I KNEW A GUY WHO WAS SO RICH HE COULD SKI UPHILL . . . announced the enormous joke painting in the central room of Richard Prince’s first solo show in a British public space, which opened at the Serpentine Gallery on Wednesday night. At a time when the art market continues to defy the laws of gravity and the latest cliché is that “art is the new gold!” the monster canvas was a fitting altarpiece. Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones, directors of the Serpentine, told me that Prince had conceived of the gallery’s various rooms as “chapels.” Indeed, the show offered spiritual uplift in the manner of, say, a great rock anthem, and many declared that it was the most pleasing Prince installation they’d seen to date.
London in the summer is the Serpentine. Outside the gallery in verdant Hyde Park, five hundred or so art-worlders drank beer beneath the setting sun. I stood for a moment, notebook in hand, daunted by the task of working the throng, until someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “See Simon Periton over there? He’s the sexiest man in the art world. Go talk to him.” So instructed, I strode over to Periton, who was standing with fellow artists John Stezaker and Carey Young, and asked them what they thought of the fact that all the works in the show were either newly made or from Prince’s collection of his own work.
The trio admired Prince’s obsessive collecting of everything from signed first-edition books to American muscle cars, particularly as it is relevant to his art, but opinions diverged when it came to withholding work. Fellow appropriationist Stezaker admitted that he couldn’t bear to let go of certain pieces. “Picasso kept back his best drawings to reassure himself that he was a great artist,” he said. “I like to have something in my possession to remind myself that I’m not shit.” Periton shook his head and said that while he had “a lot of records, books, some art, and other frivolous stuff that I don’t need,” when it came to his own work, he was “pooing all over the place.” Young, who had just sold nine works to the Tate, admitted straightforwardly, “At this early stage of my career, I’ve got too much of it and I’m glad to sell it.”
Next thing I knew, I was in a black cab on my way to Annabel’s—a notorious members-only restaurant with a lot of dark corners in which expensive people get up to no good. Here, the crowd was on a different cloud from the jeans-and-T-shirt artists in the park. In fact, there were so many glittering girls that I never figured out which one was Daria “Dasha” Zhukova. I thought I saw Roman Abramovich, but it turned out it was Viktor Pinchuk. (These billionaire oligarchs all look alike.) As the paparazzi snapped up singer Bryan Ferry and supermodel Stella Tennant, Art Monthly editor Patricia Bickers quipped, “I just don’t understand why the press don’t ask me what I’m wearing. I would tell them. Marks & Spencer, H&M, Top Shop!”
After eating a meaty meal in my assigned seat at table 10, I set to work trying to get a sense of what was really going down at this ad hoc power summit. About the work in the show, one collector told me, “Everything is going through Larry. Rumor is that the extra-large ‘Cowboy’ is going for ten million dollars, but don’t quote me.” As he continued to tell me about how he preferred to buy from Barbara Gladstone and Sadie Coles, I noticed Prince listening intently to Frank Dunphy, Damien Hirst’s business manager, and wondered about the nature of his independent financial advice. Then, at 11 PM, Hirst (who must own at least one “Nurse” painting) sauntered in to pay his respects.
Eventually, the crowd ebbed and I took one last look around. On the dance floor at the very back of the room, Sadie Coles director Pauline Daly was doing a mesmerizing solo performance to Estelle’s dance hit “American Boy” while a handful of Serpentine staff stood in what looked like a postmortem huddle. The white-clothed tables were entirely abandoned except for the long central one over which Peyton-Jones had earlier presided. On it sat two men in a sober tête-à-tête. I couldn’t hear what Gagosian and Prince were saying to each other, but Estelle’s crystalline voice rang clear, “Take me on a trip, I’d like to go someday. Take me to New York. I’d love to see LA. I really want to come kick it with you. You’ll be my American boy.”
Left: Artist Piero Golia with SITE Santa Fe curator Lance Fung. Right: Mongolian chef Chow Ke Tu performing the honorary blessing for Shi Qing's contribution. (Photos: Carole Devillers)
There are many touristy stereotypes concerning Santa Fe, New Mexico, a UNESCO-certified “Creative City.” (For one thing, as I discovered, it’s the sort of burg where housekeeping leaves a smudging stick of sage on the pillow in lieu of a mint.) Similar bromides accompany SITE Santa Fe’s international biennial, typically known for entertaining novel curatorial conceits. Last weekend’s opening of the biennial’s seventh edition, optimistically titled “Lucky Number Seven,” found high concept hitting the high desert. Curated by former dealer Lance Fung, the show was conceived as a loose set of ephemeral “site-inspired” commissions by twenty-two emerging artists. Participating artists were recommended by an advisory team of eighteen international curators and institutions, each of whom proposed three to five artists who, once vetted by Fung, were set loose in a severe, geometric space designed by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.
Since none of the work had been shown before, the exhibition’s gambit relies on a measure of luck—not to mention trust in the curatorial partners and the artists themselves, who spent a good chunk of time in Santa Fe working on their projects. (In a nod to the surprise factor, the “Lucky” logo is a stylized fortune cookie.) Of course, the success or failure of opening-weekend festivities also relies on chance; who knows which, if any, of the tiers of receptions, meals, and exhibition tours will go smoothly? This being Santa Fe, events were marked by a relaxed pace, warm breezes, and generally friendly demeanors—though given the city's compact art community, one didn’t have to go far to find skeptics. “I feel like I need to do research before seeing this show,” a local told me.
Usual biennial suspects were refreshingly absent. This was no “Grand Tour” affair (though there were reportedly two “Gagosian girls” in town for Friday’s gala dinner). Few present were familiar with the young, unrepresented artists in the show, and there weren’t many recognizable art folk milling about, save Fung—whose face pops up on brochures and in every local publication—and brassy local Judy Chicago, who was hard to miss at Thursday’s press preview, where she chatted with Bulgarian SITE artist Luchezar Boyadjiev (who, like Chicago, wore dark glasses in the galleries). “We were in a show in Japan together,” Chicago proudly announced.
Early Thursday, Fung delivered an energetic speech to the press and assembled dignitaries, describing his show as one about “creating community” and “developing a family” of artists by spending time together on-site. The social events seemed conceived with similar spirit. The Friday-night gala, immediately following a champagne preview, took place in a tent decorated with swaths of red fabric and orblike Japanese lanterns. The Asian-style meal was christened with a Mongolian ancestral blessing, during which a long table of donors and political officials were offered ritual morsels of lamb and shot glasses containing a clear, unidentifiable liquid. It was a piece by Mongolian artist Shi Qing, whose contribution to the exhibition involved staging dinners of cross-cultural cuisine in local restaurants (regional food playing a large role in facilitating southwestern identity). Here, sitting through the performance was a lot like waiting to say grace—plenty of us just wanted to eat.
During dinner, few seemed willing to pass any sort of judgment on the show, and before long the event morphed into a more public, second-tier afterparty headlined by the Los Angeles–based band Dengue Fever. The band’s mix of a Cambodian vocalist and Southern California–style rock somehow struck many as “Doors-y” and even lured George King, the director of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, onto the dance floor.
The next day, various groups of SITE visitors were herded into shuttle buses for a tour of the off-site “Lucky” works installed in trees, parking lots, museums, and vacant buildings around town. Some out-of-towners also had the opportunity to see a number of Richard Tuttle and Gerhard Richter works and an outdoor Olafur Eliasson sculpture (the one on the cover of his Taschen monograph) at the home of collectors Mickey and Jeanne Klein, where the glass-box architecture, high-design furniture, and New Mexican vistas were equally breathtaking. Soon after, there was an afternoon reception for sculptor Susan York at the Lannan Foundation’s digs in the former Laura Carpenter gallery space. There I spotted a tan, trim Lucy Lippard sprint by, as I compared notes on the Klein collection with artist Roy McMakin, who’d just opened a handsome show at James Kelly Contemporary. Previous SITE curator Klaus Ottmann, out with dealer Leslie Tonkonow, was perfectly content to be without responsibilities.
Late that afternoon, there was a nearly sold-out panel discussion with artists and curators in the auditorium of the local Dance Institute. Everyone was on good behavior until the Q&A, when William Wells of Townhouse Gallery in Cairo, one of the advising institutions, publicly questioned a rejected proposal by Egyptian artist Wael Shawky that involved appropriating Native American tribal rituals. SITE’s director Laura Heon capably responded, noting the local tensions around the issue, but artist Rose Simpson, a local representative in the exhibition (collaborating with family members Eliza Naranjo Morse and Nora Naranjo Morse), gave a more impassioned retort, acknowledging the deceptive “authenticity” of Santa Fe culture. Soon after, a stream of people noisily descended the bleachers and drove to a barbecue held in the old event tent, which, since the previous night’s dinner, had been accented with gingham tablecloths and wagon wheels suspended from the ceiling. The tangy, meaty meal, however, didn’t quite mollify the hungry masses—food ran out quickly, and reportedly a fistfight erupted over the limited seating.
A warm New Mexico night, and probably a few margaritas, went a long way toward healing any potential wounds, and Sunday’s farewell brunch on an outdoor patio was infused with a sunny, familial vibe. LA-based Italian artist Piero Golia, whose participatory leap-into-the-void installation, Manifest Destiny, is among the biennial’s iconoclastic highlights, wistfully summed up the experience of the artists: “I feel like it’s the end of summer camp.” Looks like someone got lucky.
The early signs were not encouraging. A decidedly thin crowd had gathered at the start of the evening for the opening of Cy Twombly’s exhibition at Tate Modern, the artist’s first retrospective in fifteen years. A long row of keen black-shirted waiters greeted the few visitors filing into the upper echelons of the gallery. But where were the rest of the guests? Gradually, as the red wine flowed and the asparagus sticks (vegetables are all the rage at Tate) were devoured, a steady stream of stellar artists and dealers turned up to pay homage to the Rome-based superstar who, characteristically, decided not to attend his own private view. (His son, Alessandro, came instead.)
First up was Conrad Shawcross, the young British sculptor known for his eye-catching wooden contraptions, who was full of beans and more than happy to divulge his numerous future projects. He noted that he’s just about to head across the pond for a six-month residency at New York’s Location One institute, a center devoted to merging art and technology. His US jaunt culminates in a new project to be unveiled at Art Basel Miami Beach in partnership with the Paris-based dealer Emmanuel Perrotin. Shawcross was the first person that evening to argue that the Twombly show “rises as you go through.” The same point was made by the ubiquitous party boy and dapper coauthor of The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook, Peter York (“The show gets hotter and hotter”), who grabbed me midway through the exhibition to playfully ask, “How did that octogenarian manage to hang works all the way up there?” Before I could hazard any guesses as to curator Nicholas Serota’s approach, which was widely applauded by the private-view throng, I was waylaid by the porkpie-hatted Gerry Fox. The amiable documentary maker disclosed that he’s just put the finishing touches to a film on Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles for a Tate Modern exhibition launching this autumn. Tracey Emin, fresh from her barnstorming stint at the Folkestone Triennial, joined in the conversation and waxed lyric about the work on view. “I love Poems to the Sea,” she said, referring to a 1959 work hanging in the gallery. Rock star Bryan Ferry ran past and also joined the chorus of approval. “I’m a huge fan,” he shouted over the crowd, while Lady Helen Taylor, wife of dealer Timothy, said that she would definitely be making a return visit. Gagosian director Robin Vousden (predictably) couldn’t utter the superlatives quick enough: “Brilliant . . . glorious . . . exhilarating.”
Left: Artist Dexter Dalwood. (Photo: Gareth Harris) Right: Art historian Tim Marlow with Gagosian's Robin Vousden. (Photo: Rolf Marriott)
Would anyone be prepared to voice criticism? A few rebels could be found out on the Tate’s veranda, a heady haven for art-world smokers. Chirpy artist Dexter Dalwood, resplendent against the backdrop of St. Paul’s cathedral, was less shy than others. “Twombly was fantastic until 1988,” he confidently declared. After a lively debate about the problems of making art when you’re an “art titan” (as Twombly so obviously is), an equally academic discussion ensued with Chris Stephens, a curator of the Tate’s forthcoming Francis Bacon show, about the late British-art bad boy’s love of all things French. Big-name dealers Nicholas Logsdail and Victoria Miro strolled past while photographer Johnnie Shand Kydd and artist Maggi Hambling encircled the canapés.
Distraction then came in the form of artist Ed Linse, a member of the collective Artists Anonymous, who studied at one time with Georg Baselitz at the Universität der Künste in Berlin. When pushed to describe the experience of being taught by the high-profile veteran, Linse would only quip: “The worst thing one could say about Baselitz is what he says himself.” Apparently, even German art giants experience self-doubt.
Left: A view of the crowd. (Photo: Rolf Marriott) Right: Tate curator Chris Stephens. (Photo: Gareth Harris)
How many photographs of downtown scenestress and musician Lydia Lunch can one person stand? Scholars in future generations will now be able to piece together pretty much every outfit the postpunk doyenne ever wore in her first five years in New York, thanks to an avalanche of documentation in books from the past couple years: Marc Masters’s No Wave, Paula Court’s New York Noise, and Thurston Moore and Byron Coley’s just-released No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976–1980. Like any good insular art scene, No Wave kept outsiders (and audiences) at bay but photographers on hand. If you were one of the ten to fifteen unhappy-looking observers at the Mudd Club, the Kitchen, CBGB, or Tier 3, watching some legendarily abrasive band, odds are your pain is now catalogued and immortalized.
Draw a gently curving line, more or less, from the location of Dave’s Luncheonette, the oft-reminisced-about late-night Canal Street hangout, out through the Mudd Club, which sat a couple blocks south, and you’ll soon hit the site where KS Art stands today. It was there on Friday night that a party was thrown in celebration of the release of Moore and Coley’s book. In the flyer-and-photo-bedecked gallery, tourists past and present gathered to ogle both the walls and one another: Swimming through the soupy, overheated confines were Moore and his wife, Kim Gordon, Coley, Lunch, the Contortions’ James Chance, one-time Sonic Youth drummer and Lunch cohort Jim Sclavunos, musician Alan Licht, and many of the photographers—Robert Sietsema, Julia Gorton—whose work hung on the walls. Across the street, people glanced nervously at the Knitting Factory, where the main event—a Teenage Jesus & the Jerks reunion, for which Lunch had flown in from Barcelona—was scheduled for 8 PM sharp. KS Art proprietor Kerry Schuss, perhaps sensing some apprehension on my part, attempted reassurance: “They’ve been rehearsing for days!”
Left: Musician Lee Ranaldo and artist Leah Singer. (Photo: Laura Levine) Right: Kim Gordon. (Photo: David Velasco)
Lunch, who, in 1976, at sixteen, left her parents’ home in Rochester, New York, and who, two years later, was proclaiming herself “the best thing to happen to music in 250 years,” has evidently been a good sport—judging from the hours of interviews she gave to Masters, Moore, and Coley—about the canonization she resisted so thoroughly in her first go-round. (She’s loudly on record as being skeptical of No New York, the Brian Eno–produced compilation that helped give No Wave a name and Teenage Jesus a platform.) But what easier target for a notoriously audience-hating band like Teenage Jesus (from which original member James Chance was tossed merely because he couldn’t help but interact with the band’s crowds) than a sold-out, reverential sea of fresh faces?
First, though, we were treated to some trivia: a set by Information, the NO magazine–affiliated, constantly morphing No Wave footnote whose baffling presence was perhaps the evening’s most authentic curveball. “We’re quite amused you all came back,” noted the band’s Chris Nelson, utterly sarcastically. In turn, the band covered a song by the even more ephemeral Blinding Headaches (a trio perfectly memorialized in a Sietsema photo from No Wave, playing an LES rooftop show to all of seven distracted-looking friends). Information’s fifteen-minute set wrapped up with an elaborately announced, ten-second, one-chord-and-done “song.” In between, of course, came the amplified toy piano, the trumpet, and the unbelievably loud steel drum.
As for Teenage Jesus—with Sclavunos back on drums and “surprise guest bass player” Thurston Moore—they were as fleeting, nasty, screeching, and brutish as one could have hoped. Sclavunos stood behind his instrument, staring straight ahead; Moore scrutinized the set list, fiddled with his guitar, and absorbed Lunch’s abuse: “This is what happens when a member of Sonic Youth joins the band,” she spewed. “Fumble, fumble, fumble.” Whatever thrill there was in seeing our own alt-rock gods cut down before their elders quickly faded when Lunch turned toward us. “You have no fucking clue,” she said, glaring straight out into the rapturous applause: “Thanks for nothing.”
“A walk from riches to rags” is how Folkestone Triennial curator Andrea Schlieker described the event she has been working on for the past three years. It was Friday, the exhibition’s opening day, and we were standing at the “riches” end: the sunlit ballroom of the Metropole Hotel, a luscious relic of the Kentish coastal town’s Edwardian boom years as a holiday resort. As David Batchelor’s Disco Mechanique—comprising dozens of motorized faux glitter balls made from thirty-four hundred interlaced pairs of colorful Brazilian sunglasses—twirled in the room’s center, Schlieker promised “a string of pearls from the east to the west,” one made up of twenty-two artist projects, mostly by marquee names but with a surprising number hailing from the region, who have “responded to and articulated the town’s different levels of wealth.”
Though the artists frequently depart from Schlieker’s template—while nevertheless paying admirable attention to the local—“different levels” is right: Folkestone, like many an English seaside town, is half-sunk in desuetude. English tourists have long since taken to going abroad to escape English weather, and the town’s industry isn’t entirely healthy. “Since the ferry terminal to France closed down, Folkestone’s been on the slide, so the triennial is great,” one optimistic invigilator opined later, as we stood on a breezy hilltop at the far end of town. There, I was trying to fly one of Nils Norman, Gavin Wade, and Simon and Tom Bloor’s kites emblazoned with sardonic bits of “regeneration-speak”: e.g., UNEVEN DEVELOPMENT and HIPSTERIZATION STRATEGIES. Here, and in Adam Chodzko’s video, Pyramid, housed in a disused town-center shop and depicting Folkestone as first cursed, then magically rejuvenated, one sensed that if artists are going to be instruments of regeneration, they’re not necessarily going to keep quiet about it.
Left: Anthony Reynolds Gallery's Maria Statha with artist Mark Wallinger. (Photo: Martin Herbert) Right: Artist Tracey Emin. (Photo: Barry Duffield)
Will the triennial boost tourism? “I’m just here to see Folkestone, really,” offered current Turner Prize nominee Mark Leckey, who I bumped into on the windswept beachfront while I failed, even with map in hand, to find one of Tracey Emin’s miniature Baby Things bronzes (socks, shoes, teddies, etc.). Jeremy Deller, there to choreograph a series of outdoor slapstick performances, was relatively circumspect. “It’s just more art, isn’t it?” he said, reasonably enough. By this point, we were on a coach, hurtling toward lunch and overtaking curator Greg Hilty, who was riding a strange bike with a loudspeaker attached. Those who mocked him—me included—hadn’t been apprised of Kaffe Matthews’s Marvelo Project, wherein GPS technology triggers sounds as you ride her cycles around town. “Hark how fresh and varied the sonic landscape becomes,” Matthews writes in the catalogue. The sounds might at least drown out certain noises that are fresh in a different way. For example, the Folkestone youth we encountered shortly before, leaning out of their passing car and gleefully shouting “Cunts!” at our group, which included Richard Wentworth, who at that moment was explaining his series of signs identifying nonindigenous trees growing in the area. “Folkestone,” sighed Wentworth absently, giving the hooligans the peace sign.
Lunch, in a big tent in a spectacularly dismal part of the docks, turned out to be fish and chips, with—heresy!—no salt and vinegar, which suggested a few gaps in the organizers’ knowledge regarding the fundamentals of the seaside experience. (Should this disaster ever afflict you, try art historian Claire Bishop’s lateral solution: a drizzle of white wine.) Some things you can rely on, though: As the afternoon wore on, in classic English seaside style the rain fell. Cue punters taking shelter beside Mark Dion’s Mobile Gull Appreciation Unit, a bird-shaped info center on wheels, where the affable American dispensed facts about the local birdlife; or in Tacita Dean’s screening room, where the Berlin-based expat is presenting a characteristically beautiful 16-mm film of a boat crossing the English Channel at sunrise.
And then—prior to a packed evening party back at the marquee, which led into a firework display—the sun came out again, as if it had been planned that way by the show’s ultimate organizer (that being Roger de Haan, former chairman of Folkestone’s biggest employers, insurance and holiday specialists Saga, who has invested heavily in the town and “lives in a weird glass house” outside it, according to a local cabbie). On the train home, it became apparent that there are some things you don’t really want second helpings of—such as fish and chips, even when purchased by Antony Gormley and consumed in the genial company of Sir Nicholas Serota and his writer-curator partner, Teresa Gleadowe, curators Alex Farquharson and Polly Staple, and Cabinet magazine’s Brian Dillon (who’d all already moved on to matters other than Folkestone). Over at the next table, meanwhile, the ideal tribute to an enjoyably exhausting day came from Leckey—who, by then, was lodged deep in blissful sleep.
Left: Collector Dakis Joannou and Lietta Joannou. Right: Dakis Joannou's yacht “Guilty.” (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)
There are three kinds of power in the art world. One comes from money, another from fame. Then there is the power of art itself to provoke emotion. All three were on jubilant display last Monday and Tuesday in Athens, as Greek construction tycoon Dakis Joannou introduced one hundred or so select artists, dealers, curators, and fellow art patrons to the latest incarnation of the Joannou Collection and the christening of “Guilty,” a thirty-eight-yard-long yacht with a razzle-dazzle finish by Jeff Koons.
These temptations made the prospect of an expenses-paid trip just too irresistible. How much harm could it do to submit to the charms of the bourgeoisie, if research required it? As a Joannou guest, I was taken to the Semiranis, a candy-colored, acid dream of a hotel (one of several that the collector owns in Athens) and shown to a bungalow by the pool. There I found some familiar faces: artists Ashley Bickerton, Ricci Albenda, and Roberto Cuoghi lounging about with curators Ali Subotnick and Cecilia Alemani. All had played a part either in the decor of the yacht, which is loaded with art and overdesigned furniture, or in “Fractured Figure: Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection,” the current show at Joannou’s Deste Foundation, organized over the past few years by Jeffrey Deitch with Massimiliano Gioni, who arrived late in the day with his Wrong Gallery compatriot Maurizio Cattelan, a Joannou favorite.
Whenever you put a group of art-world personages together for a few days in one another’s exclusive company, it’s going to start feeling like a Shriner’s convention at some point—or maybe summer camp. The hair comes down, and everyone gets a new best friend. (At one point, even archrivals Larry Gagosian and Deitch buddied up. “He thinks it would be a good idea for me to open a gallery in Rome,” Deitch said.)
Left: Artist Jeff Koons and designer Ivana Porfiri. Right: Dealers Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian.
Some guests that evening, who included globe-trotting dealers Marian Goodman, Emmanuel Perrotin, Carol Greene, Marianne Boesky, and Eva Presenhuber; collectors Marion Lambert, Dinos Martinos, and Maja Hoffmann; and Tate director Nicholas Serota and Kunsthalle Zürich director Beatrix Ruf chose to speed-walk through the exhibition, a creepy affair replete with enough macabre sex, death, dismemberment, and disillusionment to feel threatening. “These are dark times,” the sunny Joannou told me. “The artists recognize that. We should, too.”
Urs Fischer had “fine-tuned” the installation, as Deitch put it. (Fischer also designed the large-format, two-volume catalogue.) The other artists present that day took the time to examine each work. “I don’t get this,” Bickerton muttered about a John Bock installation. “I love this,” he said of Paul McCarthy’s flesh-colored Paula Jones, which Joannou had bought directly from the studio. (It consists of table-mounted fiberglass renditions of certain politicians—half-human, half-pig—giving each other a royal forking.)
Cattelan provided the sobering finale, All, a row of gray marble body bags laid out on the floor (eat your heart out, Carl Andre), also purchased from the studio. The piece did not refer to a specific incident, Goodman said; more than one person named it Cattelan’s “masterwork,” the one that would “kick his career to a whole new level.” Still, Cattelan had plenty of dystopian competition—from Gregor Schneider, Kiki Smith, Pawel Althamer, and Andro Wekua, as well as Bickerton, whose corpulent fiberglass torso, FOB, tucked into a small room at the entrance between Terence Koh’s white-chocolate “mountains” and Koons’s convex chrome Moon, made up the show’s most inspired ménage. “You know what FOB means?” Bickerton challenged Deitch, Joannou’s longtime consultant and Deste’s chief curator. “Fresh Off the Boat?” the dealer replied. “First On the Beach,” said Bickerton, a dedicated surfer who lives in Bali.
Left: Artist Roberto Cuoghi. Right: Dealer Marian Goodman.
Meanwhile, guests like Gagosian, Jean “Johnny” Pigozzi, and Simon de Pury seemed more engaged by the cocktail mixer on the roof. What is an art event these days, after all, if not a bonding ritual? Art was the main topic of conversation, though other matters did come up. “You know what's wrong with guys like Jean Nouvel?” inquired the jovial Tony Shafrazi. “They never think of putting a window in the bathroom. I mean, the smell!”
After a Dionysian sunset, we were all loaded into vans and taxis and taken to Joannou’s home, where a ton of art—by Richard Prince, Piotr Uklanski, Christopher Wool, Wangechi Mutu, Cindy Sherman, Seth Price, and Chris Ofili, to name a few—was on view. The marble conversation pit of a reception area alone was a veritable hall of contemporary sculpture fame: Charles Ray’s giant woman in a blue dress, a Robert Gober drain, Koons’s Michael Jackson and Bubbles, and one of his “Equilibrium” tanks, the work that made Joannou so crazy for young art in the first place. (His Koonses now total forty-eight.) There was also a suite of delicate pencil studies of costumed female figures by a more recent discovery—a forty-five-year-old native Athenian named Christiana Soulou, who starved herself prior to making them. “I had to destroy the image of myself to get to the bones,” she said. (The drawings represent her recovery.)
After helping themselves to the lavish buffet dinner, guests gathered at long tables on the terrace overlooking Athens, beside the lap pool. “I really shouldn’t be here,” Serota confessed, casting an eye at Gagosian. “I’m supposed to be installing a Cy Twombly show that opens next week.” I sat with Goodman, talking about the diminished American presence at Art Basel the week before, where Europeans, particularly Russians, as well as Chinese and Indian buyers, flexed all the muscle. “I’ve seen this coming for a long time,” she said, then introduced me to Panos and Sandra Marinopoulos, who later treated me to a view of their smart collection of photography—most of it American.
After dinner, Albenda stole the show by partnering with Andrea Rosen Gallery director Laura Mackall and tearing up the dance floor—actually a skylight over the sculpture pit—at the feet of Koons’s red Balloon Dog. In fact, the house DJ got everyone on their feet, including Hoffmann, Presenhuber, and Gioni, who danced together wildly by the pool. Surprisingly, all the ouzo did not keep anyone from showing up on time the next morning—OK, it was nearly noon—to see the yacht. “Is that a Koons or a Lichtenstein?” asked one wag in my van as we drove into a marina that Joannou told me he had bought outright the week before.
The yacht’s exterior did look like a Ben-day dot painting, but, Koons said, it was based on a World War I camouflage pattern designed to confuse rather than hide. The dizzying, chromatic graphics did make the unusually jutting planes of the ship, designed by architect Ivana Porfiri, hard to make out on the water. The touchy-feely interior was all mirror, silver leather, and dyed materials. “Isn’t it wonderful how you just want to touch everything on board?” Koons asked, smiling. (“He sounds so much like Ronald Reagan!” Bickerton said, in a whispered aside.) The decor also included a lot of art, curated by Alemani, including wall paintings by David Shrigley, another by Albenda, and Guilty, an unusual text painting by Sarah Morris bought because, well, Joannou said, “I had to.” The yacht already had the name. “Guilty,” he said. “It just seemed right.”
Last Sunday morning in Arnhem, the Netherlands, visiting journalists to the tenth edition of the Sonsbeek International Sculpture Exhibition witnessed an assortment of guilds gather in the backyard of an old milk factory. Dressed in uniforms (black pants and white shirts), the guild members resembled factory workers about to start their day on the assembly line. But their efforts were in service to not industry but art. Curator Anna Tilroe had asked Arnhem citizens to participate in the show by carrying works made by the twenty-eight included artists in a preopening “procession,” perhaps as a way to liven up to the show’s theme: “Grandeur.”
A casual lunch (meat-and-cheese rolls) was served out of cardboard boxes, while a second group of locals arrived at the town hall, where the mayor welcomed them with champagne and finger food in the glow of the procession’s kickoff. It was unclear just how it was decided who would do what—the former group eventually walking, the latter only watching. Both sides did seem necessary. Maybe they drew straws.
In any case, the procession got off without a hitch. What we saw—in addition to brass and drum bands and a real elephant (Marijke van Warmerdam’s contribution)—was a fantastically laconic parade of human typologies. Members of the Advocates Guild (carrying Fernando Sánchez Castillo’s Stalin fountain), the Guild of Readers from the National Newspaper (with Alain Séchas’s cat sculpture), the Homeless Guild (with a large sculpture made by Matthew Monahan), the Arnhem Rotary Guild (pushing a big wooden roulette table by Serge Onnen), and, of course, the Artists Guild all took part, each group demonstrating its own particular brand of marching. The interpretations of the term grandeur offered here couldn’t have diverged more radically from those of the just-passed Art Basel.
A copy of Tomas Saraceno’s work, a cute, bubbly, transparent balloon structure, floated past held by members of the Guild of Children of Architects. Meanwhile, three teams of technicians were busy setting up a giant balloon house—Saraceno’s biggest sculpture to date—among large trees in the venerable Sonsbeek Park. Within walking distance and likewise located among the leaves is Brody Condon’s tree house, which, during the exhibition, will be inhabited by LARPERs (live-action role players) playing a scenario devised by the artist and designer Bjarke Pederson. A throne with one of these participants, wearing neo-medieval costume, was carried in the procession by the LARPERs Guild.
The Sonsbeek sculpture exhibition first opened in 1949, five years after the city was nearly destroyed in the famous World War II Battle of Arnhem, during which the Allies met unexpected resistance from the Germans who held the city. After the battle, tens of thousands of citizens were evacuated, but Arnhem has since gone through a dynamic reconstruction, and its population has flourished. Grandeur can be an attribute more befitting kitsch than art, but last Sunday’s procession seemed, when taking into account the city’s tragic history, a modest civic statement, and as such it was peaceful and grand.
Despite lingering cultural prejudices from bluenoses and blue-hairs, comics have periodically “arrived” on the mainstream stage since the late 1960s. Each “moment” generated reams of earnestly legitimizing articles in respectable journals trumpeting the medium’s “newfound” sophistication, artistic achievement, and adult relevance, but all failed to reach critical mass. Today, however, with Hollywood working its way through the Marvel pantheon, Adrian Tomine’s work frequently gracing the cover of the New Yorker, and museum exhibitions honoring everyone from R. Crumb to Chris Ware, it may be for real. “Post Bang: Comics Ten Minutes After the Big Bang!” nobly sought to map the dimensions of this ostensibly new cosmos. Organized by Art Spiegelman and Kent Worcester and sponsored by the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU in collaboration with the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, the all-day symposium—comprising four panels and two creator interviews—kicked off the weekend-long MoCCA Art Festival. Pacing myself, I attended two of the panel discussions and both interviews.
The first panel paired two comic evangelists with wildly divergent ideas about how to historicize their beloved medium. Moderated by Robert Storr, curator and dean of Yale’s School of Art, “Comics and Canon Formation” pitted curator and author John Carlin, who helped mount the 2006 exhibition “Masters of American Comics” at the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and coedited its massive catalogue, against Dan Nadel, proprietor of PictureBox, a Brooklyn-based publisher of comics and visual books and the author of Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900–1969. Storr began by saying that, for the high-art world, comics had long been viewed as merely supporting materials to painting, and that the long-overdue elevation of comics to capital-a art has finally arrived.
Carlin, who also organized a comics-based exhibition at the Whitney in 1983, when he was a grad student, said that the cartoon-inspired art of Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Jean-Michel Basquiat resonated with his own aesthetics, but it wasn’t until he found his way to Spiegelman’s studio that he really learned about comics history. Storr, in introducing Nadel, called his book an “alternative canon.” Nadel, who onstage had the mild air of awkwardness so common in comics nerds, deadpanned, “No, it’s not. It’s a broadening of scope . . . adding more lanes to the highway.” He testily objected to the high-versus-low frame, the notion that comics need to have aspirations to literature or fine art, and characterized the problem as a generational split: At thirty-one, he feels that older generations are still fighting a fight that has already been won; comics do not need or want any help from the upper crustaceans of “high” art.
Carlin defended his canonization efforts by citing auteur theory in film, linking Krazy Kat’s George Herriman and Little Nemo’s Winsor McCay to Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford—creative titans who invented the language of their medium—and said that canons were intended to cause controversy and stimulate debate. Nadel countered that any attempt at devising an auteur theory of comics was premature because so much of comics history is obscured or lost, beyond its most famous practitioners. Carlin compared their impasse to that between those who prefer The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s to Love’s Forever Changes or vice versa, with himself tending to side with the more successful cultural products. Nadel refused to be framed this way, saying he was not taking a Nuggets approach to comics history, but that he merely wanted to avoid the mistakes of past canonizations of other art forms. As the panel came to a close, nothing was resolved. No punches, but no hugs either.
The next panel boasted more participants but generated far less wattage. Moderated by Canadian comics scholar Jeet Heer, “Comics and the Literary Establishment” brought together three comics critics and historians to discuss the perils of plying their trade. Wondering aloud whether comics had become “too respectable” in a way that might harm the medium, Heer received a unanimous “No.” Hillary Chute, a Harvard research fellow who wrote her doctoral dissertation on, among other things, Spiegelman’s Maus; Douglas Wolk, author of Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean; and David Hajdu, author of The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, all replied that while bandwagon jumpers from book publishing and Hollywood were a mild menace, academic or serious writing on comics would not leach the form of its grittiness and essential disrepute. But the most ear-pricking moment was when Hajdu, whom Heer had called “Hoodoo” twice, corrected the moderator by explaining that there was a David Hodo, but he was the construction worker in the Village People, not the bespectacled author in the room that afternoon.
Unsurprisingly, the creator interviews were more entertaining. First, old friends and colleagues Spiegelman and Gary Panter—painter, punk poster artist, and pervy purveyor of Jimbo and other comics—sat for a tandem Q&A with comics critic Bill Kartalopoulos. Describing their drug-addled ’60s initiation into “underground” comics, both under the sway of patron saint R. Crumb, the two artists walked us through the history of independent cartooning in magazines like Zap, Arcade, and Funny Animals. The letters l, s, and d rolled off their tongues frequently, to nervous audience laughter every time—one of Panter’s drawings, done on acid, was even projected onscreen. They both admitted, however, that they didn’t do any good work while on the drug; it was merely a source of inspiration for later projects, including Panter’s production design for Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Spiegelman did get the seed idea for Maus while on some speed that the Funny Animals editor sent him to hasten his contribution to an issue: Having heard a theory that Mickey Mouse was based on Al Jolson in blackface, Spiegelman envisioned a strip with Ku Klux Kats. Soon realizing he knew next to nothing about African-American culture but plenty about Jewish culture, he transposed the concept, and a classic was born.
Both creators acknowledged their debt to fine art, though Spiegelman confessed he was a latecomer, or “slob snob,” until Ken Jacobs helped him see that painters were cartoonists “who just worked with really large panels.” Eventually, Spiegelman wanted to apply modernist styles—Cubism and Art Deco—to comics. Panter liked George Grosz and other early-twentieth-century painters, saying, “We could learn from art up to 1920 forever.” Both were fond of Philip Guston, particularly when he returned to his cartoonist roots, and wondered “Who got there first, Guston or Crumb?” Panter said that each of these artists underwent a parallel evolution in 1967—Crumb from a bad acid trip; Guston perhaps from seeing Crumb’s work in the East Village Other. Both creators agreed that the “underground” comics style could be traced back to Basil Wolverton’s ’50s grotesqueries for Mad magazine. During the audience Q&A, the artists were asked, “If LSD had never been invented, how different would your comics be?” After a beat, Panter dryly replied, “Well, there still would have been mushrooms.”
“Post Bang” culminated in a star turn by Lynda Barry. Novelist, artist, and creator of the long-running, syndicated Ernie Pook’s Comeek, Barry was a genuinely funny, inspirational presence as she discussed her writing workshop, “Writing the Unthinkable,” and her recent collage-art-book-as-writing-guide, What It Is. While attending Evergreen College as an art student in the ’70s, Barry started making pictures with words to impress friends and get “cute boys and girls” to make out with her. Also inspired by Crumb and Zap, she sent her early comics to the college paper, edited by fellow student Matt Groening. Because she’d always wanted an imaginary friend as a kid, she started making comics about kids to have “real imaginary friends.” Likening artmaking to “a cross between a ‘cereal trance’ and listening to a joke,” Barry became fixated on trying to recover a childlike mode of creation, leading to, among other methods, pulling words out of a hat for story ideas and writing her novels with a paintbrush. Maintaining that “art has a biological function and should not be an elective” in school, Barry said that “images may not be logical, but they are satisfying,” and they stick with you “like the memory of your first phone number.” She said that comics “remind her of music,” noting that the blending of pictures with words was one of the most ancient artistic forms. The audience, including some very devoted fans, ate all of this up with radiant glee.
Left: “Eclipse” curator Magnus af Petersens. Right: A view of the Moderna Museet. (All photos: Kyle Bentley)
People were growing impatient, waiting to deplane at Stockholm-Arlanda as a faded red carpet was being unrolled, laboriously, across the tarmac. The preview of the Moderna Museet’s exhibition “Eclipse: Art in a Dark Age” would soon be starting, and I should have been on my way to the hotel, but I was still in seat 14B. Outside rippled an American flag. Two snipers were positioned on the roof of Terminal Five. Eventually a reedy man descended the portable staircase, and the passenger seated next to me whispered, “It’s the what’s he called? Like the president of the UN. That Korean guy.” It was then, on the Thursday morning before last, while United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon was shaking hands and being photographed, that it became apparent that the museum’s fiftieth anniversary and the opening of “Eclipse” would be, in terms of civic to-do, overshadowed by a UN-sponsored conference on Iraq.
This seemed to support the show’s point. That weekend’s strong bureaucratic presence—hotels were filled, police deployed, central streets closed regularly (apparently whenever Condoleezza Rice was coming through)—served as a felicitous backdrop to the picture that exhibition curator Magnus af Petersens sought to paint. “Today,” he said, when I finally did arrive, “there is a general air of didacticism, with the right pushing the ‘war on terror,’ the left ‘political correctness.’” In the catalogue, he quotes Toni Burlap, the fictional third “curator” of the 2006 Whitney Biennial, quoting the show’s actual curators, Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne: “The opposite of ‘right’ is not ‘left,’ but ‘wrong.’ Since the world seems to be moving inextricably to the right . . . to be wrong is to be the opposition.”
Left: Robyn (right) with a fan. Right: Moderna Museet director Lars Nittve with Victoria, crown princess of Sweden, and David Elliott, former director of the Moderna Museet.
So visitors are shown nine artists who, in making fictive work “free of didactic claims,” are so “wrong” they are right. An equivocal dissonance rings throughout, darkness here meaning both the didacticism obscuring some romantic past (which is bad) and an unknown into which the artists bravely “venture” (which is good). But more confusing is the show’s insistence that the artists undertake such a journey at all, when actually most seem interested in working within a set of worldly givens. “It was primarily about the language,” artist Lucas Ajemian said.
The opening that night included a series of musical performances, the first of which was by “prog-rock” band Fläsket Brinner (whose name translates roughly as “The Pork Is Burning”). The group are apparently favorites of Moderna director Lars Nittve but found their biggest fan in the older gentleman dancing enthusiastically by himself in neon-green socks and a white suit screenprinted with, it seemed, self-portraits as Andy Warhol in drag. Better received by the younger guests was Swedish club darling, and Moderna board member, Robyn. Her catchy pop, tuned so perfectly as to occasionally cloy (maybe it’s cultural; think ABBA), electrified the museum and received such a fervent response that if, unlike the flamboyant Fläsket Brinner fan, you didn’t feel like dancing onstage with Robyn herself, then you got lost in the crush.
Lucas Ajemian and his brother Jason both closed out Thursday night (by instigating, and then winning, a break-dancing battle at an afterparty in Östermalm for the art academy) and opened Friday evening, by performing their work Out of Nowhere/From Beyond in the airy church next to the museum. Consisting of a backward version of the Black Sabbath song “Into the Void” conducted by Jason, sung by Lucas, and played by an orchestra of young local musicians, the performance took place that weekend a number of times, each yielding favorable responses but, regrettably, no satanic messages.
“Artist, friends, and—I haven’t checked you all, but I think—ladies and gentleman,” began the jovial Nittve, the first speaker of many during the subsequent dinner celebrating the museum’s anniversary. Victoria, crown princess of Sweden, appeared in white on the large flat-screen TVs displaying live feeds, while Nittve thanked the guests for enduring the traffic and “fighting Condoleezza Rice,” which got a hearty laugh. Soon came the evening’s central event: an auction benefiting the museum (a rare event in Sweden, where the lack of tax deductions renders the value of donating moot). Marie Douglas-David, the perky president of the American Friends of the Moderna Museet, which organized the event (and has raised sixty-five million dollars for the museum over the past few years), introduced the proceedings. Then Hans Dyhlén, the auctioneer, stepped behind the podium sporting an orange tie, handkerchief, and circular glasses. “It’s your turn to let the crocodiles yawn,” he announced. “Open your purses!”
Next up in the string of museum well-wishers was Pontus Bonnier, of the Swedish publishing, collecting, and philanthropizing family. Bonnier had already helped finance the museum’s acquisition of a Josiah McElheny glass installation and Mike Nelson’s “Eclipse” contribution, AMNESIAC SHRINE or Double Coop Displacement—a labyrinthine chicken-coop-like structure whose parts are presented as sculptural “reconstructions” of the patchy memories of the Amnesiacs, a fictional biker gang of Gulf War veterans. “A quite scary thing,” Bonnier called it. He had also funded the new Pontus Hultén Study Room on the museum’s lower level. Designed by Renzo Piano, the space houses a computer whose system is linked to thirty mechanized panels, on which hang works from the seven hundred donated by the late Hultén, the storied curator and first director of the Moderna, on condition of their being not hidden in storage but made publicly “accessible.”
Left: Artist Dana Schutz with dealer Zach Feuer. Right: Artist Nathalie Djurberg with curator Power Ekroth.
Now, Bonnier announced, his family had one final “birthday gift” for the museum. At that, a young girl threw back the heavy fabric from the large object she had been holding, and Picasso’s last portrait of his second wife, Jacqueline, was revealed to the guests. Gasps and applause sounded throughout the room, while an astonished Nittve raised two thumbs high and swigged from a nearby wine bottle. “A complete, total surprise,” he gushed.
On Saturday, an artists’ talk was held in the museum auditorium. Ellen Gallagher discussed her collages in terms of “physicality” and the “inability to ascribe identity.” Dana Schutz spoke of using fiction as a “framework” in order to “to get information from the paintings but also to find limitations.” Tom McCarthy, primarily a novelist (who for “Eclipse” has subjected assorted texts to a Burroughs-like cut-up and is relaying the resulting pastiche over local radio), closed the talk by smoothing the distinction between “theory and intuition.” He noted that, for Heidegger, language is not something used to describe or interpret the world but “an event, a kind of tsunami that comes over you and overwhelms you and kind of ravishes you and makes you—brings you—into the world.” He mentioned the philosopher’s usage of Hölderlin’s line “Soon we will be song,” and this seemed to make people happy. “That’s where we’re going,” he said, “toward song.”
Left: Brad Pitt. (Photo: James Harris) Right: The Approach's Emma Robertson with Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler and the Approach's Jake Miller. (Except where noted, all photos: Sarah Thornton)
“Roman Abramovich is a blessing for the art world,” said one high roller over drinks in the lobby of the Swissôtel in Basel after a long day at the fair. Whether or not the Russian oligarch bought a handful of Giacomettis off the Krugier stand didn’t seem to matter. The billionaire brought buzz. According to the Grand Cru grapevine, Abramovich, who is known to have an appetite for Lucian Freud, missed the opportunity to purify twelve million dollars on the artist’s Girl in Attic Doorway as, by the time the newcomer got back to Bill Acquavella with a decision, the classy uptown dealer had already sold it to someone else.
Business transactions at the fair were good and steady, quiet and sophisticated, but some likened the experience to routine conjugal activity—a marked contrast to the rousing, impulsive interactions of the past couple years. “Sales were not accompanied by fireworks as much as by deep discussion,” as one dealer put it. Perhaps the mood had to do with the dearth of Americans, whose passion for shopping always gives the fair extra verve? A New York dealer, who had offloaded nearly everything at his stand, explained the success: “It proves that the European market is solid, and doom-and-gloomers don’t understand our new world.”
Indeed, some art-world players were exceedingly relaxed. At 11:45 AM on Tuesday, less than an hour after the fair began, collector Peter Brant, dealers Alberto Mugrabi and Tony Shafrazi, and actor Owen Wilson could be seen playing liar’s poker at a round table in the corner of the Regen Projects stand. (Apparently, Shafrazi finished four hundred dollars up, but Wilson won the game.) Shaun Caley Regen and her team were so busy making sales that one staff member later exclaimed, “I wondered what they were doing!”
Left: Shala Monroque with dealer Larry Gagosian. Right: Pinchuk Art Centre president and artistic director Peter Doroshenko.
Across the aisle at Victoria Miro, I found the cheery artistic duo Elmgreen and Dragset, who will have the unusual pleasure of curating two pavilions at the next Venice Biennale—the Nordic pavilion because Dragset hails from Norway and the Danish because Elmgreen comes from Copenhagen. The pair (an ex-couple) were here to inspect the installation of their Crash . . . Boom . . . Bang!, 2008, a tower of toppled crates out of which spilled what looked like a Hirst spot painting and a Koons silver rabbit. The Rubells, Americans who never miss Basel, scooped up the work with characteristic alacrity.
As I traipsed from stand to stand, I repeatedly missed Brad Pitt. At the 303 Gallery booth, the Hollywood heartthrob apparently expressed appreciation for Collier Schorr and Doug Aitken. “He didn’t buy anything, but he kissed me,” said the gallery’s proprietor, Lisa Spellman. “To be honest, that was better than a sale.” Massimo De Carlo’s baroque ’n’ roll corner location featured John Armleder and Rudolf Stingel bas-reliefs to either side of a large, round Maurizio Cattelan rug. Apparently, Pitt had been here, too, but this time took the plunge on a Stingel (although not the one hanging in the booth, which had already been acquired by a prestigious European collector).
In the high-design, greatly expanded VIP room, I bumped into Peter Doroshenko, the artistic director of the Pinchuk Art Centre, who refused to confirm any rumors about recent acquisitions. Encountering the Ukrainian-American curator reminded me that some of the biggest spenders (like his boss, Victor Pinchuk, or Steve Cohen and François Pinault) were on the phone rather than in the room, so to speak. Doroshenko’s explanation was matter-of-fact: “Victor has educated himself to another level so that he doesn’t have to be everywhere. He isn’t trophy hunting; he values forging relationships with artists.”
Left: New Museum senior curator Laura Hoptman with dealer Paula Cooper. Right: Fondation Beyeler director Sam Keller with Art Basel's Isabela Mora and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, codirector of exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery.
Downstairs, among the blue-chip galleries, Matthew Marks’s Ellsworth Kelly mini-retrospective (partly in honor of the artist’s eighty-fifth birthday) and Helly Nahmad’s special exhibition of Joan Miró paintings all made in the summer of 1936 were the most rigorous offerings, but Galerie Karsten Greve’s 1958 Cy Twombly (asking price: $20 million) and Marlborough’s beautiful, unusually minimal 1970 Bacon triptych, Three Studies of Human Body (asking price: $80 million), were the subject of more chatter.
The ground-floor galleries seemed to be competing to see who had the best closet. These small spaces formerly known for storage were converted, in the words of Gagosian’s John Good, into “tight little master rooms.” Gagosian had two Picassos and two Warhols in their large walk-in. Werner had a luscious Picabia and a few sweet Peter Doigs, while L&M won marks for subcultural credibility by displaying, among other things, David Hammons’s predominantly pink Untitled (Kool-Aid), 2006.
In terms of intimate viewing, however, no one could beat the Fondation Beyeler stand, where the personable Sam Keller held court. In a chapel-like side room with a lowered ceiling, dim light, gray walls, and a built-in hardwood bench, visitors could meditate—or perhaps pray for art-acquisition guidance—in the presence of Mark Rothko’s life-affirming Red (Orange), 1968.
Left: Artists Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen. Right: Artist Ellsworth Kelly.
It reminded me of something I overheard at Art Unlimited, the part of the fair that features mansion-size sculptures and installations. “It’s time for belief and transcendence again,” said New Museum curator Laura Hoptman to the gracious Paula Cooper. I wish I had asked Los Angeles–based artist Morgan Fisher for comment, as he was as garrulous and forthright as his installation, The Door and Window Paintings, was splendidly subtle and restrained. The yin-yang combination of artist and work was satisfying: “The paintings are their own curators. Here’s some writing. Boy, do I love to write.” Then he added: “Some people wish I didn’t.”
No one in Basel could have missed the endearing and ubiquitous Malcolm McLaren, whose compilation of twenty-one cut-up old adult films (of people “desiring, wanting, wishing, and imagining having sex”) was on view in a cabin outpost of Art Basel Projects. When I asked the Svengali-turned-artist about its price and whether art was more lucrative than pop music nowadays, McLaren quipped wickedly, “I don’t know if it is up for sale, but it is definitely up.”
This year, there were thirty-one Art Statements booths dedicated to one-person shows by less established artists, two of which were awarded Baloise prizes by a jury one dealer described as consisting of “German curators I’ve never heard of and Gary Garrels.” The winners were Duncan Campbell’s poetic half-hour half-documentary Bernadette, presented by Hotel (of London), and Tris Vonna-Michell’s Finding Chopin, hosted by T293 (of Naples). I managed to track down Garrels, who will join SF MoMA as senior curator of painting and sculpture in September and who explained convincingly: “The winners are the opposite of the flashy showmanship that is so prevalent. They have countervailing voices that add richness and diversity to the fair.”
No trip to Art Basel is complete without at least one late-night foray to the kunsthalle. There, it was good to see Marc Spiegler, codirector of the fair (along with Annette Schönholzer), in a blue pinstripe suit and pointy white running shoes, pressing the flesh with the younger crowd that make this festive venue their nightly home. The opening forty-eight hours of his first fair were over, and there was reason to celebrate. I asked him whether he had a metaphor for his comfort zone. He laughed: “I feel like the Godfather at a family reunion.”
Left: PaceWildenstein's Marc Glimcher. Right: Venice Biennale curator Daniel Birnbaum with dealer Daniel Buchholz.
“Darling, I can’t go around changing these dates with CEOs, artists, collectors, and curators. It’s too much drama. Can you arrive earlier?” Such was the dialogue that ran rampant throughout last weekend’s loosely organized itinerary of art events in Zurich—a prequel to the Basel hurricane and a high-category storm in its own right that rained openings, tours of collectors’ homes, and VIP dinners on the assembled dignitaries. “Some people fit in four dinners in an evening,” someone noted—but not me. Who’s that hungry? Though I did feel as though I had some catching up to do by the time I arrived Friday night, already quite late in the proceedings for this nonstop crowd.
Zurich’s renowned institutions and galleries, facilitators of the important (and aggressive) Swiss market, were as efficient as always. The Rubells affirmed that it’s more interesting to visit Zurich’s galleries pre-Basel, especially those in the “red-light district,” because that’s where it’s really happening.
That night, Puma (recently purchased by PPR, the company controlled by luxury-goods magnate François Pinault), in association with the Serpentine Gallery, presented a can’t-miss evening in honor of artist John Armleder, who had curated the trendy company’s “Reality Bag,” a leather handbag featuring a logo in the shape of a brain. “It’s like a portable museum,” said Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz, presumably because it’s made by artists. Hosted by Visionaire’s Cecila Dean and curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the dinner, organized by Glamour Engineering’s Michelle Nicol, was held in the storage room of one of Trudie Goetz’s designer stores. (Goetz owns all of the city’s hippest fashion shops.) I was seated between an avid Armleder collector and the enthusiastic Dianne Brill, one of New York’s “Queens of the Night” in the 1980s (another was Susanne Bartsch), who knows nothing about art. (She now devotes her energy to cosmetics.) We spent most of our time discussing pheasant hunting in Sologne, an activity Brill also particularly enjoys. All the Zurich locals said they were fleeing Basel after the opening of the fair to avoid the European Football Championship, which kicks off in earnest on Saturday. It’s always been difficult finding a hotel room during Art Basel, but now it’s mission impossible. “We’re going to Saint Tropez,” my other neighbor told me.
Many artists, like John Tremblay (no relation) and Philippe Decrauzat, who also collaborated on pieces for Puma, were out until late into the night, first at the home of dealer Andrea Caratsch, who presented new works by Armleder, then at the club Saint Germain, where hundreds of liters of champagne had already been poured by the time we arrived.
On Saturday, there were openings all over town, and everyone eventually headed to the former Löwenbräu brewery that houses numerous galleries and the Migros Museum (which installed works from its collection in a display framework presented by Markus Schinwald in a prior exhibition). The evening’s highlight was Hauser & Wirth’s opening of two exhibitions—one for Louise Bourgeois and another featuring works from the collection of Helga and Walther Lauffs. Many works from the collection had been sold at Sotheby’s, and portions were presented at David Zwirner and Zwirner & Wirth in New York in May. Helga Lauffs told me that she was happy to sell the collection, which she had assembled with her husband and the discerning Paul Wember, former director of the Krefeld Museum, since many of the works were going to museums that could take proper care of them. She also said that she would continue to collect, this time with one of her grandchildren, and that she planned to devote her attention to young artists. The exhibition presented numerous museum-quality works, including incredible Serras, Christos, and an Yves Klein Anthropometrie from 1960, the only one, according to Zwirner, that depicts both the artist and his wife. For dinner, the gallery had reserved the entire first floor of the Kronenhalle, the city’s culinary hot spot, whose elegant, wainscoted rooms are peppered with Giacomettis and Picassos. Hauser & Wirth’s Roger Tatley placed me at a table with art advisers such as Patricia Marshall, South American collectors, the representative of Ikepod watches, and the Rubells. One eager speculator popped the question: “What do you think of Indian art?” to which everyone responded, “We don’t know yet, we just don’t know.”
Sunday morning, the Kunsthalle Zürich rented a bus for a field trip for collectors. Rosa de la Cruz, Thomas Grässlin, and art-world personalities like Suzan Geiz and Daniel Birnbaum jumped aboard. The first stop was the home of Uli Sigg, the former Swiss ambassador to China who later became one of the most prominent collectors of Chinese art. Perched on a hill beside a small private lake, his house is filled from top to bottom—from the kitchen to the bathroom—with works from his favored country. (Lucerne collectors in general are known to have a penchant for Chinese art.) Gallerist Urs Meile, who lives near Sigg, gave us a tour of his property, including a visit to the sculpture-filled garden. After a light lunch, the kunsthalle’s director, Beatrix Ruf, welcomed us to Lucerne’s Jean Nouvel–designed Kunstmuseum, which houses works from the collection of newspaper publisher Michael Ringier. Included in the conceptually daring, very black-and-white hanging were works by artists ranging from Cady Noland to Fischli & Weiss to Trisha Donnelly. Sitting on the terrace for yet another light lunch, I spoke with Hu Fang, artistic director of Guangzhou’s Vitamin Creative Space, who told me he was planning to present a different side of Chinese art. From the story Westerners like to tell, you’d think there was only one.
That evening, at a dinner and party held at collector Maja Hoffmann’s magnificent lakefront abode (designed by Marcel Breuer), the chatter had already moved past Zurich and on to Basel. According to some, there were still a few snags with the installation. Art Basel Projects, a series of large-scale works by four artists curated by Cay Sophie Rabinowitz (who resigned as Art Basel codirector in late April) was originally intended to premiere in Hall E but has since been relocated to Hall 1, where the works have been juxtaposed with those from the Art Unlimited section. Overheard: “The Carl Andre and Monica Bonvicini are a bit strange together,” and, “There’s a lot of chrome and brushed aluminum work by the likes of Takashi Murakami and Roxy Paine. There are many Chinese people in blue outfits. Wait, is Murakami Chinese?”
Anyway, during dinner, Hoffmann announced a new building at the kunsthalle, facilitated by her own Luma Foundation and a small team of big-time collectors. Everyone grew excitable, listening for further details, until a group of Spanish musicians arrived to provide a sound track to the confusion. If things continue at this pace, we’ll all be exhausted by Basel.