Left: The Poetry Project's 50th anniversary gala. Right: Poetry Project director Stacy Szymaszek. (All photos: Andrew Durbin)

FOR FIFTY YEARS, the Poetry Project—long housed at St. Mark’s Church in the East Village—has, as Allen Ginsberg put it, “burned like red hot coal in New York’s snow.” In more prosaic terms, it has been one of the epicenters of American poetry and literature, where nearly every major poet (and an artist here or there) has kept the coals burning with a twenty-minute set on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday evening. A thrifty institution from the start, the Project, as it’s known, has been a site of alliances, contention, protest, and antics: Allen van Newkirk staged a fake-shooting of Kenneth Koch as he read in 1968, and Gregory Corso heckled a disheveled Robert Lowell in 1977 (“Robert, you left out that great line about paranoid!”). There’s no poetry without a good tiff, and the Project has provided the occasion for many episodes of high drama and sweet solidarity since its inception at the raucous end of the 1960s.

New York’s poetry’s grand poo-bah celebrated its golden anniversary a few weeks back with its first-ever gala in honor of its second director, the poet Anne Waldman, who, by most accounts, invented—or at least saved—the Project through her indomitable drive to Make It New and Keep It Afloat. She steered the poets through the hair-raising 1970s, when government money wasn’t forthcoming and poetry’s best friend was Michael Allen, a pastor who opened the Church up to the poets, artists, and dancers since they were, in his words, “doing theology.” Poets do clean up when the occasion demands it, and many did as the evening began with a passed-hors d’oeuvres dinner in a packed Parish Hall, as phones were raised into the air for crowd-shots of the sizable cadre who gathered together to toast a second home.

Left: Poetry Project board president Camille Rankine (left) and Anna Moschovakis (right). Right: Ron Padgett speaking with Pierre Joris.

The night brought together a wide-ranging group, from alumni and current members of the Project’s rotating curatorial team—all of whom seemed relieved that the evening had gone on without a hitch—to well-known voices in the New York scene, including John Giorno, husband-and-wife duo Pierre Joris and Nicole Peyrafitte, Ron Padgett (one of the gala’s toasters and a Project mainstay for god knows how long), artist Carolee Schneemann (preparing for her Lifetime Achievement award in Venice), and Project board president and poet (they’re all poets here) Camille Rankine. Managing director Nicole Wallace, program director Simone White, and director Stacy Szymaszek all seemed particularly elated with the anniversary turnout, which coincided with Szymaszek’s own ten-year mark as director. Szymaszek could be found everywhere beaming for a selfie with a fellow poet or two, including some of the evening’s performers, Laurie Anderson, Yoshiko Chuma, and Dane Terry.

With a brief dinner behind us, the poets made their way into the Church’s chapel, where the Project hosts its famous New Year’s Day marathon reading every year. (If you have not been, cure your hangover with the poetry, which runs all day and well into night.) The performances were hosted by longtime impresario Bob Holman, an ambulant chatterbox who leaned dramatically into the mic to remind us of nights and readings past, including Giorno’s poetry radio station, which he broadcast from the church tower and where, it was said by Giorno, that the voice of the last director-general of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, could occasionally be heard. “They say he’s buried in the wall,” Holman said, nodding to the west side, where Ariana Reines, Lucy Ives, Charity Coleman, and others sat quietly, mostly in anticipation of Anderson, the first performer, who sang a curious short story she wrote about visiting the Amish.

Left: Dia Felix, Charity Coleman, and Matt Longabucco. Right: John Giorno.

Anderson, Eleni Sikelianos, and Ron Padgett toasted Waldman, who—as everyone made clear—really needed no introduction, since she was a friend, mentor, educator, or simply an admirer (Waldman is an avid devotee of all things poetry, of course) to nearly everyone in the room. Chuma deconstructed the evening’s format by turning it into a dance, or performance art, or poetry, I wasn’t quite sure which, that began with some movements at the podium and a leaping engagement with her rapt and perhaps pleasantly confused audience as a cellist and pianist accompanied her movement. Before Waldman could take the stage, the performances closed with Latasha Natasha Diggs, a sound poet and the author of the much-loved Twerk(Belladonna Books), who channeled the Project’s polyvocality in a cascading poem that nodded to Waldman’s own multitongued collating poetics.

And finally, Waldman, who took to the stage to command, in her indomitable voice, the audience before her with a long, somewhat-meandering but always invigorating speech about poetry’s “plot to save the world” against itself. And when that fails (all must fail in poetry, right?), we will simply welcome the jellyfish world to come, with its “delicious slurp at the end of time.”

In the meantime, she reminded us, quoting her Buddhist teacher, “stay with it, or you’ll miss something.”

Andrew Durbin

Peter’s Farm

Greenwich, Connecticut

Left: Artist Matt McCauley with curator Sadie Laska. Right: Lizzi Bougatsos with Tony Cox. (All photos: Trinie Dalton.)

FARM ANIMALS NEED A VACATION SOMETIMES, especially when they’re trapped inside the Orwellian nightmare of American politics. That was the pun Sadie Laska turned to while assembling this massive thirty-four person exhibition, titled after an Amazon ad for George Orwell’s 1945 novel that kept popping up in Laska’s feed when the book hit the bestseller list after the 2016 presidential election. That’s so Big Brother.

Peter Brant invited me to propose an idea the day after I attended the Women’s March,” the artist told me. Suddenly, the dystopian reference offered a perfect satire to contrast with The Brant Foundation’s gorgeous, pastoral, equine-friendly location. Designed for installation on a farm, the exhibition was by animals, for animals: a community of artists, primarily Brooklyn-based painters, sculptors, and musicians (who performed in a giant lawn-tent), burning off steam.

I first felt the tension melting en route, via country roads peppered with mossy stone walls in a sprouting oak forest, but upon arrival the easygoing-day pact was sealed, particularly outside where children and dogs running across the sprawling lawn reanimated Urs Fischer’s slate gray sculpture Big Clay, 2011, which matched the dark stormy sky. When sun finally arrived, I suspected Tony Cox’s mythic superhero band LOBOTOMAXXX was at the root of it, so powerfully aerobic-yogic and DEVO-esque was their vocal and drum machine performance: Cox’s trampoline, which he jumped on, flipped over, handstand-ed around, and crawled under—quite flashily in his silver sequined leotard—must have been a talisman.

Inside, generations of downtown painters were teamed up to “bridge” (Laska’s words) a rebellious, freewheeling, and colorful Pop lineage to militant graffiti and street-art aesthetics. In this respect, the exhibition pays homage to early Deitch Projects. For example, one room hosted Joe Bradley, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Joyce Pensato, Katherine Bernhardt, Keith Haring, and Nina Chanel Abney, all conversing in feedback loops of cartoon language. The room containing Peter Saul, Henry Taylor, Carol Rama, Jason Fox, Josh Smith, and Lonnie Holley—represented by a fierce motorcycle sculpture, Riding Through My Roots Too Fast, 2004—alternated between animal imagery and social critique. A.R. Penck’s Skizze, 1983, borrowed for inclusion two weeks after his death, was a heartfelt commemoration and fortified the pervasive spirit of activism.

Two nooks across from one another were Sue Williams’s The Bill of Rights, 1990, Sadie Laska’s Stars and Bars, and William Copley’s mock-heroic portraits of horse asses and powdered wig-wearing buffoons that metaphorically spelled #dumptrump. Antiwar messaging bookended entryways as well: One was occupied mightily by a Bread and Puppet Theater display (MILITARIZED; HYPNOTIZED declared their banners), and the other hosted seldom-seen paintings by Don Van Vliet, whose chunky, visionary abstraction The Drazy Hoops, 1997, hung catty-corner from Wally Hedrick’s Peace, 1953, a wavy American flag with the title scrawled across it.

Left: LOBOTOMAXXX performance. Right: The Honey Badgers.

But the coziest room was where jam sessions by the Honey Badgers broke out periodically in improvisational merriment, inside Sarah Braman’s exquisitely magenta and lavender Badger Den (Let's read together), 2017, constructed from truck campers and plywood for secret fort fun. The Honey Badgers, named after the fabulously vicious YouTube-famous critter who puts up with zilch, is an all-star band including a roving cast of gallerists like Jack Hanley and Phil Grauer, plus children. The brood really went for it, mellifluous tunes encouraging communal hang sessions between old friends. Joe Bradley apologized for not sending me a blurb awhile back, and I replied, “Hey man no worries, actually you did send it, and it was awesome.”

With moms laughing at their kids, it was cuteness overload, given our Mother’s Day occasion. We all sat on Katherine Bernhardt’s series of imported “Moroccan Magic Carpets” below Agathe Snow’s dangling sculpture Coucou, a “found tree-trunk gutted by natural elements” injected with stress-relieving soft-sculptures built of memory foam that she had squeezed, twisted, and punched while building to allay anxieties. “Wreckage and stress,” she told me while we stood beneath Coucou. Thankfully on the other walls, Chris Martin’s enormous October, 2016, high-fived Julian Schnabel’s smaller, pyramidal yellow-and-orange canvas Untitled, 2013, perhaps engaging in soul-advancing, psychic negotiations to promote tranquility, the way good canvases can.

Left: Bread and Puppet Theater's installation. Right: Artists Johanna Jackson and Chris Johnson.

I hitchhiked home with Chris Martin and Tamara Gonzales, munching pecans in the backseat. As we left the farm’s valet area, we wondered aloud about how much upkeep the Jeff Koons Puppy takes, but then real life reared its head as we stalled in traffic near the landfill outside Co-Op City. Eventually I was delivered to another utopian convention: Chris Johanson and Johanna Jackson’s show “The Middle Riddle,” at the Journal Gallery. “We chose artists that we feel close to, aligned with, that live in our spiritual/social neighborhood,” Jackson said. Casual vibes radiated from the pair’s sculptural furniture collaborations, and we all admired Jackson’s 2017 Dump Him painting sitting on the floor in the corner depicting flicking fingers, as if shooing away some pestilence. And we only just passed the first one hundred days mark. For a day at least, it seems animals everywhere reclaimed freedom, and made the most of it.

Trinie Dalton

Left: Curator Sinziana Ravini with artist Radenko Milak at the Bosnia and Herzegovina Pavilion. Right: Curator Peter Eleey and artist Francis Als at the Iraq Pavilion. (All photos: Kate Sutton)

IN AN UNTITLED FILM shot in Mosul on October 31, 2016, Francis Als trains his lens on a desert landscape suspended in the pink haze of a sandstorm. A tank slowly careens in the distance, armed soldiers milling about in its path. In the foreground one of the artist’s hands holds up a small white canvas while the other applies paint, mostly in sand tones with a daub of crimson to match the flag of the Peshmerga—the Kurdish army—flying atop the tank. Using the canvas as both picture and palette, the artist dashes out a composition in situ. “I was originally drawing with pencil on one side and painting on the other,” Als explained. “But that took too long.”

We were standing in front of the Gothic windows of the wood-paneled library of the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, home to this year’s Iraq Pavilion, where Als’s video (flanked by a squadron of small sandstorm paintings, all white paint smudged on linen) were featured as a kind of special guest. Curated by Ruya Foundation’s Tamara Chalabi alongside Paolo Colombo, the pavilion’s central thrust, “Archaic,” corralled poignant works by Iraqi Modernists Jewad Selim and Shakir Hassan Al Said alongside six contemporary artists, including Nadine Hattom, Luay Fadhil, and Sadik Kwaish Alfraji.

In a nod to its theme, “Archaic” opened with a series of vitrines showcasing forty artifacts from the Iraq Museum, dating as far back as the Halaf Period, 6000 BCE. Most had never been out of the country; the few that had were looted in 2003, and only recently recovered by Interpol. “As you can imagine, it was a Herculean task getting these here,” Chalabi said, motioning to the two uniformed museum guards assigned to escort the artifacts. Across the room, curator Peter Eleey shook his head. “We just came from the Damien Hirst show, where Jay Jopling was giving us the spiel about how they dropped these sculptures to the bottom of the sea to fake ruins. It’s quite a comparison.”

Left: Artist Katja Novitskova with curator Kati Ilves at the Estonian Pavilion. Right: Artists Roman Uranjek and Ahmet ğt at the NSK State Pavilion.

Als told me that his Mosul series, which he discussed in a 500 Words in February, was a way to test the relevance and irrelevance of artistic language in a context of conflict. It seems in Venice, it’s irreverence, not irrelevance, that posed the bigger threat. This year’s biennial bumper crop of political interventions and socially minded initiatives were thrown into relief against the backdrop of Christine Macel’s florid “Viva Arte Viva,” a mostly depoliticized effort. The emphasis on aesthetics and process made some political intentions seem decorative. For all its good intentions, for example, Olafur Eliasson’s Green Light Workshoporiginally conceived as a more comprehensive endeavor—was too easily misread as an exploitation of asylum-seekers. At the packed South African pavilion, films by Candice Breitz and Mohau Modisakeng tread the thin line between gripping and glib. At the Slovenian Pavilion, Nika Autor also struck a delicate balance, embedding video footage of refugee-seekers crowding onto the undercarriage of a train into a cinematographic lineage of locomotives on film, from the original shock of the Lumire brothers to the tramp antics of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd. Meanwhile, the Tunisian Pavilion—the country’s first since 1958—set up kiosks where visitors could apply for an alternative travel document, modeled after the Schengen visa. With the gut-punch title, “The Absence of Paths,” the project tackled the increasing difficulty (if not impossibility) of international travel for Tunisians and other North Africans.

Relevance aside, structurally, the Tunisian project replicated the gesture at the center of another of this year’s offerings: the NSK State Pavilion. Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) was an interdisciplinary association, first forged in 1984 by three of Slovenia’s most radical collectives: IRWIN, Laibach, and Scipion Nasice Sisters. In 1992, NSK riffed on the fallout from the Slovenian secession and the ensuing dissolution of Yugoslavia (“Sleavenia”?) by establishing “NSK State in Time,” a pretender nation, complete with passports for which visitors could apply at exhibitions.

Left: Art Basel's Alia Al Senussi with Bellas Artes Project's Jam Acuzar at the Samdani Art Foundation dinner. Right: Curators Jens Hoffmann and Inti Guerrero at the Samdani Art Foundation dinner.

Twenty-five years later, NSK State now boasts roughly 1500 citizens, many of whom are more than happy to flash their passports when asked. “I once traveled between Paris and Berlin just showing my NSK passport as my ID,” Hans Ulrich Obrist bragged over dinner. “I heard IRWIN’s Roman Uranjek used his diplomatic pass to get out of traffic violations in Ljubljana,” added artist Luchezar Boyardijev—an NSK diplomat himself. Once essentially a Cool Kids Club for the more progressive fringes of the 1990s art world, the NSK State took on a different dimension in 2006, following a frantic influx of applications from Nigeria, where word had circulated that the passports were tantamount to Slovenian citizenship. In 2009, members of the artist collective traveled to Lagos to meet with some of the applicants in person, quite literally facing the real repercussions of an ideological wager.

When NSK State decided to have its own pavilion, they followed the Biennale protocol, selecting two curators from their citizenry—Zdenka Badovinac and Charles Esche—who then scoured the same list to select the representing artist—Ahmet ğt—and published an accompanying reader called The Final Countdown: Europe, Refugees and the Left, with contributions from NSK citizen Slavoj Žižek, Boris Groys, and Agon Hamza. ğt offered an architectural intervention, warping the entry space to the Ca’Tron so that visitors are forced up a perilously steep, Museum-of-Illusions-style incline if they want to get a look at the materials on display. Once inside, ğt had placed the NSK passport station along the outer edges of a trampoline. “It’s a heavy subject, so I wanted to bring a little levity into the space,” the artist reasoned. To mark the opening, the NSK invited Žižek to speak, an event open to all NSK citizens. (Those without the necessary papers could apply for a visa at the door.)

Left: Nils Bech performing at the Bosnia and Herzegovina Pavilion's University of Disaster. Right: Francis Alys's untitled 2016 film at the Iraq Pavilion.

In another cross-national project, Bosnia and Herzegovina hosted the “University of Disaster,” an initiative of artist Radenko Milak in collaboration with the congenial crew at Paletten, the Swedish art journal fronted by writer Fredrik Svensk and curator Sinziana Ravini. On the top floor of the Palazzo, Milak’s gorgeous watercolors and hand-drawn animations of events like Chernobyl and Hiroshima may have set the tone, but from there, “disaster” took on extravagant interpretations. Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s Oculus Rift animation Dickgirl 3D(X), 2016, endowed viewers with magnificent breasts and an electric blue, plasma phallus, used to repeatedly penetrate a giant, chortling sex potato. I tried to avert my eyes from the bobbling mass, but the goggles wouldn’t let me look away. The most effective representation of disaster may have been the most intimate: Echo, a searing performance by Nils Bech staged in a tiny makeshift bedroom covered in a quilt of Ida Ekblad paintings. Curled up beside a small effigy on the bed, Bech drizzled his limoncello vocals over the room, crooning on loop: “It’s all over now… It’s all over now.” There wasn’t a dry eye (or unbroken heart) in the room.

Thankfully the week ended on a note of hope—but hope as in a glass half-empty, but the drink too bitter anyway. The Saturday the biennial officially opened, I ducked down to Pistoia. Not far from Florence (or the interplanetary Centro di Luigi Pecci) the stately Tuscan town is host to dealer Giuseppe Alleruzzo’s gallery, SpazioA, where curator Martha Kirszenbaum had organized “Waiting for the Sun,” a spirited group show featuring Dora Budor, Margaret Honda, Matthew Lutz-Kinoy, Laure Prouvost, and Reza Shafahi, a seventy-six-year-old painter who launched his art career only a few years back, following a collaboration with his son, artist Mamali Shafahi.

Making the most of the context, Budor developed her installation around the region’s signature design collective, Archizoom (frequent collaborators and participants with the influential Superstudio, also founded in late-1960s Florence). Budor placed one of Archizoom’s foxy white vinyl couches in the gallery’s center, directly under a streamlined, suspended machine (something between a light fixture and an ashtray) that showered prop ashes onto the pristine surface of the sofa below. “I was thinking about 1816, ‘The Year without Summer,’ ” Budor told us. That year increased volcanic activity—triggered by the 1815 eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora—temporarily altered the climate, cloaking much of the planet in the kind of sandstorm haze Als had tried to capture in his paintings. Whether it was the artist’s intention, Budor’s work was a reminder that dark ages have come and gone before, that the sun eventually comes out again. It may be nave of me, but that was a sentiment I could drink to.

Kate Sutton

Left: Artists Margaret Honda and Morgan Fisher at SpazioA in Pistoia. Right: Artist Luchezar Boyadjiev shows off his NSK Diplomat passport to Witte de With's Adam Kleinman, Natasha Hoare, and Samuel Saelemakers.

World Clique


Left: High Line Art and Italian Pavilion curator Cecilia Alemani. Right: Studio Museum director Thelma Golden and artist Mark Bradford. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky)

THE VENICE ART BIENNALE is never just an assembly of national exhibitions competing for prominence and prizes. It’s a summit meeting marshaling the collective conscience of the art world.

One could sense it build during preopening events of the Biennale’s fifty-seventh edition, basically an invitation to mainline art while capitalizing on the social element and pretending business is not involved. Fat chance of that when the planet’s most carnivorous collectors are bending elbows with teams of dealers and advisors, top museum personnel, and deep benches of artists. Many, many artists.

Indeed, this biennial’s artistic director Centre Pompidou chief curator Christine Macel, titled her exhibition “Viva Arte Viva” and declared it to be “designed with artists, by artists, for artists”—as if everyone else attending didn’t count!

Members of each group arriving on Monday had only to enter the newly renovated ground-floor galleries of the Gallerie della Accademia to feast on “Philip Guston and the Poets,” a delectable surprise of a show negotiated by Hauser & Wirth and curated by one Dr. Kosme de Barao.

Left: Artist Frances Stark with her son Arlo. Right: Artist Carol Bove and curator Philipp Kaiser with artists Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler for the Swiss Pavilion.

It was a first for Guston in Venice and a first for the Accademia. Never before has art produced after the eighteenth century hung on its walls. American Academy in Rome artistic director Peter Miller, the first to bring a Guston exhibition to Italy, was quick to pronounce the show excellent. Certainly, this was more than a Biennale teaser. It showed signs of becoming the go-to exhibition of the week.

It would have stiff competition—from the Prada Foundation and, majorly, from exhibitions of art on San Giorgio Maggiore Island by Alighiero Boetti, Robert Rauschenberg, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Paul McCarthy (in VR!) at Fondazione Cini, and both Ettore Sottsass and Pae White (she built a blown-glass wall!) at Le Stanze del Vetro. But who among us can ever get enough art?

A few days earlier, Randy Kennedy had been a stalwart New York Times reporter. Now he stood with Hauser & Wirth captains Marc Payot, Cristopher Canizares, Timo Kapeller, and Barbara Corti welcoming collectors like Stuart and Gina Peterson, lenders to the Guston show, top curatorial powers, and many of the gallery’s thirteen biennial artists to dinner in the extravagantly appointed rooms of the Palazzo Barbaro, which once housed the studio of John Singer Sargent.

Now it had Mark Bradford, the artist representing the United States with an exhibition as well as a community project for people recently released from prison. One thing we can say: This artist is not working just for money. “I’m happy with it,” he said of the drab American pavilion. “I’m just going to relax and be myself.”

Left: Filmmaker Linda Goode Bryant with artists McArthur Binion and Senga Nengudi. Artist Anne Imhof and performer Mickey Mahar for the German Pavilion. (Photos: David Velasco)

It only just seemed as if every art-educated person—or everyone from New York, Zurich, London, and Los Angeles—was at his side. Not true! Viennese art advisor Gisela Winkelhofer was holding the first of two black-tie dinners for a European contingent of artists and collectors at nearby Palazzetto Pisani. (Do women actually pack their gowns, shop here, or ship them ahead?)

Back over the Accademia Bridge, at La Cucina on the Zattere, Pilar Corrias had a sweep of international personalities for dinner on a rain-soaked pier. The company was juicy too. At its center were artists Rachel Rose, Ian Cheng, Philippe Parreno, Anri Sala, and Tala Madani, bounded by collectors Eleanor Cayre, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Maja Hoffmann, dealers Gavin Brown and Peder Lund, and curators from Tate Modern (Gregor Muir) and the Hirshhorn Museum (Jarrett Gregory). “This is my seventh Biennale,” Parreno said. Was that a record? “Could be,” he replied. “I think it is.”

Seated beside me was Elena Geuna, curator of the biggest curiosity in Venice—Damien Hirst’s “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable,” at Franois Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana. “The narrative really starts at the Dogana,” she said. “Go there first.”

First? Before the Bbiennale? Then when? For such a relatively small city, particularly one designed to frustrate invaders by making sure they never know exactly where they are, Venice during a Biennale opening is a dizzying challenge.

Left: Set designer Anna Viebrock and artist Thomas Demand. Right: Artist Charles Atlas.

But Venice has an unending appetite for art and it would be a shame not hunt for the Carlo Scarpa studio, a private apartment opened only for a special sound project by Melissa McGill during Biennale preview week. Or to dash out of the rain into the Basilica dei Frari to gape at Canova’s marble pyramid of a tomb. Or study the political graffiti pulled off the walls of former prison cells in the Palazzo Ducale, next to a new video by Douglas Gordon. Or seek out off-site shows like curator Caroline Corbetta’s presentation of works by the promising Thomas Braida at the untouched Palazzo Nani Bernardo, a Venetian home opposite the sanitized Palazzo Grassi.

The other great pleasure of Venice during a biennale involves the random crossing of paths with familiar faces while lost in the alleys and sotoportegoes between the bridges of winding canals.

Walk through a tiny campo and see artist Thomas Demand emerge from an espresso bar at a local caf. Stroll down the Riva degli Schiavoni and pass the sister dealers Francesca Kaufmann and Chiara Repetto, or the artist Olafur Eliasson. Trot across the Campo San Stefano and find the artist Francis Als, a Belgian showing in the very interesting Pavilion of Iraq. Walk out of the Arsenale and see auctioneer Simon de Pury and his wife Michaela hot-footing it ahead of Beyeler Foundation director Sam Keller and Parkett cofounders Bice Curiger and Jacqueline Burckhardt. Is this not fun? Then turn a corner and spy Piero Golia, the one person I have met who understands the Venetian system of numbering houses, which doesn’t involve street names. Indeed, the most common sight of the week was of art pedestrians staring at map apps on their phones.

Left: Artist Xavier Veilhan for the French Pavilion. Right: MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, artist Carolee Schneemann, Venice Biennale artistic director Christine Macel, and Museum der Moderne Salzburg director Sabine Breitwieser. (Photo: PPOW)

Tuesday morning I dutifully hauled myself to the Dogana, only to be dwarfed by an astonishing, huge bronze medallion magnificently encrusted with studio-made coral and giant barnacles as ugly as they were beautiful. The show, rumored to have cost some sixty million dollars to produce, was a fantasy of artifacts from ancient and modern cultures supposedly dredged from watery graves, some more believably than others. (A room of extraordinarily crafted gold objects would make a worthy companion to the King Tut room in the Cairo Museum.) Altogether, “Treasures” felt like the abandoned props of Disney movies that suggested Hirst as our greatest living surrealist. Oddly, this was the one stop I made all week where I didn’t see anyone I knew.

After taking a vaporetto to the Arsenale that stopped several stations short of the Giardini, I hoofed it to the Arsenale, only to run into dealer Lauren Wittels and artist Charles Atlas. His large-screen video of Lady Bunny, high hair and all, giving a disquisition on the environment before breaking into the joyous song, The End of the World, deserved the special mention it later got from the Biennale jury.

This section, one of nine so-called “pavilions” illustrating socially conscious, spiritual, or aesthetic conventions, took on a bit of grandeur with Leonor Antunes’s sequence of handwoven brass, leather, and rubber screens lit by blown-glass, hanging lamps. They divided attention between floor sculptures of found lumber and objects by Gabriel Orozco and a tinkling work by Anri Sala that turned drums for printing wallpaper into a player piano-style roll. “All three artists are from my gallery,” noted dealer Jos Kuri, with no small satisfaction.

Then there was the Italian Pavilion. For years it has cultivated a reputation for embarrassing shows. Not this time. With High Line Art curator Cecilia Alemani in charge, and a healthy budget from Fendi, its main sponsor, it offered just three artists—Roberto Cuoghi, Adelita Husni-Bey, and Giorgio Andreotta Cal—in an exhibition titled “Il Mondo Magico.”

Left: Artist Assad Raza with collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and artist Rachel Rose. Right: Artist Dawn Kaspar.

And magic it was for dealer Pepi Marchetti Franchi and art advisor Damiana Loni, both Italians who approached each presentation with trepidation, only to exit feeling proud. Cuoghi took on the mummification of Christ—almost literally—with a workshop that was part biosphere and part morgue. Husni-Bey provided a change of pace with a video documenting another kind of workshop, one dramatizing group power dynamics. Neither of these projects prepared us for Andreotta Cal’s very site-specific architectural invention, a truly transformative experience that was, in its quiet way, more spectacular than Hirst’s.

My feet were starting to hurt but my ears picked up at the alluring sounds in the gardens, a project by Hassan Khan, who deserved the Silver Lion he later won. But right now it was past time to hit the Giardini. (Tuesday’s press day is the only time—before the public opening—to see shows unmolested by rude hordes determined to be first at everything.)

We were hardly past the gate before people started saying that Faust, the fascist-flavored performance by Anne Imhof in the German pavilion, was the absolute must-see of the whole circus. By the end of the afternoon, the consensus on who would win the top prizes was divided among Bradford, Imhof, and ninety-one-year-old Geta Brătescu of Romania. I thought the films and photographs by Tracey Moffatt in the Australian Pavilion added up to one of the most beautifully realized of all pavilions. Yet in hundreds of conversations, the name Franz Erhard Walther, who ultimately won the best artist prize, never came up.

So much for speculation.

Left: Artist Francesco Vezzoli, collector Miuccia Prada, and The Shed artistic director Alex Poots. Right: Artist Carlos Amorales for the Mexican Pavilion.

Evening was drawing nigh and the scene shifted to San Marco, where collector Bob Rennie was on the Hotel Danieli rooftop hosting a cocktail for fellow Canadian Geoffrey Farmer. Some people, Farmer said, expressed sympathy even while congratulating him, assuming he’d been forced to work with the ruin of a building destroyed in a storm, rather than deliberately taking it apart and leaving just the roof to shelter a geyser.

Near the Teatro Fenice, London’s Victoria Miro was inaugurating legendary Venetian dealer Bruna Aickelin’s Il Capricorno as a new Miro outpost showing sultry, slightly heretical watercolors by the dapper Chris Ofili. He was surrounded by Frieze cofounder Matthew Slotover and Tate Britain curator Ann Gallagher. Funny how powerfully loyalty to country courses through a Venice Biennale.

It was only going to get more intense.

At the Museo Correr, friends and fans of Shirin Neshat gathered for the opening of “Home of My Eyes,” a show of more than fifty black-and-white portraits of people from Azerbaijan and an arresting new video located just down the hall from “Poussin to Czanne”—of course! This is Venice, a place more famous for looking back than ahead.

Left: Artist Philippe Parreno. Right: Artist Kiki Smith and dealer Susan Dunne.

There were speeches—by curator Thomas Kellein, collector Christian Boehringer (his Written Art Foundation was the show’s main backer), and the voluble Gabriella Belli, director of the foundation that oversees all the museums owned by the city. She confessed to fear in advance of the show, where a large wooden figure from the Renaissance remained high on one wall, between Neshat’s photographs. Crosspollination, apparently, isn’t Belli’s thing. “Shirin said keep it there,” Belli confessed. “I was so nervous. But we did it and now I see she was right.”

Neshat blushed.

Darkness fell. What was it going to be? The Hauser & Wirth party for Phyllida Barlow? The Marian Goodman cocktail in the Fortuny gardens on the Giudecca? The Miro dinner for Ofili at the Monaco? Or Nicoletta Fiorucci’s dinner at the Palazzo Loredan dell’Ambasciatore to celebrate the splendid show by Lucy McKenzie and curator Milovan Farronato at Palazzetto Tito?

No time for any of that. This night belonged to Fendi CEO Pietro Beccari’s Italian Pavilion dinner under the Tintorettos at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, possibly the most glorious public room in all of Venice.

This event leaned more to fashion than art, but even the art people dressed up. Maurizio Cattelan wore a blinding white dinner jacket. Massimo De Carlo and Jeffrey Deitch, each in a bespoke suit, were outclassed for cool by architect David Adjaye and for sexiness by Andreotta Cal, one of the few artists invited. Studio Museum director Thelma Golden relied on of her engaging designer husband, Duro Olowu, and Italian pavilion curator Cecilia Alemani was, naturally, swathed head to toe in Fendi.

Left: Artists Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen. Right: Artist Leonor Antunes and dealer Jose Kuri.

Getting a crack at his country’s pavilion represented something of a homecoming for the Venetian-born Andreotta Cal, who was an assistant to Ilya Kabokov when the Russian artist shared the building with Richard Serra at the 2002 Biennale, before Italy claimed it. “Now I’m in Serra’s space,” Andreotta Cal said, with a touch of awe. “It’s fantastic.”

On Wednesday morning, the Prada Foundation welcomed the press to “The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied,” a surpassing exhibition curated by Udo Kittelmann and kitted out, as it were, by collaborating artist Thomas Demand, filmmaker/philosopher/talk-show host Alexander Kluge, and set designer Anna Viebrock.

Visitors move through a series of connected rooms—a courtroom, a theater, a doctor’s examining room, a parlor—never quite knowing if they are actor or audience. “This show could never happen anywhere else,” said Demand, giving the nod to Miuccia Prada, a go-for-broke collector if ever one was. The rooms, Demand said, originally were Viebrock’s sets and props for a drama staged by a German theater company and later abandoned in Mexico—until the Prada Foundation shipped it all to Venice.

“They know how to do crazy here!” exclaimed Documenta 14 curator Dieter Roelstraete, with admiration. “This show is audience-averse. It’s arcane and elaborate in its refusal of spectacle. I love it.”

Left: Big Freedia performing at the Commissioner's dinner for the American Pavilion at Hotel Cipriani. Right: Parkett cofounder Bice Curiger, Beyeler Foundation director Sam Keller, and Parkett cofounder Jacqueline Burckhardt.

Wednesday was also the so-called “professional” preview of the Biennale but it looked as if thousands of tourists were pouring into the Giardini. Long lines waited for entrance to nearly every pavilion, especially the German, where some viewers stayed for hours. The one for Finland was shorter so after impromptu chats with passersby like the artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset, Nasher Sculpture Center director Jeremy Strick, and Stedelijk Museum curator Bart van der Heide, I entered and enjoyed an animated video by Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen that employed the tropes of commercial advertising as self-analysis.

Swiss Pavilion curator Philipp Kaiser was drawing a smartypants crowd to the official opening of his show, “Women of Venice,” with sculpture by Carol Bove and a compelling, double-sided, semi-doc by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler starring the son of Flora Mayo, who was Alberto Giacometti’s lover. “Switzerland’s most famous artist refused to show in this pavilion, even though it was designed by his brother,” Kaiser said. “So we’re doing it.”

If you were American, it was time for fancy dress. The equivalent of a state dinner for Bradford was about to begin at the Hotel Cirpriani, hosted by collector and activist Pamela Joyner and her husband Fred Giuffrida with Lizbeth and George Krupp. The Cipriani is on the Giudecca. People came in black tie and boats. Some were artists like Charles Gaines, Kevin Beasley, and Mary Weatherford. But others represented an impressive array of institutions, from the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum to the Hammer, the Metropolitan, the Guggenheim, SF MoMA, the Hirshhorn, the Studio Museum, the MIT List Visual Arts Center, the Broad, and, of course, the American pavilion’s two commissioners, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Rose Museum at Brandeis, where BMA director Christopher Bedford was working when he nominated Bradford.

These occasions, attended by State Department administrators, can be stiff. Happily, when Bradford is around, things tend to loosen up. Met curator Sheena Wagstaff even set her table on fire—accidentally, but it gave dealer Iwan Wirth a chance to play hero and put it out.

Anne Imhof's Faust for the German Pavilion. (Photo: David Velasco)

Speeches were blessedly short and to the point, which was to take pride in a country that infuriates many of those present. “I heard from five different people with very good taste that this is the best American pavilion in twenty years,” Bedford began, before complimenting Hauser & Wirth for being “a gallery unlike any other” and calling out collector Eileen Norton as Bradford’s longest continuing supporter.

Former BMA board chair told Bradford that he’d created a public project even more “impactful” than his exhibition, “Tomorrow Is Another Day.” “It’s a call to action,” she said, that “teaches us the importance of not being silent.” At that, Kelly Degnan, charg d’affaires of the US mission to Italy, got up and thanked Bradford “for being Mark Bradford,” and noted how he shook the hand of every person entering the pavilion.

A standing ovation greeted the artist. “I’m not a person who tells you what to think about art,” he said, explaining that he wanted his process and struggle to be visible in the work. “I’m an artist as a citizen,” he declared. “It was important to greet people. The closer I can get to people the less I feel alone.” Again, his listeners stood to applaud, and when he turned to Allan DiCastro, his partner in life and in his public project Art and Practice in Los Angeles, I almost cried when he added, “I had a bus pass and dream, and then I met Allan.”

Left: Artist Maurizio Cattelan and dealer Massimo De Carlo. Right: Artist Pae White.

After dinner came Bradford’s choice of a “surprise” entertainment, a set by New Orleans performer Big Freedia so rousing that Ford Foundation director Darren Walker wasted no time hitting the dance floor while Thelma Golden showed her moves on the stage.

At a Venice Biennale, in any political moment, a degree of nationalism inevitably creeps into one’s thinking, even when attitudes toward home are conflicted. Our country has a great deal to answer for, but when Big Freedia and his dancers hit their marks, I suddenly felt sorry for people attending dinners for other countries’ artists. I wanted to shout, Here’s the America we know and love!

At week’s end, Imhof won the Golden Lion for best national participation. Maybe too many Americans have been taking home trophies in recent years. Carolee Schneemann was already slated for the Lifetime Achievement award, but Bradford didn’t get a nod, nor did Brătescu or Andreotta Cal.

Oh, well. As Bradford said, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Linda Yablonsky

Game On

New York

Nancy Spero, Sheela-Na-Gig at Home, 1996, handprinting on paper, underwear, clothesline, clothespins, video, dimensions variable. (Photo: Paige K. Bradley)

IF YOU AREN’T THERE TO SHOP, art fairs are like plugging into a video game where someone’s already taken care of the bosses. Down this aisle, a friend to talk to, down that one a costumed bear spinning out on the floor at your feet; maybe go watch a digital film, ogle some colors, take the ferry—it doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you ride the ride. It all blurs and holds together if you don’t slow down to remember you’ve been chewing on dried mango all day.

Relentless attention to art and society keeps the body’s needs at bay—at least until a rainy day, with storm clouds looming over the weekend. But the key thing, on this Thursday vernissage of Frieze New York, was NOT YET. It was bright on the outside, and bright on the inside for preview hours. Let me name a few lights:

Henry Taylor painted Deana Lawson—the two are also chummily installed next to each other in the current Whitney Biennial—and the results were hung up by Blum & Poe. 303 Gallery brought elegant black-and-white Collier Schorr photographs along with small gorgeousness in two strains—loopy from Karen Kilimnik and spooky care of Maureen Gallace.

Left: A visitor in front of Henry Taylor's Deana Lawson in the Lionel Hamptons, 2016, at Blum & Poe. Right: Dealers Alex Mor and Philippe Charpentier. (Photo: David Velasco)

Meanwhile, art historian Maika Pollack’s Southfirst featured a solo presentation by Jared Bark—a performance artist whose keen 1970s-era exploration of photo-booth photography’s affinity with abstraction was the subject of a 2015 show at the gallery—memorable for both the breadth displayed and his gallerist’s smart enthusiasm. NYC- and London-based Hales showed paintings by Virginia Jaramillo, who, in addition to being featured in the recently opened and absolutely fantastic exhibition “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85” at the Brooklyn Museum, had a 1971 work bought by the museum through the inaugural Frieze Brooklyn Museum Fund—Yahtzee!

Perambulating along: Michael Krebber’s adamant anemia cycled through making itself known and slumping back under the radar throughout the course of its day, hung as it was in the form of two drawings at Maureen Paley’s booth. A friend noted that she’d seen more plastic surgery within the first ten minutes of strolling in than she could recall encountering before.

You know what else was taut? Daiga Grantina’s comely, freaky strung-up fabric works at Galerie Joseph Tang. Betty Woodman clocked them, and I was pleased to see them IRL, for once. Nancy Spero’s clothesline at Galerie Lelong was another highlight, making the so-obvious-why-didn’t-I-notice-it-before connection between artworks and old, washed intimates—all get hung out to dry at some point. Speaking of dry, would Socit’s Daniel Wichelhaus have some of my mango? Affirmative.

An e-mail from a German writer begins: “I hope you are well and the current political climate doesn’t affect your daily live negatively!” \(ツ)/

Left: Herald St's Ash L'ange and Nicky Verber. (Photo: Paige K. Bradley) Right: Bunny Rogers reading at Swiss Institute. (Photo: Jessica Butler)

As our Chief Orange One (too bad we couldn’t reject preexisting conditions last November) headed to the USS Intrepid at Pier 86 for a thirty-minute dinner reception with the Australian prime minister, we headed downtown for quieter affairs: Juliana Huxtable’s opening at Reena Spaulings, Tabor Robak at Team, a dinner at Bottino for Leidy Churchman’s Mary Boone debut, and a Bunny Rogers reading at the Swiss Institute. A small group of Rogers’s friends and admirers noshed on an array of cheeses until it was time for earnest and sincere speeches from Simon Castets and Hans Ulrich Obrist on when they first met Rogers and came to work with her for their “89 plus” project. After a few rounds of applause, the artist—looking the happiest I’ve ever seen her—read her slivers of poetry. They glide right by, veering from phrases clipped from some heightened drama to blunt exposition with a sharp nick of allusion: “I’m going to leave you / Should you want blood you’ve got it / In a world where she counts / What do you want from me besides the four legs I rip off the seat / He said class will be over soon and can I take you home?” I would never not say yes.

Paige K. Bradley

Fair Exchange

New York

Left: Gallerist El-Yesha Puplampu and artist Serge Attukwei Clottey. Right: Curator Koyo Kouoh and founder of 1:54 Touria El Glaoui. (All photos: Allison Young)

“ART HAS ALWAYS BEEN A SITE OF RESISTANCE, A SITE OF REFUGE IN HARD TIMES,” Dakar-based curator Koyo Kouoh mused while we were discussing the impressive lineup she had organized for this weekend’s discursive and artistic program throughout the third iteration of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair. During the morning preview at Brooklyn’s Pioneer Works, we stood in front of N Barreto’s monumental Disunited States of Africa, 2010, an American flag reconceived as pan-African icon. Black stars representing African nations cascade down the composition, crossing gold and red stripes, which are adorned with cowrie shells, prayer beads, medicine bottles, and books. Koyo describes it as “the black flag, the Vodou flag, the resistance flag, the reparation flag, and the African American flag.” We also discussed the growing sense of sorrow in today’s world, an increasingly standard topic of conversation––but, as hate grows more visible, so shall resistance and art.

Fairgoers will complain all they want about 1:54’s location in Red Hook, which is not reachable by subway, but apparently we weren’t remote enough to be shielded from the ripple effect of our dear president’s first official visit to New York. Aboard the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier and military museum on the Hudson River, Trump commemorated a 1942 battle between the allied US and Australia with Japan, all while we immersed ourselves in the “global”—once a postmodern ideal, now a lifeline.

Left: Caroline Hussey-Bain. Right: Artist Tahir Karmali.

At Ed Cross Fine Art, whose booth was conceived as a kind of basilica by curator Katherine Finerty, works by Kimathi Donkor and Modupeola Fadugba also explore the nexus of faith, resistance, and power. Fadugba’s “Flowers and Prayers” series conflates the iconic shape of the Brookes slave ship with the stained windows of Gothic cathedrals. I chatted with artist liaison Caroline Hussey-Bain about religion’s dual capacity to heal and uplift, control and suppress. She drew my attention to Fadugba’s other paintings, wherein synchronized swimmers balance atop one another and reach toward a red sphere, signifying the coveted red sticker that marks an artwork as sold. She explained that the artist is interested in how women strengthen one another and find success in the power of our collectivity. I’m convinced that we have no other choice. The next time I looked at my phone, I was alerted to the upcoming House of Representatives vote over a healthcare bill that would include sexual assault and pregnancy on a list of “preexisting conditions,” rendering one ineligible for coverage. Later that day, the bill would pass muster.

On the third floor of Pioneer Works, resident artist Tahir Karmali has a solo exhibition that will be on view through May 28. It is a powerful, subtle meditation on the bureaucracy of immigration, expressed through the materiality of paper. A Kenyan artist of Indian heritage, now living and working in the US, Karmali is cognizant not only of the colonial crossroads in which his ancestry is entangled, but also his own experiences of border crossing. “With this project, I’m looking at how paper is used as an authenticator, a way to document identity,” he told me. He grinds his own identification documents down to a pulp. The mesh filters used for making paper by sifting the pulp become the armature for his installations, encompassing concepts such as “vetting, screening, the filtration and porousness of borders.”

Left: Artist Malala Andrialavidrazana. Right: Artist Jeannette Unite.

Despite the tightening of such demarcations, there’s definitely a buzz around African art, and the mood among the exhibitors was optimistic and infectious. I talked to South African artist Jeannette Unite about the upcoming debut of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, and later heard about the growth of the South African art world from Maria Fidel Regueros of Johannesburg’s ROOM. This edition also welcomes several international newcomers to New York. Notable among these is Gallery 1957, a trailblazer in Accra’s budding contemporary art scene. Founded only one year ago, the gallery has already made the rounds in fairs from Lagos to Cape Town to London, and is off to Istanbul later this year. I asked dealer El-Yesha Puplampu about their successful first year, and she justifiably takes pride in the fact that “we’re showing how it should be done.”

Leaving a bit later than I had planned, and realizing how hungry I was, I prepared to dine solo and made a beeline for a burger at Hope & Anchor. But a few other fairgoers had the same idea: Artists Ousmane Mbaye, Sadou Dicko, Evans Mbugua, and writer Jacqueline Ngo Mpii generously invited me to join them. Based in France and originally from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, respectively, they are mostly Francophone, and my French leaves much to be desired. But we get by, speaking in disjointed Franglais about food, art, and moving around New York. There’s nothing better than a meal with new friends—barriers be damned—to stave off the ennui of the day’s political tragedies.

Left: Artists Evans Mbugua, Jacqueline Ngo Mpii, Ousmane Mbaye, and Sadou Dicko. Right: Entrepreneur Simone Small and gallerist Sitor Senghor.

Allison Young