Basel, Switzerland ⎯ The Galleries sector of Art Basel was lively and bustling on the last day of VIP entrance. Lots of lookers, buyers, and stimulating conversations with gallery directors. Crowds of people lined up to talk about the works. The larger number of VIPS compared to last year’s group probably meant there were more people there to buy. And of course the parties were in full swing too, jam-packed with art-admirers.
Moving focus back to the show, work was a bit dour in color compared to years past. Browns and greys dominated in painting and photographs with a general feeling of acceptance of things in the state of the world as it now is, since there’s little we can do. But then, while walking along the galleries sector, a booth brought in strong color, exuberance, lifting the mood momentarily. The eye catches Bernd Koberling in his Memories of Water I-III (acrylic on wood, Kewenig, Berlin, 2008), still relevant and needed today, and Mildred Thompson’s bright, playful oils in Radiation Explorations (Galerie Lelong & Co., New York, 1994).
Is it that we never know lately, what tomorrow will bring? Politics was there in bursts of text and photography, with Alfredo Jaar’s gold miners in South America marching up the hill, Gold in the Morning (lightboxes with color transparencies, Galerie Lelong, 1985/2018); digital black and white prints of Syrian refugees on the high seas. Ron Terada’s wall-text piece, TL: DR 2 (Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver, 2017-18), consisted of 52 Paintings of headlines tracking surveillance, and Alicia Frames’ “IS MY BODY PUBLIC? (GERMAN)” 1/1 inkjet print, with the same text produced in several languages on net fabric making it possible to see through it but to also see the shadow it cast on the wall behind it.
Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 130 (1974-5) and his Untitled No. 5 (1967 acrylics, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, 1967) are unfortunately relevant in today’s world. Similarly, Robert Longo’s Untitled (Bullet Hole, Earth Day, 2017, Huntsville, Charcoal on Paper, 2018, Galerie Thadaeus Rpac, London, Paris) deals with a contemporary issue in our time.
Galleries had lots of woven textile pieces made of often local, alluding-to-natural materials, the best of which were Louis Bourgeois’ Untitled (fabric, thread and stainless steel, Galerie Lelong, Paris, 2005): a Louise Bourgeois tower of fabric pillows stacked, keeping life soft and comfy; and Roberto Cuoghi’s Ether en flocons (Galerie Chantal Crousel, 2016-2018). This piece was created with a group of ten elements, glucose, seaweed, protein, carbohydrates, meat casein, and fat that produced humorous creatures reminiscent of Joseph Beuys. They were encased in glass boxes along with lab specimens of prehistoric critters.
Beautiful were the tapestries produced by two artists: Goshka Macuga’s Make Tofu Not War (Kate McGarry, London, 2018) had an adorable standing reindeer, arms folded in conversation with a polar bear sitting on a vine-covered rock beside a sign saying, 4 LEGS GOOD, 2 LEGS BAD. The brother polar bear, stood off to the side, bent over with his sign: ITS HOT IN HERE. Jaume Plensa’s Self-portrait with fruits (bronze and tree, Galerie Lelong, Paris 2017) provides the sitting contemplative self-portrait bronze sculpture under the tree in a field of mulch. The buyer gets to pick the tree that grows best in his environment. Modern Boddhisatva? That’s what came to my mind.
Even David Hockney has gone environmental with his trees and grass, The Yosemite Suite No. 8 (I-Pad drawing printed on paper, Galerie Lelong, Paris and New York, 2010). Sanda Gamarra,’s Recurso I (Landscape) mixes natural elements using colored earth to paint on canvas and text to explain her message in her renaissance drawing-like and red-chalk-tinged landscape (Juana de Aizpuru, Madrid, 2018). What red blood has stained this land?
On that thoughtful note, I go out to grey skies hoping, as Mark Bradford said, “Tomorrow is a Brighter Day.”