NOTE TO SELF: Always travel with snacks. Especially when trying to work your way through four private views a night, plus afterparties. But that’s festivals for you—even the popular Edinburgh Art Festival, which ran through August and which is now in its twelfth year. When “dinner” turns out to be bread rolls, your next day’s agenda of events gallery and studio visits can seem a high mountain to climb. They were nice bread rolls—laid out on a table in the gorgeous Georgian surroundings of Edinburgh University’s Playfair Library Hall. The Playfair, one of the finest of its kind in Europe is, disappointingly, named for the architect, William Playfair, and not because you’re not allowed to cheat at cards within its walls.
Still, generous quantities of wine and little soakage didn’t exactly seem to be playing fair at the Festival Dinner on opening night. Throw in a follow up opening party at the Mash House and, I confess, the scheduled five-hour walk from Saint Anthony’s Ruined Chapel to Rosslyn Chapel as part of Anthony Schrag’s pedestrian tour, was the first to suffer. I felt even more guilt as Schrag is walking all the way to the Venice Biennale, but with the trip set to take him one hundred days, it’s possible he maintains a healthier diet and, as I’d already achieved Phyllida Barlow at Fruitmarket, Charles Avery at Ingleby, and Hanna Tuulikki’s performance at Fountain Close, I forgave myself.
Artist Emma Finn was at the Playfair with fellow artist, and costar of her festival film Double Mountain, Nicola Farr. Finn says that in her work the most ridiculous things are also the truest, “but I don’t always know if the stories are true when I start.” Farr played a Scout Leader: “It was quite intimidating as you have no eyes, but it was good fun. I also helped Tara Donovan glue her cups at Jupiter Artland,” she added. That’s the joy of festivals, people get around.
Also getting around were a delegation of curators and directors including Izabela Pucu from Rio de Janeiro, Daniela Ruiz Morena from Buenos Aires, Bose Krishnamachari of the Kochi Biennial, and Sylvie Fortin, artistic director of La Biennale de Montreal. Do they get competitive? “No, we get collaborative,” said Krishnamachari.
The commissions at this year’s festival are themed under “The Improbable City,” and Edinburgh certainly is improbable. Beautiful, but built into such layers and fold of hills that there’s always the risk that the street you want is underneath you. There’s art everywhere. Walking along George Street I met Neill and Alan Connell Forgie of the city’s newest arts venue, the Biscuit Factory, toasting Derek Anderson’s outdoor photographic installation. Its not part of the official program, but that’s the way of all successful festivals: You quickly spawn a fringe.
Opening a week before the behemoth Edinburgh Fringe and International Arts Festivals, EAF is, in the words of director Sorcha Carey, all about “strange alchemy. These intense moments when we’re open to encountering the other, when we’re open to the strange and wonderful.” I kept that in mind at Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s performance, one of a series of commissioned events, The King Must Die.
Chetwynd’s husband, artist Jedrzej Cichosz, emerged from a room at the Old Royal High School dressed as a strange sort of pagan fish. “I must tie you up. You can’t go in unless you’re tied up. It will be uncomfortable and annoying,” he said. “You are now our slaves.” What a perfect summation of so much performance art, I thought; but as Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art director Simon Groom, dealer Richard Ingleby, and Faith Liddell, director of Festivals Edinburgh had all gone through it, I submitted.
We were led under black plastic sheeting as trippy ’60s music played. If it seemed at times like a school play, I realized that maybe that was the last time I wasn’t cynical. More submission—and then it began to work its magic. We shuffled though a tunnel of licking, leering faces and into a womblike red room with incense and an incantation involving a severed penis of the gods. This was followed by a quick burst of “It’s Raining Men” and a game of musical statues, before we blundered out into the sunshine to race off to Jupiter Artland.
Brainchild of Bonnington House owners Nicky and Robert Wilson, Jupiter Artland is an extraordinary sculpture park, including large earthworks by Charles Jencks (“it’s a rite of passage for art students to fall off the ones at the Scottish National Gallery,” said Finn); an amethyst cave by Anya Gallaccio; a fabulous monster shotgun by Cornelia Parker; plus all you’d expect from Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley, and Andy Goldsworthy.
Sara Barker was there, having just put up one of the newest works, Separation in the Evening. “Of all the things I’ve done, this was the least painful to install,” she said, unruffled in the sunshine. Nicky Wilson was briefly more ruffled. “The wild boars escaped,” she told me. “But we’ve rounded them all up.”
Upstairs in the little Tin Roof Gallery, Glasgow International director Sarah McCrory was looking at Samara Scott’s Still Life with artist Pablo Bronstein. “No ball gown this time Sarah?” asked Bronstein. “I didn’t want to upstage the carpet,” she replied, gesturing toward the installation. Bronstein is working on his commission for Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries, “though it’ll be hard to stick to the budget, filling it with performers for six months,” he mused. McCrory is a veteran of Chetwynd performances, having been in her Serpentine performance Delirious in 2006. “You find yourself doing these things. She builds communities. She’s the real deal.”
I ran into New York–based artist Tara Donovan on the steps of Bonnington House, where her Untitled (Plastic Cups) has been installed in the ballroom. “There are five or six hundred thousand cups. People assume I’m obsessed with numbers, but I’m not,” she said. “They crest at different heights in each install. I bought new ones after Brazil. Shipping them would have made them the most expensive cups in the world.” We consider that for a while, before going in to address ourselves to more cups, this time of delicious champagne, accompanied by a most fairly played restorative feast.
Agathe Snow, Stamina, 2015, video, color, sound, 24 hours.
AT 6:37 AM on the taxi’s clock a week ago today, we went uptown to catch an off-hour of Agathe Snow’s Stamina. A twenty-four-hour video of a twenty-four-hour party in 2005, Stamina was being screened at another twenty-four-hour party, this one at the Guggenheim, with drink tickets and security guards and some parents. In one of the seven panels on screen a woman in a leotard danced, dedicated to the party shift no one wanted. In the rotunda of the museum, two male teens discombobulated themselves on the disco floor, having the most amazing of times, but in a few years they’ll know that isn’t true. We watched the hotly lit, captivating footage, ignoring its real live counterpart, because parties IRL are boring if you don’t know anybody and don’t want to know anybody you don’t know. The music around us obscured what might have been said in the making of Stamina, which was naturally the part that most interested us, but we’ll allow that at dawn, even in 2005, no one was talking anymore.
Ten hours earlier, we convened at Lucien, one of the few French bistros below Fourth Street that has been in business for more than a decade and could plausibly be described as a haunt. Le Poeme, owned by Snow’s mother, was another; it closed in the 2000s. Unlike at Le Poeme, no one at Lucien was on heroin, though one or two were painters with studios. Half the regulars said either that they were going or that they wanted to go to Stamina or that they’d been to Snow’s show at the Park Avenue Armory, and the other half weren’t going anywhere. It was August, after all. (Twenty-four hours before that, at Lucien again, we had learned from RoseLee Goldberg how to say “Agathe.” Ah-ghat.)
By the time we got to the Guggenheim, there were almost as many people outside the party as in, maybe sixty in total. No one from the early-’00s Bowery art scene had bothered to quit smoking, although they had bothered to come uptown. “It was the most amazing of times,” said Hanna Liden, who was dressed in black and less hostile to us than usual—even charming in her way. Liden was referring to the era of Stamina, not to the party itself, which she had missed due to issues with her visa. “I am crying now,” she said. “Maybe this is not good for Artforum.”
Donald Cumming performs at Agathe Snow's Stamina at the Guggenheim Museum, part of “Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim.” Photo: Paula Galando.
But Liden’s are a people who attend parties and talk about their nostalgia for parties. At this one, their main pastime seemed to be looking at the video to point out who was dead and who was sober. “Even Dan [Colen]’s quit drinking,” said a man whose name must not matter, since we didn’t write it down. “I don't know what people do now,” said Liden. “I like sleeping and gardening.” “I'm thirty-six years old,” said Nate Lowman, in answer not to a question exactly. He shrugged. They both seemed content. We went inside to watch the bands. Remember when bands were a thing?!
The guitarist for TV Baby is also a suit at Paul’s Cocktail Lounge née Paul’s Baby Grand—not that anyone else has registered this change in nomenclature, but you don’t go to the club to learn things. Everyone was going to Paul’s after this, because even if there’s nothing to do downtown now, you can always go back to where you’ve been. He always told us he was in a band, and so he is; pointing to himself on the screen, he said, “Yes, that was me.”
We looked up “TV Baby” on our phones to read their lyrics: “New York is alright if you’re twelve years old sittin’ in your bedroom all alone at home dreaming about being Lou Reed or James Chance, doin’ some brand new Twenty-First-Century dance across the skyline of Manhattan where anything can happen.” It’s true that the party felt like a reunion for an accidental family, the kind you choose for yourself, because choosing your family just means you’re no longer twelve.
Outside, the sax-obsessed painter Sam McKinniss sucked on a Marlboro Light and looked bored as two of his friends discussed why our musician friend wasn’t here tonight, “even though he was supposed to be playing with those jazz guys,” as in the Onyx Collective. Two people at the door apologized to the musician Lizzi Bougatsos—one of Chloë Sevigny’s documenters, if you got Chloë’s coffee-table book—apparently for missing her set. “Don’t worry,” she said to the first. “Don’t worry,” she said to the second. Everyone was being very adult; we were in Carnegie Hill. No one was very specific about the past, but Bougatsos was the fourth to say that Agathe was the freest of them all: “She would come into the room and whip her scarf. Sort of like Isadora Duncan. You know Isadora Duncan got raped by her scarf and died. But Agathe did it like Martha Graham, she would leave, you could never catch her.”
Left and right: The crowd at Agathe Snow's performance for Stamina at the Guggenheim Museum. Photos: Enid Alvarez.
“I’ve been so nervous, I haven’t slept for days,” said Snow, somewhere near 11 PM. She looked around the Guggenheim as if she were casing it for a breakout, the way party girls do when we start to sober up in a strange apartment, then offered us an American Spirit, from a satin pouch. “At first, when I did the party, I thought it was going to make a proposal for a television show,” she said.
Like Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party, we guessed?
“No, like a reality TV show about dance marathons, like the dance marathons in the Great Depression, and you could do it with all different types of dancing, all different types of people, not even my friends.” The proposal didn’t happen, but the footage came to encapsulate what Liden calls “a document of a moment in time.” Aaron “A-Ron” Bondaroff, the cofounder of OHWOW and proprietor of Know Wave radio, called that time, and more specifically the time after 9/11, one of unprecedented freedom, in which “all the skaters and the art kids came together to drink on the sidewalks.” We noted that the participants—some of them—seem conscious of the cameras in a goofy, excitable way that predates the expectation of all each other’s iPhones at a party. “Soon they won’t be conscious,” said Snow.
A graffiti writer who had been there told Cat Marnell that sober was in the eye of the beholder. Two gallery assistants who hadn’t said that parties in the 2000s were more alive. McKinniss looked around. “I’m starting to wish 9/11 never happened,” he said.
Back inside, we talked to the downtown photographer Tim Barber, whom we know from our personal lives. He called us “cynical” for not liking bands. Then he told us a story about the party on screen, where he’d been one of the bartenders. “I was in the stairwell doing coke with this guy,” he began, referring to the guy whose birthday it had been. We asked if it was Dash Snow, but it wasn’t; Dash is the Snow in the black cowboy hat, picking up drinks for him and a friend we don’t see, and then he slips out of the frame.
“The guy had his own straw for the coke,” said Barber, “and he told me it was because he had AIDS, and because—I didn’t know this before—you can actually get AIDS by sharing straws. The coke was really bad, and I was like, really high, totally freaking out.” He gave us a wry, sad smile. “Now he’s dead, and I don’t have AIDS.”
INVOLVING OVER SIXTY GALLERIES, project spaces, and museums in addition to the third edition of the Chart Art Fair and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art’s annual literature festival, the first weekend of Copenhagen Art Week suffered no lack of exhibitions, talks, performances, and shindigs to variously see, imbibe, and endure, in no particular order.
I arrived early Friday morning and immediately commenced tromping around photographer Joakim Eskildsen’s exhibition at the National Museum of Photography and Anouk Kruithof’s show of sweat-inspired sculptures at soon-to-be-roving project space GREEN IS GOLD. From there I set off for the VIP opening of Chart at the city’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg. The gastronomic huts were still being installed in the kunst courtyard, and the fair’s beaming young director, Simon Friese, peppered his opening remarks with a spicy buzzword for growth and ambition. As he pronounced the fair’s “aim to attract international attention” and promised an “international scope,” I figured my presence ticked the box on the former while the latter designation remained somewhat ambiguous, given that the fair’s twenty-eight participating galleries all hail from Scandinavia. Perhaps the larger reach was in Chart’s public programming, scattered throughout the weekend and the city itself, curated by editors Francesca Gavin and Mark Rappolt to feature a range of artists and art-world officials from Asia and Europe.
No rabid, adrenaline-pumped collectors and press mercenaries here. Chart kicked off with the polite tink of champagne flutes and quiet flapping of swag-bag wooden fans, given out perhaps to offset the lack of air conditioning in Kunsthal Charlottenborg’s sunlight-flooded galleries. The genteel note was sustained throughout by an installation that harmoniously flowed across gallery lines usually physically manifested in subdividing fair-booth walls. Coming off more like an exhibition of trends and tendencies in contemporary Borealis art with a smattering of trophy names like Paul McCarthy, the fair can be enjoyed without any exhausted trotting up and down a tent.
Left: Artist Tal R and Serpentine codirector Hans Ulrich Obrist. Right: A Tal R drawing.
The major real estate was occupied by paintings, often beautiful ones, as in Maria Nordin’s watercolors from Swedish gallery Magnus Karlsson or the Finnish Galerie Anhava’s Anna Tuori oil-on-canvas works. That’s not to say the overall display lacked politics, as evidenced by Danish artist E. B. Itso’s prints at Nicolai Wallner made with the clothes of North African immigrants left behind at a small Italian island used as an entry point to the country, or American Brad Kahlhamer’s painting that had spray-painted at top and bottom PLEASE PAY ME SO I CAN PAY THEM, referencing reparations for Native American tribes, brought by Stockholm’s Andréhn-Schiptjenko gallery.
Created by a consortium of Danish gallery directors in 2013, Chart, according to cofounder Susanne Ottesen, seeks to “remain small-scale so we can do things fast. We try to do the opposite of a normal fair. We are all working internationally, but none of us are big galleries, so you have to find a way to make people think they’ll get something different.” Such sentiments were echoed at the exclusive dinner that night in an upstairs hall of Charlottenborg for an international group of dealers and collectors. Asia Zak Persons of Berlin gallery Żak Branicka praised the affair’s ethos: “There’s time to talk here. At bigger fairs you can’t look left or right. A gallery with younger artists doesn’t stand a chance there.” On a similar note, the multiple speeches punctuating the dinner’s courses were also drowned out, though in this instance by the free opening-night concert in the courtyard featuring local metal and punk bands like Reverie and Marching Church and synth DJ sets from m00nbird and Sweden’s darkwave pinup stars Lust for Youth.
Upstairs and downstairs, outside and inside, kids versus adults; here were our old friends, the reliable hierarchies of access and association that the art world just can’t get enough of or shake even in the midst of an otherwise egalitarian affair. Even I, dedicated diarist, at one point in the night was wandering the block around the kunsthal feeling sorry for my momentarily dinner-invitation-less self, before I was whisked back and ascending the staircase to catered feasting where my half-empty (or half-full) Carlsberg can was promptly confiscated by the wait staff and replaced by two varieties of wine. How quickly the tables turn.
Saturday morning I peeled myself prematurely from the cocoon of sleep to book it to a private talk hosted in a palatial apartment in posh Østerbro featuring curator and writer Hu Fang, Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s Anselm Franke, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, who were to address the question Does Art Need to Tell a Story? While the answer (spoiler alert!) remains ambiguous, many stories were related to the perky, morning-person audience, who giggled at Obrist’s recounting of the time a philosopher fell asleep on him at the latter’s home or when Alain Robbe-Grillet had to be evacuated by helicopter. Others listened intently to Franke’s declaration that “positivism is my enemy” and that art is about how “to tell a story that doesn’t close doors and fix meanings, but rather opens it.”
Soon enough, a door opened for me: Obrist’s car door, to be precise. Off we went to the studio of Danish artist Tal R. While perambulating amid a menagerie of in-progress sculptures, wood-block prints, and drawings of the facades of European sex shops, we learned that one really ought to “embrace disappointment” and “invest in losing.” Words to live or, more likely, die heroically by. Next I headed to Kødbyens, the still-functioning meatpacking district and gallery destination (take note, New York), to see Daniel Richter’s show of paintings at Galleri Bo Bjerggaard and Ruth Campau’s brushed and spray-painted sculptures and sculpted paintings at Gether Contemporary.
After a brief detour to Søndermarken park near the old Carlsberg brewery to take in Swedish artist Ingvar Cronhammar’s atmospheric intervention to the Cisternerne, a former underground holding cell for the city’s water supply, it was onwards to a dinner with organizers of Copenhagen Art Week, including curator Charlotte Bagger Brandt and artist Jenny Gräf Sheppard in Valby, before maneuvering myself to the afterparty portion of another dinner for Chart’s participating galleries at the Den Frie Center of Contemporary Art back in Østerbro. The blaring music sans dancing begged “don’t let me go,” but Sara Stiansen of Norway’s VI, VII and artists Bjarne Bare, Tiago Bom, and myself decided it had to be so. We bounced to Kødbyens, literally translated as Meat City, only to be bounced back out of the busted Jolene Bar, sandwiched between Gether Contemporary and Bo Bjerggaard, for jumping the queue and trying our hand at ballpoint pen imitations of the door’s admission stamps. We scuttled to another spot around the corner where they played Northern Soul with a dance floor smaller than a Manhattan studio apartment yet packed to the gills with writhing revelers. Tables were climbed on, girls were spun, and drinks ended up as much on the crowd as down their gullets.
After a three-hour power nap at my hotel somewhere in the early hours of Sunday, I roused myself and somehow managed to get my body, if not my spirit, to the fashionable Normann Copenhagen boutique for a talk between Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and Bjørnstjerne Christiansen from the artist’s group Superflex, who were discussing the necessity of art and architecture “to entertain.” “If you do something that remains loved,” Ingels posited, “it can last forever. Make it relevant and it will remain in people’s lives.”
Nowhere was a tension between accessibility, the imperative to entertain an audience, and hermetic aesthetic expression better exemplified than in the afternoon performance back at the K.C. with Julie Verhoeven and fashion designer Peter Jensen. Behind two darkly lit performers with rainbow cushions affixed to their abdomens and otherwise cloaked in black with garishly made-up faces was a video projection of Jensen dancing in cobbled-together outfits while the sound track crooned “with your hand in mine the sun is gonna shine,” or wistfully pined for “forever in blue jeans.” Then came the bombastic, familiar opening bars of Coldplay’s “Yellow” and the pleasant chug of UB40’s “Red Red Wine,” cues for the performers’ slow dancing and curator Francesca Gavin’s lone voice cracking up. The piece ended with a full-screen instruction to “CLAP”; most did its bidding, while the partners in crime shuffled toward the exit. If you didn’t like performance art there was pop, and if you didn’t like pop there was art. All were welcome.
IN 1974, the Venice Biennale was effectively canceled in a unilateral statement protesting the US-backed coup that put Chilean general Augusto Pinochet in power. That year, there were no themed exhibitions and no national pavilions. Instead, the Giardini served as a site for theater performances, mural paintings, and public conversations. “Can you imagine such a massive act of political solidarity and refusal happening in any biennale today?” artist Emily Jacir wondered onstage last Tuesday at the Arsenale’s Teatro alle Tese, home to one of two Creative Time Summits this year. (A second is slated for Bed-Stuy, New York, in November.)
Okwui Enwezor, artistic director of this year’s biennial, name-checked the 1974 edition as the inspiration for his lineup of live events—Summit included—but it turns out the curator didn’t need special programming to keep the Giardini lively. In mid-July, German-pavilion artists draped a Greek flag branded GERMONEY over their exhibition’s entrance. Around the same time, Izolyatsia, Donetsk’s art center in exile, was busy passing out camouflage windbreakers that read #ONVACATION—a reference to official explanations for the presence of Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil—and urging attendees to take selfies in the jackets at the pavilions of “occupying powers of their choice.” (“We wanted to be open enough to accommodate any number of axes to grind,” project representative Mykhailo Glubokyi only half-joked.) Just last week, G.U.L.F.—Global Ultra Luxury Faction, aka those people who keep dropping flyers into the Guggenheim’s rotunda—launched an hour-long occupation of the Israeli pavilion, after the group’s members tagged the Gulf Labor Coalition banner in the Arsenale with a stencil of Handala, the cartoon face of Palestinian struggle.
While these were certainly all causes worth campaigning for, the hijinksesque character of these actions seemed less Giardini and more Camp Anawanna. The sleepaway vibes were particularly strong last Monday night, when Creative Time curator Nato Thompson took to the makeshift stage at the Serra dei Giardini to welcoming this year’s summiteers: “Hey y’all, there’s bug spray!”
The Creative Time Summit convenes “artists, activists, curators, scholars, and policymakers from all around the globe,” though this year, generous funding from Toronto’s Power Plant meant “globe” was mostly code for “Canada.” At Enwezor’s behest, the theme—“The Curriculum”—challenged speakers to reflect on the mechanisms behind how we come to know what we think we know. (That is, except for political philosopher Antonio Negri, who didn’t get the memo and spent the first half of his keynote discussing how to compose a résumé.) Fellow keynote speaker Achille Mbembe was a no-show—“I called that one,” an experienced conference organizer shrugged—but the program was still packed with powerful presentations from president of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani; Joshua Wong, the face of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement; writers Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts and Teju Cole; and a host of artists, including Jacir, Jolene Rickard, Marwa Arsanios, Charles Gaines, and Naeem Mohaiemen. The real kicker for most attendees (or at least their parents) was the opening speech by Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, the grassroots independent news program that broadcast live from the Arsenale all week.
The funny thing about meeting one’s heroes is that sometimes you end up seeing their makeup tables. Goodman may operate the kind of visibility machine exhibitions dream of becoming, but she maintained a staunchly outsider perspective on the Biennale and art’s ability to act politically. If the pronunciation of Enwezor’s name was something of a shibboleth among presenters (amplified by whether or not that pronunciation was preceded by “African curator”), then it was telling to watch Goodman struggle not only with the word “Biennale” but also with the concept behind it. In her interviews with summiteers, she requested fifteen-second answers to the kinds of questions that have spawned (and sunk) entire MFA programs. “So many conflicts in the world today and here we are in Venice at an art exhibition. How did that happen?” she asked one artist. With another, she was more direct: “Why would the president of Afghanistan talk about art?”
“The making of art is bound to the making of meaning,” Enwezor argued in his introduction Tuesday morning. “The world is hungry for meaning. Regardless of where in the world one lives, every waking hour is saturated with terrible news from a far off elsewhere.” The curator went on to describe the “interminable insomnia of rulers” and the “vigil” kept by protesters, inducing a drowsying state of alert wherein “language becomes guttural, tongues turn to stone, while in the burgeoning art system contemporary art turns cold in a repose of formalist rigor mortis.”
“Art and artists cannot be dispossessed of the power to speak about the present moment, of the capacity to reflect social conditions under which art itself is made, traded, and positioned. I’m not an evangelist for art, but nevertheless I think it’s important that—” and here Enwezor was interrupted by the Summit’s sound artist, Francesco Bol Gibaldi, whose arsenal of homemade instruments were a reminder that even the mighty must eventually yield to the time limits demanded by the LiveStream.
Goodman’s keynote began with the launch of Pacifica Radio and built a case for the urgency of independent media. “Media could be the greatest force for peace on earth, and instead it’s wielded as a weapon,” she lamented. “Those who care are not a fringe minority, or even a silent majority, but a silenced majority, silenced by the corporations that control media.” Before ceding the stage, she relayed her experience of the Indonesian pavilion next door, where Heri Dono’s tank-like Trokomod—half Trojan horse, half Komodo dragon—had triggered memories of a fateful visit to occupied East Timor, where Goodman witnessed a massacre at a cemetery during a memorial for slain activist Sebastião Gomes. As Goodman set the scene, poignantly describing how individual mourners met the Indonesian army’s firing lines, the room was absolutely rapt, perfectly still but for the one Creative Time staffer just offstage who was busy gesticulating at poor Gibaldi to cut Goodman off. The sound artist looked pained, passing over his squeaky pig and bicycle trumpet until he eventually found a suitably woeful sounding flute, fashioned from a crutch. He blew. LiveStream: 2; Human Dignity: 0.
After a brief break, Rhodes-Pitts introduced a series on “The Curriculum’s Contents” with a citation from Sylvia Wynter’s “No Humans Involved”—which quotes the internal classification system of the Rodney King–era LAPD—before decrying media’s general resistance toward reevaluating knowledge it holds to be true, which, the speaker posited, is why headlines scream of a “migrant crisis” and not a “rape, pillage, and plunder crisis.” Circling back to Wynter, Rhodes-Pitts concluded that any crisis is “inevitable fallout from the massive robbing of resources and people from certain parts of the planet because they were not considered ‘human.’ And now, so many years later, people are following the paths of those resources.”
After lunch, President Ghani dialed in via Skype to speak with his daughter, artist Marjam Ghani, about the opposite experience, in which exiles return to Afghanistan to find they must reconcile the vastly different lived experiences among generations. The tone was polite and professional, with President Ghani thanking his daughter for each question. Moments of intimacy did sneak through, however, such as when the artist was asked to have the former anthropology professor tone down his hand gestures. “Remember at Hopkins when they used to call you Professor—” and she busted out some hand-vogueing. When the artist’s own arms starting fluttering later, her father chided: “You seem to have inherited my moves!”
Ghani wasn’t the only world leader on the stage that day; that afternoon, eighteen-year-old Wong—currently facing trial as an instigator of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement (umbrellas offering peaceful but practical protection from police pepper spray)—ticked off the list of protest movements, hunger strikes, and social activism groups he has founded, starting with “when I was fourteen” up until “when I was eighteen,” a list that ended with “maybe I will also go to jail.” Wong seemed shockingly nonchalant about this possibility, clicking calmly to a statement that read: Remind the ruling class: Today you are depriving us of our future, but the day will come when we decide your future. No matter what happens to the protest movement, we will reclaim the democracy that belongs to us, because time is on our side. “We cannot win this battle,” Wong reasoned. “But we can win this war.”
As part of the student uprisings of 1968, Michelangelo Pistoletto proposed turning the Giardini into a dormitory where artists would sleep all day and work all night so that each morning the city would wake up to fresh art. The Visible Awards revived this idea with “The Night Art Made the Future Visible,” a program of performances and screenings on Tuesday evening. Crowd favorite Marinella Senatore kicked things off with The School of Narrative Dance, a parade that recruited visitors and locals alike as it shimmied down Garibaldi Street. Buoyant young things in ponytails and retro-chic dresses sewn by the inmates of the Giudecca women’s prison bounced amid Ukrainian folksingers, readings of banned children’s books, Industrial Revolution–era ballads, and aerial dancers, all powered by the catchy rhythms (and Rage Against the Machine covers) of the Funkasin Street Band. Everything collided at the Serra dei Giardini, where, after participants had had a chance to spritz up—both Aperol and bug spray—the Visible Awards unveiled their shortlist for 2015, which included the collective Abounaddara, Conflict Kitchen, and Adelita Husni-Bey. The night rounded off with performances by Nástio Mosquito and Ahmet Ögüt with his band Fino Blendax, though a truly hard-core contingent managed to track down Funkasin. (To be honest, they hadn’t made it very far.)
The next day featured presentations by #YoSoy132 spokesman Sandino Bucio Dovali, Teju Cole, and Gulf Labor’s Greg Sholette, but the real intensity came in the final panel, “Knowledge as Collective Experience.” Moderated by Eduardo Maura—cultural coordinator for the Spanish leftist insurgent political party Podemos—it brought together ruangrupa’s farid rakun, hacker and Nordic Larp enthusiast Eleanor Saitta, artist Simone Leigh, and Mujeres Creando’s Maria Gallindo, who arrived in a cage holding up a sign reading WE DO NOT WANT RIGHTS WITHIN THE NEOLIBERAL HELL. WE WANT ALL PARADISE. If Leigh dropped some bombs—“I am an artist, not a nurse, but I do believe that one of the main killers of black women is obedience”—Galindo did not bother with politesse. “We are not a group of social activists! We are not a women’s group! We are not a group of artists! We are a social movement!” she bellowed, dragging her cage with her across the stage. “We are not making art. We are not making political art. We are making politics, just politics!”
When it came time for a question, Maura—think Paul from The Wonder Years—tepidly wondered if a “radical outside” wasn’t, by necessity, built from within. “I am very tired to hear again and again and again that you have to get into the state to change things. We don’t want to be customers!” Gallindo yelped. “We are a movement of rebellion. Rebellion means to go outside all you are commanded to be.” Gallindo paused, giving Maura a once-over. “Maybe because you are a man, you cannot understand this, but as women, we really need to begin from the beginning.”
IT BEGAN with a lesbian descending the staircase. Fortunately, or not, he wasn’t nude.
Douglas Gordon was only the first of a multitude of “lesbians” we’d encounter that sultry eve on boom-boom Balearic Ibiza. The man recently infamous for attacking a Manchester theater with an ax never fails to surprise. I’d been disappointed after reading a dramatic article in The Guardian about his exploit, which followed the premiere of his play Neck of the Woods, and then seeing a photo of a tiny bit of axed-out wall, outlined in a wolf’s paw. “It looked so, well, cute,” I complained, so utterly unsensational. “It’s just a drawing!” Gordon replied.
We were high in the hills at the villa of DJ Sven Väth, celebrating with poolside cocktails before the opening of Gordon and Tobias Rehberger’s “After the After” at Ibiza’s Museu d’Art Contemporani d’Eivissa. There were three naked girls in the pool, but my eyes turned instead to the baroque shrubbery and the shiny new Rehberger I Care About You sculpture. “Oh my God. There he is,” a friend whispered, eyeing a newly arrived guest. She began to outline a lurid story—also involving holes and illicit lines—but thankfully the conceptual line-drawing artist Michael Craig-Martin, who’d flown in for that evening alone, arrived, relieving us from all the gory details. It was too humid anyway, and it wasn’t long before guests would join the naked (children) in the pool.
How did we get here? The story really begins with an e-mailed selfie of two happy middle-aged dudes giddy in front of a palm tree in the early evening sun. The picture itself gave away little of what it truly advertised: a museum show in which two artist friends would edit or “DJ” the work of the other. Neither (heterosexual) artist could explain how it came about that they decided to “sample” a French holiday-love flick, Presque rien (2000), about two teen boys. Rehberger tackled the top half by pixelating a kiss in a “tile-painting” mural, while Gordon’s film beamed on a wall nearby focused on a close-up of tangled limbs. Both works were displayed outside walls of the MACE. Inside, the modest, witty show soon began to fill with bespoke self-proclaimed lesbians. Every other man, woman, and child was wearing one of guest artist Rirkrit Tiravanija’s “NOBODY KNOWS I’M A LESBIAN” giveaway T-shirts—an idea from Kathryn Garcia, who used to work for Tiravanija and, coincidentally, is also the girlfriend of Blum & Poe Ibiza’s guardian angel Sarvia Jasso.
On our way out the door, we saw a painting by Ibiza’s most famous local artist, the Picasso forger Elmyr de Hory, best known from Orson Welles’s documentary F for Fake (1973), also featuring Clifford Irving, author of a faked Howard Hughes autobiography. Fake homos, fake lesbians, faked identity pilgrims alike, we were off uphill to the poolside party at the nouveau finca rented by Gordon and Rehberger. Finnish artist Antto Melasniemi was the first to greet us from behind the grill also graced by Parisian style goddess Rose Chalalai Singh. Lutz Bantel, Rehberger’s longtime right-hand man, handed me a joint, and Heather Harmon, one of the most powerful women in town, arrived with a tantalizing bowl of cherries and figs marinated with mint in preparation for the rambling dinner. “It’s the witches of Eastwick,” said the director of Lune Rouge Ibiza, dedicated to the collection of Guy Laliberté, and the Art Projects Ibiza (with guest dealers Blum & Poe) next door, both of which have opened shows by Takashi Murakami. Harmon and I bonded immediately over our love of some of the artists she worked with previously at Regen Projects. Manfred Pernice? “Every time I see Manfred we always have the same hair,” the smart blonde told me. I looked doubtful. “Yours is washed.” Deadpan, she retorted: “I’m having an off day.”
In Ibiza, when you need to find the villas tucked away from the Hard Rock hoi polloi, directions inevitably involve turning “right” at a roundabout and looking for garbage containers down a road. There are few road signs. There are lots of roundabouts and garbage containers. Directions were much easier to Pilar Corrias’s birthday the next night: “ . . . take the dirt road across from the big pine tree.” The party was being given by novelist and former war reporter Ortensia Visconti (a great-niece of Luchino) and artist Cyril de Commarque at their extraordinary and labyrinthine villa, a former eighteenth-century ruin they’d renovated themselves. I sat with Enrique Juncosa, poet and the curator of the MACE exhibition, and I told him of what I’d learned: Billionaire Laliberté apparently got his start as a fire-eater on this very island. Juncosa told me about “Addicted to Love” Robert Plant’s local manse, and when Rehberger arrived I asked him to elaborate on Sven Väth’s Fantasy Island abode. It turns out that Väth’s parents owned a club in a village outside of Frankfurt. One day, Väth, age fifteen, got a distressed phone call from his mother: “Our DJ just dropped dead!” In order to lend a helping hand to the family biz, he took it up for the night. The rest is well-heeled history.
The MACE show’s title, “After the After,” of course spins on the after hours, which is, after all, when our best thoughts arrive, when the real conversation begins. Could one call Isabela Mora’s birthday party, then, on day three of back-to-back villa-garden pool parties, the “after-after-party?” With only ten guests, Fondation Beyeler colleagues and ARCOmadrid fair director Carlos Urroz among them, Mora shook her finger at me: “I edit my party list.” Gordon took over the DJ stand from French film producer Anna Lena Vaney’s capable hands and put on a kitschy “Women of the World [ . . . take over]” song by Scottish poet Ivor Cutler just as two more powerful women joined the discreet affair.
All these Leos gathered together on one island had to mean something, right? The next night, at the after-after-after party, Jérôme Sans’s smart-set birthday fete included two of the same women I’d met the night before, French art adviser Catherine Couturier and collector Dayana Tamendarova. PR specialist Jasmine Spezie and artist Stefan Brüggemann (whose show I unfortunately missed at Ibiza’s Parra & Romero outpost) rounded out the petite coterie joined later by Diana Widmaier Picasso in the after hours at Heart, Laliberté’s newish club. A painter-waif trapped behind a shop-like display painted Picasso’s body in reverse on the window, and Tamendarova pantomimed to her that she should sign it with Picasso’s name. (Elmyr de Hory, fear not: Your reputation isn’t trumped yet.) Surrounded by all these powerful women and fire-eating art collectors, I wondered what more could be found in More, the cult 1969 film about an Ibiza of lore. It’s high time, perhaps, for the contemporary update: After. Perhaps.
HIKING UP A PARTICULARLY VERTIGINOUS SECTION of Aspen’s Hunter Creek Trail, a breathless art collector lamented a private property development recently foiled by local ballot initiative. “Having recently returned from Cuba,” she declared, “there are only two communist states left in the world—China and Aspen.” With its notoriety as a winter—and apparently summer—playground for the uber-wealthy, such sentiments struck me as incongruous. Indeed, as we looked down from our rocky perch upon the hamlet below, with the newly built Shigeru Ban–designed Aspen Art Museum effulgent and the roar of incoming private jets heard in the distance, the Rockies’ favored colony dégagé looked more like Et in Colorado, ego. If anything, the slated schedule of lavish dinner parties and wine tastings that accompany ArtCrush, the museum’s annual fundraising gala, promised to be more fête accompli than coup d’Etat.
It would be hard to imagine that this year’s benefit—the eleventh to date—could top the last, which coincided with the opening of the aforementioned museum space. Heidi Zuckerman, the AAM’s CEO and director, notes the whole affair very much helps sustain the museum, whose “largest line item continues to be its exhibitions.” Indeed, the past three years saw solo presentations by the likes of Rob Pruitt, Ernesto Neto, and Agnes Martin. “The success of ArtCrush,” she continued while sipping an iced macha latte, “directly impacts our ability to put on a great show.” Or was it the success of ArtCrush depends on putting on a great show?
The festivities kicked off with WineCrush, quite possibly the most luxurious pregaming session ever, held at the home of museum benefactors and true party people John and Amy Phelan. Sponsored by Chanel, the evening’s attendees included artists Mickalene Thomas, Will Cotton, and Richard Phillips; industry titans such as mega-agent Bob Gersh; local denizens and collectors the Magoons and Marxess; and a smattering of celebrities, Kris Jenner (with new beaux in tow) and Lance Armstrong among them.
Ushered by devilishly handsome men into the sleek tent erected on the grounds of the Phelans’ property, guests were treated to a Chanel-infused evening, right down to the gold-plated silverware and signature white camellia centerpieces. Upon taking her seat, Dr. Katy Rodan, founder of the Proactiv skin-care line—yes, the one on TV—wistfully remarked, “They have really outdone themselves this year.” As we were plied with nine rounds of wine tastings, including several vintages Armstrong assured me were “really quite good,” the evening progressed into a billionaires’ bacchanal, with Cotton and his wife, Gagosian’s Rose Dergan, tearing up the dance floor to a house remix of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” From there it got more blurry.
Thursday was PreviewCrush, something akin to a disco nap before the main auction event on Friday. Aspen’s very own Baldwin and Casterline Goodman galleries played host to a pop-up exhibition of works that were to be sold off the following evening. Spotted entering the former gallery was artist of the moment Simon Denny, as well as dealer Jessica Silverman beaming alongside her partner, the art world’s resident sociologist, Sarah Thornton.
Friday’s titular ArtCrush dinner and auction was the week’s apex. Guests descended upon a virtual tent city erected in downtown Aspen on the grounds of the former museum. Parading before the Sotheby’s and Dom Pérignon step-and-repeat, where a line of women in Cinderella-like tulle dresses waited patiently to be photographed by Billy Farrell, the evening’s attendees were funneled into two adjoining structures where they could sample yet more wine while bidding on works for the silent auction, which included medium-rare works by Lutz Bacher, Dan Flavin, and Bjarne Melgaard. Oddly, there was no work by Chris Ofili, the current solo exhibition at the museum. Seen flitting among the various tents were collectors Don and Mera Rubell, as well as the dealer David Maupin and his partner, W editor in chief Stefano Tonchi.
With the appropriate cue, guests crossed a bridge spanning the Roaring Fork River and streamed into the main tent for the dinner and live auction, some electing to take pedicabs the final distance from bridge to big top. Entering through a Dom Pérignon–branded portal where hands jutted out from walls to offer flutes of champagne, guests sat down to a lavish surf and turf dinner. Before the bidding began, Zuckerman duly presented artist Lorna Simpson with the museum’s 2015 Aspen Award for Art. Then, taking the stage, Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker led the evening’s proceedings, corralling collectors while works on the block were paraded by handlers, the whole procession choreographed to a Top 40 playlist compiled by Phelan and Zuckerman. Highlights included a Tom Friedman neon-green Styrofoam sculpture suspended from the tent’s trusses. When Simpson’s work came up, the artist turned away and closed her eyes. As the gavel dropped for the winning bidder—Amy Phelan, natch—Simpson was overheard requesting “a double shot of tequila.” Heading to the afterparty at the aptly named Belly Up Club, a collector gestured toward several stumbling guests who had elected to throw off their precarious footwear, blithely remarking, “Shoes aren’t the only things high in Aspen tonight.” Indeed.
Left: Collectors Mera Rubell and Donald Rubell. Right: Gersh agency founder Bob Gersh.