Art Fair

A Review of Artgenève 2019, Geneva’s Boutique Art Fair

A Review of Artgenève 2019 is by guest contributor Abigail Ogilvy, Owner of Abigail Ogilvy Gallery

Now in it’s 8th year, Artgenève boasts an impressive 90 galleries, 17 art spaces and publishers, and 24 institutions and special exhibitions. It is now considered one of the top art fairs to attend in 2019, according to Artnet. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit for the first time this year. Artgenève embraces the pursuit of evolving tastes for both local and international buyers by curating a wide range of exhibition spaces that come together to form a cohesive dialogue. In today’s world, it is very easy to continue collecting art in a straight line, but by attending the fair you are encouraging yourself to perhaps swerve.

Artgenève pulls it off in an elegant presentation that draws in collectors new and established. Perhaps the collector in search of abstract minimalist piece ultimately purchases a bold fiber wall piece from Gowen Contemporary (Geneva); or a visitor in search of a vibrant contemporary painting ends up with a ceramic sculpture by Virginia Leonard of Taste Contemporary (Geneva). The beauty in an art fair is the range of artwork brought together under one roof. Walking through the booths, many collectors were expressing surprise when viewing the many Geneva-based galleries, a testament to how strong the contemporary art scene truly is here.

Virginia Leonard of Taste Contemporary

Upon entering the fair, the visitor is met by Chris Burden’s 40 Foot Stepped Skyscraper. Minimally designed, but massive in scale, viewers can walk around Burden’s work and imagine climbing to its top through the spirally lattice of stainless steel. This monumental sculpture engineered by such a historically important artist sets the tone for the fair, making it clear the booths ahead will be of museum quality.

Navigating the first few rows of booths, and my initial impression was that the entire fair would be comprised of geometric abstraction, made for the minimalist collector seeking a neutral color palette. Unlike the fairs in NYC, LA, or Miami, where you are immediately overwhelmed with color, light, and “Instagram-worthy” art – at first appearance Artgenève is quite the opposite. The booths seemed curating to target the Swiss patron interested in minimal design. De Jonckheere  Gallery (Geneva) was exhibiting geometric abstraction, A Arte Invernizzi (Milan) also had a booth filled with minimalism and geometric abstraction, Galerie Denise René (Paris) hosted vertical and horizontal minimalism. As you can see, I was sensing a pattern.

Geometric minimalism by Alan Charlton at Galerie Jean Brolly (Paris)

Traveling further into the depths of the fair, I began to realize there was much more to Artgenève than initially meets the eye.  Near the back of the building, the booths expanded beyond minimalism, with energetic presentations filled with contemporary figurative work, abstract expressionist painting, wall-mounted sculpture, and much more. The exhibitors were curating at the caliber of full-scale gallery exhibitions with thought-provoking concepts and well-written press releases. Suddenly, I needed to ask questions to the booth attendants to learn more about what I was looking at, welcoming the idea of experiencing contemporary art through both aesthetics and conversation.  

Artist Natascha Schmitten solo booth with Pablo’s Birthday (New York), in collaboration with Galerie Christian Lethert (Cologne) certainly proved that it is possible to create a wonderful combination of minimalism and the conversation piece: the gallery’s program focuses on minimal abstraction, while engaging in the present contemporary dialogue.

Natascha Schmitten, Phoshob II, 2018, ink, oil on nylon, 200 x 150 cm

Pace Gallery, placed almost exactly in the center of the room, seemed to act as a link between the varying booth styles. As one of the few galleries with a presence in the United States, they helped bridge the divide by presenting a range of artists that would encourage a historically safe collector to perhaps expand their point of view. From Nigel Cooke’s complex paintings to Tara Donavan’s Card Composition – there seemed to be something for  everyone. 

Taymoure Grahne (London) brought a fresh point of view, a new artist, and interesting conversation – and it was both edgy and attention grabbing (which worked well, they had sold works to a museum collection and garnered early press from The Art Newspaper). Artist Hassan Hajjaj had created Coca-Cola crate benches, a vibrant carpet, and brightly colored portraits to line the floor and walls. This solo presentation of his artwork was a contemporary take on African photographers such as Malick Sidibe – Hajjaj captured friends, musicians, and strangers in fashionable outfits and surrounded by pop culture references.

Artist Hassan Hajjaj at Taymour Grahne’s booth

Galerie Nicola von Senger (Zurich) was a focal point for  visitors. The gallery had transformed their booth into an enclosed tiki hut called “Nici’s Bar,” with artworks by Swiss artist Beni Bischof. This daring booth was the talk of the fair; but only if you knew to walk inside. The “storefront” simply presented a slumped male figure in a seemingly destitute state. Once inside, the booth is an intimate encounter with the artist’s work – even the smell of oil paint is still present. The booth accomplished a hurdle proposed by any art fair: by bringing the visitor inside their “store” it forced the viewer to slow down, to be up close with the art, to stay a while longer and perhaps actually feel grateful for the experience of art. The path of collecting art is all about educating the eye, this means seeing something new, different, and perhaps uncomfortable. But through that discomfort a new perspective is born.

Exterior view: “Nici’s Bar” by Galerie Nicola von Senger

As a visitor of Artgenève, the beautifully-curated fair with a broad range of exhibitors ultimately brings differing perspectives together. The booths encourage collectors to question what drives them and what inspires them in this particular art market, while also providing the opportunity to understand a new contemporary art scene.

Written by:  Abigail Ogilvy, Owner of Abigail Ogilvy Gallery