Bottled Water


Left: Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson, president of Iceland, with artist Roni Horn. Right: A view from Roni Horn's Library of Water. (All photos: Brian Sholis)

Certain artists and writers mark a location with an indelible stamp. Venice, for example, is often filtered through the eyes of Turner, Mann, Ruskin, and the poet Joseph Brodsky. After a two-day journey to Iceland to catch the opening of “My Oz,” Roni Horn’s survey exhibition at the Reykjavik Art Museum, and a site-specific project by the artist in Stykkishólmur commissioned by Artangel, no image of the country will form in my mind without an accompanying picture of Horn’s art. The reverse is true, too. Indeed, much of Horn’s work discloses itself in the context of this variegated, severe landscape.

Horn has been visiting the island since the ’70s, and barely five minutes after my Friday-morning arrival in Reykjavík, I learned that my hotel was where she photographed Dead Owl, 1997, her well-known diptych of snow-white birds; bizarrely, the building is a veritable zoo for taxidermic animals. After a tour of town, I joined the artist’s sister Ona Lindquist, collector and MoMA board member Kathy Fuld, Hauser & Wirth partner Marc Payot, and curators James Rondeau, Donna De Salvo, Frances Morris, and Linda Norden on a chartered ferry to Videy Island, a mile or so out into the placid Faxaflói Bay. We wandered the uninhabited rock searching for Afangar, an easy-to-miss, “very De Maria” (by consensus) Richard Serra sculpture, comprising pairs of basalt columns driven into the hills so that their tops are a uniform height above sea level.

That evening, we admired the museum’s tightly curated, exactingly installed overview of Horn’s oeuvre. A new, two-part sculpture made up of large, physically improbable amber glass blocks anchored two adjacent rooms on the first floor; opaque from the side, transparent from above, the bottoms of their interiors are miniature topographies. Upstairs, a new series of restrained but striking portraits of a single woman formed a staccato horizon line around the walls of another gallery. Dinner—with artist Tacita Dean and her irrepressible son, Rufus; Iceland’s president, Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson; Payot; and a little over one hundred other of Horn’s friends and collaborators—was held on a catamaran that made another loop around the bay. It was still daylight after the meal, and those revelers not suffering jet lag barhopped until an hour traditionally reserved for breakfast.

Left: Tate Modern curator Frances Morris. Right: Artangel codirector James Lingwood (at right).

The landscape’s otherworldliness wasn’t impressed on us until the next morning, when the group clambered aboard three buses headed north to the Library of Water. The green adorning the steep mountain faces and reflected in the silvery sea disappeared gradually, only to be replaced by lumpy black lava fields and patches of snow. We stopped at a hotel near a location used by Jules Verne in Journey to the Center of the Earth and decamped for lunch and short hikes. At the meal, Artangel codirector James Lingwood offered some brief, sincere remarks, describing his joy at first coming across Horn’s photo books (one included images of a glacier visible from the hotel) and, paraphrasing Keats’s epitaph, suggesting that Horn is an artist whose name is “writ in water.”

The Library of Water is situated at the highest point in Stykkishólmur, a village of twelve hundred, and looks out over the sea in two directions. Between last August and earlier this year, Horn and her collaborators extracted ice from twenty-four glaciers around Iceland, storing the results in liquid form inside glass columns scattered through the building. Preserving these disappearing glaciers (yet paradoxically not in their natural state) is a deliberate—and deliberately provocative—act. Other collaborators recorded locals' weather testimonials, words from which are embedded—in Icelandic and in English—in the rubber floor. (They are also collected in a book and on a website.) An apartment was also built into the design for a writer in residence. Artangel secured a twenty-five-year lease, and the entire building is to be given over to the community. (The work’s optical effect mirrors its social intent: The surrounding landscape is drawn into the building, captured by each transparent totem.) “My authorship is done,” Horn said, with characteristic directness.

Left: Musician Ólöf Arnalds. Right: Reykjavik Art Museum director Hafthor Yngvason.

On Saturday night, to a subdued crowd of sock-footed guests, inaugural writer in residence Gudrún Eva Minervudóttir read from her newest novel. Horn followed with a fifteen-minute excerpt from her text Saying Water, its repetitions achieving an incantatory grace. In Horn’s cosmology, landscape is weather is a face is water is words. Each is but a sounding board for the measure of experience. William James, chafing at language’s inability to convey experience, once wrote, “We ought to say a feeling of and, a feeling of if, a feeling of but, and a feeling of by, quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue, a feeling of cold.” His adjectives are apt, and Horn aims for similar flexibility in her work, to better record our encounters with the land and one another.

We broke for dinner at a nearby restaurant that has the kind of rustic charm one pays for through the nose in New York, then returned for a performance by the singer-songwriter Ólöf Arnalds, who recently joined the Icelandic indie-electronica band Múm. She sang Irish folk songs, country standards, and her own compositions, while playing her charango, an eight-string guitar whose body is made from an armadillo's shell. The Icelandic lyrics’ incomprehensibility didn’t make the performance any less moving. Thousands of miles from the capital cities most of us call home, with the sun dropping into the ocean behind us, one couldn’t help but marvel at how Horn has created a space for scrutinizing the relationship between viewer and view, between feeling and fact.

Brian Sholis

Left: Art Institute of Chicago curator James Rondeau, curator Linda Norden, psychoanalyst and writer Ona Lindquist, Frances Morris, Whitney curator Donna De Salvo, MoMA board vice president Kathy Fuld, and Hauser & Wirth partner Marc Payot. Right: Writer Gudrún Eva Minervudóttir.

Band Wagon

New York

Left: Artist Francesco Clemente. Right: Fran Lebowitz with Alba Clemente. (Photos: David Velasco)

It’s not easy to turn heads in an art world that demands attention from every possible direction. When as many galleries as possible stage openings on the same night in wildly different parts of town—as happened in pre-auction-week Manhattan last Thursday—craning necks start to feel pain. Where to look first, and at whom? In Chelsea, Marianne Boesky offered two discoveries: a formerly neglected, deceased American Abstract Pop artist, Nicholas Krushenick; and a long, tall, charming Glaswegian named Tony Swain, whose landscape paintings on newsprint were pressed into project-room service at the urging of Boesky consultant Clarissa Dalrymple. Swain wasn’t staying long. Like any young bet-hedging artist, he plays guitar in a band, Hassle Hound, and they have European gigs lined up.

Down the street at Gagosian, Glenn Brown’s woozy portraits of old paintings were on the walls, Walter De Maria poles were on the floor, and Irving Blum was checking out the merchandise. In town as a spectator to “the sales,” as he put it, the man who has made out like a bandit in recent years by selling choice Warhol silk-screen paintings (a torn soup can, a Marilyn) expressed some consternation over Sotheby’s forty-million-dollar estimate. That meant ninety million, I reckoned. “I don’t know,” he said, nodding and shaking his head at the same time. “Interesting, no?”

More rubbernecking was going on at Lehmann Maupin, where the Japanese artist known as Mr. was performing for his New York gallery debut. When I arrived, he was crawling around on the sidewalk dressed in a panda suit, the large head mounted on his rear end, a white plastic bag on his own lowered head, and his hands shod in panda-feet gloves. “We have leash laws in this town, you know,” Jerry Saltz warned dealer Tim Blum, who pretended not to hear. Children in attendance, Cynthia Rowley’s dressed-alike daughters, for instance, were quite taken with the whole scene.

Left: Musicians Michael Stipe and Casey Spooner. Right: Charlie Rose. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Across the street, another crowd was spilling out of James Cohan. It included Bill Viola, whose new slo-mo video was premiering inside while Viola hobnobbed outside, accompanied by David Ross on cell phone. I hot-footed it over to Matthew Marks, where Andreas Gursky, holding court among several Museum of Modern Art curators (including Peter Galassi and Klaus Biesenbach), grabbed my camera and took my picture—it was really lousy! (I'm keeping it anyway, in case it might be worth something, someday, at “the sales.”)

Racing to SoHo, where Jeffrey Deitch was unveiling Francesco Clemente’s earliest work on paper (ink drawings, photos, collages), I found Alba Clemente standing near four blurred re-photographs of sexy women taken from magazines. “That's were we met—between here and here,” she said, pointing with pride to a narrow slit between two of the photos. In the front room, artists Donald Baechler and Philip Taaffe were admiring an exquisite series of brushed-ink drawings. “I used to throw them on the floor of my studio,” Francesco said. “For people to walk on.” How time changes things!

Not many people entertain with as keen an eye for spectacle as Deitch. Behind the diaphanous sari-fabric veils and trails of navel oranges at his Wooster Street space, dinner was an elaborate, Indian-themed affair for 175 of what used to be known as the Beautiful People. They included designers Diane von Furstenberg, Bill Katz (direct from Mary Boone Chelsea, where he was hanging Clemente’s other show this week: a group of commissioned portraits), Fran Lebowitz, Jacqueline Schnabel, socialite Ann Dexter-Jones, artists Terry Winters and Chris Johansen, and TV personality Charlie Rose, whom I introduced to Casey Spooner, one half of the musical duo Fischerspooner. Together we learned how Rose maintains his cool while interviewing so many different people on so many nights of the week. “Easy,” he said. “You drink—a lot.” Spooner feigned shock. “Before the show?” he asked. “No!” Rose said. “After!” (And, apparently, way after.)

Left: Irving Blum. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch. (Photo: David Velasco)

At dinner (from Salaam Bombay), I could only marvel at my fate: To my left sat MoMA trustee Barbara Jakobson, with collector-philanthropists Raymond Learsy and Melva Bucksbaum. Directly across was ARTCO founder Cary Leitzes, Creative Time director Anne Pasternak, and Deitch. On my right, a tall man in a tropical vanilla suit sat down and put out his hand. “Hello,” he said. “I’m Michael Stipe, and I sing with a band called R.E.M.” Amusant, no?

Ever wonder what near strangers talk about to fill the hours it takes to get through a big art-world dinner? That’s right: themselves! Oh yes, and art. With a tabla and flute duo providing background music, Jakobson spoke of the highs and lows of collecting and deaccessioning—or “clearing out”—contemporary works. She also described her first sight of Deitch—when he came to see her collection with his college class. (She picked him for genius even then.) Leitzes described the development of her art-for-product limited editions. These include her (sold-out) Le Sportsac commission by assume vivid astro focus (whose solo show at John Connelly also opened that night). Not exactly a Murakami Vuitton, but getting there. And Stipe, for his part, regaled me with a story of a post-Soviet R.E.M. tour of Estonia, where one man, pegging Stipe for an American, had a message of appreciation—for Michael Jackson. “I do love my job,” said Stipe.

A moment later, the tabla player/DJ Karsh Kale began a solo dance with his drum balanced between his knees—captivating, in a sideshow kind of way—and just as I was thinking that all we needed now was a bevy of harem dancers, on came Surati Inc., four midriff-baring, sari-clad women who spun around the platform stage, clicking finger cymbals and smiling. And how often does that happen? “Every night,” said Terry Winters. “In my dreams.”

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Collector Barbara Jakobson. Right: Artist Andreas Gursky. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Steep Prices

New York

Left: Artist Takashi Murakami with tea master So-oku Sen. Right: A view of the ceremony. (All photos: David Velasco)

As a fan of D. T. Suzuki’s beatnik classic Zen and Japanese Culture, I jumped at the chance last Wednesday to experience a private, traditional tea ceremony at Gagosian’s uptown digs “conducted by So-oku Sen, a descendent of Sen no Rikyu,” the legendary sixteenth-century tea master—who’s like the Baal Shem Tov of tea. I refer to the great Hasid mystic because the tea ceremony is like a Zen seder: each item is highly significant, but instead of contemplating the Jews’ suffering, we stick with the crockery. “Like in your home,” said the hakama-clad master (through a translator) as he deftly poured, wiped, and whisked for us. “Nothing that is not being used.” Clearly unacquainted with my clutter, the tea master was focused and gentle: a spiritual warrior of hospitality. I tried to get into the wabi-sabi-style groove—which reveres poverty, sincerity, and imperfection—amid the high-end retail “chi” of the gallery where Takashi Murakami was having his first New York show since leaving Marianne Boesky last June. The tea, along with a lavishly orchestrated “studio visit” to Kaikai Kiki—the artist’s Long Island City base (which was just like Warhol’s Factory, if it were a corporate office)—were the first waves of hospitality to market “Murakami ©,” the artist’s impending retrospective, opening in late October at LA MoCA, curated by Paul Schimmel.

Rather than a teahouse inconspicuously nestled in a bamboo grove, we sat at a low wooden table (“Specially made,” noted Schimmel’s assistant) splat in the middle of the Madison Avenue gallery, surrounded by pricey space and pricey pictures: Murakami’s cartoon-style tableaux (yours for about $1.6 million) of Daruma, the Zen legend who attained enlightenment by “meditating for nine years without blinking his eyes.” The mood was awkward and respectful, whether due to the ceremony (unusual in today’s modernized Japan, though people are rediscovering it), the translator’s mediations, people padding around in kimonos, or the sky-high price points of our “contemplative” mise-en-scčne.

Left: Paul Schimmel with a representative at Kaikai Kiki. Right: So-oku Sen (right) and others photograph the setup.

Back in the waiting room, we'd perched on low stools after signing the guest book with an inked brush. Apparently, rapper Kanye West (who will perform at Murakami's LA MoCA opening) attended one of the other ceremonies held that week. I checked out my fellow tea drinkers: Collector Adam Lindemann seemed genuinely stunned I didn’t know about his recent book about collecting, “It’s great! Sold a lot of copies! It’s about developing taste and how to tell if a work of art is great, if it’s collectible, if it’s a good investment.” Entitled and eager to consume, his eyes were big blue marbles that seemed to appraise everything. His lanky partner, art adviser Amalia Dayan, another chic, artsy lady, and Guggenheim director Lisa Dennison teetered in crazy-high stilettos. (How do they go around like that?) Two young Japanese fashion consumers kept to themselves, one with a tote that said I HEART BR. (“Fashion blog,” he explained.) He didn’t take tea since he was already “on the ceiling from Starbucks.”

Like art collecting, the tea cult is about appreciating—and accumulating—nice things. Appropriate tea talk concerns the gear—tea etiquette, fondling it, “even sexually,” as Murakami helpfully suggested. Dennison obligingly stroked the tea canister, gazing at the tea master with the laserlike empathy of Barbara Walters, and the helmet-halo hairdo. In turn, we each touched the bamboo teaspoon. “Are you a full-time tea master?” Lindemann bluntly inquired. Murakami eased the cross-cultural weirdness with an anecdote we could relate to: a shopping mishap. When he had purchased one of the bowls, a striking “repair” job seamed with gold, for a hundred thousand dollars (this sum seemed to zing up the fuddled guests), he showed it off to the maven here, who informed him that he'd “been had.” The artist smiled with Zen-ish bemusement. “What was the flaw?” Lindemann perked up like a terrier. So-oku Sen detected from the way the parts were fired that they were discards never intended for use. The bowl was fab-looking nevertheless. The hardworking artist sported traditional costume, as did several helpers, who offered, then delicately removed, the exquisite mélange of costly wabi-sabi bowls, two of them four hundred years old (including the “mishap”) from Murakami’s private collection. From these, we sipped clear water (shlepped from Kyoto by the Master) and then the strong, green tea, so substantial that half a cup was plenty.

From Hair to Eternity


Left: Curator Andrew Renton. Right: Artist Spartacus Chetwynd. (All photos: Sarah Thornton)

On Tuesday evening, the 36 bus was packed and stale with urban humanity. As it crept across South London, I strained for a glimpse of something other than housing estates broken by the occasional Georgian terrace, anything that might indicate art. South London Gallery (SLG) is geographically challenged, and yet, flanked by Camberwell College of Art, it is one of the most highly respected public galleries in Britain, with an historical pedigree and a finger-on-the-pulse program. Featuring abundant natural light and elegant proportions, the SLG space, according to many artists and curators, is the best exhibition room in London.

My journey south was eventually rewarded with a precurtain peek at SLG’s latest exhibition—a group show, curated by Andrew Renton, titled “Stay Forever and Ever and Ever.” Intrigued by the relationships between objects, memories, and nostalgia, Renton selected eleven international artists whose practices look at how memories are stored within objects and at how objects can arouse memories. So far, so good.

While staff and hired-gun students from next door scurried about making last-minute adjustments, SLG director Margot Heller remained fashionably elusive. In lieu, her majordomo offered the ten-pence tour. It was barely under way when Renton himself swept in with the panache of an Italian playboy—Savile Row jacket and good, no, great, shoulder-length curly hair. Striding over to a huge vase of flowers atop a plinth at the center of the room, he tweaked the blossoms. (This turned out to be the show’s central work, de Rijke/de Rooij’s Bouquet II, 2003.) “I’m always telling my MA students that curating is not flower arranging,” he deadpanned. At best, curating a good group show is tricky; at worst, it is summertime program filler. Occasionally, though, a curator has a vision so focused and thought-through that the artworks come together in one glorious, lyric aria.

Left: South London Gallery curator Kit Hammond with artist Michael Fullerton. Right: South London Gallery director Margot Heller.

But Kylie Minogue? The title of the exhibition is taken from one of her hits. With a straight face, Renton asserted, “Kylie Minogue is the most important artist of this generation.” A few titters and a collective shifting of feet followed as his respectful audience awaited the punch line. This was bewildering stuff coming from the rigorously intellectual Renton, who wrote a Ph.D. on Samuel Beckett and is head of curating at Goldsmiths College, an institution responsible for roughly one out of every four artists Britain puts on the international map. But there was more. “Seriously,” he insisted, “Kylie Minogue is the Warhol of this generation. Like him, she is passive—an observer. Kylie is like tofu. With no flavor of her own, she masterfully absorbs the flavors around her.” So Renton finds weight and meaning where others find only fluff and lip gloss.

The doors opened to the public and the throng poured in. The wry, recently “rebranded” Spartacus Chetwynd’s sartorial statement rivaled that of her work—in Big Bird yellow, shocking pink, and animal print, she mugged for the camera in a wonky parody of a supermodel on the job. “Was I the only one being an arsehole?” she later sheepishly whispered to a mate. Rearranging her giant octopus so that he looked “happier,” she admitted that Hokusai’s Octapai, 2004, had just been purchased by dealer Sadie Coles.

Collector Muriel Salem, artist Martin Boyce, and collector John A. Smith. Right: Artist Abraham Cruzvillegas.

I intercepted Glaswegian artist Michael Fullerton, briefly out of the gaze of his eagle-eyed dealer Carl Freedman, sneaking out for a de rigueur cigarette. Artfully disheveled, with a distinctly “European” aroma, Fullerton confessed that the human hair in Experience (A Cautionary Tale: The Femme Fatale of Jurgen Hambrecht), 2007, belonged to the first girl he ever slept with. He has kept a box of her locks under his bed for years. He admitted to a long-standing Vidal Sassoon fixation, whereupon I asked whether he might have a hair fetish (his own is long and unkempt but miraculously shiny). A eureka moment passed across his face. It was time to move on.

Bookish Scot artist Martin Boyce chatted earnestly with collector and patron John A. Smith. He and his wife, Vicky Hughes, helped fund the exhibition, and they split the evening into his-and-hers shifts, citing pressing parental obligations. Synergistically, he took the early shift; she stayed on for the party, which took place in a tent at the back of the gallery. Sadly for the starving, the much-feted vegetarian Indian food didn’t live up to the maximal show. Suffice it to say . . . they didn’t serve tofu.

Lynne Gentle

Weekend Warriors


Left: Museum Ludwig director Kasper König. Right: Artist Thomas Hirschhorn. (All photos: Hannah Dübgen)

It was a wingding of a weekend in Berlin, with collectors running around the city to endless events, openings, and parties in (at least until Saturday evening) Barcelona-like weather. Organized by a collective of twenty-nine Berlin galleries, Gallery Weekend Berlin is a clever alternative to the art fair: Instead of sellers flying their wares to some cavernous hall or beached container, buyers fly to Berlin and check out the art displayed in situ at the galleries—a commercial version of site specificity, if you will.

Celebrations started late last Thursday with Coco Kühn and Constanze Kleiner's presentation of their vision for a temporary kunsthalle in Berlin, a white cube designed by Krischanitz & Frank. For this virtual exhibition, held in the colonnade of the Altes Museum (Berlin’s first newly built museum, designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and completed in 1828), guest curator Gerald Matt from Vienna Kunsthalle paired the otherwise-incompatible Candice Breitz and Franz Ackermann. Krischanitz and Frank’s kunsthalle plan rivals the cloud-shaped design proposed by the architecture firm Graft and backed by art magazine Monopol. Cube or cloud? It may not matter as much as whether Erich Marx makes good on his threat to pull his private collection out of Hamburger Bahnhof, so that the venerable institution might actually function as the public kunsthalle it was meant to be.

Left: Neugerriemschneider's Burkhard Riemschneider and dealer Martin Klosterfelde. Right: Artist Christian Jankowski.

On Friday, I started out at Yngve Holen and Kilian Rüthemann’s outdoor public-sculpture project, organized by Caroline Eggel at the corner of Torstrasse and Bergstrasse, before heading over to Café Moskau to catch Luca Cerizza’s super low-key group show “The Importance of Not Being Seen.” This soon became the name of my game, as I tried to honor three dinner invitations without being noticed leaving early (and arriving late). Armed with an empty stomach and good excuses, I decided to do appetizers at the party held by Max Hetzler for artists Darren Almond and Christopher Wool at Malatesta. The next stop: a main course of asparagus, at a dinner hosted by dealer Esther Schipper at the aging ballroom in Clarchen’s Ballhaus, where Tino Sehgal’s Kiss was performed for the Berlin Biennial. I was having a great conversation with Le Plateau director Caroline Bourgeois—a lady so charming that Sotheby's would make a tidy profit by auctioning the seats around her—when I remembered that dessert was being served at neugerriemschneider gallery’s party for Franz Ackermann. Fortunately, I just missed the Brazilian dancers, who reportedly wore pasties and shimmied to boom-boom beats among the dazed guests and the dripping candles. Ackermann’s show was called “From Eden to Lima,” but I guess Brazil is somewhere near both.

Saturday afternoon, I ran into Kasper König smoking cigarettes outside the Zimmerstrasse gallery compound. “So are you just an art critic, or do you have another job on the side?” asked König, posing a question I don’t even get from cab drivers. “And how about you? Does that Museum Ludwig gig pay you enough?“ I responded. ”Or are you schlumping on the side to make ends meet?” “Oh no,” he said. “I'm a civil servant,” as if that would explain everything. Much later, his son, gallerist Johann König, assured me that Kasper was doing fine, what with his work for the Skulptur Projekte Münster.

Left: Artists Danh Vo and Michael Elmgreen. Right: Dealers Annette and Rudolf Kicken.

For a complete change of pace, I tried to get into Thomas Hirschhorn’s talk for his show at Arndt & Partner, but the room was too crowded. After a quick tour of the Kochstrasse gallery shows (Francesco Clemente at Jablonka Gallery being one worth mentioning), I headed over to the Neue Nationalgalerie, where Klosterfelde was unveiling Christian Jankowski's bronze statues of Barcelona street mimes—a reversal of their attempts to present flesh as metal.

The weekend's Big Event was held that night at Grill Royal—a restaurant cofinanced by local picture framer Stefan Landwehr and Neu cogallerist Thilo Warnke—where more than 450 guests gathered in the sprawling lounge bar on the Spree River. We had to wait in line to get in—what a shock! While we debated the pros and cons of Gallery Weekend, Göran Christenson, the very busy director of the Malmö Museum, said, “It’s better than an art fair because of the presentation of the artists. Instead of a booth, you get a view of the artist and the gallery.” Matthias Arndt agreed, pointing out that visitors could “meet the work in its habitat.” Dr. Arend Oetker, the collector, begged to differ. “There’s no substitute for an art fair. In one day you can see everything,” he said, frustrated that the queue we stood in—and perhaps Gallery Weekend in general—was such a chronophage.

As I moved through the crowd, I started to think that time—simply spending time in one place, with a drink or without—might be the newest status symbol. Indeed, the value of time was on everyone’s minds: When gallerist Nicholas Logsdail pondered the possibility of a similar weekend in London, he noted, “The logistics of Berlin are different. It takes more time to get around London.” And Miami collector Robert Moss, on his first visit to Berlin, had only good words about the weather, the people, and the art: “We've not had ten bad minutes this entire time.” That must be a record—if not for the world, then certainly for Berlin.

Jennifer Allen

Amores Pesos

Mexico City

Left: Dealer Pablo León de la Barra and Liliana Sanguino. Right: MACO director Zélika García. (All photos: Nicolas Trembley)

MACO (México Arte Contemporáneo), the new international contemporary art fair in Mexico City, took up residence last weekend in the fancy district of Lomas de Chapultepec, although no one seems to know why the site used for the fair’s first three incarnations was not chosen again. One rumor is that the original neighborhood was too poor and too close to the centro historico: Potential Mexican clients, who are, by default, rich and paranoid, were reportedly worried about their safety and felt ill at ease in the old location.

The fair—directed by the charismatic youngster Zélika García and Spot magazine publisher Enrique Rubio—opened in the just-completed parking area of the Palmas residence, a chic apartment building still under construction. The dust and fumes had an unfortunate side effect: Since the opening, nearly all the dealers in attendance have complained of feeling unwell. Somewhat ominously, an ambulance was parked outside throughout the weekend.

In the end, however, the illness could also be attributed to the ample fun had each night. Wednesday afternoon’s press and VIP preview was poorly attended, as visitors conspired to arrive en masse late in the evening. Sure enough, by that point carts of tequila were being wheeled through the fair. With the party lasting until the wee hours of the morning, collectors like Cesar Cervantes (who owns a chain of taco bars), Moishes Micha, and Patrick Charpenel (from Guadalajara) had plenty of time to meet local artists like Miguel Calderón and Ariel Orozco (not to be confused with Gabriel; Ariel is a lot less expensive) and international visitors like artists Aaron Young, Liz Cohen, Marcelo Krasilcic, and Antek Walczak. Swiss artist Christophe Draeger had created a site-specific work, with the help of Jose Noe Suro, the owner of a local ceramics factory who is well known for his collaborations with the late Jason Rhoades.

Left: Los Super Elegantes's Milena Muzquiz. Right: Dealer Monica Manzutto and Vicky Fox.

The fair operated at two levels, literally and metaphorically. The second floor was used by small galleries: The quality of the art didn’t seem terribly important (and in some cases was not very good at all), although it was fun to discover the stand of Jose Garcia Torres (Proyectos Monclova), brother of artist Mario Garcia Torres. More established, often-international galleries inhabited the ground floor. Some big shots were present (or at least sent their directors and assistants), including David Zwirner, Yvon Lambert, Galerie Krinzinger, and Massimo De Carlo (whose stand, designed by artist John Armleder, was undoubtedly one of the best).

Although long-standing Mexican galleries like GAM (Galeria de Arte Mexicano) were present, greater energy emanated from more recently established venues, including Enrique Guerrero, KBK, OMR, and kurimanzutto. Monica Manzutto and Jose Kuri organized a meal and an enormous patio party on the evening of the opening at which rivers of mescal flowed.

The gallery Air de Paris has begun collaborating with Los Perros Negros, a new local venue, in the centro where—we know now—few collectors regularly venture due to crime and traffic. But plenty of others made the trip on Friday night. The Perros Negros collective, which consists of Agustina Ferreyra, Fernando Mesta, and artist Adriana Lara, hosted other trendy collectives invited by curator Eva Svennung: Reena Spaulings, the Bernadette Corporation, Los Super Elegantes, and Claire Fontaine. Young artists like Marco Rountree, Michael Linares, and Radamés Figueroa “Junior”—all visiting from Puerto Rico—partied with Art Basel’s Samuel Keller and Isabella Mora, ARCO director Lourdes Fernandez, and curators Mariana Munguia, Guillermo Santamarina, and MoMA’s Christian Rattemeyer.

Left: Art Basel director Samuel Keller and Art Basel's Isabella Mora. Right: ARCO artistic director Lourdes Fernández.

MACO focuses on its international invitation and visitors program, and Patricia Marshal and Víctor Zamudio Taylor, consultants for Colección Jumex president Eugenio López Alonso (a close friend of Salma Hayek, who, sadly, was not present), helped international relations by purchasing works by thirteen Mexican and foreign artists, among them Philippe Decrauzat, Sam Durant, Ale de la Puente, Fernando Carbajal, Claude Closky, Minerva Cuevas, Daniel Guzmán, and Mike Bouchet. They also invited everyone who was anyone to take SUVs to visit the famous collection, located in a bunker protected by bodyguards in the Jumex fruit-juice factory, where an exhibition organized by Michel Blancsubé was on view.

On Sunday evening, fair organizers announced that more than twenty-five thousand visitors had walked the aisles and that between 30 and 70 percent of the works exhibited had been sold, which is none too impressive by international-circuit standards but a decent showing for an emerging market. The Blow de la Barra gallery and its charming director Pablo León de la Barra capped off the week with a memorable party on the roof of the Habita hotel (think Wallpaper). DJs from the George and Dragon in London and Martiniano Lopez-Crozet and Milena Muzquiz (aka Los Super Elegantes) spun records in a style that could be summarized as Grace Jones versus Chihuahua Aztec, while Warhol’s silent films were projected onto the wall of the adjacent building. Viva Mexico!

Nicolas Trembley