Left: Publisher of Matter Magazine Olu Odukoya, artist Oscar Murillo, and David Zwirner’s Rodolphe von Hofmannsthal. Right: Director of visual arts at the French Ministry of Culture Pierre Oudart, dealer and “Choices” founder Marion Papillon, with dealer Georges-Philippe Vallois. (All photos: Julian Elias Bronner)
“WAIT—there’s a gallery weekend in Paris?” Marian Goodman’s Nicolas Nahab seemed surprised when I mentioned last Friday’s events. Around us, thirty others wined and dined under a heated tent on the rooftop of Le Perchoir, views of Montmartre and the white dome of the Sacré Cœur offering a dazzling backdrop.
Somewhere down in the City of Lights, Kim Kardashian and her maids of “honor” trampled through town for her bachelorette bacchanal, but up here the festivities revolved around Colombian artist Oscar Murillo, who was opening his first solo exhibition in France at Marian Goodman Gallery, the culmination of a trilogy of shows—including one at South London Gallery and another at the Mistake Room in Los Angeles—addressing “the aesthetics of shared labor.” Goodman was not a participant in “Choices”—Paris’s inaugural gallery weekend, organized and facilitated by art dealer Marion Papillon—nor was she the only abstainer: Chez Valentin’s opening of Petra Cortright and Ed Fornieles as well as Benoît Platéus’s opening at Jeanroch Dard carried on last Thursday evening like it was any other weekend. After last year’s failure to create a synchronized gallery event (several galleries either pulled out or deviated from the agreed upon opening dates days before the weekend was meant to commence), many had discarded as quixotic the idea that a group of divergent Parisiens—forget art dealers—could agree on anything more than to disagree.
On Friday I caught up with many agreeable members of the Parisian art circle at the Palais des Beaux-Arts for the weekend’s opening event: an exhibition consisting of thirty-five artists, each invited by one of thirty-five galleries participating in “Choices,” and curated by students from the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris. At the entrance to the long nave where the exhibition was held, Venice regulars might have recognized Jeremy Deller’s suspended textiles woven with lyrics by David Bowie, once displayed at the entrance to the British Pavilion and presented here by Galerie ART:CONCEPT.
“It’s a bit like ABC,” someone said, referring to the event in Berlin—a small art fair cleverly disguised as a curated group exhibition. Upstairs, I spent some time with Pauline Bastard’s agonizing-to-watch video installation, presented by Galerie Eva Hober, of the artist exhaustively dismantling, with her bare hands, the structure of a house she purchased for one euro in rural France. Created—not destroyed—by hand were the much discussed and admired multicolored sculptures by Matthew Darbyshire, also on view at his solo exhibition at Jousse Enterprise in the Marais. At Beaux-Arts, Darbyshire showed a statue of Sophocles sculpted using polycarbonate bars and colored plastic sheets in the spectrum Roy G. Biv, endowing the lofty subject matter with Op Art effects and Pop colors. Nature itself seemed to approve, as a rainbow descending over the Louvre at closing hour became a popular Instagram subject.
Rainbows or sunshine, the shows must go on, and many of us found ourselves on Saturday trekking through the drizzle in the Marais to see them. Those who had taken a jade green umbrella from five-star Hôtel Le Meurice, where “Choices” affably accommodated foreign collectors, stuck out in the winding streets like loose dollar bills floating amid the euros. I stopped by Isabelle Gounod’s gallery for brunch, where French artist Jérémy Liron’s exhibition “Hypnagogies”—a neologism of the artist’s combining hypnagogic and rêveries (“daydreams”)—addressed Le Corbusier’s 1952 Brutalist habitation complex La cité radieuse. As Liron told me, dormant modernist idealism, here, “remains a dream in waiting.”
Next door at Claudine Papillon’s gallery, I had the opportunity to meet her daughter Marion, founder and organizer of “Choices.” “There are plenty of reasons to come to Paris throughout the year. I wanted to give one more international presentation outside of FIAC—and in springtime! Even if the weather’s not great,” she told me, holding a saucer and balancing a coffee cup with one hand. “Last year we were too pressed for time, and we couldn’t coordinate with all the galleries. We lost some participants—especially some galleries in Belleville—but there will be more opportunities…” Suddenly, the cup tumbled off the saucer and smashed against floor. “Well, that’s what happens when the gallerist is breaking ground!” offered London-based collector Jean-Philippe Vernes, standing nearby with a smile.
Later that evening we indulged in a few pastis at the Fondation d’Entreprise Ricard for the Neïl Baloufa–organized “Supernaturel,” then everyone went back to Le Meurice for the weekend’s gala dinner in an expansive “late-Louis-XV-slash-early-Louis-XVI salon,” as it was described to me. In the foyer, flutes filled with Perrier-Jouet were the must-have accessory, while gougère au fromage were presented on silver platters by waiters in white coats. “It looks just like the Ministry of Culture in here,” said my neighbor, Marie Cecile Burichon of the Institut Français, as we sat down to dinner. Sure, Pierre Oudart, visual arts director of the Ministry of Culture, was there, as well as Ministry habitués such as Delphine Levy, head of the museums of the City of Paris, and Marie-Aline Prat, head of the committee of the Prix Jean-François Prat—or was she referring to the décor?
After dinner and the obligatory speeches, I set off for the bar with curator Vincent Honoré for a digestif, only to be detoured when collector David Roberts—in town from London for the weekend—invited us to his table. There we found delightful company—Lithuanian artist Indre Serptyte, collectors Anabel Zamora and Manuel Alvarez de Estrada from Madrid, and Paris-born collector Frédéric de Goldschmidt with dealer Chantal Crousel—in the midst of ordering drinks. Some wanted more than a few whiskies, and someone introduced the idea of heading to members club Silencio, for which we had been mailed a temporary membership for weekend entry. “Are you going out?” Honoré asked Crousel. “I am going to silencio,” she said softly, tilting her head and placing hands together under her chin in the international indication that it was time for bed.
Left: Fondation d’Entreprise Ricard director Colette Barbier, artist Jérémy Liron, and dealer Isabelle Gounod. Right: Centre Pompidou’s chief curator of contemporary art Sophie Duplaix, founder and artistic director of 40mcube Anne Langlois, director of David Roberts Art Foundation Vincent Honoré, and Piasa director of contemporary art Timothée Chaillou.
“Choices” officially ended on Sunday evening with a finissage at neo-Renaissance palace and fashion institution Musée Galliera. On view was “Papier glacé,” a selection of fashion photography from Condé Nast publications dating back to the 1920s. After a quick turn of the show, I joined the others on the Musée’s terrace where people were discussing the 25 percent of votes won by the National Front—France’s far-right, protectionist, and anti-EU party—while on our phones Facebook flooded with open letters of discontent from the more liberally minded.
“I especially want to thank the artists, without whom none of us would be here,” Marion said to a round of applause and raised glasses.
“Bravo, Marion!” came from numerous members of the crowd, preferring to end the weekend in anticipation of next year’s “Choices,” as opposed to ruminating on the choices made by the French electorate. Either way, here’s to hoping that Paris will, once again, offer the present something the future can be proud of.
IF WE CRASH BEFORE NOON, Payne had said, that’s it, we’re done, but there it was: 1:10 PM, piles of bananas, beers, and sodas left, and a screen as glossy black as a Sega Genesis. A quarter through the eight-hour slog from Tucson to Las Vegas, and with half an hour until lunch in Phoenix, someone in the kitchen tripped a breaker. Without a word, Payne dropped the controller, stood up, cracked a beer, went outside to smoke. Tucson’s KLPX kept singing, though—“In My House of Pain” by Faster Pussycat—and somehow from the room’s murky shock a consensus emerged: Let’s go for it. Let’s start again. We have to. Yes, “we”—just a small crowd careening in a pixelated bus down the sixteen-bit blacktop, passengers on Desert Bus, which is by most assessments (and by design) the world’s most boring video game. Just us, artist Oliver Payne, the crew at art space 356 S. Mission Rd., and a Saturday to burn. No curves, no traffic, no scenery. No stopping. We felt like die-hards.
Desert Bus—a bone-dry satirical simulation developed for an era when violent video games were blamed for violence on the floor of Congress—is one of several minigames collected on Penn and Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors for Sega CD. The disc failed to find distribution before its ill-fated console plowed into the proverbial runaway-truck ramp—but a handful of press copies had circulated, one of which later surfaced online as a ROM. Since the mid-2000s, the game has found a cult following with connoisseurs of the rare and/or absurd, and seekers of the boring. An annual charity “drive” to provide hospitalized kids with video games has logged some thousand hours on that long straight route (the New Yorker featured it online last year); and the game was recently ported to iOS and Android. Yes, friends, we just might be living through a Desert Bus renaissance.
Left: Oliver Payne playing Desert Bus. Right: Snacks at 356 S. Mission Rd.
The bus’s odometer starts at 00109. It’s 360 virtual miles to Vegas. The vehicle’s top speed is 45 mph. Flanking the main Bus screen at Mission Rd. were projections of Google Street View and Maps more or less kept synched to our imaginary position. A PA piped in online radio streams from Tucson, Prescott, Phoenix, as appropriate. The current DJ was doing her best, dolling out “six-packs of spandex rock.” But man, after the outage, those second first ninety miles ticked by with grim determination. Time to settle in, do a word search, work on the day’s drunk or high, and meet your fellow passengers.
Bill Cody was there at the start; he’s a documentary filmmaker, writer, and fan of art, whose recent projects include covering the Black Lips on their Middle East tour. He’s also one of the few, if not the only, people to have made the Tucson-Las Vegas trek IRL. Later on we picked up Jay Zevin, an actual cognitive neuroscientist, who once blogged about Desert Bus in the context of, yes, boring games. Friends and family wandered in and out; local artists dropped by out of perverse curiosity, or for the snacks. Regaining our rhythm, once more making forward progress, the crowd held steady at a good dozen folks, complete with skaters, small dogs, and a bored kid crawling over the seats.
Time, for its part, never slowed. Payne swapped out with other drivers; he was basically taking volunteers. But don’t be a hero. If you hit the shoulder, you crash. If you slow down too much, you stall, then crash. Pressing START only honks the horn. The loll and juke of the horizon... the twirling Tiny-Tree air freshener... the tumbleweeds blipping by on the deadly brown highway shoulders... Just keep tweaking the wheel left against that random rightward drift... “If I were really driving, I’d be checking my texts,” said Payne. Said another passenger, “Somehow here the stakes are higher.”
Do you get bored, Oliver? I slouched into the passenger seat.
“Not really, no.”
Maybe it’s true what they say: Only small minds get bored.
“It’s a luxury. These moments when you’re drawing a bath or putting a kettle on. So better get a big bathtub and a weak kettle.”
I overheard another passenger relaying some info from friends in New York. “Yeah, big contingent out there for Frieze right now. They say they can’t wait to get back to LA.”
And with that, Payne at the wheel, we made Las Vegas. Never mind that it looked a hell of a lot like Tucson. Cheers erupted, then applause. The screen changed: The game score now read: 00000001. But that’s more than enough, infinitely and irrationally more than the 00000000 we started with. Party trays of soy meats emerged, an image of the Paris Las Vegas Casino and Hotel flashed on the wall, and the party began. But I could barely touch my victory margarita. Traveling is so tiring, and how far we’d all come, without going anywhere, making no progress at all. I drove home exhausted, smelling like fried food and craving a shower, and slept for eight dreamless hours.
Oliver Payne wins Desert Bus.
It seemed that half of the art world in Hong Kong for Art Basel hightailed it to Shanghai for the opening of the Yuz Museum the weekend after the fair, but one important guest didn’t make it: “I AM ON MY WAY,” read the note on a printout of Anselm Kiefer’s Les Reines de France, which was stuck in transit in HK.
“Yeah, that’s a problem,” Yuz Museum founder Budi Tek said of the holdup, a few hours before hundreds of guests arrived to see his new, nearly one-hundred-thousand-square-foot private museum. The Kiefer was to be a centerpiece of “Myth/History,” the inaugural exhibition of contemporary work from the Indonesian-Chinese farming magnate’s vast collection, curated by Wu Hung. Or, as Tek described the show, “a big bang!”
I had toured the museum last November, when it was a tangle of bamboo scaffolding over a wet dirt ground. Only six months later, the museum is complete, the entryway a clear cage of glass that holds a Maurizio Cattelan tree inside, which caps the front of a burnt-red, huge M-roofed expanse. The structure, like a futuristic art barn, takes up a whole block of what the city now calls the West Bund Cultural Corridor.
“We see birds. We see dragons. We see flying things!” Wu said during the opening ceremony, speaking to the dinosaur-size works by Zhang Huan, Xu Bing, Huang Yong Ping, and Do Ho Suh on display in the main gallery, a former hangar. Adel Abdessemed’s Telle mère tel fis, a sixty-five-foot-long airplane with a felt body, stretched and twisted through the hall. Adjacent, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Freedom boomed every few minutes, as hoses blasted water at the sides of huge metal vat outfitted with portholes that people crowded around, trying to get a look at the chaos inside.
Freedom leaked. Custodians armed with vacuums tried to erase the seepage of water after each set. “China style!” dealer James Cohan joked. Another guest suggested, humorously, that Xu Zhen had dispatched the workers as a performance art piece. “You have to see it in person,” said dealer Emmanuel Perrotin, adding that he showed the artist’s work last year at his Paris gallery.
Tek mentioned that now he collects art only in terms of what to put in the massive museum. “I don’t know if it’s good or bad,” he said. “But it’s OK. Everything is big!” Indeed, it was hard for anyone not to defer back to that statement of sheer fact, as art worlders like Zhang Xiaogang, Jay Jopling, and LEAP publisher Cao Dan were dwarfed by installation after installation in the hangar.
The second floor, where slightly smaller works prevailed, was accessible by way of a pitch-black stairwell outfitted with an installation of red lasers by Li Hui. “This is really difficult,” said Li Yan, director of Lehmann Maupin’s Hong Kong space, as she attempted the trek in stilettos. Once there, a series of glam photos by Yang Fudong dressed the outer walls of the galleries, and inside were paintings by Ding Yi, Zhou Tiehai, Liu Xiaodong, and Zhang Enli.
The smell of the place might have been an artwork of its own, a mix of tart tobacco scent from Xu Bing’s Tobacco Project, the fragrance from the inevitable life-size lily bouquets at Chinese openings, and the faint chemical odor of fresh paint. Maybe I was imagining that last bit, but when I wandered, lost, past the Yoshitomo Nara house upstairs, beyond the VIP lounge, and onto the (again, massive) roof, I saw that a hardhat had been left behind, as if abandoned hours before. China moves fast.
At an afterparty in the museum courtyard, guests ate beef skewers and hot dogs on sticks while “Nasty Girl” blared from the DJ booth. By 8 PM, people began to talk about a mysterious “Art Restaurant” on the other side of town, and so we made our way to Qiao Zhibing’s just-opened spot. With its pale mint walls, creamy white moldings, and ornate chandeliers, the restaurant resembled a ballroom trying to be a wedding cake. The space is furnished with Chinese art like Xu Zhen’s Physique of Consciousness and Under Heaven series, and private dining rooms have “themes” provided by artists like Yang Fudong.
“This is amazing,” Armory Show director Noah Horowitz said as he looked over the Xu Zhen–designed menu, featuring the same Under Heaven series background that had accoutered the official materials for the fair in March. “It’s like the normcore version of the Factory,” UCCA director Philip Tinari added. (He meant Warhol’s, not Xu Zhen’s MadeIn Company.)
Most people quickly abandoned their meals for a private tour of Ye Shanghai, Qiao’s karaoke palace next door, where an Antony Gormley sculpture overlooks a balcony and more works by Zhang Enli and Xu Zhen appear behind glass cases. Beauty pageant contestants in matching dresses paraded through the endless floors of marble and gilding and lasers. “Do you like surrealism?” someone asked me as I looked over a balcony, at a girl singing a ballad on a stage soaked in green light, flanked by yet more Yang Fudong photographs. Sifang Art Museum founder Lu Xun had made his way over to Ye Shanghai too. Was it surreal? “I’m used to it,” he said.
A WEEK before Ukraine’s anticipated elections, PinchukArtCentre, located in central Kyiv just a few minutes’ walk from the city’s Maidan Square, opened coinciding solo shows by three young Ukrainian artists: Nikita Kadan, Zhanna Kadyrova, and Artem Volokitin. Collectively titled “Fear and Hope,” the presentation, curated by the center’s deputy artistic director, Bjorn Geldhof, addresses recent political activity in the region and the structural and psychological changes it has effected. Perhaps surprisingly, given the media’s spectacularization of the nation’s revolutionary unrest, few international journalists were in attendance for Pinchuk’s vernissage. But for the ones who were, and for the crowds of arts enthusiasts who came that night and throughout the weekend, it was evident that Ukraine is the locus of a deep and urgent cultural discourse, one pointing to how truly complex the relations between art and the power structure that facilitates and/or censors it can be.
PinchukArtCentre plays a central role in this discussion, so it was fitting that the weekend began with its generously hosted opening. Presided over by Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist Victor Pinchuk and his wife, Elena (founder of ANTIAIDS), the party drew a mostly local through impressive mix of guests, including Masha Tsukanova, the editor in chief of the newly launched Vogue Ukraine; art dealer Igor Abramovich; and the GM of Shell Ukraine, Graham Tiley. Festivities continued next door at Ca’del Bosco, where the bar’s freakishly beautiful clientele, largely shod in towering heels, sipped cocktails to a mix of Eurotrance and mainstream American protest songs of the 1960s.
When I returned to PinchukArtCentre the next morning, a line down the block had already started to form—mostly people in their twenties and thirties queueing up to check out the new work by Kadan, Kadyrova, and Volokitin, as well as a show by Alevtina Kakhidze, “TV Studios / Rooms Without Doors,” kicking off a new PinchukArtCentre initiative in which a young Ukrainian artist is invited to reconsider work made by an older compatriot. Kakhidze, for her part, had selected a 1998 installation by Vassily Tsagolov, extending his critique of mass media’s hold on Soviet society—a dynamic that apparently persists in post-Soviet Ukraine as the majority of citizens still claim television as their primary source for news. Also on view at Pinchuk’s six-story venue was a solo show by Belgian artist Jan Fabre. To see these three efforts side by side—a presentation of work by emerging Ukrainian artists, another connecting that generation to the one before it, and finally a show by a major international figure—was to better understand the institution’s strategy for establishing a platform for contemporary art in a part of the world where very little internal critical art writing exists and where politically subversive gestures can easily land you in prison. By bringing in big-ticket (if frequently played) names like Fabre, Ai Weiwei, Damien Hirst, etc., the center has established itself (among Ukrainian officials, at least) as an essentially unimpeachable institution that, were it to be censored, would only reveal the government’s provincialism.
Just a short taxi ride away, a world-class demonstration of said provincialism was on display at the National Art Museum of Ukraine. Titled “Inventory of a Dictatorship,” the show, organized by Art Ukraine editor in chief Alisa Lozhkina and artist Alexander Roitburd, filled the entire first floor of the venue with the abandoned possessions of Ukraine’s deposed president, Viktor Yanukovych. (The locale was all the more poignant given that the courtyard of this regal, if embattled, nineteenth-century building served as a key site for pro-revolutionary forces during the height of Kyiv’s unrest this February.) Featuring a representative selection from the hundreds of millions of dollars of personal property the ex-leader left behind when he fled Mezhyhirya (his Versailles-like private estate outside Kyiv) earlier this year, the exhibition offers a grotesque mix of Orthodox bibles and Hermès goods, gilded porcelain knickknacks, hunting trophies, soulless Impressionist painting, and official portraits, including one of the wife of the former Prosecutor General styled after Aleksey Antropov’s iconic depiction of Catherine the Great. Given the government’s history of cultural censorship, perhaps no better gesture of resistance could be had than this patent exposure of Yanukovych’s alarming bad taste.
As we traveled on to Kyiv’s Mystetskyi Art Arsenal that evening for the city’s Night of Museums, it was evident, however, that it may take more than ousting a national leader to culturally enlighten the powers that be in Ukraine. The exhibition on view in this state-funded venue, while largely inclusive, most resembled New York’s Armory Show if all the partitions were removed. But moreover, there is the issue of the Arsenal’s director, Natalia Zabolotna, who made news last summer for having commissioned a mural by Ukrainian artist Volodymyr Kuznetsov for a show on the “civilizing effect of Christendom,” only to deem the piece an “unforgivable crime” against the motherland. (The mural included a cartoon-like Last Judgment scene with Jesus—flanked by a Chernobyl fireman, a Pussy Riot member, and others—ushering corrupt clergy and shady oligarchs and their expensive cars and whores into a black pit of hell.) Zabolotna, apparently in an effort to save the Arsenal from closure by the government, ordered that the mural be over-painted in black—and so incredibly, and without the artist’s consent, Zabolotna destroyed Kuznetsov’s work, which then remained on public display at the Arsenal for the duration of the show. “By some magic working in reverse…all came true,” observes Cicada Press editor Anastasiya Osipova in Circling the Square, an excellent primer on recent events in the Ukraine. “Zabolotnaya’s [sic] own monument to censorship—her black ‘square’ to which Kuznetsov’s scene of popular uprising...was reduced—reminds us uncannily of the scorched blackness of Maidan after the battle.”
As these things go, no doubt Zabolotna’s gesture only increased the visibility of Kuznetsov’s message. And indeed, on Saturday night, the young artist was the subject of a survey exhibition across the road from the Arsenal at the city-funded Lavra Gallery. Curated by Rainald Schumacher (who—talk about complicated alliances—is also co-organizing the film component of this year’s much-contested Manifesta 10, which opens next month at the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg), “A Silence of Stars” presented the artist’s early drawings alongside new murals made in dialogue with recent events in the region.
For those in from out of town, the rest of the weekend was largely spent playing revolution tourist, circumambulating the various sites across which Kyiv’s uprising unfolded: the bare pedestal of the freshly toppled Lenin statue; the ornate twelfth-century Mikhailovsky Monastery that, during the fighting, functioned as a field hospital; the makeshift Maidan street “museums” displaying battered motorbike helmets, shields of reinforced PVC, and the fixings for Molotovs; and countless tire barricade/monuments, still functional but now painted Ukrainian yellow and blue, with many doubling as memorials to the “heavenly hundred” citizens shot down by Yanukovych’s special berkut police.
“It falls to art,” Osipova writes, speaking as much to the Russo-Ukrainian struggle as to abstract ideals, “to field an active defense of life from the violence of myths, and narrow binary oppositions invented with concrete political interests in mind.” As Maidan and indeed the Ukraine beyond waits to see what happens next, one thing is for sure: No simple determinations of good and bad, left and right, heaven and hell, are to be had.
DECADES PRE-RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE, in the days when men in “dresses were arrested by men in black dresses,” Flawless Sabrina, aka Jack Doroshow, produced and MC’d scores of camp “Miss All-American Beauty Pageants” and shot to fame in the 1968 documentary The Queen, an ur-text of midcentury fabulosity. (Decades pre–Paris is Burning, Crystal Labeija throws shade on-screen at the winner of the Nationals at Town Hall: “She doesn’t equal me… LOOK AT HER MAKE-UP!!! She looks terrible!”) While she’s the first to say she “didn’t make this stuff up,” the Flawless Mother was waving her freak flag and enabling others to do so in the 1950s and ’60s when it was considerably more outré, when not downright illegal, and the freedom to be (or seem like) whoever required spiritual courage as impeccable as one’s maquillage.
A free spirit par excellence blessed by a supportive mother who always cheered her on, the Legendary Flawless—even back in the ’60s, when she was a child herself!—was aware she was a role model for others (which was why she stopped dropping acid in 1967, she said, a free association that popped up when I complimented her tie-dye leggings). In recent years, her spiritual path of fabulosity has unfolded through mentoring “the children.” One collaboration in particular, with artists Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, touchingly allies venerable drag history with youthful ambition to demonstrate the drag and Warhol lesson 101: If you can hitch your wagon to a star and bask in their reflected glory, you go girl! This May-December trans-drag synergy celebrates Flawless’s legacy as a mentor, and as part of Drucker and Ernst’s participation in this year’s Whitney Biennial, Flawless Sabrina did tarot readings for a few lucky querents. A rare opportunity to experience her vibe directly.
On a stunning springtime afternoon, a few doors from the fairyland that is Central Park, I showed up at chez Flawless, who resides not far from the Whitney in a prewar lair befitting bohemian royalty. Kind of like a Warhol-era Victorian meets camp womb covered with archaeological layers of groovy artifacts. The very existence of this bohemian oasis amid some of the toniest real estate in the world is a feat of magick in itself, a living relic of the days when artists could afford to live in Manhattan, and especially poignant right now when even the middle class is getting squeezed out. The archaic cage-elevator had the homely smell of an old library.
It was a lovefest as soon as I was ushered in by her attentive (thirtysomething?) boyfriend Curtis, who was heating up lunch, and within two minutes I wanted Sabrina to adopt me. “You’re a child!” She held out her arms for a hug—and I loved the reading already—and the beneficent lighting. She sported the aforementioned psychedelic leggings, layered shirts, a metallic streak of gold on her scarf, and a fedora over her un-bewigged head. She looked frail, feisty, and focused. It was clear this was a warm person determined to leave me feeling good about myself: I’ll take it! When she held my hands to settle my energy, she fixed my gaze with so much affection I blurted out, “You’re a sweet man!” Whoops!
“Woman, bird, turtle, etc.”—she added.
“All of the above!”
The tarot deck was a gift from William Burroughs, and the dark fabric on the wall, she must have pointed out to a zillion visitors, was Halston’s Ultrasuede, named in this very room by “Truman” himself. As tempting as it was to pump for more vintage gossip, it was also clear she is living very much in the present and like any good reader, eager to dispense spiritual advice moving forward.
“Just little cartoons on cardboard,” she muttered as she laid out the spread, and it struck me as totally fitting that a drag mentor would teach by reading the cards because, above all, the wisdom of the tarot always reminds us to use free will to deal with the hand that we are dealt. To use it as a vehicle of transformation.
And here, dear reader, I confess I made a selfish decision not to take notes so I could fully take in my reading, which was subtle, intense, open-ended and packed the punch of ten supportive drag grandmas shouting, “You go girl!”
It was apparent she sees her work now as empowering others to be free, to “please take care of yourself” and certainly “not to care what anyone thinks,” and how this continues her pioneering work as pageant impresario.
I marveled she was producing drag shows so many years ago, in the ’50s! Such a difficult time. She said she never thought she’d see the words “gay marriage” even printed in the New York Times. “I’m not even for marriage,” she quipped, “but I am for civil rights.” Right on.
Frank Simon, The Queen, 1968.
“If I had to start a revolution, I’d declare war on the future” (because politically that’s a “time bandit”—a pet phrase of hers: a way to lose time). Of course, the good future is the kids, she adds. “I don’t believe in success. Success is a moving target: You never get there. Significance takes the greed out of it. I think significance is realizing your dream to the broadest possible audience. Some kid sees. If you can do it, they can, too. The most selfish thing we can do is be generous—[the] way it manifests: When you subsidize those who by happenstance have been privy to something you’ve done or are emulating it—or more likely improve it—if the initial intent is to make the world better—the currency which is flawless is Art—[the] only currency we have on this planet…”
She kvelled about “my Zackary” enjoying “the prestige of the institution—because it can’t be dismissed—I’m so proud of the Whitney.”
Out of the closet and into the Whitney!
“HONG KONG has nowhere to go. Between the river and the sea, you can’t just add another suburb,” artist Lam Tung-pang declared, turning to the stalwart audience who showed up for Art Basel Hong Kong’s Saturday Salon. “We have to make use of the spaces we have.” His panel’s topic was “Artist Networks,” but it focused more on the twin pillars of real estate and finance than on social relations. To most of the crowd, Lam was known as one of the cofounders of the Fotanian Open Studios, the January festival that canvasses the burgeoning art scene of the industrial Fo Tan district, where studios have been slotted into still-functioning factories. His copanelist, fellow Fotanian Chow Chun Fai, chimed in: “We have to make use of the existing spaces. It’s not about finding abandoned buildings or constructing new ones; it’s about learning to coexist and to share the resources that we have as a community.”
As Hong Kong’s art world swells, so does its geography. The parallel program from Art Basel Hong Kong sent sedans darting across the island, from the understated havens of Wan Chai and Sheung Wan to the up-and-coming warehouse districts like Fo Tan, Chai Wan, and Wong Chuk Hang, where artists and galleries are making use of what’s there—be it loft spaces, modest offices, or dank parking lots.
Left: Artists Chow Chun Fai, Lam Tung Pang, and Leung Chi Wo. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Art Basel's Magnus Renfrew.
My first real venture from the confines of the convention center was Thursday’s luncheon for the Tate’s Asian Pacific Acquisitions Committee. Hosted by 10 Chancery Lane’s Katie de Tilly at the hillside home of patrons Elaine and Anto Marden, the meal was held poolside, over a long, elegant table stretched down a covered terrace. “Black rain” clouds brooded across the valley, but an exquisitely non sequitur mariachi band kept things cheery, serenading dealers Matthias Arndt and Glenn Scott Wright, the Armory Show’s executive director Noah Horowitz, and a quartet of Indonesian artists—S. Teddy Darmawan, Lie Fhung, Eddi Prabandono, and Dwi Setianto—in town for one of what would be several showcases of art from the neighbor state. I slipped into a seat beside Manila-based collector Jam Acuzar, who had just launched Young Patrons Asia, a network of collectors under forty. “We’re not tied to any one institution,” she said. “I just thought it would be helpful to have this community.”
After lunch, I headed to the South Island District to bear witness to another kind of community. Pékin Fine Arts, Blindspot, Cat Street, Rossi&Rossi, and Gallery EXIT are just a few of the institutions who have set up outposts in the loading docks and forgotten fifteenth floors along Wong Chuk Hang Road. I caught the opening of Yallay Gallery’s “Today and Tomorrow,” a concentrated survey of Indonesian showstoppers, including Agus Suwage, Agung Kurniawan, and Entang Wiharso. “Everyone is looking to the Indonesian market these days,” sighed the exhibition’s curator, Rifky Effendy. “But maybe it’s better we talk about the art?”
My next stop was Spring Workshop, the plucky (plush) art space and multidisciplinary residency program founded by the inimitable Mimi Brown in collaboration with curator Defne Ayas. Its latest exhibition, “The Permeability of Certain Matters,” combines work by recent residents Christodoulos Panayiotou and Philip Wiegard. The former’s photographs of artificial bouquets—the result of two months’ research into the fake flower industries of China’s Guangdong province—hung on wallpaper that Wiegard adapted from an eighteenth-century German motif and then produced using a mini “sweatshop” of thirty children, ages eight to fifteen. (“The pattern requires a certain delicacy and dexterity that only kids’ fingers have,” he explained.) The children followed a reduced workday with breaks and a lunch, and received compensation at rates higher than Hong Kong’s minimum wage. “I wanted to draw attention to the child labor situation here, but then the kids really seemed to enjoy it, like it was camp or something,” Wiegard confessed. As if on cue, a pigtailed participant already halfway out the door paused, looked back at us, then up at her mother, and then dashed across the room to fling her arms around the artist’s legs for one last hug.
Whatever warm fuzzies I might have had quickly dissipated that night at Galerie Perrotin’s shindig at the notorious Dragon-i, consistently rated the “#1 Nightclub” by the kinds of people who care about #1 Nightclubs. Elbowing through the jungle-themed flora, I reached dealers Daniele Balice, Sam Chatterton Dickson, Tom Hunt, and Silvia Sgualdini just in time to catch Brooklyn-based burlesque queen Narcissister take the stage, naked but for a full-on Afro wig, a creepy Barbie’s-Friend-Christie mask, and a merkin. As the stereo pounded out “I’m Every Woman,” the performer conducted a baffling reverse-striptease. “I know I’m supposed to be turned on,” one dealer groaned. “But all I can think about is hygiene. She just pulled that skirt from her ass.”
More sex would be served up bright and early Friday morning, when Para Site hosted a brunch viewing of “Ten Million Rooms of Yearning: Sex in Hong Kong,” a multivenue group exhibition that diagnoses the city’s anemic libido and prescribes a heaping dose of dick. From Hélio Oiticica’s late-1970s slideshows of rent boys in Ninhos to William E. Jones’s 1998 The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography to Nguyen Tan Hoang’s recent Grindr reapings Lookimazn, the works were overwhelmingly phallic, if not outright man-on-man. Among the welcome exceptions were Yau Ching’s affair with a ghost in I’m Starving, 1998; Chien-Chi Chang’s Double Happiness, 2003–2009, a quietly brutal body of photographs detailing arranged marriages between Vietnamese girls and Taiwanese men; and Hito Steyerl’s Lovely Andrea, 2007, which documents the artist’s quest to track down an old fetish photo of herself, taken when she was in college.
The Sex and the City theme would continue through dinner that night. At the Asia Society’s Jockey Club Hall, collector Hallam Chow and ShanghART teamed up to celebrate New Women, the five-channel film by Yang Fudong, who joined in via Skype, a knee injury having prevented him from attending. Chow prefaced the dinner with a toast to “the wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and companions” in the room, while the slide show shuffled between black-and-white stills of boudoir nudes. I may have been seated among the enviable coterie of Opera Gallery’s Anastasia Stewart Chunilal, dealer Anna Ning, and writer Luluc Huang, but somehow all those cherry-blossom breasts on screen had me feeling less than empowered.
Across the island, Chai Wan Nites was in full swing, with crowds massing in the empty parking garage where Ryan McNamara was to debut Score, a performance commissioned by patrons Yana and Stephen Peel. The invitation warned that the event would be “HOT in every way,” but I hadn’t braced myself for the steam bath inside the packed space, where artists, dealers, and dates tried to smile off the sweat rolling down their brows. “Just go with it!” shrugged Protocinema’s Mari Spirito as we angled for respite amid the few fans.
Just then, a truck full of solemn, sweat-suited men and women turned into the garage and began to plow a path through the party. The passengers slid out the back and onto pedestals that appeared suddenly amid the crowd. A woman’s voice came on over the loudspeaker, delivering instructions in English and Cantonese (the eponymous “score”), which the twenty dancers dutifully performed, stripping down to bodysuits emblazoned with social-column shots of Yana Peel. The twenty choreographed sections—alternating between camera-ready poses of aggression, seduction, and self-destruction—touched on contemporary party posturing from the all-too-familiar step-and-repeat of “Text and Judge” (exactly what it sounds like) to “Disappear” (the dancers crawled under their pedestals) to “Sullen Das Kapital Confetti Throw” (we all know those people) to the even more mind-boggling “Beyoncé while Rihanna, Rihanna while Beyoncé” (I could try to explain, but I still haven’t come to terms with it).
Unsure how to afterparty properly once everyone’s signature moves had been revealed as posturing (who thought “Text and Judge” could get more self-conscious?), we skipped the crowds at the Absolut Bar and ducked around the corner to the home of curators Cosmin Costinas and Inti Guerrero. Artist Trevor Yeung and M+ curator Pauline J. Yao stretched out beside McNamara and his exhausted dancers, who lay across the overlapping rugs, their shoulders involuntarily dipping along to “Sunny” and “I Will Survive.” “Here,” someone said, handing me a bottle of wine pilfered from the parking-garage bar. What was that about learning to coexist and share resources? It doesn’t matter. I think this place is growing on me.
Left: Artist Ryan McNamara and dancers. Right: A performer in Score. (Photo: arrestedmotion)
Left: Artist Zhang Enli, K11 Art Foundation founder Adrian Cheng, and Ullens Center director Philip Tinari. Right: Artist Ming Wong at the Absolut Art Bar.
ART BASEL Miami Basel Hong Kong Basel… Basel Basel Basel.
This year, the third Frieze New York rear-ended the second Art Basel Hong Kong, and like a patchy crossfade some of us went to sleep in one city and woke up two days later in another wondering where on earth we were.
It hardly matters. I’m not yet sure if I love Hong Kong, because I don’t quite know if I’m in Hong Kong or if the “Hong Kong” I’m looking at is just window dressing for another Art Basel. (And it is beautiful, this magic convergence of glass and water and neon and steep ascensions of tropical florae.)
But at least I’m sure we’re at an Art Basel, which I can tell because it’s only Monday and I’m already at a dinner, one hosted by K11 Art Foundation for Zhang Enli at Gaia Ristorante, pondering my seat-fate and the seat-fates of my colleagues at other dinners that night—for Asia Society Hong Kong, for the Burger Collection—and the itinerant alarmus and excursions feels as comforting as a warm glass of sponsored (Ruinart? Pommery?) champagne.
Left: Artist Bharti Kher with dealer Emmanuel Perrotin. Right: Dealer Johnson Chang.
It’s weird how things begin to blend together, even the new things. Is that Bernadette Corporation or K-Hole or upstart conceptual branding strategist Paloma Powers? “Paloma is our alibi,” servant/mastermind Andrea Hill tells me at Duddell’s Monday night, where some of the best and brightest (or at least the thirstiest) have gathered to celebrate Phil Tinari’s flashback show “Aftermath: Post-Sense Sensibility, Fifteen Years On.” “She’s scarier than Reena Spaulings. She’s a real terrorist bitch.” Paloma missed her connecting flight from Singapore, I’m told, but at the next day’s soft launch for her new office—furnishings by Shawn Maximo, Polycon sound track by Justin Simon—iPad proxies advertise her Twitter-friendly aphorisms: “When every surface becomes a screen, what do you want to stare back at you?”
As with many such organizations, I’m not really sure what the Paloma Powers people do, precisely, but their fable has a certain stickiness and that’s maybe all that matters as we slide down the surface of things. From there it’s Stacy Engman’s launch of Art Capsul art-fashion collaborations at Joyce department store and then a circuitous zig-zag through the Pedder Building’s marble corridors from Hanart TZ (Wenda Gu) to Gagosian (Giacometti lithographs) to Lehmann Maupin (Hernan Bas) and Simon Lee (Toby Ziegler), before a short drive to 50 Connaught Road’s marble corridors and White Cube (Mark Bradford) and Galerie Perrotin (Ryan McGinley, Jean-Michel Othoniel). We cross Victoria Harbour en route to Kowloon and the Peninsula Hotel for Pearl Lam’s lustrous “Gala Dinner” at Spring Moon restaurant celebrating Su Xiaobai. The bottom of the invite reads simply HONG KONG GLAMOUR and I’m not sure if this is meant to be the dress code or just an unmoored statement of fact.
“There are only thirteen people who matter in Hong Kong,” I’m told, “and over half of them are here.” So I take comfort knowing that this dinner was right enough as Asia Art Archive founder Claire Hsu and Asia Society director Melissa Chiu mingle in the fray. “Hurry up!” Lam shouts into a microphone. “Everyone sit down! I’m so hungry!”
“I kind of miss my drug addiction days,” says an (art) dealer the next day at the opening of Art Basel Hong Kong. “Back then I was focused. I needed to score by noon.” Now we’re all postaddiction, but also postfocused. Frieze burn kicks in, attention starts to flag, and many of us are forced to admit that jet lag actually exists.
“You know something’s off when I’m in bed by midnight,” says Art Basel director Marc Spiegler, speaking to the collective time cramp overtaking the Convention Center. But of course he’s not off, he’s perfectly on message, seamlessly floating from one scene to the next, another satellite in our jet-lag dream.
Other Frieze=>Baselers—Sadie Coles, Leo Xu, Long March’s Lu Jie and David Tang, Lorcan O’Neill, Sean Kelly, James Cohan, Jay Jopling, and the like—try their best to keep up appearances despite layovers, delays, sixteen-hour flights. “I have a gallery here, I have to be here,” says Jopling, pulling for multiple time zones. “I’ve been up since 6 AM making phone calls, bidding in New York.”
Back there, Christie’s has just unloaded $745 million of postwar and contemporary merch “thanks in large part to the enormous wealth of Asian collectors,” Carol Vogel reports in the New York Times. “ ‘I think they’re Hoover vacuum cleaners—they’re buying everything,’ ” she quotes Bill Bell, who’s sore he lost his Warhol.
“People talk about money and art like it’s a new thing,” says Javier Peres, showing a new fluorescent Alex Israel, who just broke a million with his first painting at auction. “It’s not new, bitches!” clearly on a roll. “Read your history books.”
With Hong Kong, “Basel went global,” the fair’s massive new catalogue announces. And yet, “It’s strangely fractured,” says Courtney Plummer at Marian Goodman, as we watch everyone on the lookout for those mythical collectors. With a fair now in every port, maybe there’s less reason to trek to a singular location. “The more global things get, the more local they are.”
Same but different: That night, a rooftop party hosted by dealers Edouard Malingue and Michael Janssen in Wan Chai gets busted by the cops before midnight and the only reason I know it’s not Miami Basel or Basel Basel is that no one seems to put up a fight. Conflict avoidant, we fade-out/fade-in to Tolga’s ubiquitous Fair Club, imported from Basel via Miami via Paris and humbler beginnings at the door to Le Baron circa 2008.
“Welcome to my party!” Tolga yells as we walk out of the elevator and into the Kee Club’s “1950s-inspired sanctuary” and the only reason I know I’m in Hong Kong and not Miami or Basel Basel is that… actually, I do not know this for sure at all, we’re all so global we’ve gone local, or maybe it’s the other way around, as a little Swiss city stretches out for world domination. Just so long as we’re all still having fun. Which Basel will you be?
FRIEZE NEW YORK stirs a pot that already contains a witch’s brew of its own making.
Two days before the fair’s opening, for example, Fergus McCaffrey inaugurated his nine-thousand-foot duplex on West Twenty-Sixth Street with the work of Natsuyuki Nakanishi, a seventy-nine-year-old Japanese artist of major repute in his country now getting his first solo exhibition in this one. Next door, Alexander Gray ushered guests through the new, ground-floor entrance to his second-story gallery, while Mika Rottenberg drew a grazing Chelsea herd to her kinetic debut with Andrea Rosen, where three ponytails flipped their handmade wigs through a wall of the centerpiece video’s packed viewing room.
At the Norwood, Gwangju Biennale president Yongwoo Lee stood with 2010 biennial director Massimiliano Gioni to receive this year’s biennial director Jessica Morgan and guests like Whitney Museum curator Donna De Salvo, artist Gabriel Orozco, and Guggenheim UBS MAP curator Pablo Léon de la Barra. At the same, laconic Ed Ruscha was getting the honoree treatment at the Hotel Americano for his new High Line Art mural—his first public artwork in New York. “I like that it’s near trees,” he told the dinner guests, “so birds and squirrels and lizards can see it too.”
The following night was Babylon, urban jungle style. In SoHo, assume vivid astro focus returned to Suzanne Geiss. On the Lower East Side, Jayson Musson (aka Hennessy Youngman) debuted at Salon 94. Down the street, the New Museum opened several wildly different exhibitions—among them Ragnar Kjartansson, Camille Henrot, Roberto Cuoghi, and David Horvitz. Kjartansson’s was a kind of family oratorio, performed live by strolling musicians. “Come back when it’s quiet,” Henrot said. “It’s better to see my show in silence, so you can think.”
No thinking was required on this night, however. Only staying on point, a challenging goal. At that very moment, the Whitney was holding its annual American Art Awards at Highline Stages. “We’re the little engine that could—finally!” Whitney director Adam Weinberg told me at the gala. This was just a couple of hours after a hard-hat press tour of the museum’s new Renzo Piano–designed building. “I can’t wait to let the artists loose in there,” Weinberg said. Dorothy Lichtenstein, an honoree with the Andy Warhol Foundation and the Maramotti family, summed up the week best. “Contemporary art,” she said. “It takes no prisoners.”
Yet some were on the loose at En, the Japanese restaurant where Chantal Crousel, Regen Projects, and Kurimanzutto galleries gave Frieze an unofficial welcome party. Guests, naturally, tended to be from France, Los Angeles, and Mexico City but also included Venice Biennale artistic director Okwui Enwezor, roving curator Eungie Joo, Studio Museum chief curator Thelma Golden, and Documenta 14 director Adam Szymczyk, who all supped and drank as if tomorrow weren’t a few hours away. “It never fails,” said Frieze cofounder Amanda Sharp. “New York is always beautiful on the days before the fair, and it always rains when we open.”
True to form, a downpour slicked the roads leading to Randall’s Island the next morning, but inside the VIP cars that BMW supplied for the trip from Manhattan, the gurgling, the heartbeats, and the blips came from recordings by Keren Cytter, Cally Spooner, and Hannah Weinberger, this year’s program for Frieze Sounds. Somehow the GPS made easier listening.
No matter. The sound of laughter, conversation, and consternation filled the fair’s big tent, where generous proportions, a sensible layout, plenty of good food, and the proximity of like-minded souls made the prisoners of contemporary art feel right at home.
Lisa Spellman’s 303 Gallery had the advantage of a forward position inside the south entrance. That may be one reason Greek collector Dakis Joannou went there first, to see a painting by Kim Gordon, who stood quietly by his side. It was probably just coincidence that Richard Phillips, Gioni, and associate New Museum curator Margot Norton stopped in at the same time, as designer Marc Jacobs swanned by holding hands with his ex, Lorenzo Martone. All that art all around them and they only had eyes for each other. But when British up-and-comer Eddie Peake passed through the booth, it was only because he was heading for the exit. “I think it’s time to go,” he said. It was noon.
An installation and hourly performance conjured by Peake was the sole focus of Lorcan O’Neill’s booth, just one of the many solo presentations that ultimately gave the fair’s third New York edition more clarity than before and—dare I say it?—actual pleasure. The single-artist booth is one way for dealers to hold onto prize material for Art Basel, where the real money is, but there were some gems here, and they weren’t just the Ruschas from galleries like Gagosian. Ramiken Crucible had no trouble pulling in collectors intrigued by Elaine Cameron-Weir’s cast aluminum panels, and Kate McGarry’s miniretrospective of small sculptures by B. Wurtz amounted to one of his finest shows yet.
Another welcome surprise was “Note to Self,” the collection of two hundred small drawings by Carroll Dunham that covered the three walls of Barbara Gladstone’s booth, where Anne Bass, Gary Garrels, Allan Schwartzman, and Beth Swofford all converged at once. The drawings were also printed in a wonderful, paperbound book available on the stand, so no one had to walk away empty-handed.
That’s poison for an art fair, but this one had the best, or at least the most useful and popular, VIP-day swag yet: portable Uovo chargers for iPhones. Even a VIP phone runs out of juice during a day at an art fair, and there was a mad scramble for the little blue chargers every time a Uovo person appeared with a bag of the goodies.
Lines were also long at the food counters during lunchtime, but the wait gave people more time to do what they like doing best at a fair—talk about the art—and other people. If Eva and Adele were absent from Frieze, it had Norman and Norah Stone. The Napa Valley–based collectors were so colorfully turned out that they could have been mistaken for artworks themselves. Norah, for one, found the fair “very user-friendly. You can’t say that about every fair,” she added.
They weren’t the only satisfied customers. “Everything I like is already sold,” said the private dealer James Lindon. “That’s good.” Anton Kern was in his own kind of heaven—a bright blue and yellow, sectioned booth designed by Martino Gamper, whose $1,000 chairs quickly sold out. “I call this the porn room,” Kern said, leading the way into his John Bock section. Gavin Brown had another hideaway on his stand—chalk paintings by Rirkrit Tiravanija hanging, storage room style, on narrowly spaced wooden panels that visitors could hardly squeeze by without taking some of the chalk with them. “I’ve given up trying to stop anyone from going in there,” Brown said.
Left: Artist Camille Henrot. Right: Curator Piper Marshall with artist K8 Hardy, collector Christen Wilson, and artist Liam Gillick.
One installation that was in no danger from collisions with collectors was Danh Vo’s gilded cardboard carton mobile, which was strung high above the floor over Marian Goodman’s open stand, untouchably far away—like the false promises of both commercial brands and nations. Though made for an exhibition at Kunsthaus Bregenz and sold before the fair, it was great advertising for the artist, the gallery, and Frieze. So, in another way, was the juxtaposition of Yayoi Kusama and Donald Judd at David Zwirner—horrifying in some ways, hilarious in others. Yet when all was said and done, jurors Ali Subotnick, James Rondeau, and Pablo León de la Barra voted greengrassi the Pommery Champagne–sponsored, $15,000 prize for most innovative booth.
Most restful of all the Frieze Projects was definitely Public Fiction’s re-creation of Al’s Grand Hotel, Allen Ruppersberg’s 1971, limited-life caravansary in Los Angeles. The Jesus Room, complete with fallen cross, was particularly inviting. It was booked. I wanted to buy a postcard. I collect postcards. They were twenty dollars each. “Sorry,” said the receptionist. “We only have a few.”
Exiting the hotel “lobby,” I spotted a windblown Cecilia Alemani, the Frieze Projects curator, coming in from her day on Marie Lorenz’s rowboat, Tide and Current Taxi. “It’s amazing,” she said. “You should try it!”
Maybe next year, when Frieze New York arrives a week later in May—ostensibly to avoid a conflict with Enwezor’s early-bird 2015 Venice Biennale. Of course, insiders know it’s really to escape the rain.
Left: Consultant Amy Cappellazzo with dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohaytn. Right: Artist B. Wurtz.
“THERE IS A LOT GOING ON,” said one insider at an opening last week. Probably everyone in New York was saying the same thing. There is always too much to do in this town. In spring, when the dogwoods are in bloom and ramps are on the table, there is even more—especially for the art tribe. With the arrival this week of Frieze New York and its satellite fairs, big-gun gallery openings and the coming contemporary auctions foreclosing on the normal transactions of life, artists, dealers and museums really have to pile it on to distract people from talking incessantly about the market, the market, the market. Art is so many things these days—property, currency, product, opiate—it’s getting hard to remember when it was simply a pleasure or a challenge to behold.
Yet that was the experience of many on the last day of April, when the Museum of Modern Art opened its high-flying and exquisitely titled exhibition “Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art,” the late Brazilian artist’s first retrospective in North America—adding even more life to what has to be MoMA’s strongest exhibition season in a decade. But it’s a big art world that embraces every restless soul who has trouble finding a place anywhere else. That same evening, sincerity and loyalty went on view with the abstract canvases in septuagenarian restaurateur Michael Chow’s exhibition in Vito Schnabel’s intimate Clarkson Street space. Studio detritus, hand-crushed silver, and clear plastic wrap were some of the materials in the paintings. Chow traded one for a candle portrait by Urs Fischer; several of the others will go into a forthcoming show at the Ullens Center in Beijing. All were made in the past two years. “I call this my early work,” Chow said.
In fact, Mr. Chow, as most of the world knows him—or at least the social world in London, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami—started out as an art student in the swinging London of the early 1960s. That’s when he met James Mayor, the British dealer who began his professional life as the upstart twenty-one-year-old who presided over the very first auction of contemporary art, in 1970, at what was then Sotheby’s Parke Bernet.
“Jasper Johns didn’t sell!” Chow hooted, prompting Mayor to list some of the other BIs (buy-ins) of that historic moment. “A Barnett Newman and a Rothko,” Mayor recalled, before dealer Tony Shafrazi, who also has now returned to his artist roots, appeared. “It’s not enough you’re a great restaurateur,” he told Chow. “Or that you acted in the first James Bond films, for goodness sake! Now you have to paint, too?”
He does, according to his daughter, China Chow, who arrived with her mother, Eva, and siblings Maximillian and Asia. Her uncle David Byrne came in out of the rain, as did Vogue creative director Grace Coddington, W magazine editor Stefano Tonchi, designer Vera Wang, Greek shipping heir Stavros Niarchos III, dealers Dominique Lévy and Jeffrey Deitch, collectors Alberto Mugrabi and Poyu Zabludowic, and, fresh from the opening of his show at LA MoCA, Francesco Vezzoli.
Some might compare this to an ’80s-style evening at Mr. Chow’s. For others it would be just another day in the art world—say, May 1st. That evening, on West Nineteenth and West Twentieth Street, David Zwirner looked back on the ’80s with the super-group historical show “No Problem: Cologne/New York 1984–1989,” and the Whitney Museum forged ahead with a press-only, hard-hat tour of its new Meatpacking District building. (Once past the entrance, it’s impressive.) LA’s Blum & Poe opened a Madison Avenue outpost with work by Mark Grotjahn; new photographs by Whitney Biennial artist Dawoud Bey appeared at Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue gallery; Jorinde Voigt showed almost heroic, pseudoscientific drawings of the taxonomy of love at David Nolan; Norwegian Ida Ekblad pinned carefree, postfolklore paintings to the walls of Greene Naftali; Fred Tomaselli brought collaged paintings to James Cohan that resulted, the artist said, from the “social Darwinism” of current events; and that Darwinian scourge Walton Ford drew the big crowds to Paul Kasmin for his grand, annotated watercolors of almost-extinct and never-were species that act just like people—cunning, ruthless, violent, jealous, self-righteous, and gorgeous.
Rounding out this something-for-everything evening was the quietest and most poignant show of all, a masterfully installed selection of drawings, photographs, collages, and mostly unknown photocopy works by Jay DeFeo at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. The thoughtful catalogue has an essay by artist Walead Beshty, who started out as an economist and knows a thing or two about the equation of art and money but in this case focused on repeating forms. Which is also a way to talk about money.
By Friday night, with Frieze getting closer, Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp were beginning to show up at openings, and Stefania Bortolami chose the moment to open a pop-up show in the old Spike, where young installationists gave the place more life than it has had since the day it was a waterfront leather bar. Matthew Monahan’s sixth outing at Anton Kern, on the other hand, was all about maturity, drawing frontline collectors like Michael and Susan Hort, and Carol and Arthur Goldberg to his serene reception. Meanwhile, in TriBeCa, former Deitch Projects director Nicola Vassel mounted “Black Eye: The 21st-Century, Black Identity Experience,” which indeed looked different than the twentieth-century black identity experience, at least in art, if not all that much different from the current art of everywhere else. However, with Steve McQueen, Rashid Johnson, Wangechi Mutu, David Hammons, Xaviera Simmons, Nari Ward, Jacolby Satterwhite, Gary Simmons, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye as just a few of the artists on the bill, it did look mighty cool. “Putting this show together has been very Dallas Buyers Club,” Vassell said, not quite laughing. “It took two and a half years.”
Up on Leroy Street, Gavin Brown presided over the last May exhibition his gallery would present in its current home. Like Lehmann Maupin’s, the building will be razed by this time next year, so yet another group of glass towers can go up there. Real estate development has become the new sex, it seems. Remember when the people being pushed out of neighborhoods they pioneered were artists? Now it’s the dealers.
It was far less depressing to contemplate the knock ’em, sock ’em punch of the trio Brown was showing—Mark Handforth, Kerstin Brätsch, and Mark Leckey. Brätsch celebrated by shopping at Dover Street Market just before the reception, and dressing in Rick Owens sneakers and a Saint Laurent track suit. “I feel like I just got out of bed and got dressed, and it happened to be my opening,” she said. Brown, for his part, celebrated his eleven years on Leroy Street by raising a glass to the past because, he said, “We wouldn’t be here without it. It’s always a surprise when things work out.”
Things do, though, because they have to. On Saturday afternoon, Keith Haring’s parents, two of his siblings, a niece, and a grandniece were the guests of honor at a lunch Barbara Gladstone gave on the Nomad Hotel rooftop for the Haring show opening at her Twenty-Fourth Street gallery that afternoon, twenty-five years after the artist’s death. Allen Haring recalled going with his wife, Joan, and their famous son on a European tour of his 1988 exhibitions. “Keith must have known the end was coming,” Mr. Haring said. When we got back, he said, ‘OK, now you know how to do this.’ As if he knew we would be on our own.”
Except in the art world, one is never really out there alone. Take the case of Carl Andre, one of the most significant sculptors in contemporary art and a pariah in New York since the 1985 death of his third wife, Ana Mendieta. Though he was acquitted of any responsibility, suspicion always reigned high in these parts—and still does—while Andre remained a superstar in Europe. On Sunday, the Dia Foundation forced a reckoning with the man’s work, at least, by presenting the opening of its first American retrospective in more than thirty years as its spring benefit at Dia:Beacon, organized by former Dia director Philippe Vergne with Dia curator Yasmil Raymond. Andre’s game-changing flat and stacked sculpture could not have found a better environment than under the natural light of this former box-printing factory on the Hudson River, hard by Dia’s Michael Heizers, Richard Serras, Sol LeWitts, Donald Judds, and Fred Sandbacks. It’s Minimalist heaven, where Andre provides, as Vergne has said, the collection’s missing link.
“It’s a triumph,” said Guggenheim Museum director Richard Armstrong. “Carl, you finally have the retrospective you deserve,” Dia board chair Nathalie de Gunzburg told a crowd that included artists Lawrence Weiner, Brice Marden, and Gedi Sibony, patrons Beth Rudin DeWoody, Marguerite Hoffman, Metropolitan Museum board chair Dan Brodsky, and dealers Massimo Minini, Nicholas Logsdail, and Virginia Dwan. Irving Blum recalled giving Andre a show at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles as early as 1969. “Frank Stella got me on to him,” Blum said. “I showed four floor pieces angled from the wall. Sold two.”
Dealer Paula Cooper, one of Andre’s most devoted, longtime supporters, walked to lunch by his side, fighting back tears. “This is all so emotional,” she said. “I have come to believe in the role that chance plays in life,” Andre told me then. “I know many artists who do perfectly wonderful work that is never recognized. I’ve been lucky.” In more ways than one.
Left: Artist Ida Ekblad. Right: Artists Rirkrit Tiravanija and Jean-Luc Moulène.
THE CLOSING GALA for the tenth anniversary of Gallery Weekend Berlin was held last Saturday at the Flughafen Tempelhof, an airport designed in 1923 that was later renovated by Albert Speer as part of his reconstruction of Berlin as a symbol of Hitler’s “Germania.” Sir Norman Foster called it “the mother of all airports,” and during the Cold War, it acted as a lifeline to West Berlin and a hub for American military aircraft. When it finally closed to air traffic in 2008, Ronald Lauder proposed having Richard Meier turn it into a luxury clinic and plastic surgery compound, where patients could park their jets and spend the week receiving treatment. Berliners fought the plan, and the space now remains empty most of the time, except on nights like this, when it lights up for large and lavish events.
The cocktail reception was held on the tarmac next to a plane. Halfway through, GWB director Maike Cruse and two well-suited men stepped out its door and onto an airstair, beaming and waving at the sea of guests below.
“Did you see Maike’s red dress? Amazing, shoulder pads—she looked just like Hillary Clinton,” exclaimed Galerie Buchholz’s Filippo Weck to Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. We were sitting with Portikus curator Sophie von Olfers and dealers Alexander Schroeder, Alex Zachary, Gigiotto Del Vecchio, Peter Currie, and Stefania Palumbo at a table on a balcony overlooking the airport’s Brobdingnagian hall filled with severe Neoclassical columns and tables dressed in starch white linen.
“It’s all quite literal,” someone added.
For those who travel the international art circuit, dining in velvet gowns and satin jackets next to a baggage claim and tarmac is an irony-rich experience, airports being a haven of tax shelters and, increasingly, art storage. They are also, like fairs, seemingly liminal, nationless nonplaces. Larry Gagosian thematized this two years ago during a dinner at FIAC, though his event, which took place at a private airport surrounded by four jets, seemed less self-conscious, an unapologetic expression of global empire.
Earlier that day, I met Liam Gillick for a cappuccino outside a weathered bar in Mitte. The problem with quasi-public/quasi-private nonplaces, he said, like airports or lobbies, is that they make discussion itself a commodity. “It’s the site where romance and surveillance intersect, which makes it dangerous. This is where the term lobbyist came from.” Taking Richard Hamilton’s 1968 film The Critic Laughs as a starting point, Gillick’s exhibition included an installation of streamlined, functionless Plexiglas sculptures that sometimes framed or occluded tender but pernicious dialogue written on the walls.
“It breaks my heart a bit,” Peter Currie said of “Homo,” a series of found photographs featured in Lutz Bacher’s debut at Daniel Buchholz; they spoke to surveillance of a different kind. The images depicted three Greek soldiers during World War II sharing a cigarette on a wharf, smiling softly at one another on benches, wandering in early morning light through narrow streets. Nearby, the first few pages of Bacher’s forthcoming book Shit for Brains seemed to point at something greater than itself:
TITLES ARE IMPORTANT
THEY GIVE YOU THE BIGGER PICTURE
THE TITLE OF THIS BOOK IS THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
DO YOU NOT KNOW WHAT THAT IS
On Friday night, Esther Schipper and Neugerriemschneider held a joint dinner at Pauly Saul for Gillick and Pae White. The event brimmed with artists, curators, and collectors—mostly European, a few South American. I sat next to the granddaughter of collector Marianne Langen of the Langen Foundation in Düsseldorf and two collectors from Spain. The conversation quickly turned to favorite exhibitions—Julian Beck at Supportico Lopez, Friedrich Kuhn and Robert and Trix Haussmann at Tanya Leighton, Katinka Bock at Meyer Riegger, Björn Dahlem at Galerie Guido W. Baudach, and Richard Wright at BQ. On top of a few lists was Katja Novitskova at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, whose exhibition “Spirit, Curiosity, and Opportunity” was named after NASA’s robotic Martian rovers. “Conspiracy theories are a way of finding information,” Novitskova told me as we stood in front of a film set located in a photography studio in the same building as the gallery. “But it’s also a basic human instinct.”
Across town, Ned Vena premiered black-and-white target paintings at Société. He covered the floors with industrial rubber, and the smell was so pungent that it was difficult to think about anything but the senses. We shared a cigarette before jumping in a car with director Daniel Wichelhaus to attend Dances for the Electric Piano, a sold-out performance by Cory Arcangel at the Berliner Philharmonie. There, Hampus Lindwall hammered out octaves in a tuxedo, until the hour-long performance became a meditative drone. Curator Julie Boukobza said that it was like watching a life take shape in music.
“They’re building a castle across from the Schinkel,” artist and Schinkel Pavilion director Nina Pohl informed me matter-of-factly as we zipped in and out of traffic, heading toward the space to catch Camille Henrot’s latest exhibition the next day.
“Precisely—there is no purpose. Decoration.”
Inside the Schinkel, Henrot presented an iteration of her ongoing ikebana series, “Is it Possible to Be a Revolutionary and Like Flowers?” Facing onto the historic Kronprinzenpalais garden, texts engage the burgeoning development beyond—castles with no function, luxury apartment towers with oversize foyers: TO RETURN TO THE SOURCE, ONE SHOULD GO IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.
This all came to mind later on Saturday night after the big gala dinner, en route to a Boychild performance hosted by Isabella Bortolazzi at Chesters, a former sex club in Kreuzberg where couches used to hang from the ceilings and people were once instructed to strip before entering. The line outside was absurdly long.
“But the art people are still at the airport?” asked a friend. We had left the vast space just before dessert.
“The art people aren’t getting in,” someone said, and it was a relief when a friend from the gallery came to retrieve us.
Just past midnight, Wu Tsang and the performer of the moment pushed through the crowd. Boychild, her eyes blacked-out with contacts, climbed onto the stage and stripped off her shirt. Tsang took to the DJ booth and began to play hard and slow electric beats; the dark room flooded with fog and blue light and the crowd went silent. Boychild emerged from the mist, covered in iridescent powder that accentuated where her breasts curved over her muscular stomach and fell out toward sculpted shoulders. She moved slowly, quivering, shuddering, as if to convulse was to dance.
“Did you see the Jana Euler painting at Galerie Neu’s new space?” Nicolas Trembley asked in the cab ride home.
“Incredible,” said collector Josef Dalle Nogare. The work—which features a disorienting, impossible spatial composition—depicts a nude figure squished into one half of a sparse room, painting breasts and a penis on a “wall” that bisects the canvas. It stared curiously at the parts—perhaps its own? If those bodily parts acted as a symbol of some other, more sensuous realm, it was one that in the delirium of all these “nonspaces” seemed banished to the imagination, to be painted and not built.
“That one image sums up this entire week.”
Left: Jana Euler, Untitled 2, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 43 3/4 x 57". Right: Dealer Isabella Bortolazzi.
THOSE NEW TO THE ART-WORLD CIRCUIT quickly realize that to see is to know: When it comes to objects and the people that travel worldwide to view them, a sense of familiarity arrives from recognizing the same names and faces around the globe. Introductions, handshakes, and the international two-cheek kiss are most often merely phatic formalities. This is especially true in a city like Brussels, where you see the people you know often and can easily point out those you don’t, urging people to get acquainted and fast. Perhaps that’s the reason the one-cheek kiss is customary for the Bruxellois: When leaving one opening for another, is there really any point in making the effort with a second kiss when you’re only going to run into the same person at the next venue and repeat the ritual?
“I’ve only been here for a couple of days, and already I feel that I know half the people in the room,” Brussels newcomer and New York–based dealer Elizabeth Dee told me at Tuesday night’s well-attended opening at nonprofit space CAB. As the VIP opening for Art Brussels was pushed back from Wednesday to Thursday this year and set two weeks after Art Cologne, a higher number of visitors had more opportunities to explore many of the “off” events going on around town. “Out of Character,” the exhibition on view, featured installations by seven artists, each chosen by one collector with whom they collaborated on the project. Surrounding us was Brazilian artist Rodrigo Bueno’s exquisitely presented Brussels Sprouts––an installation spanning both interior and exterior spaces consisting of locally sourced antiques and bric-a-brac, hung from the walls and ceiling, which shared the appearance of being overrun by nature. “Nothing came from Brazil but Rodrigo and his assistant, George,” the collector Sandra Hegedus Mulliez, who was also Bueno’s sponsor, told me. “It’s literally site-specific.”
Left: Dealer Catherine Bastide. Right: Artist Philippe Terrier-Hermann and collector Nathalie Guiot.
Wednesday night, several of us made the twenty-minute drive to Uccle––a fashionable yet residential district of Brussels––for “Textile Languages,” an exhibition organized and selected by French-born collector and textile heiress Nathalie Guiot at her former home. Guiot had first told me about this exhibition in Turin back in November, days before she was set to depart for an extensive tour of studios in Bangalore, Bombay, and Delhi. Her research culminated in a beautiful presentation of seventeen international artists, from Jonathan Monk to Baptist Coelho. Having arrived late, I only had time for one glass of champagne after guests began to leave the expansive garden of the property to make their way to this or that dinner.
While my usual MO at art fairs is to let the works speak for themselves, this time people had more to say. During the nine hours I spent at the fair that day, discussions of summer plans, this or that afterparty, or hotel accommodation in Basel seemed more present on people’s minds. “Will I see you in Hong Kong?” Art Basel director Marc Spiegler asked me excitedly. “I’m flying directly from New York.”
“What a jet-setter!” joked a collector.
“You’re only a jet-setter if you have a private plane,” Spiegler assured him. “It’s called jet lag for the rest of us.”
Left: Barbara Gladstone and gallery director Simone Battisti. Right: Artists Koening van den Broek and John Baldessari.
New this year was “Curator’s View”––five booths at the fair that addressed a thematic proposal. Particularly successful was Sorry We’re Closed Gallery’s “Plaster Mind,” curated by owner Sébastien Janssen, which featured works from artists as varied as Hans Arp to Allan McCollum. Nearby, Meessen de Clercq celebrated its fifth year since the opening of the galley by offering a discount of €555.55 to a few lucky collectors. While the consensus was that quality was good overall, some attendees found themselves wanting more of the new. They came closest in the FIRST section, an area of sixteen younger galleries invited by the fair and given prominence at the entrance of Hall 3. Works by Isabelle Cornaro at Hannah Hoffman; Julian Charrière at Dittrich & Schlechtriem; Petr Davydtchenko at Harlan Levey; and Emilie Ding at Samy Abraham, among others, were “unusual suspects”––as the fair’s director, Katerina Gregos, told me––for many Belgian collectors. Awards were also given to Office Baroque for its solo booth of Catherine Ahearn and to Jousse Entreprise for best booth in general. Yet Bugada & Cargnel’s boothshowcasing artists Wilfred Almendra, Étienne Chambaud, Adrien Missika, Nico Vascellari, and Charrièrewas unofficially nominated by art adviser Gregory Lang for the latter prize. “The theme is ‘tropicalism’,” Frédéric Bugada told me, gesturing toward a work by Vascellari consisting of painted, torn, and layered magazine pages arranged as to evoke strata of bark––restoring the paper back to some semblance of a former natural state.
Left: Artist Rodrigo Bueno and his assistant George. Right: Collector Sandra Mulliez Hegedus (left).
Everyone met up again the next day following the fair for the inaugural opening at new art space MonCHÉRI, co-owned by Paris-based art dealers Frédérique and Philippe Valentin (of Galerie Chez Valentin) and Jeanroch Dard (of the eponymous gallery). “The three of us were drunk one night in Torino and we were eating those little Mon Chéri chocolates––you know, they’re actually not that good––and the idea to open this space came into our heads,” Dard told me. And what better city than the capital of chocolate? If their first exhibition, “Yeah and Look Where It Got Us,” tells us anything, it’s that intoxication and insight sometimes go hand in hand.
An hour later, we arrived downtown at Galerie Greta Meert’s dinner for the joint exhibitions of John Baldessari and Edith Dekyndt. Downstairs, fifteen paintings from Baldessari’s “Take ( ) / Scene ( )” series consists of “clichés” from old black-and-white Hollywood films which the artist “reinvests” with new life by pairing them with excerpts from an invented script and painting color accents on the original image to add symbolic value. “Art is a buffet table, not unlike tonight’s dinner,” the eighty-two-year-old artist told me. “Nothing is forced: You take what you want and you leave the rest.”
Left: Simon de Pury. Right: Lawyer Luc Saucier and Serpentine Gallery codirector Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Since it’s no secret that most fair frequenters prefer to take in art with a few cocktails to wash it down, private parties (such as chez Samir & Florence Sabet d’Acre on Friday night; art dealer Charles-Antoine Bodson’s birthday on Saturday) and pop-up parties (such as the one organized by independent curator Anissa Touati and artist Tjorg Douglas Beer with Le Baron DJ Samuel to celebrate their group exhibition “Stalactica”; or the Catclub Party the night after) left some––without naming names––searching for cabs at daybreak. However, the week ended softly on Sunday with a sushi party at French collector Agnès Rein’s home attended by collector Herman Daled, Wiels Contemporary Art Center curator Dirk Snauwaert, and artists Franz Erhard Walther and Akram Zaatari––both of whom currently have shows at Wiels. Running on little sleep, I left early without saying goodbye to most, a social faux pas analogous, perhaps, to attending Art Brussels week itself––or, as one friend later put it, much like your mother-in-law’s birthday: You shouldn’t miss it, but you’ll be forgiven the next time around if you do.
Left: Office Baroque’s Louis-Philippe Eckhoutte, Marie Denkens, and Wim Peeters. Right: Artists Tjorg Douglas Beer and Kees Visser with art adviser Vincent Matthu.
FORGET “MOTOR CITY.” Detroit may yet gain a rep as a city of two wheels, not four, thanks in part to Shinola. The all-American-made luxury purveyor of watches and leather goods recently debuted a line of retro-inspired bicycles so luscious, they make metal mouth-watering. Founded in 2011, the brand has already garnered myriad admirers, including Bill Clinton, who was posing for pictures at the Detroit factory the same day I was touring Shinola’s outpost in the shopping district known as Cass Corridor, part of the itinerary for last weekend’s Culture Lab Detroit, a three-day festival celebrating the city’s creative output. While I understood the symbolism of basing an industry in Detroit, were bicycles really suited for Michigan, where, even with May just around the corner, passersby were bundled in parkas and boots?
“People do bike! I mean, it gets cold, sure, but I lived a year without a car,” Ellie Schneider assured me over lentil burgers at Traffic Jam and Snug, a comfort food staple next door to Shinola. Schneider is the associate director of Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3), an incubator for promising initiatives. Through support of projects like the Artifact Makers Society—which advocates “conscious consumption” through artisanal and locally sourced production, touting the word “make” as less a verb than a lifestyle—the DC3 has helped usher Cass Avenue from an area notorious for its petty crime to a bastion of design boutiques, fair-trade coffee shops, and environmentally responsible coworking spaces like Green Garage, whose interior partially consists of repurposed wood. (“Nature doesn’t have a Dumpster,” designer and Garage resident Chad Dickinson shrugged.) One drawback to all this do-gooding, however, is that these start-ups have found themselves competing for a very limited pool of resources.
Left: Artist and Heidelberg Project founder Tyree Guyton. Right: Patroness Jane Schulak. (Photo: Ara Howrani)
Detroit should have seen this coming the moment so-called “ruin porn” hit the popular press. Before this trip, I had never heard anyone use the word “blight” in conversation, but over the course of four days last week, I heard it repeatedly, as if locals were on implicit damage control, determined to set the terms for how the city’s admittedly dramatic history gets told. After all, these are people used to dealing with tourists who just want to see the derelict train station. (Full disclosure: I really wanted to see the derelict train station.) Now, however, another kind of backlash is looming against terms like “creative place-making.”
“Cass Avenue is starting to look like Royal Oak,” gallery owner George N’Namdi declared later. He was mid-debate with curator Ingrid LaFleur over whether or not the city’s recent transformation fell under the rubric of “gentrification” or “colonization.” N’Namdi’s own complex—the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, replete with a gallery space, conference facilities, a gift shop, library/wine bar, and a killer vegetarian restaurant—is impressively settled a few blocks from the Cass Corridor. “There’s not gentrification in terms of physical displacement, but there is a psychological gentrification we should be concerned about. These new developments are rendering the local population powerless, symbolically,” N’Namdi argued. “The real problem is, when we show the blight in Detroit, it’s always in an African American context. When we talk about change, however, it’s only about 10 percent African American. Just look at all these visualizations of what the city is supposed to look like in the future. They might just be projections, but everyone is white.” LaFleur concurred. “We understand that change is going to happen, but we have an opportunity to curate our city and we’re not taking it.”
Culture Lab Detroit frames itself as “a catalyst for conversations and collaborations.” Founded by local patroness Jane Schulak, and operating under the aegis of the DC3, it supplements a three-day program of exhibitions, tours, concerts, and panel conversations with two salon dinners, giving locals and invited guests alike the chance to poke at some of the elephants in the room. “I’m not selling a T-shirt,” Schulak retorted. “This city is rebuilding itself on creative capital, and I’m trying to see how I can be a part of that process.”
Left: Dealer George N’Namdi at the N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art. Right: Artist Scott Hocking in his studio.
It’s still very much in a learning stage. Brooklyn-based event designer extraordinaire David Stark was the only repeat guest from last year’s inaugural edition, which zoomed in more tightly on the local scene. “It was tough,” he confided. “I remember one woman raising her hand and asking, ‘Why are we talking about design when I can’t afford to keep living in my own house?’ ”
“I really had to think hard about the specific combination of guests for this year,” Schulak admitted. “I wanted to get a good variety of perspectives, but then I wanted a thread that would tie them to one another and to Detroit. So I ended up going with artists who, in their own ways, demonstrate social responsibility, craftsmanship and respect for resources.” Her final roster brought together artist Theaster Gates, architect David Adjaye, and whimsical Brazilian designers Humberto and Fernando Campana in a conversation titled simply “Art Interventions.”
Both Adjaye and the Campana Brothers had other projects in the city (Adjaye was launching a line of chairs for Knoll and lecturing at Cranbrook, and the Campana Brothers had an exhibition at Re:View Gallery), which left Gates hyperaware of the speculation around his visit. Over a pre-panel glass of champagne, he insisted that his presence was not that of “an outside expert,” but rather “a co-conspirator.” “For a long time I didn’t come to this city because I didn’t want to be part of some hype, some badge reading ‘I too have conquered Detroit!’ This invitation didn’t feel like conquering; it felt like a conversation to come and see what’s going on.” Gates shrugged off rumors that there might be a project in the works, though more than one source suggested that should a certain historical building complex end up getting slated for demolition, the artist might be convinced to intervene. Speaking not to this proposition but more generally, Gates observed, “The problem is that people look at the end product: ‘Oh, he likes to reanimate old buildings. We have a lot of old buildings.’ That’s missing the point. The part that is much more compelling is people, and how you think about people in relation to the abandoned buildings. If I don’t know the people, how can I work with the building?”
Left: Curator Ingrid LaFleur with artist Olayame Dabl at Dabl’s African Bead Museum. Right: Designer Chad Dickinson and Artifact Makers Society’s Bethany Betzler at Green Garage.
Adjaye kicked off the panel with the supposition that architecture is inherently cyclical. “Detroit just feels like it’s starting its next story.” Later, Fernando Campana recounted how he became an artist the day his father took him to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. Afterwards, he went home and promptly set about making his own spaceship out of cactus and bamboo, the materials at hand. Gates pushed the image to query the link between poverty and resourcefulness, implying that what Detroit now had to work with was, essentially, cactus and bamboo. “Cities have budgets for demolitions, not for innovation,” he lamented. “We need to be thinking not, ‘How do you build cities in Korea?’ but rather, ‘We have a situation today where most people in the US won’t make more than $50,000 a year. How do you build a $30,000 house?’ ” Adjaye cut in: “It’s not just about solving a given issue. We have the resources and the capacity to build $5,000 houses. Our task is to figure out how we manifest the world we want to live in.” These questions would loom large as guests streamed into the first salon dinner, held at Le Petit Zinc, a plucky French Bistro in what used to be an old dentist office in historic Corktown.
Stark would mastermind the second salon dinner, which took place the next evening at the Birmingham home of Jane and Eddie Schulak. Two giant woks full of delphinium crowned the long table in the orangerie, which looked out onto a garden boasting over 1,500 varieties of herbs and vegetables. The previous evening’s crowd—DC3 director Matt Clayson, College for Creative Studies president Rick Rogers, artist Toby Barlow—was now flanked by a fleet of sleek Italians. “FIAT,” my seatmate mouthed to me, stirring vague memories of headlines past. Of course, it’s one thing to read about business dealings and quite another to watch them manifest at a dinner party. We played it safe and kept to praising the food, a Moroccan-style feast served on Pewabic Pottery.
Left: My Brightest Diamond performs with Migguel Anggelo at the “In Cahoots” concert at Trinosophes. Right: Patron Eddie Schulak at the Heidelberg Project.
We would pass Pewabic’s legendary studios the next morning, on our marathon tour of the Detroit art scene. We started with the Heidelberg Project, an initiative that began in 1986 when artist Tyree Guyton painted a pink dot on a house to ward off East Side crack dealers, which is now struggling to rebound after recent arson attacks. From there, we set off for Burnside Farms, a community farm run by Kresge Fellow Kate Daughdrill, then on to the Mies Van der Rohe–designed complex Lafayette Park; the Z Lot, a downtown parking lot featuring work by street artists like Revok and Pose, b., Maya Hayuk, and Wais; the MBAD African Bead Museum, a bona fide highway landmark, thanks to Olayami Dabl’s outdoor installations; and a superb, locally sourced lunch at Rose’s Fine Foods. One of our final stops was the studio of Scott Hocking, the affable artist who became a go-to after a 2009 Time article christening Detroit “an icon of the failed American city” cited one of his site-specific sculptures as evidence of the extraordinary creative leanings of local vandals. While Hocking genially fielded questions, I found myself distracted by his book of photographs, Bad Graffiti, which captures such winning inscriptions as BITCH WE WANT OUR TRAILER, SEA HORSES OF THE APOPOLYP, and HARVARD U. I tuned back into an animated conversation just in time to hear Hocking conclude “…but that’s probably the only time I’ve found a dead body.” At long last, our ruin porn. On the way home, we saw the derelict train station.
Culture Lab culminated that night at the coffee shop/bookstore/performance space Trinosophes with “In Cahoots,” a concert that juxtaposed My Brightest Diamond and Venezuelan vocalist Migguel Anggelo. With the Detroit Party Marching Band on backup, My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden took to the stage in a shako and matching jacket, diving in with “High, Low, Middle,” an exuberant ode to Detroit. “When you’re privileged, you don’t even know you’re privileged,” she crooned, with a knowing shoulder shimmy. “When you’re not—you know.” Looking around the space, I would have to disagree; this was a crowd that was quite aware of just how lucky we were at that moment.
Left: A section of the Heidelberg Project. Right: College of Creative Studies' Rick Rogers with Detroit Creative Corridor Center's Matt Clayson at the salon dinner at Le Petit Zinc.
Left: Lismore Castle. (Photo: Paul McAree). Right: Lismore Castle Arts director Eamonn Maxwell with artists Róża Litwa and Agnieszka Polska. (Except where noted, all photos: Pat Crowley)
LISMORE CASTLE is a neo-gothic fairy tale extravaganza of a place, with high stone walls rising above the Blackwater River, bristling with turrets and battlements and the type of windows that you feel very smug to be sitting at. No wonder Polish star artist Wilhelm Sasnal was inspired to make a body of work for this, the tenth annual exhibition at Lismore Castle Arts, based on fairy tales, and in particular the works of Hans Christian Anderson.
Sasnal visited Lismore on a recce in 2012, and said it was like traveling back in time. Fellow time travelers for the launch of this stunner of a show included Sasnal’s extended family; avid collectors Sir John and Lady Ritblat; Caroline Kennedy’s daughter Tatiana, on a break from her studies at Oxford University; representatives of various international galleries; and the usual collection of artists, writers, critics, curators, and social climbers—the last group being one to which no one would admit to belonging, obviously.
The event was preceded by a seminar held in the gallery, “What is the role of painting in contemporary practice?,” which rumbled along strongly until the inevitable endless nonquestion from the floor, which brought things to a close. After all, it was time for tea, and the role of painting in contemporary practice pales in significance against the lure of little sandwiches and cake. Pacing oneself is important, because there was also dinner to be thought of, but I like to think we did justice to the table, as talk roved around how nice Sasnal was (very), how important his work is (very), and how much we were looking forward to the opening itself (extremely).
Left: Billion Journal’s James Merrigan and artist Damien Flood. Right: Artist Wilhelm Sasnal and LCA education coordinator Jennifer Marshall.
First to the smaller Lismore space: Saint Carthage Hall, where a group show of three younger Polish artists—Róża Litwa, Agnieszka Polska, and Wojciech Bąkowski—kicked things off. Then it was time for the main event. “Are they for sale?” the husband of a collector was heard to ask.
“Thanks be to God,” he breathed, relaxing with the knowledge that this time the visit wasn’t going to cost him deep.
The conversations continued. There was the inevitable arty one-upmanship. A name was raised, picked up, only to be dropped again. Then dropped more heavily and from a greater height. Everyone seemed to have a better Joseph Brodsky story. “I met him,” announced one person of the great, late Russian poet. “So have I.” “I had lunch with him and held his hand.” “I sat on his knee.”
“I bore two of his children,” said the brilliant Brian Fay, one of the artists from the afternoon’s panel, putting a stop to the nonsense.
Artist and extravagant experimental food-ster Stephen Brandes of the Domestic Godless was there, talking with writer Caoimhin Mac Giolla Leith. It turned out we liked totally different pieces in this eclectic though somehow cohesive show. Just goes to show that at the end of the day it’s all about taste. And Lismore Castle has good taste in abundance. It’s dripping with centuries of it, in fact, though if you think about it, that’s because if you’ve owned a castle for centuries, you might have a role in defining what good taste is.
Left: Artist Brian Fay and writer Caoimhin Mac Giolla Leith. Right: Urszula Nawrot with her husband, Polish Ambassador to Republic of Poland in Dublin Marcin Nawrot.
We all hushed for the speeches. London ICA director Gregor Muir did the honors, opening with what he said was perhaps the most depressing newspaper critique of contemporary art he’d ever come across: a small advertisement on the back page—“Two paintings for sale. One thirty six by forty two inches, the other twenty five by thirty.” Though as he went on to give an engaging talk about his love of art, and his love of Sasnal’s paintings in particular, quoting a Truman Capote story, “Master Misery,” in which a car races through the night trailing dreams which themselves come from the furies within us, we were enraptured.
A little later we gathered for drinks in the castle’s comfortable drawing room, half swallowed by enormous sofas, and lulled by a blazing log fire. The talk turned to fairy tales, perhaps inspired by the room’s tapestries, and definitely by Sasnal’s art. Most important though, it was a change of subject from that inevitably boring staple of this kind of gathering, where most of the guests are far from home: How to get through airports with the minimum fuss. So, would you prefer to live in Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm? One set of stories is redolent with tragedy, the other macabre and violent. Lady Laura Burlington wasn’t sure. It depended, we decided, on whether you’re an emotional or physical masochist, which caused a brief pause before it was time for dinner.
I was pleased to find myself sitting opposite Muir and between Anthony Kendal and Lord William Burlington: a trio of great dinner companions. Muir had studied painting in art school. He told me about how, when he had no money, he’d take his canvases into the launderette and wash them clean. As he described watching the paint float off in murky swathes, I thought of the next person’s shirts. These days they’d call that art. Marcin Narwot, the Polish Ambassador was there, and Burlington’s speech was peppered with what I’m told was well pronounced and highly polished Polish.
Left: Sadie Coles’s Pauline Daly and Foksal Gallery Foundation’s Andrzej Przywara. Right: Kinsale Arts Festival chair Mareta Doyle and Carnegie Museum of Art curator Raymund Ryan.
Postdinner, the pub was suggested in a bid to spread the arty love beyond the castle walls. I braved the sudden torrent of rain to put my name on a pint in Eamonn’s Place, where, appropriately enough, Lismore Castle arts director Eamonn Maxwell was holding court. He also, fortunately, had brought his wallet, as I discovered that the danger of coming from the comforts of the castle was that I had no purse of my own.
A few hours later, I discovered a greater danger: Castles were built to be impregnable, and I had no key to get back in. Amy Sherlock and I called, knocked, and thumped, growing increasingly bedraggled in the rain, until a stranger appeared, as if from nowhere. He led us along a maze of passages, up and down stairs, and through darkened rooms, before melting away, leaving us to make our own way back to the drawing room. “Where did you come from?” asked Burlington. We told him. He wondered if such a thing was possible. He was right, it did seem rather far-fetched: This place, this gathering, this art, this castle, every single bit of it was like a fairy tale. But that was part of the charm.