A new fair debuts in Basel


By Anna Carnick

This past week, Basel, Switzerland opened the doors to its latest global affair: Tresor Contemporary Craft. We were on the ground to check out the fair’s debut and are happy to report that the inaugural event was a pleasure, offering a range of high-quality work by both new-to-us and familiar faces, and—according to participating gallerists and curators—a decent number of sales. 

When asked to explain the thinking behind this new venture, Tresor (or Treasure) curator Brian Kennedy told us that a fair focusing on contemporary craft as an area of serious collection has been a long time coming. “It’s an arena in which you can get a lot of bang for your buck these days,” he added. “Particularly in comparison to the price tags on items presented at Art Basel or Design Miami/Basel, for example.” Tresor boasted a number of museum-quality works ranging from 1,000 CHF to 10,000 CHF and beyond.

We were particularly curious to see just how the organizers would define craft for the event’s purposes. These days, a growing contingent across the creative spectrum has embraced handmade, artisanal processes for their inherent beauty and value, so contemporary craft frequently dovetails with the contemporary design and art worlds. And looking around Tresor, craft offered a large umbrella that covered predictable “craft” typologies—ceramics, jewelry, woodwork, and the like—as well as pieces some might be more apt to label contemporary art—such as Norwegian Andrea Scholze’s theatrical sculpture-textile-hybrid Lost in Time II—or even design—as in the Goethe chandelier, a collaboration between students from ECAL and Münchenstein-based glassblower Matteo Gonet (aka Glassworks), directed by British designer Bethan Laura Wood.  

That fluid definition is just fine with Kennedy. In fact, according to him, Tresor’s essential curatorial thread is an exploration of materiality. “You can’t define craft in a narrow way anymore. What I’m seeing at the moment is that craft is in the middle between art and design for many reasons. Things that would traditionally be in the craft world are now popping up in the art world, as artist move more into materiality and experiment with clay or textiles, for example. If you went to the Venice Biennale this year, you saw several artists who actually are elder statesmen of the craft world, like Sheila Hicks. There are ceramics here [at Tresor] that would be very comfortable at an art fair. And the same with design; there are a lot of designers now exploring materials and making work themselves for a lot of different reasons. And there are people here who could very comfortably be and have been at the design fairs. So what I would say is that everything here has a materiality base. It can be conceptual, but it’s very much about the knowledge and passion in the material.”

With the fair’s emphasis on materiality and pushing boundaries, there were plenty of standouts, including a stunning presentation of British artist Anna Dickinson’s elegant cast vessels, on loan from a private Swiss collection. (Dickinson’s pieces—a gorgeous mix of moody jewel and earth tones—have a remarkable knack for feeling simultaneously timeless and totally in vogue.) Not far from Dickinson’s presentation, another Brit—Tessa Eastman—showed off her wonderfully playful spirit with the alien-like, ceramic Sprouting Limitless Cloud (2017). Two Seoul-based galleries—Paik Hae Young Gallery and Gallery LVS—turned heads with Chung Hae Cho’s liquid-like Rhythm of the Black Luster lacquer and hemp vessels and Kiho Kang’s handmade, uber-geometric porcelain Vase Series, respectively. Brussels’ Puls Ceramics presented impossibly thin, pattern-happy eggshell porcelain works by celebrated Danish ceramist and septuagenarian Bodil Manz alongside beautifully textured, asymmetric organic works by fellow Dane Turi Heisselberg Pedersen, among others.

Over at the “Discovery” booth, experimental ceramics by up-and-comers like Estelle Gassmann, Laurin Schaub, and Anne Fischer married tradition and innovation. That same spirit was alive in the Tresor installment of Double Signature, a traveling exhibition of collaborations between contemporary designers and traditional artisans coordinated and presented by the Michelangelo Foundation. Highlights included the majolica Iridescences series by Dimitri Bähler and Maurizio Tittarelli Rubboli; Opium lacquer jewel tone screens by Sebastian Herkner and Lucio Doro; The Unknown Planets glass mosaic and terrazo tables by Felix Muhrhofer and Fabrizio Travisanutto; and the super-colorful Resti majolica stools by Sara Ricciardi and Nicolò Morales.

Last, but certainly not least, the D.O.C. booth celebrated homegrown talents. Organizers Judith Keller and Fabiene Abrecht were initially tasked with producing Tresor’s VIP programming, which ultimately consisted of an intriguing lineup of local collectors’ home tours, gallery tours, and studio visits. During their pre-fair research, though, the pair encountered such a wealth of artisans in the area surrounding Basel that they ultimately requested a booth to show it all off. We especially enjoyed Arnold Annen’s paper-thin Limoges porcelain series, Gabrièle Gisi’s Porcelain Army—a collection of 120 sculpted women cast from a single mold pushed to the limits of its existence—and Roman Kamm’s seemingly gravity-defying table, The Word for Freedom is Failure.

All in all, it was a fair to remember. We’re already looking forward to next year’s encore. 

  • Text by

    • Anna Carnick

      Anna Carnick

      Anna is Pamono’s Managing Editor. Her writing has appeared in several arts and culture publications, and she's edited over 20 books. Anna loves celebrating great artists, and seriously enjoys a good picnic.