Art Basel Returns

BY Katrina Kufer / Jun 14 2017 / 13:47 PM

Back again on 15 June with 291 galleries and over 4,000 artists, here are three don’t-miss sections of Art Basel

Art Basel Returns
© Art Basel
Installation view of Subodh Gupta's Cooking the World

Art Basel opens this year in the midst of a dense art programme across Europe – from documenta14 in Athens and Kassel, Muenster Skulpture Projekte and the Venice Biennale, to Basel’s numerous satellite fairs including VOLTA 13, Liste, photo basel and SCOPE Basel, among others. While hints at the programme have already garnered positive feedback, the 48th edition of Art Basel is continuing its efforts to provide confrontations with current discourse and art that is fresh yet enduring, all while providing a nod to how contemporary art has gotten to where it is.

The Newcomers
17 dealers make fresh-faced appearances at the fair, but keep an eye on Kalfayan Galleries (Athens/Thessaloniki) and Hopkinson Mossman (Auckland).

Established in 1995, Kalfayan exhibits artists from North Africa all the way across to the Balkans and Middle East – part of a goal to act “as a bridge between Eastern and Western culture,” indicates co-owner Roupen Kalfayan – but is showing works by Vlassis Caniaris in the Feature section this year. Going with post-war Greek artist Caniaris (1928-2011) indicates some of the fortitude in Greek artistic production – Caniaris’s works are currently on view at documenta14 Athens, and the installation at Art Basel consists of a selection that includes his What’s North, What’s South? (Children and Testimony) work exhibited at the 1988 Venice Biennale. “As an active witness to history, Caniaris developed an artistic vocabulary that was put to the service of a committed political and social message,” said Kalfayan to Artsy. “From 1959 onwards, he developed a personal idiom known as concrete realism, reminiscent of Arte Povera. His work comments on immigration, socio-political turmoil and issues of identity in a world that is in constant flux.”

Hopkinson Mossman, meanwhile, was founded in 2010 and after several years showing at Liste, a smaller fair with a more conceptual, younger-artist focus, has moved up into Art Basel by showcasing works by Oscar Enberg at Statements. The film and sculpture on show tackle the opal-mining town of Coober Pedy, with gallery director Danae Mossman further explaining, “Enberg is working in the exploitative tradition of visitors to the town—a town shaped by prospectors, colonisers and the uneasy assimilation of non-native cultures and economic interests.” Serving to draw attention to a nation that may not be at the forefront of the art world’s mind through the content as much as the dealers’ presence, Hopkinson Mossman is ready to make an impact. “New Zealanders are very engaged, and very outward-looking,” stated Mossman. “You have to be—we are a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”

The Film Programme
The week-long programme by and about artists curated by Egypt-based German curator Maxa Zoller displays her taste for the experimental, presenting a challenging line-up of films that debate the medium in contemporary times.

Must-see screenings include He Xiangyu’s The Swim (2017), where he documents his return to Kuandian, on the border between China and North Korea. Through interviews with veterans of the Korean-American War as well as with defectors from North Korea, he paints a dark, moving portrait of his hometown against the backdrop of its picturesque landscapes.

Locarno Festival’s third collaboration with Art Basel presents Filipa César’s Spell Reel (2017), a multi-layered research and digitisation project initiated in 2011 with Sana Na N’Hada and Flora Gomes. N’Hada and Gomes studied in Cuba before going on to document the liberation struggles in Guinea Bissau (1963–74). Following the Berlin-based digital restoration of this vintage film and sound material, they returned with a travelling cinema show to the places where the films were shot, in order to screen and comment on them in situ for the first time.

A pre-release screening of Stanley Tucci’s fifth film, Final Portrait (2017), delves into the life of Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti in his final two years. Based on James Lord’s 1965 biography A Giacometti Portrait, Tucci shows the artist with all his strengths and weaknesses and relates the chaos of his artistic output, doubts and courageous ability to destroy and begin afresh.

Full details of the film programme can be seen here.

The Unlimited Section
Curated for the sixth time by Gianni Jetzer, Unlimited is a pioneer platform “for projects that transcend the classical art-show stand,” states the fair. Whether in the form of monumental sculpture, video projections or performances, 76 projects are up for consumption this year

John Akomfrah’s three-screen video installation The Airport (2016) alludes to iconic directors Stanley Kubrick as much as Theo Angelopoulos through its fusion of past and present narratives. Set in a derelict Athens airport, the cinematic gymnastics distort the perception of time, and disparate characters, locations and histories move in and out of reality to form a surreal viewer experience.  

Cooking the World (2017) by Subodh Gupta builds a structure out of seemingly every aluminium kitchen utensil in continued homage to cooking and the rituals of eating. With a practice focused on imbibing, the 20-metre installation-cum-performance permits fairgoers to sit at a long bar and engage in a moment of community and equalisation by dining together, at random, on dishes such as saffron yoghurt or lentil soup.

Finally, and arguably the impossible to miss: the late artist Chris Burden’s final work, Ode to Santos Dumont (2015), a 12-metre white zeppelin that floats for 15 minutes before retreating to the ground for 2 and a half hours. “It’s really kind of a performance sculpture, and it’s a very strange animal, it’s an uncaged animal, it’s this big animal—a whale or an elephant has a similar impact,” Jetzer said to artnews. “On one hand, it’s really refined, as it’s to a one-to-four scale, but there’s also the fact that it’s so small that it heats up so fast.”

The initial concept stemmed from an ode to early aviation, when Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos Dumont’s flying machine completed a 30-minute aerial tour around the Eiffel Tower in 1901. Attempting to recreate it with similarly outdated elements, Burden’s goal deviated by desiring that his own flying machine simply float around in the air. Accomplished within seven years, the engine is a quarter-size to-scale replica of an engine that powered zeppelins in 1903. “Now, there’s just a void in the middle of the 60-foot space,” Jetzer said. “This work is a lot about emptiness and the void. It’s an ode to Santos Dumont, and also to the Eiffel Tower, and its missing presence, somehow.”

Full details for Art Basel’s Galleries, Feature (established and historical artists), Statements (solo presentations by emerging artists eligible for the Baloise Art Prize), Edition (artist-publisher book collaborations), Unlimited, Parcours (city-wide interventions), Film and Conversations (talks, panels and discussions) programming is available here.

Art Basel runs 15-18 June at Messe Basel, Basel, Switzerland. For more information visit