Art Basel 2013: Light and Fire

This year's Swiss edition illuminates vibrant sculptures of filtered glass, mirrors and more

Like moths to flame, light art—and its use within, and as a complement to, sculpture—attracted the attention of many visitors at this year’s 44th edition of Art Basel. Lamp-like orbs and rods, shadow art and even live fire mesmerized spectators. The use of light isn’t new to the art world, but the following artists utilized it with vibrance; morphing shape, perspective and color. Once again, Art Basel brought us into other worlds, this time, cast in unfamiliar light.


“Independent energetic sphere (1 of 2)” calls to mind a science fiction adventure designed by Buckminster Fuller, with gold and yellow glass encasing LED lights, all surrounding a central bulb. This Olafur Eliasson piece, created in 2013, harnesses stainless steel, color effect filter glass, silvered glass and mirrors to bend and bounce all its light sources. Found at Neugerriemschneider Gallery, the hanging fixture has planetary pull.


Sherrie Levine‘s “Pink Skull” (2011) series came to life via its radiant use of light display. The warm, focused lighting—presented at Simon Lee Gallery—added an after-life eeriness and depth to each duplicated cast-glass piece. The skulls appeared to absorb and emit the light, bringing ethereal energy to a pretty-in-pink representation of death.


This year’s Parcours series, designed to partner outdoor installations with the city’s historic neighborhoods, featured Sterling Ruby‘s “Stove” (2013). This chimney, situated in a public park, employed real fire and an attendant adding fuel, almost as if a performance. Parcours is curated for Art Basel by Florence Derieux and is open to the public, while Hauser & Wirth presented Ruby’s ceramic work. Although many pedestrians were able to view the same exterior, no two people captured the same glimpse of the fire inside.


“49 Years Ago (Starlight),” Spencer Finch‘s 2011 piece presented by Galerie Nordenhake, deploys fluorescent lamp tubes, joined by fixtures, filters and aluminum, into an exploding molecule of light. Futuristic, at times, and also elemental, the color combination and its lack of symmetry mean no angles appear the same.


Vadim Fishkin‘s “Coffee and Ink” (2012) is equal parts experience and art; involving a table, light projection and an ink pot. As an optical illusion, the light projection is cast at an angle so the shadow formed from of the ink bottle appears to be that of a tea cup. Shown by Galerija Gregor Podnar, this Fishkin piece plays a welcome trick on the eyes and mind.


“Rouge pair, bleu impair no 12017” (2012), by François Morellet lines up 20 neon tubes, mounted on canvas and wood. The simplicity of this Annely Juda Fine Art piece lends itself to the knowledge that even when in a more systematic, uniform arrangement, light art engages.


The “Unlimited Series” was curated by Gianni Jetzer and showcases works that exceed the confines of a traditional art show booth—in scope or scale, production or performance. Aaron Curry (represented by Almine Rech Gallery) contributed “Daft Dank Space” (2013), which does exactly that. A free-standing structure, colored inside and out in neon zebra-skinned patterns and paint swipes, the piece and its bright busyness invite you to step inside. Therein, utilizing black lights, the colors and interior space take on an entirely new identity. Colors adopt new meaning, and the sculptural elements of the interior block light in a way that alters the space and even the meaning of the experience.

Photos by Alexandre Corda