The 41st Art Basel proved to be a success on many levels. Firstly, the quality of the art was fantastic. If I had funds in a Swiss bank account I needed to liquidate, I’d have plenty to choose from here. As a matter of fact, the quality was so good you had to remind yourself these works were for sale and it wasn’t just a museum show–mainly this applies to the ground floor galleries. But then again, in what exhibition would you find Cindy Sherman hung next to Richard Prince alongside a Warhol with a Fishli & Weiss sculpture in between.
When you follow the art world in regards to artists currently exhibiting in museums (especially in Basel) and major retrospectives and art prize nominations, you will see themes running through the fair. Basquiat at The Fondation Beyele (May 9th- September 5th 2010) and Tony Shafrazi’s booth featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Susan Hiller, nominated for the 2010 Turner prize, was the Art Unlimited feature artist at Timothy Taylor with a work called, The Last Silent
Movie, 2007/08. Galleries like Acquavella had the most outstanding works – namely the Lucian Freud’s, which were two of the best I have ever seen! But alas, after oohing and awing at the marvelous modern section of the fair, I headed upstairs to the first floor. No disappointments here either. Team gallery had an inspired booth featuring works by Cory Arcangel, David Ratcliff, Banks Violette, Pierre Bismuth, Gert & Uwe Tobias, Ryan McGinley, and Slater Bradley. Other works/both of interest, were the larger than life Cindy Sherman wall decals that Metro Gallery had for sale. You choose the character you like and have it installed on your very own wall. Lisson Gallery also had great works namely Anish Kapoor and a Rodney Graham diptych.
At this point in the fair, I was itching to check out the Art Unlimited section which in years past has not been of much interest to me. However, this year the names of featured artists lured me across to Hall 1. And at this point, I also needed a change of scenery! The enormous hall of art almost feels like a jungle gym of art enjoyment with familiar works from gallery shows, biennials, museums spattered with some newer emerging artists as well. There was a lot of video art which I welcomed as I got a chance to sit down and enjoy the works.
I’ve never sat through so many videos fully before! My two favorites were: Flooded McDonald’s by Superflex and Christian Marclay’s Solo, 2008. Other highlights included Gagosian’s Yayoi Kusama’s work (she’s over 80 years old!), Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2008 which allowed only 3 people to enter the mirrored room, where you stood on a runway surrounded by little twinkling lights, at a time. Unfortunately I was in with two strangers and couldn’t help feeling claustrophobic and uncomfortable so I could barely appreciate the work.
Pierre Bismuth, with Team Gallery in New York, reproduced the gallery’s booth in Hall 2 with his work, Flip Side of the Same, 2010. It was a replica of the gallery’s stand, only without any color, it was black and white. Brilliant. Nancy Spero, who is represented by Galerie Lelong in Paris; Anthony Reynolds Gallery in London; Christine König Galerie in Wien, had a beautiful exhibition of Cri du Coeur, 2005 made of hand printing on paper. The mural that bordered the floor is a moving work that depicts Egyptian women in a procession for a funeral. Cri du Coeur was the first piece she made after her husband’s passing. A cri du coeur translated is a cry of the heart, intensely emotional and about mourning and pleading with heaven.
Monumental was Michael Beutler’s (of Galerie Christian Nagel in Köln) Pipeline Field, 2010 which seems to be made of copious amounts of building materials that were not going to be used to build anything they were ever intended to. I also liked the tactility of the work, since it was made out of PVC and construction materials. I felt very justified in touching it. Further along, Dan Flavin, represented by David Zwirner in New York, showed beautifully through the minimal simplicity of his work: three sets of tangented arcs in daylight and cool white (to Jenny and Ira Licht), 1969 consisting of sets of tangented arcs in daylight and cool white lights.
After my claustrophobia at Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition I decided to skip Sergio Prego’s Ikurriña Qaurter which was an immense white winding plastic tube that you could walk through. It looked like it sucked in its art enthusiast victims and spit them out the other side. But I wasn’t about to take my chances. Surprisingly (well I surprised myself), my favorite work was by Massimo Bartolini (Massimo De Carlo in Milano; Maggazino in Roma; Frith Street Gallery in London) – a pipe organ made of steel scaffolding pipes. It played the first three bars of Cheap Imitation by John Cage. Simple and to the point, you needed to take it in for a moment and realize what the artist had created. But because of the materials it was made from, I am sure many dismissed it.
Zhang Huan (The Pace Gallery in New York) may have had the most disturbing work to me titled, Hero No. 1, 2009. It’s a very large sculpture made out of ox hide, hooves and all. See the photo and decide for yourself.
Of course the pieces by Sigmar Polke, Laterna Magica, 1990 were magical. The two-sided drawings on fabric, stretched across windows that were constructed in a circular shape. The series of paintings have been widely exhibited and embody the most important concerns of his practice. Lastly, I’ll just quickly mention Latifa Echakhch’s work, À chaque stencil une révolution/For Each Stencil a Revolution, (2007 – 2010). I first saw it at Tate Modern’s Level 2 Gallery and then at her great Art Kabinett booth at Art Basel Miami in 2009 with Francesca Kaufmann, Milan. She’s an artist well worth keeping an eye on.
It’s rumored that today is the last day that fair management will accept suggestions for a new title for Art Unlimited. If you have any brilliant ideas, email them in. I look forward to seeing what next years “Art Unlimited” AKA… has in store.