There's no denying that Basel just keeps getting bigger. More than 60,000 visitors descended on South Florida last week and made it rain billions on hotels, restaurants and, oh yeah, some artwork too. But is it just us, or does Basel and its surrounding hooplah just get weirder every year too?
From a dictator's disembodied head to a live earwax removal to an already infamous vagina phone charger, this year's Basel surely set a record for pure WTF moments.
1. The Butt Trumpet
If you were looking for a single work encapsulating the crass commercialism of Miami Art Week one need look no further than a modest mixed media sculpture by Chinese artist, Feng Lu, at Berlin's Galerie Michael Schultz booth at Art Miami.
Lu's modest piece depicted a nude contortionist with his head bent back between his legs while blowing a trumpet from under his puckered sphincter. It pretty much summed up all the visual noise assaulting viewers last weekend.
2. Franco's Head
At the Art Miami booth of New York's Unix Gallery, viewers queued up to snap selfies in front of Eugenio Merino's life-like bust of Generallisimo Francisco Franco wearing dark sunglasses. The dead Spanish dictator's bald head appeared in an empty Coca Cola fridge to sinisterly evoke his countrymen's enduring fears he will return from the dead to continue tormenting the masses.
3. Live Earwax Mining
Next door at Art Miami's sister fair, Context, Basel's Licht Feld Gallery delivered a more intimate aural assault on visitors with Japanese-American self-portrait artist, Ayakamay, performing a traditional Mimikaki cleansing on passersby willing to lie on the floor while she patiently dug earwax out of their noggins with using strange hooked instruments.
The artist, who sported a Raggedy Ann mop atop her red-freckled face and an eye-popping kimono, is known for her unexpected interactive performances that engage strangers and provoke their physical senses.
4. Hostage sex toys
Meanwhile, inside LA's Fabien Castanier Gallery booth at Context, Mark Jenkins drew hordes of visitors snapping pictures of his ski mask-covered men wielding assault rifles or holding Blowup sex dolls hostage with handguns.
5. Lotsa weird bananas
At both Art Miami and Context, Banana people were a recurring attraction. Here's another:
6. The nihilist puppeteer
The point of radical queer performance is never meant to be normal, and the "Havs of Wearship" night at the Zones Contemporary Art Fair in the Little River area of Little Haiti certainly didn't disappoint. We arrived to find a guy in wig wailing into a microphone while carefully pouring waters from jars into other jars. Later one Baltimore-based drag band DAZZLESTORM performed their should-be Basel week anthem, "Meet Me At The Vernissage." (Sample lyrics: "Like the devil wearing Prada to the Deauville to see NADA / Snorting lines, not waiting in them." ), and later local madman Otto Von Schirach gave an impromptu performance with all the night's other performers dancing backup (that included a surprising amount of people in face paint and jockstraps. How embarrassing for them to show up in the same thing.)
But perhaps the oddest and most oddly transfixing performance was unplanned and took place outside. Kalan Sherrard, who New York magazine once dubbed, "NYC's most avant-garde nihilist subway performer," decided to perform some of his anarchist puppetry. Wearing patched up briefs, a shroud of fabric, knee pads, a face mask to hold in place a harmonic and a helmet with a phalic pile of insulation foam soaring from it, he brought out his puppets. They were all fashioned from old toys. Think the kid next door in Toy Story. The toys then had sex with each other, and truly it was the most beautiful puppet sex anyone has ever witnessed.
Sherrard followed up that performance by getting arrested twice in Miami this weekend, once on Thursday for disorderly conduct while wearing the costume pictured above, and again on Sunday at Art Basel for shouting "Fuck Art Basel" in a VIP area.
7. Usher and the vagina phone charger
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
There truly was no moment that better encapsulated the weirdness and celebrity of Basel than at the opening of Select Fair in New York City's Vector Gallery booth. That's where Usher met Lena Marquise, a performance artist with phone chargers emanating from her nether regions. Usher, of course, plugged in.
"Machines are being integrated into our everyday lives to the point that they are attached to us," Marquise later told us, "and to the point where they give us life as much we give them life."
Staff writer Kyle Munzenrieder contributed to this report.