For Art Basel’s ‘Pioneers,’ Galleries Bring a Mix of Old and New, Seeing Steady Sales

Maximilíano Durón, Angelica Villa, ARTnews, March 26, 2021

As galleries and collectors alike continue to adjust to buying and selling art online more than a year into the pandemic, Art Basel launched the first of its 2021 Online Viewing Rooms, which opened to VIPs on March 24 and runs until March 27.


In the past year, Art Basel has expanded its OVRs beyond just replacing its three staple fairs—in Hong Kong, Basel, and Miami Beach—with adding thematic editions focused on specific art-historical periods. Previous editions were devoted to 20th-century art and art made only during 2020. This iteration takes the title of “Pioneers,” and features 100 galleries from around the world, all of which are able to show only eight works at any given time. (As in past editions, galleries are able to swap out works as the fair progresses.)


The art on view in “OVR: Pioneers” centers around artists who have “broken new aesthetic, conceptual, or socio-political ground,” as defined by the galleries, and ranges from major historical art figures to emerging artists who have become acclaimed for pushing the boundaries of art. In a press conference earlier this week, Noah Horowitz, Art Basel’s Americas director, said, “One of the great things with this viewing room is the historical nature of some of the work on view. It’s easy to assume that in a digitally native realm, everything noteworthy was created yesterday. That’s certainly not the case on our platform.”


With this online edition of Art Basel, dealers reported steady sales and spoke highly of the improved online platform, which allowed for galleries to upload videos. (A similar feature was the highlight of the online version of FIAC, which happened earlier this month.)


One of the main through-lines was a focus on pioneering women artists, whose artistic contributions have often been either long overlooked or sidelined within the canon. 


Chicago’s Kavi Gupta gallery sold Deborah Kass’s monumental 1997 work Seven Ghost Yentls (My Elvis) for $350,000 to a private Canadian museum. “We have received an incredible response from the global arts community in celebrating this crucial body of work from Deborah Kass,” Kavi Gupta, the gallery’s founder, said in an email. “We’re pleased to see that collectors are so enthusiastically embracing 2021.”

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