Time pushes us through life, and many of us don't have the opportunity to travel the world, much less take a moment to ourselves, to experience new places, people, and things.  More often than not, jobs, children, and a multitude of acquired responsibilities begin to take precedence over big dreams and the exciting challenge of entering uncharted territory.  

Recently I met up with some old friends, all of whom have children and these very stable, contained lives.  Seeing them with their families was beautiful, almost regrettably so, and for a moment I envied them.  I don't know why, but I didn't get that gene.  You know it---the one that makes people crave routine and desire the predictable.  Luckily, the next day, as I shared my feelings with a dear friend, I was reminded of the value those of us who choose to walk alone also have;  that while some of us are sent here to pass on strong threads of family tradition and reap the benefits of roots and grounding, there are others that are here for a different reason.  

The lawn of the Palace Cavalli Franchetti, housing the Veneto Institute of Science, Literature and Art;  Photo by Seanica Howe.

So today, due to my curious nature and insatiable spirit, I am sharing with you a bit of Venice, and portions of its Biennale that, if you were there, would blow your mind.  Because of my inability to settle down, I combed through this Italian labyrinth, jet-lagged and yearning for inspiration, searching for great art so that you wouldn't have to.  Cozy up on the couch and serve the kids dinner.  Ranked in no particular order, here are the best and brightest of what you're missing on the other side of the Atlantic.  If you decide to take a tiny weekend to walk the streets of the sinking city before the grand show closes in November, there will still be time to squeeze in a bottle of wine and return home before the baby sitter can light the house on fire. 

1.  Sarah Sze's "Triple Point:" U.S. Pavilion, Giardini

Okay fine. I admit it. One of my closest friends works for this artist and I AM American, so maybe I'm playing favorites. But if you've never seen Sze's work up close and personal (other than in the closet of the Hort collection I hadn't), then it's time to do it in Italy.  I'm not sure if Sze designs her installations to be fraught with meaning or to function as a critique on society, but this is how I see her disorienting and carefully crafted microcosms that weave into architectural wonders. 
An exterior view of the U.S. Pavillion at the Venice Biennale featuring the work of Sarah Sze; Photo by Seanica Howe.

 "Triple Point," is a series of environments in which Sze pieces together essential everyday materials, trash, and ephemera.  Each of the constructs convey the mad chaos of life through the vernacular of a carpenter or mad scientist. Some resemble views from a planetarium, but all are sad reminders of the wasteful and consumption-obsessed society in which we live.  I couldn't help but think, after leaving the exhibition, that this will probably be the perception aliens have of us when they discover our planet hundreds of years from now:  exquisite, interesting, and the consequence of an inescapable, overwhelming mess made voluntarily.

One of a series of installations inside Sarah Sze's "Triple Point;" Photo by Seanica Howe.

Sze's installations are so intricate and painstakingly constructed, and by the artist's own two hands I might add, that one cannot help but admire Sze for the hours it must have taken to acquire each and every tiny stick, thread, photo, and plant for this fragile erector set of memories and "stuff."  It's complicated, indecipherable, and visually stunning.  Go get 'em Sze.  If I don't see an installation of hers in the MoMA soon I will boycott, and I'm positive I won't be alone.

2.  Gilad Ratman's "The Workshop:" Israel Pavillion, Giardini

Years ago, when the powers that be decided to assign the buildings for the Venice Biennale, some insightful person must have thought: "I have a great idea. Let's save visitors some trouble so that in 2013 they will only have to take about ten steps to see the two best artists the city has to offer.  We know they are going to be lazy. We've seen how they completely bi-pass the whole relationship thing and substitute it with a cellular device, so surely they will want to skip out on moving through the city. Plus,we know that group exhibition might be a bit much, so let's pack a punch."  Alright, maybe it didn't go that way, but in my head it did.   

Video still of Gilad Ratman's "The Workshop;" Photo by Seanica Howe.

Ladies and gentlemen there is A LOT of video art in this Biennale.  So much so that a little eye-rolling seems in order after about the tenth installation, but Ratman's multi-medium, video-centered work raises the bar.  Video artists take note.  Instead of using the space as a container ignored by most, Ratman constructs his installation to have the pavilion work as a part of it.  

Five video projections lead the visitor through the space, giving the impression of scaling and then entering a mountain with a group of men and women that, as it turns out, arrive on the other side to create sculptures within the pavilion: the same space from which you are viewing the work.  Witness the artists mushing and molding clay busts of themselves while murmuring strange noises into microphones inserted into their heads (the busts, not their own).  
Video still inside Gilad Ratman's "The Workshop;" Photo by Seanica Howe.

As you exit the space it all becomes clear: the hole in the floor is the one broken through by the artists and the DJ in the initial video is mixing their voices into electronic deliciousness. It's a play on relational esthetics utilizing current media and music.  In short...it's (insert profanity here for effect) rad.  

3.  Marc Quinn's Solo Show: Giorgio Cini Foundation, San Giorgio Maggiore

Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes will quickly assess that I'm more into beauty than blood and guts, and I've been known to walk away from a violent or aggressive piece of art before giving it a fighting chance.  I'm a big believer in selecting the images we expose ourselves to (that's another article), so it speaks volumes for Quinn that a sensitive soul like myself can't help but acknowledge the strength of this artist.  
Marc Quinn's giant blow-up statue, Breath (2012), at the entrance of his solo show at the San Giorgio Maggiore; Photo by Seanica Howe.

While cruising around Venice, it's impossible to miss his enormous blow-up lavender statue of an armless woman with a very masculine head sitting on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.   Evidently this was a re-creation of the actual one he did in London and even though it's a bit of a monstrosity when cast against the stunning Venice architecture, by the end of the week my eye found its way there like a well-tuned honing device.  
Marc Quinn, Flesh Painting (2012); Photo by Seanica Howe.

Quinn is a mastermind at bringing the creepy and disturbing to life in a way so esthetically appealing that he forces the viewer to stretch beyond his or her comfort zone, challenging their psyche.  When one stands before an uber realistic painting of human flesh and suddenly feels hungry or begins to ponder how the billowy white extensions of fat compliment the smooth red meat like lace on a dress, it becomes blatantly obvious just how conditioned we are in the way we categorize and judge images.  

Seanica Howe with a sculpture by Marc Quinn, as part of his solo exhibition at the Giorgi Cini Foundation; Photo by Seanica Howe.

His work challenges mainstream notions of beauty and perfection by focusing on subjects rarely used in classical media, i.e. large sculptures of the stages of fetal development and pregnant men in gym shorts.  Possibly Quinn is a freaky trekkie type or a guy who wasn't properly monitored by his parents on the number of hours he clocked in front of horror films. I've never met him but I'm glad something went awry.  Quinn's work has the ability to change the way we see the world, encouraging us to embrace and accept the good, the bad, and the ugly.

4.  Richard Mosse's "The Enclave:" Ireland Pavilion, Collateral Exhibition 

Mosse's photographs and video are bright, colorful, painterly, and crisp.  After entering this collateral show off the beaten path, prepare to be greeted by landscapes filled with fluorescent pinks, warm reds, and electric blues and greens.  Prickly trees sporadically intersect rolling hills and winding water.  
A Richard Mosse photograph inside "The Enclave;" Photo by Seanica Howe.

At first glance these images appear highly retouched by an artist adept at photoshop, except they are anything but.  These seemingly picturesque countrysides are created with military technology, one that results in pared down images with easily identifiable elements used for camouflage detection, and are films and photographs of the Congo, a locale legendary for its gorilla warfare.  The video shown inside the pavilion documents the predatory intensity of a jungle bloodied with battle.  

The artist works his way through the area capturing rebel fighters, both alive and dead, and other occupants of this lush but deadly region.  Mosse's work is a reminder that all that glitters is not gold.  Our senses are easily deceived by beauty, a notion that serves as a manipulative tactic for those in power and one that often functions as an illusive veneer for a frightening reality. 

5.   "The Encyclopedic Palace" by Curator Massimiliano Gioni: Giordini-Arsenale 

Based on the concept of a worldly encyclopedia, a dream envisioned by an Italian-American artist named Marino Auriti circa 1955, Gioni brings together, in two sprawling spaces split between the Arsenale and Giordini, museum quality works, both old and new, to catalog our evolution through images.  Via more than 150 artists from over 37 countries, Gioni weaves a story that is nearly impossible to tell, akin to climbing Mount Everest, but he succeeds through the use of understandable yet sophisticated wall text and engaging artworks that are logically arranged.  

Inside " The Encyclopedic Palace:" an installation shot of Pawel Althamer's Venetians (2013); Photo by Seanica Howe.

I realize at this moment that I am about to make some outlandish statements to impress upon you just how unbelievably amazing this exhibition is, especially for someone acutely aware of a curatorial perspective, but I am going to do it anyway.  Massimiliano Gioni may be an oracle, or even a god, and "The Encyclopedic Palace" is the most impressive exhibition I have ever seen; EVER, without question.  Nothing touches it.  

I suspect that Gioni's "Palace" will be talked about in history books as the moment the art world collectively woke up, recognizing that the the next step in our evolution, creatively, is to find a way to sift through the noise that has resulted from what we see and consume; that art is magical and it is the artist, proclaimed as such or not, who is here providing us with ways to bridge the physical with the ethereal; and that we are at a turning point, pushing past the material, and it's been our artists' projections through an array of media that has gotten us here.  Art, in any form, is a manifestation of a source tied to imagination, a creative component of our higher selves, each with a power of its own.  

A painting by Augustin Lesage from his series Composition Symbolic (1923-1932) on view at "The Encyclopedic Palace;" Photo by Seanica Howe.

Gioni gives me hope.  When someone at this level, who is recognized as an authority within the art world, isn't stuck in a one-dimensional conversation regarding art as politics, idea, process, or thing, goes beyond strict left brain thinking and far into the right, blending the two in an all-encompassing way to create a deeper understanding of what is happening around us, I can't help but think we are on the right track. Mr. Gioni, I, for one, am eternally grateful.

Well, that's it, my grand top five.  I'm not David Letterman so ten seems excessive and, as you know, I need to keep moving.  Get back to tending the lawn or head to your nine to five---whatever it is you grounded types do.  I'll meet you in back in Miami...arrivederci!
Joan McLoughlin, owner of The McLoughlin Gallery, pictured with artists (from left to right) David Middlebrook and Mckay Otto as well as McLoughlin gallerist Antonio Cortez; Photo by Seanica Howe.

On my final day in Basel I would be remiss if I didn't do a little storytelling and share with you what goes on behind the scenes.  Unlike Miami, only a few satellites---SCOPE, Volta, and Liste---attempt to compete with the main Art Basel fair in Basel.  This year was especially challenging for these mid-level dealers; the Art Basel space came with a new face and, according to those who had attended in the past, the show was one of the best.  Collectors, artists, and hangers-on finished their days in an open air rotunda sipping cocktails while catching up on the day.

A view of the rotunda of Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland; Photo by Seanica Howe.

A dealer friend of mine akins the Art Basel experience to that of an Olympic Village.  Hopefuls support each other while waiting for the next big sale.  And if a collector doesn't purchase with one gallery, he is often directed to another.  There is a huge sense of camaraderie.  Unlike their Art Basel colleagues who get hundreds of thousands, if not millions, for single works, the folks at satellite fairs like SCOPE sweat it out and go to the mattresses. Each sale they make matters and could be the difference in packing it in or moving forward.

Dealers here are inspiring dreamers; people that have made huge life changes for the sake of being in the arts.  Joan McLoughlin, owner of the McLoughlin Gallery, left her job as a nurse and involvement with medical start-ups to open her own gallery in San Francisco.  In less than three years she has built a family of artists that now have works in major museums and collections.  

Gallerists (from left to right) John Haas and Andreas Kuefer with Ed Victori in the Victori Contemporary booth at the SCOPE art fair, Basel: Photo by Seanica Howe.

Ed Victori of Victori Contemporary left his career as a Wall Street trader in hopes of one day establishing his father as a master painter in fine art.   Mark Hachem walked away from his successful computer consulting company to open a gallery in Paris.  He now has additional locations in the Middle East, as well as the United States. 

Kevin Havelton of Aureus Contemporary gallery; Photo by Seanica Howe.

And after becoming disenchanted with others selling his paintings, Kevin Havelton began his own virtual gallery and now travels to several fairs a year, representing his own work as well as others.  The stories are endless, and these people are warriors.

So the next time you think of purchasing a pair of Nikes or that Prada purse, donating your money to a corporate tycoon who doesn't need it, consider saving your pennies for art.  You might be supporting the dream of another or paying a few months' rent of your favorite artist; not to mention the right to brag to your friends on how you discovered the next big thing while being at the center of it all---Basel.

This article was originally written for publication with The Miami New Times Blog, Cultist, as one of a series of articles titled "Art Basel in Basel" by Seanica Howe.  This writing, as well as the remainder of the series, can be accessed here:

Pablo Bronstein, Maria Antoinette and Robespierre Engage In An Irritable Post-Coital Conversation, 2013; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Two things have become quite obvious to me on this trip to Basel: 1. I need more wall space and 2.  If I'm going to continue being an art writer, I need to get a very rich boyfriend.  When one's favorite Gerhard Richter at Dominique Levy sells for $25,000,000 before you can even snap a picture, you know that you're in the wrong tax bracket.   

Today was the day we went in and rubbed elbows with the big guns.  Prepare to be disgusted because the name of the game is money, and lots of it.  Whispers of conversations here are not for the faint of heart and romantic notions are best left in the coat check.   Art moves into the area of strict commodity with verbal exchanges between advisor and collector going something like this:  Collector: "Is so and so buying this yet?"  Advisor:  "No."  Collector:  "If he's not buying it, then I'm not. I need something with staying power."  

The major New York galleries were all in attendance and, without a doubt, put their best foot forward showing works from some heavily traded contemporary favorites.  Anish Kapoor's wall sculptures have shifted from 

Anish Kapoor, Untitled, 2012; Photo by Seanica Howe.

round bowl into potato chip form with one of the new versions bringing in nearly $1,100,000.  Two artists currently in the limelight at the Venice Biennale, Sarah Sze and Ragnar Kjartansson, who typically produce large scale works more appropriate for museums, have pieces available for those unable to devote an entire room to them.  Sarah Sze's teeny tiny installation, Standing Pile (Cairn) (2013), a mere 48" tall, was sold for $32,000.  

Video still of Ragnar Kjartansson's Song, 2011; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Kjartansson's dealer, Luhring Augustine, is showing Song (2011), a video where three singing waifs hypnotically rotate on a bed while brushing their hair.  The entrancing piece, which was on view at MOCA last year,  is available for sale in an edition of six.      

Jonathan Horowitz, Free Store, 2009-2013; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Those selling works and writing invoices have been quoted as saying that buyers here appear drunk or feverish, purchasing to their heart's content, but it's nice to know there are still a few things that cannot be bought.  Sitting between the main halls is Jonathan Horowitz's Free Store (2009-2013), an environment where visitors without deep pockets are invited to exchange goods.  And the London gallery Herald St is presenting a performance piece by Pablo Bronstein.  It's titled Marie Antoinette and Robespierre Engage In An Irritable Post-Coital Conversation (2013) where a man and woman, posed as lovers, ironically sit and ignore each other. 

Wait, did I just see Steve Cohen purchase the guy on the right?  I suppose what they say is true: everything is for sale, especially here at Basel---just name the price.

This article was originally written for publication with The Miami New Times Blog, Cultist, as one of a series of articles titled "Art Basel in Basel" by Seanica Howe.  This writing, as well as the remainder of the series, can be accessed here: 

Viewers behold Piotr Uklanski's Untitled (Open Wide), 2012, installation at Art Basel's "Unlimited;" Photo by Seanica Howe.

Today was the day I ate my words.  Gagosian, please forgive me.  Hauser & Wirth, keep building.   Every terrible thing I've ever said about oversized galleries with big bank accounts? I take it back.  You are now my reason for being, my everything, because without your support of artists in need of large spaces and big budgets, I would have missed having my jaw drop open at "Unlimited," Art Basel's show within a show.  

Stretching the imagination beyond the wall hanging and basic sculpture, "Unlimited" serves as the portion of the main Art Basel fair designated for multi-media, performance art, and large scale installations and objects that reach beyond the limits of the white cube. 

A portion of Chen Zhen's Purification Room, 2000; Photo by Seanica Howe.
Purification Room (2000), Chen Zhen's archeological work, warns of an apocalypse, and, given the world events of late, are sure to force one to question their place in the world and its potential destruction.  Banal objects used in everyday life are left in the dust, literally.  Covered in thick layers of earth, cookware, furniture, clothing, and even the bike on the lawn remain frozen in time, free from further wear with the disappearance of their users.  Besides being psychologically terrifying, Zhen's clay process is masterful and leaves the viewer pondering the unlikelihood of its fabrication.

David Altmejd, The Orbit, 2012; Photo by Seanica Howe.

On a lighter note, in a room all to itself, is an object in stark contrast to the death and destruction conveyed by Zhen.  Well, maybe not death, because inside this partially broken aquarium of clear cubes and mirrors created by David Altmejd is a melon-head exploding into several pieces.  The Orbit (2012) contains a rainbow of string, waxed body parts, and artificial cherries, among other things. It all seeps into the subconscious like a dream of interactive energies that shift and transform in color and state of being, floating above any susceptibility of decay.

An exterior view of Chiharu Shiota's In Silence, 2002/2013; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Two female artists defy the odds with their treatment of textiles:  Chiharu Shiota spins an installation that evokes memories of childhood trauma or domestic abuse by including burned chairs and a piano, both contents of a home, but one that traps and frightens its occupants.  And Piotr Uklanski magnifies the softer side of the oral cavity in her quilted Open Wide (2012) installation, where a giant uvula diminishes its admiring audience.  Ahhhhh "Unlimited!" She took the words right out of my mouth.  

This article was originally written for publication with The Miami New Times Blog, Cultist, as one of a series of articles titled "Art Basel in Basel" by Seanica Howe. This writing, as well as the remainder of the series, can be accessed here:  

I Santissimi, Horror Vacui, 2012; Photo by Seanica Howe

To say that Art Basel has become significant for our fair city is a bit of an understatement.  Do we even remember what Miami was like before this major event elevated it from vacation destination to cultural hot spot?  Those of us that had never been exposed to million dollar art suddenly became connoisseurs and were granted permission to enter a world we thought only existed in New York and Paris.  

Well, the big daddy fair, father to which Miami now owes its claim to art fame, has, once again, occupied Switzerland.  No people, Art Basel is not just a Miami event and, just in case you are wondering, its fabulousness translates worldwide.

My first day in Basel had me starting with one of my favorite satellite fairs, SCOPE.  Sonja Hofstetter, head of SCOPE exhibitor relations, shared with me her thoughts on the major contrast between Art Basel in Basel versus Miami: that while Miami continues to live up to its reputation as a place to see and be seen, which comes as no surprise, Basel attracts the serious European collector, with many of the attendees flying in specifically to buy art.  

Paolo Grassino, Analgesia (2012), an outdoor installation courtesy of Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Standing guard as visitors enter the fair is a group of junk yard dogs, an outdoor installation by Paola Grassino, reminding riffraff to keep out so that sophisticated types inside can get down to business.  

Ran Hwang, Secret Obsessions, 2013; © Ran Hwang/Courtesy Inception Gallery, Paris.

Seeing SCOPE Miami attendees Victori Contemporary and Aureus was a major treat, along with viewing contemporary art that ranges from I Santissimi's perplexing fabrication of a sectioned, crouching human, shown by Gagliardi Art System, to Ran Hwang's webbed chandelier of thousands of crystals and beads pinned to plexiglass.  Hwang is represented by Inception Gallery in Paris. 

Comenius Rothlisberger and Admir Jahic, The Invisible Heroes, standing with one of several works shown for the SCOPE art fair; Photo by Seanica Howe.

Comenius Rothlisberger and Admir Jahic, the artists better known as The Invisible Heroes, have works on display specifically for SCOPE.  In their stand alone space, this cool duo presents resin sculptural objects embedded with colored pigments, allowing reflections from fluorescent lighting to skate along their surfaces.  

Yves Hayat, Icones Fatiguees (left) and Parfums de Revolte (right), both from 2013; Photo by Seanica Howe.
However, the fair's definite crowd pleaser was a series of small clear cases with a big message. Created by Yves Hayat, these shriveling images of coveted icons and designer brands ask their admirers to consider the price paid for celebrity, consumerism, and wealth. Not to worry, in addition to showing in Paris, Hayat's dealer, Mark Hachem, also occupies a space in New York's Chelsea.  But if you've taken a vow only to see art in Miami, preferring a little more pizazz with your viewing pleasure, I'm sure he could be convinced to fly south for the winter...just in time for our spiced up version of this beloved event.

This article was originally written for publication with The Miami New Times Blog, Cultist, as one of a series of articles titled "Art Basel in Basel" by Seanica Howe.  This writing, as well as the remainder of the series, can be accessed at http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/cultist/2013/06/art_basel_in_basel_day_one.php?page=2.