Left: Prime Minister of Portugal Pedro Passos Coelho with Serralves director Suzanne Cotter. Right: Director of the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea Miguel Von Hafe Pérez, Serralves deputy director and senior curator João Ribas, and Serralves curator Marta Moreira de Almeida. (Photos: Filipe Braga)
TWO WEEKENDS AGO IN PORTO, I didn’t count how many times I heard the Serralves praised, in various ways, as a “place for artists,” but it became an unofficial slogan in my mind. As you might already know, the prominent institution, which is celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of its foundation and the fifteenth anniversary of its museum of contemporary art, sprawls across a massive estate including a sleek, modern museum designed by the Portuguese architect Ávaro Siza, a pink Art Deco villa built in the 1930s, and a nearly forty-five acre park, all impeccably maintained.
“Part of the legacy of Serralves is that it’s an artist’s museum—artists have a deep engagement with the place and its architecture, while the museum has a special relationship with artists. It’s always been that way,” said Serralves deputy director and senior curator João Ribas. Artist Ângela Ferreira recounted an early formidable moment in her career: seeing Lawrence Weiner lingering around the museum in 1999. “Many people come, stay, make friends...some become like the furniture here,” she noted.
A light rain on a cool Friday night meant that the first floor of the Serralves’s villa needed to be cleared of artworks so that the cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and official speeches by VIPs—Portugal’s mayor Rui Moreira Coelho and Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho—could be moved inside. The next day we marveled at seeing these pieces by Serra, Pistoletto, Kounellis, and Haacke from the permanent collection so quickly marshaled back to their spots. Under past administrations, the villa had not been used too often for shows, but its marble and gilded details are well suited to subtle works from the late 1960s and ’70s, which likewise benefit from all the natural light. Serralves Museum director Suzanne Cotter put it best when she cited the various “sympathetic” connections in the current exhibition of the collection, “Histories.” To be sure, the surrounding gardens provide a similarly sensitive link for the art to the landscape.
That evening we convened at the villa by entering through the park, traipsing down an avenue lined with North American red oak while passing one of Nairy Bagharamian’s large shoulder pads, one of several scattered on Serralves’s grounds. Upon entering the pink, old-Miami style palace, we encountered the last day of Theaster Gates’s “monastic retreat”—yet another distinctive mark of this artist’s museum, I presumed. As Yaw Agyeman slowly chanted, “early in the morning...I must pray” on the second floor, the other three members—Justin Thomas, Khari Lemuel, and Mikel Avery—of Gates’s musical ensemble, Black Monks of Mississippi, played xylophone, drums, cello, and more. Though Gates was not in attendance, the quartet more than held their own during a short processional through the space, leading us down the stairs and through a perfume cloud emanating from the numerous guests (lots of Thierry Mugler Angel) while passing an incredible Giorgio Griffa painting appearing to hover in room bathed in pale pink. Though short, the Monks’ work that night set a contemplative tone, as we honored the founders of the museum, including the first Serralves president, João Vasco Marques Pinto, and Rui Vilar, a former member of the board of the foundation. Meanwhile, across the garden path, caterers were feverishly setting up a lavish dinner for six hundred in a tent, doing “their own kind of performance,” as someone put it.
Left: Artist Julião Sarmento and Porto mayor Rui Moreira. Right: Managing director of the Serralves Foundation Odete Patricio and politician Teresa Patrício de Gouveia. (Photos: Filipe Braga)
My table at the dinner, which was helmed by Cotter, included close Serralves friends—voices of the past, present, and future. As we slowly moved into the dessert with vintage Port course, artist Jorge Martins reflected on his retrospective last year at the museum as well as on attending the “warm and beautiful” party that opened the space all those years ago. Later, curator, critic, and professor Delfim Sardo shared his plans for “The SAAL Process: Architecture and Participation 1974–1976,” an exhibition opening at the museum this October that focuses on a major political social housing project that emerged in the wake of the April 1974 revolution in Portugal. That show will share the museum with a highly anticipated retrospective by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian.
While there was plenty of reminiscing that anniversary weekend, there was also one major Serralves player who plainly wasn’t interested in thinking so much about the past. In a room swarming with journalists the day after the party, Siza, the eighty-one-year-old Pritzker prize winner who built the museum in 1999, sat smoking cigarette after cigarette. When asked how he felt about his building today, he glanced around fleetingly and replied that he simply felt “older.” When asked if he’d change anything about the museum, a firm “no” was delivered.
Truth be told, Siza is currently redesigning the old garage on the grounds to house the Casa do Cinema Manoel de Oliveira. Not a surprising move for this ever-evolving place. Returning back to the New York grind, I had a hard time grasping how the Serralves achieves its poise by being at once a constantly changing ecosystem and by maintaining a sense of ease, perhaps through its longtime bonds with the artists who care deeply about it. And while I can’t be sure, I suspect that balance has everything to do with all that nature.
“THE LONG-JAWED ORB SPIDER and the common house spider are perennial visitors to Crystal Bridges in the summer and early fall.”
As I walked from one end of the Crystal Bridges Museum’s vaulted entrance lobby and restaurant, beneath a big gold Jeff Koons heart, across one of two enclosed suspension bridges spanning the natural spring that lends the building its name, a wall label caught my eye. “These opportunistic predators build their webs in the Museum’s large, illuminated windows to take advantage of the many insects that are attracted to them by night. Our grounds crew uses a variety of environmentally friendly methods,” it reads, “of discouraging the spiders; however, the hungry arachnids persist. The return of cool temperatures in the fall will eliminate the spiders eventually.” Outside, a warm rain darkened the building’s concrete. “In the meantime, enjoy this close-up look at Mother Nature at work.”
Today, though, the grounds crew made an exception and swept out the webs. It was September 11, 2014: opening day for “State of the Art”—the museum’s ambitious survey of 102 “underrecognized” artists from across the Union. A pair of dedicated curators had braved some hundred thousand road miles, 250 commercial airline flights, and way more studio visits than you can shake a Whitney Biennial at—ultimately arriving, without regional or demographic quotas, at a group nearly, remarkably, as diverse as the national spread. All this tucked away in Bentonville, Arkansas, an Ozark enclave half an hour from the nearest regional airport—more famous, truth be told, as the corporate capital of Walmart than for its art. But they aim to change all that.
Left: Artist Dan Steinhilber. (Photo: Travis Diehl) Right: Artists Miki Baird, Pam Longobardi, and Vanessa German. (Photo: Marc F. Henning)
Curatorial team Chad Alligood and Don Bacigalupi (who is also the museum’s president) led a pack of press on a brisk tour through nineteen thousand square feet of exhibition space, unfurling, with the help of a few highlights, their philosophy. The viewer enters the show, for example, through a tunnel of collaged crochet by Brooklyn’s Jeila Gueramian. “If you’re searching for meaning,” said Bacigalupi, “the answer is, it’s you”—the work’s title. Your interpretation, your experience, your vision. (Indeed, poking through embroidered cats and yarn tentacles, I noted, are a peyote cactus or two—but who’s to judge?) Further in, we paused beside Ialu by John Douglas Powers, where a little motor on a spit dipped plant stalks back and forth near a projection of puffy clouds, like a line of oarsmen chained to a waves-of-grain machine. Next door was a gigantic mural by Gina Phillips, made of thread, showing, amid a busy rural scene, a corn plant sprouting from the artist’s shin.
Whether the work is engaged in biography, history, politics, or craft, the chief criteria is time-tested: virtuosity. Missing the references won’t keep you from enjoying this work. Such self-evident skill, in one view, shrugs off the pretentious, insular discourse that marks much contemporary art. We passed, without comment, Hamilton Poe’s Stack: a number of straw hats sitting on box fans, fixed to the wall floor-to-ceiling in the manner of a Judd stack, in the spot where the museum usually displays its Judd.
In the dining room, the group gathered around Matthew Moore’s Lifecycles, a video of lettuce and carrots maturing in time-lapse. This piece also hangs in a couple of regional Walmart produce sections. “If you knew it took 160 days to grow a carrot,” the label quotes the artist as saying, “it might change the way you think about the produce that you bought.” The label also directs the viewer to a work in the Crystal Bridges collection: Thomas Hart Benton’s 1934 Ploughing It Under, a painting of a black farmer guiding a plow behind a blinkered horse. A lot of things might change the way you think, if you knew them. Some might find the combination of technical skill and soft politics a fence for thornier questions. A lack of agrarian awareness, for one, is the least of the charges leveled against Walmart stores. The tour concluded with a Q&A backlit by a wall painting and projection by New Orleanean Dave Greber. In the top left, the gold mask of Agamemnon—power, formerly consolidated in a figurehead—melts into a trickle-down rainbow that runs past rhinestones, under painted bridges. The piece certainly supports interpretation as a diagram of Walton-family largesse.
I joined the curators for a pleasant lunch in the spider-free museum restaurant. Somewhere in the middle, Walmart heiress and eleventh-richest human on the planet Alice Walton stopped by our table to say howdy. For the past ten years, she’s been collecting art with the museum in mind; she was heart and soul of the effort to build and endow a world-class American institution in her father Sam Walton’s adopted hometown (what Bacigalupi neutrally described as “a company town, but anti-union”). This is her building, if not her program. But to be fair, Crystal Bridges hasn’t had as much time as, say, MoMA or the Whitney to diversify its robber-baron underwriters.
At the opening night dinner for “State of the Art.” (Photo: Travis Diehl)
In the meantime, depending on your perspective, the institution enjoys a kind of bad-boy/little-guy/new-money status, along with the nickname “The Walmart Museum.” I asked the curators if they feel isolated in a town of Bentonville’s stature. “Far from it,” they said. Yokels, they ain’t. Alligood was scouted from the Cranbrook Art Museum, while Bacigalupi has held top museum jobs in San Diego and San Antonio. The mobility of a young, pioneering collection, in their view, gives them the option to be generous, instead of closed, as regards the heartland. Crystal Bridges occupies something like a nonjudgmental state of nature, suspended between coastal art capitals—able to pick and choose from their “civilizing” influences. In fact, they’ve got the resources, the positioning, the weight, to bend the map their way: toward the middle.
Some folks, though, in New York and Los Angeles especially, think a few works in the Crystal Bridges collection don’t belong among the hillbillies. What art, in particular? In a nineteenth-century collection sprinkled with Sargants and Eakinses: Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits—which used to hang in the main branch of the New York Public Library. Or a portrait of then general George Washington by Charles Willson Peale. His hand rests on a brass cannon symbolizing the military might and readiness of the fledgling United States. Behind the rosy-cheeked commander-in chief, a dark sky parts around a slash of blue. “Only the flag,” says the label, stands higher in the composition. You don’t need a degree in Judd to appreciate this kind of symbolism.
Under cover of flat, unthreatening clouds, I took a stroll on the Art Trail—a long sidewalk, dotted with the likes of a Cor-Ten Robert Indiana and a James Turrell sky room, connecting the museum’s south entrance with downtown Bentonville. The museum grounds include several miles of paths—proof, according to locals, of Alice Walton’s love for this place, which was built on Walton family land parceled to the museum with the blessing of her nieces and nephews. The Bentonville square is old-timey but obviously remodeled. On one side is Sam Walton’s first store, the 5&10, which is now the actual Walmart museum—the one about Walmart. On the other is the courthouse. The flag waved at half-mast.
Left: At Bentonville's square. Right: Charles Willson Peale's portrait of George Washington on the audio guide. (Photos: Travis Diehl)
Later that night the museum hosted a bigger turnout than for the inaugural gala almost three years prior: twelve hundred artists and artists’ families, curators, patrons—all, for the most part, proud as can be. One couple had traveled from Atlanta for the opening; they’d commissioned one of the sculptures, Bob Trotman’s Journey (Ladder), as a gift for their forty-fifth anniversary. I spent a long time with two women in Dan Steinhilber’s mylar-lined Reflecting Room, waiting for the walls to deflate. The thin foil on the floor had been torn in places by high heels. Eventually we gave up. “We’ll tell our husbands that it did,” they said. When I emerged, caterers were packing up the drinks. I threaded my way through a disintegrating party, back down the Art Path in the dark, with a bunch of New Yorkers. Bentonville also boasts a 21c, one of a small chain of boutique art hotels catering to regional hubs like Cincinnati and Louisville, which, rather than a hotel-looking edifice crammed with art, looks just like a modern kunsthalle. Their bar was the only one in town still open.
“I’m gonna shop at Walmart the rest of my goddamn life,” said Guy W. Bell, an artist from Little Rock, Arkansas, only half joking. His contribution to the show is Cain and Abel, an oil painting of two dogs, a black one and a white one, fighting in a road. Arkansas is a special place, he says. There are problems, but they get worked out in straight-shooting, albeit often violent ways. And here was a man who appreciates the richness of his state, its weird cosmopolitan confluences, the beauty of its brutal nature. He ranged over topics from fine wine to bar fights to woodworking accidents to the decline of boxing from its Tyson-era pinnacle. What has replaced boxing, in the national mythology? Bell didn’t miss a beat: “Politics.”
Back in my room, I flipped on the TV while I packed. Opposite infomercials and televangelists, MSNBC showed unanchored, unamended, thirteen-year-old coverage of the Twin Towers’ collapse—what I can only describe as 9/11 reruns.
WHO WOULDN’T WANT TO COME TO CHICAGO? That question, posed by a Windy City dealer last week on the eve of EXPO Chicago, begged a querulous reply. Why choose Chicago when the doors to New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Mexico City, and more exotic places are open? “Chicago is not an international city,” the woman conceded. “It is a great American city.”
Point taken. We were on the rooftop terrace of the Art Institute of Chicago, at a dinner that followed the opening of “Sarah Charlesworth: Stills,” dwarfed by the mighty skyline lit up around us. We were seated at two long tables with the late artist’s two children, Nick Poe and Lucy Poe, AIC photography chair Matthew Witkovsky, and some of the city’s leading collectors. They included Eric and Liz Lefkofsky, who bought and donated half of the fourteen Stills to the museum. “What every collector wants to hear is, ‘You can’t have it,’ ” Eric Lefkofsky said. “Then you stop at nothing to get it.”
The almost mythical body of work, appropriated from news sources, hasn’t seen the light of day since 1980, when the young Tony Shafrazi exhibited it in his first gallery, his New York apartment. Before her unexpected death from a brain aneurysm in June of last year, Charlesworth printed six images that weren’t in the original show. “This is the first time that Stills has been exhibited in its entirety,” Witkovsky told the full house attending an illuminating panel in the museum’s auditorium, moderated by Laurie Simmons with artists Liz Deschenes, Sara VanDerBeek, and activist Kate Linker.
Left: Artist Theaster Gates. Right: Artist Corban Walker with Shaquille O'Neal and art consultant Amy Cappellazzo.
The program was the opening salvo of EXPO Art Week, part of fair director Tony Karman’s high-octane effort to entice visitors to the three-year-old exposition, a startup that has replaced the failed Chicago Art Fair, a victim of the Armory Show, Frieze, and misguided management. Opening day, September 18, brought a touch of celebrity to Navy Pier, when filmmaker George Lucas (whose forthcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is in Chicago) swept through the 140 stalls. Retired basketball giant Shaquille O’Neal was brought in by New York collector Glenn Fuhrman to curate “Shaq Loves People,” a rather good show of portraits in the Flag Art Foundation booth, felicitously located by the VIP Room, entry to which was through Michael Rakowitz’s re-creation of the Ishtar Gate.
The giant O’Neal, an indelible figure to begin with, made a stunning impression for camera phone–wielding fans when he stood beside the four-foot-tall Corban Walker, one of the artists in his show. “I just love Ron Mueck,” O’Neal said of another, but his taste also seems to run to delicate post-Minimalism. “He came in and went straight for the Richard Tuttle drawing,” reported dealer David Nolan, who was sharing a stall with Chicago gallerists John Corbett and Jim Dempsey. “Maybe it’s just that it was hanging at his eye level.”
Like pleasant Chicago, the fair is definitively American, despite Karman’s many efforts to give it an international profile by bringing French curators Matthieu Poirier and Guillaume Désanges to Chicago for a year-long residency, including Europeans like Isabella Bortolozzi and Thomas Schulte, and winning over heavyweight galleries like David Zwirner, Matthew Marks, Massimo De Carlo, and Lisson. For the most part, though, EXPO offered midlevel dealers a chance to hold the attention of collectors more often monopolized by bigger guns. “I think there’s something about Tony that makes people want to support him,” reflected Andrew Freiser, who split his stall with fellow New York dealer Garth Greenan—a common ploy here, and perhaps an indication of the caution out-of-towners brought with them.
Left: Dealers David Nolan and Paul Kasmin. Right: Artist Angel Otero.
Chicago has a long history of active connoisseurship, as the primo collections of the AIC, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Arts Club of Chicago, and other institutions will attest. Collecting is a family affair here. “Did you go to the Fields this morning?” asked New York dealer Elizabeth Dee, who shared her booth with London’s Max Wigram. “That was to-die.” Marilyn and Larry Fields’s Lakeshore Drive apartment was but one stop on daily tours that took fair-going VIPs around to ogle private collections amassed by the Aronsons, the Guthmans, the Strokirks, the Broidos, and the Sandors, among others. The last in that list has just about every iconic photograph produced since the birth of the medium. “We have 1,600 on a wall of our living room,” Richard Sandor had told me at the Charlesworth dinner. “And that’s just one wall. We can’t seem to stop.”
Other collecting couples, like the Lefkofskys and King and Caryn Harris, split their institutional affiliations between the AIC and the MCA, while one half of the Bluhms, the Griffins, the Gordons, and the Crowns also sit on the board of the Whitney Museum. They can’t stop either.
They didn’t all go to Expo, but the fair did get a swarm of art advisers and, according to dealer Monique Meloche, collectors from Indianapolis, Saint Louis, Kansas City, and other midwestern towns. I spotted New Museum director Lisa Phillips leading a group from New York, while Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, Rauschenberg Foundation director Christy MacLear, and artist Ryan Gander were among those imported to take part with Renaissance Society curator Hamza Walker in EXPO’s “Dialogues” program of conversations. Another plus was the group of commissioned public artworks that EXPO In/Situ's curator Renaud Proch placed both outside the hall and within. The most remarkable had to be Jessica Stockholder’s fifty-foot-tall tower of brightly colored plastic buckets and crates. When it comes to consumer-goods sculptural installations, she still has the field to herself.
Left: Dealers Alex Logsdail and Tina Kim. Right: Renaissance Society associate curator Hamza Walker with artist Ryan Gander.
But what really set Chicago apart for me, at both the fair and at gallery openings during the week, was how much more integrated the art world appeared to be here than it is in such supposedly evolved places like New York and Los Angeles, where white faces still dominate. Many of those flocked each night to Rashid Johnson’s steam bath version of the racially charged Amiri Baraka play, Dutchman, seen in New York during the last Performa biennial, or to “Retreat,” an exhibition organized by Theaster Gates at the Richard Gray and Valerie Carberry galleries, or to Gates’s Dorchester Projects on the South Side.
Veteran dealer Rhona Hoffman’s booth was one that achieved racial equality at the fair, as did San Francisco’s Anthony Meier. Among the artists featured at Kavi Gupta’s booth was McArthur Binion, a charismatic sixty-eight-year-old African American who was the first black artist to graduate from Cranbrook, found champions in Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, and other artists in 1970s New York, was in an exhibition at Artists Space during its inaugural year, and, after moving to Chicago, dropped out of sight for thirty years. Now, a little like Jack Whitten and Sam Gilliam, he’s starting to get the recognition he deserves. At his compound of galleries, Gupta also introduced a show of Mickalene Thomas’s bronzes and new, found-object installations by Glenn Kaino.
At the Arts Club on Saturday afternoon, the 2005 Turner prize winner Simon Starling led a tour of his current show, “Pictures for an Exhibition.” The black-and-white photographs document the fascinating trajectory of eighteen Brancusi sculptures exhibited at the club in 1927 through a network of collectors from then to now. “I learned a lot about the psyche of collectors during this project,” Starling said. “A strange breed. And I wouldn’t survive without you.”
Nor could Chicago. At least it seemed that way after a weekend of collector visits, architectural tours by boat, dinners in restaurants, receptions in galleries, and parties at the recently opened Soho House. But the most exclusive chill-out rooms were in a second-level corner of the fair that people who didn’t venture past the Exposure section for younger galleries missed. This was “Bling Bling,” a project of the nonprofit 6018North, curated by Tricia Van Eck. It had a Day-Glo disco room with glitter balls, glitter paintings, and a DJ playing protest music; a faux Louis XIV garden room; and a “democratic” VIP lounge lined with gold and silver fabric.
Bling was definitely on the agenda for Saturday night when the MCA held its annual artEdge benefit gala, beginning with a preview of the roots of glam: “David Bowie Is,” the exhibition of the rock star’s costumes and memorabilia that packed them in at the Victoria and Albert in London last year. The MCA is its only American venue. There was a sweeping Starling show on view in galleries off the lobby, but they went almost unnoticed that evening. Those who came for the entertainment alone went upstairs to the Bowie show, installed here by curator Michael Darling, who enlisted architect John Vinci, a legend in this town, to design the black-on-black, nightclub-like environment.
The show is heavy on costumes and memorabilia from Bowie’s career, absent its seamier (and most creative) episodes, which is really too bad. It did have his voice and music on the clever audio tour, and tucked at the back of one platform, a blurry video of Bowie’s 1979 appearance on Saturday Night Live with Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias that stopped me in my tracks.
I guess nostalgia was in the air. Just ask all the people who bought tickets for the gala’s afterparty, which featured the soigné Bryan Ferry as the musical guest. New York collectors Charlotte Ford and Lisa Perry were among his fans at the gala, which also put Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the house with Marilyn Susman, wife of President Obama’s former ambassador to the UK, and what appeared to be the city’s entire art world—elite collectors (the Griffins, the Zells, the Goldenbergs, the Blitsteins, the Bluhms, the Neesons, etc.), artists, dealers, curators… everyone. Clearly, event chairs Nancy Crown, Cari Sacks, Liz Lefkofsky, and Caryn Harris totally turned it out. MCA director Madeleine Grynsztejn was elated.
Patrons skewed to the senior set, though Adam Fields brought artist friends like Tony Lewis. “I’m trying to bring a young, edgy note to the scene,” he said. Representatives of Louis Vuitton, the evening’s sponsor, asked me in several emails to mention the company’s support of the show, but during the dinner for seven hundred that followed the preview, I saw Nick Cave wearing some kind of green leather chest harness, and women dressed in Prada, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Gucci, and, well, anything but Vuitton.
Ferry, handsome as ever and wearing a flower-print evening jacket, rocked out to the swooning crowd of revelers packed into the afterparty tent. “This is so exciting!” Ford said. Sometimes, I thought, one has to go to the heartland to stay on the cutting edge. Next morning, Renaissance Society curator Hamza Walker gave me a tour of an eccentric show opening that night by the German Conceptualist Josef Strau, one related to Native American mythology that I couldn’t imagine at any other institution in the country.
While waiting for my taxi to the airport, I recalled something that young Fields, who lives in New York, told me. “I’m very proud of Chicago,” he said. “Eventually, I’ll be back.”
Left: Artist Simon Starling and MCA Chicago curator Dieter Roelstraete. Right: Collector Helyn Goldenberg with MCA curator Naomi Beckwith and collector Michael Goldenberg.
“IT’S IRONIC that the theme of the show is ‘accelerationism,’ when so much art made in Taiwan seems drawn from the experience of tropical slowness,” pointed out MoMA’s Stuart Comer the morning before the Taipei Biennial opened at the Taipei Museum of Fine Arts. Nicolas Bourriaud had titled his exhibition “The Great Acceleration: Art in the Anthropocene,” and as the terminus of the latest East Asian -ennial express (following stops in Gwangju, Seoul, Yokohama, etc.), many rising stars working at these intersections convened on the island formerly known as Formosa to put the French aesthetician’s theories into motion.
“When I was young, everything said MADE IN TAIWAN on it,” said Caroline Valansi of the Rio-based collective OPAVIVARÁ!. “Especially the Disney stuff.” Along with the back-and-forth colonial presence of Japan, China, and, fleetingly, Portugal, Taiwan’s manufacturing legacy has cast it as a place better known for propagating foreign cultures than its own. But nonetheless, Taipei has a thriving local art scene and a history of artist-run spaces that predates the arrival of the biennial in 1992.
The evening before the show’s opening, TheCube—a project space dedicated to sound and media art near National Taiwan University founded by curator Amy Cheng—launched an installation by Brussels-based artists Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert. It was curated by Casino Luxembourg director Kevin Muhlen as the reciprocal end of an exchange between the two institutions. An island in its own right, albeit landlocked, maybe Luxembourg can relate to Taiwan’s hybrid singularity, though this show all but dispensed with cultural identity, mixing recordings of London’s Financial District and Iceland’s Eyjafjöll volcano eruption of 2010 into a discordant, black-and-white meditation on crisis.
The next morning I joined Comer and MoMA colleagues Jenny Schlenzka and Yu-Chieh Li on a research tour around the neighborhood described to us as the Taipei “meatpacking district”—i.e., a light industrial zone once famous for sex trade, now ground zero for creative enterprises. The most established artist-run space of Taipei is IT Park, founded in 1988 on the second floor of a converted former English-language school. Lee Ming-Hsueh’s solo show there features an entertaining cast of readymades ranging from visual puns (a lowly lighter propped beside a taller hi-liter) to disorienting gimmicks (a flat-blade fan that only produced a sideways breeze) to vaguely socially charged juxtapositions (two bottles of popular cleaning agents, Mr. Muscle and Dr. White, locked in anthropomorphic negotiation).
At VT Artsalon we met impresario Sean C. S. Hu, whose corporation, Hu’s Art Company, seems to have a monopoly on independent curating in Taipei. He recounted the grassroots founding of his incubator, which counts more than forty artists, writers, and curators as key members. “In the beginning we just wanted a bar—we wanted to have fun. We raised money and made a nightclub, but lost a lot because we weren’t good at doing business. So we turned it into an alternative space, and the rest is history.”
That afternoon, everyone made their way through end-of-monsoon-season rain to the Fine Arts Museum, where previews were beginning for the biennial. We wandered past OPAVIVARÁ!’s languid installation featuring hammocks and tea, Po-Chih Huang’s endless rack of blue shirts, Marlie Mul’s slick resin spills imitating naturally occurring puddles of garbage, and Haegue Yang’s forest of hangers hung with lights, cables, and wigs, until we arrived at two heads—one Neanderthal, the other twisted into a monstrous face—by Nathaniel Mellors. Suspecting robotics, we tried to activate them. “Is it a Jordan Wolfson kind of thing?” Mul wondered aloud. And as if by the invocation of Wolfson’s name, the heads sprang to life, one growling, the other spouting pleasantries like a talk-show guest.
“It’s not for claustrophobics,” remarked the Fridericianum’s Susanne Pfeffer as we stepped through the revolving yellow wall of Mika Rottenberg’s installation and into the viewing cubby for her video. While this particular work didn’t concern dough, plenty was on view a floor up in Anicka Yi’s work, a room-size plastic stomach of sorts encasing a suite of projectors and surfaces that were themselves ensconced in leavened putty. As the narrator of Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe’s film put it, summing up the biennial’s convergence of material absurdity and “post-human” ontology: “You can’t eat an air conditioner.”
Unfortunately for the legions of artists who worked overtime all week, you also cannot, at an event hosted by the Taiwanese government, serve alcohol. So by nightfall, the first wave of guests scattered out of the building, past an outdoor K-Pop concert that had attracted a crowd twice the size (and a third the age) of the biennial’s, and into the afterparty in a triangular cantina which, predictably, lasted into the wee hours.
The next day we slouched toward a panel about artists’ relationships to machines and nature featuring Maria Loboda, Mellors, Shimabuku, Yi, Yang, Kuo-Wei Lin, and Po-Chih Huang, moderated by Bourriaud and TFAM director Huang Hai-ming. Bourriaud argued that the anthropocene is “the end of the straight opposition between nature and culture, which is the core of European Romanticism.” Touching on the implicitly ecological rhythms of relational aesthetics, he also cited as inspiration for his show last year’s Parisian museum exhibitions of Huyghe and Parreno.
“Taiwan was for a long time the world’s factory,” said Huang, commenting on the stereotype that has shaped late-twentieth-century perceptions of his country. “We didn’t design the works, but in the limited space of the factory, we can address person-to-person collaboration and feelings—the warmth between people.” No matter the velocity or species of production, human relations still matter.
PEOPLE IN THE ART WORLD say that the reason openings in Chelsea have become so overcrowded is because people who are not in the art world have heard that they can get free booze there. Whatever the explanation, walking between receptions—and sometimes within a single gallery—now means stepping to the rhythm of a traffic signal: Walk/Don’t Walk, Walk/Don’t Walk. Look/Don’t Look. Walk.
That’s how it went during the fall season’s second week in action, starting with Tuesday, September 9, when the David Zwirner and Greene Naftali galleries held openings a few blocks and a thousand conceptual miles apart.
Marcel Dzama, who can cop to being either a filmmaker or a choreographer at this point, was nearly swallowed up by the crowds in Zwirner’s two central spaces on West Nineteenth Street. Onlookers jammed the passage between them to watch videos playing Death Disco Dance on a bank of monitors. Others sat in darkened rooms to watch Une danse des bouffons (or A jester’s dance), the more compelling of two wordless films with music making their U.S. debuts. Attended by the ghosts of Picabia, Schlemmer, Goya, and Beuys—and the cow’s-head costume that some may remember from Dzama’s turn in Jay-Z’s “Picasso Baby” video—they feature Kim Gordon as Maria Martins, the model for Marcel Duchamp’s rape victim in Étant donnés. Here, she rescues “Duchamp” from death by chess.
Left: Artist Rebecca Warren. Right: Artist Agnieszka Kurant with dealer Tanya Bonakdar.
Up on West Twenty-Sixth Street, a courtyard tucked under the High Line led into a Dan Graham show inaugurating the ground-level addition to Greene Naftali’s eighth-floor flagship. Inside, Graham’s new, reflective glass pavilion attracted a smattering of visitors—there was no bar—who lay about on pillows watching post-punk and hardcore music videos from the 1970s and ’80s. Absent from the proceedings was Harun Farocki, whose sudden death last summer made the video-game mash-ups projected on four double-sided screens in the upstairs space his last complete works.
Cao Fei’s stop-motion, feature-length animation, La Town, was on tap the next evening at Lombard Freid. Setting her disaster story in a museum after dark, the artist had her own fun with real/surreal ambiguities, carving her characters (miniscule in the real world) and placing them on even tinier, commercially produced furnishings that loom large on screen.
After all the screens and monitors, it was almost a shock to go-stop-go across the street—to Zwirner again—and see paintings. By comparison, Tomma Abts’s modestly sized geometric abstractions looked almost revolutionary. Back on West Twenty-Sixth Street, the elusive Richard Nonas turned on the juice for his show at Fergus McCaffrey, where his post-Minimalist sculpture staked its claim as a critical link between early Richard Serra and Joel Shapiro. James Nares picked up the pace at Paul Kasmin Gallery with his new “high-speed” drawings. “How fast are they?” asked Glenn O’Brien. “About thirty miles an hour,” Nares replied.
Thursday night brought, as Thursday nights will, the swarm of onlookers seeking beer and wine but finding only art. For the third time in as many days, they trooped once more to Zwirner—this time on West Twentieth Street—for the dealer’s three-part installation of PeaRoeFoam, named for the fish roe/green pea beads invented by the late Jason Rhoades as sculptural material in 2002. Realized from the late artist’s instructions, the show looked like a factory frozen in time, though one section felt a little like the enormous supply room at Ikea where customers pick up their goods.
Left: Artist Cao Fei. Right: Dealer Carol Greene with artist Craig Kalpakjian.
Those out on the trail who happened on Agniezska Kurant’s debut at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery discovered the work of a Conceptualist who exercises her fantasies with science. An installation of peaked mounds drenched in saturated color was created at her instigation by—who could ever fathom it?—colonies of termites set to work in a Florida laboratory. “It’s about the idea of collective intelligence,” she said, adding that she was only getting with the global economy by “outsourcing” the work to the termite labor pool. “What they’re missing,” she said, “is culture. So,” she added, nodding to the other, more kinetic works in her show, as well as to the Charles Longs downstairs and the people swirling around her, “here is culture.”
Go, culture! Next door, at Casey Kaplan, Jonathan Monk’s art about art suggested a group show organized by a comic. For the culturally deprived, there were found-textbook doodles by Mike Kelley, circa 1989, at Skarstedt, drawings of interiors by Do Hoh Suh at Lehmann Maupin, and paintings of sharply different sorts by Fredrik Værslev and Tamara Henderson at Andrew Kreps. At Pace, Fred Wilson went whole-hog with superimposed, black-and-white “flag” paintings, and both glass chandelier and bronze Egyptian-god sculptures. Leaving no stone of art unturned, Matthew Ritchie came on strong at Andrea Rosen with painterly paintings of information systems on wall and canvas, sculpture, and a large video projection to boot. Clearly, making art takes a village. During dinner at China Blue, he thanked his many assistants and concluded by saying, “If you’re not a collaborator of mine yet, you will be soon.”
Friday, absent yet another opening at Zwirner, Matthew Marks took up the slack with openings of shows by Paul Sietsema in two galleries on West Twenty-Second Street and of fetching, painted bronze totems bearing single big boobs by Rebecca Warren in the one on Twenty-Fourth. “I moved a wall,” she said, “so the installation would be less symmetrical.” Clearly, she had thought of everything, from the practical to the absurd, putting a couple of heavier works on wheels and placing blue or white pompons on others. Next door at Metro Pictures, Jim Shaw was signing books of source materials for his surreal comic book–derived paintings. The books looked just like small Bibles and, frankly, are just the kind some of us would welcome in any hotel room.
Left: Artist Marcel Dzama. Right: Artist Guillermo Calzadilla with boy choristers.
At White Columns, there were two discoveries in shows by previously unseen artists, brought to light by Verne Dawson and Peter Doig. The late Bill Lynch was a friend of Dawson’s from his Cooper Union student days. If Lynch’s increasing schizophrenia took him far from the art world, he stayed close to his studio. His paintings on found wood of animals and botanicals turned every head in the jam-packed room, making his mother, Gerry Lynch, very proud. “This is wonderful,” she said. (Evidently, she had signed and titled the paintings for her son, who died in 2013 without ever having had an exhibition.) Dawson was fighting back tears. “I can’t speak,” he said. “I’m too sad.” Doig chose paintings by the self-taught Mike Tierney, previously known to the world only as an extreme skier from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. His first paintings were on his skis. His subject here: snowy ski slopes in Wyoming.
Saturday brought Allora & Calzadilla back to Gladstone Gallery in geological performance mode. Singing a cappella as they moved to ten marble platforms placed around the gallery’s four rooms and functioning as choral risers, two boy sopranos let loose with insults that the artists culled from literary and political sources and that composer Guarionex Morales-Matos set to music. Joan Jonas, Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg, Bass Museum director Silvia Karman-Cubina, Sharjah Biennial curator Eungie Joo, Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume, and dealer Alex Logsdail obediently followed, straining (and failing) to make out words lost to the echoing acoustics of the gallery. It was all about radical breaks and displacements, Calzadilla said between rotations of singers. The stones, formed millions of years ago, conform to fault lines in the earth. The boys, aged ten to fourteen, were all born after the rupturing terrorist attacks of 9/11 and are facing the inevitable break in their voices. Insults generate breaks in social relations—apparently an outgrowth of the artists’ own daily dialogues in the studio.
I broke for Rob Pruitt’s exuberant (and therapeutic) “Multiple Personalities” exhibition at Gavin Brown, which took up the entire block-long gallery. There were love seat/psychiatrist couches covered by Pruitt’s studio assistants with cartoony, stream-of-consciousness images and thought bubbles commenting on various neuroses; celestial monochromes from Pruitt’s series of “Suicide Paintings,” which were hanging above a spread of sand on the floor; wood screens painted with automatic writings; and a stainless steel, truck tire-coffee table. (Pruitt is industrious as well as introspective.) “This almost looks spare by comparison with Rob’s last show here,” collector Andy Stillpass noted. “What’s the sand for?” another collector asked Pruitt. “Think Dalí,” he replied.
Left: Artist Tomma Abts. Right: Artist Jim Shaw.
“Every time I go to Rob’s studio, I wonder what it would be like to be his assistant,” Brown said during his toast at the multiple-personality dinner, held under a tent on the gallery’s roof and served with food from Pruitt’s favorite takeout establishments (Russ & Daughters, Pho Pasteur, El Parador, Joe’s Pizza, Souen, and more). “He’s such an inspiration.” Others wondered what the art world will be like after April, when Brown has to vacate the building so developers can knock it down to make room for yet another “luxury” high-rise. There isn’t another gallery remotely like it.
But the Hole is trying mightily to realize its own brand of iconoclasm. Usually, exhibitions at this Bowery gallery are as chaotic as Pruitt’s installations. This exhibition of marble tondos, each inscribed with one of the “13 Tenets of Future Feminism,” is elegant and subdued. The principles set forth came of meetings between Antony, Kembra Pfahler, Johanna Constantine, Bianca Casady, and Sierra Casady. To flesh them out, the group organized twelve nights of performances. I caught the third, “The Future is Female,” with Lucy Sexton as the Factress, Clark Render as Margaret Thatcher, and Laurie Anderson as herself.
An assistant in a rubber mask doused Sexton with Wite-Out and black ink, the better to counter the invisibility of many women in a man’s world. Render, as Thatcher, sat for an interview with a talk-show host. And Anderson, moving from Moby-Dick, which has no female characters, to Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle to Buddhist texts, spoke with bemusement to spiritual principles charted on a blackboard. She concluded by playing her violin so sweetly that when the lights came up it was impossible to imagine a world without galleries or feminists. Fortunately, we don’t have to. Yet.
OPEN RELATIONSHIPS are racy; they reconsider the “you and I” in an otherwise closed system by granting foreigners entry, if only for a moment. For the fourth edition of ArtRio, the Cariocas once again opened their city to the Paulistas, their fellow Brazilians from São Paulo. “I don’t know what first went down between them,” mentioned fair director Brenda Valansi, addressing the fraught relationship between the country’s two largest cities. But Valansi’s sights for the fair are not domestic. “I didn’t decide to do ArtRio to compete with SP-Arte,” she continued. “I created ArtRio to compete with Art Basel.”
Notoriously closed off to global markets by large tax hikes for imported goods, Brazil is currently working to rebrand itself, with Rio leading much of its economic and political change on the world stage. The World Cup was just the tip of the iceberg; overnight oil billionaires have created an entirely new demand for art in Brazil, prompting radical cultural shifts. Last year, after Valansi petitioned the Ministry of Culture, Rio de Janeiro became the country’s first state to receive tax breaks for the sale of international art. São Paulo was soon included and, during this year’s fair, it was announced that the neighboring state of Minas Gerais would be granted fiscal clemency too.
But even more challenging than changes to state policy may be entertaining an art-world outpost amid the throngs of its thirty-first biennial. “It’s like inviting New York to LA,” mentioned Mendes Wood DM’s Felipe Dmab at his gallery’s joint fete with Galeria Fortes Vilaça, held at dealer Márcia Fortes’s beach apartment on the second night of the fair. Though New Yorkers might shudder, because of proximity, Paulistas often flock to the tropical city. This year, it would also be curators and collectors who attended the biennial’s opening then dashed to Rio. “I’d rather fly to Rio,” continued Dmab. “Our ‘Hamptons’ is thirty minutes from São Paulo, but driving there takes two and a half hours. Everyone comes to Rio over the weekends because it’s easier.”
It was an international crowd at that Ipanema apartment that night. I saw Dmab’s cohosts, dealers Pedro Mendes and Matthew Wood, with Galeria Fortes Vilaça’s Alessandra d’Aloia. Guggenheim UBS MAP Latin America curator Pablo León de la Barra chatted with Museo Rufino Tamayo’s senior curator Julieta González—both of who were in Rio to cocurate the fair’s solo project. Fundación Jumex’s Patrick Charpenel, Galeria Vermelho’s Eliana Finkelstein, Instituto Inhotim’s Rodrigo Moura, curator Ricardo Sardenberg, Fiorucci Art Trust’s Milovan Farronato, artist Emilia Azcárate, and local collectors Fabio Szwarcwald and Gabriela Moraes were there, as was apparently Brazil’s equivalent to Julia Roberts.
The lights in the apartment kept dimming as if to signal the end of the night, but it was actually to reinvigorate the crowd. “This is Rio!” Warm air came in from the open windows. It was only when Fortes’s mother made an appearance—presenting those still buzzing with an elegant tray of espressos—that we were bid a (naturally hospitable) “get out.” It was 4 AM. As we crammed into the apartment’s elevator on our way elsewhere, “Só Love” (Only Love), a popular Brazilian tune, rang out from the group. “This is Rio!” exclaimed another partygoer over tall glasses of Bohemia beer at a subsequent bar we wouldn’t let close. As the sun rose, Brazil’s national bird, the Rufous-Bellied Thrush, took charge of the melodies.
Earlier that night, Rio de Janeiro–based artist Renata Lucas debuted The Museum of the Diagonal Man, the result of the Absolut Art Award she won in 2013, in an abandoned warehouse two blocks up from the fair. The work, among other features, takes apart two of the warehouse’s walls and places them on a turnstile axis set into the existing structure. The exterior graffiti of one was sliced in half, enabling the crooked smile of an evil clown to rotate in and out of the building.
But before the celebration had begun, part of the newly released wall came crashing down. Someone had pushed the work to its limits, making it spin too quickly, and causing the work’s outer bricks to fall. The piece appeared to lose some of its laser-cut preciseness, but some found this to their liking: “It looks better now; it looks more real,” a few bystanders agreed. What happens to public works when no one is looking? Are they still legitimate if neglected and so independent from their publicness? And what if that publicness slowly corrupts it?
Charpenel had given a talk that day on the state of the art object. He spoke about art as tools in the example of the Danish art collective Superflex and their project, Supergas, where manure is turned into cooking fuel inside a large mechanical huevo. Outside the fair, the “Marginal” beltway that once ran along the outskirts of Rio and served many of the city’s bus lines was being torn down as part of the city’s rezoning plans. The ongoing construction dotted the path to Lucas’s work with stone piles and bulldozers. “Is there a road to Renata?” dealer Luisa Strina asked me a few hours before the unveiling. It looked as though it was still being built.
At the fair, which had opened the day before, Strina was showing a freestanding sculpture by Pedro Reyes, part of the artist’s “Colloquium” series, which comprises stacked speech bubbles made of marble. Yet, in their impossibly mortarless arrangement, the bubbles appear weightless, like hollow plastic. It sold in the first few hours. “His work is usually about violence, but I like this because it joins multiple conversations into one.” The gallery was celebrating its fortieth anniversary back at its São Paulo white cube with a multicolored installation by Rio de Janeiro–based artist Cildo Meireles. The gallery will also show at the Independent’s upcoming fair, Independent Projects—its first collaboration with established galleries—that will run alongside the auctions in New York this November. “It took forty years for the gallery to get to New York,” Strina continued. “We’ll be showing Marcius Galan because he deals with space. New York is a new space for us.”
Galeria Nara Roesler opened a new exhibition by local Vik Muniz at their Rio gallery, and at the fair they showed Muniz’s rephotographed photographic collages. Luciana Brito presented Waldemar Cordeiro. Galería Espacio Mínimo reserved one of their walls for a graphite sphere by Liliana Porter. Baró Galeria had three works by Ricardo Alcaide, while Curro y Poncho showed Luis Alfonso Villalobos. At A Gentil Carioca, which was celebrating its ten-year anniversary that week, artist Ernesto Neto was enlisted to speak about the work on display, including a collapsible sculpture by José Bento, “part Sol LeWitt, part Lygia Clark.”
De La Barra and González’s solo project “Concreto / Concreto: Plan Piloto,” located in the second pavilion, took concrete poetry as a building material, uniting individual booths into one proper exhibition with the work of Pablo Accinelli, Guy de Cointet, Lucas Simões, Antonio Dias, Mauro Restiffe, Elena Damiani, and Matheus Rocha Pitta, among others, in a structure that spelled out “Lixo” (trash) when seen from the site’s accompanying staircase. Two years ago, the curators created a project that brought the Tijuca forest into the fair, dirtying the exhibition’s walls with mud and shrubbery. Reactively, the adjacent Gagosian booth built an extra wall to block out the installation. “This year’s platform allows us to see what is going on in other cities, like Caracas,” Bogotá-based Instituto De Visión director Omayra Alvarado mentioned to me before artist David Medalla arrived to give a reading of a posthumous letter to Concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houédard, one of the program’s highlights. “It allows us to know what it’s like to be Latin American.”
That night the festivities continued at the opening of Casa Daros’s “Ilusões” (“Illusions”), which showcased the work of Luis Camnitzer among more literal takes on the theme by Los Carpinteros, José Damasceno, and Mauricio Alejo. Camnitzer, A Gentil Carioca’s Márcio Botner, artist Fernanda Gomes, Casa Triângulo’s Ricardo Trevisan and Rodrigo Editore, and New York dealer Henrique Faria joined the local crowd.
Next stop was collector Frances Reynolds’s party for London-based artist Oscar Murillo, who had been invited to a residency at the collector’s sprawling Jardim Botanica mansion. Upon arriving for the stay, Murillo had been struck by the fact that the house staff was predominantly black. He said he couldn’t ignore it. So the artist, dressed in a white jumpsuit, worked as a member of the house staff for the entirety of the residency. In a speech given at the start of the evening, Murillo chastised the country for what he perceived to be blatant “colonization,” which prompted Rio-based artist Tunga to leave the party and eventually brought Reynolds to tears.
Guests tried to enjoy the outdoor party after the polemical address, but it wouldn’t be so easy. The once pristine jumpsuit, now dirty by the knees, swayed overhead as a reminder. Murillo stood firm amid a fray of questioning. “Do you even know who Paula Cooper is? Do you?” badgered collector Luiz Augusto Teixeira de Freitas, referring to successful social activists in the art world. “Do you know who Karl Marx is? Read it again,” pursued another. Murillo shook his head and responded to the questions about his integrity with more questions. “Do you know of any other artist coming from the working class in Latin America? Do you know how much Gabriel Orozco sells now?” The crowd could not be satiated. On my way out, David Zwirner’s Greg Lulay gave the artist a congratulatory hug.
Back inside the house, I noticed an impressionistic seascape by Brazilian painter Lucas Arruda on the mantle of a wooden piano. It reminded me of the view I had just seen into Rio from the courtyard that was even better than the one on Vista Chinesa, a site perched high up Rio’s hand-planted forest that was made to commemorate the one hundred farmers imported from Macau to plant tea in the nineteenth century. Rio was the first Brazilian city to receive Chinese immigrants. Though the ongoing construction of it felt very far away, on that last night, the city seemed rife with possibility. Open relationships are uncomfortable, and that’s why they resonate. Above the courtyard, Christ the Redeemer glowed closer than I had ever seen it. I could almost make out the creases in the folds of his white robe.
AMID THE CONFLAGRATION of bright new spaces and fall premieres, hardly anyone talks about closings. In the courtyard of the Hammer Museum last Wednesday, I waited for the twilight event of Made in L.A. 2014. The localist biennial divides the past few years’ time of alternative spaces and communitarian flux from the recent burst of commercial galleries expanding, warehousing, and franchising into the city. In the courtyard of the museum, I stumbled into the going-away party for Sarah Stifler, the Hammer’s now former director of communications en route to her new gig as chief communications officer at MoCA, and almost missed the new work by Anne Carson being read for Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer and Lauren Mackler’s turn as Public Fiction, subcurating a segment of the biennial.
Artists Stanya Kahn and Becket Flannery made the most of a series of sharp dialogues. Kahn displayed the exasperated and brilliant comedic timing of her videos while Flannery’s deep, velvety voice smoothed along with a straight man’s unflappability in the sharp and colloquial back-and-forth. In character, Flannery noted, “Skip the lecture just go to the party—half the people do that,” which in this case I did, going directly from the reading to an afterparty at the Ace Hotel for a panel organized by curator Dorothée Dupuis about art in the digital age. Held at the nonprofit Flax/Fahrenheit downtown, the missed panel included curators Adam Kleinman and Ceci Moss, as well as the notorious collector Stefan Simchowitz. He was not spotted at the party on the rooftop bar at the Ace, but I did abscond “early,” near midnight, when attendees began to dip into the pool in their undies.
A couple nights later, a dressed-up crowd of collectors assembled off La Brea at the seven-hundred-plus-person private opening of David Kordansky’s newest gallery space. Don and Mera Rubell stood greeting comers at the entrance: “The gallery is gorgeous,” Mera chimed, “and we’re the welcoming committee.” The 12,700-square-foot former car dealership and kung fu dojo was thoroughly made over by Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY architecture. The sandblasted bow-truss roof was so clean it made the whole place look clean enough to eat off of.
The lush greenery of Rashid Johnson’s nineteen-foot-tall steel tower of houseplants nearly made the epic, pristine white cube feel homey. I overheard one middle-aged dandy turn to his gentleman and wonder aloud how they might water the plants if they bought it. Mixed into the crowd of collectors were most of the thirty gallery artists, a few writers, and a handful of some of the more successful artists nearish to Kordansky’s generation, like Piero Golia and Mark Grotjahn.
At 9 PM, much of the crowd drove two miles up the road for an intimate dinner for four hundred on the second floor of a showroom owned by antiquarian dealer JF Chen, who set-dressed the space in Hollywood chinoiserie. During the toast, Kordansky wept with gratitude, Johnson lovingly apologized to his wife, mentioning her depthless understanding, and both noted that the eminent young dealer was, in Johnson’s words, “well, complicated.” Mera Rubell lept up after the artist to announce, to scattered applause (and one assumes the bemusement of Kordansky’s actual parents), that David was officially her adopted son. Leaving the dinner, her husband noted, “It’s the first time my wife’s made a toast and I didn’t get beat up.”
The following sultry evening, I chased one opening reception to another: from Lisa Williamson at Tif Sigfrid’s to Lisa Anne Auerbach at Gavlak to Min Song at Young Art’s new space on Hollywood Boulevard to Phil Chang at M+B to Claire Nereim at Jancar Jones. “This is still dormancy season in LA,” said Fritz Haeg, rolling into an air-conditioned showroom. “We should all be hiding out underground.”
I yearned to follow his advice but instead stopped at MoCA for the premiere of its new series “Step and Repeat,” a mélange of poetry, music, and performance that is the biggest public programming experiment at the museum in ages and a kind of salvo for new director Philippe Vergne. I slipped into the vast former police garage, littered with empty stages and surging with people, just in time to catch comedian–performance artist Dynasty Handbag jerking off her microphone and making her pearl bracelet money-shot onto her face, just one hot second of a convulsive routine at once stridently bizarre and apologetically tender.
Leaving Dynasty to her devices, I ended the night listening to the sweet susurrus of ocean waves on the rooftop of the fetchingly gritty alternative space the Handbag Factory deep in downtown. Though two major freeways were just on the other side of the surrounding glass towers and run-down factories, one could hear the silence of the expectant crowd enfolding the soft ambient sounds of Aki Onda, field recorded for decades on a Sony Walkman and performed accompanied by subtle instruments like marbles in jars and ball bearings on cymbals. The contemplative quietude was an antidote to the fretful rush of the night, and gently prepared me for the last afternoon opening of the week.
In a petite bungalow in Venice Beach on Sunday afternoon, Team Gallery inaugurated its LA space with tacos, beers, and Cory Arcangel. “This is my first solo on the West Coast ever. I’ve shown more in Pittsburgh than here,” Arcangel said on the back patio between the house—made over with work from the artist’s career—and the diminutive back garage that is, more or less, the “gallery.” Inspired by Xavier Hufkens’s and Barbara Gladstone’s Brussels spaces, Team proprietor José Freire decided after trawling the city that a house best suited his style. “I do sleep in the bed—definitely not in Cory’s sheets.” The bed had been made up with an undulating RGB rainbow. “Have you felt them?”
On the way out, Harmony Murphy and Magnus Edensvard stood side by side at the door. Both were set to open neighboring galleries the following week downtown near François Ghebaly and Night Gallery. Sunglassesed Murphy and suntanned Edensvard were aglow with prospect. Murphy, a refugee from the closing of LA’s branch of L&M, will open an eponymous gallery with Joel Holmberg and Kathryn Garcia, while Edensvard will establish the LA branch of Ibid Projects with a solo of (LA transplant and recently stratospherically successful painter) Christian Rosa. Though the sun set behind me as I slipped out and east, Los Angeles is certainly blazing ahead into some flashy new era, almost blinding in its flare.
Trisha Brown's Drift, 1974/2014. (All photos: Meyer & Kangangi.)
THE WHIRLWIND began as soon as I arrived in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland. Off the train, down the stairs, I exited the station and entered “Le Mouvement,” the twelfth edition of the Swiss Sculpture Exhibition, curated this year by Gianni Jetzer and Chris Sharp. What had traditionally been a celebration of public sculpture was smartly reimagined this year by Jetzer and Sharp as a three-part, summerlong investigation of the human body in active relation to the concept and experience of public space. In short: Performance was the point on which all of the exhibition’s plots turned.
I’d come for part two of the series, “Performing the City,” a six-day festival featuring twenty-two artists, choreographers and their countless troops all installed around this small city (population 55,000). “She considers the body ‘intelligent material,’ ” Sharp told me as we stood in front of Alexandra Pirici’s unexpectedly moving Tilted Arc, a performance in which thirty people stood side by side every day for two hours in the city’s Zentralplatz to recreate the line of Serra’s iconic sculpture. I remembered his comment later as I watched Nina Beier’s The Complete Works (2009), for which the artist invited a retired dancer to perform every dance of her career from memory and in chronological order. As the dancer began, I thought I recognized her face, but soon lost myself in the odd antichoreography of the show: dance, pause, pace, repeat. At one point, she stood with her hand on her hip and mimed smoking a cigarette. She then turned her fingers into a peace sign, and then flipped them around into a hearty “fuck off”moves I suddenly recognized as Michael Clark’s club dance from Charles Atlas’s documentary Hail the New Puritan, and the dancer as Ellen van Schuylenburch.
“People think I’m dancing, but I’m not dancing,” she told me later about performing Beier’s piece. “I’m remembering.” (“Memory: a performance and its production,” I wrote in my notebook).
Memory is of course an inescapable subject when watching or thinking or writing about performance. Against visual art’s object economy and investment virtues such as posterity and permanence, a performance declares This Very Moment (fugitive, even when documented) as the only true work of art. On Thursday afternoon, Jetzer and Sharp took me and Louise O’Kelly on a tour of “The City Performed,” an exhibition of artists working across performance, politics, and public space that was to open Saturday at CentrePasquArt. Looking at artists both familiar (Valie Export, Anna Halprin, Vito Acconci) and new to me (Felipe Ehrenberg, Ocaña, and Ewa Partum), I came down with that embarrassing nostalgia for art I’ve never seen and never will. (Or maybe a case of memory envy?) The photographs, films, drawings, and other ephemera (of the older artists in particular) were possessed of such potent auras, perhaps because these performances were bolder, more defiant than much of what I’d seen all week, and I left the museum wondering why the reserve—the tidiness—that marks too much of contemporary performance?
That said, the festival’s offerings were each electric in their very own way (and too many will go sadly unmentioned here, for lack of column space and not of enthusiasm). Some highlights were Pablo Bronstein’s Girl on a Late-19th Century Swiss Balcony (2014), which featured dancer Rebecca Bruno overlooking the Zentralplatz, gesturing with near-liquid arms as if in silent address to her subjects below; another involved walking behind Chinese artist Lin Yilin for an hour as he rolled along the streets of Biel/Bienne from the Zentralplatz to the mayor’s office in a grueling performance titled The Departure from Her Feet (2014). There was also New York–based choreographer Maria Hassabi’s duet with Hristoula Harakas, Show (2011), in which they slowly struck elegant, almost feline poses in the middle of a street, as well as a sundown performance of the fantastically feverish SSSSSSSSSSSS (2014) by Lithuanian-born, New York–based Ieva Misevičiūtė.
Left: Dancer Douglas Dunn and artist Shirana Shahbazi. Right: Artists Liz Magic Laser, Alicia Frankovich, and Willi Dorner.
At breakfast on Saturday morning, artist Liz Magic Laser asked Jiří Kovanda how his performance had gone the day before. For Kissing Through Glass, first performed in 2007, the Czech artist stood in an entryway of the Volkshaus, kissing visitors through a set of glass doors. The piece was at once awkward and mesmerizing, watching the near-intimacy of each encounter, and noting how a tender exchange can be so easily estranged. The artist himself wasn’t as impressed.
“It wasn’t the best,” he told Laser, shrugging.
“What makes the best performance?” I asked him, thinking that perhaps something had gone wrong.
“The first one,” he answered matter-of-factly. “That is always the best one.”
It made sense to me that for artists, a first performance can possess an energy or an interest that subsequent performances don’t, but for an audience, it’s the only cure for memory envy. One of the standouts of the festival was Trisha Brown’s masterpiece Drift (1974). Majestically restrained, deceptively simple, and often elusive with a running time of around five minutes, the piece began when the dancers quietly lined up at a spot on the Nidaugasse, a busy shopping street in the center of town, then began to walk together, lightly drifting to the right until they hit the sidewalk, stopped, and then dispersed.
On Saturday evening, I ducked out of the opening remarks for the museum exhibition at the CentrePasquArt to chase after Lithuanian artist Eglė Budvytytė’s funny yet searing Choreography for the Running Male. Down the hill and around the corner from the museum, a crowd gathered behind nine strapping men, all dressed in metrosexual best (an international visual language, as it turns out): summer-weight gray sweaters over white T-shirts, shorts, black ankle socks, and shoes. The men jogged across the city in three rows of three, periodically performing some kind of awkward gesture: crawling, popping their hips, holding hands. All was silent save the pounding of their footsteps, until they reached a narrow street, sat down, and a woman’s voice boomed over a speaker. “Michael, you have to keep running,” she said, addressing his (and our) options for survival in this world. Eventually “Michael” did keep running, all the way to the Palais des Congrés, where the “troops” finally dispersed, running their separate ways down the quiet streets and disappearing into the twilight.
When I got back to the museum, the opening night reception was in full swing. Artists Valie Export and Beat Streuli circulated among the partygoers, as Shirana Shabazi and curator Giovanni Carmine chatted together. As the night wore on, trays of vodka shots began to appear on pedestals in the museum’s reception area. The lights went down and the music picked up. Artist Alexandra Bachzetsis and her assistants began handing the drinks out to people, and soon enough people began to help themselves. A group of cute young things standing nearby began to strip off their shirts and pants and swap clothes with one another. So began Bachzetsis’s Undressed (2005), the final performance of the day, a one-night-only engagement at Le Mouvement, wisely curated to get the party started.
Under sparkling disco balls, the crowd untethered and the room heated up as people in various states of dress and undress transformed the lobby into a temporary club. Jetzer and Bachzetsis hit the dance floor together, beaming and seeming to enjoy the scene as much if not more than everyone around them. A raging party is surely an art form all its own, for its dopey pleasures as well as for the vital reminder of the joys of getting down in one’s own skin. Here at CentrePasquArt was a room filled with bodies, ecstatic, moving to the beat, sweating, swaying, taking it all in and letting it all go, looking—all of them in this very moment—fiercely, beautifully alive.
Left: Artist Maria Hassabi. Right: Artist Sanya Kantarovsky and dealer Peter Kilchmann.
Left: Gwangju Biennale chief curator Jessica Morgan (second from right) with the curatorial team Emiliano Valdéz, Fatos Ustek, Enna Bae, and Teresa Kittler. (Photo: Cecilia Bengolea.) Right: Gwangju Biennale president Yong-woo Lee with Venice Biennale artistic director Okwui Enwezor. (Except where noted, all photos: Kate Sutton)
“WATCH OUT. You might get what you’re after.”
In 2010, David Byrne may have visited the Gwangju Biennale (as Cindy Sherman’s plus one), but in 2014, he reigned over it, albeit in absentia, after chief curator Jessica Morgan used the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” as the theme for the biennial’s tenth edition, a paean to the creative potential of destructive acts.
Gwangju needs little reminding of the cleansing power of renewal. The city is busy bracing for the thirty-fifth anniversary of the May 18, 1980 uprising, a seminal moment when students took to the streets to demand democracy and met with bullets instead. Founded to commemorate this national trauma, the Gwangju Biennale has over time earned a reputation as a curator’s Eden, replete with state funding and an eager, adventurous audience. “One of the Top Five Biennales in the World!” Gwangju mayor Yoon Jang-hyun trumpeted at the opening ceremony. “He got that from a fluff piece,” my neighbor whispered.
But even on a triumphant occasion, the biennial finds itself once more mired in politics. Last week’s festivities were haunted by President Park Geun-Hye, who used the 2012 biennial opening as a campaign stop but opted to skip this edition. With the ascension of President Park—the daughter of Park Chung-Hee, the authoritarian ruler whose ruthless eighteen-year reign laid the foundations of Gwangju’s uprising—and her conservative Saenuri party, the biennial was faced with a 40 percent budget cut. Yes, South Korea is in a recession, so it would be speculative to draw a direct correlation, but it’s worth mentioning that roughly 92 percent of Gwangju’s population voted against Park, reinforcing the East/West divides her father helped instigate.
In mid-August, the biennial hit another bump when charismatic Gwangju Biennale Foundation president Yong-woo Lee (“Dr. Lee” to his many admirers) resigned over a censorship row involving an image that portrayed Park as a scarecrow controlled by her father, locked in a heated confrontation with grieving relatives of children who died in the April sinking of the MV Sewol ferry. While Lee’s supposed demise made a splash in international news, those who knew him cheered his cool assessment of the situation; a head had to roll, so he offered his own. “His term would end next year anyway,” curator Okwui Enwezor assured me.
If the biennial’s state support appears to be wavering, local devotion remains fervent. Morgan, recently appointed director of the Dia Art Foundation, joked about sending “Burning Down the House” to the charts, but it was “J. Mo” whose face was everywhere. “People come up to you on the street,” the curator marveled, blushing. The mood was buoyed by the thrilling title track, which had been reenvisioned by French electronic musician Joakim and blasted simultaneously from pressure points around the exhibition. “Koreans didn’t have the same experience with the song,” Morgan conceded.
Whatever the qualms, Morgan and her team of assistant curators delivered an exhibition that was dynamic and daring. Calls to insurrection were pounded out in the hoofbeats of The Uprising, Jonathas de Andrade’s film featuring a horse-cart race through Recife, Brazil, or by the drum-circle revolutionaries in Anand Patwardhan’s chilling We Are Not Your Monkeys. But the potential for renewal was not limited to the political. Throughout the gallery, the body—both individual and social—appears broken (Young Soo Kim, Lee Bul, David Wojnarowicz, James Richards), hybridized (Tetsuya Ishida, Birgit Jürgenssen, Robert Heinecken), or transformed (Nil Yalter’s documentation of her partner undergoing a sex change or Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s holographic turn as Fitzcarraldo). Viewers swooned before Lionel Wendt’s dreamy nudes, while Carlos Motta expanded his ongoing collection of interviews questioning heteronormative agendae—We Who Feel Differently—to include South Korean perspectives. As an annex to the main exhibition, AA Bronson’s “Spiral Pavilion” supplemented an exhibition of queer zines with work by TM Davy, K8 Hardy, and Yeonjune Jung, all under the banner “House of Shame.”
Left: Artist Basel Abbas with Sharjah Biennial curator Eungie Joo. Right: A scene from Minouk Lim’s opening day performance, Navigation ID.
For all intents and purposes, the beating heart of the biennial was Minouk Lim’s Navigation ID. The expansive, multipart commission used Gwangju’s nationally enshrined grief as a way to draw attention to less-publicized massacres. The state has containers full of unmarked corpses, alleged Communists slaughtered in the late 1940s and early ’50s in what is known as the National Guidance League incident; relatives of the victim continue to be stigmatized. For the opening performance, the artist connected these ostracized families with the May 18 Mothers parents of those who died in the Gwangju uprising, in a complex ritual that had Mothers escorting blindfolded mourners as they carried tubs of human remains across the square and into one of two shipping containers, installed on the plaza for the duration of the exhibition.
“This is a bit like watching Maury,” writer Kevin McGarry observed. “In the sense that here are people undergoing a horrifying, emotional experience, and then there are all these onlookers and cameras everywhere.”
“But isn’t that the point?” curator Stuart Comer countered. “Isn’t it precisely about bringing visibility to these things?”
As the week unfolded, all manner of revelry took place around these containers, whose windows provided a grim view of the contents; what was most alarming, however, was how invisible the skeletons remained, even under the strobe lights of the opening ceremony.
Left: Artist Ei Arakawa. Right: Biennale associate curator Emiliano Valdéz with artist Domique Gonzalez-Foerster.
The biennial countered these gut-punching points with moments of release. For her latest Library of Spirits, Banu Cennetoğlu hosted a tasting of homemade soju brews. “Where’s Urs’s house?” one friend wondered after a couple shots, to disbelief from the crowd. The replica of Urs Fischer’s New York apartment—rendered via wallpaper fixed to a full-scale model—swallowed the better part of an exhibition hall. “Not in the show!” she clarified. “I meant in New York. Where does one find that kind of real estate?” Fischer’s “house” was home to a number of other pieces, including a Pierre Huyghe performance, in which each visitor had his or her name barked out at the entrance, à la Applebee’s on date night.
Outside the structure, choreographers Cecila Bengolea and François Chaignaud were tucking dancers into inflated, vacuum-sealed bags in a performance that would win them the biennial’s prize for emerging artists. Bengolea would have another chance to wow us that night at Bear, a gay-friendly karaoke bar “just walking distance from your hotel,”—i.e., not close to anyone’s hotel.
“There’s a whole page of ‘Love’ here,” Comer noted as we flipped through the selections. The observation applied to more than the song catalogue. Ei Arakawa led the charge with an enthusiastic onslaught of multilingual pop ballads before trading in the mike for a tambourine to accompany Motta and Sharon Hayes’s touching duet to “Time After Time.” But the uncontestable highlight of the evening was Bengolea’s fierce rendition of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights.” Not only could the dancer hit the high notes with aplomb, she threw in some splits for good measure.
Early the next morning, I crept up to breakfast in pajamas, only to have the elevator doors open on a buffet of institutional bigwigs: Sir Nicholas Serota, Bartomeu Marí, Maja Hoffmann, Documenta’s Annette Kulenkampff, Palais de Tokyo’s Jean de Loisy, Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi, and Füsun Eczacibasi, just to name a few. They had gathered as part of a two-day forum held in collaboration with the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul. I doubled down on machine coffee and hit the first panel, chaired by Germano Celant, an advocate of burning down houses. “Right now, the only change we can imagine is the number of visitors. This is a model for McDonald’s or Starbucks, not a biennial. To enlarge is not to change.” Celant then railed against the practice of importing international curators, as only one safely ensconced as the world’s most well-paid curator could. “We have to wonder, why do all these Asian biennials have international curators?” He asked, making a good point, before squandering it: “I mean, why does everyone want to pay to fly Okwui all over the globe?” He then proceeded to speak so patronizingly to Seoul-based curator Sunjung Kim that it wasn’t Enwezor’s ticket the audience was left questioning.
That night, Gwangju really did appear to be burning, with a public opening replete with fireworks, break-dancers, and even an aerial dancer. The real crowd-pleaser, however, was actor and model Jung Woo-sung, the biennial’s official cultural ambassador. Any mention of his name elicited squeals from the (not entirely) teenage horde jostling around us, using their “selfie poles” (yes, a thing) to try to get a better shot of the actor. “It’s incredible,” my PR handler moaned to Annette Schönholzer. “Can you imagine if institutions in the States used celebrities like that?” I held my tongue.
Another opening night tradition in Gwangju is Freedom Nightclub, the extravagant club known for outlandish acts, like “snow” showers or the UFO that shuttles singers to the stage. (“Chuck E. Cheese for adults,” I heard someone say.) The entertainment was provided by a series of boy bands and a coterie of DJs, which one astute observer identified as just the same performers rotating wigs. For a moment, Joakim stormed the stage, bumping K-Pop for “Bootylicious” and “O.P.P.” The delighted biennial crew broke out all their moves simultaneously, while the throng of regulars slumped at their tables, staring despondently at their respective devices. When the first beats of “Bizarre Love Triangle” hit the speakers, we dancers cheered, but it was clearly too much for the local DJ. He forcibly slowed the track, a sign that our dance party had come to an end. The K-Pop crowd roared back to the floor. The people had spoken.
Upstairs, I was treating myself to a swig of warm, flat beer with Camille Henrot, Fischer, and Morgan, when Jewish Museum deputy director Jens Hoffmann strolled in. “I just got off a plane from São Paolo,” he said. “What did I miss?”
Left: M+ curator Doryun Chong with dealer Rachel Lehmann. Right: Artist Banu Cennetoğlu with Biennale associate curator Fatos Ustek and SAHA Association's Merve Çağlar.
EVERY YEAR, for the two weeks following Labor Day, the art and fashion worlds own New York. Runway shows overlap with gallery openings and gallerinas keep pace with modelistas. Last Wednesday, September 3, Rachel Feinstein colluded with the Marianne Boesky and Gagosian galleries, Marc Jacobs, Art Production Fund, and Performa to merge the two worlds with a single, season-starting event that painlessly outclassed the art parades of yore.
Dubbed “The Last Days of Folly,” Feinstein put it together for the closing of Folly, her summer-long exhibition of public sculpture in Madison Square Park. (Inspired, she said, by Ballet Russes and Fellini backdrops, her white aluminum, storybook houses and ships credibly simulate folded paper.) With the fashion crowd distracted by spring/summer ready-to-wear shows, her urban county fair attracted a heavy complement of art people, who would have felt more back-to-school if the mercury hadn’t climbed higher than it had all summer. Feinstein, for one, was sweltering in a latex print dress by Giles Deacon, attended by a young guy and gal in-waiting wearing Duro Olowu, two of several designers involved in the festivities, which included a number of musical interludes and pantomimed actions. Cynthia Rowley outdid herself by creating a human fountain the model Esmerelda Seay-Reynolds, decked out in a Rowley dress and twisting in a pool while water spouted from spigots tied to her wrists.
At twilight, the mainstage backdrop (Feinstein’s full-rigger) lit up with a Tony Oursler/Constance DeJong projection and whispers of “Who is that!” ricocheted through a crowd captivated by Angela McCluskey, one of two singers (Kalup Linzy was the other) who stopped pedestrian traffic in the park. (Linzy sang “Tight Pussy.”) There was more, a lot more—and a bang-up afterparty at Neue House, where summer tans deepened in the artificial light and the bar served minicans of Sofia, the blanc-de-blancs donated by Sofia Coppola and produced by her father’s winery.
The season began in earnest on Thursday with, by my count, sixteen galleries opening in Chelsea alone. Uptown, Dominique Lévy relieved the pressure with a lunchtime press preview of her quiet, maybe somnolent, Roman Opalka show including white-on-gray numbers paintings. Before his death in 2011, Opalka painted five million numerals on 233 canvases. That’s devotion! “Opalka’s paintings give you the chance to experience the passage of time like no one else,” Lévy said. Except maybe On Kawara or Alfred Jensen?
Downstairs, Emmanuel Perrotin was passing the time till his dinner at the Monkey Bar with “Float,” beaded Pop cartoons by the Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri, who added a couple of canvases with surfaces like the icing of a birthday cake stuck with a collection of threatening knives. Meanwhile, down in Chelsea, the industrious Nick Cave was withstanding an all-day preview of his double show at both of Jack Shainman’s Manhattan galleries, no Sound Suits in either one. But there were plenty of reclaimed ceramic tchotchkes fixed within treelike assemblages, contemptible racial caricatures reframed as objects deserving sympathy, and gumshoe getups freighted with bling.
The preview went late and by the time night fell, the streets of Chelsea were clogged with so many people that either art now really is a public entertainment or every art school in the world sent its graduates to New York at once. “It doesn’t feel like an opening,” said Bard CCS director Tom Eccles, elbowing through the crush at Boesky’s reception for Roxy Paine. “This is like being on the High Line.” Or perhaps, considering the show’s centerpiece—a life-size diorama of a TSA security checkpoint, carved out of wood—at an airport under siege.
It was equally jammed at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, where Justine Kurland was showing modest new photographs taken in and around auto-body shops she has visited while driving a car old enough to need frequent servicing. “Have you been across the street to Loretta Howard?” the Miami collector Marty Margulies asked. The line to get in for a group show of artists championed by Irving Sandler in the 1960s stretched down the sidewalk, but Helene Appel’s shy watercolor, encaustic, and oil paintings of common materials (textiles, puddles, plastic bags, raw meat) in the Berlin-based artist’s American debut at James Cohan offered a bit of respite. It quickly dissipated at Pace, where the galleries were so dense with hobnobbing chatterboxes that it was impossible to see David Hockney’s iPad drawings or Paul Graham’s new photographs.
Even more oppressive than the crowds was the new Chelsea taking shape before our eyes. Over the summer, Tenth Avenue, formerly a truck route where the sun used to shine over low-rise warehouse and residential buildings, has been plunged into darkness by the construction of new “luxury” high-rises on nearly every block. These scary glass monsters obscure the High Line and the galleries that attracted rapacious developers to the neighborhood in the first place. Construction walls and trailers, plastic orange barriers, and temporary, sometimes flooded walkways that force detours from the sidewalks make those galleries difficult to access and sometimes hard to find. Pretty soon, after the remaining nineteenth-century buildings are gone, the neighborhood will have lost its character altogether.
So that was annoying. However, when people are possessed, particularly by art, nothing will stop them from massing at the source of their pleasure, where contempt and consent happily cross swords. The troops kept trooping from one art emporium to another like well-behaved soldiers, even a man sporting a mechanical tie that flew from his throat like a startled bird.
Allan McCollum startles in a different way, as he continues to create a puzzle-like, unique shape for every person in the world, in a variety of bright colors—all made for him by a pastor who is expert with a scroll saw he uses to produce Christmas ornaments. At Petzel, McCollum did some matchmaking by showing the shapes as couples. It’s weird, but they really did evoke recognizable moments in a relationship. Walead Beshty, who was showing copper panels distressed by their use in previous months as gallery desks, announced another relationship by wearing a T-shirt printed with a cell phone number—Petzel’s, he said. Another kind of signage—possibly more meaningful for mature women—was Lily van der Stokker’s super-girly, obdurately feminist, toilet paper–stocked, pink-on-pink installation at Koenig & Clinton—just the right dose of wickedness, all told.
With the sticky heat of the day turning suddenly into a pleasant evening, I arrived at Anton Kern’s gallery just before his dinner for Brian Calvin and Lothar Hempel in the garden at Bottino. Among the brain trust of guests were gallery artists Dan McCarthy and Ellen Berkenblit, SculptureCenter curator Ruba Katrib, White Columns director Matthew Higgs, and Kitchen director Tim Griffin. Over the weekend, Griffin would present Mäusebunker, a new film by Hempel, who gave up this food for thought: “Google Translate is great if you want to be a poet.”
Friday night was almost restful. The personable galleries in the Tunnel building on far West Twenty-Seventh Street held sweet openings for Gordon Hall (at Foxy Production), John Divola (Wallspace), and Despina Stokou (Derek Eller), each with something to recommend it. “Gordon never uses gender-specific pronouns,” dealer Michael Gillespie said of the gender-nonspecific Hall. “No him or her. Only they.” Divola was showing gorgeous black-and-white (mostly black) photographs from the 1990s for his second exhibition in New York. “It’s always nice to dig out work you haven’t seen in twenty years and take another look,” Divola said. “My hero,” said a smitten Wyatt Kahn.
Double takes were in order at Mary Boone’s Chelsea space on Saturday, the quietest day of the week. “People always seem to whisper in your gallery,” artist Jacob Hashimoto told the Chanel-clad dealer. “Because it’s like church,” she replied. Indeed, Hashimoto’s suspended installation of 30,000 kite-string-and-cut-paper collages was awesome—and tranquil. Hempel’s film had harder edges, due partly to crisp, noir-lighted cinematography and to a dazzling montage of one thousand downloaded examples of Brutalist architecture all over the world. He expects to keep producing new editions of the film “for the rest of my life,” he said.
Sunday night on the Lower East Side felt like a lifetime, so allover and numerous were the openings. But that afternoon, to give Fashion Week a nod, several art-world personalities (Kim Gordon, K8 Hardy, Felix Burrichter, Casey Spooner) showed up at the west side Standard Hotel to watch models-for-a-day (artists) walk the Alex Da Corte–designed runway with willowy professionals to present springy numbers by the design team Eckhaus Latta. The music was live, the clothing clever, and the choreography tribal.
After that, the solo reperformance of James Lee Byars’s 1965 The Mile-Long Paper Walk at the Museum of Modern Art (where else to find pale imitations of onetime events?) felt isolating. Its antipode was in the madhouse of Team Gallery’s receptions for Cory Arcangel (on Wooster Street) and Ryan McGinley on Grand Street, where the walls and ceilings were totally plastered with 750 appealing young, naked, and not necessarily nubile persons posing against color, Holbein-like seamless backdrops.
Left: Artists John Divola and James Welling. Right: Artist David Benjamin Sherry.
By dinnertime my feet were blistered and bloody just from keeping pace around the LES. On Eldridge Street, Miguel Abreu proudly hosted a reception for Jean-Luc Moulène at the block-through space he has developed above a parking garage (David Lewis Gallery is another tenant), and the cantankerously droll Peter Fend fended off admirers of his signage at the unmarked Essex Street Gallery. “My mother always told me, ‘Be useful as well as ornamental,’ ” he said.
Simon Preston, Nicelle Beauchene, and Jack Hanley were all seeing heavy action on Broome Street, as were Joe Sheftel, Joel Mesler’s Untitled, Mark Miller, and DCKT Contemporary on Orchard, Lisa Cooley and Laurel Gitlin on Norfolk, while on Clinton, Marianne Boesky launched a third Manhattan space with a show of drawings by Adam Helms. On Houston, Participant was holding down the alternative fort with “Negrogothic, A Manifesto, The Aesthetics of M. Lamar,” and on Rivington, Betty Cunningham and On Stellar Rays both opened their doors while dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn fostered a double-header, “Satan Ceramics” on Freeman’s Alley and hot, hot photographs by David Benjamin Sherry on the Bowery, where Simone Subal got on the good foot with short-circuiter Frank Heath.
Unable to go another step, I taxied to Frankies Spuntino in the West Village, where Rohatyn was holding a small-plate, pass-around dinner for Sherry and the ceramics crew (Tom Sachs, Mary Frey, Pat McCarthy, and JJ Peet) all sporting Sachs’s SATAN’S CERAMICS T-shirt—hands-down, the best of the week.
“It’s perfect under a tuxedo jacket,” Rohatyn advised. Got it. Ornamental and useful! So goes Fashion Week in art.
IF THE HUSTLE AT PARTIES and the hypnotic glut of Instagram are trustworthy barometers, then the opening week of the Thirty-First Bienal de São Paulo was noticeably slower, less lavish, and less aggressive in its social engagements than any in recent memory.
Indeed, things seemed a little too quiet in the days leading up to the inauguration. But then on August 28, artists in the show, titled “How to (…) things that don’t exist,” launched an open letter protesting Israeli financial support of the biennial, which some participants, like Tony Shakar and the duo Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, claimed to have only discovered when they saw logos for the Israeli consulate on sponsor panels while installing their works in the Oscar Niemeyer–designed Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion in Ibirapuera park.
Their gesture dominated last Monday’s press conference and was the most tweeted and gossiped-about topic in the Brazilian art world this past week. (The artists announced in another letter that the Bienal had decided to “clearly dissociate” itself from Israeli funding, though the Bienal foundation has recently sent out a counterstatement stating that “nothing has changed in the Institution’s policy toward sponsorship.”) The curatorial team—comprising Van Abbemuseum director Charles Esche; Galit Eilat and Oren Sagiv, both from Israel; and Nuria Enguita Mayo and Pablo Lafuente, from Spain; along with two associate curators from Brazil, Benjamin Seroussi and Luiza Proença—stressed from the outset that this was a show very much engaged with the contradictions and injustices of the contemporary world, though they avoided talking about this at length and issued a brief statement only saying that they supported the artists’ right to protest. Some of these very artists, however, claimed the curators had known of the Israeli sponsorship all along and had been warned about the political implications at a time when the war on the Gaza Strip only seemed to worsen.
Left: Artist Yael Bartana and performer Márcio Pantera at the opening of the Bienal de São Paulo. Right: Artists Ana Mazzei, Rose Klabin, and Jonathas de Andrade at an opening at Fortes Vilaça.
The question dominating cocktail parties before the official inauguration was how they could not have seen this coming. Maybe they did, and an article in the daily O Estado de S. Paulo went so far as to suggest, rather conspiratorially, that this was all a publicity stunt to heat up the biennial’s lukewarm reception. All that aside, I have to say it’s a good show, thanks to its bold championing of young talent—including artists like Éder Oliveira, Arthur Scovino, Gabriel Mascaro, and Clara Ianni—and its attempts to give Niemeyer’s pavilion a postmodern overhaul (a glass installation by Mark Lewis serving as a counterpoint to the purity of the Bienal building). Of course, it’s also an irritating one. Irritating, and at times frustrating, because the idea that this is a Bienal anchored in the current political moment, attendant to social upheavals here and almost everywhere else, and opening at a pivotal moment of the Brazilian presidential campaign (with elections pending on October 5), makes some of the pieces seem more like silly provocations than works in and of themselves. (I count among these Bik Van der Pol’s Turning a Blind Eye and Dan Perjovschi’s Wall, Work, Worship). Others are plainly naive, like collective Mujeres Creando’s awkward Space to Abort—an arena made of red cylinders, symbolizing a uterus, where women are encouraged to tell their own abortion tales.
What is cool about the show is its apparent detachment from the market forces now at work in São Paulo. There are no celebrities from the local scene—Tunga, the only originally included artist who might fit this description, dropped out months before, saying his project could not be financed—and the luminaries from abroad are hardly market darlings: Walid Raad, Anna Boghiguian, Yael Bartana, and a score of others are known to wrestle with thorny issues rather than prance around art fairs. Of course, fixating on the bogeyman of “the market” doesn’t get you far either. This is largely the same “market” that has allowed the Bienal to get back on its feet with exuberant strength after its near-death experience six years ago. And even if most of the artists in the show are marginal figures in terms of gallery presence, “discoveries” like Ana Lira, Scovino, and Mascaro represent an up-and-coming wave of talent that will surely be available soon at a dealer near you.
The absence of big names, however, might explain why galleries weren’t keen on throwing big receptions this time around. The Bienal’s kickoff week featured a torrent of openings, including Song Dong’s massive solo show curated by Sarina Tang at Baró; Bienal artist Johanna Calle at Marilia Razuk; Yuri Firmeza, another Bienal name, at Casa Triângulo; Tunga, Paulo Nazareth, and Lawrence Weiner at Mendes Wood DM; Thiago Rocha Pitta at Millan; Armando Andrade-Tudela at Fortes Vilaça; Julian Schnabel at Raquel Arnaud; and Julie Mehretu at White Cube. (To name just a few.) But the mood at these gatherings was often a little sour. One collector argued it was all the fault of this “overly politicized” Bienal. Some of the galleries were even empty when I stopped by, contributing to the awkward sense that this is a quiet season, despite Brazil’s recent displays of market prowess. One notable exception was the buzz around Adriano Pedrosa and Lilia Moritz Schwarcz’s beautiful show at Instituto Tomie Ohtake, a kaleidoscopic narrative with works by artists from Albert Eckhout to Adriana Varejão, delving deep into the nature of race relations in Brazil, and Rivane Neuenschwander’s solo survey at the Museu de Arte Moderna, another Pedrosa gig.
Another counterpoint to the otherwise humdrum sequence of openings was Friday’s splashy inauguration of Cidade Matarazzo, an “improvised” artistic occupation of an old hospital in downtown São Paulo. If the celebrities were chased from the Bienal, this is where they ended up. Installations by Vik Muniz, Tunga, Joana Vasconcelos, Tony Oursler, Kenny Scharf, and nearly a hundred other artists filled the old wards of the hospital, from the maternity to the morgue. All this was to promote the construction of a six-star hotel and Jean Nouvel residential tower to be designed by Philippe Starck.
The investor behind it all, Alexandre Allard, paraded the grounds with Gilberto Gil and soap opera stars, taking guests on tours he promised would be “the journey of a lifetime.” I got lost in the crowd and never made it to the morgue, where something was supposed to happen. I also missed the Indians dancing in an installation that resembled a cage, a controversial spectacle one visitor said resembled those “seventeenth-century displays in Europe, when they would put black people on view for the whites to gawk at.” But the screaming crowds locked outside the gates at Cidade Matarazzo, trying to get into the party, were a sharp contrast with the tranquil flow of visitors into the Bienal pavilion on its first public day, a sign that money, more than politics and wars, seems to be the force shaping the art world here more than ever.
Left: MALBA artistic director Agustín Pérez-Rubio and Videobrasil director Solange Farkas at the opening of “Unerasable Memories” at Sesc Pompeia. Right: Artist Nilba Gures at the opening of the Bienal de São Paulo.
REMEMBER SUMMER? I ended mine with one foot already in the fall season, nabbing a four-hour train to Zurich for last weekend’s early-bird, back-to-school opening rush, where many an art acolyte sought to show off her tan before the great fall fade.
Thankfully, it was an inspiring congregation of shows, and a solid reminder that sometimes it’s worth sacrificing one’s tan (and sleep schedule) for some great art. I wasted no time when I arrived on Friday, running straight to the intimate lunch at la Terrasse in honor of Dorothy Iannone’s show at the Migros Museum. There, her longtime collector Franz Wassmer rubbed elbows with dealers Javier Peres and Florence Bonnefous, Berlinsche Galerie director Thomas Kohler, and Migros director Heike Munder. Peres exposed us all to MeituPic, a new Chinese photography app that makes you look younger and thinner. But Iannone didn’t need an app to look fab: The eighty-one-year-young artist looked marvelous as ever, albeit slightly flustered as she hadn’t seen the show installed yet.
As some guests jumped into a collector’s Rolls Royce (hello Zurich!) for an impromptu preview, I followed Migros curator Judith Welter onto the tram. The show was stunning. Taking her 1982 artist book Censorship and the Irrepressible Drive toward Love and Divinity as a point of departure, the exhibition features more than fifty years of love and sexual liberation, and includes some of her greatest historical responses to suppression, like her 1970 book The Story of Bern, or Showing Colors, which logs the controversy over her images that erupted during a 1969 show at the Kunsthalle Bern.
From there I explored the newly expanded Löwenbräu building, an epitome of Swiss efficiency. “It’s like being at a fair 24/7,” said graphic designer Maria Lusa as I entered Vittorio Brodmann’s show at Galerie Gregor Staiger. “Except that people are relaxed here.” (I think that was a compliment.) Next was Parkett’s space, where cofounders Bice Curiger and Jacqueline Burckhardt were giving collector Ursula Hauser a tour of the exhibition they organized for the august publication’s thirty-year anniversary. (Their current issue features a cover by Shirana Shahbazi and a special section on performance.) Each of the works on view evoked a personal anecdote from Curiger. I would have liked to hear more about the time she introduced Jeff Koons to Martin Kippenberger over lunch.
As the crowds began to amass in the Löwenbräu, I realized the party was almost upon us. I worked my way into the former brewery’s lodestar—and that day’s elephant in the room: Kunsthalle Zürich. There was plenty of chatter among insiders about who would succeed the black-clad, sharp-minded art priestess Beatrix Ruf, who’s moving on to direct the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam full-time on November 1. Three names were on everyone’s lips, but in the end, as we now all know, it came down to that incorrigible wit Daniel Baumann.
Good luck to him! Ruf is hell-bent on setting high standards until the end: Slavs & Tatars precise and elegant proposition “Mirrors for Princes,” in the Kunsthalle’s first space, was one of the weekend’s standouts, combining an incisive approach to religion and politics with bold irony and unexpected sensuality. To be sure, the guided tour by Payam Sharifi, one-half of the beguiling collective, was very persuasive. “Art is to this decade what fashion was to the ’90s and movies to the ’70s: a zeitgeist catalyst,” Sharifi argued. “Which gives us artists a huge responsibility.”
Joined by S&T partner-in-crime Kasia Korcsak and dealer Amadeo Kraupa-Tuskany, we moved on to Eva Presenhuber to take on Wyatt Kahn’s impeccable Swiss debut and a remarkable comeback by painter Steven Shearer. I then jostled through the crowds to get a view of, well, everything: solo shows by Matthew Day Jackson at Hauser & Wirth, Nedko Solakov at Bob Van Orsouw, Jutta Koether at Francesca Pia, and a group exhibition curated by Arthur Fink at LUMA’s Westbau.
“It used to be inconvenient to open before everyone else at this period of the year,” said dealer Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth, who launched stellar shows by Loredana Sperini and Martin Disler at his space. “No one came to Zurich, but somehow it changed.” You bet it did: What used to be a mostly local affair, a once-a-year stopover B.B. (Before Basel), has become a mandatory destination on the competitive art circuit. Freymond-Guth kindly offered vouchers for drinks at the Löwenbräu afterparty that featured a “Macedonian wedding band,” three words that made my heart sink. “Don’t go,” said a fellow Parisian reveler I ran into in the stairs. “It will rain, the sound system is really bad, and even the bratwurst aren’t that good.” Trusting in the perspicacity of French snobbery, I took the advice.
I retreated to Presenhuber’s dinner at Times in honor of Kahn, Shearer, and Sam Falls. “Anyone going to São Paulo…?” began someone seated on my left, while the debate to my right centered on “unacceptable” tax increases in Zurich. How much I had missed these quirky talks over summer. The food was delightful, and so was the company, among them Peter Fischli, dealers Franco Noero, Kurimanzutto’s José Kuri, and T293’s Marco Altavilla; Swiss Institute director Simon Castets; and Kahn’s charming family. While everyone was planning postprandial drinks at Gonzo, I had a sudden rush of conscientiousness (or was it just FOMO?) and repaired to the party at Limmatstrasse. I came, I saw, and I turned in early(ish): Sometimes, when you’ve been gone from the party too long, no amount of beer will get you on the same page as the swirling crowd.
I enjoyed my last few hours in sunny Zurich as well as I could on Saturday. Brunch at Markthalle seemed to be the ultimate rendezvous for the hungover art crowd. After eggs and Bircher muesli, I ran to Karma International to check out Judith Bernstein’s impressive solo show, and then to the Kunsthaus to glimpse Cindy Sherman’s bewildering survey. With Iannone as head of household, it seemed that the new season was all about girls for a change. Just another example of how Zurich is ahead of the curve.