ITALIANS WORSHIP NEW YORK CITY as though the Statue of Liberty were the Madonna. So it was little surprise that the opening of the exhibition “New York Minute,” on a recent rainy Saturday night at MACRO Future (a former slaughterhouse), was a smashing social event that attracted a hodgepodge of Roman high society, actors, fashionistas, and art-world denizens.
I had just landed in Rome fresh from the mad crush of Chelsea’s fall art openings, and it was surreal to encounter an American art assault on the Testaccio quarter, which would be—if you can compare the two cities at all—the trendy equivalent to Manhattan’s meatpacking district. The exhibition, curated by Deitch Projects director Kathy Grayson, doubled as a premiere for the Depart Foundation, an institute headed by thirty-four-year-old collector Pierpaolo Barzan, who will soon open a space south of Rome. Touted as a showcase of a tight-knit group of young New Yorkers engaged in “street punk, wild figuration, and new abstraction,” it features sixty artists, many not from New York—nor so very young.
The American invasion began two nights earlier with the opening of Barry McGee’s mesmerizing “Mr. Brown” at Galleria Alessandra Bonomo. The gallery vibrated with works from the San Franciscan’s oeuvre—electric geometrics, clustered framed photos of tags, embellished surfboards, fluorescent orange Ray Fong signatures, and an African-style statuette spray-painting the wall. Afterward, everyone walked across the river to Giorgio and Gaia Franchetti’s enviable Trastevere home, packed with artworks from their awe-inspiring collection, for a plein air dinner. During a tour of the house, New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch was particularly enthusiastic about a pair of drawings by Alighiero Boetti that represent male and female as open or closed scissors. As we entered the chambers of the young Pietrarco Franchetti, we found a separate, rather smoky party under way––a fitting complement to McGee’s show. The hostess simply chuckled and pointed out some of the artworks as we ogled the heavily graffitied staircase.
On Saturday night, the intermittent drizzle that glistened on the Testaccio cobblestones did not deter the masses. (Provocateur terrible Roberto D’Agostino’s blog Dagospia read incredulously: “Six thousand people in line for hours. To enter a disco? No, a museum!”) Apart from an American artist here or there—Patrick Griffin, Ara Peterson, Aurel Schmidt, and Tim Barber among them—the cast of characters at the “New York Minute” opening was entirely Roman, and everyone was decked out in their downtown finest, often with a nod to the ’80s. With tattoos, graffiti, and skateboarding subculture long appropriated by the mainstream, the blessing of the Roman bourgeoisie seems to be the final blow to “street cred.”
Neatly installed in two cavernous spaces, the exhibition offers a balanced mix of works––installations, photographs, paintings, drawings, and a few videos. Full of loud, vibrant stimuli, the show seemed less a cohesive reflection of a movement than an expressionistic aftershock of ’80s East Village street culture, a post-postmodern ghost on acid. Encountering Jim Drain and Peterson’s giant whirling optical Pinwheels, which dominated the entryway like a fun-house obstacle course, Elizabeth Petrovski of the US Embassy crowed, “It makes Andy Warhol look like an amateur.” Tickled pink, an ebullient Deitch observed, “Art should be fun. The art establishment favors depressing artists. But we’re into color—no black, white, or gray.”
Left: MACRO director Luca Massimo Barbero and journalist Roberto D'Agostino. Right: Artists Josh Lazcano, Meghan Edwards, and Patrick Griffin.
The atmosphere was often more lurid than bright, however, and the shadow of Dash Snow’s recent passing offered a more sober tinge. Fifty enlarged documentary Polaroids by the artist covered a wall at one end of the massive space, where viewers solemnly regarded them in respectful silence. A group of drawings by Schmidt, lushly detailed with gorgeous horror, take the memento mori to its most visceral and fantastic limit. Outside, I caught up with Grayson, who described the exhausting installation process as “a week and a half of Italians screaming at one another.” (She had landed in Rome for the first meeting only to discover that the museum had temporarily closed and that work could not begin as planned.) Artist Kevin Ancell added, “I told them, I’m glad you’re not doing brain surgery on me, or I’d be dead. They shut up for five minutes before they started fighting again.”
Surrounded by partygoers swaying to the music of A.R.E. Weapons, we departed the event craving pizza and found that the neighborhood trattorias were already filled with overflow from the exhibition. Given the present clash between the old and new worlds, it seemed appropriate that we ended up at Pizzeria Nuovo Mondo, where they were cranking pies out by the hundreds. The waiters didn’t know what hit them.
As the rain picked up, we got lost among the clubs around Monte Testaccio, then finally braved the mob at the entrance of the Big Bang, where artist and impresario Spencer Sweeney was DJing the afterparty. Once inside, we found that few of the artists had actually made it in. The mellow crowd was having a lovefest on the dance floor. Grayson slithered to the stage, two drinks in hand, smiling impishly. McGee enthused about the layers of graffiti, both ancient and recent, on the Roman palazzi. Barzan, who was sitting nearby on a ledge with his wife, Valeria, discussed the recent revelation that his town, Grottaferrata, was the site of Cy Twombly’s first studio. We chatted for a while before he noted that he’d heard that seven thousand people had attended the evening’s opening. (The number ended up closer to two thousand.) Not badthough taking the long view, isn’t a New York minute still just a Roman millisecond?
Left: A view of Allan Kaprow's Yard (To Harrow). (All photos: Myles Ashby)
TWO BEEFY BOUNCERS manned the front door of 32 East Sixty-ninth Street on a recent Wednesday evening, as a slow-moving line wound its way down the block. The Upper East Side town house was last home to secondary-market gallery Zwirner & Wirth, a partnership between high-rolling dealers David Zwirner and Iwan Wirth. Zwirner will now go it alone, adding another gallery to his existing empire in Chelsea, while the uptown pile becomes the American headquarters of European supergallery Hauser & Wirth. The latter firm chose to inaugurate its new digs by recalling another former occupant, Martha Jackson Gallery, via a commissioned “reinvention” of a work that first occupied the space back in 1961. To judge from the buzzing crowd on the street, the idea was a timely one.
Happily, a nod from newly installed staffer Cay Sophie Rabinowitz got me on the fast track. Inside, on-again-off-again lighting revealed that much of the gallery’s lower level was filled with car tires. One wall was mirror clad, another occupied by shelves filled with what looked like black plastic garbage bags (filled, as it turns out, with gobs of Vaseline). The work was the late Allan Kaprow’s Yard, and this version was by William Pope.L. “It’s a challenge in heels,” squealed one young female visitor, clambering up a mountain of rubber that peaked toward the room’s far corner. A distinguished-looking older gent looked on, grinning. As the first explorer was joined by a friend whose minidress looked similarly inappropriate for the task at hand, he pulled out a point-and-shoot.
Few braved the claustrophobic scene for long, most defecting upstairs, where a more conventional display of correspondence, instructions, and other ephemera related to this and previous incarnations of the work—it has been staged, in one form or another, everywhere from Berlin to Sydney—made for easier mingling. Kaprow’s brief typewritten account of a version shown in Milan was characteristic: “A 1991 version of my 1961 Environment, this one was conceived as a tyre store. Rows of new tyres covered the walls, and an old Fiat was parked in the centre. Jacks and spanners were provided for visitors to change the wheels.” A transcript of a 1984 TV spot, meanwhile, detailed a typical question and answer: “‘Is that art or junk?’ ‘It’s art made of junk.’”
Kaprow’s widow, Coryl Crane Kaprow, presided over the scene, entirely amiable except when called on—by both visitors and gallery staff—to provide pronunciation advice (“It’s Kaproh, not Kaprow”). Rabinowitz swept me aside periodically as curatorial and critical A-listers including Thelma Golden, Richard Flood, Okwui Enwezor, Philippe Vergne, Sylvia Chivaratanond, RoseLee Goldberg, Jerry Saltz, Roberta Smith, and Claire Bishop made the scene. There were even a few artists knocking about: Adam McEwen and Seth Price, Malcolm McLaren and Rodney Graham, as well as Josiah McElheny and Sharon Hayes, the last two having been drafted to present their own takes on Yard off-site (at the Queens Museum and the New York Marble Cemetery, respectively).
Back downstairs, the pull of Tire Mountain was still going strong by 8 PM. “It was great in 1961. I was a sophomore in college and came to New York for it,” one veteran recalled, wistfully, of the first Yard. “I wanna climb as much as possible!” shouted a newbie, her intent perhaps as much social as it was physical. Vlogger James Kalm, having captured the room from atop the installation, grilled an assistant about the option to rearrange the work as a recorded voice droned in seeming response: “Rearrange the tires . . . have faith . . . and wait.” Dinner, at nearby Lexington Avenue megabrasserie Orsay, was a big, noisy affair. Speeches were received with cheers and chanting (and the rare grumble) while my tablemates, artist Marilyn Minter, Creative Time director Anne Pasternak, dealer Howard Read, and collector-curator Beth Rudin DeWoody, swapped stories with gusto. Read recalled meeting with an aged Georgia O’Keeffe, while Pasternak revealed an unexpected predilection for strip clubs (albeit with the caveat “It’s weird to see your male colleagues getting lap dances”). The young Kaprow, conceiving of Yard as part fun house, could scarcely have imagined that, nearly half a century later, it would be the center of such hoopla.
IT’S WEIRD HOW ARTISTS from the country that gave us Swedish massage, Volvo, IKEA, the Bergmans (Ingmar and Ingrid), and Skype have never come close to making the same impact. Enthusiasm is everywhere; ideas are harder to come by. Even in Stockholm, a city of such unruffled tranquility that excitement doesn’t stand a chance, the artists who arouse the greatest interest largely come from elsewhere. At least that’s how it seemed last week when I arrived for the opening of “Dalí Dalí Featuring Francesco Vezzoli” at the Moderna Museet and found something called “sthlm.sthlm.sthlm.” already in progress in other parts of town.
A gaggle of local art professionals had put together this seventy-two-hour introduction to the Swedish art scene for critics and curators visiting from such places as Paris, Berlin, Shanghai, Vienna, London, and Barcelona. I caught up with the group on Thursday afternoon at Bonniers Konsthall, a terrific exhibition space for emerging Swedish and international art founded by philanthropist Jeanette Bonnier with support from her cousin Pontus Bonnier, the organization’s director and CEO. (The Bonnier family controls a Swedish media empire.) I hate to say it, but “Life Forms,” the well-intentioned group show on view, was remarkable only for its insight into the unremarkable experience good intentions can supply.
Lunch, however, was superb. Over delicious pickled fish, Rome-based curator Cristiana Perrella hipped me to the Kutlug Ataman exhibition she is organizing for the Zaha Hadid–designed MAXXI museum opening in April. Between lengthy oral presentations, I dipped under the radar long enough to learn that Stockholm dealer Marina Schiptjenko moonlights with a touring Swedish pop group, Bodies Without Organs, that is a top draw with the lesbian club set. I also met David Neuman, founder and director of Magasin 3, a collecting institution and exhibition space that is the best reason to visit Stockholm after the Moderna Museet.
That night, Neuman hosted a dinner for the “sthlm.” group, which included Parasol Unit director Ziba de Weck, Bureau des Videos’s Parisian cofounder Nicolas Trembley, and Shanghai Zendai MoMA director Shen Qibin, among others. The Swedish penchant for curatorial commentary also showed up here, on a guided tour through an installation of seven wall drawings by Sol LeWitt. “It has taken fourteen people working over six weeks to make this show,” chief curator Richard Julin explained, before pointing me toward an atmospheric video and sound work by London-based Israeli artist Smadar Dreyfus, who filmed it on the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire line in the Golan Heights. Very far from here.
I had to make quick work of dinner to get to the preview of the Dalí/Vezzoli show, where the festivities, such as they were, featured “hair models” hired by the show’s co-curator, John Peter Nilsson (the other is Caroline Corbetta), and styled to mirror Dalíesque forms by Nilsson’s own personal hairdresser. “The Stockholm art world is small,” he said, though he estimated the crowd around us to number more than two thousand. “They’re students, gallery personnel, friends of the museum,” he said. Not the usual crowd—at least compared with the star power that the Vezzoli brand typically attracts. “The most important people are coming tomorrow night,” the artist assured me. “Don’t worry.”
I couldn’t help wondering whether Caroline of Monaco (aka HRH—the Princess of Hanover) would be among them. The princess appears twice, in period costume, in the most recent work of Vezzoli’s retrospective-within-a-retrospective, pictured as both the seventeenth-century Swedish queen Christina and the Garbo movie version. I also wondered why I cared whether Caroline would be there or not, but such is the effect that Vezzoli’s celebrity-in-a-box exhibitions can have on people when vanity gets the better of them. Meanwhile, I had the rest of the Stockholm art world to see.
Friday morning found me in a gallery showing giant black inflatables that could have come from Planet Debbie and then on a bus heading to a distant suburb, where the Swedes park their immigrant labor force. That’s also the location of the Tensta Konsthall, which offers a studio residency and exhibition programs in what used to be a slaughterhouse. Under director William Easton, an energetic Englishman, the space is dedicated equally to community outreach and art. Shows by Tracey Moffatt and Tris Vonna-Michell were still ahead; on view was another earnest group effort featuring fuzzy, softball-size “robots” that rolled around underfoot.
After stopping at IASPIS, an international studio program holding an open house for resident artists like Anri Sala and David Shrigley, we arrived back in town just in time for the “VIP” Dalí/Vezzoli opening. I found Vezzoli standing with director Lars Nittve amid just 120 guests, who included local patrons, Vezzoli’s parents, various members of his production team, and artists Joseph Kosuth, Ron Jones, and Carsten Höller, who makes his home in Stockholm. “This is a city without a cultural underground,” Höller said. “It’s so quiet I don’t know why everyone doesn’t live here.”
Caroline certainly didn’t show, nor did any of the marquee names that are Vezzoli’s métier—and that make him the natural heir to the Spanish Surrealist’s affair with celebrity and self-parody. In today’s media-saturated world, he said, artists should think of themselves as production chiefs, orchestrators of culture rather than solitary creators. Past a sober display of 1930s Dalí paintings that included The Metamorphosis of Narcissus—which Vezzoli calls “inspirational”—Dalí’s photographs, prints, objects, and videos played straight man to Vezzoli’s more operatic salon-style hang of his paintings, embroideries, and photographs, which themselves were slung across a single wall covered in deep red wallpaper picturing the interior of a Baroque theater. Videos played in a closet cut into the tableaux, and guests crowded into the doorway, either puzzled or entranced. It was hard to tell. “The people of the future will decide if I am a good artist,” Vezzoli said, looking to his studio manager, Luca Corbetta. “Maybe we should phone them,” Corbetta said.
Left: A view of Vezzoli's wall at “Dalí Dalí Featuring Francesco Vezzoli.”
“HOW DO I DO IT?” Asked how he could possibly have a major exhibition opening in San Francisco a mere fortnight after overseeing the Tenth Biennale de Lyon, Hou Hanru paused for the briefest of reflections before continuing, with a smile and a shrug, “I just do it, you know?” Lunching with the tireless Chinese curator, drafted to organize this year’s show after original choice Catherine David walked out over “time-management” issues, I got the impression that not only could he ill afford to spend long pondering such questions, he wasn’t especially interested in the answers. Not only prolific, Hou seems to have been on the road for years; perhaps, sharklike, he has to keep moving to stay alive?
Having just arrived from New York via Zurich, I could only nod in sleep-deprived admiration. Fortunately, the Monday meal came courtesy of Rue Le Bec, a swanky new restaurant neighboring one of two main Biennale sites, La Sucrière. Lyon is justly famous for its food, and this was a much-appreciated introduction. Critics Xerxes Cook and Fabio Cypriano, seated with me in the cavernous space, were similarly grateful, and we all felt for Hou, who didn’t get to finish his entrée but was instead whisked away to join the biennial’s artistic director, Thierry Raspail, and Abdelkader Damani, organizer of the attendant event series Veduta, for a press conference. Unfazed, the curator cracked wise about Lyon’s inferiority complex over its modest size compared with Paris—stressing that both were small beside certain Chinese cities.
Touring La Sucrière, a former sugar factory built in the 1930s that has served as a biennale venue since 2003 (according to Hou, sweet stuff still oozes from the walls in hot weather), it was immediately obvious that his show, “The Spectacle of the Everyday,” could hardly be accused of any shortfall in scale. Immersive installations and projected videos dominated, while painting was conspicuous by its absence. But this isn’t to say that the selection was all razzmatazz; for every stack of graffiti-covered trucks by Barry McGee or multipart assemblage by Sarah Sze, there was a field of subtly etched linoleum by Latifa Echakhch or a poetic “event” instruction by George Brecht.
Left: Artist Takahiro Iwasaki at La Sucrière. Right: Artist Dan Perjovschi and dealer Cristian Alexa at Rue Le Bec.
“Do you need my address?” “Is it possible to get two?” “Is it possible to give you coins?” At the press preview, Yang Jiechang’s Underground Flowers, a set of three thousand painted ceramic bones, attracted a particular strain of questioning derived from an unusual sales strategy; during the biennial, 991 individual bones are available to visitors in return for a fifteen-euro donation to Entretemps, a charity that provides emergency accommodation after catastrophes. Guilt-free collecting that even journalists can afford! A biennale staff member was working Yang’s section on the second floor, but Agnès Varda, a veteran filmmaker newly inspired to produce hutlike installations, was on hand in person around hers and was immediately recognizable by her signature two-tone hairdo.
That afternoon, buses ferried us to two other biennale venues. The Bichat Warehouse, an industrial building from 1916, now houses a one-note neon installation by Pedro Cabrita Reis, while the Bullukian Foundation, on central square Place Bellecour, plays host to Laura Genz’s drawings of the travails of undocumented immigrants and a backyard “sculpture to live in” by Berlin-based duo Sophie Dejode and Bertrand Lacombe. After a considerable interval (the French do like to linger), we headed to the hotel and thereafter to dinner back at Rue Le Bec. Rolling up half an hour after the advertised 9 PM start time, I found the event in full swing, packed with Lyon’s well-to-do all battling for oysters and champagne. And steak. And foie gras.
Three or four circuits of the place left me slightly tipsy—and very full—but despairing of recognizing a soul, until I spotted artist Dan Perjovschi on line for ice cream and blagged a cone of Belgian chocolate. Accompanied by Lombard-Freid Projects director Cristian Alexa and critic-curator François Piron, Perjovschi, whose ongoing work occupies two vast walls in La Sucrière, recounted with glee the story of a German reporter who last time covered the nearby Docks Art Fair—a thirty-odd-gallery pop-up riding the coattails of the main event—thinking it was the biennale. Warming to his theme of journalistic incompetence, the ebullient Romanian went on to discuss his fascination with bloggers’ reactions to his work; amateurs, he seemed to feel, have it over the pros.
Taking the lighthearted hint, and clocking a grinning Francesco Bonami on my way out, I tracked down a bus to my last stop of a very long day, La Marquise boat club. Following a few other stragglers across the Rhône, I found the craft and descended below deck, where DJ Donuts—presumably one of the Donuts graphic-design team responsible for the biennale’s ubiquitous X logo—was spinning buoyant electro-pop to a small but animated crowd. At the bar, Alison Jacques Gallery’s new senior director, Roger Tatley (formerly of Hauser & Wirth), accompanied by artist Ian Kiaer, critic and curator Sacha Craddock, and curator Vanessa Desclaux, was struggling for service. All four were finding the French art scene to be rather insular, and Kiaer had been surprised to find himself the sole British contributor to Hou’s show. “It’s been nice,” he reflected, “but a bit lonely.”
The following morning was reserved for a visit to the remaining venue: the Museum of Contemporary Art. Introduced by Sylvie Blocher’s video A More Perfect Day—a tribute to Barack Obama in which lines of one of the president’s speeches are set to plaintive music performed by a young white man with a partially blackened body—the tighter selection of works in this more formal setting also felt drier than that at La Sucrière, admittedly in part because text- and speech-heavy works by Ecole du Magasin and Carlos Motta demand a fluency in French that I sadly don’t possess.
In the lobby, Tatley was angling for an Elshopo Collective print produced using chocolate and food coloring in place of ink. The group, one of whom was dressed as a rabbit, was also printing onto crêpes, which they then further decorated to viewers’ specifications. Our man indulged but found the results disappointing. “Those have been around for a day, at least,” he grimaced. Along with Kiaer, we hopped a tram in search of lunch, meeting up again with Craddock and Desclaux later that evening for dinner and debate (the French Revolution tends, we concluded, not to get its due). Finally, for those who decry a lack of useful information in these dispatches, a recommendation: Bistro Pizay, 4 rue Verdi, 69001 Lyon, phone 04 78 28 37 26. Get the duck.
Left: Istanbul Biennial curators Natasa Ilic and Sabina Sabolovic. Right: Storm clouds gathering over Istanbul. (All photos: Rachel Higgins)
THE ELEVENTH ISTANBUL BIENNIAL opened a fortnight ago with its usual Ottoman fanfare, gathering representatives from all corners of the art world for revelry and an overtly political exhibition. As in previous years, the show spans traditional and repurposed exhibition spaces throughout the European side of the city—Antrepo No. 3, an ex-tobacco warehouse, and the former Ferikoy Greek School. Though past editions have been organized by big-name curators like Dan Cameron, Charles Esche, Vasif Kortun, and Hou Hanru, this show was curated by What, How, and for Whom? (Ivet Curlin, Ana Devic, Natasa Ilic, and Sabina Sabolovic), a young collective that oversees Gallery Nova in the Croatian capital, Zagreb.
On an insider tip, I crashed the Wednesday-night patrons’ soiree at Antrepo. Lacking a paper invite, the broadest, heaviest ticket I have ever seen, I worried that my trip was already getting off on the wrong foot. Fortunately, Istanbul doormen aren’t nearly as rigid as their New York brethren. “Just have fun,” the bouncers jested as they ushered me in. The cavernous space was filled with Turkish celebrities and TV crews, violet lights, and living sculptures. Two long banquet tables (one devoted entirely to dessert) stood against the walls, and a quick glance around revealed a delightful dearth of fellow Americans.
Once past the metal detectors, I met up with artist Pinar Yolacan, who showed me around. “It’s a funny crowd,” she said. “But they know how to throw a party.” I found Rodeo Gallery’s Sylvia Kouvali spreading the word about a reception for (one very American) Jordan Wolfson later on at Mikla, a restaurant on the roof of the Marmara Pera Hotel. Before making the trek over, Yolacan and I stopped to sample ice cream from the dessert table: “It’s from the region where my father grew up,” she noted. “So thick they use a knife to serve it.”
Mikla’s elevator opened onto a celestial panorama of the city’s seven hills—as well as an ominous gathering of storm clouds. As soon as we arrived, the rain came down and the umbrellas opened up. I dashed under the nearest one, which belonged to Beirut-based artist Mounira Al Solh. She slipped me an address and phone number along with a message to make an appointment to visit her Not Only Arabic magazine outpost, one of the biennial’s off-site projects. Downstairs, many wet nighthawks made their way down the block to the Londra Hotel’s lobby bar, whose intoxicatingly over-the-top colonialist decor swallowed the rest of the night.
A few hours later, I was back at Antrepo for the 10 AM press conference. (Some chose shades for the occasion.) WHW introduced the biennial via a dispassionate series of facts and statistics—exhibition budgets and demographics of participating artists. Though the commitment to transparency and to underrepresented categories of artists was commendable, the presentation (most of which was lost in the industrial acoustics of the space or behind the large columns that obstructed much of the audience’s view) also lent the affair an air of empiricism. It was a distancing, politicized performance that hewed to this year’s theme, borrowed from Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera: “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” “This is almost Stalinist,” someone shot behind me. But as far as press conferences go, at least this one made an impression.
Left: Protestors outside Antrepo. Right: Biennial artists Mounira Al Solh and Igor Grubic.
The big event Thursday evening was the Sarkis retrospective at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. I arrived late and quickly found Slag Gallery’s Ozkan Canguven, a New Yorker and former Istanbulite, who pulled me along to dinner with friends. As we were leaving the museum, a car nearly rolled into us. “Did you see her?” said a passerby. “She had a mean look.” The vehicle stopped and produced a stately Zaha Hadid. Seemed we’d left the party too early—or just in time, depending on your perspective.
Friday brought a slew of openings at galleries around Beyoglu, the main arts and nightlife district, as well as the official opening of the biennial. I spent much of the day seeing work and again made friends in the rain, sharing a cab to Taksim with critic Lisa Bloom and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’s Betti-Sue Hertz, who commented on the general strength of the video works across the biennial. No surprise, perhaps—video is the biennial art par excellence—but true, nonetheless. After Platform Garanti’s reception for the My City EU-Turkey artist exchange program, I joined Yolacan at Antrepo for a reprise of Wednesday’s opening, this time featuring the addition of a crowd of demonstrators protesting corporate sponsorship.
On our way to the afterparty, our growing entourage passed a row of fish restaurants hemorrhaging out-of-towners. As Art in General’s Anne Barlow sadly noted, it seemed impossible to grab a table at any of them, so I continued on to the party at Liman, a resplendent restaurant with a dozen or so balconies overlooking the Bosphorus, itself lined with mosques and cruise ships. I made my way through the unnecessarily convoluted drink lines and came across curator Michele Thursz, who bid me good-bye on her way to another beer stand. “This is a carnival,” she noted. I danced and then left the building with National Gallery of Canada curator Josée Drouin-Brisebois, hopping into a cab blasting a heavy Balkan beat. “The party continues!” she said, and indeed it did.
ONE OF THE GREAT HISTORICAL CLICHÉS of roaring Shanghai has to do with the Japanese intrusion of the 1930s, when, as the story goes, the dance halls and jazz clubs of the Bund remained open even as the gunships launched rounds from the river into the city beyond. It’s less a story of decadence than of rote persistence, and one that seemed to resonate with last week’s string of art events centered, at least theoretically, on the third edition of ShContemporary, a fair born of the bubble and committed to hanging on for another year. Last Sunday morning, I soldiered down from Beijing to Shanghai on the 8 AM flight and checked into a Motel 168—the name is the rate, in RMB—where the out-of-towners among the younger generation of artists and critics were holed up for what we knew would be a long week.
That evening began on familiar-enough turf, with gallery openings at 50 Moganshan Road. Having functioned briefly as absolute center of the Shanghai art world, “M50” has evolved into a logical place to start. Xu Zhen announced his (perhaps ill-conceived) rebirth as “MadeIn,” some sort of joke about the artist as production company, with a “group show of works by Middle Eastern artists” at ShanghArt “curated” by said company. (Or rather, all conceived and executed by Xu Zhen himself. New Yorkers can catch a glimpse of MadeIn this month at James Cohan Gallery in Chelsea.) Spread over ShanghArt’s two spaces, the assemblage of sculptures drawing on the most obvious symbols of the Middle Eastern situation—think an oil rig made from razor wire—announced the stakes for the week: Chinese artists can exoticize the other, too.
Zhou Xiaohu’s poignant installation “Military Exercises Camp” at BizArt took a similar line. For this piece, the artist invited eight Chinese actors and eight Congolese students to play out the scene of last year’s kidnapping of an oil worker by Sudanese militants. New paintings by up-and-comer Yuan Yuan at Shopping Gallery and a cheeky show by new collective Shuangfei (the name is a riposte to the Chinese name for BizArt; the group itself consists of seven recent graduates of the Hangzhou academy who wear bathrobes and make videos) completed the picture.
The Beijingers took the largest of twenty tables at the joint opening dinner and proceeded to scare the civilized Shanghainese service staff with a succession of toasts involving beer glasses banged vehemently on the lazy Susan. Retiring to the Motel 168 lobby to drink convenience-store beers, we quickly realized, as we watched half a dozen couples awkwardly meet and board the elevator, why every cab driver seemed to know the place.
Monday centered on an old Russian neighborhood far north of the Bund, where the Duolun Museum was hosting a documentary survey of the ’80s drawn from the archives of reclusive critic Wen Pulin. A quick stroll away was Jiang Zhi’s exhibition “Attitude” at Osage, a multibranch Asian gallery empire owned by a Hong Kong garment corporation that sources for Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. A lot was riding on this show for Jiang, a contemporary of Yang Fudong and Liu Wei's who everyone worries has been left behind. He delivered with a three-floor installation that began with a hundred coy photographic portraits of twenty-somethings who hang out on a beauty-tip website and ended with a “Screen Test”–esque video in which Gillian Chung—of the great Edison Chan sex-picture scandal of early 2008—forces herself to cry. A buoyant dinner followed, at perhaps the only table in Shanghai longer than Pearl Lam’s. (In another sign of the times, that hostess was notably absent from the week’s proceedings.)
Tuesday was given over mainly to Wu Shanzhuan, whose show at the Shanghai Gallery of Art turned out to be mostly a recap of his 2008 exhibition at the Guangdong Museum. Curated by Gao Shiming, it was followed by dinner upstairs at Jean Georges, although the menu—asparagus to chicken breast and straight to chocolate cake—seemed to drive home the point that the party was over. ShContemporary fair director Colin Chinnery sat center stage, flanked by his curatorial advisers, Mami Kataoka and Wang Jianwei. The early arrivals among the e-flux lecture-series crew appeared one by one—Jan Verwoert somewhat bewildered to find himself on the other side of the world; Boris Groys previewing his talk, confident that he knew what the Chinese wanted of him; and Martha Rosler, very jet-lagged.
Come Wednesday, it was time for the fair itself. A modest line formed at the VIP entrance just before the 5 PM preview, as collectors poured in to glimpse the seventy-some galleries that made up the fair’s third, chastened installment. Halfway through the “Best of Galleries” section, one BolognaFiere executive, in an unusually candid moment, told me, “You have no idea how much money we’ve lost this year. But we don’t say ‘lost.’ We say ‘invested.’” That feeling of hanging on seemed to prevail, as dealers made more sales than they might have anticipated. In 2009, the mythical Chinese collector is less a beast to be stalked than a guy to be chatted up, and the galleries seemed to know their audience.
I left the fair early to check out a thirty-year retrospective of Shanghai art history curated by Biljana Ciric in a renovated warehouse in the south of town. Four sprawling galleries told a convincing tale of movements resurgent and names forgotten, with a smattering of new work by artists including Yang Zhenzhong and Ding Yi. I zipped through the galleries with MoMA’s Barbara London and then rushed on to a dinner hosted by Hong Kong collector Hallam Chow. In a blink, it was 2 AM and we were still in Xintiandi, far from the official ShContemporary after party at Bund 18. Somehow, this seemed just fine.
Left: Artist Liu Wei. Right: Artist Feng Mengbo with artist and Minsheng Art Museum director Zhou Tiehai.
By Thursday, most were ready for the week to end, but not before one of the major highlights, “Bourgeoisified Proletariat,” a transitory group show organized by the BizArt crowd in a former factory ninety minutes outside the city, across the street—appropriately given the title—from an IKEA depot. Most of the works fell somewhere on the race/class/gender matrix, like Hu Xiangqian’s standout video in which he suns himself into passable blackness over six months in 2008, or Wang Xingwei’s painting in which two leisurely figures float in a boat shaped like a public toilet. The self-selected crowd convened on the lawn below for some bourgeois relaxation and proletarian steamed buns before heading back into town to catch a joint Boers-Li/Long March reception atop the Lan Club, a venue that caters rather to the Aristocratized Peasantry.
I did what Tyler Brûlé calls an STP—straight to plane—and got into the northern city of Dalian just in time for a panel with curator Pi Li and Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones at the World Economic Forum on Friday morning. The quick dip into “Dalian Davos” (conceptually identical to “Miami Basel,” I realized) was refreshing. But the Shanghai adventure was still not over, and on Saturday morning Peyton-Jones and I boarded a plane back to Shanghai for one last day of excitement. We joined up with Hans Ulrich Obrist, launched a book of his interviews with Chinese artists, and then ran around to see every show one more time. By 11 PM, the recurring characters of the week had all reconvened at the Kee Club—MadeIn, Zhou Xiaohu, the e-flux crowd, and, most appropriately, the bathrobe boys. We stayed and talked for a while, as if shells were flying overhead.
Left: Artist Kan Xuan with BizArt's Vigy Jin. Right: Artist Liu Jianhua, Art News's Wu Hua, and Pace Beijing president Leng Lin.
THE AIR OF ANTICIPATION that accompanies the start of every new art season turned to resignation last Thursday night in Chelsea, where throngs of gallerygoers clogged the streets asking the same question: “Seen anything good yet?”
Every time this challenge came my way I ducked it and forged ahead. I didn’t want to rush to judgment, but it only took an hour to make my way through a dozen or so galleries, where I found few exhibitions or personalities to hold my attention. OK, I know: Engaging with art requires an investment of time and thought. But I wasn’t born yesterday, or even the day before, and most of what I saw needed more time in the oven. It was undercooked, or perhaps just warmed-over. There were a few spots where the thermometer rose. Maya Lin finally got a gallery show right, at PaceWildenstein on Twenty-second Street, and Berliner Magnus Plessen displayed a mordant sense of humor at Gladstone, where both he and the overlapping figures of his semiabstract paintings suggested second cousins to Albert Oehlen. But how would Plessen like to be remembered? “Tell them he killed the viewpoint,” he shot back. Well said.
Generally speaking, I saw more people gathered outside the galleries than in. As usual, photographer Juergen Teller was one who did not lack an audience for his pictures—this time of an unaffected Charlotte Rampling and Raquel Zimmermann standing in their birthday suits before the Mona Lisa (and various marbled nudes in the Louvre). Most of the Fashion Week crowd attending his opening at Lehmann Maupin stayed closer to him. Indeed, Teller was looking pretty suave. Having given up beer, he’d dispatched his baby fat with it. How did he win over ultracool Rampling? “Simple,” he said. “Because I’m me.”
Inspired (or more likely bored) by the conjunction of art and fashion, I started amusing myself by studying what people walking between galleries were wearing. This didn’t yield any more substance than the art. Judging by clothes alone, I would say we live in an age of confusion. One exception to the rule was Kara Walker, who that day had acquired a new outfit for the opening of her show at Sikkema Jenkins with Mark Bradford. The dress, a full-skirted black organza number by Gary Graham, gave her a silhouette as graceful as the shadow puppets in her new video are naughty. Spirits were high all around. The ebullient Bradford literally squealed with delight on meeting an admirer—Robert Gober—for the first time. “Oh, I know you!” he said, drawing Gober into a fumbling embrace. “You’re great!” Gober seemed pleased.
Back on the street, after a few bites of sushi at the lower-key party upstairs, I found artists Nate Lowman, Nayland Blake, and Paul Pfeiffer with a claque of blue-ribbon Brits on the sidewalk outside Matthew Marks, where Rebecca Warren was showing winsome variations on Richard Serra and bulging female torsos in unfired clay that were unafraid to be sexy. Dealer Jay Jopling emerged from the dark to join Gavin Brown, Gary Hume, and Adam McEwen but confessed that jet lag would keep him from dinner, though I’m not sure he was invited.
In the private room upstairs at Matthew Marks, Brice and Helen Marden held down the center seats at a long table for sixty. I was seated beside Chicago dealer Donald Young, who spotted a MoMA trustee opposite us and expressed surprise that there were any collectors present among the artists’ friends. Maybe that’s the difference between a dealer and a casual observer like me: I’m more surprised when collectors aren’t invited. As the dinner, which was also for sculptor Vincent Fecteau, wound down, several members of the party peeled off for the Maritime, where an afterparty for Teller was in progress in the artist’s penthouse room. His wife, dealer Sadie Coles, tended bar for the likes of Artists Space’s new director Stefan Kalmár, who is taking his job very seriously; a stray model or two; curator Clarissa Dalrymple; Warren; and a few, excuse me, collectors.
On Saturday I set off again, keeping expectations low, but before I even reached the door at Mary Boone I had heard about the nine-million-dollar Basquiat painting with a red dot next to it on the checklist. The exhibition was labeled “A Tribute to Ron Warren,” the poker-faced gent who has put in twenty-five years of service with Boone, first at the front desk and now as a partner in the gallery. On the walls and floors were works old and new by thirty artists who have participated in Boone gallery shows during Warren’s steadfast employ. It included portraits of the man of the hour by Eric Fischl and Will Cotton and a lenticular “family tree” by Francesco Clemente, who identified each branch with the names of Warren’s closest friends. Sweet.
I found Barbara Kruger at the back of the gallery, fending off the advances of a tall stranger who identified himself as an artist and mistook her for Boone, to whom he wanted to show his paintings. Boone stood silently by, stifling a giggle. When he walked away, she recalled the time Julian Schnabel, then a young artist, came on to writer Carol Squiers (now a curator at the International Center of Photography). “He thought she was me,” Boone let on, “and wanted her to give him a show.”
Out in the main space, David Salle and Fischl were trading stories, too. Salle reported stopping into Sonnabend and telling Nick (who has worked at the front desk of the gallery for—count ’em—forty years) that he was going to a tribute for Warren. “Why?” asked Nick. “Is he dead?”
What can I say? This opening was fun—and it had art that was done to a turn. The dinner at Bottino afterward brought together personalities as disparate as Barry Le Va, Jack Pierson, and art consultant Sandy Heller, adviser to heavyweight financier-collectors like Steven Cohen and David Ganek. I asked Boone how she hired Warren all those years ago. “After 1982,” she said, “it was hard to get serious people. Everyone thought all we did was serve champagne and buy shoes. But then Ron walked in, and I knew right away: He was serious!” What’s more, he didn’t need shoes.
Left: Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon. Right: Artist Kara Walker.
The next day I slipped on my brogues for the trip to SculptureCenter in Long Island City, where Michael Smith and Mike Kelley have collaborated on an elaborate, multiscreen video and steel-tower installation based on Smith’s firecracking six-day performance at the last Burning Man. It was worth the trip. Produced with Milanese dealer Emi Fontana’s nonprofit West of Rome operation in Los Angeles, it’s vaguely reminiscent of Kelley’s “Day Is Done” debut at Gagosian in 2005 but features Smith as his diapered alter ego, Baby Ikki.
“The word going around is that it’s a hit,” SculptureCenter director Mary Ceruti told Kelley on the way to dinner in an Indian banquet hall on a godforsaken street nearby. “At least no one punched me in the nose,” Kelley replied. That had happened once in LA. “Well,” Ceruti quipped. “At least you know you made an impact.”
TAKING LINE 2 of the Paris metro east to Belleville Wednesday afternoon, I started my tour of the galleries in the popular nineteenth and twentieth arrondissements with a visit to Suzanne Tarasiève’s Loft 19. Tarasiève chose to open her second space in Belleville “because the area is so international.” “A living space,” as she describes it, Loft 19 consists of a gallery, a library, two artists’ residences, and Tarasieve’s own apartment. Ukrainian artist Boris Mikhailov was lounging on one of the sofas, discussing his series “Yesterday’s Sandwich”: layered photographs of street scenes, nudes, and everyday objects. Mikhailov was excited to show the project in Paris, “the center of sex and revolution,” as he put it. “In the Ukraine we don’t show naked people,” the artist lamented.
En route to the up-and-coming gallery Gaudel de Stampa, I stopped by castillo/corrales, where Benjamin Thorel, who runs castillo’s Section 7 Books, proudly showed off a few new titles: artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s magazine Petunia and Paraguay Press’s newest publication, The Interview. At Gaudel de Stampa, Welsh artist Jessica Warboys presented her own zine, Palme, which she’d put together with French artist Clément Rodzielski. Director Denis Gaudel explained that he sees a great cosmopolitan crowd come through his space, but still “not a lot from Paris’s boulevard Saint-Germain. The reputation of Belleville is a little sulfureuse.”
Left: castillo/corrales’s François Piron and Benjamin Thorel. Right: Dealer Claudia Cargnel and artist Gardar Eide Einarsson.
Walking toward Bugada & Cargnel, née Cosmic Galerie, I noted all the shops setting tables of dates, sodas, and pastries out on the sidewalk. Gaudel had reminded me that we are currently in the middle of Ramadan, so the already busy September streets of Belleville would become even livelier as the evening progressed. New York–based artist Gardar Eide Einarsson was opening his first solo show at the gallery, which was the second commercial space to open in Belleville, after Jocelyn Wolff. Having moved from the Marais, Cargnel explained that she prefers the new area because “here the crowd is preselected—you don’t have the tourists knocking on your door.”
A few blocks south, at his gallery, Wolff (opening an elegant show by Guillaume Leblon) said that “the range of generations is one of the most remarkable aspects of the openings in Belleville tonight. There are young people as well as extremely skilled collectors.” After pausing for a quick chat with one of said patrons, Wolff explained that “for a while French people overestimated their position, then they started undervaluing their production. Now there’s a maturity, a balance between the Napoleon syndrome and the overnegativity.”
Left: Café au lit’s Andrea Weisbrod and Jens Emil Sennewald. Right: Dealer Jocelyn Wolff and artist Guillaume Leblon.
Although it doesn’t officially open until October, Isabelle Alfonsi and Cécilia Becanovic’s new gallery, Marcelle Alix (just around the corner from Jocelyn Wolff), hosted a performance that evening by artists Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet. Beginning at Square Ménilmontant, Hervé and Maillet led their audience into the empty gallery, a former Indian restaurant, and proceeded to link architectural aspects of the space with scenes from horror films. With brilliant deadpan delivery, Hervé and Maillet, dressed in black skirt-suits, gave a lecture-performance, complete with comparative transparencies on an overhead projector, cloaking the gallery’s street-level exhibition space and basement with images from Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell.
Inaugurating Balice Hertling’s beautiful new space, Oscar Tuazon’s sculptural installation and a performance by poet Ariana Reines also drew in the crowds. Tuazon had admired Reines’s work for a long time, and although Reines had “never seen Oscar’s work in person, just Googled it,” she agreed to a collaboration. Reading texts written no more than ten days before her performance, at one point Reines had her French audience chanting, “I want the gold. Shimmer, shimmer.” Later Reines admitted that she “was just as embarrassed as they were, so no one was exploited.”
Einarsson and Tuazon are old friends from their days in the Whitney Independent Study Program (Einarsson is also godfather to Tuazon’s baby girl), so Balice Hertling and Bugada & Cargnel joined forces for a dinner at the Pavillon Puebla inside Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Nestled in the dramatically landscaped park, a project of Napoleon III, the galleries and their guests filled more than half a dozen banquet tables in the main dining room, where everyone enjoyed an Italian meal served family-style. Red wine flowed, and the pianist, variously working a synthesizer and a baby grand, rolled out ballads by Lucio Battisti and Charles Azvanour.
Dessert (tiramisu) wrapped up a little after 1 AM, and revelers began making their way to Chez Moune, a former lesbian club in the ninth arrondissement that’s recently been taken over by notorious entrepreneur André Saraiva (of Le Baron, Paris Paris, and Hotel Amour fame). There, the new magazine Paris, LA and designers Yazbukey hosted a lively afterparty for Tuazon and Einarsson. Phones buzzed with frantic texts from those wrapping up an evening of openings in upscale Saint-Germain, asking if there was any room on the guest list. On Wednesday night at least, Belleville was the city’s coup de coeur.
“I AM SAD and sentimental tonight,” Julieta Aranda said at the start of the two-night Irish wake a fortnight ago for the Building, the multiuse space that the Mexican-born artist established with Anton Vidokle and Magdalena Magiera. “I was up all night printing photos from past parties to pin on the walls. I was holding them and thinking, ‘That looks like so much fun. I look so drunk in these.’ But we always wanted it to be a moment. We never wanted it to become an institution.”
Despite that intention, the Building grew into a long-term hub for Berlin’s art activity. Vidokle originally rented the Platz der Vereinten Nationen 14A in 2006 to house unitednationsplaza, a yearlong “exhibition as school” that he organized after the Manifesta scheduled to take place in Cyprus was canceled. After unitednationsplaza, the Building emerged, and the space became a nonprofit site for lectures, screenings, performances, and everything in between. Alongside the art and conversation, the Building also hosted the e-flux video-rental project and a well-stocked library. The events always had an intense academic dimension, but downstairs, hidden in the basement, was a bar with silver walls and a bacchanalian vibe where Berlin’s sexy art nerds exercised or acquired social skills and killed excess brain cells.
So as the final hurrah before members of Berlin’s art community disperse to other basements, bars, and buildings, a series of lectures and boozy all-night festivities, drawn together via an open call to the community of regulars, buzzed around the Building. From the more than two hundred proposals submitted, organizers selected Christopher Faulhaber’s lecture, “Reterritorialization of Transit Space: A Short Guide to Project Art,” a talk by Florian Göttke about images of toppled sculptures of Saddam Hussein, a film screening by Aykan Safoğlu titled “Incompleteness of the Narrative,” and a late-evening climactic discussion with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Elena Filipovic commemorating Obrist’s 2008 book, A Brief History of Curating.
“Pedagogy as Potentiality in Reverse,” a workshop organized by critic Alix Rule, drew more than forty attendees the first night, including artist Cyprien Gaillard, writer Gideon Lewis-Kraus, impresario Michael Portnoy, critic Andreas Schlegel, and cult pin-up Eden Berlin. Rule handed out paper, boards, and drawing supplies so each of the participants could make one five-minute and twelve one-minute sketches of Cecile Evans, a dancer/actress-cum–video artist. “I hardly noticed being naked,” Evans said when she was back in her normal art-opening attire. “The sound of so many pencils on paper generated a real sense of intimacy for me—maybe even more than my nudity.”
On the final night, images of the past were revived with a screening of Buckminster Fuller Meets the Hippies in Golden Gate State Park, a 1967 documentary of the eccentric architect addressing a crowd of attentive flower children. “An incredible mirroring effect,” Aranda said upon seeing nearly three hundred people—including artists Carsten Nicolai, Elmgreen & Dragset, Christoph Keller, Bojan Sarcevic, Annika Eriksson, and Anri Sala—huddled on the floor watching the screening which, without a break segued into an entrance by “friend of the fam” Obrist.
After Obrist’s talk, the crowd filed downstairs to hear La Stampa, the Building’s band-in-residence, made up of Frieze’s Jörg Heiser and Jan Verwoert and COMA gallery’s Thomas Hug. “They’re not ironic, like a New York band would be,” Aranda confided. “They are belly-up vulnerable. And it was good. I danced.”
“We did everything we could,” Vidokle summed up. “Now it’s over,” Aranda said. And with that, the Building became just another building.
EVERY YEAR, Zurich kicks off the back-to-school-season proper with a spate of hard-hitting art openings. This round commenced the Thursday before last when a cluster of smart exhibitions opened in the center of town.
At Mai 36 Galerie, the General Idea show was a bit sleepy, perhaps because AA Bronson, the only living member of the group (Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal died of AIDS in 1994), was still in Biel/Bienne for the opening of the big sculpture group show “Utopics.” Around the corner at Kunsthaus Zürich, I was happy to run into dealer Elizabeth Dee, who was merrily staving off jet leg with a pouch of silver-colored chocolate bonbons. I popped a couple, and we made our way over to Haus Konstruktiv to catch Philippe Decrauzat’s sensorially unnerving installation opening on the ground floor (Takehito Koganezawa and Rudolf de Crignis were upstairs), and then to the nearby dinner, where the artist’s friends and fellow Lausanne-gelinos held court at a long table on the river. There was plenty of chatter about the impending Friday-night blowout at the Löwenbräu building, home to such houses of (good) repute as Eva Presenhuber, Hauser & Wirth, Kunsthalle Zurich, and the Migros Museum. Francesca Pia, whose space faces the Löwenbräu from across the street, joined the meal with Hard Hat’s Fabrice Gygi before zipping back to the gallery to finish installing the (fantastic, as it turned out) Hard Hat–curated group show also opening on Friday. A bit burned out on art talk, I implored Pia to tell me something about her hometown, Bern. “What’s there to say? I swim in the river every morning, then commute to Zurich.” Name one dealer with an analogous daily ritual in New York.
TGIF. There were just two hours to navigate the warren of heavy-hitters at Löwenbräu, and traffic jams abounded in the converted brewery’s staircases. Pipilotti Rist’s “dream living room” realized in Hauser & Wirth’s ground-floor space resembles a psychedelic swinger’s pad and served as a great spot for a pit stop, replete with flashy curtains, pillows, and swirling lights. Upstairs at Presenhuber, the impeccable Douglas Gordon show filled the space with monitors of crows atop churches and a huge screen for a version of his 24 hour psycho, this one back and forth and to and fro. The dealer herself, one foot ensconced in a fuchsia cast, nicely complemented the stark, pink-and-brown Gerwald Rockenschaub piece inhabiting the gallery’s second showroom. I praised the Gordon show downstairs, and she demurred: “Just the work of a wonderful artist!” Migros Museum’s group show of four American artist teams and solo acts (Cory Arcangel, Jacob and Jessica Ciocci, Shana Moulton, and Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch—all younger than a certain iconic historical figure) filled huge rooms with works by each.
Soon enough, it was time for the Biergarten-y party on the loading dock. In line for bratwurst, I bumped into Hauser & Wirth’s Anna Helwing. The peaceable scene of one-thousand-plus art fans, yahoos, and blue-chip dealers waiting in line to bring carnival food back to jammed cafeteria tables was a surprise—it was all very well organized. “What do you expect? It’s Switzerland.” Helwing herself returned to Zurich not long ago after a decade-long stint in Los Angeles, where, as many know, she ran her own gallery. Looking out onto the vast, orderly, and largely happy crowd, I wondered whether she might be on to something.
Later that night, a small group of artists made off in the direction of an afterparty at a new club called Exil. En route, we reconfirmed our directions with a crew of local ladies clacking down Limmatstrasse who misunderstood the question (or did they?) and redirected us to X-tra, a venue popular with sixteen-year-olds, also apparently (according to ads plastered around the city) the site of an upcoming Peaches concert. Undeterred, we worked our way back to the Löwenbräu and found the party there still ablaze. I joined a table with some Italian-Swiss dudes tickled to be drinking Campari after dinner (by 3 AM, the wine had run out), one of whom turned out to be Emanuel Rossetti of Basel’s New Jerseyy project space. He was leaving in the morning for a battery of Basel events the next day, and he may have been the only one left on that loading dock with morning in mind.
Left: Collector Galila Barzilai Hollander with Rotwand's Bettina Meier-Bickel. Right: Art Basel directors Marc Spiegler and Annette Schönholzer.
On Saturday (afternoon), I rolled out of my flat and into the dining room of Terroir, a handsome second-floor restaurant across town, for a seated lunch honoring Bronson. Afterward, he and I walked over to Mai 36 for a quick tour of the show, which I had only glimpsed two nights before. It’s a re-creation of the collective’s final exhibition, originally presented at Mai 36 in 1994, with the addition of a room of early works and three of their iconic AIDS monochromes—“self-portraits, in a sense.” The exhibition, elegant and heartening in concept and execution, was my pick of the weekend.
Saturday also marked a new, post-Löwenbräu initiative called Rendez-View, put together by a consortium of younger, international galleries including BolteLang, Freymond-Guth & Co, Claudia Groeflin, Karma International, and Rotwand. Cars ferried guests between the spaces for afternoon tours, and those still in town by evening gathered at the Hotel Helvetia for a seemingly endless cocktail hour and dinner. I could be mistaken, but I think they served something called Paella-wurst. At a table with Lizzie Fitch and the Migros Museum’s Raphael Gygax, Fitch regaled us with tales of of a tour earlier in the week that had culminated in an I Love Lucy–style conveyer-belt chocolate binge. We tried reenacting the scenario when the waiters returned with dessert. The wine flowed until it didn’t; some danced and some fled. I danced, then fled—home to my flat and onto my train the next morning, which glided out of the Hauptbahnhof not a minute after its scheduled departure.
Left: Kunsthalle Zurich director Beatrix Ruf (right). Right: Migros Museum's Sergio Pastor with artist Shana Moulton.
THE RURAL COASTAL TOWN OF MOSS, NORWAY, is a forty-minute drive south of the nation’s chocolate-box capital, a blur of glistening shoreline and light-dappled forests. I traveled this route several times last week by rail, bus, and car, and only in certain moments did my attention stray from the sapphire waters, the islands dotting the bay, and the sailboats navigating their routes along the eastern shore of the Oslofjord. Norway, as you may know, is one of the world’s most picturesque places. Its contemporary art, as the well-worn estimation goes, tends to be somber, dark, and loud, the brooding black-sheep freak to a nation of beaming natural blonds.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that Lina Džuverovic and Stina Högkvist, the curators of the 2009 Momentum Biennial, decided to address the notion of Nordic clichés in their exhibition, housed for the fifth time in Moss. Its title, “Favored Nations,” refers to a legal term for equal treatment in trade agreements, but it resonates nicely with the long-standing humanitarian and egalitarian milieus of the region, where it pays, literally, to be an artist. (In case anyone’s counting, artists participating in the show were each given seventeen hundred dollars and ample time to install.)
Left: Momentum curators Lina Džuverovic and Stina Högkvist. Right: Artists Matias Faldbakken and Gardar Eide Einarsson.
Those who remember René Block’s 2007 Nordic pavilion at the Venice Biennale, “Welfare—Fare Well,” might find the whiff of longing in this year’s Momentum a little staid. But it would be hard to parse whether that old nostalgic chestnut in “Favored Nations” is bolstered by location (many of the artists live in New York, London, or Berlin) or by the slowly diminishing forms of support from their homelands. The tone was subdued nonetheless, a sharp turn from the ’90s Nordic art “boom” popularized by a generation that included Peter Land and Olafur Eliasson. (As Džuverovic suggested, for a good read on this see Power Ekroth’s essay “Pissing on the Nordic Miracle.”)
I managed to drop by the exhibition a few days before it officially opened, which gave me a chance to speak with some of the artists installing their works. Nina Beier pointed out the intricacies of her collaboration with Marie Lund, for which five men are silently reading Alain Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie on their own time and each in his mother tongue. Juan-Pedro Fabra told me about his own collaboration with Carl Michael von Hausswolff and Jan Håfström, taking special care to describe his spooky retrieval of a handmade sign in Montevideo, Uruguay, that once decorated the grave site of soldiers who died on the Nazi battleship Graf Spee. “Does that make me a tomb raider?” he asked.
I made several return visits to Ida Ekblad’s abstract paintings, Lars Laumann and Benjamin A. Huseby’s dreamy Nico-inspired video, and Maja Borg’s film Ottica Zero. Spread across two exhibition spaces––with twenty-four works in the Momentum Kunsthall (a former brewery) and seven at Gallery F15 (an ex-estate), as well as a series of works by Holmqvist in advertising light boxes around the town––the show meanders, but the high notes are strong.
Left: Artists Karl Holmqvist and Juan Pedro Fabra. Right: Standard (Oslo) director Eivind Furnesvik.
“Yes, but it turns the works into a bunch of footnotes,” was how one critic responded to my initial assessment during dinner that night at Moss’s Jeløy Radio, a stately hotel that once housed Norway’s first radio transmitter. Sharing our table with Momentum’s director, Dag Aak Sveinar; the director of the Baltic Art Center, Lisa Rosendahl; and Linus Elmes, the newly appointed director of Oslo’s Young Artists' Society (UKS), that conversation went from zero to ninety in the space of a few minutes. It was enough to cut short my tête-à-tête across the table with Moderna Museet curator Fredrik Liew about their upcoming Lee Lozano survey, as we partook in the kind of heated dialogue one rarely sees at such buttoned-up affairs.
Not all nights were like this, though. The raucous dinner in Oslo on Friday that followed Torbjørn Rødland’s packed opening at Standard began with dim sum and ended with rounds of the region’s notoriously strong aquavit. We needed it to warm up on that chilly summer night, which extended long into the hours of the next day.
Saturday afternoon’s opening festivities for Momentum brought back a more relaxed, Moss-style pace. Around 6:30 PM, several hundred people gathered in the garden behind F15 for a performance by Ásmundur Ásmundsson, assisted by a crew of shaggy workers, some with radio controls. A large crane was parked a few feet away from several blue oil drums that were stacked in a pyramid like champagne glasses at a swank party. Onlookers drank from plastic flutes.
Without ado, the drums were slowly doused by cement that spewed emphatically and erratically from a hose dangling above the work. “Chris Burden,” said one; “Roman Signer,” said another. A bystander told me about an oil spill in the bay just weeks before the opening. Everything seemed just a little too scatological at that moment, and very un-Scandinavian.
“Do they really have to cover the whole thing?” I asked. “Well, it’s the manly thing to do,” was the reply. Then, nonchalantly: “Anyway, they bought all that cement.”
“THE CITY BURNING is Los Angeles’s deepest image of itself,” wrote Joan Didion in 1965. Driving along I-10 toward Southern California’s newest art fair, the Malibu Annual, I only had to glance to my right to see the orange fires running like scars through the hills and ominous, billowing clouds stretching across the blue sky to the northeast. The sense of impending doom stood in odd contrast to the unflagging optimism of the dealers assembling their booths across town in Malibu.
The Hamptons have long been the place for artists and dealers’ summer flings, so it makes sense for Malibu, the aspiring Hamptons of the West, to be taken over by the Los Angeles contemporary art world—even if only for three days. The first-ever Malibu Annual felt less like a vacation retreat, though, and more like dealers dragging their wares to summering collectors, which, on second thought, may not be so different from the Hamptons after all.
I arrived an hour before the 7 PM opening at the Malibu Country Mart, a name that summons visions of hot dogs and deep-fried Twinkies, to discover what must be the most highbrow strip mall in the universe (or at least outside Scottsdale), with outposts of Los Angeles’s most au courant shops, places like Ron Herman, Madison, and Maxfield; there, for the cost of a sweatshirt ($1,600), you could easily purchase a painting from one of the young galleries at the fair.
Left: Dealer Jeff Poe. Right: Artist Marie Jaeger with dealer François Ghebaly of Chung King Projects.
The opening party got off to a slow start—no surprise given the traffic from the city. The site, a former school for troubled teenagers, had been stripped raw for the seven galleries that composed the fair. It eventually filled up with artists (Tim Hawkinson and Brendan Fowler), nonparticipating dealers (like Mihai Nicodim, Martha Otero, Marc Richards), and even a smattering of collectors, including Blake Byrne and the Jangers.
The warren of hallways made for a tight opening party. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a whole art fair,” remarked one dealer, whom I spotted heading for the door early in the evening. But this fair, with strong showings from the Company, Sister, and Chung King Projects, was well worth seeing. Steve Hanson of China Art Objects had some great new work by Jonathan Pylypchuk, including a sculpture made specially for the fair of a sickly-looking frog, which held a sign that read: MALIBU BLOWS. WHICH WAY TO LA CRESCENTA?
I ran into dealer and Malibu resident Jeff Poe sniffing around with his dog. He wasn’t participating, and I expressed my surprise that he had come out to support the younger dealers. “Of course I did,” he said. “I live here.” I slipped away to watch Dan Finsel’s creepy/amazing Beverly Hills 90210 lip-synch video at one of Parker Jones Gallery’s rooms. It all became especially surreal when former 90210-er Tori Spelling came in to catch a glimpse; a bemused expression crossed her face, and she left as quickly as she’d entered. (When fair founder John Knuth found out that Spelling had come with her husband, Dean McDermott, he freaked out, grabbed my arm, and insisted I photograph him with the actress. “I’ve had a crush on her since I was fifteen,” he admitted.)
I left shortly before the fair’s closing and headed with friends to Nobu—not out of any allegiance to the pricey restaurant, but because this is where people in Malibu eat. Feeling refreshed from the sushi and cold sake, I repaired to the afterparty in a partially burned-out house in the Colony, where dealer/DJ Patrick Painter loomed above his laptop, playing hip-hop. As I leaned over the railing and looked onto partygoers running through the sand toward the ocean, I realized that this was one of those rare and uncanny moments that actually resembled the (mostly false) fantasies of the LA lifestyle. (Visions of The Big Lebowski’s Malibu scenes danced in my head.)
Malibu has been the site of its own terrible blazes, but the city and its new contemporary art fair handily ditched—or at least safely ignored—the disasters going on across town. It was a good start. A few of the dealers even bragged of good sales. But then again, don’t they always?