Lovers of prime-quality art, gossipy shenanigans, and overpriced liquor rejoice: Art Basel is back this week with its 2018 edition.
The fair will once again be the center point of a bustling week for the quaint Swiss town. Art Basel itself sports an uber-dense program with its Unlimited, Conversations, Parcours, Film and Gallery sectors. To that, you may add LISTE, numerous museum and gallery shows, a couple of additional fairs that tend to get lost in the mix, the always rewarding Swiss Art Awards and Swiss Design Awards, Design Miami and a plethora of events, dinners and parties. No doubt your calendar will be bursting at the seams, and you’ll be in the mood for a week of silent detox in some protestant cloister after all that. It goes without saying we can’t possibly point you towards all the highlights: but we’ll try to mention most of those we find particularly noteworthy.
227 galleries participate in Art Basel’s main sector. From modernist masters to emerging stars, you’ll be confronted with an astonishing array of works. New York’s Salon 94 is bringing an exciting selection of porcelain works by American legends Judy Chicago and Betty Woodman, as well as quite desirable, bejeweled teacups by Japanese artist Takuro Kuwata. Another New York gallery, Bureau, combines luscious painting with small-scale sculpture: Patricia Treib’s canvases, in which geometry meets calligraphic gestures, will neighbor the shell-like, pale objects of Matt Hoyt. By the way, small-scale sculpture itself seems to be a quite a trend this year: Ron Nagle’s glossy oddities at Stuart Shave / Modern Art, Karin Sander’s melting glass blobs at i8 and Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, as well as Izumi Kato’s colorful stone humanoids at Take Ninagawa are only some examples of it. Those interested in works bridging abstraction with figuration might find an excellent example at Canada, where Jason Fox’s Equalizer (1999), a painting conjuring violence, technology, and cosmic extrapolations will be on view. Nicole Eisenman seems to have been working towards this sort of formal tension lately too: examples of recent works will be on view at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Anton Kern Gallery and Galerie Barbara Weiss respectively.
A few galleries have managed to bring a particularly exciting number of pieces to Basel. One of them is London’s The Approach: works by eight artists will be shown at its booth, among which are the visual puns of Allison Katz, the late Heidi Bucher’s phantomatic latex skins and the severe yet sensual collages of John Stezaker. Another booth one may look forward to is local gallery Nicolas Krupp’s: here, Yoan Mudry’s riddles-as-paintings, Emma Talbot’s bewitching textile works, and Atta Kwami’s structural compositions look particularly desirable. The same goes for Berlin’s Meyer Riegger, who brings Mirjam Cahn, Robert Janitz, and Daniel Knorr to the table, among others. And Beijing’s Urs Meile has also selected pretty thrilling works, primarily by Chinese artists: a misty rabbit by Shao Fan, a video sculpture by Cheng Ran and a gorgeous canvas by Xie Nanxing, halfway between the fur of a leopard and the surface of a pond, count among our favorites.
Always slightly more adventurous than the main section are the Statementspresentations. The buzz is assured for artist Aude Pariset, whose gallery Sandy Brown is brave enough to bring a work that includes live maggots to the fair: no doubt it will make the audience shiver and gasp, hopefully in a good way. NY’s Essex Street will show the flinty and spooky photographs of Belgian artist Sara Deraedt, which mostly depict electronic devices like vacuum cleaners as mementos of our depressing reliance on such items. Beijing’s White Space has had the excellent idea to show drawings by the fabulous Christine Sun Kim, who in her work explores the complex poetry of sound and language.
But for now, enough with Art Basel: if you aren’t too exhausted yet, let’s turn our attention to LISTE. At this satellite fair, one tends to feel drowned in mid-size paintings – easy to transport, not too expensive and consequently more sellable than anything else. It’s therefore refreshing to see one of LISTE’s newcomers, Vienna-based gallery Gianni Manhattan, go the opposite way and focus on large, almost stately sculptures: they’re by Hungarian artist Zsófia Keresztes and evoke both alien warriors and 1990s bathrooms – a combination that works surprisingly well. Another newcomer is Galería PM8, based in Vigo, Portugal. PM8 also chose a solo presentation: subtle works exploring light and obscurity by Lithuanian artist Elena Narbutaitė will be on view. Sé, from São Paulo, is another exciting first-timer: the gallery will show works by two Brazilian artists, Dalton Paula and Gustavo Speridião. Both explore untold, if not untellable facets of history through practices that combine complex discourses with vigorous, albeit controlled movement. Fans of seemingly naive figurations should visit the booth of Zurich gallery Gregor Staiger, where Nicolas Party’salways seductive takes on banality will be up for grabs, if they aren’t sold prior to the fair already. London’s The Sunday Painter, whose fair presentations are often particularly striking, brings two artists testing the limits of their respective medium to Basel: sculptor Kate Newby and painter Cynthia Daignault, both of whom seem committed to a pretty radical take on art-making. Pleasantly enough, solo presentations by young female artists seem pretty popular this year: Park View / Paul Soto will show a new body of work by Argentinian artist Victoria Colmegna, in which architectural maquettes function as potential spaces for emotional and physical interactions. Last but not least, Dan Gunnbrings a much-needed dose of queer, punk chaos to the mix with works by Vaginal Davis, whose wild practice and persona are the sort of cathartic element an art fair, and by extent the art world, often requires to remain on its toes. Davis will also perform in the frame of LISTE’s Performance Project, a happening that will hopefully scandalize the prude faction and shake those who thought they'd seen it all already.
While you run from booth to booth trying to Instagram all these riches, don’t forget Basel also has its fair share (see the (dad) joke here?) of fantastic exhibition spaces and institutions to visit. SALTS, located in Birsfelden, is a good example: on a relatively small surface, Samuel Leuenberger (who this year again curates the Parcours section of Art Basel), Elise Lammer, and Harry Burke always manage to present a program so enticing their annual Thursday night opening / BBQ attracts virtually everyone, because most people just enjoy the balance between challenging content and approachability they always manage to strike (and the sausages on offer). This year, three shows by Rodrigo Hernandez, Jumana Manna as well as Bhanu Kapil and Khairani Barokka will be on view. Expect rain for the opening, because there’s never been a dry SALTS vernissage, but that shan’t discourage you: it always ends up being a fun and illuminating moment.
At Kunsthalle Basel, two concurrent exhibitions are already making hearts beat faster. On the one hand, Raphaela Vogel’s “Ultranackt” explores art production as the ultimate strategy of self-determination; on the other, Luke Wilis Thompson’s distillates the concept of skin as both protection and surface of attack in a mesmerizing video, titled _Human. Both these shows deal with the body as a tool of artistic production and resistance, which God knows is a topic we’ve seen used and abused hundreds of times over the past years. Kunsthalle Basel, however, approaches its shows with a hyper-contemporary sensitivity while simultaneously eschewing ephemeral trendiness, and so we can only recommend a visit.
If you enjoy old masters combined with pastoral premises, a twenty-minute tram ride will bring you to Fondation Beyeler. Nestled in the middle of a sublime garden, the Renzo Piano-designed building, soon to be graced with an expansion by Peter Zumthor, currently houses a duo show of Giacometti and Bacon. One might frown at the thought of these two equally domineering practices combined in a single exhibition, but Fondation Beyeler and its curatorial team have almost made a specialty out of marrying seemingly dissonant bodies of work with one another. It’s quite an experience to visit this enchanted place, and it usually proves a welcome change of scenery from the overcrowded corridors of Art Basel, where one breathes the same air as forty thousand other people for seven days straight.
Now, one could also mention Kunstmuseum and its (probably) fantastic Theaster Gates show, von Bartha’s gas-station-turned-gallery, Schaulager (with its mind blowing Bruce Nauman presentation), and all the other great spaces of Basel: but in the end, there’s no need for that if you’ve got our app, on which you’ll get a comprehensive overview of all shows running in the city throughout the fair. Also, if Basel proves too much, don’t forget you can escape to Zurich in less than an hour, and there’s plenty to see there too: We also cover it, so you’ll just need to switch cities to stay up to date.
Finally, no Art Basel would be Art Basel without its load of dinners, private receptions, VIP brunches, and parties. If you’re not afraid of witnessing artworld people dance – which can be quite a depressing spectacle of clumsiness and egomania – make sure to turn on push notifications in Exhibitionary, because we’ll regularly inform you of what’s happening every night (and during the day as well).
Hopefully, we’ve equipped you with essential knowledge to explore the whole thing efficiently. Have fun at the fair and enjoy every odd, cringy, glamorous and ultimately unique moment you’ll be witnessing!
– Karim Crippa