New Media is the Language of Emerging Artists at Art Basel Statements
While fairs, Art Basel included, often get cast off as purely market-driven affairs, with the art world now congregating at such events more than any others these days, “artist discovery” is increasingly the buzzword thrown around. And Basel’s Statements section remains one of the best—and most concentrated—places to do so. Sixteen galleries have mounted solo presentations in the section this year, its second in the midst of the main fair hubbub of Hall 2.
For many of the galleries in Statements, this marks their first time at the fair—and for some their first-ever time in Basel. Among them, JTT was having a particularly successful go of it, selling all four of the works by Borna Sammak that they brought to the fair. Suspended from the wall with artist-designed frames, extension cords, and other hardware supplies (often neon-toned), plus a pack of Camel Lights, flatscreens play loops of heavily layered videos that source their individual components—squid, fungus, stingrays, and bursts of text—from nature videos, commercials, and animated internet clips.
Also working in video is one of two Baloise Prize winners, Beatrice Gibson, who has turned Laura Bartlett Gallery’s booth into a screening room for her film Solo for Rich Man (2015). Made specifically for Art Basel, the film is set in an East London adventure playground. (“They were developed in the ’70s for children to have risky play,” says Bartlett of the saws, wild swings, and other non-traditional implements offered up to the children in the parks.) Gibson devised a four-day workshop where children learned to play musical compositions from the Fluxus era alongside a restaging of William Gaddis’s 1975 novel J R, which tracks the rise of an 11-year-old capitalist’s fortune, orchestrated through his school’s payphone. “He’s not a bad kid, he’s just a pure human who is greedy and wants to amass this fortune as an entrepreneur,” Bartlett adds. Gibson uses the narrative to dress down the abstraction of financial markets brought about by deregulation in the time since. The kids grab the camera, at times spinning wildly in a stomach-churning viewer experience that drives the point home.
Throngs stood in awe of Raphael Hefti’s seven-metric-ton CNC milling machine at RaebervonStenglin, as it carved cylinder after cylinder of aluminum down to nothing—Statements’ decisive fan favorite and an impressive merger of the readymade and performance. (The certificate-based work requires collectors to rent or purchase the $500,000 machine in order to restage it.)
But attendees were not just wooed by industrial machinery. “I find curators spend more time here,” said Hannah Hoffman’s Christine Messineo, having recently joined the gallery from Bortolami. “It’s the opportunity to see a whole body of work, whereas downstairs you have one piece and then are just pulling out books and pulling up images,” added Messineo, noting they had sold nearly all of the powder-coated aluminum panels and guard rail works by Rey Akdogan, featured in their Statements booth—as well as Sam Falls’s installation at Unlimited that they presented in collaboration with Franco Noero and Eva Presenhuber. (This marks the first time a Statements gallery has participated in Unlimited as well.)
For James Fuentes, showing Amalia Ulman, Statements was as much about expanding perceptions about the artist’s practice as it was about accessing new viewers. The artist has become a near household name in the art world over the last year or so due to the media hype around her Instagram project. Director James Michael Schaeffer suggested that, blinded by Ulman’s Insta-celebrity, less people in Europe are aware of her sculptures and installations. At Art Basel, they’re showing a booth-spanning installation for which the artist decorated a set of corporate-looking chairs with add-ons ripped off purses from China, covering the wall in glass panels on which text from eBay and Amazon descriptions of the handbags have been printed in fonts reminiscent of more “creative” AIM users of the early aughts.