At Art Basel’s Latest Virtual Edition, Timely Works Abound

Offering galleries the chance to show more focused presentations, Art Basel’s latest virtual edition features thematic, tightly curated blue-chip meditations on today’s trending topics.

...and the dew cracks the earth, in five acts of lamentation...between the cuts...beneath the leaves...below the soil.... (2020) by Ebony G. Patterson. Image courtesy Monique Meloche Gallery

Art Basel seems to have learned that when it comes to virtual viewing rooms, less is more. That mantra defines the fair’s third virtual edition this year, which launched shortly after the fair’s marquee Swiss edition would have occurred had it not been canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Titled OVR: 2020, the virtual showcase restricts the 100 participating galleries, which include such blue-chip mainstays as White Cube, Lévy Gorvy, and Lehmann Maupin, to present six works at a time; all must have been created in 2020. 

The more focused format follows “feedback we received from our audiences in the past months and weeks,” Art Basel global director Marc Spiegler explains to ARTnews, referring to the fair’s virtual Hong Kong edition that launched when the pandemic first broke out. “The viewing rooms that comprise Art Basel’s OVR:2020 represent an incredible force and variety of artistic perspectives, which together offer our audiences the opportunity to experience artists’ more recent works, conveying and contending with the lived experiences of our time.” They touch upon today’s vital themes of social justice, racial inequality, the coronavirus pandemic, and environmental crises. We round up our favorite presentations.

Mornings (2020) by Raelis Vasquez. Image courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery

“Stand Up, Speak Up, Speak Out” at Jenkins Johnson Gallery

These five African Diaspora artists—Lisa Corinne Davis, Rashaad Newsome, Blessing Ngobeni, Amani Lewis, and Raelis Vasquez—dismantle inaccurate stereotypes, condemn elitism, and pay homage to queer culture and intersectionality. Pictured above, Mornings (2020) by Vasquez embodies the Dominican emigrant’s signature approach to portraiture, which often juxtaposes scenes of family life with the traumatic experience of immigration. In doing so, the Columbia MFA student confronts inaccurate stereotypes surrounding Afro-Latino ancestry and presses against traditional concepts of American identity.


to see and feel the marigolds...the workings of the dandelion are not enough (2020) by Ebony G. Patterson. Image courtesy Monique Meloche Gallery

“Ebony G. Patterson: New Work” at Monique Meloche Gallery 

At first glance, the Jamaica-born artist Ebony G. Patterson’s elaborate flora scenes appear bright and effusive, but look closer and they suggest the opposite, growing from a complex entanglement of race, gender, class, and violence. To create the works, Patterson photographs locals adorned with opulent props and sets inside her Chicago studio. She prints the images on photo paper, which she then shreds and rearranges by hand, parallel to acts of gardening. For this presentation, Patterson substituted images of adorned figures for disembodied limbs rendered in gouache, yielding poignantly painted scenes that memorialize the world’s scores of anonymous, innocent victims of social injustice.


0% Contained (2020) by Jessie Homer French. Image courtesy of Various Small Fires
On the Sea of Time (2020) by Calida Rawles. Image courtesy of Various Small Fires

“Dream State” at Various Small Fires

Environmental crises and the global pandemic are only two components of a tumultuous year that has left many in ongoing states of emergency, self-reflection, and uncertainty. In response, Various Small Fires asked six artists hailing from California, which has recently suffered devastating wildfires, to manifest their utopian, dream-like inner visuals. Though Jessie Homer French’s precarious painting of an uncontrolled wildfire blazing through a pine forest may seem far from idyllic, it offers a stern reminder of nature’s enduring strength despite humanity’s recklessness. Taking the opposite approach is Calida Rawles, whose photorealistic paintings of female figures swimming through cosmic, peaceful blue ripples capture water’s ability to nourish and heal.


(FROM LEFT) Lil Mama 2 (2020) by Tschabalala Self; green black monk (2020) by Ugo Rondinone. Images courtesy Galerie Eva Presenhuber

“OVR:2020” at Galerie Eva Presenhuber

Opting for a straightforward approach is Galerie Eva Presenhuber, which highlights recent developments in painting and sculpture from the acclaimed artists on its roster, including Tschabalala Self, Tobias Pils, and Ugo Rondinone. In Lil Mama 2 (2020), Self continues her practice of placing her distinctive handmade characters, which she calls “avatars,” in conversation with the virtual personas we often create online. Naturally formed stones, meanwhile, have long been a focal point of Swiss-born Rondinone, from the monumental Human Nature (2013) at Rockefeller Center to the transcendent Seven Magic Mountains (2016) in the Nevada Desert. green black monk (2020), currently on view at the gallery’s Zurich outpost, continues this meditation by reflecting upon how the inner self relates to the natural world and reveling in sensory experiences of color, form, and mass.


Blood on the Leaves (2020) by Ludovic Nkoth. Image courtesy François Ghebaly Gallery

“Ludovic Nkoth” at François Ghebaly Gallery

Focusing on recent portraiture of friends, family, fictional figures, and himself, Nkoth highlights his personal journey from his Cameroon upbringing to recent years in New York City. Swirling forms, complex use of color, and a transnational perspective distinguish his paintings, which offer incisive social and psychological insights into both American and West African life. He often asks what—and who—constitutes a home by highlighting the unease of displacement and the joy of discovery as textures within his acrylic-on-canvas paintings. Here, he opts for the slower, meditative mood established by watercolors and amplified by his subjects’ penetrating gazes.


FBI Drawings: Black Community News (2020) by Sadie Barnette. Image courtesy Jessica Silverman Gallery

“Sadie Barnette: Gentle People” at Jessica Silverman Gallery

Sadie Barnette has “fierce love” for her father, Rodney, who founded the Compton chapter of the Black Panthers in 1968. The Oakland-based artist’s large-scale “FBI Drawings” series proves this by adorning select pages from his 500-page FBI dossier with powdered graphite flowers, Hello Kitty logos, and other personal tributes—a labor-intensive process that enables meditation on the bravery, politics, and realities of those stripped of their humanity.


Untitled (2020) by Lynn Hershman Leeson. Image courtesy of Altman Siegel

“Lynn Hershman Leeson: New Works” at Altman Siegel

“The mask has always been a way to hide one’s own vulnerability,” says Lynn Hershman Leeson, whose feminism-tinged art and films often investigate relationships between humans and technology, empowerment against censorship and political repression, and identity constructs. She tackles the latter theme in a series of dark yet honest paper works that portray masked women in reference to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Each figure appears effortlessly rendered in the artist’s signature mark-making approach, which embraces negative space and poetic connections between shapes and lines.

OVR: 2020’s viewing rooms are live until September 26.

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