The secrets how Art Basel works – The inside story

Well It seems I am going to more and more fairs. So I thought I would investigate this secret world and since I have been to the most important Fair, Basel I  start here. There are six dealers on the jury that control Art Basel. Marc Spiegler, the director of Art Basel a Swiss company that also runs art fairs in Hong Kong, and Miami Beach choses the committee for Basel with an eye to balancing geography and taste, seeking experienced jurors of such standing that other dealers will accept being judged by them.They typically serve for five to ten years. This years jurors were Lucy Mitchell-Innes/New York, Tim Neuger/Berlin, Franco Noero/Torino,Eva Presenhuber/Zurich, Jochen Meyer/Berlin,Marc Blondeau/Geneva.And one should mention Edwynn Houk for Classical Photography. The jurors begin their work about 11 months before the fair. In a series of gatherings they and their advisors discuss their selections and larger theme questions. Once the fair starts, jurors arrive each morning at 8 to make sure galleries that have sold items do not replace the empty spaces on their walls with inferior art. If they have they can be shown the door. There is an appeals process for rejected galleries. There are 900 galleries from around the world competing for 300 booths.About 50 galleries a year appeal, about five from this get in. After all weeks are spent on the application, galleries tell the history of their exhibitions, the biographies of their artists, sketch out their booths i.e..virtual tours of their planned exhibition spaces. All to impress the fairs selection jury. accepted they are in the most exclusive club of all and then can proceed to pay $50,000 to $80,000.Dollars for their booth and that is without wining and dining their clients. After all, Fairs now account for about 40%percent of gallery sales by value.After all, 100,000 visitors come to Basel for these few days and serious money is spent in the first few days.

Do Fairs make money

Well yes but not from what you think.The Fairs don’t directly “sell art” . they basically rent out the square feet to art dealers. It is a real-estate business. Organisers although not receiving for direct sales it is their interest to have the best dealers and highest quality with Sponsors. The biggest contributors to turnover are both hire and services 60% and sponsorship 30%. Ticket sales to the public only represent 10 per cent. A day pass costs $50.00 but many of these are given away complimentary-to bring in the right people.Hard to get figures on the economics of an art fair but Georgina Adam from the FT gave it a shot and calculates taking its price per square metre and multiplying by its rental rate,rental revenue is about $14.5m. Sources intimated that the main sponsor, uBs contributes more than $4m to the three Basel Fairs.So gross turnover for the flagship event is in the region of $20m. The biggest cost for the fairs is of course the venueSome art Fairs own theirs such as the Armoury Show in New York but still rent must be paid. Many fairs hire their venues, the tent being the best solution. I have the the figures for Hong Kongs newest fair, Art Central . The cost were..Location rental $200,000 the tent was 400,000 to hire but by the time everything was included it cost$1m. They made a loss of $500,000 on that first venture. It takes a long time three to five years to establish a fair says Etchells the founder of the fair after two years you can expect to break even.. Once a fair is established then success flies to success. Art Basel doesn’t have to sell its space. In an attempt to reduce applications it charges a non refundable SFr 450-500 fee to apply, which this year with 800 dealers applying for 300 booths, yielded a tidy sum. Tefaf charges a one time fee of $23,000. for new applicants. All that is  basic costs  then you have to hire the best people to make the Fair special.In answer to my question Do Fairs make money Etchells reckons that the successful ones make a 20 percent profit on the gross revenue. Its a good business to be in. Sponsorship is key.



Kader Attia with his broken vitrines let in the real world, very powerful, and black artists were shown highlighting the violence against them.


More interesting use of photography with Humour…storytelling at its highest. Larissa Sansours Nation Estate photo series is the answer to the Palestinians situation.They have their state in the form of a single skyscraper: the Nation Estate. One colossal high-rise houses the entire Palestinian population. Each city has its own floor. Jerusalem is on the 13th floor. The seven large -scale photos take you on her journey. Brilliant

Richard Mosse

Richard Mosse series on the ongoing war in  the Republic of Congo.The luscious coloured photos that take your breath away were made by using a large format camera and Kodak Aerochrome, a discontinued color infrared film originally designed for military camouflage detection, reconnaissance and targeting. The film registers a spectrum of infrared light invisible to the human eye, rendering the green landscape and soldiers in uniforms in vivid hues of lavender, crimson and hot pink. visual pleasure bringing the invisible elements of a war that has claimed so many lives into a sharper focus.

Hong Sungdo

His Tourist series adds new dimension and more interest with him adding plexiglass, aluminium , crushed photo paper,and wires onto the flat photograph  adding excitement and texture to the flat photograph.Finally someone artfully adding a material dimension to the flat surface of the photograph.

3 D printing

Early days with this new technology I am thinking maybe not a good trend because artists will wind up giving the drawings to Robots and machines who will do it better than them. Does R2-D2 get the award for the best artistic work?


And now something wonderful for the Woman Collector

Well the Design Miami got it right. Forget the prefabricated houses at the opening which were very interesting and  the innovative furniture designs It was the booths of artists jewellery that was exciting. Take Elisabetta Cipriani who invites renowned international sculptures and painters to create exclusive wearable jewellery for her. some of the artists include Carlos Cruz-Diez, Erwin Wurm, Giogio Vigna, Jannis Kounellis, Rebecca Horn. There was one Russian lady and one French Lady that almost came to blows. Both wanted one piece so badly.This is a market that is very early days with few businesses dealing in it . I saw in Venice at the Vitraria Glass +A Museum housed in the Palazzo Barbarigo Nani Mocenigo a wonderful exhibition called ”Precious” showcasing the collection of Diane Venet . “From Picasso to Jeff Koons” , these miniature works of art have been conceived to be worn but absolutely are recognisable of the artist .You can also be Peggy Guggenheim who enjoyed to be a collector of Calder’s jewelry and wear what you buy..100 pieces were shown ending with a charm bracelet from Damien Hirst, other artists, Jeff Koons, Yoko Ono, Frank Stella, Man Ray, Max Ernst ,wonderful ….There is a beautiful catalogue try and get it for reference. Start as soon as possible and go to the next Design Miami hopefully these galleries will be there. Finally you don’t have to look at those men watches.


“Because the Night” by Richard Mosse – 2012 – digital  c print



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3 Responses to The secrets how Art Basel works – The inside story

  1. Anonymous says:

    Very informative article for people that wonder about the mysterious back room

    venue of major art fairs .

    Sheila Elias

  2. Hello,
    I would like to collaboration or exhibition…

  3. R. Gonella says:

    Please contact rgcosmic2014 -AT-

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