Art Basel 2017

At Art Unlimited, the Supersize Section of Basel, Bullets, a Rocket, and a Few Gentle Giants

Cildo Meireles, Amerikkka, 1991/2013.

Art Basel hasn’t even really begun yet, but already the clear front-runner for the most remarkable thing I am likely to see over the next few days in this lovely Swiss city is a bunch of collector types smiling for photos inside an installation called Amerikkka (1991/2013) by Cildo Meireles that has a ceiling made out of 40,000 bullets and a floor composed of 20,000 white wooden eggs.

This was yesterday at Art Unlimited, Art Basel’s section for really, really, really big pieces of art (more than 70 of them), which always opens the afternoon before the main fair. The conceit sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it also actually ends up bringing in quite a few exciting things, both new and historical—the kind of works you’re unlikely to see too often given the financial and physical requirements involved in showing them.

Otto Piene, Blue Star Linz, 1980.

Greeting all comers today was a supersize blue Otto Piene balloon from 1980 that looks a bit like a sea anemone. It’s called Blue Star Linz, and it’s being presented by Sprüth Magers. Other historical highlights came from the freshly christened Lévy Gorvy gallery, whose offerings included a chilled-out 1970 installation by Enrico Castellani with his trademark white textured panels becoming walls of a room and a legendary suite of 14 haunting self-portraits that Adrian Piper made in the summer of 1971, when, as Kaelen Wilson-Goldie once succinctly put it, the artist was “holed up alone in her apartment, reading Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781), practicing yoga, and subsisting on nothing but juice and water.” It’s unforgettable.

Back on the subject of collectors, many were oddly stone-faced as they watched Mike Kelley’s rollicking and uproarious Gospel Rocket (2015) videos, which star a group of fresh-faced choir members dancing about joyously in orange robes. The “gospel rocket” itself (which is perhaps better seen than explained) looms at the center of the room. It’s impossible to be sad in there!

Mike Kelley, Gospel Rocket, 2005.

Gavin Brown’s Enterprise is perhaps the king of Unlimited this year, with—count them!—four large booths, one for Jonathan Horowitz’s knock-off Lichtenstein mirror paintings, one for a glorious series of photos that LaToya Ruby Frazier took of Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum in Joshua Tree, one for Arthur Jafa’s bewitching 2013 video APEX, and one more for Rob Pruitt’s series of Official Art World/Celebrity Look-Alikes (2016/17) series, which was originally going to be shown last year at GBE on the Lower East Side, a plan that was scrapped when a certain person won the White House and the artist instead opted to show his long-running series of Obama portraits.

As you may have seen out there on Instagram, Pruitt pairs photos of artists with celebrities in these works—Artists Space director Jay Sanders and Jason Biggs (of American Pie fame), Alex Israel and Jean-Luc Godard, Karl Holmqvist and Benedict Cumberbatch, and Juliana Huxtable and Brandy. It’s frightening how precise some of the diptychs are. (In terms of form, it’s also something of an unintended, lighthearted counterpoint to Piotr Uklański’s Real Nazis, 2017, which is on view at Documenta 14 in Kassel right now.)

Other choice selections in Unlimited: Anicka Yi’s breathing parachute, which is a redoubt of creepy serenity amid the freneticism of the fair, and a group of very spare, very Michael Krebber drawings, on hand courtesy of Galerie Daniel Buchholz.

Bruce Nauman, Walks In Walks Out, 2015.

There are also some pieces present that feel particularly appropriate to Basel, like a Jason Rhoades sculpture, presented by Hauser & Wirth and David Zwirner, that art handlers will build and take apart throughout the run of the show—bless them—and a Bruce Nauman from 2015 that sees the man himself walking up to a few of his recent video works (that also have him walking), standing for a moment, and then moseying out of the frame. The piece was originally conceived as a guide to scale for Sperone Westwater to use when installing the videos, and its title is a perfect little mantra for those navigating Basel this week: Walks In Walks Out.

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