Laura-Jade Klée's curation and reflections @LauraJadeKlee
Backpack: check. Camera: check. Notepad: check. “Remember to wear comfortable shoes” said my art historian friend and wonderful hostess who guided me around Art Basel, Switzerland. My trip was packed with art related activity including: The Art, other gallery exhibitions and collections, and viewing the diverse architecture and public art adorning the cityscape. It was an experience I want to remember for a long time to come, so I have decided to dedicate this blog post to a few special works from Art Basel that left a strong impression.
The buzzing centre of The Art is displayed in the Messeplatz, entered through Herzog & de Meuron’s dramatic curvilinear silver building, sort of resembling an ornate cheese grater. The ground floor of Art Basel displayed iconic modern artists, with many appearances from Mondrian, Judd, Bacon, Miro, Calder and Kapoor among others. It felt like a party of old friends, but the showroom style display was a reminder that these were commodities, not uninhibited souls.
Juan Genovés, Asolapados, 2008
Amongst my old friends, I discovered Juan Genoves; an established Spanish artist represented by Marlborough London. Genoves paints crowd scenes from an aerial perspective which formally explore the materiality of paint. In his contemporary works on display, Genoves’ thickly applied acrylic paint blobs on canvas creates three-dimensional figures and gives the illusion that the omniscient viewer is peering down at unknowing pedestrians. From this perspective we are detached from ‘them’, like observing ants at work. His crowd scenes served a political purpose, particularly relevant during Franco’s rule, and it positions viewers with a dictator observing oppression.
Design Miami is an area in the Messeplatz dedicated to jewellery, furniture, architecture, and many other strands of design. My main interest in this building was a commissioned dance performance piece ‘Acting Things IV: Material Flow’ by Judith Seng situated on the ground floor. Occurring everyday throughout The Art, dough was being made, manipulated through movement, and then displayed as a product. The performers occupied a white stage in a blackened room, with different areas constructed as workshops for the continuous clay production. I took a seat for forty-five minutes to escape the fast pace and visually demanding window-shopping of Art Basel. The performers were dressed in blue long sleeved clothes like a uniform worn for factory production. Blue bodies merged into the blue clay like an extension of their limbs. The workers/dancers performed repetitive gestures intermingled with more poetic passages. A few chiming notes played intermittently in a gentle hypnotic way that punctuated the movement. Improvised passages are sponteneous; an organic union of tension, balance and chance. Body is a material and dough is flesh. The piece provided a refreshing contrast to Art Basel as it promotes artistic process rather than finished products for commercial gain.
Inaki Bonillas, Captain Oates, 2012
‘Unlimited’ is a large warehouse dedicated to installations, film screenings and other works not suited to the typical white showroom booth format. This includes Inaki Bonillas, Captain Oates from ‘Encyclopaedia of the Dead’, a series of work about people who are made famous by their death, visually expressed through archival materials that merge fact with fiction. Captain Oates tells the tale of Oates’ Antartic expedition from which he never returned, presented through maps, diary entries and distorted images. The minimalistic installation is composed of pristine white sheets of paper, with subtle markings that only reveals itself on close inspection. This physical closeness creates an intimacy with the work, connecting the viewer with the thoughts and feelings Captain Lawrence Oates. The paper is as white as snow, but also the lack colour suggests the absence of Captain Oates. Faded and fragmented, the installation represents Oates disorientating experience of the excursion during times of suffering, and the incoherent accounts of history which describe a man who did not live to tell his tale. On the floor next to the wall mounted sheets is a photograph of Oates buried below semi-transparent sheets of white paper, showing how he has become a faded image after he uttered his final words “I am just going outside and may be some time.” It also reflects how his undiscovered body is still lying frozen. Although his body is unclaimed, Bonallas places a stone upon the paper as a small memorial.
Parcours is a display of site-specific works, installations, interventions, large-scale works, and curated projects, and is uncharacteristic of Art Basel’s usual white booth display featuring a salesman. Curated by Florence Derieux, the artworks are humbly tucked away in shops, cafés, and outside in a courtyard. The work that left the strongest impression was a 30 minute animated film ‘The Architect’ by Marc Bauer, with music by French band Kafka. Bauer animated oil painting on plexiglass, and it tells the tale of a young boy living in Nazi Germany, who experiences a sinister world with an imaginary companion. If you approach it expecting heart-warming fairy-tale you may be disappointed; in the story the boys are lured into playing with guns, beheading chicken, and then they witness to holocaust victims being dragged from homes and loaded into vans or trains. A huge range of emotions were captured through simple animated shapes and subtleties. Since there was no dialogue, the amazing music soundtrack played a crucial role in creating atmosphere; it could be compared to a music video, yet very immersing. The climax was a dramatic epilogue in colour where a man drives through Hollywood with his conscience replaying scenes of the holocaust, followed by a hard-hitting crash as reality catches up with a tragic past.
Scope was one of the most exciting spaces in Art Basel. It contained more affordable art represented by smaller galleries, which meant representatives were more prepared to take risks by displaying innovative work. There was a large collection of Liu Bolin, ‘Hiding in the City’ series where Bolin is painted to perfectly blend into his surroundings. I initially found very fun and humorous as they are convincing disguises and it is like a game of Where’s Wally. On deeper reflection they reveal something slightly more haunting or questioning. Examples of the places Liu Bolin is photographed by include: a display of toy pandas manufactured in China, behind policical propaganda posters and at a 9/11 memorial featured below. Although the ‘invisible man’ is expressionless and still he highlights the surroundings and the social and political messages it contains.
‘Tiles for America’, Liu Bolin, 2011
Also at Scope was Russian artist Rinat Voligamsi with his series ‘Unofficial Album’. Voligamsi uses photoshop and humourous captions to tell a new story of Lenin’s life. In the artists imagination, 1924 was not the year of Lenin’s death, but rather the year he abandoned politics and became Muslim. The work shows how Lenin hid in Latin America through WW2 and then ran an antique shop in Zurich with a fictional twin brother. The work uses fiction to raise issues to do with: the retelling of history and our notions of power, and the effects are odd, dark and rather hilarious.