The European economy is teetering this week, but there's one place in Europe where the good times are rolling: Basel, the site of the continent's oldest and biggest contemporary art fair. Art Basel has grown offshoots in Miami and Hong Kong, but the original Swiss edition is still a must-go event for tens of thousands of collectors and dealers from around the world.
Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days in the Art World, is covering the fair for The Economist. Art dealers and super-rich collectors, she says, are unfazed by the crisis. "They seem to be ignoring it," she tells Kurt Andersen. "Art Basel is a parallel universe where the market is not teetering, but chugging along as usual," where a $78 million Rothko painting has a few prospective buyers.
Part of the reason, Thornton says, is that art offers shelter from fluctuating currencies: it can be bought in euros and sold later in Brazilian real, for example. The art market seems to be still in a bubble, but it always is, Thornton thinks. "The metaphor I tend to use is that of the bubble bath. So we have lots of little bubbles, and they're always bursting and then new bubbles are forming. The art market is not a unified thing. It's incredibly fragmented and really it's a combination of hundreds of artists' markets."