At Art Basel, everyone’s playing it safe

At Art Basel, everyone’s playing it safe

Psychologists call it the “mere exposure effect”: Humans like what they already know, whether people, places, products — or works of art. There was certainly a reassuring familiarity about most of the works on display at the 51st edition of Art Basel, which opened for previews Tuesday and runs through Sunday. After three pandemic postponements since June last year, with online editions in the meantime, this was the first major in-person international art fair to be held in Europe since March 2020, when Tefaf Maastricht closed early after an exhibitor tested positive. “The emphasis is on the staid and the predictable,” said Matthew Armstrong, a New York-based art adviser and curator, of this year’s edition. “People want the reassurance of what they know,” he added, having noted, like many others, the preponderance of modern and contemporary paintings by established names. Armstrong was among the fair’s few American attendees after the U.S. St
Psychologists call it the “mere exposure effect”: Humans like what they already know, whether people, places, products — or works of art. There was certainly a reassuring familiarity about most of the works on display at the 51st edition of Art Basel, which opened for previews Tuesday and runs through Sunday. After three pandemic postponements since June last year, with online editions in the meantime, this was the first major in-person international art fair to be held in Europe since March 2020, when Tefaf Maastricht closed early after an exhibitor tested positive. “The emphasis is on the staid and the predictable,” said Matthew Armstrong, a New York-based art adviser and curator, of this year’s edition. “People want the reassurance of what they know,” he added, having noted, like many others, the preponderance of modern and contemporary paintings by established names. Armstrong was among the fair’s few American attendees after the U.S. St