Art Basel (2) – Some observations and trends

Art Basel (1)

Art Basel is two sections – the “classical” two floors in the Fair Centre and the huge “Unlimited” hall with “projects that transcend the limitations of a classical art-fair stand.”

Entrance to Art Basel © Jan Oberg 2013
Entrance to Art Basel     © Jan Oberg 2013

Can one discern any trends out of the bewildering diversity of art at the Art Basel? Here are a few observations without prioritizing:

• one trend is that there is no trend – everything can be mixed, art schools and art categories seems to be a thing of the past;

• most of what is shown here is a-political; art created to make a political statement – such as against war, capitalism or exploitation – does exist but we are talking about a handful of exceptions here.

A wonderful painting by Koen van den Broek, Reflections, from 2013
A wonderful painting by Koen van den Broek, “Reflections”, from 2013

• there is a surprising amount of old contemporary classics – Dubuffet, de Kooning, Warhol (simply too much everywhere), Miro, Calder, Giacometti (he was Swiss!), etc. It tells how the commercial criteria is given priority over new, younger and experimenting artists – at least by the “finer” or trend-setting galleries.

• L-A-R-G-E formats – it is as if the size itself is supposed to be a quality. What is true is that a work changes character and power by being blown up, but that simply does not apply to all pieces. An uninteresting painting or photography does not become better because it is blown up to, say, 2 x 4 meters;

• while some of the best graphic printers and galleries are still American, the new stuff in art seems to me to come from outside the West – China and Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, etc. and South America. There is simply more new ways of doing things, another esthetics and techniques per square meter where they appear (whether it is better in some sense, I am not able to judge). Anyhow, the West/U.S. is much less dominating than since 1945.

Detail from Chen Zhen’s “Purification Room,” 2000

• galleries adhere to rather conservative, traditional ways of displaying art – even when they obviously appreciate innovative art itself; there are few surprises, few really well-planned stands, few where you are provided with the opportunity to explore and being drawn through an idea – virtually all have white walls and open space, a little table, a couple of staff, a Mac and a small corner where you stuff away bags, printed matter, your lunch or whatever; I didn’t see one who had made a living room environment or something similar; neither did I see any where the artist(s) were present to tell about the works – which I thought would have been fun, perhaps even educative.

Metro Pictures’ stand – Paulina Olowska’s “Portrait of the Artist” in the background

• quite a few examples of almost plagiarizing art – one gets the impression that some gallerists are in business because only of business and have little idea about contemporary art history. Whether they exhibit imitators and know they are or they don’t know that – well, I don’t know;

• probably 30-40% of all art watchers use their mobile phone to shoot the pictures they see – whether they stay there to show friends, are downloaded to their computers or are used for some kind of writing like I do here, I don’t know. What is worrying is if people spend more time taking a picture of a picture than really seeing that picture because what they have when they come home is only a more or less good reproduction of the real thing on the wall;

• quite a lot of “kitsch” – by which I mean flashy (even literally) works, things inspired by what you might find in souvenir shops – all meant to impress, provoke or catch attention but generally unable to persuade me (at least) about any serious intention. A sub category of this is “if you are a name, it’s so easy to just do something banal and call it art” – and still be considered amazing. I mean, what’s the point when Anish Kapoor bends a mirror so you can see your own body in funny shapes? That’s what you can find in most entertainment parks or Tivoli in Copenhagen.

I don’t get it – (not the title of the work…)

photography gets a stronger and stronger position. There are quite some (excellent) photo galleries here, there are many galleries which exhibit paintings and graphic prints which also show art photography – and, finally, photography is increasingly part of mixed-media works, collages and there are painting that looks like photography.  Of course I am particularly delighted that this is so.

Abelardo Morell’s exciting photography, “Camera Obscura: View of Central Park Summer 2008”

Would love to read your views, ideas or suggestions here

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