Friday, July 29, 2011

Where history meets contemporary art

After the successful introduction to Art Basel last year by Jens Hoffman, the Art Parcours program returned this year for its second edition in the St. Alban Tal area along the Rhine. The idea was to create a strong interaction with Basel's past and present, weaving artistic interventions into the fabric of the historic city. "The fair halls are so clean and proper and without much character that the historical buildings that we have chosen seem like the best contrast," Hoffman explained. In my opinion, it was exactly this contrast that made Art Parcours a million times more interesting.

Some of the venues were old houses in the neighborhood. Gabriel Sierra inserted various wooden structures in the different rooms of Raum33, marking the spatial sequence between the street and the riverfront. Anne Chu covered the floor of Hohen Dolder House with large rugs inspired by the deer-antler motifs in the surrounding murals.

Gabriel Sierra, Untitled, Estructures for transition #9
Anne Chu, A resting place with William Tell

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller showed their playfulness in the pop-up bar inside an old water reservoir. Through a heavy old door and a dimly-lit staircase, you entered a vaulted space with a tiki hut in the middle. There were dancing waves projected on the damp walls, tropical music playing in the background, and a couple of bartenders serving you colorful fruity cocktails.
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Blue Hawaii Bar

On a cargo ship, Chris Johanson built a stage for his own Art Parcours Night performance with his band Sun Foot. I don't know how it looked during the party. But in the day, it didn't find it so appealing.
Chris Johanson / Sun Foot, An Evening of Going Through Things and Looking at Each Other with Each Other

Along the river bank, Costa Rican artist Federico Herrero painted four fishing huts with colors and shapes from his hometown San José, bringing an unusual festive atmosphere to the quite Swiss town.
Federico Herrero, Vibrantes

It was ironic to see Ai Weiwei's work on the old city wall. In a way, these remains of the medieval fortification reminded me of the various walls in China and the artist in prison.
Ai Weiwei, Fairytale People

In front of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Yinka Shonibare "decorated" the trees along the river with hundreds of kites of different colors and patterns. They could be flying or trapped, depending on your mood when you saw it I guess.
Yinka Shonibare, 500 Kites

Three sculptures by Ugo Rondinone from the Scholar Rocks series were placed in the St. Alban churchyard. Well, you know what it is - I don't have too much to say about this.
Ugo Rondinone, Scholar Rocks

The best work of all was inside the St. Alban Church, where Belgian artist Kris Martin covered the floor with innumerable tiny bronze discs. It was extremely moving because of the multiple layers of dual qualities: subtlety and strong presence; playfulness and sublime; specificity and ambiguity; form and formless; transience and eternity. It gave us a great example of well-balanced intervention and interaction.
Kris Martin, Festum II

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