Scene & Herd

  • Down in Front

    BEFORE THE CUYAHOGA RIVER CAUGHT FIRE, searing onto the public imagination an unfair but dogged metaphor for a Cleveland in decline, Tennessee Williams delivered a sicker burn: “America has only three cities,” he rumoredly quipped. “New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” The claim isn’t entirely without truth. In 2018, Cleveland—with its deindustrialization, police violence, segregation, and purple politics—is a microcosm for “The American City,” which is in fact the subtitle of the inaugural edition of FRONT, a multimillion-dollar international triennial that

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  • Everything Old Is New Again

    ONE REASON I’VE ALWAYS LOVED THIS PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL is the faded splendor of the city itself. An ancient, limestone gem of some fifty thousand inhabitants, Arles lies along the Rhone River, bordering the swamps of the Camargue. Should you go, mosquito repellent is a must for Arles’s nights. Roman remnants, such as the arena and the antique theater, silently compete with early Christian and Romanesque churches. Residential homes and nineteenth-century industrial buildings further bridge the eras. During the opening week at the beginning of July, many of these venues hosted events and workshops,

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  • Braving the Elements

    AROUND LUNCHTIME ON THE LAST THURSDAY IN JUNE, I found myself at a table on an outdoor terrace, facing an absurdly beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea. Behind me was the kind of low-slung corporate resort hotel that is typical of La Marsa, one of several suburban tourist towns lying east of the Tunisian capital Tunis. I scanned the horizon from left to right. A thin dark line separated the deep blue sky from a vast expanse of light sparkling turquoise. It was a ridiculous sight, a shimmering paradise, laughable in its right-there realness. I was distractedly sharing a meal with about a dozen

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  • Breathe In

    “STOP TALKING.”

    “Stop talking.”

    “Stop talking.”

    “No, really, stop talking.”

    Unusually for an auctioneer—albeit a very part-time one—White Columns director and chief curator Matthew Higgs isn’t one to raise his voice. And his English wit is sufficiently dry that American ears often have difficulty in distinguishing a genuine word from an ironic one. So it took him a few attempts to convince the crowd at the nonprofit institution’s recent benefit auction that his characteristically affectless request was meant to be taken seriously. Eventually, however, things settled down and bidding on

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  • Attention Deficit

    ON A RECENT MONDAY EVENING, a few hundred people who loved the late composer and lyricist Michael Friedman assembled at Joe’s Pub in New York for The Song Makes a Space, a benefit concert of his work organized by The Civilians, the company Friedman cofounded with Steve Cosson. The night’s goal was to raise money for the Michael Friedman Legacy Fund, which will finance the proper archiving of his materials and recording of his unrecorded music so they can be housed at the New York Public Library.

    “The song makes a space” is a line from the final number of The Fortress of Solitude, a 2014 adaptation

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  • Soft Ruins

    ON A WHITE MARBLE COLUMN, topped by the goddess Athena, that presides over the Pedion Areos Park in Athens, someone has scrawled in black an anarchy symbol. A few steps farther—under lush green trees down Mavromateon Street, past dozens of stray cats haunting the shadows cast by grand bourgeois apartment buildings—are clusters of humans talking under the streetlights in the sticky humidity of the June night. It’s only when you get close do you see they’re cooking and smoking heroin, tongues of flame licking at glass tubes. Beaming down from the fifth floor of one of the buildings, a neon heart

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  • Anti-Bodies

    MY FLIGHT FROM HEATHROW TO BASEL was delayed. The pilot explained that this was due to the large number of visitors to “some art show” clogging the runway at our destination airport. His tone of voice implied an illness, an arterial disease or cancerous growth. I exchanged glances with the other person in my row, whose only baggage was a bubble-wrapped canvas.

    The idea of infection—and its counterpart, inoculation—accompanied me for the next four days of my art tour. Does an art fair have a symbiotic or parasitic relationship with a place? What ails the body of the art world, and is a fair a

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  • Regional Affairs

    YINCHUAN IS IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, even though the city claims itself to be the “center” of China. The Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan is also in the middle of nowhere; the meadow and man-made ponds outside its postmodern architecture bring to mind Iowa, the Netherlands, and Hokkaido. But inside, the second Yinchuan Biennale offers up images from everywhere else: South Africa, Dongting Lake in China’s Hunan Province, the Kachin Hills in Burma, the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan, Chitwan in Nepal, Mexico City—the list goes on. The biennale’s invited curators and artists from across the

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  • Crossing the Line

    IT IS NO EXAGGERATION to say that throughout the past month, the eyes of the entire wide-awake world have been on the Korean peninsula, with history being made on a near-daily basis. Even the German capital—home to an increasingly sizable Korean expat community and a host to both North and South Korea’s embassies, positioned within walking distance of each other—has not been immune to these moves. Whispers regarding the ambassadors of said embassies suggest that pleasantries were exchanged during a chance social gathering that took place around the time of the first summit between Kim Jong Un

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  • Georgia on My Mind

    TUCKED BETWEEN the assorted empires of Russia, Iran, and Turkey, Georgia has somehow managed to avoid the melting-pot mentality of other crossroad cultures. As mounting travel bans slowly shutter other ports in the region, the country’s distinctive capital, Tbilisi, has shot to the top of tourism lists as “the new Istanbul,” among a cavalcade of other shiny “new” epithets. But Tbilisi isn’t new. It was once an obligatory stop on the Grand Tours of the Russian and later Soviet empires, earning admiration for the depths of its cultural wells, from its unparalleled gastronomic and viticultural

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  • Summit in Senegal

    THE RAP ON SOME BIENNIALS is that they don’t engage enough with the city that hosts them. There was no such problem at Dak’Art 2018, the thirteenth edition of Africa’s oldest and most prominent biennial. Jam-packed into one month—May 3rd to June 2nd—the thing was gargantuan, spreading across Senegal’s capital and beyond. Dakar’s old downtown, with its mix of colonial and postindependence buildings, was home to the main exhibition, organized by the Cameroonian scholar Simon Njami, who also directed the 2016 edition. Five exhibitions by guest curators, plus several country-focused shows (Egypt,

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  • From Bratwurst to Bulgari

    THEY SAY YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL. When it came to the fourteenth edition of Gallery Weekend Berlin and the second iteration of ArtMonte-Carlo—both of which opened on April 27 and ran until April 29—I did as much as I could. The organizers of the latter attempted a collaboration, ferrying collectors between the two sites via private jet and helicopter—not very Berlin, but very Monte Carlo. The idea was to coax the most coveted collectors from Monaco’s principality to Germany’s capital and vice versa. Not a bad idea given Berlin’s desire to entice the international elite.

    The New York Times hosted the

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