Bound to Hurt (your ears)
“Bitte, bitte,” urged attendants at the Theater Basel, pressing earplugs into the hands of audience members there to see the Swiss premiere of Turner Prize-winning, Glasgow-born artist Douglas Gordon and composer Philip Venables’s Bound to Hurt. While it may seem counter-intuitive to distribute earplugs before what is essentially a contemporary opera, they turned out to be a most welcome piece of kit. The plot deals with domestic violence, and at times the soundtrack was loud enough to rumble seats. Jarring, spliced versions of pop classics such as I Feel Love and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You were performed by an onstage band that featured a musician who pounded his luridly lit drum with impressive right hooks. Empty wine bottles and tangled Christmas lights littered the stage—a landscape into which the performer Ruth Rosenfeld crawled, memorialising a broken relationship (the other half of whom is probably the lifeless figure under a sheet at stage left). “Remember the time we went to Brian’s party and you were like so drunk you threw up all over Archie?” she asks. “That was funny, wasn’t it?” Gordon is a student of violence but aside from the volume, the opera is fairly restrained. The most constant refrain is the sound of Rosenfeld knocking over empty wine bottles, which is amplified by a nearby microphone. Before Thursday’s performance, Gordon could be seen pouring an entire bottle of red wine onto the stage. For verisimilitude? No. “It’s a kind of blessing,” he explained.
Navel-gazing of the highest order
Jonathan Monk’s Exhibit Model One at Kunsthaus Baselland. Photo: Dan Duray
There is no shortage of shows in the Art Basel institutional orbit, but should you tire of those, might an exhibition on exhibitions be of interest? The Kunsthaus Baselland is showing Exhibit Model One, a conceptual meta-exhibition by the UK artist Jonathan Monk that seeks to examine “the conditions of an exhibition”. There are no works in Monk’s presentation, just giant black-and-white representations of installation views from previous shows his work was in, such as Less Is More Than One Hundred Indian Bicycles, at the Kunstraum Dornbirn in 2013. “My show might have the feel of walking through the pages of a crudely photocopied book,” Monk says in the catalogue. (True.) “I’m hoping the lack of objects will allow the viewer to focus on the spaces seen within the space.” Indeed, one comes away with a strong sense of the exhibition aesthetic: pacific, white and idiosyncratic in familiar and clearly defined ways. Surely such a show is not on during Art Basel by accident.
Life imitates art imitates life
Vanja Smiljanic in front of Eric Fischl's The Wall (2016). Photo: Gareth Harris
Nobody was more surprised than Vanja Smiljanic when she opened the Wednesday edition of The Art Newspaper’s daily coverage of Art Basel. The staffer at the Brussels-based gallery Waldburger Wouters thought that the woman depicted in Eric Fischl’s work The Wall, on sale at the stand of New York’s Skarstedt gallery, looked familiar (that hair, that blouse). It then dawned on Smiljanic that she was the figure depicted in Fischl’s art-world pic splashed across our front page. “I thought I was hallucinating! I think it was at Art Brussels,” she says, going so far as to take a selfie in front of the painting wearing the same clothes, doing the artiest double-take at the fair.
Beer bellies verboten in Unlimited work
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Zoom Pavilion (2015). Photo: Emily Sharpe
The Zoom Pavilion, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Krzysztof Wodiczko’s installation at Unlimited that uses James Bond-like surveillance technology and facial recognition software to zoom in on fairgoers faces and—ahem—bodies, may be a major talking point, but not everyone is thrilled with the all-too-real images that confront them. A US art dealer, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that most of his fellow gallerists felt the need to take a sharp breath inside the interactive pavilion so that their stomachs “looked tight and they looked suitably buff”. Our advice: skip the second helping of bratwurst, suck in your gut and get ready for your Basel close-up.
Sting, the Minotaur and the dental floss
Darren Bader, video file (BTD), 3min, 52 sec, edition of 3 + a/p. © the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
You should never miss a Darren Bader work at an art fair, and Art Basel is no exception. This year, London’s Sadie Coles HQ gallery has brought a new film entitled video file (BTD), in which the aging rockers Billy Joel, Elton John and Sting have been cast in the roles of the Three Fates from Greek mythology. It begins with two digital helicopters flying out of a giant animated mouth, spinning what looks like dental floss as a voice portends salvation in the form of the goddess Ariadne, whose thread helped Theseus escape the Minotaur’s maze. This cuts to archival footage of Joel and John, playing together and separately over the years. A voice mythologises them: “His closest companion, his piano,” it says over footage of Joel, “on which he writes his legend”. As the story progresses, Joel, John and Sting end up being shipwrecked and their rescue is announced via a fake television news report. The work is less than four minutes long but it feels quite a bit longer. “I think Darren Bader can change the way you look at the world,” says Amanda Sharp, the co-founder of the Frieze art fair. The work is on sale in an edition of three, with artist’s proof, for $25,000.