Art Basel 2017: 5 Standouts from the international art fair

  • Art Basel 2017

In May, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Untitled" (1982) sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s, a record for the painter and for an American artist. For the notoriously fickle art market in an iffy global climate, this augured well for the many masterpieces flown in for Art Basel’s 48th edition. The exhibition, held annually in the relatively small Swiss city of the same name, is where billionaires swoop in on their private jets looking to pick up their next art pieces. It’s the week where commerce and culture coalesce, as nearly 300 galleries from 35 countries vie to surpass Basquiat’s grimacing skull. The main section of the show, Galleries, offers the majority of art with 226 exhibitors presenting a mix of paintings, sculptures, photographs and videos. Other elements of the show include Edition, Feature, Statements and Unlimited, all of which cover almost every other facet of art. We curate the standouts from each category.

1. Baby Boom (1982)

Artist: Jean-Michel Basquiat
Displayed in: Galleries

Among the surfeit of prestigious artists shown at Galleries, Basquiat’s Baby Boom (1982) at the Levy Gorvy booth clocking in at US$35 million (S$48.66 million) is the most expensive Basquiat at Art Basel and one of the priciest works at the fair. The hand-stretched triptych from the artist’s most coveted year (1982) slashed with icy blue paint is a riff on the holy family and has been in the same private collection for over 16 years. The price comes as a shock, given it was last sold in 2001 for US1.16 million (S$1.6 million).

2. Cooking the World

Artist: Subodh Gupta
Displayed in: Unlimited

Like its name suggests, Unlimited celebrates installations and new mediums that transcend the classical art show. This year, British-Indian artist Subodh Gupta cooked up a storm for art lovers complete with an apron. Cooking the World is a 20-m installation made out of aluminium kitchen utensils which invites visitors to engage in the communal dining of dishes from his homeland such as cheela, Goan prawn curry, lamb curry, and lentil soup at a long bar. The installation-performance-art piece pays homage to cooking and the rituals of eating while challenging aesthetic traditions of the readymade with the used utensils Gupta sourced from the scrapyard marketplace to create the colossal installation.

3. TV Buddha

Artist: Nam June Paik
Displayed in: Feature

Feature is a playground for established and historical artists and showed a marked increase in video art this year. The one not to miss was by the father of the medium himself, South Korean artist Nam June Paik, who has made video his preferred vehicle since the 1960s. Paik’s unique style of video art is based on technological innovation and creative experimentation. Where art and technology are often seen as opposites, he paved a way to integrate them. On view at the James Cohan Gallery booth were works spanning 1973 to 1994, including TV Buddha.

4. Absolutely

Artist: Howard Hodgkin
Displayed in: Edition

Edition showcases works, prints, and multiples resulting from collaborations with renowned artists, a kind of gateway drug to the “hard-core" masterpieces if you will. This year, London’s Alan Cristea, one of the world’s leading publishers of original contemporary prints and editions, showcases an impressive number of prints by Turner prize winning British artist, Howard Hodgkin. The gallery is the exclusive worldwide publisher of the recently deceased artist’s hand-painted original prints and Hodgkin’s exuberant work on show from the last few years of his life is particularly collectable. Absolutely, with its zinging contrasts of ultramarine and chartreuse, is exemplary of this period and its complex fluid patterning is reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s The Morrocans (1916), Edouard Vuillard’s interiors, and Pahari miniatures from India, of which Hodgkin was an avid collector.

5. Our Islands 11°16'58.4”N 123°45'07.0”E

Artist: Martha Atienza
Displayed in: Statement

Statements presents work by emerging artists who are also eligible to receive the prestigious Baloise Art Prize. This year’s recently crowned winner is also its most deserving in execution and intent, Dutch-Filipino artist Martha Atienza, Our Islands 11°16’58.4"N 123°45’07.0"E whose video work highlights climate change. Filmed in the sea around Bantayan Island in the Philippines, underwater figures make their way across the screens dressed in various guises. While the characters’ balletic movements allow the viewer to sympathise with their struggle for air and the weight of the water above them, a closer look alludes to the bigger matters at play.

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Published 28th June 2017
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