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“There’s something I absorb from the Central Americas region,” explains Federico Herrero. “People are just so confident with color – it fascinates me.” Known for his vibrant, site-specific installations, the Costa-Rican artist will create a monumental wall painting for the UBS Lounge at Art Basel (13-16 June), to be presented alongside five new works. A series of monoprints by the artist features in the UBS Art Studio – UBS’s public booth, which is dedicated to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The collaboration with Herrero builds on a longstanding relationship with UBS, which celebrates its 26th year as Global Lead Partner for Art Basel in 2019. “We have been collecting work by Federico since 2011, and now have four works in our collection,” says Mary Rozell, Global Head of the UBS Art Collection. The artist, she explains, was a clear choice for this year’s commission – both for his imagination, and his “willingness” to explore new spaces; Herrero’s less conventional canvases have included garages and playgrounds. For the UBS lounge, he will work on-site to create an abstract, 11-meter wall painting, to be accompanied by a suite of new paintings which will immerse viewers in his vibrant vision.

Herrero's unique visual language is rooted in his observations of everyday life in Costa Rica and the ever-evolving landscape. His characteristic color fields are inspired by the hues of his native country – whose capital, San José, is studded with buildings in orange and cadmium yellow – Herrero is also an advocate for the country’s natural beauty. “When the Spanish people came [to Costa Rica] they found, not gold or material treasures, but were amazed by its nature.” For the artist, who continues to live and work in the country, that “richness” is Costa Rica’s most significant asset: “People understand that this is what we have, and that we must take care of it.”

Flanked by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, however, Costa Rica is witnessing the devastating impact of climate change. “It’s very sad to see how many tons of trash go into the oceans,” says Herrero, referring to the influx of plastic that threatens to overwhelm the country’s coastline. The issue is one at the heart of the UBS Art Studio at Art Basel (Hall 1), where work by Herrero is shown alongside a presentation dedicated to #TOGETHERBAND – an initiative which supports the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Each addresses today’s most pressing global issues, from the health of the world’s oceans, to poverty and inequality.

The presentation at the UBS Art Studio highlights the potential for art, and the spaces in which it is exhibited, to raise awareness of global issues and spark conversation. The idea is one that resonates deeply with Herrero: “I’m passionate about how art can be used as an educational tool, by responding to the surrounding environment, and asking audiences to develop a deeper understanding of the world and how things connect, leading to a more sustainable future.

June 2019