THE CENTER FOR CURATORIAL STUDIES at Bard College is in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. That’s a couple of hours’ drive north of New York City. But the city is to artists and curators what the Hudson River is to wet. It’s the talent pool. So last Thursday, CCS Bard’s twentieth anniversary weekend began with a benefit exhibition at Luhring Augustine Gallery in Manhattan.
Artists are asked for donations to benefits so often, it’s a wonder some have any work for their galleries to sell. This time out they certainly did not hold back. Organized by CCS Bard director Tom Eccles and graduate program director Johanna Burton, “Painting in Space” has twenty-five works donated by as many fine artists. They include Franz West, Kelley Walker, Amy Sillman, Lawrence Weiner, Olafur Eliasson, Rachel Harrison, and Mark Handforth, whose giant black clothes-hanger of a sculpture fits the space like a custom-made suit. Over the years, all have exhibited or made work for CCS or its companion Hessel Museum of Art, named for the center’s founding benefactor, Marieluise Hessel.
A dinner for the artists followed at Bottino, where dealer Roland Augustine (a CCS board member) took pains to point out that their contributions were for sale and not up for auction—we know what such charity auctions can do to an artist’s market—and that the gallery was turning over the proceeds without taking a commission. After the applause, Augustine took a seat beside Hessel. Dinner was served; wine flowed. Inevitably, tongues loosened.
Left: Collector Adam Lindemann. Right: Artist Amy Sillman and Kim Gordon.
At one table, Charline von Heyl, Jacqueline Humphries, Haim Stainbach, and Wade Guyton thrashed out existential questions about the limits of radicalism in art. “You’re a real painter,” Guyton told von Heyl. “I don’t know what I am.” How’s artist? Mixing it up across the room were the rowdies—dealers Gavin Brown and Casey Kaplan, attorney Michael Ward Stout (another board member), White Columns director Matthew Higgs, and former collaborators Angela Bulloch and Liam Gillick, a CCS Bard faculty member whose solo exhibition would be opening at the Hessel Museum the following day.
The subject of money came up here too, amid talk of the public relations coup that Larry Gagosian pulled off during Art Basel 43 with the announcement of his ginormous new Parisian outpost at Le Bourget—the airport for private jets, Brown observed. (It is scheduled to open in the fall during FIAC with an Anselm Kiefer show, at the same time that Thaddaeus Ropac is to open a Kiefer show in his even bigger new space in Pantin.) “Hey Gavin! Maybe you should open a gallery at Teterboro,” said Higgs, to loud guffaws.
The fun continued in slightly more cerebral fashion on Friday at Bard, where the weekend festivities began with “Why New Forms?” a curatorial conference organized by alumni and featuring talks by SculptureCenter curator Ruba Katrib, New Museum curator Lauren Cornell, and Fionn Meade. In the audience were students and other parties on campus for the VIP opening of “Anti-Establishment,” a group show Burton put together for the CCS galleries, and “From 199A to 199B: Liam Gillick,” curated by Eccles for the Hessel.
“What is curating?” asked Burton, as the weekend’s participating artists and curators gathered for drinks in the center’s lobby. “That’s a question that doesn’t go away.” (If only she had put it to Paul Schimmel, who had appeared on a panel that morning, when he was still chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to us, he would lose that position a few days later in a shocking move by the MoCA board, but his answer might have made more waves.)
“ ‘Anti-Establishment’ is post–institutional critique,” she went on, as we walked through the show, which has recent painting, sculpture, video, and performance works that address each medium’s conventions in different ways. “It’s about reengaging with institutions,” she said, casting an eye at Gillick’s parallel exhibition. “I worry,” she confided, “that there’s too much pleasure in my show.”
I heard no complaints and didn’t deliver any either, but I’m a hedonist. A room devoted to Humphries’s 2005 black-light paintings glowed beautifully in their LED illumination, and Chelsea Knight’s video of construction workers reading feminist texts was as laugh-out-loud funny as it was sobering. But it was a little startling to find Allan Kaprow’s 1963 Push and Pull: A Furniture Comedy for Hans Hofmann redone by curatorial students, when I had seen another reinvention (by artist Mateo Tannatt) just the week before in Jens Hoffmann’s Art Parcours show in Basel.
What goes around comes around, I guess. Soon Gillick was leading Hessel, her sister Christina Lockwood, and Nada Andric, the CCS building’s architect, on a tour through his show that kept picking up more viewers as he went along. Had he been to Documenta? asked one. “It’s hard for an artist to go to Documenta if you’re not in it,” he replied. “Because people keep asking you where your work is, and that feels terrible.”
However, his show at Bard, which revisits work the British-born artist made in Europe during the 1990s before moving to New York, includes a documentary video of the public clock he made for Documenta X, so that felt better. It also has a Ping-Pong table covered in gold glitter—“Try and play on that,” he said. “You can’t”—and several years worth of his Pinboard Project, realized by other artists or his students at Bard, who also participated in several other works. Outside was We Are Medi(evil), the hole he had dug with Bulloch where, she said later, we could “watch the grass grow.”
Back in the lobby, everyone helped themselves to goody bags that contained not product samples from commercial sponsors—none here!—but catalogues for each exhibition and a new book of art texts, Interiors, that Burton had edited with Lynne Cooke and Josiah McElheny. “I’m especially proud of this,” Burton said, adding that it was the first in a series based on those Dia once produced. “I miss them.”
Bags in hand, the assembled two-hundred-strong crowd, which now included latecomer Maja Hoffmann (a board member), departed for a barbeque under a huge tent on Adam Lindemann and Amalia Dayan’s estate in Woodstock. Dayan wasn’t there, but Lindemann made an entrance with a guitar and promptly joined the local bluegrass band playing onstage. “We got married in this tent,” he said. “And every year we bring it out for Bard.” The food arrived, and even vegans Jonathan Caplan and Angus Cook dug in.
As darkness fell and a fog bank descended on a field lit only by fireflies, Eccles addressed the crowd. “CCS is not just a museum,” he said. “It’s a living factory, a library, and a research center. Someone has the vision, we find the funding, and engage other people in trying to create something new in the art of our time. Which isn’t easy,” he added.
Well, someone has to do it. To his mind, that’s Gillick, “one of the smartest people alive.” At that, Bulloch burst out laughing. And pleasure was had by all.
JEFF KOONS IS FROWNING with his fingers on his forehead. The lighting on Metallic Venus, a glossy stainless steel beauty who lifts her dress to reveal her childbearing hips, is distressing him. Weary worry pervades the faces of the staff of Frankfurt’s Liebieghaus, a gem of a museum containing a concise history of sculpture from ancient Egypt to the rococo period. It’s the last day of a two-and-a-half-week install. Vinzenz Brinkmann, the classical scholar who has curated this retrospective, explains to me that Koons has an astonishing appetite for precise modifications. “He is very kind to us but he is strict toward his own vision,” he says. “Nothing is neglectable.”
Justine Koons, Jeff’s wife and mother of five of his seven kids, is in the next room. Pregnant with her sixth and his eighth child (a boy, due in August), she walks past Balloon Venus, another new sculpture, giving it a cursory glance. Inspired by the Venus of Willendorf, one of the earliest known representations of a woman, this fertility goddess looks like a “Celebration” sculpture but it is actually the first work in his new “Antiquity” series. The sight of an expectant spouse between two Venuses evokes one of Koons’s many mantras: “The only true narrative is the biological narrative.”
As I meander through the Liebieghaus permanent collection into which forty-three Koons sculptures have been inserted, I am struck by the entertaining juxtapositions. Koons’s famous Michael Jackson and Bubbles sits in front of a row of Egyptian mummies. A new polychrome stainless steel Popeye presides like a beefy messiah over painted wood statues of weedy saints. A one-ball Total Equilibrium Tank is positioned in the spiritual center of a chapel-like early medieval room. Gary McCraw, Koons’s long-standing studio manager, is topping up the tank with a saltwater mixture that makes the basketball float just so. I’m reminded of a scene in which technicians working for Damien Hirst (a key lender to this show) fill tanks with formaldehyde, except that McCraw doesn’t sport a gas mask.
Left: Dealer Almine Rech with curator Joachim Pissaro. Right: Koons head of sculpture John von Schmid with Koons studio manager Gary McCraw.
The next morning, I head over to the Schirn Kunsthalle, which is showing forty-five Koons paintings. Together the two exhibitions—titled “The Sculptor” and “The Painter”—form the largest showing of Koons’s work to date. The American master is, in fact, an honorary local. He owns a house here and visits regularly because over 50 percent of his sculptural production is made nearby at Arnold AG, a top-of-the-line fabricator whose website announces, “Please let us inspire you with our Passion... for metal!”
The Schirn’s vast white hall is a cacophony of Koonses. With the exception of six canvases from “Made in Heaven,” which enjoy their own “adult” room, paintings from different series are mixed together such that only connoisseurs are likely to catch the conversations between them. As journalists, photographers, and TV crews start to trickle in, one critic proclaims, “The paintings hold up better by themselves than together.”
A PR woman escorts me into a nondescript side room for my interview with the artist. Koons has a notorious habit of offering favourite adages and anecdotes that effectively evade the questions he’s being asked. I politely draw his attention to this tendency in the hope that he’ll avoid it. When I ask whether it is possible to be an aesthetic radical and a political conservative, he replies that he has always been attracted to the concept of the avant-garde and that he likes “the idea that we can create our own reality.” He then offers an uncharacteristically direct answer: “I don’t think I am a conservative. As an artist, I believe in the sense of communal responsibility.” I suggest that his advocacy of cultural acceptance could be seen as an incitement to accept the status quo. “When I am talking about acceptance,” he replies, “it is about the acceptance of everything.” Including left-leaning Democrats and Marxist art historians, I assume. Koons seems willing to go on but the PR pops her head around the door. Time up.
Outside in the main exhibition hall, the press pack has swelled to 150 people. A herd of burly photographers charge into position to shoot Koons in front of three different paintings. Dressed in a dapper gray suit, the artist goes through a succession of poses—hands in pockets, finger to chin contemplating the work, a series of squats, and then a position with his arms outstretched as if he were a kid pretending to be an airplane.
After that, six TV crews set up in a row in front of Antiquity 3, a complex new painting of a gorgeous girl riding an inflatable dolphin which also features three Neoclassical marble nudes and a giant felt-marker drawing of a sailboat that doubles as a vagina. It looks better than it sounds. My empathy for Koons surges as I eavesdrop on his TV interviewers who repeat the same questions: Are you a sculptor or a painter? What is the secret of your success? What do you think of Frankfurt? He answers each one with a courteous smile, even giving different answers to the same questions.
Finally comes the press conference, which is conducted almost entirely in German. As I listen to the music of the foreign language, one sentence from my interview with Koons floats back to me: “I like the idea that we can create our own reality.” It seems to me that Koons has . . . although not without some help. The museum people and catalogue contributors on the podium appear to pay increasingly hyperbolic homage to this “künstler,” culminating in Joachim Pissarro’s assertion (in English) that the “superhuman exacting demand” of Koons’s production ties him to “the divine.” I do hope that he means to invoke a randy Greek god who cavorts with mortals.
Left: Merrill Lynch's Peter Kollmann and Max Hollein, director of the Schirn Kunsthalle. Right: Jeff Koons with Metallic Venus. (Photo: Schirn Kunsthalle)
Left: Dealer Sofia Vamiali and artists Eftihis Patsourakis and and Dimitra Vamiali. Right: Athens Pride parade.
The opening of the Athens & Epidaurus Festival the Friday before last was initially surreal: The dearth of people in the balmy courtyard of the former Tsaousoglou office furniture factory gave the impression that we had arrived at the wrong place at the wrong time, a kind of Wild West sensation. The explanation for the late arrivals was reassuringly banal: “They’re all watching the Greece-Poland match,” curator Olga Hatzidaki speculated. But then Greeks are not known for their punctuality, and in sultry weather lateness is just common sense. At sundown they started pouring in.
Inside Building A of the sprawling complex, a 1970s historic landmark, an exhibition of two works from the Dimitrios Daskalopoulos collection posed the question “Europe—Crisis or Demise?” Michael Landy was supervising the operation of his Credit Card Destroying Machine, which had caused a minor sensation at London’s Frieze Art Fair last autumn. It now seemed to have landed in the right country, with its parody of our conspicuous consumption and its metaphoric rejection of living on plastic, a remedy for our times perhaps. The director of Art-Athina, Alexandros Stanas, seemed genuinely surprised after his wife inserted her card, which joined the credit confetti on the floor, in exchange for a machine-generated drawing signed by the artist. “I guess I will be paying for everything this summer!” he joked.
In the next room Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s Fruits of One’s Labour mocked the folly of a monetary European Union with the destruction of another currency; large bales of shredded euros lay ready to be used as fuel for a woodstove. “Do people ask you if you are out of your mind for moving here?” Daskalopoulos asked me. “As a country we have a lot to account for, but there’s a lot of creativity going on here now.” As director of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises and collector of pointedly uncomfortable artworks, he knows of what he speaks.
Left: Collector Dimitris Daskalopoulos and Art-Athina's Alexandros Stanas. Right: Artists Deanna Maganias, Ilias Papailiakis, and Dimitrios Antonitsis.
Mounted on the olive-green walls outside was A Gathering, curated by Hatzidaki and Maria-Thalia Carras, a series of twenty-eight posters sponsored by the Demergon Foundation from artists who had been asked to portray their imagined or real associations with Greece. Pasted on random walls around the city, they evince the ephemerality of public identity. “Athens is a city of posters, so the municipality sends people around to check and clean the walls,” Hatzidaki explained. “And you cannot cover the political posters, so there are few spots and many rules.”
Even the decadent, informal appearance of the industrial complex was deceptive: Now owned by different banks and companies, the space is managed by each and every one of them, entailing a Byzantine sort of organization—in effect a microcosm of the country. “You must have permission from this office and that, et cetera,” Hatzidaki continued. “We felt a little trapped because we couldn’t really curate.” With so many businesses closing down, space is cheap in the city now, and arts organizations are taking advantage. Artist Maria Papadimitriou’s poster depicts “Souzy Tros,” her project for a canteen in an empty former industrial shop that will mix food and culture to bring together immigrants and artists.
“Since the big productions were canceled this year, the festival has only the best, most experimental shows,” Art-Athina’s Stanas informed us. It was certainly going to be hard to beat the real-life drama. Temperatures in the city had been rising both meteorologically and politically. Everyone was on edge about the upcoming elections, with talk inevitably turned to the previous day’s slapstick on Good Morning Greece, when the spokesman for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, former boxer Ilias Kasidiaris, bitch-slapped Communist Party MP Liana Kanelli repeatedly, after throwing water on left-wing Syriza’s Rena Dourou, and nobody moved a finger to stop him. The attack was triggered by a comment about his alleged participation in an armed robbery; apparently several of the party’s MPs actually have criminal records. “I am so glad—they gave him just enough rope to hang himself!” artist Deanna Maganias said, miming the hoped-for scenario. At dinner later in a nearly empty taverna in touristic Plaka, Guardian correspondent Helena Smith provided a fitting footnote: “Greece has become extremely polarized; it is a country on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”
The next day was Athens Pride, which had been put on notice by threats from the Golden Dawn. After following the procession from Plateia Klafthmonos past the Parliament and back in the sweltering heat, we had seen only a few fascist types, lined up along Omónia Square and attended by a significant police presence. (Kasidiaris was still on the lam, evading a brief arrest warrant.) It was a surprisingly orderly affair, and everyone assumed people were scared off by the threats of violence. “I am so disappointed: no nudity, no drags, no trans,” an American visitor lamented.
Arriving back at the base, I ran into the Breeder’s George Vamvakidis and Stathis Panagoulis, who had sponsored an art auction that raised 24,000 euros for Pride. “It is not fear that kept the crowds away—everyone was certainly at the beach and will arrive in time for the entertainment,” Vamvakidis explained. Yes, after the sun goes down. Panagoulis was wearing a rainbow-colored lei and beaming, beer in hand. “That horrible sculpture in the square actually looks great with balloons on it,” he noted. They were going to party all night and leave early morning for Art Basel.
The entertainment included a drag show by the Koukles and a revue of Broadway hits that included, much to our surprise, a rendition of “Springtime for Hitler” that featured drag queens in elaborately feathered costumes, a giant sausage hat, uniformed Nazi officers and scantily clad SS soldiers in helmets, and lots of Nazi salutes. “Well, we’ve done a very good job promoting German culture here,” the Goethe Institut’s Thomas von Stein quipped. As a representative of the Communist Party followed with a long-winded speech, he added, with the appropriate gesture: “If she was from the Golden Dawn, it would be very short, PAMF!” Thankfully drama is never in short supply here. Next up: this week’s much-anticipated Greece v. Germany football match.
Left: Curator Paolo Colombo and artist Michael Landy. Right: Curators Yorgos Tzirtzilakis and Denys Zacharopoulos.
WHAT TONE SHALL I ADOPT to describe the familiar fun-cum-freakiness of Art Basel week? Exhaustion, elation, tipsiness, world-weariness, boredom, excitement? Whatever. Let’s begin, as they say, at the beginning. I arrived in Basel with a vicious cold gleaned from either Rome, where I had spent three days at the Swiss Institute’s gorgeous villa as part of Paweł Althamer’s Draftsman’s Congress, or Kassel, where, well, you know. So Art Basel’s opening days comprised events that I only heard tale of from the spy I sent in my stead.
Among these was a Sunday night kickoff dinner that artist Matthew Lutz-Kinoy and curators Scott Cameron Weaver and Nikola Dietrich hosted at Elaine, the Museum für Gegenwartskunst’s project space, for a younger, less religious crowd than attends the Maja Hoffmann dinner, which was held in Zurich the same night. Apparently, Lutz-Kinoy’s gorgeous handmade ceramics spilled across a tablecloth emblazoned with feminist declarations while performances (Trisha Brown, John Cage, less canonical works) spilled around attendees Danh Vo, Hannah Weinberger, Ingar Dragset, Daniel Buchholz, and Fabrice Stroun, fresh off the triumph of his Josephine Pryde show at the Kunsthalle Bern. The nose-to-tail lamb dinner must have been spiked with love, as the evening ended with particularly ardent dancing.
I finally made it out of the home infirmary Tuesday for New Jerseyy’s Perros Negros opening, ostensibly the project of the lovely Adriana Lara (who will be back this fall with a solo at the Kunsthalle Basel) but also including contributions by Josef Strau, Mathew Cerletty, Xavier de Maria y Campos, and others. Text mapped the walls while a face-masked dummy slummed it in the corner, freaking everyone out. “Is that a real person?” writer Christy Lange asked me, shivering. Curator Daniel Baumann, in teal, shook his head and sniffed the cup of wine he had just poured before handing it to me. It was that good.
Part of Lara’s concept for the evening was déjà vu—an appropriate conceit when it comes to Art Basel’s astonishingly reliable similitude. Thus she asked guitarists Oliver Falk and Paolo Thorsen-Nagel to re-create their insane street performance of Rhys Chatham’s Guitar Trio (with ten guitarists, a pyramid of amps, and a bag of complaining neighbors) from the opening the year prior. But Jerseyy sleuths Emanuel Rossetti, Tobias Madison, and Dan Solbach took it even further, re-creating the love parade of the 2011 opening—until 6 AM.
Wednesday night brought nourishment. After the fantastically packed exhibition of Paul Sietsema’s new films and works at the Kunsthalle Basel—his 2012 film Telegraph spells out “Letter To a Young Painter” in colored driftwood, here a semaphore-like missive to the fair’s ambitious youth—we settled into the Restaurant Kunsthalle’s chandelier-strewn private room for dinner. Kunsthalle Basel director Adam Szymczyk and artist Alexandra Bachzetsis bookended the clearly elated Sietsema, who sweetly confided how happy he was with “just everything,” while Matthew Marks and Stedelijk director Ann Goldstein and her husband, artist Christopher Williams, took their spots opposite.
As the white-coated waiters began bringing the bottles, the guests started bringing the mayhem: A certain unnamed curator began to doodle on the restaurant’s walls as Tulips & Roses’ Brussels-by-way-of-Vilnius duo Jonas Zakaitis and Aurime Aleksandraviciute giggled and artist Mandla Reuter built a precarious tower of half-full (half-empty?) wineglasses. Cigarette breaks found me, Szymczyk, Marks, and Jack Bankowsky talking poetry (what?). And though the Campari Bar raged just next door, we were soon off with Sietsema to the Lady Bar. There I met up with Karma International’s Karolina Dankow, who looked a bit dazed. “I went home,” she said, “but then you were all here and I got lonely.” When I left at 4 AM she was in the middle of the smoky basement’s thrashing crowd, dancing away any semblance of solitude.
Thursday began in church, as it should. Kunsthalle Basel associate curator Fabian Schoeneich and Brussels artists Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys organized an organ concert of Erik Thys’s eerie film scores—think equal parts Suspiria and Carrie—at Sankt Antonius Kirche, the famously Brutalist Basel cathedral. As we sat down in a pew, Lara and artist Shana Lutker slipped in beside us and the organ started pumping. With stained-glass shadows slipping across the church’s concrete curves, it felt quasi-religious.
Then we were off to SALTS, the Basel off-space run by Samuel and Anna Leuenberger in a former butchery on the bucolic banks of the petite Birs river. On my way in I ran into ever-noir curator Beatrix Ruf making her exit. “What’s happening tonight?” she asked me, roguishly. “What should we do?” I gestured helplessly, picking events out of the air, distracted by the smells of the homemade sausages that Swiss artist Raphael Hefti had made earlier that week, and which hundreds of artists and dealers were now devouring in the courtyard below.
After hellos and goodbyes, we were off to the countryside for Martin Hatebur and Peter Handschin’s (the current and previous presidents of the Basel Kunstverein, respectively) annual soiree at Handschin’s art-filled abode at the Black Forest’s edge. Dusk was falling over the tents when we arrived. I briefly sat down with artist Shahryar Nashat at one of the long tables outside, but was quickly up for the dancing filling the interior. Dankow, Bachzetsis, and I started twirling with the beautifully clad Goshka Macuga and her tall, kilt-wearing companion. Home came sometime after that. Our ride had long since left, so a cab was called. A taxi from Seltisberg to Klein Basel? 111 Swiss francs. A dance party? Priceless.
Friday found me at Liste, where the fair’s performance project’s curator Burkhard Meltzer and I caught up as he showed me around the low-key performances taking place that afternoon by Rebecca Stephany and Matteo Rubbi. Dinner that night was in the garden of the newly remodeled Union to celebrate Hilary Lloyd’s expert survey at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst. Her dealer Sadie Coles greeted guests before we sat down for a family-style meal. As we spilled onto the pavement out front, groups from other dinners began to show up. I chatted with quietly legendary designer Yvonne Quirmbach, who still looks no different from the famous photograph that Rosemarie Trockel took of her in the 1990s, and then it was off to Lady Bar again (I think).
Left: Dealer Jane Hait. (Photo: Allese Thomson) Right: Artist Jeremy Shaw (left). (Photo: Quinn Latimer)
On Sunday, the last (!) day of the fair, I headed to the afternoon Art Salon conversation with Tim Rollins and K.O.S., who employed jazzy metaphors to pronounce on the role of beauty and political commitment in contemporary art. It was the perfect end to Art Basel’s focus on excess and access. But there would be a coda: That evening, a group of us, including Danh Vo and Julie Ault, made our way to the annual Kunsthalle Basel finale dinner. We picked a long table outside under the canopy of trees and lights, and Sam Keller came over, avec shades. “Have you been on vacation all week?” he asked me, twinkling. “I haven’t seen you.” Had I been?
Keller wandered off and our table mused over the fair. Vo mentioned that he had bought a small Paul Klee drawing of a fishtail and my and Rollins’s eyes bugged out. “No, Paul Thek, not Klee,” Vo corrected us. “I knew you were doing well, but I was like, Da-a-a-mn,” Rollins drawled. That got us going on Susan Sontag’s journals, full of her friendship with Thek. Ault and I discussed the merits of the desert versus the city, and her house in Joshua Tree. I was convinced to have one last drink at the Agora Bar (near my house, in the desert of Kleinhüningen!), and as our cab pulled up, there were Szymczyk and artist Daniel Knorr, resplendent in pale suits, smoking outside. The men in white. “Friends Bar!” they recited, in accented unison. One more beer and it would be time, finally, to go home.
AT 6 PM on Monday, June 11, the sun is still high over the Messeplatz in Basel, and we’re two hours into the opening of Art Unlimited, the kickoff event for Art Basel 43. In his inaugural turn as Unlimited curator, Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer has set in motion a fair that will prove big, brand-conscious, and bonkers.
Half the convention center plaza is fenced off for the construction of new buildings, while the Schaulager museum, closed for renovation, takes up more real estate with a satellite space designed to look like home by Herzog & de Meuron. There’s no one in it, but outside Hall 1, the alley is clogged with fairgoers, as many coming out as going in. “Once you see the Paula Cooper portrait by Rudolf Stingel,” says dealer Dominique Lévy, “it’s impossible to think about anything else.”
But there is plenty to see, or gawk at. Damián Ortega’s multistory Architecture Without Architects, a weirdly delicate collection of found furniture suspended from the ceiling, is the first work in a show dedicated to absurdly large gestures and overweening ambitions. “See the Laura Owens, says Nasher Sculpture Center director Jeremy Strick. “It’s a joy.” Further in, viewers pack the room containing Richard Phillips’s noirish, sex bomb video portrait of Lindsay Lohan, transfixed by a work many claim to loathe. “It’s meant to be exploitative,” Phillips says, as a dapper Ryan McGinley saunters past. “You see her past, her present, and her future,” Phillips adds. “It’s giving me chills to think about it.”
Dealer Sean Kelly speeds by Franz West’s enormous bubble gum–pink twist of intestinal tubes, and I come abreast of the Cooper gallery’s awesome Stingel. It’s truly poignant. “He wanted to make a big statement,” says gallery director Steve Henry, noting that the black-and-white image of a young, wistful Cooper has moved several people to tears. I wonder if François Pinault, who reportedly paid $3 million to take it home, is one of them.
High-concept installation rules the day, but this sixty-one-project Unlimited includes enough films and obsessive text works that require close reading to give the show a modicum of intimacy and restraint. Some of the evening’s dinners, in fact, take place on a much grander scale.
At the Teufelhof Atelier, dealers Eva Presenhuber, Sadie Coles, Gavin Brown, Lisa Spellman, and Toby Webster combine forces for one gargantuan feast, while Barbara Gladstone, Monika Sprüth, and Philomene Magers receive their 250 guests at the Villa Wenkenhof, a vast eighteenth-century suburban estate. During cocktails on the villa’s terrace, collectors from New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Brussels, and London outnumber the artists and curators present, who are speaking not of Art Unlimited but Documenta 13, which had opened a few days before.
When dinner breaks up, Colección Jumex director Patrick Charpenel brings me to a party that the Tanya Leighton and Monclova galleries are giving at Ladybar, a new competitor for the crowds that return to the Kunsthalle Basel garden every night of fair week like swallows to Capistrano. This place is thick with sweaty revelers rushing the bars in the former bordello. It’s mostly a young crowd, though Maja Hoffmann slips in around midnight, as Jetzer emerges from the darkness on the patio, where he is getting a breath of air. “I didn’t think it would be appropriate to experiment with the first one,” Jetzer says of his show, though some might consider his insertions of the subtle into the bombastic a radical move.
It’s raining when Tuesday comes, and umbrella-carrying VIPs jam the doors of Hall 2, impatient to get in for the 11 AM opening. After a brief stop at the Ramada’s thirty-first-floor Bar Rouge for the breakfast launch of the BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors—a kind of Michelin guide to publicly accessible private collections that no one ever thought of doing before—it’s time to hit the fair. A class war is brewing. Thanks to a new, two-tiered system meant to separate the serious from the speculative, VIPs have been awarded either black cards or purple ones. Those holding the black have four extra hours to spend their money over two full days before Thursday’s public opening. If the purple crowd is grumbling, dealers are happy to have their best clients to themselves, free of pesky advisors or intrusive auction house specialists. And these people mean business.
On the ground floor, occupied largely by galleries selling secondary works priced in the millions, going into the dealers’ stands is like sitting down to tables at the World Series of Poker. The stakes are high and the players are not in the game just for fun.
Left: Collector Eli Broad with dealer Shaun Caley Regen. Right: Stedelijk director Ann Goldstein with dealer Matthew Marks.
L&M Arts, installed with all white artworks, is to my eye the best-looking booth on the floor. Competition there is fierce, as Sarah Watson and Lévy parry clients vying for the same work. Wandering into Gagosian, I find an early van Gogh painting of two rats hanging in a room with Warhols and Picassos. Outside it, LA MoCA curator Paul Schimmel pulls Larry Gagosian’s coat about a Richard Hamilton show he’s bringing to the museum. “Let’s have lunch,” the dealer says. “It’s impossible to talk here.”
I’m waylaid by the line of 1980s Andrew Masullo paintings and collages hanging on an outside wall of Doris Ammann’s booth. Pauline Karpidas, touring the fair with dealer Curt Marcus, says she bought five of these gems during a studio visit with Thomas Ammann back in the day, when I bet she didn’t have to pay the €14,000 some are going for now. Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset appear in Victoria Miro’s booth upstairs and bring me to the new works they’ve installed in a gray-walled room of Emmanuel Perrotin’s space, opposite the Cosima von Bonin missile pointed at it from Galerie Neu.
The clock strikes three and the purple-card people are in the house. Toby Webster is so busy writing up sales I can’t even get close, while five different people press Casey Kaplan about a Garth Weiser sold early on. Lebanese collector Tony Salame is just as insistent, pleading with Michele Maccarone to sell him an Alex Hubbard and a Carol Bove that others have on reserve. Gavin Brown’s booth is a riot: Rob Pruitt’s “dinosaur dung” sculpture on the floor, Sturtevant’s daisy chain of plastic sex dolls against a wall, Alex Katz paintings on another, Urs Fischer tables in between, and Hope Atherton ceramic bowls on top.
Left: Art Unlimited curator Gianni Jetzer. Right: Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler with dealer Tanya Bonakdar.
My dogs barking, I sink into Tim Blum and Jeff Poe’s couch. Their booth is restful; everything’s sold. Andrew Kreps says to come back on Thursday, when the fruit and vegetables that Darren Bader has placed on pedestals will be cut up for a salad. I’m hungry now, ready for the dinner that Eva Presenhuber is giving for Doug Aitken, the sole focus of her booth. On my way out of the fair, I pass Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner, who sum it all up in a single pronouncement. “We bought a lot,” Westreich says. “It’s the end of the day and we’re broke!”
Wednesday night brings the opening of Paul Sietsema’s show at the Kunsthalle. I’m missing Kathryn Andrews’s performance at Jens Hoffmann’s Art Parcours, but the stately Sietsema show makes a fine prelude to the zap-pow dinner that Dasha Zhukova, Tina Brown, Credit Suisse CEO Urs Rohner, and Hollywood talent agent Bryan Lourd are giving at the Fondation Beyeler. Brown isn’t there—her plane stalled on the tarmac in New York—but two hundred other swells are seated in the central gallery for a conversation on the future of museums between architect Rem Koolhaas—the designer of Zhukova’s new Garage Center for Contemporary Art building in Moscow’s Gorky Park—and Hans Ulrich Obrist. It’s almost unfathomable to everyone, except perhaps to architects Zaha Hadid and David Chipperfield, who are in the audience.
“I loved it,” says dealer David Maupin, the lone thumbs-upper in a crowd that threw Tobias Meyer, Simon de Pury, Alberto Mugrabi, Ann Philbin, John Elderfield, Richard Chang, and Michael Ringier together with Francesco Vezzoli, Tracey Emin, and Gagosian, whose dance party for his artists in Unlimited was going on without him in a chandeliered barn on the other side of town. “I bought a Picasso today,” Emin says, showing me a cell phone photo of a sculpture about the size of a fingernail.
Left: Dealer Nicky Verber. Right: New Museum associate director Masimilliano Gioni and High Line Art curator Cecilia Alemani.
“You!” Chipperfield exclaims when he sees Massimiliano Gioni. Chipperfield was only recently appointed director of the Venice architectural biennale that opens in a couple of months, and he can’t help but envy the time Gioni has to prepare his biennial of art set for next year. “I walk in and I see tape on the floor that you put there,” he says in mock anger. “You have time and money. I have nothing.” Gioni doesn’t miss a beat. “If it makes you feel any better,” he says, “I paid for the tape myself.”
The Kunsthalle is rocking when we get there. The dinner for Sietsema is winding up in the side room, while outside in the garden, Jay Jopling, Matthew Higgs, and hundreds of others are saying God knows what, but David Nolan is still doing business with a client.
And it isn’t over yet. On Thursday, I meet dealer Alexander Hertling at Theater Basel for Robert Wilson’s staging of The Life and Death of Marina Abramović. The show stars the artist, Willem Dafoe, and Antony, who composed the songs. No one else we know is in the sold-out house. Backstage after the show, Antony calls it a “suggestive scatter,” a term that also describes my week at the fair. “No one cares about art,” Shafrazi had said. “They only want to know the myth.”
On Friday, back at JFK, those words ring in my ears when I tell an immigration agent I’ve been in Basel. “You were at that art fair, weren’t you!” he exclaims. “That’s the big one, right? People have been coming through from there all day. I’ll tell you, if I had any money, I’d put it in art.” He stamps my passport. “Welcome home,” he says. “Have a nice day.”
Left: Dealer Lawrence Luhring with collector Peter Brant. Right: Dealers Alex Logsdail and Nicholas Logsdail.
THE ART WORLD loves its rituals and one of them is Contemporary Art Day in Zurich. A kind of Vorspeise served on the Sunday before the große Fressen that is Art Basel, it attracts collectors, dealers, curators, and artists en route to the main event—many from Documenta 13 in Kassel, the icebreaker of many a conversation to come.
Held this year on Sunday, June 10, the day began with breakfast at the Baur au Lac, the 150-year-old grand hotel of choice. Carroll Dunham was at one table. Beth Rudin DeWoody and her fiancé, photographer Firooz Zahedi, were at another. Collector Howard Rachofsky was at the concierge desk in the lobby, where collector Alan Hergott and dealer Kenny Schachter were checking in, while Bill and Maria Bell, dressed in sneakers and sweats, left for a sprint by the lake. It all felt a little like summer camp, everyone flexing for a bus tour organized for a few dozen VIPs by the Kunsthalle Zürich.
The program began at the Museum Bärengasse, a beautifully appointed old house that is the Kunsthalle’s temporary exhibition home until its headquarters in the newly expanded Löwenbräu complex reopens in August. The tourists, who included collectors from Dallas (Christen and Derek Wilson), Miami (Carlos and Rosa De La Cruz), and of course New York (Diane Ackerman) happily drifted through the rooms of “Leaving the Museum,” a show of octagon paintings, videos, and photographs by the Swiss-born New Yorker (and Rip van Winkle–bearded) Olivier Mosset, his arm in a sling from his latest accident on one of his several motorcycles, another of which was on view.
Next stop was the Kunsthaus Zürich, where curator Bice Curiger welcomed the two busloads of visitors—now they included dealers Friedrich Petzel and Nicholas Logsdail as well as artist Doug Aitken—to “Deftig Baroque,” roughly translated as “Riotous Baroque” but actually referring to a coarse or lewd meal of excessively flamboyant art. Think of it as Def Jam baroque, a frothy mashup of old masters and contemporary young guns that had eyeballs popping and heads spinning.
The idea was to imbue contemporary art with the weight of the Baroque, and to see the seventeenth century in terms of the new. But the bawdy, flip-the-bird rapes, seductions, decapitations, and bloody sides of flayed beef portrayed in the genre scenes, still lifes, and portraits that Curiger pulled from basement archives made contemporary works like R. Crumb’s irascible cartoons, Maurizio Cattelan’s rear-view female crucifixion, and Nathalie Djurberg’s mutilated claymates look positively tame. The show gave sleepy Zurich a shot of adrenaline. “Bice’s my favorite curator,” said Aitken. “When you get away from fetishizing masterworks,” Curiger said, “you uncover all kinds of interesting things. The Baroque is very elastic.”
After this three-hundred-year stretch, the buses took off for private collection visits, while I stopped into Mai 36 Galerie for the opening of Matt Mullican’s “Who Feels the Most Pain in the Five Worlds,” a show that brought out Roe Ethridge, Ann Goldstein, and Christopher Williams, who was fresh from a daily swim in the lake. Then, back at the Baur au Lac, Gigi Kracht, the ebullient wife of hotelier Andrea Kracht, was hosting a luncheon preview of her ninth Art in the Park, an annual sculpture show in the hotel garden that she organizes with Galerie Gmurzynska, which provided the art.
The two big attractions were a sculpture by David Smith that had not been exhibited publicly in eons, and a rarely seen bronze door by Joan Miró. Smith’s daughter, Candida, spoke expansively of her father to an audience that included Peter Smith, Princess Michael of Kent, and Rotraut, the French artist who was once the wife of Yves Klein and who also contributed a work to the show. After a meal that began with vichyssoise garnished with Uruguayan caviar, I felt stoked for the opening of the Löwenbräu, where fortitude was needed, so large is the expanded building and so multitudinous was the art.
Actually, the building’s official reopening was the previous night’s dinner for five hundred, mostly locals. Sunday belonged to the art crowd, led by Kunsthalle Zürich director Beatrix Ruf and collector Maja Hoffmann, who jump-started the city’s financing of the complex and installed galleries for her LUMA Foundation within it. As Tate director Nick Serota, New Museum director Lisa Phillips, and artists Isaac Julien, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and Helen Marten floated through shows of works by Hans-Peter Feldmann and Urs Fischer, Arto Lindsay played explosive guitar for the cocktail reception. “So cool for Maja to get Arto to play here,” observed 303 Gallery’s Lisa Spellman.
Upstairs, on the Kunsthalle’s two new floors, Ruf had installed new works donated by artists who have shown there over the past twenty-five years, all to be auctioned on June 28 by Christie’s in London for the institution’s benefit. On the ground floor, the Migros Museum opened its new home alongside Hauser & Wirth’s flagship—no doubt a harbinger of things to come when it moves its New York gallery into the old Roxy nightclub in Chelsea. Eva Presenhuber will have a satellite gallery in the complex, while Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth set up Freymond-Guth Fine Arts in her old space. “It looks so small now,” she said when she saw it. “I never thought it was before.”
But everything is bigger these days—art, art galleries, art money, art egos—everything except, perhaps, Hoffmann’s annual art day dinner at her Marcel Breuer–designed house overlooking the lake. “It doesn’t look like much right now,” Hoffmann said of the gorgeous, peak-modernist house. “I mean, we had to move out some furniture for the party.” This year she kept it “intimate,” with only a couple of hundred or so guests free to choose their own seats at tables set up under a tent on the lawn, damp from a chilly rain. I spotted Serota deep in conversation with Tate Modern director Chris Dercon, and the Swiss pretty much stuck together too. Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ruf, Hoffmann, and Fischer held down one long table, though Peter Fischli sat with Monica Bonvicini, Emily Sundblad, and John Kelsey. Barbara Gladstone and Gavin Brown paired up with Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, Laura Owens, and consultant Rosario Nadal, while Fondation Beyeler director Sam Keller, artist Walead Beshty, dealer Andrea Rosen, and curator Laura Hoptman scattered at tables hither and yon. “It’s a living odyssey,” said Tony Shafrazi of the world where we live. Hang on: The next time it turns, we’ll be in Basel.
Left: Artist Joel Otterson. Right: Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin with LA MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch.
THE CAVALCADE of colorful cars clogging the entrance to the parking garage at the Hammer Museum was perhaps one of several handy metaphors for the launch of the first major Los Angeles biennial, which opened at three venues scattered across the city the weekend before last. Another might be the long storefront window of the American Apparel shop on Sunset Boulevard, where the tricolor posters for the exhibition commingle with mannequins dressed in the company’s trademark T-shirts, the brand and the exhibition coalescing around variations on the same slogan: Made in LA.
Is “Made in LA” a locavore’s response to the obscene excess of jet-setting international art carnivals? Is it another example of SoCal boosterism and myopic self-importance? Both, maybe. Frank Lloyd Wright once quipped that if you tipped the world on its side, anything not nailed down would land in Los Angeles. One might say that if you shook Los Angeles, anything not nailed down landed in this biennial. I could add that I’ve always taken Wright’s insult as a compliment.
Left: LAXART director Lauri Firstenburg with Annabelle Ostin. Right: Artist Elliott Hundley and Cirrus Gallery's Jean Milant.
Los Angeles loves Los Angeles as much as outsiders without driver’s licenses have traditionally hated it. This latest iteration of that phenomenon follows a year of celebrating LA art of yesteryear through the tentacular exhibition series “Pacific Standard Time.” With PST done, the localist biennial begins. Leading up to the opening night festivities, the main result of the Los Angeles biennial, coorganized by the Hammer Museum and LAXART, appeared to have been to make LA artists as competitive as their peers in New York, who have a longer history with exclusionary exhibitions. To ratchet up the rivalries, the Hammer has initiated a $100,000 award, the Mohn Prize: A professional jury will whittle the sixty biennial artists down to five, who will then be voted on by the public, a populism some find crass and other democratic. Many of the participating artists are uncomfortable with it; few are rich enough to turn it down should it tumble their way. A certain spirit seems to have infected at least one of the curators as well. Cesar Garcia, a member of the five-person biennial team, quit on the night of the opening dinner. When I ran into him at the opening, Garcia told me about his plans to open up a new space right across the street from LAXART.
As I made my way upstairs into the galleries, I bumped into artist Stanya Kahn with her son Lenny in tow. “I’ve seen three things and I’m already confused. It’s going to be a long walk,” she said. The scene has grown to such a degree that it’s happily fragmenting into multiples, and the biennial samples more than a few of them. Almost an entire generation—my generation—of artists were largely getting their first nods from a museum and many easily earned it. Lisa Williamson took the best room in the museum, the Vault Gallery, originally built to house a Da Vinci codex, and made it one of the best rooms in the biennial with a series of twisting abstractions, paintings, and objects, each imbued with a sense of humor, play, and an ice-creamy palette. Liz Glynn had a room near the front of the exhibition in which she encapsulated a couple years of rapid activities that collapsed “needs and desires” into a ramshackle tomb, a vehicle for eternal ambitions made of pyramidal packing crates and cast in lead. While trying to avoid the urge to step on artist Joel Otterson’s tiled floors, I bumped into Jarl Mohn, the philanthropist who along with his wife, Pamela, inaugurated the prize with a promise to fund it for a few iterations. He wore a candy-cane-striped suit whose immoderate flair matched the iridescence of the art.
Two days later was another big public opening for the show, this time at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in East Hollywood’s Barnsdall Art Park (which incidentally also hosts a house designed by Wright). Standouts there included Henry Taylor’s distinctively graceful econo-assemblage and folksy paintings, Allison Miller’s droll abstractions, and Miljohn Ruperto’s cascading multichannel installation. This venue really did look like a clusterfuck of things that had landed after the big tilt—in a good way. Even though the space might make any show seem chaotic, how else could one curate an exhibition about LA? Los Angeles is defined by its lack of homogeneity, its historic disregard for urban planning, and a sense that the whole thing was invented yesterday, which, with some exceptions, it was. LA is raucous, indefinable, occasionally pornographic, anarchic good fun. Why should its biennial be any different?
Left: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, artistic director of Documenta 13. Right: Documenta 13 participant Alexander Tarakhovsky and Documenta 13 chief agent Chus Martinez.
1. THE Q&A at Wednesday’s press conference was bracing. Reporters were long-winded and rude. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev resisted them with sass, though at times her frankness lost its edge and spilled over into strangeness. One asked her to “tell us more about the end of art.” Another, irked by the exhibition’s rangy interdisciplinarity, wondered how it could be parsed by a million viewers who are “as uneducated and confused as you.” She replied: “I didn’t know there were sports journalists here with us.” When a woman asked “how do you feel, what do you feel” about working in Kassel, Christov-Bakargiev mentioned the hassles of getting approval from municipal safety authorities, adding that this is an issue at any major exhibition, not like “back when art was a few people lighting fires in a basement.”
2. “Is that art?” The question comes up repeatedly while navigating Kassel. The Ottoneum is a natural history museum where Mark Dion’s library of bark-bound wooden “books” hid among other odd dioramas. By the entrance stands a plastic dinosaur that I think is a work by Jimmie Durham. There is so much empty space and outdoor movement between venues that you notice the extraneous or realize, belatedly, that what you had looked at was art. Outside the press conference, young people wore sandwich boards with slogans like WHAT ARE BLUE BALLS? THEY’RE LOVELY and EVERYONE IS EATING HUMAN FLESH. Despite its absurdity, I automatically associated the action with the Kassel art-student protests of 2007. Only when I saw the same boards in Ida Applebroog’s installation in the Museum Fridericianum did I know that they belonged to it.
3. On the second floor of the Fridericianum, quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger set up a lab for visitors to observe the measurement of uncertainty and entanglement. Zeilinger has teleported a photon into the past. A friend asked Zeilinger what he would do if he could send his own body back in time. “I would admit Hitler to art school,” he said.
4. Another viewer saw Zeilinger’s badge and asked if he was one of the artists. The brusque reply: “I am not an artist.” Everyone here is a “participant.”
5. Sankt Elisabeth, a former church on Friedrichsplatz opposite the Fridericianum, has an exhibition program independent of Documenta’s. It is currently showing the work of Stephan Balkenhol. One of his wooden men stands in the belfry, arms cruciform, visible from all sides. Christov-Bakargiev said she asked Balkenhol if he thought it was “appropriate” to put a sculpture there this summer. He thought it was. Local newspapers cried “censorship.” But it was merely an imperious request for an exercise of modesty.
6. Jérôme Bel presented Disabled Theater with Zurich’s Theater HORA, a company whose members have Down syndrome and other learning disabilities. The actors stood silently on the stage, then introduced themselves, then named their handicaps, then performed dance solos they had choreographed themselves. “My mother said it’s some kind of freak show,” says Damian Bright, one of the actors, onstage. “But she liked it a lot.” It is hard for an audience to face such unfamiliarly open attitudes about song, dance, and theater. Many walked out of Wednesday night’s performance. “Now I have to go thank the millionaires who made this possible,” Bel said afterward, and joked: “I hope they didn’t see it!”
Left: Documenta 13 participant Jérôme Bel. Right: Members of the company Theater HORA.
7. The list of dTOURs—guided visits to Documenta—includes a Multispecies dTour, “a series of walks with experimental dog trainers […] to challenge the focus on the human.” In Pierre Huyghe’s swampy environment for Karlsaue Park (“Be ready to get your shoes muddy,” I was warned), a beehive grows on a statue’s face. It is patrolled by a white dog with a leg painted pink.
8. Some call Kassel the anti-Venice. For others it’s the anti-Basel. The lack of anywhere cool to go in the city bares art-world insecurity. Everyone is inert at night without the pull of the Best Party, or any party.
9. Lee Miller bathed in Hitler’s Munich apartment and wrote about it for the July 1945 issue of British Vogue. The magazine is displayed in the Fridericianum’s rotunda. Upstairs hang anti-Fascist tapestries woven by Hannah Ryggen in the 1930s, and Charlotte Salomon’s narrative in gouaches of a Jewish artist’s life under Nazism fills a room nearby. Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller’s iPod tour of the Kassel train station excavates its history as a departure point for concentration camps and weaves that history into the viewer’s present. In the station’s cinema, the Otolith Group’s film about the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster edits in hints of Japan’s irradiated past. “Wow,” I marveled to myself. “World War II was a big deal!” This unspeakably banal phrasing of a bald truth popped into my head after I had spent a day with an exhibition that expansively and subtly articulates why we think art belongs to an age, why textbooks call it “art since 1945.”
10. Seth Price collaborated with designer Tim Hamilton on a line of clothing. The prints tiled financial logos like the patterns that line envelopes—fashion to envelop the highly mobile modern body. The collection was presented late Thursday night in a parking garage beneath Friedrichsplatz. The models stood still on the catwalk, pretty and sweating, as the guests circulated with cigarettes and Absolut cocktails. It was a perverse insertion of Miami Beach into Kassel.
11. The front page of the latest issue of Kunstzeitung has a photo of Christov-Bakargiev in a hard hat, emerging from a manhole. On May 31, a photo was posted to Documenta’s website of Christov-Bakargiev and her dog Darcy. “Die ‘Lady Gaga’ der Kunst,” crowed a headline in Wednesday’s Hessiche Allgemeine. Two months ago, a viral post on Nadja Sayej’s ArtStars TV blog ran photos from Documenta’s CD-ROM “press kit from hell”: Carolyn peering through a gate, Carolyn squatting beside a furred oblong sculpture, Carolyn lounging barefoot in a hall strewn with garbage bags. At the press conference Sayej asked: “What would you say to all the people who think this exhibition is too much about you?” The curator said: “I would tell them to go see the exhibition.”
Left: Bees on a sculpture in Pierre Huyghe's work. Right. Cover of Kunstzeitung.
12. The exhibition is about Documenta. It repeatedly reminds viewers of the history and process of Documenta’s making. Amid Mario Garcia Torres’s installation about his search for Alighiero Boetti’s One Hotel in Kabul hangs Boetti’s Mappa—listed in the catalogue of Documenta 5 though it was never exhibited there. By coincidence, the converse happened at Documenta 13. Kai Althoff, absent from the catalogue, exhibits a letter announcing his withdrawal from Documenta in an otherwise empty room, and has an unlabeled painting in the rotunda.
13. Kassel is die documenta-Stadt, its postwar identity defined by an art show. (Old posters around town advertised the previous weekend’s body-art festival, Tattoomenta.) If Arnold Bode had not invented it someone else would have. Documenta 13 tingles with the necessity—the inevitability—of a periodic survey vast enough for the diversity of art since 1945, art whose awareness of its own contemporaneity has it looking forward, backward, sideways. Even if Zeilinger had admitted Hitler to art school we would all still be here.
14. During Friday evening’s sudden sunshower, photons and water molecules met to make a thick, vivid rainbow that, as seen from Friedrichsplatz, arced from deep in Karlsaue to Hessen’s hinterlands. What does it mean?
Left: Manifesta chief curator Cuauhtémoc Medina. Right: Andre Dumont mine. (All photos: Kate Sutton)
THE ROAMING BIENNIAL MANIFESTA makes a point of dwelling on peripheries, from the oft-overlooked international hub Luxembourg in 1998 to the Basque borders of Donostia-San Sebastian in 2004 to the contested territories of Nicosia (so contentious, in fact, that Manifesta 6, in 2006, had to be canceled). This year, instead of mucking around in “The Contemporary and Its Discontents” (à la insert-biennial-here), Manifesta 9 delves into what fueled Modernism to begin with: coal. Titled “The Deep of the Modern,” the sprawling three-part exhibition uses the coal mine as a vantage point from which to understand current socioeconomic “restructurings.” Chief curator Cuauhtémoc Medina, together with cocurators Katerina Gregos and Dawn Ades, selected the Belgian province of Limburg, “a mini European Union” also known as “Euregio-Meuse-Rhine.” The region has spent much of this century heavily dependent on coal production, but, with the last mine closing in 1992, Limburg is now eager to transition to new technology. Once a kind of Emerald City for coal miners, the garden city of Genk provides the ideal venue with its massive, Art Deco–style André Dumont mine.
While we missed last Thursday morning’s opening activities, we arrived in Genk just in time for that night’s welcome party at the mine, hosted by the Armory Show, ARCO, and Art Cologne. The fairs en masse were supposed to impress with their solidarity, but the coalition effort made the event feel a little League of Their Own. “I forgot to RSVP,” a young curator confessed, shuffling through her printouts. “Don’t worry,” SculptureCenter’s Mary Ceruti assured her. “I think anyone who makes the journey to Genk is invited, de facto.”
At the reception, a network of seating arrangements, drink tables, and multimedia booths had been fashioned from car parts by 2012 Architects & REFUNC, creating conversation nooks for artists and curators such as Sheena Wagstaff, Victor Misiano, and Duncan Campbell. The members of IRWIN may espouse radical politics, but they prefer their furniture conservative, and opted for a more traditional-looking table with curator Iara Boubnova and Cabaret Voltaire’s Adrian Notz. That night, Z33 was hosting an afterparty in its exhibition space in the neighboring town of Hasselt, but the pouring rain and a general reticence kept guests huddled in drunken clumps around the columns in the reception area. “A little bit like a metro station at midnight, no?” artist Carlos Amorales suggested, before spearheading an exodus to Carbon, the Limburg-chic hotel opposite the train station.
The next morning, we boarded the bus to Waterschei for the exhibition’s official opening. The biennial’s headquarters were housed in the Casino Modern, home to the FLACC workplace for visual artists. The short walk from FLACC to the mine follows Dumont Street, where a row of two-story town houses plays temporary host to quirky parallel events, such as the Monument for the Unknown Trucker and the more festive Man&Fiesta. The program’s foldout map contains helpful commentary along the lines of “Get a Decent Haircut Here!” and “Used to Be a Hat Shop.”
The staggering André Dumont mine adapted easily to the exhibition, which was broken into three parts: Heritage, Historical, and Contemporary. Notz had advised me to start with the Heritage section, “17 Tons,” a selection of archival materials telling the social history of mining (albeit in a slightly fetishized format). Curator Elisabeth Lebovici and I traded “here we go again” glances over the opening display of Turkish prayer rugs, but our skepticism soon melted into genuine appreciation, as we perused the displays of employee logbooks, embroidered dish towels, and the collected memorabilia on a Limburg legend: one-hit wonder Rocco Granata, the miner’s kid who made it big.
True to the spirit of Manifesta, the objects did not stop at Belgium’s borders. One whole room was dedicated to the Ashington Art Group, whose history has been memorialized in a recent play “from the writer of Billy Elliot.” “If you haven’t seen it, you must,” urged a woman from a British mining museum. “It’s quite a laugh!” Possibly more entertaining was the annotated checklist from a 1936 Ashington exhibition, which featured paintings such as Air Raid and The Driller–Coal Face. Handwritten margin notes evaluated the work on a scale of “good” to “jolly good,” with the occasional “something different” (Oliver Kilbourn’s Northumbrian Landscape) or “dreadful” (Arthur Whinnom’s Total Wreck). A painting called Gas Mask was summarily dismissed as “the worst in the exhibition.”
Taking a break for a buffet lunch, I caught up with curators Claire Staebler, Krist Gruijthuijsen, and Ruba Katrib, who filled me in on the Hasselt party (“You didn’t miss much. The same people were there, the music was loud, and dinner was soup and pommes frites.”) When the waitress came by with a tray boasting local fruit beer, I tried my luck with a purply one. According to Ana Torfs’s coal-based colors on view upstairs, the beverage’s exact shade would have been somewhere between fuschin and cochineal, but the flavor was pretty much cough syrup and shoe leather.
After lunch, I toured “The Age of Coal,” which took over the second floor’s rough industrial spaces with historical works by Marcel Broodthaers, Christian Boltanski, and David Hammons. Richard Long’s Bolivian Coal Line made a stunning sweep of the central arcade, but the real showstoppers were the documentary films from Alberto Cavalcanti, Georg Wilhelm Pabst, and especially Joris Ivens & Henri Storck (whose jaw-dropping 1934 Misère au Borinage was reenacted with popsicle sticks in a video by Erik van Lieshout.).
Those who dared to cross under the restaging of Marcel Duchamp’s Coal Sacks Ceiling were treated to a special air-conditioned filial, rife with works by Robert Smithson, Max Ernst, and Gustav Klutsis. Awed visitors paused at the altar of Charles Demuth’s iconic 1921 Incense of a New Cathedral and perused Olivier Bevierre’s stitched strips of photographs of miners at work. The true delight of the section, however, was the 1940 Stakhanovite fairy tale Svetlyi Put’, in which the fairy godmother leads her Soviet Cinderella to gainful employment, not a glass slipper.
The contemporary component, “Poetics of Restructuring,” concentrated mainly on proposing alternative economies, whether that be through Ni Haifeng’s Para-Production (a factory model in which pieces of discarded fabric were sewn into a massive tapestry) or Jota Izquierdo’s collection of faux commodities (e.g., PRIBA and PRLDA handbags, colognes like Marco Polo Club). Maryam Jafri’s film Avalon appraises the fetish clothing industry, from a Southeast Asian leather supplier to a naked man chained to a bathroom wall, the ball gag in his mouth doubling as a toilet paper holder. “Being hip is better than being persecuted,” the voice-over offers.
Speaking of hip, Kuai Shen’s ant farm proposes that ants “invented the turntable before we did.” Sensors feed a digital transcription of the insects’ movements to two record players, creating a kind of sonic record of their labor. Dealer Pamela Echeverria watched the needle scratch forward then jerk back: “It moves like revolution.” I’m not sure Shen actually caught what she said, but he smiled winningly.
Left: A view of the reception area. Right: Ante Timmermans, Make a Molehill out of a Mountain (of Work), 2012.
DEAR ARTFORUM DIARY,
On Thursday I was present at the latest mythologization of Marina Abramović at the Museum of Modern Art: a screening of Marina Abramović The Artist Is Present, the HBO doc chronicling the performance artiste as she prepared for her well-publicized MoMA show of the same name (which closed exactly two years ago). If you are a Marina cultist—like the fans who waited hours for a personal stare-down with the Artist who was indeed present in the MoMA atrium for the entire three-month run of the exhibition—you will eat up this classy reality show glamorizing, valorizing, and all but canonizing the performance-art pioneer as part diva, part mirror, part endurance contest winner. (Indeed, she compares herself to both Marie Antoinette—“ready to cut her head off” and Christ—“this my cross I’m carrying it’s insane.”)
If not, you might wonder, as did one veteran observer, if the doc is maybe “a sympathetic portrait of Marina, but also maybe a high-camp send-up of Marina disguised as a sympathetic portrait. In any case, lots of juicy revelations. For instance, did you know that after Marina and Ulay broke up she suddenly realized she was old and fat and unemployed and that her life had no meaning? Did you know that what saved her was shopping for luxury goods?” (Cutaway shot to a scene in the doc of Marina fingering Givenchy merch, personally assisted by Riccardo Tisci. “I was like wow,” said the Artist in her exotic Yugoslavian accent. “I feel good and wanted again. Since then I say thank god, that’s why I really love fashion.”)
“Did you know that she was considering having illusionist David Blaine pretend to disembowel her at MoMA rather than sitting in a chair for three months staring at people? And that her dealer (the only sensible person in the film, it seems) had to tell her how crazy that was?” (She invites Blaine up to her sleek SoHo loft for a “little drink.” He eats the wineglass. “Blaine is an ‘illusionist,’ gallerist Sean Kelly explains to the Artist. “Everything you do is about being ‘real’ . . . ”)
Ulay—her former life and work partner of twelve years with whom she created many of her “historic” pieces—makes a gracious appearance in the film, traveling to New York to see his ex’s apotheosis at MoMA and the trappings of her Success. Looking rather hippie-ish, he exudes the poignancy of the underachiever as he checks out her fancy digs and comments: “I guess I’m lazy.” The scene at the MoMA starefest—when he takes his former seat across from Marina (in the piece they originated together) and they lock gazes after twenty-four years of estrangement, then melt in forgiveness—is a moment of closure that is almost surreal in its tidiness. (“That was a story arc,” marveled a fellow viewer.)
In a film abounding in weirdness, histrionics, and inadvertent ironies (Marina protests that performance art is seen as “alternative” rather than “mainstream”: cutaway shot to naked Marina gyrating with a black hood over her head), I’ll just highlight one. The opportunity to sit with the Artist at MoMA—like visiting the Wizard of Oz—seemed to magnetize all kinds of acting out, and one young woman, who had waited for hours, seemed particularly rattled as security prepared her for her turn. She took her seat in front of the Artist and swiftly doffed her dress: Inspired by the Artist’s nude oeuvre, her idea was to make herself “as vulnerable as Marina was making herself to us” and sit there naked. Security quickly bundled her off as she burst into tears, utterly shamed.
“If someone told me there was a rule, I wouldn’t have done it,” blubbered the thwarted sitter. She thought that the piece was interactive, that “everyone had their turn,” and she wanted “to do something special for Marina.” (“When they’re sitting in front of me, it’s not about me anymore,” said the Artist. “I’m just a mirror of their own self.”)
The central weirdness of the doc’s “durational” encounter with Marina’s work—like the MoMA extravaganza—is how it makes a spectacle of what is at base a meditative, inner project. (She says a lot of groovy things to her staff, handlers, and entourage about how hard it is to work with “your own energy and nothing else.”) Despite professions that the work is not about the Artist—that rather it provides a screen for the audience’s projections—her mission to make performance art “mainstream” and not merely “alternative” seems to be carried out by lionizing Marina’s persona, by promoting her as a celebrity brand.
I’m so glad the day I went to the MoMA show was the day the performance artist doppelgänger was sitting there in a long, dark braid and the same blue robe as the Artist. I asked the guard, “Does everyone wear the same robe to sit?” (I was a newbie.)
They said, “No, this young lady just showed up.”
I thought it was a hilarious satire. I took it that she was undercutting the Artist’s superspecial unique “presence”—you know, twitting her in a Derridean fashion. But I later read that people were deeply moved by this profound display of homage, and the young performance artist–disciple was emotionally shattered by the whole thing: sitting in the presence of the Master.
As she exudes Presence to every sitter in the line (many of whom break into tears at the unvarnished contact)—then “clears out” their energy to make room for the next—it’s like watching a performer seduce an audience one by one, instead of en masse.
Klaus Biesenbach, MoMA’s chief curator at large, comments: “Marina’s connection to the audience comes out of this extraordinary lack she feels—felt as a child. She desires to be loved. She desires to be needed [. . .] When I met her I thought, ‘Oh god, she’s in love with me,’ and it took me a while and I realized she’s in love with the world. So it’s not personal. I realized she’s repeating this misunderstanding with every single person in the atrium.”
Getting back to my pal who wondered if the doc was a stealth-camp send-up of an Artist’s hagiography, I think it’s more like straight-up art-world kitsch. Marina Abramović is where irony goes to die. The earnestness celebrated here takes this somewhere Oscar Wilde addressed when he said: “All bad poetry is sincere.”
That’s my projection, at any rate.
“THE BEST OF TIMES, THE WORST OF TIMES,” was David Elliott’s title for the first Kiev International Biennale and, boilerplate aside, it was an apt summation on the eve of the exhibition’s opening. The rumor going around the night before was that it would be a soft launch. There was talk of the exhibition not being ready, technical problems (read: no water or power), unhappy dealers, and even artists pulling out. However, given the level of security and the number of beefy guards with Secret Service–style earphones, high-profile speeches (the Ukrainian prime minister was present), and slinky dresses and stilettos crowding the Arsenale, it appeared to be anything but soft.
At the door, after finally proving my identity as press, I was grabbed by the Korean and American collective Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, who declined to be photographed or quoted, but who took me directly to their work in the show. Their punchy and hilarious video created for the biennial, My DMZ, depicts a tour of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea by a Rastafarian guide that deteriorates into a discussion about her personal issues. (They assured me that it is inspired by a true event.)
The notion of division and special zones, as well as tours gone awry, seems tailor-made for Elliott’s exhibition. Like most biennials today, this one plays local artists against those who are internationally renowned; but where Elliott’s version veers off from the normal course is in its consideration of his own, personal geographical journey, taking in Asia, Turkey, central Europe, and Britain. The work of familiar biennial faces, like those of Jake & Dinos Chapman (Nazi skeletons replete with smiley-face armbands), Louise Bourgeois (cells), and Ai Weiwei (giant animal zodiac heads), are installed alongside the less-known, hallucinogenic installation and performance of Oleg Kulik and the abstract monuments of Phyllida Barlow. Boris Mikhailov, a well-known Ukrainian-born artist, is accompanied by younger stars such as Natasha Shulte, Sergiy Radkevich, and Vova Vorotniov.
It’s a shame that logistical issues plagued the biennial. Having been there for two weeks, Daniel Faust described his experience as one of “waiting and waiting.” (At least it paid off: A row of his photos looked great on one long wall.) Ralph Rugoff, director of London’s Hayward Gallery, expressed incredulity at the ramshackle state of Yael Bartana’s video installation. It was merely a dark forlorn room, like a number of others. “But she’s won prizes and was at Venice last year! This can’t be.” The Egyptian-Lebanese artist Lara Baladi was still hanging her complex work-on-paper with the help of an assistant. With a big smile and hearty laugh, she declared it to be “the end of the art world as we know it,” adding that this may be a new way of having an exhibition opening, where the public gets to peek behind the curtain.
Here it appeared that an easygoing nature and a sense of pragmatism made for a winning formula. (It also helps too if your gallery can afford to bring in their own technicians.) Richard Deacon, on discovering that the walls were not strong enough to hold his amoebic ceramic sculptures, elected to hang them near ankle height, an improvisation that renewed the experience of his objects. He then proceeded to muck in and help others hang their art. Wiser to local ways, the Ukrainian artist Sergey Bratkov helped his friend Stas Volyazlovsky bring in his work and nail it to the wall during the press view, a simple problem easily solved.
Referring to the thirty-six-hour final install with minimal electricity and no light, Elliott noted that “even if you’re in Tate Modern or the Louvre these things tend to cramp your style.” Problems were reportedly created by the delay in government funds to match those of the private sponsors. It would appear that the ambitious renovation of this former eighteenth-century arsenal might have slowed down the installation as well. Artist Suzy Treister described the achievement as impressive given that “there were no floors in some parts of the Arsenale a week ago,” also noting the army of plants and trees that arrived during the week to create a garden for the reception. Richard Grayson, another biennial artist, thought that the exhibition would probably be “a work in progress till it closed.” If he’d known before what was to come, he said, he might not have signed on. But thinking further, he noted that, having spent two weeks primarily becoming a comrade-in-arms with various technical crews getting his video up and running, “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
I hitched a ride to the afterparty with Barlow and her husband, artist and poet Fabian Peake. Our taxi arrived at the aptly named Museum Club, a suitably oligarch-ish disco and lounge, complete with a model on a revolving pedestal at the entrance and a sliver of a raised dance floor sticking out from the bar. The evening was made when Elliott appeared and happily danced the night away, temporarily, at least, leaving the delays behind.
THE DAY I LANDED for the Printemps de l’Art Contemporain, outgoing and incoming French presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande crossed paths on the red carpet at the Elysée Palace in Paris, national politics took a left, and the headlines read: “Le Bling-bling, c’est fini.” Yet the Côte d’Azur was aglitter with stars farther east as the red carpets were rolled out for the Cannes Film Festival, demonstrating the perennial glamour of France. As the car radio started to announce the newly appointed government ministers, our driver summed up the European state of affairs: “My brother is camping near the city in a tent and a tux so he can meet producers.”
We arrived at L’Estaque industrial port for the premiere of Le Box, a former slaughterhouse turned showcase for Marc and Marie-Hélène Féraud’s collection. “The bling-bling is just starting here,” yelled an enthusiastic man scurrying up the ramp, and indeed, Marseille’s “spring of contemporary art” is just a prelude to the city’s reign next year as European Capital of Culture. Inside, the white walls were hung with understated compositions and the spacious center was sparsely inhabited by sculptures such as Oscar Tuazon’s spiderlike Orphan and the scrunched aluminum Hors Gabarit, by Pugnaire and Raffini. Opened under the auspices of the collector’s M-ARCO Foundation, the space is located far from the city center, surrounded by his company warehouses, in the hopes of exposing contemporary art to an unusual audience. Newly a Marseillais, the young director of Galeries Lafayette St Ferréol, Alexandre Liot, has the same idea: “We are going to dedicate most of an entire floor to art exhibitions,” programmed by members of Marseille Expo, the association of local art organizations. That night at least, the entire art entourage of Marseille, not to mention Aix-en-Provence, was there in full force, and the artists, curators, and critics were finally swept down the ramp with the empty glasses just as the door closed.
The next morning was a tour of the Friche la Belle de Mai, a converted match factory with exhibition spaces, a restaurant and skateboard arena, and the Astérides artist residency program. Director Alain Arnaudet led us around the site, where cranes were working full speed ahead to finish a $27 million expansion for the big year, to include a gigantic terrace with a panoramic view over the city for performance and projections. There was a palpable feeling of something on the edge of becoming. A real cultural playground, the complex will be the nexus of the 2013 activities. Nearby at Galerie Porte Avion, artist Paul-Armand Gette was exposing “Autour du point 0,” a history of his “0m” project on the nature of landscape (including a certain fertile female region) since 1970. Hanging out in the courtyard, the artist took some flower-embroidered panties from his briefcase. “We collaborated on an underwear Christmas tree in the early ’90s,” curator Hou Hanru explained. If I hadn’t already figured it out, critic Pedro Morais noted: “I know him from Paris; he’s a fetishist.”
That night the openings were in the hilly Le Panier quarter, where the local Mafia still quibbles over such things as gelato-selling rights. Triangle France had mounted the group exhibition “Les Possédé(e)s” at HorsLesMurs, curated by Dorothée Dupuis; next door Jérémy Laffon was showing video and sculpture at Vidéochroniques. After an atmospheric walk through the Place Sadi Carnot with curators Hanru and Evelyne Jouanno, I arrived at La Compagnie for an exhibition of Myr Muratet’s raw and intimate photographs of Romani living near Paris’s Gare du Nord. Then it was time for a delicious Egyptian shish kebab on a backstreet near the Cours Julien, the only dining establishment to be found open at midnight.
Left: Artist Véronique Rizzo at street party screening. Right: Artists Gethan and Myles.
On Friday I hit the galleries with Marseille Expo’s Caroline Coignard, starting with Galerie Gourvennec Ogor. Madame Naïla Saadé, whose family company owns Marseille’s striking new Zaha Hadid–designed tower, arrived in her black limo and we exited to hit the streets downtown, which were heaving with people having a good time. “In Marseille you get the impression that nobody ever works because they are always sitting in cafés,” Coignard explained. At Fondation Vacances Bleues, resident artist Karine Rougier had produced delicate dreamlike drawings based on the souvenirs of other people’s vacations; David Scher’s show at the American Gallery comprised drawings resembling cryptic landscapes populated by strange creatures that were actually expressions of sensorial perceptions.
After an obligatory stop at Brasserie Les Danaïdes on Stalingrad Square for a demi-citron, we were ready to confront the weekend culture marathon “48h Chrono” taking place at Friche la Belle de Mai. It was already filling up with people, some of them watching butterflies emerging from chrysalises, part of artists Gethan & Myles’s The Last Swallow. In the corner was a pile of beer cans taken from a derelict beach by the old port. “It is a wonderful spot to watch the sunset, and nobody really goes there except the homeless,” Gethan explained. The next day the artists planned to go and clean it up while enjoying the evanescent moment. “Marseille doesn’t give a fuck,” Myles noted. “It’s like Brixton on the Med.”
Left: Collectors Marc and Josée Gensollen at La Fabrique. Right: Artists Marie-Andrée Pellerin and Guillaume Clermont.
Down the hill in the Longchamp neighborhood, the organized chaos of a street party was heating up around Où gallery and La Gad, where the installation “Battle” had been created with the fractured, sparring work of artists Francisco Da Mata and Véronique Rizzo. A striking geometric composition, by Rizzo, was being projected on the black grid of a facade, accompanied by composer David Merlo’s electric guitar. Artist Olivier Zol was producing tasty bites out of a van. “We are having explosions of the mouth, the ears, and the eyes!” dealer Axelle Galtier exclaimed, beckoning a man in a window. “I like the way they do things here,” Quebecois artist Guillaume Clermont observed. “Just set up on the street without permission, and the neighbors don’t seem to care.”
Later the festivities migrated to the club L’Embobineuse, where artist Alexander Grube and Assétou Koné would perform as Ideal Corpus, warming up the stage for burlesque artist Lulu Devine Dupré. We arrived and went directly upstairs, through the costume storage of the former theater, to a large salon where Dupré was getting a fake tattoo and a cook was offering up some chow. By the time the cool kids started playing their brand of “house minimale–UK garage–kuduro–baile funk–cold wave,” the place was thumping and smoking, a dude with a mohawk was stirring up the mosh pit, and Ecstasy was being passed around. As people here say without fail whenever things, well, happen: “C’est Marseille!”