Art Basel is hard to beat. It is not just the two giant halls with 232 galleries offering high quality modern and contemporary art. The fair is supported by side programs such as the Art Parcours, bringing art works into the city, a separate film program and the curated Art Unlimited exhibition. For this years edition of Art Unlimited 78 artists were selected from the programs of the participating galleries. Curator Gianni Jetzer conceived the exhibition as a 'city for art works' and put much effort in the architectural lay out of the show in the fair's huge Hall number 1. The result is a spacious set up with a mix of white/black cubes for solo presentations and works in the open spaces in between these cubes, such as Carl Andre's floor piece 'Steel Peneplain' from 1982, consisting of 300 steel plates.
Art Unlimited, floor piece by Carl Andre and hanging orange piece by Sam Falls
Guido van der Werve, still from Nummer veertien, home, 2012, video, 54 minutes, Art Unlimited
Art Unlimited presents quite some usual suspects that have been shown in biennales for many years, like Bruce Nauman, Rosemarie Trockel, Hanne Darboven, Mario Merz and Tacita Dean. But this is not a thematic biennale but a prestigious art fair where works of famous artists can be obtained. Also works of younger artists can be found such as Guido van der Werve's movie 'Nummer veertien, home' (2012), showing the melancholic and sometimes absurd odyssey of a lonely traveller who crosses Europe on a bike. Among other remarkable works is a group portrait in three dimension by Cathy Wilkes, 'Untitled (Biggar)', 2013 that looks both miserable and beautiful and Bethan Huws' movie 'Zone' (2013) showing footage of different bird species in and around a French lake while a voice over recites a poem by Apollinaire. There are striking parallels and dissonances between the text of the poem and the images on screen, showing animal life.
Cathy Wilkes, Untitled (Biggar), 2013, Art Unlimited
Bethan Huws, still from Zone, 2013, video, 10 minutes, Art Unlimited
Giuseppe Penone, Tree, Art Unlimited
Size is an issue in this years Unlimited. The show aims to present works that cannot be on display in the smaller gallery booths, such as Giuseppe Penone's 'Tree' showing a fir tree split over it's full length in two halves and filled with resin. While in the case of Penone the size suits the work, there are other examples in the show where the scale rather works against the artist, and appears pretentious or empty, such as the huge orange fabric made by Sam Falls, showing the imprint the sunlight made on a fabric on which pallets where stacked. Also Rita Ackermann's three green paintings, 'A Study on the Aesthetic of Disappearance – Hair Wash, 2014' showing faint traces of figuration and abstract gestures, seem oversized for what they actually have to offer.
Rita Ackermann, A Study on the Aesthetic of Disappearance – Hair Wash, 2014, Art Unlimited
Jack Lavender at The Approach, London
Alex Katz at Peter Blum gallery, New York
Painting is clearly not the 'forte' of this Unlimited show. Ackermann's works or Andrew Dadson's 'Re-stretched and Re-framed' (2014) rather suggest the medium's impotence then it's possibilities for expression. This is remarkable while in the main fair, in Hall number 2, fine examples of painting can be found in high numbers and variety, both in the traditional format of the canvas as in experiments on the edges of the medium, such as Jack Lavender's glass panels at The Approach, London, that are filled with toner ink. Gallery Blum presents a solo by Alex Katz, showing works of different periods of this American icon. In the booth of McKee Gallery two large paintings of Philip Guston can be seen, among them 'Ride' 1969, with the characteristic 'Clan' hoods, one of the first figurative paintings that Guston did after having worked in an abstract vocabulary. Zeno X gallery shows works by Belgian painters Luc Tuymans and Raoul de Keyser and by the American Jack Whitten, bringing together some substantial attitudes in painting from the last decades. Here no big size is needed to convince.
Philip Guston at McKee gallery, New York
Mark Manders and Raoul de Keyser at Zeno X gallery, Antwerpen
Matias Faldbakken at Standard gallery, Oslo
Within the density and diversity of the fair some galleries still manage to create some kind of focus within their booth, such as gallery Standard from Norway where an installation of Matias Faldbakken was presented alongside paintings by Ann Cathrin November Høibo. Faldbakken framed old carton boxes, hardly of any interest, but presented in such a way, here in conjunction with some carved gas tanks, that it catches the attention. An example of finding art in everyday life, rather then making it.
Anna Betbeze at Kate Werble gallery, New York
Marie Lund at Laura Bartlett gallery, London
For the youngest section of the Art Basel, the Art Statements, 14 galleries have been selected out of several hundred proposals. While the Statements used to be located in a separate hall together with Unlimited, this year the section is integrated in the main fair which is welcomed by the galleries since it brings the collectors closer. One of the eye catching Statements comes from Anna Betbeze, who presents at Kate Werble Gallery a sculpture of a rug, that has been colourful dyed, but also burned and mutilated. Another highlight comes from the Danish artist Marie Lund in the booth of Laura Bartlett Gallery. What appears to be an installation of hand made paintings are in fact curtains that the artist collected from the Arcosanti house in the Arizona desert, an experimental architecture project started in 1970. The curtains were blended by the harsh sunlight and show traces of more then 40 years use. They are in different colours, each obtained from a different room of the house. Here the use of sunlight as a painting instance is convincing and leads to a strong visual result, that actually looks like a handmade painting. Combined with a series of concrete sculptures, cast out of backpacks, the ensemble creates an abstract travel history.