Vignettes on Art Basel, June 2007

The centre of the international art fair orbit: Art Basel 2007 Critical Vignettes for Internal Clients

In the works of high abstraction or preoccupation with human physicality (note Damien Hirst's technically impressive if unsettling cross-section of a pregnant woman, entitled 'The Dream is Over'), several pieces focusing on un-self-conscious delight in beauty in the natural world provided welcome respite at the 2007 edition of Art Basel. Amongst the most striking included a sleeping elephant sculpted by the Indian artist Bharti Kher, a video installation by Kutlug Ataman of a man obsessed with lepidoptery and the Irish artist Daphne Wright's extraordinarily fine work of a swan in resin and marble dust.

In the galleries Bacon and other stellar performers were prominently on show and certainly drew the crowds. The Chapman Brothers' re-take of Hogarth etchings at White Cube, Lipsky's figurines, porcelain torsos and wax heads, of Buddhist deities and was intrigued by the artist Erro's (originally Icelandic, now in his 80's living in Paris) versions of the Luo Brothers' figures on canvas; the work itself didn't captivate me, though looking through his earlier pieces, his 'Opus to Mao' from the 70's was at once ahead of its time and a nod, again, to Hogarth. The young galleries' efforts at Liste were disappointing overall with crudely executed work in large supply. The exploration of youthful 'Angst' seemed to automatically imply work devoid of technical prowess at this satellite fair.

The most thought-provoking was arguably to be found at Art Unlimited: Xu Zhen's staged invasion of China's neighbours Myanmar, Mongolia and Russia with toy war vessels - a story whose fey facade revealed many of the enduring attributes of the Taoist philosophy of 'wu-wei' upon deeper reflection. Omer Fast's anticipated video focused on miscommunication in two stories of a US soldier told in parallel – one depicting his time in a warzone, the other an ill-fated love affair in German. All in stills with voice over, it reinforced Noam Chomsky's contention that language must be studied in the context of human interactions. The alienating, Kafka-like industrial settings of Mayer's 'Encounters' created an unsettling backdrop to romantic dalliance. Finally, Vallance's humourous project in which the neckties he had sent as gifts to Heads of State around the world, from Tehran to Tokyo, went on display. With accompanying letters of reply, each case provided a revealing look at cultural etiquettes, mostly all too conforming to stereotypes, over the considerable course of thirty years.

- Emily de Wolfe Pettit

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