In the congested summer schedule of the touring art world, Art Basel is an event sometimes preferably ignored but never forgotten. On Tuesday, we joined the herd of First Choice VIPs to rush the fair like the ‘Running of the Bulls.’
The best part of Basel for us is the Unlimited section, which is museum quality presentations on a large scale. At Unlimited the rule is: Go big or go home. One observation is that the hippest artist working today seem to be octogenarians, especially refocusing on women. At least Alison Knowles looks fresher than ever. Knowles was serving up salad in the recreation of an iconic 1960's Fluxus happening. It was delicious.
A bit younger but equally exciting was AA Bronson's presentation, a complex narrative installation called Folly which contains in its objects the performative and collaborative nature of the artist-healer. Identity politics has seemed to make a return, it is urgently needed. We paid our respects to Tunga, Brazil's most famous artist who blazed the trail for South American works; he passed away tragically to cancer this month.
We ran to the Statements section to see the solo presentation of young emerging artists. The young Venezuelan artist Sol Calero is a stand out of all of Art Basel bringing brilliant imagery and ideas from non-Western cultures at the booth of Laura Bartlett Gallery. Piotr Lakomy presented by Galeria Stereo from Warsaw has a new body of work that engages painting – it combines profound ideas of the body, communication, energy flow, isolation and contemporary exhaustion. Timur Si-Qin presented by Societé also somehow addresses contemporary anxieties furthering his Peace branding in an impressive installation that went to a prestigious European collection. Ajay Kurian presented by 47 Canal also critiques the identity politics of health-obsessed lifestyles among a multitude of contradictory subjectivity. Foxy Production showed Canadian artist Sara Cwynar, and Arratia Beer presents American artist Mary Reid Kelley both won the prestigious Baloise Art Prize.
On the second floor, Esther Schipper presents The Miss General Idea Gown as the central work, an iconic piece from the 1970's, made of Venetian blinds fashioned into pyramid shapes. Two sounds animate the booth, the drum roll of Anri Sala and the sound of names being called out by the Pierre Huyghe work Role Announcer. Across the aisle, Gavin Brown presents a dueling drummer work with the Mark Leckey lightbox that sounds off. David Kordansky presents Rashid Johnson who returns the image to painting of 'angsty men' in a stunning painting titled Colored People reminding us of the still all to white art world.
Monday we spent at Liste, where Essex Street had a much talked about dual presentation of Valerie Snobeck and Torey Thornton. Mother's Tankstation from Dublin presented Sebastian Lloyd Rees and Frieze Artist Prize 2016 winner Yuri Pattison – whose upcoming Chisenhale show is curated by ‘MacArthur genius’ Polly Staple. There were strong presentations including David Lewis (New York), Freedman Fitzpatrick (Los Angeles), KOW (Berlin), LambdaLambdaLambda (Pristina), Limoncello (London). Hats off to Project Native Informant (London) presenting DIS, GCC and new work of Ned Vena (all worth the hype). Lastly, Dépendance (Brussels) had a knock out booth with Ed Atkins and Nora Schultz among others – the latter creating tripods that converge on concrete heads resembling teeth. Ed Atkins seems ubiquitous but is unquestionably among the brightest minds of his generation.
Monday was for Liste and Unlimited, Tuesday for Art Basel, and Wednesday we went to see the institutions and museums of Basel.
At Kunsthalle Basel Yvnge Holen is the toast of the town with the major exhibition opening with an entire hallway of sculptures of cut sections of barbwire airport fences. Like all of his work, the body is implicated but absent from his minimalist tropes. Titled VERTICALSEAT they magically transform everyday objects centered around core themes of human boundaries.
It is Anne Imhof upstairs whose performance Angst we were waiting for. Considered among the significant living artists, she picks up where Pina Bausch seems to have left off. Imhof is the exact antidote to the feeding frenzy of the pure art fair market (it is not lost on us that the paintings sell at the Isabella Bortolozzi booth). Imhof reminds us why we are in the arts, that the art world is much bigger than the art market. Collectors' money is only one measure of a work; there are others such as prizes, biennales, museum exhibitions, scholarship, all of which Imhof has duly earned.
Art Basel was overwhelming and exhausting. At times it was underwhelming, at times, it blew us away. As every year, we couldn't wait until it started but now we are happy that it's over.
– Justin Polera