Hidden Gems

Top 10 Art Basel Secrets: Garbiele Basilico, Troika & More (Photos)

Blake Gopnik scours the genteel Swiss fair for the best works by artists he’s never heard of.

Photo by Lucy Hogg (2) ; Galleria Massimo Minini ; Galería OMR

Photo by Lucy Hogg (2) ; Galleria Massimo Minini ; Galería OMR

Our Gods Smile on Art Shoppers

Every culture has its signature pleasure: Ancient Greece had naked sports, the Middle Ages had Latin mass, and we moderns have shopping. And the apotheosis of shopping—our equivalent of the games at Olympia or vespers at Notre Dame—is the art fair held annually in the genteel Swiss city of Basel, running through Sunday. Since I’m a longtime devotee of the god of retail (Macy the Great, shall we call him?), I can say that you haven’t shopped until you’ve shopped Art Basel. The range of options is endless, there’s infinite room to hone your connoisseurship (and bargaining skills), and you acquire status at the same time as getting a deluxe object. Visiting an art fair is pointless unless you’ve turned on your acquisitive gene; just loving art isn’t nearly enough. Last December, at Art Basel’s baby-brother fair in Miami, I gave myself $10 million (in Monopoly money) to shop with, and went crazy (not) buying blue-chip works. This week in Basel, the blue chip on offer seemed surprisingly aqua. (I wouldn’t have given more than $60 million for Marlborough Fine Art’s splashy Rothko, which at $78 million was the fair’s priciest offering.) So I decided to try a new strategy for filling my cart: I set out to hunt down only the works of good artists I had never heard of.  It took a solid three days to winkle out 10 such promising bets. That shows how safe the dealers are playing it in the current economy. But as a window-shopper with no money at stake, I could afford to go out on a limb. The following Web gallery presents my discoveries.

Blake Gopnik

Photo by Lucy Hogg

Aurelien Froment

The French artist Aurelien Froment, who was born in 1976, was showing in the Art Statements section of Art Basel, where less established galleries  are invited to install ambitious single works. Motive Gallery, from Amsterdam, presented Froment’s “9 Intervals," an entrancing two-projector video that paired footage of a woman obeying challenging yoga instructions with footage of mass-produced chairs being made or tested, or of an ergonomist explaining what goes wrong when we sit, or of other similarly banal informative moments. Froment is interested in pregnant pairings of seemingly disparate things. In this piece, they gave birth. (It was on sale for 26,000 Euros.)

Courtesy of Galería OMR, Mexico City


In the back room of the booth run by OMR gallery, from Mexico City, there was a $2,500 bargain titled “Fahrenheit 451 (Tangerine series 1 of 9)” by the London-based trio called Troika. To turn out this attractive work of (apparent) abstraction, they wet their paper then simply applied an electric charge. “It’s literally lightning on paper,” said OMR dealer Cristobal Riestra.

Courtesy of Galleria Massimo Minini, Brescia

Gabriele Basilico

Galleria Massimo Menini, from Brescia—one of the fair’s most reliably interesting booths—was showing this untitled photo, from 2010, taken by Gabriele Basilico. (The price was 9,000 Euros.) In the world of Italian photography, Basilico, who is from Rome, is apparently a veteran and well-respected figure. In several images at the Menini booth, he took modern architecture that we tend to dismiss as brutalist and let his lens find elegance in it.

Courtesy of Ruth Benzacar Galería de Arte, Buenos Aires

Carlos Herrera

Ruth Benzacar, a dealer from Buenos Aires, is showing “wall sculptures” from the series titled “The Perfect Temperature” by Carlos Herrera, a 37-year-old artist from the Argentine city of Rosario. It seems he started out by photographing the rooms of teen rock fans, and eventually gained enough of their trust to acquire some of their personal property. He turned that into his sculptural “portraits” of them, which sell for $4,000.

Photo by Lucy Hogg

Juergen Drescher

Juergen Drescher is a German conceptual artist who was “maybe underestimated for many years,” according to Katharina Garrelt, of Berlin’s Klosterfelde gallery—which always brings a thoughtful presence to the fairs it is in. In 1981, Drescher taped a fridge to a pillar and called it…“Fridge Taped to a Pillar.” There’s a strange and potent tension in the piece, worth every cent of its price tag: 28,000 Euros. It also seems full of humor. (As does spending 28,000 Euros on it.)

Photo by Lucy Hogg

Daren Bader

The young New York artist Daren Bader, born in 1978, is showing this “still life” piece at the booth of Manhattan dealer Andrew Kreps. The fruits and veggies are meant to stay in a pristine state, so as soon as they start getting old they are turned into salad and served. When a collector buys the piece—and one already has, for $25,000—they are meant to put new produce on its columns whenever they want to display it. It will thus look very different in Kiev in January versus Rio in June. “What’s funny is that, although [it’s] unconventional in terms of ownership, people have really been responding,” said dealer Liz Mulholland.

Photo by Lucy Hogg

Joao Onofre

For his “piece” in the booth of London’s Marlborough Contemporary, Portuguese artist Joao Onofre simply placed a tiny ad, featuring the German words for “This Stays Between Us," in the Basler Zeitung newspaper on the first day of previews at Art Basel. That day, you could get the piece for 2.80 Swiss francs, just by buying the paper—which made it the cheapest object on view at the fair. (Marlborough Contemporary is the newly launched sister firm of Marlborough Fine Art, whose $78 million Rothko, steps away from the Onofre, was the fair’s most expensive object.) But if you missed nabbing the original paper, you could buy the official “editioned” version—identical in every respect—for 3,000 pounds. Andrew Renton, who is in charge of the new Marlborough gallery, describes the ad as his “act of faith” in Onofre. Despite what gets spent on wall space at the fair, insists Renton, “You can’t start saying, ‘We can only put up million-dollar works.’”

Photo by Lucy Hogg

Daniel Gordon

No one really heads to the main fair in Basel looking for a big spread of young talent. For that, art shoppers head to the smaller “satellite” fairs, and especially to the one called Liste. This work, for sale for $6,500 at the Liste booth of a New York gallery called Wallspace, is by a 32-year-old Brooklynite named Daniel Gordon.  He builds strange worlds out of found imagery, and then photographs the result. Although it never gets touched by a brush, Gordon’s art seems as close to painting as to photography. It blends Henri Matisse and Wolfgang Tillmans.

Courtesy of the artist and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik

Hreinn Fridfinnsson

Hreinn Fridfinnsson, born in Iceland in 1943, is apparently a giant of Nordic conceptualism—even if non-Nordics may not know him as such. He’s only recently started working in video, according to Anna Julia Frithbjornsdottir, of i8 Gallery in Reykjavik, who describes him as working with “pure, simple, clear ideas…It’s always poetic, his work.” A 2011 piece called “Untitled (Twine)” lets us watch as Fridfinnsson makes a “drawing” by slowly unspooling skeins of colored thread. (It is on sale for 18,000 Euros).

Photo by Lucy Hogg

Gitte Schaefer

“Blumenmauer,” or “Flower Wall,” is presented in the Art Statements section of Art Basel, by the Zurich gallery called Lullin+Ferrari. The installation is by Gitte Schaefer, a Berlin artist who was born in 1972. Schaefer’s mirrored wall has 288 thrift-store vases attached to it, and their flowers are renewed as soon as they droop. The piece mixes kitsch and beauty—and maybe denies that they can be told apart. It also recalls great still-life paintings, and the flowers on graves. It is priced at 60,000 Euros—not counting the cost of the flowers, or the fee of the person you get to tend them.