Murray Hill and Lance Horne at Justin Vivian Bond—Trans/Art/Family: The Vivification of NYC, September 11, 2016. (All photos: Kevin Yatarola)
“IS IT A MAN OR A WOMAN? The answer is no!” zinged Murray Hill, downtown’s favorite Drag King of Comedy—heir unapparent to the likes of Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield. The occasion for Hill’s hot buttering of cold one-liners (and totally Catskilling it) was Trans/Art/Family: The Vivification of NYC, a night at Joe’s Pub in celebration of the singularly brilliant performer Justin Vivian Bond. Downtown being downtown, the event was also a fundraiser for two essential cultural institutions: Participant Inc., the nonprofit art space led by superhero Lia Gangitano, and The Gender and Family Project, which provides space and services for the families and loved ones of gender-talented children. Although home is a precarious concept in New York City—and that day marked the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11—the audience that night came together like family for Mx Bond for a show that could have been called This Is Your Fabulous Life.
“You are gorgeous people!” the gorgeous Sandra Bernhard shouted as she took the stage, and the crowd applauded wildly in agreement. Bernhard told the room that she’d written no memorial Tweets that day, no posts “riding on other people’s tragedies”; she publicly shared no memories of 9/11. Why? “I didn’t see anything,” she snapped. “We were living in Chelsea—facing the other way.” In other words: She would respect the real victims by not playing one tonight—or, really, ever. Then, in the spirit of sanity and all the joy that follows, she belted Laura Nyro’s “Save the Country,” and brought the house down (as it were). #ImWithHer
Sandra Bernhard and Thomas Bartlett at Trans/Art/Family: The Vivification of NYC. September 11, 2016.
Performer NathAnn Carerra appeared devilishly angelic in a sleeveless black sateen number and a hat that looked like a swan wrapped its wing around his head. NathAnn, Bond’s former (or not) lover, told the story of their fateful meeting. Once upon a time, v spotted NathAnn standing by a parking meter outside a theater San Francisco. On their first date, they went to a singalong Xanadu. Soon after, they headed to a Queeruption gathering in Canada where Bond (being Bond) decided to liven up the scene… by organizing a bukake party in one of the festival’s designated safe spaces. An act of insurgence, or just a little redecorating? In a funny way, Carerra seemed to say, that’s v’s m.o. to a T.
Playwright, performer, and gender genius Kate Bornstein—who also appears to be sunshine in human form—stood up to play clips of a circa 1990s Bond performing as the hermaphrodite Herculine Barbin in a San Francisco production of Bornstein’s pioneering production Hidden: A Gender. “Are any of you to tell me how I am to be a man when I am both a man and a woman?” the younger Bond challenged, pleaded, as Barbin. The audience went silent; you could hear a hairpin drop. Would that all home movies were this tender, this proud, of family.
Family was at best a bittersweet subject in the room that night. As Hill joked at one point: “The more you applaud, the more I forget about my childhood!” When Jean Malpas, director of The Gender and Family Project, stood up to thank Bond for the support v had given the organization over the years, a photograph was projected above his head of Bond sitting in a convertible at Gay Pride wearing a T-shirt that read PRIDE IS FOR KIDS TOO. For many sitting in Joe’s Pub, community has been the way forward out of the shortcomings of personal history. After all, we build the support we wish to see, and be, in the world. It was tender powerhouse Toshi Reagon who, before she performed, commented that she and Bond only met a few months ago, but that didn’t matter. “You can make community,” she affirmed. “You don’t need to know nobody personally.”
Left: Kate Bornstein. Right: Toshi Reagon.
But chosen families can wound too. “I’d like to leave you…” sang Kenny Mellman, pausing just long enough to contain the ambivalence that stirs inside of intimacy. And then, he continued: “…with something warm.” For years, Mellman has been one of Bond’s closest collaborators, and there have been times, Mellman said, when the two were not on speaking terms. Tonight, he appeared only filled with gratitude for all their times, wishing Bond in song: “maybe an angel to keep you from harm, or a little light that will shine you all the way back home.”
Bond has always been the darling of the spotlight, and when v finally took the stage that evening, v was—as always—luminous. “Beautiful!” someone shouted, to which v replied, “Thank you for noticing!” After thanking all the performers—and before launching into a few stunning solo numbers—Bond explained to the audience why v does the work v does. Years ago, on a trip to Seattle, Bond heard about the NEA Four—Holly Hughes, John Fleck, Tim Miller, and Karen Finley—artists who had their arts funding ripped out from under them because their art was deemed “obscene.” Back then, of course, “obscene” was often shorthand for “queer.” “I decided at that moment I was going to dedicate my life to making that work,” Bond said, and v has. That work—and the rage that has always propelled it—was also born of the AIDS crisis, and from the stage that night, Bond remembered Doris Fish, Miss Kitty, Benjamin Smoke, and other “queens that did not live.”
Bond is of the generation who has never been silent about the deaths of their friends and loved ones, though what it means (and has meant) to be a survivor of the AIDS crisis—to bear those memories, to make “that work,” to be or feel responsible for legacies other than one’s own—is an enduring question. Earlier this year, as part of his three-part exhibition at the Artist’s Institute, writer Hilton Als read from a work-in-progress in which he shifted Joe Brainard’s incantation I remember into his own grievous refrain, I don’t want to remember. This fall, Ishmael Houston-Jones and Will Rawls have curated Danspace’s 2016 Platform “Lost & Found,” in which they’ll present the work of choreographers, dancers, and artists who did not survive AIDS, and sift through the continued impact of their absences. Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, currently in performance at St. Ann’s Warehouse, is also in part about sorting through the wreckage of this legacy, “to remind people what they’ve dismissed, forgotten, or buried.” Which is perhaps just to say that while some memorials rearrange the skyline, others are built from truer, more transient material: that of a raging and incandescent aliveness.
At the end of the show, Bond was joined by Mellman and the two commanded the stage not as Kiki & Herb (as such), but as themselves: glorious, hilarious, and never missing a beat. They launched into a whirling medley that somehow blew through Mary J. Blige’s “Deep Inside” to the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” to Radiohead’s “Creep,” and on and on until the room was ready to burst. When a cake came out in celebration of Bond’s twenty-fifth “Tranniversary,” the room roared, and one could feel—palpably, proudly—the love for a single person expressing the love of a community, of a city, of those who paved the way, and of those who’re still waiting in the wings, preparing to take their rightful place on the world’s stage.
Left: RE/Search founder V. Vale. (Photo: Kaitlin Phillips) Right: Outside the New York Art Book Fair. (Photo: Matthew Carlson)
LAST THURSDAY, at the opening night preview of Printed Matter’s NY Book Fair at MoMA PS1, in the popup white dome in the courtyard, at one of the end-to-end merchandise tables, V. Vale (“That’s the name I’m famous under”), founder of RE/Search, complains to a fan that the fair, in its eleventh year, and its host city, have lost their street cred:
“I never come to New York. Yeah, I never come to New York. I never come to New York,” says Vale, beaming defiantly.
“Well, New York may have jumped the shark.”
“I don’t know what that means. Jump the shark.”
“It means that something has hit its peak, and then it starts to go into its decline. I hope I’m wrong, but Larry Gagosian is here.”
“There used to be an underground!”
Eh. In New York, there are some things you can’t have unless you know a guy.
The guy who hacked my neighbor’s wifi so I don’t have to arrange my life so as to afford even low-speed internet, is also into art-book forgery—which is why I have a bootleg of the uncorrected proof of Richard Prince’s War Pictures from his February 1980 show at Artists Space in “my library.” (“All forgeries are either a facsimile or a bootleg,” he says. “Fans make bootlegs for other fans.”) A signed copy from the original edition of “about” one hundred can be bought for $8,500 at Harper’s in East Hampton.
About as far away as I could chuck a hotel bible, my guy asks his guy (both New York natives, as it were): “Do you have the thing from the other night?”
From under the table (literally) materializes two copies from “a small run” of bootlegs of Francesca Woodman’s Some Disordered Interior Geometries (1981).
Twelve double-sided pages of an Italian geometry textbook, on which Woodman pasted her dusky black-and-white self-portraits, this thin pamphlet is all the precocious photographer published during her lifetime. (The genre of first photography book is especially depressing; Peter Hujar’s Portraits in Life and Death comes to mind.)
Within weeks of its publication, some even say days, at twenty-two, Woodman jumped to her death from a window downtown. Many of the edition of five hundred were distributed as mementos at her funeral. Amazon is selling the originals for $19,995.00 and $18,350.00. Printed Matter is selling an original for $12,000. (“A bargain,” says my guy.)
“It’s not exactly the original,” says his guy. “It has a dot pattern the original does not have.” The bootlegs are $35.
Three hours prior to my owning Geometries—the rumor of whose existence propelled me to the fair in the first place—my guy, who is forty, is placidly surveying the line snaking down the block outside the museum, waiting to browse the “artists books, monographs, periodicals, and zines” from “370 international presses, booksellers, antiquarians, artists, and independent publishers from 35 countries.” (I’m told that forty thousand art-book squibs passed through the fair this weekend.) I’m avoiding eye contact with a Danish poet—formerly of my personal life, also forty—as we walk to the back of the line, remembering Carrie Bradshaw’s advice on how to glide unperturbed from curb to club: “Twenty-something guys always know the really important ‘B’ people. Busboys, bouncers.” Sigh.
Kim Gordon—a really important “A” person who does not know the “B” people here either, and in fact can give the impression that leather jackets are all-season—beelines for my guy, who she knows, and budges in line.
Gordon was there to sign her new book, Noise Name: Paintings and Sculptures of Rock Bands That Are Broken Up. What’s not to love about Kim getting the last word… again. Fans chose to inscribe their own bodies in homage, at the Gagosian art exhibition (one of eleven site-specific installations), where Gordon and other artists had created “flash art” to be inked on site. (“Tattoos will be hand-numbered on the bodies of purchasers, and once six people have a tattoo, the design will be retired forever.”)
She’s carrying a sandwich. “I wanted to give it to a homeless person.” Inside, she offers it to KARMA’s Brendan Dugan—who I’ve always suspected to have impeccable karma, which doesn’t make him any less interesting. (He rates it as worse than a B+.) I ask him if he’s selling anything secret. “It’s a book fair! It’s democratic. We encourage browsing.” Dugan promises me a not-for-sale KARMA sign. For free. (The arrow points down, but I’ve been trying not to read too much into signs.)
So we browse.
At KARMA, I flip through EASTERNSPORTS, the quippy collaboration between artists Alex Da Corte and Jayson Musson: “From Proust to Serge Gainsbourg… the French! They’re all trouble.” (Their friend Borna Sammak, a swarthy, charmingly disagreeable artist, was recently seen wearing the T-shirt: THE FRENCH SUCK YOU PISS U.S. OFF.) At Harper’s, Nelson Harst produces (from the glass case, per request) a particularly amusing portrait of an All-American abroad: Private Elvis, with photographs of the young soldier in Germany, drinking with locals. By the end of the book, Presley is wasted, face flattened out like a Denny’s pancake. He makes out with at least four barflies. (“Now this is a good signature”: Diego Cortez inscribes it to Basquiat in Dec ’84.) I think of Dorothy Iannone’s calling cards—for sale elsewhere at the fair—translated from the German: “I think you’re insane, you pisshead.”
My guy buys a zine about Danish people visiting Graceland: Graceland to Graceland, Part I and Part II. (Apparently, Denmark’s aesthetics naturally align with Elvis’s.) I text the Danish artist Jesper Just an excerpt:
Well, I wouldn’t say I am American because after all I am Danish, but I love America! I love America, I love a lot of what it stands for… The fairytale, the tourism, the customer care.”
He’s not buying: “Who the hell…”
How rare under late capitalism to find oneself shopping in a space that has not been engineered to trick you into buying things, elbow-to-elbow with a probable concentration of New Yorkers who have heard of, if not read, R.E. Milliman’s study, “Using Background Music to Affect the Behavior of Supermarket Shoppers.” (Sales were said to increase 38.2 percent.)
Sonic branding strategies were not being employed, except a din of voices, but the Youth, the culture vultures, were happy to window shop. The painter Sam McKinniss, of the fair on Saturday: “There were very hot guys at around 1:30 but they all disappeared by 3:30 and it was actually disorienting.”
NEVER TAKE TOO LIGHTLY the effects of a full moon.
Last Friday’s lunar action brought a week of art-world milestones to New York. On Tuesday, Zoe Leonard debuted with Hauser & Wirth. Before the eyes of compatriots like Charline von Heyl and Nancy Shaver, she turned the East Sixty-Ninth Street townhouse into a manifesto on photographic image control to defy the age of the photo bomb. And at the Museum of Modern Art, impatient and entitled people who never do lines dutifully queued up for entrance to Kai Althoff’s encampment of a show, “Leave me to the common swifts.”
Because guards let only a few people at a time pass into the white-tented space, it felt as if only a few people were there, definitely a welcome experience at this usually overcrowded, sanitizing institution. In fact, it didn’t feel like MoMA at all but your grandmother’s attic, where the only crowd was art—over two hundred pieces, including trash, mannequins, and paintings. The artist, who had somehow persuaded the museum to give him curatorial and design control of both show and catalogue, was not present.
MoMA curator Laura Hoptman, relegated to “organizer” of the exhibition, took up a central position to greet MoMA board chair Jerry Speyer, collectors Dakis and Lietta Joannou, and a disproportionately large number of artists, some of them quite perplexed. Jack Pierson and Rachel Harrison may have seen references to their own work in Althoff’s theater of curiosities. Fashion designer Victoria Bartlett, whose tent is one of the show’s more brilliant strokes, was clearly thrilled with it. Tomma Abts was moved to tears. Said MoMA chief curator of painting and sculpture Ann Temkin, “A guard just told me that the show made her think of a casket.”
Trust museum guards for valuable insights. They spend more time than anyone with everything, and know all.
Wednesday brought Oscar Murillo back to David Zwirner with another huge installation, “Through Patches of Wheat and Corn,” spread over three spaces in the gallery. Wolfgang Tillmans, still kvelling over the triumph of his performance as front man of Fragile, his new band, at Union Pool the previous night, kept to an office. Dealer Rodolphe von Hofmannsthal, who brought the Colombian-born artist into the Zwirner fold, looked after his charge. His colleague David Lieber escorted tennis legend (and collector) John McEnroe and his rock star wife, Patty Smyth, into a room pungent with the smell of fresh paint, where uneven lengths of black canvases hung like drying laundry or were folded in stacks between makeshift iron beds. “I can’t honestly say I understand where this is going,” McEnroe said.
Other guests of the gallery, including collectors Poju and Anita Zabludowicz, went to Frankies Spuntino in the West Village for a buffet dinner that featured a birthday cake for Yutaka Sone, who would collaborate with Murillo in performances over the weekend in Printed Matter’s Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1. “Monica,” said Zwirner in his toast, referring to his accessories designer wife, “compared Oscar’s installation to a refugee camp, a powerful metaphor for our times. But when Oscar makes a show, he’s not kidding around.” As if on cue, Sone started doing just that, breaking into song while Murillo tried and failed to wrestle him into silence. No matter. Sone was at least as compelling a singer as Tillmans. Is Zwirner, who was in the music business before he started a gallery, edging back in?
Exhibitions open with such speed and in such great number that by Thursday one had to empty the mind to receive the slew of openings to Chelsea. Michal Rovner packed them in for “Night,” at Pace on West Twenty-Fifth, where it was only possible to see the glowing eyes of what looked like a roving coyote, the figure appearing in moving and still pictures. At Metro Pictures, a very pregnant Sara VanDerBeek took inspiration from Anni Albers for rich, monochromatic photographs and cement sculptures. At Andrew Kreps, Anne Collier, Massimiliano Gioni, and Sarah McCrory paid respects to sculptures by Goshka Macuga that impaled the color-soaked heads of great thinkers, mathematicians, artists, and spiritualists of the past on steel poles. At Mitchell-Innes & Nash, assemblages that Jessica Stockholder made from painted, found materials showed once again why hundreds have wanted to be an artist like her. And at Lisson Gallery, the droll British conceptualist Ryan Gander made his first New York solo show in nearly a decade with a minefield of new sculptures.
Among them were gilded mirrors cloaked by concrete resin drapes, fly-on-the-wall eyes that followed visitors around the room, Anthony Gormley–like sculptures of hinged metal plates, and a conveyor belt that carried sixty-six objects (hard hats, handbags, etc.) past a viewing window. “I even made some of them myself,” Gander quipped during dinner at Little Park, the restaurant in TriBeCa’s Smyth Hotel. “Can you imagine?” He also wrote the sixty-six texts in the accompanying catalogue. “Putting things into words is so hard,” he said. (Tell me about it.) “There’s a lot of hidden, quiet pain in Ryan’s show,” dealer Alex Logsdail told the diners, who included gallery artists Joyce Pensato, Stanley Whitney, and Cory Arcangel as well as Milena Muzquiz and Gander’s (honestly) new best friend, Camille Henrot. Added gallery founder Nicholas Logsdail, “Ryan makes magic without a wand.”
The magical-mystical theme continued on Friday, when the full moon rose high over SoHo and went into partial eclipse. That combination of cosmic events was the reason Joan Jonas picked September 15 to mark her eightieth birthday, which was actually in July. The performance and video art pioneer brought two Celtic musicians from Nova Scotia, where she has vacationed every summer for decades, to play the spoons and the fiddle for guests entering BBDW, a fantasy-rich home decor shop that looked more like a movie set. “I was expecting an old-time SoHo loft party,” remarked curator Clarissa Dalrymple, glancing around at the stuffed bear, the ceramics, the tasteful chandeliers, candles, and throws. “In a way,” she reflected, “I guess this is.”
Was it ever. Hosted by Gavin Brown and organized by dealer Emily Bates and attorney Sekeena Gavagan (Jonas’s next-door neighbor), friends from all corners of Jonas’s life came to toast her with song and dance. And though the music, by Tony DeMarco (fiddle) and Niall O’Leary (spoons and piano) was lively, and the songs given full throat by frequent Jonas collaborators Kate Fenner and Alicia Hall Moran as well as a recent student, Allison Hamilton, none performed with more verve and spirit than the indefatigable Jonas herself.
“The power of art and expression is one of the most positive things in the world,” she said, before reading a birthday poem by her oldest friend, Susan Howe. With that, she suddenly picked up a bouquet and a painted fan and improvised a wild spinning, turning, and bending solo dance that dropped the jaws of a crowd of high-achievers that included artists Pat Steir, Lorna Simpson, the sisters Kiki and Seton Smith, Marina Abramović, Anthony McCall, John Miller, and Aura Rosenberg, MIT’s List Visual Arts Center director Paul Ha, art historian Douglas Crimp, MoMA curator Stuart Comer, writer Lynne Tillman, dealer Begum Yasar, composer Jason Moran, and Brown. No sooner did Jonas take a bow than she pulled everyone, including her musician brother, into a jig of a circle dance. Clearly, octogenarians have—no, are—the most fun.
As artist and writer Walter Robinson concluded, at a dinner on Saturday that followed the opening of his equally joyous, Barry Blinderman–curated retrospective of paintings at Jeffrey Deitch’s reopened space on Wooster Street, “It all went according to plan.”
ON THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, more than a hundred galleries in New York held opening receptions all at once. By comparison, the season kickoff in Los Angeles that day was a picnic—literally.
At sunset, three generations of hometown artists in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art gathered for a rare, possibly historic, communal meal. And what a pretty picture these seventy-five personages made! The mere sight of David Hockney and John Baldessari having a tête-à-tête with Frank Gehry was enough to send younger artists like Glenn Kaino, Alex Israel, and Liz Glynn over the rising moon. Sterling Ruby chatted with Walead Beshty, Catherine Opie with her neighbor Mark Bradford. Mary Corse, Larry Bell, and Helen Pashigan stood up for California Light and Space at a buffet replete with delectable grilled sausages, sauerkraut, salads, and crispy fries.
Under a text piece by Sam Durant posted high on the side of the Ahmanson building, Rodney McMillian hung with Charles Gaines and Roxana Landaverde at one picnic table, where architect Kulapat Yantrasast, Thomas Houseago, and art historian Muna El Fituri were also chowing down. Other art couples—Durant and Ana Prvački, Diana Thater and T. Kelly Mason—were so glad to see old friends that they hardly sat. “I think we’ll have to make this an annual event,” said LACMA’s smiling director, Michael Govan. “I hope we do,” nodded LACMA curator Stephanie Barron. I think they’ll have to, once the word on the joy in this one gets around.
Absent the presence of the usual cohort at museum events—dealers, trustees, students, assistants, collectors—everyone relaxed and talked shop, not business. “You might think we all see each other all the time,” Beshty told me. “But we don’t. Some people haven’t seen each other since art school and others never met at all.”
Speaking of new acquaintance, just across Wilshire Boulevard, the Sprüth Magers Gallery’s left-coast satellite was presenting a magnificent display of 1980s and 1990s installations by Hanne Darboven, virtually (and strangely) still an unknown quantity in this town. Any of the three room-filling spreads here could easily suit Govan’s museum. Nevertheless, the opening’s sparse attendance spoke to the late German Conceptualist’s relative absence from Angeleno radar thus far. “I’m lost,” said collector Grazka Taylor. “I know it’s hard,” replied dealer Sarah Watson, going on to explain Darboven’s fetishizing, numerical, and diaristic approach to folklore, geography, and passing time. “I’m still not sure I get it,” Taylor was honest enough to admit, before gamely plowing on.
Former Museum of Contemporary Art curator Phillip Kaiser, who had staged a Darboven show during a brief stint as director of Cologne’s Museum Ludwig, had no such trouble. Nor did Barron, who walked over from the picnic with gallery artist Thomas Demand. The show is something of an artist’s and curator’s dream, and Philomene Magers clearly was proud of it. The dinner she hosted at Lucques in West Hollywood brought together Hammer Museum curators Anne Ellegood and Aram Moshayedi, artist Analia Saban, collectors Teri and Michael Smooke, dealer Adrian Rosenfeld, art adviser Kimberly Chang, and actress Zoë Saldana. At this late date, can such a group create a groundswell for Darboven in LA? As the auction house people are so fond of saying, the market is smart, as if there were no manipulating hands at work. As Darboven might say, time will tell.
The following night, David Kordansky continued the German theme, sort of, with a debut show at his gallery by Andrea Büttner, which he paired with another for the Belgian Harold Ancart. But the evening really belonged to Doug Aitken.
That’s how it looked on the plaza in front of MoCA’s Geffen Contemporary, where a large crowd of young museum members lined up at food trucks and a free bar, and shouted over loud music. That gave the opening of Aitken’s midcareer retrospective, “Electric Earth,” the feel of a street fair—mainly because people could see each other out there. Guests entering the Geffen’s cavernous hall were immediately plunged into darkness.
Here’s a lesson. If you want people at thronged openings to look at your work instead of art-directing their own selfies, turn out the lights. In this case, that was the only way the exhibition’s curator, MoCA director Philippe Vergne, could show the wealth of film installations, light boxes, sound works, and projected videos that he included in the show. In the dim but sultry ambient light, Aitken dealers Shaun Caley Regen, Eva Presenhuber, and Lisa Spellman literally bumped into one another all at once. “Oh, it’s you!” was a common refrain. Eyes needed time to adjust.
And people took time to wend their way through the succeeding chapters of Aitken’s career. I didn’t come across a single person who didn’t enjoy it. “This show is hot!” Spellman exclaimed. “So many memories.”
Indeed. One could pick them out, starting with the multiroom, eight-channel title piece, a jittery walk on the LA wild side that, back in 1999, established Aitken as a master of what he calls the fractured screen. The show has many examples of that, though Vergne had installed an actual cinema for seven of Aitken’s more linear films. He also let Aitken dig up the floor of one gallery to reproduce the artist’s dripping and rubbled goodbye-to-all-that piece for the closing of Spellman’s previous location in Chelsea. Much of the work in the show was commissioned for far-flung sites and never seen before in LA—or by the artist since their first installations.
“It’s just incredible to have everything back in this city,” he told the lenders and funders present for the Christie’s-sponsored dinner that followed at Vibiana, a downtown event room that was built originally as Los Angeles’s first Roman Catholic cathedral. What better place to worship art and money?
“I don’t know much about religion,” Vergne began his remarks. “And I don’t know anything about entertainment. What I know is that Doug Aitken pushes the limits of what an exhibition can be,” though perhaps not as much as Aitken’s upcoming “Underwater Pavilions” promise to do. Announced earlier in the day, they are mirrored caves that Aitken has built up to depths of sixty feet off Catalina Island. Like his participatory “happenings,” willing snorkelers can dive or swim around the caves, his version of a living Earthwork.
I’m guessing that Maja Hoffmann, Aileen Getty, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and her son Eugenio, the Kramlichs (Pamela and Richard), and New York’s Museum of Modern Art director Glenn Lowry, who were among those at the dinner, are not going to take that dive. MoCA curators Connie Butler and Helen Molesworth? Or Aitken’s dinner partner, Beck?
The singer wasn’t there to perform. That job went to Tim McAfee-Lewis, music director of Harlem’s United Palace House of Inspiration, who flew in to surprise the crowd by walking through the room and crooning the Flamingos’ doo-wop standard, “I Only Have Eyes for You,” a touchstone for Aitken’s film Black Mirror. I’ll be damned if he didn’t sound exactly like the original.
Absent from the dinner was MoCA trustee Eugenio López Alonso, who was in New York. Nonetheless, he lent his Beverly Hills estate to the museum for a midnight afterparty, where guests could dance under the stars. One, Scott Bolton, was personally intimate with those stars. He is the space physicist who dreamed up the current Juno mission to Jupiter (the planet), and then made it happen. I was fascinated. Like the universe, the art world keeps expanding.
It looked pretty big the next evening, when Chelsea-style crowds swarmed the sidewalks amid openings in Culver City. Rodney McMillian, fresh from a triangulated presentation on the East Coast at the Studio Museum, MoMA PS1, and the ICA in Philadelphia, had a whole new, sharply political body of work, “Chisholm’s Reverb,” at Susanne Vielmetter. The title refers to a speech by the late Shirley Chisholm—those were the days!—broadcast in a front room arrayed with black ceramic vessels on white tables and a small mountain of black tape that McMillian called a “pod.” It was there to represent the congresswoman and many other black figures who have been shoved in history’s attic despite their ongoing influence. Another sound work was in a curtained room with no way in. “I really like the room you can’t get into,” said artist Alex Israel. “That’s cool.”
So far beyond cool it was hot were the immense “gardens” that Henry Taylor made at Blum & Poe. Despite the gallery’s huge space, it was almost too crowded to move across the dirt floor to see any of the painted portraits or found-object sculptures, though I did trip over a rusty water pump and a shopping cart lined with Astroturf and embedded in the dirt. A long line formed around a floor-bound swimming pool painting for entry to a black box viewing room, where Rastafarians were “performing” by rolling medicinal weed and smoking it. On the walls, a lyrical black-and-white film by Kahlil Joseph showed the same people doing much the same thing. You couldn’t just look at this work. You breathed it.
“We had to buy three ounces,” Jeff Poe confessed, though the legal limit per person is one. Clearly this involved teamwork—same as Mark Grotjahn’s show of 1990s works in the upstairs gallery. “It’s nice to see this stuff again,” Grotjahn said of the handmade signs he cadged from a variety of shop owners in exchange for paintings, just after leaving art school. Where are those paintings now? “Trashed, probably,” he said.
Lest we forget this is an election year—as if!—the evening turned to current events in the form of Sexy Beast, a benefit for Planned Parenthood organized by Night Gallery partners Mieke Marple and Davida Nemeroff with producer Eliah Perona. For its second edition, held in the theater of the Ace Hotel downtown, the trio was costumed in colorful neoprene designs by the diminutive, loudly made-up Barf Queen. This was the fun part.
The rest, as driven home in a speech by Planned Parenthood LA CEO Sue Dunlap, was serious business. Dunlap emphasized the terrifying future facing women in need of abortions, should the wrong person get elected to the presidency. Host Andy Richter personalized the issue with a story about him and his wife that had a happy ending, and filmmaker Dawn Porter made an equally heartfelt speech about abortion providers before receiving the Sexy Beast award for her documentary Trapped. Then came the inevitable auction of donated artworks, paddles by Math Bass.
It seemed to be going well when I left for the 1642 Temple bar in Echo Park, where friends of Erika Vogt were gathering to toast her opening that night at Overduin & Co. But I couldn’t help thinking of Durant’s sign at LACMA: “Like, Man. I’m tired (of waiting).”
Isn’t it about time people in politics made the right move? If art can do it, why can’t they?
Left: NASA’s Juno Mission principal investigator Scott Bolton. Right: Dealer Philomene Magers and curator Philipp Kaiser.
EVERY FOUR YEARS, the Olympics leaves a trail of heated debates as host nations are left to reckon with unpaid bills and abandoned stadiums. Culturally, however, the Olympics can effect more positive changes, encouraging evolving scenes to take stock of their own narratives. Take South Korea. “The 1988 Seoul Olympics really marked the first time we were able to see a lot of major international artists here,” recalled Hyun-Sook Lee, founder of the Seoul-based Kukje Gallery. Kukje, I learned, simply means “international,” a tag Lee earned by introducing local audiences to artists like Joseph Beuys and Frank Stella, parlaying her personal business savvy, a handful of antiques, and—crucially—her tolerance for European modernism into what is now a literal art-world dynasty.
The Olympics also prompted the construction of a behemoth of a building for the National Museum of Art (MMCA), which previously hunkered down in Seoul’s imperial Deoksugung palace. The massive new museum was settled about forty-five minutes away, in the forests of neighboring Gwancheon. “All our military government cared about was that we had the biggest museum in the world,” confessed MMCA curator Lim Dae-geun. “Back then, we were just an exhibition hall with no curatorial team and only a small collection, mainly things donated by artists. So the opening of Gwancheon was really the beginning of our history as a museum.” The collection Lim helped build is now partially on display in an exhibition commemorating the building’s thirtieth anniversary. Titled “The Moon Waxes and Wanes,” the five-hundred-work survey spins the history of Korean art as one of cycles of emergence, disappearance, and rediscovery.
To extend the lunar metaphor further, earlier this month South Korea hit its Harvest Moon. In the first week of September, the country’s three biggest biennials—Gwangju, Busan, and the SeMA Biennale Mediacity—opened back-to-back, sending art worlders scrambling to make their KTX trains, armed with WhatsApp group chats and “otter masks,” an ingenious device enabling the critically jetlagged to look simultaneously drained and unsettlingly dewy (“moistful”). Institutions were quick to get in on the action, trotting out the power-punch Kimsooja/Korean Art Prize combo at MMCA Seoul; fresh additions to the Space Lee Ufan in Busan; and ArtSonje’s “Still Acts,” a series of reenacted excerpts from the institution’s twenty-year history.
Left: Kukje Gallery founder Hyun-Sook Lee and Charles Kim. Right: MMCA curator Lim Dae-geun and Giseok Yi at MMCA Gwancheon
Rediscovery seems to be the primary engine propelling Korean art onto the current global art market. Particular interest has been paid to the artists of Dansaekhwa, a loose association of conceptual-abstractionists working from the 1950s on. The name means, quite simply, “monochrome painting,” though during our studio visit, movement mainstay Park Seo-bo described it more as “a way of emptying oneself.”
Artist Kim Yong-Ik may have a troubled relationship to Dansaekhwa (he prefers polka dots to monochromes), but he sympathizes with their strategies. “In a time of repression, my silence was a political statement,” he told us, during a walk-through of his show at the Ilmin Museum. I ran this theory by MMCA’s Lim Dae-geun, who argued that this political spin was a recent acquisition. “In many ways, the government saw Dansaekhwa as the safest artists, precisely because they weren’t trying to say anything.” He paused: “Sort of like America’s Abstract Expressionists.”
The next stop on our tour was Kukje Gallery, where a fascinating solo of late painter Wook-kyung Choi—one of the first Korean artists to openly embrace an American-branded modernism—was coupled with new pieces from Anish Kapoor’s Gathering Clouds: wall-mounted, concave surfaces coated in a gray paint that made them appear flat. “There isn’t a whole lot to say about these works,” the artist admitted. “Richter made a whole series of paintings out of grays, and I just wanted to see if it was possible to do it again.” But it wasn’t gray that we wanted to talk about. Earlier this year, Kapoor caused a stir by trademarking Vantablack, a military-grade material that is purportedly the blackest black known to man. “This isn’t black paint that comes out on a tube,” the artist protested, clarifying that the trademark was not on the color, but rather on the technology used to trap the light to such an extreme. An extreme, not the extreme. “Perhaps the darkest black is the black we carry within ourselves,” Kapoor cooed. “The blackest moment isn’t when you turn off the lights, but when you shut your eyes.” Ponderous and amply distracting, yes, but maybe not the most considerate analogy to feed a room full of jetlagged journalists.
Left: Artist Kim Yong Ik at the Ilmin Museum. Right: Artist Anish Kapoor with landscape designer Sophie Walker at Kukje Gallery.
Kapoor’s show was set to open Thursday, the same night as both the SeMA Biennale Mediacity and the Gwangju Biennale’s beloved temple dinner. With vegan food conquering all, we had to settle for a quick loop around the SeMA install on Wednesday. Curator Beck Jee-sook had lifted the biennial’s zaumesque title, “neriri kiruru harara,” from Shuntarō Tanikawa’s poem “Two Billion Light Years of Solitude,” which imagines life on Mars. “For me, this biennale is about nurturing languages that go beyond the limits of how we can imagine the world,” Beck explained, adding that the Sewol ferry accident had got her thinking about the ways contemporary art can respond to catastrophe. She settled on a “realism of the possible,” recruiting the likes of Nicholas Mangan, Cinthia Marcelle, João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva, and Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme. Concurrent to the exhibition, Taeyoon Choi ran an Uncertainty School, a series of workshops that challenged the local communities to rethink disability, through programming like Choi's collaborative intervention with Christine Sun Kim, Future Proof, as well as a performance from wheelchair-bound dancer Alice Sheppard, with help from Sara Hendren. While Sheppard was certainly convicting, I found myself most captivated by Ahmad Gossein’s The Fourth Stage and by Sleigh Ride Chill, a video by Kim Heecheon that managed to perfectly convey the acute dislocation one feels after having lost one’s iPhone and MacBook (to be honest, for most a far more relatable subject matter than the usual “pick a forgotten genocide, any forgotten genocide” biennial tactic).
This is not to discount the power of political context. The Gwangju Biennale was borne out of a passionate and now deeply entrenched drive toward democracy, a thrust that has propelled past editions into true civic initiatives. This year it was clear how much of that may have had to do with the biennial’s founder and former president, the charismatic Youngwoo Lee (or “Dr. Lee”), who stepped down during the last edition following the censorship of Hong Seong-Dam’s depiction of the Sewol ferry disaster in a parallel show. At this year’s opening, Dr. Lee was all smiles, but even with the man himself in the room, his absence resonated.
On the heels of Jessica Morgan’s spirited “Burning Down the House,” this year’s biennial felt like smoldering remains, with some light but little warmth. Acknowledging the all-female team—artistic director Maria Lind, curator Binna Choi, and a group of assistant curators—Lind offered the limp endorsement that “women are our future” (a phrase that only sounds rallying until you start to think about its implications). In a text describing the theme—or, as Lind prefers, the “set of parameters”—“The Eighth Climate” name-checked a concept formulated by twelfth-century mystic Sohrevardi and later fleshed out by his twentieth-century acolyte Henri Corbin. The basic premise is that art exists as a kind of extra-climate, a space for “potentiality” whose relationship to the ontological world is like that of the contents of a mirror to the objects it reflects.
Alice Sheppard performing at SeMA Biennale in Seoul.
If that’s the case, then, judging by the preview, we can safely presume the other seven climates haven’t yet been fully installed. Artists were just shy of panic mode, particularly after word spread that it would be a full two weeks before Hito Steyerl’s work would be ready. “Instructions were not followed,” Lind announced curtly at the opening press conference, after apologizing to the affected artists. At a press luncheon earlier in the day, she likened the experience to conducting brain surgery with nurses on their first day on the job. (In defense of those nurses, specificity may not be Lind’s specialty. Earlier the curator had introduced the biennial’s subtitle—“What Does Art Do?”—with the exhortation, “We need to remember that art does things.”)
If its theme dipped into mysticism, the biennial’s organization borrowed from Borges’s Encyclopedia, with work loosely divided into four sections: Abstraction, Kaleidoscope, Zones, and Works That Had to Be Shown in the Dark. Lind repeatedly insisted that the real bulk of the biennial was in its public programming, which had quietly been taking place for weeks amid the local community. “If this is the trend, then why bother with the exhibition at all?” wondered critic Sabine Vogel. I didn’t have a good answer, though I did appreciate strong contributions from artists such as Ane Hjort Guttu, Jeamin Cha, David Malković, Inseon Park, Mariana Silva, and Otobong Nkanga, who, during her performance, hurled an orange at an inattentive audience member not once but twice. “Would you call this love?” the artist howled at her audience. I know I was smitten.
If technicians were few, artists were plenty, with almost ninety of them flown in for the opening. The ceremony—traditionally a mind-blowing spectacle of aerial dancers and K-Pop celebrity ambassadors—was noticeably scaled down this year to some teenage breakdancers. More devastating was Gwangju’s complete lack of Freedom. The iconic nightclub—all K-Pop karaoke, midnight “snowstorms,” and dubious decision-making—was no longer in business, which sent the biennial’s once-fabled afterparty to the nearby Bugatti club, the kind of luridly lit dive where TV cops go for an off-the-books rendezvous with Shady Characters #1 and #2. With the help of Shady Character #3, I breached a wall of bottle service to find curators Phil Tinari and Magdalena Magiera, dealer George Armaos, artist collective Tromarama, and Trevor Paglen, whose Wi-Fi-giving Autonomy Cube had been mysteriously disconnected just before the VIP dignitaries arrived, though the reasons why were not fully clear. Things got even blurrier from there, but somewhere in between catch-ups with curator Sohrab Mohebbi, Triple Canopy’s Alex Provan, and artists Anicka Yi and Tyler Coburn, I missed the cue to reconvene at a neighboring karaoke bar, where Lind was coerced into taking on an Abba song. (“She was the quietest singer I’ve ever heard,” one bystander marveled.) Freedom may have come to an end, but bad decisions linger on.
Speaking of, I wouldn’t number the 9 AM bus to Busan among my better ideas, but I was determined to pull off the Korean Trifecta. Besides, this year’s Busan Biennale strayed from the usual format, concentrating two-thirds of its resources on a historical survey comparing the respective avant-gardes of Korea, China, and Japan. “It’s funny to see this kind of show without representation from Taiwan or Hong Kong,” writer Amy Lin observed, underscoring my own ignorance of what’s at stake in the region. To help fill in the blanks, the Busan Museum of Art hosted a multihour art-historical symposium, though I found artists like Sung Neung Kyung, Hori Kosai, and Ma Liuming were more than happy to provide their side of the story. How refreshing to see a biennial directing its international audience to this kind of art-historical brain trust, rather than the usual rat-race to scrape up salable works from the market’s Next Big Things (Now if only the second part of the biennial had gotten that memo.)
With a torrential downpour crushing any hopes of sampling Busan’s storied fish market, let alone its beach, I paid my respects to the ethereal Space Lee Ufan and retreated to Seoul. Briefly bussing the plaintive Lee Jung Seob survey at the MMCA’s Deoksugung Palace outpost, I headed to Gangnam for the closing dinner for Jaewook Lee’s synesthesia-driven solo at O’Newwall in Seoul. The restaurant was the fanciest I visited in Korea, specializing in the “art of food”—inspired arrangements of mushroom crepes, sashimi roses, and a plate with HAPPY DAY spelled out in wasabi paste, which was ceremoniously placed in front of philosopher Aaron Schuster, whom our waitress arbitrarily nominated the subject of the celebration.
Having barely made it through the eight courses to the black sesame ice cream, our band of marauders stumbled to an Astroturf lawn outside an all-night mall, where we chased sticky handfuls of glow-in-the-dark cotton candy with swigs from a ritzy bottle of soju swiped from dinner (Gangnam style). Suddenly Schuster spotted a booth grilling teriyaki skewers and resolved to snag one. We gawked. “It’s something about South Korea,” he laughed. “I just want to try everything, even though I know I’ve already had way too much.”
AMONG THOSE PROFESSIONALLY OBLIGED to look at and think about art, summer holidays engender two camps of tourists: those who travel to see it and those who travel to get away from it. In the wake of three weeks spent in Düsseldorf on an unofficial tour of the region’s museums, I can advise those of the latter weary-eyed and wanderlustful group that the Rhineland is not for you.
Great art is so highly concentrated here that it might as well spring the Rhine itself. The countryside situated around the mining valley of the Ruhrgebiet is littered with public institutions housing legendary collections assembled largely after World War II. Take, for example, the Caspar David Friedrich paintings at Museum Folkwang in Essen, or the endless masterpieces of late Gothic retables at the LWL Museum in Münster. A must-see for more contemporary enthusiasts: the breathtaking series of larger-than-life canvases made by Sigmar Polke for the 1986 Venice Biennale, at the Abteiberg Museum in Mönchengladbach (worth a visit for the Pritzker Prize–winning architecture by Hans Hollein alone).
What Germans lack in national pride they make up for with serious cultural heritage, and a week after Chancellor Merkel and Prince William met in town to commemorate the British invention of North-Rhine Westphalia, Düsseldorf Cologne gallery weekend was upon us. The three-day-long slide of openings started in 2009 as an experiment between two rival cultural capitals but in recent years has become one of the largest events unifying the region’s art scenes.
Left: Dealers Susanne Zander and Nicole Delmes of Delmes & Zander with collectors and Salon Schmidt proprietors Trixi and Dirk Mecky. Right: Dealer Berthold Pott, artist Max Frintrop, Conny Zinkin of Cologne Fine Art, and Art Cologne director Daniel Hug.
Newcomer Lukas Hirsch opened his gallery last Thursday with a collection of found (and stolen) industrial objects altered and mounted on the wall by artist Lukas Müller. It seemed that everyone I had met in town over the preceding weeks was in attendance––a scene dominated by students, alumni, and professors of the famed Kunstakademie. A few hours and countless Altbiers later, some of us found ourselves back at Peppi Bottrop’s studio, where artists Felix Amerbacher and Camillo Grewe put on a dangerous yet entertaining performance of acrobatics from the rafters. Testosterone filled the air and I was reminded of bros from my boarding school days: frustrated, bored, and full of flesh-and-blood Angst––no longer the teenage kind. After witnessing a long-winded, aggressive, and incoherent argument about the evening’s exhibition, I had to remind myself that here, where the patriarchy prior to Rita McBride’s tenure as director of the Akademie dominated so much of the self-identification of its students, boys will (try to) be Beuys.
Friday night. Cologne openings. A different city across the Rhine offers a different set of customs. In Germany, this means a different brew of beer, and here Kölsch was on the menu. Especially at Daniel Buchholz’s gallery, where the dealer presented Tony Conrad’s Super 8 combat film Beholden to Victory from 1980 in which actors––including David Antin, Tony Oursler, and the late Mike Kelley––were given no script, only restrictions and permissions making it a study in “good behavior.” Replete with archives, notes, edits, and other preparatory matter from the artist’s estate, the show offered a contextual glance into Conrad’s employment of structure to make an antistructural critique. I ran into a relaxed, good-natured Buchholz, who seemed to me more Cologne than Kölsch itself, smoking a cigarette in the garden. “There’s nothing to sell here, but if you have questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them,” he told me near the keg, seeming more a guest in his own gallery.
Left: Esther Schipper director Cornelia Tishcmacher with artist Martin Boyce. Right: Director of Ludwig Museum Yilmaz Dziewior with director of Düsseldorfer Kunstverein Eva Birkenstock.
Later, I joined Jan Kaps to celebrate Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel’s labor-intensive objects in wood, ceramic, and textile with a joint dinner attended by the parties of Markus Lüttgen, DREI, Rob Tufnell, Clages, and others at Cologne staple Haus Töller, where the lightest thing on the menu was, naturally, more Kölsch. Afterward, the consensus was to stroll over to MD Bar for a real drink, but I remembered that Buchholz mentioned heading to a bar with the ever-promising name of Champagne––or so I thought. After some confusion, I found him with artist and Polke protégé Udo Lefin at Shampanja, a gay Kölsch bar––I should have known––where Lefin had just ordered a round for everyone. Or, more precisely, he counted forty-two patrons in the room and ordered forty-two beers––a quirky German punctilio, of which, at this point, I was happy to partake.
Perhaps I partook too much, because the next evening, after what was supposed to be a forty-five-minute nap, I woke up two hours late for the shuttle to the official gallery weekend dinner. I took an eighty-euro cab ride to the Museum Morsbroich in Leverkusen, where the only remaining signs of food were ice cream cones and smatterings of Resteessen. So I went to the bar, in the garden of this baroque Schloß-cum–modern art museum, one of the first in Germany to show contemporary exhibitions after the War, a venue that just a week before had been saved from selling its collection to front costs in the city’s municipal budget––a neoliberal misinterpretation of the institution’s role not uncommon among midsize cities with large deficits that house many of the small, regional museums in the Rhineland. The proposed sale had been deplored by artist Gerhard Richter in an open letter to the mayor of Leverkusen as “alarming” and opposed by local taxpayers and friends of the museum, and a tentative strategy was devised to keep the institution afloat, for now.
Left: Artists Israel Aten, Christoph Westermeier, Martin Pfeifle, and Lukas Müller. Right: Artists Louis Backhouse, Andrew Christopher Green, and Jorge Loureiro.
The next evening in Düsseldorf, I found myself at Good Forever, a performance project space run by Tobias Hohn, Mortiz Krauth, and Stanton Taylor––Kunstakademie students and disciples of Christopher Williams and Peter Doig––who took up the location of Matt Moravec’s previous Off Vendôme space for the summer. I arrived early to the smell of burning weed and incense, and an hour later, David Arid (known better as his stage name Vindicatrix) began to perform and play the best beats I had heard all weekend. Someone handed me a Xanax and a drink, and I felt my mind melt with the music as Arid repeatedly sang, “Let your body become your body” alternatively with lyrics from Beyoncé’s 2006 single “Check on It.”
Just as things were getting sexy, something happened: Performance duo New Noveta, dressed in brown, ruffled dresses––think 1980s austerity prom––pushed through the crowd, fighting over a pair of scissors, which they used to cut sacks full of sand hanging from their groins and bags full of squid ink hanging from the ceiling. Wet and shrieking, they wrestled into the street and an adjacent apartment building where the duel, presumably, continued upstairs. “Is there more, or…?” asked artist Andrew Christopher Green, after the ruckus. “I don’t know,” responded Taylor, answering for all of us in a moment of suspense so potent we hoped it would last forever.
Left: Good Forever cofounders Mortiz Krauth, Tobias Hohn, and Stanton Taylor with artist Lina Hermsdorf. Right: Stäfel Museum Frankfurt curator Jana Baumann with dealer Paul-Aymar Morgue d’Algue of Truth & Consequences.