IN PARIS, every other November is le mois de la photo, and although this year was not the official “month of the photograph,” those who make them, buy them, and pose for them could be found filling up the city’s art spaces for the seventeenth edition of Paris Photo. Metro Pictures and Cheim & Read were among the twenty-eight newcomers this year, adding to the list of international art dealers not specialized in the fair’s de rigueur medium. While most New York art dealers were obliged elsewhere (“Do you really think Larry would miss auction week in New York?” Gagosian’s Jean-Olivier Després would rhetorize), rest assured that the more diehard aficionados were present for the “Art Basel of photography,” as it was ypclept by nearly everyone I spoke to.
“I’ve sold more pictures here to my American clients than I do in New York,” boasted blue-chip photography dealer Howard Greenberg, a long-standing participant in the fair since well before its move, three years ago, from the claustrophobic basement of the Carrousel du Louvre to the Grand Palais. Like Greenberg, most international photography galleries come to make sales, while dealers in the plastic arts flock to Paris Photo for the exposure. With appearances from curators at the Tate, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the National Gallery, and Princeton University, who wouldn’t?
“It’s a very chic fair,” Yossi Milo told me during the VIP opening. “You have collectors from Belgium, Germany, Austria––people love it here.” We all took a moment to gaze up at the monumental foliate arches as they led up to the crowning ferrovitreous dome. “It’s also a pain in the ass,” he added. “It’s a busy season in New York. But I don’t come here to sell works; I come here to put on a show.”
With the risk of photography seeming too “commercial,” many dealers opt to make strong statements over a strict mercantile rationale. “It’s important to work with a curator here,” Swiss dealer Barbara Polla informed me. “I may know images, but I don’t know photography.” One of the more refreshing and transportive aspects of the booths was the harmonious integration of the historic with the contemporary, or in some cases, the iconic with the agnostic. Klaus Kleinschmidt, for example, paired Karl Hugo Schmölz’s seemingly postapocalyptic scenes of a decimated postwar Germany with elaborately designed and immaculately executed photo-booth strips by Jan Wenzel.
“This is like a flea market,” photographer Susan Meiselas later commented. “But I like the collisions. I’m interested in the traces of how photographs have been distributed, and history remains at the core of these images.” If fragmentation is the contemporary fashion for viewing images, this fair offers more than the simple regurgitation of the omnium-gatherum style of the Internet. In an age when the immaterial and disembodied image is so readily primed for dissemination, consummation, and disposal, this may be one of the most reassuring and educational environments on the power and durability of photography as a tangible medium.
With artists increasingly taking up photography (thanks iPhone!) as an expedient to keep up with the rising demand of the contemporary market, long-standing castes have come into reformation. “In the 1990s, there was pressure to define whether you were a photographer or an artist,” photographer Matthew Porter told me. “Now artists are proud to claim they’re photographers––or there’s no need to claim at all.” Showing at Los Angeles gallery M+B’s booth were his archival pigment prints of art-historical references––a still life, abstract pattern, a tabletop ŕ la Matisse, etc.––spliced onto the same plane, flattening the pictorial space and the hierarchical paragone of genre and medium.
Less referential were 150 of Horst Ademeit’s Polaroids at Susanne Zander’s booth that record the seemingly banal occurrences of his neighbors’ movements or a crack in the asphalt outside his home––indicators, he believed, of a caustic chemical called “cold rays.” Taken daily and obsessively notated John Nash style, the works, which were never meant to be viewed by the public, are testament to the haunting potency of photography to document the seen and unseen––in this case, an interior state of psychological decline.
“I’ve seen none of the usual suspects,” remarked George Eastman House curator Alison Nordström––one of several museum curators buzzing around booths in search of new talent. Later, I caught up with curator Marc Donnadieu, whose unbridled enthusiasm left us all feeling stimulated: “This is such an exciting time for the medium: For the first time, photographers are totally liberated from the standards of fashion and marketing. There are all sorts of plays and variations on the image: small-format, large-format, painters-as-photographers and vice versa. Photographers no longer have to overdo to impress––they do what they want without adhering to standards. Like artists, they just work.”
And like artists, they come out to play too. This fair, like any other, was glittered with extracurricular openings, dinners, events, and cocktails. There was a Christie’s preview of the private collection of dealer Agathe Gaillard, who is credited with having brought contemporary photography to the Parisian market in the ’70s. Balice Hertling hosted a screening and cocktail for Isabelle Cornaro’s new film at Hôtel le Bristol. There was also a late-night buffet with champagne at Suzanne Tarasieve’s loft in honor of Juergen Teller; the opening of “America Latina,” a show on Central and South American photography, at the Fondation Cartier; an AIDES benefit dinner and art sale at Pavillon Cambon Capucines attended by artists Tom Burr, Wang Du, Pierre et Gilles, and Mathieu Mercier; and a seemingly endless dégustation of savory courses for twelve hosted by M+B owner Benjamin Trigano at the Philippe Starck–orated Mama Shelter just, well, because.
On Saturday night, I made a quick run through Sophie Calle and Ryan McGinley’s packed, concurrent openings of new photographic works at Galerie Perrotin. Calle could be seen exchanging air kisses with Almodóvar film actress Rossy de Palma, while McGinley’s swarm of groupies and aspirants in want of an autograph left some feeling a bit claustrophobic. “Do you smell that fresh country air?” my friend joked after a twenty-minute drive to Thaddaeus Ropac’s new space in Pantin, an industrial suburb of Paris. While neither an exhibition on photography or the pastoral, the opening dinner of “Empire State. New York Art Now” provided refreshment to the eyes and palates of those art addicts who felt saturated by the week of images.
“Too many photos,” he joked impassively.
Cocurated by Alex Gartenfeld and Norman Rosenthal, the presentation of twenty-five New York–based artists addressing and often satirizing the sociocultural ascendancy of the Big Apple is hands down, as curator Timothée Chaillou posted on Facebook, “one of the best shows of the season!” Bjarne Melgaard’s homage to Allen Jones replaces the former’s forniphilic fantasy of gagged, supplicant women-turned-furniture with ’70s blaxploitation heroines. (And you thought they couldn’t get any worse.)
LaToya Ruby Frazier’s hard-hitting photographic documentation of the social realities of her community was a welcome slap back into sobriety. “I use photography as a tool for social commentary and political critique,” she told me in front of an image of a hospital in Braddock, Pennsylvania, that had been torn down by an interceding health care corporation. In exposing the hardships of one of the most environmentally hazardous cities in the United States––in addition to being her hometown, Braddock is home to one of the last working steel mills of Andrew Carnegie––her work recalls the expository tradition of Walker Evans. “I feel this is a task I will work my entire lifetime without completing, but at least it will be documented and archived to aid posterity.”
After a “walking dinner” next to a fiberglass Apatosaurus by Rob Pruitt, those who weren’t feeling prehistoric made their way over to the cozier loft next door. The lights were lowered, a fire was lit, and a DJ spun disco classics and revivals like Evelyn Champagne King’s “Shame” and Midnight Magic’s “Beam Me Up.” While the mood was right, the dancing was lacking, so some of us decided to check out what was going on back in town. The Perrotin afterparty for McGinley, hosted at Costes-owned café Étienne Marcel, was packed with ardent, lusty youths that looked as though they may have ran streaking out of one his signature photographs before a pit stop at A.P.C. on Rue Vieille du Temple. Among the photogenic faces was the former prince of teen desire, late-’90s heartthrob Josh Hartnett.
“Young crowd,” I mused.
“That’s Perrotin’s specialty,” artist Daniel Firman confirmed.
After a glance at my phone (it was only midnight), I decided it was time to retire, but I have a feeling that the more sprightly were in it for the long haul. Thumbs up to McGinley and Perrotin for making your humble reporter feel old at twenty-three.
Left: Artists Antoine Catala and Danny McDonald. Right: Artist Daniel Firman and his assistant Vincent Lorgé.
Left: Jakarta Biennale curator Ade Darmawan with Biennale Jogja curator Agung Hujatnikajennong. Right: Biennale Foundation Chair Yustina Neri with Biennale artist UBIK.
“SO, HOW WAS the Singapore Biennale?”
“Oh, I’m doing that next! I just came from Jakarta.”
“Oh, so you saw the Jakarta Biennale?”
“Well, thaaat, but also the South East Asia Triennale.”
The conversation would be enough to induce biennial fatigue in anyone. All the more so given its setting: a VIP welcome luncheon for yet another biennial, Biennale Jogja, which opened November 16 in venues across Yogyakarta, Java’s effusive second capital. Nestled amid active volcanoes and ancient temples, Yogyakarta—known affectionately as Jogja (Jhog-jha)—is experiencing a major surge in its contemporary art scene, as more and more traffic-weary take refuge from the packed roads of Jakarta.
Though perhaps less known than some of its counterparts, Biennale Jogja debuted in 1988, long before biennials for Singapore or Jakarta. It hit some financial obstacles in 2008, when organizers resorted to selling works to recoup expenses. But the biennial soon regrouped, making strides toward sustainability with the 2010 formation of the Yogyakarta Biennale Foundation. One of this new institution’s first acts was to chart out a course—quite literally—for the biennial with the launch of the Equator Festival. The ten-year platform sends BJ around the globe to examine Indonesia’s relationships with five regions along the route. For the first stop, Biennale Jogja’s 2011 curators Alia Swastika and Suman Gopinath looked at the exchange between India and Indonesia, with an eye towards “religiosity, spirituality, and belief.” This year’s stop? The Arabian Peninsula.
Biennale curator Agung Hujatnikajennong has his work cut out for him. Indonesia boasts the world’s largest population of Muslims, a faith imported from Arab traders in the eighth century. Religious pilgrims aside, for decades Indonesia has exported a steady supply of goods and labor to the Gulf. For his installation at the National Museum, artist FX Harsono neatly summarized both the religious and economic ties with an installation of souvenir teapots that bear images and inscriptions from the Haj but which were produced on the cheap in China or Indonesia. “My mother used to do all her souvenir shopping once she returned home,” Hujatnikajennong remembered with a smile. “Globalization creates a new locality.”
Hujatnikajennong recognizes the obstacles to fitting this “new locality” into the old molds of traditional geography, but, as the curator reasons, “If you’re going to ask criticism for gimmicks or simplifications, best to get some mileage out of it.” Titled “Not a Dead End” the exhibition thematizes “mobility and migration,” two concepts which in effect evacuate the “geographical” conceit. The result is something of a cul-de-sac: no hard turns, but plenty of room to double back.
Originally, Hujatnikajennong envisioned pairing off artists from each region to create collaborative pieces, but, in short: “That didn’t work.” Instead, the biennial made the most of existing residencies in Yogyakarta, Sharjah, and Cairo. Even then, location did not lend itself to cohesion. Dubai-based artist UBIK prowled the secondhand markets of Indonesia to recover relics of the country’s suppressed communist past, while Dina Danish taught herself the Javanese techniques of batik. Residencies in the Arab countries produced a variety of results as well: Prilla Tania found herself entranced with the labyrinthine architecture of Sharjah, while in Cairo, Vincensius “Venzha” Christiawan was busy investigating reports of paranormal activity within the Pyramids. “One thing is certain. Something not human was found there,” he warned us, in an artist’s talk that careened from Area 51 to the Large Hadron Collider to Keanu Reeves and the Illuminati—Google it—to Christiawan’s own work, a machine that replicates the sensation of immortality.
Left: Artist Angki Purbandono. Right: ROH Projects’ Junior Tirtadji, RogueArt’s Adeline Ooi, and collector “Dr Oei” Hong Dijen.
Quite surprisingly, the Arab Spring was all but invisible within the exhibition, save for one potent reference: Magdi Mostafa’s Transparent Existence, a black box full of tear gas, which left viewers half-blinded, gasping and stumbling in pain and confusion. After questioning the ethics of such a gesture, however, I was informed that the piece actually consisted of a sophisticated sound-and-light installation, and that all the stinging and burning was merely the result of concentrated, unventilated paint fumes.
But back to the welcome luncheon, where I was lucky enough to grab onto the coattails of jet-set veterans Ursula Krinzinger and Sabine Vogel. “We’ve got the best guide to Jogja,” Krinzinger bragged. That would be “Seto,” otherwise known as Satriagama Rakantaseta, director of the artists-only fair ArtJog. While motorbikes are Jogja’s transport of choice, I would soon find that there was almost always an extra SUV seat to spare. Within hours, we had blitzed through biennial venues Taman Budaya, the SaRang Building, and the Langgeng Art Foundation, before making the rounds at Cemeti Art House, Studio Handiwirman, and the impressive new outpost of Jakarta’s Ark Galerie. At every stop, directors would greet us warmly, laying out extensive plans for promoting the arts, which never failed to conclude with “…and an artist’s residency,” until we began to jokingly end our sentences with the phrase. “When we started our residency it was still a rare thing,” Krinzinger reflected later. “Now I guess everyone has one?” She paused to consider this: “That’s probably a good thing.”
Left: Dealer Ursula Krinzinger and artist Entang Wiharso. Right: Biennale artist Venzha Christiawan.
It was technically time for the official opening ceremony, but Seto took one glance at the sky and declared, “It’s going to rain.” This seemed a sufficient alibi for the crowds gathering instead at the private exhibition space of Tom Tandio, founder of IndoArtNow, an online repository for all things Indonesian art–related. A deft and dapper host, Tandio took obvious delight as his guests giggled at Traumarama’s animation of Indonesian currency crooning along to Sinatra, or stepped appreciatively around the floorpiece by Albert Yonathan Setyawan. “This is my space,” he said, casually lighting a cigarette. “It’s not really for parties, just a place where friends can gather.” Friends seemed to be something the young patron had in droves: from RogueArt’s Adeline Ooi, in from Malaysia, to Hong Kong–based magazine editor Cristina Sanchez Kozyreva to legendary collector Oei Hong Dijen (“Dr. Oei”), who runs his own museum of Indonesian art in the nearby city of Magelang.
When our group hit critical mass we piled back into our cars and set off to SaRang, where Agung Kurniawan was midway through a stomach-churning performance on the corrupt former president Suharto’s dirty dealings with Monsanto. Punctuating the work was the figure of a great, lumbering ass that would have resembled Ronald McDonald’s cohort Mayor McCheese but for the black bean slop it kept excreting, in a revolting visual metaphor for the country’s Big Food fuckery. It was hard to think about eating after that, but thankfully my hosts for the evening, Swastika and Junior Tirtadji (of Jakarta’s ROH Projects), had provided plenty of good company for a cozy dinner served on the terrace of Omah Dhuwur, in the old town’s silver district. Artists Wimo Bayang, Jompet Kuswidananto, and Melati Suryodarmo; dealers Edouard Malingue and Michael Janssen; Kadist Foundation’s Xiaoyu Weng; Sotheby’s Galuh Sukardi; and Gwangju Biennale associate curators Emiliano Valdés and Fatos Üstek (chief curator Jessica Morgan was “stuck at a fancy dinner”) clustered around the long table, trading itineraries as waiters brought out steaming bowls of tofu stew and skewers of sate kotagede.
Left: Critic Hendro Wiyanto. Right: Singapore Tyler Print Institute’s Rita Targui and Hannah Chung with artist Takashi Kuribayashi.
By the time we made it to the official BJ party at Taman Budaya, the majority of the crowd had already motored over to Oxen Free, the bar where Tirtadji was throwing a dutifully raucous afterparty. Unaware of this alternative, Singapore CCA curators Ute Meta Bauer and Anca Rujoiu stood at a loss in the center of the near-deserted exhibition space. “We thought we would make a big entrance, arriving on a becak”—think a bicycle with a human-size basket in front—“but we got here and everyone was gone!”
The pair would be right on time the next morning, however, when their 4:30 AM sunrise tour of the Borobudur temple ended up delivering a perfect view of Mount Merapi erupting. “I didn’t understand what had happened, why there was all this black smoke,” Bauer recalled later. “I just thought to myself, ‘There is so much to look at all around us, why is everyone just staring in one direction?’ ” An infinitely applicable conclusion.
Jack White, Daphne Brooks, and Dean Blackwood. (All photos: Jori Klein/New York Public Library)
IT’S AN OLD AMERICAN STORY, perhaps the story, at least in terms of our popular music heritage: Black-owned record label (Black Swan) is bought by white-owned record label (Paramount), which records and markets black music to black people (“race records”); such music (blues, ragtime, gospel, early jazz) eventually falls out of favor with black people and is taken up decades later by white people (1960s folk revival), with whom it eventually falls out of favor, and finally is taken up again (last Tuesday) nearly a century after the black label’s founding (in Harlem) at the New York Public Library by a man named White, Jack White, in an event moderated by a black woman (Daphne Brooks), attended by a largely white audience.
Also featuring brothers Dean and Scott Blackwood (cofounder of Revenant Records and award-winning fiction writer, respectively) and the éminence grise of the “old, weird America,” Greil Marcus, the event was keyed to the recent release of a massive artisanal box set of eight hundred remastered tracks from Paramount’s treasured “race record” catalog, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, 1917–1932, coproduced by Revenant and White’s Third Man Records. I don’t rate White as a blues musician, but his love and reverence for the music are palpable, and if the preponderance of young people in the SRO audience last week was down to his fame, I’m not complaining. Each generation calls forth archivist-evangelists of early American music (Dean’s partner in Revenant, John Fahey, was one of these), and White has assumed this mantle admirably with the Paramount project, which will see a second volume released in 2014.
The first thing to understand is that Paramount (no relation to the film studio) was not a record company like Columbia or Okeh; rather, it was the Amazon.com of its day, if Amazon had started its business with the Kindle. Owned and run by the Wisconsin Chair Company of Port Washington, Wisconsin, which manufactured a line of wooden phonograph cabinets and figured it would be good for business to provide content for these units, Paramount was founded in 1917 in nearby Grafton, Wisconsin. Its first five years were rocky, as the unremarkable white pop and novelty songs selected for recording kept the label in the red. In 1922, however, as the short-lived but historic Black Swan label was failing, Paramount recognized the burgeoning market for African-American music and purchased the company.
Enter J. Mayo Williams: black graduate of Brown University; WWI veteran; early athlete in a fledgling concern called the National Football League; friend of Paul Robeson; and, during Prohibition, successful Chicago bootlegger. Williams’s connections in Chicago’s nightclubs kept him attuned to emerging African-American musicians in the city, and for five years he scouted, signed, and recorded hundreds of these artists for Paramount, among them the leading lights of the era: Alberta Hunter, Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters, Papa Charlie Jackson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Jelly Roll Morton, and many others, earning the nickname “Ink” for his ability to get performers to sign on the dotted line. Some of the label’s most celebrated artists, particularly Delta bluesmen and songsters like Charley Patton, Skip James, and the Mississippi Sheiks, were signed and recorded by Paramount after Williams’s departure in 1927, many originally discovered and recommended by legendary talent scout H. C. Speir, a white record store owner from Jackson, Mississippi.
Despite the enduring earthiness of the music, Paramount’s 78s were nearly as ephemeral as Kindle Singles due to substandard shellac and sloppy recording techniques. Latter-day collectors have for decades rued the scarcity and low fidelity of Paramount 78s; it seems cosmically wrong for one of leading repositories of early American music to have been so poorly made and archived. Even after the best audio reconstruction and remastering technology available is applied to these tracks, some still sound like coarse sandpaper rubbed over a condenser mic, the music a distant murmur in a storm of static. I haven’t heard all the tracks from the box set, but the ones that were played during the panel discussion confirmed that Dean, White, and their team did their best to restore the sound to acceptable clarity for contemporary ears.
The panel came in two waves: Dean and White, moderated by Brooks, went first, tracing the above history with commentary about Paramount and the box-set project. A slide show of the wonderful illustrated ads (artists unknown) for the records that appeared in black newspapers like the Chicago Defender, and from which R. Crumb lifted so much of his aesthetic, cycled on twin screens surrounding the stage. Titles like “The Cat’s Got the Measles,” “The Faking Blues,” and “Gang of Brown Skin Women” gave the illustrators ample inspiration for novel imagery. They played key tracks from the set. White called “Mr. Jelly Lord” by Morton and his band the “dubstep of its day,” instrumental dance music that represented “freedom” (in this case, “free” time and playing). Brooks played Waters’s “Ain’t Gonna Marry,” which White characterized as another type of freedom: a protofeminist statement.
Before they got carried away, Dean interjected that no noble motives should be imputed to Williams and Paramount’s execs, who were solely motivated by sales (Williams reportedly said, “You gotta screw the artist before they screw you”), and that one of the main differences between Paramount and “real” record companies was that they didn’t do demo recordings and would release material by almost anybody (if you were recommended by a scout or a previously recorded musician, Paramount would take a chance on you). White played “Shaggy Dog Blues” by one of my favorites, a joyous, raggy eccentric named Buddy Boy Hawkins, noting that Paramount’s poor recordings resulted in a kind of “accidental beauty.” They then played one of strongest (and strangest) songs in the Paramount catalog, Homer Quincy Smith’s dirgey pump-organ apocalypse, “I Want Jesus to Talk with Me,” a harrowing track that rarely fails to raise the hairs on my neck (and God knows what else from the spirit world). White admitted that if he walked into the parlor and heard his grandmother listening to this track, he’d be duly disturbed.
Scott and Marcus joined the panel for the “throwdown,” where each panelist played and discussed their favorite Paramount track. Marcus, after conceding that the best track (Homer Quincy Smith) had already been played, introduced Long “Cleve” Reed & Little Harvey Hull’s “Original Stack O’Lee Blues,” one of the earliest recorded instances of the Stagger Lee legend. Based on the real-life murder of Billy Lyons by “Stag” Lee Shelton in 1895 Saint Louis, essentially a barroom dispute between two black political operatives with underworld connections, the story eventually took on the larger-than-life characteristics of a black-hat/white-hat western in its various musical versions. Not technically a Paramount track but often anthologized with them, the song appeared on Williams’s Black Patti label, which he founded and ran for one year after his split with Paramount. Marcus called it “as pretty a record as you’ll ever hear.”
Dean chose a “half jazz, half washboard band” track by Jimmy O’Bryant (“a poor man’s Johnny Dodds”) and his band that encapsulated the unhinged glee of early “hot” jazz. Finally, White played Sweet Papa Stovepipe’s “Mama’s Angel Child,” an odd, lilting song that harmonically teeters back and forth in loose waltz time like a rusty seesaw. The song was a revelation to him—he wished he’d written it and hoped that we would have a similar eureka moment when first hearing a song—and he said that it inspired him to embark on the Paramount project. That such an obscure, idiosyncratic song could lead to this heroic archival effort is a testament to the power of the music. Here’s hoping it survives for another century.
MAYBE IT WAS THE ALTITUDE. Or the good weather. Or the exhilarating energy of Mexico City itself. Whatever the reason, the November 16 opening of collector Eugenio López’s Museo Jumex set off a weekend of spirited patronage topped by a drink-all-you-want, dance-till-you-drop blowout. Roll together all the parties at any Miami Basel and it still wouldn’t hold a candle to this one.
Guests who stopped over in Guadalajara a few days earlier had a taste of the hospitality to come when Silvia Ortiz and Ines López-Quesada opened an outpost for their Travesía Cuatro Gallery in Madrid with a group exhibition by hometown artists Gonzalo Lebrija, Jose Dávila, and Jorge Méndez Blake. When I arrived that afternoon, they were all relishing a typically hours-long lunch organized by collector Jose Noe Suro at Alcalde, one of several new restaurants here effecting a foodie revolution in Mexican cuisine. Also at his table were Francis Al˙s, Claudia Fernandez, and Samara Guzmán, whose exhibitions at MAZ (Museo de Arte de Zapopan) others in the party—Berlin dealer Esther Schipper, independent curators Agustín Pérez-Rubio and Abaseh Mirvali, Guggenheim Museum curator Pablo León De La Barra, Săo Paulo dealer Felipe Dmab, and Miami-based collector Richard Massey—had just toured with curator Viviana Kuri.
At the opening that evening, they formed the nucleus of a crowd that swelled to well over a hundred, much to the pleasure of Noe Suro, who has been working for years to give Guadalajara some solid art-world cred. A traditional mariachi band snaked through the buffet dinner served next door, in the candlelit garden of the comically dysfunctional Hotel Demetria, where infrared goggles are required to find one’s way around the dimly lit, black-on-black bedrooms. But how not to love a hotel that gives its lobby over to the exhibition of a massive sculptural installation, in this case by Méndez Blake? Need the reception desk? See art first.
The party went late, as parties in Mexico will. “Never trust a Mexican who says, ‘One more drink and we’ll go,’ ” Noe Suro observed. Next day, after studio visits and another mariachi-laced lunch, the group caravanned to his family’s ceramics factory in suburban Tlaquepaque. The attic alone was an awesome sight. It was filled, floor to ceiling, with haphazard piles of plaster molds that factory craftsmen had fashioned for the many artists invited there to work, John Baldessari, Jim Lambie, Jorge Pardo, Sarah Morris, Marcel Dzama, and Jason Rhoades among them.
Before his death, Rhoades dreamed of trucking the whole kit and caboodle to New York for a show at David Zwirner. Now, said Casey Kaplan, who had joined the tour, artist Geoffrey Farmer will realize the project as the last in Kaplan’s Chelsea gallery, which he plans to vacate a year from now. After a dinner in the Noe Suro home that rainy, cold night, I felt more than prepared for the watershed Jumex moment ahead. Or so I thought.
At least half of the 1,500 people who came to worship at the inauguration of López’s David Chipperfield–designed, travertine temple in Polanco had traveled from New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, London, Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, or Paris. Many began the day on Friday by visiting galleries. Big SUVs kept pulling up to Kurimanzutto like tour buses. No sooner had longtime López advisor Patricia Marshall marched her flock of visiting dealers off to lunch at “Casa Garza” (the estate of collectors Ramiro and Gabriela Garza) than out of another spilled Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones with the Council of the Serpentine Gallery, a support group of multinational collectors.
Dealer Paul Schimmel and the Guggenheim’s Ari Wiseman were already inside, where Gabriel Sierra was conducting walkthroughs of his Le Corbusier–inspired interventions with the gallery walls. Monika Sprüth and Sarah Watson arrived together, and their constant companionship over the weekend set many a tongue to wag—about the possibility of a Sprüth-Magers in Los Angeles—but there wasn’t time to speculate. A few blocks away, José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto had installed a pop-up group show in the remains of a beautiful, nineteenth-century nunnery, soon to be transformed into their family home.
Meanwhile, Fernando Mesta had moved his House of Gaga gallery into his present home in Condesa. After a tipoff from Thea Westreich, I grabbed the expat American artist James Brown and caught a group show that included Coply and James Metcalf, and was both illuminating and really fascinating. Just as unique, in its own way, was Lulu, a back-room exhibition space that curator Chris Sharp opened last April with artist Martin Soto Climent in a dilapidated house entered through an obscure alley in southern Roma. On show was a single “monochrome study,” a magnificent spray of fresh white flowers selected by Willem de Rooij. “The idea is to show artists who have never exhibited in Latin America,” Sharp told me, and before you could say “tuna taco,” it was time for lunch at Contramar.
When the international art world descends on Mexico City, Contramar becomes its exclusive club. At the risk of sounding like the Palm Beach Daily News’ Shiny Sheet, I can report that every table was seated with a different claque. Lisson Gallery’s Alex Logsdail and Angela Brazda snagged an outdoor table to catch the eye of everyone else going in. Dealer Gordon Veneklasen surrounded himself with Angelenos Rosette Delug, Wendy Stark, and Waldo Fernandez. Pérez-Rubio was tęte-ŕ-tęte with Lorena Jáuregui, director of FONCA (Mexico City’s Fondos de Arte Contemporáneo). Noe Suro commanded a group that included Zwirner director Bellatrix Hubert, Kaplan, Massey, and artist Oscar Murillo, while Contramar’s indefatigable Gabriela Cámara presided over it all as if it were just another day at the ranch.
Back at the Camino Real, the great Luis Barragán–inspired hotel, the lobby was filling with what appeared to be hundreds of Jumex guests as I left for the first of the evening’s soirees: a cocktail party for Obrist and Peyton-Jones at the modernist home of architect Fernando Romero and Soumaya Slim Romero in Lomas de Chapultepec (Mexico City’s Beverly Hills). In his remarks, Romero characterized López as “a visionary human being.” (Indeed, Mexico City pretty much owes its place on the contemporary art map to him and his collection, probably the largest in private hands found in Latin America.) Out of the sea of black frocks and black suits appeared Obrist in an electric blue jacket, and in thrall to Pedro Friedeberg, “the godfather of design” in Mexico. “His house is mesmerizing,” Obrist said.
The main event that evening, at least for us foreigners—most of our Mexican counterparts had to fend for themselves—was a humongous welcome dinner hosted by López at Casa de la Bola. Accessed from a dreary, commercial street and across a parking lot, we entered a total fantasyland—beautifully lit, terraced gardens of tropical plants and trees interrupted here and there by statuary or fountains. Its winding brick path led down to a gorgeous hacienda once owned by a wealthy German-born bachelor, I learned, who bequeathed it to his dogs, and to his servants, who rent it out for parties.
Here, the true measure of art-world regard for López and his grant-making foundation became visible. On hand were the entire board of the New Museum and part of MoCA LA’s—López is an active member of both—as well as directors or curators from the Hammer, the Nasher, the Guggenheim, LACMA, and MoMA PS1; dealers from seemingly everywhere; collectors Michael Chow, Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner, Jennifer McSweeney, Alan Hergott, Maria Arena Bell; and artists including Anri Sala, Thomas Demand, Adam McEwen, Anne Collier, Lari Pittman and Roy Dowell, as well as Danh Vo, who had just moved to Mexico City. Before the evening was out, many in the crowd who had sampled the local cuisine, the architecture, the warm weather, the cheap real estate, and the beautiful people were thinking of doing the same. “Omigosh,” exclaimed Alex Israel. “There’s Paulina Rubio!”
It’s so relaxed in this city that no matter how late you arrive at an event, you’re always on time. López, who is not known for punctuality, came into the room well after his guests had helped themselves to a giant, strangely un-Mexican buffet. Making his way into the crowd while directing the phalanx of photographers and cameramen trailing behind, he shook hands with the men and embraced every woman in sight, including his mother. “Now I can relax!” he said. “The building is done! I’m a happy man.”
His guests were happy too. Over the past ten years, visiting Jumex Collection shows required a two-hour trek in hideous traffic to his father’s Jumex fruit juice factory. The prospect of seeing the shows in town generated no small excitement. Clearly, López had chosen the right architect and spared no expense realizing his design. The five-story structure, which is about the size of the Whitney Museum’s Marcel Breuer building, wowed everyone at the morning VIP preview for visiting gringos. (Natives had to wait for the evening opening.)
The three exhibitions on view had surprises in store. Few, it seemed, expected Patricia Marshall’s group show in the underground parking garage to deliver the strongest punch. Several dealers, meanwhile, were puzzled to find a James Lee Byars retrospective—a collaboration between Jumex and MoMA PS1—in the museum proper. “Why Byars?” said one grump. “He never influenced anyone.” Curators and collectors, however, took the high road. “It’s like having a closet full of black,” said Jennifer McSweeney. “It’s all good.”
On the top floor, illuminated by filtered light from sloping skylights angled in the manner of classic artists’ studios, director Patrick Charpenel had installed a disorienting mini Fred Sandback show within a larger display from the permanent collection. They were largely market favorites but also included a Robert Gober that usually hangs in López’s other home in Los Angeles. “Best use of Sandback I’ve ever seen,” said one observer. “If you open a museum in Mexico,” said Charpenel, “it has to be important for the country, not just the art world.”
Judging from the number of entertainment and society figures, politicians, businessmen, and artists who came for the opening that night, it’s certainly glamorous. López posed for the cameras surrounded by smiling babes. Strobes lit up when Eli Broad offered López his congratulations. “Who’s that?” one photographer asked. No one had to identify López senior, a beaming bear of a man who once reportedly despaired of his son’s dalliance with art. Now he was the biggest game in town.
How big came clear at the awesome afterparty, which took place in a temporary structure erected for the occasion within an equestrian arena controlled by the military. Its designer was Etienne Russo, who usually produces runway shows for the likes of Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Dries van Noten, and Maison Martin Margiela. This time out, he counted as at least one person inspired by Byars.
A dark tunnel led into the arena, where four long, gold-leafed staircases rose from the dance floor to the blackout ceiling. Clearly, there was nowhere to go but up, and down. The stairs, which were there just for show, divided three successive tiers of sectioned banquettes, where the different social groups arranged themselves around glass tables. On the tables were silver buckets stuffed with bottles of champagne and tequila. When I arrived, around 11 PM, an orchestra was playing swing music. The musicians were dressed in top hats and tails, with partial skulls painted on half of each of their faces. “It’s all so elegant!” I heard someone say. “It’s like an Oscars party,” offered Phillip Larratt-Smith. Pushing his way up through the crush, Tony Shafrazi put it differently. “This is an exotic nightmare,” he said.
Russo passed by, shouting into a headset. “He can’t find the DJ,” said Nadine Johnson, whose PR firm was managing the American guests. Then the orchestra departed and Mark Ronson slipped behind a laptop perched on a gold-leaf podium that traversed one golden staircase. After a moment of silence, the voice of Amy Winehouse brought a mob to the dance floor and the party went into high, high, high gear. Traveling sans wives or girlfriends, Vito Schnabel, Sam Orlofsky, Vladimir Restoin-Roitfeld, P. C. Valmorbida, and Alex Marshall formed a stag line along one banquette. “The billionaire boys’ club,” Jeffrey Deitch noted. But heads only turned when López, his photographers in tow, threaded his way through the stands. Here was a host so magnanimous that a thousand guests would find the gift of a signed and numbered, chicken-and-egg sculpture by Urs Fischer waiting in their hotel rooms.
Making an early exit, at 2 AM, I passed a dancing Oscar Murillo. “They really should do this more often,” he said.
OF ALL THE GREAT MUSEUMS set inside New York City’s vast and uneven network of thriving or threadbare public parks, the entrance to the Queens Museum might be the most dramatic. From the second-to-last stop on the 7 train, one takes a long stroll down an eerily empty boardwalk, slips into Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and turns onto the wide, leafy boulevard that leads to the Unisphere. An enormous stainless-steel orb that stands twelve stories high and weighs more than three hundred tons, the Unisphere is the ultimate in triumphant old-school spectacle, surrounded when occasion demands by surging water fountains. Behind it are the remaining industrial relics of the world’s fairs for which this park was built, in 1939, and revamped, in 1964. From that approach, the museum sits off to the right, a quiet concrete structure that reopened earlier this month after a $69 million expansion, which took seven years to complete.
On a dank Wednesday evening that felt like the dead of winter, the museum was just about ready to show off its new digs—double the space, six new galleries, a wing of artists’ studios, and a majestic new atrium replete with skylights, louvers, and a lantern of shadowed glass hanging over a recessed exhibition space, which the critic Holland Cotter likened (quite nicely) to “a community commons.” Some of the details were rough—a bus belonging to Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater looked abandoned outside the building, much of the signage was still missing, and a branch of the Queens public library would need another eighteen months to move in—but overall the space felt open, lively, welcoming. And so, coming by car and by train, people streamed into the museum for a very professional preview. Impressively, the museum had only been closed to the public for five months, but in addition to the new architecture, there were eight new exhibitions to unveil, including a small but powerful survey of contemporary art from Cuba and the sixth edition of the Queens International.
Inside the building, I climbed a theatrical glass staircase and caught up with David Strauss, the museum’s director of external affairs, who was surveying the scene with Mark Husser, an architect from the design studio Grimshaw who had overseen the expansion. Husser seemed relieved. Strauss, for his part, said: “I can only see the mistakes, and I can only hope no one else sees them. But there’s still so much more to come. We have to build out our library. We have to build out our reputation.”
In the atrium, a crowd swelled around food and drink. Stragglers hung back in the elaborate stage that had been set for Pedro Reyes’s People’s United Nations, the much-anticipated follow-up to the artist’s sanatorium for Documenta 13. Reyes’s work begins this weekend with local representatives from all of the United Nations’ 195 member and observer states. I drifted into the artists’ studios, part of the museum’s new residency program. Such are the pressures and trends of the real estate market that all of the participants I met who were from New York told me they were grateful to get out of Bushwick. “I had a studio there and it was fine,” said Juan Betancurth, pulling me toward a sound installation he’d made in collaboration with the artist Daniel Neumann. “But I wasn’t challenged. When I came to the Queens Museum, I was lost. I had to find a way to create a relationship with the space. I had to conquer the space.”
Standing next to him, Nung-Hsin Hu smiled. Coordinator of the new studios, she also works on the museum’s New New Yorkers program, a range of classes for immigrant communities that have been taught in a dozen different languages. “He changed his life because of the space,” she said. Wondering if that was hyperbolic or sincere, I circled back to the lobby. Weaving through the crowd were Visionaire’s Cecilia Dean and restaurateur David Selig, Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Tom Eccles of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard. At a nearby café table, the artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles was having a chat with Tom Finkelpearl’s mom.
Dynamic, affable, and generous with his time, Finkelpearl has been director of the Queens Museum for eleven years. He came to the position as an artist, an advocate for public art (former director of Percent for Art), and an ace programmer (MoMA PS1). “The Queens International was the first show I put on the books when I arrived,” Finkelpearl told me when I dropped by to see him on a Friday afternoon, after the preview and before the public opening—a high ceremonial mix of multicultural blessings and a Mexican brass band—which was scheduled to start the next day. “It was about embracing this place and getting to know it. I wanted to show people that we were glad to be here. Each one is different. It’s important for our curators, every two years, to do a hundred studio visits. I mean, Ridgewood? There were no artists in Ridgewood when I arrived. Flushing? It’s not yet a place where art-school graduates are moving to, but there are enclaves.”
Left: Artists Bunny Rogers and Filip Olszewski in their studio at the Queens Museum. Right: Musicians Efrain Rozas and Joy Hanson of La Mecánica Popular.
Before it was a museum, this building—officially, the New York City Building—was used primarily as an ice skating rink. Before that, it was the municipal equivalent of a trade show pavilion. And before that, it was the place where the General Assembly of the United Nations met and decided on the partition of Palestine, among other fateful measures that came up for debate between 1946 and 1950. Outside of the art world, most people know the museum as the place where they’ve imagined their lives in miniature, leaning over the railings of the Panorama of the City of New York, wonder of wonders, toy-size planes sliding on threads to and from LaGuardia, which was built at the behest of Robert Moses and is said to be the largest scale model of a city anywhere in the world. “I used to come here when I was six,” said Joy Hanson, a singer with the band La Mecánica Popular (think psychedelic Peruvian-Colombian salsa by way of Laurelton, Queens), who was performing at the museum on Sunday. “My father would bring me and my siblings to see the Panorama. The museum didn’t have much more to offer back then. It’s amazing to see what they’ve done.”
A decade ago, the Queens Museum—which opened as the Queens Center for Art and Culture in 1972—already had a solid reputation for being tethered to the world and stitched into the surroundings. It is one of the few mainstream museums in American with a serious and sustained interest in modern and contemporary art from Asia (“Across the Pacific” in 1993–94, “Out of India” in 1997–98), and it takes an internationalist approach (ŕ la “Global Conceptualism” in 1999) to the same art-historical narratives that are told and retold with stubborn provincialism on the island of Manhattan. In his tenure, Finkelpearl has turned the Queens Museum into an important incubator for ideas about social practice and community engagement—as troublesome as those terms may be—and for reflecting on the roles public institutions play amid an ever-shifting matrix of interests in art, culture, education, money, class, material history, and visual culture.
“I definitely take the public service aspect of this museum seriously,” Finkelpearl said. “Part of that is that I’m idealistic. Part of that is that it works. As a side product of our community programs, our audience numbers are way up. We have community organizers on staff. We are the first museum in America to have art therapists working full time.”
Perhaps more so than any other museum director in the city, Finkelpearl is wholly caught up in what Stuart Hall, the Jamaican-born founder of cultural studies, terms “multicultural drift.” Not only is Queens the largest borough in New York, but it is the most diverse county in the United States and, probably, the world. Hall has long considered the Caribbean to be the great test case for multiculturalism, a place where everyone is from elsewhere. Finkelpearl could make a compelling counterargument that Queens is even greater. “I’m from the ’80s generation of multiculturalism on some basic level,” he said, “where it was all about crossing borders and creating coalitions within the city. The twentieth century was dominated by rupture and dissonance and pain, and incredible art was made under that banner. But I think there’s radical potential in cooperation. People always think it’s about conflict. This is my beef with Claire Bishop, my great friend and intellectual adversary. Her project is about antagonism. Mine is about cooperation. It’s a more pleasant way to work in the museum. You can have autonomy and community at the same time.”
The atmosphere around the museum’s reopening grew younger, more festive, and familial as the weekend wore on. Baby strollers lined up alongside Pedro Reyes’s project. “I am so happy for the Queens Museum,” a curator murmured to me on Saturday night, wandering beneath the immersive work of Peter Schumann, anguished but playful in an explosion of charcoal-drawn puppets, texts, and portraits strung from the ceiling. “It doesn’t feel like we are in New York. It doesn’t even feel like we are in America. It feels like we are in Europe.” A compliment, that. Curators Yasmil Raymond, Manuel Cirauqui, Anthony Huberman, and Juana Berrío milled around with writers Claire Barliant and Catherine Foulkrod. Lauren Cornell, from the New Museum, dropped by with her parents, lifelong New Yorkers, who made a beeline for the Panorama.
“I’ve lived in the same apartment in Flushing for thirty-five years,” said Jack Eichenbaum, incumbent borough historian of Queens, resplendent in a turquoise turtleneck. “I used to bike down to Flushing Meadows. It wasn’t so safe in those days but there were always great musicians in the park, from all over the world. It was the beginning of the kind of multiculturalism we see in Queens today. And I am so taken with this space,” he added, gesturing broadly. “Queens is often called the most diverse place in the world. I take it a step further. Queens is the center of contemporary hybridization, and this museum is part of it.”
Left: Artists Cheon Pyo Lee and Shahab Fotouhi. Right: Curator Wassan al-Khudhairi with photographer Samar al-Khudhairi.
THE TIME OF FOMO IS NOW. If you are not somewhere, you “should” be. Not only do you have to deal with your compulsive inner guilt; you also have to hear and see people bragging about being there, in real time, across various digital platforms. This year, I didn’t plan to go to Artissima. I even missed the opening, thinking that my absence would be the ultimate antidote to get through my withdrawal. But it was those continuous hashtag salads of #whitetruffle and #sparklingprosecco that made me give way and book a ticket. I actually still don’t know whether I first succumbed to collector Sandra Mulliez’s enthusiastic Facebook post “Artissima Rocks!” or to artist Ryan Gander’s Instagram of a restaurant bill featuring fritto di calamari, taglioni al tartuffo, and grappa. But I was weak, and then I was on a train on a Saturday morning, eager to land at the Lingotto complex, home of Artissima as well as to the divine pre–Mario Batali shopping complex Eataly. (I won’t say which one I visited first—no digital check-in witnessed my move.)
I began my tour of the fair with a proper catch-up over espressos with its director, Sarah Cosulich Canarutto, who vividly described the buoyant opening at Oval Lingotto that past Thursday night, which sounded like a cheerful end to a curators’ sleepaway summer camp, as well as Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo’s dinner the night before, where many of the curators stood before the well-heeled crowd and received praises for their projects. “We have a great group of dynamic international curators,” Cosulich Canarutto said, adding, “They are all staying in the same hotel, so it’s been a lot of fun.” Indeed they—major institutional representatives like Caroline Bourgeois, Defne Ayas, Kaspar König, Christine Macel, and Beatrix Ruf as well as independent young talents such as Anna Colin and Andrew Berardini—were legion and they were everywhere: selecting galleries and artists and dividing them into time-related sections (Present Future, Back to the Future, New Entries), touring around Turin with the boards of their museums, organizing shows inside and outside Artissima, delivering prizes, giving speeches. Some curators were even found within the works: A painting in Joe Sheftel’s booth by Matthew Watson cheekily depicted one of Present Future’s curators (and current Miami MoCA director), Alex Gartenfeld. This glorifying mise en abyme was perhaps the epitome of the center stage attention the curators were garnering here—a true blessing for a commercial event. Still, one wondered if their status replaced the experimental vibe so dear to previous editions of the fair.
By the time Cosulich Canaretto was telling me how excited she was to re-create the energy of the Torino Triennale, a major art event involving all art institutions in the city and focused on the confrontation of emerging and midcareer artists, it was time to leave the VIP highs (the lounge literally overlooked the fair) to test the fair waters #IRL. I wriggled among the different sections: New Entries focused on young galleries; Present Future featured solo shows by emerging artists; and Back to the Future was devoted to great but little-known works by artists from the 1960s to the ’80s, such as a remarkable presentation by Krzysztof Wodiczko at Profile gallery and Dorothy Iannone’s booth at Air de Paris (a saga-like storyboard of her relationship with Dieter Roth, which really hit the mark). While some dealers complained about a sales slump compared with the golden years of Artissima under directors Andrea Bellini and Francesco Manacorda, others said they were selling more than they did at FIAC. Italian collectors—including Giorgio Fasol, Enea Righi and Lorenzo Paini, Diego Bergamaschi and Marco Martini—were au rendez-vous, wandering the alleys. “They keep a low profile but also keep buying despite hard times,” noted Pilar Corrias, who then added: “You should go get some truffles!”
First stop for dinner was historic La Drogheria on Piazza Vittorio Veneto, where Ryan Gander was hosting an artist-made cocktail hour. The café was small and crowded, with an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner—oh wait, it was only aperitivo. “This is my first dinner of the night” hummed curator Artemis Baltoyanni while seeking some gluten-free treats (worse than finding a needle in a haystack in Italy). “I have two more later,” she said. Nearby, and confirming the art fair/food disorder, was Daniele Balice, who told how many pizzas he’d had since the fair began (one each day). I was trying to stay as far away as possible from the fried calamari, working my appetite for truffles, when I ran into curators Berardini and Martha Kirszenbaum, who were debating the “89plus” project (that polyglot Hans Ulrich Obrist had presented, in Italian, the night before at Casa Sandretto): Apparently it involves Rihanna, X Factor, and the ability to piss in artworks as a post-Duchampian posture. After that, it was definitely time to hit the bar and trade my prosecco for an artist-crafted Negroni. “These cocktails should only be interpreted by a competent, well adjusted adult, with an impeccable moral compass,” read the drink’s description. My moral compass was thinking about the 8 AM ride I had booked for the next day to the Castello di Rivoli to see Artissima’s One Torino new program of exhibitions.
Throwing caution to the wind, Kirszenbaum and I headed to Franco Noero’s new space on via Mottalciata for Mark Handford’s opening. “Look at the back of the gallery,” someone told me; “there is an Italian hipsters’ rave.” Indeed, behind the immaculate walls of the high-ceilinged white cube was a courtyard featuring what was actually the opening party for CRIPTA747, an independent nonprofit space Noero was hosting in his basement after they were kicked out from their previous location. After a talk with CRIPTA’s artists Giuseppe Buzzotta and Vincenzo Schillaci, we managed to make it to Michael Bauer’s opening at Norma Mangione and Peter Friedl’s at Guido Costa before trying to get dinner at Da Michele, a small renowned trattoria that seemed to be colonized by a vegan and organic-oriented Los Angeles art crowd. “What is this thing?” they asked. “It’s squid ink.” “Are you kidding me? Is there anything I can actually eat here?” Despite all of the things I could have eaten there, I ended up following Gartenfeld and Swiss Institute director Simon Castets, as well as Los Angeles Night gallery girls Mieke Marple and Davida Nemeroff, to another place around the corner. “Let’s stop kidding ourselves, someone exclaimed, this fair is all and only about the food.” We finished the night off at Norma Mangione’s party at Circolo Canottieri Esperia, a beautiful 1920s club of canoeing overlooking the river Po.
The next day, while everyone was visiting churches and chilling at cafes, contemplating the cloudless view of the Alps as postparty remedy, I ran around town, even making it to several of the “One Torino” shows. I began at Castello di Rivoli, where last year’s Illy prize laureates Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, Vanessa Safavi, and Santo Tolone are presenting a lovely group show organized by Illy prize judges Andrew Berardini, Beatrix Ruf, and Gregor Muir. Then I hit the Palazzo Cavour back in Turin, catching an exhibition curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari that was inspired (and shares the same name as) Ian Breakwell’s key work Repertory. Next, I passed by two more venues—at Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea and Fondazione Merz—before ending my whiplash inducing tour at “Veerle,” a small but perplexing group show at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo curated by Chris Fitzpatrick. Finally, I went back to the fair to make sure I didn’t miss anything. My FOMO was definitely sated. If the fair was all about food, I might have bitten more than I could chew.
EARLY EACH NOVEMBER, the auction houses start trumpeting their fall sales in New York with predictions of prices best described as insane. But hey, what would contemporary art be if it couldn’t be outrageous? Usually, of course, the provocations come from artists. During preauction week, when everyone comes out to play, primary-market dealers turn up the heat to remind us that there wouldn’t be a secondary market without new art—or any kind of art without artists.
Last Thursday, to mark her debut with his gallery, David Zwirner gave a press conference with the eighty-four-year-old Yayoi Kusama. Wheelchair-bound and clad in a kimono-like, yellow-and-black dotted dress designed, she said, “with Louis Vuitton,” she spoke at length through a translator. “Please be well and be happy!” she said, underscoring that plea by emphasizing the hardships of her life. They include several suicide attempts and her current disability, the consequence of “doing too much art.”
Without warning, she then broke into song, performing “Manhattan Suicide Addict,” the tune she sings in a video of the same title playing in one of the three Zwirner spaces on West Nineteenth Street. The other two have her latest paintings, landscapes where long-lashed eyeballs and flowers replace her polka-dotted “infinity nets” of the past. “I’ll never forget tonight,” she concluded. “Please feel something from my artwork.”
Left: Artists Rosemarie Trockel and T. J. Wilcox. Right: Museum der Moderne Salzburg director Sabine Breitwieser with MoMA chief curator of media and performance Stuart Comer.
How many other artists would say that in public? I don’t know, but I could feel the pain behind the no less serious feminist-Conceptualist Elaine Reichek’s debut with the Zach Feuer gallery, where she is showing foundational works dating from 1972 to 1995. Most have never been exhibited in New York. Better late than never! The method behind the madness of photographs and sculptural objects that simultaneously allude to “women’s work” (like sewing), women’s bodies, and women’s place outside the home was refreshingly simple. “You take a teepee,” she said. “A primary object, a triangle. You invert it. Then you knit it.”
Her old friend Isaac Julien definitely has feelings about the logic-defying art market and the recession-proof superrich who invest in it. His latest films and photos at Metro Pictures undermine the determined Polyanna-ism of those who don’t care a whit about anything below the bottom line, especially the feelings of people whose labor they exploit. One video gets a star turn from Simon de Pury, who espouses market “values” as only a former hammer-holder could. “I think collecting is an instinct,” he says. “My little daughter has a huge collection of rubber ducks!” An actual star—James Franco—is a little too obvious as the phoniest art shark on the planet, but a maid who speaks from the heart in the exquisitely photographed Dubai chapter of Playtime finally makes it all very real.
Friday was the night of a thousand dinner guests. At least it felt that way. I don’t know if they were invited to the table, but Kusama’s public opening attracted a crowd of fans rabid enough to suggest a sports hero. And she wasn’t the only triple-threat artist putting in an appearance that evening. In a rare foray beyond his studio in London’s Peckham, the effusive recluse Raqib Shaw emerged from a back office long enough to experience the reception for his Paradise Lost, the Milton epic he has reimagined as glittery phantasmagorias featuring fantasy creatures making love and war in the ruins of classical architecture. He also made his first sculpture, a tree of life from which hung tiny satyrs in their underwear. “I’ve been an inspiration to Raqib,” observed architect Peter Marino, dressed in his usual motorcycle leathers. “Those are my boots. That’s my jockstrap. My harness. Seriously.”
In another New York debut, this time at Barbara Gladstone’s Twenty-First Street space, Cyprien Gaillard took his continuing obsession with regenerative decay to a whole new level. On the floor were huge fragments of machine carcasses—the teeth and shovels of earth excavators that Gaillard found rotting in various construction sites—and subsequently waxed, polished, and loaded with carved onyx to turn them into indoor sculptures. There were a lot of backslapping bear hugs between Gaillard and male artist friends like Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, and Mark Gonzales, while Rosemarie Trockel held her singular ground at Gladstone’s West Twenty-Fourth Street gallery. It had her signature wool works as well as eccentric new wall sculptures and a cast steel and plastic sofa and an Acrystal chair, both draped with a plastic sheet. “They never get dirty!” she said.
Down in the so-called South Village, Ann Craven—a painter who deserves much bigger play than she ever gets—made a grand showing at Maccarone. Next door at Gavin Brown, the Scottish artist and bandleader Martin Creed filled the block-long gallery with new works in several media. A driverless car parked on the sidewalk startled visitors approaching the entrance by throwing open its doors, blinking its lights, and unleashing a very loud sportscast from its radio. A genius film inside the building, of people crossing the street outside, was absurdism at peak. Creed wasn’t there when I arrived, because he was at the opening of his other show in Hauser & Wirth’s East Sixty-Ninth Street townhouse. And the larger of yet another multigallery assault, by the Bruce High Quality Foundation, was so mobbed I couldn’t get near it. (The other part is in collector-consultant Mark Fletcher’s viewing room on Washington Square.)
Back in Chelsea, Matthew Marks was running another double-header: wacky new paintings and “wonky” sculptures by Gary Hume, accessed through enormous, pink enamel doors on West Twenty-Second, and new graphite drawings by the never-a-miss Brice Marden on West Twenty-Fourth. While heavy hitters like collector Anne Bass; artists Francesco Clemente, Terry Winters, and Pat Steir (a college classmate of Marden’s); Metropolitan Museum curator Nicholas Cullinan; and writers Joan Didion and Hilton Als made off to Indochine for the Marks fete, the young glam crowd—two hundred strong—filled Industria Superstudio for the Gaillard-Trockel dinner. There was another big crowd for Zwirner’s Kusama dinner, while Ivan Wirth found out why Gavin Brown dinners can be the best in town when the two jointly toasted Creed on the Brown gallery roof.
Left: Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume with artist Slater Bradley. Right: Artist Ryan McNamara and dancer Brandon Washington.
All these huge dinners in one night, and I’m not even counting the endless promo meals arranged by the auction houses. People like to pooh-pooh the social aspect of the New York art world but these events, while good for business, are where the feelings rise to the surface and make a world in the first place. No?
Next day it was collector Peter Brant—a prominent seller at Christie’s—who welcomed the obligatory troops to his foundation in Connecticut for his semiannual, auction-week homage—this time to Julian Schnabel, an artist who looks to have a pretty bright future. Watch out. From there, the best place to go was Long Island City, where the SculptureCenter, though still partly under construction, opened solo shows by Agnieszka Kurant, Sam Anderson, and Tue Greenfort. I was especially caught up in Kurant’s investigations into what she calls phantom realities—either mythical places believed to be real or missing fragments of known events. One work is a film that unites three actors cut from The Conversation (Abe Vigoda), Vanishing Point (Charlotte Rampling) and Pulp Fiction (Dick Miller) in a trailer where the credits—the names of 150 actors cut from as many films—are actually the start of the film.
Back in Manhattan, Pádraig Timoney opened at Andrew Kreps, while the dealer’s wife Chiara Repetto and her sister Francesca Kaufmann christened their Milanese gallery’s new Manhattan outpost with Pop-Surreal paintings by Pierpaolo Campanini, an Italian who should be better known away from home. At Balice Hertling’s New York office, Zoe Stillpass, the art historian daughter of Cincinnati collector Andy Stillpass, pulled off the smart curatorial coup of the week with a cross-generational, multinational, and unusual group show, “Fearful Symmetry.” Hard to believe it was the younger Stillpass’s virgin outing. Then again, as she said, “I grew up with stuff like this.”
All this time, throughout the week, the Performa biennial was underway all over the city. On Sunday night—why stay home resting at times like this?—I caught part of London-based Cally Spooner’s all-singing show on the staircase of the National Academy Museum; the fashion collective threeASFOUR’s erotic interpretation of an ancient ritual involving spice bowls and dresses made of freshly baked buns; and Ryan McNamara’s MEƎM: A Story Ballet About the Internet. Making unorthodox use of the Connelly Theater’s temporary seating, players moved the captive audience through several rooms and back to the auditorium, so that each person had a slightly different experience of the same dances, kind of like eyewitnesses at a crime scene.
Just goes to show: You can never trust the moment to stay in the moment. Not in the art world. You’ve got to catch it now, or it’s gone.
ARTBO MIGHT BE THE WORLD’S most podiatrically humane fair, given that its previews the Thursday before last began at 3 PM and lasted for only six hours. Its size is also quite kind, with sixty-five galleries, chiefly dealers from Latin America, though about a quarter are from Europe and the United States, and another fourteen were presenting solo projects selected by Tate curator José Roca.
As has quickly become the norm at fairs around the globe, the preponderance of Brazilian galleries at artBO (eight) can’t go without notice and was a driving theme of the week. As to why: “I think we were missing a fair in Spanish-speaking Latin America,” said Săo Paulo dealer Rodrigo Editore of Casa Triângulo, alluding to arteBA in Buenos Aires and Zona Maco in Mexico City, both of whose local economics lost steam after respective crashes in Argentina and North America.
So, Bogotá it is, and although plenty of the booths are full of work that could be written off as more facile than those of artBO’s northern counterparts, there are many exceptions, and actual surprises, like Jaqueline Martins’s grouping of historical works including performance documentation by Edwin Sanchez and the collective 3NÓS3, and a semicircular sculptural costume by Martha Araúfo, which, Velcroed to the wall, one may don and struggle to walk away with. It’s hard to say whether seeing institutional favorites like David Maljkovic (at Amsterdam’s Annet Gelink) recontextualized so as to mirror the geometrically driven aesthetic South American art is often associated with is refreshing or bleak, but I’ll go with the former.
In the wake of the opening, Catalina Casas arranged an informal dinner for a posse of out-of-towners at a Spanish restaurant around the corner from her gallery, Casas Riegner. Stepping up three flights of stairs to a private dining room overhanging a bustling bar, I wondered if the lofty table would only exacerbate the altitude sickness that was by now crushing the stamina of a substantial share of the fair’s delegation. “Don’t worry, we have coca tea at the gallery,” Casas assured me. Guests followed their way up to join us, curator Pablo León de la Barra, Spanish dealer Elba Benítez, and New York–based, Colombian-born adviser Ana Sokoloff, who rang in on the success of the afternoon’s opening. “There’s a very coherent selection of galleries, and more good stuff than what the local market can absorb. A healthy challenge!”
The following day, Roca hosted an open house for FLORA, his new nonprofit space devoted to links between art and nature. Roca broke down the impetus for the project as “much more than tree huggy—it’s about a dirty, friction-based art,” linking to the violence that has shaped so much of modern Colombian consciousness and culture with “botantics” (drugs). He then pointed back to European colonists whose research placed plants and animals as well as men into hierarchies, which structured the racial discrimination that has followed Colombia into the twenty-first century. Among the projects filling the four-story building were a wall of yellow, orange, and purple hairlike fibers dyed by materials and processes sourced from the Colombian Amazon by Susana Mejía, and one by Mark Dion produced during his residency at FLORA’s field station in rural Honda: an encyclopedic display of drawings of the plants and animals to be found in the area.
Left: Coppel Collection’s Mireya Escalante (right). Right: Dealers Adriana Farietta and Johannes Vogt.
Friday evening, artBO invited one thousand of its closest friends to a fiesta at Andrés Carne de Res, a legendary all-inclusive dinner and dancing establishment an hour and change outside of town in the village of Chia. Since the dinner coincided with the vernissage of the satellite fair called Odeon, Chilean artist Gianfranco Foschino tipped me off to a rumor that removing all the VIPs from Bogotá, and thus from the other fair’s opening, that night may have been a strategic move.
“Narcos love castles,” someone murmured as we passed a mob scene outside a formidable chateau. I thought for sure this was our destination, but the bus continued onward into a mind-boggling leisure zone the size of a small college campus that resembled something more like an open-air, Western-themed Applebee’s. Hungry revelers filled tables with kitschy heart-shaped lanterns as servers in ski parkas dropped off skillets of beef and bottles of aguadiente. Fearing a boozy struggle for space on the shuttles back to the city, I left on the first one, only allowing myself a single Macarena and entirely missing, among many others, Ella Cisneros dancing on the tables. Apparently after a certain hour it would have been rude not to.
The next day, a couple dozen collectors made their way to the offices and storage of Leon Amitai’s textile company, where he and his wife Karin gave a tour of their collection installed onsite. A cartographic project by Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade" nofollow="nofollow">Jonathas de Andrade measuring the friendliness of the famously cheerful inhabitants of his native Recife and an unusually massive wall of letters by Shannon Ebner were punctuated by the occasional window looking onto a Gursky-esque view of perhaps a million rolls of fabric. “I don’t know what mosquito bit us, but we started learning more, and going to more biennials . . .” explained our jaunty host Mr. Amitai with an earnest enthusiasm that hopefully means good things for a new generation of collectors in Colombia’s internationally burgeoning art hub.
After a quick diversion in the Colombian Caribbean, where a biennial is rumored for Cartagena in early 2014, I made it to Medellín, Colombia, for the final days of the forty-third Salón (inter) Nacional de Artistas, which closed on Sunday. My first stop was the Medellín Museum of Modern Art (MAMM), where I caught lunch with its director, María Mercedes González, who cast some light on the exhibition’s parenthetical. “There was some early controversy among Colombian artists when the organization announced its decision to invite international artists to participate for the first time, but once it opened, nothing more happened—people saw that it was a really good Salon.”
Indeed it was, and the show’s titular conceptual framework, Saber Desconocer, which translates approximately to “to know, to not know,” is also fitting, considering that the biennial itself is relatively unknown outside Colombia despite the fact it has been running for the better part of a century. Echoing themes of environmentally informed existentialism expressed by Roca one week earlier, the biennial’s artistic director Mariangela Méndez described the diptych of Salon exhibitions on view at MAMM as they relate to the notion of Saber Desconocer: “On one side you have universal, less rooted, identity-based projects”—curated by Buenos Aires–based Florencia Malbrán—“and on the other they have more to do with traditional, indigenous knowledge”—curated by Inhotim’s Rodrigo Moura. “And in the middle you have the Ernesto Neto”—a typically huge, silky, sheer suspended playground perfumed with cinnamon and lavender—“bringing it all together.”
“HAS ANYONE SEEN AGNČS?”
It was the Day of the Dead, and we had lost Agnčs Varda in the procession trodding solemnly down Los Angeles’s Olvera Street, a pseudo-Pueblo tourist attraction. “She’ll come back,” her daughter, costume designer Rosalie Varda-Demy, said with a shrug, joining LACMA curator Rita Gonzalez and me for a pitcher of margaritas on the patio of La Golondrina. “She’s probably just found some new material.” Sure enough, fifteen minutes later, Varda returned, all smiles and silver-and-magenta color-blocked bowl cut. “I’ve found my next project,” the eighty-five-year-old filmmaker declared as she helped herself to a margarita. From across the table, her daughter yelped, “That has tequila in it!” It was Varda’s turn to shrug.
Hailed as the “grandmother of la Nouvelle Vague,” Varda was only twenty-six in 1954 when her extraordinary debut La Pointe Courte shattered notions of what cinema could be, inspiring filmmakers like Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Jean-Luc Godard. “I’d love to meet Godard,” Gonzalez sighed. “Go to Switzerland,” Varda snapped, reaching for a churro.
These days, Varda is also being recognized as an “emerging visual artist” (though the type of “emerging” who has solo shows at Fondation Cartier and is included in the Venice Biennale). This week, she is celebrating the opening of “Agnčs Varda in Californialand,” a new installation at LACMA, and a revival of four of her California-themed films from the 1960s, recently restored by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation and Wallis Annenberg.
It would seem Varda was enjoying Californialand as much as she was the margaritas. She first regaled us with tales of the evening prior, spent at the home of Sharon Stone (“such a beautiful woman, yes, but such a beautiful Léger…”). “And after the dinner, I bought Michael Govan a soup,” she went on to brag. “Now this is a man who could buy himself a soup, or a tuxedo, any day he likes, but he let me buy him a soup.”
Govan surely needed both during a week that culminated in Saturday’s Third Annual Art+Film Gala, a fund-raiser specifically aimed at supporting the intersections of art and cinema. The program was first proposed in 2008, when Govan announced he was scrapping LACMA’s traditional film screenings in favor of a new approach. Doubting his intentions, critics pounced on the institution for what they saw as smoke and mirrors to mask budget cuts. Scorsese was one of the most vocal opponents, publishing an open letter to the LACMA director in the Los Angeles Times. In return, Govan invited him to a public conversation; soon the filmmaker would become one of the museum’s key allies in efforts to increase the presence of film within the museum. Now it’s hard to find an exhibition that doesn’t have some connection—from Varda to a stunning show of cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa to the eighteen-screen David Hockney video landscapes of Yorkshire, where the sometime Californian has been “on location.”
It was only right, then, that Scorsese and Hockney should be the guests of honor at this year’s gala, which was once again hosted by LACMA trustee Eva Chow and Leonardo DiCaprio. The elaborate dinner was to be held in a massive, glass-windowed “tent” in the center of the LACMA campus, dominating the landscape beside Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass. “Nobody does glamping like us,” LACMA’s Stephanie Sykes joked. Curator Lauren Bergman rolled her eyes: “People keep asking me who this one is named after.” Rightfully so, when the one-night affair would add $4.135 million to the Art + Film coffers.
Saturday morning, I skipped the fennel juice and Brazilian blowouts and opted instead for a pre-gala beauty regime of a stroboscopic light bath, courtesy of James Turrell’s Perceptual Cell, part of his current retrospective at LACMA. The twelve-minute dip in a sensory-deprivation chamber slides viewers, MRI-style, into an enclosed sphere, where claustrophobia is leavened by the sensation of light, glorious and boundless. And then the strobes begin, ripping and rupturing through the calm, until you can no longer tell if your eyes are open or closed. It’s a uniquely disorienting experience, best summed up by one PC vet: “How’d you like the trough full of bubbles?”
The strobes proved the perfect warm-up for the flashbulbs erupting over the red carpet that evening, as Hollywood descended on the museum: from old guards like Jane Fonda, James Caan, and Warren Beatty to new royalty Salma Hayek, Will Ferrell, and an eerily spiffy-looking Robert Downey, Jr.; from patrons Annenberg, Alan Hergott, and Jerry Bruckheimer to artists—Ed Ruscha, Mark Grotjahn, and Diana Thater—and dealers—Larry Gagosian, Tim Blum, and Paul Schimmel. Even PSY, the reigning king of YouTube, put in an appearance. (Though if he Gangnamed through Chris Burden’s Urban Light, I missed it.)
Dinner was preceded by cocktails to the tunes of Dhani Harrison. (George’s son. Apparently a thing.) Fixed near the entrance, a glittery Kate Hudson and a Gucci-suited James Franco clutched at one another in a battle of the megawatt smiles, only allowing themselves to be interrupted when Carole Bayer Sager swept by to air-kiss hello. While the industry force was strong, as the flashbulbs began to settle, I began to spot more art people. There was Alex Israel nursing a rosé with China Chow and collector Abdullah Al-Turki with dealer Almine Rech, while outside the tent, Gagosian’s Serena Cattaneo and LACMA curator Jarrett Gregory kept company with a T-shirt-clad Urs Fischer. “I’m already dressed,” the artist boasted, skipping a finger down his forearm tattoos. When we were called in for dinner, Lynda Resnick breezed past me, airily assuring her companion: “Well, of course we can! We’re practically masters of the house here.”
Inside the tent, amiable actor-couple Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde chatted it up with Fergie and Josh Duhamel across the table from Bob Shaye and Doug Aitken. Stationed behind them, sometime starlets Nicole Richie and Amber Valletta were locked in a fierce-looking tęte-ŕ-tęte, seemingly oblivious to the effect of their near-identical black mesh ensembles and high ponytails. At the table of honor, I clocked Christie’s Loic Gouzer and Michael Chow, whose second career as an artist is taking off, with an upcoming solo show with Pearl Lam in Hong Kong. (“François Pinault was the first person to buy a piece,” he beamed.) On my way over, I got sidetracked catching up with Sarah Watson, formerly of the now disbanded L&M Arts. Only after a round of “to Miami, or not to Miami?” did it register that she was seated with Tom Hanks, Jimmy Kimmel, and Mary J. Blige. Returning to my seat at Varda’s table, I was greeted by French filmmaker Julia Fabry, who was ebulliently spouting: “Fahn-zee! Fahn-zee!” She was referring to Henry Winkler.
It was to be an evening full of charming speeches, with Govan and Eva Chow setting the tone of an easy gentility early on. Teller (of Penn & Teller fame) prefaced a short, sweet film about Hockney with a magic trick in which he made a bowling ball drop out of his program. “Just try to do that with an iPad,” he affectionately jibed at the artist. When it was DiCaprio’s turn at the podium, he compared “spending time with Marty” to “spending time in a history museum.” Scorsese turned the praise around toward Varda (“always so tough”) and Hockney, whom he counts as an inspiration for Taxi Driver. While I had never pegged “Fields of Gold” for a party song, something about watching Sting on stage strumming a Mini-Martin got everyone out of their seats and dancing. My line of sight was blocked by the cartoonishly handsome Duhamel, but from what I could tell, Catherine Opie’s moves put many moguls to shame.
Beside me Sharon Lockhart and LACMA curator Carol Eliel traded notes: “I’ve just been pretending to take photos of artist friends,” said Lockhart, “but really I’m cutting their heads off to focus on, like, Leo.”
I glanced at Varda. She looked on approvingly at the scene before her, then turned toward her daughter: “So, what’s next?”
“AN IMAGE IS A NEGOTIATION OF TIME, the ability to say, ‘I agree to be with you,’ ” said Philippe Parreno as he stood before a floor-to-ceiling-length screen of a screeching infant at the Palais de Tokyo. Downstairs, Marilyn Monroe’s velvety voice echoed against that of Ann-Lee’s, the manga character to which Parreno and Pierre Huyghe famously purchased the rights in 2000: “Strangely enough I do not belong to anybody. . . I was never designed to survive.”
Around us, artists who dedicated themselves to the power of participation and institutional critique (Rirkrit Tiravanija, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Tino Sehgal), their dealers (Gavin Brown, Brian Butler, Esther Schipper, Pilar Corrias), and those who have bought their work (Maja Hoffmann, Philippe Ségalot, Patricia Marshall, Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner) streamed through the capacious space. Parreno likes to think of the exhibition as an automaton, something like Petruschka, a puppet made of straw and dust that comes to life and learns to have emotions. Holding the marionette strings is not Parreno but his friends, whose work he presents alongside his own—Liam Gillick’s piano, Gonzalez-Foerster’s bookshelf, Tiravanija’s truffles—as if these relationships were the lifeblood of his own work.
It is ironic that an exhibition predicated on contingency is taking place in a city famously trapped by time. “Paris is like Narcissus,” a German collector told me outside Huyghe’s exhibition at the Pompidou, which had opened the week prior. “Its lure is based on his watery grave. We come here to join him for a moment.” A skeletal white dog with a flash of pink painted on its leg darted by: Huyghe’s muse. Its handler was shortly behind, tugging the leash. The dog leapt onto a nearby woman who embraced him as he lapped a wet tongue over her cheek. His name is Human, and inside the confines of the institution, he is not allowed to be touched.
In another inspired institutional infiltration, Balice Hertling and Gió Marconi occupied the former Hôtel de Miramion, a sixteenth-century hôtel particulier, with an exhibition of contemporary art and historical design that opened later that night. A red carpet had been rolled out for the occasion, and guests included Kristin Scott Thomas, designer Riccardo Tisci, Setsuko Klossowski de Rola, curator Peter Eleey, and collector Tony Salamé. After the opening, a host of us ducked into Café de Flore to find art-intelligentsia spread about tables littered with bottles of wine and espresso cups: Frieze’s Amanda Sharp; artists Tiravanija, Sam Falls, and Neďl Beloufa; Bidoun’s Negar Azimi; and curators Aram Moshayedi and Piper Marshall. They were among many others I had seen on the Eurostar the day before, leaving London for a city of people who turn their nose up at money but who live out lives predicated on wealth.
“Paris is a post-bourgeois society,” said curator and doctoral candidate Zoe Stillpass over another dinner at Anahi, one of Paris’s best spots (verified by Ségalot), which is run by two dashing Argentinean women consistently dressed in Alaďa. “People here aren’t consumed with things. They have them. They’re interested in ideas.”
The city’s simultaneous revival of Parreno and Huyghe (completely coincidental, curators of both exhibitions said with conviction) points to an interest in the conceptual over the material, the poetics of experience over the object, and, chiefly, the capacity of the exhibition as a medium in itself. The questions that beset some artists who came of age in the early 1990s—can there be a film without a camera? A drawing without a line? An identity without a person? A piano without a player?—are worth revisiting today, a time that dealers of the 1980s tell me increasingly resembles the ’80s, and when the collectors of the ’90s shudder at the hysterical market for “young, hot artists.” A moment when artists are known less by their exhibitions than by the placement of their work in boxy convention-center stalls.
Left: Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, collecter Maja Hoffman, and curator Beatrix Ruff. Right: Artist Servane Mary.
“It’s a good time to be a painter,” one curator laughed. “Easy to ship, easy to display, easy to auction, and good for white walls.”
Like Paris, however, FIAC, which also opened that week, bills itself as a fair for the more conceptually minded. “It attracts people more interested in taste than the art market,” affirmed Lucy Chadwick of Gavin Brown. Indeed, many of the dealers exhibiting consciously opted out of Frieze, most notably the Germans (Isabella Bortolozzi, Esther Schipper, Neugerriemschneider, Galerie Neu) and New York’s downtown sect (Reena Spaulings, Ramiken Crucible, Algus Greenspon) as well as established figures like Paula Cooper. To be sure, the megagalleries were also there in force, lined up next to each in a sort of blue-chip supermarket (Zwirner, Gagosian, Pace, Perrotin).
As if to confirm that the image of Paris is only available to those with capital (cultural and monetary—but mostly monetary), most of the gatherings were held in tasteful apartments of collectors and artists. A dinner at the home of Cahiers d’Art’s Staffan Ahrenberg to celebrate a rare collection of Parreno drawings curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist; the much anticipated annual fete at Patricia Marshall’s; another at collector and dealer Patrick Seguin’s; a cocktail at Cindy Sherman’s pied-ŕ-terre. And there were also the glittery-gritty parties that the Parisians do so well: Le Baron opened a new space, Mikadu; the David Lynch–designed Silencio included performances and sets by Haroon Mirza, Nate Looman, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Ryan Trecartin, and Lizzie Fitch. And who could forget Emmanuel Perrotin’s rave-ish affair in his new subterranean space? The air was choked with smoke, plastic cups of vodka were passed, and a man dressed as Mickey Mouse took the stage for the final set of a Naďve New Beaters performance.
“My parties are not for business, they are for pleaaasssssssuurree,” Perrotin told me as he bounced onto the dance floor.
Left: Palais de Tokyo director Jean de Loisy. Right: Dealers Alexander Hertling and Danielle Balice.
The next night I caught a train to Brussels, a city that, I am told, is to Paris what Berlin once was to Cologne. The occasion was Gedi Sibony’s opening at Barbara Gladstone’s townhouse, which includes her gallery and several bedrooms where artists like Rosemarie Trockel often come to quiet their minds.
“There is a huge tradition of collecting here. It’s not about being a billionaire hedge-funder like in London. People don’t wear their money; it goes on their wall. And rents are cheap; artists are flocking here,” the soigné dealer told me over a dinner filled with Belgium collectors.
Later that evening, Sibony and I left Max Falkenstein and others at Mr. Wong’s (the underground “it” spot, which will host its own pop-up during Art Basel Miami Beach) and wandered through Brussels’s downtown. Crowds spilled out of punk clubs, riled-up youth who had yet to learn that dawn has its consequences—and we decided that the first sign of age might be the realization of the irreconcilability of time.
“Do you believe in endings—happy ones?” I had asked Parreno at his opening earlier that week.
“I don’t think they exist,” he answered. His voice was especially soft, difficult to hear amid the chatter. “We are a bit blessed by him,” said Jean de Loisy, the Palais de Tokyo’s president, “which in French means to be wounded.” Westreich was profuse: “I can’t leave this place, I keep going back—I am afraid I will never see anything like it again.” It was as if Paris had pulled a clip of one of its most cinematic moments of artistic radicality to the center of its watery grave. Images, after all, don’t have codas.
“Then what does one strive for?” I asked.
He looked back at me matter-of-factly: “Moments of grace.”
Left: Palais de Tokyo curator Mouna Mekouar. Right: Dealers Francesca Kaufmann and Chiara Repetto, collector Paul McCabe.