Art Basel 2019: Switzerland's Blue Chip
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Art Basel 2019: Switzerland's Blue Chip

The 2019 edition of Art Basel wowed the audience with time capsules and virtual reality; for others it was business as usual.

by Georgina Maddox Jul 30, 2019

The 50th edition of Art Basel had many new and exciting things to offer. Galleries were excited about the new sliding scale price model that allowed smaller booths to pay less per square meter. Another first at the fair in Switzerland is that it actually had one of the exhibiting galleries, New York’s Essex Street, put up work for rent. Artist Cameron Rowland's artworks were not for sale but for rent. Art Basel reported buoyant sales, attracting collectors from over 80 countries and an overall attendance of 93,000 viewers showcasing artwork from 290 premier art galleries from across the globe. While Europe continued to dominate the market, participating galleries from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America established a marked presence.  

At the preview on June 11, 2019, Art Basel global director, Marc Spiegler acknowledged broad art market challenges, including the opposition 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.”  Art Basel is the biggest and most important fair in the world and it has retained its position because of its ability to innovate and adapt.

‘Aggregate’ (2017-2019), a performative environment by Romanian artist Alexandra Pirici, curated by Cecilia Alemani for Basel's Messeplatz | Art Basel| Switzerland| STIR
Aggregate’ (2017-2019), a performative environment by Romanian artist Alexandra Pirici, curated by Cecilia Alemani for Basel's Messeplatz. Image Credit: Art Basel

Among the fair's most talked-about highlights was Aggregate (2017-2019) by Romanian artist Alexandra Pirici. Conceived as a time capsule, in which fragments from nature, vernacular culture, art history, and everyday life are given new embodiments, the work was presented on Messeplatz in a purpose-built pavilion designed by Andrei Dinu, a frequent collaborator of Pirici's.

Chemould Prescott featured the works of artist Atul Dodiya and Bhuvesh Gowda, Reena Saini Kallat and Ritesh Meshram, Shilpa Gupta Yardendra Kurulkar and Mithu Sen| Art Basel| Switzerland| STIR
Chemould Prescott featured the works of artist Atul Dodiya and Bhuvesh Gowda, Reena Saini Kallat and Ritesh Meshram, Shilpa Gupta Yardendra Kurulkar and Mithu Sen Image Credit: Chemould Prescott.

Predictably the ground floor at Art Basel featured mostly the masters - or the classics. The higher floor was a selection of contemporary art that is seen as fresher, current and usually more ‘hip’.  This year also featured Art Unlimited –a large section of the fair which by its name has ‘unlimited possibilities’ and unique platforms, curated by curator and art critic, Giovanni Carmine.

Simon Fujiwara Gandhi Returns_Soft Toy Architectural Model_25x100x87| Art Basel| Switzerland| STIR
Simon Fujiwara Gandhi Returns_Soft Toy Architectural Model_25x100x87 Image Credit: Shireen Gandhy

“People come from all over the world to Basel to buy art because the blue chip galleries will always have something more to offer,” says Shireen Gandhy director of Chemould Prescott Road who participated this year with a booth of her own. For example a collector who has a Gerard Richter of a certain period missing he paid 20 million dollars exceeding all records to buy it at an art fair. “Those are the kind of records the art fair makes,” says Gandhy. However she points out that the mid size galleries often suffer.  “It’s not just Indian galleries - but galleries from all over the world in similar categories that often don’t have the buyers for their level of artists... it could be because of the 'unknown quantity', or they’ve spent their money elsewhere. Basel has huge choices so they might want to pay for an artist who is of similar value but more familiar to them,” observes Gandhy.

Ernesto Neto, Printed Cotton Fabric and wooden knobs, 153x272x3.5 inches| Art Basel| Switzerland| STIR
Ernesto Neto, Printed Cotton Fabric and wooden knobs, 153x272x3.5 inches Image Credit: Shireen Gandhy

Chemould Prescott featured artists Atul Dodiya’s Petals and Atoms, a set of five pairs of digital prints along with his canvases featuring Mahatma Gandhi. Bhuvanesh Gowda’s sculptural work examined the composition of architectural forms their attributes and materials. Chemould has been hugely successful in Basel - selling to museums, foundations and very good private collectors. “However, this year was overall slow for the mid-sized galleries. We made fewer sales and had fewer visitations,” says Gandhy. There was a general buzz that many collectors were ‘absent’. “I would wait and watch, because while a fair like Basel is expensive- it is also undoubtedly an exposure you could never otherwise get. We sold several artists but would have expected more in a fair like this.”

  • Ernesto Neto, Printed Cotton Fabric and wooden knobs, (detail) 153x272x3.5 inches| Art Basel| Switzerland| STIR
    Ernesto Neto, Printed Cotton Fabric and wooden knobs, (detail) 153x272x3.5 inches Image Credit: Shireen Gandhy
  • Featuring the works of Pietro Roccasalva, Elighiero Boetti, Massimo Bartolini, Josh Smith, Piotr Uklanski, Gelitin Mona Lisa| Art Basel| Switzerland| STIR
    Featuring the works of Pietro Roccasalva, Elighiero Boetti, Massimo Bartolini, Josh Smith, Piotr Uklanski, Gelitin Mona Lisa Image Credit: Shireen Gandhy

Roshini Vadehra, of the Vadehra Art Gallery fame also participated in the fair with a booth dedicated to Binod Bihari Mukherjee. The gallery showed works from the later part of his career, vibrant compositions of found paper and bright, simple shapes (prices range from $22,000 to $30,000). The works evidence the artist’s indomitable drive to create. The international gallery that caught Vadhera’s eye was David Zwirner’s. “I chose his gallery for their brilliant presentation of artists, across generations and geography - showing works by artists like Gerhard Richter and Njideka Akunyili Crosby,” she says.

Featuring the works of Mithu Sen| Art Basel| Switzerland| STIR
Featuring the works of Mithu Sen Image Credit: Shireen Gandhy

Hauser & Wirth 2019 represented the galleries largest-ever presence in the Unlimited sector, and included installations from six artists: Larry Bell, Zoe Leonard, Fausto Melotti, Mika Rottenberg, Franz West, and Paul McCarthy, whose virtual reality experiment represents the first time the gallery has presented an artwork in VR at an art fair. The gallery also showed works by Hans Arp, Larry Bell, Louise Bourgeois, John Chamberlain, Lucio Fontana, Günther Förg, Philip Guston and Annie Leibovitz, to name a few. The gallery is selling the body of Leibovitz photographs in an edition of four, priced at $275,000. By mid-afternoon of the preview, one had already sold.

The selection of 63 photographs were taken from 1970–84, of people in cars - including famous personalities such as Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Mick Jagger, and Jane Fonda. “I just realised how strong of an artist she is from an American perspective, of reflecting what America is,” said partner and vice president Marc Payot.

The gallery also recently began representing the estate of John Chamberlain, whose sculptures were on view. The booth featured his PARISIANESCAPADE (1999), a small crushed metal sculpture, for $750,000, and throughout the week, the booth included two additional works by the artist - teasers for a big Chamberlain show the gallery will mount in September.

  • Huma Bhabha Monumental Sculpture At Peace W, Art Unlimited, Basel | Art Basel| Switzerland| STIR
    Huma Bhabha Monumental Sculpture At Peace W, Art Unlimited, Basel Image Credit: Shireen Gandhy
  • Liz Magor Being This, 2012-2019 Paper Textiles, found Materials, 96x432x22 inches| Art Basel| Switzerland| STIR
    Liz Magor Being This, 2012-2019 Paper Textiles, found Materials, 96x432x22 inches Image Credit: Shireen Gandhy
  • Superflex, Not the End of the World, Onsite Installation| Art Basel| Switzerland| STIR
    Superflex, Not the End of the World, Onsite Installation Image Credit: Shireen Gandhy
  • Gabriel Richo, 1 Mural, Different Objects, neon and brass, 126 x 126 1 x 3 inches| Art Basel| Switzerland| STIR
    Gabriel Richo, 1 Mural, Different Objects, neon and brass, 126 x 126 1 x 3 inches Image Credit: Shireen Gandhy

Also notable were Brazilian gallery A Gentil Carioca, that displayed a riff on Marcel Duchamp’s famed Fountain (1917) - a urinal-turned-artwork. Rio de Janeiro–based art collective Opavivará managed to add something new to the mix by turning a toilet into a drinking fountain that burbles cachaça. White plastic cups sit on the ledge, tempting fairgoers in need of a happy hour. 

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About Author

Georgina Maddox

Georgina Maddox

Maddox is an independent critic-curator with 18-years-experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She blurs the lines of documentation, theory and praxis by involving herself in visual art projects. Besides writing on immersive art for STIR World, she is a regular contributor for The Hindu and Architectural Digest.

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