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After a number of production hitches, we are now ready to resume our normal daily service, reverting to Basel to continue our coverage of the international art fair.
21 June 2012
Last Friday, just before noon, we turned round a corner and into a stand in the ground-floor “E” section of the 43rd annual international art fair in Basel, Switzerland.
And there it was – the installation. A 6-foot-high aluminium ladder of twice three rungs (including the top platform), its surface attractively speckled with a random scatter of paint spots and blotches – the colour mostly a greyish white but this dominant tone being set off contrapuntally by a less conspicuous kaleidoscope of irregularly-shaped paint flecks embracing most of the colours in the spectrum. The metal structure of the ladder had clearly been artificially aged and the two lower rungs sported what looked very much like black soil marks – undoubtedly a not-too-hard-to-spot ecological reference to the G20 earth summit about to take place in Rio de Janeiro. In its uncannily accurate reproduction of its real-life alter ego, the work reminded us – conceptually, if not visually or materially – of a cardboard box by Gavin Turk.
Then a strange thing happened. A middle-aged man in overalls and dirty boots suddenly appeared, mounted the ladder, pulled out a drill from a tool-bag and, working very fast, drilled four holes in the wall next to the ladder – at a height of approximately five feet from the floor. In a matter of seconds, it seemed, back on the floor, having stuffed the drill back unceremoniously into his tool-bag, he suddenly picked up the ladder, folded it under one arm – and disappeared round a corner without saying a word.
We were gobsmacked. What had at first seemed, without any doubt, to be a static verisimilitude of mundane escalation had suddenly transformed itself before our eyes into a dramatic display of gloriously kinetic performance art. Stand aside Marina Abramović ! The rotation of the bit in the drill, the whine of the drill motor, the phallic reciprocation of the bit as it went now in, now out of one hole after another, the quick professional movements of the artist as he deftly whipped the tool first out of the tool-bag and then, the job finished, with equal professionalism back into it – all this and more confirmed that we were in the presence of an artwork of consummate ingenuity.
We searched the wall in vain for the exhibit description. Of course! How silly of us! Many of the grandest galleries have no truck with descriptive captions: they expect their collectors to be able to identify instantaneously the names and works of the world-renowned artists that they have elected to put on display.
And we at any rate were certainly not going to display our ignorance by committing the faux pas of asking the gallery owner for further details of an artist who was certainly unknown to us but undoubtedly a household name to art cognoscenti.
The day had begun well and we wandered off into the bowels of the giant exhibition hall, looking for lunch – as well as keeping a weather eye open for a man with a ladder in the firm conviction that our ambulant artist would at this very moment be erecting his prop in some other corner of this vast exhibition hall, ready once more to mesmerize la crème de la crème of the art world with a further of performance of his inimitable shtick.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question(3 Jan 2012)
2. Das Vierte Reich/The Fourth Reich(6 Feb 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices(2 Feb 2012)
4. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat(31 Jan 2012)
5. What would Gandhi have said? (30 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.