June 13, 2007

Art Basel 38

Hello from beautiful Basel, Switzerland, where the premier art event of the year is now in full swing! Art Basel 38 opened yesterday to the usual frenzy of collectors and dealers in 20th and 21st Century art. Almost 300 stands in the main exhibition halls, plus several off-site locations, were teeming with people eager to have first crack at acquiring an important piece of Modern or Contemporary art. It is quite a spectacle - just the fashions alone are worth checking out!

The main floor features more traditional art - Picasso, Magritte, Rauschenberg, Warhol, to name just a few - while the galleries upstairs are more contemporary and offer many works less than a year old. Beside the classic oil on canvas, other mediums such as photography, prints, sculptures, and drawings were well represented. Probably the most unusual was a band of 5 male dwarfs in Tyrolean costume roaming the fair pushing a small shopping cart with a sign reading "The Midget Gallery". I couldn't quite figure out the meaning of all this, but maybe some things just don't have a meaning!

As always, there were many fabulous works for sale, and many pieces did find new homes despite very hefty price tags. The headline in today's Art Newspaper however reported a significant shift in buyers from 80% American to 80% European. It seems that the sad state of the dollar has finally caught up with the art market here, or else the American buyers were spent out after the latest round of huge auctions in New York in May.

For me, the most fun was at "Art Unlimited", an enormous exhibition space adjacent to the main fair and used for mega-installation pieces. These are often site-specific, unique works done in a large scale. Some are out of doors, like Anish Kapoor's "Sun Disk". Some are big enough to enter, like "Merry-go-round (2)" by Hans Op de Beek, a Belgian artist who created a life size sculptural installation of a winter night at an abandoned playground with a carousel. It was fun to see, but kind of creepy.

There was also a BMW car filled with water - the sunroof open so one could look inside - by William Hunt, entitled "Put Your Foot Down". This work was accompanied by a video of Mr Hunt singing a specially composed piece of music from the seat of the car filled with water. I'm not quite sure of the meaning of all this either.

A conceptual art piece done in 1979 by Jeffrey Vallance called "Cultural Ties" was amusing and very clever. Mr Vallance mailed a necktie and a letter to heads of state around the world asking them to send a necktie of theirs back to him in California. Many did, and the collection of framed ties with their accompanying letters from sitting Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governor Generals and other dignitaries is fascinating.

Some works were just beautiful. Like Katarina Grosse's colorful "Atomballoons", Daniel Buren's painted escalator stairs "Passage de la Couleur, 26 seconds et 14 centièmes", and Allan McCollum's 3600 black-and-white framed laser printed shapes in "The Shapes Project".

All in all, Art Basel is fun and fabulous and a totally wonderful time! I can't wait till next year!

No comments: