Paul Carey-kent: Art In Basel – Parental Relations And The Black Light Coincidence

I was in Switzerland for the 41st Art Basel (16-20 June 2010), its several subsidiary fairs and events, and the always-impressive parallel exhibitions at the city’s galleries (Barney, Orozco, Trockel, Rodney Graham, Basquiat…). There’s too much to see, let alone write about, as a whole but it is possible to track an eccentric route through…

PARENTAL RELATIONS

Several interesting pieces had parent-child relations at their centre. This seemed appropriate not just because it was the weekend of Father’s Day, but because the fair came in the wake of Louise Bourgeois’s recent death: she was, accordingly perhaps, being widely shown – and difficult relations with her father were a famously driving force in her work.

The womb seems a good place to start: young British ceramicist Barnaby Barford works mainly by altering found ceramic pieces to create narrative implications. ‘Who’s the Daddy?’, his witty triple dance of the super-pregnant, was shown by David Gill Galleries at Design Miami/Basel, but was one of the least functional pieces there. I would think he is well placed to cross, in the manner of Grayson Perry, to the art side of what is not a very high fence these days.

Galerie Daniel Templon of Paris sold this eight foot wide Robert Longo charcoal drawing, ‘Untitled (Julie)’, 2009 from his ongoing series of cleavages. Longo, known for his virtuosic graphic style, has tended to concentrate on apocalyptic images, as in his sharks, explosions, guns and tsunami-like waves. Against that background, this baby’s comforter may be a metaphorical refuge for us all – but also gains an edge from the possibility that the appeal might be capable of less infantile (or should that be ‘equally infantile’?) interpretation.

Ex-Turner Prize nominee Phil Collins ‘free fotolab’ (2007) at Victoria Miro is a nine minute slide show of found photographs. Collins obtained them in Belgrade by offering a free processing service for old rolls of film, in return for the right to use the images developed. Even allowing for his editing down, Collins obtained a surprisingly high proportion of intimate moments from this approach, not least between parent and child. But were we to be touched or troubled by such self-exposure?

Arch-conceptualist tail-twister Jonathan Monk was prominent in the fair, including a World Cup special which played on football shirt numbers by using one colour for ’1′ up to eleven colours for ’11′. For ‘I Made My Sister Censor Heaven So I Could Show It To My Mother’ (2010) at Copenhagen’s Nicholai Wallner Gallery, he apparently had said sister sew a shimmering circle of sequins to cover the genital zones of Jeff Koons and his then-future and now-ex Italian porn star wife in a copy of one of the notoriously explicit ‘Heaven’ series of photoworks.

French artist Oscar Tuazon big wild minimalism (to make up a term) has been very visible in London this year, with significant showings at the David Roberts Foundation and the ICA. His pine beam construction in Art Public, the show of big sculptures outside the fair, was called ‘Dad’ (2010). Quite why was a mystery, but child-parental relations always contain some unknowns…

The most striking videos I saw were the three by Icelander Ragnar Kjartansson of ‘Me and My Mother’ (made every five years: in 2000, 2005 and 2010, shown by Reykjavik’s 12). They show his mother vigorously spitting on her wholly passive son. I was assured that, whatever the implication of guilt played out, relations between the two are excellent!

Louise Bourgeois herself (1911-2010) might best be represented by ‘The Family’, an archival dye edition on linen at New York’s Carolina Nitsch. It’s in the wavering watercolour style also seen in a spectacular set of flower paintings at Cheim & Read, and is direct and confrontational. Although from the 99th and last year of her life, it gives the impression that the childhood trauma of discovering that her English governess was her father’s mistress, which she said provided the impulse for much of her work, was with her still.

Antwerp-based Briton Becky Beasley has previously worked with shelving as a means of confusing art and its display, so it was no surprise that her ‘Shelves for Parents’ (at Office Baroque Antwerp in the Liste young art fair) were just that: two solid shelves of the right dimensions for her parents – who are in good health – to lie on and fit exactly. Or to be laid out on once they move from being living models to the most radical of still lives. Morbid or touchingly realist forward planning?

London’s Rokeby had a subtle stand in Art Statements – which gives young galleries a chance in the main fair – as part of which German sculptor Bettina Buck built a booth within the booth, just a few inches smaller all round. In this piece from inside her reduced space, the hunting in her ‘Hunting Scene (Dusk)’ (2010) remained unseen: it was the image on a carpet which her dead father treasured, and which her mother recently gave to Buck – but which she has left rolled up, still poignantly sealed in its travel packaging.

Swiss multi-media jester Roman Signer shot a new gunpowder piece into the corner of his Viennese gallerist’s booth. Martin Janda also showed an older piece, ‘Grosser Brockhaus’ (1992), in which – like Buck – Signer used a souvenir from his father’s life: sixteen volumes of the Grosser Brockhaus encyclopedia which stood for parentally-approved authority as he grew up. Signer shot each book (the bullets are still lodged in them), slotted the white flag of surrender into the bullet holes in the manner of sails, and placed the flotilla on the floor for Freudian interpretation.

Cologne’s Kewenig Gallery showed a typical rigorous and obsessive drawing piece by the late German artist Hanne Darboven (1941-2009). ‘Hommage to my Father’ (1988) applies her method of marking time in literal and memorial senses to her father’s life, covering each day in it across a grid of 192 pages. The content includes application of her characteristic mathematical operation to every date in his life: for example, the date of her own birth, 29/4/41, would be ’29 + 4 + 4 + 1 = 38′ (days and months are treated as a whole, but the year split into units). She thus takes visibly laborious time to consider time through the means – a calendar of sorts – of time’s measurement.

THE BLACK LIGHT COINCIDENCE

In the black light coincidence, several artists with diverse practices use black paint to cover up lights…

In Art Unlimited, Canadian painter Andrew Dadson had built a room with its back wall made up wholly of fluorescent lights – but had almost entirely covered the lights in black paint, so that the occasional escaping points of light conjured a night sky. A beautifully apocalyptic space for putting humanity in its place…

Swedish artist David Svennson (at Malmo’s Galeri Magnus Aklundh in the excellent yet too-little-visited Solo Project fair) showed ‘Black Tear (Lagrima Negra)’, which covers a Danilo de Rossi GLO glass ceiling lamp with black high gloss enamel auto paint. That somewhat mournfully turned a futuristic design’s illumination from within into a reflection out of, and maybe on the disappearance of, old world manufacturing industry.

Tehran-born, Berlin-based Dutch artist Navid Nuur, who transforms found materials in richly unexpected ways, had taken the tube out of the light fitting in Plan B’s booth at Liste, painted it black and leaned it against the wall as a kind of negative absence. Nearby was a tower made of boxes of washing powder with the fronts cut away to reveal their white and whiteness-promising powder. Not that he would call ‘Light Licker’ (2010) site specific, preferring to describe his work as ‘interimodules: a temporary in-between form between the outside space and myself’.

All of which reminded me of Glenn Ligon’s neons, which are painted black on the front to blacken language while allowing a halo of light to emerge around the words. I didn’t see any of those in Basel, so I’m cheating slightly by including an image of ‘Warm Broad Glow’ (2005), which incorporates a phrase from Gerturde Stein to complex historical and sociological effect.

It was left to the ubiquitous Ryan Gander (four galleries in Art Basel, a new film in Art Unlimited, lecturing in the citywide Art Parcours event, holding his baby at Liste, in which his wife’s Limoncello gallery was participating) to make the most radical anti-neon statement by personally smashing a neon text which said ‘Flashes of Beautiful Thinking’, and titling the resulting piece ‘The Danger of Visualising Your Own End’ (at Japan’s Taro Nasu in the Volta fair).

Nor was that all: I flew back via Frankfurt, where MMK is showing a 900-part Hanne Darboven piece and the Kunstverein had an excellent survey of the work of conceptual photographer Sven Johne. His newest series, ‘Harbours’, uses a post-production version of the black light idea: it includes five photographs of a waterside city at night in which Johne has achieved an eerie effect by painting in black over all the light sources – such as windows and streetlamps – which had featured in the photograph.

Paul Carey-Kent

About the author

Paul Carey-Kent
Previously Editor at Large, Art World magazine, now writing for Saatchi Online magazine, ARTnews, ArtLyst and ArtUS .

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