June 07, 2008

Art Basel

The rail trip from Stuttgart to Basel takes about 2 hours and is straight forward except for the dashing change at Karlsruhe. In Basel I stayed with the excellent Swiss artist and Director of the Institute of Curatorship and Education, Marianne Eigenheer http://cms.ifa.de/en/exhibitions/exhibitions-abroad/bk/kunstraum-deutschland/marianne-eigenheer/type/98/ . Shortly after I arrived Frank Hettig and Ed Beardsley (from Bonhams in Los Angeles) arrived. Upon which we set off for the first big opening Art Unlimited http://www.artbasel.com/go/id/elj/ at which invited international galleries show one artist only. We met up with Patrick Panetta one of the curatorial partnership of KP in Berlin (www.kimura-panetta.de) – we had been set up to meet to discuss a possible show for me at their space. Standing in the sunshine, drinking champagne is part of the scene of meeting old and new friends, new contacts, new projects, and of course being seen. I had a most interesting conversation with Eva & Adele, http://www.evaadele.com/INTRO.HTM who are an artist collaboration gender persona who have recently shown at KP.

Inside Art Unlimited itself there was little of interest. The only work that stood out was a beautifully lyrical video piece called Morakot (Emerald) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul from Thailand
http://artforum.com/print.php?id=20205&pn=picks&action=print . While the most striking thing was a whole railway carriage shipped all the way from China containing an installation (which I didn’t queue for). It was striking more for the exaggeration of its presence in the hall, which counterpointed the problem with the majority of the exhibits: the hall itself; in this very difficult spatial context, galleries had individual display areas but these areas were predominantly the temporary trade fair display set up, which meant that even works that could have been interesting seemed out of place, not really there. As with much of Art Basel, this doesn’t seem to matter because the most important thing is the gallery/artist having achieved the status/value to have made the selection.

Then we walked a few blocks to Liste.
http://www.liste.ch/ .This was 4 floors of gallerists, showing young artists from all over the world – it was like a giant degree show, really, with not much standing out. I was pleased to meet David Thorpe at long last – he is currently working on the new contemporary programme for the Royal Academy in London.
The only artist who stood out at Liste was Dean Hughes
http://www.artfacts.net/index.php/pageType/artistInfo/artist/45960 - which is ironic since he was born in Bury, had a work in the Text Festival and has just shown at the Cube in Manchester. The Liste crowd was generally younger than Art Unlimited, overall production values were lower and less curatorially experienced, but it had the energy that you’d expect when you fill a 4 storey building with many hundreds of young artists trying to attract attention and at the same time have a good time.

At the end of the evening I finally hooked up with Patrick Panetta. We had an interesting conversation about my recent installations (Reykjavik:
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_SiA_UGC8DNw/Rt26dvgB2XI/AAAAAAAAADA/_us5ILoeOpE/s1600-h/Reykjavik+3.JPG ) and he talked about the KP space in Berlin. Their concern is the notion of relevant questions for the current moment in the situation of Berlin and its art scene of maybe 500 spaces; what and how does a gallery/artist address a world which has so many other voices speaking at the same time? So far the ‘shows’ have been shows about the nature and experience of shows, their parties, their conventions, non-happenings. Patrick is rigorously committed to working with artists at the edge of the essence of their practice as artists. We are beginning a developmental conversation leading somewhere.

The Art Fair proper:
http://www.artbasel.com/go/id/ss/lang/eng/ The crowd at the VIP opening, as the name suggests, was quite different from the other two openings – very wealthy collectors, movie stars, international curators and artists, and conspicuously beautiful well-dressed women. Unexpectedly I didn’t get to dive straight into the ‘art’. I had arranged to meet a German artist, Christoph Dalhausen who took me up to the coolly designed VIP lounge, where young assistants in fashioned uniforms served double expressos on demand. We talked for some time after which I rejoined Marianne Eigenheer to begin the marathon of walking around the endless avenues of contemporary art displays, most of which sell to collectors and dealers for 6 figure sums, contacts are made and met, business cards are exchanged. The credit crunch and economic downturn has apparently slowed the sales activity since last year, but a lot of business is done after the Fair so you can’t really tell on the ground how it is going. I recall Alan Charlton telling me that some gallerists put red dots beside works to give the impression of rampant demand and therefore the urgency to buy, buy, buy.

Of course the problem with so much art is that very quickly you can’t see it. The only memorable piece for me was a large Sol leWitt. I also found photo texts by Lalla Essaydi (Morroco) interesting, and Marianne introduced me to the work of Lothar Baumgarten, which I liked. After a pleasant lunch across the street with Frank and Ed, we had the pleasure of meeting my friend Maurizio Nannucci,
http://www.maurizionannucci.it/ a real excitement after a gap of 3 years. We had a short conversation and agreed his involvement in the Text Festival next year.

After that, another weary session of touring round and then back for a nap before the late European premier of Lawrence Weiner’s ‘porn-film’ MILK IN WATER EXISTS. It was amusing queuing with the art crowd to get into a porn cinema, no doubt a joke LW intended. The wipe-able seats were wide with movable arms and plenty of leg room resonating the cinema’s more regular salivating clientele. This crowd was mainly young.

The film was an edited sex orgy in a gallery involving soapy-smooth young art students, with occasional overlaid Weiner phrases, fragments of his/their conversation about architecture and structure, and passing epigrams from him. I found the piece problematic. I have seen earlier Weiner films with similar use of naked bodies and it seemed locked into a previous time, and certainly a time before AIDS. This aspect was made more questionable by the only black male participant being the only one wearing a condom. IS THIS REALITY GENERAL OR SPECIFIC was frequently asked in the film; the ‘actors’ answered ‘general’; I felt that the condom (and the gum they were chewing, strangely) made it specific. You could see that Weiner was relating ideas of structure and materiality to the biological human reality, but it needed serious editing.

Next day, we were too exhausted to return for Weiner’s public conversation so I don’t know whether these issues were discussed. Having seen the manifestations of Art Basel I had come to see, I set off to the Kunsthalle Basel, which had a very dull show not worth discussing and the Basel Architekturmuseum which was not dull. I nearly didn’t go in as it had a show titled “re-sampling ornament”, but it was really excellent
http://www.sam-basel.org/index.php?page=ornament_e Then I went across to the Basel Kunstmuseum – a massive collection to walk round. Legs got tired. High points for me were the Giacomettis and a surprising Albers piece called Fugue. Both fired me up for the Canon poems. By this time I was tiring fast so I found somewhere that looked nice for lunch but was ordinary Then I returned to base. Done.
After a good nap, I got back into the Canon meaning to start Albers or Giacometti but instead finished Tal’s Best Games.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_Tal

On my last day, Marianne and I went to the Schaulager
http://www.schaulager.org/ - “Schaulager is the home for the works in the collection of the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation that are not currently on exhibition. It is a new kind of space for art. It is neither museum nor a traditional warehouse. Schaulager is first and foremost a response to the old and new needs for the storage of works of the visual arts. It dispenses with box storage and transforms the foyers of the exhibition halls into autonomous facilities, independent of any museum, with specific qualities and functions.” A great concept, a great space, great architecture (Herzog & de Meuron) and great art. The exhibitions by Monika Sosnowska and Andrea Zittel excellent and reason enough on their own for the trip to Basel.

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