Trip To Art Basel Ben Austin’s 2014 Diary Day One

Art Basel

Outward journey – Gatwick, North Terminal, standing in long and winding line to check in at the Easy Jet counter. Now, under normal circumstances I am quite tolerant and considerate of others, but here my patience was being tested. You see, I know the score, I am seasoned traveller, I have earned my wings. I have a dedicated carry-on wheelie suitcase, perfect for a three day jaunt to Basel, I have checked-in online and have even downloaded my boarding pass onto my phone. Impressive and tech savvy forward planning, one would think.

So, why am I standing in line, alongside overweight metal rock fans with their camping kit going to a festival in Nantes?  Because, I also have in my possession a brown leather battered briefcase home to my laptop and other assorted gubbins, as Easyjet have one carry on luggage policy, I am therefore burdened by briefcase, which will not fit into my wheelie and is now considered a bag. To add insult to injury I was informed prior to my one and half wait that I would have to pay an extra £30 to check in my wheelie, which of course I had no desire to check in. So, I stand and do my best to keep my composure, even when the lady at the front calls out for passengers whose flight time was first approaching, ‘Moscow, Geneva…Nantes’. I could be going to Geneva, I thought too late, I mean it is Switzerland, right? The oversized black-garbed youths pushed forward as I pondered my inaction.

Finally, I reached the counter, a young Muslim girl greats me, ‘where are you travelling today Sir?’ ‘Basel’, I answer with the best smile I can muster, ‘you see, they told me that I had to check –in my carry on due to my briefcase for my laptop, which isn’t really bag as you can see’, I hold up the said briefcase as evidence of my plight. ‘Oh, I see’, she replied, somewhat sympathetically. ‘I have even downloaded my boarding pass’ I added like a child proudly presenting their homework.  She types away, ‘I’m afraid that will be a £30 surcharge for the check-in’. I knew this was coming. ‘Ah, yes, well they (whoever they are) said that because is it so small, that wouldn’t necessary’. She took pity and was about to finish her shift, so I gratefully made small talk and managed to get through to departures without any further incident.

When I arrived in Basel, made it to the hotel  (Victoria) where I stay every year is just by the train station. I quickly freshened up and had a two brilliant comedy moments getting onto a tram that I thought might take me to the fair only to go round in a short circle to start heading off in the opposite direction. This would have been amusing if this happened once, but twice was a little ridiculous.

Finally and picked up my press pass. By now I only had an hour left of the fair, so I made my way in.
The ground floor level is always so impressive with mega galleries showing blockbuster artists.  Acquavella Gallery blew me away with a double Basquiat, a Richter and a couple of Bacons (one not very good), is it just me or is Bacon a touch overrated, I know he sells for staggering amounts, but there seems to be more and more 2 and 3rd rate pieces out there. But I guess he is a brand unto himself now.

Over at Galerie Lelong, there was a strong Sean Scully (who is very much in vogue currently). But the standout booth to my mind was the very British offering (maybe I’m biased) presented by Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, who had some fantastic Bridget Rileys’ (who is also very much in fashion due in part to the David Zwirner ‘The Stripe Paintings 1961-2014’ show in London. Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert also had a thoughtful place of a Freud and Auerbach portraits next to each other, a strong Hockney and a worthy Hockney. Good show.

I moved on, catching glimpses of Warhols, a large Kiefer and Katz.  Gladstone had a large and unusual Anish Kapoor called ‘Non Object’.

I delved deeper into the fair and was impressed by the provocative paintings by Betty Tompkins at Galerie Rodolphe.

Time wasn’t on my side and when I got to the upper level, I only had 30 minutes to take in the mass of work up there, I will be going back but a glance it was Sadie Coles who had a standout booth with a Sarah Lucas sculpture and two marvellous paintings by Urs Fischer. Another London female dealer of note is the incredible Maureen Paley showing David Salle, Gillian Wearing and Rebecca Warren.

The stern announcement came through that the fair was closing and all the deliciously bored gallery boys and girls could finally leave their posts and head off out to dinner and whatnot.

I will return to the main fair later and I need to see Unlimited too.

Finally I got back to my hotel room, exhausted. I picked up some beer from the off license next to the station and retired to my room to watch Spain vs Chile on Swiss/German TV. I suppose that is one way to pick up the language. Alles klar.

It is a beautiful sunny day and I’m going to head over to Volta shortly as it is nearby.

More to follow.


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