The work in Galleries, the biggest sector of the Art Basel 2019 art fair, with 273 galleries displaying artwork, ranged from very bad to superlative. From large, childlike, messy, grease crayon drawings and similarly unfinished paintings to the refined glitz, and smooth stainless steel and optic glasswork, this sector provided the low and high points of the fair.
Not surprisingly, there was much handmade textile work, the best being Sheila Hicks’ “Calligraphy Sauvages,” a 2019 sculpture of 15 chords of silk, wool, linen, bamboo and synthetic fiber — in bright, coordinated colors. Her 2018 linen line drawing, “Je veux être seul,” reminded me of 1930s Bauhaus geometric work. Robert Mapplethorpe’s “Stars,” created in 1983, of stained wood and carpet, presented a rare foray into Mapplethorpe’s textured relief sculptures. At Sperone Westwater’s, New York, New York, booth, Emil Lukas’ “Twin Orbit,” 2019, constructed of thread over an aluminum frame with paint and nails looked like a planet, with the slightest relief afforded by the concentration of colored threads, crosshatched at the edge and more open threaded areas approaching the middle. Beautiful!
Jean-Michel Othoniel’s harder-edged, 2018, “Noeud Sauvage,” made of mirrored glass and stainless steel, presented by Kukje Gallery and Tina Kim Gallery, used intertwined cables of alternating red, pink and silver balls referring to the circulatory system surrounding the heart. Tomás Saraceno’s “NLTT 5306 b/M+M,” 2019 — powdered stainless steel, mirror panels, polyester rope, fishing line, metal wire – for me, had the feeling of a space station that was advantageously placed next to Angela Bulloch’s “Night Sky E.T. From Pluto.9,” 2008-2012, a sculpture of 9 modules, LED lights, felt and aluminum, whose blinking lights suspended me in the beauty of the cosmos. Both were displayed by Esther Schipper Gallery.
Doug Aitken’s “Inside me,” a relief sculpture made in 2018, of aluminum, high density foam, resin, auto paint and acrylic mirror juxtaposed a black outlined six-sided form, enveloping a heart of stainless-steel mirrors cut like a diamond. The faceted mirror surfaces repeatedly reflected the viewer standing in front — turned upside down, sideways and sectioned.
But the most striking work at the Galleries sector was Rudolf Stingel’s 2016 “Untitled,” piece constructed of electroformed copper, plated nickel and stainless-steel frame presented by Sadie Coles HQ, London. Was the title a play on words, as text was apparent all over the blaringly bright nickel surface of the work?
The Statements sector exhibited individual artist’s work, and along with the Unlimited sector, was most expressive of their individual political and social viewpoints. Jac Leirner’s 2018, “120 Levels” presented by Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, made of spirit levels, is a witty display. Used in the art world to make sure a work of art is perfectly balanced, the levels here seem to measure the degree of the viewer’s physical and psychological balance. Brilliant!
Alfredo Jaar’s “Public Interventions (Studies on Happiness: 1979-1981),” eight pigment prints — suspended as billboards above a crowd, on poles under which people wait and comprising a billboard on the side of an empty highway repeatedly ask, in multiples languages, “ES USTED FELIZ?” translating to “Are you happy?” This questioning of our happiness, a current issue, on university campuses and amongst the general public, is answered here — in the rarefied world of shine and cushiony textiles. The answer today is “Yes.”
(Artscope’s national correspondent Nancy Nesvet will be filing reports from Basel, Switzerland, throughout Art Basel 2019 from Basel, Switzerland, the public days for which take place June 13 through 16. For ticket information, visit artbasel.com/basel. Nesvet’s review of this year’s international art festival will be featured in our July/August 2019 issue.)