ART BASEL 2019 - ‘Ways of Seeing’

The regular visitor to Art Basel is always looking for something new, exciting and challenging and it delivers! Every year I try to focus on one theme. My 2014 review noted ‘Debt to Duchamp’, 2015 ‘Kinetic Art’, 2016, ‘Unlimited’, and 2017 ‘Sensation’ again focusing on the Unlimited section. Last year I focused on the Art Basel Miami Design Section, Art Basel 2018 as it centres on ‘Art & Lifestyle’. This year I discover how artists explore different ways off seeing.

Since the late 1960’s Chuck Close, (78) has been concentrating on portraiture and the human face on a monumental scale – this is interesting as the artist himself suffers from prosopagnosia, or ‘face blindness’ he has also been partially paralysed since ‘The Event’ in 1987. His early works were photorealistic but White Cube presented as an almost abstract pointillist grid / mosaic. The work is hard to read as anything more than a subtly colourful blurred face but when condensed onto a camera-phone screen resolves into a fine portrait.

Dame Paula Rego, now 84, with the Marlborough Gallery is another artist who draws upon her life experiences, (much as Louise Bourgeois did), in often arresting pastel or oil paintings. Her current 3D installation work, including exploring each of the seven deadly sins is equally dark with grotesque figures, disembodied dolls and children’s toys. These themes extend his previous works, Mannequins.

The Annely Juda Fine Art featured recent edition works by David Hockney, (81). Although an excellent draftsman, his early portraits rival Ingres, Hockney has always enjoyed new technology. There were his Polaroid collages, his investigation of Vermeer’s Camera Obscura and most recently his iPad drawings, (editions of 25 starting at $26,000 each). But his latest work features a collage of seated and standing figures, including, the artist, his dog, Ed Sheeran and other characters 3D scanned and then arranged in a rectangular space incorporating large angled mirrors propped to the rear and sides affording multiple viewpoints of each subject which would otherwise be impossible to achieve. These works were also displayed by the artist’s U.S. gallery The Richard Gray Gallery both priced at $52,000.

The Richard Gray Gallery showed a work by American abstract artist Sam Francis, (1923-1994), but this was far eclipsed by the double panel work that featured on AXA ART’s stand within the Collector’s Lounge. Francis had lived in Tokyo where he produced work according to the principles of Zen Buddhism and this large untitled piece, 1989, lent from the AXA Corporate Collection was admired by many for its bold use of abstract primary colour – complemented by the furniture supplied by Vitra.

Within the Unlimited section the headline work was Paul McCarthy’s ‘Coach Stage Stage Coach’ VR experiment Mary and Eve, 2017. McCarthy 73 is a contemporary artist who lives and works in Los Angeles and plays with popular culture references – his sculpture Santa Claus with sex toy gives you some idea of his ‘direction of travel’. This work was created as 11 virtual reality experiments using motion capture to transfer the real movements of the actresses into virtual reality. The artist has used the 1939 film Stagecoach as the basis of many of his works. We stand on the same carpet as the scene in a claustrophobic room as two characters, Mary and Eve appear in 1880’s dress. They multiply and the viewer becomes part of the vicious hallucination of a psychological mind game. Social conventions breakdown as the plot unfolds and escalates into a psychosexual trip of rape and humiliation – the language is strong, but it was the piercing gaze of a little girl who remained mute that I found most affecting. Such immersive experiences are a way forward even though the headsets are bulky and the whole experience can cause motion sickness.

Andrew Davies

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