Art update

Art Basel, Venice, Somerset, Wiltshire, London: June 2019


We arrived at Liste for the early preview of 77 galleries from 33 countries. They featured many first time solo exhibitions of unknown artists. 


Time to get stone by Théo Mercier, photo courtesy of the author.

Theo Mercier’s “Time to get stone” questions the audience’s perceptions of the used objects by balancing heavier stones atop cartons of fragile eggs. 

The next stop was the Beyeler Foundation to view “The Young Picasso: Rose and Blue Periods” which originated at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris last October. The installation was superb! On view also was the Rudolph Stingel exhibition, curated by Udo Kittleman. His approach to painting is a conceptual and reflexive one. His exploration of new materials, which began in the late 1980’s, includes his styrofoam or cast metal works. Some of the walls were covered in carpets or reflective silver insulation panels. The viewers may participate in the works by writing on the surfaces with pens, keys or making hand prints.

Another installation was Louise Bourgeois’ “Insomnia Drawings”. These were exhibited at the Whitney in the summer of 2003 and depict how the artist draws herself to sleep.

Later we attended the preview of Unlimited, curated by Gianni Jetzer who is also curator-at-large at the Hirshhorn Museum. This year’s exhibition includes 75 super-sized works. They often find homes in private museums or foundations. An outstanding work by Monica Bonvicini,”Breathing” is a kinetic installation consisting of a broom/whip made of  leather belts. It was hanging from the Messeplatz ceiling and sweeping the floor creating a whipping hissing sound. Her work deals with issues of gender, power and architecture, confronting issues of inclusion and barriers, subjugation and freedom. 

Felix González-Torres

Felix González-Torres. Selfie courtesy of the author.

Other historical works included, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s group of 55 photographs (1987-1992) which is shown together for the first time. Franz West’s “Rest” (1994), an accumulation of colorful chairs provided much needed rest!


Bleached II by Erez-Nevi Pana. Photo courtesy of the author.

Design Miami is curated by the newly appointed director, Aric Chen. He was recently the lead curator for the architecture and design at M+, Hong Kong’s new art museum, scheduled to open next year. His exhibition “Elements: Earth” (fire, water and air to come) presented 9 installations by international designers that looked into the future of materials, resources and fabrication. The idea is to look at how we use the planet’s resources and how to reimagine them in an eco-friendly way.  A moving installation by Israeli designer Erez-Nevi Pana, “Bleached II” continues “to explore the consequences of mineral extractions at the Dead Sea”. It was fascinating to meet the artist and have a personal tour of his work.

The Gagosian Empire opened a group exhibition, “Continuing Abstraction” to inaugurate it’s new gallery in Basel – number 17. It is located steps from the Three Kings Hotel and reminiscent of the scale and intimacy of Ernst Beyeler’s gallery from years ago. The works range from de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko, Frankenthaler to Twombly, Ryman, Grotjahn, Rutherford and Stingel. A stunning installation!

We attended the VIP opening of the 50th edition of Art Basel featuring about 290 galleries. According to Marc Spiegler, global director of Art Basel, this year for the first time there is a sliding scale fee based on the size of the booth. Smaller galleries pay less per square meter and larger booths pay more. This gives the opportunity to younger galleries to show at the fair resuting in 19 new participants. Highlights included works by Anthea Hamilton, Roe Ethridge, Nijdeka Akunuyili Crosby, Thornton Dial, Frank Bowling, Xylor Jane, Sadamasa Motonaga and Lubaina Himid.

The William Kentridge exhibition at the Kunstmuseum “A Poem That Is Not Our Own” focuses on the South African’s early works from the 1980s and 1990s. His practice includes animation, sculpture, theatre production, drawings and prints. This massive exhibition is spread over three floors and features his most recent project,  “The Head & The Load” and the debut of “In Praise of Folly”. The themes of migration, flight, and processions reverberate throughout.


Curator Ralph Rugoff, director of London’s Hayward Gallery, chose the theme “May You Live in Interesting Times” for the 58th Venice Biennale. It is entirely contemporary with most works made since 2010 and nearly half of the 79 artists under 40. This Bienniale, each artist displays two works both in the Giardini and Arsenale. The themes of climate change, migrant tragedies, political and cultural instabilities, artificial intelligence, and vast inequalities prevail.

What the world feels like now may be experienced by viewing Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s work “Dear”. The work consists of a large white silicone chair that is occupied by a black rubber hose. Every couple of minutes it is activated to whip the glass enclosed cage. It hisses and scratches until exhausted and then collapses into a coiled heap. This bizarre work illustrates the exercise of power as violence, frustration and futility. “Can’t Help Myself”  houses a caged robot which shovels and sweeps a blood like fluid. It keeps oozing and does not succeed in covering it up. Both works are riveting and highly disturbing. This is a frightening glimpse into how the artists engage in the world today and our “interesting times”.

The artists at the forefront of the ingenious video installations are Ian Cheng and Jon Rafman. Cheng studied cognitive science at Berkeley before becoming an artist. He uses this knowledge to feel out the potential of technologies such as artificual intelligence in the art world. As a result he has created an AI creature named B.O.B. (Bag of Beliefs), which refers to the web of diverse motivations that govern these computer generated life-forms. In a conversation with Ralph Rugoff, Cheng said “I really don’t like the idea that art is burdened with having to be meaningful. Maybe the real purpose of art is to wrestle with meaningfulness and meaninglessness.”

Rafman’s two works, “Disaster Under the Sun” and “Dream Journal” 2016-2019 are equally challenging and provocative. His works deal with the emotional, social and existential impact of technology on contemporary life. “The ghoulish CGI animations address the iconography of American entertainment and consumerism.” In “Dream Journal”, we witness a surreal world with hybrids of humans, animals and monsters. The main character is a young girl with a cap that reads “Xanax” on her head. We follow her journey to find a companion and her sordid adventures.

The US Pavilion “Liberty/Liberta” presented Martin Puryear’s curving yellow pine and rope sculpture “Swallowed Sun”. It offers hope, inclusion, and tolerance. A superb message indeed! At 77 he is still creating stunning wooden works.

Ghana’s inaugural pavillion “Ghana Freedom” is designed by British architect David Adjaye. It is built in ochre Ghanaian soil and you can smell the earth as you pass by. El Anatsui’s “The Earth Shedding Skin ” is outstanding. It addresses destruction of the land as we dig for profit.

UK Pavilion: Cathy Wilke’s spare domestic installation of mannequins, lace straps, and small vases of flowers create a diminishing universe. Is this her vision of a shrinking British Empire and also of the female universe? It is moving, haunting and once again disturbing.

German Pavilion: Natascha Suder Happelmann’s installation of rocks and dripping water along with a tomato filled truck is bizzare. It “deals with the potential for solidarity and community in a Europe that has closed itself off to migrants.” The artist appeared wearing a paper mache mask on her head at the press opening. Her face is not seen nor is her voice heard.  She does not wish to be identified by gender, age or geography. She commnuicates only through an actress known as Helene Duldung by her side. 

American artist Joan Jonas’ solo exhibition “Moving Off the Land”  in the Church of San Lorenzo is the inaugural exhibition at the New Ocean Space Center. The Church had been closed to the public for more than a century. She represented the US in 2015. Her continued concern with “rising sea levels, extinction and the disappearance of deep-sea life” echoes the current political climate.

Georg Baselitz is the first living artist to exhibit at the Galleria dell’ Academia. It is all encompassing of his 60 year career. The video interviewing Baselitz shows an artist remembering the past and looking forward to the future with renewed energy. It is endearing to connect with him in this manner.




Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Photo courtesy of author


After many invitations to Somerset, I finally made it to visit Hauser & Wirth’s outpost. It was less than a two hour drive from London and we passed Stonehenge along the way.

The all female exhibition “Unconscious Landscape” showcases 70 artists from the collection of Ursula Hauser in honor of her 80th birthday. Among the artists included are: Louise Bourgeois, “Spider”, Meret Oppenheim’s “Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers”, Maria Lassnig’s “The racing grandmother” and Eva Hesse’s H+H.

Messums Wiltshire Barn.JPG

Messums Wiltshire in the Tithe Barn. Photo courtesy of the author.


The Messum’s Wiltshire in the Fonthill Estate nearby is located in the Tithe Barn at Place Farm, multi-purpose gallery and arts center. The exhibition “Sensing Place” presents 50 architectural  models including a proposal for the new Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice.


The highlights of my week in London included visits to several galleries and museums. The exhibition of  Francis Bacon’s “Couplings” at Gagosian is an extraordinary presentation of his double-figure paintings. Some have not been seen for 50 years or ever. At Thaddaeus Ropac’s gallery, “ Artists I Steal From” is curated jointly by Jula Peyton-Jones and the artist Alvaro Barrington. Senga Nengudi’s installation at Spruth Magers gallery is transformative. It “continues to create highly original and evocative works that feel as provocative as they did in decades past”.

Lee Krasner’s exhibition “Living Colour” at the Barbican Centre is a long overdue tribute to a pioneering artist of Abstract Expressionism.The show follows her career path from her youth in Brooklyn, when at age 14 she decides to be an artist. The long struggle for recognition continued all her life as well as her persistence to have her own voice.


4 thoughts on “Art Basel, Venice, Somerset, Wiltshire, London: June 2019

  1. Lin, your brother Rob in Toronto

    Thank you for informing me of your work.
    I found it wonderful to read what you see and know and how
    specific and articulate your descriptions are.

    Thanks again



  2. Linda, this is terrific!! I found it a wonderfully readable and interesting account of the various places on the art world map this summer. Your professional insights and explanations along with the photos give such a clear and informative idea of what is happening on the contemporary art scene beyond the auctions and art fairs and record prices. Your love of contemporary art shines through and illuminates what the artists are endeavoring to express. which I really appreciate. Thank you!

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