IF YOU HAD to pinpoint a year when the art world began to change from a small and relatively private community into the glamorous multi-billion-dollar global industry that exists today, then 1970 would be a good place to start.
1970 was when Andy Warhol got his first video camera, the time that minimalist sculptors such as Larry Bell and Donald Judd burst on to the art scene and, most importantly, the year when Art Basel was founded. The brainchild of gallerists Ernst Beyeler, Trudi Bruckner and Balz Hilt, the event launched the contemporary phenomenon of the art fair and has forever changed the way that art is produced, shown and bought.
Since the inaugural fair in 1970, Art Basel has snowballed into a global organisation that now also hosts annual events in Miami Beach and Hong Kong in addition to the original fair in Basel, Switzerland. The three events collectively welcomed more than 200,000 visitors in 2014, making Art Basel one of the most popular forums for both collectors and casual visitors alike. So, in anticipation of Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015, which will be held on March 15-17, here’s a look at key moments from the fair’s glittering past.
The first Art Basel is held after the three Basel-based gallerists – Ernst Beyeler, Trudi Bruckner and Balz Hilt – dream up the idea of hosting an art fair in the small Swiss city. It turns out to be a success from the very beginning, with 16,000 visitors, 90 galleries and 30 publishers flying into Basel from around the world.
Only six years after the inaugural fair, the number of exhibitors at Art Basel more than triples to over 300 galleries and publishers who hail from more than 20 countries. The number of visitors also vastly increases, with some 37,000 visitors to the fair.
Art Basel replaces the Neue Tendenzen (New Trends) sector of the fair with the Perspective platform, which is designed to promote the work of young and up-and-coming artists. Among the 16 little-known individuals who participate in the first Perspective sector are sculptor Tony Cragg (who is now a Turner Prize-winning Royal Academician and has represented Britain at the Venice Biennale), Canadian artist collective General Idea (who were pioneers of mediabased art and were some of the first artists to address the Aids crisis) and conceptual artist Julian Opie (whose work has since been collected by the National Portrait Gallery, London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York).
In celebration of the 150th anniversary of photography, 16 galleries who are members of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers present a range of photographs from across the history of the medium and immediately establish Art Basel as one of the leading promoters and supporters of photography.
The fair continues its support of less traditional mediums with the introduction of the Art Video Forum platform and the Video Art Prize, sponsored by Swiss Bank Corporation (that subsequently merged with Union Bank to become UBS). Pipilotti Rist and Enrique Fontanilles are the first winners of the prize. Rist has since gone on to have a long and celebrated career in the medium with work that focuses on gender, sexuality and the human body.
Art Basel launches its first fair outside of Switzerland in the glamorous location of Miami Beach. The city is chosen because of its position on the edge of Latin America and its cultural heritage, which Art Basel hopes to reflect in the mix of galleries attending and the range of work on show. It immediately becomes known as the leading art event in the Americas and quickly establishes itself as a favourite of the international art set.
As another way of engaging with visitors to its fairs in Basel and Miami Beach, Art Basel launches Art Basel Conversations, which are panel discussions led by prominent artists, architects, critics, museum directors, curators and some of the world’s leading collectors.
Elsewhere in the art world, Art HK is founded and hosts its first fair in 2008, welcoming more than 100 galleries and nearly 20,000 visitors.
To celebrate the fair’s 40th anniversary, the visual arts “opera” of time-based art Il Tempo del Postino is shown over three nights at the fair in Basel. The show features experimental presentations from some of the world’s leading artists, who are each given a 15-minute slot in the three-hour-long performance. Contributing artists include Matthew Barney, Douglas Gordon, Anri Sala and Rirkrit Tiravanija, while the whole event is co-curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Philippe Parreno.
Art Basel announces its move into Asia with the news that it has bought a majority stake in Asian Art Fairs Ltd, the owners of Art HK.
Back in the USA, the 10th anniversary of Art Basel in Miami Beach is celebrated with a specially commissioned one-night-only event from performance-art organisation Performa, which takes over three floors of the newly unveiled Frank Gehry-designed New World Center concert hall. Artists who participate include Reggie Watts, Bedwyr Williams, Luciano Chessa’s Orchestra of Futurist Noise Intoners and the X-Patsys.
Art Basel presents its first show in Hong Kong, with half of the participating galleries showing work from the Asia-Pacific region. Magnus Renfrew, director of Art HK and subsequently director of Art Basel in Hong Kong, tells The New York Times that “the quality is really a step up. There is increased interest from collectors, both from the USA and around Asia.”
To celebrate the 44th year of Art Basel and the fair’s successful expansion into Asia, the organisation beefs up its normal exhibition catalogue into a full-sized coffeetable book called, appropriately, Year 44. Published by JRP|Ringier, the book is laid out alphabetically and features every gallery from each of the three fairs, as well as interviews with and essays by prominent figures in the art world.