Sven Eisenhut, Director of Photo Basel, On 2020 – The Year That Art Fairs Went Virtual

By Dirk Vanduffel - Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Sven Eisenhut, Director of Photo Basel, On 2020 – The Year That Art Fairs Went Virtual

"This time is tough for many of us on all levels – I just make sure to be as compliant as I can be with the rules set by the Swiss federal government. Within our team we try to do as much as possible over video conferences so that we can avoid public transportation".

Image courtesy to Photo Basel

 

With an impressive international reputation, Photo Basel has become a stable of the Swiss art fair calendar, but remains the first and only fair in the country to focus exclusively on the photographic form.

Like almost every art fair around the world this year, Photo Basel has faced a series of cancelations due to the pandemic, but as an organisation, they have also remained remarkably strong, pulling off new international partnerships as well as popular online editions. They even became the first art fair in history to host an international virtual photography art fair.

 

Image courtesy to Photo Basel

 

We caught up with Sven Eisenhut, the fair’s Director, to find out more about the year that was, and his view on the ways the art world could change as a result of the pandemic.

AD: How are you personally getting through the era of Covid-19?

Sven Eisenhut (SE): This time is tough for many of us on all levels – I just make sure to be as compliant as I can be with the rules set by the Swiss federal government. Within our team we try to do as much as possible over video conferences so that we can avoid public transportation.

AD: How is Covid-19 affecting Photo Basel?

SE: Well, our June edition was cancelled, then we thought we might be able to find a substitute date in September, but that also fell through in the end.

We immediately ramped up our virtual offerings and we were fortunate enough to partner up with a start-up from Berlin called Kunstmatrix. Together with them, we launched the first ever truly virtual photography art fair on our original dates in June. 

 

Image courtesy to Photo Basel

 

Furthermore, we expanded to Berlin thanks to an invitation from Positions Berlin art fair. photo basel/berlin ran for the first time at the acclaimed Tempelhofer airfield, a hangar at the former airport in Berlin. It was an incredible adventure that not only paid off for many of our participating galleries, but also helped us to gain fantastic insight on how to produce a physical art fair despite or during the pandemic.

AD: These are hard times to navigate. What are you doing to prepare for your 2021 edition?

SE: The main challenge is a mental one – namely to stay focused. At this stage, we have to pretend and perform as if 2021 is going to happen despite the pandemic. So, we are planning our 6th edition for June 2021 – and of course we are staying in touch with many art fair producers in the direct neighborhood, while also closely monitoring the situation.

AD: navigate these initiatives. Do you think we are in danger of digital fatigue?

SE: For years we heard the term “fairtigue” – now everyone wishes real, physical art fairs were back. So for sure we have seen many online initiatives, and the tech side got a boost – but we have to understand this in a broader spectrum. Everyone is trying to survive. We will see which of those initiatives will “survive” once we can be more active in the real life again. The mantra remains: quality above everything!

 

Image courtesy to Photo Basel

 

AD: What is your vision for the future of art fairs and in fact for the wider art world?

SE: I think there are two possible scenarios: One, once the whole pandemic is under control, things will go back to how they were before – the entire art circus will recover, and we will travel like crazy again to all the various different art initiatives – almost as if nothing had ever happened.

The other scenario is that we all work in ways that are more sustainable and cooperate (and share and care) more and also appreciate art on a much deeper level.

Personally, I believe it will be a combination of the two scenarios. I think certain things will definitely stay forever (such as the various zoom/skype conversations). I also believe that the virtual art world will become implemented in the physical one – fairs will become more regional and also more hybrid. 

Every crisis also holds opportunities – or the current mantra that I copy straight from Churchill: “Never waste a good crisis”.

Dirk defines the overall policy of ArtDependence Magazine, in addition to conducting interviews. He specializes in valuation and auctioning.

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