COLUMNS

  • General Assembly

    THE BERGEN ASSEMBLY marked my first trip to Scandinavia, and as a Henry James fan I hope I may be forgiven if I play here a bit of the wide-eyed American abroad, marveling at the tall Nordics with their precise beards and hi-tech outerwear. I, meanwhile, had brought no umbrella to literally the rainiest city in Europe and shivered constantly under a dampening white denim jacket. It was also, for me, a rare trip to an international biennial, which (Venice notwithstanding) tends to come in different flavors than our American festival exhibitions—more discursive, more searching, more ragged, more

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  • Where Angels Fear to Tread

    I WAS A TOUCH DISPIRITED, then thwacked by nausea—and that was before fashion week started. It was not an auspicious beginning to what’s supposed to be the most. . .perhaps not wonderful, but certainly most telling time of the year, especially for those in touch with Virginia Woolf’s frock consciousness and harboring a serious concern for the soul’s window dressing—aka “fits”—or those who just really personally identify with their place in a seating arrangement. As RuPaul once noted in his autobiography, “we’re all born naked, and the rest is drag.” So, what guises for cloaking our ancient shame

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  • Playful Slash Erotic

    IT BEGINS IN UTTER BLACKNESS. A Pierre Soulages kind of blackness, that is, uptown at Lévy Gorvy, where the nonagenarian French painter is being celebrated in advance of a major to-do at the Louvre later this year. I’m always impressed with, and a little confused by, the stamina of any artist who can find a winning formula and stick to it—Soulages has been making black abstractions exclusively since 1979—without succumbing to some deep boredom or soul-despair. The artist, says senior director Emilio Steinberger during press remarks, “is a bit of a unicorn”—in that he knew just about everyone,

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  • Counter Culture

    “IT’S AN INTERESTING MOMENT FOR REGIONALISM,” writer-curator Leah Triplett Harrington remarked one night at dinner. We were catching a breather after Nic Kay’s moving, sinuous concluding procession through the predominantly black and Latinx neighborhood that hosted the inaugural edition of Saint Louis’s Counterpublic triennial. A ravey closing party followed in the stained-glass church turned punk club that housed Cauleen Smith’s Sky Will Learn Sky, a stunning video and banner installation. Harrington was referring to the spate of new biennials in American cities such as Cleveland, Atlanta, and

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  • Memento Morra

    “MUSEUMS ARE DEAD,” said Andrea Viliani, artistic director of the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, over dinner on my first night in Naples. “White cubes are devouring white cubes.” It was a daring declaration coming from a longtime museum curator who is collaborating on art projects sited among the ruins of Pompeii. We were at the raucous Ristorante Europeo Mattozzi with curator Milovan Farronato and artist Maria Loboda, both in town casting for “Death,” this summer’s Stromboli Volcano Extravaganza. Here for the reopening of the Morra Greco Foundation, I thought my own days would end in

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  • The Custom of the Country

    IN EDITH WHARTON’S THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, society girl Lily Bart spends the “long gilded hours of the day” moving from one Hamptons estate to another, venturing out occasionally to a Monte Carlo hotel. Though impeccably trained to move among nineteenth-century New York’s upper crust, Lily cannot afford her lifestyle independently and must rely on the goodwill of better-endowed friends and sponsors. They, of course, expect certain favors in return, whether it’s writing letters or keeping a bothersome husband amused.

    Lily falls from society’s grace when she ceases to be useful and overstays her welcome,

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  • Blood Moon

    THE ISLAND PROCESSION began around 8 PM on a muggy night. A long queue of people ceremoniously walked—there are no cars here, only mules for transport—from the old town that hugs a crescent-shaped harbor up a steep, craggy road. After passing olive, pine, and cypress trees, and whitewashed buildings creeping up the cliffs, everyone arrived at a small structure overlooking the sea, with wind-whipped flags under a Sagittarius full moon.

    This is where Kiki Smith unveiled her winsome show “Memory,” for Dakis Joannou’s Deste Foundation project, in a small, erstwhile abattoir on the Aegean Sea. It was

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  • Vienna Calling

    IT WAS IN THE DAIRY AISLE I FIRST SPOTTED HIM. Warned there was a dancer on the loose in Lidl, I had quickly closed in on the likeliest suspect, a wispy blonde boy wearing cropped pants and a Fjällräven backpack. I trailed him as he inspected a bunch of bananas, delicately extracting a single one, before moseying over to peruse the canned coffee drinks. It was only when he shot a withering look at me and my expectant camera that it occurred to me he might not be there to perform. Indeed, the dancer I was looking for turned out to be a man with a sensible shirt and a silvery mane (“our Július

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  • Mixed Emotions

    FOR TEENAGERS, there is no such thing as too much angst, too much pain, too much love. No emotion is ever enough. This is what made the Norwegian web series Skam (2015–17) such a sensation: It illustrated perfectly the simultaneous intensity and mundanity of adolescence. Most of the time, you’re torrenting Romeo + Juliet in bed and shedding a single tear. At some point, life stops being (as) boring, emotions become burdens, and we cordon them off somewhere. I met Isak from Skam, in real life known as Tarjei Sandvik Moe, at Kunstnernes Hus and momentarily returned to a pubescent state of elation.

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  • Mechelen Stars

    IT’S GOT TO BE THE FULL MOON clouding my judgment. Otherwise, I would not have had a mini heart attack each time the French information screens on the Brussels-Antwerp intercity line read: “This train is headed to Anvers.” As far as I knew, I boarded from the correct platform in the direction of Antwerp just in time to catch the press tour of the Contour Biennale 9’s “Full Moon Phase,” and I would have been pissed if I ended up in Anvers (a sad little corner of Wallonia bordering France?) or Malines, which certainly could not be the Latinized name—look at it!—of the Flemish town of Mechelen. In

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  • As the World Turns

    PREVIOUSLY ON Days of Our Outrage, the Whitney Biennial was a political disaster in medias res. (And the first takes made it all look so hunky dory.) In the lead-up to the current edition (the seventy-ninth!), there was controversy over stunning revelations that extremely wealthy people—maybe the only ones who would buy your elaborate video installations and enormous paintings—don’t tend to come by their riches by doing good. #Notsurprised, I suppose? Taking an ethical position these days seems to be like picking and choosing from an entirely rotten buffet—it’d be lovely not to have a tumbler

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  • Persons of Interest

    INTERESTING. Few words have such angular ambiguity, signifying both a viewer’s interpretive generosity while subtly acknowledging that the thing in question just might not be that good. Ralph Rugoff, the artistic director of the Fifty-Eighth Venice Biennale, which opened Tuesday to select press and professionals, played on the word’s double meaning in the title for his show, “May You Live in Interesting Times,” a phrase attributed as an “ancient Chinese curse” but, like the Ivanka Trump/fortune cookie variety, with no actual “ancient” or “Chinese.” The dash of Orientalism was either snarkily

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