Last week, Nasher Museum Director Sarah Schroth attended Art Basel 2014, the world-famous modern and contemporary art fair. The 45th edition of the fair presented 285 galleries from 34 countries, exhibiting the work of more than 4,000 artists. This year, 92,000 people attended the show over the course of six days. Below, Sarah shares some of her favorite works of art and installations around Basel, Switzerland.
1. Guido van der Werve, Nummer veertien, home, 2012 (2 screen shots)
Perhaps the most important and enriching artistic experience for me at Art Basel was watching Guido van der Werve’s 2012 film, Nummer veertien, home, shown in the satellite fair, Unlimited. A complicated, beautiful, professionally flawless 54-minute film divided into three movements and 12 acts, with three different narratives intertwined–the death of Chopin, story of Alexander the Great and the artist’s own journey. The film opens with plain text telling us that although Chopin was buried in Paris, his dying wish was that his heart be buried in his native Poland, a wish his sister carried out. We are also told that this distance equals seven times the length of a Triathlon. The film then opens with the sound of a single piano playing a slow, contemplative, melancholic melody while the camera spans the white marble tomb holding Chopin’s heart, in an ornate church in Warsaw. The camera pans back to show the pianist playing this requiem, incongruously dressed in a black wet suit, a hint at van der Werve’s signature deadpan, surrealistic style. This is the beginning of the man retracing the path taken by Chopin’s sister; from the church he swims, bikes, and runs over 1,000 miles from Poland to Paris. The viewing of sections of this journey is interspersed with the story of the artist’s own journey and Alexander the Great’s–both leaving home and unable to return. All the while, the requiem plays on, for voices and strings–there is no dialogue. It is only in the credits that we learn that the artist composed the requiem and endured the extremely physical 1,000-mile journey in less than three weeks. Heartbreaking, powerful film.
2. Gerhard Richter
The Foundation Beyeler had a wonderful show of Gerhard Richter’s works, well-curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, spanning his career. What I loved most about it was that the large abstract painting series were always hung with his remarkable smaller paintings of still lifes (the candle –how does he do it? I swear the flame moves!), portraits, landscapes, usually two to four single “realistic” paintings in a room, on end walls. New to me were the series of the artist’s photographs, such as The Museum Visit, bearing his characteristic loaded multicolored brushstrokes that partially hid the image in the photograph. The newest works were also a revelation: abstract C-prints, which appeared to be photographs of various colored pigments pressed between two sheets of glass.
3. Street Art
Who knew that a city like Basel would feature street artists to the extent it does—and really good artists—a pleasure seeing them on the way to the fair each day through the #14 tram windows.
4. Richard Long
Richard Long’s River Avon Driftwood Circle from 1996 was reconstructed for Unlimited, seen below in front of Tacita Dean’s 2014 large photogravure, Quatemary. I took a shot of the detail of Long’s choice and arrangement of driftwood (above) because it reminded me of the photographs of Joan Miró gathering similarly interesting pieces of odd driftwood on the beach in Mallorca, which he would incorporate into his late sculptures, many examples of which are coming to the Nasher Museum soon! It was interesting to me that there were several booths in this year’s Art Basel, including Galerie Lelong, which had late paintings and sculpture by Miró, the subject of the exhibition Joan Miró: the Experience of Seeing, opening at the Nasher Museum on September 14.
5. Michelangelo Pistoletto
The newly re-discovered Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto was represented in Unlimited by a large horizontal work of his signature polished mirror stainless steel, on which he painted people in chairs with their backs to us. You see my reflection, the lady dressed in red taking a photo with her smartphone, which shows me from the front, so that presumably the (painted) people on chairs can look directly at me, although I can see only their backs. The viewer thus completes the concept of the artwork.
6. David Nash
The British sculptor David Nash made a series of impressive sculptures made entirely out of cork in 2012. This enormous one called Cork Spire (520 x 380 cm) was included in Unlimited, but another cork spire, along with a preparatory drawing, appeared in both the main Basel fair (Annely Juda Fine Art). In Spain, I have seen the trunks of cork trees after the cork bark has been harvested—they are the color of fresh blood. Nash was inspired to use this material after he stayed in a cottage on a cork farm in Portugal in 2010, where he watched the skilled laborers carefully hand-strip the bark off the tree so that the living layer of tissue beneath it was not damaged. The use of cork as a material for sculpture reflects the artist’s feelings about our relationship with nature. Nash has described our environment as “our outer skin.”
7. Xu Khen
Chinese artist Xu Khen was given pride of place at Unlimited–a huge work from 2013/14 in which he creates life-sized reproductions of the sculptures from the East pediment of the Pantheon, which are “wed” with reproductions of famous Buddha statues, a comment on the differences between Western and Eastern civilizations. It is entitled Eternity… and is the most ambitious work to date by the artist.
Editor’s note: Unlimited is Art Basel’s exhibition platform for projects that exceed the limitations of a classical art show. The innovative work includes out-sized sculpture and paintings, video projections, large-scale installations and live performances. Unlimited was curated by New York-based curator Gianni Jetzer.