SHIFTING FROM THE START of a new school year in the morning to the season’s first round of Chelsea gallery openings in the evening was never going to be an entirely smooth transition, but there was at least a measure of common feeling among those who, on a Thursday evening, flooded the dozen blocks of former taxi garages that so many of us in the biz call home. There was a wholly expected though sometimes still jarring mix of excitement and resignation among the crowds wandering from one space to the next that made for a telling barometer of status and mindset, as the prospect of a new raft of encounters with the sublime and the ridiculous loomed.
Where to begin? With something like 130 openings uptown and down, coinciding with the bustle of New York Fashion Week, this was hardly an inconsequential question. After a pit stop for empty calories at the Tenth Avenue CVS—surely the area’s most vital professional resource—I headed south to Petzel Gallery for the opening of Kiwi artist Simon Denny’s “Blockchain Future States.” A sleek tripartite installation of computer case-mods, supersize board games, and infographics confronting the machinations of Bitcoin-era geopolitics, it would have been a sobering start to proceedings had there not been a bucket of trash beer to hand. Cracking open a can, I bumped into artists Davide Cantoni and Alexi Worth, the latter of whom rated one of Denny’s strategies in particular (“Wherever I see a speech bubble, I’m happy”), but was already planning a next move. I accompanied the pair down the block to Hauser & Wirth, the venue for Rashid Johnson’s similarly grand-scale “Fly Away.”
Skirting an air-kissing Jerry Saltz and Scott Rothkopf on the way up the gallery’s none-more-dramatic stepped entrance, I fetched up in another grand-scale installation, this one notably clogged with Instagrammers. Johnson held court as visitors orbited Within Our Gates, a massive arrangement of black steel shelves stocked with books, monitors, plants, and shea butter. From somewhere inside the work emerged the muffled sound of Antoine Baldwin playing the piano. Already shadowed by the sense that I might be running late, I headed out and over to the Kitchen, where Katherine Hubbard’s “Bring your own lights” was opening. An elegant and much more low-key affair, it also made for a useful interlude of relative quiet—even incorporating artist-designed seating—before the real crush began, a block north.
Festivities at Jack Shainman Gallery, Bortolami, Anton Kern, and ZieherSmith made for a hectic scene as the boldface names—a Thelma Golden there, a Jon Hamm there—began to accumulate. Matthew Marks, presenting a show of paintings by Peter Cain, was, characteristically, a lot more restrained. Over at Sikkema Jenkins, which was hosting new work by Leonardo Drew and Jennie C. Jones, the Guggenheim Museum’s Christina Yang directed me to what sounded like the center of the center—Matthew Barney’s opening at Barbara Gladstone: “There’s only a short line to get in.” Sure enough, not only was there a bouncer-administered one-in, one-out system in effect, but further queuing was required inside for admittance to the artist’s vintage refrigerated-room-filling installation DRILL TEAM: screw BOLUS. Three burly guys in summer dresses—not inappropriate garb given the inclusion of Barney’s sculpture TRANSEXUALIS—snaked through the space while a pair of adolescent skater bois admired the complex hardware of its complementary work, REPRESSIA. The authenticity of Björk’s tag in the guest book, however, felt doubtful.
Having clocked the Brooklyn Museum’s Nancy Spector heading, with laser-like focus, to check in on her guy (Spector curated Barney’s Guggenheim exhibition in 2002), I dipped into the westernmost of Marianne Boesky’s twin locations for half of Donald Moffett’s “any fallow field.” Then, finally, it was over to Tanya Bonakdar for a delicious warm, frothy tin cup of Turkish yogurt drink ayran, served at a “bacteria bar” in honor of collective Slavs and Tatars’ first show there, a meditation on the microscopic “original Other.” At a subsequent dinner, the group’s Berlin dealer Amadeo Kraupa-Tuskany talked far-flung travel while I did my best to edge away from the restaurant’s roaring fire (really), and another guest rested his forehead on the table. The next day we’d do it all again.
THE STREETS HADN’T YET BEEN CLEARED OF RUBBLE, leftovers of the protests that shook the city like an earthquake the past few days, when galleries teamed up to launch nearly forty parallel exhibitions to the Thirty-Second Bienal de São Paulo, which opened this week in tumultuous fashion. Despite barricades, fires still raging in the middle of main traffic arteries, and the acrid scent of tear gas hanging in the air, dealers arranged a marathon of openings for the weekend. In town for Bienal season, artsy types from all over the world braved the chaos to catch a glimpse of exhibitions set up in the aftermath of what many consider a coup d’état.
In the final showdown of a months-long process, the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was impeached last week and replaced with former vice president Michel Temer. While this outcome was predictable, the definitive ousting of a now disgraced leader accused—on flimsy grounds—of fiscal maneuvers to mask the difficult state of the country’s finances fueled waves of protests all over Brazil, and São Paulo’s Paulista avenue became the main stage of the manifestations.
While some critics sought refuge in hotel rooms away from the action, others managed to navigate, for art’s sake, the jittery metropolis. The city’s notoriously horrendous traffic didn’t help, which partially explains the timid crowds at some openings. A few galleries were actually empty by the time I arrived, but powerhouses of the local scene were buzzing.
Nara Roesler, for example, was packed as it launched two solo shows, one with historic works Hélio Oiticica made in partnership with other artists, like Antonio Manuel, Lee Jaffe, and Neville d’Almeida, and the other a survey of early and recent work by Vik Muniz. As phones in the room flashed with news of police brutality against protesters on Paulista, Muniz talked excitedly about his latest creations and ladies wearing stilettos thought twice about walking into the “Cosmococa,” Oiticica’s installation with slide projections and a mattress on the floor.
At Baró, a few blocks east, Lourival Cuquinha, one of the strongest public opponents of Rousseff's impeachment, unveiled a new work. Before the opening, he Instagrammed a video of himself shooting a gun as a sign of protest. The walls of the gallery were now riddled with bullets and the word golpe, Portuguese for coup, a measure of just how angry he is. Most artists have sided with Cuquinha and declared outrage with the ousting of the president, while many dealers and members of the higher echelons of the business world have embraced the change, hoping the new administration will improve the economy.
This class divide was evident the next day as José Olympio Pereira, head of Credit Suisse in Brazil and one of the country’s most powerful collectors, opened a Robert Storr–curated selection of his blockbuster works, from Lygia Clark to Adriana Varejão, inside the undulating Instituto Tomie Ohtake. A dinner at his palatial house later that night was filled with gallerists and financiers, while most artists danced the night away at a party hosted by the art space Ponto Aurora at Executivo, a former brothel in the basement of the Esther building, São Paulo’s first modernist high-rise. Posters decrying Michel Temer decorated the walls.
Chants of Fora Temer, or “Out with Temer,” also dominated the Bienal de São Paulo, and a banner with these words was even hung from the third floor of the colossal Bienal Pavilion. “When Temer took office, he said the uncertainty was over,” remarked chief curator Jochen Volz, as he opened the press conference to present the show. “But we want to talk about uncertainty. Art feeds on uncertainty,” he added, echoing the very apt title of this iteration: “Live Uncertainty.” The meeting ended with artists including Cristiano Lenhardt, Jonathas de Andrade, Bárbara Wagner, and members of the Opavivará collective parading in front of the curators and screaming Fora Temer.
With the greatest number of women artists (forty-seven) in Bienal history, Volz’s show, constructed on the eve of the deposition of Brazil’s first female president, targets global warming, environmental destruction, and other climate-related catastrophes. Many works, such as the gardens, huts, mazes, and towers made of dirt and bamboo by artists like Bené Fonteles, Ruth Ewan, Rita Ponce de León, Lais Myrrha, Pia Lindman, Dineo Seshee Bopape, and Susan Jacobs, touch on the power of traditional and indigenous methods of construction, a sharp contrast to the violence animating Brazil’s modern avant-garde movements of the 1950s, most notably the construction of Brasília, by the same Oscar Niemeyer who designed the Bienal’s space in Ibirapuera Park.
Left: Inhotim founder Bernardo Paz at the opening of the Bienal de São Paulo. Right: Cristiano Lenhardt's performance at the opening of the Bienal de São Paulo.
Historic documentaries by Leon Hirszman depicting work songs at cocoa and sugarcane plantations along with images of indigenous rituals by Vídeo nas Aldeias and de Andrade’s new film, in which fishermen caress and cradle agonizing fish, add to the show’s romantic vision of the natural world and the working classes as opposed to the evils of corporate culture. While somewhat heavy-handed in its esoteric, almost hippie outlook, the show delivers a potent selection of up-and-coming artists.
But nothing shone brighter than the political urgency that laced the exhibition’s opening. Tuesday’s VIP preview saw yet another series of protests, with artists walking around the pavilion in black FORA TEMER T-shirts that quickly became coveted collector’s items. A spoken-word concert was also improvised with chants against the new president. The lighting of fireworks attached to Sandra Kranich’s abstract paintings, a performance programmed as the day’s grand finale, evoked the spirit of the protests outside. After the explosions, which left black marks on the pavilion’s pristine walls, guests walked out under a thick cloud of smoke and the smell of gunpowder.
STEFAN KALMÁR AND MARTA FONTOLAN wish people in Marseille would listen. The Artists Space director and Gavin Brown Enterprise dealer both sit on a seven-person committee of “artistic” advisers for Art-O-Rama, a pocket-size fair that just celebrated its tenth anniversary in the French port city. “You can see the potential,” Kalmár said, when I arrived the day before the fair’s August 25th VIP opening. Indeed, I would.
I’d needed persuading. An art fair on the last weekend in August? Give us a break. Then again, it’s in Marseille, where Walter Benjamin became a convert to hashish, Le Corbusier built La Cité Radieuse, The French Connection got its start, and the French national anthem got its name.
I joined Kalmár, who’s been taking holidays in Marseille for years, at the welcome dinner he organized on the deck of the Erre, a sloop advertising “slow cruise and slow food.” For us, it remained docked in Marseille’s vieux-port (now a marina), in the shadow of the regional MuCEM, which offers optimum views of the sunset over the sea. Chef Christian Qui—aka SushiQui on Instagram and Facebook—leases the boat for a few weeks each August, another good reason to be here at this time of year.
Left: Art-O-Rama director Jérôme Pantalacci (left). Right: Art-O-Rama general manager Nadia Fatnassi and Sextant et Plus director Véronique Collard Bovy.
Over a splendid en plein air meal, prepared topside and served as the mood struck, I met my multinational cohort for the next few days. One was MoMA’s vacationing chief of media and performance, Stuart Comer. “I’m not really here for art,” he confided—as if anyone in our world ever took actual time off. Certainly not Project Native Informant founder Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja or Glasgow dealer Emma Astner, who (like everyone else) investigated beaches and shops but were here to indulge a certain curiosity about the fair. Danish-born, Berlin-based artist Benedicte Gyldenstierne Sehested came to meet up with Fontolan, an old friend. Berlin dealer Lars Friedrich, a participant in the fair, brought artists Georgie Nettell and Inka Meissner. Editor Mattia Ruffolo came for Davide Stucchi, a young Milanese artist who was at the tail end of a residency in Marseille, where he made the soap sculpture that his Munich-based dealer, Deborah Schamoni, would show at Art-O-Rama.
Friday morning began with a preview of several exhibitions at Friche La Belle de Mai (or La Friche), an enormous arts complex spread over several buildings of a former tobacco factory. “This is the biggest cultural center in Europe,” La Friche director Alain Arnaudet told me. He was too modest. Taken together, the buildings offer more than a million square feet of space for seventy different organizations and their exhibitions, films, concerts, studios, residency programs, and classrooms.
There was a lot of twin-city action among the group shows, where artist collectives in Glasgow and Montreal, for example, presented collaborative projects with their cousins in Marseille. The most elaborate, communal project by far gave a retrospective to the life and work of a fictional, hyperlinked artist named Raoul Reynolds, as imagined by Marseille’s artist-run Tank Art Space and a group of Glaswegians put together by curator Francesca Zappia.
The Goethe-Institut brought work by half a dozen young artists to an exhibition that cocurator Francziska Glozer described as “not a show but a presentation of individual positions by artists of one generation.” On another floor was an exhibition from Triangle France, one of the country’s better residency programs for foreigners—the one where Stucchi had been working. Opening that day was “Labor Zero Labor,” an exhilarating attempt by artist-organizer Benjamin Valenza to take YouTube hostage through an artist-run television channel that streamed live performances throughout the fair and will run another three months. “It’s about our use of screen devices and skill sharing,” explained Triangle France director Celine Kopp. The schedule included a sitcom, a magic show, and even a cooking show. Inevitably, one drama, by artist Virgil Fraisse, was partly a parody of the Netflix series Marseille. Like the commercial version, said artist Richard John Jones, “It’s really trashy.”
After a fine lunch at La Cantinetta, an Italian place that would become a clubhouse for the group from the boat, Art-O-Rama threw open its truck-size doors on a hall that has never known the pleasures of air conditioning. It was three in the afternoon, and it was cooler outside in the concrete garden between buildings that served as the fair’s main social space—drinks only, no food.
Perspiring collectors from the city and the region, distinguishable by their jewelry, hairdos, and advancing age, dutifully checked out the stock on hand, stopping first at galleries run by French-speaking people such as Axel Dibie and Alix Dionot-Morani of Crèvecoeur (Paris) and François Ghebaly (Los Angeles). Another busy stand was Bologna’s P420, where dealer Chiara Tiberio (late of Milan’s Raffaella Cortese) barely had a moment to say hello. However, the Mexico City–based artist Rodrigo Hernàndez gave me a personal tour of the new works he had on show there, before moving over to Madragoa, his other European gallery, opened in Lisbon just three months ago by former Franco Noero dealer Matteo Consonni.
And there lies the rub, or one rub, anyway. Can collectors trust such a young business to have the longevity needed for an ongoing dialogue? Consonni wasn’t worried, but it might do the fair some good to introduce more experienced independents into the mix. “It’s not so much about selling as building relationships and getting exposure for artists,” said Schamoni, expressing a sentiment echoed by Friedrich and fellow Berlin dealer Daniel Marzona. “It’s worth it,” Friedrich said. “At what other fair could I get a space this large for $1,500?” Or risk presenting two artists (Mathieu Malouf and Nettell) who silk-screened the same Op art image in different colors on the same size canvas, but offering them at different price points? I liked Friedrich’s nerve.
Left: Material Art Fair director of exhibitor relations Rodrigo Feliz. Right: Collector Sébastien Peyret and dealer François Ghebaly.
The publicly funded Art-O-Rama, which gets a boost from private and corporate sponsors, basically is two people: director Jerôme Pantalacci, who cut his teeth on the late legend of a Marseillaise dealer Roger Pailhas, and Nadia Fatnassi, the fair’s dynamo of a managing director. She was the point person who arranged the requisite VIP visits to collectors’ homes and artists’ studios, shuttles to openings or performances at galleries and to art sites elsewhere, and parties for opening and closing nights. She seemed to be everywhere at once—except perhaps at the one competing fair (helpfully listed on the VIP program), Paréidolie, for drawings—very popular, according to collector Frédéric de Goldschmidt, of Brussels, who did go to everything, as far as I could tell.
At the fair, dealers designed booths with walls and—in the case of Schamoni and Crèvecoeur—without, opting to place objects on the floor in open space. (Collectors awarded Crèvecoeur the Roger Pailhas stand prize.) There weren’t really aisles, just partitions. Four actual rooms were dedicated to solo shows by artists barely out of school; another had a very cool film by the Turkish artist Özlem Sulak. Two booths were given to nonprofits: Barcelona’s Green Parrot, and the homegrown M-Arc/Le Box, founded by shipping executive Marc Féraud and his wife, Marie-Helene, the culture czar of Marseille.
She was among the officials gathered (in an air-conditioned auditorium) that afternoon for a crowded press conference announcing Manifesta 13, taking place in 2020. Host city: Marseille, curator TBD. One featured speaker was the indomitable Hedwig Fijen, president of the Manifesta Foundation, who emphasized the importance of affecting a broad, nonart audience. But her thunder was stolen by the city’s long-term (twenty years) mayor, Jean-Claude Gaudin, who is nothing like the person portrayed by Gérard Depardieu on the Netflix show.
In an emotional address, Gaudin laid out the many strong points of Marseille, European Capital of Culture in 2013, largely thanks to him. But he overreacted, Donald Trump–style, when asked why he’d closed a city museum on which he’d lavished many euros. Because, he said in French, it was placed in an immigrant quarter in the hope of diversifying (er, gentrifying?) the neighborhood. “But no one ever went!” he thundered. “No one!”
Left: Jean-Claude Gaudin, mayor of Marseille. Right: Artist Davide Stucchi and curator Mattia Ruffolo.
By contrast, everyone—a big crowd—went to Art-O-Rama’s tenth anniversary beach party that night, including new arrivals Nicolas Trembley (from Paris) and Rodrigo Feliz (from Mexico City’s Material Art Fair). And there wasn’t an empty seat on the buses that took collectors and journalists through the Provençal countryside to Arles the next morning. First stop: an illuminating (and surprising) show of thirty-one van Gogh paintings curated by Bice Curiger from loans to the Van Gogh Foundation, a jewel-box museum established a few years ago by the late Luc Hoffmann, environmentalist father of collector Maja Hoffmann, whose LUMA Arles art center was on the itinerary as well.
Looming above its home in the Parc d’Ateliers is the construction of a Frank Gehry building that some say will be the tallest in the region. At 180 feet high, it dwarfs every other structure in Arles and, needless to say, looks nothing like anything else in France outside of Paris. Closer to the ground are several humongous hangars—sheds that once serviced railroad cars—cleaned up for the exhibition of übercontemporary art by that estimable queen of the retrofit, Annabelle Selldorf.
Jordan Wolfson’s wham-bam-no-thank-you-ma’am Colored Sculpture had just arrived in one gallery; an installation by William Kentridge was in another, small building. The main event was “Systematically Open,” an artist-curated group exhibition that showed self-portraits by the South African photographer Zanele Muholi to great and searing advantage, and suggested that Collier Schorr and Anne Collier should show together always.
Left: Collector Frédéric de Goldschmidt with artists Will Kerr and Özlem Sulak. Right: Artist Benjamin Valenza.
Back in Marseille, a few of us went on to a strip mall behind a supermarket to meet Sébastian Peyret, leader of a group of younger collectors who support even younger artists by pooling their purchases for a common entity, Atlantis, named for the atmospheric former physical therapy facility where they show recent acquisitions. It was hotter in there than the sauna it once was so I didn’t stay long. Besides, the one gallery dinner of the weekend was that evening—a birthday party at a tapas bar on the port for Ghebaly and Dibie, hosted by Schamoni, Crèvecoeur, and Ghebaly.
Sunday morning brought the fair VIPs to La Fabrique, the airy, multilevel home of psychologists and seasoned collectors Marc and Josée Gensollen. They are the Rubells of Marseille, but with a taste for small-scale, provocative work by artists who run from Buren, Boltanski, Andre, Nauman, and Dan Graham to Cattelan, Orozco, Tiravanija, Gonzalez-Foerster, Gillick, Bonvicini, and Monk. “It’s not a very speculative collection,” Marc Gensollen assured me. Indubitably not.
Lunch with Ghebaly, Marzona, and the French artist Gerard Traquandi at the Féraud’s hilltop home followed. “I think Art-O-Rama is a good fair to start the season with energy,” Marc Féraud said. “But who is its audience?” Kalmár challenged him. “Young collectors? The Maja Hoffmanns of the Côte d’Azure? Curators? It needs focus.” Marzona supported the scene. “There are good collections here,” he said. “I suffered, but only from the heat.” Kalmár took that as our cue to have a swim with our new best buds off a calanque, a limestone outcropping in the Bouches-du-Rhône, before dining at a Tunisian couscous place near the Hotel Residence du Vieux-Port.
Left: Château La Coste art center manager Daniel Kennedy. Right: Friche la Belle de Mai director Alain Arnaudet.
Monday brought a day of architectural epiphanies, starting with La Vieille Charité. Built in the seventeenth century as a homeless shelter and now the site of a few museums, it’s said to have inspired Le Corbusier. The architect’s Brutalist wonder of a housing project, La Cité Radieuse, where Kalmàr rents an apartment, was my next stop (amazing), followed by a private view of the Féraud’s serene Helmut Federle show at Le Box. Then, with attention paid to the list of regional art sites in the VIP brochure, we drove to Chateau La Coste, hotelier Patrick McKillen’s unbelievable winery and contemporary art center outside of Aix. Guided by center manager Daniel Kennedy, we toured a vast tract of land populated by grapes and extraordinarily sited artworks by Richard Serra, Franz West, Lee Ufan, Liam Gillick, Andy Goldsworthy, and many more, including the steel towers that Louise Bourgeois made for the opening of Tate Modern, and the pavilion that Gehry built outside of the Serpentine Gallery in 2008. The center’s main building is peak Tadao Ando. And the winery, OMG: Jean Nouvel maybe should stick with industrial architecture.
Back in town, Fatnassi told me that Art-O-Rama’s opening weekend had attracted 3,500 visitors and logged some €150,000 in sales. (Its artworks, by the way, stay put as an exhibition for two weeks.) By 2020, the little-fair-that-could ought to be a creditable anchor for Manifesta—hopefully with livelier galleries and a new, cooler location.
Still, as long as it has Marseille, it’ll be in the right place.
Outside the Kunsthalle Bern. (Photo: Alex Klein)
THE SOMMERAKADEMIE IM ZENTRUM PAUL KLEE has been a strange and secretive touchstone of the Bernese art world for ten years now. In fundamental ways it compares to other summer programs at a variety of European kunsthalles: The directors select a guest curator along with ten to twelve fellows (artists and writers under the age of thirty-five) to invite to Bern for two weeks of presentations and workshops.
But what is amazing about the ZPK Sommerakademie is its decadelong commitment to building an institutional identity by inviting alumni back to Switzerland, at the expense of the Sommerakademie’s main sponsor, the Berner Kantonalbank, for a dinner to celebrate the latest fellows. For transatlantic alumni, this has been huge. For Europe-based peers, who are offered a less fantastic travel stipend, it mostly depends on whether a trip to Bern fits into their summer schedule. Still, this unique, bank-funded migration of young artists to sleepy summertime Bern for one mysterious evening of speeches and buffet has produced its own rituals: dips in the fast-flowing Aare (where a couple years ago a nude man, cross-legged as if in meditation, was seen floating downstream in an inflated, transparent pill—immortalized as “The Nude Dude in the Tube”) and nightcaps at the ancient Kriessaal whiskey bar, for example. Yet all good things come to an end, and this year’s, it was strongly hinted, would be the last.
Drifting through Bern from the train station past familiar haunts, one can’t help but run into other Sommerakademie participants. At the Bahnhof I crossed paths with artists Avigail Moss and Aaron Flint Jamison, as well as curators Eric Friedricksen, Betsey Brock, Juana Berrio, and Anthony Huberman. At the restaurant overlooking a pit of live bears, I came across artists Martine Syms, Pedro Neves-Marques, and Alex Klein. Unlike other summertime art situations, returning alumni and faculty have nothing to do but show up to dinner, no exhibitions to see or anything to do but wander.
Generally, the atmosphere on alumni day tends to fall somewhere between the opening plenary of a conference, a high school reunion, and a gala dinner. As the years have gone on, the dinner part has decreased in gala-ness. Speaking to the general uncertainty that afflicts the world economy, the gradual and probably quite painful (to Swiss bankers) move toward greater transparency in the financial system, and perhaps the increasingly ungainly guest list, Max Haselbach, the Berner Kantonalbank’s head of education, put it best when he said: “Banking was easier before.”
But there was no way the Sommerakademie was simply going to fade away—evinced by the choice of artist Thomas Hirschhorn as this year’s guest curator, joining the likes of Diedrich Diederichsen, Jan Verwoert, Oscar Tuazon, Tirdad Zolghadr, Piplotti Rist, and Marta Kuzma in the program’s storied history. In the bowels of the Zentrum, Paul Klee’s baroque, raked 250-seat auditorium—designed by Renzo Piano prior to the 2008 market crash and generously accented with the same red found in all nationalistic Swiss branding—Sommerakademie director Jacqueline Burckhardt clarified that this was to be the last year as it is currently understood. But a little later, Nina Zimmer, director of the ZPK and Kunstmuseum Bern, announced her intention to carry on with the Sommerakademie, rebranded as the Sommerakademie Zentrum Paul Klee (dropping the “im”) with the sponsorship of the Bern University of the Arts.
“I am a soldier of truth,” Hirschhorn said, leaping to the stage to commence a clear, maniacal diatribe on what he expects of the fellows. “I am a soldier of truth,” he repeated, for emphasis. We almost expected him to drop and do one-armed pushups. “Are you? Where do you stand? What do you want?” These simplified inquiries were the theme of this year’s Sommerakademie and led to the presentation of the latest fellows: Ovidiu Anton, Lex Brown, Justin Davy, François Dey, Luis Garay, Kevin Kemter, Sasha Kurmaz, Tiona McClodden, Eliana Otta, Tabita Rezaire, Angelica Teuta, Wambui Kamiru, who were tasked with providing brief answers to the questions Hirschhorn posed.
McClodden, an artist based in North Philadelphia, noted during her time on stage to answer Hirschhorn’s questions that, since the Sommerakademie had begun that morning, she had experienced “at least ten racial microaggressions.” Kemter seemed earnestly stoked to take up Hirschhorn’s banner, almost as if he were relieved to finally banish art’s uncertainties. Meanwhile, across the motorway outside the Zentrum a lone protester, seemingly bummed about Hirschhorn, stood with a siren and an awkwardly phrased sign that said (loosely translated) PLEASE HONK! GENTLEMEN PREFER LAZINESS TO DICTATOR-HISCHHORN. Only hours old and already this Sommerakademie had stumbled on inspiring new frontiers of controversy.
Speeches over, it was time to get down to the snacks and wines in the lobby. Still more faces and friends came out of the woodwork: Rita Sobral-Campos and Ricardo Valentim, as well as past and current Sommerakademie faculty such as Yasmil Raymond, Stuart Bailey, and Raimundas Malašauskas.
In a surprise twist, dinner was held at a restaurant located in an industrial park about fifteen minutes outside of central Bern on the top floor of the supermarket chain Aldi’s Swiss corporate headquarters. Still more folks emerged: Agnieszka Kurant, Christian Philipp Müller, Giovanni Carmine, and Pamela Rozenkranz, as well as Bern’s own Martin Lötscher. The dinner itself was a tasty if predictably Swiss affair, with a delicious roast and some very nice-looking ribs at its center. Oddly, there was no provision for getting guests home from the industrial park, so while all had been transported on buses to the restaurant, a few were handed bus schedules and left to fend for themselves.
Undaunted, I managed to make it back to Bern for the mandatory nightcap at the Kriessaal with Bailey, Klein, Huberman, curator Juana Berrío, and artist Jacopo Mazzetti—to be joined later with the arrival of the next bus by Kurant and Rita Campos. The setting, a bar featuring aged whiskeys, spurred Bailey—himself no stranger to the kind of complex time travel embodied in Scotches—into retrospective reverie, wondering and lingering on those alumni who hadn’t decided to travel to Bern. What were they doing? Sifting through rumors, what’s happening with Kemang (Wa Lehulere)? Has anyone seen Jan lately? As the nostalgic impulse exhausted itself conversation turned to the future, especially the near future, which swung sharply into view as, groggy from spirits, I had to struggle through the chocolatey Swiss night to guarantee a spot on the last train to Zurich.
“I PREFER SEEING PRIVATE COLLECTIONS TO MUSEUMS,” said collector Wiyu Wahono. “They are like an enigma to decipher.” We were at a dinner at the home of another collector, Prasodjo Winarko, on the eve of the opening of Art Stage Jakarta, and Wahono’s opinion didn’t seem entirely unpopular, if only for the reason that visitors to his collection earlier that day were still in awe. The inaugural edition of the export of the Singaporean fair promised to be cheerful despite the city’s crippling traffic. “Hands down, they win!” muttered Singapore-based Filipino collector Lourdes Samson, comparing the challenge of navigating Jakarta with that of Manila.
Back at the Sheraton, the hotel’s owner, Alex Tedja, and collector Deddy Kusuma were warming up their voices to a live band in preparation for the next evening’s karaoke opening. Apparently many Indonesian high society gents practice weekly. At the back of the lounge, in a typically Indonesian cloud of clove-scented smoke, artist Agus Suwage, collector Dato M. Noor Azman, and curator Enin Supriyanto drank iced teas and beers. They were soon joined by a happy Jun Tirtadji, back from his gallery ROH Projects, where he had opened an exhibition in collaboration with Silverlens Galleries. Artist Jay Yao and collector Carlo Calma walked by holding a champagne flute: “This is my vacation!” It felt festive indeed.
The next day, Lorenzo and Maria Elena Rudolf, president and vice president of the fair, made a glam stop at collector Tom Tandio’s lunch with Yue Minjun. They were followed by former fair director of Bazaar Art Jakarta, now Art Stage Jakarta director, Leo Silitonga, donning a South Sulawesi ikat. “Maria Elena wanted all of us to wear something Indonesian,” he justified. The fair opened to exuberant crowds wondering what’s up with the two fairs in Jakarta this month (the eighth Bazaar Art opens this week), but heartedly welcoming the opportunity to mingle. “We are all friends,” I heard again and again, until I almost believed it. Art Stage gathers forty-nine galleries alongside a lavishly set presentation by the painter Affandi and a separate exhibition, the Collectors Show, featuring works from the collections of Rudy Akili, Deddy Kusuma, Melani Setiawan, Tom Tandio, Alex Tedja, and Wiyu Wahono in a bare shell floor of the hotel. “I got the roughest space to show the most expensive art,” joked Supriyanto. The fair provided plenty of socializing grounds, if not always the most groundbreaking works.
That evening, the opening party had collectors singing the Bee Gees poolside. “Never heard of them,” quipped a young millennial. “But it’s clear who the target audience is here.” The Platters’ “Only You” followed, and then some Temptations. Rudolf and gang did an earnest rendition of “Baila Morena.” “Can you imagine other fairs’ big players doing something like this?” I was asked. I could not, but it surely made me grin. Points for not taking yourselves too seriously, Art Stage.
After Heri Dono’s performance, I heard that collector Rudy Akili rapped, but I was already on my way to the young collectors’ party at the restaurant Sofia at the upscale Gunawarman Hotel. “You’ll see. Inside, you will feel like you’re in Budapest,” I was told by Tom Tandio as I set off with collector Natasha Sidharta, writer and filmmaker Patricia Chen, and a merry bunch including artists Dito Yuwono and Melati Suryodarmo and curator Mira Asriningtyas.
Left: Dealers Joseph Ng and Pearl Lam. Right: Photographer and collector Indra Leonardi, artist Yue Minjun, and collectors Lily Sajoto and Dr. Oei Hong Djien.
Saturday, I joined Mariles Gustilo, director of Manila’s private Ayala Museum, for a collections visit. We toured Akili’s space, where we were greeted by his adviser, Alia Swastika. At the fair I spotted collector Daisuke Miyatsu, curator Rifky Effendy, and artist FX Harsono, and caught up with the shy and usually studio-bound Eddy Susanto to talk about his painstaking canvases of historical narratives. That evening we stopped at Alex Tedja’s palatial house and were treated to a blue-chip wonderland. “I wish I had ceilings that high in my museum,” complimented Gustilo. We moved next door for what I had anticipated as a fun party at Deddy Kusuma’s, but after some customary singalong—“Imagine all the people…”—it turned into a midnight lecture on Indonesian art transmitted via multiple screens from the main stage to all the courtyards.
Eventually we escaped to join a group at Hide & Seek Swillhouse consisting of young Bandung and Jogja artists including Alin, Keni, Hahan, Titarubi, Zico, Wimo Ambala Bayang, Faisal Habibi, Agan Harahap, and Ruang Gerilya’s Wibi Rizqi Triadi. At last: dancing! A pleased Silitonga explained that the fair benefited from the recent government-issued tax amnesty that encouraged rich Indonesians to repatriate money home. “It went far beyond our expectations,” he said. I am constantly told the Indonesian art scene needs more international interest, but it certainly helps if the locals lead by example.
Left: Artist Heri Dono. Right: Lisson gallery's David Tung.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN Brazil and the Middle East meet in Japan? Artistic director Chihiro Minato conceived “Homo Faber: A Rainbow Caravan,” the third edition of the Aichi Triennale, as a journey, inviting curators Daniela Castro and Zeynep Öz—based respectively in São Paulo and Istanbul—along for the ride.
The trip was designed to take visitors, curators, and artists across the Aichi prefecture in central Japan from the bustling capital of Nagoya to the smaller, equidistant cities of Okazaki and Toyohashi—all located on the same train line. A new satellite venue, Toyohashi has a sizable Brazilian community, which is partly why Castro was drafted in.
At the press conference last Wednesday, Minato reminisced about how he traveled the world as a photographer in the 1980s, spending a year and a half in South America, near the Amazon. These formative experiences were meant to account for the triennial theme. Over a shandy at the Caravan Party thrown by the good people of Toyohashi the following night, he revealed his true inspiration: Santana’s 1972 album Caravanserail, featuring a giant blazing sun on the cover.
Left: Artists Nicholas Galanin and Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes. Right: Artist Jerry Gretzinger.
Colors in every shade of the rainbow dominated the agenda, starting with the boldly patterned shirt—nothing if not adventurous—Minato sported on the opening day of the triennial tour. Taking up an entire wall in the atrium of the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, which kept us busy for much of the morning, Jerry Gretzinger’s multipaneled aggregate of tiny colored maps set the tone. Shinji Ohmaki’s ephemeral floral patterns spreading out in concentric circles from a central pillar in Echoes-Infinity, 2012, were there for visitors to tread on, blending their pigments. The leftovers formed layers on layers of gorgeous color in a neat row of champagne flutes displayed next to the floor-based work.
In contrast to this chromatic orgy, the radiation-contaminated tree stumps from Fukushima and Hiroshima in artist Masao Okabe’s sobering series of black frottage drawings harked back to the previous triennial theme (“Awakening—Where Are We Standing? Earth, Memory, and Resurrection”), which responded to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant meltdown of 3/11.
The idea of the journey itself—from West to East—was conveyed chiefly through sonic means in British experimental musician Chris Watson’s twenty-channel surround-sound installation. Titled Great Circle, 2016, after the route airplanes generally take when traveling to Japan from the UK, the work charted the artist’s own travels from his home in Northumberland, UK, to the glaciers of Iceland, across Siberia and through the Gobi Desert all the way to Mount Horai-ji in the Aichi prefecture. As I lingered, the end of a rainstorm in Siberia’s tiger forests gave way to the eerie wailing sound of orcas captured with hydrophones beneath the Arctic Ocean.
Left: Artist Masao Okabe and curator Hiroyuki Hattori. Right: Artist Mai Ueda.
That afternoon, our human caravan wended its way from one art-filled venue to the next. With no time to spare, we had our packed lunch on the bus. “I’m so glad for this working experience,” Castro remarked. “The schedule for the opening is like a train table.”
The streets around Choja-machi, the heart of Nagoya’s once thriving textile district, were all but deserted in the midday heat. What used to be shopfronts now house art galleries. In one of those, the Jakarta-based collective ruangrupa set up a temporary school for the “citizens” of Nagoya, running workshops on “how to be disorganized” alongside karaoke sessions. Yoshio Shirakawa’s playful installation, stemming from his research into the city’s history, turned a nearby space into a camel-themed shop showcasing the decidedly unflattering LAKUDA underwear in a range of pale beiges.
By the time we reached the Nagoya City Art Museum, a combination of unrelenting heat and talk of deserts (Japan has its own, as Teshigahara Hiroshi’s 1964 black-and-white classic, Woman in the Dunes, attests) had me ready to devour Sharjah artist Abdullah Al Saadi’s lush red mountains in The Watermelon Series, 2014, exhibited inside. In front of the museum, adults and children extended the web made up of many-colored threads tied together in the latest iteration of Brazilian artist João Modé’s NET Project, spanning three venues in each of the triennial’s cities.
The opening reception at Nagoya Tokyu Hotel’s Banquet Room Versaille, which lived up to its name, was thronged—to put it mildly. “OMG—that’s more than the entire population of Palestine,” Beirut- and Ramallah-based artist Khalil Rabah exclaimed as he surveyed the palatial room where the whole Japanese art establishment, rubbing shoulders with local officials and their spouses, appeared to have converged.
“If all these people went to see the works, that would already be an achievement,” Rabah mused the next day, en route for Toyohashi City, where his work is exhibited. The densely wooded hills glimpsed from the bus offered some respite from the built-up industrial landscape around Nagoya and Okazaki.
The second city on our whirlwind tour of the Aichi Triennale served up some unusual locations in which to show contemporary art—from a disused set of rooms above a train station to an ordinary shopping mall that accommodated a new photography exhibition. After a stroll through a drab, dusty building overlooking the Okazaki castle that Mumbai native Shreyas Karle had transformed with subtle interventions, the traditional Edo period house and garden of the Ishihara family, in which several works by Japanese and international artists were presented, felt like an oasis.
When it came to seeing the works spread across several buildings at our final destination, only the most eye-catching pieces stood any chance of grabbing our attention. Laura Lima’s Flight (fuga, in Portuguese), 2008, a playground for birds complete with scaled-down landscape paintings and folded screens adapted to the avian viewer, was certainly among them. The tiny creatures—one hundred locally sourced Java sparrows and finches—didn’t appear to care much for the art. And who could blame them? As Lima put it, “Animals: We think we know about them. But they’re a total mystery.”