I am walking around Art Basel 2021 and there is much excitement in the air. I grab conversational snapshots as I move between dealers’ displays reveal the level of enthusiasm and excitement: “What is the artist really trying to say with this piece?”; “Those color combinations & textures work pretty well”; “I would definitely be happy with that on my wall.”
Art Basel is the time for leading international galleries to meet with their existing clients, new collectors and art lovers who gather to experience exhibits covering all media and means of expression. This year it’s been the first in person Art Basel show since the pandemic. Yet – given the fact that we all pretty much got used to the “new normal” – not so much has changed besides wearing face-masks, COVID-19 certificates and digital entry tickets.
From 20th Century masters to today’s artists, there is a range of refreshing and sometimes challenging work to take in. The creativity shown by each gallery in curating their individual exhibition space leads to delight and often surprise at every turn and an appreciation of how the careful grouping of genres can create something even bigger.
So many things caught my eye and made me stop to appreciate them even more. My standout moment, however, was seeing the tiniest of works by British visual artist David Shrigley for his artistic collaboration with Ruinart, Art Basel’s official champagne partner. From a distance, it is just a black irregular circle with a minute image inside and a bold caption above saying “LOOK CLOSER”.
To satisfy my curiosity, I needed a magnifying glass to reveal the cutest of billboards on a little post bearing the caption: “Please do not destroy the world”. It’s simple, creative and catchy and gets the message over with humor too. I like this sort of gentle reminder of how we all need to focus with real intent on the threat our climate faces.
The work amongst others (such as a virtual art experience in collaboration with Acute Art App) has been presented at Ruinart’s VIP Art Basel Lounge.
Another Art Basel Partner is UBS, who again is the main sponsor of the show. It’s presenting works from its own corporate collection under the theme of “Reimagining: A Better World”. The bank wants to highlight the power of art to bring about change and to find new ways to present key messages around climate change, the environment and racial equality. There are works on show in the UBS Lounge (also available online until late November) and in the UBS Art Studio. Here, the artists’ collective “Ghost of a Dream” has placed three solar panels to show stills from the “Fast Forward” short film featuring 300 global voices calling for a more regenerative world.
You expect to encounter the big names at Art Basel so I was excited to see Anish Kapoor’s “Random Triangle Mirror” presented by Regen Projects from Los Angeles. This British Indian Sculptor who has lived in London since the 1970s has shaped steel and resin to produce this visually arresting image. Kapoor likes to draw on geometry and mathematical logic in his work and this “mirror” seems to move with the viewer and looks almost ready to begin spinning its distinctive shapes and colors.
I was also drawn to the Hauser & Wirth Gallery’s showing of Roni Horn’s “Wits’ End Mash (get under my skin)” which contains a scramble of graffiti style script commenting on the banality of language and our over-reliance on the use of language that is tired and clichéd. The use of different styles of graffiti tags makes the point that we are all falling into the same linguistic traps.
Continuing the graffiti theme is Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Tuxedo”. Created back in 1982, it reminds us that the artist is a genuine street art pioneer with the capacity to shock and engage. This work presents a kind of flow diagram of links – some real and some imagined. Going by the crowds around it, this is a work which remains as relevant now as when it was first created.
SEANKELLY New York has brought Mariko Mori’s “Radiant Being VI” to Art Basel. It is impressive in scale and I found that it had hypnotic qualities making it hard to walk away from. The brightness of the inner light source adds a playful element to the surrounding color spectrum so that the iridescence seems to emanate from the eye within as it looks at the world around.
Galerie Thomas Zander presents a beautiful piece on display of Joe Goode’s “See No Evil”. For me, there was real joy in the texture of the oil paint and there was something rather touching about seeing this medium used with such panache. There is drama and depth sweeping through the blending of blues and whites.
There is an element of poignancy with the late US sculptor Alexander Calder’s “Red Sumac”. Visitors to Art Basel cannot help but look at this gently spinning mobile crafted from metal, wire and paint. It acts to frame the surrounding works and its movement provides a prompt to us to look around and above.
I was rather taken with the apparent naivety of Andi Fischer’s “Zeus und Neptun Beide enorm” on show with the gallery Sies + Höke. It is hard not to smile at what is presented here with its exuberance, boldness of color and warmth of depiction.
Rirkrit Tiravanija is an artist who does not hold back from issuing a call to action. The mirrored background to his bold proclamation makes us reflect on ourselves and the world behind us, in front of us and all around us. I like the simplicity of the statement and the fact that it gave me something more to think about as I left the buzz of Art Basel behind me.
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Nel-Olivia Waga is the Founder & Publisher of HER/etiquette. She is a Brand Consultant, an Author and Entrepreneur, most passionate about well-being, travel, nature and art. Her work can regularly be seen in her column on FORBES. Her consultancy YMPACT LAB, creates innovative marketing projects for luxury brands based on passion, purpose and sustainable impact.
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