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Art Basel 2019

Art Basel diary: Robert Indiana's spooky sculpture and a rogue rat

Plus, would Marcel Duchamp approve of a snow-globe urinal?

For he’s a jolly Odd Fellow: Robert Indiana’s Rum Run (1975/2005) Photo: Gareth Harris

Shiver me timbers!

A piratical skeleton standing upright in a boat is spooking visitors over at Galerie Gmurzynska’s stand. Robert Indiana’s Rum Run (1975/2005) had pride of place at the late artist’s beloved home and studio in Vinalhaven, and was at one point housed in the “lock-up” section of the sprawling art complex in Maine. The macabre figure is also dressed in an Odd Fellows Uniform, another link back to Indiana’s home, which was once the abode of the aforementioned fraternal order. Word reaches us that an Asian museum has acquired the piece, and plans to pair the in-your-face effigy with an installation by Nam June Paik. How many pieces of eight changed hands is unknown.

The chairman of Tefaf Nanne Dekking's Insta selfie with Mel Bochner's mirrored work

Bochner shits you not

The mirrored work Everybody is Full of Shit (2018) by Mel Bochner at Two Palms gallery’s stand has become an Insta-favourite with the cheery Art Basel crowd this week for reasons we cannot fathom. One of those who posted a selfie with it was Nanne Dekking, the chairman of another fair company, Tefaf, with the caption “Not much to add…” and the hashtags #artbasel #fullofshit. People full of shit at an art fair? Surely not.

The collecting couple Mera and Don Rubell take a breather Photo: Gareth Harris

It’s game on for the Rubells

The prolific collecting couple Don and Mera Rubell have been darting through the aisles of Art Basel this week, no doubt adding works to the 7,200-strong collection that will fill the new Rubell Museum opening this December in Miami’s Allapattah neighbourhood. The 100,000 sq. ft venue in a former industrial building is expected to make a splash during Art Basel in Miami Beach. But on the fair floor, Don was most concerned with getting a high score on the Star Mania app, a popular block crush game where players eliminate groups of bubbles of the same colour. “There’s a logic to this. I can beat most people but not my granddaughter,” confides Don (who was sporting a fetching “Grandpa Don” tote bag).

Germany’s Vitra Design Museum hosted a different kind of raindance festival as Virgil Abloh hit the decks © Vitra; photo: Dejan Jovanovic

Wet, wet, wet in Weil am Rhein

“Stay hydrated,” was emblazoned on the screen behind the US fashion designer Virgil Abloh as he kicked off his DJ set for the Vitra Design Museum’s summer party on Wednesday night in Weil am Rhein. Opening with music by Daft Punk and then taking in some Rihanna, Aerosmith, Journey and a bit of The Beatles—one visitor described the playlist as an “an eclectic wedding mix”—Abloh was just getting the crowd going when the heavens opened. But with German efficiency a stack of Vitra umbrellas was whipped out to shelter the partygoers—who did indeed stay well hydrated all night.

Art prankster Massimo Agostinelli claims he bought the deceased rat from a Basel pet shop © David Owens

There’s a rat in me art fair

Art Basel visitors had to dodge a large rodent on the fair floor on Thursday. The artist prankster Massimo Agostinelli placed a dead rat close to the entrance, causing consternation among the well-heeled fairgoers. Agostinelli tells us that he bought the rat already deceased from a nearby pet shop and named the work Rat Blasé. “There is so much naiveté in the art world. People are not in it for the art but the money,” he says, stressing his love of wordplay. Clever-clogs readers will have noticed that Rat Blasé is, of course, an anagram of Art Basel.

The boys in blue from Squadra Violi at Art Basel's Hidden Bar Photo: Jose da Silva

The Hidden Bar's secret is out

Where at Art Basel can you get a drink and some ravioli served by young men in sky blue football kits, sit on exercise-ball seats and watch more than 100 different art films? Look no further than the Hidden Bar, tucked up a set of stairs behind the Parkett stand on the second floor and curated by Judith Kakon, Hannah Weinberger and Alice Wilke, who aim to offer a place to “escape from the fair”, Weinberger says. Despite fears from the fair organisers that visitors might not know about the Hidden Bar, it was busy on Thursday afternoon with a chatty and vibrant young crowd, who had clearly eschewed the Ruinart champagne bar for something a little more relaxed served up by the local boys from Squadra Violi.

Bethan Huws's Reason (or Winter) (2018) recalls the epochal readymade Fountain (1917) Photo: Gareth Harris

What would Duchamp do?

Would arch-conceptualist Marcel Duchamp approve of Bethan Huws’s reimagining of a urinal, on show with Galerie Tschudi? Huws has immersed the object in a huge glass dome filled with polystyrene flakes, bringing to mind Duchamp’s epochal 1917 readymade Fountain. Huws’s 2018 urinal, Reason (or Winter), spins sporadically, causing the flakes to disperse, just like a snow globe. The critic Giorgia von Albertini writes in a gallery booklet: “The first time I saw this astonishing piece, I could not quite decide whether the urinal looked like a white racing car in a winter landscape, or like the holy spirit in person.” Swiss fair visitors also seemed impressed. “Ja, ja, Duchamp would love this,” uttered one in quiet reverence.

FORT's Summ summ, bumm bumm (2019) © David Owens

Kiddie ride creates a buzz in Basel

After a week of exhibiting at Art Basel, fair fatigue has probably well and truly set in. Summ summ, bumm bumm (2019), a mechanical kiddie ride in the form of a maniacally grinning bee reversing back and forth into a mirror, by the Berlin-based duo FORT (aka Alberta Niemann and Jenny Kropp) has been attracting an amused crowd on the stand of the Düsseldorf gallery Sies + Höke. The work is about the closeness of play and annihilation, and the gleefulness of self-destruction—which might equally describe the bar of Les Trois Rois hotel past 10pm during Basel week.