Artworks to Kill For: See 45 Highlights from Art Basel
The 50th edition of Art Basel is now in full swing, with some 300 exhibitors and countless collectors convening on Tuesday morning in the city’s convention center for the first day of action. (The fair opens to the public on Thursday.) As the premier marketplace for modern and contemporary art in the world, this is the show that dealers save their best work for, and so, even when you hit a bleak booth or something not to your taste, other delights await just a few steps over. The pace is unrelenting. Below are 45 highlights from the aisles—works or booths I would like to buy or steal or receive as presents—along with a couple other photos of the scene. You can read a full story on the opening from my colleague Sarah Douglas, here. Basel runs through Sunday, and our reporting will continue throughout the week.
One of many sexy, funny, breezy paintings—the kind that look easy to make but of course are not—by Xinyi Cheng at Balice Hertling, of Paris.
At Air de Paris, which is based in the French capital, Eliza Douglas’s paintings of Josh Smith show. A sweet little Jef Geys is at center.
Berlin’s Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi has this 2018 Clock from the slyly inventive Glasgow-born, London-based artist Morag Keil. (I’m not a tax expert, but since it’s a functioning timepiece, perhaps there’s a way to write this off as an office expense?)
Grotesquerie and discomfort is so often front and center in Torbjørn Rødland’s photographs that this one, at Standard Oslo, seemed like an intriguing outlier in his oeuvre. “Those just look like tasty sandwiches!” I thought. But then I spotted the weirdness: the bread. A peculiar situation.
São Paulo’s Galeria Bergamin & Gomide has assembled an elegant booth of classic Brazilian modernism—from left to right, it’s Lygia Clark, Lygia, and Alfredo Volpi, from 1958, ca. 1960, and 1957 respectively.
Brussels’s Jan Mot, a maestro of intensely conceptual art (so much so that it is sometimes pretty much invisible), has this ultra-rare 1967 Ian Wilson, Untitled (Disc). Soon after making this work, Wilson began conducting philosophical conversations as his sole form of art, and a certificate documenting one that took place in Paris in 1976 hangs on a nearby wall.
Lindsay Lohan getting the Heji Shin treatment at the booth of Reena Spaulings Fine Art, which has locations in New York and Los Angeles. The gallery also has a huge Shin portrait of Kanye West similar to the one included in the 2019 Whitney Biennial.
Not one work is for sale at the booth of New York gallery Essex Street. It is, instead, showing works by the excellent Cameron Rowland that are available to rent, including some that have been previously rented by collectors for fixed periods and returned. One new work is also on view, ”Lawfully carried, but dangerous to life, would facilitate escape” (2019), which takes the form of two shoelaces hanging over a nail. A text by Rowland accompanying the work reads, “Jail and immigration detention centers require shoelaces be removed at the point of booking or detention.”
Fergus McCaffrey, which operates out of New York, Tokyo, and St. Barth, has these two 1965 paintings by the reliably exhilarating Sadamasa Motonaga, a founding member of the Gutai group. Ideally, I would like to acquire both, but I’d settle for the thin vertical one on the right.
Paris’s Christophe Gaillard has a full booth of constructions—most of them tiny, almost like little botanical plants—by the Japanese legend Tetsumi Kudo. It is because of toothsome displays like this that security guards search visitors’ bags when leaving the fair.
Last year, the Bruce Nauman retrospective at the Schaulager was one of the highlights of the week in Basel. This year, Dusseldorf and Berlin veteran Konrad Fischer Galerie has this obscure Nauman cut, Drill Team (1966), on view. One good reason to attend an art fair: the chance to see B-sides from well-known figures.
For those who missed Cady Noland’s retrospective at MMK in Frankfurt, which closed a few weeks ago, Galerie Max Hetzler, of Berlin, Paris, and London, has her Dutch Door (1989) blocking a pathway in its booth. (I opted not to touch it and instead walked around.) Hetzler hosted a 1990 one-person outing by Noland in Los Angeles, at a space it once operated there with New York’s Luhring Augustine.
Mira Schendel (1984, touched with gold leaf), Lina Bo Bardi (a ca. 1982 bench from her famed project Sesc Pompeia), and Cildo Meireles (a funky 1973 abstraction), one after another, at São Paulo’s Galeria Luisa Strina.
Galerie Nathalie Obadia, of Paris and Brussels, has this 1963 Martin Barré, 63-M-3 (1963) at its stand. Those seeking more Barré can head to Matthew Marks Gallery's booth, where a subtler, gentler one is on view.
Chicago’s Corbett vs. Dempsey has given over its booth to the redoubtable Windy City veteran Dominick Di Meo, whose work we see far, far too infrequently. These are both from 1965.
New Delhi’s Vadehra gallery is showing tender, richly colored collages that Behari Mukherjee made in the late 1950s and ‘60s after becoming blind. Indispensable and vital, this is a must-visit stand at the fair.
It's always fun when an artwork sneaks up on you and catches you off-guard. Who's that peculiar, charming gouache by? None other than the great Meret Oppenheim, it turns out. It's titled Meerstern, from 1958, and it's being offered by Karma International, which is based in Los Angeles and Zurich.
Not an artwork: just the customs office. Helpful if you have questions about shipping a work after purchase.
Anthea Hamilton, a star of the current Venice Biennale, has this wall-and-sculpture installation, H Is for Hairy Leg (2018), at Kaufmann Repetto, of New York and Milan.
A new painting by the Zanzibar, Tanzania–born, Preston, England–based Lubaina Himid, who will have a solo show at the New Museum later this year. The 2017 winner of the Turner Prize, Himid made this work this year, and it’s titled Remove from the heat. London gallery Hollybush Gardens is hanging the work, along with a handful of other pieces by the artist.
Chapter NY has given over its pale yellow booth—quite soothing amid the intensity of Basel—to ceramics and wall pieces by Erin Jane Nelson. Rough-hewn resilience; tough, taut work.
Matthew Marks, which operates out of New York and Los Angeles, has given over one of its walls to this 1987 Robert Gober Urinal. A work for a museum, one hopes. (Interesting to think that this was made 70 years after Duchamp’s Fountain, and that 32 years have passed since then. Time flies.)
Not an artwork—I just always enjoy seeing ATMs in environments when literally hundreds of millions of dollars are changing hands.
Darren Bader has not yet released his app for the Venice Biennale, but the watercolors here by the mysterious Scott Mendes present imagery related to Bader’s Venice work, which also involved a deeply absurd comic book distributed through a vending machine. Down below, Book (fortune cookies) offers that tasty treat for the taking. Mine read: “Abandoning closure, disclosing some hence.” (Not sure what that means, but certainly a lot going on in those five words.)
Durham Press has these two prints by Mickalene Thomas, superb studies in how disparate materials can come together in remarkable ways, how sums can be more than their parts. Among the ingredients in this domestic interior and double portrait: woodblock, screen print, digital print, wood veneer, etching, flocking, and gold leaf.
Cheim & Read, of New York, is offering up this 1959 Joan Mitchell, which has never before been seen in public. The (The collector consigning it got it directly from the artist, per the gallery. By the time she made it, Mitchell had five New York solo shows under her belt, all at the Stable gallery.) It’s modest in size—46 inches by 35 inches—but it packs a wallop, with tough, broad, quick slashes of green-gray dashed with purple, orange, and teal. A little slice of heaven.
Rayyane Tabet’s Still Life with Neon, Fridge and Beer (2017), which takes up questions of authenticity and economic exchange, at Sfeir-Semler Gallery, of Hamburg and Beirut. (The neon reads Torino Express, the name of a bar in Beirut, and the fridge has on offer Al Arz beers, a European brand that purports to be Lebanese.)
Georges Mathieu remains a hard sell for many, and I get it—his work can look corny and more than a little overwrought—but give it a chance. Paris’s Applicat-Prazan offers a particularly good opportunity to do so, showing this almost regal display of strokes and splatters.
Have to rank this bountifully colored, absolutely delectable Roe Ethridge, Egyptian Sunday Dinner (2019) up there with his famed oyster still life. A total pleasure. It’s at Andrew Kreps, of New York.
At David Zwirner, which has locations in New York, London, and Hong Kong (and, of course, online, at www.davidzwirner.com, where it’s hosting a virtual show tied to Basel), Njideka Akunyili Crosby is showing this intricate collage piece, Dwellers: Native One (2019).
Double Anicka Yi action, including, at right, one of the algae lanterns that are one of the most exciting moments in the Venice Biennale’s Arsenale section. Those seeking more Yi can head to the booth of Gladstone Gallery, which recently began representing the artist in Brussels and now has a solo show on view in the city.
David Lewis has staged a full-booth display of the late, great Thornton Dial. This one’s If the Tiger Knew He’d Be the Star of the Circus, He Wouldn’t Have Hid So Long in the Jungle (2019).
Tokyo’s Take Ishii has filled one of its walls with an expansive selection of Japanese photographers, including Shomei Tomatsu, Daido Moriyama, Lieko Shiga, and more than two-dozen more.
Carlier Gebauer, of Berlin and Madrid, has this full wall of free-flowing drawings and ceramics by Edi Rama, the prime minister of Albania, who appeared in the 2017 edition of the Venice Biennale, curated by Okwui Enwezor.
Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, of New York and Rome (with an Upstate New York gallery-restaurant with Rirkrit Tiravanija running through the summer), has among its offerings a new Arthur Jafa at back (the portraits are Miles Davis and Robert Johnson); a truly insane multiscreen Sturtevant, even by her high standards (The Dark Threat of Absence Fragmented and Sliced, 2002); and a handful of Alex Katz paintings. What a matchup!
Next year, the nearby Fondation Beyeler will stage what is sounding like an epic Goya exhibition, with 70 of the artist’s paintings. To whet appetites, the museum is showing at its Basel promotional stand this work by the Spanish master, Witches' Sabbath (1797–98), which is on loan from the Museo Lázaro Galdiano in Madrid. Extremely dark wonderful stuff going on here: note the skeleton child who is apparently being offered to the beast?
Victoria Miro, whose locations are in London and Venice, Italy, has a brand-new work by Howardena Pindell, whose retrospective just closed at the Rose Art Museum in Waltham, Massachusetts. This is titled Songlines: Event Horizon (2019).
One of the standout booths of new art at the fair comes from Frankfurt’s Neue Alte Brücke, who’s showing the pseudonymous Nancy Halt—a group made up of two artists and an art historian who borrow the storied Land artist Nancy Holt’s name for their weird and wily projects. For this showing, Halt made an effort to break into Michael Heizer’s mysterious City installation in very rural Nevada, and produced a kind of road-trip/sci-fi film based on their efforts.
Some news: Renée Green is now working with New York’s Bortolami—a show is on tap for 2020—and the gallery has floated her Space Poem #1 (2007) above its quite attractive booth, which also features paintings by Rebecca Morris (who will also do a 2020 outing with the gallery) and Richard Aldrich.
Rio de Janeiro’s A Gentil Carioca typically swings big with its fair booths, and its Basel participation sees it very much in the zone, with a group show set in a luscious brown-orange world. The figurative paintings are by Maxwell Alexandre, and the abstraction at left is Jarbas Lopes (all works 2019).
Frank Bowling is currently the subject of a retrospective at Tate Modern, and Hales (of London and New York) has mounted a jewel-box show of richly textured paintings he made in the mid-1980s. (Alexander Gray Associates is showing him at Basel, as well.)
At New York’s Canada gallery, Xylor Jane is doing what she does best (and just seems together better at): making Op-y, math-inflected painting that delight the eye and tickle the brain. Really nice. There’s a smaller one on hand, too, if this piece—3 Lakes & 2 Heavens (2018)—is too large for you.
Another great reason to go to an art fair: you sometimes get to have the high joy of happening upon a perfect little painting by the German artist Gabriele Münter, who still remains underrepresented in major U.S. museums, like MoMA (as Roberta Smith noted last week). Those flowers! This is Kirchgarten in Murnau (1908), and it’s being presented by Munich’s Galerie Thomas.
The heart of darkness: Jeff Koons’s Sacred Heart (Red/Gold), 1994–2007, on the stand at Gagosian, which announced this morning that it will open its 17th gallery in beautiful Basel. (Some New Yorkers may recall this sculpture being part of Koons’s 2008 show on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
That is one giant Kippenberger at Skarstedt! The London and New York gallery (it just took over the former Wildenstein & Co. headquarters on East 64th Street) fronted its booth with this guy, Dinosaur Egg (1996), which measures about 8 by 6-and-a-half feet, where it earned many smiles and quite a few bewildered looks. (For all those interested: yes, the dealer has a big KAWS painting on the outside of the booth.)
Artist Lucy McKenzie and designer Beca Lipscombe, who work together under the name Atelier E.B, are showing this ambitiously scaled installation, Faux Shop (2018), with London’s Cabinet gallery. As you can see, there’s something for everyone here, whether they're a fan of art, architecture, fashion, design, patterns, typography, mysterious European shops, sweaters, or some combination of those things. I was just surprised that more people were not posing for photos with it. Come on!
Eat your heart out, Niki de Saint Phalle fans! The Breeder, an Athens outfit, is showing these exuberant textile works by Angelo Plessas, whose work some may have seen in Documenta 14 in the Greek capital and Kassel, Germany.
At New York’s Metro Pictures gallery, one of Mike Kelley’s classic “Memory Ware” pieces. This one’s Memory Ware #41 (2003), and it’s embedded with necklaces, keychains, and more other sundry tchotchkes than you could in in an hour of looking. One object bears the Pokémon logo, and important advice for the collector: “Gotta catch ‘em all!”