September 29th, 2021.
Last weekend Art Basel in Basel launched back into physical space with a sense of cautious optimism. As Europe emerges from the haze of pandemic, the art world in particular is acquainting itself with a changed terrain and an altered credence towards covetable art.
The 51st iteration of Art Basel has demonstrated an unwavering support for the art world as the global vaccination role out continues allowing for large scale exhibitions to once again take place. Pieces together the fragments of different countries pathways towards a covid safe travel plan to even allow for galleries to make the trip was no small feat but it seems that the gravitas and artistic merit of the works themselves more than made it worthwhile. This concerted effort and unwavering belief in artists, artworks and the unifying power of the art wold in general culminated in a lineup equal to pre-pandemic levels mediating between leading established icons and exciting new comers.
Art Basel, Basel. Image courtesy of Art Basel.
One booth in particular resonated with the message that all is not lost despite the crumbling social, political, health and economic climate around us. Berlin based gallery Neugerriemschneider, has intentionally selected work by such stalwarts as Olafur Eliasson, Ai Weiwei, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and James Benning to homage the beauty in fragility coupled with the steadfast assurance that all is not lost. A door, half crooked, reveals a green mass of lichen with no visible threshold between the sterile robustness of the built environment and the unwavering presence of nature. An obsidian chandelier is both an opulent household object and simultaneously humming with allusions through narrative and material spiritual connotations. The thread being that nature, storytelling, ephemerality and the rich depths of culture remain.
Obsidian, 2021 by Ai Weiwei.
Banking on attendees needing big draw cards to combat the nascent fear the pandemic has instilled worldwide, American gallery Gallery Van der Weghe brought its strongest contender with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Hardware Store” (1983). While the piece remains unsold, its $40million price tag was deemed realistic after two other Basquiat works sold for slightly more prior to the fair. After such a long period of virtual viewing rooms and artworks scrutinised through a digital lens, experiencing such definitive works no doubt washed away the uncertainty of attending physical events replacing it with the sensorial brevity of experiencing such eminent work.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Hardware Store” (1983).
Alison Knowles, detail of The House of Dust Edition, 1967 by Jason Mandella. Courtesy of the artist and James Fuentes.
No leading art fair is complete without bringing into question the enduring concept of what denotes art. In James Fuentes’s booth white walls largely devoid of aesthetic spectacle delicate space around a humble typewriter, the sole object by which the written word was posed as artwork by American artist Alison Knowles in 1967. The computer generated poem relies on a templated structure populated random word selection. The result is stanza after stanza of algorithm generated poetry which may or may not make sense. There is a beautiful freedom that radiates from the concept. A sense that the world will prevail over hardship simply through mass opportunity landing a few gems from time to time and it is those gems that send green shoots of optimism outwards to take root.
Words by Tiffany Jade