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“Bâle, it’s a ball!” We spent the day at Art Basel Unlimited, an art fair for XXL works

 

Monumental works filling up Instagram accounts, inveterate collectors of magic and poetry… Art Basel is the one fair not to be missed. Numéro takes a colourful tour of the section devoted to the really big pieces.

Irregular Tower (1999), 579,1 x 200,7 x 200,7 cm. Close to six meters high, by Sol LeWitt, Alfonso Artiaco gallery.

Tomato Head (Green) [1994] by Paul McCarthy, Hauser & Wirth gallery.

 

 

The Bâle fair wants to be the biggest contemporary art fair in the world. If nothing else it’s certainly the most magical. A magic so powerful it starts at the Gare de Lyon in Paris. In the 7.23am TGV train, destination Switzerland, it’s palpable. Discussions are juicy. Two collectors introduce their wives, trophies sporting so plastic surgery they probably cost as much as a Damian Hirst. One thirty-something exclaims: “As my father says, when you’re young you can dream but you can’t afford it.  And when you’re old you can afford it but you can’t get in it.” He’s talking Porsches of course. And who’s got the biggest one. It’s all about size, as another gallery owner philosophises with her neighbour over the length of the steps in her new swimming pool. 26cm. (Apparently the average is 30.) “Luckily my husband doesn’t have big feet.” Her colleague nods appreciatively. 

Black Styrofoam on Black Wall/White Styrofoam on White Wall (1993) by Sol LeWitt, 4 x 10 m, Paula Cooper Gallery and Konrad Fischer Gallery.

 

 

“IT’S BETTER THAN THE MUSEUM, YOU CAN BUY.”

 

There’s much talk of numbers at this fair. And rightly so.  Art Basel Unlimited, the section devoted to works of museum proportions, is truly one of a kind. This year no less than 88 pieces – 14 more than last year – are being exhibited over 16,000 m2. Almost enough to snap the facial staples and get a smile out of the bimbos who’ve jetted in from around the world to teeter down the alleys. There’s much simpering in front of the living or dead legends, and their historic works: two by Sol LeWitt, the pope of American conceptual art, a 15m long Frank Stella in neon shades, a 1964 Christo, one of Dan Graham’s famous pavilions at the entrance and a return to Joseph Kosuth’s first gallery exhibition of 1968. “It’s better than at the museum because you can buy things here,” we overhear. We would’ve liked to tell you about James Turrell, but the interminable queue was only for the very courageous. As one exasperated veteran explains, “There are so many people invited during the VIP days it’s better to be a nobody and come at the weekend.” 

 

 

The Collector’s House (2016) by Hans Op de Beeck, Marianne Boesky Gallery, Galleria Continua & Krinzinger Gallery.

 

 

FROM ANAL PLUG MUSHROOM TO AN ELECTRIC ANGEL

 

Far from being nobodies, the big guns are here with Anish Kapoor (stones covered with an explosive blue pigment) and Ai Weiwei (a White House) very much present and correct… We personally prefer Isa Genzken, the most important female artist of the last 30 years according to MoMa, and her installation of 2.0 gargoyles and angels made from electric cables and plastic. And the German cult photographer Wolfgang Tillmans (his installation of 48 shots represent one of the artist’s most important exhibitions). And the provocateur Paul McCarthy – he was responsible for the anal plug on the Place Vendôme – and his character with a tomato head surrounded by mushroom-vibrators. The kids love it. Hans Op de Beeck has recreated the interior of a collector’s house. That’s a clever one. Collectors always love being talk about. The Elmgreen & Dragset duo – on show next door – know that too. Their collector’s interior was a smash hit at the Venice Biennale in 2009.

New York Installation PCR, 525 (2015) by Wolfgang Tillmans, David Zwirner gallery.

Dragon (1992) by Anish Kapoor, Gladstone Gallery and Lisson Gallery.

Out of Ousia (2016) by Alicja Kwade, 303 Gallery, König Gallery and Kamel Mennour gallery.

 

 

A BIT OF POETRY IN A BRUTAL (CONCRETE) WORLD  

 

We found poetry with Alicja Kwade and her installation that plays with our perceptions in a game of mirrors. Depending on the perspective, a natural rock gets confused with its aluminium replica… Aged 37 the star status of the Polish artist, now living in Berlin, is confirmed, if it really needed to be. The same goes for Argentinian Pablo Bronstein, aged 39. His series of inks and watercolours on canvas proffer a panorama of imaginary and sinister Roman monuments, brilliantly combining baroque, antique, Viennese fin de siècle and 1930s inspirations.

Cross Section of the Via Appia in Late Antiquity (2015) by Pablo Bronstein, Herald St gallery and Galleria Franco Noero.

 

 

WATCHWORD: D.I.V.E.R.S.I.T.Y

 

Bâle would never be the fair it is if it didn’t keep up with big trends in contemporary art. And fashion today is all about one thing: DIVERSITY. From the new hangings at the Tate Modern in London (unveiled at the same time as Art Basel) to the commitments of big American museums, the case is being made: more women are needed, more non-Western artists, more video work, more performance, more of more. And it was high time! Obviously there’s great works from China (Cheng Ran from Inner Mongolia for example), India (Mithu Sen and Prabhavathi Meppayil), Brazil (Paulo Nazareth) and Mexico (Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Krzysztof Wodiczko)… 

 

Mimed Sculptures (2016) by Davide Balula, Frank Elbaz gallery.

 

 

 

Art Basel Unlimited is not just the preserve of the well-known western white male artist and offers plenty of lovely surprises. Take Singaporean Ho Tzu Nyen and her 21-minute video, The Nameless, a perfect success. While she recounts in her voice-over the incredible story of the General Secretary of the Malaysian Communist Party, it’s Tony Leung who embodies him. Ho Tzy Nyen has dipped into the great films of the Hong Kong actor notably by film-maker Wong Kar-Wai, to tell the story through different extracts.   

 

 

“AIR ART”: LIKE AIR GUITAR BUT WITH ART  

 

On the performance front, we particularly like Davide Balula who does a sort of “air art”. Just like the air guitar, Balula’s mimed sculptures require performers to reconstruct iconic sculptures by gesturing with their hands, everything from Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois to Henry Moore was being crafted out of thin air. Fascinating. 

Ascenseur (2013) by Laura Lima, A Gentil Carioca Gallery, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery and Galleria Liuisa Strina.

 

 

 

BLUE WATER AND A SONIC WEAPON

 

In Bâle just like everywhere else, certain pieces intrigue more than others. The artist Laura Lima lost her keys and tries to find them by patting around on the floor. It’s a performance. A soldier overlooks the great hall of Art Basel  with a menacing regard. This isn’t security – we’re in Switzerland – but the work of Samson Young. In fact the man sports the uniform of the Hong Kong police force and is ready to use his sonic weapon – a gun that emits a frequency that makes the crowds disperse. As for Pamela Rosenkranz , she’s installed a sink whose tap delivers only blue water. A brash young man uses it as an opportunity to approach a woman absorbed by the spectacle: “I’m really thirsty,” he pants over shoulder. As a gallery owner on 7.27 from Paris said, “Bâle really is a ball.”

 

Art Basel Unlimited, in Bâle. Until June 19th  

 

By Thibaut Wychowanok

 

 

 

 

Blun Runs (2016) by Pamela Rosenkranz, Miguel Abreu Gallery, Karma International and Sprüth Magers.

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