Romanian Art Star Alexandra Pirici Will Stage a Sprawling 60-Person Performance at Art Basel

Bumping into someone in a special pavilion on the Messeplatz, the chances are about equal it's a collector or a performer.

Alexandra Pirici's Aggregateat the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein. 2017. Photo: Adrian Parvulescu.
Alexandra Pirici's Aggregateat the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein. 2017. Photo: Adrian Parvulescu.

As you walk through the Messeplatz at Art Basel this year, you may notice strangers next to you making some strange moves. Their poses will evoke any number of cherry-picked cultural references—Michelangelo, say, or Depeche Mode, or Bollywood.

This is Aggregate, a mercurial “performative environment” by Romanian artist Alexandra Pirici that will take place in a temporary pavilion on the plaza in front of Art Basel, which runs from June 13 to 16.

Organized by Cecilia Alemani, the chief curator of High Line Art in New York, Pirici’s piece will employ more than 60 performers who will enact a series of gestures and sounds sourced from nature, art, and pop culture. It’s an updated version of a work she first mounted at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein in 2017.

“Aggregate is one of the most moving, profound and engaging live works I have seen in the last decade,” Alemani tells artnet News. “It is powerful, both choral and intimate, and absolutely chilling. Sixty performers move around you like a collective body or like a swarm: there is no distinction between the dancers and the audience and the space itself becomes a living, breathing environment. It taps into collective memories and different cultural heritages, playing with nostalgia and remembrance.”

Alexandra Pirici, 2016. © Jens Ziehe.

Pirici, who thinks of her works as “environments” rather than performances, considers Aggregate to be a kind of time capsule that captures a specific mixture of history and contemporary zeitgeist. References vary widely, from art historical touchstones like Wifredo Lam’s Lisa Mona (1950) to Occupy Wall Street hand signals to Romanian folk music.

It’s an interesting choice for a fair whose raison d’être is selling objects. Pirici (whose name is pronounced Pea-Reech) has long eschewed working with a gallery because she is committed to creating only performances—that means no props or photographs or documentation that is more easily traded.

“I don’t want to do that because I’m interested in how the performance lives on, and how it gets entangled in the market,” she told artnet News in 2017. “As a territory, it’s not necessarily new—Tino [Sehgal] and others also sell live ‘situations’—but it’s a smaller niche that’s already occupied by larger galleries.”

Alexandra Pirici’s Aggregateat the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein. 2017. Photo: Adrian Parvulescu.

This June’s project is the latest in an impressive stretch of major institutional exhibitions and commissions for the Romanian artist. Pirici first seized international attention when she joined with choreographer Manuel Pelmuş to represent their native Romania at the Venice Biennale, using dancers to stage an “immaterial retrospective” of the international show through recreations of artworks and scandals from the Biennale’s history.

Her work was also included Manifesta 10 in 2014, the DIS-curated Berlin Biennale in 2016, and Skulptur Projekte Münster in 2017. Last year, she staged a live exhibition at the New Museum.

The temporary pavilion on the Messeplatz was dreamed up by Andrei Dinu, a Romanian designer and regular collaborator of Pirici’s. A rounded, air-supported structure, it is inspired by the geodesic domes of American architect Buckminster Fuller, and marks the first time Pirici has created a custom space for one of her environments.

Aggregate creates a space for contemplation, even for compassion,” says Alemani. “There is something ritualistic about it—it’s like a secular mass. My hope is that the piece will offer a completely different set of emotions than what you are used to having at a fair.”

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