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Road to Art Basel: The Jury is the real Authority

  • Art Basel, jury
June 15, 2015
Web journalist, coffee junkie and art fanatic. Cares about the environment, writes for Widewalls. Alias of Milica Jovic

Art Basel is one of the most luxurious and the most important Modern and Contemporary art fairs in the world and many renowned galleries, curators, artists, dealers and collectors are attending it every year. But the road to Art Basel is not easy as almost a thousand galleries admit their applications every year. Only about 300 eventually make it into the fair and the Art Basel’s gateway is controlled by only 6 esteemed art dealers that constitute the Art Basel jury.

Art Basel, jury
Art Basel Visitors, courtesy of New York Times

What it Takes to be an Art Basel’s Juror

The jury system at Art Basel was introduced in the seventies. Its power has grown with the fair and it became more and more rigorous every year. Jurors have to make sure that only the finest representatives of the Modern and Contemporary art enter the fair and there are many criteria required in order to reach this position. The director of Art Basel Marc Spiegler, explains that jurors need to be experienced and respected by their fellow dealers. Different tastes and geographical regions are represented by the jurors in order to add the variety to the fair. Every year there are six jurors chosen and each juror typically serves for five to ten years. Art Basel jury gathers several times before the fair and discusses the entrees among themselves and with their advisers before creating the final selection for Art Basel. Rejected galleries can appeal to the selection but only about 10% of claims gets approved.

Art Basel, jury
Marc Spiegler, the Director of Art Basel, courtesy of blouinartinfo

How to Impress the Art Basel Jury

Impressing the Art Basel’s jurors is not easy. The galleries are saving their best artworks for the fair and the preparation for the application process lasts for weeks. The information about the gallery’s history, list of exhibitions and the biographies of their artists are provided. Sketches, small scale models of artworks and virtual tours through the planed exhibition are also inserted into the application. The entire process is described by the New York dealer Fergus McCaffrey as ‘the Olimpics’ of the art world. Many famous art dealers have failed to get a booth at Art Basel including New York dealer Anke Kempkes and president of the Art Dealers Association of America Dorsey Waxter. The voting system limits the power of a single juror as the decision doesn’t need to be unanimous. The returning galleries need 5 out of 6 votes to get into the fair while new galleries need 4 out of 6 votes to be selected. Aldo the system seems to be favoring the newcomers statistic shows that the veteran galleries dominate the fair every year. New York Times reports that although the newcomers occasionally do break into the elite ranks they only make up for 10 % of the participants. The six years statistic shows that around 90% of ground floor galleries have exhibited at Art Basel previously.

Art Basel, Jury
Dealer Dorsey Waxter has been Rejected for Art Basel Several Times, courtesy of allartnews.com

The Powerful Gatekeepers

Many dealers think that the selection criteria for the jurors are not suitable and would prefer an assembly of museum directors and curators, rather than rival dealers judging their entries. On the other hand Art Basel jury members claim that they are doing everything possible to remain fair despite the quite blunt and unpleasant lobbying. The committee picks galleries that are innovating, geographically diverse and have had an important role in developing an artist’s career. The power of the jurors is as extensive as the Art Basel’s influence. The Swiss company is present globally and organizes art fairs at Basel, Hong Kong and Miami. Collectors from all over are coming to Art Basel with big eyes and full pockets and some of the finest and most expensive artworks in the world are being exhibited and sold. The value of artworks that will be put up for sale at 2015 Art Basel fair is estimated at around $3 billion.

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Featured image: Art Basel Fair