Left: Cindy Sherman with Performa director RoseLee Goldberg. Right: Miranda July. (All photos: David Velasco)
How to spruce up a reading when you’re a naďf artist with a book of stories, a film, performance pieces, and websites all topping the hipster charts? Why, invite two fellow naďf artists—one old, one young—to “gather together to create a feeling of belonging” at the New York Public Library. Sounds simple, right? And it is, if you’re Miranda July and you have the kind of fan base that gets warm fuzzies when you blush in public. As evinced by Dave Eggers, the Flaming Lips, the Polyphonic Spree, and countless other acts, there’s a great hunger for childlike wonder and optimism in America today, and its purveyors—embattled geeks as prophets of love—find themselves the focus of cultlike devotion. This is all very nice, and July is indeed as charmingly gawky in person as her stories and film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, would suggest. On Friday night, she read from her new story collection, No One Belongs Here More than You, was interviewed by David Byrne, presented her friend Becky Stark to a packed house in a prestigious venue, and, oh yes, attempted to “create a feeling of belonging” among the horny, agitated New Yorkers eager to kick off their Memorial Day weekend.
After running into a few friends and finding my seat, I opened my pores and nerve conduits as best I could as July took the stage in a casual black dress with a rather high slit revealing bright yellow tights. She is tall, slim, and wore a hair band to tame her eggbeater do. She futzed with a laptop, then told two stories about people she knew in childhood who happened to be in the audience. One was a man whom she had asked to a seventh-grade dance when he was a fifth-grader. This was embarrassing, apparently, and the man was asked to stand for all to see. Then, July told a story about a girl who thwarted one of her major adolescent crushes. She, too, was asked to stand, as July said, “And you’re probably a lesbian now!” Judging by her styling and companion, she probably was, and she nodded in the affirmative, bashfully. The audience found this charming. July had broken the performer-audience barrier, and I felt the belongingness taking hold. She then picked up her new story collection and read.
Left: Musician Becky Stark. Right: David Byrne with Paul Holdengraber, NYPL director of public programs.
The first story was an internal narrative about blowing off the award party of one’s life—at which all one’s family, friends, and admiring colleagues have gathered—to take a bath and read instead. Then she read a “racy” story because none of her family was in the audience. This one involved a dreamscape in a cramped, low-ceilinged horizontal world—something like the half-floor office in Being John Malkovich—in which everyone is having sex, unable as they are to stand up straight. At one point, a lost dog named Potato runs by in waking life, and the character feels guilty for not helping its owner find it. July does cute/silly/poignant really well, and she manages to get under my skin a little bit.
Having introduced her musical friend Becky Stark—of the band Lavender Diamond—and announced that her leg was asleep, July limped offstage to adoring applause. Stark was something else. Appearing in a Civil War–era dress with a classical guitar, Becky radiated the kind of honest idiot glee one associates with Bible-camp counselors and valium-laced 1970s children shows The Magic Garden and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. She proclaimed that “Becky Stark loves you very much,” then strummed and sang some delicate, big-eyed songs with lyrics like “Who has everything, who has nothing, and where did you come from?” and “Emptiness is a conductor, of heat, of anything.” Her high, warbly soprano and otherwordly bliss-out vibe suggested a conflation of Tiny Tim and Raffi. She got some of the audience to sing along, and I suddenly felt like a crabbed, curmudgeonly troll. Am I the only one who found this unbearably mawkish? I’ll never know. No one will cop to criticizing Stark without coming off as an unfeeling asshole. Let’s just say that it’s nice that Stark is out there operating in the world. She curtsied several times and left.
Left: Filmmaker Michel Gondry. Right: Miranda July.
Finally, David Byrne mounted the stage with July for the “interview.” Byrne has been great at many things over the years, but an actual talking head, it turns out, he is not. He played some clips from July’s film and recordings and made the most out of the name of July’s record label, Kill Rock Stars, by quipping, “I managed to avoid that pogrom, but it’s still going on.” Byrne’s interview “style” was to play a bunch of loosely related clips from the film and then ask, sort of, “So, what’s with the charts and graphs?” He really didn’t know what he was doing. At one point, July, perhaps sensing the awkwardness-to-belongingness ratio getting out of whack, said to him, “All your questions are like ‘What up?’” But it was clear that Byrne likes July’s work, and it was kind of sweet to see a postpunk rock god stripped of his familiar mastery. They bonded over a shared love of amateurs-as-performers, at which point July admitted that the two people in the audience she told stories about were planted before the reading. This seemed to break the belongingness contract a bit, and not just for me. It was not entirely clear that Miranda July fans expected to be lied to, however old the performance tactic. Nevertheless, it was all mutual fuzzies between Byrne and July, and they brought the conversation to an inconclusive close.
Stark returned and sang a countryish tune, Byrne on second guitar and harmony. It occurred to me that he may regard Stark as akin to the American eccentrics who populate his film True Stories, and, as with the tone of that film, it was hard to parse the balance between genuine admiration and arch condescension. Leaving the library into the warm spring night, I wrestled with a similar dynamic in my opinion of the event I had just witnessed. But with so many strangers smiling in my direction, I gave belongingness the benefit of the doubt.
The invitation to Thursday’s opening of “La Marque Noire” (The Black Mark), Steven Parrino’s “Retrospective, Prospective” at the Palais de Tokyo, prominently featured a black anarchy sign, suggesting the possibility of a riotous occasion. But the festivities for the event, a “postmortem” for the artist that utilizes every square inch of the institution’s exhibition space, started out more calm than subversive.
A partial continuation of last year’s retrospective at MAMCO in Geneva, organized by Swiss curator Fabrice Stroun, the show foregrounds Parrino’s large black paintings. Here in Paris, the exhibition was curated in collaboration with Palais director Marc-Olivier Wahler. The market for Parrino’s work, already on the up following his tragic death in a motorcycle accident early New Year’s Day 2005, will no doubt continue to soar after this massive survey. Indeed, speculators were weighing heavily the new record price for the artist’s Silver Surfer, 1986, which sold this month for $390,000—more than six times its high estimate—at Phillips de Pury in New York. Also on the scale is the Parrino estate’s recent gallery switch—from Team to . . . Gagosian?
The exhibition was designed as a triptych; within it is a section titled “Bastard Creature,” a continuation of exhibitions originally conceived and curated by Parrino himself. Many of the old friends and artists included—Amy Granat, Maď-Thu Perret, Elizabeth Valdez, and, of course, Blair Thurman—made the trip to Paris, as did gallerist Hubert Bächler.
Olivier Mosset also put together a “historical” survey titled “Before (Plus ou Moins).” There one can find masterpieces normally considered more Pompidou than Palais, such as works by Warhol, Judd, and Smithson, as well as a Stella on loan from the Beaubourg museum and a series of Stella-inspired Black Paintings by Sturtevant. I escorted Sturtevant to see Metalist Moment, a performance at the opening by Jutta Koether, Parrino’s collaborator in the antipop band Electrophilia. The happening included large projected stills of Parrino and Koether’s installations from the last Whitney Biennial accompanied by texts and by music played very loudly on a small keyboard.
The preview was “private” between 6 PM and 8 PM; wristbands entitled us to a plastic-wrapped sandwich (offhandedly dismissed by critic Mathieu Copeland, who said that such fare would never be tolerated in London), as well as to a drink on the first floor. At 8 PM sharp, the Palais opened its doors to swarms of people, most of whom were twenty if they were a day.
It was time for our meal. I made my way through the Palais’s Tokyo Eat restaurant with Sturtevant, aiming for our table in the back. My esteemed company allowed me to appreciate what it means to be a star. Sturtevant was stopped every ten feet by someone who just had to express their admiration; some recited their theories about her work, while others wanted to be photographed with her. Even Trisha Brown, arriving straight from the opera, raced over to tell us how happy she was to see her again. “An old friend from the Rauschenberg days,” Sturtevant told me.
Left: Curator Fabrice Stroun. Right: Artists Maď-Thu Perret and John Armleder.
The meal was enjoyable, marked by easy familiarity and easy drinking. We were joined by Xavier Douroux from the Dijon consortium, one of the few French institutions to have previously exhibited Parrino’s work; the artist Gianni Motti; and also Sarina Basta, curator of SculptureCenter. (She took over for Anthony Huberman, now curator of the Palais.)
Later, the esplanade swelled with crowds bobbing to the Ramones. The atmosphere quickly fulfilled its anarchic promise, when critic Vincent Pécoil and myself were ambushed by a drunken hoodlum yelling, “Dirty faggots, dirty faggots!” (Obviously not an art lover.). Thankfully, artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar intervened with a few stern words. (Thanks again, Lili!) Feeling less than at home, we escaped to the more sophisticated disorder of Le Baron, where those who love art and faggots can party with abandon.
Say you are invited to Mary Heilmann’s first traveling retrospective, debuting at the Orange County Museum of Art. Naturally, you want to travel, too. Heilmann is a stunning colorist, modest yet buoyant. Her abstract paintings of cityscapes and seasides exude the force of nature with uncommon delicacy. She may be the most important underrecognized artist in America, and it’s about time she had a museum show in the US. Where better to start than her home state of California? Paul McCarthy will be there. Christopher Williams will be there. So will LA MoCA’s Jeremy Strick and Ann Goldstein and the Hammer’s Gary Garrels. To be Mary Heilmann is to be someone—that’s the title of her show, “To Be Someone”—so you have to go, even if you live in New York.
Say that getting there means driving on the 405 Freeway from Los Angeles at rush hour on a Friday afternoon. Here’s my advice: Do it in a brand-new Lexus on loan from the carmaker, lately a player in corporate arts sponsorship. It is a tank, so spacious that six-foot-four art dealer Curt Marcus can stretch out in the backseat and have a nap and so classy it can make this driver and the fabulous LA architect Miggi Hood feel like princesses on the way to a ball.
That illusion shatters the moment we walk into the museum and are offered green-apple martinis. You know you’re in the provinces when they offer you green martinis. And you really begin to doubt you’re in the right place when the dinner menu lists surf and turf as the main course. Then again, it is not every day you see people from the New York art world try not to laugh at their food. Rarer still is to find the subject of a retrospective organizing a concurrent show of artists whose work she has influenced. It’s called “Something About Mary,” and introducing it in the lobby as an aperitif to the survey was a brilliant stroke on the part of OCMA curator Elizabeth Armstrong. Amazing no one has ever tried it before (to my knowledge, anyway). The catalog offers something different, too: It is available in a two-hundred-dollar limited-edition version—only 398 were printed—with each cover featuring a beautiful sample fabric from an edition Heilmann made at the Fabric Workshop.
Not only were guests treated to a well-paced overview of Heilmann’s development, from her student days at Berkeley to Surfing on Acid, a recent “wave” painting in saturated red, yellow, and pink that OCMA bought from 303 Gallery. We could see Heilmann’s hand in artworks by Laura Owens, Monique Prieto, Ingrid Calame, Kim Fisher, Don Christensen, Mary Weatherford, Stanley Whitney, and Taro Suzuki, among others. “When was the last time you saw anything by Taro Suzuki?” Marcus marveled. “Just trying to give my old pals a boost,” said Heilmann, beaming in a borrowed jadelike necklace and silvery gray duster.
Indeed, with Robert Hudson and Jim Melchert—Heilmann’s teachers at Berkeley—on hand, and some high school chums and a New York contingent that included Jack Pierson, Marilyn Minter, Billy Sullivan, Manuel Gonzalez, Johanna Burton, Lisa Phillips, Mari Spirito, and Lisa Spellman, the event felt more like a family reunion than an opening. “I’m seeing my whole life flash before my eyes,” Heilmann said to the crowd seated for dinner at tables on the museum’s patio. “Only it doesn't flash,” she added. “It stays there.” Clearly, the generous Heilmann doesn’t just inspire artists. She’s a champ at instigating friendships, too.
At my table, the vivacious collector Carol Appel left the side of her husband, David, to spend the meal chatting with Pierson, but not before letting on that Annie Leibovitz was about to photograph Heilmann for an upcoming profile by Dodie Kazanjian in the August issue of Vogue. That’s the hefty, all-important back-to-school issue. “Isn’t it great?” Heilmann enthused, when I asked about it. She didn’t seem the least bit fazed by the prospect of becoming fashionable at age sixty-seven. Why should Brice Marden be the only grayhead to turn people on?
The real party began when guests started gathering around Heilmann to say good night, the New York contingent mixing with Jennifer Bolande, Cannon Hudson, Shaun Caley Regen, and Tom Solomon from LA; Ivan Wirth from Zurich; and Sherri Geldin from the Wexner Center in Columbus (another stop for the retrospective, which is also going to Houston’s Contemporary Art Museum and the new New Museum in New York).
“No one paints like Mary,” OCMA director Dennis Szakacs told guests at dinner. “I can’t believe I never knew about her before,” said my architect friend. “She’s so good.” There are many reasons for museum retrospectives, but when the artist is a woman deserving far greater attention, none are more satisfying than watching the chickens come home to roost. “Hanging this show has been very emotional for me,” Heilmann agreed. “When we were done, I went back to the house where I'm staying and saw the gray fog off the California coast and remembered what it was like as a teenager to feel not someone. And now I know it's not true.”
Two days before the end of the first-annual H&M High Line Festival, performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson stood onstage at the Highline Ballroom and asked, “Don’t you love whores?” The festival’s producers, Josh Wood and David Binder, and its curator, David Bowie, surely would have rather avoided the question. But Anderson has a knack for this sort of persistent fragment—what novelist Jonathan Lethem once called “an itchy or gummy phrase”—and so it stuck.
Money for trade: The High Line’s relation to the festival that bears its name had been explained in articles leading up to the ten-day-long series of events. Bowie, according to the New York Times, had never been up on the tracks of the now-abandoned elevated rail line—scheduled to be turned into a Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed public park open to the public later this year—and had “no particular feelings about it.” To justify sharing the name, the festival was chipping in 5 percent of its profits toward the park’s establishment. What united them (and the likewise-unaffiliated Highline Ballroom), according to the baffled press, was a shared interest in, depending on whom you asked, the neighborhood, real estate development opportunities, a common interest in “aesthetics and design,” raising “awareness,” and, of course, the prospect of the park itself, which will eventually run north-south from roughly Thirty-third to Gansevoort Street. Until then, as Anderson put it, “here we are in the heart of the meat market, right next to Western Beef.”
Left: “No Fun Fest” organizer Carlos Giffoni. Right: Prurient's Dominic Fernow. (Photos: Zach Baron)
The programming hinted at the glossed-over emptiness of the festival’s basic concept. Anderson’s New Agey persona, and her blousy outfit with its long white bird-wing cuffs, matched with precision her NPR-calibrated politics: “Give me all your oil, what else do you have?” she sang. “I’m a very baaaaad man.” Behind her were projected bits of text, hieroglyphics, and satellite photographs. A live projection of a lightbulb flew in circles to her right. Her band—a second violinist, bassist Skuli Sverrisson, and keyboard player Peter Scherer—channeled world-music doyenne Enya alongside bits of Anderson’s signature, sticky violin pulse. Even her more successfully quirky moments, such as when she slowed down her enunciation to the pace of her longtime partner Lou Reed’s laconic delivery, failed to register in the antiseptic confines of the new Highline Ballroom.
A trip up Ninth Avenue to the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church to see the nominally Bowie-curated installation of noted French Surrealist Claude Cahun’s photographs only added to the pervasive, unreal atmosphere. A 9 PM visit (the show was to run from dusk till midnight) found a frantic scramble to put the finishing touches on the installation in the garden. We were led to a second-story chapel-like space full of alcohol. There, an unmanned slideshow desultorily turned through a few Cahun photographs. It was an opening without new work, a living artist, or a curator anywhere in sight—Bowie, presumably, had actual things to do.
There is, of course, always another New York. A call Friday morning opened the doors to the fourth year of No Fun Fest, musician Carlos Giffoni’s annual barrage of extreme music, hosted this year by Brooklyn venue The Hook. If the High Line Festival had proven anything, it was that setting sets the tone, and the relatively unwanted wastelands of Red Hook were the perfect retreat from the anxious salesmanship of the previous evening.
Left: Anti-Freedom in performance. Right: Sissy Spacek's John Wiese. (Photos: Zach Baron)
Four nights of sold-out shows were only the most visible token of Giffoni’s success as a curator. Take, for instance, the Friday-night presence of Japan’s Incapacitants—legendary survivors of that country’s first wave of early-’80s noise, along with Merzbow (who played Saturday night) and Yoshimi, of the Boredoms and OOIOO (she played as a duo with Kim Gordon on Thursday). In the crowd Friday night, you could spot nearly every important noise musician from the region, including Prurient’s Dominic Fernow and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.
Where else would German duo Raionbashi & Kutzkelina gleefully interpolate Swiss yodeling with guttural, unnatural power electronics? As the night progressed, the coruscating, bassy tones of Giffoni’s analog-synth set made way for the Incapacitants; my view of their postmidnight performance was obscured by hundreds of arms waving cameras. A personal highlight: the ramshackle flailings of Anti-Freedom, a skate-thrash quartet with John Olson (of the Ann Arbor noise-rock trio Wolf Eyes) on drums. “Put your hands in the air if you’re against freedom,” Olson screamed. Well, more than I’m for Anderson’s professed love of whores. My hand went up.
When the Museum of Modern Art sends out a separate press release just to announce the possible attendance of one guest at a party, it had better be someone special. We already knew that Tuesday night’s annual black-tie Party in the Garden was honoring collectors Debra and Leon Black and recently anointed Oscar royalty Martin Scorsese and that Richard Serra would also be on hand to keep an eye on his newly installed sculptures, so it seemed that someone with serious cultural chops must have been added to the door list. The man of the hour? One Justin Timberlake. Mike Bloomberg, Glenn Lowry, and Richard Meier may be powerful figures, but they’re hardly ringing in “Summer Love.”
Arriving at 7 PM for predinner cocktails, I made my way into the sculpture garden hoping for an early glimpse of the heartthrob but noted only a couple of white-suited look-alikes. Amazonian actress Sonja Francis, on the other hand, was practically ubiquitous, to the point of being in the way, while more predictable attendees Jeff and Justine Koons, Chuck Close, and Doug Aitken mingled as discreetly as they could. Scanning the crowd for friendly faces, I spotted Lombard-Freid Projects director Cristian Alexa and artist Anne Collier. The latter was on the lookout for a flighty Trisha Donnelly, who had already ducked out to restyle her hair. Roni Horn and White Columns director Matthew Higgs were both in a mellow mood, while Liam Gillick offered a typically wry take on the Serras: “They could crush 150 rich people. It adds a certain tension.”
Around 8 PM, a trumpeter sounded the call for dinner, prompting a gradual drift inside. Discussion of seating resembled real estate chitchat: “We’re somewhere in the fifties.” “Oh, we’re way downtown.” Unfortunately, the failure of no less than three last-minute bids for a table left me rootless for an hour in uptown’s culinary no-man’s land. I headed back to the museum to rejoin the fray at 10 PM. By all accounts, I missed a short but intelligent speech by Scorsese concerning film’s place in the history of art—and in MoMA’s collection—and a long, boring speech by Mr. Black, the thrust of which no one seemed able to recall.
Left: Collectors Leon and Debra Black. (Photo: Stephanie Berger) Right: Ada and Alex Katz. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)
While festivities wound down inside, the garden began to hop with a distinctly younger crowd, notably uninterested in the Serras but very much interested in one another. (Overheard from a dolled-up pack of junior associates on the make: “This is where all the single men are!”) Most of the art-world faces I’d clocked earlier in the evening had departed, though I did bump into Frieze copublisher Matthew Slotover and jocular London dealer Paul Hedge, the latter in town to oversee the installation of flight-phobic artist Tomoko Takahashi’s project at P. S. 1. “You know what they call the Serra in London, right?” he asked (referring to Broadgate’s Fulcrum). “The Hedge Fund Latrine.”
After about half an hour of our idle banter, a rush toward the marquee at the far end of the garden heralded the onstage appearance of Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, there to introduce (in the cheesiest manner imaginable) the evening’s entertainment, “a real work of art, Ms. Chrisette Michele!” Cue some smooth but forgettable warbling followed by an anonymous DJ spinning school-dance favorites. Those who stuck it out gyrated contentedly, but the elusive JT was conspicuously not among them.
Left: MoMA president Marie Josée Kravis with Henry Kravis. Right: Actress Sonja Francis. (Photos: Stephanie Berger)
Left: Right: Artist Anna Sew Hoy with Hammer Projects curator James Elaine. Right: Hammer chief curator Gary Garrels. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)
Last weekend, I visited the Hammer Museum three times in thirty-three hours to check out “Eden’s Edge: Fifteen LA Artists,” the Hammer’s fourth invitational and Gary Garrels’s first major exhibition since taking the position of chief curator and deputy director of exhibitions and public programs. First, I attended a press preview early Friday morning. Participating artist Matt Greene, with whom I’d been snowboarding the previous three days (Mammoth Mountain, with its perfect mid-May snow), graciously drove. Garrels gave what the professionals call a “walk-through” for the assembled journos with the participating artists (just in case he needed backup). Greene, who was born in Georgia, was bracing himself for the dreaded what-does-it-mean-to-be-an-LA-artist question, but no one ventured a query in his—or any other artist’s—direction. A local radio critic asked Garrels why he didn’t mix ‘n’ match the artists’ work, instead of giving each artist his or her own room, then looked around for support. He faced a heavy wave of eye rolls from his fellow scribes.
Seven hours later, it was dusk, and the Hammer’s courtyard, with its thirty-foot-tall bamboo trees, was filled with tangy margaritas, killer Mexican food, and multiple Eves. There was white-haired, Edenesque Sharon Ellis, whose saturated landscapes offered an energizing jolt of color after the claustrophobic, gray-gloom-sexy watercolor figures pleasuring themselves with gas masks and snorkels in Monica Majoli’s room. And Stanya Kahn, participating with her partner, Harry Dodge, was a commando Viking Eve distinguished by golden ringlets. Dodge & Kahn’s two video pieces were balls-out adrenaline rushes at the outermost edge of Garrels’s reconfigured Eden. All told, the exhibition reads like a deep, multigenerational novel about human consciousness, optical pleasure, unconventional beauty, voluptuous decoration, solitude, sex, drugs, strategies for survival, organic mutation . . . all quintessentially Los Angeles.
Left: ACME director Dean Anes, artist Monica Majoli, and curator Jarrett Gregory. Right: Artist Harry Dodge.
There was something shockingly beautiful, poetic, and moving about Rebecca Morales’s gouaches on calf vellum. Morales, a relative unknown, floored many people with these vivid drawings of mossy grass and tiny flowers sprouting out of braided hair. The undertow of “Eden’s Edge” was in part the presence and loaded absence of the human. When figures were physically present, they were struggling, aggressive, bugged out, at the end of their rope; when there was no trace of the human, nature sang a lullaby or a subtle, abstract requiem. With dozens of orange extension cords running from floor to ceiling like some gothic bloody curtain or wailing wall, the late Jason Rhoades’s Twelve-Wheel Waggon Wheel Chandelier, a hysterical meditation on the vagina’s endless vocabulary play, reads like a self-memorial—and, in the context of Eden, a pornographer’s electric dream.
After dinner, Garrels addressed the audience, giving props to several key Los Angeles curators, including MoCA’s Paul Schimmel, who curated “Helter Skelter,” the landmark/watershed 1992 exhibition of LA art. He then cited the Walker’s Kathy Halbreich, his mentor, and began to weep gently. A touching moment, and I fell for it. A quiet sigh was heard throughout the room, and for a moment, everyone seemed closer.
The Hammer, located on a former orange grove at the intersection of two of the busiest corners on LA’s west side, is one of the more artist-friendly institutions I’ve visited. Annie Philbin, the museum’s director, was ever-present in her stylish high collars, adroitly navigating various factions with her wise curatorial mate, James Elaine (best mispronounced Élan), who emigrated with her from New York’s Drawing Center less than a decade ago. The city would be bereft without them.
Saturday night’s director’s opening featured a Hammer constant: the world’s largest breadsticks, which people carried like monks’ staffs. There was hardened molten cheddar running down their sides, and after several bites, eaters gestured with them like symphony conductors. Artist Ingrid Calame, whose huge, densely dreadlocked hair is like the Fort Knox of beehives, wore a wrappy skirt that seemed to have maps of medieval cities printed on it. There was Francesca Gabbianni and her husband, Eddie Ruscha, who, as DJ, spun simply the best music ever recorded. People almost danced. Frank Gehry was in attendance, as well as MoCA’s rock-of-Gibraltar curator, the elegant, pale-skinned Ann Goldstein, and her brilliant betrothed, Christopher Williams. Several sparkly drag queens sauntered about, sometimes galumphing, with big chunks of stained glass, green leaves, anvils, and ropy gold chains clanking in the moonlight.
I usually don’t do this, but I stayed until they blinked the lights and security approached me with a subtle smile.
Left: Tobey Maguire. Right: Christie's Brett Gorvy with Christopher Burge. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco)
Tobey Maguire was wearing a gray baseball cap. As he took his seat in the tenth row next to LA collector Stavros Merjos, John McEnroe peered out from the box of dealer William Acquavella. François Pinault, Christie’s owner, stood omnisciently behind the glass in his own lofty lodge. Slinky Stephanie Seymour attracted appreciative looks as she entered the salesroom with collector Peter Brant. Larry Gagosian dropped down into his usual seat on the center aisle. At five past seven, the auction still hadn’t started. Perhaps the rain had delayed someone expected to bid during the first few rounds? Auctioneer Christopher Burge surveyed the crowd with an avuncular smile, then began: “Ladies and gentlemen . . .”
The first fourteen lots chugged slowly but smoothly beyond their high estimates. The market was so “deep” with aggressive buyers that Burge had to perform gymnastic swivels to field the bids. Lots 2, 3, 5, 8, 10, 11, and 13 set new worldwide auction records for their respective artists. They included a luminous blue Judd stack that went for $9.8 million (over double the artist’s previous record) and a black-on-cream text painting by John Baldessari titled Quality Material-…, 1967–68. The new consensus is that the LA guru has been undervalued, and this artwork went for $4.4 million, more than quadruple his recently established record. (As one Christie’s specialist put it, “Baldessari is so fresh and historical. He can be Minimal, Pop, Conceptual. You can hang that painting anywhere.”)
The night’s highlight, Andy Warhol’s Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), 1963, rolled in at lot 15. Presale prattle had been concerned with how green was a “difficult color.” As Brett Gorvy, Christie’s international cohead of contemporary art, told me, “At the end of the '80s, the commodity artist in Europe was Lucio Fontana. Putting aside gold and silver because they were rare, the grading from most to least salable was: red, white, blue, yellow, green, black. Of course, there are some artists for whom black is the color, but generally speaking that is the ranking.” When it comes to Warhol, however, one must remember that green is the color of money.
Burge opened the bidding on Green Car Crash at $17 million, the highest sum ever previously paid for a Warhol (Mao, 1972, bought last November by Hong Kong–based Joseph Lau). Five or six bidders raised the price in clean million-dollar increments. At $35 million, there was a pause. Only two suitors seemed to remain—one was on the phone with Christie’s president Marc Porter, the other was bidding through Ken Yeh, deputy chairman of Christie’s Asia. Yeh, who deals with the growing number of billionaire collectors in the Pacific Rim, bid by raising one of the two phones he had pressed tightly to either side of his head. Porter, on behalf of his client, “split” the bids, then batted back every price so quickly that the effect was comic. The price escalated by five hundred thousand dollars at a time. . . all the way to $61 million, when the auctioneer raised his gavel and said, “Fair warning and selling…” Burge was about to give the emerald disaster to Yeh’s man. But then, from the floor, with a dramatic finger jolt, Larry Gagosian yelled an urgent “Bidding!” The crowd gasped and laughed. Eyes widened. Larry was on a Christie’s wireless landline to hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen (as the Baer Faxt has it) because cellular reception in the salesroom is nerve-rackingly patchy. When the lot finally sold to Yeh’s bidder for sixty-four million dollars hammer, the audience burst into authentic applause.
The next twenty works mostly flew off the block, with worldwide auction records set for Damien Hirst, Jasper Johns, Agnes Martin, Richard Diebenkorn, and Gerhard Richter. By lot 36, not a single piece had gone unsold, and the crowd started to entertain fantasies of a “white glove” sale (in which there are no “buy-ins.”) But then, a scribble on paper by Arshile Gorky failed to reach its low estimate. Sad sighs followed, accompanied by asides of “What’s that doing in an evening sale?”
Similar grumbles about “day-sale lots” in evening auctions were made by primary dealers irritated that Charles Saatchi was turfing recent work by Wilhem Sasnal, Matthias Weischer, Cecily Brown, and Thomas Scheibitz. Although the first three made record prices, one has to wonder whether Saatchi’s provenance might leave a brighter mark if he could muster the willpower to hang on to his art a little longer.
In the end, the $384,654,400 total smashed all records. It was the highest total ever for a contemporary art sale and the second highest for any kind of art auction. A whopping 95 percent of the lots sold, 74 percent of them above their high estimates. Thirty-six percent of the night’s proceeds came from Warhol works. After the auction, Burge claimed that he was “stunned, exhausted, and thrilled,” while Robert Manley, Christie’s young head of the Evening Sale, admitted, “I’d like to say that we knew this was going to happen, but fuck no. We dreamed of the three-hundred-million mark, but. . .” Manley’s favorite work of the night was Eva Hesse’s Untitled (“Bochner Compart”), 1966—a grey double-D-cup coil on a papier-mâché square—which she gave to fellow artist Mel Bochner in 1966. (It sold for three million dollars with the buyer’s premium.) “Mel held onto that work for forty years,” said Manley. “Now he’s going to buy an apartment. Tonight, we all went from one to three bedrooms.”
Left: Dealer Irving Blum with Jacqueline Blum. Right: Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art Tobias Meyer. (Photos: David Velasco)
Just before 7 PM yesterday, Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s leading man, rose before the six hundred people gathered for the latest installment of his Contemporary Art Evening variety show. He wore a tuxedo and a black bow tie. In his German accent, he mumbled the usual legal disclaimers and then plunged into his dry-as-dust stand-up routine. With a gesture to the left and a straight arm to the right, he sold the first fourteen lots without a hitch. Many works edged over their previous records by a bid or two. Richard Prince’s mainstream hit Dude Ranch Nurse #2, 2002–2003, for example, a “midsize” red painting featuring a girl-next-door blonde complete with surgical face mask, sold for $2.5 million, beating the artist’s previous record by nearly a quarter-million dollars. The prices were strong but hardly big news, so the press pack chatted about the week’s other spectacles and the debut appearance of the ruble on the salesroom’s currency-exchange board.
Lot 15, an untitled 1981 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting being deaccessioned by the Israel Museum to create a contemporary-art-acquisition endowment fund, was the first lot to command respectful silence. 1981 is generally considered Basquiat’s “best year,” and the painting’s provenance—it was bought directly out of the studio by Eugene and Barbara Schwartz, who gifted it to the museum four years later—is unquestionably kosher. Isolated claps punctuated the chatter when the picture went for $14.6 million, nearly triple the artist’s previous auction record. Basquiat remains the only black artist to sell for over a million dollars at auction.
After a series of successful Pop numbers came the cover lot, Francis Bacon’s Study from Innocent X, 1962. Four or five bidders raced the price up to $35 million, when it became a relaxed call-and-response double act, the price rising in steady million-dollar increments between someone on the phone and someone in the room. The Bacon eventually sold for $52.7 million, almost double the artist’s recent record (set in February in London).
Left: Dealer James Cohan. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Rachel Mauro, Dickinson's Bona Montagu, and Sotheby's Cheyenne Westphal. (Photo: Sarah Thornton)
The most inspired performance of the evening was the “Rockefeller Rothko.” Meyer introduced lot 31 dramatically. “And now . . .” he said, with genuine sparkle and a long pause. The audience tittered. At an event where most works of art are identified by lot number and artist name alone, the auctioneer took the time to pronounce every word of the title, White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950, and spell out the painting’s mesmerizingly moneyed, power-patron provenance, “From the collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller.” Prior to the sale, disbelievers grumbled. Sotheby’s had guaranteed the work for $46 million, over double the artist’s previous highest price at auction, and many naysayers saw it as a desperate act on the part of the auction house to garner attention and market share. But after what was perhaps the most intense marketing campaign for an individual work ever undertaken (“These guys can convince you to buy anything,” said one dealer), the risk paid off. The Rockefellers sat in a skybox, laughing gaily with each bid. It sold for $72,840,000, the highest price ever paid for a work of contemporary art at auction.
Another ongoing Sotheby’s success story relates to the work of Peter Doig, whose canvas The Architect’s Home in the Ravine, 1991, sold for a healthy $3.6 million. Sotheby’s London crew, which includes canny team leader Cheyenne Westphal and long-standing Doig supporter Francis Outred, bought seven paintings by the artist from Charles Saatchi for $11 million last September. They could have sold them privately “in five minutes,” but instead they held back and launched the series with White Canoe, 1990–91, last February in London. That painting sold for $11.3 million, making Doig the second-most-expensive living artist at auction (after Jasper Johns). With last night’s sale, the work of the Scottish-born Canadian who lives in Trinidad started to bring in pure profit for the auction house. Moreover, with Doig’s low output and broad international appeal (stretching from Impressionist through to emergent-art collectors), the market looks rosy for the remaining works owned by the auction house.
Of the seventy-four lots, only nine were bought in—among them three “ridiculously overpriced” Pollocks. The sale surpassed a quarter of a billion dollars, making it the house's highest contemporary total ever, but the crowd was blasé. As one long-standing auction goer commented, “It wasn’t a great night at the theater. They haven’t replaced the cast in years; even most of the extras are familiar faces. I’d like to see a British woman do the lead part, or a very angry black man. That would spice things up!”
Certain artists and writers mark a location with an indelible stamp. Venice, for example, is often filtered through the eyes of Turner, Mann, Ruskin, and the poet Joseph Brodsky. After a two-day journey to Iceland to catch the opening of “My Oz,” Roni Horn’s survey exhibition at the Reykjavik Art Museum, and a site-specific project by the artist in Stykkishólmur commissioned by Artangel, no image of the country will form in my mind without an accompanying picture of Horn’s art. The reverse is true, too. Indeed, much of Horn’s work discloses itself in the context of this variegated, severe landscape.
Horn has been visiting the island since the ’70s, and barely five minutes after my Friday-morning arrival in Reykjavík, I learned that my hotel was where she photographed Dead Owl, 1997, her well-known diptych of snow-white birds; bizarrely, the building is a veritable zoo for taxidermic animals. After a tour of town, I joined the artist’s sister Ona Lindquist, collector and MoMA board member Kathy Fuld, Hauser & Wirth partner Marc Payot, and curators James Rondeau, Donna De Salvo, Frances Morris, and Linda Norden on a chartered ferry to Videy Island, a mile or so out into the placid Faxaflói Bay. We wandered the uninhabited rock searching for Afangar, an easy-to-miss, “very De Maria” (by consensus) Richard Serra sculpture, comprising pairs of basalt columns driven into the hills so that their tops are a uniform height above sea level.
That evening, we admired the museum’s tightly curated, exactingly installed overview of Horn’s oeuvre. A new, two-part sculpture made up of large, physically improbable amber glass blocks anchored two adjacent rooms on the first floor; opaque from the side, transparent from above, the bottoms of their interiors are miniature topographies. Upstairs, a new series of restrained but striking portraits of a single woman formed a staccato horizon line around the walls of another gallery. Dinnerwith artist Tacita Dean and her irrepressible son, Rufus; Iceland’s president, Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson; Payot; and a little over one hundred other of Horn’s friends and collaboratorswas held on a catamaran that made another loop around the bay. It was still daylight after the meal, and those revelers not suffering jet lag barhopped until an hour traditionally reserved for breakfast.
The landscape’s otherworldliness wasn’t impressed on us until the next morning, when the group clambered aboard three buses headed north to the Library of Water. The green adorning the steep mountain faces and reflected in the silvery sea disappeared gradually, only to be replaced by lumpy black lava fields and patches of snow. We stopped at a hotel near a location used by Jules Verne in Journey to the Center of the Earth and decamped for lunch and short hikes. At the meal, Artangel codirector James Lingwood offered some brief, sincere remarks, describing his joy at first coming across Horn’s photo books (one included images of a glacier visible from the hotel) and, paraphrasing Keats’s epitaph, suggesting that Horn is an artist whose name is “writ in water.”
The Library of Water is situated at the highest point in Stykkishólmur, a village of twelve hundred, and looks out over the sea in two directions. Between last August and earlier this year, Horn and her collaborators extracted ice from twenty-four glaciers around Iceland, storing the results in liquid form inside glass columns scattered through the building. Preserving these disappearing glaciers (yet paradoxically not in their natural state) is a deliberate—and deliberately provocative—act. Other collaborators recorded locals' weather testimonials, words from which are embedded—in Icelandic and in English—in the rubber floor. (They are also collected in a book and on a website.) An apartment was also built into the design for a writer in residence. Artangel secured a twenty-five-year lease, and the entire building is to be given over to the community. (The work’s optical effect mirrors its social intent: The surrounding landscape is drawn into the building, captured by each transparent totem.) “My authorship is done,” Horn said, with characteristic directness.
On Saturday night, to a subdued crowd of sock-footed guests, inaugural writer in residence Gudrún Eva Minervudóttir read from her newest novel. Horn followed with a fifteen-minute excerpt from her text Saying Water, its repetitions achieving an incantatory grace. In Horn’s cosmology, landscape is weather is a face is water is words. Each is but a sounding board for the measure of experience. William James, chafing at language’s inability to convey experience, once wrote, “We ought to say a feeling of and, a feeling of if, a feeling of but, and a feeling of by, quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue, a feeling of cold.” His adjectives are apt, and Horn aims for similar flexibility in her work, to better record our encounters with the land and one another.
We broke for dinner at a nearby restaurant that has the kind of rustic charm one pays for through the nose in New York, then returned for a performance by the singer-songwriter Ólöf Arnalds, who recently joined the Icelandic indie-electronica band Múm. She sang Irish folk songs, country standards, and her own compositions, while playing her charango, an eight-string guitar whose body is made from an armadillo's shell. The Icelandic lyrics’ incomprehensibility didn’t make the performance any less moving. Thousands of miles from the capital cities most of us call home, with the sun dropping into the ocean behind us, one couldn’t help but marvel at how Horn has created a space for scrutinizing the relationship between viewer and view, between feeling and fact.
Left: Art Institute of Chicago curator James Rondeau, curator Linda Norden, psychoanalyst and writer Ona Lindquist, Frances Morris, Whitney curator Donna De Salvo, MoMA board vice president Kathy Fuld, and Hauser & Wirth partner Marc Payot. Right: Writer Gudrún Eva Minervudóttir.
It’s not easy to turn heads in an art world that demands attention from every possible direction. When as many galleries as possible stage openings on the same night in wildly different parts of town—as happened in pre-auction-week Manhattan last Thursday—craning necks start to feel pain. Where to look first, and at whom? In Chelsea, Marianne Boesky offered two discoveries: a formerly neglected, deceased American Abstract Pop artist, Nicholas Krushenick; and a long, tall, charming Glaswegian named Tony Swain, whose landscape paintings on newsprint were pressed into project-room service at the urging of Boesky consultant Clarissa Dalrymple. Swain wasn’t staying long. Like any young bet-hedging artist, he plays guitar in a band, Hassle Hound, and they have European gigs lined up.
Down the street at Gagosian, Glenn Brown’s woozy portraits of old paintings were on the walls, Walter De Maria poles were on the floor, and Irving Blum was checking out the merchandise. In town as a spectator to “the sales,” as he put it, the man who has made out like a bandit in recent years by selling choice Warhol silk-screen paintings (a torn soup can, a Marilyn) expressed some consternation over Sotheby’s forty-million-dollar estimate. That meant ninety million, I reckoned. “I don’t know,” he said, nodding and shaking his head at the same time. “Interesting, no?”
More rubbernecking was going on at Lehmann Maupin, where the Japanese artist known as Mr. was performing for his New York gallery debut. When I arrived, he was crawling around on the sidewalk dressed in a panda suit, the large head mounted on his rear end, a white plastic bag on his own lowered head, and his hands shod in panda-feet gloves. “We have leash laws in this town, you know,” Jerry Saltz warned dealer Tim Blum, who pretended not to hear. Children in attendance, Cynthia Rowley’s dressed-alike daughters, for instance, were quite taken with the whole scene.
Across the street, another crowd was spilling out of James Cohan. It included Bill Viola, whose new slo-mo video was premiering inside while Viola hobnobbed outside, accompanied by David Ross on cell phone. I hot-footed it over to Matthew Marks, where Andreas Gursky, holding court among several Museum of Modern Art curators (including Peter Galassi and Klaus Biesenbach), grabbed my camera and took my picture—it was really lousy! (I'm keeping it anyway, in case it might be worth something, someday, at “the sales.”)
Racing to SoHo, where Jeffrey Deitch was unveiling Francesco Clemente’s earliest work on paper (ink drawings, photos, collages), I found Alba Clemente standing near four blurred re-photographs of sexy women taken from magazines. “That's were we met—between here and here,” she said, pointing with pride to a narrow slit between two of the photos. In the front room, artists Donald Baechler and Philip Taaffe were admiring an exquisite series of brushed-ink drawings. “I used to throw them on the floor of my studio,” Francesco said. “For people to walk on.” How time changes things!
Not many people entertain with as keen an eye for spectacle as Deitch. Behind the diaphanous sari-fabric veils and trails of navel oranges at his Wooster Street space, dinner was an elaborate, Indian-themed affair for 175 of what used to be known as the Beautiful People. They included designers Diane von Furstenberg, Bill Katz (direct from Mary Boone Chelsea, where he was hanging Clemente’s other show this week: a group of commissioned portraits), Fran Lebowitz, Jacqueline Schnabel, socialite Ann Dexter-Jones, artists Terry Winters and Chris Johansen, and TV personality Charlie Rose, whom I introduced to Casey Spooner, one half of the musical duo Fischerspooner. Together we learned how Rose maintains his cool while interviewing so many different people on so many nights of the week. “Easy,” he said. “You drink—a lot.” Spooner feigned shock. “Before the show?” he asked. “No!” Rose said. “After!” (And, apparently, way after.)
At dinner (from Salaam Bombay), I could only marvel at my fate: To my left sat MoMA trustee Barbara Jakobson, with collector-philanthropists Raymond Learsy and Melva Bucksbaum. Directly across was ARTCO founder Cary Leitzes, Creative Time director Anne Pasternak, and Deitch. On my right, a tall man in a tropical vanilla suit sat down and put out his hand. “Hello,” he said. “I’m Michael Stipe, and I sing with a band called R.E.M.” Amusant, no?
Ever wonder what near strangers talk about to fill the hours it takes to get through a big art-world dinner? That’s right: themselves! Oh yes, and art. With a tabla and flute duo providing background music, Jakobson spoke of the highs and lows of collecting and deaccessioning—or “clearing out”—contemporary works. She also described her first sight of Deitch—when he came to see her collection with his college class. (She picked him for genius even then.) Leitzes described the development of her art-for-product limited editions. These include her (sold-out) Le Sportsac commission by assume vivid astro focus (whose solo show at John Connelly also opened that night). Not exactly a Murakami Vuitton, but getting there. And Stipe, for his part, regaled me with a story of a post-Soviet R.E.M. tour of Estonia, where one man, pegging Stipe for an American, had a message of appreciation—for Michael Jackson. “I do love my job,” said Stipe.
A moment later, the tabla player/DJ Karsh Kale began a solo dance with his drum balanced between his knees—captivating, in a sideshow kind of way—and just as I was thinking that all we needed now was a bevy of harem dancers, on came Surati Inc., four midriff-baring, sari-clad women who spun around the platform stage, clicking finger cymbals and smiling. And how often does that happen? “Every night,” said Terry Winters. “In my dreams.”
Left: Artist Takashi Murakami with tea master So-oku Sen. Right: A view of the ceremony. (All photos: David Velasco)
As a fan of D. T. Suzuki’s beatnik classic Zen and Japanese Culture, I jumped at the chance last Wednesday to experience a private, traditional tea ceremony at Gagosian’s uptown digs “conducted by So-oku Sen, a descendent of Sen no Rikyu,” the legendary sixteenth-century tea master—who’s like the Baal Shem Tov of tea. I refer to the great Hasid mystic because the tea ceremony is like a Zen seder: each item is highly significant, but instead of contemplating the Jews’ suffering, we stick with the crockery. “Like in your home,” said the hakama-clad master (through a translator) as he deftly poured, wiped, and whisked for us. “Nothing that is not being used.” Clearly unacquainted with my clutter, the tea master was focused and gentle: a spiritual warrior of hospitality. I tried to get into the wabi-sabi-style groove—which reveres poverty, sincerity, and imperfection—amid the high-end retail “chi” of the gallery where Takashi Murakami was having his first New York show since leaving Marianne Boesky last June. The tea, along with a lavishly orchestrated “studio visit” to Kaikai Kiki—the artist’s Long Island City base (which was just like Warhol’s Factory, if it were a corporate office)—were the first waves of hospitality to market “Murakami ©,” the artist’s impending retrospective, opening in late October at LA MoCA, curated by Paul Schimmel.
Rather than a teahouse inconspicuously nestled in a bamboo grove, we sat at a low wooden table (“Specially made,” noted Schimmel’s assistant) splat in the middle of the Madison Avenue gallery, surrounded by pricey space and pricey pictures: Murakami’s cartoon-style tableaux (yours for about $1.6 million) of Daruma, the Zen legend who attained enlightenment by “meditating for nine years without blinking his eyes.” The mood was awkward and respectful, whether due to the ceremony (unusual in today’s modernized Japan, though people are rediscovering it), the translator’s mediations, people padding around in kimonos, or the sky-high price points of our “contemplative” mise-en-scčne.
Left: Paul Schimmel with a representative at Kaikai Kiki. Right: So-oku Sen (right) and others photograph the setup.
Back in the waiting room, we'd perched on low stools after signing the guest book with an inked brush. Apparently, rapper Kanye West (who will perform at Murakami's LA MoCA opening) attended one of the other ceremonies held that week. I checked out my fellow tea drinkers: Collector Adam Lindemann seemed genuinely stunned I didn’t know about his recent book about collecting, “It’s great! Sold a lot of copies! It’s about developing taste and how to tell if a work of art is great, if it’s collectible, if it’s a good investment.” Entitled and eager to consume, his eyes were big blue marbles that seemed to appraise everything. His lanky partner, art adviser Amalia Dayan, another chic, artsy lady, and Guggenheim director Lisa Dennison teetered in crazy-high stilettos. (How do they go around like that?) Two young Japanese fashion consumers kept to themselves, one with a tote that said I HEART BR. (“Fashion blog,” he explained.) He didn’t take tea since he was already “on the ceiling from Starbucks.”
Like art collecting, the tea cult is about appreciating—and accumulating—nice things. Appropriate tea talk concerns the gear—tea etiquette, fondling it, “even sexually,” as Murakami helpfully suggested. Dennison obligingly stroked the tea canister, gazing at the tea master with the laserlike empathy of Barbara Walters, and the helmet-halo hairdo. In turn, we each touched the bamboo teaspoon. “Are you a full-time tea master?” Lindemann bluntly inquired. Murakami eased the cross-cultural weirdness with an anecdote we could relate to: a shopping mishap. When he had purchased one of the bowls, a striking “repair” job seamed with gold, for a hundred thousand dollars (this sum seemed to zing up the fuddled guests), he showed it off to the maven here, who informed him that he'd “been had.” The artist smiled with Zen-ish bemusement. “What was the flaw?” Lindemann perked up like a terrier. So-oku Sen detected from the way the parts were fired that they were discards never intended for use. The bowl was fab-looking nevertheless. The hardworking artist sported traditional costume, as did several helpers, who offered, then delicately removed, the exquisite mélange of costly wabi-sabi bowls, two of them four hundred years old (including the “mishap”) from Murakami’s private collection. From these, we sipped clear water (shlepped from Kyoto by the Master) and then the strong, green tea, so substantial that half a cup was plenty.
On Tuesday evening, the 36 bus was packed and stale with urban humanity. As it crept across South London, I strained for a glimpse of something other than housing estates broken by the occasional Georgian terrace, anything that might indicate art. South London Gallery (SLG) is geographically challenged, and yet, flanked by Camberwell College of Art, it is one of the most highly respected public galleries in Britain, with an historical pedigree and a finger-on-the-pulse program. Featuring abundant natural light and elegant proportions, the SLG space, according to many artists and curators, is the best exhibition room in London.
My journey south was eventually rewarded with a precurtain peek at SLG’s latest exhibition—a group show, curated by Andrew Renton, titled “Stay Forever and Ever and Ever.” Intrigued by the relationships between objects, memories, and nostalgia, Renton selected eleven international artists whose practices look at how memories are stored within objects and at how objects can arouse memories. So far, so good.
While staff and hired-gun students from next door scurried about making last-minute adjustments, SLG director Margot Heller remained fashionably elusive. In lieu, her majordomo offered the ten-pence tour. It was barely under way when Renton himself swept in with the panache of an Italian playboy—Savile Row jacket and good, no, great, shoulder-length curly hair. Striding over to a huge vase of flowers atop a plinth at the center of the room, he tweaked the blossoms. (This turned out to be the show’s central work, de Rijke/de Rooij’s Bouquet II, 2003.) “I’m always telling my MA students that curating is not flower arranging,” he deadpanned. At best, curating a good group show is tricky; at worst, it is summertime program filler. Occasionally, though, a curator has a vision so focused and thought-through that the artworks come together in one glorious, lyric aria.
Left: South London Gallery curator Kit Hammond with artist Michael Fullerton. Right: South London Gallery director Margot Heller.
But Kylie Minogue? The title of the exhibition is taken from one of her hits. With a straight face, Renton asserted, “Kylie Minogue is the most important artist of this generation.” A few titters and a collective shifting of feet followed as his respectful audience awaited the punch line. This was bewildering stuff coming from the rigorously intellectual Renton, who wrote a Ph.D. on Samuel Beckett and is head of curating at Goldsmiths College, an institution responsible for roughly one out of every four artists Britain puts on the international map. But there was more. “Seriously,” he insisted, “Kylie Minogue is the Warhol of this generation. Like him, she is passive—an observer. Kylie is like tofu. With no flavor of her own, she masterfully absorbs the flavors around her.” So Renton finds weight and meaning where others find only fluff and lip gloss.
The doors opened to the public and the throng poured in. The wry, recently “rebranded” Spartacus Chetwynd’s sartorial statement rivaled that of her work—in Big Bird yellow, shocking pink, and animal print, she mugged for the camera in a wonky parody of a supermodel on the job. “Was I the only one being an arsehole?” she later sheepishly whispered to a mate. Rearranging her giant octopus so that he looked “happier,” she admitted that Hokusai’s Octapai, 2004, had just been purchased by dealer Sadie Coles.
Collector Muriel Salem, artist Martin Boyce, and collector John A. Smith. Right: Artist Abraham Cruzvillegas.
I intercepted Glaswegian artist Michael Fullerton, briefly out of the gaze of his eagle-eyed dealer Carl Freedman, sneaking out for a de rigueur cigarette. Artfully disheveled, with a distinctly “European” aroma, Fullerton confessed that the human hair in Experience (A Cautionary Tale: The Femme Fatale of Jurgen Hambrecht), 2007, belonged to the first girl he ever slept with. He has kept a box of her locks under his bed for years. He admitted to a long-standing Vidal Sassoon fixation, whereupon I asked whether he might have a hair fetish (his own is long and unkempt but miraculously shiny). A eureka moment passed across his face. It was time to move on.
Bookish Scot artist Martin Boyce chatted earnestly with collector and patron John A. Smith. He and his wife, Vicky Hughes, helped fund the exhibition, and they split the evening into his-and-hers shifts, citing pressing parental obligations. Synergistically, he took the early shift; she stayed on for the party, which took place in a tent at the back of the gallery. Sadly for the starving, the much-feted vegetarian Indian food didn’t live up to the maximal show. Suffice it to say . . . they didn’t serve tofu.
Left: Museum Ludwig director Kasper König. Right: Artist Thomas Hirschhorn. (All photos: Hannah Dübgen)
It was a wingding of a weekend in Berlin, with collectors running around the city to endless events, openings, and parties in (at least until Saturday evening) Barcelona-like weather. Organized by a collective of twenty-nine Berlin galleries, Gallery Weekend Berlin is a clever alternative to the art fair: Instead of sellers flying their wares to some cavernous hall or beached container, buyers fly to Berlin and check out the art displayed in situ at the galleries—a commercial version of site specificity, if you will.
Celebrations started late last Thursday with Coco Kühn and Constanze Kleiner's presentation of their vision for a temporary kunsthalle in Berlin, a white cube designed by Krischanitz & Frank. For this virtual exhibition, held in the colonnade of the Altes Museum (Berlin’s first newly built museum, designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and completed in 1828), guest curator Gerald Matt from Vienna Kunsthalle paired the otherwise-incompatible Candice Breitz and Franz Ackermann. Krischanitz and Frank’s kunsthalle plan rivals the cloud-shaped design proposed by the architecture firm Graft and backed by art magazine Monopol. Cube or cloud? It may not matter as much as whether Erich Marx makes good on his threat to pull his private collection out of Hamburger Bahnhof, so that the venerable institution might actually function as the public kunsthalle it was meant to be.
Left: Neugerriemschneider's Burkhard Riemschneider and dealer Martin Klosterfelde. Right: Artist Christian Jankowski.
On Friday, I started out at Yngve Holen and Kilian Rüthemann’s outdoor public-sculpture project, organized by Caroline Eggel at the corner of Torstrasse and Bergstrasse, before heading over to Café Moskau to catch Luca Cerizza’s super low-key group show “The Importance of Not Being Seen.” This soon became the name of my game, as I tried to honor three dinner invitations without being noticed leaving early (and arriving late). Armed with an empty stomach and good excuses, I decided to do appetizers at the party held by Max Hetzler for artists Darren Almond and Christopher Wool at Malatesta. The next stop: a main course of asparagus, at a dinner hosted by dealer Esther Schipper at the aging ballroom in Clarchen’s Ballhaus, where Tino Sehgal’s Kiss was performed for the Berlin Biennial. I was having a great conversation with Le Plateau director Caroline Bourgeois—a lady so charming that Sotheby's would make a tidy profit by auctioning the seats around her—when I remembered that dessert was being served at neugerriemschneider gallery’s party for Franz Ackermann. Fortunately, I just missed the Brazilian dancers, who reportedly wore pasties and shimmied to boom-boom beats among the dazed guests and the dripping candles. Ackermann’s show was called “From Eden to Lima,” but I guess Brazil is somewhere near both.
Saturday afternoon, I ran into Kasper König smoking cigarettes outside the Zimmerstrasse gallery compound. “So are you just an art critic, or do you have another job on the side?” asked König, posing a question I don’t even get from cab drivers. “And how about you? Does that Museum Ludwig gig pay you enough?“ I responded. ”Or are you schlumping on the side to make ends meet?” “Oh no,” he said. “I'm a civil servant,” as if that would explain everything. Much later, his son, gallerist Johann König, assured me that Kasper was doing fine, what with his work for the Skulptur Projekte Münster.
For a complete change of pace, I tried to get into Thomas Hirschhorn’s talk for his show at Arndt & Partner, but the room was too crowded. After a quick tour of the Kochstrasse gallery shows (Francesco Clemente at Jablonka Gallery being one worth mentioning), I headed over to the Neue Nationalgalerie, where Klosterfelde was unveiling Christian Jankowski's bronze statues of Barcelona street mimes—a reversal of their attempts to present flesh as metal.
The weekend's Big Event was held that night at Grill Royal—a restaurant cofinanced by local picture framer Stefan Landwehr and Neu cogallerist Thilo Warnke—where more than 450 guests gathered in the sprawling lounge bar on the Spree River. We had to wait in line to get in—what a shock! While we debated the pros and cons of Gallery Weekend, Göran Christenson, the very busy director of the Malmö Museum, said, “It’s better than an art fair because of the presentation of the artists. Instead of a booth, you get a view of the artist and the gallery.” Matthias Arndt agreed, pointing out that visitors could “meet the work in its habitat.” Dr. Arend Oetker, the collector, begged to differ. “There’s no substitute for an art fair. In one day you can see everything,” he said, frustrated that the queue we stood in—and perhaps Gallery Weekend in general—was such a chronophage.
As I moved through the crowd, I started to think that time—simply spending time in one place, with a drink or without—might be the newest status symbol. Indeed, the value of time was on everyone’s minds: When gallerist Nicholas Logsdail pondered the possibility of a similar weekend in London, he noted, “The logistics of Berlin are different. It takes more time to get around London.” And Miami collector Robert Moss, on his first visit to Berlin, had only good words about the weather, the people, and the art: “We've not had ten bad minutes this entire time.” That must be a record—if not for the world, then certainly for Berlin.
Left: Dealer Pablo León de la Barra and Liliana Sanguino. Right: MACO director Zélika García. (All photos: Nicolas Trembley)
MACO (México Arte Contemporáneo), the new international contemporary art fair in Mexico City, took up residence last weekend in the fancy district of Lomas de Chapultepec, although no one seems to know why the site used for the fair’s first three incarnations was not chosen again. One rumor is that the original neighborhood was too poor and too close to the centro historico: Potential Mexican clients, who are, by default, rich and paranoid, were reportedly worried about their safety and felt ill at ease in the old location.
The fair—directed by the charismatic youngster Zélika García and Spot magazine publisher Enrique Rubio—opened in the just-completed parking area of the Palmas residence, a chic apartment building still under construction. The dust and fumes had an unfortunate side effect: Since the opening, nearly all the dealers in attendance have complained of feeling unwell. Somewhat ominously, an ambulance was parked outside throughout the weekend.
In the end, however, the illness could also be attributed to the ample fun had each night. Wednesday afternoon’s press and VIP preview was poorly attended, as visitors conspired to arrive en masse late in the evening. Sure enough, by that point carts of tequila were being wheeled through the fair. With the party lasting until the wee hours of the morning, collectors like Cesar Cervantes (who owns a chain of taco bars), Moishes Micha, and Patrick Charpenel (from Guadalajara) had plenty of time to meet local artists like Miguel Calderón and Ariel Orozco (not to be confused with Gabriel; Ariel is a lot less expensive) and international visitors like artists Aaron Young, Liz Cohen, Marcelo Krasilcic, and Antek Walczak. Swiss artist Christophe Draeger had created a site-specific work, with the help of Jose Noe Suro, the owner of a local ceramics factory who is well known for his collaborations with the late Jason Rhoades.
Left: Los Super Elegantes's Milena Muzquiz. Right: Dealer Monica Manzutto and Vicky Fox.
The fair operated at two levels, literally and metaphorically. The second floor was used by small galleries: The quality of the art didn’t seem terribly important (and in some cases was not very good at all), although it was fun to discover the stand of Jose Garcia Torres (Proyectos Monclova), brother of artist Mario Garcia Torres. More established, often-international galleries inhabited the ground floor. Some big shots were present (or at least sent their directors and assistants), including David Zwirner, Yvon Lambert, Galerie Krinzinger, and Massimo De Carlo (whose stand, designed by artist John Armleder, was undoubtedly one of the best).
Although long-standing Mexican galleries like GAM (Galeria de Arte Mexicano) were present, greater energy emanated from more recently established venues, including Enrique Guerrero, KBK, OMR, and kurimanzutto. Monica Manzutto and Jose Kuri organized a meal and an enormous patio party on the evening of the opening at which rivers of mescal flowed.
The gallery Air de Paris has begun collaborating with Los Perros Negros, a new local venue, in the centro where—we know now—few collectors regularly venture due to crime and traffic. But plenty of others made the trip on Friday night. The Perros Negros collective, which consists of Agustina Ferreyra, Fernando Mesta, and artist Adriana Lara, hosted other trendy collectives invited by curator Eva Svennung: Reena Spaulings, the Bernadette Corporation, Los Super Elegantes, and Claire Fontaine. Young artists like Marco Rountree, Michael Linares, and Radamés Figueroa “Junior”—all visiting from Puerto Rico—partied with Art Basel’s Samuel Keller and Isabella Mora, ARCO director Lourdes Fernandez, and curators Mariana Munguia, Guillermo Santamarina, and MoMA’s Christian Rattemeyer.
Left: Art Basel director Samuel Keller and Art Basel's Isabella Mora. Right: ARCO artistic director Lourdes Fernández.
MACO focuses on its international invitation and visitors program, and Patricia Marshal and Víctor Zamudio Taylor, consultants for Colección Jumex president Eugenio López Alonso (a close friend of Salma Hayek, who, sadly, was not present), helped international relations by purchasing works by thirteen Mexican and foreign artists, among them Philippe Decrauzat, Sam Durant, Ale de la Puente, Fernando Carbajal, Claude Closky, Minerva Cuevas, Daniel Guzmán, and Mike Bouchet. They also invited everyone who was anyone to take SUVs to visit the famous collection, located in a bunker protected by bodyguards in the Jumex fruit-juice factory, where an exhibition organized by Michel Blancsubé was on view.
On Sunday evening, fair organizers announced that more than twenty-five thousand visitors had walked the aisles and that between 30 and 70 percent of the works exhibited had been sold, which is none too impressive by international-circuit standards but a decent showing for an emerging market. The Blow de la Barra gallery and its charming director Pablo León de la Barra capped off the week with a memorable party on the roof of the Habita hotel (think Wallpaper). DJs from the George and Dragon in London and Martiniano Lopez-Crozet and Milena Muzquiz (aka Los Super Elegantes) spun records in a style that could be summarized as Grace Jones versus Chihuahua Aztec, while Warhol’s silent films were projected onto the wall of the adjacent building. Viva Mexico!