Left: New Museum associate director Massimiliano Gioni with artist Carsten Höller. Right: New Museum director Lisa Phillips. (Photos: Billy Farrell Agency)
NECKING SICKLY-SWEET themed cocktails with names like “Love Drug” and “Magic Mushroom” may offer a challenge to the senses, but Carsten Höller surely had something more unusual in mind when he titled his New Museum exhibition “Experience.” Perhaps the dressed-up hordes that packed the Bowery building’s lobby for the show’s Tuesday evening opening felt an added need to get their drink on before tackling its vaunted wonders—supposedly the equal of anything at Six Flags and sprinkled with magical relational-aesthetic fairy dust (meaning it was officially OK to have a laugh). A few began by donning pairs of Höller’s Upside-Down Goggles—heavy, RoboCop-style goggles that flip one’s view of the world, making a crowd a cloud. “I’m fine,” one guest piped in response to a friend’s inquiry, “this is actually better for me than normal.” “Does it help you see up people’s skirts?” leered another.
The salacious quip wasn’t as out of place as it might sound; several attendees at the show’s morning press preview had got naked together in Höller’s Psycho Tank, an enclosed sensory-deprivation pool that was open to six people at a time (until Friday, that is, when the museum inexplicably changed its rules to allow for solo usage only). At the evening event, however, such depravity seemed to be off the menu—all I glimpsed were a few bare ankles as participants emerged from the water, and photographs of even these were sternly barred. More innocent in spirit (and less demanding of its users) is Mirror Carousel, an ultra-slo-mo fairground ride, and Aquarium, a fish tank with indentations in which recumbent viewers stick their heads for an almost immersive view. Experience Corridor, a row of one-person physiological and perceptual experiments featuring a seemingly odorless love perfume (what did I miss?) and a virtual reality walk in the woods whose machinery was already on the blink, reproduced the feel of a science museum’s overworked interactive gallery with regrettable exactitude.
Still, the centerpiece of Höller’s show (besides the ubiquitous liability waivers) is, of course, the slide: a partially transparent 102-foot-long tube that spirals steeply from a discreet hatch on the museum’s fourth floor down to a large rubber mat on its second. “Can we really go down it?” asked one incredulous visitor. “Sure,” her date affirmed. “But have you seen what I’m wearing?” she protested, indicating her skimpy Little Black Dress. “Just go headfirst,” was the impassive response. This wasn’t an option, though, as attendants instructed users to slip their feet into canvas bags and fold their arms corpselike across their chests before launching themselves earthward. The sight of a long line of people gradually disappearing into a hole in the floor was disconcerting, but visitors on the third floor were witness to an equally bizarre sight as sliders hurtled past, many of them screaming.
Another top spot for observers was the slide’s egress, which was negotiated with wildly varying degrees of skill by put-together types. Some appeared to experience rather more roll, pitch, and yaw than others, and seemed perilously close to flying off one side where the tube becomes a strip. Others looked more at home with the process and stepped off the end of the chute with dignity relatively intact. The flashing strips of white neon on the walls—actually a new installation titled Double Light Corridor—made photography a problem, but it was impossible to resist a bit of action shooting. Early-evening sliders in particular must have felt like superstars as a virtual horde of would-be paparazzi lined up in hopes of wardrobe malfunctions and ankle fractures.
Even an omnipresent and always-grinning Massimiliano Gioni, accompanied alternately by curator Cecilia Alemani and beaky provocateur Maurizio Cattelan, complained about the long wait for a turn, but I suspected he was happy to keep his suit looking sharp. Performa director RoseLee Goldberg, White Columns director Matthew Higgs, and New Museum associate curator Gary Carrion-Murayari looked similarly content to remain bystanders to the action. As the whoops from the slide died down and Psycho Tank’s lights went dim, I made my way out. I’ll be back for a drift in the latter, but not before they clean it. Don’t critics get dirty enough?
FLOODS IN ROME, riots in Greece, a despot deposed in North Africa—the days leading up to the Third Athens Biennale, “Monodrome,” inspired by Walter Benjamin’s 1928 book Einbahnstraße, brought forth biblical allusions. In practical terms, the biggest strikes yet had shut down the Greek capital, so my flight from London was delayed by a day and biennial cocurator Nicolas Bourriaud came from Paris three days after he was scheduled to arrive, also landing just the night before the opening. The denouement of the trilogy that started with “Destroy Athens” and “Heaven,” in 2007 and 2009 respectively, this edition seemed part and parcel of the historic drama unfolding on the city streets, even an apologia.
At the opening last Friday evening, artist Maria Papadimitriou held court near her work, an ornate sacrificial altar topped by a large rock, just inside the biennial’s entrance. “We have nothing left to offer the gods,” she explained wearily. “I cannot smile in this period. We know people who do not have money to pay their electricity bills or eat.” The main venue was the Diplareios School, a derelict Arts & Crafts building and former design institution located on Theater Square, just opposite the main food market, where flocks of prostitutes emerge nightly to negotiate their own forms of commerce. I went inside to track down some coffee and found a food stand as well as French artist-provocateur and biennale crasher Thierry Geoffroy, dressed in shorts and a bow tie. “This must be the first press conference ever where you have to pay for your own coffee,” he offered cheerfully.
It is something of a miracle that the exhibition even happened. Produced largely through the efforts of volunteers and private donations, it tells a story of how the country arrived at its present “state of emergency.” To do so, the show juxtaposes new and archival work, including historic films such as Nikos Koundouros’s 1975 The Songs of Fire, which documents a pivotal concert of revolutionary music celebrating the end of the dictatorship that set the tone for a period of stability—a period that has ended with the current crisis. Nearby hangs a small cardboard palimpsest, found in the street by the curators, bearing layers of political protest phrases written in bold letters, including: WAKE UP, BANANA REPUBLIC! “This exhibition refers to the last six months in Greece. It’s been really rough,” said assistant curator Eleanna Pontikaki, who was scurrying to put up labels. We paused to admire Andreas Lolis’s wonderfully duplicitous crushed cardboard cartons immortalized in marble. “Greeks are asking themselves, ‘What did we do wrong?’”
Left: Curator Yorgos Tzirtzilakis, Athens Biennale cofounder Augustine Zenakos, and curator Theophilos Trambulis. Right: Curator Poka-Yio.
Many of the rooms were filled with sculptures or assemblages of objects gathered by the curators or simply found on the premises, such as a cabinet displaying miniaturized models of Bauhaus furniture left over from the former school. On the hallway walls curator Poka-Yio had scrawled caricatures of the Little Prince and Walter Benjamin discussing such dilemmas as the nature of truth and reality; the drawings were nearly indiscernible from the existing graffiti. Meandering through the ex-classrooms of the sprawling building—reminiscent of the one used for the 2005 Berlin Biennale—we bumped into Dakis Joannou and the curators (Bourriaud along with biennial founders Poka-Yio and Xenia Kalpaktsoglou) in a space filled with military-academy desks in various states of ruin. Salvaged from the dump, they were arranged in an orderly battalion. “It shows how difficult it is to shed a legacy that is no longer useful,” Kalpaktsoglou explained.
Other rooms featured anachronistic juxtapositions: In one there were reproductions of satiric cartoons portraying historic situations uncannily similar to the present. In another were photographs by Spyros Staveris of contemporary demonstrations projected opposite a painting of the 1823 Greek war of independence from the Ottomans. The message was clear: History repeats itself. And Jimmie Durham’s little cart sporting a shoebox for donations and cymbals poised to clang the plaster head of a classical sculpture said it in a nutshell: Greece epitomizes the fall from the height of ancient civilization to the utter farce that is the decadence and waste of modernity.
We went up to the penthouse, a space filled with bright light and a vintage TV screening Philippe Petit’s 1974 Tightrope Walk Across the WTC, where Joannou and the curators were surveying Athens from above. “Doing ‘Monodrome’ is a statement in itself, because the first thing to go was arts funding. We went against all advice,” Bourriaud said. What was the budget? “You don’t want to know!” he laughed. “Basically equivalent to the salary of a curator from Montmartre.”
The show also serves as a study for a feature film on the “archaeology of the situation”—being shot by volunteers around Athens and France, and directed by Bourriaud—to be finished by next summer. “Partly with French money, of course; there still is some to be had there,” Bourriaud added. It was all about improvisation, or about oppression and depression, depending on whom you spoke to. “It’s amazing what you can do with no budget at all,” a young volunteer noted. “It makes money look unnecessary.”
The main floor is a forum for ongoing projects, discussions, and performances, titled “Word of Mouth” and curated by Kernel (a group comprising artists Pegy Zali, Petros Moris, Theodoros Giannakis). That night, artist Angelo Plessas was directing randomly created theatrical narratives made via his Web-motored Fantasy Plot Generator. The professional actors had applied online to participate; the costumes and furniture were borrowed from the National Theater. “It is exhausting working with eleven different egos,” Plessas later lamented, “all of whom have their own ideas about how to do things.” At least the beer was flowing and free.
Later, just about everyone repaired to a bustling taverna around the corner. Bourriaud hosted the French contingent at one table; across the room a group of young curators from the De Appel program were well into their drink, and Papadimitriou headed up a Greek gang near the door. People were eating and dancing—and smoking, of course. “There is crisis everywhere in Europe, but they are making a scapegoat out of Greece,” an Athenian friend had told me earlier that day. “I ask my friends who are demonstrating: ‘What do you want?’ They say, ‘We want everything to stay as it was.’” That night it was clear that there still is just as much intellectual foment, as well as joie de vivre, as in ancient Greece—thank God!
BRIGHT SUN, NO APPARENT STRIKES, and last week’s surprising announcement in the World Wealth Report that France is the European country with the most millionaires per square meter: All of this boosted enthusiasm for the opening of the thirty-eighth Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC) in Paris. On Tuesday evening, the day before the fair’s official opening, some collectors and their consultants—many of whom described being discouraged by the prior week’s “lukewarm” Frieze Art Fair—began to snatch up any work measuring more than three meters and costing more than 100,000 euros. From rulers of Qatar to representatives of Moët Hennessy–Louis Vuitton, there was not the slightest suggestion of crisis: Collectors were looking for the biggest and most expensive pieces they could find. After all, their famous architects are being recruited to build monumental museums that have to be filled with works suited to those high-ceiling cornice moldings! FIAC, which took place under the enormous glass-roofed vaults of the Grand Palais, was the perfect shopping mall for that clientele.
While all this was going on, seven hundred guests who had paid 750 euros a head were dining at the annual gala of the Friends of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The whole aim of the dinner was to raise enough money to buy a work by Peter Doig that cost upward of 500,000 euros. Guests included artists Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch, who had just opened the latest iteration of their traveling show “Any Ever” on the floor above; designer Agnčs b; Marisa Borini, mother of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy; and Colombe Pringle, the queen of Paris queen-and-king gossips.
The evening before, just opposite the museum, in the Palais de Tokyo, Marc-Olivier Wahler had presented “All of the Above,” a group show curated by John Armleder. It will be the last exhibition under Wahler’s direction before Jean de Loisy takes over in early 2012. Concurrently, collectors Chiara and Steve Rosenblum opened up their huge warehouse in the thirteenth arrondissement for the show “WYSIWYG: What You(ngs) See Is What You Get.” Dinner was organized by collectors Patricia Landeau and Philippe Cohen and honored the tenth anniversary of the first acquisitions of the French Friends of the Museum of Israel. Artists like Aaron Curry and Sterling Ruby, who had produced works for “WYSIWYG,” were accompanied by their respective dealers or advisors, including James Lindon, David Kordansky, and Thomas Drill, who now represents Phillips de Pury, France. With so much on the agenda, no one got much rest.
On Wednesday, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy gave birth to a baby girl, Giulia. The news went unnoticed, though, because it coincided with the opening of FIAC. At this year’s edition, all the galleries were in the same place, since the Louvre’s Square Court, which usually houses emerging galleries, is undergoing renovations and everything had to be moved to the passageways of the Grand Palais. This meant a dramatic cut in the number of exhibitors. No fun for them, but among visitors the tight selection was greeted with great appreciation. Some galleries, Gladstone among them, chose to participate only in FIAC and not in Frieze. The focus paid off for Gladstone: Her solo display of sculpture, drawings, and ceramics by artist Andro Wekua was truly striking. And then there was Galleria Franco Noero, the hands-down winner at the fair, with Pablo Bronstein’s giant, functional urinal in the shape of a Greek temple.
Since Paris would be nothing without fashion, Galerie Gmurzynska held a dinner in honor of Karl Lagerfeld to thank him for designing their booth, which had been titled “Rebels.” Lagerfeld built a space out of fences painted a grayish silver (to suggest “the Factory”?) and attached anachronistic labels to them—signs so big that even the most near-sighted person couldn’t miss them. The other dinner, an apparent must, which I attended, took place in the private salons of Dior, on avenue Montaigne. There, Delphine Arnault feted artist Anselm Reyle and his capsule selection of bags, shoes, nail polish, and eye shadow, created for Dior in the fluorescent camouflage pattern that Reyle is so fond of. The appetizer, which, like the rest of the meal, was prepared by Michel Guérard of the restaurant Les Prés d’Eugénie, was “une surprise exquise de truffe noire sur une delicate crčme potagčre.” Artist Alicja Kwade, my table companion, found this creation very “Neue Küche,” which sounded to me like “Neue Wilde.”
Over the course of the meal, someone informed us that Greece’s debt had increased still more. Youpi! We all left to party at the home of art advisor Patricia Marshall, who received her guests royally in her penthouse on the Place d’Alma facing the Eiffel Tower. Her celebration is always unmissable, but this year Larry Gagosian gave her some competition by organizing a party at Le Baron on the corner of her building. Marshall upped the ante by hiring one of Baron’s DJs to play her event until whenever. A very happy Jennifer Flay, director of FIAC, was accompanied by her magnificent cousin Hannah O’Neill who, though unknown to the art world, is a dancer at the Paris Opera and was most recently in a Ratmansky ballet whose set was designed by Karen Kilimnik.
On Thursday, Qaddafi died. No one gave a damn, because it was the opening of the blue-chip galleries in the Marais: Perrotin inaugurated Takashi Murakami’s homage to Yves Klein (sold out), Almine Rech and Bernard Picasso held a large party for Aaron Young in their superb sixteenth-arrondissement apartment, and Patrick Seguin invited Massimo De Carlo to present a group show, titled “OH!” De Carlo’s show consists of huge works by artists such as Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, and Rashid Johnson, but their contributions seemed downright Lilliputian compared with the massive, thirty-foot canvas by John Armleder. (Oh! It sold too.)
Meanwhile, Thaddaeus Ropac was hosting a dinner for Alex Katz and Banks Violette at chez Maxim’s, and Guillaume Houzé was presenting the Galeries Lafayette prize to artist Helen Marten and taking advantage of the occasion to buy everything in Johann König’s solo presentation at FIAC. The evening was a massive fashion-art orgy with lots of booze. But I didn’t go, because I was attending Chantal Crousel’s refined dinner for Wolfgang Tillmans at the Chateaubriand, currently the best restaurant in Paris (advance reservation required), where only organic wine is served.
Further down the road, on rue Louise-Weiss, the few remaining galleries were opening their exhibitions and dining on blanquette de veau in corner bistros. Liam Gillick’s works at Air de Paris featured strikes, factories, and cinema, while Blair Thurman’s impressive show at Triple V dealt with America, painting, and sculpture.
On Friday, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was in the news with yet another prostitution problem. And that was the beginning of the end of the FIAC festivities. Pernod Ricard hosted their Bal Jaune dinner and titular award ceremony. This year’s winner was Adrien Missika, a French artist shown by curator Eric Troncy, who started his aperitif early in the afternoon at the same La Perle bar where Galliano had been found drunk. Needless to say, the Bal Jaune, where wine is replaced by anisette, is considered a true bacchanal. If you’re in detox mode like me, it’s the place to avoid.
My last visit during FIAC week was to the show “Mathematics, a Beautiful Elsewhere” at the Fondation Cartier. It really did seem like a beautiful elsewhere, since no one spoke of money; instead, intellectuals discussed the theories of Misha Gromov and the “artificial curiosity” being developed in robots at the INRIA laboratory. The environment for these robots was co-designed by Pierre-Yves Oudeyer, Ergo-Project Robot’s coordinator, and David Lynch. The latter also happens to be the artistic director of the new private club Silencio, which that evening hosted a concert by the Kills. But competition for the show was fierce, since Rihanna was performing in Bercy that evening. No one saw the Barbadian chanteuse around FIAC, unfortunately. Instead, the best celebrity spotting was the red-clad, unhappy leader of the French Socialist Party, Martine Aubry. She was with Chantal Crousel, who was admiring Wade Guyton’s enormous horizontal canvas in her booth (again, sold). And in another elsewhere entirely, Moody’s continued to lower Spain’s credit rating. But who cares . . .
FROM A CRAMPED NYU DORM ROOM to an SRO event at the New York Public Library, Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin have come a long way. So too has the culture. When the men responsible for introducing hardcore hip-hop to a thoroughly unprepared Reaganite America are honored at one of this city’s most venerable institutions, things have changed. And Simmons and Rubin can lay claim to the title of prime instigators of that change, having racked up an impressive array of firsts: first white rap group (Beastie Boys), first B-boy teen idol (LL Cool J), first rap-rock hybrid (Run-DMC’s “Rock Box”), first rap-rock crossover smash (Run-DMC & Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”), first political rap group (Public Enemy), first Brit-accented MC (Slick Rick), and on and on (to the break of dawn). Above all, through their pioneering indie label Def Jam, they advanced rap from the disco session-band tracks and novelty themes of the Sugar Hill/Enjoy era to the hard, spare drum-machine-and-DJ-cuts style that authentically reflected the sound of live hip-hop in the few New York clubs that would host it in the early 1980s, setting the stage for what has come to be known as the “golden age” of the genre (roughly 1987–94).
Arriving early to last Friday’s event, I scanned the advance crowd to see who was in the house. Besides Simmons and Rubin themselves, I spotted Lou Reed, longtime Def Jam executive Lyor Cohen, Roseanne Cash, and journalists Nelson George and Michael Azerrad. The twin screens surrounding the stage cycled through ’80s photos and videos of Def Jam artists and staff—Public Enemy looking suitably serious, the Beasties suitably moronic, LL suitably cocky, Slick Rick suitably grabbing his package (in a suit), etc. The occasion was the release of a massive coffee-table book about the label, Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label, published by that bastion of street culture, Rizzoli. After a long clip of Jay-Z and Cornel West’s 2010 conversation in the same forum, “Live from NYPL” director Paul Holdengraber took the stage, introducing the evening’s subjects with outsider awe and thanking his nine-year-old son for helping guide him through the alien realm of rap. (Holdengraber’s uninformed enthusiasm throughout the talk was so great that I half expected him to rush out and purchase a Kangol and dookie chain before it was over.) Rubin looked like a blissed-out Rip Van Winkle (as he has for years), sporting a black T-shirt and shorts. Simmons rocked a red hoodie and Yankees cap. Barefoot and cross-legged in his chair, Rubin asked the audience to join him in a three-minute meditation session, noting that “a gathered mass of people creates power.” Given that Rubin was one of the stars of the Beasties’ 1986 “Fight for Your Right to Party” video, a virtual manifesto of loud, obnoxious behavior, this was progress (I think).
Admitting to standard-issue NYC ADD, Holdengraber quipped that it was “easier to listen to the Beastie Boys than to meditate.” Rubin smiled sagely as Simmons waxed about how meditation makes you aware of “the space between the notes” in music. Holdengraber explained the reasons for his relative ignorance of rap—“I grew up listening to and comparing all the different recordings of The Magic Flute”—before reading from Rubin’s high-school yearbook page, which boiled down to “Future plans: I wanna rock.” Rubin talked about matriculating to NYU from Long Beach High (Long Island) as a punk rock kid and attending Negril and some of the other early hip-hop clubs in downtown Manhattan. He thought rap was essentially black punk rock and saw the two genres as inextricably linked by timing, DIY attitude, sonic austerity, and a big middle finger held up to mainstream society. With great foresight, he also noted that existing rap records bore little resemblance to how underground MCs and DJs actually performed.
Simmons had been in the game since the ’70s, managing old-school MC Kurtis Blow and his younger brother Joseph “Run” Simmons’s fledgling group Run-DMC, among other artists. (He came up with Kurtis’s stage name because one of the reigning club DJs at the time was called Eddie Cheeba, and, well, blow is better than cheeba; this went over Holdengraber’s head, though the audience laughed loudly.) Having heard Rubin’s revolutionary 1984 production job on T La Rock & Jazzy Jay’s single “It’s Yours,” Simmons was excited to meet the young, white longhair with baby cheeks and pubescent facial hair. They were, in fact, already mining parallel aesthetics, with Run-DMC’s 1983 single “It’s Like That/Sucker MCs” also making use of a stark drum-machine program and little else. Simmons and Rubin set up shop in the latter’s NYU dorm room, where Rubin had a PA system and a drum machine “full of hits,” as Simmons put it. Speaking on their shared desire to “reduce” rather than “produce” rap tracks, Simmons said that the spare drum patterns “gave the artists room to breathe.” “It was a new, pure form of music,” Rubin said. “You would hear it live at a club, but never on record.” The pair sought to disseminate this new sound through Rubin’s nascent label Def Jam, originally formed to release a single by his punk band Hose. Simmons was quick to call Rubin “a musical genius,” adding that, “he now makes everything from Ram Dass to Slayer, spiritual teachers to devil worshippers.”
Rubin called “Walk This Way” a “record with a purpose.” “Rap was so alien to non-rap people, and I wanted to make a record that would show people that it’s not that different from rock.” Appropriately, early signings LL Cool J, the Beasties, and Run-DMC all incorporated metal guitar stabs and riffs into their records, and the idea for Public Enemy was partly inspired by the Clash. Rubin recalled how he phoned PE’s future MC Chuck D every day for six months to convince him to sign with Def Jam, and, after hearing their paradigm-shifting 1988 sophomore LP It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back for the first time, he wept. “It changed what rap could be,” he said, wistfully. Simmons added, “Chuck D got gold chains off of everyone’s necks and replaced them with red, black, and green medallions. He could make records about killing whitey, and it was fine as long as the music was good.”
Asked about why the pair dissolved their partnership fairly early on (1988), Rubin graciously said that he left partly to protect their friendship. Simmons then summarized the post-Rubin years at the label, which he continued to run until 1998, discussing the Def Poetry Slam, the discovery of Kanye West, business collaborations with Jay-Z, Scarface, Irv Gotti, and other hip-hop notables. Asked about his intimate, career-capping records with Johnny Cash, Rubin said that Cash had been dropped from his record labels and had lost confidence in himself when he met him. Rubin chose modern songs for the elderly country singer to cover, and the result was an extraordinary series of austere, autumnal albums. Holdengraber noted that the Cash records were an aesthetic return to Rubin’s early “Reduced by . . . ” production credit. Rubin pointed out Roseanne and her son in the audience to warm applause. Simmons acknowledged several present-day Def Jam executives in the crowd, saying that they had been interns when they started.
Today, Def Jam is, like rap itself, a more mainstream, commercial proposition. But as James Brown once said, “There was a time . . . ” And no one knew what time it was back then more than Simmons and Rubin.
WHO KNEW LONDON HAD SO MUCH SUNSHINE? Saturday afternoon, I found myself basking under brilliant blue skies seeping through the semitransparent geodesic dome constructed for the annual Serpentine Gallery Marathon. This year’s theme was “Gardens,” apparently inspired by the contemplative black hortus conclusus Peter Zumthor built for the gallery’s eleventh pavilion commission, and it offered an intriguing and welcome juxtaposition to the hubbub of Frieze Art Week. I settled into an enviable seat alongside Bidoun’s Negar Azimi, artist Fritz Haeg, and Tate Modern curator Stuart Comer while the marvelous Etel Adnan, guest six in the illustrious roster of participants, prefaced her poetry with an aside on flowers: “They are little things and we are used to them, but like everything in life, they are formidable things.”
The observation itself was a minor detail, a sentimental fact in the context of her reading, but I took it, along with the London sunshine, as a call to reconsider the things one gets “used to,” particularly in the contemporary art world, and especially during fair weeks. Thus far, it had been several days of very “little things” indeed, but—as one can easily forget—just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it can’t be formidable.
I could have used this insight at the opening of the Frieze Art Fair on Wednesday, where most of the work came across as solid, stately, and, well, “little.” There were some notable exceptions. My first stop during the 11 AM early-bird kickoff was Jordan Wolfson’s latest video, Animation, masks, which was making its debut at Johann König. The expertly crafted CGI “Shylock” (“Not my doppelgänger!” the artist swore) flips through a fashion magazine, occasionally lifting his eerily liquid eyes to recite Richard Brautigan’s “Love Poem”: “It’s so nice to wake up in the morning all alone and not have to tell somebody you love them when you don’t love them anymore.”
Left: Collector Valeria Napoleone, Stefania Pramma, and dealer Jessica Silverman. (Photo: Sarah Thornton) Right: Dealer Chistabel Stewart. (Photo: Kate Sutton)
Down the aisle at Team Gallery, dealer José Friere had pegged Banks Violette’s drawing I’d Rather Be Killing My Family as the surefire camera-phone favorite for the week. It was already a clear lure for the fair’s ever-present insects—one of the drawbacks of hosting a fair in a park—which had affixed themselves to works by Violette, Ryan McGinley, and Davis Rhodes. “That’s the thing about Frieze flies,” gallery director Miriam Katzeff deadpanned. “They know a hot young artist when they see one.” Weirdly, there weren’t any flies on the platter of flank steak in Darren Bader’s installation at Andrew Kreps. The work was a literal conversation piece that enlists two twentysomethings—“Tim” and “Gaffi”—to spend the day making small talk amid potted plants and raw meat.
Typically understated Thomas Dane packed quite a few conversation starters of his own. Viewers who gulped at Glenn Ligon’s negro sunshine turned the corner to find Michael Landy’s Credit Card Destroying Machine, a colorful, cobbled-together contraption straight out of a children’s book. On one side, the lovely assistant would grind a gear mounted with felt markers, and the machine would proceed to churn out a presigned, made-to-order “Michael Landy” drawing. In exchange, the collector would feed his or her credit card into a metal shredder, which would then spray the plastic splinters onto the floor below. Curator Jens Hoffmann thumbed through all his frequent flyer cards until he found an appropriate sacrifice. “Do you guys take American Express?” he quipped, before whipping out a Visa. “Oh wait, no, better this one—it has the most debt.”
Formidable things in the Frame section included Ken Okiishi’s slowly spinning zebra-print umbrellas (whose fabric was lifted from former Manhattan staple Gino) at Alex Zachary. Equally hypnotic was Susanne Winterling’s elegant foray into jellyfish-themed iPad art, which anchored one corner at Jessica Silverman. Those who made it to Bischoff/Weiss at the end of the row were rewarded with Raphaël Zarka’s superbly observed Gibellina. The pair of videos track the Sicilian city’s split response to the 1968 earthquake that left one half of the city as a sort of sculpture park, while the remains of the other half were coated in concrete as part of Alberto Burri’s massive (twenty-plus acres), never fully completed memorial sculpture Il Grande Cretto. “The most amazing thing about the Burri piece is that it exists at all,” Zarka had mused over dinner at the Groucho Club.. He showed me a few more pictures of the site, including one of teenagers making out alongside the cracks. “Yeah. It’s kind of a tourist stop now.”
Thursday afternoon I toured the exhibitions at Tate Modern and then took a quick spin (well, as “quick” as syncopated video screenings allow) around Whitechapel’s Wilhelm Sasnal show before dashing down the District line to the ICA, where Paul Chan was in conversation with Museum Ludwig director Kaspar König. The latter introduced Chan’s 2009 Sade for Sade’s Sake by saying, “When I first encountered this work at the Venice Biennale, I found it obnoxious,” to which Chan gamely responded, “Well, first of all, I’d like to thank you for publically insulting my work.” Chan then launched into a discussion of art and lawlessness: “After all,” the artist reminded us, “crimes are committed every day—mostly during working hours at a bank.” Chan dedicated his lecture “Every Artwork Is an Uncommitted Crime” to Occupy Wall Street, planting seeds of guilt that would start to flare later when—after a very lavish dinner at the former house of Lord Astor—I returned to the ICA to find it partially occupied by a party for Gagosian Gallery.
SO THERE I WAS SATURDAY, under the sunshine at the Serpentine, reconsidering my week while Marathon participants like Hélčne Cixous and Wolfgang Tillmans (who showed photos of his windowsill) reminded me that the “art world” could produce more than just a door pass at Groucho. Meanwhile, strains of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” seeped from the newly perforated walls of the Serpentine. The song drives Anri Sala’s knockout solo show, but it also happened to summarize the mood of the out-of-town marathoners. Was all this worth another night or two in London?
For those who said “yes,” Saturday night provided a bounty of openings on the East End, including the freshly rechristened Campoli Pressi (né Sutton Lane) and the newly relocated Hotel, who were sharing the space that previously served as Tillman’s studio. “This used to be one of the most beautiful studios in London. And it had some of the best parties, too,” Comer reminisced, surveying what was now Hotel’s meeting area. I recognized a few of Tillmans’s plants still on the windowsill. Oohhh, if they could talk.
Left: Artist Helen Marten. Right: Artist James Richards and Chisenhale director Polly Staple. (Photos: Kate Sutton)
Actually, if they could talk, Hans Ulrich Obrist probably would have interviewed them already. I myself would have asked them to fill me in on that evening’s discussion between artist Duncan Campbell and author John Lanchester, who wrote a layman’s guide to the economic crisis titled Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay. “In the States, the title’s actually not Whoops! but I.O.U.,” Hotel’s Christabel Stewart marveled. “I’m not sure if we should read into that or not.”
Next it was off to Chisenhale Gallery for a very well-attended performance featuring Young Turks James Richards, Ed Atkins, and Haroon Mirza. After, the gallery joined forces with Herald St, Modern Institute, Vilma Gold, and Studio Voltaire to host what was supposedly the party that night, at the Efes Pool Hall. A bulging, beer-laden crowd swarmed Stoke Newington Road; those who did get inside warned of the influx of sixteen-year-old Essex girls. I sought shelter in the basement club Vogue Fabrics, at a party I only later learned was being billed as “Anal House.” (I guess the punning works better when you say it with a British accent.)
I had intended to spend Sunday at the Sunday Art Fair (naturally), but waking up with the bright red cock drawn on my hand from a party the night prior (thank you, Dalston door guys, for keeping it creative), I decided my Sunday fair would just have to be FIAC. After all, only a few more seats remained on the 4 PM Eurostar, and I had another week of formidable things awaiting me in Paris.
THE FRIEZE ART FAIR always brings to London a frenzy of events that makes the art world feel expansive, lively, and consumed with display. Of course, the point is to put on a show—not just under the Regent’s Park big top but in every gallery, museum, private club, and bar—impressive enough to capture the art caravan before it moves on to the FIAC fair in Paris. I arrived on Tuesday, just in time to hear about all of the fetes I’d missed the night before: a reception for the Gerhard Richter and Tacita Dean exhibitions at Tate Modern, the launch of Thomas Dane’s slick new gallery with an Albert Oehlen show, the Rebecca Warren opening at Maureen Paley . . . the offerings sounded abundant.
But there was plenty more where that came from, starting with a VIP buffet lunch at the ICA, where Jacob Kassay would suffer an embarrassing conversation with critic Daniel Kunitz about the artist’s first institutional solo show, opening officially the next day alongside Frances Stark’s digital animation My Best Thing. “I think it’s poignant,” collector Shelley Fox Aarons said of Kassay’s exhibition, which contains both silver-plated, dipped-in-acid canvases and an installation of new, white monochromes gathered under the title Xanax. “Basically, there’s nothing there,” the vulnerable Kassay said, fumbling for answers to the mumbled nonquestions Kunitz put to him. “It’s just you and this object.”
That is the ideal condition for viewing art in most circumstances, but during Frieze week, it’s all about the collective experience. Victoria Miro smartly chose teatime to welcome the VIPs to the trio of Doug Aitken, Tal R, and Maria Nepomuceno exhibitions unfolding in her East End gallery, thoughtfully leaving everyone time to get to the crush of evening events in other parts of town.
Left: Artist Tal R. Right: Artist Doug Aitken.
Aitken greeted guests as if he were on fire, taking them around his two-story exhibition at Miro with an infectious enthusiasm; his group of new light-box photo works spelled out words like UTOPIA and RIOT, or the dates of culturally tumultuous years, like the shattered-mirror 1968. “They’re not meant be flat works but portals,” Aitken said. “This entire exhibition is like a core sample of the earth,” he added, one that brings “hot flashes” of the past into a perpetual present that also embraces Black Mirror, a multiscreen environment where Chloë Sevigny appears as a restive, digital-age nomad with no fixed identity or home.
That’s pretty much the way I felt as I raced to Mayfair for Josephine Meckseper’s opening at Timothy Taylor. Her mock retail displays suggest we are all being sold a bill of goods by a propaganda machine that extends from governments to an art world that sometimes seems to have lost all sense of proportion, particularly in an economy that threatens disaster worldwide.
Nowhere was that more apparent than at the opening of White Cube Bermondsey, Jay Jopling’s vast new 58,000-square-foot exhibition space in South London. A crush of what seemed like a thousand people were crowding the bouncers at an outer gate, while several hundred more were massing like the crows in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds in the courtyard beyond the fence. If there were any remaining doubt that artists in London excite the public the way movie stars at premieres in Hollywood do, this event would put it to rest.
Inside the white whale, an industrial building given a sleek, modernist finish by Casper Mueller Kneer Architects, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a commercial gallery and not Tate Modern, or a stripped-down Taj Mahal. Several hundred more people strolled the airport terminal–size central spine, off of which were galleries where Minimalism ruled the day. The shows included solo presentations by three artists new to White Cube: the suddenly-in-demand California Light and Space painter Mary Corse, Romanian-born painter Marieta Chirulescu, and Berliner Kitty Kraus, who contributed a show of rickety-looking mirrored boxes featuring a single lightbulb each.
In the spacious South Galleries, curator Craig Burnett had organized “Structure and Absence,” an outstanding group exhibition of preponderantly gray and white works by artists such as Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, Andreas Gursky, Wade Guyton, Eileen Quinlan, Gabriel Orozco, and Robert Ryman, around Chinese scholars’ rocks in three connecting rooms. And in 9x9x9, a project space situated outside a larger, private viewing room, Cerith Wyn Evans created a dazzling installation, Beware-fresh paint, consisting a room-wrapping neon text, two round pieces of polished obsidian reflecting all the bug-eyes around it, and a chandelier of crystal flutes that played single notes when air was forced through them. “I feel like I’m at my degree show, standing here,” said the dapper, slightly sheepish Wyn Evans, as chosen people such as André Balazs, Michael Stipe, Sam Keller, Sam Taylor-Wood, and Aaron Johnson pushed by to get into the private room before repairing to Jopling’s home for an opening-night party.
Elsewhere, life went on as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. In a large Georgian townhouse not far from Regent’s Park, dealers Sadie Coles, Gavin Brown, and Eva Presenhuber joined forces with the Modern Institute’s Toby Webster to host a pre-Frieze dinner for more than a hundred artists, colleagues, and clients. This affair was as relaxed as the Bermondsey Street opening was pumped—a family dinner as opposed to a royal convocation.
Martin Boyce, Georg Herold, Andreas Slominski, Jeremy Deller, Jim Lambie, and Valentin Carron were among the artists dining at three long tables filled out with the likes of nonprofit directors and curators Stefan Kalmár, Ann Goldstein, and Laura Hoptman; collectors Iasson Tsakonas, Martin Hatebur, Shane Ackroyd, and Hugo Rittson-Thomas; as well as Frieze fair cofounders Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, who is sometimes mistaken for curator Jens Hoffmann. “More people think I’m Massimiliano Gioni,” Slotover noted. As I said: It’s a family.
This occasion was also the first sign that BlackBerry holders were going to be compromised during the fair by a nearly worldwide interruption of service. But it didn’t disrupt any of the night’s festivities. Of course not. Art people are a determined lot and they aren’t going to let an evening slip by unattended. While the Meckseper dinner at Hix, the Miro dinner at Shoreditch House, and the Studio Voltaire dinner at Kensington Palace Gardens were all simultaneously heating up, Lisson Gallery took over One Mayfair, a banquet hall in a converted church, for its annual pre-Frieze dance party, with gallery artist Haroon Mirza on the decks.
But I never made it there, thanks partly to the congested traffic in central London, but mostly because it seemed like a good idea to stop first at Fergus and Margot Henderson’s St. John Hotel off Leicester Square. Upstairs, Sarah Lucas had committed to a Frieze-week “artist residency” to help popularize the cozy, Formica-appointed hotel bar. When I arrived with Lambie, who had suggested the stop, Lucas was holding forth in her pajamas for friends like Coles and her charges Herold and Slominski and the Warhol Foundation’s Tim Hunt and his father, John. The few guests imbibed under sculptures of garden chairs and soiled plastic buckets that Lucas had made on-site and suspended from the ceiling by their kapok-stuffed, nylon-stocking legs. “I do want them to be sexy,” she told a young artist who named her as his spiritual leader. “But they have to relate to something larger too.” They certainly felt sexy. So Lucas. So London. It got late, and jet lag sent me back to my hotel to prepare for something larger—in this case the VIP preview at Frieze the next day.
Wednesday night, however, belonged to Emdash Foundation creator Andrea Dibelius, who showed up in a pink feathered Dolce & Gabbana tutu to cohost a dinner with Sharp, Slotover, and W magazine editor Stefano Tonchi at the newly refurbished Arts Club on Dover Street.
Emdash is the Frieze Foundation’s latest benefactor, and this posh event celebrated the first Emdash Award, which went to Anahita Razmi, a young video and performance artist based in Stuttgart. The first people I spotted were artists Ryan Gander and Pierre Huyghe, along with Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa, Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force, and Tate Modern director Chris Dercon. The eclectic guest list also included collectors Poju and Anita Zabludowicz (who proclaimed FIAC the choicer fair), Richard Chang, a newly svelte Klaus Biesenbach, and architect Zaha Hadid. Dinner was extravagant, delicious, and long—my table, where Frieze editor Jennifer Higgie and Frieze Projects artist Oliver Laric were also seated, was served at midnight.
Afterward, I started into Mark Ronson’s claustrophobic basement club, where a dance party was in progress before a live band. But when I saw a woman wearing a tiara of blue gems emerge, even Jose Kuri could not convince me we were still on the art planet, so I left with dealers Toby Webster, Nicky Verber, and Andrew Hamilton for the Groucho, where Lambie was set to DJ for another late-night party. We found New York club and restaurant promoter Tracey Ryans outside, waiting patiently in a thick queue at the door.
We weren’t so patient and em-dashed off to the St John again, clearly the Brit Pack’s new “in” spot. This time it was Gavin Brown’s turn to host a party for Frances Stark, who huddled with Wyn Evans to vocalize an improvised song that had more spirit than lyrics. It was lovely, though the performance seemed to go unnoticed by Marc Foxx, Daniel Buchholz, Stefan Kalmár (still gob-smacked by a dinner with Tom Ford), and Lucas, who was still in her pajamas. After last call, when no one (including the Hendersons) showed any sign of retiring, poet Olivier Garbay stood up and improvised another song. This one had lyrics. They consisted mostly of the words “Time to go home.” No one took heed. They didn’t have to. When you make your bed in the art world, you’re home for good.
“THE GROUND IN MINAS is so full of iron, people are literally magnetized to the place. You'll feel that at Inhotim, it’s amazing.”
Someone tripping on acid at a party for Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition at the Videobrasil festival in Săo Paulo told me this the night before I flew to the state of Minas Gerais (General Mines). About ninety minutes outside the capital city of Belo Horizonte, mineral magnate Bernardo Paz has built (and continues to build and build) his massive contemporary art center–cum–botanical garden Shangri-La, Inhotim.
I awoke last Thursday in Belo to news that Steve Jobs had died. We were then escorted to Paz’s storied site of extravagant wealth. Somewhere near a stretch of road called Topo do Mundo, my good-natured companion asked our driver to stop for a photo and attempted to relieve himself of the cachaça that had served as his hearty welcome to Minas. An hour later we reached the dusty town of Brumadinho, and then the gates.
Inhotim hosts openings once each year, in the Brazilian spring, celebrating exhibitions in the temporary galleries (where works from the collection are on view for a minimum of two years) as well as freshly installed outdoor works and newly erected pavilions devoted to single artists. I began at Fountain Gallery, where works by Susan Hiller, Isa Genzken, Lothar Baumgarten, and Eugenio Dittborn joined a Steve McQueen film already on view to collectively comment on the perceptions and mediations of exotic cultures (from tribal to consumer). At the nearby Lake Gallery, an elaborate rain-catching sculpture made by Bahian artist Marepe hugged the building housing a video by Pinchuk Prize winner Cinthia Marcelle, and a outsize, cartoonish room by Thomas Hirschhorn rammed full of textual and tactile tools for resistance.
On my way to Giuseppe Penone’s Elevazione, a trompe l’oeil bronze sculpture of a tree suspended in the air by four living ones, I caught the museum's assistant curator Júlia Rebouças, who filled me in on some of the upcoming projects: Anish Kapoor, Pipilotti Rist, more Eliasson.
Lunch was an epic buffet of fruits, meats, farofa, and sweets. Whether in reference to crispy pork parts or a gooey caramel pudding, people resoundingly offered the advice “Try it, it’s Mineira.” Between courses I received a warm welcome from Paz himself, a lean man with a white mane whose chill demeanor is part mad scientist, part Jerry Garcia.
Afterward I met Marcelle, a Belo Horizonte local. She had been to Inhotim many times but could confirm that the magic never wears out. I told her it might if it rained. She retorted, “But it always rains here! Whenever there is an opening, it rains!”
Sure enough, as I set off to ascend the hill leading to Doug Aitken’s and Matthew Barney’s pavilions, sans golf cart, I felt drops. I hitched a ride with the first vehicle to pass, ferrying none other than Isaac Julien, who was traveling with Săo Paulo writer Vinicius Spricigo. The precipitation was a false alarm, and while taking in the panoramic view inside Aiken’s structure, Julien and I pondered the enormity of the place and its rapidly growing reputation outside Brazil––only to be shushed by a vigilant attendant who reminded us we were disturbing the gnawing earth sounds miked some 650 feet below us.
Left: The Tom Zé concert. Right: Artist Rivane Neuenschwander. (Photos: Carol Reis)
Later I ran into Videobrasil’s Solange Farkas, who asked if I was staying for Tom Zé’s concert. Unsure of who the famous Zé was, I received a quick lesson on the South American icon of Tropicália, both a contemporary of Caetano Veloso’s in the 1960s and a collaborator of David Byrne’s in the 1990s.
The seventy-five-year-old sang, danced, curtsied, and humped the microphone stand, lighting up a stage ensconced in palms. As dusk fell, I caught sight of Paz, perched with his wife and daughter atop a steep knoll overlooking the crowd. Even with a bit of a running start, I needed a hand making it to the top. “Look,” he gestured, “now everyone from town is arriving for the music.” They were, and a few minutes later I saw the Paz family bobbing in the mix. After at least four generations of autograph seekers dissipated, us stragglers found our cars waiting at the gates, and then took off to cause the biggest, and perhaps only, traffic jam of the year in the area.
THE LOS ANGELES ART WORLD could never rival New York’s, or get along without it, but that hasn’t stopped it from trying. Last week, it rolled out “Pacific Standard Time,” a six-month-long collaboration among sixty cultural institutions that amounted to the city’s most ambitious gambit yet.
Funded by $10 million in research grants from the Getty Foundation, PST, as it is known, encompasses a series of exhibitions extolling art made in Southern California between 1945 and 1980, the formative years of a divided art scene. A good portion of the shows opened over six consecutive days, and for this New Yorker, it was a week of discoveries, not just at participating galleries and museums but also at Art Platform-Los Angeles, a fledgling art fair that capitalized on this moment of reckoning by opening at the same time.
Tuesday night belonged to L.A.C.E. (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) on Hollywood Boulevard, where Lily Tomlin melted into the chattering crowd of artists and friends arriving for “Los Angeles Goes Live,” a PST show containing artifacts and documents of performance art as it was practiced in Southern California from 1970 to 1983.
Yet the work drawing the most interest was made this year by Heather Cassils, a Canadian-born, LA-based former member of the Toxic Titties who is also a gender-bending body-builder. Part of her show consisted of photographs by Robin Black displaying the “ripped masculine physique” that Cassils attained after twenty-three weeks of grueling training—her entry into durational performance art. A cynic would have sighed, “Only in LA.” But a slo-mo video of Cassils’s transformation into what she calls “Ladyface//ManBody” was as fascinating, and confusing, as her deftly androgynous appearance in person. “Most people don’t know what they’re looking at when they see these images,” she said. “Narcissism,” someone whispered, apparently unaware that the works were an homage to vintage 1970s Eleanor Antin and Lynda Benglis.
History made a haunting reappearance the next day at the LA County Museum of Art, where I stole into Ed Keinholz’s Five-Car Stud: 1969–1972, Revisited during a press preview for another PST show, “California Design, 1930–1965.” Never before exhibited in this country, the Kienholz is a gulp-worthy tableau of the Civil Rights era, in which four cast-from-life white male figures, illuminated by the headlights of four cars, are about to castrate an agonized black man while his horrified white girlfriend looks on from a truck.
Racial violence and art-world segregation provide a subtext for several PST entries, including LACMA’s “Asco: Elite of the Obscure.” The show, which was already open to the public, is devoted to an activist Chicano collective of Conceptualists who worked in a universe parallel to the nascent LA art scene of the 1970s. But the Asco story was just the tip of an iceberg so enormous it couldn’t even fit into the cavernous Geffen Contemporary at LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art. That's where the dystopian “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974–1981” previewed on Thursday night, with a number of the 130 participating artists and lenders in attendance.
“I am the perfect audience for this show,” said Jeffrey Deitch, the former New York dealer who became MoCA’s director last year. “It’s my first year in LA, and this is my education.” “We’re all goin’ to school,” seconded LACMA director Michael Govan, another former New Yorker who seemed to be everywhere all week. MoCA curator Paul Schimmel was guiding around Nina Sobell, the only artist present who is not in his show, and greeting Ed Moses, Tony Berlant, Judith Barry, Charles Gaines, and dozens of trustees and dealers, all agog at the hang of the helter-skelter artworks, some known mostly to the artists who made them.
“This is some weird flashback,” said Mike Kelley, as he walked through one long gallery, seeing his own history pass before his eyes. “There was a lot of art being made at a really dreary time,” he said. “There were no galleries. You had to be on the road to make a living, doing talks at colleges. But I think LA in the ’70s was the preeminent art city. Look at this,” he said, glancing over his shoulder. “Street posters by Robert Garcia next to some crazy Kim Jones assemblage that came out of nowhere.”
Dinner was a buffet outside on the plaza, where trustee Maria Bell thanked everyone for everything. Strangely missing in action was her board cochair Eli Broad, the billionaire collector who is a presenting sponsor of PST and has spent the last ten years promoting LA as the capital of contemporary art. Yet he had chosen this moment to take what I learned was a long-planned trip around the world, leaving the artists and institutions he supports to shine on their own. “We don’t have history sitting on our faces,” Barbara Kruger noted, to laughs from Govan and Barry. “I haven’t vinylized that one yet,” she added, a mischievous glint in her eye.
Art Platform-LA opened its doors the next day with a champagne-soaked preview at the LA Mart, an unprepossessing building in a dismal downtown neighborhood where, it seems safe to say, 90 percent of those who came to check it out had never before set foot. Expectations for the modest, seventy-five-exhibitor fair, an offshoot of the company that owns the Armory Show, were decidedly low. So it was a pleasant surprise to find real gems amid the merchandise, and the small booths jammed with collectors like Manny Simchowitz, Robert Shimshak, Mo Ostin, MoCA trustee Gary Cypres, and others, whom PST had brought down from Beverly Hills, Brentwood, and even Miami. “LA’s always great,” said Mera Rubell as she stopped into Susanne Vielmetter’s stand.
“The time is now to start an art fair in Los Angeles,” said fair director Adam Gross. Could be he was right. London’s Max Wigram found buyers for a few works before the fair even opened, while LA’s Tom Solomon sold three paintings at the jump. Berlin’s Javier Peres sold eight. At her West of Rome stand, Emi Fontana hawked activist T-shirts by artists participating in Trespass, a collaborative project by Rirkrit Tiravanija and Arto Lindsay that would include a downtown parade of T-shirted activists on Sunday. At Kayne Griffin Corcoran, several paintings by Deanna Thompson, a fifty-year-old artist from Joshua Tree, were turning heads. So too were the Andrea Bowers drawings at Andrew Kreps—wrenching letters from pre–Roe v. Wade abortion seekers. “Powerful stuff, isn’t it?” Kreps said.
“It’s all good,” commented Paul Morris, a founder of the Armory Show and now the parent company’s vice president. The next Armory, he said, will have just one hundred exhibitors, less than half the number of fairs past—a curious development in the face of the Frieze fair’s entrance to New York next May.
That night, the Hammer Museum held a dinner for the artists in “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960–1980.” This was the one event I attended that attracted a truly biracial LA crowd, though the first people I saw on entering were all from New York. They included Studio Museum director Thelma Golden but also Metropolitan Museum director Thomas Campbell; Museum of Modern Art curator Laura Hoptman; MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey; and the show’s curator, Kellie Jones, a professor at Columbia University. Dealer Helene Winer, a PST figure who began her professional life at the Pomona College Art Gallery, accompanied her Metro Pictures player Sara VanDerBeek, whose latest sculpture from photographs had the museum’s project room.
Mark Leckey, the Hammer’s current artist-in-residence, gamely filled the extra man role at this party, but its heart belonged to the exhibition’s artists, many long neglected by the white art world. Most were at the dinner, though not David Hammons or the late Charles White, whose artist son Ivan represented him. For some, like Maren Hassinger, Melvin Edwards, Samella Lewis, Fred Eversley, and Marie Johnson Calloway, the occasion amounted to a hugging, back-slapping, genuinely joyful reunion, sobering only when one realized that few of their works had ever before appeared in a major museum.
Saturday began with a brunch at Royal/T, a Culver City café gallery owned by collector Sue Hancock. There, Kenny Scharf and Ann Magnuson led a tour of their “East Village/West,” a show culled from their archives of Club 57, the historic live performance venue they ran in New York in the early 1980s. “A lot of what we did was influenced by TV shows made in LA,” Magnuson said. But the art on view, by Scharf, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and other notables of the era, really belongs in Manhattan.
Too many hundreds to count showed up for simultaneous public openings at the Hammer and LACMA on Saturday night, but they only foreshadowed the Sunday night blowout at the Getty. More than 1,500 bigwigs, including surprise guest Angela Lansbury, arrived for the PST “reveal”—a slam-bang, art-history son et lumičre show for projection on the museum’s travertine walls.
Afterward, everyone helped themselves to funky food laid out on the plaza in period installations marking the PST decades, too occupied with themselves to notice when former USC dean Ruth Weisberg nearly fell into a darkened reflecting pool. Inside, manicured collectors and artists such as John Baldessari, James Welling, Suzanne Lacy, and Marcel Odenbach toured “Crosscurrents in LA Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1970,” the Getty’s core PST show, and for my money the jewel in the crown of the whole enterprise.
It includes a painting by Mary Corse, an undersung Light and Space artist who revealed she has an opening slot at White Cube’s new Bermondsey Street venue in London, opening next week. But if LA-based art is getting out in the world as never before, the Getty’s afterparty at the Chateau Marmont brought it all back home, when the distinctive aroma of marijuana wafted across the sixth-floor terrace. The source turned out to be Hollywood’s leading pothead, Cheech Marin. “Seeing Angela Lansbury made my night,” said artist Alex Israel, when the tittering died down. Only in LA, I thought. It’s three thousand miles from New York, yet just an air-kiss away.
THE LATEST NEW YORK INVASION of Rome took the form of “Three Amigos,” a suite of solo shows by Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, and Dash Snow at three local venues: the Palazzo Rospigliosi, the American Academy in Rome, and MACRO, respectively. The brat pack is hardly new to the Roman scene: They all participated in the Depart Foundation’s irrepressible “New York Minute” survey two years ago (back when six-figure auction records for these artists were an exception rather than the norm). The trilogy opened on the heels of Lisson’s inauguration of a new space in Milan, which took cues from two prior Anglo-Saxon launches in Rome, by Lorcan O’Neill and Larry Gagosian. Perhaps the hermetic Italian art world is finally opening up: Following the efforts of dealers like Francesca Kaufmann and Pasquale Leccese, the initiative also signals a rise in cooperation among art galleries and institutions in different Italian cities.
Always preferring to lead the fray, Gagosian kicked off the whole brouhaha with its own Colen show, titled “Trash.” A typical opening in the elegant oval salon is like a posh private party, populated by a strange brew of local artists, curators, and dealers peppered with the Roman mondana. Monday’s reception was also a fashion clash: The American artists and their assistants in plaid shirts and jeans, accompanied by dealer Michele Maccarone, rubbed shoulders with Romans in designer gear and stiletto heels for a schizoid mix of dressed up and dressed down. But at least in terms of the art, the Romans seemed to think that the grunge on the canvas was too contrived—a rubber tire glued to the top of one canvas, a lampshade stuck to another—to be the flash-frozen products of spontaneous action. “It is a big risk to have prices that high when you are so young,” collector Erminia Di Biase argued. Drawings were going for $80,000 each and the massive paintings topped out at around $225,000—and it seems that everything sold out. “It’s his Richter phase,” quipped critic Daniela Salvioni. Standing in front of an acid yellow composition, Colen affirmed that he is inspired by Arte Povera, the Italian sibling to American Pop. It just so happened that Germano Celant, the chronicler of the movement, was in the room, taking a break from organizing his upcoming nationwide superretrospective “2011: Arte Povera in Italia.”
The stately neoclassical building was lit up theatrically—in the same spectacular fashion they spotlight the local ruins by night—and the chic crowd spilled onto the street, where shiny cars awaited. For dinner at the haute haunt Dal Bolognese, Larry Gagosian was still missing in action, but there were plenty of Americans, including the American Academy’s president, Adele Chatfield-Taylor. “Dash Snow’s grandmother is a dear friend of ours,” said her husband, playwright John Guare. “It is such a pity he could not be here too.” At our table, Depart Foundation director Pierpaolo Barzan cited Rirkrit Tiravanija as his favorite artist, which sparked memories of the lamentably brief three-year run of Galleria Roma Roma Roma, headed by Gavin Brown, Toby Webster, and Franco Noero. “What about women?” asked Depart’s Valeria Sorci. “Which are your favorite female artists?” Sorci herself had a long list, including Aurel Schmidt, Elisabetta Benassi, and Rä di Martino.
Tuesday night was frenetic enough with the openings at the scattered venues of “Three Amigos,” but MAXXI’s preview of the traveling exhibition “Indian Highway” was also that evening. I arrived at Lowman’s show to see New Delhi–based dealer Peter Nagy on his way out. “I am not American anymore; I am really Indian now,” he proclaimed. It was a pity to miss the party for the incense-infused Indian show, but there was so much left to see. Lowman’s exhibition was a meditation on time: A series of pictures riffed on the overexposure of images in popular culture, while other, more painterly works, like Dirty Dancing, rendered the temporal ticking gorgeously in materials like oil, dirt, and dental floss.
From there everyone crammed into vans to get to Colen’s show. The seventeenth-century Palazzo Pallavicini Rospigliosi is the former home of the powerful cardinal and art collector Scipione Borghese—famously the patron of bad boy Caravaggio—and sits just across from the Italian president’s gargantuan palace. Into salons frescoed with mythical rape scenes were inserted giant black-on-white canvases shouting anachronistic expletives: OH FUCK! OH CHRIST! Ceiling murals in the next room depicted chubby cupids tugging at one another’s hair and engaging in other naughty antics. By the time wordsmith Joseph Kosuth sauntered in, nearly the only people left were curator Ludovico Pratesi and dealer Massimo De Carlo, the two men responsible for the “Three Amigos” project.
We made it to the cavernous (and nearly empty) MACRO just in time to see Dash Snow’s film Sisyphus, Sissy Fuss, Silly Puss. Viewers stood around in hushed silence watching the raw beauty of a woman and child, the artist’s partner and daughter, wandering a grainy landscape straight out of a Romantic painting. It occurred to me that here in Rome the three enfants terribles seemed not so much “Warhol’s Children” (to recall the old New York magazine appellation) as the offspring of Caravaggio, whose edgy existence came through in his earthy depictions of life, both reviled and coveted by the wealthy establishment.
Dinner was in the lush park of the Villa Borghese, where De Carlo laid out an al fresco buffet on the terrace. The DJ served up kitschy Italian songs from the 1960s, but soon the night became notable as the public premiere of the Cold Ones, a rock band composed of Colen’s and Lowman’s assistants. The guitarist tore the white linen off a table and spray-painted the band’s name on it as a backdrop. Running around bare-chested, the frontman kicked off the cacophonous show by screaming “RIP Dash Snow!” A raven-haired Italian beauty made a sidelong glance toward the band and rolled her eyes. “Oh wow, he can smoke and drink and sing at the same time!” someone shouted. That turned out to be a bit of an exaggeration.
“Why don’t they like us?” one of the band members wondered later in the elevator.
His amigo shrugged: “’Cause they’re Italian?”
Left: Valeria Sorci and Pierpaolo Barzan of the Depart Foundation. Right: Dealer Sam Orlofsky.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure—an HSBC-ad truism that could have encapsulated the day. “When you look at the power and energy of these paintings, in terms of American painting of the last seventy-five years, these things are a bargain,” Gagosian’s Sam Orlofsky explained. “I think of four things every morning: what girl I’m going to call, Mike Kelley, Dan Colen, and a cup of coffee.” By then the DJ was back at it and we were all trying for our third wind. Still separated into distinct groups—the New York kids smoking at one end of the terrace and dealer Ludovica Barbieri and MAXXI curator Pippo Ciorra having a tęte-ŕ-tęte in the opposite corner—the Italians and Americans were eventually brought together by the great disco classics, as two of the MDC girls got up on a giant window ledge and did their best to rally the troops. We left just as MJ’s “Billie Jean” was setting the dance floor on fire.
IT WAS MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW, and I was walking down a well-lit, tree-lined avenue, bolstered on either side by a set of open-air dance schools, where couples twirled and jerked to routines obviously choreographed to more accommodating music. Through the trees, I caught snatches of a screening under the stars, courtesy of the Pioneer Cinema, bastion of independent film in this city. Further down the path, long-legged devushki roller-skated around fluorescent-lit fountains while the park’s loudspeakers blasted an achingly hip playlist—everything from the Kills to the Shirelles. In the clearings, I could just make out the silhouettes of sculptures from the CCC Garage’s public art program, “Necessary Art,” which had launched mere hours before.
Welcome to Gorky Park.
Once a haven of carousing sailors and feel-the-love power ballads, Gorky Park was radically reenvisioned this summer as part of an initiative bankrolled by collector Roman Abramovich and executed by the think tank at the nearby Strelka Institute. Strelka has its sights set on creating thirteen or fourteen more such open-air cultural centers in a city that still remembers when all space was public. Gorky Park will retain its pride of place as the first of these centers and, more pressingly, as the site of the Garage’s future venue. In the meantime, Dasha Zhukova’s Iris Foundation has been keeping busy with New Holland in Saint Petersburg, populating the island of the former Imperial Admiralty with skateboarders, community gardeners, and the Bruce High Quality Foundation.
Left: Artist and curator Katya Bochavar. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Curator and Biennale commissar Joseph Backstein. (Photo: Ilya Murashkin)
If not winds, then at least breezes of change could even be felt across the street at the Central House of the Artists. Now in its fifteenth year, ArtMoscow has been noticeably reinvigorated, having charged curator Christina Steinbrecher with the task of turning around a fair known mostly for its corruption and customs scandals. While certainly slimmer than previous editions, ArtMoscow, which opened to the public on September 20, is also sleeker, with VIP programs, panel discussions, and improved exhibition spaces (perhaps taking tips from the upstart Cosmoscow fair, whose showstopping next venue is one of the best-guarded secrets in town).
“I am quite surprised, actually,” Steinbrecher confessed over a much-needed coffee. “No one knew what to expect in this economic climate, and yet every booth here sold at least something, which is rare for any fair. Now if we could only jump-start the market for emerging artists. So many collectors here would love to pick up a few pieces for under five thousand euros, but there just don’t seem to be many galleries that can cater to that and still cover their rent.”
As the Garage’s current venue is preparing for the presence of Her Majesty Marina Abramović, Peter Weibel’s main project for the Fourth Moscow Biennale was split between the vast warehouses of Artplay and TsUM, the upscale department store owned by Mercury Group (whose other holdings include Phillips de Pury). TsUM made its debut as an exhibition space during the 2005 biennial, when it hosted Daniel Birnbaum, Gunnar Kvaran, and Hans Ulrich Obrist’s “Uncertain States: American Video Art at the Beginning of the 3rd Millenium.”
Left: Artist Misha Tolmachev, Anna Dyulgerova, and artist/designer Gosha Rubchinsky. Right: IRWIN's State in Time, 2011. (Photo: Viktor Misiano)
I was familiar with the problematics of setting a biennial on the shiny tiled floors of a luxury goods store, but at the opening ceremonies I was still momentarily distracted by the VIP queues for the elevator: It was like someone had rounded up all the attractive men in Russia and taught them how to dress. Things really are changing in the Moscow art world, I mused. Following my gaze, a friend clarified: “Oh hon, that’s for the Tom Ford presentation.” Resigned, I perked up to see Isaac Julien and Garage curator Yulia Aksenova amid the crowd spilling out of the elevators across the perfume counters. (I would get my fill of good-looking men in suits: Ingeborg Lüscher’s Fusion—featuring Swiss soccer players dressed as managers—inexplicably appeared at both venues. No complaints.)
Earlier, Weibel had lauded his exhibition concept as a type of “medium justice”: “No genre was excluded, not even painting!” In other words, “integrated” Twitter feeds and live-action Google mapping juxtaposed with Gerhard Richter’s 2009 painting September. There were plenty of examples of “new media art” (Weibel’s specialty). Electroboutique’s Big Green Head transposes a contorted reflection of anyone standing in front of it onto a postapocalyptic video scene. When the sensors detect that their subject has “returned to nature” (i.e., removed their clothes), the viewer is rewarded by having his or her reflection restored, now amid an Eden. (You would think there are less complicated ways for artists to get girls to take off their shirts.)
With the “Special Projects” too numerous to count, I concentrated on my own parallel program. Topping the list was Katya Degot’s “Auditorium Moscow: A Sketch for Public Space,” but the three times I tried to go, the doors were locked. (The “public” part must still be in draft stage.) Instead, I joined the “Impossible Communities” forming at the Gogolevsky branch of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Two years in the making, the ambitious exhibition is the pet project of the ESCAPE group and was curated by none other than Viktor Misiano. It was advertised that the curator himself would appear at ArtMoscow on Saturday, but organizers failed to mention the program to the esteemed but elusive Misiano, who spent the weekend at home in Italy, safely out of reach of roundtable discussions.
Left: A visitor to Electroboutique’s Big Green Head, 2011, at the Moscow Biennale. (Photo: Ilya Murashkin) Right: Artists Roberto Cabot and Ahmet Otgut.
Absence was actually a recurring theme of the exhibition. For the project “Invisible Hands,” artist Paweł Althamer recruited his students to pick up trash during a three-day stint with construction crews. The only documentation of the piece was a dirty handprint made at the end of a workday. Another politically charged omission was the IRWIN group’s bright red banner that lifts a slogan from a Coca-Cola campaign (“Time for a New State”) to advertise its imagined utopia, First NSK. Citizens’ congress. Although the piece was displayed briefly, it soon fell victim to the powers that be: The Russian translation branded the very public building with the less ambiguous “Time For a New Government,” and the museum was promptly reminded that it had not secured permission to hang a billboard on its facade. The banner was gone a day later. (This just days before Putin would make his big announcement that he would resume the presidency in 2012, which to many signaled the end of democracy in the world’s largest country.)
Special Project Arthouse Squat Forum (ASF) rivaled the main exhibition in its scope. The building itself—still very much under construction—is just the latest in a line of luxury housing consigned as art space. Artist-curator Katya Bochavar and cocurator Andrey Parshikov had commissioned over twenty-four smaller exhibitions, most of the self-organized variety, though guest appearances from commercial venues included Swoon’s swooping installation at Honey Space and “Seven,” a selection from New York galleries including Ronald Feldman, Pierogi, and Postmasters.
I prefaced my visit with a dash through the galleries at Winzavod, where I fell for Alex Buldakov’s AttentionWhores, showing at XL. Simply shot, the video involves dramatic zooms on seemingly insignificant details—flaked-off paint spots, overturned buckets—with a suspense-ridden soundtrack. For ASF, Buldakov proposed the outlandish Zoo for Urban Fauna, where visitors could gawk at stray cats, rats, and pigeons. “Six of the ten sparrows have already figured out how to escape. The weirdest thing is, one of them just went right back through the wire,” coauthor Dmitriy Potemkin remarked, swigging from his box of wine. “He must like the feel of his cage.” How terribly Dostoyevskyian of that tiny sparrow.
Two floors down, artist David Ter-Oganyan struck his own curatorial coup with “On/Off,” a rowdy but respectable group show of promising artists such as Zhanna Kadyrova, Alexandra Galkina, and Ivars Gravlejs. The last won me over with his Photography Without a Camera, in which the artist places his own SIM cards in display cameras at electronics stores, later recovering the test footage taken by customers. Andrey Kuzkin’s contribution was to host a rave two days before in the space, leaving the party trappings alongside a video of the proceedings. Ter-Oganyan was on hand at the opening to console an unwitting star as she watched herself flailing across the floor. “It really could be worse,” he tried, as the scene switched to another artist jubilantly christening the staircase with his urine.
Not rested enough for a follow-up rave, I slipped downstairs to Olga Chernysheva’s suite of characteristically rich, understated portraits, “To Moscow.” Echoing the Chekhovian mantra, she focuses her lens on bus drivers’ faces, as seen through windshields stamped with signs reading TO MOSCOW. The piece harks back to an era when the city held the kind of promise now permeating the Gorky Park project—a promise that had been somewhat overshadowed by Putin’s big announcement that afternoon. Could it really be that the more things change, the more they stay the same?