The Art Basel and VOLTA14 fairs closed last weekend with strong turnout from over 100 countries, largely by Asian and European collectors.
Art Radar took to Switzerland to round up the week for artists and galleries from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Space for discovery: VOLTA14
Basel was a buzz of frenzied art enthusiasts this past week, with both young and seasoned collectors and gallerists eager to mingle. Between blockbuster shows at the Kunstmuseum Basel and Schaulager, and the art fair stalwarts Art Basel and Liste, the VOLTA fair returned in its 14th year with focus set on new international positions. The fair, which debuted in 2005 under Artistic Director Amanda Coulson, has trademarked itself on being the preeminent hub for emerging artists and galleries, offering a unique platform for discovery and solo presentation.
This year, VOLTA inaugurated the former COOP distribution centre, a move which led to a slight decrease in the number of participating galleries. Nonetheless, the new space offered an intimate setting that was an appreciated oasis outside of the sometimes claustrophobic and impersonal nature of larger fairs. The setup, like a maze one would not mind getting lost in, provided ample space and each of the galleries – stemming from counties far and wide – to not only exhibit their work, but to engage with their visitors. A spokesman for the first-time VOLTA exhibitor, Christian Marx Galerie, noted that this scene allowed for a culture of networking and discussion. “Selling is good, of course”, he states, “but to gain this bigger network of clients and colleagues is so important.”
In this environment, it was possible to engage with the curators – and, in some cases, even the artists themselves – to speak about their missions, practice and inspiration. It was through these interactions that collectors were introduced to the artwork of smaller and mid-size galleries, a growing problem moulded by finance and exclusion at fairs like Art Basel. Art Radar was able to sit down with a few of the gallerists to get the scoop on the week’s events, what was selling and how VOLTA may be reconstructing an outdated and privileged art fair model.
VOLTA14’s smaller scale meant that focus truly was on the Discoveries. One of the first encounters for visitors was London’s Fiumano Clase, attending the fair with the work of Filipino artist Rhine Bernardino and Iran’s Shadi Rezaei in tow. Bernardino’s striking sculptural series, Regla, which employs glass, water and her own menstrual blood, is made up of 12 sculptures (though only a few were on display in Basel), one for each menstrual cycle of the year. The installation serves as “a comment on human perception” and the artist’s belief in the potential of art to encourage social change. She states that her work provides “a makeshift laboratory wherein collections of menstrual blood are not associated with disgust but regarded as objects of inspection and conversation”. Nestled within the cozy, albeit cramped, gallery booth, Bernardino’s vessels are more than objects, they are treasured relics of who the artist was at a particular time and place, the quantity and consistency of the blood collected in each receptacle speaking to the preservation of self.
Regla was effortlessly exhibited alongside When the Curtain Falls, a video installation by Shadi Rezaei. Inspired by her birthplace, Tehran, Rezaei’s work portrays a series of mutable and spontaneous gestures that negotiate the connection between stability and uncertainty, between bondage and lasting impression. The video, which depicts a woman confronting states of repression and liberty, was also exhibited next to a series of photographic stills drawn from the artist’s horoscope and personal mythologies. In breaking from a viewer’s preconceived notion that Rezaei’s work – spattered with Arabic calligraphy and mosaic motifs – is about religion or politics, the artist speaks of personal identity and shattering stereotypes.
Whilst meandering through the rest of the fair, the wired and angrily-organic shapes from Korean artist Myungil Lee came into view. The series of three sculptures, entitled To Exist of To Sustain?, were hosted by Gallery H.A.N. and sold to a collector within the first few days of the fair. Likewise, a series of a dozen handworked paintings by Hebime and Hidehito Matsubara respectively, were sold through Osaka’s YOD Gallery. The dynamic, almost psychedelic, compositions were at once delicate and fierce, providing the perfect metaphor for VOLTA’s small but qualitatively-booming atmosphere.
One of the highlights of the entire fair was, undoubtedly, a series of interactions with Hong Kong’s Affinity Art and Vietnam’s VIN Gallery. Last April, Art Radar reached out to Affinity’s Director Kim Lam about their ongoing exhibition of Shiu Sheng Hung’s work, “The Images Left Behind”; Basel provided a curious reprise of the solo show, bringing the artist’s personal archive of postcards, drawings, oils and ‘paint skins’. And while the booth could have certainly benefitted from a corner location, as the gallery’s exhibition was crowned by a site-specific mural that did not make it to VOLTA, walking through Shiu’s work – like getting an intimate tour of his mind – was like walking through an exhibition of living things. Each of his paintings – memories from nature walks or tributes to climate change – were enlivened by an iridescent overlay of paint that sung from every angle. The tone was hushed, the curation was seamless and entering the booth felt like being rushed far away from the fair’s electricity.
Approaching VIN Gallery’s booth provided a different, but equally enthralling atmosphere. While Shiu’s work offered a reprieve from the fair’s hustle and bustle, it was as if VOLTA’s energy was emerging from VIN’s exhibition of Yohei Yama. The Japanese painter’s cosmic compositions hummed with a vitality and an eclectic otherworldliness that lay claim to the “transcendent power of art to heal, or to atone”. Speaking with the artist, it was gathered that his work, through a painstaking process of painting swirling structures, was an attempt to find comfort, or at least meditation, through the sublime organisation of chaos.
VOLTA14 was nothing short of pleasant, and while no commercial fair can escape the inevitable hunger for sales and notoriety, it was here that new names were given a spotlight and abundant time to shine. On their risky move to a new location and on the continuation of VOLTA’s successes, Coulson notes in the closing press release:
While we were extremely confident with the move, there were the inevitable jitters about how it would be receive – it’s a bit like introducing your new boyfriend to the parents! So we were extremely gratified that both exhibitors and visitors responded so enthusiastically to the new hall, which Managing Director Chris De Angelis transformed into a fitting home for VOLTA. Despite the shaky weather, curiosity got the better of everybody and opening day was as packed as ever… and while we saw a slight decrease in quantity, we saw no drop in quality whatsoever. The faces we wished to see were all present and their feedback was positive across the board, so we know that we have an incredibly strong foundation to continue building on, back in the VOLTA Areal, where we started.
Unlimited exhibition, limited time: Art Basel 2018
The 2018 edition of Art Basel in Basel closed on Sunday 17 June amongst reports of significant sales to private collections and institutions across all market sectors. Once more, Art Basel drew in a particularly strong turnout of both established and new collectors from over 100 countries, and attracted an attendance of nearly 95,000 international visitors. The show, which stood as the megalith big sibling to VOLTA, brought together 290 premier galleries from 35 countries, presenting extraordinary contemporary and modern works by over 4,000 artists.
While there has been talk recently about such fairs’ future instability and financial prowess that overshadows smaller and mid-level galleries (see our video summary from Art Basel Hong Kong 2018), Global Director Marc Spiegler reported that Art Basel tracks its VIP relations team to ensure they bring important collectors to a range of booths, not just the “blue-chip destinations” that make up the fair’s core. The 2018 edition additionally opened a new programme for young collectors, aimed at inspiring the kind of middle class art buying that has been a staple of previous generations in the region. In doing so, the fair saw record attendance from non-Western countries, Asian collectors and arts professionals making up half of the overall attendance.
At the Sprüth Magers booth, for example, Director Andreas Gegner noted that their efforts to connect with Asian audiences had “paid off in Basel”. The Berlin-based gallery has, in recent years, hired several staff members who have experience in Asian markets and has even opened an office space in Hong Kong. Two major works from their lot were sold to Asian collectors: George Condo’s large Green and Purple Head Composition (2018) sold for over USD1 million to an Asian collector, as did Andreas Gursky’s El Ejido (2017), one of an edition of six inkjet prints, which sold for USD1,041,925.50 to an Asian collection. It has been confirmed that Asian collectors also bought work by artists Jenny Holzer and Jon Rafman, including Rafman’s film, Dream Journal 2016–2017, which was exhibited in the fair’s Unlimited sector.
Speaking of which, it was the Unlimited segment that served as one of the biggest highlights of the entire operation. On display were the fair’s largest installation and video works, each given ample room for visitor viewing; in comparison to the overcrowded and fast-paced nature of the Galleries section, Unlimited felt more like an exhibition in itself, although a thematically disjointed one.
The platform for larger-scale projects was curated for the seventh year by Gianni Jetzer, Curator-at-Large at the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., and brought to the fore the monumental installations, sculptures, video projections, wall paintings, photographic series and performance art that “transcend the traditional art fair stand”. And while much of the Galleries portion failed to highlight African artists – much of its focus being on European and Asian institutions – Unlimited showcased the work of Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo alongside a few installations by South African artists and collectives. Toguo’s oil painting Rwanda 1994 (2014) explores the systematic flow of people, merchandise and resources between the developing world and the West. “Men or women are always potential exiles, driven by the urge to travel, which makes them ‘displaced beings’,” he says.
Unlimited was also home to the installations of South African artist Candice Breitz and the duo Mikhael Subotzky & Patrick Waterhouse. The latter group entered the fair with their archival project Ponte City, which served as an anthropological and ethical study of the Ponte City housing unit in Johannesburg. The building, which was built for “wealthy whites” at the height of the apartheid, was quickly transformed into a “towering symbol of urban decay” during the 1980s. The artists spent six years in the settlement, photographing the tenants that were left behind and unwinding the complex narratives of migration and social status in South Africa.
Candice Bretiz also attended Art Basel with a documentary project, focusing on interviews with women working in the country’s sex work industry. Simultaneously captivating and uncomfortable, Breitz’s ongoing work reflects her concern with the instability of identity in an age of widespread media saturation. On display was Profile, hosted by Cape Town’s Goodman Gallery.
The fair’s Galleries and Statements sections were full of an expected, yet nonetheless startlingly saturated network of display. While hosting nearly 300 galleries and nestling them within and around one another in Basel’s Messe hall, meandering through the meat of the fair was like swimming through sand, many of the viewers stopping no more than a few seconds to snap a selfie with a Yayoi Kusama or Anish Kapoor. However, a few spaces from Asia and the Middle East stood out of the crowd, one being Beijing’s White Space. Zhang Di, Director and Partner of the gallery stated of their involvement in the fair:
It’s been our honour to participate at Art Basel’s Basel show for the first time. Our presentations at both the Statements and the Unlimited sectors have received great response from art institutions, curators and collectors. We’ve sold all the works on display.
Further, the Hamburg and Beirut-based gallery Sfeir-Semler brought a series of high-profile Lebanese artists. Between Walid Raad, Etel Adnan and Akram Zaatari, the gallery’s booth was as conceptually and politically rich as aesthetically beguiling. Andrée Sfeir-Semler, owner of both gallery locations commented:
Art Basel is a barometer for the art world, and it’s interesting to see collectors enthusiastically returning every year, looking for new works by our artists. I was especially pleased with the number of institutions and museums that visited the fair and our booth.
Art Basel’s renowned Conversations series brought together leading artists, gallerists, collectors, art historians, curators, museum directors and critics from across the world. Programmed for the fourth year by Mari Spirito, the programme featured 25 talks and served as a platform for dialogues and discussions on current topics such as mid-level gallery struggles to blockchain technology, and offered perspectives on producing, collecting and exhibiting art. One of the particularly poignant conversations was between Hannah Weinberger, Julieta Aranda, Sandra Mujinga and Elvia Wilk titled “Sexism in the Art World”, which ponders the relationships between sexism, racism and class that enable each to co-exist in the art world and how the industry may include all genders in future conversations.
On the continued success of the fair, which has been certainly marked by an increasing awareness of its exclusive and elitist principles, Executive Vice Chairman of Global Wealth management at UBS, Gabriel Castello, notes that the future of Art Basel depends heavily on its commitment to fostering a community of knowledge and philanthropy. He states in the closing press release:
This week we have shared our passion for art and collecting with thousands of clients visiting Art Basel from around the world. The quality and ambition of the presentations at the show has been incredible. As Global Lead Partner, we marked 25 years of successful partnership with Art Basel by launching the Art Collectors Circle, a global community of collectors and cultural philanthropists who are driven to contribute to the art world, to connect, share knowledge and to discuss best practice.
- “Curated: Turn It Up”: young Asian collector’s taste at Sotheby’s Hong Kong – auction round-up – June 2018 – Sotheby’s “Curated: Turn It Up” auction on 8 June 2018 closed with an achieved total of HKD47.7 million and 100% of pieces sold
- Seismic surveys: Art Basel + Art Central Hong Kong 2018 – fairs round-up – April 2018 – 2 of Hong Kong’s principal art fairs closed with record sales and elevated international attendance
- Ancillary nexus: Art Basel + UBS Global Art Market Report 2018 – key findings – April 2018 – Art Basel and UBS publish the 2nd Global Art Market Report, noting exceptional growth across market sectors
- Straddling personal and political: Art Fair Philippines 2018 – round-up – March 2018 – the 6th edition of Art Fair Philippines highlights photography as a forefront medium
- 6 Gallery highlights from VOLTA13 Basel – June 2017 – Art Radar brings you 6 must-see gallery booths at VOLTA art fair in Basel
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