Fashionable Flats, Raclette Galore, and an Eye on Women Surrealists: How Sotheby’s Sensation Mari-Claudia Jiménez Takes on Art Basel

The New York-based auction exec makes an annual Swiss pilgrimage for art both new and old—and chocolate, of course.

When it comes to her Art Basel itinerary, Mari-Claudia Jiménez, Sotheby’s chairman and worldwide head of business development, favors the classics: raclette, drinks at the Trois Rois, and a visit to see her favorite Holbeins at Fondation Beyeler. Plus, a suitcase filled with the finest Swiss chocolates for the trip home to New York.

On Art Basel’s opening day, however, Jiménez is all about what’s of the moment, from looking out for presentations from the hottest Latin American galleries to spotting the latest trends in art-historical reevaluation. A former lawyer turned auction-market guru, Jiménez’s memories of Art Basel date back decades: she first visited the fair as a child in the 1980s with her mother and father, themselves creatives (her mother is a writer, and her father, a filmmaker). The fair is, in Jiménez’s esteem, still the art world’s grande dame. 

“Art Basel in Basel is the mother of all art fairs. It’s the fair that started it all, and it continues to stay very relevant, notwithstanding that it has been around since the 1970s,” said Jiménez. A trip to Basel, she added, “is the ideal way to start the summer as it sets the tone for the year ahead.” 

We caught up with this veteran of the fair for her inside tips for making the most of her trip. Jiménez shared everything from where she starts her day with a classic Swiss pastry to her can’t-misses at—and beyond—the fair.

On what she’s looking out for this year:
Women Surrealists are having a real moment, and now that the “Surrealism beyond Borders” show is at the Tate, I am curious to see if the fair will have any Remedios Varo or Leonora Carrington works.

I am also excited to check out some of the newer Latin American galleries that will be exhibiting this year. For example, Casas Riegner is a Bogota-based gallery that has been showing at both Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach, and I love their juxtaposition of established Colombian artists like Beatriz González with newer artists like Leyla Cárdenas—both of whom explore issues of history, memory, identity, and social justice. Lastly, I am also looking forward to the Lawrence Weiner installation on the Messeplatz! 

On Art Basel’s special place in her heart:
Basel was the first art fair I ever attended! I went in the early 1980s with my parents, so it always evokes a lot of nostalgia and great childhood memories of cheese and chocolate.

Leonora Carrington, And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur (1953). Image: Ben Davis.

Leonora Carrington, And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur (1953), installed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Image: Ben Davis.

On her opening day see-and-be-seen strategies:
The first day of the fair is all about socializing and connecting with clients and art-world colleagues, which takes up most of the opening afternoon—though I always make sure to check out the blue-chip galleries first that day—Gagosian, Pace, David Zwirner. Then I head to the balcony at the Trois Rois (with pretty much the entire art world) to have pre-dinner drinks with friends and continue to see and be seen!

On using day two as a deep dive:
I make sure to go back the second day and check out the smaller galleries, some of the galleries that I may not be as familiar with, so I can see what they have chosen to bring and who they are highlighting as their new artists.

The Beyeler Foundation in Riehen, Switzerland. Courtesy of the Foundation.

The Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, Switzerland. Courtesy of the Foundation Beyeler.

On her packing-list essentials:
Without question, my favorite well-worn pair of Chanel flats. I average 15,000 steps or more walking everywhere in Basel! And I’ll definitely bring a pashmina or light shawl. Even though it’s summer, the nights can be chilly along the Rhine. 

On the art she plans to see beyond the fair:
I can’t go to Basel without taking a little field trip to the Fondation Beyeler. I am particularly looking forward to seeing their “Mondrian Evolution” show [until October 9, 2022]. And, since one of the areas of Sotheby’s that I oversee is Old Master paintings, I always make a pilgrimage to the Kunstmuseum Basel to see the Hans Holbeins. It has the largest collection of works by Holbein of any institution in the world. There’s a Picasso-El Greco show [until September 25, 2022] that I want to see there, too.

The Grand Hotel Trois Rois, referred to colloquially as the Three Kings. Courtesy of Leading Hotels of the World.

On starting her day the Swiss way:
The perfect day in Basel embraces all things Swiss! I typically start my day with tea—or perhaps a hot chocolate—and a pastry at Beschle. They make the most amazing breakfast breads and pastries and have a few that are distinctly Swiss, such as the Basler Läckerli—which is a kind of spiced gingerbread.

On her passion for raclette:
After the fair, the perfect way to end the day is with a traditional Swiss meal of raclette and rösti. I have a bit of a raclette problem—it’s virtually impossible to find back in New York, so I actually bought a raclette machine so I could recreate my Basel experience in my New York apartment. Needless to say, it’s not quite the same! My favorite is at Walliser Kanne in the old town, because it’s super-traditional. But if I want a more refined Swiss cuisine experience, I will go to Volkshaus or Cheval Blanc at the Trois Rois.

On her collecting philosophy:
Art is a passion purchase. Future value is secondary, so buy what you love, try to avoid things that are hyper-trendy, and if you can, don’t buy anything until you have gone through the fair at least once. And once you decide on something, sleep on it. 

On where to buy Swiss chocolates for a sweet souvenir:
I love to walk along the Rhine and around the old town and stop at Confiserie Schiesser, one of the oldest chocolatiers in the city, to buy truffles and chocolate bark for my husband and daughter back in New York. I usually line my suitcases with Swiss chocolate!

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