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>> Review: The 35th Art Basel 2004
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On the one hand, this does justice to the growing importance of contemporary art as an area for young collectors or those still young at heart; on the other hand, Basel increasingly has to compete with other art fairs, particularly in the past year, when the new Frieze Art Fair in London decided to focus on the latest trends in art with great success.


Work by Bernhard Frize
Courtesy NÄCHST ST. STEPHAN, Wien

This year, it was impossible to overlook: in the area of contemporary art, painting shone forth more than ever before, often opulent and brilliant in color, as though it wanted to cloak the dreariness of the everyday. Franz Ackermann's fascinating visual worlds ( neugerriemschneider) looked as though they wanted to transport the public into other galaxies, while the paintings of Katharina Grosse, which seem to abandon themselves to the chance flow of paint, liberate the fantasy ( nächst St. Stephan and Mark Müller Gallery). The paintings of Bernard Frize also attracted attention at countless booths, selling well with their thickly applied fields of adjacent color. In addition, a whole group of paintings that carry on the tradition of concrete art in a new way proved to be astonishingly dynamic, for instance the works of the Swiss artist Karl Gerstner (Denise René Gallery ).


Karl Gerstner, Color fractal 3.12 self referential referential, 1984/1998
Courtesy Galerie Denise René, Paris

But the new art doesn't only invoke mathematical constructions or aesthetic phenomena. In fact, it can't be reduced to a few simple features. More than ever before, it is determined by a multitude of subjects and media; works that revolve around existential themes found considerable space in Basel, even including those addressing more morbid matters.

With her large sculptures of horses, whose amorphous bodies seem twisted and contorted in a death-struggle, the artist Berlinde de Bruyckere, who was already present at last year's Venice Biennale, seeks moments that touch the viewer ( Hauser & Wirth and Continua ). De Bruyckere's unique and highly expressive formal language will undoubtedly be attracting further attention in the future.


Berlinde De Bruyckere, K36 (The Black Horse), 2003
Courtesy Continua, San Gimignano

In any case, a growing interest in sculpture could be perceived this year, as well. Works of artists already established on the scene sold particularly well. Thus, the Cologne-based Karsten Greve Gallery was able to sell several works by Louise Bourgeois. Xavier Hufkens from Brussels also reported the successful sale of sculptures by the grande dame, who'd already advanced to fifth place last year in the art compass of the magazine Capital (23/2003). Sculptures by John Chamberlain, which could be seen at several galleries, also found an array of new owners.

A look at the positions of 17 "Art Statements" chosen by the jury for the fair's special section on the first floor proved highly interesting, with young artists from 12 countries showing works created especially for the fair. It was impossible to overlook the fact that narrative forms, conceptual approaches, and process art formed the main focus. The choice of the Polish artist Aleksandra Mir (*1967) and the British artist Tino Sehgal (*1976) for the Baloise Art Prize 2004 sent a strong signal. In her work, Aleksandra Mir is concerned with analyzing social processes and rendering them visible. She had an oversized umbrella fabricated with enough room for 16 people. She then traveled to various cities in different countries with the umbrella to investigate people's behavior regarding their sense of community or disparity.

Tino Sehgal, who already won last year's Art Prize of Böttcherstraße in Bremen and then made a name for himself as a choreographer in Berlin, did entirely without a visual work, even refusing to produce illustrations for the catalogue. His work consists purely of interaction. He provides instructions, which are to be carried out by one or several people. He too is interested in addressing processes, investigating conventions, reactions, and the way in which roles are understood. The images arise purely in the viewer's head or in observing a given interaction. While this might not be a completely new art theoretical approach, it is still a remarkable and contemplative signal for a scene in which appearance seems to count more than anything else.

Once again, a visit to this year's Art Basel met with and even surpassed every expectation: Art Basel is and remains a charismatic stage for art of value.

Translation: Andrea Scrima

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