OUR CRACKED LIPS were just beginning to moisten when our small Beijing delegation arrived in Thailand for the unveiling of Chinese artist Lin Yilin’s project Whose Land? The two-part series, exhibited in Bangkok and the Land, a well-known artist colony outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, was curated by Josef Ng and sponsored by Lin’s gallery, Tang Contemporary. At the Land, the answer to Lin’s titular question was obvious. “Rirkrit [Tiravanija] and I bought the land,” artist Kamin Lertchaiprasert said of the Land Foundation. “We thought it would be a retirement home.”
Beijing might call out to Chinese mainland artists with promises of opportunity and community, but Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, reeks of paradise. Tiravanija and Lertchaiprasert have long kept studios there, and filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul has recently made the move as well. Lertchaiprasert herded us around as we explored his studio and home, an airy concrete structure of grand proportions and humble materials. Tiravanija’s home, similarly integrated with the outdoors, was just next door. Our eyes followed a tree sprouting from the first level up to the ceiling, and we marveled at the specially built holes in the roof that allowed it to continue growing. In Beijing such a tree would have been uprooted without a second thought; in the face of real estate development, even humans in Beijing don’t seem to merit as much consideration as this tree did here.
Demolitions of Chinese artist villages throughout 2010 have left deep psychological scars, and the disappearance of Lin’s own Beigao Village studio was obviously inspiration for Whose Land? Lin’s first trip to Thailand’s elysian fields last spring, as artist protests were still ongoing, must have made the situation in Beijing seem even more dramatic.
Our delegation piled into a van and set off for the Land, which lies about forty minutes outside Chiang Mai in the village of Baan Muang Fu. A few of us, including curator Ou Ning, hopped in the bed of Lertchaiprasert’s pickup truck to ride local-style, snapping photos the entire way.
As we pulled onto a road flanked with rice paddies, I suddenly became nervous about the descending sun. “Can we come back tomorrow if there’s not enough time?” I asked, preparing myself for something closer in scale to Bernardo Paz’s Inhotim art park in Brazil. Tang’s Zheng Lin looked at me with a blend of suspicion and parental amusement: “You can come back if you like, but what are you going to do? This is it.” He waved in the direction of a paddy ringed with incongruous structures: Before us lay the humbly utopian Land Foundation.
No one lives here. “But we don’t close the door, and the locals come to hunt and fish,” said Lertchaiprasert. Pavilions built by Tobias Rehberger, Superflex, Philippe Parreno, and architect François Roche, among others, were in various states of disrepair; appropriately reggae-esque Thai music floated up in the distance, where Lin’s pristine concrete wall—“the first curated project at the Land,” Ng reminded me—cut into the landscape. Several boys loitered on top of it looking blissful and errant, dangling their legs off the side.
Walls are a signature form for Lin, who is well known for a 1995 performance in which he moved a cinderblock wall across a busy Guangzhou road, brick by brick. His latest concrete variation stands cool and stark against the vegetation of the Land and the mountains in the distance. A small window in Lin’s wall allowed for the installation of a traditional Chinese scale, consisting of a long pole weighted with a heavy ballast. “When I bought the scale they told me it was sturdy enough to measure a swine,” Lin shrugged. But instead of livestock, each of us was instructed to climb into the basket and then chalk our names and corresponding kilograms on the concrete. Dutifully, we each weighed ourselves; photographer Anette Aurell weighed her and Tiravanija’s two dogs.
The turnout was impressive: many students and professors from Chiang Mai University, local artists, even more dogs. But was Ng pleased with the locals’ reception? “Wait until you see the show in Bangkok,” he responded somewhat ominously.
Left: Karoline Tampere of Sørfinnset Skole / the nord land, Bangkok Reading Room founder Narawan Pathomvat, and artist Stefan Mitterer. Right: Artist Chen Tong and Wu Jing at Tang Contemporary in Bangkok.
We were encouraged to explore Thailand, as there was ample time (three days) to kill before the Bangkok opening. Lin suggested we visit the red light district, and soon I found myself seated below a stage of coyly waving transvestites. My companions sipped coffee with raised eyebrows; one might not think an evening in a sex club to be the likeliest leisure activity for a band of itinerant intellectuals, but in Thailand it’s apparently standard tourist fare..
At last, the opening. Within Tang Contemporary’s Bangkok basement space, Lin had erected a temporary wall imprinted with the words WHOSE LAND? WHOSE ART? Two related videos were screened—the first depicted the grim, familiar scenes of a protest orchestrated by the artist to dispute the demolition of approximately twenty artists’ studios in Beijing; the second showed a local man treading the ridge of an enormous mountain of dirt on a dusty Martian landscape. The pile was the cleared remains of the entire village (and studios) where the protest in the first video took place. Whose land, indeed.
STILL LINED with ominous black hooks that once carried meat carcasses, the gargantuan Roman ex-slaughterhouse that hosts MACRO Future seemed almost cozy on December 17, the opening day of “Plus Ultra,” a selection of works from Turin’s Sandretto Re Rebaudengo collection curated by Francesco Bonami. “There has been a mistake—we are in Moscow, not Rome!” collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo sighed, clutching at her snappy red coat as she exited the press preview. But things haven’t seemed too normal in Rome lately: Violent demonstrations against Prime Minister Berlusconi had destroyed the city center a few days earlier, with unusually frigid weather only adding further cause for complaint in the beleaguered country.
After entering the main gate, visitors to “Plus Ultra” can choose to go left or right, into one of the two cavernous spaces; I chose the dark side. Immediately on the left, I found Paweł Althamer’s sickly Self-Portrait, mortality detailed gruesomely in organic materials, next to Charles Ray’s paranoid Viral Research, a table full of interconnecting laboratory beakers flowing with black liquid. Camped out in the middle of the hall, Jon Kessler’s black-tented Kessler’s Circus used various screens to depict terror trumped up as entertainment and the viewers, in turn, as victims of our own invasive surveillance. There was no respite: At the far end, past a Robert Kusmirowski environment showing an enclosed, obsolete recording studio, was Damien Hirst’s The Acquired Inability to Escape, Inverted and Divided—evoking the crystalline claustrophobia of the modernist glass box. There I cornered Bonami and asked him what was with all the bleakness. He reassured me that levity was to be found in the opposite space, explaining, “It is about black and white, light and dark, with pieces we can’t show normally and some new ones.”
Left: Artists Maura Biavia and Helidon Gjergji. Right: Critic Alessandra Mammi and MACRO director Luca Massimo Barbero.
Meanwhile the Romans were enjoying an unusual whiteness outside. As I exited the exhibition, a steady snowfall was coating the street, workmen were stopping to take photos, and horse carriages were galloping past toward the slaughterhouse to take cover in the stables. That evening was the opening party, as the inclement weather changed from white to wet. Romans generally do not go out in the rain, so the crowd resembled an exclusive event for local curators, critics, collectors, and dealers along with a few dedicated artists who made the trek down the hill and across the river from the American Academy. The only artist in the exhibition to show up was João Onofre, who had come in from Lisbon. “There is no such thing as bad weather for good art!” Albanian artist Helidon Gjergji said, somewhat facetiously.
We gathered in the other exhibition space, the right side, which was certainly more vivid and whimsical—like a scary fairy tale. “The exhibition is made of rich pieces that are impoverished by the horrific spaces,” architect Francesco Garofalo groused. The venue does tend to dwarf most anything, but here it seemed like a match made in heaven, or maybe hell: a space too big to fill and installations too big to show most anywhere else. Just inside the entrance hung Sarah Lucas’s monster-size Egg, painted with a man, reclining in a chair, whose face is obscured uninvitingly by his shoe sole; Tobias Rehberger’s fifteen glass flower vases, actually portraits of other artists, marched single file down the middle of the gallery; and at the far end was Angela Bulloch’s Superstructure with Satellites, a gigantic brightly colored sofa.
Left: MAXXI curator Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, dealer Mauro Nicoletti, and Venice Biennale architect Manuela Lucà-Dazio. Right: Artists Fritz Haeg and Gilles Rotzetter.
The blown-out-of-scale artworks, many of them reminiscent of common domestic items, made the show seem like a household gone haywire. When I mentioned this idea to MACRO director Luca Massimo Barbero, he looked around and said, “Yeah, we need a bathtub!” He was standing in front of Piotr Uklański’s Untitled (Monster), which looks like a granny’s knitting basket as perceived by a paranoid schizophrenic. Enough of my hallucinations: Whatever the conceit of the exhibition was, it did not much matter. “This is the best show I’ve ever seen here; it interacts well with the space,” curator Cristiana Perrella said. The nicely paced installations, only thirty-eight between the two pavilions, conversed well both visually and thematically, and had room to breathe on their own.
Cocktails were served under the garish lights of the former pig-peeling facility, along with snacks adapted to tiny little translucent boxes that made sweet and salty impossible to differentiate until tasted. “What a collection! It's hard to believe that a private individual can possess that level of art,” Sala Uno director Mary Angela Schroth raved. Indeed, what the show really highlights is that Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo is arguably the best collector in Italy, not only because of what she chooses, an original mix of Italian and international artists both famous and emerging, but because of how valiantly she strives to get it all out there, taking up the slack in the public funding gap with such initiatives as the recently established FACE, a cooperative of five European nonprofits that are pooling their resources for joint exhibitions. (Rome’s other public contemporary art institution, MAXXI, is making up for the lack of a collection equal to the grandeur of its new building with donations from private collectors.) As I spoke with Emilio Re Rebaudengo, a well-dressed woman came by and said, “Good-bye, lucky boy!” Maybe she’d seen his Astroturf football court, which mixes well with the art installations at the family’s home in Turin.
Left: Artist Zhora Litichevsky. (Photo: Valery Ledenev) Right: Cosmoscow director Margarita Pushkina and Cosmoscow consultant Vlad Ovcharenko. (Photo: Ilya Devin)
IT WAS ALREADY DUSK by 3 PM last Friday as I slid/shuffled my way across the icy Patriarch Bridge to the Red October Chocolate Factory. The venue had been famously brought into international art-world consciousness in 2008 as the site of Gagosian’s second foray into Moscow; now it was host to the city’s newest contemporary art fair, Cosmoscow (or “CosmosCow,” as friends couldn’t resist calling it).
Touted by the leading newspaper Kommersant as “a little piece of Art Basel in Russia,” Cosmoscow was initiated by collector and first-time fair director Margarita Pushkina and dealers Vladimir Ovcharenko and Volker Diehl, who are, somewhat curiously, listed as “consultants” in the official fair program. “Obviously, it’s a first attempt,” Diehl explained. “If anything, we proved you can pull off a fair in Russia that’s up to European standards.” Of course with Cosmoscow, everything is relative—not just to “the West,” but to ArtMoscow, the fair’s notorious older sister. Tales of corruption and dysfunction tend to overshadow the older fair’s sparse but splashy sales. Cosmoscow was calmer (no fur-swathed fashionistas or fabled Chechen collectors with grocery bags full of cash), more organized (despite being thrown together in just a few months), and more “average.”
“It’s like an average art fair in your average European city” one Russian participant proclaimed proudly. Non-Russians weren’t quite so enthusiastic: “Yeah, it looks great,” one dealer mumbled, “but where is everyone?” While the fair had seen to everything—from transport and customs clearance to accommodations and visa support—those dealers with visions of Roman Abramovich dancing in their heads were disappointed. The mostly German contingent (Contemporary Fine Arts, Galerie Neu, Nordenhake) sat sullenly through a very quiet “collectors’ preview.”
Kaj Forsblom, a veteran of the ArtMoscow scene, was in high spirits: “Two years ago, we were one of eleven foreign galleries who couldn’t get their work through customs. We had to tape up printouts instead. Turned out very conceptual, actually . . . ” A quick glance at his booth—two big Damien Hirsts, a Gary Hume, and a massive Julian Schnabel self-portrait propped against the wall—furnished evidence that the process had gone much more smoothly this year.
At Leo Koenig, visitors tittered over Tony Matelli’s lifelike bronze weeds, sprouting through the adjoining Winckler stand, and Ridley Howard’s tiny, candy-coated nudes, their soft spell disrupted by the rash of red dots beside them—some of the few visible at the opening. When I asked Claudia Milic whether Simon Lee Gallery had a specific “Moscow strategy,” she shrugged: “Color?” “And glitter!” visiting dealer Emanuela Campoli added, tilting her head toward a sparkly John Armleder.
Local galleries weren’t the only ones spiking their booths with recent Kandinsky Prize nominees and laureates. One could check out Tatiana Akhmetgalieva at Forsblom or Alexander Brodsky at Matthew Bown. “Why would you show Russians here?” I asked Bown, whose Berlin-based gallery specializes in Russian and Ukrainian art. “I can’t help it,” he sighed. “I hung other pieces, but the artists keep arriving with works, and I just can’t turn them down.” At Triumph Gallery there was also a solo show of the Young Artists of the Year, the collective Recycle. The booth featured an industrial-size tire whose tracks were cut with hieroglyphic depictions of figures working, resting, and, well, fucking. “What more is there to life?” dealer Dmitry Hankin mused, giving the tire a lazy push in its sandbox to show the copulating couple again.
Left: Dealer Matthew Bown and artist Dmitry Gutov. Right: Simon Lee's Claudia Milic.
In a far corner of the fair, an empty booth had been taken over by the project WC, a collaborative initiative formed by artists including David Ter-Oganyan, Sasha Galkina, and Zhanna Kadyrova. I asked Vladimir Logutov which piece was his. “The mirrors,” he said, pointing to one wall of the booth. “When we got here, we thought it looked too small, so we added them to make the space seem larger.” Eventually the ban on indoor smoking (“How American of us,” artist Valery Chtak huffed, casting me a sidelong glance) forced everyone outside. Or almost everyone—when I returned later to the WC squat, it was empty except for Ter-Oganyan, who was slumbering peacefully in a purloined chair. “We decided to leave him,” shrugged artist Misha Most. “You know, like an installation.”
Eyeing a crowd of football fans congregating around a New Year’s tree (the Soviets stole Christmas), I decided it would be safest to skip the fair’s afterparty, which had been freshly rechristened on the program from “10:30 PM Dinner” to “Vodka Party on the Red Square!” Something told me that free vodka in the world’s most obvious tourist trap didn’t mix with the nationalists’ chants of “Russia for Russians.”
By 3 PM the next day, my phone was buzzing with text messages about another kind of riot, this one in support of the artist group Voina, whose Jackass-style antics had gotten two of its members arrested on December 5. Since then, they’ve become a Russian cause célèbre, rousing emotions among the old-school Moscow art world. (Banksy has also since chipped in $125,000 for Voina’s defense.)
Left: Dealer Volker Diehl and curator Ekaterina Degot. Right: Galerie Neu's Johannas Birkner-Behlen and dealer Jan Wentrup.
As very real racial tensions erupt across Russia, it may be a stretch to herald tipping over cop cars and spray-painting a giant phallus on the Palace Bridge as “the return to political art.” I found a much more revolutionary rejection of society in Collective Actions, whose archive was on view as part of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective of Andrei Monastyrski (basically a sneak peek of this year’s Russian pavilion in Venice). I arrived in time to catch the Art Foundation of Victoria brunch in honor of the exhibition. The VIP crowd was intimate, to say the least—though it did include what may have been the fair’s sole foreign collector, a kindly gentleman from Düsseldorf—but everyone was appreciative and patient with the artist’s constant thwarting of expectations (and the odd choice of lasagna as the brunch entrée).
That evening, Cosmoscow treated its guests to an afterparty at ArtAkademia, where weary dealers were revived by the sounds of Russian’s synth-pop poster children Tesla Boy. Despite limited facility with English, the group managed to stretch a full-length single out of the variegated whinings of the words “I want to make love with you all night (all-l-l ni-i-ight).” For those still hungering for a taste of the true cosmopolitan Moscow, this New Age Fun with a Vintage Feel served as an excellent dessert.
Left: Tesla Boy performing at ArtAkademia. Right: Artist David Ter-Oganyan.
Left: Shepheard Hotel in sandstorm. Right: Artist Gregor Kregar and Cairo Biennale commissioner Ehab El-Labban. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)
THE OPENING LAST WEEK of the Twelfth Cairo Biennale was punctuated by disasters, both natural and cultural. Only the most dedicated made it to the Opera House for the official inauguration on Sunday: A sandstorm buffetted the city with wind that made the hijab de rigueur, if futile. And on a good day it is an endeavor only for the brave and the foolish to wade through the giant mess that is Cairo’s chaotic traffic. While the mighty desert wind blew many would-be VIPs to the opening of the new Mathaf museum in Qatar, a bureaucratic glitch meant there was no government leadership to oversee the exhibition in Cairo, since deputy culture minister Mohsen Shaalan, director of the biennial, had been arrested and then fired as a scapegoat in a debacle regarding a stolen van Gogh.
The question mark that served as the biennial’s title read as a gesture toward the increasing ephemerality of cultural identity. Four Arab-American artists represented the US in “Orienteering,” an evocative multimedia installation curated by Ranya Husami. People kept tripping over Rheim Alkadhi’s Domestic Floor Covering, an infographic of Iraq’s and the artist’s family histories in the form of a filthy, hole-ridden Oriental carpet. “We were a little freaked out when we saw the guy mopping around the works—in the Egyptian style, where they throw water across the floor,” artist Nadia Ayari said. The aroma of food led to the installation by the grand prizewinner, Amal Kenawy, who was serving pasta from a colorfully decorated kiosk, to be eaten at a table adorned with plants. In this Egyptian street–cum-domestic environment you could watch a projection of her piece Silence of the Lambs, part of a show curated by Nikki Columbus last year at Townhouse, “Assume the Position.” The performance stopped traffic at a busy Cairo intersection as people crawled on their knees across the street. Apparently male onlookers thought it undignified and began shouting until everyone got arrested. “I’m really surprised they allowed her to screen that,” artist Melina Nicolaides said.
Left: Jury members Fumio Nanjo, Rosa Martinez, George King, Gioia Mori, and Fulya Erdemci. Right: Artist Amal Kenawy.
A pervasive lack of information made finding the other venues an adventure in orienteering. (To date, the biennial’s official website still bears the hopeful message “Coming soon . . . ”) We managed to track down the Museum of Modern Art, but it was difficult to determine where the biennial contributions, mostly paintings, ended and the collection began. “I thought the Havana Biennial, where I was told to bring my own hammer and nails, was crazy,” artist Joël Andrianomearisoa said. “But this is really special.” We finally made it with an entourage of foreign artists across the road to the Mahmoud Mokhtar Cultural Center, which was the most cohesively curated venue. The Cypriot pavilion contained a seamless group installation of deceptively delicate drawings and sculptures by Maria Loizidou, Lara Alphas, and Eleni Mouzourou, including a giant spiderweb woven out of what appeared to be metal scouring-pad filaments. A highlight in the other building was Mantis City, Tobias Bernstrup’s take on Godzilla using models of Shanghai to depict a battle between two giant praying mantises. Mourad Messoubeur’s beautiful sculpture variegated with evolving patterns of live bacteria miraculously made it through customs. (Dutch artist Pascal van der Graaf was not so lucky: His paintings on MDF were held due to the suspicion of bugs. Nobody had told him about the regulation that wood coming into Egypt must be sprayed.)
Our walk across the bridge to the Shepheard Hotel, where most of the artists were lodged, was slowed by a performance as good as anything we had seen in the show: A lone man with a sponge scrubbed the walkway while another painted the curb, both endeavors erased immediately by the swirling sand carried on the wind. This incessant, futile cleaning was evident everywhere, including the official dinner that night on the Nile restaurant-boat Maxim, where a young man mopped around our table the whole time until Greek artist Jannis Varelas informed him that the smell of disinfectant was not pleasant while eating. Egyptians seem to have a flair for the absurd. The doorman we encountered later at Aperitivo, his pin-striped shoulders about as wide as he was tall, told us we could not enter without reservations. “Is the place full?” Andrianomearisoa asked. “No, it’s empty. But you still need reservations.” Not such a bad thing, it turned out, since the dark and alluring La Bodega was across the hall, and we were welcomed enthusiastically by charming French drag performer Blanche as if we were old acquaintances. Thusly festivities commenced until the wee hours, with curator Katrin Lewinsky keeping the champagne flowing.
A flurry of openings around town the next evening was kicked off by a posh dinner reception sponsored by the US Embassy in the Tycoon Room of Le Pacha 1901, another of the boats moored along the Nile. Cultural attaché Haynes Mahoney talked about the potential of art to transcend political tensions, quoting a Syrian artist who said, “An art exhibit is worth a thousand diplomats.” (“Certainly less boring,” someone quipped.) Next I made my way downtown to the abandoned Viennoise Hotel, where “Cairo Documenta,” an autonomously organized showcase of twenty-six young artists, was a heartening lens onto the emerging local scene that the biennial was not. The challenge of finding exhibitions continued, and I ran into visiting artists at every wrong turn looking for the same right places. The nocturnal city nearly upstaged the art exhibitions: Streams of people moved among pastry and kushari shops, all open past midnight, and street vendors loudly beckoned as we wandered past. At Contemporary Image Collective’s new digs, the snakelike tree growing smack in the middle of the entrance mirrored Mahmoud Khaled’s sinuous stack of canvases upstairs. On another floor was Asunción Molinos Gordo’s gorgeous World Agriculture Museum, a replica of a Cairo museum and a perfect fusion of site and subject sponsored by Townhouse. By the time I arrived at the Townhouse Gallery for Hala Elkoussy’s show, it was already shuttered and surrounded by cars being repaired by mechanics, but I ran into former resident artists Wouter Osterholt and Elke Uitentuis among all the hookah smokers lining the street.
I jumped on the subway to the Coptic neighborhood, where the opening for “Fames:Family Vaudeville,” at Darb 1718, had all but died down. There were still plenty of bottles of cobra venom left in the bar set up by artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff, so I made a tentative toast with curator Power Ekroth and artist Juan-Pedro Fabra Guemberena while the snake watched. I had missed a performance by Hannu Räisa with a life-size puppet, and a planned appearance by Bernstrup had been canceled. “The private and public sectors of the Egyptian art world are in competition,” Ekroth explained. “So the biennial knowingly sent him home this morning.” At least the snowfall that was forecast for that day, which would have been the first since the late 1800s, never happened. “It was an act of God: The sandstorm came just long enough to ruin the biennial’s opening and cleared up for ours!” joked artist Moataz Nasr, director of the space. With that, we all jumped into his Jeep and sped to the Cairo Jazz Club, where we danced the night away as they mopped the floor around us.
Left: Artist Joel Andrianomearisoa and bridge gang. Right: Carl Michael von Hausswolff's cobra.
SUCH A SHAME that Sir Elton John couldn’t make it to Kiev on that fateful Friday, the ninth of December. It would have been fun to see him talk shop with the guys who were there, but probably it’s just as well. Lining up for dog-and-pony duty throughout a long evening of photo ops, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, and Andreas Gursky brought more than enough dazzle to Victor Pinchuk’s inaugural Future Generation Art Prize. The Ukraine’s billionaire collector established the biannual $100,000 grant this year to support international talents under thirty-five. Six thousand applied via the Internet.
The quartet of male superstars from the Gagosian firmament was not the only constellation of art professionals that the oligarchic art patron corralled for this testosterone-fueled event. At a cozy reception in a Milk Bar–like aerie on the top floor of the PichukArtCentre, Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum, the Tate’s Sir Nicholas Serota, the Pompidou’s Alfred Pacquement, and the Guggenheim’s Richard Armstrong hobnobbed with curator/scholars Rob Storr, Okwui Enwezor, Ivo Mesquita, and Yuko Hasegawa, the token woman on a jury headed up by Eckhard Schneider, the center’s director.
The ease with which Pinchuk drew such high-level authorities to Kiev in the dark of December was impressive, but the skeptic in me asked Enwezor if he was being paid to participate. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Usually one does get a fee for serving on juries, so I assume this will be no different.” What about the artists, whom Pinchuk had handpicked to mentor the prizewinner? Strictly quid pro quo? “Victor can be very persuasive,” said the jovial Hirst, who arrived in a Day-Glo orange knit cap that seemed to obsess the posse of paparazzi surrounding him. He didn’t have a chance to elaborate before Schneider herded everyone downstairs, where an exhibition by the twenty-one finalists for the prize was on view, along with a solo show of happy-flower wallpaper and tondo paintings of same by Murakami.
When the photographers gave him some momentary breathing room, I asked Murakami what he had to do as a mentor artist. “This is it!” he quipped. There was talk of Michel Houellebecq’s new Prix Goncourt–winning novel, La Carte et le territoire (The Map and the Territory), in which a fictional Koons and Hirst appear as collaborators on a new artwork. “I heard about this,” Koons said. “Me too,” said Hirst, amused by the idea, though neither artist seemed interested in doing such a thing.
However, Hirst is following in the footsteps of Pinchuk and Dakis Joannou, a board member who didn’t make the trip. Next year, Hirst will open what he described as a “huge” new exhibition space in London to show his own collection. For his part, Pinchuk modeled the FGAP on Murakami’s Geisai prize, after serving on one of its juries. Everything’s connected.
Spread over three floors, the prize exhibition included video, installation, drawing, and photography but not much in the way of painting. Some say Pinchuk started buying into the global art elite eight years ago to insulate himself from local political intrigue, but when he led a small delegation through the galleries, his enthusiasm for the work on view seemed absolutely genuine and convincing.
What’s more, his art center is the only institution in Kiev for international contemporary art. And if the steady stream of young locals pouring into the building that weekend was any indication, Pinchuk is meeting a crying post-Soviet need among Ukrainians to connect to the modern world through it.
On his tour, he took some pride in showing off multiroom environments by both Cao Fei and Romanian artist Nicolae Mircea, as well as videos by Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle, among others. But he didn’t hear the conversation among the museum directors and curators in the shuttle bus I hopped to the prize ceremony at the Ivan Franko Theater, talk that settled on the dearth of women among the mentor artists and the jury.
Weren’t there any who could command the same kind of attention—that is, market share? Birnbaum suggested Marina Abramović. “She is so powerful a personality she could wipe them all off the stage,” he said, conceding that her prices had yet to catch up. Cindy Sherman, Marlene Dumas, Tracey Emin, Doris Salcedo, and Vija Celmins were the other names bandied about before we arrived at the theater, feeling slightly depressed by their absence.
Inside a second-story salon were canapés and the artists short-listed for the prize, as well as the lone woman on the FGAP board, Miuccia Prada, who arrived at this reception with her husband Patrizio Bertelli and the Milanese dealer Giò Marconi. Christian Jankowski accompanied his girlfriend, Jorinde Voigt, a finalist, and Pinchuk was joined by his appealing wife, Elena, whose AIDS charity in Kiev won the couple this year’s Enduring Vision Award from the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Sir John is also an FGAP board member. (See? In a global economy, everything’s connected.)
Finally, it was time for the award ceremony in the media-rigged theater, where eight cameras recording the action were projected live, multiplying images of the audience and the presenters on the loges and on an enormous scrim at the back of the stage. The proceedings began with the high-hatted Dakha-Brakha band performing with the Dakh Theater Company, whose actors cavorted on a three-tiered structure while a psychedelic laser light show reminiscent of ’60s rock concerts played over them.
To emcee the awards, White Cube’s Tim Marlow then took the stage with Olga Freimut, an Ukrainian TV personality with no apparent connection to art. They introduced Schneider, who presented the board and the jury, whose one absentee member, Ai Weiwei, pep-talked the finalists in a prerecorded video. “What is the reason we are meeting together?” Schneider asked. “Because of the love of art,” he said. Citing the Hugo Boss and Turner prizes as precedents for the award at hand, he brought Storr and Hasegawa onstage to present the $20,000 Special Prize to runner-up Mircea, who is definitely some kind of discovery.
After an interminable hour-long performance by a jazz trio from Moscow (Elton, we really missed you!), the big moment arrived. Marlow brought up the four mentors for a little forced patter before Enwezor and Birnbaum pronounced Brazil’s Cinthia Marcelle the winner. She’s actually thirty-six now. No matter. There wasn’t a soul present who wasn’t happy that a woman was taking home the prize. “I’m proud to stand on this stage with the greatest artists of our time,” Pinchuk said. “I wish you all great success,” he told the losers. “The world needs your success. These people are here to inspire you. You have to have great success in your life!”
“I don’t think inspiration is a very good word,” Mircea told reporters at the onstage press conference that followed. “I think it’s all about work.”
With that, everyone boarded shuttle buses once again for a trip to Aura, a nightclub situated at the top of a hill where a bizarre pair of Soviet-era heroic sculptures stood watch over the city of golden domes under an arc of rainbow lights that suggested a carnival relic. Jet lag sent me home early enough to catch a few winks before the next reception, a brunch on Saturday at Pinchuk’s corporate offices, where some of the jewels in his collection were installed. They included Koons’s blue cracked egg, a few Antony Gormleys, a glittering Hirst pill cabinet, a couple of Sarah Morris paintings, and one of the best Gurskys I have ever seen. It was the object of much intrigue among the guests, who were also distracted by photographs of Pinchuk with the Obamas, Bill Clinton and the Rolling Stones, and Paul McCartney, among others, as well as an enormous bear that Pinchuk had brought down on a hunt.
“I don’t think you should kill bears,” Nathalie Djurberg told Pinchuk. “Birds are okay but leave the bears alone.” He nodded, clearly thrilled to be meeting the artist who had created the Natural Selection video in the art center show, one of his favorites. Koons, meanwhile, examined a picture of his terrific new balloon rabbit sculpture, now in Pinchuk’s collection, with Prada. She listened carefully as he went on to speak of the tentacles surrounding his Blue Diamond, which Pinchuk also owns, as sperm that double as female appendages. “I believe in the power of women,” he said.
“Women do have power,” the designer replied, sounding the underlying theme of the weekend. “But we have to decide how to use it and not continue to live in the shadow of men.”
With that, the party broke up.
AS THE CROWD drained out of the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn last Saturday night, after a dizzying Kathleen Hanna covers concert, I could have sworn I heard a snip of a Morrissey/Emily Dickinson mash-up: “When our friends become successful,” the song went, over a restless backbeat, “it leaves but little time for other occupations.” Maybe this was a hallucination, but it captured my feelings about the weekend just past. As a feminist making stuff in community with other feminists doing the same, I had stepped into what is technically known as a clusterfuck; the Hanna show was only the culmination of an overwhelming few days spent as participant-observer in the scene I happen to call, without any pretense of journalistic objectivity, home.
Before the screaming and the bourbon and the nudity and the lager, though, there was a panel. The Thursday night discussion at the New Museum involved the New York–based activist collective Working Artists in the Greater Economy (WAGE) and CARFAC, a Canadian organization that promotes artist-friendly practices up north. Asked to contribute work to the current New Museum show “Free,” WAGE had demurred, choosing instead to work with curator Lauren Cornell to negotiate artists’ fees for everyone in the exhibition. “Paying artists should be stylish the way eating organic food is stylish,” artist and WAGE co-conspirator K8 Hardy declared, rocking a jacket emblazoned with brocade teddy bears.
“Free” is hardly the first museum exhibition to pay its artists, but it is the first to be awarded “WAGE certification.” During the Q&A, filmmaker Matt Wolf wondered aloud whether any funders were influential enough to start a trend of giving money only to museums that paid artists’ fees, as had happened in Canada. A union organizer in the audience had a whole list of suggestions. “Get some money and hire this organizer to get us going!” artist Barbara Hammer exclaimed.
“What are your goals?” Cornell pressed her guests. “We move slowly,” artist A. K. Burns admitted: The WAGErs have been collecting artists’ surveys online for months, but they want to get more responses before crafting a plan of action. “We’re all really busy with our lives,” she said, “and we’re doing this on the side.” “We’re not labor organizers,” A. L. Steiner said. “We realize there’s a lot of potential here, but we need more time in order to move it forward.”
Friday’s entry in the feminist sweepstakes was an event at Artists Space for the new Gregg Bordowitz book Imagevirus, about General Idea and AIDS iconography. Alas, I was already promised to the n+1 tenth-issue release party at Book Court, involving a string of one-paragraph readings from the back issues of the journal. While this wasn’t a particularly feminist event, the highlights are still worth mentioning: New York Observer editor Christian Lorentzen hamming up three sentences of his famed antihipster screed; painter and Paper Monument editor Dushko Petrovich issuing jokey proposals for the Post-Neo and the Neo-Post; Wallace Shawn reading the hell out of a paragraph by an absent Elif Batuman.
A standard-issue lit-world party followed: Meet people, forget their names immediately, say “My book tour was so fun” fifty times in a row. Two beers plus one whiskey into the night, I was feeling pretty expansive. A Magnetic Fields song I hadn’t heard in years was on, and I sang to my friends what I could remember of the chorus: “You’ll see the world / diving for a girl you’ll never find.” The line didn’t feel sad to me. After all, if what you were looking for could actually be found, you might feel finished and stay home, and wouldn’t that be boring?
Saturday’s first event was the closing party for Burns and Katherine Hubbard’s interaction space–exhibition “The Brown Bear: Neither Particular, nor General.” A barber’s chair in the center of Recess, which had seen so much action over the past seven weekends, had now become simply a place to lounge with spiked mulled cider, amid the luscious scraps of curls arranged in an auburn garland on the floor. (Reactions to the haircuts had been mixed: Hammer was openly dismayed by the asymmetrical assault on her silver spikes. “They invited me to to come back and get it fixed,” she told me at the WAGE panel, “but I went to my regular Ukrainian person on Wall Street.”)
Next stop: a K8 Hardy performance at Reena Spaulings, curated by Pati Hertling. While we waited for the performer to make her entrance, artist Leidy Churchman reminisced about his favorite Hardy performance ever, on Governors Island some years back: “K8 was lip-synching—I don’t even remember what song—and crawling down the aisle. She turned herself into an animal.”
Presently Hardy appeared, nude except for cowboy boots and trompe l’oeil body paint that feigned a white V-neck top and blue jeans, with meticulous details including wrinkles at her knees and pockets inscribed on her ass cheeks. “We like being hot,” the artist had written in a long statement about the performance. “And you like to watch. It’s just that this patriarchal deeply embedded sexist power structure penetrates the conversation when you are looking. . . . And we feel guilty when we like it. But shame and guilt can be so hot.”
The conceit was that the artist, standing on a drop cloth, was a painting—the performance itself was titled New Paintings. Unlike related rites of self-exposure by the likes of Yoko Ono and (pre-MoMAfication) Marina Abramović, this one came with protection: two deadpan female “guards” who flanked Hardy, affecting something between a pop star’s security detail and the corner warmers at a museum.
Audience members started engaging her. “Can you turn around again?” Churchman requested. Hardy did. “Can you talk about your outfit a little bit?” MoMA’s Lanka Tattersall prodded. Hardy did. She invited people to step up, one at a time, to “have your picture taken with the painting,” and the milling-about resumed.
“It’s a slow burn, this performance,” one friend remarked, as others took their turns in front of the camera.
“Are you burning?” I asked him.
“With cigarette smoke.” The room was filled with that retro-louche reek of indoor nicotine, and even a cigar or two. I couldn’t stick around; I was due at the Knitting Factory for the final event of the night, a benefit for a Kathleen Hanna documentary that’s in the works. Among the impressive roster of musicians covering songs by Bikini Kill and other Hanna projects, Bridget Everett rode victorious over Le Tigre’s “After Dark,” hiking up her leopard-print muumuu before discarding it altogether; kid-rock stalwarts Care Bears on Fire sped powerfully through “My Metrocard”; She Murders—fronted by the Sonics’ own youth, Coco Gordon Moore—nailed the Bikini Kill anthem “Rebel Girl”; and Kim Gordon read Hanna’s early Riot Grrrl Manifesto (“BECAUSE I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can and will change the world for real”).
Some of my favorite feminist revolutionaries were clustered at a far corner of the club: Le Tigre’s Johanna Fateman and JD Samson, Fales Library’s Riot Grrrl archivist Lisa Darms, artist (and erstwhile Excuse 17 guitarist) Becca Albee, writer (and erstwhile Erase Errata guitarist) Sara Jaffe, videomakers Cat Tyc and Lauryn Siegel. At the back bar, I found fashion-blogger wunderkind Tavi Gevinson, who had come to town for talks about the teen girl magazine that she’s starting with Sassy’s Jane Pratt. Gevinson was wearing a sweater Hanna had given her after it shrank in the wash: Custom made by Jim Drain and Elyse Allen, it had the word FEMINIST woven into it nine times. “It seemed like the right thing for tonight,” the ninth grader who always knows the right thing to wear told me.
The night culminated in the much-anticipated debut of Hanna’s new band, the Julie Ruin, whose lineup included Kenny Mellman (of Kiki and Herb) on keyboards and Kathi Wilcox (of Bikini Kill) on bass. Hanna had hardly set foot on a stage in many years, but her charisma and joy proved as fresh as ever.
The group did a handful of old Bikini Kill and Le Tigre songs before unleashing a new composition, a sprightly piano-leavened disco number with a brilliantly catchy chorus: “Cookie cookie yah / cookie yah / cookie yah yah.” It’s bound to become a hit. I couldn’t hear the rest of lyrics, so I can’t be entirely sure, but I think it’s about enjoying life.
“IT’S BACK!” my editor e-mailed me. “Seems it’s going to be an art-world ritual after all. Any interest in going for round two?”
My first thought? No! I should get an award for covering this award show again. I gave my take on it the first time. If the second piece comes out blah, it’ll be humiliating! Plus, “It’s horrible to see other people validated.” Just kidding! I really couldn’t be more delighted to see people recognized for their work. After all, what is the writer, according to John Gregory Dunne, but the person with “their nose pressed up against the glass”?
In this case, I was seated at a pretty good table last Wednesday at Webster Hall, where Rob Pruitt’s 2010 Art Awards were held on a bitterly cold night. Shivering near the stage in the middle of the cavernous and chilly Grand Ballroom, I could read the teleprompter along with the presenters (“Marina: (a little brash) ‘Some say one is the loneliest . . . ’ ”). One-thousand-dollar-a-plate ticket holders (it was a fundraiser for the Gugg and White Columns) and working girls like myself schmoozed and gawked around the Jeff Koons balloon-animal centerpieces. On our laps were John Baldessari napkins: giant white T-shirts that read PURE SLOB. (Too bad I didn’t see anyone actually wearing one, though it was certainly cold enough in the room for layering.)
Across from me—alas, out of earshot—the Artist was Present: Marina Abramović exuded the same focused gaze on the proceedings that she had displayed in her recent MoMA staring marathon. In retrospect, I think she was willing herself an award the whole time. (Best Solo Show of the Year: Museum. She beat three dead men. Take that, Yves Klein, Otto Dix, and Charles Burchfield!) Klaus Biesenbach was in a bubbly mood. Linda Yablonsky is thinner and blonder every time I see her. Michael Stipe was looking dapper with a convenient MICHAEL STIPE nametag on his lapel. Arty! He served me polenta, making nice eye contact, and I think that was the highlight of my evening. He would be an amazing waiter. But the person I really talked to sat next to me: Abramović’s holistic healer, a Santa Fe–based acupuncturist who travels with Abramović and said she has several clients in the art world, including three who happen to be in MoMA, but she wouldn’t name names.
Left: Paz de la Huerta as artist Michele Abeles. Right: Michael Ward Stout, president of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, with Michael Stipe.
Wearing the same Calvin Klein suit he had gotten for free at last year’s Calvin Klein–sponsored shindig at the Gugg, Rob Pruitt was onstage less this time. The creative vision of the event was as coherent and considered and as tightly curated as before, though perhaps the uptown venue seemed more glam. An astute child of appropriation art and a post-Pop product, Pruitt gave us a “representation” of an awards show that was self-consciously both real and a send-up.
As the foxy and droll host, Glenn O’Brien did much of the evening’s heavy lifting, Oscars-style. He made his entrance, like thousands of visitors to MoMA this year, awkwardly squeezing between two flat-affect naked people. (The program thanked Marina Abramović “for graciously allowing us to recreate Imponderabilia as our show opener.”) He endorsed the sex appeal of each of the presenters (as “the sexy Amalia Dayan and the hunky Adam Lindemann” nervously read their lines, someone hooted out, “Hunky!”) and he kept things humming with a steady stream of art-world stand-up—even appropriately appropriated jokes: “A panda walks into a bar . . . ” he began, then elaborated how he “got that joke from Richard Prince via Henny Youngman who bought it from Sigmund Freud . . . ” Meta! And a perfect instance of how the event filtered celeb culture through the art world and its “practices.” And vice versa. Two people in giant panda suits did a charming duet with canes: the showbiz version of Pruitt’s signature pandas.
Lucky de Bellevue was nervous about giving a speech if he won. But he didn’t, so that was OK. “I’m embarrassed to be here,” confided a painter as she struggled to process what was happening. No glamorous cultural event would be complete without the ubiquitous James Franco. The It Boy strutted and camped and titillated his fans as the “butch” half of a duet with performance artiste Kalup Linzy, who sported a ladies’ wig. I think they were crooning “asshole” over and over again. I was told, “They’re, like, besties.”
Martha Rosler took a picture of the standing ovation she received for her Lifetime Achievement award. She’s a Leo, I recalled. The pioneering feminist artist was “grateful to Jonas—because I kind of look like a teenager compared to him.” Fellow Lifetime Achiever Jonas Mekas, who actually looked quite dashing in his fedora, gave a rousing speech that was like a cosmic wake-up call, spiced up by his Lithuanian accent: “Everybody dies but that is good because if they didn’t the world would be so cluttered. Art is here so that everything could become more beautiful and more subtle. So let’s enjoy this moment now; that’s what life is all about!” (Applause by drunk crowd.) “And that’s what art is all about.” (More applause by drunk crowd.) “Life is real. We are here now to make life more beautiful.”
“That was a real performance,” declared Klaus Biesenbach.
“WHERE IS EVERYONE? It was so quiet at the fair today . . . ” moaned a dealer nursing a caipirinha poolside at the Delano. The perennial complaint that there’s too much going on (a grumble right up there with, “But I’m on the list!”) this year struck a stark contrast with the more relaxed-fit feel at Art Basel proper.
Thus I was unprepared for the bustle Thursday morning at the opening for NADA, where most visitors stuck to the party line and endorsed the gig as an enthusiastic antidote to Big Fair bullying. It’s tricky to tell how much of this has to do with the work on view, and how much is the MadMenYourself atmosphere of the Deauville Beach Resort. Debating this point, John Kelsey admitted, “A lot of that work actually requires much more time than you would think.” As I navigated booths by galleries such as Hilary Crisp, Country Club, 179 Canal, Andreas Melas Presents, and Mitterrand+Sanz, I noted plenty of visitors who were taking the time—curator Jens Hoffmann, collector Mark Rosman, and dealer Johann König among them.
That evening I dropped by the Webster for the Fantom and La Mer party before trekking north to the Soho Beach House, where Victoria Miro was hosting a dinner celebrating Isaac Julien’s exhibition at the Bass Museum. While many of the guests––including Patricia Marshall, RoseLee Goldberg, and Thelma Golden––had already tested out the pool during the White Cube party earlier in the week, it seemed they were as eager to get a glimpse at the penthouse as the staff was eager to show it off. The majority of the revelers kept to the rooftop terrace, snuggling into cabanas while waiters brought around a “dinner” of crudités. “Might as well save myself the $500 and try out the entrees here,” a nearby guest muttered, reaching for some mushroom risotto. The Rubells showed up en masse, followed by artist Olaf Breuning, who was taking pictures later at the Swiss Institute/Bally bash (which also featured a laser show by Peaches). “If you’re at the Standard later, I have a pool full of fake tits and flowers,” Breuning noted. “Check it out.”
Left: Dealer Kate Werble at NADA. Right: GMG Gallery's Anna Komar and artist Anton Ginzburg at NADA. (Photos: Andy Guzzonatto)
Actually, the Standard, hosting a dinner in honor of Merce Cunningham’s Legacy Tour, was the next stop on my agenda. (No sign of Breuning’s promised T&F, which I chalked up to another Miami joke.) As I tried not to stare at an elderly dance enthusiast unknowingly draining his ceviche into the buffet bowl of pita chips, I chatted with sometime Miami resident Daniel Arsham, who had built the set for that weekend’s Cunningham performances. Coincidentally, the busy artist had also designed one of the Day of the Dead masks handed out at Le Baron that night, a party favor conceived by DJ=artist duo Kolkoz, who were inspired by a recent residency in Mexico City.
Friday afternoon, I ventured to the bayside Mondrian Hotel for The Island, a one-day-only exhibition at Flagler Memorial Island. Organized by LAND and local staple OHWOW, the fleeting show boasted works by Jack Pierson, Hanna Liden, Terence Koh, Stefan Brüggemann, and Naomi Fisher, among others. According to the invite, boats would be leaving “every few minutes.” Once an hour was more like it. Out on the docks, I noticed a few who couldn’t make it aboard negotiating to have some Jet Skiers take them over. Although the wait was ridiculously long, the ride itself was less than five minutes—enough time for a scantily-clad cabana boy to hand out Café Bustelo energy drinks to the flagging crowd. This buoyed morale for when we pulled up to the picture-perfect island only to find a desperate-looking group of visitors huddling in wait for the boat beside two of Koh’s “found skeletons” and the purposefully decrepit carnival lettering of Pierson’s FAME.
Watching another “islander” duck under a low-lying tree branch in Chloé clogs, I was grateful for the complimentary flip-flops, which allowed us to take shortcuts through the water. OH WOW’s Aaron Bondaroff spied us tromping around amid the waves. “It was a lot easier to get around before the tide came in,” he said, grinning sheepishly. Back on shore, I found myself casting longing glances at both Adrien Brody, who was making a cell-phone video of the park rules sign, and the Chow clan’s boat, docked within a tempting swimming distance from the beach. We completed our lap around the island and rejoined the horde of refugees, all of whom were competing over who had the most urgent reason to return to the mainland. (“I have a flight!” “I left my dog in the car!”) When the boat did come into view, Bondaroff broke from the crowd and scaled the side of the ship. The two Bustelo boys were more than willing to assist any girls who also opted to climb over the sides. “There’s no need to push. There’s room for everyone,” an older couple behind me chided. Needless to say, when the boat did shove off, that couple was effectively Gilliganed––at least for another hour or so.
Back in the blessed city, I dropped by the Oceanfront for the 032c-curated Berlin night, where AIDS-3D’s advertised “high-energy double-avatar motion tracking performance” turned out to be a small screen superimposing 3-D models over the artists as they DJ’ed. I swapped hellos with curators Massimiliano Gioni, Cecilia Alemani, and Carson Chan and artist Cyril Duval before crossing the square to the Visionaire party at the W (heeding 032c editor Joerg Koch’s advice, “Come early, or don’t come at all”). The combination of restrictive couture, Beluga cocktails, and winding paths through the gravel-lined “Grove” made for a unique barrage of elbows and air-kisses among guests such as Christian Louboutin, Poppy de Villeneuve, Nate Lowman, Ryan McGinley, Tilda Swinton, Nicky Hilton, and Wolfgang Tillmans. Eyeing Visionaire’s Cecilia Dean, magnificently decked out in Viktor & Rolf (who were also in attendance), it was hard to imagine that just a few hours earlier she had been contemplating crawling up the side of a boat.
As soon as the bar went dry, we shuffled over to Coco DeVille, where the Jane Hotel was cohosting a bash with conceptual periodical The Thing. We loaded up on Swedish fish and pressed on to Rokbar, which had been taken over for the week by the disreputable mavens of Dis magazine. Distracted by a pair of legs sticking out ominously over the bar, I hardly registered when the DJ played the first Arab pop song. What I had assumed was a fluke track extended into an hour of what was essentially the same catchy rhythm (“Hezbollah disco?” offered writer Adam Kleinman). The crowd, featuring veteran party-power-players such as Daniel Buchholz, Friedrich Petzel, Beatrix Ruf, and artist Nik Gambaroff, was delightful.
On Saturday, I found myself watching more nude performers in a pool (apparently no one had had enough after Mariah Robertson’s mash-up at the Delano on Thursday). This time it was at the Standard as part of Vanessa Beecroft’s contribution to Neville Wakefield’s Playboy-bankrolled project, “Nude as Muse.” From the buzz amid the tables, the true scandal hadn’t been the performances (which included ditties by Kembra Pfahler and Olympia Scarry) but rather the welcome speech, which apparently lauded an era when “HIV-positive is now a positive thing.” Since this was Playboy, it didn’t come as a surprise when the yachts began to arrive replete with the requisite creepy old men. Scanning the crowd, I picked out hotelier André Balazs, Brooke Geahan, multiple Schnabels (Lola even participated with a piece of her own), and LA MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch.
Ducking through the Standard’s lobby, I dropped by the rousing launch for Andrew Kuo’s book What Me Worry before pushing on to the Delano (again) for a Ping-Pong party hosted by Susan Sarandon. I paused briefly to appreciate dealer Stefania Bortolami’s table skills before heading to Kill Your Idol bar. There, art-world twins Pati and Alexander Hertling hosted their own joint birthday party, bringing in DJs from Psychic Youth as well as electropop locals This Heart Electric. The place was packed with much of the Mitteleuropa crowd I had seen at the Rokbar, as well as Cay Sophie Rabinowitz and Christian Rattemeyer; dealers Tony Webster and Eivind Furnesvik, and artists Latifa Echakhch and Valentin Carron.
Sunday morning, I steadied myself with a large cup of coffee and ambled over to Art Basel Conversations, where moderator Hans Ulrich Obrist had assembled a massive panel on “The School Makers” with speakers including artist Tania Bruguera, Yoshua Okón and Eduardo Abaroa of Mexico City’s SOMA, members of Bruce High Quality Foundation (guess that anonymity thing’s out the window now?), the end’s Domingo Castillo, and Mountain School’s Piero Golia. This year they’d moved the talks from the glorious Oceanfront to the convention center. “Sucks we can’t smoke anymore,” one of the BHQFers lamented to a sympathetic Beatrix Ruf.
Touching on everything from pedagogue Cedric Price to The Ignorant Schoolmaster to that Bravo art reality show, everyone agreed that while no one really knows what an art education should look like, it definitely involves discussion. As another BHQFer put it: “We’re all in this dark abyss of trying to figure out what being an artist means, and maybe we just need to be in a room with other people who are trying to figure it out.”
ART BASEL MIAMI BEACH is never just a marketplace. It’s a devil’s playground where the moral order is determined by commercial sponsors and there is no hell to pay for it.
Despite the somnolent morning-after atmosphere following the party kickoff night before, the giant fair, 250 galleries strong, was not sleeping off the still-depressed economy or anything else. If celebrity spotters at Wednesday’s VIP preview had to make do with George Hamilton, this year’s Sylvester Stallone, art itself was stretching its legs and leaping over bottom lines as if by prearrangement. Top shops such as Gagosian, Zwirner, Pace, and Gladstone sold out nearly all their wares in the first two hours, though nearby dealers looked askance when handlers started moving fresh material into Gogo’s booth as soon as works were sold.
With the clock ticking, I found the entire Hort clan at Hauser & Wirth, eyeing a powder-blue glass ottoman by Roni Horn. But Michael Hort had a bigger nose for a suite of constructions at Untitled made by Phil Wagner—an artist, dealer Joel Mesler claimed, who expressed the “generic optimism” of Art Positions, where small galleries like his are restricted to presentations of single artworks.
At the fair this week, both the AP and the Art Nova booths surround interior palm courts of what dealer Tim Nye termed “assassination-ready” grassy knolls of Astroturf, while the confounding nine-circles-of-hell layout of last year’s fair has relaxed into a more comforting modernist grid. It allows for wider aisles and more spacious stands, both of which enhance the chance encounters so critical to membership in the international art club.
During the preview, that cozy clan even sported a team color—Day-Glo orange—worn by Andrea Rosen and Charlotte Ford as well as Emmanuel Perrotin’s onetime Miami partner Cathy Vedovi, who snagged a spectacular Sterling Ruby bronze excavation at Xavier Hufkens. “It’s a commitment!” she admitted, eyeing the tonnage. “But worth it.” Yet blue was the mediating color of Piotr Uklański’s found-vase relief at Gagosian, one of the most deservedly attention-getting works at the fair. “Yeah,” the superdealer joked, “people really like that piece. We can’t keep ’em in stock, and our fulfillment centers are working overtime.”
When I stopped in to David Kordansky’s stand, the dealer and the art adviser Meredith Darrow were hard-selling Miami collectors Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz on “remade readymades” by Kathryn Andrews. The LA-based artist had already made an impression at the Rubell Family Collection’s “How Soon Now” exhibition the night before, where installations of work by Kaari Upson and Nathalie Djurberg had pride of place.
The Rubells, meanwhile, seemed taken with Simon Denny’s Max Headroom–inspired, interventionist “video aquarium” sculptures at Daniel Buchholz, while I found Yael Bartana’s first animated video at Sommer, and the Richard Hughes/Luke Fowler combination at the Modern Institute, entrancing. But it was at L&M Arts that an accidental power summit convened, when Christie’s Brett Gorvy, Sotheby’s Anthony Grant, Aby Rosen, Alberto Mugrabi, Julian Schnabel, Jane Holzer, Norman Rosenthal, and the natty collectors Mari and Peter Shaw all happened on the booth at the same moment. “The only way to do an art fair is on your own,” Rosenthal concluded when it broke, leaving Robert Mnuchin and Dominique Lévy looking spent and Sarah Watson with the responsibility of answering strangers’ questions like, “How much for the Koons terriers?” ($2.1 million was the whispered answer.)
Just then, Bob Lynch, CEO of the Washington advocacy group Americans for the Arts, sidled up with colleagues Nora Halpern and Kate Gibney. They spoke of the developing brouhaha over the Smithsonian Secretary’s removal of David Wojnarowicz’s Fire in My Belly video from a current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Other than a trickle of news about the tempestuous storm grounding planes from New York, it was the only hint of a world outside the ABMB bubble I detected all week.
Certainly no one, not Peter Brant or Raymond Learsy, Melva Bucksbaum, Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin, or Ben Stiller (this year’s Val Kilmer), deemed it appropriate to protest any issue at Aby Rosen’s W South Beach Hotel, where Steve Martin read a Miami Basel dinner scene from An Object of Beauty, his deep-inside new novel about a ruthless young skirt from Sotheby’s on the make for art-boom success. After all, the chapter, absent the protagonist, was all about them.
I would have stayed for the reception, had it not been for the American premiere of Isaac Julien’s sumptuous nine-channel film Ten Thousand Waves at the Bass Art Museum. Only that event coincided with a dinner hosted by Gagosian, Dasha `Zhukova, and Wendi Murdoch back at the W’s Mr. Chow. Anyone who wasn’t there was probably at the dinners David Zwirner or Jeff Poe and Tim Blum were giving elsewhere. But one look around the restaurant’s bar gave clear evidence that this year’s fair had at last dispatched the vulgar and the tasteless from the bustle of conventioneers.
There were no place cards at the tables but plenty of recognizable names and faces in couture that ran from Alexander McQueen to Lanvin, Prada to Yves Saint Laurent. All the Chows (Michael, Eva, Max, and China) were present, along with a gaggle of museum directors (Thomas Campbell, Klaus Biesenbach, Arnold Lehman, and Adam Weinberg); curators Gary Tinterow and Ann Temkin; collectors Steve Cohen, Wendy Stark, and LA MoCA board cochair Maria Bell; artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Marco Brambilla, Ryan McGinness, Aaron Young, and Schnabel; a bevy of fashion types (Calvin Klein, Linda Evangelista, Stefano Tonchi, the ultrafabulous Daphne Guinness); Martin and Stiller; and even the slightly scandalized baseball star Alex Rodriguez.
I was fascinated to see Campbell consult with Zhukova about bringing an exhibition to Moscow, while Weinberg extolled the Whitney’s probable ten-year lease of its Breuer building to the Met. Before dessert, Gagosian thanked everyone for coming to this “intimate” dinner (the in-joke of the week in publicist-speak). Yet the evening was still young enough for me to pummel my way through the enraged pack of fair rats at the Raleigh, where bouncers forcefully limited the size of the mosh pit that LCD Soundsystem “activated.” The show’s presiding éminence grise was the boogie-down Jeffrey Deitch, who had cleverly maintained his grip on first-night entertainment by getting MoCA and Maybach to sponsor it.
Next morning, breakfast at Ella Cisneros’s CIFO Art Space was a gooey red Kreëmart-sponsored cake so closely resembling freshly butchered entrails that I couldn’t quite bring myself to eat it. The sickly sweet was actually the substance of a performance engineered by the Los Carpinteros duo, Marco Antonio Castillo Valdes and Dagoberto Rodriguez Sanchez. Still in need of more edible art, I stopped into Jennifer Rubell’s Just Right, a DIY affair in a derelict house behind the building containing her family’s collection. Porridge bowls were in one room, spoons in another, oatmeal, raisins, sugar, and milk in still others. There weren’t many bowls left. “I wanted four thousand,” the culinary artist said. “But there were only 750 for rent in all of Miami.”
After a visit to Debra and Dennis Scholl’s World Class Boxing and the Margulies Warehouse, where an envious Bucksbaum called the installation of recent and vintage works the best she had ever seen there, I discovered a younger scene unfolding at the lively Small Gift fair, co-organized by Roger Gastman to celebrate fifty years of Sanrio, the mother ship of Hello Kitty. (Gastman is Jeffrey Deitch’s pick for curating the street art show coming to MoCA in April.) For sale were artworks by cartoonists and graffiti artists such as Gary Panter and Crash, while a pop-up tattoo parlor accommodated fans by inking them with designs made under Sanrio’s cultish influence.
There was a long night ahead—longer than I ever would have guessed, even in Miami. So after taking another turn around the convention center, meeting artist John Stezaker at the Approach (sans collages—he’s turned a new leaf), and admiring both a wall-climbing installation by Allen Ruppersberg at Margo Leavin and Cory Arcangel’s belly-dancing jungle gym at Team, I had just enough time before nightfall to note how many dealers had changed over their stands. Having missed any chance at the beach, I headed to the Webster, where Fantom editor Cay Sophie Rabinowitz had put together a show of by-the-sea photographs sponsored by La Mer. I would have stayed, but I wanted to catch friends at the raffiné dinner that Lisson Gallery was giving on a yacht docked at the Miami Marina. Naturally, I couldn’t stay. Schnabel’s new film, Miral, was about to unspool at the Colony Theater.
Based on a novel by the artist’s current squeeze, Rula Jebreal, it takes on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Slumdog Millionaire’s Freida Pinto in the lead. As if that didn’t give the audience enough fat to chew, it was just a prelude to a Maybach-sponsored dinner at the almost subdued, Frank Gehry–designed New World Symphony building now nearing completion.
Outside the entrance, where the temperature had dropped to a blustery 59, sat a gleaming white Maybach at the foot of Schnabel’s Queequeg, the Maybach Sculpture, a white behemoth with a whale flipper for a head. (It is now part of the Daimler Art Collection.) Indoors were Sam Keller, Bruce Weber, Johnny Pigozzi, Tony Shafrazi, Stavros Niarchos, Vito Schnabel, Lisa Phillips, Peter Brant, Naomi Campbell, Sandy Brant and Ingrid Sischy, Douglas Cramer, and many French-speaking people, like the bow-tied fashion designer Alber Elbaz.
On view were five large Schnabel paintings on found maps. They were to be auctioned for the benefit of Sean Penn’s Haitian relief charity, JP/HRO. The intimate dinner for several hundred commenced, but as soon as the appetizer plates were taken away, we were treated to a film too obscure to describe and a series of speeches extolling Schnabel’s many virtues. Finally the artist mounted the podium, promising that food would soon be served—it was 11 PM—but, seemingly unaware that there were other events calling all over town, he wanted first to say something about the relief effort in Haiti, and then there were more speeches and another film. And the auction.
Left: Artist Nate Lowman. Right: Collector Aby Rosen, Michael Chow, and Calvin Klein.
Faint from hunger, I bailed with Nowness editor Zoe Wolff and filmmaker Alison Chernick when Penn unleashed a screaming tirade about Haiti’s suffering. What about us? I thought, but I was so cranky. Besides, it was time for the performance that “Greater New York” artist Mariah Robertson had put together, under the auspices of MoMA PS1 and Interview, at the Delano pool . . . uh, excuse me . . . “water salon.”
While the auction was raising an amazing million dollars for Haitians, thanks to Jebreal’s strenuous exhortations to “you rich people” to cough up the bucks, the several hundred guests at the Delano unaware of the cause cheered synchronized swimmers, a naked male dancer, and a procession of costumed Caribbean drummers in a show that had no purpose other than comic relief.
Still starving, but in better spirits, I made for the W, where Vito Schnabel, Alex Dellal, and Niarchos were hosting a hands-in-the-air, dancing-on-the tables sort of frat party so wildly uninhibited that even the buttoned-down Benedikt Taschen was lit. It would be pointless to report how rich people drunk with their own success relax after making and spending vast amounts of money on the art of others. Suffice to say that, though no actual business was done, they let down their hair in ways as vulgar and tasteless as lesser folk and further cemented their kiss-but-don’t-tell relations.
At 2 AM, these intimate revels showed no signs of slowing, and I would have stayed, but the falafel place on Collins was still open.
Left: Collector Maja Hoffmann with Kunsthalle Zurich director Beatrix Ruf. Right: Hard Rock Cafe's Peter Morton and Linda Evangelista.
SO FULL OF PERVERSE PROMISE, the PR fantasia known as Art Basel Miami Beach remains a burlesque of fevered pitches and swift rejections, grandiose “launches” for “architectural footwear” and “scent collaborations.” On Tuesday, while important things transpired elsewhere (e.g., the National Portrait Gallery’s knee-jerk yanking of David Wojnarowicz’s video Fire in My Belly), the Miami crowds, wallets thick with cards declaring Elite airline status and VIP fair access and other distensions of the first-person singular, reaffirmed the city’s standing as the capital of frivolous fabulosity.
Not that we’re complaining. After all, we’re here. So what better way to kick off the eve of the big fair than an Amazing Race–style gauntlet of all the amazing parties and their amazing bastard afterparties? (A hot tip, via Pascal: Say “amazing” enough and you stave off the ennui.) First stop: the Standard hotel for André Balazs and Marc Newson’s toast to “the first US sea launch of The Aquariva by Marc Newson with Dom Pérignon.” Like in AA, everyone here needs a sponsor. We missed the christening (so, lamentably, did Newson) but caught the snacks, mostly crab cakes and, yes, Dom Pérignon.
Next was Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, which was celebrating its final Miami show after six years in the former gas station–cum-ICA-style digs. The backyard dance party wouldn’t get rolling until later, but upstairs a menacing wall label (ATTENTION: THIS ROOM CONTAINS ADULT CONTENT; NO MINORS ALLOWED; NO PHOTOGRAPHY) and press release (“ . . . sure to surprise even the most informed of audiences”) was titillating, like Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Beyond the white curtains hung a deadpan series of eleven photographs by Paola Pivi.
“There are these parties in Prague where boys go to have sex and people take their pictures,” Pivi explained. “So we asked if any of them would do some for an artist.” We glanced at the pics on the walls, each featuring naked ephebes lined up, hip-to . . . er . . . hip, in ecstatic daisy chains.
“But are they really . . . ?”
“Well, yes—that’s the point,” Pivi said, raising her eyebrows.
The next stop, Miami MoCA’s opening for Jonathan Meese and Bruce Weber, was more than eight miles north. Outside in the gloaming, above the glistening half-moon reflecting pool, hung a Vanity Fair logo projected onto the museum’s facade. We wandered past the chorus of Haitian singers and the parked cheeseme.com truck (doling out greasy sandwiches and sliders) and into the blitzkrieg flashes of paparazzi.
Left: Calvin Klein with Bonnie Clearwater, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami. Right: Ricky Martin with LAND's Lisa Anastos.
Inside, Meese stood delivering military salutes amid his group of twisted figurative sculptures. He was about the only person in the crowd I recognized. Well, him and newly (out) gay icon Ricky Martin, who, it happens, is not just a major celebrity but also a collector. He mostly likes Latin American art. I wondered if he wasn’t partly there to plug his bluntly titled autobiography, Me, which I mentioned having seen at the airport bookstore. “It’s at the airport?” he asked.
So then it was eight miles back the way we came to the annual Rubell dinner, which is typically a highlight of the whole party mash-up. Last year, Jennifer Rubell conjured a wall of crucified donuts, but this time round her talents were being reserved for a daily brunch (dozens of Crock-Pots of porridge, it turns out, set in a “derelict” house on an adjacent property), while the evening event was catered in the normal way, whatever that means. I guess this had to do with the night’s sponsors, US Trust, whose aura of corporate chill extended to the check-in at the door, where even major art patrons like the de la Cruzes were said to be hung up. (“I doubt they ever have to rsvp to anything in this town,” a dealer noted.)
“The art world is wacky. It’s all one big family. It’s all about ideas . . . ” one of the hosts explained to a group of US Trust–ers bearing name tags. They nodded appreciatively.
Left: The Haitian choir. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Hotelier André Balazs. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)
There wasn’t a theme for the main show this year, but the first floor held a treat: a “Time Capsule” re-creation of an exhibition Jason Rubell had curated, from his own private collection, for his college thesis at Duke in 1991. This was its first reinstallation since it finished touring university museums in 1994. Rubell fils gave the rundown: The Keith Haring print, from 1982, was a bar mitzvah gift. (Haring also did the invites; the reception was at Studio 54.) The first work he actually bought, at age fourteen, was George Condo’s Immigrants, in 1983. Next to an early Gursky was a great series of Thomas Ruff photos from 1986–89 he’d purchased out of the artist’s Düsseldorf studio for one hundred deutsche marks each. “They’re like old friends,” Jason said of the collection, which also included a few brash, early Cady Noland assemblages acquired from Luhring Augustine Hetzler during the dealers’ time in LA. “I was there before anyone.” He had a killer eye for a teenager. “But you know, I had a unique childhood.”
“Okay, go to White Cube, get bored, and then come meet me at Le Baron,” a friend warned/implored. It was already past midnight, but we took off for our next destination on the upper reaches of Collins Avenue. Since Balazs parted ways with the Raleigh hotel earlier this year, the new Soho Beach House was the spot voted most likely to succeed. The Tiki Bar and Pool was hopping with VIPs that no one knew. We didn’t stay long.
Le Baron’s party at the Delano’s Florida Room should have been the last stop of the night, but some friends coaxed me to the Raleigh for a nightcap. The caution tape cordoning off the front entrance should have been warning enough, but entering through the side door I arrived in the backyard to see . . . no one. Or, rather, just three welcome faces on an oversized futon. The Swiss Institute’s Piper Marshall looked up from her tea: “Welcome to Le Barren!”
Left: Jennifer Rubell with Performa director RoseLee Goldberg. Right: Mera Rubell with dealer Elizabeth Dee.