Trends Fairs Switzerland

Don’t just buy it, DIY it

Some collectors prefer paintings but others want to interact with their art

Rodney Graham’s "Mini Rotary Psycho Opticon", 2008, is on reserve for €180,000 with Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle (2.1/P16). It was inspired by a Black Sabbath performance on Belgian television in the 1970s

What do you think of every time you make a salad? Fifty years ago, the American artist Alison Knowles elevated the humble acts of chopping cucumber and washing lettuce into a work of art with her performance Make a Salad, 1962. In the mind of the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, “she has occupied the idea of salad. I’m a terrible cook but I always think of Alison Knowles if I make a salad. That’s what art can do.”

The legacy of Knowles and other 1960s artists of the Fluxus movement is everywhere at Art Basel this year. They believed in the integration of all art forms with everyday life and that any member of the public is a potential practitioner or participant.

In true Fluxus fashion, Andrew Kreps of New York’s Andrew Kreps Gallery (2.1/H6) is today serving chopped fruit and vegetables to visitors as part of a piece by the artist Darren Bader. One edition of the 2012 work, which has no title, has already sold to a collector in New York for $25,000, and Kreps is in negotiations to sell a second edition to a European buyer. What these collectors receive is a certificate entitling them to restage the Bader performance at their pleasure using local produce. If the work is staged in Korea, for example, “they don’t need a US banana”, Kreps says.

One edition of another work that requires the active engagement of the collector to complete it has sold to a European collector at the stand of Marlborough Contemporary (2.0/D13). The Portuguese artist João Onofre’s Promise of a sculpture, 2012, consists of a framed photograph of a man holding a water diviner. An accompanying text instructs the buyer to “choose a site and… engage a water diviner to locate a source of water”. Once water has been found and the site has been drilled and plumbed, Onofre will design a fountain to stand there.

“The legacy of conceptualism has enabled the work of art to travel improbable distances and reconstitute itself somewhere else,” says Andrew Renton, the director of the gallery. “It sounds a bit ‘Star Trek’, but practically… if, heaven forbid, there were a nuclear war, the Sol LeWitt wall drawing that has a certificate in a filing cabinet somewhere would be the masterpiece to survive, because the work itself, 100% authentic, could be remade.”

Such restagings of art, and the effort required, are not to everyone’s taste. For example, buyers of an installation at the booth of the Norwegian gallery Lautom Contemporary, in Art Statements (S4), may be required to recreate the work because of the fugitive material used, which makes it ephemeral. Ane Mette Hol’s After the Dust Settles, 2012, consists of a drawing executed on the wall using white chalk following the artist’s instructions. It is priced at €19,000.

Collectors will also have to roll up their sleeves if they buy one of Chadwick Rantanen’s Telescopic Poles, 2012, costing $8,000 each, at the Norwegian gallery Standard (Oslo) (2.1/J5). Each pole expands or retracts to fit the space chosen for it. “The collector might sweat a bit installing the work,” says the dealer Eivind Furnesvik.

So why this back-to-basics approach using inexpensive materials? “A lot of younger artists are working with lower production costs right now,” Obrist says. “It’s not a coincidence that there is growing interest in ‘do-it-yourself’ art. This interest was there in the early 1990s; it’s there now because of the more difficult economic times.”

Obrist, who compiled Do It, a book of artists’ instructions for DIY works of art, says this kind of art is a global movement. “Locally, there is DIY art everywhere. There are very strong traditions, particularly in the non-Western world—in Thailand, Colombia, Brazil. There is a lot in eastern Europe and Russia.” Two decades on, Obrist is preparing an updated version of the book, due to be published next year.

So how do these works, which often defy commodification, and other performance pieces on display at Art Basel fit into the context of the art market? “In many ways, it goes counter to everything we do as a gallery, which is sell art,” says the New York dealer Sean Kelly of the restaging of Marina Abramovic’s 1977 performance Imponderabilia, which at the fair consists of two naked people facing each other in the entrance to his stand. Visitors to Sean Kelly Gallery (2.1/N2) must squeeze past the nude performers, thus participating and completing the work. The piece is not for sale.

Visitors keen to get active with art should head over to Art Parcours, where one of the works is a restaging of the late Fluxus artist Allan Kaprow’s 1963 happening Push and Pull: a Furniture Comedy for Hans Hofmann, as reimagined by the artist Mateo Tannatt. Anyone who can convince Kaprow’s estate, represented by Hauser & Wirth (2.0/B19), that they are serious about restaging the piece can borrow an instruction manual for free and restage it at their pleasure.

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