Every culture has its signature pleasure: Ancient Greece had naked sports, the Middle Ages had Latin mass, and we moderns have shopping. And the apotheosis of shopping—our equivalent of the games at Olympia or vespers at Notre Dame—is the art fair held annually in the genteel Swiss city of Basel, running through Sunday. Since I’m a longtime devotee of the god of retail (Macy the Great, shall we call him?), I can say that you haven’t shopped until you’ve shopped Art Basel. The range of options is endless, there’s infinite room to hone your connoisseurship (and bargaining skills), and you acquire status at the same time as getting a deluxe object. Visiting an art fair is pointless unless you’ve turned on your acquisitive gene; just loving art isn’t nearly enough. Last December, at Art Basel’s baby-brother fair in Miami, I gave myself $10 million (in Monopoly money) to shop with, and went crazy (not) buying blue-chip works. This week in Basel, the blue chip on offer seemed surprisingly aqua. (I wouldn’t have given more than $60 million for Marlborough Fine Art’s splashy Rothko, which at $78 million was the fair’s priciest offering.) So I decided to try a new strategy for filling my cart: I set out to hunt down only the works of good artists I had never heard of. It took a solid three days to winkle out 10 such promising bets. That shows how safe the dealers are playing it in the current economy. But as a window-shopper with no money at stake, I could afford to go out on a limb. The following Web gallery presents my discoveries.
– Blake Gopnik