Art Basel diary: John Baldessari's crowd-pleasing pooches and down and dirty in Hamburg

Plus much more fair gossip


Best in show by a Swiss country mile A pair of patient pooches are charming adults and children alike in Unlimited, where they play a starring role in John Baldessari’s surreal tableau vivant Ear Sofa; Nose Sconces with Flowers (in Stage Setting) (2017). The canines in question—Goliath (pictured), a cute Coton de Tuléar, and Maiko (taking time out), a dewy-eyed Japanese Spitz—accompany a glamorous model draped over an ear-shaped chaise longue. Goliath, a qualified therapy dog, may look small but “has such a big character”, one of the trainers coos. Our spies tell us that two poodles were originally lined up to preen in front of fairgoers. But Goliath and Maiko, who take plenty of recuperative rests between their shifts on the installation, have stepped up to the plate. Big woofs all round.

Sprechen Sie Sex? If you’ve ever wanted to peep inside a German sex theatre, then head to the stand of Kicken Berlin gallery at Art Basel, which is showing some eye-popping 1970s photographs taken by André Gelpke in the bars and bordellos around St Pauli, Hamburg’s red-light district. Two of the works document the personalities who frequented the saucy Salambo Sex Theater. In an accompanying book, Sex-Theater, Gelpke describes his antics in the bawdy hot haus. “The sexual activities on the stage were real, the relevant body parts… were intertwined with each other,” Gelpke writes. “This usually took place in the middle of the stage on a revolving platform that enabled the copulating pair to be seen from all sides.” Don’t hold back, André.

All inked up with nowhere to go During Art Basel week, visitors to the Museum Tinguely’s Wim Delvoye exhibition have a privileged view of the Belgian artist’s living canvas: Tim Steiner, the Swiss man whose back bears an elaborate Delvoye tattoo. Tim (2006-08) currently belongs to a German collector and will be removed, preserved and framed after Steiner’s death. “The work is Wim’s; I’m just the frame,” declares Steiner, who insists that his regular appearances at galleries worldwide are “absolutely not performance art—I just go where the tattoo goes”. But sitting motionless on a plinth for hours on end isn’t as easy as it looks. “It’s like going into combat every day,” Tim says. “I’ve had every job imaginable but doing nothing is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Swing on, Sweet Chariots Forget Landseer’s Lions in Trafalgar Square, the two battered big cats on Southard Reid’s stand at Liste, courtesy of the artist Prem Sahib, are a relic of an even more beloved London landmark—Chariots, England’s largest gay sauna. This legendary place of hot and hectic fun in the trendy Shoreditch area has fallen into the maw of developers, and is about to become a hotel. But thanks to Sahib, Chariots lives on in matter as well as mind. Besides casting the lions that once adorned the façade in concrete, he has preserved a water fountain in a block of resin and salvaged 12 original lockers—complete with graffiti—which will feature in his solo show at the Kunstverein in Hamburg (1 July-3 September).

Watching paint dry The giant robot installed by the maverick conceptual artist Piero Golia at the Kunsthaus Baselland may be wowing the Art Basel crowds with its painting skills, but it is seemingly achieving only a fraction of its potential. Sourced from Rome’s Cinecittà film studios and weighing several tonnes, the mighty one-armed automaton is capable of moving at a rate of seven metres a second. Yet it has been sedately dabbing at the same six abstract canvases for well over a month. “If I wanted, I could set it to work a lot faster and make a lot more money,” admits Golia, “but that’s the difference between performance and painting”. The artist’s three galleries—Gagosian, Bortolami and Almine Rech—are no doubt itching to crank up its settings.