Art Basel 2014: 14 Rooms

Each room features fascinating and immersive performance pieces by Roman Ondák, Marina Abramović and more

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One of the highlights of Art Basel 2014 is an exhibition neatly tucked behind the main halls in a smaller gallery. “14 Rooms” is curated by current art-world darling Hans-Ulrich Obrist of London’s Serpentine Gallery and Klaus Biesenbach of MoMA PS1 and involves a diverse crowd of artists ranging from Damien Hirst to Marina Abramović and Otobong Nkanga, creating an immersive experience that blurs the line between audience and art work.

“14 Rooms” began as “11 Rooms” back in 2011 in Manchester, England and has grown over the years into its current incarnation. Visitors enter a custom space designed by Basel-based architects Herzog & De Meuron, a long rectangle bounded by mirrors on the short sides and white walls on the long sides. Each of the long white sides is punctuated by seven mirrored doors leading into the eponymous rooms. And this is where things get interesting.


Each room is its own installation, confronting the visitors with a unique experience that both stands on its own as a piece of performance art and as a piece of the larger, diverse show that is equally enjoyed by the infrequent museum-goer to the contemporary art critic. Yoko Ono’s “Touch Piece” (first performed fifty years ago, in 1963) is a completely pitch black room that begs visitors to feel their way around the walls—and each other—to find the exit once the door shuts. Conversely, Roman Ondák‘s “Swap” has the artist or an actor sitting at a table in the middle of the room, constantly attempting to barter an object in his hands with the entering audience. What he has from moment to moment and his tactics for trading depending entirely on what walks in through that mirrored door.


Some rooms dare viewers to look at something that might make them uncomfortable—or not know how to react, like Laura Lima‘s “Man=Flesh / Woman=Flesh – Flat” which places a physically disabled person below a 45cm ceiling and requires the viewer to crouch down and peek through a hole placed almost at floor level. Others, such as Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster‘s “Rm.145” (which only allows one visitor in at at time) elicit a chuckle or a head-shake from each emerging patron.

Whatever your experience with “14 Rooms,” it is just that—an experience. While some art begs the viewer to look and look again at a static work for a new reaction, “14 Rooms” presents viewers with an evolving set of performances that shift and change as you encounter them. It’s a place where curiosity reigns.

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“14 Rooms” is on view at Hall 3 of Messe Basel through Sunday 22 June at Art Basel.

Damien Hirst image © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved DACS 2014 MCH Messe Schweiz (Basel) AG, Marina Abramović image courtesy Manchester City Galleries, all others courtesy of MCH Messe Schweiz (Basel) AG