Just got back from a well-deserved vacation after a week of pounding the pavement at this year’s Art Basel fair – Europe’s annual one-stop shopping mecca for high-rollin’ international art collectors. It was an exciting but somewhat overwhelming experience, to say the least, with row upon endless row of artwork from hundreds of galleries in the Art Basel exhibition hall, not to mention at three satellite fairs: Volta and Liste both representing younger galleries and artists, and the new Balelatina fair for Spanish and Latin American art. While there of course were plenty of names (and faces) that could be expected, some choice works still managed to stand out in a crowd: a few stunning cloth and bronze sculptures by Louise Bourgeois at Cheim & Read gallery, a toy-like miniature graffiti-man by Barry McGee at Deitch Projects, a near celestial wall piece by Korean artist Kwang-Young Chun made with carefully folded mulberry paper at Kukje Gallery, and an incredible series of ceramics by Bonnie Seeman – teapots and other vessels made to appear like delicate muscle, bone and plant tissue – at Mexico City’s Galeria OMR.
There was a bit of World Cup fever surrounding the fair as well. On the first afternoon, as the rush of multi-million-dollar morning sales slowed, many fairgoers took a time out to watch an important France-Switzerland game. (Including the fun-loving gallery owner Zach Feuer, who, wearing the Swiss colors with pride, gathered the better part of New York’s Chelsea galleries at the Kunsthalle later that night to celebrate his 28th birthday) There was also much buzz preceding the screening of Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, Douglas Gordon’s new film about the French soccer superstar, at Basel’s St. Jakob stadium. Just that morning the Art Newspaper reported that the feature length film had been purchased by MoMA for an undisclosed sum. A mixed crowd of the haute art elite and local die-hard soccer fans showed up for the sundown screening, but watching the film proved less exciting than reading the headlines, with a tedious 90-minutes of slow, wordless shots soon driving the audience out of the stands in droves.
As the whirlwind week of chasing sales prices and juicy gossip came to a close, I slipped into the recesses of the grand Bulgari auditorium at the Swisshotel for a more serious early morning discussion on the future of Mideast museums. Despite spilling over into a three-hour marathon with much of the time eaten up by lengthy presentations, there was plenty of interesting subject matter brought up by the ten-person panel, which included Jack Persekian, founder of the nomadic CAMP contemporary art museum and Al Ma’mal Foundation in Palestine; Dalia Levin, director of the Herzliya Museum in Israel; and William Wells, founder of the Townhouse Gallery in Cairo, where everyone from internationally recognized artists to neighborhood volunteers are welcome to develop work together. After touching on how censorship and political boundaries shape and influence Middle Eastern art, a fired-up audience member hit straight to the heart of another idea only partially articulated by some of the most innovative panel members: that the current model of museums, based as they are on old colonialist ideals and the antiquated concept of amassing endless archives, is simply obsolete. After sitting glued to my seat for more than three hours, I couldn’t help but find myself thinking it was a shame that there wasn’t more time to develop these thoughts.
Photos soon to come!