Spade work

While most eyes turn to the Olympics, Dane Mitchell will be competing in Switzerland at the ‘Olympics of the art world’
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Flag, 2007. Shovel, cotton and string. Photographed at Starkwhite by Simon Young

While most eyes turn to the Olympics, Dane Mitchell will be competing in Switzerland at the ‘Olympics of the art world’

While our Olympic athletes prepare for their moment in the spotlight, Dane Mitchell will be enjoying his own starring spot. Mitchell is the first Kiwi to be asked to strut his stuff in the emerging artists’ section at Art Basel, the mammoth Swiss art fair often described as the Olympics of the art world.

He’s one of just 20 artists selected from over 250 applicants worldwide to be featured in the Art Statements section, designed to showcase the stars of tomorrow. Art superstars such as Vanessa Beecroft, Mariko Mori, William Kentridge and Jorge Pardo all burst onto the world scene at the Art Statements show. Appearing at this major international forum can be a life (and career) changing experience, as over 50,000 art curators, collectors, journalists and opinion-formers zero in on Basel looking for new talent.

Mitchell, a graduate of AUT University, and Auckland gallery Starkwhite will fly the flag for the New Zealand art scene and get an inside look at how the art world functions in the biggest event outside the Venice Biennale. “This is the first time a New Zealand artist has been selected to participate in this prestigious international art fair,” says Starkwhite director John McCormack. “It’s an entry pass for the artist and Starkwhite to an exclusive club.”

So just what will Mitchell be showing to the world?  It’s a bit of a secret, but his recent exhibitions have been based around ideas of spiritualism, collective action and new-age thinking, to examine how philosophy, place and time collide. His most recent exhibition, ‘The Barricades’, consisted of 300 images of civilian street protest barriers. Other work has a mystical bent: Mitchell once attempted to open a portal from a gallery space to the spirit world and even put a curse on a gallery. One notable event involved holding a séance to interview the spirit of Rita Angus.

His work emphasises the current fascination with vintage pop culture as it becomes a museum item (think hippies, crystals and counterculture babble as source material) and is as much about getting the wrong end of the stick as about illuminating the concepts behind past Utopian or spiritual movements. It’s presented with accompanying pseudo-scientific research and factoids, mated to a deadpan visual style that evokes responses from guffaws to headscratching to moments of clarity on just why the world is so complex, baffling, and occasionally inspiring. Mitchell is a new-generation artist who deftly pilots his way through a churning media-soaked sea of babble and spin and locates islands of cool, calm information, ideal for repose, reflection and the odd bit of astral planning.

The big end of the art world will be trying to make sense of it all this June in Basel.

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