The world’s boring navy suit industry is entirely financed by art world professionals, I thought as I observed the crowds at Art Basel’s VIP breakfast. Here, if you’re male and not wearing that specific uniform, you’ll be labeled either tasteless, insane, poor, or all of the above; I had experienced it myself last year, and so this time I decided to avoid irritated looks by opting for a perfectly soporific shade of blue too. As I entered the fair an hour later, I went up to the Statements section, where solo presentations by emerging artists are on view. The award for the most daring move certainly should go to Sandy Brown’s Aude Pariset, whose sculptures include bed-like structures, plastic bags and a hole lot of live worms feasting on synthetic materials. Another highlight was Rodrigo Hernández’ wall work, composed of several brass panels graced with semi-mythological sceneries, brought to Basel by Lisbon gallery Madragoa; it made me feel like Indiana Jones discovering some particularly regal and mysterious tomb.
Georgia Gardner Gray’s hallucinatory commuter scenes at Croy Nielsen also impressed me: rendered in a palette that manages to be both extremely intense and subtle, her paintings are like a big fuck you to the dullness of those daily moments one doesn’t even think about while experiencing them. Last but not least, I would have liked to rob Essex Street’s entire booth, where only six very small works were on view: the photos of Sara Deraedt are so bleak it’s almost frustrating, but that makes them all the more desirable, in a weirdly masochistic way. In the main section, plenty of other things stood out, especially when they felt focused yet exempt of obnoxious showmanship: to mention only a few, I was particularly taken by Sarah Pichlkostner’s metal constructions at Annet Gelink, a small Peter Doig painting at Victoria Miro and one of Jason Dodge’s fragile yet powerful readymades, for lack of a better term, at Franco Noero.
But do such pieces even matter at an event like Art Basel? Strolling through Hauser & Wirth’s booth, I noticed it was almost exclusively focused on wildly expensive positions from estates, like Louise Bourgeois, Philip Guston and Francis Picabia, whose popularity I’ll never be able to fathom. Such works fall into a different category and constitute a league most galleries can’t qualify for – to the detriment of many of their talented, living artists? Also, while one probably can’t dispute the merits of a Mira Schendel or Joan Mitchell, I’m still naive enough to wish for a fair booth to look a little less like a Christie’s meeting room. With this shred of a reflection on gallery politics, I hope you’ll feel refreshed from my previous tales of art fair alcoholism!