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Highlights of the Art Basel 2020 Online Viewing Rooms

Arguably the crown jewel of the annual art fair circuit, Art Basel celebrated its 50th anniversary in new socially-distanced circumstances this year. Beginning on June 17th with VIP preview and opening to the digital public on June 19th, Art Basel 2020 was the second edition of its Online Viewing Rooms format, accessible via the Art Basel website and app.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first online iteration started in March with Art Basel Hong Kong. Faced with cancellation of the fair, Art Basel Hong Kong mounted an impressive virtual platform to showcase artworks of all galleries accepted to the show, at no additional cost to them. Its Swiss iteration this week carried on similarly, hosting over 4,000 works from 282 galleries, from 35 countries and territories around the world, connecting them with the Art Basel global network. Each gallery opened their room with a title and a foreword to their 15-work shows, followed by artwork images. Galleries embedded buttons for issuing “Sales Inquiries” and additional artwork details, where descriptions and videos of the works could be accessed. Basel also featured a virtual events program, which included performances, gallery tours, artist studio visits, and artist conversations.

Adopting the new online format proved a unique challenge for many galleries this Basel. For years, the art market stood behind many other sectors of the global economy in terms of digital transformation.. Several barriers implicit in the art-buying experience present obstacles to digitizing: that is, the exorbitant prices at stake; the all-important element of discussion with gallerists; and the necessity of experience, where the “Photos Just Don’t Do It Justice” effect is especially pronounced. After much resistance, the art market is being pushed to give digital a chance: in 2019, online sales made up a mere 9 percent — about $5.9 billion — of the $64 billion in total art market sales for major auction houses like Phillips, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. While Frieze New York and Art Basel Hong Kong this year saw many six and seven-figure sales, fine-art auction sales had plummeted 75.8 percent in March 2020 compared to the same month in 2019, according to the Artnet Price Database.

Despite this, millennial art collectors are spending much more on online sales than their predecessors. With a different set of spending habits, younger people are more comfortable purchasing consumer goods online and are paving the way for a wave of “digital collectors.” And the new online format, remarkably absent of entry fees, opened Basel doors to a potentially wider audience than previous years. Here, we’ve selected highlights of the most cohesive, visually-arresting Viewing Rooms and a diverse selection of works that impressed even from behind the digital screen.

Galerie Chantal Crousel

Gabriel Orozco’s Mis manos son mi corazon, (1991) is the clay production of a poetic gesture, in which the matrix of Orozco’s two hands pressed into raw terracotta produced an imprint emblematic/resembling of the heart.

Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris. Photo: Martin Argyroglo.

Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery

Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Untitled 2020 (the continuum of insidiousness) tapestry and Glenn Ligon’s neon hand-up piece Notes for a Poem on The Third World (chapter two), 2018, spoke clearly to the current socio-political moment, through images that felt familiar yet addressed a new era.

Courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris. Photo: Florian Kleinefenn.


Thomas Hirschhorn’s text conversation in Gravity and Grace (Chat-poster) (2020) depicts a spirited, imagined conversation with French writer, philosopher, and activist Simone Well.


Danh Vo’s outlandishly satirical gilded beer-box piece Untitled (2014) humorously mocks the affluence of religious and economic systems of imperialism.

Danh Vo, Untitled, 2014, Gold on cardboard (620 g), cochineal-dyed woollen rug, 100 x 169 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris. Photo: Florian Kleinefenn.

Mother’s tankstation

The artists of mother’s tankstation never cease to put on a whimsical, experimental show. Yuri Pattison’s Memory foam memory (2016) is an unexpected assemblage of Amazon products exploring the commodification of health and rest.

Yuri Pattison: mother’s tankstation limited Archive

The presence of Prudence Flint’s Sister (2015) was emblematic of her full-bodied, thoughtful paintings that celebrate womanhood through depictions of their quotidien rituals, all in pastel modernist interiors.


Sadie Coles HQ

Sarah Lucas’ Cross Doris, (2019) was a very welcome presence in the show. Lucas’ deceit of materials and feminist commentary felt fresh with this continuation of her Bunnies series, which speaks to the art historical trope of the proper female “sitter.”

Sarah Lucas, CROSS DORIS, 2019, concrete, bronze, steel, iron, acrylic paint. © Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photography: Robert Glowacki

Simon Lee Gallery

Pauline Olowska’s collage-like paintings such as Dodes’ka Den, (2020) are built of varying references, icones, and subjects from both popular magazines and legend. The name refers to a 1970s Japanese film of the same name about an impoverished town, and features two stylish women lamenting that “Prices have gone up, It’s a problem,”: a pointed commentary relevant to the state of a global capitalist economy.


Similarly, Eric N. Mack’s Mood Ring (2020) mixed-media piece on a moving blanket assembles various magazine and newspaper spreads into a non-hierarchical system. Mack’s work blurs the lines between utility and style, the readymade versus the handcrafted, and sees these dichotomies on equal footing.


Joel and Haze (2020) by Chris HUEN Sin Kan is an explosive large-scale oil painting utilizing the techniques of traditional Chinese ink painting to deliver surrealist abstractions of observed experiences.

Chris Huen Sin Kan, Joel and Haze (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery

Traversía Cuatro

Donna Huanca’s KU IX (2020) is one of many tactile landscapes on canvas that are at once skin-like, yet speak critically to body politics in favor of the non-objectifying gaze.

Veladura Nocturna (NGC - 6369) II, 2018 by Gonzalo Lebrija evoked a hushed and earthy abstracted ascension.


Queer Thoughts

Diamond Stingily’s racial commentary rings clear in Who Gone Pay For This? (2020) a holographic lenticular photo employing Christ figures to manifest spiritual debt (ie.guilt) and financial debt, contemplating debt as both an economic and spiritual concern. The photo is paired with an ID card from the private Liberal Arts college that Stingily attended.


Commonwealth and Council

The show’s subtle nods to indigeneity, especially Rafa Esparza’s sun dried earth works and Gala Porras-Kim’s works on paper. Rafa Esparza’s Thanks for staying alive Fern.1994 (2020) depicts Esparza’s older brother in a nostalgic reinvention of Star Shots, the pre-Instagram selfie photography studies that filled Los Angeles malls in the 1990s. Self-representation and sociality take on new depth in Esparza’s adobe panel medium of dirt, dung, and river water.

Image courtesy of Commonwealth and Council and the artist.