Time is Money

Basel
06.15.09

Collector François Pinault. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley) Right: Rat and Bear. (Photo: Peter Schnetz)


THE MOST ENTERTAINING ACTIVITY of the past two weeks, as one raced from Venice to Basel, was comparing the vastly differing points of view over the same subjects. Thanks to globalization, which has multiplied the number of countries and artists represented at the fairs and exhibitions, the most diligent marathon runners (artists, dealers, critics, collectors) ended up a bit confused. They seemed most flustered when it came time for one of their favorite activities: judging. There were no clear standards, and what was “brilliant” to one person proved “disappointing” to another. “Splendid” or “vulgar,” “in” or “out”—comments varied as unpredictably as the weather, which itself oscillated between blinding sunshine and severe downpours.

Last Wednesday evening, when I went to the Basel premiere of “Il Tempo del Postino,” an event held to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the city’s eponymous art fair, someone asked me if I had an extra ticket for “Il Tempo del Cappuccino.” We all could have used some coffee, perhaps, but anyway there was only Moët champagne. “Il Tempo del Postino,” a “group exhibition” that “occupies time rather than space” (a bit like a spectacular variety show) was curated and directed by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Philippe Parreno with the help of artists Anri Sala and Rirkrit Tiravanija, and just about everyone and their dealer was in attendance. Those (myself included) who had seen the show’s original premiere at the Manchester International Festival in 2007 were ahead of the others, and I had fun making my neighbors, curator Raimundas Malašauskas and artist Mario García Torres, guess which artist made which work. Some were delighted that Matthew Barney didn’t reproduce the fist-fucking scene that caused such a controversy for the British, while others thought the work had been better with it. (This time, at the end of Barney’s contribution there was only a concert in the lobby performed with a score by Jonathan Bepler.) To keep things exciting, two new works were added to this version of “Il Tempo”: one by Thomas Demand—a projection of a film imitating rain that was “not at all interesting” for some, “absolutely fantastic” for others—and another by Fischli & Weiss featuring their well-known characters, Rat and Bear. For the latter, the pair were represented in child form, and Bear Cub and Baby Rat fiddled with a remote control and closed the stage curtain by accident.

Participants in Carsten Höller’s piece for “Il Tempo del Postino.” (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Artist Danh Vo and Niklas Svennung. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley)


Since the audience consisted exclusively of art enthusiasts, success was guaranteed. The public, moved to ecstasy, shouted for an encore—perhaps the first harmonious opinion this whole trip. All the contemporary art lovers were deliriously happy with Sala’s four geishas, who sang an aria from Madame Butterfly (“Now that’s an opera”), as well as with Doug Aitken’s piece, in which cattle auctioneers dispersed throughout the audience wildly rattled off numbers, their voices coming together in a crescendo of faster and faster bids, while a large onstage screen went from pitch black to bright. Most everyone agreed, too, that the show was very appropriate for a fair and much more inspiring than tiresome talk of a market “return” or “collapse.” After the performance, the artists left for the Schiesser’s, where a dinner had been organized by Fondation Beyeler director (and former Art Basel director) Samuel Keller and press rep Isabela Mora. For those who didn’t attend, the only thing open was a restaurant around the corner serving kebabs, because the three-hour show didn’t end until just before midnight.

It wouldn’t be Basel without a proliferation of parallel fairs, and like musical chairs, Design Miami/Basel found itself plopped in Hall 5 of the city’s Messeplatz convention center. Voltashow, which had once been in Voltaplatz, was moved to the Markthalle, where the Design show used to be; Bâlelatina became the Hot Art fair; Scope moved to the Sportplatz, etc. Along with artist Christian Holstad, I opted to visit the former Wartek beer factory hosting Liste, which has served as the gateway drug to the official fair for the past twelve years. If, at Art Basel, you could find miniature versions of the now-famous installations at the Venice Biennale or the Pinault Foundation (Tomas Saraceno at Tanya Bonakdar, Mike Kelley at Jablonka, Guyton\Walker at Air de Paris, among many others), that’s not quite the case at Liste. This year, as always, some found Liste to be very good, while others complained that the complexity and punk had disappeared. Those who opted to hold solo shows seemed the most satisfied. David Kordansky sold all of Elad Lassry’s photographs as soon as the fair opened, and Overduin and Kite were more than pleased with reactions to Scott Olson’s paintings.

The imaginary friend from Pierre Huyghe’s piece for “Il Tempo del Postino.” (Photo: Nicolas Trembley) Right: Dealers Micky Schubert and Kristina Kite with Kunsthalle Basel director Adam Szymczyk. (Photo: Ryan McNamara)


But the art public wasn’t just there for the fairs. The Schaulager, which always organizes a brunch to lure in the famished tourists, this year presented part of the collection of the Kunstmuseum. Most of the works came from the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation (to which the Schaulager belongs), and the show got plenty of attention. Public opinion was much less mitigated about these chefs d’oeuvre, and everyone was amazed to discover that all the works, from Hans Holbein to Wolfgang Tillmans, had been purchased as soon as they had been produced. (Holbein was a longtime Basel resident, and the Kunstmuseum has the largest collection of his works in the world.) Danh Vo’s show at the Kunsthalle was a hit, and alternative spaces, such as the one hosted by New Jerseyy, a collective of artists and curators (Daniel Baumann, Tobias Madison, Emanuel Rossetti, and Dan Solbach), also proved very popular. The evening that Ida Ekblad painted a storefront window and Nils Bech sang a cappella on a ladder was a must-attend, as was the launch of Provence, a new magazine about art hobbies produced by a group of young dandies from Frankfurt’s Städelschule.

On Saturday, after all the madness, I made my way to Dinard, in Brittany, where François Pinault was showing yet another part of his collection. (How much remains?) The show, curated by Caroline Bourgeois, couldn’t be more different from the one at the Dogana and Palazzo Grassi. First of all, the Palais des Arts, where it was held, is a much smaller space (eighty-six hundred square feet), and it is designed for a local public that is less accustomed to contemporary art, which can sometimes be rather provocative. One local newspaper ran the headline “A Shocking Exhibition.” Much more intimate, this show, cheekily titled “Who’s Afraid of Artists?,” features seven sections, ranging from “Around Minimalism,” with classics by Flavin, Manzoni, and Agnes Martin, to “Afraid of Death,” with Maurizio Cattelan’s sculpture of Pope John Paul II being hit by a meteorite and a series of works by Damien Hirst offering evidence of one of the collector’s obsessions: skulls. Pinault, who has always spoken with pride about his simple Breton origins, was welcomed like a prodigal son by a large crowd of badauds that also came to greet ex-president Jacques Chirac and the actress Salma Hayek, who was beaming and holding the arm of Pinault’s son. Very few gallery owners or artists attended this very personal exhibition, and there was little idle chatter at the opening. It seemed as though the great collector had decided to return to his roots modestly, a (relatively) simple, uncomplicated end to June’s festivities.

Nicolas Trembley

Artist Matthew Barney. Right: François-Henry Pinault with Salma Hayek. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley)


Left: Former French president Jacques Chirac. Right: Daniel Baumann (right). (Photos: Nicolas Trembley)


Left: Proyectos Monclova’s José García. Right: Dealer David Kordansky.


Left: Wallspace’s Janine Foeller and Jane Hait. (Photo: Ryan McNamara) Right: Curator Caroline Bourgeois. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley)


Left: Cosmic Galerie’s Claudia Cargnel and Frederic Bugada. (Photo: Ryan McNamara) Right: Dealer Diana Stigter.


Left: Dealers Tanya Leighton and Emilie Bujes. Right: Circus Gallery’s Silvie Joe Buschmann. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)


Left: Dealer Sorcha Dallas. Right: Office Baroque’s Marie Denkens and Wim Peters. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)


Left: Evergreene’s Nicole Timonier and Samuel Gross. (Photo: Ryan McNamara) Right: Rodeo Gallery’s Sylvia Kouvali. (Photo: David Velasco)