Tadashi Kawamata, Catwalk, 2004. Wood and steel, four meters high. Photo courtesty of Annely Juda Fine Art, London.

Art Basel

For the past five years, Art Basel has organized Art Unlimited, a contemporary art event that offers artists a venue to display works that go beyond the space possibilities of ordinary art exhibitions. Last year, 69 projects were selected from 130 submissions. Large installations, video projections, outsize paintings and sculptures, performances, and digital art by artists from all over the world—Canada, North and South America, Europe, Africa, India, and Asia—were included. All of the works were shown in an open exhibition layout curated by Simon Lamunière. Many projects were created especially for Art Unlimited.

The Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata erected a four-meter-high wood and steel Catwalk through the hall. Visitors were able to walk along it and to survey the exhibition. Kawamata’s work suggests temporality, and he has always been intent on opening the viewer’s eyes and mind. His architectural installations enable visitors to experience ordinary spaces in different ways.

From Kawamata’s catwalk, the view of Blade runner—Plate, Convex, Concave—Basel 2004 by Richard Serra was breathtaking. We are used to Serra’s extraordinary ability to master iron and steel and to play with the off-balanced effect of his monumental pieces, but Plate, Convex, Concave exceeds the experience of previous works. It is made from one plate of five-centimeter-thick steel and weighs about 32 tons. Still, we feel as if we could move it with a finger. Even if we know its equilibrium is perfect, our senses are alerted; we feel in danger.

On Kawara occupied a large space with I met, made of 12 pictures and 12 books produced between May 10, 1968 and September 17, 1970. During this period, Kawara kept a chronological record of all of his conversations and all of his travels. The books total 4,782 pages.

From conceptual to comic-conceptual, Fat House—I love my time, I don’t like my time by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm was a walk-in, cartoon-style house made of aluminum, wood, and Styrofoam. Inside, the house was painted black. A DVD projected a video on the only white part of the room: in the video, an animated car moves its eyes (front lights) and mouth (radiator) while talking, sharing its thoughts about our time in language used by junkies and the military. The artist says, “The car and the house are the most prestigious object of our time. In the old societies the important people were heavy and strong—it was a way to show their importance and wealth. Today this has changed—the upper classes are slim and fit. Only the status symbols are showing “importance.”

Teresa Margolles En el aire. Bubble machine, soap, water, and air from the Mexico City morgue. Photo courtesy of Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich.

En el aire, by Mexican artist Teresa Margolles, is a machine that produces soap bubbles from water used to wash corpses prior to autopsy in the Mexico City morgue. The artist says, “My work shocks. But as long as depravity, poverty, corruption, and unpunished murder exist I will not change the concept of a work.” Many visitors, not being aware of the meaning of the work (and the origin of the water) played with the soap bubbles.

Swiss artist Olivier Mosset’s block of ice, Toblerone, started to melt on the evening of the vernissage; by the third day, it had completely liquefied. The work’s title referenced not only the popular candy, but also Swiss World War II anti-tank blockades, which were built in the same triangular shape as the chocolate bar and named for it. Mosset’s work suggested an ironic connection: both glaciers and anti-tank Toblerones share a common fate—they disappear. Another connection was with the original Toblerone, the milk chocolate, for which the sun is an enemy. Mosset is an artist with a great sense of humor, and we must remember that Switzerland is the land of Dada.

Vito Acconci’s Voice of America installation dates back to 1975. Two over-sized wooden chairs occupy the end of a dark room. In front of the chairs, a rope grid is installed; aerial views of America are projected through the ropes. Two audio-speakers, located under the chairs, play music and the voice of a mythical Mr. America talking to Mrs. America. Voice of America, says Acconci, “was one of my first groping attempts to turn ‘space’ into ‘place’…my pieces were starting to be historicized, politicized.” After almost 30 years, Acconci’s message still sounds, its relevance unmuted.