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Dissonance and Yearning in Basel 2024

Dissonance and Yearning in Basel 2024

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Closing the spring art season, the leading presentations at Art Basel and June Art Fair centered the human experience, a nostalgia for a time before the encroachment of AI and digital technology as well as continued focus on Indigeneity, anti-colonialism, and geopolitics.

Agnes Denes
Agnes Denes. “Honouring Wheatfield – A Confrontation,” 2024. Basel Messeplatz. Photographed by the writer.

A Yearning for the Pastoral

Installed on the Messeplatz greeting visitors to the world’s most important art fair, Art Basel, was Agnes Denes’s monumental wheatfield, Honouring Wheatfield – A Confrontation. It is a continuation of her 1982 work for the Public Art Fund where she built a field on a landfill in New York’s Battery Park. The work has been reiterated in Dalston, London (2009) and again in 2015 in Milan where it grew for a season before its wheat yield was donated to civil causes. This yearning for the pastoral amid an industrial landscape of contemporary life also showed itself in the popularity of Basel Social Club showcasing interventions by international artists across 50 hectares of farmland via self-guided tours with interactive maps.

Ryan Gander
Ryan Gander. “School of Languages,” 2023. Animatronic sculpture, desk, fan, and clock. Photographed by the writer.


Art Basel’s Unlimited section had a handful of strong performance and activation works that subverted technology such as Reto Pulfer’s hanging fabric installations and his musical activation of textiles. Ryan Gander’s animatronic primate under a corporate desk in School of Languages emphasizes the uncanny valley of irreproducibility as a meditation on the soulless discord between the realities of contemporary working life and a desire to be closer to life’s primal and spiritual aspects.

La Chola Poblete
La Chola Poblete’s solo booth at Art Basel, 2024. Courtesy of Barro New York and La Chola Poblete.
Ahmed Umer. “Forbidden Prayers,” 2024. Courtesy of OSL Contemporary.

Notable Explorations of Humanity

This tension of contemporary life and the significance of human experience further presents itself in the works of artists shown in Art Basel’s main section. Argentine gallery BARRO presented a solo-booth of La Chola Poblete’s winning series of large-scale watercolors thst garnered her a special mention at this year’s Venice Biennale. The works feature her own fluid and colorful iconography melding the visual culture of South American ancestral traditions and the colonial renderings of the Virgin Mary with her signature bread masks and braided figures in an assertion of sexuality and identity outside of Western heteronormativity.

Also poignantly dealing with issues of religion, spirituality, sexuality and national identity is Ahmed Umer with his work Forbidden Prayers, presented by OSL Contemporary. Umer’s piece consists of 15 sculptures cast from his own hands in positions of Muslim prayer, constructed with found and reused Norwegian, African, and Asian items attributed to tribal origins, frequently with unfounded associations. This interchange in the perception of the acquired ancestral traditions of the African continent with Norway mirrors Umer’s immigration experience as well as the collective cultural yearnings for a connection to an unknowable past. Now an atheist, Umer’s continued use of the traditional Islamic prayer gestures enact the search for connection to the singularly human and divine even when an avowed non believer. The Forbidden Prayers presented at Art Basel has been awarded the 25th Baloise Art Prize, and will be acquired by MMK – Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt. Like La Chola Poblete he is also on view in the Arsenale at the Venice Biennale, and will present at the Toronto Biennial in the fall.

Cian Dayrit
Cian Dayrit’s. “Intensified Necropolitical Framework for Ecocidal Ravenous Nation-building Operations (INFERNO)” (detail), 2024. Embroidery, objects, digital print on fabric and wallpaper. Photographed by the writer.

Hubris and Greed

Showing at Art Basel for the first time, Berlin-based gallery NOME’s presentation of Cian Dayrit’s piece, Intensified Necropolitical Framework for Ecocidal Ravenous Nation-building Operations (INFERNO), 2024 was inspired by the Bayeaux Tapestry and investigates the complex nature of military operations’ narratives within a colonial culture. A 25-foot-wide tapestry with embroidered iconographic images telling stories of conquest, hubris, and greed outlines the nature of ‘puppet’ governments and their brutality with the storytelling acumen usually reserved for detailing the rise and fall of old kings. A native-born Filipino, Dayrit’s narrative characterizes much of the colonial horrors with the elegance and simplicity of a fable, such as a three-headed monster adorned with a sash bearing the slogan of the former Filipino dictator. In the center of the tapestry, cutout bombs are adorned with bells from the T’boli people of Mindanao, and are traditionally intended to guide the way and ward off evil spirits. The bombs descend from a cloud scattered with eyes, signaling the ability of the internet and technology to maintain constant surveillance over targeted indigenous lands, while also obscuring the territories ruling powers wish to not draw attention to. Both images signify the sensory experiences of bombardment in indigenous lands.

A Sense of Dissonance (June Art Fair)

Located just off the Messeplatz in a concrete bunker next to the Landhof Community Garden and in its fifth edition dealer-run June Art Fair showcases the talent of artists in curated historically minded presentations. Margaret Lee’s paintings from Green Gallery are presented as a means to “think through” the formal in painting while being grounded in abstraction. Similarly, Jorunn Hancke Øgstad’s abstract works are influenced by pop art, abstract expression, and early 20th-century modalities of painting. The contrast of two such visceral painters in prime spaces within the bunker set the tone for a sense of existential angst not unlike the moments of Wassily Kandinsky and Jackson Pollock, where urgency to emphasize the flesh and blood hand of the artist felt more relevant to viewers dealing with great existential technological advancement and violence. For our contemporary moment, the thirteen presentations in the bunker space conjure Fallout, a post-apocalyptical TV series set in LA where its population lives in underground bunkers, or the dissonance that doom-scrolling violent horrors every time we glance at our phones creates.

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