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Art Unlimited: 10 Years of Ambitious, Large-scale Art Projects at Art Basel
João Onofre, Guerra, Noero.

BASEL.- This year’s Art Unlimited exhibition marks the tenth edition of this sector and features 59 artists from 24 countries. The lineup of artists showing at this ambitious exhibition of contemporary art, generously supported by UBS, reads like a cross-section of the current international art scene. Many of the pieces on show in hall 1 have been created especially for the Art Unlimited platform. Alongside this exhibition in the Art Unlimited hall, the Art Statements section presents 27 one-person shows of young artists this year. The hall will also play host to the Artists Books, Artists Records, a Videotheque, Art Lobby and a Bookshop.

Since the launch of the platform in 2000 many of the world’s leading contemporary artists have exhibited at Art Unlimited. The concept of this year's exhibition - drawn from proposals by the exhibitors, and similar in quantity and quality to previous editions – has once again been devised by the accomplished Geneva curator Simon Lamunière.

Complementing the wide array of art on display in the main sectors at the show, Art Unlimited holds exciting discoveries in store. In the 12,000-square-meter exhibition hall, Art Unlimited offers artists and galleries a platform for works that exceed the possibilities of the conventional art-fair booth. It showcases outsize sculptures, video projections, installations, wall paintings, photographic series, and performance art. In addition, separate limited-edition catalog (costing 40 Swiss francs) accompanies the exhibition and for the first time includes descriptive texts about each artwork presented in Hall 1 and on Messeplatz.

This year works by legendary artists such as Sigmar Polke, Lawrence Weiner, Franz Erhard Walther, Mel Bochner, Bruce Connor, Daido Moriyama, Nan Goldin, Hans-Peter Feldmann and Jesús Rafael Soto are joined by pieces from younger and emerging stars as Thea Djordjadze, Ayse Erkmen, Bharti Kher, Mai Thu Perret, Falke Pisano, Sterling Ruby, Banks Violette and Andro Wekua.

The works described below represent a selection of the projects on display at Art Unlimited:

In a career spanning more than 40 years, Sigmar Polke (Michael Werner Gallery, New York) has consistently reimagined the nature and role of painting with a radically inventive approach to material and process. Throughout his career the artist has explored an interest in implied connections to “higher powers” and other worlds through the use of unconventional materials such as meteor dust, magnetic graphite, pure violet, cinnabar, and silver oxides, to name only a few. In the early 1990s, he began a series of monumental paintings called “Cloud Paintings” (1992). The “Cloud Paintings” at Art Unlimited is the only installation of its type by Polke and exerts the mystery and magic of this mercurial artist at his greatest.

“The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” (1973-1986) is the central work in the career of Nan Goldin (Matthew Marks Gallery, New York). Beginning as an impromptu evening performance in a New York nightclub in 1979, “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” took its present form in the early 1980s and has continued to evolve over the years as a slide presentation employing over 700 images. The original portfolio of prints from the publication that informed this masterwork has until Art 40 Basel never been on public view in Europe.

“a. k. a.“ (2008/09), the most recent photographic installation by Roni Horn (Hauser & Wirth Zürich, Zürich / London) continues a line of portraiture that Horn has developed over the years in the larger context of her oeuvre. In each of these works the viewer is implicated as a second subject. Pairing and doubling have been recurrent motifs in Horn’s work for many years and “a. k. a.“ is the latest manifestation of these interests.

Four transparent cubes in black, white, yellow, and blue are arranged before us in a mind game that Mondrian might have played had the transparent material been available to him. The Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto (Galerie Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf) was well-known for his Op Art and kinetic sculpture, and for his association with Jean Tinguely and Victor Vasarely. Soto is particularly known for his “penetrables”, interactive sculptures consisting of square arrays of thin, dangling tubes. The work “Untitled” (1970) he presents at Art Unlimited, made their last appearance at the Mannheimer Kunstverein, Germany, in 1970.

In “Universe” (2008), a major new body of work, Stephan Balkenhol (Mai 36 Galerie, Zürich; Galerie Löhrl, Mönchengladbach; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris / Salzburg) presents five large architectural and sculptural reliefs. Bringing together two-dimensional and three-dimensional planes, the artist combines carvings and reliefs of his “everyday man” alongside landscapes, city scenes, nature, and detailed patterns.

South African artist Willem Boshoff (The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg) has lived like a Druid for much of his life. For the duration of the art show, Boshoff will reside in a custom-made cubicle where the spectator can observe the “Big Druid” (2009) in his otherworldly battles with shadows, aesthetic constructs, and words. The cubicle has an area of retreat, which is outfitted with exhibition shelves and a work area where “Big Druid” makes and shows artworks and the thought processes behind them.

In her sculptures, Thea Djordjadze (Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers, Berlin/ London/Köln) often uses perishable, fragile everyday materials that are derived from the vocabulary of domesticity and hint at femininity, such as plaster, ceramic, silicon, sponge, cardboard, textiles, and soap. The artist’s drawings and watercolors are often part of the installations, doubling and heightening their expressive impact and also underlining the fragmentary, unfinished state of the work.

Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg (Gió Marconi Gallery, Milano) began working on larger scale in 2008, including installations and bigger sculptures into her filmic work. The installation “The Rhinoceros and the Whale” (2008) consists of a wooden structure, on which the animated film “Putting Down the Prey” (2008) is projected. On the reverse side of the screen, one can see the animation “The Rhinoceros and the Whale”. Both films are connected, one showing a girl hunting down a walrus, cutting it open and sewing herself into the body, the other one presenting a monstrous woman giving birth to a rhinoceros.

Tatjana Doll (Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art, Lisboa; Galerie Gebr. Lehmann, Dresden/Berlin) presents “Container Ship” (2009), an almost ten-meter wide painting that depicts the back of a container ship. On top of this are 24 additional paintings stacked in four rows of six, each measuring 190 x 160 cm, where each quasi-monochrome painting represents a container.

Hans-Peter Feldmann (Konrad Fischer Galerie, Düsseldorf / Berlin) exhibits “100 Jahre” (1996-2000), comprised of 101 black-and-white photographs depicting 101 different persons from the age of 8 weeks to 100 years. Clockwise, beginning at the far left, the first photograph depicts the baby “Felina”, subsequently followed by “Jana (1 Jahr)”, “Richard (2 Jahre)”, and so on. The row ends with “Maria Victoria (100 Jahre)” to the right side of the entrance, yielding to a notion of having completed a life circuit.

“The Waq Tree” (2009) by Bharti Kher (Hauser & Wirth Zürich, Zürich / London) references the Waqwaq Tree of Islamic tradition, the Speaking Tree, a tree of hallucinations or epiphanies. Its trunk suggests the dryness of bone, while its fruits suggest living skin that has ripened slowly to wax. The branches bear more than 2,500 fruits in all; each fruit is a head, either human, gnomish, angelic, animal or chimera.

Anthony McCall (Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln) is well-known for his “Solid Light” installations, a body of work that began in 1973 with his seminal “Line Describing a Cone”, in which a volumetric form composed of projected light slowly evolved in three-dimensional space. Occupying a zone somewhere between sculpture, cinema, and drawing, “Leaving (with Two-Minute Silence)” (2009) is the latest work in a new series started in 2003 and incorporates a sonic “shroud” as a central structural element.

The video installations of Aernout Mik (carlier gebauer, Berlin) look like trial runs, reconstructing events on the periphery of social reality in lavishly depicted situations, through everyday confrontations such as the travelers at the security check in an airport in “touch, rise and fall” (2008). Mik’s mise-en-scène depicts a scenario shaped and forged by hierarchy. No clear narrative has been supplied; instead, his work extrapolates the extremes of order to such an extent that the camera ends up floating through the absurdity of a crumbling reality characterized by repetitions, recasting, and mimetic courses of action with an almost ritual air and irrational excess.

“Torre de Málaga” (2007) by Yoshitomo Nara (Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York; Blum & Poe, Los Angeles; Tomio Koyama, Tokyo) was conceived for the artist’s exhibition at the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo in Málaga, Spain, in September 2007. The installation, created with Nara’s collaborative group YNG, consists of a wooden structure made from recycled materials and inspired by the museum building. At the base of the construction is a space modeled after the artist’s own studio, which reveals paintings, sculptures, and dozens of drawings.

Hans Op de Beeck (Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Le Moulin) has created the monumental sculptural installation “Location (6)” (2008), based on the historic panorama constructions created over the past two centuries particularly in Europe. “Location (6)”, is made up entirely of a sculpted trompe l’oeil grove, replete with fog and white light, evoking a vast snowy landscape of barren trees viewed from central observatory, and reached via a long, narrow corridor.

Marcel van Eeden (Galerie Bob van Orsouw, Zürich) was born 1965 in the Netherlands and this date is crucial for his oeuvre. His small format pencil-on-paper drawings are based on motifs taken from magazines, books, and archives, all dated from before the year of the artist’s birth. A new series of approximately 80 framed drawings presented at this year’s Art Unlimited feature the imagined collection of Matheus Boryna, who is distinguished for being an art lover fascinated by art-world outsiders rather than well-known artists. Each fictive artwork has been given the stamp of the great Matheus Boryna collection, “M.B.”, just as once was the common procedure with precious collections of works on paper.

“By the Window” (2008) by Andro Wekua (Gladstone Gallery, New York; Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zürich) combines sculpture and film to create a liminal space, both physically and psychologically. The installation as a whole, mixing different media, collages both found and imagined imagery with charged emotions to create a world of Wekua's creation, a world in which the viewer must remain forever perched on the threshold of understanding.

The provocative work titled “The Starving of Sudan” (2008) by Xu Zhen (Long March Space, Beijing) re-enacts the tragic situation of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken by Kevin Carter, who committed suicide shortly after receiving the award. For Xu Zhen, the complex system of interpretation that was controversially built around the context and reception of Carter’s photograph is problematic, particularly in relation to the plight of this young baby being left unknown. Xu Zhen’s work thus calls into question the relationship of power between viewer and work; between concept and ethics; between passivity and subjectivity.

Art Basel | Sigmar Polke | Lawrence Weiner | Franz Erhard Walther | Mel Bochner | Bruce Connor | Daido Moriyama | Nan Goldin | Hans-Peter Feldmann |

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