Art Basel: Animals

Creatures on canvas, cast in metals, suspended in air and more at Switzerland's massive show

Whether the main subject of a taxidermy-inspired sculpture or an allegorical reference within a larger composition, animals are an evergreen source of inspiration among a diverse range of media and genres. The pivotal role creatures play was apparent in fresh, provocative ways at this year’s Art Basel, where we encountered several works that shed new light on a classic subject. See the works that got our goat below.


The “Nice Bird of Prey Shoe” (1975) was constructed by Austrian artist and avant-garde feminist Birgit Jurgenssen. The surrealist escape offered by Juergenssen’s work aims to appease the tension wrought by the socio-cultural turmoil of the 20th century. Constructed of metal, feathers, and chicken claws, the unsettling accessory is from Galerie Hubert Winter in Vienna.

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The Swiss arts foundation Not Vital, which promotes preservation and exchange between cultures, presents “Peking Duck” (2009-2011), a glossy update of the Chinatown staple in 18k gold. The sculpture is on view at NYC’s Sperone Westwater Gallery.

“Kuriere” (2012) by German artist Dirk Lange combines pencil, colored pencil, and ink to create an abstract portrait of a war general and his pigeon. Sweet pastels juxtapose the subject’s obliterated face for a conceptual riff on the stately pose. The piece is available at Berlin’s Galerie Michael Haas.


Both a hunter and an artist, Marc Swanson has established a body of work around a breathtaking set of bedazzled crystal deer-antler sculptures. According to the gallery, Swanson’s five-piece “Untitled (Crystal Hooking Left)” (2011) edition stems largely from his personal history, started as a way to “explore, both physical and spiritually, the duality of masculine identities he was experiencing.” The piece was constructed from polyurethane foam and crystal, and is from Richard Gray Gallery.


“Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (or The Witches)” (1985) by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely fuses together a hodgepodge of metals into eight motorized sculptures. From wrought iron bits and scrap to bicycle frames and axles, the seemingly creaky contraptions are laced together with strips of fabric and animal skulls for a slightly macabre vibe. The piece, made in the late years of Tinguely’s life, is from Galerie Hans Mayer in Düsseldorf, Germany.

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Known for his irreverent sculptures, Athens-based artist Dionisis Kavallieratos turns to oil on canvas in the detailed work “A Ballad for Chicken Banana” (2010). In monochromatic gray tones he manages to cast a subject that’s at once mighty and absurd. The piece was on view at Athens’ Breeder Gallery.

“Pollinator” (2011) by E.V. Day casts the reproductive organs of flowers—specifically those from Claude Monet’s famous lily pond in Giverny—into a demonstration of the animal-like ability to reproduce through pollination. Day sifted through a pile of clipped flowers (those that are weeping in the garden are cut by the gardeners) and then pressed and scanned and ultimately processed the best of each type of flower into three-dimensional form. The sculpture is made of a resin core, with polished nickel-plated copper and is from Carolina Nitsch in New York.

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Spotted at the W Hotels Designers of the Future exhibit, the aptly titled “Go-Round” by Tom Foulsham comprises a balance of a miniature giraffe kissing a miniature whale on a single sharpened point. Rather than being propelled mechanically, it is moved by everyday objects like hair dryers, fans, balloon dresses, or by simply blowing.

A tabletop is transformed into an illusion of a deep-sea abyss with “Octopus (Krake)” (2012) by Swiss-born, Munich-based artist David Bielander. The limited-edition cast-bronze candelabra is available at the Ornamentum Gallery in Hudson, New York.

Images by Josh Rubin