Hallo from Switzerland..! A Brief Basel Wrap-up (with some Documenta on the side..)

Jeff Koons, Winter Bears, 1988

It’s been a quiet week, as the art world descended on otherwise-quiet town of Basel for the 43rd edition of Art Basel. As if the international economic situation and the oversaturation of fairs (with Frieze NY and Hong Kong now “must-attends,” this means some galleries are at four big fairs, this month alone…),  with the Schaulager under renovation (set to open up again in February with a Steve McQueen show) and the Messeplatz construction site basically the most extravagant Mike Nelson installation anyone’s seen, it seemed like this could have been an ideal year to skip the show.

“Tatlin: New Art for a New World” at the Museum Tinguely

Those who did go were rewarded, and not only with the crazy Jeff Koons/ Philippe Parreno pairing at the Beyeler. The Tinguely Museum featured an excellent Tatlin show, which expanded from the Tower to include Counter-Reliefs and Theatre Design. Another type of Russian Modernism was on view at Design Miami, where Moscow’s Heritage Gallery offered a selection of Soviet furnishings. In the pristine setting, items like entertainment units or couches took on a very high-design look, but some of the Post-Soviet clientele had other opinions; artist Katya Bochavar entered the booth and immediately starting cataloguing: “My grandmother has this… my other grandmother has that…”

On view at Heritage Gallery

Back at the Big Fair, Art Statements – solo presentations of younger artists – was strong, with new work from Oliver Laric, Matthew Metzger and Slavs&Tatars. This year marked the first year that Gianni Jetzer – curator of New York’s Swiss Institute – took the helm of Art Unlimited, the section of the fair devoted to oversized projects (You can read about each of the projects here or follow other images on our Twitter stream.)

Nina Beier, Tragedy, 2012. Image courtesy of Laura Bartlett.

This year, in addition to showings of Baibakov-alums Walead Beshty and Sterling Ruby, there were high profile debuts from Douglas Gordon (whose film appeared to have Harry Hopper – aka, son of Dennis – having some overwrought response to wearing underwear), Richard Phillips (“step away from the Lohan..”) and Jeremy Deller (a 3-d  bat-cave adventure.) But the works which really got the most attention were more understated – from Rudolf Stingel’s piercing portrait of Paula Cooper to Germaine Krup’s whirling dervish to Nina Beier’s Tragedy, a series of canine performances in which expertly trained pooches would take turns playing dead on a Persian rug.

Speaking of dogs, as much as the fair had to offer, what really set tongues wagging was still Documenta. Because of the timing, most people at the fair were either arriving fresh from Kassel or heading there next. While a lot of people got stuck on madame curator’s Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s habit of being ludicrously quotable (What was that about how women and dogs are equal? What’s that you say? It’s not a slant towards women, it’s a move towards animal suffrage…?), others were gratefully able to get pass that and really talk about the work. (Though, as one observer pointed out, Sfeir Semler’s booth at Basel was basically a mini-Documenta.) Frieze blog published a series of diary entries detailing some very different perspectives on the various components of the massive spread. (It’s particularly interesting to read Jennifer Allen against Art-Agenda’s Quinn Latimer.)

For their part, the Documenta team seems to have pled oblivious to the uproar over the curator’s spotlight shenanigans: instead of any defense other than the exhibition, they have circulated a photo of CCB giving a VIP tour to a pony-tailed Brad Pitt. (And the web rejoices…)

One thing is certain: whatever the circus going on in Kassel, we’re glad we still have 90 more days to see it!

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