​Art Basel 2016: ​Dizzying delights

I was fortunate enough again this year to be one of the many VIP guests, (allegedly more than 10 thousand cards sent) at Art Basel, the ultimate art fair. More than 280 galleries showing everything from classic modern masters and contemporary artists to future art celebs, compete for the attention of pampered art collectors from all over the World.

Walking through the vast treasure filled halls and the gigantic “Art Unlimited” pavilion is a walker’s dream. My iPhone step counter reported 14,627, or 11.62 kilometers in just one day. Proving that art hunting is not only good for the soul but for the heart too!

The New York Times and many other news purveyors report brisk sales. I modestly was privy to a few. Deciding what are the best art works within such a dizzying array of choice can only be the result of chance and subjectivity. Here are some of my favorites:

A must have at $80K, Hiroshi Sugimoto‘s serene and ethereal Five Element Pagodas @ Fraenkel. For the last 36 years, Frish Brandt (the one with the beautiful blue eyes) and Jeffrey Fraenkel have been San Francisco’s taste makers setting quality standards for photography’s modern masters.

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Five Elements, 2011 English Channel, Weston Cliff,1994, 2011 optically clear glass, black and white film, housed in a wooden box , 3 x 6 inches

Quickly sold at $175K a pop, Christian Marclay‘s “Body Mix” series; brilliant, playful and gender fucking early works @ seriously chic powerhouse Paula Cooper. This series generate the same delight as they did when I first saw them in the early ’90’s. Christian Marclay shares the intelligent tongue-in-cheek humor and love for simple craft as his Swiss compatriot elders Fischli and Weiss.

In the $20K range, Peter Hujar‘s haunting “Trucks, night” 1976 @ Thomas Zander. Delighted to see that this seminal 1980’s artist is coming to the fore again.

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Peter Hujar – Trucks Night, 1976 – gelatin silver print on paper

Swiss native Pamela Rosenkranz @ Miguel Abreu. Despite his two-toned South American dictator shoes, Miguel is one of New York’s most successful and young(ish) gallerists representing recently minted stars and up and coming art promises.

African Artists are emerging with great aplomb. I particularly liked the intricate and laborious aluminum wire work of South African Walter Oltmann @ Goodman Gallery from Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Truly sublime @ Art Unlimited: Julie Meheretu‘s immense poetic “Eye of Ra” ink painting – Wolfgang Tillmans “New York Installation PCR, 525, 2015” – the soothing light magic of James Turrelland many more too famous to mention 

In its forty seventh edition, what keeps making Art Basel the best fair ? Why are they always on target? What are their tricks? What do they do that we should learn from? Perhaps it is because of the city in which it was founded and whose name it carries. A small city known for its collectors, Basel has a tradition of quality powered by money, an impeccable Swiss sense of logistics mixed with a passion for art; and the knowledge that today’s avant-garde artists are tomorrow’s classics.

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Art Rant: Photo London

(Art Rant: because sometimes you just gotta vent!)

Photo London – Key operative word: customer experience – Evaluation: bad – Somerset House as an art venue, why? A strange and confusing labyrinth of small and mostly badly lit rooms taking photography fairs back to their inception; old men in over used tweed jackets and dirty nails sifting through boxes looking for “cartes postales coquines”. Exaggerated? Of course, but Art Fair customer experience (saturated by choice) should not be restricted by the architectural limitations of the venues they are held in. The city ensconcing the most Billionaires in the world needs to do better than that.

@Anthony Hernandez
Anthony Hernandez Rome #16, 1999 ©Anthony Hernandez, courtesy Gallery Thomas Zander

Best in show: Thomas Zander represents all that is good in photography today. More than anyone he knows how to present “classic” photography with a well-defined contemporary feel. There is no go or bad media; there are good or bad artists, and, good or better works by these artists. The display in his large rectangular space, one of the few good spaces at Somerset house, is a perfect example of his mindset. Across the entrance, above the fireplace, we are pulled in by an intense blue Anthony Hernandez piece, facing it on the other side of the room is a large Mitch Epstein in rich greys. To the left and right of them, two very different artists erupt in conversation. Ensconced by a selection of Larry Clark’s Tulsa series and a Bernd and Hilla Becher vintage grid, a large Candida Höfer in cold and bright acid colours (a 2003 image of a Museum shop bookcase) faces a joyous, brilliantly hung grid of black and white Studio 54 images by Tod Papageorge. Candida Höfer, at 71 is no spring chicken, yet how is it that her picture feels so pertinent and contemporary? It is the result of concept and intent of Thomas’ distinct eye for quality and very astute sense of space.

@Evelyn Hofer
Evelyn Hofer Phoenix Park on a Sunday, Dublin 1966 @Evelyn Hofer, courtesy RoseGallery

West coast flower power: Rose Shoshana; The Mother of photography dealers, always enthusiastic and generous with her time was stuck in a badly lit overly warm corner. Her booth shows magnificent and rare Evelyn Hofer and William Eggleston dye transfer prints going for approximately the same price ($40k or less) as the uninventive pretentious void of a Jean-Baptiste Huynh print. Hello! Dye transfer prints are pure magic! This rare and complicated technique is the most vibrant expression at the heart of the historical renaissance of American color photography. Why have they not sold out?

Bright youngish thing: The poetic and humorous charm of Alec Soth at Weinstein Gallery

©Alec Soth
Alec Soth, ©Alec Soth courtesy Weinstein Gallery

Rant: At Somerset House, some spaces are better than others, one feels for the “emerging” dealers stuck in the bowels of the building surely attracted by the lure of London’s Millionaires. But did they dare go into the cave? Had they any chance of actually seeing anything in this cluttered, unattractive and sad looking space?

The “basic instinct” heterosexual club: Hamiltons Gallery, where you will see more of Peter Beard’s trite ejaculations, some sexy chick pics (in poses they will regret some day) and an uninteresting image by Robert Mapplethorpe. This déja-vu selection is saved by the magical purity of Irving Penn’s flower pictures. Thankfully, for us and the Irving Penn estate, (reminder: one of the most talented, innovative, fundamental and pivotal pillars of 20th century photography/art), his prime dealer is Peter MacGill, whose sense of quality, knowledge and taste should be the golden standard. The difference between Hamiltons Gallery and YellowKorner shops? Price point. Oh and Hamiltons doesn’t sell pictures of cars, or do they?

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Irving Penn ©Irving Penn Foundation courtesy Hamiltons Gallery

Camera Work Berlin; yet again the Worlds number one purveyor of decorative emptiness, is doing very well, thank you. Think of the (already mentioned) vapid, faux-chic works by Jean Baptiste Huynh or the seductive crowd-pleasing images by fashion photographers. Blown up, bad quality prints of Vogue shoots. (Helmut Newton’s estate and Paolo Roversi deserve better company)

Photography, as any art media should rock our world, move us, taunt us, and ravish us. Or, just appease and certainly elevate and educate us. Admittedly, reacting to something, as I am doing now, is already the recognition of its existence. But come on, Art Dealers and Art Fair organisers, always take the discourse to a higher level, don’t take your clients, on whose patronage you depend, for fools. Show quality in surroundings that honour their creator’s intentions.