This was my first Basel fair. I arrived in the afternoon of June 16th, so I missed the opening night and most of the first day. By that first afternoon, sales were already strong. The general mood among sales staffs seemed relaxed, thanks to sales, but also relieved about the future. Things were not back to the robust days of yore, but they were moving. Multiple dealers beamed when I asked them about sales. One English dealer, drinking a cappuccino while watching the Saturday fair tourists crowd his booth, shrugged and smiled, “We did so well. I’m just waiting to go home now!” His glee was fuller than most, but indicative of the general (validated) optimism.
It rained almost the whole week –except for the evening of Fondation Beyeler’s reception. The Fondation’s Basquiat show (Basquiat, May 5 – September 19, 2010) was beautifully installed. The rooms were confident and concise. “Concision” is an odd description of/reaction to such a large show of so many monumental works. Yet, the combination of the Fondation’s crisp, expansive rooms and the confident installation guided the viewer with a simple, gentle hand. Works were organized chronologically and then thematically within the time periods. This method was particularly successful with the works from 1981-1983, and relieved me when we got to the later, Warhol-collaboration canvases. The exhibition told a story, without allowing the thematic rooms to be too cute. Within the themes, works were positioned to suggest pairings of two or three otherwise independent pieces. I may have found certain works stronger, had they not been placed in a pseudo-diptych or triptych, but I didn’t mind. I appreciated the visual proposals. Some works had been originally painted on the same canvas, which was then cut to create two (or more) distinct pieces, eventually destined for separate collections across the globe. The reunions were enjoyable, but I preferred the show’s playful, thoughtful, unexpected groupings.
Works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres were also on display (and being consumed) at the Beyeler, installed amongst the Fondation’s permanent collection, as part of Felix Gonzales-Torres: Specific Objects without Specific Form (May 22 – August 29, 2010). I was not keen on all of the juxtapositions, like the primary color paper stacks sitting quaintly in front of Mondrian’s grids. Other installations, however, like the rectangle of silver-wrapped candies in a lower lever gallery, where rays of the setting sun were streaming through the window …well, that was a sight (and site) I will keep in my mind for a long time to come.
Another highlight was the Rosemarie Trockel show at Kunstmuseum Basel (Rosemarie Trockel: Drawings, Collages, and Book Drafts, May 30 – September 5, 2010). I also enjoyed slipping away from the contemporary scene for a minute to peruse the museum’s permanent collection.
The rain did not cease for the opening of Art Parcours –the installations scattered throughout central Basel. I sacrificed a pair of shoes running between works in the downpour. Angela Bulloch’s Night Sky: Mercury & Venus (2010), a lightbox of constellations hanging in the transept of Basel’s Münster Cathedral, was worth ruining a pair of Pradas (well, sort of).
The lowlight was not having enough time to even think about exhibition sectors like Art Statements. Does it even count as having seen Art Unlimited, if I hardly paused to watch anything all the way through (partially because the lines were too long and the video rooms too packed)? Not really. I’m still mad that I didn’t have the chance to see Matthew Barney’s show (Prayer Sheet with the Wound and the Nail, June 12 – October 3, 2010) at the Shaulager. As far as frustrations go, though, a bounty of riches isn’t bad.