June is always a busy and exciting time for the art world—full of fairs, summer museum exhibitions, and lots of travel; culminating at Art Basel. The art fair has become a staple of the art world with a fair in almost every major city, yet Art Basel—the oldest of the fairs, founded in 1970—is still my favorite. After traveling there for the last fifteen years, I attended with collectors who had never been to the fair before, allowing me to see the fair—and Basel’s art community—with a fresh set of eyes. All while having a great time!
We were able to leisurely enjoy the experience, viewing the fair, the work, and the galleries present, with a priority placed on institutions. The fair is about the booths and the galleries and the sales. They also create an excellent museum-style exhibition called Art Unlimited, which includes museum-caliber paintings, sculptures, and classical photography as well as works of an outsized scale, precisely curated projects, and site-specific artworks. This year, the exhibition was curated by New York based curator, Gianni Jetzer. One of my favorite works was the large scale Sean Scully painting.
We visited the Fondation Beyeler to see the Max Ernst and Maurizio Cattelan exhibitions. The retrospective of Ernst—one of the leading Surrealists of the 1920s and 1930s—included more than 160 paintings, collages, drawings, sculptures, and illustrations, giving me a renewed understanding of Ernst’s work. Juxtaposed with Cattelan’s humorous, yet highly critical, practice of reflecting societal practices and paradoxes, our time at the Fondation Beyeler was thought provoking and engaging. Schaulager was next on our list, and its Steve McQueen exhibit was excellent. I had first seen this show at the Institute of Chicago, but it was still one of the most intense shows that I have seen, with McQueen’s subject matter predominantly dealing with the Black Male. The installation was impressive, maximizing the haunting material.
Lastly, we visited Kunstmuseum Basel, where we saw The Picassos Are Here!: A Retrospective from Basel Collections. There were criticisms of the show—people were questioning what was not exhibited and why—yet I find that it is never disappointing to see Picasso’s work. The work in this particular exhibition was from local collectors, highlighting the tradition of patronage by the city of Basel during its famous fair time.
Back at the fair, the pop up restaurant idea has hit Basel! A fabulous new dining experience, especially as I feel that after 15 years of going to Basel, I have exhausted the restaurant choices. Here the pop up restaurant was created in the historic Elizabethan Church at the heart of Basel. With lighting, candelabras, and seating, they transformed the church into an exclusive restaurant and bar with exquisite menus created by Michelin-awarded chefs. And, to see the inside of a gorgeous church that I have only passed and never visited was an extra perk.
We also found time to leave Basel, going on a daylong field trip around the area, which is something I highly recommend to anyone attending the fair. We visited Ronchamp, Le Corbusier’s monastery in Franche-Comte, eastern France. Ronchamp is one of Le Corbusier’s most famous buildings, as well as one of his most unusual, with playful windows and a large, dominating roof. Inside, though, it is all about the light. The numerous small windows allow light to pierce through, creating an ethereal space and a peacefulness that is both meditative and poetic. Coincidentally, when I returned to NY, the Le Corbusier show was at MOMA and Ronchamp was the poster child of the exhibition.
The Isenheim Altarpiece is currently on display at the Unterlinden Museum, located in a small town nearby. It was created by Niclaus of Haguenau and Matthias Grunewald from 1512 – 1516, and depicts various biblical scenes, in particular various stages of heaven and hell. What is so amazing about this work is the impeccable condition it is in; over 500 years after its creation the altarpiece is one of the best-preserved works of art from the time period. I must admit that I am not typically excited to see work made in the 1500s, yet this work blew me away. It is awesome, to say the least.
We ended our road trip at L’Auberge de L’ill, an incredible three Michelin star restaurant in the French countryside. The restaurant has been in the Haeberlin family for decades and features classic French cuisine. We started outside with a glass of wine, overlooking the beautiful scenery. From there, we moved inside for a gorgeous meal that was as French as French gets! L’Auberge de L’ill was the perfect ending to our French countryside field trip, and our Basel trip altogether. Our trip off Basel’s fair grounds reminded me of the hidden treasures found throughout Europe – it is all there, typically close by, you just need to get in the car and explore the tiniest towns…you will always find greatness.