It’s June so it must be Basel
Report from… Basel
For the art world, June is synonymous with Art Basel. Each year, countless international galleries and art professionals flock to Switzerland to exhibit, sell or buy art. Besides its commercial appeal, this, still regarded as the most prestigious art fair, offers something much more important: a global overview. Together with the proximate and concurrent Scope, Volta and Liste fairs, Art Basel provides a solid introduction to what is shown in galleries from Tokyo to Bochum and from Lausanne to Los Angeles. Thanks to its geographic range, trends emerge, whether in regards to art movements, favored genres or aesthetics.
My quick take on 2010: Though there might be less photographs on display than ten years ago when Gursky and Ruff began dominating the international scene, there are still significantly more now than in the past three years, in particular by photographers from Leipzig. In addition, even if the Whitney Biennial might have tried to convince us otherwise, there is a distinct decrease of video works, but an overall re-awakened embrace of sculpture.
A general tendency towards simplicity stood out. In place of glitz, gold and sparkle there was a striking focus on purity, coming for example in the form of monochrome paintings by Günter Umberg at Galerie Nordenhake (Stockholm, Berlin) and Studio Invernizzi (Milan) or Gotthard Graubner at Galerie m (Bochum). Along these lines, a large array of black and white works formed a thematic undercurrent: for example, Marlborough (London, New York, Monaco) offered four of Ad Reinhardt’s rare “Black Paintings,” Acquavella (New York) showed a fantastic 1964 black and white sunset by Roy Lichtenstein, and Galerie Thomas offered an exquisite Gerhard Richter “Tubes” painting from 1967. This trend along with recent auction results, might also explain the remarkable amount of Group Zero and Arte Povera works at the fair. While good examples of Lucio Fontana’s work are increasingly rare, paintings by Piero Manzoni, Enrico Castellani and Jan Schoonhoven were prominently displayed in several booths. The most attention, however, was given to the German artist Günther Uecker who in the 1960s began to employ nails as an artistic means of expression. Several examples of his white kinetic paintings covered with nails could be found around the fair, but a work propped on a pedestal with two connected round charts entitled “Weisse Muehle” (1964) at the Mayor Gallery (London) stood out.
Discovering new names in a sea of artists is a pleasure, but so is working out which established artists are being hyped, the definition of which, in art fair terms, is being showcased in various galleries despite their differing programs. Though Gerhard Richter continues to fall in this category, the group this year also included Jaume Plensa, Anish Kapoor, Rebecca Horn, Markus Schinwald and the Bulgarian Nedko Solakov. The works by these artists have little in common. Plensa has become increasingly known for his ethereal figurative sculptures, some of which involve strings of words. An example of one of his mesmerizing marble heads could be found at Galerie Alice Pauli (Lausanne), which will host a solo exhibition this October. Represented by the New York powerhouse Gladstone Gallery and London’s Lisson Gallery, among others, Kapoor is by no means little known, but one does get the sense that the best is yet to come. The quality of his work is solid and he often manages to stand out in juxtaposition to other artists in a booth. Though the oeuvre of German sculptor and installation artist Rebecca Horn is multi-faceted, it was her nature-inspired kinetic works that could be found in various galleries. Blue butterfly wings animated by ominous little machines and parrot feathers that are moved by mechanics like a hand fan (as seen at Galerie Lelong, Paris/ New York) make for an interesting symbiosis of nature and human control and manipulation. They are as stunningly beautiful as they are disturbing and one wishes that one of Horn’s works would have been included in the important “Dead or Alive” exhibition at New York’s Museum of Art and Design (through October 24).
The work of the Austrian painter Markus Schinwald stands out for its embrace of classicism. Schinwald’s paintings, great examples of which could be found at Yvon Lambert (Paris/New York) and Galleria Gio Marconi (Milan), fuse 19th-century academicism with hints of psychoanalysis and gore. Schinwald appropriates antique oil paintings, which he restores, by outfitting them with unidentifiable appendages that suggest 19th Century medical braces or medieval torture devices. Dvir Gallery (Tel Aviv) was one of at least three galleries, where the ink drawings of Nedko Solakov could be found. Solakov represented Bulgaria at the 1999 Venice Biennale after its three-decade long absence and showed at Documenta 12 (2007). His drawings at the fair, most of which belonged to a body of work entitled “99 Fears,” which each address a personal worry, are striking in their simplicity and humor. Solakov’s attitude hits the nerve of our time. As the world we know seems to be threatened daily and anxiety mounts, what better to keep in our toolkit than a unique sense of humor?