How Activism and Politics shaped Art Basel 2016

Art News from Switzerland. Published by ArtAndOnly - Platform for Art Collectors on Wednesday 29 June 2016.

ArtBasel Courtesy Lehmann Maupin PR_Tracey Emin Unlimited WhiteCube Xa image

With 280 leading galleries showing the work of over 4,000 artists from 33 countries, Art Basel 2016 offered a strong number of challenging political works with some calling the show “art with a conscience”.

Both artists and gallerists contributed to these themes of charity and activism to raise awareness around current sociopolitical events issues especially around migration and the refugee crisis.

The show saw around 95,000 visitors with new collectors from countries across Africa and the former Soviet Union, as well as Iran, Lebanon, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Thailand, reportedly coming to the fair for the first time. The large and diverse list of participants plus big attendance numbers created a fitting atmosphere for a noticeable focus on global issues.

One of the most-talked about works was certainly Danish artist E.B. Itso’s Shedding series. To create these stunning diptychs, Itso travelled to a southern Italian island where refugee boats often arrive from North Africa. The artist collected discarded clothing and other items left on the shore to create evocative, dark blue abstract images by dipping the garments in paint, printing them on paper, and framing the works in found shoreline driftwood. The diptych sold through Galleri Nicolai Wallner for €10,000, with all proceeds going to charity.

Sentiments from most visitors to Art Basel embraced the heavier political focus and encouraged further charitable arms from this and other shows. “It feels like something that should be discussed in the art market,” says Paul Hobson, director of Modern Art Oxford, who participated in an Art Basel conversation event about how cultural institutions are responding to migration.

Panel Discussions
A robust program of 27 panel conversations also included many of the same issues which allowed audiences to contribute to the discussion on responsibility from the collector’s point of view. The program this year focused on key art historical moments and had a strong political overtone, with topics explored including the COBRA group, 100 years of Dada, museum’s responses to immigration, race and justice. Art Basel used these Salon discussions as an open platform for dozens of short, often informal presentations, such as artist talks, panels, lectures and performances with a range of speakers representing many different aspects of the art world. A highlight was Art Basel’s Conversations series which began with the artists AA Bronson and Alfredo Jaar discussing the state of art and politics in the context of the 1960’s.

New Additions
Curated by New York-based curator Gianni Jetzer, Unlimited was Art Basel’s pioneering exhibition platform for projects that transcend the classical art-show stand, including massive sculpture and paintings, video projections, large-scale installations, and live performances. The addition of this new section was popular and could easily become part of all shows going forward because it not only created great exposure for works in non-traditional formats,

but also gave visitors a chance to shift their typical art fair experience. Many visitors commented on the strength of this year’s presentation, featuring renowned international artists including Ai Weiwei, El Anatsui, Kader Attia, Hans Op de Beeck, Gretchen Bender, Elmgreen & Dragset, Tracey Emin, Isa Genzken, Dan Graham, Mike Kelley, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Dieter Roth, and more.

Art Market
During the show, Art Basel announced that it will be partnering with UBS to commission a comprehensive new annual art market report. The new ‘Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report’ will be an objective and independent study authored by Dr. Clare McAndrew and her Dublin-based research and consulting firm Arts Economics. Covering the main macro-economic trends and delivering fundamental data on the art market as a whole, the first ‘Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report’ will be published in March 2017 to coincide with Art Basel’s Hong Kong show.

Be sure to read more detailed reviews of some of the most talked about artists at Art Basel this year on Le Journal. We’ve already profiled incredible works from Anne Neukamp, Kelley Walker, Maria Laet, and have more in this series on the way. Also check out our Facebook and Instagram pages for exclusive photos inside the show.