June 17, 2015

Art Basel 46 / Art Unlimited

If you've even glanced at the "Arts and Culture" section of a newspaper lately you are probably aware that Art Basel, the mythical "Olympics of the Art World", is underway in Basel, Switzerland.  And while I certainly enjoy seeing what's on view in the stands of the 300+ international galleries showing modern and contemporary art, it is the adjunct section called Art Unlimited where the really fun installations are.

Imagine an exhibition hall the size of an airplane hangar occupied by 74 oversize art works ranging from site-specific constructions to video presentations and you'll have an idea of Art Unlimited.  It is a golden opportunity for artists to create works that are gigantic in scale and cannot be shown successfully in a traditional gallery setting.  Indeed, it is a chance for artists to let their imaginations run wild and for art lovers to have a totally immersive experience in a carnival-like setting.  In short, it's fun!

As has been my custom for the past few years, here is a highly arbitrary list of my favorite, or at least most memorable presentations at this year's Art Unlimited...

One of the most colorful and striking examples was "The Treaty of Chromatic Zones" by American artist Sheila Hicks.  This monumental wall installation created in 2015 comprises hundreds of batons wrapped in dyed cotton and twine and explores theories of color and abstraction using textiles as a medium.

Another color-dominated stand featured the marvelous fluorescent light sculptures of the late, great, Dan Flavin.  The series of nine works were created between 1966-1971 and were being offered as a single installation entitled "European Couples".

Another color oriented installation was "Plastic Tree", a 2014 creation by Pascale Marthine Tayou.  Living in a big city, I have seen hundreds of indestructible plastic bags and Mylar balloons caught up in the branches of a tree where they are destined to twist and tangle for the foreseeable future.  Here the artist has turned this urban blight into something much prettier while commenting on pollution, consumerism and the balance of nature and device.

In a more abstract tree theme we find "Medium Green, Woodland Scenics, Realistic Trees (FS)" a 2014 mural by John M. Armleder and quite lovely to look at.

And something that usually speaks of trees but in this case is self-supporting is the Brazilian Opavivarรก!'s "Formosa Decelerator".  Normally we think of a hammock as being suspended between two trees, but this is an art collective, and as such they propose a collective hammock experience, complete with tea service!

The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has contributed a remarkable construction entitled "Stacked".  Comprising 760 silver bicycles, the work presents an iconic object, something used by millions of Chinese people everyday for transportation, and something that, by its chain and sprocket mechanism, also speaks of the Chinese labor force and its place in the nation's society.

An entire different type of work also by a Chinese artist is "Love Story" by Liu Chuang.  Here we see stacks of used pulp fiction novels acquired by the artist from migrant workers.  Each stack is arranged according to the anonymous notes found scribbled inside - the texts of which have been translated and written on the wall above each pile.  The installation is a comment on language, but even more, it is a a portrait of the readers of the books who voices are now being heard by an international audience.

One of the more disquieting exhibits was Algerian born artist Kadar Attia's "Arab Spring", 2014.  This shocking display comprising 16 smashed museum vitrines speaks of the looting of antiquities during the recent Egyptian uprisings.

Finally something that will make you smile, even if you feel a little dizzy!  A large concrete bowl, containing a desk with a glass of wine and some books, and a bed on the "floor", spins around and around while the artist, Julius von Bismarck, sits or lies down.  "Egocentric system" is like the earth on its axis, constantly whirling and always attached to its revolving surroundings.  It's a little like the way I feel after a few days of this art fair, but fun to watch nevertheless!

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