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BASEL—Perhaps it’s early in the week to be making predictions, but take it from me: By the weekend, people will be recommending the new fair on this year’s Basel calendar, The Solo Project, as a more-than-welcome antidote to the sort of booth-blindness that can set in after a couple of hours over at the main fair. Just a short ride on the number 11 tram from the Marktplatz, The Solo Project has set itself up in the Voltahalle, which was once home to Volta, and the source of its name, obviously. It’s not an ideal location; half of the fair is within the building, with the other half spilling out into a tented structure that was already stifling before the public arrived at four o’clock this afternoon. But, given the fact that The Solo Project was only a gleam in the eye of Antwerp gallerist Paul Kusseneers as late as last summer, we should celebrate what this fair brings to the Basel mix rather than harp on what’s wrong with it logistically.
Esther Teichmann’s “Untitled” (2005) from
the “Stillend Gespiegelt (Silently Mirrored)” series
“It’s not really an art fair at all,” Kusseneers told me, and this is true to the extent that what you’ll find in the Voltahalle isn’t row upon row of jam-packed booths (or “chicken boxes,” as Kusseneers calls them) with dealers fighting for your attention as much as your Swiss Francs. Instead, you’re treated to a gentle path through the interconnecting spaces of 21 galleries, each of which is devoted to the work of only one or two artists. Kusseneers planned The Solo Project as a deliberate response to the high-pressure mall that Art Basel has become and, with the help of Paul Hedge of London’s Hales Gallery, he invited gallerists from around the world whom he felt shared his passion for “quality.” He’d originally hoped for 25 participants, but, he told me, the economic downturn means that several of the U.S. galleries that he’d approached simply couldn’t afford the trip. “They’re really feeling it,” he said.
“Don’t you think it’s more like a museum?” more than one of the gallerists asked me. Well, no, actually, but what it does offer is the opportunity to look in some depth at an artist’s work and — given the rather labyrinthine layout — to wander from one gallery’s installation into another’s without realizing that you’ve done so. And thus to make the sort of connections between works that really only come fleetingly at super fairs like Art Basel. “It’s less like a supermarket,” suggested Kate Collins of Rome’s BrancoliniGrimaldi, while Kusseneers concluded that “it’s more like what you’d do in your own gallery.”
And the work on show? That’s what counts more than anything, and I’m delighted to report that there is some excellent stuff here, with extremely well-known names positioned (deliberately, it turns out) alongside artists you’ve likely never heard of. There’s Assume Vivid Astro Focus at Galerie Hussenot, and Kusseneers’s own gallery sets Bob and Roberta Smith (an excellent little selection of his/their sign-painting work) alongside small abstract paintings by Andrew Graves. BrancoliniGrimaldi has a room full of Massimo Vitali’s hugely successful crowded beachscapes. New York’s Yossi Milo has examples from Sze Tsung Leong’s barren “Horizons” series alongside Kohei Yoshiyuki’s infamous voyeuristic 1970s series “The Park,” which the gallery relaunched last year. I loved the London gallery Man&Eve’s show of Esther Teichmann haunting photographs of her family — or rather of fragments of their bodies — from the “Stillend Gespiegelt” (Silently Mirrored) series, which sets up a (presumably unplanned) resonance with Hellen van Meene’s equally unsettling photographs of solitary children in New York dealer Yancey Richardson’s space. And my heart goes out to Santa Monica’s Shoshana Wayne Gallery. Their empty white space “isn’t a gesture,” they explained to me, but rather the result of a shipping mishap. Their entire Brad Spence show is currently sitting in Luxembourg, and they don’t expect it to arrive until Wednesday.
So a loud “Bravo!” for the organizers, gallerists, and artists behind The Solo Project. They set out to avoid “a replica of an existing fair,” and they’ve succeeded. I, for one, am grateful.
Courtesy Kusseneers Gallery
Bob and Roberta Smith, “Diary page, 19 december 1968” (2008)
By Robert Ayers
Published: June 2, 2008