Left: SF MoMA Curatorial Associate Tara McDowell, SF MoMA Trustee Mimi Haas, Madeleine Grynsztejn, and Richard Tuttle. Right: Jeffrey Frankel, Whitney Trustee Ginny Williams, Adam Weinberg, and Connie Wolf.
Richard Tuttle’s highly anticipated SF MoMA retrospective is, like his work, a deft balance of playfulness, elegant presentation, fine-tuned funkiness, and what one admirer described to me as a “slow burn” aesthetic. And on opening night, the art definitely smoldered, even if the festivities themselves were lukewarm. SF MoMA’s openings haven’t been particularly lively since “the go-go David Ross days,” as Bay Area-based art historian Pamela M. Lee put it. Back then, in the era of the dot-com bubble, the museum’s events pulsed with anhow to put thisirrational exuberance that’s been lacking ever since.
The Wednesday evening turnout, at least, harked back to headier times. In addition to Lee, who admitted she doesn’t get to many San Francisco art events these days, a number of luminaries who probably hadn’t been in this city in years were on hand. The Whitney’s Adam Weinberg and David Kiehl made it out from New York, as did dealer Jack Tilton and his wife, art consultant Connie Tilton. On the collector front there was Craig Robins, in from Miami, and New Yorkers Dorothy and Hebert Vogel. Also cruising the galleries were photographer Todd Eberle, erstwhile Nest magnate Joseph Holtzman, Andy Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, and MoCA LA curator Connie Butler, who contributed to the show’s hefty catalog.
Apparently, this summer San Francisco is suddenly a stop on the international art-tourism itinerary. That’s a good thing for SF MoMA’s bottom line, as a number of locals have expressed concern that the show will be a tough sell for your typical San Francisco tourists, who can be counted on to line up in droves for Chagall blockbusters but might balk at Tuttle’s idiosyncratic, free-ranging, and challenging work.
But why worry? This was a party, and most in attendance were, to use curator Madeleine Grynsztejn’s term, “Tuttle-ites.” While she and the artist, who was cool but bemusedly beaming, held court in the galleries, the jet-set collectors admired their loans (with 341 works in the show, there was plenty of undisguised enumerating) and less-connected guests mingled in the atrium where a DJ set a mellow tone with lounge grooves and smooth jazz. This being California, the sushi flowed freely.
Local Tuttle-ites were also in the houseamong them Kathan Brown, whose Crown Point Press had just opened a concurrent show of new Tuttle prints, as well as dealers Jeffrey Frankel, Rena Bransten, Cheryl Haines, and Anthony Meiersome of whom were spotted scoping for tickets to the sold-out panel discussion “The Art of Richard Tuttle: A Celebration.”
Left: Andrea Rosen and SF MoMA Trustee Norah Stone. Right: Artist Anna Von Mertens, Geoff Kaplan, Pamela Lee, SF MoMA Curatorial Associate Jill Dawsey, and artist Sarah Cain.
At that event, held Thursday evening, the paucity of tickets was explained by the fact that a good quarter of the seats had been reserved for the VIPs who had honored Tuttle at the post-opening dinner at the Four Seasons. Grynsztejn kicked off the love fest by showing a slide of the artist and cooing, “Ain’t he cute?” before shifting gears into a more stately curatorial talk. Then moderator Katy Siegel spoke about Tuttle’s influence on other artists, after which the event became a curious art-world version of This Is Your Life, with testimonials delivered by audience members as the artist listened appreciatively. Susan Harris talked about curating a Tuttle show; Brown fondly noted the artist’s tendency to “go into the ether”; and Berkeley-based poetry publisher and collector Rena Rosenwasser told of how Tuttle quirkily illustrated a book by his wife Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. “I’m so lucky to be able to collect,” MoMA Board of Trustees President Emerita Agnes Gund admitted, before covering the topic of how to live with Tuttle’s work.
Word was that Tuttle himself had devised this presentation format, which both focused on him and skirted the problem of his infamously circular speaking style. He did, however, offer a few pearls of wisdom, not the least of which was “Intentionality is a loaded term.” Loaded or not, you could feel his own intentionality in every detail of the evening, and you sort of had to love it.
On Monday night, I excused myself early from a friend’s book party to go uptown for the Public Art Fund-sponsored screening of William Kentridge’s Nine Drawings for Projection in Central Park, arriving just as an intermittent light rain began to fall. In the otherwise empty park, my companion and I found a few hundred people at the band shell, among them New Museum Director Lisa Phillips, Marian Goodman and almost all of her staff, composer Philip Miller (Kentridge’s longtime collaborator), and the artist himself. Staffers handed out clear plastic ponchos to everyone and, after a twenty-minute delay, the program began with Journey to the Moon, 2003, Kentridge’s eight-minute homage to George Méliès’s early experimental animation of the same name, accompanied by Jill Richards on the piano. The film whimsically mixes animation with live-action footage, and offers a peek at the artist at work in his studio, which transforms into a rocket ship that navigates the night sky and into the pages of an encyclopedia. Kentridge then introduced himself and the classical musicians who would play along with several of the films, telling the story of how he began making animations in 1989 to alleviate the monotony of “exhibiting drawings every eighteen months.” He noted that “Soho Eckstein,” the name of the main character in almost all nine of the films, came to him in a dream, and that since the beginning he has worked without a storyboard or script, using his characters in an allegorical manner akin to the Italian commedia dell’arte. He added that Felix Teitlebaum, his other protagonist, came to him in a dream that included the phrase “Felix Teitlebaum’s anxiety floods half of Central Park”; the irony of the night’s unfortunate weather was not lost on him or the audience members, who laughed appreciatively. Watching what amounted to a mini-retrospective, it became apparent that the richness of that dream still fuels his animated chiaroscuro world. There has been little “progress” in his technique over the years: Drawn lines become slightly more sinewy, the techniques used for panning across the page and pushing the narrative forward become slightly more sophisticated. His favored motifs, among them black phones, black cats, cluttered desks, and people walking through desiccated landscapes, were present from the beginning. The musical accompaniment, which ranged from plaintive to anguished, added emotional punch to the films, several of which were familiar from the artist’s 2001 retrospective.
As the night wore on, the rain intensified, scattering the few who hadn’t taken the ponchos to the cover of nearby trees. Everyone else gamely donned their rain gear, transforming the audience of art-world sophisticates into something resembling the crowd at a Gallagher comedy show, but, notably, hardly anyone left until after the last reel. The audience responded heartily to each short work, their claps mixing with the constant patter of raindrops. At the end of the evening—well past eleven o’clockthe artist, composer, and musicians bowed on stage, and received a well-deserved standing ovation from a crowd whose appreciation was not at all dampened by the meteorological conditions.
Left: Jonathan Schipper's plastic mould in “Still Ill.” Right: John Lovett, Rita Ackermann, and Alessandro Codagnone.
In this month of nascent lethargy, young Brooklyn artists with wilting petals would do well to see Momenta Art’s energetic group show “Still Ill.” A series of performances whose leftovers accumulate and linger in the space, it offers chastening evidence that some people, rather than fleeing to the beach, have decided to stick around and do something useful, or at least interesting. A man-shaped plastic mould in which a naked Jonathan Schipper had crouched on all fours made me feel I’d really missed something at the exhibition opening. “There were pools of sweat on the floor and steam was coming off his body,” Momenta’s assistant director Michael Waugh told me. Though the fluids had dried on the plastic man, his presence spoke of the ecstasy of rituals seen, and felt, firsthand. The remnants of other performances suggested more treats were in store. On this evening I was to see John Lovett and Allesandro Codagnone, the show’s curators, debut a performance about R. W. Fassbinder with Rita Ackermann. And fashion design duo Pleasure Principle was presenting an extended environmental piece on the gallery’s façade. It was worth braving the heat.
“It’s about football”meaning soccersaid Pleasure Principle’s Adrian Cowen, of the homemade banner, printed with the letters “C.R.E.E.,P.” (derived in part from a song by The Fall) that was draped across the gallery’s front windows. Collaged audio of stadium chants blared, and a smoke machine farted intermittently. These indicators of devotion among European football supporters appeal to the British Cowen and his Roman partner Diva Pittala; the near-religious fever they suggest is intimidating to some while profoundly comforting to others. Football is a massive and divisive cultural force––like NASCAR in a way, but more tribal and poetic––that acted, in this context, as a neat and unpreachy metaphor for the more unsavory effects of unwavering belief. These ideas did not weigh heavily on me, though, and I must note that this was not, categorically, a night for doomsday fatalism. I sat for a long while with François, a fashion photographer on assignment from Paris, who was wearing a billowing Pleasure Principle creation seemingly modeled on a Klan robe or on hip-hop’s ubiquitous quasi-ethnic three-quarter-length white tee, or both. “I have been partying for five days,” François sighed from behind the sunglasses sliding down his nose, “and zis”he tugged the shirt“is keeping me going.” He retracted his entire body inside the cotton folds and shut his eyes, then smiled to demonstrate.
Left: Ackermann, Lovett, and Codagnone during their performance. Middle: Diva Pittala and Adrian Cowen of Pleasure Principle. Right: Momenta Art's Michael Waugh with François.
By the time Rita Ackermann appeared, the mellow early crowd of less than a dozen had swelled to thirty sweaty bodies, and I happily found myself in a back nook with the performers as they changed into their costumes. I blurted to John Lovett, who was shirtless, that I had never seen such a voluminous amount of body hair in my life; he laughed and thanked me, then said that he’d grown it especially for the performance. The trio vamped for my camera as Imitation of Christ’s Tara Subkoff, coming out of the bathroom, sang their praises. “You are a Fassbinder girl,” said Subkoff to Ackermann as she made her slow approach to the front. “I am Jeanne Moreau,” Ackermann uttered to no one in particular, at this point far more focused than either the fashion sprite or myself.
The piece was a response to Fassbinder’s final work, an adaptation of Genet's Querelle, an honest film about the crapshoot of sexuality, and the master would have been proud of its unadorned ambiguity. Lovett and Codagnone were in sailor costume, wedged in a corner and kissing passionately. Codagnone waved a switchblade behind the larger man’s back as Ackermann straddled a chair and watched. Codagnone untangled himself and engaged in a gentle waltz of foreplay with Ackermann. They walked off together. The jilted Lovett followed. It was all over in five minutes. Written across the wall was an R. W. aphorism“Love does not exist, only the possibility of love”that clearly means a lot to the trio, and by the time they had vanished it couldn’t have seemed more cogent. “Happiness is not always fun” is an R. W. saying that means a lot to me these days, but on this particular night, at least, the opposite had proven true.
A quick flashback: Munich 1931. Adolf Hitler orders the construction of the Haus der Deutschen Kunsta museum-slash-propaganda tool where Der Führer made public speeches, promoted his reactionary artistic agenda, and demonized Entartete Kunst (the Nazi term for avant-garde art practices). Fast-forward to 2005: In an uncanny reversal of history, today’s preeminent degenerate artistPaul McCarthyhas been welcomed into the same fascist edifice.
Entitled “LaLa Land Parody Paradise,” the show was unanimously heralded around the booths of Art Basel as McCarthy’s most exhilaratingly ambitiousand hauntingexhibition to date. Heeding the effusive recommendations, I happily decamped from the fair (mindful that I had to return a day later to catch Basler Kunstverein President Peter Handschin’s annual picnic in a picturesque hamlet just outside the city) and embarked on a scenic five-hour drive past the Bodensee and the wooded hills of Bavaria to Munich.
Before I’d even set foot in the galleries, I was bowled over by the way McCarthy channeled the sinister historical charge of the building into his Bacchanalian enterprise. His first subversive gesture was to adorn the top of the HdK’s façade with a giant bouquet of red and orange inflatable flowers that looked like they’d been stolen from a Pasadena Rose Bowl float, thus neatly defusing the architectural fascism. (He also transformed an innocuous-looking architectural model of the HdK into a geranium planter in the museum’s lobby.) This signaled one of the main leitmotifs of the show: McCarthy took on the specters of Germany’s past while simultaneously importing (and lampooning) the most grotesque aspects of Americana.
“Achtung!” proclaimed the museum guard who took my ticket stub and handed me a lengthy legal disclaimer about the show’s offensive content and potentially hazardous constructions before waving me through to the monumentally scaled galleries. The show’s centerpiece was the unveiling of the sum of several years of toil: McCarthy’s much awaited “Western” and “Pirate” projects. In the former “Hall of Honor,” McCarthy installed his Fuck Forta vast plywood construction, part Alamo, part Auschwitz. Various props, beer bottles, vintage-looking cavalry costumes, and other detritus were scattered throughout the barricade along with several monitors documenting the live performances that took place inside the sculpture/set and in the environs of the Haus der Kunst during the show’s opening weekend. Hauser and Wirth had jetted in a planeload of McCarthy fans from Venice to attend the Saturday night opening and Sunday morning “Western Parade.” Some three hundred participants, including performers dressed in Wild West costumes, a procession of horse-drawn covered wagons, and a lederhosen-clad Bavarian oompah band, had turned out, giving new meaning to “Deutsche Amerikanishe Freundshaft.”
As Hans Ulrich Obrist later reported, the show was so powerful that none of the opening night revelers wanted to leave the museum galleries to attend dinner on the outdoor terrace. Gregor Muir, Hauser and Wirth’s London director, described the parade as “a truly joyful occasion, though tainted with an inspired sense of unease.” Kicking myself for not attending, I had to experience the whole thing vicariously through various video highlights, including: Cavalry troops parading like members of the SS in front of the Haus der Kunst, guzzling Bavarian beer, pissing, and jerking off on each other as part of an über-macho Aryan orgythereby advancing McCarthy’s conflation of National Socialist bravado and an imagined American West.
More than an hour into my visit, having barely digested this first body of work, I forged ahead to the Pirate Ship. I discovered numerous new sculptures (my absolute fave being a super-creepy, anatomically correct mechanical pig in the throes of REM sleep), drawings, performance stills, and some previously unexhibited appropriation works from the mid-1970s (which uncannily foreshadow Richard Prince’s oeuvre) related to the Cowboy/Pirate theme. Like the Western fort, the pirate ship evoked a Disney-style theme park ride gone terribly awry. No accident, as I read on the exhibition wall labelsthe Pirate Project grew out of a discussion between McCarthy and his son Damon (who coauthored this spectacular new ensemble about Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride). A life-size pirate frigate, an adjoining ‘70s-era houseboat (where Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, whose drunken Liz-as-Martha also crops up on the exhibition poster, was looped on a monitor in the cabin), and a technologically sophisticated labyrinth of moving chambers served as a set for the exhibition’s cathartic crescendo: An insane performance video projection titled The Underwater World. McCarthy’s visceral mise-en-scene of buccaneerism, invasion, torture, and depravity could not be any more politically relevant. To borrow from John Welchman’s thorough and enlightening catalogue essay, McCarthy’s “manic simulacrum” of “Pirattitude” offers a layered allegory of American excess in the heart of a deeply fractured, historically scarred European Union.
After several hours immersed in McCarthy’s LaLa Land, I left the Haus der Kunst in a state of awe. While driving back from Munich, numerous practical questions percolated in my head: How did curator Stephanie Rosenthal convince her institution to take on such an expensive, sprawling, and “risky” show? How did the McCarthy Family manage to transport and install the contents of the Pasadena and Azuza studios in just one month? And whyas is repeatedly the casedoes one of America’s greatest artists have to travel to Europe to find a fittingly expansive platform?
Even Slater Bradley, who is thirty, was feeling old. For many at the Thursday night opening of Neville Wakefield’s “Bridge Freezes Before Road,” the summer group exhibition at Barbara Gladstone, this was the “young, hip show” of the post-Venice/Basel season, the “cool” place to be. And “cool” was the word for the “Greater New York 2005” generation swarming the gallery in low-cut dirndls and pastel shirts. Actually, the recent-MFA-grad crowd provided a neat counterpoint to the soigné middle-agers filling the Whitney the previous night to greet the arrival of Eugenie Tsai's terrific Robert Smithson retrospective. Smithson is the artist who gave the Wakefield show its raison d'etre, while Wakefield gave the Whitney show a contemporary context that perfectly reflects the growing influence of Smithson's outta-sight non-site sensibilities.
What is most cool about Wakefield's show is his pointed inclusion of our younger conceptualists' antecedents. (“It's either old or derivative,” he observed. “Like the rest of us.”) Plopped or propped among new or recent work by Dike Blair, Steven Shearer, and Adam McEwen are an actual Smithson (a 1968 “Double Non-site” set of photos), old and “new” works by a back-from-beyond John Dogg anda big winnera 1967 aluminum dartboard by Clive “Hellraiser” Barker that recalls Jasper Johns’s sculp-metal of the same period. Nearby, Wakefield had installed a 1974 bowling-ball-finish plank by John McCracken and a 1982 Jack Goldstein painting with a new Banks Violette-does-Smithson work (accomplished with Stephen O'Malley) that made good use of the salt left over from Violette's Whitney installation. Man-for-all-seasons Kelley Walker was especially grateful to find his politic chocolate-on-silkscreen paintings hanging above a 1996 Kippenberger dwarf and opposite a 1980 Chris Burden video. “It's good to see a show that acknowledges its history,” he said. Frankly, it was good to find a living artist who wasn't born yesterday.
Left: Chloe Sevigny and Slater Bradley. Middle: Kelley Walker. Right: Ricky Clifton with a painting by Erik Schmidt.
But the opening was notable for other reasons, like the number of women artists in the show (only three out of nearly two dozen total) and the many rival dealers present (mostly women: Nicole Klagsbrun dropped by, as did Janice Guy and Elyse Goldberg of James Cohan Gallery). For a few minutes, a genuine dust-up seemed possible as Jessica Craig-Martin tried to edge Gladstone and Paula Cooper closer to Mary Boone, who was openly ogling Matthew Day Jackson's charred-wood-and-vulture sculpture before moving in on Dan Colen's two pieces. (This was prior to the arrival of Colen’s dealer, Mirabelle Marden, from an opening at her own gallery, Rivington Arms.) Colen is hot this week, apparently. His upside-down “Holy Shit” spray painting was a crowd favorite, as was a German fokloric fantasy by Erik Schmidt.
At the Gavin Brown-style barbecue on Gladstone's year-old bamboo- and tomato-plant-hedged roof, everyone was as pleasant and well-behaved as the delicious evening air. (Brown arrived just as dinner was served.) No one got sloppy drunk, acted lewd, or agreed to disagree with anyone else. Everyone simply seemed glad to be noticed. Has all the money pouring into the art world made its denizens too comfortable to be as ticked off, playful, and daring as, say, Smithson? To be fair, I always try to consider work I see in galleries on its own terms. Why, then, do I keep walking away from perfectly intelligent shows feeling disappointed? Perhaps I want too badly to be impressed, or expect more than a nonpaying customer deserves. Maybe I love drama too much. I still love art. But with the inevitable and continual collapse of all boundaries, even nontraditional ones, maybe I just don't know art even when I trip over it, as I did the floor-bound documentation of Aaron Young's destruction of a $700 video camera on the steps of Versailles. On second thought, new art rarely looks the way it used to. Just like the rest of us.
Left: Silke Taproggle, Jérôme Sans, and Nicolas Bourriaud. Right: Mathias Augustyniak and Michael Amzalag.
Posters! Posters everywhere! That was my first impression upon walking into “Translation,” the new show at the Palais de Tokyo, where blue-chip contemporary art from the Dakis Joannou Collection shares the galleries with the work of French graphic design duo M/M Paris, of Bjork album-cover fame. The result of this art-design pairing? According to the press kit, it’s a “unique exhibition experience” aimed at defining a new kind of “altermodernism,” one that resists cultural and economic standardization and instead articulates “a mutant form of creole culture.”
“Haphazard and unplanned, that’s the way we work here,” explained Jérôme Sans, one of the Palais de Tokyo’s two directors. “The idea came up when we were planning two shows”one with M/M Paris and one of major artworks from Greek tycoon Joannou’s collection. “In the end, we asked Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustiniak”the two M’s in M/M Paris“to display the collection with their own design work.”
It’s a very Warholian move: Superimposing artworks over posters and carpets in an attempt to make formal connections or bring together topics that otherwise have little in common. For example: A dress by Yinka Shonibare with a Balenciaga advertisement; a strange, primitive, organic Ashley Bickerton sculpture with a series of posters produced for the Theatre de Lorient; and a supersized Vanessa Beecroft photo with images from a Calvin Klein ad campaign. The show is refreshing and certainly unique, even if I still think that abstractionwhich the press release dismisses as high modernism’s failed attempt at a formulating a “universal language”has not been thoroughly digested by art history and could use a little more elucidation. But then again, minimal abstract modernism is certainly neither M/M nor Jouannou’s cup of tea, so this probably isn’t the place for such a discussion.
I tried to imagine how Joannou’s collection would have looked without the M/M decor. “Just normal, as usual,” concluded French critic Eric Troncy, whose own shows often employ risky, narrative display strategies. In fact, it almost seemed that the posterswhich are fucking greatwere sometimes better than the artworks themselves. Who wins in a face-off between Guo-Qiang Cai’s sculpture (a sort of wooden flying machine) and Dominique Gonzalez Foerster’s “Cosmodrome” poster? Further questions: Are posters artworks? Are designers artists? I forgot to ask.
Alison Gingerasone of the curators of “Monument to Now,” which presented part of Joannou’s collection at his DESTE Foundation in Athens last yearadded that she was amazed that some pieces that didn’t work that well in Athens look great here. For example, in one gallery, Nari Ward’s accumulation of baby buggies, music by Mahalia Jackson, a Christopher Wool text painting, and “Utopia of Flows” posters (made by artists including Liam Gillick, Thomas Hirschhorn, and John Baldessari for “Utopia Station” at the 2003 Venice Biennale) were all piled up like ingredients in a Big Mac. Somehow it works.
I wondered if the artists were OK with all this. “I don’t know, we didn’t ask them,” said Amzalag. “It’s a private collection. We can do what we want.” But the artists in attendance seemed happy enough. Michael Bevilacqua didn’t mind that his piece was next to works made by Australian aboriginal artist Ningura Napurrula and Shahzia Sikander’s Persian miniatures, which themselves were mounted on posters featuring strange, funny figure drawings. Talk about multicultural connections.
The laid-back afternoon preview for members of the press and VIPs was atypical for the Palais de Tokyo; the museum’s public vernissage would not take place until later Wednesday evening. Jeff Koons played dad, pushing a buggy around the show, and was nonchalant upon discovering his stainless steel version of a Mylar balloon (Moon, 1994-2000) reflecting a series of posters based on the number Pi produced by M/M in collaboration with Dutch fashion photographers Inez van Lamsveerde and Vinoodh Matadin. (“I never know how to pronounce that,” commented a museum educator.) Underfoot was a carpet by Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe originally designed for Etienne Marcel, a Paris restaurant.
Left: Installation view with Jeff Koons's Moon, 1994-2000. Middle: Piotr Uklanski. Right: Michael Bevilacqua.
As usual, Takashi Murakami was followed by a TV crewArte, the French network, this timebut the artist seems comfortable with the attention. His dealer, Emmanuel Perrotin, was perhaps the only stressed person at the preview, nervous that Inochi, Murakami’s sculpture and a recent addition to the Joannou collection, was not protected well enough. “Well, it costs between €500,000 and €1,000,000 in an edition of three,” said Silke Taproggle, a Blum & Poe director in town from L.A. (The gallery produced Murakami’s film starring the super-skinny alien boy.) “Look at its anus,” said Perrotin, “So strange!” “Who,” I asked. “Silke or Takashi?” “No! Inochi!”
Piotr Uklanski seemed very happy too, and introduced me to Staffan Ahrenberg, who produced Robert Longo’s Johnny Mnemonic and who is helping the artist on his upcoming feature-length Western. Gingeras introduced Hans Ulrich Obrist to Bill Bell, the famous west coast soap opera producer, collector, and friend of Jeff Koons who recently asked Tadao Ando to design a house for him in Malibu. Ando perhaps has time for a new commission or two, since it was he who was designing the ill-fated Pinault Foundation in Boulogne before Monsieur Pinault, fed up with the French bureaucracy, announced he was taking his collection to Venice. We were all thinking about the statement released that morning by French Minister of Culture Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, hinting that he might be willing to fund the renovation of the unfinished Palais so that Pinault’s collection could be installed there, at least temporarily.
But as Sans pointed out vis-à-vis the 30,000 square feet of still-raw space: “It looks like Beirut and will take at least two years to complete.” In the meantime, “Translation” is a great show.