EVERYONE SAYS the Armory Show is dreadful. Yet, said dealer Monika Sprüth of Cologne and London, “Everyone’s here. All of the important collectors.” As if on cue, Glenn Fuhrman stopped in, casting a furtive eye around the Sprüth Magers booth, where new, LA-based partner Sarah Watson was doing meets and greets, and hoping to settle soon on a left-coast location. “We always do well here,” said Eva Presenhuber of Zurich. An early, pre–laser printer installation by Urs Fischer held the floor, where new, New York–based partner Jay Gorney was flexing his conceptual muscle and loving it.
It was Wednesday, March 5, and the VIPs were streaming into Pier 92 for the 2014 fair’s opening day preview. By 2 PM, every aisle was jammed. There was Sofia Coppola with Judd Foundation co-president Rainer Judd. There was David Zwirner, looking over his broad slice of the pie, where he situated digital photo collages by the latest addition to his roster, Jordan Wolfson, next to longtime digital photo star Thomas Ruff. Here was Rachel Lehmann and David Maupin, looking smart against their Do-Ho Suhs, Tracey Emins, Billy Childishes, and such, as SculptureCenter director Mary Ceruti and San Francisco Art Institute president Charles Desmarais took to a corner to confer.
Solo artist presentations were in short supply at this fair—who can afford to promote a single talent on even temporary New York real estate? Marianne Boesky of New York, that’s who. Her booth was devoted to the introduction of South African artist Serge Alain Nitegeka, and for good reason. He’s personable and serious enough to have gone to the trouble of building an obstructing construction of crossed beams at the front of the stand, allowing a delicious kind of backstage entrance through a narrow passage to the exhibition of paintings based on the same, Franz Klineish forms. Getting into Susanne Vielmetter of Los Angeles, on the other hand, was nigh impossible, her booth was so chock-a-block with both artworks and buyers.
Left: Kunsthalle Zurich director Beatrix Ruf with artist Jonathan Horowitz. Right: Artists Cindy Sherman and Nancy Dwyer.
With the Hotel Americano supplying the food this year, there was nary an empty seat in the VIP room, where the faces of two Davids—Byrne and the Whitney’s David Kiehl—appeared and disappeared in the crowd almost at once. But the packrats at the Armory paled against the personalities pouring into the salon-like kitchen of Gavin Brown’s house in Harlem that night, where he was celebrating star turns by Laura Owens, Bjarne Melgaard, Uri Aran, and Jennifer Bornstein in the current Whitney Biennial.
Brown may be the New York art world’s most prized host. Did anyone turn down this invitation? Heaven knows the guests stayed on far longer than Brown, who let the party continue well after he either went to bed or secluded himself in some private chamber to contemplate the future of his gallery, which will have lost its space on Leroy Street to developers by this time next year.
But this night was for the artists and their many friends—Adam McEwen, Ken Okiishi, Nick Mauss, Emily Sundblad, curators Neville Wakefield, Ingrid Schaffner, Alex Gartenfeld, and Fionn Meade, the twins Alex Hertling and Pati Hertling, dealers Nicky Verber and Toby Webster, collectors Marty and Rebecca Eisenberg—in other words, anyone there could drink from a fountain of the ultracool, which runneth over. But it didn’t exactly spill into the March 6 opening of “Alexander the Great: The Iolas Gallery, 1955–1987,” Paul Kasmin’s tribute to the Surrealist super-dealer Alexander Iolas, which attracted an entirely different, equally suave but slightly older crowd.
During his lifetime, the very social Iolas knew everyone and was first to introduce a number of important artists to the world over several decades. One of them was a guy from Pittsburgh named Andy Warhol. According to Bob Colacello, who wrote the foreword to the exhibition catalogue, Warhol had his very first and very last shows with Iolas, and died in the same year as the dealer, 1987. “They were partners in camp,” Colacello quipped. The interior designer Jay Johnson remembers Iolas as his first employer. Introduced by Warhol and the Factory’s business manager Fred Hughes, Johnson worked in the Iolas gallery basement as a nineteen-year-old archivist, cataloguing a surpassing inventory that was rich in Surrealists.
Indeed, on the cerulean-blue walls of the Kasmin gallery are a small museum’s worth of paintings by Magritte, Brauner, Mata, Cornell, Warhol, Copley, Ernst and several early works by Kasmin gallery artist Francois-Xavier Lalanne—all gathered by the show’s co-curators, Vincent Fremont and Adrian Dannatt, who do not want the memory of Iolas to fade without refreshing the history. A Lalanne toilet embedded into the sculpture of a black fly, complete with toilet paper and bathroom book, attracted the most attention, though not all of it. “Where’s Harold Stevenson?” asked Peter McGough, Jacqueline Schnabel’s escort for the evening. He spotted one a moment later, on loan from dealer Mitchell Algus. “Have you seen Jules’s show?” asked Clifford Ross, referring to the Jules Olitski show opening in Kasmin’s West Twenty-Seventh Street gallery that night. “It’s a revelation.”
Friends and admirers of Sarah Lucas responded to her first show at Gladstone Gallery in New York since 1998 with similar excitement. Phallus forms abound, of course, from the giant bronze and concrete squashes to the billboard-like, peeled-banana imagery on the back gallery’s walls. The air was full of sex and dry humor. “That banana room, oh my god,” said T. J. Wilcox, who wanted a squash bench for his front yard. “I just came from Jordan Wolfson’s opening at Zwirner,” said Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. “That was sexy too, but a more digital kind of sex.”
Left: New Museum director Lisa Phillips and artist Lorna Simpson. Right: Artist Sue Tompkins with dealer Andrew Hamilton.
As the Kasmin crowd made for Indochine, Lucas fans headed for the candlelit Acme underground, where people—artists Darren Bader, Rudolf Stingel, Nate Lowman, Jessica Craig-Martin, and Marianne Vitale coupled over communal food and drink with Frieze cofounder Amanda Sharp, curators Nicholas Cullinan, Massimiliano Gioni, Peter Eleey, Clarissa Dalrymple, Cecilia Alemani, dealers Bruno Brunnet, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, and Gavin Brown, Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume, Lucas’s partner Julian Simmons, and more, many more. This may be the first art dinner where the artist gave the first toast. “I want to thank everyone at Barbara’s for getting this show on the road,” Lucas began. “Everyone is here for the sheer love of Sarah,” Gladstone replied. “You must come back really soon.”
With the week gathering steam, it reached a rolling boil on Friday night, when Laurie Simmons debuted a new body of work at Salon 94 Bowery. They are large–scale photographs of Cosplayers with fake hair, doll faces, and painted eyes. They’re Gillian Wearing–eerie but more alluring and slippery. People responded with a combination of raised eyebrows, staccato-blinking, and happy-to-be-in-this-club smiles. “It’s about a whole culture of dressing up,” said Rohatyn, who looked smashing dressed up in Rodarte. Sex was in the air here too. Especially same-sex. It didn’t take anyone long to note how many female couples were in attendance, including J. Crew creative director Jenna Lyons and Courtney Crangi, artists Deborah Kass and Pattie Cronin, novelist A. M. Homes and producer Kathy Greenberg—and more. Everyone taking plates for the buffet dinner at Circolo enjoyed this shift in power, though there was plenty of heterosexual heft in the company of Eric Bogosian, Cindy Sherman, collector Ann Tenenbaum, critic Hal Foster, writers Lynne Tillman and Siddhartha Mukherjee, sculptors John Newman and Sarah Sze. This was the most relaxed, family-like dinner of the week. No one posing. No one putting on a social mask. No one needed to. It was liberating.
Maybe spring really was just around the corner in this prolonged, arctic winter. A new reckoning for Ross Bleckner was certainly afoot at Mary Boone in Chelsea on Saturday night, where the artist’s new paintings—a kind of retrospective of the new, as one visitor noted—was waking people up to what a seriously good painter the guy really is. Before heading to the Top of the Standard for his party above the city, I slipped into White Columns, where Sue Tompkins was giving a rare solo performance that was dancing poetry, or intermittent song with dance, or intermittent hopping while speaking repeated phrases, all quite charming and mysterious.
Calvin Klein was at the Bleckner party, with Eric Fischl, Ryan Sullivan, Fremont, Colacello, Kass and Cronin, Homes, curator Piper Marshall, Clifford Ross and… well, let’s just say the circle was unbroken.
Next afternoon, Klaus Biesenbach and Peter Eleey presided over the openings of their Christoph Schlingensief and Maria Lassnig exhibitions at MoMA PS1. The line to get in snaked out into the street, possibly because Patti Smith was about to perform as a toast to the late Schlingensief, but I like to think it’s because the word was out on the excellent, even mind-blowing combination of these two European but very different sensibilities of different generations and attitudes. The Lassnig show is a marvel; Schlingensief’s “Animatograph” carousel both difficult to take and mesmerizing at once. “He was my closest friend,” Biesenbach said, leading collector Harald Falckenberg through the show with Schlingensief’s widow, curator Aino Laberenz, who subtitled the exhibition’s films. “We did it for him.”
And the circle within a circle that is the art world did another turn, and kept spinning.
IN CHINA, perhaps even more than elsewhere, art-world power is often evinced in terms of numbers: One thinks of the country’s $14 billion art market, upward of four hundred museums built a year. On a more symbolic register, one might consider Christie’s rumored swap last fall, when the auction house changed the lot number for Francis Bacon’s $142 million triptych to China’s lucky number, eight.
Art fairs continue to give numbers the upper hand. So it was something of a relief last weekend to encounter the Armory Show’s China Symposium, eight ambitious discussions on the role of contemporary art in China, supported by Adrian Cheng and his K11 Art Foundation. The talks, organized by Philip Tinari, director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, complemented the fair’s China Focus, a showcase of Chinese galleries also selected by Tinari. At the center of his layout on the south end of Pier 92 was the Shanghai-based Xu Zhen’s Action of Consciousness, a closed-off white cube which every few minutes spat into the air one of fifty assorted art objects, aping the split-second viewings that characterize art-fair mania. The Armory Show’s choice of an artist who embraces all things commercial—Xu Zhen operates as a company under the artist’s name—seemed an inspired choice, and it was notable that Ai Weiwei was nowhere in sight. (Neither, for that matter, was Xu himself, who is afraid of flying and supervised his team remotely.) As Xu put it to me when I visited his studio in Shanghai last fall, “Ai’s busy with politics, and we’re busy making money.”
Last Friday, K11 Art Foundation kicked off the weekend at the Skylark bar. He An and Zhang Ding mingled with the Xu Zhen crowd while Huang Rui and Shen Chen recounted a drunken daylong road trip. Lu Pingyuan had just seen the Whitney Biennial: “It’s supposed to be American artists, right? And are they supposed to be young?” Anyone would have enjoyed the champagne and 1960s Chinese surf-pop juxtaposed with glittering panoramic views of uptown—that is, provided you could get in. Budi Tek, the Chinese-Indonesian farming tycoon and art collector, arrived around 11 PM, after getting stuck in a huge line outside—“…of three thousand people!” an outraged friend emphasized.
Tek, who opens the one hundred thousand–square-foot Yuz Museum in Shanghai in May, seemed amused by the snafu. “I told them, ‘I’m Budi Tek,’ and they said, ‘Who?’ ” He laughed. “Sometimes you have to be, ah... humble!” Tinari did not have a problem getting in, arriving late after the Gagosian dinner at Carbone. (Given the weather, the Beijing car dealer Yang Bin, once ranked the second-richest person in China, had wondered what to wear to the dinner. “It’s like, wear a big white puffy jacket or something,” said the UCCA’s Winnie Hu. “Who cares? You’re Yang Bin!”)
The privileged have more to worry about than access and dress codes, of course. “I can do a lot of things as long as I don’t cross a line,” Cheng said Saturday of his art foundation, whose recent projects include a Shanghai megamall-cum-museum. “As long as we don’t cross the government,” he later clarified.
Cheng’s symposium marathon featured talks with titles like “The Big Picture,” or as Jerome Cohen, the NYU law professor and China expert, called it, “Instant China for Busy People.” A fitting observation given that Hans Ulrich Obrist, originally billed to appear on the panel, had to cancel last-minute.
Despite the recent explosion of Chinese collectors, everyone was quick to note that contemporary sales make up only about 1 percent of the Chinese art market. “Why are you still doing paintings, installations, same old same old?” Thomas Shao, president of Modern Media, rhetorically asked Chinese artists. “Why can’t someone leverage the 600 million WeChat users?” (WeChat, China’s answer to WhatsApp and Facebook, claims to be valued at more than $60 billion.) Those interested in hearing from artists deeply engaged in such matters might have found answers in Sunday’s “The On | Off Generation” panel moderated by Lee Ambrozy.
“American culture, there’s something about it I don’t like,” offered Shen Qibin, director of the Tianrenheyi Art Center in Hangzhou during Saturday’s “The Chinese Art World Described as a System,” ironically the most chaotic of the panels. “It’s all about muscle competition.”
Hardly a trait unique to the US, as attested to by all the flexing among private museum holders in “The Museum Boom.” The panel, which featured Wuhan Art Terminus’s Colin Chinnery, China Megacities Lab’s Jeffrey Johnson, the Sifang Art Museum’s Lu Xun, OCT Contemporary Art Terminal’s Karen Smith, and Budi Tek, drew the biggest crowd. “There’s a lot to learn,” said dealer Jeffrey Deitch.
Tek and Lu showed off their goods via PowerPoint. The Sifang, a modern Xanadu, is a resort-style 115-acre museum complex on the outskirts of Nanjing, dedicated to “the beautiful things in your life,” as Lu called them: Maurizio Cattelans, Olafur Eliassons, and Movement Field, a huge hillside of white zigzag paths by Xu Zhen. “I don’t think people need to understand it to enjoy it,” Lu said, apparently speaking of Xu. Tek said his bright-red Shanghai museum would be one of the best, most professional, most “real” museums in a country littered with cheap imitations. “But I’m not talking about the Sifang,” he quickly added. “Lu Xun and I are friends.”
On Sunday afternoon, the final panel was devoted to Xu Zhen. Project manager Alexia Dehaene gave an overview of the company’s output. This included Movement Field, which uses actual overlapping and intersecting routes taken by various political uprisings the world over. Even with Xu’s sly subversions in the spotlight, panelists invoked the same names and buzzwords: “speed,” “commercial,” “Mao,” and …oh no, there’s “Ai Weiwei” again!
“You know, I’m just going to stop it,” Tinari said, as the fair and panels wound to a close. “Every other conversation about Chinese art ends with Ai Weiwei. Why should this one be any different?”
THIS YEAR, Vito Schnabel decided that women are underrepresented in the art world. And so, in an act of either spirited generosity or ham-fisted tokenism, he devoted the final edition of the Brucennial—the Bruce High Quality Foundation’s ritual riposte to the Whitney Biennial—to women, somehow rounding up a whopping six hundred of them. (Anyone who applied was granted a place on the wall.)
Sadly, he couldn’t admit all to last Thursday’s opening fete. “Waiting in line for an hour and a half in the freezing cold to see my own work after not being admitted because as I am not a ‘VIP but just an artist in the show’ baffles me beyond anything else,” wrote Marlous Borm on Facebook.
“Who wants to see six hundred artists in one room? The entire concept is just demeaning to the artists,” a friend pondered as we wandered through the fifth edition of Independent, which had opened earlier that day to VIPs like Sofia Coppola, David Byrne, Maurizio Cattelan, Beatrix Ruf, Jeffrey Deitch, Kim Gordon, and David LaChapelle. For this year’s iteration, architects Andrew Feuerstein and Bret Quagliara created fork-like walls for the fair’s famously nuanced booths, aiming to emphasize the art and not the galleries.
Left: Collectors Michael Hort and Susan Hort. (Photo: Allese Thomson) Right: Dealer Andrew Kreps. (Photo: Irina Rozovsky)
“Well, we are at a fair,” responded another, gesturing at the open floor. The place was filled with sculptures and paintings, many of which take up as subjects our digital “selves,” alter egos that stimulate an insidious narcissism, one bolstered rather than undercut by a consciousness of this condition. Looking around the airy, sunlit space, one could find work by Frances Stark, who turned pictures from her Instagram account into glass plaques (Gavin Brown). There was Eloise Hawser’s scintillating 3-D prints (Balice Hertling) and Oliver Osborne’s white canvases pasted with cartoons from language books (Vilma Gold). Also Josh Kolbo’s analog photos of cigarettes and condoms printed on leather, hung like floppy banners (Société), and Brad Troemel’s large, shrink-wrapped works juxtaposing brand-identity style guides and Bitcoins (Untitled).
It wasn’t all so different from the brand-happy consumerism-of-the-moment exemplified down the street at Red Bull Studios, where DIS magazine (and friends) was launching “DISown – Not For Everyone,” an “art exhibition posing as a retail store” featuring apparel and household goods by artists like Ryan Trecartin, Bjarne Melgaard, Amalia Ulman, and Telfar. Think Simon Fujiwara’s “gay wedding rings” and Hood By Air salad bowls. Boys can aspire to domestic bliss too.
Left: John Bock's piece at Sprüth Magers's booth at Independent. Right: A visitor with Daniel McDonald's work at House of Gaga's booth at Independent. (Photos: Irina Rozovsky)
But without a doubt the one work on everyone’s lips that day was (Female figure), or as most people referred to it, “the robot”: Jordan Wolfson’s quixotic, nearly half-million-dollar animatronic sculpture, supposedly making its debut that night in his inaugural show at David Zwirner. By 7 PM hundreds of visitors were streaming into the space: There were the downtown party kids, the uptown collectors, and hordes of international dealers. In the first room were several new ink-jet prints, one depicting Peter Pan committing suicide, another Wolfson’s girlfriend, photographer Gaea Woods, styled à la Rosie the Riveter, festooned with bumper stickers reading CRIPPLED SEX and WANTING LOVE. In a back room played his 2012 film Raspberry Poser, which cuts between images of Wolfson as a waggish skinhead roaming Paris and animated, cherry-red HIV viruses bouncing about high-end department stores and the cobblestone streets of New York’s SoHo to Mazzy Star’s “Fade into You.” The robot, however, was nowhere to be found.
“They’re saying I can’t get in to see the doll,” someone said impatiently. “I need to find Jordan. Now.”
“Apparently it’s not done,” said another. “I heard David was pissed.”
As discussion of the phantom robot’s whereabouts ensued, someone whispered to artist Anicka Yi, Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman, and a well-heeled collector to “come with them.” We ducked into a tiny room. And there, washed in bright light, she stood, grinding against a mirror, styled like Cool World’s Holli Would, all blond hair and pleather thigh-high boots and white thong leotard. She was covered in scuff marks, like she’d been torn from some bombed-out sci-fi fantasy. Her eyes bulged from behind a green witch mask. Connected to the mirror by a silver pole stabbed into her stomach, she twisted her hips, thrust her arms, and shook her bleached locks to the opening chords of Lady Gaga’s “Applause.”
“I have never seen anything like this,” said Yi. “It’s beyond art.”
“This is the kind of thing, that if I saw it as a child, would have ruined my life,” said artist Brendan Fowler.
Wolfson elicits strong reactions. He is known for his confidence, his aptitude with the fairer sex, and his talent. His sometimes brutal depictions of women and callous representations of sex (and himself) provoke defensive reactions—“Can you imagine what people would say if Dan Colen did this?” asked one. But in Wolfson’s case, these portrayals are bracketed by moments of extreme vulnerability and self-awareness; his fantasies and anxieties emerge as centerpieces in the work.
Wolfson swept into the room, walking in front of his creation: “Please turn her off. She’s not done yet. Please turn it off.”
Left: Dealer Philomene Magers. Right: Swiss Institute director Simon Castets (center) with artist Harold Ancart (right). (Photos: Irina Rozovsky)
We dispersed, reconvening later for the dinner at Frankie’s Spuntino in the West Village. There the robot was the succès de scandale, a mysterious tabloid ingénue.
“She’s incredible, the way she moves,” waxed one dapper man.
“My girlfriend has competition,” said another guy.
The woman by his side grimaced: “She is a stripper that’s been skewered by her own pole. Seriously?”
The animatronic doll may or may not have been another play on our digital mirrors, but here, at least, it felt like we weren’t at the mercy of reflections and seductive simulacra. Instead, the room was filled with smart, powerful women. There was Whitney Museum chief curator Donna De Salvo mingling with the crowd. Curator Linda Norden sat immersed in conversation with curator Piper Marshall, art historian Claire Bishop, and Parkett’s Nikki Columbus, while publisher Miriam Katzeff chatted with Yi about her upcoming museum show.
Left: Dealers Christian Nagel (left) and Saskia Draxler (center). Right: Protocinema's Mari Spirito (left). (Photos: Irina Rozovsky)
Wolfson took a curator’s hand and whispered there was something she had to see. They walked to a corner where supermodel Helena Christensen leaned languidly across a chair.
“The real thing,” breathed one.
“She’s getting older, but still a goddess,” whispered another.
Zwirner stood and raised his glass for a toast: “Jordan has taken art to another level!”
“He will be the best of our generation,” I heard.
Someone shouted out playfully from the crowd: “Hey Jordan, do you automaton?”
Maybe Frances Stark put it best in her Instagram of the robot: “We can do this sans programmers.”
Left: Artist Mark Flood. (Photo: Allese Thomson) Right: Dealer Joel Mesler of Untitled. (Photo: Irina Rozovsky)
THE COMMERCIAL CONFLAGRATION that is Armory Arts Week always begins with promise. This year—perhaps predictably, given the conservative profile of most art fairs—the nonprofit zone delivered on it first. The appetite whetter was MoMA’s Robert Heinecken retrospective, a revelatory show curated by Eva Respini. It gives overdue, East Coast recognition to the influential Left Coast proto-appropriationist and UCLA photography department founder—an artist’s artist if ever one was.
The Monday night opening sent paroxysms of pleasure through a photo-centric crowd that included collectors Michael and Eileen Cohen, photographers Susan Meiselas, Mitch Epstein, and Paul Graham, International Center of Photography curator Carol Squiers, and Paris Photo director Julian Frydman. As Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin was quick to note, the show travels to her institution next.
“It’s really fantastic,” said Marc Selwyn, who represents the Heinecken estate in LA, in collaboration with Mary Cherry. “It’s fantastic,” echoed Freidrich Petzel, who shows Heinecken in New York. “I worked with Robert in 1976,” veteran photo dealer Janet Borden recalled. Evidently she knew something that a lot of other people didn’t know, but it didn’t take long for first-nighters like Phil and Shelley Aarons or former New York Times photo editor Philip Gefter to see that Heinecken’s photocollages and magazine interventions anticipated the Pictures Generation strategies by twenty years.
With history thus nipping at our heels, I joined uptown art congregants the following evening for the forward-backward experience of the twenty-sixth annual Art Dealers of America “Art Show” at the Park Avenue Armory. Audiences here tend to be very pearls-at-the-neck, diamond-brooch-at-the-breast, and a generation or two past the lemmings streaming into the Whitney Museum that same night for the opening of this year’s biennial—the last to take place in the Marcel Breuer building before the Whitney decamps for new headquarters in the meatpacking district, designed by Renzo Piano. (What, him again?)
The Park Avenue crowd always brings a certain decorum to the ADAA show. Unlike the Whitney Biennial, it’s one that everyone loves to love. On Tuesday night, it actually felt more like a curated group exhibition than most biennials, which appear increasingly more like art-fair feeding grounds.
The modest size of the booths, and a generational shift that has turned what was a stuffy, modern/Old Master fair into an elegant contemporary one, prompted many of the seventy-two, all-American exhibitors to install one-person shows of recent art. Directly opposite the entrance, Sperone Westwater showed a knockout new group of Charles LeDray’s tiny, handmade clothing, including a rack of women’s dresses, and a delicate, daisy-chain necklace carved from human bone.
A moment later, ADAA president Dorsey Waxter waxed ecstatic about Petah Coyne’s plastic flower and stuffed peacock installation at the Lelong stand—if looks could talk, a crowd-pleaser—and told me not to miss Ann Hamilton’s live portrait studio at Carl Solway’s booth, where the artist was photographing volunteer subjects behind a translucent membrane. “Is this your art?” inquired the art lawyer John Silberman. “You are my art!” Hamilton replied. In the adjacent booth, Jacob Kassay had installed a group of shaped paintings on tan MDF board that was as cohesive a visual statement as he’s made since his dipped silver paintings. “It’s like a 1920s salon,” dealer Lisa Spellman said of the fair. “But contemporary.”
In the aisles I spotted MoMA director Glenn Lowry, art consultant Alan Schwartzman, Christie’s Bret Gorvy, and artist Philip Taaffe (who was featured at Luhring Augustine). Visiting dealer Jay Jopling, his cell phone glued to his ear, helped himself to the delicious hors d’oeuvres that are always an attraction of this fair’s gala preview, a benefit for the Henry Street Settlement, as Dallas collector Howard Rachofsky strode past and collectors Peter and Jill Kraus huddled with dealers Paula Cooper and Steve Henry. “We tried to go to the Whitney,” Kraus said, “but the line was backed up to Park Avenue—and this was just after seven o’clock.”
Personally, I was happy to keep looking around here. At Yancey Richardson’s stand, I discovered Zanele Muholi’s striking photographs of lesbian and transgender women in her native South Africa—resplendent in this refined environment. Sara VanDerBeek’s photos looked beautiful at Metro Pictures, as did Dana Schutz’s big charcoal drawings at Petzel, but the ten small portraits by Jeronimo Elespe, a former assistant to Sean Landers, sold out at Eleven Rivington before I could focus on a single one.
The hall was filling with sharp suits and trophy jewelry when Marianne Boesky attracted a full deck of distaff collectors—Artsy LA’s Haley Rose Cohen, Art Cart founder Hannah Flegelman, and the cheerful Amy Phelan—to her booth, which presented an unknown, ballpoint pen–drawing side of painting-machine, mushroom-sculpture artist Roxy Paine. Blum and Poe continued its tasty rollout of Mono-ha works; Alexander Gray promoted early abstraction by Jack Whitten; and Stefania Bortolami put up a handsome fourth wall to support shiny stripe paintings by Daniel Buren, with Richard Aldrich paintings behind it.
With their Gaston Lachaise–Louise Bourgeois twofer, Chelsea’s John Cheim and Howard Read materialized as very smart uptown dealers, as James Cohan was invoicing Spencer Finch’s Scotch-tape cloud drawings. Laurie Simmons arrived at the Salon 94 booth just as collectors Anita Zabludowicz and Wendy Fisher were admiring her “Walking Objects” photographs, three of them never exhibited before. “I used to feel funny about the big tomato, because I was afraid it would be taken as antifeminist,” she said. “Now I don’t care. I love it.”
There were two lines of shivering contenders for the door when I arrived at the Whitney, and a long snake of a queue for the coatroom in the lobby, where director Adam Weinberg was the official greeter. Relieved from biennial duty, Donna De Salvo and Scott Rothkopf also mingled with the waves of people pouring in to see the first biennial curated totally by curators from outside institutions—the better to leave Whitney staffers free to figure out what to do with the museum’s new building.
Left: Justin Vivian Bond and Participant's Lia Gangitano. Right: Artist Ei Arakawa.
Michelle Grabner’s top floor was a veritable fun fair of art, an obstacle course of riotous color made even more impassable by all the people—so many, I wondered how there could possibly still be so many waiting outside. (It was too dark out for Zoe Leonard’s camera obscura inside the Whitney’s Cyclops window to reflect the street.) Many of those present were artists. Some, like Amy Sillman, Dawoud Bey, Alma Allen, Karl Haendel, Joel Otterson, Laura Owens, and Sterling Ruby, were in the show. OthersRachel Harrison, Robert Longo, Lorraine O’Grady—were just visiting ghosts of biennials past. Phil Vanderhyden stood by his expert redo of the late Gretchen Bender’s forty-two-foot-long People in Pain, for my money one of the strongest works in the show. “There were eight feet I couldn’t fit on the wall,” Vanderhyden said, as former Stedelijk Museum director Ann Goldstein sidled up, recalling her own installation of the work in her seminal 1989 “Forest of Signs” exhibition at LA MoCA.
That must have been a better year for art than this one. Despite all the color and variety that Grabner brought to the floor, I had doubts that much of the work would have the Bender’s staying power if installed in a different context. Meanwhile, it was a lot of fun to negotiate the fourth floor and just enjoy the sights: Uri Aran roaming with his identical twin; Joel Otterson as delighted with his Bill Erlich diamond-and-sapphire brooch as he was with his handmade “transgender” tent of vintage gazar silk for girls; Jerry Saltz having his picture taken with Steve Martin, who said he came to the opening “just to see.”
It was so crowded that most people didn’t notice this special Oscar winner, just two days after the Oscars. But the stars here were the artists, who included a number of writers and publishers. Complaints of having to read too much were loud and perhaps not too serious, it was hard to tell. I’ll be the first to claim literature as an art, but it’s not an especially visual art and generally not one well suited for collective viewing. Yet dealer Lorcan O’Neill reported, “We’ve been getting high in the Semiotext(e) room,” evidently a covert clubhouse for pot smokers as well as a hangout for the press’s Sylvère Lotringer, performance artist Penny Arcade, and Tony Award–winning playwright and novelist Colm Tóibín.
“I like the mix of cool and uncool,” said Houston’s Contemporary Art Museum director Bill Arning. “Dealers are confused. They’re saying, ‘You mean we’re supposed to be showing this stuff?’ ” That would have made Stuart Comer laugh. “Museums are in crisis,” the curator of the Biennial’s third floor said—trapped between box office–pleasing market favorites and marginalized but culture-shifting ideas.
Guards chased us out of the museum before I’d even reached Anthony Elms’s second floor, but I followed the fleet to the Carlyle Hotel, where the poet and Triple Canopy supporter Tom Healy was hosting a cocktail party to celebrate the collective’s participation in the biennial. Among the famished diving for sliders and lining up for cocktails were biennialists Julie Ault and Emily Sundblad, as well as musician-artist-collector Michael Stipe, who held down a table with the English singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“We’re going to the Toolbox,” said transgender performer Justin Vivian Bond. “You know it’s going to be trashy and ugly, and the drinks will be cheap.” Would that it could be as easy to predict where history will situate this biennial. All we can guess is that the celebrants of the next edition, downtown, will have to give up the Carlyle to settle for the Standard. Like many works in the show, it too is now for sale.
Left: Artist Carroll Dunham and Whitney curator Scott Rothkopf. Right: Artist Frances Stark.
CONTEMPORARY ART FAIRS MOVE FAST. For those dealers, collectors, and curators who stick around for the whirlwind of ten-hour fair days, visits to remote private collections, and thumping social hours at neighborhood joints with names like “Why Not?” the fair is quickly supplanted by hazy memories. But ARCO, set thirty minutes out of centro, or downtown Madrid, takes a more measured pace than others, as if mandating a siesta within the normative frenzy. And why not?
This year’s ARCOmadrid was pushed back a week to accommodate Mexico City’s ascending powerhouse, Zona Maco. But ARCO’s new dates didn’t fix every conflict: I heard a few dealers complain that the richest Spanish collectors weren’t at ARCO because of the overlap with Spain’s school vacation period, which spanned the fair’s entire week. “Basel Miami Beach also changed everything,” Inés López-Quesada of Travesía Quatro reminded me. Her gallery, co-run with Silvia Ortiz, had just finished opening a new space in Guadalajara, Mexico. “Spanish collectors are not in a hurry; they don’t care if the work they wanted on the first day is no longer available.” Other galleries were banking on the Spaniards coming in over the weekend after their annual ski trips to Switzerland, but few showed up. “It’s something we’re still figuring out,” said ARCO director Carlos Urroz Arancibia.
Left: Collectors Leonora Belilty and Estrellita Brodsky. Right: Reina Sofia deputy director João Fernandes.
Instead, I saw figures from the Latin American market, like collectors Estrellita Brodsky, Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, and Jorge Pérez. There were also dealers such as Elena Foster, Luciana Brito, and Tom Krinzinger; institutional bigwigs like Fundación/Colleción Jumex director Patrick Charpenel and Manifesta 10 curator Kasper König; and international artists like Dan Graham, Fernanda Fragateiro, and Christian Boltanski. All of them mingled until troves of high school students descended on the fair and began taking selfies and giggling at the art, which raised the question of who these art fairs are for—a knowing few or a disinherited many in the throngs of a recession? “Because Spain is in crisis, it’s a bit cooler,” said guest speaker Judith Benhamou-Huet at a talk on collecting.
ARCO to some degree answers the question of audience through its innovative curatorial focus, which persuades curators from all over the world—from Adriano Pedrosa to the Guggenheim’s Pablo León de la Barra, from Museo Tamayo’s Julieta González to University Museum’s Cuauhtémoc Medina, Pérez Art Museum Miami’s Tobias Ostrander, and São Paulo Bienal 2014 cocurator Pablo Lafuente—to attend, flying them over gratis and inviting them to hold meetings with whomever they’d like. “We have to pay more attention,” said SculptureCenter’s Ruba Katrib, the first face I recognized. Katrib was preparing to head the opening talk, titled “Material Culture and Contemporary Art,” and she was a paragon of calm. “I’ve always wanted to get this group of people together, and ARCO has made it happen,” she continued. “This fair is really about quality, slowing down and looking at even derivatives in a different way. How are we to understand derivatives in today’s art world?”
Organized into two halls, the more than two hundred galleries tried out different strategies: Some took a nationalist tack, like Chantal Crousel, who showed the Spanish José Maria Sicilia—“an artist who could also be seen at any museum here,” she said. Or they went global. Los Angeles–based Honor Fraser showed the stoic work of Austrian Tillman Kaiser because “we believe in it; anyway, our clients are world travelers.”
The Opening section of the fair, cocurated by Manuel Segade and Luiza Teixeira de Freitas, included younger galleries, like New York–based Johannes Vogt, showing artists Sadie Benning and Johanna Unzueta. Guayaquil, Ecuador’s NoMíNIMO was at the fair for the first time, sharing a booth with Lima’s Revolver. “Guayaquil is where artists are producing innovative art in a range of media,” mentioned gallery director Pilar Estrada Lecaro. “In Quito, the government is the source for most of the funding.”
“Ecuador is a tale of two cities,” said Pablo León de la Barra as we passed Mexico City’s Proyecto Paralelo in the Focus Latinoamérica section of the fair. De la Barra had just come in from Bilbao (where he’d been visiting Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s latest exhibition, “The Body That Carries Me”) to give a few public talks with Latitude Brazil—a group that represents Brazilian galleries abroad. “My favorite work here is Fernanda Laguna at Nora Fisch,” he said. My favorite was Diego Bianchi’s wrenching performance installation over at Buenos Aires’ Barro Arte Contemporáneo, where a male performer’s clothes, limbs, teeth, and phallus were tethered by wire to assorted objects that hugged the walls of the closed-off booth, causing the assemblages to hover and produce audible creaks as he moved. “In a fair like this, you have to be contrary,” said Barro director Nahuel Ortiz Vidal. “Diego’s a contrario; the work doesn’t have to mean anything.” I took that to mean the opposite.
On Friday night, Latitude held a cocktail party at the Dry Martini. Pinta London chairman Alejandro Zaia was there, as were Madrid-based curator Virginia Torrente, dealer Cecilia Jurado, and 80m2’s Livia Benavides. The ascot-wearing dealer Henrique Faria arrived after most guests were already sipping their second or third caipirinha. (“Be careful; they can creep up on you,” warned São Paulo artist Ricardo Alcaide.) Faria was exhibiting the work of two Spanish emigrants, Venezuelan Emilia Azcárate and Cuban Waldo Balart. “Hopefully I’m showing them in better states than their two countries are in right now.” He had already purchased for himself a series of erotic drawings by artist Carlos Motta that riffed on pre-Columbian art. When asked where he was going to put them, Faria quipped, “Right in front of my bed, of course.”
I followed the crowd out into the night and on to collectors Leonora and Jimmy Belilty’s capacious, art-filled apartment. Cohosted by Nogueras Blanchard, Maisterravalbuena, and Mor Charpentier, the gathering was flooded with usual suspects: Estrellita Brodsky and Leonora held court in the dining room while Alex Mor and Misol Foundation director Solita Mishaan exchanged drawn smiles in the living room. There was a life-size white patent horse replete with a matching medieval rider in the den, lance at the ready. And the joust was on as we headed afterward to Bar Cock, ARCO’s answer to Cheers—if Cheers were once a down-low bordello.
Quiet it wasn’t. Beatriz López of Instituto de Vision was complaining that Sofia Vergara stole her accent (though López’s singing voice was all her own). Magali Arriola, Fundación/Colleción Jumex curator and co-comisaria of the fair’s Latin American section, though herself hoarse, was able to explain to me what it’s like to work at the Jumex’s new digs while balancing her art schedule with a seven-year-old daughter. Her husband, artist Mario García Torres, had just opened a show of new animations at Madrid’s Elba Benítez Gallery. CAPC director María Inés Rodríguez joined a tête-à-tête with Juan Andrés Gaitán, while Documenta 14 director Adam Szymczyk, curator Abaseh Mirvali, collector Frances Reynolds, and dealer Peter Kilchmann circumambulated the wainscoted room. Above it all a painted rooster presided over the clucking.
The next morning I flew to the south of Spain. The NMAC Foundation, located in Càdiz, had invited a private group that included dealers Esther Schipper and Marc Blondeau, Tate trustee Nicole Junkermann, collectors Pilar Lladó and Jaime Gorozpe, and more to tour its natural surrounds. (It was once owned by the Spanish military, and army barracks still dot the landscape like camouflaged caterpillars.) Jimena Blázquez of the importing/exporting Blázquez family opened the foundation in 2001 to work with artists on site-specific projects. Marina Abramović was the first, carving niches along a quarry rock face, then came others, including Sol LeWitt, Olafur Eliasson, and James Turrell, lured no doubt by the Càdizian light and the cross-cultural vantage of the city’s proximity to Africa. On a clear day, you could see the plains of Tangier from the Blazquez house, a modernist white cube decorated with Spanish antiques. It sat perched on a manicured hill above the family’s stables—the largest in the world, with over 1,500 horses (some of which were so scared of Abramović that they had to be given sedatives during her stay).
For lunch at the sun-filled house, we were served shrimp curry, naan, and a lomito wellington (an Argentinean take on the English classic) while Jimena and her father Antonio told stories about the NMAC artists in an easy mélange of English, French, and Spanish. Maurizio Cattelan had apparently asked the family to buy another refrigerator so he could stuff Antonio into it for one of his pieces; this idea would later evolve into Betsy, a 2002 portrait of grandmother Betsy Guinness of the Guinness fortune. After visiting poignant works by Cristina Lucas, Santiago Sierra, and Adrián Villar Rojas—the last of which was purchased jointly with Junkermann’s JJ Foundation—the tour culminated in a thirty-minute stop at the Turrell, the artist’s first Skyspace to fuse an Egyptian pyramid with a Buddhist stupa. “There was a convention of Skyspace owners last summer,” Jimena began to laugh. “We bonded over how difficult it is to build something like this.” This one had taken four years to complete. Once inside, despite the work’s consuming light, I could see the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt through the oculus. I felt I could have been anywhere—Cairo, Goa, Sevilla, Tokyo—and I suppose that’s the point of it: to transcend.
LAST YEAR I had to reckon with the fact that online magazine Triple Canopy was no longer just some little-known project run by friends. A public program of theirs in New York had sold out, and we were left shivering on Freeman Street. “But I know them!” And more pathetically: “I was in a band with one of them in college.”
Saying that they’ve “blown up” is a tad hyperbolic—after all, our context is that of publishing and nonprofit art spaces. Plus, some of you out there probably knew Stefani Germanotta at NYU. Still, the fact is, the group is now six years old and has already worked with the New Museum, MoMA PS1, and MoMA. They’re participating in the upcoming Whitney Biennial. Also, The Guardian ran a piece that described them “eating salads.” (If having your diet reported on by British press isn’t a sign of celebrity status, what is?)
This past weekend, TC left Brooklyn to head across the country, where editors Molly Kleiman and Lucy Ives gave a talk at UCLA. They were there to present the relaunch of the magazine’s online platform and “Alongslide,” its latest open-source layout. “Triple Canopy is no People magazine,” a friend said. “They’re rigorous.” That point was driven home as Kleiman, Ives, and developer Seth Erickson dissected common Internet-layout problems that are felt but not articulated by your average schmo.
After, speakers and audience alike made their way through rush-hour traffic to Silverlake, where Triple Canopy cohosted a party with the LA Review of Books in the house of author Joshua Wolf Shenk. LA, so I’ve heard, is on the brink of a drought, but that Friday evening was dewy, and a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd had amassed by 8 PM, around cheese and clementines inside, drinks from a bar at the balcony out back, and the pool and hot tub beyond. (When you’re coming from New York, any pool at a party seems magic and insane.)
“I didn’t know who’d be here,” said artist Shana Lutker, back in town for Project X’s benefit this weekend, “since it’s not quite an art opening.” And still, familiar faces: the Hammer Museum’s David Morehouse, Various Small Fires dealer Esther Kim, artists John Houck and Eve Fowler, and illustrator Joanna Neborsky. Artist-run spaces and nonprofits were in the house, with reps from Ooga Booga and Human Resources, among others. (“Artist-run spaces mean a lot more in LA,” said educator-editor Ronni Kimm.)
Kleiman and LAXART’s Eric Golo Stone discussed Common Practice LA—a newly minted advocacy group that counts LAXART, REDCAT, East of Borneo, and the MAK Center among its seven founding partners. (As it happens, Triple Canopy’s a member of Common Practice New York). “Small-scale art organizations don’t have a lobbyist,” Kleiman said. “So how do we make a case for the sector?”
A hush in the crowd paved the way for toasts. From the stairs, Tom Lutz, editor of the Review, spoke protectively of the magazines’ missions and prospects. “Advanced literacy and the arts are going against the flow, but also going with the flow of our culture too,” he said. Shenk used his toast to draw parallels between the two projects: “Both take advantage of online technology. But now they’re also letting us touch them.”
He paused. “And here we all are. Crowded and getting ready to touch each other.”
Fearful of what that scenario might look like, I escaped out front, where artist Phil Chang had gone for a smoke. We pondered conceptual connections between Triple Canopy and LA. Reflecting that Triple Canopy editors originally lifted their name from a private security firm, Chang pointed out that the city of angels also offers a huge military-industrial presence. “Usually it’s the production of cinema that becomes a parallel to artmaking in LA.”
So was arms manufacturing a better foil?
“Well,” Chang said, “LA’s truth is still stranger than the fiction it produces.”
Tell that to professional reality-TV-jackass Johnny Knoxville, who drew a flock of paparazzi on Monday at the Orpheum Theater downtown. There, he (and two thousand other Angelenos) convened to hear a conversation between John Waters and Jeff Koons. The event was part of “The Un-Private Collection,” a series of talks hosted offsite by the Broad Museum while it waits out delays to the completion of its $140 million building. (Apparently the museum’s tiled exoskeleton is what’s holding the project back.)
Ushers in velvet and brocade directed everyone to their seats. And everyone means the toniest of the LA art world’s movers, shakers, makers, and breakers—Paul Schimmel, Ed Ruscha, Alma Ruiz, Jeffrey Deitch. And so forth. People coming through town (like the Whitney’s Scott Rothkopf, curator of the upcoming Koons retrospective) and people who seem here to stay (Michael and Eva Chow).
“That was a very presidential-debate entrance,” Waters remarked, after he and Koons (both in suits) strode out from opposite ends of the stage and shook hands. And though they were clearly each other’s fanboys at the end of the day, there was a slight clash-of-candidates aspect to the whole affair. It was yin versus yang. Flamingo versus teddy bear. Prison psychologist versus Landmark life coach. For instance:
Is menace always lurking in your work?
What’s menacing for me is . . . to waste an opportunity . . . to experience the vastness of possibilities.
Let’s look at slide thirteen: the caterpillar with the ladder. To me that’s threatening! I mean, everybody knows you don’t go under a ladder!
The way you view something, it’s perfect. Whatever experiences you have in life, your interpretations, the art that you’re feeling: that’s perfect.
(bringing up an image of Koons’s Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988)
Slide 18, to me, is your scariest work. Does Bubbles know the truth?
Actually, this piece always reminds me of King Tut. There’s aspects of the Egyptian, in the gold, in the light. But then, also, this is the Pietà.
If Waters was indeed the evening’s prison psychologist, he even became downright parole-board inquisitive—drawing laughs. “Do you smoke pot?” (“No. Well, I’ve tried things.”) “You try LSD?” “You ever been arrested?”
There was common ground, too. “I think we really do share a core,” said Koons at one point. “And that core is acceptance.” (Plus, Waters noted, his mother and Koons’s aunt had lived in a retirement home together.) And both seemed genuinely grateful for their success. Koons said that he could live in a trailer—and do what he wanted—for the rest of his life.
“Success [is] two things,” Waters quoted. “You can buy every book you want without looking at the price—and you never have to be around assholes.”
His words lingered as a portion of the crowd headed downstairs for the VIP reception hosted by Gagosian, and found itself facing a phalanx of five-plus bouncers with lists. Inside, in the wood-paneled room, caterers passed out crabmeat on spoons. “This is the Dom Pérignon from Koons’s balloon Venus,” nodded Gagosian Beverly Hills director Deborah McLeod, pointing at the champagne being poured.
Reactions to the talk ranged. “I was enjoying their opposing charms,” McLeod said. “Such wonderfully diverse styles.” Meanwhile, Bettina Korek, of ForYourArt, pondered: “Koons almost said something new.”
Waters appeared happy: “LA audiences are great. This is the only place you can say, ‘Maybe art for the people is not a good thing’—and get applause.”