Live art steals show at Basel fair

Agence France-Presse
Live art steals show at Basel fair


Art Basel 2014 features works from artists of different disciplines – but what was the highlight this year?

BASEL, Switzerland – Open one door to see a naked woman perched on a bicycle seat high on a wall; enter another room and find twins reading identical books under a pair of dot paintings.

Fleeting installations involving living people are stealing the show at this year’s Art Basel, the world’s biggest meeting place for deep-pocketed collectors.

The show, where everything is usually for sale — at a hefty price — has for its 45th edition dedicated a section called “14 Rooms” to performances and live art by top international artists.

“It’s really about creating experiences with human beings as the material,” Art Basel director Marc Spiegler told AFP ahead of the public opening of the show on Thursday.

Marina Abramovic’s 1997 piece “Luminosity”, in which a naked woman uncomfortably straddles a bicycle seat fixed onto a wall and bathed in bright light, explores themes of “loneliness and spiritual elevation”, according to organisers.

Damien Hirst’s rotating cast of identical twins meanwhile sit in carbon copy positions, mirroring each other as they lift a glass of water, eat chocolate and leaf through identical books.

And visitors to Xu Zhen’s “In just a blink of an eye” are confronted with a person frozen in mid-air, in a seemingly gravity-defying pose.

“This shows a sort of performative approach towards art, which is much more interesting, I think, than only canvas and only pictures on the walls,” 34-year-old Mia Florentine Weiss, a German performance artist, told AFP after visiting “14 Rooms.”

New York artist Jeff Zimmerman said he especially liked the inclusion of visitors in the artwork.

“It was nice to make the viewer a little uncomfortable,” he said, adding: “And it’s not for sale, and I think that’s important in this environment to have that occurring.”

The more traditional gallery section of the show, where collectors can whip out their wallets to purchase masterpieces rarely on display, nonetheless remains at the heart of Art Basel.

Here’s a look at Art Basel 2014:

Andy Warhol sold for $35 million 

Art enthusiasts from around the world, many having flown in on private jets, flooded into the gallery section when it opened to VIPs Tuesday, browsing through booths representing 285 international galleries and sweeping up pricy masterpieces at an astonishing rate.

ART BASEL 2014. 'Farrow' by US artist Gavin Kenyon (front), and 'The Sovereign Citizens Sesquicentennial Civil War Celebration' by US artist Kara Walker (back),  on display during Art Basel 2014. Photo by Georgios Kefalas/EPA

On Wednesday, a “Fright Wig” self-portrait by pop artist Andy Warhol, with an asking price of $35 million, was sold to a private collector at the Skarstedt gallery.

A Damien Hirst work called “Nothing is a problem for me”, from 1992, was snapped up Tuesday for nearly $6.0 million, while a Jeff Koons piece called Dolphin Balloon went for $5.0 million.

“It’s been very good. We’ve had a good opening day and we’ve done very good business so we’re happy,” Victoria Miro gallery chief Glenn Scott-Wright told AFP Tuesday, standing in front of a giant Yayoi Kusama metallic pumpkin on display for the first time.

That piece had been reserved, while another of the Japanese artist’s works had been sold “in the high six figures,” he said.

While such spectacular sales are welcome, Spiegler said Art Basel had been successful “because it has always tried to stay very much in tune with what’s going on in the art world.”

In 2000, the show for instance took a leap of faith when it opened its “Unlimited” section, offering up museum-scale pieces.

This year, 78 projects fill a massive Unlimited hall, ranging from Giuseppe Penone’s “Trees”, featuring a giant fir tree trunk with the centre removed, to a huge, translucently colourful installation of hanging window blinds by Haegue Yang.

Nearby, Julio Le Parc’s giant sphere made up of glistening red plastic squares hangs suspended from the ceiling, casting red light on Ian Breakwell’s photo exhibit in the background.

“It’s really good. A beautiful exhibit,” Paul Schwer, a German artist visiting Art Basel told AFP of this year’s fair.

Not all artists are willing to work within the confines of the show, however.

Majida Khattari was forced to remove her exhibit of “homeless” mannequins covered in jewels and designer handbags — set up uninvited outside one of the halls as a commentary on global inequality.

“There is absolute luxury, and there is absolute distress. There are crises everywhere, but not in luxury,” she told AFP.

And Swiss artist Milo Moire was forced to cover up when she attempted to enter the show with the names of clothing items scrolled on her naked body. –

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