The Unlimited sector of Art Basel is devoted to large-scale installation and works that “transcend the classical art show stand.” The name is a hyperbole—as it does contain walls at some points—but it can really appear endless when you first walk in. And the works inside are very, very big. That is the point of the whole thing! Which is why it’s a little futile to try and see it all in a matter of minutes, but I did it anyway. There is a lot to see.
The curtain opens to what seems to be an appropriate opening set piece: Thomas Bayrle’s Flagzeug (Airplane), 1982–83—last seen towering over the offerings at Documenta 13 in 2012—and Dan Graham’s bent-glass door to the rest of Unlimited, Two V’s Entrance Way (2016). Beyond that came Davide Balula’s Mimed Sculpture (2016), a performance where mimes in purple gloves were “making” air re-creations of works by Bourgeois and Giacometti, and then a massive work by Chiharu Shiota, Accumulation: Searching for Destination (2014), in which hundreds of beat-up vintage suitcases are suspended from the roof at different heights.
A William Pope.L performance had the artist walking around the fair in a white gorilla costume, while Ai Weiwei—perhaps the ur-Unlimited artist, given his fondness for bigness, both in work and in statements—gave us White House (2015), a structure painted white and then set on some Koons-y glass orbs. Collages by Ciprian Muresan took every ad from certain issues of Artforum and combined them—the works get denser as Artforum becomes more ad-heavy, with a particular departure once Knight Landesman came on board as the magazine’s publisher.
Alison Knowles’s legendary performance Make a Salad, which is what it sounds like, was staged here 54 years after its debut. It started at 4:00 p.m., with a line of performers chopping the salad and tossing it in a giant bowl, ready to serve it to passersby. The performance completed just after 6:00, nearly 45 minutes earlier than expected. “People wanted salad, I guess,” someone said. It was a salad-loving crowd in a bratwurst city.
The James Turrell wedgework Cross Cut (1998) had such a long line that I didn’t bother to even try to see it, and I expect that come tomorrow, the same waits will be the case for a work by Tracey Emin: The More of You the More I Love You (2016) is set in a small mirrored room where all you can do is bask in the glow of the Tracey Emin purple neon, and maybe take a selfie or eight.
What you rarely see at Unlimited is the artist actually hanging out in the booth, taking in the enormity of it all, greeting guests. But such was the case with Joseph Kosuth, who had restaged his first-ever L.A. gallery show, which consisted of text-based works that aimed to define the word “nothing.”
“I did it when I was 22, and it went up when I was 23,” said Kosuth, who was sitting in a chair in a corner with his dealer, Sean Kelly.
I asked if it held up.
“Actually, it’s better than I remember!” Kosuth said.
(Also, there was a conversation between artist and dealer regarding the death of the artist Dieter Roth, whom Kosuth claims to have been drinking with on his last night on earth. But we’ll leave it at that.)
And while it’s hard to sell the really big works here in the opening minutes of Unlimited, we heard that one of the quite big works on view did indeed find a buyer: Paul McCarthy’s Tomato Head (2014) was sold to Art Agency, Partners on behalf of an American client.
There certainly were advisers and dealers buying on behalf of absentee billionaires, but the place was also crawling with genuine collectors, which makes one particular work even funnier: Hans Op de Beeck’s The Collector’s House (2016), which painstakingly re-created the lounge of a rich art maven, down to the piano, the library, the sculptures—but all in unsettling gray plaster, which press materials liken to Pompeii, frozen in time. I heard it was completed in six weeks, which is pretty remarkable. But I haven’t yet heard if it’s been sold—if it does sell, where in the house will the collector put it?