Art

How True Is It That You ‘See in Venice, and Buy in Basel’?

OSL Contemporary’s Statements booth, featuring the work of Ahmed Umar, at Art Basel 2024. Image courtesy of the gallery and the artist.

As the grande dame of international exhibitions, the Venice Biennale holds enormous sway in the art world. Being chosen by the Biennale’s curator (this year, it’s Brazilian museum director Adriano Pedrosa) to appear in the main exhibition can catapult artists to global fame. “The Venice Biennale is enormously helpful in marketing an artist,” says art market expert Georgina Adam. “It really puts an artist on the international map.” 

While it may seem rather gauche today, from the Biennale’s launch in 1895 until 1968, you could actually buy the works on show from a sales office on-site. These days, because of its opening just a couple of months after the Biennale’s vernissage, the Art Basel in Basel fair is often described as the “unofficial sales office” of Venice. “‘See in Venice, buy in Basel’ is true, although ‘buy in Venice’ is true as well,” says Adam, explaining how buyers will often contact artists’ galleries during, or even ahead of, the Venice Biennale if they are interested in a work. 

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Kim Yun Shin, Song of My Soul 2008-48, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist, Lehmann Maupin, and Kukje Gallery.

Nonetheless, every two years, the walls of Art Basel are filled with work by newly familiar Venice Biennale stars. But the situation is slightly different this time around. While Pedrosa’s exhibition "Foreigners Everywhere" is the largest ever, with 331 artists on view, it is also arguably one of the least commercial. Many of the artists are from the Global South (a region often ignored by the Western art market) and do not have gallery representation. The vast majority had never before been presented at a Venice Biennale.

Still, that hasn't stopped the international art market from seizing the moment. A number of artists in the Biennale have recently found representation and will be on view in Basel. The ​​octogenarian Korean sculptor Kim Yun Shin joined Kukje Gallery and Lehmann Maupin in January—both will be showing her work at the fair. The Palestinian-Saudi artist Dana Awartani joined Lisson Gallery in April, and continues to also be represented by her former galleries Chemould Prescott Road and Athr Gallery. Chemould and Lisson will be showing her work, with the latter presenting new pieces from her ongoing series of fabric works memorializing sites destroyed in the Arab world, which is also in the Biennale. 

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Yael Bartana, Light to the Nations – Generation Ship, 2024. Installation View at the German Pavilion, La Biennale di Venezia, 2024. Photography by Andrea Rossetti. Image courtesy of the artist and LAS Art Foundation.

While there may not be as many Venice artists in Basel this year as in previous editions, eagle-eyed viewers can still find them. The Statements section, which is dedicated to the work of emerging artists, includes three: the Angolan artist Sandra Poulson, who created a site-specific papier-mâché installation in Venice (Jahmek Contemporary Art); the Norway-based, Sudan-born Ahmed Umar, whose video of Sudanese bridal dance was a highlight of the Biennale (OSL contemporary); and the Argentinian artist La Chola Poblete, known for making large-scale watercolors (Barro).

There are also several Venice artists in the Unlimited section, which features large-scale projects and installations, including Samia Halaby (Sfeir-Semler Gallery), Seba Calfuqueo (Labor Gallery), and Claudia Andujar (Vermelho and Gomide&Co). Gomide&Co says its booth is inspired by the themes of Pedrosa’s show and includes works by Paraguayan ceramist Julia Isídrez and the late Brazilian artist Amadeo Luciano Lorenzato (the latter will also be exhibited by David Zwirner). Meanwhile, Petzel will present a version of Yael Bartana's Generation Ship sculpture, which is included in the much-talked-about German Pavilion.

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Jahmek Contemporary Art’s Statements booth, featuring the work of Sandra Paulson, at Art Basel 2024. Image courtesy of the artist and the gallery.

Some galleries who work with Venice Biennale artists don’t have the commercial clout, or perhaps the desire, to show at Art Basel in Basel. In December 2023, James Fuentes gallery took on the Brazilian portraitist Dalton Paula and exhibited his work at Art Basel Miami Beach, but the gallery is not taking part in Basel. The gallery Martins&Montero (formed from the merger of Jaqueline Martins and Sé Galeria) also represents Paula, as well as Jota Mombaça and Manauara Clandestina, but the new gallery only opened in March this year, likely precluding it from joining Basel. 

The London-based gallery Richard Saltoun has four artists in Venice but won’t be at Basel; it showed works by the Austrian poet and artist Greta Schödl at Taipei Dangdai in May. Hales Gallery works with the estates of Anwar Jalal Shemza and Elda Cerrato, as well as Kay WalkingStick, who are all in the Venice show, but its next fair will be Frieze London. So perhaps this year it is less "see in Venice, buy in Basel" and more, "see in Venice, check your local art fair."