Art Basel 2021: a guide to the fair and art in the city

At long last, Art Basel is about to get physical once again. Running from 24 – 26 September 2021 at Messe Basel, the fair promises a radical mix of new commissions and iconic works. Here's a preview of what to see at the fair, and around the city

Art by Frank Bowling, Samson’s Circle with Lila’s dress made in Africa of imported Chinese fabric: and the rest, 2019. Acrylic paint, acrylic gel with cotton, paper collage and gold leaf on canvas
Frank Bowling, Samson’s Circle with Lila’s dress made in Africa of imported Chinese fabric: and the rest, 2019. Acrylic paint, acrylic gel with cotton, paper collage and gold leaf on canvas. © Sir Frank Bowling. All rights reserved, DACS 2021. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photography: Anna Arca
(Image credit: Frank Bowling and Hauser & Wirth, Anna Arca)

Art Basel 2021 will take place in Messe Basel from 24 – 26 September. As is now the status quo for art fairs, the event will embrace a hybrid format, blending physical and digital offerings to engage with a broad international audience. Building on its history as a catalyst for radical contemporary art, this year promises a mix new commissions and iconic works. Also in Messe Basel, Design Miami/ Basel 2021, curated by Aric Chen, will stage its 15th edition. 

Marking Art Basel’s first physical fair since the pandemic began, the line-up will include 272 galleries from 33 countries and territories. We look ahead to highlights at Art Basel 2021.

Art by Etel Adnan, Sunny Countryside, 2018, tapestry

Etel Adnan, Sunny Countryside, 2018, tapestry. © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick)

(Image credit: Etel Adnan, White Cube (Ollie Hammick))

Art Basel 2021: what to see at the fair 

Unlimited, Art Basel's platform for large-scale projects, is curated for the first time by Giovanni Carmine, director of the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen. It will feature 62 large-scale projects by renowned and emerging artists including Urs Fischer, Etel Adnan, Frank Bowling, Carrie Mae Weems, Marion Baruch, Elmgreen & Dragset and Ryoji Ikeda

UBS, Art Basel’s lead partner, will introduce the hybrid exhibition ‘Reimagining: A Better World’. A selection of works will be shown physically in the UBS Lounge, with a larger version available virtually. Artists such as Richard Mosse and Catherine Opie highlight the consequences of humanity’s exploitation of natural resources.

Rashid Johnson explores anxieties that result from racial discrimination, and compositions by Olafur Eliasson, Jeppe Hein and Tomás Saraceno reflect on the fragility of the physical world. 

Art by Jeppe Hein, I Believe in Miracles

Jeppe Hein, I Believe in Miracles, 2018, UBS Art Collection. Photography: Roman März/ König Galerie.

(Image credit: Roman März/ König Galerie)

Art by Richard Mosse, Mineral Ship, Pará

Richard Mosse, Mineral Ship, Pará. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

(Image credit: Richard Mosse and Jack Shainman Gallery)

Art Basel on the Messeplatz

This year, the Messeplatz – Art Basel’s outdoor incubator for radical art – will host two site-specific interventions selected by the fair's Unlimited and Parcours curators. Monster Chetwynd will develop a large-scale installation and performance, while Parcours curator Samuel Leuenberger will work with Cecilia Bengolea on a video installation and performance staged within the fountain of the Messeplatz.

Art Basel in the city

The 12th edition of Parcours will showcase 20 site-specific artworks across the city of Basel. Responding to the theme, ‘Can We Find Happiness Together Again?’, works include 12 large-scale paintings and performances by Claudia Comte at the Stadtcasino, and a public walk by Hamish Fulton titled ‘Walking in Every Direction’ on Basel's Marktplatz. 

Elsewhere, the city’s leading institutions will host major shows during the Art Basel festivities. At Fondation Beyeler, the group show ‘Close-up’ spotlights the work of key women artists from 1870 to the present day. Focusing on myriad depictions of the human figure, featured artists include Berthe Morisot, Cindy Sherman and Elizabeth Peyton.

Kunstmuseum Basel will show American artist Kara Walker’s long-awaited ‘A Black Hole is Everything a Star Longs to Be’. Presenting 600 drawings from her personal archive, alongside new works, Walker’s show brings themes of racism, gender, sexuality, and violence into sharp focus.

Art by Kara Walker, 'A Black Hole Is Everything a Star Longs to Be' at Kunstmuseum Basel

Exhibition view of 'Kara Walker: A Black Hole Is Everything a Star Longs to Be' at Kunstmuseum Basel. Photography: Jonas Hänggi

(Image credit: Jonas Hänggi)


Art Basel (in Basel), 24 September - Sun, 26 Sept 2021.


Messepl. 10, 4005 Basel


Harriet Lloyd-Smith was the Arts Editor of Wallpaper*, responsible for the art pages across digital and print, including profiles, exhibition reviews, and contemporary art collaborations. She started at Wallpaper* in 2017 and has written for leading contemporary art publications, auction houses and arts charities, and lectured on review writing and art journalism. When she’s not writing about art, she’s making her own.