Amongst the shiny and large art objects that dominate this year’s Art Basel there is still room for a more in-depth approach to an artist’s work. Luckily there are galleries that have the guts to present solo presentations and installations that need time to consider and are not there for a single visual punch. Simon Fujiwara’s installation Letters from Mexico at Gio Marconi, Robert Kusmirowski’s installation Variation on a theme of Jackson Pollock at Johnen and Matts Leiderstam’s solo at Andréhn-Schiptjenko are prime examples. Dvir provides an interesting thematic group exhibition based on the disappearance of the artist Bas Jan Ader in 1975.
Markus Schinwald, Austria’s representing artist at the Venice Biennial cannot be missed; his reworked nineteenth century portraits are shown at three different galleries. The same kind of appropriation can be seen in works by amongst others Hans Peter Feldmann and Francesco Vezzoli. Coinciding with the art fair Francis Alÿs is showing his large collection of Fabiola paintings in the wonderful surroundings of the Haus zum Kirschgarten. Here they hang prominently next to old family portraits, but also in the cleaning cupboard. No distinction is being made between high or low art. This can also be said for the many artists that seem to follow Gedi Sibony’s aesthetics in their use of cheap ordinary construction or quotidian materials that they manage to transform into visually appealing works of art: Paul Lee uses dyed and cut towels at Modern Art/Stuart Shave, Manfred Pernice plain tiles and Klara Liden old posters, both at Neu. At the Liste Art Fair Vanessa Billy can be seen using concrete, steel and towels at BolteLang, at Herald Street Michael Dean’s concrete sculptures are a subtle stand out. At the Volta Art Fair at Kavi Gupta Gallery, Theaster Gates surprises with his arresting minimal tableaus made out of decommissioned fire hoses, a reference to the violent hosing of civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.Portraits and materials:
Painting is still very much alive and all kinds of experimenting go on from using coffee and chocolate as materials, as does Pascale Marthine Tayou at Continua, to painting instructions how to hang a painting by Jonathan Monk at Wallner. At Liste one can see Mark Barrow’s painting on complex hand-loomed textiles at Elizabeth Dee. At Art Statements Lydia Gifford provides an interesting combination of Sibony’s aesthetics and painterly experimentation, as she investigates the boundaries between carrier and wall.
Although there are good things happening in painting many of the worst artworks to be seen in Basel are paintings as well. These are mainly figurative, preferably large scale, overly romantic, colourful, sometimes quite graphic and they seem to exist in a time warp of their own. It is a good thing to notice that a powerhouse gallery like Xavier Hufkens is willing to show small abstract paintings by Lesley Vance next to all the large scale works in their booth at Art Basel.Highlights:
Next to the deal-making going on at the fairs there is still enough awareness of what is going on in the world around us. At Liste ZINGERpresents is showing a taxi that was made into an artwork by Wim T. Schippers in 1982 through a commission by the Peter Stuyvesant Collection. After serving for two years as a taxi in Paris the car was sold and eventually ended up in a warehouse in the Dutch municipality of Zevenaar. No one has taken any notice of the decaying car since then. At Liste it now stands as a symbol of what can happen when a country does not take care of one’s artists or one’s artworks. It is a clear sign that art cannot be left to the market alone, although the current Dutch government foolishly thinks otherwise.
At Art Basel Neugerriemschneider is devoting their booth to an installation of vases by Ai Weiwei and is handing out buttons with the text Where is Ai Weiwei in several languages including Chinese. On the old town walls of Basel there is an installation of 500 large photographs from a former project by Ai. One can even encounter some politically aware visitors roaming the aisles of Art Basel wearing masks with the face of Ai on it. Incidentally, at Liste one of the most exciting presentations is a small group show of young Chinese artists curated by Li Zhenhua. Most striking are the videos of a collective called Double Fly Group, in which the artists intervene in daily Chinese life, by for example falling asleep and drooling in an expensive restaurant or singing loudly in the street that they want an exhibition. It is very encouraging to see that a young generation of Chinese artists is loudmouthed and does not seem deterred by what happens to Ai and dares to carve a path for itself.Lows: