The Depths of Time Explored in Iconic Artworks at Art Basel

With the onset of summer, we often adjust our routines, and time takes on a different appearance. Days become longer, and perhaps a little less time is devoted to work and a little more to leisure. We set our sights on escapes, whether they be near or far; for the art world, the June destination of choice is undoubtedly Switzerland, where Art Basel annually attracts over 300 international galleries, prior to the relative calm of the summer months.

Time is a thread that connects a number of works being exhibited at this year’s Art Basel— specifically, how time might facilitate understanding of history, memory, and what the future might look like. 

Take, for instance, Andy Warhol’s Untitled (Concrete Sculpture) at Daniel Blau. According to the gallery, this work is the only one of Warhol’s 610 “Time Capsules” currently not in a museum collection. These works offer a remarkable window into the personal life of the artist who is typically associated with his celebrity and outward persona. The series is said to have begun during a move of Warhol’s iconic Factory, when, instead of discarding the personal ephemera strewn across the space, Warhol’s assistants collected the assorted objects and stored them in cardboard boxes. This melange of items—photos, letters, and paraphernalia including the artist’s famous white wigs—accumulated up until Warhol’s death in 1987. Each box offers an intimate portrait of several years of the artist’s life, like the physical manifestation of a diary. In this capsule, Warhol’s handprint and signature appear in a box filled with cement, capturing the series’ integration of personal history and celebrity. 

Christian Boltanski’s works have regularly explored the interchange between personal memory and collective history, especially through the use of photographs and found objects. His works have the intimate quality of family photographs or mementos, but often blur the distinction between the artist’s past and the memories of others. For his works L’album photographique de la famille de B and Stèles, shown at Kewenig, Boltanski uses a German family photo album and a school photograph, respectively. While the scenes on display are often joyous or nostalgic, the mid-20th century European context of the images suggests the much more somber histories of war and suffering. 

Beryl Korot’s iconic work Dachau 1974, shown at bitforms, engages explicitly with the Holocaust and its impact on subsequent generations, employing four-channel video to convey the experience of visiting the former concentration camp as a tourist. In the film, Korot recreates the dissonant effect of hearing children laughing, and observing a busy highway at the site of a historical atrocity. Here, time is re-ordered to convey the intensity and complexity of the artist’s experience at Dachau. 

Rirkrit Tiravanija has become well-known for converting museum and gallery spaces into communal eating areas with menus prepared by the artist. In his series “Time travelers chronicle (doubt): 2014 - 802,701 A.D.,” created during a five-week residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Tiravanija invites us to rethink conventional, regimented notions of time for more imaginative ones. Clock-like forms are converted into swirling vortexes or phrases like “spare time” and “the way things go.” The distinctive series of large-scale silver prints are both mirror-like and evocative of time travel. 

Where Tiravanija encourages a new outlook on time, Jack Lavender’s work About Time (shown at The Approach) evokes the concept in a much more abstract sense. Made of glass, copper wire, sand, and paper, is a wall-hung assemblage—which is a precursor to the artist’s new series—appears as a reconceived sand timer, whose thin copper curves might be the outlines of an image not yet finished. 

To explore the many facets of time, history and memory in art, browse the categories Collective History, Deep Time, Personal Histories, and Timekeeping

Ian Erickson-Kery

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