Everyone wants to look fresh when they step off the plane in Basel, but just as important as looking good is what you go to see and where you’re seen. One of the strongest ways for collectors, new and experienced, to show dedication and commitment is to show up in person to support new presentations of artists they acquire. In Basel, more than anywhere else, it is a non-stop meteoric shower of events and openings to attend. So far in this crazed week, we rolled out Münster on Thursday, Zürich on Friday and today we unveil one of the last guides of the summer, an essential concierge for you in Basel. Along with the content in our app, we are sending out our much-loved Alerts (to make sure you are “scene and herd”) only available until the end of the fair. Simply save this number +1-917-214 20 40 to your address book (it must be saved) and send us a WhatsApp message: "Basel here I am" for the latest and hippest events all week. Timing is everything and now is the time to start preparing your favorites.
It goes without saying that before the ‘running of the bulls’ on Tuesday under the clock in the Messeplatz there will be a herd stampede to LISTE fair VIP opening Monday at noon exactly, we recommend arriving early. On opening day the already labyrinth of the old Warteck brewery becomes so crowded, with the who’s who, it is nearly impossible to navigate. Winding around corridors, down in basements and all over the building are some of the most closely watched and critically acclaimed galleries, but not yet colluded into high prices. As the insiders know, it's a place where the newest crop of rising stars are minted, a place to ‘get in on the ground floor.’ The usual suspects: Arcadia Missa, Essex Street, OSLO, High Art and Project Native Informant, will blow us away even though we come to expect that. Here are a few booths we will rush to that are surprising for different reasons. One curiosity is why certain galleries are at LISTE this year and not Art Basel including the incomparable Berlin-based Société.
It is perplexing that a gallery as mature, respected, sophisticated and influential as Berlin-based KOW is at LISTE and not at Art Basel. This year they present a cross section of the program including Ahmet Ögüt, an artist of the post-medium condition whose vast practice shows reverence for everyday moments while politically addressing structural inequality. One example of such work is his urgent and courageous Silent University, a platform for the exchange of information among refugees and asylum seekers without borders.
Powerhouse Brussels- and New York-based CLEARING is presenting a solo of Zak Kitnick (a Brooklyn rising star) who will show sculptures that reference the series of 18 experimental designs at Bell Labs for the dialing pads on the phone after the rotary became outdated. The smart curatorial driven New York-based LOMEX, will present the young American artist Valeric Keane. We can’t help but recall that old fashioned term that Duchamp coined, ‘mobile,’ at least as a starting point for the psychologically charged hanging sculptures of Keane. A perfect pairing with a position from Robert Bittenbender who makes wall sculptures made of drawings and photographs combined with found garbage from the streets of New York. It is a microcosm of the urban ennui appearing variously as skins of collapsed building or skeletal infrastructures of minimalism.
In essence, there are (only) three sprints in the marathon that is Art Basel, first check off LISTE, the second is the dash to Unlimited but save up enough energy for the final leg of the race to Art Basel itself. The Unlimited presentations are proof that no fair can compare to AB in B, it is a ‘section’ of major museum quality solo positions. Once an artist has the honor of being curated into the section by former director of the Swiss Institute in New York Gianni Jetzer, he often advises ‘go big or go home’ – too often subtle work is easily overlooked. You will want to see every artist, and we recommend you: take your time. There are some of our super-favorite all time artists presenting ‘again’ (like Philippe Parreno, Tobias Rehberger, and Jason Rhoades) we have for years carefully followed their careers. Finally, not just one but four African-American artists including the legendary Adrian Piper (whose newly acquired major installation is currently in the epic hall of the Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin) along with Nick Cave, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Mickalene Thomas. We would be sorry to not give mention to Liz Deschenes who nearly defines photography in the expanded field beyond the conventions of the ‘camera,’ to quote Sarah Charlesworth the first time she saw a Deschenes in person we just say “Wow” to its beauty.
Taking in so much art is as challenging on the mind as it is exhausting on your feet, so to avoid ‘fair fatigue’ we highly recommend starting in the Statements-section right when you are most lucid. Another advantage in this section is that you can personally meet and engage the gallerists themselves. Highlights include a solo presentation of Cécile B. Evans, for Galerie Emanuel Layr first time at the fair. Her work deals with the junction of artificial intelligence and emotional affect through increasingly ambitious installations and video works. We will not miss Evans' talk in the Conversations program. The gallery will also be presenting Lena Henke in Parcours. Beijing-based Magician Space presents Wang Shang’s sculptures, wall works, and videos that recall modernist nonobjective art like Alexander Calder but are connected to a double life as a jeweler (interestingly Calder was also a jeweler). Nearby in the section are presentations of many artists on our watchlist: Sam Pulitzer at Real Fine Arts headed up by Tyler Dobson and Ben Morgan-Clevel, Guan Xiao and Wu Tsang at Simon Wang's Antenna Space, Antonio Vega Macotela at LABOR run by Pamela Echeverría and Lui Shtini at New York staple Kate Werble.
In the Galleries-section, it is surprising that among 226 galleries only eleven are new this year. Standouts among the first-timers are Canada, Campoli Presti, Pilar Corrias, and dépendance. Sadly both Andrea Rosen in New York and Vilma Gold in London have closed, a reminder of the uncertainty in the art market this year. A response to these times is that many galleries are bringing conservative works of ‘proven brands,’ but within that, there are new discoveries.
We will head directly to Peter Freeman Inc. (based in Paris and New York). They are showing one of the strangest and coolest Richard Serra sculptures we have seen (it could be mistaken for a Robert Gober) Candle Piece from 1967. It is a golden rust-colored corten steel beam with candles along its entire length. A rare glimpse into the experimental years of Serra before he became reified into trophy art. Timed with Serra’s show at Kunstmuseum Basel focusing on 16 of his lesser-known film works from 1968-79 screened in their original formats. You can also expect the nearly photo-realistic quiet painted-from-life ‘still lifes’ of Josephine Halvorson who is much acclaimed but not as often exhibited as she should be.
By no means are we against glitzy blue-chip galleries but we are blown away when they surprise us which is the case with Victoria Miro. She is dedicating her booth to the late American modernist master Milton Avery. It is rare to see this important work at a fair but makes sense as it is outside of the boring ‘homogenization’ of familiar names yet a very safe ‘investment.’ The timing is perfect after the lauded exhibition at The Met Breuer. At 303 Gallery new paintings by Sue Williams appear deceptively decorative but underneath the surface is radical abject figuration. Juxtaposed with the reverent shaped canvases paintings of Mary Heilmann whose titles alludes to images and narratives in the works: Little Red and Positive Negative. Nearby Andrew Krepswill be bringing a range of mostly sculpture and photographic works to the fair, including a pair of large-scale Hito Steyerl originally conceived for Skulptur Projekte Münster. Polish artist Goshka Macuga’s works are of a more figurative sculptural tradition with a softness and surprising use of materials that is instantly charming. Meyer Riegger is presenting Czech Eva Kotátková who critiques the ‘objective’ world of science, laws, and theories with an absurdist truth that we are all a little wonky or flawed and reality is relative.
The 2017 edition of Art Basel's Parcours will situate 22 site-specific artworks by 21 artists around Basel’s historic Münsterplatz. Curated for the second year by Samuel Leuenberger, founder of SALTS. We are most looking forward to GCC’s work Belief in the Power of Believe, Lena Henke City Lights (Dead Horse Bay) and Erika Verzutti's Cocar/Cockade.
Art Basel Film program is always a highlight in the calendar for us, film is by far the most undervalued by the market but represents some of the strongest work. A great way to start learning about video is to go and see the program curated by Cairo-based Maxa Zoller. Notable in the program is “The Blood of a Poet,” taken after the 1930 Jean Cocteau film. Screening William E. Jones' latest film Fall into Ruin the story of gallerist Alexander Iolas, who gave Warhol his first solo. Jones visited Iolas’ villa during its heyday. We are rushing to see the unmissable Ugo Rondinone’s thanx 4 nothing a love letter to his partner John Giorno while he performs his legendary poem he wrote for his 70th birthday: a gratitude for the full catastrophe living. For the record, the Rondinone is a master work of video. Concluding the program with the rare, unfinished Andy Warhol film Sunset – the late master has more to reveal.
Wolfgang Tillmans is without question among the most important living artists (and artists of the last century). We would be remissed not to mention his show at Fondation Beyeler during the museum’s twenty-year anniversary which marks the first time the renowned institution dedicates a show to a photographer (obviously Tillmans is also post-medium, but importantly not post-studio).
Although the Fondation Beyeler is widely considered the museum of note in Basel, it is Kunsthalle Basel we pay the closest attention to. First, a group show titled “Ungestalt,” which the press release claims is “untranslatable” literally in opposition to “Gestalt” (so that covers the whole mess of contemporary psychology), making it a catch-all excuse for an awesome lineup. The show includes Supernova Marcel Duchamp, giants like Trisha Donnelly, blue-chip darlings like Adrián Villar Rojas and a huge section of our emerging watchlist: Olga Balema, Eric N. Mack, Park McArthur to name a few. The ‘big’ show will be the premiere in Switzerland of the fantastic and potentially most important artist you likely have not heard of (yet) Yan Xing. His exhibition moves across media centered around elaborate narratives realized in the performative arena of conceptual objects and happenings. This exhibition follows a fictional curator ‘based on real life’ unfolding in surprising and unexpected ways. Mark our words, Xing will be making the news soon.
Always fulfilling is the opening party with one of the best roast-outs in town in the garden of the non-profit SALTS. In The Printed Room which is dedicated to literary-based works is a show of Ho King Man titled “Stiff Cotton Brain Stone” curated by the amazing Harry Burke of Artists Space. A solo show by Caroline Mesquita involving sculptures made from life-size oxidized and painted metal sheets that become silhouettes with a theatrical ‘other-directedness.’ Lastly the first Swiss show of Mélodie Mousset, who presents a mass of terracotta with earth spilling through the door and blocking the entrance as a site-specific large-scale installation in the front yard. You eventually have to climb through the window to view avatars of David Bowie and Tilda Swinton.
There have been a lot of changes in recent years where Basel has unbuttoned its collar in a way with a lot more parties than ever before. Some of the glam of Miami Beach seems to be spreading with new pop-up clubs that host billionaires, fashionistas, and the new crop of ultra-hip worldly young (often super-young) collectors. We will certainly see you at the Three Kings where Napoleon, Picasso, and Thomas Mann have all stayed. Here you can see film-stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, collecting-stars like Steven A. Cohen, or art-stars like Damien Hirst. Most other nights the best dancing is at the Kunsthalle where you can have shockingly overpriced drinks, but it is all worth it for the contagious energy. For all the special nightlife events we will send out Alerts.
Alternatively, you can side-step the endless cycle of parties for a peaceful escape; throw your clothes in a bag and float down the scenic River Rhine in one of the most beautiful moments with nature before the summer break.
Godspeed this week, to great spirits, and a much-needed rest after Basel.
– Justin Polera