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Taking aim: Highlights from Art Basel

Photo: Laura van Straaten

“Petrified Petrol Pump” is a larger-than-life sculpture of a gas pump carved in fossilized limestone by Jennifer Allora (born 1974 in Philadelphia) and Guillermo Calzadilla (born 1971 in Havana, Cuba), the Puerto Rico-based duo recently selected to represent the United States at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

The monstrous physicality of the piece establishes the gas pump as a totem of the developed world in the 21st century. The title and the fossilized limestone itself recall not just the origin of fossil fuels and not just the bits of organic life often frozen in time within the material itself but also monolithic archaeological sites like the pyramids of Egypt.

The outlandishness of the thing seems to question what we value and what residue our “fueled” culture will leave behind. The piece lacks branding for any specific oil company, but the artists’ representative from the Lisson Gallery said that the model was a BP pump and that, while the artists conceived the work before the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico this year, that catastrophe has naturally been a part of discussions of the work since.

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