City planning and music sampling inform the curator Gianni Jetzer’s selection of large-scale works
By Louisa Buck. From Art Basel daily edition
Published online: 18 June 2014
What are the major challenges of organising Unlimited?
To create and orchestrate an exhibition comprising 78 large-scale works that came together because of their quality and not because they belong together in terms of time period, style or content. That said, I want all of them to be seen under the best conditions possible. I aim to create a show that enables visitors to spend time with art and makes them forget about where they are.
What is the guiding principle behind this year’s exhibition?
The master plan for Unlimited is closer to sampling techniques in contemporary music than it is to a genuine composition of the 19th century. It is about assembling diverse artistic visions and creating a whole out of it. Different layers are important for the exhibition. Some works of art are present; others are more hidden but have a lasting impact. To come back to the music analogy, the deep tones are less perceivable than the vocals, but you can’t go without a great bass line.
Are you still mixing the historical and the contemporary, as in previous years?
That’s a natural fit. Haven’t we been operating with the term “contemporary art” since the late 1960s? Today’s art production is more about writing on the detailed palimpsest of the immediate future than demonstrating big gestures while believing in radical innovation. It is thrilling to see the influences between the different generations within Unlimited: the persistence of certain ideas, the obsessions, the rejuvenation, the luminaries.
The new hall designed by Herzog & de Meuron gives Unlimited twice as much room this year. What impact has this had on your selection of works?
The committee went for quality, that’s all. Eventually, it turned out to be a vintage year. There are certain works, such as Carl Andre’s 100m steel promenade [Steel Peneplain, 1982], that do require a lot of space; the same with Giuseppe Penone’s 40m tree [Matrice di linfa, 2008]. The extra building helped me to include works that seemed to be out of reach in previous years.
You’ve described the floor plan of this year’s Unlimited as being reminiscent of the compositions of László Moholy-Nagy. Can you elaborate on how his work has influenced the layout?
It is not a precise art-historical reference, it is more a general impression. In his paintings, Moholy-Nagy often used orthogonal systems that are outbalanced by a diagonal. It works like a contradiction, a dynamic counter-order.
Another influence you have cited is the city-planning theorist Camillo Sitte. What similarities do you see between Unlimited and the format of a city?
Sitte’s book City Planning According to Artistic Principles, 1889, is one of the rare treatises on urbanism that discusses the placement of works of art and the value of sculpture in public space. Unlimited is a temporary cityscape that is structured by works of art. For me, as the curator, it is a lot about composing plaza-like situations that are built around art.
What are some of the other special features of Unlimited at this year’s fair?
Unlimited can be experienced in different ways: you can do the whole thing, which equals a marathon, or you can cut out shows within the show. You can go through an amazing selection of exciting artists by country, medium, subject. The group that I cherish the most contains Carl Andre, Alice Channer, Sam Falls and Giuseppe Penone. All of these works are on an architectural scale and take measurement from the exhibition hall itself. It thrills me how this form of sculpture is beyond human scale but, nevertheless, not megalomaniac. To a certain extent, it is cosmic.
Unlimited, 18 June, 3pm-8pm; 19-22 June, 11am-7pm), Hall 1
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