What: Art Statements
Where: Art Basel, Basel, Switzerland
When: 15-19 June 2011
Art Statements is a specialised sector of Art Basel that features solo exhibitions of emerging artists from different countries. 27 artists and their respective galleries have been selected this year out of over 300 applications worldwide.
Before at we get excited, there was no Australian artist or gallery at Art Statements this year. Out of the 27 chosen, only 13 different countries were represented, with 80% of this pool from UK, US and Europe. The remaining 20% (or 6 participants) are 2 from China, 1 from Japan, 1 from South Africa, 1 from India and 1 from South America. Still, this appears to be an improvement from previous years. According to my research from patchy information found on the net, the proportion of UK, US and European galleries used to be a lot higher. I couldn’t find any historical information on Art Statements before 2008, but simply Googling “Art Statements Art Basel Australia” it seems that our great land downunder has barely been featured in this sector over the 10 years that this has been running. This is something that needs to change.
To be featured in Art Statements is certainly excellent international exposure for an emerging artist, being attached to a significant art fair and in the spotlight of the world’s top collectors, critics, museum directors who attend each year. Some major solo exhibitions have been offered to artists as an outcome and it is without doubt a great career launchpad. Artists that have been discovered at Art Statements in the past include Vanessa Beecroft, Elizabeth Peyton and Kara Walker. And if you recall my post about Simon Fujiwara’s installation at the Singapore Biennale, well that installation was at Art Statements the year before. Fujiwara also won the Baloise Art Prize with this work, a prize that is awarded to the two best exhibitions at Art Statements.
The Baloise Art Prize this year has been awarded to Ben Rivers from the UK and Alejandro Cesarco from Uruguay. The winners get CHF 30,000 each, their work acquired by Baloise and donated to important museums in Europe. What an amazing opportunity.
Below are photos that I took of each stand at Art Statements, in order.
I personally found the selection of work here quite uninspiring overall. I strongly believe that art, no matter its context or concept, should be able to stand on its own two feet in a way that the viewer is able to connect heart, mind or soul to the work simply from engaging with it. The ideas and concepts behind some of the art here were either too insipid for my taste or so removed from the work themselves that they weren’t saying much to me at all.
I did like some of it however. Ben Rivers and Alexandre Singh get my thumbs up. I also didn’t mind Kaari Upson, Alex Hubbard and Alejandro Cesarco. Hah, look at it me, I sound like I am some kind of all high and mighty art critic.
I really loved Ben Rivers’ work, Sack Barrow (2011), an extremely poetic and beautiful 16mm film that runs for about 20 minutes on a day in the life of a very old and very used electro-plating factory in London. A small handful of workers, perhaps only four, slowly and diligently go about their day job in this obsolete industrial world. This obsoleteness is very effectively communicated in the film (which itself is made using obsolete technology) in that we never really know what these workers are actually doing. They don’t seem to be making anything that is of any use or resemblance to things we have seen. As a result, we are left with much confusion as we play voyeurs to this very estranged world with a child-like sense of wonder, something that Rivers excellently conjures. An eloquent portrait of a vanishing age, I watched the film three times in a row, each time discovering something more. A mark of a good work of art.
Alexandre Singh’s work was very clever. An object is placed on each of three plinths that also functioned as speakers. The work is called Dialogue of the Objects I-V and it is simply that – inanimate objects sitting on the plinths ‘talking’ to each other, their voices played from the speakers directly underneath them. Installed in a pitch black room, a spotlight shines on the objects as they ‘speak’. Here the roles of the artwork and the spectator are reversed. Full of character, the objects are no longer submissive and instead we hear them eloquently discussing and giving judgement on the world of human beings. Five different dialogues occur between sets of three different objects. Apple, Hammer and Feather argue about Apple’s superiority over Hammer over the course of history, including Newton’s discovery of gravity; Quill, Helium Balloon and Gallery Guide discuss Quill’s amazing literary skills of which he willingly demonstrates; Wine Glass 1, Wine Glass 2 and Radio discuss taste and judgement; and so on and so forth. Extremely witty, naive yet intelligent, we get a glimpse into the psyches of objects. Despite being completed fictional, the objects are so incredibly charming that we want to believe that what we were seeing was true. Other objects include cigarette packets, an ashtray, an hourglass, a box of matches, a necklace and a TomTom GPS device.
Apart from these small handful of works, I didn’t leave Art Statements feeling too upbeat. I probably had really high expectations though. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see the kind of art that ‘made it’ out of the alleged 300 applications from around the world. Maybe I am missing something, but I have certainly seen better emerging art in Australia, and even at the VCA. I can only hope that Australia will show up on the Art Statements map in the coming years and give these other guys a good run for their money.