STIR speaks to Giovanni Carmine, curator of Unlimited at Art Basel 2021

On the eve of the 2021 edition of Art Basel at Basel, Giovanni Carmine speaks about the vision of Unlimited section and the works he is personally looking forward to.

by Rahul KumarPublished on : Sep 21, 2021

Like most art fair formats, there is a robust parallel presentation that focusses on experimental and experiential art installations. These works are significant in their expression but most often remain non-commercial in nature. Art Basel exhibition launched the Unlimited section with this vision in 2000. Each edition has this segment curated with a unified vision. The 2021 Unlimited section is curated by Giovanni Carmine. “The fact that a project like Unlimited can take place in 2021 is a sign of faith in such a platform. With the many months of closed galleries and museums – and ensuing isolation – the pandemic has amplified our need for direct engagement with the ‘originals’”, he says.

Atlantic Ocean (Bay of Biscay) | Art Basel 2021 | Julius von Bismarck, Die Mimik der Tethys | STIRworld
Atlantic Ocean (Bay of Biscay) by Julius von Bismarck, Die Mimik der Tethys Image: Julius von Bismarck, Courtesy of the artist, Sies + Höke (Düsseldorf), alexander levy (Berlin

I interview Carmine about his experience of putting the show up during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and his curatorial vision, on the eve of Art Basel 2021, to be held at Basel between September 20 to 26.  

Rahul Kumar (RK): It is great to see Art Basel return to its home ground with a physical show after a gap of one year. How have the logistics been managed, especially given continued travel restrictions and the large-format works for the Unlimited sector that you have curated?

Giovanni Carmine (GC): Since launching in 2000, every Unlimited has been unique. But this year’s edition takes place under truly exceptional circumstances: many works were proposed in early 2020, before COVID-19 transformed our lives, and are now shown in the second year of the global pandemic. All the galleries presenting these complex and costly projects take an enormous additional risk – thereby demonstrating their deep devotion to the artists involved. I am thrilled to curate the Unlimited sector for the very first time and present 62 cherished projects amid this challenging time.

The pandemic has certainly had an influence on this edition of Unlimited; the preparations alone have been stretched out over almost two years. Not least in terms of the exhibition architecture, which was conceived to generate a compelling spatial experience while reinforcing a safe visit. There are also artworks on display that directly address the pandemic situation, such as Josh Smith’s painting of the eerily empty streets of Brooklyn. Or a work by Mario García Torres, It Must Have Been a Tuesday, made of 164 pieces of paper he posted, day after day, on the door of his closed studio during lockdown. An AIDS painting from 1991 by the artist group General Idea also reminds us that COVID-19 is not the only pandemic in the world, putting the perceptual mechanisms of our present into perspective.

The crisis has not paralyzed art production. A tell-tale sign of this are two works that were completed especially for Unlimited 2021: the textile installation by Marion Baruch and the trompe-l’oeil painting by David Hockney. These artists – born in 1929 and 1937 – illustrate that making art and presenting it to an audience is an insatiable need. They are mediators of a positive message to be savoured as a gift. Unlimited wants to be a catalyst and disseminator of this message.

Palais de Tokyo | Art Basel 2021 | Julius von Bismarck, Die Mimik der Tethys | STIRworld
Palais de Tokyo by Julius von Bismarck, Die Mimik der Tethys Image: Bismarck, Courtesy of the artist, Sies + Höke (Düsseldorf), alexander levy (Berlin

RK: Is there a unique framework for this year’s edition at Unlimited

GC: The fact that a project like Unlimited can take place in 2021 is a sign of faith in such a platform. With the many months of closed galleries and museums – and ensuing isolation – the pandemic has amplified our need for direct engagement with the ‘originals’. This is a positive development, an unforeseen side effect. Our encounters with art have intensified: our attention and lust for discussion is on the rise. We’ve also become more grateful for the artists’ work. This is largely because it has become clear that nothing is to be taken for granted.

In this context, Unlimited turns out to be the ideal stage to experience these feelings in a real space – to relish them, to reflect upon them. The intention has always been to provide the ideal conditions for opening a dialogue between art and audience.

04 mins watch Palais de Tokyo | Art Basel 2021 | Julius von Bismarck, Die Mimik der Tethys | STIRworld
Palais de Tokyo by Julius von Bismarck, Die Mimik der Tethys Video: Bismarck, Courtesy of the artist, Sies + Höke (Düsseldorf), alexander levy (Berlin

RK: For increased viewership and access, there is increased emphasis on ‘online’ viewing of art. Art Basel itself is on hybrid mode, with both physical and virtual exhibitions. Does experiencing works digitally, especially those that are meant to be immersive/large format in nature, make any sense?

GC: Looking at art online or ‘in real life’ are of course two different experiences. It is not a matter if one is better than the other, but how these two manners of looking at art can coexist and how to develop a fruitful dialogue between the two worlds.  I think also that for the future generation this situation will be totally normal. So, it’s interesting to think more about how in which direction we want to push the hybridisation, and Art Basel stories can be a pioneer in this discussion.

Entrare Nel Linguaggio | Art Basel 2021 | Marion Baruch | STIRworld
Entrare Nel Linguaggio by Marion Baruch Image: Courtesy of Art Basel

RK: Unlimited presents a wide spectrum of art forms, disciplines, and even generations. With over 60 projects on display, it may be a daunting task to truly experience all of them in one visit. And so, I must ask you for the unmissable works for you as the curator…and why do you feel so?

GC: Entering the Unlimited sector for the first time in more than two years, visitors will see works by internationally renowned artists including Dan Flavin, Etel Adnan, Urs Fischer, Olafur Eliasson, and Roni Horn.

I am also excited for visitors to experience monumental works by Juan Araujo, exploring the relationship between the Foundation Beyeler’s architecture and the indigenous African art collection of its founder Ernst Beyeler; Carrie Mae Weems, whose images of a hooded black man remind us that Trayvon Martin was murdered almost a decade ago, immediately giving hooded sweatshirts brutal symbolic status; Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s ongoing investigation into the technologies of surveillance; and Korean artist, Ha Chong-Hyun, a veteran painter who recently received long-deserved acclaim.

Giovanni Carmine | Art Basel 2021 | | STIRworld
Giovanni Carmine Image: Gunnar Meier, Courtesy of Art Basel

Art Basel exhibition will be open to the public from September 24 to September 26, 2021.The exhibition, to be hosted at the Messe Basel in Basel, Switzerland, can be visited between 11am to 7pm.

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