Observer’s Top Five Pieces Not to Miss at Art Basel 2024

If you're off to Switzerland for the June art fairs, we recommend putting these standout artworks on your must-see list.

A hanging sculpture of a bound and wrapped skeleton at an art fair
OEdipus Rex, 1984, by French artist Michel Journiac, greets fair goers. Photo by VALENTIN FLAURAUD/AFP via Getty Images

The art at Art Basel in Basel—not to be confused with Art Basel Miami Beach or the newly rechristened Art Basel Paris, formerly Paris+ par Art Basel—is the best of any of them, and probably of any art fair in June or otherwise. It’s the kind of place where a relatively obscure artist like Georges Vantongerloo can have a market moment, as he did this year, according to my colleague Marion Maneker at Puck. It’s a different kind of art fair with less flash and fewer works suitable for selfies. At this fair, it’s actually de rigueur to have those taken onstage, by a look-alike hired for this purpose, or so I was led to believe by the Eartheater concert (presented by TRAUMA in collaboration with Anna Uddenberg). All of my reviews are absurdly subjective, but I’m not neutral on this: there’s plenty to like in Switzerland this year.

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Philippe Parreno, Moving Lamp (2024), Gladstone

Philippe Parreno’s Moving Lamp (2024) at Gladstone. Dan Duray

Did you adore the gigantic sculpture by Parreno at the Beyeler Foundation’s mind-blowing new show “Echos Unbound?” Did you like the way the glass windows hiding its sublime mechanics would occasionally cloud themselves, as if out of imperfect discretion? Would you perhaps like to hang a miniature version over your dining room table? Well, then this piece is for you. It would be a wonderful conversation starter for any dinner party. “Don’t worry,” you might tell your guests, pointing with a fork, “it’s not really alive.” Then after everyone’s finished eating, you begin the orgy.

Meriem Bennani, UMBRELLA TWIST (2022), CLEARING/Lodovico Corsini

Meriem Bennani’s UMBRELLA TWIST (2022) at CLEARING/Lodovico Corsini. Dan Duray

We’re all pretty familiar with the young phenom Bennani back in New York. She’s presented incredible offerings at CLEARING and the Whitney Museum, and it feels especially important these days that Europe get to know her, too. At the curated, Untitled portion of the fair, Bennani offers a giant swaying palm tree bearing one of her bespoke characterized television screens. You can’t approach to watch too closely or it’ll whack you in the face. She always gives such wonderful thought to architecture, and the peephole on the far side of the installation really brings it all together.

Monique Mouton, Leaflet (2024), Bridget Donahue/Statements

Our art fair correspondent’s favorites include Monique Mouton’s Leaflet (2024) at Bridget Donahue/Statements. Dan Duray

This new work describes itself as a “mural” made on paper, with six long sheets boasting watercolor applied in the Lazure technique created by Rudolf Steiner but also riffing on “geological formations, Italian frescos, cave paintings, and Chinese landscape scrolls.” One wishes to find a commonality between these sheets, and though it exists, they each have an important internal logic. At once monolithic and delicate, the work is also meant to conjure a theatrical mise-en-scène but has such a life of its own that it feels more like it is the audience watching you.

Gladys Nilsson, Piano Man (1963-1964), Parker/Feature

Gladys Nilsson’s Piano Man (1963-1964) at Parker/Feature. Dan Duray

This work is presented in the artist’s own frame and is too much fun. Nilsson is known for her work with Chicago’s Harry Who collective, which took its inspiration from the counterculture and its comic books, but she’s being more and more recognized in her own right, especially when it comes to paintings. I would compare this to Edgar Degas’ attempts to capture the wildness of the orchestra pit, without his attempts at realism. The Simpsons yellow of the dancer’s legs is inspired, as is the ambiguity of those pipes, which might be instruments.

John Chamberlain, Ramfeezled Shiggers (1991), Karsten Greve

John Chamberlain’s Ramfeezled Shiggers (1991) at Karsten Greve. Dan Duray

Look, I’m aware that this might not be one of “the best” Chamberlains, like the ones you see at Dia Beacon, but it’s definitely not too late to be considered authentic. Something about this crushed car speaks to me, and not just the part of me that loves J.G. Ballard. This Chamberlain towers over you, its metal pieces singing with the kinds of colors and patterns that only 90s kids will remember. There’s a tension in Chamberlain about how much of it is designed versus truly chaotic, and this lacks that beloved element because it’s completely manicured. I don’t care, I love it. Where else would you see something like this but in Basel?

Observer’s Top Five Pieces Not to Miss at Art Basel 2024