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This Corner of Basel Let Artists Display Their Most Ambitious Projects

Individual projects in the 'Positions' section were the highlights of the 269 exhibitor-deep fair.

by Andrew Nunes
07 December 2016, 4:20pm

Max Hooper Schneider, High Art. All images courtesy of the artists and galleries. All photos by the author

Adopting a less art market-centric approach than its peers (although the works in the booth are ultimately still for sale), the Positions section at Art Basel Miami Beach allows curators, critics, and collectors to discover ambitious new talents from across the globe, by providing a platform for a single artist to present one major project. Feeling more like condensed solo shows than the typical art smattering seen at fairs, the 16 booths in this section brought the heat, and we’re breaking down our favorites (in a non-preferential, alphabetical order) for you to take a gander.

Mike Cloud at Thomas Erben Gallery

Mike Cloud, Thomas Erben Gallery

The first project on the list revolves around the hybrid painting-sculptures of Mike Cloud at Thomas Erben Gallery. These vibrant, geometric, and heavily layered canvases are literally hung on the wall, not with nails but through the use of thin pink leather belts hanging from wooden pegs. Supported on the bottom by small platforms but appearing ready to give way at any moment, the works are meant to explore death by hanging, with written inscriptions of popular figures who have died in this way scrawled across the wooden edges of the frames.

Mike Cloud, Thomas Erben Gallery

Many of the individuals listed died by voluntary suicide, like Robin Williams, Amber Hilberling, and (supposedly) Judas Iscariot, but other names included in the work represent individuals forcefully hung or who accidentally hung themselves without suicidal intentions, like Mary the Elephant and actor David Carradine.

Ana Luiza Dias Batista at Galeria Marilia Razuk

Ana Luiza Dias Bastista, Galeria Marilia Razuk

Moving south of the equator, the booth at Galeria Marilia Razuk featured the works of Brazilian artist Ana Luiza Dias Bastista, revolving around collected keys, traditional games, and Brazilian culture-at-large. The highlights of the stand are the two long rows of enlarged key designs, appropriated from actual façades of Brazilian key shops. Dias Bastista supposedly negotiated a series of exchanges with the shops, trading money, artwork, or other goods in exchange for permission to use and tamper with the key shop store designs. The artist made a series of unadorned copies of each key, acting as blank keys waiting to have personal information imprinted on them, although they are in fact incapable of opening anything.

Ana Luiza Dias Bastista, Galeria Marilia Razuk

Accompanying the wall keys are a series of keys embedded in nine cement blocks, meant to represent a game of tic-tac-toe played between the gallerist and the artist and also a reference to a fading tradition of Brazilian key shops involving the decorative embedding of keys in the sidewalk in front of the store. Also included is a large safe in the shape of a Rubik’s Cube, frozen while turning. The piece effectively acts as a nonfunctional object both in terms of playing the game (all sides are visually identical) and as a safe, made entirely of cement and impossible to open or store anything inside of piece.

Melanie Gilligan at Galerie Max Mayer

Melanie Gilligan, Galerie Max Mayer

Presenting a structurally complex video installation (as she has a tendency to do), the central, singular piece by artist Melanie Gilligan at Galerie Max Mayer consists of two cubic monitors embedded into hovering industrial rods. Each cube presents two divided videos on each side, totaling 12 videos per cube, focusing on documentary footage the artist took of two workers on each American coast. The more elevated cube portrays the life of a medical supplies transporter based in Upstate New York, a representation of the life of a blue-collar professional in a non-urban setting. The lower cube shows the life of a woman working an office job in San Francisco, arguably the pinnacle of ongoing urban gentrification.  Like a sociological Big Brother, the parallels (and lack of) between the two become increasingly pronounced as you walk around the structure and its rapidly shifting and overloading displays of information.

Max Hooper Schneider at High Art

Max Hooper Schneider, High Art

Like entering a mad scientist’s lab with a predilection for heavy metal and those kitschy plasma globes you would find at Spencer’s in the early 2000s, artist Max Hooper Schneider’s booth via High Art was undeniably one of the most unique booths in the entire fair in terms of materials alone. From a neon-encased terrarium filled with live and artificial natural specimens to a sort of post-apocalyptic or Paleolithic display of Schneider’s personal cassette collection with an embedded fog machine, the artist presented the machinations of a mind concerned with more than just the art historical canon and contemporary modes of producing art, a fact solidified by Schneider’s less-than-traditional trajectory as an artist, holding a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a masters in Landscape Architecture from Harvard rather than the expected BFA and MFA.

Max Hooper Schneider, High Art

Other works in the booth included an encased assortment of alligator claws, a creepily visceral piece that prompted non-stop questioning from fair goers to the gallerists as to “what the hell is in that cage?”, as well as three plasma globes filled with different noble gasses and electric currents, mounted on repurposed recycling cans, meant as embryos of some sort, according to a gallerist at High Art.

Maggie Lee at Real Fine Arts

Maggie Lee, Real Fine Arts

Although her works on view have never been shown before, Maggie Lee’s booth at Real Fine Arts was effectively an extension of pre-existing inquiries and explorations taken on by the artist. In a similar vein to Mommy, a video Lee made in 2015 in response to her mother’s sudden death, the artist shows a highly personal video of a reconciliation with her estranged and now sickly father in Thailand, a work not as immediately tragic as Mommy but more like a prolonged release of pain, as she sees her final parental figure seemingly approach death.

Maggie Lee, Real Fine Arts

For the booth, Lee has also continued her tradition of glass tank dioramas, presenting two very different iterations. The first glass tank is entirely empty beyond a colorful floor pattern, seeming to represent a desolate dance floor, a feeling that is similarly mimicked in the floor pattern of the actual booth. The second diorama holds a strange menagerie of sitting ‘Jenny dolls’ (off-brand Barbie dolls made in Japan), fake cheese, and a crescent moon. Lee’s dioramic works are often meant as loose representations of her childhood and adolescence, to which a Real Fine Arts gallerist adds that the booth is meant as a ‘life-size version of her dioramas’, solidifying the idea that the booth is effectively an aesthetic exploration of Lee’s personal life, shared with the massive Art Basel audience.

Max Hooper Schneider, High Art

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