SOME TWO HUNDRED well-wishers, friends, colleagues, and descendants of art collector and philanthropist Olga Hirshhorn gathered last Friday night at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden for the benefactor’s ninetieth birthday party, a black-tie affair that began with opera tributes and modern dance and concluded with heavy-metal covers and Kanye West shutter-shade handouts. Over the interim, Hirshhorn’s friends and family—including tennis partners and Cove Inn regulars from Naples (Florida), fly-fishermen from Martha’s Vineyard, and diplomats from Washington, DC—enjoyed a private, twilight dinner in the sculpture garden. There, one presenter after another, including Hirshhorn Museum director Richard Koshalek and former Corcoran Gallery of Art director David Levy, toasted Hirshhorn’s productivity, her longevity, and her devotion to art. If any of them noticed the striking juxtaposition of the dais and its backdrop—the looming, angsty figures of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais lit up in festive, purple party lights—none made a point of mentioning it, though the sculpture earned praise in several toasts.
The partying Burghers would not be the most surprising visual from the evening; instead, that honor belonged to the mounted tail of a forty-pound striped bass, a trophy that angler and author David Kinney presented to Hirshhorn for her lifetime achievements at the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. She neared—but never quite managed—the Derby’s “grand slam,” which involves capturing a false albacore, bonito, striped bass, and bluefish of a certain size over the course of five weeks. (She fell “a millimeter short,” offered Kinney.) That Hirshhorn took up competitive fishing well into her eighties represents an accomplishment in and of itself—and not, it would seem, an atypical one for her.
Left: Attendees at the party. Right: Artist Philip Pearlstein.
Though he was not able to appear at the party personally, Bill Clinton addressed Hirshhorn via video and, in his own inimitable fashion, spoke best to her charms. Recalling the times they had spent together at Martha’s Vineyard, Clinton said, “I remember when we were at our first dinner together, and I asked to sit next to you.” He chuckled. “And, well, it was the beginning of quite a friendship.” Another appreciative gesture, a portrait by Philip Pearlstein, shows an unrefined likeness of Hirshhorn holding Man Ray’s Indestructible Object (and bears the stiff inscription OLGA HIRSHHORN IS 90); it was commissioned by Levy, an old friend of Hirshhorn’s. (Levy’s gift inspired some tittering from the crowd: In 1995, Hirshhorn surprised insiders by announcing that she would donate all the art she collected after her husband Joe Hirshhorn’s death—some seven hundred American and European works, worth, at the time, $10 million—to the Corcoran, rather than to her husband’s namesake institution.)
“We were gossiping like hell,” Levy said, describing a session in advance of the party during which he and Pearlstein signed and numbered (respectively) 185 prints of the portrait—one party favor for every guest. Pearlstein taught at Pratt with Levy’s father. For his part, Pearlstein noted that the portrait was only the second time he had ever worked from a photograph, and he said that he had a tough time deciding what to make: “I couldn’t think of anything quirky.”
Before dinner, it was a more staid affair. Washington Ballet artistic director Septime Webre programmed a dance performed by Andile Ndlovu; art collector Aimee Lehrman preened in the reflective glass of Dan Graham’s For Gordon Bunshaft. After dinner, the champagne came out—and so did the glow sticks. And the light-up Kanye West shades. An adolescent girl with a deep alto, backed by a rock band of other youngsters, saved the party with a cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” among other numbers. Onlookers peered over the sculpture garden’s walls as Hirshhorn’s many relatives and admirers danced well beyond sundown.
THE MIKHAIL BARYSHNIKOV who danced three of the six solos on the program correctly titled “Unrelated Solos” last week at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York is now at the height of his powers as an impresario of contemporary dance. He has used his superstar status to place contemporary choreography and its modernist history at the center of cosmopolitan cultural discourse. In order to hold the attention of fans and funders, he occasionally delivers himself live onstage. How long he can keep up his end of this tacit bargain is a question he has raised in recent interviews—hence the sold-out performances with hundred of standbys turned away for what might have been one of his last New York appearances, his first in his namesake center’s spare, new Jerome Robbins Theater.
Once seated, my companion Douglas Crimp and I noticed several devotees of contact improvisation (distinguished by their Vermont woolen accessories) eagerly awaiting the world premiere of the solo by contact guru Steve Paxton. Also in the crowd was arts patron–turned-filmmaker Anne Bass with Cambodian dancer Sokvannara Sar, her discovery and the subject of her movie Dancing Across Borders. We noticed the peculiar seats in the new theater—plush covered benches, each accommodating three spectators. Since the space between the rows is extremely narrow, the occupants of each bench must rise simultaneously to allow people to pass, thus creating repeated aleatory trios of plié and relevé.
Choreographed respectively by Benjamin Millepied, Alexei Ratmansky, and Susan Marshall, Baryshnikov’s solos demanded little more from him than his presence and consummate grace of body and manner. Laboring the obvious, Millepied had the star partner with his own film image, projected larger and younger on a screen at the back of the stage. When a sequence of the teenage Baryshnikov doing pirouettes in a Kirov classroom was looped so that the rapid, precision-perfect turns in place were extended ad infinitum, the living sixty-two-year-old dancer raised an eyebrow and a shoulder as if to say, “What for?”—a gesture that perhaps he should have made even before the piece began. Ratmansky’s somewhat more intriguing rumination on the changes wrought by time’s passage showed off Baryshnikov’s expressive qualities as a mime, although that well-trod path for aging ballet stars seemed not particularly inspiring to him. Marshall’s work-in-progress raised the existential question “For whom does one dance?” and then answered it by having Baryshnikov call to the stage three audience plants from the front row (credited in the program as “assistants to the choreographer.”) Again, “What for?”
There’s nothing wrong with throwaways, which, at best, was what these solos were, although I would rather have seen Baryshnikov do his daily barre. Still, it’s disappointing that nothing here came close to the courage, relish, and wild humor he showed when, for example, assaying “Valda’s Solo” in the White Oak Dance Project revival of Yvonne Rainer’s The Mind is a Muscle, one of the most memorable dance moments in recent memory.
Filling out the program, the two solos choreographed and danced by David Neumann suggested, in their relationship of movement and word, David Gordon lite. Paxton’s “The Beast,” on the other hand, was a mesmerizing work. Paxton, who is nearly ten years older than Baryshnikov and is experiencing some of the same inevitable physical limitations, has always foregrounded a certain “being in the present” in his dance practice. “The Beast” is based in the Tai Chi–gone-Cubist movement vocabulary Paxton has employed for some fifty years, but with emphasis on the articulation of joints and vertebrae, the body imagined inside out. If a crustacean could trace its consciousness in its carapace, it might move as Paxton did in this darkly beautiful piece, an intimate examination of the living skeleton and an evocation of what remains in the grave.
Left: MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach (right). Right: Artist Leigh Ledare, MoMA associate director Kathy Halbreich, and MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey. (All photos: Miriam Katz)
IF THE PLANET doesn’t explode first, the Whitney Biennial, the New Museum’s triennial, and MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York” quintennial will coincide in the year 2030. This year, however, the intervals separating the three were long enough not to complicate the production logistics of artists who'd been selected for more than one, but short enough that an interested public might notice which artists were. We can congratulate Tauba Auerbach for making all three, wonder how Emily Roysdon got away with showing iterations of the same project at two, and so on. As for the curators of “Greater New York,” they aimed to differentiate their opus from, of all things, an art fair. “We don’t have a lot of money, but we have a lot of space,” MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach told the press Thursday morning. “So we can offer each artist their own room.” Like Volta.
Perhaps the quintennial’s greater advantage over trade shows is time —that luxurious four-month run—and Biesenbach and cocurators Connie Butler and Neville Wakefield exploited it by inviting the artists to make PS1 their second studio for the show’s duration. At Thursday night’s opening, Ryan McNamara, who will be taking dance lessons in the galleries, expressed hope that more people would take the curators up on the invitation: “I’ll need someone to have lunch with.” Aki Sasamoto said she planned to spend some time with her installation in the boiler room—as soon as she finishes her last five performances at the Whitney.
Left: Artist Nick Mauss with Antony. Right: Artist Conrad Ventur with Light Industry’s Thomas Beard.
In all fairness, there are a few aspects that make this exhibition feel truly distinctive (and it does present a good share of underexposed artists, notably Mariah Robertson, who printed a hazy catalogue of her own photography on a hundred-foot stretch of metallic paper that spills from ceiling to floor in voluptuous folds). For one thing, it’s the gayest show ever, at least among major periodic group exhibitions, where gays are always present, of course, but as “two or three tokens,” as one artist put it, not counting the discreet. Quite a few revelers on the museum’s patio couldn’t help but comment on the pervasive queerness, from Nico Muhly’s elevator music (if that sounds like a jab, it’s not mine—his piece is piped into the elevator) to A. L. Steiner’s wallpaper-cum–photo diary and Sharon Hayes’s balloon-strewn videos of election-year protests. “I’ve never owned gayness like this before,” Conrad Ventur said of his work, three YouTube-sourced versions of a single Shirley Bassey song projected through spinning colored crystals. The current “Greater New York” also seems like the darkest show, as in least white, of its category. Not that I tried to quantify the impression by playing guessing games with the artists’ names—the exhibition’s mood avoids the challenge of identity politics as much as post-identity denial; it discourages precise counts. Even renowned feminist calculator Jerry Saltz, when asked about the percentage of women artists, said: “Good . . . Seems about fortyish.”
When the vernissage guests finally, reluctantly obliged security and abandoned the premises half an hour after the official 8:30 PM closing time, they moved in packs two blocks west to the unofficial afterparty at LIC Bar—but many retreated upon realizing that at the bar, as at PS1, alcohol abounded but food was scarce. (“They have nothing!” Biesenbach said as he exited. “I hate them.”) Inside, the din of chatter barely muzzled an amplified falsetto squeal that made Kalup Linzy wonder if his work had been smuggled from the museum to the bar’s sound system. But it was just Thursday night trivia. Once the words became discernible, I thought the questions for neighborhood know-it-alls weirdly bracketed the evening, in conjunction with Ben Coonley’s PowerPoint parody of the weak brainteasers aired at multiplexes before features, which had been screened earlier in PS1’s new basement cinema in anticipation of the program that would kick off there a week later. One slide posed a “structural/materialist anagram”: TREEP DIALG. “Greater New York,” another slide boasted. “A quinquennial celebration of local talent.”
Left: The ferry to Cockatoo Island. (Photo: Belinda Rolland) Right: Artist Isaac Julien, Sydney MCA director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, David Bailey, and Biennale of Sydney artistic director David Elliott.
COCKATOO ISLAND is a former naval shipyard. Covered with buildings in various states of decay, the island’s physical history is ever present: Huge rusting cranes tower over slipways built by convicts in the early nineteenth century, while remnants of World War II fortifications—constructed for Japanese air raids that never came—abut veranda’d colonial houses. Cockatoo was established in 1839 as a prison in Sydney Harbor for convicts who’d been transported from England but were too wicked to ever give up their criminal ways. Things have not really changed; claimed by some as “our Arsenale,” Cockatoo has become the main venue of the Biennale of Sydney since its inauguration as a venue in 2008. It’s also the site of the hot-ticket event of the biennale’s opening week, last Tuesday’s Artists’ Party.
To get to the island and the party, you needed to get on a ferry. To get on the ferry you had to get in a line, and, with more than fifteen hundred people on the guest list all arriving at Pier 2/3 at the same time, some wags noted a resemblance to the evacuation of Dunkirk. And so we waited, and waited, better dressed perhaps than those hapless survivors of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940 France, but just as desperate to rejoin friends and loved ones separated in the panic.
Once we had reached Cockatoo, the crush at the bar in the cavernous Turbine Hall was intense. Above our heads, Cai Guo-Qiang’s Inopportune Stage One—seven cars suspended from the roof exploding with disco lights—provided a spectacular decorative counterpoint to the mayhem below. With Brook Andrew’s adults-only Jumping Castle War Memorial situated just outside the “VIP Bvlgari Bar,” these were just about the only works of art visible at the party, the rest of the show cordoned off lest overrefreshed art lovers fall down a hole. The artists’ party was all about drinking beer and singing along to the tracks the DJ spun for the crowd—solid gold ’80s hits including “Tainted Love” and “Mad World”—these being, I am reliably informed, universal signifiers for art-world parties everywhere.
Left: Artist Angela Ellsworth and writer Tania Katan. Right: The Artists’ Party. (Photos: Belinda Rolland)
To get a head start on the art of BoS17, you had to attend the combined media preview/vernissage that had begun bright and early the previous morning at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Speeches from BoS governor Luca Belgiorno-Nettis and artistic director David Elliott made some bold claims for Elliott’s particular curatorial gambit. Titled “The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age,” the biennale is, Elliott says, his “post-Enlightenment show” that is “symphonic in structure” and dedicated to “the 50 percent of the world’s population who earn less than $2.50 a day.” It was an admirable if slightly uncomfortable dedication for those at the media launch. As we breakfasted on gourmet chocolate-chip cookies and cups of tea served by waiters, it occurred to me that it’s a good thing entry to all BoS venues is free, since $2.50 wouldn’t even get you a coffee at the MCA restaurant.
As the press toured BoS17’s seven harborside venues, Elliott’s grand plan was revealed to be a survey of contemporary art with a folksy tinge: haptic, crafty art that opts for sincerity while avoiding sensational grandstanding and high-end gloss—although there’s a fair bit of that too. Conrad Botes’s graphic art/comic series Cain Slays Abel is a typical lo-fi example, as is Jake and Dinos Chapman’s 2009 Shitropsective—cardboard remakes of their iconic works of the ’90s—or Sherry Siopis’s anime-style horror painting Ambush or Fiona Pardington’s haunting photos of life casts of the heads of Solomon Island warriors. The high end of artmaking includes a monumental foam Paul McCarthy sculpture, Ship of Fools, Ship Adrift 2, at Pier 2/3; Cai’s cars; and AES+F’s mind-bending nine-screen video art extravaganza The Feast of Trimalchio at Cockatoo.
Mindful of my writerly duties, I took a notebook and pen with me to the artists’ party. Problem was, no one in Australia knows what international artists look like, simply because they rarely visit. Attempts to get into the “VIP” bar were rebuffed by Bvlgari security, and my notebook remained mostly blank. At one moment I thought I’d improbably spied Klaus Kinski in the Turbine Hall, but the crowd was mostly Australian art-world notables celebrating like it was 1989. Reuben Keehan of Artspace—where Tokyo’s SuperDeluxe has set up shop for three months—told me that the following night’s opening at his venue would feature Japanese DJs and musical acts, but the details were obliterated by Toto’s “Africa” booming out of the speakers. Someone asked whether I would make it to Hiroshi Sugimoto’s keynote address that weekend and all the exciting art and musical performances coming up, and my honest answer was I had no idea. Plans seemed futile at this stage: After all, we still had to get back on the ferries to the mainland.
Left: Artists Skeena Reece and Dana Claxton with A.R.T. director Johnnie Walker. Right: Curator Gerald McMaster, Biennale of Sydney CEO Marah Braye, Sherry Cameron, and curator Bruce Ferguson.
Left: Arter building night before the opening. Right: Artist Cengiz Cekil and curator René Block. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)
I THOUGHT ROME was the most beautiful city in the world, but then I saw Istanbul. The occasion was the highly anticipated inauguration on May 7 of the new Arter space, a showcase for the Vehbi Koç Foundation’s contemporary art collection and a platform for artistic production launched by scion Ömer Koç.
Located on the bustling pedestrian Istiklal Street, which runs from Galata Tower to Taksim Square, the foundation’s elegant historic building reflects the influence of the Koç family, owners of the largest conglomerate in the country as well as the first private cultural institution, the Sadberk Hanim Museum. The private sector here has been the key to promoting contemporary artists: Siemens Sanat is sponsored by the eponymous conglomerate, Platform Garanti was initiated by the Garanti Bank, the Istanbul Modern was founded by pharmaceutical company Eczacibaşi, and the Istanbul Biennial is currently being funded by Koç Holding.
On Wednesday I visited the Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art, founded by developer Can Elgiz and his wife, Sevda, with a permanent collection that ranges from paintings by Fahrelnissa Zeid and her son, Nejad Devrim, to images stitched by Ramazan Bayrakoglu and Tracey Emin as well as Jan Fabre’s beetle-studded 1993 sculpture Wall of the Rise of Angels. Over lunch at a new designer mall nearby, surrounded by the company’s towers, Sevda informed me of Sotheby’s vice president Ali Can Ertug’s tragic death the day before. “The Turkish art world is in shock,” he said. “I don’t think Ömer will feel up to attending the Arter opening—they were very close friends.”
Left: Curator November Paynter, artist Cevdet Erek, and curator Mari Spirito. Right: Artist Ahmet Ogut and Rampa's Özkan Cangüven.
The next night was the inauguration of “Never Neutral,” curated by Mari Spirito and November Paynter at the Misir Apartments building, home of the Galerist and Nev galleries. Chris Marker’s timeless film montage Sans Soleil was projected in the darkened quasi-empty room, formerly the URA project space, across from a TV monitor playing Dara Birnbaum’s Cannon: Taking to the Streets, documenting political activism in the States. On the way to the exhibition I was detained on Istiklal by a mob with red flags protesting against the Greek bailout, which made the exhibition resonate all the more. The impetus behind the timely show, according to Spirito, was a desire to exhibit artists who are repeatedly cited as influences by other artists. “I would like to contribute something here,” she added, “but it doesn’t make sense for me to do Turkish artists.”
At a cozy wood-paneled restaurant in the maze of little alleys nearby, there was a dinner in honor of René Block, curator of Arter’s inaugural exhibition, “Starter,” and director of the organization’s Tanas project space in Berlin. In attendance was a gang of exuberant Kurdish artists along with Iraqi artist Mandana Moghaddam, artist Navid Nuur, curator Emre Baykal, and Outlet gallery’s Azra Tüzünoglu. Artist Vahap Avsar recounted why he decided to work in Istanbul again after fifteen years in New York, even though it meant serving a month in the military. “In the ’90s people were laughing at us Conceptual artists—art was more decorative. Now it is so happening—it is like Istanbul is pregnant with something bigger to come.”
The next morning I toured “Starter” with Baykal and with Melih Fereli, former director of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, whose enthusiasm for and influence on the Turkish cultural scene seems boundless. The seamlessly curated survey of 160 works from the 1960s to the present, installed on five narrow floors connected by a dizzying spiral staircase, reflects the collection’s emphasis on Turkish and regional artists complemented by references to seminal international influences and antecedents. Highlights include Ahmet Ögüt’s video Things We Count, which slowly scans a parking lot filled with obsolete fighter jets while a hypnotic voice lists a seemingly endless series of numbers. On a floor featuring installations depicting the ephemeral from Fluxus to now, Fereli spontaneously started stroking Cevdet Erek’s Shore Scene Soundtrack carpet to evoke the sea.
The place was mobbed for the opening that evening, so I was happy to have seen the pristinely poetic show in solitude. At the entrance I bumped into Rodeo’s Lara Fresko, who gushed that it was “the first show I have seen in a long time about which I have absolutely no criticism.” Koç did make an appearance and was graciously fielding visitors. “I am not just saying this because of the situation,” Spirito said, “but for me the show is about disappearance and loss—and Stuart Sherman’s Suitcase holds it all together.”
Across the street, local British expat November Paynter was holding court over drinks on the roof terrace of the Borusan Foundation, which was feting its exhibition “Cosmic Latte,” curated by Suzanne Egeran. As we looked down on the Arter palace, and across the Bosphorus to the opposite shore, Vogue Turkey art director Iain Foxall commented, “Istanbul has never had anything as internationally important as this before.” Critic H. G. Masters added to the praise for Block: “Tanas consistently has the best shows in Berlin aside from the museums.” After the quiet official dinner party on the terrace of the Anatolian Cultural Centre, we all decamped to Urban, a trellised bar in an alley near the Galatasaray Hamami, after which the brave repaired to the Kiki club for all-night dancing.
Saturday was the premiere of the new Rampa gallery, inaugurated with a survey of work by Cengiz Çekil, curated by Vasif Kortun. The immense open space was bursting with people and a mix of sculptural installations and collages, along with new and old video interviews with the artist at either end. A battalion of twelve ’70s Coke bottles outfitted with explosives in the installation Towards Childhood, Since Childhood had yet another meaning: Rampa assistant director Özkan Cangüven said he had delivered them to the gallery while on a short vacation from New York—and got offered the job.
Left: Artist Uygur Yilmaz. Right: Curator Vasif Kortun.
Later, Spirito and I dashed to the ferry for Koç’s summer house (a compound, really, reportedly run by a staff of fifty-five), where a dinner party was in progress. We were greeted by Jenny Holzer’s red neon PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT above the elevator, which opened to reveal seemingly everything Koç has: The place was packed with a mix of elegant Orientalist paintings and intimate portraits, grotesque sculptures by Patricia Piccinini, a profusion of Iznik ceramics—and, curiously, countless rhinoceroses. As we surveyed a wall covered with Egon Schiele paintings, dealer Nieck de Bruijn exclaimed, “This is hard-core!” But apparently that wasn’t all: There was also a model of the collector’s impressive winter residence.
At dinner I asked Koç whether he knows how many rhinos he owns: “I have no idea—I love them. The artist who created Michael Caine for Madame Tussauds made the two hunting trophies on the wall.” When we then confessed that we had mistaken his uncanny Evan Penny busts for Ron Muecks, he explained, “I would love to own a Mueck, but I can’t afford him.” Above the couch hangs Taner Ceylan’s bloodied self-portrait Spiritual, which took $107,415 at Sotheby’s in 2009. Koç inherited the house and his passion for Islamic antiques from his aunt Sevgi Gönül, but on this occasion it was Ertug, whose friendship had inspired Koç’s contemporary art collection, who was present both in spirit and in thought.
ADVERTISEMENTS WITH PHOTOGRAPHS of Warhol, Picasso, and Dalí—along with the slogan JE M’INSTALLE Ŕ METZ (I’m Moving to Metz)—greeted visitors on the platform of the TGV high-speed train that had been reserved by the French government for last Monday’s official opening of the Centre Pompidou-Metz. The museum is France’s first “decentralized” cultural institution; the Louvre will follow with outposts in Abu Dhabi and in Lens, France, both scheduled to open in 2012.
On the train one could overhear guests confessing, over coffee and macaroons, that this was the very first time they would set foot in Metz. And for those who still have no idea where it is, Metz is northeast of Paris, close to the borders of Germany, Luxembourg, and Belgium. (The city was also one of the most important French garrisons, which could explain why there were so many members of the military at the grand opening.) The creation of this new museum, thirty-three years after the opening of the Pompidou in Beaubourg, was no longer a subject of debate; rather, it seemed a source of pride in a cultural renaissance—at least on a national level, since most people at the opening were French. One exception was a young woman in a kimono, a friend of Shigeru Ban, the architect who, along with Jean de Gastines, was responsible for the eco-friendly building. Ban was chosen for the project largely due to the tenacity of artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, a member of the selection jury. “Well, it’s not the Bilbao Guggenheim,” a journalist remarked as we raced down the red carpet, which was soaking wet due to a downpour that a local hostess called—in the region’s charming jargon—“cow piss.”
Although certainly not as glamorous as Gehry’s iconic building, the Metz can boast a certain amount of autonomy, as its programming is not determined by its mother institution in Paris. The Metz is an attempt to return to “the original utopia of the Pompidou” by bringing together multiple genres and eras of art. (Not so different from promotional verbiage for the “New Festival” at the Pompidou last October.) At least, this is the goal of the museum’s director, Laurent Le Bon, who was walking up and down the aisles shaking hundreds of hands as he listened to abbreviated accolades: “sublime,” “fantastic,” “fabulous.”
Left: Martin Bethenod, director of Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, with artist Bertrand Lavier. Right: Alain Seban, Centre Pompidou president.
Monday was the press preview, and on Tuesday there were four openings for the museum and an early (11 AM) visit from President Nicolas Sarkozy and former first lady Bernadette Chirac. There was much waiting and many speeches by a range of figures, from local officials to the Beaubourg’s president, Alain Seban, culminating with one by Sarkozy. Sarkozy also held a closed-door meeting with private collectors such as Antoine de Galbert of La Maison Rouge, the Guerlains, and Gilles Fuchs of ADIAF—an important group of private collectors who organize the Marcel Duchamp prize—artists like Xavier Veilhan and Pierre Bismuth, and designer Ronan Bouroullec. But there were no gallery owners at the meeting, and, most improbably, no information leaked out of it.
The opening exhibition, “Chefs-d’oeuvre?” (“Masterpieces?”), will be up for a year, so no one around here really has an excuse not to see it. Nearly eight hundred works are featured, mostly from the Paris museum’s collection, though others are on loan for the occasion from international institutions like the Museum of Modern Art in New York (indeed, among the works on display is MoMA ur-director Alfred H. Barr Jr.’s diagram of the origins and evolution of modern art). Le Bon asks the obvious questions: “What is a masterpiece today?” “Does that notion still make sense?” “Who decides what a masterpiece is?” “Is a masterpiece eternal?” The bulk of the (mostly male) “masters” in the show are dead (Braque, Matisse, Picasso), though a few are among the living, including Andreas Gursky, Quentin Tarantino (not present), Brice Dellsperger, and Yann Sérandour, undoubtedly the youngest artist (b. 1974) commissioned to produce a work for the occasion.
For some, this was an opportunity to criticize historical purchases: “The Pollock is too small,” some cad complained. The most virulent criticism, though, was directed at the rather dense hanging of the works, which at times obstructed the interior architecture (of which some would have liked to see more). “A three-foot distance between Miró’s three Bleus is just not enough,” someone sniffed. Others showed signs of the Stendhal syndrome, oohing and aahing over works by Nicolas de Staël and, to a lesser extent, Olivier Mosset. Everyone, however, regretted that Carla Bruni Sarkozy was not there. “She is our true national masterpiece.”
Left: Centre Pompidou-Metz director Laurent Le Bon. Right: The Centre Pompdiou-Metz.
“LADIES!—TEN TO FIFTEEN,” said a woman in gray sweatpants eyeing Lot 45, Warhol’s Silver Liz, 1963. She meant the estimate: ten to fifteen million.
“Not very well stretched,” sniffed another, wearing a quilted Burberry jacket. She meant the canvas.
“Trixie’s husband has a self-portrait Warhol did on a napkin in a restaurant,” boasted a third.
Christie’s last public “viewing,” as the house calls it, of works in Tuesday’s Post-War and Contemporary evening auction did have some of the character of a funeral visitation, with long-lost relatives gathering to size up the competition. Determined-looking women with bouffants and antique 35-mm cameras scanned the goods; men in bespoke suits juggled paper coffee cups. John McEnroe floated around the ground-floor galleries in a ball cap and white Converse, pausing to examine at length a blue Warhol “Electric Chair” from 1964–65. The art, of course, looked impeccable.
Louise Lawler was there too, hauling a medium-format Mamiya and a tripod. “I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing here—I often plan not to come, but jump in at the last moment,” she said. “Many years ago I came to shoot the actual auction, having gotten permission, but when I arrived with my camera I was confronted by someone higher up who looked at me and said, ‘I thought we’d decided not to do that.’ It was like I wasn’t a person. Now, I feel totally welcomed. I’m certainly not the only camera around.”
Indeed she wasn’t—but her presence added a bit of aura to the proceedings: art transmuted to merchandise and turned, again, into art. (Then, probably—hopefully?—back to merchandise.) One thing was clear: Auction houses seem to lean more and more heavily in the direction of the contemporary, the enduring Warholian “moment” continuing to encourage the sublime marriages (and bitter divorces) of art and commerce.
Left: Salman Rushdie. Right: Jeffrey Deitch, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. (Photos: Erika Nusser)
That night the regular crowds made their way to Rockefeller Center for Christie’s biannual contemporary evening sale. The usual, more genteel starting time of 7 PM had been pushed forward to 6:30 PM to accommodate works from author Michael Crichton’s estate, which constituted the first thirty-one lots of the immense seventy-nine-lot auction. It was going to be a long night. Salman Rushdie was there with his “good friend,” art advisor Kim Heirston. “I wish I could buy,” he said. “I did know Michael. It will be interesting to see his collection.”
People seemed in high—if slightly anxious—spirits. The fall 2009 Christie’s sale had been a nadir, with a mere thirty-nine lots selling for $74.1 million, and a solid run seemed necessary. Auctioneer Christopher Burge kicked it all off at 6:41 PM, hitting his stride early and handily steering bidders through the first six lots, all of which went for over their high estimates.
At Lot 7 there was a slight pause, murmurs. Jasper Johns’s Flag, from 1960–66, would be a bellwether for the week. Burge began the bidding at $7 million—$3 million below the low estimate—and it quickly began to rise. “I always wanted to sell a painting for a million dollars,” Crichton quotes Johns as saying, in his monograph on the artist. This one went for $28.6 million, with buyer’s premium, to New York dealer Michael Altman. A world auction record for the artist. A good way to kick off the night.
From there it was smooth sailing. The next “major” lot was the aforementioned Liz. The painting quickly hit its $15 million high estimate and soon after began to rise in $100,000 increments, a duel between Christie’s Jean-Paul Engelen on the phone and a mysterious bidder standing in the room. With no guess as to who he was, my neighbor began calling him “The Quarterback,” after his youthful, brawny appearance. At $15.9 million, dealer Dominique Lévy joined in the game, eventually picking it up for $18.3 million, with premium. “Well, you’ve had a time,” Burge said in consolation, as the mystery bidder briefly left the room.
Left: Collectors Don and Mera Rubell. (Photo: Erika Nusser) Right: Collector Jonathan Colby at Sotheby’s.
But in fact he’d just begun. The next Warhol, Lot 51, Holly Solomon, was his for $4.8 million hammer—a relative steal, being one of very few works in the sale to go under estimate (in this case, $7 million).
Outside, after the auction, Marc Jacobs stood smoking with diamond dealer (and “Rattle Ring” inventor) John Reinhold. “He really wanted that Liz,” the designer said. Jacobs himself had just picked up Ellsworth Kelly’s Yellow Curve, 1962, for a little under a million dollars. “Auctions are a lot of fun,” he remarked casually.
“Fun if you win—sad if you lose,” Reinhold clarified.
“Depressing,” Jacobs concurred.
At Sotheby’s the next night, the bidder, by now identified as Miami-based medical malpractice lawyer Jonathan Colby, could be seen in a busy skybox in the southwest corner of the room. Still, no one (not even the Rubells, who sat in an adjacent skybox) seemed to actually know him—an unusual situation in the cozy, predictable cadre of high-end collectors. Every so often, Colby would ceremoniously descend from the loge to the auction-house floor, where he would loom auspiciously. Several times he bid, crossing his arms and shaking his head when he reached his limit (as high as $27 million, when underbidding a Rothko), high-fiving his partner when he won (twice, on an early-’60s Joan Mitchell and a 2005 stainless steel Anish Kapoor). It was an inspired performance.
But the most compelling drama of the evening was the cover lot, Warhol’s 1986 “big fright wig,” being sold by Tom Ford. At Lot 9, the work would either be a kick-starter, like Johns at Christie’s, or a bump in the road. Auctioneer Tobias Meyer began bidding at $8 million but the next bid leapt to $15 million, then $18 million. It then climbed in million-dollar increments until going to an unknown buyer on the phone for a cool $32.6 million with premium, more than double the high estimate and an (unofficial) record for the artist’s late period. The only other work that night to elicit as many claps was the back-cover lot, Maurizio Cattelan’s sculptural portrait of himself peeking through a hole in the floor, which went for just under $8 million.
Left: Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s chief auctioneer. Right: Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti. (Photos: Erika Nusser)
In the end, Christie’s pulled in an impressive $231.9 million and Sotheby’s $189.9 million, each house selling 94 percent of its lots—by all appearances two controlled, confident sales. Christie’s total was more than triple its fall auctions; Sotheby’s more than quadrupled its results from last May. Sales especially “paid off” for living artists, with Cattelan, Brice Marden, Richard Tuttle, Richard Serra, and Ellsworth Kelly achieving new records at Sotheby’s; Johns, Mark Tansey, Lee Bontecou, and Christopher Wool setting records at Christie’s. “While the euro may be falling, America is clearly in recovery,” Christie’s Amy Cappellazzo said after Tuesday’s sale.
At Sotheby’s, Meyer brought back the human angle: “May I add that Tom Ford is very happy, too.”
ONE WAY TO COUNTER spring-auction fever in New York is to dive headlong into the primary market. This route to the high life was wide open last weekend at the inception of New York Gallery Week, actually a massive, four-day immersion in new exhibitions, talks, and social events mounted by fifty cooperating dealers and seven nonprofits. Their combined efforts to enlighten and entertain at times created difficult choices and awkward social conflicts, a luxury problem if ever there was one. They also brought more artists into the open than, well, an open bar, and God knows there were plenty of those.
The official start to the event, organized by dealers Casey Kaplan and David Zwirner, was Thursday night. Fifty-four uptown shops took advantage of the moment to stage Gallery Night on Fifty-seventh Street, extending their viewing hours for anyone who wasn’t in Chelsea. And God knows plenty of people were.
Strong color anointed the inauguration of Tracey Williams’s generous new Twenty-third Street location, where Barbara Bloom’s treatment of gift giving as an exchange of values took shape in “Present.” The show was a great argument for making art out of goody boxes—receptacles for “rumor, speculation, and gossip”—and included a shelf full of drinking glasses that hum when sensors in their bases are exposed to strong light. Bloom herself brought out old-guard Conceptualists like John Baldessari, Christopher Williams, Judith Barry, Louise Lawler, and Lawrence Weiner.
Not to be outdone by pioneers of yore, the upstart 7Eleven Gallery, founded by the trio of art-family progeny Sabrina Blaichman, Caroline Copley, and Genevieve Hudson Price, opened “Make Yourself at Home,” an ebullient congregation of seventy-six (!) artist-made pieces of furniture and other partly functional domestic objects, all installed in a vacant garage on Tenth Avenue made to look like an underground living room. This promised to be the liveliest opening in town: Guests were not just gawking and gabbing but signing checks.
Still, the evening was even younger than the dealers, so I headed south for the Whitney Museum’s nineteenth American Art Award gala, held this year under the High Line at Gansevoort Street. The site is in the West Village, where Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney first landed her collection, and where the museum’s board, or some of it, hopes to build the $680 million, two-hundred-thousand-square-foot branch that it sorely needs.
Cocktails were held in Diane von Furstenberg’s nearby shop, where 350 familiar faces (including John McEnroe, Larry Gagosian, Bob Colacello, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Dorothy Lichtenstein, Amy and John Phelan, Barry Diller, and John Wesley by way of a pattern on Shala Monroque’s fetching Miu Miu dress), all imbibing before dinner in a tent erected on the site, gathered in the shadow of The Standard hotel. The event, which pulled in $1.6 million (at $75,000 a table), conveyed a palpable sense of what it would be like to have this museum and its involvement with living artists among the downtown studios and galleries where many of the eighteen thousand works in its collection first saw the light of day.
Left: Artist Glenn Ligon with Whitney curator Scott Rothkopf. Right: Diane von Furstenburg.
Commissioned by newbie curator Scott Rothkopf, Wade Guyton and Kelley Walker have wrapped the surrounding chain-link fence with 450 feet of vinyl depicting large tropical fruits and black-and-white checkered patterns echoed on the unique set of tablecloths inside the tent. “We’re planting the Whitney flag here,” curator Donna De Salvo said of the fence project, for which Tauba Auerbach and Barbara Kruger are also designing murals for exhibition over the summer and in the fall. By then we should know whether the Renzo Piano–designed building is going to rise or not.
Conspicuous in his absence was the Whitney’s biggest donor, cosmetics heir Leonard Lauder, who apparently opposes the idea. (The board will vote on it later this month.) Acknowledging how many years (thirty?) the museum has tried to expand, director Adam Weinberg made his feelings clear. “This is the beginning of the tipping point,” he told the crowd before presenting Alexander von Furstenberg with the Whitney’s award for art patronage. Guyton\Walker also designed that, cleverly hiding it in plain sight on the platform stage, where their four-by-eight-foot Sheetrock painting leaned against a larger one of a giant sliced orange.
“The Whitney is a dream factory for artists,” von Furstenberg said to loud applause, seemingly unaware that Guyton\Walker, who work with mechanically produced images, were going to destroy the award onstage and deliver a pristine version untouched by spilled champagne or vibrations from Lou Reed’s affecting after-dinner performance. After Reed let loose with a new take on “Walk on the Wild Side” and an especially beautiful “Perfect Day,” everyone wanted the Whitney to move downtown, where it seems to belong.
Friday night brought me to the museum’s current Madison Avenue neighborhood, where Roni Horn was having her first show with Hauser & Wirth, and Gagosian was feting Richard Prince’s deceptively layered “Tiffany Paintings,” after the titular jeweler’s daily ads in the New York Times. Horn’s large red-and-white abstract cut-paper drawings represented something of a breakthrough that should dissipate the sting of critics who, she said, usually ignore her, “unless they want to be scathing.” The works were all sold, I heard, at $500,000 a pop. “They do get a nice price here,” Horn said.
The same was probably true for Prince, who took advantage of his Truman Capote book collection for his latest appropriations, of which there were three floors full without a joke in sight. Nor did I see Prince among his cabal of buffed followers (Peter Brant, Ron Delsener, Kim Heirston, Mario Testino, Peter Marino, Tony Shafrazi), and when the crowd departed for dinner at the Monkey Bar, I went around the corner to the Surrey Hotel. There, jolly Iwan Wirth had taken over the Bar Pleiades for friends of Horn’s like poet Anne Carson and artists Ellen Gallagher and Peter McGough, who satisfied themselves with scrumptious finger food while Mick Jagger and L’Wren Scott dined at Café Boulud next door.
Back in Chelsea on Saturday night, West Twenty-fourth Street provided a gale of rolling thunder, with new shows opening inside every gallery door. It was unusually quiet at Marianne Boesky, where Hans Op de Beeck had transformed the space into a gray-walled salon for his large noir-ish watercolors, but Mary Boone’s gallery was teeming with ripened stars like Julian Schnabel, Barry Le Va, Karole Armitage, and Eric Fischl on hand for “Some Pictures from the ’80s” by David Salle, who seemed almost shy in their company. At Luhring Augustine’s twenty-fifth anniversary exhibition, I found only Ragnar Kjartansson and Guido van der Werve among the many artists represented; the dealers had already left for their big bash at the marbled Century Club in midtown. Yet more people (Art Basel’s Marc Spiegler, artists Liam Gillick and Sarah Morris, collector Andy Stillpass, LA MoCA curator Bennett Simpson) were at Metro Pictures for T. J. Wilcox’s premiere of three new films accompanied by wooden folding screens printed with collaged photographs. The big “get” here was Wilcox’s portrayal of Adele Astaire, Fred’s overlooked sister and onetime dance partner. “She was a girl from a small town in Nebraska who thought big,” Wilcox said. I can relate.
But at this point my head was nearing burnout from juggling so many images, objects, ideas, and (especially) pathologies. Nevertheless, I trooped on to Andrea Rosen’s inspired juxtaposition, in her front gallery, of sculptures by Nate Lowman and Scottish artist Karla Black, neither of whom she represents. “I just like their work,” said Rosen, who is getting to seem more like a curator all the time. From there, it was on to Cameron Jamie’s display of drawings, ceramics, and carved wooden gargoyles at Gladstone Gallery, where I found photographer Terry Richardson and pop-cult heroine Cynthia Plaster Caster arm in arm. “I know it isn’t popular in New York,” the Paris-based Jamie said, “but I did everything by hand myself.” The carvings alone, based on his drawings, took him a year each.
At the gallery of Casey Kaplan (the dealer responsible for inciting the week’s art attack), artist Trisha Donnelly was hiding behind the reception desk and fiddling with her iPod, from which loud disco was streaming. “I have to have music!” she shouted. I moved on to Elizabeth Dee, where Josephine Meckseper had dropped the gallery ceiling ten inches and put up a new one of Plexi tiles covered in chrome, mirrored the walls, and turned the whole space into a twisted boutique featuring a sculpture made with balls of steel wool stuck on a jewelry stand that made me laugh out loud.
But the most refreshing event of the night was at Artists Space in SoHo, which had been emptied out for a benefit dinner for one hundred honoring Julie Ault, the writer, archivist, and cofounder of the collective Group Material. With dancer/choreographer Michael Clark as well as Stephen Prina slated to perform, Wolfgang Tillmans on hand to toast Ault, and Fergus and Margot Henderson from London’s St. John restaurant in the kitchen, this was the hot ticket of the week.
It was also one of the most unpretentious and culturally rewarding evenings I have ever spent in the New York art world, largely due to Artists Space director Stefan Kalmár’s historicizing—and enlivening—influence on the near-forgotten nonprofit. “Our space is not large compared to the ambitions we have,” Kalmár joked, but the program bore him out and so did the guests, who included artists Joan Jonas, Martin Creed, Charles Atlas, and Rachel Harrison; historian Irving Sandler and his wife, Lucy; dealers Simon Preston, Maureen Paley, Carol Greene, Brooke Alexander, Gavin Brown, Pauline Daly, and Andrea Rosen; curator Clarissa Dalrymple; consultant Thea Westreich; and MoMA deputy director Kathy Halbreich.
Clark, who had a diaper pin in one ear and appeared in a black leather kilt and white shirt, performed a slow-motion dance to Kraftwerk’s “Hall of Mirrors” with five members of his company. Accompanying himself on guitar, Prina made jaws drop with his cover of a Joni Mitchell song from Blue, and Tillmans moved everyone with his articulate praise of Ault, calling attention to her taste for In-N-Out burgers, her refusal to get a cell phone, and her impressive list of exhibitions and publications, all done with more dedication than remuneration. “Julie,” he said, “you are an amplifier. You amplify the issues we need to address.” For her part, the sweet-natured Ault called Artists Space “an alternative in the best sense—an alternative to the prevailing corporatization of art.” She had that right.
Sunday was the Lower East Side’s turn to shine but I opted for the South Village, where Creed and Jonathan Horowitz were inaugurating Brown’s expansion of his gallery into the former slaughterhouse next door. Creed laid the floor (which Urs Fischer excavated three years ago) with 120 different kinds of marble tiles, while Horowitz advanced a protest against meat eating with “Go Vegan!,” a stomach-churning reinstallation of videos and photos of celebrity vegetarians from his 2002 show at Greene Naftali. They didn’t get the message over at Harris Lieberman, which was serving hot dogs at its opening for Matt Saunders. But if the weekend taught me anything, it was that food of any kind won’t satisfy a hungry spirit, nor can a full wallet produce the best art. Both require a dose of truth and beauty, and a little heart to boot.
Left: Ashkal Alwan director Christine Tohme. Right: Outisde the Beirut Art Center. (Except where noted, all photos: Houssam Mchaiemch)
NINE PERFORMANCES, seven panel discussions, eleven lectures, four artists’ talks, two walking tours, one museum visit, ten film and video screenings, and a six-hour colloquium: The fifth edition of the Home Works Forum on Cultural Practices in Beirut ran people into the ground for eleven days in a row, finally ending last Sunday.
Directed by Christine Tohme of the arts organization Ashkal Alwan, Home Works is the closest thing Beirut has to an international biennial, though since its inception in 2002, it has always managed to avoid the excesses and limitations of the format. Home Works happens not at specific intervals but whenever the situation in the city (and the region) allows for the staging of so many events at once. The first forum coincided with the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada. The second was postponed six months due to the US-led invasion of Iraq. The third, in 2005, was delayed another six months when Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri was killed by a car bomb. The fourth was derailed twice, first when Israel pummeled the country for thirty-four days in the summer of 2006, second when the run-up to a round of local elections took a decidedly dark turn toward sectarian strife.
Home Works began eight years ago with a regional remit, concentrating on contemporary artistic practices in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran. It has since branched out geographically by pulling in international artists, writers, and thinkers whose works resonate locally, or whose concerns challenge and expand those of their regional counterparts. An urgent, intimate, context-driven, and site-specific alternative to biennials and festivals, Home Works has never been a huge, scattershot exhibition helmed by a globe-trotting curator. Nor has it ever really registered on the art world’s list of don’t-miss destinations.
Left: Ashkal Alwan cofounder, Home Works technical director, and Zico House proprietor Mustafa Yamout, aka Zico. (Photo: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie) Right: Filmmaker Elia Suleiman and curator Jack Persekian.
That changed this year as the art world descended on Beirut en masse, braving the air-travel chaos wrought by volcanic ash to do so. They brought with them lunches and dinners and afterparties—in a word, networking. Okwui Enwezor—newly appointed curator of the sixth regional Meeting Points festival, another alternative format founded by Tarek Abou el Fetouh—held court on the fifth night of Home Works for a party thrown at the Hotel Saint Georges, replete with a cake celebrating the imminence of “MP6.”
Documenta curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev made icy quips at everyone she was introduced to, and gasped dramatically when Ali Fayyad—a member of Hezbollah’s central council who gave a lecture on the cultural tug-o’-war between the old Arab left and the new Islamist right—name-checked Michel Foucault. And Maria Lind, formerly of Bard, congratulated herself on the relevance of a question she asked about revolution, a topic that had been abstracted to within an inch of its life by a boring, insular discussion on arts education, which followed a shambolic panel chaired by Reem Fadda, a curator and art historian who, to judge by the hysterical edge in her voice during several other Home Works debates, seemed to be having a very bad week indeed.
Given the closed-circuit nature of so many discussions—oh look, Rene Gabri, Stephen Wright, and T. J. Demos are thinking out loud and talking among themselves in public again—Home Works 5 seemed strangely, disturbingly divorced from its context, a sense that was amplified by the palpable lack of a local audience for all but a few events, such as the performance Photo-Romance, staged three times throughout Home Works by Rabih Mroué and Lina Saneh, and a lecture by the inimitable documentarian Mohamed Soueid, held toward the end of the event, on Beirut as seen through foreign films from the 1960s and ’70s.
Left: Gaspard Delanoë and Yalda Younes in the dance performance I Have Come. Right: Artists Raed Yassin and Hassan Khan.
The most hotly anticipated and heavily attended Home Works event was a panel discussion on day three moderated by Walid Raad on the relationship (or lack thereof) between Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island and cities such as Beirut, Ramallah, and Cairo. Curator and novelist Shumon Basar kicked things off with a performance that tried to suss out Abu Dhabi’s motive in creating a cultural district from scratch. Among other things, Basar developed a deliciously naughty analogy between cultural scheming and spam, imagining that one day, an errant message popped up in Abu Dhabi’s inbox. “Do you feel something crucial is missing from your national psyche?” it read, and prescribed Saadiyat instead of Viagra.
Later, the Emirati writer and commentator Mishaal al Gergawi offered a frank appraisal of how things work: “I can come here, walk around Solidere, buy some art, and leave. What can you do for me? Home Works? Big deal. I can call Ashkal Alwan later, and I can talk to Christine, and I can ask her to do Home Works in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Of course, she’ll refuse. But then I can find someone who’s left Ashkal Alwan, and we’ll do something close. We’ll call it, I don’t know, House Works instead of Home Works.” A pause. “It’s ridiculous to use the Guggenheim to develop relationships” between cities in the region. After all, as Gergawi and others pointed out, those relationships existed long before the Guggenheim came on the scene.
For all its promise, the panel failed to take the conversation very far. It seemed that at least half of the audience, coming from corners of the globe apparently not yet bored with Dubai bashing, just wanted to hear the UAE described on stage as authoritarian, totalitarian, or autocratic. The panel itself was also one of Raad’s by now well-known feints, a mechanism for generating material for an artwork as part of his ongoing project on the history of modern and contemporary art in the Arab world, so the notion of pursuing a genuine public debate seemed like something of an afterthought.
Left: Karim Ghattas of Liban Jazz with Hania Mroue, director of the Metropolis Art Cinema in Beirut. Right: Artists Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri.
In his introduction, Raad said that he hoped the discussion would both consider and produce new facts on the ground—political, social, economic, and aesthetic. But the ensuing conversation was more symptomatic than diagnostic. Among the questions lingering but unasked: Has Home Works grown so big, and so “art world,” because art scenes in the region are changing, becoming more professionalized or institutionalized? Has the specter of Gulf money done more harm than good? Are international institutions like the Guggenheim and Tate, by swooping into the region so aggressively, doing real damage to the delicate ecosystems of those art scenes? Was it naive to think that those international institutions might learn something from the experiences of much smaller and nimbler initiatives in cities such as Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, Amman, or Alexandria? And what of the fact that so few discussions during Home Works 5 referred to a single artist or artwork? At the tail end of the Saadiyat discussion, the artists Hassan Khan and Oraib Toukan maneuvered the microphone away from the usual suspects and raised these questions in quick, forceful bursts. But with so many meetings to get to and parties to throw, there was no time to take up their comments. Maybe the time to reflect on them is now.
IN THE PERFORMING ARTS WORLD, as you head south from the safe environs of uptown Manhattan, the chance (or danger, depending on your constitution) of being hauled onstage grows ever greater. When the genre is neo-burlesque, audience participation is almost a foregone conclusion.
And so it was Tuesday evening on the Lower East Side, at Performance Space 122’s spring gala in a packed Abrons Arts Center, that two hapless men found themselves suddenly outfitted with panties, gauzy red skirts, cowboy hats, and Rapunzel wigs, serving as human scaffolding for the acrobatic hijinks of the Wau Wau Sisters. “Welcome to New York, Tommy,” one Wau told her dazed-looking victim, who earlier answered “no” in a polished British accent when she asked if he’d always wanted to be in show business.
“Hard to tell,” P.S. 122’s artistic director Vallejo Gantner whispered from the row behind me when I asked whether he’d just won or lost a potential donor. There have, apparently, been other audience-participation incidents that didn’t swing the theater’s way. This time, however, everyone got lucky: Shortly thereafter, the same “Tommy” successfully bid on Billi Kid’s Michelle Obama Combo Slaps collage (featured, it was advertised, in New York magazine), auctioned off by producer and performer Lucy Sexton.
Chic sponsors, imported celebrities, luxury-item auctions: As May gala madness heats up, you can almost hear the checks being ripped from their (sometimes grudging) books. P.S. 122 didn’t net the First Lady herself (who wowed American Ballet Theatre’s gala attendees last year), but there were plenty of stars mingling with the colorful, artist-laden crowd, including Spike Lee, honorary chair Claire Danes, and the evening’s guest of honor, John Leguizamo.
Left: The Wau Wau Sisters. Right: Claire Danes. (Photos: Andrew Bicknell)
After he burst onto the New York club scene in the late ’80s, Leguizamo honed his voice at P.S. 122, using it as a laboratory of sorts to develop several works, including Spic-O-Rama in 1991 and 1997’s Freak, part of a generation to achieve that lucrative but dubious grail of the performing arts—crossover appeal. (Another, Eric Bogosian, offered a brief video tribute and performance, one of several artists who gave the lineup a back-to-the-’80s vibe.) “It was the best place to fail,” Leguizamo said. “People came to see you suck.”
Indeed. On the red carpet, asked by irrepressible art duo AndrewAndrew to draw the greatest moment of his own career, Leguizamo, much to their delight, promptly sketched an ejaculating penis. “Wasn’t that amazing?” one of the Andrews gushed. “This is going straight to YouTube.” In keeping with that, shall we say, “theme,” the night’s emcees Carmelita Tropicana and Marga Gomez later assured Leguizamo that “Eve Ensler has nothing on you. When I think of the theater and vaginas I think of you.”
In addition to the sexual asides came the obligatory Arizona jokes, with Gomez calling for an “international performance-art boycott of Arizona.” John Turturro read from one of Leguizamo’s scripts after telling him “You’ve gotten a lot better” since 1988, when they met, and Rosie Perez offered a raunchy monologue of her own––her portrayal of a beleaguered, Budweiser-slugging Puerto Rican mother earning a standing ovation from the man of the night.
Accepting his award from Lee, Leguizamo waxed nostalgic about the all-but-vanished East Village underground scene: “There were always more people onstage than in the audience. That’s how you knew it was performance art.”
IN A CITY that seems to eat, breathe––nay, live art year-round, the idea of a Gallery Weekend seems conspicuously commercial, if not clunkily redundant. (As a friend put it, “Isn’t every weekend a ‘gallery weekend’?”) Granted, it does have the civic advantage of luring the rest of the art world to town, thus concretizing an abstract place-name typically preceded by “lives and works in”––at least for a few nights. And, for those who actually do live and work here, it serves as a reminder that, while Berlin may well be historicized one day as having been the capital of artistic production in the early twenty-first century, it remains at some remove from being the capital of the art market.
Of course, those aware of this are also likely to be cognizant of the numerous openings and events taking place outside of the official program of openings at forty of Berlin’s powerhouse galleries. For us, the weekend began on Thursday night at the mysteriously titled group show “33 115 68” at Exile, the space run by the charismatic artist Christian Siekmeier. The exhibition consisted of an eclectic collection of objects and drawings by Carola Deye, Haris Epaminonda, Nschotschi Haslinger, Adrian Hermanides, Katharina Marszewski, and Stefanie Popp, and it posed the question (according to the press release) of “how much we really have to know in order to approach and decipher a piece of art.” This privileging of intuition and aestheticism over the conceptual would set the tone for the weekend, and it also seemed to fit the practices of many members of the Berlin artistic elite who turned out at the opening, such as expat musicians Joel Gibb, front man of the Hidden Cameras, and Snax, who were seen discussing an upcoming collaboration. “I’m going to play keyboards at a few Hidden Cameras shows,” Snax said, when pressed for details. “Joel wants an all-gay touring band for Europe.”
The official weekend kicked off on Friday, with so many openings and parties crammed into one night that even the most ambitious spectator couldn’t hope to attend but half. Indeed, given Berlin’s sprawling geography and lack of a centralized gallery district, one suspects that the greatest beneficiaries of Gallery Weekend were the city’s taxi drivers. I did much better than I thought—and even managed most of it by foot, to take advantage of the pleasant weather—making it to at least a dozen openings before having to rejuvenate with Vietnamese soup in Mitte. Standouts included the massive Cecily Brown show at Contemporary Fine Arts, Nick Mauss at Galerie Neu, Andreas Gursky at Sprüth Magers, Matthias Dornfeld at Galerie Ben Kaufmann, and Jitka Hanzlová at Kicken Berlin.
Of course, if there’s one thing that Berliners love more than art, it’s partying, and one suspects that the late-night festivities were the real cause of the weekend. After dinner, we had a pick-me-up cocktail at Artbar71, probably Berlin’s most exclusive watering hole, which had opted to forgo Gallery Weekend hype and only open its doors for personal friends of proprietor Nathan Köstlin. I asked artist Raul de Nieves, who played Ramada Omar in Ryan Trecartin’s I-BE Area, whether his voice had been digitally altered in the hysterical epic. “No way!” he replied. “I begged Ryan not to change my voice, and in the end, he agreed.” I admired the Stefanie Schneider prints adorning the walls before accompanying de Nieves and musician Susanne Oberbeck (better known as No Bra) to the afterparty at Dice Club for “Self-Consciousness,” the excellent group show at VeneKlasen/Werner curated by Hilton Als and Peter Doig.
The drinks did flow at the open bar, distracting the crowd from Spencer Sweeney’s DJ set, which meant we had the dance floor all to ourselves until pop star Marc Almond took the stage with a guitarist to perform a short set of cheesy pop covers, such as, uhh, “Dream Lover.” After, I confessed to critic Michčle Faguet that it hadn’t been quite what I was expecting. “Did you really think he was going to do ‘Tainted Love’?” she quipped.
Soon thereafter the crowd began to thin, so de Nieves and I opted to journey forth to the Andreas Gursky afterparty beneath Rodeo Berlin’s massive chapel-like dome, where I was pleased to bump into old friends Ken Okiishi and Nick Mauss, as well as curator Michael Rade. Several of us ended up at a less-known bar around the corner, jam-packed with well-dressed and well-intoxicated Bright Young Things determined to dance in spite of the near-hazardous lack of space.
Left: Artist Paul Pfeiffer. Right: Art Basel's Maike Cruse, MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, and artist Nina Pohl. (Photos: Trevor Good)
Saturday was May Day, traditionally an all-out anarchist street party–cum-demonstration culminating in overturned burning cars, smashed bank windows, and violent confrontations with riot police in the Kreuzberg district. I played hooky from the proceedings by going back to school––“L’école de Stéphanie,” to be exact. For the project, curator Stéphanie Moisdon brought a number of artists and thinkers to the attic of the Kunst-Werke, which had been outfitted like a barn with hay and caged bunnies, for sixty-minute pedagogical sessions, each strictly demarcated by the ringing of a school bell on the hour. I caught Nathaniel Mellors’s talk on absurdist humor in British popular culture, which was interesting enough. The subsequent session, by Andrea Viliani, on the implications of institutional critique’s cynical subsumation by art institutions in recent years, riffed on David Robbins’s assertion that, in the contemporary art museum, “the history of art should matter less than the history of desires.” Unfortunately, it ended up being too vast a topic for the flustered curator to fully address in the allotted span.
Sunday involved more gallery-hopping, the highlight of which was a stop at STYX Project Space in Friedrichshain for Daniel Turner’s solo exhibition. The show consists of just four pieces, including two “paintings”––actually, tar encased in “canvases” made of transparent vinyl––and two installations: soot-covered ferns sticking out of five glass bottles containing toxic iodine, arranged in a line across the floor, and a wall piece with five US flagpoles holding burned-out road flares. After all the flashy displays of excess I had witnessed in the preceding days, Turner’s show reminded me that sometimes less really is more.
BY THE TIME I reached Art Cologne, Eyjafjallajökull had pretty much stopped its hysterics.
But this didn’t mean everything was back to normal. To arrive on day three of an international art fair at the tail end of the largest airspace lockdown since World War II is to experience the peculiar ennui of showing up late to the wrong party—a party, indeed, where everyone is perhaps a bit too surprised to see you.
At the fair that Thursday, everything was civilized and groomed but also difficult to gauge according to the usual methods. “Deals” were to be found everywhere, and even on good new work, some choice Susanne M. Winterlings from Parrotta gallery being a case in point. Daniel Hug, the artistic director who took over just last year, seems to have rallied a host of solid galleries (Peres Projects, Sprüth Magers, Broadway 1602—as well as local stalwarts like Capitain, Buchholz, and Nagel), and incredibly, despite the whole volcano megillah, John Connelly and Loraini Alimantiri were the only galleries locked out entirely. And who can complain about a fair where denizens are allowed to smoke in their booths?
Later that night, the indigenous art world converged on the Museum Ludwig for openings of work by Wade Guyton and photographer Jochen Lempert. “It’s a bit like Niagara Falls . . .” Guyton said, looking from on high at his massive, eight-panel, twenty-five-foot-tall Epson-printed painting, whose black squares and sluices of white linen filled up nearly the entire wall of one of the Ludwig’s vast exhibition halls. There was a roiling, sublime organicness to it, despite its digital-mechanical genesis. “We barely got it up,” he said. “And I have no idea how we’re getting it back down.”
The opening teemed with supporters—Guyton’s dealers Gisela Capitain, Chantal Crousel, and Francesca Pia; artists Michael Krebber, Marcel Odenbach, Matt Saunders, and Katarina Burin—most of whom joined for the small dinner afterward at the museum’s restaurant. Even later, a few of us (including Guyton, Crousel, and writer Linda Yablonsky) commenced a bar crawl that began at packed pseudodisco Coco Schmitz and ended (at least for me) at a small dive called, rather flamboyantly, Schampanja.
Then to Brussels on Friday, for another fair. “So you’ve come all this way to see art dealers looking bored?” asked one art dealer, who indeed did look bored. Having missed the vernissage here too (it had opened on Thursday), I felt again that sense of sharp dissonance—followed by a certain ineffable relief. “Sales are great,” said Gladstone Gallery’s Max Falkenstein, who’d managed to fly in Thursday on “the most expensive ticket” he’d ever purchased.
“Not everyone thinks so,” countered a rep from another fair.
“Well, the good galleries are doing well,” he suggested.
There were more than a few good galleries at what turned out to be a mostly elegant, focused event (Hauser & Wirth, Emmanuel Perrotin, Athens’s Bernier/Eliades. “We’re officially part of the third world now,” said Bernier/Eliades director Yianni Vassiliou. “But that hasn’t stopped anyone from buying.”). New Yorkers like Lisa Cooley and Miguel Abreu were still marooned stateside. Maureen Paley, one of a number of Brits who’d made the trek by train, brought out work by Liam Gillick, his first “showing” at her gallery. “This volcano is like something out of a J. G. Ballard novel,” she said. Another dealer pessimistically suggested Candide.
Left: Dealers Pilar Corrias and Isabella Maidment at Art Brussels. Right: Dealer Almine Rech.
That evening was “Brussels Gallery Night.” I walked from Kendell Geers at Rodolphe Janssen to Franz West and Sophie von Hellermann’s show at Almine Rech’s cavernous, in medias res space on Rue de l’Abbaye, where Hellermann was doing two-minute portraits on the cover of her artist’s book for €20 (book included). Designer Raf Simons, arriving straight from the Brussels airport via Milan at Xavier Hufkens’s opening for David Altmejd (whom Simons “loves”) gave props to the energy around the fair, which most everyone agreed was clearly on the up-and-up.
Running late, I rushed off to the opening of Andreas Hofer’s exhibition at the collection of Charles Riva (a primary backer of Sutton Lane), then to Riva’s dinner at the soigné Brasserie de Bruxelles. The food was great—Brussels native Falkenstein offered pointers on various dishes. Following dessert, a fashionable woman came outside for a cigarette and asked if anyone had been to Art Basel yet. “You mean Art Brussels?” a friend asked. She looked bemused: “Is that what this is all about?”
We arrived around midnight at what was obviously the destination for the evening: Jan Mot’s afterparty for Rineke Dijkstra at Café Modele. By then the eclectically hip and boisterous crowd was already spilling out onto the street. Mot was stuck in Mexico, but Dijkstra seemed happy to carry the party herself. People bought cheap drinks from the deli next door and drank them on the sidewalk before shouldering their way inside. I left on what I thought was the last song, but apparently miscalculated by an hour or two, and the party went on, Dijkstra guiding the way, until 6 AM.
The next day to Paris. The city was quiet, despite being April in Paris and, not surprisingly, gorgeous out. On Sunday, the one and only significant art event in the city was the closing of Sturtevant’s exceptional show at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. I took a taxi to the Sixteenth Arrondissement, arriving minutes before the doors shut, just in time to ride the giddy-making House of Horrors (a huge hit with the kids, a number of whom were queuing up for one last go). “Is it supposed to be scary?” I asked Sturtevant, who returned my question with a skeptical glare. “Well, were you scared?”
In the courtyard between the Moderne and the neighboring Palais de Tokyo, a score of devotees and friends gathered under strings of Christmas lights for a light plein air supper. “Art becomes more and more vital every day,” said my neighbor, a (formerly teetotaling) physicist from Maastricht. “It’s about penetrating the tacitness, about giving us a better view of reality amid this growing wash of unedited information—the Internet.” He seemed to like Sturtevant, who, he argued, “never gives us the same old same old.”
After the meal (mozzarella and jambon; some sort of chicken salad, I think; champagne), the remaining curators, critics, and friends gathered at the end of the long table to engage and hosanna the guest of honor. Typically pugnacious, she had fun regaling us with pointed anecdotes, mostly about writers she despises—a current bęte noire being a man from Libération who wrote an apparently scandalous report on the exhibition. “When stupid people talk, it can only be opinion,” she spat, before telling of another encounter with a random “admirer”:
“I was very disappointed in your show,” a man had told her one morning at a café.
“You have no right to be disappointed in my show,” she contended, considering—as she put it—whether to push him off his stool or punch him in the face.
“I wanted there to be more paintings,” he offered, by way of explanation.
“Well, tant pis, man. Go back to your studio, make some paintings.”