Unlike last year’s quick stop in Basel, I was there for the whole fair trek this year: installation through the final gong (literally).
Before arriving in Basel, I was in Paris, attending a symposium at the École des Beaux Arts on Franz Erhard Walther—one of our gallery’s artists. Spending days focused on the breadth, history, and relevancy of one artist’s work was a luxury. Scholars spoke at length, a highlight being Jennifer Licht (now Winkworth), who organized the Spaces exhibition at MoMA in 1970. Along with Walther, Spaces included Michael Asher, Dan Flavin, Larry Bell, and Robert Morris. Each artist was allotted a room to fill. Walther’s room had a false wall covering an unused museum entrance. Winkworth and Walther tore down the wall, allowing passers-by to stop and watch Walther and crew “activate” his canvas sculptures (Roberta Smith was a museum assistant at the time. Winkworth shared pictures of a young Smith activating the objects along with Walther, Winkworth, etc…even a member of MoMA’s janitorial staff joined in–his momentarily abandoned vacuum was still in shot!)
It was on the wings of this satisfying immersion into one artist’s oeuvre that I arrived in Basel for the very opposite: Art Basel 42.
The pre-fair calm allowed for time to enjoy Basel’s regularly rich cultural events, including their independent films screenings (there were pictures of Brent Green and Donna Kozloskie in one theater’s foyer—they had won a film festival there the week before!). Having no idea what to expect, I watched Innocence Unprotected, Dusan Makavejev’s 1968 documentary about the Serbian film industry during the Nazi’s occupation of Belgrade, focusing on actor/director/acrobat (seriously), Dragoljub Aleksic. It’s on Netflix. Put it in your queue now.
Three days of installation offered a chance to view the fair at a comparatively sane pace. (Of note: during install, a Swiss man walks around with a food cart and announces his presence with a cow bell—I kid thee not.) If you go to galleries regularly, the wares didn’t offer many surprises, but seeing work of that caliber is a privilege (“Basel Basel” is a serious beast compared to Art Basel |Miami Beach). I was told that the second floor, which houses younger, more contemporary galleries, was full of video and lights. This was news to me—I only saw it before /after hours when everything was turned off!
The monumental works at Art Unlimited offered a respite from the density of the fair. We exhibited a 60-foot Rauschenberg print, Currents, 1970 (Peter Freeman, Inc., New York). MoMA hung its edition of Currents recently, wrapping the left third around a corner; we had the chance to hang ours flat. The installation of this monumental piece changes its reading– all are impressive.
Next to our Rauschenberg was Anish Kapoor’s Push—Pull, 2008 (Galleria Massimo Minini, Brescia, Italy), which looked downright delicious as installers added to and molded the red wax.
David Zwirner’s Fred Sandback Installation, Untitled (Sculptural Study, Seven-part Right-angled Triangular Construction), 1982/2010, was truly grand. During the run of the fair, Art Unlimited opened an hour early for exhibitors (it opened to the public at 11 am), which allowed for me and friend to make the 10am screening of Hans Op De Beeck’s Sea of Tranquility, 2010 (Marianne Boesky, New York / Continua, San Gimignano / Xavier Hufkens, Brussels / Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna), an almost 30 minute film about a cruise ship (a cross between the Titanic and the Death Star) and its morose staff and guests. I almost passed out during the plastic surgery scene. Beautifully (if overly) designed, the film’s pace was unnecessarily dramatic and forced—especially compared to the examination of space, design, and moments of human silence in Sarah Morris’ Points on a Line, 2010 (Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York).
Also at Art Unlimited was Hans-Peter Feldmann’s Stamps with Paintings, 2005 (303 Gallery, New York), 180 stamps depicting painted nudes, displayed in identical cream paper frames. The lavish repetition winks but worries about the idea of sending a letter with a currency of bums and breasts. The exercise is hilarious, bizarre, delightful, uncomfortable…. I would love to spend more time with this installation and examine the popularity of certain paintings (the reclining nude gets around) as well as the wide-range of national postal services represented. By hanging bricks by red yarn, Kendell Geers’ Hanging Piece, 1993 (Goodman, Johannesburg/ Stephen Friedman Gallery, London/ Rodolph Janseen, Bruxelles/ Galleria Continua, Sam Gimignano) created a delicate if forbearing forest to navigate. Jason Rhoades’ Untitled. From the body of work: My Madinah, in pursuit of my ermitage…, 2003 (David Zwirner, New York / Hauser & Wirth, Zürich) was a ceiling-height nest of cords, from which dangled ninety-six often sex-related words in neon. Apparently it sold to a private collection…? If so, I hope they hang it in their dining room.
Sadly, there were far fewer events this year. The Kunstmuseum held a brunch (I couldn’t wake up. Did anyone? I have no idea; I heard no reports) instead of one of their great, festive openings. The Kusthalle Basel (the museum, not bar/restaurant/discothèque) did have an opening for their show, How to work (more for) less (12 June-21 August 2011). The exhibition was elegantly, creatively installed: the first room was halved by Tobias Kaspar’s door-sized C-prints, hanging from the ceiling. The passage between galleries 4 and 5 was made by two video installations. You had to pass through one video room/hallway on your way in and another on the way out. Surprisingly, the setup didn’t cause problems for concentration or crowd flow. Instead, it gave you a respite between rooms while allowing the energy of moving forward to redirect briefly towards, for example, Pilvi Takala’s hilarious Players (2010) about a fictional group of professional poker-playing expats living in Bangkok who expend as little energy as possible, except in creating games to get around non-game quotidian life. For an excerpt: http://www.pilvitakala.com/playersvideo.html.
Takala’s second installation, Trainee, 2008, involved video, slides, a framed employment contract at Deloitt, and a conference table. She documented her time as a “trainee” at Deloitt in which she did not use a computer, but rather—and to her coworker’s befuddlement—just sat and did “brain work”. Less Bartleby the scrivener’s “I would prefer not to” than an insertion of the value of thinking and reflecting—a worrisome thought according to her coworkers and the corporate chain of emails her “brain work” inspired. The work was installed like a corporate presentation and I was happy sit at the conference table and do some “brain work” myself.
The Beyeler Foundation did hold its annual evening fête, but the usual scrumptiousness (in setting and food) was rained out, so we huddled under umbrellas and trees to eat the weather-limited meal of meat and cheese. The Beyeler’s Brancusi/Serra show (Constantin Brancusi & Richard Serra, 22 May-21 August 2011) got generally poor to mixed reviews, largely because of the forced comparison. The Beyeler somewhat admitted to the forced nature of the juxtaposition in the introductory wall text, calling the show “an open-ended dialogue“. I heard nothing but praise–“totally great” even “it made me happy about life”—about the Brancusi’s. One astute (and witty) friend was frustrated that the Beyeler replaced its usually generous proximity to works with “swimming pool-sized” platforms, but even he agreed that the Brancusi works were a treat. Others enjoyed the Serra works, but after seeing the Metropolitan Museum’s recent Serra Drawing show and two recent trips to Dia:Beacon (another Franz Erhard Walther thing—go a see his 1.Werksatz set of 58 canvas objects installed through 12 February 2012—you can ACTIVATE the sculptures!), I found the selection of Serra’s disappointing. Maybe it’s a symptom of Serra-overdose, but friends who haven’t see the Met’s show or been to Beacon lately also found the Serra selection less than….
I never made it to Art Parcours (Art Basel’s installations around the city), but heard that Ai WeiWei’s Fairytale People, 2007 (Galerie Urs Meile Beijing, Lucerne/ neugerriemschneider, Berlin/ Courtesy: Leister Stiftung, Erlenmeyer Stiftung, Meile Kunst AG), completed before his imprisonment by the Chinese government over two months ago, was excellent. Also getting raves was Kris Martin’s Festum II, 2010, an aisle full of small confetti-like coins at St. Alban Church (Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf / White Cube, London). Martin’s installation travelled a bit…I found his small metal circles smattering random paths along the Rhein.
I did make it to Liste 16 the self-proclaimed “Young Art Fair in Basel.” Don’t go if you are remotely claustrophobic! The space has the repurposed school feeling of PS1, but compacted like a Parisian elevator. The “booths” are hallways or partial rooms. If you don’t clutch your map which identifies each space, you may miss galleries completely.
With all this to report, I almost forgot to mention sales. Strange for an art dealer, but true! All around, sales seemed strong and steady–not record breaking, but after such a bubble and bleakness, that is good. Many collectors did not make it, but those who did were serious and added to their collections.
I didn’t ruin any shoes this year, but practically lost my feet to the fair’s merciless concrete floor. The moral: pack a different pair of shoes for each day; it may sound ridiculous, but it’s worth it.