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Art Basel 2021 comes back on home ground after a year's gap due to the pandemic

Art Basel 2021 in its hybrid format promises to bring the best of both, digital and physical platforms, for its audiences to underscore the scale and many representations of arts.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Sep 06, 2021

The 2021 edition of Art Basel returns to Messe Basel after a gap year due to the coronavirus outbreak. Held during the summers in the month of June, this year the fair was postponed to September 24-26, 2021 because of travel restrictions. Currently sited in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong, gallerists from Basel established the Art Basel in 1970. With the pandemic leading to many firsts of this century, the world's premier art show for modern and contemporary art for the first time is held against the looming dangers of COVID-19 variants. Despite this, the forthcoming edition of Art Basel features 272 leading galleries from across the globe to present the highest quality of works across all media, from rare and historical masterpieces to new works by today’s emerging artistic voices. Along with the display of artwork within sectors such as Galleries, Features, Statements, and Edition, the fair also presents 62 large-scale artworks in sectors Unlimited, 20 site-specific projects as part of Parcours, two performative interventions by artists Monster Chetwynd and Cecilia Bengolea, an ambitious film program, the talks series called Conversations, and Intersections, the Art Basel Podcast.

Augustas Serapinas, Mudmen | Art Basel | STIRworld
Augustas Serapinas, Mudmen Image: Courtesy of Hedi Jaansoo

Marc Spiegler, Global Director of Art Basel, in a press statement mentions, “While the pandemic has been a time of resilience and innovation, it has not always been one of discovery – patrons have often not been able to discover the work of new artists; likewise, galleries have not had ample opportunities to meet new collectors who can start to engage with and then later sustain their programs. That's why it’s so important to be able to stage our show again in person, while at the same time building upon the digital innovations of the past year to continue engaging the broadest possible audiences worldwide.”

Jason Dodge, An Open Floor Composition | Art Basel | STIRworld
Jason Dodge, An Open Floor Composition Image: Courtesy of Jason Dodge and Galleria Franco Noero

Unlimited, curated for the first time by Giovanni Carmine, Director of the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, attempts to take a lead from the traditional art fair stand. Art Basel with the Unlimited offers the galleries the opportunity to highlight large-scale projects, monumental sculptures, vast wall paintings, extensive photographic series, and video projections. The section includes the works, to name a few, Carl Andre's sculpture Mastaba presented by Konrad Fischer Galerie, Robert Rauschenberg's large-format painting Rollings (Salvage) presented by Thaddaeus Ropac, Lebanese artist Etel Adnan's work Le Soleil Toujours' presented by Sfeir-Semler Gallery; Guyanese artist Frank Bowling's painting Samson's Circle with Lila's dress made in Africa of imported Chinese fabric: and the rest presented by Hauser & Wirth. To mention, the textile installation Entrare nel linguaggio by 92-year-old Romanian artist, Marion Baruch, was made especially for the fair.

Marion Baruch, Entrare Nel Linguaggio | Art Basel | STIRworld
Marion Baruch, Entrare Nel Linguaggio Image: Courtesy of Marion Baruch and Galerie Urs Meile

The works to look at Unlimited section are Swiss-born New York City-based contemporary visual artist Urs Fischer’s Untitled (Bread House) and English multidisciplinary artist David Hockney’s painting Pictures at an Exhibition. Fischer’s installation Untitled (Bread House), presented by Jeffrey Deitch, is designed in the form of a Swiss chalet made out of bread loaves instead of bricks and mortar. Influenced by the witch’s house in the Brothers Grimm story of Hansel and Gretel, the house evokes childhood fantasy. The work is pinned with a sense of child-like innocence only to unfold the intricate network of symbolism and metaphors as found in the Brothers Grimm tales.

Urs Fischer, Untitled (Bread House) Image: Courtesy of Urs Fisher and Galerie Max Hetzler

Hockney’s photographic drawing Pictures at an Exhibition from Gray Gallery is another work to watch out for in the exhibit. When he moved to California from London, he made a name as a prolific figurative and landscape artist. The bright colours synonymous with his work are not missed in this painting too. The scene, rendered with a flatness of space and decimated form, captures a large overview.

David Hockney, No. 241 Image: Courtesy of David Hockney and Royal Academy of Arts

Carmine, the curator of the series, states, “The pandemic has amplified our need for direct engagement with the ‘originalsʼ. Our encounters with art have intensified: our attention and lust for discussion is on the rise. In this context, Unlimited turns out to be the ideal stage to experience these feelings in a real space – to relish in them, to reflect upon them.”

Julius von Bismarck, Die Mimik der Tethys, Sies & Höke | Art Basel | STIRworld
Julius von Bismarck, Die Mimik der Tethys Image: Courtesy of Julius von Bismarck and Sies + Höke, Alexander Levy

Parcours is curated by Samuel Leuenberger, founder of the non-profit exhibition space SALTS in Birsfelden, Switzerland. The Parcours features 20 site-specific installations and performances held across civic and private spaces, as well as new venues, under the theme, Can We Find Happiness Together Again? Leuenberger explains, “Through a focus on care and congeniality, this edition aims to cultivate commonalities and allied thinking across the more invisible layers, ones of deep friendship and trust, where its participants, as well as visitors, can find their rightful joy in participating.”

Rose B. Simpson, Believer II | Art Basel | STIRworld
Rose B. Simpson, Believer II Image: Courtesy of Jessica Silverman

The key artworks of Parcours are an open-floor-based composition by Jason Dodge at the Kunstmuseum Basel presented by Galleria Franco Noero, a public walk by Hamish Fulton Walking in Every Direction on Basel's Marktplatz presented by Galerie Tschudi, Neopets, a large-scale sculpture by Bunny Rogers presented by Société, a site-specific installation Mudmen by Augustas Serapinas presented by Emalin, among many others.

Claudia Comte, After Nature | Art Basel | STIRworld
Claudia Comte, After Nature Image: Courtesy of Claudia Comte and Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza

“The scale and ambition of this year's Unlimited and Parcours are testament to the dedication of our participating galleries,” said Marc Spiegler, Global Director of Art Basel. “They are boldly presenting complex projects, many conceived before the pandemic, which now takes on new meaning.”

The 12 large-scale paintings and performances by Swiss artist, Claudia Comte, presented by Gladstone Gallery and König Galerie at the Stadtcasino, is one of the two highlights from the Parcours section. Comte’s work is rooted in biological lives, growing both on the land and ocean. Her exploratory large-scale sculptures - the combination of the materials such as wood and marble- involve the variegated disciplines and techniques. The upheaval in oceanic life has a direct effect on the life expectancy of flora available on the surface of the planet earth.  The second work to look for is Pedro Wirz’s immersive installation Surra. The site-specific installation by a Swiss-Brazilian mixed-media artist is populated with germinating ecosystems and sculptures. The material, both organic and consumerist, is a subtle critique of the environmental crisis countenanced by the public at large.

Pedro Wirz, Surra | Art Basel | STIRworld
Pedro Wirz, Surra Image: Courtesy of Pedro Wirz and Galerie Nagel Draxler

Selected by the fair's Unlimited and Parcours curators, Basel’s Messeplatz features two site-specific interventions. Monster Chetwynd developed a large-scale installation and performance curated by Carmine. Parcours curator Leuenberger work with Cecilia Bengolea on a video installation and performance staged within the fountain of the Messeplatz. Though developed independently, Bengolea and Chetwynd's projects seek to engage fair visitors and the city's residents in an exciting and surprising dialogue.

Jumping on the bandwagon of podcasts, Art Basel launches its podcast series Intersections to offer the audience uninterrupted access to the best minds in the global creative space. Hosted by Spiegler, the conversations are not limited to the leaders across the fields of art, but also include the best minds in the discipline of architecture, music, fashion, design, and literature.

Evgeny Antufiev Untitled| Art Basel | STIRworld
Evgeny Antufiev, Untitled Image: Evgeny Antufiev, Courtesy of the artist and Emalin

The hybrid format, first introduced in the ninth edition of Art Basel Hong Kong this year, is also a crucial feature of the show in Basel. Art Basel Live, the digital initiative enables the works on view in Basel to reach the widest possible audience through a digital programme that includes online viewing rooms, virtual tours and social media broadcasts.

Critical to production and engagement with art, be it for creative enhancement or economic purpose, is its reception determined by tactile understanding of the material. The Art Basel 2021 coming back in its physical format underscores the indispensability of the same.

Art Basel exhibition will be open to the public from September 24 to September 26, 2021.The exhibition, to be hosted at the Messe Basel in Basel, Switzerland, can be visited between 11am to 7pm.

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