These days strolling through an art fair can resemble an encyclopedic museum exhibition, so riveting are the prices for iconic contemporary art market that quality work surfaces. At Art Basel, Basel (ABB, 2012), one saw remarkable examples of Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, (priced between $3-$5 million), Robert Motherwell, Georg Baselitz and a very dark, striking Paris Nuit by Helen Frankenthaler, to name a few, that have been floated onto the secondary market during these robust times. A suite of Sigmar Polke’s bird monoprints encapsulated a feeling of accessible, identifiable, classic works that as yet retain the ability to move one emotionally through considerable aesthetic affect.
Left: Helen Frankenthaler, Paris Nuit (1986), acrylic on canvas. Bernard Jacobson Gallery. artes fine arts magazine
No art fair would be complete without Gerhard Richter at this moment, with his intense and revelatory retrospective currently touring the Georges Pompidou Center, Paris, (6 June-24 September, 2012), from the Tate Modern, and Pace Gallery produced a mammoth and seminal specimen. Whoever you missed seeing in the way of boldface names was found just around the next corner.
Here and there a static Joel Shapiro or lilting graphic Alexander Calder sculpture still held the ability to startle with simple anachronistic beauty that broke up the layered, distressed, and decentralized abstract expressionist vision, perhaps most typified by the Mark Rothko painting which reportedly sold for over seventy-five million dollars. Predictably, John Chamberlain works, looking oddly homogenous in this setting, were also presented on the heels of his Guggenheim Museum retrospective. Equation presided and presumably everyone benefitted.
What was provocative, and particular to this fair it seemed, was an examination of the German artists Otto Piene and A. R. Penck, for example, whose intimately composed works on paper from the 1940’s and 50’s compelled one to quietude amid the masses and relieved one of contemporary massivity, if only for a spell. Drawings and watercolors, including a beautiful Sigmar Polke, refreshed the imagination and psyche. Among Chinese and emerging artworks, there was the feeling of irreverent fun, and at times the sense of arbitrary provocation.
An impressive exhibition of wildly divergent artists appeared at Art Unlimited, Art Basel’s “pioneering exhibition platform for projects that transcend the classical art-show stand” (ABB, 2012), poignantly curated by Gianni Jetzer. Including Phyllida Barlow, Chris Burden, David Claerbout, Hanne Darboven, Verne Dawson, Philip-Lorca DiCorica, Gilbert & George, Douglas Gordon, Robert Irwin, Runa Islam, Ryan McGinley, Bruce Nauman, Walid Raad, Thomas Ruff, Ugo Rondinone, Richard Wentworth and Franz West, among others, this multi-media presentation contemplated the ephemeral, monolithic (Rodolph Stingl’s lone work at Paula Cooper’s stall), influenced by random non-cogency, and re-defined figurative eclecticism. Existentialism has seen its aesthetic revival here.
The question of whether the world needs another art fair was answered in part by Mark Spiegler, co-director with Annette Schonholzer, of Art Basel, who cited that next spring Art Basel Hong Kong premiers, just prior to the Basel show, and will embrace indigenous art galleries from Asia. While the absence of red dots at Art Basel, Basel may superficially and happily belie the commercial mission of art fairs; the fairs must go where the market is hot. Look for new emerging brands.
Reporting on Art Basel in The Art Newspaper, (13 June 2012), Charlotte Burns wrote a front page column entitled, Acquisitions. “Prada buys Kienholz for Milan,” reads the headline. The piece goes on to describe and picture the life-sized work entitled Five Car Stud, made between 1969 and 1972, when Ed Kienholz still resided in Los Angeles that depicts “a barbaric racist attack in which five white men pin down and castrate a black man.” Miuccia Prada is quoted regarding the acquisition as saying she is “glad,” as is Lisa Jann, the managing director of LA Louver, the artist’s gallery, is “thrilled.” Although Holly Myers notes, (in The Los Angeles Times regarding Five Car Stud’s 2011 showing at LACMA), that the work’s “confronting the darkness,” and “mystery,” apparently no one refers to or cares to describe the work’s etiology. Perhaps, due to its approximate $1 million price tag and placement in the important Prada Foundation collection, this concern is beside the point. Ah, the mantra of art fairs remains.
© By Diane Dewey, Contributing Writer