Our top 10 from Art Basel Switzerland 2017
Doug Aitken - Underwater Pavilions, 2017

Since being introduced in 2000, Art Basel’s Unlimited section shows artworks such as large-scale sculptures, video installations and performances that may not fit in the traditional art-booth framework. This is our top 10 selection of this year’s Unlimited. All comments on the works below are citations from Gianni Jetzer, the curator of Unlimited (2017).

Nick Cave - Speak Louder, 2011
Nick CaveSpeak Louder, 2011, mixed media including black mother of pearl buttons, embroidery floss, upholstery, metal armature
Photo: Public Delivery

Nick Cave’s monumental installation Speak Louder invokes one of the artist’s favorite dictums: In order to be heard, you have to speak louder. The work unites seven of Cave’s iconic Soundsuits in one powerful ensemble – under a shimmering cloak of pearlescent buttons bringing individuals together into a figurative landscape. Cave draws strong visual parallels between the collected Soundsuits and the jazz-funeral processions of New Orleans, which often feature similarly spectacular outfits and lively brass marching bands. Here the figures’ tuba-shaped heads have been silenced, the mouths sealed off with dark fabric, imbuing the work with an ominous quality. Positioned in an array, but unified as one, Speak Louder forms a dynamic chorus, emphasizing the resilience of community. It speaks somberly to our losses – and encourages us to continue fighting for a better future.”

Chris Burden - Ode to Santos Dumont, 2015, photo Public Delivery
Chris BurdenOde to Santos Dumont, 2015, 7075 aircraft aluminum reproduction Erector parts, carbon fiber drive, fiberglass propeller, nylon cable, hand tooled ¼ scale replica of 1903 gasoline motor, polyurethane balloon, 1200 cubic feet of helium
Photo: Public Delivery

Chris Burden - Ode to Santos Dumont, 2015, photo Public Delivery 2
Chris BurdenOde to Santos Dumont, 2015, 7075 aircraft aluminum reproduction Erector parts, carbon fiber drive, fiberglass propeller, nylon cable, hand tooled ¼ scale replica of 1903 gasoline motor, polyurethane balloon, 1200 cubic feet of helium
Photo: Public Delivery

“Inspired by Santos Dumont’s 20th century innovations in aviation, Chris Burden created a functioning airship, which he fine-tuned over the course of the past decade. The artist described the impetus and engineering behind his ethereal flying sculpture as follows: ‘The airship sculpture Ode to Santos Dumont is a highly balanced and refined mechanism. The airship travels indoors in a 60-foot circle. It is tethered from the inboard side with very thin, almost invisible threads to central points in the ceiling and the ground. The balloon is filled with helium to neutral buoyancy and the motor is just powerful enough to push the balloon in a 60-foot circle. If the airship were to deviate from its 60-foot circle, the geometry of the tethers would force the balloon to turn in a smaller, tighter circle, which would cause the motor to work harder. As a result, the airship and its motor always seek the 60-foot circle, which is the path of least resistance, or the sweet spot. The sculpture Ode to Santos Dumont was made possible through the determination and patience of master craftsman and inventor John Biggs.’”

Song Dong - Trough the Wall, 2016
Song Dong – Through the Wall, 2016, old windows, lighting, iron frame, 460×225×901cm
Photo: Public Delivery

Song Dong - Trough the Wall, 2016
Song Dong – Through the Wall, 2016, old windows, lighting, iron frame, 460×225×901cm
Photo: Public Delivery

Song Dong - Trough the Wall, 2016
Song Dong – Through the Wall, 2016, old windows, lighting, iron frame, 460×225×901cm
Photo: Public Delivery

“Referencing tangible and intangible walls – virtual, political, and cultural, among others – Song Dong’s Through the Wall challenges the notion of a boundary as impenetrable. The installation is composed of salvaged door and window frames from houses in Beijing, many of which made up the historic hutong neighborhoods that are increasingly being destroyed in favor of new construction. These materials resurface throughout the artist’s body of sculptural work, and relate to themes of consumption, accumulation, and waste. The work reflects on the ways in which the contrast of historic and contemporary forces can shape a viewer’s experience. It redefines the solidity of a wall: Reaching 15 feet high and 29 feet long, its doors open to reveal an interior space within, allowing viewers to walk through it. The transparent glass of the windows has been replaced with color-tinted mirrors on the exterior and colorless mirrored glass on the interior. Densely arranged lamps are reflected in the mirrored walls and floor, creating a mise en abyme, an illusion of endless space.”

Subodh Gupta - Cooking the World, 2017
Subodh GuptaCooking the World, 2017, found aluminum utensils, monofilament line, steel
Photo: Public Delivery

Subodh Gupta - Cooking the World
Subodh GuptaCooking the World, 2017, found aluminum utensils, monofilament line, steel
Photo: Georgios KefalasKe

Subodh Gupta - Cooking the World
Subodh GuptaCooking the World, 2017, found aluminum utensils, monofilament line, steel
Photo: Georgios KefalasKe

“In an age of migration and displacement complemented by a rising intolerance of the Other, Subodh Gupta’s work on the rituals and symbolism of food consumption and preparation has gathered increasing significance. In Western cultures, the notion of gathering around the dinner table indicates a sense of familial bond and intimacy in the practice of sharing a meal, a custom even more pronounced in contemporary and ancient Indian communities alike. The diversity of religious and cultural groups in India is matched by a range of dietary restrictions and regional culinary specialties. Offering to share a meal acts as the strongest indicator of inclusion and acceptance into a community. This installation is accompanied by a cooking and eating performance, in which food will be prepared by the artist and consumed by the ‘viewer’. Used aluminum utensils hanging delicately from transparent fishing lines create the porous, textured shelter for the performance. These worn vessels, discarded by their previous users, bear witness to individual histories and narratives of past utility. Together, the utensils enclose a new collective ritual space, alluding both to subjectively lived fates and to communal cosmological destinies.”

Stan Vanderbeek - Movie Mural (1965–1968)
Stan VanDerBeekMovie Mural, 1965, 16mm film transferred to video, 35mm slide projections
Photo: Public Delivery

Stan Vanderbeek - Movie Mural (1965–1968)
Stan VanDerBeek – Movie Mural, 1965, 16mm film transferred to video, 35mm slide projections
Photo: Public Delivery

Stan VanDerBeek’s iconic Movie Mural is an immersive multimedia installation, comprised of various projections of collaged newsreels, found films, slides, and the artist’s stop-motion collage and computer-based films. VanDerBeek was revolutionary in his thinking about the power of imagery and technology in his ambitious installations from the 1960s and 1970s. He was compelled to explore how the multitude of existing images surrounding contemporary humankind – film, advertisements, artworks, photographs – could be used to create a new universal visual language. His belief in the computer as an extension of the mind kept him pursuing technology as a means of expressing and engaging human consciousness. VanDerBeek was experimenting with projections of newsreels and his own films onto multiple screens as early as 1958. In the early 1960s, he made films of Happenings as well as of performances by Merce Cunningham and Carolee Schneemann. In 1965, he contributed a Movie Mural to Cunningham’s Variations V, transforming the dance backdrop into a moving image; Movie Mural became the term used to describe his mobile, multi-screen environments made for viewers and performers alike.”

John Baldessari - Ear Sofa; Nose Sconces with Flowers, 2009:2017, photo Public Delivery
John BaldessariEar Sofa; Nose Sconces with Flowers (in Stage Setting), 2017, mixed media
Photo: Public Delivery

John Baldessari’s tableau vivant Ear Sofa; Nose Sconces with Flowers (in Stage Setting) is a unique manifestation of the artist’s careerlong engagement with a Surrealism-inflected conceptual art. The installation is comprised of an ear-shaped sofa and two wall-mounted upturned noses housing flowers in a dramatic stage setting, made absurd by the presence of a model and a poodle. The work alludes to Hollywood’s period of Art Deco glamour and theatricality with its semicircular arch on a stage-like pedestal. The ear and nose have a strong prop-like quality, like plaster cast models for a life drawing class or the temporary constructions of a film set. With these sensory organs rescaled and inserted into a new spatial configuration, they are divested of their humanity but re-gifted a new human edge with the presence of the model and poodle in the dramatic mise en scène.”

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Our people are better than your people), 1994:2017

Barbara KrugerUntitled (Our people are better than your people), 1994, print on vinyl, wall paper
Photo: Public Delivery

“Since the 1970’s Barbara Kruger has developed a conceptual practice that often combines text with both still and moving images. In the context of her work, recurring themes are the fetishization of the female body, the promotion of consumption, and the establishment of cultural models. In the interplay between manipulation and imitation of human desires, Kruger develops a critical picture of society. Likewise, the exhibited wallpaper displays Kruger’s strong voice and is highly topical in regards to the alt-right European and U.S. American political shift and the crisis of migration at the same time. It was first shown in 1994 for the `World Morality’ show at Kunsthalle Basel. In 2015, Kruger redid a version for the show `Fire and Forget: On Violence’ at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin.”

Doug Aitken - Underwater Pavilions, 2017 installation view
Doug Aitken – Underwater Pavilions, 2017, video installation with 3 channels of video, color, sound
Photo: Public Delivery

Doug Aitken - Underwater Pavilions, 2017 installation view
Doug Aitken – Underwater Pavilions, 2017, video installation with 3 channels of video, color, sound
Photo: Public Delivery

Doug Aitken - Underwater Pavilions, 2017
Doug Aitken – Underwater Pavilions, 2017

“The video installation Underwater Pavilions explores three remarkable sculptures of the same name. In December 2016, Doug Aitken moored these geometric mirrored forms to the ocean floor off Catalina Island, California. Their environments reflect light through kaleidoscopic interiors and even harbor ocean life on their rock-like surfaces, opening a portal that physically connects viewers to the expanse of the ocean while simultaneously disrupting preconceived visual ideas of the aquatic world. The three-screen video installation furthers the otherworldly experience by immersing viewers in the underwater realm. Chronicling the artworks – from installation to their encounters with divers and aquatic life – the installation tunes viewers into the rhythm of the ocean and its life cycles, as the structures adjust with the currents and time of day. Viewers experience a variety of converging perceptual encounters that play with the fluidity of time and space, where the language of contemporary architecture, land art, and ocean research merge.”

Arthur Jafa - APEX, 2013, photo Public Delivery
Arthur JafaAPEX, 2013, single-channel video projection, color, sound
Photo: Public Delivery

“Begun as a compendium of disparate images edited and sequenced by artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa over the course of five years, APEX is conceived as a scenario of sorts for a feature film project. In Jafa’s words, ‘I’ve always understood [APEX] as akin to Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International [1919– 20], which of course was never built. I’ve come to understand it as a model for both a film – a $100 million sci-fi epic – and as a kind of preor anti-cinema’. Reaching for his oft-mentioned mantra, ‘a cinema capable of matching the power, beauty, and alienation of black music‘, APEX maps out an ontology inextricably bound up with what the artist calls ‘black potention’ as an emblem of the very absence of any condition of possibility. Jafa’s extensive research into black culture and his theories surrounding a ‘black aesthetic’ led him to produce APEX, an eight-minute video comprised of hundreds of images – objects, people, moments, and events – which race by against an apocalyptic soundscape. The densely sequenced concatenation, organized according to various ‘affective proximities’, produces ‘spooky entanglements’, abstract narrative surges and coded emotional resonances, all of which index Jafa’s ongoing interest in the ‘abject sublime’, doom sutras and the contingent nature of being black.”

Donna Huanca - BLISS (REALITY CHECK), 2017
Donna HuancaBLISS (REALITY CHECK), 2017, mixed-media installation
Photo: Public Delivery

BLISS (REALITY CHECK) is a new performance work by Donna Huanca on view for the duration of Art Basel. Throughout the week, performers are directed to respond to the installation of Huanca’s corporal sculptures, subliminal sonic cues, and natural pigments. The work evolves as the sound progresses daily, the performers alternate, and the stage changes from each performance – leaving behind the traces of bodies and debris. Huanca works with the skin as a source of inspiration which represents layers and density. Stillness and tension between the performer and object are observed in this work. Sensory awareness, scent, and bass vibrations suspend visitors between both the roles of viewer and active performer. For Huanca, scent and sound function as markers for memory or reflective states.”

 

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