Last Wednesday’s opening of “Time Present, Time Past” at the Istanbul Modern kicked off the festivities around the Istanbul Biennial’s tenth edition. As I entered the museum, an uncannily familiar tune drew my attention: The Smiths’s “Panic”—and other songs—were being performed, karaoke-style, by Istanbul inhabitants in a video by artist Phil Collins, entrancing an audience that included artist Nedko Solakov and Van Abbemuseum director Charles Esche. I later found Collins standing with his local collaborators, such as exhibition organizer Derya Demir. The British artist suggested that I check out that evening’s live concerts at The Hall, organized by Demir. It must have been a popular suggestion: At this former church close to the vibrant Istiklal Street, I saw many of the guests spotted earlier at the museum—including young curators Mai Abu ElDahab, November Paynter, and Antonia Majaca—enjoying the Istanbul nightlife.
The next morning began at the Atatürk Cultural Centre, where VIPs such as MUDAM’s director Marie-Claude Beaud were already paying a visit to the biennial. Everyone was mulling over the lofty ideals of this year’s curator, Hou Hanru, who said: “It’s not only possible but also necessary to envision a better world. Optimism is a necessary spirit for us to survive this age of global war.” And free DVDs don’t hurt, either, as demonstrated by Chen Chieh-Jen’s action, in which he distributed complimentary copies of his otherwise limited-edition, expensive videos. Chen was at the Textile Traders’ Market, where—many visitors exasperatedly complained—most of the works were poorly installed. Our disillusionment was countered by the cacophonic yet meaningful exhibition at Antrepo nş 3—“Hanru’s type of display,” as someone commented—that explored the theme of utopia versus war.
Left: MoMA associate curator Christian Rattemeyer with Teresa Gleadowe. Right: Curator Antonia Majaca.
I skipped an early open-air, smart-dress dinner outside Antrepo nş 3 to attend the opening of Mladen Stilinovic’s exhibition at the Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center. There, a sophisticated crowd wasn’t above being amused by a storefront piece: an animated frog jumping to the sound track of a voice shouting “great show.” Alongside Stilinovic, Platform Garanti’s director, Vasif Kortun, was hailed repeatedly, perhaps in anticipation of the upcoming refurbishment of the multistory building that will boost the institution’s programs. After learning that artist Julieta Aranda was voiceless as a result of her wild performance “Too Drunk to Fuck (But Drunk Enough to Talk About Art)” the previous evening, I went to check out the opening of Haluk Akakçe’s latest show at Galerist—encountering, on my way, a bevy of Brits led by consultant Teresa Gleadowe, critic Claire Bishop, and collector Alex Sainsbury. Competing with the works on view was the overwhelmingly effusive Akakçe himself, alongside his dealers Murat Pilevneli and the Barcelona-based Rebeca Blanchard.
We headed on to a rooftop reception at the Marmara Pera Hotel, celebrating the pending inauguration of Rodeo, a new gallery. There, over a glass of wine and a cigarette, Sainsbury unveiled the plans for his nonprofit venue in the Spitalfields area of East London, funded with his own money. (In case I had forgotten that Sainsbury’s is a ubiquitous UK supermarket chain, he reminded me that he comes from “a very wealthy family.”) After bidding Gleadowe farewell, Sainsbury, Bishop, and I set off to the Liman club’s invitation-only parties, the first of many organized by the biennial team. Although chatting with Lisson Gallery’s Elena Crippa was a pleasure, I soon left, offering, as an excuse, the appalling Turkish version of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” that had begun to reverberate from the towering speakers.
On Friday afternoon, the official opening of the biennial allowed me to spend most of the day sightseeing the tourist attractions of the Golden Horn’s south bank, from monuments to ubiquitous water-pipe smokers. When a melodious Muslim call to prayer filled the air, I entered a mosque adjacent to the Grand Bazaar to witness the ceremony. Yet even in a house of worship I couldn’t escape the art world’s omnipresence: Inside was critic Jerry Saltz, barefoot like everyone else, respectfully watching the service.
A little later, back at Antrepo nş 3, Istanbul’s elite mingled with a parade of visiting curators, including Christian Rattemeyer, Massimiliano Gioni, Ali Subotnick, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Bruce Ferguson, and Dan Cameron. The latter described as “smart” Huang Yong Ping’s piece that dealt with the city’s contradictory religious traditions by enclosing within white linen panels a replica of a mosque’s minaret. Concluding the evening, the admired Turkish actress Derya Alabora, standing on top of a bed, recited some poems that Sam Samore had written—in Turkish, to the dismay of the international set. Samore explained to me that his aim was “to engage with Istanbul’s spirit.” And indeed, that week, whose aim was any different?
Left: Video technician Metin Çavus, Platform Garanti’s Derya Demir, and artist Phil Collins. Right: Artist Sora Kim.
The older I get, the less patience I have for looking at art through a crowd. Tribal rituals are always welcome, but I like my art one-on-one. That’s why I decided to cope with the ridiculous number of openings inaugurating the fall season at New York galleries last weekend by skipping the art and just looking at the artists.
Thursday night, bypassing pedestrian-choked Chelsea, I headed uptown toward the relatively serene environs of Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue outpost, where Kevin Zucker had put together an eight-artist show. Given my agenda, that sounded promising. First, however, I stopped into Greenberg Van Doren, where Jessica Craig-Martin was exhibiting a new series of photographs depicting the unremittingly human body parts of social whores attired in expensive frocks. What I could see of them looked pretty good, particularly among Craig-Martin’s smart crowd of friends and family: her proud guru of an artist father, Michael Craig-Martin; her wizardly real-estate-broker mother, Jan Hashey; and her adorable tyke of a son, Finnbar. Nice. But by the time I was done air-kissing the likes of Joel Shapiro, Billy Sullivan, Sarah Charlesworth, Glenn O’Brien, Clarissa Dalrymple, Tara Subkoff, Tobias Meyer, and Stefania Bortolami, the Mary Boone ship had sailed, so I went back downtown to Craig-Martin’s dim sum cocktail at Chinatown Brasserie, which is not in Chinatown but in NoHo. (Remember NoHo?)
In the carpeted fishbowl of the downstairs party room, I found a virtual bonanza of the artistic: In addition to the above, Richard Phillips and Josephine Meckseper, just back from Meckseper’s “sort-of” retrospective in Stuttgart; architect Jonathan Caplan, on the cusp of completing Cecily Brown’s new lower Fifth Avenue apartment; Anne Bass and Julian Lethbridge; John Currin and Rachel Feinstein; Kevin Landers; Sean Landers; and all the other people whom Craig-Martin doesn’t photograph.
Left: Brice Marden. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Rachel and Jean-Pierre Lehmann. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)
All of these people were smiling. I have never seen so many artists looking so happy—even radiant. Artists used to be the scourges of society, or they were depressed, or jealous and lonely, or distracted by work. Not anymore.
Moving up the street to Indochine, where Lehmann Maupin Gallery was holding a dinner for Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, I found even bigger grins on the faces of gallery artists Teresita Fernandez and Anya Gallacio. They seemed overjoyed at the prospect of showing in the Chelsea gallery’s soon-to-come second space on Chrystie Street. No fussing by Rem Koolhaas at this place. No architect or designer of any kind—and no columns, said David Maupin, happily. Just a nice, big, personable place to see art—like in the old SoHo, Maupin said. (Remember SoHo?)
During dinner, I was seated opposite Rachel Lehmann, her collector/financier husband, Jean-Pierre, and their family friend, twenty-one-year-old art-history major Maria Baibakova. She is the daughter of one of those Russians who is buying up art like there's no tomorrow and can pay for her seventy-fourth-floor crib at the Time Warner Center. It was her own interest, she said, that inspired her father’s collecting, a fairly recent habit. “After all,” she said, smiling, “we haven’t been capitalists that long.” She didn’t stay that long, either, unlike Robert Chaney, the Houston capitalist whose family collection of Asian art is currently on view in his hometown’s Museum of Fine Arts. He positively regaled me with tales of his artist discoveries, and when the party broke up, I was primed for the four-gallery fete at the Beatrice Inn.
This cramped basement boîte in the West Village was chockablock with—you guessed it—smiling young artists and their dealers. Not just those from the Zucker show at Boone, the Matt Keegan–Jedediah Caesar show at D’Amelio Terras, the Carter Mull show at Rivington Arms, and the Jamie Isenstein show at Andrew Kreps, but also Jonah Freeman, who will create a methedrine lab for his show at Ballroom Marfa; James Fuentes, who just opened a gallery downtown; Will Cotton, resplendent in vintage Givenchy; Brett Littman, the new Drawing Center director; and sweet Nathan Carter, conspiring with designer Jim Walrod, who is outfitting yet another new hotel on the Lower East Side. When I left, there was a line of sullen wannabes waiting outside, but inside everyone was hot and happy.
On Friday night, I was almost too dizzy from all the high spirits to count the artists who showed up on a single block in Chelsea for Larry Clark at Luhring Augustine, Alexandra Bircken at Gladstone Gallery, T. J. Wilcox at Metro Pictures, and Friedrich Kunath at Andrea Rosen. Refusing to wait in line for a one-on-one experience of Keith Tyson’s “large field array” at Pace Wildenstein, I hopped over to Kasmin for Deborah Kass’s first painting show in New York in a dozen years—a smash by all accounts, particularly copresenter Vincent Fremont’s. Kenny Scharf was there, ready for his caveman bit in Saturday’s Art Parade. John Waters and playwright John Guare were there. So were Pat Steir, Joan Jonas, Maureen Gallace, and David Humphrey. Kass’s show of text paintings (abstracted from lyrics of 1970s Broadway musicals) was advertised as “Feel-Good Paintings for Feel-Bad Times.” Guess it worked. All these artists were smiling.
By Saturday, dead on my feet and sore from relentless grinning, I became determined to take in some art. At dusk, lurching down to Delancey Street, I followed Cindy Sherman and David Byrne into the fun house of abandoned interiors and mountains of sand that Mike Nelson, prompted by Creative Time, had transported to the old Essex Street Market. The barbecue that followed at The Delancey’s rooftop bar (also celebrating the Art Parade) set the stage for the season of collective experience ahead. (Forget about one-on-one art. This fall, elitism will find its feet in a rush of exclusive, invitation-only performances, like Damien Hirst’s debut as a fashion designer, at Gagosian on Saturday night.)
Left: Artist Lawrence Weiner, dealer Marian Goodman, and artist Pierre Huyghe. Right: Artist Gabriel Orozco and Benjamin H. D. Buchloh. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)
But the real highlight came on Monday, when Marian Goodman threw her sober gallery and all of the artists she has ever represented a bubbly thirtieth-anniversary dinner in the Pool Room at the Four Seasons. In the gallery, Benjamin Buchloh had put together a modestly scaled, elegant, and completely absorbing historical show of works by Dara Birnbaum, Thierry de Cordier, James Goodman, Tacita Dean, John Baldessari, and fifteen others for the first half of a two-part retrospective of Goodman’s uncompromising international program. The diminutive dealer was beaming throughout, greeting her guests with a drink in one hand and a framed black-and-white Polaroid, a gift from Rineke Djikstra, in the other.
At dinner, a supremely gracious affair, there were toasts from Aggie Gund, Lawrence Weiner, Jack Lane, Jennifer Stockman, Jeff Wall, Aaron Levine, and others and an appreciative, thoughtful speech from Goodman herself that complimented everyone present—a remarkably balanced group of 220 national-museum directors, curators, collectors, historians, critics, and artists from seventeen countries. “It would be wonderful if the rest of the world were as welcoming as the art world,” Goodman said. Everyone, even Christian Boltanski, was smiling.
I had read in the New York Times that mortality would be the focus of new art this season. All I can say is that the people who are making it, buying it, and selling it are mighty glad to be alive.
Left: Artist Karla Diaz, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts director Jens Hoffman, and Capp Street Project artists Mario Ybarra Jr. and Tim Lee. Right: CCA dean of graduate studies Larry Rinder. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)
Could it be that the persistently provincial San Francisco Bay Area might finally give LA a run for its money as the West Coast’s cosmopolitan art capital? The question came to mind after attending last week’s collegial openings and parties for Jens Hoffmann’s curatorial debut at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts and “Take Your Time,” Olafur Eliasson’s small survey at SF MoMA.
The California College of the Arts (which has recently dropped “and Crafts” from its name) inhabits a former Greyhound station in an industrial neighborhood that locals say is “somewhere between SoMa and Potrero Hill but not properly anywhere.” Thankfully, Hoffmann, wearing pink jeans, a blue blazer, and an outsize smile, was standing by the door. Although he has only just arrived from London’s ICA, the Berlin-raised Costa Rican curator looked entirely at home in his new surroundings. After appropriate pleasantries, Hoffmann told me he is committed to his new institution and, as such, has just inaugurated a five-year-long curatorial project.
After a quick tour, I bumped into Kate Fowle, the founder and director of CCA’s curatorial-studies program. She announced her imminent departure to the other side of the Pacific Rim, where she will join the quickly expanding staff of the soon-to-open Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. She stood in front of the “Americana: 50 Months, 50 States, 50 Exhibitions” project, a lobby vitrine in the awkward shape of the United States that the curatorial students had filled with artwork and historical documents about Alabama (with the aid of Hoffmann). The team, which also includes Stacen Berg and Claire Fitzsimmons, has organized four other concurrent projects: two group shows (“Passengers” and “Pioneers”), a street-savvy Mario Ybarra Jr. mural, and a typically secretive Tino Sehgal performance. Thinking of five exhibitions in the modest available space, one might imagine a picture-choked salon, but Hoffmann has managed to pull it off. “Passengers” contains several hallmarks of Hoffmann’s idiosyncratic style, in particular a room in the center of the gallery that hosts rotating, ultrabrief solo shows drawn from the ranks of the group effort. By contrast, “Pioneers” mixes nineteenth-century daguerreotypes of gold prospectors with contemporary art. Despite the ungainliness of the yellow strip encircling the gallery walls, the seemingly tenuous connections between wagoneers and, say, painter Jay DeFeo held together.
Left: Kate Fowle, international curator at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. (Photo: Andrew Berardini) Right: Artist and CCA faculty member Michele Pred, Oakland Museum of California chief curator of art Phil Linhares, and CCA faculty emerita Eleanor Dickinson. (Photo: Robert Adler)
Yet Hoffmann’s curatorial derring-do is not half as a tricky as the art of Sehgal. I finally asked Berg, one of the institute’s assistant curators, how to find the Berlin-based artist’s performance. She replied, with perfect sweet calm, “Bush, in Iraq, Says Troop Reduction Is Possible. This Is New by Tino Sehgal, 2003.” Though initially confused, I figured out that the recitation was of that day’s headline from the New York Times—a performance that Sehgal, who rarely travels (and then only by boat), was not on hand to deliver himself.
Up the street at a cavernous club, the after-party featured spotlights projecting the Wattis’s modest new slogan—“Best Show in Town”—and incidentally illuminating a shuffling gaggle of curators from SF MoMA and the Berkeley Art Museum. The institutional presence was strong: Nearly everyone I met was either flown in for the occasion or a local curator.
Later that night, a kindly bunch from SF MoMA pointed me toward the next party, hosted by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery for Eliasson. The crowd of BMW suits (who underwrote Eliasson’s “art car” made of ice, on view at the museum), even more curators, and a spare artist or two mingled in the alleyway bar that, with its chinoiserie and antler chandeliers, seemed like a postmodern hunting lodge for opium addicts.
Eliasson’s opening, on the following night, felt inviting if a little sober. Located on the top floor of the five-story building, it included only just enough work to be called a survey. The crowd in the galleries was openly effusive about the colored lights, mirrors, and synthetic rainbows scattered about the show. Though San Francisco dealer Anthony Meier declared in his deep, resonant voice, “Eliasson is a genius, on par with Picasso,” I overhead one wit proclaim the exhibition “a lava lamp for the intellectual set.”
Madeleine Grynsztejn, SF MoMA’s Elise S. Hass Curator of Painting and Sculpture, with artist Olafur Eliasson. Right: Charles Schwab, SF MoMA board president, Helen Schwab, and SF MoMA director Neal Benezra. (Photos: Drew Altizer)
The official dinner, held nearby at the opulent St. Regis Hotel, was attended by an art-world power set that included Sir Nicolas Serota of the Tate, collectors Donald and Doris Fisher and Pamela and Richard Kramlich, and art historians Anne M. Wagner and T. J. Clark—and, of course, Charles “Call me Chuck” Schwab. At the bar after the meal, a tanned Tanya Bonakdar related that she couldn’t help but ask the stock-market titan for a little insight into the art market. “He told me the whole thing is surely going to collapse in the next year and a half. To be honest,” she added with a bit of a smirk, “I can’t wait.”
“I’m glad to see it wasn’t a complete failure,” remarked Gerhard Richter at the unveiling of his new stained-glass window, installed in the south transept of the famous Cologne Cathedral and the result of a long, occasionally arduous production process. Richter’s understatement was greeted with lighthearted laughter from the crowd of assorted journalists and citizenry. “We had very fruitful discussions,” confirmed the cathedral’s master builder, Barbara Schock-Werner, who also admitted that the commissioning board had originally favored a more traditional representation of twentieth-century Christian martyrs. But when Richter’s abstract window design, a grid comprising 11,263 colored squares drawn from a palette of seventy-two different colors, was uncovered last Saturday, five years after the work’s conception, everyone present seemed more than merely satisfied—they seemed thrilled.
Appropriately, given the ecclesiastical setting, praise abounded. “The new window looks fantastic. The bright summer sunlight shining through it illuminates an overwhelming magnitude of colors!” enthused Cologne’s mayor, Fritz Schramma. “Richter’s composition is itself a symphony of light that reveals the beauty and inconceivable order of God’s creation and relates sensitively to the cathedral’s architecture,” added prelate Josef Sauberborn during the consecration service. The art world hasn’t been gathered in such unequivocal worship since Olafur Eliasson revealed his similarly scaled “divine intervention” at Tate Modern in 2003.
It is indeed a major achievement that the new window—a gift of the artist to the city of Cologne, where he’s resided for nearly twenty-five years—manages to look decidedly modern while maintaining harmony with the building’s thirteenth-century Gothic architecture. The original window was destroyed by bombs during World War II and was replaced in the early 1950s by a clear glass pane. Merging ornament and geometry, the composition of Richter’s replacement is, as the artist explains it, the result of a combination of “chance and control.” After selecting the palette, Richter used a computer to randomly generate the color arrangement for one half of the window, making the other half a mirror image of the first. (Though, apparently, he experimented with several different modes of reflection.) The resultant pattern gives an impression of cheerful opulence, a deliberately organized chaos.
To place the window within the broader context of Richter’s work, the Museum Ludwig organized a small accompanying exhibition. The museum, which sits kitty-corner from the cathedral, features two paintings and some drawings that demonstrate Richter’s long-term engagement with seriality: 4,900 Colors, a large work that he created following his design for the cathedral, and 4,096 Colors, 1974, a key inspiration for the window.
On Sunday, the festivities culminated with a free concert featuring pieces by Philip Glass and Morton Feldman in the city’s famous music hall the Philharmonie, attended by such art-world luminaries as Kasper König; the performance continued with a John Cage number just below the new window. And when the sun set at the end of this summery weekend, many people remained standing on the square in front of the cathedral, gazing at “their” new window, their faces lit with pride and joy. Or perhaps it was simply the flush of too much consecrated wine. “Our cathedral will never be finished—it is an eternal construction site,” is a well-known saying among Cologne citizens, who also like to predict that the renovations will end when the world does. Who knows? Perhaps contemporary art will augur the apocalypse yet.
People at funerals are mourning a death. Memorials are for celebrating a life. Only two weeks after the artist died on August 12, what was billed as Elizabeth Murray Praise Day at the Bowery Poetry Club last Saturday afternoon had the air of both. Over three faintly bizarre hours, the program, underwritten by Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro, provided a blend of the poignant and the comic that threatened to bring it closer to a Saturday Night Live skit shredding avant-garde performance practice than an actual art-world remembrance.
During the free-form portion of the afternoon—most of it—as the overflow crowd neglected the pizza and champagne laid out on the bar, admirers who admitted they had never known Murray seemed to outnumber family members and friends. Painter Jennifer Bartlett, writer Francine Prose, poet Hettie Jones, and other longtime Murray pals had to share the stage with unidentified folk singers and wannabe poet-habitués of the club who promoted themselves in song and verse, only to be shouted down by no less an eminence than Bob Holman, the club’s founder and Murray’s widowed husband.
Throughout, Holman rescued the proceedings from amateur-hour tedium with appreciative, Amen-like hoots and hollers. In other words, irreverence was the name of the game, as befitted both the place and Murray herself. Her image, in an album of photographs projected on a large screen, captivated an overflow crowd that included Dakota Sunseri (Murray’s son by her first husband, Don Sunseri), her two stunning daughters, Sophia Murray Holman and Daisy Murray Holman, artists Brice Marden and Joel Shapiro, Jessica Hagedorn and Patricia Spears Jones (no relation to Hettie), and choreographers Elizabeth Streb and Yoshiko Chuma.
“Talking to her, I felt strangely Irish,” said Prose of Murray. “Two good-humored old biddies complaining about how the word domestic was used to mean female, minor artist,” she added, to knowing growls and remonstrative “Hear hear”'s from Holman. Strange to think that Murray, the subject of a major 2005–2006 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, is still one of this country’s most undervalued painters. Yet she couldn’t have been more declarative or daring—qualities people seem to admire in men. Personally, I loved her plaid shirts and wild hair, her wide grin and determined air, and whatever unselfish gene made her such an enthusiastic advocate for experiment in all the arts. (She served on the boards of both the Andy Warhol Foundation and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts.) And her art! Those suppurating, bent and fractured canvases could be part Cubist fantasy and part bourgeois nightmare, then whip into cartoon lightning bolts, pink-cloud choo-choos, and paper-doll pups within a maelstrom of human body parts. Her painted world was all fire and music, jazzy rhythms spun from the everyday world. It was explosive and enigmatic, punctuated by unlaced shoes, unmade beds, and clattering coffee cups. As Prose noted, Murray’s paintings all seemed to come with a sound track.
One after another, her friends forced back tears as they recalled her difficulties and triumphs, and shared welcome pieces of her wisdom. “Get a boyfriend, she told me,” reported Mary Heilmann, who is, at sixty-seven, Murray’s close contemporary. “This is a great age for having sex!” Alice Hartley and Hettie Jones both recalled Murray’s years as the unofficial art teacher at the Downtown Community School; Jones read from a children’s book for which Murray had designed the cover. Judy Hudson told a hilarious story about Murray’s dressing down of a DJ in an Amsterdam club. Sophie Murray Holman, who is about to enter San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, took the mic to read a tender letter to Murray from family friend Stuart Hanlon, who let on that Murray was utterly in character to the end, when, he wrote, she “winked good-bye.” It was hard not to choke up.
And when it was his turn to speak. PaceWildenstein’s loquacious Douglas Baxter was similarly at a loss for words, so overtaken by emotion was he at the sight of Murray’s three children seated before him. He had known Murray since both joined Paula Cooper’s gallery in its early days in SoHo. Cooper was just as wistful as she remembered the way Murray would pick up cigarette butts from the street when she was trying to quit smoking and asked everyone present to raise a glass to Murray’s memory.
But it was Bartlett who stole the show by reading out of an old notebook a riotous biography of Murray she had written in the 1970s, detailing her friend’s affection for Erno Lazlo cosmetics, yoga, fighting, Holiday Inns, smoking and quitting smoking, and her own work. “Drunk,” Bartlett said, “she told a curator from the Whitney, ‘I am the James Joyce of painting.’” Big applause, much appreciative laughter.
Murray was the living portrait of a major—and pointedly female—artist, a MacArthur Prize winner, a mother, and a hero to many. The last time I saw her was in May, at an all-girl birthday party for Sarah Charlesworth given by Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons. Though diminished by her cancer, Murray was in great spirits, looking forward to the opening of the Venice Biennale, her tongue as pungent and her heart as generous as ever. That night, in fact, she was the one bearing praises—she laid copious amounts on everyone in the room. The hard part was seeing her have to leave before she could get her cake.
Left: Dakota Sunseri. Right: Artist Patricia Cronin and writer Francine Prose.
Zurich’s annual season kickoff is a three-day marathon of openings distributed throughout the city’s three main gallery districts. But the real highlight is Friday night’s joint venture at the Löwenbräu-Areal on Limmatstrasse, where the Swiss art world converges to wheel new deals. It’s a convenient location, as the bulk of the major galleries and institutions all share the same building, with an additional handful across the street. I began the evening’s jaunt at de Pury & Luxembourg, where Jimmie Durham was showing over thirty objects made over the past eleven years along with his 2002 film The Pursuit of Happiness, starring Anri Sala. One of the new sculptures—a car smashed with a large rock and aptly titled Alpine Substance on Wolfsburg Construction—recalled Maurizio Cattelan’s meteoric tribute to Pope John Paul II, La Nona Ora, crossed with Damián Ortega's VW Beetle. Durham himself hadn’t yet arrived, so I made my way toward the recently opened digs of Lange & Pult, where Lori Hersberger was debuting with his show “Smooth Transition” (perhaps a hopeful description of his move from Bob van Orsouw, just across the street). Next was Terry Rodgers’s Swiss solo debut at Nicola von Senger. What can I say? Baroque, realist paintings of decadent society parties; depictions of crowds of the rich and beautiful, half naked and practically lathered in ennui. It’s art for people who hope to spice up their lives by buying into a lifestyle they themselves can only covet. More substantial fare could be found around the corner at Rachel Khedoori’s exhibition at Hauser & Wirth. Here, the widow of Jason Rhoades showed several sculptures of abstract, model-size rooms, each inhabited by bits of uncanny matter.
But without a doubt the show that stole the most hearts was Olaf Breuning at the Migros Museum. Breuning has a special quality, one largely endemic to the Swiss, but which few are able to harness with such finesse. Let’s call it the giggle factor. Wandering through the installation of odd, wooden sculptures peppered with handmade candles and mazes of crates decorated with tiny drawings and photographic tableaus made for a tour of comedic genius. As the show progressed, snickering erupted into flat-out laughter, and by the time everyone reached the film Home 2, featuring at one point an actor on a hilariously disturbing voyage in Africa, one could see people wiping the tears from their eyes; in Breuning’s work, humor and pain lie in close proximity. The hero of the day was the film’s protagonist, Brian Kerstetter. Waiting nearby, I witnessed several (female) curators approach him and exclaim euphorically: “I love you . . . in that film!“ “You are so funny!” “You are such a great actor!” etc. “Actually, I’m not an actor,” he replied humbly. “Olaf and I became friends in New York, and I guess we just share the same totally stupid, primitive sense of humor.” Later, Breuning explained, “He is usually rather shy, and a great and sensitive writer.”
Left: Kunsthalle Zurich director Beatrix Ruf with critic and curator Daniel Baumann. Right: Dealer Stefano W. Pult with artist Lori Hersberger.
Downstairs, the traditional summer party in the courtyard was already in full swing. (All the galleries participate, excepting de Pury, which pulled out this year in favor of a private dinner held in its space.) The nice thing about the event is that it is truly democratic—everybody is in the same place, there’s open seating at the wooden beer tables, and a smorgasbord of multiculti fast food is served buffet-style. On the other hand, its major flaw is that it’s truly democratic. “I’m always saying we should do the VIP thing,” grumbled one assistant curator while we waited in line for drinks. Impatient, I zigzagged through the crowd and found entertaining company at a table with Migros director Heike Munder, Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer, dealer Giangi Fonti, and author/columnist Sibylle Berg. Elsewhere, at the Hauser & Wirth table, Mick Flick and Iwan Wirth were engaged in serious conversation; one can only speculate how much the Friedrich Christian Flick collection expanded that night.
Soon enough, I found myself dragged to a bar installed in the building’s freight elevator, where two smooth guys served oysters and vodka shots to an illustrious crowd. “My technicians,” remarked Munder, with a trace of motherly pride. Maybe it was the elevator’s up-and-down, but oysters and vodka don’t sit well in a mostly empty stomach, so I ran off to grab something more substantial. Meanwhile, rumor grew of an “illegal” after-party on the second floor of the warehouse space next door above de Pury. (Funny how the term illegal is always read as code for fun.) Who could resist? The party didn’t precisely match Terry Rodgers’s lurid canvases, but, having already missed the last train home, I hit the dance floor.
Left: (Clockwise from left) Mick Flick and Iwan Wirth with a friend. Right: Simon de Pury, journalist Marc Spiegler, and Michaela Neumeister, senior partner at Phillips de Pury.