Left: MoCA chief curator Paul Schimmel, artist Takashi Murakami, and MoCA director Jeremy Strick. Right: Alexis Phifer and Kanye West. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)
“You’re our first Murakami visitor,” noted dealer Rodney Hill when my Thursday-afternoon cannonball run through Los Angeles galleries paused at Marc Foxx. Nearly everyone I spoke with that day proffered an opinion or recounted a rumor about Museum of Contemporary Art chief curator Paul Schimmel’s Takashi Murakami survey and its copious bill of opening-weekend events. With promotional billboards dotting the LA streetscape, a feature on LA Weekly’s cover (aptly titled “Resistance Is Futile”), specially commissioned videos on the museum’s website, and the presence in the exhibition of a fully functional Louis Vuitton pop-up shop (itself the subject of a late-summer media brouhaha), the city is so saturated with “© Murakami” that the artist’s signature “Jellyfish Eyes” began to seem panoptic.
One Culver City dealer summed up the chatter succinctly, offering a lament for local heroes (“They just want to replicate the blockbuster success of the Warhol survey five years ago. But why haven’t they given this push to our best hometown artists—Kelley, Baldessari, McCarthy?”) before conceding to a wait-and-see policy. Out of respect for Schimmel’s long tenure in LA, which has included three previous outings with Murakami (“Superflat” and “Public Offerings” in 2001; “Ecstasy” in 2005–2006), even the most disapproving of those I spoke with eventually admitted they’d reserve final judgment for the show itself.
At Friday morning’s media preview, as we peered through the wall of television crews encircling museum director Jeremy Strick, MoCA deputy director Ari Wiseman cited the collaboration with Louis Vuitton for the unprecedented cross-disciplinary press interest. The shop is a publicity masterstroke: Not only did it catch the attention of media outlets only fitfully interested in contemporary art, it also generated the most preopening conversation among cognoscenti of any US museum show this season. Architecturally, the boutique is relatively innocuous, tucked away on the Geffen Contemporary’s small mezzanine level, its entrance and logo facing a rear wall. Yet it remained somewhat dispiriting to be made conscious of being priced out within the more or less democratic arena of the museum.
Left: MoCA deputy director Ari Wiseman with MoCA trustee Ruth Bloom and Rebecca Bloom. Right: Takashi Murakami with dealer Tim Blum.
That said, the overwhelming majority of the exhibition, which was blessed prior to its opening by a Shinto priest, naturally focuses on Murakami’s fine-art output: paintings, sculptures, installations, videos, and films. There are innumerable paths through the forest of signs that is Murakami’s practice, many of which Schimmel outlined in conversation. When prompted to locate this show in the context of the psychological undertow that characterizes the art of Charles Ray and Robert Gober, with whom he has organized exhibitions in the past, Schimmel replied, “I think that is the most underappreciated aspect of the work. We keep seeing it in terms of broader social implications of Japan and America, the contrast between high and low or Asian traditions and western-European traditions, but when Murakami talks about trying to create ‘my reality,’ that is, in fact, something autobiographical.”
The exhibition bears out something close to this claim. What surprises about the works on view is neither the East-West dichotomies Schimmel outlined nor the uniquely corporate production strategies that created them, both subjects addressed at length in discussions of Murakami’s art. Rather, it’s the rampant proliferation of bodies and bodily fluids. From the hypersexual, adolescent depictions of semen and breast milk in Hiropon, My Lonesome Cowboy, Cream, and Milk, to the mechanized female nudes in Second Mission Project ko², to the psychedelic vomit of Tan Tan Bo Puking—aka Gero Tan, to Inochi’s awkward sexual discoveries, to the centrality of shit in the recent animation kaikai & kiki, to the impotent protagonist in Dharma, Murakami’s first live-action film (a trailer for which is on view), tracing the appearance of bodies and what they discharge dramatizes a fascinating naïveté regarding sexuality that arcs from unreal fantasy to unflinching self-portraiture.
It was not only odd but also uncomfortably fitting, then, to hear attendees report that MoCA trustee Rosette Delug hired several Playboy Playmates to pose as so many nude, body-painted Miss Kokos at the dinner she hosted at her home on Friday night. The event was one of many surrounding the exhibition; with so many visitors from Japan, New York, and Europe, Angelenos pulled out all the stops, creating an environment redolent of an art-fair week. Tim Blum and Jeff Poe, who have represented Murakami for eleven years, hosted a dinner for the artist and his collaborators on Thursday at Kumo, Michael Ovitz’s new sushi restaurant. On Saturday morning, dealers Larry Gagosian and Philippe Ségalot, collector David Teiger, artist Chiho Aoshima, thirty-odd members of a museum trustee group from Miami, and roughly one hundred other guests admired the multiple Judds, Princes, Hirsts, and Rymans in the modernist Beverly Hills home of MoCA trustee Eugenio Lopez and ate brunch at tables set up in its backyard. Some then rushed back across town for an afternoon symposium on animation with Murakami, Dreamworks Animation SKG CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, Tokyo Pop’s Stu Levy, and the directors of Dreamworks’ new Bee Movie.
Left: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch, collector Susan Hancock, and Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architecture. (Photo: Yoshihiro Makino) Right: Naomi Campbell. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)
While seventy-five hundred guests mobbed the Geffen Contemporary on Saturday night, I found temporary relief from the onset of Murakami madness at a smattering of gallery openings. I arrived at Regen Projects right at 6 PM, giving me time to experience Glenn Ligon’s series of black-on-gold joke paintings relatively unimpeded, then hurried south for the opening of Nicole Eisenman’s new exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter. Eisenman’s imagination is as weirdly fecund as ever, as evidenced by grids of works on paper in Vielmetter’s side galleries and full-length portraits of Hamlet and of an astronaut in the main space. In Chinatown, newcomer Erica Redling, a onetime China Art Objects director whose gallery is housed in Walead Beshty’s former Hill Street studio, presented a tight installation of new abstract films and photograms by New Yorker Amy Granat; across the street, David Kordansky exhibited small works on paper by Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart).
It was, however, the preview in Culver City of collector Sue Hancock’s new retail store/art gallery/lounge, Royal/T, that offered the evening’s most unique impressions. Housed behind a bright green storefront facade a few blocks down Washington Boulevard from the gallery strip on La Cienega, the venue featured servers dressed up like naughty maids, a DJ, design-oriented salable goods, and—behind large sheets of Plexiglas—selections from Hancock’s collection, from Yoshitomo Nara to Tracey Emin to Franz West. My companions immediately pegged the environment as “very Japanese” in its immersive blend of retail concepts, a fact confirmed in conversation with Takaya Goto and Lesley Chi, the New York–based designers responsible for its realization, who cited venues catering to otaku—geeks, often obsessed with anime or manga—as Royal/T’s conceptual source.
Sunday evening’s MoCA benefit gala, featuring a performance by Kanye West followed by dinner for more than nine hundred guests, proved once and for all the unprecedented nature of this collaborative endeavor. West’s energetic half-hour medley managed to rouse even a few of the more phlegmatic VIPs seated in front of the stage, and included a brief freestyle rap that hilariously name-checked French Vogue editor in chief Carine Roitfeld. By the time West got to his current single, “Stronger,” the temporary pavilion’s floors were shaking; then, as quickly as the song ended, he disappeared into a cloud of smoke. “Follow the Miss Kokos to dinner,” came the PA announcement, and the dozen dolled-up women who had stood idly posing during cocktail hour shepherded the crowds through a ten-foot-tall portal shaped like a Louis Vuitton steamer trunk.
Left: Paul Schimmel at the press conference. Right: Collector Eileen Harris Norton with Kris Kiramitsu, independent curator and programs director for Creative Link for the Arts. (Photos: Brian Sholis)
On the other side of the mirror-lined L-shaped passageway was the cavernous gallery that last hosted the entirety of Andrea Zittel’s traveling survey, now ringed with a twenty-foot-tall, football-field-length animated video projection of an allover pattern of Murakami’s signature “Flowers of Joy,” some gently drifting down the wall like snowflakes. Ninety-two tables for ten surrounded an elevated central platform from which Strick announced that the evening had raised $1.6 million for the museum and ushered in an “age of Murakami.” What this portends for the ever-competitive art world remains to be seen; certainly it will be tough for MoCA—or any museum, for that matter—to operate at such a fever pitch on a sustained basis. Murakami, half giggling with excitement as he thanked his collaborators from the dais, related that the Louis Vuitton shop’s “sales last night were a very great amount.” Recounting the initiation of his collaboration with Jacobs, the artist said, “He asked me, and I said yes,” then continued, “All I did to the logo was change the color . . .”
With all their chatter about Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, and the virtues of selling out and “performing” the system, art-world insiders would be remiss not to consider the variegated projects of young composer Nico Muhly. Muhly’s Juilliard pedigree, and his studies with composition straight men John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse, put him in pole position to inherit contemporary music’s small audiences and sparse venues. But Muhly won’t have it. A formidable intellect who speaks excitedly—and at an art auctioneer's pace—about everything from Paul Smith (one of his favorite designers) to the Pentecost (his favorite liturgical holiday), at twenty-six, the Philip Glass protégé has prepared and conducted Björk’s score for Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9. He premiered an entire program at his Carnegie Hall debut this past spring. He was responsible for the sound-track orchestration for the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate and has written arrangements for Antony and the Johnsons. He even created “interstitial music” for a program on Black Entertainment Television. What’s left? A Louis Vuitton handbag commission?
All this meant there was a decent amount of fanfare surrounding last Friday’s world premiere of Muhly’s most recent project, From Here On Out, a collaboration between him and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, performed by the American Ballet Theater at City Center. Most of Muhly’s friends planned to descend on the Sunday showing, though a few showed up to support him on opening night, doing their best to blend in with the usual balletomanes, dignified former dancers, and brooch-bedecked patrons. To the dismay of Muhly acolytes, the program opened with two other ballets, each followed by an intermission. The first, Ballo della Regina, was a Balanchine confection in which mere shades of pastel differentiated the costumes of the leads, demi-soloists, and corps de ballet. Despite the danseur’s impressive entrechats, one scruffy indie rocker remarked, “Oh my God, I’d forgotten how much I hate ballet.” The second piece, set to Dvorák and full of jetés and traditional male-female pairings, prompted a filmmaker and Muhly fan to lament, “I couldn’t figure out the logic behind when everyone would clap. Was it for the size of the nut sacks?” Intermission found Muhly in a Paul Smith suit (naturally), not hobnobbing with patrons and underwriters, but wiggling his eyebrows with a preschooler. A friend approached him and said, “Look at that! You’re not the youngest one here!”
Left: From Here On Out. Right: Sarawanee Tanatanit and Blaine Hoven in From Here On Out. (Photos: Rosalie O'Connor)
Finally, balletgoers filed back into the theater with hushed excitement for From Here On Out. The prelude commenced with repeated eighth notes, piano doing double time, à la Glass. The curtain then lifted to reveal, on a dark stage, the silhouettes of dancers clustered together and swaying, like a knobby Louise Bourgeois work come to life. As the stage lights rose, one could begin to make out the dancer’s costumes—designed by Millepied—which had rectangular holes cut out of their skintight, eggplant-colored fabric. It was all very fitting for the angular yet elastic choreography, in which dancers pulled and braced one another as if struggling against gravity and across ice. Throughout the piece, one could see how both Glass and Björk had figured in Muhly’s education, the score combining Glass’s relentless yet pleasurable lines with Björk’s easy willingness to flit promiscuously between dissonance, folksy modes, and major and minor keys.
The piece worked up to a breathtaking pas de deux (danced by Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes) that ended with an understated, perfectly executed flourish: Gomes lifted Herrera and exited the stage. The audience gasped. The final section of the piece was even more incandescent and ended with a fake-out, as the dancers reconvened in the original Bourgeois-like configuration, only to rush offstage to a triumphantly dystopian brass cacophony. As the audience applauded during curtain call, the dancers coaxed Millepied from the wings; he then, with a lean leftward, tugged a reluctant Muhly onstage. It was perhaps a less artful pas de deux than Gomes and Herrera’s, but one that foretold many compelling collaborations to come.
Some weekends begin with neither a bang nor a whimper but with an adenoidal vibrato warbled over a drum track, as I discovered last Thursday at a performance by musical dilettantes CocoRosie at Deitch Projects. Bianca (“Coco”) and Sierra (“Rosie”), the sisters Casady, presented their eclectic acoustic mélange for a crowd of friends, journalists, and sundry fans of “freak folk”—that slipshod classification that seems to have been applied to every recent quirky Brooklyn- or San Francisco–based band. The event was somewhat devoid of art-worlders, perhaps a consequence of Frieze fatigue, though a few tireless players like performance-art maven RoseLee Goldberg and curator Klaus Biesenbach held court in back. A dearth, to be sure, but one that could hardly account for the zeal the photographers displayed toward some apparently notable figure across the way. Craning my neck, I half-expected to behold the golden tresses of Paris Hilton, but found only the precipitous white coif of Jim Jarmusch.
But I digress. CocoRosie—self-proclaimed “rainbow warriors”—were playing a set to mark the end of Bianca’s exhibition at the gallery, a psychedelic installation of junk and juvenilia (think collages of rainbows bursting from Care Bears) that fit in seamlessly with Deitch’s Technicolor circus. After a long delay during which the musicians donned glitter, silver makeup, and white thigh-high boots, the duo took to the stage. Channeling Björk and Joanna Newsom, Bianca sang of unicorns and hearts and peanut-butter jelly as her sister made with operatic flourishes and played instruments ranging from a harp to children’s toys. When the event finally culminated in a full-on rave, I took it as my cue to split.
Next stop: West Village standby Beatrice Inn, where Team Gallery was celebrating the opening of its Mathew Cerletty exhibition (of drawings and paintings depicting not his signature waifish lads, but pop-culture ephemera like advertisements and publicity shots). The basement space was sparsely populated when I arrived—likely due to the tricky door policy—but it filled up quickly enough. Mirabelle Marden of Rivington Arms, Cerletty’s primary gallery, was there to support her artist. (The exhibition is, according to Team, merely a “loan.”) Beatrice, with its dim lights and low ceilings, has always had that speakeasy feel, so it seemed par for the course when the cops raided the joint around midnight. The crowd was herded like underfed, overjazzed cattle onto the street, the club apparently closed due to noise complaints (though the plain-clothes officers suggested otherwise). In any case, the jig was up.
Friday night began with the opening at Greene Naftali of Sophie von Hellermann’s exhibition of loosely worked, pigment-on-unprimed-canvas paintings. To maximize time, I arrived only slightly past 6 PM and was greeted by a gallery all but empty save for staffers, artist Gedi Sibony, Chicago dealer Shane Campbell (en route to his artist Jay Heikes’s opening at Marianne Boesky), von Hellermann herself, and—toddling around the concrete floor—her daughter. Steering past the teetering tyke, I struck up a chat with Greene Naftali director Jay Sanders, who shared the news that in March the gallery will open the first US exhibition of the work of elusive Dutch artist Daan van Golden, curated by Anne Pontégnie.
Van Golden is known for paintings of plaids, patterns, and close-ups of Pollock drips that, resembling animals and anthropomorphic forms, reposition the expressive gesture in the figurative realm. He also—alas—photographs his child. I couldn’t help but envision an art world devolving toward Anne Geddes sentimentalism, as I looked past mini–von Hellermann to a painting of a pink, bonneted baby floating above a headless horse and a seated Baconesque gentleman on a dun ground. Following my gaze, Carol Greene chimed in: “It all makes sense when you hear the title: Generation Gap.” My companion and I chewed on that for a moment or two before it sunk in—we’re in our “stallion” phase! Figuring we had no time to spare, we headed south.
Left: Clarissa Dalrymple with dealers Jonathan Vyner and Janice Guy. (Photo: Brian Sholis) Right: CocoRosie's Bianca Casady and Sierra Casady. (Photo: Nikki Vassell)
New York– and Minneapolis-based artist Jay Heikes’s installation at Marianne Boesky saw the latest visual iteration of the joke—about a pirate and his parrot—that the artist first told in a video exhibited in the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Since then, Heikes has taken his show on the road, retelling his chestnut in various forms at multiple institutions. For his New York solo debut, Heikes played to a sold-out house, dilating over his addiction to Minnesota-based Dunn Bros. coffee with NADA director Heather Hubbs and catering to a crowd that included the likes of Carnegie Museum curator Douglas Fogle, New Museum chief curator Richard Flood, independent curator Bob Nickas, and artists Peter Coffin and Aaron Young (who, like van Golden, has been known to reference Pollock drips).
Next was the evening’s biggest event: the opening of Wolfgang Tillmans’s eighth solo exhibition at Andrea Rosen. The place was packed. The (mostly male) attendees snaked around Paradise, War, Religion, Work (TSC, New York), an installation of four wooden tables bearing photographs and newspaper clippings, and loitered in front of gorgeous framed sheets of folded or crumpled photographic paper. Robert Fitzpatrick, director of the MCA Chicago, which recently co-organized (with the Hammer Museum) Tillmans’s first North American touring retrospective, was certainly not shy about his opinions: “Holy fuck!” he exclaimed, making a beeline for the artist. Fitzpatrick granted him the highly coveted—and rarely seen on these shores—“triple kiss,” proclaiming the one video on view, Farbwerk, which seductively zooms in on the orificelike red-ink reservoir of a printing press, the artist’s “most erotic yet.” Tillmans flashed him his big, bearish grin.
After a detour, I ended up in the wilds of east Chelsea for the Tillmans after-party at—wait for it—Tillman’s Bar and Lounge. Bathed in red light and lined with curvy banquettes, the space resembled a genie-bottle version of that erotic space projected at Andrea Rosen. A chat with Nate Lowman about bars catering to clientele of a certain persuasion put me in the mood to relocate with Wade Guyton, T. J. Wilcox, V magazine’s Christopher Bollen, and a few others to an even more dimly lit spot, which shall remain undisclosed—though I will say that it’s marked by a red neon rooster and that I was working on that stallion thing.
Left: FIAC artistic director Jennifer Flay. Right: Lawrence Weiner with dealer Alfonso Artiaco and artist Robert Barry. (Except where noted, all photos: Léa Fluck)
Having misplaced the envelope containing my VIP pass to the FIAC art fair, as well as all my invitations to the week’s various dinners, I decided to do the event “plain clothes,” traveling by Vélib, one of Paris’s famous free bicycles. I wondered whether collectors were also going to take up this new method of transport, which makes the city “so cool and so real,” in the words of visiting Brits happy not to be hampered by the massive public-transportation strikes (trains, subways, airplanes—you name it). But at least one Swiss collector expressed a lack of sympathy for the proletariat: “It wasn’t very thoughtful of the trade unions to strike during FIAC.”
On Monday, the fair commenced with a vernissage for new galleries situated in a tent in the Louvre’s courtyard. Martin Bethenod, FIAC’s elegant fair manager, whispered to me that he was particularly enthusiastic about the new generation of gallerists—including GB Agency, Hollybush Gardens, Raster, and Isabella Bortolozzi—all working with post-Conceptual, self-reflexive art. However, it was Marlène Moquet, a young, not terribly Conceptual French painter who looks like a character from one of her funny little paintings, who emerged as the new darling of Paris; Galerie Alain Gutharc sold all her work the very first day.
Left: The Kingpins. (Photo: Nicolas Trembley) Right: Dealer Chantal Crousel with director Niklas Svennung.
The next day, FIAC’s artistic director, Jennifer Flay, looking chic with her cane (“Function, not fashion,” she explained), welcomed more established galleries at the Grand Palais. The Gensollens, Marseille’s well-known collectors of Conceptual art, told me that in their milieu, everyone concentrates on certain artists—like Josh Smith and Anselm Reyle—who’ve been declared the best investments of the moment. Two hours after the opening, at the stand showcasing work by Smith that she shared with Luhring Augustine, Catherine Bastide was happy to confirm the fact. “We’ve sold everything,” she said.
“Sometimes, I just don’t get it,” confided Wiels chief curator Anne Pontégnie. “There is a wonderful, less expensive drawing by Robert Grosvenor at Paula Cooper, and it still hasn’t sold.” Emmanuel Perrotin, who was presenting new works by Xavier Veilhan, was also showing Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca “shit-making” machine and had even set up shop selling dolls by Delvoye. “Since very few people can actually afford to buy anything at an art fair, we are selling the dolls for only €239 each: People can finally buy something—and you can tell it’s not a Mattel.” Everyone agreed that, though the stands were expensive, the fair has been improving in quality each year since Chantal Crousel joined the selection committee. With 42 galleries returning participants (22 percent of a total of 179 exhibitors) and a design section, everyone seemed to sell their “less trendy” wares very well—perhaps, as rumor had it, even better than at Frieze, even if one weary dealer confided, “I keep saying, ‘Frieze instead of FIAC.’”
This year, the VIP program was particularly resplendent. As an added bonus, one could cut in line to see the Grand Palais’s sensational Courbet exhibition, where the queues were even longer than for the increasingly popular fair itself. I attended one of the special events, a visit from BSI, the Italian-Swiss bank that had asked the critic Luca Cerizza to buy works (by John Armleder, Bertrand Lavier, and Robert Barry) so that they could be hung on the walls of their offices near the Champs-Elysées.
On Friday, the traditional “Yellow Ball” took place in the chic Pavilion Ledoyen. (Invitations were exclusive and had been popping up for days on the black market.) Yellow is the signature color of the evening’s sponsor, Ricard, which also provided an artist’s prize (the winning work to be presented to the Centre Pompidou). The award went to Christophe Berdaguer and Marie Péjus, who were exhibiting in an area curated by artist Mathieu Mercier. The dress code was “flower power,” a strange enough theme for fall, but anyway, I had nothing appropriate to wear. I skipped the evening event to attend the John Baldessari dinner organized by Marian Goodman at the Georges restaurant in the Centre Pompidou. There, the crowd swelled with such artists as Lawrence Weiner, Niele Toroni, and Pierre Huyghe.
Mercier was also being celebrated at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, where his solo show opened on Friday alongside “Play Back,” a group exhibition of videos curated by Anne Dressen. Artists Los Super Elegantes, Brice Dellsperger, Michael Roy, and many others were there, and the event ended with an impressive concert by the Kingpins, a group of Australian drag kings.
The Marais galleries had all held their openings earlier in the week, so Saturday’s destination was Rue Louise Weiss. Thanks to the ongoing strike, the area was nearly deserted, but this just meant an easier time taking it all in, which I did, attending a bizarre vacuum-cleaner concert by Jim Shaw in Praz-Delavallade’s newly christened Paris space. Beyond that, Olivier Antoine from art:concept, presenting work by Vidya Gastaldon at FIAC, opened a solo show by Annelise Coste, while GB Agency exhibited recent photographs by the Finnish artist Elina Brotherus. And Air de Paris presented a magnificent exhibition of photographs by Bruno Serralongue documenting illegal immigrants at Calais, as well as works by Ingrid Luche and jewelry by Sarah Pucci, the mother of artist Dorothy Iannone. At the end of the night, I found them all at Zingots, the restaurant in the tenth arrondissement that often serves as the “cafeteria” for post-opening meals, and I decided, after an excellent oxtail terrine, that there wasn’t a better place in Paris to close the week.
Left: Gilles Fuchs, president of the Agence pour le Dévelopement International de l'Art Français. Right: Dealer Isabella Bortollozzi and curator Eva Svennung.
As I rode the Eurostar from London to Lille, France, after the Frieze Art Fair last weekend, I tried to put aside the miniscandal involving Haunch of Venison gallery, which had been denied a booth at Frieze on the grounds that it is now owned by Christie’s—and concentrate instead on Christie’s owner François Pinault’s private collection, which was being presented for the first time in France at Tri Postal, a former post office. The checklist for “Passage du Temps”—an exhibition of time-based and video art curated by Caroline Bourgeois that includes Dan Flavin's Untitled (to Saskia, Sixtina, Thordis), 1973, a hall of lights last presented in 1973–74—promised to turn any cynic into a chronophile.
But opening the paper, I thought: What doesn't Pinault own? Immediately at hand was my copy of the daily Le Monde (shareholder) and the weekly Le Point (owner), my Puma sneakers (owner), my cherished YSL cover stick (owner)—and please don’t discontinue that Touche Éclat, or I won’t be able to do late nights anymore. When the waiter poured me a glass of Bordeaux—alas, no Château Latour (owner) in the Eurostar’s restaurant car—I wondered whether there might be a correspondence between the proprietor and his many possessions.
Arriving on the late train, I skipped the opening crush at Tri Postal and made a beeline for the opera house, where the megacollector was hosting a swanky dinner. The minute I alighted on French soil, boy, I knew it: At every corner, men appeared, ready to carry my luggage with a smile. The charming Thierry Lesueur—general coordinator for lille3000, the holdover project from Lille’s year as a European Cultural Capital, which invited Pinault to exhibit his treasures—lugged my bag up three flights of marble stairs to the grand hall, where guests were mingling to the music of popping champagne corks.
Only a handful of the participating artists came for dinner, but they included Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Pierre et Gilles, and Adel Abdessemed. It was a pleasure to meet up with Orlan, whom I had last seen in person in Montreal just after she got her temple implants. “That must have been in 1993 at the Foufounes Électriques night club!” she said, adding that some poor guest had fainted during the screening of her film, which showed in detail just how those implants—and a few others—got under her skin. “You’ve got good jowls,” she assured me, giving me a once-over. “Another ten years before surgery for you.” Running into critic Élisabeth Lebovici, we discussed her new volume Femmes Artistes, Artistes Femmes, a history of twentieth-century French women artists that she edited with Catherine Gonnard.
Who couldn’t help but notice that Pinault entrusts the presentation of his collection exclusively to women? Along with “Passage” curator Bourgeois, there is the formidable Alison Gingeras, in charge of exhibitions at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi and the future venue at that city’s Dogana. While Pinault told me only that he found the Frieze selection committee’s decision to bar Haunch of Venison “a bit stupid," clearly he has more say in the handling of his private collection. “Women have less ego than men,” Pinault said with an almost embarrassed look on his face. “They are less vain—they have a greater sensibility without the same need to appear and exist in public.” On the one hand, I thought: I’ve got to get this guy to talk some sense into my boyfriend! But I also had the sneaking suspicion that I had just been the subject of one of those famous Pinault takeovers—a brilliant strategy: I may own much of the art world, but I let the women run it.
As if to confirm the observation, I ran into Monique Veaute, who just took the reins of Pinault’s Venice spaces from Jean-Jacques Aillagon and who will oversee the reconstruction of the Dogana, due to be completed in time for the 2009 Biennale. Once an analyst from the Strasbourg school, Veaute reminisced about a trip with the psychoanalyst Jacques Hassoun to Samarncande in Central Asia during the USSR years. The old days became a topic again in my exchange with the Germaine de Liencourt, the president of the FRAC Ile de France, who talked about André Malraux’s musing over the 1937 reunion of writers in Russia. Talk about memory! I could hardly recall the way to my hotel.
At around 10 PM, people began to depart for the train to Paris. The tireless Rubells exited without even sitting down—a trick that only they can pull off with style. Hooking up with artist Michel François and his dealer Marie-Blanche Carlier, the better half of Carlier Gebauer, I repaired to the Tri Postal for a very French dance party with DJ Laurent. (They actually played “Lady Marmalade,” aka “Voulez-vous Coucher Avec Moi.”) There, the architects for the show—the charming duo Thomas Dubuisson and Dorothée Knech—offered a surprising tidbit: The most difficult work to install was not Aernout Mik’s moving Organic Escalator, but Dara Birnbaum's video. “She is really precise!”
The next day (enfin!), I got to see the exhibition properly—with Bourgeois herself as my docent. There couldn’t have been a better guide for such an intense selection: Bourgeois has the gift of making everything—both the visitors and the artworks—move at a slower and richer pace. It was as though the world had been brought down to the tempo of Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, and it occurred to me that Birnbaum’s super-slo-mo version of Laverne and Shirley taking a cruise must have been an inspiration for much of Gordon’s work (here represented by Through a Looking Glass). Let me tell you, the femmes did it all before.
Downstairs at the Tri Postal café, I met up with Valie Export, and together we caught the TGV to Paris for FIAC—as if we needed another art fair after Berlin and London. Bumping along, I was granted another tour as Export showed me images of many of her works about gender and power. I asked whether she would ever consider reenacting the performance where she leads ZKM Karlsruhe director Peter Weibel around on a dog leash. “Oh yes,” she said with a hearty laugh. “But perhaps this time with a whip!”
Left: Philanthropist Larry Leeds. Right: Neue Galerie cofounder Ronald Lauder with Neue Galerie director Renee Price. (All photos: Dawn Chan)
Arriving at the Neue Galerie on Monday evening for a screening (in fact, the US premiere, though it could hardly have been less red-carpet) of Klimt, a new biopic of the painter directed by Raoul Ruiz, I noticed that not one but two seats bore the name tags of its star, John Malkovich. It was as if my best efforts at suppressing thoughts of Spike Jonze’s mischievous fantasy Being John Malkovich (1999)—in which the actor is used and abused in the strangest of ways—were being consciously derailed; sipping my champagne in the tiny basement screening room prior to curtain up, I couldn’t help but picture the arrival of multiple Malkoviches, perhaps all squabbling with one another in the manner of Jonze’s unnerving restaurant scene.
But of course, it was not to be; Malkovich turned up unaccompanied by clones and, after some schmoozing over drinks, took his—beautifully designed, natch, but hard—seat among the well-heeled, mostly senior crowd of about fifty people, from which expected guests Don DeLillo and Chelsea Clinton were conspicuously absent. This being not a museum but a gallery (and a determinedly retro gallery at that), the screen itself was a modest size and the projection was from a DVD with a small but noticeable glitch. Still, with no popcorn, and with the star himself in attendance, full concentration was mandatory. Unfortunately, Klimt proved to test the caliber of one’s attention.
Ruiz’s treatment of the Austrian symbolist’s life story is nothing if not idiosyncratic, though the whirl of character and detail with which it begins makes the first third tough to follow. The movie is certainly visually seductive—its representation of the painter’s life as a sequence of deathbed fever dreams occasionally makes for an almost psychedelic look, and there’s usually at least one nubile life model on hand—but the characterization is marred at times by an overcooked mannerism (Malkovich’s undeniable presence notwithstanding). The interpolation of facts and figures about the artist and his circle also feels rather contrived and omits much that might have been illuminating. In Ruiz’s account, Klimt’s art takes a backseat to his constant womanizing and even to his occasional flan flinging; rarely was cake rubbed in an adversary’s face at such luxuriant length.
After the film had ended (to, it must be said, a rather cool reaction), we snaked upstairs for a buffet dinner courtesy of Café Sabarsky’s fiery head chef Kurt Gutenbrunner. Artnet’s Charlie Finch worked the room (overheard: “Barbara Gladstone still hates me”) while avuncular gallerist Perry Rubenstein and cultural PR guru Sara Fitzmaurice set up camp close to Malkovich and entourage. I dined with the animated Vera Mijojlic, in town from Los Angeles to represent the film’s distributor, Outsider Pictures. Gutenbrunner, belatedly joining our table, plugged his own upcoming project—an “art and food” book designed to clean up in museum stores. He also recalled watching Malkovich in a powwow with Julian Schnabel at his Tribeca eatery Blaue Gans, both men drawing on the tablecloth just as Klimt and mate Egon Schiele are shown doing in the film.
After dinner, it was up to the galleries for a quick preview of the new exhibition, “Gustav Klimt: The Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky Collections.” (Lauder, of course, attracted copious attention last year for splurging $135 million on Klimt’s 1907 portrait Adele Bloch-Bauer I and has drawn fire recently for neglecting to issue documentation of his collection’s provenance.) Focusing on Klimt’s drawings—there are 126 of them on display, along with eight paintings—the show also features a wealth of related ephemera, including the artist’s iconic blue smock, selected correspondence, and a number of photographs that reveal Malkovich’s uncanny likeness to the artist. Perhaps there was something to that extra name tag after all.
Left: Melissa Hugger with artist Tom Sachs. Right: A view of the launch. (All photos: Julie Lequin)
Any conspiracy theorist will tell you that the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar landing was a cold-war hoax staged in a Hollywood studio, but thus far only Tom Sachs has had the wherewithal to show us how this might have been possible. Marking the closing of his five-week-long exhibition “Space Program” at Gagosian Gallery, on Saturday night Sachs proved, in a private performance activating the show’s sculptural elements, the plausibility of a simulated moon mission.
I arrived at the Beverly Hills gallery at 6:30 PM sharp. With clearance from a beefy doorman, a twiggy gallery assistant, and a spiffy attendant in lab coat and tie, I made my way toward Sachs’s towering Lunar Module, a life-size reproduction of the historical NASA capsule and the remarkable centerpiece of the show. Laurie Anderson may have been the first NASA artist in residence, but with this exhibition Sachs looks to be making his own gambit for the gig, though his craft’s homespun engineering speaks to his clever and cultivated “failure” to live up to such institutional standards. A subdued crowd meandered around the rough-and-ready structure while inspecting its down-to-earth craftsmanship and accoutrements (a tool cabinet, Marlboro reds, Jack Daniels, an “Incinolet” lavatory, a library).
In anticipation of the “launch,” I claimed my own space in the adjacent Mission Control—a room featuring a bank of live-feed video monitors, radios, light-up APPLAUSE and QUIET PLEASE signs, and LED displays flanked by a cache of Stolichnaya vodka and assorted LPs—where a restrained group of collectors, artists, and curators gazed at a digital countdown to “liftoff.” Thanks to the early call time, by T-minus-twenty-three minutes the crowd was already packed shoulder to shoulder. Behind me, a silver-haired gentleman exclaimed, “Look at all that video . . . This belongs in the Whitney!” while to my right, Miranda July wondered aloud, “Why was it so important to be here at 6:30?” Breaking the fourth wall and the otherwise placid atmosphere, a team of “engineers” (an all-male cast of preparators, welders, carpenters, and gallery associates in lab coats, comb-overs, pocket protectors, and thick-framed glasses) bustled about, exchanging commands over walkie-talkies.
Finally, a drum roll sounded, and two female astronauts wearing Sachs’s Tyvek plastic Space Suits were escorted into Scissor Lift and raised up to the Lunar Module entrance hatch. After a status check of reentry, splashdown, and rescue systems, the women were thrust into space to the sounds of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and a Neistat-brothers film heralding “Just remember who beat the Russians.” Fully immersed in the action, a French woman asked, “So the thing has landed on the moon now?” Indeed it had. The astronauts disembarked and planted a starched American flag in Gagosian’s cement floor. As they took out a drill and pretended to break more ground, an amused Chris Burden asked, “Are they going to plant another flag?” His wife, Nancy Rubins, replied, “No, they’re just taking soil samples.” With “moon rocks” in tow, the women reboarded their capsule and, after more playacting at procedural fuss, returned safely to Earth and to the prompted applause of the crowd.
The artist emerged from the control room and began shaking hands with the crew and with collectors. The Veuve Clicquot began to flow, as did liquid-nitrogen-chilled vodka served in Borosil glass beakers. I noticed Sachs cornered by a keen John McCain look-alike who was explaining that he once worked for NASA and was amazed by Sachs’s factual accuracy. Later, I asked the enthusiast whether he was a collector, and to my surprise, he did collect—space memorabilia! He had heard of the event on Collectspace.com, an online message board, and, as a local Beverly Hills resident, decided he had to stop by.
Left to my own stargazing, I spotted a conspicuously alone Adrian Grenier examining the ersatz Gatorboard NASA logo on the wall. When asked what he thought of the performance, the actor nebulously replied, “It’s incredible to relive the dream here on Earth,” then recommended I have more champagne before crawling inside the capsule for myself. I willingly complied and carefully maneuvered my pumps up the aluminum ladder and into the entry hatch. In the claustrophobic cabin, a group of young partygoers (including a ten-year-old boy ogling the wall of whiskey bottles) soaked up final views of Sachs’s handiwork.
Left: Gagosian's Sam Orlofsky and Allyson Spellacy. Right: Artist Miranda July.
As the guests began to disperse (a select few made for the intimate after-party at West Hollywood’s El Coyote cafe), an energetic Gagosian staffer called me over to present me with official “Space Program” merchandise: a T-shirt (not for sale, following a cease-and-desist order from NASA) decorated with a Lunar Module silk screen and two appliqués—an American flag on the arm with GAGOSIAN GALLERY written underneath and a NASA patch with Sachs’s signature stitched over the heart. With my new uniform came a welling pride in becoming a part of Team Sachs.
After Wednesday’s boisterous Frieze Art Fair vernissage, Thursday’s 9 AM viewing of Tate Britain’s Turner Prize retrospective seemed a tough date to keep. Yet several hundred dealers, collectors, and curators turned up—some bleary-eyed and grateful for the champagne—to survey the survey that stands in for the annual exhibition of short-listed artists, which has decamped to the museum’s outpost in Liverpool for the first time in the prize’s history. After brief introductory remarks from Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota, Tate Modern curator Jessica Morgan took the podium to announce the museum’s annual Outset/Frieze Fund acquisitions. The institution purchased only four works this year, though two—an impressive installation by Pawel Althamer and a windmill sculpture by Andreas Slominski—are significantly larger than works bought in years past. A suite of black-and-white photographs by Mauro Restiffe and a slide-projection piece by Armando Andrade Tudela round out the new additions.
Everyone then shuffled into the exhibition, which refreshed memories of the semiforgotten and reconfirmed the early promise of those, like Steve McQueen and Wolfgang Tillmans, who are still very much with us. Exhibition curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas noted the atypically long run of winning sculptors (from 1987 to 1995) before recounting the story of the nail-bitingly tight installation of Gilbert & George’s monumental work (there is a one-centimeter difference in height between the photo montage and the wall). She admitted that putting together the show produced a special affinity for Malcolm Morley, and when I brought up Grenville Davey (winner of the 1992 prize), artist-curator Matthew Higgs scurried by, noting: “It’s amazing what fifteen years out of the limelight does for you, isn’t it?” The exhaustive, at times thrilling Millais exhibition downstairs—its second and third rooms are splendid—is evidence that artistic relevance might operate on a 150-year wavelength as well.
Left: Stuart Shave director Jimi Lee with dealer Stuart Shave. (Photo: Sarah Thornton) Right: “Turner Prize: A Retrospective, 1984–2006” curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas.
In any case, we traffic in Warhol’s fifteen-minute cycles, if that, so I quickly made my way to the Royal Academy of Arts, site of this year’s Zoo Art Fair. At the mobbed afternoon preview—due to pesky fire codes, the wait to enter reached an hour—many dealers were happy to leave behind the fair’s namesake venue in exchange for higher ceilings and varied booth layouts. Some exhibitors were also gearing up for big moves of their own: Laura Bartlett told me she’s a month shy of opening her gallery's new venue, on London's Northington Street, and Matthew Dipple happily discussed the new branch of his London gallery, Museum 52, opening on New York’s Lower East Side in November.
A bevy of young photographers left distinct impressions amid the general frenzy. Patrick Lakey’s flatly lit blend of still life and (nude) self-portraiture, from a series in which he plays dozens of characters from the Marquis de Sade’s writings, caught hold of me at The Happy Lion’s booth; at Madrid’s Travesia Cuatro, Gonzalo Lebrija’s intimate communion between himself, wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, and the lone red canvas in a selection of On Kawara “Date Paintings” brought out the latent melancholy in any notation of time; and at Cherry and Martin, Elad Lassry’s small-scale conceptual tableaux possessed at once a fierce confidence and an estranging oddness. Public Art Fund director Rochelle Steiner, Detroit-based collector Burt Aaron, and other dealers eager to find new artists, such as James Cohan Gallery’s Elyse Goldberg, squeezed past one another in the aisles.
That evening, the burgeoning strip of galleries along Vyner Street in the East End held concurrent openings, and I dropped in at Stuart Shave/Modern Art for the Canadian artist Steven Shearer’s London solo debut. The exhibition, comprising radiant oil-on-canvas portraits, the artist’s well-known digital collages, charcoal-on-paper poems rendered in blocky sans-serif typefaces, and a child’s playhouse intermittently erupting into ear-searing guitar solos, among other things, sent mental sparks flying in every direction. Ikon Gallery curator Nigel Prince, whose Shearer solo show travels to Toronto’s Power Plant in December, spoke fondly of working with the artist, who graciously accepted accolades from all manner of well-wishers.
Left: Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff. Right: Tate Modern film curator Stuart Comer with dealer Sarah Gavlak.
Dinner for what must have been one hundred guests followed at art-world stalwart Bistrotheque, where I talked shop with Ossian Ward, Time Out’s new art editor; the enterprising young curator Bart van der Heide, whose soon-to-open Tris Vonna-Michell exhibition inaugurates his eighteen-month stint at the helm of the artist-run Cubitt Gallery; and the writer Michael Bracewell, who is a 2007 Turner Prize judge and whose book about the formation of Roxy Music, Re-make/Re-model, is out next week from Faber & Faber. Other obligations took me across town before dessert, and yet the night went on until 3 AM, making the wake-up call for Friday morning’s previews all the harder. But the exhibitions, at the Hayward Gallery and the newish BFI Gallery, easily won out over sleep: The former, “The Painting of Modern Life,” curated by Hayward director Ralph Rugoff, was recommended to me by many passersby in art-fair aisles; the latter, a presentation of three recent films by artist Mark Lewis, promised the perfect balm for harried eyes.
Rugoff’s effort presents examples of the “use and translation” of photographic imagery in recent painting and considers each of its twenty-two artists in surprising depth: Most have about half a dozen canvases in the show. Depth was in fact the word Rugoff employed in answering my questions about the show. Deliberately avoiding the term Photorealist, he spoke of favoring those artists engaged in complex meditations on their source material over those who “fetishize surface.” Savoring Malcolm Morley’s mid-1960s palette, I began to understand how Carey-Thomas could be drawn to the work; likewise, the Vija Celmins canvases Rugoff selected—including several grisaille canvases featuring subjects atypical of the contemporaneous work for which she is known—prove yet again that she contains multitudes. Younger painters whose appeal has escaped me to date, like Wilhelm Sasnal, shone in the company of carefully selected elder statesmen like Franz Gertsch. Despite the fact that it couldn't help but prove how difficult it can be to illuminate the nuances of conceptually elaborate practices, it was quickly apparent why so many had excitedly urged me to visit.
Left: Artist Mark Lewis. Right: Van Horn gallery director Daniela Steinfeld with dealer Philip Martin of Cherry & Martin.
A short walk brought me to the nearby BFI Gallery, where Lewis said, regarding his fantastic new film, Isosceles, “I’ve been biking past the building for seven years, always wanting to make a film about it. I was just waiting for the right idea to come to me.” The result is a slow, single-take tracking shot that completes a circuit around a boarded-up triangular restroom that once served meatpackers in the city’s Smithfield market, and in the process reveals the accretion of several centuries’ worth of architecture in the vicinity. It made me wish I could see “Modern Time,” a survey of Lewis's work that opened yesterday at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Some hours later, I settled into a front-row seat for critic Dave Hickey’s keynote lecture in the Frieze fair’s auditorium. Well, not quite the front row: Art history–student supplicants amassed on the floor in front of me, ready to bathe in the great talker’s aura. Hickey did not disappoint, rolling out a joke-laden morality tale haunted by the specter of dealer Leo Castelli, whose “idea of being wrong was to sell art for too much money.” After a pithy synopsis of 1970s “noncommercial art” and two subsequent “hypocritical” decades, in which installations of “confetti and dog turds” served as loss-leaders for secondary-market sales, Hickey rolled around to his twin entreaties: for replacing money-driven caprice with community deliberation in valuing contemporary art, and for an ethos of individual honesty and goodness predicated on basketball titan Dr. J’s idea of “playing fair without the referee.”
These points, if plucked from between the improvised riffs in which Hickey was clearly playing to the bleachers, resonate in the art-fair context. When the market bubble bursts and “thousands of Icarii plunge into the surf” (he is ever the stylist), those who “do right by doing good” will reap the rewards of a system righting itself after a thirty-year headlong tumble away from giving new art due process. Primary practice will return, like foliage overtaking the city in postapocalyptic ruin, and artists will confidently step over the bones of consultants and their hedge-fund-managing clients. If nothing else, one can find inspiration in the man’s optimism after this many years in the game.
Left: De Appel director Ann Demeester and De Appel curatorial fellow Inti Guerrero. Right: Public Art Fund director Rochelle Steiner.
Later still, I found myself just north of Camden Town at the Roundhouse, a venue that hosted acts like Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and the Living Theatre of New York during its heyday. This history makes it appropriate that I was joining several hundred art-fair denizens and avant-garde music geeks for a rare performance of Hallucination City, Glenn Branca’s symphony for one hundred electric guitars. After four days in London, it would take a thorough sonic pummeling to cut through the jumble of conversations and artworks jostling for attention in my head, and Branca’s piece delivered.
Conductor John Myers—straight out of “downtown New York central casting, circa 1984,” according to one pal—summoned an at-times-unholy noise from the six hundred assembled strings, and the music’s power conjured a litany of metaphors, all describing moments verging on abandon: His calisthenic conducting elicited a tidal surge of synchronized nodding heads; the performers then inspired him to feats of excitement that could compete with Christian-revival praise dancing; his attempts to rein in the players for quieter passages gave the impression of a lion tamer placating a feisty animal. It was enough to make you momentarily forget the person standing next to you, and certainly the myriad events that had transpired over the previous few days. And yet, as midnight once again came and went, I found myself ensconced at one last invitation-only event, in the Roundhouse’s upstairs bar, energetically debating the merits of young painters with friends.
“The Frieze Art Fair is a good thing. It’s like having a poker stuck up your ass or electrodes somewhere. It makes everyone put their best foot forward,” said The Guardian’s Adrian Searle over a glass of red last weekend. The earthy remark was a change from the unhinged cheerleading of other members of the British press, who see the fair as an “impossibly hip”—no, make that a “fantastical”—big-top experience. Without a hint of irony, the Sunday Times declared: “On the surface, it’s an art fair, but beneath that it’s an art-world conspiracy to subvert the system.”
Indeed, the Frieze fair is more than a trade show; it’s a roller coaster of a week, one of those indoor-outdoor rides, full of smoke and mirrors, that’s a tad grueling for those with an aversion to crowds. For me, the week began on a high point. At 7 PM on the Saturday before the grand art bazaar commenced, I attended the opening of “The Return of the Real,” Phil Collins’s exhibition at Victoria Miro Gallery. With a stage-door-style sign out front, the gallery had been rebranded as Shady Lane Productions, and both floors of the main space were devoted to video works that Collins had researched from his office-installation at Tate Britain during last year’s Turner Prize. With the exception of diehard collecting couple Vicky Hughes and John Smith, who don’t seem to mind drinking beer with the hoi polloi, there were no Frieze VIPs present. (The champagne crowd would be attending a much more private view a few days later.) Even Collins’s various dealers—Kerlin, Tanya Bonakdar, Victoria and her senior staff—were absent. Apparently, they were next door, sitting around a boardroom table, having a pricing meeting. In a testament to the demands on dealers during Frieze week, it was the only time they could schedule it in. Merrily, this meant guests were free to spend quality time with Collins’s humanoid Deep Throat works, teleprompters with scrolling testimonies from people who’d worked on the muckraking Trisha chat show. They offered the most engrossing conversation I’ve had at a preview in a long time.
Left: Collectors Jason and Michelle Rubell. Right: Artist Rodney Graham and Lisson Gallery owner Nicholas Logsdail.
On Monday, I’m glad I made it to Thomas Dane Gallery for the opening of Steve McQueen’s looped single-frame 16-mm film, Running Thunder, which depicts a horse, just dead, lying in the grass. As the on-screen sun faded and rigor mortis set in, a vital artery of the art world fumbled in and out of the dark. It was very Edward Albee—absurd in the best sense of the word.
The next evening, I hit Lisson Gallery, where owner Nicholas Logsdail was gladly caught in a triangle of collectors anxious to acquire paintings from Rodney Graham’s “Wet on Wet—My Late Early Styles.” Graham told me that the exhibition wasn’t a homage to Morris Louis, but “more about a guy who saw Louis’s last show and thought it looked easy.” A large light box called The Gifted Amateur, Nov. 10th, 1962, 2007, shows Graham dressed in navy pajamas, smoking a cigarette as he pours paint onto raw canvases in a vintage 1960s living room. When I asked Graham whether he would be attending the Frieze fair, he said, “I guess I should go, except I know I’ll end up thinking, Wow, this is so today, and I’m so yesterday.”
Finally, it was Wednesday, the invitation-only first day of the fifth-annual Frieze Art Fair. At 11 AM, big-spending VIPs scurried into the tent, too intent on shopping to air-kiss fair directors and art-world darlings Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, who loitered by the entrance in well-tailored suits. I started the day by shadowing a leaner-looking Charles Saatchi on his sprint through the stands. When he stopped to form a minyan of collectors on the Herald St booth, Anita Zabludowicz looked up from a Peter Coffin neon floor sculpture and said, “Are we all fighting over this piece?” The new space in which she is showing off her collection—named, simply, 176—had been making a stir. “For one year, you’ll be the queen,” said Saatchi. “Then pffft,” he added, with a smile and a ruthless downward swipe of his hand.
Left: Hotel gallery owners Darren Flook and Christabel Stewart. Right: White Columns director Matthew Higgs.
I bumped into Matthew Higgs, who asked me: “So what’s the story this year? The car, the banknotes, the flea market?” The good curator had summed it up. Richard Prince’s contribution to the fair came in the form of an orange 1970 Dodge Challenger, which he had placed on a revolving podium and draped with a young girl endowed with booming boobs. In a tone not unlike the deadpan of his joke paintings, Prince told me: “I wish there was less art and more cars at these things. I thought I was contributing to a car fair when I was invited here.”
Next on the news agenda was Jake and Dinos Chapman’s latest art-fair ruse. Punters were queuing around the White Cube booth to submit twenty-pound notes, which the artistic duo would deface for free. The Chapmans, who have a habit of drawing on other people’s work, concentrated on “enhancing” the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II with mustaches, fangs, and cat ears.
Why don’t you sign them? I asked.
“Can’t spell,” said Dinos.
Do you like the queen?
“Never met her,” he said.
Are you a monarchist?
“The only reason to be a monarchist is if you’re a member of the Royal Family,” he declared as he gave Her Royal Highness a black eye.
Just then, English rose Tracey Emin leaned in to her gallery stablemates and said: “I’m calling the police! I’ll have you arrested!”
Left: Artist Gert Tobias with Team gallery owner Jose Freire and artist Uwe Tobias. Right: Dinos and Jake Chapman.
Across the aisle at Gavin Brown was Rob Pruitt’s Flea Market. With works like the legendary Cocaine Buffet, 1998, and the fabulously honest press release for his curated show “Teacher’s Pet,” 2007, Pruitt has unveiled the mixed mores of the art world like no other. On this occasion, he’d invited fifty artist and curator friends to hawk their wares. Nick Relph, sitting at a card table, was selling bootlegs of his and Oliver Payne’s videos. “They have a crappy black-and-white cover and no certificate, but apart from that, they’re the same thing,” he said, as he burned another disc on his MacBook Pro. “They’re twenty pounds each or six for one hundred pounds.” Artist Jonathan Horowitz had sold ten of his found plastic figurines, which he’d recaptioned with lines like LIPSTICK LESBIANS ARE PEOPLE TOO and LARRY GAGOSIAN IS A PERSON TOO. Horowitz told me that he had already sold ten works at fifty pounds each and was looking forward to personally off-loading the lot.
As I basked in the familial fun, a jubilant Gavin Brown sauntered over in a black blazer adorned with two badges. One declared I’M THE BOSS; the other commanded SHOW YOUR TITS. He glanced avariciously at my notebook and asked, “Do you have anything to sell?” When I informed him that I had nothing but my clothes, he replied, “We’ll sell your dirty knickers.” Next to a rack of vintage Vivienne Westwood, I discovered a closet hung with bigger-ticket items—a Laura Owens embroidery, an Elizabeth Peyton canvas, and three Martin Creed marker drawings. Pruitt caught me at the door and affirmed, “It doesn’t violate the integrity of the idea.” Actually, the closet added a conceptual kick, and I complimented Pruitt on the clarity of his site-specific work. He nodded gracefully, then said, “Would you like a hash brownie? They’re under the table over there. Three pounds each.”
Left: Dealer Iwan Wirth with Zwirner and WIrth director Kristine Bell. Right: Dealer Amanda Wilkinson with artist George Shaw and dealer Anthony Wilkinson.
Thankfully, other participating galleries also understood the difference between moving inventory and building reputation. Eva Presenhuber took risks with her real estate, as always, and offered an architectonic stand featuring young artist Valentin Carron. Jose Freire’s Team gallery offered a made-to-measure installation by Gert and Uwe Tobias that integrated twenty-seven pieces, including ceramics, typewriter drawings, and large, colorful woodblock prints. Still, there were enough unimaginative white-walled cubicles for artist George Shaw to assert: “The thing I love about art fairs is that they’re a great equalizer; they make established artists look like they’re having their degree show. Actually, I think artists should turn up with their parents.”
It’s amusing to observe the way fairs bring out gallerists’ status anxiety. At least 50 percent think they deserve a better location, not because they would make more money if they were twenty yards to the left, but because every corner offers a unique frisson of distinction. So it’s refreshing when a dealer with a modest, midrow address like F31 seems genuinely content. Hats off to Louise Hayward of Store, who told me: “I’d rather be up here than in the lion’s den. It’s our first year; we have to grow claws before we can go down there.”
Left: Artist Richard Prince with Dazed and Confused's Karley Sciortino. Right: Artist Rosalind Nashashibi with curator Francesco Manacorda.
What do you get when you mix a knob of elephant dung with half a cow, a smidge of transvestitism, and a full-scale garden shed? Why, a Turner Prize retrospective, of course. Last Monday night, Tate Britain unveiled an exhibition that is exactly what it says on the tin—a retrospective of works by all the winning artists. Short-listed “losers” were contentiously excluded from the exhibition, warranting only a mention in the show’s “supporting material.” Ouch.
Seen by many as the catalyst in bringing contemporary art to the attention of the British public—a public only too eager to proffer a vociferous opinion however ill informed—the Turner Prize can always be counted on to incite, delight, and infuriate.
On arrival, a cursory glance around indicated the presence of all the right ingredients for the usual effusive art-world hyperbole and madness. An hour in, however, I had the distinct impression that something was amiss. It was as though the guests—artists, their coteries, and gawkers alike—had been struck by collective ennui. There was a wary listlessness in the air even as ice clinked in glasses and conversations hummed. The attending past winners were in a cagey mood and curiously tight-lipped. Not even the cocktails were loosening them up. What was going on? Had the Turner lost its mojo?
Left: Artist Anish Kapoor. Right: The scene at the Tate.
German-born Wolfgang Tillmans, the winner of the 2000 prize, played his height to his advantage as he dodged questions about the prize, its significance, the retrospective, and just about everything else. Laughing nervously, he copped a military-style code of conduct by repeating, “The show is good . . . the Turner Prize is good . . . everything is good.” That stone wall was clearly not about to tumble. While it’s no secret that winning the prize is something of a mixed blessing, it’s generally regarded as an accolade rather than the secret curse of Tutankhamun’s tomb. I began to wonder.
Other past winners appeared unusually discomfited. Anish Kapoor remained fortressed inside a tight knot of rapt hangers-on, while Grenville Davey, back in the public eye after a protracted absence following his win in 1992, appeared, frankly, baffled. Richard Long looked grumpy (possibly owing to his startling bat-wing eyebrows), and only hypersociable Keith Tyson seemed characteristically unfazed.
Self-confessed “media slag to the stars,” cross-dressing potter Grayson Perry, in not-so-little-Bo-Peep regalia, was the only one willing to talk. On the subject of his reticent cowinning colleagues: “Unfortunately, some artists believe that publicity is incompatible with the noble pursuit of contemporary art”; he described its entire realm as “a small, esoteric world up it’s own arse.” At last, a little passion, an opinion. Of the actual exhibition, he admitted, “I quite like its randomness. It’s been . . . decurated.”
A little later, a spectacle that might have rejuvenated the night’s flailing spirit failed with an e for effort (even as it inspired paroxysms of delirium in two pogoing girls, front and center). Performance artists Chicks on Speed delivered a cacophonic set worthy of the New York Bowery scene ca. 1983. As the sound ricocheted off the uncompromising marble and plaster surfaces, art historian Dr. Richard Cork’s pained expression said it all. While the Chicks jumped up and down in varying degrees of dress, an accompanying overhead projection showed a film of naked bottoms (theirs, of course) being repeatedly smacked in lieu of a drum beat, and nude women (them, of course) playing air guitar and mimicking the preening conceits of strutting cock-rockers. A political statement, no doubt, and actually kind of compelling, but some of the more sensitive and dignified in the audience took flight and ran toward the bar for cover.
Through perhaps no fault of its own, the evening suffered an odd disjointedness, an atmospheric malaise that could conceivably be chalked up to the weather (wet and windy), the moon, or . . . the Curse of Turner. As the band played on, a weary Perry, in voluminous bloomers, handmade pinafore, and red Mary Janes, greeted his approaching wife and, sighing deeply, complained, “This music is ageist . . . Do take me home, dear.”
Left: Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit. (Photo: Stefan Maria Rother) Right: Artist Mike Kelley. (Photo: Frida Plucinski)
How did Europe steal back the idea of modern art? I pondered the question with Milan gallerist Giò Marconi as we drove from the fairgrounds of Art Forum—no relation to Artforum—to Neugerriemschneider to check out the Jorge Pardo show. Sure, London would be lead suspect for having all the money, and relational aesthetics would play cupid by bringing many European artists together with one neat theory. But Berlin would humbly affirm its own significance by providing a cozy home to artists from Europe and beyond. Marconi noted that he had no intention to open a branch of his gallery in Berlin. “London is for business. I come to Berlin for dinner parties.”
Lucky for us, invites to dinners and parties abounded. The weekend kicked off when Ceal Floyer stepped up to the podium last Thursday night to accept the Nationalgalerie Prize for Young Art (along with a handsome trophy and a seventy-thousand-dollar check). The audience was amazed that international curator David Elliot had mastered the German habit of giving really long speeches at art events in cavernous halls with terrible acoustics, although his echoing mash-up of Hegel, Kant, Debord, and Lewis Carroll raised a few eyebrows.
The eyebrows rose even higher when Peter-Klaus Schuster, general director of Berlin museums, took the stand and informed us all that a certain “Tina” Sehgal was one of the finalists, along with Floyer, Damián Ortega, and Jeanne Faust. Some gasped as a young woman did indeed walk up to the podium along with Ortega and Faust to collect the consolation flowers. But she was no Rrose Sélavy—Sehgal, who never takes planes and thus travels only by slower means, like boats and trains, simply had other commitments abroad. The jurists had wasted no time choosing Floyer. “We decided unanimously in two minutes,” said Van Abbemuseum director Charles Esche, to the hearty agreement of fellow jury member Lynne Cooke.
Afterward, in the Veuve Clicquot Room, the champagne poured as freely as the rain outside. Loitering with critics Kito Nedo, André Rottmann, and Luca Cerizza, I wondered whether the wonderful Widow Clicquot changed the name of her late husband’s champagne brand to celebrate or to mourn his passage (or both), until a waitress reminding us not to smoke shook me out of it. “I have to smoke for my heart problem,” explained Nedo, blowing a few rings into the air.
There was no shortage of smoke, or heart problems, at the ballroom in Clara’s Ballhaus, where yet another prizewinner, Danh Vo, who took this year’s blueOrange award, was being feted among—what can I say?—total art cuties, including artists Laura Horelli and Susan Philipsz and Berlin Biennial 5 cocurator Elena Filipovic. (And that was only the gals!) I tried to convince dealer Jan Mot that he should represent Joep van Liefland, Joep van Lieshout, and Erik van Lieshout, and then Adam Szymczyk that he should curate a show based on Witold Gombrowicz’s Pornografia, which had just been banned from high school reading lists in Poland, despite its brilliantly apropos combination of voyeurism and murder.
Left: Berlin Biennial 5 cocurator Adam Szymczyk. Right: Dealer Iwan Wirth with collector Karl Friedrich Flick. (Photos: Stefan Maria Rother)
Next day: the fair. Art Forum is not the only fair in Berlin—you also have spin-offs like Berlin Liste in Gleisdreieck and Preview at Tempelhof Airport. Of course, the question on every visitor’s mind was: Why weren’t the major Berlin galleries participating at any of these fairs?
With fairs on the brain, Marc Spiegler and Cay Sophie Rabinowitz—two-thirds of the new Art Basel triumvirate—showed up, looking exhausted, with Sam Keller at Grill Royal. “I cannot reveal any details about the future,” said Spiegler, although the fact that he had just come home from China suggests that perhaps Art Basel Beijing is in the offing. With Rabinowitz and MoMA curator Christian Rattemeyer, we mused on office policies, from MoMA’s tie policy to Art Basel’s yoga sessions. We tried to ask Mario Testino whether it’s true that at Prada offices you can’t wear socks and stockings, but he wasn’t revealing any details either—just his fabulous smile. Too tired to make it to the bash for Agathe Snow, Terence Koh, and Bruce LaBruce at Peres Projects, I headed home.
Saturday night brought Mike Kelley’s opening at Jablonka Galerie—a nice collaboration with Sammlung Falkenberg, where six privately purchased pieces were also on view. Talk about instant criticism: An irate guest punched Kelley in the face for making too much money. (The visitor would have had a real field day at the fair!) At the postdinner party at Sale & Tabacchi, there were rousing rounds of applause for the glass teams from the Czech Republic, where you can get the biggest bell jars in the world blown by hand or mouth. Everyone—from the glass teams to Kelley to Rafael Jablonka—were making speeches while standing on chairs. Patrick Painter yelled “YES” to every thanks as if it were a goal in the World Cup. I was sitting with Mark Francis from Gagosian, and together we nominated Emi Fontana the best-dressed woman there.
Left: The Süddeutsche Zeitung's Holger Liebs with artist Franz Stauffenberg. (Photo: Maureen Jeram) Right: Artist Rita McBride with curator Ami Barak. (Photo: Stefan Maria Rother)
After chatting at Grill Royal with Frieze critic Dominic Eichler, we decided that before heading home, it was our critical duty to attend the Texte zur Kunst panel with the deceptively simple title “How to Have a Party to Celebrate the Magazine.” But we couldn’t find the panel, just people discussing, dancing, drinking, and spilling out into the street—an old Berlin party tradition. Although the party survived the many trams and cars veering close to the guests, it couldn’t quite recuperate from the round of pepper spray released—perhaps by an angry theorist—in the club around 5 AM.
Sunday morning, we headed over to Sammlung Hoffmann, where grande dame Erika Hoffmann was hosting her annual brunch for the gallerists. What a fab installation. A favorite: Nancy Spero’s 1968 work Super Pacification (made during that other failed war—Vietnam), with an A-bomb plane dropping what looked like breasts (the other great American pacifier). After brunch, I skipped an afternoon tour with Jonathan Monk at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien for the Kelley talk at the American Academy, run by Gary Smith, the Walter Benjamin scholar–cum-diplomat. Smith had persuaded Michael Kimmelman—yet another new Berliner, heading the New York Times’s office here for the year—to be Kelley’s foil. It was quite a crowd—even Diane von Furstenberg showed up to see what they had to say. Kimmelman did an excellent job of remaining afloat during an absolutely brilliant talk from Kelley. Indeed, I never learned so much art history in so little time, despite his saying intermittently and self-depreciatingly, “Blah, blah, blah.”
The dinner—an intimate, lakeside affair in Potsdam, featuring such eminent guests as Jablonka, Tacita Dean, Thomas Demand, and Heike Föll—was fantastic, although I could not understand why Andreas Slominski kept saying good-bye to me. (Perhaps he mistook me for Tina Sehgal.) Teaming up with Diedrich Diederichsen, Monica Bonvicini, Juliane Rebentisch, and American Academy program director Philipp Albers, we took a cab to Ex ‘n’ Pop club, where the charming curator Reiner Opoku was hosting a collaborative painting show between Jonathan Meese and Tim Berresheim. Quite frankly, beyond reading a large sign stating NO DRUGS!!!!, I cannot remember the rest. I woke up in the recovery room of the Friedrichshain hospital with the chief of endoscopy giving me my last quote: “Frau Doktor Allen, you have an ulcer.”
Left: Curator Anselm Franke. Right: Klaus Wowereit, Art Forum Berlin artistic director Sabrina van der Ley, and dealer Kamel Mennour. (Photos: Stefan Maria Rother)
Last Saturday, held up by typical Los Angeles traffic, I arrived at the Hammer Museum’s theater a few minutes after 3 PM, which is to say a few minutes late for the lecture Francis Alÿs was delivering on the occasion of “The Politics of Rehearsal,” his solo retrospective opening that night. Alÿs sat alone at the rear of the dark stage, a stack of notes and a laptop before him, speaking quietly in a soft Belgian accent inflected mildly by his years spent in Mexico. The capacity audience—which included artist Alexandra Grant, Gallery at REDCAT curator Clara Kim, and critic Jan Tumlir—was equally subdued, hardly moving while the artist read aloud his notes on moving mountains and building unfinished bridges out of fishing boats.
Alÿs described each project with the bare minimum of additional commentary; his utilitarian explanations gave the impression of a how-to demo. During the Q&A, a man joined Alÿs onstage and fielded many of the heftier questions lobbed by the UCLA students and independent curator Bill Kelly Jr. This stranger was, I later discovered, Rafael Ortega, a longtime Alÿs collaborator and cameraman.
Afterward, standing beside the high bamboo in the open-air courtyard outside the theater, artist Piero Golia declared Alÿs “a bad talker, but a great artist.” Golia smiled, revealing a twinkling gem embedded in his front tooth, and continued in his thick Italian accent, “and truly helpful if I ever want to build a bridge out of boats.”
That night’s opening proved less matter-of-fact though no less instructive, as is often the case where an open bar is concerned. Inspired by Alÿs’s famous walks, I kicked around the marble courtyard of the Hammer, trying to extract a little poetry from the political rumbling of an art world ill at ease.
There was some talk about New York dealers opening spaces in Los Angeles, including rumors of Zach Feuer’s quiet decision to no longer maintain his connection to his LA outpost, Kantor/Feuer, and Gavin Brown’s newest enterprise with L&M, which the hoi polloi has already written off, especially since it’s slated to open in Venice. Even Honor Fraser, who opened in that neighborhood recently, has jumped ship for Culver City. One former director of a prominent LA gallery opined that the New Yorkers were just pissing away their money; he had left the gallery to enlist in the city’s ever-lucrative entertainment industry.
As the evening progressed, the Hammer, renowned for its crowded parties, felt strangely subdued—perhaps proving the local law that Los Angeles only comes out for its own, though the more likely story was that everyone was already off to Europe for the run of fairs—Art Forum Berlin to FIAC in Paris—that reaches its commercial climax at London’s Frieze Art Fair. No complaints here. The thin crowd only made it easier to see the exhibition, a compendium of classic Alÿs works, including a video of a Sisyphean VW Beetle charging up a hill only to roll back down, as well as documentation of the artist’s many walks through the streets of Mexico City. As Alÿs ambled through the gallery, I couldn’t help but feel a little like I was watching a virtuoso do the scales.
Before departing for the unofficial after-party in Culver City at the Mandrake, I walked downstairs to the Hammer project gallery for a peek at Jamie Isenstein’s show, which was also opening that night. Isenstein draws something subtle and elegant from her blend of P. T. Barnum’s circus chicanery and Conceptual-art know-how. But aside from an empty birdcage swinging mysteriously in the center of the gallery, there was no sign of the elusive artist. Perhaps, I thought, her disappearance was just one more bit of legerdemain pulled from her bag of magical Conceptualist tricks. But according to Andrew Kreps Gallery director Liz Mulholland, for the past few weeks Isenstein had been very easy to locate. During gallery hours, up until the Hammer opening, Isenstein had been stuffed in the lower end of a box split in two, a sort of headless take on the classic woman-sawn-in-half routine; only her wiggling feet had been visible. Once Isenstein has completed this endurance performance, she’ll begin a slightly less strenuous tenure as the Hammer’s artist-in-residence.
“I’m a soon-to-be-aging postpunk,” admitted MCA Chicago curator Dominic Molon at Friday morning’s media preview of “Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967.” While he squired thirty-odd journalists through his multimedia survey, it quickly became apparent how true this was. Although the show begins with a video projection of Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable and includes the work of young artists like Bjorn Copeland (of the band Black Dice) and Steven Claydon (formerly of electronica band Add N to [X]), its musical heart lies between the years 1978 and 1984. The endeavor is, refreshingly, as much a fan’s paean as a theoretical workout.
As artist Mika Tajima explained the ins-and-outs of her sculptural installation, which re-creates the recording studio used by the Rolling Stones in Godard’s 1968 film Sympathy . . ., I whispered with Molon, asking if he was required to explain every artwork to his press audience. “In this case, I actually want to,” he replied, before turning to the group to rhapsodize about how Peter Saville, whose immaculate graph-paper sketches for New Order’s 1983 album Power, Corruption & Lies rested in a nearby vitrine, “taught me everything I needed to know at age fifteen about aesthetics.”
At the evening reception, artist Dave Muller spun records from a third-floor balcony overlooking the museum’s oversize atrium, while below, interactions were marked by good will often unseen at similar events in New York. Perhaps those assembled to support Molon found his enthusiasm infectious, or maybe the midwestern environs disarmed the what-I’ve-been-up-to braggadocio that too often passes for conversation at opening receptions. MCA associate director Greg Cameron warmly recalled Molon’s college-era days as a security guard at the museum; “Sympathy” artist Rita Ackermann talked about reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment in Hungarian; Ackermann’s New York dealer, Andrea Rosen, approached her colleague Anton Kern to effusively praise his father Georg Baselitz’s new exhibition at London’s Royal Academy; and Miami collectors Debra and Dennis Scholl waxed lyrical over their love of early-morning kayaking.
Left: “Sympathy” artist Dave Muller. Right: Band performing inside of Rirkrit Tiravanija's Untitled (Rehearsal Studio No. 6 Silent Version), 1996.
Afterward, those bearing laminated backstage-access-style dinner invites hailed taxis to the nearby Hard Rock Hotel. MCA chief curator Elizabeth Smith explained that the museum frequently hosts ancillary events at thematically related venues, citing a “lighting company” as the site of a fete for the Dan Flavin retrospective. We rode the elevator to the Gibson Ballroom—the guitar company, naturally—for a buffet that, with scattered tables, guests hugging the walls, and an overhead slide projection of exhibition artworks nestled into the Hard Rock decor, resembled a louche bar mitzvah. A DJ played the best music we would hear all night, but it was a subdued affair, and guests eventually circled Molon not with congratulations but with entreaties of “Where next?”
The answer was Relax Lounge, a slightly-too-chic(ago) knock-off of Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy, where green-cross-emblazoned poker chips were traded for specialty cocktails, and talk turned to tattoos with Tajima and artists Christian Marclay and Adam Pendleton. Local dealers and artists admitted to never having set foot in the venue, so around midnight a group of inexhaustible revelers headed to an unmarked, low-ceilinged dive at the corner of Augusta and Leavitt.
“Even Chicagoans don’t really know about this place,” said Chicago dealer Julia Fischbach. LA collector Shirley Morales and artist Jim Lambie sidled up to the bar, which seemed, inexplicably, to have organ pipes lining the wall behind its shelves of cheap liquor. Evidence of the venue's area-favorite status was borne out by the number of local art-world friends I bumped into whom I hadn’t seen at the museum’s reception, including Western Exhibitions proprietor Scott Speh and Milwaukee’s Institute of Visual Arts curator Nicholas Frank. Later in the evening, a vendor snaked through the crowd bearing a cooler full of tamales, five for five dollars. As Kern, Lambie, and photographer Melanie Schiff chowed down, Marclay looked around the room—beer stein in one hand, half-eaten tamale in the other—and said, simply, “I love this country.”