A Breezy Art Basel Brushes Off the Gloomy Market

“Doom porn” was nowhere to be found at Art Basel, where strong sales were buoyed by manifold ways to experience blue-chip art outside the busy fair halls.

“Honouring Wheatfield–A Confrontation” (2024) by Agnes Denes. Image courtesy of Art Basel

The forecast isn’t particularly sunny for the art market. As marquee modern and contemporary auctions recently failed to meet their year-over-year numbers, Christie’s is reeling from a devastating ransomware attack while its main competitor, Sotheby’s, is weighing significant job cuts. Such “doom porn” was nowhere to be found in the bucolic Swiss city of Basel, though, where the flagship fair Art Basel’s latest edition wrapped up yesterday to strong sales and renewed confidence in the market’s resilience. Instead, the vibe was breezy—owing in part to what some dealers describe as this year’s more “humane pace” but also the multiple ways to experience art from beyond Messe Basel’s crowded halls of besuited collectors.

Perhaps the most visible was a recreation of Agnes Denes’ iconic Wheatfield—A Confrontation on Messeplatz, in which the lauded land artist resurfaces issues of waste, world hunger, and ecological concerns that remain just as urgent now as they were in 1982, when she first staged the work in Battery Park in the shadows of the World Trade Center. Petrit Halilaj illuminated the former Hotel Merian with a constellation of fallen stars that made the Rhine riverfront sparkle. Basel Social Club, a roving showcase of open-air sculptures and performances that unfolded across a 100-acre swath of farmland about 15 minutes south of the fair, also offered a much-needed breather.

Visitors not only wandered freely around rolling fields to experience works by Tomás Saraceno and David Medalla that don’t quite fit into the proportions of a cramped fair booth, but also indulged in outdoor activities like picking strawberries and watching cows graze. Now in its third year, the free-to-enter show refuses to brand itself as a fair but still offers a valuable selling platform for galleries who paid a modest €2,500 ($2,676) to participate. The appeal lies both in the pastoral setting and the lower stakes that lend themselves well to experiencing art without the pressure of making sales. Beer-drinking visitors reportedly lounged on sofas in the fields to watch films in a woodland clearing; cows even licked some of the sculptures.

“Cloud Canyons” (1963/2016) by David Medalla at Basel Social Club. Photography by Julie Becquart, courtesy of Another Vacant Space and Mountains, Berlin
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