Art Basel’s Oddest Ends

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Published June 22, 2010

JOHN BOCK, DER SEEWOLF, 2010. PHOTO BY QUINN LATIMER

 

Pirates, thrifts stores, and yogic violence aren’t the first things that come to mind when envisioning Art Basel, the irrepressibly elegant and prestigious art fair that occurs like clockwork each June in Switzerland. Nevertheless, this year, with the introduction of Art Parcours—a site-specific art production of ten new works curated by Jens Hoffmann—pirates (as embodied by German performance artist John Bock), thrift stores (overseen by seminal feminist artist Martha Rosler), and yogic violence (via the torrid imagination of Swedish video artist Nathalie Djurberg) were very much on display. Inspired by the French colonial track sport of “parcours,” which originated with military obstacle courses, Hoffmann asked ten art stars to make site-specific works near Basel’s Münsterplatz, high above the bucolic banks of the Rhine, which would entail a “journey” for the viewers involved.

Perhaps responding to this oddly open curatorial conceit, the offerings were alternately sly or straightforward: Aurélien Froment’s deadpan film about the history of paper-making ended with instructions about how to get to Basel’s old paper mill nearby. Bock, by contrast, chose to go to sea, literally: he turned one of Basel’s small, wooden 19th-century ferryboats into pirate booty. “I am fleeing the big black monochrome!” he screamed, as he took us out on the turbulent waters. “Pretty Billy isn’t so pretty anymore!” he yelled as he pummeled his crew of dolls. Back on land, Rosler set up a drier but strangely high-priced thrift store of local goods that she called the Fair Trade Garage Sale. We ducked into a lecture on radio communication given by Ryan Gander, and into the reliably disturbing animations-bodies bloody and dissembling-of Djurgberg, wittily installed in the antler-strewn basement of the Natural History Museum. In the end, if the constellation of works did not quite coalesce into a coherent whole, they did result in a journey of sorts, one that ended with the ecstatic refrain, repeated far, far into the night: “Pretty Billy isn’t so pretty anymore!”