Issue #194  9/25/2012
Art/43/Basel: An Artist's View, Photography Takes Hold in Basel

By Paula Chamlee

There were endless things to stimulate, inspire, confound, confuse, entertain, mystify, shock, disgust, amuse, admire--indeed, something for everyone at "The Art Show," the 43rd annual Art Basel fair. And four days at Art Basel for 2012 were barely enough to briefly overview the vast numbers of works from over 300 highly edited galleries from 39 countries that were included in the show at Messeplatz Basel (convention center), along with the many satellite shows around Basel and environs, art performances, "conversations" (panel discussions with artists, curators, critics, museum directors, and collectors), art films, and site-specific art installations and performances in a variety of historical locations, to name just a few. There is enough to do and see to fill a month.

For the first time this year, "top tier" VIPs were offered two, instead of one, additional days of access (before the general public) to the fair, an indication of the demand and the growing number of collectors who want first dibs on the art. It was reported that this was a very successful strategy and that many collectors bought works during this exclusive time.

Group of artists and photography dealers in Mulhouse outside of Basel.
Group of artists and photography dealers in Mulhouse outside of Basel.

Art fairs continue to expand and emerge in more and more countries, reflecting the world's demand for art. One can attend an international art fair somewhere in the world nearly every week. Whether all will be sustainable is unknown, but the highly respected and sophisticated Art Basel is the oldest art fair for modern and contemporary art and seems secure no matter how stormy the economy weather. It is where one sees artists, curators, dealers, and art collectors of many nationalities, and thus a broad expression and variety in both the art and the audience. And it attracts some of the world's richest collectors. It is an opportunity to see and experience some vital aspects of our rapidly changing and expanding world of art.

As an artist, it is always a valuable and inspiring experience for me to view the many masterworks, old and new, that will likely move into private collections. Galleries present mostly, or entirely, different works each year--new, fresh and surprising is what keeps the audience paying attention--and paying big prices. Many galleries carefully design their booths to highlight works that are theme-based in style, period, or subject matter, or they present one-person shows. It's a huge task of creative and careful planning, not to mention the huge expense for the galleries who are selected to participate.

I began with the big show in Hall 2. It was interesting to note that photography was being shown in an ever-increasing number of the art galleries, a very high percentage in fact, which reinforces a trend that indicates growing popularity and a healthy market for photography worldwide. Soon, it will be hard to find a gallery that does not represent some photography-based works.

Nearly every gallery along my route to the photo gallery sections was showing some photography along with other mediums: Matthew Marks (N.Y. & L.A.); Pace (N.Y., London, & Beijing); Hufkens (Brussels); Gagosian (many cities), m Bochum (Bochum, Germany); Margo Leavin (L.A.); Alfonso Artiaco (Naples). For example, Marian Goodman (N.Y.& Paris) showed Tacita Dean, Jeff Wall, Francesca Woodman, Thomas Struth, and John Baldessari; Kewenig (Cologne & Palma de Mallorca) showed Christian Boltanski's long wall of "Babies of Venice." And the trend was consistent throughout the rest of the show's galleries, which took two more days to see most of them.

The quality of works in the sections of photo galleries was quite high as usual. Since my field is photography, I spent considerable time seeing what these galleries had brought this year.

At Jeffrey Fraenkel's gallery (San Francisco), there were plenty of beautiful photographs, particularly "Circle City, NJ," 1974 by Bernd and Hilla Becher, "Brookline, Massachusetts," 2000 by Nicholas Nixon, four prints by Ralph Eugene Meatyard from his "Lucybelle Crater" series, 1970-1972, a small lovely print from Robert Adams's summer nights series "Fort Collins, Colorado" from 1976, a large Adam Fuss color photogram, 2011, three iconic portraits, one by Diane Arbus, a Richard Avedon portrait of a young Robert Frank, 1975, and Hiroshi Sugimoto's portrait of Fidel Castro, 1999, also a ten-print series of shop windows and mannequins in "Reflections, New York and Tucson," 2011, with the ever-elusive Lee Friedlander himself subtly revealed in the layered complexity of the pictures.

The Kicken gallery (Berlin) once again brilliantly created separate spaces in their booth, multiplying the number of walls for hanging an exceptionally large number of prints. Visitors could experience small intimate galleries and focus on groups of prints by era or theme. One of the small "rooms" housed treasures from their collection, one of which was a stunning print by László Moholy-Nagy of "View from Berlin Radio Tower in Winter," 1928-1930, also a lovely Albert Renger-Patzsch, "The Sapling, 1929," a glittering abstract by Otto Steinert, "Die Sonne von Amalfi, 1963," and a very small, yet dark and glowing still life by Willy Zielke, 1930.

Also notable at Kicken Gallery: some color prints by Joachim Brohm, a Man Ray Rayograph, "Projet pour une tapisserie," 1925-26, plus a unique enlargement of the same picture printed in 1938, and a "Nude, 1929" by František Drtikol, among many others. Part of the booth was designed with a theme comparing and contrasting masks, faces, and forms, stressing comparisons in compositional elements and styles such as a series of Brassaï's graffiti prints from his "Masks and Faces" series, 1933-56, and a collaboration between Picasso and André Villers in 1962 of collotypes of photomontages, which emphasized the mask-face theme as did the contemporary portraits in color inkjet from Charles Fréger from his extensive series "Wilder Mann," 2010-2011.

The Kicken Gallery produced a catalog especially for Art 43 Basel called Exposures 1 featuring 14 of the photographers among their treasures, highlights from the gallery's history in European classical modernism.

Bruce Silverstein's gallery (New York) showed a unique hand-made book by Keith Smith, which I especially admired as I occasionally make one-of-a-kind, hand-made books as well. Smith has been doing this for a very long time and this one from 1988, "Book No. 137" was remarkable. Shinichi Maruyama's "Kusho, #6, 2006," a large pigment print from his water series, shows his endlessly inventive exploration of suspended liquids and their graceful, surreal qualities. Aaron Siskind's abstractions of tar on pavement, "Vermont 88" from 1987, a lively grid of 12 silver prints, also recalled Japanese calligraphy. Notable others included: two small gems by Kertész, "Stairs of Montmartre, 1926" and "Notre Dame at Night, 1925," and a Harry Callahan photograph from Detroit, 1948, from his weeds series.

Sage (Paris) put together a flower-themed show with Imogen Cunningham's famous "Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels, 1925" as the centerpiece. Also featured was "Lilium auratum Yuri, 1897," a stunning color collotype by Kaumasa Ogawa, plus two other color collotypes of flowers by Ogawa, eight Mapplethorpe plant and flower pictures from limited edition portfolios published by Harry Lunn, Robert Miller, and Robert Self, a Fox Talbot salt print, Man Ray's solarized "Calla Lilies, 1930," the well-known "Melancholic Tulip, 1939" by Kertész, and an intriguing large pigment print of flowers and shadows by Portuguese artist, João Penalva, "Master Nanyo's Two Cats, 2010." The text included within the photograph informed the picture with poetic intrigue.

It was time to take a break, but I was overwhelmed by the crush of people when I stepped out into the sunny, large central atrium of the Messeplatz, where nearly every square inch of space was abuzz with attendees.

Fortunately the weather was gorgeous, so it was not unpleasant to have a coffee while standing among the throngs. Along with other food choices, a traditional dish originally unique to Switzerland was being served in abundance (this brought back fond memories of my time living near Basel in 1979): raclette cheese wheels were heated under broilers and scraped onto one's plate with a side of boiled potato, gherkin, and pickled onions.

Service was fast and friendly among the stands that served light and quick meals, and if you wanted to put your food or drink down it was normally at a shared table. Thus, I got to meet very friendly folks from various countries who were also taking a break from visual overload. The service was so slow in the sit-down restaurant areas inside the halls that I gave up on them. I suppose those in the VIP lounges got better treatment.

Refreshed with my caffeine injection, I returned to the photo gallery halls and the Edwynn Houk Gallery (New York). Houk displayed a strong group of works including an early Sally Mann, "Naptime" 1989, four Man Ray Rayographs from the 1920s, a large Robert Polidori, "Versailles, 2007," Brassaï's "Tentation de Saint Antoine," 1934-35, two C-prints by Stephen Shore from 1973-74, rich in their warm natural color, and three very large C-prints by Moroccon-born artist Lalla Essaydi, "Harem Beauty #1," 2008. Houk also featured a series of prints by Sebastiaan Bremer in his unusual technique.

Galerie Françoise Paviot (Paris), working in collaboration with Kicken Berlin, showed a large collection of Modernist photographs from the collection of Japanese photo critic Senichi Kimura (1900-1938), "prints unseen in the Western world until now." Also, treasures such as a 1923 enlargement of a graphic Man Ray Rayograph, a print of Atget's "Corsets," 1912, a very large and commanding Dieter Appelt grid, 1982, a pairing of a Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot cliché-verre drawing beside an anonymous contact print of broken glass that resonated with the same visual construction and rhythms; also an exceptional anonymous print of an interior "Soirée Delaunay", 1925. "Anonymous" is an interesting category of collecting. I have some of my own that I am making into a small, unique book of original prints.

There was a cohesive and informative series of photographs of Mondrian and his circle by André Kertész and the painter Fritz Glarner. The gallery provided a catalogue, Mondrian, published by PaviotFoto, preface by Serge Bramly, which included those photographs plus others who photographed Mondrian during his time in both Paris and New York.

One can step back in time to the earliest examples from photography when entering the gallery of Hans P. Kraus, Jr. (New York), noted connoisseur of prints from Old Masters of 19th and early 20th century.

There were some very fine salt prints by Rev. Calvert Richard Jones, 1846, but of particular interest was a Bisson Frères albumen print of "Miter of St. Louis of Toulouse," c.1850, a visually elegant and timeless picture. I have always admired well-made albumen and carbon prints, examples of which were two Louis-Emile Durandelle albumen prints, c.1870, a Roger Fenton albumen "Interior of Salisbury Cathedral," 1858, and a tonally deep and rich carbon print from Braun Studio, "Viaduct de la Saône," c.1870, along with the carbon print of the famous image "A Beautiful Vision: Julia Duckworth, June 1872" by Julia Margaret Cameron that was also reproduced for the cover of Kraus's Catalogue Twenty for a Cameron exhibition in 2011 at his gallery in NY.

One could not get bored in the Stephen Daiter Gallery (Chicago) who presented some surprises in his selection of some rather disturbing, yet powerful imagery: Peter Hujar skulls "Palermo, 1963," (great print), was paired with the provocative, emotionally charged photographs of Nan Goldin who was mentored by Hujar.

Further "tough" pictures could be seen in the gallery's closet by unknown photographer Alfonso Carrara who was in Italy during WWII and made photographs in 1944 during the grotesque hangings and beatings during the reign of Mussolini. Daiter has a set of these unique prints from Carrara, who had a rare opportunity to capture some of Mussolini's brutal acts at a place and time when no one else had a camera. Important documentation, good prints. Now I'm wondering what I had missed in the other dealers' closets. I'll look deeper next year.

For some "beauty relief," Daiter also showed a lovely and meditative Josef Sudek still life, "Pear and Glasses and Mirror," 1960s; a nude from 1932 by Eva Besnyö; head of Ellen Auerbach by Walter Peterhaus, c.1930; an exquisite portrait of Jeanne Jaffe by Kertész, 1920s; "Juliet with Peacock Feather and Paint" 1938, by György Kepes; Frederick Sommer's "Paint on Cellophane, 1957"; and a very large silver print, "Nude with Golden Lace I" 1946, by Czech photographer of Josef Ehm.

Tucci Russo (Torino) showed the fanciful 15-print grid "Broken Windows, 2011" by South African photographer, Robin Rhode, known for his witty set-ups. All other artists were shown on a looping video screen.

Among the notable prints at Galerie Thomas Zander (Cologne) were a Lewis Baltz cibachrome lightbox of "Piazza Pugliese," 1991; a very large Mitch Epstein print, 2011; and 16 prints from Emmet Gowin's series "Changing the Earth" 1986-1996. Zander displayed, however, some surprisingly weak prints by Harry Callahan and Walker Evans.

Other galleries showing photographs among their other artists: Cheim & Read (New York) showed Adam Fuss photograms; Richard Gray Gallery (Chicago & New York) showed a 67x84-inch Thomas Struth cibachrome print, "Notre Dame, Paris"; González Gallery (Madrid) showed a five-print series of Robert Mapplethorpe's "White Gauze, 1984"; Nelson–Freeman (Paris) showed James Welling; Luhring Augustine (New York) showed Joel Sternfeld among the several other photographers in its stable; Zwirner (New York) showed Philip-Lorca diCorcia; Hetzler Gallery (Berlin) showed Rineke Dijkstra; McKee (New York) showed three huge unique portraits by Richard Learoyd; Fischer Gallery (Düsseldorf) showed Thomas Ruff, Bernd & Hilla Becher and Wolfgang Tillmans; Mai 36 (Zürich) showed Mapplethorpe, Thomas Ruff, and John Baldessari; Goodman Gallery (Johannesburg & Capetown, S. Africa) showed David Goldblatt; Peter Blum Gallery (New York) showed Ansel Adams, Edward Curtis, Paul Strand and Adam Clark Vroman.

The six-pound catalog for Art 43 Basel contained innumerable other galleries who listed photographers among their artists, so photography was well represented here.

Paula Chamlee is a photographer and painter living in Bucks County, PA. Her photographs are collected in over 35 museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and are in innumerable private collections. Six monographs of her photographs have been published. She has taught workshops in photography in the United States, Austria, Germany, Tuscany, France, England, Iceland, and Australia, and has many exhibitions in the works.

She is co-owner of Lodima Press along with her husband, photographer Michael A. Smith, and they have published the photographs of many notable photographers.

Chamlee is currently working on her newest book, "Iceland: A Personal View", which will be published in spring of 2013.