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Basel Highlights 2005
by Macu Moran
Let’s begin with the statistics on this year’s Basel art fair, Art 36 Basel, which was on view in the Swiss Rhine city, June 15-20, 2005. A total of 270 galleries were selected out of 810 applicants. Twenty-two percent of the participants came from the U.S., 17 percent from Germany, 13 percent from Switzerland and 10 percent from France and the U.K.; the remaining 28 percent of the dealers were variously divided among another 22 countries.

Art Basel director Samuel Keller unveiled the fair’s newest initiative, dubbed "Art Cabinet," which is designed to inspire more curatorial endeavors at the dealers’ booths. Art Cabinet is to premiere at Art Basel Miami Beach, which is scheduled for Dec. 1-4, 2005. The Basel fair also held a memorial celebration for the late Harald Szeemann (1922-2005), who made the role of the curator an art form in itself.

Biennale fever
The opening of Art Basel followed fast on the heels of the vernissage for the 51st Venice Biennale (which continues all the way to Nov. 6, 2005), and additional market attention was naturally directed towards works by artists who were represented in the celebrated international exposition. Galerie Nelson in Paris, for instance, sold Untitled (3 personages), a dramatic new sculpture of three gaunt refugees (wrapped in blankets and with limbs made of springs) by Thomas Schütte, winner of a golden lion at Venice, to François Pinault for his collection at the Palazzo Grassi. According to the Art Newspaper, the price was €410,000.

The Cologne gallery Sprüth/Magers sold for $600,000 a piece by the British representatives at the Biennale, Gilbert & George. Gagosian Gallery sold three examples from the edition of four of Jeff Koons’ Green Diamond, a large sculpture in polychromed stainless steel of a fancy diamond ring that sells for the price of a real super-star diamond, $2.3 million. Mathew Barney’s piece Drawing Restraint 9: Mirror Position, 2005, a set of three C-prints from his new movie (co-starring Björk, his inamorata) in self-lubricating plastic frames, was sold by Gladstone Gallery at a price of $150,000.

Both the Marian Goodman Gallery and Kurimanzutto from Mexico City had examples of Gabriel Orozco’s Biennale canvases, abstract compositions made of neat and clean circles and semicircles done in combinations of red, blue and gold. The price: $275,000. Johnen + Schöttle from Cologne sold Thomas Ruff’s new works, large-scale pixilated color photographs, downloaded from the internet, showing landscapes freighted with social and political meaning, for about €60,000, while Spanish dealer Soledad Lorenzo found a buyer for Juan Uslé’s Soñé que revelabas, XXVI, Jarama, 2005, a dark painting made of vinyl, dispersion and pigment on canvas, for €90,000.

Bill Viola’s touching video projection, The Raft, displayed on a 12 x 8 foot screen in the "Unlimited" section of the fair, was sold for $425,000 by James Cohan Gallery. Galería Juana de Aizpuru from Madrid was also seeing much interest in the suites of dramatic and sexy photographs by Cristina Garcia Rodero, who mixes portraits of various kinds of ecstasy, religious, sexual and otherwise. Also much in demand was Mark Wallinger’s Sleeper, a photographic record of his recent performance at the Neue Galerie, for which he wore a bear costume. Presented in a lightbox by the Anthony Reynolds Gallery from London, it was sold for £30,000.

New and fresh
At Basel, everyone agrees that the newest works sell the fastest. The Australian gallery Roslyn Oxley9 featured the striking sculptures of Patricia Piccinini, fantastic creatures made out of silicone and human hair that could have just emerged from a fairy tale (and that were featured at the Australian pavilion in the 2003 Venice Biennale).

At Galerie Ars Futura from Zürich, the Swiss artist Gianni Motti presented his newest installation, a piece titled Broker in which a live performer, dressed in a suit, is trapped between bars and rests quietly in silence, perhaps obeying or being punished. The guy was said to be a real fan of the artist’s work. New to European viewers, too, was the series of "Crying Man" portraits by Sam Taylor-Wood at White Cube’s stand, a series that was shown in New York not too long ago.

The Vienna gallery Christine König made a strong impression with a series of pictures by the Swedish artist Ann-Sofi Sidén, developed during the past 12 years through extensive researches into judicial records. Accompanied by explanatory texts, the striking images depict the bizarre punishments inflicted upon women throughout history -- abuses that, sadly enough, are not unfamiliar today.

More and more artists are turning to "meta-media," turning a postmodernist eye on traditional techniques. For instance, the artist Per Wizén, who is represented by the Swedish gallery Brändström + Stene from Stockholm, reproduces antique masterpieces in oil, reinterpreting them first through laborious collages that specifically take them out of context. One example of Wizén’s reconfigured art history, for instance, highlights the gay connotations of paintings by Caravaggio.

Noteworthy beauty was found at the booth of Achim Moeller Fine Art from New York, who presented the latest work of the German artist Lothar Osterburg. His video projection Watermusic is composed with apparently antique footage of a ship in Boston Bay, accompanied by music by the artist’s wife, which includes the sound of the Theremin. It is sold along with seven photogravures in an edition of seven.

Always in attendance
Art Basel is nothing if not a marketplace of the top artists in the world. Picasso’s 1917 Portrait d’Olga Khokhova was probably the most expensive piece at the fair, with a price of $30 million. It was at the booth of Galerie Jan Krugier from Geneva.

The late graffiti-art master Keith Haring was represented by the huge Tinaja, a nine-foot-tall decorated vase, at the Galería Elvira González. The artist purchased the vase itself in the south of Spain (where such items are produced for the wine business), and painted it in situ for the exhibition "Tendencies in New York," a show that included works by Julian Schnabel and other artists of the 1980s generation.

Cologne’s Jablonka Galerie can be counted on for works by Andy Warhol, and this year the gallery presented Warhol Polaroids from the "Ladies and Gentlemen" series -- photographs of transsexual and gay performers -- as well as Warhol’s famous drag self-portraits, made in 1981-82. Warhol graphite drawings were also much in evidence at several galleries at the fair.

Art & Public from Geneva featured Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Red Joy, a 1984 piece made with acrylic, joystick and Xerox collage. Several galleries, notably Galerie Lelong from New York, Paris and Zürich, had mixed-media sculptures from the 1970s by the late California artist Edward Kienholz.

Galería Pepe Cobo from Madrid was featuring a very interesting work from 1997 by the late Spanish artist Juan Muñoz. Titled Kabuki, the work includes a pair of resin figures covered with yellow plastic and standing in front of a mirror. It contains the two elements always present in Muñoz’s work -- the emphatic, almost baroque illusionism, demonstrated by the mirror, and the impulse towards concealment and denial of identity, articulated through the plastic coverings.

Rebecca Horn’s Morning Mirrors was on view at the booth of Studio Trisorio from Naples, and another of her kinetic works, a 1988 painting machine called Little Painting School and very similar to the one acquired by the Neue Galerie in Berlin, was offered at the Parisian Galerie de France at a price of €85,000.

Politics and controversy
One gallery that can be counted on for provocations, both social and political, is Hauser & Wirth from London and Zürich. On hand in their booth, for instance, was a work spelling out the word "assholes" in neon by Martin Creed, and a jalopy filled with Oriental carpets and playing Asian music by Christian Büchel.

In addition, Büchel and Giovanni Carmine were showing an extraordinary documentary work, titled Capture Their Minds and Their Hearts and Souls Will Follow, which shows hundreds of examples of the propagandistic leaflets that were dropped over Afghanistan and Iraq, along with some propaganda footage from 1968 explaining how conquerers are improving their country.

Galerie Praz-Delavallade from Paris introduced a series of staged color photographs by the Israel artist Adi Nes, whose imagery captures the masculine culture of Tel Aviv with its subtle but ever-present allusions to violence.

Sculpture and more
C&M Arts from New York kindly showed the amazing Spider Couple, a work from 2003 by Louis Bourgeois, which was sold even before the opening. Made of bronze finished with silver nitrate, the sculpture is a high-key example of her work. Another oversize sculptural work, Richard Serra’s Plough, was offered at €1,500,000 by the German gallery M Bochum. First exhibited in 1992 at the Reina Sofia in Madrid, Plough consists in two enormous rectangular metal blocks, one in front of each other.

Berliner Max Hetzler’s gallery invited visitors into a dark room with the installation of light boxes containing photographs of Won Ju Lim’s mixed-media sculpture, Memory Palace, Baroque #2, a work that plays with shadows and that was very much liked. Madrileno dealer Juana de Aizpuru presented a new work by Fernando Sánchez Castillo, a classic-era bronze sculpture of Phillip IV in his horse that has been cut up into pieces. The title: Citizen Perspective.

In the "Unlimited" section of the fair, which includes a range of large-scale and installation works, the Spanish gallerist Helga de Alvear presented Susana Solano’s No se el teu nom, consisting of seven large fencelike panels, made from stainless steel and painted iron and linked to each other to form a kind of squared prison space in between them. "Unlimited" also presented the new Mariko Mori’s Transcircle, a ring of nine colored glowing glass stones, controlled interactively, in a fantastic contemporary reinterpretation of the prehistoric circles of monoliths.

Events on the side
This year, the Basel Art Fair was accompanied by two fairs of younger art -- the Liste at the Wartek Brewery building, now in its 10th edition, and the new Volta Show, housed in a building on the Rhine. One highlight of the many avant-garde offerings at Liste were the hyperrealistic drawings of glamorous women and gay hunks -- done in ballpoint pen -- by the Hong Kong-based artist Cary Kwok, who is represented in London by Herald St Gallery.

At Volta, a certain amount of attention was directed at the works of Ivan Navarro, a Chilean artist who lives in New York and who is represented by Roebling Hall. Navarro’s Corner Hole pieces consist of a pair of glass doors lined on the inside with rows of light bulbs, to give optical effect of infinite depth. Two of the edition of three were sold for $40,000 each.

Also at Volta, Espacio Minimo from Madrid showed Erwin Olaf’s Rouge, a video projection of soccer players, accompanied by four photographs of the athletes, in which the artist speaks about feminism and violence using soccer as metaphor. Another standout was the artist Alison Smith at Bellwether gallery from New York. Smith’s multimedia sculptures of both found and manufactured objects celebrate the lives of the women who took part in the American Civil War.

Many visitors to Basel said their farewells at the Hilton Hotel, where the artist Wencke Schmid had installed one of his astonishing constructions made of the highest quality Swiss patisserie. At Basel, art is dolce, indeed!

MACU MORAN is Artnet’s representative in Spain.