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Spotlight on photo basel: An Interview with Artistic Director Alessa Widmer
Exploring the vision of photo basel
Feature 14 May 2024

photo basel, the art fair dedicated exclusively to photography, happening alongside Art Basel, holds the distinction of being the first of its kind in Switzerland and the sole representative in the German-speaking world. Since its inception in June 2015, the fair has swiftly risen to prominence as a premier platform for photographers, both established and emerging, as well as galleries with a discerning eye for the medium. With a strong commitment to inclusivity, photo basel prides itself on curating a diverse array of exhibitors, ranging from emerging talents to internationally renowned institutions.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Artistic Director, Alessa Widmer, to gain insights into this year’s edition, set to take place in Basel from June 11–16. Read on to learn more:

Can you tell TheArtGorgeous readers more about the special projects and exhibitions that will be featured at photo basel 2024?

In its 9th edition, photo basel welcomes over 41 international exhibitors, coming from 15 different countries. Next to the extensive gallery program, we are delighted to honor the Basel based artist Kurt Wyss with a special exhibition on Jean Dubuffet (1901-1984). With “Eyewitness Kurt Wyss in Dialogue with Jean Dubuffet,” we are presenting an insight into an important phase of his photographic work. Kurt Wyss first photographed the French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet in 1970, and their wonderful long-term collaboration lasted until Dubuffet’s death in 1984. Furthermore, we are excited to introduce a new curated sector for this year‘s fair to you: novum. This selection includes works that are brand new and thus have never been seen or exhibited before (remastered) as well as forgotten bodies of work that are now being rediscovered. Our aim in creating the novum sector is to point out some fresh positions at our fair and surprise our visitors and collectors. In addition, we are excited to present a series of selected panel discussions on current topics art world related topics.

Could you share some insights into the thematic or conceptual considerations guiding the curation of photo basel 2024? Are there any overarching themes or trends you aim to highlight?

photo basel strives to include and combine galleries that are young as well as those that are renowned, Swiss exhibitors as well as international ones, those with a bold contemporary program as well as others with strong historic positions. As this is a broad range, our goal is to find interfaces. This year we are focusing on two outstanding highlights: Beyond Photography is a curated selection of photographic positions that as the name suggests – go beyond photography with the use of mixed media, special printing techniques, or a shift from the two-dimensional to the three-dimensional. Various approaches contribute to a broadening of the medium of photography. For the first time, four galleries are showing works exclusively by African artists. This was reason enough for us to give these outstanding artists a special position in the form of their own sector. Contemporary African photography promotes intercultural dialog and functions as an eminently important instrument of self-expression. From documentary photographs that capture everyday life to almost abstract works that offer new perspectives, African photography perfectly reflects the richness and diversity of the African continent and diaspora. We aim to promote the visibility of contemporary African photography and explicitly put these positions in the spotlight.

Can you elaborate on the selection process for galleries participating in photo basel?

To reach excellence, photo basel goes a new way in combining synergies from galleries, museum experts, collectors and curators – all working seamlessly hand in hand for the common shared vision. Therefore, we have two circles of experts that support us in the final selection process. The advisory circle consists mostly of gallerists – galleries are the centerpiece of any art fair, their inputs, suggestions and feedback are necessary to constantly improve our services. However, the advisory circle is not to be mistaken as a “selection committee,” but rather advises us in the process. The curatorial circle includes curators, museum directors and other professionals of the art world and is in charge of reviewing and selecting all the content of photo basel including participating galleries and exhibitors.

How does the unique setting of photo basel at Volkshaus Basel enhance the experience for both exhibitors and attendees?

Since 2016, photo basel is located in the immediate proximity of Art Basel, situated in the beautiful compound of the Volkshaus Basel. Volkshaus Basel is a building softly renovated by acclaimed Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. The authentic setting at Volkshaus Basel creates a welcoming atmosphere. Instead of wandering through enormous fair halls filled with white cubes, Volkshaus Basel invites to discover the uniquely curated booths. Furthermore, Volkshaus is located just 700 meters from the Art Basel exhibition center and therefore right in the hotspot of Art Basel week.

Given the diverse backgrounds and expertise of the curatorial team, how do you collaborate to curate a cohesive and engaging exhibition at photo basel?

photo basel brings together galleries from around the world and sees itself as an integrative and hybrid platform that connects all actors of the art world. As a fair, we want to actively contribute to this dialogue and make art photography even more accessible. Our goal is to achieve this with our dedicated program that aims to further expand the appreciation and understanding of the medium of photography, its positions and practices.

Looking ahead, how does the curatorial team envision the future growth and development of photo basel? Are there any long-term goals or aspirations for the fair?

For its collectors, visitors or buyers, photo basel is an active platform which fosters the dialog between all actors of the photography community and beyond. Photography has established itself within museums and the art market within the last decade. During Art Basel week, we want to enhance and nourish the creative trade of all the major art players within and around photography. Our goal for the future is to continue pursuing these visions and to explore the possibilities of a medium in constant development.

You can learn more about the upcoming fair via their website here: www.photo-basel.com or follow their Instagram: @photobasel

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