Episode 204: Art Basel 2009

July 26, 2009 · Print This Article

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Mark Staff Brandl at Art Basel
This week: Continental European Bureau Czar Mark Staff Brandl roams the Basel Art Fair 2009 with guest co-host Peter Noser, gallerist, curator and artist. They comment primarily on the “main fair,” but also cursorily on Scope, Volta, the Solos Show, die Liste (and look forward to a Bridge addition next year). Additional walk-on voices include Maya LaLive d’Epinay, Martin Kraft, Alex Meszmer, many others, and a few seconds of Olga Stefan. Mark managed to wipe-out some excellent comments, or record them so poorly that they were unusable. Ce la technologie. A quick but comprehensive look at the “real” Basel, the most important international art fair, the Queen yet also Great Whore of Babylon. I made some multiples especially for the fair including pins and my T-shirt. They all bore the Latin phrase “Abite in Malam crucem, artis nundinae!”, signed Marcus Scipio Incendiolus. Or, roughly in English, “Screw Art Fairs!” In German, as appropriate for Basel, that’s “Zum Teufel mit Kunstmessen!”
Art Basel
Art Basel Miami
Peter Noser
Alex Meszmer
Andre Emmerich
Tracy Williams Gallery
Georgina Starr
Anna Craycroft
Eugène Leroy
Jonathan Lasker
Galerie Mark Müller
Christina Streuli
Reto Boller
Brigitte Kemann
Jean Luc Moulène
Feeble Painting
Zilla Leutenegger
Roman Signer
Pipilotti Rist
Bice Curiger
Parkett magazine
Kunsthaus Zürich
Bettina Funcke
Art in America
Marconi Gallery
Lari Pittman
Regen Projects
Rob Pruitt – Gavin Brown Enterprise
Ilya and EmiliaKabakov
Chen Zhen
David Reed
Yan Pei Ming
Paddy Johnson – Art Fag City
Thomas Woodley – Bildmanufaktur
Marianne Rinderknecht
Visarte
Knoedler Gallery
Scope Art Fair
The Solo Project Art Fair
Red Dot Art Fair
Design Miami Basel Art Fair
Volta Art Fair
Die ListeArt Fair
Daniel Glaser and Magdalena Kunz
Tag Fine Arts – MJ Hobby- Limon
Katsutoshi Yuasa
Japanese Printing (without a press)
Victoria and Albert Museum
Olga Stefan
Galerie Klaus Benden
Monique Meloche Gallery

17 Responses to “Episode 204: Art Basel 2009”

  1. Can’t we just call him ‘The Continental’?

  2. We’re all Bureaus on this bus.

  3. The image above looks less like “The Continental” and more like an oompa loompa!

  4. Hey, we are much more than knee-high, and with less than astonishing haircuts (except for Peter’s Euro-long thing), but our favourite food does include cacao beans — by way of chocolate, as you can see from our two middle-aged paunches!

  5. The shocking orange skin set me off. Doopity doo. I supposed at first that my monitor was at fault. But then considered the possibility that the two of you had applied tan-in-a-bottle prior to lounging, Speedo-clad, and smoking in the company of very young women. Europeans!

    [You have good humor. I hope to hear the show tonight.]

  6. That is a combination of my cell-phone-as-camera, since I forgot the camera, and that we had indeed had a week of 80 degree weather, and since I always walk the dogs, I get a lot of sun even in Winter. We were, though, in the company of some great and pretty Euro women (including my wife). No tanning or smoking for me though.

  7. Isn’t the orange tint called the Basel tan? Looking good Brandl.

  8. Both the sound and also report were good. Summary and questions:

    (1) There were 1200 gallery applicants; 300 galleries were chosen to participate; and that gallery choice was conservative.

    (2) Lots of painting was shown; that painting tended to be hand-crafted; and only a little photo, installation, etc., was presented.

    (3) Peter made a point to say that he recognized artwork [I assume the content and formal qualities of paintings] but not the artist who crafted the work. So that some degree of mimicry [rather than mockery] was practiced?

    + + +

    Reference above: Maybe, if, quoting from your introduction, “There doesn’t seem to be a crisis,” in terms of the quality of the exhibition, the choices made by the exhibitors and the fair’s own management do reflect a [re]new[ed] concern for hard commodities and established styles?

    The “quality” is itself a symptom of crisis?

    Lacking visual aids, in my mind’s eye I conceived of the objects upon which you reported as: large, solid, and safe. Are people grasping for that: the appearance of safety? Solidity?

    Is this a [temporary] function of the economy? A sea change? Observer bias? My own misinterpretation? Do tell!

  9. As Peter said, and Paddy reported over on Art Fag City ( – and as I think I screwed up on my recording – ) Andre Emmerich told him that “in bad economic years people bring out their best stuff, you have to bring quality back to sell art; in great economic years, you can sell off the stuff in storage, because everything sells.” So, yes, I think the quality itself reveals a kind of crisis — but not the meltdown I think we were half expecting (such as that in the Chinese art sales collapse).

    1) The gallery choice in Basel always has to do with power — who are the Big Guys — neither about being experimental nor conservative. I would say that therein it shows its central position of mirroring the contemporary artworld, wherein this is and has been largely the ruling criteria. The whole idea of experimental or “cutting edge” has devolved into meaning “publicity hyped” and the dialectic of experimental/conservative has dtsappeared or merged.

    2) In the end balance, I would say lots of everything was shown — after we had seen all the fairs and side stuff. We were just struck with the initial impact of handcrafted objects — the last several years had a plethora if not preponderance of yellow-pages art and rather boring, trendy video. That may be GOOD for video, by the way, — perhaps it is finally becoming something more than the spoiled low-quality yet pampered youngest child of the curator world, and simply becoming one medium among many, wherein the artist has to be talented. Photography over the last decade had a similar path, but from ignored middle child to simply one of the family, and it was good for the medium. Less “cute idea art” is also always a good thing in my book.

    3) Yeah, you caught it. Although the quality level was high, the cute level low, there was lots of safe mimicry — and funny enough that mimicry was largely MFA-type borrowing of style from the glossy art mag pages type stuff, and mostly in the “newer” media rather than in the painting and photography. Paddy was bugged by the uninspired collage everywhere (I saw nothing that even came close to the individuality of Tony Fitzpatrick or Michael Anderson, for example in that area), Peter was bugged by the “videos in frames / presented as paintings / still-life” trick thing, which we saw with at least 5 different artists. I personally found the painting in general too obvious. Kabakov: a really bad, inept undergrad-at-best level cubo-Cezanne with shirts hung on the top (see the link). Also for instance, I see nothing AT ALL in Daniel Richter (a super hyped German), and saw much work that demanded cultural amnesia. E.g., Repeats of Noland (!) or others, lack luster Neo-Conceptualist turns, a few not very adept, quasi-Neo-Expressionist things (but not much), tons of “seen-that-before-but-don’t-mention-that-art” if you get my drift. Far too little art that struck me as having personal investment. Still too much — “what-do-I-have-to-do-to-follow-the-rules-and-kiss-ass-to-get-famous-fast” art. Once again, rather a synecdochal representative of the artworld as a whole.

    But, the strange part was that the “rare” jewels” were less rare than in the last several years. So we were able to both bemoan a ton of crap and say that the quality level was higher.

    I don’t have any idea what the larger picture is. I think we are in a transition period (and in every transition period people cry the “wolf” of pluralism), wherein the galleries are adrift. Collectors still under the thumb of trendy interntl curators’ fashion desires, but are starting to squirm out of it uncomfortably. Everybody wants to be “hot” but realizes “hot” is now at the level and importance of American Idol, but can’t see a way forward. I can envision several futures. One, where artists become more central once again (my desire), but then they (we) will have to do alot for ourselves, as the other artworldians are flailing about with little energy. Or a contraproductive development of the “Gogo” / H & W syndrome, with simply ever-bigger Blockbuster Mega-Galleries (an oligarchy of a handful) — my horror. Or more business as usual, with the slow but sure exhaustion of the control by international consensus curation and a slow enfeeblement of galleries until it reaches virtual inertia.

  10. The practice of mimicry demands a refinement of the familiar charge of ahistoricism, as the mimic must be concerned with things already made, i.e., history.

    Better, maybe, there is materializing a zeitgeist whose behavior is characterized by mimicry — limited and imperfect because of nearsightedness?

    And it’s a peculiar myopia caused by a looking-too-closely at that which has succeeded in the not-too-distant-past?

    [Contemporary art is a ghost in thick spectacles performing a pantomime of the pieces sold in the course of last year's exhibition program at Gagosian?]

    Vis-a-vis success, you hint at [a worry about?] the conflation of: the expedient, the popular, the new, the cosmopolitan, etc..

    And in this, the role of technology is a real wild card. The podcast/blog in which we are participating is a symptom, as was the monster inkjet printer upon which you commented in the audio portion of the dialogue.

    If video matures, some other invention will almost certainly come into being: supplanting its favored position as, “pampered youngest child of the curator world.”

    I find myself worrying more-and-more about the curators.

  11. “But, the strange part was that the “rare” jewels” were less rare than in the last several years. So we were able to both bemoan a ton of crap and say that the quality level was higher.”
    “Transition…
    slow but sure exhaustion”
    sounds like distillation
    left with stones in the end.
    bitter pill

  12. Paul “the practice of mimicry demands a refinement of the familiar charge of ahistoricism, as the mimic must be concerned with things already made, i.e., history.

    Better, maybe, there is materializing a zeitgeist whose behavior is characterized by mimicry — limited and imperfect because of nearsightedness?”

    Russell: You summed it up better than I. And, yes, I think you may be right and that is bitter.

    Excellent point. I’ll have to consider that! The main thing, though, is that WHAT is mimiced is usually only things that are being hyped at the moment, or within the last couple years, in art rags and related teaching. So it is still a kind of shopping-mall/ahistorical reasoning thing.

  13. [...] else. Bad at Sports’ Zurich correspondent Mark Staff Brandl (who reports on Art Basel for this week’s podcast) has just completed a new video, “TV Art Evangelist,” in which he (or rather, a [...]

  14. Roughly one month ago, Duncan MacKenzie, Lori Waxman, and Toni Tasset walked through a number of galleries located near the intersection of Washington and Peoria, in Chicago:

    http://badatsports.com/2009/episode-200-reviews/

    If my memory serves me well, one of the spaces mentioned [link above] was Tony Wight’s. Relying upon personal experience it’s possible to say that [more often than not] looking in that place one finds: (1) abstract; (2) painting; (3) on canvas; (4) in a vertical orientation; (5) usually about five feet in height and three feet in width.

    The surprise [to me] has been the resurgence of Hard Edge and Op influence on exhibit there: John Phillips, Todd Chilton, Steven Husby, et al.

    If your reference [in #9.] “Repeats of Noland,” is to Kenneth Noland, it’s very interesting.

    This: “Everybody wants to be ‘hot’ but realizes ‘hot’ is now at the level and importance of American Idol, but can’t see a way forward,” is a testament to Pop.

    Kelly/Noland, Warhol/Rauschenberg, we’re looking back at the 1960s.

    Here, too, much appears to be shaped by the fact that those ’60s critiques of the Establishment [offered by Marxism and Feminism especially] have taken up residence within the Academy.

    In your report, I missed [?] any reference to art made by/for a particular race/gender/sexuality?

    It was a moment of high irony to hear two German-speaking men in Continental Europe describe the American flag as a symbol of violence/destruction. My sense of this thing is that you’re not alone. But rather if we seem to suffer, our suffering is generally felt to be well-deserved — after having made a failed bid for empire. Here again, the ’60s parallel with Vietnam is to be remembered.

    The shortness of memory wants, maybe, only 49 years of the past.

    I hope to elicit more from you…

  15. Paul Germanos Says:

    Roughly one month ago, Duncan MacKenzie, Lori Waxman, and Toni Tasset walked through a number of galleries located near the intersection of Washington and Peoria, in Chicago.

    If my memory serves me well, one of the spaces mentioned [in Episode 200, cited above] was Tony Wight’s. Relying upon personal experience it’s possible to say that [more often than not] looking in that place one finds: (1) abstract; (2) painting; (3) on canvas; (4) in a vertical orientation; (5) usually about five feet in height and three feet in width.

    The surprise [to me] has been the resurgence of Hard Edge and Op influence on exhibit there: John Phillips, Todd Chilton, Steven Husby, et al.

    If your reference [in #9.] “Repeats of Noland,” is to Kenneth Noland, it’s very interesting.

    This: “Everybody wants to be ‘hot’ but realizes ‘hot’ is now at the level and importance of American Idol, but can’t see a way forward,” is a testament to Pop.

    Kelly/Noland, Warhol/Rauschenberg, we’re looking back at the 1960s.

    Here in Chicago, too, much appears to be shaped by the fact that those ’60s critiques of the Establishment [offered by Marxism and Feminism especially] have taken up residence within the Academy.

    Though, in your report, I missed [?] any reference to art made by/for a particular race/gender/sexuality?

    It was a moment of high irony to hear two German-speaking men in Continental Europe describe the American flag as a symbol of violence/destruction. My sense of this thing is that you’re not alone. But rather if we seem to suffer, our suffering is generally felt to be well-deserved after having made a failed bid for empire. Here again, the ’60s parallel with Vietnam is to be remembered.

    The shortness of memory wants, maybe, only 49 years of the past.

    I hope to elicit more from you…

  16. Interesting points once again, Paul!

    Some quick responses.

    I see no “resergence” of painting other than in highly CC (Consensus Correct, quasi-neo-con forms such as Feeble Painting). You are right about the Hard Edge thing — but I think it is a MINIMALIST thing (often in “objects” more than paintings, but also some paintings). One of the most curator-popular types of art in Switzerland, e.g., is some form of neo-minimalism with a tiny dash of cute Dada (Steven Perrino, etc.). This seems to be the 2nd level academicism after more “important” neo-conceptual stuff. The hidden academicisation of Neo-Geo? I have been musing about it as a “symptom” — don’t know what I think yet.

    I don’t think any stuff now is really any relation to Pop Art, other than rather indirectly by way of hip-theororists’ neo-conceptualist re-readings of Warhol as a personality. It is more the success of ACTUAL Popular media and hype.

    You are right — there was VERY little in any of the fairs that seemed clearly “social activist” in any direction — a darn shame. One reason why everything seemed so damn polite, I suppose.

    About the “irony” — watch your nationalisms! We are SWISS not Germans, although we both speak German and Swissgerman (and Peter speaks Italian and French and English and I Latin, too). (I am a German-American as well as now Swiss, though, and love many things, and criticize many things, about the US, Switzerland and Germany.) Also, I DID NOT say the US flag was a symbol of destruction. Peter said it was a symbol of war for him (at that time in the past he was referring to — yes, during the Vietnam War), and I said it is a symbol of MANY things for me, but not peace. I see it, at its best, as a symbol of the constitution, which I greatly respect, that set of rules which Bush most ignored. I think many people in the world see the US flag as representing many good things — like freedom, sometimes, — but I have never met anyone even in the US who thought it was a symbol of peace.

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