Day four in Basel, Switzerland, took me to the Volta and Liste art fairs. Volta, Basel’s art fair that declares itself the show of “new international positions”, made good on the name. Paying close attention to the precarious predicament of the world’s inhabitants due to climate change and political upheaval, Volta subtly informed and involved those who viewed the work at the fair.
Geraldine Swayne’s, oil and acrylic canvas painting, “Queer Altarpiece,” 2019, at CHARLIE SMITH LONDON’s booth was perhaps the most beautiful figurative work on view. Depicting a seated woman, looking off to the side, the figure’s haircut, clothes and mood recalled artists’ work of 1930s Germany, explaining the title. A quiet, thoughtful work, it allowed painting, done in a contemporary way, to elicit empathy for the subject.
Valerie Hegarty’s “Five Tulips with Frame Elegy,” 2019, made of wood, wire and foil, was one of a set of three wood-mounted relief sculptures that seemed inspired by Dutch still life. But they were hardly still life, as the slight three-dimensionality and vivid colors rendered them very much alive.
Galleria Anna Marra with Montoro 12 Gallery, presented two vertically mounted, circular Persian rugs by Faig Ahmed — one below the other, connected with long fibers extending from the topmost rug. Perhaps showing the progression of the work from the colored threads to the finished rug, or the interconnectedness of two circular, globe-like forms, it could also have been two hemispheres joined by threads of many colors.
Brian Eno, best known as a musician and producer, but whose work as a groundbreaking visual artist parallels his almost five-decade career, showed his 2019 piece, “Orchal,” — light boxes, LED lights, Perspex, wood, USB stick — at the Paul Stolper Gallery, London, England, booth, recalling painter Kenneth Noland’s targets of the same purple color scheme. But whereas Noland used the jarring combination of red and purple in his iconic targets, Eno merges the purple background with a hazy outline encompassing an aqua ring, with the purple circle again appearing in the middle. It is a dreamy world — reflecting the music, heard through earphones, accompanying the visual work. Showing that old methods still produce beautiful, relevant work, Eno’s “Helica Black (Heads),” black, white and grayscale etchings, captured light even more than the technological light boxes on the accompanying wall.
Jin-Wook Yeom’s “Memory of Mountain,” three differently colored, incredibly detailed, painted renditions of clouds and water at Gallery LEE+BAE, Busan, South Korea, was another quiet work, bringing inner peace amidst the chaos and crowds at Volta. “Lost to Sight,” Axel Antas’ presentation at Galleria Heino, Helsinki, Finland’s, booth showed three C-prints of three extinct birds: the black-faced honeycreeper, whose only survivor was injured, and could not find a mate before it died; the Least Vermilion Flycatcher; and the dusky seaside sparrow, both native to island of San Cristóbal in the Galápagos. As for the dusky seaside sparrow, the crossbreeding of the seven sparrows remaining in 1979–1980 was unsuccessful, and the species was declared extinct in 1987. It is this never-to-be-rescued extinction of a species that portends our own future.
At Liste, 77 galleries from 33 countries exhibited new work by 139 artists from 45 counties. Loudly calling for attention and action, the information provided shocked me into an awareness of the fragility of our earth and civilization. The artists presenting at Liste are part of a generation that very well might suffer from what past generations did, and continue to do to our and their earth. They want change now, and their work shows that immediacy. Yet, they also want truth and facts, and the visual presentations provide that documentation.
The best of Liste was Anca Benera and Arnold Estefán’s “Debrisphere,” at Ivan Gallery, Bucharest, Romania’s, booth. Consisting of “The Desert Rock that Feeds the World,” their 2019 installation of phosphate rock, metal wire and vinyl cut, literally exhibits a rock of gray with patches of yellow, largely made of rock. That phosphate, necessary for plants to grow, will be depleted from that rock and its environs in 20 years. At “Debrisphere,” Benera and Estefán also show a low pile of sand from the Sahara, with black-metal bits indicating the remains of gun casings left after war. One exhibit shows how phosphates are necessary to form plant growth, and life are depleting; while the other shows how the pristine sands of the Sahara are co-mingling with the leftovers from instruments of destruction. It seems our natural environment cannot be sustained.
This exhibit shows the process still evolving. Unlike the extinction of the birds in Axel Antas’ presentation at Volta, Liste’s exhibitions show that intervention may yield positive results. Volta quietly informs us of what has been. Liste, dominated by young artists, shows how we must change to avoid devastation.