Art-World Insiders Select Art Basel’s Must-See Works
Art Basel brings a cross-section of the art world under one roof: curators, museum directors, collectors, and artists. At the close of preview day, after traversing the 24,000-square-meter exhibition space and perusing 286 galleries, we caught up with a few of these art-world insiders to see what works shone among the cacophony of artworks vying for visitors’ attention at the fair.
Global Head of the UBS Art Collection
Rozell encountered several gems across the two exhibition floors—two-dimensional works spanning several mediums. At Metro Pictures, a brand new series from Cindy Sherman beckoned her. “I think it’s one of her strongest series in recent history,” Rozell told me. “They’re quintessential Sherman. Often humor and feminism are subtexts in her work. But I find these to be really poignant and self reflective—[the subjects are] middle-aged women; and I love them because they’re so sensitive but still very much Cindy Sherman.”
In a different vein, a painting by Pierre Soulages, an all-black canvas at Galerie Alice Pauli, resonated with Rozell, who has been following the 96-year-old painter’s work for many years. “His market has just exploded in the last years; he’s gotten all this attention again,” she says. “He has such a consistent practice. I love this work because it’s quite a monumental Soulages piece.” Another painter whose approach to the canvas is nontraditional, and equally as mesmerizing, is American painter Sarah Crowner, whose work Rotated Stretched Stems, Cropped (2016) is featured prominently at Casey Kaplan. “I’ve been following her work for quite some time and we have two works of hers in the [UBS] Collection,” says Rozell. “I love the way [Crowner’s application in this painting] looks like Matisse cutouts; they reference Sophie Taeuber-Arp. But I love her whole practice.”
Finally, Rozell was pleased to discover a lesser-known name as well: César Domela, an early member of the De Stijl movement, whose work she found at Galerie Berinson. “He’s not a big name but he was at the forefront of this very important movement, creating art in what I think in many ways was the most interesting time of the 20th century,” says Rozell. “This series of four works on paper sold together have very powerful geometric [shapes], but at the same time are very playful; they’re so evocative of that era. And I love discovering a name that is not that well known.”
Elmgreen & Dragset
This artist pair has paid a lot of attention to art fairs lately, something most artists don’t do (or don’t admit to). Following their own stint as faux fair directors, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset took the position of viewers at Art Basel, and came away with strong impressions on two aspects of the fair: Olaf Metzel’s Sammelstelle (1992) at Wentrup, an installation lined with corrugated metal; to enter, one must go through a sterile metal turnstile. Originally conceived as a response to the influx of Yugoslavian immigrants into Germany in the 1990s, the piece holds particular resonance in the current socio-political climate.
The artists also gravitated to Tokyo gallery Taka Ishii’s booth, which exhibited works by a cross-generational group of Japanese artists, including Nobuyoshi Araki, Koji Enokura, Tatsuo Kawaguchi, Kunié Sugiura, and Yutaka Takanashi—a fresh set of names in the largely European and American-dominated showing of artists.
Curator of American Art, Centre Pompidou Foundation
The newly appointed curator of American Art for the Pompidou had a hard time choosing just a few works, but in the end made a selection that reflects the breadth of this fair. At Berlin gallery Tanya Leighton’s booth, she picked out a pair of large-scale photographs by Yugoslavian artist Aleksandra Domanović. Part of her series “Bulls Without Horns,” the images are documentation of a project in which the artist embedded herself in a facility where scientists genetically modify bulls so that they are born without horns, a more humane alternative to the gruesome way in which bulls’ horns were removed in the past. “[The artist is] really interested in the body in general and all the manipulations. It’s interesting on one level with the progress of sciences, but it’s also really scary what we’ve become,” says Derieux, who found the piece incredibly moving. “The bulls look so distant and so deep in thought.”
Derieux was also drawn to works by American artist Darren Bader at both Galleria Franco Noero and Andrew Kreps Gallery—particularly the artist’s instructions works at Kreps. At Istanbul and London gallery Rodeo, Derieux was struck by Shahryar Nashat’s pedestals, created in the likeness of photographs the artist has sourced of pedestals used in recent and ancient history; for Nashat, the pedestal becomes the work and not simply a stage on which to display it. “I love this because he’s made a series of these works for a long time and they’re a variation of pedestals so this is natural marble and then one which has been worked. And then they rest on dollies and it’s funny because he paints them pink.”
At Cheim & Read, the French native and newly transplanted New Yorker (perhaps for obvious reasons) resonated with Jack Pierson’s work, which reads: “Like Paris in the rain on 2nd ave.” “I love this piece. But I love Jack Pierson,” she says.
From a more historical perspective, Derieux connected with a 1925 Joan Miró mural being shown at Galerie Gmurzynska: “It’s almost a monochrome and reduced to very simple symbols, language. Apparently it’s one of the biggest he made in that period of time,” she says of the epic piece. Similarly, she was drawn to Jean Michel Basquiat’s Rodo (1984) at Acquavella Galleries, for its unique quality within the style of Basquiat’s work that we are so familiar with: “It’s so incredibly reduced. I mean, a window, a chair, and a character. It’s beautiful and it’s not like the characteristic works we know from him.”
Artist and Founder of Pioneer Works, Brooklyn
The New York artist and founder of Brooklyn’s Pioneer Works left Art Basel feeling enamored with several pieces he encountered. At Amsterdam gallery Grimm’s booth, Ger van Elk’s projection, Little man behind the Door (1999), captivated Yellin, “because it brought me back to when I was freshly out of the womb, searching in the light for the first time,” he said, laughing. Taryn Simon’s “Black Square” works at Almine Rech, composed of collected objects and ephemera that have the same dimensions as Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 work of the same name, inspired a more chilling emotion for Yellin. “I’m a sucker for Taryn, and the Taryn Simon of the 3D-printed gun,” says Yellin. “I find that very interesting because they put it on the internet and then took it off. And it got 100,000 downloads…I could have seen my demise for the first time at Almine Rech, because someone could kill me with a 3D-printed gun.”
At Hauser & Wirth, Yellin was struck by Mike Kelley’s Memory Ware Flat #10 (2001), a panel loaded with found ephemera—beads, pins, buttons. “For a man who’s collecting things from the street, and who’s an eBay junkie, and who thinks that objects resonate and have sort of histories, that specific Kelley piece is really special,” he said. At Galerie Michael Haas, he was drawn in by a “weird” Lucian Freud painting, Figure with Horses (1939), made by the artist when he was 17 and absent of what is now his intimate signature style. Yellin also found himself in front of a mesmerizing Robert Rauschenberg combine at Galerie Thaddeus Ropac. “I’m a Rauschenberg freak because anyone who is trying to tear apart reality and start putting it on the wall, I get so excited,” he said. Finally, a work by Sigmar Polke, Untitled (1986), at Michael Werner, left the artist feeling equally inspired. “Pretty much anything Polke you put in front of me gets my knees all wobbly,” he said. “For me, it’s the way he was running around and moving from one thing to the next in such a fluid way.”
The in-the-know curator Boukobza found an artist she had not encountered before, the highlight of any fair-goer’s experience. At the booth of London’s Herald St, she discovered the work of octogenarian artist Diane Simpson, Apron I (2000). “Her drawings and sculptures are inspired by specific details of clothing and industrial design, as well as utilitarian objects and architecture,” she told me. “I love this sculpture and I plan on learning more about her practice for upcoming projects.” Meanwhile, at Natalie Seroussi, Boukobza encountered a “lavish and voluptuous” portrait by Francis Picabia, titled Espagnol (1941-1942). “At the fair, everyone was talking about the wonderful Picabia exhibition at the Kunsthaus in Zürich,” she said. “Unfortunately I didn’t have time to go, so here’s my tribute to the master.”
Meanwhile, Golden Leaf (2015) by Norwegian photographer Tørbjorn Rødland—who appeared at three galleries across the fair, including Air de Paris, where this piece was found—left Boukobza feeling exhilarated. “Gabriel Kuri pieces used to be for me what I call a fair savior, meaning works that in this overwhelming environment wake you up, bring you back to life, make you envision parallel realities,” she said. “This time this recent work from Tørbjorn Rødland did the job. I included him in a group show I curated one year ago at Galerie Untilthen in Paris, and I interviewed him for DOUBLE magazine, but the mystery around his work still remains.”