20 June 2015

Art | Basel 45 : Where is Contemporary Art Heading?



Art Basel stages the world's premier Modern and contemporary art shows, held annually in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong. Founded by gallerists in 1970, Art Basel has been a driving force in supporting the role that galleries play in the nurturing of artists, and the development and promotion of visual arts globally. In addition to showing exciting works by world-renowned artists, Art Basel is always innovating, thus expanding its platform for new artists who represent the vanguard of the visual arts. Its worldwide reputation – earned over the last forty five years – for showing work of the highest merit, and attracting the world's leading gallerists and collectors, has made Art Basel the place where the artworld meets.


In 1970, a few Basel gallerists put their passion and determination behind an ambitious vision, and now, over forty five years later, Art Basel is recognized as the premier international art show, providing a platform for artists and gallerists from around the world. The dynamic relationships between art galleries, their artists, private collectors and public institutions play an essential role in today's artworld, and connecting the international art community has been Art Basel's goal since its beginning. Three annual shows bring the artworld together in some of the world's most exciting venues: Basel, in the heart of Europe; Miami Beach at the nexus of North and South America; and Hong Kong, the gateway to Asia.


Some of the most prominent and respected figures in the international artworld have shared their knowledge, ideas and expertise during Art Basel's Salon and Conversations Series. Behind Art Basel stands a team of individuals with a range and depth of experience in the artworld and related disciplines. Each member channels his or her expertise into making Art Basel shows the most prestigious platform for artists, gallerists, and collectors.


Messages Portrayed
  • Reflection of what society is concerned with
  • Safer alternative to direct verbal opinion – in Egypt 40,000 jailed
  • Medium of philosophical package
  • Expression on politics, economics and social issues
  • Allowing immediate response to issues in life

  • Cultural space for all to be involved immediately across all faculties
  • If it portrays unexplainable matters, value of art will be destroyed
  • The need for expression is stronger than economic needs of art
  • Collectors do not drive contemporary art direction
  • What artists experience in daily lives that drive contemporary art
  • Manifestation of life into expressions that artists cannot escape
  • Must immediately happen in response to issues in life

Developmental Aspects
  • Professionalised artists positively
  • Encodes knowledge in the body of art (as opposed to other genre)
  • Encourages plurality of medium used for art

Critical Concerns
  • Continuity of contemporary art needs periodic pause
  • The pauses are “autumn/winter” before it can “spring/summer”
  • New ideas require gestation of mind searching and experience
  • Too much judgement from public tends to kill contemporary art


  • Art Basel has always been nominated by the Big 4: USA, Germany, Switzerland and UK for the past 45 years
  • It started on the basis of merchants trading currencies in fairs on private basis to allow international trade
  • Naturally Basel became a place for art exchange for those traders whom became the traditional movers of art economic culture
  • More than 50% of the art slots are given to European gallerists
  • There is a move to push for more art slots from other countrie
  • In year 2000, art movement in Brazil grew when collectors start being appointed on the boards of art museums and as a result, Art Basel has since started to allow more art slots for South Americans
  • As an extension to Art Basel, Art Basel Miami and Art Basel Hong Kong were introduced to house more slots from other countries
  • Saatchi London has shown initiative to be more global by introducing special sections for African art and South American art


  • A significant factor discouraging art economics would be tax rates on art sales: Brazil at 60% and China at 30%
  • Data shows that there is a correlation of artists who gets approved for Art Basel with their successful placement to do art shows at galleries and museums
  • Art now seen to be a catalyst for the tourism drive evident by the increase in businesses in Miami because of Art Basel Miami
  • The auctions in China is still predominantly show casing classical art but they are increasingly receptive in accepting contemporary art
  • Many organisations now offer art residency: Foundation Gallerie Lafayatte in Paris, Google Paris Residency and The Land in Thailand
  • Other art fairs are gaining momentum: Art Bienniel Manifesta II (2016) in Zurich that offers grants for international young artists aged 25 – 40
  • Why Zurich? Global culture and; where money is, art gets support

* kopihangtuah

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Art | Basel 45 : the Incomprehensible Art Works


The Director of Tate Modern, London, closed off the discussion by saying, "I fear that the current lack of knowledge in contemporary art amongst artists, gallerists, auctioners, academicians and collectors might just kill contemporary art and with that, something else, something we do not know what yet, will emerge."

RT | BASEL has now reached its 45th year. For me, it is my 1st attendance. My passion is in art, contemporary art. However, my fascination for contemporary art was only limited to the exposure I had on Malaysian contemporary art. I did once attended Art Dubai in 2013 but it was only to conclude, in the hindsight, that Malaysian contemporary art has matured to an international level. My personal opinion of contemporary art is that it manifests 50% story telling and 50% aesthetics. Some artists disagreed with me and some do agree. Anyhow, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. 

There was also a debate on Facebook amongst artists, collectors and gallerists on whether contemporary art is the work of conmen. Things got heated and some were upset. I wish that that question was discussed in a civilised manner just like how I observed in Art | Basel 45 in Basel, Switzerland, yesterday. They discussed whether contemporary is a garbage bag of things we do not know or a significant contributor to the development of approach in addressing societal issues. It was a fantastic session that concludes, if read between the lines, that contemporary art is not garbage but knowledge. The Director of Tate Modern, London, closed off the discussion by saying, "I fear that the current lack of knowledge in contemporary art amongst artists, gallerists, auctioners, academicians and collectors might just kill contemporary art and with that, something else, something we do not know what yet, will emerge."

Well back to my definition of 50% : 50% split between story telling and aesthetic, in my opiniom, if you sway too much on the story telling and significantly ignore the aesthetics, the knowledge quest in contemporary art may just render it non-art in the visual sense. In fact, what is thought to radiate knowledge may just have the opposite effect making contemporary are an incomprehensible subject matter. So far, Malaysian contemporary art has not yet reached that level and personally, for the sake of the industry in Malaysia, I do hope that it maintains the fair split between story telling and aesthetic values. It cannot evolve too fast when society (in Malaysia) had just only started to learn about contemporary art (the Malaysian way) since around 2008/2009 when the first art auctioning activities started in Malaysia. The Europeans started contemporary way back in the 70's when Malaysia was just about to enter the pre-contemporary stage, i.e. modernist abstract.

To demonstrate my confusion of the incomprehensible art works that I had observed at Art | Basel 45 for the past 3 days (17 - 19 June 2015), please find below a selection of my favourite pieces befitting my incomprehensible state of mind. Enjoy!

Something and Nothing
By Damien Hirst

(Untitled) Colour
By Michael Riedel

Under This Perspective
By Jana Euler

Crepuscules - Crepuscule IX
By Jean-Baptiste Huynh

Display #26 - Barn Wall
By Haim Steinbach

Egocentric System
By Julius von Bismarck

Life Model
By David Shrigley

Arab Spring
By Kader Attia

By Gilbert and George

Your Space Embracer
By Olafur Eliasson

Wallformation Gelbmodellierung
By Franz Erhard Walther

Plastic Tree
By Pascale Marthine Tayou

Food for Thought 'Almuallaqat'
By Maha Malluh

Untitled (Blue Plazebo)
By Gonzalez-Torres

An Extended Gray Scale
By Marcia Hafif

112 ● Never Argue with Police Officers,
and Address Then as "Officers"
By Tony Lewis

Under Blossomb : Lousy Elegy
By Helen Marten

By Ai Weiwei

Portrait of Marie
By Mickalene Thomas

By Martin Honert

We No.1
By Xie Nanxing

By Rita McBride

Emma (Pink)
By Yves Scherer

By Claude Leveque

Five and Twenty
By Cosima Von Bonin

By Sarah Lucas

By Damien Hirst

Bamboo Forest
By Liu Wei

Paper Bag
By Susumu Koshimizu

By A. R. Penck

By Lee Ufan

Zwillingstochter (No.2)
By Gregor Schneider

Plan for Brugge No.3
By Tadashi Kawamata

Senza Titolo
By Jannis Kounellis

Aggression of a Writer
By Camille Henrot

By Alberto Garutti

Ecology and Socialism
By Joseph Beuys

The Watcher
By Jan Worst

Tool Vitrine
By Thomas Hirschhorn

Hollow Mouse
By Katharina Fritsch

I cannot wait to go for Art | Basel 46

* kopihangtuah

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