After the successful spring auctions in New York City which had outperformed most expectations and set new records for living and defunct artists alike, Art 41 Basel, which took place in Basel, Switzerland from June 14 to June 20, 2010, was highly anticipated.
The true Art Basel begins in Zurich with the traditional Open House Weekend. Highlights of this yearʼs edition included Hauser&Wirthʼs carefully curated exhibition of works on paper by Henry Moore and the Zaha Hadid and Suprematism show at Gmurzynska Gallery. The latter, while being based on an appealing premise – anchoring Hadidʼs futuristic forms and materials in the tradition of Russian Suprematism while revealing the projective force of the avant-garde movement led by Malevich – seemed to fall short of exploring its full potential, which may be remedied by the exhibition catalogue which was still under preparation at the time of the opening.
Other noteworthy exhibitions in Zurich included the 2009 Zurich Art Prize winner Ryan Ganderʼs exhibition at Haus Konstruktiv which yielded an impressive site specific installation of a myriad of arrows reenacting the ardent debate between Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg over the use of the diagonal; and Uruguyan conceptual artist Luis Camnitzerʼs retrospective at the Daros Foundation, emphasizing the poetry of his exploration of the relations between image and word.
On Monday Art 41 Basel opened with Art Unlimited, a selection of large scale installations by artists represented by galleries participating in the fair. This yearʼs projects were more ambitious than those of the previous edition which bore the imprint of the financial crisis, yet the tendency was towards cerebral more than exuberant works. Highlights included Michelangelo Pistolettoʼs Labirinto e Grande Pozzo (1969/2008), a labyrinth made of corrugated cardboard in the middle of which a mirror placed on the ground creates the illusion of a well signifying a way out; Yayoi Kusamaʼs Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity (2008), a mirrored room with a myriad of bright yellow lights infinitely multiplied through their own reflection; and Dan Flavinʼs Three Sets of Tangented Arcs in Daylight and Cool White (to Jenny and Ira Licht) (1969) featuring two curve shaped white neons mounted on opposite walls of the exhibition space and alternating from daylight to cool white triggering a subtle manipulation of the perception of space.
The Art Unlimited projects in Hall 1 of the exhibition centre and the Art Public installations on the exhibition centre plaza were completed by the first edition of Art Parcours, a program featuring interventions by contemporary artists throughout the cityʼs historic center. Favorites included a claymation video by Nathalie Djurberg in the storage cellars of the Natural History Museum of Basel, a series of Loose Association Lectures by Ryan Gander in the museumʼs lecture hall as well as a site-specific firework display by Cerith Wyn Evans on the river Rhine.
The VIP preview on Tuesday saw an unprecedented number of visitors with a series of major sales occurring shortly after the doors opened, including the stunning suite of 28 red flower watercolors of the late Louise Bourgeois completed three months before her death which was acquired from Cheim&Read by a private collector who promised to donate the piece to a US museum. Other highlights included an, albeit not new, yet exceptional precious stone cabinet by Damien Hirst at White Cube which attracted crowds of connoisseurs and amateurs alike; and a concave bronze colored circular mirror by Anish Kapoor facing a dark blue square-shaped resin piece by the same artist, laterally framing a luminous black and blue painting by Shirazeh Houshiary – an ensemble forming a true invitation to pause and contemplate which was gratefully taken up by visitors of Lisson Gallery’s booth.
Tucked away in the side alleys of the fair was the Art Feature section with 20 galleries showcasing special projects. Among the most notable proposals was Ping Pong presented by Colombian gallery Casas Riegnerʼs booth, an exquisite corpse style experiment in the form of a generational dialogue between José Antonio Suárez Londoño and Mateo López via pairs of drawings responding to themes selected by either of them. And Feedback – Down at the Rock and Roll Club by 2009 Prix Marcel Duchamp recipient Saâdane Afif consisting of three installations and a wall text derived from previously commissioned music pieces, exploring the constant process of transformation, on display at Berlin Gallery Mehdi Chouakri.
Some of the artists who appeared to be omnipresent prior to the financial crisis, such as Anselm Reyle or Sarah Morris, were notably absent from this yearʼs edition of the fair. There seemed to be more sculpture and installation pieces than in previous years, and a lack of strong painting. The latter might explain the success of Berlin gallery Neugerriemschneiderʼs solo show booth adorned with figurative painting variations on works by van Gogh, Nolde and Munch by self-taught artist Billy Childish. In a 1997 manifesto, the artist had written that “Good taste is fascism” - yet, even seasoned collectors such as Francesca von Habsburg fell prey to his works.
Art 41 Baselʼs public talk programs, Art Basel Conversations and Art Salon, featured their usual outstanding participants. One of the most popular talks was a conversation between Baer Faxt publisher and dealer, Josh Baer, and collector and writer, Adam Lindemann focusing on the essentials of building a meaningful collection which they identified as being a combination of determining the workʼs value point by placing it in the context of its artistic creation and ascertaining the potential support for the work from a network of private collections and public institutions.
Among the satellite fairs, the sixth edition of Volta which was held in yet a different location stood out from the rest, possibly due to its dynamic curatorial board. Several of the galleries would have well deserved to be included in the main fair, such as Christian Lethert Gallery from Cologne which featured young Berlin-based artist Daniel Lergon whose subtle experimentation with transparency and reflection conjures up cosmic looking surfaces.
As in previous years the Art Basel experience was rounded up by a series of blockbuster museum exhibitions. New Yorkers were able to revisit Mexican conceptual artist Gabriel Orozcoʼs retrospective at the Kunstmuseum, however without Mobile Matrix, the whale-skeleton sculpture which constituted the exhibitionʼs core piece at MoMA. And the Beyeler Foundation impressed with retrospectives by two important American artists.
To mark the fiftieth birthday of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the museum organized the largest retrospective of the artistʼs works to this date. The exhibition was a proof of the unwithered power and fascination exercised by the institution even after the regrettable loss of its founder earlier this year and assembled more than 100 works lent by museums and private collectors such as Steven and Alexandra Cohen, Irma and Norman Braman and Adam Lindemann. Yet, one would have wished for a more thoughtful approach to Basquiatʼs works than a mere juxtaposition of masterpieces.
The other exhibition on view at the Beyeler Foundation, Specific Objects without Specific Form, a travelling retrospective of Felix Gonzalez-Torresʼs work, benefited from a less ambitious and more subtle curatorial project, with several of the pieces constituting interventions in the permanent exhibition space and the museumʼs conservation laboratory and the display being scheduled to be changed half way through the exhibition to emphasize the intrinsically ephemeral nature of Gonzalez-Torresʼs oeuvre. And many visitors, whether or not they had been lucky amongst the endless offerings of the fairs, happily carried away the installationsʼ candies and posters.