MORE THAN ONE HUNDRED artists, designers, academics, and scientists migrated north to Spitsbergen Island the second weekend of June for “Thinking at the Edge of the World,” a three-day cross-disciplinary conference organized by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA) and the Northern Norway Art Museum that considered changes in the Arctic as a flashpoint for things to come farther south. Touching down at the northern outpost of civilization, the view out of the plane engulfed by the Norwegian territory’s austere black mountains veined with snow and topped by a misty halo, we were greeted at Longyearbyen airport by a stuffed polar bear at the center of the baggage carousel. Thus began a weekend that would bring home the importance of firsthand experience of the end of the world to saving our “brave new world.”
Our first stop was the Kunsthall Svalbard for Olav Christopher Jenssen’s exhibition “Expedition,” featuring specimens of fauna the artist discovered in the adjacent Svalbard Museum’s stores during his five-week stay, inaugurating a new artist residency program. A rare snowy owl, an arctic fox, a seagull, a puffin, and a polar bear accompanied ephemeral watercolors of atmospheric conditions on aluminum plates, as if specimens gathered by a scientist. “These are expressions or impulses of experiences,” Jenssen explained. “It is like the animals took part in the work.”
Dinner that evening was at Kroa, a stone’s throw from the statue of a coal miner and the general store in a rustic log cabin adorned with skins, where tattooed waiters served us a typically Norwegian dish of salted codfish with crispy bacon bits. “The cuisine is surprisingly good here—better than you find in most cities in southern Norway,” noted Kunstforum editor Nicolai Strøm-Olsen. His suit-and-tie ensemble contrasted the northern dress code of big sweaters, plaid shirts, and skintight leather pants. Curator Milovan Farronato outdid everyone in a black ruffled number with Doc Martens and tights topped by an elegant aunt’s vintage coat of curly black lamb fur. The walk back to the Radisson Blu hotel was equally surreal, with people clustered outside the Karlsberger Pub drinking beer and blinking in the midnight sun, as if affronted by a giant spotlight shining down from the heavens by mistake.
Left: Charis Gullickson, curator of Northern Norway Art Museum, and Leif Magne Tangen, director of Tromsø Kunstforening. Right: Candice Hopkins, chief curator at IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, and Julie Decker, director of Anchorage Museum.
The conference “Lands, Settlements, Peaks, Bones, and Appropriation” began the next morning at the University of Svalbard (UNIS) lecture hall, once everyone had shed their outer layers and shoes at the locker-lined entrance. Candice Hopkins, chief curator of the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, and Sami-rights activist Niillas Somby discussed the striking commonalities in the histories of northern indigenous populations. Somby recounted his adoption by British Columbia’s Nuxalk nation as a fugitive after blowing up a bridge in protest against the Alta River dam in 1982, losing a hand and nearly an eye: “We had tried to communicate with songs, poems, and books, but the government did not hear us,” he said. “So we decided to speak in their language with explosives; it was meant as theater, but it went out of control.”
Next, professor Elena Isayev talked about the ancient connections between global populations, pointing out that mobility was the norm until the Middle Ages and there was no word for “immigrant” in the Roman Empire. Architect Alberto Altés defined inhabitation in terms of “settling.” The threat of the other arrived in modern times, along with the advent of the national passport. Curator Lutz Henke proposed the Berlin Wall as the paradigm barrier to human rights, quoting Rem Koolhaas’s description of it as the “transgression to end all transgressions.” Discussing the current unprecedented decimation and displacement of people, professor Robert Templer, director of Budapest’s Center for Conflict, Negotiation and Recovery, concluded with the question at the heart of our contemporary condition: “Where does our nearly complete lack of empathy come from?”
“There is no edge of the world—as you move closer it dissolves,” Katya García-Antón had told us at the beginning of the conference. To wit, that evening we sailed off in search of the Bore Glacier onboard the MS Polargirl, with the director of Norwegian Polar Institute, Kim Holmén, at the helm. In a lecture on climate change, he cited an 1896 article that already warned of the effects of human production on ground temperatures, and gestured out the window to the fjord, which opens up to springtime navigation three months earlier now than before. (2014 was the hottest year on record with average temperature in February nearly 15 degrees above normal.) There were surprisingly few icebergs floating by. After a lunch of grilled arctic salmon on deck, the cold wind ushered the jolly crew into the cabin for some whiskey to warm the spirits until the captain came in to sound the alarm: a blue whale had been sighted. Everyone hustled outside and watched as the colossal creature surfaced to breathe and exhale in spurts that rose high into air. Holmén, in a big floppy cap with a pink pompom, exclaimed through a megaphone from the upper deck: “This is the biggest creature on the planet ever!” Just as a giant flipper emerged out of the water, writer Anny Shaw screamed, “It’s waving at us!”—and everyone went into hysterics.
The forum continued the following day at the defunct Gruve 3 coalmine, and I stopped along the way to check out the Global Seed Vault, which recently had its first withdrawal, by Syria, much earlier than expected. The region has become a repository of global geopolitical forces as the center migrates to the outer extremes. “We were supposed to talk about sea monsters, and unfortunately I think the monsters are us,” Ute Meta Bauer, director of Singapore’s NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, began her talk. With the Arctic landscape a barometer of things to come everywhere—altering forty times faster than many predicted—it is clear that “what goes around comes around, there is no final edge, the horizon is infinite, and we are all connected.”
After a lunch of reindeer stew we watched Somby’s documentary Gáddegánddat: Who's Left on the Shore? about how the Sami’s fishing and reindeer-herding rights—their means to survival—have been taken away with the establishment of national borders and private land. We took a tour of the mine outfitted in hardhats and headlamps, and I asked Somby about a story I heard in town about his hideout in Canada, where a Norwegian journalist had discovered dynamite stored in the latrines. “He thought we were planning another terrorist attack, but we were using it to destroy beaver dams so the rivers wouldn’t flood,” Somby explained. Since last December the local Norwegian coalmines have all but stopped after years of losses due to price declines, and only the Russians continue the local industry. The Norwegian government is retooling the economy for tourism. “Even though they have no real reason to stay now,” a Norwegian art critic explained, “the Norwegians want to hold it against possibility of Russian takeover.” Yet even continents migrate: In fifty million years Svalbard will be part of Russia. Likewise, after centuries of failure by humankind to open the Northwest Passage, nature has stepped in.
Left: OCA's Antonio Cataldo, Sami activist and journalist Niillas Somby, and writer Stephanie Bailey. Right: The blue whale.
On the final day I visited Jan Martin Berg, director of the Galleri Svalbard, for coffee and stories. “Svalbard is thought of as a place of extremes, but you only face two dangers here: going out into the field without being aware of the weather conditions and meeting a polar bear,” he said. Longyearbyen’s homely wooden buildings seem perched tentatively at the brink of another dimension, and a strange energy pervades the air. Snow-white reindeer graze around town among the snowmobiles, parked randomly here and there for the summer as if stopped in their tracks just as the snow melted, the landscape largely brown and barren in early summer. Svalbard is populated by more polar bears than humans, and it is illegal to be unemployed—and even to die. Recalling a set for the TV series Northern Exposure, the frontier town is the locale for the upcoming BBC docu-soap Ice People: Living on the Edge. The solitary souls who populate the archipelago are said to be happier in the darkness of winter, and neighbors often have to rescue those who refuse to open their curtains to the sun come springtime. You feel a sort of instant intimacy with the rare person you meet, like alien beings encountering each other on another planet.
I ran into artists Jason Rosenberg and Marie Kaada Hovden, and we agreed to take a long hike with artists Elin Már Øyen Vister and Victor Costales. They had found a bear guard to lead us into Bolter Valley, so we were dropped off at a dog-sledding camp where dead seals rotted from ropes—last year’s bear decoys—and the dogs were chained to their houses and sick for affection. We scaled a slope between rivulets of glacier melt, jumping between spongy clumps, and coming upon the corpse of a dead reindeer. As we limped home in the broad daylight around midnight, while muscles I did not know existed were screaming for attention, we ran into New Museum director Lisa Phillips and landscape designer Edwina Van Dal, who characterizes proximity to nature as the new luxury. The edge has certainly moved to the center of politics and debate. US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived the next day to check out the climate situation (a side trip after security policy meetings down south, truth be told). Everyone should visit Svalbard—maybe just not all at once. I saw Phillips again two days later in Athens, where there was an extraordinary heat wave: “It seems so strange that it gets dark here,” she said longingly.
Left: Landscape designer Edwina von Gal and Lisa Philips, director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Right: Kim Holmén, director of Norwegian Polar Institute.
LIKE THE MOMENT before any big storm, Sunday the 12th of June in Basel was quiet. Of course, this is Switzerland, where the atmosphere is so placid that feathers ruffle only at their own risk.
Yet risk is the name of the game in the art business, or it used to be, before big money sent it in the direction of safe bets. Take the work that the New York Times anointed as the most talked-about in all of Art Basel—Hans Op de Beeck’s fictional collector’s home at Art Unlimited. Funny thing about that. Of the several hundred people I spoke with during a rain-soaked week at the forty-seventh edition of the fair, not a single person mentioned it.
That might be because Elmgreen & Dragset made similar hay of collecting mania—twice, at the 2009 Venice Biennale and in 2013 at the V&A in London—though they didn’t make every object in it. Or because Unlimited also had m.A.A.d., a mesmerizing, 2014 film about Compton, CA by Kahlil Joseph; Louise Lawler’s ninety-four, still relevant, piss-cup photos, Helms Amendment, 1989; and AA Bronson’s Folly, a sanctuary of the spirit to allay the considerable chaos of Unlimited’s opening on Monday.
“It’s a little dense,” Art 21 director Tina Kukielski said, opting for understatement while resigning herself to the number of “smelly black boxes” that curator Gianni Jetzer had installed for viewing videos. “Nice to see Tàpies coming back.” dealer Gió Marconi countered as I passed him in another room. “There seems to be an emphasis on undervalued artists who are dead or neglected,” observed dealer Douglas Baxter, nodding toward an Alan Shields maze of paintings. Collector Bill Ehrlich, on the other hand, was still dazzled by an afternoon spent at museums. “Go see the Beyeler,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought of putting Calder together with Fischli & Weiss, but that was really something.”
Something else was the convergence of openings for Design Miami/Basel, Parcours (public art), and the Liste satellite fair at the same time as Unlimited. Art Basel people hoped this ploy would catch more eyes before people left town, midweek, for places like London, where the newly doubled Tate Modern would open on Thursday.
Frankly, no matter how one tried, it was impossible to see all that fair week offered, including the shows at the Beyeler, the Kunsthalle, and the expanded Kunstmuseum. Add to that the biggest Unlimited ever, with eighty-eight different presentations of the ginormous and the extensive selected from gallery submissions, and you’ve got an embarrassment of riches—some more embarrassing than others.
But let’s take up the motto that Cory Arcangel would establish at the Team Gallery stand in the main fair and, “Fuck Negativity.” It was pretty wild to see how many works from the 1960s and ’70s punctuated Unlimited: Joseph Kosuth’s entire debut show of dictionary definition paintings from 1968, somehow for sale once again; Christo’s four sheathed storefronts from 1964/65; a spectacular yellow, room-bisecting and cantilevered beam by Robert Grosvenor that has been unseen since the mid-’60s, remade just for us.
It was also great to see Gretchen Bender’s twenty-four monitor “electronic theater” of war in our own deranged time, post-Orlando. Still, one started to wonder if “the market” was spotlighting underserved artists or propping up overscaled objects.
Left: Artist William Pope.L in performance at Art Unlimited. Right: Art Unlimited and Hirshhorn Museum curator Gianni Jetzer.
Those who had not yet tired of art made with piles of old suitcases must have been pleased by Chiharu Shiota’s suspended umbrella of battered luggage. Those who enjoy queuing were also in luck, as long as they considered a long wait for brief immersion in the soothing ether of a work by James Turrell to be the paydirt of the sublime.
“You have to see Pope.L’s performance,” Art Basel director Marc Spiegler told me. It was scheduled for 6 PM. That was now. I ran for the Mitchell-Innes & Nash–sponsored room—and fell in behind a man dressed in a white gorilla suit (the artist).
Followed by an annoying film crew, and watched by expectant iPhone- and iPad-wielding curators, critics, collectors, advisors, and dealers, the silent Pope.L opened and closed a clear plastic umbrella, climbed and descended from a white kitchen stepladder, picked up a white satchel and walked around the space, inspecting the paintings (his) on the walls. When he pulled at one canvas, a thick wad of cash fell into his hand. He put it in the satchel. He repeated this action twice, then took a small white sculpture of a Paul McCarthy–like gnome out of his bag, placed it on the floor, and left the room.
Spectators, including Art Institute of Chicago curator Suzanne Ghez, Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume, dealer Paul Schimmel, and Swedish collector Pontus Bonnier, stayed put. Did they think there might be more money hidden behind the paintings? There was, of course, metaphorically speaking, behind each of the artworks around the hall.
Among them were an unusual number of super-large paintings. A giant James Rosenquist from 1982 was forty-five feet long. Edge to edge, a new Adam Pendleton mural measured nearly seventy feet. A fifty-foot wide, fourteen-million-dollar “protractor” painting by Frank Stella, Damascus Gate, was quickly put on reserve (and later bought) by an unnamed Chinese collector.
By comparison, Chris Martin’s thirty-foot-long cosmological abstraction, suspended from the ceiling, looked almost puny. “It’s the space where the psychedelic and notions of mortality intersect,” explained dealer David Kordansky. “I never actually saw it up before,” said the artist, who made the painting on the floor. He cried.
Another impressive sight was the congestion in Wolfgang Tillmans’s reinstallation of his show from last September in David Zwirner’s New York gallery, in a room of the exact same dimensions, for sale as one piece. At Art Basel, a buyer could actually turn up. People here are serious. They come to put money on art, not to browse or go to parties (though they do), and certainly not for the food. The evening’s repasts, however, were a central topic of the Art Unlimited opening.
“I just now decided where to go for dinner,” said collector Nicoletta Fiorucci, who had to choose from twenty invitations. Pompidou Foundation curator Florence Derieux opted for her first Gagosian dinner in twenty years at Art Basel. In addition to a dinner at the Beyeler honoring Roni Horn, there must have been a hundred gallery dinners that night, from the Donati (Zwirner) and Restaurant Schlüsselzunft (Lisson) to the McDonald’s where Gavin Brown hosted a celebration of Milanese dealer Massimo Minini’s fortieth year at the fair.
Left: Nane Lagergren Annan with His Excellency Kofi Annan and collector Robbie Antonio. Right: Documenta 14 director Adam Szymczyk.
Selling art must really work up an appetite! Never have I seen ostensibly mature adults tear into Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets with the savagery of this crew. (That would be Stedelijk Museum director Beatrix Ruf; Art Basel Miami Beach director Noah Horowitz; dealers Andrew Hamilton, Taylor Trabulus, and Lucy Chadwick; and Jetzer, who swore off the fries to build a tower of mini-M&M candy boxes.)
Perversely amusing as this was, I departed for the most upscale (and sobering) event of the night: the first UNAIDS gala, “Where History Is Made,” to be held in Basel. Six hundred people bought tickets. Here’s why:
1. UNAIDS, the name for eleven UN organizations jointly dedicated to eradicating the disease by 2030, deserves continuing support.
2. The gala’s honoree was a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
3. The hosts were Princess Eugenie of York (youngest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York, Andrew and Sarah), Kweku Mandela and Ndaba Mandela (grandsons of the late Nelson Mandela), and Caroline Rupert, the activist wife of Johan Rupert, owner of Cartier, the gala’s sponsor.
5. The entertainment was Duran Duran.
At first, I didn’t see many art people among the overflow of dignitaries and CEOs, until Pioneer Works founder, artist Dustin Yellin, arrived with his BFF, Kweku Mandela. “We met at a TED talk,” Yellin said. “And then we fell in love.”
Together they would present Annan with a special leadership award. They also introduced me to Annan, a magisterial and gracious person who was instrumental in persuading greedily intractable pharmaceutical companies—the most profitable business in Basel—to make AIDS medications affordable for millions of sick people in developing nations unable to pay for their care.
Thus began an evening that could make any bejeweled bigwig feel small. It had a thoughtful warmup speech by the engaging Princess Eugenie, dressed in scarlet Alexander McQueen, and a rousing address from UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé, who asked for a moment of silence for the dead in Orlando the instant he came to the podium. UNAIDS, he said, is about “restoring dignity and establishing social justice.” He was eloquent in the organization’s resolve to “break the bonds of prejudice and exclusion, and to stop the transmission of AIDS from mother to child. Ending AIDS is not just a dream,” he concluded. “It’s possible.”
I believed. “Whatever I’ve achieved I did not do alone,” Annan said in his speech, naming governments, NGOs, non-NGOs, and the drug companies as his partners in reducing the tremendous loss of life that “challenges you to do something.” I was not the only one in the room—an entire floor of the black-on-black Design Miami hall—angrily thinking of what a contrast these speakers made with Donald Trump.
“I feel so guilty here,” said collector Neda Young. “We’re not doing anything! We have to act. Trump has to go!” In fact, said her friend Glori Cohen, brandishing a photo on her phone, someone had put an approximation of Maurizio Cattelan’s kneeling Hitler doll, with Trump’s face and hair, in the lobby of the five-star Les Trois Rois.
That was funny, in a lame sort of way, but whoever thought that asking Keanu Reeves and Alexandra Grant to read a poem they wrote for the occasion should be spanked. After truly inspiring speeches, this was excruciating.
Left: Collector Shelley Fox Aarons and artist Sylvie Fleury. Right: Art book publisher Dorothee Perret and dealer Eva Presenhuber.
Thank God for Julie Lewis, an activist mother of two living in Seattle—and a person infected with HIV by a blood transfusion thirty-two years ago, before effective treatment was available. “The only thing worse than being diagnosed with AIDS is learning you’ve infected your own children,” she said. She was lucky, and didn’t. (One of her kids is the Grammy Award–winning Macklemore producer Ryan Lewis.) Her 30/30 Project is giving women and children with AIDS in remote African villages access to free healthcare she pegged as their right. Summing up, she said, “All HIV-positive women deserve to live this life.”
That put a lump in my throat that didn’t go away, even when the upbeat Simon de Pury banged the gavel to conduct a live auction that went on for an hour. “We’re going to be here till Thursday,” cracked a nearby guest. Still, the auction brought the gala’s take to over a million dollars, with winning bids from the likes of Mick Flick, Michael Chow, and Francesca Thyssen. De Pury kept addressing Thyssen as Her Highness Francesca von Hapsburg, but she didn’t seem to mind. By the time Simon Le Bon hit the stage with Duran Duran, I felt spent. And it was only Monday. Art Basel had yet to begin.
This is the fair where you can meet the wealthiest woman in Poland, the richest woman in Monaco, and the Swiss woman in possession of the biggest and most jaw-dropping art collection in Basel within just a few feet. (Interesting that in Europe so many important collectors are women.) I don’t think I have ever heard more people describe the private museums they’re building in so short a time.
To this observer, both art and conversation upstairs was more compelling than down, where the most safely bankable works resided. As collectors Frédéric de Goldschmidt and Will Kerr put it, “Down here we can relax. We don’t need to have anything explained. Upstairs, you do.”
Left: Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. Right: Artist Sarah Morris.
Give me dialogue! Give me complexity! Darren Bader’s rocks-and-mirrors installation at Franco Noero’s booth was ultracool, and Esther Schipper’s was the closest I have ever seen a gallery stand at an art fair stand come to a curated exhibition. With a black plush carpet on the floor, Gavin Brown turned it out for Kersten Brätsch, Alex Katz, and Brian Belott, and Neugerriemschneider’s plywood warren offered up some eye-catching mirrored cubes with paper bonsai plantings by Rirkrit Tiravanija. Madrid dealer Juana de Aizpuru, meanwhile, sported the best hairdo anywhere.
In the Statements section, artist Sol Calero created an authentic (and tropically themed) currency exchange, where she printed stacks of paper money (delicate drawings) and sold them at prices that fluctuated with actual daily rates. Mine cost five Swiss francs. A day later, it was worth more.
“I’m a happy, proud gallerist,” said Micky Schubert of her solo show of photos and sheer curtains by Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili. “Ketuta’s done so well!”
In the Features section, Mendes Wood Gallery sold out its entire stock of terra cotta sculptures by Solange Pessoa, and Dorsey Waxter was ecstatic at the response to her Richard Diebenkorn booth. “Europeans are waking up to Diebenkorn for the first time,” she said. “Which is the reason to be here. It’s very nice.”
Downstairs, I took an informal survey of booth furniture, which illuminated the business style of each gallery. Barbara Gladstone had a table and chairs by Rudolf Steiner. Elvira Gonzalez had Donald Judd. Salon 94 commissioned a table and stools from the team of Kueng Caputo. Taka Ishii installed a gorgeous Japanese library. And when I stopped into the Three Star Books stand, it had another kind of handsome furnishing, Oscar-winner Adrien Brody.
By general consensus, this was turning out to be the best Art Basel in years. Or, as MoCA LA director Philippe Vergne said, “Any day aboveground is a good one.”
Tuesday night, Kurimanzutto, Regen Projects, and Chantal Crousel combined forces for dinner at Restaurant Schützenhaus, a classy gathering where Nasher Sculpture Center director Jeremy Strick, collectors Anita and Pujo Zabludowicz, Zona Maco founder Zelika Garcia, Whitney Museum chief curator Scott Rothkopf, Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, and Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick were all at one table (Regen’s), while Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin, Hammer curator Anne Ellegood, LACMA curator Jarrett Gregory, Lebanese artist Rayanne Tabet, and collector Nayla Audi populated Kurimanzutto’s, and Crousel surrounded herself with such personages as Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Jay Smith, and Vergne.
Several guests piled into scarce Ubers and made off in the rain-swept streets for Dayana Tamendarova’s birthday party on the tempestuous Rhine in the Salon du Cigare of the Trois Rois. When I arrived, after the Whitney Museum’s Donna De Salvo ushered me past bouncers with collector Charles Asprey and dealer George Newall, the Zabludowiczes were cutting a rug with abandon and Jay Jopling was dancing with Per Skarstedt around an extravagant birthday cake that could have been decorated by Mike Kelley.
Somehow, this was a great, cross-generational, multinational party. Few wanted to leave. Even at 2 AM, it was hard to go.
Eight hours later, I was in Oscar Tuazon’s Zome Alloy, his utopian project for the Messeplatz—a cluster of connected, igloo-like, plywood buildings based on a solar energy house designed in the late ’60s by architect Steve Baer. Inside, Tuazon had fashioned a conference center with sandbag seats and cleverly placed both skylights and angles to provide in/out views in every direction. As Tuazon said, “No one owns the sun.”
That was still scarce by the evening’s benefit dinner for Kunsthalle Basel, which was also unexpectedly inventive.
Left: Dealer Massimo De Carlo. Right: Dealer Jocelyn Wolff with Swiss Institute director Simon Castets.
Perhaps to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Dada, Kunsthalle director Elena Filipovic designed a menu that would send a traditional chef in Basel running for the hills: octopus carpaccio followed by a baked potato topped with a generous helping of caviar contributed by collector Peter Handschin. Dessert was vanilla ice cream floating in olive oil and salt. “It’s delicious,” Filipovic assured her guests, a nice mix of collectors, dealers, and artists who have exhibited at the Kunsthalle either in the past, or in the case of Anne Imhof and Yngve Holen, the present. “You just need very good olive oil,” Filipovic said, “and very good salt.” She claimed to have snagged a romantic partner this way.
Certainly, no one was harmed by the feast and when it was over, most of the crowd piled into the general clusterfuck of the Kunsthalle bar for dancing, drinking, and (in my case) pocket-picking that I didn’t discover till the next day. Such late-night fun!
By Thursday, I was slowing down, but not so I couldn’t make it over to Liste to commune with young, independent dealers who all seemed to have found clients for a wide variety of artists. I got lost in there, and enjoyed it so much that I only just made it to the Hotel Kraft for Maureen Paley and Esther Schipper’s seventieth birthday dinner for the delightfully bearded Bronson, an artist adept at communicating with dead souls. “There are people here from different parts of my lives,” he said, after the birthday cake arrived. “I’ve had three or four, and I’m planning to have three or four more.”
Outside, the rains came once again, but that didn’t halt the progress of some to an after-party for Imhof hosted by dealers Daniel Buchholz and Isabella Bortolozzi at Kult Club. The honoree was hesitant. “Oh, come on,” said collector Shelley Fox Aarons. “We can sleep in our next lives.”
Left: Artist Lynn Hershman Leeson and dealer Jessica Silverman. Right: Collector Liz Swig and dealer Pilar Corrias.
THIS WEEK THE PROFESSIONAL ART WORLD is a house divided—again. The decision is entirely social: whether to leave Art Basel midweek and be among the first to see the new Switch House at Tate Modern, or come to Basel afterward. For collectors and dealers, each choice has consequences.
I stopped in London before Basel and got more than I bargained for, beginning with a June 8 benefit dinner celebrating the Institute of Contemporary Art’s seventy years on the Mall.
Talk about a house divided. Having adopted an “East/West” theme, dinner was in two rooms, upscale and down, separated by a salon where a baroque dance performance conceived by honoree Pablo Bronstein entertained throughout the evening, one table at a time. “I’m more of a punk than people think,” Bronstein told me. “Because I try to do weird things.”
But even he hadn’t anticipated the shouting match generated by the (always) awkward two-room arrangement for an auction that raised modest amounts of money from lots offering dinners with fashion designers and studio visits with artists. However, nothing could tarnish the five years of Gregor Muir’s directorship. He enlivened a sagging institution that has been, as he put it, “the home of radical art in London since 1946.”
As if to punctuate that thought, fireworks exploded outside, over Hyde Park—though, sadly, not for the ICA. Royal firemen were rehearsing for the Queen’s upcoming ninetieth birthday.
Emcee Louisa Buck, bedecked in buttons from past exhibitions, did her level best to keep up the party mood. “You whipped the ICA into a state of gorgeousness,” the Art Newspaper critic told Muir, unaware that the next morning would bring news of his appointment to the position that Frances Morris vacated at Tate Modern earlier this year, when she took over as director.
Optimism was in the air. The following day, Wolfgang Tillmans continued his campaign against Brexit in his eighth solo outing at Maureen Paley, where he gave a haunting, tabletop display of blank paper from British and American workplaces the pointed, and poignant, title, “I refuse to be your enemy.” In Soho, Nairy Baghramian literally lifted up both spirit and body, tooth and neck, in her debut with Marian Goodman, while Whitechapel Gallery curator Lydia Yee did Mary Heilmann proud with a retrospective guaranteed to acquaint the British public with her work in the best, most enveloping way possible. “It’s pretty good, yeah!” the modest Heilmann agreed, as viewers relaxed in the chairs she always adds to her exhibitions.
Weirdly, a show of signal, neon works by Keith Sonnier—Heilmann’s neighbor in Bridgehampton—was opening in an adjacent gallery, and when the two got together it felt as if we’d never left home.
Rarely does a gallery dinner anywhere gather together the concentration of curatorial firepower invigorating Goodman’s dinner for Baghramian on the Boundary rooftop in Shoreditch. It was almost a referendum on the artist—totally sans collectors.
Here was S.M.A.K. senior curator Martin Germann and Walker Art Center senior curator Fionn Meade, who are collaborating on a traveling show of Baghramian’s work with Salzburg Modern Museum director Sabine Breitwieser. Pinault Foundation curator Caroline Bourgeois was also present, as was Art Institute of Chicago curator Suzanne Ghez (a longtime Baghramian supporter), Guggenheim Museum director Richard Armstrong, Chisenhale Gallery director Polly Staple, and Nicola Lees (the recently named director of 80 WSE Gallery at NYU).
Friday was a day of revelations. The first came with a hard-hat visit to the new Cabinet Gallery in the company of the building’s developer, collector Charles Asprey. Sited in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, it will be the first gallery in London to open in a public park. Though located within view of M16 headquarters, its closest neighbors are the rescued pigs, horses, ducks, and sheep living at the Vauxhall City Farm. Most unusual. But so is the building, a five-story Brutalist decahedron with exhibition space on three floors, two apartments, and a top floor salon for talks, screenings, performances, and conversation over dinner.
“The artists are thrilled not to have to work in a white cube,” Asprey said of the gallery’s ten-sided rooms. Artists have also provided architectural details. Marc Camille Chaimowicz, for example, has designed the window treatments. Lucy McKenzie contributed painted ceramic murals for the terraces. Asprey has reserved the fourth floor for himself, as “a place to show beautiful things,” he said. It’s all very personal and exciting—and when Cabinet moves there in September from Old Street, it will open with a show of new work by Jim Nutt—his first in the UK in decades.
As if that weren’t invigorating enough, my next stop was Tate Modern, where performance curator Catherine Wood let me into the new, Herzog and de Meuron–designed Switch House for a preview.
The opening night party this Thursday, which could attract nearly a quarter million people, may rival the Queen’s birthday for both numbers and glamour. But those who shrink from big events and just want to see art are in luck. The new depth provided by this museum’s recent acquisitions—they comprise 75 percent of the opening exhibition—and their astute display raises the bar for collecting institutions everywhere.
Two fourth-floor bridges connect the Switch House with the older building, now the Boiler House. Seen from one bridge, a giant Ai Weiwei tree installed on the Turbine Hall mezzanine looked puny. Also large is the resplendent orange, Rudolf Stingel carpet that will greet visitors on the wall of one bridge to the Switch House. The new addition has a sweeping staircase from the ground floor, a tenth-floor viewing platform where spectators can absorb all of the high-rise construction cranes in central London, a restaurant, a members’ room, and several social spaces.
The column-free galleries reminded me of the new Whitney. This is becoming standard. What was way above standard was the international scope and high level of the collection that Morris has fostered. She’s achieved a near perfect balance of object and artist. Half of the works on view are by men, half by women. “That shouldn’t be remarkable,” Wood commented. “But it is.”
Left: Dealers Nicky Verber and Ash L’ange. Right: Dealer Maureen Paley and collector Charles Asprey.
Most phenomenal, however, is the program of performances scheduled for the Tanks and Turbine Hall during opening weekend. I felt extremely lucky to be present while Tarek Atoui installed the ten invented instruments—sculptures, really—for which he’s created a new composition.
As I quickly discovered, Atoui is not just a compelling performer but an ethnomusicologist of the first order. Artisans in different parts of the world made each instrument using local materials—ceramic, wood, stone, glass, and metal—based only on sounds that Atoui recorded. “No visuals,” he said. Small flat stones from Mexico played with a cow-bone mallet produce the sounds of a xylophone, each stone a different key. “Try it,” he said, handing me the mallet.
It was so much fun, I could have stayed there all day, and nearly did, once rehearsals began for Public Collection, the work that Romanian artists Alexandra Pirici and Manuel Pelmus are presenting over opening weekend. Six dancers acted out a hundred works residing in museum collections around the world, mostly from Tate. I loved their interpretation of a Félix González-Torres candy piece. “Take one,” said a dancer – the instruction that accompanies the artwork. Flummoxed, I grabbed her by the ponytail and up she rose. Also effective was the artists’ version of Tania Bruguera’s Tatlin’s Whisper #6, even without the mounted police.
By the time I got to the group exhibition opening that night at Kate McGarry, I felt spent—and happy for a fish-pie dinner on a canal in East London. That was my last stop before arriving in Zurich on Saturday for the public opening of Manifesta 11, “What People Do for Money: Some Joint Ventures.”
Left: Dealer David Kordansky and artist Torbjørn Rødland. Right: Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff.
The idea conceived by artist Christian Janowski, the exhibition’s curator, was to pair thirty artists with people working in professions or trades ranging from dentistry, psychiatry, ophthalmology, construction, printing, kickboxing, and sanitation and see what happened.
Zurich Load, carried out by Mike Bouchet in collaboration with a sewage plant, smelled to high heaven but looked like a roomful of dense bricks laid out by Carl Andre. It’s just that these bricks are condensed sewage generated by the people of Zurich in a single day. For all that, it didn’t seem so much. “It’s eighty tons of shit,” Jankowski said. (Take that, Manzoni!) “What does it say about Zurich?” wondered dealer Nicholas Logsdail. Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff had the answer. “That it’s very constipated?” he said.
Jankowski’s show includes loans of historical works, among the best of which is a sculpture of a construction crew on a lunch break by Duane Hanson that faced photographs of the same piece (including art installers) by Sharon Lockhart. But for the most part, the show, centered in the Löwenbräukunst complex and two satellite spaces, was something of a misfire—often a problem with theme shows—despite its conceptual brilliance.
It also had to compete with other shows in the building. Galerie Bob van Orsouw let out the stops by combining Old Masters with contemporary paintings, photographs, and sculpture. Eva Presenhuber hit home runs with shows by Walead Beshty and Torbjørn Rødland. And the LUMA foundation sponsored a night café/bar/cabaret designed by Heimo Zobernig, with a performance program organized by Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen that opened with a crowd-pleaser of a concert by Emily Sundblad and Matt Sweeney.
This was also Zurich’s annual contemporary art day—and its Gay Pride Day, which helped to stop traffic all around. It was hours ahead of the deadly attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, so the multi-gallery dinner proceeded as usual with five hundred, industrial-strength artsters filling the Restaurant La Salle, a former factory, for chow and chatter.
Orlando still seemed very far away on Sunday morning, especially when you have no wifi and are with collectors on a bus to St. Gallen, and a visit to Ursula Hauser’s collection. It had top-line examples of staples in the Hauser & Wirth empire—like Paul McCarthy, Pipilotti Rist, Jakub Julian Ziolkowski, Ida Applebroog, and Bharti Kher. whose bowl of seventy thousand grains of rice, each bearing a tiny inscription, caused comment, but not as much as the cool Pop work of Nicola L, a badly neglected artist who has lived in the Chelsea Hotel for all of her ninety-three years. That was a big surprise, and a welcome one.
Next stop was the Sitterwerk Foundation, the foundry that produces work by such artists as Urs Fischer, Isa Genzken, and Ugo Rondinone. It’s also a museum of sculpture by the late Hans Josephson—founder Felix Lehner represents the estate—a substantial art library with a unique cross-referencing system, and the home of the Josephson archive. The Hauser & Wirth-sponsored lunch there served the best grilled sausage anywhere, yet I taxied away with collectors Alain Servais and Eva Ruiz, Art 21 director Tina Kukielski, and curatorial advisor Molly Epstein to the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen and “The Proposal,” a thunderclap of an exhibition by Jill Magid.
It’s complicated. Basically, the show revolves around the intricacies of conflicting copyright laws in different countries, in this case Switzerland and Mexico. Magid is determined to repatriate the professional archive of Pritzker Prize–winning architect Luis Barragán, whose current owner is Federica Zanco, wife of Vitra chairman Rolf Fehlbaum. (Barragán’s personal archives are in Mexico City.)
Left: Artist Mark Handforth with curator Abaseh Mirvali and artist Dara Friedman. Right: Kunsthalle Zurich director Daniel Baumann.
So far, Zanco, an architectural historian, has permitted very few people to see the archive and no one to reproduce any images related to it. (The irony is that Vitra became rich by reproducing furniture designed by the Eameses and the like.) After listening to Magid describe the stonewalling that met her two-year effort to research the professional archive, I understood why Barragán isn’t as well known to the world as Le Corbusier. He should be.
Meanwhile, Magid persuaded the Barragán family to dig up the architect’s ashes and let her have five hundred grams of it. That was enough to produce a diamond for a ring that is the exhibition’s pièce de résistance. If Zanco opens the archives, Magid will give her the ring. That’s her proposal.
It left us thinking about legacies and how to protect them while keeping them vital—and braced us for the social, commercial, and intellectual rigors of Art Basel, if not for the full force of the news from Orlando. Could the fair raise questions as knotty as Magid’s? Offer any frame for the unreason of mass murder? Heading for the train, I grabbed an umbrella—my only protection against the elements—just in case.
STEPPING OFF MY FLIGHT from Los Angeles and into Tegel airport, my eyes serendipitously met the Aviator shades of artist-comedienne and fellow Angeleno Casey Jane Ellison. She was delighted to light a cigarette only feet from the arrivals hall. Extinguished, we got a taxi to Mitte while she explained the “Google Roast” she was in town to do, which was Not in the Berlin Biennale. That’s a proper designation for a series of acutely tangential performances and activities planned throughout Berlin this summer, which in fact are organized under the auspices of the DIS-curated ninth edition, #BB9, “The Present in Drag.”
But that evening, all eyes were on Düsseldorf video art collector extraordinaire (and KW board member) Julia Stoschek, whose Leipziger Straße popup space was inaugurated with the assistance of countless models and BMWs starkly branded JSC. Only the latter, sadly, whisked us down the street to a dinner for the artists, who included Josh Kline, Rachel Rose, Ed Atkins, and Neïl Beloufa. The show is called “Welt am Draht” (World on a Wire), after Fassbinder’s cult 1970s sci-fi TV movie, in which the protagonists discover they the technology they are perfecting—a total simulation of the world indistinguishable to its participants from actual reality—is only a new version of a similar computer program they are already living inside.
Left: Artist Marie Karlberg. Right: Artist Telfar Clemens and GCC's Khalid al Gharaballi.
As parallels go, the aggregation of the very good, very popular media artists in this show also seems microcosmic, in that they are so frequently grouped as delegates of the zeitgeist in exhibitions anywhere else in the world, not to mention the biennial, set to preview in the morning. The site of dinner also presented an ironic simulacrum of iconic Berlin: Crackers, a legendary technoclub that has been converted into a palatial farm-to-table restaurant. Stoschek ascended a decommissioned DJ platform to deliver an address in German, followed by remarks by new Berliner Chris Dercon of the Volksbühne, who eloquently cautioned how cities have destroyed themselves—Barcelona with tourism, Paris with luxury, and London with finance. He praised Berlin as a “city of transformation,” and Stoschek as a collector who is “preparing us for different futures… not an Einzelganger, thank god”—which, meaning “lone wolf,” was translated for me as something that could imply “gentrifier.”
The Berlin Biennale press conference the following day was held somewhere immune to gentrification: the Allianz Forum at the Brandenburg Gate, the very nucleus of Berlin tourist activity. Across the platz was the Akademie der Künste, which with KW is one of the two largest venues of the exhibition. On site, ploughing through the racks of actual/conceptual Telfar merchandise to the cafe serving artist-curated green juices I spotted Pin-Up editor Felix Burrichter, another native Düsseldorfer, who was giving and receiving air kisses from all angles—“This is like a destination wedding!” On the roof, a stable of Jon Rafman sculptures depicting animals gulping one another were the analog counterparts to a VR demonstration that had Biennale founder Klaus Biesenbach and a phalanx of MoMA trustees ambling toward the edge with arms outstretched. Stuart Comer echoed the earlier sentiment—“This is a glossary of post-internet”—not just the works on view, but the throngs of artists who were making their way up and down the skywalks connecting the uncannily corporate-looking art school, the most apt setting imaginable for DIS.
Some took the near tropical weather as an excuse to lunch outside the Adlon (from which Michael Jackson once dangled his baby son Blanket) next door, before moving on to other venues. Telfar sat with the quasi-anonymous designer of the label 69 and creative director Babak Radboy, also the brains behind the Not in the Biennial sidebar. Radboy insinuated that he was contractually prevented from explicating the meaning of his program to the table belonging to New Museum trustee Laura Skoler, Defne Ayas, and a number of other Dutch curators.
There was a bustle across Mitte at KW, the ancestral home of the biennial. Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, Sarah Arison, and several other members of the MoMA squad were arriving at Cafe Bravo as a constant stream drifted past Colombian artist Juan Sebastián Peláez’s towering cutout of a headless Rihanna and through the front doors of the museum. It was reported that more than one person slipped and fell into the pools of water flanking the path to Cecile B. Evan’s otherworldly installation. The kitty litter lining the floor around Josh Kline’s video in the basement sopped up any residual wetness: Weeping avatars of villains like Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice were digitally grafted onto anonymous actors’ faces using facial-replacement technology.
Whiplashing back to Brandenburger Tor in what seemed like the city’s only Uber with the Museum of Art and Design’s Katerina Llanes, we came across a high-security afternoon toast at the American Embassy. (In general, Berlin seems to have beefed up its doors in anticipation of an unprecedented crush of pushy American hipsters.) USA-Germany art-world diplomats Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff were joined by all the other Americans in the show, along with the curators, who as individual citizens are known as Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, Marco Roso, and David Toro. Klinking gave way to remarks by the ambassador, John B. Emerson. “The ambass-adorable” referring to his wife, Kimberly Marteau Emerson, “and I wish you a fabulous, paradessential Berlin Bienniale!” The second neologism, combining paradox and essence, is a vocab word central to DIS’s framing of the exhibition, a certain quality they hunted for in their curation of venues, which, in addition to KW and AdK, included the European School of Management and Technology (with an airtight trio of works by Simon Denny, Katja Novitskova, and the collective GCC), a former bunker which now hosts the Feuerle Collection (where a fashion show by local designer Nhu Duong and Karl Holmqvist took place), and a tourist riverboat tricked out by Korakrit Arunanondchai and Alex Gvojic into a floating club (smoke, lasers, strobes) and belowdeck cinema for a new work made with Boychild.
Left: Artist Hito Steyerl with Juan Sebastián Peláez's Ewaipanoma (Rihanna), 2016. (Photo: Jason Farago) Right: Texte zur Kunst editor Caroline Busta with MoMA PS1 curator Jenny Schlenzka.
The artist dinner that night at the kitschy grown-up dancing establishment Clärchens Ballhaus, across Auguststrasse from KW, was heavier on the wine with ice cubes than food. Biennale director Gabriele Horn presided over a room of sweaty, merry people who danced their way away from the art-world jet-set small talk of the morning and into a state of after-darking more appropriate to Berlin.
For most, Friday, whenever it began, was for galleries. A spate were opening shows that evening, and coupled with those that had already done so with Berlin Gallery Weekend, a laundry list—Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Galerie Buchholz, Buchmann Galerie, Carlier | Gebauer, Mehdi Chouakri, Delmes & Zander, Galerie Eigen + Art, Konrad Fischer Galerie, Michael Fuchs Galerie, Kewenig, Kicken Berlin, Klemm’s, König Galerie, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Meyer Riegger, Galerie Neu, neugerriemschneider, Galerija Gregor Podnar, Esther Schipper / Johnen Galerie, Supportico Lopez, Galerie Barbara Thumm, and Wentrup—hosted a banquet at the Spree-adjacent Grill Royal, famous for its opulent meats. Lacking the bloodthirst of more vertical market cities, everyone just got along splendidly. Curiously, a tapestry hung over the tufted banqueters that read BERGHAIN, and, more to the point, a neon sign over the riverside terrace, replete with smokers, flickered CAPITALISM KILLS LOVE. Between this and the official Berlin Biennale album release party–cum–shopping event at the ground-floor boutique at Soho House the following night, it was evident even to the only occasional visitors that Berlin, too, struggles with the cushy plagues that Dercon had named at the Stoschek event.
After dinner, Flash Art hosted a Berlin edition of Venus X’s Ghe20 G0th1k party at another ballhaus on Chausseestrasse, this one with limited capacity. So in the courtyard, roughly a thousand folks unable to impress the severe bouncers (or to penetrate the layers of bodies cocooning them) drank beers and did other things in the perfect summer air. Around maybe 3 AM I bumped into artist Britta Thie, whose work at the Stoschek Collection deals explicitly with the colonization of her city by English-speaking arts professionals. “This is like the season finale!” she said, surveying the hof. “The last episode of the eight years I’ve lived here.”
Wherever you lived, as long as you had a pied-à-terre online, there were enough familiar faces to imagine all kinds of montages and credit sequences. The exhibition, too, felt like a culmination to something that would probably resist calling itself a movement. With artworks, performances, talks, writing, an album, comedy, marketing, the works, “The Present in Drag,” as flamboyantly immoderate as it purports, is an exhibitionistic Gesamtkunstwerk, produced in a total way that most shows today are still too self-conscious to be.
Left: Curators and artists of the ninth Berlin Biennale with John B. Emerson, US Ambassador to Germany. Right: A lightbox for LIT in the Akademie der Künste.
I MET BRITISH ARTIST ANDREW LOGAN at the VIP preview of ART16. “Everyone deserves a sunny smile,” beamed the founder of Britain’s Alternative Miss World, a dazzling sun-shaped broach pinned to his crimson kurta. I wondered if Logan was a harbinger of an Indian summer. He was. Or, as Sotheby’s Yamini Mehta put it, more inclusively, “Bombay, Delhi, Lahore, and a little bit of Dhaka were out to celebrate.”
What were we toasting? In deference to the late Bhupen Khakhar—aka the “Father of Indian Pop”—Tate Modern is hosting a five-month exhibition. “A Bhupen retrospective gives credit to one of India’s most influential artists,” enthused Shireen Gandhy of Chemould Prescott Road, one of Bombay’s oldest galleries. Cheekily dubbed “You Can’t Please All,” the Tate show traces Khakhar’s career from the 1960s till his death in 2003. Starting with early collages, lingering over gay displays of affection (think Yayati, 1987, where a winged Khakhar embraces another man immersed in a sea of bright pink bliss), it ends on a dark note: In his final scatological self-portraits, Khakhar documented his battle with cancer. Among other things, Khakhar is commemorated as India’s first openly gay artist. In the titular 1981 nude self-portrait You Can’t Please All, Khakhar leans over a balcony, exposing his bare butt to passing strangers—and, on Opening Night, to some old friends.
Sir Salman Rushdie was among the latter. He prowled around, examining a book encased in a glass vitrine that had been illustrated by Khakhar and written by Rushdie himself. Khakhar’s artistic mentor Gulammohammed Sheikh was also in attendance. Meanwhile, prominent British Bhupen-lovers—Timothy Hyman and Howard Hodgkin—mingled with a new generation of globe-trotting talent, like Zarina Bhimji, Nikhil Chopra, and Sonia Khurana. Collectors Czaee Shah, Karan Grover, and Kiran Nadar (rumor has it she bankrolled the display) could be spotted. Who says Indian art has no institutional support? Debby Swallow, director of the Courtauld, Divia Patel from the Victoria & Albert, and the British Museum’s Richard Blurton wove in and out of the crowd. The leading lights of the Tate’s South Asia Acquisitions Committee—Lekha Poddar, Rajeeb and Nadia Samdani—were harder to glimpse. But new Tate Modern director Frances Morris, former director Chris Dercon, and the show’s co-curator Nada Raza composed a triumphant trio as they surveyed the scene. “I hear Bhupen loved a good party and I hope he is with us in spirit!” laughed Raza. Speaking of the supernatural, was that a goddess descending? It was a saree-clad Rashmi Poddar on the escalator, radiant as Mother India herself. “Victory!” she yelled. Was she rejoicing in the delivery of Indian art to phoren audiences?
For those mere mortals not invited to the Very Exclusive Dinner that followed, there was a We Are Not Invited bash. Wine flowed freely. Canapés were passed. Gossip made its international journey with even greater haste: “Did you know that Sudarshan Shetty has won the Rolls-Royce Art Prize?” “Did anyone see collector Poonam Bhagat?” “Er, may I have another hot potato?” I asked. Further revelry followed on the morrow, when dealers Francesca Galloway and Amrita Jhaveri benevolently hosted a Summer Party. There was Jhaveri herself, shimmering in blue, nearly matching the shades of Khakhar’s paintings. The nearby Grosvenor Gallery paid another compliment: their group show “Bhupen Khakhar’s Contemporaries: India 1960–2016” showcases Indian artists who knew, mentored, or were inspired by him. Vivan Sundaram’s sculptures of internal organs and Nalini Malani’s translucent pictures of floating intestines serve as counterpoints to Anju Dodiya’s tongue-and-cheek gouache Forgetting, 2016.
Left: Artist Francesca Souza. Right: Amrita Jhaveri of Jhaveri Contemporary. (Photos: Wenny Teo)
During “Bhupen Week” parties occurred with such frequency that it was easy to forget their order: At Christie’s South Asian Sale Preview bankers rubbed shoulders with socialites and bumped into Christie’s elegant Amin Jaffer. Champagne was guzzled as everyone crowded around the “prawn fountain” (almost as deliciously phallic as Khakhar’s kitschy creations). A few days later, collectors Kito and Jane de Boer also served up refined helpings of Indian and Pakistani art: an early painting by F.N. Souza of a burning red sun in a menacing landscape battled for attention with one of S.H. Raza’s early orange-and-vermillion abstracts, in which the outline of a black Bindu stealthily emerged. Next, Saffronart’s auction preview offered more Modern delights—an impressively charred-looking painted Head by M.F. Husain, Akbar Padamsee’s unusually shadowy abstract, and some mysteriously cloudy cocktails. Subodh Gupta’s obligatory shiny bartans constructed a triumphant silver arc at the gallery’s entrance. (The Untitled sculpture sold for $168,000.) Toasting British artist Rasheed Araeen’s retrospective at Eindhoven’s Van Abbemuseum—slated for 2017—was an excuse for yet another shindig. Held at collector Taimur Hassan’s lovely house, a lecture by curator Nick Aitkins was accompanied by champagne, masala peanuts, and lashings of South Asian art.
Unfortunately, desi flavors are not to everyone’s taste. Writer Jonathan Jones couldn’t be pleased. Khakhar was “a second-rate artist,” who should never have been “let through” Tate Modern’s doors, he grumbled in The Guardian. The reaction was immediate. “The critic’s eyes are dull, his judgment embarrassing, and his language vulgar,” art historian Geeta Kapur raged in an Open Letter that raced through the Indian art world’s inboxes. Bombay dealer Ranjana Steinruecke challenged the premise of Jones’s attack: The Tate show was not Khakhar’s first retrospective; other institutions have paid homage too. “Where is J.J. coming from? Where has he been these many years?” echoed Helen Barbier, who lent a painting to the Tate extravaganza. Conor Macklin of Grosvenor was covertly enjoying the commotion. “I loved reading the comments!” he admitted.
However, a presentation by Jesse Darling and Raju Rage—part of the Block Universe Performance Festival 2016 (which happened to be running simultaneously)—provided food for thought. With Let Them Eat Cake! pastry-chef Darling and caterer Rage sought to polish off the legacy of colonialism. To make up for the sugar trade’s erstwhile dependence on slavery, guests were invited to decimate ornate cakes, laden with white icing and titled such things as “Colonial Sandwich,” “Qu'ils Mangent de la Brioche,” and “Calvary”. As I watched the confectionary carnage, I recalled that the Tate was founded by a “philanthropic” sugar merchant: Henry Tate. Is the British establishment still having their cake and eating it too? I wondered. Did our reactions to Jones’s review demonstrate that it actually matters what our erstwhile colonizers think? Contrariwise, was Jones’s diatribe the last stand of the Old Guard on its way out? At the end of “Bhupen Week,” the question remains: Who is making chutney out of who?
Left: Artist Paresh Maity. Right: Artist Andrew Logan.
“LAST NIGHT I DREAMED OF NOTHING: Pure black. And a voiceover: the voice of Marilyn Monroe.” So begins a letter written by the Cyprus-born artist Christodoulos Panayiotou to the Italian curator Milovan Farronato, director and curator of the Fiorucci Art Trust in London. The missive—a winding consideration of that many-faced god Marilyn—serves as the press release for “Prediction,” a full-throated exhibition curated by Farronato at Mendes Wood DM in São Paulo. Heady but sexy, “Prediction” considers queer legacies, the melancholy of the afterhours, and the specter of Marilyn in the work of twenty-six international artists (many from London, many recognizable citizens of le monde de Milovan). Opening in tropical winter during the holiday weekend of Corpus Christi, “Prediction” preempted the twentieth São Paulo LGBTQ parade—the largest in the world—and began a rollicking twenty-four hours of boozy delirium in Brazil’s largest city
“We made our own parade,” Farronato told peripatetic dealer and Milovanista Felipe Dmab, who bounced around the opening arranging and rearranging the bevy of international and Brazilian artists, writers, and curators into as many configurations as he could imagine. “We need these worlds—New York, London, and São Paulo—to overlap,” he said. Or to flood one another, as they did in the gallery’s several rooms, three of which were devoted to “Prediction,” while Brazilian-born, London-based artist and musician Cibelle Cavalli Bastos opened a solo show in the fourth. Dmab and dealers Pedro Mendes and Matthew Wood toured both shows with many friends of the gallery, including PIVÔ’s artistic director Fernanda Brenner and her partner, the artist Paloma Bosquê, whose exhibition opens here in August; Anna Bergamasco, cofounder of Boates Fine Arts; and artist Daniel Steegman Mangrané, who was about to head to Berlin for its ninth Biennale.
By early evening, a critical mass gathered in Wood’s tropical garden to observe a sealed-off, triangular room—visually the busiest—where Farronato brought together a queer aquarium of thirty six individual works, including three live cobras (George Henry Longly), paintings of the dealers’ genitals (Celia Hempton), an ornate chandelier of beads (Raúl de Nieves), and a body cast of Roge Ferro, Brazil’s most famous (straight) porn star. It was a parade or a mini-biennial in the drag of a parade or something, no one could quite put their finger on what. Perhaps it was simply a party, a very big and colorful one punctuated by performances throughout the afternoon and night.
Continuing his Marilyn theme, Panayiotou locked the gallery adjacent to the garden around 6 PM and only allowed one person to enter at time, and only if they were invited by one of São Paulo’s persons of interest, Luiza Bernades, dressed as a black-haired Monroe (“blonde would just be too fake,” she told me) and so a kind of ghost made flesh behind glass. Eventually, Roge Ferro himself arrived by bus from Rio de Janeiro, a large camera crew in tow (he is currently the subject of a documentary), stripped in the front of the gallery between a Panayiotou photograph of a bust of Marilyn and a platform sculpture by Prim Sahib. A handsome, imposing figure, Ferro sidled into the crowd, which parted to allow Norma Jean to open the closed room for him. Inside, he promptly lay down on a bench and donned his body cast. The Instagram-ready crowd pushed up against the glass to film and photograph him doing nothing for thirty minutes before he got up, dressed, and joined the rest of us for Stella Artois in the garden. (Instagram’s industrious censors promptly removed my own video.)
“Prediction’s” inquiry into nightlife’s social pleasures was tested at the exhibition’s afterparty at Executivo Club. Farronato, who had slipped out of the opening for a quick wardrobe change, arrived in a white, lacey dress—a nuptial offering for his marriage to the city of São Paulo, which happily, greedily received him. Dealer Rodrigo Editore played his dutiful escort as they descended the stairs to the dance floor, where Sahib and Henry Longly—members of the London-based Anal House Meltdown—DJ’d for several hundred revelers. Curators, artists, advisors, collectors converged to their driving pop and house mixes, which occasionally shuddered with requisite bursts of Rihanna, maybe a thread of Beyoncé’s “Formation.” The party went on, as things at night in Brazil tend to do. At an obscene hour in the morning before the start of the parade proper, those-who-must-never-be-named decamped to Chili Peppers, the city’s high-octane, highly hygienic gay sauna, where many have gone and not returned before a vamped twenty-four hour cycle through its three-level, three hundred-or-so room complex of pools, a movie theater, and various “executive” suites of unintelligible shape and size. It’s less a sauna than a syndrome. (I heard several say they’d gone many times in the week, permanently hooked.) It is also where many of us, artist or otherwise, received our own Marilyn epiphany, somewhere in the labyrinthine pit of its pleasure dome, and left Norma Jean back home.
And then came the parade. Beginning at 10 AM at the levitating Museu de Arte de São Paulo on the city’s Avenida Paulista, the gay parade began with floats and phalanxes of dancing lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered men and women, people who identified with none of those things, straight fans, every imaginable type of person in every imaginable outfit or lack thereof. Teenagers painted in white-and-green with the rainbow flag wrapped around them. One trans woman in leopard print led a large bus of celebrants while thousands cheered. In no way resembling the corporate-sponsored, mostly white-gay-male-celebrating editions in the United States, São Paulo’s parade is the best possible argument for the complexity of human sexuality and identity—and for Brazil’s own diversity, a frequent point of local pride. I know, I know. I also don’t usually experience transcendence via the public spectacle of a parade, let alone a pride parade, but go, child, and see.
“I cried,” de Nieves later told me. So did Sahib and Henry Longly, who accompanied him. People from all over the country, from all five time zones stretched across the quadrangle face of Brazil, came and danced—Brahmas, a gnarly but popular corn-based beer, or shots of Cachaça in hand—in a collective revision of the city into a free space of sexual and political expression. Christians offered hugs. Drag queens were treated like celebrities. Much of the parade protested the right-wing government and the coup that had impeached the leftist president, Dilma Rousseff, on sketchy terms and replaced her with Michel Temer, an obvious lunatic who is sympatico with the dictatorship. AMAR SEM TEMER! read the signs—a pun on Temer’s surname—that means “loving without fear,” somewhat analogous to the less catchy “Love Trumps Hate” circulating in the US amid our own crisis of democracy. The crisis continues. We marched on.