In 2007, when Art 38 Basel coincided with the 52nd Venice Biennale and Documenta 12, many observers noted that the commercial art festival outshone its scholarly cousins, in terms of both the blue chip art on view and the new art being shown. Art dealers and the art market bested art curators and government art institutions. In a politically liberal art world, it seemed like a contrarian triumph of capital.
Consequently, the highlight of Art 39 Basel, June 4-8, 2008, promises to be "Art Unlimited," the cheek-by-jowl installation of large-scale works by 60 artists from 23 countries in their own 12,000-square-meter hall -- the one initiative that outgoing Art Basel director Sam Keller told the Art Newspaper made him feel particularly proud. A collaboration between artists and their dealers, this super-sized show is all the more impressive for its short duration of less than one week.
Sure to be one of the most talked-about entries is Hotel Democracy by Swiss socio-political provocateur Thomas Hirschhorn, an oversized model of a 44-room hotel, its rooms lined with press photographs of "people fighting for democracy." The installation is the latest move in Switzerland’s own culture war, which began in 2003 with the rise of ultra-nationalist Swiss politician Christoph Blocher, whose policies prompted Hirschhorn to begin a five-year-long boycott of Swiss art exhibitions.
In 2004, Hirschhorn’s installation at Paris’ Swiss Cultural Center, Swiss-Swiss Democracy, prompted politicians to slash the budget of the Swiss government cultural foundation, Pro Helvetica. As part of that work, Hirschhorn mounted a play that, among other things, had actors feign urinating on a poster of Blocher and vomiting into a ballot box -- hence the controversy. Blocher remains on the Swiss political scene, these days campaigning against the naturalization of foreigners, so expect fireworks. The work is sponsored by Stephen Friedman Gallery.
Other contributions to "Art Unlimited" include Karen Kilimnik’s six-hour-long film Heather, which loops the key scenes from the 1989 Winona Ryder classic over and over again (a presentation of 303 Gallery), and João Onofre’s Box sized Die Featuring Sacred Sin, a large sound-proof metal cube housing a performance by a Portuguese death metal band (co-sponsored by Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art and Galleria Franco Noero). Yvon Lambert gallery is presenting Tom Wesselmann’s monumental 1976 Still Life # 61, a 10-meter-long, four-panel work that depicts the oversized contents of a bedside table.
Additional "Unlimited" artists include Carl Andre (Paula Cooper Gallery), Bruce Conner (Michael Kohn Gallery), Mark Dion (Tanya Bonakdar Gallery), Takashi Murakami (Blum & Poe), Tony Oursler (Gallery Bernier/Eliades), Pipilotti Rist (Hauser & Wirth) and Banks Violette (Thaddaeus Ropac). "Art Unlimited" offers its own separate, limited-edition catalogue, which will set you back 40 Swiss francs (or $38, at the going rate).
Additionally, this year, "Art Unlimited" also features a special survey of artist-designed magazines organized by art historian Lionel Bovier and Printed Matter director A.A. Bronson. The show ranges from historical examples like File Magazine by General Idea (Bronson was a founding member), to new magazine projects like Maurizio Cattelan’s Permanent Food, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Ver and Mircea Cantor’s Union.
Art 39 Basel
Meanwhile, at Art Basel proper, a total of 246 dealers are presenting their wares. The largest contingent comes from New York, with 50 participants including Acquavella, Deitch Projects, Gagosian, Matthew Marks, PaceWildenstein and David Zwirner. Twenty-two galleries hail from Berlin, including Contemporary Fine Arts, Eigen + Art, Kicken Berlin and Klosterfelde. And 20 dealers are from London, including Sadie Coles HQ, Lisson, Timothy Taylor and White Cube/Jay Jopling.
Paris boasts 18 galleries, including Emmanuel Perrotin, Denise René and Thaddaeus Ropac. The Swiss also turn out in force, with 17 galleries from Zürich (including Lelong, Eva Presenhuber and Bob van Orsouw) and six from Basel itself. Other participants are kurimanzutto (Mexico City), Helga de Alvear (Madrid), ShanghART Gallery (Shanghai), Shugoarts (Tokyo), XL (Moscow) and Zeno X (Antwerp).
Side by side with Art 39 Basel at the Markthalle is Design Miami Basel , which debuted in 2006 as an extension of the design fair that runs opposite December’s Art Basel Miami Beach in Florida. Twenty-eight heavyweight design galleries participate, and the preview of the show can already be seen online at Artnet.
Judging from the glimpses one can get of it there, Design Miami Basel features plenty of high-design fireworks to satisfy the spectacle-hungry art crowd, from the clean space-age angles of David Adjaye’s Giza chaise longue at London’s Albion, to Chinese designer Zhan Wang’s polished metal table and chair set in the form of rubble fragments, courtesy Cologne’s Gabrielle Ammann // Designer’s Gallery.
Additionally, a highlight of Design Miami Basel looks to be its "Designer of the Future" award, which this year spotlights not one but four emerging designers, a decision the organizers say represents the explosion of creativity in the field. The honorees -- Martino Gamper, Max Lamb, Julia Lohmann and the team of Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram -- have been tasked with presenting a new work made in the challenging medium of concrete and wool for the fair, along with a video documenting their creative process.
Meanwhile, the new Merchandise Mart art-fair empire (Artropolis, the Armory Show, Volta and more) goes head-to-head with Art Basel in its hometown with VOLTA4, June 2-7, 2008, which takes place at the Ultra Brag warehouse on the Rhine. This year’s installment includes an outdoor sculpture and performance pavilion designed by German artists Wolfgang Winter and Berthold Hoerbelt. The pavilion is site for Winter and Hoerbelt’s own Mensa, an overscaled, skeletal table with 120 place settings (six-seat versions of the work are being sold by Frankfurt’s Voges + Partner, with 20 percent of sales going to the disaster relief in Myanmar). Other sculptures in the pavilion are by Susanne Starke (courtesy Birgit Ostermeier), CutUp (Seventeen), Kristof Kintera (Jiri Svetska) and Rune Olsen (Samson Projects).
VOLTA4 presents 68 galleries in its two-story converted warehouse on the bank of an industrial canal. These include Josée Bienvenu (New York), Bischoff/Weiss (London), Spencer Brownstone (New York), Cohan and Leslie (New York), Christopher Grimes (Santa Monica), Pierogi (New York/Leipzig), Riflemaker (London), Samson Projects (Boston) and Western Exhibitions (Chicago).
The fair also tempts visitors with a special show of works by and about paper, and a pair of editioned artworks made especially for Volta4: Eduardo Sarabia’s ceramic plate painted with an image of a female nude ($1,000) and Melanie Schiff’s photo of herself reclining on a couch in front of an impressive collection of beer bottles ($800). Both works are produced in editions of 30.
Liste, Bâlelatina, PrintBasel
Just around the corner from Volta is Scope Basel, June 3-8, 2008, which has moved this year to a 60,000-square-foot glass pavilion. Special to Scope this year is "Museum Presents," a show of South Asian art selected by New York dealer Thomas Erben. The 10 artists participating are Ashim Purkayastha, Ashok Sukumaran, Bani Abidi, Chitra Ganesh, Kiran Subbaiah, Naeem Mohaiemen, Rohini Devasher, Sarnath Banerjee, Sunil Gupta and Yamini Nayar. Scope features as well an exhibition of emerging Swiss art, with works by Marc Elsener, Vincent Kriste Valentina Pini and Guadalupe Ruiz, curated by Reto Thuring.
The impressive 85 galleries on hand at Scope Basel include the likes brot.undspiele (Berlin), Chinese Contemporary (New York), Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts (Miami), LICHT FELD (Basel), My Name's Lolita (Valencia), Purdy Hicks (London) and Priska C. Juschka Fine Art (New York).
At the scenic though labyrinthine Wartek Brewery, the 13-year-old Liste 08, June 3-8, 2008, presents 65 galleries including Harald St. (London), Jocelyn Wolf (Paris), Francesaca Kaufmann (Milan) and Kordansky (Los Angeles). Among the newcomers checking in this year are Overduin and Kite (Los Angeles) and Elizabeth Dee (New York).
Billing itself as the "discoverer fair," Liste has generally restricted itself to galleries that have been in business for five years or less and artworks by artists under 40 years of age. In 2008, however, fair director Peter Bläuer notes that the rules have been relaxed to allow some older galleries. Though many Liste galleries have been able to "graduate" to spaces at Art Basel, he writes, few have been able to secure a regular, reserved space at the fair: "Liste is responding to this situation, and has adapted its admissions policy so that important former participants might have the opportunity to take part in the Liste once again."
Basel also boasts the third incarnation of Bâlelatina, June 3-8, 2008, a Latin-focused show that this year goes under the rubric of "Hot Art" at the Brasilea Kulturhaus, a foundation dedicated to promoting Brazilian culture on the banks of the Rhine. The 31 gallery selection, vetted by dealers Damian Casado, Virgil de Voldere and Marilia Razuk, has an aggressive focus on Spain, including Espacio Líquido (from the town of Gijón in northern Spain), Galería T-20 (from Murcia) and Galería Mas Art (Barcelona). Other participants come from Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, France, Belgium and the United States.
Finally, also on hand for Art Basel weekend this year is PrintBasel, a new fair dedicated to limited edition prints, with wares running the gamut from woodcuts to digital prints. The fair is housed in the halls of the Restaurant Volkshaus, and has 17 exhibitors who promise pieces ranging from Hans Arp and Man Ray to Jorge Pardo and Banksy.
at Basel’s museums
The city of Basel has an impressive collection of museums, all of which trot out their firepower for the art crowds (about 55,000 passed through the Markthalle for 2007’s Art 38 Basel). One of the more interesting entries comes at the surprising venue of Basel’s Natural History Museum, where Korean artist Hyungkoo Lee is presenting an installation, May 31-Aug. 31, 2008. Lee’s scientifically detailed recreations of the skeletons of cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck were recently seen in Chelsea at Arario Gallery. Now, paleontologists at the Museum are presenting their reconstructions of what the creatures represented by Lee’s skeletons might actually have looked like, alongside his original sculptures.
Also of note, Basel’s much-admired Fondation Beyeler has on display "Action Painting. Jackson Pollock," Jan. 28-Dec. 5, 2008, offering works by Pollock alongside paintings by Sam Francis, Arshile Gorky, Lee Krasner, Morris Louis, Pierre Soulages, Wols and other name brand paint-smearers in the foundation’s distinctive Renzo Piano-designed building. At the Kunstmuseum Basel, the fair coincides with the closing weekend for its survey of "Chaim Soutine," Mar. 16-June 7, 2008, while the Museum Tingeuly presents a survey of "art producing machines," May 3-June 29, 2008.
And, last but not least, Basel’s ethnographic museum, the Museum der Kulturen Basel has extended its show "Red. Hot on the Trail of a Color" until Aug. 31, 2008. The survey offers examples of the titular color from all around the world, including an installation by Singapore-based artist Kumari Nahappan. As the press release states, "A spectacle in Red awaits you."