Art Basel: The takeaway

Art Basel left a broad and significant mark on the cultural landscape since it first arrived 10 years ago, one that lasts beyond the one week in December. For artists and those interested in the arts, maybe the best part is that we get one gigantic, city-wide museum filled with everything under the sun to do with contemporary art, from the official fair to the much more funky ones on the opposite side of the causeway.

This year, some fantastic video stood out, pieces that many in Miami would never had seen, or thought to have seen, when exploring art elsewhere. The work of two women at London’s Pilar Corrias Gallery in the main fair was one example.

“You Make Me Iliad” from American Mary Reid Kelley (who currently has a show in Chelsea) is a powerful mixture of poetry, war imagery and indeed, wit. The artist, wearing masks and employing animation and Expressionist stylings, dresses as a World War I German soldier and as a prostitute. The accompanying soundtrack is 101 rhymed couplets imitating “the heroic form of Alexander Pope’s ‘Iliad,’ while also drawing inspiration from that author’s frequent inversion of epic into mock-epic,” according to director Irina Stark. “In abandoning the field of heroic deeds for the field of heroic words, the disillusioned soldier-turned-poet of ‘You Make Me Iliad’ seeks a less treacherous expressive medium, yet is trapped between comic and tragic interpretation by the euphemisms, clichés and puns which riddle his speech.”

Almost as intense is another video from mixed-media artist German Ulla von Brandenburg, who’s been shown at the Tate Modern. This also involves masks, this time in the style of the Italian Carnival; but the black and white figures also look like soldiers, making this carnival feel decidedly sinister.

At the Icelandic gallery i8, a beautiful and haunting video captivated everyone within earshot, from Ragnar Kjartansson, who just won the top Performa Award for his visual and musical performance. At Art Basel, the gallery showed “Song 2011,” a video of a six-hour performance of three very blond girls, sirens really, singing a strange, evocative native folk melody, lounging on a table that rotated around and around.

Over at the best alternative fair, Seven in Wynwood, video helped create the edge. Seven was made up of seven serious New York galleries who chose to be in a fair of their own, including Pierogi, Ronald Feldman Fine Art and Postmasters. At the latter, the claymation video (and the painting) from Monica Cook managed to still be shocking, even in 2011. At Feldman, the photography from trans-gendered artist Yishay Garbasz depicted stunning images of Israeli and Palestinian villages and alleys from Europe, where her Jewish mother once wandered before the Holocaust. Then, there was the small installation called “Bite Me Damien,” a reference to Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde, except here what was preserved was the artist’s testicles, a remnant of her sex-change. The price-tag was said to be $1.2 million.