Hong Kong Basel Art Fair opening on Wednesday 22nd May was an event heralding a lot of great art. We felt so happy to have seen so much work that was worthy of a museum, even though a lot of the art is no longer contemporary. The fair seemed to create a historical context for art today.
One of the first exhibitions we saw, and this is contemporary, was Kara Walker’s black cutout silhouettes spread out over the walls. She is known to explore race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity in her work and this series is no different. You have a sense of the comical when you first see it before it reveals its dark underbelly, unemotionally rendered.
A lovely exhibition at Delhi Art Gallery. The colours drew us in, rich and earthy, the masters of India, most of them dead. Ganesh Pyne, his skeletal figure under a pyre in the moonlight, a feeling of alienation and mystery. Anjolie Ela Menon, her female figure in a brown world almost European medieval and mythical. Tyeb Mehta, a colorist, could be a cross influence of Matisse and Picasso. Jogen Chowdhury, his pen and ink and pastel drawing, intricately incised and veined, his reclining woman, tensely twisted on her coverlet.
Motherwell would have to be one our favourite artists. It is interesting that as an artist he was very influenced by his early studies of philosophy leaving him with the idea that abstraction was the process of pairing away all that was not essential and revealing only the necessary. Abstraction became his spiritual direction in his art and also in his own words, ”to end up with a canvas that is no less beautiful than the empty canvas to begin with.” ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Brush Elegy’ in the Bernard Jacobson Gallery booth, were two beautiful works, essential and with the artist’s complete integrity – he never succumbed to fame and potboiling. He was one of the lucky ones of the abstract expressionists who didn’t die young and in despair, and actually received the acclaim he deserved.
Atlas Gallery exhibited photography. Two iconic photos of elephants by Nick Brandt totally mesmerised us, making us believe heart and soul that we were right there before them. ‘Elephant Drinking, Amboseli’ was like a Lucien Freud portrait, only incredibly beautiful, all its deeply gouged weathered hide rising from the earth like an ancient tree. There is a feeling of the personality in the animal, and you have the feeling you are seeing something you will never tire from, it is the true expression of life. Research on Nick Brandt shows his love and idealism for the wilds of Africa. He goes out with a simple Pentax camera and gets really close to the animals so that he has their true story, not one taken from a long distance away through a zoom. This is probably why you ‘feel’ so close to the animal before you. Absolutely beautiful. He writes about some of the methods he uses in his book ‘On This Earth’: “I’m not interested in creating work that is simply documentary or filled with action and drama, which has been the norm in the photography of animals in the wild. What I am interested in is showing the animals simply in the state of Being. In the state of Being before they are no longer are. Before, in the wild at least, they cease to exist. This world is under terrible threat, all of it caused by us. To me, every creature, human or nonhuman, has an equal right to live, and this feeling, this belief that every animal and I are equal, affects me every time I frame an animal in my camera. The photos are my elegy to these beautiful creatures, to this wrenchingly beautiful world that is steadily, tragically vanishing before our eyes.”
Italian neo-expressionist, Mimmo Palladino, has several of his great works in the booth for Galleria d’Arte Maggiore. Lovely evocative works, rich in colour and texture, of figures imbued with symbology, religious and spiritual.
Lots and lots of ‘art’ leaves you exhausted but great art truly energizes you. I have to say that when we were walking out of the fair I felt ebullient with the works that stayed with me. I am truly grateful that there are artists ‘out there’ being true and real to their inner story – they are life givers and life reminders, and this is what great cultures are built on.