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Art Basel devises new strand devoted to performance art

New one-off inclusion includes works by Abramovic, Ono and Nauman

Despite the challenges facing museums in engaging audiences in their performance programmes, it is a direction in which many major art institutions are moving. From the Pérez Art Museum Miami to the Tanks at Tate Modern, museums are building new spaces for live performance.

This year, Art Basel is tuning into the trend and introducing a new strand, 14 Rooms, dedicated to performative arts. Each of the 14 contributing artists has been give a room in which to create a “human” art form, involving installation and performance. But why bring performance to a visual arts fair?

The director of Art Basel, Marc Spiegler, says: “We have always tried to create a platform for what was ­essential at that moment, and performance has become more and more important. When photography became more important we created a photo sector. In the same away, we opened the Unlimited section”, for large-scale works, in 2000.

Certainly, we have been here before. The performance art trend saw an upswing in 2008 too, when it offered itself as an antidote to the excesses of the art market—in hindsight, a prescient moment. Spiegler says 14 Rooms is only going to happen once. It has been curated by Klaus Biesenbach and Hans Ulrich Obrist and will feature Yoko Ono, Marina Abramovic, Bruce Nauman, Allora and Calzadilla who represented the USA in the Venice Biennale 2011, and even Damien Hirst. “You will walk into a room and interact with 14 different performances based upon instructions dictated by the artists. It will be a very intimate experience,” Spiegler says.

Meanwhile, the far from intimate experience of Unlimited will be given more space this year, thanks to some judicious juggling: Unlimited will now have Hall 1 to itself. Curated for the third ­consecutive year by Gianni Jetzer, this year’s edition features 78 large-scale works by artists including Ryan Gander, Doug Wheeler and Laure Prouvost, who won the Turner Prize in 2013.

“There’s a lot of architectural shift this year, and even those who know the show will be surprised,” Spiegler says. Statements will move into Hall 2 with the larger galleries. “We wanted to give the younger galleries the best chance for curators to see the works.” There are 14 galleries in this sector, including debuts from American Contemporary (New York), Pilar Corrias (London), Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidle (Berlin) and Labor (Mexico City).

The Feature sector, in which galleries present curated projects, will include MOT International (London and Brussels), with a work by Dennis Oppenheim. “We are focusing on one work, Whirlpool (Eye of the Storm), in which Oppenheim has employed a crop sprayer to leave a spiral trail in the sky,” says Chris Hammond, the director of MOT International. “We’re showing it in the original format—a video installation first shown in 1973 in The Kitchen in New York. It’s a seminal piece. If you think of Spiral Jetty, this is like a spiral jetty in the sky. Oppenheim is one of the key players in land art; he and other land artists use the spiral as a form.”

Galleria Lorcan O’Neill (Rome) is bringing a retrospective of films from 1960 to 1990 by Luigi Ontani to Feature. “Ontani has been a big influence on people like Francesco Clemente, Julian Schnabel, Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman—he’s an artists’ artist,” O’Neill says. “I’m bringing three of Ontani’s films from the 1960s and 70s, shot on video in black and white, all around four minutes. The videos are playful but there is a lot of cultural inventiveness with the symbolism.”

The Feature section will also include Take Ninagawa (Tokyo) bringing new works by Shinro Ohtake—“he was one of many people’s favourites from the Venice Biennale,” Spiegler says—and Bitforms gallery (New York) reviving Beryl Korot’s multichannel video installation Dachau, 1974.

Highlights of the Conversations and Salon sector include a talk with Philippe Parreno—“Philippe had an amazing year with his show at the Palais de Tokyo, which redefined what can be done in a show,” Spiegler says—and a discussion about “The Artist As… ­Choreographer” with William Forsythe, Xavier Le Roy, Isabel Lewis and Yve Laris Cohen: “It’s a really interesting series for us as there is no artistic practice that doesn’t overlap into other practices.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Art Basel picks up the performance theme'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 258 June 2014