Art Basel 2013 Draws International Crowd

By Paul Joseph

The 2013 edition of Art Basel, one of the world’s most prestigious contemporary art fairs, came to a close in Switzerland yesterday, with an estimated 70,000 visitors attending the four-day event.

Now in its 44th year, the art fair, which spans a vast 31,000 square metres of exhibition space, served as a platform for a total of 304 galleries featuring both emerging artists and established figures.

As evidence of the show’s draw, over 100 private jets arrived in Basel carrying high net-worth art enthusiasts and collectors, each with platinum cards doubtless at the ready.

When the curtain was drawn yesterday, the biggest sale was thought to have taken place at Montreal’s Landau Fine Art, where a 1960 Surrealist oil painting by Rene Magritte called “Une peu de l’ame des bandits (a little of the spirit of bandits)” fetched around £8 million.

Other notable art pieces for sale included the Damien Hirst pill cabinet. Priced at a cool £4 million, the installation features a wall lined with tightly spaced, narrow metal shelves covered with pills in varying colours and shapes.

Nevertheless, Art Basel is also for the window shopper too. For those more interested in looking than buying, an entire hall this year was dedicated to the "Unlimited" collection of large works that were not for sale at the fair.

In this space were works by renowned names including Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, British sculptor Antony Gormley, and Japanese Chiharu Shiota.

The art world has proved resilient in the face of the global economic downturn of recent years, with global auction sales said to have exceeded £6.8 billion in 2012. Experts believe that with the stock market in perennial turmoil, the world’s affluent have preferred to invest their money in art as an alternative form of investment.

Art Basel was founded in 1970 by Basel gallerists Trudi Bruckner, Balz Hilt and Ernst Beyeler. High profile editions of the show are also held annually in Hong Kong and Miami.

By Paul Joseph