Without fail, each year Art Basel brings together an unparalleled array of unique artworks from today’s top artists, represented by the best of the world’s galleries. But sometimes what’s happening outside the booth walls is even more astonishing. Cue Gianni Jetzer, the curator behind Art Basel’s Unlimited sector, which showcases installations, monumental pieces, and performances that are a bit too extra for the typical exhibitor plot. Whitewaller spoke with Jetzer about what will be on view this year, including a fully capable airship by John Biggs with Chris Burden that will take flight during the fair.
WHITEWALLER: How did you begin the process of choosing works for Art Basel’s Unlimited platform this year? Was there a theme or focus you had in mind?
GIANNI JETZER: The premise of Unlimited is unique. Art Basel was founded by gallerists, and they still have an important voice. I present all applications to the selection committee, and then a majority of votes is required to be included. As a curator, I always want to make sure that we have a variety of media, including performance or music-related projects.
WW: Several of the works are from 2016 and 2017. Are there any that will be on view for the first time?
GJ: Of course, there will be brand-new works to be premiered at Unlimited. This year Carlos Garaicoa, Subodh Gupta, Julius von Bismarck/Julian Charrière, Philippe Parreno, and Secundino Hernández will present new works.
WW: Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie Mural [1965–68] is one of the older pieces that will be on view. Can you tell us about the significance of this immersive multimedia installation and how you envision it being experienced today?
GJ: Stan VanDerBeek is such an influential figure. He created his multimedia works in the woods in Upstate New York in the 1960s as a hippie-influenced visual trip. He anticipated the multichanneled stream of information that surrounds us today online, but also on billboards in urban centers.
WW: Also on view will be the last work of Chris Burden before he passed away in 2015, Ode to Santos Dumont . Unlimited will be the first time it’s shown outside the U.S.—it’s a functional airship he made with John Biggs. Can we expect to see it fly in Basel?
GJ: Sure, the airship will fly every hour for 15 minutes. It is a beautiful machine, something in between art and an airplane, model and the real thing . . . A fragile vehicle that will circulate within Unlimited.
WW: Which piece is the most complicated to install and/or activate?
GJ: The sculpture by Tony Smith is extremely large and weighs over six tons. This is a challenge, for sure. But also the installation by Sue Williamson is highly complex, containing several nets filled with glass bottles and water dripping into pools on the floor.
WW: What role do you see a curated platform like Unlimited playing in a commercial fair setting?
GH: The majority of visitors want to spend time with art and experience its enhanced reality. Whether there is a commercial context or not is secondary for them. Ultimately, it is about art.
This article appears in Whitewaller Basel 2017, out this week.