The 48th edition of Art Basel (15–18 June) continues the expansion of a humble trade fair into a self-proclaimed ‘region-wide art week’. Bringing together over 4,000 artists, represented by 291 galleries across 34 countries, Europe’s most influential commercial exhibition each year spills further out beyond the Messeplatz and into the city’s streets and cultural institutions.
The art world’s interconnectedness, specifically the instantaneous dissemination of images online, lessens the imperative for buyers to travel to contemporary art fairs to see the works on offer. Perhaps in response, the organisers have sought to emphasise the fair as a talking shop for the art world’s most influential individuals, a rare opportunity in a crowded calendar to build relationships in person. Hence the focus on a strong talks programme. This year’s ‘Conversations’ section, programmed by Mari Spirito, founding director of Protocinema (Istanbul/New York), features 27 talks and promises to build on the fair’s reputation for identifying patterns in the production and reception of new art. The series begins with the Premiere Artists Talk with Annette Messager who discusses her work with Maria Balshaw.
It remains to be seen whether the political turn in contemporary art suggested by the recent Whitney Biennial and Documenta 14 in Athens translates into the commercial context of Art Basel. In the wake of the controversy surrounding the display of Dana Schutz’s Open Casket (2016) at the Whitney, which came to focus on (among other things) the ethics of transforming documentary photography into art, New York’s Jenkins Johnson Gallery presents Gordon Parks’ photographs, including his celebrated images of the civil rights struggle.