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Live art steals the show at Basel fair

BASEL: Open one door to see a naked woman perched on a bicycle seat high on a wall; enter another room and find twins reading identical books under a pair of dot paintings. Fleeting installations involving living people are stealing the show at this year’s Art Basel, the world’s biggest meeting place for deep-pocketed collectors.

The show, where everything is usually for sale – at a hefty price – has for its 45th edition dedicated a section called “14 Rooms” to performances and live art by top international artists.

“It’s really about creating experiences with human beings as the material,” Art Basel director Marc Spiegler said ahead of the public opening of the show Thursday.

Marina Abramovic’s 1997 piece “Luminosity,” in which a naked woman uncomfortably straddles a bicycle seat fixed onto a wall and bathed in bright light, explores themes of “loneliness and spiritual elevation,” according to organizers.

Damien Hirst’s rotating cast of identical twins meanwhile sit in carbon copy positions, mirroring each other as they lift a glass of water, eat chocolate and read identical books.

Visitors to Xu Zhen’s “In just a blink of an eye” are confronted with a person frozen in midair, in a seemingly gravity-defying pose.

“This shows a sort of performative approach toward art,” said German performance artist Mia Florentine Weiss, “which is much more interesting, I think, than only canvas and only pictures on the walls.”

New York artist Jeff Zimmerman said he especially liked the inclusion of visitors in the artwork.

“It was nice to make the viewer a little uncomfortable,” he said. “And it’s not for sale, and I think that’s important in this environment to have that occurring.”

The more traditional gallery section of the show, where collectors can whip out their wallets to purchase masterpieces rarely on display, still remains at the heart of Art Basel.

Art enthusiasts from around the world, many having flown in on private jets, flooded into the gallery section when it opened to VIPs Tuesday, browsing booths representing 285 international galleries and sweeping up pricy pieces at an astonishing rate.

A “Fright Wig” self-portrait by pop artist Andy Warhol, with an asking price of $35 million, was sold to a private collector Wednesday at the Skarstedt Gallery.

A Damien Hirst work called “Nothing is a problem for me,” from 1992, was snapped up Tuesday for nearly $6 million, while a Jeff Koons piece called Dolphin Balloon went for $5 million.

“It’s been very good. We’ve had a good opening day, and we’ve done very good business so we’re happy,” Victoria Miro Gallery chief Glenn Scott-Wright said Tuesday, standing near a giant Yayoi Kusama metallic pumpkin, on display for the first time.

That piece had been reserved, he said, while another of the Japanese artist’s works had been sold “in the high six figures.”

While such spectacular sales are welcome, Spiegler said Art Basel had been successful “because it has always tried to stay very much in tune with what’s going on in the art world.”

In 2000, the show for instance took a leap of faith when it opened its “Unlimited” section, offering up museum-scale pieces.

This year, 78 projects fill a massive “Unlimited” hall, ranging from Giuseppe Penone’s “Trees,” featuring a giant fir tree trunk with the center removed, to a huge, translucently colorful installation of hanging window blinds by Haegue Yang.

Nearby, Julio Le Parc’s giant sphere made up of glistening red plastic squares hung suspended from the ceiling, casting a red light on Ian Breakwell’s photo exhibition in the background.

Not all artists are willing to work with the confines of the show, though.

Majida Khattari was forced to remove her exhibition of “homeless” mannequins covered in jewels and designer handbags – set up uninvited outside one of the halls as a commentary on global inequality.

“There is absolute luxury, and there is absolute distress,” she said. “There are crises everywhere, but not in luxury.”

Swiss artist Milo Moire was forced to cover up when she attempted to enter the show with the names of clothing items scrolled on her naked body.

 

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Summary

Open one door to see a naked woman perched on a bicycle seat high on a wall; enter another room and find twins reading identical books under a pair of dot paintings. Fleeting installations involving living people are stealing the show at this year's Art Basel, the world's biggest meeting place for deep-pocketed collectors.

The show, where everything is usually for sale – at a hefty price – has for its 45th edition dedicated a section called "14 Rooms" to performances and live art by top international artists.

Art enthusiasts from around the world, many having flown in on private jets, flooded into the gallery section when it opened to VIPs Tuesday, browsing booths representing 285 international galleries and sweeping up pricy pieces at an astonishing rate.

Not all artists are willing to work with the confines of the show, though.


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