From the moment I emerged from the Bryant Park subway station, I knew this wasn’t going to be your average “Live from the NYPL” event. First off, no line of punters snaked around the library, waiting for admittance. Second, instead of entering the building and sliding into the majestic Celeste Bartos Forum, I was shunted through a labyrinthine trail down halls, around corners, up one elevator, through more halls, down another elevator, and up some stairs, until I realized that I was treading on the old marble of the original edifice no longer, but on a space-age chrome superstructure built inside—but not attached to—the library walls.
A neat architectural trick, no doubt mandated by landmark laws, but it served as an appropriate introduction to the issues that would be discussed therein by antiglobalization poster gal Naomi Klein and Harper’s editor Roger Hodge—the use of military force (or the exploitation of natural disasters) to erase all vestiges of a country’s traditional culture and install a gleaming new free-market utopia for US corporate interests. The NYPL’s internal superstructure implied the right way to merge the new with the old—respectful coexistence; Klein, in her new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, calls to account the wrong way, as evinced in Iraq, Afghanistan, post-Katrina New Orleans, and other unfortunate locales.
The timing of Klein’s book, whether intended or not, provides an apt corrective to The Age of Turbulence, the revisionist, self-serving new memoir by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, whom Klein had debated on the Democracy Now! radio show earlier in the day. With all due respect to Hodge, that would have been the livelier face-off to cover, but, as with so much else these days, the Klein-Greenspan conversation was disembodied, providing little fodder for the ogling, ambulatory writer. So, not exactly Ahmadinejad at Columbia, but a promisingly contentious evening nonetheless.
Given No Logo author Klein’s “Battle of Seattle” fan base, I was jarringly disarmed by the genteel crowd of youngish, well-dressed New York sophisticates sipping designer wine in the hall outside the auditorium, even more so by the dulcet strains of a live classical violinist. Where were the tear-gas masks and Dead Prez tracks? Entering the room, I spied front-row seats reserved for Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (never to be filled) and found my place in the press section. Hodge, who resembles a younger, hipper Clark Kent, introduced Klein, noting that he had commissioned the seed piece for the book—a reported essay on the trade-show machinations of US corporations and contractors on the eve of the Iraq war, and the resulting capitalist Disneyland of Baghdad’s nascent Green Zone.
Left: Violinist Arianna Rosen. Right: Naomi Klein.
Klein took the stage in a, well, conservative black skirt-suit, sporting a neatly trimmed, highlight-streaked bob. Though Hodge promised to “goad” her, he proved to be a friendly, sympathetic interlocutor, guiding her through a summary of her thesis: an intriguing linkage of the “economic shock therapy” advocated by Milton Friedman and his radical free-market disciples for foreign nations resistant to US economic imperialism with the horrific electroshock brainwashing that research psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron performed on behalf of the CIA on unsuspecting, nonconsenting patients at McGill University during the 1950s. While Klein’s argument initially seemed fanciful, hung on the “shock” terminology endlessly echoing between the two fields, the historical connections mounted quickly and convincingly, ending up as a rhetorical Möbius strip: The cold-war-era economic invasions urged by Friedman and his Chicago Boys in the third world (Iran, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, and elsewhere) were made possible by the CIA through engineered coups, puppet dictators, and regional secret police trained in torture methods based on Cameron’s research—methods that persist today in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay.
In Klein’s view, the “shock and awe” military invasion of Iraq was not just followed by, but was indeed of a piece with, the country’s subsequent invasion by US corporations and contractors, enabled by Paul Bremer and the CPA’s shredding of the Iraqi constitution under the guise of reconstruction. Klein sees the same dynamic in post-tsunami Sri Lanka, post-Katrina New Orleans, and other regional victims of natural or manmade catastrophe, and always with the same cast of characters involved—Halliburton, Bechtel, Blackwater, Fluor, DynCorp, L-3, CACI, and others, private contractors serving the US government in Friedman’s mission of installing a “higher form of freedom”; not democracy, but “ownership society.”
Hodge noted that, around these issues, liberals sound like conservatives, while neoconservatives recall Sino-Soviet communists. Like Mao, this breed of Republican pursues complete cultural erasure to create blank-slate societies on which to paint beautiful, dollar-green pictures. Klein later mentioned that Greenspan, a Friedmanite and (Ayn) Randian, wrote in his memoir that Rand’s novels and “philosophy” lent a morality to what he was already doing as a Wall Street ingenue; to which Hodge quipped, “That’s the best kind of morality.” True enough, but as I left the chilly auditorium and made my way through the old library, it occurred to me that the world might be a bit better if The Shock Doctrine sold as many copies as Atlas Shrugged, or even if Klein and Hodge could pack the Celeste Bartos Forum as easily as Bernard-Henri Lévi and Tina Brown, with their bloviations on American culture, did many months ago.
Underdressed for the weather and impractically shod, I hobbled to rough-’n’-ready Kentish Town last Monday evening for the unveiling of London’s newest art space—a rebranded nineteenth-century Methodist chapel called, somewhat succinctly, 176—now the home of Zabludowicz Art Projects. While rumor has it that several notable London-based collectors are hatching plans to open public art spaces of their own, collector and patron Anita Zabludowicz has pipped them to the post. With suitably proportioned spaces rare in the Big Smoke, the chapel must have truly been a godsend, albeit shipped from above with a few provisos.
Lacking the clean geometry of a white cube, 176 retains the imprint of its original purpose—and the whiff of a little interference from stubborn town planners. Apart from the addition of a café and a gift shop, 176 is so assiduously preserved that one expects a choir to burst into song.
Preserving the original architecture will doubtless prove an interesting (if challenging) task for exhibiting artists, but curator Elizabeth Neilson’s first exhibition, excavated from the Zabludowicz Collection and titled “An Archaelogy,” works well—even when required to serve as a temporary dining room for the evening’s culinary efforts by Le Caprice chef-director Mark Hix. “Mark is personally cooking tonight specially for Anita and friends,” whispered one guest, salivating shamelessly at the thought of tucking in gratis.
Left: Artist Eve Sussman and dealer Joel Beck. Right: Dustin Hoffman with artist Julian Schnabel.
Anita Zabludowicz and her rather silent partner in crime and matrimony, Finnish-born businessman Poju, have in recent years ascended London’s social and art-world ladders, positioning themselves as collectors and patrons powerful enough not to be trifled with. “All right, now, that’s enough,” cautioned urbane Tate director Nicholas Serota sternly, as pushy photographers moved in on his tête-à-tête with Mrs. Z.
The hip, slick, and cool predictably quaffed impressive amounts of Laurent-Perrier bubbly. Tracey Emin might have been disappointingly subdued, but the night was young and her signature cleavage spoke volumes. Meanwhile, Chelsea dealer Ivor Braka talked turkey with chef Hix. Clearly out of his satellite-navigation comfort zone, Braka marveled, “I always thought it was a bit of a wasteland ’round here . . . ” Artist Liz Neal was reluctantly game for a photo op as she negotiated the treacherously uneven floorboards in a pair of vertiginous red dominatrix-style heels that made my tortured feet howl in empathy. Youngsters Anj Smith and Rachel Kneebone drifted ethereally around the rambling space, keeping an eye on their art while the dealers kept an eye on them. Affable artist Gerry Fox brought up the rear just in time to make it through the doors before they swung firmly shut behind him, trapping the heavenly aroma of Cordon Bleu cooking. There will no doubt be more to come from 176, and if the name is about as imaginative as calling the family cat “Kitty,” at least we won’t have to wrestle with “Zabludowicz.”
The following evening, London’s Piccadilly was thrumming as the well heeled and silver haired turned out in droves for the opening of a breathtaking retrospective of work by Georg Baselitz at the Royal Academy of Arts. The night pulled double duty by also marking notoriously irascible Norman Rosenthal’s thirtieth anniversary as the academy’s exhibitions secretary. While Baselitz basked elegantly in deserved glory, the night truly belonged to the ebullient Rosenthal, who, having left his cantankerous alter ego at home, was in rare form.
At the fore and in the fray, Tim Noble chortled and hiccuped, Tourette's-style, throughout the speeches. “Bollocks!” he mumbled. “Genius!” he cried, expletives and superlatives alike escaping from him like bursts of air from a balloon. Hirsute huggy bear Julian Schnabel’s cricket ring tone went off several times, possibly alerting him to the arrival of pal Dustin Hoffman, who sidled in next to him discreetly. Rosenthal translated for his old friend Baselitz, then regaled the assembled with anecdotes of his three-decade reign of terror, cheerfully alluding to rumors of blood on the Royal Academy walls (his, it turns out) and disingenuously disavowing his infamous short fuse and RA antics.
Those not attending the sit-down dinner at eight were fobbed off with an invitation to an after-party beginning (coincidentally) at eight, which one could only assume meant after you have left and we sit down to dinner. It takes no small measure of grit to sit tight and make waves at the same place for thirty years, and love him or loathe him, “Stormin’ Norman” could well outlast us all.
Left: Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones with dealer Glenn Scott Wright. Right: Elizabeth Neilson, curator and head of the Zabludowicz Collection.
This year, a record number of international guests descended on the Lyon Biennial, the ninth edition, titled “00s—The History of a Decade That Has Not Yet Been Named.” Fulfilling their reputation for playful conceits, curators Stéphanie Moisdon and Hans-Ulrich Obrist hatched a ludic concept, framing the event as one enormous game. To spice things up, they asked forty-nine “players,” mostly international curators (of which I was one), to answer the following question: “In your opinion, who is the essential artist of this decade?” They then undertook to present the work of the selected artists. A second circle of players—comprising fourteen artists—was invited to select additional artists for a supplementary section of the exhibition; Saâdane Afif, for example, used the opportunity to present roughly forty artists from Nantes’s Zoo Gallery.
The major daily French feuilletons (typically out of step with international trends) were not amused by the format and roundly trashed the concept, claiming that it lacked “poetry” (Le Monde’s coverage was titled “Une Biennale sans Foi ni Choix” [“A Biennial Without Faith or Choices”].) The focus on critics and curators was deemed utterly inappropriate. Harald Szeemann must be rolling in his grave.
Left: Artists Una Szeemann (selected by Yves Aupetitallot) and Bohdan Stehlik. Right: Performance by Annie Vigier and Franck Apertet (selected by Pierre Bal-Blanc).
I arrived Monday afternoon at La Sucrière (one of the four biennial sites). My first stop was my own selection, an installation by Christian Holstad that, among other things, makes reference to Lyon’s flourishing sex trade. The city is notorious for the prostitutes who work out of minivans parked around the biennial site and who were, of course, forced by police to relocate during the exhibition to avoid making the area appear too seedy. In a gesture of solidarity, Holstad installed a minivan of the style used by the prostitutes in the building’s forecourt. This worried the PR department to no end, and the artist had to keep things “low key” to avoid upsetting the mayor, who opened the biennial along with Christine Albanel, the new minister of culture, and a gaggle of sixty uncomfortable-looking individuals dressed like the court of Versailles. Their presence was a peculiar addition to the otherwise spirited mix.
They appeared baffled by the choreography of Annie Vigier and Franck Apertet (selected by Pierre Bal-Blanc), which consisted of male dancers sticking their heads between the legs of their female counterparts (and vice versa), and seemed similarly bewildered by the striptease of one muscular chap, “a combination Larry Bell, Dan Graham, and Dan Flavin,” according to its creator, Tino Sehgal (selected, natch, by Jens Hoffman). The look on their faces when they encountered the young woman peeing herself (Norma Jeane, selected by Giovanni Carmine) is indescribable. It was hardly a surprise that these works were open only to “mature” audiences, though it did seem strange that Eric Troncy, on selecting artist David Hamilton, deemed it necessary to place similar visitor restrictions on Hamilton’s photos of young, nude girls. But these were minor irritations compared with the larger political actions against Erick Beltrán. Selected by Houston-based curator Gilbert Vicario, Beltrán contributed a critique of advertising, rewriting slogans in the “hatespeak” of the street, e.g., LYON WHITE TRASH or BLACKS OUT. Local politicians were livid, and Michel Noir, the city's former mayor, requested the signs’ removal. Lyon’s artistic directors refused, but when threatened with legal action, they removed specific banners emblazoned with the slogans DIRTY JEWS and DEATH TO MUSLIMS, even while others remained on display and despite the fact that the work’s critical, hyperbolic nature would have been evident to a five-year-old.
That evening, we were invited to the opera to watch Jérôme Bel’s production of The Show Must Go On. (Bel had been invited by the second circle of players.) Having already seen it, I set off instead for the biennial’s epicenter, Brasserie Georges, an enormous Art Deco hall that hosted le tout Lyon and where the sauerkraut was as plentiful as water. Once sufficiently full, guests made their way to the new art school, where a large cocktail party was being hosted by Lyon’s greatest chefs. The symposium culminated with the presentation of the “Only Lyon” award: fourteen thousand dollars to be shared by the best curator-artist pairing.
The jury consisted of Suzanne Pagé of the Louis Vuitton Foundation; Gunnar Kvaran, director of Oslo’s Astrup Fearnley Museum; Artforum publisher Knight Landesman; Art Basel director Samuel Keller; Museum Ludwig director Kasper König; Silvia Karman Cubina, director of The Moore Space in Miami; and the artist Elaine Sturtevant. Seth Price (selected by Andrea Viliani) received the award for his video, which recycled footage from some of his earlier works, while second place (an M/M-designed chocolate lion, the symbol of Lyon) went to Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. Collector Rosa de la Cruz looked delighted and took photographs of everyone in attendance while the biennial theme song, a wobbly glockenspiel ditty written by Trisha Donnelly, played in the background.
Price also won magnums of champagne, and our tipsy posse went backstage to celebrate before repairing to the minuscule Look-Bar nearby. In fact, “miniscule” doesn’t even begin to describe it—to fit in, we literally had to pile on top of one another. (I was on top of curator Stefan Kalmar, who was on top of Tate curator Stuart Comer.)
The following evening there was yet another mixer at the Swiss Consulate in honor of Monsieur Obrist. This time, I avoided a second excursion to the Look-Bar and went to bed early, haunted by mingling feelings of relief and compunction.
All paths cross in the art world, I always say, but I exaggerate. Yet that was the (very) privileged case last Monday night, when five hundred invited guests from select walks of life converged on the Seventh Regiment Armory, on Park Avenue, to witness the roaring facture of Aaron Young’s monumental painting-by-biker, Greeting Card. The title refers to a poured Jackson Pollock painting that Young intended to reproduce. There was plenty of aggressive action involved, but it didn’t hold a candle to the vigorous displays of air kissing that surrounded it.
On arrival, I spotted Sigourney Weaver, Mary Boone, Rufus Wainwright, and Francesco Clemente, all in one glance. Marilyn Minter, Cynthia Rowley and husband Bill Powers, Dan Colen, and John Legend were all in the lobby, swept up in a bouquet of collective self-love. At its center was Yvonne Force Villareal (cofounder with Doreen Remen of the Art Production Fund, which organized this singular event), dressed in a bare-shouldered black number from her archive of vintage Gucci. Blocking the entrance to the cavernous Drill Hall, where Young’s painting would be made, a passel of paparazzi surrounded one of the project’s principal backers, menswear mover and shaker (and former Gucci designer) Tom Ford. Beside him, fenced within yet another corral of photographers, was the genial Usher, the pop star. Usher likes art, I heard. He might buy some. Actually, I thought, he might be some.
Cleared of the usual trade-show booths and carpeting, the Drill Hall—nearly a full square block with wrought iron–trussed eighty-foot ceilings in which, before the era of art-world skirmishes, tanks, jeeps, and troops would muster for our country's actual skirmishes—was glorious, looking like a nearly abandoned and slightly decrepit Grand Central Station, absent the stars painted on the vaulted ceiling. Most spectators filed onto iron-fenced mezzanines on the north and south sides of the hall, where they resembled caged POWs. The rest of us were shown to ghostly “bleachers” on the eastern end, actually concrete steps outfitted with rugged wrought-iron theater chairs, many missing their seats.
Left: Greeting Card stunt biker Que. (Photo: Brian Sholis) Right: Sigourney Weaver. (Photo: David Velasco)
On the floor below, covering an area about twice the size of a basketball court, was what an uninitiated viewer could easily have mistaken for an enormous black Carl Andre sculpture. In fact, that rectangle was made up of 288 plywood panels that assistants and student interns had spent three days slathering with several layers of fluorescent paint topped off with black acrylic.
After the audience was settled, a dozen stunt motorcycle riders entered from ten doors and, after a slow procession around the “canvas,” drove onto assigned quarters and began to spin their wheels. Within seconds, the smell of burning rubber filled our nostrils, and a veritable fog bank of smoke rose up to obscure the scene from view. A minute later, the smoke began to lift and the paint beneath the black began to reveal itself in reflective orange, pink, and yellow—the palette, more or less, of the Pollock that inspired Young—and when it was done, lo and behold, there was the biggest Brice Marden look-alike in the world.
The whole show seemed much ado about nothing, albeit a “nothing” with a rather unusual social flair. Just how social became pronounced after the performance, when the crowd descended like patrician nobles paying a state visit to the village below to view the painting close-up. “I think it's spectacular,” said Jeffrey Deitch, no slouch when it comes to spectacle. Around us, Rockefellers, Rothschilds, and Mortimers stood cheek by jowl with artists Cindy Sherman, Lisa Yuskavage, Sylvie Fleury, Jack Pierson, and Adam McEwen, as well as collectors Shelley and Phillip Aarons, Ninah and Michael Lynne, Barbara and Howard Morse, and Jane Holzer.
It was fascinating to see a buffet taco dinner weave together the likes of Matthew Higgs and Chloë Sevigny, in the armory’s Tiffany Room, where guests were forced to sit with complete strangers at two long tables covered in black cloth. The corporate lawyer beside me admitted he knew nothing about art but, as a loyal client of Tom Ford’s men’s store, felt he ought to come to this event because, he said, “I think I kind of paid for it.”
Ford himself said he was happy to do “anything for Yvonne.” I asked whether he had provided such beneficent support—the whole affair was catered by Spec Entertainment, the fantastically expensive party planners—because he was a motorcycle enthusiast at heart. “No, I ride horses,” he said. “They’re much more dangerous.” And would he buy one of the paintings that Young will configure from the tire-burned panels? “They better give me one,” he said. “Of course he'll get one,” Force Villareal said. “For Tom, anything.”
During dinner, Young strolled along the tables showing Polaroids of the performance, which looked more compelling in pictures than it did live. A few of the motorcycle riders in the buffet line, meanwhile, claimed to have improvised their entire performance while breathing in the fumes. “It was intense,” one said. “And I'd do it again in a minute.” As Sean Landers later said, quoting a T-shirt he had seen that day in Washington Square Park, “I'm kind of a big deal.”
Left: The John Carpenter Band in Performance (Career Ender). Right: Affair at the Jupiter c-founder and Small A Projects owner Laurel Gitlen. (All photos: Michael Wilson)
“We started an art fair because we hate art fairs.” Laurel Gitlen, director of Portland gallery Small A Projects and, with Stuart Horodner, cofounder of Affair at the Jupiter Hotel, demonstrates an acute awareness of the ever-broadening context in which this fair operates, and the resultant need for it to be just a little bit different. Gitlen admits that sales at the event, now in its fourth year, vary wildly (“Someone told me they’d taken in one hundred thousand dollars in one day last year—for a small gallery offering work for a couple of thousand dollars a pop, that’s huge”), but its status as a meeting point for people to share ideas and contacts is well established and was immediately apparent.
At the Affair’s opening last Friday, a modest but enthusiastic crowd filtered into the hotel’s central courtyard and embarked on a leisurely round of the forty galleries and organizations represented, each of which occupied a room in the low-lying building (more motel than hotel, hip refit notwithstanding). Most also made productive use of their diminutive bathrooms (several lightheartedly lining them with the gallery’s more risqué wares). Given the setting, it seemed appropriate that Portland gallery Motel was present, joined by a number of other locals including PDX Contemporary Art, Quality Pictures, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, and the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery at Reed College (the last showcasing a video installation conflating, by way of puppets, ancient Chinese folklore with the wit and wisdom of Sol LeWitt).
Left: Artists Zoe Crosher and Jessica Jackson Hutchins. Right: Artist Harrell Fletcher.
As the buzz not only of conversation but also of tattoo needles from the on-site parlor began to fill the space, I was introduced to artist Harrell Fletcher (Miranda July’s collaborator on the multiplatform Learning to Love You More project), and together we stopped by Atlanta-based publisher J&L Books’ room, where Leanne Shapton was busy painting her own versions of the covers of visitors’ favorite volumes. Peering over the balcony, I noticed that Miller & Shellabarger, an identically bearded artist duo attending with Chicago gallery Western Exhibitions, had already launched into their work Untitled (Pink Tube)—knitting, from opposite ends, a perpetually in-progress pastel scarf—and that John Cichon (with another Chicago gallery, 65Grand) was winding up for his turn as an ax-wielding “primitive.” Only intermittent lighting problems interrupted the flow. (“All we need is a mirror ball, and people’ll be diggin’ it,” enthused one gallerist as the spots died yet again, shortcircuited by the temperamental air conditioning.)
I spent some time talking music with former Pavement frontman (and Portland resident) Stephen Malkmus and his artist wife, Jessica Jackson Hutchins. Then, itinerant artist (and, according to her entirely accurate business card, “enthusiast”) Zoe Crosher and I headed for an after-party hosted by Elizabeth Leach at a nearby warehouse, temporary home to Hap Tivey’s large-scale light installation Building White/Eclipse. The party was an oddly subdued affair (perhaps the venue wasn’t nearby enough—last year’s official shindig was held at the fair itself), with a cash bar and muffled music causing many to wonder—installation aside—why here? Starting at 9:30 and ending before midnight, it seemed to be over in a flash.
Left: J&L Books's Jason Fulford. Right: Cooley Gallery director Stephanie Snyder with artist Greg MacNaughton.
Saturday evening’s gatherings were altogether more successful. Following the opening of Dana Dart-McLean and Corin Hewitt’s shows at Small A, a crew of faces (many of whom were beginning to assume a certain familiarity by this stage of the weekend) made their way to the expansive offices of Emmons Architects for a buffet dinner hosted by Cooley Gallery director Stephanie Snyder and the firm’s founder, Stuart Emmons. The speechmaking was enthusiastic but brief, the office a great place to poke around. “Is this what a fake boob feels like?” wondered Crosher, pausing to prod one of two giant inflatable globes guarding the entrance. Perhaps she should have asked Cichon, artist Deb Sokolow, Western Exhibitions director Scott Speh, and 65Grand director Bill Gross, all of whom headed afterward to the Magic Garden—a storied local strip club. Horodner later trumpeted Portland’s concentration of such establishments as one of its selling points, qualifying his remark in the case of one particular venue: “Union Jacks. I can’t go into Union Jacks. I don’t want to see my students performing!”
It was perhaps fortunate, then, that fair business kept Horodner away from the final weekend of TBA:07, a festival of time-based art produced by Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA). My experience of the citywide event was fairly restricted—I made the rounds mostly on closing Sunday—but was sufficient enough to reveal that the grand tradition of shedding clothes in the name of art persists. “Simple Actions and Aberrant Behaviors,” an excellent video program curated by Pablo de Ocampo at the Portland Art Museum, included Kalup Linzy’s instant classic Lollypop, in which two shirtless guys lip-synch the call-and-response oldie of the title, while Claude Wampler’s satisfyingly rock-’n’-roll Performance (Career Ender) at the Gerding Theater at the Armory saw the John Carpenter Band frontman take the stage (after a lengthy video preamble) in the briefest of brief silver shorts. The audience response to the latter was excited to the point of unruliness. Hissing at a few poor souls (apparently embedded performers) who left early, they raised lighters in the air, stadium-rock style, as the piece, and the weekend, roared to a close.
Left: Artists Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger. Right: Affair at the Jupiter cofounder Stuart Horodner.
If the city of Los Angeles has always been synonymous with sprawl, why should its art world be any different? Last weekend marked the second wave of notable gallery openings inaugurating the new season in this ever-burgeoning city. Already, back-to-school camaraderie was beginning to give way to combat-zone shell shock. On Friday, while young skaters swarmed around Barry McGee at REDCAT, I navigated my way through the orange, smoggy dusk to preternaturally scrubbed West Hollywood for Lari Pittman’s opening at Regen Projects.
Nearly everyone who walked into the gallery’s new space on Santa Monica Boulevard was agog at Shaun Caley Regen’s renovation of the former Cappellini boutique. Though the venue recently debuted Charles Ray’s sculpture Hinoki while still raw, Regen Projects associate director Stacy Bengtson Fertig said the staff considered this reception their official opening. Regen, in sunglasses, admitted she still had trouble finding the light switches.
Cutting gracefully across the newly polished epoxy floor, Pittman exuded a well-pressed cool with his sculptural, slicked-back hair and newscaster-white smile. The quintessential LA artist moved through the crowd of high-end collectors, curators, and museum directors—including Sylvia Chivaratanond, MoCA’s Paul Schimmel, and the Stedelijk’s Gijs van Tuyl—with the equanimity of someone who has seven of his slick, sprawling paintings going for what was rumored to be a quarter of a million dollars apiece.
As the gallery closed its doors, I walked (walking in LA!) with Mark Bradford, who would soon be leaving for his opening at the Whitney Museum, to Morton’s for the gallery dinner, an intimate affair of around 150 people. Inside the cavernous, open-plan restaurant, normally a hub of Hollywood power brokers, I sat at the long banquet table alongside a laid-back Dennis Szakacs, director of the Orange County Museum of Art, a coterie of OC collectors, and one of the Hammer Museum’s favorite artists, Elliott Hundley. The OC contingency debated the merits of private schools in Newport Beach over their steaks and sea bass, while Hundley cited Pittman, his former teacher at UCLA, as an important influence on his work. After I pointed out that he was a sculptor while Pittman was a painter, Hundley declared, tugging at his sleeve, “But Lari taught me how to look like a painter.”
After the meal, the crowd stood out front with their drinks, pot smoke wafting over the heads of white-haired collectors sliding into their luxury sedans. Regen Projects artist Raymond Pettibon held court before a group of assembled admirers, myself included. He spoke in a quiet, halting voice until one guy asked him if the band he was talking about was made up of artists. With punk-rock bile, he barked, “I don’t give a fuck about art,” before returning to his sotto voce monologue.
Left: Dealer Lauren Miller and artist Anthony Goicolea. Right: Artist Tatzu Nishi.
The following night, the scene was split again between downtown and the west side, with MoCA hosting a reception for Cosima von Bonin and the LA presentation of the Gordon Matta-Clark retrospective and Culver City’s La Cienaga strip offering a gaggle of new shows. My evening began at LAXART, where director Lauri Firstenberg reclined on a sofa with artist Michael Queenland, who had transferred his New York apartment, lock and stock, to Los Angeles for the exhibition. LAXART had apparently put out a call for furniture, as one woman told me that she thought her table looked great in the bedroom. She thanked me effusively when I told her it really tied the whole exhibition together.
Down the block at Sandroni.Rey, people popped in and out of the gallery’s parking-lot annex—a shipping container—like hustlers at a peep show. Peeking in, I discovered they were enjoying Anthony Goicolea’s thirty-minute video, which depicts, by what I could surmise, the Bergmanesque sexual fantasy of a gay Amish Nazi: All the silent, handsome boys march through the countryside and shear sheep while impeccably clad in haute couture.
Next door at Blum & Poe, at his first-ever US solo exhibition, Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi had hung his industrial chandelier comprising five streetlights. It poked down through the ceiling of the gallery and extended fifteen feet above the building. The familiar orange light cast by the sodium lamps gave the gallery’s rarefied air an oddly quotidian tinge.
After most of the crowd had wandered off to the Mandrake for drinks, I joined the Blum & Poe contingency at an Asian café in the nearby Helms Bakery building. Held on the restaurant’s patio, this dinner felt even more intimate, even taking into account the language split: Nishi and his fellow Japanese speakers on one side of the table and us Anglophones on the other. A grinning, bilingual Tim Blum bridged the divide. After dessert, I managed to ask Nishi, through a translator, how he liked the city. “Yeah, yeah,” he replied in his thickly accented English, “I looooove Los Angeles!”
“When we first told people we were doing a biennial, they thought it was one of Poka-Yio’s performances,” cocurator Xenia Kalpaktsoglou noted wearily outside a makeshift café in the quad of Gazi, the dramatic former gasworks playing host to the inaugural Athens Biennial. In her other capacity, Kalpaktsoglou directs Dakis Joannou’s Deste Foundation—currently hosting an impressive exhibition of work from Joannou’s collection, curated by Jeffrey Deitch—and some argued that she was the linchpin for Deutsche Bank’s crucial sponsorship of the $1.8 million biennial. But the Athens Biennial has more storied origins than those of its financing; the exhibition apparently began as a lark dreamed up between Kalpaktsoglou, artist Yio, and critic Augustine Zenakos during a late-night drinking session. The three curators-to-be pressed forward, despite their youth and Athens’s general indifference to contemporary art: “It was like walking into a casino with no money and just bluffing your way to the jackpot,” Kalpaktsoglou said.
Biennials have a habit of shrouding themselves in political pretenses. But Athens’s debut, the Sunday before last, proved—through almost no fault of its own—to be among the most timely in recent memory. In an act of rhetorical hubris, the arriviste curators had titled the show “Destroy Athens,” an appellation whose unfortunate prescience with regard to recent, more concrete dangers was not lost on the polis. (The summer’s fires—the worst in at least a century—had killed sixty-five people and laid waste to hundreds of miles of Greek countryside.) Adding to the drama, national elections were slated for the following weekend, and the ruling conservative New Democracy party seemed chary of anything that might upset its tenuous grip.
With only a vague sense of what was to come, I dropped headfirst into the fray, arriving early Saturday morning, crooked and exhausted from a transatlantic red-eye, and shuttled off to the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art, organizers of the weekend’s press junket. With the biennial in mind, the museum—famous for its collection of recherché Neolithic and Bronze Age marble figurines—had prepared an expansive exhibition of “anthropomorphic” video works. Tagged with the unfortunate title “Her(his)tory” (a neologism many mistakenly thought would concern feminism), the show comprises work by twenty-nine artists, ranging from the more familiar Bruce Nauman and Paul Chan to young Greek talents like Angelo Plessas and Yorgos Sapountzis. The vivacious curator, Marina Fokidis, pulled it all together with a clean and inspired hang, a technical challenge for any large video exhibition. It’s a quantum leap forward for a museum that, when asked if they’d previously hosted a contemporary exhibition, directed attention to last year’s Caravaggio show.
A few hours later came the day’s main event: the launch of the biennial’s “ReMap,” in which sixteen international dealers opened temporary galleries in Kerameikos, a deme notorious for its louche, crepuscular charms and formidable history. (Home to Plato’s academy and an ancient cemetery, Kerameikos shares a linguistic root with the word ceramics. You don’t get culture like this in New York.) Throughout rows of spavined and gutted buildings runs a small network of brothels and drug dealers, which facilitated numerous amusing collisions between junkies, hustlers, and crowds of well-to-do revelers sussing out hidden galleries and merchandise.
The grandest statement belonged to Peres Projects, which launched a remarkable, brightly lit twelve-thousand-square-foot outpost on Leonidou Street (which some friends favorably nicknamed Peres Hilton). A veritable museum of anarchic appropriations and installations, its show offered, among other things, a compelling sledgehammer work by David Adamo, Cady Noland–inspired retail racks by Nate Lowman, and a work by Peres staple Terence Koh. A copy of Praxiteles’s Hermes purchased from the Archaeological Museum and painted black, the piece—achieved with Koh’s characteristic mute flamboyance—functions as a sideways comment on provenance and originality. (The museum’s current Praxiteles exhibition largely comprises early copies of the master’s statues.)
After the openings, nearly everyone converged on the roof of the nearby Imperial Hotel for a glamorous party with a dazzling view of the Acropolis. Among the staggering Greek artists, dealers, and assorted glitterati, I encountered Iasson Tsakonas, the enterprising young real estate mogul who had supplied the architectural infrastructure of “ReMap.” Peres, a friend of Tsakonas, had instigated the project by asking to open a space in one of Tsakonas’s few dozen buildings in the neighborhood. It didn’t take long for other galleries, including Blow de la Barra, IBID Projects, Johann König, The Breeder, and Spencer Brownstone, to sign on.
Left: Dealer Javier Peres. Right: Artist Federico Herrara, dealer Pablo Leon de la Barra, and artist Carolina Caycedo.
Early Sunday afternoon, guests arrived by taxi at the Technopolis complex for a relatively tense press conference featuring the mayor, the curators, and a representative from Deutsche Bank. Although listed on the schedule, Georgios Voulgarakis, Greece’s culture minister, was nowhere in sight, apparently having been told not to show his face in public following his scandalous appearance on national news shows just days before. (Standing before the flagrant fires devastating the sacred forest around Olympia, Voulgarakis had reassured viewers that “only a few trees were burned.”) The biennial’s former director, Marieke Van Hal, was also absent, having been inexplicably sacked a month before the show’s opening.
Artist Kodwo Eshun, a member of the Otolith Group, offered his preemptive take during the Q&A: “‘Destroy Athens’ refers less to the real city than to Hellenism, which is just Orientalism in reverse. We seek the symbolic destruction of these codes.” With that, we all set off to measure for ourselves. The show itself is ambitious, but not quite revolutionary, with an engaging narrative that may be too tightly tethered to the very mythological structures it sets out to subvert. As a whole, exploring the gaswork’s industrial warrens was a pleasurable if vaguely familiar experience, with several especially noteworthy moments, including John Kleckner’s strange watercolor rendering of the Greek myth of Caenis/Caeneus, Mark Manders’s Kafkaesque project room, Georgia Sagri’s intimate in situ performance, and assume vivid astro focus’s utopic promenade segueing into the explosive destructive ambience of the fifth “chapter.”
Left: Artist Rita Ackermann with dealer Rebecca Camhi. Right: Artists Angelo Plessas and Yorgos Sapountzis.
From there, the exhibition really takes advantage of its derelict decor, devolving into a bewildering flurry of escalating bad-boy angst. Beginning with messy installations by Aidas Bareikis and Dutch collective Kimberly Clark, further environmental agitation is generated through projections by Olaf Breuning, John Bock, and Narve Hovdenakk, as well as two Koh works. Having built up steam, the exhibition, in its sixth chapter, yields a purgatorial denouement. In the austere white rooms that follow, disorder gives way to repetition (hundreds of Peter Dreher’s limpid oils of water glasses; Christian Marclay’s Boneyard, made from white casts of phone receivers), all culminating in Eleni Mylonas’s unsettling video of a dead lamb washing up on a rocky shore. It’s a pitiless trajectory, and the whole affair leaves one wound up and exhausted.
As the curators frequently reminded us, the biennial is broken up into six chapters, or “days.” “There’s no seventh day, because art never rests,” Zenakos said. And indeed, the art world’s schedule was relentless. Numerous well-known faces—critics Jerry Saltz and Cecilia Alemani; artists Lisa Ruyter, Olaf Nicolai, Olaf Breuning, and members of Paper Rad; curators Massimiliano Gioni, Christian Rattemeyer, and Ali Subotnick; future Art Basel codirector Cay Sophie Rabinowitz; and Tate Modern director Vicente Todolí—could be spotted navigating the show, some arriving from Istanbul, Vienna, or Shanghai, some en route to Lyon, Zurich, Berlin, or the States. During and after the official opening, visitors spilled over to Sardela across the street for a late seafood supper. In Athens, one often eats dinner after 10 PM, and even on Sundays, bars remain open until 5 AM. For many of us, exhaustion conceded to a stirring excitement as night progressed into morning, at the official after-party at Bios bar and other, less official destinations.
Left: IBID Projects's Vita Zaman and Magnus Edensvard. Right: Artist Mark Manders.
About halfway into a night of gallery openings last week, on the eve of the ShContemporary art fair’s vernissage, a power failure throughout 50 Moganshan Road left VIPs fresh from Pudong airport and Shanghai scenesters alike to commingle in the late summer drizzle. It was one of those moments that seems to manifest an unspoken collective angst percolating just below the surface of daily goings-on. Is it possible, one implicitly wondered, that the whole shimmering Chinese art scene could go dark without warning or apology?
Of course, the lights came right back on in the warehouses along the banks of the Suzhou Creek, and everyone returned to looking at mediocre works like Ji Wenyu’s sculptures of men in suits holding giant flowers (at Shanghart) and Shu Yong’s sculptures of tiny women held aloft by their giant breasts (at Eastlink). After an espresso with the Art Basel selection committee (my charges for the week in my capacity as that fair’s China adviser), I rode with collectors Tim and Ellen van Housen to the home of gallerist Pearl Lam, where a modest cocktail hour in honor of Sam Keller had morphed into one of her legendary dinners around the sixty-six-seat dining room table.
The buzz was deafening, as everyone wondered aloud: Would this be something to remember? Or would it live up, or down, to its Chinese nickname, shang dang—the first characters of the words “Shanghai” and “contemporary—which also happens to mean “to be deceived”? Dealers anticipated heavy trading, but collectors seemed shocked by the number of available rooms at the Portman Ritz-Carlton, the five-star hotel just across Nanjing Road from the fair.
The game of choice, in Pearl’s design-heavy parlor, involved heated speculation over the number of “real Chinese collectors,” as opposed to auction-prone speculators, with estimates ranging from ten to one hundred. Rumors of censors overruling dealers like Urs Meile, who had planned to present a new cycle of paintings by Wang Xingwei (one of which depicted a Chinese Hitler), flew across the table, above the white porcelain hand sculptures that held up the plates and place cards. Perhaps the biggest shock of the evening was that Lam, infamous for seating a dinner during last year’s Shanghai Biennale three hours late, was actually sticking to schedule. After finishing my third course, I headed out to catch the end of the party for Pierre Huber’s new student prize at the Glamour Bar, the Bund standby. From there, having opted out of the next leg with Keller and sex-and-drugs novelist Mian Mian, I went home curious what the fair itself would bring.
The following evening, our minibus pulled up to the Shanghai Exhibition Center, a 1955 Russian-neoclassical monument to Sino-Soviet friendship, just in time for the VIP preview. Gucci banners hung from the piers to the left and right of the central, steeple-topped entrance, and red carpets wound their way down the staircases and along the colonnades toward Yan’an Road. The requisite armies of flower-bearing, cheongsam-clad women tried not to look bored as the Italian organizers and Chinese officials made speeches to a grand piazza half-full of reporters. Inside, the initial reaction was one of pleasant surprise—the fair simply didn’t look as bad as fairs in China usually do. Gallerist Claes Nordenhake concluded graciously that “nice walls really count for a lot.” The halls even contained a few good pieces, like Rirkrit Tiravanija’s installation Free, in which fairgoers could claim a snappy tote bag emblazoned with the word FREE as long as they dumped some rice into it from a giant vitrine.
Left: Collectors Griet Dupont and Pamela Kramlich. Right: Dealer Huang Liaoyuan and collector Zhu Haibin.
I spotted Nick Simunovic, Gagosian’s newly arrived man in Shanghai, chatting up the son of the late Shanghai realist painter Chen Yifei. Organizers Pierre Huber and Zhou Tiehai greeted the throngs in front of a Phillips de Pury booth that made questionable history by showing highlights from its upcoming Frieze Art Fair–pegged sale of Howard Farber’s “China Avant-Garde” collection. Anything goes in China, some gallerists remarked, even an auction preview at an art fair.
Although ShContemporary was less of a failure than expected, visitors still contended with certain feelings of sickness—at times literally, given the nasty stomach virus floating around, though a fair share could be attributed to aesthetics and politics. Those Gucci banners, it turned out, were not the result of a savvy sponsorship agreement, but simply left over from an earlier exhibition. Deals were happening, and decent works were on view, but the sense of excitement at having arrived at yet another level of international seriousness—a feeling that has marked nearly every major Chinese art world gathering on this scale since 2000—was eerily absent. One particularly eerie absence involved this magazine, boxes of which had been sealed and stacked in the corner of the Artforum booth by censors from Shanghai Customs, who deemed a reproduction of Ai Weiwei’s photograph A Study in Perspective—Tiananmen, 1995–2003—which shows the artist unceremoniously giving the middle finger to the Tiananmen rostrum, and which appeared in my article on the artist in the summer issue—unfit for popular consumption.
Left: Dealer Zheng Lin and artist Jiang Zhi. Right: Artist Jin Feng and Shanghart Gallery's Lu Leiping.
Back in Beijing on Sunday night, a few hundred ShContemporary attendees reconvened for a party at the new home of Zhang Rui, a telecom giant and the backer of the Beijing Art Now Gallery, which was founded by rock-'n'-roll impresario–turned-dealer Huang Liaoyuan. The Chinese collectors—“real” and speculative alike—were out in full force: Yang Bin, the automotive magnate whose new climate-controlled warehouse features ten sets of moving track-mounted walls operated by remote control, stood on the veranda trading pleasantries and auction gossip with the Three Sisters Liu, a trio of collectors living between Beijing and Paris. Artists crouched in corners eating Chinese-fusion hors d’oeuvres from Le Quai, the restaurant attached to Zhang and Huang’s gallery.
At 7 PM, the doors swung open and everyone flooded the spiraling pseudo-Guggenheim foyer hung with Fang Lijun paintings, Damien Hirst prints, and a whole roster of works by younger artists, still unknown, who will surely grace the domestic auction catalogues and magazine covers of the season just begun. Pierre Huber and his roving bus of foreign collectors arrived just as darkness fell. Wired founder Ian Charles Stewart compared the whole mise-en-scène to Silicon Valley ca. 1996, when the first crew of techies, perplexed by all the new arrivals, realized that powerful forces beyond their control were underway. “And that,” he concluded, “is when the real money arrived.” At some point, while chatting with collectors Pamela Kramlich and Griet Dupont, I was struck by the absurdity of standing in the center of a Frank Lloyd Wright simulacrum in a McMansion development to the side of the Badaling Great Wall Expressway. I found myself strangely hoping that the power would fail again, for good, even, though all circuits appeared intact.
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 nº 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 nº 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 nº 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.