ARRIVING IN MILAN at rush hour the Thursday before Fashion Week proved to be a logistical adventure. All of the galleries were open late for “Start Milano,” a collective inauguration of the fall shows. “The fashion traffic chaos has already begun,” Massimo De Carlo explained when I finally arrived at his gallery, in the former industrial district Lambrate. “It is no problem getting around with a bike!” shared artist Cristian Bugatti, aka pop star Bugo, who arrived breathless a few moments later. In the context, Massimo Bartolini’s installation upstairs—an entire room laced with pulsating religious festival lights that evoked a nighttime urban map—made all the more sense.
Across the street I stopped at Francesca Minini, where Simon Dybbroe Møller’s “O” featured a Dadaesque assemblage of objects in transparent boxes stacked in human shape, while next door at Galleria Enrico Fornello, Sara MacKillop had animated banal office supplies, making a bunch of file folders climb the wall and insectlike X-Acto knives huddle in a corner. Halfway across town, Kaufmann Repetto was opening a show featuring Yoshua Okón’s Octopus, an anachronistic but strangely compelling film of Guatemalan commandos reenacting their war experiences in a Home Depot parking lot. Others spoke highly of Stefano Arienti’s leaning canvases at Studio Guenzani and Ross Lovegrove’s organic designs at Cardi Black Box. The gallery crowds seemed thin on the ground, certainly dispersed by the wealth of receptions around the city. “It’s not helpful if all the gallery openings are on the same night,” critic Gabriele Guercio complained. “You need a helicopter to get around.”
Milanese galleries are more or less clustered in several far-flung districts, the area around the Giardini Montanelli being the most populous these days. (Lia Rumma has thrown a wrench in by moving to an isolated industrial space behind the Porta Garibaldi train station.) In my travails around the city, I made friends with a few taxi drivers and finally arrived at the Zero gallery, where people were gingerly making their way around Amir Mogharabi’s mysterious “Al Di Là” (Beyond), an arrangement of paintings and shards of glass and stone inspired by Picasso’s portrait of a woman in white. “The new space is kind of rough, so I let the artists do whatever they want with it,” explained proprietor Paolo Zani, who has moved the gallery around town a few times.
After commiserating with dealer Magnus Edensvard about the odyssey from Malpensa airport, I joined the Massimo De Carlo entourage—which would migrate to Rome the following week for “Tre Amigos”—at the cozy Il Gattò restaurant, tucked behind a clothing boutique. People wafted in during various courses of the meal, among them MDC partner Ludovica Barbieri, critic Cloe Piccoli, curator Andrea Viliani, and Galleria Continua’s Verusca Piazzesi. Critic Mike Watson got there just in time for the linguine al pesto: “Thank God I finally found this place.” He had come from the new Lisson Gallery preview, where “there were more PR people than artists. I felt like writing a review on them.”
The next day I made it to another show that would be hitting the road to Rome, both literally and figuratively: Rosalind Nashashibi’s film Carlo’s Vision, at the nonprofit space Peep-Hole. (Its Roman debut was slated for the following week at the Nomas Foundation.) Inspired by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s unfinished opus Petrolio, it depicts the alienation of urban life in a city fragmented by a disconnected transportation system. I could relate. “Good journey!” a fellow viewer said as I left, perhaps sensing that I was on a pilgrimage. After stopping by the Swiss Institute, where artist Reto Pulfer was preparing to stage a performance in a sheet-sheathed room, I made my way to the new Lisson Gallery—on the opposite side of town, of course.
As soon as I got to the street, which ends at the grandly rotund church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, it felt like a different century. “It is a metaphysical zone,” one writer had explained that day over coffee, “that exists in its own time outside of reality.” The gritty grayness and hustle of Milan magically disappeared, like a veil being lifted. The gallery is behind the Palazzo degli Atellani, where Leonardo da Vinci lived and worked on The Last Supper, which now hangs in the monastery across the street. The inaugural group exhibition, “I know about creative block but I know not to call it by name,” was about the process and selling of art, in a space that resembled more a sleek boutique than a gallery. Irwin Green’s fake exhibition title rhymed nicely with Jonathan Monk’s art labels rendered in marble, while Cory Arcangel’s Body Talk—in which the artist sprayed press releases with a cheap men’s cologne—recalled Francesco Vezzoli’s installation of faux perfume, “Greed,” at Gagosian’s Rome space, another foreign gallery whose opening in Italy incited puzzled curiosity.
Milan was uncharacteristically sultry, and the palazzo’s garden was decked out for the dinner with candles and flower arrangements and a jazz band. “It’s like a wedding,” art advisor Francesca Ferrarini said as we surveyed the scene. A minute later, curator Gabi Scardi arrived: “It looks like a wedding!” she exclaimed. It was, in any case, certainly a family affair: The new space’s director, Annette Hofmann, is friends with the family that owns the enchanting palazzo and adjacent gallery building. That may help explain why Lisson decided to open an unlikely foreign outpost after forty-four years based solely in London. As Lisson founder Nicholas Logsdail noted earlier that day, “The Italians and the English have always liked each other.”
After Hofmann and Logsdail spoke to the guests about the “magic dust” the atmosphere of the place would confer on their artists’ productivity, we wandered around the palazzo, which was stately—one salon was covered entirely in ornately carved wood—and yet clearly lived in, evidenced by charmingly mismatched floral divans. Out in the garden, a former vineyard where Leonardo hung out and procrastinated, Ryan Gander revealed his own cure for creative block: tweeting ideas for artworks. “In fact, I may retire and do only that,” he said. A sampling: “DING: Van Gogh wearing fake Beethoven ears.” Doesn’t he mean Mona Lisa with a mustache? Well, it’s all in how you do it. Around midnight I scored a limo lift home with Alex and Nicholas Logsdail, the latter noting wearily that he was “astonished by how much people think it’s going to shake things up here.” It was only the First Supper, after all, so time will tell.
Before heading south to Rome on Saturday, I stopped back in Leonardo’s neighborhood, where the Riccardo Crespi gallery was presenting a Francesca Grilli show curated by Scardi. The exhibition is a meditation on alchemy and transformation via an enchanting video of a falcon recounting the story of King Midas in the ancient whistled language Silbo Gomero. Metal feathers here and there echoed the opening performance, during which the artist let loose two falcons. Over pizza, Crespi complained about the coming tumult: “Design week opens the whole city up with interesting events for everyone, whereas Fashion Week is just a bunch of exclusive parties that cause traffic jams for everyone else.” Just as I entered the Milan train station, lightning and thunder signaled the start of a torrential rain that would welcome the invading fashionistas.
Left: Curator Gabi Scardi. Right: Swiss consul Massimo Baggi and Christoph Riedweg, director of Swiss Institute.
“YOU GET A STRANGE IMPRESSION of a city when you arrive and everything is closed because it’s Sunday,” mused Sueyun Locks, art patron and owner of the Locks Gallery in Philadelphia. A parade of shuttered storefronts on the streets of Thessaloniki passed by the windows of a shuttle bus bringing Locks and a half dozen other people to the opening of the city’s third biennial on September 18. “Due to the crisis, everything will be closed on Monday as well. Just so you don’t have the wrong impression,” said Margarita Pournara, a tough-nosed critic from an Athens newspaper, an edge of steely humor in her voice.
The weight of the Greek debt crisis looms over this edition of the biennial like a boulder. According to a local paper, Thessaloniki’s State Museum of Contemporary Art, which has been organizing the event since it began in 2007, had received less than 2 percent of its one-million-euro budget as of September 1. On Saturday, after the Greek government passed another round of austerity measures, almost everyone in the city went on strike, “including the police,” said Melina Melikidou, who had been hired by the museum as a secretary on a temporary contract but was doing, by my estimation, three higher-level jobs for the biennial at once. On Friday, a small-business owner in his fifties, up to his eyeballs in loan payments, doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire on a sidewalk in front of a Thessaloniki bank. (He survived, as did his debt.) Suicide rates in Greece have doubled since the crisis began.
To stage an ambitious, expansive, over-the-top biennial in such circumstances—twelve venues for the main exhibition, six shows for the parallel program, a performance festival, a symposium, and an international workshop for young and emerging artists—seems incongruous at best. But the curators Paolo Colombo, Mahita El Bacha Urieta, and Marina Fokidis did their best to double back on the crisis, embracing it as a core concern and placing it amid a confluence of current events, including the recent uprisings in the Arab world and Palestine’s bid for statehood at the United Nations. “This is a crisis that is affecting the whole world,” said Fokidis. “It may be more extreme in Greece, but it’s becoming the new normal everywhere.”
Aptly titled “A Rock and a Hard Place,” the main program of the current biennial lends substance to the idea of being stuck by taking the city itself as a metaphor, and delving into its history, memory, and lived experience. The fact that the biennial is part of a wider initiative exploring Thessaloniki’s links to the broader Mediterranean region and Middle East accounts for the heavy participation of artists from (and artworks about) the Arab world.
“Thessaloniki has always been a crossroads, but it’s been underestimated how powerful this cultural element can be,” said Yuli Karatsiki, who manages the Athens branch of the Kalfayan Galleries. The brothers Arsen and Roupen Kalfayan opened their first gallery in Thessaloniki in 1997. The space in Athens followed three years later. They are one of the few Greek galleries to work seriously with Arab and Middle Eastern artists, and as Arsen tells it, they’ve been chipping away at Thessaloniki’s culture brokers, urging them to look not only to Europe but also to regions east and south. “As Armenians, our past is all over the Middle East,” he said. “But the Greeks, too, are all over Egypt, Syria, Lebanon. In terms of mentality, we are not very far. In fact, we are very close.”
Assigned to the bus—that irritating accessory of the archetypal press tour—our group had little time to linger on cultural differences. On Sunday afternoon, we hit the exhibitions at Casa Bianca (an elaborate old mansion typical of Thessaloniki’s early-twentieth-century urban elite), where Colombo had assembled a quiet show of art inspired by literature, and Yeni Djami (an architectural amalgamation of a mosque originally built for converted Jews), where El Bacha Urieta had placed new commissions by Mounira Al Solh, Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen, and NaoKo TakaHashi alongside older works by Marwan Sahmarani and Moataz Nasr.
Left: Artist Olaf Nicolai. Right: Syrago Tsiara, director of the Contemporary Art Center of Thessaloniki.
Next up was the Eptapyrgio, a chillingly intact Ottoman prison, used as a torture chamber through the 1970s by the Greek military junta. A sculpture by Vlassis Caniaris seemed to keep watch from a high tower as we scampered into a courtyard to hear Olaf Nicolai’s mesmerizing Escalier du Chant. Adapted for Thessaloniki from an ongoing project at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, Escalier du Chant is, to date, a collection of fifty songs written by twelve contemporary composers in response to current political events. “Some are abstract,” said Nicolai, “some are extremely concrete.” A soprano stepped into the prison yard to perform “The Ballad of Bradley Manning,” a fitful, scatlike piece by Elliott Sharp that shuddered through her body like a seizure.
Later that evening, at the State Museum, where the biennial was beautifully woven into George Costakis’s extraordinary collection of Russian avant-garde art, three women began looping slow circles around an exhibition gallery, following the movements of listless viewers while singing another piece from Escalier du Chant, Mika Vainio’s plaintive and mournful “Purex.” In a biennial that felt both urgent and enervating, scattershot and shambolic, those three voices, sounding out clear, sorrowful notes according to rhythms that never quite coalesced, cut through the chaff and chatter of the event.
But by then the bus was waiting, and so off we went to another decommissioned mosque, Alatza Imaret, where I flopped down on a plush couch with a brood of small children to watch Ryan Trecartin’s grating video I-Be Area. Trecartin seemed entirely age-appropriate for the audience. Penelope Georgiou’s Petunia, screening in the room next door, with its grainy black-and-white sequence of a rollicking threesome, rather less. The kids giggled and guffawed and elbowed each other in the ribs until a name-tagged biennial volunteer came in, uttered a few sharp words in Greek, and marched them back to their parents. The night wound down with everyone splayed out on a carpeted platform by Slavs and Tatars, flipping through the group’s reissue of the magazine Molla Nasreddin and fiddling with their HELP THE MILITIA—BEAT YOURSELF UP wristbands.
Left: Documenta 13 agent Chus Martinez. Right: Alexandra Athanasiadou and Vangelis Ioakimidis of the Museum of Photography Thessaloniki.
On Monday, I ditched the bus to visit the Museum of Photography and the Contemporary Art Center, both located in warehouses in Thessaloniki’s port, which is currently enlivened by Angelo Plessas’s Wi-Fi hot spot as public sculpture, Monument to Internet Hookups. When I caught up with Plessas later, at the Teloglion Foundation of Art, he introduced me to Andreas Angelidakis, who did all of the sensitive architectural incisions into the biennial’s historically heavy venues. “He’s my boyfriend!” Plessas declared. “We live together in Athens. We met online! That’s why I did the piece.” Endearing to know there’s still love in the ruins of financial collapse.
On that note, we bussed it over to the Archaeological Museum, where Fokidis was introducing the curator Chus Martinez, who in turn was introducing Documenta 13’s ongoing notebook project. Martinez gave a fiercely articulate talk on Borges and the logic of inquiry, enigma, and fulfillment, and then addressed the state of perennial exhibitions in the present. “We are in a totally different situation now. The world is in some kind of revolution. We want a solution and we want to get out. These are not questions anymore. These are fucking problems. We want fulfillment now. We don’t want to be in crisis. We don’t want to be in collapse.” And with that, I left, a song still ringing in my ears.
Left: Angelo Plessas's Monument to Internet Hookups. Right: Singer Elena Krasaki.
DRUNKEN ELK SAVED FROM APPLE TREE, read a recent Swedish newspaper headline. The elk, as it turned out, had gotten sloshed on fermented apples. Meanwhile, it was on account of vodka that I headed to Stockholm, where several dozen curators, artists, and journalists converged this past Friday to attend Absolut’s award ceremony and gala dinner honoring artist Anri Sala. The passengers on my flight to Arlanda airport, on disembarking, found themselves face to face with a group of screaming girls who’d gathered (as one explained to me) to greet Eurovision-winning pop duo Jedward, rumored to be arriving in several hours.
And that’s when the mood hit. A grim sort of mood—a Seventh Seal mood—that returned again and again over the next few days. Was it the shock of finding oneself in the midst of long shadows by midafternoon, and then in wool-coat weather at night? Or was it the sight of a roughed-up magpie loping across a street, or the dazed prostitute, naked below the waist, who walked in broad daylight between two lanes of cars?
Maybe it was because the Berlin-based Albanian artist Sala doesn’t shy away from making taut, somber videos, which were screened throughout the weekend. When you’re watching, for instance, 1365 Days without Red—Sala’s dramatization of Sarajevo residents avoiding sniper fire during the city’s four-year-long siege—it’s hard to feel good about the gluttonous sound of complimentary popcorn being crunched to bits inside your maw.
Anyone else will tell you that the weekend in question was as enjoyable as they come. It was full, too, of side trips, like a journey to Ulla von Brandenburg and Malin Pettersson Öberg’s opening at Bonniers Konsthall, or a visit to Klara Lidén’s ongoing solo show at the Moderna Museet. Artist Carl Michael von Hauswolff noted that the weekend had a sort of “family” vibe. It was easy to see why. Absolut had allowed Sala to bring along a bunch of his own pals; Pompidou curator Christine Macel, who’d chaired the jury, invited a few of her people as well. At the small but convivial farewell dinner at Cafe Saturnus (a coda to the weekend’s festivities), two friends of Sala turned up—an idealistic Albanian opposition-party activist and his lawyer girlfriend. It was clear that, for once, a good portion of those assembled were there not because of their art-world prominence but simply because they were loved. At one point Macel even abandoned her key lime pie to treat an old friend of hers—a delightful lady originally from Madagascar—to a shoulder rub; the charming Pompidou curator surprised everyone with the revelation that she had studied shiatsu with “un maître Chinois.” “It’s good for stressed-out artists,” she explained.
Needless to say, the weekend’s headline event—a seated black-tie dinner—was bound to be a little less casual. And yet, “the thing about black tie in the art world,” commented Anthony Haden-Guest, as we entered the marble-floored venue, “is that it’s anything but.” The event was held in Absolut’s brand headquarters, a high-ceilinged, mezzanine-surrounded space lined with ferns and stocked with decidedly anticorporate decor: A skull sat atop the antique dresser in the bathroom. In the kitchen, a pair of antlers had been mounted to the wall; graffiti and paint drips lined the stairwell.
The evening began with an obligatory cocktail hour, during which Bonniers Konsthall director Sara Arrhenius caught up with interdisciplinarian Ronald Jones. Artist Nico Dockx chatted with Niklas Svennung, director at Chantal Crousel, while Romero Britto made the rounds in his magenta-sequined Dolce & Gabbana jacket: “I’m the only one dressed like this!” Carsten Höller and Saâdane Afif popped in and out of sight amid the crowd.
Then everyone found their appointed seats, surveying the lay of the land. To my immediate north was Harry Scrymgeour, representing VeneKlasen/Werner gallery (and Scotland) with aplomb. To my south, the equally gracious Berliner Mr. Matthias Arens, of Quality magazine. To my west, jazz standards, blasting forth from an enthused live band. To my east, veal cheeks.
Three people seated in the middle of the room looked a lot like Anri; they turned out, in fact, to be his father, mother, and sister. Sala père, it seems, now grapples with a house full of his son’s drawings as a budding artist: “Thousands and thousands of drawings,” he lamented. (Several dealers’ ears must have perked up at that.) After spending a full day enduring a grueling marathon of interviews, Anri himself seemed happy, though a bit tired of speaking: He wryly hoped that he could look forward to a “silent reception of the prize.” Indeed, during the moment of truth, he and Macel both kept their speeches short and sweet.
By that point, I’d more or less concluded that my disconsolate mood was all my own, until a man of some years sat down beside Anri’s mother and introduced himself. He tried to explain how moved he’d been by her appearance in Sala’s video Intervista, which includes found footage of a young Mrs. Sala as an idealistic communist activist. The video also shows Mrs. Sala, years later, watching her former self. “We thought we’d change the world,” she says at one point, “and little by little we lost everything.”
“You are a good woman—” said the man to Mrs. Sala. And then, without warning, he stopped speaking. Tears began streaming down his face.
Isn’t this all so surreal? I asked artist Olaf Nicolai, who stood beside me near the bar. By surreal, I meant the man who wept, and the skull in the bathroom, and maybe even the vodka jelly cubes we’d had for dessert. Nicolai disagreed. “The problem with the art world is that we call everything surreal,” he said. “No. It’s real. All this is real.”
THE GREAT THING about the Istanbul Biennial is that it doesn’t knock the city’s nose out of joint. With a population of some fifteen million people, incredible urban density, hectic day-to-day rhythms, and some two thousand years of tough and messy history, Istanbul easily absorbed the four thousand–plus guests who dropped in for the opening of the exhibition’s twelfth edition last week. For four days straight, a mob of artists, dealers, collectors, and curators joined the general melee, dragging themselves up and down the city’s insanely steep hills, zipping across the Bosphorous, and mostly getting stuck in seemingly endless snarls of traffic. What would elsewhere be an inundation barely registered in Istanbul’s complex phenomenological matrix.
On Thursday, the first night of the preview, there was a thumping party for the biennial on a dolled-up patch of parking lot outside of the exhibition, which takes up three floors in two old customs warehouses. The football team Beşiktaş—known for the fierce loyalty, occasional violence, and creative profanity of its fans—was playing a match at its home stadium nearby, and a string of upscale neighborhoods were hosting street parties for the second annual running of Vogue’s Fashion’s Night Out in Istanbul. Biennial guests who imagined they were the cause of all that traffic were probably overestimating themselves.
What’s more, under the curatorial direction of Adriano Pedrosa and Jens Hoffmann, this biennial has effectively withdrawn from the city and folded in on itself. Gone are the excursions of past years to scour the city for cisterns, bathhouses, billboard projects, open-air video screenings, a textile traders’ market, or an eerily abandoned school. This time around, the biennial is safely couched inside Antrepo 3 and Antrepo 5, located just off the Bosphorus next door to another former customs warehouse, Istanbul Modern.
Left: Artists Jonathas de Andrade with São Paulo collector Pedro Barbosa, board member of the Pinacoteca do Estado. Right: Artist Akram Zaatari.
“This is the first time in the history of the biennial that the exhibition is concentrated in a single venue,” Pedrosa said on Thursday morning, while most people hoping to see the show, from lowly hacks with DIY “press cards” to Hans Ulrich Obrist and the Tate’s Frances Morris, were getting crushed in the crowd around the accreditation counter. (Obrist, the consummate multitasker, was conducting an interview in the hour-long line.) “It signals our interest in the exhibition itself.”
On paper and in press conference patter, “Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial)” hinges on the work of a single artist, the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who inspired the name, and ostensibly the structure, of the exhibition overall—a tidy, color-coded arrangement of five thematic group shows, surrounded by more than fifty presentations of individual artists’ work, all of which are installed in a regimented grid of antiseptic rooms that look like a high modernist proposal for cleaning up a shantytown or reorganizing a refugee camp.
The curators rather notoriously refused to release an artist list before the biennial opened, claiming a desire to have visitors arrive without preconceptions about the show. “If they were really worried about expectations, the curators would have kept their own names off the list,” one wag ranted. “But if you notice, in all three versions of the e-flux announcement, we withdrew our own names too,” said Pedrosa, which laid bare more about e-flux’s quick and stunning accumulation of power than anything else.
“The exhibition is untitled because meaning is changing in time and place,” Pedrosa said, several times over, paraphrasing what is ultimately little more than a Gonzalez-Torres platitude. “Gonzalez-Torres is not the central figure of the exhibition but a point of departure. It’s not necessary to know the work to access the exhibition. He isn’t mandatory reading. He’s an example of an artist who can articulate the personal and the political.”
“He’s a really central artist for how I think of art,” Hoffmann added later, in a corner of dead space passing for a lounge in between the exhibition architecture and a warehouse wall. “His works don’t punch you in the face and they aren’t spoon-feeding you messages.”
None of Gonzalez-Torres’s works are actually included in the biennial. He constitutes “a disembodied presence,” Hoffmann argued. “The whole exhibition is breathing his sentiment.”
True? False? Does it matter? Take away the crisp curatorial armature of the show’s five sections—“Untitled (Abstraction),” “Untitled (Ross),” “Untitled (Passport),” “Untitled (History),” and “Untitled (Death by Gun)”—and you’re left with an exhibition about language, violence, desire, vulnerability and marginality, documents and archives, national identity, self-styled community, and the political upheavals of occupations, coups, covert intelligence, and organized crime. What is lacking from that boilerplate mix of familiar themes is conviction, and a bit of risk.
That said, people loved it. The Guardian already named this biennial the best in Istanbul to date. You could breeze through the show in two hours—looping around each room to scan so many book covers and bits of paper hung at eye level—and still free yourself up for lunch. So refined, so elegant—so much like a museum show. (Perhaps Istanbul Modern, which just opened two clumsy shows of modern and contemporary art by Turkish women, could recruit Pedrosa and Hoffmann to show the staff how a conservative, airtight, institutional exhibition is done.)
Yongwoo Lee, founding director of the Gwangju Biennale gave a more measured assessment. “It’s much more refined than the exhibitions of the past fifteen years. It’s an institutional, museum-like show. It’s good for the audience and the general public, but I think it left the professionals a bit hungry.”
With the exception of an all-too-brief interlude that brought a sun-kissed Adonis on stage to mesmerize us with a melancholic pole dance, energy lagged at the biennial party on Thursday night. I jumped in a cab with Adrián Villar Rojas, who is representing Argentina with massive sculptures at the Venice Biennale but brought a very different installation of books to Istanbul, and Nicolás Bacal, whose two clocks without hands are among the more charming works on display. (“People always say biennials are stressful,” said Bacal, “but all I had to do was hang those two clocks, so I’ve been fine.”)
Our taxi driver elucidated the life-and-death differences between the Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe football teams (the latter has been effectively shut down by a match-fixing scandal) on our way to the Marmara Pera, where Rodeo Gallery and Yama were celebrating their latest in a long, ongoing series of rooftop video projections; this time it was Claire Fontaine’s total destruction of a smartphone, presented by the bear-size, big-brained curator Juan Gaitán.
However much the biennial extracted itself from Istanbul’s urban fabric, the city’s increasingly robust network of galleries, museums, foundations, new projects, and nonprofits stepped in to fill (and explore) the gaps. On Tuesday, the multidisciplinary research center Salt kicked off a marathon program of talks, screenings, and performances that are scheduled to take place once a day, every day, for the next three months, while the next evening Arter opened a handsome Kutluğ Ataman exhibition. And on Thursday, Galeri Non launched a four-day performance festival with “Steam Society,” for which the artist Asli Çavuşoğlu and Defne Ayas, newly appointed director of the Witte de With in Rotterdam, enlisted a dozen artists to lead a biennial purification rite in the historic Galatasaray Hamman (an event that distinguished itself for allowing men and women to steam in the same space).
The comically indefatigable Jérôme Sans curated a pop-up show for Galerist, exhibiting the decadent, design-savvy artist duo :mentalKLINIK in a disused yarn factory, and Mari Spirito, of New York’s 303 Gallery, launched protocinema, a new nonprofit near Taksim Square dedicated to producing temporary exhibitions in New York and Istanbul, with a show of Dan Graham. Several US dealers began to put out feelers as well, with both Gagosian and Lehmann Maupin hosting dinners on Thursday.
Out in the metropolis, there seemed to be more at stake. “The city is moving faster than the biennial,” curator Vasif Kortun noted some years back. Maybe next time, it will try to catch up.
Left: Artist Ergin Çavuşoğlu at the after-party for his show at Rampa. Right: Curator Jérôme Sans with Yasemin Baydar and Birol Demir of :mentalKLINIK.
NOT QUITE A FESTIVAL, not quite a fair, the biannual ReMap event is a temporary occupation of two Athenian neighborhoods, Kerameikos and Metaxourgeio. The former, one of the city’s more ancient areas (ancient, as in where we get the the word “ceramic”), has in recent years been abandoned to some of the city’s overt vices. But for one month, galleries including Eva Presenhuber, gb agency, Johann König, and Balice Hertling join local standard-bearers like the Breeder, Rebecca Camhi, and Helena Papadopoulos, taking over empty villas on avenues lined with brothels and boarded-up buildings.
Originally conceived as a companion to the First Athens Biennial in 2007, in its current state ReMap skirts dangerously close to slum tourism. Arriving Sunday night, I set out in high spirits toward Andreas Melas Projects’s impressive, Stephen Shearer–sheathed space for the opening of Daniel Silver’s “Letting Go.” Only four blocks past a (nominally) five-star hotel, I passed several clusters of locals crouched on stoops, heating spoons over lighters. “Be glad that’s all you saw,” Ibid’s Chelsea Zaharczuk assured me later. “This morning I stepped out from the install and was treated to someone shooting heroin directly into his penis.” She took a long sip of her cocktail, then added gravely, “I mean, it was worse than Philly.”
While it may not have qualified as Brotherly Love, at least everyone seemed to get along. Indifferent, or just oblivous, the locals barely registered the parade of suits and Ray-Bans and tote bags.
That is, until they threw a party.
Left: Balice Hertling's Giulia Roberti. Right: Dealer Helena Papadopoulos.
Following AMP’s opening reception, dealer Andreas Melas converted his multistory town house into what basically amounted to an art-world kegger. In the kitchen, guests-cum-chefs whipped up addictive Greek appetizers involving cucumbers, fresh herbs, and a luscious cheese spread, while around the corner, an ad hoc bartender in a Disney T-shirt guided me through a folding table full of choose-your-own-adventure-style cocktail fixings. The DJ leaned nonchalantly against the railing while the crowd exploded in and out of dance.
As the evening progressed, however, neighbors began to line the surrounding balconies, lobbing curses—among other things. I took refuge with a Glasgow-based crew. “I think we just got egged,” artist Niall Macdonald moaned. Another Glaswegian tried to translate some of the choicer curses, before stopping abruptly, blushing.
As for the host, he was confounded. “It’s weird because this neighborhood is all full of junkies, and I try to do something nice you know, throw a party, and everyone flips out, calls the cops. Last time I had a party, they threw me in jail for two days afterwards!”
I looked at Melas incredulously: “And yet you still had another party?”
He blinked, then shrugged. “I mean, yeah, why not?”
The next morning it was late starts all around. No sooner had everyone finished “breakfast” than it was time for ReMap’s official 5 PM opening. There were rumors that Dakis Joannou had made an early run through the program offerings, but it was as hard to envision him popping about the neighborhood as it was to imagine Greeks being “early” to anything (except, perhaps, history).
Kerameikos boasts some jaw-dropping buildings—all balconies, stairwells, and connecting courtyards—but their state of disrepair was almost as shocking as what was going on out on the stoops. ReMap participants did their best to restore the spaces assigned to them, patching up holes and cleaning out flooded basements (adding credence to rumors that this was largely a maneuver to drive up real estate prices in the area). “It’s hard to know exactly what to feel here,” one dealer confessed over ouzo. “On the one hand, it’s great to see the area brought to life, but on the other, where exactly is this money going?”
The decrepit state of the exhibition spaces was as much an inspiration as an obstacle. At the Journal, I needed help tracking down Daniel Turner’s piece: Was it the question mark–shaped arrangement of old screw holes? The contorted electrical fixture? Or maybe the wheelchair poised at the end of the hallway? (As it turns out, that last “work” actually had more to do with dealer Artemis Baltoyanni’s recent knee surgery.) Baltoyanni patiently pointed out Turner’s work, a subtle stain on the wall made with a wire scrub brush. “I suppose being in this kind of building does change the context of his work a bit,” she mused.
One block over, artist Nicolas Party had transformed the Modern Institute’s suite of rooms into a showcase of immense charcoal wall drawings. Party had worked five days straight to cover the rest of the walls with an allover pattern of red, orange, and blue dashes, which neatly camouflaged existing damage. Upstairs at Conduits, Ann Craven complemented her moon paintings with an installation of items found in the space; this included everything from a poster of Princess Diana to a polyester Saint Nicolas doll, but the real kicker was the actual full moon, insistently visible from the balcony.
Left: Artist Gabriel Vormstein and The Breeder's Nadia Gerazouni. Right: Dealer Toby Webster, artist Nicolas Party, and dealer Andrew Hamilton.
The moonlight wasn’t the only thing flooding the streets; the citywide taxi strike had offhandedly ensured plenty of space for the gawking masses. We picked our way through to the Indian restaurant Noor, where we promptly mistook a Greek birthday party for a performance. The Breeder’s Nadia Gerazouni met us with a grin, leading us past the kitchen and up the stairs, where we marveled at an over-the-top, seashell-encrusted altarpiece. Gerazouni explained, with obvious fondness, “The artist, Angelos Papadimitriou, is this really famous singer, a real Greek celebrity, but it turns out in his free time he’s been making these seashell sculptures. Like the ones you see at souvenir markets. I find it totally fascinating.” So did we.
Afterward, ReMap’s official kickoff party stormed the rooftop pool bar of the Athens Imperial Hotel, where the space was packed and the shorthanded (shortsighted?) staff were painfully slow with drinks. I was midconversation with dealer Mehdi Chouakri and artist Luca Trevisani when suddenly someone burst into a howl: “Oh my god, this country totally just defaulted!” Sobriety reserves kicked in as smartphones flew out to fact-check. A dealer beside me just shrugged: “Does that mean we don’t have to pay our tab?”
THE OPENING OF THE ART-O-RAMA fair in Marseille on the first Friday of September was a great way to ease into the swing of the coming fall frenzy, with only thirteen galleries invited to show and the glistening Mediterranean within reach. Many of the booths took the form of curated solo exhibitions, such as Antonio Rovaldi’s fractured landscapes appropriated from magazines, comprising a tribute to Richard Prince, at Rome’s Monitor gallery, and the Bendana Pinel gallery’s pristine presentation of Steven Le Priol’s striking black-and-white cutouts warning against the violence augured in the current return toward nationalism, showing along with a porcelain dead self-portrait of the artist and a photograph of the dealer as a zombie, just to lighten things up a bit.
At the center of La Cartonnerie, as the former industrial space is called, a collaboration between Bordeaux’s ACDC gallery and Kyoto’s Super Window Project consisted of a Japanese-inspired garden featuring an arrangement of potted plants by Pierre Labat. Nobody seemed terribly bothered about sales, although they were certainly being made. “I see our fair as a mini Artissima or a Basel Art Statements,” codirector Gaïd Beaulieu-Lambert explained. “Dealers can test out young artists they would not risk showing elsewhere.” La Friche La Belle de Mai, a former tobacco factory–turned–arts complex, was buzzing, and people smart enough to be furnished with fans were fluttering them furiously. Eventually the crowd escaped the airless space to drink the local pastis outside, where I ran into artist Lucy Orta, whose “Antarctica” project is showing in town at Galerie of Marseille, and curator Sylvie Amar, who is developing the new Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée, set to open in 2013.
The next stop was dinner in the garden of the neoclassical Maison Blanche. After missing a run on some juicy local oysters, I chatted with dealer William West, who gushed over his exquisite digs at local midcentury icon Cité Radieuse, designed by Le Corbusier as a total lifestyle concept (still very much alive). His booth was also all about architecture, featuring Catalina Niculescu’s mesmerizing video Along the Lines, which portrays how modernism merged with the vernacular in Romania. “I wanted to honor the artist by making it a real exhibition, since it will be up for a month longer than the fair,” West noted. Coincidentally, I spent that night in a bohemian version of Le Corbusier’s own Côte d’Azur cabin, La Cabanon: a wooden structure that doubles as an artist residency and office at Galerie Où, presided over by the charming Axelle Galtier.
As it turns out, a number of the local galleries are operated by artists and even double as their own residences. The next day, Andreas Lange and I visited La Gad, opened about a year ago by exuberant artist Arnaud Deschin in a tiny space where he exhibits site-specific installations and sleeps and showers in rooms concealed behind sleek sliding panels. Nearby we checked out Porte Avion, founded by three artists including the current director, Jean-Jacques Le Berre, where Susanne Strassmann was showing photos from her new book Art People or Employees—all very amusing until you find one of yourself in a compromising position at an art-fair party, and on sale for €450.
That night was the fourth annual Triangle France gala at Château Ricard, where the forty works (authored by beneficiaries of the foundation’s artist residency) being raffled off were hung throughout the rooms. After drinking all the Ricard pastis one could wish for, followed by a dinner of quail, guests retired to the garden for the drawing. As Triangle director Dorothée Dupuis announced each number and the lucky ticket holder chose a work, performer Mathis Collins recited a composition written for each piece. The proceedings began to resemble an Éric Rohmer film, in which the interrelationships of all assembled were gradually revealed, when one contestant screamed, “Don’t talk to me, don’t anybody say anything,” as she deliberated her choice.
The next day I did the rounds with Marseille Expos’s Céline Emas Jarousseau and critic André Rouillé, stopping first at the Cité Radieuse to visit the 3ème Rue Galerie, where Portuguese artist Sara Maia’s exhibition “Born to Be Alive” comprises vivid dreamlike paintings. Our final stop was the newly developing neighborhood La Joliette and the inaugural show of Galerie Gourvennec Ogor, whose director, Didier Gourvennec Ogor, used to work at the Gallery of Marseille’s late éminence grise Roger Pailhas, as did Art-o-Rama’s codirectors Gaïd Beaulieu-Lambert and Jérôme Pantalacci, and La Gad’s Deschin. The group exhibition included a touching video by Emmanuelle Antille and photographs accompanied by their depicted objects, tracked down in a fascinating social-research process by artist Benoit Broisat. Chatting about the move down south from Paris, dealer Gourvennec Ogor quipped: “As the joke by a French comic goes, ‘What is the first African town on the Dakar route? The answer: Marseille.’ ”
When I met Nice native Philippe Manzone, director of the Galerie Chantal Crousel, at the fair, he had explained, “Down here we feel more Italian than French.” And the Marseillais always compare their city to the Italian port of Naples. So Beaulieu-Lambert insisted that we go out for pizza to see if it made the crust. I noted that the pies at Saveur were the best I had ever eaten. “But of course,” the waiter told us. “Pizza was invented here in Marseille.”
It seemed that all the passengers of the incestuous Marseille art ship were assembled the last night in American dealer and psychoanalyst Pamela King’s garden, for the inauguration of Max Charvolen’s aptly named painting show “Escaliers, Murs, Sol / Jardin” (Stairs, Walls, Sun/Garden) at her space the American Gallery, which commands a panoramic view over the city and out to the sea. It also became evident that many of the local collectors are psychoanalysts, such as Marc Gensollen, owner of the much revered La Fabrique collection. King noted that she was pleasantly surprised when three monochrome paintings offered at the fair by Paris’s Torri Gallery turned out to be by Olivier Mosset. “It is unusual to find works of that level in this market,” she explained. As we tried our best to avoid talking about art for once, Portuguese critic Pedro Morais could not help but comment, “I like the scene here because it is so informal.” To be sure, Marseille seems as intimate and sophisticated as it is unruly and diverse, but perhaps slightly more urbane than the southern Italian port. Vive la difference!
“RIO DE JANEIRO IS SECOND ONLY to São Paulo in its contemporary art effervescence,” said the guidebook that I leafed through after arriving at ArtRio last Wednesday. I’d never been to Brazil before, but I still sensed the second-city feeling at the first edition of ArtRio at Pier Maua. (SP-Arte, back in the superlatively “effervescent” megalopolis, happened for the seventh time in May.) The mild air drifting into the pavilions from the palm-lined waterfront promenade gently reinforced the stereotype that São Paulo is for work and Rio for play. Most of the art looked correspondingly frivolous. There was big, bright “art-fair art” and blandly tasteful retreads of local traditions in abstract geometry. At least four stands hung versions of a work by Paris-based Venezuelan Carlos Cruz-Diez: As you passed a grated panel, it caught your eyes with a fluttering toucan palette of turquoise, orange, and fuchsia. Some welcome depth could be found in the curated section, organized by Julieta González of the Tate and independent curator Pablo de la Barra. Half-thought gestures repeated throughout the fair were elaborated and connected in works like Alberto Baraya’s display of dried floral specimens under glass and photographs of the same flowers thrust at aging specimens of Brazil’s modernist architecture.
I was on a group trip sponsored by the Brazil Contemporary Art Project, a gallery association supported by the country’s ministry of economic development, and much of the time my perception of Rio was mediated by the window of a van full of curators. After the fair we had a brisk gallery tour, then dinner at the home of a young collector named Fabio Szwarcwald. He owned some smoky photography, as well as Amazonian folk art and gallery-ready works inflected with it, which at times were indistinguishable from the toys of his two small children (not present). In a corner of the master bedroom stood a two-foot statue of a pouty brunette in a black G-string, her pink flesh pale at the hips and breasts. “At first my wife didn’t like it,” Szwarczwald said. “But I told her: ‘Don’t worry! It’s art!’ ” The next day started with a visit to another private home. The core of Ricardo Rego’s collection was the sharp-edged geometry of Neo-concrete artists—Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, and Mira Schendel, among others—and it was enlivened with more recent, corporeal pieces, like José Resende’s animal hide folded into valleys of wax, and a ribboned braid by Tunga. The display resonated with the scene ten stories below, where bodies moved amid the sinuous, two-toned Copacabana boardwalk and the cybernetic lines inscribed on the adjacent road’s median.
The main item on the itinerary was the Eighth Mercosul Biennial, and on Friday morning we flew to Porto Alegre, a city of four million and the capital of Brazil’s southernmost province, a rhomboid patch of the Pampas wedged between Uruguay and Argentina. What had begun as a gorgeous day in Rio got clammy and gray when we went further south. Drizzle was falling on the power lines, barbed-wire fences, and pallid high-rises of the generic city. “This is not very alegre,” remarked one of my traveling companions. In short order we arrived at the hilltop gated compound of patron Patricia Druck, who was hosting a reception for the biennial foundation. Lunch featured endless platters of meat barbecued gaucho-style and a bar tended by “the top maker of caipirinhas in all Brazil,” as I was told by a burly dealer who described himself as “the Paris Hilton of Porto Alegre.” The caipirinhas were indeed exceptionally satisfying. As I drained my second, the gray sky turned blue. Taking in the city’s sweep from Druck’s backyard, I believed that Porto Alegre must rank a close third in Brazil’s contemporary art effervescence.
The biennial proved it. Bold and wise, the exhibition persistently traced a network of questions concerning borders and conflicts, statehood and nationalism, independence and commonwealth. Pablo Helguera, director of educational programs, said he and the other members of the curatorial team “tried not to make it the biennial of flags and maps.” They did not succeed. But that’s okay, because while the repetition of blatantly geographic motifs leaves a strong impression, it is mitigated by plenty of sideways approaches. Miguel Angel Rios’s riveting two-channel video makes you a witness to fierce conflict but never hints at who or what the hostile parties are. Lais Myrrha studded a wall with digital clocks along time-zone contours, and in a video by Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker the artists play “The Star-Spangled Banner” on bottles of Panama brand beer. The works are installed in warehouses stretching half a kilometer along Porto Alegre’s riverfront, and viewing the biennial could have been a grueling march. But the curators slowed the show’s rhythm by interrupting it with half-inside, half-outside shipping crates presenting documentation of “zones of poetic autonomy,” do-it-yourself countries such as Irwin’s NSK State, and Duke Riley’s attempts at reclaiming a New Jersey island for the family that declared itself royalty there a century ago. With all the gestures toward porous borders, it was a bit jarring to find wall texts and subtitles in Portuguese only. A blue-aproned attendant assured me, however, that he could answer any question I might have, whether I asked it in English, Spanish, or French.
Hours after the opening Friday night, the action moved to Ocidente, a rambling dive that locals called “legendary” for outliving a few generations of Porto Alegre’s Paris Hiltons. Harker, the life of the party, got the other artists to form a circle and take turns dancing alone in the middle. The twist to the dance-floor ritual was that each soloist had to hold Harker’s gigantic leopard-print umbrella. As it spun in the hands of each dancer, its bright points looked like they could describe the navel of a collective body, or the center of a fleeting autonomous zone.
Left: Performers in a work by Jon Rubin as Presidents Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama. Right: Independent curator Miguel Lopez and Irene Kopelman.
BERLIN IS MOSTLY RELAXING IN SEPTEMBER. As you walk through the graffiti-splattered streets, everything somehow looks beautiful when it begins to die—the leaves on the trees, the summer that never seemed to arrive this year—and then, suddenly, the Kunst Herbst arrives like a caffeinated jolt from an unexpectedly strong coffee. Of course, there’s no Art Forum fair this year to welcome the art-lusting masses back to town, but to be honest, it is not sorely missed. “Berlin is not an art fair town” was the refrain I heard repeatedly throughout the week from dealers and artists alike. And so Art Berlin Contemporary, an art fair that is not supposed to be an art fair—and yet somehow is—seems to be the best compromise anyone’s thought of to date.
I showed up last Wednesday at the exact right time—a down period between the morning press conference and the afternoon VIP opening—which gave me a chance to absorb the work before social hour and fatigue set in. For those not in the know, ABC is a curated art fair designed to resemble a group show, with typically one artist presented from each of the selected galleries. This year’s theme was “About Painting,” which was cheekily (yet aptly) summarized by Exile’s Christian Siekmeier: “We don’t want to show painting, we just want to discuss it from a conceptual distance. Though, in the end, we will actually show just paintings.” It was only a mild exaggeration, as there were a lot of non/anti-paintings and lots of chatter about “painting’s despecification,” in the lingo of Isabelle Graw, referring to the preponderance of painterly work using nontraditional media (of which Sergej Jensen is perhaps the unofficial king). I was surprised not to hear Rauschenberg mentioned once the entire week at ABC or any of the satellite fairs, dinners, openings, or parties. To me, it’s his ghost that haunted so much of the work, which heavily favored the scruffy, the trashy, and the handmade. But perhaps that was just curator Rita Kersting’s penchant for enforcing the cliché of Berlin being a town with a permanent attitude problem, i.e., “I dare you to hang that in the living room of your billion-dollar home.”
The (non)fair, located at Station-Berlin in the no-man’s-land of Gleisdreieck, comprised a weird maze of artificial walls that I suppose were meant to serve as some sort of “architectural intervention” but had the annoying side effect of making you constantly run back into people and artworks you had just bid adieu to seconds before. The “nonfair” part of the fair also meant benches instead of booths and no clear delineation, with artists from rival galleries often sharing wall space. On the surface, it all looked pretty democratic, with selections from galleries established (Arndt, Daniel Buchholz, Sprüth Magers) and new (Cinzia Friedlaender, Exile, PSM), large and small, each asked to pay the same price; on closer inspection, though, it became apparent that the bigger brands were allotted the most real estate (ach, those awful Elizabeth Peyton paintings at neugerriemschneider). Perhaps the greatest irony about ABC is that in spite of the willed “uncommercialness” of the fair, those it benefited least were the emerging players.
“There aren’t even badges to identify who you are,” complained one exasperated dealer. “So unless you’re Isabella Bortolozzi, you’re lost in the crowd. To us, it looks a little bit like their private party.”
Of course, for those who wanted a more traditional art fair, there was Preview, which opened on Thursday to much fanfare at the former Tempelhof Airport, providing a relief from ABC’s curatorial browbeating and proving that second tier doesn’t necessarily equal second rate. The week around ABC was filled out with openings and dinners galore, with my itinerary featuring a delicious, gut-stuffing five-courser at Sale e Tabacchi celebrating twenty years of Aurel Scheibler’s gallery on Thursday; a dinner for the Sergej Jensen and Marc Camille Chaimowicz exhibitions hosted by Thilo Wermke, Alexander Schröder, and Alex Zachary at a private apartment on Friday; and a casual open-bar schmoozefest on Saturday at Soho House for Peres Projects’ Dan Attoe and Alex Israel exhibitions. When I brought up some of the complaints I’d been hearing throughout the week with a participating dealer, he brushed them off. “Everyone knows what the deal is with ABC. I actually like it this year. It looks great and a lot of our clients have come out for it. If there’s anything to complain about, it’s that if you’re asked to do ABC, then you kind of have to do it.”
Hmm . . . curatorial coercion? Maybe that’s just my bad attitude speaking out once again. “For us, it’s a fair,” Denis Pieper of PSM Gallery put it bluntly. “At the same time, I don’t expect very much from it. It is Berlin, after all.”
EXCUSE ME, but are there more galleries in New York than ever? So it seemed last week, when the fall art season got under way with nearly sixty openings in Chelsea and on the Lower East Side. This was just a prelude to the coming week, when at least forty more galleries will enter the fray uptown and down—and I’m not even counting what the museums have in store. What a bounty! Art must be soothing many a savage toad in the hole. How else to explain the surfeit when economies around the globe are stuttering? “Somehow it all keeps going,” dealer Andrew Kreps observed at one point. “And we have to keep going with it.”
So I went. Wednesday belonged to the LES, where curator Dan Cameron had something of a monopoly, having organized group shows of SVA grads at eight different galleries. As if that hadn’t given him enough to do, he had also put together a show combining art from New Orleans and Turkey at C24, a multilevel gallery that Turkish investors were opening in Chelsea. While in the neighborhood, I stopped at Alexander Gray’s reception for Jack Whitten, a septuagenarian who has been ahead of the curve for so long it’s taken till now to come back around to him. “Those are apps for Obama,” Whitten said, pointing to a canvas with a swimming pool–blue tiled surface and quartzlike appurtenances that suggested the desktop of an iPad. “Everything he needs to know is in there.”
With that comforting thought in mind, I headed downtown through a city that chose to approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11 by going on red alert. Bomb squads roamed the streets, and helmeted cops armed with machine guns were on patrol everywhere but in the art world, where an unmistakable back-to-school optimism emanated from crowds spilling out of galleries under a waxing moon.
At Salon 94 on the Bowery, Aïda Ruilova was debuting a new slasher video starring Sonja Kinski, Nastassja Kinski’s daughter and a doppleganger for the artist. Dzine (born Carlos Rolon) brought low-rider sounds and plenty of bling, along with a chandelier of Swarovski crystals, to the gallery’s Freeman Alley space, where artists such as Fab 5 Freddy and Luis Gispert watched a manicurist apply tiny versions of Dzine’s glittering objects to willing pinkies. “This is a social project, not a nail salon,” said dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohaytn, though it looked mighty like a nail salon and in fact was called “Imperial Nail Salon.” Alas, it was only sculpture.
Ry Rocklen had blown into UNTITLED gallery from Los Angeles to lay a checkerboard floor made of squares cut from thrift-shop paintings and overlaid with strips of metallic paint. Those willing to remove their shoes to walk on it could examine an installation of award trophies stationed at the back; supposedly it’s a large enough collection to qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records.
But all this barely added up to a qualifying round in the rest of the week’s competing shows. Gispert was first out of the gate on Thursday at Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue gallery, a kind of drive-in for his life-size photos of car interiors done up in counterfeit designer-logo fabrics by label fetishists. The evening was also the annual Fashion’s Night Out, but the art and fashion worlds did not collide this year except in duels over taxis. To fill the breach, Hollywood came calling at David Zwirner, where I found Ben Stiller and his wife, Christine Taylor, cohosting a preview of the works that Stiller and Zwirner had collected for an Artists for Haiti benefit auction scheduled for September 22 at Christie’s. Twenty-five artists contributed to the show, most (Pettibon, Rauch, Tuymans, Dumas, Ofili, Abdessemed) from the Zwirner stable, but Jeff Koons, Jasper Johns, and James Rosenquist were among them too—and every one of the works is a winner.
Stiller started doing charity work on behalf of Haiti before its ruinous earthquake, inspired partly by Bono’s “Red” campaign for Africa. After the quake, he said, he redoubled his efforts and was soon introduced to Zwirner by Steve Martin, “a great collector of art,” Stiller said. But Zwirner was nervous about the sale. It was still early in the evening and visitors were few. “It’s so important,” he said. “Tell everybody!”
No problem. But I also had to keep going.
A block away at Jack Shainman, it was so crowded with Nick Cave fans that getting in actually took some muscle. The effort paid off. Cave’s monochromatic, six-foot rabbits of synthetic blond hair and trumpetlike figures bound by glittery black fabric are among his best. At Nicole Klagsbrun, N. Dash carried the flag for subtlety in a debut of folded and rubbed indigo and graphite drawings. At Casey Kaplan, Brian Jungen had stretched animal hides over Eames and Saarinen chairs, turning them into playable, ritual drums. And Haim Steinbach returned to the exhibition fold at Tanya Bonakdar with new shelves of collectibles and a slam-bang architectural construction guarded by a squat green alien figure out of Star Wars.
Odd couples populated Nicola Tyson’s bright new canvases at Friedrich Petzel. “It’s all poisonous,” Tyson said of the paintings, referring not to their bondage and disfigurement qualities but to the rich, cadmium colors she used to make them. Dinner at Bottino brought a mini Brit Pack (Gary Hume and Georgie Hopton, Sadie Coles, honorary member Clarissa Dalrymple), and gallery artists such as Sean Landers, Charline von Heyl, and Dana Schutz, Petzel’s latest addition.
By Friday night, with the 9/11 anniversary closing in, the collapse that Do Ho Suh had built into two extraordinarily detailed models of the artist’s previous homes in Seoul and Providence, Rhode Island, left guests at Lehmann Maupin with a sense of foreboding that might not have resonated at another time. The same darkness also fell on Leandro Erlich’s Hitchcockian but stationary elevators and elevator shafts at Sean Kelly, as well as on Andrea Rosen’s ingenious pairing of Lucio Fontana’s slashed copper paintings with sculptures in ceramic and bronze by Sterling Ruby.
The largest work by the latter is a massive excavation site, a yawning grave that, again, made unintended reference to the remains of the old World Trade Center. Spirits lifted at the dinner for Ruby at Lotus of Siam on lower Fifth Avenue, where Richard Phillips and Josephine Meckseper drove up in a gleaming white race car and Pace Gallery’s Arne Glimcher, who had cheerfully loaned Ruby to Rosen, spent the entire evening in conversation with New Museum director Lisa Phillips. Her former chief curator Richard Flood interrupted with a news flash for Ruby: “I just got a text from Lucio,” he said, waving his phone. “He just got off a plane and is sorry he couldn’t be here, but he says he couldn’t be happier to be in a show with Sterling.”
By Saturday night, it felt as if the art world was settling into itself. Cave showed an outrageous group of new assemblages at Mary Boone that were as theatrical and buzzing as Keren Cytter’s new videos at Zach Feuer were brainy and sober. More surprises were waiting at Algus Greenspon, where the mortal coil provided the central theme for a fascinating show that combined nineteenth-century Romantic and Symbolist paintings, prints, and photographs with twenty-first-century drawings and paintings. “All this stuff is out there,” Algus said of the historical works, which he had found in the drawers of galleries uptown. “It’s just that no one ever brings them down here.”
Around the corner, an ebullient Alex Katz was making his own unlikely debut at Gavin Brown with huge new portrait heads that showed him to be in peak form. “Gavin said all the right things,” Katz said, explaining why he turned down Larry Gagosian when he left Pace last year. “He talked about them in terms of light and time, which was exactly right. People usually get bogged down in subject matter when they talk about my work, and that’s not what my paintings are about at all.”
During the dinner for one hundred on the gallery’s rooftop, Brown spoke of their light and eternal present in an especially gracious toast. He called Katz’s show “a dream come true” and thanked the artists in his gallery for “making room” for the senior painter, a nod that clearly touched Rirkrit Tiravanija, Spencer Sweeney, and Nick Relph, who were among those at the table. “That was all sincere,” Brown said later. “I meant every word.”
In the sky above, the two 9/11 memorial lights were absent, apparently due to a lack of money to power them up before the day of reckoning. But the moon was now full and bright, the breeze was gentle, and somehow it all kept us going.
Left: Dealer Alexander Gray. Right: Artists Paul Bloodgood and Jack Whitten.
THE WEEKEND OF OPENINGS in the run up to Dublin Contemporary’s big gala bash were laced with a heavy dose of rumor, competitiveness, and generous hospitality. At Martin Healy’s premiere at the Temple Bar Gallery last Friday night it was all about lists: who was on, and who was off. They say no one from the Irish Museum of Modern Art was invited. “Surely that can’t be true?” my friend said, before countering with the rumor that Jarvis Cocker was going to play the event. Then there was Tom Molloy’s launch of his exhibition “Doubt” on Saturday at Rubicon Gallery, which was washed down with liberal martinis. “Don’t forget, it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” another friend advised. “Pace yourself, please.”
Needless to say we didn’t, because this is Dublin, and if there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s enjoying ourselves. By the time we reached Kevin Kavanagh’s opening on Saturday for Ulrich Vogl, dealers from around the world were gathering in force. Telltale signs—a slightly different cut to a well-tailored suit, a certain urbanity and measured politeness—marked them from the regular crowd: “So good to see you. Is one of your artists in the show? Oh, I have three.”
Dublin Contemporary, years in the planning, has already had a handful of international launches, plus strong doses of controversy leading up to a last-minute change of curators, so we were all agog to see it. The Royal Hibernian Academy’s Patrick Murphy arrived at Kavanagh’s gallery, after taking U2’s Adam Clayton around his James Coleman and Lisa Yuskavage exhibitions. “Yes, Adam was happy. And Lisa too.” We wished we could be in two places at once.
Left: Artist Kysa Johnson. Right: Dublin Contemporary curator and artist Jota Castro with Josephine Kelliher.
On Sunday, scraping the residue of the night before from my eyes, I presented myself at Dublin Contemporary’s main venue: the crumbling and previously neglected splendor of Earlsfort Terrace. The phalanx of camera crews weren’t for me, but I picked up my heels nonetheless and ran smack into Bob Geldof, there to do the “ribbon-cutting” honors. How to explain I spent my teenage years in love with Sir Bob? “What do you think?” I asked. “It’s fucking brilliant,” said Bob.
The promised brunch at Dublin’s Residence—a private club trying to find a new identity now that many private-member types are either officially bankrupt or tactfully hiding their cash—consisted of attractive but insubstantial things on silver trays, so we rescued artist Brian O’Doherty and art historian Barbara Novak and took them to lunch at the Cliff Town House round the corner. “Art is what you can get away with. I’m quoting Mary Josephson, you know,” said O’Doherty. His installation for Dublin Contemporary, Hello Sam, sited at the National Gallery, is a gorgeously moving tribute to Samuel Beckett, in which the cast of a body lies prone within one of O’Doherty’s rope drawings. At each corner you can listen to a sound installation made up of imagined conversations with Beckett.
At the other end of the National’s Milltown Wing, Liam O’Callaghan’s time finds you a good place to fall, a huge panel of muted lights, is a marvelous hangover panacea. We tore ourselves away from the work for the final furlong. Night had fallen, and back at Earlsfort Terrace the atmosphere was thrilling. Cynicism had evaporated, although not necessarily to be replaced by sincerity. Jorge Tacla, whose work is installed in the National Gallery, said he’s “amazed we’re so nice in Ireland.” I felt smug, as if I could take credit for an entire island’s amiability.
Left: Sara Amido, artist Alejandro Almanza Pereda, and Isabel Macedo. (Photo: Marc O’Sullivan) Right: Artist Brian O’Doherty with RHA Director Patrick Murphy.
We followed the throng through the labyrinth of corridors. The speeches took place in one of the largest rooms, where impressively, though inexplicably to some, a large work by one of the curators, Jota Castro, is installed. His fellow curator, Christian Viveros-Fauné, took the podium. The sound quality wasn’t great, but we did make out him thanking Castro. “What did Cuba have to do with this?” asked a woman in vertiginous heels.
Bob Geldof made a rousing speech; as if there weren’t enough to love already. “You can see some of the work here and say ‘What the fuck is that?’ But looking back over the past few years, you have to say ‘What the fuck was that?’” We all laughed, although we were also reminded, rather uncomfortably, of how deeply the globe is mired in debt. I met artist David Adamo on the way to see Wang Du’s Le Berceau, an enormous bed that can hold fifty people––though we’re not allowed to disport ourselves on it right now. “It rocks,” says the attendant. “Just not tonight.” “I feel like every day here I’d find something new,” said Adamo. With more than one hundred artists (including Adamo himself), he might be right.
The party ratcheted up a notch just as they sent us out into the night and back to Residence. “I love it here,” said Amsterdam dealer Gabriel Rolt, who was there with one of his artists, Anna Bjerger. “I feel like a fish in my own water.” But an hour or so later, as a table collapsed in a crash of glass and a mess of wine, he announced, “This is the perfect moment to leave.” The core crowd was growing increasingly Irish. “It’s the Europeans. They’re in bed by 10 PM.” Wise Europeans. There were still events to come at the Royal Hibernian Academy, National Gallery, Douglas Hyde, and Hugh Lane.
It all felt like five years ago, as if the crash never happened. Everyone was thrilled. I walked through the dark streets of Dublin past knots of arty revelers looking for a last pit stop. “Come on,” called one. “The Irish government will pay!” Given the state of the economy and taxes, that really means me, so I called it a night and set off for home. Oh—and just to scotch the rumors—Jarvis Cocker didn’t play, and Christina Kennedy from IMMA was there.
Left: Sotheby's consultant Mareta Doyle with Monica Bonvicini’s Add Elegance to Your Poverty. Right: Artist David Adamo with Magnus Edensvard of Ibid Projects.
LAST MONTH’S Auckland Art Fair had been more impressive than I’d expected. So I was excited about two occasions last week in which Auckland’s leading institutions had the opportunity to show what they were made of: Artspace staged the first exhibition by its new, formerly London-based director, Caterina Riva; and the Auckland Art Gallery reopened after a $100 million revamp.
The interaction between the two venues is a vital part of the local scene. For a long time, Artspace’s job was to hold hot coals to the AAG’s feet on behalf of New Zealand’s contemporary artists. Over the years, just about every local figure of any significance has shown there, as well as a serious list of international art stars. But recently, Artspace has lost some of its shine. So it was interesting that Riva had chosen to open her show, which included works by General Idea, Patricia Dauder, and Tobias Kaspar, the night before the AAG’s grand unveiling—perhaps trying to steal a march on Artspace’s old rival (or maybe just capitalizing on the fact that plenty of people would be in town). The exhibition was solid enough, but Riva has barely had time to settle into her new role, and it would be unfair to judge her on this first offering alone. While a few senior artists like Billy Apple and Ruth Watson showed up for the preview, most of the crowd had an art-students-mooching-free-drinks feel.
In contrast, the AAG’s relaunch stretched over days: a Maori blessing at dawn on Thursday, a media preview on Friday morning, a massive party on Friday night, and official speeches on Saturday just before the doors opened to the public. The renovation and extension of the existing building, by Sydney’s Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp and Auckland’s Archimedia, is beautiful. And there is some great New Zealand art on show, as well as an international collection enhanced by American collector Julian Robertson’s recent, generous gift of modernist works. I’d heard that Robertson had flown from the States a day or two before, dropped off the works, and turned straight around again. Given that the Matisses were still being hung during the media preview, it was a believable story.
Plenty, then, to celebrate at Friday night’s party. But it didn’t start well: If you host an invitation-only event that requires RSVPs, you usually know how many people are going to show up. It also means you should have a system in place to get them into the building quickly, especially seeing as it’s winter down here. So the fact that most guests had to wait in a chilly, hour-long queue while their names were ticked off a spreadsheet was pretty lame. I can’t tell you what was said in the speeches, because I wasn’t inside in time to hear them. But I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have discussed the fact that, despite having a brave new building to play with, AAG director Chris Saines and his team had opted to keep the displays inside it as conservative as possible.
My palms had first started to sweat about this during the media preview. We were led through a democratic drive-by of New Zealand art—a smooth, nationalist story that lacked the courage to single out key figures and give them the space they deserved (“toeing the party line” was how EyeContact’s editor John Hurrell put it). Our greatest artist, Colin McCahon, was given his own room, but it was nowhere near big enough. Other heavy hitters, such as Apple and Gordon Walters, were handled far worse. In general, contemporary art suffered, as the past forty-five years were crammed into three crowded rooms. After the preview, the AAG’s contemporary art curator Natasha Conland (who is very smart and had done her best with an impossible task) took some of us up to the top floor. It was easy to see why: There, she’d been given space to present installations by Dane Mitchell, Peter Robinson, and the artist collective known as “et al.” Each work was great. Each one could breathe. And all rose well above the parochialism being perpetrated downstairs.
For what it’s worth, the party itself was pretty good—once you got inside—although given the amount of superb music produced in New Zealand, the AAG could have done better for entertainment than a wedding-quality cover band. The Australasian art-world turnout (especially curators—Robert Leonard from Brisbane, the Christchurch Art Gallery’s Justin Paton, and Adam Art Gallery director Christina Barton and former City Gallery curator Heather Galbraith from Wellington) showed just how essential a healthy AAG is to this region. But under the celebratory hum were more serious vibrations. “New building, same gallery,” was how one curator described the hang to me. “Provincial” was an artist’s more direct admonishment. By 10:30 PM, it was clear that I could either stay and try to dance away my concerns to a corny version of “Superstition,” or go home, pour a strong drink, and start writing. Guess which one I did.
Left: Artist Richard Maloy and designer Warren Olds. (Photo Anthony Byrt). Artists Lisa Reihana and Fear Brampton. (Photo: David St George)
Left: Outside the Governors Island Art Fair. Right: Inside the Governors Island Art Fair. (Photos: Michael Wilson)
I’D ANTICIPATED a quiet ferry ride out from downtown Manhattan for the first Friday of this year’s Governors Island Art Fair, which continues on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout September. The reality was rather different, as a crowd several hundred strong milled noisily around South Street terminal’s bare-bones waiting room before streaming onto the boat like there was a tropical storm at its back. Evidently, the former British colonial administrative base was now a firm fixture on the tourist map. But once we arrived at our destination, the hordes seemed to melt away, and I struck out alone for the prosaically named Building 12, somewhere on the territory’s lesser-known far side.
Watching in mild alarm as a family of eight careened downhill past me on a for-hire pedal car, I almost walked past the entrance to the event’s first part. There wasn’t a whole lot of fanfare to announce that Section P of the aforementioned establishment was home to a fourteen-artist group exhibition and three floors of solo presentations. A desultory trio of visitors—or were they participants?—lingered by the door, but there was nothing in the way of an official welcome. Organizers 4heads (artists Ernie Sandidge, Nicole Laemmle, Jack Robinson, and Antony Zito) clearly expected attendees to do their share of the work—this was a fair trailed as “run by artists, for artists,” after all.
Trouble was, where were they? With no opening bash and a determinedly low-key approach to sales, the “fair” felt oddly adrift, separated from the city’s art-world action not only by a stretch of water but also by the total absence of hype. While in many ways this was of course A Good Thing, and arguably consistent with 4heads’ advocacy of “organically occurring culture” and the struggling artists who presumably give birth to it, it was hard not to wish for a little more snap, crackle, and pop. But there was no easing into this one—calamitously, even the trailed Two Boots pizza and Porchetta sarnies weren’t scheduled to arrive until the weekend—so I grabbed a checklist and got to work.
Participants in this year’s annual fair—the fourth—were selected from open call without dealer involvement. Each of the hundred-plus who made the cut was given a room in the abandoned barracks and free rein to use it as he or she saw fit. A handful of galleries—Open Ground, Standpipe Gallery, Ugly Art Room—were invited too, but there was no evidence of the thinly veiled rivalry that colors GIAF’s more prestigious counterparts. Again, A Good Thing, but some may miss the cut-’n’-thrust. Still, the building made for an atmospheric backdrop, its flaking paint, creepy attics, and doors to nowhere—along with the striking view of rolling waves outside from upper river-facing windows—easily trumping the standard portabooth.
How to characterize the selection? Well, there was some mediocre stuff, of course, but also a few pleasant surprises. Leah Yerpe’s precisely rendered Robert Longo–esque drawings of tangled, tumbling figures were highly effective; Ellen Blum’s large, luminous painterly abstractions, while not so much to my taste, also looked undeniably striking in the distressed, quasi-domestic interior. Michael John Davis scored a hit with paintings and drawings of cats that teetered enjoyably on the edge of kitsch, while Sandra Nydegger’s murky black-and-white photographs of sharks and other worrying sealife struck a darker note. There was a good deal else to enjoy, but while the lack of chatter and buzz resulted in an unusually tranquil shopping experience for those collectors that did make the boat, it had the unexpected side effect of making me actually look forward to the imminent season, in all its bitchy, competitive, posturing, gossipy glory.
LIKE SHUT UP, THIS IS IMPORTANT.
The temperament of our generation can be summed up by the hashmark. If the ’90s were full of “quotation marks” indicating irony, a decisive sarcasm and a distance from the opinion of norms, our current climate is dominated by pithy punch lines that summarize the solipsist’s always already uploaded narrative. The hashtag is the redemption of Internet statements—written to be read by everyone you know, obviously. Until they are recycled via a chaotic circuit of retweets, reposts, and reblogs, eventually rendered as vapid as that ubiquitous Facebook prompt: “What’s on your mind?”
Traveling to MoMA PS1 in Queens always makes me itch. It’s not that long of a subway ride, is it? Closer to Williamsburg than mother MoMA itself, my train ended at the gates of pseudo-ironic innovation and an event that promised gaggles of iPunks decked out in their clubbing getups, Mallrats meets Tank Girl. Even though I’ve been hundreds of times, I completely bungled the directions. I decided to follow the cute, blue-haired hacker, who surely must know the way to DIS Magazine’s PopRally closing party for the Ryan Trecartin show. The queue for wristbands spilled out the door, and I was quickly rescued by curator Simon Castets and artist Item Idem, who seemed to be beating a path similar to my own. (They promised that I’d find them again later on the Lower East Side.) While situating ourselves amid the throngs, we discussed the muscle-inflated female bodybuilders in the lobby, who posed against a blank scrim with a post-gender model sheathed in a “wink-wink” step-and-repeat Zentai bodysuit. “Is that ‘in’ drag, or ‘out of’ drag?” I pondered. Or, more to the point, “Is this ironic, or sincere?” #thatisthequestion.
We decided to tour the exhibition, with its themed rooms—corporate conference tables, airplane exit rows, and even spliced party boats all served as seating “situations” in front of which Trecartin’s sped-up, voiced-over, vibrating videos were splayed. We tried to determine which cut-rate retailer had provided the readymade install—Ikea, or maybe Staples, someone suggested: “It’s a new kind of gaming room, plugged in and tuned out.” The glazed and confused effect carried over to the party outside, where I ran into Debo Eilers, Lisa Jo, et al. We tried to talk, but were foiled by the thumping sound system and the manic set by AraabMuzik. The crowd frenzy reached its apex when the evening’s headliner, #HDBOYZ, bolted onto the stage. “They’ve been practicing all month,” confessed curator and Warm Up guru Eliza Ryan.
Five white-clad, choreographed, tween-obssessed skinny men really couldn’t be that into boy bands, or could they? The ’N Sync–crazed memes lip-synched songs replete with Auto-Tuned lyrics—“Ur boyfriend looks Photoshopped” or “What’s ur password?”—while bombastic hi-def retro graphics spun on a projection, stage rear. The performance climaxed with an utterly ironic confetti drop–fireworks combo—that must be a first—and Trecartin, Lizzie Fitch, and Melissa Burns of the similarly contrived electroclash-era girl group W.I.T. were joined by MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach and glow stick–wielding nu-ravers on the dance floor, all freakin’ in one last ribald, upbeat energy burst. Then security pushed everyone out.
Left: Post-show fireworks. (Photo: Jacqueline Iannacone/elkstudios.com) Right: Curators Cecilia Alemani and Massimiliano Gioni. (Photo: Miriam Katz)
One transfer and two subway rides later, and we were back in downtown Manhattan, where Asia Song Society proprietor Terence Koh had promised a show—either eight minutes or eighty-eight minutes before midnight, depending on which invitation you read. We arrived at 45 Canal on the early end, only to find a lone Paper party photographer. Fortunately, the building’s door was open, and we ventured up the stairs and into the eerily empty white house. Someone had moved out in a hurry, leaving behind only cold fluorescent lighting, torn contractor bags, empty clothing hangers, and a very caved-in roof. We’d gone from the virtual to the visceral in one short evening. We moved on to Clandestino bar to pass the time until 11:52 PM (thanks for the tip, Michael Bilsborough!) and to contemplate our situation. Were the performances we had just seen/were about to see cynical or earnest? Do these categories even hold traction anymore? Is the surfeit recapitulation of consumer culture “in real” critical, innovative, or just simulacrum?
We didn’t make much headway. Soon a crowd of downtown darlings (Waris, Liv Tyler, Theo Wenner) had gathered outside ASS. Everyone oohed and elbowed when a girl in a diaphanous white maxi dress pulled up the security gate to reveal a view of the performance inside. Behind the window, Koh lay, ethereally, beneath a single incandescent bulb amid a vast pile of powder, cloaked in all white, with an abnormal, um, bump on his chest.
“I like Terence’s tits!” shouted one randy spectator.
“Like, shutup! This is important,” urged another.
A few minutes later, the show came to an abrupt end when an NYPD van arrived flashing its lights. Exiting the car, the lady police officer took out her flashlight to inspect the art-crime scene.
“Oh. OK,” Officer Towle said as she peered into the storefront. “I don’t like that,” she critiqued, and went inside. “That’s it, show’s over,” her compatriot shouted. “Nothing to see.” #nothingtoodoo
Left: Terence Koh performs. Right: The NYPD. (Photos: David Velasco)