Art Basel 2017 News

Peculiar Things Are Afoot at the Kunsthalle Basel

Installation view of “Ungestalt” at the Kunsthalle Basel, with 2014 works by Park McArthur on the floor at center, and a 2016 piece by Caroline Achaintre high on the wall at back.

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When I visited the Kunsthalle Basel this afternoon, a friendly woman at the front desk told me that she had to ask if I would like to see “Ungestalt,” the group show currently on view at the museum, with or without the work of artist Florence Jung. Not one to want to miss out on something, but admittedly with a sense of foreboding, I said I’d go with the Jung. “Keeping a positive outlook on things!” she replied as she handed me a white envelope. “We like that.”

Inside the envelope was a typed and signed letter from Elena Filipovic, the director of the Kunsthalle Basel, who co-curated the show, which reads in full:

Dear Visitor,

Florence Jung was invited to be co-curator of this exhibition. She used her position to influence exhibition-making decisions on every level. The infiltration of these constitutes her contribution to the exhibition although their details will remain confidential.

Sincerely,

Elena Filipovic

That note, which suggests hidden forces, unseen influences, or a kind sort of curatorial contamination, sets the tone nicely for “Ungestalt,” which concerns works that, as its title suggests, are vaguely unformed, shifting, or somehow unrestrained. We may never know to what degree Jung was responsible, but this is a superb show.

There are ragtag-elegant fabric paintings by Eric N. Mack, a projection and a video by the always elusive Trisha Donnelly, and rough-and-tumble wool pieces by Caroline Achaintre, among other things, and they are installed inventively—high and low, here and there. It’s an unusual production. Extending a series that he showed at Asad Raza’s SoHo apartment in 2015, Adrián Villar Rojas is showing a refrigerator and freezer, the former stuffed with watermelons and bottled water, the latter with a lobster, vegetables, and tricky-to-identify items covered with ice and frost. (Judging from photos, the piece was once quite radiantly colored.)

Adrián Villar Rojas, Untitled (from the series “Rinascimento”), 2017.

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And just to make things a bit more topsy-turvy, the humidity in the exhibition is changing as the result of an untitled 2005–17 piece by Tomo Savić-Gecan that is presented with a placard that reads:

A mechanism recorded the entry times of visitors to the exhibition The One, held at the New General Catalogue Gallery in New York from October 15 to November 14, 2005; the data from that mechanism is shifting the humidity levels at Kunsthalle Basel for the duration of the exhibition Ungestalt from May 19 to August 13, 2017.

Savić-Gecan has also contributed an untitled work dated 2007–17 that is invisible at the museum. The museum’s website explains:

The value of the artwork is the artwork; the value is in a constant state of devaluation, from the moment the exhibition begins until its closure, at which point the artwork will be worth nothing. You may inquire at Kunsthalle Basel about the value of the artwork at any given moment or consult the website.

It’s moving at a trickle, counting down from CHF 100,000 (about $103,500) at some unknown rhythm. When I started writing this, the piece was CHF 69,100 ($71,500). It’s still sitting there, but pretty soon, we know, it’s going to slip.

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