by Nancy Nesvet
In the wake of nations attempting to close their borders, the Basel Art Fairs have expanded the world of art and art’s very definition to become the most inclusive ever in art’s history. Including not only ideas but the process by which those ideas are expressed, these shows amaze in the variety of sensual experience, including sound, vision, physical feeling, taste (and I don’t mean the food kind) and more.
Art Basel, Basel’s oldest and best Art Fair, includes eight sectors; Unlimited, shows 76 projects, unlimited in size and scale including interventions, installations and other non-scaled pieces. Parcours, from the French meaning “journeys”, offsite at the Cathedral Square and throughout the old city of Basel, offers current work of contemporary living artists including installations, guided journeys, interventions and repurposed sculpture. The Film Sector offers international films including first runs by new and established filmmakers, playing to the political situations worldwide, and according to its curator, “especially the immigrant politics and refugee situation.”
The magazine sector showcases the best magazines and newspapers concerned with art, of course featuring Artscope (which was invited to participate for the third straight year) among its many texts.
Additionally, Statements presents 18 projects by young, emerging artists, two of which earn the Baloise Art Prize whereas Feature exhibits 32 curated projects of one artist, two juxtaposed artists, and themed exhibits. Edition includes printed multiples resulting from collaborations with renowned artists. Galleries, the largest sector, includes 226 leading galleries worldwide showing 20th and 21st century artists’ work.
Throughout the city of Basel, outside of the Messeplatz, satellite fairs, Volta, Liste and for its first year in Basel, Scope, are showcasing galleries’ and artists’ work. Liste, exhibiting in Basel’s high school gymnasium building, enlists the work of younger artists, represented by galleries chosen to participate. Scope presents contemporary work that runs the gamut and is more politically aware. Volta, meaning a turn in Italian, shows emerging artists not yet at the top of their game, but clearly getting there.
Vernissage, the private opening for ticket holders and other invited guests of Art Basel, held on June 14, was attended by Artscope, who received a point by point tour.
It is a calmer year at Art Basel, but no less edgy. Escapist to a degree, the world sector-wide reflects a desire to hide under the covers, or at least spend time at a beach, eating a good meal or watching an entertaining, possibly animated film. Whereas the work last year implored us to speak an act, and sometimes revolt, we’ve now done it, and largely have had no effect. So, let’s have some fun. Many projects allow us just that.
The more serious work recognizes the distinction between politics and history. Whereas political artdares us to make a statement and act upon it, history recognizes what has been, knows and sometimes regrets the outcome — projects that recognize the history of the international slave trade and technology replacing humanism, another regrettable history.
Still, other projects are optimistic. Indian artist Subodh Gupta, “Cooking Around the World,” 2017, shown by Galleria Continua, Italy, recruits strangers to share a meal, cooked in pots collected from many mothers’ kitchens, introducing strangers who would not otherwise come into contact, to emerge friends.
The sound installation recording United States Congressman John Lewis’ speech at Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearing (Donald Moffett, “Impeach, 2006”, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York City), beginning “Today is a very sad day…we all should ask the question: is this good for America…,” tells us that the potential impeachment of a president ithas happened before, and we came out alright — or did we?
I want to live in Doug Aitken’s “Underwater Pavilions,” 2017, video installation (303 Gallery, New York City) that is immersed in the underwater realm of rolling waves, and schools of slowly moving balletic fish, adjusting to the currents, time and weather, truly going with flow.
Yet, there is room for revolution. Andrea Bowers, “A Call to Arms: Building a Fem Army,” 2017, (Kaufmann Repetto Gallery, Milan) repurposes Ann Grifalconi’s 1971 illustration of Sojourner Truth, the International Group’s poster linking revolution and women’s liberation and Rafael Enrique Vega’s 1984 “El Salvador” Cuban poster replacing the logo on the shirt worn by the central character with the transgender symbol. We are them; they are us, we are all, and all are we. A bit of history repurposed for 2017.
Hopefully, history is past and our future includes inclusion, empowerment of minorities and food and shelter for all. This fair shows how we see history and can learn from it, producing new work for a better world for all of us.
This year, Art Basel promises to be a job well done.
For the third straight year, Artscope is an exhibitor in the Magazines Sector at Art Basel Switzerland. Publisher Kaveh Mojtabai and correspondent Nancy Nesvet will be filing reports from the fair, which is open to the public from June 15-18, throughout the week.