Left: Marian Goodman and Gerhard Richter. Right: Critic and curator Robert Storr with MCA Sydney director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor. (Photos: David Velasco)
I hate to travel. Still, a tempting triple bill (and a “yes” from a favorite New York date) persuaded me to undertake the crossing from London, my habitual stomping ground, as some of you may know. Reviewing our admittedly rigorous schedule, my escort not so sportingly opted out of all but the glamorous main event, a dinner at the Four Seasons hosted by gallerist Marian Goodman to celebrate the star of her starry stable, Gerhard Richter. On my own, and all but stalled in a snarl of Village traffic (the 6PM start-time of my first engagement ticking past), I was beginning to fear my fickle pal had had the right idea.
Destination one: Galleria Illy, the coffee bar-cum-multiplex on West Broadway where Bookforum's editor, Eric Banks, was presiding over a reading devoted to the poetry of Roman decadent Catullus. As luck would have it, our host had not yet called the throng to order, and my spirits were already lifting when Peter Green, translator of a new edition of the ancient's verses, opened the proceedings with a pair of poems in the original Latinthe first, a tour de force of Galliambic form; the second, somewhat more colloquialand more characteristic of the poet’s oeuvre. (We'll have to take his word for it!) Perhaps it was the dead languageits fusty beauty at odds with the toxic modernity of Soho's main shopping dragbut more then a few in the audience succumbed to charmed giggles. Delight proved infectious, as the program moved through selections from Green's own English renderings, performed by a jazzy lineup that included everyone from Olympian wiseman Richard Howard to hipster classicist Daniel Mendelsohn to rectal romantic Toni Bentley.
Left: Gerhard Richter signs a book for a fan. Right: Anya von Gösseln of the Office for Contemporary Art with artist Jacob Maendel. (Photos: David Velasco)
Alas, already running late for my next event, I was forced to forgo “the really dirty bits” promised by Wayne Koestenbaum, though my next event, a buffet dinner welcoming Richard Flood (that hard-partying pillar of the American art community) back to New York, promised our bawdy classicists a run for their money. Regrettably, chiseled centurions in leather wrist gauntlets were in short supply, though a burgeoning company, including Flood's new New York boss Lisa Phillips (he assumes the post of chief curator at the New Museum she directs this fall), his old New York boss, gallerist Barbara Galdstone, recent MoMA defector Terry Riley, the Guggenheim's freshly elevated Lisa Dennison, early-bird collectors Ilene and Michael Cohen, and lawyer to the (art) stars, Michael Stout, all looked smart in more conventional festive wear. Flood, dependably jovial and presiding over a perfectly imperial Tribeca quadplex courtesy of collectors and recent Minnesota transplants Ed Bazinet and Wouter Deruytter, did pull off a respectable Nero. I had scarcely thanked our affable hosts for this lavish entertainment when the sight of a sizable Richter on the wall behind them reminded me that I was expected for dinner uptown.
Goodman pulls out the stops when Gerhard comes to town, and I thought the venue was an inspired choice. The Grill Roomvery Tom Ford for Gucci, albeit a few decades avant la lettrehas always been a personal favorite, spoiled only by the masters of the universe at lunch and the tourists at night. Taking it over is really the only way to go. As I arrived at the top of that fabled staircase, one prominent New York curator mouthed, in camp mock-dazzlement, “F-A-N-C-Y.”
Left: Catullus translator Peter Green. Right: Bookforum's Eric Banks with writers Richard Howard and Wayne Koestenbaum.
Fancy is as fancy does, I worried, confessing my decidedly unfancy behavior to Art Institute of Chicago curator James Rondeau: I was so short on time that I was forced to forego the opening, I blurted. He (squaring his shoulders) replied, “I have never done that!” Then, checking his perhaps too fulsome pride, ventured a more playful, “Something bad will happen to you.” I ventured towards the dining area with increased foreboding, but not only did my missing date miraculously materialize, but a quick scan of the seating cards revealed my assignment to be an altogether congenial one.
Another night our corner might have been deemed a kind of egghead Siberia, but if you know anything about the Goodman value system, you know that eggheads rate at least as high as titans of industry, a fact confirmed at the very next table, where the seats of honor flanking the artist were reserved for Rosalind Krauss and Benjamin Buchloh. I have been given to understand that Buchloh, an essayist (along with Dieter Schwarz) for the show’s handsome catalogue found Philip Johnson's tabernacle to the power lunch an unfit setting to fête his favored vehicle. I wondered if he would have been happier with, say, the brasserie redux of a Pastis or the rigor of a Matsuri. As a one-time editor of the critic, I'm well used to his have-your-Grill-Room-and-hate-it-too schtick, but that doesn’t stop me from counting him among our most credible critics.
Left: Bill Powers and Allan Ritcher. Right: Marian Goodman's Victoria Solano with Guggenheim curator Carmen Gimenez. (Photos: David Velasco)
Speaking of October, while discourse with my immediate partners was so festive and fluid that I scarcely noticed who filled the other ninety plus seats, never mind what was said, I did pick up on some ambient chatter attending the recent spate of negative reviews greeting Art Since 1900, the revisionist Modernist history-cum-textbook penned by four of that organ's chief protagonists. Indeed, with three of the authors in our corner that evening, and one, Hal Foster, directly across the table, I had the bad taste to vent my own frustration with the study to his wife, Sandy Tate. Truth be told, I don’t know anyone, outside the authors and their minions (who are admittedly legion) that is not exasperated by the parochial cliquishness of the treatment of the art of recent decades. Even I, a normally reliable fan of their individual efforts, felt so stifled by their version of the '90s that it will be a good while before I am able to crack the tome again to investigate the probable riches of the earlier sections.
It was time to go, and Rondeau's “something bad” had yet to befall me. In fact, one day hence, a considerable dividend was paid on my opening no-show in the form of a first visit to the exhibitionsans the masses and the madness. A promising young art historian I bumped into at the gallery confessed to “never really getting the abstractions,” and I had to shush a wag that reached me by phone as I stepped back out onto 57th Street and offered up the old painting-by-the-yard quip. Richter's abstractions, of course, have always walked a difficult line: One minute they are mere cipherslike Warhol's blanks, both foils for and negations of the blurry representations with which he juxtaposes them; the next, they are bottomless wells of nuance. “Read, learn, work it up, go to the literature” . . . the refrain is Joan Didion's, and her occasion a genuinely tragic one, yet nudged by the naysayers (not to mention a hall of grisaille panels set off by a squadron of fighter planes), I took her counsel. Catalogue in hand, I stepped across the street and into a McDonald's “town house,” secured a coveted upstairs window seat, and proceeded to make my way through the Buchloch essay along with the three-cheeseburger snack that is a favorite guilty pleasure.
The frisson of fast food and a slow read was recalling for me a bit too neatly the Latin-in-Soho moment that opened my excursion. There was Buchloch's faintly archaic, overweening allegiance to modernist negativity. (Indeed, at first I was skeptical of the utility of the broad-strokes sketch of the history of painterly negation he laid in, at least at this point in the Richter conversation. What, after all, are we to do with the surplus of fresh paintings that after all pack four galleries and a long hall?) But by the time I made it through the critic's rather inspired riff on color after color, and, in fairness, absorbed his gestures towards attending to the real specificities of each micro-manifestation of refusal, I was again the devotee. As for the art? Well, a few yardsor boltsI would happily hang.
Left: “Le Voyage intérieur” curator Alex Farquharson. Right: The “Infinite White Cube” room. (Unless noted, all photos Nicolas Trembley).
Paris is awash with visions of melancholy and esoteric variants of romanticism this autumn, both of which tend to put me in a very good mood. There's “Mélancolie” and “Vienne 1900” at the Grand Palais; the first retrospective of the neglected Girodet at the Louvre; and now a contemporary group show devoted to new manifestations of Symbolism in the work of young artists (mostly based in London and Paris) at Espace EDF Electra. (The cultural exchange between the two cities is also an amuse-gueule to the roughly twenty exhibitions of French contemporary art to be held simultaneously in London next October.)
The glass-fronted site of “Le Voyage intérieur” is a renovated Art Nouveau power station in the 7th Arrondissement, just steps away from Le Bon Marché and the best other top shopping destinations. While I was looking forward to seeing what could be done with the theme of “la Décadence,” I also knew that the show was going to be impossible to get a handle on during the opening, so I opted for the press preview instead. When I arrived, there were maybe five other people wandering around the blacked-out and drastically configured space, in addition to the seven or eight people directly involved with the show standing awkwardly by. (With its three floors, central two-story well, mezzanine, and slick glass elevator, the venue is well suited to design shows, though perhaps less so to art.)
Left: Artist Jean Luc Verna. Right: “Le Voyage intérieur” curator Alexis Vaillant and curator Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy.
As I walked down a newly erected and appropriately gloomy “Metaphysical Corridor,” illuminated by fake, fluorescent-lit cutout “windows” and mechanically fanned dark blue transparent curtains (shades of De Chirico or “The Turn of the Screw”), I ran into London gallerist couple Cornelia Grassi and Tomasso Corvi-Mora. “This show could never be done in London,” Grassi enthused, implying that the scenography would be thought too kitschnot empty-white-space enough. Having seen little of the art yet, apart from a handsome bronze bust of a helmet-haired androgyne by London artist Enrico David, I was inclined to agree. Both gallerists have artists in “Le Voyage”: Grassi represents Silke Otto-Knapp, whose smallish, Klimtesque paintings of hieratic dancers look highly appealing in the peacock-blue, double height “Salon Egyptien,” while Corvi-Mora shows Roger Hiorns, whose big, black, freestanding metal sculpture, reminiscent of '60s-era Anthony Caro, is hard to make out (and thus doubly mysterious) in the black-walled “Unknown Pleasures” gallery on the ground floor.
Walking upstairs, I found myself in an even darker, latex-lined room, dubbed the “Black Vampire Rubber Zone.” Here I encountered one of the curators, Alex Farquharson, who regaled me with some surprising arcana, such as the fact that the show was inspired by Joris-Karl Huysmans novel À Rebours (1884), that benchmark of fin-de-siècle decadence. According to Farquharson, he and Alexis Vaillant, the show's French curator, along with young scenographer Nadia Lauro, had tried to imagine what the reclusive hero Des Esseintes’s house “would look like today.” (“Not like this,” I said to myself. “Come over to my place.”) Farquharson explained that the hors concours presence in the show was that of Richard Hawkins, a Los Angeles-based artist who had spent time in Paris studying Symbolist texts. But that's not why I liked Hawkins's Chinese lantern collaged with male porn so muchit had more to do with the fact that two similar objects, minus the raunchy veneer, once hung in my own studio apartment.
Left: Artist Vidya Gastaldon. Center: The poster for “Le Voyage intérieur” (Courtesy: Heymann, Renoult Associées). Right: Curator Anne Dressen.
Returning to the show that night, which was appropriately cold, dark, and rainy (“un temps de chien,” the French would say), “Le Voyage” seemed more effectively creepy. There were a couple of limos outside; a few corporate types getting guided tours of the show; a pert little white tent that housed only a cloak room (no bar in sight); and a slightly bedraggled art-world contingent. The biggest group was gathered in the “Club Salo” gallery, where British artist Adam Chodzko's Reunion: Salo, 1998, was on view. Chodzko's piece, which documents a search for the now-grown children who appeared as nude extras in Pasolini's 1976 film masterpiece, prompted the most respectful response of the evening. With its nods to the French ideals of le cinema, l'erotisme, and le policier, Reunion: Salo had them worshipping yet again at the auteur's altar. Curator Bill Arning reminisced about his seeing the film when he was fifteenhow shocking it had seemed then, and how staid and august it all seemed now. Even Chodzko's snippets of nude kids being led around, on leashes and on all fours, by those cruel Italian fascists seemed to induce a very studious response.
Contrasting with all this darkness was an upstairs room called “Infinite White Cube.” This was the utopian epicenter of the show, a tongue-in-cheek paean not only to Jay Jopling's London gallery but also, the curators insist, to an all-white room in the Belgian Symbolist Fernand Khnopff's Brussels house, long since destroyed. Suffused in neon light, the room, a scenographic conceit by Lauro and the curators, looked cool and funny: a Light and Space piece run amok. Inside it was a soft floor sculpture by the French artist Vidya Gastaldon, with yellow velvet “pillows” recalling the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz. “Ca fait du bien, cette lumiere,” exclaimed one female viewer, as the room pulsed with electricity. In the gloomy climes of Northern Europe in November, the “Infinite White Cube”and “Le Voyage intérieur” in generalwere a welcome bright spell.
Left: Takashi Murakami, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, and Maurizio Cattelan. Right: Artist Susan Philipsz and curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist.
“T1,” yet another large-scale international periodical exhibition, opened in Turin last week in conjunction with the ARTissima fair. Organized by two accomplished curators (Castello di Rivoli's Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and Francesco Bonami from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago), staged at three museums and four additional venues, and involving ten “international correspondents” (consultants who offered suggestions to the curators) and seventy-five more-or-less young artists, the show provoked great expectations. Besides, foodies will know that it's truffle season, reason enough for a trip to Piedmont. Appropriately, the triennial’s inaugural theme, “The Pantagruel Syndrome,” was centered on the “consumption” of art: the constant hunt, the “swallowing” of large amounts on these weekend jaunts, and the hasty digestion of new works and new names.
As the venues were scattered, I joined a core of out-of-town visitors, jumped a shuttle, and started at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, where artists, curators, and other VIPs gathered for a quick, casual lunch. At the foundation I spotted a few interesting worksJeppe Hein's lightning benches were fun and Ryan Gander's video installation was hauntingbut there was still much to see elsewhere, so we hurried off. The next stop was the “Sala Settoria” at the Anatomia Patalogica dell'Université, where Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook was scheduled to deliver a lecture on death to eight corpses lying “in state.” One almost wants a palate cleanser between such experiences, as it can be difficult to move straight from, say, Takashi Murakami's anime-influenced sculptures to something of such a fundamentally dissimilar mood.
Left: Architect Massimiliano Fuksas, Turin mayor Sergio Chiamparino, and “T1” curator Francesco Bonami.
Right: Artist Mike Nelson at ARTissima.
In the pleasant company of The New Museum's Trevor Smith (a triennial correspondent) and his friend Arani Bose (working, by phone, on a breakthrough in stroke treatment and running his two galleries, in Chelsea and New Delhi), we crisscrossed the city, making it to three other venues before hiking the long way up to Rivoli at dusk. A dense fog turned the Castello into a stunning vision worthy of Caspar David Friedrich, and thus primed for contemplation, a small group made a pilgrimage to Chiesa di Santa Croce to hear Susan Philipsz's enchanting sound piece Stay With Me, 2005, a welcome respite from the day's clamor. But we couldn’t stay as long as we might have liked, as a magnificent dinner and the obligatory club after-party beckoned. Artist Markus Schinwald warned us at the door to the latter that it was “packed, loud, and steaming.” So of course, instead of turning around, we took his remaining drink tickets and forged our way inside.
Our Thursday was spent at the venues in Rivoli, and it was in this neighborhood’s spookily atmospheric buildings that I finally found hints of the promised Rabelaisian grotesquerie. Doris Salcedo's survey at the Castello itself is undeniably beautiful. The show centers on The Abyss, 2005, which gives the appearance of a heavy, eighteenth-century brick vault emerging from the white cube (itself carved out of the castle's original brick interior). Salcedo shipped the bricks, which perfectly match those of the building, from her hometown of Bogota to Turin. (Justifiably suspicious, though typically overzealous, customs officials destroyed the first shipment in its entirety.) This room within a room hovers just above the floor. Over time, the piece subtly develops an oppressive densityjust like the fog outside. Other highlights up on the hill included Michael Rakowitz's smart installation Dull Roar, 2005, (recently on view at Lombard-Freid in New York), Christian Jankowski's 16mm Mystery, 2004, documentation of Javier Tellez's human catapult (recently fired over the US-Mexico border), amazing videos by Miguel Angel Rios and Carlos Amorales, and Ed Young's Bruce Gordon Found Object [concept], 2002-03. Gordon is a Cape Town-based bar owner, sold (as a work of art) in an auction in 2002. He appeared in person in Turin as Young’s contribution to the exhibition.
Left: Artist Ed Young with Bruce Gordon. Right: “T1” curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev with gallerist Arani Bose and the New Museum's Trevor Smith.
Dinner followed the opening of ARTissima at Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo's private residencea beautiful city palazzo with an outstanding art collection and a subterranean swimming pool that one could peer at (through circular portholes) from the terrace above. It seemed like everyone was there: Hans-Ulrich Obrist flew in for the day; correspondents Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy, Raimundas Malasauskas, and Adam Szymczyk had just arrived from New York, Vilnius, and Basel, respectively; former Whitney and SF MoMA director David Ross showed up; and a just-married Pierre Bismuth was obviously happy on the arm of his beautiful wife Dessilava Dimova. Finally, Maurizio Cattelan, who I didn’t spot at the party, was at least represented by his Beuys-inspired La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi, 2000. Chatting with various correspondents over some Barolo (following the next day's roundtable discussion) netted some interesting proposals for countering biennial fatigue, ranging from a “centurannial” to be held in Turin every hundred years (as proposed by Ralph Rugoff of the CCA Wattis Institute) to a triennial in which the same seventy-five artists would be featured every time (suggested by Malasauskas).
By this point I still hadn't seen one key venue, the local galleries (which stayed open all night Saturday), and an entire art fair. But one can only swallow so much. By taking on its dilemma as its theme, even if obliquely, “T1” simultaneously fights against and flirts with the biennial form. Its shortcomings are thus due mostly to the consumers’ loss of focus when faced with such a spread. Though many well-known artists presented familiar works, “T1” still offered a range of discoveries, like Jesus “Bubu” Negron's work at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna. As often, many of the great moments happen off-site, like “Sold Out,” a smart show curated by Geoff Lowe, Jacqueline Riva, and Charlotte Laubard and presented in their apartment, and Susan Philipsz's stand-up a cappella rendition of “The Internationale” in a cramped local restaurant. “T1” left me feeling well fed, but already looking forward to a second helping.
Left: Mike Kelley. Right: Photographer Todd Eberle, Diana Picasso, and Stephane Emeret. (All photos David Velasco)
“If you're coming to the opening, plan on bringing a machete,” Gagosian director Ealan Wingate told a curator friend of mine who had come by the gallery earlier in the day for an informal preview of the much-anticipated Mike Kelley show, “Day Is Done.” He wasn't kidding. When I arrive on Thursday night, there is a queue stretching down 24th Street, with a long velvet rope and several hefty bouncers on hand to keep the throng in check. This sight is unnerving, but luckily I spy a Gagosian operative hovering near the door and she graciously lets me in immediately. I couldn't help but recall my club-going days in the '80s, when a casual friend at the door promised easy entry. As it happens, this memory is surprisingly apt once I penetrate the gallery. It is very dark insideyes, it initially brings to mind a jittery-making nightclub where you're supposed to be having so much fun. I'm not even going to try to summarize the exhibition: It is staggeringly complex and deserves at least one more and probably several further visits. Kelley's installationactually, more like a constellation of installations, overlapping and intentionally confusingevokes spook houses and horror movies (Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses  comes to mind), which makes bare-bones interpretive sense, as the traumatic dread afflicting high-school kids throughout the U.S.A. is a pervasive theme.
Left: Interview magazine's Ingrid Sischy. Right: Artists Jordan Wolfson, John Tremblay, and Cecily Brown.
“It really scared me,” a smart person remarks. But I'm more worried about painless egress. Sarah Watson, the director at Gagosian's Los Angeles base, ushers me through a series of back rooms, until we finally emerge onto the street, where a fleet of livery cars has been summoned to ferry guests to the party at 5 Ninth, the restaurant-cum-speakeasy in the Meatpacking District. “This is one of the things that's great about Gagosian,” Watson comments in passing. “There are so many people working here, they can manage this kind of chaos.” The fête itself is pleasant, but it feels rather unremarkable after the extremity and sensory overload of the show itself. Perhaps abjuring my reportorial duties, I remain seated on the same banquette throughout the party; people can come to me, I asseverate silently if rather grandiosely. I notice that the Metro Pictures gang is very presentHelene Winer, Janelle Reiring, and director Tom Hemanwhich reminds me that when I first heard about Kelley's doing a show at Gagosian, it was emphasized that he wasn’t necessarily leaving Metro, but that Larry had made him an offer he couldn't refuse: vast gallery acreage and major financing for the artist's most complex installation to date. I overhear Kelley saying, “I want to introduce Niagara, an old friend from Detroit”that is, his former bandmate (in Destroy All Monsters) and a star in the Detroit underground performance scene. The music playing at 5 Ninth, which the proprietors keyed to the event, is appropriate enough'70s punk, Sonic Youth, and the occasional, agreeably clashing pop song.
I arrived at the show on the late side, so most of the “important” people had already left for the modern and contemporary auction that same evening at Phillips. As the party gets crowded they re-appear en masse, many apparently crashing. “Every dealer in New York is here,” another dealer tells me. “And all the Europeans!” I do notice a few familiar faces in the packed, three-floor party: Tony Oursleran old friend and collaborator of Kelley'sand Jacqueline Humphries, Charline von Heyl and Christopher Wool, Anton Kern and Nathalie Karg, Tara Subkoff and Nate Lowman, Cecily Brown, Francesco Vezzoli, Piero Golia, Miguel Calderón, the Gelatin people, Tony Shafrazi, and Hollywood mogul Michael Ovitz. “I've never seen you in a suit and tie before,” Ovitz remarks. “It's my preferred costume nowadays,” I respond. “People see a white man in a dark suit and think, Hey, maybe he has money.” The party is evidently heating up as the night winds on, because as I'm heading out I witness an altercation between Niagara and Kelley's Los Angeles dealer, Patrick Painter. I'm sworn to secrecy on this one, but it looks really scary.
Left: SMH Director and Chief Curator Thelma Golden and artist Kara Walker. Right: Artist William Villalongo.
If at least one prominent critic carped that “Freestyle,” the Studio Museum in Harlem's 2001 survey of art by young black Americans, fizzled a bit when it came to the works of a few participants who appeared to believe in drab conceptual gravitas for its own sake, the Wednesday night opening of “Frequency” (not “Freestyle II” as the SMH website chides!) brooked no such reservations. It was as effervescent and bright a show as could be hoped for. On my arrival I was immediately crushed in the museum's vestibule with one of the show's lenders, and it was so tightly packed inside that we (as well as the fifty-odd folks behind us) were held in limbo until a few bodies popped out.
“There are two levels of amazement for me,” enthused SMH associate curator Christine Kim, who organized both shows with museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden. “Seeing this diverse work together in a single room after months, if not years, of preparation, and seeing the artists standing together in all their complexities.” “Both are unified,” she added while observing the 8PM photo-call, proud as a den mother. The real amazement was to see gallery owners chatting earnestly with any artist that wanted a word. Jack Shainman kept close to Hank Thomas, one of his two charges in the show, but genially worked the room, and Kelly Taxter (of Taxter & Spengemann) nipped from wall label to wall label, jotting visual notes with her cell-phone camera. “I live a few blocks away, so getting here was easy,” she said, explaining her sprightliness. I had thought she lived in Chelsea, as the gallery made its name while existing in the front room of an apartment on West 22nd Street, to which she retorted, “Not any more,” then added, “thank fucking God.” Collector Rodney Miller, not shopping tonight (“a little too fresh,” he enthused) stood with MoMA curatorial assistant Sarah Lewis. She and I shared a favorite from the show, Zoë Charlton's undainty illustrations, as well as the confidence that many of these artists would soon thrive, if not on (considerable) merit alone, then certainly on enthusiasm. It is not easy to peg the tone of the showto emphasize its “effervescence” seems like faint praise, as there is much swirling below the surfacebut it is clear that these exhibitions have already helped young black artists to persist with methodologies that are neither didactic nor isolated.
As the proceedings migrated from the museum to the after-party at The Harlem Grill, an elegant supper club a few blocks away, the spotlight shifted a bit from the new stars of “Frequency.” Here, a larger community of artists was celebrating itself, as the “Freestyle” old guard offered advice and embraces to the young bucks. Philadelphia-based “Frequency” artist Jina Valentine told me that “the biggest shock has been that they are as impressed with us as we are with them,” while Rashid Johnson, who proudly explained that “Freestyle” launched his career, didn't think it strange at all. “To experience the New York art world so suddenly is alarming and fascinating. We understand what they're going through and we understand what they're going to reap.” “Fraternity” is a word he (and many other artists) reached for, but with a sense of inclusiveness and mood of expansive possibility that was anything but parochial. If “Frequency” allows a group of artists' careers to develop productively instead of forcing them to clutch at market-friendly gimmickry to survive, we are all in luck. A conversation at the end of the evening with video and performance artist Kalup Linzy, who hails from Stuckey, Florida and spoke with a seductive, honeyed drawl, showed this fraternity's power at work. A pleasingly eccentric figure, Linzy spoke of his goals now that all his initial dreams had been fulfilled. “My only hope is that everything will come together before I die,” he said, sincerely, obviously in no big hurry. “If it doesn't, I'm gone. So it doesn't matter.”
I’ve never been to Kassel, which means I’ve never been to Documenta. Not Catherine David’s in ’97. Not Okwui Enwezor’s three years ago. Documenta 12, in 2007, will be the fifty-second anniversary (while they’re referring to it as the fiftieth, I doubt anyone will dare call it “golden”) of the ice queen of contemporary art exhibitions (which began as an off-shoot of a federal garden show, the rubble of heavily bombed Kassel having been buried beneath a vast rose bed). So when I heard Roger Buergel, D12’s curator, would be speaking in Vancouver about his plans for his really big show, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I mean, Canada’s just so much closer than Germany, and I’d heard that Buergel was an advocate of some kind of localism. While a critical darling, he is nonetheless a surprising pick for the Documenta gig. He was given the first Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement in 2003, but mostly for shows that operated as none-too-subtle rebukes to the current biennialism, with breezy titles like “Governmentality. Art in conflict with the international hyper-bourgeoisie and the national petty bourgeoisie” (in 2000 at Alte Kestner Gesellschaft in Hannover). Goodor should I say, guttimes!
Lucky for me I’d guaranteed at least some fun for the trip since my tour guide in Vancouver was Jeremy Shaw, the super-talented young local artist and electronic musician (Google his moniker, CircleSquare), who recently made his US solo debut at cherrydelosreyes in Los Angeles with an eight-channel video, DMT, 2004. The work focuses on Shaw and seven of his buds tripping on the eponymous synthetic version of a hallucinogen habitually ingested by Amazonian shamans. We opted to get high before heading off to the Buergel lecturebut only on really amazing sushi.
A small crowd of Vancouver’s cultural elite, artists, and dutiful students assembled outside the entrance to the UBC Robson Square Lecture Theatre directly across from the Vancouver Art Gallery, the shindig’s host. Jeremy introduced me to Michael Turner, author of The Pornographer’s Poem and a sharp commentator on the Vancouver scene, then pointed out the dignitaries in attendance: Artists Brian Jungen and Tim Lee chatted with Turner, while Jeff Wall had a face-to-face with fellow conceptual shutterbug Roy Arden. Someone referred to them as “the Dons.” Jeff Wall as the Tony Soprano of the art world! Wasn’t this what Rosalind Krauss discovered when her Wall catalogue essay for the Pompidou “swam with the fishes” due to having made an unfavorable comparison between the Don and James Coleman? Tracey Lawrence (Shaw’s gallerist), curator Helga Pakasaar, and the chic young critic Monika Szewczyk were also caught up in the swirl. I missed meeting my favorite Vancouver artist, Steven Shearer, because he snuck in late, just as Buergel was taking the stage.
Or rather, as Buergel’s collaborator, Ruth Noack, arrived at the podium. For most of the night, the Vienna-based art historian and critic held forth about “The Government,” an interrelated series of exhibitions in major European venues that the two had cocurated and that for all its Foucauldian pedigree sounded like quite a kegger. Much dialogue with disenfranchised factory workers. Exhibitions creating “flow.” “Stalinist totalitarian perversion of modernity versus corporatist perversion of modernity.” Martha Rosler. Allan Sekula. An archive of “documentary” pictures of a 1967-68 Argentinean counterpropaganda art action, Archivo Tucumán Arte. Representative shot: A banner proclaiming “Visita Tucuman, jardin de misere!” [“Visit Tucuman, garden of misery!”]. As I said, gut times.
After about an hour and fifteen minutes of the fun, I was ready to experiment with things stronger than DMT. “Rogue-r,”as Noack referred to himand I will have three topics that will guide us. Not illustrated by the art selected but enabling fantasies for it.” The first a question: “Whether modernity is our antiquity?” It was one of the most provocative statements of the evening, since, as Noack stated, after postmodernity we seem to have modernity again. (Here Buergel came alive, saying a little about his controversial postulate for a “new universalism.”) “Fantasy” numero dos: “Bare Life”life stripped of all its paraphernalia, taken down to sheer existence (a concept of Walter Benjamin via Giorgio Agamben)to be manifested by “dance and performance,” seemingly much of it by Eastern European women. The third: “Education.” In a nutshell, it seems D12 will be a show about global citizenship as well as a meditation on community, fragmentation, and site-specificity, in part by revisiting of 1955’s Documenta 1.
The presentation concluded. There were a few questions. The last, basically: “But what about painting?” Noack assured the questioner that she and Buergel loved painting, that “Rogue-r” trained as a painter, and that he had not only exhibited but sold some of his paintings. A few muffled groans, more sighs of relief, and, finally, applause. If I had not slipped out of my chair into a slough of despond, I might have rallied to inquire about the conspicuous absence of the word (or even the concept of) pleasure and its relationship to a critique of governmentality. Buergel and Noack didn’t seem worried about the quasi-colonialist potential of the Big Show operating as a legislating, hegemonic power, however well-intentioned and locally instantiated. Certain peoples and actions are always left out of the picture, no matter how global its perspective. Noack had partially hedged on something like this, claiming that she and her quiet colleague “were not going to have a canon.” Um, okay. Maybe the Kunsthalle Fridericianum’s being kept free for flash mob protest rallies.
Shaw and I headed for a bar. I vented: “Can you imagine either one of them finding the political, aesthetic, and communitarian commentary in something like Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore?” Jeremy just laughed and shook his head. Governmentalize that.