“THIS IS A GOOD PLACE TO DRINK BEER.” “Yeah, they already trashed the place.” As the overheard exchange suggests, the Lower East Side digs of online enterprise e-flux are among the least fussed over in the city. So, already gussied up in “cocktail attire” for MoMA’s annual Party in the Garden, I felt a little overdressed for the Tuesday-evening opening of Raster Noton’s “The Shop.” But since the intimate space was already full to capacity (about sixty souls) when I arrived at a minute past the event’s advertised 7 PM start, fading into the background seemed likely to prove impossible. Trusting the crowd to be more decorous drinkers than their conversation might imply, I squeezed into the former laundry and edged my way toward the back. There, an active sound system suggested the presence of Carsten Nicolai and Olaf Bender, founders of the German record label and scheduled special performers.
Given Raster Noton’s reputation for pushing electronica of the most rigorous and antispectacular variety, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover a pair of sleek laptops “performing” entirely without human intervention. “I love noise!” enthused a neighbor, but the unmanned machines’ output was hardly the blaring mess that the word ordinarily denotes. Pursuing “minimal, modular, and concrete approaches to the structure of sound,” Nicolai and Bender’s plugged-in stand-ins produced something measured and often rather subtle, even hushed. At one point, I worried that my cell phone was producing interference, but the unsettling crackle emanating from the closest speaker proved to be all part of the minimal plan. Only later did the programmers themselves step up, intensifying the music to a more club-friendly pulse. Downstairs, the cold flicker of a sound-responsive neon tube illuminated an archive of tastefully designed CDs and publications—the “Shop” of the installation’s title. Naturally, none of it was for sale.
Left: Artist Lisa Kirk and Invisible-Exports's Benjamin Tischer. Right: Performer Susan London.
At a “Sunset Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony” marking the launch of Lisa Kirk’s maison des cartes at the Brooklyn Navy Yard the following evening, almost everything had its price. Following a convoluted set of directions—and a trail of yellow balloons—my companion and I eventually found our way to a modest shack seemingly grafted onto the side of one of the Yard's array of crumbling warehouses. A reworking of the artist’s “House of Cards” project, the humble abode (assembled from fifty-two salvaged components) was being hawked as a “timeshare of the future,” with investors promised the dubious pleasure of spending a week sleeping in an improvised hammock and showering in rainwater in exchange for their hard-earned. “Noel bought the tub, the shower, and a weekend in July,” announced Susan London, Kirk’s on-site “sales specialist,” fielding inquiries from behind a folding table set up on the property’s bare, rubble-strewn “athletic field.” “There are a few weeks left, though,” London continued, brightly, “and we offer an interest-free installment plan for easy payment. Would you like a tour?”
Among the prospective residents who had gathered among the Yard’s rusting pickup trucks and disused hangars for a walk-through were Risa Needleman and Benjamin Tischer of Invisible-Exports (the gallery that played host to the original house) and artists Elizabeth Neel and Uri Aran. Most seemed captivated by the improvised lair that, according to an accompanying portfolio, came complete with “clubhouse” (a stark arrangement of breeze blocks), “beach” (where the rubble met the river), and a prime location in an up-and-coming hood. Given the state of the economy, the idea of a move began to seem almost reasonable—it’s a renter’s market, after all. As the golden evening light began to fade, Kirk and her team gathered at the maison’s front door for a celebratory toast. And though the impact of a miniature bottle of champagne caused the building to wobble alarmingly, its future—or at least its next twelve months—felt secure.
PERHAPS BECAUSE DANIEL BIRNBAUM’S VENICE looms just around the corner, the pithy first sentence (borrowed from Borges) of his Chronology tended to linger over a weekend of openings in Shanghai: “I tend to return—eternally—to the Eternal Return.” For a chastened but ever-secure Chinese art scene in late spring, an opening of new (if somehow already familiar) work by Yang Fudong at Zendai MoMA seemed like a pretty good excuse for a get-together. The Post-Sense Sensibility gang flew down from Beijing; recent graduates and young faculty of Yang’s alma mater, the China Academy of Art, trained it in from Hangzhou; a few stragglers who had stuck around Hong Kong postfair, myself included, flocked north from the Pearl River Delta to the Yangtze River Delta. There was nothing new about any of these movements or any of the interactions that ensued, and that was precisely the point.
The rounds began on Saturday evening with the opening of “Blackboard” at ShanghART. Hangzhou artist Chen Xiaoyun (whose career has mirrored Yang’s in odd ways, from their shared off-campus student digs in Hangzhou to the locations of their New York galleries, Christian Haye’s The Project and Marian Goodman, on opposite sides of Fifty-seventh Street) had organized one of those heartening attempts at all-together-now solidarity that would be laughed out of London but still works in Shanghai, distributing identical blackboards to a slate of thirty-odd artists along with a ¥300 materials fee. The concept may have been juvenile, but for longtime followers of the Post-Sense generation (which of course also includes Yang), this year celebrating a decade since their original basement show, it was a chance to see the old crowd and its newer acolytes at their best and worst selves.
Chen Wenbo, who strayed from meaty installations to airbrushed paintings of CDs and car keys sometime after Hu Jintao came to power, carved on his the phrase YI DAN SHENGYI (“strictly business,” roughly) in gold-foil traditional characters, and curator Fu Xiaodong hung it high above an arch like a plaque wishing prosperity to some kitschy Chinatown restaurant. Liu Wei predictably cut from his a maquette cluster that looked more or less like his dog-chew cities, having first packed it between layers of foam in a wooden crate. Chu Yun, feeling conceptual, threw his away and bought a slightly smaller one to replace it. And Qiu Zhijie, ever the pedagogue, let his be used for a week at a time by two markets, a sports school, and a police station, posting photos of the resulting accidental manifestos on the reclaimed board, along with a written explanation for anyone unable to figure out the already didactic display. Perhaps it was Lu Chunsheng’s that best set the stage for the next day’s events with a single, mistily chalked sentence: “Why is it that every kid who’s just started studying art feels like nothing is quite real?”
I got through quarantine and to the hotel by midnight and shuffled to meet the regular crowd at an all-night snack and beer joint on a street of stinky tofu. The Hangzhou kids had gone elsewhere, leaving Lu Jie and Shi Yong to comb beer suds from Conceptualist godfather Wu Shanzhuan’s beard as the bumbling master argued for the umpteenth time why the academy in Hangzhou (alma mater of most everyone in the room) was the best in China. Local strongman Xu Zhen, who always pays, just laughed and gave his standard I-never-went-to-a-real-art-school retort. I left shortly after arriving, passing a toqued chef lounging on a motorbike, playing with his girlfriend’s hair, and otherwise looking like he’d stepped out of a Yang Fudong film.
The following afternoon, I hopped a cab out to Big Thumb Plaza in deepest Pudong, where the Zendai MoMA sits on the second floor of a strip mall, nestled between a Papa John’s and a Catholic church. (Banker expats call the area “Pu-Jersey.”) Inside the galleries, these surroundings faded as viewers bore witness to a show that instantly announced itself as Significant. Nine screens showed short, arrestingly beautiful black-and-white films of two or three minutes each, exactly as we have come to expect from their maker: an inexplicable fight scene in a colonial mansion; a man leading a woman to a tryst in a sunflower patch; a vintage car hurriedly unloaded.
But Yang Fudong had taken his recital of Yang Fudong–ness a step further, stringing together the nine or ten takes that went into each of these scenes, so that what looked like a loop was in reality a sequence of all-but-identical variations. And then of course it was also still a loop. Split among the nine projections, there were 180 minutes of footage—more than enough for the feature film everyone has been urging him to make all these years. Curators Yuko Hasegawa and Zhang Yaxuan were heard at the conference earlier that day waxing over the power of nine 35-mm projectors clicking away simultaneously, but to corrupt the title of one of the manifesto essays of the Post-Sense Sensibility generation, “the important thing was not the scene.” This was about something else—time creatively subverted, style hardened into routine, then sublimated into sensibility.
Left: Critic Wang Nanming (left) and artist Zhou Tiehai (right). Right: Pace Beijing's Charlie Spalding and Boers-Li Gallery's Waling Boers.
Downstairs on the terrace overlooking the strip mall, speeches were made, babies were coddled, awkward conversations were averted with the eternal and, for once, irrefutable excuse, “I just want to have a look at the show first.” The inside crowd grabbed their catalogues and meal tickets, headed first to the museum owner’s clubhouse for a buffet, then to a rooftop in the French Concession for a drink, then back to the same snack street they’d visited the night before. As it was a few years ago, is now, and probably will be for some time to come.
JUST A WEEK BEFORE THE OPENING of ART HK 09, hundreds of international travelers were quarantined at the Wanchai Metropark Hotel—a stone’s throw from the Convention Center hosting the fair—and most passengers landing at HKG were having their temperatures screened by hazmat-suited officials. Luckily, the specter of swine flu didn’t faze most players in an Asian art market stricken with its own ailments. The hordes descended on the city as planned, perhaps reassured by a statement from ART HK promising “hand sanitizers at the entrance and at strategic points within the fair.” Or maybe, as one Beijing artist joked, people were just hoping to get quarantined at the five-star Grand Hyatt.
At the vernissage, the mood was cautiously buoyant; the fair’s unofficial motto of “better than last year” seemed to hold up at first glance. Near the entrance, new additions Gagosian, Lisson, and White Cube were working big and splashy looks (with Lisson showing wall-to-wall Julian Opie), while farther back, usual Beijing suspects such as Boers-Li, Galleria Continua, Urs Meile, Red Gate, and ShanghART mixed with a host of pan-Asian galleries like Kukje, Tomio Koyama, and Eslite, each of which showed consistently polished work. Prominent collectors and local visitors all nodded their heads approvingly and tossed about buzzwords like quality, professional, and potential. The only complaints were about the white walls (plastic instead of wood) and the white wine (undrinkable).
Better alcohol was on offer at Gagosian’s opening-night afterparty at the Pawn, which sadly seemed a victim of its own exclusivity. The historic Wanchai pawnshop-turned-lounge actually had elbow room at midnight—all the better, perhaps, for the dedicated few dancing to the’80s playlist put together by the gallery’s Nadia Chan. (Though Gagosian opened a local office last year, there’s still no word on when they’ll launch an actual gallery.) At a slightly livelier Pawn party hosted by Schuebbe Projects the following night, a few attendees offered their early assessments of the fair. Beijing/Lucerne dealer Urs Meile remarked that ART HK’s ambition to become the Art Basel of the East is not out of reach. He compared Hong Kong to Switzerland (“Same population, very practical people, forced to become very international because they are so small”) and also explained why it’s a good contrast to Beijing: “Beijing is hell––interesting hell, but hell.” Of course, art sold in China is also burdened with a 34 percent luxury tax––one advantage that tax-free Hong Kong holds.
Left: Osage Gallery director Agnes Lin, marketing manager Anne Chan, and gallery manager Carmen Ho. Right: Artist Cui Xiuwen with dealer Johnson Chang.
A highlight of the fair’s programs was the Asia Art Archive’s “Backroom Conversations,” a series of screenings and panels that aimed to give an intellectual counterweight to the market madness. The afternoon premiere of the AAA’s new documentary, From Jean-Paul Sartre to Teresa Teng: Contemporary Cantonese Art in the 1980s, was standing-room-only, and even Sir David Tang (founder of Shanghai Tang and the China Club, art collector, and general cultural pundit) was in attendance. In her introduction, AAA chair and art historian Jane Debevoise discussed the “complex and important reasons” that Guangdong is overlooked in art-history books. It’s a topic close to the hearts of the Hong Kong artists, curators, writers, and dealers who have also felt left out of the narrative (and/or bubble) of Chinese contemporary art. When Sir David in effect called Hong Kong artists lazy for relying on the government to support an arts scene while the ’80s Guangdong artists created their own, an irate woman shouted him down, telling him he didn’t know anything about Hong Kong art.
The state of Chinese contemporary art was clearly on everyone’s minds, and it was specifically explored in another panel, “China Focus: Reinvesting in Contemporary Chinese Art.” Moderated by dealer Johnson Chang, critic Hu Fang, artist Qiu Anxiong, collector Uli Sigg, curator Pauline J. Yao, and Artforum’s own Phil Tinari, the group weighed in, agreeing on certain points: Everything is in flux, artists will be tested, and Mainland criticality has to step it up. In a more combative panel later that evening, the London debate forum Intelligence Squared made its Asian debut with the polemical topic “Finders, Not Keepers! Cultural Treasures Belong in Their Country of Origin.” Inspired by the recent YSL auction debacles regarding the Old Summer Palace bronze animal heads, several distinguished men with British accents (including Sir David, again) spoke for and against the motion, which was moderated by CNN anchor and Twitter enthusiast Kristie Lu Stout. In the end, the audience voted 110 for, 247 against; apparently, people like the Elgin Marbles just where they are.
As the fair plunged into the weekend, visitors were lured farther afield by various openings: Li Qing at Hanart TZ, Yan Lei and MC Yan at Tang Contemporary, and two interrelated shows at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery: photographs by Dinh Q. Lê at the Soho space, and, at the gallery’s annex in the Chai Wan Industrial district, a group show of young Vietnamese artists curated by Lê and Zoe Butt. The latter’s warehouse after party stretched late into Saturday night, mixing young Hong Kong artists like Lee Kit, Chow Chun Fai, and Warren Leung Chi Wo and his wife, Sara Wong Chi Hang, who compared the annex space with the sizes of their own studios with artists Rirkrit Tiravanija and Michael Lin.
By Sunday evening, the fair was all but over––except for those who were staying for the opening of the Louis Vuitton exhibition, “A Passion for Creation,” opening at the Hong Kong Museum of Art several days later. News circulated about big purchases of works by Damien Hirst, Opie, and Gilbert & George, but most galleries went home with few sales. Robin Peckham of Boers-Li Gallery twittered a glum summary of the scene: “Art HK winners: major Western galleries, local Hong Kong galleries. Big losers: major mainland galleries.”
MILAN WAS STRANGELY SULTRY for May last Tuesday when Tacita Dean’s exhibition “Still Life,” organized by the Nicola Trussardi Foundation, opened at the Palazzo Dugnani. In front of the faded yellow palace, a group of journalists mobbed a statuesque redhead who turned out to be Milan’s mayor, Letizia Moratti, while under the vaulted portico the hip young Milanese—dress code for men: skirts and dreads—leaned against columns and chatted before joining the enormous line snaking up the staircase.
There didn’t seem to be much sense in hurrying, so I bode my time and greeted the visitors dribbling in. Neapolitan artist Gigiotto del Vecchio, who recently relocated to Berlin with his gallery, Supportico Lopez, was embraced boisterously by collector Alessandro Zenti, who noted that the pair are cousins. Vedova Mazzei’s Simeone Crispino, another Naples native, got into the spirit and gave artist Marta dell’Angelo a big squeeze. The sprinkling of out-of-towners came from various corners of the country: critic Angela Vettese; MAMBO director Gianfranco Mariniello, in from Bologna; Gagosian Rome director Pepi Marchetti Franchi; and Andrea Viliani, director of the Galleria Civica di Trento. Fashion magnate Beatrice Trussardi arrived looking adorable in a leopard minidress that barely hinted at her six-month pregnancy.
If you didn’t know what decade it was, you might not guess; it was basically a pastiche crowd. Even the buildings on the street were of vague and sundry vintages. Without a fixed exhibition space, the wandering Trussardi Foundation has the luxury of choosing from among city buildings. A wonderfully evocative setting for the current exhibition, the seventeenth-century Palazzo Dugnani was built as an aristocratic residence that later became a natural-history museum and then a school of art history. “We clean them up and use them for a month, and then people start using them again,” said Trussardi’s Flavio Del Monte. Upstairs in the darkened former classrooms, painted an institutional pastel, there was a sense that time had been put on pause, even rewound, a sentiment enhanced by the languid tempo of the fourteen films in the show.
Among those works were Dean’s filmic—by now iconic—portraits of Merce Cunningham and Mario Merz. But most remarkable was the premiere of Dean’s two new films—Still Life and Day for Night—that contemplate objects in Morandi’s studio. As we sat entranced by the clicking projector and painterly compositions of bottles and vases, dealer Francesca Kaufmann complained, “There are too many people taking photos!” (I plead guilty.) Then her phone started ringing. While watching Dean’s portrayals of two fleeting phenomena—The Green Ray, which depicts just that, and the total solar eclipse in Diamond Ring—the light emanating from a window drew everyone’s attention: It opened onto a grand salon painted with a Tiepolo fresco, a vibrant mirage that contrasted with the dark, fusty room. Now used for civil weddings, the elegant hall was an anachronistic interstice that reflected the languorous implosions expressed in the works at hand.
Left: Chef Andrea Berton with writer Marisa Huff. Right: Viafarini director Patrizia Brusarosco, dealer Francesca Kaufmann, and curator Milovan Farronato. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)
Before dinner, the entryway to the Trussardi alla Scala compound hosted a performance by the most popular guest of the evening, the artist’s son, Rufus. He jumped gleefully on pristine white cushions while guests chatted and smoked before ascending the stairs to the restaurant. The mellow crowd included dealers Kaufmann and Francesca Minini, Jane Hamlyn of Frith Street Gallery, Marian Goodman’s Johanna Wiström, and Art Basel’s Maike Cruse. Curator éminence grise Germano Celant and his wife, Paris Murray, sat with dealer Jessica Fredericks, who was in Italy to prepare for the John Wesley exhibition opening at the Giorgio Cini Foundation during the Venice Biennale. “I noticed that the rail in the Tiepolo room hasn’t been dusted in forty years,” she summed up.
The small dishes being served were works of art in themselves. When I exclaimed at the explosion of flavor coming from a tiny tomato paired with a black-truffle-crusted scallop on top of liquid salad, food writer Marisa Huff explained that it was a “spherification”—juice encapsulated in a gelatin skin put back into its original form. Overhearing our conversation, curator Massimiliano Gioni offered to take us to the chaotic kitchen to get the scoop from the dashing Trussardi chef, Andrea Berton, who complied even as the food flew around him.
Dean held court at a large table at one end of the room with Rufus, her partner, Mathew Hale, and a rotating coterie of guests that included her friend the artist Julie Mehretu. When Mariniello approached, Dean thanked him for giving her access to Morandi’s studio, to which he responded, “No, thank you!” As we left the party, Victoria Cabello—the Italian TV starlet with a new late-night show called Victor Victoria: Nothing Is as It Seems—romped on the white divans with socialite and writer Cesare Cunaccia and Rolling Stone director Carlo Antonelli. Dress code: black and white. Juxtaposed with Dean’s real-time celluloid world, this could have been La dolce vita.
Left: Dealer Francesca Minini and Paris Murray Celant. Right: Rufus with artist Mathew Hale. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)
MANY A BRITPOP BAND was incubated at art school, as befitted the cultural mood of Cool Britannia, the ’90s zeitgeist that propelled Tony Blair into office, the likes of Blur and Oasis onto the music charts, and the Young British Artists into galleries and Momart storage units. The scene’s pop/art connection is perhaps best crystallized by the beloved Sheffield band Pulp, whose best-known song is the class anthem and sociological snapshot “Common People,” inspired by a girl who “studied sculpture at Saint Martins College,” which Pulp front man Jarvis Cocker attended in the ’80s and ’90s. So it was not entirely a surprise earlier this month to find Cocker, now forty-five and a Paris resident, taking over the Galerie Chappe, a small space on a quiet street in touristy Montmartre, for a weeklong residency that split the difference between conceptual-art experiment and neighborhood cultural salon.
The Sunday before last, performing on the gallery steps, his band squeezed into the exhibition space behind him, Cocker was as rubber-limbed as in his Pulp heyday, contorting his lanky frame into angular shapes and throwing in some signature jerks and wiggles. The songs were mostly from his surprisingly hard-rocking new album, the Steve Albini–produced Further Complications (out today), and the crowd was a mix of fans, curious locals (including the filmmaker Philippe Garrel), and bemused tourists.
“When I perform, I try every trick in the book to engage with the audience,” Cocker said shortly after wrapping up the forty-five-minute show, the week’s final event. But everything that preceded it, he acknowledged, was meant as the precise antithesis. “The idea is that people would be intrigued, come in, stay as long as they want, and watch us work.”
A couple hours a day were set aside for band rehearsals. Visitors were encouraged to bring instruments and join in. (The week saw plenty of guitars, a sitar, and a Vietnamese string instrument.) For the benefit of nonmusicians and also because, as Cocker put it, “people with instruments can be show-offs,” there were also yoga and Pilates classes with live musical accompaniment. Semi-impromptu guests showed up through the week, including musicians Gonzales and Au Revoir Simone, writer Anthony Haden-Guest (who read Beat poetry), and a belly dancer (who performed and offered lessons). (The events were webcast and are archived on Cocker’s website.)
Jarvis Cocker performs “Angela” at Galerie Chappe (2009).
Explicitly at the heart of Cocker’s gallery residency was a question that could be considered in both existential and economic terms: “What is music?” “There’s this idea that music doesn’t really exist as a business anymore,” Cocker said. “The whole pop-music phenomenon is based on the fact that teenagers liked it and bought it. And if they’re not doing that anymore, or if they’re not paying for it, it turns into something else. Does that mean then you could put it in a gallery? Does it mean bands are going to need patrons who can finance their work?”
Cocker posted a schedule ahead of time, but the week evolved in organic, somewhat free-form fashion. Only a minimal effort was made to publicize the event: no posters, no aggressive tweeting, just a perfunctory press release sent out a few days ahead of time. The idea came to Cocker when he visited the gallery last year for a group show of Amy Winehouse portraits. A cozy L-shaped nook just around the corner from the steps leading to the Sacré-Coeur basilica, the Chappe is basically a long, narrow space with a tiny elevated alcove, which Cocker turned into a makeshift stage. It was also a logical fit, since owner-curator Alex Gilbert has been sympathetic to rock-themed exhibits: The gallery is perhaps best known for its “controversial” Pete Doherty show, which featured works made with drug needles and the singer’s own blood.
Cocker’s postmortem on the week: “It felt comfortable to be doing it. I didn’t feel stupid.” After the final performance, he was briefly beset by a gaggle of Portuguese fans, but the rest of the time was mostly free of such interruptions. “My days of pop stardom are behind me,” he said. “And I was trying to avoid all that. You’re not breaking down a barrier when you have to sign autographs.”
POLITICAL ARTISTS can be ruthless agents for change when need be, even when knocking down a set of tenpins. They certainly were last Monday night, when Visual AIDS, the artist-activist organization born at a peak of the AIDS pandemic in 1988, honored three shameless humanitarians at its fourth annual bowling-for-dollars benefit on Chelsea Piers.
Art dealers Jack Shainman, Brent Sikkema and Michael Jenkins, Pavel Zoubok, and Matthew Marks’s Jeffrey Peabody helped host the affair, which was joyously gay in every sense of the word. Lanes (for teams of six) were twenty-five hundred dollars; a double lane was twice as much, though it’s not too late to donate. Ever. As Visual AIDS director Amy Sadao and her associate director, Nelson Santos, reminded us, “AIDS is not over.”
Those who had never donned bowling shoes, or wouldn't admit to it, carried on valiantly, while some of the more determined bowlers, like Artforum’s own Tim Griffin, racked up winning points. Collector Diane Ackerman proved something of a superwoman of the alleys (as well as an indefatigable cheerleader), stopping only long enough for the presentation of the awards—snow globes—to critic Douglas Crimp and artists Nayland Blake and Hunter Reynolds.
Left: Artist Nayland Blake and art historian David Deitcher. Right: Michelle Paterson, Alec Baldwin, and Marisa Berenson.
Karen Finley made a surprisingly schoolmarmish MC, coming to stentorian life only long enough to read her poem of loss and rage “The Black Sheep,” written in the heat of the disease’s early and most deadly days in New York. It may not have been the best choice of material. “How ’bout we get a little more positive at this point?” a voice called out.
The presenters—Chrysanne Stathacos, David Deitcher, and Nicholas Baume—did just that, though there were a few meows in the audience when Blake began his acceptance speech by saying, “I hope someone will play music or something if I go on too long.” Crimp assured the gathering that, despite what anyone might have assumed from his angrier diatribes of years past, he does love art and artists and always has. True to form, he didn’t take back a single word.
All anyone had to speak was praise on Tuesday night, when art and politics collided head-on with celebrity culture for Ross Bleckner’s official appointment as the United Nations’s newest Goodwill Ambassador. The occasion was truly historic. As Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted during a ceremony in the UN delegates dining room, Bleckner is the first artist ever to be given this honor. (Think Audrey Hepburn, Mia Farrow, and Angelina Jolie.)
There aren’t many people, much less artists, who could bring Calvin Klein, Alec Baldwin, New York First Lady Michelle Paterson, Republican fund-raiser and cosmetics exec Georgette Mosbacher, Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, designer Rachel Roy, actress Famke Janssen, Page Six editor Richard Johnson, Eric Fischl, Brice and Helen Marden, and a tall man in a ten-gallon black hat to one room without anyone having to force a smile. But then the UN is used to forging alliances between people of wildly competing interests. “We sneaked into the General Assembly to have a look,” New York Times critic Roberta Smith confessed, as awed as everyone else to be on this particular class trip. “Isn’t this the spot where Cary Grant got into trouble in North by Northwest?” asked writer and former Times Style-section columnist Bob Morris. More awe.
Left: Nicolas Cage. Right: Designers Donna Karan and Calvin Klein.
The ceremony, sponsored by the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (and underwritten by Egyptian businessman Shafik Gabr), included valedictory speeches not just by Ban but also by Nicolas Cage, who began by saying, “I’m here not as an actor but as someone who cares about children.” He then spoke in brutally earnest tones about the billion-dollar human-trafficking business in Africa, which has turned more than three hundred thousand prepubescent girls and boys into sex slaves and child soldiers—the horror that had brought Bleckner to the town of Gulu in northern Uganda, where many kidnapping victims are from. There he taught twenty-five such children to paint, a task that clearly has had just as powerful an effect on him as his presence did on them.
Some two hundred of their works on paper were tacked to walls around the room for the evening and selling for four hundred dollars each. (The exhibition, “Welcome to Gulu,” has raised more than $150,000 so far; it continues this week at Lehmann Maupin.) The money is to go to the art-therapy program that brought Bleckner to Uganda. “You may not have the same painting skills as Mr. Bleckner,” Ban told the crowd, “but each and every single one of you can make a difference in your own sphere of influence.”
Alec Baldwin was vocal in his determination to help. “I want to do what people like Mia Farrow have done,” he told me, in a brief moment of respite from the paparazzi. “I want to get out of New York, do hands-on relief work in Africa. That’s what’s next for me.” Have they heard this at 30 Rock?
“It isn’t often that the UN has so many bold-faced names in one room,” Ban told the crowd, as Eli and Edythe Broad left for the auction at Sotheby’s. “You could be at more fabulous parties and in more glamorous locations, but you are here because you care about putting an end to human trafficking.”
Left: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Right: Dealer Mary Boone with MoMA president emerita Agnes Gund.
“This is what art is really about,” Bleckner told friends and well-wishers like collectors Agnes Gund, Jane Holzer, and Barbara Jakobson, as well as his longtime dealer Mary Boone. “It’s not just about you and your work.” He was profuse in his praise of Eleanora Kennedy, the philanthropist whose foundation paid for the art materials Bleckner brought to Gulu.
Truly a modest man, Bleckner is one of the few privileged artists today who is following Robert Rauschenberg and lending his name and his connections to humanitarian causes. Over ten years ago, he helped found the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America, dedicated to researching new treatments for HIV. And though his art star has dimmed in recent years, he keeps making preternaturally luminous paintings.
Some of us had to fight back tears when Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, draped the goodwill ambassador’s blue-ribboned medal over Bleckner’s shoulders. It was really quite moving to see an artist from downtown recognized for the critical role art can play in giving dignity to human life, instead of value to the “market.”
A moment later, an enormous tomb of a cake with white frosting and reproductions of picture postcards of the UN on top was wheeled in front of the podium. This was Bleckner’s sixtieth birthday, Costa said as he lit six candles—one for each decade. “Oh, my God,” Bleckner protested, actually blushing. “Did you have to say the actual number?”
ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT, the market for postwar and contemporary art took the form of several dozen huddles on the sidewalk of Forty-ninth Street just west of Fifth Avenue. Although the women had blinged down and the men flaunted somber ties, the talk outside Christie’s was about a “disconnect in the market”; some people, after all, are still very rich. Moreover, in a hellish economic climate where it is hard to persuade collectors to put work up for public sale, Christie’s had “bagged an estate.” So a refined little buzz enlivened the mob, which rejoiced in the “old-school estimates.” Many buyers were also delighted that not one of the fifty-four lots was guaranteed. As dealer Jeffrey Deitch explained, “There’s going to be a real auction for these works tonight.”
Once François Pinault and Steve Cohen were safely ensconced in their skyboxes, auctioneer Christopher Burge called the salesroom to order, then clipped his impeccable way through the first twenty lots, most of which were from the estate of the Los Angeles arts patron Betty Freeman. Douglas Wheeler’s 1968 white Plexiglas light work made $290,500, more than triple his 2007 record, while Claes Oldenburg’s 1976 Typewriter Eraser was bought for $2.2 million by Citigroup Art Advisory. While the perky rubber by the artist, who systematically giganticized things years before Koons, achieved a record price, the other Oldenburg from the Freeman collection, a 1968 sculpture of two limp baseball bats, failed to find a buyer. As one dealer put it, “What scares major collectors more than a flaccid sculpture? A pair of flaccid sculptures.”
Roy Lichtenstein’s 1977 Frolic, a tribute to Picasso that features a blond cyclops with a beach ball, might be hard to live with, but that didn’t stop three bidders from driving the price up to $6 million. Larry Gagosian won the lot. Later, the dealer went on to buy Lichtenstein’s Still Life with Cash Box. (Woefully, the box is depicted without a single dollar bill in it.) He then underbid the artist’s Mirror #3 and let Brushstroke (a tabletop sculpture) pass. As one savvy collector explained, “Larry uses his power wisely. He is not supporting goats. He picks artists who he thinks will have longevity and keeps them pumped.”
Left: Gagosian's Stefan Ratibor and Robin Vousden with dealers Larry Gagosian and Michael Kohn. Right: Collector Michael Ovitz and dealer Tony Shafrazi.
Lot 14, the night’s top prize, was David Hockney’s A Beverly Hills Housewife from 1966–67. The twelve-foot-long double canvas painted from the perspective of Freeman’s swimming pool is a museum-worthy combination of cool Pop and naive Rousseau. Deitch put in an early bid, then Burge oversaw a duel between Christie’s Brett Gorvy and Laura Paulson. Gorvy’s telephone bidder eventually won the work for a record $7.9 million, which could be considered a good deal given that, exactly one year ago, Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (aka “Big Sue”), a more recent work by another living British painter, cost its buyer, Roman Abramovich, four times as much ($33.6 million).
With the exception of five works that failed to sell, the auction went from one firm foothold to another. Peter Doig’s 1993 Night Fishing, consigned by Daniel Loeb, sold for $4.7 million (above its high estimate) to a collector on the phone with Russian-speaking, Ukrainian-friendly Gagosian director Victoria Gelfand. Richard Diebenkorn’s 1979 Ocean Park No. 117 also exceeded its high estimate when it went to an unidentified telephone bidder for $6.6 million. Alexander Calder continued to command sturdy prices. His untitled 1943 wire-and-wood wall relief (with a high estimate of $1.8 million) went for $2.8 million.
In the end, the sale totaled $93.7 million. Although it was less than a third of last May’s total ($348 million), it was a welcome sign of art-market stability. Los Angeles dealer Tim Blum remarked, “Good material at ‘fair’ value equals strong sales. It is the same at every level of the market.” Then added the common observation that “Christie’s is trouncing Sotheby’s. You wouldn’t catch them putting Dan Colen at Lot 5.”
At the press conference after the sale, Christie’s CEO Ed Dolman told me, “Tonight, we got it spot-on. This sale will give people confidence to consign. At the moment, our problem is not prices but supply.” When asked where the market was in its rise and fall, Dolman replied, “We might be at the bottom, but I’m superstitious; I don’t want to call it too early.”
LOOMING BEHIND THE HEAD of chief auctioneer Tobias Meyer at Sotheby’s on Tuesday evening, in large black capital letters, was the word COMEDIAN. The 1989 Christopher Wool painting captured the gallows humor of an uptown crowd that had none of its usual horse-at-the-gate nervous energy. As one collector, ambling to his aisle seat, commented, “The art market is like Disneyland without Mickey Mouse, or maybe it’s just Gilligan’s Island without Ginger.”
Both the Wool, Lot 3, and a Martin Kippenberger self-portrait, Lot 7, were consigned by the discerning Dakis Joannou, who observed the proceedings from a skybox. Joannou’s choices were astute; these works were the only two in the sale to command “irrevocable bids,” the new, happier term used to describe third-party guarantees. The deadpan Wool sold to someone (likely the irrevocable bidder) on the phone with Alex Rotter for $1.9 million, a record for the artist at auction, while the 1988 Kippenberger offered even stronger results. The work is one of seven self-portraits inspired by a photo of an absurdly pompous Pablo Picasso; Kippenberger transformed his source material into a deflated painting of himself in oversize white underpants. Ironically, the image of a “failed painter” sold for $4.1 million, over three times the artist’s previous auction record. Dealer Iwan Wirth won the work in the room, which was rumored to go to the European mega-collector Friedrich Christian “Mick” Flick.
The evening was less triumphant for a life-size sculpture of a hairy butt by Robert Gober. Consigned by Jean-Pierre and Rachel Lehmann, the gay icon was described by Meyer as “very unique, very rare, with an extremely specific market.” Indeed, Gober has made only two “bad asses” with musical notes painted on them. (They pay homage to a figure in Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.) Connoisseurs recognize the work as important but, as consultant Philippe Ségalot explained, “The people who love it can’t necessarily afford it.”
All in all, Sotheby’s put on a decent show against a dire financial backdrop, selling 81 percent of lots. They can be credited with finally relieving hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb of his Jeff Koons Baroque Egg with Bow (Turquoise/Magenta), which had been on the market since at least last September when Larry Gagosian shipped it to Moscow (and back), reputedly asking over $20 million for it. “Celebration” is clearly a boom-time activity, as the sculpture sold to none other than Gagosian for a drastically “corrected” $4.8 million hammer ($5.5 million with fees).
Perhaps the best buy of the evening was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 Red Man One, which sold for $3.5 million to a bidder on the phone with Sotheby’s Loic Gouzer. Word has it that the dashing Swiss specialist was talking to Maria “Masha” Baibakova, a curator-collector with an MA from the Courtauld whose Moscow project space hosted highlights from this sale, including the Basquiat and a few smaller Warhols. Baibakova would not discuss acquisitions, but she did admit, “The dynamic between auction houses and their clients has changed. I’m being courted by big fish, which is a sign in itself.”
Six lots, described in the catalogue as “Property from a Distinguished American Collection,” were thought to be consigned by Drs. Marc and Livia Straus. Symptomatically, some works sold well, others didn’t. A Juan Muñoz sculpture Two Seated Figures (Mouth) set an auction record for the artist, while a Jeff Wall light box and Yayoi Kusama wall piece sold neatly within their estimates. However, a red Yan Pei-Ming self-portrait sold for less than expected, and Richard Serra’s Square Bar Choker and Frank Stella’s Flin Flon failed to find buyers at all.
On his way out of the auction room, Straus described the evening, whose forty-eight lots achieved a total of $47 million (down from last May’s $362 million) as “Fine.” Others were more verbose. “Carrion without the expected number of flies” was how one wag put it.
LIKE SWALLOWS RETURNING TO CAPISTRANO, the peripatetic patrons of contemporary art alighted in Manhattan last week to dart through openings scheduled to coincide with the auction houses’ annual spring sales.
Among their destinations on Thursday night were shows by French designers François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne at Paul Kasmin, Chinese video artist Yang Fudong and Albanian-born Berliner Anri Sala at Marian Goodman, British sculptor Gary Webb at Bortolami, Berlin-based Brit Jonathan Monk at Casey Kaplan, Los Angeles–based Dutch artist Lara Schnitger at Anton Kern (where Berliner John Bock had the back room), and German artist Daniel Roth at Maccarone.
All an art aficionado needed in her kit bag was a passport, a compass, and a good supply of stamina. The pursuit of art today is really a safari, even if the wilds of Manhattan have been tamed by money. Adriana Varejão drew megacollector Bernardo Paz (her husband), London dealer Victoria Miro, and Gagosian director Louise Neri to her third show at Lehmann Maupin, which touts her affinity for large-scale paper works by observing, in its press release, that her pieces are “notable for their emptiness.” (Please, God: Save us from press releases!)
After stopping into Jessica Stockholder’s new show of “Exploded Paintings” at Mitchell-Innes & Nash and breathing in a heady dose of accumulated meaning, I struck out for Sarah Charlesworth’s first outing with Susan Inglett. Melva Bucksbaum, fresh from the triumph of the soft-shoe she had danced with Raymond Learsy at the Creative Time benefit the night before, was still aglow. “I got the ties on eBay,” she said of her costume. “We already had the hats.” Charlesworth’s “Pictures Generation” colleagues Cindy Sherman and Louise Lawler beamed with undisguised pleasure at Charlesworth’s new light-infused, color silhouettes of a view camera and film. In this case, the medium really is the message. But in art, the message is also the medium.
At Matthew Marks, Gary Hume’s big red barn door of a painting—actually made in, and of, Hume’s upstate New York barn—seemed to tickle the most fancies, particularly those of Josephine Meckseper. “This show is making me really happy,” said the artist whose anarchic, advertising-has-ruined-our-culture works aren’t exactly known for their giggles.
Just as happily, Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham were giving a dinner of Indian takeout for Charlesworth at their Tribeca loft. “This is so much fun, I wish Laurie would give me a party for my next show,” said Marilyn Minter. Pat Steir wanted one, too. So did Matthew Weinstein. “Good! More parties,” said Simmons, who expertly performed that classic diplomatic feint, agreeing without making any promises. “I think this dinner is Pakistani, not Indian,” said Charlesworth. “I know how that goes,” said Mel Kendrick. “People are always mixing me up with Tip Dunham.”
With no out-of-towners, this was a clearly a soiree for the home team—Carol Squiers, Lisa Phillips, Billy Sullivan, Keith Sonnier, Clarissa Dalrymple, Joel Wachs. That wasn’t the story over at Hume’s dinner, given by Matthew Marks at his West Village home. Not only were there plenty of Brits, including Tate director Nicholas Serota, but also photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, and the outer-planetary Rene Ricard. “How do you like my vase of wine?” Jessica Craig-Martin inquired, holding aloft what was possibly the largest drinking glass ever made.
Certainly the largest creature God ever made was Jonah’s whale, the subject of the epic new paintings Verne Dawson brought to Gavin Brown on Friday. The palette was a lot quieter, if no less biblical, at Gladstone Gallery, where the Romanian artist Victor Man was making his first solo New York appearance. Sacrificial Christian symbolism appeared in his shadowy canvases again and again. But the showstopper was the installation, in a bunkerlike room, of a light-box transparency showing the wooden arms of a Christ figure that had been cut from an old crucifix and stuffed behind a church grate. On the floor was a dead tree branch. On the wall was a mirrored medicine chest.
I mistook the arms for the desiccated limbs of a real person. That seemed to amuse Man; happily, no one in a crowd that included Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler, Frieze cofounder Amanda Sharp, ICA Boston curator Nicholas Baume, Whitney curator Chrissie Iles, artists Slater Bradley and Ugo Rondinone, and collectors Mera and Don Rubell with Susan and Michael Hort (Man’s first American patrons) noticed. “Did you manage to get the medicine chest open?” Brant Publications’ editorial director Glenn O’Brien asked. “It wouldn’t budge for me.”
Left: Dealer Tony Shafrazi with photographer Patrick Demarchelier. Right: Collectors Edythe and Eli Broad.
O’Brien let his boss, Peter Brant, take center stage at the VIP opening of the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich, Connecticut, on Saturday afternoon. Brant is a polo player as well as a publisher, newsprint magnate, and the latest megacollector to build his own museum. It's basically the Versailles of polo fields; the surrounding area includes pastures (in one of which Jeff Koons’s flowering Puppy sits all alone, facing Mecca), a grandstand, and a large, flagstone clubhouse that architect Richard Gluckman has converted into an exhibition space.
“Good to see Peter reaching out to the community with Butt Plug,” commented Mera Rubell. She was referring to Paul McCarthy’s giganamous black bronze sculpture, which Brant had placed on the front lawn, just off the road, to welcome visitors. Koons’s orange Balloon Dog sat on a hill near the building’s second story, looking tiny in the distance. “I live in Wilton, which isn’t far from here,” said the actor Christopher Walken, “and I have to say that, even for these parts, this is some big spread.”
The reception was nominally for artists in Brant’s collection, and Richard Serra, David Salle, Francesco Clemente, Donald Baechler, and Koons were there. But collectors far outnumbered artists, as did the dealers who cater to all of them (Larry Gagosian, Daniella Luxembourg, Gavin Brown, Sadie Coles, etc.). Two other Balloon Dog owners, Dakis Joannou and Eli Broad, came to pay their respects, as did collectors Irving Blum from Los Angeles, Pauline Karpidas from London, and Eugenio López from Mexico City. “This is fantastic,” said López. “Isn’t this marvelous?” Karpidas exclaimed. “It’s just great,” said Blum.
It wasn’t clear whether they were talking about the building, the setting, the crowd, or the art on display. Brant said he had designed the installation with Urs Fischer and a little help from dealers Tony Shafrazi and Jeffrey Deitch. “I don’t remember that piece,” said Metro Pictures’ Helen Winer to her business partner Janelle Reiring. They were standing over a small Mike Kelley blanket-and-stuffed-animal work on the floor. “When did we show that?”
“I never knew Dennis Hopper played a Nazi,” said Walken, coming out on the terrace where the crowd had drifted for cocktails. He had just taken his first gander at Piotr Uklanski’s suite of 164 head shots of actors who have all played Nazis in movies. “Jack Palance is there, too,” Walken added. “But I never want to see that movie.”
Shafrazi pulled up Hopper’s cell-phone number on his BlackBerry. “Julian Schnabel always does this, too,” Walken said. “Name comes up, a minute later Julian has him on the phone.” Shafrazi handed Walken the BlackBerry. “You played a Nazi, Dennis?” Walken said. “I never knew.”
A moment later, Brant joined his mother and nine children and other family members in front of the Balloon Dog for a group portrait by Todd Eberle. Brant invited Koons to be in the picture, and the ever-accommodating artist knelt down, front and center. Watching from the deck, Mera Rubell told Francesco Vezzoli, “I like an artist’s early work. What’s your thing with the late?”
“I’m interested in what an artist can show us at the end,” Vezzoli said. “And I like the decadence.”
Left: Collectors Mera and Jennifer Rubell. Right: Dealer Daniella Luxembourg with artist Francesco Vezzoli.
AS IT SO HAPPENED, Berlin’s third Gallery Weekend coincided with the summit of the Hedonist International. This meant that the usual series of previews, dinners, openings, and parties went toe-to-toe with a slew of hedonistic Mayday protests. As visitors flocked to André Butzer’s opening at Max Hetzler, just around the corner, on Wilhelmstraße, the German finance ministry was being “beautified”: Self-professed hedonists (can one call them “card-carrying”?) hurled eggs filled with red, yellow, and blue paint at the building’s gray facade. In the resultant splats' strong hues and grisaille background, one couldn’t help but see an echo of the Butzers. Art lovers and protesters also came together in their thematization of the continuing financial crisis: While dealers and collectors worried about the economy’s failure to support their sybaritic lifestyle, the protesters called for a libertine response to the crisis. “Do what you like, not what you must!” reads their resonant manifesto.
That was a good (if uniquely paradoxical) injunction with which to begin my “weekend,” which in fact commenced on Wednesday with a preview of the other Butzer show, at Guido Baudach’s gallery in the Wedding district, and a tour with Yves Oppenheim of his abstract murals at Max Hetzler Temporary. “Images are an illusion,” Oppenheim sagely reminded us. True, but as any economist can tell you, illusion has power, too.
The seemingly never-ending series of openings and dinners really kicked off on Thursday with Johannes Wohnseifer’s show at Johann König, which links documents of Africa and German colonial history. Across town at Haunch of Venison, Mark Alexander showed a series of black sunflower paintings and his self-portrait as a child. We skipped Eric Fischl’s talk at the American Academy—Wannsee is just too far out of the way—and instead dropped by the Hotel de Rome for a cocktail reception in honor of Terence Koh. Out front, artist Ralf Ziervogel complained to Monopol editor Cornelius Tittel that there wasn’t a single person under sixty at the reception; he then proceeded to tag the hotel’s signs with a Hitler smiley face, one of his recent trademarks.
“No previews” is usually the rule at KunstWerke, but we were able to catch a glimpse of the new shows during an outdoor dinner in honor of Annette Kelm. The highlight was when König did a series of stumbles from one beer-garden bench to another while trying to deliver a toast. It was an early spring night replete with a cloudless sky. Kelm was hanging with Tocotronic’s Dirk von Lowtzow; collector Christian Boros chatted with Haus der Kunst director Chris Dercon. MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach congratulated media maven Christiane zu Salm on her pregnancy. The expectant father, artist Andreas Slominski, was not around, but the liaison proved to be one of the small-talk topics of the weekend. While local papers deemed it newsworthy, art-world insiders proclaimed it a “really old story. Everybody has known that for months now.” Guess that’s why they’re the insiders.
There was quite a bit to see by Friday afternoon. We began with Hanne Darboven at Klosterfelde, then moved next door for Ziervogel’s exhibition at Arndt & Partner (where the Hitler smiley face was in full effect). Ziervogel dilated on his grandiose plans for the Tempelhof landing strip, where he wants to build a hundred-meter black cube with the help of David Chipperfield. From there we set off for Carsten Höller at Esther Schipper, where Fondation Beyeler director Sam Keller and Angelika Taschen chatted under a mobile made of canaries in cages.
We missed Angela Merkel’s opening address for “60 Years, 60 Works” at Martin-Gropius-Bau and instead ventured toward the much-anticipated opening for Koh, unofficial mascot of the Hedonist International. Our cabbie tried to enter Kreuzberg from the northwest but found all bridges blocked by riot police on bikes and in minibuses—preparations for the evening’s demonstrations. We had to walk to Peres Projects, where we found a slightly underwhelming opening. (The limousine service apparently had difficulty at the roadblocks, too.) Koh was rather bored and jet-lagged, offering to trade the centerpiece of his show, a statue with bunny ears, for some excitement. Javier Peres vetoed the deal; we settled for some vodka instead. Only a little over a year ago, Koh anointed himself the “Naomi Campbell of the art world”; now, however, he was pronouncing that he would be the “Martha Stewart of the art world.” To drive the point home, he discussed his upcoming furniture line from a company in Munich, as well as his designs for Converse.
Still on foot, we tried to sneak out of Kreuzberg. The May Day riots had moved to the U-Bahn station Kottbusser Tor, and black-clad youth were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the police under the auspices of a “revolutionary” demonstration. Earlier, we had watched reenactments of historical battles in Artur Zmijewski’s show “Democracies” at DAAD Galerie, but as we skirted the riots and strode through the neighborhood’s empty streets, we realized that the most potent reenactment was the one going on in Kreuzberg.
By the time we got to Capitain Petzel, the opening was practically over, and only a few drunk young art lovers remained. We whizzed in to see some Kippenberger, but the staff was already turning off the lights. A dinner hosted by Carlier | Gebauer and Barbara Weiss was next, fancy German food at Lebensmittel in Mitte in honor of artists Rosa Barba, Amy Sillman, and Rebecca Morris. We chatted with Janneke de Vries, director of Bremen’s Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, and Morris, who explained her appreciation for German compliments. “They come up with great things like, ‘At first I really hated your work, but now I love it.’”
Left: Karen Boros with dealer Javier Peres. Right: Artist Katharina Sieverding and Art Basel's Maike Cruse.
More shows on Saturday: Saâdane Afif at Mehdi Chouakri, Simon Starling at Neugerriemschneider, and Carol Rama at Isabella Bortolozzi. In the evening, Udo Kittelmann hosted the big Gallery Weekend dinner at Neue Nationalgalerie, where he was recently appointed director. His speech was indecipherable due to the weird acoustics of the Mies van der Rohe building; it was way more suitable for the German marching band that opened the evening. “Crisis? What crisis?” seemed to be Kittelmann’s party line, despite the fact that Russian and American collectors had thus far been conspicuously absent from events. There was also lots of chatter about the never-ending saga around Art Forum Berlin. The participants for the fair’s 2009 edition had been announced several days earlier, and there were a few surprising omissions. Up-and-coming Berlin gallery September was denied, in spite of having won “best booth” last year. Even stranger was the refusal of Volker Diehl, one of the fair’s founders and a crucial player in securing funding during the early years.
Sunday’s theme was basic math. For “7x2,” hundreds of visitors showed up to see fourteen galleries—from Sommer & Kohl to Tanya Leighton—presenting artists in the staircases of collector Axel Haubrok’s building. The big hit with the toddler crowd was the 330 pounds of confetti in the area curated by Jonathan Monk. Amid the craziness, we missed the wedding for dealers (and lovebirds) Christian Haye and Semir Alschausky, which was conveniently set to coincide with the Gallery Weekend brouhaha. Later that night, we ended up at Möbel-Olfe, the Berlin headquarters for the Hedonist International. Artists Klara Liden and Wolfgang Tillmans were at the bar, Tillmans wearing shorts: “Why? It’s summer!” Early Monday morning, still at Möbel-Olfe, Aaron Moulton of Galerie Feinkost declared that art criticism had to own up to its role in the world: “We need reality-based criticism!” Couldn’t agree more; only wish he’d told us earlier. We knew then that the Hedonist International spirit had finally taken Berlin. New York is next.
Left: Dealer Martin Klosterfelde and critic Christina Weiss. Right: Collector Valeria Napoleone and artist Rebecca Morris.
“WE’RE NUMBER FOUR NOW; soon we’ll be number one!” Bullish Auckland mayor John Banks’s reference, in his opening address at the Auckland Art Fair’s Thursday evening vernissage, to a recent survey ranking the New Zealand capital behind only Vienna, Zurich, and Geneva—and tying with Vancouver—as Most Livable City went down predictably well. And a jab at a perennial rival—“To the Australians: I know I’ve been speaking a bit fast”—drew some unseemly cheers. Fair director Jennifer Buckley followed up with a more diplomatic introduction (“I feel like a wedding planner with a hundred brides, but aren’t they beautiful?”), but the stage was set. Showcasing antipodean galleries exclusively, the biennial event can’t but invite comparison between the host and its larger, louder neighbor.
The third and biggest edition of the fair to date—staged in an events center on the city’s waterfront—featured more Australian galleries this time than in 2007, potentially making it a counterpoint to the more established Melbourne Art Fair. But as curator Blair French points out in his attendant essay, an increasing number of Australian and New Zealand artists bridge both locations, their status and reputation now more often determined by opportunities and resources than by birthplace or their work’s supposed local color. Writer and curator Gregory O’Brien, in his text, appends the reasonable hope that artists from both sides of the Tasman might form “an intelligent, informal, mildly competitive, occasionally quarrelling but mutually supportive group, out here on the edge of the world.” On the evidence here, that group looks to be not only established but in respectable health.
Left: Collector Marcus Lush and Chris Mace. Right: Economist Don Thompson. (Photos: Jude Broughan)
But of course, there are always curmudgeons. “Hey, no photography allowed!” Geoff Newton from Melbourne gallery Neon Parc, a newcomer to the fair, made joking objection to my snapping his neat installation of works by Elizabeth Newman but eventually relaxed into more amiable patter. Gene Paul from Gisborne’s PAULNACHE was more immediately forthcoming, explaining the gallery’s plan to rehang its stand every day, allowing artists Peter Adsett, Star Gossage, Johnny Turner, and Sanjay Theodore to reap the benefits of a typically generous allocation. At Auckland gallery Whitespace’s stand, directors Deborah White and Kenneth Johnson were noisily upstaged by a pack of real sheepdogs, perhaps engaged to contain Jim Cooper’s rangy ceramic installation, while Melbourne and Sydney’s Anna Schwartz went a cooler route, showing Daniel von Sturmer’s striking but silent Painted Video.
At Auckland’s Anna Miles Gallery, Darren Glass was represented by a large pinhole-camera print and a new book documenting, among other similar devices, the eccentric contraption he used to make it. Ivan Anthony, another local dealer, showed work by, among others, Venice-bound Francis Upritchard, while the unassuming Peter McLeavey, proprietor of Wellington’s longest-established commercial space, was happy with what he modestly described as “a bit of a mixed grill.” Among those making the rounds of his and other stands were artists Clinton Watkins, Murray Green, and John Reynolds, collector and philanthropist Jenny Gibbs, veteran critic Hamish Keith, impish broadcaster and collector Marcus Lush, former New Zealand Idol and New Zealand’s Got Talent judge Paul Ellis, and—semi-incognito in gumboots and hat—actress Danielle McCormack, star of Kiwi rom-com The Price of Milk.
The choice of Don Thompson as the fair’s Friday-afternoon keynote speaker, while explicable, was a misstep. A crusty Canadian economist trailing a book, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, that characterizes the high-end contemporary art market as an exercise in branding gone bananas, Thompson delivered his stultifying thesis in a conspiratorial manner that drew discontented rumblings from the back half of a packed room; the front half, occupied by guests of sponsor ANZ Private Bank, lapped it up like the novelty corporate presentation it resembled. Hanging his picture of a trade ruled by snobbery and fashion on the exhaustively documented rise, and slight recent fall, of statisticians’ favorite Damien Hirst, Thompson introduced the crowd to Conceptual art as if it were a laughable aberration. And his contempt at the idea that an artist might use technicians, while veiled with humor, remained embarrassingly palpable—even when he called for help with a PowerPoint glitch.
Left: Dealer Geoff Newton. Right: Dealer Anna Miles. (Photos: Michael Wilson)
A cab and a curry later, my companions and I found ourselves observing several of the area’s numerous—and indefatigable—trannies totter past in the rain from the safety of favorite art-world bar Department of Conversation, rating their style like ice-dance judges holding up 8s and 9s. Avoiding three cops hauling one blotto miscreant off to the cells, we finally ventured out in search of the invitingly warm-and-fuzzy-sounding Sky Bears Cuddle Den for a performance by local electronic musician Adam Willetts. We discovered the long-haired circuit bender already hunched over an array of homemade analogue synths—one of which was neatly housed inside an antique Mac—and settled in for an enjoyable session of abstract sound that moved from tranquil to dissonant and back again. At a modest two dollars—a sum that, in the event, no one even troubled us for—the experience stood in doubly refreshing contrast to Thompson’s exasperating spiel.
On Saturday evening, painter Andrew Barber’s “Dreamhome/Shithouse” opened at artist-run dealership Gambia Castle, easily the most talked-about venue during my stay. It was a decent show (the plaster-dust-coated floor was a nice touch), and the crowd was amiable, but an event from earlier that day seemed set to linger longer; at nonprofit Artspace, Alicia Frankovich had staged an hour-long performance titled A Plane for Behavers. A former gymnast, Frankovich evokes sporting action to reflect on the histories and meanings of physical gesture, stamina, and stance. On this occasion, she was attached, with a rope and other climbing gear (shades of Matthew Barney), to a pulley secreted in the gallery ceiling. Every few minutes, an assistant hauled one end of the rope toward and finally out the door, pulling Frankovich off the floor and leaving her dangling briefly while more viewers filed in. The assistant would then return to her original spot, and the artist would descend. After an hour, Frankovich shed her gear and paced, with her assistant, silently out of the room.
THE BODY HAD BEEN BURIED and the time capsules unearthed by the time I arrived in Minneapolis last weekend for the opening of “The Quick and the Dead,” Peter Eleey’s intelligent and elusive exhibition of conceptual art at the Walker Art Center. The show is flush with paradoxes and brainy feints and lunges; things are rarely what they seem. “It’s a big book to be read closely,” said one of the artists, Mark Manders.
The Walker is the perfect place for such a difficult show; indeed, many attendees will already be equipped with an instinctive theoretical compass. This is a city, after all, whose residents are educated in a highly cultivated form of dissembling: Minnesota Nice. (Its coastal variant is Passive Aggressive.) Minnesota Nice dovetailed with good old regular nice throughout Friday’s opening reception and dinner, and the pair somehow added up to a pervasive, lambent cheer. Occasionally, the niceness would swell into its lesser-known superlative form, Minnesota Effusive, as when Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs strode into a gallery and announced, “This is the best show I’ve seen in years!”
I thought it was good, too: handsomely installed, with a number of exceptional works, some old, some new. As I walked through the exhibition, a few pieces stood out as too self-consciously profound for my taste (“long on dead, short on quick,” reported one critic while eyeing a taxidermied owl), and though there was plenty of room for irony, there was little for its inbred sister, sass. But I particularly liked Trisha Donnelly’s pair of peculiar sphinxes decorated with pillows and nautical lights and Michael Sailstorfer’s clever 16-mm loop of a shed caught exploding in medias res. The aforementioned “body”—a skeleton courtesy Kiki Smith, who got it from David Wojnarowicz—buried on the Walker grounds by Kris Martin, was another winner, as was Steven Pippin’s anachronistic Fax 69. Great works by Louise Lawler and Robert Barry bookend the exhibition at its entrances. Barry’s otherwise grumpy mien cracked a bit when talking about the show. “I hope it works out for Peter.”
According to a brief primer printed in the elegant dinner invite, “The Quick and the Dead” explores “the romantic legacy of conceptual art.” This is a topic also treated, somewhat more didactically, in Jörg Heiser’s 2007 exhibition “Romantic Conceptualism,” though Eleey’s preference here for James Lee Byars over Bas Jan Ader and George Brecht over Yoko Ono perhaps speaks to a more refined (or less “populist”) set of curatorial concerns. This is a project that Eleey has been honing for some time. “It’s ‘Strange Powers’ grown up,” extolled 303 Gallery director Mari Spirito, who pointed to the 2006 show he cocurated with Laura Hoptman for Creative Time.
After a brief reception in the galleries, a couple hundred of us repaired to the upstairs lounge for the museum’s official dinner (a vegetarian affair—likely a fiscal rather than ethical decision). Remarks were brief and jocular. (Walker director Olga Viso: “I’d like to thank the people who made the exhibition possible, as well as those who made Peter possible. Could Peter’s parents please stand up?”) Eleey, wearing a smart suit and a chicly incongruous pair of size-12 women’s silver Comme des Garçons loafers, was basking in the hoopla’s glow. “It’s like a big party for me!” he beamed. Sharing the bill was former Walker director Kathy Halbreich, who was celebrating a certain birthday. (Don’t ask me which one, but it seemed important.) Servers brought out a cake with candles, and the room broke into caterwauling song.
Near midnight, a handful of us took a shuttle around the corner to the Pasolini-esque Basilica of Saint Mary, where organist Christopher Stroh reprised John Cage’s Organ²/ASLSP—a saturnine tune, the length of which is left up to the player. (Stroh only went on for an hour, but some Cage apostles in Germany are slated to play it for 639 years.) Eleey, artists Pierre Huyghe and Susan Philipsz, dealers Tanya Bonakdar, Spirito, Rodney Hill, and Jane Hait, the Walker’s Andria Hickey, UMMA curator Jacob Proctor, and I all sat in our pews in solemn, dutiful observance of the Art—for about ten minutes, after which we began chatting among ourselves. Some sanctimonious teenagers a few aisles up shushed us. “This deserves a Facebook status update,” whispered Proctor blithely. He began to fiddle with his phone.
The next day, after a pleasant brunch (a veritable United Nations of Nice) at the home of collectors Lisa and Pat Denzer, I drove back to the museum to catch Sturtevant’s talk. With a bit of time to spare, Hait and I ventured out to see Huyghe’s Cage-inspired wind chimes in the sculpture garden. An uncanny ambient hum resonates amid the euphonious clinks. We were both at a loss for words, until Hait propounded that it was “super-intense, in a weird way,” which still seems the most apt summation.
I entered the lecture hall and sat down with Donnelly and writer Bruce Hainley, who, along with Sturtevant, had early on secured their position as the weekend’s Heathers; every time I saw them, I knew I was in the right place. Bruce is writing a book on Sturtevant that will no doubt be hott.
The witty grand dame kicked it off with a reading of two prior, published interviews, the delivery of which roiled the audience to laughter. (Interviewer: “What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?” Sturtevant: “I don’t think it was art.”) After two erudite papers on more esoteric topics—“Modes of Thought” and “The Transgression of Visual Desire”—she turned to the audience for questions. The discourse, strained due to sound problems, at one point verged on the pedantic, with Sturtevant proposing that one flustered inquirer, who asked about the philosopher Irigaray (“I can barely hear you. Are you saying revigorize?” Sturtevant asked), should “try reading Foucault and Deleuze.” This may be the land of Garrison Keillor and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but it’s also home to the august University of Minnesota Press, and telling a roomful of Minnesotans at a Walker lecture to “read these thinkers first without trying to understand, then try reading again,” is a bit like encouraging Oprah to check out Toni Morrison.
“So, Elaine,” went Warhol, “why don’t you do one of my piss paintings?”
“But Andy, I don’t have the right equipment.”
“Well, Bianca did one,” he helpfully noted.
“Shit,” Sturtevant said. “I didn’t know she had a prick.”
Left: Nora Ejaita performing at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery. Right: Jill Sigman performing at On Stellar Rays. (All photos: Daniel Clifton)
ROUGHLY TWENTY-FOUR HOURS INTO “ROLL CALL,” Movement Research’s ten-day spring festival, the choreographers Megan Byrne and Will Rawls sat hunkered down in their booth at the Williamsburg diner Relish. They looked both wired and spent, he wolfing down a cheeseburger and she nursing a spartan coffee as they examined guest lists in between the night’s activities: an earlier toast at the Black & White Project Space and, in a mere half hour, “Internet Killed the Video Star,” a showing of experimental, low-tech dance films at MonkeyTown. (The informal evening drew an eclectic range of artists, including the composer Christopher Lancaster, currently working with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and the writer and choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones, a veteran of the Movement Research scene and the current board president.) “There’s the shape we have in mind for this festival and the shape it’s going to take,” Rawls said. “As curators, we’re going to spend most of our time in between those two places.”
Movement Research events are the ultimate in DIY exercises—a world away from more staid institutional festivals. Each year, guest curators (this round included Michael Mahalchick and Regina Rocke in addition to Rawls and Byrne) are given a shoestring budget of twelve thousand dollars, a mandate that half of this must go to artists’ fees, and free rein to craft their vision. This year’s festival, typically rough around the edges, has been notable for its many nods toward inclusivity and openness—a welcome shift for a grassroots organization that can often feel like an insider affair.
“It seems like a small club of people that haul out some old dinosaur from the Judson-era and then do some improv,” one choreographer quipped. She was, however, excited by the possibilities of “Recessional,” a Sunday-afternoon walking tour of arts spaces on the Lower East Side, beginning with a brief musical offering by Bora Yoon at the New Museum’s Sky Room and featuring one performance per stop. A crowd soon filled the airy room, dotted with Movement Research and museum staffers, choreographers and visitors to “Younger than Jesus” who stumbled into the show—a few of the latter trickled into the “Recessional,” whose ranks waxed and waned as the meandering group threaded its way through the neighborhood.
Left: Bora Yoon at the New Museum. Right: Lizzie Scott performing at Rachel Uffner Gallery.
It felt like a beginning, exuberantly hopeful yet conceptually tentative in its marriage of dance and visual art. In the past few years, as biennials like Performa have spurred interest in performance, many New York choreographers have expressed ire over the art world’s failure to acknowledge common ground. “It’s a question of visibility. What a lot of dancers do speaks directly to what visual artists are doing,” said Mahalchick as we walked along Rivington Street behind our route guide, a strutting, thigh-high black pleather platform-wearing performance artist named Ms. Oops. “It makes me batty that Performa discounts the contribution made by the dance community, as if dance doesn’t have a spot at the table.”
Some dealers, like Candice Madey, who chose a location with a downstairs performance space for her gallery On Stellar Rays, seem prepped for change. On Saturday, Jill Sigman occupied the small room, her half-naked body sunk into, and eventually disrupting, a pile of paint-hardened balls of fabric resembling overripe organic matter. As her body stirred and arched, onlookers jostled and snapped pictures, like visitors to a zoo. I remembered, amusingly, the choreographer Trajal Harrell describing a piece in which his performers took Ambien, a response to being unable to control the gallery crowd as he would a theater. (This preceded Chu Yun’s “sleeping beauty” piece in “Younger than Jesus” by a few years.)
It’s unclear what sort of bridge results from an event like “Recessional.” But at Rachel Uffner’s gallery down the street, an alluring synergy bloomed between Josh Blackwell’s whimsical works on paper depicting colorful items of clothing and The Styrene Fantastic, a work by Lizzie Scott for two female performers, who alternately hoisted and flopped on their unwieldy Styrofoam-filled garments.
“It’s interesting to see the interaction between my static work and something kinetic,” Blackwell said. Nodding emphatically, Scott added, “It’s where art needs to go: to take into account all that has happened in dance in the past fifty, or one hundred, years.”