The 2022 edition of Art Basel opened in its hometown Swiss city at the heart of Messeplatz, the convention center. With 289 galleries, the in-person fair returned in full force to its traditional dates in mid-June. The aisles at this marquee Swiss art fair were filled with art enthusiasts from all over the world, who were navigating the work of some 4,000 artists.
Below are some highlights that caught our eye...
Return of the Martian Water God (seen here) alludes to Tau Lewis’ interest in celestial exploration and space travel. This work uses imagery of planetary bodies, pregnant bellies and anthropomorphic forms to explore concepts of renewal and infinity within Black communities and histories. Lewis constructs her work from found, gathered, gifted and recycled materials drawn from personal environments in New York, Toronto and her family home in Negril, Jamaica. Referring to her practice as “an upcycling of a circumstance”, the artist continues a long history of Black cultural production and considers these "fossils" the emotional generational DNA of an entire community.
RACHEL EULENA WILLIAMS
Striking a balance between painting and sculpture, Rachel Eulena Williams revels in the structure of painting but finds freedom in tossing out the stretchers and letting her compositions roam freely across the walls. The staple ingredients include rope, fabrics, hammocks, glue and paint. Williams often starts by painting loose fields of color on raw canvas that she subsequently cuts up and re-fashions to create her collaged pieces. She uses shapes that are loosely modular, circles and irregular rectangles that imply maps or schematic drawings for extremely funky space stations. And while the paintings never refer directly to anything in particular, William’s abstractions do evoke construction sites, clothes lines or well-loved quilts. Williams chooses bold hues that she employs to create wild contrasts and subtle gradients. Color is a reaction to the whiteness typical of gallery walls and grounds of most paintings, countering whiteness in both a literal and metaphorical sense.
Rachel Williams was born in 1991 in Miami, FL and received her BFA from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York.
Simone Leigh says that her artwork is in large part an exploration of black female subjectivity and is inspired by a broad range of historical and cultural references. Leigh’s forms simultaneously evoke the sculptural traditions of West and South Africa as well as objects and Americana popularized during the Jim Crow era. Akimbo, seen here, consists of a glazed stoneware torso sitting atop a voluminous raffia skirt. The figure’s face is a void surrounded by hand-formed, porcelain rosettes. This sculpture’s bell-shaped form evokes the vernacular architecture of the Global South, the structures of the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition, and the 1940s-era restaurant Mammy’s Cupboard in Mississippi where patrons enter through a door in Mammy’s skirt. This combination of references, from different times and places, has long been a feature of Leigh’s work.
Simone Leigh was born in Chicago in 1967 and first began exhibiting her work in the early-2000s. She has had one-person museum exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Tate Gallery, London; the Studio Museum in Harlem; and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, among others. In 2014 she presented “The Free People’s Medical Clinic” in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, a project commissioned by Creative Time. Her work was included in the 2012 and 2019 Biennial exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Leigh is the first artist to be commissioned for the High Line Plinth; her monumental sculpture Brick House was unveiled in April 2019. This summer, Leigh is representing the United States at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.
ANN VERONICA JANSSENS
Literally making “light of solid matter,” Ann Veronica Janssens’s works are not only visually appealing but also cerebral. The Frisson series uses the formal language of minimalism to deliver a dazzling play of color and light. These works are composed of panes of glass, enveloping a rectangle of dichroic PVC film that completely alters the light they filter. Not only are Janssens’s sculptures kaleidoscopic McKrackens, but they also alter the space between themselves and the wall on which they lean, as the sculptures cast a colorful shadow behind them. Her concerns are not just about the objects themselves, but also what she deems superspaces — spatial extensions of existing forms — that these objects create.
Sarah Meyohas is a conceptual artist and pioneer in the field of crypto art, whose practice considers the nature and capabilities of emerging technologies in contemporary society. In 2015, Meyohas created Bitchcoin, a cryptocurrency backed by her physical artwork.
Interference #8, (above) the largest sculptural work from Meyohas’s Interference series, is a jewel-like geometric cluster of illuminated glass panels created by collaging together hologram fragments through an exclusively analog process. Meyohas begins the work by shooting photographs of plant material, which are then converted into 35-millimeter film. The interference patterns, or waves of light, emitted by each frame are then captured in glass through an advanced double exposure methodology to produce the holograms and abstract the original image further. Though Meyohas takes great interest in manipulating emerging technologies and digital platforms, her work often originates from an interest in the structural complexity of organic matter and color.
Sarah was included in Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list in 2017. She earned degrees in Finance and International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA from Yale University. Her work has been exhibited at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York and internationally at institutions including the Barbican Centre in London, the Jameel Arts Center in Dubai, and the Ming Contemporary Art Museum in Shanghai.
An artist of uncompromising vision and a peerless storyteller, Paula Rego, who sadly recently passed away, brought immense psychological insight and imaginative power to the genre of figurative art. Drawing upon details of her own extraordinary life, on politics and art history, literature, folk legends, myths and fairytales, Rego’s work at its heart is an exploration of human relationships and the structures and dynamics of power that embolden or repress the characters she depicts. Published in 1878, Eça de Queiroz’ novel Cousin Bazilio is a story of marriage, betrayal, blackmail and death, set in bourgeois Portuguese society. On view are two works inspired by scenes from the novel. In the work featured here, The Dream of Paradise, the Paradise in the title refers to the interior in which two characters from the novel, Luisa and Bazilio, conduct an affair.
Rego is heralded as a feminist icon and is a household name. In her native Portugal the government commissioned the celebrated architect Eduardo Souto de Moura to design and build a museum dedicated exclusively to her work – Paula Rego’s House of Stories, situated in Cascais, which opened to the public in 2009. In the UK, where she atteneded the Slade School of Fine Art from 1952–56, her first major solo exhibition in London was held at AIR Gallery in 1981, followed in 1988 by an exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery. Her art continues to have an enduring influence upon younger generations. In 2010 she was made a Dame of The British Empire by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She died on June 8, 2022.
Liz Larner’s ceramic slab sculptures incorporate naturally occurring breaks, fissures, cracks, and bends. The ceramic forms support richly chromatic surfaces reminiscent of the earth's shifting crust. Recently, Larner’s concerns have turned toward our shared ecology in the Anthropocene—our current era wherein human activity and intervention is the most dominant ecological force on the planet, shaping the course of rivers, moving entire mountains, and raising the ocean itself.
Liz Larner is the subject of a mid-career retrospective, Don’t put it back like it was, on view at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, until September 2022. Larner is also the subject of below above at Kunsthalle Zürich, on view until September 2022.
ODILI DONALD ODITA
Nigerian-born Odili Donald Odita brings heightened awareness to color and space in paintings where abstraction is an optically and culturally felt phenomenon. Odita’s take on non-objective art is suffused with connectivity to the world around him, and arises from memories, philosophical reflections, and meditations on the ways in which political forces shape relationships between perception and form. His primary stance is one of constant engagement, as evidenced by Odita’s interest in creating both discrete works and large-scale, site-specific installations.
Odili Donald Odita has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; and Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. Odita’s work is in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including the Baltimore Museum of Art; Pérez Art Museum, Miami; Philadelphia Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. Odita lives and works in Philadelphia.
Rashid Rana’s splicing and stitching technique feels violent as it tears apart and reassembles photographs of canonical art historical and contemporary imagery. Utilising the grid structure, the artist scrambles the famous compositions and rearranges them into pixelated and codified puzzles. Rana’s technique of image- making is not simply a formal device: it is an act of subversion that literally breaks apart and puts together the original image in a manner that creates a new image telling a different story. The strategy creates intended and unintended pairings whereby pictorial language from a particular time and place in history finds itself reborn and re-examined through the lens of another set of spatial coordinates. The rearrangement of the fragmented imagery is not random. Rana’s deliberate movement and placement of these pieces force space and time to collide and evoke new meanings. What is revealed are how these interconnections between space and time may disrupt the original viewing pleasure but, in doing so, create new scenarios to unfold.
Widely considered to be the leading Pakistani artist of his generation, Rashid Rana first came to prominence in South Asia. Rana was born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1968 where he lives and works. He trained as a painter at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan and at the Massachusetts College of Fine Arts in Boston.
El Anatsui is an internationally acclaimed artist who transforms simple materials into complex assemblages that create distinctive visual impact. Anatsui uses resources typically discarded, such as liquor bottle caps, to create sculptures that defy categorization. Anatsui’s use of these materials reflects his interest in reuse, transformation, and an intrinsic desire to connect to his continent while transcending the limitations of place. His work explores the history of colonialism and draws connections between consumption, waste and the environment.
Anatsui is well-known for large scale sculptures composed of thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of metal sourced from local alcohol recycling stations and bound together with copper wire. These intricate works, which can grow to be massive in scale, are meticulously fabricated yet malleable. He leaves the installations open and encourages the works to take different forms every time they are installed.
In 2015, Anatsui was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, the Venice Biennale’s highest honor. Anatsui currently lives and works between Ghana and Nigeria.
Ai Weiwei’s Untitled (After Seurat) draws upon Georges Seurat’s painting Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte (1884-86). It merges a widely disseminated art-historical narrative with present-day issues of civil rights. In an act of appropriation, Ai Weiwei closely mirrors Seurat’s scene depicting Parisians lounging by the banks of the Seine, and nearly replicates the canvas’ scale. The original’s iconic pointillism is translated by means of LEGO bricks - an ostensibly playful, readily accessible medium, whose rigid, rectangular, mass-produced shapes are akin to Seurat’s hand-painted dabs of color. Slightly left-of-center in Ai Weiwei’s composition is the inclusion of a figure clad in a light-blue tunic and headscarf, not present in the original painting. Here, he makes reference to a 2016 incident on a beach in Nice, France in which police forced a woman to remove articles of religious clothing and issued her a fine for not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.” Untitled (After Seurat) builds upon and plays a central role within Ai Weiwei’s long-standing engagement with issues of human rights and his outspoken advocacy for humanitarian causes.
This year’s Unlimited section features 70 large-scale works, including Theaster Gates’s Hardware Store Painting (2020–22), which measures 16 feet by 28 feet. This installation memorializes a family-owned True Value hardware store formerly located on Chicago’s South Side and then turned into an artistic material. Gates, whose practice is deeply invested in the preservation of neglected social and cultural histories of his hometown, acquired the store and all of its merchandise in 2014. He has continued to activate the Halsted True Value Hardware archive since 2016. Aware of the value of such places for local communities, the interdisciplinary artist invites viewers to look beyond the objects: “Can a hardware store be considered a work of significance as a hardware store or only after transformation, reformation, dislocation or intervention? Are all works of art not merely a series of joined objects made from things that you find at a corner store?"
Theaster Gates produces work that invokes the examination of often-neglected Black cultural and social histories. From reactivating archives to recovering and repurposing buildings, Gates’s expansive practice also includes work in ceramics, painting, sculpture, and performance. Gates lives and works in Chicago.
Expanding on the work Kennedy Yanko executed while at the Rubell Residency in Miami, Florida during the Spring of 2021, this organic composition, built with a reclaimed shipping container, is an abstract expression of intuition. Pink, brown, rust, and green, this vertically-reaching, architecturally-scaled sculpture is a historical object, wearing time and experience. The paint skin strewn about it brings gravity to the metal, which otherwise, ironically, feels light and buoyant. The work toggles between weightlessness and heft, teasing viewers’ perception.
Kennedy Yanko was born in 1988 in St. Louis and is a multidisciplinary abstract artist working primarily in sculpture and installation. Yanko currently lives and works in New York.
Jordan Wolfson’s installation in the Unlimited section consists of twenty holographic fan displays mounted on a freestanding wall and programmed to project animated characters, symbols, and text. Thematically structuring the visual display are a series of animated words that read ‘ARTISTS,’ ‘FRIENDS,’ ‘RACISTS,’ which crash down intermittently. At times Wolfson’s animations overlay different photographs and video clips, some of which appear relatively innocuous – such as scenes from the children’s TV program ‘Sesame Street’ – while others depict more overtly charged subjects, such as police cars and 9/11 firefighters. The sequence of visuals plays out like a choreographed dance or a musical composition, with imagery at times synchronized and at other times syncopated and incongruous.
Jordan Wolfson has examined the intersection of art, technology, and mass media throughout his career. Pulling intuitively from the world of advertising, the internet, and the technology industry, his work explores the ways in which imagery and information are experienced and disseminated today. Born in 1980 in New York, Wolfson now lives and works in Los Angeles.