Sep 22 2021

What’s Showing at Art Basel in Basel 2021

by The Editors

Art Basel is back in Basel, after more than two years of a pandemic-induced hiatus, along with exhibitions at the city’s many art organizations. While the mood is very much about returning to business, there are pandemic-era changes. The satellite fairs Liste and June have relocated to Messe Basel, and there will be added protocols for in-person guests, who must present Swiss- or European Union-issued Covid-19 certificates in exchange for a wristband. That means only the vaccinated, the recently tested, and the recovered will be strolling the aisles, viewing contemporary and modern art from 272 galleries from more than 30 countries. Here’s a look at what selected galleries representing Asian artists will be showing at the first big European art fair of the year.   


PACITA ABAD, Blues train to Yoga, 2002, oil, painted cloth stitched on canvas, 240 × 180 cm. Photo by Max McClure. Courtesy Pacita Abad Art Estate.

Pacita Abad

Silverlens, Manila

The mixed-media paintings of Pacita Abad (1946–2004), from her Endless Blues series, are lyrical abstractions mixing batik fabric swatches with dense marks and patches of rich color. Abad began the group of works in the early 2000s, a turbulent period in her life, when she was diagnosed with cancer and processing news of global strife, including the 9/11 attacks in New York and subsequent war in Afghanistan. During this period, she would spend hours in her studio listening to blues music. “Like the blues, my paintings are always strong, sometimes sad, a bit nostalgic and very colorful,” she wrote.


DIANE SEVERIN NGUYEN, Southern Star, 2021, LightJet c-print, steel frame, 63.5 × 50.8 cm. Courtesy the artist and Bureau, New York.

Diane Severin Nguyen 

Bureau, New York

Diane Severin Nguyen’s photographs are staged to look too lurid to be real. Made from a combination of natural and synthetic materials that can resemble tropical flowers, fruits, meats, or fungi, Nguyen’s imagery is abject yet seductive, discomforting yet intriguing. 

LIU YEFU, Hehemeimei, 2019–21, still from single-channel HD video with color and sound: 13 min 52 sec. Courtesy Magician Space, Beijing.

Liu Yefu

Magician Space, Beijing

Set in the year 2079, Liu Yefu’s 13-minute video Hehemeimei (2019–21) tells the story of an anachronistic encounter between the Mongolian warlord Ja Lama and Swedish explorer Sven Hedin through vignettes about geomancy turtles, a chess match, and contemporaneous footage recorded in the Taklamakan desert and the streets of Beijing. 

Installation view of VARTAN AVAKIAN’s A Sign for Things to Come (2021) at Art Basel. Photo by Renato Ghiazza. Courtesy Marfa’.

Vartan Avakian

Marfa’, Beirut

Vartan Avakian’s series of installations A Sign for Things to Come (2021) incorporates neon signs discarded by their former owners amid Lebanon’s economic crisis. These fossils from the present memorialize the wrecked hopes of many lives as the country has endured disasters and tragedies in recent years.


CUI JIE, Contessa II Chair 2, 2021, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 250 × 180 cm. Courtesy Antenna Space, Shanghai.

Antenna Space, Shanghai

Antenna Space presents works by five artists in its booth. Shanghai-based Cui Jie, who looks at the utopian aspirations and fantasies of modern life, is debuting a new painting about ergonomic office design, Contessa II Chair 2 (2021). Dora Budor presents an environmental chamber filled with dust, Origin II (Burning of the Houses) (2019), while Xinyi Cheng’s canvases explore awkwardly intimate moments.  

HO TZU NYEN, R for Resonance, 2019, still from video: 15 min 30 sec. Courtesy the artist and Edouard Malingue, Hong Kong / Shanghai.

Edouard Malingue, Hong Kong / Shanghai

For the gallery’s first presentation in Art Basel, Edouard Malingue is bringing projects from across the full spectrum of its program, spanning Korean abstract painter Cho Yong-ik’s Scratch series (c. 1970s) to Ho Tzu Nyen’s animated video meditating on Southeast Asian history, R for Resonance (2019). A video work from 1990 about an annual harbor swimming competition by Ellen Pau, a forerunner of Hong Kong’s video art scene, plus a recent animation by bawdy millennial artist Wong Ping address Hong Kong’s postcolonial social conditions. 

RADHIKA KHIMJI, Orange right leg up, 2012, oil and acrylic on plywood, 221 × 96.5 cm. Courtesy Experimenter Gallery, Kolkata.

Experimenter, Kolkata

Experimenter’s presentation, titled “Transitory Forms,” features works by nine artists and is centered on representations of the body. Included are Radhika Khimji’s affective abstractions with bodily forms, Bani Abadi’s satirical photographic series The Reassuring Hand Gestures of Big Men, Small Men, All Men (2021), and Prabhakar Pachpute’s paintings combining depictions of workers’ struggles with mythological elements. 

HA CHONG-HYUN, Conjunction 18-201 & Conjunction 18-202, 2018, oil on hemp cloth, 260 × 776 cm. Courtesy Kukje Gallery, Seoul / Busan.

Kukje Gallery, Seoul / Busan

In the curated Unlimited sector, Kukje presents Dansaekhwa painter Ha Chong-Hyun’s large-scale Conjunction 18-201 & Conjunction 18-202 (2018), made with the artists’ signature style of pushing paint from the back to the front of the canvas and coating the paint in a layer of thick soot. At Kukje’s Galleries booth, works by Ha and his generational peer Park Seo-Bo are paired with a new abstraction on denim from Thai millennial artist Korakrit Arunanondchai, whose works look at globalization and youth styles in Asia.  

DING YI, Appearance of Crosses 2016-5, 2016, acrylic on basswood panel with engravings, 240 × 240 cm. Courtesy ShanghArt Gallery, Shanghai / Beijing / Singapore.

Ding Yi

ShanghArt Gallery, Shanghai / Beijing / Singapore

Since the late 1980s, Ding Yi has been creating textile-like abstractions composed of intricate marks that resemble plus (+) symbols and the letter “x.” For Art Basel, ShanghArt is mounting a solo presentation of paintings from Ding’s long-running Appearance of Crosses series (1988– ) as well as accordion books of drawings made with his signature motif.

CAO YU, The Thing in the Chest, 2020, c-print (bull’s heart, tiger head tattoo, the artist), 160 × 179 cm. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing / Lucerne.

Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing / Lucerne

 Sixteen artists will be showcased at the booth of Galerie Urs Meile. Among them is Cao Yu, whose photograph The Thing in the Chest (2020) shows the artist herself holding up a bull’s heart, representing fearlessness. Ju Ting, on the other hand, will present a new series titled Winter is Coming (2021), which utilizes fluctuating temperatures to manipulate paint and create colorful abstractions.

Art Basel is at Messe Basel and online until September 26, 2021.

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