The Best of Art Basel: Paul Laster Surveys the Galleries, Paintings, and Sculpture Worth Seeing

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Neo Rauch, Ettape. David Zwirner, New York and Galerie Eigen + Art, Berlin/Leipzig

As Venice settles down to a calmer flow of visitors to the Biennale throughout the summer, the art-world caravan has journeyed to Switzerland for the 40th edition of the world’s most prestigious fair, Art Basel. Collectors stormed the booths of their favorite galleries at the preview, making quick acquisitions of high quality modern and contemporary art.

More than 300 international galleries are showing work in a variety of media by more than 2,500 artists. With the exception of the sections of the fair offering emerging art and experimental projects, most dealers have been cautious to bring the best work by known artists — a strategy that is already paying off.

Andy Warhol’s 36-foot-long Big Retrospective Painting, which fills the whole booth at Galerie Bruno Bischofberger and is priced at $74 million — is attracting the most attention at the fair. The 1979 postmodernist painting appropriates the artist’s own seminal work, ranging from flowers, soup cans, and car crashes to Marilyn, Mao, and self-portraits.

Getting equal buzz — especially after Brad Pitt snatched it up for a reported $956,000 at the preview — is Neo Rauch’s marvelous 1998 painting, Ettape. A dreamy mix of race-car competition and multicolored cables being pulled from a spool, the large oil on linen is a classic work by a contemporary master.

Another big-ticket item is the Takashi Murakami and rapper Pharrell Williams collaboration, The Simple Things at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, which reportedly sold for $2 million. The new sculptural piece depicts a typical Murakami cartoon head about to chomp down on a serving tray with a bag of Doritos, a can of Pepsi, a sneaker, and other “simple things” on it. Pure bling, it stands in the face of how most dealers view the current market, but its sale certainly more than covered Perrotin’s costs.

The Art Premiere section presents gallery curatorial projects. In this context, Gino de Dominici’s 1980 installation Violated Bars places a security gate, which has been separated in one part by an apparent escape, across the façade of Galleria Lia Rumma’s booth, keeping visitors on the outside. In another project, Jack Shainman Gallery exhibits Kerry James Marshall’s new painting series Pin-ups and Portraits, which portray black figures in popular genres.

Art Unlimited features ambitious, large-scale art projects, some created especially for the fair. Nan Goldin exhibits a portfolio of photographs from her seminal 1995 show, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency; Yoshitomo Nara presents Torre de Málaga, a 2007 installation of a towering structure that replicates the artist’s studio in the base, where he displays paintings, sculptures, and drawings; and Sarah Oppenheimer constructs an architectural space with stylishly designed holes that makes the visitor the subject of observation.

Emerging artists get their viewing in Art Statements. Highlights here include Geert Goiris’ poetic, travel photographs at Art: Concept and Stephen G. Rhodes creates a crazy, multimedia installation from disparate historical and cultural source materials at Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi; and Leslie Hewitt presents photo-sculptural works that utilize snapshots, collected ephemera, and personal documents to investigate Dutch trade routes and 17th-century still life.

Public art is displayed in the Messeplatz, where visitors enter the fair. The artist collective General Idea shows its 1989 AIDS sculpture, which appropriated the form of Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture to bring attention and compassion to the plight of people suffering from the disease. It comes complete with graffiti gathered in multiple showings over the past 20 years. Jeppe Hein’s maze-like 2006 Loop Bench, which resembles a track for miniature race cars, is another standout public work.

Going beyond the object, Art Film will present Arne Glimcher’s Picasso & Braque Go to the Movies, a documentary about the influence of early cinema on the Cubist work of these two modern masters, with contributions from Chuck Close, Julian Schnabel, and others.

Finally, one of the most touted events of this year’s fair is Il Tempo del Postino, a series of art performances, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Philippe Parreno, at the Theater Basel. Originally presented at the Manchester International Festival in 2007, it features time-based work by celebrated visual artists, including Matthew Barney, Tacita Dean, Pierre Huyghe, Tino Sehgal, and others.

Off to a good start and offering a dynamic mix of international art in all forms, Art Basel should prove, once again, to be the barometer of what we will be seeing in galleries and museums in the near and distant future.

Click here to view The Daily Beast’s image gallery of the Best of Art Basel.

Paul Laster is at Art Basel thanks to our friends at The Daily Beast. Click here for more Art Beast scoops from the the 53rd Venice Biennale, Art Basel, and the world’s best museums, galleries, and auction houses.