Fairy Tale Ending

Kate Sutton around Art Basel


Left: Artists Rob Pruitt and Zoe Stillpass. Right: Designer Ludovic Balland, curator Lionel Bovier, and artist Cyprien Gaillard. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

WHILE OTHERS angled for last-minute flights from Berlin, my Art Basel warm-up consisted of a full night’s sleep chased with champagne and a visit to Droog at the Monday afternoon preview of Design Miami/Basel. It would have been nice to stick around and enjoy the smartly dressed company, but staying put wasn’t on the agenda. Instead, I set off for the opening of Liste, a less well-heeled event, if only because everyone knows stilettos are no match for the iron-grate stairwells of the labyrinthine Werkraum Warteck, the longtime venue for the “young art fair” that is now celebrating its fifteenth year.

Burgweg street was packed with beer and bratwurst in the reliable and familiar art-kegger format. Out on the veranda, Amsterdam’s ZINGERpresents offered an archive of works exploring masculinity, while upstairs A. L. Steiner and A. K. Burns’s video at Taxter + Spengemann was raising more eyebrows (among other things) than Christian Marclay’s guitar porn at Art Unlimited. “I don’t mind the fisting so much,” one viewer claimed, squirming back into the hallway. “It’s just that when they start sewing each other’s faces . . . ”

For her project at Hotel, artist Juliette Blightman had scoured Basel in search of its most reliable tarot reader. The result? Madame Yvonne, who arrived in style with her own posters and decor, offering to read fairgoers’ fortunes. “Oh, I’ll get mine read eventually,” Hotel director Darren Flook sighed. “But honestly, what if I don’t want to know? It’s only day one, after all.”

Left: Darren Flook of Hotel Gallery. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Artists Emanuel Rossetti and Andro Wekua. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Day two came quickly enough—at this pace, who has time to care about the future? I made an attempt at the opening of the main fair, but skipped out before closing time to catch a book launch for Rob Pruitt’s Holy Crap! at the artist-run alternative space New Jerseyy. Pruitt was on hand for his panda-themed Flea Market, passively peddling panda memorabilia given to him by collectors. An assistant held up a poster: “Is fifty euros OK for this?” Pruitt shrugged and returned to “personalizing” a copy of his book, i.e., ripping out random pages.

I spotted Pruitt’s dealer Gavin Brown, artists Andro Wekua and Pamela Rosenkranz, SculptureCenter’s Fionn Meade, and I’m pretty sure new Tate Modern director Chris Dercon—the problem with dark-horse appointments being that it takes a while before the rest of us can properly recognize them. The growing crowd was already casually drinking beers streetside (all in their newly purchased panda hats and aprons, natch), and the evening only promised to get rowdier. A band pulled up in a car with a trunk full of amps and treated onlookers to an impromptu concert, but, already late for the Ambra Medda/Emmanuel Perrotin dinner, I didn’t stick around to see where it led.

The Medda/Perrotin fete was once again held on board Das Schiff, a party boat on the Rhine, and once again cohosted with world-renowned Parisian hedonists Le Baron. Paris-based band Fortune was charged with the task of ushering in the dinner-to-dance-floor transition, while a roof deck offered a place to cool off and some respite from the crowd. Weaving between the two venues, I passed Sotheby’s Oliver Barker and Loic Gouzer, dealer Harry Blain, and collector Jean Pigozzi safely ensconced at the bar, and spotted Perrotin artists Jesper Just, Daniel Firman, and Xavier Veilhan kicking things off dance-wise. As the evening progressed, orphaned bottles of champagne kept appearing on tabletops, and the lively set by Le Baron ensured that no one kept track of time (or, let’s face it, anything else).

Left: Karen McCarthy, Paul McCarthy, and LA MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch. Right: Artist Gabriel Orozco. (Photos: David Velasco)

Roughly four hours after finally making it off that boat, I was nabbing a coveted seat at the inaugural Art Conversations, this year featuring New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni and artist Paul McCarthy. The 10 AM talk centered on McCarthy’s sprawling Pig Island, curated by Gioni and currently on view at the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in Milan. The artist regaled the crowd: “I never thought art could cure anything. Art for me is not therapy, in the sense that I’m not getting well here.” Later, during the Q&A, one woman inquired as to what the artist found “so interesting about sex.” McCarthy cocked his head and thought for a moment, before the woman clarified, “ . . . in your work, I mean.”

The next day, an intrepid group joined Hauser & Wirth on a day trip to Milan to see the sculpture itself, but I opted to spend my Thursday touring the jewels of Basel—the Schaulager and the Beyeler—before taking the tram back to the town center for a book launch of Cyprien Gaillard’s Geographical Analogies, held in the back room of the Kunsthalle bar (which, as it turns out, no one had actually seen in the daytime). I caught up briefly with the Sprüth Magers team and scattered members of the New Jerseyy clan, who were eager to advise on the best of that evening’s Black Forest parties.

Fueled by a Basel-specific diet of white wine, espresso, and candy from the Beyeler’s Felix Gonzalez-Torres show, I continued up the street to the Kunstmuseum for a reception honoring Gabriel Orozco. I was somewhat surprised to discover the artist himself standing outside the museum’s gates. Apparently, in Switzerland, people not only bother to open their gallery mail, but they actually follow instructions and bring paper invitations to events. This would be quaint if someone had thought to provide guest lists to the stern-looking security, so that, you know, important but forgetful people could get in. As it was, with no lists to ensure entrance, a crowd of undisputed title holders—among them Hans Ulrich Obrist and Tate Modern’s Jessica Morgan—congregated around Orozco. The artist guided us around to the back entrance, then turned to the assembled: “Before we go in”—he smiled—“let me tell you that you should really work on your PR.” With that, the doors opened and we poured into the rear lobby, where flustered Swiss museum guards held us until they could secure everyone a yellow wristband.

Left: Artist Tobias Madison and Franzi von Hasselbach. Right: Curator Jens Hoffmann (left) and artist Martha Rosler (center). (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Next up was Art Parcours, a new program of site-specific work, which required a special map to track down (shades of Skulptur Projekte Münster). We scurried through the rain to track down Martha Rosler’s community-wide Fair Trade Garage Sale and Angela Bulloch’s light box, suspended above the altar of the Basel Münster cathedral, before trying our luck at getting on the passenger ferry where John Bock was taking a Charon-esque turn for his work Seawolf. Given the persistent downpour, it didn’t seem likely that the Cerith Wyn Evans fireworks (“His biggest ever!” I had been advised) would go on as planned, so we skipped along to the next destination: banker and Basel grandee Peter Handschin’s party in Seltisberg.

Thanks goodness for the free Art Basel VIP cars (and the foresight to schedule one in advance). Evidently, the drivers had received so many requests for a ride to a house with no discernible address other than “out in the countryside, kind of near a post office,” that they had met beforehand and group-Googled the location. Winding through the country roads, we watched foxes and field mice flash in and out of the fog until finally, after a stretch of off-roading (the VIP Volkswagen fleet’s best advertising yet), two pretty, blonde valets appeared in the headlights.

The bonfire was blazing as promised and orange tents were spread across the yard, but the rain kept the majority of the guests inside, where they met myriad Choose Your Own Adventure–style doors and stairways (all in keeping with the Magic Castle feel of the evening). One entry might lead you to a lavish buffet, another to Bianca Jagger. (Of course, there were other staircases, other rooms, but I—wisely, I think—left those adventures to others.)

Left: Jane Hait of Wallspace Gallery. Right: Dealers Dealer Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

The stately, art-filled interior was precariously packed. No one seemed to mind that people were getting precipitously close to the Sterling Ruby painting at the top of one stairwell. “It’s like the parents are out of town for the weekend,” an artist friend whispered. Surveying the crowd, however, by all appearances it was the kids who had split the scene. The impromptu dance floor boasted an uncomfortable combination of jabbing elbows and flying cardigans, as the abundance of alcohol and the eclectic YouTube-based playlist (The Smiths’s “Some Girls Are Bigger than Others” followed by the new Kylie Minogue single) coaxed an unlikely assortment to flail about. Amid the mom jeans, I did spy artists Danh Vo and Tobias Madison, as well as dealer Martin Eder and Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, who was holding court near a trio of what I’m pretty certain were the villains from Superman 2.

“It’s a little Hansel and Gretel, right?” Josée Bienvenu’s Samuel Roeck pondered as we attacked a plate of gingerbread. Indeed, it was hard to properly indulge in the decadence without worrying about how—or if—we would find our way home. I’ve read enough fairy tales to know to be on guard when stumbling on a castle in the woods—especially one bursting with beautiful men perpetually topping up champagne glasses. Perhaps against better judgment (or maybe just the first good judgment of the week), I snagged a seat back in the first available taxi before things got full-on Grimm.

Left: Dealer Janice Guy (left) and artist Moyra Davey (center). Right: Collector Jean Pigozzi. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Peter Handschin, Kunsthalle Basel president and E. Gutzwiller & Cie partner. Right: Dealer Lisa Overduin and NADA director Heather Hubbs.

Left: Eivind Furnesvik of Standard (Oslo). Right: Fortune. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: Dealer Jessie Washburne-Harris. Right: Bureau's Gabrielle Giattino (center). (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Dealer Monica Manzutto. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Marie Denkens and Wim Peeters of Office Baroque Gallery. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Left: Artist Thomas Janitzky at Galerie Helga Broll. Right: Artist Samuel Roeck and Elizabeth Dee Gallery's Jayne Drost.