Dystopia, BLM themes emerge at the Art Basel fair

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Basel (Switzerland) (AFP)

Dystopia and Black Lives Matter are in the spotlight at Art Basel, the world’s largest contemporary art fair, which opens to the public this weekend.

The giant annual fair in the Swiss city of Basel is above all a commercial event, where artists and galleries meet rich collectors.

But the fair is also very popular with art lovers who come for the simple pleasure of browsing the works on display. Some 93,000 visitors passed through the doors during the 2019 edition, last year’s event having been canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Art Basel exhibits major works every year in a section where paintings, sculptures and installations are grouped together for sale to museums and major collections.

The giant annual fair is above all a commercial event, where artists and galleries meet rich collectors Fabrice COFFRINI AFP

Highlights for 2021 include a painting by Guyanese-British artist Frank Bowling, a large painting by Briton David Hockney or the house of Swiss artist Urs Fischer in bread.

But after several editions dominated by political works centered on the American presidency of Donald Trump, then feminist works during the “Me Too” movement, the 62 major works presented this year reflect on the upheavals that shook the world during the pandemic.

– ‘Cabinet of curiosities’ –

American artist Lari Pittman presents a vast collection of closely juxtaposed paintings that are a sort of snapshot of a fallen Western civilization.

“It’s a cabinet of curiosities,” the Californian told AFP, but with objects collected by a collector “in the distant future”, find needles and antidepressants, a highway sign warning motorists to speed up due to the risk of cannibalism, and stained glass. windows for an underground bunker.

The 62 major works presented this year reflect the upheavals that shook the world during the pandemic
The 62 major works presented this year reflect the upheavals that shook the world during the pandemic Fabrice COFFRINI AFP

The work should have been exhibited before the pandemic, but Pittman nevertheless believes that it has its place in this edition.

“It’s a little dark, but the problems that I point out are constant in the history of mankind,” he said.

“We are coming out of an incredibly dystopian period globally, and certainly in America with a dystopian political situation over the past four years.”

On the theme of juxtaposition, the American artist Carrie Mae Weems presents a series of canvases of various sizes entitled “Repeating The Obvious”.

They all contain the same image: the blurred face of a young African American, depicting those who died at the hands of the police and, through repetition, end up becoming faceless victims.

Outside the showroom, Danish-Norwegian artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset placed “The Outsiders” – a work depicting an old Mercedes car with Russian license plates, with two men sleeping in it. inside, curled up against each other.

The two wax mannequins, with realistic features, represent two workers who came to set up the fair and do “all the hard and heavy work that you cannot see,” Michael Elmgreen told AFP.

Art Basel has several online events planned, including virtual walks through the fair
Art Basel has several online events planned, including virtual walks through the fair Fabrice COFFRINI AFP

Having driven from Moscow, they sleep in their cars because they cannot afford a hotel room.

“It’s also a work on an intimacy between these two young men. He has Russian license plates. It is very difficult to openly show that intimacy in Moscow today. So they are happy to be here at Basel where they can lie however they want. “

Given the travel constraints of the pandemic, Art Basel has planned several online events, including virtual walks through the fair.

Art Basel was open for private openings Monday through Thursday, aimed at wealthy buyers, before opening to the public Friday through Sunday.

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