LAST SATURDAY, I caught a bus just south of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District bound for the Asbury Park convention center and the opening of the New Jersey Museum of Contemporary Art’s inaugural exhibition, “It’s All American.” NJ MoCA doesn’t yet have a permanent home, and the project came together rather quickly after the museum found a temporary venue this summer. Once on board, I filed past the mostly youthful passengers—Delusional Downtown Diva Joana Avillez, two friends watching Friends on an iPhone, the male members of the Misshapes—and was handed a glass of warm white wine from one of the trip’s organizers. I asked if they had water instead. “No,” she replied, then continued, “but it’s not like I don’t think it’s cool to drink water . . . I just didn’t buy any.” Moments later Manish Vora, yet another co-organizer of the evening’s festivities, welcomed everyone with the disclaimer, “I’ve never been to Asbury Park, but I’m told the driver knows how to get there.” I secretly hoped for a Real Housewives of New Jersey “drive-by” detour—so popular these days, according to TMZ. And with that, we were off.
We arrived seaside two hours later. The convention center’s marquee touted the thirty-seven-artist group show, curated by young Turks Alex Gartenfeld and Haley Mellin, beside an announcement for an upcoming Barenaked Ladies concert. Inside, I spotted neither Snooki nor Teresa Giudice, but to the credit of everyone involved with the museum the New York art scene turned out in healthy numbers. “Have you ever been to Asbury Park?” “How did you get to Asbury Park?” and “How do you like Asbury Park?” were popular questions throughout the night. Collector Susan Hort answered the first with an enthusiastic yes: “My husband Michael and I have a house in Monmouth and we love to bike up the shore.” Hubby Hort, meanwhile, was busy dashing about the space tagging, in marker, ad hoc wall texts on clean surfaces.
The show is mostly painting and sculpture. “I was worried people would think: ‘Alex Gartenfeld, Republican curator,’ ” Gartenfeld mused. Surely the choices were necessitated by the beautiful, awkward, fourteen-thousand-square-foot space: Four hallways with walls of windows directly overlooking the beach below. Participating artist Brendan Fowler and Andrea Longacre-White, both in town from Los Angeles, had, like many others, been there all day. “You should have seen the space this afternoon!” they told me, offering some digital images from their phones of how the cool postmeridian light had looked streaming at a 45-degree angle past Sterling Ruby’s fifteen-foot-tall stack of beanbag chairs. “It’s like Dia:Beacon,” gasped Printed Matter’s new director Catherine Krudy. Beacon, but with the option, as one black-eyed wayward guest pointed out, “to slum it up at the Wonder Bar across the street.” Sadly, it was the wrong day to take advantage of said dive’s “Yappy Hour,” but after 11 PM it proved to be the only place in town to get dinner: chicken fingers.
Left: Artists Robert Melee (middle) and Xavier Cha (right). Right: The Wonder Bar.
Mellin and I caught up as she escorted me on a tour of the facility. First stop was the cavernous concert hall, which the Boss commandeers every season as his private rehearsal space. Because of the immense vibrations from upcoming concerts (apparently, BNL can really bring it), the show will need to be entirely de- and reinstalled—twice—during the run of the exhibition. Rob Pruitt’s stolid crowd-pleaser—four thousand pounds of ladies’ boot-cut jeans filled with poured concrete and posed in a row of sequential, stop-action leg-lifts––will no doubt be among the more challenging works for the art handlers. Not to mention Peter Coffin’s comparably heavy rotating iron sculptures. “I wasn’t here for installation,” Coffin confessed contentedly.
Next stop on the Mellin tour was the theater, a majestic room a local congresswoman wagered had been completed sometime during the 1930s. “Nineteen thirty-one,” Mellin clarified, adding: “Interesting that the building itself coincides with the Great Depression . . . ” By the time the inaugural-night band began to play, Robert Melee had arrived from a small dinner at his own pad in Asbury Park, where he has shot many an arty home movie starring his mother, Rose. Melee is the de facto, dandified patron saint of local flair, à la John Waters in Baltimore. “Kiss me!” he commanded to no one in particular, as he puckered his lips and closed his eyes. Several people in the vicinity did, myself included, and, feeling sufficiently blessed for the long ride home, I returned to the parking lot to meet my seventy-two-seat chariot before head count.
IF FRANCE’S RECENT nationwide strikes and faltering Eurostar service inspired anxiety among those on the Frieze–FIAC socializing spree, the reality was that the blazing barricades plastering the cover of the New York Times were nowhere to be seen around the taxi lines outside Le Meurice. “Actually, the reduced traffic has made cabs a hell of a lot more affordable,” one collector quipped, affecting that ironic obliviousness best served with Bellinis.
Aside from the strikes, last week’s FIAC tour was all about spaces: Gagosian’s new one, Chantal Crousel’s second one, Perrotin’s expanded one—and every day a dinner or private view at the apartment of one dealer or another, from carlier | gebauer’s exhibition in a converted church to private views of Eva Presenhuber’s pied-à-terre, whose unusual decor was “all original 1980s,” the handsome gallery assistant assured me, as he negotiated a Martin Boyce.
Tuesday afternoon, I shuffled through the masses—mainly collectors, judging from the creative eyewear—waiting outside the opening of Cour Carrée, FIAC’s younger fair. There I ran into curator Nicolas Bourriaud (who was—confoundingly, but perhaps characteristically?—forging against the crowd) and artist Laurent Grasso, who was kind enough to remind me of our standing lunch date at Nomiya, his restaurant project atop Palais de Tokyo. Slipping down a side aisle, I made my way to the fair’s center, where Prix Duchamp laureate Cyprien Gaillard had colonized one corner of the café, kicking back with a table of artists (painter Nick Delveraux, for one) and soigné entourage.
Left: Gagosian directors Stefan Ratibor, Victoria Gelfand and Sam Orlofsky. Right: Collector Mera Rubell with dealer Frank Elbaz.
As was to be expected, there was a fair share of noise, but Cour Carrée also had its moments. Most of these were concentrated in the “Lafayette” section, with its eighteen solo projects by emerging galleries, including Susanne Winterling at Silverman Gallery and Alan Michael at Hotel. On my way out, I caught the Rubell clan making an appreciative perusal of “Ferus in Paris,” Galerie Frank Elbaz and Nyehaus’s tribute to the pivotal LA gallery. “First time I’ve seen these artists in Paris, that’s for sure,” Don laughed, shaking his head in wonder.
Next stop was the debut of the new Gagosian space on Rue de Ponthieu, where five new paintings by Cy Twombly anchored the upstairs “project room,” which featured architectural ephemera of Jean Prouvé, curated by Patrick Seguin. The space was immaculate, of course, as was its public (less about eyewear here; more about shoes), but I took secret delight in the fact that one could still catch whiffs of fresh paint in the stairwell.
From there, it was a short cab ride to Palais de Tokyo for Adam McEwen’s “Fresh Hell,” the latest in the museum’s artist-curated “Carte Blanche” series. The exhibition itself ws a rousing but welcome mix, sampling everything from H. C. Westermann’s woodcuts to Gino de Dominicis’s Icarus-tinged video meditations to Jessica Diamond’s playfully plaintive wall piece Is That All There Is? The crowd was a similarly enjoyable shuffle: dealers Thomas Dane and Gavin Brown; artists Rob Pruitt and Gillian Wearing; collectors Carl Kostyal and Alastair Cookson; and, of course, the peripatetic Sam Keller and Marc Spiegler. Alas, “Fresh Hell” posed too convenient a description for the opening-day party upstairs, so we opted for more grown-up cocktails at Le Meurice, where the crowd was mainly recovering from Gagosian’s opening fête.
On Wednesday, the Grand Palais, the main site of FIAC, was, as always, unrepentantly drafty. VIPs put off by the long lines of tourist types outside were relieved to discover that the crowds were mostly gathering for the blockbuster Monet exhibition next door. (Dealer Graham Steele looked shocked when I turned down two tickets for a coveted 6 PM view: “You do realize these tickets are like gold dust in this town, don’t you?”)
Left: Curator Nicolas Bourriaud. Right: Artist Michel François with dealer Kamel Mennour.
Trading polite aisleway nods with Alfred Pacquement, Subodh Gupta, and Walead Beshty, I tried to stick to the sunny spots while perusing the fair. I made an exception to duck into the dark room at Perrotin, where an eerily lit armoire contained several pieces by ceramic artist Klara Kristalova. Down the hall at Zwirner, Adel Abdessemed’s charred cube of taxidermied animals stared across the aisle at Gagosian’s themed booth (whose wall label—“Gagosian WOMEN”—might as well have been a sign stolen from Rue Saint-Honoré), itself around the corner from Gladstone’s solo presentation of Alighiero Boetti. “Looks like everyone is trying to impress the French this year,” one collector sighed, wistfully following the very naughty pink curves of a Condo nude at Simon Lee. “I just wish I had come at 11 AM and not 3 PM.”
That evening, I arrived on the early side for the Kamel Mennour dinner at the Ritz honoring Sigalit Landau, who has been selected for the Israeli pavilion in Venice. Escorted into the lush “Parlor of Venus,” I found myself stunned by the gilded mirrors and intricate tapestries. “These carpets are killer for heels, though,” lamented artist Latifa Echakhch, who seemed to be managing gloriously, as was radiant actress Kristin Scott Thomas, standing nearby. I turned to the kindly Belgian collector beside me and weakly joked, “Just imagine if you lived here.” A charming Continental curator cut in: “Clearly, you haven’t seen his house!”
The next night, I found myself with Tilda Swinton, Dan Colen, and Beatrix Ruf at the opening for Jim Lambie’s exhibition presented by Sadie Coles at Galerie Patrick Seguin. Dealer Max Falkenstein leaned in to greet Lambie, motioning toward a new wall piece: “Black and white, huh? Very sexy.” “I know, wouldn’t they be perfect for a kebab stand?” Lambie grinned, eliciting blank stares all around. “I have this dream where I can trade a work for, like, kebabs-for-life!” The blank stares turned to baffled smiles (and some quiet mental math).
After a lively dinner at neighborhood staple Chez Paul, and an appearance at Maxime for the Thaddaeus Ropac party, our little contingent set off for Baron, where we stumbled into what turned out to be a “Uniform” theme party for the club’s sixth anniversary. What we may have lacked in costumes, we made up for in enthusiasm: Within minutes, dealer Isabella Bortolozzi had started up an ice cube fight with Johann König, dipping into scattered champagne buckets for ammo. Dodging doctors, nurses, GIs, and a giant yellow furry monster (?!), we eventually made our way to Chez Moune, where the costumes are more internalized.
At Hotel Amour on Friday, over a brunch of smoked salmon, cigarettes, and intense squinting, we plotted what remained of our afternoon. After dropping by the Pompidou for “Fun Palace” and Espace Fondation for the show “Rehab,” we made our way to the Young International Artists fair, which invites dealers to present work by a single emerging artist. The galleries—including Yvon Lambert and Perrotin—were in evidence only via a tiny floor tag, giving the lofted space the feel of a very chill club. There was no time for the beer and mini quiche, however, as I still had to get to Maison Rouge to catch the latest installment of “Investigations of a Dog,” put on by FACE, the European collaboration of nonprofits. The exhibition has been traveling works by Thomas Hirschhorn, Paul McCarthy, and Kara Walker. As Hirschhorn explained, “My piece is a Swiss army knife. You get that, right? It solves all your problems. Except if you’re Swiss, you don’t have any.”
Saturday, the old man with the accordion an inch from my face failed to enhance the drizzly morning metro trek to Palais de Tokyo for lunch at Nomiya. The mood shifted slightly as I was escorted through the rooftop garden and up to the glass penthouse, where a meal for ten would be served in the presence of the artist. While my fellow diners bemoaned the view, I thought it actually a nice complement to the soundtrack of “Blue Velvet” and champagne. As the bottles circulated (wine, as well as “Evian by Issey Miyake”), the fact that Grasso’s project has been a real commercial success struck me as less Gordon Matta-Clark or Rikrit Tiravanija, and more Andrea Fraser—strictly wining and dining, merci beaucoup.
After three hours of red wine I made my way to the Marais to catch Grasso’s new The Silent Movie at Chez Valentin as well as Pierre Huyghe’s installation at Marian Goodman and Abraham Cruzvillegas at Chantal Crousel. Later that night, at a dinner hosted at Crousel’s house, the artist was busy snapping pictures and refilling wineglasses. “Just doing everyone’s job, aren’t you?” my colleague laughed. Afterward, the crowds migrated from the Kaleidoscope party at Pom Pom to the obligatory stop at Baron before hitting the already mythologized Rick Owens party at Champs du Mars. (Before dinner I had already received five direct address requests and four insinuated ones.)
Lacking the stamina for Sunday morning’s Murakami brunch at Versailles, I kept it within walking distance for the last official event of my week, a breakfast at the plucky Kadist Art Foundation. Artist Christoph Keller, dealer Sylvia Kouvali, and I caught up over gratifyingly strong coffee, each of us casting wary eyes at the passing champagne flutes. As Kouvali and I regaled each other with accounts of the week’s social insanity and who was more exhausted, Keller shrugged. “I only flew in yesterday, actually, so I guess I missed all the craziness. You see, I’ve been in this drum circle in Marrakech . . . ” And with that, I folded my hand, grateful for the reminder that the most thrilling experiences usually don’t require an RSVP.
Left: Artist Sigalit Landau and curator Jean de Loisy. Right: Dealer Nicole Klagsbrun.
Left: “Richard Hawkins: Third Mind.” Right: Vincent Fecteau.
THERE WAS NO ONE who looked remotely as compelling as George Clements at the opening for Richard Hawkins’s first American museum survey at the Art Institute of Chicago, so I’m skipping any rundown or namechecking of supposed hoi polloi. Many will not know who George Clements is or why, if he’s of such aesthetic consequence, so Jean-Paul Belmondo–esque, he wasn’t actually present. Of course, George in all his complicated Georgeness very much was present, but “in” the art and not “on” the scene. I was going to use that fact to let loose on why I think there’s so much diarrhetic diarizing on the society around art rather than on art itself, noting that, usually, as uninspiring as the types are who make up that society, they still manage to be somewhat more entertaining or thought-provoking or curious to look at than the art itself, a hypothesis I’d bolster by dialing into a moment within the past decade or so when the convergence of online media, art fairs, boom-time collecting, artists as CEOs, and turdlike mantras (“The best art is the most expensive art”), often expounded by actual turds, really allowed the tumor of unthinking to metastasize—in short, when the art world emulated everything suggested by that special term subprime—but then I thought, naaahhhhhh…
Curated by Lisa Dorin, moving acutely among the artist’s various bodies of work—“body” and specific body parts animate more than twenty years of Hawkins’s making art out of stuff that might be considered its other—“Richard Hawkins: Third Mind,” like the pizza boy of William Higgins’s gay porn classic, delivers.
In the collage Untitled, 1995, George looks a little peeved to be stuck in such fancy duds at a pub, the photographer keeping him from his pint and cigarettes. The picture was clipped, perhaps from The Face, and Scotch-taped below Hawkins’s early draft, in his signature scrawling hand, of a spare time line that reaches its fullest flower in another collage, 1961 to now, 1996, which juxtaposes the artist’s streamlined bio—consisting of a line noting his date and place of birth (“July 6 1961 Mexia TX”) and very little else (other than the taped, florid distraction of a male model sporting a shiny Claude Montana suit)—with the operatic but systematically chronicled details, also penned in the artist’s hand, of serial killer and child molester Westley Allan Dodd, who reportedly grew up in a happy family; tortured and killed fifty boys, all below the age of twelve; and whose birth, in Toppenish, Washington, was just three days prior to Hawkins’s own. Taped next to and slightly overlapping “pub” George, another George lowers his head so that his hair obscures his face as he pulls back his arms to show off his fancy sleeveless T, black jeans, and pointy boots, in the middle of a thicket. Elsewhere, George is lost in thought in a graveyard. Or his handsome head floats, severed like Saint John the Baptist’s, against wavering, digital fields of various colors, pixelated skeins of bodily fluids running like mascara beneath his neck, in disembodied zombie george white and disembodied zombie george green and disembodied zombie george frozen.
Left: At the Lucky Horseshoe. Right: Richard Hawkins.
Clements was discovered by the great fashion photographer Corinne Day, who also launched the career of Kate Moss. Her description of why she photographed young fashion models frequently stripped of much of the folderol of fashion is telling in its relation to Hawkins’s methods and to how his work turns with various intensities on what T. J. Clark has called “the congeries of qualities [summed up] by the difficult word ‘class’ ”:
At first we were living in places like school dorms with shared bathrooms, full of people who didn't have enough money for their own rooms. I always thought they looked best when they were sitting in their pyjamas, smoking pot and getting pissed on a bottle of wine. I loved seeing them with bags under their eyes because I thought they were even more beautiful. They had a life in them. It wasn’t bland, or fake and covered in makeup.
There are many kinds of classes—of materials and ways of materializing. Hawkins takes things with life coursing through them and constructs lairs where his loitering muses can disrobe, have their faces painted, or molt into their undead doppelgängers. Triangulating ancient myth, fag Grand Guignol, and down-home smarts on how to make do with any medium or in any circumstance—call it flaneurism, or flanneleurism—he achieves emotive resonances nuanced, ribald, and heartbreaking. As Day stated: “Sometimes intimacy is sad.” Many of the most resonant pictures of Clements in Hawkins’s work are photos Day took—and then he took elsewhere. She died of a brain tumor on August 27, 2010.
Only the unwitting would assume that the lessons of art stop before the afterparty. Things only really get rolling when the late-night fun is organized by an artist known for using barflydom to find some traction on other cultural matters, generously doling out beer goggles to deal with the trolls still guarding the moat of Art After Modernism via paintings of Thai go-go boys and trannies with titles as louche and edifying as Options, not solutions, 2004 (depicting a bewarted customer in a harlenquenized disco trying to decide between the newly tittied potential of a sweetly smiling shemale and the meaty posterior of a muscle toy), and Customized or Readymade, 2005 (an artistic manifesto about the pleasures of the bespoke bodies of, say, chicks-with-dicks versus the found taut slopes of boys flaunting their boystuff). At the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge, on Halsted Street, the go-go boys were variegated, some apathetic to all but the cash in hand, others earnest in big boots, some waxed smooth and others entirely fuzzy, most filling out their jockstraps, front and back, and wearing snazzy sneakers, often with tube socks. Around the main bar, fake cobwebs laced the chandeliers, skeletons hung from the ceiling, and the television played some deliciously endless iteration of Halloween as those whose job it was to gyrate gyrated. Aesthetics is who gets invited to the dinner but not the afterparty. Aesthetics is who buys drinks versus who never needs a wallet cuz the bod’s his debit card. Aesthetics is how to ignore the professorial douche bag who keeps hectoring everyone about Hawkins’s invigorating treatise on “posteriority” but never seems to rim or be fucked in the ass, afraid to put his money where his mouth is—or vice versa.
His thick hair slicked back neatly, skinny frame draped in a single-breasted camel coat and beige shirt and beige skinny tie, all by Helmut Lang, George Clements is posed, sitting, in one of his final appearances in Hawkins’s oeuvre, coffee cup, ashtray, and tabloid on the table in front of him, cigarette smoke ensorcelling his surroundings. In the magazine photo, its full page supporting the entire collage, a strange oval-framed portrait of a bare-breasted but elaborately necklaced woman hangs above him. Hawkins has taped two squares, smeared with daubs of oil paint—one blocking most of George’s right shoulder, the other floating to the left of the woman in the portrait—like sloppily hung paintings, interloping. Two modes—in the patois of Hawkins’s epic, the Greasers (oil paint) v. the Socs (collage’s scissor-sistering)—powwow to make a third. Self-portrait of the artist manqué.
Clements is now happily self-employed. Mum on any previous Proustian life as supermodel–sex pistol–daemon, his website makes available his admirable work ethic:
We are a small company with big ambition.
YOU CAN TRUST US!
We care about you because we care about our company and our reputation.
We are good, honest, hardworking tradesmen who pride themselves on the quality of their work.
Once we start a job we are fully committed to it and will never leave until you are fully satisfied.
He can be contacted at www.georgetheplumber.co.uk.
ON THE THURSDAY before Frieze, I hopped on the last public bus out of Cartagena to Murcia, Spain, where the opening-night party for Manifesta 8 was being held in a giant Moorish-style plaza. Enclosed by a former artillery barrack, the site is one of the venues for this roving show, which is known for examining the intersections of diverse cultures, a kind of metaperformance as exhibition. Huge plates of bland vegetarian paella—paid for by the city of Limburg, Belgium, the site of the next Manifesta—were being served to a long line of people while we were serenaded by human beat box Kenny Muhammad. I ran into artist Ryan Gander, who seemed to be enjoying himself immensely amid a sea of other Britons basking in the surprisingly sultry weather. “You know, the English Arts Council has sent down about two hundred curators,” he said.
The next day I made my way down elegant Calle Mayor to the belle epoque Cartagena Casino to view Stefanos Tsivopoulos’s film Amnesialand, part of the section “The Rest Is History?” curated by the Chamber of Public Secrets (CPS). A poetic portrait of nearby former mining community La Unión, it employs gorgeous shots of bloodlike toxic water running through stark formations of denuded earth, and archival photos of families and ruined mineshafts, to depict how the exploited region “was networked for its own death” since slaves started working it in Roman times. Profits from the industry had funded the construction of the casino building, in retrospect a bit gaudy.
The most compelling installations were those that engaged the city’s history: Next stop was the prison of San Antón, another venue that added tangible material presence to the work, which overflowed with political prisoners in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. As we entered the pentagonal building, closed up for decades, curator Roland Schöny announced, “I’m so excited: I love prisons and churches!” Just inside, Abed Robert Anouti’s documentary The Shadow of San Antón revealed grisly facts such as a priest who denounced locals and then seized their property, later becoming director of the prison. “The charged atmosphere of the place nearly overwhelms the artworks,” Documenta’s Eva Scharrer observed.
Left: Chamber of Public Secrets curators Hannah Conroy and Khalid Ramadan. Right: Curator Nigel Prince and Manifesta director Hedwig Fijen.
In the old Autopsy Pavilion, a purpose-built single dome next to the defunct bullring, Laurent Grasso’s ominously striking film The Bateria slowly panned the port’s Punic ramparts, medieval fortresses, modern military installations, and a submarine cruising sharklike toward land with lushly gripping viewpoints. KW’s Denhart von Harling commented rightly that it felt like the perfect integration of site and work. Murcia’s former post office made a fantastic peeling backdrop for “Overscore,” curated by Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum, where Willie Doherty’s video Segura contemplated details on the nearby river in painterly frames for twenty-four hours, and Gander’s claustrophobic The Language of the Exhibition presented a disconcerting invitation into an uninviting room.
The party that night was on the same hill in the Parque Torres, providing a stunning live panorama of the bay. After downing too much beer for safety, starting at a local Moroccan-owned bar, we descended precipitous steps to where Tranzit.org, one of the biennial’s three curatorial collectives, was staging a performance in an amphitheater. An offshoot of its exhibition, titled “Constitution for Temporary Display,” the incomprehensible spectacle was not temporary enough for some: As Karl Holmqvist muttered monotone poetry into a microphone, critic Alex Ferrando commented wryly: “I feel like I’m at a ’60s happening—small h.” At least all the layers of history were visible from there: Just below was a Roman amphitheater abutting the shell of an Arab palace, with the Moorish Castillo de la Concepción in the distance.
Speculating as to who would travel to this relatively remote region to see the exhibitions, Mari Lagerquist of Sweden’s Mobile Box noted the obvious: “I think you get people here who like art with a political dimension.” The concept of this Manifesta, to engage in a dialogue with Northern Africa, seems to have been undermined by the complex curatorial structure—or perhaps the current intersection between the two regions is expressed precisely by its nonexistence. A curator explained that it had been difficult to find African artists who work with the type of Conceptualism Manifesta customarily presents, itself an attitude of exclusion calling for conformity to particular cultural constraints. The answer may have been at the prison in the form of a crudely outfitted “Penetration Space, for Northern Africans Only,” to which no artist ever showed up (not even the Algerian who reportedly was to install a video).
Left: Artist Mariusz Tarkawian. Right: Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum's Bassam El Baroni and Jeremy Beaudry.
On Saturday morning at the official opening ceremony in Murcia, a city founded by Moors, demonstrators protested against a parking lot planned to cover the site of newly discovered Arab ruins. Meanwhile some city officials had just been arrested for misuse of public funds. (A Dutch journalist from Madrid told me, “We know this region mostly for its corruption.”) I went upstairs to visit Wooloo’s “New Life Residency,” where Helidon Gjergji, one of the artists in a series, had collaborated with a local blind woman to create a room filled with the harmonious aromas of various spices. Visitors moved through the pitch-dark along a rope, wincing from the blows of imagined obstacles, testing the confines of the space, and just feeling our way—an experience akin to the pleasure and anxiety of love. It was a great relief to make it out of there, sweating like hell.
For the closing party that night, the entire entourage was shuttled to La Conservera, a canned-food factory converted into a contemporary art museum in the remote village of Ceutí. The pouring rain put a damper on a planned concert, and the festivities resembled a flash mob, with the fried food and beer running out within an hour. “They seem to have two basic flavors in this region, oily and salty,” Ferrando noted. Gander summed up the weekend: “It all started with Indian summer and ended with hundreds of curators fighting to get on the last airlift to Murcia.”
Left: Artists David Campbell, Willlie Doherty, and Ian Brown. Right: Critic Alex Ferrando with Wooloo's Martin Rosengaard.
Left: Collector Anita Zabludowicz. Right: Artist Christian Jankowski. (Photos: Joseph Popper)
THOUGH I WOKE UP rather early, last Thursday didn’t seem to start until noon, when I leaned into the folds of a soft gray sofa to watch Christian Marclay’s latest video masterpiece The Clock, projected onto a large screen at White Cube’s modernist box, the one plunked in the middle of Mason’s Yard. One clip led and bled into another: Trains were missed, Leonardo DiCaprio barely made the Titanic, cowboys with twitching handlebar mustaches and dusty chaps delicately fingered their pistols, and my habit of obsessively checking my watch was made redundant by the slew of clocks on-screen—each of which reflected the real-world time—culled from a cinematic century of nervous characters. The work offered an objective correlative to Frieze week, where running around and looking at art is attended by the not-so-gentle pressure to get the most for your experiential buck. You know you’ve always just missed the one thing that would have given shape and meaning to the blurring multitude of pictures.
Skipping Wednesday’s openings, I’d still managed to have a brief, delightful encounter with Marina Abramović, radiating a gothy charm in all black while running about her installation at Lisson. I had a random chat with dealer Graham Southern about the origins of obscure English phraseology, and came to the conclusion, after visiting his show at Pilar Corrias, that Rirkrit Tiravanija may be the laziest (and thus perhaps the smartest) artist in the world. Touring more of the shows, I stopped by the Turner Prize at Tate Britain (shrug), Adel Abdessemed at Parasol Unit (yawn), and Kelley Walker at Thomas Dane (cynical eye-roll), so the keen pang of having chosen poorly haunted me until I trundled down the stairs into White Cube’s basement and lost myself for over an hour in the vicissitudes of time.
Looking up and finally, reluctantly, leaving to try to catch the tail of another fleeting comet, I headed to the Sunday fair across from Madame Tussaud’s (and conveniently downwind from the main fare, Frieze). A flyer-wielding fellow pointed me to the nondescript red doors just beyond a broken telephone booth, and I headed down a flight of stairs, past mountains of construction supplies clothed in blue tarpaulin, and followed the white signs and arrows through a concrete walkway, with the sinking feeling that I was entering a rave instead of an art fair. Once I was inside the yawning concrete space, however, the literal underground gave way to the figurative underground. Here, the smallish coterie of galleries were hawking art, not brands (though there were some good names all around). Except for a wall dividing the two main spaces, Sunday had none of the boothy anticharm of a merchandise convention; though the format favored sculpture, it felt freer, with better views of the art.
London’s version of the Sunday fair, coming from a previous incarnation in Berlin, actually has nothing to do with the day Sunday. “It’s really an unfortunate misnomer. All my friends have been apologizing that they’re leaving Saturday,” said Tanya Leighton, the American/Brit in Berlin, who had one of the best booths there with inspiring work from Pavel Büchler and John Smith. As I wandered around the smallish fair (only twenty galleries on the list), works jumped out all over: a film by Aurélien Froment with Motive, sculptures from Jessica Jackson Hutchins at Laurel Gitlen, and a suite of works by Ryan Gander at both gb agency and Taro Nasu. I caught up with Gander at the bar that bore his name in the back of the fair, Ryan’s Bar, which featured a host of artist bartenders—including Fiona Banner, David Batchelor, Liam Gillick, Christian Jankowski, and Bob & Roberta Smith—mixing specially designed cocktails. Gander was staying close to his business: “I’ve got one eye on the bar and one eye on my sleeping daughter.”
After a quick espresso (I was saving the alcohol for later), then a not-so-quick dinner, I stopped by Michael Werner’s postprandial shindig at Hix for Aaron Curry. Passing through the crowd, I ran into the usual folks, Matthew Higgs, David Kordansky, and, of course, the artist himself. As the party continued to rage, I slipped out the door for one more look at The Clock, which was open twenty-four hours. I settled back into positions sometime after midnight and stayed until nearly 2 AM, watching men in bed look nervously at digital alarms, couples post-coitus, people coming home late from parties. As I walked out the door, Marcello Mastroianni was doing his long, meandering walk at the end of all nights while a chorus of sleepy voices called out, “Buonanotte. Buonanotte. Buananotte.”
ON WEDNESDAY MORNING, just before 11 AM, a svelte crowd of collectors and their consorts snaked their way through the VIP obstacle course of VIP-card kiosks and VIP fast-track lanes on their way into that Caruso St John–designed big top plopped in Regent’s Park. “This is how we get our exercise,” offered a pert Thea Westreich, one of a few early birds warming up for the Frieze Art Fair parkour. Calisthenics for curators, I pictured. Art-advisor aerobics.
Once through the gates, everything was same as it ever was. Some people spotted Claudia Schiffer. Others Keith Richards. Someone mentioned Gwyneth Paltrow, but I’m fairly certain she wasn’t there. (Even if, as they muttered, the fair “must pay Gwyneth to walk around,” like she were some sort of Frieze celebrity mascot.) I did spot Dasha Zhukova, recently off her New Yorker appraisal. Also a wan Michael Gambon—“you know him, he’s the guy who played Dumbledore in Harry Potter,” a salesgirl whispered at White Cube.
Traces and susurrations of demi-celebrities give the agora texture. Noon and the place was still civilized, filled with a sunny, generic promise. “Jay Jopling is in good spirits,” collector Frank Cohen (no relation to collector Steve Cohen, also padding around the fair) offered at Stefania Bortolami’s classy stall. “And why shouldn’t he be? He already sold his Hirst for 3.5 million—quid.” Buzz continued, steady but low frequency, like a just-resuscitated heart.
Left: Stephen Malkmus, artist Jessica Jackson Hutchins, and dealer Laurel Gitlen. Right: Dealer Anton Kern.
Nothing like jovial networking amid the subterranean flurry of multimillion-dollar transactions. But what stood out from the usual showroom antics? A few things: Yto Barrada’s lit-up palm tree at Sfeir-Semler, picked up earlier that afternoon by a museum. Hilary Lloyd’s deadpan-cool sailor video at Sadie Coles. Annika Ström’s performance of Ten Embarassed Men, one of the commissioned Frieze Projects, was a compelling if fleeting one-liner. Jessica Jackson Hutchins’s ceramic-based works at Timothy Taylor Gallery offered denser fare. (“My penises are not competitive,” Hutchins had argued at her opening the night prior. “They’re about pleasure: blow jobs, making babies . . . ”) Long March Space had the cheapest work there, a teddy picker filled with plush “art” by Chinese collective MadeIn; one pound sterling bought you three stabs at a work. Conveniently, the installation was listed in the “Under £5,000” category in Frieze’s handy iPhone app. (A search for “Under 30/Under £5,000” conjured three separate pieces by artist Tobias Madison—a nice starter kit for cheap ageists?)
In between Daniel Buchholz’s and Reena Spaulings’s booths, artful impresario Jack Bankowsky was organizing photo ops below a Reena Spaulings banner installed, with cheeky salesmanship, by Buchholz. A PR gesamtkunstwerk? In the Spaulings stand, there were bugs crawling all over Matias Faldbakken’s subway-tile wall. “Well, we are in a park,” proprietor John Kelsey explained. Down the aisle, another dealer was less forgiving. “We’re trying to convince people that these paintings are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there are fruit flies stuck to them.”
By 8 PM, the hoi polloi “vernissage” was well under way, and my vitamin B-12 dose (thanks, Ryan Trecartin) was wearing off. I considered beating it back to my hotel. “But you have to go to the parties—knowledge is power,” advised a director at Gavin Brown. I’m not really sure how I made it from the fair to Ivor Braka’s Westminster mansion for a laissez-faire dinner party celebrating Kelley Walker’s solo debut at Thomas Dane, but suddenly, there I was.
Left: Reena Spaulings's Emily Sundblad with Serpentine codirector of exhibitions Hans Ulrich Obrist. Right: Dealer Emmanuel Perrotin.
I observed the hellish red wallpaper and the antique Ottoman rugs. On one wall near the buffet table was an s/m-ish painting—artist unknown—that a curator described as “H. R. Giger meets Grace Jones.” Meets Marsden Hartley, I added. You can imagine.
“Did you see the woman with the snake?” We went to go find her; she wasn’t hard to track down, given her accessory. A man seated next to her on the red velvet couch made introductions. “This is Sara, Ivor’s wife.” Eyeing the python: “This is their offspring.” Cackles all around.
“It’s a bit like the fifth circle of Dante’s Inferno,” said a notable curator. “Or Eyes Wide Shut,” suggested a notable dealer. (Impressive how notable the crowd was—Okwui Enwezor and Beatrix Ruf and Thelma Golden and Peter Eleey and Christian Rattemeyer and Cay Sophie Rabinowitz and Stuart Comer and Marc Spiegler and Glenn Ligon and Maria Baibakova, to name a few of the hundred or so who made their way into the collector’s labyrinthine crib.) To be sure, the place did have a sinister, hidden-lairs-behind-bookcases vibe, but it was also somewhat tongue-in-cheek, like the movie version of Clue.
Left: Dealers Thomas Dane and Carol Green with artist Craig Kalpakjian. Right: Dealer Andrée Sfeir-Semler with artist Yto Barrada.
Jerry Hall held court with collector/paparazzo Jean Pigozzi and Braka himself in a large parlor on the second floor, underneath a very large, naughty David Hockney. Braka gave the rundown: “That’s Peter Schlesinger in the picture, whom Hockney used to . . . Anyway, I got it about four years ago. It was too homoerotic for most people.”
“It’s called Tarzana,” a taut young woman who worked for Braka said later. Tarzana hardly seemed the painting’s subject. “Well, it’s subtler than ‘face down, ass up,’ ” offered a bystander. I thought it could be Hockney’s Manao tupapau, but maybe only superficially, because of the butt thing.
In the corner, another, cruder male backside elicited more art-historical quizzing; the night was getting to be like a Williams College edition of Trivial Pursuit. Someone suggested that it might be a Hockney too. “No, it’s Kitaj—Hockney would be more subtle about the crack.” Motioning toward Tarzana. “See?” And it was true.
Left: Sara Braka. Right: Jerry Hall with Tommy Tune.
“Everything in here is perfect!” admired collector Phil Aarons. It was certainly enticing. A few of us took it upon ourselves to tour the pile’s other stories. No one else was upstairs, but it was a tony crowd, and nothing was cordoned off, so . . . “Chris Ofili?” Looking closer. “No, Beatriz Milhazes.” “What’s that?” “Some pre-Raphaelite thing.” Another drawing turned out to be a rough portrait of Francis Bacon by Lucien Freud. “Should we be up here?” Descending the staircase, we ran into the man of the house, giving a tour. “Well, I do hope you’ve made yourselves at home!” he said, though he didn’t sound like he meant it. (In Britain, they call that irony.)
“Should we explain that we’re actually rather well-known party-crashers?” whispered a cohort. We decided against it—isn’t it more fun to be mysterious?—and retreated downstairs.
People were still arriving from other parties, Louis Vuitton dinners, Damian Ortega dinners, etc; the champagne was dwindling. In the safety of the dining room we ran into guest-of-honor Walker, looking unflappable in blue jeans and a Yankees cap. He regarded us mischievously. “So you guys are all here for what, Frieze?”
Left: Dealers Jose Freire and Miriam Katzeff. Right: Artists Kelley Walker and John Gerrard.
Left: Artist Tauba Auerbach. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Collector Julia Stoschek, artist Marina Abramović, and MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach.
BACK BEFORE THE REIGN of Ryanair and “caring” about your carbon footprint, cheap flights often meant layovers in underappreciated airports like Copenhagen or Reykjavík. While this may no longer be the case, I still opted for the more adventurous, northern route for my pre-Frieze weekend, eschewing both Art Forum Berlin and Manifesta to attend Tauba Auerbach’s opening at the Standard Gallery in Oslo. After all, I reasoned, how many excuses does one get to go to Oslo? (A gross miscalculation, apparently, as the weekend would give me plenty.)
Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the UKS (Young Artists Society), Norwegians enjoy astonishing state support for the arts; just this week the government announced a pilot program to fund five artist-run spaces for three years, with the possible extension to ten years. It’s the kind of funding that sometimes seems justifiable only after the first few rounds of Aquavit. “Yeah, in many ways, it’s a fantastic situation,” UKS director Linus Elmes admitted, “but it comes with consequences. You have to make sure the artists don’t get lulled into laziness by guaranteed commissions. We can’t make it too cozy!”
“Cozy” was certainly the keyword for the evening. During the Standard’s dim sum dinner, curator Will Bradley, Auerbach, and I formed a Bay Area ghetto in the center of the table, stockpiling vegetarian dumplings while reminiscing about our shared years in San Francisco. From my seat, I could keep an eye on dealer Lawrence Luhring, anchoring the end of our table, while artist Matias Faldbakken held court at the “kids’ table” of otherwise longhaired artist types. A few glasses of wine later, it came out that Faldbakken’s chiseled good looks landed had him on a list of the “Top Five Sexiest Men in Norway.” “You have to identify me simply as ‘part of his entourage,’ ” one of the longhaireds cracked, flashing his wrist tattoo while lighting a suspicious-looking cigarette. “I’m just here as his street cred.”
While “street cred” had curious implications in a city of “Sweater Shops,” Auerbach managed to sum up Oslo’s precise charm: “The day before I flew here, I went to Chelsea, and you know how you get that . . . feeling after a day there? Here I went to just three places, and I saw three amazing shows.”
Alas, such golden ratios aren’t so easily obtained in London, even during the pull-out-all-the-stops week of the Frieze Art Fair. Even if they were, who has time to dawdle at an exhibition? By the time my plane touched down on Tuesday morning (the day before the fair even commenced), I was already running late for a Sotheby’s lunch, a Wilhelm Sasnal film screening, and a reception for Adel Abdessemed at Parasol Unit, and I was still avoiding looking at any city maps—after all, who wants to face the bald infeasibility of actually attending all of the events to which one has RSVP’d?
After a quick shower and a critical costume change, I started at Parasol, where Abdessemed was cheerfully signing catalogues. Upstairs in the sumptuous top-floor gallery of the same building, Victoria Miro was hosting a reception for Isaac Julien, while the patio downstairs featured three of Yayoi Kusama’s “Flowers That Bloom Tomorrow.” Skipping the sandwiches and champagne (always an error—catch when catch can, I would later remind myself), I pressed on to Hoxton Square, where Jonathan Viner Gallery’s window display––“Oscar Tuazon: Sex”––inspired a genuine double take. The highlight of the show is a magnificent work made with the artist’s actual bedroom floor, from an apartment that had to be abandoned this summer after a fire. Crossing the street, I weaseled my way into White Cube an hour early, while painter Mark Bradford was still giving the staff the talking-points tour of his exhibition. (The door guards may have relented, but the receptionist was not so easily convinced, interrupting me as I perused the postcards for Christian Marclay’s Clock, opening Thursday: “Umm, do you work for White Cube . . . ?”)
My West End route was more intensive, with stops at Simon Lee for Angela Bulloch, Bischoff/Weiss for Nathaniel Rackowe, and Max Wigram for Pavel Büchler, before I ended up at 21 Dering Street for the well-attended inauguration of Blaine|Southern, which was launching its program with a show by Old BA–er Mat Collishaw. Thanks to the two neighboring pubs, it was difficult to tell where the exhibition crowd ended and began, as a sea of familiar faces slipped easily in and out of the three establishments.
Sweet-talked into sharing a cab to Timothy Taylor, I followed friends to Sadie Coles, where the gallery honored its Angus Fairhurst exhibition (curated by Urs Fischer and Rebecca Warren) with a backyard barbecue of beer and bratwurst. “The artist used to do this for his openings,” Brenda, the gallery assistant, explained, while casually clutching a bronze banana (ostensibly another of the artist’s darkly humorous blends of man and ape). My companion peered closely at one drawing of an ape presented in slices, before remarking to me, rather conspiratorially, “Seem to be an awful lot of monkeys in this show.”
If the smell of the (nonvegetarian) bratwurst reminded me that I hadn’t eaten since touching down in London, I consoled myself by envisioning the promises of the evening’s various dinners, each one stomachable cab ride away. Catching the last minutes of Marina Abramović’s Lisson debut, we continued to delay dinner plans in favor of putting in an appearance at the afterparty, held in a space just outside Google Maps’s realm of expertise. The iPhone’s guesstimated positioning of the party meant our band spent thirty minutes roaming the same Paddington street where our cab driver (casting a doubtful “Good luck!” over his shoulder) had dropped us off. Running into another presumed guest of honor, Ryan Gander, lone and lost on the street didn’t inspire confidence.
By that point, the likeliest option for still catching dinner was the White Cube party at Shoreditch House, halfway across London. Crossing fingers and BBMing friends impassioned pleas to snag a spare entrée, we were beyond delighted to arrive more than an hour and a half late and still be served a full meal. Granted, the Mark Bradford exhibition gave ample cause for celebration, and the Shoreditch House roof, with its open-air heated pool (at one point filled with a set of synchronized swimmers—Jopling’s idea?) and multiple cabana/lounge areas, is ha-a-ardly shabby, but what really impressed was the dinner. Or, more precisely, the way it was organized: Someone had finally had the brilliant idea to serve guests on demand, as they arrived. Within five minutes of finding chairs, we were feasting on vegetable lasagna with family-style platters of caprese salad passed down the table. A brief glance around the room took in artists Glenn Ligon, Dinos Chapman, and David Adamo; dealers Michael Jenkins, Brent Sikkema, and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn; Guggenheim deputy director Ari Wiseman; curator Okwui Enwezor; real-estate impresario André Balazs and many more, but our table still couldn’t get over the fantastic resolution to the endless art-fair dinner dilemma. “Why didn’t someone think of this earlier?!” Of course, there was scattered talk of returning west to parties for David Roberts Art Foundation and the Museum of Everything, but––having been properly fed and cocktailed––I found myself slipping back into an Oslo state of mind. Maybe just one party—but one amazing party?
LAST WEEK, Art Forum Berlin (AFB) and Art Berlin Contemporary (ABC) decided to try cohabitation—but at a distance. AFB took up its traditional space in the Palais am Funkturm, albeit about twenty galleries lighter this year, with 110 stands. In a conciliatory gesture, the younger rival ABC presented the exhibition “light, camera, action,” focusing on art and cinema, in the Marshall-Haus located in the garden behind the Palais.
“It didn’t work out for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton either,” quipped one patron, heard grumbling in the golf carts shuttling visitors between the two sites. Unlike Taylor and Burton, who divorced twice, ABC and AFB won’t be trying cohabitation again next year. The official reason: ABC changes its exhibition site for each edition. (The two events are still tentatively slated to take place at the same time next year.)
For those just tuning in, ABC was created in 2008 by a group of the Berlin gallery heavyweights—Alexander Schröder, Esther Schipper, Tim Neuger, Max Hetzler, Martin Klosterfelde, Claes Nordenhake—who had already formed a new spring tradition in 2005 with the now-successful networking-nirvana of Gallery Weekend Berlin. (None of my friends had any spare couch space last May.)
ABC and the Gallery Weekend are an alternative to AFB, which is operated by the fair company Messe Berlin GmbH. The fair’s new directors Eva-Maria Häusler and Peter Vetsch (of Art Basel fame) and a board of gallery advisors can’t quite seem to get Messe Berlin to understand the difference between a dental expo and an art fair. AFB patron and city mayor Klaus Wowereit’s much-quoted municipal motto—“Berlin is poor but sexy”—can be reduced to a tweet: 2 few buyers 4 gr8-looking art.
Left: Dealers Kadel Willborn and Iris Moritz with Peter Blaeuer, director of Liste, Basel. Right: Artist Isa Genzken with dealer Burkhard Riemschneider.
Basically, this means a noncommercial fair—a crazy idea anywhere else outside Berlin. “Gallerists don’t come here to do business but to contact curators,” said Le Monde’s art-market specialist Roxana Azimi. “Collectors attend the opening and leave.” Of course, there were other fairs to visit—Berliner Liste with 107 stands at the former state mint and Preview Berlin with sixty stands at the former airport Tempelhof—but many treasure hunters were likely at spaces that shunned any fair, from Isabella Bortolozzi to Circus, from Supportico Lopez to Silberkuppe.
The early VIP exodus didn’t seem to bother all the dealers at AFB—at least not the foreign ones, like Yvon Lambert, who turned his very first stand at the fair into a mini-solo-show for Douglas Gordon. Up-and-comers who this year graduated from a murky backroom to center-stage booths in the main halls also seemed pleased. “I have all New York–based artists,” said On Stellar Rays’s Candice Madey, showing me Tommy Hartung’s video The Ascent of Man, which took off in this year’s “Greater New York.” “For me, it’s about giving exposure to artists whose work hasn’t been seen in Europe before.”
And it’s also about getting artists into Germany’s expansive network of Kunstvereine and Kunsthallen. “We have a very curated stand,” said Raphaelle Bishoff from London’s Bishoff/Weiss, which was targeting not collectors but institutions with a ready-to-hang show composed of only two artists: Ruairiadh O’Connell’s aluminum screen prints of pantyhose and Matt Golden’s giant MDF board sanded down to dust—five hours of work that the nighttime cleaning crews almost swept away.
A noncommercial fair did not quite seem to appeal to those involved in ABC and Gallery Weekend—at least if one judged from the size of their AFB stands. Neugerriemschneider could have been awarded the prize for “most transparent gallery” for renting a large space that reflects their success while supporting the fair. Contemporary Fine Arts had a smaller booth than Johnen (although everybody loved CFA’s also very “curated” solo-show of Max Frisinger’s glass vitrines filled with junk thrown out by Berliners—a cross between Joseph Beuys’s swept-up dirt and Florian Slotawa’s balancing acts of retro-furniture).
Left: Curator Nicollette Ramirez with the Armory Show's Paul Morris. Right: Charlotte von Koerber of Friends of the Nationalgalerie and artist Andreas Slominski.
The galleries neu, Klosterfelde, and Esther Schipper went for closer-cohabitation by sharing one single stand, smaller than neugerriemschneider’s. Commercial minimalism? “No comment,” said one guest. The downsizing seemed strange when two neu artists—Kitty Kraus and Karen Lidén—were nominated for this year’s National Gallery Prize for Young Art along with Cyprien Gaillard and Andro Wekua.
If the ABC organizers believed that they would teach AFB a few lessons about how an “innovative” fair is done, they have a ways to go. I can’t blame the artworks, which were exceptional, from Pavel Büchler’s rudimentary projector made with a flashing filament light bulb and a magnifying glass to Hanne Darboven’s 4 Jahreszeiten Film 1-6 (4 Seasons Film 1–6) from 1968. “That’s the work I’d want,” said Discoteca Flaming Star’s Wolfgang Mayer without a moment’s hesitation. But curator Marc Gloede appeared to be caught between the ABC organizers pushing particular galleries and the galleries pushing particular artists. And the otherwise splendid Marshall-Haus—with huge windows and winding staircases—couldn’t have been less suited for film projections and cramped black-box spaces.
What to do, now that the AFB–ABC “rivalry” seems to need refueling? Everyone, of course, had something to say—“revamp AFB”; “revamp ABC”; “open both in the first week of September”; “wait until Berlin gets rich and unsexy.” But, as usual, no one wanted to go on record, except for critic Raimar Stange: “The weather was the best part.”
Left: Dealer Daniel Schmidt with artists Erik Schmidt and Erik Smith. Right: Artists Sasha Rossman and Arturo Herrera.
THE SIGHT OF a beautiful blonde having sex with a slimy engine block may strike some people as bizarre, and probably it should. But when a Matthew Barney (or a J. G. Ballard) dreams up the scene, it’s not just kinky. It’s mythological. And weird.
And so it went last weekend in Detroit when Barney staged “Khu,” Act Two of Ancient Evenings, the multisite magnum opus he is making with composer Jonathan Bepler in seven different, one-time-only performances. To prepare for this one, Barney’s New York dealer Barbara Gladstone welcomed two hundred art professionals and friends arriving on Friday night to a Slows Bar-B-Q buffet in the Pewabic-tiled and stained-glass lobby of the Art Deco Guardian Building. Due to interminable flight delays, I arrived only in time to say goodnight to lingering hometowners like Detroit Institute of Arts curator Becky Hart, veteran dealer Susanne Hilberry, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit director Luis Croquer, artist Scott Hocking, and art patrons Julie and Bobby Taubman, all of whom were thrilled that “Khu” would take place in their vast backyard.
Next morning, I joined artist Mika Rottenberg and MoMA curator Jenny Schlenzka in a hunt for a cup of joe powerful enough to brace us for what lay ahead. Not that we had any idea what to expect. All we were told was to wear comfortable clothes, to dress in layers, and to leave the fancy shoes at home. We were warned that we might be exposed to unnamed dangers, and also threatened with expulsion if we should arrive at the Detroit Institute of Arts after 11 AM.
Naturally, there were stragglers—is this not the art world? The self-entitled make rules of their own. Early birds had the run of one of the finest museums in the country, a revelation to nearly everyone present. The Whitney’s Chrissie Iles could hardly believe she was seeing Cézanne’s The Three Skulls for real instead of the Sherrie Levine version; Clarissa Dalrymple was entranced by a Gustave Moreau. But what caught everyone’s eye were Diego Rivera’s immense Detroit Industry murals in the central atrium, where the group gathered to gawk and schmooze.
From Los Angeles came dealer Shaun Caley Regen, Vogue editor Lisa Love, and Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen. London sent dealer Sadie Coles and artists Gary Hume and Georgie Hopton. Detroiters like College of Creative Studies gallery director Michelle Perron, artist John Corbin, and CCS president Richard Rogers added some local color, but the majority present were New Yorkers: Dia director Philippe Vergne; Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer; art consultants Allan Schwartzman, Mark Fletcher, and Gabriel Catone; Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs; Artists Space director Stefan Kalmar; MoMA associate director Kathy Halbreich; and that ubiquitous multitasker James Franco, without whom no art event can really begin.
Barney’s opera, as Hart called it, is based on Norman Mailer’s nearly unreadable and sometimes obscene 1983 novel of the same name, which involves ancient Egyptian burial practices and the gods Isis and Osiris. In Barney and Bepler’s telling, “Khu” is a crime story featuring the double-amputee athlete Aimee Mullins as an FBI gumshoe named Isis and a 1967 Chrysler Crown Imperial as Osiris. (The protagonist-vehicle was dismembered during Act One’s “Ren” two years ago at a bulletproof car dealership outside LA.)
To move us to the car’s next transformation, Lieutenant John Morello, a Detroit homicide detective, ordered our cell phones off as if we were perps and herded us, like lambs being led to slaughter, to a screening of a short film. In it, Barney drives a golden Pontiac Firebird Trans Am—which emerged from the ashes of the Chrysler in “Ren”—through the guardrail of Detroit’s Belle Isle Bridge. (For the uninitiated, Harry Houdini, Barney’s mentor-by-proxy, also went over the bridge—in a coffin—in 1906, an act Barney invoked at the end of Cremaster 5.)
From there, actors playing stone-faced security guards commanded us to board three chartered buses that drove us in a funereal procession through Detroit to an abandoned glue factory on the Rouge River. Inside, workers assembled fifteen oddly shaped steel viols for as many musicians, who played like droning tone-deaf bees while accompanying Detroit-based soul singer Belita Woods in an aria to the two cars.
Then it was onto the chilly barge where we would spend the next several hours sitting on iron girders with the musicians and a film crew, sailing down the Rouge and Detroit rivers. During that time, it became clear that Barney meant to praise, not to bury, Mailer, Houdini, Rivera, James Lee Byars, Henry Ford, and most of all the architectural splendor, mineral wealth, history, and personality of Detroit, a city with a suppurating soul that is also always in the process of regeneration.
Tugboats carrying a brass section announced our arrival at the riverbank crime scene where Mullins made her entrance and directed the wreck of the Chrysler to be dredged from the deep while assistants wailed like banshees at the muddy sight of it and a helicopter buzzed the barge from above. At about this time, it became clear that we were watching a film shoot while also being in it, a slightly queasy sensation. It was also obvious that this production must have cost Barney a mint.
The artist was nowhere in sight—he was directing from a trailer behind two Port-O-Sans—but Björk was there, huddled against the increasing chill in a sleeping-bag coat, the only one aboard dressed for the weather. “I’m from Iceland,” she shrugged. Yet John Buffalo Mailer wore only a light shirt. Wasn’t he cold? “I’m very hairy,” he said.
That’s when it started to rain. Out came the plastic ponchos from our goody bags, and I must say watching this band of elitists don such antifashion statements was pretty sweet. The rest of the sail was a bit grueling, however, so it came as something of a relief when one of the twin baritones playing Set told us to “get the fuck off the boat.”
We had reached an abandoned steel mill where five mountain climbers dressed in gold lamé stood atop five skyscraping silos, an evocation of the Detroit-born Byars, best known for his use of gold leaf in a performance of his death. We followed in procession behind the brown 2001 Ford Crown Victoria carrying Mullins, now “under arrest,” to a platform facing the forbidding mill, where masked workers toiling in a spectacular construction pit were smelting iron in five white-clad furnaces spitting embers into the frigid air.
And there we stood in pelting rain for a back-aching eternity, watching the workers’ repetitive actions, listening to the musicians play their dissonant industrial sounds and the singers shriek, awaiting rapture. Darkness fell, the wind came up, and the temperature dropped, but we stood our ground. At last, something new entered the scene: a dump truck that dropped the Chrysler remains for the workers to feed to the furnaces. Everyone felt it: Something big was about to happen. But nothing did.
I couldn’t imagine how the Byars figures could remain so stationary in the wind atop their towers, or how the musicians stationed on slag heaps around the pit could keep on playing. My own fingers and feet were numb. Standing near me, Leo Villareal was soaked through and blue with cold, no doubt wishing he was still at Burning Man. Kalmar lit a cigarette, partly for warmth. Mailer looked like a sodden scarecrow.
All of a sudden, rivers of golden lava sluiced through the site, radiating a blessed heat. I heard cheers. But our excitement was very short-lived. Burly guards rushed us off the platform with an urgency that told us danger was near, bringing the performance to an abrupt close before the final scene, when a vulture was to rise from the fire. Apparently water can ignite powerful explosions if it meets molten steel. But wasn’t that the point? To die for art? Oh, well. The whole day was (literally) a blast, anyway.
Exhausted, shivering, and spattered with mud, buffeted by winds that had sent us reeling from the astonishing to the baffling and back again over eight hours of steely endurance art, we clambered onto the buses and drove into the mill, where we became the vultures, diving into bowls of hot chili and rushing the bar. Klaus Biesenbach, the institutional champion of durational performance, bailed early for the Book Cadillac Hotel, Detroit’s finest. When Barney arrived, smiling, Dalrymple told him he had finally gone far enough and that it was time to stop. “No,” she said. “I don’t mean that. Your only hope is never to stop.” He grinned. Five more sections of his giant picture puzzle of the transportation of a soul are yet to come, all to take place in New York. Best not to think about that now. As art advisor Lisa Schiff said, “I feel like we really accomplished something today. Didn’t we?”
TALK ABOUT UNDERWORLD MEETS UNDERWATER. Atelier Van Lieshout’s “Infernopolis” was recently organized by the Boijmans van Beuningen museum inside the cavernous halls of the Submarine Wharf in the Rotterdam harbor. The industrial building—54,000 square feet and five empty stories tall—was once used to construct submarines. The AVL collective, founded by Joep van Lieshout at a (more modest) warehouse just across the Nieuwe Maas, used the show’s finissage last Sunday to also celebrate its fifteenth anniversary with an urbane take on Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Instead of nine circles of sin, AVL’s Inferno was filled with body parts and buildings, from the XXX-Large crawl-in Wombhouse to the giant purple sperm Darwin with its own info booth. Everything looked anatomically correct (although I don’t think my left ovary has a minibar, let alone champagne glasses). Rather than sinners—usurers, blasphemers, profligates, fellow art critics—I spotted designers Christoph Seyffert, Richard Hutten, and Marlies Dekkers; collectors Pieter and Marieke Sanders; the Beijing-based dealer Waling Boers; Dees Linder, director of Sculpture International; and TENT Rotterdam curator Mariette Dolle. Freelance curator Natalie Kovacs suggested we go for a drink in BarRectum. “Total genius,” she said. “What a masterpiece. What bar doesn’t make an ass out of everyone?” AVL’s version does the work for you.
A bit of the bubbly helped me find the museum’s willowy director, Sjarel Ex, who had just stepped off the Aqualiner that scooted hundreds of guests back and forth from the mainland throughout the day. The Submarine Wharf represents a brand new partnership between the Boijmans and the Port of Rotterdam, and the result is something like the Netherlands’ own version of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Instead of announcing the artist slated to follow AVL, Ex revealed five finalists under consideration for what promises to become an annual event. There’s John Körmeling, the architect who designed the Dutch pavilion at this year’s World Expo in Shanghai. Elmgreen & Dragset must be used to big commissions by now, although I can't imagine what they’d do with this much space. Hans Schabus garnered a lot of visibility at the 2005 Venice Biennale for transforming the Austrian pavilion into a giant mountain on the outside and a wooden maze on the inside. Ugo Rondinone is yet another Venice graduate (the Swiss pavilion with Urs Fischer in 2007). Last but not least: Ernesto Neto, who could probably raid the harbor storehouses for spices.
Left: Boijmans van Beuningen director Sjarel Ex. Right: Cooking the shellfish.
So what about women artists? “Isn’t this Toys for Boys country?” Ex asked, pointing to the humongous building. “We do Marijke van Warmerdam in the Boijmans next summer . . . ehhh, not as a compensation, though!” As for van Lieshout, he was outside adding fuel to the flames—not the fires of hell, but a massive mobile military stove—in preparation for the final feast for 1,500 guests. Architects working in the harbor, including a posse from Rem Koolhaas’s OMA and Winy Maas from MVRDV, moved through the crowd. Somehow I got cajoled into stirring fifty gallons of onion soup, which was bubbling alongside even more goulash and borscht. Certainly game for the space-filling challenge, AVL even made a special giant metal pan in which to cook up fifty cubic feet of shellfish. “I’d rather cook a lot than a little,” said Lieshout, tossing a handful of salt into the soups.
Instead of a dinner bell, there was a spectacular show out on the water shortly before mealtime. Twin tugboats from the local port authority began to circle near the Submarine Wharf, only to then spray their water cannons high into the air. It was something like a cross between a whale and a twisting sprinkler system. As a rainbow appeared, my camera lens and I got all misty . . . although it might have just been the bubbly. If this is hell, then heaven can wait.
THOUGH LOS ANGELES is often praised for the quality of its light, we tend to hold our openings at civilized times, under the cover of darkness. So it was unusual that secondary-market titans L&M Arts launched their primary-market flagship with a brunch in broad daylight—and in Venice, at that, a place way far out from where any native Angeleno would actually want to visit. Of course, one couldn’t blame proprieters Dominique Lévy and Robert Mnuchin for opening their two Kulapat Yantrasast–designed structures near the beach (connected only by an open-air plaza, because, you know, it never rains here).
Artist Yoshua Okon and curator Ali Subotnick trotted into the first gallery and began to admire the technical prowess of exhibiting artist Paul McCarthy’s animatronic sculpture Train, Mechanical. In it, two pot-bellied and pouchy-lipped George Ws use their bottle-cocks to buttfuck two rather large popeyed pigs, while two piglets insert their works into their larger friends’ other holes (an ear, an eye). (Sorry, there’s just no delicate way to describe it.) Collector Jerry Janger told me a dirty joke involving country boys and farm animals when he left the gallery, but it seemed downright vanilla in light of all the porcine Republican porking.
Outside, the mostly well-heeled, white-haired New Yorkers (here for the Resnick Pavilion inauguration later that day at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as much as for L&M) and their slightly tanner LA counterparts circulated round the bar. While the hungry crowd lined up for wild salmon lox with cream cheese next to some kind of pork product, McCarthy, sporting near trademark utility shorts and black tennis shoes, sat at a picnic table watching his VIP opening with relaxed indifference. After congratulating McCarthy, who hasn’t had a solo exhibition of new work in Los Angeles in nearly a decade, I asked what’s kept him away. He shrugged, guffawed, and replied, “That’s just the way things go.” The brunch gave way to the hoi-polloi opening (much more fun, as expected), which I skipped out of halfway to head to the Hammer Museum to catch a performance of Joel Kyack’s Superclogger, coproduced by LAXART and the Hammer, a bit of foreplay before the institutions’ consummating biennial to come in 2012.
Director of Visitor Services Allison Agsten warmly greeted me with a clipboard in hand as I waited on Lindbrook Drive for the spacious black Lincoln Town Car and its affable driver, Gilbert, to pull around and let me in. Usually set on freeways during rush hour, Kyack’s unmarked truck pulls into traffic, the back window of the cab flips open, and then begins a three-to-five-minute Grand Guignol puppet show. That day, I caught a skit about two foreign construction workers doing a karaoke duet to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now.” “Bows and flows of angel hair / and ice-cream castles in the air . . . ,” they crooned in a thick, gravelly accent. The perfect artwork for the city of traffic jams.
Changing my tie in the car, I headed into a traffic jam of my own. Sadly, there were no puppets to ease the pain as I hopped onto the freeway en route to the grand opening gala for the Resnick Pavilion. I arrived and passed the red carpet, heading to the new building, long and lean behind the three-story Broad Contemporary Art Museum. Comparisons between Renzo Piano’s two buildings were unavoidable, the general consensus being that the Resnicks got more bang for their buck with the pavilion that bears their name. This was, of course, attributed to their hands-off approach to the design and construction—an unusual trait, apparently, among philanthropists.
If Eli Broad’s muscular (and expensive) contemporary works permanently on view next door at BCAM offer an objective correlative for their buyer’s temperament, I wouldn’t want to begin to psychoanalyze the complex decadence of the Resnicks’ polyglot collection. The installation was either gorgeous or gaudy depending on how you looked at it, with wallpapered rooms marked with faux-Corinthian columns to offset their Fragonards and flamboyant French furniture.
I spent most of the cocktail hour hiding out at a corner table with artists Catherine Opie, T. Kelly Mason, and Diana Thater. LACMA’s convivial new deputy director and New York refugee Brooke Davis Anderson dropped in on the conclave to introduce herself, which she admitted was a “very un–New York” thing to do. I slipped away for one last walk amid the Olmec heads and the breeches-to-bowties costume show, passing scads of artists (John Baldessari and Glenn Ligon), collectors (David Geffen), curators (Thelma Golden), celebrities (Tom Hanks, James Franco), and celebutantes (Nicole Richie). Wending my way through the grim visages of ancient Mexican kings, I bumped into dealer Jeff Poe with his wife, artist Kelly Poe. Jeff, the consummate gentleman, pointed to my suit, crumpled and distressed after a day trekking from raunchy brunches to guerrilla puppet shows to this, and said, “They let you in with that?”
Luckily, they let me out in it, too.
Left: São Paulo Bienal curators Agnaldo Farias and Moacir dos Anjos. Right: Inhotim founder Bernardo Paz.
Of course Brown would be the only one to recognize the football star in the elevator. Aren’t his eyes always on the prize? The rest of us—Spiegler, Marian Goodman’s Rose Lord, upcoming Venice Biennale curator Bice Curiger, and myself—were too busy trading itineraries to notice the lone guy in the striped polo.
It was, I suppose, an auspicious beginning to a short trip to São Paulo to catch the twenty-ninth edition of the city’s Bienal, the second-oldest such exhibition in the world (after Venice). Tuesday’s lunch, hosted at the apartment of collector Jay Khalifeh, from which we had just come, could have been an art gathering in New York or London or Paris, the only evidence to the contrary the effusive Portuguese mingling with the English and the choppy, chimerical skyline beyond the balcony.
That evening there were thousands of people at the Bienal’s opening in Oscar Niemeyer’s capacious pavilion in Ibirapuera Park. A crush formed at the entrance as guests were escorted individually through metal detectors. Inside, military police hugged the edges of the tony crowd. The caipirinhas were flowing.
“There is always a cup of sea to sail in” was the show’s title, lifted from the Brazilian poet Jorge de Lima’s Invenção de Orfeu. “The 29th Bienal,” the website promised, “will bring visitors in touch with the politics of art.” (Bold in original.) This was heavy stuff to absorb going into a place. To offset the sobriety, I envisioned a mockumentary directed by Francesco Vezzoli and starring Parker Posey as a party girl who flees New York to reinvent herself as the artistic director of a museum “in exile.” Jennifer Coolidge would play the kooky trustee (“I wear my politics on my walls”) and Jane Lynch the grudging, cynical scribe . . .
Never mind that the most bluntly (certainly headline-begging) “political” work in the show was a series of nine charcoal portraits by Gil Vicente depicting the artist assassinating world political leaders. Then there was the family of vultures flying around in a vast, three-story netted enclosure at the pavilion’s center, a dubious “political” sight gag.
But there was also a decent selection of inspired work, stuff that might stand better on its own, some familiar, some not, including Marta Minujín and Rubén Santantonín’s classic La Menesunda; David Lamelas’s new installation Moon Time; dance films by Joachim Koester and Manon de Boer; and Miguel Angel Rojas’s late-1970s photographs, shot from the hip, of gay cruising spots in Bogotá. Curatorial eye, here, beat out rhetoric.
After the opening, I beat it in a cab with NBK curator Sophie Goltz to a fun and swishy party at another collector’s house, and then to the Lion’s Nightclub, a disused office building featuring a hip parade of biennial and local scenesters slinking to Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys. But something continued to nag.
The fact is that everyone told me to go to Inhotim. “No one comes just for the Bienal,” people of a certain status and geographic fluidity said. For people who had money and for people who wanted money (typically the same people), São Paulo was merely a pit stop on the way to mining tycoon Bernardo Paz’s quixotic sculpture park stranded in the Brazilian countryside.
And so, on Thursday morning, at 6 AM, another plane to Belo Horizonte and an hour-and-a-half taxi to the edge of a town in bad repair and just beyond that, a row of black-tie security outside a boxy gate. “Welcome to Disneyland,” said my companion, though the vibe was more Jurassic Park. (“Dia by way of Werner Herzog,” curator Hans Ulrich Obrist had put it admiringly, evoking visions of Fitzcarraldo.) Past the checkpoint, palm trees of every variety crowded the manicured 178-acre landscape; orchids hung from wires; occasionally, a hot dog stand would materialize in the shrubbery. I wandered the grounds, first with artist Carlito Carvalhosa and then with Gavin Brown, Tim Neuger, and Rirkrit Tiravanija, as we moved from the wondrous, newly inaugurated Galeria Cosmococa and Galeria Miguel Rio Branco to Matthew Barney’s geodesic sci-fi pavilion to Doug Aitken’s UFO sound pavilion to Tunga’s True Rouge pavilion. Outside Galeria Doris Salcedo, a gaggle of fans accosted Tiravanija.
“Oh! Are you Rirkrit?” they asked, astonished.
“This happens to him all the time,” Brown grumbled, rolling his eyes. “I never get groupies.” (Behind us: “Tell us, how do you pronounce your name . . . ?”)
“This is the greatest museum in the world,” Tiravanija sighed once we’d ventured on, and everyone did seem taken with the palmy glory. We loped through the artificial jungle, hopping on chauffeured golf carts, which we decided were “bourgeois” (certainly not nearly as chic as the chartered helicopter Chantal Crousel arrived in). We ran into Glenn Lowry and Kathy Halbreich of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and artist Arto Lindsay and Inhotim artistic director Jochen Volz and dealers from all over. Along the way we passed more sculptures, mostly monumental works by Zhang Huan and Simon Starling and Edgard de Souza and Cildo Meireles and Paul McCarthy and Dan Graham and Olafur Eliasson and a massive sculptural oasis in a sea of white sand by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. We made our way toward Tiravanija’s new Palm Pavilion, an open-faced shack on stilts dressed in corrugated steel, “built in Thailand,” he noted, “in a factory smaller than the final work.” We paused to smoke a cigarette and drink a chopp and observe the differences between Brazilian and Thai corrugation before heading up the hill to Chris Burden’s impetuous Beam Drop. “Is this a light?” Neuger asked, tearing off the cigarette’s filter with his teeth and spitting it to the ground.
Back on a golf cart hurtling down the uneven terrain, I nearly collided with other golf carts filled with art tourists catching the mood of these man-made Elysian Fields. And past more familiar faces and artworks and around two lakes, there, in the center of the Restaurant Oiticica, surrounded by admirers and long buffet tables of meats and cheeses and petits gâteaux and bowls of candied pears and figs and rice pudding, stood the Fitzcarraldo himself, Bernardo Paz, twirling a straw in one hand, looking like a patrician poster boy for Mother Earth News. He welcomed me warmly: “Did you like it?”