SUMMER CAMP started early this year with a weekend of post-Basel R & R in Greece. Actually, the Swiss fair was still in progress when the first escapees arrived in Athens last Friday. With hardly a stop for breath, artists, collectors, and curators were whisked away to supercollector Dakis Jouannou’s Deste Foundation for the opening of “Macho,” an exhibition of self-portrait photographs by Juergen Teller, curated by Marina Fokidis. This is how art people take the pressure off—by immersing themselves in art that they can’t buy or sell.
Joannou didn’t go to Basel, because, as he said, he didn’t need to go. Artists come to him these days, even “retired” artists like Maurizio Cattelan, and well they should. Joannou doesn’t collect art to flatter his ego or because it’s a good investment. He does it for fun, and takes it seriously. He listens to artists, and curators as well, and if he likes what he hears he’ll support their projects. He also challenges them with ideas of his own, and one of them has to do with the increasingly tangled weave of art and fashion.
Though he makes little distinction between the two himself, Teller’s career as a photographer has been mainly in high fashion, shooting such models as Kate Moss and, indelibly, Charlotte Rampling. Fokidis, artistic director of Kunsthalle Athena, looked at his more personal pictures and wanted to do a show with them. Joannou gave her the shot. “We decided on the self-portraits,” she said during a cocktail party in the small Deste garden, as dealer Sadie Coles (Teller’s wife) chatted in mixed company that included collectors Iasson Tsakonas and Diana Widmaier-Picasso, O32c editor Jörg Koch, and Palais de Tokyo’s Myriam Ben Salah. “They’re less known,” Fokidis said, “and they have a completely different aesthetic.”
Indeed they do. In these pictures, which are quite modest in size if not in content, Teller forgoes the Greek ideal of a hunk (seen in photos of statuary) to make himself look like a sheepish, beer-bellied lout cavorting nude with his family and hopelessly working out in a gym. The show was a far cry from “Magic Numbers,” an exhibition also opening that night at the George Economou Collection.
Economou is the new Stavros Niarchos, as it were, a billionaire shipping magnate who caught the art bug in the 1990s and, following Joannou’s example, opened his compact, three-story exhibition space two years ago. Guggenheim Museum curator Katharine Brinson was tapped to organize Johnson’s edifying, seven-piece show, which begins with an open mahogany vitrine the size of a Ping-Pong table that Johnson filled with glowing, buttercup-yellow shea butter, a commissioned sculpture. Upstairs, a scatter of Persian rugs offered seating for his choreographed film, New Black Yoga, the first Johnson work to enter Economou’s collection.
Though Mark Bradford stopped by on his way to Dubai, and collectors like Richard Chang, Frances Reynolds, and Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo were on the scene with Tsakonas and Jouannou, the opening also attracted a curious complement of art dealers from abroad: Ursula Hauser and Iwan Wirth, Per Skarstedt, David Zwirner Gallery directors Hannah Schouwink and Christopher D’Amelio, Sarah Watson, and Monique Meloche, who was the first to show Johnson in his hometown, Chicago, and still does.
Left: Guggenheim Museum curator Katharine Brinson. Right: Mathias Augustyniak.
Johnson’s entire family also came for the event. So did Re Rebaudengo’s two sons and Economou’s children, Alexandra and Phillip. Buses ferried the whole kit and kaboodle to dinner under a large tent on the patio of Economou’s graceful house in suburban Maroussi, where German art from Beckmann to Baselitz hung on the walls with paintings by Bradford and Johnson. “I’m sure many of you are happy to be out of Basel,” he said at toast time. “You can thank me for that.” People did. You could tell by the wild dancing that ensued after dinner, when Johnson got down with Bradford and Watson, and Christian Rosa spent as much time rolling on the floor as he did upright. Economou didn’t join them but watched from a safe distance “I like to meet the artists,” he said of his switch from older art to contemporary. “We’re friends.”
On Saturday afternoon, a group of us, including Swiss Institute director Simon Castets, PIN-UP editor Felix Burrichter, and artist Angelo Plessas, followed fabulist artist Andreas Angelidakis through the imaginary and repurposed architecture of “Every End Is a Beginning,” a retrospective of his sculpture and video at Athens’s contemporary art museum. That evening, Joannou took back the stage with the opening of “destefashioncollection 1-8” at the Benaki Museum’s contemporary art annex in Pireos. This was something new that caught everyone by surprise. It’s not that Joannou has added fashion to his art and furniture collections. But in his growing role as instigator, he has invited an artist, photographer, designer, and architect to put together a capsule collection of clothing, photographs, or accessories every year since 2007, and this was the first eight capsules’ exposure to the public.
The idea, and a transparent dress by André Corrčges, inspired Charles Ray in 2011 to dispense with clothing or objects in favor of photographs of nude fashion models posed as if they were dressed, and “accessorized” by tan lines and cropped pubic hair, and presented in vitrines as pages from a mail order catalogue. Brilliant.
Equally awesome was an impossible-to-wear, flamboyant Viktor & Rolf dress chosen by poet Patrizia Cavalli (2010) as the centerpiece of her capsule, which also featured python shoes by Alexander McQueen and pages of her manuscripts. Teller picked his own photographs; M/M, the Parisian art and design duo Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyiak (the first to accept the commission), approached fashion connoisseurship with designs by Alaďa, Comme des Garçons, Marc Jacobs, and Yves Saint Laurent, and made drawings of same on enamel.
Last year, Diller Scofidio + Renfro took the plunge and married fashion to architecture by creating, with photographer Matthew Monteith, a cocktail party narrative shot in Philip Johnson’s Glass House and coupling it with designer accessories that could have come from either its time or ours. Diller was on hand for the opening, as were Ausgutyiak and Monteith. So was Kim Gordon, who accepted Joannou’s assignment to do next year’s collection. “I have no idea what to do,” she said. She’ll figure it out, I’m sure.
Judging from the exhibition’s ingenious design, she’ll be in good hands. Working from an essay (“What Is the Contemporary?”) by Giorgio Agamben, Deste curator Nadja Argyropoulou worked with architects Mark Wasiuta and Adam Bandler (both from Columbia University) to organize each capsule within dissolving “rooms” formed by slowly moving chain curtains hung from the sort of track system used by dry cleaners. Works were displayed on poles, in vitrines, on stationary walls, or Plexi shelves, and viewers from Greek collector Alexandra Martinou to Harold Koda, chief curator of the Metropolitan Museum’s Anna Wintour Costume Center, snaked between them as the moving curtains created an enthralling, peek-a-boo experience. “It all has to do with desire,” Argyropoulou said. “It’s very different, not what you’d expect,” observed an admiring Re Rebaudengo.
Joannou has been germinating the art/fashion connection ever since he saw an Issey Miyake bodice on the cover of the February 1982 Artforum. “It took a long time but we finally found a way to do it,” he said during dinner at his home, where he rotates the installation of artworks from his personal collection each year. Roberto Cuoghi was given the marbled atrium where works by Jeff Koons and Paweł Althamer have been exhibited in the past, but recent works by Brooklyn’s Still House Group also got a room of their own while guests sprawled on couches, took tables on the patio overlooking Athens, or arranged themselves around the interior, glass-brick dance floor.
Althamer was the artist whom Joannou selected to deal with the Slaughterhouse, Deste’s project space on Hydra. The company of two hundred—billionaire collectors; fashion designers Christopher Kane and Erdem; artists Cyril Duval (aka ITEM IDEM), Jakob Ziolkowski, and Paul Chan (rumored to be next year’s Slaughterhouse choice); curators Massimiliano Gioni, Cecilia Alemani, and Adam Szymczyk; and dealers Burkhard Riemschneider, Andrzej Przywara, and Jeffrey Deitch (a Deste curator early in his career) reassembled there the following evening.
“I gave myself an assignment,” Diller said, staring into the sunset over the Slaughterhouse, which is felicitously located on a cliff overlooking the Peloponnese peninsula and the Ionian Sea. “I want to have an epiphany here.” It may have helped that Althamer titled his exhibition “The Secret of Phaistos Disc,” after the ancient, cryptic plate inscribed with inscrutable symbols discovered by archaeologists on Crete a century ago. Mysticism was in the air, though inside the slightly creepy, cement building, Althamer had installed a kind of rec room that recalled both his graffiti free-for-all at the New Museum during his recent retrospective there and Urs Fischer’s community of clay sculptors last year. Family members played with puppets of themselves or made drawings with the artist in one of two smaller rooms. “Paweł’s like a hippie generator,” Gioni joked. “He’s into workshops.” As for Althamer, he’d only say the exhibition was “spiritual.”
High spirits definitely prevailed at dinner, laid on one long, long, long table in the road. Diller, absent her own epiphany, surprised Althamer by speaking perfect Polishher native language, as it turned out. Applause broke out among his friends as Joannou made his way down the table to greet them, departing to a party on his son-in-law’s yacht while others danced at a tiny nightclub in town.
Monday morning found the collector on his own yacht, Guilty, which has a razzle-dazzle, Lichtenstein-like exterior finish designed by Koons, the first contemporary artist he collected. With Chan, Gioni, and Alemani, he left for New York and the opening of Koons’s retrospective opening at the Whitney the next day. Joannou loaned ten works to the show. I hoped one of them would be his Balloon Dog (Red), which is somehow the best of five. “No,” he said. “They took one from a local collector.” How had he come by the red one? With a broad grin, he replied, “I got there first.”
Left: Tate curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas and artist Ed Atkins. Right: Writer and editor Bob Collins with artist John Gerrard.
IT WAS A PERFECT SUMMER EVENING: Tuesday earlier this month. The sun shone in Kensington Gardens as flocks of joggers breezed by the ever-lengthening line outside the Serpentine Gallery. Names were given, ticked off lists on clipboards, and even the most august were told, “Yes, you still have to queue.” Though as the BBC’s Alan Yentob arrived on a fold-up bicycle, I got the strong impression he was being specially ushered.
A sense of excitement settled, then thickened. The line was flush with performance artists. There was Nigel Rolfe with Lois Keidan from the Live Art Development Agency; farther along, Anne Tallentire and John Seth; and standing out with a tall pink hairpiece was Silvia Ziranek. With a crowd like that, anything could happen—except nothing really did.
We were waiting to be let into the inaugural session of Marina Abramović’s 512 Hours, and it wouldn’t have been polite for a colleague to steal her thunder… Forewarned, I had come early, so it was only a short wait until we were sworn to silence and handed a card explaining that everything must be left outside in specially installed lockers: bags, coats, and, yes, cameras and mobile phones. So, clad only in dress, shoes, and a waft of the Serpentine’s new perfume (scent by Comme des Garçons, bottle by Tracey Emin, result much nicer than I anticipated), in I went.
People wandered about the hushed, empty galleries, waiting for something. Every day during the run is promised to be different, but this evening black-clad Abramović assistants mingled, occasionally taking a visitor’s hand and leading them off to face a wall or window. The one I thought was Abramović wasn’t; it can be easy to confuse tall, elegant women with epic charisma. But then suddenly, there she was. Holding the hand of Sir Norman Rosenthal, she wore a beatific, almost Stepford Wives expression. Rosenthal was led to the wall, his shoulder briefly touched—anointed. Who would Abramović pick next? She went for Nigel Rolfe, and as the pair clasped hands it was a perfect art moment.
I began to wonder what I’d do. Would I feel cheated if a non-Abramović picked me up? Of course I would. How long would I feel compelled to stare at the wall if she placed me there? Was everyone in black an assistant? Hardly: This was an art crowd, after all. I began to feel rather like I used to at school dances—an increasingly grumpy wallflower—and realizing that this wasn’t exactly in spirit, and as no one seemed prepared to take me by the hand, I took myself in hand and left.
Outside, the line had grown longer, the excitement more palpable there than within. I got the sense that everyone was anticipating the experience of remembering it later. Such is the promise of art celebrity. Richard Wilson was chatting to Joy Gerrard, both perhaps reminiscing about their public art projects at the London School of Economics. Wilson told me he was looking forward to seeing the Queen again. She will be unveiling his new sculpture, Slipstream, at Heathrow’s Terminal 2. “I met her before at the RA, when I was showing the maquette,” he said with a twinkle. “I could tell she wished she’d made it.”
I wondered if Abramović had taken him by the hand. “Of course.” And was it profoundly moving? “Not really,” though he also recalled once clubbing with Abramović and Joseph Kosuth in Japan. “That was a night…”
Ziranek was similarly unimpressed. “I liked looking, but I wanted substance. Someone took my hand, but I said no. I don’t like being led by someone I don’t know.” She told me about her Serpentine performance, in the 1990s: “I came in on a motorbike. Now that was something.”
We decided to stroll through the park to the Serpentine Sackler Galleries for the second part of the evening’s entertainment: Ed Atkins’s solo show. Tallentire told me she had taught Atkins in art school. “I always knew he’d go somewhere, I just didn’t know where. He was just one of the most wonderful students.” Outside the Sackler, Rosenthal was chatting to Lisson Gallery’s Nicholas Logsdail. How had Rosenthal felt when his hand was taken? “I felt the beautiful simplicity,” he said, much moved. “I loved it because it is what it is. So many people try to do things like this, but this…?” He broke off, lost for words.
Inside the beautifully installed Atkins show, there was a different sense of embodiment/disembodiment. Atkins’s CGI films showed such delights as a severed head bouncing down a staircase. In the new Ribbons, a man swoons at a table, burns out a cigarette, and empties the pint before him; as I watched, his head slowly deflated. It was all rather wonderful, and I wondered whether, if we were all waiting to feel nostalgic about the Abramović experience, Atkins’s scene might offer a truer sense of how we might be tomorrow morning.
The afterparty at the Polish Club seemed set to deliver on that promise. Jegors Jerohomovičs, over from Latvia to write about the event, was transported. “She puts you in a trance, when it’s her in the room, she takes over with her presence.” He had also sat with Abramović in MoMA in 2010, for The Artist Is Present. They had talked about telepathy and telephones. She gets some people that way.
Downstairs, Maureen Paley was tidying up her hair before going back up to join Wolfgang Tillmans. Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones arrived, with Peyton-Jones’s dog Charlie in arms. Obrist told me that it’s a Gesamtkunstwerk, and Peyton-Jones argued that the pairing of the shows was especially important. I think it must be a hard station to be paired with Abramović.
It was a fun night, the wine flowed, and the party spilled out into the park behind. Atkins chatted with Tate curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas about his imminent trip to Basel for “14 Rooms.” Curated by Obrist with Klaus Biesenbach, it also includes Abramović. That’s the art world for you. If you stay still long enough, it will probably all come to you.
Left: Cabinet Gallery architect Trevor Horn. Right: Curator and writer Ben Borthwick, DRAF director Vincent Honore, and artist Nicholas Deshayes.
IT’S BEEN AT LEAST A DECADE since the term “art fair art” gained critical currency. So perhaps it’s forgivable that, as we hit the ground running at the forty-fifth edition of Art Basel, the peculiar “perform the fair” attitude that once characterized the genre’s golden era seemed largely sublimated, buried in the psyche of the mostly passive-aggressive merch artists churn out to keep up with fair life.
There was a hint of return of the repressed, though, in the repurposed iteration of Tino Sehgal’s 2004 work This Is Competition in Hans Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach’s idealistic “14 Rooms,” an exhibition featuring art where “the human body is the material.” Obrist and Biesenbach enlisted Herzog & de Meuron to kit out Hall 3 of the Messeplatz, adding a palatial hall lined with mirrored doors, each of which opened onto identical, boxy rooms with portentously low ceilings. Inside, performers padded about their stalls, enacting works by artists ranging from Ed Atkins to Santiago Sierra and Marina Abravomić. Sehgal’s PR punch line might be a decade old, but it still felt fresh, demanding as it did that his various international dealers take turns standing in the room playing an elaborate game of exquisite corpse, discussing and enacting earlier of his “situations” (The Kiss, Ann Lee) even as they hawked them off.
Left: Dealers Daniel Buchholz and Max Falkenstein. Right: Collectors Mera Rubell, Don Rubell, and Jason Rubell.
A few miles east at the Fondation Beyeler, a cosponsor of “14 Rooms,” Obrist had curated a new, achronological exhibition of Gerhard Richter focused on his series and cycles. In the context of Art Basel 45, which boasted $4.4 billion worth of art (“the defense budget of a small country!” someone cried) and which rode the wave of spring auctions that netted $2.2 billion, it’s difficult to consider the artist’s paintings outside of their market. Looking at the tremendous, smeary canvases in the museum’s sun-dappled vestibules, a friend recounted Richter reservations about this very quandary, Googling an excerpt from his journals, which he read aloud in front of the artist’s still-potent October 18, 1977: “Art is wretched, cynical, stupid, helpless, confusing—a mirror image of our own spiritual impoverishment, our state of forsakenness and loss. We have lost the great ideas, the utopias, we have lost all faith, everything that creates meaning.”
“It’s not his fault his work became worth so much goddamn money,” someone said.
“I prefer the ones in color,” a fledgling collector responded.
On the evening of the VIP opening of Art Basel, Alberto Mugrabi, king of the Warhol market, hosted a dinner for a dozen-plus at the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois. Mugrabi smiled like a Cheshire cat, explaining that the masters are so cheap these days—$450,000 for a de Kooning, just slightly more than he paid for a Lucien Smith this past fall ($389,000, a record for the twenty-four-year-old artist).
Left: Alex Rotter, head of Sotheby's New York Contemporary Art department, and Brett Gorvy, chairman and international head of Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Art department. Right: Dealer Alexander Hertling.
Nearby, dealer Philippe Ségalot asked if he should get an Instagram account. I recounted the sparring match his prodigy, Christie’s Loic Gouzer (also present), had gotten into with Wade Guyton, after the artist responded to his “If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday,” auction last month, which Gouzer billed as a “curated” event that exposed “the gritty and underbelly-esque side of contemporary art.” Reacting to the $3.5 million sale of one his works, Guyton reprinted copies of said work as a sign that he could flood his own market, documenting the entire affair on Instagram. Gouzer quickly countered by printing a batch of ten nearly identical reproductions of the same work, with THANK U printed over the top, also publicizing the event via the social-media app.
“So brilliant,” Ségalot mused.
“Each is $1,000. Loic is donating the money to the whales or something,” I replied.
“Oceana—to save the sharks,” Mugrabi corrected.
“You have one?” Ségalot responded.
Left: Artist Yngve Holen. Right: Dealer Lisa Overduin.
The sun had set over the Rhine and the dining room was filled with Baselites, each wrapped up in the vagaries of their own private dinners. That evening, at least four people informed me that gallery and museum dinners have become too institutional, “boring!” In fact, the heads of both Christie’s and Sotheby’s contemporary art departments skipped other dinners to join Mugrabi’s private one, an act they stood and toasted to over cheers below.
“It’s so hot in here,” someone complained, and a tuxedoed waiter slid open the window and in gushed the night air. The Rhine looked especially dark, surging downstream under a half-moon sky.
Not everyone at Art Basel was supporting the sharks. The next evening, at a dinner for Design Miami/Basel, I sat next to Eva Franch, architect and director of New York’s Storefront for Art and Architecture. For years she refused to attend art fairs: “The first one I went to reminded me of the red-light district in Amsterdam. Everything was exotic, a circus of greed and lust. However, as someone who has committed to being part of culture, I feel responsible to participate.” Nearby was Rodman Primack, director of Design Miami/Basel, and writer Jason Farago, and the conversation soon turned to the legacy of the Frankfurt School and whether it still had any momentum in the age of the art fair. I later shared the conversation with a respected curator who scoffed, pointing out the guileless idealism, which most in the industry have long left behind.
Nearing midnight, Franch and I hailed a cab in an attempt to catch the end of a dinner that adviser and collector Eleanor Cayre was hosting for dealers in the courtyard of Restaurant Löwenzorn. Long tables had been shoved together and overtaken by a raucous set that included dealers and artists and dealer-artists from Daniel Buchholz, Peter Currie, Emily Sundblad, John Kelsey, Oliver Newton, Yngve Holen, Margaret Lee, Simon Denny, Alex Zachary, Timur Si Qin, Gió Marconi, and Ales Ortuzar. “It was supposed to be twenty-five, but it ballooned to forty,” said Cayre. “They take us out all year—I never understood why nobody ever entertains the dealers!”
The next day, I returned to the nineteenth edition of Liste, the perennially “young” art fair, which had opened at the very beginning of the week in the warren of halls and stairwells of the former Warteck Brewery. Wandering the fair, one found amid some tepid abstraction and plain-Jane Conceptualism plenty that merited a second look and further investigation. At Dublin’s Mother’s Tankstation, the apt phrase STILTED SINCERITY was projected onto the floor, near a series of Sam Anderson’s miniature sculptures which had been set alongside delicate works by Uri Aran. Upstairs, Ida Ekblad’s jubilant sculptures and paintings at Karma International evinced a compelling lack of affect, while at 47 Canal, Josh Kline’s plaster heads, hands, and shoes overlaid with FedEx logos seemed a send-up of our thoroughly corporatized, transitory times. And at Istanbul’s Galeri NON, one could find Uriel Orlow’s Unmade Film, a collection of AV works that take as their subject the complex, conflicted history of Jerusalem’s psychiatric hospital Kfar Shau’l. Orlow’s work gestures at filmic narrative but eschews resolution, finding harmony in messy loose ends. “He collapsed two nations, two histories of warring traumas—their pain and struggle is united into whole,” said Demir. And as we looked, I thought about that ineffable movement toward making our relationship to art feel more real. Sometimes, even in the expensive yet cheapening context of the fair, you glimpse these splendid moments of shared respite, when even sharks seem worth saving.
MY WATCH STOPPED last Monday, just as the VIP opening of Art Unlimited got underway. There couldn’t have been a more appropriate way to dive into the vortex of Art Basel, where time stands still and thousands of high-priced objects and images come at you from 285 different directions.
That’s the number of galleries exhibiting in the fair’s forty-fifth edition. It included Art Unlimited, Design Miami/Basel, and Art Parcours (public art), plus film and talk programs, and—special for this year—“14 Rooms,” a separately ticketed, close encounter with performance art curated by Klaus Biesenbach and Hans Ulrich Obrist. In addition to Gerhard Richter and Wolfgang Tillmans shows at the Fondation Beyeler, Charles Ray and Kazimir Malevich at Kunstmuseum Basel, and Paul Chan at the Schaulager, this fun house provided daily escape from the pressure cooker of the fair. But no one hoping to pull in a year’s income in three days’ time could afford to stay away long.
In the cavernous Unlimited hall, oversize artworks that have never found a proper home have a chance to seize the day. On Monday afternoon, however, the space was so jammed with people that it was a while before the diagonal path underfoot revealed itself as a three-hundred-meter-long, steel-tile floor sculpture that Carl Andre made for the 1982 Documenta, and remade for sale at Art Basel.
It’s like that here. A massive 1996 circle of driftwood by Richard Long and a 1966 installation of steel squares by David Lamelas were other site-specific ghosts returning for a run at the current market. Next to Christian Marclay’s sixteen-channel, rattling and rolling video homage to Fluxus, the buzz-worthiest artwork at Unlimited was Hanne Darboven’s obsessive, witness-to-history environment, Children of This World (1990–96), which involved more than two thousand pages of notations.
Nevertheless, it was a hanging, hammock-like swatch of orange polyester that curator Gianni Jetzer gave a commanding central position. A collaboration by Sam Falls and the California sun, which had bleached a grid pattern into the fabric that had sat for some time under industrial pallets, it swooped down from two points on the ceiling and divided opinion as it did the space. Some called “sensational” what others termed “unnecessary,” but as a whole the show won Jetzer high marks.
Andra Ursuta’s wicked Transylvanian hair salon brought rare humor into the proceedings, but it was hard to believe that colossi like the Mylar balloon that Trevor Paglan will launch into orbit in outer space were really for sale. “People buy stuff like this all the time,” reported Protocinema’s Mari Spirto. Isn’t it wonderful the way collectors support the ambitions of artists who want to take us places we wouldn’t otherwise go?
“14 Rooms” opened to the Basel public a few days before the fair, but it was invitation-only for a cocktail reception that evening in the former design hall, which architects Herzog and de Meuron had retrofitted for the live peep shows within. They included notable new pieces by Ed Atkins and Otobong Nkanga and one—Jordan Wolfson’s scary, pole-dancing robot—attracted a surprise guest, Marina Abramović, who broke from her current show at the Serpentine Gallery in London to attend a dinner in her honor at the Beyeler. Tino Sehgal was also on the scene, outside the room where pairs of dealers from his various galleries were performing This Is Competition, “showing” Sehgal works requested by spectators and then, adopting the stilted cadence of David Mamet characters, attempting to sell them. Hilarious.
As darkness fell, the troops scattered to gallery dinners all over town, though Sadie Coles, Konrad Fischer, Barbara Gladstone, Xavier Hufkens, Anton Kern, Yvon Lambert, Michele Maccarone, Gió Marconi, Eva Presenhuber, Shaun Caley Regen, and Sprüth Magers combined forces for an all-in-one, power buffet at the former stables on the Reithalle Wenekenhof estate. After that, the nightly revel in the Kunsthalle garden seemed redundant, but because a thousand other people were drinking and chattering as if there were no tomorrow, it almost wasn’t.
Inevitably, tomorrow came, bringing no fashion designers, and no Kanye or Leo to add a touch of glamour to the First Choice preview of the main fair’s opening. Nonetheless, the ranks of privileged VIPs gaining early entrance seemed to have swelled since last year. “It’s awfully crowded for the first hour,” said superstar advisor Allan Schwartzman, browsing the nearly impassable ground floor with his new business partner, Amy Cappellazzo. “I think it’s more crowded but less active,” ventured Sam Orlofsky from the bench outside the thronged Gagosian booth, where a new Mark Tansey still life tucked between the big-name resale items proved one of the standout works in the fair.
“Everyone wants to be in the art world now, I guess,” said Marian Goodman, deftly negotiating the traffic in her stand to greet LA MoCA’s new director, Philippe Vergne. Since hiring Helen Molesworth as the museum’s chief curator, his approval rating has shot to an all-time high, at least for a director at that institution. “I’ve got two more weeks of honeymoon,” he estimated, extolling the virtues of the stripped-down Charles Ray show before inquiring about a primo Julie Mehretu painting in the booth. “It’s sold,” said the indefatigable Goodman, who at eighty-three is opening a new space in London this fall. “I might be crazy,” she said. Not really.
With increasingly fewer dealers of modern art in the fair, more of their contemporary counterparts—dealers identified as primary market leaders—devoted their inventory to lucrative secondary market works by artists or estates they either represent or don’t, making their booths into consignment shops and altering the profile of the gallery.
Overall, the king of art fairs felt like just another trade show, one that marched to a decidedly European beat. “Where are the Americans?” wondered LA MoCA trustee Kathi Cypres. They have Miami, perhaps. They have Frieze. For goodness’ sake, they have LA.
Left: Whitney Museum curator David Kiehl with dealer Carol Greene. Right: Dealer Burckhard Riemschneider.
Prices here were up but, with such heavy rebranding going on, the excitement of discovery felt diminished. That’s what the Feature and Statements sections are supposed to be about but succeeded only here and there, as Raffaela Cortese did with an inspired pairing of Ana Mendieta and Martha Rosler, Pippy Houldsworth with Mary Kelly, or Kate Werble with Anna Betbeze. If you poked around, you could find material that rarely shows up elsewhere among the Picassos and Warhols that people keep dumping on the market. Massimo de Carlo, for example, had an accordion-folded painting from 1966 that was one of Alighiero Boetti’s first efforts. “For me that is the single best artwork in the fair,” said Mousse’s Stefano Cernuschi. Of course, he’s not a collector.
“I don’t work here,” a woman seated in the packed Thaddaeus Ropac stand told an inquisitor. “I’m just a big Tom Sachs fan.” Xavier Hufkens was also swamped. “It’s a day to be busy, no?” he said between sales. “If I’m not busy today, I’m doing something wrong.”
No scandals erupted, but Wade Guyton caused a ripple by printing out five identical black canvases for each of his dealers. “It’s like a solo show within the fair,” said one of them, Gió Marconi. News of the imminent closing of Yvon Lambert’s gallery in Paris hit the air, while Lisson Gallery announced it would build a spanking new building in Chelsea, Emmanuel Perrotin picked up the Jesús Rafael Soto estate, and Casey Kaplan confirmed his upcoming move to Manhattan’s flower district. “It’s bigger than the space I have now,” he said. “And it’s near the NoMad Hotel.”
Left: Dealer Jeff Poe. Right: Art Unlimited curator Gianni Jetzer.
Strangely, the contemporary floor was a refuge of serenity from the madness below. Galleries where artists designed their dealers’ presentations stood out from the pack: Lily van der Stoker’s wall drawing perfectly framed works by Thea Djordjadze and Latifa Echakhch at Kaufmann Repetto. “We don’t do this for money,” Francesa Kaufmann said, not quite joking. “We do it for the glory.”
Damien Ortega did the honors at Kurimanzutto by supplying the floor with patterns abstracted from the architecture of Bauhaus buildings at Dessau, circa 1926. There were other things to consider: at Macarrone, a functional chimney sculpture by Oscar Tuazon that you could “activate” by burning leaves in it; a Tal R sofa at Contemporary Fine Arts; a speedboat at Franco Noero that Daren Bader plopped onto a Ping-Pong table and kitted out with objects from the titles of twenty-one short stories he found in an abandoned FedEx envelope—and a live actor to go with them, always.
Gavin Brown, who thinks increasingly like an artist, had allover wallpaper by Sturtevant. “She was a queen, you know,” he said. “A real queen.” Fake baguettes and fruit by Rob Pruitt supplied the doors of working momma, papa, and baby-size refrigerators with human faces and stocked them with real cheese, dried sausage, chocolates, and soft drinks. “Just what you want to see at an art fair,” Cappellazzo observed. “I love cornichons.” As word of the fridges got around, the booth became a meeting point. “I feel in my element here,” exulted MoMA curator Stuart Comer, while collector Christian Boros hid in the back alcove perusing Bjarne Melgaard drawings. “I can’t afford anything downstairs,” he said.
Left: Warren Miro with dealers Glenn Scott Wright and Victoria Miro. Right: Artist Haegue Yang with dealer Tina Kim.
“It’s been an extraordinary day,” Maureen Paley reported as evening came on and one had to choose one’s poison from a menu of gallery dinners. At the Kunstmuseum, Matthew Barney submitted to the annual dog-and-pony conversation with Tina Brown, who bravely asked stupid questions that Barney dignified with serious answers before a crowd that included Beatrix Ruf and Bart Rutten; curator of the permanent collection at the Stedelijk Museum (her new posting); Richard Chang; artist Pamela Rosenkranz; and many suits who had not yet seen Barney’s new, six-hour film, River of Fundament. To wind it up, Brown said, “You’ve used Vaseline, tapioca, and salt in your work. Is there any material you’d like to work with that you haven’t so far?” Barney gave it serious thought. After a silence long enough to make the unflappable Brown nervous, Barney replied: “Radiation.” Perfect.
Paul Chan spent four years preparing his retrospective at collector Maja Oeri’s Schaulager, which is both exhibition space and open storage for the collections of her family’s Emmanuel Hoffman Foundation and her own Laurenz Foundation (coproducer of Barney’s film). “I’m enjoying this!” she said, during a VIP brunch that she hosted on Wednesday morning—Chan wasn’t there—pulling out the show’s three catalogues. “This is the first exhibition where we’ve published three books, not just one,” she said. “I’m a missionary—and I love to show off.”
One of the books reproduced the 1,005 book covers Chan had used as canvases for paintings and was exhibiting in toto for the first time, along with new works that involved a number of shoes attached to electrical cords that were plugged into each other but not to any power source—Chan’s commentary on the disconnects in our culture today. “I really wanted to change the plugs,” Whitney Museum curator David Kiehl admitted later. “It was really tempting.”
Left: Dealer Philomene Magers with artist Nina Pohl and artist Sterling Ruby. Right: Art Basel director Marc Spiegler with collectors Patricia Vergez and Juan Vergez.
That night, Toby Webster led a small group to the Trois Roi hotel to celebrate Modern Institute director Andrew Hamilton’s birthday. It had a suffocating crowd and bouncers so unfriendly that even Art Basel director Marc Spiegler was denied entrance. He was lucky.
A few steps away lay the discovery of the week, an empty bar that Mark Handforth dubbed the One King, after noticing that the trophy head of a bearded royal on one wall bore an uncanny resemblance to Gavin Brown. Next week, the dealer will make his New York debut as an artist in his own gallery and richer or poorer, summer will be upon us, fair-free.
LIKE OTHER TRIBAL CULTURES, the art world has rituals. One of them is Zurich Art Weekend, foreplay for pilgrims heading to Basel and feeling starved for visual stimulation after a long flight. With Kunsthalle Zürich leading the action, galleries and museums serve up a sophisticated menu of exhibitions, talks, and dinners so people who haven’t seen each other since the last stop, as much as a week ago, can gather for reunions.
Last Saturday’s art flanks could have been divided between exhibitions in the Löwenbrau complex and those on the soulless Maag Areal plaza. Fortunately, no one had to choose a poison because everyone went to everything, even Beat Reaber and Matthias von Stenglin’s where-are-you-taking-us? industrial space behind a few warehouses and a parking garage near the Maag.
Hauser & Wirth’s two spacious galleries at the Löwenbrau now seem modest compared to the giant outpost that partner Paul Schimmel will open soonish in Los Angeles. Schimmel was, naturally, front and center for LA-based Mark Bradford’s inaugural show with the gallery, but so was Bradford’s other dealer, Jay Jopling, British gallery mate Tracey Emin, and (wearing her collector hat) dealer Dominique Lévy. In H&W’s downstairs space, Louise Bourgeois’s longtime right hand, Jerry Gorovoy—dressed in flower-print, vintage Helmut Lang trousers (“I’ll never give them up!” he said)—showed visitors around his beautifully installed sampling of the high points in Bourgeois’s career. Some curmudgeons in the crowd complained loudly that it was pure bloat. It wasn’t, but art is no fun without argument, especially over the tart Bourgeois, who no doubt would rip a few new ones if she were in the room.
Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth was also paying respects to a deceased feminist with a knockout, four-decade show of revealing art-world portraits by Sylvia Sleigh. (They include a delectable 1949 painting of her husband, Lawrence Alloway, in drag.) “You had to come to Zurich to see work by a New York artist,” Freymond-Guth laughed. That was no joke. Around the corner, Galerie Francesca Pia brought a new group of works by Thomas Bayrle, while upstairs, openings for Michael Williams and Carroll Dunham were underway in Eva Presenhuber’s two spaces. Dunham was showing a new group of flattened yet voluptuous, jungly female nudes to a crowd that included two of his other dealers, Barbara Gladstone and Jeff Poe. “It’s all about perspective,” Dunham said—of the paintings, that is.
Haim Steinbach, whose traveling retrospective, “once again the world is flat,” was in the Kunsthalle, was also on the scene with his dealers, Laurent Godin and Tanya Bonakdar. The gallerists had shuttled over from installing their booths in Basel, while Presenhuber had to move between the Löwenbrau and her Maag gallery, where Valentin Carron was opening a show of decidedly cool new sculptures with his Los Angeles dealer, David Kordansky, at his side.
Clearly, it’s share and share alike on weekends before the biggest and best art fair in the world. If Hauser & Wirth clients departed for dinner at the Kronenhalle, everyone else—not just dealers, collectors, and artists but museum curators like MoMA’s Laura Hoptman and Leah Dickerman, Aargauer Kunsthaus director Madeleine Schuppli, Swiss Institute director Simon Castets, and Kunsthalle Zürich director Beatrix Ruf gathered for a gang’s-all-here meal of veal at La Salle.
They were at it again on Sunday, which began with a visit to “Untitled Horrors,” the surprising Cindy Sherman retrospective at Kunsthaus Zürich. Even for those with intimate knowledge of Sherman’s work, this show revealed her strengths as few others have. Installed and regrouped by the artist a couple of weeks ago without regard to chronology or conventional hanging, it included many of her nastier, more disturbing pictures from the 1980s that were absent from her sanitized MoMA show. Even the most disgusting looked somehow beautiful here.
The rest of the day was given to gallerygoing and various lunches, including one in Munich. Gladstone flew twenty-five people there for a look at Matthew Barney’s exhibition at Haus der Kunst, where director Okwui Enwezor was conducting a talk with the artist and his collaborator, composer Jonathan Bepler. “It’s such an amazing show,” said the loyal Gladstone, who has represented Barney throughout his career. “I just want people to see it and, well, Munich is a little out of the way.”
Some of us who stayed in town, including the collectors Laurence Graff and Swiss Institute president Fabienne Albrecht, attended a lunch at the magnificent Baur au Lac Hotel hosted by Guggenheim International Director’s Council member Gigi Kracht and her husband, Andrea Kracht, who owns the hotel. On view in the garden was “Yves Klein: the Venus Project,” a Vegas-style installation of faux Venus figures on Greek columns. In his lifetime, Klein made a Venus multiple based on souvenirs from the Louvre gift shop and painted them his signature blue. These, however, were fabricated in fiberglass (in a different blue) and sheathed in Plexi boxes by Galerie Gmurzynska in collaboration with Klein’s widow, Rotraut, who said Klein always wanted to do such an installation but never had a chance. “Jeff Koons doesn’t make his own work,” said Gmurzynska director Mathias Rastorfer, in defense of the project. He gave it a €1.6 million price tag.
Back at the Kunsthalle, the afternoon found Steinbach in a deep conversation with artist Helen Marten and Bard CCS director Tom Eccles within the installation of his superb retrospective, where the little-known early work now looks totally ready for prime time. “I collect statements,” Steinbach said. “And some of them I make into art objects.” Downstairs, at the Migros Museum, director Heike Munder led the way to an absorbing show of photographs by Mexican artist Teresa Margolles. Really good. Back upstairs, Maja Hoffmann and Michael Ringier presided over the opening of their POOL/Westbau foundation’s third group show, organized by guest curator Arthur Fink—“Remember that name,” said Ruf—after which all boarded the shuttles to Ringier’s home for the annual Art Weekend tour of his collection.
Thus, the social circle remained unbroken and then grew in size for dinner at Hoffmann’s Marcel Breuer–designed house in the hills above the city. The new additions included a soaring Franz West sculpture that Hoffmann had acquired for installation at LUMA/Westbau but had to take home, temporarily, after running into technical problems. She was apologetic about its ungainly proximity to the horizontal architecture of her house. “It doesn’t belong there,” she said, but her guests disagreed. The contrast, most said, was an enhancement to both. Hoffmann still felt embarrassed, as if she had betrayed her house and the artist. “I loved Franz West,” she said. “And I miss him every day.”
Nice to hear such passion on Art Basel Eve. After this, it’s going to be all about the market. As Steinbach said at dinner, “We do what we do, and then the world does whatever it does with it.” So true.
WHILE IN VENICE, I didn’t hear a single joke about architects. This is a profession that appears to take itself very seriously—no bad behavior while away from home. At least, that’s how it seemed over three preview days at the Fourteenth Venice Biennale of architecture—my first. Experienced people predicted that there would be more artists involved than in any edition before, and probably the best one to break my virginity. The reason, they all said, was “Rem”—Rem Koolhaas, the exhibition’s curator and an architect so widely respected that even those who turn up their noses at his ideas pay them close attention. What kind of show would he make? Not the usual kind, to be sure.
From the moment of my arrival on Wednesday, June 4, Venice did seem quieter than it is when the art world is in town. Not that it wasn’t around. A passel of artists, dealers, museum directors, and architects were lunching that afternoon at Ca’ Corner della Regina, the eighteenth-century palazzo where the Prada Foundation is in residence while its new museum complex in Milan (designed by Koolhaas) is under construction.
The attraction was an exclusive preview of Germano Celant’s “Art or Sound?,” which features works dating from the fifteenth century to the present, from the Surrealist, Fluxus, and Arte Povera movements as well as the latest from Haroon Mirza and Tarek Atoui. It is not about sound art but objects that make or suggest sound and may or may not be art. “Museums have grown too quiet,” Celant said. “There are rules. No fire. No animals. No bad smells. But now there is sound everywhere. So we did it our way, which is to look at the history.”
Spread over two floors were musical instruments that looked like sculpture (a nineteenth-century violin with nails for strings, a military cornet shaped like a serpent); sound-emitting sculpture (Dennis Oppenheim’s tap-dancing marionette, Man Ray’s metronome, Robert Rauschenberg’s radio-transmitting junkyard, Oracle); and quiet sculpture (Christian Marclay’s soft guitar, Ed Kienholz’s furry blonde cello grotesque, a ball of twine by Duchamp that supposedly rattles when shaken). “They borrowed the Duchamp from us,” said Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum. “It’s the most boring object in the show but also the most important.”
At least, I think that’s what he said. What with all the chiming clocks, working calliopes, birdcalls, buzzing alarms, dog barks, drumbeats and electronic beeps to drown out the nattering nabobs, I couldn’t be sure. Serpentine Gallery cocurator Hans Ulrich Obrist— organizer of the biennial’s Swiss pavilion—was there from the jump with Tino Sehgal and Haus der Kunst director Okwui Enwezor, curator of the next Venice art biennial. On their heels came Carsten Höller, Thomas Demand, Peter Fischli, Koo Jeong-A, Tate Modern director Chris Dercon, and Wolfgang Tillmans (the last, the only artist participating in “Fundamentals,” Koolhaas’s exposition for the biennial).
Mrs. Prada made only a brief appearance during the lunch, which gave Metropolitan Museum president Dan Brodsky and the Met’s modern and contemporary chair Sheena Wagstaff a chance to show off the museum’s first architecture curator, Beatrice Galilee. “This is the first time ever that so many people from the art world have come to an architectural biennale,” said the Milanese dealer Giň Marconi. “It’s a big thing.”
Actually, there didn’t seem so many overall. Absent were the dealers and collectors who turn the art biennale into a business transaction; Pin-Up magazine editor Felix Burrichter and I nearly had the Palazzo Grassi to ourselves. Possibly, that was an illusion, the effect of vertigo induced by the Doug Wheeler environment that introduces “The Illusion of Light,” in one of the more coherent shows I’ve seen there. It had standout works by Julio Le Parc, Bruce Conner, and Troy Brauntuch, as well as “Autoerotic Asphyxiation,” the peekaboo Danh Vo installation that debuted at Artists Space a few years ago.
That evening brought rain and increasing overlap between architecture and art to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, where David Landau and Marie-Rose Kahane welcomed guests to Le Stanze del Vetro, the glassmaking museum they founded on the grounds of a magnificent Palladian cloister. There stood Hiroshi Sugimoto in traditional Japanese garb, the better to introduce his latest structure, Mondrian, a glass teahouse that appeared to float above a blue-tiled reflecting pool set within a fragrant garden. “It’s my art in three dimensions,” Sugimoto said of the sculpture—er, house—where tea ceremonies would take place all week. “We weren’t sure this dream could be realized,” said Kahane, “but we worked very hard for two years and now here it is—and it’s wonderful.”
It was tranquil, all right. Hundreds of people spoke in hushed tones as they walked to a buffet dinner in the cloister’s glorious courtyard, where a pair of enormous cypress trees seemed to symbolize the towering ambitions of architects everywhere. By contrast, the Bauer terrace was almost deserted when I stopped in afterward with d.a.p. communications director Alex Galan. This would never happen during an art biennial, even in rain. Perhaps architects go to bed early.
Next morning, skies were clear over the Giardini as I headed for the Swiss pavilion, where Obrist was holding one of his marathons of yak. Anri Sala was just finishing a conversation with his old friend Edi Rama, an artist who went on to become the current prime minister of Albania. (What are the odds?) The talks, unfortunately, put the exhibition, “Lucius Burckhardt and Cedric Price: A Stroll Through a Fun Palace,” on temporary hold. It didn’t have much to do with Switzerland, frankly, but it did involve choreography by Sehgal, an enormous archive on loan from the Canadian Center of Architecture, and a window shade by Philippe Parreno that went up and down.
Koolhaas had imposed a single, historical theme on all of the national pavilions: “Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014.” It brought the biennial a welcome unity but also turned the whole enterprise into a giant research project that sent architects out to excavate the architectural soul of their nations before the homogeneity of globalism set in. Blueprints and models were scarce, replaced so often by text and photos that the biennial began to feel like a Dan Graham show. An exception was the Austrian pavilion. It had no printed images, just the white architectural models of 160 national parliament buildings, made to scale and hung in a grid pattern on white walls. Seldom has a country’s estimation of its own sense of power been so visible.
Artists Space director Stefan Kalmár tipped me off to that one over lunch with Alessandro Bava, Luis Ortega, and Octave Perrault, the three young architects who created an ad hoc “Airbnb Pavilion” near the Grassi. Together they had rented a Jacuzzi-equipped, €180-per-night apartment from Airbnb, and recruited dozens of other young architects and artists to install drawings and videos for a five-day exhibition. “There have been a lot of people,” Bava said. “Sometimes we have to turn them away, because we need to shower or something. But come by later. The jacuzzi’s great.”
Instead, I stepped under the false ceiling that begins Koolhaas’s show, “The Elements of Architecture”—and was baffled. Conditioned by years of art biennials, I didn’t know what to make of a show that had almost nothing new in it. The exception was Tillmans’s contribution, A Book for Architects, which wasn’t a book but photographs of urban homes projected as if they were on the pages of a book. I liked it. There was text everywhere else. There were antique objects—toilets, doorknobs, fragments of walls, windows, elevators, or ramps—in displays that invoked either the ghost of Gordon Matta-Clark or early works by Haim Steinbach, and films that spliced together together scenes of toilets, windows, doors and so on, totally Christian Marclay style. The corridor section was pure Bruce Nauman. Make that impure. How lucky for Koolhaas that all of these artists came before him. He must see everything. Or as one visiting architect put it, “It’s Rem’s version of history—what he’s been reading and absorbing for years. We’re seeing the inside of his brain.”
I moved on. The German pavilion cut two ways (conceptual and historical) at once, by inserting an actual structure—the near replica of a bungalow built in 1964 for Chancellor Ludwig Erhard and known almost entirely through photographs—into the pavilion’s existing Fascist architecture. The juxtaposition neatly conflated and destabilized the political associations of each. (For an unrelated, collateral presentation in Santa Croce, twenty-two German architects imagined new designs for the pavilion, which has never shed its Nazi-era past.)
In the Russian pavilion, I found the garish real estate promotions and McDonald’s aesthetic offensive. On the other hand, if it was meant to function as a critique of commercial architecture, it was quite effective. There was a lot to read at the American pavilion. Commissioned by the Storefront for Art and Architecture, each room is set up as an office where research is taking place throughout the six-month run of the biennial. Brochures for each firm that had designed official buildings elsewhere in the world line the walls; one room has photographs of American embassies in sixty-seven countries by Elizabeth Gill Lui. In another, Alan Shwabe and Daniel Fernandez Pascual are conducting a study of the relationship between one thousand buildings and food. “Come for lunch!” Shwabe said.
The pair counted among the nine hundred or so people—architects, curators, Storefront board members, architecture junkies, and rich people—attending a US pavilion cocktail at the Peggy Guggenheim that evening. Many were knocking back “The Guggenheim Effect,” a colorful drink that Pascual and Shwabe concocted for the party, which followed yet another cocktail on the terrace, where the New York Guggenheim launched a design competition for its proposed branch in Helsinki. According to deputy director Ari Wiseman, six hundred people registered immediately.
When it got too crowded I ducked into the temporary show, a knockout collection of grotesquery from the private collection of Basel’s Richard and Ulla Dreyfus-Best that went from Bosch to Barney and back again. Thank goodness for art! It saved the day. Then again, it was an architect, Charles Renfro, who took me with him to an art-world-style dinner hosted by Koolhaas and his longtime domestic partner, designer Petra Blaisse. There could not have been a more striking couple in Venice that night—unless it was that of their friends Christopher Williams and Ann Goldstein, who stepped into the bar only to run smack into Beatrix Ruf, Goldstein’s replacement as director of the Stedelijk.
Koolhaas had a private dining room for friends like Phyllis Lambert, the Bronfman family member who got Mies van der Rohe to design the Seagram Building, founded the CCA, and would soon receive a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. The rest of the party—including Dan and Estrellita Brodsky, New Museum director Karen Wong, and Renfro—had to make do with the sumptuous buffet. So there were plenty of art types around after all, and after the dinner they repaired to the rooftop terrace of the Gritti Palace, where collector Maja Hoffmann was giving a cocktail under the silvery moon.
Left: Serpentine Gallery director and cocurator Julia Peyton-Jones and artist Philipe Parreno. Right: Le Stanze del Vetro founder David Landau.
Returning to Celant’s show the next day, I caught Carnegie Museum architecture curator Ray Ryan speaking into Laurie Anderson’s altered 1979 phone booth, and then lucked into a performance by Ken Butler, a New York sculptor who has made four hundred musical instruments out of found objects—a guitar with hockey-stick fretboards, a pool-cue cello, a door-handle violin—and plays them all expertly. He performed beside a Walter Marchetti assemblage of toilet paper rolls stacked together in the shape of a grand piano. “This show fills a big curatorial hole,” Butler said afterward. “What I do isn’t about experimental music or sound art. It’s sculpture, but it never fit into any category. And now it has a place in history.”
And Lisson Gallery collaborated with Berengo Studio to find a place for that other, much maligned species, public art. Day or night, Ai Weiwei’s ballooning assemblage of steel bicycles, Forever, stood before the Palazzo Franchetti, overlooking the Grand Canal by the Accademia Bridge. Couldn’t get more central. Silently, the sculpture advertised “Genius Loci (Spirit of Place),” an exhibition of public artworks by Lisson Gallery’s Greg Hilty that includes Joana Vasconcelos, Anish Kapoor, Daniel Buren, and Lawrence Weiner—the lone selling show I could find among the biennial’s collateral events.
After a hackle-raising lunchtime panel with Richard Wentworth and Vasoncelos—public art never fails to draw fire—it was off to the Arsenale, which was totally devoted to the architecture of Italy, moving south to north. I wasn’t sure why, but there were a number of avant-garde dance performances going on within regional exhibits, one of which provided a catalogue of homes that had been inhabited by Mafia chieftains, all quite modest and generic. Generally, the show used popular culture to tell the story of Italian cities through the wars, natural disasters, and political upheavals of the last hundred years. Really, it was kind of cool.
More chilling—and weirder—was “IK-00: The Spaces of Confinement,” an exhibition about the architecture of prison life at Casa dei Tre Oci, which is sponsored by the billionaire Leonid Mikhelson family’s V-A-C Foundation in Moscow. Right off the bat I was trapped in a room behind a glass door that refused to open. Just as I thought I would faint from lack of air, Tate director Nicholas Serota appeared, pantomiming an order to stand perfectly still instead of panicking. When I did the door opened. He saved my life!
Or, at least, he made it possible for me to get back to the Peggy Guggenheim terrace for the fiftieth birthday party that Charles Renfro was throwing for himself and a hundred guests. “This is the single most indulgent thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. Now, with partners Elizabeth Diller and Rick Scofidio, he can go back to figuring out what the hell to do about MoMA while the rest of us indulge in Art Basel.
Left: d.a.p. vice president Alex Galan with Young Kim and dealer Rose Lord. Right: Artists Anri Sala and Asad Raza.
“PLEASE, I’M NOT THE EXHIBITION. This is the exhibition,” implored Rem Koolhaas, the indomitable director of this year’s architecture edition of the Venice Biennale, to a phalanx of journalists halfway through the pre-preview walkthrough of the central pavilion. The members of the press were perhaps a bit too enthusiastic in their pursuits, but who else except a larger-than-life personality could have amassed such an eccentric display of architectural “fundamentals” (as his show was titled)? Like a twenty-first-century William Randolph Hearst and Benjaminian rag picker, Koolhaas lugged his oddball plunder—the result of a few years’ worth of research into a couple thousand years of history—to the Giardini, where it conveniently facilitated Ruskinesque moral claims (architectural elements are being “relentlessly commercialized”) and chilly warnings (“smart” technologies are very “scary”).
Since “the elements of architecture” are, well, fundamental to the show, it’s worth reproducing the list that runs down the front of the official souvenir T-shirts: ceiling, window, corridor, floor, balcony, fireplace, facade, roof, door, wall, ramp, stair, toilet, escalator, elevator. Occasionally served whole—the actual capsule used to rescue Chilean miners and a circa 100 AD stone latrine on loan from the British Museum stick in my mind—most of the elements were sliced and diced and then packed with a taxonomist’s compulsion into fifteen separate rooms sprinkled with didactics that cross-referenced an obscenely high priced, fifteen-volume catalogue.
“Research is expensive,” explained a chipper young PR rep from Koolhaas’s office who boasted about and then, a few minutes later, retracted the seven-digit outcome of the director’s private fund-raising efforts. By expensive did he mean the $50K tuition Harvard design students wagered on a chance to help Prof. Rem with his exhibition, or the cost of tracking down and translating obscure Ming-dynasty tracts on value engineering? “It’s an investment,” a cash-strapped architect reasoned aloud as she thumbed through the €120, Irma Boom–designed pamphlet series in line at the bookshop.
No architect’s stock, let’s be frank, is as high as Koolhaas’s—at least to those within the field. Still, no one was quite sure who would be on hand at this year’s fete after he insisted last fall that the biennial be about architecture rather than architects and deferred many an ambitious designer’s fantasies to 2016. Architecture “is not in particularly good health,” he claimed. And yet there were enough salubrious partisans in attendance to tilt the air-quality index a notch as they stampeded down the Giardini’s dusty gravel paths last Thursday, chasing the rail-thin Koolhaas on his way to his main-stage talk with Nest Labs founder and “Father of the iPod” Tony Fadell.
“This is probably one of the first times that Silicon Valley has showed up at one of these festivals,” Fadell said, flattering himself in that way that tech guys like to flatter themselves. This was also probably the first time that a thousand-plus people showed up to hear three men converse about thermostats. “Oh god,” sighed an architecture historian seated next to me. “It’s like we’re at a trade fair.” (Which is to say it was like being at the Russian pavilion, whose curators had self-consciously styled the interior in the “global language” of the trade fair, with fuchsia booth babes and a step-and-repeat to boot.) The conversation was as dull as a Davos morning session until the issue of privacy turned the temperature up. Fadell’s stilted, legal counsel–vetted first-person-plural (“We believe that your data is your data”) made Koolhaas seem human by comparison. “Can I have a show of hands: Who believes in transparency?” the architect asked the audience. When hardly a vanload of people answered affirmatively, Koolhaas emitted a rare, fourth-wall-wrecking smile. Apparently stars can arch their lips too.
When I caught up with architects Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio as they boarded a vaporetto on Friday afternoon, just as the two-day vernissage was winding down, the couple was mum. “We haven’t seen the whole thing,” Scofidio remarked. “We’ve been on so many panels.” Were there more talks than at past biennials? I queried the spry soon-to-be octogenarian. “That, and music.”
Left: Architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. Right: MAXXI architecture curator Pippo Ciorra.
Had he heard the senior-citizen choral ensemble? Doubtful. That would have required the fifteen-minute schlep over to the Arsenale and then another three-hundred-meter-long march through “Monditalia,” a “polyphonic work” intermingling components of the film, dance, theater, and music biennials among thirty-seven “case studies” of contemporary Italian culture bearing titles that evoked the Semiotext(e) backlist. I’m thinking of “Pompeii, the Secret Museum, and the Sexopolitical Foundations of the Modern European Metropolis” and “Nightswimming: Discotheques in Italy from the 1960s until now” (which was kind of like “La fine del mondo,” a tribute to Turin’s famed Piper Club, only without the dueling loudspeakers). “I feel like I’m in a science museum,” a friend said, speaking to the muffled sounds that leaked in all directions from nearly every screen, stage, and interactive exhibit. “Or Chuck E Cheese’s.”
Wherever we were, it was safe to say that, along with returning us to the fundamentals, this iteration was also offering us a taste of the future. “There’s an appetite to reinvent the idea of the biennial,” Koolhaas pronounced at Friday’s Hans Ulrich Obrist–organized marathon in the HUO-curated Swiss pavilion. Koolhaas ducked in long enough to reassure the SRO crowd that “the market is completely absent from the biennial,” conspicuously check his watch, and then descend the platform before disciples could react in any sensible way.
Oh yeah, Koolhaas also said the biennial, which this year will run for an abnormally long six months (as opposed to three), is on its way to becoming a “permanent condition.” Venice is dead! Viva Venezia!
Left: Architect and San Rocco editor Matteo Ghidoni with landscape architect Annapaola Busnardo. Right: Exterior of US pavilion.
LAST MONTH, Norway marked the two hundredth anniversary of the signing of its constitution with children’s pageant parades and the traditional fare of hot dogs and ice cream. (“Don't ask us…” curator Jenny Kinge sighed.) As for Oslo’s art world, the bicentennial offered an excellent opportunity to take stock of its uniquely Norwegian situation—the system of guaranteed commissions and arts funding that have created a climate ideal for artist-run spaces, if little else. So in late May, several of these spaces bound together to host Oslo Art Weekend, a relaxed, primarily local affair that wasn’t so much a competitor to other global art-world events as an excuse to get together over beers and leftover Constitution Day hot dogs.
The weekend was timed to coincide with a wide range of happenings, from the Langham Research Centre’s J. G. Ballard–themed performance for the Ny-Musikk Only Connect Festival to the art academy’s graduation exhibition and “Master Party” bash, held on the porch (and in the bushes) of the Kunstnernes Hus. For the day-trippers, there was a retreat to the fjord-side town of Třnsberg for Oscar Tuazon’s solo show at the collector space Billedrommet, while those who kept to Oslo proper lined up for a screening of Pussy vs Putin with Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, part of the programming around the National Museum’s group exhibition “Take Liberty!” The show’s promotional posters plastered the city with images of Ai Weiwei flipping off the Gobi Desert. Curator Andrea Kroksnes reported that, so far, there hadn’t been many complaints about the image crashing Constitution Day festivities. “That’s because it isn’t a Norwegian national monument!” joked Sabrina van der Lay, the museum’s director of Contemporary Art.
Left: National Museum director of contemporary art Sabrina van der Ley. Right: Dealer Esperanza Rosales with artist Oscar Tuazon.
Oslo Art Weekend officially kicked off on a Thursday with an opening of two Bauhaus-themed shows at the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter (HOK), a private museum founded by Norway’s Esther Williams–on-ice, figure skater Sonja Henie. The center built its reputation through celebrity collaborations more cerebral than starry-eyed, working with the likes of Joseph Beuys, John Cage, and members of Fluxus, a movement collected in depth by HOK. Still, Henie couldn’t resist a personal touch: a trophy room tucked into the foyer, where the spoils—six hundred strong—from the skater’s four-decade-long career are on display, alongside a documentary, some choice costumes, and an honorary trophy from the canceled 1940 Winter Olympics. It’s a departure from the rest of the space, a Neo-Expressionist masterpiece of stone and teak. “Originally the trophy room was all red velour,” curator Milena Hřgsberg told me. “We’ve been toying with restoring that.”
The next night, openings would stretch across Oslo’s East-West divide, from artist-run LYNX, set up in a pavilion in Vigelandsparken, to a sneak peek of Allen Grubesic’s solo show at Oslo Kunstforening to a slew of openings in Grřnland, including MELK, 0047, Noplace, and 1857. At the last, gallery directors Stian Eide Kluge and Steffen Hĺndlykken had rented a scaffolding staircase, allowing visitors to ascend the hull-like space of the former lumberyard to reach the roof, where the group show “Sunbathers II” brought together works by Ilja Karilampi, Margaret Lee, Ugo Rondinone, and Santiago Taccetti. We arrived on the early side: Karilampi was busy maneuvering a canvas up the scaffolding, while a bike lock was strung up like a leash through the eyeholes of one of Rondinone’s wall-mounted faces. Kluge noticed it and blushed. “That was for insurance. I guess we forgot to take it off.”
Meanwhile, up on Waldemar Thranes Gate, Standard (Oslo) was unveiling “I Never Learn,” Tuazon’s first show at the gallery’s year-old location. The artist had no trouble taking on the imposing space, a distinct upgrade from the corner nook the gallery had previously occupied. “This used to be a motorcycle repair shop,” dealer Eivind Furnesvik explained, adding drolly: “I felt like that went well with the machismo of some of my artists.”
Left: National Museum curator Andrea Kroknes with Ai Weiwei works in “Take Liberty!” Right: Dealers Maria Florut and Gilda Axelroud.
Furnesvik may have secured impressive new digs, but the dinner and afterparty were held at the same Chinese restaurant and cocktail bar, Beijing Palace, as all of Standard’s previous openings. I grabbed a shrimp roll and a seat between critic Arve Rřd and Bergen-based, Berlin-bound curator Ingrid Haug Erstad, where conversation quickly turned to the controversial new commission by Oslo-based artists Lars Cuzner and Fadlabi. Under the auspices of “European Attractions Limited,” the artists had proposed reenacting the Kongolandsbyen, a “Congo Village” erected in Vigelandsparken as part of the 1914 “World’s Fair” that marked the constitution’s first centennial. “It was really just this village and some regional corporate pavilions,” Cuzner clarified.
“At the time, you had these kinds of African villages springing up all over Europe,” Cuzner explained. “Typically they would showcase the country’s colonies. Norway didn’t have its own colony, but it wanted to show it was still on the same level as the rest of the continent.” Organizers set up a “Congolese” village, with thatched huts made out of birch wood, which they then populated with eighty Senegalese “villagers,” hired performers whose paid presence was brokered through a Senegalese middleman. The exhibition received 1.5 million visitors in its five-month run, and this at a time when Norway’s population hovered around two million.
When the artists advertised their plans to reenact the village—significantly, they never specified how they planned to populate it, other than sending out an open call to volunteers and announcing that they could participate when they like, with no regulation, reparation, or instruction from the artists—the response was immediate. (#SomeoneTellNorway had even a Lupita Nyong’o Twitter impersonator up in arms.) The pair was vilified in the press, who were quick to express all kinds of outrage over “the human zoo” spoiling the park and allegedly marring the country’s allegedly unblemished international reputation. The Belgian ambassador took to the papers, demanding that the historically accurate Belgian flag be removed from the village gates. (After all, what did Belgium ever do to the Congo…?) “It’s almost like we just set the conditions and people’s responses did the work for us,” Fadlabi smiled weakly. “Anti-racism is so close to racism,” the artist continued, citing how the Afrikan Youth—an organization built on the presumption that skin color can equal a shared cultural heritage—had reached out to him, assuming he had been victimized by the situation. “One of the most popular interpretations here is that Lars is the evil racist, who has duped me into acting as his cover, as I clearly can’t think for myself.” Cuzner shook his head: “Any anti-racism is specific to the culture it came out of.”
When we went to visit this “monument of misrepresentation” for ourselves, the first thing I noticed were the blonde girls in flesh-colored bikinis kicking a soccer ball back and forth, oblivious to the fact that their disposable barbecue had caught the surrounding grass on fire. Two women were perched under the main structure sharing knitting needles, while little kids darted through the huts, leaving Wile E. Coyote–like child-shaped holes in the sides. “We should fix those,” said Fadlabi.
“What’s interesting is that no one had a problem with the idea of the international crowd volunteering to be in the village. They only objected because they assumed we would have Africans,” Cuzner remarked, noting the element of selective disdain. “For our project in the Bergen Assembly, we showed documents of real-life human zoos, like the Kayan villages of ‘Long-Necked’ women who tourists pay to see in Thailand. There was no outrage over that. What we’ve learned is, people are fine with other human beings on display, just as long as it’s not in Norway.”
“The only circus here,” Fadlabi summed up, “is the media.”
Left: Artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. Right: Kunst-Werke director Gabriele Horn, 8th Berlin Biennale curator Juan A. Gaitán, MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, Federal Cultural Foundation Hortensia Völckers, Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation president Hermann Parzinger. (All photos: Kito Nedo)
IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL Monday afternoon when the group exhibition “Everyday Life” opened at the Hamburger Bahnhof. In the courtyard, armed with beer and bratwurst, stood a few dozen art people, from Berlin Nationalgalerie director Udo Kittelmann to dealer Lars Friedrich, artist Mariana Castillo Deball to Paris Bar owner Michel Würthle. It was a low-profile opening, which matched the general “wait-and-see” attitude suffusing events around the launch of the Eighth Berlin Biennale, this year curated by Juan A. Gaitán. Since Artur Żmijewski’s poorly received “Occupy Biennale” two years ago, the thrill of anticipation was limited.
One of the grand traditions of the Berlin Biennale is the use of unexpected locations. Since its first iteration, organized in 1998 by Klaus Biesenbach with help from Nancy Spector and Hans Ulrich Obrist, art has been shown in defunct churches, old department stores, auto-repair workshops, and even a cemetery. An important part of the curator’s job, then, has been to explore the city in search of new venues. This year, in addition to the traditional institutional headquarters, the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Gaitán looped in the Haus am Waldsee, a communal art center in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, and the Museen Dahlem. The last of these is perhaps the most significant, a group of anthropological museums, far from the center in west Berlin, which has in recent years been host to a separate program, called Humboldt Lab Dahlem, that stages interventions of contemporary art in the collection. Waldsee is so far from the center of Berlin that, when we reached Krumme Lanke, the final stop on the U3 line, on Wednesday, all that remained on the train were black-clothed art people and a sleeping man.
Left: Haus am Waldsee artistic director Katja Blomberg, Neue Nationalgalerie director Udo Kittelmann, and Johnen Galerie director Cornelia Tischmacher. Right: Artist Florian Slotawa.
The satellite-exhibition approach also inspires other, more conservative-minded institutions and artists, and occasionally leads to confusion: When we took a shortcut through the government district on our way back from Mitte to Kreuzberg, we came across a colorful pavilion. Inside the brightly lit box, right in front of the Bundestag, stood a lone security guard checking messages on his iPhone. What’s this? Another hidden Biennale location? Above the locked entrance, a large poster read MARKUS LÜPERTZ – DAS GRUNDGESETZ. Lüpertz? Das Grudgesetz (The Constitution)? How strange! How wrong! How beautiful! This is art as a big nail hammered into the dark and bleeding heart of German politics. But, apparently, not a Biennale project, and since the night was chilly we continued on our way to Kreuzberg.
The next evening I took the bus to the Circus Cabuwazi in Spreewaldplatz for a performance by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. It had rained all day, and outside, artists, curators, critics, and collectors jostled against one another in the cold and wet under the small canopy, awaiting admittance. Before Gonzalez-Foerster herself entered the circus, dressed as a Lola Montez revenant, a group of talented child acrobats performed on big red and blue medicine balls, fishing for applause.
Does the art world long for lost innocence? Children also played a principal role on Wednesday evening’s performance by Danh Vo and Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart for the biennial’s opening in the foyer of Dahlem’s Museum of European Cultures. For the work, titled New Collaboration, Vo and Stewart composed a sort of Gregorian chant for a boys’ choir, conducted by a very serious-looking choirmaster. In their school uniforms (rather unusual for German everyday life), the boys looked as though had just flown in from an English boarding school. To the right, one boy continuously pressed a single key on a synthesizer for twenty minutes, while on the left, a woman in a floralina-print tracksuit rang a Chinese gong, to which the boys sang the German national anthem. How strange! How wrong! How beautiful! Artist-musician Michaela Melián later explained to me that the boy with the synthesizer had produced a “burden tone,” a continuous drone used for structural purposes. But to the artist, a founding member of the German band F.S.K., it seemed overly laborious to manually hold a single key for so long: “John Cage simply might have put down a stone.”
On Friday night, I was eager to see other things, so I followed artist Roman Schramm to an event as incongruous as the Lüpertz Pavillon: German painter Albert Oehlen had arrived from Switzerland to open a survey of all the album cover art he’s produced over the years, including a very rare 7-inch single by Felix Kubin titled “I hate art galleries.” The exhibition, which wasn’t advertised (except for e-mails to a chosen few), took place in a private Kreuzberg apartment near Südstern, and was mainly attended by members of the old Cologne establishment—Diedrich Diederichsen, musician Thomas Fehlmann of the Orb, dealer Max Hetzler, artist Marcel Odenbach, and techno producer Wolfgang Voigt. Everything was very odd: Was it possible that we were in Cologne and not in Berlin? But no, the afterparty was at the storied Panorama Bar at Berghain. OK. Before that, we followed the Oehlen crowd for dinner to nearby Infarm, a very hip new indoor-farming project run by three young Israelis that also serves delicious vegetarian food in the style of Yotam Ottolenghi.
Would Monika Grütters, the conservative German minister for cultural affairs who opened the biennial on Wednesday night, have approved of Danh Vo and Xiu Xiu’s rendition of the German anthem? During her short speech, Grütters seemed on the one hand quite pleased by the curatorial decision to bring the main part of the biennial to Dahlem and Haus am Waldsee, since both venues are located in the western part of the city, which is also her constituency. But she couldn’t resist the opportunity to lobby for the largely unpopular construction of a castle, the so-called Humboldt Forum, smack in the center of Berlin: “Which nation has the chance to redefine the central spot of the republic anew?” She directly addressed Gaitán, who had been critical of the project in several newspaper interviews, calling it a “very ideological” and “conservative” project, whose main raison d’ętre is defined by cultural industries and tourism.
Whereas the Humboldt Forum is still a much-debated issue, the eighth edition of the Berlin Biennale is perhaps too nuanced to arouse much popular response. There are highlights, like Wolfgang Tillmans’s interventions—including a single, oversize basketball sneaker and three pairs of ragged stonewashed jeans—amid the existing displays in Dahlem’s museum for non-European cultures, and Carsten Höller’s strobe installation down the way in a room filled with gold pre-Colombian antiquities. Another stunning work was Shahryar Nashat’s dance-performance-film Parade, a revelatory adaption of an earlier theater production by Adam Linder (which itself cited the seminal 1917 Ballets Russes ballet of the same name), which debuted at Delphi Filmpalast near Bahnhof Zoo. But in general, this edition too often leaves you disoriented, and there’s little in the way of wall texts or other signposts to guide you through the frequently complex material. And so that familiar drifting feeling comes. For some it only confirms the already known: “The most beautiful thing in the Biennale in Dahlem,” dealer André Schlechtriem told me after his visit, “is Dahlem itself.”
Left: Museum Ludwig Cologne director Yilmaz Dziewior and BMW Group’s head of cultural engagement Thomas Girst. Right: Humboldt Lab Dahlem managing director Agnes Wegner and Asian Art Museum Berlin director Klaas Ruitenbeek.
ON MAY 21, I arrived in Buenos Aires for the opening of arteBA, thinking it Argentina’s first contemporary art fair. I was wrong. It was number twenty-three.
Where had I been? Certainly not in Palermo, the neighborhood of La Rural, the convention center housing the fair. Just by the by, BA also has a Palermo Hollywood, a Palermo Soho, and a seedy, riverfront district called La Boca that some call “the Bushwick of Buenos Aires.” So this is not the most Latin American of cities. It looks like Paris, for one thing, and nearly everyone I met over five days had a French, German, or Italian name, and spoke such Italian-sounding Spanish that roving Mousse editor Stefano Cernuschi could fake it and still be taken for a native.
He was there to appear on one of the panels organized for the fair by the curator Abaseh Mirvali. They were among the visiting VIPs from Brazil, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico, the UK, and the US transported through a soggy afternoon chill to join their Argentine counterparts at a preopening mixer. No artists were present at the reception, held in the near ruin of a gorgeous, historic house called Casa Carlos. Champagne was served with empanadas and grilled organ meats on a stick, quickly immersing us in a social swim that floated pretty much the same faces every day.
ArteBA president Alec Oxenford, collectors Guillermo Rozenblum and Raúl Naón, publisher Baroness Francesca (“Dudu”) von Thielmann, and arteBA past president Facundo Gómez Minujín surfaced early as some of the bigger fish. Claques formed among the foreigners. Mexican collector Eduardo Prieto buddied up with Hôtel Americano co-owner Moises Micha, and New York dealer Bridget Donahue hung with Cernuschi and dealer Mari Spirito, who would represent her nonprofit Protocinema on Mirvali’s panel with Cernuschi. “This is the greatest international presence we’ve had so far,” observed the raffish Julia Converti, arteBA’s current director.
Once restricted to Argentine galleries, the fair has purposefully expanded its reach in the past three years, hoping to attract dealers from abroad while also creating a new collecting class among younger patrons at home. “It’s difficult in a country going down to have a fair that goes up,” said Minujín. He is the son of artist Marta Minujín, a local folk hero worshipped by many. With her platinum hair and the paparazzi around her, she was hard to miss at the fair’s evening preview, where visitors lined up to snuggle into her large, earthen “bird’s nest” of a sculpture at Henrique Faria’s booth in the forty-five-gallery main section.
Unlike most fairs, this one is operated as a nonprofit directed by a board of trustees. Foreign dealers were given booths, gratis, after guest curators Agustín Pérez Rubio, Octavio Zaya, and the Tate’s José Roca selected their artists for presentation in one of three stand-alone sections, each underwritten by a different corporate sponsor. Rubio had the international section, named “U-Turn Project Rooms by Mercedes-Benz,” which pretty much puts the art-is-money and money-is-art state of things today in plain language.
However, the works on hand—from Gavin Brown, Simon Preston, and Michele Maccarone (New York); Micky Schubert and Johann König (Berlin); Proyectos Monclova and Labor (Mexico City)—carried more conceptual heft than flash and, Pérez Rubio said, were meant to inform serious collection building. In the same spirit, Roca organized a six-gallery section of “expanded field” solo outings by Latin American artists, and Zaya, on short notice, put together another six for Photobooth. “That’s new this year,” he said. “Up to now, there hasn’t been much interest in collecting photography.”
Even more striking was the frequent appearance of art from the 1960s and early ’70s—the period of Argentina’s repressive dictatorship—which gave not only context but meaning to the contemporary work on display. Meaning at an art fair? How many can boast of that? In the Dixit section, a sweeping, politically engaged, multidisciplinary exhibition titled “Where does contemporary art begin?” drove home the point. Built around the idea of “simultaneous avant-gardes” and organized by the Argentine-born, Austin-based art historian Andrea Giunta, it contained artworks generally unfamiliar outside of Latin America and suppressed within.
“It’s rare to have such canonical works at an art fair,” said Roca, as he passed through. Thirty percent were loans; the artists still had the rest in their studios, either because they had no market at the time or because subject matter like AIDS and the Disappeared made it dangerous for anyone to show or acquire them. Giunta was the perfect choice to resuscitate this buried history. In 2004, she curated a León Ferrari retrospective that Pope Francis, then the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, condemned as blasphemous. “I’m very proud of that show,” she said.
Time collapses here. Galleries in business for less than a year, like Baró, could command prime positions in the main section of the fair with established enterprises like Ruth Benzacar (now run by Orly Benzacar and her daughter Mora Bacal), Gachi Prieto, and Ignacio Liprandi. Quality fluctuated at nearly every step. Generally, older works—like those in U-Turn or Photobooth—had more import, though I found collectors like Abel Guaglianone and Joaquín Rodríguez, supporters of emerging artists, shopping only in the Barrio Joven Chandon section for the youngest galleries. Among the brightest of these was Peńa, a two-year-old nonprofit cofounded by Rosario Güiraldes, who is heading to Bard CCS in the fall and is definitely a talent to watch.
That night, the Brazilian embassy held a cocktail party for weary dealers and VIP fairgoers in very French colonial salons where murals painted on their ceilings by José María Sert turned heads and elicited gasps from the visitors. “Did you see the cloud room?” collector Richard Massey asked LACMA curator Jarrett Gregory, a new arrival. “Astonishing.” It was now going on 10 PM, time for the open studios at a building Guillermo Rozenblum owns and leases to artists but it was also past dinnertime. “There’s food upstairs!” Rozenblum promised, but a ravenous group, led by Mirvali and Massey repaired to Mirasol, a meat-eater’s paradise serving thick steaks and delicacies like testicles. “A bit spongy,” Massey remarked. “But tasty.”
And that was day one. After that, things got interesting.
Left: Tate curators Jose Roca and Anne Gallagher. Right: Collector Agustina Blaquier and art historian Andrea Giunta.
The following day began with a sweet visit to Guillermo Kuitca’s home and studio for a preview of the deft wall paintings he’s making for this summer’s opening of Hauser & Wirth Somerset. The next stop on the VIP tour—to the National Museum of Immigration—required an abrupt change of emotional gears. The Ellis Island of Buenos Aires, it was once a hospital and intake center for Europeans fleeing the world wars. It tells that story but also now has a year-old contemporary art space. Director Diana Wechsler guided me through “Losing the Human Form,” an exhibition of truly radical Latin American art from the ’70s and ’80s imported from the Reina Sofía. In this eerie asylum for the quarantined, the show’s political posters, performance photographs, books, videos, and punk music took on considerable power beyond its already provocative content. The whole building felt haunted by erasure.
Another surreal leap across cultural borders landed a small group of us at the Benzacar gallery, where sculptor Luciana Lamothe had constructed a vertigo-inducing bridge of wood and steel as a destabilizing path through life. “It’s all about trusting the materials,” she said, adding that vertigo was like music to her. Next door was a complete surprise: the Federico Jorge Klemm Foundation. Klemm, who looks in his many self-portraits here like an understudy for Siegfried and Roy, built a surpassing contemporary collection of work from the ’60s through the ’80s with artists like Warhol and dealers like Robert Fraser.
Back at the fair we got a closer look at U-Turn, where Argentine artists like Amalia Pica and Irene Kopelman were getting their first exposure in their native country, and at Photobooth, where Zaya hit home runs with Annemarie Heinrich at Vasari, Milagros de la Torre at Rolf, and Miki Kratsman at Tel Aviv’s Chelouche.
A photojournalist by trade, this was Kratsman’s first trip to Buenos Aires since his Argentine family emigrated to Israel in the’60s. On the walls were unframed prints downloaded from his Facebook project, “People I Met,” an arresting archive of portraits of noncombatant Palestinians he encountered while working in Israeli-occupied territories. “At first I thought I had nothing to say to people here,” Kratsman confessed. “But the truth is that six members of my family were among the Disappeared, and we don’t speak of it. This project made it important for me to be here.”
That evening, Pérez Rubio was named the new director of MALBA, BA’s museum of contemporary Latin American art, at an exclusive dinner hosted by Eduardo Costantini, donor of the works forming its (major) permanent collection. A proud, self-made real estate developer who started out collecting stamps and then birds before turning to art, Costantini showed me the brochure—actually a hardbound catalogue designed by Jeff Koons—of the luxury high-rise he’s building on the “most expensive piece of land” in Miami. It will have two Koons sculptures—of a Degas dancer (still in production)—on permanent display outside. “I bought them from Gagosian,” Costantini said.
That Saturday, Oxenford hosted a daylong barbecue at his modest, Richard Meier–like home in a gated suburb. Everyone I’d seen all week was there, chowing down on the usual grilled meats and hanging out on the lawn. Back at the fair, Mirvali was moderating a collecting panel with Pedro Barbosa, Aimée Labarrere de Servitje, and Massey, which was not about collecting but supporting artist projects by three people with a deep commitment to art beyond vanity.
Which doesn’t mean they don’t party. Everyone parties on art tours, when bonds form out of spontaneous meetings. That night, after visiting Eva Peron’s tomb in the bonanza of architecture that is La Recoleta cemetery, I fell in with a temporary posse—Adrián Villar Rojas, Cernuschi, Guraldes, and Massey—for a blowout at Clubhouse, the Soho House–style club in Palermo Soho. It attracted most of Mirvali’s panelists, along with young artists and gallerists working the fair.
It wasn’t just fun. It was business. Some deals were consummated there. Relationships deepened. The night got long. The week ended, perhaps appropriately, at a flea market, where a couple of aging street dancers doing a slow, beautiful tango spoke to the undying power of romance. That was the image in my mind when I reached the airport, where a monitor at the security line was scrolling a list of people who had gone missing.
GETTING FROM GENEVA to the eleventh edition of Dak’Art, the oldest biennial in Africa, was like an endurance rally of yore. From a confusing new visa policy to organizational tumult, the required skill was sheer determination, which would serve well on the ground too.
The central exhibition at the Village de la Biennale, former television studios in an industrial area north of the city center, was inaugurated a day late, the venue made available to the curators and artists only four days before the scheduled opening date, early last month. “I have never seen curators work so hard for any exhibition ever,” artist Simone Leigh said. By the time I arrived following the casual directions “Route de Rufisque near IPRES, facing CFAO,” there was the atmosphere of a jubilant festival, in the wake of gold stars having been sprinkled over attendees as part of Slimane Rais’s installation Celebration. Displayed in four raw cavernous buildings, the show ranged from genres such as bricolage—as in the luminous nail-and-spoon sunflower depicting a radiant African universe, by Nigerian artist Olu Amoda (who split the biennial grand prize with Algerian Driss Ouadahi)—to videos and installations expressing local social issues. Visitors to Naziha Mestaoui’s Corps en résonance were transfixed by luminous Tibetan glass bowls that gyrated and produced a hypnotic sound in response to their bodily movements. “I want to make visible the invisible and to heal the body through technology that invokes the spiritual, bringing us back full circle to our ancestral roots,” Mestaoui said.
In fulfilling this biennial’s mandate of “Producing the Common,” drawing the universal from cultural diversity, cocurators Elise Atangana, Abdelkader Damani, and Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi brought a decisive curatorial vision and a compelling mix of artists from all over Africa and its diaspora—no small task. As if in response to critics of previous exhibitions, the broad-ranging selection included all areas of Pan-African production, with Atangana in charge of the diaspora, Damani of North Africa, and Nzewi of the sub-Saharan region. “It is an extremely rewarding experience for curators building collections of contemporary arts of Africa,” Newark Museum curator Christa Clarke noted. “A great mix of established and emerging talent, with some artists so new to the market that they have yet to edition their work.” In other words, if you want to see what’s going on in African art, Dak’Art was the place to be.
The opening party took place outdoors among the buildings, the crowd milling around large-scale installations like Mehdi-Georges Lahlou’s 72 (Virgins), a majestic assembly of fluttering white flags alluding to the misled martyrs of Islamic fanaticism, and officials from the Tate and the Smithsonian Museum of African Art were out in full force. By the time we returned from the space displaying the terrific “Anonymous,” a nicely curated ensemble of smaller works by exhibition artists without labels, the scramble for food at the buffet tables had come and gone, and only crumbs were left.
Live music is de rigueur for any event in Senegal, but before the big stage revved up we decided to catch the show of Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté’s arresting quilted tapestries carrying political and religious messages, being fęted at the French Institute’s Galerie Le Mančge. Next I joined photographers Omar Victor Diop and Fabrice Monteiro, curators Yves Chatap, Storm Janse Van Rensburg, and Elise Atangana, and artists Joel Andrianomearisoa and Naziha Mestaoui for the dash up the Corniche to the Contemporary & celebration, at Istanbul Dakar Restaurant. The crowd was exuberant, circle jamming to the music, and the breeze off the sea was fine as can be.
Left: Artist Abdoulaye Ndoye and actress-curator CCH Pounder. Right: Artist Julie Mehretu and curator Koyo Kouoh.
“There are too many shows to see, even if you stay for a month,” photographer François-Xavier Gbré said. “It’s all part of the game.” Navigating biennial events, whose dates sometimes changed, required constant engagement and communication, preferably in French—a dance of logistics and chance. Dakar addresses are often narrative instructions, like “near the house of Abdoulaye Wade” (the former Senegalese president), rather than precise coordinates. So trying to see as many of the estimated three hundred “OFF” exhibitions, often in hotels, restaurants, shops—even a private home on colonial Gorée Island, the now quaint embarkation point of slaves to the New World—was also an excellent way to get to know the place.
After dropping by Adamantios Kafetzis’s evocative site-specific installation “Chez Marie-Joe,” in the ancestral home of the Lebou chief who stopped the French from evicting the tribal settlers of the city, I headed around the corner to the downtown location of Institut Francais, the favored haven from the city’s dust and chaos during opening week. Fashion photographer Omar Victor Diop, the flavor of the moment in Senegal, had set up a temporary studio there to immortalize biennial artists against vividly patterned fabric backdrops, a continuation of his “Studio of the Vanities” project documenting the young creative lights of Africa. Yet the biggest buzz among the artists, academics, and curators hanging out surrounded Cornell’s “Global Black Consciousness” conference at the Sokhamon Hotel, one of a slew of great initiatives around town (like the workshops of Bisi Silva’s roving Ŕsěkň and the Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies). Cocurator Nzewi, whose 2013 doctoral dissertation focused on Dak’Art, delivered a historical narrative of the biennial, while others explored the ramifications of its antecedents, particularly Nigeria’s FESTAC, in 1977. “Tsitsi Jaji’s discussion of how Bingo magazine inserted femininity into Pan-Africanist discourse was a highlight,” Simone Leigh told me. “I was also struck by Salah Hassan’s description of colorism in the Sudan, which has led to, among other things, his passport designating him as not black but ‘green.’”
Left: Photographer Omar Victor Diop. Right: Artist Marcia Kure and Dak’Art’s Korta Ousseynou.
Across town, queer identity and personal liberties in Africa were being treated in the group show “Precarious Imaging,” at Raw Materials Company, which has since been closed under threats of further violence and pressure from Islamic religious leaders. In it, portraits by Nigerian photographer Andrew Esiebo, titled Who We Are, are an attempt to depict gays in quotidian domestic environments to stress their ultimate societal “normality.” The gallery’s building had been vandalized shortly after the opening, and the artist residents were moved to a safer, undisclosed location. Homosexuality is against the law in Senegal, punishable by imprisonment, whereas in precolonial tribal society it was commonly accepted. Artist Mame-Diarra Niang, whose performance Ethéré memorialized a young Senagalese who was the victim of extreme homophobia, left the country with a one-way ticket.
A few nights on, after a soirée at the US Embassy in honor of a monumental commission by Nick Cave, I joined some American curators going to the Musée Boribana, owned by American actress C. C. H. Pounder, to see a group show featuring Cheikh Diouf and Abdoulaye Ndoye. “The Boribana is the closest thing to a contemporary art museum in Senegal,” curator Joanna Grabski explained. For all the pomp and circumstance, Dakar’s ambition as an African cultural capital is marred by the lack of a publicly funded contemporary art museum, an issue that was brought up at the opening and prize-giving ceremony, officiated by President Macky Sall, at the new Chinese-built Grand Theatre National. The elegant Musée Dynamique was constructed for the purpose in 1966, under president Senghor, but it was given over to the Supreme Court in 1990. Despite increasing international interest in African art, with auctions bringing record prices, new dedicated art fairs, and African artists winning prizes at the Venice Biennale and Art Basel, there is little local market and a dearth of resources directed to nourishing arts development in Africa.
By all accounts, this was the best Dak’Art exhibition yet, and may finally have fulfilled the goal of its spiritual father, poet and former president Léopold Sédar Senghor, a cofounder of the Negritude movement, whose 1966 World Festival of Black Arts brought artists from around the world to Dakar to nurture the vision not just of Pan-Africanism but a common civilization drawn from multiple interdependent cultures. If not exactly an answer to Jean-Hubert Martin’s “Magiciens de la terre,” this year the biennial was diligently representative, multicultural, current, and pioneering. Ultimately, however, the goals of cultural diversity and tolerance, indeed human rights, have been undermined by an intolerant society that bows to fundamentalist elements. A truly creative, internationally relevant artistic output can never thrive under such conditions.
Left: Culture Minister Abdoul Aziz Mbaye and US ambassador Lewis Lukens. Right: Artist Barkinado Bocum.
On Wednesday, we took the long, hot road trip north to the charming colonial capital Saint-Louis, home of the summer jazz festival. We were greeted by the scent of fish and architecture reminiscent of New Orleans. Our hostess was the doyenne of the art scene, Joëlle le Bussy, whose Galerie Arte displayed an impressive collection of art and design, including paintings by Tchif, Dominique Zinkpč, and Barkinado Bocoum. Farther along the waterfront, Comptoir de Fleuve showed prints and drawings by Soly Cissé, whose splendid new sculptures of figures evoking sci-fi mythology had been unveiled at Dakar city hall that week. The paint was still wet when we arrived at the Musée du CRDS for “L’Homme et l’oeuvre,” an exhibition of luminous paintings and jazz-era portraits by Iba Ndiaye, one of the seminal figures in Senegalese art history who had homages, along with Ousmane Sow and Moustapha Dimé. On the north side of town, the French Institute proved once again to be the nexus of action: Senegalese artist Henri Sagna’s “Air Libre” highlighted commonalities, not necessarily flattering, among religions in striking installations of pitch-black tire rubber formed into the visages of religious leaders and symbols—evoking the mechanisms conveying the insidious menace of fundamentalism creeping into our societies.
That night, after drinking rum punch and eating from a huge communal platter of fish yassa with Jamaican-American photographer Lauri Lyons and a group of French street artists in the Institut Français garden, four Afro-French DJs from Lille served up fantastic renditions of African, reggae, and Motown hits bound together with a contagious beat. On an island under the full moon, it was apparent that music is the best carrier of a common language. Despite, or perhaps because of, the organizational difficulties, those who made it to the biennial were ecstatic to be there. One of our dancing companions, Cheikh, informed us that Nangadef in Wolof means “How are you?” And the answer invariably is, Magnifique! The word for yes is pronounced wow, and the haphazard yet miraculous synchronicity of Dak’Art made it the perfect refrain.