Left: Victoria Mikhelson and Venice Biennale artistic director Massimiliano Gioni. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Artist Ragnar Kjartansson (left).
EVEN BEFORE THE FIRST BELLINIS could be served, this year’s Venice Biennale kicked off with a hangover. The S.S. Hangover, to be precise—a repurposed Icelandic sailing ship loaded with chamber musicians, the latest in Ragnar Kjartansson’s endurance-based performances. “When I first saw the boat, I thought it looked like something made by a set designer,” chuckled the artist. “It’s like a bastard of all the boats I could have wanted.” We stood on the lawn beside the Gaggiandre, the dock area outside the Arsenale where the work makes its rounds. At that early hour, 10 AM on Tuesday, I harbored high hopes that the biennial would offer a comparable love child—just the right amount of everything. I wasn’t disappointed.
This year, Venice may have lost its Charles Ray, but the biennial itself saw some welcome updates. Chief among them was the introduction of a sane and orderly Tuesday press preview, which meant relative calm in the Giardini, with manageable queues, artists breathing easily, and tote bags still available at every folding table.
I was a bit taken aback, then, to run into dealer Alexander Hertling and artist Neil Beloufa amid the crowd in front of the Central Pavilion. “I thought today was just for press?” Leery after reports of unreliable weather, some of us had gone out the door in our shabby-chic (and weather-friendly) reporter duds—hardly a match for a fleet of well-dressed dealers. “No, artists too,” Hertling corrected, as Mario Testino sailed by to double kiss a collector in the doorway.
Anything goes, I suppose, which was certainly the feel of this year’s main exhibition, “The Encyclopedic Palace,” curated by the New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni. Rather than try to recap trends of the past two years, the exhibition finds inspiration in outsider artist Marino Auriti, who in 1955 took out a patent on an imaginary museum that could contain all manner of human endeavor. Following this conceit, Gioni has transformed the Central Pavilion into a “temporary museum” of knick-knacks, oddballs, and hermetic wonders, a disparate collection of works—from Levi Fisher Ames’s hand-carved creatures to critic Roger Caillois’s rock collections to Maria Lassnig’s electric-lemonade-edged “drastic paintings”—that share one thing: a kind of obsessive relation to the world. Some might complain that the “have your cake and eat it too” encyclopedia scenario enables a dicey slippage between museum and biennial curatorial strategies. But of course historical and structural promiscuity has its advantages—and not just for the curator.
The Central Pavilion was riveting from the get-go, with Achilles G. Rizzoli’s early-twentieth-century “symbolic sketches” of people-as-architecture juxtaposed with Jack Whitten’s bricolage memorial to 9/11. Further on, Ron Nagle’s marvelous Sleep Study ceramics (he makes them before going to bed) canoodle with collages by Geta Bratescu and a procession of lilting shiva linga paintings, anonymous works with tantric purposes. An outdoor garden is punctuated with Sarah Lucas’s sculptures, her puckered “Nuds” now cast in bronze, as evocative as ever, though now with more (literal) gravity. A Dorothea Tanning self-portrait of the artist on the edge of a precipice in Sedona, Arizona, is hung so that the abyss she faces is filled with Fischli & Weiss’s Suddenly This Overview, 1981–, a sprawling collection of witty clay sculptures illustrating phrases ranging from “Doctor Hoffmann on the first LSD trip” (a man on a bike) to “Mr and Mrs. Einstein, shortly after the conception of their son Albert” (a couple in a bed). The oldest works in the “Palace” were a set of intricate drawings from a Shaker community that had experienced visions, which they tried to record in what became known as “gift paintings.”
Left: French pavilion curator Christine Macel. Right: White Columns director Matthew Higgs, artist Anne Collier, and dealers Eva Presenhuber and Toby Webster in the British pavilion.
In the Arsenale, Gioni routed visitors through several gauntlets of photographs by the likes of J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Eliot Porter, and Christopher Williams (“He wasn’t kidding about that encyclopedia thing, was he?” a friend mused) before leading into works by Danh Vo, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Albert Oehlen, and R. Crumb, whose sprawling Book of Genesis appears in full. This was all capped by a new three-thousand-square-foot installation by Ryan Trecartin, a section guest-curated by Cindy Sherman, and a pseudoretrospective of Stan VanDerBeek (via his own “encyclopedic” Movie Mural).
In the Giardini, architecture itself seemed the theme of the day, with Sarah Sze dissolving the bounds between indoors and out with her expansive installation Triple Point at the US pavilion, and Simryn Gill removing the roof altogether from the Australian digs. The Georgian pavilion looked a little Swiss Family Robinshvili, a treehouse tacked onto an older building, but, as artists Sergei Tcherepnin and Gela Patashuri explained, this type of parasitic “kamikaze loggia” is a relatively common feature in Tbilisi. In the Israeli pavilion, a giant hole in the floor marks the “tunnel” used by the long-distance spelunkers of Gilad Ratman’s The Workshop, who leave behind crude clay portraits as proof of their passage. Korean curator Seungduk Kim wanted the country’s artist to feature the pavilion, rather than the other way around. Accordingly, Kimsooja’s To Breathe covered the walls and floor in reflective paneling, drawing attention to the building itself. Visitors removed their shoes and went one by one into a sensory deprivation chamber. An intoxicating experience to be sure, but the combined odor of all that calle-cruising had me wishing for a more sustained olfactory deprivation.
France and Germany swapped pavilions this year, allowing Christine Macel’s installation of a stunning Anri Sala video to take full advantage of the borrowed building’s height. Germany, meanwhile, thematized the shake-up, expanding the concept of “nation” by importing four non-German-born artists, including Ai Weiwei. Meanwhile, at the British pavilion, Jeremy Deller unleashed some English Magic, featuring, among other engagé works, a mural resurrecting Victorian socialist and aesthete William Morris so he could shuck Roman Abramovich’s yacht Luna—infamous for ruining the vista at the last Biennale—into the Grand Canal. Narratives collide in a film playing in the back room, where viewers watched from a seat on an overturned car. “I haven’t seen anything yet,” Gioni moaned, edging closer to the video monitor. He paused, in obvious thought: “You know, that would actually make for a good show title.”
Show titles made up the substance of the Romanian pavilion across the bridge, where artists Alexandra Pirici and Manuel Pelmus used Tino Sehgal–tested tactics to present An Immaterial Retrospective of the Venice Biennale, which retold pivotal moments of the exhibition’s history through choreographed miming with what, at first, seemed incidental audience members. I walked in on David Lamelas’s Office of Information. “There was a desk,” the narrator announces, as one performer gets on his hands and knees. “And a window,” the narrator continues, spurring a second figure to flatten himself into a more or less convincing pane. Next door, crowds recollect their own highlights while waiting for Konrad Smoleński’s bells to ring (every hour on the hour) at the Polish pavilion.
The waning crowds and peeling bells reminded me of other, “collateral” commitments. So then it was off to the Palazzo Pisani Moretta for a lavish dinner in honor of Gioni, cohosted by the New Museum, Lietta and Dakis Joannou, Beatrice Trussardi, and Leonid Mikhelson, who presented the man of the week with a photo from an ice-fishing expedition in Russia. “I hooked two fish at once,” the curator beamed. “I don’t know how or what it means, but I did it.” Later on, New Museum director Lisa Phillips stood up to give a toast: “Massimiliano has raised the bar, not only for biennials, but for museums as well.” Gioni ducked under his napkin in embarrassment, then countered with a toast of his own. Pulling out a set of cards (“I know I’m supposed to be the youngest director, but I’m already losing my memory”), Gioni graciously thanked those who have stood by him: “There is this quote I like about how art is exercise to learn the things you can’t understand. Let’s just say, the New Museum has been my gym.”
As everyone turned back to their risotto, Dakis Joannou stood to give the last word: “Massimiliano, Lisa said you reinvented fire. The problem now is that you’ve set us all on fire too.”
Left: At the Romanian pavilion. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Artist Helen Marten (left).
ONE WAY TO THE VENICE BIENNALE is through Rome. A healthy swath of the art tribe took that option last Sunday, when MAXXI, the National Museum of XXI Century Arts, hosted the gala premiere of “Galleria Vezzoli.” It was the first installment of a three-part, multinational career retrospective for Francesco Vezzoli, the Italian artist that many Americans love to hate.
“Why is that?” asked the dealer Almine Rech, who attended with her husband Bernard Picasso and other longtime Vezzoli supporters in Europe, such as the erstwhile Italian supermodel Mirella Haggiag, the designer and collector Miuccia Prada, collector Beatrice Trussardi, and the Milanese dealer Gió Marconi, who gave Vezzoli his very first gallery exhibition—“the one where Miuccia discovered Francesco’s work,” he said.
The evening, a fund-raiser that celebrated the post-Berlusconi government’s approach to cultural affairs—one that accepts American-style private support for public institutions—amounted to something of a state dinner. Instead of the movie stars who have come out for Vezzoli in Los Angeles, New York, and Paris, the event drew politicians, collectors, dealers, and curators, as well as royal personages like Gloria von Thurn und Taxis and Alessandra Borghese. They all rubbed shoulders with Balthus’s kimono-clad widow, Countess Setsuko Klossowska de Rola, the film directors Liliana Cavani and Bernardo Bertolucci, and Klaus Biesenbach and Jeffrey Deitch, the directors of the two American museums that will house the other two parts of the retrospective, MoMA PS1 and LA MoCA.
The showwhich includes Vezzoli’s embroideries (hooker calling cards and tearful cultural icons), classical statuary holding flat-screen monitors showing videos, marble busts of the artist, and the installation of a cinema that he once made for the Prada Foundation in Venicecreated a nineteenth-century-style salon that beautifully offsets the museum’s rather clumsy, futuristic design by architect Zaha Hadid. Though it pleased the majority of those who accepted the self-portraiture as both an art-historical critique and an indictment of celebrity culture, one resistant guest called it “sheer narcissism” before stealing into the sweeping Luigi Ghirri retrospective on view in adjacent galleries.
This was the first time that the museum had held a dinner in its lobby. MAXXI president Giovanna Melandri emphasized the new chapter in patronage represented by the gala, which added four hundred thousand euros to the institution’s coffers. She also congratulated Vezzoli for rising to the challenge of Hadid’s architecture before concluding with an aphorism. “Let’s remember,” she said, “that of all lies, art is the least deceitful.”
After a lengthy speech by curator Anna Mattirolo that set many eyes rolling, a diplomatic Vezzoli allowed that “making this exhibition was a moment of extreme happiness,” while acknowledging, “Happiness is not common to contemporary art.” Then it was Hadid’s turn to express happiness with a show that “combines art with film, fashion, and many other things.” Adding a sweet personal note, she invoked the spirit of Herbert Muschamp, naming the late architecture critic as the mutual friend who introduced her to Vezzoli two decades ago. Then she gave the museum her own poke in the ribs. “I remember when I first heard the museum was called MAXXI,” she said, “I was horrified. It means something rather different in English. But when I realized it meant a museum of the twenty-first century, I calmed down.”
Left: Curator Alex Gartenfeld. Right: Collectors Shelley Fox Aarons and Phil Aarons.
Rome is actually enjoying something of a contemporary art resurgence, particularly within institutions. On view in the Eternal City are two Sterling Ruby shows (at the Fondazione Memmo and at MACRO, the contemporary exhibition space in a former abattoir) and “Empire State,” an exhibition of art from New York curated by Norman Rosenthal and Alex Gartenfeld for the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. Gartenfeld led a few of us visiting New Yorkers through galleries that showed R. H. Quaytman, Virginia Overton, Ryan Sullivan, and Keith Edmier to great advantage. As a whole, though, the show felt, perhaps naturally, somewhat disconnected from its source, though the Helmut Newton retrospective upstairs seemed right at home.
Monday brought an unexpected pleasure, when independent curator Cristiana Perrella and Gagosian Rome director Pepi Marchetti Franchi arranged a private tour of the Villa Borghese, where Thomas Houseago has two monumental plaster figures installed in the aviary. They were surprisingly well suited to the site, though for those of us on the tour—Rech, Picasso, Carl D’Alvia (currently a fellow at the American Academy in Rome), and yours truly—the chance to commune at length with the astonishing Berninis and Caravaggios in this museum on a day when it was closed to the public was a little bit of heaven.
That evening, after visiting the converted seventeenth-century stable where Lorcan O’Neill will move his gallery in the fall, the dealer brought me to the opening of Joan Jonas’s wonderful, fish-themed solo show of ice drawings, ink paintings, and video at the nearby Alessandra Bonomo gallery. This event also attracted Luigi Ontani and private dealer Damiana Leoni, who had that day lost her YouTube campaign for a local political office. I would see Ontani again a short time later at the American Academy, which was bestowing its McKim Medal on Maestro Bertolucci during a gala dinner at the Villa Aurelia, on the 120-year-old institution’s ravishingly beautiful grounds.
On hand were two previous medal winners (Ontani and Prada), the outgoing American ambassador David Thorne, board members Robert Storr and Francine Prose, philanthropist Mercedes Bass, director Christopher Celenza, poet Karl Kirchwey, and architect Valentina Moncada. The dinner, which raised money specifically to bring Italian artists and scholars to join the Rome Prize–winning Americans in residence next year, brought the sort of cultural Italian-American exchange that is the institution’s mission into focus with an elegance and purpose that made the hill where it sits feel like the Olympus of intellectual life. Which it kind of is.
“No one could exemplify film better than Bernardo Bertolucci,” said Adele Chatfield-Taylor, the Academy’s soon-to-retire president of twenty-five years. Noting that the nine-time Oscar winner is among those individuals who have “changed the world in his medium,” she brought the young actress Tea Falco to present the maestro with the medal, fashioned by jeweler Fabio Salini from a design by Cy Twombly. Though now confined to a wheelchair, following an operation that left him partly paralyzed, Bertolucci was as fascinating as ever, right down to his scarlet sneakers. “My father presented me with Moby-Dick when I was too young to read it,” he said in an acceptance speech that illustrated the high points of his own enduring exchange with American culture, one that he characterized as an “affair.” The opening phrase, “Call me Ishmael,” had a lasting resonance, as did his introduction to jazz. “For me,” he said, “it meant America.” The classic John Ford western Stagecoach “became for me like Homer,” he said, before recalling how he marched with other Italians against the war in Vietnam while smoking pot and listening to Bob Dylan. “So there was a conflict,” he admitted. “But I was very comfortable with that conflict.”
That got a big laugh from an audience that could easily recall feeling the same. Of course, such contradictions are what make the world go round, and a few hours later they would turn it to Venice.
AFTER A YEARLONG HIATUS, the eighteenth Art-Athina hit the ground running on the evening of Thursday, May 16, and the former Olympic “Tae Kwon Do” Pavilion was packed with enthusiastic party people. The fair had a more national flavor than ever this year under its new director, Alexis Caniaris, the son of recently deceased artist Vlassis Caniaris, whose iconic modern work has recently found great success on the international market. Of the very few foreign galleries exhibiting, most were Greek-owned. The Breeder gallery was dealing with the perceived drop in the market by selling fantastic multiples by artists like Stelios Faitakis, Jannis Varelas, and Andreas Angelidakis at crisis-appropriate prices. “Nobody wants to come here now, but I have already met three interested billionaire collectors today. And if Greeks like you they introduce you to their billionaire friends,” raved Cologne dealer Mirko Mayer, a seven-time exhibitor. “That is what nobody knows: There are at least one-hundred billionaires collecting here.” Most international collectors were delayed several hours due to a union strike, a de rigueur mode of arrival in contemporary Greece.
In lieu of minimal foreign participation, Greek galleries came out of the woodwork, making the fair an excellent snapshot of the country’s current art production and market. “It is important to support the system by being here,” said dealer Eleni Koroneou. Glaring exceptions were Kappatos Gallery, whose booth was mysteriously empty, and Bernier/Eliades. Getting a bad case of agoraphobia among the swarmed dealer booths, on the main floor, I headed upstairs to check out the forty-six international artist-run “Platforms,” invited by curator Artemis Potamianou to present their projects. Michalis Adamis’s mechanical mice running around the floors were amusing likenesses of the frenetic fairgoers below. Sweden’s Museum of Forgetting showcased work by artists Iman Issa, Daniela Ortiz, and Núria Güell. The latter two focused on immigration issues in compelling videos: In Forcible Drugging to Deport, Ortiz reads the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement while being injected with sedatives used forcibly by US border guards; Humanitarian Aid documents Güell’s interview with a prospective Cuban spouse, who had won the chance to marry her and obtain a Spanish visa by submitting love letters, which were displayed on the wall.
Left: Artist Angelika Vaxevanidou and curator Artemis Potamianou. Right: Artist Manos Tsatiris performing Assault.
It was impossible to miss the exuberant activities of the DaDa Da restaurant, a Greek-Austrian collaboration where artist Albert Mayr was waving a skillet and raving nonsense while Lucas Willmann tenderized pink fillets for Wiener schnitzel. “This is Viennese Actionism light,” quipped critic Sotirios Bahtsetzis. Artist Natasha Papadopoulos added, “But here there are hungry Greeks waiting!” On a table with a rotating Sacher tort by Hélène van Duijne, a sign carried the overwhelming spirit: FUCK ART, LET’S EAT SOUVLAKI. An insistent electronic beat and pulsating light emanated from the next booth, the American College of Greece’s “Athens/Urgent,” while hooded performer Manos Tsatiris stood against the wall with his hands tied, perhaps a metaphor for the current Athenian exigency. “This is not the kind of art fair scene we are used to,” said the Economou Collection’s Annie-Claire Geisinger, watching the madness.
I was lucky enough to escape before the crowds, nevertheless encountering the beginnings of a growing traffic jam at the exit on our way to the Kunsthalle Athena, in the hip and edgy Metaxourgeio quarter. We heard nobody had yet arrived for the party, so we stopped at The Friends taverna to dine among the chilled-out chess players and neighborhood dogs. Around midnight we headed to the opening of “This Must Be the Place,” with shows by Katerina Kana, Petros Touloudis, and Thanos Kyriakides. The decadent atmosphere of the Kunsthalle is inevitably part of the art, and Kyriakides had fashioned striking constructions of black yarn, one a virtual column, throughout the rooms. The party moved from there onto the terrace, where people were huddled in groups under the stars among the sympathetic ruins of past installations.
The fair was pleasantly tranquil the next day, so I started at a panel organized by Marina Fokidis, where Filipa Ramos spoke about UFOs and recreating the feeling of being someplace in a particular moment through contemporary technology, citing the absurdity today of Saint Augustine’s distraction by a little bird outside his writing studio. Next I took in the exhibition “Paradise Lost,” where curator Potamianou had skillfully integrated works of participating galleries. A highlight was Panos Tsagaris’s I Have Carried Away the Darkness by My Strength, the text inscribed in 23kt gold on a digital print of his arm; the haunting coda a beautiful girl passing in a car, in Roderik Henderson’s photograph Cassandra.
Down on the floor, the dealers seemed pleased, particularly given dismal expectations, having already sold a great deal at the preview. Young Rotterdam-based gallery Joey Ramone had sold sculptures by Fotini Gouseti to English and Belgian collectors; dealer Erik Mulier had also sold some work to Belgians. Marc Van den Hende said he had bought a triptych by Eirene Efstathiou and was considering a Vlassis Caniaris piece from the 1970s. “I saw some surprises—young Greek artists I did not know—and great new galleries, like Elika and CAN,” Dutch collector Anne-Marie Ros said. By the end of the day, Dimitra and Sofia Vamiali reported that they had not seen one Greek collector, although another reported a Dakis Joannou sighting.
That evening at the Cypriot collector’s house, Joannou greeted us only in effigy: a sculpture by Paweł Althamer portraying him as an Indian chief, accompanied by a host of other art stars like Jeff Koons and Massimiliano Gioni caricatured all in white. We then embarked to the DESTE Foundation for a tour of “The System of Objects,” where curator Andreas Angelidakis led us around the labyrinthine gathering of objects raided from Joannou’s closets. It was definitely all about spectacle: like an alter ego of the collector’s house, the incredible array of furniture, artworks, dusty old dolls, and other strange objects were arranged throughout the deconstructed space—meandering into the guts of the building, and allowing different views on various rooms and exposing remnants of previous exhibitions. “This is how I felt the first time I went to Saatchi,” an artist said. “Like I was inside a funhouse.”
We moved on to the northern suburb of Ekali, where collector Nineta Vafeia was hosting a dinner in her stunning and sprawling Modernist villa. The collection, mostly large-scale paintings and photographs, were hung throughout the home and in a dedicated building across from a pool, somehow feeling like both a museum and home at once. A discreet corner in the dining room was dedicated to paintings by the grandmother and photos of the children. “Greek people are so nice,” collector Yannicke De Smedt commented over dinner. “We have been coming for years and have seen some great collections.” After dinner Vafeia relieved the pianist with renditions of “Strangers in the Night” and a tango standard while we lounged on giant cushions. These days there are benefits of a fair being less international and more a reflection of the local milieu. “We are entering an era of post-globalization,” said the Biennial Foundation’s Marieke Van Hal, “and places are trying to define their identities again.”
IN THE DAYS leading up to the first edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong, the city made headlines around the world because a giant rubber duck floating in Victoria Harbor—essentially a marketing tool for Hong Kong Art Week—had mysteriously deflated. On social media, the fowl was said to be a victim of the avian flu. Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman had titled his unfortunate piece Spreading Joy Around the World, and indeed the city rejoiced when the duck was revived last Tuesday, the day before the fair’s private view.
That night, many out-of-towners journeyed to the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade, the future home of M+, a museum for visual culture, to see “Inflation!” The exhibition, part of the M+ Mobile project, features seven massive inflatable sculptures—from Cao Fei’s House of Treasures to Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege. Here I saw the first of five women sporting the Skrillex haircut, perhaps a sign that the Art Basel Miami Beach crowd was making headways in Hong Kong. M+ senior curator Pi Li grinned with glee and affixed a sticker depicting Paul McCarthy’s Complex Pile, a giant inflatable poop installation, on my shirt, while collector Uli Sigg talked politics with M+ executive director Lars Nittve and curator Tobias Berger. The crowd clung to what little shade there was and fanned themselves as the sun beat down. “It’s too hot,” Berger said, turning down my request to see the M+ curatorial team bounce around Sacrilege.
We were whisked to Central just in time for a flurry of openings. At Pedder Building, a sign indicated that the queue to enter, whether via the elevator or front stairs, would be thirty minutes. “What is this, Disneyland?” someone asked. Those in the know stuck to the back staircase on Theatre Lane and journeyed up to the exhibitions at Lehmann Maupin (“Writings Without Borders”), Simon Lee (Angela Bulloch), Ben Brown Fine Arts (“Not Vital”), Pearl Lam (Zhu Jinshi), Hanart TZ (Qiu Zhijie), and Gagosian (Basquiat). I wondered if they made Stella McCartney and Wendi Deng Murdoch take the back way in too.
The throngs continued to grow at 50 Connaught Road Central, where White Cube founder Jay Jopling held court with the Chapman brothers and Kate Moss amid a swarm of revelers. Farther upstairs, Emmanuel Perrotin was showing Takashi Murakami and Xavier Veilhan. In a room with a Murakami-designed carpet and opulent flower arrangements by florist Azuma Makoto, Perrotin hosted a casual dinner—so casual that it was flooded with crashers, and even guests had to scramble to find a place.
Early morning on Wednesday a storm swept through the city. The Hong Kong Observatory reported more than 18,000 lightning strikes. For the first time since 2010, the government administered a black-rain warning—Hong Kong’s version of a snow day. Precipitation levels were predicted at three inches per hour, and everyone was told to remain indoors. The art world was unfazed by the inclement conditions. Stock market trading was delayed until 1 PM, but Art Basel’s private view started promptly at noon.
At the allotted time, collectors strolled through the gates, making their way through the 245 galleries at a leisurely pace. No mad dashes; a sense of order and tranquility pervaded. If only the prior night’s openings had been so measured! “Most of the major Asian collectors have shown up,” said Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. “We have many more collectors from mainland China than last year. But also what’s great about it is we’re seeing so many of the younger generation of Western collectors, both from Europe and even from America.” Spirits were high among dealers, too. “I wish I had opened my space in Hong Kong,” said Daniele Balice, showing in the city for the first time. “This is the fair I want to do every year.”
The quality of the pieces was high but left little room for surprises. (“Safe” was the keyword.) One dealer in the Discoveries sector confessed that, during install, she had looked at the surrounding booths and decided to tone down her offerings. Another dealer whispered that one of the blue-chip galleries had mounted a piece with a Christie’s sticker still on the frame.
So the vernissage was a rather subdued affair, despite the appearance of movie stars Louis Koo and Sandra Ng, as well as Henry Tang, former chief secretary for administration of Hong Kong, and his wife, Lisa Kuo. After a long day of viewing art, many took refuge in the brassy new VIP area before heading off to various dinners, like the one Georg Jensen and Dior organized for Artsy. The weather might not have delayed the fair, but it did force the Modern Media and K11 afterparty to be relocated from the Grand Hyatt Poolside to the hotel’s interior. At 10 PM, the small space was packed tight as can be, and hosts Adrian Cheng and Thomas Shao could hardly circulate among their guests.
Left: Intelligence Squared director Yana Peel and UCCA director Philip Tinari. Right: Musician and artist Kung Chi-shing during the Paper Rain parade.
The next day, Arto Lindsay’s Paper Rain parade took us on a junk ride from Wan Chai to Central, eventually evolving into an exuberant collaborative performance with musicians, dancers, and artists—a highlight of the Art Basel public activities. As a light drizzle fell, Lindsay turned to me: “Now it’s going to rain!” Apichatpong Weerasethakul filmed from the middle of the procession and the performance culminated in a concert by Otomo Yoshihide.
We stopped by the one-night-only Keith Haring and Retna exhibition at the Apex in Central Plaza before running off to Asia Art Archive’s dinner at the new private members club Duddell’s and a party at the intimate nightclub Fly hosted by collector Richard Chang and Dee Poon. When I arrived, the club was at capacity (no one seemed deterred by the cash bar), and the crowd was gyrating to early-aughts tunes. Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew and I gazed upon the Dionysian scene before us. “Hong Kong is the right place,” he affirmed. “It’s going to keep happening.” Hayward Gallery curator Cliff Lauson, who was visiting the city for the first time, said, “My colleague is going to Basel, but I chose to come to Hong Kong.” And the night wasn’t over yet. We decided to stop by Wun Dun, artist Adrian Wong’s Absolut Vodka bar installation. As the evening wore on, things got dramatic, with a man cutting himself on a champagne flute while outside two others got into a fistfight. I heard it was over art—no joke.
By Friday, everyone was looking a little bleary-eyed, but turnout for the Intelligence Squared Asia debate back at the convention center was strong. The motion this time around was “The market is the best judge of art’s quality.” Amy Cappellazzo of Christie’s and LA MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch argued for, while artist and writer Matthew Collings and Rirkrit Tiravanija were against. “I haven’t done a debate since I was ten years old and I was talking for the existence of UFOs,” said Tiravanija. “I fabricated everything, and we won.” The final tally from the audience? Twenty-five percent for and 73 against, with 2 percent undecided. It seems that even in the midst of a headstrong, popular art fair, the market has some limits.
“ALAN’S TRULY MAGICAL, like this unicorn cowboy dressed all in white. You’ll love him!” a friend babbled over brunch last Sunday, a day before I left for Buenos Aires to visit the Faena Arts Center. My first actual glimpse of the mythical Alan Faena would be from the rooftop terrace of the Aleph—the residential building that marks Foster + Partners’s debut in Latin America. Faena, indeed decked out in white, from his fedora to his feet, was strolling down the street outside the Faena Hotel, reappearing minutes later in a penthouse window. “Does he ever leave the district?” one of my companions wondered aloud. “Does he ever need to?” answered another.
CREATING VALUE WHERE THERE WAS NONE Faena Group boasts in the promotional literature. Bombastic, but to be sure, Faena Hotel and Universe has transformed the abandoned southern port of Puerto Madero into Buenos Aires chicest new address. Now Faena is hoping to bring some of his magic to Miami, where plans are in the works for one of the more ambitious developments currently going in the US. Sprawling from Thirty-Second Street to Thirty-Fifth Street, from the beach straight back to Indian Creek, the new Faena District will feature a residential building by Foster + Partners, a hotel by Roman and Williams, and three buildings by Rem Koolhaas and OMA: a bazaar, a parking facility, and an art center. Another art facility in Miami? “We’re working on our angle,” Faena Group representative Alicia Goldstein assured me.
Left: Pablo Banares and Faena Arts Center director Ximena Caminos. Right: Curator Sonia Becce. (Photos: David X Prutting/BFA)
I would get a taste of what said angle might be with Faena Art Center’s dual openings of exhibitions by Russian collective AES+F and Argentinean Eduardo Navarro. AES+F’s “The Liminal Space Trilogy” unites three massive projections: Last Riot (2005–2007), The Feast of Trimalchio (2009–10), and Allegoria Sacra (2011–12), the last of which was recently awarded a Kandinsky Prize for its amusing/unsettling mix of aliens, centaurs, devil-centipedes, and drowning airports, all set to stun. Navarro, meanwhile, parked his modest Estudio Jurídico Mercosur III (Mercosur Law Studio III) in the street behind the center. The eighteen-meter-long semi trailer features both a mobile bar, offering visitors free fruit smoothies, and a law office, where a practicing barrister doles out pro bono legal advice. Navarro admitted to curator Sonia Becce that he found the neighborhood “like Holy Land, the biblical theme park on the Costanera, but for businessmen. Everything’s imitation something or other; nothing’s real, but it doesn’t matter: It’s a lucid dream.”
Monday night certainly felt like a hallucination, as we were treated to the fifth annual Fashion Edition BA. The competition pits five emerging designers against one another for $50,000 to develop their collections. It was like walking in on a Project Runway season finale, where all the build-up drama could be inferred merely from the different sound track selections. More than one designer took the opportunity to pay tribute to the hotel’s famous unicorns, which decorated a dining room. As the reception took over most of the facilities, we were discreetly invited out to the terrace for a bottle of Faena Malbec by the campfire, which Faena himself was stoking, white linen suit be damned. (“He never gets one spot on him!” his wife, Faena Arts Center director Ximena Camenos, laughed.)
“I really believe in the power of art to transform,” Caminos continued, her eyes fixed on the fire. “My grandmother worked at MAMBA, so maybe it’s just in my blood. But I trained to be a painter until I realized that helping other artists is what I do better.” One of those artists is Nicola Costantino, who will represent Argentina in Venice. Costantino originally planned a mournful tribute to Eva Perón, but the concept changed slightly when Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, got wind of the project, and volunteered herself for the role. (“She sees herself as the new Evita,” our taxi driver later explained.)
The next day, I managed to pay my own respects to the famous First Lady (or at least a few of her handbags) at the Evita Museum before ducking over to the Alvear Palace Hotel for a welcome reception for the twenty-second arteBA fair, which kicked off that night at La Rural. Not shy about midday drinking, the primarily Argentinean crowd also included artists Gonzalo Lebrija, Klara Liden, and Alexander Wagner; curators Cuauhtémoc Medina, Pablo León de la Barra, José Roca, and Abaseh Mirvali; and collectors Gail and Louis Adler, Gabriel Werthein, and the colorful Dudu von Thielmann. “Dudu’s an institution,” my companion whispered, reaching for her wine. “Her house may as well be a history museum. You should definitely get yourself invited there.”
Before I had a chance to try, I found myself swept into conversation with Mirvali and genial arteBA foundation president Facundo Gómez Minujín, son of the legendary artist Marta. He had just announced that, after fourteen years on the board, he would be stepping down as its president. Minujín didn’t let on to any exhaustion, and instead rattled off the roster of galleries and special projects: “arteBA is run as a foundation, not to make profit, which is how we can afford to bring in curators like Chus [Martínez], Cuauhtémoc, and Pablo,” Minujín explained. “It really operates more like a biennial; last year alone, we had 120,000 visitors. 120,000!”
Left: Dealers Alexander Schröder and Fernando Mesta. Right: Arcos Dorados Solo Show winner Adriana Minoliti in her Playroom.
arteBA ensures those visitors have plenty to look at, supplementing the traditional fair format with two competition sections and an Open Forum that’s free to the public. The young and the restless were nominally cordoned into the Barrio Joven, where I was particularly charmed by Julio Hilger’s installation at Fiebre, of ceramic cartoon characters learning to play guitar from an instructional video. But the main fair had smart international showings from upstarts like La Central (Bogotá), Emma Thomas (São Paulo), and Revolver (Lima). Meanwhile, Jacques Martínez opted to revisit recent history, with a memorable sampling of painters from the 1970s. “These were the hippest artists of their generation,” director Clara Martínez recalled, as I paused to appreciate a jarring portrait by Hugo Svernini. “Now they’ve been all but forgotten, entirely unjustly.” Over in the Arcos Dorados Prize for Latin American Painting, assembled by de la Barra, the vibrant palettes of Pedro Varela and Adriana Minoliti spiked the intelligent elegance of GT Pellizzi and the Space Invaders–esque animations of Lucía Madriz. (Minoliti ended up taking top honors for her Playroom installation, a live-in bonanza of form and color.)
The real highlight, however, was the U-Turn section, which was put together by Mirvali and featured the fair’s international heavyweights: Esther Schipper, Vermelho, Travesía Cuatro, and Proyectos Monclova among them. Claire Fontaine’s tennis balls—stuffed with the kind of contraband (lipstick, candy, cigarettes) smuggled into prisons—lay scattered on either side of the wall between MD72 and House of Gaga, and there were strong solo shows of Alexander Wagner (RaebervonStenglin) and Roberto Winter (Mendes Wood). I found myself particularly drawn to Gastón Pérsico’s exquisite cabinets at Nora Fisch. “Careful. I put vodka in the humidifier,” Pérsico warned me when I leaned in for a closer look.
That night, the fair was hosting a seated dinner within La Rural, after which U-Turn would throw its own bash at Casa Carlos Calvo, a restored 1860 mansion in the trendy San Telmo district. Before taking in either, however, I had one more pit stop: the famed Rojo Tango at the Faena Cabaret. The hour and a half of twirls, high kicks, and dips made my five hours at the fair look like a warm-up stretch, but it still hardly prepared me for the dance floor at Casa Calvo.
Left: Artist Lev Evzovitch of AES+F and actress Anna Skidanova. Right: artBO director Maria Paz Gaviria, artist GT Pellizzi, and dealer Cecilia Jurado. (Photo: Nacho Valle)
WHEN THE ISTANBUL FOUNDATION FOR CULTURE AND ARTS (IKSV) struck a sponsorship deal with Koç Holding to support five editions of the Istanbul Biennial over ten years, from 2006 through 2016, one can reasonably assume that everyone involved wanted something fairly solid—financial stability, reputational fortification—from the arrangement. What no one seems to have imagined, however, was that the deal would so ruffle the feathers of Istanbul’s factional communities of contemporary artists, political activists, and territorial leftists that Koç—Turkey’s largest industrial conglomerate, which is run by a powerful, wealthy family and has its hands in everything from banking, oil, and gas to defense—has since inspired a veritable performance program of increasingly aggressive protests running parallel to but angled against the biennial itself.
In 2009, a network of anonymous collectives set out to sabotage the event, albeit playfully, by producing posters mocking the curatorial framework, an open letter accusing the biennial of whitewashing arms dealers, a disseminated set of instructions for interrupting video projections and multimedia installations, and a series of demonstrations staged on the opening night, which sucked the air from an otherwise fine and serious exhibition curated by the Croatian collective WHW. At the time, observers across the political spectrum chalked the protests up to the petulance of the so-called “orthodox left” (how’s that for paradox), which apparently saw WHW as a rival and a threat, and perceived the group’s leftist credentials and Bertolt Brecht–inspired themes as an encroachment on its territory.
In 2011, when Jens Hoffmann and Adriano Pedrosa organized a prim and mostly apolitical exhibition, a group known as the Conceptual Art Laboratory took advantage of the ideological vacuum to reprint—and slip into the biennial’s promotional material—a damning letter written by Vehbi Koç, founder of the family fortune, in support of the military coup that overthrew Turkey’s civilian government in 1980, which, among other things, set the country on a path of economic liberalization. The coup was followed by a dark period of roundups, arrests, and tribunals. In the text of his letter, Koç blithely puts himself at the disposal of coup leader Kenan Evren, and offers his services against the malice of communists, Armenians, and Kurds.
So what can we expect in 2013? Well, for one thing, the curator Fulya Erdemci, who is organizing the thirteenth edition of the biennial, is not only rooting her exhibition deeply in the city of Istanbul but is also digging into some of its most pressing urban problems. This firm emphasis on a specific time and place promises to position her biennial as a welcome counterbalance to that of her predecessors, Hoffmann and Pedrosa, whose exhibition could have been anywhere. But it has also exposed Erdemci to a more virulent strain of protest, in part because with the launch of an ambitious, ten-month public program in January, called “Public Alchemy,” she considers her biennial already well underway.
There are still four months to go before the official opening, but Erdemci has titled her show (Mom, Am I Barbarian? after a book by the radical Turkish poet Lale Müldür) and outlined her curatorial themes (the public sphere as a political forum; contemporary art as the thing that both defines and dismantles what we know, experience, and understand to be public). A “prologue” exhibition just opened at TANAS in Berlin, featuring works by Jimmie Durham, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Amal Kenawy, Cinthia Marcelle, Şener Özmen, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles, among others. A writing workshop organized alongside the biennial is now hitting its halfway mark, as is “Public Alchemy,” which has so far addressed issues of urban planning, civil rights, censorship, repression, and free speech, all leavened with poetry readings, music, and a walking tour.
Left: Curator and critic Maria Lind, director of Tensta Konsthall. Right: IKSV's production team removing a protester from the performance.
The Conceptual Art Laboratory has inserted itself into every event for “Public Alchemy” to date. In March, protesters countered Erdemci’s Mom, Am I Barbarian? with C. P. Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” which they recited until a day’s worth of talks and lectures had to be shut down and rescheduled. Two weeks ago, the group interrupted “Public Alchemy” again, during the third installment in the series, titled “Public Capital,” which delved into the relationship between art and money through a performance on May 10 and a symposium on May 11. A group of young, lanky activists turned up for the performance by the Brussels-based duo Vermeir & Heiremans, which was held in a corporate-style conference room at the Marmara Taksim Hotel. As that piece unfolded, the activists staged their own bit of agitprop theater.
At ten-minute intervals, someone would stand up from the crowd, show off a T-shirt and a faux-branded banner printed with the names of gentrifying neighborhoods in Istanbul, and then drape himself or herself on the floor in the middle of the room, only to be quickly picked up and hastily dispatched by three members of IKSV’s loyal production team, who removed five protesters before the rest of the audience, many more activists among them, left in droves. For the duration of these two bizarrely competing performances—Vermeir & Heiremans were doing the first run-through of a commissioned work called Art House Index, a putative Skype conversation with a fictional financial analyst who breaks down the abject horrors of contemporary art as an asset class—Conceptual Art Laboratory’s Niyazi Selçuk kept a video camera trained on Erdemci’s face, which led to a long, drawn-out confrontation, ending well past midnight with both parties at a police station filing complaints and countercomplaints against each other.
“I’m working on the public domain so of course I am touching the most contested space and opening it up to conflict,” Erdemci says about Taksim Square, in whose proximity the performance was strategically placed. The square sees a million in pedestrian traffic a day. It is Istanbul’s preeminent public space. And it is currently in the throes of a controversial redevelopment plan, which is considered symptomatic of larger issues, including rampant real-estate speculation, demographic shifts, the dispersal of poor communities from the city center to peripheral suburbs, and the tint and scent of corruption that lingers around Turkey’s robust, non-recessionary economy. “Istanbul is undergoing a wild transformation,” Erdemci explains. “What we are doing with the biennial is concurrently commenting on what’s happening, not in the past or the future but in the present. For me it was inevitable that we would look into the city. Art has many ways to communicate. Dialogue and debate are an important part of it. We need to negotiate with local government, the intelligentsia, grassroots activists, and the extreme hard-core activists. There are publics to activate. If people are attacking us, then what we are trying to do is already there.”
Left: Writer and scholar Suhail Malik. Right: Artists Vermeir & Heiremans introducing their performance in a conference room of the Marmara Taksim Hotel.
Of course, one could argue that if the protesters really want to see changes in how Istanbul is developing, then they might want to take their demonstrations elsewhere, to the offices where public policies are actually made, or to the headquarters of Koç, if that is indeed their target. One could also argue that with this latest round, the protests have taken an unfortunate turn toward the personal and potentially chauvinist, attacking Erdemci directly because she is the curator but also, it seems, because she is a woman. A number of Istanbul’s contemporary artists, meanwhile, have the good humor to be critical of the protests from a formalist point of view. “They’re just not creative enough,” one artist told me later. Throughout the program, several artists ducked in and out of the proceedings, amused but somewhat indifferent to the disruptions, including Ali Kazma, who is representing Turkey at this year’s Venice Biennale; Emre Hüner, who was enjoying the tail end of a double-barreled exhibition at Rodeo and the nonprofit Nesrin Esirtgen Collection; Ahmet Öğüt, who was on his way to Beirut to give a talk at Villa Fleming; and Burak Arikan, who hosted the unofficial afterparty in the studio he will soon vacate when he moves to New York this summer.
On Saturday morning, Erdemci was clearly tired and a little rattled. But with Andrea Phillips, who is co-organizing “Public Alchemy” and served as a lively, engaging moderator during the symposium to follow, she had already dashed off a written response, and prepared a small speech. She welcomed the protesters’ repeated use of the biennial as a public platform but cautioned them against veering off into obstruction, harassment, and the vandalism of other artists’ work, including the Vermeir & Heiremans performance. No protesters showed up for that day full of talks and discussions in the Salon IKSV, which was a shame, given the many probing questions that came up, courtesy of some fine contributions by the academics Alberto López Cuenca and Suhail Malik, the dealer Haldun Dostoğlu, and the curators Vasif Kortun, Maria Lind, Barnabás Bencsik, and Kuba Szreder. There was talk of moral versus commercial economies, vernacular culture and self-styled communities as bulwarks against the market, the manipulation and cartelization of that market, Gregory Sholette’s 2010 book Dark Matter and the status of labor in and around contemporary art, the need for institutions to be agile more than sustainable, and the plain fact that art schools are graduating way too many students for the system to bear. Did the participants make radical proposals for reconfiguring that system? Absolutely. With just two biennials left on Koç’s clock, perhaps the sponsorship deal could become the occasion for a critical response more productive and precise.
Left: Auckland Triennial curator Hou Hanru. (Photo: Jade Lucas) Right: Volunteers for Peter Robinson's hikoi at Auckland Art Gallery. (Photo: John McIver)
AUCKLAND IS A WEIRD PLACE. It’s routinely identified as one of the most “livable” cities in the world, but it’s also characterized by crippling urban sprawl and prohibitive housing costs. The morning Hou Hanru’s iteration of the Auckland Triennial, “If you were to live here...,” opened to the public, the New Zealand Herald led with a story about the city’s housing bubble: In a few years, the average home, it predicted, will cost a million bucks ($800,000 USD). But Auckland is also energetic, hopeful, and increasingly shaped by a cultural mix of Maori, Pacific Islanders, Asians, and people of European descent that isn’t found anywhere else on the planet.
A place with huge aspirations but plenty of problems. Hou’s title gestured toward solutions while also slipping into the kind of catchall, speculative ambiguity that has defined the global curatorial zeitgeist for the past fifteen years. But despite its definitional fuzziness, “If you were to live here...” is a very good show, and a very good show for Auckland in particular: sophisticated, engaged, and marked at every turn by Hou’s pulling power. International participating artists include Anri Sala, Allora & Calzadilla, Michael Lin, Claire Fontaine, Yto Barrada, Shahzia Sikander, Ryoji Ikeda, and Allan Sekula. There was also a serious cohort of international curators in townincluding Pascal Beausse, Carol Yinghua Lu, and Juliana Engbergto see what Hou’s vision for Auckland looked like.
Most of New Zealand’s significant institutional art folk showed up too. Whether people liked what they saw or not, the important thing was that they were there. And it wasn’t just art-world insiders: Most of the openings were packed; the public program was well attended; and even after a full weekend, Hou’s floor talk at the Auckland Art Gallery (AAG) was crammed with people. It looked more like a student sit-in than a curator’s lecture. It seems Auckland was hungry for Hou and his semiutopian, internationalist vision.
New Zealand artist Peter Robinson kicked off the official proceedings. On Thursday afternoon, two hundred or so volunteers, mostly art students, gathered at AAG and each picked up one of Robinson’s “mood sticks.” The group then moved in a hikoi (a Maori word used to describe a collective journey, often associated with protest) across the central city to the Auckland Museum, where the sticks were left for staff to position throughout the museum’s collections, in places of their own choosing. Robinson’s gentle intervention, generosity, and blurring of boundaries between institutions set the overall tone for the triennial.
Sadly, that same spirit didn’t entirely carry through to that night’s official opening at AAG. There had already been grumblings about the invitations: strictly one admittance and two different entry times, a convoluted and strict protocol that prevented some people from showing up at all. A shame, as the collective feeling about the triennial was positive and the art in AAG was excellent, so it deserved a better party than it got. The invitations did nonetheless inspire the triennial’s funniest guerrilla gesture. On Thursday morning, a YouTube video based on Hitler’s ubiquitous bunker meltdown from Downfall started making the rounds. Granted, it’s been done before (and often), but the “Auckland Triennial” version, in which the Führer loses it because he didn’t get an invite and couldn’t even go as someone’s date, was a riot.
Hitler finds out about the 5th Auckland Triennial opening.
Thankfully, this was a minor blip in the triennial celebrations. Friday saw a low-key breakfast opening for the Robinson and Siegel works at the Auckland Museum. The rest of the day was filled with high-quality panel discussions and artist talks, leading up to an excellent opening at Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) St Paul St Gallery. The opening was ostensibly for triennial artists Sikander and Ho Tzu Nyen, but it also served as a prelude to the event’s keynote lecture. Professor Sarat Maharaj gave a paper titled “Know How & No How: thinking through art as knowledge production in a time of ‘Creativity Cholera’ ” to a reassuringly full lecture hall. Personally, I wasn’t convinced by Maharaj’s vision of the “global contemporary,” but the argument’s structural intelligence had to be admired.
Saturday provided no letup, with morning openings at Fresh Gallery in South Auckland (a venue that has raised the profiles of Auckland’s Pacific Islands artists), followed by a full program of talks at AAG. Official partner Artspace held an opening that night to celebrate its contributions to the triennial, which included great photographs from Yto Barrada and video work by Angelica Mesiti. Auckland’s art dealers, who play such a vital role in energizing the local scene, also joined in. True to the internationalism of the weekend, Michael Lett Gallery hosted a book launch for one of New Zealand’s most successful expatriate artists, Germany-based Michael Stevenson. And Starkwhite gave its space over to Brisbane-based curator Robert Leonard, who presented a fantastic show of Australian nerd art called “Bazinga!” Leonard, who will soon be returning to Wellington’s City Gallery, is the best New Zealand curator of his generation by some distance, and his show—noisy, obsessive, geeky, a little camp in places—was antithetical, or maybe even antidotal to Hou’s quieter approach. As if to hammer home the point, the opening ended with a live performance by the collective Botborg: a massive audiovisual feedback assault that drove plenty of people out of the gallery.
As the openings wound down, we all moved quickly to the packed club Galatos to witness an immersive, mesmerizing set by Ryoji Ikeda, one of the world’s best electronic artists. Even a fairly catastrophic technological failure halfway through couldn’t undermine the experience. Ikeda’s extraordinary electric surge did little to fill in the ellipses of Hou’s conditional phrase “If you were to live here…” But it was the first major event in the city in some time that made me feel very happy that I do.
Left: Triennial project Kauri-Oke by Makeshift. (Photo: John McIver) Right: Botborg performs at Starkwhite. (Photo: Anthony Byrt)
I SOMETIMES WONDER how the guest list for an art event would look if the host did the inviting instead of a publicist. Striking examples of each approach emerged last week during an abundantly social six days in the Frieze New York universe that saw many of the same people crossing paths every day, sometimes more than once. Their overlapping trajectories created the impression of a global high school that had suddenly shrunk to the size of a boot-strapping, high-heeled island obsessed with aesthetics and freighted by money, saved from madness by the appearance of integrity now and then.
This feast for all appetites began on Monday, May 6, with the serene preview of “Extravagant Features,” the aptly named group show that curator Clarissa Dalrymple organized for C24 Gallery in Chelsea. Next day brought many reasons to be cheerful all around town. Upper East Siders could partake of Cecily Brown’s connubial semifiguration at Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue, and/or the Jewish Museum’s long-awaited Jack Goldstein retrospective on upper Fifth. In Chelsea, Cristin Tierney had a swath of Brazilian art, and Shoot the Lobster brought to light works from the combined collections of White Columns director Matthew Higgs and artist Anne Collier.
Meanwhile, on the Lower East Side, the Kitchen held its annual spring gala at Capitale, where Brian Eno was the honoree. This event, cochaired by David Byrne, Laurie Anderson, and (in absentia) Lou Reed, helped enormously to allay the half million dollars in damage that the institution suffered last fall during Hurricane Sandy. In his introductory remarks, Kitchen director Tim Griffin expressed “joy in being part of a perpetually unfinished project,” and toasted the artists and patrons who are keeping experimentation alive in a culture that more often rewards the polished and the pat.
The evening’s performances began with Michael Stipe bringing to the stage the gifted young composer and violinist Owen Pallett, who plucked, tapped, and bowed his instrument, played the piano, and also sang. “Beautiful,” said Philip Glass, seated with Stipe, Anderson, Byrne, and Cory Henry, the young and gifted jazz organist who was the next performer, and another revelation. Anderson introduced Eno with a reminiscence, written on her iPhone minutes before, of their shared experience of SoHo in the 1970s—“when downtown looked medieval,” she said, and the Kitchen was the only game in town for such artists. “I want to thank Brian,” she concluded, “for this amazing skill: how to turn problems into opportunities.”
Eno stood up to bow from a table where there was an empty seat between curator Diego Cortez and artist Philip Taaffe. “We’re holding it for David Bowie,” Cortez quipped, “in case he changes his mind and shows up.” He didn’t, but the Persuasions, the great ’60s doo-wop group, did, after Eno confessed that until he first arrived in New York, he’d never been in a place where people weren’t cynical. He certainly wasn’t. Once the Persuasions went into action, he jumped onstage with the group for a rousing, sing-along finish. “Oh, Brian’s happy now!” Anderson said. So was everyone else.
With four days still to go, Wednesday brought the most anticipated opening of the season, “Gazing Ball,” Jeff Koons’s debut with David Zwirner on West Nineteenth Street. This was theater. At start time, the doors remained closed, while a man edged a forklift through the mob on the sidewalk. An hour later, the gallery let in the swarm, to find installers still uncrating a few of Koons’s white plaster sculptures. This was work that almost no one outside of the artist’s studio had seen before. Basically, it was Neoclassical garden statuary with a deep blue reflective ball—the kind more familiar to suburban lawns—delicately poised on a shoulder or limb of each snowy figure. “It’s interesting how the orb reflects back the world,” said Whitney Museum chief curator Donna De Salvo. “It’s the smallest part of the sculptures but it makes the biggest impact.”
Reflectiveness, if not reflection, seemed the order of the day. A few blocks north, at the darkened Paul Kasmin Gallery, James Nares was showing abstract canvases brushed with white road paint visible only in headlights. Fortunately, there were enough iPhone beacons around to make the paintings pop. A bit farther uptown, Vito Schnabel welcomed an enormous crowd to “DSM-V,” the sprawling group show that writer-curator David Rimanelli named for psychiatry’s bible of mental disorders and installed within the city’s still-functioning central post office, soon to serve Amtrak as Moynihan Station. Rimanelli was in transition too. “I’m like the DSM,” he said, hiding in the last room, the show’s grandest salon. “I’m excited but I have no emotions.”
Left: Dealer Barbara Gladstone with Deborah Harry. Right: Writer and curator David Rimanelli.
On the other side of the Stanford White–designed building, the Tate Americas Foundation benefit dinner for 650 was in progress at Skylight, a former truck bay that is now a party venue. Was it possible that no one stayed home? There was Julie Mehretu at a table with Gabriel Orozco, Marian Goodman, and Jay Jopling. There was Lawrence Weiner and Jim Lambie (the afterparty’s DJ) with dealer Toby Webster and collectors Dennis and Debra Scholl. Look right and you saw Rashid Johnson and Paul McCarthy, left to catch Jim Hodges, Marilyn Minter, Charline von Heyl, and Rirkrit Tiravanija; right again to face Sarah Morris, Marina Abramović, and Andreas Gursky; left to Glenn Ligon, Damián Ortega, and Allora & Calzadilla. If anyone wanted to chart the contemporary art world today, this event alone could have supplied a number of the pins.
The head-swiveling dinner, sponsored by Dior, was also chockablock with dealers and museum chiefs, not just the Tate’s, along with a Dior-clad segment of the New York social register. During a protracted live auction, conducted by the indefatigable Simon de Pury, the most hotly contested lots were for a shopping spree with Sarah Jessica Parker and a cruise on Dakis Joannou’s Koons-camouflaged yacht, the Guilty.
This was a week that knew no shame, that’s for sure. On Thursday, as Frieze made landfall, one could leap into the stratosphere with feet still on the ground. Koons started the evening’s engines once again, this time for a painting and sculpture show at Gagosian on West Twenty-Fourth Street. It drew collectors like Agnes Gund, Tiqui Atencio, and Steve Cohen to a sensational display of the latest erotica from the artist’s Celebration series, a trio of stainless steel balloon animals whose immense proportions made “Gazing Ball” seem positively modest.
Left: Artist James Nares. Right: Collector Amy Phelan and artist Rikrit Tiravanija.
After that, the Morgan Library felt like a sea of tranquility. In its hushed environs was “Subliming Vessel,” the first museum retrospective devoted to the drawings of Matthew Barney. Guests at its opening perused the exhibition in a state of quiet wonder induced by a nonchronological, antithematic installation by the artist that forced an independent, completely fresh, assessment of every work. Vitrines contained source materials, some of them quite nasty, displayed with ancient tomes from the Morgan’s collection. “You can repackage anything,” said collector Alan Hergott. “That’s the story of art.”
Drinks were served from a bar set up before the library’s illuminated manuscripts. On hand were the exhibition’s lenders, Gladstone Gallery artists, curator Klaus Kertess, and Barney friends and collaborators. They included Aimee Mullins and Maggie Gyllenhaal, featured players in Barney’s new seven-part epic, now named River of Fundament, set to debut next February in Munich with an exhibition at the Haus der Kunst.
The openings, and the accolades, only escalated on Friday, with openings for Paul McCarthy (Hauser & Wirth), Gedi Sibony (Greene Naftali), Ugo Rondinone (Gladstone), Yoshitomo Nara (Pace), Troy Brauntuch and John Stezaker (Friedrich Petzel), and, last but so not least, Ellsworth Kelly, who was celebrating his ninetieth birthday in three Matthew Marks galleries of new paintings and a fond, tribute dinner given by the dealer.
Left: Artists Donald Moffett and Robert Gober. Right: Art historian Douglas Crimp.
Here is where the guest list made honey of the evening. Diners were artists, historians, and representatives of major museums, all with personal relationships to the artist and a consuming engagement with his art. “It’s so good tonight!” said Kelly, after the birthday song was sung. “It feels like family somehow.” Tate director Nicholas Serota then drove home the point with a moving declaration of his admiration for the artist and his attachment to Kelly’s work, calling it “perfect and indescribable.” Speaking of two Kelly prints he acquired for a song in the ’50s, he said he looked at them every morning and “They illuminate my day.”
Entering the home stretch on Saturday, Andrew Kreps opened a Christian Holstad show in his new space, Petzel’s old one on West Twenty-Second, across the street from Marianne Vitale’s show at Zach Feuer and downstairs from Arne Svenson’s and Laurel Nakadate’s, at Julie Saul and Leslie Tonkonow, respectively. Worthwhile though they are, the best was yet to come.
That was the fourth annual Friends of Artists Space dinner honoring curator and historian Douglas Crimp. It was Crimp’s 1977 “Pictures” show for Artists Space, and the October essay that followed, that gave the Pictures Generation its identity. A few of its members—Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo, Louise Lawler—were present, along with a number of their artist beneficiaries and associated dealers. But it wasn’t just the writer in Crimp that Gregg Bordowitz lauded in an eloquent, emotionally charged speech that welled up every eye in the room. It was the AIDS activist and visionary he articulated in words that were profoundly affecting. That’s right. I said profoundly.
“I love Douglas Crimp,” Bordowitz began. “I am who I am today because of Douglas Crimp.” After limning the various jobs the young Crimp held, from editorial assistant to cookbook writer to curator, Bordowitz got to the heart of the matter. “Doug is a person who values objects, particularly art objects,” he said, recalling Crimp’s onetime desire to “lick a Brice Marden painting.” Crimp, he said, taught him that making art could be a political engagement. “Being queer,” he said, his voice rising, “is not a form of resistance. People will kill you for it.”
“Breathing is a form of resistance.” Turning to his mentor, he loaded his guns. “Those of us who marched with you and got arrested with you and read your articles and fought back against the epidemic learned how to be activists at the same time we mourned,” he said, his voice breaking. “Douglas, you gave us our dignity. You gave us our shame too. You allowed us to own it. Douglas, you gave us our dignity.”
As he spoke, the more superficial trappings of the week dropped away to reveal the soul of an art community that had created ACT UPa movement, Andrea Rosen observed, almost unthinkable in the complacent art world we have today, where artist-citizens are a nearly extinct species. People give generously to benefits and step up when disaster strikes, but only a handful lay down their bodies for a larger cause. Bordowitz returned us to a New York where the most radical and influential artists in every creative field were disappearing before our eyes. He shattered our illusions. He brought us back to earth.
Left: Revelers in the Rain Room. (Photo: Allese Thomson) Right: MoMA director Glenn Lowry. (Photo: Billy Farrell Agency)
ONE NIGHT, twenty-some years ago, Klaus Biesenbach boarded a train from Berlin to Venice. “Flights were too expensive,” the curator explained Saturday evening as he stood at a podium in a satin-trimmed tuxedo jacket facing about one hundred dinner guests at MoMA. He’d had an entire sleeping compartment for himself and was settling in for a good night’s rest when a very tall blonde man, his arms full of books and papers, began to bang on the door and insist that this was his compartment. A terrible fight ensued and ran on through the night until both men grew so tired that they began to talk and realized they had one friend in common: John Miller.
“And so, I thought this man, who was completely crazy, must be somewhat good.” Biesenbach went silent as he gazed out at an audience that included curators (Beatrix Ruf), actors (James Franco), collectors (the Rubells), artists (Josh Kline), dealers (Mike Egan of Ramiken Crucible), and reality television stars (Olivia Palermo). “And this man was Hans Ulrich Obrist, who has since been my most inspiring colleague and collaborator, and without whom ‘EXPO 1’ simply could not be possible.”
EXPO 1. During Frieze Week, you could catch a commercial for it in the back of any taxi—aptly funded by its automobile corporate sponsor, VW—advertising a sprawl of programming devoted to promoting ecological awareness. David-as-artist leads an oily Goliath toward a better future that can be glimpsed at three locations in New York: MoMA PS1, which features a remarkable if puzzling exhibition titled “Dark Optimism”; the VW dome in the Rockaways, a public space that addresses day-to-day life in the Sandy-ravaged community, the catalyst for Biesenbach’s turn to environmental spokesman; and MoMA, now home to a throng-drawing Rain Room compliments of Restoration Hardware, a company also interested in the environment, crafting furniture to match natural settings like Napa Valley and the Hamptons.
Also celebrating the marriage of art and business last week was Maria Baibakova, newly appointed strategic director of Artspace, who hosted a dinner Thursday at the James Burden Mansion to celebrate the art-market website’s second anniversary. “I’d like to thank husband and wife Rashid Johnson and Sheree Hovsepian,” she said in a relaxed and jovial toast. “Artspace communicates a spirit of collaboration—and what exemplifies this more than a marriage, a partnership of romance and sharing?” (“I had to give so many speeches at Harvard Business School,” she explained when we ran into each other on Peter Brant’s polo field Sunday. “It just comes now.”) On that night, her long chestnut hair fell in glossy sheaths over a floor-length gown as she recounted how she met the artist couple for drinks and was so inspired by their relationship that she asked them to make a gift for her broad range of guests—everyone from aspiring curator Vladimir Restoin-Roitfeld and fashionista Lauren Santo Domingo to Tate Modern director Chris Dercon and Christie’s Amy Cappellazzo.
A different (perhaps equally significant) sort of marriage—drink and debauchery—was also toasted last week, as Tobias Rehberger recreated his watering hole of two-plus decades, Bar Oppenheimer, in the basement of the Hôtel Americano. (“My living room,” he said through a Cheshire-cat grin.) Collectors can purchase Rehberger’s fabrication of his Frankfurt spot for their own home, which he says became his locale because it possessed that elusive “hip-but-not-too-hip” feel. But sharing quarters with Tolga Al’s own Frieze-week pop-up successfully pushed it over this edge (though Rehberger notes he may only attend fairs now if he is allowed to bring his bar with him). Al, formerly of Le Baron, lined up Nate Lowman, Matthew Higgs, and Deejay Remix for music. “Baby, I don’t want to be blue chip,” he said. “I’m black chip.”
Left: Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen's rendition of Bruce Nauman's Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square at NADA. Right: NADA director Heather Hubbs. (Photos: Irina Rozovsky)
Pop-up bars seem a fixture/fixation of the art fair (cf. Liz Glynn’s “secret” Vault at Frieze or Alex Hubbard’s telephone booths of bars at Maccarone or [another] final farewell to Gavin Brown’s Passerby, which was briefly recrudescent via a new Rob Pruitt installation, The Last Panda). And way downtown, on the wharf outside the vast, airy Pier 36 at Basketball City, NADA hosted a spirited re-creation of Cafe Dancer. “We’ve actually created a performance piece around it,” shared artist Sam Gordon, who who collaborated with the new Lower East Side bar and event space. Boasting a mural by Naomi Fisher, the NADA version hosted a fresh-faced mix of collectors, artists, dealers, and, of course, dancers throughout the week. The taut fair itself contained seventy-five emerging galleries and project spaces that seemed split into two contingents: the one fiercely proud of their choice not to be in the “big fair,” and the other looking hopefully at attendees like Art Basel director Marc Spiegler.
There were many memorable stands, but the most poignant booth was a compact one, painted a sunny yellow, on the hangar’s north side organized in commemoration of Daniel Reich. A small portrait by Henry Taylor hung in the middle. “Daniel was a magical creature but he had a hard time existing in this world,” said NADA director Heather Hubbs. “He was deeply invested in NADA’s mission.”
Sunday night. MoMA PS1 founder Alanna Heiss, head crowned in a wreath of yellow flowers, stood center stage inside the VW dome, beaming as Biesenbach made another toast. “To one of the greatest inspirations and dangers and seductions of my life. Tonight she is turning seventeen.” Laughter. “And we have Björk and we have Marina and we have Adrián and we have Klaus to sing her happy birthday,” declared the director. He broke into the salutatory song, then passed the mic to each artist, who followed with reprises in their native languages. The audience roared in the darkened dome, lit by the impressive sheet cake placed before Heiss. Her face glowed behind seventy candles as she shut her eyes and blew them into darkness.
For years, Heiss said, she had a wild dream of erecting a circus tent in the museum’s courtyard. But, as she told curator Tim Goossens, one of her (many, many) protégés: “Klaus, being a much better fundraiser than I, dreamt of a dome, and he found the money.”
Earlier that day, “Dark Optimism” had debuted at PS1. Biesenbach’s beloved collaborator Obrist signed twentieth-anniversary copies of his inexhaustible compendium Do It and Yoko Ono spoke of politics, imaginative resistance, and a slow-burn apocalypse within VW’s shiny, futuristic hub. Inside the labyrinthine museum, a young woman watched over Pierre Huyghe’s Zoodram 5, a lugubrious aquarium piece filled with spidery crustaceans and a hermit crab tucked into a bronze Brancusi mask. “I’ve seen two commit suicide,” she said of the alien spider creatures. “These are species that can’t stand to be together. They’re engaged in a death battle.”
FRIEZE NEW YORK began this year in a downpour. During its early hours on May 9, it rained art, it rained people, and it just plain rained on Randall’s Island Park, soaking Paul McCarthy’s ginormous balloon dog on the northern side of the slinky white tent. It put a bit of a damper on Matthew Day Jackson’s premier outing as a guest chef for FOOD, Frieze Projects curator Cecilia Alemani’s re-creation of the legendary artist-owned restaurant that galvanized SoHo in 1971. Inside, however, it was clear from the jump that the second American edition of Frieze was in no kind of sophomore slump.
“It’s a Thursday,” said Gagosian’s Stefan Ratibor, standing before the full pipe of cracked windshields that Dan Colen wrought. “Don’t people have jobs?” The 180 dealers in the tent certainly did. At the 303 Gallery stand, Cristian Alexa and Katy Erdman barely had time to look up from their iPads. (Even at an art fair, it seems, some sales are conducted via the Internet.) With Ali Subotnick and Maurizio Cattelan, two-thirds of the old Wrong Gallery team, homing in on an intriguing new painting by Jakub Ziolkowski with Greek collector Dakis Joannou, Warsaw’s Foksal Foundation stood to replenish its coffers. Before the first hour was up, Hauser & Wirth had placed thirty-six of the forty take-home-size, $25,000 versions of McCarthy’s testicular inflatable, each a unique color; by 3 PM all of them were gone, as were works by Rashid Johnson and Jackson, the other two artists the gallery featured.
Left: Dealer Gavin Brown with John McEnroe. Right: New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
If appearances are to be believed—always a gamble—the ballooning market for contemporary art is still expanding, and not just because more people are in it. In the aisles, the consensus was that the variety and quality of the art on hand was several notches above what overly cautious dealers had brought to the fair’s first edition. This one attracted serious people: François Pinault Foundation curator Caroline Bourgeois, collector Pauline Karpidas, Tate Modern director Chris Dercon, the Rubell family, Warhol Foundation chief Joel Wachs, and the Whitney Museum’s chief curator Donna De Salvo among them. Even the art-friendly New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg took a stroll around the tent. “It’s good,” he said. “I’m enjoying it.”
Collector Beth Swofford, a Hollywood actor and directors’ agent, was guiding two young stars who, sorry, wished to remain anonymous. (Well, one of them was Andrew Garfield.) “They know I’m into this and they were curious,” she said. Sotheby’s vice president Lisa Dennison was walking with New Line Cinema founder Bob Shaye. “Wow,” said art attorney John Silberman. “He looks a lot like Bob Rauschenberg.” Shaye nodded. “I’ve heard that before,” he said. “I guess I do.”
Left: Frieze Projects curator Cecilia Alemani. Right: Dealer David Zwirner with collectors Susan and Michael Hort.
By midafternoon, the fair was bustling and the food concessionnaires, including those from Fat Radish, Mission Chinese, Frankie’s, and Sant Ambroeus, had to work as hard as the dealers to keep up with the demand for attention. As the skies cleared, Jackson was at one of the picnic tables under the FOOD canopy, chowing down on the prix fixe Korean cuisine that one of his fellow chefs, SunTek Chung, had cooked up. If you didn’t want actual food, your eyes could partake of Tom Friedman’s Pop-ish giant pizza and oversize Hostess Twinkies at the Luhring Augustine booth.
Fair visitors selected, more or less at random, to receive a key to artist Liz Glynn’s secret Vault found themselves in a darkened room containing numbered wooden lockers, a bar, and a bartender. Handed a key, Glynn opened a locker collecting various handmade items—I drew a papier-mâché lamb chop and a couple of duct-tape knives—and set it on the bar, while one of the mixologists who rotated throughout the day improvised a story in which those items played a part while serving up a unique Saler’s Liqueur concoction for the visitor to drink. Elsewhere, seemingly everywhere, an unidentified woman appeared around the fair to perform as a sculpture by Matteo Tanatt, another Frieze Projects artist. At moments, it required her to sit rock-still on a blue bench or lean against a wall, her head hidden beneath a blue cloth.
Frankly, there was so much movement and so much to see that it took some doing to register any one work out of the thousands available, not just in the fair central but in the Frame and Focus sections, which quickly became a head-turning blur. Marian Goodman offered a bit of respite with Ann Lee, a 2011 work that Tino Sehgal based on Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe’s manga character, only in living, tween-human form. But even here the noise and chatter of the fair distracted from the performance I saw. Pretty bold, bringing a work like this to a fair, I thought. “We’re a pretty bold gallery,” said gallery director Rose Lord. Of course, the piece readily found a bold buyer.
Left: Collector Pauline Karpidas and dealer Chantal Crousel. Right: Dealer Jose Freire.
I also dimly recall the scatter of painted metal leaves by Pae White and the nature photographs by Roe Etheridge in the combined Andrew Kreps and greengrassi booth. Jim Lambie’s brightly painted and mirrored ladders at the Modern Institute made a favorable impression, as did the recent works that Matthew Higgs had gathered from artists who got their start with solo shows at White Columns. At the Johann König stand, it was nice to take a load off by reclining on the leather-belt chaise by Monica Bonvicini. Stepping away from the Andrea Rosen booth, the functional sculpture won high praise from artist Josephine Meckseper: “She’s really a badass!”
Not that anyone would want to, but there was no getting away from art, badass or otherwise, that day, even on exit from the fair. The overtaxed VIP BMW shuttles to Manhattan were each equipped with Frieze Sounds, three audio works also commissioned by Alemani for the luxe cars (and available for armchair listening on the fair’s website). It wasn’t exactly top-forty material.
Charles Atlas and New Humans contributed a pleasant electronic sound track that included a litany of aromatic spices. Trisha Baga’s remix of sportscasts, movie scores, and weather forecasts was nearly indistinguishable from spins through the dial on satellite radio. But Haroon Mirza’s thirty-six-second revving engine roar came closest to capturing the spirit of the day. “I think it’s very creative,” said the driver, after repeated plays. “It’s a very good car, don’t you think?”
Left: Dealer Stefan Ratibor. Right: Dealer Monika Sprüth and collector Richard Chang.
THE NEW YORK ART WORLD IS ON FIRE. It’s got spring, it’s got Frieze, it’s got the contemporary auctions. It’s got galleries and artists, and exhibitions opening for seemingly all of them. The only thing it doesn’t have is a night off.
The match was lit on Thursday, May 2. That evening, Tracey Emin, Philip Taaffe, Jannis Kounellis, Sara VanDerBeek, Tim Hawkinson, Spencer Finch, Anthony Pearson, Carl Palazzolo, Zak Smith, and Alexi Worth all withstood a thousand air-kisses in Chelsea alone.
At Lehmann Maupin, Emin showed white bronze boxes topped by appealing white bronze animals with sweet nothings (A CLOUD OF BLOOD / AN INVISIBLE MIST) etched into their sides. Kounellis brought enough vintage glassware to Cheim & Read to be the envy of any downtown boîte. Hawkinson installed grotesques that included a kind of street lamp with a glass top made by shaping the panes with his buttocks. For her rather stunning debut at Metro Pictures, VanDerBeek created a museum-like tableau with a colonnade of tall white plinths and glistening, reflective blue photographs that hide and reveal images of female statuary that might sit on them, depending on the viewpoint. Finch, after floating his boat on Walden Pond, delivered to James Cohan a rope strung with little cards painted the color of the water at each depth he measured to 250 feet. And for his first New York show of paintings in six years, at Luhring Augustine, Taaffe’s complex, linocut, silk-screened, stenciled abstract paintings convened an envious clutch of admirers.
There, in one room, were Brice Marden, Terry Winters, Francesco Clemente, Larry Clark, Matthew Ritchie, Laurie Simmons, Sarah Charlesworth, Donald Baechler, Duncan Hannah, Elvis Costello, and Graham Nash. “Graham Nash—really?” said writer Glenn O’Brien, eyes wide. “Of Crosby, Stills and Nash? I hope I’m at his table.”
But there were other places to be, like Chrystie Street on the Lower East Side. That’s where Emin went, for part two of her show, before heading to dinner at Freeman’s. Lehmann Maupin had taken the entire restaurant, upstairs and down, to celebrate the gallery’s seventeen years with the artist. “I won’t say this is the best show I’ve ever done,” Emin told the diners, while performing a fashion walk between rooms, “but these are the two best shows I’ve ever done at once.” One forgets that the gallery gave Emin her first solo show—the unforgettable My Bed—in 1998. And now she’s been awarded a CBE by Buckingham Palace. “Yes,” said collector Jean-Pierre Lehmann, “but the British Empire isn’t what it used to be.” Neither is Emin. She has taken to bicycle riding in Miami, where her first museum retrospective will open at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, in December.
How to follow all these “firsts”? With Anselm Kiefer, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Rodney Graham, of course. Lisa Spellman chose Graham’s comic light-box self-portraits for Friday’s inauguration of her latest 303 Gallery, which is tucked under the High Line on West Twenty-Fourth Street. Architect Markus Dochantschi had completed construction only the day before. Spanking new or not, it’s just a chic placeholder for 303’s actual new space, on West Twenty-Second Street, opening two years from now.
Another forward-thinking person is curator Cecilia Alemani. On Friday afternoon, she led private tours of the still-wild, unmanicured section of the High Line, where she has installed a group of perfect Carol Bove sculptures that will soon be engulfed by summer blooms. Speaking of flowers, some of Kiefer’s new paintings at Gagosian on West Twenty-First Street take a surprisingly colorful turn toward Monet. Except for a colossal seascape that dwarfed everyone at that evening’s opening, the rest are more typically war-torn and somber—at least as far as I could make out. Kiefer had ordered all the lights, except for a thin white line of fluorescents near the ceiling, removed. “Too much light can kill the whole thing,” he explained.
As twilight fell, I headed for Tillmans’s seventh knock-’em, sock-’em show with Andrea Rosen, who was hosting another artist jamboree that easily rivaled Taaffe’s. Ryan McGinley was outside with Michael Stipe. Elizabeth Peyton and T. J. Wilcox were just inside the door. In the gallery were Liam Gillick, Wade Guyton, Ritchie (again!), Josephine Meckseper, and Richard Phillips. The gallery was also chock-a-block with curators: Kathy Halbreich and Laura Hoptman from MoMA; Stuart Comer from the Tate; the Whitney’s Carter Foster; Nicholas Cullinan and Ian Alteveer from the Metropolitan Museum; Guggenheim deputy director Ari Wiseman, and more. The brainy crowd also included dealers Jürgen Becker, Peter Currie, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, and Alex Zachary, who’s about to take over Whitney curator Jay Sanders’s old job at Greene Naftali.
Tillmans was all smiles at Acme, which Rosen had privatized, upstairs and down, and where the kitchen performed at peak levels throughout the evening. “This is my seventh show with Andrea,” Tillmans said after an affectionate toast from Rosen. “But 2013 marks our twentieth anniversary. New York,” he added, “is home for my work, and my heart.” Rosen was quick to jump in with, “New York loves you, Wolfie!”
The love fest continued on Saturday, when Garth Weiser rode up to Casey Kaplan on his motorcycle and Marc Quinn brought Mary Boone gleaming, giant bronzes of seashells as golden as a Biblical calf. “If we hold them to our ears, will we hear the ocean?” Billy Sullivan joked. Fat chance. The largest, according to Boone, weighs four tons. Guests were invited to climb into it, but only if they got naked first. “We wouldn’t want scratches,” said Quinn, noting that the sculptures were the result of “the largest 3-D scans of an object at this resolution in the world.”
Dinner was at the Hotel Americano, where Alba Clemente did the flower arrangements, Adam McEwen cozied up with collector Christophe de Menil, Richard Phillips met Peter Saul for the first time, and save-the-elephants conservationist Mark Shand—“Prince Charles’s brother-in-law,” Boone whispered—gave the toast.
Sunday was Lower East Side day, the day Harris Lieberman Gallery opened a second space on Orchard Street with a Matt Saunders video and Constance DeJong performed an exquisite, hourlong illustrated monologue at Bureau. Brendan Fowler held his ground at Joel Mesler’s Untitled Gallery, Mexican artist Edgardo Aragón made his North American debut at Laurel Gitlen, dealer Augusto Arbizo sold out the show of Spaniard Jeronimo Elespe’s intimately scaled paintings, and Erin Shirreff opened at Lisa Cooley. “The prices are over the top!” observed artist-collector Jeremy Kost.
Hopefully, a day will come when we look at art without thinking about money first, but with Frieze upon us, that day might yet be far off.
THE BALKAN WARS OF THE 1990S burned through the state once known as Yugoslavia as one terrible explosion after another rocked the hills and cities of Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo. The conflagration left a devastating legacy of war crimes, corruption, and still-smoldering embers of fear, arrogance, and ultranationalist manipulation of supposedly ancient ethnic strife. A decade of violence crippled the region, brought a cosmopolitan society to its knees, and returned such terms as “mass slaughter” and “ethnic cleansing” to the vocabulary of Europe. As an unexpected consequence, those wars also broke open a slew of state secrets, perhaps none more outrageous than the existence of a $4.6 billion bunker, which was built to shelter the late communist leader Josip Broz Tito, alongside his wife and 350 of his closest (male) confidants, through the aftermath of a nuclear strike.
Nicknamed Tito’s Nuclear Bunker, the shelter is chipped into the side of a mountain and hidden behind the fake facade of a modest two-story ranch house, which overlooks a cliff dropping down to a rushing, otherworldly mint-green river. Officially known as D-0 ARK (for Atomska Ratna Komanda, or Atomic War Command), it is situated in the small but strategic town Konjic, just thirty miles southwest of Sarajevo. There, a garage door lifts up and opens onto a maze covering some 70,000 square feet of corridors, interconnected blocks, dormitories with plush blue velvet furniture, conference rooms, and a retro command and control center, replete with red panic phones—pure Cold War kitsch. One of three such projects fueled by extreme vanity and toxic paranoia (the others are a secret port in Croatia and an airport concealed inside another Bosnian hill), the bunker was under construction for twenty-six years, from 1953 through 1979.
Left: Project Biennial coordinator Sandra Miljević Hozić. Right: Sarajevo from the door of Ars Aevi in the Centar Skenderija.
According to Edo Hozić, a charismatic artist and unabashed painter of tourist trinkets who worked for Yugoslavia’s Ministry of Culture years ago, only six people—all high-ranking generals in the Yugoslav People’s Army, or JNA—were aware of the bunker before it was discovered in 1992. By then the JNA had fallen apart. According to local lore (i.e., rumor), a group of soldiers packed the place with dynamite, hoping to destroy it, while another group of soldiers sabotaged the detonation by cutting the fuses, intent on saving the thing for posterity. When Hozić heard all of this, he envisioned a different future. He imagined transforming the bunker into a hybrid museum of military history and contemporary art. Now he and his partner Sandra Miljević Hozić, a sculptor and singer who hoarded Maria Callas records in lieu of food during the siege of Sarajevo, are halfway toward realizing that goal. Their self-styled path is either plainly insane or deceptively brilliant. In a world well beyond its saturation point for perennial exhibitions of contemporary art, they have established, of all things, an international biennial in the bunker.
The first edition of the Project Biennial of Contemporary Art, realized with a budget of just $250,000, was something of a novelty when it opened two years ago, but it ended acrimoniously in bitter disagreements between the organizers and one of the two curators, which seemed deeply symptomatic of the site and its historical context. Because there is something awful about the bunker, not only in its projection of catastrophe but moreover in its staggering chauvinism, exclusionary self-interest, and unpalatable ethos suggesting that all of humanity would burn while Tito and his elite were saved.
How, then, did the second edition of the Project Biennial open last Friday with such an easygoing sense of camaraderie and goodwill? It may be that a joint work by the Istanbul-based artists Banu Cennetoğlu and Yasemin Özcan accomplished the task it set for itself, which was, with the help of a healer and habitat rebalancing coach named Zeynep Sevil Güven, to scan, diagnose, and solve the bunker’s problems, on an energetic level. As seen in the video What Is It That You Are Worried About?, 2013, Sevil Güven sets out to deep clean the bunker through its architectural plan, stopping on occasion to address her own energy, which is blocked by the anger she feels toward the people who designed it.
But the object itself, now owned and managed by Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Ministry of Defense, was held in abeyance for three days prior to the opening due to the demands of public programming, otherwise known as multiple sessions for marathon artists’ talks. This gave the curators Basak Senova, from Istanbul, and Branco Franceschi, from Zagreb, a chance to gel their ideas and explain why their collaborative exhibition carried two titles, “Time Cube” and “The Castle,” after Kafka. (En bref, Franceschi was hired a year later than Senova, after an earlier curator left, so they effectively made two shows that worked well together.) It also forged a convivial atmosphere among the group, whose members had come from all over North America, Europe, the Middle East, and the Balkans to share their work.
Simona Dumitriu, from Bucharest, gave a fascinating talk on the story behind The Surveillance Handbook, 2012, her contribution to the biennial, which was drawn, in part, from the declassified archives of Romania’s secret police. Dalibor Martinis, the pioneering video artist, let his work speak (strongly) for itself, particularly Dalibor Martinis 1978 Talks to Dalibor Martinis 2010, which includes video footage of the artist, at thirty-one, asking the artist, at sixty-two, “Is Dalibor Martinis still alive? What do you think of me? Are we in fact the same person? Who is the author here?”
Barcelona’s Daniel García Andújar, who gave the bunker its new neon signage, paraphrased Brecht—“Art is not a mirror to reflect reality but a tool to make it”—and then offered a sharp critique: “I’m against the idea of calling it a museum. It’s just a stupid object. What we are doing there is even more problematic.”
“It’s really very complicated,” Danica Dakić said of the museum plan. “I was resistant to the idea because somehow the bunker is stronger than an exhibition space, this negative utopia. It’s a very physical experience to be there. I think it could be used [as such] but it needs more radical thinking.” At the end of the day, Miljević Hozić, hands shaking, relayed a letter from Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, who had just thrown her support behind the project.
And so, on Friday morning, we bused our way to the bunker, where a UN flag had been hastily draped over high hedges alongside a handful of others (Turkey, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina). Dakić was right. It was exhausting to be there. The bunker inspired wonder and dread, terror and delight, good work and plenty of dreck. A detail unlike other biennials? All of the works remain. In the pileup of two editions, the curators deserve credit for making a clear sequence of distinct and nimble exhibitions in such a heavy setting. After four hours in those faintly dank corridors, you do begin to despair and fear and question the fate of humanity. I crunched across Alfredo Pirri’s splendid floor of broken glass and escaped. The outside world revived us—the river, a splash of resplendent sunshine, and a welcome return to a pastel-colored city of farmers’ markets, flower shops, stray dogs, teenagers on trams jostling musical instruments, and a chilling number of roadside cemeteries crammed with white marble gravestones.
Maybe it really will became a museum one day, but for now the bunker is a sensational pretext and an elaborate excuse to mend the damage that’s been done to Sarajevo’s cultural life—not only by the war itself but also by the postwar period of apathy, provincialism, and blinding bureaucracy. “We had a chance to be like Zagreb or Belgrade,” Edo Hozić told me over coffee. “We had critics who were literate, but they fled. The new guys, not only in newspapers but everywhere, they don’t go anywhere. They don’t see enough to know anything.” The biennial is an attempt to transform not only the bunker but also the priorities of society. It is an attempt to bring artists from the Balkans back together and to reconnect Sarajevo with the world.
“In Sarajevo, as anywhere else, there are more than a few people who feel strengthened and consoled by having their sense of reality affirmed and transfigured by art.” That was Susan Sontag in the summer of 1993, when she spent a month in the city staging Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. “Indeed, the question is not why there is any cultural activity in Sarajevo now after seventeen months of siege, but why there isn’t more.” And indeed, as the siege went on, there was more and more. Two decades later, however, the uncomfortable question is why there is now so much less.
The National Museum is closed due to political bickering, and the Ars Aevi Museum of Contemporary Art, scheduled to open next year, has been indefinitely postponed. The ground for the new Renzo Piano–designed building hasn’t even been broken. While we were celebrating the biennial at the Art Kino Kriterion on Friday night, one of Bosnia’s presidents (they rotate) was arrested in a crackdown on organized crime (thanks to the complexities of the Dayton Accords, Bosnia is considered among the most corruption-prone countries on earth). No one seemed bothered except the executive director of Ars Aevi, Amila Ramović, who knew it would mean negotiating with a new government from scratch.
On Saturday, I went to see Dunja Blažević, director of the Sarajevo Contemporary Art Center, who had compelled virtually ever other curator I met in Sarajevo to enter the field. “During and after the war, Sarajevo was more connected to the outside world than it is now,” Blažević told me while pulling catalogues from her archives in a beautiful game of show and tell. “Now the city lives a provincial life. Only a bit of the international flavor is left. But young artists still exist and we are doing something here. If you have force and intelligence, you can stand outside this provincialism. I am a bit bitter but I like this place. You have to live an intellectual life. It is necessary to have this energy.”
On Sunday morning, I returned to the same building, a few floors down, to see Pierre Courtin, who came to Sarajevo ten years ago from Paris and stayed. He now runs the gallery Duplex/100m2, which was hosting a solo show, called “Spectre,” for one of the biennial’s more interesting artists, Ibro Hasanović. Courtin struggles on the business side—“every once in a while some stranger or diplomat comes in and buys something, otherwise it’s almost nothing”—but he has no doubt about the vitality of contemporary art as an emblem for Sarajevo’s survival as a multiethnic, religiously mixed-up city, known on old maps as the Jerusalem of Europe, or, more wincingly now, the Balkan Damascus. “If it doesn’t work here,” says Courtin in all seriousness, “then all of Europe will collapse.”
“BERLIN! THE LAST BOHEMIA!” declared Peter Saville in his baritone voice. “Not like London. The artists there have been driven out to the fringes. All my old spots now are supermarkets of wealth.” Balancing a cigarette in one hand, arm wrapped around artist Anna Blessman, Saville pushed his dark shoulder-length hair behind his ears. He wore a white linen suit and black shirt and seemed of an earlier age.
It was Friday night—Saturday, really, as the clock read past midnight—and we were in the back room of the Charlottenburg restaurant Florian, which was ablaze with warm light and the haze of smoke. People everywhere, rushing from table to table, crowding in corners, stealing chairs and swiping drinks and cigarettes from one another’s hands over messes of wineglasses and espresso cups. The air was musty with the smell of wet coats: A spring thunderstorm had unexpectedly broken earlier that night, giving the characters who had come together to celebrate solo shows by Tomma Abts (at Buchholz) and Nick Mauss (at Galerie Neu) a reason to stay in one place. Alexander Schroeder presided over a corner table next to artist Fabian Marti, all great big beard and long bushy hair, and a man who is a “rock star,” or so I’m told. John Knight squeezed in, confessing that he “does not like art,” as a woman dipped in costume jewelry whispered to Mauss: “I love your work.” He blushed. The party beat on until the beleaguered bar staff gently prodded: “We’d love to carry on, but, you see, it’s nearly 5 AM.” Berlin nightlife regulations have yet to address closing times. Perhaps Saville had a point.
Left: Schinkel Pavillon founder and curator Nina Pohl with Portikus curator Sophie von Olfers. Right: Art Basel director Marc Spiegler (right).
The next night, the final evening of Gallery Weekend Berlin, there was a most formal gala held at Kraftwerk, a cavernous warehouse that was, according to the piles of glossy pamphlets strewn about tables dressed with starched white linen, formerly a place for squatters. A line of pretty girls with iPads stood guard at the door, smiling with approval as they tapped each guest’s name. “Willkommen,” they chimed. At least a thousand people were in attendance—everyone from Art Basel’s Marc Spiegler to Texte zur Kunst founder Isabelle Graw. Gallery Weekend director Cédric Aurelle joined someone from BMW and head of VIP Relations Michael Neff to clink flutes of champagne and give the obligatory toast. I ran into the BMW man at the bar. “So you’re the corporate sponsor?” I asked. “We prefer to call it a collaboration,” he replied.
I am told that Berliners cling to an idea of bohemia. On Wednesday, I’d touched down in the City of Artists in time for an opening at a complex of warehouses in East Berlin, recently bought up and refurbished by a collector. The click-clack of women’s heels echoed in a vast space that boasted . . . Jacob Kassays. Further West, Kunstkritik darling Jana Euler opened at Galerie Neu. There, a darkly clad throng stood corralled behind a chain-link fence. “There are never this many artists at New York openings,” marveled a fellow American. Or perhaps we too cling to the Berlin-bohemia fantasy.
It was nearly noon on Thursday when Cologne collector Sabine DuMont turned a corner in Kreuzberg to find Schroeder and Paris-based dealer Alexander Hertling sipping cappuccinos on a black picnic table below Neu’s second space, MD72. She lit a cigarette and slid onto the bench, noting emphatically that she does not like fairs. “It is good, this weekend, because it is not just about the art but about the exhibitions,” she said, gripping the last word like a vice. “You see art in the places it was meant to be seen, eh?” She praised Supportico Lopez, which opened a show featuring La Crevette Amoureuse, a poem by the French avant-garde poet Henri Chopin, supposedly being presented in its entirety for the first time ever.
“Ah, here they come—four of them, no less.” DuMont raised her eyebrows as black GALLERY WEEKEND BERLIN BMWs pulled up to the curb. Suited chauffeurs leapt from the driver’s seats and opened the doors for their well-heeled charges. She shook her head: “I will leave before Saturday.”
“You’re not staying for the gala?” I asked, and she just laughed.
Left: Artist Oscar Murillo. (Photo: Marco Funke) Right: Curator Carson Chan and director of Hauser & Wirth New York Anna Erickson. (Photo: Maxime Ballesteros)
The social dynamics in Berlin, where critical capital often competes (and dovetails) with those more “vulgar” kinds, are decidedly complicated. Consider Oscar Murillo, a talented and controversial artist who opened three exhibitions in Berlin that week, all aptly yoked together by the title “Enjoy the food, but you’re not welcomed at the table.” The artist used a variety of forms—painting, performance, video, as well as crafts like sewing—to examine class hierarchy via cooking and street food. “He’s building on relational aesthetics,” explained Isabella Bortolozzi director Andrew Cannon, noting the interest of Hans Ulrich Obrist and Liam Gillick. “The energy is in the paintings.”
“The problem,” said a curator friend as we stepped over unstretched canvases that descended from the ceiling and across the floor, “is that some may read his work as a retrograde return to neo-expressionism; the issue is the amplification of his ego and the dissolution of community.” Indeed, throughout the week, I asked Berlin artists and dealers about Murillo’s work and was met with a glib, “You mean the new Basquiat?”
At Peres Projects, Alex Israel was continuing to twit the cult of personality. He’d called on Warner Bros. studios to fabricate identical fiberglass profiles of his head. “It’s so gauche to make a self-portrait,” he shared. “And Berlin seemed the place to do it. Kippenberger, Richter, Oehlen—they all did it too.” Reduced in palette, they seemed more California ice cream parlor than Teutonic lucubration. “I have no desire to be on the outside of culture critiquing. I want to be immersed in the thick of it.”
Left: Artist Anna K.E. and dealer Barbara Thumm. Right: Artist Calla Henkel (left).
On the other side of the spectrum, a New York–based novelist explained to me why he’d left Berlin for good: “In the early 2000s you could do anything: Serve liquor and you had a bar, put up a pole and you had a strip club, allow sex and you had a whorehouse.” He took a sip of whisky. “That era is gone, over. If I want to feel like a cardboard cutout, I go to Berlin.” But then you have artists like Calla Henkel, who moved here from New York two years ago and subsequently set up a bar and theater. Traces of the old bohemian/entrepreneurial chimera persevere—with qualifications. She and Max Pitegoff had organized a show at Tanya Leighton gallery featuring photographs of piles of receipts belonging to artist friends Simon Denny, Yngve Holen, and Fredrik Vaerslev—visual testimony to the inexorable tides of professionalization. Leighton celebrated the duo with a lunch at Paris Bar, the legendary Charlottenburg boîte with framed photographs of celebrities (Gorbachev, Madonna) hung salon style over red walls. An international group of young artists joined for steak and frites: Simon Fujiwara, Dan Rees, Aleksandra Domanović, Liz Magic Laser. “I haven’t booked a ticket back,” Laser laughed.
Later, discussing the nature of Berlin nostalgia over dinner, Rirkrit Tiravanija beamed and said: “There are pre-wall people and post-wall people and no-wall people.” Tiravanija moved to Berlin shortly after the wall fell and now keeps his archive, along with a home and studio, there. “The new becomes authentic,” he continued, “like the former West. And the old becomes meta, like the former East. And people are always looking at shadows, hoping that it never goes away with dawn. Most of the holes have been bricked up—many still behind it and others have moved beyond—but perhaps neither knows which side they are standing on in time.”
Left: Dealer Johann König. Right: Artist Fabian Marti (right)