The Dreiländereck (literally, “angle of the three countries”) rises up on the northern end of the Kleinhuningen Port in Basel. It’s a metal pillar, resembling a silver screwed missile, oriented towards the sky and signaling the exact point where three nations—Switzerland, France, Germany—meet together. Basel is a city wedged into the core of Europe; it’s a border town, stuck in the offshoots of Swiss mountains and split in two by an ample bight of the Rhine. It’s a place whose metropolitan identity has been molded by trade—of goods, ideas, and knowledge. It is not unusual then that the most prestigious contemporary art fair in the whole world, every June, is held just here.
Parcours is the French term for “route” or “path.” As the name of one of the Art Basel’s sectors, it suggests an itinerary through the city—a way punctuated by public works of art and performances presented by international galleries. At its fourth edition, this year Parcours occupies various locations around the Rheingasse, in the Kleinbasel neighborhood. This area coincides with the right bank of the Rhine; here is situated the fluvial port and the city's industrial heart, as well as the Messeplatz building of the fair. Renowned is the rivalry between the two banks of the river, Grossbasel (or Great Basel) and Kleinbasel (or Small Basel). As proof, at the Grossbasel end of the oldest bridge in town (the Mittlere Brücke) the stone bust of a king’s head—the Lällekönig—sticks his mechanized tongue out at the opposite bank. On the rebound, during the carnival, the main Kleinbasel mask—the Vogel Gryff, a weird griffin with a golden collar—dances on the same bridge turning its back scornfully to the left side of the river.
Rather than encouraging local jealousies, the aim of this expanded-and-sprawled-throughout-the-city sector of the fair—curated for the second time by Florence Derieux, Director of FRAC Champagne-Ardenne—would seem to highlight the multiculturalism and the international breadth of an area such as Kleinbasel. The 2014 edition of Parcours includes works by fifteen artists from twelve nations, all connected in a walking path and integrated in the urban fabric of the Swiss town. “Parcours,” the curator asserts, “responds to a renewed desire for challenging forms of interaction with art.” She continues, “It is particularly interesting to observe how the works presented in this geographical and temporal framework find their place in social life.”
Pierre Bismuth, Performance #4, 2000, (9 Keane Street, London); Courtesy the artist and Bugada & Cargnel
The section includes a few engaging performance-based works, such as Francesco Arena’s 278 km (as a letter of Nietzsche) (2014)—presented by Karlsruhe gallery Kadel Willborn—which sees performers walking the perimeter and diagonal axes of a room until they have marched for 278 km, the distance between Basel and Turin, or rather the length of the journey that Nietzsche’s friend Overbeck travelled in 1889 to bring the philosopher, who was affected by mental illness, back to Basel. Also, the performances by Pierre Bismuth (Bugada & Cargnel, Paris) and Guido van der Werve (Luhring Augustine, New York and Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles) need a mention: The first, titled Performances, works in situ (2014), will feature a series of humorous actions staged in various public spaces, while van der Werve’s home, a requiem (2011-12)—created to accompany the artist’s latest film work—will be performed by a twenty-member string orchestra and twenty-eight strong choir at Clara Kirche during the Parcours Night, tonight June 18. Walking around the Rheingasse, visitors will run across Gottfried Bechtold’s famous Porsche-like sculpture (Panamera, 2007-13), Chris Burden’s meditative environment composed of four cast iron benches and lamps from the 1920s (Holmby Hills Light Folly, 2012), the two monumental horseshoes by Mark Handforth (Tilted Shadow, 2013, and Magenta Torque Moment, 2014), and Ryan Gander’s advertising posters (Make Everything like it’s your Last, 2013). Particularly compelling is the audio work by Seth Price (8-4 9-5 10-6 11-7, 2007), consisting of an eight-hour mp3 track of mixed dance music from the last thirty years. The music will be played every day, in eleven different locations, over an eight-hour period—the length of a typical working day. The title of the piece refers to the various working hours in different working contexts, such as union labor, office work, art world jobs, and department stores.
Seth Price, ‘8-4 9-5 10-6 11-7’, 2007; Courtesy the artist and Petzel Gallery; Galerie Gisela Capitain
In Derieux’s words, “No other fair in the world has created such a daring and generous response to the public’s ever-growing interest in site-specific and performative works.” And, in relation to her second year as a curator of Parcours, she says: “My knowledge of the city and my proximity with the team of Art Basel enabled me to work even more closely with the artists, galleries and partners in order to develop artworks that will truly exist within the city itself, exploring and revealing its past and present history.”
In short: something not to miss.
[Image on top: Francesco Arena, 278 km (as a letter of Nietzsche), 2014; Courtesy Galerie Kadel Willborn, Düsseldorf and Monitor Gallery, Roma / Photo Roberto Marossi]