Left: João Mourão and Luis Silva of Kunsthalle Lissabon. Right: Depart Foundation director Pierpaolo Barzan with Portugal Arte organizer Stefan Simchowitz and dealers Andreas Melas and Mathieu Paris. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)
THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL Portugal Arte biennial—touted as the country’s biggest exhibition of contemporary art ever—blew into town last week so fast that it surprised even the denizens of its intimate art scene. With a population slightly larger than that of New York City, Portugal is home to people who all seem to know one another, but nobody seemed to know exactly what was about to hit them. “Usually biennials are embedded in the community,” Kunsthalle Lissabon director Luis Silva said. “We have no information whatsoever. It’s like a UFO that just landed and we don’t know what’s inside.” I flew into town Thursday evening on the fresh breeze that had cooled down Lisbon while the rest of Europe simmered, and headed straight to the Kunsthalle.
The storefront space (which Silvia codirects with João Mourão) inhabits the once elegant former offices of the BES bank. Empty but for the ghostly outlines and electrical nerves of office cubicles, the dirty white room was punctuated with the recitation of 1,200 possible Show Titles proposed by artist Stefan Brüggemann. Silva explained, “Instead of looking at the institution from a critical outsider position, we want to inhabit and examine the practice from the inside.” Mourão added, “But how can we be intellectual? We have a lamp that doesn’t even work! On the plus side, we have lots of outlets.” Upstairs we clattered through the fusty rooms to reach Pedro Barateiro’s studio, where the artist showed us the plans for his impending exhibition at the Kunsthalle Basel, which will be followed by one at the decidedly more provisional institution downstairs. He told us he was waiting for Portugal Arte to pick up his work to be installed for the opening the next day, to which the curators exclaimed, “We didn’t know you were in the biennial!” It was getting late, so we repaired to local restaurant Forninho Saloio and ate blood sausage, giant steaks, and salted cod washed down with vinho verde—while Barateiro ran back and forth to meet the delivery truck just before midnight.
Left: Curator Johannes VanDerBeek, Lisbon mayor António Costa, and Portugal Arte organizer Miguel Carvalho. Right: Artist Pedro Barateiro.
The next day the Portugal Arte press luncheon was held at the Fundação EDP’s Electricity Museum, in the sponsoring power company’s former plant. We were in the Belém district, the place from which many Portuguese explorers, including Vasco da Gama, set off to discover the world. Portugal looks across the Atlantic toward the Americas, and that is where most of the exhibition’s one hundred–plus artists hail from, including the biggest-ever showing of Cuban artists outside of Cuba. Organized by entrepreneur Miguel Carvalho and curator Stefan Simchowitz, Portugal Arte has taken over Lisbon’s meandering Pavilion of Portugal, built for Expo ’98, and inserted site-specific installations in the squares of Lisbon and other provincial towns. Outside on the waterfront, Carvalho explained, “It is very much a public-oriented initiative; the point is to open up the system and give opportunities to new people.” Hence the need to operate outside the local art scene to put up a big show at top speed. “You can be idealistic, but it has been tried here many times without success, so I decided to be practical and focus.”
I began my tour with the opening of the Brooklyn-based collective Faile’s crumbling Temple on the Praça dos Restauradores. Decorated with ceramic tiles after the local style and tongue-in-cheek cartoons of Luca Della Robbia’s Renaissance reliefs, it fits seamlessly with its surroundings. Farther down the hill, the square called Rossio hosted Sterling Ruby’s Grid Ripper, a riff on Minimalist sculpture whose projecting bronze bars provide shade and seating; the Lisbon natives seemed quite comfortable using the art for practical purposes. (By Sunday some enthusiastic visitors to the Faile temple had broken the horse god’s scuba snorkel and it had to be locked up. The same day I saw children, with assistance from their father, punching the rubber balls in Martha Friedman’s stacked-egg piece, Laid.)
Arriving in time for the Friday evening inauguration at the Pavilion of Portugal, we were confronted by Yoan Capote’s striking visual joke Stress, a column of cement blocks sandwiched with rows of bronze teeth that appeared to be supporting Alvaro Siza’s gracefully swooping canopy suspended over the plaza. The six exhibitions, nearly all curated by Americans—including Garth Weiser, Johannes VanDerBeek, Dan Nadel, Fred Hoffman, Paul Young, and the three curators of the Cuban “Serendipity”—meandered throughout the irregular maze of rooms. About midway through, I was no longer sure which was which, and the art all melded together somehow into a cohesive whole, much of it with an exuberant Pop sensibility. Somewhere along the way I ran into Palais de Tokyo director Marc-Olivier Wahler. “It is very fresh, with lots of surprises,” he noted. “Unlike most biennials where you see all the same faces.”
Left: Palais de Tokyo director Marc-Olivier Wahler and Ellen LeBlond-Schrader. Right: Artist Reynier Leyva Novo, Anna Moreira, and artist Duvier del Dago.
When I reached the reception in the courtyard, Lisbon mayor António Costa was working the crowd, and some of the Cuban artists—Reynier Leyva Novo, Duvier del Dago, Rodolfo Peraza, José Emilio Fuentes Fonseca (JEFF)—were hanging out happily together in a corner. When I asked him what he thought of the show, Pierpaolo Barzan, director of Rome’s Depart Foundation, said, “I saw the ‘Greater New York’ exhibition last week, and this show is much better in terms of seeing good new artists and work.”
The dinner that night at the slammed Cervejaria Ramiro was a madhouse. The friendly waiters were enthusiastic but overwhelmed, so Simchowitz joined them, serving us shrimp of every shape and size. Artist Devon Costello teetered perilously amid the tables, and dealer Andreas Melas demanded a bottle of vodka, which magically appeared after the waiter insisted that it was normally not served. Artist Michael Phelan kindly supplied me with a very effective painkiller for a throbbing tooth, and shortly everything became a giddy blur.
While your average tourist might have chosen a trip to Sintra or the Algarve, the next morning we barreled south to the plains town of Grandola, or the “Capital of Freedom,” where the successful 1974 revolt against the fascist dictatorship began. A small town in a small country, it resembles a dusty Western ranch outpost, except the men wear natty driving caps instead of cowboy hats. After lunch on the main street at Talha de Azeite, decorated with the head of a wild boar, we walked across a tranquil plaza to the public library for the inauguration of part two of the Cuban exhibition “Serendipity.” As mayor and revolutionary hero Carlos Beato gave an emotional address about the importance of freedom and personal expression, the gathering took on the tone of a political rally. “I can picture him on top of a tank,” Barzan commented.
Left: Dealers Mathieu Paris, Xavier Hufkens, and Pierre Marie Giraud with curator Simon Castets. Right: Art consultant Sarah Basile and Andreas Melas.
The desolate road to the port of Troia, through a landscape of brilliant green fields interspersed with young piney woods and scrubby dunes, was broken only by the signboards of the “Billboard Project,” curated by LAXART’s Lauri Firstenberg and Cesar Garcia. Carvalho reminded us that we were passing by the biggest beaches in the world, after those of South Africa and California, which planted the seed of dissent. After a tour of the installations—including del Dago’s blue light installation Intelligence, Defense and Security, juxtaposing the specters of a missile and a shark—at the fifteen-story Troia boutique hotel, we departed for a barbecue at Carvalho’s country estate, set amid the cork plantations of Melides. Along the way a rowdy democratic vote over whether to stop at the beach ended suddenly with the loud expulsion of a champagne cork, and all heads turned toward a wet Phelan taking cover behind publisher Robert Norton.
At the hacienda, Phelan jumped into the pool while the rest of us drank local Setúbal moscato while being serenaded a cappella by a crusty male quintet. Grilled pork and watermelon was served on picnic tables, and the whole thing resembled a family reunion. Every so often the loud crack of falling benches breaking under the weight of too many people could be heard. The last one went down just as António Zambujo began to perform romantic and mournful fado songs, whose words few of us could understand. But it could have been an elegy to the new Portugal Arte, which, like the country’s sailors who left their sea widows behind, is only sticking around for a month.
Left: Cupcakes. Right: ³Satan¹s Psychic² piñata stall. (Photos: Michael Wilson)
“IF YOU BUILD IT, they will come.” It’s a misquotation, of course, the correct line being “If you build it, he will come,” but the Bruce High Quality Foundation clearly had more than a solitary spectral ballplayer in mind when they borrowed the title of Phil Alden Robinson’s movie Field of Dreams. Joining forces with producer Andres Levin and operating under the Celebrate Brooklyn! banner, the wry collective took over Prospect Park’s bandshell on a recent Saturday for an afternoon of performance, installation, and music. Pursuing its stated aim of “fostering an alternative to everything,” the BHQF invited a motley selection of individuals and groups to stake their claims on the park’s sun-bleached turf, and the results were an odd but entertaining counterpoint to the more predictable shenanigans onstage.
Identifying who was responsible for which project proved challenging; while each work was marked with a numbered chair, this often seemed to be the extent of available information. Still, a few did include helpful handouts. The Buenaventura Watershed Hydraulic Model National Park’s was the first I picked up and also turned out to be the best. Accompanying a rough but colorful topographic mock-up, it traced the haphazard mapping of “ambulatory” geographical boundaries by early American cartographers, describing the conception of a mythical Western river to rival the Mississippi and angling for its revival. Less conscientiously annotated attractions nearby included a daisy-filled paddling pool with a solar-powered fountain and a cluster of pastel-colored sandwich boards inscribed with allusive phrases like GREEN HANDS AND FACES, THE WHITE TENEMENT, and PLAYING SOLDIERS.
Despite the best efforts of an unbroken succession of competent but unexciting bands—most played mercifully short sets—artists were still able, for the most part, to make themselves heard. Ari Richter persisted with his Introduction to Art Marathon throughout the event, lecturing animatedly to a small but attentive group of students inside a makeshift tent. Kirilian Realized Analog Projections (K.R.A.P.), under a sign reading THE DOCTOR IS HERE FOR YOUR NEEDS. THE ARTISTS WILL REALIZE YOU VISUALLY, offered complimentary dream interpretation in spoken, written, and sketched form to a stream of reclining subjects. And an unnamed performer with a megaphone asked any and all passersby to join him in a continuous celebration of self: “Who wants to be the best person in the world? What about you, sir, in the yellow?”
Left: Members of K.R.A.P. with a client. Right: Performers Terry Hempfling and Phoebe Morris. (Photos: Michael Wilson)
Most Field of Dreams presenters veered toward a similarly participatory ethic and a cheerfully homemade look. At the ³Satan¹s Psychic² piñata stall, blindfolded participants thrashed wildly away at jerry-rigged approximations of ’planes, cameras, bananas, and other objects, their every connection accompanied by cheers and a cymbal crash. Kate Pane and Valerie Sutter’s Can We Become My Little Ponies trumpeted a still-more DIY approach, presenting younger visitors with a tempting array of cut-’n’-paste ingredients. But there were a few more pared-down contributions. Terry Hempfling and Phoebe Morris’s Societal Enchanted Dance and the Interior and Rachel Garrard’s Geometric Void both featured mute, white-clad performers going through assorted more-or-less enigmatic motions, the former piece involving synchronized poses and intertwined limbs, the latter a conscientious rendering of diagrammatic lines onto a large Plexiglas sheet.
As the evening wore on and a girl-boy duo called Hank and Cupcakes took to the stage, demanding “some party vibe” from the lighting technician before launching into an ill-advised funked-up cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control,” some competing music caught my ear. Its source was an unmarked black van with windows lined in tin foil. Crouched inside and competing for space with two large amps was a band—notably featuring two sax players—cranking out frenetic improvised noise. An unsettling apology from Cupcakes—“Sorry guys, I’ve just got sick all over the microphone”—was unconnected with the aural duel but made the marginal act seem still more appealing. Only an obtuse speech from the Foundation itself—seemingly delivered by an unmanned lectern—finally brought attention back to the stage. “Breathe as you’ve never breathed before,” it urged. “Let the methane of humanity run rampant in your bloodstream like pillaging Vikings, like rioting soccer fans, like a mother hell-bent on ruining your life, on making you suffer for all the injustices the world laid at her door. Knock on the door. It will open. The rest is history. Good night.”
Left: The stage at Alice Tully Hall on Monday. (Photo: Stephanie Berger) Right: Lincoln Center stairs. (Photo: Andy Battaglia)
APPIJIRA KAPI PARRA MARA NGALA. That’s how to say “Welcome” in the native Australian language of Warumungu, and the words happen to look very cool illuminated under a city sky at night. So too do frosted glass, falling water, and olive oil ice cream. But none of that constitutes an appropriate focal point for an evening at Lincoln Center. Such a prospective entity should be stately, austere. How about a schooled flutist playing a contemplative solo to a rapt and reverent audience . . . with shiny sequins on her shoes?
Last Monday and Tuesday, Lincoln Center was the setting for a two-night tribute to the avant-garde composer Edgar Varèse, and—even in the midst of music that was markedly harsh and bizarre—the complex felt like a strange sort of theme park. Though not, as convention might have it, in a bad way. The spirit of the place, inside and out, was wholesomely open to displays of both playfulness and pedantry. Everything felt part of a whole, enmeshed, so that the infectious glee of little kids stomping around on the plaza started to blur with the pensive considerations of elderly arts patrons ensconced inside.
Both were ubiquitous from the first steps onto the grounds, which turned out to be up a series of low-flung stairs fixed with digital message displays as part of an in-progress renovation led by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Some of the messages noted coming performances for the night; others made a show of saying “Welcome” with different words. (Hence the Warumungu, one of what had to be hundreds of languages in play.) Around the stairs hovered smartly aligned panes of frosted glass, the judicious use of which give the new renovation a disarmingly sharp and clean sense of style.
The real hub of activity for summer at Lincoln Center remained Revson Fountain, a reconfigured centerpiece that proved surprisingly unruly—nearly anarchic at times. As in: It splashed all over the place, often to the sound of shrieks and sometimes on the clothes of concertgoers who could read “pianissimo fermata” in the previous weekend’s New York Times preview and not need to be told what it means. There have been problems with new wind sensors meant to minimize errant spray, but everyone who gathered around—even those poised for pursed indignation—seemed to like how wild it was, to appreciate the thrill of a genuine surprise in such an institutional setting.
This would have pleased Edgar Varèse, no doubt. The composer spent a good part of his working life in New York, where he wrote a singular body of music that seems to account for much of the commotion and confusion the city churns out. He’s known for manhandled noise, but not solely: Varèse’s most famous piece, the sinuous and suggestive Poème Électronique, is famous for the way it introduced much of the world to wholly electronic music when it premiered at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958.
But even Poème Électronique has its jagged and fleshy aspects, evident when it opened the program at Alice Tully Hall on Monday. The eight-minute piece sounded confounding, as it always does, but even more curious, at the work’s conclusion, was the experience of an audience excitedly applauding an empty stage. (The music had simply been broadcast over the speakers.) From there, onward through Varèse’s work we went, with the International Contemporary Ensemble and So Percussion playing all manner of distended orchestral sounds and cranking sirens by hand. One piece, Density 21.5, featured a solo flutist who almost brought the house down and, with every little movement, shot off spangly rays of light from said sequined shoes. Another, Intégrales, made an old man sitting by himself in the balcony bellow, to no one in particular, “Amazing!” (This same old man wore a hearing aid that crackled with static when he took it out after Poème Électronique, for reasons I was tempted to inquire about but decided to leave to mystery. Likewise a guy with shifty eyes and greasy hair huddled in a corner during intermission, saying into his cell phone: “She’ll never get what she wants. They’ll never put that on 60 Minutes.”)
Tuesday night was a bigger and more ceremonious affair, even if the fashion on display only barely seemed to reflect the change. There was one woman in an elegant feathered headdress and a strapping man in brass-buttoned coat. But most of the crowd didn’t think more than casually about their night out at Avery Fisher Hall. The performance for the second evening was handled by the New York Philharmonic, which played to increasingly rapturous response a set that included highlights like the all-percussion (plus more whirring sirens) piece Ionisation, and Amériques, an early work that crashed and floated through an almost ridiculous store of energy and effect. In the program notes for the night, conductor Alan Gilbert asked, “Is there any piece more orgiastic than Amériques?” None that I could think of.
But there was still a bit of worthy sensation to come, this time by way of the Arte del Gelato stand set up outside. A line snaked back far, as the crowd made its way out to the plaza. The flavor to get, without question: olive oil. No single bite of it tastes much like olives, but somehow the way it coalesces, over an entire eating spent staring down the unruly fountain and soaking in Lincoln Center’s unexpectedly vital new atmosphere, does.
SHARON STONE, Eva Longoria, Jeffrey Deitch: check. No James Franco, Salma Hayek Pinault, John Baldessari. But yes: Joaquin Phoenix, Rose McGowan, Michael Govan, Michel Auder, Ruben Ochoa, Yoshua Okon, Shaun Caley Regen, Liz Goldwyn . . .
“Location, location, location! This is a hit!” says a roaming dandy. It’s a good Wednesday LA crowd, someone tells me. And it’s a good setting: Eugenio López’s soigné ranch-style pad in Trousdale, a particularly choice part of Beverly Hills, I’m also told. (“Love the mix of the French-y Trous with the Scottish-Gaelic Dale—don’t you?”) It’s also, apparently, a good cause: the first annual benefit for LAND, New York émigré Shamim Momin’s seven-month-old West Coast–based nonprofit for “nomadic” art. (“Public” is clearly not an LA phenomenon.)
“The great thing about living on a boat is that you’re not tempted to buy art,” a Central Casting–looking dude, all boyish smiles and Versace, shrugs to a reporter. She scribbles something down in a notepad. “Well, maybe wearable art,” he chuckles. “Fashion is art, right?”
Given the number of people and the high price point ($10,000 per table), this gala might set a new standard for budding art nonprofits. After cocktails and photo ops, the self-selected 180 or so chosen find their seats in the gloaming, sitting around the expensive tables in the garden while attentive waiters descend from the house. On my left is Lori DeWolfe, benefit cochair and wife of the guy who founded MySpace (or one of them—not ur-“friend” “Tom”). She’s a nascent art patron and a charmer. “She’s writing a book,” nudges her friend. What’s it called? “Nerds Gone Wild,” she deadpans, fidgeting with something on the table.
“Just a bunch of fucking people in LA,” says a fast-talking, winsome writer to my right. “You know what LA is? LA is on and on and on. It’s the nonplace between Tijuana and Portland.” He’s been to Nobu in London and Gore Vidal’s La Rondinaia and here. “Glamour isn’t glamorous,” he sighs, caving into ennui. Everyone seems at once relaxed and stressed out. I imagine Annie Hall and Alvy Singer arguing at the next table. We’re all really into our Sprinkles Cupcakes by the time Rain Phoenix arrives and sings an unplugged version of “Smells like Teen Spirit” to violin backup.
Then: “I’m gonna go wash off this picket fence and fuck up a tanning bed.” Friday’s US premiere of Ryan Trecartin’s epic seven-part movie-installation Any Ever at the MoCA Pacific Design Center is a smash. Deitch spends more time checking out the art inside the mausoleum-like structure than he does working the crowd. In fact, everyone does—how rare and poignant to watch the art masses watching videos. Trecartin’s dismembered Shakespearean intrigue and singsong corporate-queer Polari is catchy: “I’m about to merge you!” yells the charismatic Global Korea aka Telfar Clemens. “Girl, don’t look at me! Look at your mother and globalize at her!”
“I’m as New York as it gets,” Deitch says at the reception outside the adjacent Red Seven bar. “But I have an instinct. Los Angeles is the place to be.” He’s clearly not the only one to think so, and looking around at the inspired, giddy crowd, it’s hard not to catch the bug. It’s probably the best-dressed opening I’ve attended: kids in kilts and aprons and backward Oxford shirts and one-legged Margiela dress pants; avant design queens from Dis magazine turning it out. I wish suddenly that style photog Bill Cunningham could be there. “Mahvelous!”
“Another great house party!” mingler extraordinaire Maynard Monroe calls it. An hour later most of the people from the opening are crowding around the pool at Deitch’s rambling 1929 abode in Los Feliz (though it’s not really Los Feliz, someone explains to me, but another, even tonier neighborhood). It used to belong to Cary Grant, and also, someone claims, the drummer from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, though no one can remember his name. There’s a great view of the HOLLYWOOD sign. If Los Angeles is other people’s houses, Deitch knows what he’s doing. “In this city, the home is very important for entertaining. And every good LA house has a room where the washed-up friend can crash.” Pause: “Not that I attract many of those.”
There’s not much furniture but tons of art on the walls, including a classic Kembra Pfahler butt print above one bed and, upstairs, a startling study for Warhol’s Before and After. Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Rosson Crow, Kenny Scharf, Jeremy Scott, Miranda July, and other members of Deitch’s coterie lounge around the pool. Trecartin’s ecstatic friends and family circulate, eat vegan food, drink, strip down, and dive in. Eventually the water is full of squirming, screaming bodies, like a living Ryan Trecartin video, which I guess it sort of is. “Someone touched my genitals and made me giggle!” “You need to get out of my asshole.” (“Just another night at Jeffrey’s!” winks a friend.)
“It’s only midnight!” someone complains as everyone files out. We wait outside while a guy tries (unsuccessfully) to recover his missing pants. Then we’re off to another party on Hillhurst and Los Feliz, then one on Alvarado and Sunset, then one in MacArthur Park. Text message flurries guide (most) everyone organically to the next destination. “I love your after-after-afterparty!” cackles one boy to Trecartin at the Alvarado House. “It’s really fun.” It is, but in the end, I defer to “Ron Gallagher’s” prudent Vimeo précis of Trecartin’s K-CorealNC.K (section a), one segment of Any Ever: “this is ‘there’. Better than watching rachel zoe.” It’s bananas.
IT’S NOT VERY OFTEN that a bleeding-edge gallery from Bushwick is forced to compete for attention with an oblivious herd of alpacas, but such was the unusual situation in which Guillermo Creus’s start-up Fortress to Solitude found itself on a Saturday afternoon. Occupying a homemade pop-up booth in Callicoon Creek Park for NADA’s County Affair, Creus and crew made the best of an unusual setting, sipping iced lemonade as excited children and adults skipped past their neat display of paintings en route to the gawky animals’ enclosure nearby. But the collective members were scarcely the only city types braving the sun in the upstate New York burg; half of Brooklyn seemed to be in attendance at this laid-back outdoor event.
Kicking off at midday on a grassy stretch between Callicoon’s main drag and the Delaware River, the Affair mixed displays by artists, galleries, and a single publisher with contributions from local commercial and nonprofit concerns such as Beechwood Barns and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy. It seemed like an awkward mix on paper, but the reality was wholly congenial—if the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance planners were at all puzzled by the antics of Jack Hanley or Nightboat Books, they kept their bemusement well hidden. Metropolitan outfits kept their presentations consistent with the rustic aesthetic, Mulherin Pollard Projects basing its on-site operation out of a shack-like hut and Klaus von Nichtssagend mischievously doling out free temporary tattoos.
No county fair would be complete without a few performances. After a brief but enthusiastic demo by Zintus Yoga, the stage was occupied by Prince Rama, an avant-pop duo from you-know-where. Unofficially “assisted” by a precocious Park Slope preteen—his origins declared in his own lengthy introduction—the band successfully kicked things up a notch from mellow to relaxed. A little later, Callicoon Fine Arts director Photios Giovanis introduced a free-form performance by dance troupe MGM Grand, which began in the same spot but quickly invaded the crowd. But this group too soon found itself shadowed by a younger contingent, here a trio of little girls who added further complications to the existing challenge posed by repeated wardrobe malfunction. And was that critic-curator Carlo McCormick blithely walking his dog through the middle of their routine?
Other performers roamed the park throughout the day. Artist Lex Vaughn revived her oddball drag persona Peanut Brittle to the confusion of many, while NACL Theatre cofounder and artistic director Tannis Kowalchuk elected to negotiate the grounds in fish costume and on stilts. Entering deeper into the spirit of things, my companion and I forked over fifteen bucks to Melora Kuhn and Laetitia Hussain for a portrait photo in period costume, then ducked into Frankie Martin and Rose Marcus’s teepee at the far end of the park for a spot of improv comedy and, uh, metal detecting. Also making the rounds by now were artist Michele Abeles, writer Domenick Ammirati, Foxy Production directors Michael Gillespie and John Thomson, and Red Art Projects director Maureen Sullivan. And following up on a vague tip from NADA boss Heather Hubbs—“Someone said that Brad someone-or-other from Shutter Island is here…”—we discovered Mark Ruffalo, holding court and looking the part in wide-brimmed straw hat and stubble.
Around 5 PM, with Katie Schetlick’s homemade jams and Catskill Confections’s basil- and corn-flavored ice cream running low, the fair began to pack up and we strolled over to local gallery Callicoon Fine Arts for the opening of “Thirty-One Days,” a show of photographs by Daniel Gordon and sculptures by Ruby Sky Stiler. Cold beer was flowing in the tidy suite of upstairs rooms, but we had a bus back to Port Authority to catch. A kind lift took us to local Dirty Dancing–style resort Villa Roma, but traffic from a Santana concert (really?) at nearby Bethel Woods Center for the Arts delayed our ride and left us wishing we’d stayed a little longer, or at least had an alternative means of transportation. Now, where were those alpacas?
TRAVELING ACROSS LONDON on the tube in sweltering heat might seem a challenge, but last Saturday it felt like nothing compared with the marathon thirteen-hour performance at Chisenhale by artist and cult icon Linder. On arrival at the space, located in the farthest reaches of the East End, I was greeted by gallery director Polly Staple, who gave me the rundown. By midday, The Darktown Cakewalk: Celebrated from the House of FAME, as the event was called, was already in motion, with two of the lead characters engaged in a meticulously choreographed dance sequence and the gallery peppered with a handful of attentive audience members.
The performance, promising highlights such as body shaving and “cake sex,” kicked off at a modest pace that was set to crank up as the day progressed. Although Linder is no stranger to durational work, this endeavor was surely her most ambitious to date. “When Linder was a punk in the 1970s and ’80s,” Staple noted, “she said there was pressure for spiky, frenetic output set against the slower pace of culture. Now that we live in different times, perhaps it’s most interesting to invest in slowing down.”
A large dance mat in the center of the darkened gallery formed the show’s focal point. At either end of the space, drum kits sat on top of temporary platforms, and a stage hosted other musical equipment and, at times, musicians. Colored lights bathed the gallery in a disco glow. Linder’s cut-and-paste aesthetic made up for the composition of much of the performance, with each of the twelve acts colliding in abstract ways: a living collage of relatively static tableaux and vigorous action.
After an hour or so of sitting on the gallery floor, I went backstage to check out the dressing room. Designer Richard Nicoll, who had previously collaborated with Linder on prints for his autumn/winter 2009/2010 collection (a London Fashion Week hit), was on hand to talk about the costumes he had designed for the performance: everything from elaborate catwalk-ready numbers to skimpy and provocative outfits. By the time I left, Studio Voltaire director Joe Scotland was being kitted out in gold hot pants for his cameo.
Throughout the day, we were treated to an array of contrasting dance and musical styles. The sound track, made in collaboration with Stuart McCallum, merged seamlessly with the performance. Linder herself also contributed to some of the memorable audible moments, a mic picking up her whispers and unnerving laughter as she moved around the stage. Outside the gallery, I chatted with dealer Maureen Paley about the event and the traffic it brought to the East End. I was surprised to learn from Frieze Projects curator Sarah McCrory that the day after this Ben-Hur of a performance, Linder and crew would be trotting off to shoot a film.
As the sun set, things began to pick up, the dancing gliding from tango to disco to tap to Northern Soul. At one point audience members (including design guru Alice Rawsthorn—sporting her own chic blue Richard Nicoll dress) joined in on the action. Many of the visitors who had dropped in throughout the day filtered in for the final hours. Linder returned to the stage in an all-black outfit and Minnie Mouse ears, a parade of slow-motion performers all waved out to the audience for the last time, and the event wound down to its conclusion to resounding applause.
“THAT’S NOT HOW YOU DO IT!”
“And that’s a fake penis . . .”
The withering judgments, delivered with unshakable authority (and a dose of affection) by two men seated behind me at the Swiss Institute’s makeshift multiplex, were directed at Mike Kuchar’s Splatter Movie. A highlight of the film program at the nonprofit’s Saturday night Battle of Bad Taste party, the lurid short moves with alarming rapidity from close-up blow-job action to unsolicited amputation by chainsaw, the latter moment eliciting howls of laughter from an enthusiastic house. Over-the-top is the California director’s m.o., so it made sense that his work was paired here with not only that of his brother George, but also—filling in the Swiss quotient—four characteristically unhinged videos by artist Olaf Breuning.
By 9:30 PM, the SoHo gallery, divided for the occasion into three separate viewing rooms and a flower-decked reception area, was crammed. Fueled by “green spider” cocktails (swampy-looking mint vodka) and blue ices (don’t ask), the young crowd moved, continually and en masse, from screen to screen. An unsettling side effect of this ongoing drift was that you could find yourself suddenly alone in a darkened room as an actor blew chunks or dribbled blood on-screen, either repeatedly or in extreme slow motion. Splatter Movie was the most popular choice on my arrival, but attention soon shifted to Breuning’s Home 1 and 2, in which the flame-haired, cold-eyed Brian Kerstetter roams the earth, playing the role of the ultimate culturally insensitive tourist.
Left: The Swiss Institute's Piper Marshall, Clement Delepine, and Gianni Jetzer. Right: Photographer Bela Borsodi and designer Patrick Li.
While Breuning’s contributions, which also included Ugly Yelp and King, were a bit familiar (the Home cycle was featured at the Whitney two years ago), Kuchar compositions such as Gates of Gomorrah and Uncle Evil (the clues are in the titles) are arguably lesser known. Beloved of John Waters and championed by Jonas Mekas, the self-taught duo have produced a vast body of work, George concentrating on gonzo movies and Mike on videos documenting the real-world passions of various oddball personalities. Both siblings’ output comes with swinging dicks and nausea-inducing psychedelic SFX. Active and influential since the mid-1950s without compromise—or a sniff of mainstream attention until the release of a documentary, It Came from Kuchar, last year—they are the very definition of “cult.” The prospect of a Q&A with the pair was, then, a fascinating one, but the reality didn’t quite stack up.
Around 11:00 PM, staffers wheeled out an overhead projector, and attendees were invited to write questions thereon for the heretofore retiring artists to respond to in kind. One viewer wanted to know whether the nudity and vomiting in Mike Kuchar’s movies were “second-degree”; another compared Breuning to Werner Herzog. As the session wore on, the acetate projector sheets began to overlap, eventually resulting in a near-unreadable palimpsest of red-marker scrawl. By the time artist Jim Drain and friend added their oblique inquiries to the mess, the cinematic auteurs seemed to have lost patience with the process and the questions went unanswered. As the crowd began to thin out, the prospect of a Bad Taste Award Ceremony, originally scheduled for midnight, seemed to recede. Dawdling for half an hour after technicians shut down the projectors, I followed a disappointingly courteous Kerstetter into the elevator and out into the night.
MOST PEOPLE IN THE ART WORLD—if they’re anything like me—like to think they know what Pop art is. But last Sunday, artist Mike Bouchet proved me wrong with his own brand of Pop: a swimming pool in the desert filled with his unique recipe for bubbleless diet cola. Hosted by Mara McCarthy’s Chinatown gallery the Box, the Flat Cola Pool BBQ marked the culmination of Bouchet’s My Cola LITE project, begun in 2004, in which the artist bottled his cola, shipped the bottles to China, and distributed them for free. In the spirit of free enterprise (if not “freedom” altogether), Bouchet planned his event for the Fourth of July: a perfect meditation on Americana, consumption, surplus, and pleasure.
I set off for Yucca Valley the day before the event, arriving just in time to watch Bouchet pour his first five-gallon bucket of syrup into the water. The pool sat on an empty lot once owned by the singer Donovan. (Paul McCarthy is the current owner, having secured the property for a prospective project.) Despite its pedigree, the site had an eerily apocalyptic feel, the log cabin that once stood on the grounds having burned down years ago—after a houseguest left the stove on—so that only the pool and a few cinder block walls remained. “Now I know what the gulf looks like,” Bouchet said as he watched his thick, black syrup slide into the water. The first batch dispersed, turning the water a heavy, rusty brown and scenting the air with hints of cinnamon and clove. The cola was flat because it would have taken a dangerous amount of CO2 (something like sixty tons of the gas) to carbonate. We all watched with fascination. There were 145 gallons of syrup to go.
The next morning I awoke to an oppressive dry heat. Bouchet, still on Frankfurt time, was already up and eager to shop for party provisions. I accompanied the artists and McCarthy to Walmart (they had already hit up Big 5 Sporting Goods, Home Depot, and Food 4 Less), where Bouchet began perusing the Do It Yourself and Automotive departments for interesting containers in which to bottle “editions” of his cola. “A kiddie pool would look really good in someone’s living room,” Bouchet remarked. After gathering necessities—a pair of oversize star-spangled sunglasses, a neon-splattered string bikini, zip ties, duct tape, ice, and TP—we headed back to the pool to “install” the artist’s carefully edited holiday spread. Soon, the artist’s look-alike (Randy) and his actress (Emily) arrived. The couple had been hired to “activate” the pool, but in no time Bouchet had changed into trunks and was diving in himself. We clamored over to hear what it was like. “It’s cool,” he said. “And very refreshing.”
The pool was irresistible, and after McCarthy, I jumped in myself. The black lagoon swallowed me whole; the undercola void was slippery and thick, but not at all sticky (thank God it was “diet”). More partygoers arrived—most from Los Angeles, including dealers Erica Redling and Martha Otero; collectors John Morace and Tom Kennedy; artists Pentti Monkkonen, Naotaka Hiro, and Marco Rios, among others—each of whom timidly regarded the pool. Not wanting to scare the newbies, we didn’t mention the slight burning sensation (phosphoric acid). With burgers on the grill and beer over ice, guests slowly got into the spirit and worked up the courage to take a dip. Soon, whole groups were splashing in the soft drink, racing, snorkeling, bobbing, and cooling off. One dubious guest asked if they really had to get in. “You have to swim in it,” Bouchet replied, “It’s part of keeping it real.” Yes, it was the real thing.
LAST FRIDAY, Marlene Dumas took a long break from putting the final touches on her solo exhibition at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in the idyllic coastal city of Porto, Portugal. The reason? The Netherlands-Brazil match hosted by South Africa––World Cup always trumps art (at least outside the States). As the artist headed to her hotel, a massive crowd gathered at the Câmara Municipal, a government building downtown, to watch the game on a giant screen. Dumas’s current home team prevailed in her old home country, 2-1. “I must tell you that I was supporting Brazil,” Serralves director João Fernandes confessed to guests at Duras’s opening that evening. “But since the Netherlands won”—boisterous cheers from Dumas and Dutch comrades—“I knew it would be a good omen for the show.”
Not that it needed any extra blessings. The Serralves is one of the most alluring, if exhausting, places to view art. Everything looks good in it (and everything outside looks pretty good too). The museum was designed by architect Álvaro Siza Vieira in the 1990s and it stands on nearly eight acres of finely manicured grounds. It took me about two hours to navigate the area, passing through woods, an arboretum, and the Art Deco Serralves Villa, while also observing excellent outdoor works by Dan Graham, Fernanda Gomes, and Maria Nordman. Once inside, I realized I’d need a little more time with the videos in Dara Birnbaum’s retrospective, also on view. “To see it all, you’d need about four days straight,” said adjunct curator Ricardo Nicolau. “And it’s closing tomorrow.”
My whirlwind day tour left just a few hours before the 8 PM dinner and 10 PM public vernissage. The Serralves is onto something with this schedule. It works well for a few reasons: You don’t have to talk about the show, and there are no hangers-on. I joined a table with MUSAC’s María Inés Rodríguez and Ane Rodríguez Armendariz, as well as artist Bethan Huws, who had a show at the Serravales last year. Dumas dined with her dealers and the museum’s board, but shortly after dessert she encouraged everyone to skip coffee and head to the gallery.
“Contra o Muro” (Against the Wall) surveys the past decade of her work. Curator Ulrich Loock included the seven large-scale paintings from Dumas’s March outing at David Zwirner in New York, a show that marked a shift in her oeuvre from depictions of the body to an interest in architecture, namely the wall separating the Palestinian Territories from Israel. A close friend of Dumas’s from South Africa shared his feelings at the opening: “It’s not really about one wall but many: Berlin, apartheid, and so on,” later adding that it’s also “deeply metaphoric. Marlene is brave enough to deal with all the walls one has to put up with in life.”
Dealer Paul Andriesse was taking a closer look at the canvases, and suggested that Dumas “is probably one of the last painter’s painters.” It felt right in the moment, anyway, surrounded as we were by her series of crying women, works she made after her mother passed away in 2007. Thin splotches of red paint trickle down a woman’s face in the brilliant Hiroshima Mon Amour. “That one is so desirable and yet fleeting,” observed the artist, who is about to take another break––a well-deserved reprieve after three back-to-back shows this year. Then, in the blink of an eye, Dumas took off again with daughter Helena in tow. As she left, you could hear her warmly laughing and greeting everyone in the balmy courtyard, “Olá! Hello! Bonjour!” And so we replied: Boa viagem, Marlene Dumas, wherever you are going.
WITHIN THE RANK CONFINES of a 36 “bendy” bus on Thursday evening, I made my way to South London Gallery’s exhibition and gala to celebrate the completion of its recent building project. As I pondered just how Britain’s boring new “age of austerity” might manifest itself in the art world, my dirty red chariot lurched to a stop outside the gallery, whereupon depressing notions of an economy drive evaporated with the vision of the gossamer mighty Aphrodite Gonou and cute Kenny Goss, better half of George Michael and one half of the Goss-Michael Foundation.
Inside, the building was humming with superlatives: “A triumph!” “Spectacular!” “A masterpiece!” Detecting the whiff of hyperbole, I went sniffing around for cracks and found . . . none.
Unpretentious and egalitarian (neighborhood squeakers are positively encouraged), SLG is a great space to visit, and even more so now that 6a architect Tom Emerson, with a cool $3 million to play with, has given it the star treatment. With a new bar and café, more gallery spaces, an Outset-funded artist’s flat (kitted out deluxe with a wet room, mod kitchen, and a perfectly made bed), and the Fox Garden donated by Gerry Fox, I wanted to move in.
Director Margot Heller explained that the accompanying group show’s title, “Nothing Is Forever,” was an “unconscious conceptual link” to 2007’s “Stay Forever and Ever and Ever.” All the works are applied directly onto the walls and are destined to dissolve into the fabric of the building when they are painted over at the end of the show. The aim was “seamless integration” between art and architecture, a concept the artists approached with wit and sensitivity. With the succinctly titled Wall, Yinka Shonibare sheathed the end of an ugly nearby apartment block in colorful PVC, while Fiona Banner’s arresting hand-scrawled Black Hawk Down dominated the walls of one corner of the main gallery. Many of the twenty participating artists were in evidence for the celebration, including Shonibare, Mark Titchner, Paul Morrison, Gary Woodley, Sam Porritt, Dustin Ericksen, and Lily van der Stokker. And as the midsummer sun set over Peckham, those that hadn’t left by the prescribed hour looked set to settle in for cocoa. Good thing there was a bed . . .
You know you’re in trouble when your tools pack up before you even get to the job. When I arrived at the Serpentine the following evening, my camera was on the fritz and my new pen produced no more than a dent on the page. Wielding my backup toolkit of iPhone and eyeliner pencil, I noticed security eyeing me suspiciously. I gathered my dignity, scribbled something bogus down in Lancôme “Smoky Amethyst,” and pushed past.
The glam jam at the door suggested that the new Wolfgang Tillmans show was a big hit. In typical Tillmans (and Serpentine) fashion, the exhibition is wonderfully hung, building a gestalt from hundreds of photographs, personal detritus, and assorted ephemera. Absorbed by one black-and-white photograph of what appeared to be two hairy arms conjoined by an unidentified blob, several minutes of aimless gawping revealed a flasher-style photo of hairy legs and four testicles dangling beneath a skirt. Red-faced I backed away to allow others the experience.
Outside I bumped into dealer Nicholas Logsdail looking like a member of the croquet association. Upon being prodded for an update on future plans at his Lamu artist’s residence–cum–winter escape, Logsdail sniffed, “I don’t like the word residence.” What would you call it then? “I haven’t thought of the word yet.” Supercool Rodney Graham, in town for his new show at Lisson Gallery, nodded and made listening noises while trying to catch the eye of his date (if-they-aren’t-they-should-be) artist Shannon Oksanen.
Diving into a cab, I sped over to the Tab Centre in Shoreditch for a dinner for Tillmans hosted by Maureen Paley. Pre-dinner libations helped oil conversation in the garden where I unoriginally observed that it really is true: The gayer the affair, the more groomed and glittering the guests. Thank God, twice, for Lancôme.
After being herded to our tables like unruly prefects, we were served a starter of . . . beetroot? Mains arrived in the form of whole grilled fishes: heads, gills, et al. Tate Modern’s Stuart Comer looked one in the dead eye and wondered: “Where’s Jesus?” As guests were in charge of dissecting dinner themselves, Hotel Gallery’s Darren Flook stepped up to the, erm . . . plate, and made quick work of skin and bones, chatting about the magnanimous, inclusive nature of the art world. “Anywhere that will let this boy from nowhere in is . . . ” Delicious.
Man of the hour Tillmans, flanked by proud parents, was suddenly clambering up onto his chair to the thunder of ecstatic applause. His contagious ovenlike grin threatened to split his face as he addressed ardent fans and supporters, all beaming like they’d given birth to him themselves. I couldn’t hear everything he said but it didn’t matter. He could have recited the ingredients on a saltbox and received a standing ovation. After thanking the Serpentine’s Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist and his dealers Paley and Andrea Rosen, he turned to acknowledge the love and support of his partner, Anders Clausen. The crowd roared. He then invited everyone to have a “little boogie” with him later. Knowing with absolute certainty that I couldn’t compete on the dance floor with the fabulous and unfeasibly energetic Tillmans posse, I hailed a taxi and boogied off to bed.
Left: Curator Elizabeth Neilson and artist Mark Titchner. Right: Collector Kenny Goff.