‘Art Basel Cities’ to Further Art Basel’s Global Dominance

Can the fair organizer become a patron of the arts?

Ugo Rondinone, The Gracious, at Art Basel's Parcours section, 2015.

Art fairs are going viral all over the planet, with fairs large and small branching out to new countries, adding to a calendar chockablock with these commercial roundups. Now there’s a new initiative from Art Basel, one of the most dominant fair organizers, that aims to make the company not only a market force but also to cement a position as a patron of the arts.

Art Basel, which started in Switzerland and then branched out to Miami Beach and Hong Kong—the fourth edition there launches today—plans to stage art events in new venues in a program it’s calling Art Basel Cities. The announcement comes on the heels of news from Art Basel’s parent company, MCH Group, which is planning to start new fairs or buy up existing ones worldwide.

Art Basel’s fairs are already among the best-attended worldwide, with upward of 65,000 going to Art Basel in Miami Beach and about 75,000 to the Swiss mothership.

Carsten Nicolai, α (alpha) pulse, 2014, at Art Basel in Hong Kong.

Carsten Nicolai, α (alpha) pulse, 2014, at Art Basel in Hong Kong.

The new program adds to a previous attempt to branch out into art patron status. Basel’s Kickstarter Crowdfunding initiative aimed to raise money to support nonprofit cultural institutions; since launching in 2014, though, it has garnered a modest $800,000, which has been spread around to 34 projects worldwide.

All the same, Basel has corralled a high-powered board for the new project, including Tanzanian-born architect David Adjaye, Turkish art patron Füsun Eczacıbaşı, urbanist and author of The Rise of the Creative Class Richard Florida, Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak, and Swiss megacollector Uli Sigg. Richard Florida’s advisory firm Creative Class Group will work with Basel on an “audit” of selected cities’ cultural scene. The fair’s director of business initiatives, Patrick Foret, will head up the project, which will also result in the cities sending projects back to the fairs, according to the press release.

There are scant details in the press release, which promises “cultural events with international resonance” and “vibrant and content-driven programs” in cities “that have either an emerging or an already established cultural scene,” so it remains to be seen whether Basel will be backing, say, concert series, museum exhibitions, or public art initiatives.

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