WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2018 — Day two at Art Basel was tame. You could sense the creativity behind the work. Less bombastic, less polarizing, more neutral in both color and subject. We have learned that there is a backlash to intense pontificating and know that a neutral stance is often required to quell the anger of a crowd or a nation. We saw nature expressed in depictions of animals, flora and fauna, of snow and grass. Tapestries and books reflected those codes.
Keith Haring’s glass doors marked with a standing snake-like outline reaching python-like upwards, open mouth and tongue ready to strike. Haring’s work melded seemingly ancient patterns with eight panels of skulls, in muted blues and grays. One of his most interesting pieces was an amphora marked with symbols of technology such as telescopes, amid fish and bird drawings, held up by orange crocodiles. This sculpture, reminiscent of nile culture, rivaled Andy Warhol’s large silkscreen, “Bald Eagle” (1983) at Edward Tyler Name, reflecting the symbol of a different culture, ours. Repeatedly, we saw cultural signs and symbols, ancient and modern.
Kehinde Wiley’s “Portrait of Yvonne Osei” (2018) at Sean Kelly poses Osei with an African beaded necklace with blackbirds posed on vines reflecting culture of the American South. Largely absent was an overt statement of environmentalism, except for the tapestry of polar bears displayed at Art Basel 2018 last June.
Surprisingly, Ugo Rondinone, renowned for his stacked stone towers painted in primary colors, showed “drittermaerzzweitausendundelf,” an ink on paper drawing of coded trees, flora and fauna from his Swiss homeland, at the Gladstone Gallery booth.
In one of the most beautiful displays at Galerie Thomas, several drawings in colored pencil and pen by Oskar Schlemmer used line to create the rhythms of a society in 1936-7, including featureless women, lacking detail. These freely drawn, but perfectly executed drawings juxtaposed the largely careful, detailed work seen in other parts of Art Basel, while similar to Rondinone’s, Haring’s and others’ largely black and white work.
As line shifted into color, Kewenig, Berlin showed Bernd Koberling’s Gallium Borealis II, (2003-4) bringing layered veils of color into space and linear drips. These lights were not ordered, as Haring’s and Rondinone’s were, but rather weaved into and out of space in seemingly random, layered marks.
In this atmosphere, James Turrell’s green hologram, “Untitled (XXXII G),” 2014, at PACE, belonged in this ancient order of symbols. The green color both recalled nature and the green light emanating from black-psychedelic light, uniting technology and environmentalism.
Nothing was overt in this show. There was a natural order that built up to a level announcement rather than a crescendo. The room was quieter than usual, even with the huge crowds, in response to this quieter conversation that took place amongst the artworks and consequently, the viewers. There was a sense that this was needed now. The screaming didn’t work to the screamers’ advantage, and we were all tired. The artists were clearly reacting to what our society needs now, to recoup ancient symbols, to codes that ordered society, to black and white and muted colors, in order to go on.
(Artscope Magazine’s national correspondent, Nancy Nesvet, will be reporting throughout the week from Art Basel Miami Beach 2018 and Art Week Miami 2018.)