Left: View of The Wooster Group's There Is Still Time . . Brother. (Photo: Wayne Bund) Right: Japanther playing TBA:10 opening night at the Works. (Photo: Gordon Wilson)
THERE’S NOTHING LIKE sitting in a dark room, watching a graphic sex tape.
Especially when you’re surrounded by a dozen or so strangers, a spotlight beaming down on your chair, everyone well aware that you alone have decided the crowd should watch Paris Hilton and her boyfriend go to town.
Turns out, the Wooster Group’s Elizabeth LeCompte is right: It really is easier to watch murder in public than porn. Her point was proved at this month’s Time-Based Art Festival, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s annual smorgasbord of durational work. The Woosters’ 360-degree interactive video installation There Is Still Time. . Brother, one of dozens of offerings spread over a ten-day art marathon, allows a single viewer to control the panoramic camera’s eye, moving among interwoven narratives driven by Kate Valk, Scott Shepherd, and Ari Fliakos. The video’s themes revolve largely around war (including actual combat footage, much easier to focus on than Ms. Hilton), exploring what we choose to look at, what we avoid, and how our behavior changes when other people are watching us.
“I wanted people to have to make choices, in public,” LeCompte explained at a chat, the same one where she noted the death v. sex rule. The resulting installation is dizzying, equal parts pleasure and discomfort. Though the work itself is recorded, the action is live: The audience member in the hot seat builds a solo performance, simultaneously controlling and being controlled by the video. It’s improvisational, theatrical artifice at its finest.
So went many of TBA:10’s offerings, which were chosen by the festival’s guest artistic director, Cathy Edwards (who will continue until 2011). Solos dominated the performance lineup, from Jérôme Bel’s Cédric Andrieux, a quiet rumination on the eponymous dancer’s life, to The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Mike Daisey’s bombastic monologue on the seamy side of technology. The best were shows in which, as Edwards put it, artists “created an intimate space for the self to be shared.” And, I would add, hidden. Contrived intimacy has a very small bull’s-eye, one that a surprising number of the shows hit.
One such was Maria Hassabi’s SoloShow, which feels like the culmination of a long, fraught investigation. Occupying a low platform in the Imago Theatre, Hassabi funneled her honed frame through a cycle of poses culled from art history and popular culture, embodying and making strange iconic female stances. Held in James Lo’s ambient soundscape and lit in one of Joe Levasseur’s typically lush designs, she was ours to look at as long as we could.
SoloShow is an easy piece to dissect and explain in terms of feminist art, and it’s a history that Hassabi is well aware of and, to some extent, channeling. But the work moves beyond such cut-and-dried definitions, providing glimpses into “an ineluctable mystery about the self,” as Jessica Jackson Hutchins, another TBA artist, described the work that most moves her.
“I cannot pretend that I’m alive,” Hassabi said later in the night, after her performance, a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other. “Choreographic steps can make me dance yesterday, and not stay in the moment.”
Theater is being in the moment. (As LeCompte put it, “Theater’s like life: Why can’t I get some perfection here!?”) It’s also pretending to be in that moment, and commenting on that paradox. A lot of contemporary performers are playing this game in overt fashion. But it’s an old game, and thus it didn’t seem so far-fetched that some old regulars (Shakespeare, Beckett) were represented too—the Bard via the warped lens of Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Romeo and Juliet, and Beckett straight up, courtesy of several tour de force monologues by Conor Lovett of the Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland.
Left: Artist Rob Halverson, TBA:10 artist Storm Tharp, PNCA's MFA Chair and artist Arnold Kemp. Right: PICA's Jessica Burton with TBA artistic director Cathy Edwards and Luisa Adrianzen Guyer of the Portland Art Museum. (Photos: Wayne Bund)
And what performance festival these days can avoid that other canonical artist, Merce Cunningham? His company, now on its farewell tour, won’t long survive its creator, who died last year. We can only hope his dances fare better: If they do, one big reason will be Charles Atlas, whose film collaborations with Cunningham put most current dance on camera to shame. At TBA, Atlas presented “With Merce,” a collection of recordings culled from his many years spent following Cunningham: snippets of site-specific performances; fuzzy camcorder footage taken by Cunningham; even a silly little dance to house music when it seemed the choreographer could barely stand, let alone move like that.
“He never wound down,” Atlas said. “He was still going two weeks before he passed away.” And his ideas are going still. As Hassabi noted, talking about staying in the moment, “It’s Merce Cunningham’s philosophy. That little bit more is what keeps it breathing.”
AS AN ACTUAL ALUMNUS of the highschool class of 1984, I approached last Monday night’s twenty-fifth-anniversary screening of John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club at Lincoln Center with the wrenching mixture of anticipation and trepidation peculiar to high school reunions. Now that the 1980s have equaled (if not surpassed) the pop-cultural longevity that the ’60s and ’70s once enjoyed with generations too young to have experienced them firsthand, this Hughes tribute seemed a bit behind the curve, even by the standards of nostalgia. But you only get to be twenty-five once, and since four of the five principal cast members would be speaking on a panel afterward, I tried to open my heart to a decade that had felt like an utter rip-off as it was happening. During the early ’90s, I had assumed that asymmetrical haircuts, leg warmers, extreme shoulder pads, and blazers with rolled-up sleeves would remain immune to ironic appropriation, having been recognizably ridiculous in their own era. Oh, how wrong I was.
As if to rub it in, the loudly enthusiastic full-house audience seemed composed of as many twentysomethings as fortysomethings, and when the lights went down and the synth-drum intro of Simple Minds’s “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” kicked in, I felt like I was at a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Each actor’s name during the credit sequence generated a rapturous roar, and I fully expected people to be calling out the characters’ lines before they were spoken. Needless to say, the film was well received. And, to be fair, it remains an endearing movie. Along with Sixteen Candles, it set the template for the Hughes corpus, a series of films that, in their thematic and tonal consistency, are as supportive of the auteur theory as those of Capra, Hitchcock, and Welles.
After the screening, four directors’ chairs were placed onstage and video crews rushed in from the back. Filmmaker Kevin Smith, he of the one airplane seat per butt cheek, took the podium, stage right, in a XXXL Islanders jersey. Smith is a big Hughes fan. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long fucking time,” he bellowed. “I had to decide how much pot I was going to smoke beforehand.” He mentioned that his next film had been scheduled to start shooting that day, but he forced his production company to postpone so he could moderate the panel. Hughes invented his own world—a “Hughesiverse”— that “gave us something to do in the ’80s” and inspired Smith to become a director, he said. Before welcoming the cast members, he wanted to “correct a misnomer” from a certain sequence in the film: “When you smoke weed, you don’t dance.”
Then, to deafening applause, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, and Judd Nelson ascended to the stage. Ringwald and Sheedy wore short black dresses and clearly had spent some time at the hair salon. Hall and Nelson wore suits. In a startling reversal of their physical presences on-screen, Hall is now nearly twice Nelson’s size. Riffing on the absent fifth breakfast clubber, Smith asked, “What was Emilio like before he died?” “He may be working on Mighty Ducks 5,” Hall replied. Addressing Hall, Smith asked, “Did you have pubes when you shot this?” “It was part of my ‘puberty on film’ trilogy,” Hall quipped, “completed by Weird Science.”
After some somber, grateful reminiscence about Hughes (who died of a heart attack last year, age fifty-nine), Smith asked Hughes’s widow Nancy and two grown sons to stand, to warm applause. The whole cast agreed that working with Hughes at the beginning of their careers spoiled them for other directors. “He let actors try anything,” Nelson said. “I thought all movies would be made that way.” Hughes “didn’t seem like an adult,” said Ringwald, who was sixteen during the shoot. “It was like he was one of us.” Hughes rehearsed the actors extensively, allowed for a lot of improvisation (e.g., “elephantiasis of the nuts”), and stayed close to the camera while rolling, preserving intimacy with the actors as they worked.
All concurred that sound track music was never an afterthought for Hughes; he played music constantly as he wrote and regularly gave mix tapes to his actors. “He’d give you a tape and say, ‘Listen to this,’” Nelson recalled, “and I’d always be better for it.” Nelson also mentioned that there was a much longer cut of the movie (a “Breakfast Alexanderplatz”) that may exist only on VHS in Nancy’s attic. He didn’t think there’d be a sequel, Nelson said, but he had thought the actors would work together again in another capacity: The finished film “felt like ‘half.’ ”
Ringwald said she is often surprised by younger people telling her that the movie perfectly captures their own generation, leading Smith to ask, “Do you realize there are people here who were cum when you made this film?” Staying below the belt, Smith point-blanked Ringwald, “Was that really your crotch in that under-the-table shot?” “No,” she answered, mildly annoyed, “that was my stand-in.” “Then who have I been masturbating to all these years?” he roared.
“As we spin faster in this toilet of a world,” Nelson implored near the end of the Q&A, “it’s important to recognize what we have in common. The Breakfast Club expresses that theme well.” Tru dat. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to have kids of all ages watching The Breakfast Club in these fractious times. It would sure beat revisiting the speeches Ronald Reagan was making at the time of the film’s release.
Left: Artists Gabriel Orozco and Agnès Varda with dealer Monica Manzutto. (Photo: Centre Pompdou) Right: Saâdane Afif's performance at the Pompidou. (Photo: Bérénice Rapegno)
ON TUESDAY, September 14, the Centre Pompidou debuted its two latest exhibitions: Gabriel Orozco’s traveling “Terra Cognita” and Prix Duchamp winner Saâdane Afif’s “An Anthology of Black Humor.” The latter—which borrows its title from the delirious omnibus by old-world delinquent André Breton—came off as a Dadaist eulogy for the Pompidou. Afif, something of a dark horse himself, had solicited acquaintances to contribute songs on Death and the Museum, which were then printed on gray walls. For the centerpiece, the artist commissioned Kudjoe Affutu—a Ghanese custom coffin maker, onetime assistant to Paa Joe—to create a replica of Renzo Piano’s iconic building (ribbed plastic water bottles standing in for the outdoor escalators). During the opening night performance, a set of stubby aluminum columns (mimicking those outside the museum) served as ad hoc soapboxes for two actors performing excerpts from the anthology. Lyrics ranged from Adam Carr’s cogitation “Today is yesterday’s tomorrow / Yesterday is today’s tomorrow” to Tacita Dean’s more direct “I’ve got to write a song for a skinny guy I know / Known him for quite a while and this writing’s for his show.”
If Afif’s “Black Humor” had sinister implications for the adjacent Orozco show—whose objects were already laid out Last Supper–style on two long wooden tables—everyone seemed to be laughing (smirking?) along with the artist. When I asked Pompidou director Alfred Pacquement how it felt to have basically attended a wake for his museum, he smiled gamely: “Let’s just hope it’s a lo-o-ong funeral.”
As the Dia crowd disappeared to the Orozco dinner, members of the ADIAF, which commissions the Prix Duchamp, ushered their (primarily sextagenarian) selves up the escalators for the last rites at Georges, where Galerie Michel Rein cohosted a dinner with organization president Gilles Fuchs. Champagne flutes and incomparable views of the city couldn’t help but stir softer sentiments for the museum, and revelers began to toast the Pompidou. May she live long and prosper.
Left: Dealer Daniele Balice. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: The Belleville Limo. (Photo: Yann Rondeau)
As the evening progressed, conversations kept circling back to Takashi Murakami’s “controversial” exhibition at Versailles. I had already caught some of the more vivid details—something about couture-clad guests pulled on stage by Pharrell Williams—from soiree survivors like writer Sean Rose and dealer Spencer Brownstone. Over a first course of crab legs, ADIAF collectors put down their napkins to whip out iPhones, sizing up one another’s snapshots from the night. (Later, one curator sniffed, “Well, it certainly wasn’t that way for everyone. The only thing I saw was a cash bar with bad champagne.”)
Shortly after, I ducked out with curator Jean-Max Colard to Théâtre du Châtelet, where the weekly culture vade mecum Les Inrockuptibles was celebrating its new “newsier” format. A crowd swelled in the square outside as Parisian VIPsters traded cigarettes and rumors that “due to an unspecified incident with Catherine Deneuve,” they weren’t letting anyone else into the party—not even Bernard Zekri, the director of the magazine itself. Not to be discouraged, we set up camp at the café next door with curator Claire Moulène and artists Wilfrid Almendra, Ida Tursic, and Wilfried Mille, keeping Argus eyes on the sidewalk for possible Deneuve sightings.
Once things began to quiet down, we set off to catch the last of the Orozco afterparty at Théâtre du Renard, where I joined Afif and artist Etienne Chambaud at a table by the dance floor. “Is it weird that it’s just Orozco’s dealers who are dancing?” filmmaker Fabrice Deville asked as I helped myself to his drink. I paused to admire dealer José Kuri’s ardor on the floor, before shifting my attention to the gallery girls, who had worked themselves into Delphic states. Of course, they obviously had something to celebrate. We decided it was time to move along, continuing our own inexplicable quest to close down every club we could find open on a Tuesday (with a Scarlett Johansson sighting at Montana nearly making up for the lack of Deneuve).
The next morning (that’s Parisian for “very late afternoon”), I drank enough coffee to get me over to the nineteenth and twentieth arrondissements, where the very first Biennale de Belleville was wrapping up its initial week. The program, organized by Zoo Galerie director Patrice Joly, mixes events at galleries and art nonprofits with lectures, conferences, and numerous public art commissions (such as Lang & Baumann’s photogenic street paintings, which lend a mellow-mushroom psychedelia to the rows of Chinese restaurants lining the boulevard).
Apparently, a fleet of “Belleville limousines” was taking visitors from site to site. (In lieu of payment, passengers describe their Biennale experience to cameras planted inside.) Alas, no rides were to be found in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where London gallery Simon Lee was celebrating a “swap” exhibition at Galerie Kreo, so by the time I made it to Le Plateau for that evening’s reception for the Biennale, the space was already packed.
Leaving the masses behind, I dropped by Bugada & Cargnel for Pierre Bismuth’s show, which replicates the gallery’s reception desk in the exhibition space. “It’s weird,” dealer Frédéric Bugada grinned. “People keep taking all those art newspapers and postcards, the stuff we normally have to throw out.” My last stop of the evening was a cocktail reception at Balice Hertling for its group show “Before and After,” which boasts works by Klara Liden, Lara Favaretto, and Roe Ethridge. I caught up with the crowd again just as they were adjourning to dinner at Ramona’s, a neighborhood gem tucked away on the second floor of a family-run convenience store. Picking at paella, I compared São Paolo Bienal layover options with curator Jennifer Teets and dealer Alexander Hertling, while the other half of the table began to draw up more devious lists, writing directly on the paper tablecloth. Meanwhile, I was making a list of my own, tallying all of the exhibitions I still wanted to catch before my flight the next “morning.”
“DO THE PEOPLE in the crowd know what this is?” A sandy-blonde teenage girl and her mother were queued against a wall waiting with other thirteen- to sixteen-year-old blondes and their stage moms in the back of the Culver City nonprofit LAXART. “I feel like we’re monkeys in a cage,” replied the girl’s mother. “Or maybe they are.”
The crowd in question had gathered on the public side of a glass wall to watch Charlie White conduct his Casting Call, an all-day performance event aimed at locating one “California Girl” who would have her image posted on a nearby billboard. Working with the Burbank Casting Company, White had selected over one hundred applicants to “audition” (by having their portraits taken).
Although White’s concept flirts with exploitation (the creepiness of the “casting couch,” etc.), the event was slightly less icky than I expected. The artist’s setup was professional and methodical—clinical, even. Handlers in pink shirts ushered the girls from one mark to another. Photographer Fredrik Nilsen snapped as many shots as it took to get the picture right, while a small team printed photos on the spot and hung them on the wall according to White’s directions.
“These girls are pros,” an assistant considered, pleased. “They snarl like pros,” replied another. The girls had been instructed not to smile, so their head shots—set against a pink grid background—conveyed the bratty poutiness of a dissatisfied adolescent. A set of twins practiced their sulky expressions in a mirror. In front of the camera, a compact girl was propped up on a riser. Lips were glossed. Hair was fluffed, positioned, and repositioned. Once the perfect image was made (not too posed, not too casual—like if Rineke Dijkstra were . . . a casting director), each girl was awarded a poster and a pink T-shirt commemorating the event (and emblazoned with the date: 9/11/10) and asked to autograph a pink banner for the artists: “Zoe”s were well represented; “Ashley” signed hers with a curlicue y; “Erika” used a heart to dot her i.
On the other side of the soundproof glass, a steady stream of voyeurs—many from USC, where White is director of the MFA program—took in the silent parade of girls. “It’s a twisted little piece, but it’s honest,” observed artist Skip Arnold. “I feel like I’m watching an execution,” mumbled a passerby. From time to time, White looked out at the audience, giving a big thumbs-up to friends. “Charlie hasn’t stopped all day,” noted LAXART director Lauri Firstenberg with some fascination. Firstenberg, who spoke of the project’s complex relationship to spectacle, served as a diplomatic facilitator, policing the crowd’s casual snapshots and handing out copies of the Model and Parent Release form, a dense document that included a screenplaylike short story by White.
Around 5:30 PM, the nearly nine-hour endurance performance came to a close. “I found White milling around the gallery. “I’m looking for a space outside of commercialism,” he said. “So many of these girls are the product of that system, and look at the spectrum that’s not represented here.” Perhaps this was because the casting call targeted “CAUC/BLND/13–16.” The onslaught of “big break”–seeking pretty white girls was indeed alarming, though. And who knows? Perhaps they’ll all get their day in the sun.
Left: Participants in Casting Call. Right: Artists Frances Stark and Flora Wiegmann. (Photo: Catherine Taft)
“IS THIS AN EMMANUEL PERROTIN OPENING?” everyone kept asking last Monday. The official answer was: No, it’s a solo show by the artist Takashi Murakami at the Château de Versailles—though Perrotin’s presence was certainly felt. No matter whose event it was, it was clear that this exhibition was already a worldwide media event, two years after Jeff Koons caused a similar stir at the Sun King’s former residence.
The Murakami show was produced with the help and financial support of Perrotin, the Parisian gallery owner who seems to be subtly curating the Château’s program with his roster of marketable artists. Indeed, referring to Murakami, Xavier Veilhan (the prior show at Versailles), and Maurizio Cattelan (at one point thought to be next), dealer Eva Presenhuber commented that “Perrotin has all the most powerful artists of the moment.” But it seems the nation’s Ministry of Culture is putting pressure on the museum to alternate between a French artist and a foreign one, and rumor has it that next year the star will be Bernar Venet. Curator Laurent Le Bon, who is organizing every contemporary art show at Versailles assured me, in his politically correct French style, that he did not know the name of the next artist and that only palace president Jean-Jacques Aillagon was au courant.
Left: Collector Victor Pinchuk with dealer Emmanuel Perrotin. Right: Versailles curator Laurent Le Bon (far left). (Photos: Laurent Stinus)
But I didn’t see Monsieur Aillagon at all that evening. Perhaps he was too busy handling the press releases sent out to the major media sources, who were enthusiastically reporting on the ongoing protest by the descendants of Louis XIV and a horde of reactionary fuddy-duddies in duffle coats who found the exhibition totally “degenerate” (and who, indeed, made jabs by putting toilet paper on a canvas and calling it “contemporary art”). In the show’s defense, many of the new works are gold-plated (in homage to the Sun King), and really, between the smiling flowers, multicolored mushrooms, and gold-leaf Buddha, I could hardly see what all the fuss was about. As art dealer Olivier Antoine pointed out, it all would have been a bit funnier (and more pointed) if Murakami had included My Lonesome Cowboy (a sculpture representing a naked manga figure spinning a lasso with his sperm), and placed it in front of the Queen’s bed.
Sunday evening, several days after the exhibition had opened and been seen by thousands (most of the works are in the royal quarters that are opened daily to the public), Versailles invited ministers and major collectors such as François Pinault, Eli Broad, and Adam Lindemann to an official dinner for two hundred. Tuesday was a special day for the youth, with a private concert by the singer Uffie followed by N.E.R.D., which was led by an energetic Pharrell Williams, who also exhibited The Simple Things, a heavily decorated manga head he had made with Murakami. He congratulated France several times for its love of art and also thanked Perrotin for having made the whole event possible.
Perrotin, on the arm of Patricia Kamp (daughter of collector Frieder Burda), was definitely on everyone’s lips, as he had been the weekend prior to the Versailles bash. He had just purchased and opened a new gallery space, a large floor in a private mansion in the Marais district of Paris. He has also rented three floors in a building adjacent to his gallery to be used as his own private apartment, which will include several viewing rooms. Someone has the Sun King in their sights in more ways than one.
Left: Collectors Edythe and Eli Broad. Right: Outside Murakami's show at Versailles. (Photos: Laurent Stinus)
With a cast like Williams, Murakami, and Perrotin, it’s difficult to say who the guests had come to see and who was king of the evening. “Marc Jacobs isn’t here?” asked a shocked fashion aficionado, recalling Murakami’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton. (Perhaps they’d forgotten that MJ’s show in New York Fashion Week was coincident with the opening in Versailles.) Indeed, surprisingly enough, the event was not sponsored by the usual luxury brands such as LVMH or Consor, but rather by the Qatar Museum Authority, where the show will be exhibited next. A clever move in terms of financing, thought some.
And what about the art itself, protected by glass with special video surveillance cameras like contemporary treasures? Nobody really commented on it. Perhaps because, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the press kit had shown us exactly what we would be seeing and there were no surprises. In any case, people were lining up to pose next to Murakami, who really seemed to be having a ball, making a different face, very kawai, for each photograph.
JET LAG IS BORING, it really is. And it has become such a common feature of the biennial experience that the mere mention of it feels obvious, embarrassing, and trite. Still, three sardine-can flights and twenty-four hours of bleary-eyed, every-airport-is-uncomfortably-the-same travel for the opening of the Tenth Taipei Biennial on September 7, and I felt an irrepressible need to reread the first page of William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition, on which he lays out his (or his character’s) memorable theory of jet lag: “that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanishing wake of the plane that brought her here. . . . Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.”
Gibson’s theory came to mind more clearly after I nearly crushed the artist Claude Wampler, hidden in soul-reeling slumber beneath the cushions of a couch in the biennial press office, where I almost threw myself down to sleep. More still, after the wide-eyed wonder of seeing at least two sleep-starved artists struggling to install their work, screaming “Fuck-fuck-fuck,” and then tearing off at full sprint through the angular white-walled halls of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. And moreover, after a few distance-reducing days in Taipei, when a theme began to slowly percolate through the biennial itself, revealing itself to be, if not jet lag proper, then at least a curious and all-consuming interest in lag time––most palpably the lag between the last biennial and the next, but also the strangely elusive gaps and lulls between the initial stirrings and full expressions of an idea, a work, an exhibition, or an institution, which could also be called the slippery slope on which a radical or rambunctious initiative goes through a process of institutionalization.
One of the best things about this Taipei Biennial is the fact that curators Hongjohn Lin and Tirdad Zolghadr failed to name it. There is no title––cute or coy––to guide your way through the works on view or inform your reading of the strands that may or may not connect them. Another good thing: The biennial is small, incredibly small by today’s standards, with just twenty-four artists and thirty-eight works. Five pieces are part of the TB08 Revisited Series, for which Lara Almárcegui, Burak Delier, Irwin, Allan Sekula, and Superflex have reconfigured works they presented in the last Taipei Biennial, curated by Manray Hsu and Vasif Kortun. Eleven of the artists in TB10 are also part of a relatively novel two-year project that involves proposing works more or less now, presenting them at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in 2012, and in the meantime partaking in a long, intimate, and involved conversation on the potential for a productive relationship between the biennial format and the so-called educational turn in contemporary art practice. The two-year project is closely tied to the implementation of an artists’ PhD program at a local university, and some of the biennial’s participants have been invited to at least enroll in, if not fully commit to, the first flexing of that program.
Lest this sound like another staging of exhibition as art school, it’s worth noting that the biennial itself is far from academic or pedagogical. The preview days were delightfully shambolic, with little physical evidence of an impending biennial at all, save the occasional tantrums and technical difficulties. Swarms of backpacked schoolchildren flooded into the museum not for TB10 but for two other, competing shows: the Philadelphia Museum’s reliably blockbuster “Manet to Picasso” and a terrific retrospective, sunk down in the basement, for the Taiwanese video artist Chen Chieh-Jen. The day before the biennial opening, walls were still being painted and lightbulbs were still being screwed in. On opening day, artists were still tweaking and testing out their installations, their video monitors, their wall texts, all the while nursing their jet lag, or their hangover, or simply their other obligations in life. Down to and over the wire, the atmosphere was surprisingly jovial, and there seemed to be no pressure for showmanship or spectacle. All of that came later anyway, with the opening night rigmarole, when Lin and Zolghadr were made to endure the hilarious humiliation of being cued to speak by the sound track from Dallas (at least the DJ for the evening had a sense of humor) and everyone was fairly well lubricated by the promise of Free Beer, Superflex’s open-source, do-it-yourself beer-brewing project.
Inside the exhibition were twenty new commissions, ranging from Silvia Kolbowski’s triptych of prints with wall text and video loop titled A Few Howls Again? to Hito Steyerl’s Strike, featuring a smashed LCD monitor and video footage of the artist, hammer in hand, doing the damage (an act of fabrication, it turns out). A number of artists––including Shahab Fotouhi, Christian Jankowski, and Pak Sheung Chuen––subjected the museum and its management of the biennial to a bit of institutional critique (a strategy haunted by the specter of an alternative biennial being staged in explicit opposition to this one, at the newly formed Taipei Contemporary Art Center). Olivia Plender and Michael Portnoy gave relational aesthetics another spin. And according to Lin and Zolghadr, it was entirely unplanned that well more than half of the works included in the biennial are wrestling with other, older works––Kolbowski with Richter’s 18 Oktober 1977, Shi Jin-Hua with Beuys’s 700 Oaks, Mario García Torres with Michael Asher’s caravan that went missing from Münster in 2007.
Lin sold himself and his biennial short when he said that because he and Zolghadr had only six months to put everything together, and did so in a time when the museum had no director, “maybe the best we can shoot for is a different biennial instead of good biennial” (to which Adriano Pedrosa, up to his eyeballs planning the next biennial in Istanbul, groaned: “What curator would ever say he wanted his biennial to be the same?”).
But it was Suhail Malik, giving a concise talk on arts education and resistance to the seemingly inevitable ascendance of the art PhD, who may have formulated the biennial best: Only exposure to other artists makes for better art. Lin picked up that thread and said, even more plainly: Artists learn from other artists, and from scholars they like. All of this was stating the obvious, to be sure, but it also cut to the simple, uncluttered core of where biennials and art schools could more productively meet.
“RESTLESS, THEY FINALLY pull out to honeycomb the streets for an hour of endless tight right turns: falafel joint, jazz joint, gyro joint, corner. Schoolyard, creperie, realtor, corner. Tenement, tenement, tenement museum, corner.” To the lists of premises with which Richard Price opens his Lower East Side–set novel Lush Life, itself the subject of a recent group of exhibitions in the very neighborhood it describes, the author might perhaps have added “gallery.” Now, a scant two years after the book appeared, what may then have read like an afterthought now feels essential. After an overstuffed Thursday and Friday in Chelsea and a day’s respite on Saturday (someone else could cover Fifty-seventh Street), Sunday evening’s downtown openings beckoned through the drizzle, promising a more manageable but still varied agenda (one list cited a lucky twenty-one options) and a choice of relatively democratic afterparties (I’d taken note of four).
First up was a brunch at Rental’s new gallery, the neutrally named Untitled, at 30 Orchard Street. The storefront space is an intimidating double-height box—easily the area’s largest and sleekest to date—and is occupied on its debut with new works by David Adamo, Heather Cook, Brendan Fowler, Rashid Johnson, and Phil Wagner. Arriving with half an hour or so of the all-afternoon event still to run, I found the gallery almost deserted. A stack of sodden umbrellas by the door, however, told a different story, and an upstairs room turned out to be heaving with usual suspects—critics Sarah Douglas and Paul Laster, artist Orly Genger, and NADA director Heather Hubbs among them—scarfing bagels and lox from Russ & Daughters.
Come 5 PM, it was time to head to the early wave of openings. To judge from the virginal guest book, my companion and I were LMAK Projects’ first visitors of the night; cue an uninterrupted view of Silvia Russel’s unpretentious portrait drawings and a chat with director Bart Keijsers Koning about the relative merits of various Brooklyn ’hoods. Next up were the Rivington Street joints. Sue Scott Gallery, showing new abstractions by Kirsi Mikkola, was, like her Eldridge Street near neighbors, only beginning to pull the punters, but her nearer counterparts were already buzzing by the time we arrived. Admittedly, it didn’t take more than a dozen people to fill Thierry Goldberg Projects, as Claudia Joskowicz’s meditative video installation significantly reduced the usable space. But at Eleven Rivington, it was T. M. Davy’s night, as viewers clustered around his half dozen or so modest but likeable canvases. Round the corner at Salon 94 Freemans, Gerald Davis’s unsettling scatological drawings made for a less convivial atmosphere, an intervention from one suitably creepy fanboy hastening our exit.
Ducking into vegan organic bakery Babycakes (gotta love the LES culinary scene) on Broome Street for a sustaining cuppa before the 6 PM round, we clocked New Museum senior curator Laura Hoptman and adjunct curator Lauren Cornell on line for brownies. Their tip for the evening’s must-see? Viktor Kopp’s delicious-looking paintings of chocolate bars at Bureau on Henry Street, naturally. We took a dutiful gander, but not before stopping into DCKT Contemporary for a look at Cordy Ryman’s colorful assemblages, and Laurel Gitlen to see an intriguing juxtaposition of works by Bianca Beck and Josh Brand with others by “Anonymous Americans” (not, as I’d assumed, a hot new collective from Bushwick, but the genuinely unknown makers of some curious inlaid pots). After a brief powwow with Gitlen and artist Scott Calhoun, it was time to pluck some fruit over on the neighborhood’s main gallery drag, Orchard Street.
Lisa Cooley was flush with the success of her show of smart new paintings by Alex Olson, but, clocking New York Times scribe Roberta Smith as she wove past, I thought it prudent not to detain the gallerist for long. Nicelle Beauchene, at her own gallery, looked similarly chuffed with the response to Louise Despont’s multipart pencil drawings. And the mood at Rachel Uffner, which was filled by a group of Pam Lins’s bright painting-sculpture hybrids, was upbeat too. Even Orchard Street stalwarts Miguel Abreu Gallery and the recently relocated Scaramouche, both trying to play it cool with, respectively, Scott Lyall’s ultrapale monochromes and Dmitry Gutov’s Marxist sloganeering, couldn’t stop the music. Abreu in particular was a locus of attention, with artist Rachel Harrison and beau Eric Banks joining artists Jutta Koether, Thomas Eggerer, and Sean Raspet—among many others—to toast the new season.
Stepping outside to discuss which, if any, of the postopening events might supplement the anticipated bubbly and PBR with, you know, food (those bagels seemed a very long time ago), we exchanged waves and shouts with critic and reality-show host Jerry Saltz as he hastened past, no doubt in the direction of dinner. The most sensible option seemed to be Andrea Blum’s party for Uffner and Lins, staged at her SoHo loft. Sure enough, we left the enviable pad well fed, and with sufficient energy to try a joint bash for Eleven Rivington and Salon 94 Freemans. This was back on the Bowery, at an apartment whose owner was never identified. Indeed, it had the provisional feel of a newly built—albeit unusually posh—student dorm. As musical duo the Woofgang hunched over laptops in the corner, we chatted to Klaus von Nichtssagend co-owner Sam Wilson, whose gallery, formerly a Williamsburg staple, is en route to the area after a pit-stop pop-up in Chelsea. Final drop-in of the night, a tempting offer from Bureau’s Gabrielle Giattino of some top tunes selected by DJ JazMasterDre, was a six-gallery extravaganza at the Wooly on Barclay Street, where artist Lisa Kirk pounced on us gleefully the moment we walked in the door, and Lisa Cooley was already on the dance floor. Price’s “Quality of Life Task Force” wasn’t about to get a complaint from these two.
Left: Iggy Pop. Right: Dealer Gavin Brown with artist Hope Atherton. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)
LIKE A COURTSHIP that embarrasses everyone outside it, the New York art and fashion worlds aligned last week to begin the fall season in an insane convergence of social planets that neither the memory of September 11 nor Rosh Hashanah could do anything to prevent. In the temples of art, the high holy days marked the turn of a new, postrecessionary page that looked just like the old one, and then some. The ritual involved, by my count, more than fifty gallery openings in five days; a few hundred “exclusive” parties in boutiques, bars, and restaurants; and an untold number of artists, models, designers, dealers, collectors, and hangers-on working overtime to achieve fashion-victim status.
Stuffed sheep greeted guests invited to collector Jane Holzer’s East Side town house on Tuesday for a cocktail party toasting Yoshitomo Nara’s pair of “White Ghost” sculptures, which the Art Production Fund has installed on Park Avenue. Both Holzer and collector Shelley Fox Aarons were decked out in delicate neck chains by celebrity jeweler Loree Rodkin, the soul of an upper-crust sisterhood. Marianne Boesky, Nara’s Manhattan dealer, was more smitten by Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn’s ingenious Rick Owens platforms. “I never wear anyone else,” Rohaytn said. Bracing for the opening of his solo show at the Asia Society on Wednesday, Nara scrunched his head into a New York Yankees cap, possibly the only object in the room that did not bear a designer label.
A few blocks away at Hauser & Wirth, Anj Smith’s New York solo debut attracted artists Pipilotti Rist and Mary Heilmann and Pace Gallery director Vita Zaman, the person who gave Smith her first professional airing in 2002 at IBID Projects in London. The artist’s dark, Symbolist paintings are replete with decayed tulle costumes that came to life at the fashion model–spiked party that Viktor & Rolf threw in a West Village town house on Wednesday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Flowerbomb, their signature perfume. Clad in a ruched fur getup that made her look like a leggy sheep, out marched Alison Goldfrapp to the garden, where she talked-sang a three-number set enlivened by a surprise flume of water aimed at the tiny stage by an irate neighbor attempting to hose the party down. It dampened no one’s spirits. The evening was as young as the season.
Left: Designer Rolf Snoeren, Ladyfag, and designer Viktor Horsting. Right: Alison Goldfrapp.
I don’t know who designed the smart suit that Tracey Emin was wearing on Thursday night at Carolina Nitsch’s small gallery in Chelsea, partly because she was swallowed up by enthusiasts crowding the space. Almost visible on the walls were the sixteen gouaches of male and female torsos that comprise Emin’s inspired recent collaboration with the late Louise Bourgeois. The two passed them back and forth over the past two years. I wondered if they constituted Bourgeois’s last works. No, said Bourgeois studio chief Jerry Gorovoy. At ninety-seven, she did another collaboration, a book with the writer Gary Indiana, who was standing outside with curator Philip Larratt-Smith. “It’s really sweet,” Indiana said of the book, which will be published in a very limited, hand-sewn edition of seven.
I had to pass too quickly through the group show at Friedrich Petzel, inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s 1951 “White Paintings.” Wade Guyton confessed he hated openings, particularly his own, but John Waters was captivated by Karin Sander’s canvases that had been blank when they’d been left out in the rain. “You mean the weather did them?” I asked a receptionist. “Er, yes,” she said. “I love that,” Waters said, and went back for a closer look.
I had almost forgotten that Thursday was the start of Fashion Week until I had to detour at the media circus surrounding Karl Lagerfeld at SoHo’s new Chanel store in order to reach Team Gallery’s presentation of Santiago Sierra’s Los Penetrados, a hypnotic video of naked black and white bodies engaged in mechanical anal penetration. Just to be clear, it’s not porn. It’s colonialism in action. Fortunately, emperors do not require new clothes.
Sierra couldn’t make it—he was editing a new film—but dealer José Freire valiantly carried on with dinner at Caffe Falai with Slater Bradley and Banks Violette, two of his gallery’s New York artists. Bradley left early to guest-DJ at Paul Sevigny’s “new” Don Hill’s club across town, where the fashion storm was gathering.
It reached critical mass on Friday, when the throngs packing designer boutiques all over town for Fashion’s Night Out combined with the lemmings attracted by at least twenty-five art openings to make the streets of New York into a real-life reenactment of Day of the Locust. The sidewalks of West Twenty-fourth Street alone were nearly impassable, so I started on Twenty-sixth, with Angelo Filomeno’s Sadean symphony in black blown glass at Galerie Lelong, Ingrid Calame’s affichiste-like paintings at James Cohan, and Jason Tomme’s cool monochromes on lead at Nicole Klagsbrun.
Back on Twenty-fourth, I burrowed into Andrea Rosen, but there was no way to experience Tetsumi Kudo’s ’60s assemblages and installations, there were so many badly dressed people (who were they?) standing between them and the back room, where Rosen was presenting Michael St. John, a mentor to Nate Lowman, Josh Smith, and Dan Colen. As if to rub salt in the wound, Colen’s show at Gagosian was drawing the biggest crowd of all.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” Gagosian shouted to the overwhelmed bouncers at the door. “Stop them!” It was hopeless. Yet Colen was standing unmolested and smiling in front of an enormous brick wall, one of his new artworks, with gallery curator Louise Neri. “It’s crazy,” he said. He felt great. “Want to see the private room?” Neri asked. Was there more than one answer? I joined Whitney Museum curator Chrissie Iles and photographer Marco Anelli in the side gallery, where there was a twenty-foot-tall canvas that Colen had “brushed” with wet grass and muddy footprints. Inclement weather is turning out to be a great artist, the cynic in me thought, though Mother Nature had nothing to do with the billboard-size confetti paintings, the stretched chewing gum abstractions, the upside-down skateboard pipe, or the line of lovingly assembled Harley-Davidsons that Colen had kicked over in a fit of macho joy.
It seemed only natural that Pipilotti Rist’s continued feminization of art should appear the same night at Luhring Augustine, where I found the week’s mascots, a herd of sheep, playing across avenues of ethereal white scrims and a chandelier of panties in the back. “Pipilotti Rist makes me happy,” said New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl, no doubt quoting from a forthcoming review. Everyone at SoHo House for the Rist dinner was happy—artists Marilyn Minter and Josh Smith, Performa’s RoseLee Goldberg, curator Diego Cortez, and Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume, who gamely accompanied me to the Balenciaga store, where Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington joined designer Nicolas Ghesquière to tour François Pinault’s collection of Cindy Sherman’s 2007–2008 Untitled (Balenciaga) photos on temporary view upstairs, where few others would see them. As MoMA’s May Castleberry observed, the wannabes lining up for Karen Elson’s in-store performance were really there to worship couture.
If it seemed that Fashion’s Night Out brought the Apocalypse to the Meatpacking District, it drew a scarily realistic version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers to SoHo, where Gagosian’s dinner for Colen was in progress at Balthazar, a bastion of probity and sophistication by comparison. Imagine. Well, give me the art world any day! First of all, people in it, like Terence Koh, know how to dress. And it includes artists like Richard Prince, who tell really funny jokes in mixed company. “It’s a good living,” he noted.
Any event that seats Cecily Brown, Klaus Biesenbach, Rob Pruitt, Alison Gingeras, Norman Rosenthal, Carol Vogel, Ryan McGinley, and Aurel Schmidt at the same table with Michelle Obama’s political director Ebs Burnough raises the bar on fun. Standing to toast Colen on his big night in the gristmill, Gagosian called the room to attention. “I just want to thank Nate Lowman for doing such a great show,” he said to a gale of laughter. Lowman ducked, escaping to guest-DJ for the afterparty at the Standard Hotel.
There was heavy competition, however, from Dasha Zhukova, who was holding a Pop magazine party at Don Hill’s featuring a gold-standard midnight performance by Iggy and the Stooges. Richard Phillips accompanied me to the door, where we bumped into Che producer Laura Bickford and Jeff Koons. Once inside we rushed the CBGB-size stage, where I found Adam McEwen, the Starn twins, Sante d’Orazio, Neville Wakefield, Stellan Holm, Terry Richardson, and McGinley already in place.
Over the next hour, Iggy nailed the whole of 1972’s Raw Power to the rock ’n’ roll cross, at one point inviting all comers to dance with him. Holm and McGinley jumped at the chance. “You gotta do it once before you die,” Holm said when he returned to the mosh pit, soaking wet. A moment later something heavy nearly knocked me over. It was Iggy, who launched himself into the air several times, leaving the audience depleted as well as partly deaf.
On Saturday night, the 11th of September, a different rite of rebellious passage—the Amish rumspringa—figured in Pruitt’s madcap triumph of a two-gallery show at Maccarone and the newly expanded Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, designed by architect Jonathan Caplan. It attracted Guyton and much of the Colen crowd plus the Brown crowd—Rirkrit Tiravanija, Chloë Sevigny, Hanna Liden, T. J. Wilcox, Aaron Young, Emily Sundblad, and Urs Fischer, among a few hundred others.
I don’t know who the guest-artist DJ was supposed to be that evening, but collector Peter Brant supplied the recipe for the meatless meat sauce on the spaghetti served at the dinner for 180 in rooms of the gallery that were a butcher shop six months ago. Clearly (and justifiably) proud of both his artist and his gallery’s new look, Brown made an unusually misty-eyed speech that was largely excerpted from his twenty-year-old son Max’s poetic catalogue essay for the show. “Others may not get it,” he concluded, in an apt epitaph for the week. “But we do.”
DRINKING AND LOS ANGELES tend to be a bad mix. Or so I pondered as I puttered through weekday rush hour traffic in my car, en route to the Hammer Museum to drink beer with Tom Marioni and bartender Ed Ruscha for a fortieth-anniversary iteration of Marioni’s Drinking Beer with Friends Is the Highest Form of Art. I also wondered if Marioni was my “friend,” but in an age where “friend” is a social-networking verb, I supposed I was close enough.
I was the first drinker to belly up to the bar, where Ruscha, wearing sunglasses at night, asked simply: “Beer?” Suntanned and laconic, he made me wonder whether he had been born that way or had just assumed the appropriate traits with time. Having Ruscha serve me a beer seemed the apex of some unrealizable dream from days when I’d butcher his name to girls at smart-set parties in the beer fuzz of early college. A fridge full of free booze, the evening just kicking off, and Ruscha at the bar––it was a decent way to close the summer.
The crowd fleshed out slowly, everyone ambling through the sterile corporate lobby (somewhat countered by a colorful suite of paintings by Friedrich Kunath) to get to the beer hall/gallery, where a small coterie of cameramen and videographers carefully mediated the experience. Pacifico in hand, I circulated through the exhibition, which featured Juddlike shelves for empties, a couple of birch tables with matching chairs for assembled drinkers, and some recent examples of Marioni’s long-term projects––including 2007’s “Out-of-Body Free-Hand Circle,” a series of wall drawings that document the length of the artist’s reach. Halfway through the night, Marioni stood up nervously to a microphone with a neat stack of index cards in hand, and began a stand-up routine of one-liner quotes and yuck-yuck jokes. “Why is abbreviation such a long word?” “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy—Benjamin Franklin.” After ten minutes, Marioni invited us to have another beer. I did.
Left: Actor Will Ferrell. Right: Hammer Museum curatorial associate Corrina Peipon with Hammer Museum senior curator Anne Ellegood.
It was mostly Los Angeles locals: actor Will Ferrell, artists Jonas Wood and Anthony Pearson, collectors Linda and Jerry Janger. There was also out-of-towner RoseLee Goldberg. Though oft cited as a precursor to Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Thai kitchen and other “relational aesthetic” colleagues and imitators, Marioni’s drinking-as-art felt goofier, more relaxed—something like what you’d expect San Francisco Conceptual artists to have been doing in 1970. Though repeated many times (including at Art LA with SolwayJones Gallery in 2007), Marioni’s beer-drinking parties happily lack the refined intellectual strategies of the later productions of hanging-out-as-art. Refreshingly, it just felt like hanging out.
This didn’t mean the beer drinking was any less serious. The shelf on the wall filled up quickly. Artist and future guest-bartenders Lisa Anne Auerbach and Barbara T. Smith were on hand to observe and imbibe. Auerbach closed out the evening with Hammer curatorial associate Corrina Peipon, Los Angeles Times scribe Jori Finkel, and master of ceremonies Marioni, with Ruscha in the background taking the last few sips of a beer tucked beneath the bar. Tipsy, just a few of us left, it finally felt friendly, and I’d almost come to actually believe that drinking beer with friends was the highest form of art.
The traffic on Wilshire Boulevard seemed to be thinning out, along with the crowd, so I ordered one last beer from Ruscha. He clicked off the cap with a single easy gesture. “You were the first and last drinker,” he told me. “I suppose that’s worth something.”
IN THE GROUND-FLOOR CAFÉ of Gwangju’s Biennale Hall one afternoon last week, a cipher lurked. Approaching the caffeine seekers, he waved the front page from a morning paper showing the opening of the dismal Art Gwangju fair the night before. “I am PHOTO in NEWSPAPER,” the man repeated to anyone willing or just compelled by basic etiquette to listen. David Weiss nodded politely at the crumpled sheet and turned back to explain to some admirers how it had actually been cheaper for five people to take a taxi than the train from Seoul after their connecting flight had been typhoon-canceled last night. “I AM PHOTO IN NEWSPAPER!” “That’s wonderful, dear,” replied Mera Rubell, who continued to outline the proposal for her family’s new museum in Washington, DC. “I AM PHOTO IN NEWSPAPER!!” the man incanted, to every press-trip member, every curatorial-training-program student, every local dignitary looking for a quick respite amid the long haul of four serious halls of art above. There were nine thousand unique objects up there, and only two more hours before the speeches were set to begin.
Sure, every art scene has a few like this (“This guy’s at every opening in Seoul,” former Nam June Paik Center chief curator Tobias Berger elucidated), but in a biennial so explicitly about what artistic director Massimiliano Gioni called “our desire to make images to hold on to what we are going to lose,” this one could have been another Tino Sehgal performance. You see, this was the biennial of people as captured in images and images as quasi-human, the biennial of “a lot of eyes and a lot of faces” (Gioni again), and particularly, the biennial of the Massive Multiphoto Assemblage—from the user-generated (Franco Vaccari’s 1972 Venice Biennale photo booth reinstantiated, with the cute geopolitical irony that the company that originally produced those machines is now Gwangju-owned) to the found (Chinese journalist turned collector Tong Bingxue’s grouping of yearly studio self-portraits commissioned by twentieth-century Beijing businessman Ye Jinglü), to the cunningly formalistic (Fischli and Weiss’s travel-memoir light-box tables, Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s string of a thousand subtle Polaroid rhymes), to the productively solipsistic (Dieter Roth’s video wall of himself, Tehching Hsieh’s year of time card punching, with every hourly snapshot), to the grimly cute (Ydessa Hendeles’s three-thousand-image Teddy Bear Project), to the untouchably tragic (the Tuol Sleng Prison execution portraits).
Left: Collector Maja Hoffmann with curator Bice Curiger. Right: Writer Roberta Lombardi, curator Francesco Bonami, and Gagosian's Valentina Castellani.
Sure, there were bones thrown to the October crowd—one room in which two of Sturtevant’s Warhol flowers faced off against conjoined walls of Walker Evans and Sherrie Levine appropriations thereof was a constant conversational touchstone (“Such a simple idea, but I’ve never seen it!” gushed one critic), and opinion was divided on how well the fourth-gallery re-creation of Mike Kelley’s 1993 show “The Uncanny” had come off—some called it lifeless irony, others found it enchanting. But props were due to Gioni, who had not shirked from his assignment, refusing to defer authorship on the customary pool of consulting curators and embracing the somehow adorable fascism of offering only one correct line through an otherwise overwhelming mass of work. In these days of äppärät-induced stupor—widespread 3G has now rendered the CDMA-induced Korean/Japanese phone-service void obsolete—maybe that’s the best we can hope for, to have the fleeting experience of a canon, even one defined by its “struggle to compete with contemporary image production in its own right.”
The worst thing I heard anyone say about the show was that it was “polite.”
If you’d seen Gioni shake hands with Sichuan Institute of Fine Arts director Luo Zhongli and wife—the man behind the loan of the Rent Collection Courtyard sculptures whose inclusion in Documenta 5 was perhaps Szeemann’s greatest unrealized project—you might not disagree.
Left: One and J Gallery's Patrick Lee and Won Jae Park. Right: Gwangju Biennale CEO Yongwoo Lee and curator Maurizio Bortolotti.
The thing about a good biennial is that people actually talk about the art. I got to chatting with the Rubells after the newspaper guy had moved on to the next people in the espresso line, and went with them to see the peripheral venues—actually intentionally unperipheral, each just a two-minute walk from the main event, in the sort of cyclical protest-against-the-way-the-previous-organizers-did-things that defines biennial practice. We ran into some of the top brass in the Gioni administration, Wrong Gallery coreligionist Maurizio Cattelan and ragazza Cecilia Alemani appearing at the entrance to the Gwangju Museum of Art. Whispers of Dakis recurred (“He’s circling the city in a helicopter after his private tour of the biennial,” one publicist quipped). Those next up in the batting order (Bice Curiger, Venice; Jens Hoffmann, Istanbul; various members of the Documenta 13 team) poked around. Production-fee-supplying dealers preened. People sized up those they didn’t know by face based on the three-class badge system: ACCESS, PRESS, and TEMPORARY. The normal stuff.
This is the part where I should say something funny, ambiguously racist even, about how Gioni looked in his specially tailored Korean suit at the evening opening, which happens each time in the courtyard between the twin chambers of Biennale Hall, built in a style best described as Post-Dictatorial Sublime. Or at least make a reference to the Korean Idol floor show that followed the speeches, or the legions of scallion-pancake cooking matrons in uniform green tunics and visors, and the long line of regular locals who appeared to claim their rations on Styrofoam trays.
I stood at the back for a while with the curators-in-waiting, vicariously enjoying the last-day-of-camp vibe at the end of their three-week course. We looked on from behind a few hundred plastic chairs, the most important rows of which bore adhesive name labels, although many of the rest still showed traces of similar labels from other years, like another work that might have been in the show. Then I went down to the outdoor seafood restaurant at the entrance where Enwezor used to hold court during the previous Biennale. Gregor Muir headed a Hauser-and-Wirthian table of Zhang Enli, Paweł Althamer, and friends. Younger-than-Jesuit Jakub Ziólkowski, whose sixty-nine illustrations for Bataille’s Story of the Eye were a hit, brought up a video by Liu Wei the Middle (not the older painter, not the younger sculptor) in which he simply asks Chinese passersby what day it is, on June 4, and they mostly run. Then we hopped a cab toward May 18 Democracy Square and enjoyed a basement party with an open bar and many lasers. Four galleries—two Western (Gagosian, H+W), two Korean (Kukje, One and J)—were picking up the tab, in yet another pitch-perfect political gesture. There was drinking, and dancing, and ultimately a move by the hardy to a club where a boy band descended from the ceiling on a giant boom, and the ceiling opened periodically like an oversize Turell. A publicist pre-described the evening to another journalist as “you know, the whole artforum.com thing.” And indeed, there’s not much more to say about a party that, for these purposes at least, and in keeping with the spirit of the exhibition, exists only and enduringly in the images that punctuate this text. Because, in the end, we are photo on website.
Left: Artist Sara VanDerBeek, Rupprecht Geiger archive's Franziska Harder, artist Kerstin Brätsch, and Lisson Gallery's Patricia Pratas. (Photo: Tamsen Greene) Right: Artist Cindy Sherman and musician David Byrne.
LIKE CLOCKWORK, every year, as August draws to an end, Zurich’s art season kicks off with synchronized openings around the city. For as long as anyone can remember, the main event was the converted Löwenbräu beer factory on Limmatstrasse, home until recently to such heavyweights as Hauser & Wirth, Eva Presenhuber, Kunsthalle Zürich, and the migros museum. With the factory undergoing renovations through 2011, the Löwenbräu was effectively out of commission this year, and thus there was no loading-dock bratwurst party for one thousand to commence the weekend. (Several of the displaced residents have temporarily relocated to Hubertus Exhibitions on Albisriederstrasse, which will open on September 24.) The gap in celebrations offered a prime opportunity for some of Zurich’s younger galleries to step to the fore, beginning with the second annual “Rendez-view,” a string of events organized by BolteLang, Claudia Groeflin Galerie, Freymond-Guth & Co. Fine Arts, Karma International, and Rotwand that unfolded over five unseasonably chilly but festive days.
Wednesday evening featured the galleries of the Langstrasse red-light district. While certainly atmospheric, the mixture of friendly prostitutes and chain-smoking hipsters proved a cyclist’s nightmare. I wove by Perla-Mode, Claudia Groeflin, and Rotwand on my way to one of the most anticipated shows of the season: Sylvia Sleigh at Freymond-Guth, the ninety-four-year-old painter’s first solo exhibition in Europe since 1962. (She has recently been enjoying some stateside celebrity, though, with presentations in “WACK!,” at I-20 Gallery in New York, and again at MoMA PS1 in curator Cecilia Alemani’s contribution to the “Greater New York” rotating gallery.) Inside, I met Megan Francis Sullivan, an artist who helped organize the show, having first encountered Sleigh’s anomalous portraiture in a Berlin library. “It’s the first time I’ve seen them all in person myself. She has this uncanny way of staying weird.” At the osteria around the corner, I-20’s Paul Judelson regaled me with another Sleigh anecdote: “When she was a girl, she had a conversation with someone who was actually in the Crimean War! Tells you something about time.”
Left: Karma International's Marina Leuenberger and Niels Olsen. Right: Mitterrand+Sanz's Christina Dietschi with I-20's Paul Judelson.
The galleries near Lake Zurich had their turn on Thursday. I swung by Magnus Plessen’s show at Mai 36 on my way up to Karma International for Emanuel Rossetti, one of the men behind New Jerseyy, Basel’s formidable, precocious artist-run space. Amid digital portraits of totemic stones and screens looping 3-D tours of hypothetical art pavilions drawn in Google SketchUp, I found a window gazing onto a courtyard of people drinking champagne from little soda cans. On my way down I spotted a woman with gripping style—resembling a red-haired, clothed Kembra Pfahler—who was identified to me, by a fan, as Sibylle Berg, a Weimar-born writer who is “very famous in the German speaking world . . . for being cynical.”
The remaining Limmatstrasse galleries opened their shows on Friday. Kinesis seemed to be the prevailing theme: At BolteLang, artist Florian Germann hung above the crowd in a harness, hammering a stake into a muddy hole in the gallery wall; at Nicola von Senger, just as I noticed that one of Arcangelo Sassolino’s sculptural contraptions was dripping actual blood, another one behind me—a steel box hooked up to a compression system—produced a thunderous crack that caused the most sensitive art lovers, among them a wailing toddler, to vacate. I followed suit, crossing the hall to Francesca Pia’s gallery, which was hosting John Tremblay’s deft translations of painting into sculpture, sculpture into painting. The Swiss Institute’s Piper Marshall was also on hand, in town doing double duty for a Bern Porter show she and Tremblay put together at New Jerseyy. Marshall dished on a bash for the Kunsthalle Zürich the previous weekend, which had included a witching-hour swim in the Limmat. “It was cold, but all the beautiful people were doing it.”
Left: Darsa Comfort's Fredi Fischli, Carmen Tobler, and Lorenzo Bernet. Right: Curator Fabrice Stroun with artists Melodie Mousset and Emanuel Rossetti.
After Pia, I rode across town to catch a reception at Darsa Comfort, a new gallery that has repurposed a small storefront in a high-end plaza near Selnau, whose show was co-organized by Lorenzo Bernet, Fredi Fischli, and Carmen Tobler. “Darsa,” Bernet explained, “is an uninhabited island off the coast of Yemen. But it could just as easily be the name of a girl in Texas.” He gave me a tour of the show, “Issued,” curated by Fischli, which was billed as a kind of (anti-)centerpiece for “Rendez-view.” Presented in collaboration with Presenhuber, Hauser & Wirth, Bob van Orsouw, and other veteran spaces, “Issued” is a survey of reproducible works by artists such as Isa Genzken, Wade Guyton, and Josh Smith, shown together with gallery marketing materials and other detritus. As we lingered on a sculpture forged from tangled boxes and tape-labeled ISA GENZKEN / HAUSER & WIRTH, I was informed that the materials had been found on the loading dock behind the gallery, along with a pack of American Spirits. An amused Anna Helwing, director at Hauser & Wirth, appeared behind us to issue a corrective—“those boxes were Isa Genzken’s. But the cigarettes were not”—then smiled and returned to the crowd.
Competing downpours of rain and champagne stalled my trip back to Francesca Pia for the dinner there, which was being prepared by Zurich’s go-to art chef, photographer Tim Standring. I finally arrived, soaked and tardy—but just in time for truffled lamb short ribs and a text message from Marshall that she was downstairs on the loading dock. I got in the elevator and joined a small posse in the improvised kitchen overlooking the parking lot. After hearty bowls of fish stew we migrated back upstairs, where the bright, white, echoing space of the gallery set the stage for an altogether unusual, but fun, setting for dinner. “It’s like eating in an operating theater,” said Tremblay. A kindly, opera-loving pediatric gastrologist drove me back to Selnau for a final nightcap with dealer Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth and “a small table of nice people.” The small table turned out to be about thirty feet long and strewn with the charred remains of many Neapolitan pizzas. I sat down with Freymond-Guth, Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler, and Christie’s Michèle Sandoz, and lost myself in the pleasant conversation about everything from the multifaceted personas of polyglots to the je ne sais quoi of certain Chicagoans. Zurich, for a moment, seemed like home.
STRIPES WITH PLAID (or checks, or flowers . . . ) are sometimes just more of a good thing. Zhang Da, one of China’s rare self-funded fashion designers—already well known for his flat-cut “O-shirt,” two discs sewn together with holes for arms and head and so forth—took pattern-clash to the extreme on Sunday, August 15. Beijing’s fashionistas, who keep up with local design and architecture cliques, gathered over weak tea and hot water served in stainless steel cups in a side room of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art for the fastest fashion moment in the East, the launch of Zhang’s 2010 autumn/winter collection of his Boundless label.
“I don’t need to think what to put on, and I can wear his clothes for any occasion,” said Cui Qiao, the tour de force leading UCCA’s education and public programs, who has overseen more than three hundred events just in the 2010 calendar year to date. She was off to her next event, a salon-style media function, just minutes after the crowds had cleared from this, the first-ever UCCA-supported launch for a Chinese designer and an affectedly humble affair.
The fashion event’s sex appeal diminished as more than three hundred guests strode past a narrow house by Erwin Wurm and an oppressive installation by Zhang Huan (featuring a train salvaged from the wreckage of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake), before stepping into the glamour-stifling atmosphere of institutional fluorescent lights. Clumped in the center of the room was a fortress of battered furniture (reportedly from the collection of artist Wang Jianwei). The launch had generously been scheduled from 3:30 to 4:00 PM, but the room was still sparse twenty minutes after the hour. Hipsters lined the walls, guarding their seats on the tattered sofas and wooden crates scattered around the perimeter.
Left: Musicians Li Daiguo on pipa and Vavabond. Right: UCCA's external art director Guang Yu (left). (Photos: Lee Ambrozy)
Somewhere during the evolution of the Mao jacket to acid-wash Levi’s and finally to Gucci (or its local imitation, “Cucci”), the breaking wave of the mainland’s fashion industry left a tidal pool of native designers (Zuczag, Wang Yiyang’s Chagang label, Zhang Da) determined to create fashion leisure wear amid encroaching luxury malls. These trendsetters oppose the kitschy glam of the mainstream, and aim for originality, with Chinese characteristics. They prefer pluck, speed, frugality, and androgyny.
At precisely 3:33 PM, the room was filling fast, fashionably late being, apparently, three minutes. Architect Yong He Chang and his wife, Lü Lijia of Atelier Feichang Jianzhu, who have their own small label, smiled weakly at the encroaching “post-’80s” crowd who were frantically snapping digital photos, before designer and fashion devotee (à la Comme des Garçons) Liu Zhizhi herded them to the front of a thickening crowd. The models were friends of the designer and staff from UCCA, who, it was said, had been doing yoga together in preparation for the show. They began circling the room to a blend of live pipa and electronics, music curated by sound artist Yan Jun. The models smiled and nodded to their friends in the crowd; some of them took up enameled porcelain bowls filled with snacks that had been placed in the open drawers and cabinets, and began to pass them out to the audience.
“We were originally supposed to just be ourselves, but right before the show they told us to perform,” said one of the models, graphic designer Meng Ke. “It was okay until the models started pretending to wipe down the furniture,” commented another. Housework might never succeed in marketing fashion, but if not for their bright colors and polka dots, the models would have blended in with the audience.
“That’s my favorite,” said UCCA art director Guang Yu, as he pointed at the actor/theater producer Xu Ang standing in the middle of the runway, gesticulating in front of a microphone while clothed virtually head to toe in discordant psychedelic autumnal flower prints. A certain moxie is necessary to wear these designs without looking like you’re on the streets in pajamas, as the Shanghainese famously do.
The room cleared out just moments after the models left the floor, a Beijing minute upstaged by the New York minute, as busy professionals scooted off to the next Sunday afternoon engagement. Maybe they realized they were the show themselves, and got bored. The cleaning staff rushed in, pulling up cords and snickering as they ate leftover snacks still sitting on the runway. The successful orchestration of the anti-spectacle was achieved. Socialist fashion with Chinese characteristics had made its debut.