“GLAMOUR JUST ISN’T GLAMOROUS ANYMORE.” Or so I’ve been warned.
Apparently, now neither is “cool.” Shortly before its May 25 opening, Istancool amended its name to the less cringeworthy (but also less catchy) Istanbul International Arts & Culture Festival. Now in its third year, the weekend-long program is the brainchild of the city’s cultural power couple Demet Müftüoglu Eseli and film director Alphan Eseli, who together also founded the Istanbul’74 space in the Karaköy arts district. Previous guests have run the gamut from Sir V. S. Naipaul to Tilda Swinton, Zaha Hadid to Courtney Love. This year, the diverse roster featured such incongruous figures as Turkish-Italian filmmaker Ferzan Özpetek and Carine Roitfeld, architect Emre Arolat and artist Aaron Young.
The name change was supposed to put the emphasis on Culture with a capital C. It certainly was celebrating a culture, which was evident the moment we reached the festival headquarters at the Edition hotel, where we were greeted by personal concierges, on hand to arrange everything from private jets to a post-hammam cooldown in the hotel’s “snow cabin,” a powdery wonderland(/walk-in freezer) five floors underground.
The more luxuriant aspects aside, the festival formerly known as Istancool was all business by day, with a back-to-back conversations program that left little time to run off to the bazaar. Friday night, the festival launched with an opening for Robin Rhode at Istanbul’74, the upstairs space that was the site of Tracey Emin’s one-night-stand exhibition during last year’s Istanbul Biennial. Rhode’s five videos were witty and well crafted, many featuring a protagonist interacting with chalk drawings manually “animated” on city walls. The artist attributed the idea to his school days. “One of the big hazing rituals was making the younger boys go into the bathroom and kneel before the wall, and then the older kids would draw something and make the younger ones do whatever they said to that drawing. Having been both victim and perpetrator, I figured this is the language I should use.”
In the front hallway, Rhode’s Open Court loops one-minute footage of the artist pelting a Richard Serra piece with snowballs. Serra got a return serve of his own, via his nephew Shelter, whose Fake Rolexes were flying off the glass table at the Grey Area pop-up shop in the front of the space. The nonfunctioning timepieces would replace tote bags as the way to pick out festival participants from passersby.
The conversation series kicked off a little after noon the next day. Emceeing the program was the disarmingly lovely actress Pelin Batu, who moonlights as an amateur historian on a live, eight-hour, late-night talk show dedicated to analyzing historical events within the context of contemporary politics. “It used to be that people recognized me from Harem Suaré,” she confessed over a glass of wine later. “Now strangers come up and ask what I think about something that happened in 1798.”
The unspoken emphasis on film would stick throughout the next two days. For the first panel, director Andrew Dominik had just flown in from Cannes (where his most recent film, Killing Them Softly, was up for the Palme d’Or) to share his thoughts on Hitchcock’s Marnie. This was followed by another director, Zoe Cassavetes, who was paired with the vivacious actress Meltem Cumbul (whom someone described as “a Turkish Kardashian,” apparently oblivious to the strange geopolitical echoes of that designation). Purportedly, the topic was the hard-line “Women and Cinema,” but this rapidly devolved into an episode of “Growing Up Zoe.” “People always ask what it must be like to have my mom and dad be who they are,” Cassavetes rhapsodized. “But, seriously, that’s the only reality I ever knew.” The next talk was even more surreal, as Jefferson Hack interviewed Turkish-born, Brooklyn-based artist Pinar Yolaçan about her photographs of mature women wearing animal entrails. “I mean, look at that, that’s just gorgeous!” Hack gushed. “What is that collar even made of?” Yolaçan replied, “Placenta.”
When the last panel had wrapped up, participants headed to the festival’s gala dinner at the stately Esma Sultan Yalisi, a magnificent palace nearly destroyed in a 1975 fire. As Turkish law forbids altering historical buildings, the owners cleverly outfitted the ruins into an unforgettable event space, right on the edge of the Bosphorus. Guests glided up in water taxis, while inside the intrepid few tried to flip the nearly five-by-seven-foot pages of Visionaire’s sixty-first issue, Larger than Life. The publication is officially a Guinness World Record holder—certificate and all—but someone should have informed the DJ. When I walked in, he was blasting Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much.”
Upstairs, the elaborate dinner was spread across three long tables, at first sparsely populated, despite starting nearly two hours after the announced time. “It’s Istanbul,” actress Hande Ataizi shrugged, with a smile that almost succeeded in prying eyes away from her plunging neckline. “If you tell people to come at 8 PM, they’ll arrive at midnight.” Things eventually got going, spurred into action by a performance from the cartoonishly rakish violinist Charlie Siem. Afterward, guests stumbled downstairs to discover the giant magazine replaced by what must have held the Guinness record for room most packed with gold balloons and terrible cocktails. In other words, the Boom Boom Room’s pop-up party. The music had thankfully progressed since earlier in the night, fostering a sort of mass euphoria as Kyle Hardin DeWoody, Manish Vora, and Stacy Engman took turns on the dance floor. The festivities went on until 4 AM, but those who didn’t try their luck at the neighboring nightlife legend Reina ended up shutting down, reopening, then shutting down the hotel bar back at the Edition.
Left: Artist Nate Lowman. Right: Kyle Hardin DeWoody poses for Adrian Dannatt outside Vakko Headquarters.
Sunday morning, first-timers learned why raki isn’t an early AM kind of drink, but graciously the conversation program was scheduled later in the afternoon. This time talks took place in the Tophane-i Amire, a fifteenth-century armory building in Beyoğlu whose main hall has been retrofitted with thick transparent plastic over a deep, red-lit well, suggestive of the mouth of hell. The more centrally located site encouraged dashes down to the Istanbul Modern or side trips to SALT, which was hosting a symposium of its own, titled “Treasure Chests or Tools: Some Histories and Speculations About Art Collection.”
The biggest draw of the day was the genial conversation between Batu and beloved filmmaker Özpetek, whose quick wit and obviously warm relationships with his actors (Batu included) immediately won over the handful of audience members who weren’t previously familiar with his work (which includes Hamam, Harem Suaré, and The Ignorant Fairies). After hearing multiple film and video makers—from Dominik and Cassavetes to Mark Romanek, Chiara Clemente, and even Young—lament the moral cost of the movie industry, it was refreshing to hear someone ruminate on just how much he enjoys his craft. “You need to fall in love with whatever you do,” he urged the audience, before indulging an extra hour of lively stories. Finishing to wild applause, the director snuck in one last plea, urging the festival to incorporate more of the local scene into the program (which, as festival director Bethanie Brady assured me, is already in the works for next year). “Why fly around the world to go to a party from New York?”
Left: A boat ride down the Bosphorus. Right: Istanbul International Arts & Culture Festival founders Demet Müftüoglu Eseli and Alphan Eseli. (Photos: Billy Farrell/BFA)
WE TIME-TRAVELED AROUND IRELAND. It was a mass migration of the art world—first south to Cork, then north to Limerick. The Cork gig was the second coming of the Visual Artists Workers Forum, and the topic for discussion was, “Will our future thank our present?” The next day, and a hundred kilometers across the county line, was the opening of the thirty-fifth Limerick EVA, where the theme was “After the Future.” Somewhere along the way we had left tomorrow behind.
Jesse Jones was just back from a project for REDCAT in Los Angeles, and en route to Seoul for another. She told the assembled Cork company that making art was all about “the hustle and the rub”—the hustle is you get to travel, meet brilliant people, make work. The rub is there’s no money and the future is never certain. Considering the likely futures ahead of us, the mood was unexpectedly positive, a pleasant vibe that continued as we investigated Cork’s justly famous pubs. Patrick Murphy of the Royal Hibernian Academy had come fresh from the selection process of the institution’s 182nd Annual Exhibition, a massive event on the art calendar for both Academy members and other artists. He had lost count, he said, of the number of submissions related to the Titanic—almost, but not quite, outnumbered by those related to horses. They had reviewed more than three thousand artworks. “There’s still a lot of people making stuff out there,” someone said, and we nodded.
Noel Kelly of Visual Artists Ireland had told us all to “stop the gossip” if we wanted a decent future, but none of us could quite manage to follow his advice as the evening wore on. After all, what else is a big art gathering for? Questions abounded: Would the government actually amalgamate the National Gallery, Irish Museum of Modern Art, and Crawford Galleries? Was Culture Ireland really due to be scrapped? Was that guy over there with that girl in the green? One thing we knew for sure was that the immediate future wouldn’t thank our present, but still we ordered another round.
Up in Limerick, most everyone was quite content to leave current difficulties behind and embrace EVA’s postfuturistic world. We were hardly fresh from our Cork outing, but the locals were wiping a similar lack of sleep from their eyes after having been up till the small hours watching the installation of Luc Deleu’s Construction X, a massive edifice made from crossed shipping containers, first installed at EVA 1994. “It took even longer back then,” said Deleu. “I think your cranes are better now.”
The cranes being better might also explain how the buildings have grown taller—we were on the tenth floor of the Riverpoint tower, momentarily distracted from the prosecco and José Carlos Martinat’s Vandalized Monuments by a naked man in the apartment opposite. You couldn’t really blame him; the tenth floor of Riverpoint is one of Limerick’s slack spaces, unoccupied till now, so how could he have expected to become part of the view?
Over a drink, Belfast-based artist Paddy Bloomer told me how he fell afoul of Limerick’s cranes when he was in EVA 2003. They were building Riverpoint back then, and Paddy had finished installing a complicated project that involved lighting up the city’s sewers. “So we thought, where can we go to have a drink in a bit of peace? Then we saw the crane . . . ” Bloomer was locked up for three days, until Mike Fitzpatrick, then director of the Limerick City Gallery, bailed him out. “We were in with the people who had trashed one of the American army planes at Shannon,” reminisced the artist. “There was nothing bad about prison at all, except we couldn’t get out of it.”
At the Limerick City Gallery, standing under Yael Bartana’s neon And Europe Will Be Stunned, the deputy mayor of Limerick, Tom Shortt, an artist himself, told us he’d named his own daughter Eva. Annie Fletcher, the exhibition curator, cleverly dressed to match the exhibition leaflet, suggested we “should revel in the complexities of what artists can tell us about living in the now.” Later one of EVA’s founders, architect Hugh Murray, put it more succinctly: “There’s a thing that happens in Limerick. When the people see something weird, they say, ‘Aah, it must be EVA.’ ” Around us, children played with the scrunched-up scarlet papers that littered the floors of the space, blissfully unaware these were Sanja Iveković’s work containing excerpts from a UN report on torture and otherwise cruel treatment of women.
I wandered over to another empty office building (there’s nothing like an art show these days for letting you see how the office class lives) at 103 O’Connell Street, where I was transfixed by Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s mesmerizing video installation. Ni Bhriain was on hand with her London dealer, Domo Baal, clearly delighted. In fact, everyone was delighted with everything. “It’s like a great big art wedding,” said Jones, though as I rounded the corner to see Zanny Begg and Oliver Ressler’s video The Bull Laid Bear, in which capitalism is ruthlessly dismantled, I had the sense that if it were an art wedding, it was definitely for poorer rather than richer. The video concludes with Bertolt Brecht’s quote “What is the robbing of a bank, compared to the founding of a bank?” and I was almost in danger of becoming downbeat, when the National Sculpture Factory’s Mary McCarthy and Paul Sullivan from Static Liverpool appeared to announce it was dinnertime.
Over pasta, the good vibes flowed. “It isn’t a back-stabbing city any more,” someone quipped, referring to Limerick’s sometimes unsavory reputation. We ate, we drank, and then we danced to artist David Beatty’s excellent DJ set until the owner of the club wanted to close and chased us out into the streets. Those with rooms at the George tried to explain how the massive entourage of EVA-goers deserved a spot at the residents’ bar, with varying degrees of success. If after the future is going to be like a lovely big art wedding, I’ll gladly go back in time and do it again.
A MINISTRY OF TOURISM SNAFU had me arriving in Tel Aviv the day after the professional preview of the Fresh Paint art fair, cabbing it on the fly from Jerusalem because there were no hotel rooms to be found in the coastal city known as “the bubble.” Nevertheless, catching the fifth installment of the fair on the particularly humid night of the public opening was a revelation. Thousands of sweaty bodies jammed the sandy parking lot of a newly built high school in the northwestern part of the city. It was a crowd of flip-flops, shorts, and T-shirts, and together we slouched into the facilities to see the booths by twenty-five of Israel’s contemporary galleries and fifty-six unrepresented Israeli artists. The location, three floors of austere classrooms functioning as impromptu exhibition spaces and a central concrete courtyard transformed into a performance area, café, and bookstore, epitomized the fair’s touted goals, namely to educate the general public about contemporary art, create a new community of potential collectors, and consolidate Tel Aviv’s burgeoning art scene.
Before I could delve further, though, I was whisked off to an informal presentation by the fair’s curatorial team, Yifat Gurion and Matan Daube. They’ve joined forces with a network of collectors and entrepreneurs (including Ari Fruchter, also present at the talk), museum professionals, and art institutions to invent a business model suited for the local context—a “start-up” nation in all senses of the term. Gurion’s pithy explanation for getting in with Sharon Tillinger, CEO of Fresh Paint, was personal: “I want people like me to buy art.” Echoing the importance of making art “accessible” to new buyers, Daube promoted the fair’s unique Artists’ Greenhouse—an open-call section where artists without commercial gallery representation could showcase their work and build a collector base (the hundreds of works were hung salon style throughout the first floor of the building).
Representing the entrepreneurial spirit, Fruchter breathlessly narrated his part in organizing Spencer Tunick’s Dead Sea Project, a “military-style operation” that culminated in the shedding of clothes and a collective feeling of “excitement, serenity, and unity.” Though he bemoaned not getting naked himself, I gathered that he found Tunick’s distinctively populist projects resonant with Fresh Paint’s unpretentious ambience and casual intimacy; they also underlined the explicit social function and economic agenda driving contemporary art fairs, namely spectacle and commerce. A tension between populism and profit runs through most of the fair’s special projects: On the one hand, a fund-raiser for underprivileged students organized by the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s Meyerhoff Art Education Center, in which the public can purchase a unique postcard without knowing the identity of the artist; on the other, Sotheby’s Under the Hammer selection, in which one work by an “independent” artist from the Greenhouse is sold at the Israeli art auction in New York. (This year, proceeds will go to the artist, Or Harpaz, whose work is redolent of Walid Raad.)
The high point of the evening was the presentation of the Most Promising Artist award, a fat sum of $10,000 sponsored by megacollector Igal Ahouvi, which went to both Elham Rokni and Matan Mittwoch, chosen from a pool of more than a thousand anonymous submissions. The formal announcement was made by curator Sarit Shapira, who added that each artist will have a solo presentation at the next Fresh Paint. Encountering Shapira on the sidelines, I asked her to weigh in on the fair. Like everyone else, she was enthused that emerging artists can exhibit before signing with a commercial gallery and the public can purchase affordable artworks without the “mental distance” of the white cube. Even blue-chip galleries like Dvir and Sommer Contemporary Art, showing together in the same room, were trying on new hats, employing a “library concept” that allowed people to browse their collection of artists such as Tal R, Lawrence Weiner, Rona Yefman, and Pavel Wolberg as if they were at a book stand. (On a related note, TLVS cofounder Oran Singer told me that Israel has more book purchasers per capita than any other country in the world.) When I ran into Edna Moshenson, curator of the Greenhouse’s video section, in Gordon Gallery’s classroom-cum-booth, she argued that the fair was the last component that Tel Aviv needed to make it a “complete” art scene.
By 10 PM, it was still almost impossible to maneuver the tightly packed school hallways and it seemed that the people’s party was just about to kick off. Hipsters in skinny jeans—that postnational tribe—drank draft beer and chain-smoked cigarettes in the central courtyard. Their parents’ generation, decidedly sturdier folk, sat around white wooden tables sipping water and talking loudly on their cell phones. One of my local art spies drifted by and informed me that the “kids” were heading to central Tel Aviv for an afterparty at a bar called Mount Sinai, aptly located behind a synagogue. It was the place to be, he claimed, and was steps away from a kiosk selling gat, the new legal drug of choice—a chewable plant native to Yemen that has euphoric effects. After the official populism of Fresh Paint, there was certainly something appealing about the unofficial. Alas, it was not to be, as my taxi driver back to Jerusalem, a forty-five-minute ride into cooler weather, was getting restless.
While it made perfect sense that Tel Aviv would eventually join the world circuit by establishing a local art fair, I wondered when Fresh Paint would begin to invite foreign galleries and open up to the global art village in which so many Israeli artists play a vital part. If Tel Aviv is making a serious creative effort and economic investment to combat the periphery syndrome by turning populism into profit, it certainly can’t afford to be provincial.
Left: Curator Pi Li with collector Hallam Chow. Right: Dealer Emmanuel Perrotin with actor Edison Chen. (Except where noted, all photos: Yangzi)
COMING FROM the Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, just thirty minutes across the border, I crossed the gold ingot–shaped Victoria Harbor into Hong Kong Central, where all those luxury brands unaffordable in Beijing are suddenly in arm’s reach. Central is the only place I know where Bulgari, Gucci, and Chanel are not ostentatious but de rigueur. It’s an affluence mentality, but until recently prices for basic items were so high that residents would cross the northern border to buy household goods. Today, food safety issues, inflation, and luxury taxes have reversed the flow of commercial traffic, and mainlanders come in for everything from soy sauce to Ming porcelains. Last week, the fifth Art HK upped the ante, making the otherwise quiet island into a perfect storm of conspicuous consumption and gallery launches, all succinctly epitomized by a clutch of VIP dinners that, as artist Paul Chan observed, “you were not invited to.”
Art HK’s VIP calendar exceeded nine pages, each event more exclusive than the last. Some were simply on the list to announce that they were too good for you. (The entry for Hauser & Wirth’s dinner, marked “Strictly By Private Invitation Only,” included an e-mail address for inquiries.) The real madness began the day before the fair. On Tuesday, at 50 Connaught Road, the toniest real estate in town, White Cube and Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin held inaugural shows (Anselm Kiefer at the former, KAWS at the latter) that featured cameos from the Cantonese film set. Zheng Lin, director of Beijing’s Tang Contemporary Gallery, had recently gone shopping for spaces, and whispered that the rent was more than forty times the average price in Beijing’s 798 District. Elbow room could be the most precious commodity in Central.
From there we walked to the less regal Pedder Building, which houses Gagosian HK and several other galleries. RSVPs were required, but there was no stopping the Louboutin-heeled crowds lined up outside the teeny entrance, hoping for a shot at the elevator. The only other way up was via the under-construction stairway. Eyeing the scrambling mob of collectors, we took to the stairs, where women in couture ducked under iron scaffolding and stepped over dusty tarpaulins, resolutely ascending, oblivious to the distinctly non-VIP conditions.
Left: Dealer Jay Jopling. Right: Dealer Pearl Lam with collectors Robert and Chantal Miller and Radhika Bryan.
Upon reaching the seventh floor, Shanghainese dealer-socialite Pearl Lam, dressed in a purple tank dress with hair (and colored contacts) to match, moved deftly on platform heels through the throngs of notables. So many flowers were lined up in the hallway outside her gallery, it was positively funereal. While squeezing through the exit door and back onto the treacherous stairwell, I spotted a small cache of broken champagne glasses and crushed flowers in a pool of crystalline fluid, the detritus of opulence.
The next day, crowds flocked to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center for the opening of the fair, its final iteration before it officially starts brandishing the Art Basel logo. The vernissage was followed by a dinner, hosted by the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, celebrating The Future Will Be . . . China Edition, a copublication with Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli “curated” by Hans Ulrich Obrist. “The bible on China—the new little red book,” one Singaporean curator rolled his eyes. The party was exclusive enough not to be listed. While HK Tatler cover girl Dee Poon chatted with dealer Lorcan O’Neill, Ginevra Elkann and Ullens director Philip Tinari struggled to keep Obrist on the ground. The little tome, indeed red and compact, had launched earlier at a swish brunch hosted by the Asia Society’s new Hong Kong center (that publication got a lot of mileage), a converted British military compound formerly used for processing gunpowder.
Those not invited to private parties that night (clearly the majority) were poolside at the Modern Media/K11 soiree on the Grand Hyatt rooftop, which was washed out during what was to be the beginning of four days of torrential rain (hence the soaked gowns and dripping suits crowding the cavernous lobby). We missed the ladies in bikinis (“Russians,” one Chinese artist commented to me with conviction), but arrived in time to see everyone modeling their damp spring 2012 collections. The lobby bar was at full capacity, and two waifish female employees were turning away angry people clutching Art HK VIP cards. Given the queue and the storm, a taxi getaway wasn’t an option, so an artist in our party requested five umbrellas from the concierge under a guest’s name (apologies to “Michael Lin”) and we made a swift exit.
Left: Vogue China editor in chief Angelica Cheung with director of UCCA Philip Tinari. Right: Executive director and curator of Sàn Art, Saigon, Zoe Butt, with artist Dinh Q. Lê and Katie de Tilly, director of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery.
Thursday morning, 10 Chancery Lane Gallery and Platform China opened shows by Dinh Q. Le and Jia Aili in the Art East Island industrial building. I took my VIP brunch of bagels and coffee standing in the hallway, half-listening to a local woman’s précis of the Beijing art scene. “I’ve been there,” she droned, “but it’s so big, and everyone moves so fast.” The Asia Funeral Expo & Conference had opened concurrently back at the same convention center (no flowers, mostly caskets and urns), a bit of a downgrade from last year’s Christie’s auction, which was held the day after the opening of the 2011 fair. A collector of contemporary ink painting suggested that the auction date was changed to actually avoid intersecting with the fair, the thinking being that mainland buyers bidding on ink painting and antiquities wouldn’t want to jostle with the contemporary crowds.
That evening, a hundred or so people boarded two enormous cruisers destined for a seafood dinner in distant Sai Kung—a “quaint fishing village,” as our host, philanthropist Hallam Chow, put it. We were there to celebrate Pi Li’s appointment as curator of M+, a new museum of “visual culture” in the West Kowloon district, directed by Lars Nittve and scheduled to open in 2017. Dining on abalone and crab, I sat with a boisterous man reputed to be a Taiwanese mobster (in this context, an art collector). A Shanghai dealer babbled about spending the last evening playing baccarat at the MGM on Macau: “But you can’t tell I’ve been up all night,” he assured me and my silent lady friends, staring at us earnestly with bloodshot eyes. As we all stood to toast our host, conversation moved to his diamond-encrusted watch (“only thirty-three in the world”), which complemented the bedazzled skull on his popped-collar polo shirt.
Left: Haus der Kunst director Okwui Enwezor with Claire Hsu, executive director of Asia Art Archive, and Jane DeBevoise, chair of Asia Art Archive. (Photo: Doretta Lau) Right: Artist Liu Ye.
“Busy” doesn’t begin to describe the ensuing days: an Intelligence Squared debate on whether or not “Contemporary Art Excludes the 99 Percent” (the answer seemed obvious to me, but I was on to the next party and missed the vote); a “booze cruise” with the Long March Space (“Access with VIP Card, RSVP Essential, Limited Capacity”); karaoke artist videos hosted by Saamlung gallery. But the HK art world came to a full stop Saturday evening with a party hosted by collectors Stephen and Yana Peel. Hundreds of VIPs willingly crammed together one last time. While dealers Finola Jones and Urs Meile struggled to shout their conversation through the din, others among them, like Sean Kelly, Maureen Paley, and Stephen Friedman, smiled gamely in their sweat-soaked clothes and simply raised their glasses. Surely there was no better place to be—everyone present, from Zaha Hadid and her entourage to Asia Art Archive director Claire Hsu and partner Benjamin Vuchot, must have agreed—before the crowds shimmied past legendary HK performance artist the Frog King Kwok, dressed in his customary Kermit-like regalia, and on to their long flights home.
Just a few minutes north, clearly jealous that the party has moved south of the border, Chinese customs officials have begun collecting import duty and a value-added tax on all “artworks” shipped back to the mainland. In Shenzhen, artists complained bitterly that they couldn’t afford to bring their work home; some have simply canceled shows because of prohibitively high taxes, and in an unusual display of brawn from Beijing, the German manager of an art-freight company has been jailed since March 31, charged with falsifying values of artworks to avoid $1.6 million in taxes. En route home, a dealer from the mainland confessed that the entire gallery staff was bringing home artworks as carry-on luggage, and I paused to wonder once again about “the future” and China.
Left: Artist Ed Moses. Right: Outside JF Chen, at the opening of “Rebel.” (All photos: Billy Farrell Agency)
SCENE: ANOTHER NIGHT IN LOS ANGELES. A converted furniture showroom on a summer evening, rented at an in-kind kind of price, is covered in advertisements for tonight’s art opening: “Rebel,” a show “conceived by” James Franco and produced by (though not hosted at) the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. It’s about 6 in the evening and Saturday night traffic coughs by on busy Highland Boulevard to and from Hollywood. While the place isn’t jammed yet, members of the General Public have crowded the sad-looking shrubbery next to the entrance, which is choked with metal barricades and velvet ropes, people dividers better built for a country carnival, and numerous men with clipped, polite speech and dark suits.
Inside, Franco and friends (Douglas Gordon, Aaron Young, Harmony Korine, etc.) have converted the showroom into a fake movie set complete with a replica of the famous Chateau Marmont’s famous sign. A wall text with prominent supporting sponsor logos explains that this is some kind of arty reimagining of Nicholas Ray’s iconic 1955 teen flick Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean and Natalie Wood, and there’s some allusion to various sexcapades that may or may not have occurred at the Chateau during rehearsals for the film. Franco played Dean once in a TNT biopic, and a porn star named James Deen makes a cameo at the opening, but the meta neither begins nor ends there. Someone (ostensibly Franco, not just the show’s coconceiver but also its elusive cynosure) has scrawled the word REBEL in red graffiti across the crisp vinyl letters; rebellious.
Just past the doors hangs a giant ink-jet replica on canvas of an Ed Ruscha painting, Rebel, 2011. The rest of the showroom is littered with fake plants and fake buildings and very real sex dolls, as well as numerous videos and an upside-down and a right-side-up Hollywood sign. Gray-haired, executive-type men in well-starched suits wander through, surveying the exhibition like they’re kicking the tires on a brand new Mercedes. Clichés manifest, clutter, recede, repeat; tautology rules. “That’s a motorcycle in a pool,” proclaims one exec, pointing to a motorcycle in a pool.
Left: Inside “Rebel.” Right: Danna Ruscha and Ed Ruscha.
Behind the building in the back parking lot–cum–reception area, telegenic and well-dressed people (possibly celebrities) mill around drinking wine and beer. There are very few “art-world” people, though Ed Moses wanders by in the company of three attractive women. Ed and Danna Ruscha arrive, followed by a black-clad Paul McCarthy with daughter Mara. They meet up quickly with Damon, Paul’s son and collaborator in Rebel Dabble Dabble, a film and installation that premiered the night before at Mara’s gallery downtown, The Box, and which is apparently also a part of the show.
Jeffrey Deitch weaves through the crowd, seemingly at ease with all parties. A young woman rushes up and has her picture taken with him. “It’s amazing how James has inspired all these people,” Deitch says. “He’s created an art project as if he were making a film project. It’s brilliant.”
Fade out, fade in, and suddenly we’re at an afterparty in a bungalow at the real Chateau Marmont. Chatting in the corner, chanteuse Becky Stark of the band Lavender Diamond tells Val Kilmer of her recent revelation about the connection of fat and fire to consciousness. “Please don’t talk about fat,” Kilmer tells her. “I’m on a radical diet these days.”
Nearby, Franco is introduced to a journalist.
“This all sort of seems Andy Kauffman–esque,” winks the scribe.
“Oh yeah. I like him . . . ” Franco begins, but their interview is interrupted by a blonde starlet with unlatched eyes and an available smile.
Left: Marisa Tomei with Jeffrey Deitch, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. At the Chateau Marmont.
Another dissolve, and we’re all at the Chateau Marmont theater. A girl passes out cigarettes and boxes of Cracker Jacks at the entrance, as a crowd of a hundred or so of Franco’s “close friends” gathers to watch a film that looks vaguely familiar from the exhibition. Attractive, carefree young people, including Franco, prance around on-screen. A dreamy, irresponsible sort of sound track fills the air. Words flash across the picture, over frames inset in frames, the text attempting rudimentary narrative. In the movie, a girl shows one of her breasts.
“Whoo, titties!” screams a douche-y guy sitting on a piano in the back.
“Hey dude. You probably shouldn’t be sitting on that,” says Zach Braff, who seems to have appeared out of nowhere.
“Ha ha! What? I know you!”
The crowd chain-smokes restlessly and munches on Cracker Jacks. Eventually people creep out and back down the stairs, through the lobby and to the valet, pulling finally onto Sunset Boulevard and away from what is likely, for some at least, just another typical night in LA.
Left: Le1f. (Photo: David Toro) Right: Rhizome program director Zoë Salditch with Rhizome executive director Lauren Cornell.
LAST WEDNESDAY, the New York colony of the Internet art diaspora gathered in the New Museum’s Sky Room for the annual Rhizome benefit and silent auction. The hot topic of the evening, of course, was Lauren Cornell, outgoing executive director and recently announced cocurator (with Ryan Trecartin) of the museum’s 2015 triennial. Her final fund-raiser was a festive if bittersweet occasion to reflect on how Rhizome has grown since she began seven years ago, when the ground beneath the tower we were partying on was still a parking lot.
Arriving on the early end, I caught new Sculpture Center curator Ruba Katrib on the balcony, surveying the misty cityscape. One Brutalist building appeared to be skinned in a boxy camouflage pattern. “It looks like a JPEG. I mean, it’s pixelated.” She sighed. “Come on, it’s a Rhizome event. I’m in the spirit.”
So was everyone else, and inside, the fund-raising was off to a healthy start. “Going to bid? That Jenny Holzer is priced to move!” Rhizome had corralled a gregarious auctioneer, artist Nick DeMarco, to solicit buyers. The Holzer was a two-inch-wide LED display babbling truisms. Another nice get was a page from a series by Mungo Thomson, isolating the word TIME from a 1996 cover of Time magazine (Rhizome’s birth year). An obscure DJ called Venus X did the sound track for the first half of the night, signature jade tresses done au natural in fur-accented Björk-ish buns.
It was a clubby event, but not everyone was a member of the “tribe”—supporters and the merely curious joined in the fun too. The vagueness of Rhizome’s mission—broadly, the intersections of art and technology—has become one of the organization’s unique strengths; its “open-platform” vibe is inviting to newbies, and indeed today Rhizome engages more adjacent creative communities than it did when I worked there in the mid-2000s.
The big question of the evening was, Who’s going to run Rhizome? Was the next director in the room? Were they in the Netherlands? No answer was forthcoming, but the speculation itself prompted laudations for Cornell and her legacy. “Lauren led Rhizome into the twenty-first century,” said Light Industry’s Ed Halter. “I can think of no one else who bridges the technology and art worlds like her. She made it into a major thing.” Cory Arcangel drolly concurred: “It’s pretty amazing, considering how many Internet startups have come and gone since she’s been there.”
The lady of the hour took the mic to welcome Rhizome’s “artists, writers, and citizens of the Internet.” Stepping through the obligatory remarks, she reminded the crowd that “something that distinguishes us as an organization is that we look forward to the future of art.”
Not to mention the future of entertainment, I thought, as rapper Le1f appeared onstage in a lightweight silver raincoat and launched into verse. A live scramble mix of his performance and the audience was beamed onto the wall behind him, as Dis magazine’s image-conscious Solomon Chase tried to dodge the camera. Then: “Guitars are my cue to leave,” said electronically inclined artist-musician Fatima Al Qadiri, of geek chic band Extreme Animals. The display of shticky headbanging that followed channeled the boys’-club spirit of old-school computer programmers, but also the whimsy and pathos of frontman Jacob Ciocci’s disbanded collective Paper Rad, by way of his videos looping behind them.
Guests were also invited to contribute to a project by Swedish artist Anna Lundh, who instructed participants to “ask a question about the future, ten years from now,” a reprise of a seminal Billy Klüver piece from 1971. A selection was projected throughout the night:
“Will gender still exist; will it feel the same?”
“Will people still work for money?”
“Will we live prefabricated lives?”
“Ten years ago I was just trying to figure out how to get Rhizome stable so I could step down as director and focus on making art,” said Rhizome founder Mark Tribe. “I look around and see Rhizome thriving. It’s exactly where I hoped it would be.”
Take-home verdict: Job well done. But what next? Particularly resonant, perhaps, was Cornell’s own proleptic question: “Will it be possible to disconnect?”
“HAS IT REALLY BEEN TEN YEARS?” more than one partygoer wondered aloud last Friday night at the opening of Dave Muller’s resurrected Three Day Weekend (TWD). Indeed, it had been nearly a decade since the artist hosted one of his performance-exhibition events in Los Angeles, the last taking place at the Hammer Museum in late 2002. But apart from a few more silver foxes and a handful of children (two belonging to Muller and his wife, Ann Faison), very little seemed to have changed since the heyday of those storied parties. Tecate and ice cubes filled a clawfoot bathtub; art was installed on a folding table; turntables, speakers, and instruments were properly amplified; and a satisfied Muller held court over a steadily growing crowd of artists, curators, bloggers, students, musicians, kids, and the odd adventurous neighbor.
The TDW revival—titled She’s Not There (a riff on a 1994 TDW, Dave’s Not Here?)—was held over Cinco de Mayo weekend and came about largely at the urging of writer Andrew Berardini. “A friend of mine said that Dave’s generation all went into hiding when they had children,” Berardini explained. “Now many of them are starting to trickle back out. As a fan of Dave and his work, I wanted younger people to get to know him in his most natural habitat, the Three Day Weekend.” Persistence paid: “Every time Andrew and I hung out, TDW would come up.” said Muller. “Finally he came up with an offer I couldn’t refuse.” That offer came with a venue: the Eastside gallery Public Fiction, which was free for the weekend while its proprietress, Lauren Mackler, took part in MoCA’s “Transmission LA: AV Club,” a seventeen-day festival with curators selected by Mike D.
Left: Artists Eric Wesley and Sara Clendening. Right: Writer Joseph Mosconi and curator Rita Gonzalez.
As for other “shes” not attending She’s Not There, the most conspicuous no-show was Frances Stark, who was listed in the announcement, alongside fifteen other participants, with “**pending (fingers crossed)” by her name. Stark, in absentia, supplied Muller with a copy of her work Trapped in the VIP and/or In Mr. Martin’s Inoperable Cadillac, a sound work that was concurrently being played in the VIP BMWs at Frieze New York. “I wanted to rent a BMW for this piece, but all I could get was a Chevy Malibu,” explained Muller, who had taped drawn BMW logos onto the car.
Inside the gallery was a weird little drawing by Anthony Burdin; the contents page from Charles Ray’s 1992 magazine Ruh Roh; fluorescent-tube sculptures by Eli Langer; works by Mark Grotjahn, Aurie Ramirez, Scoli Acosta, Lauren Spencer King, Zoe Crosher, and others. At one point, Muller auctioned off, in reverse, one of the works, a D’Ette Nogle boxed edition, which sold to the lowest bidder for zero dollars.
Less a critique of market rituals than an earnest attempt to find the work a deserving home, the auction was one of several happenings and music performances over the weekend. On Friday, Corey Fogel played a hypnotic, rolling drum solo on a kit wrapped in hot pink spandex. “I just throw myself into it to see what comes out the other side,” he reflected. Artist and Holloys frontman Jim Brown channeled recent jungle travels in his set, which looped solo guitar, voice, trumpet, and drum machine into driving, danceable tribal rhythms. The Calder Quartet performed an hour-long work commissioned by a young composer from The Hague, Kate Moore. The twelve-channel orchestration for string (eight recorded tracks and four played live) shifted in and out of harmony, throwing phantom pitches around the room during its duration. “A piece like that really separates the wheat from the chaff,” someone said.
Saturday night was mellow by comparison. Under the colossal supermoon, with sounds of parties in the distance, Muller DJ’d while the small crowd danced. Across from Fogel’s pink drum set (now littered with jacaranda blossoms) hung the exhibition’s centerpiece: Muller’s six-foot-tall drawing of a black drum set placed on a zebra-print rug. The source material was a picture of Mike Kelley’s drum set, which Muller had shot at a party Kelley threw in January 2011. “He always put his drums on that zebra rug,” said Muller. “It was the wallpaper image on my phone for a year before he died. After that, its meaning changed radically for me.” Impressively, Muller started the sizable drawing on May 1 and had it framed and delivered to Public Fiction three days later. Sometimes the urge to lay bare a loss still fresh comes from the same place as the compulsion to get social. And for a community rattled by a looming absence, She’s Not There offered a much-needed presence.
Left: Paul Lazar. Right: “Catch 50.” (Photos: Jeff Larson)
AT 6 PM there were little kids occupying the front row of cushions, helping out the performers. By the top of the 7 PM show, one of our hosts was already facedown and motionless on the stage. During the 8 o’clock stretch, six mini–Krackel bars and an unwisely full glass of red wine had solved my dinner quandary. Fewer kids and more drag: Life was moving in the right direction. At 10:05 we were all, somehow, enthusiastically clapping along to a cover of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” The wine and its successor were long gone. By 11:30, there were grandmothers doing power moves on the stage. I was ready for bed.
This Cinco de Mayo was also “Catch 50”: a five-show extravaganza at the Chocolate Factory in Long Island City celebrating the fiftieth iteration of the exuberant multidisciplinary series run by Andrew Dinwiddie, Caleb Hammons, and Jeff Larson. True to form, the evening was a boisterous, homespun affair that nonetheless featured a who’s who of contemporary performers and companies: Paul Lazar, Anna Sperber, the National Theater of the United States of America, Joseph Keckler, Big Dance Theater, Karinne Keithley Syers, and Yackez, to name just a few.
And that was just onstage. At one point, after all of the kids had gone (to bed?), the cushions alone were graced by a cluster of performance royalty: choreographer and director Annie-B Parson, artist and curator Salley May, and Wooster Group star Kate Valk. The makeup of the crowd shifted from show to show, with a few diehards sticking it out from start to finish and the night growing progressively more packed, so that by 8 PM the noise from those denied access or taking a (liquid) breather in the theater’s basement lounge would have upstaged many a performer. But Catch denizens are made of hardy stock. After dryly noting the “commotion” happening downstairs, Keckler calmly captivated the crowd with an operatic rendition of a mushroom trip gone bad.
And, in any case, the commotion is part of the point—it’s what separates Catch from the numerous, typically tedious sampler programs clogging up the New York circuit. Though the offerings are freewheeling and sometimes little more than rough sketches, the ideas are vibrant and there is an incoherent coherency within the curatorial framework. Five Catches in one night is a crash course in what performance looks like today. “It’s not a disjointed showcase of artists with no relationship to each other’s work,” artist-writer Sarah Maxfield pointed out. “It’s a slice of conversation. There’s a sense of community, which we’re all starved for these days because we’re all so spread out.”
“I’m here for the whole night,” said photographer Mathew Pokoik, cofounder of the Mount Tremper Arts festival. Then he paused. “Well, that’s the plan. But we’ll see. Too many beers and maybe not.” Just about everyone managed to come out for at least some of the proceedings. “Even the squirrels have to get into Catch,” joked Sheila Lewandowski, the Chocolate Factory’s executive director, as people milled around the sidewalk in between shows. (A squirrel had in fact snuck into the building.) She and the theater’s artistic director, Brian Rogers, had barely made it in from the Fusebox Festival in Austin, which is something of a spiritual cousin to Catch. “We just got off the plane. Literally,” Lewandowski said, before going to shoo someone with a beer in off the street—her husband, as it turned out.
Lewandowski rolled her eyes as she pushed Rogers toward the door. In his defense, there wasn’t really room inside. “It’s probably legal,” he said, musing on the theater’s capacity versus the number of people who appeared to be crammed inside.
He stumbled back inside. “Come dance with us, you pussies!” the ladies of Fantasy Grandma screeched as they closed out the night. The crowd obliged, following Katy Perry’s immortal words: “Let’s go all the way tonight. No regrets.”
DEAR ARTFORUM DIARY,
Back in the trenches with the 1 percent! On Wednesday, my beat started at the Sotheby’s Contemporary Art evening auction. A seasoned scribe prepared me: “There’s a press pit, so we’re kept separate from the really rich. The merely somewhat rich have to stand at the back of the room, while the press enjoy a side view. It’s a real hierarchy.” I got my hair did for the occasion anyway—but a blob of water defiled my blowout as I exited the cab. My entry into the 1 percenter’s shopping club was eloquently greeted by a lively picket line of union art handlers who Sotheby’s, in a year of record profits, wants to replace with temp workers with no benefits:
STOP THE WAR ON WORKERS! said their signs.
SOTHEBY’S BAD FOR ART! screamed the caption over Edvard Munch’s Scream.
Internally screaming at the greedheads (CEO William Ruprecht’s yearly salary doubled in 2010 to 6 million dollars), I was ushered through the door by a Sotheby’s staffer.
“There’s something simultaneously gross and exciting about the whole experience,” someone said. “It’s like high mass for the superrich, conspicuous consumption at its absolute peak. When a painting goes for $78 million and the room breaks into applause, it’s the religion of finance at work.”
It’s surreal to sit there as the vast, abstract sums are channeled from the room and the phone banks by auctioneer Tobias Meyer, erect in his beautifully cut suit like a lightning rod for dough: “Thirty-one million dollars is the bid. Thirty-two, thirty-three—thirty-three with Lisa.” Meyer pauses, striking an attitude like a biblical figure awaiting prophecy. “Thirty-nine. It’s thirty-nine with Lisa . . . ”
“She is beautiful,” Meyer flirtatiously praised “our cover girl of the night”: Roy Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Girl.
“C’mon, forty!” rooted someone behind me. (Not a bidder, just a fan.)
More vamping from Meyer: “I shall sell it then for forty million dollars. Sold!” Smattering of applause.
Instead of clapping for the art, they cheer for the prices.
Flanking the auction block, a Francis Bacon figure collapsed in on itself (a portrait of George Dyer, Bacon’s partner, shortly before Dyer killed himself) and Warhol’s cool, perky Flowers hovered above the phone banks where Sotheby’s staffers in cocktail attire took bids. Hearing the crazy sums flying around (you notice a piece sold for “only” $600,000), one is struck by a palpable sense of disconnection on so many levels: the absurd link—if there is one at all—between the Art and the Prices, and the complete disconnection of the high rollers sitting in the room from the workers outside haplessly protesting because their jobs are being hollowed out by the greedy corporation. It’s a fiesta of alienation.
Nibbling on dainty snacks afterward, we are told the total haul of the evening was a mere $266.6 million, compared with the record-breaking total Tuesday night at Christie’s: $388 million, the biggest ever for a postwar/contemporary auction. There was a vague anticlimactic feeling in the room. Nevertheless, a Sotheby’s spokesperson reassured us: “Global demand for masterpieces is unparalleled. This market is healthy.” Tell that to the workers outside.
My next stop was collector-curator-writer–self-promoter Adam Lindemann’s “À Rebours” show, inspired by Huysmans’s echt-decadent novel of the same name about the rich aesthete who retreats into his own private world “to immerse himself in art collecting and erotic fetishism.” A fin de siècle metaphor for the 1 percent? Rather than fleece workers, he does all kinds of outré and louche things, such as bedazzling his pet turtle (who literally dies of artifice). The invite sported Odilon Redon’s portrait of Des Esseintes, Huymans’s antihero, and promised absinthe.
“Absinthe today has all the bohemian menace of a McNally’s restaurant,” sniffed a wag. But whatever.
We trudged from Sotheby’s to Madison Avenue, where Lindemann’s new space, Venus over Manhattan, is in the same swanky building as Gagosian. The lights were dim, the crowd was glam (vintage supermodel Linda Evangelista was there), and the installation—including contemporary pieces as well as old-timers like Fuseli, Gustave Moreau, and Dalí—was schadenfreude-heavy. Like an “art house of horrors,” someone said of the fetishy content (Damien Hirst grinning With Dead Head, Andra Ursuta’s noose suspended by a balloon, Dash Snow’s pill bottles, a Jivaro shrunken head, stuff like that.)
“It feels like the prelude to an Eyes Wide Shut situation,” said another.
Or a billionaire’s MFA show: Sexytime at The Olde Curiosity Shoppe. A poignant-looking guard was parked all night near an X-rated sculpture by Jeff Koons: Violet-Ice (Kama Sutra).
“They’re going to hate whatever you do,” an insider said he’d advised Lindemann, “so that frees you up!”
Left: Dealer Lisa Spellman with artist Karen Kilimnik. Right: Artists Space director Stefan Kalmar with musician Alan Vega.
THURSDAY, MAY 4TH. The calendar is daunting—and impressive. Frieze New York is underway, the contemporary auctions are just ahead, and tonight, with so many visiting collectors and curators around, more than fifteen galleries in Manhattan are opening new shows, with dinners to follow. Creative Time is holding its annual benefit gala at Roseland. Artists Space is hosting a party at SubMercer, as it is every night for the run of Frieze. The New York art world is a horn of plenty and the whole town is digging in.
Rachel Harrison is heading toward Greene Naftali. It’s still early, only a few people around, better to see the rough, color-drenched totems on view. “It’s all about greatness and suffering,” she says, tying up the evening in one neat bow. Back on the street, steady streams of art people—there’s Jacqueline Humphries! Stuart Comer, in from London! Vincent and Shelly Fremont!—are making the sidewalks of Chelsea nearly impassable.
At Gladstone Gallery, the artist—Anish Kapoor—is not yet present, for his first show in New York in four years, but his heaping new sculptures at the West Twenty-fourth Street space call plenty of attention to themselves. None are smooth or shiny. They’re entropic concrete pillars encrusted with tangled masses of what look like shells, penile forms, and entrails that have been pushed out of a pastry bag, fossils of indeterminate age.
A few steps down Twenty-fourth Street, at Matthew Marks, Gary Hume’s “Anxiety and the Horse” paintings are magnificent distillations of current events in poured enamel. Novelist Jeffrey Eugenides is at Marks on West Twenty-second, where his friend Thomas Demand is showing a captivating stop-motion film. In it, the furnishings of an ocean liner’s café slide and tumble as if they were extras from the Poseidon Adventure. There’s a line outside Gagosian on West Twenty-first, people pushing past the guards to get inside, where architect David Adjaye has constructed curving walls and pointed niches for the display of Richard Avedon’s mural photographs and contact sheets. Several walls are bare. It wasn’t easy for this gallery to leave blank white space between the works, he says. The place is so crowded no one can see them anyway.
On Washington Square, in art consultant Mark Fletcher’s homey new viewing space, Helmut Lang is introducing a group of phallic rubber sculptures. A little further downtown, the inimitable Sturtevant is holding court at Gavin Brown, surrounded by appreciative artists (Alex Katz, Pablo Bronstein, Spencer Sweeney, Elizabeth Peyton), dealers (Nicky Verber, Marc Foxx, Niklas Svennung, Toby Webster), and curators (Beatrix Ruf, Daniel Baumann) from hither and yon.
At Gavin’s, dinner is served upstairs, while Fletcher welcomes guests to his soiree for Lang in the penthouse of the Paul Rudolph–designed house on Beekman Place. But there’s room for (nearly) everyone in this art world, and Marks has taken many—Jay Jopling, Terry Winters, A. M. Homes, Mirabelle Marden, Sarah Thornton, Jessica Silverman, Suzanne Cotter, Tacita Dean, and Rudolf Stingel, among a hundred or so others—to his communal dinner for Hume and Demand at Il Buco Alimentari and Vineria. There’s more than anyone can possibly eat.
At midnight, the dance floor at Roseland is emptying of survivors from Creative Time’s dance marathon, Karl Holmqvist is in the throes of his spoken-word performance at Alex Zachary Peter Currie, and the most underground party of all, in the cellar at SubMercer, is starting up for any nonclaustrophobes who want to burrow down for the night with Princess Julia.
Before anyone can turn a head, Saturday is upon us. This is Kehinde Wiley’s day to debut at Sean Kelly, where a documentary film crew is attending his every word and move. Models for his new paintings—of black women this time, not men—whom he plucked from the street to dress in Riccardo Tisci couture and pose in the manner of a Gainsborough, Sargent, or David, are milling in the crowd. It’s easy to see why they were attractive to Wiley. One, named Treisha, has an insouciant smile and patches of multihued hair forming a floral pattern on the shaved side of her dyed-blonde head.
On West Twenty-fifth Street, the Pace Gallery has erected a tent outside the door, where a bartender is serving drinks and cleverly giving visitors to Loris Gréaud’s theatrical debut with the gallery unobstructed views of his heavy-breathing movie set of an installation. “It’s about an unveiling,” says Gréaud, whose face lights up when Centre Pompidou president Alain Seban walks up to give him a manly hug.
Left: Curator Sylvia Chivaratanond and artist Sturtevant. Right: Dealer Andrea Rosen and artist Gary Hume.
Fran Lebowitz is at the door of Mary Boone’s gallery, where Francesco Clemente holds court—one of the several Italians (Fontana, Penone, Calzolari, Gnoli, et al.) with shows in New York just now. David Salle is there, while artist Luca Buvoli is squiring Laura Cherubini and Mila Dau. “The Italians,” says Dau. “We used to be great. Now we’re back!”
So is Tauba Auerbach, in her first show with Paula Cooper, happy to have found so elegant a home for her new woven fabric wall works and trompe l’oeil “Fold” paintings. There’s only one artwork on the walls of Artists Space Books and Talks, a recent lighted sculpture by Suicide’s Alan Vega, the artist and musician whom the forty-year-old nonprofit is honoring at its Annual Friends of Artists Space Dinner. The artists among the 180 guests—T. J. Wilcox, Tony Oursler, Liam Gillick, Sarah Morris, Jutta Koether, Hume, Holmqvist—are outnumbered by the Friends, patrons who contribute, board president Allan Schwartzman says during a cocktail-hour speech, 25 percent of the gallery’s funds. “We’re happy to have a dinner to give you and not an event to charge you,” he says, and the crowd troops to its tables for food prepared by Fergus and Margot Henderson, of St. John in London.
Luckily, my dinner partners include art historian Irving Sandler, who came up with the idea for Artists Space, after asking a bunch of artists what they needed most. “A gallery,” they said. After persuading the New York State Council on the Arts to support it, Artists Space was born. The early programs consisted of those with going careers proposing shows by younger talents. That was before Helene Winer took over as director, transforming the gallery into one of the most vital exhibition and performance spaces downtown and giving birth to the so-called Pictures generation.
Sandler goes back a long time. “In 1952,” he says, “this room would have been the whole art world.” “It still is!” a nearby curator quips. Before this repartee can continue, Emily Sundblad appears at the mic to give a full-throated performance of two obscure ballads that enthrall everyone. Then it’s Diego Cortez’s turn to toast Vega, only he propels musician Arto Lindsay forward to read his speech instead. “Artists became artists because they’re bad at everything else,” he begins, characterizing Vega’s music as “a microphone smashed against your head.” A standing ovation for the silent, red-bespectacled Vega follows, with an emotional, impromptu testimonial by Kim Gordon. “After seeing Suicide,” the Sonic Youth bassist and vocalist says, “I was scarred for life.”
Left: Dealer Barbara Gladstone, artist T.J. Wilcox, and collector Barbara Jakobson. Right: Musician Ric Ocasek.
Sunday dawns, none the worse for wear. At Salon 94, new terrariums by Paula Hayes are on show for a book signing and brunch that precedes the Karen Kilimnik exhibition at collector Peter Brant’s foundation in Greenwich, Connecticut. Here, it is clear that the art world has far expanded its 1952 borders. The barn and the lawn swarm with artists, collectors, and dealers invited to lunch beneath an enormous tent erected beside Brant’s polo field. One of Urs Fischer’s monumental lumpen “torsos” stands tall on the grounds, Jeff Koons’s melancholy flowering Puppy just beyond.
The minions return to Manhattan just in time for the opening of the New Museum’s pack of spring shows, all by women: Klara Liden, Phyllida Barlow, Tacita Dean, Nathalie Djurberg, Ellen Altfest, and Stanya Kahn. “I’ve been around too long and seen too much,” says Peter Schjeldahl, before being swallowed up in a crowd still hungry for the art on view.
“This is a turning point for women,” New Museum director Lisa Phillips tells everyone seated for the Burberry- and W magazine–sponsored dinner at the Bowery Hotel, the closing event of an art-addled week. But it isn’t really over. From the way it looks now, it will never end. The auctions are here. There are more shows opening, more dinners to attend. Documenta is on the near horizon. The Hong Kong and Basel art fairs are nipping at our heels. And art will live long after the rest of us have gone to bed.
THEY TOLD US it would be big but it wasn’t. It was huge—a mile-long tent that snaked along the East River on Randall’s Island, home to a kids’ soccer stadium and a hospital for the criminally insane. What better place for the first Frieze New York?
Ever since Frieze cofounders Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp chose the site for the London fair’s New York sibling, people have been calling them mad. Who would go to this remote and seemingly sinister place? How many people had even heard of it? No one knew how to get there. And if people did go, how long would they want to stay? Wasn’t Armory Arts Week over just yesterday?
All question of the fair’s viability was put to rest on Thursday, May 3, when ten thousand visitors streamed its way by car, train, bus, ferry, and, in the case of Maurizio Cattelan, bicycle from Chelsea. VIP cardholders could opt for a chauffeur-driven BMW 7, featuring three sound works—by Martin Creed, Frances Stark, and writer Rick Moody—commissioned by Frieze Projects curator Cecilia Alemani.
Union rats protesting the fair’s use of nonunion labor greeted us at the south entrance to the fair, but in this context it was easy to mistake them for a failed Bruce High Quality Foundation project. The undulating worm of a tent, designed by Brooklyn-based SO – IL (Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu), was far more welcoming. It had superhigh ceilings free of ductwork, let in plenty of daylight, and accommodated three long, curving aisles and a dispersion of good local eateries all around the sides.
Left: Dealer Daniel Buchholz. Right: Architect Florian Idenburg and New Museum curator Masimilliano Gioni.
I saw Armory Show chief Paul Morris wearing a concerned expression, and Art Basel codirectors Marc Spiegler and Annette Schönholzer in whispered huddles throughout the day. Everyone else—dealers, shoppers, browsers—took it all in with obvious pleasure. Has ever an art fair been more humanizing and congenial? “It’s great,” said collector Raymond Learsy. “The best I’ve ever seen.”
Because of its amenities and broad open spaces, including the sculpture-appointed park outside (where there was also a beer garden, a Roberta’s pizza joint, and several mobile kitchens), the fair also felt more like a mall than a convention. It certainly induced nonstop shopping. “People really came to buy,” said the Modern Institute’s Andrew Hamilton, from a stand that opened onto one of several capacious lounge areas. “We’re doing great!” (I guess it helps when your gallery has a Turner Prize finalist on its roster for four years in a row.)
The day went by smoothly, with only one contretemps—a showdown between critic Jerry Saltz and collector Adam Lindemann, pronounced enemies who found themselves in the 303 Gallery booth at the same time and drew a crowd of camera phone–wielding videographers. Otherwise the loudest sound was the whoosh of air kisses.
Dealers, said Andrew Renton, the English curator turned Marlborough London dealer, took the fair seriously enough to bring the work that attracted cash-dispensing clients from Europe and South America as well as the UK and New York. He was also impressed by the effort New York galleries made to time spring shows by attention-getters like Dana Schutz, Liam Gillick, Hanna Liden, and Ryan McGinley with the fair and the auctions. “It feels like New York has finally joined up,” he said, as if this gallery-rich city had been slow to cotton on to the global art feast.
Left: Dealers Toby Webster and Andrew Hamilton. Right: Artist Roe Ethridge.
“I sold that piece to New York, that one to an English collector, that to Brazil, and another to Australia,” said a perspiring Alex Logsdail, indicating the cadmium yellow Anish Kapoor, a Ryan Gander, and two sound-and-light works by Haroon Mirza on the Lisson Gallery stand. Likewise, Sadie Coles couldn’t seem to write up sales fast enough. Gisela Capitain had no trouble unloading a Kippenberger painting. Many other works were small to medium-size, with a concentration of cash-and-carry painting and sculpture and several examples of the sort of showmanship that is endemic to fairs.
Michele Maccarone made one of the more amenable showcases, with a suspended log by Oscar Tuazon and Elias Hansen in front of a wall of beautiful Ann Craven paintings. Greene Naftali chose to display a cutesy-pie monster of rags, plastic buckets, lampshade, and other colorful detritus mounted by gelitin on a vehicle that couldn’t drive a straight line. Salon 94 featured Liz Cohen’s clever Trabantimino—an amalgam of a Trabant and an El Camino—with the artist on hand to demonstrate the cream-colored car’s ability to expand and contract, raise and lower, for ease of parking and stowing.
Tracey Emin also made a personal appearance, stopping at the White Cube booth with ICA London director Gregor Muir to check on the installation of a recent neon. “So how’s your love life?” she asked Muir. “I see you have your cat,” he deflected, noting the maquette of a new series of sculptures clutched in her hand. She had just come from the foundry in Brooklyn, she said, where they are being cast for her upcoming retrospective at the Turner Contemporary. “I met the queen,” she said, of that museum’s opening. “She shook my hand, which was only proper.” It wasn’t a boast. The once-beleaguered girl from Margate was clearly proud to have buried old demons.
Dealer Jocelyn Wolff was more circumspect about having won the $10,000 prize for best booth, for his Hans Schabus entry in the fair’s multigallery “Focus” on single artists. Opening the jeroboam of Pommery champagne that came with the award, he said, “Such a cliché to give the champagne to the French gallerist.”
But many dealers went all out with their presentations, Andrea Rosen, Eva Presenhuber, Regen Projects, Victoria Miro, Kurimanzutto, and Elizabeth Dee among them. A prize for austerity should have gone to Reena Spaulings’s show of single works by Jutta Koether and Klara Liden. Lest anyone forget that art began before yesterday, John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres revived the ghost of Fashion Moda, the scrappy 1970s collective, with painted plaster casts from their “South Bronx Hall of Fame,” the only work in Frieze Projects inside the tent. Ahearn was also casting portraits of anyone at the fair willing to fork over $3,000. “Do you know how long it’s been since any art person came knocking on my door?” he said, satisfied with the response his project was getting.
That was nice, but when I left, the one booth that stuck in my mind was Gavin Brown’s. The dealer was serving spicy wursts, gratis Rirkrit Tiravanija, with his separated-at-birth look-alike, actor Mark Ruffalo, also his neighbor upstate where the drinking water is endangered by fracking. The performance was to call attention to the problem, and to raise funds for Water Defense, an organization fighting the practice. “I’m doing this because I don’t want my children to grow up drinking poisoned water,” Ruffalo said. (Tiravanija’s limited edition of single boxed silver sausages, stuffed with shredded copies of the federal Water Pollution Control Act, chewed up the sales column.)
On the way out, I passed dealer Lisa Spellman. “If I have to hear one more person say how much they love this fair, I’ll start hallucinating,” she said. No wonder. By that time, Randall’s Island looked less like a park than a mirage in a landscape of greenbacks, and Frieze just another art fair on the run to Hong Kong and Basel and . . . and . . .
Left: Artist Courtney Love. (Photo: John Arthur Peetz) Right: A celebration for The Pocket Guide to Politics at the Standard. (Photo: Billy Farrell Agency)
DEAR ARTFORUM DIARY, your brave correspondent spent May Day with the 1 percent.
In the trenches! First was the press preview for Courtney Love’s art show at Fred Torres Collaborations. Who doesn’t love celebrity vanity art? Especially if there’s some wreckiness involved. The odds of that were good, if Love’s prolific Twitter activity and outfit-blogging (which I enjoy on www.whatcourtneyworetoday.com) and her general history are any indication. I wasn’t expecting her to actually attend this thing, so when I arrived I was surprised to be told she was on her way.
There were a lot of works on paper. They looked like tween doodles of roughed-up, sexy, baby-doll chicks with Courtney’s free associations scrawled across the page like graffiti: phrases like “I’m a celebrity get me out of here,” “Fuck you all,” “I want my baby, where is my baby.” What you would expect. The drawing was stilted and “adolescent,” I kept overhearing that word, but I thought it was good Courtney Love celebrity art. Press started to fill the gallery. The always fabulous Lynn Yaeger looked like a mature version of the artist’s kewpie doll–type figures.
“You must see the dresses,” she said.
Love had included two objets: one a white bridal dress with “Not my cunt on my dime mister” embroidered on it in red; one vitrine displaying a “glass slipper” and a lacy garment machine-embroidered with “Fuck yes tell me it doesn’t hurt/it feels good/fuck me . . .” While I was taking this in (Cinderella art?), the celebrity had somehow slipped in the back room of the gallery and we were told to wait because she owed Yaeger an interview. Fine, we waited. And waited. I wasn’t even expecting the star to be there but now that she was there she had set up a VIP room situation, making us wait. Ugh. In any case, she never came out. (I did sneak a peak: She was talking to a camera held by a fashiony looking guy. She was wearing a demure black frock with a white Peter Pan collar, looking pale, skinny, and happy—not scary-mode.)
Left: Artist Aurel Schmidt and André Saraiva. Right: Audrey Gelman and filmmaker Lena Dunham. (Photo: Billy Farrell Agency)
Only the early Tom Wolfe could do justice to the next event: “Celebrating The Pocket Guide to Politics”—a collaboration between D4D (Downtown for Democracy) and OHWOW—at the superglamorous Top of the Standard Hotel. Instead of “radical chic” it was “status quo chic,” a well-meaning but utterly clueless attempt to energize the Democratic base among high-end hipsters—on May Day, when people are swarming the streets precisely because the two-party system is broken. Hello??
The earnest “pocket guide” is a hiply illustrated high school civics–level primer on how government works larded with Democratic Party talking points. (Don’t they know Obama has given himself the power to assassinate anyone he decides is a terrorist? What about the bank bailouts? Endless wars? No accountability for war crimes/banksters? Our slide into corporatocracy?) Thumbing through it, I couldn’t help but think it’s kind of sad that even people who are well intentioned will get no clue if they only read the corporate media (which account for all the book’s sources).
The invite masthead branded the event with Art-meets-Fashion-meets-Socialite downtown glitz: from Terry Richardson to Gavin Brown to children of famous artists (you get the vibe). As a mental fashion victim moment it was up there with a Fashion Week event I fondly recall from the 1990s: “Supermodels Steppin’ Out Against Hunger.” (Yes, that really happened. I was there!)
I took in the cultural contradictions along with the champagne, chatted with whoever, and parked myself on a sleek banquette. As I gazed at the stunning Hudson River view, the lameness of the event wafted over me. On May Day, of all days, when the Occupy movement is trying to reenergize. A connoisseur of perversity would savor this delicious flower of decadence. As Nietzsche would say, “Encore! Make it even more disgusting!”
In parting, the ladies’ room at the Top of the Standard was a gift, a perfect metaphor for the 1 percent: the toilet crazily close to a floor-to-ceiling window—vertigo-inducing if you have a fear of heights (which I discovered I do not but wonder if anyone has freaked out there). You are totally exposed to this breathtaking view uptown: You basically flash the city from on high, and then you pee on it.
Left: Photographer Terry Richardson and Theophilus London. (Photo: Billy Farrell Agency) Right: A protester at Madison Square Park.
IT’S FRIDAY AFTER MIDNIGHT, and we’re standing on the stairs overseeing the dancing crowd at Times Bar. A DJ team plays Smurf techno and the go-getter, post-Net-art faction of Neukölln’s expat community throws their arms into the air. Times Bar is part of what was, until recently, a well-oiled system of artist dives along the north-south route of the U8 subway, including the now defunct Atlas at Kottbusser Tor and Smaragd in Pankstraße. Tonight at Times it’s a special occasion: Artist Marlie Mul has hung one of her disturbing, cute silk paintings riffing on tobacco culture and pregnancy behind the bar. Next to us, in a moment of drunken Situationist revelation, artist Britta Thie asks the weekend’s fundamental question: “What do we do with this city?” Pure rhetoric, of course, but it felt fitting. The feedback that Kim Gordon and her niece, dancer Elle Erdman, let out at Harlekin in Schöneberg, next to Mathew Gallery, still echoed in our heads.
As usual, it’s hard to remember where this year’s Gallery Weekend Berlin actually began: Maybe on Tuesday night, when the 032c socialites gathered on the third floor of the Brandlhuber building at Brunnenstraße to celebrate a presentation of dealer Alexander Schröder’s private collection. The evening, which was not officially part of the Weekend, offered more evidence that, like his role model Andy Warhol, 032c inventor and German Interview editor in chief Jörg Koch loves to be around beautiful people: models, artists, architects, heirs, soigné creative types.
The air was stale and the iPod delivered a crude mix of electro-post-punk. In a twenty-six-foot-long Konstantin Grcic–designed display cabinet, Schröder presented a mélange of Asian antiques and contemporary art: rolled-up Persian carpets, Chinese and Japanese tea sets, and Mao’s Little Red Book, as well as art by Danh Vo and lunch-box objects by Rirkrit Tiravanija. Schröder spurned the chance to “show off,” flaunting instead his disregard for the pervasive imperative for transparency. Nevertheless, this evening the drama felt a little habitual, a vibe matched by the worn carpets on display. We came back to the first floor of the same premises on Saturday morning, when artist Alice Creischer and her dealer, Galerie KOW’s Alexander Koch, performed a reading from Creischer’s new play. The subject? The illusion that scientific knowledge is unbiased by ideological power (prominently featuring a bunch of lab mice, of course).
In one way or another, most of the things that happened during the latest iteration of Gallery Weekend thematized the very idea of routine and, subsequently, offered lessons on how to cope with bad habits. The Weekend, now in its eighth year, opened alongside the Seventh Berlin Biennale. The novelty and excitement of each has attenuated. Both are professionalized affairs, but each has different strategies for dealing with this. The biennial—cocurated by Polish artist Artur Żmijewski and Joanna Warsza and associate curators Voina—felt like a case of auto-aggression. Instead of artists showing their work, Żmijewski invited Occupy activists to camp inside the ground floor of the Kunst-Werke during the biennial’s two-month tenure. But the revivification of social sculptor Joseph Beuys as globalization protester (sponsored by 2.5 million euros from the German Federal Cultural Foundation) came off thin. The motto was: “What can art do for real politics?” But in reality it looked like politics only; the art seemed lost on the way. An exemplary statement by Voina, distributed on Wednesday during the biennial press conference, read: “Exhibitions are harmful to contemporary art. Artists only think about what and where they can exhibit. So, the less exhibits at the biennial, the better.” For Ingo Arend, the critic of the leftish-liberal daily Tageszeitung, the biennial succeeded in discrediting political art. Its failure proved to be just another sad example of the “disturbed relationship to aesthetics of many leftists.”
Accordingly, there was a schism between the opening of the biennial and the Gallery Weekend: Although the two events took place in venues throughout the city, one felt one had to make an either/or decision. (Additionally, of course, there were many alternatives to both, such as the excellent Tarkovsky-inspired, post-Fukushima group show “La Zona” at Kreuzberg’s NGBK.) The only moment of intersection between Gallery Weekend and the biennial came early Thursday evening. On one side of the Augustraße, in the backyard of the former Jewish School for Girls (now a clone of the restaurant Grill Royal), there was the inaugural Gallery Weekend cocktail. Across the street, at the Kunst-Werke, the biennial’s opening commenced. “Here are the 1 percent—over there the 99 percent,” the critic Dominikus Müller joked. Was it really that easy? Probably not. Shortly after the opening, the group Rosa Perutz published a strong critique of the biennial’s radical-chic impetus: “In their appeal, the biennial reproduces the usual appeals to God, nation, and state as safe factors of collectivization and recalls reactionary stereotypes of repressive mass art, which seeks to ensure a community cohesion of their audience by emotional overwhelming.”
As for Gallery Weekend, well, that’s a different matter. The event that began in 2005 with twenty-one participants has come of age (and then some). With fifty-one participating galleries this year, it feels saturated. Big, waterproof exhibitions with Julian Schnabel (Contemporary Fine Arts), Jenny Holzer (Sprüth Magers), and Robert Longo (Capitain Petzel) were symptomatic of the event’s glossy, fail-safe side. The more progressive, adventurous shows were to be found at Bortolozzi (a group exhibition that included local magicians who share the gallery’s building), Croy Nielsen (Andy Boot), and Supportico Lopez (Gino De Dominicis). On Saturday, 1,300 dealers, collectors, artists, and critics attended the now traditional gala dinner, which this year took place in the grand foyer and staircase of a Jugendstil courthouse near Alexanderplatz. It was a casual, buffet affair, and the whole thing buzzed like a beehive. We enjoyed the mundane setting. But somehow we couldn’t resist asking the sponsor’s shuttle service to take us to the Smaragd Bar for our last drink.
Left: Nationalgalerie director Udo Kittelmann, dealer Esther Schipper, collector Charlotte von Koerber, and Christina Weiss of the Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie. Right: Artist Robert Longo (right) signs books.