Joan McLoughlin, owner of The McLoughlin Gallery, pictured with artists (from left to right) David Middlebrook and Mckay Otto as well as McLoughlin gallerist Antonio Cortez; Photo by Seanica Howe.

On my final day in Basel I would be remiss if I didn't do a little storytelling and share with you what goes on behind the scenes.  Unlike Miami, only a few satellites---SCOPE, Volta, and Liste---attempt to compete with the main Art Basel fair in Basel.  This year was especially challenging for these mid-level dealers; the Art Basel space came with a new face and, according to those who had attended in the past, the show was one of the best.  Collectors, artists, and hangers-on finished their days in an open air rotunda sipping cocktails while catching up on the day.

A view of the rotunda of Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland; Photo by Seanica Howe.

A dealer friend of mine akins the Art Basel experience to that of an Olympic Village.  Hopefuls support each other while waiting for the next big sale.  And if a collector doesn't purchase with one gallery, he is often directed to another.  There is a huge sense of camaraderie.  Unlike their Art Basel colleagues who get hundreds of thousands, if not millions, for single works, the folks at satellite fairs like SCOPE sweat it out and go to the mattresses. Each sale they make matters and could be the difference in packing it in or moving forward.

Dealers here are inspiring dreamers; people that have made huge life changes for the sake of being in the arts.  Joan McLoughlin, owner of the McLoughlin Gallery, left her job as a nurse and involvement with medical start-ups to open her own gallery in San Francisco.  In less than three years she has built a family of artists that now have works in major museums and collections.  

Gallerists (from left to right) John Haas and Andreas Kuefer with Ed Victori in the Victori Contemporary booth at the SCOPE art fair, Basel: Photo by Seanica Howe.

Ed Victori of Victori Contemporary left his career as a Wall Street trader in hopes of one day establishing his father as a master painter in fine art.   Mark Hachem walked away from his successful computer consulting company to open a gallery in Paris.  He now has additional locations in the Middle East, as well as the United States. 

Kevin Havelton of Aureus Contemporary gallery; Photo by Seanica Howe.

And after becoming disenchanted with others selling his paintings, Kevin Havelton began his own virtual gallery and now travels to several fairs a year, representing his own work as well as others.  The stories are endless, and these people are warriors.

So the next time you think of purchasing a pair of Nikes or that Prada purse, donating your money to a corporate tycoon who doesn't need it, consider saving your pennies for art.  You might be supporting the dream of another or paying a few months' rent of your favorite artist; not to mention the right to brag to your friends on how you discovered the next big thing while being at the center of it all---Basel.

This article was originally written for publication with The Miami New Times Blog, Cultist, as one of a series of articles titled "Art Basel in Basel" by Seanica Howe.  This writing, as well as the remainder of the series, can be accessed here:

Pablo Bronstein, Maria Antoinette and Robespierre Engage In An Irritable Post-Coital Conversation, 2013; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Two things have become quite obvious to me on this trip to Basel: 1. I need more wall space and 2.  If I'm going to continue being an art writer, I need to get a very rich boyfriend.  When one's favorite Gerhard Richter at Dominique Levy sells for $25,000,000 before you can even snap a picture, you know that you're in the wrong tax bracket.   

Today was the day we went in and rubbed elbows with the big guns.  Prepare to be disgusted because the name of the game is money, and lots of it.  Whispers of conversations here are not for the faint of heart and romantic notions are best left in the coat check.   Art moves into the area of strict commodity with verbal exchanges between advisor and collector going something like this:  Collector: "Is so and so buying this yet?"  Advisor:  "No."  Collector:  "If he's not buying it, then I'm not. I need something with staying power."  

The major New York galleries were all in attendance and, without a doubt, put their best foot forward showing works from some heavily traded contemporary favorites.  Anish Kapoor's wall sculptures have shifted from 

Anish Kapoor, Untitled, 2012; Photo by Seanica Howe.

round bowl into potato chip form with one of the new versions bringing in nearly $1,100,000.  Two artists currently in the limelight at the Venice Biennale, Sarah Sze and Ragnar Kjartansson, who typically produce large scale works more appropriate for museums, have pieces available for those unable to devote an entire room to them.  Sarah Sze's teeny tiny installation, Standing Pile (Cairn) (2013), a mere 48" tall, was sold for $32,000.  

Video still of Ragnar Kjartansson's Song, 2011; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Kjartansson's dealer, Luhring Augustine, is showing Song (2011), a video where three singing waifs hypnotically rotate on a bed while brushing their hair.  The entrancing piece, which was on view at MOCA last year,  is available for sale in an edition of six.      

Jonathan Horowitz, Free Store, 2009-2013; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Those selling works and writing invoices have been quoted as saying that buyers here appear drunk or feverish, purchasing to their heart's content, but it's nice to know there are still a few things that cannot be bought.  Sitting between the main halls is Jonathan Horowitz's Free Store (2009-2013), an environment where visitors without deep pockets are invited to exchange goods.  And the London gallery Herald St is presenting a performance piece by Pablo Bronstein.  It's titled Marie Antoinette and Robespierre Engage In An Irritable Post-Coital Conversation (2013) where a man and woman, posed as lovers, ironically sit and ignore each other. 

Wait, did I just see Steve Cohen purchase the guy on the right?  I suppose what they say is true: everything is for sale, especially here at Basel---just name the price.

This article was originally written for publication with The Miami New Times Blog, Cultist, as one of a series of articles titled "Art Basel in Basel" by Seanica Howe.  This writing, as well as the remainder of the series, can be accessed here:

Viewers behold Piotr Uklanski's Untitled (Open Wide), 2012, installation at Art Basel's "Unlimited;" Photo by Seanica Howe.

Today was the day I ate my words.  Gagosian, please forgive me.  Hauser & Wirth, keep building.   Every terrible thing I've ever said about oversized galleries with big bank accounts? I take it back.  You are now my reason for being, my everything, because without your support of artists in need of large spaces and big budgets, I would have missed having my jaw drop open at "Unlimited," Art Basel's show within a show.  

Stretching the imagination beyond the wall hanging and basic sculpture, "Unlimited" serves as the portion of the main Art Basel fair designated for multi-media, performance art, and large scale installations and objects that reach beyond the limits of the white cube. 

A portion of Chen Zhen's Purification Room, 2000; Photo by Seanica Howe.
Purification Room (2000), Chen Zhen's archeological work, warns of an apocalypse, and, given the world events of late, are sure to force one to question their place in the world and its potential destruction.  Banal objects used in everyday life are left in the dust, literally.  Covered in thick layers of earth, cookware, furniture, clothing, and even the bike on the lawn remain frozen in time, free from further wear with the disappearance of their users.  Besides being psychologically terrifying, Zhen's clay process is masterful and leaves the viewer pondering the unlikelihood of its fabrication.

David Altmejd, The Orbit, 2012; Photo by Seanica Howe.

On a lighter note, in a room all to itself, is an object in stark contrast to the death and destruction conveyed by Zhen.  Well, maybe not death, because inside this partially broken aquarium of clear cubes and mirrors created by David Altmejd is a melon-head exploding into several pieces.  The Orbit (2012) contains a rainbow of string, waxed body parts, and artificial cherries, among other things. It all seeps into the subconscious like a dream of interactive energies that shift and transform in color and state of being, floating above any susceptibility of decay.

An exterior view of Chiharu Shiota's In Silence, 2002/2013; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Two female artists defy the odds with their treatment of textiles:  Chiharu Shiota spins an installation that evokes memories of childhood trauma or domestic abuse by including burned chairs and a piano, both contents of a home, but one that traps and frightens its occupants.  And Piotr Uklanski magnifies the softer side of the oral cavity in her quilted Open Wide (2012) installation, where a giant uvula diminishes its admiring audience.  Ahhhhh "Unlimited!" She took the words right out of my mouth.  

This article was originally written for publication with The Miami New Times Blog, Cultist, as one of a series of articles titled "Art Basel in Basel" by Seanica Howe. This writing, as well as the remainder of the series, can be accessed here:

I Santissimi, Horror Vacui, 2012; Photo by Seanica Howe

To say that Art Basel has become significant for our fair city is a bit of an understatement.  Do we even remember what Miami was like before this major event elevated it from vacation destination to cultural hot spot?  Those of us that had never been exposed to million dollar art suddenly became connoisseurs and were granted permission to enter a world we thought only existed in New York and Paris.  

Well, the big daddy fair, father to which Miami now owes its claim to art fame, has, once again, occupied Switzerland.  No people, Art Basel is not just a Miami event and, just in case you are wondering, its fabulousness translates worldwide.

My first day in Basel had me starting with one of my favorite satellite fairs, SCOPE.  Sonja Hofstetter, head of SCOPE exhibitor relations, shared with me her thoughts on the major contrast between Art Basel in Basel versus Miami: that while Miami continues to live up to its reputation as a place to see and be seen, which comes as no surprise, Basel attracts the serious European collector, with many of the attendees flying in specifically to buy art.  

Paolo Grassino, Analgesia (2012), an outdoor installation courtesy of Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Standing guard as visitors enter the fair is a group of junk yard dogs, an outdoor installation by Paola Grassino, reminding riffraff to keep out so that sophisticated types inside can get down to business.  

Ran Hwang, Secret Obsessions, 2013; © Ran Hwang/Courtesy Inception Gallery, Paris.

Seeing SCOPE Miami attendees Victori Contemporary and Aureus was a major treat, along with viewing contemporary art that ranges from I Santissimi's perplexing fabrication of a sectioned, crouching human, shown by Gagliardi Art System, to Ran Hwang's webbed chandelier of thousands of crystals and beads pinned to plexiglass.  Hwang is represented by Inception Gallery in Paris. 

Comenius Rothlisberger and Admir Jahic, The Invisible Heroes, standing with one of several works shown for the SCOPE art fair; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Comenius Rothlisberger and Admir Jahic, the artists better known as The Invisible Heroes, have works on display specifically for SCOPE.  In their stand alone space, this cool duo presents resin sculptural objects embedded with colored pigments, allowing reflections from fluorescent lighting to skate along their surfaces.  

Yves Hayat, Icones Fatiguees (left) and Parfums de Revolte (right), both from 2013; Photo by Seanica Howe.
However, the fair's definite crowd pleaser was a series of small clear cases with a big message. Created by Yves Hayat, these shriveling images of coveted icons and designer brands ask their admirers to consider the price paid for celebrity, consumerism, and wealth. Not to worry, in addition to showing in Paris, Hayat's dealer, Mark Hachem, also occupies a space in New York's Chelsea.  But if you've taken a vow only to see art in Miami, preferring a little more pizazz with your viewing pleasure, I'm sure he could be convinced to fly south for the winter...just in time for our spiced up version of this beloved event.

This article was originally written for publication with The Miami New Times Blog, Cultist, as one of a series of articles titled "Art Basel in Basel" by Seanica Howe.  This writing, as well as the remainder of the series, can be accessed at