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THE MORNING AFTER: LOOKING BACK AT ART BASEL 2017

Art Basel 2017 Art

(Clockwise, from top left) Reza Aramesh, Site of the Fall: Study of the Renaissance Garden, 2016-17, marble, topiary, Leila Heller, New York City, at Parcours, ArtBasel ; Sue Williamson, Messages from the Atlantic Passage, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa; Phyllida Barlow, untitled: 100banners2015, 2015, Hauser & Worth, Zurich; Thomas Struth, Paradise 28, Rio Madre de Dios, Peru 2005, 2005, chromogenic print, Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin/Paris; Peter Regli, Reality Hacking No. 313, 2014, Levy Gorvy, New York.


by Nancy Nesvet

This year, Art Basel had something for everyone. Dominated by the motherlode of over 4,000 works of art shown by 226 exhibitors in the Galleries sector, Art Basel extended its universe to individual artist projects at Parcours, Unlimited, Statements and Features. The solo projects, the result of artist proposals, were politically aware, environmentally conscious and community oriented.

The number of solo projects throughout these sectors largely identified with art concerned with social justice topics. In Unlimited, gallery directors chose 76 projects with “unlimited” size and scale proposed by artists.

In the restaurant with the hardest to get reservation in town (or maybe the world), “Cooking the World,” 2017 (Hauser and Wirth, Zurich), Subhodh Gupta hosted dinners merging strangers who emerge friends around a u-shaped bar. Indian cooks composed meals with the donated pots of many mothers, allowing patrons to get to know each other individually while eating delicious food from the plants of our communal earth.

Peter Regli’s “Reality Hacking No.313” (2014, Levy-Gorvy) was constructed of four Totem Poles; a Greek column, a huge bear, a boot and another abstract in nature, where we realized the enormity and impact of these Totems, with forms sacred to different cultures, but equally impressive.

In work that left me trembling, Sue Williamson constructed the installation, “Messages from the Atlantic Passage” (2017, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg), from bottles marked with the African and New World names of enslaved Africans, hung from​ropes supporting a basket, over a wooden pan of water mixed from African and American waters. The name of the ship and the number that survived the passage, inscribed in the wood, preserves history and informs us of people’s inhumanity to each other.

In Phyllida Barlow’s “100 Banners,” 2015 (Hauser and Wirth, Zurich), also at the Unlimited sector, abstract banners hung overhead, in an arrangement resembling those in an Oxford Dining Hall, or a hall of nations, but denoting no specific country. Are nations abstract concepts after all? This left me inquiring into the symbols we put on our flags, their meaning and appropriateness in our times opposed to the times they were created. Does abstraction remove original meaning? Is that a good thing? Does abstraction render a flag more universal, its population more diverse? Each work at Art Basel was thought-provoking.

The Galleries sector was not without its share of projects with a political or socio-cultural bent, focusing on environment and community. Andrew Rogers, an Australian artist, showed photographs from “Rhythms of Life, A Global Land Art Project” (1980-2017) where in deserts of the world on all five continents, he brings the entire community into his work to help construct rock outlines of their symbols. Informing them and allowing them to inform him in projects imaged by satellites’ cameras, the installations can be seen by all of humanity. He stretches our minds and our universe to see symbols of all cultures.

Thomas Struth’s “Paradise 28, Rio Madre de Dios, Peru” (2005, chromogenic print, Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin) featured a beautiful rainforest scene for us to appreciate, and hopefully take good care of.

Walking to the Parcours site (meaning journey from the French), the viewer reaches the area of the Cathedral Square, where 22 site-specific sculptures, interventions and performances by well-known, invited and emerging international and local artists could be seen. In the center of the square, Ai Wei Wei’s readymade “Iron Tree” (2016) has an untreated metal surface that will evolve a patina with time, and as I reported in Artscope’s zine last week, asks us to consider our relationship with nature, history and change in the environment due to the passage of time and manmade interference. Similarly, Katinka Bock, in “ParasiteFountain” (2017), raised catfish cast in bronze on a pillar that draws water from a neighboring fountain, not returning it, but wastefully spewing it over the road below. Also at Parcours, Gianni Colombo’s “Spazio Curve” (1992, polyvinyl, ultraviolet lamp, electromechanical animation) mirrored the environment in its curved shape in the black night devoid of gravity. Is it a spaceship or is it our world?

In the Statements sector at Art Basel 2017, Martha Atienza’s single-channel HD video, “Our Islands 11.16’58.4”N 123.45’07.0”E,” was indicative of the work displayed. It portrayed the parade in honor of the infant Jesus held in the Philippines, underwater. As the actors parade on the floor of the sea, there are no fish left, the result of dynamite fishing that has left a dearth of wildlife, with only the mad paraders remaining. The winners of one of two Baloise prizes this year, the judges felt this work particularly well done and its message significant.

Another highlight was Cecilia B. Evans’ “Amos’ World” (Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna/Rome), an architectural installation of a life-size estate housing (housing project) playing a video inside each window or door opening of the tenant’s life within. The dynamic between viewer and occupant, has and has-not, is set up, with all the questions and concerns that emanate from it.

In the Features sector, Bethan Huws, “Untitled,” 2016, aluminum, glass, rubber and plastic letters (Vistamare, Italy) proclaimed “Life Is More Important Than Art,” her homage to Marcel Duchamp and his reflections on the artist as a mediator. Her concern with language emanates from her first language-Welsh, spoken only by a few and threatening to disappear, but now experiencing a revival. This work, however, relates to Amos’ World in its important message.

Marc Spiegler, Global Director of Art Basel 2017, in the Guide to Art/Basel, cautioned the viewer to go slowly and focus on each piece to shift our thinking about art and the world. That cautionary statement certainly applied to all of the Art Basel work. Living temporarily in this world of art, going slowly and focusing on the work and its meaning, or its ability to shift my focus to form and color, negating concern with the outside world,left me with a heightened awareness of the many ​ways art can influence, instruct, educate and inspire.

For the third straight year, Artscope was an exhibitor in the Magazines Sector at Art Basel Switzerland. Our July/August 2017 issue will feature Nancy Nesvet’s report on the top work and trends from Art Basel and the other international fairs that took place during the week of the fair.