Art Basel’s flagship ship is nothing short of monolithic. Every year, collectors and galleries gather from all over the world for the world’s biggest and most important art fair.
Art Basel Unlimited presents a selection of controversial works in a curated portion of the fair organized by Gianni Jetzer. There, Andrea Bower’s large scale banners of #MeToo victims has proven controversial. The installation called Open Secrets platforms sexual assault allegations, but was forced to remove an image of one survivor—Helen Donahue—after using her assault without permission. After discovering her likeness had been used without her permission, Donahue wrote a blistering critique of the project on instagram and tagged Gianni Jetzer, later writing in a tweet: “cool that my fucking photos and trauma are heading art basel thx for exploiting us for ‘art.’”
Now in its 50th edition, Art Basel’s main fair presents 290 galleries this year. This year, the fair has implemented a sliding scale price model, which allows smaller booths and first time exhibitors to pay less per square meter.
During the Art Basel preview on Tuesday, global director Marc Spiegler spoke about the broad art market challenges that smaller, younger galleries face. “We live, let’s be honest, in a difficult time for galleries,” he said. “It’s a time of consolidation. It’s a time when the market often focuses on a few galleries and a few artists.”
These changes helped Olga Temnikova, of Temnikova & Kasela Gallery based in Tallinn, exhibit for the first time in the main fair this year. “The sliding scale price model means that I am paying less to exhibit here than I would to exhibit in Liste,” she said. For Basel, they are presenting an arresting installation of works by Kaarel Kurismaa and Kris Lemsalu, which by the second day of the fair had already sold out.
Over at Berlin gallery ChertLüdde’s booth, titled Ever Since Night Falls, 29 sculptural interpretations of artworks lost, stolen, or destroyed throughout history are on display by Alvaro Urbano. “They are ghosts,” Urbano said of the lost works. “Because they don’t exist, you have to treat them with tenderness.”
While over at Dubai’s Third Line, Farah Al Qasimi’s 40-minute video, “Um Al Naar (Mother of Fire)” (2019), presents a “horror comedy” featuring a ghost styled like a TV reality show. The main chapter according to the artist is a spirit of Emirati mythology, a jinn, who offers insights into the unforeseen changes of the Emirates since its founding in 1971.
Founded only in 2015, Marfa’ in Beirut presents an engaging booth at Art Basel of works by Saba Innab. Entitled “Inscribed Sight,” the claustra and metal structure curves upwards almost as if it were a piece of architecture in motion.
While in Sfeir-Semler Gallery’s booth, an incredible assort of works by the likes of Yto Barrada, Wael Shawky, Marwan Rechmaoui, Etel Adnan, Walid Raad and others gives fair goers a chance to survey some of the most cutting-edge contemporary art currently being produced in the Arab world.
And this is precisely what makes Art Basel so important, is that it gives galleries and artists direct exposure to an international market, ideally facilitating interactions between museums and biennales too. Surveying the vast works on offer year after year, one can perhaps grasp the current state of contemporary art today and where it is going tomorrow.
Art Basel is ongoing until June 16, 2019.