Art works up a lather in Basel

Art Basel is considered the most important fair in the world for 20th- and 21st-century art Keystone

A bar of soap reportedly made from the fat of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi goes on display for the first time at the 36th Art Basel, which opened on Wednesday.

This content was published on June 14, 2005 - 19:35

Aside from the soap, the world’s leading fair for 20th- and 21st-century art will be exhibiting works by more than 2,000 artists.

In the run-up to the six-day event, attention has focused on the latest work by Swiss artist Gianni Motti.

Motti claims the bar of soap, which carries a price tag of SFr23,000 ($18,000), is made out of fat pumped from the Italian prime minister during liposuction at a Lugano clinic 18 months ago.

The Geneva-based artist said he acquired Berlusconi’s surplus body matter from a contact at the clinic.

"It was jelly-like and it stunk horribly, like rancid butter or stale cooking oil," he told the Weltwoche current-affairs magazine.

The work, entitled "Mani Pulite" (Clean Hands), refers to an anti-corruption drive of the same name in the early 1990s and reflects Motti’s unflattering view of the Berlusconi administration.

"I came up with the idea because soap is made of pig fat, and I thought how much more appropriate it would be if people washed their hands using a piece of Berlusconi," added the artist.

International art show

Around 50,000 visitors are expected to attend the fair where 270 galleries from around the world will be displaying works of art.

Among the new elements this year is the "Public Art Projects", whereby ten works will be presented in an open area in front of the building housing the International Art Show.

Allan Kaprow, the grand master of the "happening", is showing his ephemeral creation Fluids. The roofless construction has been built by art students out of blocks of ice and will eventually dissolve into nothing.

Art Basel is also for the first time devoting exhibition space to "Artists Books", showcasing the diversity of literature available in the 21st century.

Another highlight is expected to be the "Art Unlimited" section, which features 72 contemporary-art projects.

They include the latest offering by performance artist Marina Abramovic, who will lie naked on a raised platform with a human skeleton on top of her. The project addresses the themes of life and death.

Other works on show in Hall 1, home of Art Unlimited, include large-scale sculptures, video projections, installations, wall paintings, photographic series and digital art.

"The 36th edition of Art Basel promises to be a unique event," said director Samuel Keller. "Never before have the participating galleries announced so many exciting, top-flight art projects."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Art Basel runs from June 15-20.
The 270 galleries participating this year were selected from among 810 candidates.
The United States has the biggest presence (64 galleries), followed by Germany (49), Switzerland (37), France (26), Britain (24) and Italy (14).

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In brief

The full spectrum of modern and contemporary art will be represented in Basel from the great masters of modern art such as Picasso, Miró and Matisse through to contemporary classics such as Warhol, Beuys and Christo and the latest generation of artists.

Prices vary from a few thousand francs for works by young artists to several million for museum-quality masterpieces.

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