THE JOULE HOTEL was the nexus of activity during the sixth edition of the Dallas Art Fair. Everyone from Heidi Klum to artists like Richard Phillips and Will Boone and dealers including James Fuentes and Max Levai spent the week in its sleek rooms. Across the street, a leviathan, thirty-foot-tall eyeball gazed directly at the building. Richard Phillips’s new girlfriend—Liza Thorn, Saint Laurent muse and lead singer of STARRED—told me that it kept her up at night: “It’s there watching me, all the time.” The sculpture’s maker, Chicago-based artist Tony Tasset, said he conceived it as a kind of conscience, or even God. “Texans like things big,” he shrugged before the fair’s final party on Saturday night. That circus-like fete, billed The Eyeball, took place on a grassy knoll around the orb and featured waiters and bartenders with multiple eyes painted so deftly over their faces that it was difficult to tell which eye was real and which was false.
Dallas is a city of collectors, and many say its private collections are among the best you’ll ever see. A number of these are in Highland Park, a private neighborhood designed by the same people responsible for Beverly Hills; many of the city’s patrons live there, including the Roses, who are among a trinity of families that have bequeathed their collections to the Dallas Museum of Art, promising to make it one of the best museums in the nation.
Deedie Rose hosted an open house on the first day of the fair. (The two other families, the Rachofskys and the Hoffmans, were out of town, but happily the former’s collection is public and the latter’s groundskeeper was kind enough to show people around.) “You have to think of contemporary art like Shakespeare,” Rose said as she led us through her impressive holding of Brazilian art. “When you know the language, it can change the way you see the world.” The house—like most I saw in Dallas—seemed to have fewer walls than windows, some of which soared several stories high.
Left: Model Heidi Klum and Vito Schnabel. (Photo: Jenifer McNeil Baker) Right: Collector Deedie Rose.
A gala for the Dallas Art Fair was held that night and was attended by women in sweeping, jewel-toned gowns and men in crisp shirts. Many of the dealers in town for the fair—Jonathan Viner, OHWOW’s Mills and Al Moran, Jose Martos, Michael Nevin of The Journal—mentioned that they were here to place work with Dallas collectors. Paris dealer Frank Elbaz declared that because it was Dallas, he only brought art by Americans. Among some of the most elegant booths were those by Churner and Churner, CANADA, James Fuentes, Clearing, M+B, and The Green Gallery, the last of whom brought an enormous mobile-like sculpture by Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam.
The night before, the Power Station—a nonprofit space that has previously held shows by Matias Faldbakken, Oscar Tuazon, Jacob Kassay, and Virginia Overton—opened an exhibition of work by Fredrik Vaerslev. His cool abstractions were based on the colors of the Dallas Cowboys and aimed to be an affront to the viewer. “He creates antagonistic paintings,” said the space’s artistic director Rob Teeters as he stood before the fifteen-foot tall, two-foot wide banner-like paintings, the lower half of which were left entirely blank, so that you had to crane your neck to see the stripes of paint. “He denies the gesture and forces you to look. Fredrik is a painter with a capital P.” Originally, Vaerslev had installed the paintings over the windows, but everything got too dark. We headed to the afterparty at an apartment rooftop, which functions as both offices and a place for artists to stay when visiting. There, in a conversation about George W. Bush’s debut as a painter, Power Station founder Aldin Pinnel laughed: “Those have to be hardest paintings to get in the world.” He paused. “Dallas is a unique place. After Bush came back, there were billboards everywhere reading THANKS FOR KEEPING US SAFE GEORGE AND LAURA.”
Across town at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, the ex-POTUS was represented by “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy,” featuring portraits of world leaders he worked with during his eight years in office. Among them were Vladimir Putin and Tony Blair; he painted most of these from pictures found on Google Image searches, and each painting was winged by photographs and vitrines filled with totemistic gifts bestowed by that leader to the President.
“They’re like Mexican ex-photo paintings,” Julian Schnabel told curator Piper Marshall on OHWOW’s radio channel Know Wave, which ran the length of the fair from an outpost at the Joule Hotel. “People in Mexico that get hit by a car or survive a bus accident make paintings and put them in the church and give them to God to thank him for keeping them alive.”
Earlier that day I had met Schnabel to talk about his show due to open that night. It was just past noon and he was standing in the middle of the cavernous space looking at his enormous paintings and wearing a shirt that read MISSING. “I called it the Disappointing Present,” he said of a work featuring a blown-up photograph of a beaming fisherman on a wharf. Other works included relics or images of a former time—a book of Milton, an antique mirror he gave his first wife, wallpaper from the eighteenth century. “The people in it seem so enthusiastic and proud of whatever is going on there.”
“Then why is it disappointing?”
“Because I am talking about this present.”
In the next gallery, portraits of Lindsay Lohan, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Timberlake hung along the warehouse walls. It was Richard Phillips’s debut museum show. Titled “Negation of the Universe,” the exhibition opened with a painting of a woman’s vagina squirting out clear liquid. Pornography is Phillips’s operative device: His paintings’ hyperbolic realism evoke the world as seen through the lens of an HD camera.
“I had to go outside and find a patch of sun after walking through half of one room,” said one artist. Next to Phillips, Schnabel felt almost holy.
“You want children’s paintings? Then go to a children’s museum. My show is audacious, it’s uncompromising, it’s intrepid, it’s resistant, it’s completely courageous,” Phillips said at a dinner to honor Schnabel on the rooftop of the Joule Hotel.
“It’s a curator’s dream to have Julian Schnabel and Richard Phillips in the same museum,” said Dallas Contemporary director Peter Doroshenko. I sat next to advisor John Runyon, whom many consider responsible for the growing collector scene in Dallas. He gave Phillips his first solo show outside New York at his former gallery, which he shuttered in the early 2000s to build an advisory practice. “It’s not a city for galleries,” he told me. Artists, he suggested, feel like they can’t stay here. “I suppose it’s the missing link.”
Of course, he’s not the only one in the city forging connections between artists and institutions. “She’s the queen of Dallas, but don’t worry, she’s a good queen,” said artist Sam Roeck of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Anna-Sophia van Zweden. Friday morning, she hosted a press conference at the I.M. Pei–designed Meyerson Symphony Center to announce the first annual SOLUNA, an international music and arts festival that will feature collaborations between the DSO and artists like Pipilotti Rist and Yael Bartana.
In this contemporary cathedral of a space—home to the largest Ellsworth Kelly in the world—a violin interrupted her speech. Then, from behind the curve of an expansive stairway, came a stream of musicians on dollies pushed by performers in coveralls colored to match the Kelly. Each musician sat on a chair with a music stand, their bodies bent into their instruments. The orchestra circled the press conference, herding the crowd into a tight clump: Ryan McNamara’s choreography, part of the DSO’s project, brought a physical dimension to the music, implicating the audience within the dance of the sound, merging all present into a coherent piece.
On Sunday, I found myself in another place of worship, also with an art collection—the Dallas Cowboy Stadium. It was raining that day, and there was a children’s cheerleading convention taking place, and so we made our wet way through gaggles of pint-size girls to stand before works by Jacqueline Humphries, Cory Arcangel, and Walead Beshty. Our tour guide was stadium and art ambassador Phil Whitfield—a big man with a big voice who believed art could and should be appreciated by everyone. (His critical insight into the practice of artists in the collection was stunning.) We wandered through the owners’ box, with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out onto a sea of eighty thousand seats. “It’s about how to see,” he said. In the background, the cheerleaders leapt about to the National Anthem. “People come here from all walks of the world—it’s not just about museums anymore. I’ve dedicated my life to this, to helping people see.”
“YOU SEE WHY Cologne is so pleasant?” the critic Boris Pofalla asked me, pointing to the dancers bouncing on the floor at the Köln-Ehrenfeld studio of the Meiré Brothers. “No bearded hipsters looking for free booze. In Berlin, every opening is a party. In Cologne it’s different: A party is a party and an opening is an opening.”
It was Wednesday night, and we were in the midst of an unofficial, well-attended afterparty for Art Cologne. I agreed: For an art event—in all its cheerful, self-aware, post-hipster decency—this was a pretty good one. Everything seemed just right: the minimalist setting (silver foil flying over the heads of the dancers serving as a disco ball surrogate), bass-saturated tunes selected by Gigiotto del Veccio (of Supportico Lopez gallery) followed by a heartwarming performance of techno singer-songwriter Justus Köhncke. Hello Cologne!
In newspaper columns, post-’89 Berlin is often referred to as the “laboratory of the German unification”—insecure, like a teenager during adolescence. With the Rhineland it’s a very different affair: The overall feeling is less restless, the area’s institutions developed not over years, but decades. (Art Cologne, for instance, is the world’s oldest art fair, founded in 1967.) Maybe this is exactly the reason why we love going to Cologne; it’s a living museum. “Cologne is a city where you can study the old West Germany,” said the Berlin-based writer Katja Kullmann. “On its most modern corners, it looks like 1994.” (She meant that as a compliment.) And when it comes to the fair, Art Cologne, now in its forty-eight edition, is by far the best German one around. Yes, it’s true: There is no better way to start the spring season than a visit to the Rhineland.
The quality of the fair has steadily improved since Daniel Hug took over as director of the historically charged but declining Art Cologne in 2008. Important dealers keep coming back—among them this year were Contemporary Fine Arts (CFA), Esther Schipper, Susanne Vielmetter, Daniel Buchholz, Gisela Capitain, Hauser & Wirth, and David Zwirner. “Hug is like a marathon man who will not give up bringing certain dealers back to the fair,” said one Cologne-based dealer. And everyone seems to praise the density of collectors. “Those that frequent the Cologne fair are absolutely reliable,” said Alexander Schroeder of Galerie Neu. Of course, this also means that acquisitions are steady in pace. A heated buying frenzy might be the norm in Basel, Miami, and London, but it’s just not the way of the wealthy German Mittelstand.
The rivalry between Cologne and Berlin that defined their relationship for almost a decade is finally over. After the closure of the competing Art Forum Berlin fair in 2011, a kind of silent agreement has set: Berlin got the bulk of the galleries, the artists, and the creativity, whereas Cologne is all about the fair, the institutions, collectors, and the money. “I would be happy if Cologne, my hometown, would seize the fourth place in Europe, after Basel, London, and Paris,” David Zwirner told the local Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. “There are still fairs who are fierce competitors. But the position in the center of Europe is perfect. Concerning Cologne in general: After the wall came down, artists and dealers left for Berlin. But meanwhile one can say that Berlin has not kept its promise.” But maybe the situation proves a little more complex than this. It is precisely the rise of Berlin that helped to shake up the old Cologne establishment and its invisible hierarchies, catapulting the German art scene to a new level. And it’s obvious that Art Cologne, with its strong presence of Berlin-based galleries, is profiting from this evolution.
Left: Dealer Peter Currie and artist Lutz Bacher. Right: Collector Michael Ballack, dealer Monika Sprüth, and entrepreneur Nicola Miracapillo.
Whatever the speed, any fair tends to be a superficial experience: too much art to see, too many people to meet. I need more direction than that. In Cologne I spent time investigating a sculptural sub-genre that has appeared for some years now, inextricably linked with fair culture: functional art. One of the most prominent examples was a comfy mustard-yellow sofa-sculpture by Bjarne Melgaard at Guido Baudach’s booth. At CFA’s double-sized booth, two kinds of these works were featured: Sarah Lucas’s hard-edged concrete-and-MDF furniture, as well as two sofa-objects (titled Opium and Low Confession) by Tal R. (The latter objects’ upholstery resembles an IKEA dorm-room rug, and is even removable for eventual cleaning, a gallery assistant informed me.) KM, a smart gallery run by Nina Köller and Jens Mentrup, featured a whole mobile office structure in striking colors, produced by the Hamburg-based artist Tillmann Terbuyken.
The only sofa that didn’t seem for sale was the one in the backroom of Gisela Capitain’s gallery on St. Apern street. Brown, bulky, with a cover made of thick pig leather, it sat quite prominently in the installed but yet-to-be-open Wade Guyton show. Was it art? Hard to tell. Someone informed me that the sofa was purchased by the artist in Hamburg and was waiting in the gallery until the end of the show to be shipped to his studio in New York. And indeed, I can attest that it’s a fine piece of furniture, having sat on it the Thursday of fair week to contemplate the magic of improv legend Joe McPhee, during an event jointly organized by Capitain, Corbett vs. Dempsey, and David Nolan Gallery. With his saxophone, McPhee created an acoustic space within the white cube that was all about sound, the human body, musical breathing, and the pleasure of listening.
Before the McPhee performance I’d gone to the Museum Ludwig for the opening of Pierre Huyghe’s traveling midcareer survey exhibition, which originated last winter at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The exhibition space was overcrowded, but it was clear that this is an extremely exceptional show that will bring visitors from all over Germany. Of course, the Ludwig is drawing attention not only for art these days. Cologne’s gossip factory is working overtime after the unexpected resignation last December of Philipp Kaiser after only one year as director. (Currently Katia Baudin, curator of the Huyghe retrospective, is acting as interim director.) According to Susanne Laugwitz-Aulbach, Cologne’s councilor in charge of cultural affairs, a new director will be appointed before the summer break. Several names are circulating, but according to some, a “local solution” is most likely. At the dinner after the ceremony of the Wolfgang Hahn Prize (awarded this year to the painter Kerry James Marshall), former Ludwig director Kasper König took the microphone for an informal address to the members of the Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst, influential Ludwig supporters. It sounded like König, who retired from his job in October 2012 and who is currently curating the next Manifesta in Saint Petersburg, might still have some say in the fate of the Ludwig.
It was Sunday morning as my train left Cologne’s main station, heading back to Berlin. Before entering the Hohenzollernbridge, an impressive arched steel structure over the Rhine, the train stopped for a minute right next to the Museum Ludwig. It was just long enough to whisper farewell to this city and its people and, of course, Human, the white dog with the pink feet that strolls endlessly through the Huyghe show just a few feet away.
Left: Collector Stefan Simchowitz and dealer Joel Mesler. Right: San Jose ICA director Cathy Kimball and Silicon Valley Contemporary founder Rick Friedman. (All photos: Brian Droitcour)
LAST THURSDAY, while at the opening night preview of Silicon Valley Contemporary, a new art fair in San Jose, I shared six posts on Instagram. Here they are, ranked by likes:
1. The Marina Abramović Institute presented The Mutual Wave Machine, an installation by empathy researchers Suzanne Dikker and Matthias Oostrik. It’s a tented pod, with room inside for a pair of volunteers to sit facing each other as their brain activity is measured and visualized on the screens that surround them. White spots cluster when their thoughts are in sync, and dissipate in blackness when they aren’t. While waiting for it to start I took a selfie that showed my head in profile, and the headpiece that gripped my temples and scalp with its padded fingers. My neurofeedback was projected on the wall behind me—a cluster of colorful zigzags. The headpiece wasn’t uncomfortable, but it had taken Dikker a long time to adjust it so that the sensors could find my brain. My thick hair was to blame. Exasperated, Dikker asked: “Can we shave your head?” My post got thirty likes, more than anything else I posted that day. People love selfies, and the caption was good: “I donated my brainwaves to Marina Abramovic.”
2. When seen through an acrylic sphere, a grid of suspended spools of thread yields an image of the Mona Lisa that’s choppy, as if 8-bit. Devorah Sperber’s After the Mona Lisa B, presented by Bentley Gallery of Phoenix, is an elementary lesson in optics with a price tag of $42,000.
Instagram of Devorah Sperber’s After the Mona Lisa B.
2. Second place was a three-way tie. The spool trick got twenty-six likes, and so did my ad hoc still of a video documenting the making of the paintings in The Hole’s booth. Katsu, the artist, and an assistant wore full-body garments that looked like hazmat suits as a hobby drone sprayed paint on canvas. Palettes favored bold graffiti colors—orange, pink, black—but there was nothing like a tag to indicate authorship, just a thinness to the paint’s application that conveyed the drone’s distance from the canvas and its busy flight, though a couple of splotches marked points of crash contact. The spattery hail on the paintings also covered the chair, rug, and media stand that decorated the booth—an allover interior concept. Krysta Eder, the booth’s steward, wore a matching sweater. “I have a different one for each day of the fair,” she said. She didn’t seem thrilled about it.
Piloting a drone is hard. It takes a mastery of simultaneous movement on x, y, and z axes. Katsu compared making a successful painting to “fiero”—the term game designers use to describe the feeling of winning after intense engagement. Then, with a searching look on his face, he asked me what I thought of the work. I said I don’t like spray paint.
2. Bitcoin’s trademark font is surprisingly cheery, given the digital currency’s antiestablishment bent, and there it was on a desk at the booth of KM Fine Arts: “Bitcoin Accepted Here.” Twenty-six likes. (My favorite part of the image wasn’t the sign itself but the can of Rockstar energy drink behind it.) Bitcoin-rich buyers might have purchased a Julie Mehretu light box or one of Domingo Zapata’s graffiti-inflected paintings, but the gallery directed their attention to the themes of alternative finance in Off Limits but Blessed by the Fed, a painting on unstretched canvas by Dana Louise Kirkpatrick. A mashup portrait of Mona Lisa and Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington smirked below a crude Confederate flag, and in the lower right corner the artist scrawled a bitcoin with a made-up motto: LIBERTAS AEQUITAS VERITAS IT HUSTLE. It’s a tribute to “a modern-day punk/anarchy movement,” said Kirkpatrick with Hollywood vocal fry. It sold on opening night for forty-three bitcoins ($22,000).
5. Tiffany Trenda, a performance artist from Los Angeles, paced a wide aisle in a red pleather jumpsuit tiled with little touchscreens and seamed with fluted ribs that held the wiring. She approached passersby, took their hands in hers, and invited their fingers to explore the touchscreens, which flashed brief messages: “Go ahead” and “It’s OK.” I tried to make an Instagram video showing my finger’s contact with the screens but Trenda kept stopping me, taking my hands and moving them over her body. Other people interrupted us, asking me to take their picture with Trenda. My post only got fourteen likes because of the clumsy breaks, and because no one wants to watch videos on Instagram. Doing an interactive performance in a costume as extravagant as Trenda’s is troublesome, I realized, because most viewers (including me) will just want to gawk and photograph rather than participate. I asked her about it when I saw her the next night at a reception at the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art, where donors’ names are chalked on a blackboard like the soup of the day. “I want people to engage in the experience, but the urge to document it is strong,” Trenda said. “I understand that, and that’s why the screens say ‘It’s OK.’ ”
6. The first thing I saw at the fair that stopped me in my tracks was a video by Noah Kalina, who since 2000 has taken selfies every day and compiled them in video flipbooks. Changing environs and hairdos dramatize the jerky hurtling of a body toward death as the unchanging expression of somber cow eyes hovers timelessly and wobbly in the middle of the frame. The video he posted to YouTube in July 2006, with his first 2,356 daily selfies, has been viewed more than twenty-five million times. People love selfies! And yet the video I posted to Instagram with an excerpt from his latest compilation, which hung at the booth of Long Island’s Salamatina Gallery, got a meager twelve likes. No one wants to watch videos on Instagram. I asked Oksana Salamatina, the gallery’s owner, what brought her to San Jose. “I was just fascinated,” she said, and spread her hands expressively: “Silicon Valley!” She brought Kalina’s video because she knew tech entrepreneurs had commissioned portraits from him—he even took wedding photos for Mark Zuckerberg.
AN EPILOGUE ON THE UNGRAMMABLE: The iPhone’s current operating system calls images taken with its camera “moments.” I shared six moments of the five hours I spent at the fair, between the press conference and dinnertime. (It was one of those press junkets with regimented days.) I wouldn’t say these moments were representative of what the fair was. I only shared things that I thought were funny—that I thought my followers would think were funny—to see at a fair called Silicon Valley Contemporary. I did it for the likes, and the exhibitors did it for the likes, too. They call them “sales,” of course, but the booths, like my posts, had a thirsty feeling of playing to an audience based on some vague expectation of what the confluence of “Silicon Valley” and “contemporary art” could mean. What does a tech millionaire put on his walls? Anything he wants, and possibilities offered by Silicon Valley Contemporary’s fifty-two exhibitors—from de Kooning to generative digital painting—were a motley variety unlike anything I’d ever seen at an art fair. Novelty suits San Jose, where more patents are filed per capita than in any other city, where the museum of art titles a show of new acquisitions “Initial Public Offering.” I can’t predict whether future editions of Silicon Valley Contemporary will homogenize and blend into the international art fair circuit or if its quirks will calcify in another kind of institution; as an early adopter, I just enjoyed the innovation.
MY IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE of the opening days for the sixth Glasgow International biennial began the morning after my arrival, when I had an appointment at a nail salon, part of Alistair Frost’s AZQ<>$@•^. I am usually pretty suspicious of feel-good art, especially when it’s participatory, but this was like a less demanding version of being pampered at the hairdresser, and I left with appliqued pinkies and thumbs. Was I shortchanged any subtexts of gender trouble, gentrification, artistic or social critique? I am not sure. Someone later told me I should have left a tip. Next time.
A morning of gallery viewing in the environs took in a small-but-great show of Chicago imagist Christina Ramberg at 42 Carlton Place and a group show at Modern Institute, where Tobias Madison, Emmanuel Rossetti, and Stefan Tcherepnin had divided the space in two using flesh-colored office carpeting. Madison talked about a month he’d spent going to experimental noise shows in Japan. Tcherepnin told me he had seen zombies in the street after a particularly late install night. It boded well for the artists’ own performance, with several more collaborators, as the band Solar Lice a few days later. “It’s interesting, but not worth ruining my ears for,” one friend said.
Still, it was a counterpoint to the kinds of work that curator Sarah McCrory had chosen for the “Director’s Programme,” the official focus of the Glasgow International. She described her choice to me as an “anti-theme” approach, which left lots of room for a range of work. At one extreme was Anthea Hamilton and Nicholas Byrne’s Love, set in a beautiful disused swimming pool filled with inflatables, including a bouncy cube version of Robert Indiana’s LOVE. I may have once jumped around on Jeremy Deller’s blow-up Stonehenge with my nephew, but I apologetically declined to take off my shoes to get into what Hamilton described as “the love box.” McCrory told the local newspaper that this exhibition might suit people who aren’t sure “if modern art is for them,” describing the inflatables as “lovely objects to look at, and fun.”
More nourishing fare, and no need to remove shoes, was at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). During the opening evening, Aleksandra Domanović pointed out the Snow White references in her large celluloid prints of images from sci-fi films, anchored in a 1938 rejection letter from Disney explaining that “women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen.” Upstairs, a gorgeous, lo-fi gallery of Sue Tompkins’s typed words and typographic symbols on sun-marked paper was complemented by an opening-night performance, to a packed room, of the Glaswegian artist’s sound-poems, which seemed half-remembered, half-improvised, and half-read. Urgent, playful, and by turns melancholic and beautiful, they were like Dada-ized E. E. Cummings lyrics, with more beatbox FX.
The McLellan Galleries made for the core venue of McCrory’s curated program. These long-disused spaces without running water (or heating) were also the setting of the opening-night speeches. There was foot stomping and throaty whooping, from what seemed like the entire Glasgow art scene plus friends, as Sarah McCrory started hers: “I’m going to do an HUO, I’ve got my notes on my phone, just so you know I’m not texting my mum,” she said, only then to be repeatedly interrupted by text messages from the audience, one suggesting (it later emerged) she “tell the one about the priest.”
Left: Hepworth Wakefield curator Andrew Bonancina, dealer Toby Webster, and curator Tobi Maier. Right: Artist Tobias Madison.
Guests then had some time to look at the works by four artists in this venue: Avery Singer’s large computer-generated paintings responding to modernist forms; Xerox copies of body parts and collage-diaries mixing classical statuary and homoerotic porn by the late Brazilian artist Hudinilson Jr. (a recent discovery of McCrory’s, on a research trip to Brazil); and an ensemble by Charlotte Prodger, who had (inter alia) set Perspex disks next to the holes for electric sockets in the floor, creating an opportunity, at the opening, for accidental shuffleboard. The lower floor of this building was devoted to a miniretrospective of film and video by Jordan Wolfson, who in his work (no less than in person) disorients me with the consistency of his on-brand sound bites. In Glasgow he told me, “I am the happiest I have been in my life so far” and “every work is like digging up a corpse, like excavating it.” One early film in particular, 2004’s The Crisis, made me rethink the sincerity of Wolfson’s artistic ambition, which now, confusingly, seems incredibly sophisticated and incredibly naive at once.
Bedwyr Williams and Michael Smith shared the other main GI space, at Tramway, whose opening festivities were the day after. Williams built a dramatic installation with a dystopian film about a neo-feudalist future ruled by those with the most “stuff.” This space was just as busy as the bar area during the opening; and people leaving the installation of Smith’s films (four works on view in a cinema space, with a disco-ball backdrop and timeline) also left smiling, perhaps humming the catchy melody from Go for It, Mike. Smith’s work leaves no doubt that seriousness is a bad criterion for art. Insight needs humor. But what if our postapocalyptic future is mainly, also, or simply the setup to a funny story? Fair enough, I guess.
The news in Glasgow after the opening was about the city’s (since canceled) plan to demolish the Red Road Flats, a notorious housing estate, as part of the celebrations of the Commonwealth Games later this year. The failure of modernist aspiration turned into spectacle, for voyeuristic enjoyment on TV. There are also wrong ways to make the feel-good feel good. Heading out to one of many afterparties, however, I found myself more in tune with a line of Tompkins’s: “It’s Totally allright to feel upside down and listen.”
YOU KNOW IT’S SPRING in New York when the sea of black that describes the art world’s rigorous dress code changes to color. “Red and racy” was the mode d’access last Tuesday night for the New Museum’s annual benefit gala, which appeared to put the institution in the black. All the same, guests approaching Cipriani Wall Street were instantly outclassed by two gleaming red Ferraris sitting nose-to-nose on the sidewalk. (Ferrari was the evening’s corporate sponsor.)
Loiterers Instagrammed the cars like mad. All of them were men. “Figures,” said Massimiliano Gioni, the museum’s associate director, joining the human red carpet going through the door. Inside the Greek Revival temple of lucre—the banquet hall was once the New York Stock Exchange—everyone admired everyone else’s way with red: Yvonne Force Villareal in bright red lipstick and red dress; Judy Hudson in a luminous red wig; Donald Baechler in the red jacket he’d picked up for $70 at a Banana Republic sale minutes before cocktail hour. “It’s so much fun just standing here and looking at the people,” Mary Heilmann said. “We don’t even have to go in.”
But we did go in, and all was glitter, glamour, and glory for the evening’s honorees, Annabelle Selldorf and Lynda Benglis. Toasting, or rather roasting, Selldorf, Robert Gober and Donald Moffett performed a deadpan comedy act accompanied by slides. Speaking of a Selldorf-designed cabin in Nova Scotia accessible only by boat, Moffett said, “Picture two middle-aged gay guys from New York wilderness camping.” Gober had the punch line. “It has all the conveniences of living on your own island,” he said, “and none of the prestige.” Not a dot of red on her, Selldorf confessed, “I felt so moved, but then I realized it was April Fools’ Day.”
Nobody’s fool was also in the room, namely Benglis. Gioni introduced her by bringing up the one thing that the seventy-two-year-old artist will never, ever live down: her naked, suck-my-you-know-what, double-dildo ad for herself in the November 1974 issue of Artforum. Weren’t those the days! “It was huge,” said Gioni. “Not the dildo—the ad.” Directing his remarks to his museum’s trustees, he added, “The lesson we all have to learn is that she did it, and we didn’t. And she did it before anyone else. She took painting off the wall and put it on the floor. If only she had been a guy. It would have been much less intimidating.”
At that, Benglis strode to the stage and proceeded to thank everyone—everyone at her table, that is—by promoting their friendship and services. In a dizzying, free-associated acceptance speech that rivaled Jodie Foster’s 2013 Golden Globes address for its baffling opacity, Benglis went on a verbal tour of her life that began in the quarry lands of New Jersey—via Greece—with stops in Santa Fe, Long Island, and back again to her friend from New Jersey, a budding Tony Soprano who loves art. “Visit the quarry,” Benglis commanded. “He’ll give you contracts. But don’t forget to bring your lawyers.”
“Lynda Benglis!” bellowed former Phillips auction house chief Simon de Pury. “I loved your acceptance speech! It was the best ever—ever!” (Applause.) Departing from his occasional duties as a DJ, de Pury urged bids from the likes of Aby Rosen, Alberto Mugrabi, and Charlotte Ford for the live auction of two commissioned portraits, each to be painted from life by two artists who never paint from life—Alex Katz and Takashi Murakami—the latter of whom doesn’t paint. Murakami pulled in the bigger bucks—$350,000—from David Heller, vice president of the New Museum board. And then, as if none of this had been amusing enough, the gala’s hosts—W magazine’s editorial chief Stefano Tonchi and actress Greta Gerwig—brought on the entertainment. She was Lykke Li, a young Swedish pop star with a Bergmanesque demeanor, who rocked out for a crowd learning her name for the first time.
The following night, star curators substituted for the merely rich at Capitale, where Van Abbemuseum director Charles Esche received this year’s Audrey Irmas Award from the Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies. “This is like last night’s afterparty,” Selldorf chortled, approaching the reception table with collector Catherine Orentreich, a gala veteran. Maja Hoffmann also bore the afterglow of happiness, having met Pharrell Williams at the MoCA gala in Los Angeles a few days earlier. “He was so nice!” she said.
Everyone is so nice these days. Isn’t it grand? Lauren Cornell was so nice to Bard CCS director Tom Eccles that it made her nervous: Before presenting the Irmas award to Esche, a slip of the tongue caused her to describe Eccles as “sexsucksful,” underscoring Bard’s reputation as “the Wild West of the humanities,” as Eccles put it. Eccles then commanded the bully pulpit to call for women museum directors and curators to be paid equally to men.
Esche had to follow this. He began in a humble enough fashion, expressing surprise that anyone would come to a dinner honoring someone who has never worked in New York. After that he took off the gloves, lambasting his colleagues for creating their own fiefdoms instead of community, and not building on each other’s work. “What we do isn’t about art but its relationship to the world,” he said, venting his frustration over curatorial hegemonies that neglect the social function of art or cave to the popular.
Talk about never eating lunch in this town again. Heated conversation followed at tables around the room. “He’s being unnecessarily adversarial,” said Fionn Meade. “It’s not about art versus commerce, or us and them.” Another wag (an artist) dismissed the whole thing as “institutional narcissism.” It was left to Bard president Leon Botstein to right the ship. “Can art ever really change the way we live?” he asked. “Art is a space where we can reimagine society. But nothing we do is so important that if we stopped doing it, anything would be different.”
The following night it was back to the business of art. Adam Lindemann’s Venus Over Manhattan gallery showed the whole sweep of Raymond Pettibon’s “surfer” paintings, and Larry Gagosian opened pop-up shows for Urs Fischer in opposite ends of town. Adam Pendleton took up the art-as-social-revolution mantle in his bang-up show of silk-screened black mirrors at Pace, LA’s favorite son Roy Dowell animated Lennon Weinberg with collaged paintings and sculptures that brightened every eye in the place, and Nate Lowman parted the social seas at Maccarone with expert, new cutaway paintings in sweet, springtime pastels. Nice!
Before heading to Maccarone’s boisterous dinner for him at her Chinatown walkup, there was just enough time to check out the Fischer exhibition on Delancey Street, where bronze casts of the clay sculptures from his retrospective last year at LA MoCA were on show amid the counters and offices of a recently abandoned branch of Chase Bank. Dan Colen skateboarded to dinner; Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn took a chauffeured car. Artists Jack Pierson and Rob Pruitt broke bread together, Stella Schnabel paired off with Mirabelle Marden, Arden Wohl climbed into Hanna Liden’s lap, and the party went late.
The 1980s came a-calling on Friday, when the return of Colab’s seminal “Real Estate Show” brought a Lower East Side that no longer exists to James Fuentes. The decade showed its face once more on Saturday—along with the ’70s, ’90s, and ’00s—for a bracing sale at Metro Pictures and Paula Cooper to raise money for endowed scholarships and the new John Baldessari Studio at the California Institute of the Arts. (The sale, a first for the school, began in February at LA’s Regen Projects and will continue next month with an auction at Christie’s.)
Have any other art schools turned out as many Conceptual artists? Wrangled by Tony Oursler to make donations that former REDCAT director Clara Kim curated for the sale, many (including Allen Ruppersberg, Liz Glynn, and B. Wurtz) showed up for the opening reception, following New Barbarian from one gallery to the other as the four-person collective sang a chorale in silver robes and wigs.
Mostly, though, the evening was full of reminiscence. Oursler fondly recalled a 1976 visit from Philip Glass while John Cage was in residence. Josephine Meckseper remembered Michael Asher’s “weird laugh.” In the ’80s, said Adam McEwen, “I heard that someone had taught a class in joint-rolling,” and surely many moods have been altered under the fluorescent tubes of the storied institution’s classrooms. But teaching at CalArts changed not just Pat Steir’s mood but her life. While a guest of Bruce Nauman’s in the early ’70s, she said, she met Sol LeWitt—and the two lived together for the next ten years. “Funny how things have changed,” said Thomas Lawson, CalArt’s dean for the past twenty-three years. “Now we’re going to have a studio building named for the school’s first post-studio artist.”
But he was just being nice.
“THIS CITY IS A MONUMENT,” remarked Berta Sichel, artistic director for the first Cartagena Biennial, at a recent talk launching a weekend of performances, parties, and discussions organized as a kind of “second opening” for the show. She wasn’t speaking in tropes. Walking around the still walled-in Old City of Cartagena is like being inside a huge diorama. The place wears its colonial history like no other (unwilling) seat of the Caribbean slave trade, all whitewashed walls, carriages, and tchotchkes. The touristy environment provided a fertile and sometimes surreal backdrop to Sichel and her team’s curatorial ideas, and led to several surprise juxtapositions. For instance: an elegant sound piece by Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh positioned in a well in the same courtyard as, and just adjacent to, objects and models of torture at the Museum of the Inquisition. Or the lugubrious room of an old church housing an installation by Anna Boghiguan, itself filled with dried-out beehives and bird carcasses. It smells like sugar and death.
Taking the thematic route to biennial curation, the show is divided into four primary ideas—craft, loss and trauma, ecology and culture, and colonialism—divided among four primary spaces. As serious as that sounds, it all plays out in a breezy, loose way. The exhibitions include a sizable percentage of trademark works from American and European names (Charles Atlas, Lothar Baumgarten, Julie Mehretu), probably obligatory in the context of a small city’s first-ever major international art showcase. An open call to Colombian artists helped shift the balance, resulting in the selection of a few dozen artists whose work was installed at Cartagena’s Museum of Modern Art and a ground floor space at Plazoleta Joe Arroyo.
Presented in a more traditional, roomier layout than that of the four primary spaces, the works represent an impressive swath of Colombia’s contemporary scene. And though the biennial doesn’t stretch beyond the walled city, a few pieces were placed in its least polished neighborhood, the Getsemani, where Satch Hoyt’s Say it Loud!, a small tower of books tricked out with a microphone and speakers, sits in the middle of a foot-traffic intersection. “Apparently it’s mainly used by one woman from the neighborhood, to complain about the biennial,” artist Eduardo Sarabia told me.
But aside from that modest protest, boosterism and excitement prevailed among the artists, professionals, and passersby with whom I spoke, and there was much speculation about what impact this event could have on visual culture in the city. At a party at the Tcherassi Hotel attended by a significant roster of local society, Bogotá-based curator José Roca argued that the biennial was gravely overdue: The city has long-standing international music and film festivals, but the contemporary art scene is nowhere to be found. But whether a biennial can be a force of cultural change in a place with scant galleries or alternative spaces, and no visible framework for artistic support, is hard to predict.
On the other hand, there was clearly an audience beyond the small group of invited guests and Colombian patrons. An outdoor solo dance, in which Bulgarian performance artist Svetlin Velchev wove himself through a box of tightly pulled strings, was packed with people, many of whom seemed surprised that anyone else had heard about it. At the Naval Museum of the Caribbean, one of the four main sites, I watched a group of plaid-skirted schoolgirls carefully scrutinize Nick Cave’s colorful, dancey soundsuit video Drive-By. And on one of the hottest days, our group joined weekending families to climb down into the moist, underground depths of the fortress at the pinnacle of the city wall, to watch Jesper Just’s Llano—a video about the California socialist colony that collapsed when it lost its water supply—inside the cavernous vessel that once held the city’s water reserves. On the last stop on that tour, at the intersection of the “fantasy city” (as our guide put it) and the real one, we came across Yoko Ono’s Wishing Tree for Cartagena. While the seasoned art travelers in the group rolled their eyes at the sight of another Wishing Tree, a fully uniformed and heavily armed security guard hung up his wish.