Art Art Basel 2015
Impressions from the fair
A passerby called the stand of Gavin Brown at Art Basel an ‘Art-hack’. Brown has always experimented with what a gallery might be and could do. The artists that he represents are his close allies. His booth this year is one of the most colourful of the fair, a real eye catcher due to the work by Martin Creed. The booth is filled with various floor mats; a welcome mat, a prayer mat, a yoga mat, a play mat for children and a car mat. Works by Brown’s roster of artists are displayed on the walls and floors. Also, another work by Creed is hanging on the wall; a yellow neon sign saying “Fuck off”. I found it to be most welcoming perusing the art displayed at the booth.
The Belgian artist, Michaël Borremans, never takes commissions but when his compatriot, Alex Vervoordt, asked to him to paint his race horse ‘Raio’, he accepted as “he had never painted a horse before”, I’m told by one of the gallerists of Zeno X Gallery. The painting is exhibited in the Proportio exhibition at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice organized by Axel and May Vervoordt Foundation. When Borremans completed the painting he wanted to do another painting of the horse but more in his own distinct style. In Vervoordt’s version the horse is portrayed; facing the viewer as in a traditional horse painting. Also, the light on the horse looks like it is lit by a kerosene lantern lamp. One could imagine that this painting is meant to be displayed in a country house near the fireplace.
Borremans named his version ‘The Horse’, and he depicted the animal more from the back and doesn’t face the viewer. The atmosphere is lighter and the horse’s shadow is more prominent on the wall. As a painting it seems to possess more horsepower.
The London-based gallery exhibits a series of Polaroid’s featuring Ulay and musician Charlotte Moarmon in which they mark each other’s bodies with fingerprints. The German artist, renowned for his legendary performances with Marina Abramovic (1976-88), has transferred his fingerprints onto the Polaroid themselves. The work shows Ulay’s interest in identity and the male / female Dynamics which he explored at great lengths with Abramovic.
Eric Fischl, A Woman Possessed, oil on cavas, 1981, Skarstedt
Last year, Eric Fischl, presented a series of paintings depicting art fairs and gallery openings. Although the paintings were lushly painted and his depiction of the art scenes are ironic and remarkably apt, holding up a mirror to the art world, I prefer his works about suburban life, starting at the end of the 1970s beginning early 1980s. Fischl has commented that he finds the suburbs to be ‘artistically fertile ground’.
These works are arresting, layered and more personal, in which he depicts traumatic family episodes. Some of the works are also erotically charged such as his mysterious painting ‘Bad Boy’, of a naked woman lying on a bed observed by an adolescent boy. Fischl seems to hint at Freud’s Oedipal Complex but behind his back, the boy has his hand going through her purse. The painting leaves a lot of room to the imagination of the viewer.
The same goes for ‘A Woman Possessed’ (1981), again a depiction of a woman and a young boy. A woman is lying on the ground, unconscious and the young boy is trying to move her. It’s a fascinating image and triggers many thoughts about what has occurred. One of the gallerists tells me that the work is immensely autobiographical. Fischl combined two dramatic events from his own life; he used to come home and find his mother (who was an alcoholic) passed out lying on the floor and then her dying in a car accident. It’s a sinister painting. Fischl doesn’t sugar coat the events in his life.
In the book ‘Sanctuary – Britain’s artists and their Studios’, the artist Anish Kapoor said that “two things are truly mysterious, elusive in sculpture: space and scale. When is a sculpture big enough to have a sense of awe? It is not because it is huge”.
Clare Lilley, curator of Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Frieze Sculpture Park agrees with Kapoor, that scale is elusive. When I met with her for an interview during Art Basel, she says that only the best artists really understand it.” Anish Kapoor, Jaume Plensa, Anthony Gormley, Thomas Houseago and Jeff Koons can do it, but it’s really difficult to get it right. It’s one of the reasons why Koons is so successful I think. It’s an architectural sensibility, it’s really understanding how objects in space function”, she says. Tomorrow Lilley will say more when she gives her impressions of ‘Unlimited’ – the fair dedicated to out-sized works.
Pace gallery dedicated half of the booth to Robert Rauschenberg’s series ‘Salvage paintings’, (1983-85). According to the gallery, this series should be considered as one of the artist’s last great turning points in his career. For Trisha Brown’s dance performance ‘Set and Reset’, Rauschenberg created garments screen printed with black and white architectural photographs. He noticed the ink bleeding onto a drop cloth beneath the garments. By saving and reusing these happy accidents, he was ‘salvaging’ the images.
Elliot McDonald of Pace tells me that Rauschenberg didn’t use his own photography, but starting with this series he did. Renowned for his ‘Combines’, in which the artist combined non-traditional materials and objects in these bold coloured works, Rauschenberg mixed screen printing with his own photography of a visit to an Asian market, an Asian statue and a picture of a car wash sign.
Thaddaeus Ropac presents a work by Rauschenberg from 1990 were the influence of the ‘Salvage Paintings’ can be felt.
Xavier Hufkens is also showing a work by Altmejd at the fair from his bodybuilders series. This one is made from bronze, patina and has the same colour as the statue of Liberty.
Written by Thierry Somers