Art Basel 2017

Author: Julian Stalter

Is there something as winning in art? In love? In life generally? "Now I Won" is the message Claudia Comte monumentally installed in front of the Basel Messe building. On top of a grassy hill, 22 tree trunks manifest the statement for all visitors to see. But with so much pathos, Comte also wasn't short of providing some fun behind the elevated dam. A fun fair with mini golf, dancing and Vodka-shots pose funny, yet challenging Mini-Games for the art lovers outside the prestigious fair.
Maybe it is this juxtaposition that becomes more and more defining of the uber-art fair in Switzerland. Winners meet winners. Some of the richest people buy the most successful artists. But maybe, if you take a look behind the scenes, there is also fun and games involved. This playful approach also  has its equivalents behind the metal-detector-guarded entrances in the main fair: The gallery Sadie Coles HQ exhibited the work "The Kiss" by Urs Fischer. A sculpture, recreating Rodin's artwork of the same name. But Fischer, thus far known for decaying artworks, made no exception for this one. The visitors can take bits from the sculpture, which is made out of wax, and add them to the surrounding walls or other parts of the sculpture.

But the fair didn't just settle for easy works. Upon further inspection of the variety of booths, there was a strong undertone of political and sociological critique and artistic analysis. With a political world shaken to the core and whole continents and subcontinents emerging from their post-colonial depression, the art world is opening up to these new aspects as well. Being a powerful and political artist in the last fairs, Kara Walker this year had some strong works on display at "Sikkema Jenkins gallery. "Notes Drawn by a Negress After a Long Absence" from 2016  is a deeply moving depiction, leaving the viewer guessing if it is the artist himself, who is suffering in solitude.
Becoming the clandestine star of the fair over the last couple of years, the "Unlimited" section offered a lot of the art highlights for this edition as well. Again, the political aspect was noticeable; and shimmering in the cluster of artworks was Nick Cave's "Speak Louder" from the year 2011.
The Chicago-based artist – not to be mistaken for the singer with the same name –  emulated his iconic "sound suits" after a New Orleans Jazz Band. But the musicians have to be louder and more engaged than usual: they are covered by thick fabric and heavy buttons. Cave, who is Afro-American himself, evokes symbols of black culture in America to call upon action. His motto is: "In order to be heard, you have to speak louder." Looking at the Black Lives Matter movement in America and the police shooting taking place, there is a sad connection to recent events in this works.
So, contrary to the playful approach some artists have taken, there is a lot of artistical reflection as well. Doug Aitken beautifully visualized the importance of the ocean for humankind while Subodh Gupta tries to bring the world closer together: through cooking.
It is comforting to know, that especially in difficult times, art is there to console and find solutions. Even at the biggest art fair.