The locals were ecstatic at the highly anticipated opening of Gagosian Gallery’s new outpost in Rome on December 15, which they see as a sign that the city has finally reemerged as a cosmopolitan cultural capital after a fifteen-hundred-year hiatus from being caput mundi. Considered in light of recent press focusing on the lagging Italian spirit and economy—most notably a New York Times article published just two days prior—the opening of the gallery and Cy Twombly’s exhibition, “Three Notes from Salalah,” gave especially welcome recognition that, while other aspects of the culture may be sitting this one out, its art market is indeed up for playing on the international level. In from London, Hans-Ulrich Obrist noted, “Rome has changed so much in the last decade. When I used to come, it was just following Alighiero Boetti around everywhere.” Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli summed it up by saying, “This is a proud moment for Italy, not just because it is Larry.”
Local papers had reported that the reception would be full of international stars and that Romans would be snubbed, much like Venetians were at the inaugural bash for François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi in their city. However, at the evening private view, art restorer Marianna Fonzo observed, “My father read in La Panorama that it would be impossible to get invited unless you are a VIP, but all of the Roman bourgeoisie are here!” According to curator Ludovico Pratesi, “All of the collectors, about fifty of them, were actually at the press preview this afternoon.” Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, for instance, came in from Turin and attended all three events. There was speculation that Fabio Capello, the new coach of the English national football team and an avid art collector and Twombly admirer, would show up. But when asked whether he was invited, gallery director Pepi Marchetti Franchi said, “He is not even on our radar, but I will definitely do some research on his collection.”
Left: Marc Jacobs and Jason Preston. Right: Larry Gagosian with Francesco Rutelli, Italian minister of culture and tourism. (Photos: Stefano Trovati/sgp, courtesy Gagosian Rome)
Many have questioned why Gagosian would open a gallery in Rome, where there are relatively few collectors; most speculate that it is a way to secure Twombly’s estate. In 2005, the dealer established an archive dedicated to the artist at the elegant Palazzo Borghese in Rome. (As it happens, painter Alberto Di Fabio—nephew of the other painter Alberto Di Fabio, Twombly’s companion—now has a show at Gagosian’s Britannia Street branch in London.) Gagosian has also worked recently with local institutions such as the newly opened Carlo Bilotti Museum and the municipal MACRO contemporary art space, both of which have exhibited his artists. Another theory is that the dealer is simply interested in expanding his investment in the work of arte povera artists. But it is also true that Gagosian need not be so concerned about the local market—after all, he is the magnetic magnate. Curator Achille Bonito Oliva—a ubiquitous personage of the Italian art world—commented in the newspaper La Repubblica that, in any case, it is a great coup that will enliven the Roman art scene.
The new Gagosian space is, of course, spectacular, as well as stylistically appropriate to Rome. Neoclassical columns frame the dramatic entry, and the main gallery, an enormous oval room, displays Twombly’s impressive triptych illuminated by a row of tall windows. The lush green paintings on wood are sensual reaffirmations of life, especially considered in tandem with the joyfully explosive blossoms in the recent show at one of Gagosian’s galleries in New York. With dripping, vaguely Arabic-looking white strokes, the paintings refer specifically to an oasis in Oman—a sort of eternal Eden—and have a vibrant depth. Standing in front of them, London dealer Kadee Robbins asked Hudson Morgan, an associate editor of Men’s Vogue, “Do you know what that color is called? Hooker green.” A single refined mixed-media work on paper from 1973, displayed in a small back room along with a spinelike bronze sculpture, elicited much admiration and curiosity as an unlikely choice. Gagosian explained, “I chose that painting because I saw it and liked it and thought, Why not?” Yumiko Saito, director of the Cy Twombly archive and the younger Di Fabio’s wife, said, “Well, he probably wants to sell it; it is a commercial gallery, after all.”
Left: Willem Dafoe with artist Joseph Kosuth. (Photo: Cathryn Drake) Right: Gagosian Gallery Rome director Pepi Marchetti Franchi with designer Soledad Twombly. (Photo: Stefano Trovati/sgp, courtesy Gagosian Rome)
Stefan Ratibor, director of Gagosian Britannia Street, a former industrial building, looked around and said, “Our space is not quite so baroque, let’s say.” Roman galleries are generally awkward, cramped, and filled with distracting historical details, but this space, housed in a former bank, feels as if someone has parked a big, shiny Rolls Royce in a neighborhood full of vintage Fiat 500s. Somewhat baffled that the ranks had thinned in the pristine gallery, we were told by Milanese artist Letizia Cariello that everyone was celebrating below in the raw basement space. Even Ratibor was uninformed, explaining: “In this organization, everything is communicated on a need-to-know basis.” Downstairs, Neapolitan Renato Pascariello was furiously composing multicolor pencil portraits while Vanity Fair special correspondent Bob Colacello was scribbling down the names of attendees. Morrissey, who currently lives in Rome, was spotted wandering the crowd, and a smattering of Roman artists and gallerists, including the Bonomo sisters, Alessandra and Valentina, were among the crush.
When asked whether it matters where one sets up a gallery in these days of globalization and the Internet—not to mention the proliferating art-fair market—Italian cultural minister Francesco Rutelli said, “Yes, in fact, in this virtual world we need real places more than ever. And we are happy that next year, we will finally open Zaha Hadid’s new contemporary art museum MAXXI, now that we have secured the money to finish it.” Unfortunately, the suavely handsome former Roman mayor had to rush out the door to another engagement. However, a few famous personalities were in evidence at the dinner: Bob Geldof, in town for a charity event; Marc Jacobs, passing through on his way to Paris; and Willem Dafoe, who recently married a Roman. The decadent candelabra-lighted dinner party was hosted in several ground-floor rooms of Palazzo Barberini that were specially decorated with dark velveteen walls and a mix of mod and faux-Baroque furniture, including chairs by Philippe Starck—as if to say New World new money has arrived. Over a buffet of seafood aspic molds and raw oysters, Umberto Allemandi, publisher of Art Newspaper, commented that although the art scene in Turin is more vibrant, “Rome is a much more beautiful place to live—there is no comparison.” And alluding to the days when all roads led to Rome, American gallerist Mary Angela Schroth observed, “Even now, everyone passes through Rome at some point.”
Left: Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine codirector of exhibitions and programs and director of
international projects, with artist Tacita Dean. Right: Valentino and Miuccia Prada. (Photos: Stefano Trovati/sgp, courtesy Gagosian Rome)
Like any infatuation, the affair between Art and Fashion has produced many droll moments. One personal favorite has to be Helmut Lang’s paint-splattered jeans, ca. 1998, an homage to the artist’s process—and cruddy studio duds—as interpreted in premium denim. Eager to check back in with that vision, on a dark, cold Friday night the week before last I layered up to schlep to the Journal Gallery in Williamsburg to see the first solo exhibition by Lang, according to the press release “one of the most innovative and influential cultural figures of our time.”
I recalled Lang’s defunct boutique in Soho. As the neighborhood morphed from the center of the New York art world into a galleria, “Helmut Lang” was a transitional space mingling art and luxury where you could shop for pants among installations by Jenny Holzer and Louise Bourgeois. Now with Lang rebranding his practice from Fashion to Art, this “exhibition is the artistic culmination of a yearlong collaboration between Helmut Lang and the indie arts and culture magazine the journal,” consisting of the installation, an interview, and “ten unique studies” in the winter 2007 issue, wherein “sparkling, colored ornaments are photographed against found black-and-white pornographic visuals, the effect at once sublime and profane.” Lang is planning a big show next year in Hanover at the Kestner-Museum.
From the cold, I entered the smallish but sleek Journal Gallery. The installation was a large, weathered disco ball on the concrete floor. It used to be in Lang’s boutique and then was left outside in Long Island. (To accumulate aura?) Like a big fallen ornament, it was a study of unfestiveness. Reflections dotted the walls, ghostly reminders that this was “after the party.” If a New Yorker cartoon had to sketch a perfectly “hip” awkward situation, they couldn’t have done a better job: a bunch of not particularly friendly people lurking around a fallen disco ball in a space too small for them not to feel conspicuous. It was fabulous. A few hipsters (the journal’s staff, Lang’s affable assistant) chatted among themselves. The rest of us hovered awkwardly around the fallen ball, holding cold beers, approaching the thing, and scrutinizing it formally—looking for something in the emptied-out oracle. I made eye contact with my fellow gallery goers, as if this weren’t “the art-world equivalent of an elevator,” as some wag later nailed it.
Left: Team Gallery's Alex Logsdail with the journal's Cynthia Leung and Julia Dippelhofer. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: A view of Helmut Lang's “Next Ever After.” (Photo: Kathe Burkhart)
“I like the shadow,” offered one guy in a parka, before protectively whipping out his gadget.
I decided to aggressively chat up whoever.
“Are you an artist?” I asked a natty chap in architect-y glasses and a trench coat.
“Well,” he perked up, “I’m thinking of making some artwork—about Pop Conceptualism.” We peered thoughtfully at the messed-up ball. “That’s Conceptual, right?” he pondered. He was an art director at Grey Advertising.
Alas, Lang was unable to attend (due to fabulosity?). He was on Long Island, reported his assistant. As the space filled up into a more typical crowded opening (“That’s Cecilia Dean from Visionaire,” spotted a pal, “and the photographer from the MisShapes”), the wan, hip ball was the deflated centerpiece of the scene.
“There’s not one person here I’d wanna fuck,” kvetched someone nearby. It was an art-meets-fashion evening in Williamsburg.
On last Saturday’s sunny afternoon, while galleries around her prepared for the final openings of the autumn, artist Andrea Zittel was hocking smocks in the courtyard in front of Regen Projects. Although Smockshop will soon be freestanding (in both the physical and, separate as it is from Zittel’s practice, the conceptual senses), its future home, in Chinatown, has yet to be completed. Rather than wait, Zittel has decided to take the store on the road. At around $350 dollars apiece, the smocks are cheap if you think of them as art, less so if you think of them as clothes. In designing the patterns and having a group of artists and artisans cut the cloth, however, Zittel looks to this as a way for artists to make money when their work doesn’t. “I tell all my students to make radically noncommercial work,” Zittel explained. “How can I expect them to survive?”
I didn't realize that I was the only man fumbling through the smocks (potential Christmas presents?), until Matthew Barney walked up. “Matthew, where’s your smock?” one of the shop attendants razzed him as he paused at a particularly interesting piece designed by Peggy Pabustan. “I’ve already got one,” he declared. He did not say whether he was outfitting himself or his wife, Björk.
As dusk settled in, Smockshop closed so that exhibitions by Barney and (at Regen Projects II) Urs Fischer could open. Visitors began to file into the gallery, looking intently at photographic remnants of Barney’s Cremaster 3, video from his Manchester performance, and drawings on black paper made with both subtle pencil lines and globs of his signature petroleum jelly. The photographs, many of American cars, were adorned with black rubber sashes as if they were the losers of a Motor City beauty contest.
Left: Dealer Kim Light and producer and curator Stefan Simchowitz. Right: Artist Barbara T. Smith.
I skipped out before the crowd reached critical mass and headed over to Chinatown. David Kordansky hosted an elegant show of photographs and sculptures by Anthony Pearson, while China Art Objects featured the Mountain School of Art’s First Annual Kippenberger Award for Artistic Excellence, given to the student who bought the most drinks over the course of the semester at the school’s eponymous bar headquarters. The winner, Justin Hansch, collaborated with artist Jason Starr on a group of delightfully messy paintings and sculptures. I overheard dealer Daniel Hug, who effused over the show, balk at the prices to China Art’s director, Maeghan Reid, who quietly replied, “The artists priced the work themselves.” Such a bold move makes them truly deserving of the Kippenberger.
As I made my way down Chung King Road, I checked in on the closing event for Barbara T. Smith at The Box. Gallery director Mara McCarthy watched over the people in their socks navigating Field Piece, 1968/71, a set of rather phallic-looking nine-and-a-half-foot resin tubes made to look like blades of grass, which light up when you step near them. A number of documentary photos depicted the sculpture’s original installation, complete with a group of nude men and women lounging in and around its translucent green blades. When asked about the works’ swinging atmosphere, Smith shrugged and offered: “What can I say? It was the ’70s.”
Next was Culver City, where, at Kim Light Gallery, curator Stefan Simchowitz kindly walked me through “Bitten!,” an exhibition of exceedingly colorful work inspired by pixelation—including Cory Arcangel, Paper Rad’s Ben Jones, and Christina Malbek. Words like new! and young! were tossed around, while participating artist and Deitch Projects' director, Kathy Grayson, dubbed the whole affair simply “exuberant.” A beatifically grinning Robert Olsen presided over the crowd at Susanne Vielmetter, where his paintings—quiet works imbued with a sense of urban dread—share the gallery, and contrast nicely, with Adam Ross’s paintings of sci-fi candy-lands. One might say that Los Angeles exists in both artists’ work.
Left: Artist Robert Olsen. Right: Dealer Daniel Hug and artist Eric Wesley.
The sci-fi noir mood carried through to Canter’s, the legendary twenty-four-hour Jewish deli, where Vielmetter holds most of her gallery’s dinners. While this kind of deli—endless menu, 1960s-kitsch decor, and cavernous interior—may fast be disappearing from New York, it is still an integral part of the LA experience, though our server was less a beehived matron than a graying stunt double for David Lynch’s Eraserhead. While people polished off pastrami and knishes, I jokingly asked Vielmetter whether anyone came into the gallery for last-minute Christmas shopping. “Perhaps one couple,” she mused. “They bought a rather festive red and green painting.”
The following night, Overduin and Kite organized a performance of Guy de Cointet’s At Sunrise . . . a Cry Was Heard, which debuted at the Biltmore Hotel in 1976 and was here being performed by the original actress, Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman, to coincide with the upcoming show of de Cointet’s work at the gallery. The crowd included many of the late artist’s friends and collaborators (Larry Bell, Bob Wilhite, and Cirrus Gallery’s Jean Milant); critics Bruce Hainley of Artforum and Sonia Compagnola of Flash Art; and artists Nathan Hylden, Carter Mull, and Bobbi Woods. One audience member noted that if Kafka wrote soap operas, the result would approximate de Cointet’s work, and this performance—surreal, theatrical, and funny—seemed a case in point. In the performance, Glicksman waxes philosophic and attempts to tease out all of the subtleties of the “abstraction, antiquity, and unchallenged beauty” of a painting shown in the center of the stage. That the painting she declaims about is nothing like the one in front of her brought the kind of chuckles that Waiting for Godot can elicit from the right audience. After the approximately thirty-minute piece finished to a round of applause, the audience gathered around to toast the actress and the writer. I caught up with Glicksman on my way out, and in response to my congratulations, she gave a breathy thank-you and added, with a smile, “I’m not a very good actress, but I think it went well.”
Left: Artist Penti Monkkonen and collector John Morace. Right: Dealers Lisa Overduin and Kristina Kite.
Last Saturday morning, a group of Lisbon-based artists, dealers, critics, and journalists flew to Luxembourg for the opening of “Portugal Agora” (Portugal Now) at MUDAM, a show co-organized by the museum’s director, Marie-Claude Beaud, and curators Clément Minighetti and Björn Dahlström. Although everybody knew one another, the group seemed divided into cliques, a common condition of the historically atomized Portuguese art world and one that seemed insurmountable, even at the most ambitious exhibition yet of “Portuguese art” outside the country itself.
The exhibition brings together thirty-eight artists, a cohort that, as Minighetti put it, would “reveal the various practices and generations” that make up the country’s cultural life. This sentiment, albeit with a different complexion, was also expressed by Serralves Museum director João Fernandes, who observed that he “would never have dared to make such a diverse selection of artists.” Even if the show is, according to Instituto Camões president Simonetta Luz Afonso, “extremely important” because it was organized by foreign curators, the checklist nevertheless reflects, in large part, the current power relations within the Portuguese art scene, which is dominated by a few curators and critics who emerged in the mid- to late 1990s and who today focus almost exclusively on a handful of artists and dealers. The lack of works by Julião Sarmento—one of the most widely recognized Portuguese artists worldwide—was surprising given the show’s variety of artists, from old master Paula Rego to international rising star Joana Vasconcelos to the San Francisco–based muralist Rigo 23 to young painter Mafalda Santos.
Santos’s father, Portuguese minister of finance Fernando Teixeira dos Santos, and former European Commission president Jacques Santer were among the VIPs who patiently listened to the official opening speech, which emphasized the importance of the exhibition as a way of raising the status of the long-standing yet oft-neglected Portuguese community in Luxembourg. The city, one of this year’s European Capitals of Culture, has long been home to a migrant Portuguese population—hence the framework of the exhibition. However, this topic wasn’t much addressed by the works on view, as the majority of Portuguese artists engage primarily with formal questions rather than social issues. Indeed, only Isabel Carvalho dealt with immigration in her projects: She set up two radio panel discussions with young Luxembourg-based artists and musicians of Portuguese descent and also commissioned local hip-hop bands to perform at the opening.
After noting Rigo 23’s STOP sign (written in Portuguese), I followed the VIP committee through the intricate I. M. Pei–designed building and Sancho Silva’s mazelike brick structure girding the lower floors. I noticed that some artists were frustrated by technical difficulties—sculptures had to be fixed and video projections turned on. Apparently, an earlier power failure had thrown a wrench into the installation process. Others were quite pleased, including Margarida Gouveia and Miguel Branco, whose photography and miniature paintings and sculptures of fantastic human and animal figures are smartly juxtaposed. João Pedro Vale, who is exhibiting a large-scale installation that references “Jack and the Beanstalk” in the museum’s grand hall, and Vasconcelos, whose suspended sculpture featuring a popular form of Portuguese jewelry made from red plastic cutlery has been given a large space to itself, were also radiant, not only because their works were magnificently presented but also because they were attracting most of the attention.
Initially mistaking him for Vale, a journalist approached João Penalva in order to provoke a comment. Reluctant at first, Penalva said that this was a significant show for the promotion of Portuguese art, although he acknowledged that he wasn’t “sure what Portuguese art is.” How, Penalva wondered, if he has been living in London for more than twenty-five years, does his production relate to Portugal? The question reminded me of another visitor’s comment in regard to the conspicuous absence from the opening of Pedro Cabrita Reis, the title of whose work A propos des lieux d’origine (About the Places of Origin) provides the subtitle for the exhibition. Apparently, Cabrita Reis proclaimed that he “wasn’t a Portuguese artist, just an artist.” On that brisk night, in between the small talk and cigarettes, I was left to wonder how many of the other artists sympathized with, or even understood the implications of, his sentiment.
Left: Blonde Redhead performs at the Guggenheim. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Ryan McGinley. (Photo: David Velasco)
Last Thursday’s Young Collectors Council Artist’s Ball at the Guggenheim brought uptown a low-life tableau appropriate to its guest of honor, the photographer Ryan McGinley. Plausibly candid yet staged, intoxicated, and headlined by the artist of the evening’s favorite band, Blonde Redhead, McGinley’s Guggenheim takeover sported nearly as many flashbulbs and cameramen as people willing to pose for them.
The museum’s press reps had promised heavyweight lens fodder, and some even made it: indie-music darling Feist, Piper Perabo, Leelee Sobieski, and, nailing the New York zeitgeist, Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively. (Some of the more outlandish camera bait—Michael Stipe! Mary-Kate Olsen! Joshua Jackson!—did not.) In lieu of the consortium of art stars (glimpses of Jeff Koons, Jack Pierson, Adam McEwen, and Slater Bradley; brief introductions to Rita Ackermann and Whitney Biennial curator Shamim Momin), I made do with the company of a few McGinley models, on hand to gawk at their own outré cameos.
“Might get a nosebleed up here,” joked Host Committee member Aaron Bondaroff, sweating it out above Fourteenth Street. A few feet away hung Kai Regan’s photograph Everyone Loves Aaron, on auction to support the museum. As for McGinley’s posse, artists Dan Colen and Nate Lowman, Donald Cumming and Wade Oates from McGinley’s other favorite band, the Virgins, and half of the remaining Bowery set were present—and often pictured as well. I asked Cumming whether he felt honored. “That’s Wade,” he said instead, pointing at a projection of a McGinley photograph of a dick protruding through unbuttoned jeans. “But seriously, I’m very proud of my friend,” he added, meaning McGinley.
Left: Artist Slater Bradley with the New York Times's Jennifer Pastore. Right: Leelee Sobieski. (Photos: David Velasco)
The momentary ascendance of the LES was a point of pride for McGinley—“Downtown comes uptown!” he affably noted, on message, once cornered. The Guggenheim wasn’t unprepared for the invasion. Protective carpeting covered the floor. Security kept a stoic eye trained on those stray Richard Princes hung low enough to be mistaken for party favors. Not only Regan but Bradley, Agathe Snow, Carter Mull, Spencer Sweeney, Marc Swanson, Ryan McGinness, Carol Bove, and Aïda Ruilova had all donated their work for silent auction—a cavalcade of young artists stepping up to remind their elders that the youth movement in New York only begins, and doesn’t end, with McGinley.
As if in fond parody of McGinley’s own photographs, most basked in the scene’s hedonism and engaged in some innocently bad behavior—even if it never devolved into true debauchery. Blonde Redhead took the stage after an introduction from McGinley, doomed by circumstance to merely play sound track to the revelry. Their solution? Hazy, smeared, and unprepossessing shoegaze, but loud: a classic downtown riposte to uptown bad manners.
As for the “young collectors,” one could only wonder who was in it for longer than the duration of the evening. Flirting with the affluent young—in this case, socialites and their hedge-fund boyfriends—with an eye toward cultivating future trustees is an age-old museum tradition. But it’s hard not to feel put off by such transparent speculation. Still, the scene was irresistible, especially with McGinley, one of the more significant artists New York has turned out in the past decade, as the draw. Certainly, McGinley’s friends seemed unruffled by the peacocking. In a team effort, the circulating vodka-shot trays were tapped out, then the champagne. By the evening’s end, Bondaroff—again in the role of his downtown alter ego, A-Ron—had commandeered a microphone to salute the man of the hour. Sensing the clock ticking, he added: “We only have five minutes left to make it happen.”
Left: Cabinet editor in chief Sina Najafi with Aaron Levy, executive director and chief curator of the Slought Foundation. Right: Jean-Michel Rabaté, senior curator of the Slought Foundation. (All photos courtesy Cabinet/Slought Foundation)
God, how did they get me out of bed for this one? If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then theorizing about sloth is like masturbating about peace. Or something like that. And this was no Beckettian affair, with broad expanses of idle silence to contemplate nothingness at one’s leisure; this was six and a half hours of nonstop lecturing, paneling, questioning. On a Saturday. OK, there was a lunch break. But really.
Co-organized by Cabinet, a fine magazine to which your correspondent has contributed, and the Slought Foundation, which must be the artiest organization in Philadelphia (see for yourself: slought.org; no hoagies allowed), “In Defense of Sloth,” at Cooper Union, turned out to be a standard academic conference—professors delivering papers, abetted by slides—gussied up by its odd topic and a couple vintage nature films.
To honor the symposium’s theme, I tried to be late. I really did. I overslept, inched my way into Manhattan, and lingered outside by the statue of Peter Cooper. To no avail: The symposium out-slothed me. I took my seat inside the sparsely populated Great Hall a good five minutes before it began. Cabinet editor Sina Najafi and Slought director and curator Aaron Levy welcomed us and proceeded to list synonyms for and other words related to sloth. So, not exactly “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but at least commensurate with the level of underachievement implied by the event’s title.
The first lecturer was Marina van Zuylen, French-department chair at Bard, who spoke about Paul Lafargue’s 1883 treatise against work, “The Right to be Lazy.” Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law, preempted Calvinist attacks on his argument by pointing out that God worked for six days and rested for all eternity. Then again, his father-in-law once said of his writings, “If that’s Marxism, I’m not a Marxist!” (You keep score; I’m too lazy.) Titling her presentation “I Work, Therefore I’m Not,” van Zuylen summarized Lafargue’s passion for idleness, his sense that our “absurd and lethal rivalry with machines” was killing moments of authentic being in human life. She also quoted Nietzsche, who wrote that “work is the best police” and that “American work madness is infecting Old Europe.”
Left: Pierre Saint-Amand, professor of comparative literature and French at Brown University, and Marina van Zuylen, chair of the French program at Bard College. Right: Marina van Zuylen and Aaron Levy.
Next up was Pierre Saint-Amand, from Brown, also French. His talk on Rousseau’s slothful predilections—as expressed in his autobiographical writings and rather at odds with his political thought—drifted by me into the ether, mainly due to Saint-Amand’s thick accent and breathy delivery. He seemed like a very nice, very smart guy, but I found myself thinking about banana-nut muffins. I do recall that he said that Rousseau purposely threw away his watch, though, which I liked.
Daniel Rosenberg, associate history professor at the University of Oregon, and also nice/smart-seeming, began his talk about the talented Taylor family of the nineteenth century and how their children’s books inculcated the youth of the day with a strong work ethic—but really, I had to go. This was too much like college, or work, so I left. Snack, cigarette, stroll, gaze at Peter Cooper. When I returned, Christopher Turner was giving a wry, entertaining look at the early-twentieth-century fad for the Steinach operation—vasectomies with monkey- or goat-gland transplants on the side—which attracted attenuated males from Freud to Yeats with promises of restored vigor and virility. While there was no proof the procedure worked, many believed it did—until it was rendered obsolete by injectable synthetic testosterone.
After lunch, the old nature films ran—one on the Dodder, a parasitic plant of creeping tendrils, another on those busy, busy ants—both narrated in the psychotically cheery 1950s style that must have been partly responsible for the countercultural upheavals of the 1960s. Then, when Cabinet’s UK editor Brian Dillon told the room that he wouldn’t start his talk until his friends returned from a Japanese restaurant, a well-dressed middle-aged man loudly objected, “You’re half an hour late already!” and stormed off with his companion in a huff.
Left: The sloth doll. (Photo: Grayson Revior) Right: Emily Apter, professor of comparative literature and French at NYU, with Cabinet UK editor Brian Dillon.
After this inappropriate blast of officiousness, Dillon’s friends returned, and he gave an engaging talk on the relationship of British hypochondria and sloth, noting that Darwin (who frequently farted and vomited), Boswell (who envisioned a mechanical bed that would raise his torso every morning), and Florence Nightingale (who did much of her work from bed) all developed surprisingly efficient routines through the management of their real and imagined maladies. Slought curator and University of Pennsylvania professor Jean-Michel Rabaté followed, lecturing on Belacqua, the indolent character in Dante’s Purgatorio, and Samuel Beckett. As he mentioned how Beckett’s students would often find him sleeping at home instead of teaching them, I began dozing myself. Older than the rest, Rabaté was deeply substantial, but I was ready for Molloy’s ditch.
There was no stopping the Sloth Express, however. MIT architecture professor and Grey Room coeditor Felicity Scott seized the dais and delivered a rapid-fire talk on the Drop City geodesic dome commune, Santa Cruz’s way-alternative Pacific High School, and the Ant Farm collective—all late-’60s iterations of the counterculture’s refusal of work and straight society. Her mannered, staccato speaking style, along with her ideas, did manage to jar me awake but also made me realize how much pedagogical effort went into this afternoon’s celebration of inactivity. Curator Katherine Carl then gave a casual overview of the charmingly slothful Croatian artist Mladen Stilinovic—who has said that there are no Western artists, because they’re not lazy enough to earn the title—with slides of his witty, maudit artwork and of him sleeping. At this point, my ass hurt. Had exhaustion exhausted itself?
No. There must be the requisite panel discussion, and so there was. All of the speakers lined up behind a long table and were joined by NYU comp-lit professor Emily Apter, who moderated. By now, there were hardly more people in the audience than onstage, but a few questions were fielded: one from a young man who stuttered, another from an older man I presumed to be homeless but who flaunted his SLOTH T-shirt and waxed about the Jewish Sabbath, and the obligatory “You’ve been talking about white men the whole time; where are the women?” question. The last, in this case, was a good one—all the sloth champions discussed were men, save Nightingale—but it was neatly, and very untheoretically, parried by Apter, who said, “There are women of certain classes who are just women.” Nice work if you can get it.
Expansion is the new name of the game for Berlin galleries. From Contemporary Fine Arts (CFA) to Galerie Nordenhake to Isabella Bortolozzi, many have recently upgraded to bigger and better digs. Never one to miss out on the action, nonprofit platform Autocenter has followed suit, setting a new agenda in the process. “Location is key,” mused Joep van Liefland, who has codirected the gallery—originally located in a former auto-repair shop at the deepest, darkest edge of the eastern district Friedrichshain—with Maik Schierloh since 2001. “We were looking for greater visibility and a larger public,“ explained van Liefland. ”Of course, high-profile neighbors always help.”
Indeed, CFA set up shop in a David Chipperfield–designed building near Museum Island, where swarms of tourists stream in and out of the Pergamon Museum, while Nordenhake moved to a larger location in the Lindenhaus, just down the street from Daniel Libeskind’s landmark Jewish Museum. Now Autocenter—after sharing its garage with the insider nightclub Lovelite—has moved into the floor above discount supermarket Lidl. A quick stroll from the Storkowerstraße station on the S-Bahn, this particular link in the popular chain is one of several big-box stores that have recently sprung up in a no-man's land between Lichtenberg and Friedrichshain. Making my way through the parking lots last Friday, I was greeted by a host of signs announcing BRUTAL BILLIG (“brutally cheap”) and SCONTO SOFORT (“cash-payment discounts”). Good luck finding such promises at Art Basel Miami Beach.
One of Lidl’s holiday-season slogans—LUXUS FÜR ALLE! (“Luxury for all!”)—was so promising that I decided to make a detour to investigate before checking out the Autocenter's grand reopening upstairs. “I'm looking for some art,” I told Lidl Service Team member Frau Herrmann, who smoothly directed me to a DIY craft kit packed with glue, paint, and little seashells (all the way from Florida!). Instead of some long-winded critical-theory spiel, Herrmann gave me the straight talk—“It costs €4.99”—and walked away. The high euro might deter American collectors, but I was ready for some major Christmas shopping.
Left: Artists Jeroen Jacobs and Lucio Auri. Right: Artist Deborah Ligorio and curator Fanny Gonella.
With some dismay, I soon realized that Lidl is undercutting prices for the official avant-garde and threatening to destabilize the entire art market by shamelessly mass-marketing fakes—however fabulous-looking. If Tobias Meyer were here, he'd be banging his hammer in protest! Along with the seashell craft kit, I picked up three Duchampian snow shovels (€14.99 each), a Candice Breitz–friendly karaoke machine (€99.99), a Richard Prince–like fan kit for Rapunzel, Barbie’s German cousin (€4.99), and Thomas Hirschhorn's signature brown masking tape (a five-roll pack for a mere €0.99).
Overloaded with luxury, I ran into some families in the parking lot and convinced them to join me for the opening. “Will we be on TV?” the father asked. “Not quite,” I explained, leading them toward the exhibition: a retrospective featuring artists, from Liu Anping to Suse Weber, who exhibited at the Autocenter’s old location over the last seven years. My personal fave: curator Caroline Eggel's re-creation of her own 2002 group show, “Tomorrow’s Fish & Chips,” as a rickety shelf decked out with works (or photocopies of works) by Pae White, Matthew Monahan, Olafur Eliasson, and Lucio Auri.
But the real showstopper was the new Autocenter Mobile Bar, a 360-degree rotating tap on wheels. “No more lineups!” proclaimed Zegar Cools, a member of the four-man-strong bartender team, who served guests with a speed and cheer that recalled ’50s full-service gas-station attendants. But do all these fancy-schmancy features, however pleasing, spell sellout? “When Autocenter showed at the fake Gagosian Gallery at the last Berlin Biennial,” whispered one guest, who wanted to remain anonymous, “it could only go more mainstream . . . ” But van Liefland enjoys mixing the popular with the peripheral. “We are looking for ‘friends,’ sort of like museum patrons,” he explained. “Instead of getting a wing, Friends of the Autocenter can drink for free at all the openings.”
With my token friendship beer, I wandered out onto the expansive balcony—two thousand square feet with an unobstructed view of the Fernsehturm television tower—and dreamed of future summer barbecues. The gallery will definitely be the place to enjoy both art and sunsets, stretching over the empty skyline before it fills up with the Gagosians, Joplings, and Jablonkas, all trying to catch up with the Autocenter trendsetting machine.
Left: Collectors Debra and Dennis Scholl. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Wexner Center director Sherry Geldin with dealer Carol Greene. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)
Art-fair week in Miami Beach may be the one time and place in the world where it’s impossible to avoid feeling both cosseted and cast out at once. Why, for instance, must every luxury hotel blast horrid music in its public areas twenty-four hours a day? Is there a local ordinance mandating guests spend more time out partying than in bed sleeping? I have no complaints, really: Miami always has been just another name for gaudy excess, and on that level it did not disappoint.
Between Tuesday afternoon and Thursday night, I enjoyed plenty of advantage, hopping a ride to far-off MoCA in Stefania Bortolami’s prom-night stretch limo, feasting at a Baldwin Gallery dinner at The Setai with dealer Richard Edwards, getting a cool hairdo from artist Cary Kwok at the Herald St booth, and puzzling with design experts over whether the pendulous, fabulously fishnetted Swarovski-crystal “Light Socks” designed by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro were more representative of male genitalia or female mammaries. Clearly, it helps to get out of town now and then; these aren’t the same sort of challenges one faces at gallery openings in New York, where people rarely want to talk about the art on view, only the clothes, or the surgery, or the money. In Miami, they want it all.
By Friday, I was ready for some real-world amusements, beginning with UBS wealth manager Chris Apgar’s brunch at the National, where goodie bags carried K/R, the new book from architects John Keenen and Terence Riley, and brunchers included collector Dianne Ackerman, dealer Sara Meltzer, and Keenen himself. From there, it was off to Debra and Dennis Scholl’s modest home on the Intercoastal to view this year’s rotation of their collection. The guests were nursing hangovers; the art, as curated by Matthew Higgs and Jeremy Deller, was, for a change, pleasantly not overhung. Just before I left, Oscar-winning producer Laura Bickford (Citizen X, Traffic) arrived, having just wrapped The Argentine, her new Benicio del Toro–starring Che Guevara biopic, in Bolivia. She was stopping by on her way to New York, while I made tracks to the Geisai fair at Pulse to dally among artist-dealers—like Chelsea’s favorite copyist, Eric Doeringer—before heading over to the Scope fairgrounds, where New York artist/farmer Peter Nadin was staging daily “Art and Agriculture” events with three-and-a-half-star chef Gwenaël Le Pape.
As Le Pape smoked ham from pigs that Nadin had raised on his upstate–New York farm in a custom cooker that I first mistook for a stack of black Tony Smith–like cubes, Nadin folded gorgeous sheets of numbered and signed papers handmade from cattails over delicious slices of ham, imprinting them with pig-grease stains before handing them to hungry art lovers. It was, perhaps, the most confounding performance of this most consumer-driven week; many people seemed flummoxed by art they could take home for free.
Nadin’s ham only whetted my appetite for Carol Greene’s plein air dinner at The Standard for curators like Stefan Kalmar, Daniel Birnbaum, Massimiliano Gioni, and Richard Flood and collectors like Randy Slifka, Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg, Mera and Don Rubell, and the Scholls. Despite the fact, or because, there were only two artists present (Miami’s Jim Drain and Naomi Fisher), this was one of the most gracious parties of the week, even with Slifka talking nonstop about his art enthusiasms (among them Sigmar Polke and Robyn O’Neil). I was sitting next to the husband (Matthew Higgs) of “one of the world’s best photographers, Anne Collier,” Slifka said. Higgs, meanwhile, spoke of “the 150 people taking cell-phone pictures of themselves in front of the Anish Kapoor” at Lisson Gallery’s booth and left early to join a larger contingent of artists at Mark Handforth’s dinner nearby.
Left: Collector Randy Slifka. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Collector Joel Dictrow with dealer Marianne Boesky. (Photo: David Velasco)
On the way out, while waiting for Gagosian Gallery’s Bob Monk to get his rented car from The Standard’s valet-parking crew, a man in a white linen suit slowly approached the Wexner Center’s Sherri Geldin, who was standing in front of the door with the Whitney’s Donna De Salvo. “Excuse me, Ma’am,” he said, in a gentle southern drawl. It was author Tom Wolfe, in Miami to research a new book. The waves parted. “If it had been anyone else calling me ‘Ma’am,’ I’d just feel old,” Geldin said after he had doddered his way inside. We all agreed he was charming.
I raced back to the Delano’s rooftop solarium, just in time to catch artist Doug Aitken leaving with 303 Gallery’s Mari Spirito and Lisa Spellman for the Visionaire “Sound”-issue party in the hotel’s new basement-level Florida Room. Approaching the entrance, we were repelled by a contingent of nasty bouncers who were clearly angling for a fight. Though it meant giving up a chance to hear 1980s supermodel Linda Evangelista talk-sing her contribution to Visionaire, “I Don’t Get out of Bed for Less than $10,000 a Day,” I accepted Lauren Taschen’s offer of a VIP BMW and went with Aitken to the NADA party at the Paris Theater, where Gang Gang Dance was onstage giving a piercing concert to the dazed, young-thing audience gathered around them and seeming not to hear a note.
By Saturday night, I was ready for anything—and I got it when I arrived, late, at the temporary Soho House tent on the beach, having missed the Julian Schnabel–Lou Reed dinner at the Delano because of another dinner that was too much fun to leave. The London import’s actual club in Miami won’t open till next year, in what used to be the Sovereign Hotel. Why it had to preview during Miami Basel, I don’t know; there wasn’t a single art-world denizen present. However, Dunhill had sent pitchmen to give out pastel-colored cigarettes rolled from three different and heavily aromatic blends of tobacco and pour fruity new cocktails custom-designed to go with them. A fellow named Sergio was engraving the complimentary silver-plated cigarette cases. It may not have had much to do with art—I didn’t even see anyone smoking—but it was very Miami. I thought about the black vinyl bracelets handed out at Pulse by artist Jennifer Dalton, imprinted with the phrase I’D RATHER BE HOT THAN RICH and the complementary white ones that read I’D RATHER BE RICH THAN HOT. If I didn’t know it before, I knew it now: Even after five days in an art bubble, far outside the real world, I’d rather be among art folks than not.
Left: The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco) Right: Visionaire's Cecilia Dean and Pharrell Williams. (Photo: Clint Spaulding/Patrick McMullan)
During the art world’s annual mass hegira to Miami, one’s experience is defined as much by the events he misses as the ones he attends. Among the casualties of my itinerary were parties (for Nylon magazine, for Art Basel codirector Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, and, at the Versace mansion, for Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller), a trip (to the new private luxury island Dellis Cay, in the Turks and Caicos), and dinners—one hosted by Greene Naftali at The Standard, another by Elizabeth Dee in a Miami Beach apartment, yet another by Max Farago, Dicksmith Gallery, and Rivington Arms at Farago’s parents’ “Chinese Village”–style apartment, the invite to which promised: A TWENTY-FIVE MINUTE DRIVE—AND SO WORTH IT!! Be that as it may, twenty-five minutes can seem a lifetime in Miami.
I did, however, make it to the Raleigh on Wednesday night for Deitch Projects’s annual concert, this year showcasing ubiquitous twee-pop team CocoRosie and the ladies of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. The serene outdoor patio always feels incongruous to whatever bizarre scene Deitch cooks up, but somehow it always works. While Karen Black’s shenanigans made several jaws drop, those familiar with their antics felt a warm nostalgia in seeing frontwoman Kembra Pfahler eaten yet again by a cardboard vagina dentata.
Left: Artist Cristina Lei Rodriguez. Right: Studio Job’s Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel.
The next morning brought a breakfast celebrating the Rubell collection’s new group show, “Euro-Centric Part 1: New European Art,” and solo exhibitions by John Stezaker and Hernan Bas. I missed the breakfast but saw its unsettling aftermath: tables overflowing with prepeeled hard-boiled eggs and bacon surrounded by surgical gloves. (No health-code violations here.) The crowd wondered whether the spread was an installation or a utilitarian take on buffet by the author of Real Life Entertaining, Jennifer Rubell. Upstairs, Bas’s exhibition of paintings and video installations was pleasant but a bit uneven. At the entrance, two middle-aged collectors discussed the young Miamian’s work. “He’s gay,” said one. “How do you know? It doesn’t say so in the wall text,” the other exclaimed, looking uncomfortable. “Yes it does, look. It says he’s inspired by Wilde.”
But art wasn’t the only thing on the agenda, as flocks of well-to-dos made their way to the Design Miami vernissage. At times it was difficult to differentiate the art and design fairs—Dutch design team Studio Job’s show at Moss, for instance, would have looked right at home at Art Basel—which may be why some rushed to defend their territories. “In design, the goal is to sell thousands of copies; in art, only one. I don’t believe in just one,” said studio cofounder Job Smeets. Or, more superficially, as one friend remarked about the crowds: “At Basel, it’s face lifts; at Design Miami, it’s nose jobs.” At the reception for Light Sock, Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s sparkly installation at the Swarovski Crystal Palace in the Moore Building, architects Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio were already feeling the brunt of the fair. “After this? I just want to find a place to collapse,” said Scofidio.
Left: Dealer Javier Peres. Right: Artists Lia Halloran and Hernan Bas.
As tempting as that sounded, our night was far from over. Driving up the winding driveway to the verdant estate of the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens for The Ball of Artists, I felt my stomach tighten as I recalled Tom Cruise’s journey to the ominous mansion in Eyes Wide Shut. But on reaching the building, I found the mood decidedly festive. “We’re back in Venice!” yelled one man wandering the grand, Italian-style villa facing the bay. Contemporary artworks were scattered like Easter eggs throughout the grounds. While many of the pieces were buried deep in the labyrinthine gardens, Cristina Lei Rodriguez’s Struggling for Grandeur, a large fake topiary, was front and center. “Wouldn’t that piece look amazing in my gallery? Too bad it’s here through February,” noted Jose Freire of New York gallery Team, where Rodriguez will be having a show in January.
Another stunning sight was artist Donald Urquhart leaning against a large stone stairwell working a thrift-store Little Edie look. “This is the first time I’ve done drag and not felt overdressed,” he exclaimed. The night climaxed with a musical performance by the gamine Emily Sundblad, followed by Robert Chambers’s “intervention,” in which he unleashed 160 miles of compressed Mylar streamers from the roof of the main house. “I wanted enough to reach Sweden, but I ran out of money. This would at least make it to Bimini.”
“I can’t believe we’re trying so hard to get into a strip club,” a well-heeled gallery girl scoffed outside our next destination. If the Vizcaya Museum was a little slice of heaven, the Goldrush Gentleman’s Club, where Javier Peres launched the latest issue of Black Daddy, his glittery, glossy fag rag, was a licentious visit to a carnal underworld. The place was invaded by a cutthroat mob scene of art-world power players, socialites, and other impresarios, all of whom will remain nameless to protect the not-so-innocent. “These homosexuals have never seen so much pussy in their lives,” said one artist. Wouldn’t a club with male strippers be more apropos? I asked Peres, whom I found upstairs in the VIP area. “But that would be so predictable,” he replied. “This is a bit too much irony for me,” said a friend. But I disagreed—this was one event where ironic distance would have been a blessing.
The next morning, after sloughing off the sleaze, and after a quick stop at the home of Debra and Dennis Scholl, I checked out the first edition of Geisai Miami. Organized by Takashi Murakami, the young fair for unrepresented artists is hosted by Pulse, upstairs from the main fair itself. Each artist attends to his own booth, fielding deals on his own terms. “The structure appeals to me. It’s nice to have direct communication with the artist,” noted Los Angeles MoCA chief curator Paul Schimmel, touring the booths with architect Ken Smith. Despite their “emergent” status, there were some familiar faces in the house, including Eric Doeringer, perhaps better known as the guy who hawks bootleg versions of contemporary artworks on Chelsea sidewalks. His work, which includes miniature Elizabeth Peytons and Paul McCarthys, benefits from the new environment. “Most artists have a sense of humor,” he noted, “though John Currin and Sean Landers have both written cease-and-desist letters. Takashi Murakami actually sent me one, too, though he lets me exhibit so long as I don’t sell.”
Pulse itself—this year in new, less flimsy digs—looked better than in years past. Postmasters had a compelling installation of a sinking Titanic by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, as well as an impressively towering sculpture, Beautiful Superman, by David Herbert, while in the Impulse section, a solo exhibition of paeans to American pop culture by French artist Olivier Millagou at London’s Bischoff/Weiss gallery looked particularly dashing.
Thursday is always the best night for parties, and by Friday evening, most everyone seemed arted out. At his fete hosted by Le Baron, Grand Life, and Conner Contemporary at RokBar, self-proclaimed “anti-paparazzo” Jeremy Kost admitted to oversaturation: “This weekend, no more art. I need a break.” At the Delano’s elegant South Florida room, the soigné crowd was mostly music and fashion, with Pharrell Williams, Jacques Herzog, Peter Saville, and Stefano Tonchi making the rounds, though several art folks were in attendance as well, including Anthony Goicolea and Jack Pierson, who was happily ensconced at a table with QED Gallery’s David Quadrini. Whitney Biennial cocurator Shamim Momin and dealer Andrea Rosen both poked their heads in but called it quits early. We stuck around for a while, hoping to catch Linda Evangelista’s highly anticipated DJ set. Finally we asked a friend-in-the-know about Evangelista’s ETA, and he informed us she wasn’t coming. Her excuse? “She couldn’t find a babysitter.”
Left: Artist Donald Urquhart. Right: Aspen Art Museum director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson with collectors Mera and Don Rubell.
As corporations scramble to capitalize on the success of Art Basel Miami Beach, outrageous event invitations burst forth from the mailbox. By the end of last week, an opportunity to don gold swim masks and snorkel with Zaha Hadid, Jay McInerney (who was on my flight), and an editor at Vanity Fair seemed sure to be en route. Such a miasma of “exclusivity” threatens cognitive meltdown; sanity is preserved only by zeroing in on a select few events. My assignment was simple: check the pulse of the convention-center fair itself, as well as of NADA, the first of at least twenty-three satellite offshoots.
Whereas in past years, NADA preview activity slowly swelled, on Tuesday afternoon, collectors, led by a group from the New Museum, charged the gates at 4 PM. Asked whether she had presold work in her booth, one New York dealer said, “It’s mostly consultants asking for advance JPEGs. Why would I want to shortchange my clients by preselling to consultants? It’s OK. I made my first sale at 4:01 PM.” Indeed, by the time I arrived, many dealers looked slightly shell-shocked, though the fair’s energy seemed lower than it did in previous editions. Perhaps they were swooning over Lance Armstrong, who was shepherded through the fair by youngish advisers and, unlike many celebrity interlopers, actually buying. (And you thought Livestrong bracelet profits went to charity.) “I wasn’t sure it was him until I saw the shaved legs,” said Chris Perez of Ratio 3, who had three delightful Op-art-style laser-cut birch panels by Ara Peterson in his booth.
Left: Dealer Andrew Kreps, artists Peter Coffin and Ricci Albenda, and Andrew Kreps director Liz Mulholland. Right: Ancient & Modern's Rob Tufnell.
John Connelly, one of NADA’s four founders, brought a single mural-scale, psychedelically colored iteration of the Peterson works to the Art Positions containers on the beach, and his “graduation” to the “young galleries” section of the main fair underscored the potential problem NADA now faces: filling the venue with quality booths despite increasing competition from above and below. With that in mind, it was reassuring to see strong presentations from several first-time exhibitors: London’s Ancient & Modern brought bright collages by Peter Linde Busk and a cheeky takeaway wall calendar by Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane; Klaus von Nichtssagend, one of the few galleries still prompting regular visits to Brooklyn, had striking sculptures by Ian Pedigo and Alex Dodge; and New York’s Sunday LES wisely chose to feature one artist, Michael Jones McKean—who makes shelf-assemblage sculptures—rather than overwhelm collectors unfamiliar with the young gallery’s program.
Other works stood out, including Alyson Shotz’s iridescent swirl of rectangular beams at Derek Eller, Marco Maggi’s hyperworked drawings at Josée Bienvenu, and Lisa Oppenheim’s small, brightly colored photographs at Juliètte Jongma. There was a brief throwback to the physical-plant problems of the fair’s 2005 edition, when many of the lights blinked out at 7 PM, but everyone seemed to take it—and the areas without much air-conditioning—in stride.
After catching half a set by art rockers Deerhoof in the Ice Palace garden, the lure of a new exhibition by Peter Coffin (and, to be honest, food) drew me to Emmanuel Perrotin’s gallery a few blocks away. In the garden, French duo Kolkoz DJed for the likes of curator Christine Macel and dealer Andrew Kreps. Inside, Coffin’s show didn’t disappoint, offering in one room a series of small photographs depicting a single piece of Silly Putty onto which a wide range of artwork images had been transferred. It’s a “consciously dumb metaphor for how memory works,” Coffin said. But the real coup was a giant gray Möbius-strip spiral staircase, his largest piece to date, a work that will loom ever larger in the mind as this week grinds on.
Left: Cary Kwok with Judd Foundation director Barbara Hunt McLanahan. Right: Art adviser Kati Lovaas, publisher Benedikt Taschen, and collector David Teiger.
Wednesday’s ABMB VIP preview was busy but seemed to lack the little thrills one has come to associate with the fair, the splashiest around—or perhaps they were easier to miss, given the plethora of sideshow attractions. One novelty was Art Supernova, a new section conceived by the fair organizers as a platform for “linking the participating galleries in a new way.” Tucked into a corner of the building, twenty dealers shared semi-interconnected spaces, central storage racks and flat files, and an absurd set of rules that several claimed made it hard for them to conduct business: no sitting and no “offices” inside the exhibition space (client meetings are to be carried out at tables and chairs in the convention-center hallway); time restrictions on the use of central walls as additional display spaces. “I think it’s more interesting for the viewers,” said one participant, “but it’s very difficult for us. We can’t keep clients’ attention as we walk from the artworks to our ‘office.’” Herald St artist Cary Kwok was giving free haircuts, and one imagined sore-legged neighbors plopping down in the barber’s chair for a little off the top just to enjoy a moment’s rest. Kudos to the ABMB staff for attempting to tweak the formula, but this neither-show-nor-fair approach fell flat.
Art Nova, on the other hand, which was made up of mostly younger galleries exhibiting up to three artists in smaller booths around the edge of the fair floor, offered a handful of unexpected experiences: Giti Nourbakhsch, Gabriele Senn, and Guido Baudach combined their booths and Susanne Vielmetter, who had submitted e-mail correspondence between artists Wynne Greenwood and Nicole Eisenman as her proposal, hosted a lengthy performance by them in the afternoon. Vilma Gold brought four compelling “portraits” by Nicholas Byrne—agglomerations of brightly colored tangles of what looked like semaphore flags, including two painted on copper—all of which sold in the fair’s first fifteen minutes. Indeed, business seemed brisk for entry-level works and super-high-end material from auction-house darlings; it was only pieces in the middle price range—from fifty to one hundred thousand dollars, say—that didn’t fly off the shelves in the first few hours.
Left: Dealer Carol Greene. Right: Dealer Barbara Gladstone with incoming Walker Art Center director Olga Viso and Gladstone Gallery's Rosalie Benitez.
Wandering through the booths of the two hundred invited galleries suggested one simple solution to the problem of “reinventing” the fair: encourage established dealers to make focused presentations, à la Art Nova, rather than a show hodgepodge of recent works by the artists from their stables. With few such dramatic gestures to stumble across—not even the ubiquitous Thomas Hirschhorn sculpture, placed on the aisle for maximum transgression—one was left to scan the wares for idiosyncratic favorites. Steven Parrino’s red-enamel-lacquered honeycomb aluminum painting at Massimo De Carlo; the little forest of colorful broomstick sculptures by the late Al Taylor at Zwirner & Wirth; Raoul De Keyser’s gray and blue Staring, 2007, at Zeno X; and the large, wispy Rebecca Horn drawings hung in the same position in Sean Kelly and Galerie Lelong’s adjacent booths, like a visual hiccup, stick out in my memory.
But what was perhaps the most powerful artist statement in the fair is the two-part presentation by Christoph Büchel, at Hauser & Wirth and Maccarone. Training Ground for Training Ground for Democracy, 2007, a piece related to a massive installation intended for MASS MoCA that was never exhibited in its finished state and resulted in a lawsuit brought against the artist by the museum, fills a large, sectioned-off part of the Hauser & Wirth booth. But as a result of the lawsuit, Büchel’s lawyers came into possession of a copy of the museum’s internal correspondence regarding his project, some of which the artist has photocopied, framed, and chosen to present at Maccarone’s booth. It’s visually unprepossessing, but quietly damning. “We know Christoph is crazy,” begins one note. Others discuss how to milk one hundred thousand dollars from a donor, half-jokingly compare Büchel to Saddam Hussein, suggest that other artists redeploy the materials purchased for Büchel’s installation to their own ends, and wrestle with how best to spin this morass in public. The viewer recoils from the callousness of all the talk and wonders whether the institutional accountability Büchel so desperately seeks—he lost the court case—will come to pass.
By the time I made it to the beach, it seemed like several thousand people were weaving, single file, into and out of the Art Positions containers. Perhaps the perfect transition from ten hours wandering the aisles to Iggy Pop and the Stooges’ fantastic, soul-restoring set on the beach was Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s Silent Sound installation—conceived with the help of an “ambisonic consultant” and a “consultant psychologist.” A vaguely symphonic piece composed by J. Spaceman of Spiritualized played inside Kate MacGarry’s thickly padded container. It was almost enough to make one forget the melee outside.
Neurotically reluctant to stray farther north than north London, I felt mild dread as I boarded a train last Monday for Liverpool, Europe’s 2008 Capital of Culture. Everything is the new something these days, I thought, cynically bracing myself for the novelty of a Turner Prize served up Scouse-style. Ringo Starr meets Andy Capp to discuss Duchamp? Turned out I was wrong.
This year marks the first time the Turner Prize has poked its nose outside London, a decision that, director Nicholas Serota assured me, was not a wonky reading of the Tate compass. Determined to give the city a leg up and bolster support for its new cultural position, Serota explained it that it was “time to make Liverpool the center of attention.” How often do you get up this way, then? Ignoring that, he continued, “The support and enthusiasm here have just been amazing.” So will this exodus from Tate Britain set a new precedent for the Turner? Serota confirmed, somewhat enigmatically, that though it would never be as formulaic as alternating annually between London and other locations, this first shift away from the capital would not be the last.
I confess now that due to inclement weather and a railway system ironically ill designed for rain, I missed the announcement of the winner. The doorman shouted “Mark Wallinger!” at my back as I burst into a party gathering itself into a full-tilt boogie. All but Dennis Hopper, that is. Flown in especially to award the prize and looking decidedly world-wearier than he did when last seen in these parts, he seemed all boogied out and spent most of the evening sitting with friends, clutching a flat cap and reading glasses.
Left: Artist Mike Nelson. Right: Artist Douglas Gordon and a friend.
Inexplicably partial to the Scouse accent, I strained to hear its distinctive dulcet gargle and realized that, while the Prize may have been in Liverpool, there was little evidence of Liverpool at the Prize—it was as though London had excised itself and plopped down by the Mersey for the evening. “Of course everyone here is from London,” said Grayson Perry, admitting that while moving the event gave the Turner “a bit of texture,” London would always be its true epicenter. While I was struggling to get a clear snapshot of what could best be described as an azure-blue, sequined faux phallus protruding from between the panels of Perry’s frock, Artangel director Michael Morris sidled up and, pointing to my Nikon, said, “That might be Grayson’s, but this one is yours.” Hmm. Morris was vociferous in his opinion that artists should be nominated only once. Mike Nelson, 2007 short-lister, lost to Martin Creed in 2001, while Wallinger lost in 1995 to Damien Hirst. “It’s hard on the artists, who have to go through the whole process again, and on the judges, who have to get past the fact that a nominee has already lost once.”
Spying nominee Nathan Coley in a huddle with artist Martin Boyce, I asked how he felt about missing out. “State Britain is truly a great work of art, and Mark deserved to win.” Peering into his eyes for evidence of disingenuousness, I found none, only a refreshing generosity of spirit that seemed to be the evening’s signature. The city was welcoming, the mood relaxed and warm; it was as though the change of scenery had given everyone permission to let their hair down.
And finally, the jubilant Wallinger was the nucleus of an impenetrable thicket of merry friends and family—notably his elderly mother, who held court from her folding chair while wine and plaudits flowed overhead. Asking Wallinger how he planned to celebrate his victory, he replied with a raised glass, “By getting pissed as a rat, in true British fashion!” Mom beamed. How does it feel having a Turner Prize–winning son? “I’m very proud,” she nodded. And what about contemporary art in general? “Some I like,” she explained, “and some I don’t.” Amen, sister.
Left: Paul Schimmel, chief curator at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, with New Museum chief curator Richard Flood. Right: Ellyn Dennison, New Museum president Saul Dennison, and New Museum director LIsa Phillips. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)
“This is the best night of all,” Laura Hoptman told me as I checked in last Thursday for the fourth of five nights of parties (each with a separate guest list) inaugurating the new New Museum of Contemporary Art. “No stars,” she said of the sea of unfamiliar faces around us. “And so many young people! I think it’s great.”
A moment later, I was introduced to Gabriel Kuri of Mexico City and Brussels, one of the thirty artists in “Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century,” the first of a four-part show (assemblage now, then visual and audio collages) put together by the museum's trio of curators: Hoptman, Richard Flood, and Massimiliano Gioni. Kuri was accompanied by Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo curators Tobias Ostrander and Jorge Munguia, as well as Jumex Collection director Abaseh Mirvali. They had come a long way for an opening, hadn’t they? “As one floor in the museum is named after my boss,” said Mirvali of Eugenio López, “I think I had better be here!”
Lisa Phillips, whose vision for the museum inadvertently spearheaded the redevelopment of the Bowery, the neo-bohemian boulevard outside, looked ecstatic. “I am so happy to be in this building,” she said proudly of the seven-story pile of unevenly stacked white-on-white cubes (designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA) that is her new professional home. Glenn Lowry had been there the day before, she noted with the bat of an eye. He was particularly taken, apparently, with the size of the museum’s café, theater, gift shop, and galleries—the classy, cool intimacy that is making it, in other words, everything that MoMA isn’t and that is letting it err in a sweet, small way, instead of embracing what many feel is a major blunder with eight hundred million dollars. I don’t know what “Unmonumental” cost, but its existence proves that you don’t have to sell the farm to achieve a solid art experience. “It’s reactionary,” Hoptman said of the show. “I mean, it’s about things—sculpture—the kind of stuff you can dust.”
“Monday night, there was a dinner for the trustees,” explained trustee Dianne Wallace, whose name in Plexiglas graces the museum’s irradiant-green elevators. “Tuesday, we had a dinner in a Chinese restaurant for the big donors, and last night,” she said, her voice trailing off, “was fashion night.” She meant the evening had been sponsored by the Calvin Klein company, which brought its own crowd of movie stars and models—“leggy young girls on couches with their skirts rising up to their heads,” said artist Mel Kendrick, who was not one of the artists who donated a work to the museum’s eight-million-dollar benefit auction at Phillips de Pury a few weeks ago but who had been allowed in with them the night before.
I hadn’t missed much, he said. Just the cabaret in the basement theater, where “a guy from The Box,” the club on Chrystie Street, entertained by picking up a beer bottle with his rectum and drinking from it. So much for bending elbows, which is what was going on at the bars on the museum’s top floor, its party room, which has windows and a terrace on two sides, offering views of the now-glittering Lower East Side cityscape.
Thirty years ago, the New Museum was in a Tribeca office building, art consultant Allan Schwartzman reminded me. As founding director Marcia Tucker’s assistant at the Whitney Museum, from which she was summarily fired in 1977 for championing artists like Richard Tuttle, he had followed her downtown to become the New Museum’s first resident curator. “I feel like some big hand is going to come out and grab me,” he said when he spied the clear Plexiglas letters informing us that we were standing in Marcia Tucker Hall. Yet it was touching to see him there.
Left: Artist Andrea Blum with art advisor Allan Schwartzman. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Performer Raven O from The Box. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)
Tucker might have been astonished at how clean and white and open the museum is, compared with dank former home on Broadway. But then the Bowery itself is a mere shadow of its once-dingy self. What with Whole Foods on the corner and the Bowery Hotel next to the men’s shelter a few blocks north, and circled by an increasing number of galleries, it is quickly turning into the new SoHo the art world has been longing for since it gave up on the old SoHo and moved to Chelsea and Bushwick—and London, Los Angeles, Berlin, São Paulo, Shanghai, and most points between.
What is the center of the art world now, anyway? Is it wherever you happen to be? Does it even need a center anymore, now that we have not just the Internet but NetJets? Was art any better when the Cedar Tavern, Max’s, The Odeon, or Gavin Brown’s was the only place for artists to go and be seductive? Maybe not. But there is more heat in a collective core than in a diaspora, that’s for sure. It would be nice to see it rise from this new home.
“I saw every show the New Museum did for years,” enthused Hammer Museum curator Gary Garrels, who had flown in from Los Angeles (on a commercial airline). As we waited for the elevator to take us upstairs, he gave another nod of approval to the black rubber bracelets imprinted with the word UNMONUMENTAL that we had all been given at the door. The galleries may have been strewn with fetish-worthy objects, but the bracelet proved to be the evening’s most admired item. Was that just because it was free? Hardly a Murakami-designed Vuitton bag, of course, but a collector’s item all the same!
Left: Curator Trevor Smith and New Museum curator Laura Hoptman. Right: UCLA Hammer senior curator Gary Garrels. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)
“We just want to keep people coming back,” Flood said, by way of explaining how the show would fill out in January and February with not just collages but also a Rhizome-created website. On this night, however, the problem did not concern attracting people to the museum but getting everyone to leave—the bars, that is, not the galleries, where attendance was curiously sparse, perhaps due to the morguelike fluorescent lighting, which Phillips termed “European.” Then again, the bar was offering free drinks and something else the galleries don’t have: a window to the world outside. “We don’t have views in London,” said Frieze Art Fair cofounder Matthew Slotover, heading straight for the terrace. “This is great.”
Jerry Saltz handed me what turned out to be the first copy of the fifth issue of Charley, the publication put out by Gioni, Maurizio Cattelan, and Ali Subotnick—a black softcover book that was heftier than it looked. Perhaps art now means so much to so many that it has become literally heavy, even in reproduction. Or perhaps it wasn’t just a book but a bible. Or perhaps it is what it is. Whatever. As “Unmonumental” artist Rachel Harrison said, “I’m postmedium at this point.”
As the hour grew long and the finger-food supply short, I took another tour of the galleries and found Dash Snow bearing a freshly shaven head and a papoose cuddling his four-month-old daughter, Secret. Snow liked the Sarah Lucas red leather sofa impaled by a fluorescent tube. Nate Lowman’s bullet-ridden bulletproof glass was another favorite. Penetrating though these works are, they were given nowhere near the real estate accorded Jeffery Inaba’s mural Donor Hall, which, with pie charts and images of cheese wheels and homemade pies spread across every wall of the lower floor, details the stratospheric transactions that make up the global art-money network. “We had to give his project the biggest space,” Gioni joked. “It’s about money!”