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A Very Big Pond


Joe Clark reflects on his visit to Art|Basel 2008




I had in mind that I would write something when I got back, as a response to visiting the annual 'Art|Basel' in Switzerland. Not such a difficult task surely? In truth very shortly after arriving I knew it was going to be a struggle.


Many believe that London is the centre of the art world, competing in its energy and attraction with New York. I've been there regularly over the last year, and I could not have imagined a real reason to doubt it. That was until I visited Art Basel for the first time. I am pleased and excited by the sense that, in fact, London and the UK is only the small tip of a very large iceberg. Art now is truly international.


The scale of the event was inspiring, and the works on show monumental: the 19th, 20th and 21st Century merged together in a mass-orgy of spectacle. Picasso jostling with work from the emergent Chinese markets, Miro to Mark Quinn to Mathew Barney to Joseph Beuys. Bourgeois to Warhol. Hirst, Klee, Rauschenberg, Hirschorn, Giacometti, Gilbert and George, Rothko, Van Gogh, Basquiat, Bacon. Many contemporaries that I was unfamiliar with, the list goes on and on and on, longer than the soles of your shoes do in fact.


The human race does liked to be indulged, and indulged we were. The experience was truly dizzying. Great, good, bad and indifferent jostled within the same confines, asking many questions, but confirming that freedom is a great creative force, and perhaps its good to be surprised and to expect the unexpected. As one New York art dealer - when asked the question 'why the hell is that contemporary piece of crap sat between that Anthony Caro Sculpture and the Picasso?' - answered, 'Art has no answers !'


When you become this tired it becomes difficult to see so much. Great work becomes disposable for extreme levels of disposable income. The effect is that of total confusion. At this point it starts to feel a little absurd, like Pinocchio running away to the fairground, you suspect that we could all turn into donkeys. Such was the gluttonous excess.


I had a very real,  level of appreciation for how big the mountain of art is. Importantly, as I was hoping, I became increasingly confident that we do have the shoes and picks to climb it. There is of course so much to do, and much of that comes from belief and experience. Perhaps you need to see it, and then aim for it if you feel that you want to, or that you can. Just see it as possible, and allow it time.


It all comes from creating the platforms for which the work is made, and I think its important to get out of Cornwall now and then. The art world is a big one, bigger than I ever thought, but when it is all brought together under one roof at least it becomes navigable.


This was all the more apparent as evenings in Basel culminate in the centre around the Kunsthalle, where you find yourself rubbing shoulders and chatting (dancing) informally (drunken and ridiculously) with pretty powerful people in the art world. With a little belief and a dose of determination, it would be really good to work towards being a regular part of this bigger and exciting community. I for one think that Cornwall should be a part of the action and I've seen nothing to make me feel otherwise. We just need to learn a few more dance moves to get us through the evening!


A trip to Art|Basel was a little like 'Alice in Wonderland': very small, very big, strange and unusual, a little creepy and quite mad. Full of art's wonderment and folly. Leaving no time for little else. Not even sleep as you would make your way back to accommodation as the light would make its way up.


I am excited about getting involved and will look to apply to the exciting satellite fair VOLTA, for next year. If not I shall definitely go back, and run away with the circus for a few more days regardless.


I quite like the feeling of being small in a big pond so to speak. Plenty of room to grow.



The following slide-show contains more than 240 images taken at Art|Basel: