Left: Dealers Mathieu Paris and Xavier Hufkens. Right: Artist Thilo Heinzmann. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)
THE FORECAST FOR THE THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY of Art Brussels was an unpromising series of raindrop icons all lined up in a row. But fortunately the local weather is as undependable as the country’s collectors are dependable, and when I arrived for the opening day of the fair, April 19, the sun was actually shining on the silver lining.
At the fair that evening, I stopped by Peres Projects to get the scoop: “The high-octane beer here is dangerous!” a director informed me. Otherwise everything was going well: Javier Peres himself was off at a meeting with an important collector, and the Rubells and the Schwartzes had been spotted making the rounds. Before long, art adviser Francesca Ferrarini rounded up a group of artists and dealers, including Magnus Edensvard of London’s Ibid Projects, and Swedish dealer Johan Berggren, and we all headed for dinner in the city center on the Metro. “The transportation system here is confusing—well, it’s very Belgian,” artist Sammy Ben Yakoub explained. “It’s like they want to organize it so much that they make it too complex—bad for transportation, but good for art.” At the elegant Art Deco brasserie Taverne du Passage, most of us ordered the house specialty, eel with green sauce; when asked if it came with fries, the waiter replied: “Everything in Belgium comes with fries, even the men.”
The next day I walked to the Sainte-Catherine quarter for a private tour of collector Frédéric de Goldschmidt’s exhibition “Subject/Matters.” The refrain among dealers at Art Brussels is always, “Belgium has very good collectors,” and de Goldschmidt is a good example. The show’s skillful juxtapositions worked at the perception of physical textures, materials, or sensations: Rosemarie Trockel’s white wood painting doubled a drawing of wood grain by Carine Altermatt; the lines on the sinewy back in a Robert Mapplethorpe photo mirrored winglike double swoops by Thomas Bayrle.
Romanian artist Magda Amarioarei and I commenced Brussels Gallery Night with a tour of the downtown neighborhood’s galleries, starting with Dépendance, where Thilo Heinzmann showed all-white paintings with luscious porcelain glops. The German artist himself was more interested in a couple hundred vintage records he had just purchased; taking a Bobby Bland reverently out of its transparent sleeve, he declared, “The greatest singer who ever walked the earth.” Amarioarei observed: “It is interesting to talk to artists, but not about art.” The Alice Gallery, a “temple of street art,” presented the multiple-city incursions of French artist Invader in the form of “Space Invader” mosaics; later we came upon one on the front of a café without even trying. I finally made it to Gladstone Gallery for “Prima Materia,” a compelling show of ceramics by nine artists.
A bunch of us then took the shuttle uptown to MSSNDCLRCQ, where the group show “Particles” continued the theme of the duplicitous nature of reality. At Xavier Hufkens, Evan Holloway’s curious shamanic exhibition “Trees, Heads, Molds” included metal sculptures of branches formed into geometric grids and totem poles of stacked heads with lightbulb noses. Upstairs, collectors Karel and Martine Hooft considered works by two Belgian artists: Michel François’s totem of goose eggs anchored in a chunk of coal, and a wall composition representing a poker hand by Jan Vercruysse. When I asked Martine what she thought a “good collector” was, she replied, “One with a personal outlook.” And that right there seems to define the Belgians.
Left: Curator Dorothée Dupuis and dealer Arnaud Deschin. Right: Curators Alberto García del Castillo and David Evrard, artist Yann Gerstberger, and curator Sonia Dermience at Komplot.
With 182 exhibitors, Art Brussels is a big fair, but it is deceptively laid-back and manageable, and on Saturday the place was busy but not as frenetic as expected. When asked how it was going, one dealer replied succinctly: “Not good enough.” The Young Talent and First Call sections comprised an intriguing and diverse selection of galleries, and the sales (and attitude) seemed to pick up there. Brussels is the only non-Asian fair Indian dealer Abhay Maskara plans to do this year. “Even before asking the price the Belgian collectors really engage about the art,” he said. “You know that for those five minutes they are really with you.” First-time exhibitor Kerry Inman agreed: “The collectors here are very curious and willing to look at artists they’ve never heard of.” Italian dealer Geraldine Zodo blurted, “They know everything!” But another dealer was not so enthusiastic: “We did much better in Mexico and Dubai. Europe is a disaster!” Perhaps all of this is simply a confirmation of the crisis market, where the middle suffers.
Somehow we made it from there to a screening of Pierre Huyghe’s hallucinogenic The Host and the Cloud. We were back in the lobby after an hour. Someone mentioned its similarity to Eyes Wide Shut, at which curator Natacha Carron-Vullierme said, “You should watch the ending; it gets very erotic and transgressive.” Then it was on to Komplot, just down the street from the Wiels Contemporary Art Center. Komplot’s exhibition spaces were dedicated to a group show celebrating the launch of the 2012 edition of the annual art zine Year. Yann Gerstberger had assembled whimsical sculptures out of various evocative materials, including cow dung, economically appealing but logistically challenging. “The weather has been too damp for it to dry, and the other artists were complaining about the stink.” Dorothée Dupuis, director of Marseille’s Triangle France, arrived and announced that she and Gerstberger are moving to Mexico City. We toasted their trip with glasses of organic wine and set off for the fair party at Wiels.
There, Rosemarie Trockel’s exhibition “Flagrant Delight” was ruled by memento mori. The uncanny juxtapositions in the artist’s collages, with titles like Nobody Will Survive, rip open pop culture to reveal the discontent seething just under the surface. A wall covered in hot stovetops hints at modern household horror. Downstairs the party was definitely hot, and decidedly heaving, with large quantities of Belgian beer cooling down the crowd. Peres Projects’ Nick Koenigsknecht was gamely keeping up with the locals; dealer Hannah Barry was jubilant, having sold a monumental sculpture at her first fair; and all the young dealers seemed to be there and up for anything.
Left: Dealer Alice van den Abeele. Right: Dealer Abhay Maskara.
THERE’S A SMALL ALTAR off to one side of Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral. Compared to the massive, baroque church organ across the aisle, or the statues of Mary with ashen skin, it’s unassuming and easy to miss. The altar is covered with a tangle of padlocks, an offering to San Ramón Nonato, protector of anyone imperiled by gossip and rumor. Visitors attach their own locks to the display, while praying that they’ll be delivered from the evil of wagging tongues. The week before last, despite all of Raymond Nonnatus’s powers, the art world conjured itself to the Centro Banamex a mere eight miles away. The occasion was Mexico City’s annual contemporary art fair, Zona Maco. Though, to be just, there was something relatively pure about the whole week, at least as far as art fairs go.
“I came in 2009 and realized you have to bring all your own tools. In 2009 I had to wait like six hours for a ladder,” said one exhibitor featured in the fair’s nuevos proyectos section, where galleries mounted small shows by emerging artists. He wasn’t the only one flying by the seat of his pants. Dealer Janice Guy grappled with the sunlight that poured indoors from a loading dock and blotted out her gallery’s poetic video by Patricia Esquivias, with its shots of a hand lighting matches in the darkness. And Galerie Thomas Schulte would have shown a video by Miguel Angel Rios, except the gallery had had all its equipment stolen the night before. Meanwhile, a scramble to remedy a shortage of chairs preceded Marc-Olivier Wahler and Lourdes Morales’s talk on programming as a medium.
Left: Architect Pepe Rojas, dealer Fernando Mesta, and Portikus curator Sophie von Olfers. Right: Dealer Pamela Echeverria.
Even so, most everyone agreed that Maco, after several years of growing pains, had become an echt art fair (even if one that inexplicably included a frozen yogurt stand amid its booths). But it was the various venues around town that offered the most eye-catching shows in eye-catching spaces. Two initiatives launched near Casa Luis Barragán in Tacubaya: There, crowds moved between an ecumenical exhibition of design objects at the new Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura (architect Fernando Romero’s former workshop) and Pedro Reyes’s playful show at Labor’s airy new gallery across the street. In San Miguel Chapultepec, Jan Mot featured David Lamelas and Robert Barry, among others (hung in his gallery’s maze of open-air spaces full of peeling paint and ivy), and Proyectos Monclova showed Tania Pérez Córdova in its sunny room above a small café.
Then there was Kurimanzutto Gallery, with its wood-beamed ceilings and garden of succulents, displaying the work of Gabriel Kuri (the brother of proprietor Jose). It rained the night Kuri’s show opened; attendees mingled in the covered courtyard out back. Per usual, the crowd included a mix of those esteemed for being everything at once, like Rosario Nadal (art consultant, professor, princess, and Valentino muse), and those esteemed for being everywhere at once, like artist Saâdane Afif. And then there were the random drunks—those of us who’d underestimated the strength of the Casa Dragones tequila and were beginning to pay the price. We stumbled on to OMR gallery, in a Spanish Colonial building in the Roma neighborhood, for two openings: a group show and a high-tech solo exhibition by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.
Traffic going south the next day was rough, as an intimate group led by Artists Space director Stefan Kalmár headed to the Anahuacalli Museum, the Mesoamerican pyramid built by Diego Rivera to store his collection of nearly 59,000 Mexican artifacts. Until July 8, the museum is also home to new work by artist Sarah Lucas, who that morning was busy installing her now-trademark “Nuds”—polyester stockings stuffed with cotton and twisted into limblike forms. Her UK dealer, Sadie Coles, looked on. “It’s a tough space. I was a bit daunted at first,” said Lucas. She spoke so understatedly that everyone had to laugh—because, really, how does an artist respond to a temple built from black volcanic stone that has windowpanes made of translucent pieces of agate and walls embellished with mosaics depicting Aztec gods? Lucas rose to the occasion. She placed her Nuds on pedestals made of cinder blocks bought from Oaxacan craftsmen, connecting her work to Rivera’s investment in Mexican artisanship. And her Trotsky portrait—a line drawing whose lines comprised cigarettes glued end to end—appeared right under the watchful gazes of the Lenin and Mao depicted by Rivera in his sketches for the 1952 mural Nightmare of War, Dream of Peace.
We went the next day from Lenin and Mao to the heart of industry: the Jumex factory, on the city’s outskirts, where juice tycoon Eugenio López exhibits art from his collection. The Drawing Center’s Claire Gilman and the New Museum’s Richard Flood were among those taking in the exhibition on view, “Poule!,” curated by Michel Blancsube. Exhibited artists ranged from Urs Fischer to Iñaki Bonillas. The juice bottles that caterers handed out along with tapas had a bit of art as well: Carlos Amorales had been commissioned to create labels with odd hieroglyphs to replace the letters JUMEX.
Here’s a tip I learned in grade school: If you’re ever lost in New York, go to that giant clock in the middle of Grand Central and things will be OK. Similarly, if you’re ever separated from your herd at Zona Maco, head straight for the seafood restaurant Contramar. Everyone will be there. Everyone was there, for lunch, having returned from the trek to Jumex. It was 3 PM or so, and bright and breezy, the awning fluttering outside, the tables laden with tuna tostadas and limes. Everyone was partaking: Clarissa Dalrymple, Barbara Gladstone. The Guggenheim’s Ari Wiseman. House of Gaga’s Fernando Mesta. Dealer Spencer Brownstone, holding down fort outside. And on and on.
But we hadn’t even made it yet to the day’s headline event: a party in the massive main hall of the Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico. Upstairs, Minerva Cuevas had mounted a solo show that included a reprise of her stacked cans of Del Monte tomatoes relabeled to read PURE MURDER (a critique of a CIA-led coup in Guatemala that ended the nation’s attempt to nationalize the United Fruit Company). Meanwhile, on the main floor, agoraphiles and lots of people in their twenties stood shoulder to shoulder, drinking in the teal and purple strobe lights. Seeing all this, I couldn’t help but think of the John Giorno text piece that hung in the home of collectors Patricia Martin and Julio Madrazo, who had hosted a dinner earlier on for a handful of lucky guests. WE GAVE A PARTY FOR THE GODS AND THE GODS ALL CAME, read Giorno’s piece. He must have been referring to a different party from a different time. Everyone I came across last week, at least, seemed to be dripping with mezcal, stuffed with food, and very much mortal.
EVERY APRIL brings out the benefits of being in the art world. Or rather, spring is the season of gala fund-raisers for the nonprofits that feed the public artworks that have yet to disappear into private collections. This year’s starting events gave the stage to the proverbial powers behind the throne: the women who rescue our society from total male domination.
On Monday, April 16, Yvonne Force Villareal, Doreen Remen, and Casey Fremont Crowe—the couture-friendly troika that direct the Art Production Fund—seduced five hundred artists and collectors into donning cowboy hats and boots, and getting “gown and dirty” for what they called an Urban Hoedown. Sponsored by Marc Jacobs and Vogue, the event (at St. John’s Center Studios on the picturesque West Side Highway in SoHo) filled the APF’s coffers with more than $400,000. In return, guests were treated to mechanical-bull riding, temporary tattooing by Scott Campbell, portrait sittings with Brad Kahlhamer, instant personal profiles by the Bumbys, and a musical interlude by Ryan Bingham.
That performance, unfortunately, was compromised by a muddy sound system that made it, as well as toasts by Jewish Museum director Claudia Gould and artist John Currin to honorees Kiki Smith, Mark Fletcher, and Tobias Meyer, unintelligible to most of the crowd. It did nothing to dampen spirits, however, and the carnival of like-minded souls lassoed their Fat Radish–supplied barbeque with a kind of frontier gusto that contrasted sharply with the Public Art Fund’s rather decorous dinner on Tuesday night, at nearby Skylight SoHo. Though chaired by collector Jill Kraus, and enlivened with participatory art projects by Rob Pruitt and others, the PAF’s “Installation in Progress” was no match for the awesomely estrogen-fueled ceremonies held by the Brooklyn Museum the following evening.
Starting at 4 PM, such game-changing superwomen as Gloria Steinem, Toni Morrison, Jessye Norman, Connie Chung, Linda Nochlin, and Faye Wattleton gathered for the inaugural Sackler Center First Awards. Established by philanthropist Elizabeth A. Sackler, the prize honors American women who were the first in their fields to break a glass ceiling—or mess with collective male attitudes in ways unimaginable before they came along.
“In five years, we’ve never had a fight,” said Sackler, of Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman. “That’s a record—for a guy.” One after another, each of the fourteen honorees present gave perfectly pitched, illuminating, personal, and laugh-out-loud acceptance speeches that more than earned them their Judy Chicago–designed awards.
Several cited Steinem, who presented the awards with Sackler, as the woman who inspired the leaps of faith that took each to extraordinary levels of leadership and accomplishment. Video messages stood in for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra director Marin Alsop, while Charlie Soap, the male partner of the fortuitously named Chief Wilma Mankiller, first woman to lead the Cherokee Nation, accepted her posthumous award, recalling her mantra: “If they can do that, we can do that.” (Chief Mankiller died in 2010.)
Political commentator Laura Flanders, a cohost for the proceedings with CNN news anchor Soledad O’Brien, correctly observed that “being first, by definition, means you are alone,” and introduced Morrison, the first African-American woman to win a Nobel Prize. As if to minimize the group’s isolation, she quickly dubbed it the “Firsties,” a moniker several later embraced. “We’ve never been without art,” Morrison said. “And we still hunger for ways to share who we are and what we mean.” Up came the spry Nochlin, author of the first treatise on feminist art history. “I’m very excited,” she said, relishing the moment. “I’m eighty-one and a half!” She grew up across the street from the museum, she said, and had been in “a lucky place” ever since.
The parade of bright lights continued and never did the dazzle dim. Lucy Lippard, the first feminist art critic, recalled an Occupy Wall Street placard that read I’LL BE POST-FEMINIST IN THE POST-PATRIARCHY. Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, founder of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, said that it never occurred to her that anyone would object to the institution. “I was mistaken,” she said, describing the museum’s vilification in the press and giving the nod to patrons like Sackler, who provided the funds despite the opposition.
Johnnetta Cole, currently director of the National Museum of African Art, was the first African-American female president of Spelman College, historically a school for black women. In her speech, she listed four lessons she had learned from her mother, starting with, “You gonna have to be twice as good to get half as far.” Clearly she was. Equally passionate was Wattleton, the first woman to preside over Planned Parenthood. “We’re doing work we couldn’t live without doing,” she said, invoking the spirit of Margaret Sanger, the activist for reproductive rights whom Chicago had placed at her Dinner Party table, now upstairs in the Sackler Center.
Left: Cisco Systems cofounder Sandy Lerner. Right: Choreographer Susan Stroman with opera diva Jessye Norman.
To cap it all off, Sackler announced that a newly bred rose (lab name: CLE #6), one that is “strong and propagates in multiple climates, entices passersby, and throws off pests,” henceforth would be named the Gloria Steinem rose. “I’m going to spend the rest of my life living up to that description,” Steinem said.
I’m not one to worship “sheroes,” but in the company of this stellar assembly, among women who really have changed the world, I felt like kneeling. If only there had been time. Downstairs in the lobby, Marisa Tomei was arriving for the museum’s annual Brooklyn Artists Ball, and Lehman was about to present Amy Sillman, Mickalene Thomas, and Martha Rosler with Asher B. Durand Awards, named for the first artist to give a contemporary artwork to the museum. (Never mind that Durand was a man.)
During the presentation, Sackler returned, having changed into evening wear to receive yet another award, the Augustus Graham Medal. No sooner did she take the mic than she announced her family’s latest gift to the museum, an endowment for the curator of the Sackler Center for Feminist Art.
By that time the lobby was filled with Brooklyn-based artists and their dealers and friends. Among them were the sixteen women whom curator Eugenie Tsai had commissioned to create centerpieces for the forty-foot-long tables at which more than six hundred guests would be seated for dinner in the third-floor rotunda. As luck would have it, I was at a table appointed with painted wooden sculptures by Carmen McLeod, beside the Sackler Center’s Catherine Morris. I reckoned she was the curator whose position was now secured by the endowment. “I hope so!” she said, looking around the room for some new trailblazer. As Sackler had said earlier, “The magic is in the gathering.” And it was good.
IT WAS RAINING when Urs Fischer’s exhibition opened at the Palazzo Grassi. When it rains in Venice, armies of parka-clad tourists toting umbrellas of all colors wind down the narrow streets. Fischer, the anti-Abramović, was conspicuously not present at the official opening of the exhibition, whose title, “Madame Fisscher,” is the feminine version of the artist’s name. Madame Fisscher is also the title of a work at the entrance to the Palazzo that consists of an exact replica of the artist’s former studio in London.
Fischer—in the company of François Pinault, owner of the Palazzo and one of the artist’s most important collectors—had made it to Friday’s press preview, however, for the lighting of the two candle sculptures, one a self-portrait, the other of Rudolf Stingel. He politely answered a slew of questions posed by journalists from all over the world who had been brought together by the communications guru Claudine Colin. Polite though he was, all the journalists managed to get out of him was “I don’t know,” “Maybe,” and “Probably.” Fischer, who came to Venice with his wife and daughter, is not much of a talker.
At the opening, many stopped in front of his Necrophonia, a piece the artist had made with his former teacher Georg Herold (also present), for a show at the Modern Institute in Glasgow last summer. The installation depicts a sculpture studio with a nude live model, the trilingual Giovanna, who was provided with a small electric heater to keep warm. She appeared slightly annoyed by all the spectators, especially the male ones. In all, the exhibition featured about thirty different works that trace the artist’s career since 1990. The quirkiest of them was a quasi-dog creature, leaning against one of the museum’s pillars, complete with a mechanism for wagging its tail. Its placement next to Jeff Koons’s pink Balloon Dog made for a veritable style war.
Left: Curator Caroline Bourgeois. Right: Giovanna. (Photos: Nicolas Trembley)
Fischer had also organized a project with students at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts, a workshop on modeling the human hand and cats. The students created clay sculptures to be exhibited around the city and in back of the school. Because of the rain, the sculptures slowly disintegrated and disappeared into the waters of the lagoon.
In the late afternoon, visitors gradually dispersed to go shopping, change for dinner, or have a drink at the Bauer Hotel (naturally). At last there was room to walk around the exhibition. The biennial’s unofficial headquarters, which is usually bursting with stars and paparazzi, is actually quite charming, said one Christie’s employee, when there are not so many people around. He was flanked on one side by a rich kid adviser and on the other by a cool young blond poetess from the Lower East Side, most likely a friend of Nate Lowman, who was seated not too far away.
In the evening, Pinault organized a modest dinner for friends and family at Harry’s Bar. The owners of all the galleries Fischer works with were there, including Sadie Coles, Eva Presenhuber, Toby Webster, and Gavin Brown’s Lucy Chadwick, as well as a few of the directors of Gagosian Gallery. I am not allowed to talk about the menu, because it was one of the items blacklisted by the PR team, but I can say that it was delicious. Martin Bethenod, director of the Palazzo Grassi, thanked the guests, who included the exhibition’s curator, Caroline Bourgeois, in a wheelchair because of a broken foot. In fact her cast, covered by an enormous combat boot, was not unlike a Fischer sculpture. We all had a good laugh. To finish off the evening, we had to choose where to go for a nightcap: the Bauer, the famous B Bar, or that place at the Hotel Europa & Regina, whose name no one knew.
Patricia Falguières and Michele Robecchi, the authors of the forthcoming catalogue, went for option two. They were not disappointed. We chose an herbal tea instead of a Bellini. Bice Curiger, the director of the last biennial, showed off her shirt, which resembled raw meat or Venetian marble.
ALL I EVER KNEW ABOUT DALLAS WAS DALLAS, the soap opera of the 1980s, when the city itself was actually quite depressed. These days that business-friendly town is as awash in money and power as the fictional J.R. Ewing ever was. It has a mess of Fortune 500 companies, more shopping malls than any other city in the country, the Texas Rangers, and George W. Bush. It also has a concentration of collectors who are mad for contemporary art.
Last week, on the occasion of the fourth Dallas Art Fair and the first Dallas Biennale, they opened their homes (and in one case their closets) to visitors from New York. It was no surprise to find houses grand and collections deep—this is the Big D, after all, the place where people say, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” It was the nature of those collections that surpassed expectations. If people in Dallas toe the conservative line in most other ways, they go hog-wild for the provocative when it comes to art.
And they’re really nice people. Over four days spent looking at art in museums, private homes, and the fair, every single person I met exuded genuine warmth and passion. Take Alden and Janelle Pinnell, a young couple who established a very cool, alternative exhibition space called the Power Station last year. Inspired by Dia’s Minimalist aesthetic, they commission a site-specific exhibition from a single artist every few months. On April 11, they held an opening for Jacob Kassay.
The artist had arrived two days earlier to rip out all the light fixtures in the 1920s brick industrial building and insert a spare, elegant installation of sculpture and painting on two of its four stories. “Jake’s a very formal guy,” said the affable Alden. “And I’m a very serious collector.” He’s been at it for twenty years, having made his fortune at a tender age by capitalizing on his dermatologist father’s face cream and selling it to L’Oreal.
On the patio, Kassay’s New York dealer Augusto Arbizo clicked beer bottles with Joel Mesler, Tom Solomon, Michele Maccarone, Jessica Silverman, and Sarah Watson, all in town for the fair. They mixed easily with locals like Nasher Sculpture Center director Jeremy Strick, private dealer John Runyon, and David and Rachel Kelton, who described themselves as novice collectors, though experienced enough to have bought a Tom Friedman from his last New York show. “Alden’s been teaching us how to live with art and children,” said Rachel. “We just say, ‘Don’t let the hockey pucks hit the Warhol!”
I would see the same faces every day, at every event, and every night in the bar of my hotel, the Mansion, Dallas’s answer to the Bauer in Venice. But that Wednesday, dinner came first—actually several dinners. The Pinnells served barbecue on the Power Station roof, with a view of the Texas state fairgrounds and the Cotton Bowl, while collectors Howard and Cindy Rachofsky welcomed dealers to drinks and snacks at a taco joint a few minutes away. Among them was a jet-lagged Erwin Wurm, fresh from installing a show opening at the Dallas Contemporary a couple of days later, and Melissa Meeks, director of Two x Two for AIDS and Art, an annual event that raises money for AMFAR and the Dallas Museum of Art at the Rachofskys’ Richard Meier–designed house.
The Rachofskys don’t actually live there; they just rotate their collection. Eventually part of it will go, with the house, to the museum. Their new installation, by adviser-in-chief Allan Schwartzman, was “all edge-of-perception stuff,” Howard said. “That’s why I like it.”
The art fair held its welcome party at the Crescent Hotel, a weirdly ornate, retro limestone pile inside a commercial complex that bears absolutely no evidence that its architect, Philip Johnson, ever put his hand to it. In the lobby of the office building next to the hotel, E. V. Day had installed “exploded” Metropolitan Opera costumes from her Ascending Divas series, celebrated with champagne from Ruinart, also a sponsor of the fair.
Its odd-couple cofounders, graphic novelist Chris Byrne and real estate developer John Sughrue, were also on hand the next morning for a quick preview of the seventy-eight stalls crammed into the Fashion Industry Gallery, a concrete bunker in the downtown Arts District. A buffet lunch for patrons of the Dallas Museum, a block away, followed. Christen Wilson, the youngest member of the board, took a table with a prime bunch of other supporters. One of them was Cindy Schwartz, who explained that the unusually collegial collectors in Dallas buy art for Dallas, not themselves, donating work to the museum and pulling for other institutions and schools.
Every collection I saw was distinct from every other, as opposed to deep-pocketed art lovers elsewhere, who seem to compete for the same trendy things. The museum is just as adventurous. A walk-through with curator Jeffrey Grove turned up a Mark Manders show that would be more typical of, say, MoMA PS1. Later on, I dropped into Wilson’s Highland Park home for a look-see, only to find Maccarone and dealer Brad Waywell already there with Adam McEwen, consultant Alex Marshall and Watson close behind. And suddenly it was a party, amid one of the freshest and most intelligently considered installations of art I’ve seen anywhere.
Marguerite Hoffman has been in the collecting game longer, but it was still amazing to see an undulating brick wall painted by Sol LeWitt running down one side of her garden, and all the Twomblys, Cornells, and Duchamps inside the house. “Art is the language that binds all of us,” she said, opening one of several illuminated manuscripts she’s cottoned onto recently.
Deedie Rose is another kind of character. Her five-level Brutalist manse in Preston Hollow has ten thousand square feet of space—just enough to exhibit her collection of painting and sculpture and still have room for her modernist furnishings. It also has a catwalk that extends some distance outside the house for Rusty Rose, her husband of forty-six years, to do the bird-watching he loves as much as she loves art. She’s also keen on costume jewelry and high fashion. “Jewelry,” she said, “is another way to look at art, another way to see the world.”
After a tour led by her assistant, Angela Walsh, past the staircase LeWitt and works by Lygia Clark, Blinky Palermo and Roni Horn, beyond the Gordon Matta-Clark photographs, the barely breathing rat and panda of Fischli & Weiss, and the Chicken TV by Nam June Paik, we came to the bedroom. Before I could blink we were in the closet, threading through the jewelry and pleading with the diminutive Deedie to pull out the Gaultiers she’d bought for the designer’s recent retrospective at the DMA. Yet, she said, if she had it to do all over again, she might be an urban planner.
I would see Wilson, Rose, the Rachofskys, and the Schwartzes at the fair’s opening on Thursday, when a thousand other Dallas art aficionados showed up in all their finery. These Texans are not casual dressers. Nor are they in any hurry to decide what they want. The opening was purely social. Serious business would take place the next day, though Jonathan Viner did sell out a booth full of Dan Rees paintings immediately, and crowds bunched around Chris D’Amelio’s booth to check out a 1986 Cady Noland that had never been seen publicly in America before.
The following night it was McEwen’s turn to shine at the Goss-Michael Foundation, where his fake obituaries, graphite sculptures, and gum paintings were on view in a show curated by Aphrodite Gonou. The sister and brother patrons Joyce and Kenny Goss were having people over to Kenny’s house, but the evening’s program also included the opening of Erick Swenson’s solo project at the Nasher. That’s when I realized he was the only local artist I had come across as yet. Was Dallas the only city in the world where the collectors outnumber the artists?
A large man with a booming voice approached and shook Swenson’s hand. He turned out to be Jim Mullen, the architect who cofounded the Container Store. “I really admire artists who achieve this level of technical skill,” he said of Swenson’s flayed resin animals, which included a Bavarian beer stein encrusted with moist snails. “Are they real?” squealed Jo Marie Lilly, former president of the board of the Dallas Contemporary, a noncollecting museum with an ultra-ambitious program about to unfold.
Under the direction of Peter Doroshenko, this enormous former metal-bending plant in the Design District wasteland was also featuring the opening of a one-off international “biennial” to end all biennials. Curated by Florence Ostende, it had nineteen artists making work for eleven different locations, including Sylvie Fleury’s neon signage in the windows of Neiman-Marcus. Time and stamina kept me focused on the Contemporary, where Claude Lévêque had created a theatrical open-air bat cave out of broken black umbrellas, whirring black fans, and high-pitched squeaks. A big side room had a suite of large portraits from the Mae Wested series of photographs by Zoe Crosher, a Los Angeles artist inspired by the archive of a former call girl who made pictures of herself in various personas. In the last room was Wurm’s Beauty Business, his ultrasexy show of fat building parts and melted Guggenheims, gorgeously installed by Doroshenko.
After stops for shows by biennial artists Mike Smith and a chain-smoking Hugues Reip, I departed in Wilson’s Bentley for the McEwen party. Surrounded by the work of mainly UK artists like Hirst, Emin, Lambie, and Linder, guests helped themselves to tacos in the dining room and drinks on the patio. “It’s nice to relax after a long day of business,” said Milwaukee dealer Jake Palmert, though appearances indicated the sun hadn’t set on any of that.
Left: Collectors Armand and Cindy Schwartz. Right: Musician and designer Briana Lance with dealer Olivier Antoine.
After all this, the Dallas Museum’s black-tie Art Ball on Saturday night promised only anticlimax, but it went way over the top. The theme was “Wanderlust.” Chinese dancers cavorted on the plaza, Berber sentinels welcomed guests inside, and all of Dallas seemed to turn out to shake newbie director Maxwell Anderson’s hand. The number was actually about seven hundred, all dressed in their finest Valentinos, Lanvins, Cavallis, Posens, and whatnot. The auction here was not for art but for trips on Ed Hawes’s private yacht and someone else’s private jet. (The yacht drew the higher bid.)
Dinner was held in galleries painted blue, red, and yellow, each with a separate theme art-directed by Douglas Little. Auntie Mame was screening in one room—the dinner had its own theme, “Life is a Banquet”—while I followed jolly Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings to seats in the scarlet “Butterfly” room among a pack of Republicans.
None of this beat the scene in the ladies’ room. There, all ages of the female cohort helped themselves to hair spray, blush, mascara, and lipstick from sponsor Mary Kay Cosmetics, primping hair, laying on eyeliner, pushing up bras, puckering lips, and checking each other out in the mirrors all the while. No movie ever had it this good.
An afterparty at a club owned by the main moneyman, Tim Headington, sent me spinning back to the Limelight of the ’80s and quickly to bed. Looking through the eyes of Texas, this jewel of a night had indeed delivered another world.
ON APRIL 3, less than a month after Russia’s highly contested elections, its National Center for Contemporary Art awarded the seventh annual Innovation Prize with a ceremony in Moscow’s sprawling Artplay complex. Even the more outspoken opponents of the administration had no issue showing up to the event, whose state-funded purse has doubled to $100,000 this year, with the top honor—for Best Work of Art—carrying a $27,000 award.
The politics of the NCCA (which has outposts in Saint Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, and Nizhny Novgorod) have never been cut and dry. Once seen as the dowdy older sibling to ArtChronika Foundation’s Kandinsky Prize, last year Innovation earned itself an international reputation after nominating, ousting, and eventually honoring the collective Voina for painting a giant penis on the drawbridge directly across from state police headquarters in Saint Petersburg, an action the art group called A Dick Held Captive by the FSB.
This year, Voina—busy curating the Berlin Biennale?—has ceded the spotlight to Pussy Riot, the all-female punk rock group whose guerrilla concerts have been all the rage on Russian social networks. On February 21, the band broke into the Church of Christ the Savior (the sacred seat of the Russian Orthodox Church) and performed an anti-Putin punk prayer, with the charming liturgy: “Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin / Bitch, you better believe in God.” In the days following, first two, then three members were arrested on the relatively minor charge of “hooliganism,” though the women—all young mothers—have been forced to endure five weeks’ imprisonment after the court pushed back their original trial date from March 5 (the day after Putin’s titular triumph). If convicted, the women face sentences of up to seven years. Human rights advocates have seized on the case, organizing mobile exhibitions on buses and concerts in support of the grrrls, whose “hooliganism” has now been recast as grand gestures of feminism. For its part, the Orthodox Church continues to use air quotes when referring to the accused as “feminists,” while the Union of Orthodox Women has issued a statement warning against feminism in general as a plague that would maliciously deny women “their right to self-sacrifice.”
Left: Members of Pussy Riot in Moscow's Red Square performing the “Putin Pissed Himself” song. (Photo: Anna Artemyeva). Right: Artist Alexander Brodsky. (Photo: Artem Savateev)
Anyway, on with the show: This year, the Innovation Award Ceremony was set in a massive hangar, which art insiders recognized from the Fourth Moscow Biennale, when curator Peter Weibel pumped new-media projects into its vast concrete hollows. The ceremony itself was conducted over multiple screens and live feeds, all fixated on the hosts, artist Aidan Salakhova (whose recent decision to transition her gallery to a nonprofit has been greeted as a death knell for the Moscow art market) and Bolshoi Gorod editor Filipp Dzyadko, who prefaced the evening with the disclaimer that he knew nothing about art but thought that Pussy Riot should be freed.
I received online invites to join the “flash mob” outside—a bit of a misnomer, as it turns out, as the result was more of an exercise in decorating with human bodies. Dancers in white jumpsuits were stationed on the scaffolding, which was visible through the wall of windows. The volunteers were instructed to stand stoically and then break into cheers upon the announcement of the nominees, but over the course of the three-hour protest, more than a few resorted to other means (passing bottles, break-dancing) to keep warm in the subzero temperatures. Noting that volunteers were paid five hundred rubles each (roughly $17) for the entire affair, critic Valentin Diaconov speculated that this was exactly the type of person who could be paid to attend progovernment rallies. Cynicism aside, it would seem some volunteers really were just there to dance (or at least to do so, judging on the windmill busted out midceremony in the second row).
Onstage, the handsome head of NCCA, Mikhail Mindlin, introduced Innovation’s new director, Christina Steinbrecher, the same twenty-nine-year-old curator who has been brought in to revitalize both ArtMoscow and the House of the Artists. Along with the five main categories (Work of Art; Theory, Criticism, or Art History; Curatorial Project; Regional Project; and the New Generation Prize), the ceremony also features several guest awards and piggyback prizes. Stella Art Foundation’s Nikolai Molok announced that the foundation would soon host e-flux’s time/bank project, then awarded artist Roman Mokrov a grant for summer travel. “What artist wouldn’t want a trip to fuckin’ Documenta?” Molok concluded, to titters from the audience. In Russia, cursing on television tops any wardrobe malfunction, but I was more scandalized by the thought of socialite-patroness Stella Kesaeva baking banana bread with e-flux’s Anton Vidokle.
In one of the evening’s more dramatic moments, Victor Misiano beat out Ekaterina Degot and David Riff for Best Curatorial Project for his exhibition “Impossible Community,” which began as a retrospective of the Escape group and devolved into a rueful examination of whether collective practice is inherently doomed to fail. Misiano himself was a no-show, which shouldn’t have been a surprise (he’s been operating from self-imposed exile in Italy for several years now), except that this time Misiano was in Moscow, delivering a much-publicized series of lectures on curating. Escape’s Liza Morozova accepted the award in his stead, tepidly apologizing for the curator’s slight: “He’s so rarely in Moscow these days, you must understand how busy his schedule is when he’s here.”
In another nail-biter, Taus Makhacheva beat out Mokrov and photographer Alexander Gronsky for the New Generation title. Her two-year project, The Fast and the Furious, puts a feminist spin on drag racing in Dagestan. She pimps her ride in old fur coats and blacks out the windows so that curious onlookers and fellow competitors can’t see her inside. Anyone who has watched this work make the biennial circuit should have seen this award coming.
The Work of Art category, however, was a tough call. Notoriously evasive Siberian collective Where the Dogs Run eschew group exhibitions in general; they were nominated for a work in which they invited a babushka to sit and knit in the gallery. For his contribution, Andrey Kuzkin packed the entire contents of his studio—from sketches and metal scraps to half-eaten gingersnaps—into metal boxes, which were then welded shut. Stripping down completely (tossing the clothes he was wearing into the last box), the artist gave himself a ceremonial bath with a washbasin, then changed into clothes purchased by his gallery. After much ado, guest jurors Marc-Olivier Wahler and Kristoffer Gansing honored established architect Alexander Brodsky for his Cisterns, a work in which the artists hung gossamer white curtains along the windows of an abandoned water tank, to understated, elegant effect.
Left: Innovation laureate Taus Makhacheva. Right: Curator Marc-Olivier Wahler.
“They should rename the prize Conservation,” Kuzkin later cracked to artists Oleg Dou and Evgeny Antufiev, who were staking out with their own gonzo-style coverage of the event. That evening, the duo also outed Triumph Gallery co-owner Dmitry Hankin as the alter ego of controversial columnist Kitty Obolenskaya, who in this month’s Interview Russia ran an art-world exposé to rival Morley Safer’s on 60 Minutes. (The byline—“It’s All Lies”—ran under a still from the Bravo series Work of Art.) The identity-reveal may explain Obolenskaya’s fantastically misogynistic “Woman’s Day” column, which urged aspiring Russian female artists to tart it up and find a sugar daddy, or else kiss those dreams of Documenta goodbye. (And who wouldn’t want to go to fuckin’ Documenta?)
In any case, hats off to Makhacheva (and Steinbrecher, and, yes, maybe even Pussy Riot); it takes balls to be a woman in this country.
INTERRED IN FOUR BLACK CRATES leaning against the wall of the Museum of Modern Art’s lobby as I got in line for the opening performance of Kraftwerk’s career-spanning eight-night residency “Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8” were life-size mannequins of the band’s members circa 2012, their heads twitching intermittently as if in the last throes of life. And while the influential Teutonic proto-techno outfit isn’t quite dead yet, the rigorous summary overseen by curator and countryman Klaus Biesenbach did cast a slight pall of last-chance-to-see over the proceedings.
Since the museum’s atrium, the venue for the event, holds a scant 450 people, it was clear from the get-go that the series would be an instant sellout. It was a predominantly grateful crowd indeed that, clutching 3-D glasses and souvenir programs, made their way past a makeshift bar and up the stairs to await the appearance of Ralf Hütter and friends (since the departure of Florian Schneider in 2008, the Krefeld-born cycling fanatic is the band’s sole founding member remaining). Tuesday’s performance was billed as a rendition of the 1974 album Autobahn, a meandering celebration of Germany’s highway network that yielded the band’s first hit, but an attendant instructed me that it would run just under two hours, roughly triple the length of said record. MoMA director Glenn Lowry, standing next to me a couple of rows from the stage, confirmed the report, mentioning that a run-through the night before had clocked in at an hour and forty-three minutes. What was the plan? The original plus a remix?
In the end, Autobahn was rendered unadulterated, and augmented with a full list of favorites including “The Robots,” “Radioactivity,” “The Model,” “The Man Machine,” “Tour de France,” and the sublime, hypnotic “Trans-Europe Express.” The quartet, clad in figure-hugging gridded jumpsuits, manned identical keyboards outlined in illuminated strips and, true to deadpan form, remained unspeaking and expressionless throughout. Doing the visual work for them was a set of simple digital projections transformed into something more immersive by the 3-D effect, which made slogans and graphics appear to hover in real space (all the more startling, perhaps, to those who have avoided the flurry of movies in the format). Thus during “Autobahn,” our heroes appeared to be constantly under threat of being mowed down by vintage Mercedes-Benzes and VW Beetles, while “Boing Boom Tschak” saw the track’s onomatopoeic title flying at us over their heads.
If this all sounds a bit kitschy, it should come as no great surprise. Kraftwerk have always tempered their utopian futurism with a large dose of campy fun. The electronic dance music that the band helped establish remains preoccupied with darkness (see dubstep and its offshoots for a recent, at times almost comically extreme example), but the calculator-operators themselves have never been interested in scaring the listener (“Radioactivity” being one of a very few exceptions). Autobahn in particular has an airy, even pastoral feel married to a childlike simplicity—the typically catchy chorus, “Wir fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn,” could almost belong to a commercial jingle.
“Retrospective: 1” was, then, seamlessly realized, and its setting unarguably apt, but I couldn’t help missing the rough-and-tumble of a less-practiced, lower-budget gig. The crowd, distinctive for its seniority and smartness, behaved for the most part like it was waiting for a bus, and I had to make a powerful effort not to allow the trustees, their kids, or Terence Koh to kill my buzz. This band is legendary and has been for decades, so I certainly don’t expect them to play my local, but is it weird that I also want to rescue them from the art world? One possible solution was Krautwerk 1-8 Condensed: Kraftwerk Covered, a concurrent show at Gowanus club Littlefield that featured a lineup of fans performing their own personal favorites. Camarades et amitie!
THEY CAME FROM AMSTERDAM, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Dallas, and New York. They included artists, dealers, and collectors, but primarily they were those often neglected, sometimes maligned, and—unless employed by the Gagosian Gallery—usually underpaid brainiacs known as curators. For the twentieth anniversary of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, that only made sense.
But the big draw for the 360 nonprofit banner wavers gathered at Capitale on the Bowery last Wednesday night was the guest of honor, Ann Goldstein, who was to receive the new Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence. Freshly endowed by Irmas, a philanthropist from LA, it is the only CCS award in fifteen years to come with a cash prize.
“How much is that?” New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni inquired of Tom Eccles, director of the CCS. “It’s $25,000,” Eccles replied. “Forget this director shit,” he hooted. “I want to be nominated now too!” He might not have been kidding.
Left: Curator Markús Andrésson. Right: Artist Roni Horn with dealer Paula Cooper.
How ironic that Goldstein had to wait till she left her longtime service as a curator to fill the director’s chair at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. But her twenty-six years at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles were not lost on the many artists present who benefited from solo exhibitions she gave them—Tony Oursler, Haim Steinbach, Christopher Wool, Louise Lawler, and Roni Horn, to name a few.
Goldstein’s curatorial colleagues—Donna De Salvo, Anne Rorimer, Ann Temkin, Kathy Halbreich, Matthew Higgs, Thelma Golden, Lynne Cooke, Elizabeth Smith, Kerry Brougher, Laura Hoptman, and Connie Butler (a former awardee)—all seemed pleased with the choice. “I think everyone here has a happy heart tonight,” said Wexner Center director Sherri Geldin. Dutch architect Benthem Crouwel, who came with financier Rob Defares and other members of the Stedelijk’s board, certainly didn’t mind making the trip from the Low Countries. “We’re very supportive of Ann!” said Crouwel, who designed the new addition to the museum, set to open in September after a long hiatus for renovations.
The cocktail portion of the evening was almost as lengthy, but it gave the dealers present time to rub shoulders with the posses of artists, collectors, and foundation chiefs who moved across the floor in what felt like a reunion, though most saw each other often anyway.
Once the hungry horde found their seats at tables that ran from $5,000 to $30,000, Eccles took the stage to voice a few words of welcome. “We all hold Ann in the greatest esteem,” he said. “Yes, we do,” said De Salvo, and suddenly we were in church. Markús Andrésson, an ’07 CCS alum, walked to the altar—I mean podium—to stand before a tall, saintly object draped in white cloth and congratulate the center on its twentieth anniversary. “Two decades in the art world can be an eternity,” he said, launching into a reminiscence of his time at Bard, where he came to understand that his role as a curator was to “safeguard the irrational…against the beast of rationality.”
The phrase would come back to haunt us as Andrésson’s Icelandic countryman Ragnar Kjartansson unveiled the painted white “art goddess” beneath the cloth—a dead ringer for CCS cofounder Marieluise Hessel, cuddling said “beast.” It looked like Dutchess County roadkill. Spritzing the wooden statue with a fog machine, Kjartansson dived behind it and, moving the puppet goddess’s lips, delivered an a cappella rendition of an early John Cage ballad set to two poems by e.e. cummings.
“Very charming,” said Lawrence Weiner, who designed the night’s pink and blue award after a mileage marker from a Lionel model train set. It came as a surprise to learn that Cage had a lyrical phase. “His music handles the sublime very well,” Kjartansson said, on returning to his front-and-center table. Horn, seated beside him, gave Kjartansson a sidelong glance. “He’s related to Mel Brooks, you know,” she cracked.
With that we dug into our plates of beef, until a different art goddess, CCS graduate program director Johanna Burton, mounted the stage. Characterizing the qualities of a top curator as “risky, groundbreaking, and brave,” she outlined Goldstein’s career from her first duties as an unpaid librarian for the inchoate MoCA, through her stint at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and wound up with Goldstein’s return to MoCA, where she organized brave and groundbreaking exhibitions like “A Forest of Signs” (cocurated with Mary Jane Jacob) and “A Minimal Future? Art as Object, 1958–1968,” and defining solo shows for Barbara Kruger, Martin Kippenberger, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Mike Kelley, Cady Noland, Weiner, and more. Many more.
Irmas presented the award, which had been endowed before Goldstein’s selection. “Oh, it’s heavy!” said Goldstein, and gave her own speech. “I intended to be an artist,” she began. “And I thought I could support myself as an artist by working in a museum.” That got laughs. She learned how to curate on the job, and in Chicago encountered the art of the man she would marry, Christopher Williams. “In those days part of his work was not to attach his name to it,” she said, “so I didn’t know who he was.”
He had no trouble identifying her. “I knew the minute I met I her that she was for me,” Williams said later. Yet according to Goldstein, it was Rorimer and another curator, Coosje van Bruggen, who changed her life. Oops! “You never know what you might touch, and what a little luck might bring you,” she concluded. “Get this woman a drink!” Geldin called out.
Then it was Bard College president Leon Botstein’s turn to give what, for him, was a fairly mild-mannered speech about the state of higher learning in America, amid the distractions of iPads, smartphones, and Facebook. “It’s amazing how we speak so frequently and say so little,” he said, but some in the audience had already voiced the same thought. They departed to join the clutch of smokers outside. The moon was nearly full. A wind came up. Taxis stopped at the curb. And what Eccles had called a “warm community of people who deliver what they promise” climbed into them and headed into the night, no doubt to wrestle once again with that damn beast of rationality.
Left: Artist Lawrence Weiner. Right: Dia Foundatiion director Phillippe Vergne with curator Sylvia Chivaratanond, New Museum associate director Massimiliano Gioni, and curator Cecilia Alemani.
“SHE’S SO PRETTY. SHE’S AMAZING!” the woman sitting to my right announced—to no one in particular—before the lights dimmed in Alice Tully Hall, where Catherine Deneuve was being honored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center on Monday night as the recipient of its annual Chaplin Award. The object of her admiration was unclear; likely it was Deneuve, though I didn’t see the actress anywhere in the auditorium before the event began. Perhaps my seatmate was transported by a particularly soignée look of one of the Film Society’s senescent patrons, who began gathering in the Tully lobby at 6 PM, when the black-tie event—the FSLC’s largest annual fund-raiser—kicked off with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a harpist. Those wishing to pay more could partake of the dinner by Daniel Boulud’s Feast & Fetes Catering following the eighty-minute tribute.
The Chaplin Gala began in 1972 to honor “the film industry’s most notable talents”; of its thirty-nine recipients, only four did not speak English as their native tongue: Billy Wilder, the honoree of 1982, Federico Fellini (1985), Yves Montand (1988), and Deneuve. Could language barriers have been a reason for the night’s rather incongruous roster of hosts? Despite having performed in more than one hundred films (including seven English-language films) around the globe since 1957, the most famous Frenchwoman in the world was feted by a mere five onstage presenters, including two—James Gray and Martin Scorsese—who have never worked with her.
Born in 1969, the year that Deneuve starred in Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid, the American director Gray, the first presenter, was quick to acknowledge the absurdity of his inclusion at Alice Tully Hall. “I’m here because, much like Jerry Lewis and Bed Bath & Beyond, I’m huge in France.” (I can vouch for this: The premiere of Gray’s last film, Two Lovers, at Cannes in 2008 was the closest I have ever come to being crushed to death by a press scrum.) He continued to self-deprecatingly crack wise (the neurotic stand-up routine mostly killed) before recalling his first introduction to Deneuve—seeing her on TV in his Queens living room in a Chanel No. 5 ad (perhaps it was the one below). Though the furthest removed from the honoree, Gray also offered the most touching—and accurate—assessment of the actress’s gift: “Beauty in cinema is not skin-deep. The camera also embraces the thinker, and Catherine Deneuve is always thinking.”
Catherine Deneuve in an ad for Chanel No. 5.
The camera also embraces the lesbian-vampire temptress, as the next speaker, Susan Sarandon, Deneuve’s seduced costar in The Hunger, pointed out. Sarandon, the gala’s “honorary chair” and the 2003 recipient of the Chaplin Award, perfunctorily read from the enormous prompter in the back of the house before getting a chuckle with, “I think I’m the only presenter who has actually slept with Catherine.” Sarandon praised her colleague as “one game gal”—presumably referring to Deneuve’s willingness to same-sex on-screen or maybe to the fact that the icon was the only guest at a party Sarandon threw decades ago who helped clean up the next day.
Deneuve and Sarandon’s infamous love scene from The Hunger—the spilled sherry and Lakmé on the piano segueing to slo-mo, heavily art-directed soft-core complete with sheer curtains blowing in the breeze—was just one of several film clips shown in between presenters that highlighted Deneuve’s fondness for playing characters with unconventional desires. She was shown being pelted with mud as her husband denounces her as a “little slut” and “maggot” in one of the dream sequences from Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour; a still from Marco Ferreri’s Liza, in which Deneuve, wearing a collar and leash, plays the “dog” of Marcello Mastroianni, the actress’s real-life romantic partner at the time, was waggishly described by their daughter, Chiara Mastroianni.
Both Mastroianni, an actress who’s made several films with her mother, and François Ozon, who’s directed Deneuve in the romps 8 Women and Potiche, referenced Gérard Depardieu’s famous quip in their onstage hosannas: “Catherine Deneuve is the man I’d like to be.” Ozon reversed the gender inversion by declaring to the honoree, “You are the woman I would like to be.” Her daughter took note of her mother’s political actions, including adding her name, in 1972, to the “Manifesto of the 343 Sluts,” whose signatories admitted to having an abortion, illegal in France until 1975. “I’m guessing that Rick Santorum wouldn’t be happy with the positions of my mother,” Mastroianni said to wild self-satisfied applause.
Seemingly devoid of any personal anecdotes about the actress, Scorsese, the last speaker and the official bestower of the Chaplin Award to Deneuve, resorted to lofty generalities: “French cinema and Catherine Deneuve are one and the same,” he said, later adding, “She doesn’t just work for directors but with them for the picture.” When the honoree herself, in a backless, full-length, cerulean gown, accepted her trophy—shaped like a twisted strip of celluloid—she graciously thanked the audience and her presenters, lined up onstage. Like Scorsese, Deneuve also had few anecdotes to share, noting that a lot of her career had to do with “luck” before concluding her brief remarks with, “So much has been said, and I don’t have much to add.” Sphinxlike, the actress demonstrated one of Ozon’s observations about her: “I think your secret is that you keep your secrets.”
THESE DAYS conversation programs are all the rage, tacked on to art fairs as penance for the messy commercialism of, well, commerce, and also as a convenient way to comp flights and hotels for the panel curator’s past and future flings. As for the relationship between Art Dubai and the Global Art Forum? It’s Complicated. While they may have been conceived together six years ago and are still financially intertwined, the latter has been steadily growing into its titular claim.
This year, the GAF kicked off its six-day program on Sunday, March 18, at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar, before moving to Art Dubai on March 20. Curated by Shumon Basar (author of the recently published artist’s book Do You Often Confuse Love with Success and with Fame?), “The Medium of Media” assayed art, activism, and social media, with a focus on the keyword’s double meaning. Panel discussions ranged from the rise of the citizen journalist to experimental PowerPoints to the “Accelerated History” of Net art (a “genre” whose speed of acceleration was made evident when one of its specialists proved bafflingly incapable of scrolling without a mouse.)
Doha may be a city of the future, but it has yet to master the elements. All that starchitecture was barely visible through Sunday’s colossal sandstorm. “This place is O.T.T.—over the top,” CCA Lagos curator Bisi Silva assured me on the bus out to Mathaf, but all I could make out in the sepia haze were the roadside suburbs, which looked vaguely like strip malls in the Panhandle, all one sand-colored Tetris block. By the time we reached the museum, the multi-plasma-screened GAF tent had proved no match for the winds, so while GAF volunteers scurried to relocate the espresso bar into the library, visitors took awed spins around Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition “Saraab,” with its indoor boats, flying camels, and gunpowdered ceramic tiles. When the last pamphlet was in place, I snagged a seat by MACBA’s Bartomeu Marí i Ribas and the Met’s Sheena Wagstaff while Basar ticked off the new additions to this year’s program. Among them was “Forum Forum,” a series of commissions from artists like Hala Ali and the Dubai-based collective Brusselssprout, as well as the Gulf Colloquy Compendium, Sophia Al Maria’s interactive glossary featuring entries like “VEIL: A lazy, high-impact word”; “MACAROONS: Sweet little hamburgers from France”; and “RUSSIAN: A compliment; an insult; an innuendo.”
The emphasis on social media and the news was brought home by the opening panel, during which Demotix founder Turi Munthe squared off with journalists Mishaal Al Gergawi, Yasmine El Rashidi, and Al Jazeera’s Ghida Fakhry Khane. As the second act, Barjeel Art Foundation’s Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi rattled off social media statistics at a speed so daunting, it was easy to understand how he has emerged as the region’s preeminent retweeter. Filling the spaces between was “PowerPointing™Your Creative Medium Potential,” a selection of slide shows from the likes of Lucky PDF, Alexander Provan, and Ayshay+Kari Altmann. “Please excuse any hiccups in technology,” curator Victoria Camblin sweetly disclaimed. “We’re working with the world’s most annoying software.”
Following the forum, guests were bussed to the Islamic Arts Museum for the opening of “Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving,” an exhibition that premiered at LACMA and was here expanded to include works from Iran and Russia. The Sheikha Al Mayassa presided over a brief reception in the museum’s monumental I. M. Pei–designed foyer, but it was clear some visitors were hankering for something a little stronger than fresh kiwi juice. Topping other suggestions was the local Sheraton, which was built in the late 1970s after the completion of a deep-water port spurred the city economy’s transition from pearl diving to oil. “This is my favorite building in all of Doha,” Basar sighed. “The whole thing looks like a spaceship landing.” Which it does, although it also resembles something like one pyramid wearing another, smaller pyramid as a hat. “It’s truly amazing, the extraterrestrial energy in this place. I want to do an exhibition here,” Hans Ulrich Obrist hummed, momentarily returning to his ongoing cell phone conversation, before turning back to us, his hand over the receiver: “It’s Francesca. She says she doesn’t go to a Sheraton.”
Left: The Sheraton Doha. Right: Mathaf director Wassan Al-Khudhairi.
Francesca’s loss. No sooner had we sat down at La Veranda, a fine dining establishment with a Pasta Night Buffet, than the electricity cut out. (Something about a fire?) Waiters went through various stages of grief before resolving to illuminate the buffet with their smartphones. When the lights flickered on for a fleeting instant, Mathaf director Wassan Al-Khudhairi didn’t hesitate: “Quick! Everyone to the salad bar while you can still see!” Obrist remained at the table, beaming: “And this is why I love the Sheraton. It’s always either a fire or an inundation.”
The next day, the Global Art Forum began to pack up for Dubai, where the airport-weary had just enough time to change into something more revealing for the opening of Art Dubai. This iteration saw remarkably steady sales of midrange works, mostly to local collectors. From Green Art Gallery to the Third Line to Pilar Corrias to Bischoff/Weiss, it seemed that women were holding court (and not just the resplendent director, Antonia Carver). The vernissage was a barrage of champagne and dim sum, culminating in rumored Rick Owens sightings and a rooftop dance party at the nearby Trilogy, a multilevel nightclub that begins on the ground floor, with its Day-Glo-meets-dark-corner-of-hell vibe, and ascends to a rooftop terrace with a view that would have been staggering, if only that sandstorm hadn’t also flown in from Doha.
Left: Hamid Amini and dealer Sunny Rahbar at Art Dubai. Right: Dealer Pilar Corrias at Art Dubai.
Wednesday, the Global Art Forum didn’t flag for a moment, inaugurating its Art Dubai iteration with “Marshall, Media, and Me,” featuring Basar and Obrist in conversation with Douglas Coupland about his new book, Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! Appropriately, the discussion began with the clip from Annie Hall in which McLuhan defends his reputation from an irksome moviegoing intellectual (and spouts the phrase that would become Coupland’s title). As time cut short, Basar threw it to the audience for questions, with the caveat that they meet Twitter criteria: 140 characters or less. “Are you optimistic about the novel in the future?” one audience member tested. Before Coupland could respond, Obrist cut in with a congratulatory “Forty-nine!”
The camaraderie borne in the conversation continued over dinner, when a group of twenty or so GAF participants descended on Karachi Darbar. (“Trust me. Your cab driver will know it.”) In the backyard, picnic tables were pushed together and set with Styrofoam cups, plastic forks, and platefuls of naan, saag paneer, and big, hot dishes of burnt, brown meat. Afterward, the resolute pushed on to the Ibex, an Eritrean nightclub in the lobby of the Sun & Sands Hotel in nearby Deira. Bombastically coiffed dancers in snug cotton tube-dresses shimmied as bartenders, patrons, and what looked to be one of our cab drivers took turns at the mic, belting everything from Arab power ballads to Bob Marley, London Beat, and, the crowd favorite, “that names of the major towns in East Africa song.” Around 1 AM, the girls disappeared, only to reemerge in full-length “national costume.” Shisha for all, but drinks only for those capable of shouting loudly enough to the waitresses over the thump of the electronic drum kit.
If UAE labor issues were an unspoken anxiety, over the next four days there would be cautious references to what Bidoun senior editor Negar Azimi called the “Industries of Interest,” rising up in the wake of the Arab Spring. (“I hate admitting I’m from Cairo at these things,” writer Heba Elkayal confessed. “You get so mobbed during the breaks, you never get any coffee.”) One crowd-pleasing alternative approach was presented Thursday, when Jack Persekian spoke with artist Michael Rakowitz about the latter’s film The Breakup—“a project on Palestine where I never had to say the word Palestine.” In the film, picking up on the fact that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band dropped four days before the Six-Day War, Rakowitz applies archived Beatles’ recording sessions to the broader geopolitical situation. Basar couldn’t resist: “So who’s Yoko?” “Israel,” Rakowitz fired back, then shot a look at his audience. “Can everyone just please tweet that? Right. Now.”
That night, we adjourned to another place all the taxi drivers seemed to know: Emirate Hills, a luxury subdivision outside Dubai with some very staggering villas, but nary a hill in sight. “It must be just part of the Hollywood franchise,” Munthe observed, trying to get a better look through the cab window as we approached the home of Fayeeza and Arif Naqvi, art patrons and sponsors of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize, who were hosting a dinner in honor of the award. With the pink-lit palm trees and “It’s a Small World”–style ethnic buffet snaking around the pool, the fireworks in the distance could just as easily have been more decorations. There was a dance floor (and the inimitable Chantal Crousel was rumored to be owning it), but there was also abundant champagne and cabana-style couches, already cozy with the enchanting likes of Yto Barrada, Sylvia Kouvali, and what looked to be the entire editorial staff of Bidoun.
Ahead there were still side trips to Sharjah and Saadiyat Island, tough calls between an Iraqi nightclub and the Tip-Top English Disco, and a free-for-all feast at a fish shack on the beach. But for the moment, the world was small, and it was ours.