One of the great things about the art world today is how much appreciation and investment it can get in many different forms. While some funding can be difficult, the opportunities to connect people to the art world, and art professionals to other artists, has only grown in the digital age. But just because it’s easier than ever now doesn’t mean it has always been that way, which is why some of the world’s best art festivals are also the oldest. One such art festival is Art Basel, a festival with nearly fifty years of history, success, and, of course, beautiful and compelling artwork.
Art Basel was started in 1970 in the town of Basel, a bustling city in the northwest of Switzerland right on the river Rhine. The city has a long and fascinating artistic history, both in terms of the artists is has produced and the position it holds in the European art community. In 1970, three local gallery operators, Trudi Bruckner, Balz Hilt, and Ernst Beyeler, came together to create the inaugural Art Basel. It was designed, as they say on their website, to create “an exciting environment that deepens and strengthens the relationship between gallerists, artists, curators and collectors.” That first festival was in itself a monumental occasion, with over 90 participating galleries and an estimated 16,000 visitors.
After that first event, Art Basel expanded extremely quickly, hinting that it had tapped into something that was desperately needed in the European art scene. By its third year, it had grown to 30,000 attendees, with 281 participating galleries. But not content with keeping the festival in just Europe, the founders looked elsewhere to expand in the early 2000s. As such, Art Basel Miami was celebrated for the first time in 2002 under the leadership of art director Samuel Keller. A third festival was added in 2013 in Hong Kong, focusing mainly on the art scenes happening in China and eastern Asia.
Many existing art collectives use Art Basel as an opportunity to promote and encourage the work that happens in their organizations, such as the Wynwood Walls Project. Based in Miami, where Art Basel made its first expansion, Wynwood Walls is an art revitalization project in the Wynwood district, a place known mostly for its abundance of warehouse walls. The project has sought world-renowned muralists to paint these walls, and the organization creates events to encourage a rotating art experience. In conjunction with Art Basel, Wynwood Walls launched its Walls of Change initiative, which saw the creation of 14 new murals by some of the best artists in attendance for Miami’s Art Basel festival.
Art Basel is an excellent example of why art festivals matter both historically and in our contemporary world. While connecting artists to audiences and other art professionals has become easier in our digital age, festivals like this provide an even better stage for the world of art. Art Basel has and remains at the forefront of the contemporary art world, showcasing some of the best and most up-and-coming art projects in the world, all while keeping the focus on art and artists.