LAST WEEK, Miami Beach inspired murder. The killers were the many thousands in town for Miami Art Week—up to 100,000 of them, if you please. Their primary victim was time. Sleep ran a close second. Weapons of choice were beaches, superhigh heels, dinners for everyone you have ever heard of, cocktail parties to promote the self or luxury products to rub into the faces of have-nots, brunches to do the same, invitation-only concerts, dives like Sandbar and Twist, public conversations that breathed hot air into weighty-sounding subjects, and millions of dollars worth of art.
All of this was obvious from the jump. Yet, for the adventurous, there were still discoveries.
“What’s Thousand Island?” inquired the Italian dealer Franco Noero last Thursday, during a boisterous four-gallery dinner at downscale Puerto Sagua. “It’s an American invention,” he was told. “A salad sauce.” Giving a plastic squeeze bottle containing an irradiated orange substance a long look, he said, “I think I’ll try it.”
Left: Publicist Nadine Johnson with architect Peter Marino. Right: At the Miley Cyrus concert at the Raleigh. (Photo: David Velasco)
The Basel art fair’s winter encampment is like that. During its residency (officially December 3–7 this year), Miami divides into a thousand party islands floating the good life on a sea of free drinks and questionable taste. Occasionally, a bridge to redemption appears.
Design Miami approached it with an exuberant display of Memphis furniture by Ettore Sottsass presented by two New York art (not furniture) galleries, Koenig & Clinton and Joe Sheftel. The art crowd swarming the floor—the main fair wouldn’t open till the next day—had a good laugh (or was it a cry of horror?) at the super-gauche floor lamps, or whatever they were (King Kong on a silvery, fifteen-foot-tall Empire State Building with a golden temple at its base), that Carpenters Workshop erected, no doubt to attract any drug lords in the thirty-five-gallery tent.
“Did you see the paper today?” asked Peter Marino, tagged by Miami PR agents as the “fashion” architect, despite his daily dress in bicep-revealing motorcycle leathers. “They called me the prom king of Miami!” he chortled. “Don’t you love it?”
Miami loves Marino. He won the design fair’s first Visionary award, then created a black leather–paneled wall to front a special booth showing chairs from his collection with a life-size mannequin of himself. Bold branding! The Bass Museum also made him the subject of “One Way: Peter Marino,” an opulent exhibition of his impressive collecting habits. Curated by the peripatetic Jérôme Sans but clearly designed by Marino to emphasize the black, the metallic, and the self, it features five commissioned installations (three from artists repped by Emmanuel Perrotin) and a list of corporate sponsors that includes Chanel, Dior, and Vuitton (all Marino clients).
Imagine art by the likes of Warhol, Hirst, Prince, Kiefer, and (the high point) Mapplethorpe beautifully installed in a luxurious, private gentleman’s club with heroic portraits of the gentleman, bronze boxes designed by the gentleman, many shiny skulls, and cabinets of curiosities stocked with the gentleman’s fetish objects. Honestly, this show is unusual. The evening’s VIP preview kicked up buzz that vibrated throughout the week.
“It’s a big day in the art market,” noted Amy Cappellazzo, though she wasn’t talking about Marino’s show but the sudden resignation of Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy just thirteen days after Sotheby’s William Ruprecht was forced from his job. And, said dealer Rachel Lehmann, “The weather’s good!” Indeed, it was a fine evening for endless jawboning all over Miami, which seemed oblivious to nationwide protests against police killing unarmed black men.
Left: Photographer Todd Eberle. Right: Studio Museum in Harlem director Thelma Golden and dealer Bill Powers.
Anger management—and a vaccine against violence—were each free for the asking at the newly formed Institute of Contemporary Art. In one of the two shows opening its temporary home in the Design District, Pedro Reyes set up a clinic to address people with issues. “I don’t recognize the place!” ICA trustee Barbara Herzberg told Alex Gartenfeld, the museum’s deputy director and chief curator. Guests could sign up for “couples therapy,” or climb two floors for a fresh view of the Andra Ursuta sculptures installed by the intrepid artist on crossbeams at each level. These included Ass to Mouth, the Brancusi-like dildo sculpture that won over dealer Mike Egan on his first visit to Ursuta’s studio. That was four years ago. Now they’re married.
A few streets away, Don and Mera Rubell were celebrating fifty years of marriage and collecting with a group exhibition “To Have and to Hold,” and six solo exhibitions. Mark Flood looked especially strong and Lucy Dodd contributed a room-size abstraction along with a hefty catalogue documenting its yearlong making. “It’s crazy, right?” said an excited Mera Rubell.
Back on South Beach, Glenn O’Brien was corralling rappers and performance artists for his TV Party shoot at Casa Claridge, while dealer Jessica Silverman and her girlfriend, art-world anthropologist Sarah Thornton, gave a dinner for artist Dashiell Manley. At the table on Lincoln Road were Instagram cofounder Mike Krieger and Lovestagram creator Kaitlyn Trigger, suddenly the most coveted party guests around.
But they weren’t in evidence at Ian Schrager’s new Miami Edition Hotel (the old Seville), where Tracey Emin left the dinner hosted by W magazine for its art issue just when Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal headed for the skating rink in the hotel basement. “Look what I found under my chair!” shrieked Whitney Museum curator Scott Rothkopf, brandishing a pair of silicone falsies in the faces of Instagram-obsessed photographer Todd Eberle and the Serpentine Gallery’s Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones.
The subject of a New Yorker profile published last week, Obrist led Instagram-accented panels almost every day. On Wednesday morning, Krieger and Trigger showed up in images posted to Instagram from Casa Tua, where Obrist and Peyton-Jones were hosting a pre-fair breakfast. It was Obrist who first made Krieger aware of the app’s appeal to artists. “That was a year ago,” Krieger said. “Before that, I had no idea.”
A few minutes later, the doors to the thirteenth Art Basel Miami Beach opened to the lifted and manicured masses gathered at the convention center. “It’s like Italians lining up to get on a vaporetto in Venice,” said Bard CCS director Tom Eccles. “At least no one is pushing,” collector Marieluise Hessel observed. Throughout the day, people behaved well. No one disregarded the rope drawn across a corner of David Zwirner’s stand, where Rothkopf hoped to persuade a group of Whitney trustees to add a second (better) Jason Rhoades to the museum’s permanent collection. And no one molested Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume after the beefy bodyguards assigned to him by Ryan Gander—the gist of a performance for Art Public—abandoned him for Leonardo DiCaprio.
Some collectors were also doing double duty. I found William Bell trading stocks on his iPad while looking at art in the Gagosian booth and thinking about the Urs Fischers at Sadie Coles. The latter dealer, meanwhile, played a nearly mute sentry guarding Fischer’s green bronze “raindrops”—sculptures suspended in midair across the stand—against crowds of gawkers. Massimo De Carlo mounted a stellar wall that grouped together paintings by Alighiero Boetti, Rob Pruitt, Piero Manzoni, and Lucio Fontana. “We aim to please,” De Carlo said. “How do you like my sign?” asked Gavin Brown of a rotating green neon by Martin Creed that spelled out the word PEOPLE. Almost as high as the ceiling, it was hard to miss.
New this year was the Survey section for neglected historical works. It’s like Feature at Art Basel, but smaller. The 1970s Michelle Stuart works on paper at Leslie Tonkonow alone were worth the walk to the back corner, but then there was the bonus of Gina Pane’s sand-painting homage to Malevich’s Black Square at Broadway 1602. And a ’70s Alison Knowles installation at James Fuentes. But in every sector, I saw works both old and new to fill the holes on the shelves of my present and future mental archive—the handmade David Altmejd spools at Andrea Rosen, the gorgeous Max Bill at De Carlo, the early Mike Nelson at Noero, K8 Hardy’s Fashion Fashion books at Reena Spaulings, the Sheila Hicks at Sikkema Jenkins, the Nairy Baghramian at Daniel Buchholz, and on and on. Surprise: Some art fairs really can deliver an experience of art.
This fair, by all accounts, was hugely profitable. Emphasis on huge. More intimate, and thoroughly enjoyable, were the cocktail launch parties that evening in three bungalows at the Edition. In one, Fulton Ryder introduced Marilyn Minter’s first artist book, Plush, with a show of her “bush” photographs, racy and gorgeous at once. Next door, where Harper’s Books and Half Gallery were the hosts, Jordan Wolfson was signing his book and Genieve Figgis—discovered first by Richard Prince—was signing catalogues and showing her appealing paintings. And next door to that, Nate Lowman and Leo Fitzpatrick presented work by Sue Williams, who was definitely not home alone.
Left: Collector Melissa Soros with dealer Andrea Rosen and Creative Time director Anne Pasternak. Right: Dealers Michael Jenkins and Brent Sikkema.
In fact, it was so cozy around the bungalows that I was almost sad to depart for the Design Miami dinner honoring Marino. Cocktails took place in the far-from-domestic luxury mall developed by Craig Robins. Christie’s America chair Marc Porter denied he ever wanted Murphy’s job, while Florian Baier and Nina Bischofberger described the new complex they’re building to house Bruno Bischofberger’s immense collection outside of Zurich.
As dinner began at tables in the street, I raced to gated La Gorce Island, where a Cuban band was playing at Maria Baibakova’s housewarming for her father’s new Miami digs—a 1953 Spanish-style mansion once owned by Cher. (Provenance!) This was an entirely pleasant affair, with a delicious buffet served under the nearly full moon over Biscayne Bay. Speedboats returned guests to South Beach just in time for the Miley Cyrus concert at Tommy Hilfiger’s Raleigh Hotel.
Those who hadn’t gotten the e-mail earlier in the day instructing them to pick up wristbands in the lobby that afternoon stood in a crush at the door as the potty-mouthed, silver-wigged performer, working hard to overcome her child-star image and inhabit the role of—wait—an artist, began a set accompanied by the Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. What can I say? He sounded great and she’ll never be street. But the crowd went wild, raising iPhones and iPads to the sky to capture the spectacle of silver confetti, a dancing penis, and magic mushroom, presented by Jeffrey Deitch. “Your life will never be better than it is right now,” I heard one person in the crowd say as Cyrus covered Led Zeppelin. Others were less adoring. “LCD Sound System was much more exciting,” one man commented, recalling a Deitch/Raleigh/Basel concert from the past. “It’s fascinating. Here’s this avant-garde visionary coming out of the mainstream,” said Deitch, who informed an inquisitor that he was “retired” from dealing art. After the crowd dispersed, he went to bed.
Left: Dealer Simon de Pury. Right: Swiss Institute director Simon Castets.
Next morning brought VIPs to routine visits to Miami’s publicly private collections. I opted for a Ruinart-sponsored Public Art Fund brunch at the Shelborne feting artist Georgia Russell’s special packaging for the brand. It was the only proper breakfast I had all week, but I missed the lunch that the Argentine Faenas were giving to announce the insanely extravagant residential development they’re building on Collins Avenue, cultural forum centerpiece by Rem Koolhaas. (According to the Miami Herald’s Alastair Gordon, Miami has no less than 280 new buildings in the works, with many apartments starting at $10 million. What?)
I missed lunch because I was immersed in the NADA fair at the Deauville Hotel, which was as close as I would get to a beach. NADA is like Williamsburg to ABMB’s Manhattan: hip, relaxed and scruffy, and a little too much. I reached my limit halfway through, though I wished Sergei Tcherepnin, voted the winner of the Artadia/NADA Award by judges Massimiliano Gioni and Cecilia Alemani, had appeared at Lisa Overduin’s booth to give promised massages. I missed him because I went back to the Edition for a panel (moderated by Obrist) that pitted singer (and Robert Pattinson squeeze) FKA Twigs against Alex Israel. Immediately afterward, Obrist appeared yet again at ABMB’s Art Salon with Instagram’s Kevin Systrom, auctioneer Simon de Pury, artist Amalia Ulman, and MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach.
That night, I missed Daniel Arsham’s opening at Locust Projects, a cocktail on a yacht cohosted by Deitch, the preview of a Shen Wei exhibition at the Miami Dade College’s Museum, the more underground “Autobody” show, and probably dozens of other things—including Biesenbach’s “Zero Tolerance: Miami” at YoungArts, one exhibition that actually went in for protest politics. Now my dance card was full, but I didn’t want packaged glamour. I didn’t want fashion. I’d seen enough art. So I traded Aby Rosen’s dinner at the W for the casual Esther Schipper/Mendes Wood/Mehdi Chouakri/Meyer Riegger gallery dinner at Puerto Sagua, where the Americans left earliest, the Brazilians arrived last, and Franco Noero never did eat his salad
Back in New York, I slept for three days.
“THIS IS A PLACE where I bet you thought you could escape me,” Miley Cyrus shouted to her audience at Jeffrey Deitch’s Wednesday night party at the Raleigh. She lit up a joint and passed it around the crowd.
“Well, I’m here.”
Forty-five minutes and six covers later she launched into “Love Money Party,” an ABMB anthem if there ever was one and the only original Cyrus recording she sang all night. A rocket launched wads of fake bills with her face printed on them into the audience, while a giant penis and the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne danced around her. (“It’s southern outsider art,” Deitch claimed in an offhand interview. “Very close to Mike Kelley.”) “I’m over it,” said a friend, disappearing into the crowd, opening Instagram on his phone.
So much of Art Basel now filters through @artbasel, with Instagram and Twitter commingling with the fair booths, VIP lounges, dinners—partygoers, artists, and curators rapidly posting and liking and quickly deleting images and faulty précis of works of art, celebrities, and #artselfies. The hashtag #ABMB had 32,521 posts as of this writing. I mostly resisted the urge to upload my pics to the big feed, even though the wheedling mirrored works at many booths begged for it.
I dodged the mirrors but clung to surfaces at ABMB’s Nova section. At 47 Canal, Ajay Kurian’s pensive toad dangled off a trashcan surrounded by Michele Abeles’s malfunctioning photos of paradise. At Société, Timur Si-Qin did his best Bernadette Corporation drag, hiring Preston Chaunsumlit to produce Abercrombie-esque tableaux. At Buchholz (still fresh, if not in Nova), I messaged Richard Hawkins a snapshot I took of one of his paintings, attended by a few 👊👊👊👊. “Buy it,” he joked, recommending I track down one of the fair’s ubiquitous sugar daddies.
Ubering between the fairs scattered across Miami Beach, I feared most the traffic and the pervasive, networky conversations of undisguised ambition. I found release in the inspired/rehearsed jargon of collectors, dealers, artists. At Wednesday’s Horse Meat Disco—a party imported from London—I was told that “to sell your work, it really has to shine,” and for a moment the Miami miasma was such that I didn’t see the tautology. “What is your role in the Whitney conversation?” a woman asked me at the Whitney’s Thursday dinner at the Fishbar at the Loews. “I write about art,” I said. She smiled politely, then asked about “the good parties.” I recommended that she check out Twist, South Beach’s gay multiplex.
Left: 2 Live Crew performs at the Edition. (Photo: World Red Eye). Right: Artist Zak Kitnick. (Photo: Andrew Durbin)
Along with everyone else at #ABMB I returned to the basement at the Edition Hotel Friday night for Gavin Brown and Herald St.’s party, where Martin Creed, Yo Majesty, and 2 Live Crew played to a packed room. Like more than a few attendees, both Creed and 2 Live Crew seemed sleepy and uncomfortable in the dim spotlight. Creed concluded his short set with “Fuck Off,” screaming its repetitious and singular lyric like he were performing an exorcism. I got it, and fucked off to the neighboring bowling alley, where Absolut hosted a party that quite literally no one attended except artists Marie Karlberg and Sam Pulitzer and myself. It was like our own private Interior Illusions Lounge. We played until Brown’s party spilled over and fantastically dressed ice skaters circled the tiny adjacent rink, metaphorizing the circuitous logic of entertainment.
I thought about all those likes circling on Instagram and how the feed kept forcing this surreal juxtaposition or slippery continuum of parties and protests. I thought of the viral treatment of Deitch’s surreal juxtaposition or slippery continuum of Mike and Miley. While I shuttled between the must-attend parties and the barely-attended parties, while friends marched in Miami and New York, I kept thinking about Foul Perfection (2002): “Official art culture is much more effective in its control of history than Republican strategists,” Cyrus writes—or was it Kelley?—“for it knows that the best way to treat contradictory material is not to rail against it, but simply to pretend it didn’t happen.” What didn’t happen at #ABMB seemed to happen pretty much everywhere else; good thing we were all too busy pretending to notice.
ON WEDNESDAY, a man with a plan was talking into a banana, walking down Lincoln Road. Two wives, fidgeting with rings and bracelets, prepared to step into a large inflatable concept—TRUTH—while the husbands stood a few paces back. At a bar made of sand, a woman wearing a pure white silicone alligator, clipped like a bib around her neck, told me I could buy one for $85, and I wondered if anyone had ever told her she had only to make it six times the size to sell it for two hundred times the price. Outside the Miami Beach convention center a man in a ten-dollar suit was handing out cards that promised INVITATIONS to ART SHOWS.
Jordan Wolfson, the cute young artist represented by David Zwirner, was occupying a pool chair, complaining about the “levels of exclusivity” in Miami. He was staying at the Edition, where lines for the basement sometimes snake up two flights of marble stairs and down the hall. I nodded, and said that if exclusivity is his bête noire, his artwork must be priced so reasonably.
Wolfson looked at me through green and gold shades. “I fed two thousand kids in Africa last year,” he said.
“Oh, you went to Africa?” I said.
Jordan Wolfson had not gone to Africa and did not like my line of questioning, or maybe it was the way I asked, as if I didn’t particularly want to fuck him. I wanted to see him get dirty. Most artists I know work with shame. Only the hand of the rich guy shrinks from touching his own money, and the very few, mostly straight, mostly male artists who can make six figures on a sculpture are usually unkeen to admit it (Sterling Ruby, who is represented by Hauser & Wirth, once told me he didn’t know the prices of his works). It’s no fun to think about what we deserve, especially if we’ve already outgotten it. Some of us, however, know that money is the last thing a person can deserve, and you can’t imagine an artist like Wolfson using a word like “earning.”
On Thursday at the NADA art fair, where the best sculptures sell for more like four figures, maybe five, Alex Israel and Hans Ulrich Obrist were discussing the several pieces of really big clothing on display: Jose Lerma’s sail-size polo shirt, for example, or Amanda Ross-Ho’s body-size single blue glove. Obrist declared the trend “urgent,” a word he also used to describe my meeting Israel and his interviewing FKA Twigs. Israel said the trend meant people were feeling loose. Almost simultaneously, I said it meant people are feeling small.
Over the Venetian Islands on Friday the moon was bigger than anything. The radio stopped playing “Tuesday” and started playing a remix of “Tuesday.” A dinner at the home of Design/Miami director Rodman Primack was warm and surprisingly chill, given that fifteen percent of the attendees weren’t speaking together. Meanwhile, a shindig for the Jack Shainman Gallery, DJ’d by the singer Solange, actually felt like a party and not an event, probably because there were no VIP seats and no flashy cameras and the majority of the guests weren’t white things in discount Jil Sander.
“We just found the one party at Basel,” said the artist Ryan McNamara, “where the black people in the room aren’t only on the stage.” He was exaggerating, obviously—but barely. The other such party had happened Thursday at Soho House, with Russell Simmons hosting and Miguel singing, and had been attended by like a thousand fewer people than had lined up to see Miley Cyrus, accompanied by a six-foot-tall topless black woman, open Wednesday’s Jeffrey Deitch party with a cover of “Super Freak.” Here too there wasn’t a line to get in, and the mood was far from exclusive; it’s too bad Wolfson couldn’t make it. When a dancer from DC asked me if I was having fun I had a sudden desire to say yes.
Left: Miley Cyrus at the Raleigh. Right: Miguel performs at the 5th Annual Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series at the Soho Beach House. (Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
Later, in the sinking breeze, the poolside fete for MoMA PS1 had become neither a party nor an event but a nice familiar nonevent. Everyone literally sat around. Seven people named Alex said hello or were introduced to me. Angela Goding, the museum’s director of development, took very specific drink orders (“I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants,” she said), while Klaus Biesenbach, the director, went out to get sandwiches from Subway. And it wasn’t until I noticed that he was only giving sandwiches to his friends (or his critics) that for the first time all week, something actually happened at a party.
At first I thought Mykki Blanco, the New York rapper and performance artist, was starting a food fight, because he was throwing bits of a sandwich in Biesenbach’s face, and because Miami is a place where a food fight might be positioned as an experience. I thought nervously of my discount Jil Sander, a white dress I’d just had dry-cleaned. Then Blanco was yelling. Biesenbach was mumbling (an apology, someone said later). “My legacy will outlive your curatorial bullshit,” Blanco was saying. Everyone sat up straight. Blanco got up on a table.
What Blanco did may or may not have been rehearsed, and it may or may not have been a “stunt,” as some said, and it may or may not have been, as many speculated, “justifiable” in the particular. What he said, however, was that Biesenbach doesn’t care about black people unless they’re famous. What he said, and the demandingness with which he said it, was in the general so just—so urgent—that the wish for it to be justified is disgusting. “He wants to hug Mickalene Thomas, he wants to hug Kehinde Wiley,” said Blanco, three or four times. “I’m not Mickalene Thomas, I’m not Kehinde Wiley,” he said, twice. The second time I caught that he was saying, “I’m not your Mickalene Thomas.” He talked about being black in America. He talked about being hated. When he said your, I didn’t think he was talking to Biesenbach, and when he called him a German and a bad word for gay, I thought “German” sounded more like the slur. “He doesn’t like black people,” said Blanco, just once. “He likes black culture.” I felt a little bad for Mickalene Thomas, but mostly I just felt bad. Blanco went out to dance, and Biesenbach said, of the queer black artist’s performance, “That’s entertainment.”
Left: Glenn O’Brien and friends at his TV Party. (Photo: Neil Rasmus/BFAnyc.com) Right: Frida Giannini, artist Kris Knight, and LACMA director Michael Govan. (Photo: Joe Schildhorn/BFAnyc.com)
I SWEAR THE AIR in Miami is cut with tourist-grade cocaine, making sleep uneasy, sunshine itchy, each nighttime destination like being still stuck in the acid-lit caterpillar traffic. At a Monday evening preview of Kris Knight’s wonderful exquisite-realist paintings, hosted by Gucci and Spinello Projects, the mood was already restless. When, having forgotten how to do my job, I asked Knight what he was excited to see this week, he looked around nervously. Art people don’t get excited; we find things exciting. Behind me a man in white said the quality was high, but it was simply too early to tell.
In the old Playboy theater at Castle Beach Resort, Ryan McNamara was giving the first, Art Basel–sponsored performance of MEƎM 4 Miami, “a story ballet about the Internet” that works like an experimental, immersive cure for its sundry effects: attention deficit, a fear of missing better. Nearly thirty dancers, performing as individuals or in groups, gave looping, hypnotic, and occasionally glitchy shows to an audience carted, seat by seat, from scene to scene. The climax was a full-body high, gorgeous ecstasy. After the applause, nobody knew whether to leave; the rush, for a second, was elsewhere.
Left: Serpentine codirector Hans Ulrich Obrist watches Alexandra Albrecht perform in Ryan McNamara’s MEƎM 4 Miami: A Story Ballet About the Internet. Right: Dancers/choreographers Waldean Nelson, Jos McKain, Joshua Weidenmiller, Jen Rosenblit, Mickey Mahar; artist Ryan McNamara; and dancer-choreographers Kyli Kleven, Kim Brandt, and Fana Fraser at the Interview, Dsquared2, Performa, and Maserati party. (Photo: Sam Deitch/BFAnyc.com)
The next morning, at a hair salon inside the Shore Club, a long blonde woman in four-inch heels and foils was having an air-conditioned meltdown. “The work was supposed to arrive at 9 AM,” she said into the phone, under the dryer. She said she understood, of course, “but you fucked up, and to make it better, you’re going to have to do something you’ve never done before.” I thought about how this might be a maxim for making things. I thought about Agnes Martin, and how she would paint daily, destroy almost everything, fix big mistakes by changing the style entirely. I decided to get Agnes Martin paintings on my fingers.
At the Vanity Projects nail salon pop-up on South Beach, while my manicure was being Martinized, owner Rita de Alencar Pinto showed off a new iPhone 6 case: matte black, with trompe-l’oeil lines of coke. “I should give this to Mr. Brainwash,” she joked. “Like: Here, do it all. I’ll just take the crumbs.” The locals all laughed. “Fucking artists,” said a club promoter with a Miley Cyrus haircut. “They think everyone in Miami has drugs.” But it was too late to change my lede, and somewhere on Sunset Island, Paris Hilton was arriving to make it truer.
Left: Interview editor-at-large Christopher Bollen with artist Jeremy Kost. (Photo: Sam Deitch/BFAnyc.com) Right: Paris Hilton and musician Swizz Beatz. (Photo: Rodrigo Varela)
At Tuesday night’s Interview dinner with Dsquared2, artists and actors Hari Nef and India Salvör Menuez compared notes on performance as a bridge between the two disciplines. “You never get the reaction you plan for,” said Nef. “So you have to stop planning, let go.” We followed the wind down Collins and wound up at Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party, hosted by NeueHouse at Casa Claridge, where a man dressed as the United States of America wandered in behind Josie and the Pussycats after a change of spots. “I’m a curator by day, Amazon by night,” explained the trio’s leader, Coco Dolle, in so winning a way it took me a minute to remember when exactly the Amazons dressed as zebras. Kembra Pfahler, dressed as a goth Kembra Pfahler, took the stage to shout sentences involving “rich,” “aristocracy,” and “New York” (a Patti Smith cover?). “All my cohosts are women,” said O’Brien, then turned to his producer. “I want Kembra talking [on the TV set upstairs]. I want Hayley talking, I want Scout talking. I want Fabiola talking. She’s beautiful.” An opera singer named Jamie stumbled in, wearing a pink velvet suit—embarrassing, since the nearby sofa was wearing the same thing, and wore it better. “I don’t know anybody at Basel,” said the opera singer to Nef, “but I’m surprised by how much we all have in common. Look at all this performativity!”
At a party for W and Ian Schrager at the Miami Beach Edition, newly open after a decade-and-a-half’s abandonment, I kept thinking of this Chris Rock interview in New York magazine. I read it three times on the flight. He says: “If poor people knew how rich rich people are, they’d riot.” I’m sorry to bring up poor people when we’re trying to talk about art, but as I dazed through the downstairs space at the Edition, a space occupied severally by a disco lounge, a dance floor, a bar or three, a bowling alley, and an ice-skating rink with its own alpaca-chaired waiting area, I felt like I was in a future ghost town. When Jena Malone sailed past in a sick white gown, Jena Malone being a star of the Hunger Games movies, the feeling was double. It was late, and I knew I wouldn’t sleep; I was already destroying my art nails, edgy with ambient money and dust in the air. Sure, I’d volunteered, but for the wrong side of the revolution, the side that has one thing correct: It doesn’t feel right to be excited.
Left: Kembra Pfahler. (Photo: Neil Rasmus/BFAnyc.com) Right: Ice skaters at the Miami Beach Edition. (Photo: Madison McGaw/BFAnyc.com)
IN THE FIRST FEW HOURS after my arrival in Shanghai, all anyone seemed to talk about were the films Lucy and Interstellar, and I was suddenly reminded of 2012, when one had to follow the popular soap opera Legend of Zhen Huan to participate in any conversations. It seems the Chinese art world’s interests have shifted from Qing Dynasty–era royal politics to apocalyptic futures grafted with fabulist science. A welcome change, in my book; if our fictions speak to a certain truth of our social life, how much more fun to privilege the future over the past, science fiction over fusty politics?
Fictions were also at the center of “Social Factory,” the tenth edition of the Shanghai Biennial and the ostensible reason so many of us made the trek over. Anselm Franke, who curated the biennial along with Freya Chou, Liu Xiao, and Para/site director Cosmin Costinas, takes as his premise the role that fictions play in the institutions that shape our daily life, his title invoking that Durkheimian metric the “social fact” as well as the proletarian mythologies central to modern Chinese political identity. It was a properly heady subject, and even if the biennial had been the only game in town, it would have been worth the trip.
As it was, I wish I’d had access to an Interstellar-style wormhole to make it through all the shows and openings. I lucked out with the second-best arrangement, a car and a group of like-minded friends. With this we were able to truck it through both the outer museums and galleries—BANK ART, Rockbund Art Museum (showing Ugo Rondinone), and Pearl Lam—before hitting the thriving M50 district, where we discovered MadeIn’s new production line at ShanghArt, Tang Dixin at Aike Dellarco, Yu Honglei at Antenna Space, and a smart doubleheader at Chronus Art Center: Jeffrey Shaw’s Advanced Visualization and Interaction Environment system and Hu Jieming’s mechanical monster.
Our sci-fi fictions also played a role in one of the more inspired shows I saw last weekend, “Cosmos,” the inaugural exhibition at Shanghai’s 21st Century Minsheng Art Museum. The show brims with all sorts of fantastical work—from Ryoji Ikeda’s Radar (Shanghai) to Yang Zhenzhong’s interactive installation Please Sit—while the catalogue spins on weird and wonderful allusions. “[Stephen] Hawking’s arrow of time turns 360 degrees; do not attempt to exhaust all history within one second.” writes Dr. Ai Min, vice chairman of the Social Responsibility Management Committee of Minsheng Banking Corporation—and also, it turns out, a poet.
I finally made it to the massive Power Station, China’s only state-run contemporary art institution and the biennial’s current home, just in time for the 2 PM Saturday preview. The VIP and media desks were busy sorting out the different versions of invitation cards and entry bands, but the real chaos was in the exhibition itself, as preparators scurried to put last-minute touches on installations before the show opened—a common enough story in Chinese contemporary art. Even given the late adjustments, this biennial appears more polished than the last edition, when certain artists were encouraged to adapt their works to incorporate unintended transportation damages.
“Social Factory” touches on many disparate narratives: techno-animism and China’s early-twentieth-century enlightenment movement, the younger generations’ cyber explorations, middle-aged artists’ long-standing dedication to the heritage of the Cold War. Franke’s catalogue essay conjures an ambitious number of references, including Mao Zedong’s famous principle “seek truth from facts,” Alexander Kluge’s idea of the subjectivity of history, Confucius’s theory of the “living flow of things,” James Scott’s criticism of the nation-state, and, of course, cybernetics. None of these narratives are in opposition, and yet it’s also difficult to track direct relations among them. There are a lot of interesting associations, but also a lot of missed connections.
Left: Dealer Leo Xu, UCCA curator Venus Lau, and artist Cui Jie. Right: Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, and artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian.
Indeed, the task of translation puts great pressure on Chinese art institutions who work with foreign artists and curators. “Such a big museum is operated by a small staff of under forty employees,” said Li Xu, the director of the biennial’s office. “Yesterday, I stayed at work until 4 AM, then came back a few hours later without even having time to take a shower.” The persistent tradition of installing minutes before the opening is at least partially due to the lack of staff who can coordinate between Chinese and foreign systems.
Even in situations where there are no language barriers, obstacles remain. At the entrance I encountered Chen Chieh-jen, who, as a Taiwanese artist dedicated to tracing labor and social movements through film, certainly makes an easy target for bowdlerization. Chen had just finished installing the day prior, but the delayed arrival of his work was not due to any political reason; rather, it was an administrative mistake on the part of the museum. “If my work were to be shipped back to Taipei, some Taiwanese press would seize the chance to label the incident as another case of censoring art’s freedom of expression. So I told the curators that such a situation should be avoided at all costs.” To Gao Shiming, member of the biennial’s “academic” (i.e., non-market-oriented) committee, Chen’s work Transformation Text—an installation that archives his prior practice in chapters, inspired by the Bianwen literary form of the Tang Dynasty—represents the biennial’s core. “Many do not realize that biopolitics must be discussed together with classical political economies,” Gao argued.
The “social factory” theme continued at the parallel Inter-Asia Biennial Forum. As part of the event, Japanese Tent Theater director Daizo Sakurai set up a temporary stage on the Power Station’s outdoor plaza, where independent media from Hong Kong, workers’ bands from Taipei, and members from Daizo’s Beijing theater troupe would gather for daylong performances and discussion.
Left: Theater director Wang Molin and artist Chen Chieh-jen. Right: Shanghai Biennial academic committee member Gao Shiming.
Tent Theater began as small underground productions in the 1960s with strong connections to Japan’s social movements. While contemporary art’s popularity in Asia rises, Daizo insists on keeping a distance from institutional structures. The members of his Tokyo group are mostly recent graduates from professional schools. According to Daizo, these youth are nomads, exiled from the collective of society at large. The professional art crowd that gathered at the Power Station during the biennial opening was like another kind of nomadic tribe. Its members speak multiple languages and travel between different countries; they believe in the power of art and culture; they are workaholics, activists, practitioners. To them, slowness is the enemy, and one must rapidly grasp opportunities and digest information.
Keeping on the fast train, that night more than one hundred guests gathered in the museum’s grand hall on the seventh floor for a dinner celebrating twenty years of the biennial. After a ten-minute black-and-white film, in which key figures recounted their personal involvement with the biennial accompanied by nostalgic music (“I wouldn’t want my face projected that big on a screen. You’d be able to see every pore on my nose,” artist Shi Qing murmured), committee member Homi Bhabha raised a glass and offered his own incisive if sentimental toast to this edition. “In this moment,” he said, “confrontations and differences will be resolved only through a repetition of slow reflections of the complexity with which we have to struggle. In every way, this biennial is struggling as we speak.”
Who can argue with that? Though the practice may be harder than the preach. For the nomadic art tribe, someone suggested, the surest way to achieve “a repetition of slow reflections” might be through that most universal social fact: the hangover. And with that goal in sight, we merrily repaired to the afterparty.
Left: Artist Martha Wilson. (Photo: Sarah Bodri) Right: HotNuts cofounder Produzentin Proddy and Das Hussy. (Photo: Josh Chong)
“ART CAN BE TRICKY in Toronto,” said art critic Bill Clarke. “Once you find it, it’s incredibly vibrant. But you have to find it.” We were standing in the VIA Rail Panorama Lounge in the Great Hall of Union Station during the cocktails and dinner for the fortieth anniversary of Art Metropole. Founded by artist collective General Idea in 1974, Art Metropole has for decades, with resolute passion and meager resources, distributed artists’ editions and publications, as a nonprofit bookshop, lending library, gallery, publisher, and most simply a center. The group who assembled for Thursday’s event reflected that spirit: a bit punk, certainly smart, totally committed. As the crowd, including collector-philanthropists Gilles and Julia Ouellette and curator Jonathan Shaughnessy from the National Gallery of Canada, shifted from champagne to the dinner, a few sculpturally peculiar foam cushions poked out from the seats. A graying dowager whispered with delight, “Mine goosed me!” Laurie Kang of the collective Fiancé Knows admitted with a mischievous smile that a few had been intended as “stimulating pillows.”
Though introduced and MC’d by effulgent drag queen Mary Messhausen of Hotnuts and a duo of mysteriously gendered cohorts, the official announcements came from current Art Metropole director Corinn Gerber and board copresident Danielle St. Amour, both of whom were only twinkles in their respective parents’ eyes when the institution was inaugurated. “Art Met has been doing so much with rather little for so long now that it was nice to do something a bit brazen,” St. Amour told me after her speech. “And being brazen on one’s fortieth seems like a fine indicator of doing a decent job of life.”
Throughout the dinner, one critic and a variety of artists spun tales about the donated artworks for the charity auction. Clarke wove a heartbreaker about a sketch his grandfather made; David Horvitz talked about a series of moody Polaroids of road trips to the Spiral Jetty, for some years forgotten in a red bank bag and later saved from a closet; and a radically coiffed Martha Wilson discussed one of her earlier experimental haircuts, documentation of which constituted the many-petaled chrysanthemum of her donated print.
Between each story, Atlantic chef Nathan Isberg pulled off strange course after strange course. The mix of locavore slow-cooking, Rasputinish alchemy, and minimalism could easily be described as “stark” or “uncompromising”; mostly it was gently and high-mindedly delicious. The first course consisted of three hollowed-out and gilded eggs with their tops shaved off, each filled with a delicate dollop of sashimi, slivers of fresh vegetable, or roe. Each morsel was like a succulent poem that lasted no longer than a haiku, so no one could blame those diners who snuck backstage to eat a few cold slices of leftover pizza from the volunteers’ early-evening pies.
The dinner emptied into a party already in swing next door in the station’s Great Hall, a yawning, vaulted industrial cathedral, with the names of Canadian cities taking the place of saints circling the mantle of the muscular brick columns. A difficult place for the sweaty intimacy of a rave, but the mostly youngish artists that made up the revelers danced with fervor. I snuck around the edges sipping weird cocktails and Canadian beer, trying to glean something of Toronto’s contemporary art scene. No one seemed particularly territorial, though people were quick to mention Michael Snow or Suzy Lake (currently enjoying a retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario). Largely driven by mostly ephemeral artist-run centers (Art Metropole one of the heroically lasting exceptions), one could sense a wealth of talent in the city, but not enough opportunities to support or export it, with the result that a lot of said talent either struggles or splits.
A couple nights later, cool rain washed away an early snow and a crowd amassed for an opening at the delightfully named artist-run space 8-11. When EDM DJ Skrillex passed through the city, he posted a snap of their storefront, resulting in the space going viral and leading to a cease-and-desist letter from the aggrieved corporate overlords at 7-11. But the sign still beams brightly in the dark night from the crumbling heritage building it shares with a bonsai shop and a gentleman’s club. The collective’s membership “hovers between eight and eleven people, though currently at nine,” I was told by Xenia Benivolski, a talented organizer of sundry artist-run projects around Canada and member of the collective running the space. From Russia by way of Israel, Benivolski had been in and around Toronto for fourteen years, and was able to put the city in perspective: “Artists always want to leave Toronto, but when they do, they always want to come back.”