Pushing the envelope

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22 June 2012


Men are from Murmansk…Women are from Vilnius”

Citation displayed at Art Basel by the Raster Gallery, Warsaw

The centrepiece of an artwork that pulled in the crowds at last week’s international art fair in Basel consisted of the word “ART” in giant three-dimensional capital letters.

However, that was not all. Out of hidden orifices in the letters came an unending flow of a thick brownish bubbly liquid that resembled melting chocolate or toffee. Mouth-watering. Visitors clearly wanted to taste it to see if it really was what it seemed to be. Yum! Moreish, for sure.

The letters were set in a rectangular container filled with a lake consisting of the chocolate/toffee-like liquid that had flowed down the sides of the letters. Little islets of lava rock rose here and there out of the surface of the lake.

The work, at Galerie Eva Presenhuber from Zürich, was entitled “Fountain (earth fountain)”.

It was created this year by Doug Aitken, an artist born California in 1968, who currently lives and works in Los Angeles and New York.

The materials used in making the work included acryl glass, metal, a pumping system and lava stones. The chocolatey toffee-like liquid was methyl cellulose.

The work measured 136 x 198.5 x 92 cm.

Another crowd-pleaser – this time at Galerie Anhava from Helsinki – was a long metal tray measuring 400cm long by 30cm wide the middle of which rested on a 60cm high support rising from the ground.  The tray, which was three-quarters filled with a myriad small shiny chrome ball-bearings, acted as a see-saw.  Every so often one end of the tray would tip up slightly and the ball-bearings would career down to the other end of the tray. Then the other end would do the same and the ball-bearings would career back in the reverse direction. For some reason, people found this interminably fascinating and the stand was permanently packed. The work was entitled “Flux of Matter”. It was a creation of two Finnish artists, Tommi Grönland (b.1967) and Petteri Nisunen (b. 1962). The gallery’s blurb said that the artists “address issues of space and physical phenomena through sophisticated installations that often play with physical laws of nature”.

Another work in the same gallery attracted no attention at all. It was easy to see why. It consisted of 13 mouse-traps aligned along a wall, each featuring a trapped dead mouse. The extremely realistic mice were not in fact taxidermically reconstructed. They were made of bronze. The title of the work, made in 2008, was “Last meal”.  The Finnish artist Anne Koskinnen (b. 1969) also does bronze casts of road-kill animals. Nice work if you can get it.

Galerie Klüser of Munich was showing a life-size life-like three-dimensional sculpture of a bald man facing a wall, the front of his trousers open, his hands tied by a rope behind his back. The figure, naked from the waist up, was levitating about a foot and a half above the ground. The focus of attention was the interaction between the man’s head and a lit light-bulb, towards which the man’s tongue was stretching out in vain. The media used were polyster resin, a light-bulb and light. The work was created this year by Bernardí Roig, who was born in Palma de Mallorca in 1965. It was entitled “Practices to Suck the light (hanging man)”.

A striking hodgepodge of new and used metal kitchenware in various colours – essentially, pots, pans and buckets – by New Delhi artist Subodh Gupta (b. 1964) was for sale at the Hauser & Wirth Gallery (Zürich, London, New York). Entitled “Family Nest No 3” and created this year, the work measured 172.7 x 139.7 x 68.6 cm.

White Cube of London fielded its usual attention-grabbing array of Britart.

Damien Hirst (born in Bristol in 1965) provided works reflecting two of his signature subjects: (1)  a 2006 glass-and-chrome case containing surgical equipment (scissors, phials, saws, pans, pliers, knives and tweezers) entitled “Stripper” and measuring 103.3 x 361.1 x 92 cm; and (2) a giant representation of a black and phosphorescent blue butterfly constructed out of the corpses of real butterflies and set in a background created from the corpses of lighter-coloured (blue, yellowish, creamy, pinkish) butterflies. The latter, a square 2008 work entitled “Papilio Ulysses”, measured 213.4 x 213.4 cm.

Tracey Emin (born in 1963 in Croydon, London), another stalwart of the White Cube stable, showed two embroidered blankets hanging one above the other. The top blanket featured the representation of the bust of a naked woman picked out in white thread, while the lower half of the woman’s body was outlined in black thread. The 2009 work, “Trauma Time”, measured 261 x 217 cm.

Antony Gormley (also born in London, in 1950) supplied a figure made up of rectangular steel blocks of various sizes. The blocks were assembled in an L-shape, one part lying on the floor, the other vertical. Figurative or non-figurative? Hard to say. Since Gormley usually makes sculptures of men, one assumes that this was a very abstract representation of a man sitting on the ground with his legs out front. Semi-figurative?  The 2012 work, entitled “Stay IV”, measured 118 x 46 x 106 cm.

White Cube also showed “Small Adam”, a 2011 work by London-based artist Raqib Shaw (born in India in 1974). This featured a red-painted bronze crustacean encrusted with black diamonds, sapphires and rubies on top of and in the process of fucking an equally repugnant creature with a woman’s body and a bird’s head. Measuring 149 x 85 x 68 cm, this 2011 work just has to be the most repulsive object at the fair. It attracted a lot of interest from the public.

Most of the artists represented by White Cube are household names in Britain – well, to be accurate, in the  contemporary British art world – but they are seldom seen, in our experience, at art shows on the Continent.

         “From Lvov…..with Lvove”

Citation displayed at Art Basel by the Raster Gallery, Warsaw


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.


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