Four Things: Art Basel

If you have time for only one art fair, make it Art Basel

As Art Basel Miami Beach progressively morphs into a scattered void of celebrities and paparazzi, you can still see the art in Basel. Photographers (for the most part) still work for art magazines and it's still possible to saunter into Les Trois Rois and nab a prime seat in the lounge on Wednesday or Thursday evening. Record attendance topped 19,000 this year, however Art Basel's online timeline reports that there were 16,300 visitors during the opening week in 1970.

Les Trois Rois, situated on the Rhein

The fair's founding Swiss dealers, Trudi Bruckner, Balz Hilt and Ernst Beyeler, envisioned the far-reaching potential of the contemporary art market and presciently established Art Basel as an international market platform. They wrote in the 1970 catalogue, "increased free time, good salaries, far-reaching means of communication and intensive exhibition activity have all led to more and more people becoming interested in contemporary art." Good salaries? I should say so, judging by the $32M Warhol fright wig and $12M 1950s blue Reinhardt that sold on the first day.

Ernst Beyeler at Art Basel 7, 1976

Beyeler went on to become one of the foremost contemporary art collectors and dealers, who counted Picasso amongst his close friends. Fondation Beyeler, an idyllic space designed by Renzo Piano just northeast of Basel in Riehen, houses his permanent collection and mounts major traveling exhibitions. On view this year was Gerhard Richter: Pictures / Series, presenting the artist's color cycles and interior spaces. 

Fondation Beyeler

Perhaps Art Basel remains the superior fair because the organizers consistently balance commerce with experimentation. It's a marketplace, but with a sidelong wink conceding that we all know art is about more than money. This year, we had 14 Rooms (fourteen artists were each given their own room to stage a performance, co-curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach), Parcours (site-specific sculpture and performance) and Art Basel Unlimited (large-scale installations and multi-channel video works). The Film Program is also starting to receive more attention, with it's own recent profile in the New York Times. Founded as the Art Video Forum in 1995 (Pipilotti Rist received the first video art prize, sponsored by UBS), the film/video program has evolved through several iterations and continues to define it's own territory within the art fair landscape.

& Juliet (2013)

Anna Gaskell

Art Basel Film

& JULIET is a short film of Bolshoi principal dancer Svetlana Lunkina performing the role of Juliet from Prokofiev's famous ballet ROMEO AND JULIET. Using Leonid Lavrovsky's original choreography, Lunkina performs the renowned Balcony scene with an invisible partner. 

A portion of the letter Gaskell sent to Lunkina was published in thisistomorrow:

I propose we make a film with you playing the role of Juliet, where you perform the entire balcony scene from Prokofiev’s ballet - but without Romeo. How do you feel about using Lavrovsky’s choreography’ You’ll begin by winding down the backstage stairs and dance your way through the pas de deux with an invisible partner. The duet will now be a solo. You will probably need to mark your way throughout the dance in moments when your partner should be lifting and supporting you. Maybe best if you move in and out of character depending on what you think you should be doing during Romeo’s solos. Maybe this version could open up the underlying intention of the movement and transform this famous duet into a monologue.

I was thinking about absence in terms of what the French sculptor Camille Claudel once said: ‘Il y a toujours quelque chose d’absent qui me tourmente.’ There is always some kind of absence that is tormenting me.

Read the entire text here.

BULLE 6 COQUES (1963-64)

Jean Benjamin Maneval

Design Miami / Basel

Maneval, a practicing architect and urban researcher, designed SIX SHELL BUBBLE HOUSE entirely of plastic in 1965 - one of which was on view at the Design fair. An entire village of these easily assembled houses was installed as an "experimental resort" in the French Pyrenees. You can own one today for about 250,000 EUR a pop. Read more.

Hair Care (2014)

George Henry Longly


New work by Longly was on display at Jonathan Viner Gallery at Liste, the only side fair during Basel that I attend each year. The series, HAIR CARE, positions beauty products such as Elnett hairspray and Yves Saint Laurent mascara in sculptural marble slabs.


Jordan Wolfson

14 Rooms

Model of Leonardo's Robot

Wolfson's contribution to 14 Rooms was a petrifying animatronic doll that spoke, danced and locked eyes with visitors.

Generally used in the movie industry, animatronics is a mechanical technology that designs creatures who move more like an animation than a robot. It was developed by Walt Disney in the 1960s, but we could trace the roots back much further to Leonardo da Vinci's mechanical lion and knight.

33-year-old Jordan Wolfson's creature is a knight of an entirely different genre. Visitors were allowed to enter the gallery two at a time, with reservations filling up quickly in advance, where they would watch the figure perform in thigh-high patent leather boots. One viewer observed, "When she locks eyes with you, it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced, and you kind of want to run." Run where? Back to the main fair?