The levity and feeling of being wrapped in the cocoon of the art world was gone at this year’s Art Basel in Switzerland. With visitors and exhibitors aware of ecological and political threats to the world’s future, many exhibits presented ways we might forestall impending worldwide disasters.
Several signs indicated the democratization of Art Basel. In Hall 1’s lobby, 16 differently colored bracelets available for sale, each dedicated to a different cause ranging from affordable and clean energy and gender equality to reduced inequalities were displayed by The Turn Club, an Amsterdam, Netherlands-based organization as part of its What Art Can Do outreach program. When political message and awareness become fashion, available to most people at minimal cause, more people are involved. As tastemakers buy and recognize messages and meanings that artists labored to exhibit, and bring that artwork home and to public places, those artists’ viewpoints invade mass consciousness. Art Basel’s attendees recognized the messages of artists to support efforts to save us, our democracies and our earth.
Alexandra Pirici’s presentation in the Conversations sector, and the performance she curated in the white bubblelike tent on the Messeplatz, dealt with social and ecological issues. The choreography of “Aggregate,” a 2017–2019, performative environment, created by Pirici, supported by Olafur Eliasson’s foundation, Art of Change 21, treating the connection between art and sustainability, was the best I saw at Art Basel 2019. A group of 60 dancers interacted with the audience, gradually walking from the tent’s outer edges into the central space, assuming positions close to the crowd. This small physical distance between performer and audience rendered us all participants on the world stage and responsible for the state of our mutual world and relations. Far from each other at the beginning of the dance, the performers ended by touching and leaning on each other, characterizing what we all must learn to do. I saw fewer visitors than at the last four Art Basels. I hoped that Pirici’s consideration of plane travel’s impact on climate change, discussed in her Conversations talk, was one cause of diminished attendance.