The most impressive, Instagram-worthy and relatable section of the show is definitely the “Unlimited”. This is where all the large-scale installations, videos and most of the performances are. All art objects that won’t fit into the classic booth. I felt like this year, “the Art” became even more socially conscious than before, it demanded taking sides and engaging. Like with politicians or activists, you are not allowed to say “sorry, I am just looking around and actually, this particular conflict or issue is none of my business”.
The Unlimited section is where you see “Cooking the World” by Subodh Gupta, probably the most talked-about Art Basel 2017 experience.
Essentially, what you first see a huge pavilion made of old pots and pans and other kitchen utensils, but when you enter inside, you are welcomed by the modern style bar, serving food. Obviously, the message is supposed to be about sharing a meal together as a community, no matter where you are from, helping those hungry and in poverty. Cynical me, could not help but remember, how in my early 20-ties, back in Russia, interior design and house renovations were a wild mix of the Old and the New. Those were the years when foreign TVs, tampons and yogurts were entering Russia for the first time ever. Very few could afford a total 100% makeover upgrade. A typical family, for example, could afford a new toaster and a new vacuum cleaner and maybe decided to change just one window frame from wooden to plastic. Everything else around the apartment was old, kitschy and from pre-Stalin era. The idea of bringing one foreign element into a development word causing simultaneously pride and distress – this is what I saw personally looking at “Cooking the World”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a magnificent idea, but I just can’t take it at face value and simply admire. It’s too ironic.
Another cynical-thoughts –provoking installation by Phyllida Barlow is called “100 banners”. This artist is apparently famous for using cheap or discarded materials for her art work. The piece looks like a forest of protests, made of old sticks, construction materials, faded fabrics and bags of sand. Again, sarcastic and judgmental me, felt like people would be bringing their trash to protest, instead of taking it out or recycling. Protests are modern days marathon running – you are outside, you promote a good cause and it looks good on your social media. Most likely, this is not exactly what the artist meant. But I loved the idea of protests becoming a display of trash, because it is very contemporary.
I hired a guide to walk me through the fair and educate me. We had a little debate about that one, and I don’t pretend to know more than the experts. But this is a beauty of modern art, where everyone can see what they want to see, right?
Again and again, I see lots of buttons serving as art accessories. Nobody told me it was a new trend, however, buttons are definitely in.
Dark web – layers of danger and darkness and crime
This is a picture of a photo-paper, under development, in the middle of changing colors an texture. Its was sold for 100,000 EUR apparently.
Another interesting case study – white Sofa by John Baldessari. When I was there, the sofa was empty, but originally it is supposed to be occupied by a blond lady with a blond puddle dog.
Another instance, where my personal reaction to an art object was totally off limits. What I saw first was a collection of old bottles, saved from the sea, the kinds that could be used to send SOS messages. All of them opened, with traces of earth and sand, lost messages and lost soles. I thought it was something to do with drowned ships, sailors or alcoholics. It turned out, this a story of slave trade from Africa to North America, and every bottle has a name of the slaved person engraved, their origin and destination, some even had a price tag and the name of the owner.
Other than that – a lot of slogans and text messages, social issues, questions about poverty and inequality, several anti-monuments (this is where a monument is horizontal, not vertical, because there is nothing to celebrate) and some interesting old masters. As I mentioned before, it feels like in digital era, everything is connected and shared, so there are no really new ideas, but old ideas are circulating, evolving and merging with other old ideas.
And, by the way – walking on these white eggs under the sharp thorns is supposed to be a message about Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy.
The gallery with all my photos is posted here