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This page has highlights of Art Basel in Switzerland. You may also be interested in highlights from Art Basel Miami Beach.


Mark Dahle's tips for visiting Art Basel in Switzerland June 15-18, 2017


If you like modern and contemporary art, you can see a lot of it in a day or weekend at Art Basel in Switzerland. You'll see almost every artist represented, from Picasso to the top living artists.

If you're not up on contemporary trends, this would be a great place to get an introduction to the current art scene, in all its forms. Bring comfortable walking shoes -- you'll have lots of ground to cover.

Basel, Switzerland. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Basel, Switzerland. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Arriving by air. Basel has an airport with easy bus and train connections to town. Automated ticket machines for both bus and train are outside the airport. Both bus and train will take you to Basel SBB, the main train station, which is a hub for local transportation.

There's also direct train service to Basel SBB from the Zurich airport.

Checking in. Stop at the Art Basel booth just outside the Basel SBB station.. The staff will be able to show you on a map where to find Art Basel, your hotel, and a couple satellite fairs -- enough to get you started. The staff speak fluent English (and German and French).

It's been my habit to get a two-day ticket, allowing time for more breaks and a chance to see things twice if I want. But most people will be able to see the entire Art Basel show in a day if they arrive by noon and stick with it.

Local transportation. Your hotel will give you a transportation pass good for buses and trams, and travel around Basel will be easy with it. You’ll probably need two maps, one showing the tram system and one with more detail showing the streets. But there’s no need to buy a city map; maps are freely available almost everywhere.

Frank Stella Protractor Variation X, 1963.

Frank Stella Protractor Variation X, 1963, at Art Basel 2011.

Hotels. Most years it is still possible to find a room right before the event, but your choices will be limited. The earlier you book, the better your choices will be. If you want something as inexpensive as a hostel, you'll need to book at least a month ahead.

Using English. In multiple trips I have met only one shopkeeper who didn’t speak English. Everyone else that I met, on the street and in businesses, young and old, were courteous and eager to help me find my way around town. You should have no trouble getting around even if English is your only language.

Florian Slotawa’s Garden tools (6), 2011. Galleria Suzy Shammah

Florian Slatawa, Garden Tools (6) at Art Basel 2011.

When to go. If you’re able, go on Thursday and Friday. The crowds are much bigger on Saturday and Sunday and make seeing the art more difficult. But if those are your only possible days, by all means go on the weekend.

Food. Food is available at the event. At peak times you might spend 15 minutes in line. A small bottle of water can cost six Euros or more, but it's worth staying at the site to maximize your time.

Media. The first floor has a section of art magazines. Be sure to pick up the free daily edition of The Art Newspaper. The paper will print two or three editions during Art Basel, and you can get interesting market news about the art you've seen that day. It will have a map and list of other art events in the city that you might want to see.

If you only have a day. You’re going to miss great art, no doubt about it. But to make the best use of your time, stick to the ground floor of Art Basel. You’ll see hundreds of millions of dollars of art, even if you only have an hour. You'll see art by Pablo Picasso, Frank Stella, Christo, Jeff Koons, Jean-Michel Basquait, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, and other names you'll recognize.

Takashi Naraha's Mandala-Wall N86, 1990.

Takashi Naraha's Mandala-Wall N86, 1990 at Art Basel 2011.

If you have enough time, take a side trip to Hall 1, where you’ll see something different that will make it worth your trip.

There are many great galleries and artists represented on the second floor. But if you don't have time, you don't have time.

If you have two days. Plan on spending the better part of your time at Art Basel. Check out the first and second floor as well as Hall 1. If you’ve seen everything there, check out Liste, Scope, or Volta (three satellite fairs), and get a local guide to see if you should visit any of the exhibitions at the local museums.

If you like installations, you could check out the projects along the river after you've seen Hall 1. But if installations aren't your number one priority and your time is limited, I'd recommend you go to all the satellite fairs before trudging around the river locations.

Richard Long, Funfair Circle, 2011, Cut Slat from Cornwall, Diameter: 350 cm

Richard Long, Funfair Circle, 2011, one of my favorites on the second floor of Art Basel 2011.

If you can, stay four (or more) days. If you're able, stay four or five days. That will let you see most of the art in the city.

Satellite fairs. There are far fewer satellite fairs at Art Basel than at Art Basel Miami Beach. But that doesn’t matter, since Art Basel itself is so much bigger.

If you have two days or more and are good at walking, you'll have time to visit one or more satellite fairs. If you want to see all of them and several museums, you'll probably need three or four days.

There’s a stock market quote that applies here: The past is no predictor of future events. Still, for what it’s worth, I'd visit Scope, Volta and Liste first.

Scope. You'll be able to see Scope in an hour or two. There will be a shuttle from Art Basel hidden on a road at the back of the building.

Hassan Sharif's Bridges with Hussain Sharif's Cars at Scope 2011.

Hassan Sharif's Bridges with Hussain Sharif's Cars at Scope 2011.

Liste. Liste is advertised as the “young person’s” art fair. It’s kind of shocking how apt the description is.

At Art Basel, you’ll find an occasional teen or person in their 20s, almost always with a parent. But at Liste, you’ll discover where the younger set went instead of Art Basel. The average age of attenders at Art Basel usually looks to be well above 50. At Liste in the evening it is closer to 25 or 30.

If you arrive at 8 p.m., the price for Liste drops, and they’re open until 9, so you can maximize your time by saving Liste for the end of the day. You'll be able to see it all in the hour before closing.

The art is great, but even if it weren‘t, it’s worth going just to poke around the magnificent building. Liste is at Werkraum Warteck, a fabulous site. To see all the art, you'll have to poke your head into every corner you can think of. The layout isn't straightforward.

Werkraum Warteck building, Basel, Switzerland. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Werkraum Wartech building, Basel, Switzerland.

Volta. Take a shuttle bus from Art Basel or Liste. You'll be able to see all of Volta in about an hour. Don't turn around at the cafeteria; the third section of the art fair is hidden behind it.

Other venues. Occasionally other fairs are at St. Jakobshalle. Catch the shuttle; don't try to find this location on public transportation.

The Beyeler Foundation usually has a show worth going to. The Schaulager and Tingley Museums are worth stopping at. It's probably easier to catch a cab or tram to where you want to go next from either of those museums than to use the shuttle to get back to Art Basel.

There are quite a few local museums; pick up a schedule of their current exhibits and choose what to see based on your time.

Foundation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011

I can't help but think of Mad Magazine's Spy vs. Spy when I see these two sculptures together on the lawn at Foundation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland.

Also check out:

Mark Dahle's tips for visiting Art Basel Miami Beach


Mark Dahle's tips for visiting New York Art Galleries, The Armory Show, and Frieze New York

Mark Dahle's tips for visiting the Venice Biennale

Mark Dahle's tips for visiting ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, MI

Lectures on Art
Understanding Abstract Art
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Mark Dahle Biography and FAQs

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Basel, Switzerland photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011Basel, Switzerland. © Mark Dahle 2011

Basel, Switzerland photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011 Basel, Switzerland. © Mark Dahle 2011

Basel, Switzerland photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011 Basel, Switzerland. © Mark Dahle 2011

Overpass, Basel, Switzerland. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Overpass, Basel, Switzerland. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Grate, Basel, Switzerland. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Grate, Basel, Switzerland. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Storage tank, Basel, Switzerland. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Storage tank, Basel, Switzerland. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Metal deck, Basel, Switzerland. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Metal deck, Basel, Switzerland. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Construction Zone, Basel, Switzerland. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Construction zone, Basel, Switzerland. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Girder and bolt, Basel, Switzerland. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Girder and bolt, Basel, Switzerland. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Walkway, Basel, Switzerland. Photo copyright 2011 Mark Dahle.

Walkway, Basel, Switzerland. © Mark Dahle 2011.

Train trestle, Basel, Switzerland. Photo copyright Mark Dahle 2011.

Train trestle, Basel, Switzerland. © Mark Dahle 2011.