Never Mind the Bulloch


Left: Dr. Christina Weiss with award recipient Monica Bonvicini. Right: Boxer René Weller with artist Tobias Rehberger.

I woke up Saturday morning to find red wine stains on a blouse I wore to the Tuesday night awards ceremony for the €50,000 Nationalgalerie Prize for Young Art—odd, considering that I thought I had only drank champagne. That was several nights ago, so heaven knows what blows my memory has suffered in the meantime. I vaguely remember a story the director of the Kunstverein Braunschweig, Karola Grässlin, was telling me about riding a hotel elevator up and down all night long—like a somnambuliste dangereuse—until her beau, gallerist Christian Nagel, came to her rescue. That was at the Clegg and Guttman book release party, and I know I drank only water there. That much I remember. Was that Wednesday? No, that was Friday . . . I think.

The capriciousness of memory was the topic of collegial conversation at neugerriemschneider the evening after the ceremony, when, as part of his exhibition, Rirkrit “Ne Travaillez Jamais” Tiravanija invited Tobias Rehberger to take part in the “Magazine Station #4” events at the gallery. Rehberger then invited René Weller (former world featherweight champion) to narrate for a live audience that night’s televised broadcast of the heavyweight boxing championship. Or was it the middleweight? None of the gallery-goers really knew anyway. Weller informed us that after a boxer has been knocked out, half an hour later he doesn’t have the slightest inkling of what happened! As if memories were physical things floating freely around our heads until some punch knocks them into exile…. Later I gabbed it up with Anri Sala, whose performance in Pursuit of Happiness, 2005, Jimmie Durham’s latest film (on view at the just-opened Art Forum Berlin fair), had me in a swoon—a girl’s easily impressed with a man who sets his mobile home on fire. He was mulling the confounding fact that firemen are actually called firemen. They should be called anti-firemen, right?

I came home that evening trying to sort through the memories of the night before. Word on the street was that a woman would receive the Nationalgalerie prize this year (previous winners being men, namely a bad painter whose name I forget and the unforgettable conceptual art duo Elmgreen & Dragset). It was high time for a lady to win, everyone said, to which I said “Bollocks!” Since when did “equal opportunity” politics ever truly play a role in the art world? Among the four nominees—John Bock and Anri Sala, representing this year’s out-of-luck gender, along with Monica Bonvicini and Angela Bulloch—the general sentiment was that the latter was a shoe-in, having broken out of her well-known Pixelbox shell, so to speak. Granted, Bulloch had us all befuddled at first, but then enchanted with her Disenchanted Forest x1001, 2005, a living and breathing form of institutional critique. It makes use of the rules for numbering Berlin’s city trees and a cybernetic dance floor that took its cue from a classic Duchampian gambit: making things difficult to see in order to see them better.

This was perhaps also the philosophy of the Nationalgalerie jury members, who, in making it difficult for us to see the whys and wherefores of their decision, made it easier for many to speculate that it was certainly going to be difficult for Bulloch to win, given that she signed the petition against controversial collector Friedrich Christian Flick in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung earlier this year. Alas, whether or not this was the case, it seems all too true that institutions have been corrupted by the wicked ways of private collectors. But what else is new?

Left: Anri Sala, Waling Boers, Michael Krome, Caroline Schneider, and Rirkrit Tiravanija. Right: Martin Klosterfelde and John Bock.

And then there was the strange fact that nobody knew in advance that there was going to be a “second” (read: consolation) prize, namely the “public’s choice” award—akin to Miss Congeniality: No money, no crown, just a general acknowledgement of having almost cut the mustard. When it was announced that Bonvicini had taken first place and “public’s choice” was going to Bulloch, we really couldn’t believe our ears. Bonvicini too seemed aghast and was literally speechless when she received her golden bar of chocolate and a Day-Glo-green check for €25,000 (plus another €25,000 for the acquisition of the work—an installation typifying her own form of institutional critique and involving an ironic, sadomasochistic playground of chain-and-black-leather hammocks). Meanwhile Miss Congeniality played her part well, gracefully taking the stage to receive her silver bar of chocolate from Peter Raue (Chairman of the Friends of the Neue Nationalgalerie). He mistakenly called her “Angela Bollock," but she remained as poised and was the belle of the ball as she received deep condolences from all and sundry. Everyone felt she had been robbed; even a fairly sober critic I ran into sledging around the Art Forum the next day—who loves Bonvicini’s identity-bending oeuvre just as much as the rest of us—said, “It was as if there was a dog pissing against my leg all evening long.”

Later, while Bonvicini was hamming it up on the dance floor in the Hamburger Bahnhof’s café, Bulloch was running around town, leaving her aluminum-foil wrapped chocolate in one restaurant bar after another, which made it difficult to reconstruct events the next day. (“Where did I last leave my chocolate? Shouldn’t I retrieve it so that I might give it to John Bock for one of his videos?”) So I met her at the Tiravanija-Rehberger shindig and she was carrying around a purple sack with the aluminum-foil-wrapped prize inside. I think, if someone sees you with that, my dear, I thought, they’re going to say you’ve got your knickers in a wad, unable to get over the fact that you are an also-ran for the second time (the first being the Turner in 1997), “No, no,” she said when I voiced my concerns, “it’s just that I keep leaving the thing behind. I am quite pleased to have won the ‘popular’ prize.”

What a relief the week is over. We can all go back to our wild fantasies of starting up our own worldwide Gagosians, an idea inspired by Gagosian Berlin, a “guerrila franchise gallery” opened on Monday night by the curators of next year's Berlin Biennale. (No word from Larry yet.) During Thursday evening's performances by Icelandic artists at the Münzclub, Tiravanija suggested Gagosiann Bangkok (with a swirly Thai “g” and double “n”) and Sala would helm Gagozian Tirana, with plenty of red wine flowing and spilling over all those things we'll forget about in the near future.