Top Ten Booths at This Year's Basel | BLOUIN ARTINFO
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Top Ten Booths at This Year's Basel

An installation view of The Approach gallery at Art Basel.
(Courtesy the gallery and Art Basel)

With 290 galleries dispersed across the latest edition of Art Basel, the fair is not for those with low stamina. Half an hour inside Messe Basel —  the sprawling building that, for a few days each year, becomes home to the world’s collectors, dealers, curators, artists —  would be enough to make most visitors reach for the nearest glass of eye-wateringly expensive beer. Persevere, however, and there will always be a number of presentations that make the trip worthwhile. We diligently toured the fair and have brought you 10 of this year’s most memorable booths.

  1. kurimanzutto Mexico City, New York Known for its aesthetically tasteful and conceptually meticulous booths, Mexico’s kurimanzutto did not disappoint at this year’s iteration of Art Basel. A row of reflective silver fabric stretched across wooden poles — their forms mimicking those of banners regularly seen at protests and demonstrations — stood propped against one wall, as if enjoying a momentary repose during a lull in action. Gabriel Kuri’s “Quick Standards,” 2008, are in fact “demi banners,” according to the gallery’s director, Jose Kuri. Made from emergency blankets, they forego direct political messages, instead opting for a state of “potentiality, of waiting in an entropic situation.” Reflection and reflexivity were the defining characteristics across the stand, as the same matter (aluminum, steel, silver) shapeshifted through other works, including Nairy Baghramian’s “Maintainers D,” 2018 — orthodontal-device-like sculptures of cast aluminum and weighty amounts of wax; Rirkrit Tiravanija’s “untitled 2018 (6 kilos of rice),” 2018, in which the aforementioned rice has been cast in silver (one type of commodity alchemized into another); or Gabriel Orozco’s aluminum sculpture “Secuencia modular,” 2016.
  1. Jan Mot Brussels Having maintained a quiet but steady presence on the market since it first opened in 1992, and preferring studiousness to flashiness, Jan Mot delivered an equally subtle grouping of historical and Contemporary works. A standout among these were 14 small-scale works on tracing paper and an accompanying painting on canvas by the Belgian-born, Mexico City-based artist Francis Alys, — “Untitled,” 1997-2016 and “Untitled,” 2014, respectively — who joined the gallery program in early 2017. As with much of Alys’s practice, which is predicated on the imbalanced collision of futility and effort, these are miniature tableaux and mises-en-scene of male figures —  their lightly sketched faces denoting a requisite air of boredom —  seated around a table, pursuing a range of aimless activities, such as stacking a house of cards. Other highlights included a 1969 work on paper (“Untitled (Mover of Ceilings)”), by the late American artist Rosemarie Castoro, one of the few recognized women associated with New York Minimalism. The work bears a dedication to the art dealer Seth Siegelaub, instrumental in his promotion of early conceptual art in the U.S. 
  1. The Approach London A female-strong selection of artists was presented by London’s The Approach, with pride of place given to an oversized latex costume by Heidi Bucher. The late Swiss artist regularly incorporated latex into her work, often using It to take “casts” of architectural features and entire rooms that explored the interrelation of space and the body, which would then be displayed like so many flayed skins. However, “Dragonfly (Costume Object),” 1976, is a rare instance of Bucher using the same materials and methods to create a performative object which was intended to be worn and activated by the wearer. Elsewhere, the (female) body could be espied more overtly in paintings by Allison Katz and Caitlin Keogh, as well as in a series of collages by John Stezaker. Completing the stand were sculptures by Magali Reus, which had been on show earlier this spring at South London Gallery, some decidedly anthropomorphic (“Sentinel (Dew), 2018); others referring back to space (“Hwael (The Flat),” 2017).
  1. Karma International Zurich, Los Angeles Proof that more square footage does not necessarily presuppose a standout booth lies with Karma International who, with a stand on the perimeter of the second-floor hall, collated excellent pieces by Judith Bernstein, Pamela Rosenkranz, Sylvie Fleury and Vivian Suter. Among these was a rare work by Bernstein that was recently discovered in the artist’s studio: the charcoal and pastel piece “Iraq Travel Poster — Large” from 1969, showing a giant, erect phallus ejaculating a row of green stars across a red-white-and-black striped background, together forming the Iraqi flag. Nearby, an Evian bottle filled with a questionable blue liquid (pigment and silicone) stood on a glass-encased pedestal. “Aquamarine (No Fats),” 2018), was Rosenkranz riffing on the all-too-well-known marketing ploys deployed across the wellness industry to drive consumerism and the uptake of “natural” products (“Evian, live young,” anyone?). Hanging in an overlapping row above were recent acrylic paintings on unstretched canvas by Suter, the Guatemala-based artist whose name has risen in prominence globally since her inclusion in last year’s documenta 14.
  1. Croy Nielsen Vienna Among those galleries that offered solo presentations, none perhaps were as visually striking as Vienna’s Croy Nielsen, a newcomer to this year’s fair who — as part of Statements, the section devoted to presenting young, emerging artists — filled the entirety of its booth with paintings and accompanying sculptural pieces by the young American artist Georgia Gardner Gray in an all-encompassing set-piece with the curious title “Controller” (all works 2018). Expressionistic paintings depicted figures — solitary even when surrounded by others — sitting in metro cars or riding up and down escalators. At the center of this configuration was the anonymous Controller, an undercover plainclothes, often unskilled, employee of the Berlin transit system — the city where Gardner Gray is now based — who moves imperceptibly across the network of public transport, policing fare-dodgers. A couple of red Plexiglas and aluminum sculptures broke up the space, redolent of the ticket booths that act as gateways to this subterranean universe.
  1. Bortolami New York A pink wool blanket tacked onto a piece of plywood halted my strident march through the fair and drew me further into Bortolami’s stand. “early childhood development,” 2018, (for no adult could possibly snuggle up in a palette this close to saccharine in a color) is part of Tom Burr’s series of “Blanket Paintings,” in which the artist explores “sexuality, and his own gay sexuality, through the language of Modernism,” according to the gallerist Stefania Bortolami, muddying the cool language of Minimalism with hidden expressions of longing and desire. An adjacent wall was hung with one of the most discreet decoupages by Daniel Buren that I have ever come across. “Piece decoupee en trois pour un mur,” December 1970 — January 1972, consists of two fabric pieces bearing Buren’s signature stripes, this time in black and white, on either end of the booth’s floor and ceiling. In a back room, Ann Veronica Janssens’ “Magic Mirror Green,” 2014, leant against the wall. Made of dichroic polyester film, security and float glass, its “cracked” surface threw reflections back at visitors, aptly mirroring the cracks naturally appearing in the stamina of even the most hardy of fair-goers.
  1. Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi Berlin Stepping inside Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi’s booth, visitors were met with large panels of Styrofoam, plaster, acrylic, glue, spray paint and fake grass: an accumulation of sludge-colored materials that wouldn’t be amiss seeping out of a sewer or drain. These were accompanied by a life-size white-wigged mannequin slumped in a corner, next to a jerry can spilling out the same toxic green substance as the wall-hanging pieces. Taken from the “Herba-4 Series,” 2015, and “Taketo (Salamanderbrunnen Series),” 2016, they are typical of the post-apocalyptic scenarios rendered by the Berlin-based artist Veit Laurent Kurz, new to the gallery, who often combines sculptural elements with self-portraits or portraits of friends. This grittiness and urban detritus was shared by others from the gallery’s roster of artists: like Michaela Eichwald’s gorgeously grimy painting “Inventur,” 2018, and Morag Keil’s trio of motorcycle helmets with flip cams embedded in their backs.
  1. Galeria Nara Roesler São Paulo, New York City, Rio de Janeiro As part of this year’s Feature section, the Brazilian Galeria Nara Roesler curated a mini solo show of “mail” artworks, films and visual poems from the 1970s by the conceptual artist Paulo Bruscky, building on the artist’s increased visibility following his inclusion in the 2017 Venice Biennale. An important figure in the history of global conceptualism, Bruscky emerged on the Brazilian art scene in the late 1960s, one of the country’s darkest periods of systemic political repression. Despite the oppressive climate, Bruscky — who is considered a pioneer of Xerox art, mail and fax art, as well as a progenitor of Fluxus — built international links and networks through whose reach he could escape the authoritarian structures of Brazil to a world beyond. Humor has always been a distinctive feature: “Art/Stop (Arte/Pare),” 1973, a Super 8mm film transferred to video, documents an intervention by Bruscky in which he tied a ribbon across the main bridge of Recife, his hometown, resulting in the momentary stopping of pedestrians and traffic that he tricked into thinking an official ceremony was under way. 
  1. Grimm Amsterdam, New York Also included in Feature, Grimm’s was a one-piece stand — or, better yet, “black box” — that presented a looping screening of “KOHL,”2018, a new video installation by Elizabeth Price, of note also because it’s less usual to come across works commissioned by public institutions and premiering in such a commercial setting. Commissioned by the Walker Art Center along with Film and Video Umbrella (FVU), the UK commissioning body for artists’ moving image, “KOHL” is a 4-channel, 10-minute-long film that takes as its starting point the visual affinities between coal and ink and grows into a contemporary ghost story. Across the work’s four screens, bathed in inky washes of blue, purple and green, ghostly images of derelict coal mines or silos make way for well-heeled feet tapping on floors. Coal/ink, they pollute/bleed across borders and boundaries, moving from screen to screen, accompanied by bursts of techno music and textual “voices” that are typed in quick succession across these surfaces, driving the cryptic narrative.
  1. Kate MacGarry/London Having previously shown as part of the Statements section last year, Kate MacGarry graduated to the main Galleries for this year’s iteration with a body of work by B. Wurtz, Goshka Macuga, Samson Kambalu, Bernard Piffaretti and Francis Upritchard. A huge tapestry by Goshka Macuga, “Make Tofu Not War,” 2018, required visitors to don 3D glasses to fully appreciate its post-Arcadian mid-deforestation landscape. The scene was populated by humans dressed as animals (or, in full fable mode, animals representing human vices and virtues), holding protest banners that pointed to ecological and political concerns. The inclusion of 3D ultimately confuses space and time, as if whatever is depicted on the tapestry’s woven surface could be as much a past already lived as a future not yet arrived at. An adjacent wall offered some respite with a multitude of B. Wurtz’s “Pan Paintings,” 2018, aluminum pans whose undersides the artist colored in with a bright palette of paint, turning these utilitarian objects into would-be abstract symbols and signs.