Outside of the EU, the city of Basel is extremely European yet fantastically Swiss. Situated on the Rhine where France, Germany and Switzerland touch noses, an influx of different economies and cultures, combined with the Swiss ability to pull off a highly organised show, make Basel the perfect location to hold what can be known as ‘the Olympics of the Art World’.
Art Basel, volta, scope liste, hot art, focus 09 and Design Miami featured in the city from the 10 – 14 June. Each fair had its own purpose and facilitated galleries and projects in their infancy right up to well established players on the art scene.
In a gigantic building Art Basel is the Mother Ship spawning Art unlimited, Art edition, Art galleries and Art statement. Altogether four separate events take place. If this wasn’t enough, public conversations between galleries, artist and curators, as well as book launches, were organised for certain times during the day.
Art galleries contains over 300 booths from galleries around the world. This was a fantastic opportunity to see the work of your favourite artists. Prominent London Gallery The White Cube showed the Chapman brothers’ sculpture of war and death – No woman no cry. New York’s Gagosian Gallery showcased work form Cy Twombly and Cindy Sherman. Hauser and Wirth of Zurich Gallery displayed the fantastically gutsy work of two renowned female artists, Maria Lessing and Louise Bourgeois.
Our own Kerlin Gallery occupied a booth at Art Basel, sharing Ireland’s top-end artists such as Dorothy Cross and David Godbold, with the rest of the world
Such other greats as Philip Guston, Alex Katz, Andy Warhol and Picasso featured in various galleries. Drawings by German artist George Groz, South African artist Marlene Dumas and British artist David Shrigley offered a variety of style in the drawing medium. The sheer volume of artworks in Galleries was enough to challenge any art lover’s attention span, and as I moved over to Art statement there was the feeling that things could be measured out more equally.
Every gallery involved in Art statement picked one artist from their stable to exhibit; altogether it featured 27 one-person stands. Dublin gallery mother’s tankstation occupied one space. (Director Finola Jones and artist David Godbold were over seeing events in Basel.) Proudly, mother’s tankstation was the first visible stand as you entered the exhibition. Prime location and prime property, the judges of the Baloise Art Prize hadn’t failed to spot this either, Installation artist Nina Canell was awarded a Baloise prize of 30,000 Swiss francs, a huge feat as this is one of the biggest prizes in the art world. Not only does she receive a cash prize, but Baloise will also buy groups of works by the prize winners with the object of donating them to two leading European museums, the Hamburg Kunsthalle and the Mumok in Vienna.
Canell’s show was a beautiful arrangement of subtle interactions. Once immersed in the artwork, a strong magnetic energy could be felt; it had a very soothing effect on the viewer. Canell carefully arranges objects and often uses banal items such as buckets and sticks in her work, orchestrated with pastel pinks and neons. There is sense of irony and fun attached to the installation; her work has a tremendous allure and she has successfully created her own artistic language, truly deserving of the Baloise Prize 2009.
Next up was Volta; this was situated beside the train station. Housed in an airy, beautiful dome, it was easy to navigate around the booths. An appealing aspect to Volta was the cheap cover charge of 3 euro, compared to the standard entry fee of 15 euro elsewhere. The organisers wanted to acknowledge the general economic situation, suiting my recession-conditioned pockets.
Inside Volta the good vibes continued. The Green on Red Gallery, Dublin, displayed the work of Paul Doran, Patrick Hall, and Niamh McCann and more. The booth was self-contained and hung with sensitivity and care; each artist was given their own self-respecting space and comfort. At the David Risley Gallery, London, some beautiful paintings by Swiss painter Anna Berger caught my eye. The gallerist informed me that I was not the only one, and all but a couple had sold. As a whole sales had been good, explaining the upbeat atmosphere in the dome. Various art projects as well as some performances added different dimensions to the fair.
Dean Waldim’s mini bar at Katherine Mulherine’s booth served mini drinks from 6 to 8 each evening. William Cobbling performed a bizarre piece at the Furni Art Contemporaries Booth, where he covered his head in a weight of cement. The Royal Art Lodge’s huge drawing installation at Zivina Hempinas failed to disappoint; typically, their work offered ironic and funny truths about life in their text, and the drawing possessed its usual surreal, dreamlike quality. There was an edgy quality to most works at Volta; some of it teetered on dodgy ground, but as a whole the fair was very engaging and a lot of fun.
Liste, the young art fair, offered a totally different type of experience. The setting was grungy and it resembled a gigantic degree show rather than an art fair. At the entrance of Liste, artists dressed as nuns offered free orgasms; this funny and unpretentious interaction was like something you would find at Ireland’s Ted Fest. A Berlin gallery displayed a large-scale drawing installation, Anonymous drawings – Blutenweiss: a selection of about 800 drawings by international artists was presented anonymously. Selected from open submissions, the organiser of the project had no prejudices over the age or status of the artist. It was generous, and I found open opportunities very appealing in Liste. I also came across a Zurich-based small publishing company, Neives. Off beat, naive-style comic books are published by them as well as strong photography publications.
Lastly I visited Scope. It prides itself on giving a platform to emerging artists, non-profit art pieces and installations. Art Asia also features in Scope, (re)introducing a worldwide audience to Asian contemporary art. Scope was a decent pick and mix of installation, photography and painting. A French gallery – Galleries Françoise Besson – had dedicated itself to painting and Irish artist Diana Copperwhite showed her work at its booth. She treated us to one of her gently misty watercolours.
Once again Basel has managed to facilitate a mammoth art event which has successfully identified every medium of art and triumphantly given it a platform. Irish art stood strong at Basel; success can happen in the gloomiest of times.