Art Basel Switzerland 2024 My Top 10 Choices – Clayton Calvert

Art Basel Clayton Calvert

Art Basel Switzerland 2024 provided a much-needed moment of cautious optimism for the art world. Again, Galleries brought some of their best artists and artworks to make sales in a soft market. This led to fewer discoveries of new artists, but it certainly elevated the overall experience of the fair, given the high quality of presentations. Big names reigned supreme, and large sums of money were paid for many works by these artists, although some newcomers still shined through, and some lesser-known artists continued making a name for themselves. Historical works also made waves as collectors looked to snap up pieces of particular significance.

Art Basel 2024
Robert Colescott painting 6 Witnesses, 1968, Acrylic on canvas, 78 3/4 x 59 x 1 1/2 inches (200 x 149.9 x 3.8 centimeters), © The Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS). | New York; Courtesy of The Trust and BLUM Los Angeles. Tokyo, New York Photo: Josh Schadel

Robert Colescott made this painting during a period of extreme global unrest. The Vietnam War was raging, Paris was burning, and world leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. Colescott had just completed a sojourn in Egypt and was embarking on the next step in his career, where he would challenge Western Art’s narratives by rethinking masterpieces. There are several figures interwoven through colourful abstraction in an intense medley of rich colours. The vibrancy of the colours almost betrays the violence therein. Blood red cascades down the composition on the right side of the canvas below two heads that look anguished; one may even be dead. A nude woman is at the top right, surrounded by the colours of the French flag, almost the opposite of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. The figure at the top right presides over everything and could be seen as a symbol for the moon, given the way the face is painted and the golden celestial rays illuminating one side of the face. 1968 saw six orbital launches, each one furthering deep space exploration and paving the way for the 1969 lunar landing. This painting is a deeply rich allegory that is also beautifully executed and speaks to the overwhelming power of colour, composition, and subject matter.

Art Basel 2024
Carrie Mae Weems, All That Passes – Ancient Rome, 2006, Digital c-print, 72 x 60 inches (182.9 x 152.4 cm)
73 1/2 x 61 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches (186.7 x 156.2 x 6.4 cm) framed
© Carrie Mae Weems, Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, Photo: Andrea Rossetti

The saying “all roads lead to Rome” is still apropos given the enormous influence of the Roman Empire on today’s world, ranging from art to engineering to systems of government around the world. Carrie Mae Weems captured this stunning image while at the American Academy Rome, an extremely prestigious institution for scholars and artists nestled in a McKim Mead and White palazzo on the Gianicolo hill where Garibaldi and his men once liberated the city and unified Italy. This stark image was taken at the seaside in an undisclosed location with a large Roman road that seems to be slowly falling into the sea; it may be Circeo. It is an image of solitude, even recalling Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Monk by The Sea, that can also be seen as a metaphor for the crumbling of empire. Once all of the power of an incredible civilization has dispersed, we are inevitably left with relics and run-down structures that once facilitated that very empire. An isolated figure stands as if contemplating all that has come before and all that is yet to be. Weems’ art is often a commentary on the atrocities of the United States or America’s past that somehow still celebrates the love of people and families despite all odds. In this piece, we find Weems stoically reflecting on the future of this and all empires.

Art Basel 2024
Francesco Barocco , Untitled, 2019 , BaroccoF-19001 , Plaster sculpture, graphite , 77 x 81 x 14 cm , Image courtesy of
Nicolas Krupp Gallery

Philosophers have piqued the interest of artists since ancient times. Their sagacious appearance and the lifelong accumulation of wisdom are ripe subjects for any person to ponder, and the protagonist of this sculpture certainly appears to be a wise older man. There is a resemblance to Leonardo’s self-portrait as an older man done in pencil, yet this man’s features seem to be someone else. The technique is exceptional as Barocco has created a large plaster block that is then drawn on to create the appearance of fresco. It is as if Barocco has combined the preparatory element of drawing for fresco with the finished piece. It may also reference the practice of removing frescoes from walls for museums or private collections, which has been done for centuries. The execution is excellent, and the rough sides and verso of the piece offer a nice contrast to the relatively smooth surface of the face. There is also hard-to-decipher writing, including the phrase “nella notte stellata”, which translates to in the starry night. Perhaps the entire piece is simply a cosmic reference to our place in the universe.

Art Basel 2024
Nicole Wittenberg, Himalayan Balsam 8, 2024 Signed on the reverse Oil on canvas 72 x 96 in 182.9 × 243.8 cm, Image courtesy of Acquavella 

Nicole Wittenberg’s colourful rendering of flowers sparks joy from the moment one lays eyes on the painting. The vibrant greens and fuchsia are offset by the deep blue and bright orange behind them. There are areas with lots of paint drips that also call attention to the free and loose process with which these are created; the stylistic contrast with the sharper lines is spectacular. The painting almost feels like a fever dream as the colours overwhelm your senses at first, only to yield a calmer experience after looking longer. The colour contrast is stark, yet this work has tremendous harmony. It is unclear if the painting is a still life or intended to represent a plant in nature, which adds a bit to the intrigue of the work. It is impossible not to think of Alex Katz as an influence, but doing so too much would be a disservice to the innovation that this painting brings to the centuries-old practice of painting nature. The painting has a rhythmic elegance that enables the eye to dance around while absorbing the subject and the skilful use of colour. Nicole Wittenberg will be a painter to watch as she continues to create impactful art.

Art Basel 2024
Ali Banisadr
The Mirror World, 2024. Oil on linen. 76 x 98 in. (193 × 248.9 cm)
Image courtesy of the artist and Perrotin. © Photo by Genevieve Hanson.

Ali Banisadr has a virtuoso painting talent that is both deeply personal and heavily oriented in process. Banisadr experiences synesthesia, which informs his output as he painstakingly creates paintings that are both whimsical and serious, with results that illustrate just how important it is to listen to the painting throughout the process. His artworks are colourful and structured with countless allegories and references that still yield to high-quality abstraction in sections. Figures and mythical beasts emerge in this painting with characters that recall a doge, pope, and perhaps a sphinx, among others. The dynamic composition forces the viewer’s eye to dart around, looking for solid footing in the piece, and yet the entire experience is a fluid transition from section to section. Banisadr reminds me of a new-age Kandinsky, who also experienced synesthesia and is an artist who will carry the torch of painting brightly for years to come. That being said it is also very exciting that he is now working in sculpture as well.

Art Basel 2024
Tracey Emin , There Was So Much More Of Me, 2019 , Bronze, 92 x 242 x 140 cm, 36.2 x 95.3 x 55.1 in, Courtesy of the artist and Galleria Lorcan O’Neill

Tracey Emin has had a long career of making outstandingly innovative works with installations, paintings, drawings, etchings and sculpture. Her sculptures are masterpieces that celebrate form, the psyche, and materials with potent references to the figure. This piece resembles the lower half of a body in a downward dog pose, which could also be that if someone falling to their knees or an act of submission or even a sexual position. The chunky surface of the work ensures that light and shade interact in a medley of tones on the beautifully coloured bronze surface. There is also a powerful connection to the bronze sculptures that De Kooning made while in Rome, currently on view at the Accademia in Venice. Emin is undoubtedly an expressionist and someone who powerfully depicts emotion throughout her body of work. Emin bears it all in her oeuvre and celebrates the power of empathy and the need to understand the feelings of those around us, especially when they may make us uncomfortable. Emin has publicly battled cancer and been through numerous hard times in her life while displaying tremendous courage, which makes it even more fitting that she received a well-deserved Damehood last week.

Art Basel 2024
Eric Fischl, Lady with Red Hat, 2023, Painted bronze relief, 169 x 182 x 59 cm 66 1/2 x 71 5/8 x 23 1/4 in, © Eric Fischl, Image courtesy the Artist and Vortic, Victoria Miro

It is always fascinating when artists try new techniques and materials, especially when they have already had decades of success doing something else. Eric Fischl is no doubt a masterful painter and draftsman but his new body of work also shows that he is also producing works using cutting-edge technology. This sculpture was produced by Fischl, making a digital rendering of the pieces of the sculpture that were then 3-D printed and hand-painted by the artist. He is marrying his body of work as a renowned painter with an entirely new process that brings his art into the 3-dimensional realm. A woman struts confidently toward the viewer while a man stands behind her, staring as she passes. The beach is verdant on the shore, and a beautifully rendered swirl connects the background to the figures and leads to the water. Many small pieces comprise this painted mosaic, with the interplay of light being of paramount importance; after all, Fischl has always been a painter of light. The piece comes off the wall and creates a different effect from every viewing angle as one walks around it. This technique is sure to offer many opportunities for Fischl to continue to explore ideas beyond the flat surface of works on canvas

Art Basel 2024
Meriem Bennani, UMBRELLA TWIST, 2022, Stainless steel, steel, translucent white plastic, motor, screens, plastic palm tree, HD video, colour, sound, 539 x 300 × 200 cm; 52*; edition of 3 + 1 AP, Clearing 115 In collaboration with Lodovico Corsini

The Unlimited section of Art Basel had a large-scale installation where the viewer could either peer into a small opening in a rather large wall or enter via an opening, a walled-off large-scale room to experience UMBRELLA TWIST by Meriem Bennani.  A large plastic palm tree spun around a base with a swirl painted just below the leaves while a TV played sinister, comedic, and sensual cartoons. It is hard to make heads or tales of the exact narrative on the screen, but it is a very interesting spectacle to behold, nonetheless. The work is hypnotic and recalls the movement of a tree swaying in a desert storm or even perhaps the mystical dance of a whirling dervish. There is nothing mystical about this piece, which is made of plastic, steel, sound, and images. It is an indictment of modern society and is a pointed critique of consumerism and the pitfalls of globalization. The dizzying effect of watching the tree spin around its base, coupled with the sensory overload of the images and sounds, makes for a very powerful experience. It is impossible to come away from this piece without feeling the need for a disconnect from the constant barrage of images and technology, as well as the increasingly fast pace of contemporary society.

Art Basel 2024
David Hammons, Untitled, c. 1990, Metal coat rack with wooden hat stand, rubber, plastic bags, paper bags, tin can, and baseball cap
66 × 36 × 16 inches (167.6 × 91.4 × 40.6 cm), Image courtesy of Lévy Gorvy Dayan, Lévy Gorvy Dayan

Untitled is a beautiful medley of materials that includes a garbage bag, a paper bag, a coat rack, a baseball cap, and pieces of rubber tyres carefully arranged in a coat rack. Hammons interest in the body is clear as a figurative theme is present. The sculpture proudly stands at life-size and offers a beautiful opportunity to see these objects in an entirely new light. Robert Rauschenberg comes to mind, but this piece is even more deliberate and pared down compared to the other assemblage artists. The elements are laid bare, and there is no effort to hide what these things are; however, the sculpture brilliantly illustrates what everyday materials can become. The darker tones of the rubber and trash bag make the colour of the paper bag feel like a pop of colour or a bright highlight. The rigidity of the coat rack is also in stark contrast with the softness of the materials that adorn it. Hammons is indeed a master of materials, and this work perfectly illustrates why he is so renowned for that.

Art Basel 2024
Ben Storms, Objects With Narratives, Wall Sculpture 2024, size (cm) 90 x 45 x 10, size (inch) 36 x 18 x 4, Cast Glass, Edition of 8 + 1 P.T.
numbered and signed, Photo Eline Willaert

This object is a wonderful testament to the power of art and design to transform materials and trick the mind into believing that things are not as they seem. This is the first time Objects with Narratives has exhibited since Design Miami, and they brought an incredible presentation with liquid solids by Ben Storms. This piece looks incredibly soft and light, yet it is a hardened piece of glass that weighs a substantial amount. It is installed to float on the wall and appear weightless despite its heft. It also looks like a liquid form, complete with several small air bubbles that disperse throughout the object despite being dense and solid. The process of creating this work takes over three months from start to finish, given the intense fabrication process that includes mold making, glass pouring, cooling time, and sanding to realize the beautifully soft surface of the piece. There is a lot of wonder that goes Brno experiencing this work, and it is a testament to the power of Ben Storms to bring the viewer on a journey via material and form.

Top Photo: Clayton Calvert © 2024

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