but real amateurs, sometimes connoisseurs, who almost all bought works. In fact, sales, especially on the first day, were surprisingly strong. Marcel Fleiss, of the 1900-2000 gallery, thus claims to have made his biggest turnover in forty years of presence, in the half hour which followed the opening of the fair.

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It must be said that he presented (among others) two works by Marcel Duchamp, immediately sold for a more than generous sum, in a stand which displayed its historical ambitions: each work was hung above a window where the works were displayed. catalogs of exhibitions, sometimes mythical, where she had appeared. And the origins were just as alluring: we knew that Pontus Hulten, the first director of the Center Pompidou, had a reputation as a “whipper father”, but we did not know that the painter Larry Rivers had immortalized him in a drawing of the most sketchy where he plays the swift.

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