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Free Basel: Your guide to free and open to the public events during Art Basel
by Natalie Hegert

Art fairs can be exclusive affairs. And they certainly do encourage that notion, with their hallowed and inscrutable VIP lounges, wealthy collector-types air kissing dealers across the aisles, art consultants dashing around “shopping” for private collections, bottles of champagne popped for only certain clients, and most of all the money, das Geld, de l’argent or however you want to call it spilling forth from discreet Swiss bank accounts to purchase four-, five- or six-figures worth of contemporary art that you know will probably end up at auction for considerably more in a matter of years. Artists and critics often take pessimistic views of such displays of extravagance. For every fair there’s no limit to the grievances broadcast on the sad state of contemporary art and the capitalist ritual, or just general griping about claustrophobic installation and art fair overwhelm and how catastrophic that is for a viewer trying to regard and appreciate works of art.

But once you drop the pretense and accept that an art fair really isn’t comparable to the educative environment or contemplative space of a gallery or a museum (it’s an unfair comparison), you realize that it’s really just an extraordinary collection of people converging on one spot because of a common interest—contemporary art—whether they’re artists, dealers, curators, consultants, or über-rich collectors. I believe ArtSlant founder Georgia Fee put it best: “…I like being in a large crowd of people who love art. There is some sort of ecstatic communion that takes place as we all sigh over this painting, or take photos of that sculpture, or huddle around a darkened cubicle to watch the latest in high video.”

And where there’s a large crowd of art lovers there are also all of the exhibitions, events, screenings, performances, public displays and parties (oh the parties) that cater to them. A city and its art community will pull out all the stops for the art crowd. And that’s why attending big international art fairs opens up myriad possibilities of communing with other art lovers on many stages whether you’re at the fair or not. Whether you’re a VIP pass holder or a starving artist, there’s some exciting events in which to partake. Here’s a list of some free and open-to-the-public events happening in Basel this week:

Monday June 10th, the LISTE 18 Opening Reception is free and open to the public from 5-9pm (students are welcome gratis through the whole week), with special performances: Berlin-based artist Saâdane Afif will be performing in the LISTE courtyard and in the City; deuxpiece presents Swiss artist Elia Rediger at LISTE and on the street (7pm); and Dutch artist Feiko Beckers will perform at Gallery Jeanine Hofland’s booth (0/2/1) at 5pm and again at 8pm.

Feiko Beckers, Three options, 2011, photographic documentation of performance, 60 x 90 cm, C-print on aluminum; Photography: Roy Taylor ; Courtesy Jeanine Hofland, Amsterdam, at LISTE 0/2/1.


Competing for your attention on Monday night is the Swiss Art Awards 2013 Vernissage at Hall 4 of Messe Basel, from 5-9pm. But from 10pm on the venue shifts to Volkshaus on Rebgasse for the party of the evening, a joint party for LISTE and the Swiss Art Awards, free and open to the public. The party goes on until the wee hours (2am—pretty late for a Monday!) proving that in Basel we’re dealing with real professionals.

Additionally, if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat and some surrealism, on Monday from 6pm-1am at Confiserie Schiesser, Marktplatz 19, you can indulge in some hot chocolate and cognac while taking in the erotically charged work of William Copley (1919-1996), presented by New York gallery Venus Over Manhattan.

Tuesday morning choose your breakfast: stop back by Messe 4 where the Swiss Design Awards offers up free coffee and croissants at 10am, or sample the Swiss Art Awards’ fare of “beans, bees-n-bread” offered by Disch Cafe (complimentary breakfast served throughout the week!).

Mickalene Thomas, Better Days, promotional poster; Courtesy of the artist and Absolut Art Bureau.


Each iteration of Art Basel is accompanied by an artist-designed art bar sponsored by Absolut Art Bureau. Sensational New York-based painter and installation artist Mickalene Thomas is responsible for this year’s art bar, entitled Better Days, which is open daily from 5pm-2pm at the Galeriesaal of Volkshaus from Tuesday to Saturday. Knowing Thomas’ recent installation work, you can be assured this space will be as inviting as entering a trusted friend’s home. Entry is free, but “occasional restrictions on access will apply,especially during private events.” 18+

The Haus für elektronische Künste (HEK) offers extended viewing hours during Art Basel (10am-7pm from Monday through Saturday), where you can see their current science-meets-art exhibition by British artist duo Semiconductor, Let There Be Light. Admission is always free.

Semiconductor, Magnetic Movie, 2007, film still; Courtesy of the artists and HEK.


On Wednesday the 12th, Art Basel Conversations, the free series sponsored by Absolut Art Bureau, kicks off at 10am with a dialogue between artist Thomas Schütte and Biennale curator Massimiliano Gioni. For the rest of the week (through Sunday) at 10am sharp you can count on getting edified gratis at Art Basel Conversations: with panels and lectures on topics like museum funding, collecting new media, and art farms.

Wednesday also marks the opening of Parcours, Basel’s series of commissioned public site-specific artworks and performances in the Klingental neighborhood, open to the public from June 12th to the 16th. Some of the performances require paid admission, but as for the free events you can see Michael Smith performing a new solo performance Avuncular Quest at 8:30 at the Spielestrich Kaserne, and later on in the evening catch a ciné-concert with Marc Bauer and the French band Kafka performing outdoors on Kaserne plaza at 11pm. Not to mention the many public works of art on view for the duration of Art Basel—for instance Evariste Richer’s installation of about 70,000 dice on Kasernenstraße.

From 13th to the 16th art book lovers can get their fix at the I Never Read Art Book Fair Basel, where you have the chance to peruse titles from more than eighty publishers. Art book purchases are hard to argue with, an affordable and democratic foil to the excesses of the art fair proper. Mingle with publishers and artists at the opening from 6-10pm on Thursday. 

Catwalk in Public Space, 2012, fashions by Riviera.


Thursday evening, don’t miss the “Catwalk in Public Space” in the creative district of Kleinbasel—the self-described “wild side of town” (but still within easy walking distance of Art Basel, Scope and LISTE)—where fashion models walk down Feldburgstrasse in a bizarre promenade. The district is packed with galleries, bars, delis, and boutiques, open late and serving up music, drinks, fashion and food. The event is now in its 6th year, and is certainly a fun highlight of any Art Basel trip. 

Friday evening you can hop on a complimentary shuttle that takes you from Art Basel to the opening of Daniel Gustav Cramer’s Ten Works at Kunsthalle Mulhouse. The shuttle leaves at 6:15pm (remember to be punctual; this is Switzerland after all).

Through the rest of the weekend you’re on your own. Galleries of course pull out their best when the art fair crowd arrives, so check out what’s on view. Or take some walks out to some of Basel’s street art hot spots (which I wrote about last year). In any case, there’s lots of art to be seen, whether you’ve got deep pockets or even if you’re light on the CHFs.


Natalie Hegert


{Image on top: Evariste Richer, Avalanche #2 (detail), 2012, ca. 60,000 dice, 500 x 300 x 1,6 cm; At Art Basel Parcours [Kasernenstraße 32]; Courtesy of Meessen De Clercq [Hall 1, booths S17 & U47]}

Posted by Natalie Hegert on 6/8/13

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