From feminist legends to Brazilian trailblazers, discover key highlights from Unlimited

More than ever, Art Basel’s most popular sector is awash with surprises


This week, visitors will once again have the opportunity to encounter large installations, immersive video works, and genre-defying hybrids in Art Basel’s Unlimited sector. Curated for the eighth time by Gianni Jetzer, Unlimited 2019 will feature 75 works - here are six highlights to look forward to come June.

Fiona Tan
Elsewhere, 2018
Presented by Frith Street, London and Peter Freeman, Inc., New York City
Dystopias abound in current pop culture. Whether including zombies, natural catastrophes, or repressive theocracies, they have overtaken utopias as the most discussed - and sometimes probable - future prospects. In her work Elsewhere (2018), Dutch-Indonesian artist Fiona Tan interrogates the potential contradictions and intersections between these two speculative approaches. Inspired by classics of utopian literature such as Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun (1623), Tan has written her own concept of this age-old idea, combining it with a Los Angeles panorama characterized by the city’s most unpleasant aspects: traffic and pollution. This gesture is, however, not motivated by irony or sarcasm; it rather seeks to interrogate the ambiguous qualities of utopian thought, chiefly its lack of consideration for reality and human nature. Elsewhere will be presented in Basel by London’s Frith Street Gallery and New York City’s Peter Freeman, Inc.

XU ZHEN®
Nirvana, 2019
Presented by Perrotin, Paris, New York City, Tokyo, and Seoul
Cultures inevitably collide on a regular basis in our globalized society. XU SHEN® has focused on illustrating these sometimes incongruous meetings in a practice that does not shy away from the monumental. In his brand-new work Nirvana (2019), brought to the show by Perrotin, casino-style gambling tables will function as canvases for performers to paint traditional sand mandalas. This will effectively rob these objects of their original function: Instead of serving as surfaces for dice, cards, and chips to be moved around - and of course, money to be made - they will become vessels for much more meditative actions. While their purpose may differ, both activities are similarly loaded with risk, focus, and ephemerality. Xu Zhen’s Nirvana will make this unlikely conflation visible on an impressive scale.

XU ZHEN®, Nirvana (rendering), 2019. © Courtesy XU ZHEN® and Perrotin, Paris, New York City, Tokyo, and Seoul.
XU ZHEN®, Nirvana (rendering), 2019. © Courtesy XU ZHEN® and Perrotin, Paris, New York City, Tokyo, and Seoul.

Joan Semmel
Skin in the Game, 2019
Presented by Alexander Gray Associates, New York City
The female nude has predominantly been portrayed, reviewed, and interpreted by male artists. New York City-based painter Joan Semmel has been exploring this subject matter since the 1970s, a time marked by the rise of second-wave feminism. For Semmel and other female artists and thinkers, it became clear that representation of bodies by men were anemic and, to a certain extend, untrue. The model the artist has been using most since then has been herself; as a result, she has cast a particularly astute eye on what it means to reveal, to seduce, and to age. For Unlimited, Alexander Gray Associates will present a monumental painting by Semmel, realized especially for the show. At 9 meters long, viewers will have plenty of surface to not only question their own gaze, but also admire her technical mastery of line and color. 

Hélio Oiticica
Penetrável Filtro, 1972
Presented by Lelong & Co., Paris and New York City
The Brazilian artist spent his career exalting color in its purest form. Despite an early death, his ambition and vision were clear from a young age. In Basel, one of the his largest ‘Penetrables’- chromatic environments that were among the first artworks classified as installations - will be on view. Visitors will be invited to activate Penetrável Filtro (1972) by entering it and meandering through a series of brightly-colored corridors and curtains. Oiticica's goal was for people to truly feel and ‘live’ color; in fact, the last action visitors are invited to complete before exiting the work is to drink a glass of orange juice, effectively taking in the color they will be surrounded by. Presented by Lelong & Co., Oiticica’s Penetrável Filtro is an excellent example of how playful and joyous conceptual art, a genre so often dismissed as bone dry, can be.

Jacolby Satterwhite
Blessed Avenue Trilogy, 2019
Presented by Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York City
It is difficult to classify Satterwhite’s practice - and this may well be the artist’s aim. Video games, modernism, queer theory, mythology, surrealism, and personal relationships are only some of the references at the core of his luscious and phantasmagoric practice. In the virtual reality work Blessed Avenue Trilogy (2019), presented by Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Satterwhite uses material and footage he has been gathering since childhood. At the work’s center is a soundtrack of lyrics written and sung by his late mother. She is not the only person close to the artist included in the hallucinatory piece: The artist’s community of friends and colleagues is featured prominently via their avatars. They meet, dance, and for some minutes, live in a queer digital realm of exuberant complexity, reminiscent of the worlds created by artists such as Hieronymus Bosch or Gustave Moreau.

Jacolby Satterwhite, Birds in Paradise, 2019. Courtesy of the artist; Lundgren Gallery, Palma; Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York City; and Morán Morán, Los Angeles.
Jacolby Satterwhite, Birds in Paradise, 2019. Courtesy of the artist; Lundgren Gallery, Palma; Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York City; and Morán Morán, Los Angeles.

VALIE EXPORT
SYNTAGMA, 1983
Presented by Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, Paris, and London
The Austrian trailblazer’s oeuvre remains highly influential, even beyond the topical corsets in which she is often enclosed. It is therefore particularly exciting to see her featured in this year’s Unlimited, where Thaddaeus Ropac will present her work SYNTAGMA (1983). The work revolves around a woman and her seemingly coincidental encounters with her doppelgänger, whom she witnesses through mirrors, on photographs, and on the street. EXPORT achieves the effect via, for the time, innovative filming techniques (attaching the camera to window levers or door handles, for example) and the use of split screen. The central idea of the work is perhaps best explained by EXPORT herself: ‘On the one hand this body is at the center of my world and on the other it is the object in the world of others.’ It is this duality, and the absence of objectivity when women are being looked at that load the piece with a very contemporary urgency, thirty five years after it was originally created.

Discover more artists included in Art Basel’s 2019 Unlimited sector here.

Top image: Hélio Oiticica, Penetrável Filtro (detail), 1972. Installation view at Galerie Lelong. New York City, 2012. Courtesy of Projeto Hélio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro and Galerie Lelong & Co., New York City. © Projeto Hélio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro.