FORGET RADICAL THINKING. To be avant-garde today means being first out of the gate. Last Friday in London, for example, the Sadie Coles, David Zwirner, and Herald Street galleries threw the switch on Frieze Week three days early. Absent the nattering crowds and competitive pressures of the art fair, all three openings—for shows by Matthew Barney, Kerry James Marshall, and Ida Ekblad, respectively—were actually fun, and definitely put best feet forward.
Marshall’s emblematic debut with Zwirner at the dealer’s Grafton Street townhouse made the art of figurative painting seem vital again, even stylish. Ekblad is personally very stylish. “I love the shoes,” collector Paul Ettlinger enthused when he saw her at Herald St’s new satellite space in Soho. “Especially with the brocade mini!” Hanging out in the basement office, the artist was surrounded by male admirers of her epigraphic paintings and drawings as well, while the small storefront on the ground floor filled with young people on hand for a live set by the Norwegian singer Nils Bech.
Around the corner on Kingly Street, Barney had painted the walls of Coles’s floor-through gallery a tasteful gray, all the better to frame the exhibition’s forensic centerpiece, Crown Victoria, the exposed underbelly of a Crown Victoria chassis cast in zinc, entrails and all. Barney has an uncanny ability to eroticize both death and machinery, and this was a case in point. Think Alien monster in postcoital exhaustion, or rather postmortem mummification, vulnerable, regal, and terrifying all at once.
Barney held court in Coles’s VIP room, er, office, where dealers Barbara Gladstone and Shaun Caley Regen hobnobbed with artists Sarah Lucas, Andro Wekua, Anish Kapoor, Jürgen Teller, and Angela Bulloch, and the married chefs Fergus and Margot Henderson, off-duty for a change—the only night they would be in the foreseeable future.
The dealers were also en pointe. “Five of my artists have shows in London right now,” said Gladstone, a Frieze holdout. The one (besides Barney) stirring up the most buzz was Kai Althoff and his show at Michael Werner, while Regen could boast of Walead Beshty’s over-the-top solo turn at the Barbican’s Curve Gallery.
But this night belonged to Barney, whom Coles feted with a pass-around dinner in the gilded-and-mirrored Louis XVI environs of the Pompadour Ballroom in the Hotel Café Royal on Regent Street. The hotel, recently restored and updated by architect David Chipperfield, who was present, was once the epicenter of the London social scene and the stomping ground of Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, and Arthur Conan Doyle, Coles said.
It wasn’t the same, of course—what is?—but the dinner provided something of a contemporary-art-world version. The nonprofits were well represented, by Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick, Chisenhale Gallery director Polly Staple, and Serpentine Gallery codirector Julia Peyton-Jones, who worked the room from one end to the other like an unusually charming politician. Frieze cofounder Matthew Slotover, having handed the reigns of the fair to Victoria Siddall, seemed quite relaxed in this company, while Siddall promoted the business by promising a new tent with carpeting and low lighting to replace the shabby, noisy, and teeth-gnashing old one. (“We’ll see,” was the general response.)
With sun in the sky and the air warmish, Saturday proved a lovely day to tour the galleries. And early arrivals for Frieze were out in force. Fresh off the plane from New York, New Museum artistic director Massimiliano Gioni and High Line Art director Cecilia Alemani went straight to the Serpentine to see a blissful Cerith Wyn Evans show and another even sparer one by Trisha Donnelly. Christian Marclay and Barbican curator Lydia Yee were checking out the David Hammons show at White Cube in Mason’s Yard. In the back, hanging out in designer Duro Olowu’s salon-like boutique, was an ebullient Kerry James Marshall, while New York dealer Casey Kaplan and soon-to-be London dealer Dominique Lévy took considerable pleasure in Marshall’s show at Zwirner. At Hauser & Wirth, I spotted Magasin 3 director David Neuman at Pierre Huyghe’s show and SF MoMA curator Gary Garrels at Paul McCarthy’s almost literally shit-faced show of paintings.
The evening brought the opening of an inspired new slide show by Anne Collier and a loopy, crime-drama video installation by Marvin Gaye (formerly Spartacus) Chetwynd at Studio Voltaire in far-off Clapham, and the opening of former Istanbul dealer Sylvia Kouvali’s new Rodeo gallery above a sex bookshop on Charing Cross Road. “It’s great to see galleries return to Soho,” said Frieze coeditor Jennifer Higgie, citing Herald St, Coles, and Marian Goodman, who is opening her new London gallery on Tuesday. “And it’s wonderful to see such a cross-section of people here,” Higgie added, gazing upon a crowd of the young and the grizzled chowing down on pizza between works by Tamara Henderson or climbing the stairs to Banu Cennetoğlu’s archive of bound newspapers published all over the UK on September 4, 2014. The capsule view it gives of Great Britain is surprisingly expansive. (Weirdly, front-page headlines on The Times of London, The Guardian, and The Independent the day before each called out a different disease, not just Ebola but also HIV and diabetes.)
Sunday brought a nasty, all-day rain and exclusive, very VIP previews of Richard Tuttle’s Turbine Hall commission at Tate Modern and his five-decade retrospective at Whitechapel. “It was wonderful to see the disbelief on people’s faces when we announced that Richard had accepted this commission,” Tate director Nicholas Serota told a crowd that included former Tate curator Sheena Wagstaff and her current Metropolitan Museum colleague Ian Alteveer, Pace Gallery founder Arne Glimcher, Miami collector Craig Robins, and the elegant Praful Amichand Shah, the Indian textile manufacturer who produced the fabrics for “I Don’t Know . The Weave of Textile Language,” Tuttle’s buoyant installation in the vast Turbine Hall.
It was indeed curious to see an artist better known for the eccentric shape and the delicate object take on the colossal scale of this commission, paid for by privately donated funds. (Hyundai’s on tap to sponsor next year.) Suspended from the ceiling, the work consists of large, cylindrical and otherwise vaguely four-rigger-like pieces of shaped wood either wrapped in crimson or pinned with saffron cloth by the artist over six weeks spent on site. “My first dealer, Betty Parsons, made the point that a work of art should be alive,” Tuttle said. “I didn’t know what she meant then. Now I do. The artist’s job is to make something that’s alive.”
It’s billowing here, that’s for sure. “The secret of this work is the indigo fabric underneath,” Shah whispered. It is not visible. “You have to see the whole thing from above,” said Tate Modern director Chris Dercon, admitting that the upper floors were closed for the evening. “And wait till you see the catalogue,” he added. “It’s the third part of the show.”
The second, in case you’re wondering, is the supremely well-paced exhibition at Whitechapel, which focuses on Tuttle’s use of fabric in his sculpture and in which everything is visible while remaining mysterious. Works that have never been shown in America are here, including the almost cartoony Clutter from 2008–12, and the rather daring Ten Kinds of Memory and Memory Itself from 1973. It consists of a few squiggles of rope on the floor. “Why can’t the floor be used for drawing?” Tuttle asks in one of the elegiac but straightforward poems he wrote as wall text for the show. “The textile should be as free / On the floor as on the wall – more free / If textile has love.”
“I think Richard is a very good artist,” said Tuttle’s understated wife, the poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Speeches at the dinner, hosted by dealer Stuart Shave in the baronial hall of 2 Temple Place, were also poetic, particularly Blazwick’s. She described the indescribable Turbine Hall installation as “a gigantic, winged structure” where color becomes “a measure of time.” She also characterized the work as “the most dramatic shift of scale ever done by one artist.” Dercon quoted Tuttle as saying, “Once the order has been found, everything can be changed around”—a useful aphorism for understanding this enigmatic and influential artist. But Tuttle, of course, said it best, when he concluded his own speech by charging the assembled guests with the words, “Go home. Figure it out. And may God protect you.”
With that, let the Frieze Week games begin.
THOSE TEMPTED to compare the art world’s fall fair calendar to a roller coaster might reconsider the metaphor after meeting artist Julijonas Urbonas. The son of a Soviet theme-park manager, the Vilnius-based artist has parlayed his childhood fascination with the thrill rides into his proposal for “The Euthanasia Coaster.” “It’s designed to deliver the passenger the most pleasant and perfect death possible,” he beamed, while talking me through a scale model, one of the main attractions at Galerija Vartai’s booth at last week’s ViennaFair.
Now a decade old, the Austrian fair has recently careened through its share of loop-de-loops. In 2012, it was purchased by Russians Sergey “Skate” Skaterschikov and real estate developer Dmitry Aksenov, who brought in ArtMoscow director Christina Steinbrecher and dealer Vita Zaman to oversee the fair’s program. One year in, Skaterschikov ceded his share. Then this September, a month before the fair, Zaman stepped down to focus on her own curatorial pursuits—namely an LA-based initiative called “The Perpetual Experts.” “The fair has built up such a strong team now,” Zaman told me. “I just felt like I had given what I could and now it’s time to take on new projects.”
One thing that’s staying put is the fair’s accent on central and southeastern Europe—a “Europe” that, notably, includes Russia. This emphasis may set ViennaFair apart from cookie-cutter competition, but it also left some wondering if the dozen or so Russian galleries and nonprofits would make the trip. Rumors of impending capital controls (aimed at damming up the floods of foreign investment leaving the country) have sent the ruble plummeting. These economic woes ostensibly caused the collapse of ArtMoscow, but on the other hand, this September saw a successful second coming of Cosmoscow, resurrected after a four-year hiatus. “The only problem I had at Cosmoscow was keeping enough Tanya Akhmetgalieva works to show here in Vienna,” Saint Petersburg–based dealer Marina Gisich reported. “It’s about to get really rough in Russia,” a noted Moscow-based collector confided to me later. “But right now we still don’t feel it.”
As for Aksenov, his money is tied up in the RDI Group, an art-friendly development company that has underwritten exhibitions and even collaborated with Moscow’s plucky Ad Marginem to publish titles by Boris Groys, Katya Degot, and Viktor Misiano. RDI received a boost earlier this fall when Sberbank stepped in with an increased credit line to help RDI fund its ambitious, architecture-driven suburb Yuzhnaya Dolina (“Southern Valley”). The announcement went out just a week before Japan joined the US, the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, and Canada in slapping sanctions on what is Russia’s largest lending bank; in the week since, Sberbank reported their worst quarter in years.
Of course, the foremost bank at ViennaFair remains Erste, who for ten years has picked up the tabs for many of the exhibiting Central and Southeastern European galleries. The fair is not shy about tracing emerging art scenes back to natural resources; its OMV oil company–sponsored series is bluntly titled “New Energies.” This year’s spotlight was on Romania, with a selection of seven spaces including Cluj pioneer Plan B and Bucharest’s Anca Poterasu. (Others like 418 Contemporary and Ivan came on their own steam.) The danger of the boutique sensibility of these special programs is that it drives some of the Viennese galleries into the cheaper “Zone 1,” solo stalls prime for token participation. As critic Sabine Vogel pointed out, “It’s great to have something unique about the fair, but what does it mean if the local galleries aren’t willing to pay for the real booths?” Still, with roughly one-third of the exhibitors coming from Austria and the largest plots filled by Krinzinger, Galerie Nächst St. Stephan, George Kargl, Gabriele Senn, Ernst Hilger, and Christine König, Vienna was at no risk of underrepresentation.
Speaking of representation, during the fair’s Wednesday preview, I was at König’s booth admiring a Thomas Hartmann painting when who should arrive but Austrian president Heinz Fischer, a radiant Steinbrecher on his arm. I trailed the president’s entourage over to Viktor Bucher, where Fischer started ribbing artist Justin Lieberman about his willingness to let artist Alfredo Barsuglia suspend him from the ceiling for a performance. Afterwards, a visibly stoked Lieberman assessed the blasé attitude of other onlookers. “It’s like, in Vienna, everyone has met the president…” “I’ve met him twice,” Barsuglia corrected, in complete earnest. (“Austria has a chancellor who does most of the actual governing,” one of my dinner companions would explain later. “The president’s job really is just to go places and be really friendly, like those people outside Walmart.”)
Fischer certainly would have provided a warmer welcome than Vienna’s new branding campaign, which plasters airport escalators and city guides with the curiously ominous slogan “Vienna: Now or Never.” Fatalism aside, the phrase jives well with the burgeoning scene of upstarts and artist-run spaces, many of whom pronounce “Christian Rosa” like it was “Carcosa.” I encountered some of these sensations-in-waiting that night at Neuer Kunstverein Wien, where collector Amir Shariat had put together “Eye Know,” a group show of artists like Alex Ruthner, Lilli Thiessen, Mario Nubauer, Jannis Varelas, and JPW3. “I guess these are the names I should know in two years?” I teased Shariat. “Are you kidding?” he shot back playfully. “These artists are already on ArtRank! The Rubells have bought them! You should know their names now.” As conversation slipped more seriously into sales, I edged in the direction of a kindly older gentleman, whom I wagered might not be the ArtRank type. “You’re American?” he began. “My daughter has been to Silver Spring in Maryland.” Relief came only down in the basement, where Gerald Matt had organized a gleeful Mary Reid Kelley show, packed with a more palatable perversity.
Thursday morning, the fair’s talks program kicked off with “Biennial Culture: What can the Spectator learn from a Biennial?,” which saw curators Kasper König, Adam Budak, and Nicolaus Schafhausen bickering over Artur Żmijewski’s Berlin Biennale and Manifesta—“I’ve seen every one except for yours,” König apologized. “I didn’t see yours,” Budak shrugged—with just the skimpiest mention of the newly revamped Vienna Biennale. As the three men duked it out onstage, collector Alain Servais intervened to reminded them that the discussion was supposed to be about the spectator, not the curator. Schafhausen chuckled, “Here’s our dilemma in a nutshell: Do we give the audience what it thinks it wants or what we think it needs?”
Servais would have his own chance at the mic, for an hour-and-a-half talk that Bozar adviser Rita Janssen proclaimed “absolute brilliance!” First, however, the intellectually scintillating Beatriz Colomina headed up “The Century of the Bed,” a panel that explored her thesis that technology has gradually eradicated the Industrial Revolution’s divide between home and the workplace, giving way to a whole generation of freelancers who toil in bed. “The place that used to be the most intimate, the most private, has become a public space for exposing yourself through social media,” Colomina observed.
This thesis was to serve as the basis for the sixth edition of “curated by vienna,” an initiative that mobilizes Vienna’s gallery network, recruiting curators to mull over a given theme. At Galerie Meyer Kainer, Liam Gillick and Rachel Harrison’s self-curated entry was haunted by the spirit of the Murphy Bed, while holding court in the upstairs speakeasy were John Kelsey’s watercolors of Lindsay Lohan and James Deen, screen stills from The Canyons. Sex and superficiality were the main motifs at Kerstin Engholm, where Carson Chan’s “Surface Modeling” paired Britta Thie and Jon Rafman with Jeremy Shaw’s eight-channel video of revelers coming off DMT. Over at Christina König, Luca Lo Pinto’s exhibition-as-image, “In Real Life,” reduced the installation of works from the likes of Darren Bader, Antoine Catala, and Adriana Lara to a single life-size photograph spanning the length of the gallery. “We had to stage it in the Generali Foundation, so there would be enough room to get the scale right,” Lo Pinto admitted. Too late to get into Galerie Nächst St. Stephan (“They have old clients, they close early,” an artist reasoned), I ended the evening at Emanuel Layr’s, where curator Egija Inzule opted for five mini-exhibitions, including a franchise of Sarah Staton’s SupaStore and a sneakily riveting, Japanese bathhouse–inspired installation by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster.
Friday morning, curator Viktor Misiano moderated a conversation on protest in contemporary Russian culture. Those who came expecting PowerPoints on Pussy Riot were greeted with a theory-heavy reckoning of Moscow’s failed protest movement, which, as artist and activist Ilya Budraitskis explained, basically boiled down to “atomized individuals” momentarily united by the neutered abstractions of “free elections” and “peace” but had, ultimately, nothing substantial to bind them.
The adjective “atomized” stuck with me as I made my way through Parallel Vienna, an alternative fair set in an old customs building in the third district. Inside, collectives, galleries, and individual artists crammed into five floors of tiny office spaces that all smelled of eau de unplugged refrigerator. Amid the sensory overload, I did brake for Bar du Bois and Tutti Frutti, which was showing recent paintings by Béatrice Dreux. More of Dreux was on view at “Let’s Mingle,” a group show put on by Zaman in a private riverside space just across from the Jean Nouvel–designed Sofitel. I walked in while Zaman was showing an adviser one of Rosa’s spare paintings. “This isn’t from the new series you were talking about?” the advisor asked, her brow knit. “No, this is an old one!” Zaman assured her, turning the frame slightly so we could see the signature and date. “See? 2013.”
So maybe Cosima von Bonin was spot on when she subtitled her latest exhibition “Hippies Use the Side Door” with the conclusion “The Year 2014 Has Lost the Plot.” The spunky survey opened Friday night at mumok with performances by “Canadian-German neo-drag” collective the 3 Ypsilons and the Ypsilon Five, a group comprising artists Oliver Husain, Claus Richter, Sergej Jensen, Stefan Müller, and Simone Junker. I lingered as long as I could before returning to the Messe Hall, where Sberbank was hosting an elaborate “collector dinner” that doubled as a birthday party for Aksenov.
With a guest list six hundred strong, the organizers gave up on seating plans, encouraging new arrivals to “Please, feel free to sit where you choose.” Surveying the room full of Sberbank, I was relieved to spy an unclaimed chair beside a few international critics and one of the more prominent Viennese dealers at a table near the front. Just as we were about to dig into our Arctic char, however, we were interrupted by an elegant Russian-accented brunette, flashing a Post-it note inscribed with the number seven: “I’m truly sorry, but I believe this is our table?” In the name of graciousness, we decamped to a large vacant table in the back corner to pick up where we left off. As our new digs filled out, however, we started to field increasingly hostile glances from our Sberbank-speaking tablemates, who had come up a few seats short for their late-arriving acquaintances. Eventually, a brusque blonde came over to deliver our eviction notice: “This is not your table. You need to leave.” “Oh, how quaint, an annexation-themed dinner party…” one of my companions purred, as we considered our options. Thankfully, a flustered fair organizer caught wind of our situation and rustled up seven spots around curators Iara Boubnova, Hedwig Saxenhuber, Russia’s National Center for Contemporary Art director Mikhail Sidlin, and bon vivant Nic Iljine. (Incidentally, we got seconds on char.)
After the meal, a macaroon-encrusted birthday cake was wheeled out for Aksenov, who took to the stage to thank his wife for her support before encouraging diners to enjoy their coffee and dessert out in the fair aisles. (The announcement prompted a few shocked looks from participating dealers. “To the booth!” one barked at his director, only half in jest). As guests filed out and plates were cleared, I noticed our place settings were in fact ViennaFair “Save the Date” cards. Impressed at the fair’s resolution to press on despite economic uncertainty, I pushed the card toward my companion, who promptly pointed out that it was for the current edition. Now or Never?
Left: Collectors Inge Maier-Oswald and Peter Maier-Oswald with Piktogram/BLA's Michał Woliński. Right: Leto Gallery's Marta Kołakowska and artist Wojciech Puś. (Photos: Pola Tyszowiecka)
THE FOURTH WARSAW GALLERY WEEKEND saw organizers redoubling their efforts to encourage the Polish art world—and beyond—to join in the three-day-long celebrations. The event, featuring over twenty galleries, spotlights Poland’s developing private sector in the arts. Each year it proves to be a popular and much-needed exposition of the galleries’ commitment to self-organization and collaboration, a fairly recent quality of the local scene.
This edition kicked off, rather unexpectedly, at the Presidential Palace on Krakowskie Przedmieście in central Warsaw, with “Missing Link,” a talk on private collectors and public collections. Scores of smartly dressed dealers and critics turned up to hear about possible points of contact between the two, but unfortunately the discussion, moderated by Propaganda Gallery’s Paweł Sosnowski, steered clear of this potentially interesting subject and toward taxes on acquisitions and donations. Prosecco soothed our disappointment.
Galleries began their programs at teatime on Friday and kept their doors open late. I began my journey at SVIT, a Prague-based gallery run by Michal Mánek. In Warsaw, Mánek had installed a sensible pop-up exhibition by Erwin Kneihsl in a luminous apartment on Aleje Jerozolimskie, the city’s main artery. The artist was present and willing to share his love for the “alchemy of analogue photography,” as well as his fear that Foma, the last factory of photosensitive materials in the Czech Republic, will soon be gone. Charmed by the simple beauty of his black-and-white photographs, I headed toward the galleries Leto and Piktogram/BLA, which share the same building in the postindustrial Soho Factory complex.
Left: Opening party at Zachęta - National Gallery of Art. (Photo: Bartosz Górka) Right: Hanna Wróblewska, director of the Zachęta National Gallery of Art. (Photo: Sylwia Serafinowicz)
Leto had an atmospheric exhibition, “Touched for the Very First Time,” curated by Wojciech Puś, an artist represented by the gallery and a lecturer at the Polish National Film School in Łódź. The one-room show features work by his students, a group of graduates and debutantes in the vulnerable stage of defining themselves as artists. Behind the wall, Piktogram/BLA presented another group show, “Zombie Formalism,” which was chosen by the local arts magazine SZUM as one out of nine most interesting venues of the gallery weekend—even before any information about it was available. The silence from Michał Wolinski, curator of the show and cofounder of the WGW, in the days preceding the opening was seen as calculated and “avant-garde.”
However, as a person much more interested in words expressed than those suppressed, I welcomed at last the introduction of a page-long text, written to accompany the show, with applause. There were even footnotes. “Zombie Formalism”—which takes its name from Walter Robinson’s term, popularized by Jerry Saltz, to describe a much-maligned style of vacuous, market-flattering painting—juxtaposes abstract works by several generations of artists. All share a fascination with chemical processes behind photography and experimental matter in painting. In contrast to the landscape drawn by Saltz, the selection includes artists who are not necessarily alumni of fine arts academies, including the young Szymon Małecki, more known in Warsaw for the unique tattoos he makes at Tusz za Rogiem, a tattoo parlor he co-owns. The conversation at the ensuing cocktail reception at the Neon Museum, also in the Soho complex, involved collective efforts to respond to such poignant questions as how snakes copulate and, subsequently, why “love juices” are so little appreciated.
The last stop of the night was a party at Zachęta National Gallery. At most parties the crowd ends up in the kitchen, but this time everybody gathered on the stairs outside, ready to embrace the chilly evening. Meanwhile, DJ Maciek Sienkiewicz got things warmed up indoors, and although his attempts were not appreciated by the majority of the attendees, there was one dancer who made up for the small crowd: Roman Dziadkiewicz, an artist invited for WGW by the gallery Monopol to work with the archives of artists Zbigniew Warpechowski and Andrzej Partum. His expressive moves were very much in line with his take on the fathers and mothers of the neo-avant-garde depicted in vintage photographs, prints of which he has been cutting into pieces. For the show at Monopol, Dziadkiewicz reworked the archival matter in a series of collages where the cutouts of hands, arms, and butts were joined in an orgiastic entity.
Indeed, everything this weekend in Warsaw was a collage of old and new, sexy and nostalgic, including Aneta Grzeszykowska’s photos at Raster gallery. The title of the series and the show, “Selfie,” of course refers to the Internet craze for self-documentation. But her works go deeper than the glib and too-cute appellation might at first suggest, into the history of autorepresentation of Polish female artists, most notably the sculptor Alina Szapocznikow, with Grzeszykowska depicting casts—covered in pigskin—of different parts of the artist’s body. The material’s uncanny resemblance to human dermis, and its embellishment with penetrating needles and black thread, gave me goose bumps.
Of course, Warsaw Gallery Weekend also had its share of failures, like the broken elevator that stood in my way to Zuzanna Janin’s exhibition at lokal_30. En route to the airport, I considered the five-floor walkup against the weight of my books and shoes and heavy suitcase—and here my sense of duty conceded to fatigue. (Sorry, Zuzanna!) But in the end, we do what we can, and the Warsaw art world keeps on turning. As collector Osman Djajadisastra succinctly put it at one of the weekend’s panels: “I love Polish art, and it’s good!”
IT WAS 2 AM Saturday morning in Berlin—peak party time for the ABC fair—when Gallery Weekend Mexico, organized by the art magazine Código, was scheduled to begin its second edition. While Berlin and DF are occasionally compared to each other for their artist-friendly grit and ease, punctuality is different in Germany than it is in Latin America. Hoping to hit the twenty-one synchronized openings scattered around town in one seamless socio-path, I was rapping at the gates of the Galería OMR mansion on Plaza Río de Janiero at the stroke of six when a figure behind the door moving a bucket of Perrier bottles squinted through the crack and said, “Mmmm… siete.”
An hour later, people began to trickle into Julieta Aranda’s “If a Body Meet a Body,” her 3-D exploration of necks, heads, and the color blue. Inspired by a museum’s locked-off room of Genoese busts, the show riffs on the corporeal divide between the “thinking” part of the body and the costumes of “work,” with shirts dyed blue and white (connotative collars and all). There’s also a guillotine blade in Klein Blue and abstracted re-creations of the germinal heads. In OMR’s adjoining gallery, the Tijuana-based collective Torolab presented new work related to El Laboratorio La Granja Transfronteriza, or Lab Transborder Farm, their urban farm in Camino Verde, one of the border town’s neighborhoods most blighted by poverty and crime. Positing the gallery as a town square–cum-laboratory, the opening kicked off several weeks of workshops to continue as an extension of La Granja’s work on urban renewal and community building.
Good luck trying to zoom around the largest city in the new world during a rainy Friday rush hour. My taxi slowly crawled to San Miguel de Chapultepec, where I made an extracurricular stop at design nonprofit Archivo to check out its exhibition “Copies,” which pairs iconic furnishings from around the world with their Mexican facsimiles, whether bootlegged, tweaked, or improved. The show was curated by Jorge Gardoni and Cecilia León de la Barra, sister of curator Pablo León de la Barra. “She wanted to include the Gabriel Sierra in the show,” said Archivo’s Regina Pozo, indicating a photograph standing in for a fruited interpretation of a famous Eames coatrack “But her brother has it at the Guggenheim.”
Next we crossed the street to Labor, where an intergenerational two-person show by Mexican artists Ernesto Mallard and Pedro Reyes was gathering steam. Titled “Join the Dots,” the exhibition links Reyes’s work with one of his inspirations, Op art pioneer Mallard, who stopped showing in commercial contexts in 1974. A suite of Mallard’s wall-mounted sculptures made in 1969 and 1970 are complemented by Reyes’s own woven works, the largest of which, Capula Klein’s Bottle, is a biomorphic, translucent cage fit for a half-dozen people, hanging from the corner of the room. “You should go in,” encouraged Labor founder Pamela Echeverria. “But I think to enter you need to bring Pedro another beer.” The artist held court inside his cocoon throughout the opening. If someone joined, you could count on them taking a photo shortly afterwards. “Selfie art,” Reyes joked, though the piece had been built in 2007, somewhat predating the #artselfie movement.
Cages were a running theme of the night. Roman Ondák had concatenated several dozen former birdcages as the centerpiece of his show opening at Labor’s San Miguel de Chapultepec neighbor Kurimanzutto. Stepping into the gallery, a reclaimed chimney housing an empty bird’s nest hangs overhead. To the left, the Kurimanzutto bookshop hosted a project by Damián Ortega, a temporary edition of the Alias library in homage to Russian Constructivism. “They tease me like I’m a biology professor with this outfit,” confessed the nebbishly attired Ortega as he pushed his glasses up his nose and pantomimed flipping pages. Dork or not, he and a hundred or so others retired to the cage-free courtyard where Elena Reygadas, chef of art-world hangout Rosetta, served up ceviche, oysters, edible flowers, and a foam of yerba santa for dessert.
After hitting up four galleries on Friday, I had only reached a fifth of my quota, but there was still the rest of the weekend to explore. A handful of newer spaces put on good shows. Marso, named for its founders MAR-ina Magro and SO-fía Mariscal, opened up shop in a palatial French-style mansion in Juárez about two years ago. The old, ornate building once housed a computer school, but now it’s filled with a standout show by the New York–based Korean artist Jong Oh. Deft, geometrically precise threads are weighted at perpendicular angles, suspended from the ceiling or pulled from off the wall, in a suite of site-specific architectural interventions.
Far south in Escandón is the artist-run space Bikini Wax, which recently relocated to DF from León in the state of Guanajuato, some four hours away. In this venuepart gallery, part art frat housevisitors navigated a multilevel homage to the classic American film Home Alone. The brainchild of artist Gabriel Escalante, the exhibition featured rooms that Bikini Wax founders Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba and Cristóbal Gracia had contributed to transforming into installations evocative of iconic booby traps from the movie—a shoe impaled by a nail on the fire escape, a bedroom with a tarred-and-feathered painting, and the ominous and scream-inducing combination of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” underscoring the movements of a live tarantula kept in the entry.
Saturday night, all roads led to the National Music Conservatory for Gallery Weekend Mexico’s big dinner. With an elegant setting and elegant guests, all was as expected, except for the musical accompaniment: live smooth jazz. “We’re about to go under for root canals in five, four, three…,” joked scholar Arden Decker. Rather than general anesthetic, everyone fell under the spell of dancing, and later, dreams of what’s left to come in DF’s ever-expanding calendar. Bring on the biennial!
DIS IS NAMED CURATOR OF THE 2016 BERLIN BIENNALE. It’s the first time an art collective will curate the event. I find out in Berlin. The city’s annual fair—Art Berlin Contemporary, now in its seventh edition—is set to open in two days. Its premise is the booth as solo show: Privilege the art by giving it ample space. This makes sense in a city known less for its market than its mayor’s mantra: “Poor but sexy.”
Or does it? That night, Phillips’s Martin Klosterfelde hosts a dinner at Paris Bar, Martin Kippenberger’s fabled watering hole. Old legends die hard. Phillips has a special stake in the emerging market and it is the first of the auction-house trinity (Phillips, Christie’s, Sotheby’s) to open an office and gallery in Berlin.
“There is so much potential here—the landscape is completely changing,” says Klosterfelde. Artist Marco Brambilla and dealer Michael Fuchs smile for a picture. We look at Kippenberger’s painting Paris Bar—or a version of it, Daniel Richter’s hangs on the restaurant wall—and talk about the cult of the artist, how it erupted in this city, how it bankrolls the contemporary art market.
Marc Camille Chaimowicz does not like solo shows. Which is why he asked Klara Liden and Manfred Pernice to contribute work to his latest exhibition, “Forty and Forty,” at Galerie Neu’s new space in a GDR housing complex. I meet him there the next day, just before the opening, and just after he released forty canaries into the gallery—one bird for each of the shapely vases he produced. We watch them flit about the space. “There is more comfort in the collective,” he says.
That night, sixty of us gather to celebrate Chaimowicz at a family-run restaurant called Edd’s, which boasts the best Thai in the city. On the street outside, young girls in short Lycra skirts pace the road, waiting for men to pull over in their cars. Prostitution is regulated in Berlin, but these girls look underage, and are supposedly trucked in from places like Moldova.
Unregulated markets. Do you know that it’s illegal for a dealer to sell work and deposit the payment into a personal bank account? At the dinner, a former dealer and a few artists balk at this. In the US, law stipulates that funds must be placed in an escrow account until a work is sold and all parties are paid.
“That’s a law? That never happens,” says one artist. “So many of us don’t see the money for… sometimes years.”
Left: ABC director Maike Cruse, Société Berlin's Daniel Wichelhaus, art adviser Eleanor Cayre, Société Berlin's Hans Bülow, and collector Bobby Cayre. Right: Dealer Javier Peres of Peres Projects.
Across town, Sprüth Magers hosts a party for two doubting Thomases—Scheibitz and Demand. Scheibitz’s grand paintings of “Radiopictures” are on the first floor; upstairs, Demand’s eerie “Dailies”—photos of things like a hairband on a saucer, a sponge on a sink—feel more isolated than ever.
Ryan Trecartin is behind. He and Lizzie Fitch collaborated on “Site Visit,” a manic, multichannel film and installation curated by Klaus Biesenbach and Ellen Blumenstein that opened at KW on the Sunday before ABC. Or at least it was supposed to. They’re still working (fast) to finish it, but they’ve invited viewers in anyways. The viewers like what they see. Screens overlook an audience of lawn chairs and recliners; on the screens, his familiar tribe of actors smash mirrors and dodge animated cats and run frantically about the labyrinthine Scottish Rite Masonic Temple in Los Angeles, which Maurice and Paul Marciano gave over to Trecartin for a shoot before they began to build their art foundation. Like DIS, part of Trecartin and Fitch’s appeal is the sense that they’re channeling a collectivism unique to the world the Internet built. And like DIS, Trecartin is also valued for his gimlet eye, to be tested in a different way in February 2015 at the New Museum Triennial he’s curating with Lauren Cornell.
By the day the fair opened, the collective, the collaborative, seemed everywhere. Those galleries that pioneered the work of artists also interested in group-think (“community”) are still running, showing the same artists. They’re practically institutions now. At the fair, Neugerriemschneider presented an enormous mural by Tobias Rehberger (Rirkrit Tiravanija and Ai Weiwei kept up the gallery’s flagship). Esther Schipper showed glittering layers of curtains by the Brazilian artist Daniel Steegmann Mangrané. There was something different in the millennials’ stake in the collective. It seemed less meditative. Maybe it’s a logical reaction to the age of the art fair and the way it privileges—and sometimes cheapens—the idea of the artist as unique creator.
Which posed a question about the merits of the solo show as fair: Is Art Basel Unlimited a good model for Berlin? ABC is lesser known than its spring counterpart, Gallery Weekend Berlin, which rejects the centralized fair model in favor of a week of events based around brick-and-mortar galleries. With the exception of Berlin-based galleries (Sprüth Magers, Neugerriemschneider, Esther Schipper, Daniel Buchholz), ABC’s roster mostly features younger spaces and, not counting Greene Exhibitions and Night Gallery, was largely regional. It’s a catch-22: The breadth of galleries doesn’t galvanize a substantial international collector base and, in turn, there isn’t enough of a collector base to attract the international spaces that share the astute programs of fresh artists that would lure those collectors.
Left: Curators Fanny Nina Borel, Myrto Katsimicha, and Elisabetta Rabajoli. Right: Dealer Esther Schipper.
The fair did have a strong showing: Brendan Fowler (Tanya Leighton), Camille Henrot (Johann König), Jürgen Krause (Bischoff Projects), Haegue Yang (Wien Lukatsch), John Patrick Walsh III (Night Gallery), Davis Rhodes (Société). And solid shows around Berlin—Van Hanos at Tanya Leighton, Mike Bouchet at Peres Projects, Ken Okiishi at Mathew, “Pictures, Before and After – An Exhibition for Douglas Crimp” at Buchholz, and Martin Kippenberger at Capitain Petzel.
All said, a reported eighty thousand visitors attended the fair and the week’s extensive performances, readings, and events. If the audience resembled that of ABC week’s opening night exhibition—“Vertigo of Reality,” at Berlin’s Akademie der Künste, where thousands trampled up stairs, literally fighting each other to see the art—I’d wager it was a mostly Berlin-based crowd. And maybe this speaks to the strength of a regional focus, of just any reason, really, to get people together around art.
A canary can go three days without water, food, or company. Or so says Chaimowicz. This is one of the reasons he became interested in the animals and their negotiation of captivity—they have adapted to the condition of loneliness. Which is not to say they’re sociopaths: Their jubilance when together seems real. “It is impossible,” a collector tells me, “to be within Marc’s world and not feel better. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but the only word I can think of is ‘uplifting.’ ”
Left: Artist John Patrick Walsh III (left). Right: Dealer José Freire of Team Gallery.
“IS IT ME, or are quail eggs everywhere these days?” Witte de With director Defne Ayas wondered, waving away a tray of said canapé from our spot onboard the Halas, a hundred-year-old yacht. It was Wednesday evening, and we were cruising up Istanbul’s Haliç (“Golden Horn”) as part of the opening festivities for the sophomore edition of the ArtInternational fair, a cosmopolitan challenger to local lovefest Contemporary Istanbul, which is scheduled for November.
Ayas and I didn’t recognize our fellow passengers (let alone the language they were speaking), so we struck up conversation with Chef Gazi Koyun, who eagerly filled us in on the vessel’s vaunted history, as a passenger ferry built in 1914 in Glasgow for the Ottomans, but commandeered by the British for the duration of the war. It eventually reached the Bosphorus, where it was used for public transport (and nicknamed “The Express” for its remarkable ability to reach cruising speeds of up to ten miles an hour) until the 1980s, when it embarked on a private life as a fifteen-cabin superyacht for the Simavi clan. Its current renovation is thanks to new owner, Çiğdem Simavi’s son Mustafa Koç. In short: a brief history of Empire in a boat.
Alas, very little Turkish was spoken on board, which was stocked with international collectors in town for the fair. “Who are all these people?” Ayas asked Sandy Angus, one of the fair’s cofounders. He glanced around, casually pointing out the groups of Saudi, Indian, and Austrians, before hitting a colorful cluster designated only as “friends of Pearl Lam.” (“I’m a hanger-on,” an LA-based member of that club informed me at the buffet.)
Left: Dealers Leyla Tara Suyabatmaz and Esra Sarigedik Öktem. Right: SAHA's Merve Çağlar and Yavuz Parlar with artist Banu Cennetoğlu.
“The diversity this fair brings in is incredible. There’s so much opportunity in Istanbul, if we do this right,” Angus continued. “The art world doesn’t need another factory experience.” Unfortunately, not everyone got that memo. We capped off the boat ride with a stop by Le Petit Maison, where the IstanbulArtNews party was in three-quarters swing, with a bar manned by Absolut and the entrance flanked by bodyguards and display cases of luxury watches from party sponsor Schaffhausen. As if the suggestion of wealth weren’t implicit enough, I’m pretty sure the DJs accidentally played “Mony, Mony” twice.
“Do you want red, red, or yellow?” Gagosian’s Georges Armaos asked me when we finally reached the cocktails. Clearly no stranger to these situations, he read my dismay and disappeared, only to reemerge with a vodka soda, plain and simple. It was only later that I would stumble upon the full bar a floor below, where “99 Luftballons” blasted as waiters walked around with trays of French fries and bowls of mayonnaise. “My kids would love this,” dealer Thomas Krinzinger cracked. Critic Stefan Kobel was more skeptical: “Have you noticed that none of the watches are working? And they’re all set to different times?”
Time was of the essence for the next afternoon’s press conference, when the trickle of tote-bagged journalists had to fight their way through the streams of art handlers and construction crews. (“Paint! White paint!” one gallery director frantically yelped at every third passerby.) On the whole, however, the fair looked clean and open, thanks to architect Erhan Patat’s undulating floorplan. Echoing the currents of the Haliç, the asymmetrical layout flowed through the five separate wings, carving out space for the fair’s seventy-five galleries, which ranged from city staples Rampa, NON, and Galeri Manâ, to cross-continental powerplayers Pace, Lisson, and Kukje, to New Yorkers Leila Heller, Lehmann Maupin, Robert Miller, and Paul Kasmin, the last of whom reportedly sold out his solo presentation of Taner Ceylan’s sleek elaborations on the myth of Apollo and Cyparissus.
Left: Dealers Manfred Wiplinger and Thomas Krinzinger. Right: SALT's Vasif Kortun.
“It’s truly a miracle, especially if you had seen us this time last year,” Angus admitted at the press conference, before ceding the mic to a veritable parade of speeches from ArtInternational director Dyala Nusseibeh, artistic director Stephane Ackermann, and SPOT’s Tamsa Mermerci Ekşioğlu, Başak Şenova, and the duo of Özge Ersoy and Merve Ünsal, who had curated the fair’s talks, video offerings, and section of alternative spaces, respectively. While nothing strayed too far from the routine blanket optimism and cheerily cadenced statements of the obvious (Nusseibeh thanked the exhibitors, “as so much of the fair is the galleries and what they present”), things got punny with the introduction of one of the fair’s main sponsors, renowned Greek ophthalmologist, Dr. Ioannis G. Pallikaris. “A good artist requires good vision,” he declared, giving us all a moment to let it sink in. The good doctor also announced the newly minted Dünyagöz Art Prize, which recognized the work of Banu Cennetoğlu with five thousand euros and a printed certificate.
As the sun started to dip, VIPs swarmed the banks of the Haliç for rosé and selfies with the Steven Naifeh limestone sculpture. I had little time to linger, slipping instead into a cab with dealer Ursula Krinzinger and writer Sabine Vogel for the quick commute to the Rahmi M. Koç Museum—a dockyard sprawling with industrial relics from fighter jets to oil drills to the Imperial Coach of Sultan Abdulaziz—all inspired by Koç’s visit to Dearborn’s Henry Ford Museum. Strung up between tugboats and old submarines were garlands of multicolored lanterns, lighting an elaborate buffet hosted by patroness (and Koç’s former wife) Çiğdem Simavi.
Mid-fillet of an expertly grilled fish, phones and social media feeds began broadcasting neon-lit debauchery from the various charter ferries taking guests up to the old shoe factory–cum–movie set Beykoz Kundura for the premiere of Halil Altındere’s latest video, Angels of Hell. Altındere had stolen the show at the 2013 Istanbul Biennial with Wonderland, a punchy, eight-and-a-half-minute video featuring rappers Tahribad-ı İsya, who express a real, raw anger over the city’s historically Romani but rapidly gentrifying Sulukule neighborhood. Determined not to miss the boat, Nigel Rubenstein, Metin Ilktekin, and I abandoned our baklava and raced to our designated two-decked ferry to find it completely deserted. Thankfully, the boat made a second stop at Kabataş, where we were joined by a guy who had created an app that reads prophecies in your coffee grounds. Alas, nary a Nescafe on board. “Yeah, party boat…!” Ilktekin cheered down the empty aisles.
After an hour along the Bosphorus, we pulled up to a dock teeming with hopeful return passengers—never a soothing sight—but we pushed on to the factory, where we were promptly greeted with not red, red, or yellow, but whiskey, neat. We needed it. Packed with references to Yeşilçam (Turkish Hollywood), Altındere’s new film features a cast of grizzled veterans of gangster roles, led by the three-foot-ten-inch actor Miraç Bayramoğlu, as they tussle in a campy fight scene filmed on site at the former factory. The melee ends when “Miss Turkey”—champion bodybuilder Işıl Aktan—opens fire with a machine gun, her generous breasts jiggling with every discharge. These Angels were just as in-your-face as Wonderland, but the new work was infinitely more gratuitous and thus a fraction as exhilarating. Partygoers were saved from having to comment, however, when the artist trotted out Tahribad-ı İsya for a surprise performance, well worth the trek to the Asian side.
The fair’s Artist-of-the-Day for Friday, Erdem Taşdelen, proposed a different type of crossing over with “A Petition of the Left Hand,” a project that departs from Walter Benjamin’s warning that “no one should rely unduly on his competence… All the decisive blows are struck left-handed.” While the artist himself is no southpaw, that didn’t stop him from embarking on several months of research to uncover the ways that cultural mores have subtly privileged the right hand, from calligraphy to table settings. Taşdelen preached his leftist politics with a “lunch in honor of your left hand” that convened collectors, curators, and fellow artists in a cozy café not far from the fair. Those eager to dig in were stymied by the artist’s stipulation that everyone primarily use his or her left hand for eating. “If you’re left-handed, congratulations, this should be easy for you,” he announced. “If you’re right-handed, don’t worry. We tried to pick foods that wouldn’t make too much of a mess.”
While the lunch brought with it no dire spills, later that afternoon, three days of ideal weather came to an end when the skies opened up, unleashing a downpour that threw competing rooftop soirees—Pi Artworks, Athr, and Gallery Zilberman had joined forces to throw a bash at 360, while Füsun Eczacıbaşı was hosting a cocktail of her own on her sixth-floor terrace overlooking Galata Tower—in peril. Sticking to the Karaköy district, I haggled for an umbrella and dashed over to the Eczacıbaşı residence. There, platters of king figs and chocolate-covered orange rinds had been brought down to the fifth floor, where collectors Haro Cumbusyan and Andy Stillpass; dealers Rachel Lehmann, Derya Demir, and Sylvia Kouvali; Protocinema’s Mari Spirito; SAHA’s Merve Çağlar; and artists Cennetoğlu, Cevdet Erik, and Sarkis all chatted comfortably, despite the differing stages of drenched.
Left: Bodybuilder Işıl Aktan with artist Halil Altındere at the premiere of Angels of Hell. Right: ArtInternational Director Dyala Nusseibeh.
Of course, no art event would be complete these days without a designer afterparty, and so ArtInternational imported the now near ubiquitous pop-up Tolga’s Fair Club, which settled not in some seedy after-hours club (though Istanbul has those in spades) but rather in Gaspar, a classy Karaköy joint run by Ferit Sarper, the man responsible for art-world culinary must Münferit, who just so happens to have grown up with Tolga Albayrak in İzmir. “It’s unsettling to think of Tolga having a childhood,” Armory Show director Noah Horowitz observed, and I found myself agreeing.
More evidence that ArtInternational has reached full-fledged status was the ready selection of satellite events planned for the week. The city was host to both the Moving Image Art Fair and the Moving Museum, a somewhat cruel coincidence given that “movement” is not Istanbul’s strong point. The prospect of heavy traffic would keep me from both events, as well as from a reception at the Borusan, where SF MoMA’s wonderful video curator Rudolf Frieling had selected a traveling show of “West Coast Visions” from the museum’s collection. In any case, the rain that had broken out Friday night continued through most of Saturday, giving fair visitors time to stop and read their coffee grounds.