The trio creates “Portals” during a tumultuous year

Online viewing rooms, the virtual sales spaces created by art fairs, mushroomed at the start of the pandemic when collectors, curators and art world players were crowded into their homes. But do these parts, or OVRs, still have mileage? Maintaining the art trade’s interest in digital businesses has been a challenge, particularly with intense speculation around the return of actual art events; Art Basel is set to take place in September in Switzerland with Covid-19 restrictions in place.

Rather than previous OVR presentations which were overseen only by selection committees, Art Basel’s latest digital iteration, OVR: Portals (June 16-19), asked three established curators to help select the 94 galleries as well. participants, giving the event scholarly congratulations. The trio of curators is Magalí Arriola, director of the Museo Tamayo, Mexico; Christina Li, curator based in Amsterdam and Hong Kong; and Larry Ossei-Mensah, co-founder of the “creative collective” ARTNOIR and general curator at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York.

‘Steak for dessert’ (2021)

‘The Access to Excess’ (2021), both by Troy Makaza © Courtesy of the artist and the First Floor Gallery

Li and Arriola say via email that their vision for OVR: Portals was informed by the uproar of the past year. “If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that nothing should be taken for granted. . . We see how [the artists’] the works challenge structures of power and inequality throughout history, ”says Li, which helps us understand our place in a diverse society.

The curators, who communicated via email, Zoom and WhatsApp, have clear motives (online fair platforms need to stay fresh after all). Arriola says her priority was to “spark conversations and connect different contexts” about how people around the world handled the events of 2020.

For Ossei-Mensah, “It was important to me personally that we had active galleries in Africa, running serious programs and showcasing the best and the brightest visual artists. Contemporary African work is a booming sector of the global art market.

‘Headdress VIII’ (2020) by Helina Metaferia © Courtesy of the artist and Addis Fine Art

Ossei-Mensah defends Zimbabwean artist Troy Makaza, represented by the First Floor Gallery in Harare. “We want to change preconceptions about what contemporary African art can be in a critical and engaged manner,” say gallery directors Marcus Gora and Valerie Kabov.

They say that Makaza’s kaleidoscopic works made from painted silicone cords lie between painting and sculpture and that the works “speak with force and authenticity of the current cultural and political moment in Zimbabwe in a way that connects with worldwide “. Prices for their selection, including “Big Man Syndrome: Part 1” (2021), range from $ 5,000 to $ 12,000.

Addis Fine Art, which has spaces in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and London, will present works by Tariku Shiferaw, Helina Metaferia and Tizta Berhanu under the title “100 Days of Introspection”. Metaferia’s collages stand out, drawing on the intricacies of its Ethiopian-American heritage. “I tell neglected stories that center black bodies in positions of power and vulnerability,” she says online.

“Untitled” (2021)

‘Dos chicas (Two Girls)’ (2020), both by Fernanda Laguna © Courtesy of the artist and Galería Nora Fisch

The curatorial concept of the gallery is inspired by the two great social upheavals of our time: the pandemic – causing a “crisis of intimacy due to blockages”, say the founders of the gallery Rakeb Sile and Mesai Haileleul – and the experience of Black people in the United States, which took center stage after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

The post-pandemic reality is also detectable at the Galería Nora Fisch in Buenos Aires, one of the five galleries participating for the first time in an Art Basel fair. Fisch emphasizes that this particular edition is captivating by its attention to the profound changes taking place in societies around the world. “The artists we present – Fernanda Laguna, Juan Tessi and Osías Yanov – approach this theme from the perspective of gender expression and they do it in a complex and non-didactic way,” she says.

‘The Vanishing Prophecy No 2’, (2020) by Ding Shiwei © Courtesy of the artist and Vacancy Gallery

Laguna’s series of paintings “Abstract Shapes That Look Like Something” refers to strong regional traditions of geometric abstraction and metaphysical painting, Fisch adds, while Yanov’s “Escaleras” (ladders) sculptures function as a ” sort of flowchart of thoughts connected to the heart of his concerns. : how to find new ways of relating to each other, to other species, to the environment ”.

Of course, there is a commercial element: selling at the fair is an opportunity to introduce Fisch’s artists to international collectors. “An important aspect of my gallery’s mission is to give international visibility to some of its most relevant artists, to create a wider audience for them and to develop their markets,” explains Fisch. The available works sell for between $ 7,000 and $ 16,000.

The Vacancy Gallery of Shanghai, another digital newcomer to Art Basel, presents works by Chinese artist Ding Shiwei, including the video “The Vanishing Prophecy No. 2” (2020, $ 12,000) and a wooden piece and Brass by New York-based Sydney Shen (“Die_Frau_mit_dem_Raben_ am_Abgrund”, 2019, $ 15,000).

‘Die_Frau_mit_dem_Raben_ am_Abgrund’ (2019) by Sydney Shen © Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Vacancy

The Amsterdam Fons Welters Gallery, also new in online theaters, highlights Dutch artist Job Koelewijn who will present works related to his “Ongoing Reading Project” (2006-present), which focuses on daily sessions 45 minutes when reading aloud. Koelewijn recorded himself reading a range of texts, from scientific publications to art history books. “Saturating the mind with knowledge has become a daily intellectual exercise,” explains the gallery.

Whether the trend of digital offers really appeals to collectors and actors in the art world is debatable. New York-based art advisor Nilani Trent says her clients don’t have time to browse online venues at art fairs. “It’s much more effective for sales when a gallery sends me the checklist ahead of time and I can then pass it on to my clients,” she says.

‘Higher Contradictions’ (2017) by Job Koelewijn © Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Fons Welters. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij

Trent acknowledges that “choosing a theme allows the gallery to contextualize its artists in new and thoughtful ways. Guiding collectors to see art in a different light is a victory for everyone. Belgian collector Alain Servais bluntly points out that he “has no intention of opening an OVR now that I can experience art again in real life”.

Actual art fairs will return, but OVRs have revealed the need to expand access to contemporary art, Ossei-Mensah said. A hybrid in-person / digital approach to fairs “will allow for a truly inclusive experience, regardless of geographic location,” he says. It remains to be seen how the future art fair model will merge the virtual and physical worlds.

June 17-19, artbasel.com


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