Art Basel, the topflight Swiss fair that opens to the public today, is best known for presenting the bluest of blue-chip European art. But this year, the event has a bit of an American flavor thanks to prominent—and highly sought after—work by African American artists. Beyond the convention center, the city’s Kunstmuseum is hosting solo exhibitions by two black American artists, Sam Gilliam and Theaster Gates.
At a time when the market is rapidly recalibrating price points for artists who have been undervalued for decades, and as museums are rushing to fill gaps in their collections, dealers say Art Basel can be an important opportunity to provide these historically overlooked artists with European exposure that can have a lasting impact.
Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that while work by African American artists at the fair represents three generations and spans radically different genres ranging from abstraction to virtual reality, some in the art market—always searching for categorizations—have been quick to group them together.
The growing visibility and demand for established artists like these “is having a ripple effect for emerging and mid-career artists,” says the San Francisco-based dealer Karen Jenkins-Johnson, who recently opened up a project space in Brooklyn to present the work of young and less established black artists.