ArtIssue 14

OutBaseled: 2016 edition

I am feeling fairtigued. As you, I’m sure, were either too busy or too baffled for ArtBasel, yours truly braved the plebs and art world snobbism to give you a pithy rundown of the fair this year.

The underlying motif at Frieze and ArtBasel Miami in 2015 was undeniably Arte Povera. You couldn’t turn without finding your reflection in a Pistoletto mirror. This year, Tony Cragg has been shown to be very popular, with three galleries (almost in a row) showcasing some of his stronger stainless steel pieces:

Buchmann Galerie (Berlin, Lugano), Thaddaeus Ropac (Paris) and Lisson (London, Milan, New York). Calder, the quintessential crowd-pleaser, was scattered throughout the fair as per usual – spotted at blue-chips such as Bernard Jacobson (London), Helly Nahmad (New York) as well as less established galleries, including Kukje Gallery from Korea who collaborated with Tina Kim (W21st, NYC) this year. Another recurring presence was felt courtesy of the big boys: Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth, who by coincidence or consensus brought eight pieces by Cy Twombly; it was debatable whose were the stronger. The commercial favourites last year – the indisputably best-curated booth belonging to Dominique Lévy (New York, London, Geneva) – put Günther Uecker in prominent position. This time Lévy spent more than $300,000 outsourcing an architect, painter and lighting designer for the space, whilst further funds went to a circus party with a tightrope acrobat. Lévy chose to showcase Robert Ryman, Warhol, David Smith, Fontana, Chamberlain and Pierre Soulages. I was also pleasantly surprised to see an extensive collection of works by conceptualist artist and philosopher Adrian Piper, from her ‘Everything’ series.

Here, Piper integrated the Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s quote of “Once you have taken everything away from a man, he is no longer in your power. He is free…” into eight small photographic/inkjet1 works. Personally, I find her ability to integrate ostracism, racial ‘passing’ and otherness into her oeuvre whilst maintaining a high standard of conceptualism to be highly refreshing. Seeing as Piper was the 56th Venice Biennale winner of the ‘Golden Lion Award for Best Artist’, she is definitely at the forefront of becoming the successful candidate for being simul­taneously appealing to collectors who view art as a financial instrument and institutions who are purchasing historically significant works. The epitomic ‘golden goose’, perhaps. You’ve been tipped.

‘Untitled’, the space that ArtBasel gallerists use to feature their works which are either too sizeable in dimension or too distracting in character to occupy a booth, also featured an exceptional, politically saturated piece entitled Helms Amendment (1989) by the American artist and photographer Louise Lawler. This installation consists of a series of 94 black-and-white photographs of plastic drinking cups, and vinyl wall texts. The texts indexes US senators’ names and their vote ‘Yae’ or ‘Nay’ (or as four did – abstain) on the 1977 Helms Amendment, which was to allocate fiscal year government spending. Included in the legislation was a stipulation that ‘…none of the funds made available under this Act to the Centers for Disease Control shall be used to provide AIDS education, information, or prevention materials and activities that promote or encourage, directly or indirectly, homosexual sexual activities.’ Evidently, the work is very dark, especially in comparison to the typically carnal Paul MacCarthy’s Tomato Head (Green) (1994) a stone throw’s away. Thankfully, MacCarthy’s representation – Hauser & Wirth – saved us, for this year at least, from another masturbating Disney gnome (cf. ArtBasel Miami 2014).

The most talked-about work, both at the fair and outside, is the truly immense and site-specific Hans Op de Beeck’s The Collector’s House (2016). De Beeck has managed to produce a simultaneously tranquil yet potentially pernicious life-size Gesamtkunstwerk; a marvel of monochrome neoclassical evocation of a private villa with a lounge, art library and grand piano. The entire space is delicately carved from soft grey colored plaster and through an inexplicable force majeure – a contemporary Pompeii, perhaps – has been petrified. Entering the stillness of the work ensures serenity, and only upon sitting down by the oval pond towards the piano does the viewer suddenly get a chill. The incredible detail, from discarded fag ends to the fossilized child engaged in a game of cat’s cradle, produces a highly compelling work.
But what of the satellites? I paid a visit to Lista, Scope and Design/Miami. The latter impressed immensely. It is physically across the courtyard from ‘Untitled’ and more spacious, well curated, and exceptionally lit, giving the fair goer the space to decompress and collect one’s thoughts. The big scandal at Design/Miami this year was the fact that Muscovite Heritage Gallery’s entire exhibition was “unexpectedly detained by Russian authorities.” Instead the Director Kristina Krasnyanskaya decided to present a two-dimensional replica of each work in the show including the extremely rare Alexandrovsky Radio Plant, SVG-K Radiogram Console (1940), which was commissioned by the Kirov Theatre of Opera and Ballet (now the Mariinsky Theatre in St.Petersburg). This author, Russian herself, finds the Russian government’s criteria of determining what kind of cultural signalling they should permit fascinating. Whilst some clearly priceless works are stopped at the border, my home country of France is enjoying the smörgåsbord of (some say carefully curated) Russian hooliganism at the Euro championship. But why concern yourself with politics when there is Champagne to be had at Beyeler foundation ball or moguls to track down? Why indeed.