For millennia, art has been a symbol of wealth and elevated stature in the home of the upper class. In light of this year’s Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland, let’s look at the history of the event and some of its most defining and controversial moments in recent years.
Art Basel is a world leader in the international art market, founded in 1970 by Trudl Bruckner, Balz Hilt, and Ernst Beyeler as a rival to Art Cologne with the mission to transform postwar consumerism, redefining the parameters of contemporary art, and providing an outlet for artists around the world to showcase their craft, their message.
This year an underground car park has been made into an immersive installation by Simon Sterling titled A-A’,B-B’. The two titles are about cuts made centuries apart within two pieces; one being a blue fiat 125 special and a replica of Giambattista Tiepolo’s The Finding of Moses. The separation of the works alludes to the history of the two pieces, as only two-thirds of The Finding of Moses was displayed in the Glasgow Museum of Art, while the remaining piece went to the owner of the blue Fiat.
Another immersive piece being displayed this year belongs to Colombian artist Oscar Murrillo titled Social Cataracts. The work consists of two separate installations. The first is made up of 100 mannequins decorated with clothing similar to school children. In the middle of the room resides the second installation, a cluster of 50 empty chairs holding paintings positioned as if the vacant seats were hoisting them in protest, symbolizing social grouping and collective action.
While protest is not a new symbol in art at Art Basel, approaching its depiction varies in intensity and place. At Art Basel Unlimited in 2015, artist Kader Attia reenacted the 2011 protest and robbery of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum in his Arab Spring installation by setting up glass display cases, approaching his exhibit in dark clothing, and launching bricks at his exhibition with unbridled rage. The destruction occurred before it was released to the public. The carnage was displayed to attendees as a space to reflect on the impacts of French colonialism.
Switzerland’s expedition includes a space for displaying NFT art and virtual reality pieces. Some of these stands, such as Tezos, are equipped to allow visitors to create their own digital artwork, mint it as an official NFT, and distribute it to those attending the event—revolutionizing the accessibility and distribution of digitally generative works in real-time.
The NFT and virtual reality art exhibits hold an extent of remembrance of the cancellation of 2020’s exhibition in Hong Kong in light of the pandemic. In 2020, Art Basel quickly shifted to an online format for the first time at no cost to the galleries involved. This shift could be used to increase the accessibility of these works to broader, more diverse audiences in the future.