Art & Photography / In Pictures

The Ten Best Things We Saw at Art Basel

The founder of London's eponymous Sid Motion Gallery takes us on a tour of the esteemed art fair, pausing to talk us through ten of its most spectacular and eye-catching exhibits

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Davide Balula, Mimed Sculptures (Henry Moore,Moon Head,1964)
Davide Balula, Mimed Sculptures (Henry Moore, Moon Head,1964)Photography by Davide Balula, Courtesy the artist, galerie frank elbaz, Paris, and Gagosian Gallery

“I think the art fair is very much a form of urbanism,” Hans-Ulrich Obrist once remarked. “I think something really happens to the cities when such a fair happens. The city becomes an exhibition; it's amazing.” Obrist’s idea of city as exhibition couldn’t be more true of Basel, the spot on Switzerland’s Rhine which first breathed life into its eponymous art fair in 1970, and which becomes flooded once yearly with the best and most compelling in artwork from around the world.

This year AnOther asked Sid Motion – aficionado, curator and most recently founder of Sid Motion Gallery, a brand new destination for contemporary art and photography which opened in London’s King’s Cross to a vibrant reception earlier this month – to select ten of the most exciting and engaging artworks that Art Basel had to offer. Unsurprisingly, Motion’s selection is as varied as it is vivacious: from Sol Calero’s immersive installation recreating a bright, tropically coloured bureau de change in highly corrupt Venezuela, to the headline-stealing Mimed Sculptures enacted to great aplomb by a series of pink-gloved 'art handlers' under Davide Balula’s instruction. Here, Motion talks us through her selection. 

Davide Balula, Mimed Sculpture, 2016
"Performers dressed in white uniforms and pink art handling gloves move around plinths of various sizes. They gesticulate, miming the outlines of sculptures – Giacometti's Le-nez (1947), Eva Hesse's Hang up (1966) and Louise Bourgeois' Unconscious Landscape (1967-8), amongst others. 

As if a game of art historical charades, you find yourself guessing what they are handling, what the surface and texture of the objects is. Through this performance, the new sensual relationship to these works is formed. However, you cannot help but make the connection to the commentary on the art of handling itself – can the world of art handling, exhibition installing and indeed selling artwork be becoming as much of an art as the artwork itself?"

Ariel Schlesinger, Two Good Reasons, 2009, Shown by Massimo Minini Gallery at Art Basel Unlimited
"Two Good Reasons by Israeli artist Ariel Schlesinger is an installation presented by Massimo Minini Gallery at Art Basel Unlimited. Big and bold in form, this kinetic sculpture of two white sheets of polypropylene captures a quieter subtlety of emotion than its scale first alludes to. The sheets move towards each other on the floor, softly touching, almost dancing, echoing a courtship and allowing the sheets to reveal their intimate relationship to their audience. The piece is exemplary of Schlesinger's practice, in which he wittily animates lifeless objects through innovation and engineering."

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Super Blue Omo, 2016, Shown at Victoria Miro
"This work on paper by Nigeria-born artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby combines collage, drawing, painting, printmaking, and photo transfers to compile a domestic scene. Hung simply on bulldog clips, the unassuming portrait captures in fine detail a familiar household insight, with real attention to the everyday through the technically accomplished yet intentionally flattened depiction of mundane objects. Yet the work seems to more complexly convey the many aspects of the sitter’s life through the overlaid images, which give the impression of the memories, aspirations and relationships of the subject. Super Blue Omo merits its place on my top selection for its technical brilliance, and its depth of suggestion."

Robert Longo, Untitled (Wall of Ice), 2016, Shown at Galerie Hans Mayer
"I have long known Robert Longo’s photographic work and his uber-realistic charcoal drawings, but this piece stood out especially, not only for its mind-blowing technical achievement but also for its subject. One could be forgiven for mistaking this sharply depicted cliff of ice for a crumpled sheet of paper – if only the strip of water at the foot of the image didn’t give it away. My gallery has a focus on form and materiality in its current exhibition, What's it going to be?, so I was especially interested in this wonderful piece."

Ettore Spalletti, Shown at Galleria Massimo Minini 
"This piece by Italian sculptor and painter Ettore Spalletti stood quietly confident towards the back of the accomplished booth of Galleria Massimo Minini. Clean and crisp in its form, this minimalist piece is a celebration of simplicity and luminous colour. It appears to invade the space more boldly than the sum of its parts. After trawling the aisles of the fair, and after seeing so much work, this piece fought against the noise of the rest to stand out in my thoughts." 

Paul Graham, 53rd Street and 6th Avenue, Shown at Pace/McGill
"I was particularly struck by this work. These two photographs, taken only seconds apart, capture a mundane New York scene. While fixating on a focal character who stands out from the monotony of the masses, we are allowed by Graham to secretly witness the other subjects in the image as they go about their daily lives. The silence and stillness of the focal character allows a commentary on his chaotic surroundings, and encourages the viewer to spot the subtle differences between the images. These large-scale photographs hang just off the ground at street level to mimic the theme of pedestrian rhythm. This curation adds to the sense of voyeuristic perspective – as if you are witnessing this by looking along the street yourself."

Elisheva Biernoff, Spring, Shown at Fraenkel Gallery
"A standout on the already highly successful booth presented by Fraenkel Gallery, this small and quiet Biernoff work might have been easily passed in the business of the fair, but it was exciting and jewel-like in its scale. Boxed in Perspex and beautifully lit, this acrylic painting on wood – mimicking a polaroid photograph – verged on pointillism, but was in fact only hazy enough to appear as if someone’s private memory; a personal moment, captured as if a snapshot in a fond recollection."

Massimo Bartolini, Dew, Shown at Massimo de Carlo
"This pair of works by Italian artist Massimo Bartolini felt fresh and vibrant in their approach. The modern and bold aesthetic of the works – metallic and industrial – was what originally drew me to look closer. A pleasant surprise when on closer inspection the surfaces are sprayed with moisture in a painterly fashion, as if so fresh that the drops are about to gather and run down the surface. As I enquired, it was explained to me that the dew can be wiped off and the moisture can be reapplied, setting as it hits the surface until the next time it’s changed. The unwavering severity of the aluminium surface against the ephemeral nature of the applied moisture struck a beautiful balance."

Sol Calero, Shown at Laura Bartlett, Art Basel Statements
"Laura Bartlett’s solo presentation of Sol Calero’s immersive and colourful installation in the Art Basel Statements section was a real delight. Drawing on the complex political, urban and social histories behind the construction of Latin culture and identity and its appropriations, Calero sets the scene – a palm tree-laden lobby of a Venezuelan money exchange complete with brightly coloured flora, a telenovela playing on a screen (actually a video work by the artist), checkered tile floor, neon-coloured paint and a rickety stand with a hand-painted advertising sign. Whilst light and jovial at first glance, this is a brave comment on value, when Venezuela has out-of-control inflation, and the booth is located in a fair where the the world’s most highly priced works are for sale."

Eric Fischl, The Wall, 2016, Shown at Skarstedt
"This is new work in a body of paintings by Eric Fischl that takes the contemporary art market as its subject. The Wall depicts an art fair, where the people and artworks are layered in sophisticated arrangements of form and colour. Fischl has always been a keen observer of the relationships between people and their surroundings. This painting demonstrates the artist's acute observation of body language and the small details that reflect social relationships, particularly in the heady environment of the art fair, with its charged atmosphere of money and taste, financial and cultural capital. Like a mirror to those around it, it is as if you were about to recognise the subjects in the scene as you turn around." 

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