Everything Counts

London
10.19.09

Left: Measure’s Simon Day and artist Conrad Shawcross. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Collector Evgeny Lebedev and artist Marc Quinn.


HAILING A CAB to Primrose Hill last Tuesday for the opening of the modestly titled Museum of Everything, one of many events coinciding with the Frieze Art Fair, I found the queue to get in stretching around the block, with rumors of an estimated forty-minute wait. Thankfully, I’d had the foresight to share my cab with a prominent London dealer––it helps to have an in when it comes to outsider art––and we were discreetly shuffled inside.

The Museum of Everything was masterminded by collector James Brett, who invited noteworthy figures from Hans Ulrich Obrist and Jeremy Deller to Nick Cave and Jarvis Cocker to curate selections from his enormous collection of “outsider” art. The museum had been attracting plenty of attention over the week, with a delightfully silly (and ubiquitous) advertising campaign that included a pin-peddling nun stationed outside the entrance to Frieze.

Inside, all manner of self-taught art covered the walls (and ceilings) in a dazzling display that demanded a second trip—minus the crowd. As it was, there were art-world insiders as far as the eye could see (which wasn’t actually that far, given the crush of faux couture). The space, a former dairy, was divided by strange stairwells and narrow hallways, making navigation near impossible—a leitmotif of the week.

Left: Olympia Scarry’s Kinder Heaven at “Play.” Right: Curator Raimundas Malasauskas. (Photos: Kate Sutton)


At one point, when wedged between a stairwell and a mop-haired New York dealer, Museum of Old and New Art curator Olivier Varenne came to my aid. “Here, drink this,” he said, thrusting a tall blond cocktail into my hand. Given the atmosphere, I half-expected moonshine or some magic Carrollian drink; whatever it was, it was appallingly palatable, heightening the giddy dizziness of the evening.

Magic cocktails notwithstanding, I woke up early the next morning to catch an exhibition that was less outsider and more underground (literally): Conrad Shawcross’s Chord, installed in the abandoned Kingsway Tram Subway in Holborn. The sculpture consists of two train pulleys, each rigged with a set of oversize clockworks strung with 162 spools of multicolored yarn. As the gears spin, the threads intertwine. The giant cat’s cradle eventually produces a single, tightly braided rope in the center.

Viewings are by appointment only and are done via small groups led with spelunking-like sincerity down into the void (flashbacks of the new Miroslaw Balka Turbine Project at the Tate). The early time slot worked to my advantage. The artist had just finished restringing the threads, which allowed us to glimpse how the work functions in its first moments. “I apologize,” the artist said sheepishly, snipping at some stray threads. “This is taking a little longer than I expected.” “It’s London,” one of the visitors reminded him. “We’re used to delays on the platform.”

Left: “Play” artist Gosha Ostretsov and curator Nick Hackworth. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Artist Simon Ounanian performs Circumvision. (Photo courtesy Paradise Row)


Later that evening, I made my way to Mayfair for the raucous group show “Play,” a joint venture between Prakke Contemporary and Paradise Row that includes a more manageable Shawcross piece, as well as works by the Chapmans, Carsten Höller, Gary Webb, and Doug White. Upstairs, a seminude couple swam in a sea of white feathers, part of Olympia Scarry’s Kinder Heaven, while next door, Edward Fornieles had erected a series of playhouses in a padded and dimly lit room whose entrance was cleverly concealed by a Miley Cyrus beach towel. I started to crawl into the first of the forts when I heard some telltale giggling and retreated. Seconds later, a young hipster spilled out the tiny door, his clothes in shameless disarray. He flashed a grin, then rolled over to try his luck in an adjacent playhouse.

Decidedly more well behaved that night was the David Zwirner dinner, held under the Rubens in the majestic Banqueting House in Whitehall. (“We thought we would do something simple this year,” joked gallery director Angela Choon, before speculating which guest would be the first to try out the throne.) The Rubens certainly inspired my tablemates—curators Jens Hoffmann, Jessica Morgan, and Hou Hanru—prompting a champagne-flavored sermon on the politics of production and the dangers of the unchecked artist’s studio (because apparently, this week, all conversational roads led to Damien Hirst).

Left: Pierre Huyghe’s Silence Score, as performed at David Roberts Foundation. Right: “The Embassy” curator Alex Dellal and artist Hugo Wilson. (Photos: Kate Sutton)


Thursday night, I dropped by an evening of performances at the David Roberts Art Foundation, walking in on Pierre Huyghe’s Silence Score, in which a violinist performed transcribed ambient noise from John Cage’s 4'33". (This added to the ambient noise of the gallery itself, a backbeat of thumps, shuffles, and apologies as unsuspecting visitors tripped over the uneven floors—Ryan Gander and Mario Garcia Torres’s collaborative contribution to the Foundation’s exhibition “Sculpture of the Space Age.”) Perhaps I should have stayed for Alexandre Singh’s lecture (which promised to merge Manzoni, Klein, and IKEA instructions), but instead I found myself racing the two blocks over to 33 Portland Place, where the former Sierra Leone Embassy was “under siege” by a group of artists who had transformed the building into a consulate for an anonymous, “badly managed” country. They weren’t joking about the poor management. Outside the gates, a rowdy throng pleaded to be let in, assuring the unsympathetic guards that their friends and loved ones were already inside. I couldn’t help but feel an uncomfortable pang of privilege, knowing these people were queuing for cocktails and cultural cache.

I didn’t have much time to reflect on the absurdity of the scene, as Alex Dellal, the kind curator of 20 Hoxton Square (which organized “The Embassy”), snatched my hand and ushered me around to the back and through the kitchen. I emerged into a dark parlor with a dramatically lit boxing ring besieged by scenesters. For a moment, it felt like I might have stepped into the wrong club (or maybe just a Christina Aguilera video). I gave into the crush of the crowd and let myself be shoved down the hallway, where I was pushed past a businessman huddled in a broom closet, frantically feeding documents into a paper shredder; he slammed the door shut when he spotted us.

Toward the end of the long hallway, I bumped into dealer Adam Weymouth and Scarry, who accompanied me on a hunt for Hugo Wilson’s models of heart ventricles in states of “shock.” The piece was elegantly presented directly across from three of the Florida ballot boxes from the notorious 2000 US elections. Peering inside, one could easily make out the infamous hanging chads. The piece raised many questions, though none so important as this: How was I going to make it out of this room, let alone upstairs to the rest of the exhibition?