Flying Into Art Basel 2019 – Paul Carey-Kent Reports

Paul Carey- Kent is in Basel for the worlds weightiest art fair Here are his top picks from the week the art world focused on its own form of sustainability. Writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent publishes a rolling ten recommended contemporary art shows in London and for special global art events. He is currently working freelance for Art Monthly, Frieze, Elephant, STATE, Photomonitor, Border Crossings and World of Interiors.


Galleries at Art Basel naturally hope that works will fly off the wall (or out of the separate private sale rooms at the fair in a growing VIP trend). But questions are being asked these days about the environmental consequences of flying people and art around the world. Does the model need to change? With 290 galleries in Art Basel plus plenty of other fairs and institutions in Basel, you can probably home in on any trend – but as it happens I saw several interesting works which involved flight directly, as well as many flights of fancy…

Gregor Törzs: à la couleur – Wing Wing 2, 2017 at Persiehl & Heine, Hamburg, in Photo Basel 2019

Art Basel Paul Carey-Kent Artlyst

The separate Photo Basel fair was of a good standard, and featured these beautifully realised microscope-assisted images of cicada wings, printed on Gampi paper which buckles a little with moisture and takes on a wing-like texture. I had never realised, perhaps because they beat too fast to see in flight, that cicadas have such colourfully patterned wings.

Rebecca Horn: White Body Fan, 1972 at the Tinguely Museum

Art Basel Paul Carey-Kent Artlyst

Rebecca Horn’s seminal performance, in which she fixed a pair of semi-circular wings made of white fabric to her body that unfolded when she raised her arms, was the starting point for exploration of many flight-related works within the restrospective ‘Body Fantasies’. Those included kinetic feather fans and a mechanical morpho butterfly, itself linking to Horn’s film ‘Buster‘s Bedroom’, in which an aging Diva keeps the souls of her former lovers as butterflies in a fridge.

Masahisa Fukase: Erimo Cape, 1976 at Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo in Art Basel 2019

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Taka Ishii showed a pretty comprehensive history of Japanese photography from the 60’s onwards spread across one large wall.  Among some 150 images was this silver gelatin print of a raven: a subject which Masahisa Fukase made famous through his book ‘The Solitude of Ravens’. That collects photographs from 1975-82 in which the often-shadowy bird stands as a symbol of Ishii’s solitude following a divorce.

Pierre Bismuth: Abstractions in ‘Art Parcours’ (with Jan Mot Gallery, Brussels)

Art Basel Paul Carey-Kent Artlyst

My favourite of the 20 special projects dotted around the old town sees the Belgium-based French artist make a nice political point by flying 15 flags around Munsterplatz. Each was an amalgam of a European nation’s flag and that of the nation from which they have taken in the most migrants. Not only do they question the shifting basis of nationhood, suggesting it is increasingly abstract, but the merged flags make for fresh and unconventional ensigns as they flutter in the breeze. So for example the two nearest above are  Switzerland/Somalia and Austria/Bangladesh.

Ugo Rondinone fall cloud, 2018 at Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich/ New York, in Art Basel 2019

      Art Basel Paul Carey-Kent Artlyst

Clouds fly, and this is clearly a cloud, albeit fixed to the wall. But its’s rocky: made of sand, gravel, concrete to be precise, making implausible heavy of the driftingly light. Rondinone, Swiss but dwelling in New York, has previous in channelling clouds as evocations of romanticism , but tweaked towards modernity. These might suggest the clouds of ash which have sometimes prevented planes flying.

DK: Memories of Tomorrow: Remnants of the Ronne Ice Shelf,2018 at Galerija Fotografija, Ljubljana in Photo Basel 2019

Art Basel Paul Carey-Kent Artlyst

The photographer known as DK showed work from his new photobook ‘Scotoma’. Under such evocative theme titles as ‘Behind Eyelids’, ‘Memories of Tomorrow’ and ‘Darkening’, it seems to present near-abstract landscapes from around the world. In fact, the Slovenian photographer’s motto is ‘I don’t travel to photograph. I photograph to travel’ – for everything is actually from close to his studio. Often, they’re cloudscapes. So not only does this image allude to the loss of ice, but DK’s practice is a carbon-friendly one which won’t contribute to the problem.

Art Basel 2019 until 16 June

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