Notes from the Director of The Metro Show

Art Basel, METRO and Blurring Boundaries

Caroline Kerrigan Lerch - Monday, June 25, 2012

Walking around this year’s Art Basel and some of the peripheral fairs such as Design Basel, Liste and Volta, I was struck by how often one encounters artwork that parallels material at METRO (or at least turned my mind in that direction!). Much of the similarities I noticed involved blurring boundaries and playing with the order of things.  


Choosing an outdoor surface as a canvas is a subversive act, and the work is by nature ephemeral – which makes it difficult to sell and therefore at odds with the goals of the traditional art market. This series of photos of graffiti by Brassai and Gyula Halasz – spotted at Kicken Gallery – play with the ideas behind artmaking. One looks like a street version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” Was the maker/artist thinking of  Munch (fine art) when he painted it on a wall (anti-social, anti-art), then it was photographed by a “fine art” photographer – to be later hung on a wall at Art Basel. I was amused by the cycle.



Around the corner from Kicken I came across some wonderful examples of both Jean Dubuffet and Jean-Michel Basquiat's work; classic examples of Modern/Contemporary artists whose work was influenced by Art Brut and/or self-taught art, and a case of the untrained leading the trained.



This artist, Jorinde Voigt at Regina Gallery, is trying to find order and connections among otherwise disparate entities. A common obsession also among outsider/art brut artists (Try - if you might - to ignore the "someone is getting rich" text. That's a reflection from across the way - a neon piece, and has nothing to do with this blog -  but only too much to do with the outside world!)


Many dealers at METRO have trade signs, which were functional objects at one time that have now entered the realm of the art world. Often they’re collected and displayed in a contemporary environment. I was reminded of traditional trade signs when I came across Alfredo Alvarez Plágaro’s paintings of advertising signs at Galerie m Bochum. He has adopted the naïve style of some 19th century sign painters, but exaggerates and pushes the idea beyond the traditional form.



The Design Basel/Miami show was a spectacular showcase of mostly mid-century material. There were surprises, however. I was most taken with this pair of jewel-like mirrors at Galerie Perrin. At first I thought they were recent interpretations of an earlier design, in the style of the over-the-top contemporary Murano chandeliers that are so popular today. It was only upon reading the label that I realized that they were actually 17th century Trapani mirrors. Just when you think things are what they seem, they’re something else. The presentation of the mirrors in a simple, contemporary setting (paired with a beautiful set of Biedermeier furniture) helped set off the delicate intricacy of the frames. When we speak of “design” we often refer to 20th century or contemporary, but these mirrors were a reminder that design has been with us since we started crafting objects.


Christos Venetis, a contemporary artists spotted at VOLTA is also an artist of illusion, playing with reality. He creates pencil drawings of old snapshots that are pasted within the covers of old books or photo albums. Art imitating reality imitating art. By pasting photos in a book we are preserving our memories, but also creating a miniature display for others to see – one could argue a form of artmaking in itself.

Back at Art Basel, Susanne Zander exhibited Horst Ademeit's frenetically paranoid Polaroids. Ademeit is a contemporary artist whose work blurs the boundaries between outsider/self-taught/art/obsession. Working with a Polaroid camera he recorded daily his surroundings in Düsseldorf and made tiny notes on the borders. He wanted to gather enough evidence to establish the presence of what he called "cold rays" and invisible radiation. In the 1970s he studied under Joseph Beuys, whose teachings that art is an integral part of life and available to all strongly influenced his work.


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