As the world political changes resemble a game of musical chairs, the exhibition sectors at Art Basel 2018 also similarly changed. Our allies are becoming our enemies and vice versa; Art Basel’s Parcours, Feature and Statements sectors became the least-interesting, with Galleries’ and Unlimited’s politically and environmentally relevant work the most compelling. Artists quietly and effectively protested while proposing change and solutions to world problems.
The slow movements of tai chi teachers on the plaza outside the fair, sponsored by Creative Time, New York, was a perfect entre to this year’s Art Basel, providing time to think about where we’ve been during the past year while thoughtfully producing action.
Galleries sold the most, followed by Unlimited. Unlike last year, there was little shiny, metallic work; this year’s work was subtler, and overall more intellectual. Eschewing brazen political statements, symbol and code were used to make the viewer contemplate the artistic intent.
That intellectualism extended to the use of pure form to link the arts, as in Cerith Wyn Evans’ “Neon Forms (after Noh 1)” (2015, White Cube, London, Unlimited sector), where white neon tubes trace the movements of Noh Theatre actors, translating and map- ping their movement and giving it a physical, permanent form.
Text was used to convey humor and fear of environmental distress and politics while creating awareness. Jenny Holzer’s “Such Words” (2017, Sprüth-Magers, Berlin) at Unlimited — with benches arrayed in a circle, inviting contemplation and inscribed with messages including “Violence is the ultimate materialization of understanding” and “The ultimate desire of capital is to betray its motherland,” in English and Chinese characters — stood out.
Alicia Framis’ “Is My Body Public? (English)” (inkjet prints on Photosattin, Galleries sector) showed tank-suit-clad women holding gauze cloths emblazoned with those words in several languages, uniting women by asking that important and timely question. Sandra Gamarra’s “Recurso I (landscape)” (2018, colored earth on canvas, Galería Juana de Aizpuru, Madrid, Galleries sector), featured thought-provoking text seemingly burned into red earth.