The Rhine is abuzz as collectors, dealers, artists, and hangers on arrive for the first Art Basel there in two years. Although travel and health requirements have been complex, they did not dissuade hoards of predominantly European VIPs from lining up at Unlimited, the fair’s section for oversize art, on Monday. A testament to pent-up energy, this year’s presentation is the largest ever, with 62 standalone projects. It was curated for the first time by Giovanni Carmine, director of Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen.
Unlimited, which takes place in a hangar-size hall on the Messeplatz, is known for towering, impractical works and incredible sight lines. But this year’s section was notably boxier and more walled off than usual—likely due to the fact that many, if not most, dealers opted to bring large-scale paintings. Wrapping around walls, they often required their own booth-like rooms. And while no billboard-sized work is a particularly easy sell, dealers appeared to be responding to the market’s current desire for the two dimensional.
One tasty exception was Urs Fischer’s monumental bread house, presented by Jeffrey Deitch and constructed with bread fresh from Zurich’s oldest bakery in the artist’s hometown. It is on offer for $3 million; there were no takers yet by opening afternoon.
“The market is very oriented towards paintings, but I’ve always been inspired by conceptual works like this,” Deitch told Artnet News as he listed the different kinds of carbs the gallery had trucked over from the neighboring city. “If we are going to come here, we are going to go all the way.” After a 12-year hiatus, the dealer is back in both Unlimited and the main fair, which opens to VIPs tomorrow.
Although the rest of the section relied heavily on wall works, there were still ambitious projects to take in. Just beside Dietch’s display was a “photographic drawing” by David Hockney, presented by Gray gallery. The optically enticing piece seemed to beckon the viewer to sit alongside the figures in the foreground and take in a series of artworks reproduced to scale.
Some works were making their debut a year later than intended. Sean Scully originally created the suite of paintings Dark Windows for Art Basel’s 2020 edition, but it finally got its time in the sun today. By early evening, the presenting galleries, Kewenig and Lisson, confirmed it was on hold for an undisclosed sum for a private European museum collection.
Hauser & Wirth took over a good chunk of real estate with three artists’ projects, presenting works by Roni Horn, John Chamberlain, and Frank Bowling, with prices ranging from $750,000 to $5.5 million.
“I could not be more delighted to be back ‘in person’ again,” Iwan Wirth said at the preview. “Those who are exhibiting and attending have gone the extra mile and are rewarded because no art fair experience can compare to Unlimited in terms of the ambition and scale. The mood on the ground at Art Basel is like a reunion.”
See more images of Art Unlimited below.