Left: Writer and artist Douglas Coupland with Shumon Basar. Right: Artist Hassan Sharif and Art Dubai director Antonia Carver.
“THIS IS STRAIGHT out of Inception, right?” Mari Spirito mused last Monday on the staircase of the Salsali Private Museum. She meant the city as a whole; Dubai, having exhausted our capacity to imagine, had left us fumbling for cinematic comparisons. “Don’t you feel like we’re in some B-grade spy thriller?” Phil Tinari asked me later that evening, as we took in the schizophrenic skyline from the penthouse of the Index Tower, where we’d all gathered for a house party thrown by Ayyam Gallery’s Khaled and Hisham Samawi. I considered correcting Tinari—does it get any more “blockbuster” than sipping champagne on a Norman Foster–designed balcony, seventy-two floors up?—but there was something B-movie about this “almost-like, but-not-quite” apparition of a city. “Everything looks like a set piece for one of those beautiful people dramas,” I overheard. One part suspension of disbelief, one part suspension of gravity.
We may have worked through the starchitecturespeak and Koolhaas-isms, but it’s still a challenge to pin down a language for talking about Dubai, a place where Urdu (literally) gets you farther than Arabic or English, where you can see “The World” in a single water-taxi ride, and where outdoor terraces all mysteriously seem to be air-conditioned. Amid all this you have the genuinely cosmopolitan Art Dubai, which, though installed in the Madinat Jumeirah (very Real Housewives), has achieved a social and economic sophistication that belies its kitschy setting. The fair’s seventh edition opened its doors last Tuesday, bringing with it a week of receptions and roundtables, all-night beachfront parties, and penitent morning trips to the Sharjah Biennial.
So on the eve of the big fair, before that tippling house party in the sky, festivities commenced with Gallery Night in the Al Quoz warehouse district. Our first stop was the Third Line, where we were treated to more of the mirror mosaics that had won the eighty-nine-year-old Iranian artist Monir Farmanfarmaian special commendation in Sharjah. From there we dashed over to Alserkal Avenue, home to local power players like the Salsali Private Museum, Grey Noise, and Green Art Gallery. Ayyam had drawn a lively crowd with a solo show of Shurooq Amin. Pimped as “popcornographic,” her randy paintings conflated commodity culture, women’s sexuality, and Surrealism through images of pink, pouty lips, “Pretty Polly, The Poseable Dolly,” and blindfolded men with tiny black elephants perched in their palms. (According to the press release, this all has something to do with divorce.)
Next, we decamped to the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), a luxury shopping mall, where we were met with a confusion of mocktails and bite-size mousses, whipped up by the Ritz. Muddling through the iBanker masses, we were able to catch Manal Al Dowayan at Cuadro before dropping in on the Moving Museum’s pop-up group show “TECTONIC.” The itinerant organization left its exhibition space deliberately raw, its electrical innards dangling in the cold concrete hulls. “We thought it was more effective in contrast to these super slick surroundings,” curator Simon Sakhai explained, as we puzzled over Soheila Sokhanvari’s melding of horse and giant inflatable beach ball.
Tuesday was the official opening of Art Dubai, as well as a reception for Abraaj Group Art Prize recipients Vartan Avakian, Iman Issa, Huma Mulji, Hrair Sarkissian and Rayyane Tabet. “There’s a different pace to this fair,” a dealer confided, as she guided me around her booth. “No one is rushing the gates, but sales are definitely happening.” I recognized a few collectors (Maja Hoffmann, Richard Chang, Amy Phelan), but also spotted a number of international, institutional curators. In the span of two minutes, I saw Tinari (Ullens Center), Lauren Cornell (New Museum), Frances Morris (Tate Modern), Dirk Snaeuwaert (Wiels), and Chus Martínez (El Museo del Barrio), as well as Jérôme Sans and Murtaza Vali (curator of this year’s Abraaj Prize).
So what were they looking at? Arndt eschewed a traditional booth design in favor of a reconstituted, antique Syrian salon, where they displayed Wim Delvoye’s sculptures of construction vehicles and hand-carved tires. (“We thought it would be the good kind of disorienting,” a director assured me.) Victoria Miro pulled together a striking sampler of Yayoi Kusama’s career, while Rodeo highlighted a lyrical, reassembled mosaic by Christodoulos Panayiotou and Banu Cennetoglu’s collection of newspapers from across the Arabic-speaking world.
“Now, this is a great piece,” Andreé Sfeir-Semler said as she steered Chang toward a gorgeous Etel Adnan painting and away from what I thought was a rather comely Gabriel Kuri installation: two concrete slabs, one affixed to the wall, and one shattered elegantly across the carpet. As I would soon learn, both slabs had been attached to the wall the night before, with a Lebanese 5,000-pound note (roughly three US dollars) wedged between them. In the morning, the money was gone, and the second slab lay strewn in pieces on the floor. The staff seemed upbeat. “I actually think the work proves itself this way,” one pretty assistant ventured. “Gabriel set up the idea that you couldn’t get at the money without destroying the work, and, well, see for yourself.”
Over at Istanbul-based Galeri Non, dealer Derya Demir was also putting a sunny spin on a tricky situation; as of the press opening, she still hadn’t determined if her wares had even left Turkey. She navigated visitors through a series of A4 printouts depicting the work (by Erdem Ergaz and Extrastruggle). “I appreciate this format,” Demir laughed. “People stop to hear you explain each piece, rather than just dashing by.”
As Art Dubai evolves, so does its program of commissions, which this year included a “Intern VIP lounge” (courtesy of Ahmet Ögüt) and an official fair sound track that riffed on Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker (Fatima Al-Qadiri). Martínez oversaw the newly expanded sculpture park (with works by Mounir Fatmi, Chris Burden, and Slavs and Tatars) while CCA Lagos founder-director Bisi Silva took over the Marker program, selecting five galleries and nonprofit spaces representative of West African “Cities in Transition”: Lagos, Douala, Ségou, Accra, and Dakar. Nubuke Foundation directors Odile Tevie and Kofi Setordji seemed thrilled to be reaching a wider audience. “Our main issue is always exposure,” Tevie admitted.
One’s visibility is always at stake. After dining souk-side with Douglas Coupland, Michael Stipe, and artist Kamrooz Aram, we opted to take a gondola through the canals of Jumeirah’s Mina A’Salam hotel. On our way we passed the promenade of restaurants and al fresco diners like curator Stuart Comer, writer Negar Azimi, and dealers Chantal Crousel and Sylvia Kouvali. “Is this what Venice is like?” Coupland asked as we glided over the crystal clear, Glade-scented water. “Almost,” I replied, feebly.
Wednesday saw the return of the fair’s cerebral sister, the Global Art Forum. Instigated by writers HG Masters and Shumon Basar, this year’s program—cryptically titled “It Means This”—sought to tackle “definitionism,” i.e., the meaning of making more meanings. Under this elastic framework, the forum provoked discussions on neologisms; the debut of Hassan Khan’s sound piece Purity; a teaser for Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Tristan Bera’s forthcoming ode to Bavaria; a group therapy session on “Middle East Nervous Anxiety” (MENA); and a panel on “careering” featuring Coupland and Stipe and (of course) Hans Ulrich Obrist. Between the segments, visitors were treated to commissioned “commercials” by Abdullah Al Mutairi and Lantian Xie, who filmed a group of local Chinese schoolgirls singing. “A foggy day / in London Town / had me low / had me down,” they chant, pigtails swinging. It means . . . wait, what?
Meanwhile, over at the VIP Lounge, a separate “Terrace Talks” program played host to distinguished guests like Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, and Haro Cümbüşyan, who was there to talk video art with Comer. “It’s easier to live with these kinds of works when you aren’t actually living with them,” Cümbüşyan confessed, citing how his family’s New York apartment makes the perfect viewing space because they still haven’t managed to move in. “Right now, we have Ed Atkins in what will be my son’s room. That may be a bit intense for a six-year-old.”
I would have liked to hear more, but I had to cut out to the beachfront digs of Dana Farouki, who was celebrating Anne Pasternak with a whole Creative Time posse. From there I forged on to a backyard barbecue hosted by the Third Line’s Claudia Cellini, and then back to the beach, where Absolut was hosting a late-night dance party under the lights of the Burj Al Arab. When we arrived at our last stop, artist Fayçal Baghriche was ruling the dance floor, as attending muses shimmied around him, breaking out in occasional belly dancing. (“Bedouin music,” a girl at the bar dismissed it.) Apparently we had just missed the main event: a collaboration between Tarek Atoui and André Vida, who would also be performing together for the Global Art Forum. (Vida would condense Atoui’s entire score for his recent Sharjah commission into three exuberant minutes). “There are people who just understand each other, without all the complicated explanations,” Obrist would note later. “André and Tarek understand each other.”
So that’s what this all means.
THE INVITATION CAME on White House stationery. It was the menu for a three-course dinner, cast in slightly outré terms. On arrival at Marian Goodman’s gallery for the March 20 opening of “Mother Tongue,” Danh Vo’s much anticipated New York debut, there were no tables in evidence, no white-gloved waitstaff, no food. A closer look at the menu, one of several odd artifacts displayed in lighted cases, showed it to be dated November 25, 1963. That was three days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The dinner had never been served.
An air of melancholy settled in, centering on the battered wooden frame of a single chair isolated at one end of the front room. Arrayed around it were the evening’s guests. They included dealers Isabella Bortolozzi, Niklas Svennung, and Johann König; artists Jim Hodges and Sung Hwan Kim; and an impressive cohort of institutional heft: Guggenheim Museum curator Nancy Spector, MoMA curator Doryun Chong, Kunsthalle Basel president Martin Hatebur, Artists Space board vice president Igor DaCosta, and Metropolitan Museum curator Nicholas Cullinan. Gazing down at a pile of black horsehair on the floor—the chair’s stuffing—Cullinan said, “This is beautiful.” And somehow it was.
The Vietnamese-born, Denmark-raised Vo has a way of personalizing material totally unrelated to him. A primary example is his current installation of the late Martin Wong’s effects at the Guggenheim, which awarded him the latest Hugo Boss Prize. “I had an early moment with him,” said the Berlin-based König before confessing that he didn’t quite understand the show. “He said, ‘I have a gallery already.’ ” That was Bortolozzi’s. “We’ve been working together for eight years,” she said proudly.
As König would soon learn, nearly every object in the show resulted from the auction of the estate of former defense secretary Robert McNamara, who presided over the shameful American war in Vietnam. Goodman and Vo took home a good third of it. The artist spent ten days in the gallery trying to figure out what to do with it. The chair, which cost them six figures, was particularly problematic, the artist said. There was nothing to do but take it apart and make sculpture from the parts, but the process was nerve-wracking. “It was so expensive!” he said, though it’s probably more expensive now. “I was afraid of what Marian would think.”
“It was a labor of love, the whole experience,” she said, almost misty-eyed at the memory. Among the objects in the back room was a wall piece of flattened cardboard beer cases. It had gilded labels and was hung with steel animal traps. “What I really wanted to do,” Vo giggled, “was to turn Marian’s gallery into an S&M club!”
Downtown, at the Hotel Americano, the 1963 dinner was served at last, carried off to perfection by chef Joseph Buenconsejo, who had clearly done a great deal of his own research. “I think the last time I had escargot was in 1963,” said collector Phil Aarons, helping himself to one of the delicious hors d’oeuvres that Buenconsejo added to the menu on his own.
“I think Danh’s brain is like a giant synapse in the sky,” Goodman said in a heartfelt dinner toast to Vo. “I just keep thinking about that chair, that lonely chair. It’s an object that bears witness to that time. All those people that are dead or damaged. It’s the soul of this country, so tragic and so moving to be able to comment on such a deep level.” The speech seemed unusually emotional for Goodman. “Not at all,” said gallery director Rose Lord. “Not since we bought her a microphone.”
The following night took another politically tinged tack at the Jack Shainman Gallery, which was hosting a reception for Richard Mosse’s forthcoming multimedia installation in the Irish pavilion at the next Venice Biennale. A $4,500 print of a landscape photograph by Mosse—for sale in an edition of thirty to benefit the exhibition—hung on one wall, a larger image from the same series on another. Mosse shot it on the Rwandan border with Eastern Congo, using expired military reconnaissance film normally employed for camouflage detection. In Mosse’s hands, it turned the landscape a surreal hot pink or blood red that is as beautiful as it is sickening. “It’s about disease and nightmares,” Mosse said. “The conflict there has killed 5.4 million people since 1998.” One day while he was filming, he narrowly escaped death as well. “It’s brutal,” he admitted, “to explore human horror with kitsch.”
The atmosphere was very different at Lehmann Maupin’s Chrystie Street space, where Vladimir Restoin-Roitfeld was presenting paintings by Nicolas Pol, and even more elevating at Metro Pictures, where B. Wurtz was showing grandly fey new sculptures of reconfigured found objects—tiny flags, straws, wires, buttons, broken clocks with hands dangling yogurt container lids—that easily capture the artist’s light-hearted spirit. “I think this show is really good,” said White Columns director Matthew Higgs, before departing for a buffet dinner at Zampa with dealers Kate MacGarry and Jose Martos. Higgs had a surprise in store: At Shoot the Lobster in May, during Frieze Week, Martos will show objects from the personal collection that Higgs has built with Anne Collier. One can never be too creative these days!
Left: Artists B. Wurtz and David Diao. Right: Dealers Janelle Reiring and Jay Gorney.
Friday night was supposed to bring the opening of Justin Matherly’s inaugural exhibition with Paula Cooper’s second-floor gallery, but late that afternoon came an e-mail that said the complicated installation was still in progress and no reception would be held. The dinner at Bottino, however, went on as scheduled—absent the artist, who was still in the gallery, waiting for the concrete in the massive sculpture he had to haul up to the space, a few pieces at a time, to dry. His mother was there, however, along with Whitney curator Carter Foster, collectors Peter and Jill Strauss, private dealer Lisa Schiff, and John Auerbach, the e-commerce director of Christie’s online auctions of the cache recently let loose on the market by the Andy Warhol Foundation. The results so far, he said, have been spectacular.
So are the rising rents in Chelsea. They have now forced out the venerable Postmasters Gallery after fifteen years on West Nineteenth Street. Fortunately, it will reopen in September in a downtown location that dealer Magda Sawon was not prepared to disclose. On view in an exhibition titled “TMI” were paintings that look back over the checkered career of David Diao, one the first artists to show with the gallery when it opened in the 1980s heyday of the East Village. His exhibition explores the mysterious values that the market has assigned to art over the past few decades, but it might as well be about New York real estate. If there are fifty ways to say goodbye, this is definitely one of the more stirring.
Left: Dealer Magda Sawon. Right: Butler Gallery director Anna O'Sullivan with artist Richard Mosse.
THEY WEREN’T TOGETHER LONG, and they were arguably mismatched from the start. She was older, more serious, sober, and down to earth. By all outward appearances, she was also indifferent to the business of buying and selling art. She flirted with the deeper, more disruptive powers of contemporary cultural production until they blew up in her face two years ago, compelling her to return to a more diplomatic, community-minded middle ground. He, meanwhile, was young and brash, an ostentatious lush. No matter how much noise he made in her direction—the special projects, discursive platforms, and window dressing all around—he had commerce in his heart and the market on his mind. In 2009, the stars aligned and she slipped into his orbit. For the next few years, they found themselves locked into a loose marriage of scheduling convenience. But with so many clearly diverging agendas on display, their partnership was ultimately doomed. This was the year, then, when the Sharjah Biennial and Art Dubai finally broke up, divided their audiences, and split the month of March between them.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as all that when the Sharjah Biennial opened for the eleventh time last week, having shifted its dates a few days earlier than usual, and a week before Art Dubai. But for anyone with limited time or other obligations in life, this meant choosing one initiative over the other. Unless you happen to live in the UAE, in which case your local art scene just kicked into hyperdrive (lucky you) and will remain so until well after this cantankerous twenty-first-century caravan of biennial hoppers and art fair hangers-on packs up, goes home, and stops asking you sensitive, socially awkward questions about censorship, the purpose of art in autocratic societies, the most gauche and outrageous things to do in Dubai, the absence of any Arab Spring action, or the trial of those ninety-four Emirati political activists who have been charged with crimes against the UAE’s national security.
That said, the presence of so much artistic (if not political) action is itself an interesting measure of how much the cultural landscape here has changed. A decade ago, Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi, one of the daughters of Sharjah’s longstanding ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi, was an art-school student in her early twenties when she took inspiration from Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta and overhauled the biennial completely. Antonia Carver, now the director of Art Dubai, was working as a journalist and critic at the time. She called that first edition of Sharjah’s second incarnation “a pacemaker” and predicted “the launch of a new era” for contemporary art in the Gulf.
In many ways, Sheikha Hoor was onto something and Carver was right. More than a hundred galleries have since opened in Dubai. Sharjah today boasts around twenty museums. Even discounting the mega art-money-real-estate projects launched, stalled, or looming ominously on the horizon in Abu Dhabi, philanthropic foundations and nonprofit project spaces are popping up all over the Emirates. What sets Sharjah apart is the steadiness and modesty of its approach. The biennial started small and grew. Now it is just one piece of a larger, more complex puzzle that includes residencies, production grants, five new exhibition venues, and regular public programming, all of which falls under the auspices of the four-year-old Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF). Parallel histories of institution building and exhibition-making elsewhere in the Gulf are spotty and inconsistent at best (nota bene, Doha). Sharjah is not without its problems, but the causes of its conflicts, when it comes to art, tend to oscillate between strategies that are too daring and those that play it too safe.
This year, it was unquestionably the latter. Ever since Yuko Hasegawa was appointed curator of the current edition, it has become palpably clear that Sharjah would follow up the debacle of 2011—a gutsy exhibition by Suzanne Cotter, Rasha Salti, and Haig Aivazian, which took risks and paid a high price for them—with a professional show that would steer clear of any danger and give local audiences a lot by way of playgrounds and gardens. The themes and touchstones were never particularly convincing—courtyards, migrations, trade routes, the fourteenth-century traveler Ibn Battuta, the twentieth-century scholar Edward Said—and the underlying approach to postcolonialism and identity politics always sounded out of date. Worse, the notion of turning away from the arrogance of the West to consider the ascendance of the East between a glorious past and a globalized future seemed less an idea to shape an exhibition than a marketing campaign for an urban renewal plan.
Left: Stefan Tarnowski of the Home Workspace Program, Ashkal Alwan director Christine Tohme, and Victoria Lupton, Ashkal Alwan's project coordinator. Right: Artist Tarek Atoui.
Not that Hasegawa didn’t offer a sprightly argument: “Rather than simply unearthing the history of the city,” she said, “the concept of the courtyard as something semi-private and semi-public hints at the possibility of such spaces functioning as places of skepticism and resistance with regard to things like superficial globalization, perfunctory democratic dialogue, and the shape of demonstrations in the current social and political circumstances.” It just seemed as though Sharjah’s courtyards were a decoy, a string of spaces where architects simply placed large sculptural objects—SANAA’s acrylic bubbles, Studio Mumbai’s lean-tos, Thilo Frank’s huge fake rock with mirrors and a swing inside—while ideas related to sound, language, music, and the transmission of historical knowledge through, say, song remained curiously undisclosed as potentially more interesting themes.
One of the great things about Sharjah is that it opens without any of the varnish of a press preview or a VIP vernissage. One day, the biennial just starts, and last Wednesday, it did so with no catalogues, no guidebooks, no new tote bags (the horror), and about half the staggeringly high number of video works dysfunctional. I grabbed a fellow writer and together we coaxed a marked-up, hastily photocopied set of maps from two young women in the SAF office who were feeling their way blindly through their first day on the job. By nightfall, we had all shifted into treasure-hunt mode (ninety-nine artists, thirty-three sites, four days to find them all) as we scoped out the lay of the land, divided as it was into four color-coded plots, one swiftly rebranded the red-light district by Ashkal Alwan director Christine Tohme.
Left: Artist Taus Makhacheva. Right: Artist Carsten Nicolai performing as alva noto in the courtyard of Bait Obaid Al Shamsi.
A performance by the artist Wael Shawky, titled Dictums 10:120 and featuring thirty-two qawwali singers, drifted through the alleyways and over the perimeter walls of the new-old heritage area, drawing us in and, following the artists Jananne al-Ani and Susan Hefuna, up to the rooftops for a better view. The song they sang was composed of random bits of dialogue about the biennial, arranged non sequitur, translated into Urdu, and adapted to a centuries-old style of emotionally intense, devotional Sufi music. The lyrics shuffled between hilarious examples of empty artspeak and pointed references to just about all of the issues that had precipitated the art-versus-audience crisis last time. Clearly on a roll, Shawky’s video Al-Araba al-Madfuna (2012) was also a highlight of this biennial, featuring boys in fake mustaches reciting an incisive text about political inheritance and the exhaustion of resources by the late Egyptian writer Mohamed Mustageb.
Later that night, I caught up with Carver, the artist Basim Magdy (showing a great video and a suite of drawings), the curator and critic Murtaza Vali, and a very pregnant Laura Egerton of the Abraaj Group Art Prize. We were all so late getting through security to the gala dinner that it took me an hour of puzzling over the bucket of confiscated lighters at the entrance before realizing we’d missed the awards ceremony completely. Sheikha Hoor’s father made an impressive exit. The rest of us packed onto a broken down bus and headed for the biennial afterparty in Dubai, hosted, per long-standing tradition, by the Third Line and Bidoun. Held in the bar of the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, it was a low-key affair. The Third Line’s Sunny Rahbar rushed by in a blur of red and purple sequins and told us to hold tight for a change in music. I wandered into a debate between Shaina Anand and Ashok Sukumaran of CAMP, who were arguing duration and video with John Akomfrah and Lina Gopaul, both founding members of the Black Audio Film Collective. Akomfrah’s The Unfinished Conversation (2012) is a layered history of our times as told through the biography of the Jamaican-born academic Stuart Hall. “I think we pushed single-channel video as far as it could go,” said Akomfrah. But for all the genius of threading forty-five minutes of archival material across multiple screens, a straw poll that day had told him no one wants more than fifteen minutes of video, even of good work. What to do? Make great work. The Unfinished Conversation was worth its time twice over.
I ducked out of the party early but heard from a friend the next day that the bus ride home had been “complete mayhem, everyone drunk, Ernesto Neto on the mic, singing the whole way.” We still had days and days of programming ahead of us—a marathon performance by Otobong Nkanga; film programs organized by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tilda Swinton, among others; music by Carsten Nicolai and Ryuichi Sakamoto; a delightful boat ride across the creek for a project by Shimabuku, with the promise of salt-and-pepper ice cream on the other side—so I skipped the various excursions to neighboring Ajman (too sordid, too creepy), despite writer Stephanie Bailey’s winning promise to keep the nightlife “civilized messy,” or was it “messy civilized”?
After four days of good behavior, I was, indeed, done. On my way to the airport, I remembered having made a quick trip to Sharjah last year, during a long layover in Dubai. Sheikha Hoor had curated a video exhibition then called “In Spite of It All,” featuring fourteen works from the permanent collection that had figured into previous biennials. It was an excellent study of violence and reprieve, and it had been done not for an international audience but for Sharjah as it is every other day. It was a fraction of the biennial’s size, but it was coherent and concise. Given the scheduling shift, Hasegawa’s edition hadn’t drawn a huge crowd, but it was a smart crowd, consisting primarily of artists and curators from all over the world, with sizable contingents from Brazil, India, and Japan. Taken together, I think this means the biennial will be all right—and maybe in the long run even better—on her own.
Left: Artist Otobong Nkanga performing Taste of Stone, Itiat Esa Ufok in Bait Khaled bin Ibrahim Al Yousif. Right: Artist Simon Fujiwara with writer Stephanie Bailey.
“THIS SIDE OF THE ROOM is still very, very quiet!” said Christie’s Francis Outred, brandishing his hammer in our direction. “Obviously the cheap seats.” Cue peals of laughter, but the stakes were low by then anyhow; all the big lots had already come and gone. Outside it was cold, wintery, early March, but inside the Showroom, where we’d all gathered for this fund-raising dinner and auction, it was warmth all around.
Apparently the secret ingredient to a robust fund-raiser lies not just in the right combination of benevolent (and well-heeled!) guests, but also in picking the right emerging artist, who, nearly a decade (and much success) later, will happily pop over to London from New Delhi to whip up a marvelous seven-course meal for sixty special invitees. It was a good thing that said artist, Subodh Gupta, has a storeroom full of just the right kind of silver tableware, the raw material, of course, for his art. And of course the tableware itself was also available for purchase, with all proceeds going to support the Showroom and its outreach program. (You could have it at twice the price if you didn’t want to take it home dirty.)
The Showroom is a compact public space in west London dedicated to giving exhibitions to artists who haven’t yet had significant showings in the city. The institution—currently under the stewardship of Emily Pethick, who has referred to it as an “urban think tank”—prides itself on its unique commissions (the Otolith Group, Emily Wardill, and Petra Bauer are some recent examples) and its outreach in the local community.
This year marks the Showroom’s thirtieth anniversary, which surely merits a big party and, appropriately, a rare fund-raiser. To ease the pressure on chef Gupta, a group of volunteers—a veritable who’s who of the London art world—turned up to help prep in the kitchen over the weekend for Monday’s dinner: Thomas Dane’s Martine d’Anglejan-Chatillon, ICA director Gregor Muir, Serpentine curator Kathryn Rattee—not to mention patrons of the arts such as Maria Sukkar and Emily Tsingou. We were coming close to having too many cooks in the kitchen.
Thankfully, everyone was keen to roll up their sleeves and pitch in for the cause. Gupta was like a very calm conductor gently nudging his musicians in this exercise in home cooking on a grand scale. Of course the recipes are his mother’s. “Home cooking,” he explained, “is far lighter in Indian cuisine. The Indian food you get in restaurants is too rich and heavy.” Chef Gupta was not even fazed when the fish was still frozen and not yet scaled and deboned. Muir provided a bit of levity when he declined a Showroom apron and donned his recently acquired House of Lords one—perhaps a hint of things to come, someone suggested.
Left: Neil Wenman, dealer Iwan Wirth, and Jane Carr. Right: Artist Subodh Gupta.
On the evening itself, extra help came in the form of Margot Henderson, chef and owner of Rochelle Canteen. She arrived just as dinner was about to commence to provide expert assistance and, I suspect, some good-natured calm. The highlights of the meal included steamed banana leaf–wrapped sea bass and lamb curry. And like the various chefs, the guests were a mixture of gallery and museum folk and other art patrons. I clocked several key London dealers, representatives from the evening’s hosts, Hauser & Wirth, as well as Sadie Coles, Angela Choon of David Zwirner, Jane Hamlyn of Frith Street, members from local neighbors Lisson Gallery, and Alex Sainsbury of Raven Row.
“This artwork can also get you drunk,” Outred said, pointing at the six bottles of wine that made up Anya Gallaccio’s Motherlode Zinfandel. And with that, he proceeded to get down to the auction. The target was Ł50,000, and the highlight was not merely artworks but also a triple bill of more “experiential” fare: a tour of Jim Lambie’s studio with the curator of the Glasgow International, Sarah McCrory, which includes a visit to Lambie’s poetry club; a trip to Delhi and lunch with Gupta in his studio; and a dinner cooked by the Otolith Group accompanied by the director of the Showroom. All stuff very much in the mode of an institution that prizes the verities and vicissitudes of a life in art.
Yes, the evening was a London love-in, with some good food and fizz thrown in. And everyone stumbled out into the snow-flecked London night, slightly tipsy and very pleased to have had a hand in the action. What better spirit could a think tank hope to cultivate?
Left: The Showroom Thirtieth Anniversary dinner. Right: Valeria Napoleone of Studio Voltaire, Fatima Maleki, and Manuela Wirth.
Left: At the US-Mexican border. Right: Otras Obras. (Photos: Travis Diehl)
THE GREYHOUND STOPPED behind a McDonald’s on the US side. Through a grubby door, around the restaurant’s dumpster and grease trap, past several guards and through a parking deck and you’re in Mexico. There, silhouetted in the dusk of the seedy Centro district, was the Tijuana Arch, a replica of the Saint Louis Gateway Arch—cruelly tripled, it seemed, by a pair of Golden Arches, looming just as large. Past stalls of drug rugs, statues, beers, and so on, after a few blocks down a semideserted Avenida Revolución and then a left on Sexta I saw a guy in a Kings cap—Los Angeles artist Keith Rocka Knittel, thank gawd. I had just started reaching for my printout directions. I’d traveled many kilometers that day for the opening of his and NAFTA-based, Japanese-Canadian artist Steve Kado’s “1992 Toyota Corolla (BLACK),” at temporary alt-space Otras Obras (“Other Works”). Following their collaboration in Toronto a few months back, this show completes the artists’ self-described “America sandwich.” “The Mud Man confirmed,” Keith said. I gave him a dry look. “Oh—Steve didn’t tell you? Never mind . . . ”
Otras Obras is a white-walled former hair salon squeezed between a chic bar and a squat, a block from the main tourist drag. Kado and Los Angeles/Tijuana–based Michael Ray-Von (aka Mikey, curator and caretaker of the gallery underwritten and cocurated by New York scene promoter Todd Patrick [aka Todd P]) were doing some final touchups. Half an hour till the opening and still no “Mud Man,” but there was a line of artworks centered in the gallery, back to front: a video of some Solo cups and tennis balls tossed down various slopes, a small chunk of plywood, a four-by-eight-foot wall at 3:4 scale, and behind that a single PA speaker unspooling a twenty-four-hour cycle of mood-altering binaural waves—in mono. “Right now you’re supposed to feel attentive,” said Kado. Clashing, rubbing, heaving, oscillating tones simmered just under everyone’s skin.
We hopped across the road for a pallet of Monster energy drinks and when we got back Geraldo Guzman was there as Mud Man. He spread mud onto the plywood with a little trowel, then dabbed mud all over his skin, boots, and cap. His eyes were covered by dark glasses. As he took his place on the plywood Kado prepared the evening’s only refreshment: a mix of Monster and El Mezcalito cane liquor titled Blind Rage. The Mud Man stood like a statue in the absolute middle of the gallery; the binaurals worked their quiet magic and ice cubes bobbed in the Blind Rage. It was a strange opening.
People drifted in, coming in twos and threes, mostly Tijuana and San Diego residents—from some curious stoned kids to Luis Ituarte, director of the nearby Casa del Túnel Art Center. Temra Pavlovic was there, a Los Angeles–based filmmaker who had curated the previous show at Otras Obras; so was Clay Gibson, artist and friend of Mikey’s from CalArts, recently engaged in a $120 MX/$10 US Sabadó Tattoo project at the gallery. Most of the LA crowd blew their wad last time, though, or for one reason or another hadn’t made the trek. Spirits were high and queasy—most folks walked in and around the Mud Man and then back outside to hold up the front of the building, or stuck close to the punch, keeping the diminutive wall between them and that eerie human:
ˇˇˇEl hombre de lodo!!!
He is a Centro fixture; more than a few viewers recognized him. When you put a dollar or a peso in his muddy tip box he gives a slight, viscous bow. He was also getting paid by the gallery—“muddying” the question of exploitation—but the piece was having the desired effect. People talked in low tones and took furtive pictures. Solo cups rattled. Guzman aka Mud Man stood statuesquely and a neighborhood kitten who had been terrorizing the furniture and shoelaces all night started fishing for those bright peso notes in the tip box. The bilingual multigenerational transnational crowd breathed into the weirdness.
It’d been almost three hours and the Mud Man was getting shaky; the mud was dry; he needed a break. Keith ran down the street for some empanadas. Filmmaker Daniel Roses asked Guzman about his life as he rested, eating with mud-crusted hands. Yes, as it turns out Guzman had spent almost thirty years in Los Angeles before being deported. Meanwhile, the artists faced some sharp questions.
“So how different is it for you guys to actually experience the Mud Man, in contrast to your idea of having the Mud Man?” asked Pavlovic.
“It’s crazy having the real person. Really weird,” said Kado. And Rocka Knittel: “It’s kind of exactly how I imagined it though.”
A bit later, a woman out front prodded for an explanation. “Inanimate objects becoming animate,” said Kado, “and the opposite happening.”
“Like you hiring this man?”
It’s stock Marxist critique and the work lay there helpless but Kado is one of those funny Marxists and he could handle it: “Although he does it every day.” So is the Mud Man an extension of You the Artist’s mind? Is your degree in exploitation? “You’ve never met a person who hasn’t been exploited,” said Kado. Never, out of all our billions and billions.
“And oh, excuse me . . . ” The Mud Man was closing down shop, and it was time to take one last group photo. The binaurals seemed to have doubled in volume and now cued “relaxation”; Guzman rinsed off in the bathroom, leaving a muddy ring around the toilet bowl, and there was somehow no more Blind Rage and there was lipstick all over that cat and Guzman took off. Buenas noches Guzman and thank you.
There was a tableau vivant against one wall with the street kitten as Christ-child centerpiece, smooched by Los Angeles saxophonist Zumi Rosow, who had shown up at the last minute with a carload of Angeleno artists. All that was left were rumors of Mud Men, though. And now we could let loose. The afterparty was at Bodega Aragón a few blocks away; the beers were twenty pesos and DJ Tony Gallardo wore a camo jacket circa Desert Storm. The next morning, surrounded by crooning vendors in the screech and stop of border traffic, those three arches, Golden and Tijuana, modulated into throbbing mono.
STORM CLOUDS gathered last Tuesday, March 5, at the same time as a formally attired crowd convened at the Hotel Vitale lobby to fete artist Leo Villareal and inaugurate The Bay Lights, a massive public work covering the San Francisco Bay Bridge. When I arrived, the affable artist himself was just inside the hotel, greeting guests with a degree of comfort that belied the idea that his eight-million-dollar project might be doused during its Grand Lighting.
Villareal’s work is dubbed the world’s largest LED light sculpture. It spans nearly two miles and straddles communities with investments in art, technology, and political and civic sectors. Representatives from each were present at the top-tier dinner, and there were other soirees unfolding at every view-offering venue, a boon for the already thriving local restaurant scene. The official launch party was hosted by media-savvy California lieutenant governor and former SF mayor Gavin Newsom, and its guests were a diverse mix, though art folks were not necessarily dominant. I chatted with lawyers, SF MoMA director Neil Benezra, lifestyle magazine publishers, Burning Man regulars (Villareal among them), programmers, and even a few artists (Ken Goldberg, Ana Teresa Fernandez) who gathered to celebrate a project that honors a bridge less iconic, but more traveled, than the Golden Gate. Oakland currently has more cultural cachet than Marin, but nevertheless, SF mayor Ed Lee was in attendance, not beleaguered Oakland official Jean Quan.
The party was initially a sequestered, indoor affair, with dinner leading to the 9 PM launch. We were marshaled to our tables with a gentle PR firmness. At each place setting was an official round brooch with tiny pulsating LEDs stylized to resemble the bridge. Some of us were wary of wearing these mysterious, interactive accessories, until we were alerted that the pins also granted entrance to VIP viewing areas. One guest noted that they were selling for $300 on the project’s website, a crucial arm of the fund-raising effort. (Six million dollars have already been raised; another two million are required to keep the thing running for the next couple of years.)
Ben Davis, a handsome graphic communications maven who conceived the bridge project, made remarks, frequently alluding to the incredible community spirit behind it. Those in the room, he said, were a “special circle of generosity.” Befitting the massive public works nature of The Bay Lights, he gave props to prosaic partners like Caltrans and the Toll Authority. Emphatic applause erupted when the legal team got a shout-out.
Villareal took the mic after the salad course, offering heartfelt thanks to Burning Man buddies, but mostly to his family, including his father, who came up from Cuernavaca, Mexico, and his beaming wife and “secret weapon” Yvonne Force, who wore a low-cut orange caftan. We were able to polish off mains and dessert before being offered the opportunity to view the bridge lights from either a pedestrian pier across the street or a hotel suite balcony. I opted for the latter, and squeezed into a frighteningly full elevator that alighted on the eighth floor. Smiling volunteers offered transparent plastic umbrellas as rain began to pelt us—just in time for the big event! The slickened streets resembled an Impressionist painting: Caillebotte, with Prius. Facing the bridge, we saw a growing huddled mass clutching umbrellas, some of them decorated with blinking white lights. It was a cinematic moment, a waterfront noir, with swells lashing the embankment, dousing the paper lanterns that festooned the velvet-roped VIP pier. Soothing electronic music was audible, along with the muffled sound of amplified voices. From that jam-packed balcony we could just make out Newsom bantering with Villareal, who described the piece as a “digital campfire” for the city.
Left: Collectors Lisa Pritzker and John Pritzker. Right: Leo Villareal Sr. and Yvonne Force Villareal.
An ill-conceived New Year’s Eve–style countdown ensued, and the bridge cables became an electrified canvas for Villareal’s algorithmically derived sequences. The lights pulsed with a smooth rhythm, but there were no fireworks. It’s a glitzy, meditative work: spectacular, but calming in the way public artworks must be. Since the piece had been in testing phase for weeks, there was an anticlimactic feeling for locals who had already seen the thing in action (not always with great admiration: One LA-based collector was pleasantly reminded of the fountains outside the Bellagio).
But for the lighting, there was plenty of love in the blustery night, in that swanky hotel, and along the Embarcadero, where unofficial partiers were capturing the first posts of what will certainly be an Instagram classic. The energy dispersed to other bayside venues, the Villareal event moving toward an afterparty at a touristy seafood shack called Sinbad’s where revelers danced and basked in the low-wattage LED glow.
“NEW YORK IS NOT BACK TO NORMAL!” Klaus Biesenbach proclaimed. He was standing at the front of a bus filled with curators and journalists making its way down Cross Bay Boulevard through a raging snowstorm last Friday. Destination: the Rockaways, where Biesenbach was inaugurating VW Dome 2, a geodesic structure that will serve as a community center/public programs hub over the next several months. The bus turned into a parking lot, and a pristine white dome—eerily futuristic against the ravaged boardwalk—and fleet of Volkswagens came into sight. This dome bears some resemblance to the first VW Dome, a smart performance and event facility currently installed in the MoMA PS1 courtyard, though this second venue is marked by large windows that provide epic views of the destroyed beach. We stood shivering and buoyant in the bright, unheated space as the ceremony unfolded, until Biesenbach corralled the audience and led us for a walk on the niveous sand so we could “take it all in.”
“This is his present to us,” a wayward surfer told me as we shielded our eyes from the snow and listened to Biesenbach insist that “the international press must take note—the trains are still not running!”
“It’s like he’s running for mayor of New York.”
All this made for a bizarre, perhaps poignant intermission in Armory Week, a period still flush with fairs, openings, obligations, soirees, interminglings. On Saturday alone, for instance, you might have caught a Thomas Zipp performance at Harris Lieberman, where women in masks and tall black boots descended on the gallery for a dark, Sartre-inspired musical set. Or attended White Columns’ opening for Sverre Bjertnes (curated by Bjarne Melgaard) and a lively afterparty at the Wooly. Or tried (in vain) to split your time between Rashaad Newsome’s extravagant “Style Ball” at Westway and MoMA PS1’s late-night escapade that encouraged attendees to rage within the museum itself. Business as usual in New York.
That lineup might pale against any given night of, say, Art Basel Miami Beach, but it’s still more than enough to keep a person busy (scratch that—exhausted!). All this and the fairs too—from Scope to Volta and the “curator-driven” Spring Break Art Show to the tonier Armory and ADAA. And of course the Independent—a fair created by galleries for galleries (as the Armory was), an event distinguished by a measure of exclusivity (one must be invited to participate) but also the most “democratic” of Armory Week (it is the only fair that’s free to all comers).
“Welcome to the sexiest booth in the fair,” a dealer said, swaggering out of Gavin Brown’s large section on the Independent’s fourth floor, featuring wallpaper by Thomas Bayrle depicting couples in coital positions. Nearby, fair cofounder Darren Flook stood amid elegant copper sculptures by Michel François that twisted and turned into the air and out across the aisle. A series of pedestals with racks precariously stacked with dishes ran in a neat line nearby. “The fair is about curation in the loosest possible way,” said Flook. He and Elizabeth Dee cooked up the idea for Independent at a bar several years ago. “New York is a brilliant city and it did not have a brilliant fair,” he said. Bright winter sunshine spilled through the windows, lighting up the sculptures—the space was so open that it was difficult to distinguish which artist belonged to which gallery (François to Bortolami, Nicole Wermers’s dish racks to Herald St).
Use of sight lines and unconventional formations is one of the keys to Independent’s success, and for the 2013 edition, architect Christian Wassmann constructed thick walls in Y-like configurations, cordoning off areas for each gallery and again sidestepping the usual cubicle-like fair structure. Each “booth” created common spaces that forced galleries into visual (and social) dialogue with the other. It was easy to lose hours there.
“This fair puts a lot of responsibility on the viewer,” said Aspen Art Museum curator Jacob Proctor. “It’s ironic that it’s the only free fair, but it also has some of the most difficult work.” Stuart Shave Modern Art was (again) the subject of much laudation. (Rumor has it that Oscar Murillo, who the gallery featured last year, sold some four hundred works within a week of his Independent debut.) Shave, whose space was only distinguishable by the title of his gallery printed lightly over one windowpane, presented four tables featuring slabs of dried, unfired clay. The artist, Anna-Bella Papp, a young Transylvanian sculptor (and partner of Victor Man) who has thus far only exhibited in group shows, cut delicate, simple shapes into each, making salient the vulnerability of clay as a medium.
Across the way, the Approach hung sculptures by Jack Lavender. Constellations of chains, circles, and enormous swaths of fabric dangled from the ceiling—a forest of bric-a-brac that opened onto Papp’s understated works. “I love that these are hanging in front of Stuart’s modernist display,” the gallery’s Jake Miller said, gazing at the tables. “It really accentuates them, don’t you think?”
The fair’s preview was greeted by a crowd that had been happily celebrating art since Sunday night, when Lower East Side galleries welcomed early trickles of the global throng. (The electric slide was the dance of choice at the afterparty cohosted by Reena Spaulings and JTT Gallery at La Caverna, and Untitled took over the basement of Bacaro for its exuberant dinner.) Or at least Monday night, when Jon Kessler opened “The Web” at Swiss Institute, a massive exhibition that resembled a DIY version of the CES trade show, and Sylvie Fleury her “It Might as Well Rain Until September” at Salon 94 Bowery, both of which were feted at an elegant meal upstairs at Miss Lily’s. Down the road, Simone Subal threw a dinner for the Georgian artist Anna K. E., and Subal cooked the food herself, setting up long tables in the gallery that were peppered with giant loaves of bread. Butcher knives were passed around so each could cut their own.
The rest of the week flew past as the race toward spring began. Saturday brought dapples of sun and everyone seemed to descend on Chelsea. A line for the Independent snaked around the block, and Wassmann was finally able to erect his own community center—a large, geometric “Tetravilion”—on the roof of the former Dia building. (Intense wind had prevented its use before.) Up there, Wassmann’s busy popup recalled those other temporary domes in the city. (Fuller would be proud!) As one artist put it at Suzanne Geiss’s soigné dinner for Mary Beth Edelson at Edi & the Wolf on Friday night, “Armory Week is really just a series of popups that give way to other popups.” Precarious these structures may be, but in a city as fast as New York, popups might as well be monuments.
Left: Dealer Roland Augustine with collector Ann Tenenbaum. Right: Dealer James Cohan. (All photo: Linda Yablonsky)
MARK TUESDAY, MARCH 5, AS A RARE ONE. On that evening, the gala preview of the Art Dealers Association of America’s fiftieth anniversary Art Show achieved a heretofore unimagined peak by delighting everyone present, be they one of the Tisches, Lauders, Rockefellers, Mugrabis, or DeWoodys swarming the Park Avenue Armory; a museum personage (Glenn Lowry, Adam Weinberg, Richard Armstrong, Arnold Lehman); or an actual artist (Kiki Smith, Jannis Kounellis, John Newman, Pat Steir).
Not one of the seventy-two intimate booths was a dud. From the Mitchell-Innes & Nash display of museum-worthy Jean Arp bronzes at the jump to David Zwirner’s surprise showing of 1930s Milton Avery paintings, from P.P.O.W.’s resuscitation of Martin Wong to Tanya Bonakdar’s spotlight on a buoyant Martin Boyce, the fair that caters to uptown tastes turned in its most downtown edition yet.
Left: Dealer Anton Kern. Right: Dealer David Zwirner with Christie's John Good.
In recent years, as desirable early- and late-modern material has dried up or gone to auction, the ADAA has given itself a transfusion of younger blood by bringing an increasing number of contemporary dealers into the fold. Rather than slap a lot of different, dining room–ready pictures all over the walls, salon style (as Acquavella did), forty members at this fair went with single-artist displays, effectively branding their galleries in an artist’s image rather than the other way around. Add the preview’s plentiful food and drink to the visually stimulating and emotionally affecting experience of a fair that did not feel like a pet store, and you had an elegant, if not insouciant, kickoff to Armory Arts Week.
“I like something different,” Zwirner said, in response to the many raised eyebrows regarding Avery’s oddly fresh stripper and circus paintings, none of which have appeared in an American exhibition before. “Isn’t it nice to look back?” he added, as dealer Philippe Ségalot sat himself down for a long look and MoMA curator Laura Hoptman took collector A. C. Hudgins on down the aisle, as if they were going to see the wizard.
Left: National Arts Club curator Stacy Engman with dealer David Maupin. Right: Dealer Tim Blum and consultant Alex Marshall.
At Leslie Tonkonow, a densely plotted landscape painting by Dean Byington was rather wizardly, as was the freestanding Brie Ruais sculpture at Nicole Klagsbrun, one of the few dealers introducing an artist barely out of grad school. At the opposite end of the generational spectrum, Kounellis blocked entrance to the Cheim & Read booth with a wall of steel, coal, and cobblestones embedded with an assemblage of old sewing machines. “My father came from Estonia with a Singer like that,” said Jerry Saltz, as Kiki Smith—the focus of the Pace Gallery booth—announced that the old Arte Poverist’s arrival was imminent.
For anyone needing more philosophical depth, Jorinde Voigt was already at David Nolan, explicating a suite of immense gold- and silver-enhanced drawings she based on a letter from Epicurus to Pythocles. For novelty, Tim Blum and Jeff Poe brought canvases by the Chinese avant-gardist Zhu Jinshi, whose swelling slabs of paint were so thick that, Poe said, “You have to lean them against the wall for five years—that’s a condition of sale.”
For theater, one only had to stop by the bar and hors d’oeuvres tables in the back. There Lisa Spellman had immersed the 303 Gallery booth in all things Karen Kilimnik, including a rented prop-shop table and chairs. “People are confused,” Spellman reported. “They keep saying, ‘You mean the artist made all this just for this?’ ”
Left: Dealer Eva Presenhuber. Right: Whitney Chadwick and artist Robert Bechtle with Rosalie Benitez.
But there wasn’t just that. Nonparticipating galleries uptown were flying their colors that night as well. Hauser & Wirth—or rather, the “old” Hauser & Wirth on East Sixty-Ninth Street—opened a show of Rita Ackermann paintings. And Gagosian attracted hordes of other youngish people to the Madison Avenue gallery’s “Ed Ruscha Books & Co.” exhibition.
In Harlem, Gavin Brown showed a group of Steven Shearer paintings to colleagues from the Independent Fair, fresh from installing their borderless booths. Back in midtown, Nolan showed Voigt and friends to the banquettes and steaks at old-school Post House. And before I knew it, Wednesday had arrived and with it, the 2013 Armory Show.
Under director Noah Horowitz, the fair was leaner this year, but with more than two hundred booths it still offered too much of some not very good things. That allowed dealers who went the extra mile to rise above the fray with trapeze ease. The result were robust sales, smart presentations (Eva Presenhuber and Victoria Miro), and collectors crowding stellar new works by Roberto Cuoghi, Piotr Uklanski, Rudolf Stingel, and Kaari Upson in Massimo De Carlo’s booth. With Andy Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner doing the inviting, the Focus section—generally small, independent shops showing emerging or under-the-radar artists—was a genuine hot spot too.
Left: Andy Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner. Right: Dealer Massimo De Carlo.
Zwirner went home early, after dispensing two of his three ultracool video works by Diana Thater, the sole subject of the booth. Susanne Vielmetter, meanwhile, had to keep separating collectors vying for the same Patrick Wilson paintings. “I sold three on the way over here,” the Culver City–based dealer said, flipping the pages of her invoice book as fast as she could. At Kavi Gupta, every wall had red dots.
Three other dealers set themselves apart with allover presentations that settled somewhere between astonishing and laugh-out-loud. Francis Naumann had a thirty-artist homage to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. It included a slinky on wall-mounted steps and a unique Duchamp from around 1963, a readymade pull-toy that the still-reigning Conceptualist signed. Morgan Lehman attracted lots of admiring stares with Kysa Johnson’s grisaille parlor, complete with matching trompe l’oeil walls. And at Rod Bianco Gallery, the never-restrained Bjarne Melgaard collaborated with Sverre Bjertnes on a booth-enveloping, down-and-dirty anti-homage to Mary Boone that included a life-size effigy. Until now, Boone has never done an Armory Show, even without her knowledge.
That evening, at the Armory Party benefiting the Museum of Modern Art, what looked like a thousand people paid $250 each to withstand the earsplitting, distorted sound of recorded music filling the MoMA lobby while they waited for Solange, the evening’s live entertainment. I recognized the faces of three art people—artist Rashaad Newsome, curator Tim Goossens, and Shiner—among the milling crowd of young investors. On the stage, Rodin’s leaning tower of Balzac seemed braced for a siege.
A few minutes before the singer’s 10:15 PM entrance, I enjoyed the preshow amusement of Nicky Spielberg, a young socialite with a degree in child psychology. “Rich young girls today don’t serve on charity boards,” she informed me. “They open galleries and sell art to Saudis.” A lover of art fairs and biennials who goes with her friends to every single one, everywhere, the photogenic Spielberg seems atypical of her social set. She has no desire to collect, only wants to be free to move around to look at art without the burdens of children, pets, belongings, or a mortgage. “Why spend money on art when you can see the best of it, anytime, in museums everywhere?” she asked, as if it found its way there, magically, by itself.
People are buying this year, that’s for sure. Where the art will end up is anyone’s guess. But as long as the path it takes goes through New York, London, Basel, Beijing, Miami, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Venice, Istanbul, Săo Paulo, Paris, or Rome, we can all be happy campers, whether lighting fires or putting them out.
BECAUSE THE PRINCELY FIGURES in the art world are easy to identify, no one ever asks, “Who wears the crown?” Yet that was the tag line for the Jewish Museum’s February 27 Purim Ball at the Park Avenue Armory. The answer was just as clear: None needed, when the power (and the fun) is shared.
Guests were asked to wear masks, tiaras, or crowns, but most of the nearly nine hundred who paid for tickets simply let down their hair to don festive dress and jewels. “I think we’re the only ones who followed the instructions,” said artist Izhar Patkin, whose royal headgear was vintage Vivienne Westwood. Presiding over the first benefit gala of her reign as JM director, Claudia Gould chose to appear, bareheaded, in “forty-year-old Oscar de la Renta,” and somehow looked younger for the choice.
Gould leads an administrative and curatorial team determined to reclaim the radical edge that the museum maintained a half-century ago while playing to its conservative base. So Korean-born Tim Lee—one of the evening’s “honorary Jews”—is getting a show in the fall. Yet even with James Rosenquist as an honoree, art-world figures at the ball were a tiny minority in a crowd that museum deputy director Jens Hoffmann characterized as “supporters, but not necessarily art people.” As someone else put it, “This crowd is very AIG,” a nod to the event’s primary sponsor and its other honoree, AIG chief Robert Benmosche. “There are plenty of people here from HBO,” observed Laurie Simmons. As anyone who has turned on a television or read a magazine over the last year knows, Simmons and Carroll Dunham are the artist parents of Girls creator, director, and star Lena Dunham, the ball’s headlining Purimspieler.
Left: Artists Mimi Thompson and James Rosenquist. Right: Christie's Amy Capellazzo with Joanne Rosen.
The tattooed comedienne drew laughs from the top of her performance. “The thing about Jews is they don’t care who your father is,” she said, “unless he’s on the board of a New York hospital.” She interrupted what for her was a relatively restrained retelling of the Purim story, flipping the bird to the nasty Haman by calling the character “Hey, man,” and ad-libbing a cautionary plea: “If I say something offensive, please don’t fucking tweet it?”
Dunham could have been speaking directly to Christie’s Amy Cappellazzo, whose trial Google glasses attracted several male geeks awed by the sight. “They’re the future,” Cappellazzo said of the glasses, which enable a wearer to tweet, email, shoot videos and photographs, check the weather, and make phone calls all at once.
The multitaskers among us certainly had a leg up on all the openings, cocktail parties, and dinners gathering steam ahead of Armory Arts Week. Thursday offered several opportunities for social and cultural fulfillment in Chelsea alone (and more downtown, with John Gerrard’s real-time digital worlds at Simon Preston). Viewers lined up at Paul Kasmin’s West Twenty-Seventh Street space to step into Will Ryman’s full-scale replication of Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin, its gold-chromed exterior sheathing interior walls covered with golden bullets, shackles, chains, nails, telephone parts, pills, cotton, and other products of American consumer and military power. “The corn is real,” he said. So were the awed expressions on the faces around him.
Left: Dealers Vera Alemani and Carol Greene. Right: Artist Will Ryman.
At the Tenth Avenue Kasmin gallery, Corice Arman worked rooms festooned with her late husband’s paint-splashed assemblages of brushes and bicycle wheels, not seen in New York since 1992. More historical works awaited at Greene Naftali, where gallery director Vera Alemani had gathered a splendid array of kinetic art dating from 1953 to 1975 by Gianni Colombo, a contemporary of Lucio Fontana. This was his first solo show in America. First-nighters ignored a checklist dictum not to touch the work, wiggling knobs on pulsating paintings and climbing tilted black staircases that guaranteed a loss of equilibrium.
For his first exhibition with Jack Shainman, Barkley Hendricks went all out with photographs and both portrait and gold-framed landscape paintings made over the past forty years. The landscapes had a touch of Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire, though Hendricks said they were actually painted on site in Jamaica. “Most people never see that mountain from this perspective,” he said.
Mark Dion’s show at Tanya Bonakdar presented a retrospective of sculpture and works on paper that included both botanical drawings and cartoony sketches that served basically as instructions for realizing the vitrines that house his various collections of objects. “I’m a very talented shopper,” he said, adding that “my work tends to revolve around things I like.” They included the skeletons of sea creatures and many trinkets embedded in tar. “Mark’s drawings really contain all the ideas behind his work,” Bonakdar said during a dinner at Moran’s that drew gallery artists Sarah Sze and Peggy Preheim, MoMA curator Doryun Chong, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts director Harry Philbrick, and Miami collector Lin Lougheed.
Friday night spread the wealth around town, with openings for shows by Wolfgang Laib at Sperone Westwater, Walter Robinson (painting, not critiquing) at Dorian Grey, Joe Zucker at Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue space, and Virginia Overton at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. At the last, the hands-on Overton made her gallery debut with two sculptural installations: a claw-footed bathtub filled with water heated by an old electric coffeemaker, and an impressive wall of fragrant cedar planks harvested from her family’s Tennessee farm.
Then all was quiet till Sunday night, when the Art Dealers Association of America celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a cocktail party in the opulent Empire Room of the Waldorf-Astoria. After being forced to pay $4.50 to check their coats (no tipping), members were treated to a fairly lavish spread of hors d’oeuvres. New president Dorsey Waxter then introduced a film recalling the ADAA’s history. It revealed the laugh-out-loud, now-forgotten rule that once forbid dealers to enter the city’s major museums by the main entrance.
Left: Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong and dealer Arne Glimcher. Right: ADAA executive director Linda Blumberg with ADAA president, dealer Dorsey Waxter.
It also showed sobering footage of the damage that befell Chelsea galleries last fall during Hurricane Sandy, after which the ADAA stepped up to the plate with relief grants to help struggling galleries and institutions like Wallspace, Bortolami, Derek Eller, and the Printed Matter bookstore rebuild. There was also much talk of the members’ purchase on integrity, though one former president of the organization, Roland Augustine, reported that he initially met with strong resistance to his proposal that the board adopt a code of ethics. Strangely, many dealers present were unaware that it was in place.
On Monday, with the ADAA’s annual art fair looming on the horizon, the Bronx Museum of the Arts held its spring gala at Three Sixty Degrees in TriBeCa. Touted as “The Bronx in Venice”—the museum commissioned honoree Sarah Sze to represent the US at this year’s Venice Biennale—the evening also celebrated a $500,000 gift from Shelley and Donald Rubin underwriting the institution’s free admission program.
That philanthropic gesture could provide killer Armory Week with a little perspective. As Lena Dunham commented at the Purim Ball, “There’s a Haman and a Mordecai inside all of us.”
Left: Artist Fred Wilson, Bronx Museum director Holly Block, and artist Pat Steir. Right: High Line Art curator Cecilia Alemani with New Museum deputy director Masimilliano Gioni.
WHEN I ARRIVED in Paris for the Palais de Tokyo show “Soleil Froid” (Cold Sun), the oxymoron could have doubled as the weather forecast. It was frigid as hell, yet the city seemed more convivial and fun than ever.
The festivities began on the last Sunday in February with a cocktail party at the Tokyo Art Club in honor of Argentine artist Julio Le Parc, whose retrospective of optical illusions was the main attraction among the eleven exhibitions that opened that evening. Pleased as punch, Palais head Jean de Loisy exuberantly greeted guests as they poured into the raw space at the top floor of the gargantuan building, orange paint peeling off the walls and a view of the Eiffel Tower from the terrace. As usual, French decadence managed to look effortlessly cool, just as the plainest Parisian woman has a way of tossing on a scarf and carrying herself that makes her trčs jolie. The film Amour had just swept France’s César Awards, and the suave César host Lambert Wilson showed up in a parka and jeans. Orlan arrived with a vertical multicolor punk do. The artist’s son Yamil was the picture of cool, poised on a stool as his band played tango. Fabric artist Martha Le Parc, Julio’s wife, posed regally in a smart fur cape and hat, and when Yamil sang a song by Chagall’s son David McNeil everyone joined in.
Left: Actor Lambert Wilson. Right: Yamil Le Parc.
The crowd filed downstairs to visit the show, passing first through a disorienting curtain of shiny reflective strips, which augured the hallucinogenic visions to come. “It’s funny, Le Parc was offered a show next door at the Museum of Modern Art in 1972,” dealer Frédéric Bugada recounted. “But he couldn’t decide if he should accept or not, so he asked his son to flip a coin and when it came up tails, he turned it down.” What looked like a pristine geometric painting was composed of reflected light; a stunning mobile looked like a gigantic red glass chandelier. Le Parc was kicked out of France as a revolutionary in the late 1960s, and it seems fitting that a member of the International Brigade of Antifascist Painters would experiment in “visual instability.”
Around the corner from the labyrinthine spectacle was one big room devoted to “Hell as Pavilion,” curated by the Deste Foundation’s Nadja Argyropoulou. The mesmerizing patchwork of art in every medium by young Greek artists and their predecessors was punctuated by Vlassis Caniaris’s 1974 Coexistence, consisting of a deconstructed Greek flag sewn over the top of the German tricolor, hinting at a circular history. “Le Parc said to me, ‘So you are the political curator!’ ” Argyropoulou gushed. “I told him that everything in Greece is politics or drama, and he asked me to tango.” Naturally a political scandal overshadowed the exhibition as well: The beleaguered Greek government refused to lend two Byzantine icons due to their strictly religious nature and what was seen as a derogatory use of the word hell in the title. Apparently they did not get the ironic reference to two French films referencing the chasm in mentality between north and south. The propensity for Hellenic drama was evoked humorously in Vassilis Karouk’s video Troades, in which several young women sitting in chairs on an urban hilltop dressed in widow’s black posture rather unconvincingly at lamenting the Trojan War.
Left: Dealer Thaddaeus Ropac and curator Xenia Geroulanos. Right: Dealers Claudia Cargnel and Frédéric Bugada.
To my amazement, the maze did not end there: In the meandering spaces downstairs were eight more shows, including Hicham Berrada’s aquarium-like videos and installations, and Joachim Koester’s fantastic immersive wooden-slat structure hosting videos—a dark trip within a trip. The first, Reptile Brain or Reptile Body, It’s Your Animal, depicted what seemed to be a group of nudists communing with their animal nature. One of the actors resembled the artist: “No, really, that’s not me!” Koester denied. In a section near the end, a robotic animated dog informed us, “There is no difference between time and the other dimensions of space.” Was this meant to be reassuring?
Upstairs, the Greek delegation had already taken over the museum restaurant, Tokyo Eat. “It’s so nice to be in Paris and not at FIAC,” said Anna Gavazzi of Sadie Coles Gallery. The grungy unisex bathroom upstairs felt like a club, with everyone walking in on one another with their pants down, Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” blaring, just like New York in the ’80s. “This is the kind of museum Greece should have, caring more about the program than the building,” said the Breeder’s George Vamvakidis, noting the unfinished nature of the newly redone Palais de Tokyo. “But nothing beats the excitement and unpredictability of Athens—you never know when your next tear gas will come.” We stuffed ourselves into a taxi and headed to David Lynch’s club Silencio, which lived up to its quiescent name, aside from a small controversy when the bouncer refused to let artist Thanos Kyriakides in with his guide dog, Eureka. And a Greek curator who decided to entertain us onstage, backed with the disquieting Lynchian red velvet curtains. Someone joked that the place was “Eurotrash,” and we pondered whether Greeks would soon be barred from that clique.
On Monday Le Figaro reported a fascination with the Byzantine and punk on the Milan runways, as if reflecting the Palais milieu. In spite of a cold rain that evening—froid sans soleil—it seemed as though Tout-Paris were crushing the door for the public opening, and the lights on the Eiffel Tower were pulsating as if in accordance. About the crowds, De Loisy exclaimed, “It is our pleasure—it keeps the building alive!” All of Athens seemed to be at “Hell as Pavilion.” “It’s like the movie Groundhog Day,” someone said. “Next day, same people.” Bugada & Cargnel hosted a dinner for Le Parc at Tokyo Eat, where many of the artist’s fawning female fans wore his bold geometric jewelry designs. Yamil held up his phone to show the dashing eighty-four-year-old Argentine artist the number of visitors reported: 9,400! Things have certainly changed since the ’60s.
Left: Dealer Helena Papadopoulos. Right: Deste Foundation's Nadja Argyropoulou and Tzirtzilakis.
“IT’S DEFINITELY SURREAL,” photographer Todd Eberle admitted at Dom Pérignon’s luncheon for Marina Abramović last Friday at the Chateau Marmont. “All of a sudden you’re in a room with everyone you just saw on the screen. It’s a little like being at a zoo if they let all the animals out at once.” A Vanity Fair veteran, Eberle was coaching me through the finer points of navigating the magazine’s infamous Academy Awards Afterparty, which rang in its twentieth year on Sunday. Tabloids insist on calling the event “the most coveted invite in town,” but never tell the art world there’s a party they can’t get into.
That Hollywood and the art world are harboring mutual (if a little conflicted) crushes on each other is nothing new. But just as fashion parties swooped in on Art Basel Miami Beach, redefining a week that used to mean getting to wear flip-flops to a fair, so the sparklier denizens of the LA art world are now giving Hollywood parties a run for their money during Oscar week. Indeed, after Vanity Fair, the second most coveted invite was easily Thursday’s Gagosian dinner for Richard Prince at Mr. Chow’s, with Saturday’s over-the-top Mario Testino / PRISM party at the Saperstein mansion in Bel Air pulling in a close third.
Sometimes the most exclusive gatherings have no invite to covet. Wednesday afternoon, I paid a visit to Ooga Booga #2, an offshoot of Wendy Yao’s tiny Chinatown bookstore, now occupying the entrance to a hulkish Boyle Heights warehouse at 356 S. Mission Road. Laura Owens found the building, which she uses as a studio and exhibition space, and she casually lends out the sprawling backrooms for crits, screenings, and comedy nights. Gavin Brown was testing out some one-liners of his own on Yao when I walked in (none I would repeat here). But the real showstoppers were the twelve massive paintings Owens debuted, which, in that particular moment, had drawn quite the spontaneous crowd: a full fleet of Chows—Eva, Michael, and Maximillian—Jeffrey Deitch, and Eugenio López. The New York–based dealer gruffly dodged the question of whether he might make himself a permanent fixture in LA, declaring: “Sometimes you just have to do something once, and do it really well.”
Brown wasn’t the only one making impressions. It seems that after a forty-some year hiatus, restaurateur Michael Chow has returned to painting, in a big way. A very big way. As in, twenty-four-foot long “paintings,” collaged with detritus, found objects, and cracked eggs. “You really have to see these in person,” Deitch remarked, during our makeshift iPhone viewing. “It’s one of the most interesting things going on in LA right now.” “What, Michael’s painting?” collector Phil Aarons took a stab, as he rounded the corner into the gallery. “I know things,” he winked, answering Chow’s astounded expression. Brown loaded up with López and the Chows to get a private viewing, but Deitch and I were due at Francesca von Habsburg’s new Los Feliz digs (formerly part of Cecil B. DeMille’s estate), where the patroness-extraordinaire was hosting a private dinner in honor of her close friend (and houseguest) Abramović.
Von Habsburg met us at the door, where we were also greeted by a rowdy Brad Kahlhamer drawing. “Is that too much here?” she grinned mischievously at the ghosts of the artist’s ex-girlfriends past. “I personally think it’s kind of perfect.” Following her into the open kitchen, I grabbed a plate of Peruvian fish tacos and a seat on the couch with Natalie Portman, Benjamin Millepied, and Lykke Li on one side and John Waters on the other. Ever entertaining, Waters was dispensing advice to the young producer Ali Betil, whose film Keep the Lights On was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award alongside Abramović’s. Betil had to dash back to New York early Monday morning for his filmmaking course at Columbia. Waters shot him a look: “Oh you don’t need that. I’ll always remember, I came back from being honored at Cannes and my aunt said, ‘You know, you’re really going to wish you finished college...’ You won’t.” Betil looked less convinced.
Thursday night, the undisputed main event was at Gagosian, where Prince had trotted out a fresh inventory of Cowboys: over thirty paintings in sizes and palettes to match any interior. The sheer amount—three full rooms—drove home the commercial aspirations of the work, which would have been potent enough in smaller doses. “They’re cowboys. They’re readymade icons,” someone reasoned as a floral-frocked Pamela Anderson posed in front of her Marlboro man of choice. (She was the same yellow and orange as the painting.) More winningly, MoCA co-chair Maria Bell was genuinely shocked to find she was the only who thought to dress up as a cowgirl.
Afterward, the dinner at Mr. Chow’s presented a microcosm of the city’s gallery scene, with all its conflicts, scandals, and celebrity obsessions. Actor-cum-musician Jared Leto burrowed into conversation with China Chow and Terry Richardson while curator Paul Schimmel, Vera Wang and various Mugrabis and Schnabels angled towards the booths. Artists Piero Golia, Dan Colen, and Doug Aitken shuffled down the narrow aisles, sidestepping past Elton John, Adrian Brody, and Anthony Kiedis. Midway through, impudent little place cards were handed out to select scenesters, announcing the details to the afterparty (“Shhh!” the note obnoxiously began), but the real location—Chez Gagosian—was only whispered in the ears of the chosen few. I opted for a house party at Deitch’s mansion—Cary Grant’s former home—where filmmaker Hala Matar was celebrating her birthday with Buck Henry and a chamber orchestra (as one does).
“It’s still very new to have the art world so embraced here,” Deitch told me the next evening on the way to MoCA trustee Ari Emanuel’s house for the William Morris Endeavor’s pre-Oscar party. The affair was flawlessly coordinated, down to the outdoor check-in tent, which was festooned with paintings by “Art in the Streets” star Retna. Guests mingled over multiple levels, with the covered pool functioning as an ad hoc dancefloor. “We’re in the deep end,” an agent announced, and it took me a minute to realize he wasn’t speaking in metaphor. (I think.)
I had prepared to recognize fellow revelers and braced myself to play it cool; what I hadn’t prepared for was to actually know those fellow revelers. “Art People!” Mark Bradford yelped at the sight of us, leaping up from one of the sofas. We slowly began to assemble our own little ragtag ensemble—including artists Tereza and Kenny Scharf, Shepherd Fairey, and Retna—providing a comfortable vantage point for some prime people-watching. (How often are you in a room with Hugh Jackman, Amy Adams, Dustin Hoffman, and Harvey Weinstein? I mean, unless you’re one of those just enumerated.) At one point, Bradford was drawn into conversation with Conan O’Brian (a natural gravitation between the two tallest men in the room?) and I was pulled away to meet Tyra Banks. Balancing an impressive bouffant, Tyra expressed her deep love for art—more specifically, for Henry Taylor, whose show was set to open the next day at Blum & Poe. “I’m considering letting him paint my portrait, but she”—glancing at her agent—“is worried about me being left alone in the same room as Henry.” “Tyra is actually a photographer herself,” her agent hastily assured me, trying to redirect the conversation. Tyra confirmed this with a camera-ready smile and a pantomime of adjusting a lens.
Shuffling past scores of comedians—Tracey Ullman, Larry David, Russell Brand, Jonah Hill —I spotted Jack Black plotting with Deitch to participate in MoCA’s upcoming Urs Fischer show, which involves sculpting cats out of recyclable clay while the artist makes everyone lunch. (The idea was certainly no more surreal than watching John C. Reilly trade anecdotes with Captain Picard over by the champagne bar.) If this were a zoo, so far it was definitely of the petting variety. When Retna decoded one of his anagram paintings—“This is Show Business. Punching Below the Belt is Not Only Okay, It’s Rewarded.”—it took a minute to hit me that this was still the land responsible for Entourage.
Granted, I may have been getting a charmed view, but I was certainly feeling the love at our next stop, the party for United Artists, where we were warmly greeted by Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The Spanish-style terrace looked like a really high-definition version of the Hulu homepage, with Alison Brie, Andrew Rannells, and Josh Radnor all vying for canapes and Harry Potter patrolling the backyard, but I was too busy making eyes at Paul Rudd to register much else. When that tactic didn’t quite pan out, I discussed the peril of combining kids and collecting with John Leguizamo. “It’s really just the constant threat of handprints, y’know?” I nodded.
As it was nearing midnight, I pulled a self-appointed Cinderella act and headed back to the Chateau to catch the tail end of the OHWOW dinner for Nick van Woert (by “tail end,” I mean, the entrees were being served). Once the troops had had their cake, we crossed Sunset to the Standard, where the Chez André party was rowdy and smoky and sweaty and all those other kinds of adjectives that stay on one’s skin longer than the personalized ashtray hand-stamp. Sometimes-celebs Kelis, Maxwell, and Donovan Leitch swaggered around sofas decorated with mid-riff baring extras, seemingly called in to make the party look cool. (Also, that adage about no one drinking in LA? Not true. Visiting New Yorkers drink a ton.)
Saturday saw a full slate of openings, but with Hollywood Boulevard closed for the main event, I only made it to two: Catherine Opie at Regen—theatrically-staged photos of the tattooed, the mysteriously “bleeding,” and a topless Lawrence Weiner, punctuated by eerily-abstracted landscapes—and Henry Taylor. I arrived at Blum & Poe with five minutes to spare, which was just enough time to race through two galleries, only to be staggered by a third: a massive installation recreating a plantation with one long dining room table set on a pile of raked dirt, flanked by life-size portraits of slaves. Outside, attendees struggled for words, but I got the feeling everyone was just dancing around references to Django Unchained. “I think it’s a fair comparison,” a curator argued. “I mean, if you’ve seen the last scene.”
Speaking of scenes, Sunday night was here at last, and with it the Oscars. While Vanity Fair’s strict press embargo prevents me from divulging much about the über-glamorous goings-on of the viewing dinner, the afterparty, or the “secret” Solange concert bridging the two, I can say that, amid the starlets, agents, and directors; the has-beens, the girl/boyfriends and the literal train-wrecks (Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t the only one tripping); the Best Actors and Best Actresses brandishing Oscar statuettes and In-N-Out burgers in equal measure (the former apparently had to be won, but the latter were circulated on trays, along with Magnolia Bakery cupcakes lovingly iced with the names of nominees), I spotted a startling number of art worlders—Gagosian, Deitch, Michael Govan, Susan and David Gersh, Tobias Meyer, Benedikt Taschen, Vito Schnabel, Jean Pigozzi, Richardson, Eberle, Aitken, von Habsburg, and Kathryn Bigelow (she’s still one of us, right?).
All that glitters aside, the greatest honor of the evening was easily an introduction to Kenneth Anger, who seemed far sprightlier than his near-nonagenarian peer Don Rickles, installed on a nearby booth. However, all my composure (and Eberle’s valuable advice) flew out the window, and I found myself starstruck—truly, madly, deeply—when I turned around and realized my ultimate adolescent fantasy had inadvertently come true: I was in the same room with Pacey Witter.