ART BASEL 1998, Halle/Stand 214.C2/D1


- Non-commercial art & exhibition projects (realized and planned)
- Projects for installations (realized and planned)
- Temporary art interventions in public space
- Projects for actions, happenings, performance
- Film & Book Projects

The global political situation changed decisively after 1989. The key words were globalization, (neo-liberal) economics, and digitalization. We [editorial note: Art Basel] had realised relatively quickly that, as a logical consequence of this, the art fair and the art exhibition would become increasingly interdependent. Art exhibitions had always pursued a different strategy from that of sales booths at art fairs, but now – in a clear break with tradition – this aesthetic “division of labour” began to fade. We also came under increasing pressure to abandon the aesthetic division of powers between artist, collector, gallery owner, curator, critic and patron, which had hitherto been an unwritten law. Aesthetic objects with specific purposes became indistinguishable from those with none. And just as share prices indicate the market value of certain segments, the aesthetic value became the purchase value.

The first person who clearly discerned the systemic transformation of art and the art world after 1989 was Harald Szeemann. His legacy remains as important as ever, and to this day curators measure their integrative skills against his. Ever since his global art show “Plateau of Humankind” in Venice in 1999 – though the process may have begun even earlier – art has completed its systemic shift from international to worldwide: the Western art system has gone global. But in staging his exhibitions, Szeemann also continued his consistent development of Marcel Duchamp’s approach, the exchange of roles between artist, exhibition organizer, theorist and critic – thus overcoming the monotheistic heritage of Western art. Not least thanks to him, art today differs in the purposes added to it – whereby the concept of art loses its unity, breaking down into a spectrum of proportional values: information value, market value, cultural or transcultural value, topicality value, art value and exhibition value.

One of the first people to understand, embrace and implement this systemic change in the art market was Basel gallery owner Klaus Littmann. As long ago as (1991), his Kunstzug project was the first impressive demonstration of his comprehensive but differentiated approach to art. He was also – at Art Basel in 1996 – the first person to provocatively juxtapose established Western art, the dominant formative influence on our concept of art, and a whole stand of contemporary Chinese art that was neither known nor understood. Three years later, “Contemporary Chinese Art” was the attraction at the event. And at Art Basel in 1998, when Littmann merely wanted to offer visions and ideas for art projects for implementation or sale, the admissions committee gave him an unequivocal thumbs-down. Ultimately, and thanks not least to the innovative spirit of the event managers, he was the first to be allowed to create a (commercial) exhibition organizer’s booth. It’s appearance, which went beyond traditional – or rather traditionalist – boundaries, caused quite a stir and generated a lot of discussion … and to this day it remains unique in the annals of art fairs. Visionaries, after all, are often ahead of their times…

Lorenzo Rudolf, September 2020
Director, Art Basel, 1991-2000

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