Exquisite Corps

April Elizabeth Lamm on Tobias Rehberger at Milan's Fondazione Prada


Left: Curator Gianfranco Maraniello with artists Tobias Rehberger and Olafur Elisasson. (Photo: Roberto Arcari) Right: Dealer Burkhard Riemschneider and friend.

Standing alone on Thursday evening, barefoot in the garden grass, I was giving my bloody blisters a rest from their hot-pink instruments of torture when Berlin dealer Burkhard Riemschneider approached. I asked: “Who’s the blonde babe whom I took a photo of earlier? Pilar something?” “She’s with Haunch of Venison in London,” said Riemschneider, then, throwing me a red herring: “The gallery that was just bought by Christie’s.” I jested that if he didn’t stop dragging that hard silver suitcase around there’d be rumors that he’d come to Milan to buy out Gió Marconi. But the real topic of the evening’s celebration, held in the private residence of Muccia Prada, was On Otto, German artist Tobias Rehberger’s most recent megacollaboration, a “backward film.” The piece isn’t played backward but was, rather, made in reverse, beginning with the advertising poster and proceeding to the credits, the sound, the editing, the sets, the storyboard . . .

The opening reception preceding the dinner was packed: Lines to enter the four pavilions the artist had constructed were worse than those at Epcot Center in the '80s. Rehberger wowed viewers once again as the maestro of dark mazes of intent, like Berlin Philharmonic architect Hans Scharoun with a wild streak. He let the reins loose, then put together the pieces as they returned. Each maker was given three weeks to create their part of the exquisite corpse, with successive participants allowed to see everything that had come before. Ennio Morricone’s score was based on the film’s credits alone, a sweet series of comiclike bones arranged in a tic-tac-toe grid by French design duo Kuntzel & Deygas. This apparently suited him: Morricone had told Rehberger that he never needed to see a film before deploying his trademark, universally lauded sound.

Who turned out to inspect the results, besides a sea of unfamiliar Italian faces? German collectors Thomas and Annette Grässlin had flown in (Thomas once produced a Rehberger Japanese teahouse–cum–film project), as had old-school friend-of-Kippenberger Hanno Huth. Peu à peu, the unknowns became known: I shared a taxi home with production designer Jeffrey Beecroft and met Sylvie Landra, the film’s editor, in the hotel elevator.

Left: Collector Annette Grässlin and artist Carmen Gheorghe. Right: Collector Thomas Grässlin and film producer Hanno Huth.

No Hollywood celebrities were in sight, but the art stars made up it with their own personal dramas. Olafur Eliasson, on whose coattails I grasped tightly in order to gain entrance to the private dinner for twenty, had left his life in the taxi: laptop, cell phone, calendar, and tuxedo (in case the dinner was black-tie; he couldn’t remember). The widespread panic attending to a scatterbrained moment convincingly proved that galleries, which seem to hold limitless power, are always beholden to their artists. Riemschneider stood on high alert. Marconi was glued to his cell phone, his charm the life jacket ensuring the uninterrupted operation not only of Olafur’s practice but also that of his galleries across the world. Joep van Lieshout, whose new exhibition at Marconi’s grand gallery had just opened, asked, “Do you think we should call Tanya Bonakdar and advise her to stay calm?” Last word before leaving was that the driver was in Bergamo; no doubt he’d charge a pretty penny for an overnight bag containing Eliasson’s future.

The scenario spurred on the thought: Could you run a gallery backward? The imaginary first step—convincing a collector to buy an as-yet-unknown work by an unnamed artist—seemed so unlikely that my already significant respect for Miuccia Prada increased to an Italianate rispetto-one. She had taken a leap, trusting Rehberger to produce a “film” for which no visual proposals could be made. Rehberger introduced me to the producer Lisa Feinstein—whose name didn’t register—who then introduced me to another behind-the-scenes mover I didn’t know, despite her stellar credit list (including working with Bernardo Bertolucci and David Cronenberg). The on-set gossip seemed straight out of a '50s-era guidebook on how to be a diva: Rumor had it that Mickey Rourke’s heavy demands for clothing (some €100,000 worth of Prada) got him dropped from the film, and Kim Basinger had mistaken Rehberger for the porter on their first meeting. Cut to the martini shot—as I left the party, Rehberger and Prada had broken out a deck of cards. Such harmless fun! With nothing harder than Viagra on offer, I tumbled back to the hotel at an unusually respectable hour.