Art Basel is the “mother” of all Contemporary art fairs. The mix of post war painting and sculpture, blue chip Contemporary art, plus hard-to-find examples by mid career and emerging artists, make visiting this fair a thrill. It’s not just the scope, it’s also the quality.
Because the fair is spread across two huge floors that can be hard to navigate – especially with the added pressure to make quick decisions about acquisitions – I preview as much as I can in advance. Armed with the official Art Basel app and a good idea of what I want to see and in what order, I make a quick sweep of the fair in the first few hours. Then, I settle in for a long, deep look over the course of the next several days. The harder you look, the more you find and learn. Here are some of the works that caught my eye at this year’s fair — something for every level of collector.
Post-War Painting and Sculpture
Basel always has a healthy selection of top quality blue chip works of art that would be highlights of any serious art collection. Kelly is an apt choice to feature as he is arguably one of the most influential of all American post-war painters, and he recently passed away. The simplicity, elegance and power of this canvas is undeniable.
Ellsworth Kelly, Yellow Relief over Black, 2013, Oil on canvas, two joined panels, 40 1/8 x 130 inches, Matthew Marks Gallery
Stella’s recent retrospective at the Whitney Museum confirmed the genius of his early hard-edged geometric compositions. His groundbreaking use of shaped canvases has inspired countless artists from the 1960s to the present.
Frank Stella, Port Tampa City, 1963, Red lead on canvas, 102 x 102 inches, Mnuchin Gallery
Judd is one of the key artists of the Minimalist era, a watershed moment in art history and one that has not yet been fully mined. This classic bullnose sculpture is painted an exquisite emerald green.
Donald Judd, Untitled, 1966/1967, Lacquer on cold rolled steel, 5 x 69 x 8 1/2 inches, Tony Meier Gallery
An explosive Chamberlain is the perfect counterfoil to Judd’s clean geometry. Chamberlain, along with David Smith, is abstraction expressionism in three dimensions.
John Chamberlain, Iron stone, 1969, Painted and chromium-plated steel, 40 x 48 1/2 x 44 inches, Dominique Levy
Blue Chip Contemporary Paintings
The following artists are highly regarded for their contributions to the ongoing dialogue surrounding the current state of painting. Stingel renders snowbirds in a hyper-realist style that recalls vintage a black and white photograph. While the birds are diminutive in real life, here they are over-scaled to fit the 8 foot canvas, distorting our sense of perception.
Rudolf Stingel, Untitled, 2015, Oil on canvas, 96 x 96 x 2 in, Sadie Coles
Richard Prince emerged as an appropriation artist in the late 70s, with photographs of American cowboys copped from Marlborough ads. In his recent work, he appropriates the notion of the nude in classical painting, turning idealism on its head.
Richard Prince, Untitled, 2012, Ink jet, charcoal and acrylic on canvas, 42 x 40 inches, Almine Rech Gallery
Oehlen’s creative interpretation of abstract painting involves mark making of all kinds, some computer generated, some printed, and the rest rendered free hand. His compositions excite with combustable energy and high key color.
Albert Oehlen, Doppelbild, 2002, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 143.5 x 240 cm, Hetzler Gallery
George Condo is the master portraitist of imaginary characters. This richly worked painting conveys both primitive and contemporary states of mind simultaneously.
George Condo, Red and Blue Diagonal Portrait, 2016, Oil on canvas, 84 x 82 inches, Skarstedt Gallery
Mid Career Painters
In this muddy dreamscape, Josh Smith is heavily influenced by Edvard Munch, in terms of his painterly approach and the Nordic palette. This work was featured in Smith’s solo museum show at the Bonner Kunstverein in Germany.
Josh Smith, In the Smoke, 2015, Oil on Canvas, 72 x 48 inches, Luhring Augustine
Charline von Heyl works in the space between figuration and abstraction, using pattern and dissociative imagery to create compositions that seem decipherable but refuse to coalesce into a cohesive narrative.
Charline von Heyl, Birdie, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 50 inch, Gallery Gisela Capitain
Jacqueline Humphries is an exuberant abstract painter known for her use of metallic paint that enables the composition to constantly change in different lighting conditions. The underpainting is comprised of hundreds of tiny emojis, which Humphries reminds us are ready-made signs that communicate visually.
Jacqueline Humphries, [###], 2016, Oil on linen, 90 x 96 inch, Gallery Gisela Capitain
Kelley Walker is about to have his first solo US museum show in St. Louis. The screen paintings are a subset of his practice that contain imagery recycled from his past works. Through recycling and screen-printing, Walker reflects on the primacy, meaning and availability of imagery in contemporary life.
Kelley Walker,Yellow Domus with Blue tape, 2016, Acrylic ink, record sleeve, tape on silkscreen on aluminum frame, 62 x 42 in, Paula Cooper Gallery