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The Best Booths at Art Basel, From a Poignant Reflection on Memory to a Broken ‘Clean Slate’

Art Basel has brought together 284 galleries from 36 countries to its marquee June fair in Switzerland. The event, which had its preview on June 13, is the first Swiss edition orchestrated by new CEO Noah Horowitz, who stepped in as Marc Spiegler’s replacement at the beginning of the year.

The fair has accepted 21 new-comers to its main sector, including blank projects from Cape Town, South Africa, Empty Gallery from Hong Kong, Gaga from Mexico, and Offer Waterman from London.

Also new this year, Kabinett, Art Basel’s sector for thematic presentations within its main sector (or, as Horowitz called them at the press conference, “the booths within the booths”), will debut in Switzerland with 13 different projects.

Just before 11 a.m. on Wednesday, the Messeplatz was teeming with art aficionados from around the globe dying to get in. Among the VIPs spotted outside were German publisher Benedikt Taschen and Maja Hoffmann, the founding president of the LUMA Foundation in Arles, France, both of whom stood in line with a clear expression of excitement on their faces. Ten minutes later, the aisles inside were packed with collectors such as Komal Shah, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Darlene and Jorge M. Pérez, Pamela Joyner, and Alain Servais.

Below, a look at the eight best booths at the 2023 edition of the Swiss edition of Art Basel, which runs until June 18.

Kader Attia at Regen Projects

In a booth filled with works by Sue Williams, Anish Kapoor, and others, Kader Attia is showing a wall sculpture made of sheep horns. This circular work alludes to Ndeup rituals, which still take place in some parts of Senegal, namely for healing purposes. During those ceremonies, spirits that guide various illnesses, including depression or schizophrenia—hence the title of this work, Schizophrenic Melancholia—are harvested and moved into a non-living host, such as animal remains. Materializing the disease may help make it go away. The French and Algerian artist attended a Ndeup ceremony and wanted to create a piece connecting it to Western medicine. Here, he offers it as a means of raising awareness for mental health issues. 

Carolee Schneemann at P.P.O.W

The New York–based P.P.O.W gallery has a selection of works by Carolee Schneemann, a pioneer of experimental and performance art. One lesser-known fact about her: she began as a painter. “I’m a painter. I’m still a painter and I will die a painter,” the late artist once said. “Everything that I have developed has to do with extending visual principles off the canvas.” Perhaps her early experiments with painting in the third dimension inspired the showstopper of the booth, War Mop (1983), a Plexiglas construction, supporting a motor and a mop, as well as a video monitor displaying images of war. This mixed-media installation can be interpreted as a response to violence in the domestic field and, in a wider sense, to violence in times of conflict. It was made in 1982, the year after the Israel Defense Forces invaded southern Lebanon, triggering a series of attacks, counter-attacks, and civilian casualties.

Genesis Belanger at Perrotin

Frustration plays a rather important part in our lives. It is the feeling Genesis Belanger tried to capture in her latest body of works, selected for the Kabinett sector of the fair. Whether it’s a bunch of perfectly ripe fruit that insects and birds have tasted first (One Bite of the Ripest Fruit), a carton of milk left open in the fridge (Sleep Walker), leftovers from a night of memorable romance or from a post-breakup episode (He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not), hope and dreams are likely to be crushed. Is this a good enough reason to throw them away, as the bin-shape Expectations and Idols installation seems to suggest? The American artist’s use of pastel tones and sharp shapes give away her background in advertising. Devoid of commercial purpose, her installations reflect the contradictions of the human mind, where high hopes often meet disillusionment. Because she is very much involved in the staging of her pieces, Belanger sees herself more as a sculptor than as a ceramist. Her solo presentation does not disappoint.

Simon Starling at Franco Noero

Simon Starling’s Still Phaeton Fall (Strawman) at Franco Noero’s booth will stop you dead in your tracks. This talking skeleton made of straw—it says lines like, “Fire. Bear-like. Prowls earth’s history”—draws in part on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Phaeton, one of the characters described by Ovid, was the son of Helios. His hubris caused him to drive his chariot too close to the sun and fall back down. The robot-like sculpture, which wears a traditionally crafted Japanese mask, tells the story of humanity through its relationship to fire, from ancient times to current climate change issues. Starling, who here is also drawing on Tintoretto’s pictorial cycle at Galleria Estense, may have in some ways meant it as a self-portrait. The base was made with the support of Marazzi, a world leader in ceramic and porcelain floors.

Doris Salcedo at White Cube

White Cube is showcasing Tabula Rasa XI by Doris Salcedo, who currently has an exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler. Conversations that the Colombian artist had with survivors of sexual assaults at the hands of armed men inspired the work. These traumatic experiences show up in the form of countless cracks covering a wooden table, which hint at destruction as much as at reconstruction. Tabula Rasa means “clean slate” in Latin—pieces of what seems to have been broken can always be put back together, Salcedo seems to say. The work was sold for $1.13 million to a major institution on the very first day of the fair, according to the gallery.

Hend Samir at Gypsum Gallery

An eye-catching triptych by Hend Samir takes up the entirety of Gypsum Gallery’s booth in the Statement sector. The Egyptian artist, who grew up in the Middle East, graduated from Helwan University in Cairo. This highly competitive program took her painting to a whole new level—size-wise, at least. Family Gathering is the result of this evolution from small formats to XXL immersive canvases. Approached from left to right or the other way around, the result is the same: viewers are carried away by Samir’s dynamic brushstrokes. She is fascinated by the reality-distorting hold family has over us. Her washed-out palette evokes the traumas we sometimes water down, only to replace them with what we want to remember as happy moments. The grey emulates the sepia effect used in movies to introduce a throwback or a recollection. Samir always starts with the background, which sometimes peeks through. Is it a metaphor for the past, bound to catch up with us at some point?