“They all know Martin Parr, so they get it.” DJ Guillaume Sorge was responding to my inquiry about how Jeremy Deller’s Folk Archive, an expansive collection of British “folk” art that opened last Thursday at the Palais de Tokyo, would translate across the English Channel. How would the eternally sophisticated Parisians read photos of, for example, Tom Harrington MBE, Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling champion, dressed in his floral embroidered briefs and undershirt? But as I approached the museum early Thursday evening, Peter Clare was already cheerfully leading Snowdrop, his life-size mechanical elephant, on short tours for enthusiastic young French attendees. It seemed an avenue of communication had been forged.
“When I first saw the elephant perform, as it were, six years ago, that was an epiphany for me,” Deller said. Snowdrop and the rest of the Folk Archive are being presented in “From One Revolution to Another,” Deller’s six-part project for Palais de Tokyo’s second “Carte Blanche” exhibition. (The first was presented last September by Ugo Rondinone.) For “Carte Blanche,” the museum invites an artist to act as curator but also, as Palais director Marc-Olivier Wahler put it, “to imagine something you’ve always dreamed of doing—something impossible.”
The Folk Archive works in Paris, in part because of the five other documentary projects shown alongside it that emphasize the common denominator of the exhibition—personal or collective action toward a type of utopian alternative. “This exhibition is about how you can go from being a miner to a glam-rock wrestler in a generation,” explained Deller.
Hanging above much of the space, banners by Ed Hall chart the recent political history of Britain, from the miners’ strikes to the Iraq war. Hall was proud to have his work shown in the contemporary art context but lamented the absence of one piece: “I can’t get the banner I made for the Eurostar cleaners back. They said to me, ‘What’s more important, the banner hanging in the prestigious gallery in Paris or in use in our dispute over fair pay?’” Because Deller “wanted to have something in the exhibition having to do with France,” he included Golf Drouot: The Early Days of Rock in France, archival material from the legendary Parisian venue. Matthew Higgs presented work by William Scott, an artist with the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California. “Sound in Z,” organized by Matthew Price and Andrei Smirnov, chronicles the musical and industrial revolutions of 1920s Russia. Deller’s connection with the subject grew out of research for his forthcoming film on Depeche Mode fans, and the discovery of a very strong fan base in Russia. A little digging brought Deller and Price to Léon Theremin, “And then it was like, ‘Whoa, this is techno from the ’30s,’” says Price.
On my way out, I saw Yann Chevalier, curator of Confort Moderne, Poitiers, and mentioned my plans to go to Toulouse the next morning for the opening of “Printemps de Septembre.” He got me up to speed on curator Christian Bernard’s program for the three-week festival: “It’s not just young French artists—it’s all of the artists that you’ve got to follow.”
Toulouse is gorgeous. The rose-colored city is well designed for the “perambulation” that Bernard suggested was the ideal way to explore the work of forty-eight participating artists installed in twenty-four locations. The majority of the works were made specifically for exhibition in Toulouse, many by Bernard’s old students from the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. My first stop was the public art center bbb to see the exhibition of Samuel Richardot and Michel Perot, two recent graduates from the école, where they were both selected to participate in Bernard’s famous seminar—now in its final year. Their large-scale paintings (Richardot’s abstract and Perot’s figurative) were installed over John Armleder’s backdrop for the festival—a series of seven colors of wall paint used in a variety of combinations in the exhibition venues. Toulouse’s Lieu Commun was also a highlight, hosting a group show curated by Claire Moulène and Mathilde Villeneuve with artists from the 2008 summer residency at Les Ateliers des Arques in Les Arques, a village (population 190) in southwestern France. Claude Lévêque’s Rendez-vous d'automne (Autumn Rendezvous), installed at Maison Éclusière, also captured the spirit of the provinces, a voyage far beyond the barriers of familiarity.
At an evening cocktail at the Capitole (Toulouse City Hall), Bernard, “Printemps” president Marie-Thérèse Perrin, and mayor Pierre Cohen officially inaugurated the festival. Bernard clarified the title of this edition, “Là où je vais, je suis déjà” (Where I am going, I am already), explaining that “you can only see the works when you are ready—history forms perception.” Bernard also confirmed for me that his invitation of artists for “Printemps” was offered in a similar spirit to his seminar at Beaux Arts. With his selection, “it is not the thematic” that Bernard is interested in but “what develops out of this collision of work.”
Left: Curators Stéphanie Moisdon and Veronique Terrier-Hermann. Right: FIAC directors Jennifer Flay and Martin Bethenod.
Pushing past the growing crowd, I hurried down the cobblestone streets to catch the rest of the evening’s program. Vert Pâle (Pale Green), a performance by Marcelline Delbecq and her cousin Benoit Delbecq at Auditorium Saint-Pierre des Cuisines, was an homage to Russian silent-film actress Alla Nazimova. Walking back to Beaux Arts with Marcelline Delbecq and Vincent Lamouroux for the Red Krayola’s concert, we passed Sylvie Fleury’s contribution (and cheeky tribute to Toulouse’s aeronautics industry)—an installation of flying saucers lit by searchlights on the opposite bank of the Garonne River. Lamouroux told me about his work for the exhibition—installed at the Abattoirs Museum—and also his participation in Bernard’s Beaux Arts seminar. Toulouse, it seemed, was a veritable class reunion.
At around 10 PM, the Red Krayola started their energetic set in the Beaux Arts courtyard, and an hour later and a few streets over, Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet opened in the concert hall of the Les Jacobins Convent. The evening climaxed with a party in the garden behind the Abattoirs Museum where finally everyone seemed to relax. Like the crowds at Deller’s opening, the festival artists and organizers, locals from Toulouse, and many more who had traveled from Paris seemed to revel in the experience.
“Where the hell is it?” screamed the Scouse taxi driver struggling to find the opening party the Friday before last for the Liverpool Biennial in the Old Port area of the city. Warehouse after warehouse passed by until I spotted a beacon in the dark: a stream of silver-haired men (eminent European curators, no doubt) and young artists with big beards and tweed jackets moving toward the A Foundation’s complex for the Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2008 show. The trickle of partygoers quickly grew into, if not a flood, at least a tributary, with London dealer Anthony Reynolds, Letter to Brezhnev director Chris Bernard, and Ed Linse of Artists Anonymous spilling out into the beanbag-chair-strewn street. Inside, the warren of galleries (the place takes the warehouse-chic aesthetic to a whole new level) were flush with what can only be described as Liverpool’s “team youth”: bright-eyed young things who’ve produced some of the best new work I’ve seen in ages.
New Contemporaries board chair Sacha Craddock grabbed me and scrambled over Joe Doldon’s intricate cardboard Untitled (Floor) sculpture to rally the artists. The trio summoned—Raakhee Lakhtaria, Paul Bratt, and Haroon Mirza—seemed pleased but dazed (no doubt at the thought of taking those first tentative steps into the shark-infested waters of the art market) by the first-night jamboree. Indeed, work by fellow artist Steve Bishop was already being snapped up. His taxidermied fox shot through with fluorescent light tubes (Suspension of Disbelief)—one onlooker cheekily remarked that “taxidermy is a bit 2007”—obviously found favor with a Norwegian collector, who bagged the piece. The Scandinavian follows in the footsteps of Charles Saatchi, who bought two works by Bishop at his recent Royal College of Art MA show in London. Meanwhile, two soberly suited men from sponsor Bloomberg pored over video work by another young artist, Beth Collar.
After a mad dash for some air and alcohol at the alfresco bar, I spotted artist David Altmejd and his London dealer, Stuart Shave, chatting by the nearby paella stand. The Canadian artist, known for his disquieting, fantastic creations (who else has made werewolf heads such a hot topic?), continues to be one of the art world’s most prolific practitioners. Already on the plate are a solo show linked to the opera Doctor Atomic, at the Metropolitan Opera’s gallery in New York; an exhibition of works at Shave’s gallery in October (which Altmejd claims will be “very sexual”); and a stint at the Art Gallery Ontario.
Left: Artists Haroon Mirza, Paul Bratt, and Raakhee Lakhtaria. Right: Tate Modern curator Tanya Barson.
Soon the action moved to a second retrofitted factory space across the road, where the primary “Made Up” biennial bash was kicking off. Artist Sarah Sze and museum directors Simon Groom and Reyahn King were spotted en route, as were Laurence Sillars, curator at Tate Liverpool, and Branwen Jones, director of Andrea Rosen Gallery.
Perhaps it was the lower lighting (sex-shop red) or the presence of local personalities such as drag queen Mandy Romero that prompted an upbeat change in the evening’s tempo. Guests were ready to let their hair down, including biennial director Lewis Biggs, who danced with artist Lisa Milroy while sporting what looked like a blue garter wrapped around his upper arm. Curator Adrian George, looking dapper, encircled the pool of manic dancers. But it was performance artists Corinne Mynatt and Angus Braithwaite who proved to be the most stylish movers on the floor, closely followed by Cedric Christie, who is showing his two “art cars” in the city. The motors, which will eventually be crushed and displayed as paintings, were a big hit with the Liverpudlians. As Christie noted, “Artists Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler even showed me a photograph of their dealer perched on the hood.”
Last Tuesday, twenty-seven-year-old Daria “Dasha” Zhukova inaugurated her Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow with three projects by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The exhibitions were part of a multisite retrospective funded by Zhukova’s Iris Foundation—as well as by a personal donation from Zhukova’s boyfriend, Roman Abramovich, whose splashy debut in the auction houses last year (where in one week he plunked down nearly $120 million on a Freud and a Bacon) set pulses racing. Easily one of the most coveted invites of the year, the scramble for invitations became even fiercer with the announcement that Larry Gagosian would open his own temporary space in a former candy factory one day later.
Amid crashing economies (and conspiracy theories about the unique timing of the Damien Hirst auction), the top tiers of the art market flocked to Russia’s capital in hopes of rubbing shoulders with the country’s elite. What they found, however, was mostly one another, as a decidedly international crowd filled Moscow’s former factories for three days of openings, receptions, and VIP dinners.
Admittedly, Ilya Kabakov makes an unlikely poster boy for an art-world bacchanalia (despite setting a roughly five-million-dollar auction record last February with his work Beetle). Nevertheless, he was the center of attention last week, with the retrospective marking his first exhibition in Russia after twenty years abroad. Add the Midas touch of Zhukova and Abramovich, Russia’s golden couple (second, perhaps, only to Medvedev and Putin), and suddenly a long-overdue retrospective became the social event of the season. Even as Russian markets made their dramatic midweek dive, the so-called oligarchs appeared unfazed, eager to follow Abramovich’s lead in investing in contemporary art. At the Monday preview of the Kabakovs’ most recent work, The Gates, in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, one famous Russian collector wryly nudged another, only half in jest: “Have you bought anything yet?” Meanwhile, across the room, foreign gallerists congregated over photocopied face books, carrying on whispered debates over “which one’s the oligarch?”
While anticipated to be the splashier event, the Tuesday afternoon opening of two projects—An Alternative History of Art and Red Wagon—at the Garage was remarkably sedate, as the crowd wandered reverently through the newly renovated halls of the former Melnikov Garage. Those who could get past the notoriously tight security celebrated in the enormous main hall, sipping champagne and eying the closed-off café section where the chosen few were granted an audience with the Kabakovs, as well as a firsthand glimpse of Zhukova and Abramovich. The truly lucky were granted invitations to a private dinner, hosted by Zhukova and Emilia Kabakova, where a mixed crowd of collectors, scholars, and socialites nibbled on hummus and tried their hand at toasting with vodka (perhaps a bit too enthusiastically, from the look of the few who made it to the next morning’s symposium, huddling over their coffee cups while, onstage, Robert Storr, Boris Groys, and Katya Degot traded takes on the Kabakovs). On Wednesday, the last three of the Kabakovs’ installations opened at the Winzavod Center for Art, a converted wine factory now host to much of the Moscow art world. There visitors could engage with Ilya Kabakov’s Life of a Fly and Game of Tennis in a more intimate setting, as well as pass through the Toilet, an installation in which a public toilet is transformed into an impromptu communal apartment.
The scholarly tone of these exhibitions aside, those who came expecting a party were not disappointed. The events at the Winzavod were immediately followed by the opening of “For What You Are About to Receive,” Gagosian’s second exhibition in Moscow. (The first took place last fall in the posh Barvikha Luxury Village outside of town.) Located in the former Red October Chocolate Factory in the very heart of the city, the exhibition was divided between a sampling of the gallery roster and a condensed history of abstraction (which juxtaposed, for instance, a Jackson Pollock painting with a Takashi Murakami and concluded with six never-before-exhibited works by Cy Twombly). Artists including Murakami, Anselm Reyle, and Piotr Uklanski were on hand for the elite meet-and-greet.
Left: Curator Alison Gingeras and Sarah Hoover. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan) Right: Serpentine codirector of exhibitions Hans-Ulrich Obrist with Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones. (Photo: Kate Sutton)
A veteran of the 2007 Moscow Biennale, artist Aaron Young was also on the scene, this time to watch over the production of Arc Light, one of his signature motorcycle performances. “Earlier, I would have said red is the color of Moscow,” he waxed. “But now I’d have to say it’s gold.” On arriving at the gallery, flush with works by Jeff Koons, David Smith, Anish Kapoor, Banks Violette, and Reyle, one curator had a similar take: “It’s all so shiny!”
Young’s performance, while certainly spectacular, was somewhat lost on the Moscow crowd, which assumed the motorcyclists to be just one more aspect of the evening’s entertainment, rather than elements of an artwork. As the crowd battled the cold with cocktails (all the while navigating the factory floors in impossibly fabulous footwear), the paparazzi snapped away at particularly photogenic partygoers Yvonne Force Villareal, Natalia Vodianova, Leelee Sobieski, Barbara Bush, and, of course, Zhukova, who never seemed to shake the team of photographers following her every move. Around 2 AM, the party moved from a dinner on the fourth floor of the factory to the trendy Soho Rooms club, where those who still could danced until the wee hours of the morning, while others clumped around the sushi buffet, vainly trying to fend off the inevitable hangover.
By Thursday evening, one could find the dwindling crowds blearily stumbling toward openings for Wim Delvoye (Diehl + Gallery One) and Tony Matelli (Gary Tatintsian). Luckily, the rollicking nature of the works on display seemed to energize attendees. In lieu of alcohol, Tatintsian served grateful patrons much-needed espresso shots, while at Diehl, many visitors opted out on champagne in favor of fruit juice. It seemed that those in the know wanted to rest up for the city’s next big bash: the François Pinault Collection opening at the Garage next February.
Left: Carlos Mota with Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal. Right: Justin Portman, Natalia Vodianova, and photographer Patrick Demarchelier. (Photos: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan)
After a long silence, punctuated by nervous giggles from the audience, Beatrix Ruf—one of the five Yokohama Triennale curators working under artistic director Tsutomu Mizusawa—leaned in to her microphone and said carefully: “I think the quality of exhibitions in general is that you have to see them.” She was responding to an audience member’s charge, of the type often directed at these large international shows, that in necessitating being there—and perhaps more strongly than most exhibitions do, given the performance program spanning its eleven-week course—this third edition of the triennial might be considered “elitist” or “undemocratic.”
The show does call for the viewer’s presence, of course, but even those in Yokohama during the opening week could be present only so often. There was a lot to see, with the seven venues (three of them considered “main”) and the performances that some of the artists contributed in addition to their more displayable artworks, likewise in response to the show’s abstruse and vaguely sci-fi theme, “Time Crevasse.” Dispersed among the venues and often scheduled simultaneously, or at times listed incorrectly, each performance caught seemed an added bonus—visitors would arrive too late, take in a rehearsal instead of the real thing, find Jonathan Meese where Sharon Hayes should have been. Daniel Birnbaum, another of the curators (the remaining three are Hu Fang, Akiko Miyake, and, predictably, Hans-Ulrich Obrist), mentioned to me lightheartedly: “The nature of the exhibition is that you miss half of it.”
There was a laissez-faire (perhaps undemocratic) air to the week, a breeziness that seemed influenced by the primarily waterfront environs. That first day, the Friday before last, began with a performance “by” Michelangelo Pistoletto—though it actually starred Galleria Continua’s Lorenzo Fiaschi, who stalked about one of the larger freestanding galleries constructed in the Shinko Pier Exhibition Hall and systematically smashed sixteen gilt-framed mirrors with a sledgehammer. “Michelangelo Pistoletto,” he announced during his curtain call, “says ‘Ciao, from Italy!’” Also that afternoon was Joan Jonas’s performance Reading Dante, in which the artist fragments actions (anxiously arranging objects on a desk, then walking away; drawing in charcoal, then balling up the results) as a video projection shows various locations, at times under a hallucinatory haze, all with a view to translating into multimedia the Divine Comedy.
As for the more static portion of the show, the strongest selection is at the Shinko Pier; the airy space facilitated a spare hang that serves the works well. Luke Fowler and Tsunoda Toshiya’s collaborative film installation stands out: A fan ripples parachutelike material that becomes a film screen for shots (of a glass of water filled to meniscus point, a blue sky diagonally bisected by a piece of rope, a pile of powder or maybe a snowscape) that periodically cut out as the screen is shocked by floodlight. An enigmatic but oddly affecting work. In the Red Brick Warehouse No. 1, the selection of Gutai films not only is a main draw but also seems a key to the curatorial focus on performance. The presentation in the NYK Waterfront Warehouse, the third main venue, is lackluster: the greatest hits of the international circuit, with works by Matthew Barney, Marina Abramovic, Paul McCarthy.
That night were two opening parties, the first in the Yokohama International Passenger Terminal—an undulating wood-planked structure on Osanbashi Pier with entertainment facilities inside and a park on top. The field of bubbles spat out of machines flanking the entrance gave way to a cavernous green-lit space bisected by two long salt bars onto which guests dabbed hors d’oeuvres. Alongside one of these, I chatted with Brussels dealer Jan Mot (who, it turns out, had traveled to Yokohama with Tino Sehgal, the artist’s aversion to airplanes having led them to take the Trans-Siberian Express), and met some gallerists from Tokyo—Taka Ishii (whose new six-floor space is soon to open there) and Misako Rosen. The second party was at a banquet-hall-like space, called Bay Side, along the highway in an industrial part of the city. Alex Zachary, from Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, showed up, as did artist Darren Bader, curator Klaus Biesenbach, and Irene Bradbury from White Cube. Jim O’Rourke made some ambient noise with a few other musicians—much to the puzzlement of audience members familiar with his catchier songs.
It must be a new direction, since O’Rourke performed in collaboration with minimalist musician and filmmaker Tony Conrad two nights later at the Red Brick Warehouse. A group of us had spent the day in Kanazawa, to visit the boldly named 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, and arrived halfway through Stephen Prina’s acoustic set of, mostly, bittersweet love ballads by female singer-songwriters (Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”)—a selection that, falling as it did within the “Experimental Sound Program,” surprised some audience members. “It was pleasant,” one shrugged. O’Rourke and Conrad were next and last. Playing the cello and violin, respectively, the duo produced a series of drones and subdrones and occasional melodious scraps that together became almost sculptural, so brutal as to be transcendent. When the forceful sound abruptly let up—after beat, beat—the crowd erupted into a cheerful roar.
It was in one of the satellite venues, the Sankeien Garden, located twenty minutes or so by taxi from the main area, that I found the strongest illustration of that enigmatic theme, the “time crevasse.” To wander through this trompe l’oeil of a traditional Japanese garden, among the buildings spanning half a millennium and relocated by the wealthy silk exporter who commissioned the garden at the turn of the last century, among the women with lace covering their arms and parasols and surgical masks (worn by the Japanese when sick to protect others from germs, a striking sign of the country’s strict attention to both hygiene and politeness), is truly a lesson in shifting temporal plates. It was there that I sat in a gazebo behind a stack of papers printed with a story by Tris Vonna-Michell, and faded out while a recording of his quick incantatory narration merged with the sharp strain of crickets.
The eleventh edition of Geisai, an art fair started by Takashi Murakami in 2001 to allow artists without galleries to peddle their own wares, commenced last Sunday at Tokyo Big Sight in a joyful explosion of Japanese subcultures. At the opening assembly, a kimono-clad woman with a big Minnie Mouse bow on her head gave a long introduction in Japanese, after which Murakami kicked things off by leading the crowd of artist-exhibitors in cheers, instructing them to pose for a mass portrait, and concluding: “This is the biggest Geisai ever. We must make a revolution!”
Needless to say, with roughly twelve hundred exhibitors—more than double the last edition—there was a mind-boggling array of artwork, including paintings of elfin, big-eyed girls characteristic of Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki stable, digitized apocalyptic sci-fi visions, and fantasy worlds inhabited by infantile nymphs. Others sold ceramics, knitted hats, stuffed animals, and manga and anime paraphernalia. Among the performers were a woman with a giant apple head, a man in a bunny suit, and a green monster.
Before the fair opened to the public, the five members of the jury surveyed the aisles, sporting blue Japanese happi jackets featuring Kaikai Kiki smiling-flower logos and lapels with Japanese script reading ARE YOU GOING TO DO ART UNTIL YOU DIE? Alison Gingeras looked around wide-eyed and said, “I am overwhelmed. It is different but not different. I think the performances around the fair are the most interesting aspect.”
Left: Artist Adrian Tone. Right: Palais de Tokyo director and Geisai juror Marc-Olivier Wahler.
Most of the artists approached visitors to explain their work, much of which seemed to entail a psychological motivation. Of her small paintings and constructions featuring the color pink, artist Yasuyo said, “I want to express the child’s world inside me. And pink is happy!” Another exuberant exhibitor was Hiichan (many of the artists chose to go simply by their given names), whose largest painting depicted “ninety-six styles of sex position.” Surrounded by a throng of TV cameras, Marc-Olivier Wahler said, “It is really refreshing. I like the way they behave. They approach you in a way nobody normally would.” Although collector Takeo Obayashi said he found the overall quality lower than the last fair, he did purchase a voluptuous painting of a woman with ram horns being ravished by a wolf in a forest.
Even a few of the famously reclusive otaku, geeks obsessed with the anime and manga that inspired Murakami’s “Superflat,” left their homes to exhibit. A young woman, Seira Uchida, replicated her room by cordoning off the booth with string; she sat with her back to visitors wearing giant earphones and reading magazines. Her statement read, “For me, Geisai is a very fearful event because I have to watch 1,000 passing me to look one person who is interested me.” Pale and dressed in black, twenty-four-year-old Yuji Oku sat in a chair staring straight ahead, with no apparent interest in discussing his show, “Weapons,” a series of nearly identical ominous black figures on white backgrounds.
More than anything, Geisai was a one-stop look at the heavily coded, often conformist youth culture of Japan. On the upper level was the School Festival Executive Committee, which celebrated the distinct subcultures born from Tokyo’s Akihabara district, full of video-game and electronics shops including a typical maid café, where coquettish young girls in French maid outfits serve tea to male otaku. “The Japanese sell schoolgirls’ used underwear in vending machines,” one of my colleagues commented as the giggling waitresses greeted us. “It is an unhealthy obsession.”
In the spirit of a school geisai, or “art festival,” there were mock classrooms, game booths, and an “Itasha” display of race cars decorated with female anime characters. Playboy bunnies passed out flyers, and “cosplayers” wandered around dressed up as characters from comic books, graphic novels, video games, and fantasy movies. (I caught Murakami’s studio assistant Ebato Ai dressed in a “zombie” costume with fake blood dripping from her mouth.) On a stage were concerts by pop stars such as the pigtailed Maria Yumetsuki, dressed in a shimmering pink cape. “She is my angel,” swooned one sweaty, bespectacled young man.
I was so carried away with the festive spirit that I joined the congalike procession of Nakasone OFF, a group of Internet addicts who arrange to meet offline; it snaked around the booth manned by Kyoto DJ Halfby and past the schoolrooms, where kids in military uniforms saluted us as we passed. It seemed like a great—and wholesome—way to get computer geeks to exercise; the whole spectacle brought to mind a county fair on acid.
Murakami is a paradigm of the commercial success of art-star marketing, but he is also creating a structure to enable young artists to emerge by playing with the very system that allowed him to rise. Unlike Damien Hirst, Murakami’s brand of revolution is not all about him. Juror Jack Bankowsky observed at the press conference, “You can’t help but think of the whole thing as his artistic project. Coming here is a better way of understanding his work.” Fellow juror Wahler agreed: “You can see his fingerprint in every detail.” Gingeras commented that Murakami was very democratic, allowing them to choose artists with whom he disagreed. In fact, Kaikai Kiki artist Aya Takano, whose work is showing currently in the Tokyo gallery, said, “I have never been able to understand Murakami’s work. I don’t like his taste. But I think he is a strategic genius.”
Following form, the awards ceremony was a jubilant extravaganza, complete with long-legged, scantily clad beauties handing out awards to the top three prizewinners: Kyoko Nakamura, Unit.maker, and Keita Sugiura. When juror Carol Yinghua Lu presented an award to her own favorite artists, Crazy Hat & Long Ears, the latter of the two, wearing floppy rabbit ears, broke down in tears. When the gold prize was announced, fireworks exploded and metallic streamers rained down from above. One of the winners raised his fists in the air and began a rousing victory chant. Art seemed secondary to the ordered chaos of the fair. How could anything else compete? As the sign on a pachinko parlor says, WELCOME TO EXCITING SPACE!
Printed on the lower corner of a back page of Taryn Simon’s new book of photographs is a fax the artist received from Disney Publishing Worldwide that reads, “Especially during these violent times, I personally believe that the magic spell cast on [our] guests . . . helps to provide them with an important fantasy they can escape to.” Although this fax goes on to outline the reasons Simon was denied access to photograph the Magic Kingdom’s backstage area, it might have explained the bands of revelers flocking to the fantasyland of Rodeo Drive last Saturday for the artist’s Gagosian opening of “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar,” a project that painstakingly catalogues the hidden logistics of American culture during these “violent times” (from avian-quarantine facilities and a US Customs contraband room to Braille editions of Playboy and the art collection at CIA headquarters). Surprisingly, the crowd of hip, affluent escapists didn’t so much stand out against Simon’s tell-all photographs as bring into stark focus a hunger for politicized images on (and about) the home front. Gathering near the gallery walls to decipher cold, factual texts, the guests seemed taken with the various curiosities. Near an emerald print of a research marijuana grow room, one viewer remarked, “That looks like my bedroom.” “I’m going home with you,” replied an opportunistic passerby.
The opening followed a Friday-night book signing at Dagny Corcoran’s Art Catalogues, and the show roughly coincides with the inclusion of the series in the Gwangju Biennial. I asked Simon about the reception it has received at home and abroad. “We’re approaching the elections now, which certainly makes a difference,” she explained. “The most substantial conversation around this work occurred in Germany, perhaps because they’ve already dealt with a history of shame and looking inward.” Among the introspective out to support Simon were local writers, art students, and curators; artists like Monica Majoli and Luciano Perna; collectors including Merry Norris and Beth Swofford; Sir Salman Rushdie, who wrote the foreword to Simon’s book; and a handful of actors, most notably Blythe Danner, Jason Schwartzman, and Casey Affleck.
Buzz over Simon’s other high-profile supporters had me hurrying to the Chateau Marmont afterparty. After clearance from an off-duty cop directing cars, two valets, a group of hotel bouncers with a PR rep, a table of four Gagosian staffers, two hostesses, and a busboy with a tray of wine, I slipped behind a long velvet curtain into the Chateau’s dimly lit lobby, where the party was already underway. Needless to say, the various layers of the event (a private party celebrating an artist who makes images of privatized oddities, attended by public personae whose business is mediated images) were not lost on some of the guests. But once inside, it seemed a happily ordinary, relaxed LA art crowd. Around the time the group turned toward dessert, which was spread over a baby-grand piano that Simon had been gently petitioning people to play (luckily, the hotel found some Pavarotti to break the silence), artist Gustavo Godoy stopped by my table and teasingly asked, “Has anyone seen Steven Spielberg? I asked him to meet me by the piano.”
Pearl Lam was having trouble with her staff—or at least she was making a show of it, shouting from the kitchen, slamming doors, appearing occasionally to sulk in the doorway. For Pearl, the magnetic art wallah behind Shanghai’s influential Contrasts galleries, the world is both her stage and her oyster. (The New York Times recently proclaimed her a “Shanghai Auntie Mame,” while the local Tatler made the “Arts Party Lady” the cover model for its September issue.) Known for her large and lively dinners (she hosted one each of my first four nights in China) as much as for her ebullient attitude toward art, she seemed to exemplify—or even, occasionally, constitute—the flash and heat of Shanghai’s often business-minded art scene. “Pearl is sui generis,” remarked Art Basel director Marc Spiegler later that week. “There is no one else like her.”
A group of us were having lunch on the twenty-first floor of the majestic 41 Hengshan Road, a luxury high-rise (built by Pearl’s mother, the developer Koo Siu-ying) that towers above the squat and verdant French Concession district. The bunch of us had been invited to stay in Pearl’s building, arriving the Sunday before last to take in Shanghai’s biennial and ShContemporary fair along with an exhausting list of openings and other activities (visits to see Yinka Shonibare at James Cohan, Michael Lin at the Shanghai Gallery or Art, and the gallery complex at Moganshan Road included). It would have been a real treat to stay in the penthouse, but Pearl’s astrologist, Linda Joyce, was already crashing there.
Left: Artist Wang Tiande. Right: Long March's Lu Jie and David Tung.
The itinerary was in a bit of disarray due to the postponement of the scheduled Iranian-art show (the work was held up in customs), so I ventured forth to explore other venues, including curator Biljana Ciric’s intriguing “Strategies from Within: An Exhibition of Vietnamese and Cambodian Contemporary Art Practices.” (How one longs, though, for a laconic title.) Afterward was dinner at Xian Qiang Fang, the elegant Chinese-opera restaurant that features as a setting in Yang Fudong’s famous film cycle Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest, followed by an afterparty on the Bund for the Hou Hanru–curated Yang Jiechang retrospective at the Duolun Museum, though I left soon after arriving, still reeling from the fifteen-hour flight.
Wang Tiande’s opening at the main Contrasts space the next day was a media frenzy. Television crews interviewed attendees while Wang leaped from collectors to journalists to politicians (including Shanghai’s former mayor). Fifty tons of coal sat in a pile just beyond the anteroom. I asked Pearl whether the work was a nod to Walter De Maria. “No, no,” Pearl responded tetchily. “He doesn’t know De Maria or Kiefer or any of that Western nonsense. He knows Andy Warhol.”
Standing nearby, Wang perked up: “Ah! Andy Warhol.”
“Yes, Warhol,” Pearl continued. “But he’s really a traditional ink-brush artist trying to make his practice relevant within a contemporary context.” This seems a common theme in Chinese art. (Hanru similarly situates Yang Jiechang in his catalogue essay.) From what I gather, Wang’s arch solution was to reduce things to silhouette, burning pieces of parchment and photographing their ashes so that they look like distant mountain summits reflecting the pile of coal, which in turn resembles the shifting peaks and valleys of the Chinese art market, represented by a large animated graph hung from one wall.
Next stop was the biennial. Insipidly titled “Translocalmotion” (at least it’s brief) and vaguely concerned with themes of urbanization, the exhibition’s seventh edition was an unfocused hodgepodge featuring, among other things, a “History Briefing of Shanghai City,” several rooms given over to documentaries and a timeline of this fragmented metropolis. The most compelling work seemed to be in photography, such as Klaus Mettig’s panoramic landscapes from different international “hot spot” cities and Charles Yi Yong Lim’s Becheresque series of lighthouse photos—though even these felt stifled by the exhibition’s bland conceit. Mike Kelley’s “Kandor” installation was impressive at the Carnegie, but Pittsburgh must have gotten all the good stuff, as the works brought here (as part of the “Keynote” section of the exhibition) seemed shopworn and thin. Yue Minjun’s ubiquitous smiley faces continued to pop up everywhere—this time on the bodies of a row of facile, shimmering dinosaur sculptures. “This is what happens when you don’t have a history of modern art to fall back on,” said CCA Wattis director Jens Hoffmann, cynically eying his surroundings. At some point, while wandering between the gift shop and the obligatory Lawrence Weiner installation on the ground floor, I had the discomfiting feeling that I was lost in that Borgesian Chinese encyclopedia Foucault invokes at the beginning of The Order of Things; things just stopped making sense. It was hard to leave with anything but the dimmest view of contemporary art.
Later at lunch at Issimo, an elegant Italian restaurant in the JIA boutique hotel, Hong Kong–based collector Hallam Chow made an argument for the exhibition: “This edition’s great for the Shanghai people. They’ll love Jing Shijian’s train and Yin Xiuzhen’s flying machine. You have to consider who it’s for.” He then pointed out a young artist at the table who had recently made a splash in the local market with a painting sold directly from her studio. All those fussing about Damien Hirst’s lucrative publicity stunt of an auction should take note of China, where it’s not uncommon at all for even artists without galleries to take work directly to the block. Here, perhaps even more than New York and London, the market is king.
“This place is so capitalist!” affirmed dealer David Maupin, manning his booth at Tuesday’s VIP opening of the ShContemporary fair. Now in its second year, the fair actually seemed a more coherent exhibition than the biennial, and the large outdoor projects more ambitious and better installed. (Excepting perhaps a snafu regarding one of Wim Delvoye’s installations, a bevy of tattooed pigs that were deemed unsanitary, or perhaps simply too noxious, by officials.) Some dealers were said to sell out their booths, though with the roughly 35 percent sales tax it seemed that many were simply taking orders and saving the actual deals for home—or for tax-free Hong Kong. Set in the gilded, colonnaded halls of the Shanghai Exhibition Center (née the Palace of Sino-Soviet Friendship), the site is an ostentatious example of Stalinist architecture that, while incongruous to the flimsy white booths installed for the fair, seemed a welcome enough setting for commerce. “At least Stalin did something nice,” joked Long March gallery’s Lu Jie, whose selection of works by Zhan Wang and Lin Tianmiao was one of the standouts at the fair.
Back at Pearl’s for dinner, I spotted Ullens Center director Jérôme Sans, Frieze Art Fair director Matthew Slotover, and the Rubells, who seemed quite taken with their host’s garish-glam apartment. “We see you in all the best places,” Mera Rubell told a guest, before darting off to admire the decor. “This is just fabulous!” I sat next to Maria Elena, the urbane wife of ShContemporary director (and former Art Basel director) Lorenzo Rudolf. We dilated on simple matters, on travel and the difficulties of hosting in foreign countries, on her family in Switzerland and America’s increasingly isolationist policies. Then, for the first time in three days, we spoke of the US presidential election, of McCain and Obama and Palin, of the faltering economy, and I was struck by how far away it all sounded.
Left: Jeff Koons's New Hoover Convertibles Green, Green, Red, New Hoover Deluxe Shampoo Polishers, New Shelton Wet/Dry 5-Gallon, Displaced Tripledecker, 1981–87, installed at the Château de Versailles. (Photo: Jeff Koons, Laurentt Lecat/Éditions Xavier Barral) Right: Versailles president Jean-Jacques Aillagon, Jeff Koons, collector François Pinault, Jacques Chirac, and French minister of culture Christine Albanel. (Except where noted, all photos: Nicolas Trembley)
The other morning, a French TV talk show featured a spot on the Jeff Koons Versailles controversy. (Even in sophisticated France, few popular TV shows address contemporary art—except perhaps to criticize it.) “You either like it or you don’t,” one of the women said. “But you have to be impressed by the fact that the king of kitsch, the one who’s put vacuum cleaners behind glass and who married the ex–porn star Cicciolina, is showing at the château!” Rarely has an exhibition in France aroused so much public debate or such wide media coverage.
To summarize, the complaints are as follows. Reactionaries such as Édouard de Royère, one of the site’s key patrons, argue that “contemporary art fosters distraction and destruction of the perfect whole.” Others criticize the conflicts of interest, suggesting that Jean-Jacques Aillagon, ex-director of the Palazzo Grassi and now president of the Versailles foundation, is out to promote the collection of his former boss, François Pinault. The rest just want to know what all the fuss is about.
I reached Versailles Wednesday afternoon on the regional RER train. (I was probably the only one of the 150 invitees to have taken it, since, unlike the others, I don’t have a private chauffeur.) The atmosphere was unspoiled by the controversy, and except for a smallish group of protesters organized by the National Union of Writers of France, who picketed that morning, none of the announced demonstrations were actually held.
Left: Curator Laurent Le Bon. Right: Dealer Larry Gagosian (on right).
In the Royal Court, where one of Koons’s “Balloon Flowers” has the place of honor, the guests were greeted by Monsieur Aillagon, director Pierre Arizzoli-Clémentel, exhibition cocurator Laurent Le Bon (Elena Geuna was busy giving birth in Italy), and Koons and his wife, Justine.
The guest list comprised the crème de la crème: Jacques Chirac and his wife, Bernadette, whose presence set off a flurry of feverish flashes from accredited photographers; Christine Albanel, minister of culture and former president of the Versailles foundation; and major international contemporary art VIPs. It’s impossible to name them all, but it should go without saying that the big sponsors and art lenders were present, including, among others, Pinault, Dakis Joannou, Eli Broad, and Edgar de Picciotto. “This looks like a bar mitzvah,” said the lady next to me. I felt like I was at a simple reunion for a family of very nice millionaires.
Eventually, we made our way into the deserted château to view the piano nobile. This is Koons’s first institutional solo exhibition in France—in fact, he had never even been to Versailles before he was invited to exhibit there. (His only other exhibition in the country was eleven years ago at Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont.) The château show comprises seventeen sculptures (none of them new) installed individually outside and in the different rooms that make up the royal apartment of the king, the apartment of the queen, and the recently renovated Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors), in which was placed the glimmering Moon (Light Blue). We had seen images in the press kit, but the real-life juxtaposition of Koons and Versailles was simply incredible. As the guests filed in one behind the other, they oohed and aahed, laughing and exclaiming. Some preferred the pieces that seemed to melt into the decor such as Large Vase of Flowers or the bust Louis XIV. “That one was made to be here!” a woman said. Others were more partial to the culture shock of Chainlink Fence, for example. “The public’s not going to like those inflatable plastic beach rings on the fence,” Colombe Pringle, editor of Point de Vue, the weekly people’s almanac, whispered to me.
Left: Collectors Viktor Pinchuk and Elena Leonidivna Franchuk. (Photo: Luc Castel) Right: Artists Pierre and Gilles.
Some iconic pieces like Rabbit (exhibited in the Salon de l’Abondance) are, undoubtedly for insurance reasons, presented behind glass, recalling the works in the “New Hoover” series, one of which is the artist’s only piece in France’s national collections. As one guest noted, the transparent showcases reinforce the works’ precious, glossy aspect and provide a kind of “vintage” quality to the château.
Even the plaques, placed right on the floor, impress. Each one contains the work’s title and provenance. Collections named included the François Pinault Foundation (six works), Michael & B. Z. Schwartz Collection (one), Dakis Joannou Collection (two), Astrup Fearnley Collection (one), Wolfsburg Kunstmuseum (one), Peter Brant (one), and the Ludwig Collection (one). The more discreet lenders were simply listed as “Private Collection,” but when Ukrainian collector Viktor Pinchuk and his wife were deliberately photographed in front of one work, we thought it was probably a good bet it belonged to them.
Next, our group, composed of Larry Gagosian, Simon de Pury, Jeffrey Deitch, Stella McCartney, and others, was invited outside to the gardens where, in the midst of a splendid sunset, we admired Koons’s forty-foot-tall topiary Split-Rocker, plopped in the flowerbed of the Orangerie gardens. The Château’s head gardener had installed the work himself, and he seemed quite pleased with the result.
Left: Collector Monique Barbier-Müller. Right: Amy Cappellazzo, Christie's international cohead of postwar and contemporary art, and Lauren Taschen.
Next, three Disneyesque electric trains arrived to take us to the Grand Trianon. For the ride, I was seated next to Le Bon, who confided that the installation hadn’t been easy, since all the preparations had to be done when the museum was closed to the public. In addition, all the works had to be closely examined by a technical team to determine their precise size, mass, and the like. The construction of the wall holding Moon had been especially complex. Obviously, one couldn’t just drive nails into the walls of the château.
The immense table of comestibles set up in the Cotelle Gallery of the Trianon impressed and enchanted everyone—except for the vegetarians, who were offered nothing in lieu of the pâté de foie gras. Before the glazed nougat was served, Monsieur Aillagon raised his glass for a toast and then gave the floor to Koons. Visibly moved, Koons said that this was without a doubt the most important exhibition of his career, and he dedicated it to his mother, who had made the trip to be with him. The evening finished with a brief but exquisite display of fireworks over one of Lenôtre’s fountains. Xavier Veilhan—one of the only artists present and the next to be featured at Versailles—turned to me and said, “I definitely have my work cut out for me.” Around midnight, as the night was wearing down, minibuses arrived to pick up the guests and take them to their cars at the other end of the château. Unfortunately for me, there were no more trains at this late hour.
Left: Peaches. Right: Art Berlin Contemporary artistic director Ariane Beyn.
Fair was a four-letter word at last Thursday’s opening of Art Berlin Contemporary (ABC). Artistic director Ariane Beyn continually corrected those who called it a fair: “It is an exhibition,” she insisted—yet no one seemed to be listening. Standing around a Tom Burr installation, Cornelius Tittel, editor of German culture mag Monopol, and Alexander Schröder of Galerie Neu, one of ABC’s organizers, expressed cynicism about the difference, what with today’s dealers even selling directly out of the Venice Biennale.
Beyn had arranged works by seventy-four artists from forty-four Berlin galleries in the halls of a former postal train station in Kreuzberg, Berlin’s official alternative neighborhood. To compete with the mammoth space, it seemed that most of the (largely sculptural) works had to be big, like Georg Herold’s Deutsche Mutti, a yellow figure holding a phallic wooden stick. The emphasis on size seemed fitting, since the whole exhibition/fair was intended as something of a show of power against Art Forum Berlin, the city’s established art fair. (Galleries like Neu, Klosterfelde, and Max Hetzler have been organizing Berlin’s spring gallery weekend for a number of years, but this was a decidedly more ambitious enterprise.)
Left: Artist Uwe Kowski and Eigen + Art's Judy Lybke. Right: Artist Stella Hamberg.
There were high expectations for the vernissage, though the atmosphere had a familiar sensibility—or at least a familiar odor, what with the smoke from Grill Royal’s catering filling the hall. Standing next to Stella Hamberg’s giant sculpture Berserker—and directly in the way of the noxious cloud—dealer Judy Lybke must have smelled like one of those roasted salsiccia sausages by the end of the evening. Entertainment highlight Peaches turned out to be not such a highlight after all; maybe because arriving on the grounds in a stretch limo doesn’t qualify as a performance, not even in provincial Kreuzberg, or maybe because every Berliner has seen her at least twice already. As dealer Guido Baudach put it: “At least at Art Basel Miami Beach, she ran into the ocean naked.” Here she just did karaoke, singing relatively convincing covers of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Kate Bush’s “Babushka.”
There was much more excitement at the nightclub Kleine Nachtrevue, where Galerie Crone hosted a burlesque show in honor of Norbert Bisky’s exhibition featuring new paintings (mostly of pretty boys). Painter Amelie von Wulffen posed wildly for her personal photographer in the dense crowd, while Count Alexander von Schönburg and former Vanity Fair editor Ulf Poschardt fought over the few curry wursts handed out by the ladies behind the bar; apparently, they didn’t get enough of the salsicce at the fair. Later, around 11 PM, the ladies stepped onto the stage, leaving sausages and clothes behind as they performed an erotic blend of play and politics using IKEA toys. When a topless contortionist wiggled out of a suitcase, LA MoCA trustee Blake Byrne shouted, “She looks like Sarah Palin!” and almost left in fear. We left for other reasons—to try to catch the last bit of Richard Ruin’s performance at Kunst-Werke. But by the time we climbed the stairs to the art center’s rooftop stage, all we got to see was Martin Eder’s alter ego wiping the final beads of sweat from his chest.
Friday was reserved for gallery openings. With ABC being the third of four events this year competing to draw the jet-set crowd to Berlin, there was notably less buzz and fewer international collectors—for whom we all thought ABC had been invented. At a collegial opening at Tanya Leighton’s new gallery, Jeremy Deller showed photographs of allotment gardens in Münster. Paul McDevitt at Sommer & Kohl won the prize for most out-of-touch palette, both for his airbrush paintings recalling romantic posters from the 1980s and for his silver leather shoes. Michael Sailstorfer was in high form, chronicling exploding houses and flying trees. Much calmer were Vera Lutter’s camera obscura pictures of a flooded Venice, while at September, we caught the Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Peter Richter chatting with artist Dorothy Iannone about her first love.
The dinner party for Matt Mullican at Martin Klosterfelde’s apartment at first resembled parents’ night out. Artist Matthew Antezzo traded stories with guests about terrifying toddlers. Indeed, the star of the party was not Mullican, who had mounted a dense and excellent show, but his teenage twins, who with their attitude of “Oh God, another one of Dad’s boring art parties” and their great style (lots of black with plaid shirts) made for a fun antidote to the typical crowd. Guests fought over the duck with fig mustard and the orgasmic plums.
Next stop was Cookies, where galleries from Lindenstraße and Charlottenstraße were hosting their afterparty. At first, artist Marc Brandenburg had played his records to a packed house, but by 1 AM, he was chatting with Tageszeitung critic Brigitte Werneburg about suitable subjects for a hot flirt. (They couldn’t agree on any.) They should have made for the Glaspavillon on the old GDR boulevard Karl Marx Allee, where coquetry was in the air. Berlin Biennial curators Adam Szymczyk and Elena Filipovic were dancing closely, while Art Basel communications director Maike Cruse, Johann König, and Julieta Aranda were giving one another a little more breathing room on the floor. By Sunday morning, however, everyone was sober and back at the fair, though this time, the longest queue was not for access to the works but for the bouncing castle.
Left: Crone's Sónia Pires and artist Norbert Bisky. Right: A burlesque performance at Kleine Nachtrevue.
Neither fire nor wind nor rain can keep the intrepid gallerygoer from diving into a new exhibition season. On Wednesday night, even piracy came to the table, as Tim Nye brought seventy hearties to toast the indefatigable New Imagist Joe Zucker at a dinner for “Plunder from 1977 to 2008,” his show of square-rigger paintings at NYEHAUS in the quaint National Arts Club on Gramercy Park.
Skull-and-bones flags adorned two long tables in the Tiffany-glass-adorned parlor rooms, where artists Richard Artschwager and Jacqueline Humphries, Whitney Museum curator Donna DeSalvo, and board member Beth Rudin DeWoody rubbed elbows with LA dealer Tom Solomon, Detroit dealer Susanne Hilberry, and Carnegie Museum director Richard Armstrong, whose appointment to the top job at the Guggenheim had leaked only that day. “I start in December,” he said, delighted by the murmurs of approval from everyone in the room.
“This is the perfect show for me,” Nye told me at dinner, commenting on its what’s-old-is-new-sensibility and how Zucker’s way with materials—“waves” of gauze on canvas—keeps refreshing the notion of painting without dating either him or it. Swilling glasses of plain water, Nye then confessed he had given up drinking for learning to cook. “It’s surprisingly restful,” he said.
Thursday night’s openings in Chelsea, on the other hand, were almost electrifying. (If only!) Just as I was exiting Roe Ethridge’s packed show of going-them-one-better genre photos at Andrew Kreps, word came that an electric fire in a closet in the building housing the gallery Kravets Wehby had caused the evacuation of all the structure's tenants. That forced everyone from the openings for Christian Marclay at Paula Cooper, Nathan Carter at Casey Kaplan, and the Ryan Gander and Peggy Preheim shows at Tanya Bonakdar out into the darkened street. Some entertained themselves by stumbling down to Yvon Lambert and literally stepping into “Shit,” Andres Serrano’s latest answer to his Piss Christ, enshrined in a side room. I thought the new photographs looked a little like bejeweled mud patties posing at the bottom of aquariums, but I was in the minority. No other person in the crowd even bothered to look.
I don’t know what they talked about at Serrano’s Bowery Hotel dinner, but Cooper’s soiree for Marclay went on as scheduled, even though half of those scarfing up paella at La Nacional, including some of the several curators present—Jennifer Blessing, Trevor Schoonmaker, Chrissie Iles, Christopher Eamon—never got in to see the show. “Now you don’t have to worry whether or not you liked it,” Marclay said, letting everyone off the hook. “We can talk about someone else.”
Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin was the hands-down winner, not just that night but all weekend. I didn’t hear much talk about art, but maybe the season, like much of the gallery scene, is too young yet—but kind of beautiful. At least, it looked that way later, at the new Standard Hotel in the meatpacking district, where collector Peter Brant’s Interview magazine was kicking off New York’s Fashion Week with a blowout on the eighteenth floor. The building straddles the elevated Highline railway, soon to be a pedestrian mall; Thursday night, it was still a construction site, with particularly dramatic lighting. Though the windows were in and the views spectacular, many people standing under the open ductwork didn't dare step near the edge, for fear of falling. Of course, that didn't stop anyone from drinking, dancing, or ogling. But every now and then, between air-kisses, I heard hisses. Guess why? The mention of Palin's name.
By Saturday night, art-world e-mails about Palin’s looming disastership were bouncing all over the art-world Internet. The very skies over New York sobbed, as rain from Hurricane Gustav drenched the streets, causing the cancellation of the annual Creative Time/Deitch Projects Art Parade and keeping many enthusiasts home.
James Cohan’s opening for Xu Zhen, Folkert de Jong, and Martha Colburn was strangely quiet. Xu, I was told, only travels by slow boats from China. (He didn’t bother.) De Jong and Colburn, a New York artist the gallery had to go to Art Basel to discover, showed up after I was there. Oh, well. Martha Rosler was on hand for her new show at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, where you had to put a quarter in a turnstile to get in. (“Anybody need change?” offered Jay Gorney, jingling his pockets.)
More of the old guard was at Mary Boone, where her onetime mentor, Klaus Kertess, had organized a winning mix of painting, post-Minimal sculpture, and assemblage by young and old: Adam McEwen, recent Yalie Michael Edward Smith, Cy Twombly, Al Taylor, Barry Le Va, Keith Sonnier, Jason Tomme, and Robert Rauschenberg. Dinner at 5 Ninth was quite a jovial affair, perhaps because it kept everyone—Cecily Brown, Will Cotton, Pat Steir, Billy Sullivan, Maureen Gallace, and Aaron Young—warm and dry and relatively safe from politics, if not one another.
Left: Museum director Richard Armstrong, designer Britta Le Va, and curator Manuel Gonzalez. Right: Artist Keith Tyson. (Photo: Ryan McNamara)
Sunday dawned clear and bright for a minifestival of gallery openings on the Lower East Side. Despite creeping gentrification by YWPs (young white professionals), the small galleries, clothing shops, and bars tucked between Chinese restaurants and old synagogues has left this neighborhood with its traditional cultural-soup character intact. Liberated from bad weather and slickness, even at Lehman Maupin’s Big Brother space, it was easy to stop and have languorous conversations with artists Cheryl Donegan and Alix Pearlstein at Lisa Cooley, amusing to see how many Brazilian artworks curator Fernanda Arruda could pack into tiny Eleven Rivington without crowding, frustrating to find Reena Spaulings closed till “later,” and fun to find out, at RENTAL, that Robert Longo’s studio had spawned a whole new generation of artists who aren’t just clones.
By sunset, it was time for refueling in Long Island City. At Sculpture Center, the courtyard gravel that Ugo Rondinone had spray-painted with yellow Day-Glo for his two-person show with Scotsman Martin Boyce seemed to have a magnetic pull: It drew everyone attending the reception (Clarissa Dalrymple, Laura Hoptmann, Andrew Hamilton, Michele Maccarone, John Giorno) outside.
I teamed up with artist Andrew Lord and fellow scribes Lynne Tillman and Martha Schwendener to wait for the arrival of the seven handmade riverboats that graffiti artist Swoon was sailing down the Hudson and up the East River to Deitch Studios. A Providence-based marching brass band of bare-chested, tattooed, and goth players joined members of Swoon’s Brooklyn crew to keep the energy up until the first boat, a tootling steamship, appeared under the 59th Street Bridge with the artist standing on deck like George Washington crossing the Delaware. “This is all Swoon’s world,” said Jeffrey Deitch, pointing to the large-scale installation of energetically recycled and painted goods inside the warehouse. Her compatriot Dzine contributed tricked-up pedicabs, a bicycle, and a muscle car. “It’s like the ’60s all over again,” Lord said, smiling at the band of “ghost” cyclists, who perhaps are also a part of Swoon’s change-the-world-by-street-art crew. “It’s a Happening.” Or evidence that you never need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Not when a patron, or disciples, will do.
Zurich’s gallery districts are ordered according to their own idiosyncratic hierarchy, though the division is somewhat comparable to other cities. (There are still “uptown” galleries and “downtown” ones.) The younger dealers and offbeat spaces have moved to the red-light district behind the train station, global players like Hauser & Wirth and Eva Presenhuber have their headquarters in the Löwenbräu building on Limmatstrasse, and the city center hosts more “classic” galleries. (As everywhere, exceptions confirm the rule.) The scattered layout makes for three days of season openings, which kicked off on Wednesday with the galleries around the notorious Langstrasse, where I followed word-of-mouth recommendations (and flocks of hipsters) to various spots not on the official gallery map.
Zurich’s vibrant array of “off-the-map” spaces constitute a significant portion of the burgeoning Swiss art scene. One of those that is still off the map but now successfully on the radar is artist-cum-dealer Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth, who founded the nonprofit space Les Complices while still in art school. Freymond-Guth has reopened his gallery in a new space with a compelling video installation by Elodie Pong, featuring stuffed birds discussing the global economy. The space was still packed when it turned dark, which in Zurich is about 10 PM, and the crowd was so vivacious that the dealer apparently postponed his dinner plans to stay and cavort. Later, Freymond-Guth noted that he thought that Presenhuber, too, had started out as an artist. Aha! On the street, I bumped into a beaming but hurried Marc Spiegler, who was rushing from Freymond-Guth to Ryan McLaughlin’s opening at Groeflin Maag. He excused his haste by explaining that he’d had a late start, as he couldn’t bear leaving the hospital and his recently born child. He wouldn’t give the baby’s name, however. “I don’t want my offspring to be spoiled by the art world just yet.” Who can blame him?
Left: Dealer Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth with artist Elodie Pong. Right: Standard Oslo's Eivind Furnesvik with Gavin Brown's Alex Zachary.
Friday night featured less running but more pushing as I navigated the crowds clogging the staircase of the Löwenbräu building. In Tadeusz Kantor’s posthumous Gesamtkunstwerk-like exhibition at the Migros Museum, I ran across Felicity Lunn, still director of Kunstverein Freiburg (she announced her resignation in March, citing the institution’s dramatic financial restrictions), in conversation with Frank Schmidt, curator of the Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden. Schmidt filled me in on his current plans: a show with German rock legend Udo Lindenberg—apparently a dedicated figurative painter. Live and learn. Next door, Peter Kilchmann celebrated his gallery’s fifteenth anniversary with a group show and a solo exhibition of Los Angeles–based painter Raffi Kalenderian. On the stairs to the top floor, I bumped into Hauser & Wirth’s Roger Tatley, who made the climb on crutches. “Surf accident,” he explained.
“Derek Jarman: Brutal Beauty” at the Kunsthalle Zürich was among the evening’s highlights. The homage to the late artist and filmmaker was curated by Isaac Julien and originally conceived for London’s Serpentine Gallery. I was not the only person surprised to encounter Jarman’s abstract paintings from the 1980s or the only one to learn that Jarman saw himself more as an artist than a filmmaker. The show commenced with Julien’s own portrait of Jarman, a double projection featuring material from his new film, Derek (2008), starring Tilda Swinton, and ended with Jarman’s beautiful yet harrowing Blue (1993), which features a blue-screen projection (in homage to Yves Klein) and sound track in which Jarman talks about AIDS and the experience of going blind.
Left: Dany Boler, Joelle Allet, and Kunsthalle St. Gallen director Giovanni Carmine. Right: Art Basel director Marc Spiegler and Phaidon's Michele Robecchi at Gallery Bob van Orsouw.
But the evening wasn’t meant to be one of contemplation. “It’s fantastic how many people come together here—all these openings in one house!” Julien frolicked. “See you at the party downstairs.” Soon thereafter, however, Julien and I found ourselves fleeing the crowds in the Löwenbräu courtyard in favor of the private dinner hosted by Presenhuber for artists Mark Handforth and Josh Smith, each of whom had opened a solo show in one of the gallery’s two venues. It is indeed a privilege to wait seated for one’s food instead of standing in a sixty-foot-long line. And the company—which included the Modern Institute’s Andrew Hamilton, Gavin Brown’s Alex Zachary, and Basel-based critic-curator Daniel Baumann—wasn’t bad, either. (I was even more grateful for the invitation when I later compared notes with Tatley, who had attended the Löwenbräu party. Apparently, a drunken local fell out of the elevator that doubles as a vodka bar and then ran off with Tatley’s crutches.) I caught the rest of a live sound performance by artists Luke Fowler, Lee Patterson, and Tomas Korber before being driven back home to Basel in the illustrious company of the Kunsthalle Basel’s past and current presidents, Peter Handschin and Martin Hatebur, as well as Christine Binswanger, a partner at Herzog & de Meuron.
On Saturday I skipped Zurich’s uptown receptions in favor of Mark Wallinger’s opening at the Aargauer Kunsthaus in Aarau, the inaugural exhibition organized by the space’s new director, Madeleine Schuppli, and another highlight of this arty weekend. The dinner was held on the museum’s rooftop, where I had the great pleasure to sit at a beer table with Wallinger, his family, and our mutual friends the always-jovial artist couple Suzanne Treister and Richard Grayson. Facing a magnificent view of the mountains at dusk, Wallinger enthusiastically proclaimed that the roof had the feeling of a flying carpet.