MY FIAC WEEK COMMENCED with a cold and rainy morning tour of the Tuileries sculpture installations led by fair directors Jennifer Flay and Martin Bethenod. Yet in spite of the cheerless weather, the fair itself opened with excitement last Tuesday afternoon in the Cour Carrée du Louvre. As VIP crowds pushed into the tent at 4 PM, someone shouted, “It’s better than Frieze—everything is sold!” I ran into the Rubells outside Frank Elbaz’s booth, where Mera Rubell gave accolades to the emerging Parisian scene; the globe-trotting collectors didn’t seem put off by the economic crisis: “The financial world has been turned upside down, but we’re still addicted to art. We’re not going to start looking for the best stocks; we’re going to continue to do what we’ve done for the past forty-five years: look for the best artists.”
Dealers under the Cour Carrée tent (where younger galleries set up shop) also seemed committed. Jocelyn Wolff, whose stand featured an installation by Franz Erhard Walther (one of the artists participating in FIAC’s debut performance program), noted: “I was skeptical half an hour ago, but now everything is fine. It’s slow, but it’s good—but that’s how we’ve always worked.” Commenting on the crowds, Cosmic Galerie director Claudia Cargnel noted that there were far fewer American collectors this year. But according to Berlin dealer Jan Wentrup, fewer outside collectors might not really be a problem: “London is play money, and Paris is serious money, serious collectors.” Foxy Production’s Michael Gillespie agreed: “It’s smaller than London, so there’s a hunger for new galleries coming in—it’s not oversaturated.” Isabella Bortolozzi, who presented a focused solo show by Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, credited Jennifer Flay for FIAC’s transformation: “Parisians today are more open to things coming from the outside—everyone’s speaking perfect English.” “Has the French art scene finally arrived?” I wondered aloud to artist Etienne Chambaud and curator Yoann Gourmel (of gb agency and 220 jours). Chambaud replied pragmatically: “It’s hard for us to say, because we’re the ones arriving.”
At 7 PM, I grabbed a cab with Confort Moderne curator Yann Chevallier to the Marais for openings at Yvon Lambert and Emmanuel Perrotin. At Lambert, Glenn Ligon graciously led me on a tour of his three new works installed in the main gallery and neighboring project space. Checking my heels on the way down the stairs to his installation Tout doit disparaître (Everything Must Go), Ligon explained that the basement had been laid with cobblestones in sand—the way Parisian streets had been built until May 1968, when the stones, easily dislodged, were used as ammunition during the protests: “The whole show has an aura of nostalgia.”
Just a few blocks away, Perrotin was opening three solo shows: Bharti Kher in the main gallery and Pharrell Williams and Mr. (Takashi Murakami’s protégé) in the newer space on Impasse Saint Claude. Williams, expecting the birth of his first child on Sunday, was live from Miami via video conference. Manning the real-time video monitor and audio feed for almost five hours, the multitalented hip-hop star patiently entertained questions about the series of chairs he designed for his Perrotin debut. “I’m happy to be in the company of weirdos,” he said, flashing a signature hand sign. Later that evening, Perrotin took over Alain Ducasse’s Benoit for a seated dinner for one hundred, where Williams’s past and present collaborators—including Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk, Pedro Winter of Ed Banger Records, and Delphine Arnault of LVMH—kept up spirits. The evening finished at Le Baron, but early, as the rest of FIAC was due to open the next day.
VIPs were allowed into the Grand Palais on Wednesday morning at 11 AM, where a sober reflection on Frieze continued. Adam Sheffer of Cheim & Read argued that “FIAC seems more important than Frieze because there’s more of a mix of work, and there’s a bigger collector base for blue-chip work in France and Belgium." Kunsthalle Basel president Martin Hatebur continued: “The Grand Palais is very airy, and there are fewer people. At Frieze, you are surrounded by ten million people who are not buying. FIAC is more elitist.”
Inside Kamel Mennour’s booth, I ran into Ullens Center chief curator Jérôme Sans. “Paris still has to work to become intelligent and aggressively international,” he opined. “It needs a kick. There are some people giving the kick—galleries like Mennour and Perrotin. But it’s not enough.” Continuing my tour, I was struck by an elegant new installation by Sherrie Levine, based on Le Corbusier’s ideal color palette, inside Simon Lee’s booth. Meanwhile, Hauser & Wirth presented an unforgettable piece by Christophe Büchel: a bombed-out car rotating like an eerie afterimage of Richard Prince’s yellow hot rod shown at the 2007 edition of Frieze.
As darkness fell over the Grand Palais, Radio Classique interviewed Pierre Bergé, legendary partner of Yves Saint Laurent, on the mezzanine just below the VIP lounge. Between excerpts from Schubert and Tchaikovsky, Bergé discussed “the sale of the century”—his showman’s term for the auction of works from his and Saint Laurent’s collection—to be conducted by Christie’s at the Grand Palais at the end of February: “We were in Paris, so it’s natural that the sale is in Paris.”
Left: Musician Bryan Ferry with dealer Patrick Seguin. Right: Artist Pierre Bismuth with Palais de Tokyo director Marc-Olivier Wahler.
Thursday evening began with Steve McQueen’s opening at Marian Goodman, where the artist was showing “one new, one newish, and one old” film. McQueen’s feature-length movie Hunger (which won this year’s Caméra d’Or at Cannes) will soon be released in Paris, but the artist does not see a difference between the film and his art practice: “No separation at all. One is narrative and one isn’t.”
Checking the time on my phone, I raced over to Galerie Patrick Seguin for Richard Prince’s opening. The work—chairs, desks, couches, and bookshelves, appropriate for Seguin’s mostly design-based program—incorporate Prince’s signature iconography. A white armchair, for example, takes the form of a nurse’s cap. For the occasion, Larry Gagosian and Seguin hosted a dinner at Georges, on the top floor of the Pompidou Center. I found a table with Darren Flook and Christabel Stewart of Hotel Gallery—still in town because Flook had lost his passport the night prior on the dance floor of Le Baron. Flook was smitten with the city: “People say Paris is bourgeois, but what’s wrong with bourgeois?” Despite word of a contagious virus arriving from Frieze (as goes the international jet set, so go international flues), everyone looked healthy that evening, enjoying Billecart-Salmon champagne and Smith-Haut-Lafitte Pessac Leognan. Collectors Kamran and Negui Diba joined our table as well, lamenting the recent transformation of the art world: “Instead of artists, curators, and museums, today it seems it’s the collectors who are the stars. We miss the time when it was a small, cozy club.”
But in fact, following the star-studded dinner, McQueen’s dancing and desserts party at Le Télégraphe in Saint Germain felt like just that. We were about twenty people on the dance floor—twenty-one if you counted Marian Goodman director Agnes Fierobe’s golden retriever. Shoes were kicked off, and guests sang aloud to Talking Heads' “Once in a Lifetime.” Same as it ever was.
Left: Artist Steve McQueen with his daughter. Right: A view of FIAC.
It’s hard to imagine an artist having a busier or fizzier moment after forty active years than Mary Heilmann. In the past twelve months, she’s taken on the Whitney Biennial, concurrent covers of Artforum and Art in America, Matthew Marks and Greene Naftali’s jumbo group show “Painting: Now and Forever, Part II” (of which she was pointedly singled out as the sole holdover from 1998’s “Part I”), and “To Be Someone,” a career survey docking now on two separate floors of the New Museum after stops in California, Texas, and Ohio. In the face of sustained attention that would hobble an artist half her age, Heilmann was insouciant and tuned-in at her party last Monday night, a touched ’tude befitting the creator of a painting called Surfing on Acid and a lifelong music lover who was only too happy to share some of her favorites via a raucous, clattering sound track, played over the museum’s speakers, that veered from Jimi’s Woodstock “Star-Spangled Banner” to all-girl punks the Raincoats’s abstruse cover of “Lola.” There was weird energy in the air from the start—a timbery smell, half autumnal, half noxious, wafted over from a fiercely burning building one block away on Elizabeth Street, and the glass fourth wall of the downstairs gallery put a bizarre zoolike frisson on proceedings by dividing drinking observers from the abstemious ones up close to the art. But Heilmann set an easy, mellow tone effortlessly and from the front.
When I suggested she seemed sanguine, she countered, “Oh, well, no. This is very psychological for me. My first home in New York was just down the street from here, in Chatham Square. The past and the present . . . It’s a little weird. I’m not sanguine, I’m excited and,” a conspiratorial eyebrow shrug, “freaked out, actually.” Yet she seemed to know exactly how to handle the situation. The calming presence of so many elder-statesmen amigos in the crowd (artists Richard Serra, Richard Tuttle, Joan Jonas, Joel Shapiro and Ellen Phelan, John Waters, and Billy Sullivan and curator Klaus Kertess) brought home the profound difference between those who’ve learned from experience how to process a freak-out moment and those who choose, pointlessly, to stay agitated. (Did I mention there were slouched armchairs, designed by Heilmann, that you could wheel around the galleries and plunk in front of the works?) Weary of fear and the circular nature of apocalyptic talk, older folk favored reflection over paranoia on this particular evening. One such conversation, with Kertess, brought us only laterally and without raised voices to the current financial crisis, and with a strong and surprising note of sympathy for dealers, the group in this scene who may be shouldering the biggest burden right now. “I think dealers have a more profound connection to art than critics and curators,” the long-ago dealer mused.
Less tempered behavior abounded among the younger generations. Nate Lowman, a pretty downtown totem seemingly welcomed as a royal at New Museum events, hovered outside, collecting his crew. “Is this necessary?” he huffed petulantly, pointing at the growing crowd of firemen and cops improvising a solution to the three-alarm blaze around the corner that, according to the police blotter the next morning, injured five and took a hundred people to tame. Inside, artist Kembra Pfahler asked, “Is this too heterosexual?” as she linked arms with Jack Pierson and entered the fray. Feeling a spicier crowd take the reins, I split for dinner at the Bowery Hotel on the other side of Houston Street, already late. No one was there, so I went back. It seemed we were all going to amble, peacefully, through this night on Heilmann’s own terms.
The dinner hour, eventually, arrived. Chicken, potatoes, and veg for a few hundred, American basics care of 303 Gallery and Hauser & Wirth, were delicious. Speeches were neat and unamplified. Heilmann dubbed the New Museum “such a cool place” and referred to the museum board as “you guys.” Chief curator Richard Flood said that working with Heilmann “changed who I am.” Those more intimate with the garrulous curator’s after-dinner manner might know whether he sings hosannas like that every time, but I was prepared, at that point, to give him the benefit of the doubt. Why argue?
Performance views of Trajal Harrell’s Quartet for the End of Time, 2008. Left: Christina Vasileiou. Right: Christina Vasileiou, Sirah Foighel, Will Gordon, and Liz Santoro. (All photos: Alexandra Corazza)
This fall, New York’s already impossibly busy performance schedule has been complicated by another, grander form of spectacle: the presidential election. So last Wednesday, at the premiere of Trajal Harrell’s Quartet for the End of Time, it didn’t seem like an off prediction when artist-moderator Ralph Lemon quipped, “Tonight’s the debate, so naturally we’ll be talking to two people.”
But Harrell isn’t an easy artist to walk away from. As Lemon spoke, the Dance Theater Workshop lobby was already filling up with the usual blend of contemporary performance insiders: influential choreographers like Maria Hassabi and Yasuko Yokoshi; Lili Chopra, the vice president of cultural affairs at the French Institute Alliance Française, fresh from curating the “Crossing the Line” festival; André Lepecki, associate professor of performance studies at New York University.
Under the artistic directorship of Cathy Edwards, Dance Theater Workshop gained a newfound vitality. Edwards is that rare dance curator with vision, taste, and intelligence, and she wasn’t afraid to throw her support behind unknown, deeply adventurous choreographers. When she left in 2006, there was fear that the Chelsea stalwart would abandon this bracing questioning of the form. But its current artistic director, Carla Peterson, has continued the institution’s support of choreographers who are working to push at the very definition of dance.
Harrell is one such artist. His Quartet for the End of Time, which draws its name and much of its inspiration from the music Olivier Messiaen famously composed in a Nazi war camp, is many things. A beautifully formal work, dense and elegiac, it offers layer on layer of media and movement, all bound up in Harrell’s rigorously choreographic sensibility.
But it doesn’t offer much dance. Or, at least, not much of what still, somehow, almost fifty years after the Judson Dance Theater movement supposedly blew open the barn doors, is thought of as dance: perfect bodies moving perfectly in appealing phrases set to appealing music. Old and narrow definitions die hard.
And so it was that the “Just how is this dance?” question reared its ugly head at the postperformance discussion: Not even an experimental enclave like the workshop is safe from this strange, conservative inquiry, which confuses the strict action of dance with the larger art form. “How is it not?” is a favorite retort, but I also appreciated the response of exasperated sighs that gusted from the audience. Certainly, Harrell doesn’t make things easy on his viewers. He demands attention. He rewards it, too.
In Quartet, the audience entered a flipped theatrical reality: The house lights stayed up for a long time, forcing people to peer into the action. On the darkened stage, a montage of visual images, many of them photographs by Harrell’s collaborator, David Bergé, played out on standing screens that later became the work’s inner chamber: its heart, within which the dancers Sirah Foighel, Will Gordon, Liz Santoro, and Christina Vasileiou repeatedly, elegantly stripped naked. Harrell gave us the hootchy-kootchy show of his youth, utterly transformed through abstraction.
Left: David Bergé photos in the lobby. Right: Performance view of Quartet for the End of Time. (Sirah Foighel)
But first, darkness, and the seductive exteriors of images (every hootchy-kootchy show, whether it’s selling sex or art, needs to lure an audience). Current 93’s multilayered “When the Long Shadows Fall” played as the slide show unfurled: intimate photographs of strangers, staring out with ambiguous expressions; the evocative streets of foreign cities; sumptuous, decadent, overripe interiors. There was a sense of decay. The darkness began to feel suffocating. “I want you to want the body and to feel its absence,” Harrell later explained.
He succeeded. No physical bodies appeared on stage until more than fifteen minutes into the ninety-minute show. When they did, it was still something of a false offering: Designer Thomas Dunn flooded the stage with light, transforming the floor into a fashion show. The dancers stalked and strutted to the front of the stage, posed, then changed outfits on the sides: nude, but not naked, until Foighel quietly expressed the wish “I hope there is someone who will take care of me when I will die.”
Such a sincere wish—a naked wish—was hard to swallow on the heels of such a slickly empty display. But this is where Harrell takes viewers, plunging from nudity to nakedness and, increasingly throughout the work, giving the theatrical space over to Messiaen’s moving score. (Another audience member objected to such overt manipulation of her emotions, as if manipulation and resistance don’t lie at the heart of performance.)
Inherent in this plunge is the idea of failure. In his program notes, Harrell re-creates Yvonne Rainer’s Judson-era “No Manifesto,” replacing her denials with his maybes:
Maybe to spectacle. Maybe to virtuosity. Maybe to transformations and magic and make believe. Maybe to glamour and transcendency of the star image. . . . Maybe to moving or being moved.
This vulnerability haunted the dance’s sophisticated, cinematically informed surfaces: He isn’t sure. Neither were we, oscillating between boredom and fascination at the dancers’ ritualistic, arduous stripping. This was done without the use of hands; afterward, they methodically, almost obsessively folded specific items of discarded clothing, depositing them on the floor like artifacts.
This wasn’t done for us. Like all strippers, the performers protected themselves in a certain remote abstraction. They were cloaked in an audio collage of pop songs, unsettling stories of grief told by an invisible male narrator who doesn’t seem trustworthy, and, of course, Messiaen. Again, a choice: Harrell dazzled with surfaces. The maybe of going beyond that lies with us.
As he asked afterward, “What would be the condition that would allow for sincerity” to happen onstage? “How far can I go before getting scared and pulling back into my irony?”
He promptly answered himself: “I think we’re hungry for some seriousness.”
Under a full moon, on a weirdly mild October evening, rather than running with the wolves, I found myself in a taxi humming the Wonder Woman theme song as I headed toward Diane von Furstenberg’s sleek white mother ship in the meatpacking district for an evening of ladies’ empowerment. “In your satin tights, fighting for your rights and the old Red, White, and Blue . . .” It was the launch of DvF’s “Wonder Woman Collection” and a limited-edition Wonder Woman–themed comic, illustrated by artist Konstantin Kakanias, featuring DvF herself as a superheroine who bursts onto the scene to remind “Diva, Viva, and Fifa” to “Be the Wonder Woman You Can Be.” With a little help from the entrepreneuress, wrap-dress inventor, and all-around icon of jet-set fabulosity, the ladies triumph over their insecurities. (“A mom who’s never good enough,” excitedly explained a publicist, “wins a baking contest!” A girl who no one believed in becomes a rock star! And a gal who was outmaneuvered by a male colleague speaks up for herself and gets the big job!) An essay by Gloria Steinem traces the history of the cartoon Amazon, lauding her “uncanny ability to unleash the power of self-respect within the women around her; to help them work together and support each other.” A letter from Lynda Carter herself pays tribute to all the early Wonder Women who “encouraged us to let our own unexpressed self soar.” A cover gallery of vintage Wonder Woman comics is yummy proto-feminist eye candy. (“Great Hera! My own reflections are coming out of the mirrors to battle me!”)
The luxurious flagship was like a déjà vu scene out of Sex and the City, packed with a soigné herd who looked like they either shopped at DvF or worked there, and fabuloti who came “for Diane” (pronounced: “Dee-ahn”). I spotted Ahn Duong, the touchstone of a “fashion event,” sporting a graphic limited-edition Wonder Woman tote ($165; “proceeds benefit Vital Voices to help empower women worldwide”) against her long, flowy, mushroom-colored frock; the same “nightie” look was favored by Debra Messing (ubiquitous in those ads for The Starter Wife and about seven feet tall in person). A cheerful Hamish Bowles took a break from schmoozing to palpate a metallic knit sleeve on the rack behind him. Artistic duo McDermott and McGough stopped by, one of them an avid monologuer who told me an artist had to be either “self-conscious” (by which I think he meant calculating) or “obsessive”—which he glossed by saying, “But you can make a house full of Pepsi caps in the woods, and no one will see it.”
Left: Actress Lindsay Price. Right: Diane von Furstenberg.
From splashy tableaux throughout the store, the comic-book graphics reminded us that DvF is Pop royalty. Her classic Warhol portrait joins forces with Wonder Woman’s to spread the good Pop news that every woman can unleash her superpowers via the DvF brand. Where Warhol created superstars, DvF inspires Wonder Women. While Pop stardom meant getting your fifteen minutes of fame, the recent “superheroine” track—the stealth message of “Be the Wonder Woman you can be”—is, of course, shopping. DVF’s figure-flattering frocks and chunky, relatively comfortable high heels are indeed female-friendly fashion. With recession looming like the “monstrous . . . merciless . . . jaws of the Leviathan!” closing in on Wonder Woman in a vintage comic, there was an unintended surrealness to this women’s-lib-meets-shopping moment; a vibe as cartoony as Wonder Woman herself.
I chatted up a patient-looking man whose eleven-year-old daughter had “wrangled an invite for herself. She’s all about DvF,” he said, with an indulgent wince.
“Nice wrap dress,” I said to the precocious fashionista.
“It’s Calypso,” she said, scanning for her idol. “Do you think she’s here?”
On cue, just like in the comic, DvF herself appeared right near us, looking handsome, supportive, and chic in a bronze leather peplum jacket over black.
“That’s her!” I told the tot.
“Awesome!” she enthused, then vamped like a pro for a cameraperson who caught her eye.
“Awesome!” said the photographer.
I would be lying if I said the words credit and crunch weren’t informing my safari through the art world as it swarmed into London last week for Frieze. But despite gloomy headlines, and in fine British fashion, London brushed itself off, blew away the clouds, and offered up some glorious autumnal weather.
Bypassing Wednesday’s VIP preview, I draped myself over a piece of overstuffed chintz at Aspinalls in Mayfair while anticipating Lehmann Maupin’s soiree for honored guests artist Teresita Fernández and architect David Adjaye. The “swellegance” of the venue thumbed its gilt nose at budget cuts and plummeting pensions as guests began filtering in, offering their first impressions of the fair.
Grabbing a champagne flute from the first available tray, thirsty consultant Raphael Castoriano confirmed speculation that this year was a bit quieter, then added, “Thank God the fakers are finally gone.” Later, jovial curator Jan Debbaut predicted a “return to family values”–style shift in the art market. With a mischievous glint in his eye, he remarked that his own financial future might best be secured by launching an industry-wide solicitation of bribes to remove people from his memoirs: “Maybe I will be the first person to unwrite a book!”
Former journalist and Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler was one of my dining companions, but, rather ironically, he seemed averse to mixing with the press. Vowing to “say nothing interesting” within my earshot, he was true to his word, seizing the opportunity to talk up Art Basel, perhaps reassuring himself and others that the capitalist world as we know it won’t end before his turn in December. It must be a white-knuckle ride at the moment, being in charge of one of the world’s biggest art fairs.
Call it giddy nihilism or whistling in the dark, but the atmosphere was more buoyant than one might have expected under the circumstances. The magnanimity of our hosts, the beatific Rachel Lehmann and the dapper David Maupin, was very welcome indeed, as was the delectable Italian-style feast. Despite the opulent surroundings, the night had a relaxed, shoes-off, hair-down feel.
Next was a Thursday-night whistle-stop gallery tour as Frieze week ramped up a notch. It seemed every decent restaurant and venue in central London was on reserve for Frieze dinners, Frieze cocktails, and Frieze power brokering.
I headed to art upstart Fitrovia, where its glamorous new tenant Pilar Corrias was hosting her inaugural exhibition by Philippe Parreno. Weary but upbeat, Corrias described the show and the new space as “a labor of love.” Given the location and its share of wow factor, the Rem Koolhaas–designed space no doubt set her back a few gilders.
The Fitzrovia throngs conjoined amorphously in the streets, making it difficult to tell where the Corrias crowd stopped and the Stuart Shave one began. While the Edward Lipski exhibition at the Approach might have been a tad quieter (being tucked around the corner), allegiances seemed to follow the booze—this is England, after all. As those in the street tried to juggle a smoke while drinking two-fisted, David Altmejd’s sculpture in the front window at Modern Art elicited polarized, if drunken, debate. Where one punter called it “arresting and erotic,” another sourly proclaimed it “some of the worst art you’ll see in London.” Ah well, as long as they’re talking . . .
But pick of the evening had to go to Thomas Zipp’s exhibition “White Dada” at Alison Jacques, for its sheer audacity. The show was to Fitzrovia as a mustache is to Mona Lisa. After the relative gentility of the neighboring private views, to enter Alison Jacques was to be confronted with a kind of “riot art” run amok. Zipp and his band, Da Rec, performed a set of their signature anarchic guerrilla “jazz”—an aural assault typical of, say, a concert by Bedlam inmates—under unflattering yellow lighting, making the smoke-filled room more redolent of a methadone clinic than a swish art gallery.
After Da Rec's set, the motley crew boiled over into the road and the unsuspecting Sanderson Hotel, a London hot spot more used to welcoming models in Jimmy Choos than tattooed Germans in filthy white polyester suits. (Paris Hilton herself was said to be crashing there that night, and Keanu Reeves made a brief entrance, too, trailing an increasingly requisite glamourless female companion.) The party, thrown by the aforementioned galleries (but for Corrias, who took her gang bowling), was unprepared for the Teutonic onslaught. After drinking more than one thought humanly possible, artist and band dispersed to wreak havoc in the crowd, until at least one member was tackled by hotel security for “indecent exposure” and physically removed (twice) from the premises. (If this was happening here, one wonders what was going on at the Peres Projects party at Bistrotheque.) I later heard from a reliable source that the real charge was “public fellatio,” but as I was not an eyewitness, I couldn’t possibly comment further. “Germans do love to pull their pants down,” remarked one guest, to which consultant Tracy Ryan quipped, “I’m a black man. I love to pull my pants down, too, but I don’t call it art.”
Left: Kling & Bang's Erling Klingenberg outside his Sirkus project. Right: Gwyneth Paltrow. (All photos: Ryan McNamara)
“If any gallery tells you they’re doing well but their neighbors are doing poorly, don’t listen,” advised one veteran insider the night before the fair. “What it really means is that they’re the ones that are doing poorly.” Ruses, euphemisms, and circumspect sales pitches are the beloved lingo of every fair, even one as hip and unflappable as Frieze. Nobody was willing to rat out their neighbors this round (there’s always Miami), but many dealers admitted that they had arrived in London “expecting the worst”—though by the end of Wednesday, they also claimed that the worst was held at bay.
At the 11 AM VVIP preview, the ranks were thin; speaking to the pervasive market anxiety, many saw this as the first ominous sign of impending doom, while others (perhaps more convincingly) credited Frieze’s notoriously exclusive VIP list. That said, Charles Saatchi, Dasha Zhukova, Dakis Joannou, and Frank Cohen were all spotted pacing the stands, though none I spoke to mentioned any purchases. This being dizzy London, I wasn’t surprised to count as many celebrities as collectors: George Michael, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sienna Miller, Sofia Coppola, Kate Bosworth, and members of Duran Duran all poked about during the early hours of the preview. Coppola, less reticent than most collectors, was even happy to mention a few faves, including Victoria Morton’s paintings at Sadie Coles and Roe Ethridge’s photographs at Andrew Kreps.
The art wasn’t so political, but the people often were; Obama fever ripples through the art world on this side of the Atlantic as well. Paltrow, sporting an Elizabeth Peyton–designed BARACK IS BEAUTIFUL pin, wasn’t shy about her intentions. “They still haven’t sent me my absentee ballot,” sighed the London-based star. “I’m beginning to get suspicious.” Three weeks before the election, Obama pins were the accessory of the moment, with Studio Museum director Thelma Golden and numerous others working their own, too. (If art-world McCainiacs exist, they’ve made themselves scarce.)
The tone of the fair was arguably decided some weeks (or months) earlier, when dealers finalized their inventory lists: few videos, lots of salable prints and paintings, nothing in the way of provocative Art Fair Art declarations. “The days of selling videos for $150,000 are over,” chimed one prominent dealer. (But if Larry Gagosian has anything to say about it, you can still sell a Richard Prince “Nurse” painting for seven million dollars.) With even big-statement stalwart Gavin Brown taking the safe route (qua some admittedly handsome prints by Eduardo Paolozzi and paintings by Jonathan Horowitz and Rob Pruitt, among others), the fair’s playful prestidigitations have largely been relegated to Frieze’s program of commissioned artist projects, a short-circuiting of the Art Fair Art economy that suggests a silent co-opting of the whole enterprise: What is Art Fair Art, after all, if not an affirmation of the artist-dealer partnership?
Left: Artist Cerith Wyn Evans, CCA Wattis director Jens Hoffmann, and dealer Luisa Strina. Right: Collector Frank Cohen.
“I just lost two hours at Sirkus,” enthused a peripatetic Rome-based curator, commenting on Kling & Bang’s faithful re-creation of the defunct Icelandic bar. If fun, the piece was a limited statement at best. (By now, reconstructed bars constitute their own special subset of art.) Bert Rodriguez’s Where You End and I Begin, an amateur foot-massage stand manned by the artist himself, was more penetrating, if still a bit too nice. “I wanted to do the massages out in the open to reflect mall culture, which is all this is, essentially,” Rodriguez said while rubbing my feet. “But because I’m not a professional, I also see myself as something like a helpful friend or a lover after a long day.”
The hands-down coup of this year’s projects was Cory Arcangel’s Golden Ticket. Ingeniously echoing Willy Wonka’s sly selection mechanism, the work, which involved persuading fair organizers to send chocolate bars to each of the galleries whose applications was rejected, takes as its subject the delicate ecology of the fair’s vetting process. One “lucky” gallery, in this case Milanese dealers Studiò di Giovanna Simonetta, was awarded a golden ticket, allowing it a free booth at the fair (if you don’t count costs for shipping and walls); the booth was also specially marked on the map as a “Frieze Project,” making it simultaneously a celebrity and a pariah in the midst of the capitalist jungle. “A lot of journalists have come by,” said director Arianna Di Nuzzo, ambivalent about and a bit fatigued from all the attention. “But it really is a great opportunity, and we’re taking it as such.” If the work evokes Roald Dahl’s classic tale, it also brought to mind Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery”; it’s a double-edged sword that encapsulates the fair’s unique blend of cynicism and whimsy.
By the end of the day, I still hadn’t heard of anyone selling out their booth, though a rumor (later confirmed) had it that “Thomas Dane almost sold out.” “Cautious optimism” seemed to be the viral boilerplate asserted by dealers around the fair. “C’mon—don’t use the Sarah Palin standard,” railed one fired-up New York consultant in the VIP lounge. “You can’t call the fair a success just because the tent hasn’t burned down!” Some took all the nay-saying with a grain of salt. “Everyone’s just being dramatic,” said veteran dealer Daniel Buchholz, rolling his eyes. “This economic mess will all be over by January.” Others found a silver lining amid the gloom and doom. As Marc Foxx’s Rodney Hill noted, “The vibe during installation was just fabulous. The economy is really humbling—it brings everyone together.”
October in the last extant stable society. After the fair, I rushed to a Rockefeller Foundation dinner for the Bellagio Fellowships hosted at the Langham Hotel (a site of Bosie and Oscar Wilde’s famous dalliances). As Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones introduced a series of speakers, affluent guests enjoyed an endless flow of wine and a divine mint sorbet and cake dessert. Service was impeccable in the way that only grand old hotels can manage; as I left, the Landau’s restaurant manager helped me to put on my coat. With the cost of the affair, one hazards that they could have sponsored a whole other fellowship. But that’s not the way of the system—and the system wouldn’t have it any other way. “Art and drugs are the last remaining unregulated markets in capitalism,” artist Pavel Büchler later opined. “Those economies will survive just fine.” For better or worse, the frills, the VIP pandering, the stuffy dinners, and the contrived and overcrowded parties aren’t going anywhere—and neither is the art.
Left: Vilma Gold's Laura Lord and Rachel Williams. Right: Sofia Coppola.
Left: Dealer Barbara Gladstone. Right: Dealers Almine Rech and Larry Gagosian. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)
Last week, while bankers worldwide were tearing out their hair over falling financial markets, people in the art world, at least in Europe, kept up a burble of nervous cheer. “Everyone here is so happy,” Almine Rech noted during a brief tête-à-tête with Larry Gagosian, one of 140 guests at dinner in her nineteenth-century manse in Brussels last Saturday night. The occasion for the celebration was “White Earth,” the Anselm Reyle show that the Parisian dealer presented in the Belgian capital, where Barbara Gladstone was also debuting a new base the following night.
“Art brings people together,” replied the affable Gagosian, whose galleries in New York, Rome, London, Los Angeles, and now Moscow make him something of an expert. We took a moment to observe the brace of boozing bourgeoisie from Paris and Berlin who were standing in the living room before artworks by Damien Hirst, Ellsworth Kelly, Reyle, and Rech’s grandfather-in-law Pablo Picasso.
Rech’s husband, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, entertained a few of their expensively clothed collector friends from Ghent, like Bernard Soens and Mimi Dussolier, while Gladstone held down another corner with New York collector Jane Holzer and curator Francesco Bonami. Now working with thirty assistants, rather than the paltry five he needed just a few years ago, Reyle exulted in the big, shiny assemblages he had concocted for the cast-detritus installation, hoisted into several artfully deconstructed rooms above an old parking garage that will soon give way to a new building housing the gallery. The show, Rech said, made her presence in Brussels official.
Left: ICA London director Mark Sladen with Massimo de Carlo's Ludovica Barbieri. Right: Curator Francesco Bonami.
Along with galleries, more artists are moving there, too—at least according to Kunsthalle Zurich director Beatrix Ruf, who was sharing a smoke with the buoyantly entitled young American artist Jordan Wolfson. “It’s true,” said Kris Martin, the Belgian artist from Ghent who was my dinner companion that evening, along with Flemish architect Xavier Donck and Copenhagen dealer Claus Andersen. Brussels apparently offers even bigger spaces and cheaper rents than Berlin. Its central location, the reason it became headquarters for the European Union, also makes it easy for collectors to stop in.
All of this factored into Gladstone’s decision to rent the beautiful town house where Bonami organized her park-side gallery’s debut show, “No Information Available,” a play on Kynaston McShine’s defining 1970 Museum of Modern Art show on Conceptual art. Bonami chose an unusual mix of European and American artists, including Rosemarie Trockel, Isa Genzken, Franz West, Mitzi Pederson, Bojan Sarcevic, and Wolfson.
“This is all an experiment,” Gladstone said. “We don't know how it’s going to work out.” She may have been reacting to stock-market jitters, though no one in Brussels seemed overly concerned. “Now all those people who bought all that art might actually have to look at it,” commented Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, admiring two 1991 paintings by Genzken, made from studio-floor rubbings. “A young artist today could make a whole career out of that,” Bonami commented.
“It’s amazing that all these artists traveled all this way to be here tonight,” Gladstone said during her very grand dinner for 170 in the chandeliered marble pile Palais d'Egmont, a short walk through Parc d'Egmont, behind the gallery. She was speaking not just of those included in the show but of many others whose respect she has won over the years, artists like Thomas Hirschhorn, Cameron Jamie, Pierre Bismuth, Damián Ortega, and Andro Wekua (who came with his equally stunning girlfriend, photographer Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili). Other tables accommodated Dussolier, wearing (apparently at Gladstone’s request) the same fabulous Dries van Noten necklace of antique bangles and rings she had the night before, consultant Allan Schwartzman, MAC (Hornu) director Laurent Busine, and Willem de Kooning Foundation director Amy Schichtel.
The rest of us felt like extras on a movie set, especially walking through a klieg-lighted courtyard, famous for executions performed there in centuries past, to the afterparty at Bar Rouge, every cerise inch of which lived up to its name.
In London, afterparties were the mainstays of every evening leading up to the opening of this year’s Frieze Art Fair; in this case, the word party could mean a few blokes sitting around a pub, a seated dinner, or a big drinks-and-dance blowout.
Monday night for me began with Michael Landy’s opening at Thomas Dane, where forty-five penciled portraits of the artist’s friends filled the walls. Many—like dealer Maureen Paley, artists Gary Hume and Rebecca Warren, and Landy’s former teacher, Michael Craig-Martin—even made it to see the show. Also on hand, paging through Landy’s new book, Everything Must Go, was artist Glenn Ligon, with designer Duro Olowu (Studio Museum director Thelma Golden’s other half) and singer Nell Campbell, onetime queen of New York nightlife.
I don’t know how many people came to Tate Modern for a first look at Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s huge Styrofoam reproductions of sculptures by Alexander Calder and Louise Bourgeois in the Turbine Hall, but what looked like a thousand were upstairs stepping gingerly through Cildo Meireles’s retrospective, which included a standout installation of all kinds of barriers, hard and soft (fences, curtains, screens), on cracking green glass tiles made for stomping. On the other side of the Thames, the ICA attracted a much younger and more Italian crowd to Roberto Cuoghi’s London debut, “Suillakku,” a surround-sound installation that apparently translated his thoughts into ancient Assyrian music played by instruments of his own creation. With speakers positioned around galleries and gray foam rectangles on the walls, it looked a lot simpler than it was.
Massimo De Carlo hosted a dinner for Cuoghi at the subway-tiled Automat in Mayfair, after which I ran like the wind to Great Eastern Bar to try and catch the afterparty for Elmgreen & Dragset’s re-creation of a much wilder afterparty at Victoria Miro, but as is often the case while negotiating an art world that has set itself up in fiefdoms very distant from one another, I was, alas, too late.
Left: Curator Alexandre Melo with artist Cildo Meireles. Right: Art: Concept's Olivier Antoine.
By the next day, I had joined the ranks of those determined to be first at everything. I bailed early from the way-overcrowded Frieze Welcome Party to catch Catherine Opie’s latest photographs at Stephen Friedman and Julian Opie’s new painted and LED-lighted figures at Lisson. Then it was time to head to Soho for the party Jay Jopling was throwing—for whom, I wasn’t sure—though it seemed every pretty young thing in town had shown up for what I will dare to call the party of the week, even though the fair hadn’t started yet.
It was held in a building opposite the Groucho Club that is currently being converted into expensive apartments. Rented just for the party, it reminded me of Area, the ’80s Tribeca club that depended on changing environments and live performances to spice it up. This one was elegantly outfitted in half-constructed walls, exposed wiring, plywood floors, fresh graffiti, bare ceiling bulbs in yellow cages, and tables made out of heating grates set on cinder blocks.
In many ways, it recalled a palace like the Egmont in Brussels—only with more bohemian splendor. In the downstairs bar, rows of candelabras were set on long tables for dinner. Upstairs, where the dance music was loudest, partygoers such as Stella McCartney, artists Sam Taylor-Wood and Jim Lambie, dealer Paul Kasmin, and a tranny curator named Arakis from the Basque Country wandered through the rooms making new friends and getting “shandy-boozed,” as performance artist Caron Geary so well put it. I heard one man tell two women, “Yes, I’m married—but I’m also single.”
Left: Art consultant Allan Schwartzman with Gladstone director Max Falkenstein. Right: Critic Jerry Saltz with dealer Stephen Friedman.
A couple of the bedrooms had funky old velvet armchairs and beds made with expensive linens. Beyeler Foundation director Samuel Keller climbed between the sheets with first one, then two, then four women. “I’m in bed with four lesbians and every guy here is looking at me with envy,” he said. “What’s wrong?”
The perfect way to start a convention, if you ask me.
Chelsea always slows down a bit in October. Still, streets felt emptier than expected last Friday night. Those who showed up for openings fell into two camps: Team Envy and Team Schadenfreude. The former decided that the affluent crowds had taken Columbus Day weekend as a last call for second-home visits before winter’s arrival. The latter concluded that Hamptonites squeezing in one more trip were motivated not by Jack Frost, but by foreclosure jitters. A more likely reason for the quiet, of course, was that people had decamped early for Europe and the Frieze Art Fair.
Either way, given the giant question mark hanging over the market, each gallery corralled a sizable herd, even if overflow into the street lacked its usual volume. Yvon Lambert had cleared out its September show—Andres Serrano’s feces—to make room for dead horses. Berlinde de Bruyckere’s restrained, morbid forms were given “ample room to breathe,” according to director Cornelia Tischmacher, in “contrast to the horror vacui of Serrano’s show.” Noting that de Bruyckere’s exhibition would be up through Election Day, Tischmacher said, “I still remember the show that was up after President Bush was reelected . . . and the weird hush that ensued that day in Chelsea.”
After pit stops at Casey Kaplan, for exhibitions by Annika von Hausswolff and Garth Weiser, and Donald Moffett’s show at Marianne Boesky, I made my way to Fredericks & Freiser, where Zak Smith’s new exhibition drew a crowd that was as mohawked and fishnet-clad as his illustrated subjects. Discussing the installation of Smith’s drawings at an upcoming museum show, dealer Andy Freiser said that there was one installation requirement: “The piece has to be screwed into the wall.” Why? “Zak’s art has a history of being stolen. Let’s just say he has a younger clientele.”
Left: Artist Zak Smith (on right). Right: Artist Berlinde de Bruyckere.
“The evening’s about appearance and disappearance,” a magician gnomically uttered at Philippe Parreno’s opening two blocks away at Friedrich Petzel. The illusionist was happy to demonstrate, blipping a pom-pom out of existence and into my hands—much to the delight of a young Cuatro Villareal (son of Yvonne Force and Leo). In the adjacent gallery, Sean Landers’s face played on multiple monitors, singing and blathering in a confessional wall of sound. But the hit of the evening was decidedly Anton Kern’s show by Matthew Monahan, whose biomorphic forms sandwiched between Plexiglas plates found a sensitive but unprecious way to scorn gravity.
Kern’s cozy dinner for Monahan was held at Malatesta Trattoria, where Guggenheim patrons Gil and Doreen Bassin broke bread with LA collector Shirley Morales and Bridget Finn, Anton Kern’s archivist and one of the four young masterminds behind the up-and-coming Cleopatra's project space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Meanwhile, dealer Stuart Shave, in town from London, lamented installation complications bedeviling his upcoming David Altmejd show. When one of the larger sculptures arrived, the gallery was forced to saw down a wall to fit it into the gallery. (The kicker being that they’ll have to repeat the process during deinstallation.)
While some feel that the financial crisis will benefit younger artists, as everyone downshifts to a level of collecting they can afford, Bassin thought otherwise: “The established artists will be fine, because competitive collecting won’t go away. We’re more concerned about emerging artists.” But thoughts of doom were diverted as Kern toasted the Monahans, who had flown in from LA, bringing also Matthew and Lara Schnitger’s young daughter, who was apparently “throwing rocks” during the installation. “She was trying to create a rock garden,” explained Monahan.
Later, at subterranean haven Beatrice Inn, Friedrich Petzel’s afterparty brought together dealers Andrea Rosen and Andrew Kreps, architects Steven Holl and Michael Mack, Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer and 303 Gallery’s Barbara Corti, and curators Cay Sophie Rabinowitz and Christian Rattemeyer, among others. When leaving, I almost lingered to see whether Beatrice would let in a girl on crutches. (Does pity trump inscrutable exclusivity?) But in this world of divisions, labels, and barriers, one guy got it right: Earlier in the evening, when I’d asked Monahan whether his daughter’s pebble sculptures meant she was an aspiring artist, he shook his head. “She’s an aspiring human being,” he said. Point taken.
Unquestionably one of the more unfortunate fashion innovations of the past year was New Balance’s “Joy Division” sneaker, designed by artist Dylan Adair and supposedly still awaiting commercial release. Initial reports of the shoe, which borrows from the cover of the band’s classic debut album, Unknown Pleasures, met with widespread disapproval from fans—though perhaps more for the bizarre equation of soul-searching postpunk with a pleasant jog around the park than for its appropriation of Peter Saville’s instantly recognizable graphic. Last Thursday evening, Saville again found himself metaphorically stumbling down the catwalk, as Burberry’s uptown store and Men’s Vogue hosted the launch of his new book, Estate (which could also be considered the belated catalogue for a 2005 exhibition of ephemera and reference material at Zurich’s Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst).
This isn’t quite as incongruous as it might seem—Burberry’s current ad campaign features Sam Riley, star of Anton Corbijn’s recent Ian Curtis biopic, Control, and the brand is obviously keen to exploit this association to the hilt, however far off the mark it might seem. So not only was the store’s menswear department hung with blowups of a trench-coat-wearing Riley, it had also made space for a leering Paul Sevigny to spin some new-wave hits and invited a clutch of the volume’s essayists round for champagne and sliders. Of these, only Liam Gillick and Sarah Morris were in immediate evidence, though also on hand were dealer Casey Kaplan, curator Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, DAP’s Alex Galan, and, uh, actor Alan Cumming. Saville himself, who showed up lateish and clung to girlfriend Anna Blessmann, wore a slightly long-suffering look but posed politely.
“Oh, don’t mention that!” Saville’s response to an allusion to the Burberry event by curator and fanboy Matthew Higgs, interviewing him at a packed White Columns the following evening, was one of eye-rolling embarrassment. His arrival delayed again by traffic, Saville launched immediately into the chat in the manner of a hip twelfth-grade English teacher, his straggly black mop and likably hangdog features gelling nicely with the practiced conversational provocations: “Is it true that I never listened to the records I made covers for? Well, some of ’em it was better not to”; “‘Do something’ was as much of a brief as I ever got”; “My mother is still waiting for me to become successful.”
Left: Anna Blessmann, Visionaire's Cecilia Dean, and DAP vice president Alexander Galan. Right: Actor Alan Cumming.
Reflecting on a career characterized by a highly ambivalent relationship to his field—“I was intelligent enough to realize what design was, and intelligent enough to avoid it for as long as possible”—Saville presented a picture of a man still struggling to define his creativity. Describing his 2003 retrospective at the Design Museum in London as being based on “work that didn’t have to meet the approval of others,” he nonetheless balked at Higgs’s suggestion that this might just make him . . . an artist. Even shows at Manchester City Art Gallery and White Columns failed to prompt him to abandon his “professional” practice entirely, whatever its frustrations. Saville’s internal conflict was clearly genuine, but here his overstated reverence for art soon began to seem uncomfortably close to an excuse.
Admitting to losing his way entirely during a stint in LA during the early 1990s, Saville remembered that on the day of the big earthquake in ’94, he was close to penniless. “I had three dollars. It’s very weird being in the US with three dollars. Then back in London, I was very depressed for a while.” The honesty of the statement was affecting; for good or ill, the demise of Factory Records cast a longer shadow over this man than most. A “middle-aged guy who buys CDs of records he loved when he was in his twenties,” Saville verged on the curmudgeonly, but his enthusiasm for new projects appeared undimmed. Still, I struggled not to call bullshit his current gigs, including communications consultant for Daria Zhukova’s Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow, “creative director for the City of Manchester,” and designer of flat-pack museum plinths for amateur use. Suddenly, those New Balance kicks didn’t seem like such an aberration.
Left: Choreographer Sally Silvers. Right: Phill Niblock. (All photos: David Velasco)
“I don’t know what 95 percent of you are doing,” admitted Katherine Liberovskaya, the Montreal-based video artist and organizer—sort of—of the forty-four poets, musicians, and filmmakers gathered to pay homage to the composer Phill Niblock on his seventy-fifth birthday. The slate of participants alone ensured a good turnout on a rainy Wednesday night at Anthology Film Archives, but if the evening’s master of ceremonies was befuddled, what hope did we, the audience, have? “This whole evening was kind of haphazard,” Liberovskaya said, laughing—the cost, evidently, of organizing on the down-low in an effort to hide an otherwise public event from said event’s honoree. (Impressively enough, Niblock only figured it out a week before, when he accidentally glimpsed a press release.)
Who better to ring in the coming financial apocalypse with than a crowd of artists who’ve survived Manhattan’s routine depredations for the better part of fifty years? Niblock, the man of the moment, arrived in SoHo roughly half a century ago, falling in with a demimonde that included filmmaker and choreographer Elaine Summers; together, the two founded the interdisciplinary arts space Experimental Intermedia, Niblock’s home base—and frequent literal home, at 224 Centre Street—for the past forty years. Niblock’s reputation is as a composer (“Phill is very involved with music,” an eighty-three-year-old Summers said wryly. “He wants to be sure you hear it”), and his process-based métier—minimalist, single tones, recorded discreetly and then layered gradually over time—gave the celebration its template.
Left: Choreographer and filmmaker Elaine Summers. Right: Musicians David Watson and Matt Welch.
“This piece is based on seventy-five e-mails Phill sent me last year,” noted the critic and curator Jozef Cseres, encapsulating the overall “tribute” approach, itself a blend of numerology, superstition, word games, blurry video footage, squawking feedback, and frequent audience incursions. “What kind of name is Niblock, anyway?” asked guitarist Alan Licht, performing via a cell phone held up to a mike by Anthology’s archivist, Andrew Lampert, who then staged a mock meltdown in response to Licht’s supposed absence. In fact, the ubiquitous Licht was in the lobby downstairs; surprisingly, this performance was one of two involving phone calls—the other featured the choreographer Sally Gross thanking Niblock for use of his 401(c)3 status on innumerable grant applications. New York–based composer Michaal J. Schumacher, for his part, went for outright satire: a slow-building series of microtonal, discrete sound samples of Schumacher chanting “Phill.” He encouraged the audience to sing along.
What it all added up to was a giant, benevolent in-joke, a laid-back recap of a lot of years in the trenches in an arts scene willfully ignorant of both booms—say, the real estate surge of the past two decades, which has presumably made the Centre Street loft space in which Niblock and his friends still perform the envy of brokers everywhere—and (oncoming) busts. “Back then, Phill wasn’t as dapper as he is now,” quipped the chorale composer Mary Jane Leach. “He used to wear a blue denim shirt, battered corduroys, and boots, all the time”— a fairly exact description, give or take a bolo tie and jeans, of what Niblock appeared to be wearing that very evening. The avalanche of work commissioned specifically for the event eventually coalesced into a portrait of the artist as a working man: Phill in cargo shorts, swatting flies and slicing salami (Peter Shapiro’s video Phlies), Phill looking serious, wielding a mouse, computer screen reflecting on his glasses (Alexandra Dementieva’s Phill and the Red Mouse), Phill fumblingly putting batteries into a microphone (Liberovskaya’s Movements of Phill Niblock Working), Phill counting stripes on a woman’s dress (Irina Danilova’s Phill Counting Stripes on Liberovskaya’s Dress), and so on. A person could be forgiven for assuming we’d wandered into a wake or a retirement party, not a celebration of a still-producing artist. Until, that is, the nostalgic, overstuffed, four-hour evening came to a close, leaving Niblock just enough time to set the record straight: “Thank you for coming. I think that’s enough.”
Left: Poet Chris Mann. Right: Musicians Okkyung Lee and Alan Licht.
In Israel especially, politics are never far from one’s mind. The day before I arrived in Tel Aviv for the first edition of the citywide art exhibition Art TLV, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned in the face of corruption charges. He punctuated his exit with a radical message, characterizing the aggressive Israeli defense strategy as shortsighted and arguing that a withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem was the only way to peace. “The time has come to say these things,” he said in an interview for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. “We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself.”
That first evening, the Monday before last, at a dinner party hosted by Rivka Saker—managing director of Sotheby’s Israel and founder of the nonprofit Artis, organizer of Art TLV—I heard a riveting talk by Ron Pundak, who briefly recounted the history of Israel and his inspiring activities as head of the Peres Center for Peace. “We all want peace,” he said. “It is the leaders who need to come around to the idea that a strong neighbor is beneficial for everyone.” The terrace, where dinner was served to mostly American guests, featured a stunning panoramic view of the city lights. Curators Bill Arning, Peter Eleey, Shamim Momin, and Manon Slome; Contemporary Jewish Museum director Connie Wolf; and Milanese dealer Francesca Kaufmann were in attendance, as was Ethan Bronner, the New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief.
Left: Artist Anish Kapoor, Susan Kapoor, and dealer Irit Sommer. Right: Mayor Ron Holdai and Eyal de Leeuw.
In addition to Tel Aviv’s recent designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (for its profusion of decaying Bauhaus architecture), next year the city will celebrate its centennial; roughly set to coincide with these events, this fledgling international contemporary-art exhibition is slated to become a biennial linked to the fall biennials in Athens and Istanbul. Curated by Andrew Renton, the main exhibition at the Helena Rubenstein Pavilion, titled “Open Plan Living,” was a statement on modern life featuring an impressive roster of international artists. As we arrived, I spotted the casually dressed mayor, Ron Huldai, rushing out the door. “You’re the mayor!” I said, to which he replied, “At least this week!” Ulrich Strothjohann’s corridor-shaped box, featuring a mirror on which had been scrawled SICK OF GOOD BUYS, cleverly punned on the 1978 photo by Robert Frank. Kathy Temin’s giant dollhouse, My House, was a self-portrait replete with a pink room dedicated to Kylie Minogue surrounded by furry, fantastic Dr. Seuss trees. Rosemarie Trockel and Thea Djordjadze’s dummy Limitation of Life depicted the cumulative effects of our lifestyle. Afterward, there was a party in the adjacent Yaacob garden with Jennifer West’s psychedelic Rainbow Party projected on the pavilion’s exterior wall.
The next day, I set off for the inauguration of Mekomon, an open-air events space set in a gutted apartment building on Rothschild Boulevard, an area flush with modernist buildings in the midst of gentrification. After the official proceedings, I took a walk down the leafy avenue with Eyal de Leeuw, former Israeli cultural attaché to the Netherlands; he told me he had just returned to Israel to find the country full of excitement after the difficult period during the 2006 war with Lebanon: “There is an electricity in the air now.” He explained that the only thing to do after a bomb goes off is to clean up—and party: “They call Tel Aviv the bubble between Gaza and Jerusalem. But it is a small country, so everything that happens affects everyone.”
Left: Connie Wolf, director of the Contemporary Jewish Museum; Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, director and chief curator of the Aspen Art Museum; and curator Dalia Levine. Right: Artist Kathy Temin.
A whirlwind tour of Jerusalem’s Old City followed: We visited the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Shrine of the Book (which hosts the Dead Sea Scrolls, contained in a spaceshiplike capsule that can descend into a vault in the event of an attack). At noon, we were bombarded by a cacophony of church bells and calls to prayer emanating from the loudspeakers of the muezzin. Finally, at the Israel Museum, we took refuge in the nondenominational spiritual respite of James Turrell’s sky room.
That evening, the Jerusalem Foundation’s Art Focus opened “Can Art Do More?,” an exhibition on the periphery of the city at the Banit Center. A headache-inducing sound piece greeted us as we entered the enormous open space, but the rest of the exhibition was a wondrous display of nicely paced installations. Some of us were mesmerized by Nira Pereg’s video Sabbath, a simple statement on the irony of divisions in the service of religion featuring a repetitive slapstick rendition of Orthodox men and boys dragging barriers across streets to block off their neighborhood on the eve of Shabbat. The opposite side of the space featured another darkly humorous take on walls and divisions: Rona Yefman’s Pippi Longstocking, the Strongest Girl in the World, at Abu Dis, in which a dolled-up Pippi with red braids sticking straight out tries fruitlessly to move aside a panel of the wall with her bare hands, while sympathetic Palestinian passersby attempt either to help or to advise her. Another big hit was Joe Scanlan’s DIY Dead on Arrival (Ann Lee), a do-it-yourself casket and two flower stands assembled from IKEA components.
Not unsurprisingly, borders, divisions, and barriers were the thematic underpinning to nearly every one of the exhibitions I visited. These tropes were particularly salient in “Panoramic Landscapes,” at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. There, Ron Amir’s series of photographs Jisr-Caesarea depicted a barrier erected by residents of a wealthy town at its boundary with the adjacent poor Arab village. In the courtyard was Santiago Sierra’s Arrangement of Twelve Prefabricated Parapets, a simple cement installation that demonstrates the impossibility of dividing territory.
At street level, one could sense a feeling of optimism, with talk of the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, becoming the second female prime minister of Israel (after Golda Meir). On Thursday in Tel Aviv, Paul McCartney performed his first concert in Israel. When he started to sing “Give Peace a Chance,” the crowd of forty thousand cheered and joined in. That evening, as we toured the art interventions in Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighborhood built outside of Jaffa, Beatles songs emanated from people’s homes. In a kindergarten classroom, artist Elyasaf Kowner played guitar and sang in front of his video projection Facing the Wishes, in which children’s faces were juxtaposed with their spoken desires, such as “That there would be no more wars,” “That everyone would be satisfied from what they have,” and “That all the family would be healthy and have livelihood and that’s it.”
If anachronistic, there was also something comforting about the retro-counterculture vibe. On Friday evening at sunset, I wandered down to the Mediterranean seafront and followed drumbeats to the abandoned Dolphinarium disco, site of the 2001 suicide bombing that killed twenty-one people. As I stood watching the drummers and free-form dancers, a young man named Judah turned and handed me a joint. That, combined with the sound of sea spray washing off the rocks, brought a sense of universal calm.
Left: Artist Elyasaf Kowner. Right: Curator Manon Slome, Artis founder Rivka Saker, curator Ellen Ginton, and artist Itzhak Livneh.
Left: Turner Prize curators Carolyn Kerr, Sophie O'Brien, and Helen Little. Right: Tate Britain director Stephen Deuchar. (Except where noted, all photos: Gareth Harris)
Perched on a table bearing mountains of crisps and orange-stuffed olives (the foulest canapé ever consumed at a private view), artist Fiona Banner delivered her verdict on this year’s Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain: “This is the new, improved, unembarrassing Turner Prize. Every artist gets their own space, and there’s a real discussion going on between the four selected.” She wasn’t the only former nominee at Monday’s opening ruminating over this year’s intelligent selection of work by Runa Islam, Cathy Wilkes, Goshka Macuga, and Mark Leckey (the odd man out on the woman-friendly short list). Cornelia Parker and Mike Nelson were spotted sizing up Wilkes’s provocative installation I give you all my money alongside past prizewinners Jeremy Deller and Mark Wallinger.
The towering 1994 victor, Antony Gormley, stood out in the gallery devoted to Leckey. Transfixed by the artist’s 2004 film Made in Eaven, Gormley underlined the “sophistication of the references to Brancusi and Duchamp” in Leckey’s quirky slide projections and models. “This is a reflection of art in our time because it’s all become surface,” Gormley explained. “You have to find a new way of looking to discover depth,” he helpfully added.
Upstairs, among the crowds gathered in the Duveen Galleries, it felt a little like Six Degrees of Mark Leckey. First, actor Toby Jones, star of the recent Capote biopic, gave Macuga’s work a thumbs-up, diplomatically disclosing that he was a “good friend of Leckey’s.” Journalist Laura K. Jones then sauntered past and revealed that she had once dated the hirsute art star. “He always had a strange take on things,” she said. “Strange in a good way.” New York dealer Gavin Brown walked in soon after, declaring that the “boy Leckey done good.” (Brown’s an obvious champion, as he represents the Birkenhead-born artist.)
Leckey appeared at Brown’s side and joked that he’d had a “piss-poor reaction” from guests to his work, but his fellow nominees were less reticent. When asked whether any rivalry had sprung up between the short-listed artists, Islam playfully said that she’d be happy to indulge in a cake-throwing fight with Leckey.
Opinion on the floor was wildly divided over the work on view. Most people I spoke with lauded Macuga’s stark glass and steel sculptures, which reference the German modernist designer Lilly Reich, and Leckey’s Cinema-in-the-Round, a film of a lecture-performance by the artist. But Islam’s three films (especially Be the First to See What You See as You See It, which shows a woman smashing porcelain pieces) and Wilkes’s chaotic assemblage of mannequins, cash tills, and dirty bowls also stay in the mind.
Later in the evening, the effervescent trio of Turner Prize curators—Carolyn Kerr, Sophie O’Brien, and Helen Little—walked past, each sporting immaculate black outfits and the same lipstick. (A Tate uniform, perhaps?) Over their shoulders, I spotted dealers Maureen Paley and Kate MacGarry, along with Turner Prize judge David Adjaye. “The prize is a serious exploration of art today,” he said. “It’s not a quick candy fix.” The high-profile architect is plowing ahead with plans to build a home in San Antonio for the contemporary art collection of the late philanthropist Linda Pace. Adjaye also revealed he has another major new museum project lined up but declined to spill the beans. (It’s not in Europe, I gathered.)
Nelson appeared again and revealed that the Tate had bought his piece The Coral Reef, which will go on view as part of the Tate Triennial next February. The artist pointed out that he’s due to spend many hours at the gallery installing the complex, warrenlike work. The evening ended with gay porn star–cum-novelist Aiden Shaw telling me of his plans to complete a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of East Anglia, an artistic marathon if ever there was one.