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Art Basel's 'Unlimited' gauges art world’s winds and trends

Art Basel Unlimited is showcasing 76 large-scale works including sculptures, paintings, video projections, installations, performances, and some museum worthy historical works.

by Hili PerlsonPublished on : Jun 18, 2023

There's change in the air and it was certainly palpable at the 2023 edition of Art Basel Unlimited, the section inside the world’s most important art fair that’s dedicated to large-scale art installations and room-filling presentations, performances, and screenings. Take it with a grain of salt, but to the extent that a selection of artists represented by blue-chip galleries inside a market-defining event can be considered a finger to the wind in terms of art world shifts and trends, there’s no place like Unlimited to take stock of where things stand. It was clear, for example, that the era of the selfie fodder artwork—larger-than-life reflective surfaces and mirrored structures that serve as perfect photo ops for a front-facing camera—was over. Don’t hold your breath just yet, but this could point at a renewed confidence in viewers’ capacity to process complexity. Case in point: the notable absence of mirrored works led some fairgoers desperately searching for social-media moments to have their picture taken by their companion as they reclined on one of the swings in Never Again (2005), a group of leather and metal sling-like objects by Italian artist Monica Bonvicini. That the work's origin in sensual foreplay and its references to alternative erotic practices was clear to the perfectly styled visitors was evident in their mischievous smiles.

Never Again, 2005, Monica Bonvicini| Unlimited | Art Basel 2023 | STIRworld
Never Again, 2005, Monica Bonvicini Image: Presented by Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Galerie Krinzinger, and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery,Courtesy of Art Basel

Traditionally, Unlimited includes museum worthy historical works by major artists and this year was no exception. Konrad Fischer gallery brought two floor pieces—Richard Long’s 1998 ring of stones titled Zugspitz Circle as well as Carl Andre’s iron sculpture 47 Roaring Forties from 1988. Sprüth Magers gallery presented Nancy Holt’s Mirrors of Light from 1974, and David Zwirner showed Felix Gonzalez-Torres's Untitled (Natural History) from 1990, a quietly stunning series of 13 photographs, each depicting a single word engraved on the memorial to Theodore Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York. But besides the seminal works available for institutional acquisitions, many newer pieces among the 76 works on view at Unlimited would ring familiar with most art aficionados who have visited the major art exhibitions of the past 20 months. It’s a sobering reminder that everything on view in any of the contemporary art world’s heady, thematically curated biennials, is never detached from the market, and would eventually, in one way or another, become available for sale.

  • Zugspitz Circle, 1998, Richard Long | Unlimited | Art Basel 2023 | STIRworld
    Zugspitz Circle, 1998, Richard Long Image: Presented by Konrad Fischer Galerie, Courtesy of Art Basel
  • 47 Roaring Forties, 1988, Carl Andre | Unlimited | Art Basel 2023 | STIRworld
    47 Roaring Forties, 1988, Carl Andre Image: Presented by Konrad Fischer Galerie, Courtesy of Art Basel

Perhaps the most popular work at the 2022 Venice Art Biennale, the video Dreams Have No Titles by Zineb Sedira, who represented France last year, is on view here (minus the long queue), courtesy of art dealer Kamel Mennour. Another Venice Biennale artist at Unlimited is Tomo Savić-Gecan, who represented Croatia with a sprawling performance piece that took place in various locations around Venice. Here, he is showing a new generative piece that responds to data from Art Basel's annual UBS-sponsored market report. Elsewhere, painted car hoods by Selma Selman, a Bosnian artist of Romani origin, would be familiar to those who have visited Manifesta 14 in Prishtina, Kosovo last year, as well as Documenta 15 in Kassel, Germany. One of the most popular works among the video projections at Unlimited was Anne Imhof’s Jester (2022), a nearly one-hour-long video piece made from footage shot during her major 2021 exhibition Natures Mortes at Palais de Tokyo in Paris and presented in 2022 at the Aichi Triennale in Japan. It’s offered in a shared presentation by her German dealers Galerie Buchholz and Sprüth Magers.

Painting on Metal – Mercedes-Benz, 2023, Selma Selman | Unlimited | Art Basel 2023 | STIRworld
Painting on Metal – Mercedes-Benz, 2023, Selma Selman Image: Presented by acb, Courtesy of Art Basel

But that’s not to say that there are no discoveries here. On the contrary—it is not unusual for a work to first make waves at Unlimited and then be picked up by curators all over the world. Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed’s 2021 video installation Jam Proximus Ardet, la dernière vidéo is a single shot of a burning ship on the horizon, slowly moving closer towards the viewer on a huge screen, only to reveal that the artist himself is standing on the ship’s bridge, as if oblivious to the blaze behind him. The title is borrowed from Virgil’s Aeneid, in which the protagonist realises that the city of Troy is in flames, and the visual is an unsubtle remark on the tragedies that take place every day in the Mediterranean Sea. Inside a projection room to the left, viewers encounter a chilling work by American artist and poet Diamond Stingily, titled How Did He Die, from 2016. The work consists of a single-channel projection of vintage black-and-white footage depicting young girls playing in a schoolyard. It's projected floor-to-ceiling through a freestanding chain-link fence. Even without reading the work’s title, the spectre of violence looms large, and the use of the single fence, to this viewer at least, felt like a nod to Cady Noland, another great American artist who deals in her minimal, hard-edged works with America’s broken system and its impact on society.

la dernière vidéo, 2021, Jam Proximus Ardet | Unlimited | Art Basel 2023 | STIRworld
La dernière vidéo, 2021, Jam Proximus Ardet Image: Presented by Galleria Continua, Courtesy of Art Basel

Chinese artist He Xiangyu packs a punch with an installation titled Inherited Wounds from 2022-23. It consists of 24 wooden school chairs marked with children's doodles and etches; an innocent pubescent rebellion captured in ready-mades. The chairs are neatly arranged in three diagonal lines, the rigorous sense of order contrasted only by the marks on the wood. In front of these three rows, a miniature replica of all of these 24 chairs—doodles and all—are presented in an identical arrangement. The miniature repetition speaks of the passing on of trauma, of wounds inflicted through pressure towards sameness, and how these are echoed and inherited from generation to generation. It’s a chilling, yet brilliant work, and I expect to encounter it again and again in major exhibitions in the months to come.

Art Basel is on view in Switzerland and online from June 15-18, 2023.

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