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The easels of Art Basel 39

The easels of Art Basel 39
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First Published: Fri, Jun 20 2008. 12 07 AM IST
Updated: Fri, Jun 20 2008. 12 07 AM IST
For the past 39 years, in the first week of June, a maddening crowd descends upon the sleepy town of Basel, at the southern tip of Switzerland. Art collectors, artists, gallery owners, critics, celebrities and art lovers pour into the hotels, hostels and villages nearby for five days of art, art, and more art. The fair, considered by many as the most prestigious in the art world, accepts 300 galleries from thousands of applicants. Those galleries then choose their finest works to showcase to the discerning crowd, which is hungry to buy. Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich was rumoured to have bought an Alberto Giocometti sculpture for his girlfriend for around $14 million (around Rs60 crore). And Takashi Murakami’s Oval Buddha is said to have sold for $8 million (the fair does not release sale prices). Though there were fewer Americans at the sale than in previous years, Brad Pitt added a bit of Hollywood glamour. The crowded stalls boasted the works of established artists—Miros, Rothkos and Picassos—but also had work by artists climbing the walls of success. Here are four that grabbed our attention with their unique work.
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Olafur Eliasson
Prior engagements: This Danish-Icelandic conceptual artist is known for his large installation works. He experiments with light and the way the viewer’s eye refracts it. He also works with the changes of weather and the optical illusions natural elements can create, such as mist or falling water. Most of his works are interactive, seen most famously in his critically acclaimed solo show, The Weather Project, at the Tate Modern in London in 2003. Visitors chose to lie down on their backs on the museum floor to view the mirror-covered ceiling that refracted light from hundreds of bulbs, imitating the sun. Ethan Sklar, one of the directors at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, which has worked with Eliasson for years, says: “The works are as much about the people interacting with them as about themselves. (Eliasson) considers the viewer something like a co-producer in a film.” All of Eliasson’s installations, therefore, become temporal, existing completely only in the immediate experience of the viewer.
Coming attractions: As a continuation of his work with the natural world, and as part of his exploration of architecture, Eliasson seized control of the East River in New York City, creating four massive waterfalls around the harbour in an exhibit commissioned by the New York Public Art Fund. The waterfalls will be started on 26 June and will run until 13 October. The water rises up exposed scaffolding, and cascades down the other side. It is the largest public art work in New York since Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates (2005). A mid-career retrospective, Take Your Time , has been installed at the The Museum of Modern Art and PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York City and will run until 30 June. Look out for his exhibit, The Nature Of Things this summer—a two-part show with photographs and prints in Girona, Spain, and larger, experimental installations in Barcelona.
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Kara Walker
Prior engagements: Named one of Time’s100 most influential people this year, Walker has stirred up controversy and interest with her big, bold installations and films. Drawing on the ancient silhouette technique, Walker confronts the messy American past of slavery through life-size wall shadows, and with humour and vibrancy. Slaves, southern belles, children, and plantation owners become grotesque players on her stage, pillaging and jolting one another with pitchforks. Brent Sikkema, owner of the New York-based Sikkema Jenkins and Co. Gallery, fell for her works because “it was loopy; it was unfamiliar; nobody had ever seen anything like it”. He says the power of Walker’s art lies in her ability to take an old art form and use it for a contemporary conversation on the history of racism, and the 19th century slave trade.
Coming attractions: At CAC Málaga, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Spain, opening 27 June, Walker will present a comprehensive show of video installations and wall art in My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love . The show will next appear at the Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth, Texas, USA, on 5 July. She is also working on a video installation for the atrium of the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto that is scheduled to open this November.
Richard Dupont
Prior engagements: At Richard Dupont’s most recent show, Terminal Stage, at the Lever House in New York City, people couldn’t help walking straight up to his sculptures, reaching out and touching them. But that is because the sculptures play tricks with your vision. His flesh-coloured, naked sculptures, modelled on himself, seem to be holograms floating in space from one angle. From another, they are one-dimensional, flat objects. But all of them are fully formed and rooted on the ground, and very carefully created with 80 inches of polyurethane plastic. Dupont used US military technology to scan his body and then distorted the angles on the computer, creating optical illusions, something that can’t quite be captured in a photograph. It’s a project he has been working on since 2003. He sees it as an exploration of the way technology has dehumanized us, turning us into information and data.
Coming attractions : Dupont’s first book, a retrospective of Terminal Stage , was launched at Art Basel in Switzerland this year. Dupont says he now has “book fever” and hopes to work on more. He also will be showing at his New York gallery, Carolina Nitsch, and at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, both in September. The shows will explore the manipulation of architectural spaces and the use of mirrors to catalyse people’s reactions to Dupont’s figures.
Kibong Rhee
Prior engagements: The Seoul-based artist considers his work three-dimensional, “air sculptures”, even though most lie flat on canvas. It’s his use of acrylic over mixed media in his paintings that adds the third dimension of a plastic-like sheen to his nature-inspired objects. His work is not just a collision of the natural world with man-made materials. Far more than that, the black, grey and white images are a precise study of other-worldliness—the space within illusion, fantasy and hallucinations. From certain angles, the images look as if they are melting off the canvas, or receding into the distance. Kibong says he is driven by a fascination for mist, dust or liquidness. “I think they have the power to change objects, which slowly stimulates my senses in a silent way. Mist, in particular, affects our sense of distance and existence,” he says. “I call it ‘disappearance’. Everything disappears into the air.”
Coming attractions: The Kukje gallery in Seoul will show his paintings and installation works, revolving around the theme of mist and dust, in September. In the fall and winter, his works will be shown as part of a group exhibit in biennales in Singapore and Spain.
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First Published: Fri, Jun 20 2008. 12 07 AM IST