Must-see virtual art shows

Francesca Gavin selects five standouts from Art Basel’s new virtual viewing rooms – and highlights the accelerated shift towards digital art spaces

Jeff Koons’ Gazing Ball (Botticelli Primavera), 2017-2020
Jeff Koons’ Gazing Ball (Botticelli Primavera), 2017-2020 | Image: © Jeff Koons

Going to art fairs is not a priority – or even a possibility – for most of the art world at the moment. But if you can’t, Art Basel is happy to bring them to you. This week sees the launch of the first Art Basel Viewing Rooms, something the fair has been working on for a long time and brought forward to fill the gap in the art timetable.

“In the original concept, this was going to be a place for works that are not on a booth,” Art Basel global director Marc Spiegler explains. “Once we cancelled the Hong Kong show, we said this is something we should do sooner rather than later to put forward all the work that was planned to be shown there.” The concept has been positively received by galleries – with about 95 per cent of HK exhibitors bringing up to 10 works to the online space. Sales are made directly with the gallery. The total estimated value of the more than 2,000 works shown is around $270m, with 70 over the $1m mark. Spiegler also highlights an interesting shift in transparency. “Every work has a specific price or is in a price range – which is impressive in the fair and even auction environments.”

Galleries have been leading the trend. David Zwirner was the first commercial outpost to introduce an online viewing room in 2017, and for the director of online sales Elena Soboleva, this accelerated shift to the digital “room” was already in progress. “Since the beginning, it was vital to us that David Zwirner Online replicate the two core elements of a gallery: a vehicle for selling art, but, as importantly, a destination that offers free culture,” she says. The top 15 most expensive artworks sold online have all gone to collectors based in cities where the gallery does not have a physical space, including Amsterdam, Brussels, Houston, Madrid, Miami, Munich, San Francisco and Toronto.

Gagosian’s online viewing room launched two years ago. “With each iteration of our viewing rooms we have not only exceeded our own goals, but broken new ground for the industry,” Gagosian director Sam Orlofsky points out. “We have proven that collectors are willing to buy and sell art online in the $100,000 to $2m price range with meaningful frequency. With physical gallery and fair closures, technology offers people options that are more important than ever before.” This week the gallery is unveiling works by artists including Jennifer Guidi, Takashi Murakami and Jia Aili. Pace Gallery is launching online exhibitions in the coming weeks, including a much-needed dose of laughter from Romanian-American artist and cartoonist Saul Steinberg (launching Monday 23 March) and a group exhibition on “stillness” titled A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Emerging places like Nicoletti in London have developed online spaces for interactive artworks (currently showing Chris Dorland), while Berlin’s Tanja Wagner Gallery launched an online Vidéothèque space for the moving image. Institutions are close behind. Castello di Rivoli’s Cosmo Digitale online exhibition space for “artistic creations, streaming conferences and documentations” currently includes an impressive curated show with moving-image works from Claudia Comte, Anri Sala and Giuseppe Penone.

In an era when artworks are often sold by jpeg prior to a fair even opening, and when climate-change criticism is hitting the carbon footprint, online art shopping is looking very appealing indeed. These are five booths to check out from now until 25 March:

Jeff Koons in his New York studio
Jeff Koons in his New York studio | Image: Jason Schmidt

On Paintings at David Zwirner

Zwirner is combining its own online viewing rooms with those of Art Basel for an online-only show with some of the biggest artists of the era such as Marlene Dumas, Noah Davis and Chris Ofili. One big scoop is a new work by Jeff Koons including a blue metallic balloon inserted in the middle of a facsimile Botticelli – a blunt way to insert himself into art history perhaps. The total value of the show is $16m. Expect serious quality from this booth. 

Xie Nanxing’s double-sided portrait of Balzac and Ms.N, 2019
Xie Nanxing’s double-sided portrait of Balzac and Ms.N, 2019 | Image: © Xie Nanxing, courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery
Xie Nanxing’s double-sided portrait of naked friend, 2019
Xie Nanxing’s double-sided portrait of naked friend, 2019 | Image: © Xie Nanxing, courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery

Xie Nanxing at Thomas Dane Gallery

Thomas Dane has devoted his viewing room to works by Caragh Thuring and Lari Pittman, along with the Chinese painter Xie Nanxing. He plays with the modernist canon of art history, pushing ideas around interpretation and meaning. Here, he is showing works on linen in a new style that layers washes of colour and graphic drawings of the human body.

Leelee Chan at Capsule Shanghai

One of the younger spaces in the virtual fair, Capsule Shanghai is showing works by Hong Kong artist Leelee Chan. She is a good example of the city’s fresh take on the conceptual with a practice incorporating sculpture and installation. The selection includes Pallet in Repose (Portal) (2019), which fuses painting and an installation made from wooden pallets, pink foam packaging blocks and half-moon-shaped glasses.

Leelee Chan’s Pallet in Repose (Portal)
Leelee Chan’s Pallet in Repose (Portal)
Paolo Salvador’s Untitled, 2019
Paolo Salvador’s Untitled, 2019 | Image: Courtesy of Peres Projects, Berlin

Paolo Salvador @ Peres Projects

Berlin’s Peres Projects is mixing young emerging talent among its group of artists in the viewing rooms. Paolo Salvador is a Peruvian painter producing large-scale figurative works. His evocative dream-like paintings have already been exhibited extensively in Peru and Latin America, drawing on western art historical influences as much as his roots in Peru. A much-needed dose of warmth.

Paolo Salvador’s Untitled, 2019
Paolo Salvador’s Untitled, 2019 | Image: Courtesy of Peres Projects, Berlin
Vermillion Circle by Toshinobu Onosato at Watanuki Ltd/Toki-no-Wasuremono
Vermillion Circle by Toshinobu Onosato at Watanuki Ltd/Toki-no-Wasuremono

Toshinobu Onosato at Watanuki Ltd/Toki-no-Wasuremono

Toshinobu Onosato (1912-1986) is one of those amazing discoveries that made going to Art Basel Hong Kong worth the trip. This virtual booth devoted to the late Japanese printmaker has beautiful examples of the vibrant geometric compositions that led him to represent Japan in Venice in 1964 and 1966 and ensured he had work exhibited at LACMA and MoMA. A perfect meeting of science, mathematics and art.


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