Left: Art Basel director Sam Keller with artist Andreas Gursky. Right: MoMA trustee David Teiger with artist Ernesto Neto. (Photos: Sarah Thornton)
I don’t know if you’re superstitious when it comes to art junkets, but if the first art-worlder I spot is a creep, I take it as a bad omen. The sight of Ann Temkin, fielding a couple last-minute cell calls as she inched her way along the clogged line to the American Airlines check-in desk, was, by this admittedly unscientific criterion, a decided relief. The MoMA curator confessed to being a bit grumpy for all sorts of good reasons, the least of which were a grueling travel schedule and a twenty-five-year Harvard reunion from which she was just returning. Her mood must have accounted for the contrarian edge with which she greeted the perfectly amiable airport banter of Amy Cappellazzo, Christie’s International Co-Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, as we converged at the gate. I enjoyed this early Heathers moment, as Capellazzo discreetly steeled herself for a week of cafeteria Darwinism—then exacted swift revenge as she boarded ahead of us with the front-of-the-plane passengers.
Speaking of cafeteria Darwinism (or perhaps café Darwinism, given the fancy company), the fair’s most glittery dinner was, to everyone’s surprise, unseated. I mean, it looked seatedset tables, flowers, restrained guest listbut there were no place cards. The evening’s co-host, MoMA director Glenn Lowry bellowed “Dinner is served!” through the Schaulager’s cavernous halls—better than trumpets! Hopping to, I entered the dining hall too early with the always-affable Baroness Lambert at my side. She panicked first: “No cards?! I like to be taken care of and will sit next to anyone I’m told to—except David Zwirner.” Hmmm. Her sentiments were quickly seconded and thirded. Not about Zwirner, the maverick New York dealer whose artist Francis Alÿs was being fêted along with Tacita Dean, but rather about open seating. The only one who seemed to approve was Marc Glimcher of the Pace gallery dynasty, who confessed, with an endearingly self-deprecating shrug, that he would be sitting with his parents anyway.
Left: PaceWildenstein's Arne Glimcher and Douglas Baxter. Right: Dealer David Zwirner. (Photos: William Pym)
A little background: In addition to the art fair of art fairs, Basel boasts a number of top-flight public art institutions and (if you include neighboring Zurich) a handful of top-flight galleries as well, all of which inevitably mount their strongest shows in anticipation of the international foot traffic. Schaulager, in its third year scarcely old enough to be numbered among them, is already giving the rest of the art planet a run for its money. Founded by another Basel institution, Maja Oeriher Hoffman family and its collection has long sustained the Museum für Gegenwartskunstthe privately funded space, whose name translates to “storage locker,” has turned its Herzog and de Meuron-designed plant over to major retrospectives by the likes of Dieter Roth and Jeff Wall. This year a pair of focused shows devoted to the work Francis Alÿs and Tacita Dean add two points to a still-perfect score, and provide a fitting occasion for the fair’s toniest party.
Who was there? The proverbial everyone—though, strictly speaking, it’s a huge fair and this was not a huge dinner. In the way of dealers there were the heavy-hitting Swiss, of course; the aforementioned Zwirner (for Alÿs); Marian Goodman (for Dean); the Pace clan; everyone from a short stretch of Twenty-Fourth Street in Chelsea; and, oh yeah, at table one, the Acquavellas. Command central also boasted the rest of our co-hosts: Lowry was joined by MoMA board president Marie-Josée Kravis (who has lately filled the very big shoes of her predecessors with aplomb) and her husband Henry, Schaulager president Maja Oeri and her hasband Hans Bodenmann, and board member David Teiger, who scored a cake and candles at dessert for his birthday. And, of course, honored artist Dean—Alÿs, perhaps out for a walk, was nowhere to be seen.
I scored David Weiss (of Fischli & Weiss) and super-collector and MoMA light Kathy Fuld as dinner partners. In Fuld’s case, the “super” before collector means great as opposed to just lots, and Weiss, an éminence grise of the Swiss art world, is a disarmingly original thinker and talker about artnot only his own but generally. Someone once said that if Tacita Dean didn’t exist Lynne Cooke would have had to invent her, a remark that is unfair to both the artist and the curator—and I cite only to admit that I may have fallen prey to whatever small kernel of truth is buried in the witticism. I have not given Dean’s work the attention it deserves, but after half an hour of Weiss’s suggestive commentary I vowed to use this Basel visit as an occasion to take the overdue plunge. Weiss, to give you the flavor, says things like: “It is very, very difficult to make art that has no irony.” Then he pauses and adds: “It may also be very stupid.” He was not, by then, speaking of Dean. As it happened, he was worrying, like an old-fashioned Greenbergian, about the perils of kitsch. Of course, F & W’s work is not old fashioned, and, indeed, for an artist for whom the tourist snapshot constitutes creative ground zero, his concern constitutes a refinement worth thinking about.
“Fun” is a favorite word in the F & W lexicon, and they use the term with post-Warholian promiscuousness—which implies, of course, that requisite irony. Fischli, speaking of fun, had just then returned to our table with Beatrix Ruf, of the Kunsthalle Basel, and Mendes Bürgi of the Museum für Gegenwartskunst. Conscious they had been gone for while, Fischli feigned a “just-had-a-joint” dopiness. Are we having fun yet?
Everyone said their goodnights with many jokes about Americans and their early bedtimes, as the likes of Andreas Gursky, Klaus Biesenbach, Fischli, Weiss, Ruf, Bürgi and who knows who else headed for the Kunsthalle and a nightcap or a dozen. I doubled back to say a quick goodbye to Temkin (in a good mood now), and my thoughts turned to our inaugural airport run-in—and an opportunity for literary closure. Cappellazzo, sporting a country blush and (like both of us) in an ambivalent mood at take-off time, was bemoaning the blooms she would miss at her weekend place back home on account of the Basel tour. Despite the glamorous repast, great art, and good company, on day two her sentiment was ringing in my ears. She’s right: If your passion is peonies and your duty Art Basel, you’re basically screwed.
Right: Dealer Bill Acquavella with Lucien Freud's David and Eli, 2003-04. Right: Dealer Marian Goodman and artist Thomas Struth. (Except where noted, all pictures: Sarah Thornton)
It’s a joy to walk around an art fair before the feeding frenzy begins. With a day to go before the opening of Art Basel, the stands of confident Swiss dealers, like Bruno Bischofberger and Ernst Beyeler, were still stacked high with crates. Other established gallerists were fine-tuning their hang and tinkering with the lighting, while those who’d only recently gained access to this elite club were so completely prepared that they looked ready for Armageddon.
Every year collectors attempt to sneak in before the fair opens to obtain an early grab at the art. Art Basel maintains a zero-tolerance policy and forced French dealer Emmanuel Perrotin to sit out this year because he gave exhibitor’s passes in 2005 to supercollector Francois Pinault and private dealer Philippe Segalot. Rumor had it that this year Segalot had hired a Hollywood makeup artist then roamed the fair bald, without eyebrows, and with a scar on his cheek.
Fair director Sam Keller works hard. In the hour in which I shadowed him, he praised artists in French, cracked jokes in gesticulating Italian, and got into a cool debate with an irate gallery owner in German (she was upset that another dealer had been awarded a much-coveted front-row spot). I believe I even heard him say, “Shalom.”
The politics of booth placement can be arcane. Last year Gemini Editions somehow managed to bribe a technician to reverse the direction of the escalators so that collectors would ascend to their display rather than descend to it from the VIP room. Endeavoring to keep the peace, fair management decided that Gemini should switch positions annually with Cristea, a fellow editions dealer.
Keller had a good chin-wag with artist Subodh Gupta. Apparently the entire Indian contemporary-art scene was descending on Basel in support of Gupta (the first resident of India to appear in Art Unlimited, courtesy of Geneva’s Art & Public) and Nature Morte from New Delhi, making its debut in Art Premiere.
As we wandered through the standssometimes whizzing, sometimes doing a painstaking work-by-work inspectiondealers congratulated Keller on his appointment as director of the Beyeler Foundation. “It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” enthused Keller. “Ernst Beyeler has always been my mentor. It feels like home. I grew up kissing in that park.”
Amongst the fair’s biggest trophies by living artists, one could see Lucien Freud’s David and Eli, 2003–2004, on the Acquavella stand (asking $7.5 million); a 1981 Jasper Johns crosshatch skull painting on offer for $6.5 million at Richard Gray; Georg Baselitz’s “first upside-down painting,” made in 1969, going for $3 million with Aurel Scheibler; Jeff Koons’s St. Benedict, 2000, up for $2.2 million with Gagosian; Mark di Suvero’s giant Ulalu, 2001, which greets visitors at the fair entrance, offered by Paula Cooper for $1.8 million; and Takashi Murakami’s 727-727, 2006, priced north of a million on the Blum & Poe stand. The forty-four-year-old Japanese artist’s stock will no doubt rise when all hear that he has left Marianne Boesky to work with Larry Gagosian in New York.
I took leave of Keller and headed over to the Art Unlimited building, the biennial-style addition to the main fair where English artist Jonathan Monk told me, “Next week they’ll be flogging tractors in here. But who’ll sponsor their VIP bar?” James Rosenquist was in the room, affably chatting about his monumental painting, while Carsten Höller’s team polished his metal merry-go-round. LA artist Martin Kersels summed up the carnival ethos and pachyderm proportions when he looked tenderly at his Tumble Room sculpture and Pink Constellation video, both 2001, and said: “Buying my work is like acquiring a big pet, probably a pink elephant, because that’s what you see when you’re drunk.”
Just hours before opening to international VIP collectors, drills, hammers, and sanders could still be heard. It took a while to realize that I was listening to Ceal Floyer’s Construction, 2006recordings meant to evoke the process of installation. As I chatted with Floyer, one of her three dealers entered the stand. She introduced him as “one-third of the Bermuda triangle . . . I mean, holy trinity.” Backstage in Basel, artist-dealer relations are a spectator sport.
One heartwarming aspect of the fair is that the placement of Art Statements, the solo showcase of young dealers (who pay less for their stands but face the fiercest competition to get one), is hugely improved by moving it into this hall. More importantly, with Martin Westwood representing the Approach, Mungo Thomson for John Connelly Presents, Terence Koh for Peres Projects, Gardar Eide Einarsson at Team Gallery, and Matthew Brannon for David Kordansky, this may very well be the most mature and innovative Art Statements ever. However, as the twenty-eight-year-old Kordansky quipped of a work over in the Unlimited section, “If I sold that piece and got a quarter of it, it would be the equivalent of two, maybe three good years. The word ‘unlimited’what does that mean? A limitless flow of cash?”
Left: Biennale of Sydney director Charles Merewether. Right: Museum of Contemporary Art director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor. (All photos: Charles Green)
“I can’t relax yet, I’ve got at least eight more venues to open,” confessed a grim-looking Biennale of Sydney director Charles Merewether at a chilly Wednesday-morning press preview as installers and electricians raced across the cavernous spaces of Pier 2/3. Set at one of the few nineteenth-century harborside warehouses not converted into condominiums, this has always been a spectacular but problematic setting for art. Here and slightly anxious artists crouched by their suddenly miniature works. A wound-up Merewether marched off to oversee the last touches: no labels or captions to identify the art as yet, though the postcolonial and global themes of the biennale“Zones of Contact”were obvious. I spotted Scottish art critic Peter Hill, and together we boarded the shuttle bus moving media representatives between venue launches, for this biennale is spread far across the city.
At the Museum of Contemporary Art, director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor apologized, “I’m really sorry about the weather.” Sydney, normally sunny and subtropical, was suddenly freezing. Wall labels and didactic texts were complete here; one Melbourne curator noted the absence of artists’ nationalities on these, which gave viewing a quiz-show spin. The exhibition aims “to change the way we see the landscape of contemporary art,” Merewether asserted in his second speech of the day, with concentrations of artists from Central Asia, the Balkans, and the Middle East. I found artist Imants Tillers (about to have a huge retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia) next to his enormous new painting, Terra Negata, which is composed of his usual grid of small canvas boards and a spider’s web of visual quotationsfrom a Gabriel Orozco painted skull to appropriations of Australian Western Desert artists’ cursive designs. According to the usually laconic Tillers, this was the “unpromised land,” and we turned around to face Dutch artist Lidwien van de Ven and her austere photographs of Palestine, the promised land. Director Merewether still looked grim, perhaps anticipating more speeches and openings; “it isn’t finished yet,” he reminded me.
Left: National Gallery of Victoria curators Jason Smith and Kelly Gellatly. Right: Artist Rebecca Belmore.
The buzz by then, though, was almost universally positive. Everyone was relieved the show looked at least interesting and at best very smart, especially after the anemic, universally disliked biennale curated by Isabel Carlos two years ago. Somewhere in the suddenly packed galleries were groups of jet-lagged visiting grandees, including 1990 Biennale of Sydney curator René Block and the next edition’s director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, but I couldn’t see them amid the crush of arriving interstate curators, including the National Gallery of Victoria’s Kelly Gellatly and Jason Smith. Queensland Art Gallery’s Julie Ewington was talking secretively to someone, possibly about of the opening in November of the next Asia-Pacific Triennial in a brand-new museum on the Brisbane River. By now conservators were everywhere underfoot with flashlights and wipes, checking final condition reports and looking for dust. MacGregor’s trademark Scottish tartan shoes were on, her usual focus lost briefly as Merewether gave his next speech; her vacant moment was captured by a young art-world dude with a video-equipped mobile phone. Rhana Devenport, the biennale’s public programs manager and just-appointed next director of the Govett-Brewster Museum (New Zealand’s only serious contemporary art institution), smiled so hard it looked as if she was about to burst into tears.
Another bus, this time to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which has a love-hate relationship with the biennale. Well, mainly hate, for Sydney audiences remember rumors that the AGNSW massively truncated Block’s biennale. But AGNSW (called “Agnes” locally) had beautifully installed its capacious lower levels. During Merewether’s third speech of the morning, AGNSW curatorial head Tony Bond grinned broadly; I’d heard that his support for expatriate former Getty curator Merewether was crucial two years ago during the process of selecting a director. Paula Latos-Valier, who has managed almost all of Sydney’s biennales since their inception, looked anxiously at her much-used mobile phone. This is her last biennale. I couldn’t find anyone prepared to tell me her replacement.
Finally, the opening partiesMCA firstwhich are legendary for tightly policed RSVPs. Inside, dealers held court and everyone ignored Federal Minister for Communications Senator Helen Coonan’s speech. Sydney audiences are notoriously unruly; this lot had absolutely no interest in what anyone had to say (least of all a federal minister about to rewrite the media laws in favor of Rupert Murdoch), looking instead at what everyone was wearing. Who were the three underdressed young women in pink gauze and blinking party lights? The dealer Barry Keldoulis was in a benevolent mood. MCA director Macgregor was worrying about the future already, clearly preoccupied with the idea that scarce biennale funds would be siphoned off to pay for the vast upkeep of Pier 2/3. Everyone was drinking very fast. I headed west along the winding harbor-edge back to the supposedly strictly invitation-only artists' party but immediately spotted two young students who’d smiled their way inside. By now Merewether was starting to relax, as even he could see the show will be a success. People were beginning to act over-friendly, slurring their gossip. But without an official pink plastic wrist tag to enter the VIP enclosure and hear more, I chose to make my way into the night.
MoMA’s Party in the Garden evokes one of my favorite retro fantasy scenes as depicted in Woody Allen’s Manhattan: A sophisticated New York evening where Diane Keaton discusses orgasms and Nazis with her fellow intelligentsia, surrounded by blue-chip sculpture. Bella Abzug is honored for being Bella Abzug. And there’s an open bar. Not a little smugly, I anticipated a classy evening on all fronts: The echt-New York, adult moment imprinted on my brain since I was a wee, suburban Woody Allen fan.
I brought my veteran artist pal to compare notes. As we approached MoMA, a tootsed-up lady was having a smoke near the door, showing a lot of leg. She was a harbinger. Inside, more tootsed-up, half-draped people milled about the museum lobby. The “black tie” dress code, this evening, seemed to have been interpreted as “hooker bar mitzvah.”
“I’ve never seen so much skin in a museum,” marveled moi in my push-up bra, slit skirt and Miu Miu platforms, “and not too toned either . . . ” as I admired the healthy body images of the affluent-looking crowd. “They don’t have to look good,” said my fellow downtowner.
Left: MoMA president Marie-Josée Kravis with husband Henry Kravis. Right: Architect Richard Meier. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)
The garden was never more alluring. I took in the glam white tents, carpeted poufs to cushion dressed-up derrieres, a dance floor where the art patrons boogied near modern icons by Matisse, Maillol, and Henry Moore, and wondered if there ever had been a bar mitzvah at MoMA? A Modern bar mitzvah with Frank Stella centerpieces, music by Philip Glass, Barbara Kruger invites, a Koons in chopped liver, the whole simcha documented by, say, Tina Barney. Fabulous. If done tastefully, of course.
With “Grammy-winning R & B musician John Legend” performing after-dinner, according to the press release, tonight’s benefit for MoMA raised $25,000 per Patron table of ten. Outside in the garden, we “After-Dinner Dance” people were on the B-list. Rather than the highbrow witfest in Manhattan, “It’s a meat market for the upwardly mobile,” observed my friend. We literally had our noses pressed up against the glass, where we could see the fancy people and art-world players (Jeff Koons, the Mardens, Alanna Heiss) ingesting Glorious Food beneath a giant video screen from which Mayor Bloomberg addressed them, like Chairman Mao. “A writer is an eternal outsider,” wrote John Gregory Dunne, “his nose pressed against whatever window on the other side of which he sees his material.” How true. The gal from New York was supposed to get quotes so she was screwed, but your diarist was under no such obligation, and savored how, through the window, Rodin’s giant statue of Balzac, the connoisseur of upgrading, was the perfect repoussoir, surveying the scene like an undead hawk. Luckily honoree Sarah Jessica Parker arrived late and we snuck in behind her and did a little mingling with the “insiders.”
Left: Jeff Koons and Justine Koons. Right: Actress and MoMA trustee Anna Deavere Smith. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)
Tonight’s honorees were Joan Tisch, patron of the arts, and Miss Parker, who was teensy with a long face and nicejust like on TV. An active supporter of “charitable and political causes,” Miss Parker admitted, however, she “can’t afford to collect art,” when queried by the gal from New York. We were quite surprised to learn this. She just buys a few things from someone’s artist mom in New Orleans.
We were given a list of big names who were eating, but alas, with no photos, I couldn’t tell a Gund or a Tisch from my tush. Jackson Pollock lookalike Ed Harris, who played the famous dripper in the biopic, was there. Kim Heirston demurred when we asked to take her picture: “Because I’m going to Europe tomorrow.” Huh? The Mardens were affable and photogenic as always. It was faaaabulous.
Left: Artist Hanna Liden. Right: Williams College Art Museum curator Deborah Rothschild, artist Jacqueline Humphries, and Hannah Bloomenthal.
I meet Carol Greene, Hanna Liden, and Charline von Heyl at Hertz. We’re on our way to Williamstown, Massachusetts, for the opening of an exhibition of paintings by Jacqueline Humphries at the Williams College Art Museum. It starts pouring almost immediately, so it takes us two hours just to get out of the city. Someone remarks that the woods in the vicinity of the Cloisters are a haven for crackheads. “Does crack make you want to have sex?” Carol inquires. “No, it just drives you into a bottomless black pit and makes you want to kill yourself,” Hanna answers. Several hours later, and still a considerable distance from our destination, someone remarks that maybe we should have scored some crack for the road; the beers and pretzels we bought at a gas station just aren’t giving us much of a lift.
Jacqueline, her husband Tony Oursler, and their two-year-old son Jack are there to greet us when we finally reach the museum. Alas, we are too late to see her paintings; the Williams College trustees are coincidentally about to sit down to dinner in the gallery in which they’ve been installed. Charline cruises in without a word from the guards. I guess she looks classier than the rest of us. Jacqueline remains unperturbed; the paintings, she assures us, will look better in the morning light. Humphries’s dinner is being served at the house of exhibition curator Deborah Rothschild and her husband David. It’s still raining, but the prospect of foggy mountains and trees from the Rothschild house is spectacular. Charline and I take a short promenade through the graveyard that adjoins the property, striking campy poses among the obelisks and mausoleums. Dinner is perfectly pleasant, but Hanna and I steal off to our bedroomlike Jacqueline and Tony, we’re bunking at the Rothschilds’for a divertissement. Evidently, we’re staying in their son’s bedroom, given the large amount of sports memorabilia and overall teenage-boy décor. Hanna and I rifle through the closet, trying on various athletic outfits. (Apologies to Rothschild fils; we put everything back as we found it, promise.) After this naughty time-out, we return to dinner, apparently unmissed.
Left: Artist Cecily Brown, designer Tara Subkoff, Hanna Liden, and Reena Spaulings' Emily Sundblad. Right: Artist Christopher Wool.
The following morning we say goodbye to our gracious hosts and convene at the museum. Jacqueline’s large abstractions, rendered in metallic paint on brazen metallic grounds, have been installed in a capacious octagonal gallery. “It looks really glamorous,” Charline remarks. We all agree that “glamorous” is a good word to describe paintings; “chic” maybe isn’t. I ask Jacqueline about the exhibition title, “Seven Sisters”: “I really hate titling shows, but I thought this was sort of funny. I was thinking of the Pleiades”the seven daughters of the dispossessed Titan Atlas, condemned to carry the world on his shoulders“but as Williams was an all-male school until the '70s, the allusion to the Seven Sisters women’s colleges seemed curiously apt.”
I also check out “Jackson Pollock at Williams College: A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe.” The three paintings on display, especially Number 2, 1949, are major, but the wall text about the late MoMA curator, class of ’67, is risible. “Those of us who knew Kirk at Williamswho remember his cotton drinking suit printed with Budweiser labelswere naturally astonished to see him morph into an alpha intellectual and a sex symbol for the girls of Mensa,” writes Hal Crowther, class of ’66.
“Williamstown is so creepy,” Charline comments. I thought it was pretty. I preferred it to North Adams, some ten minutes away, where Mass MoCA is located. Carol insisted that we drop in, as one of her artists, Paul Chan, was showing there. Had I known that this was merely a group show (bearing a predictably dum-dee-dum curator-speak title, “Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History”), I might have demurred, but Carol’s driving. The real (bummer) surprise, however, is “Carsten Höller: Amusement Park.” In a darkened gallery the size of a football field, Höller has installed various old amusement park rides; lights blink on and off at tiresomely long intervals, and the Tilt-a-Whirl moves ever so slowly. “It’s a metaphor for . . . time,” Jacqueline says with a laugh. Supposedly, all the rides move in ultra-slow-mo, but I don’t notice, my tolerance for boredom having reached its limit. The real kicker, however, is at the rear of the gallery: a mirrored wall with a rectangular cutout giving a glimpse of the next room. I cringe. “That’s the signifier that he’s an intellectual,” Hanna adds contemptuously.
Back in Manhattan, Klara Liden (Hanna’s younger sister, an inevitable clarification) opens at Reena Spaulings. Inside the gallery, the avant-demimonde is in full forceEmily Sundblad, Rita Ackermann, Adam McEwen, Agathe Snow, Cecily Brown, Tara Subkoff, Nate Lowman, Clarissa Dalrymple, Meredith Danluck, etc. Given the crowd, it’s rather hard to see Klara’s three videos, slideshow projection, and site-specific construction. The latter is a sort of elevated bed, supported by police barricades that the artist “scavenged” from the streets, and thenand this strikes me as a feat of amazing prowesscarried back to the gallery on her bicycle. But the fuzz are always watching: During installation, three plain-clothes cops showed up at the gallery, where Hanna, lending a helping hand, was alone. “Closed for installation,” she said briskly, but then one cop flashed his badge. At this point, Hanna was feeling a tad panicky, but she gathered up all her forces of charm and Swedish diplomacy, and the authorities left after being assured that NYPD identification would be painted over in white. “It’s better this way anyway,” she tells me at the opening. “Less obviously, I guess, political?”
Attending exhibition previews at Le Magasin, Grenoble’s national center for contemporary art, one tends to run into lots of visitors from Geneva. They come as neighbors and have been well acquainted with the center since the '80s, when Swiss-born Adelina von Furstenberg was at its helm. The preview for “Video in the Pierre Huber Collection” or “Video in the Collection of Pierre Huber” (“We hesitated between the two options,” grinned Yves Aupetitallot, the current director) was no exception. Huber, the well-known art dealer and one of the leading personalities responsible for the renewal of Art Basel, is based in Geneva. In fact, I'd been planning to travel to Grenoble with another Genevan, Huber stalwart Sylvie Fleury, and I had been looking forward to racing through the valleys to Grenoble in the artist's black Porsche. I ended up settling for the high-speed train, but my consolation was the company of Franck Scurti, whose work will be featured next at the museum.
Last year the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lausanne (also directed by Aupetitallot) offered an impressive glimpse of Huber’s collection, with works dated 1980 to 2000. Huber, a self-taught connoisseur who started out as a sportsman, explained to Grenoble’s mayor while walking him through this exhibition that he had even participated in the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, which he claimed had helped him acquire a taste for competition. For a long time, he has been advised by the likes of Swiss artist John Armleder and curator and critic Bob Nickas, and he has built a collection comprising also over one hundred video installations, a few of which were the focus of this exhibition.
Huber wanted the show to have an educational character, an aim that was arguably reflected in the wide variety of screening formats included at Le Magasin, which range from the very large (Shirin Neshat) to the extremely small (Tony Oursler). Beautifully arranged in a maze of black rooms with wall-to-wall carpet, the videos are short enough that one can watch them all in one visit and together provide an overview of the genre, starting with an excellent historical piece by Nam June Paik. The work of Fleury, who finally arrived with artist Amy O’Neill (in an old BMW), stands out because the show marks the European premiere of her video Strange Fire (first screened at Patrick Painter in LA), in which she steps on Christmas ornaments in high-heeled shoes (“I bought them on sale at Menudier”). We talked at length about positive waves, meditation, and chi. . . . “Video in the Pierre Huber Collection” is mainly preoccupied with representations of the body, and these are variously concerned with S&M (Isaac Julien), the homoerotic (Annika Larsson), teenagers (Rineke Dijkstra), fragmentation (Zhang Peili), and gore (Sturtevant versus Paul McCarthy).
When the time came for dinner, we all made our way to a freezing-cold room where a slightly disgruntled Pierre Huber declared that he should have spent more money so that we could at least have had something warm to eat. I agreed, but was pleased nonetheless to see Florence Derrieux, who curated the Tom Burr retrospective now on view in Lausanne, and Fabrice Gygi, who was in Grenoble to work on a school-building renovation project. He was chatting with artist Anna Líndal about his upcoming trip to Iceland. Lionel Bovierthe dashing editor of JRP|Ringier, an ambitious new publishing houseexplained how he broke his own record by producing the exhibition’s catalogue, modeled on The Family of Man and designed by Gilles Gavillet, in a mere twenty-one days.
Later, Annika Larsson was explaining her piece to me when Frédéric Bugada, who played the part of a punk in Kim Gordon and Jutta Koether’s “reverse karaoke” (on view in another show opening at the museum the same night), turned to Claudia Cargnel, his partner at the Cosmic Galerie, and told her that he thought I didn’t like Annika’s work. Claudia looked at me and said, “Is that true? You’re naughty, you’re so naughty!” Before I dug myself in deeper, we all left to go to the Taxi-Brousse, a bar with a neo-Africanist theme, lost somewhere near rue Mozart. At the end of the night Pierre Huber drove away with longtime partner Robert Gomez-Godoy while critic Vincent Pécoil and I headed back to our hotel with an obligatory “See you next week in Basel!”