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Sue Williamson, Messages from the Atlantic Passage, 2017, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.

by Nancy Nesvet

There once was a small city at the crossroads of three countries — Switzer- land, Germany and France — that became the epicenter of the global art market. Coming from across the world, artists, gallerists, buyers and art lovers co-exist for a week in a quest for the perfect art piece; the willing buyer; or the fame to advance or initiate an art career, a fortune or a collection. Art Basel’s fame and fortune can only be explained by the art public’s recognition of the quality and breadth of work presented at the annual art fair of all art fairs.

Now the biggest and best, Art Basel harks back to the first “art fair,” an exhibition open to the public and charging for admission. The Paris Salon, which opened in 1667 and was held in the Grand Salon of the Louvre, determined the reputation and price of French artists’ work. Not to be outdone, London’s Royal Academy opened its fair in 1768 (and is making preparations for a huge 250th show next year), often changing direction to appeal to critical taste or popular demand, followed in short order by a Manchester fair. 1863’s Salon de la Refuses provided exposure for those shut out of France’s Royal Academy Salon.

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