June 16, 2016

Art Basel 47: Art Unlimited

Of all the art fairs I visit during the year, the one event that is pure fun is Art Unlimited.  The opening, always on a Monday evening, kicks off Art Basel with a huge party, thousands of people and free flowing champagne.  Housed in the massive Hall 1 of the Basel Messe, or Exhibition Place, Art Unlimited presents site-specific, large scale installation, performance and video pieces that are not intended for private purchase nor do they challenge one's knowledge of art history or market acumen.  They may have a message, but they are, at least for this visitor, more of an entertainment than anything else.

And so, as is tradition, last Monday I joined the crowd and forgot about the chilly rain outside as I sipped my flute of Ruinart and took in the sights and sounds of this marvelous affair!  Here are a few of my favorite presentations:

Laurie Simmons' video presentation "The Music of Regret", 2006, was an enchanting ballet featuring puppets, some played by humans and some vintage rubber hand puppets or ventriloquist dummies, representing ambition, jealousy and desire.  I confess, I did not watch it all the way through (40 minutes) but it was compelling and quite beautiful.

Also beautiful in a hypnotic kind of way was "Show IX - Curtain Room" 1965/2016, by Marinus Boezem, and "Blue Runs", 2016, by Pamela Rosenkranz seen below.

Another kinetic sculpture was the monumental installation "Accumulation: Searching For Destination" created by Chiharu Shiota in 2014/16.  Here, hundreds of vintage suitcase are suspended from the ceiling on red ropes and are choreographed to drop incrementally so the whole work moves and changes as we watch.

Though Thomas Bayrle's enormous "Flugzeug (Airplane)", 1982/83, was initially conceived as a protest against noise pollution from the Frankfurt Airport, today it is more of a tour de force of graphic design...

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is never one to shy away from controversy and once again he draws attention to the disregard for tradition and history since the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s.  Here in "White House", 2015, a large frame of a former home built during the Qing Dynasty has been whitewashed and its beams mounted on crystal bases.

Another installation that drew attention to Chinese political practices was Samson Young's "Canon", 2015.  This sound performance featured a man dressed in a Chinese law enforcement uniform standing on an industrial life surveying the fair.  He employs a "Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD)", a sound cannon usually used to control protesters, but in this case he broadcasts distressed bird calls.

There were several really excellent performance pieces this year.  Immediately at the entrance was the captivating "Mimed Sculpures" by Davide Balula in which seven modernist sculptures are virtually created by nine mimes.  Dressed in white with pink gloves, the actors silently rebuild works by Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti and Barbara Hepworth and others.  It was like watching a ballet.

A real crowd pleaser was "Ascenseur", 2013, by Laura Lima.  A woman's hand reaches out from under a wall, grasping for a set of keys lying on the floor just beyond her reach.  A polite passerby moves the keys closer and the hand closes around them, holds them momentarily, and then tosses them away again in anticipation of the next good Samaritan.

The installation that generated the most buzz, and one I found absolutely amazing was monumental work by Hans Op de Beek entitled "The Collector's House".  Created in 2016, this is a completely immersive experience as visitors enter a calm and quiet setting with a large reflecting pond with waterlilies and sculpture and walk through a music room, library and drawing room.  What is remarkable about this neoclassical setting is that it is all a monochromatic shade of grey - as though petrified in Pompeii.  It is serene and meditative and mysterious and marvelous.

Once again, Art Unlimited has been a sheer delight - a sort of Disney for adults - before the more serious business of Art Basel gets underway.  Now, maybe I can find myself another glass of champagne...

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