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Highlights from Art Basel from our Switzerland based Member Kristen Knupp

We are grateful to Kristen Knupp of KPK Contemporary currently based in Switzerland,  for writing about Art Basel 2016 from the fair. All images by Kristen Knupp. For any questions, contact Kristen.


Art Basel run on from June 16-19 in Basel, Switzerland, and as you have probably heard, it is huge; enormous; immense. There are 220 galleries in the main halls which is double the number of galleries at the Affordable Art Fair, Battersea. Then there is the Unlimited section of the fair, where 88 projects that “transcend the limitations of a traditional fair booth, including out-sized sculptures and paintings, videos, large-scale installations and live performances” are shown. There are six other sections of the fair including Statements, Feature, Edition, Magazines, Parcour, and Film.  On top of this there are satellite fairs such as Scope, Volta, and Photo Basel, each about the size of Battersea.  So an important part of visiting Art Basel is sorting out what you have time to see and where to go.

After the three-hour train journey from Geneva to Art Basel on Friday, my friends and I decide to spend most of our time in the Unlimited section.  While the galleries section looks much like most other art fairs, the Unlimited section is another beast altogether.  Set in a huge warehouse building and without any gallery staff on hand, the viewing is relaxed and feels like an indoor amusement park of art.  There are many memorable exhibits and I will touch on the ones I like the best…

Queues at Art Basel 2016

Alison Knowles’s “Make a Salad” from 1962 is a performance work where three people stand in front of the audience and….make a salad.  Yes, it takes about 1 and 1/2 hours to make it and apart from the large microphones in the mixing bowls it looks just like you and I making a salad in our own kitchens.  After it is made the audience gets a bowl of salad and eats it.  Part of the Fluxus movement from the 1960’s, this is a work that has been performed at the Tate Modern in 2008 and in 2012 on the High Line in New York City.  We met James Fuentes who has an eponymous gallery on Delancey Street, NYC, and who represents Alison in New York.  He said he is currently negotiating with museums to buy the work and says that Marina Abramovic and others have paved the way for the commoditization of performance pieces.

Alison Knowles Make a Salad

We didn’t stay for the salad as there was much more to see.  On the recommendation of a fellow wandering art-lover, we popped into a video installation called The San San Trilogy, by Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe.  To enter you first pass through a 1960’s den with wood panelling that sets the mood.  Based on a prediction from 1967 that the San Francisco and San Diego metropolitan areas would one day merge into a huge agglomeration, this 1 1/2 hour film is a trippy, apocalyptic sociological study of a future that never happened.  With a rational and calm female voiceover explaining the footage of burned out buildings and psychedelic imagery, there is tongue-in-cheek humor underlying the film.  It was faintly ridiculous but realistic enough to be nearly believable.

Laura Lima Ascenseur

Next we wandered past a hand sticking out from under a wall. The hand was searching desperately for a set of keys that were just out of reach.  Who was going to help the hand?  Who would move the keys within the hands reach?  Anyone? Anyone?  Yes, my new friend came to the rescue, happy to join in the performance.  Most other people, myself included, were happy to watch from the sidelines, and see what the hand would do next.  It offered the keys now, would anyone take them?  Anyone? Anyone?  Yes, again my friend was happy to intervene and help the hand.  This was Laura Lima’s Ascenseur, 2013.  It is so simple and yet touches upon concepts of human presence, empathy, agreement and interaction.
Hans Op de Beeck The Collector’s House (1)

Hans Op de Beeck’s The Collector’s House, 2016, had the largest space in the Unlimited section.  It was well worth a wait in a queue for about 20 minutes.   This was a full-scale faux interior scene made entirely of gray plaster.  Lounging women, a waterlily pond, bookcases, cigarettes and ashtrays, children, a Degas-like dancer, peacocks, a piano–it was all there.  It was a stunning array of beautifully-made pieces in an ultra-calm atmosphere, as if ashes had suffocated and deadened all the life and color in the room.  The title “The Collector’s House” is interesting and suggests a commentary on the art world, where being surrounded by beautiful objects is sometimes not enough, especially if the soul is missing.

Ai Wei Wei White House

Finally, Ai Weiwei’s White House, 2015, is a spectacular 80 square meter frame of a residential home from southern China.  Weiwei whitewashed it with industrial paint and then balanced it on shimmering, reflective crystal balls under each support.  As the fair material states “The abandoned domestic structure signals the recent modernization and industrialization that has overtaken China’s history” often at the expense of preserving and honouring past history.  The crystal balls reflected viewers and works nearby, including a huge, colorful Frank Stella piece, with the images in reverse.  If we could see into the future, would we change our course?  At least I know what my course will be next June.  I will be at Art Basel again for another overdose of art.

Art Basel front entrance



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