Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Art supermarket

After a whole month, I finally have the time to start blogging about Art Basel. Official announcement said that the 42nd annual art fair attracted record attendance of 65,000 visitors coming to see an estimated $1.75 billion worth of art by 2,500 artists represented by more than 300 galleries from 35 countries.

I have to say, the fair was overwhelming in quantity but a bit underwhelming in quality. You could see 20th century masters like Picasso, Miro, and Francis Bacon; plus contemporary blue-chip artists such as Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, and Anish Kapoor. But the setting didn't feel right - the atmosphere in the exhibition halls had an uncanny resemblance to what's in a supermarket. Just instead of 99¢, the price tags would probably say $99,000.

The Huffington Post reported that 300 private jets landed in the city on the first day, drawing in celebrities like Eli Broad, Naomi Campbell, and Will Ferrell. The media suggested that it was a sign of recovering economy. True or not, I guess at least for rich people art was still a safer place to put their money than the investment banking system.

VIP lounge
Antony Gormley, Tony Cragg, and Not Vital at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac
Richard Long's "Autumn to Winter Circle" (2010) seems a bit out of context
Jaume Plensa's "Three Graces" (2010) is quite cramped in here without too much grace.
Louise Bourgeois' "Eyes" (2001) lying at the Cheim & Read booth
Bernar Venet's "216.5° Arc x 14" (2007) seems to be randomly placed in an office.
Businessman on the phone: Should we buy this Ai Weiwei?

But of course, out of $1.75 billion worth of art, there must be something interesting. The "Art Unlimited" sector, for example, featured several nice large installations. My favorite is To R.M. for EVER, where Swedish artist Christian Andersson constructed the scene of René Magritte's The Art of Conversation in reality with styrofoam and plaster. Mona Hatoum's Impenetrable used barbed wires to form a floating cube, combining the notions of delicacy and danger. Other artists in this sector included Daniel Buren (who also brought some subtle changes to the escalators), Puerto Rican duo Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla who were chosen to represent the US in the Venice Biennale this year, and not surprisingly, Anish Kapoor.
Art Unlimited. Left: Nari Ward, CarouSoul, 2011
Right: Kendell Geers, Hanging Piece, 1993
Mario Merz, 74 gradini riappaiono in una crescita di geometria concentrica, 1992
Christian Andersson, To R.M. for EVER, 2011
Mona Hatoum, Impenetrable, 2009
Daniel Buren, Autour du retour d'un détour - Inscriptions, 1986-1988
The escalator "decorated" by Daniel Buren
Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla, Scale of Justice Carried by Shore Foam, 2010
Anish Kapoor, Push - Pull, 2008

Anish Kapoor was quite ubiquitous this time. His unique sensitivity towards material and space never failed me. Other artists like Takashi Naraha used the same play of smoothness and roughness in his sculptures, and produced very nice works as well.
Anish Kapoor, Untitled, 2011
Anish Kapoor, Sans titre, 2011
Takashi Naraha, Mandala-Wall N86, 1990

Smoothness vs. roughness seemed to be a common concern between Kapoor and many other sculptors. Tony Cragg reached a certain roughness with his wrinkled smoothness, and this time the smoothness wrapped around and created mysterious inner spaces. David Altmejd's signature plaster casting with burlap explored the textures of purity and decay.
Tony Cragg, Lost in Thought, 2011
David Altmejd, Untitled, 2011

Here are some other curious objects. The little marble Manhattan made me a bit nostalgic...
David Shrigley, Thing, 2008
Yutaka Sone, Little Manhanttan (marble), 2007-09
Paul McCarthy, Tripod, 2006
Jesus Rafael Soto and Olle Baertling at Galerie Denise René Rive Gauche

Objects were one thing, but the subtlety of special material treatments always intrigued me more. Emil Lukas's Growing Sound, for example, used thread to "paint" a surface - extremely brilliant and exquisite.
Mária Bartuszová, Untitled 23, 1987
Emil Lukas, Growing Sound (thread over wood frame), 2011

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