Monday, June 9, 2008

Two days in Basel-Too much Champagne

I should have written this over a few days, but here it is, all at once:

On a last minute whim I decided to make the pilgrimage to the annual European art fair, Art Basel, in the very Swiss-German town of Basel. It was gray, gray, gray when I arrived and despite the charming Rhine River and chalet style buildings, the town itself didn’t impress me much. I have witnessed the glitz and glam of the Miami version of Art Basel (they are like sister fairs-same company-different vibes) and each fair clearly takes on its city’s attitude. Whereas Miami can only be Miami, (don’t really need to elaborate there), it was clear that Basel retains its sophisticated, old school European charm. A more understated approach to showing your wealth, as it were.

Upon entering the vast convention center that holds the main fair, as well as Art Unlimited and Statements, I grabbed the map and looked at the young intern behind the help desk and said, “I am scared.” The buzz and busy-ness of the place, and the sheer vastness of what I was stepping into somehow instilled an initial sense of being overwhelmed. I was soon at peace when I ran into the champagne cart that was regularly flowing through the fair, and by the greetings of old NYC friends. A petite coupe later I had taken on the mouse-in-labyrinth feel of wandering aimlessly, stumbling upon great finds like the Dieter Roth Paper Cut-outs from 1969-1973, at Carolina Nitsch, and the laugh-out-loud, (positive or negatively) massive Takashi Murakami. There seemed to be a good deal of the series of Joseph Albers paintings, “Homage to the Square” and each time I felt they looked great. Among all the chaos and glam, these classic works seemed as fresh as ever. Art Unlimited seemed rather unimpressive. I preferred the smaller sections of Artists Editions and Artists Records. True finds could be had, and could also fit in my suitcase, let alone my apartment. Clearly, larger-is-better motto still holds dear. Another highlight was the book signing by Patti Smith-which included a few acoustic songs.

The next day I made it over to Design Miami/Basel- a recent addition to the Basel Fair. Housed in what appeared to be an old bomb shelter, all cement with a huge central domed ceiling, this was a welcomed breath of fresh air after the carpeted convention feel of the main fair. I was most pleased to see a nice representation of Shelia Hicks work, in two different booths, but sadly disappointed by the enormity of her prices. She deserves it, but I still want one! I loved Reform Gallery, based in Los Angeles, which had a beautiful tapestry by Jim Bissler, and the Hugo Franca tables from R20th Century in NYC.

Moving on: The Beyler Foundation has been on my list to visit since my first days in college studying Art History, so it was a delight to take the quaint number 6 tram outside of the city to visit. This renowned collection is now housed in a beautiful Renzo Piano building that truly blends in with its surroundings. On view was a concise selection of the collection including Bonnard, Picasso, Riviere, Bacon, Giacometti, and a large show titled “Paris-New York: The work of Fernand Leger,” which I breezed through, not really being a big fan. Downstairs was a large wall mural by Sarah Morris titled “Black Beetle,” a few other paintings, the Capital Prints, and two of her films, “Midtown,” and “Capital.” Never entirely convinced about her work, I enjoyed getting a sort of overview of her practice.

Finally I checked out Volta, the more “emerging” or “younger” galleries. Located in a mini warehouse set literally next to the docks where I had as much fun watching the large cranes move colorful shipping containers as I did with some of the art work. I was happy to see a few good Parisian galleries and was encouraged by a few people remarking that they see the Paris art scene developing and expanding beyond it’s cliquey world of post modern, theory laden, non-aesthetic conceptual framework. Hurrah. Anyways, personal highlights here were Arraita + Beer in Berlin,, Josee Bienvenue,, and Basim Magdy’s work at Newman Popishevelli,

I clearly did not even make a major dent in all of the things to see. I missed two fairs, Scope + Balatina, although I can’t say I am upset about it, but do regret not seeing the Kunstmuseum-although I’ll hope to get back at another time. Otherwise it was champagne at the Kunsthalle bar and sneak peaks at the French Open. See images below.

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