“A KISS CAN change your life,” announced a man to a group of artists, curators, and writers that had gathered at a bar in the Bowery on a cold Thursday night for no other reason than to gather. The topic of conversation was Pati Hertling’s upcoming lecture, “Paris was a Woman. The Future is a Cloud,” part of her “proposition” on the evolving concept of the salon. It was determined over drinks that the salon—be it Café Voltaire, Gertude Stein’s parlor, Café Flore, the Cedar Tavern, the Factory, perhaps Reena Spaulings in the early 2000s—is predicated on a psychosexual stimulation that drives people over and again to a particular space, where ideas are exchanged amid food, drink, and touch, an elixir that has historically brought together people who brought together movements.
Two days later, Hertling stood at a podium in the New Museum’s basement theater wearing loose leather pants and a crumpled white suit jacket. Her voice was soft and shy, and her asymmetrically cut hair fell over one eye as she spoke. She’s the right person to give this talk. In 2005, Hertling started a salon called “Evas Arche und der Feminist” with Petr Kisur in Berlin. A couple years later she moved to New York and continued “Evas Arche” above Gavin Brown’s Passerby, a locus for all manner of art-world activities. Hertling closed the salon in 2010, the same year as Brown closed his bar. (“It became too much of a party,” she said later, smiling slightly).
“If you don’t have anyplace to interact, to have informal, emotional discussions about aesthetics, then ideas can’t move forward outside of the institution,” she claimed during a cursory PowerPoint presentation detailing the history of salons. Hertling is the first to admit that she is not an art historian. Rather, she’s a restitution lawyer, which makes her a sort of privileged cipher within a New York art world where professional stakes so thoroughly define everyone’s identity. Her day job is in many ways what allows her to be at the crux of a certain art community—many of whom had gathered to listen to her speak, including artists A. K. Burns and Katie Hubbard, collector Andy Stillpass, the Kitchen’s Lumi Tan, filmmaker Matt Wolf, curator Anthony Huberman, and poet Ariana Reines.
That all these people paid eight dollars to spend a Saturday afternoon discussing why there is a lack of space for the creative community to gather seemed a tad ironic. The main strand throughout the conversation—whether or not the salon exists online—is one that has been actively explored at least since salon.com appeared in 1995. As Heather Corcoran of Rhizome, Dena Yago of Are.na, and Peter Russo of Triple Canopy joined Hertling in a panel discussion debating the salon in relation to “movements” as diverse as relational aesthetics and Occupy Wall Street, what seemed most noteworthy was the audience’s sense of nostalgia—and not for community or conversation, but for the salon as a physical space. “There is no one place that I can go and see my peers, where at any given time there is a consistent exchange of ideas about practice. I’ve tried to provide atmospheres, create spaces that have this feeling, but . . .” Hertling trailed off.
Later, at 208 Bowery, where Hertling hosted an afterparty, artist Ellen Cantor shared that she was struck by how emotional the talk was, motivated by something more crucial than “theory.” At the New Museum, artist Nicola Tyson had argued that “the problem is blood—online communities are bloodless.” To which curator Lauren Cornell replied, “Most on the Internet seem like they are ‘out for blood.’ ” Cornell added that it would be remiss of us to think of virtual and physical communities as mutually exclusive. Instead, they operate in tandem, “cooperating with and facilitating each other.”
Artist Ken Okiishi jumped in: “It seems what we’re really talking about is the making of a home.” A photograph of Okiishi had been projected across the screen of the lecture hall; in it he is caught midtwirl in Gavin Brown’s cozy upstairs space, black hair whipping across his face. Is the Internet—more and more a proliferation of pictures—a breeding ground for our nostalgia?
“I can’t ever see there being a salon for lawyers,” said Hertling. “We might go out for drinks but it would never influence the way I counsel a client.” Art historian Judith Rodenbeck had noted during the panel how integral food and drink have been to the space of the salon, the way ideas unfold as we put hands to mouth. And then there is skin and all the possibility that comes with skin, the nuances that come with bodies—blushing and touching, eating and drinking.
Gavin Brown hosted his annual Christmas party that night and many from the lecture were there, gathered around two enormous pine trees and lingering near long tables with platters of roast beef, oranges, and ginger cookies. There was the Guggenheim’s Ari Wiseman and the Whitney’s Scott Rothkopf; artists like Nate Lowman, Jordan Wolfson, Adam McEwen, and Nick Relph. Curators Ruba Katrib and Neville Wakefield and dealer Max Falkenstein. Of course Matthew Higgs DJ’d. People smoked inside, and discussions about aesthetics moved on to more visceral explorations of aesthetics. Within the making, critiquing, selling, buying, and curating of art, the professional and personal are inextricable, which is perhaps why the idea of the salon has such currency in the art world.
“The salon has passed,” said Greene Naftali’s Vera Alemani the next night at a benefit hosted at Santos Party House. “It perpetuates dialogue among a set few. We’re more democratic.” There seemed no time or room for nostalgia here; the crowd was too thick, the music too loud, the dancing too fast. Many of the same people from the previous night had came together again, this time to support three nonprofit art organizations—the Kitchen, Primary Information, and Printed Matter—whose spaces and materials had been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. And here we were.
Left: Triple Canopy's Colby Chamberlain with Primary Information cofounder Miriam Katzeff. Right: Artist John Giorno.
It is entirely possible that the salon as a single, set space belonged to an era, and that era may have passed. Or perhaps the salon has merely changed as technology has changed us. What persists, however, is a quality of titillation, the possibility of an evening, the thrill of an idea or a certain cause that draws people together and binds us into something like a community.
The music paused. John Giorno stepped up to stage and announced that he had three poems to share. A rainbow dangled from the ceiling, bathing him in neon light. The crowd grew still.
“May every drug I ever took come back and get you high.”
“Thanks for letting me be a poet. A noble effort but the only choice I had.”
“May Andy come back and make you a superstar. Then everyone can have Andy.”
PHILADELPHIA’S STORIED FABRIC WORKSHOP AND MUSEUM was originally conceived by philanthropist Marion “Kippy” Boulton Stroud as a way to entice artists to incorporate textiles into their practice. Over its extensive history—“thirty-five years, one way or another,” if you ask Kippy—the program has hosted five hundred–plus artists-in-residence, from Mike Kelley, Ed Ruscha, and Felix Gonzales-Torres to Laura Owens, Shahzia Sikander, and Ryan Trecartin. More than just relocating the artists physically, the program moves them out of the comfort zone of their chosen medium, encouraging experimentation with new (for them at least) techniques or materials.
It’s not easy, though, to jar an artist like Daniel Arsham, who has proved fluent in a wide range of genres, including architecture (his Brooklyn-based studio Snarkitecture was commissioned to do the entrance for this year’s Design Miami), stage design, installation, sculpture, and fashion. “Of all the projects I’ve done with Daniel, my favorite still remains the tuxedo for his wedding. It was fantastic!” designer Richard Chai recalled with a grin last Friday at the Fabric Workshop’s space on Arch Street, where we had gathered to celebrate the opening of Arsham’s solo exhibition “Reach Ruin.”
The occasion doubled as the premiere of “Study for Occupant,” the latest in a series of collaborations with the dancer and choreographer Jonah Bokaer, who first started working with Arsham when the artist was designing sets for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. The billing seemed a perfect complement to the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s exhibition “Dancing around the Bride,” which considers Marcel Duchamps’s influence on Cunningham, John Cage, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg. A troupe of former Cunningham dancers had performed one of the revered choreographer’s Events in the museum that very afternoon, but Bokaer was quick to distinguish a separate genesis for Occupant: “Daniel and I met through Merce, so most people immediately look at the work through that lens. But I think you’ll see, the piece is really more in the spirit of Robert Wilson—which is to say, pretty much the complete opposite of what Cunningham was trying to do.”
As we waited for the performance to begin, my New York crew followed the advice of a native Philadelphian, ducking next door to the Reading Street Market, where the vendors were mostly Amish and the baked goods legendary. Not ready to risk a prime seat for a cookie (even “The Best Cookie in the World”), I opted for a spin around the exhibition. One and a half years in the making, “Reach Ruin” is an abstract meditation on Arsham’s experience during Hurricane Andrew, when, having spent the storm huddled in a reinforced closet, the artist awoke to find his Miami home entirely destroyed around him. (The show’s title is actually an anagram for “hurricane.”)
“It’s eerie how Sandy has given the idea a different kind of relevance,” the artist admitted. “It really originated with Andrew, with wanting to create something from the ruins.” Arsham’s chosen medium here is primarily repurposed glass, which is molded into everything from cameras to picture frames to human figures. In the upstairs gallery, viewers congregated in front of a kind of cave carved into the far wall, where the artist had created a seven-minute simulation of a storm, replete with a wind machine, lightning flashes, and a sound track of sixteen simultaneous orchestras all performing Mozart’s Requiem. As a particularly robust gust died down, art historian John Richardson cracked, “All that’s missing is a pair of legs coming out from the sides.” When I repeated that observation later to Mills Moran and Joel Mesler, both dealers gave polite smiles, but refrained from any further comment. (That is, on the record.)
When we were at last given the signal, we filed down to the seventh floor. The entire gallery was bathed in cerulean light and reconfigured into a wide catwalk, with chairs lining up either side of the wall. I was right to skip that cookie; my seat ended up directly across from Kippy, who was sporting pearls and a purple headscarf with all the casual elegance of someone who knows her accomplishments speak for themselves. She was leaning over curator John Ravenal to talk shop with collector Beth Rudin DeWoody, who was wearing sloganed leggings that vaguely suggested that her stems may have been sponsored.
As a point of departure, Arsham had provided Bokaer with plaster Leicas, cast in the same mold as the ceramic camera sculptures on view downstairs. The choreographer had scattered the objects at intervals around the floor, which was diagrammed with chalk outlines of what appeared to be overlapping vulvas. Cocked at angles or propped up on their flashbulbs, the cameras took on alien properties. Four female dancers walked out in clinical, all-white uniforms, their hair pulled back in severe buns. As a drone escalated (Bokaer was personally manning the soundboard), the dancers completed a kind of slow . . . calisthenics with the cameras, pressing them against their bodies, then dragging them along the slivered ovals on the floor, leaving a fresh coat of chalky wake that glimmered in the blue light.
“I may need a drink after this,” one dealer whispered to me as the performance came to an end. “All that camera-copulation demands some kind of release.” The piece was followed by a champagne toast in and around the dance floor, though the lighting obscured the features of the revelers. I made out Al Moran, who was chatting convivially with publicist Shayna McClelland and Kyle DeWoody, while in the next clump over I picked out curator Sarah Aibel and her hunky brother Josh, a director of Philadelphia’s Moderne Gallery. I tried to quiz him on the local scene, but it seemed many of the major players had already slipped out and down the street to Vietnam Palace, a two-story behemoth among the myriad pho joints surrounding Reading Street Market. (“It’s sort of a Fabric Workshop tradition,” I was told.) I tagged along behind Chai and Galerie Perrotin’s Rafael Gatel, who was en route to Savannah College of Art and Design. “It’s quite an intriguing tour of America,” he beamed. “Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Savannah . . . ”
“Wait—why don’t we come here more often?” the collector across from me would marvel later, over steaming platters of tofu and pea shoots. The question prompted fervent nods of agreement from my New York crew, though it also served as a reminder that it was time to catch our train back. If only we had a glass slipper to leave behind (or even a plaster camera).
BEIRUT IS TWO HOURS FROM DAMASCUS BY CAR, an hour from Cairo by plane, and if one were to travel due south and keep going—a journey once common but currently impossible—Beirut would be a leisurely four-hour taxi ride from Gaza City, with a view to the Mediterranean all the way down the coast. But no matter how close, Beirut these days feels a world away from the revolutions and wars that have been rumbling through neighboring countries for nearly two years now. Twelve months ago, the city seemed eerily calm. Now it just seems stagnant, a sad, enervated aberration among the more hopeful strands of the so-called Arab Spring. Upheavals elsewhere in the region have only complicated Lebanon’s problems by subtracting tourism and adding serious economic strain, an idle Syrian elite, and hundreds of thousands of refugees competing for low-wage jobs that have simply vanished, sucked into the vortex of an unofficial unemployment figure that was already drifting well above 25 percent. In the meantime, the government remains as cynical, dysfunctional, and hostile to the betterment of its people as ever, and no meaningful collective movement expressing a demand or even a desire for change has materialized. “What saves you from despair in Beirut,” writes the poet and painter Etel Adnan in her book of letters, Of Cities and Women, “is the very difficulty of living in it.”
And yet, in total defiance or blind indifference to the overall grimness of the situation, the contemporary art scene here continues to grow. There are more artists, galleries, and nonprofit arts organizations than ever before. Initiatives that began as youthful ambitions and scattershot plans have matured into more or less sustainable institutions. Patrons and financial backers both clean and questionable have begun filtering into the system, offering various forms of funding and support. And still the quality of critical discourse remains bracingly high. “It’s becoming impossible to live here,” the curator Ghada Waked told me two weeks ago, as we were standing outside the opening of a splashy new gallery in Mar Mikhael. “But there is still something special about Beirut. There is an urgency to the issues and the discussion of ideas that you don’t find anywhere else.”
Left: Dealer Andree Sfeir-Semler. Right: Ashkal Alwan director Christine Tohme with Home Workspace Program resident professor Matthias Lilienthal.
That opening, for Walid Sadek’s first-ever solo exhibition at a commercial gallery, marked the start of a weeklong surge in late November, as the generation of artists who had jump-started Beirut’s art scene back in the 1990s came together again for the first time in years. In his 1991 novel Mao II, Don DeLillo described the Lebanese capital as a millennial image mill, a place where militia leaders say things like, “We do history in the morning and change it after lunch,” and a totally self-absorbed city where voices on the radio murmur: “Our only language is Beirut.” Displaced by two decades, DeLillo’s observations still held up over a handful of days punctuated by exhibitions, formal dinners, informal talks, fundraisers, and a high-voltage symposium, which was explicitly convened by the artist Akram Zaatari to reconstitute a core group of Beirut-based artists, and to write, revise, and revisit the history of what they’ve done in the twenty years since they met.
Of course, it says something about Beirut’s white-knuckled willingness to risk total failure that the exhibitions for Walid Sadek (at Galerie Tanit-Beyrouth, the new Beirut branch of Naïla Kettaneh Kunigk’s thirteen-year-old gallery in Munich) and Walid Raad (at the Sfeir-Semler Gallery in the industrial district of Karantina) were both nearly derailed by construction and customs, respectively. One of the most difficult artists of the Beirut bunch, Sadek is known for making art from texts and nearly immaterial gestures. The nimbleness of his practice ended up saving the show. On the afternoon before his opening, on November 27, the gallery, which is located on the ground floor of an unfinished apartment building, was still a construction site lacking both walls and windows. Sadek only got into the space that evening. Eight people—friends, students—spent the next seven hours working on a floor drawing. Then, at 3 AM, Sadek shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and wiped the whole thing away. “When it’s not working, you just know,” he said the following night, when the exhibition, titled “On the Labor of Missing,” opened in a barely finished and seemingly empty space. Three works that Sadek described winningly as “furtive”—a tiny drawing, a cement bench, and a wall tag for Henri Matisse’s 1918 painting Violinist at the Window—were tucked into the more unassuming corners of the glass-and-concrete gallery.
No one seemed to mind or be at all surprised. Lebanon’s most senior art critic, Joe Tarrab, who has been drafted as a character into Walid Raad’s ongoing project Scratching on Things I Could Disavow, declared joyously that Sadek’s artwork was the space itself, and the act of bringing us all there. Ghada Waked and the photographer Gilbert Hage congregated with their students (both teach at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts), including the promising young artists Yves Atallah and Joanne Issa. Nearly all of the participants in Ashkal Alwan’s Home Workspace Program, past and present, milled around the crowd, which represented a notably broad cross-section of artists and other creative types—including the filmmakers Ghassan Salhab and Gheith al-Amine, the artists Ali Cherri and Hatem Imam, the designers Karen Chekerdjian and Jennifer Hage Obeid, the singer Hamed Sinno of the band Mashrou’ Leila, and the curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, who did their best Gilbert and George impression (“a young Gilbert and George,” Fellrath stressed. “Very young”), before dashing off to a gala dinner hosted by APEAL, the organization responsible for Lebanon’s national pavilion at the forthcoming Venice Biennale.
Two nights later, on November 29, Raad’s second solo show opened at Sfeir-Semler with an installation so elegant it completely masked the fact that the works had been stuck in customs for weeks, and had been only set loose and delivered to the gallery forty-eight hours earlier. After repeated laps around the cavernous space, filled with the artist’s ongoing series on the history of modern and contemporary art in the Arab world, the crowd decamped to Mayrig, an Armenian-Aleppan restaurant in Gemmayzeh, where I squished into a corner table with Raad, his sister Myrna (Lebanon’s reigning golf champ), the curator Rasha Salti, the artists Tony Chakar and Rayyane Tabet (who was Raad’s student at the Cooper Union), Tamara Corm of Pace London and the Museum of Everything (who also sits on Ashkal Alwan’s board), and my former Bidoun colleague Antonia Carver, the director of Art Dubai, who was in town for a flash visit.
Carver and I opted out of the debauchery to follow at Django, the default dive bar of this particular faction of the art set, to rest up for “History of the Last Things Before the Last: Art as Writing History.” Zaatari organized the symposium, which began the next morning in the incredible factory space in Jisr al-Wati that houses Ashkal Alwan, with Centre Pompidou curator Clément Chéroux. For the next two days, a hearty audience packed in for an earthy interview with the artist Jean-Luc Moulène, a slightly more disconnected talk by the art historian and philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman, and panel discussions revisiting key works by Raad, Chakar, Khalil Joreige, Ghassan Salhab (including a beautiful excerpt from his film 1958), Lamia Joreige, Marwan Rechmaoui (who rarely divulges his working process in public), Ali Cherri (clear-sighted on his recent video installation Pipe Dreams), and Marwa Arsanios (who delivered a lovely talk on her ongoing project All About Acapulco).
Inspired by the writer Siegfried Kracauer’s analogy between the work of photographers and historians, the gist of the symposium was to propose that the artists of Zaatari’s generation were, in effect, writing the history of their time and place in Beirut, not only in the absence of any official histories in Lebanon, but also because facts had proven so slippery that history had become a highly subjective entity suitable to artistic and more specifically photographic practice. This was all well and good until Chéroux asked a clumsy question—“Why does the civil war manifest itself so strongly in architecture?”—which, no matter how many times he rephrased it in English and French, could not stop the sound of a train sliding off its rails. From that point on, everyone was defensive, as in, “Why is the war so present? Let me tell you.” After the second day was done, one curator remarked, not unreasonably, that the participants from the Centre Pompidou, who coordinated the symposium with the Arab Image Foundation and admirably managed to do so despite last-minute cancellations, had mostly been “a nuisance” during an otherwise productive conversation.
Left: Arab Image Foundation director Zeina Arida. Right: Artist Arno Gisinger with art historian and philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman.
“I wanted to bring the artists of my generation back together to talk about their work,” Zaatari said simply, when I asked what had been at stake for him in arranging the event. “Because we don’t meet anymore, or if we do, we meet as friends and we don’t discuss what we do.” On this front, the symposium was a success, and the talk of generations had a galvanizing effect on artists ten to fifteen years younger than Zaatari and his peers. “We come to everything they do,” said one such artist, who divides her time between Beirut and Berlin. “Every show, every talk, we’re there. When I see artists younger than me in Berlin, I wonder what kind of music they listen to, what they’re interested in, because I know they’re cooler than me. This generation of artists will never look at us like that,” she said, “because we follow them everywhere.”
As the discussion drifted out into the night, I realized the symposium also had a structural problem: The artists were mostly from Lebanon, the historians were all from France. No mention had been made of that dynamic. A few notable voices had been missing—the artists Rabih Mroué, Lina Saneh, and Jalal Toufic—but even more painful by their absence were the historians Kamal Salibi, who passed away last year, and Samir Kassir, the charismatic journalist and author of a majestic, six-hundred-page history of Beirut, who was killed in a car-bomb blast in 2005. Twenty years ago, just as Zaatari and co. were starting out, Kassir published a gutsy book on the civil war. He told an interviewer at the time that the hard work of writing Lebanon’s history was “something all the Lebanese have to do if they want to build a political society which is not based on lies.” For the art scene in Beirut to be anything more than anomalous or anachronistic, it might have to start taking that task seriously, not only as the subject of a symposium but also as the stuff of real life.
Left: Collectors Elham and Tony Salamé. Right: Curators Till Fellrath and Sam Bardaouil.
“WHERE IS IT?”
“I don’t know!”
Predictably enough, the only Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Miami Beach was difficult to find. We’d just been ushered out of the lobby of a pricey-looking condominium, where a listless doorman told us, simply, “It’s next door.” But it wasn’t next door; it was in the same building, one door over. The occasion was the setting for a celebration of the 2013 Carnegie International, the first in a series of nationwide run-up events in dives meant to evoke Pittsburgh’s blue-collar bars. Finally finding ourselves in the second-floor VFW (elevator only—no stairs), we encountered pool tables, buckets of bottles of Pennsylvania-based Yuengling (twist-off caps!), sports on TV, and a nicotine-stained mural of Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.
The party filled up, and quickly. The hosts and CI curators Daniel Baumann, Dan Byers, and Tina Kukielski are—I must say—a lot of fun. Byers told us to order drinks by telling the bartender, “It’s on Andy.” (Andrew Carnegie, that is.) An exuberant Baumann regaled us with tales of his recent trip to Tehran. (Being shuttled secretly to art spaces, smuggling rolls of film through airport security.) “I didn’t worry too much about getting caught,” he said. “I’m Swiss!”
Next up: cocktails at the Baibakov residence in the Setai penthouse for Matthew Brannon’s recent Lincoln Center commission. The view from the balcony terrace was breathtaking, and I, for one, couldn’t help but succumb to giggling wonder, I’m only partly embarrassed to say. (Because c’mon, do you often get a bird’s-eye view of Miami’s nighttime skyline, its tropical neon grid? I certainly don’t.) Inside, a Brannon print depicting several kinds of cheeses was for sale, displayed on an iPad that was being passed around. (Jeffrey Deitch, Scott Rothkopf, Christian Rattemeyer, and Cay Sophie Rabinowitz were there.) Brannon’s mood looked good. He was staying in Boca Raton.
A project for future art historians: Examine art-fair-periphery art, the art of corporate hype and cross-promotion, the art of synergistic branding. What are its typologies, its particular traits? The night ended for me, much later, at Güiro, a pop-up bar installed in a porous spheroid structure designed by Los Carpinteros, which was sponsored by Absolut Art Bureau and inspired by Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon. The IKEA minimalism (Swedish, like the vodka!) did not look uncool softly lit in the Miami night, its Scandinavian austerity contrasting with the otherwise ubiquitous lushness of ocean views and infinity pools. Could it be climbed? someone wondered, prodding me to try. (I didn’t.)
Left: MoMA associate curator Christian Rattemeyer. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Mickalene Thomas (left) at the Absolut dinner. (Photo: Billy Farrell Agency)
I was not invited to the two launches for AriZona Beverage’s Richard Prince Lemon Fizz, happening at W South Beach on Wednesday and at the Shelborne Hotel on Thursday. But the next day, morbid curiosity prompted me to visit an affiliated promotional “happy hour” at the faux-lux HaVen Gastro-Lounge with cocktails on offer that contained the stuff. I entered to find myself the first—and only—guest, and a PR representative handed me a drink. (It tasted vaguely like Four Loko.) Projected on the venue’s walls were video images of the Lemon Fizz can, showing not Richard Prince’s art but a dated photograph of his face, looking wan against a neon expressionist backdrop.
Obligations mounted that evening, so I skipped a lot. Marcelo Krasilcic’s book launch at Lords South Beach Hotel? Couldn’t go. MoMA PS1 and VW’s Hurricane Sandy benefit at the Delano, where more than $140K was raised for the Rockaways Waterfront Alliance? Heard it was good. Moncler’s sixtieth anniversary party at that otherworldly, Herzog & de Meuron–designed parking garage? I got there too late. But what can you do? Even if time were on my side and gusts of wind at my back, I would inevitably have missed out. Traffic was bad. Cabs were few. Plus, there are those interminable South Beach nightclub lines, hot with ghoulish entitlement and cluttered with “VIP passes” and people arguing at the door.
Earlier that night, though, I did get to the launch of Terry Richardson’s Hollywood-themed photobook Terrywood at the Standard Spa. I was way early. A sparse crowd milled around, looking bored. One was an octegenarian clad in all white who held a walking stick topped with a polished silver skull. He seemed to know all the Standard staff, and I wondered if he resided at the hotel—living out his twilight years taking evening strolls through fashion parties, appearing, Where’s Waldo–like, in nightlife photographs. I had to leave well before Demi et al. showed up and Azealia Banks performed, but I did witness the arrival of Richardson, signaled by a strobic flash in the corner of my eye. He walked around giving lots of thumbs-ups, and people took his picture.
Left: Joel Hoffman, executive director of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, and artist Josiah McElheny. (Photo: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens) Right: Artists Lionel Maunz and Andrea Merkx. (Photo: Lauren O'Neill-Butler)
HOW MUCH ART CAN YOU TAKE? This is a question that: a) I pondered Thursday morning as I trotted, alongside the legions of art faithful, into the Deauville Beach Resort for the overcrowded opening preview kicking off this year’s edition of NADA Miami Beach; b) probably came to mind because I have a teenage memory of going to a punk club, not so far from this very fair, where I saw the words tattooed across the sweaty chest of a corpulent, probably drunk musician in some fast, loud band, and I guess it seared into my memory; c) pretty much defines my experience at every fair?
Those masses streaming into the Deauville entered a three-ring circus: Le Jardin (house left), the Richelieu Ballroom (center stage), or the Napoleon Ballroom (house right). All in all there were seventy-six exhibitors, and twenty-six NADA project spaces—which is to say, it was only a tad less overwhelming than Art Basel Miami Beach. Napoleon occupied the largest space, and here I found Rachel Uffner’s knockout solo booth featuring three of Sam Moyer’s seven-by-ten-foot weathered wall sculptures: canvases dyed with India ink, folded and creased, and left outdoors to dry. They suitably recalled night swimming in the Atlantic—the best thing to do in Miami. In a similar vein, Photios Giovanis of Callicoon Fine Arts had some new photographs of dimly lit landscapes by A. K. Burns, many drawn from a sci-fi movie she’s currently making. Nearby, Kerry Schuss had unveiled three stellar, little-known geometric drawings by Steven Parrino, made in 1987 and 1990, while Karin Gulbran’s wizardly “Eye Bowls” at White Columns stood out as some of the best, among the very few, ceramics in the “show.” Everyone was deep in brisk business—a particularly great thing for Sandy-affected galleries such as Derek Eller, Churner and Churner, and Foxy Production.
Left: Dealer and artist Margaret Lee with Carnegie International cocurator Tina Kukielski. Right: Dan Nadel and dealer Rachel Uffner. (Photos: Lauren O'Neill-Butler)
In the Richelieu Ballroom, Lionel Maunz had installed two ghastly sculptures in Bureau’s booth—crystalized, archaic forms (of burlap, sugar, and human teeth, among other materials) cast in a degenerative process. 47 Canal’s area meanwhile resembled a little platform, where numerous visitors lingered to chat among works by Gregory Edwards and Stewart Uoo.
Prem Krishnamurthy of Project Projects and the new LES gallery P! was chewing on a Ricola. “It keeps my blood sugar up,” he said, “and it also works against the neutralizing effect of the fair.” Krishnamurthy referred me to Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which clarifies how glucose levels affects our brains. “A study found that some Israeli parole judges, notorious for turning down applications, were more likely to grant parole in cases they heard right after eating,” he relayed. “And not when they were hungry, cranky, or tired.” Apparently this phenomenon of losing brainpower is called “ego depletion.” (Maybe not such a bad thing to encourage in these parts.) “Everything” happens like lightning at the beginning of the fair, said a dealer—aka “Most sales conclude in the first hour, after breakfast.” Then she exhaled a quick “whatever,” perfectly capturing the weird, sad, and real nature of these things.
Left: Photios Giovanis of Callicoon Fine Arts. Right: Dealer James Fuentes. (Photos: Lauren O'Neill-Butler)
Around 6 PM, the subtropical atmosphere mutated colors in typical Florida fashion. Blinding sunshine, blue skies, and puffy white clouds gave way to shades of light green, cotton-candy pink, and silver, turning the leafy plants and ocean into darker hues. There’s a jade I identify with terror twilight in Florida; sometimes you’ll see it spreading across the water. Sometimes it’s everywhere. The light changes fast here, too.
One of the best places to catch sunset in Miami is at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Coconut Grove, specifically along the bay behind the early-twentieth-century faux–Venetian Renaissance house (with its Floridian pastiche of various historical styles). As the soft Technicolor illumination drained from the skies, we raced across the bridge to catch a private screening of Josiah McElheny’s site-specific commissioned project The Light Club of Vizcaya: A Women’s Picture. The crepuscular site was dégagé: A pianist was playing Schönberg, wine was being passed, and the tidy crowd of guests seemed . . . relaxed?
Projected on a screen atop the “mound,” an elevated part of the sprawling estate, and overlooking statuary and themed gardens, McElheny’s thirty-minute film features a script written by Rachel Zolf and narrated in voice-over by Zoe Leonard. This is the story of a woman who . . . well, I won’t say too much except that it unravels through still images and archival documents, a strategy that sometimes recalled Sebald, and that it concerns an underground Tiffany glass spa in the estate “where queers bathed in light and not ruins.”
Screening of The Light Club of Vizcaya: A Women’s Picture at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. (Photo: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens)
“A steady, even light is of the greatest importance,” intones the narrator as the film winds up.
“In fact it is absolutely essential.”
Departing, I spotted an inscription in Latin—Horace—right on the centerpiece of the Vizcaya’s chief façade.
DONA PRAESENTIS CAPE LAETUS HORAE. ACLINQUE SEVERA.
Translation: “Take the Gifts of This Hour. Put Serious Things Aside.”
In Miami? Well I never . . .
I HATE MIAMI. DON’T YOU? Death and doom beneath the surface, tugging at all the smiles desperate for a camera. Bodies working hard to keep up with their implants. Implants working hard to keep up with other people’s implants. Everyone riffing on the “Miami experience,” as if such a thing exists outside the echo chamber of Collins Avenue mania and melancholia. As if the art-world’s “experience” of Miami is anything but a distorted symptom of a few billionaires’ bucket lists. As if ABMB is not the Doomsday Clock for critique, slowly ticking down to the time when “criticism” will be downsized and sublimated into simple, snarky text messages to a friend.
Or, better, a well-timed Instagram. Gavin Brown posts a brilliant mise en abyme (a perversion of the #artselfie form) to the feed: Kanye West holding an Elizabeth Peyton of Kanye West. Celebrity folds into fandom folds into celebrity, all at the “scene” of the fair. Here’s a shot of Urs Fischer and Tony Shafrazi posing as art handlers putting together Nick Relph’s Raining Room on the patio at A-Rod’s $35 million pile on Biscayne Bay. A piece that, incidentally, made its “debut” just a few months back with Herald St. at the Basel iteration of Art Basel. At cocktails at A-Rod’s house on Wednesday night, Matthew Higgs is nearly tackled by security for trying to sneak a shot of the aforementioned installation. I see Martha Stewart, Demi Moore, Owen Wilson, that woman who used to play Jesse’s girlfriend on Full House, but I keep my camera at my hip. Here anyway the art turns more heads than the celebrities. Upstairs, A-Rod has installed an Andrea Bowers sculpture—a record of her experience as a tree-sitting environmental activist—in his batting cage. It seems diabolical, and I give him credit for hyperbolizing the push/pull tension between activism/fetishism, hobby/profession, feminine/masculine, and all the other binaries besides. It’s sleazy and weird in a way everyone likes. Bowers herself cracks jokes, and generally seems to dig the vibe.
Here, on the front page of Wednesday’s Art Newspaper, I learn of a “crisis of values.” Something about curators and critics being “enmeshed in the market.” Lots of ambivalence about the basic fact that, as a friend puts it, “Art costs money. It costs money to make, to see, to sell.” Not to mention to write about. Something about Miami elicits deep ambivalence. It’s something to watch people go through the motions of guilt—to see people look “caught” when you run into them trolling Collins after midnight. But that “guilt” is constitutive of the ideal of the “Miami experience.” You want to be seen with a sheepish grin on your face. I’m waiting for the Nan Goldin of this milieu—someone who captures the obscene mix of contrived exuberance that coagulates into a “scene.” Or maybe I need look no further than Billy Farrell? (Or cf. Instagram, above.)
FOMO. “Fear of missing out.” Here’s the defining symptom of ABMB and it snaps through our heads at text-message speed and crystallizes into the “action.” You’ve been waiting an hour and a half (poolside, at the Delano) for the A$AP Rocky concert to start, and maybe you should be at the event hosted by LA MoCA, Vanity Fair, Starz, and Samsung Galaxy at the Raleigh. Or the Chanel and Art.sy Beachside BBQ at Soho Beach House. Or the launch for AriZona Beverage’s Richard Prince Lemon Fizz at . . . well, maybe you weren’t invited. But then A$AP Rocky jumps onstage and, for the entirety of his fifteen-minute set, you’re reminded that the heady concoction of money and attitude and desire and publicity sometimes lands you somewhere special.
Left: Sia and Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Dealers Andrew Kreps and Chiara Repetto. (Photo: Allese Thomson)
You’re even reminded of that at the fair—I hate the fair. Don’t you?—when you round a corner and run into Michael Smith’s 1979/2003 slide show w/ sound track The U.S.A. Freestyle Disco Contest at Greene Naftali. The party “installed” in the belly of the beast. That it’s a piece both from and about disco’s denouement makes the gesture all the more out of time and somehow trenchant. The feeling of being too late to the party, the mortification over but continual engagement with the lifelines of a “scene,” is resonant—though maybe simply because everything “resonates” when several thousand people are mired in a ten-block radius, hopped up on alcohol and sunshine for days on end.
You’re reminded of this special stuff too when you see the new Ryan McGinley photos at Team, or when you walk through Wallspace and Casey Kaplan and other galleries still downed by Hurricane Sandy, setting up shop here to keep the homefront afloat up there. Or when you spot Julia Dault’s new paintings at Harris Lieberman. Or spy all those Koons up for grabs at Gagosian. Or when you drop by the other galleries from abroad—young and old, big and small—who connect the global dots and broaden horizons and conversations. And you remember that the money made and spent (and occasionally, quite literally, torn up in front of you) translates and transmogrifies into other, sometimes very different, forms of capital elsewhere that help float a whole big art-world boat. You hold up that trinket you nabbed at the Jonathan Horowitz “free store” at the SLS Hotel (hosted by Visionaire, NET-A-PORTER.COM and MR PORTER.COM). And you remember that moment at A-Rod’s when you ran into Sia, lyricist and guest singer for Rihanna’s #1 hit “Diamonds.” You remember that song playing in the background as she crooned along—without cynicism or irony or detachment—and invited you to touch her face and feel the vibrations in her vocal chords and nasal passages, and how you wondered how these tumid parties also make room for weird and joyous and intimately human moments.
Left: Visionaire editor Cecilia Dean. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Models advertise the Jonathan Horowitz free store. (Photo: David Velasco)
“This is what it’s all about! Together on Collins! Midnight! 70 degrees!” shouts Tina Kukielski, cocurator of the next Carnegie International. Was this before or after her weird and joyous and intimate smoke-saturated party at the lounge for the Veterans of Foreign Wars? Does before or after even matter here in FOMO-land? The people on Collins are shamelessly beautiful and a different Rihanna song radiates from every car. There’s an incredible little sandwich place around the corner on Fourteenth and Washington that’s open from 9 AM to 6 AM. The text messages are all witty and poignant and evanescent. All your friends are at the next party. There’s always a next party.
I love Miami. Don’t you?
Left: Dealers Glenn Scott Wright and Victoria Miro. Right: A$AP Rocky at the Delano. (Photos: David Velasco)
AT 8 PM last Tuesday, I was in a taxi moving through a light rain to the Standard Hotel. Suddenly, the sky lit up. “What’s that?” said the startled driver. “A rainbow?” It was. A rainbow in the dark—namely Global Rainbow, After the Storm, a public artwork made of laser beams by Yvette Mattern, an American artist who lives in Berlin. For three nights, it would shoot thirty miles from the roof of the Standard across Manhattan to the parts of Brooklyn devastated by Hurricane Sandy. “Beautiful,” the driver said.
At the Standard, the Art Production Fund, which facilitated the installation, was toasting Mattern in a ground-floor lounge. “It all happened so fast, in just one week,” said APF cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal. “The best part was that it came with its own funding.” Everything was donated: the work itself, which Mattern is touring on commissions from cities around the world; the $80,000 lasers by Lightwave International; and the rooftop by the hotel. Waves for Water and the New York Foundation for the Arts, nonprofits that had already established channels for donations, welcomed the beacon as a call to action.
As it happened, the Armory Show was hosting a party for Liz Magic Laser that evening in the top-floor Boom Boom Room, where some guests mistook the rainbow for hers. Outside on the roof, there was no confusion. Just astonishment. The lasers zoomed over the city skyline in six divergent straight lines that met at what Villareal observed was “a perfect illustration of the vanishing point.” Viewed from the ground, Mattern said, the curve of the earth made the beams appear to arc. But as the week went on, the beams also seemed to signal the openings of galleries in Chelsea that had been in dry dock since the storm.
On Wednesday night, a smiling Barbara Gladstone presided over a reception for Carroll Dunham, whose new paintings suggest a tree-torn island visited by an especially randy Gauguin. “I was actually thinking about Gauguin,” Dunham admitted. Only here, the body of the female figure flying through several canvases with an upturned rear, pronounced pudenda, and wild black hair, is white. “I was tired of all the pink!” said Dunham of the exposed flesh dominating other recent bodies of his work. “It was starting to look like they were just about pornography. And they’re not.”
Across the street, the Fredericks & Freiser space so recently full of water was now so packed with people celebrating David Humphrey’s first show with the gallery, they obliterated any close view of what looked like a great leap forward in his painting. Thursday night brought Keltie Ferris’s luminous debut with Mitchell-Innes & Nash, on which it seemed half of Bushwick had descended. “Yeah!” said Ferris. “All my friends are here.”
Metro Pictures stretched out with a surpassing, twenty-year retrospective of works by Gary Simmons—chalkboards, drawings, Polaroids, white boxing gloves, gold sneakers, KKK hoods—the whole angry, beautiful, post-black lot. While Whitney curator Carter Foster and artist Robert Longo checked them out, Simmons sat at a table, signing copies of Paradise, a new monograph from Damiani. “Do you need me to write something special?” he asked. I was hoping for poetry, but I thought he would just erase it. On the other hand, if he did I’d go home with more art.
Instead, I went a little farther uptown, to Stage 37, where Performa was holding its postponed benefit gala, titled “Relâche – The Party,” after a multidisciplinary collaboration in 1924 by Erik Satie, Francis Picabia, Rene Clair, and more. The first person I saw was another historic figure—the New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, possibly the most dedicated follower of fashion on the planet. “I love it when people make an effort,” he said of the five hundred guests around us. A healthy percentage had eagerly stepped up to the dress code’s “black and white haute couture.” Some, including Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg and Cindy Sherman, were wearing designs by Maria Cornejo, though National Arts Club curator Stacy Engman turned heads with a Philip Treacy hat that looked like a spray of electrified black hair.
During cocktails, the twelve-piece Furniture Orchestra, led by conductor Luciano Chessa, ambled through clutches of artists, dealers, and patrons playing Satie. Some wandered onto the mezzanine to pose for instant black-and-white portraits supplied by the photographer, Jonathan Hokklo, while Entr’acte, a short film by Clair, kept the black-and-white images coming on a screen hung from the ceiling.
Once diners were seated, collector Laura Skoler appeared on a catwalk extending from the stage and was immediately engulfed by male dancers in black suits to perform a balletic striptease choreographed by Ryan McNamara. When they were down to their white unitards, a still-clothed McNamara was hoisted into the air by cables that left him suspended there for nearly ninety minutes—a world record for hanging in a harness, he told me later. Plenty of time for him to drop his pants.
Left: Artist Keltie Ferris and dealer Jay Gorney. Right: Artists Sanya Kantarovsky and Liz Magic Laser and High Line Art Program curator Cecilia Alemani.
Dinner was no less challenging. An appetizer of raw carrots, mushroom soil, and snails was set in the center of each table, where diners could help themselves if they were up to it. Large beet coals roasted black followed. This proved resistant to a knife. Next came little pumpkins filled with I don’t know what, though newly appointed Jewish Museum curator Jens Hoffmann, seated to my right, gave it a go. Our little plates—the only size available—were a mess, but no one offered to change them.
Before the waiters brought golden birdcages with lumps of stuffed quail nestled at the bottom and peacock feathers sprouting from the top, Goldberg began her introduction to the evening’s honoree, art historian Milly Glimcher, by posing a question. “Why are we serving food when so many around us are suffering?” Goldberg said. “Because art is essential for survival too.” I love art. But I don’t want it in my food.
The program continued with the presentation of Glimcher’s trophy—a large wooden torpedo by Marianne Vitale that dwarfed the honoree—and a live auction that brought Performa an additional $83,000 to the $450,000 that the sale of tickets had already raised. One artwork on the block was a private dinner for ten to be arranged by Rirkrit Tiravanija. If only he were here.
At last, McNamara was brought down to earth and carried off in a wheelchair; aerialists costumed in polka-dotted unitards performed like pole dancers using only lengths of white sheets. A dance party brought new arrivals in from the street, where I saw one woman emerge from a limousine and prepare to enter by spraying her hands with bright red paint.
“Well,” said dealer Marc Glimcher as he donned his coat, “it wasn’t your grandfather’s gala.”
Friday night, as the art troops packed for Miami Basel, Andrea Rosen reopened her flagship gallery and introduced a new project space down the street with “Cellblock I” and “Cellblock II,” two group exhibitions organized by Robert Hobbs as an absorbing visual essay. Built around the idea and the shape of a jail cell, the show offered paintings, drawings, and sculpture by the likes of Peter Halley, Donald Judd, Marcel Broodthaers, Vito Acconci, Robert Gober, Jackie Winsor, Sterling Ruby, and Ad Reinhardt.
Let them go to Miami, I thought. Let them have their product promotions and flashy parties around the pool. The real action is here, in the galleries, where survivors get their food.
THIS WAS ALWAYS supposed to be a big year. The ancient Mayans pegged it as the last gasp of “Baktun 13,” a 144,000-day planetary cycle that will reach its pinnacle on December 21, the winter solstice. Interpreters of Nostradamus, who studied the Mayan calendar, predict that date will bring the end of the world. Don’t hold your breath.
In the Yucatán peninsula, where December 21 means a fresh start, Baktun 13 is also shorthand for the Fund for the Conservation of the Cultural Heritage of Mayan Villages. Founded by preservationist Claudia Madrazo de Hernández to restore Mayan culture and provide education grants to citizens of the Yucatecan villages where one and a half million descendants still live. Most travel long distances in overcrowded vans to work in Mérida, one of the few capital cities that has yet to mount a major art fair or biennial to boost its depressed fortunes.
Nonetheless, contemporary art is still an attraction, especially in remote regions. So, to draw attention to her project, Madraza arranged a benefit concert by Philip Glass, who performed November 14 in an amphitheater designed by James Turrell, long a favorite of the patron. About five hundred people invited to buy $400 tickets showed up for the event, which had an art-fair style VIP program around it. They were fans of Glass, followers of Turrell, and friends of the Hernandez family, which is enormous. Guests came from Mexico City, Europe, India, Brazil, and Korea. A few live in Mérida, about an hour’s drive from Hacienda Ochil, where the concert took place.
Left: DJ Donna D’Cruz. Right: Marylou Bosoms, Roberto Hernandez, Casilda Madrazo, Marylou Fernandez, and Claudia Madrazo de Hernández.
Over the past sixteen years, Madrazo and her billionaire husband, Roberto Hernández, have been buying and revitalizing such haciendas, the centuries-old plantations that were the backbone of the Yucatán economy until synthetics wiped out the global market for hemp and sent the Mayan villages surrounding them into steep decline. In her introduction to the concert, Madrazo recalled Turrell’s first visit to the hacienda’s quarrylike cenote, or sinkhole, some seven years ago. There are many such caverns across the peninsula, which has no lakes or rivers. For the Maya, the underground streams in the cenotes were a primary source of fresh water, which otherwise has to come from the sky in the rainy season. They’re sacred places. “Tonight we celebrate the wonders of the past and the challenges of the present,” Madrazo said. “There is so much to do to keep it alive. And don’t worry,” she added. “The world is not going to end.” Recounting how Turrell took one look at the cenote and saw an amphitheater, she said, “He drew it on a napkin—and this is what came out.”
The stage was on a man-made island over the mouth of the underground cave. The pool around it was saturated in Turrellian light. Turrell also designed the lighting for the show, which was as beautiful as one might expect from an artist whose career has been all about deepening auras. A pine tree native to the area, its roots exposed, arced behind Glass’s grand piano, and throughout the concert, the color of the lights on both pool and tree slowly dissolved into nearly every color of the spectrum. The amphitheater itself was surrounded by trees; at moments, the musicians had to compete with crickets and cicadas. Most glorious were the theater’s acoustics. Despite the space’s being open to the sky, they were crystal.
Glass performed his unplugged program with two collaborators: Foday Musa Suso, a composer and musician from Gambia, and the American percussionist Adam Rudolph. Most of the songs were gentle, melodic, and sweet, carried by West African rhythms that Glass seamlessly merged with his own accumulating structures. But the highlight of the show was a solo he performed on the piano—the only time that the emotional tenor of the music reached a dramatic peak.
After the 10 PM finale, the audience raced to a dance party on the hacienda’s plaza. Now ravenous, people searched in vain for food. It was scarce. But the drinks were plentiful and DJ Donna D’Cruz, imported from New York, stood atop a pyramid of steps bathed in red light, spinning her mash-ups and swinging in a fringed dress of silver lamé. For all intents and purposes, she was the queen of the night.
But first the concertgoers surrounded the musicians and Turrell, who now strongly resembles Saint Nicholas. I asked about the onstage tree. “It’s always been there,” he said. “Best performer in the show!” (Glass was out of earshot.)
Among Turrell’s supporters was a trio of his far-flung dealers: from Aspen, Richard Edwards; from Munich, Wolfgang Häusler; and from Paris, Almine Rech, accompanied by her husband Bernard Ruiz-Picasso. Turrell was the first artist Rech showed when she opened her gallery and they’ve worked together ever since. Dealer Jose Kuri was there too, but he and Monica Manzutto have a vacation home near Mérida, where expat artists Jorge Pardo, Vija Celmins, and James Brown have also put down roots. (Brown and his wife, Alexandra, were my hosts for the week.) Otherwise, art people were outnumbered by Hernández family members and conservationists.
Next day, Brown welcomed fifty guests from Mexico City to his warehouse-size studio in Mérida, invited by British-born banker Damian Fraser and his wife, Paloma Poraz, curator of the Museo de San Ildefonso. After a scrumptious Yucatecan lunch at the Brown family home nearby, I headed off for Hacienda Tecoh, a ninety-minute drive away and five miles up a winding, unpaved road. Tecoh is another Hernández property on the ruins of a seventeenth-century hacienda turned into a modernist palace by Pardo. Though it functions as a guesthouse, it is really a total artwork, a showcase for everything that Pardo knows how to do: architecture, lamps, furnishings, cabinets, tilework. It’s all here in one gleaming package.
“It was a cattle ranch and then a sisal plantation,” said Madrazo. Her foundation, she hopes, will help the Mayan villagers become more self-sustaining. “For me,” she said, “the most wonderful thing about the Maya is the way they represent reality. It’s not horizontal, or up or down. It’s cosmic. They’re obsessed with cycles. They perform rituals but they have lost touch with their meaning and history. We are all losing a sense of who we are as humans. With overdevelopment, we are destroying our own destiny.”
There are still pyramids in the villages, she said. There are sixteenth-century churches and ancient cenotes. The traditional domestic architecture—oval stone houses with deeply thatched palm roofs—is five thousand years old. It’s all worth conservation.
Despite her relationship to Turrell and Pardo, Madrazo does not buy art. “I made a decision not to collect,” she said. “Just to build these site-specific projects. There’s so much to do. But I have a motto: If you think you’re there, you took the wrong turn.”