At Art Basel, a Powerful Jury Controls the Market

The hundreds of gallery owners who apply each year to secure a coveted booth at Art Basel, the Swiss art fair, spend weeks on their admission applications. They describe the evolution of their galleries, track the history of their exhibitions and list the biographies of their artists. Then there is the matter of the “mock booths,” intricate sketches, miniature models, even virtual tours, of their planned exhibition spaces, complete with tiny reproductions of the exact works they hope to exhibit.

As the art market explodes in value and collecting becomes a global treasure hunt, the importance of showing at art fairs has soared, too. Fairs now account for about 40 percent of gallery sales by value, and as collectors flock to destination bazaars in places like Paris, London, New York, Miami and Maastricht in the Netherlands, dealers, museum curators and art-world groupies follow.

“Someone is trying to kiss you somewhere — metaphorically speaking,” a former juror, Claes Nordenhake, said of the lobbying. “And you know that the reason is not because they love or respect you but because they want to come close to the fair.”

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