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Monday, December 24, 2007

Not even the theft of his laptop at the Miami airport (and no, there is no back-up) could keep Cyril Duval from sharing a few of his Art Basel adventures earlier this month. Here, the first of three parts...

As the main exhibition is the focal point of Art Basel and what allows people to expense their trips, I'd like to start with my two favorite booths. (Look for party tidbits in the second part.) First, a big shout-out to ShanghART for its supermarket installation, which artist Xu Zhen filled with products to resemble a Chinese grocery store. (With my numerous trips to mainland China, I can vouch for the authenticity of every detail). But here, all the boxes, bottles and so on were emptied of their contents in what appeared to be a comment on his country's paradoxical images of wealth and want, and which were available to buy directly off the shelves (we spotted art stars Eva & Adele doing exactly that). What a beautifully poignant concept.

Not that I'm allergic to the decorative nature of art, and certainly Miami is the ideal place to shop for colorful art that matches your chinchilla couch. It's just that sometimes functional installations are stronger than paintings, in the way that a simple tropical fish tank might rock your interior more than a Damien Hirst. Some leading curators have long analyzed this, and I am here thinking of French critic Eric Troncy, who has constantly challenged notions of artworks as mere display elements. To him and myself, a juxtaposition of work by great artists—say, Jorge Pardo and Olafur Eliasson—doesn't automatically work.

Hint readers will know I'm sucker for the work of Terence Koh—so now for the expected mention of the Peres Koh booth, perfectly placed in a corner of the exhibition hall. As always, Koh's Art Basel contribution was a dark monolithic riff on love, sex, life, death and immortality. Although some people still don't get him (at least if you read and believe the blurbsunami that flooded APB online), I'm always amazed by his clever plays on the media and the art market through the crude yet oh-so-real reality of his art. There's no bullshit in his work. Chapeau, Mr. Koh!

Finally, am I the only one shifting from admiration and respect to exasperation and lassitude regarding the whole Reena Spaulings/Bernadette Corporation/Claire Fontaine conglomerate thing? I mean, yes, we know that capitalism doesn't always work (oh, and by the way, Andy Warhol knew, too), but they are still making a good use of it. Well, we all do, but at least we don't make morality issue out of it.

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