Nothing could have prepared me for the biggest and most prestigious art fair in the world: Art Basel. Right now, I’m writing fresh from the second day of the VIP opening. I tried to spot a few famous Hollywood celebrities buying just the centerpiece they need for the third living room in their fifth mansion. But it wasn’t in the cards for me.
What I did get to experience is the craziness of being able to see art from 300+ premier galleries. This includes Gagosian Gallery, Galerie Perrotin, White Cube, Tokyo Gallery, and others representing the different art capitals like Berlin, New York, Madrid, and Shanghai.
My guide suggested that since this was my first time, I shouldn’t get a floor plan. It was best to walk around and go to the booths that I was naturally drawn to. Spanning four floors of the Messeplatz, it’s impossible to explore and see everything in a day. This is how you can find out what you genuinely like and what your taste is when it comes to art.
On the first floor, I was immediately drawn to the larger-than-life Jeff Koons ‘Sacred Heart’ at the Gagosian Gallery’s booth.
Outright messages also dominated a few of the pieces, conscious perhaps of today’s Instagram culture. There’s Carmen Winant’s work from Pace/Macgill Gallery. “Peace Bitch” and the luxury of throwing away grape skins were also found. Liam Gillick’s “Some Delusion” caught my eye along with “We arrive here improvised” by Nalini Malani, which takes a quote from Polish poet Wisława Szymborska.
Self-portraits also drew me in, perhaps because selfie culture is one of the oldest art forms we have. There was Anthony McCall’s ‘Four Figures’ from Galerie Thomas Zander, Alfredo Jaar’s ‘Self Portrait,’ and Jurgen Klauke’s ‘Es war ein schoner Tag, eis ich dachte.’
Perhaps the best commentary of this selfie culture and obsession with quotes was found in Mel Bochner’s ‘Everybody Is Full Of Shit’ from Two Palms New York. You take a photo of the message written on a reflective surface. Congratulations, you’re the shit.
As a first-timer, I was genuinely drawn to Unlimited—the floor dedicated to performance art installations and larger-than-life pieces. I haven’t seen anything like it. Trust that only Basel can host massive artworks like these without any difficulties.
Xu Zhen, one of contemporary Shanghai’s most prolific artists, was there with “Nirvana.” The piece served as a commentary on capitalism. Baccarat and roulette tables were set up, constructed using sand mandala, a ritual symbol of colored sand used by Tibetan Buddhist monks.
Several pieces take off from the #MeToo movement “Open Secret” by Andrea Bowers featured two long walls are covered back to back with banners that document several public figures and their history of sexual harassment accusations. These include Dustin Hoffman, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Marilyn Manson, and Charlie Rose.
“Breathing” by Monica Bonvicini is a hanging steel structure made of belts that hit the floor like a psychotic dance, “refers to contemporary feminist politics and the presence of powerful female figures.”
Alicia Framis’ “LifeDress” is a mixed-media installation of nine dresses of airbag fabric. The dresses on mannequins take turns in being inflated and are designed to protect from different forms of harassment: the layered piece covered the bum or a long shawl guard against breast gropers.
This is but a fraction of what I saw after a few hours. When it comes to Art Basel, there is a need to go back, if possible, every day the fair is open. Add to this how Basel itself becomes a museum with Parcour installations all over the city. Each museum in this art capital also offers its fare along with events like Photo Basel, which focuses on international photography.
The chilly weather of Switzerland, uncommon for this season, can’t suppress the fever which Art Basel brings.