June 20, 2014

Art Basel 45 / Art Unlimited

Art Basel 45 opened to the general public yesterday after two full days of invitation-only previews.  There is no question that the preeminent venue for modern and contemporary art has some fabulous things for sale, but for a non-buyer like me, the main attraction is in the hall next door where Art Unlimited is also in full swing.

Now in its 14th year, Art Unlimited is the branch of Art Basel dedicated to large scale installations and performances that cannot be shown on a normal art fair stand.  These works are certainly not something one could buy to hang in the living room but are intended as showcase works of art possibly for an institution or in an outdoor location.  For me, as a pure spectator, they are a lot of fun and I have had the pleasure of featuring my favorites, or at least the most memorable, in several blogs over the past few years.  Here are my picks for 2014...

In the "handcrafts gone wild" category, I would have to name Sterling Ruby's "Soft Work", 2011-13, as the clear-cut winner.  According to the handout, the fabric sculptures transform threatening subject matter into something more playful and question the idea of masculinity versus traditional feminine arts.  I can't attest to the theory, but I can say for sure it was something to see.

Exploring "nature as art" is Giuseppe Penone's "Matrice di linfa (Matrix of Sap)", 2008.  Here, Mr. Penone continues his examination of trees in which he chisels away the trees at a specific year of their growth to, in effect, reverse the process of time.  This example features a very long fir tree, sawn in half lengthwise and hollowed out.  The two halves are placed end on end with a long trough filled with resin, like a river, in the center.

"20,000 Gun Shells" by Matias Galdbakken, was an audience participation piece.  Visitors were invited to walk, very carefully, across a floor where the empty brass gun shells were strewn.  It was as slippery as a skating ring making the shells still dangerous but in a different way.

On the monumental theme, we have Thomas Houseago's "Striding Figure II (Ghost)", 2011.  This massive (nearly 17 foot tall) sculpture crafted of painted bronze presents a primitive, skeletal form that seems almost in motion.
The most amusing video installation was Bruce Nauman's 1991 projection "Raw Material with Continuous Shift - MMMM".  The star of the film was the artist himself, whose head spun upside-down on a screen while he hummed "mmmmm" continuously.

I don't think Hamish Fulton could have wished for better when he created the large mural "Mountain Skyline Nepal" in 2011.  The older gentleman with the walking poles seemed oblivious to the background as he hiked by.

One of the prettiest installations was Julio Le Parc's "Continuel Mobile - Sphère rouge", 2001-2013.  3,000 translucent plexiglass squares hang by transparent threads to create a work of art that changed with every current of air or reflection of light.

I've seen a lot of art in the past few days - some of it great and some of it less memorable.  Sometimes I feel like I'm on "art overload" but after a short break I'm always back for more.  It's a little like the sentiment expressed here in this large assemblage of letters recycled from outdoor signage created by Jack Pierson.  The art world may have its ups and downs, but come what may...

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