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Less is More Online?

If the first round of ‘lockdown art online’ was characterised by the sheer volume of material, from galleries and fairs alike, the second UK lockdown coincides with attempts to enhance the focus. That was visible in two recent fairs: Art Basel and TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair, here in its New York edition but online).  ‘OVR:20c’, Art Basel’s Online Viewing Rooms, featured a hundred galleries each showing just six works made between 1900-99, so 600 works in all. A week later, TEFAF’s offering was of 300 galleries each instructed to present one work in depth – ranging over 7,000 years, as is the fair’s USP. The increased focus gave galleries the chance – which not all took – to present plenty of information on particular works:

Cihuateotl (Celestial princess), 600 – 900 AD

Scale is one thing which tends to be lost online, and I was surprised to see that this is a life sized ceramic.  It embodies the soul of a woman who died during childbirth, according to the traditions of the Totonac peoples in what is now Mexico. @galerie_mermoz , say the open mouth suggests that she is singing or reciting psalms., her closed eyes evoke eternal rest, and  the three folds on the belly are the marks from giving birth.

Roy Lichtenstein: ‘Sunrise’ 1966 at William Weston Gallery in TEFAF

From an edition of 75 with enamel colours screen-printed onto a relief metal plaque. The motif is from a 1965 painting, and typical of  Lichtenstein’s Ben Day signalling of a comic strip source combined with an awareness of art history. What struck me in this crisp version was that blue is an unusual colour for solar rays, and that facilitates a secondary reading of them as clock markings – so returning us to the elemental role of the sun as the measure of time passing…  Apparently rare, so £45,000 despite large edition and small size (22 x 30 cm). 

José Leonilson: ‘The existing volcano’, 1986 at Galerie Luis Strina in Art Basel

José Leonilson (1957-1993) is best known – perhaps he isn’t known well enough in Europe – for the intimate embroideries of the early nineties, made after he tested positive for the AIDS which killed him. But his paintings from the 80’s are already intense, here in an intersection of human and volcanic that the gallery describes as ‘the force of nature manifested in the body and in love’. They look like two faces of one person: the actively engaged and the passively worn out, before and after an emotional eruption, perhaps. If travel to Berlin is possible, then his forthcoming 250 work retrospective at KW Institute for Contemporary Art looks appealing –  Dec 5 – Feb 21.

Jessica Stockholder: ‘Kissing the Wall #2’ 1988 at Galerie Nachst St. Stephan in Art Basel
Made from old slide projector screen with Papier-mâché on top and a slab of plaster over that, with a violet exaggerated by a fluorescent tube on the wall. According to Jessica Stockholder the ‘Kissing the Wall’ body of work always involves something in the front of the wall and something on the wall that charges the space between the two’. She often uses electric light so that the permanent pictorial items interact with the ephemeral. ‘The space between the wall and the work is welcomed into the work’, she says, so questioning its boundaries, bringing in the room and the viewer.

Art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent sees a lot of shows: we asked him to jot down whatever came into his head

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