Basel hosts Artis William Kentridge, Art Volta

William Kentridge during Conversations talk

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Art, art and more art!! For art collectors and art lovers, there are a lot of major art events taking place in Europe this year. From the eponymous Venice Biennale to the FIAC in Paris, Frieze in London, to Art Basel in Switzerland, there is a lot to see and buy. It will of course require quite a bit of travelling and an investment in sturdy shoes but it is all worth it.

According to one gallerist, it is often easier to get a collector to travel to an international art fair like Art Basel than it is to get them to visit an exhibition taking place in their city.

Unlike the Venice biennale which takes over that city from the spring to the autumn months, Art Basel remains a more punctual and concentrated event spanning six days. While the main fair proved elusive, there was not an empty seat available for the headline talk given by the South African artist, William Kentridge.

The Conversations segment, as always, offers a unique opportunity to better understand and also ask questions about the art and life of the artist. Mr Kentridge is well versed, looking beyond the creative process into the past like a soothsayer. He spoke in a philosophical and humorous manner about his varied career and experience living and working in South Africa.

His works, which spans more than three decades, poses questions on why and how we define ourselves as human beings in both the historical context and within our own modern interpretation of life, especially when faced by innumerable challenges including the health emergencies and the migration crisis.

Kentridge, it should be recalled, is a well-established career artist whose contribution has had a marked effect both on the African continent and internationally. He has been able to use his work to speak about issues including race, disasters and migration.

This year, Art Basel offered a retrospective of his work, including pieces dating as far back as 35 years ago. As a multidisciplinary artist, Kentridge has dabbled in film, painting, drawing and installations, all quite successfully. Some of his artwork, both old and new, was also being shown at the renovated Kunstmuseum in Basel.

He is perhaps best for his oversize drawings using Chinese ink, the large installations that combine sound with moving image and his short films. On the whole, it was a very enlightening talk which proves that the artist has a lot to say as a social commentator and an agitator for change.


Art Volta

Further down in the city, it was Art Volta that proved to be the art show to attend this year. A true gem of an event. Small, tucked away in the more industrial section of the city, it stands like the toddler trying to get the attention of its older brother. This is perhaps an unfair analogy as this is Art Volta’s 15th edition. It is however no easy feat to hold an art fair at the same time as Art Basel. There is a strong possibility such fairs will remain in the shadow cast by the giant machine that Art Basel is.

This is a show where there are innumerable galleries spread across its sprawling labyrinth of Art Basel, making it quite a feat for even the most avid art lovers to visit all the stands. It is not a matter of wearing the most comfortable shoes, rather, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to see everything - without pausing to appreciate what it is you like or discuss with gallerists– while taking the requisite number of selfies to be posted immediately on your social media pages.

Art Volta remains undaunted.

It is quite frankly, the opposite experience. The space is easily navigable and the galleries are friendly, with a stellar selection of artwork on display.

Notable in this edition was the work by Cristina BanBan, whose large-fisted women favour controlled violence. The artist uses a strong pastel-coloured palette and manages to combine both the unusual and historic in several epic canvases. All but one of her displayed artworks have already been sold, her gallerist, Quang Bao, informs me proudly.

Further down, The Kid, famous for his large portraits of troubled boys, had a work on show. This masterful piece entitled “Not Normal” spans over two metres and the artist manages to juxtapose teenage angst against socio-political issues.

Suh Jeong-Min’s work, “Lines of travel XLV” proved remarkable. In this meditative piece, the artist uses Hanji Korean Paper on wooden board to form a geometric work which can be viewed both as a painting and a sculpture. The artist takes the written prayers, rolls the papers and glues them in a vertical spire, thereby creating a captivating relief that looks like a wooden sculpture – but it is something far greater.

While there were disappointingly few artists of African origin on display, it was so refreshing a show that it in many respects, this made up for the gap. Besides, there were a large number of artists of Latin and Asian origin so it would be fair to say that diversity was not an issue.

The Togolese artist, Aboudia, had two large works on show, taking pride of place in the ground level gallery space.

Photo Gallery

Pic 1: Mr Kentridge Chatting with a guest; Pic 2 Kentridge’s painting Not Normal; Pic 3 by Cristina BanBan Image Therapy; Pic 4 and 5 by Aboudia (Togolese) Street Royalty and Cousteau Nudes.