Art Basel Returns to Switzerland — Here Are the Must-see Installations You Can View From Home

Highlights include a brand-new Basquiat worth $40 million, Urs Fischer’s gigantic bread house installation, and a NFT debut.

Art pros and collectors are flocking to Basel this week to attend the 2021 edition of Art Basel, slated to begin on Sept. 24. The annual event, known as the most influential and significant contemporary art fair in the world since 1970, is back after an 18-month pause due to COVID-19. And judging by the sales numbers and news coming from the VIP previews that opened on Monday, it's safe to say that the three-day art fair is going to be one for the books.

This year, the Messe Basel exhibition hall will host 272 leading galleries from 33 countries, presenting exquisite works of art across all media by more than 4,000 established and emerging artists.

ABB21, Misc, General Impressions, PR, MC at Art Basel in Basel 2021
Nici Jost/Courtesy of Art Basel

One of the leading New York City galleries, Van de Weghe, already made the news by bringing a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting that has never been on the market before. "Hardware Store," a two-canvas artwork, measures 7 x 11 feet and was painted in 1983. It is on offer for $40 million, making it one of the priciest works of art on display at the fair.

ABB21, Unlimited, The Mayor Gallery, M77 Gallery, Braco Dimitrijevic, at Art Basel in Basel 2021
Caroline Minjolle/Courtesy of Art Basel

Salon94 gallery will be offering photographs by Brooklyn-born photographer Kwame Brathwaite who, in the 1960s helped popularize the phrase "Black is beautiful." One of the works is "Untitled (Model who embraced natural hairstyles at AJASS photo shoot)."

A Keith Haring painting brought by Gladstone gallery with an asking price of $5.2 million has already found a buyer, while a 1975 painting by Philip Guston has fetched $6.5 million.

Jessica Silverman is presenting a series of ceramic sculptures by Native American artist Rose B. Simpson. It is Simpson's European debut. According to the gallery's website, the androgynous figurines are a study of "native and colonial narratives as they pertain to family, gender, marginality, and the self."

Here's what else is making a buzz in the Swiss city this week — and how you can tune in at home.

ABB21, Unlimited, General Impressions, PR, MC at Art Basel in Basel 2021
Nici Jost/Courtesy of Art Basel


The fair's section for large-scale art, Unlimited, is already making headlines. It is where you'll find monumental installations, sculptures and paintings that are too big to fit in a traditional art fair stand. This year, 62 projects, curated for the first time by Giovanni Carmine, the director of the prestigious Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, will welcome visitors in Hall 1.

Among the highlights are David Hockney's photographic drawing "Pictures at an Exhibition" brought by Chicago's Gray gallery. The larger-than-life piece shows people looking at paintings in a gallery. And while this is a 2D work of art, since most subjects in the painting are to scale, with those walking around the fair hall, it really gives the impression that everyone is participating in the artwork.

Another standout piece is Urs Fischer's iconic installation "Untitled (Bread House)," presented by Jeffrey Deitch gallery. It is a sculpture constructed with loaves of bread attached to a wooden frame. In this case, fresh bread from Zurich's oldest bakery was brought in for the unconventional (and Instagram-worthy) installation.


The artworks in this section are displayed in venues around the city of Basel, and this year, it features 20 installations and performances, united under the theme "Can we find happiness together again?" A public walk by Hamish Fulton titled "Walking in Every Direction" takes place on Basel's Marktplatz. It is a performance piece that calls on volunteers to simply walk for an hour.

Enormous sculptures by Texas-born Bunny Rogers will be on display on Münsterplatz, while 12 large-scale paintings and performances by Swiss artist Claudia Comte, presented by Gladstone Gallery and König Galerie, can be enjoyed at the remodeled Stadtcasino.

Messeplatz will also host two site-specific interventions by artists Monster Chetwynd and Cecilia Bengolea.


NFT art is also making its debut at Art Basel, courtesy of German gallery Nagel Draxler. It is presenting digital artwork by eight artists, including Olive Allen and Kevin Abosch. The only catch here is that you can't actually buy any of the works the traditional way (you know, with good old physical currency). Those who'd like to own any of the pieces are redirected to OpenSea, a crypto platform, to purchase it in cryptocurrency.

How to Follow Art Basel at Home

Not in Basel? No problem.

Following last year's success of the first digital edition of the fair and given the strict entry requirements in Switzerland at the moment, organizers have also included a virtual component in the program. You can see a lot of the artwork on display in the Viewing Rooms section on the fair's website that will be open for the duration of the fair.

What's Next for Art Basel

So what's next for Art Basel? After Art Basel's Hong Kong edition in May (the fair's regular date in March was moved due to international travel restrictions), industry pros are speculating that Tokyo may get its own edition of the prestigious event. Until we know more, though, we have one more Art Basel event to look forward to this year — the famed Miami Beach edition of Art Basel will take place from Dec. 2 to Dec. 4.

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