Art Fair Galleries

Art Basel Unlimited – Big and Beautiful

The Unlimited Sector of Art Basel is the platform for showing large-scale projects or as the press release states “artworks that transcend the traditional art fair stand”. This includes sculptures, video work, wall paintings, photographic services and performance art.  It is an immersive experience for the viewer where one can often step into the works, without the watchful eye of a gallery owner on you.  Curated for the eighth and final year by Gianni Jetzer, Curator-at-Large at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., this year’s Unlimited promises to be as dynamic and thought-provoking as in years past.  75 large-scale projects are on view at Unlimited this year in the massive hall next to the traditional galleries sector.

Unlimited can be a little overwhelming, so we have selected a few pieces to highlight.  Several works this year focus on the issue of political upheaval and sociopolitical tensions and among the more interesting pieces were the following:

Rivale Neuenschwander, Bataille (2017), Courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery

Rivane Neuenschwander

Neuenschwander is of Swiss descent and lives in Brazil.  She works with language, nature, geography and social interactions, and uses unassuming materials to create installation experiences.  She had a solo exhibition at the New Museum in New York in 2010, and has had other solo exhibitions.  At Art Basel her work “Bataille” (2017) will be presented by the Stephen Friedman Gallery, a piece that was shown at the Biennale de Lyon.  Using words taken from protest banners in France, she has created, with the interaction and collaboration of the public, a colourful and impactful piece.  It captures the spirit of group participation and public protest.

Sislej Xhafa, Ovoid Solitude, 2019. Courtesy Galleria Continua and Art Basel.

Sislej Xhafa, a Kosovan-born artist living and working in New York City, contributes a work that is likely to be an Instagram favourite.  Ovoid Solitude is a storefront gate made of reclaimed corrugated sheets of metal and painted with whitewash. As the Art Basel press release states:  “Precisely in the middle of the wall there is a small door frame, in which a Cuban man by the name of Raúl Postillo Zamá, sits silently. Behind him, one can see between the shadow and light, rows upon rows of eggs stacked high, waiting to be sold….One can imagine the old problematic – art bigger than life? Equal to life? Totally incomparable to reality? The reality of the artist experience is recreated here to be questioned: an experience as a visual memory that, in the end, becomes a monument.”  Sislej Xhafa’s other memorable pieces include an abandoned-looking “Lost and Found” installation at the Kosovo Pavilion for the Venice Biennale in 2017.  He also installed watchful neon eyes titled “Axis of Silence” over Plaine de Plainpalais park in Geneva in 2009 as part of a cultural trail.

Monica Bonvicini, Breathing 2017, Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Mitchell-Innes & Nash.

Monica Bonvicini has created an installation of steel, an air cylinder, compressor, rope and synthetic fibre, and leather belts that form a hanging sculpture.  The screeching noises of the belts hitting the surface are combined with the industrial sounds of the compressor to create disconcerting experience.  Resembling a dance or a repetitive religious movement, the title of the piece is Breathing.  Bonvicini was born in Venice in 1965, and her work investigates the issues of power structures, gender roles, and space.  Among other iconic pieces, she created the work “Plastered” in 1998 where a new floor was added to the gallery space and when visitors stepped on it, it cracked, calling into question the integrity of construction, as well as the gallery world.  Additionally, Bonvicini created the sculpture “Run” in 2012 for the Olympic Park in London, as well as the huge floating sculpture “She Lies” in 2010 for the Olso fjord beside the Oslo Opera House.

Lawrence Lek, Notel, photo courtesy of the artist.

Virtual Reality has a part at Unlimited as well.  German artist Lawrence Lek’s newly recast ‘Nøtel’ (2016-2019), is an installation built around fictional luxury hotels, and is accessible via VR headsets and game controllers.  It shows a fictional world that one can explore, complemented by dance music but lacking humans.  Fittingly, it is a drone that leads one around the hotel.

Jacolby Satterwhite, Blessed Avenue (2018). Courtesy of the artist and Morán Morán, Los Angeles.

Another VR experience at Unlimited is that of African-American artist Jacolby Satterwhite.  Born in North Carolina in 1986, he studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and the University of Pennsylvania.  His mother was an artist who lived with schizophrenia and whose work had an immense influence on Satterwhite.  At Statements at Art Basel, 2018, Satterwhite filmed friends at parties or dancing that were then integrated into his virtual landscape.  Solange Knowles’ recent music video was directed by Satterwhite and his work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Seattle Art Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.

Do Ho Suh, Hub, 260-7 Sungbook-Dong, Sungbook-Ku, Seoul, Korea, 2017. Courtesy Lehmann Maupin, Victoria Miro.

Do Ho Suh, a Korean artist born in 1962, creates a life-sized textile recreation of his former home for Unlimited.  Suh studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and Yale University. He has studios in London, New York City and Seoul.  Suh’s work has a focus on architecture, space, and identity.  His most well-known works are made from silk or nylon and are sewn into forms that represent places from his life.  Another piece, Bridging Home (2010), was constructed in Liverpool, England.   Recreating a traditional Korean building, the piece was placed, squashed and tilted, between two traditional brick buildings on the street in Liverpool, making a powerful statement about identity and finding space for oneself in a new culture.

Alicia Framis, LifeDress 2018, Courtesy of Art Basel.

Another piece to look out for is LifeDress by artist Alicia Framis.  This shows a clothing line for women made out of airbags that can be inflated to protect the body underneath.  In her work Framis combines design, fashion, and performance.  She asks the question:  “Is my Body Public” and this is embroidered on every dress in 15 different languages, representing the universal nature of the question.  In general we have given up much of our privacy through technology like the Internet, and security systems at airports and in city centres.  But the question is different for women who in many places cannot dress as they want and who are often harassed on the street, sometimes based on what they are wearing.  Framis has also made the Anti_dog collection, that consisted of 23 pieces of clothing made from bullet-proof material to protect women against violence.  Her work asks the question:  “What must women do to be safe?”

Joan Semmel, Purple Diagonal, 1980. Alexander Gray Associates.

The octogenarian painter Joan Semmel will unveil her largest and newest piece at Art Basel Unlimited 2109, exploring the body as landscape.  Semmel was born in 1932 in New York City and studied at Cooper Union, the Art Students League of New York, and Pratt Institute.  Her work focuses on painting the human body in large-scale formats, in a figurative style, and often with erotic themes.  Her paintings are in many museum collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C.

Other well-known artists whose work will also be displayed at Unlimited include Ugo Rondinone, Franz West, Tom Wesselmann, Giuseppe Penone, Sarah Lucas, and Antony Gormley.  Enjoy the visit!

Written by:  Kristen Knupp