Everything You Need to Know About Art Basel… Now in September

The iconic art fair got postponed four months in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

art basel Courtesy of Shutterstock

Today Art Basel, the world’s biggest and most important fair for modern and contemporary art, changed its dates from June to September, in response to the coronavirus. For the art world, this is a huge disruption to tradition: Art Basel, which dates back to 1970, and the annual trip to the tiny, charming canton of Basel in the summer is a fixture on the calendar. Certain images are inextricably linked to the fair: the cows in the field behind the Beyeler Collection; the requisite partying at the Campari bar; the velvet ropes outside the Three Kings (actually the velvet ropes are somewhat recent, but the hotel dates to the 17th century); the tram ride to the Schaulager, the Circus Knie, the sausages, the asparagus. Some of this will be the same in September, and some things will change. Below, a brief guide to just a few things that will change.

The fair will not coincide with asparagus season.


Why is this important? You will not see be able to put up Instagram posts picturing and rapturously describing your weißer Spargel.

It happens right before Expo Chicago.

Why is this important? Instead of going to London or Paris afterward (with maybe a stopover in the Alps) you will go to Chicago for the fair Expo Chicago, assuming it goes ahead as planned. This is a good thing. Chicago is an underrated art city. They have thisthisthis, and this. Also this. Plus, thisthis and this. In addition there is this and this. And don’t forget this!

The fair will take place at the beginning of the art season, as opposed to near its end.

Why is this important? In June, the art world is starting to go into the mindset of summer vacation, Yes, there are still the auctions in London, as well as the Masterpiece fair there, but the warm weather spurs thoughts of August break. Correlatively, the results of Basel—who sold what—serve as something of a barometer for how the market is doing as things start to calm down. This time around, a couple weeks after Labor Day, the fair will be a big kick-off to the new season—offering clues as to where the market might be going rather than where it’s been. Recently the summer season has been stretching into September. Translation: a lot of dealers will be going straight from the Hamptons to their fair booths.

The month after the fair, many dealers will put up their most significant shows of the year.

Why is this important? It is well-known, at least in New York, that gallery shows in October have more weight than maybe any other on the calendar. So instead of getting ready for lighter-fare summer group shows, galleries at Art Basel will be gearing up to put on their heavy-hitters.

The Circus Knie will not be in town.

Why is this important? As any Art Basel veteran can tell you, one of the most familiar sights of the fair is the one across the Messeplatz, past the tram tracks, to the Circus Knie. The Circus only runs during summer months. This will be a disappointment to at least one art dealer: Dominique Lévy, co-proprietor of Lévy Gorvy, goes every year; she once had a job as a clown.

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