The disturbing and cozy chandelier by Louise Bourgeois that Hauser and Wirth put up for sale at its stand at Art Basel (June 16-19) was dispatched last Tuesday, apparently without any haggling, for exactly the starting price set by the mega gallery: 40 million dollars (38.2 million euros). In little more than 48 hours from the opening of the fair to collectors, the Pace gallery placed an oil painting by the abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell, bergerie, for 16.5 million dollars; a collector purchased a painting from Andy Warhol’s emulator Elaine Sturtevant at the Gray Gallery (John’s Flag) at a price of 3 million, and the Belgian Xavier Hufkens closed the transaction for a canvas by colorist Milton Avery, Bikini Swimsuit, by 2.5. These are just some of the most striking examples of how Art Basel flows along the intended path. Big names in 20th century art, painting and to a lesser extent sculpture, are taking the bulk of the sales pie. Strictly contemporary creations, works made around 2021 and 2022, are also obtaining good results.
After the two days dedicated exclusively to collectors, the world’s largest contemporary art fair opens its doors this Thursday to the general public, who can visit the most dazzling collection of 289 of the most powerful galleries on the planet, from 40 countries different. It is far from the only opportunity to enjoy the best art throughout this week (and in some cases, beyond) in Basel, an accessible city full of cultural proposals in the heart of the most placid and wealthy Europe.
Parallel to the fair, Art Basel itself offers alternative appointments such as Unlimited, an exhibition curated by Giovanni Carmine that aspires to provide a detailed vision of the succession of strata that make up the reality of the present time. With extra-large format works, the show addresses issues such as the recent questioning of the representativeness of public monuments (through a sculpture by Thomas J Price, Moments Contained, that reproduces a young woman dressed in a tracksuit represented with the expressive language of classical art) or the disappearance of small shops and the need to generate an inventory of professions in decline (that is what the piece by Theaster Gates is about Hardware Store Painting, displaying all the merchandise left unsold after a family-owned Chicago hardware store closed in 2014). These are just two of the multiple keys that this selection of works presses which, Carmine pointed out, as a reflection of this “contradictory” world, reveal the inherent desire in art to “create new things, as well as understand reality and put a certain control on the chaos of history.
Strolling through the coquettish and forbidding streets of Basel’s old town, it is also possible to come across some of the most innovative and stimulating proposals in current art. Squares, roundabouts and private buildings house the 22 site-specific works that make up the exhibition Parcours, also part of the Art Basel program and curated by Samuel Leuenberger. On display here are everything from a nude statue of the transgender artist Puppies Puppies to the pile of apparently abandoned sculptures on the banks of the Rhine that make up the installation. The Year of Living Dangerously, by Maria Loboda. There is also a program of films and videos that, as its curator, Filipa Ramos, pointed out, is conceived as a “global, transgenerational and focused on the present as well as the future” artefact.
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Back in the circular Herzog & De Meuron building in the center of the Art Basel site, the space sponsored by Vive Arts, a company that provides technological solutions to artists, hosts two virtual reality works created specifically for the fair. One is by the filmmaker Wu Tsang and recreates a poetic journey through the seabed based on the story of Moby-Dick. The second opens a peephole into the studio of the usually hermetic German painter Albert Oehlen: in the parallel reality of the glasses, we can see how an avatar of the artist paints one of his paintings, thus revealing his process, to the rhythm of electrifying music.
Another partner of the fair, the network blockchain Tezos has been dedicated to educating viewers and collectors on the controversial technology of NFTs. This sustainable platform hosts several talks and has set up a booth with generative artwork where visitors can create their own tokens. “We wanted to find the easiest way for people to open their first cryptocurrency wallet and collect their first piece,” explained PR Mark Soares. in full crash of cryptocurrencies and between holders of fraud and theft on major sales platforms, from Tezos they insist that the debate on NFTs can and should be separated from the financial field of digital currencies (in fact, it is already possible to pay NFTs with traditional means) as well as the so-called “collectibles”, the cryptopunks, cryptokittens and other figures with astronomical prices that actually have little or nothing to do with art. “We want to talk about how artists, gallery owners, museums are using this. It is neither more nor less than a new tool that can be used to buy and sell works”, explained Reid Yager, the company’s director of communication, who stressed that one of the main innovations they bring is that they allow artists to trade their works without the need for intermediaries: “All you need is an internet connection and a profile on social networks to be able to share your work and for someone to collect it”.
Taking advantage of the pull of the fair, the city’s museums have brought out their heavy artillery. In the Kunstmuseum Basel you can see a face to face between two great masters of all time: El Greco and Picasso, of which 80 works are exhibited that certify the influence that the Renaissance painter exerted on the painter from Malaga, especially during his stages blue and cubist, as well as in his portraits. The fabulous Fondation Beyeler has just inaugurated the first retrospective in 50 years of Mondrian in Switzerland, a journey through the trajectory of the neoplasticist artist that also poses another face to face, in this case of the painter with himself: by placing the landscapes of his beginnings together to his later abstract works, it is undeniably evident how Mondrian was a fundamental reference for Mondrian. There are more exhibitions with which to squeeze this art week in Basel, which this year deals with stiff competition as its dates coincide with the start of the five-yearly edition of Documenta in Kassel. Concrete examples? Emmanuel Van der Auwera at the HEK; Anne-Lise Coste at Kunsthaus Baselland, Anouk Kruithof at Museum Tinguely, and Michael Armitage at Kunsthalle Basel.
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