Central London

London
05.31.15

Left: Sandy Angus, cofounder of Art15. Right: Conor Macklin of Grosvenor Gallery and Nour Aslam of Art15. (All photos: Zehra Jumabhoy)


I BLINKED. Sitting in front of me was a blond Yeti. Stepping closer, I noticed that his “hair” consisted of rubber bands. “Oh, you’ve met our monster!” said a girl at the booth. “He has lots of admirers.” Admiration wasn’t quite the word I’d use, but no matter. Hummelman, as it turned out, was an artwork by Mette Sterre featured at the stand for University of Arts London—a student-run initiative that dominated the nonprofit section of Art15.

As Hummelman indicated, Art15 was an unusual fair. Now in its third year, the self-styled “Global Art Fair” gathered galleries from forty-two countries with the mission to put London on the “international” map. Art15—co-owned by Art HK founders Tim Etchells and Sandy Angus—targets younger galleries with an Asian background. Driving this agenda is Nour Aslam, a specialist in South Asian art, who is in charge of gallery development. “We are very proud that visitors are responding so positively to a non-Western-centric approach,” fair director Kate Bryan told me.

Bryan’s sentiment chimed with many on opening night last Wednesday. “Art15 has a great international vibe. I think it is a good indicator of the growing demand for Korean art in the West,” opined Heashin Kwok of the London- and Seoul-based Hanmi Gallery. Purple-haired Pearl Lam of (duh) Pearl Lam Galleries revved up for some serious sales: “We have been exhibiting in the fair since its inception. It is exciting to see a truly multicultural offering of artists.” Collector Mera Rubell chimed in, “This fair reflects the culture of London. It’s so multicultural.”

Left: Aaron Cezar, founding director of Delfina Foundation. Right: Mort Chatterjee of Chatterjee and Lal Gallery, Mumbai.


I heard a lot about “multicultural London” in those few days around the fair. Think of artist Mimsy (a pseudonym adopted for her protection) and her light boxes depicting Sylvanian Family dolls on a picnic that is interrupted by the nastiness of ISIS. Mimsy was part of Freedom Audit, a nonprofit exhibition, ensconced in a room at the fair, curated by the Royal Academy’s onetime director Kathleen Soriano. The section included artists from eighteen countries who stood for “the freedom of expression” and denigrated intolerance. (Ironic, given Britain’s current paranoia about immigration and EU membership.)

At any rate, the preview was a colorful melting pot: Artist Idris Khan—last spotted at his minimalist black-and-white exhibition at Victoria Miro in Mayfair—was standing under a golden statue. Television presenter Michael Urban clung to fashion designer Roubi l’Roubi. Wait! Was that Niru Ratnam, director of Art14? Ratnam has left to start his own fair, called (duh) START. “What do you think of Art15, Niru?” I asked. “Stop stirring the pot!” whispered a passing dealer. Meanwhile, big-time collectors Budi Tek, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, and the Rubells were at large. Sandy Angus looked pleased.

The curated sections offered more than a few treats. Spearheading London First, a grouping of twenty-five galleries, Aaron Cezar of Delfina Foundation said he wanted to “collapse worlds, collapse time.” My favorite was the monochromatic booth of White Rainbow, London’s trendy new Japanese gallery, where Takahiro Ueda’s three out-of-sync clocks clocked the vagaries of time. There were some good satellite events too—each following the star of a different Asia—including Grosvenor Gallery, which had an exhibition of paintings by Indian modernist MF Husain. I of course opted for my own beat: cocktails at the home of Pakistani collector Taimur Hassan. Hot topics were the new biennials coming up in South Asia: Lahore and Karachi both jostling for the kudos of hosting one. News of onetime Christie’s exec Hugo Weihe’s decision to join the Indian auction house Saffron Art made for sizzling speculation. In Hassan’s house, though, no hint of competition was in evidence: Pakistani Anwar Shemza’s geometric paintings shared space with Goan FN Souza’s Heads, while Delhi-based collector Lekha Poddar swapped stories with artist Naiza Khan, Mumbai dealers Mort Chatterjee and Tara Lal caught up with their London-based pal Conor Macklin . . . and hurray: more champagne!

Left: Niru Ratnam of START art fair. Right: Artist Idris Khan.


Back at the fair the next morning, Majorie Martay of Art W—a New York–based educational outfit that produces tours and exhibitions dedicated to the feminine—was conducting a VIP visit with women artists at Art15. We took in feathery sculptures by Kate MccGwire, pearly button-paintings by Ran Hwang, and Sandra Shashou’s Broken Translations of British Love, comprising smashed fine bone china painted gold. “It’s about vulnerability being precious,” said Shashou sweetly. If Art Fair Art is invariably shiny, at least Art15’s dazzle came from a different direction. “This is a little more contemporary than FIAC and it brings you a little further,” said collector Angeline Fournier, prodding Hsu Wei-hui’s peachy Flower of Life fashioned from face masks. Catching sight of the blossom’s reverse end in the mirror, I notice it resembles a skull. Oh, when prettiness putrefies.

BBC broadcaster Phillip Dodd was more preoccupied with business than beauty. As the founder of Made in China, he was in charge of talent-spotting “non-Western” galleries. Dodd argued that if Art Basel Hong Kong tends to consist of Chinese artists educated in the West, Art15 aims to showcase artists educated in Asia. Beijing’s Space Station (to whose booth Dodd dispatched me), was exploring “body boundaries.” Six and a Half Years, by the collective Double Fly Klein Blue, was a phallic fantasy of a video featuring eight nude men jumping about in a pool of Klein-blue paint. “Now Chinese contemporary art is more open-minded—that’s why Phillip invited us here. Double Fly paints subjects to distort them. And there is a water gun,” green-haired dealer Feng Ying pointed out.

There was excitement from some (“Yes we are selling!” exclaimed Daisy Shiou of Taiwan’s Liang Gallery) and discontent from others who expected contact with new collectors. Alexis Kouzmine-Karavaďeff of ifa gallery in Brussels was grumpy: “I am disappointed!” But in his black-clad booth on Saturday morning, dealer Jal Hamad of Madrid-based Sabrina Amrani was all optimism. A diehard fair enthusiast, he was having his second year in London. Was he selling? “You don’t say it’s over until it’s over. This fair is very contemporary—I hope you enjoyed it.” I did. Like the ginormous, chocolate-smothered strawberry I stuffed into my mouth at Khaas Art Gallery’s booth, it was bigger than expected with hints of sweetness. Next mutation, please?

Zehra Jumabhoy

Left: Michael Urban with designer Roubi l' Roubi. Right: Suquin Ou of Mao Space, Shanghai.


Foto Finish

Reggio Emilia, Italy
05.30.15

Left: Artists Enrico David and Esko Mannikko. Right: Artist Jonathan Miles.


TRAFFIC COPS manned the roads in Reggio Emilia on a recent Friday as a black town car sent for arty guests jolted along over cobblestones, trying to make it to the hotel before the roads shut down for the day. We were there for the art: the opening weekend of Fotografia Europea and two new shows at Collezione Maramotti, the extensive collection created by Max Mara founder Achilles Maramotti and continued by his kin. As it turned out, the tiny comune had started closing down its streets because of the Mille Miglia, a vintage car race pitting Alfa Romeos against Bugattis. “Usually the town is very quiet,” said the hotelier with the asymmetrical haircut, apologetically. “But they schedule everything on the same weekend, at once.”

It was both the oddest and most perfect moment to hunker down for a weekend: On the one hand, Italy’s been on everyone’s minds with Venice and the Expo and the Prada Foundation opening in Milan. On the other it was oddly low-key to turn our attention to this town of Parmesan and vintage cars, given all the excitement elsewhere in the nation—with boats capsizing outside other fashion houses and Italian officials shutting down mosques built by Swiss artists for Icelandic pavilions.

On Saturday evening, some went first to a concert by the Icarus ensemble, but for others leaving from the hotel, cabs were in short supply—which meant several parties were assigned to each taxi headed to the Maramotti’s building on Via Fratelli Cervi. I ended up riding with one of the two guests of honor, Enrico “La Caduta” David (who’s opening the show, along with Esko Mannikko)—as well as dealer Gordon VeneKlasen and Stephen Morgan, David’s assistant. Having gotten to know the town better than the rest of us, David pointed out a villa that made Parmesan and then explained the Mille Miglia, joking: “They’re actually driving through the Maramotti. Like a wall of death in the white cube.”

Left: Artist Elena Mazzi. Right: Anna Fasol with collectors Anna Tampieri and Francesco Tampieri.


At the Maramotti building, the former Max Mara manufacturing plant, mounds of ricotta and finger sandwiches were already being circulated. Guests milled about, coming from both near (like collectors Anna and Francesco Tampieri) and far (like Katerina Gregos, fresh from curating the Brussels pavilion in Venice). It’s possible the Benettons were there too, unless I was, at that point, hallucinating regional fashion-house dynasties. Luigi Maramotti himself mingled, but elided photo ops, preferring the focus to stay on the art. It was all very modest and beautiful as the evening light drew people to the tree-filled courtyard outside, where jacquard coats adorned torsos throughout the crowd—the same as the ones in Max Mara window displays. I spoke with the emerging artist Elena Mazzi, on her way to showing work at the Istanbul Biennial, having just come from working on Joan Jonas’s pavilion in Venice.

The permanent collection upstairs was open, and stocked with Peter Halley and Alex Katz and Arte Povera, but the focus that night was the two solo shows on the ground floor: David’s installation of sculpture and painting melded biomorphic forms and portraiture into things between dreams and nightmares, and Mannikko’s photographs of Lapland, Finland, shown in the context of Italy, seemed like a poignant attempt to understand something too close from further away. Kunsthalle Helsinki’s Pirkko Tuukkanen said the artist had been traveling, trying to find a bridge between the specific Laplander culture he’d started out photographing and other worlds out there.

“The relationship with time and space, with death, with regeneration”—common themes linking the two shows, said Marina Dacci, the Maramotti’s director—were both “close to the DNA of our collection.” The Maramotti doesn’t have a curator because, Dacci says, it wants to involve artists more closely throughout the process “from production to installation to the realization of the book accompanying the exhibition—which often becomes an artist's book.” Asked about how Maramotti’s collection compares to other fashion houses’ art endeavors, Dacci diplomatically noted that many were “complementary.” “Each model of course evinces different values, taking different paths. For our part we try to work with consistency and respect of the art and of those who produce it—opening the door to potential users without claiming to encode anything.”

Left: Collezione Maramotti director Marina Dacci, Toshio Tamada, and curator Katerina Gregos. Right: Artist Catherine Wagner.


People wended their way downstairs for dinner. “This many people being fed is incredibly unusual,” said Jonathan Miles (artist, professor, and former London editor of ZG magazine). “Usually a few friends of the artist, a few curators, a few collectors get whisked off to dinner. It seems to signify some investment in culture that is democratic.”

Another morning, another hotel continental breakfast buffet, another motley crew—dealer Claes Nordenhake, BOZAR director Paul Desjardin, and artist Catherine Wagner—all gearing up for another round of art. This time it was the tenth edition of the Fotografia Europea, a contemporary photography festival inspired by Reggio Emilia patron saint Luigi Ghirri and this year focused on the theme “Earth Effect.” Villas, palazzos, and churches around the city had been turned into galleries, with Palazzo da Mosto—one standout—showing Darren Almond, Enrico Bedolo, and Mishka Henner. A Sol LeWitt had been executed on the upper ceiling of the Panizzi library. We looked at it in awe. “It was very, very complicated” to create, said a Fotografia tour guide: You mustn’t forget that executing LeWitt instructions on a curved dome is no easy task, a thought the group pondered as they made their way to a lovely lunch at the Caffe Arti e Mestieri.

Dawn Chan

Left: Kunsthalle Helsinki’s Pirkko Tuukkanen. Right: BOZAR director Paul Desjardin Paul Dujardin.


Altered States

Vilnius, Lithuania
05.28.15

Curator Lars Bang Larsen. (All photos: Virginija Januškevičiūtė)


YEAH YEAH, by now we’re well aware that the outside is the inside, that we all exist within this giant urtext that we can never really get out of. Well, for some of us, that just isn’t enough: The lure of a beyond, if only as a conceptual inference, with all its potentialities and numinosities, is simply too great to be cast into the aside of passivity. Altering one’s consciousness—chemically or via other means—can become the noblest of pursuits; away from the hippie rhetoric and the narcissism of self-enlightenment, the psychedelic experience might also be considered as a research methodology into realms of knowledge that resist institutionalization. Of course, the further one goes, the higher the risk of never returning to the safety zone where consensus reigns—though every pleasurable journey has risks embedded within its rewards.

On Saturday, a dozen researchers and around four times as many audience participants convened in the Lithuanian capital on the final weekend of “t:h:e: r:e:a:l: after psychedelia,” a group exhibition curated by Lars Bang Larsen at the Contemporary Art Centre, for the First Psychedelic Synod. As distinguished from a “symposium”—which might elicit images of a hippie acid orgy—a synod is the traditional term for an assembly of clergymen meeting to make decisions on vital ecclesiastical matters—“a cluster of empowered voices.” Serious business indeed.

“We don’t know what a psychedelic synod is,” Larsen admitted. “We’d like to find out.” The real aim, however, was clear: to “abolish hippie dominance” over psychedelic thinking, to bring articulative integrity to that mode of exploration that dare not speak its name. Indeed, the ambition of Larsen’s exhibition, and much of his writing around the subject in general (his dissertation was on “global psychedelia”) was to isolate psychedelia from its countercultural and legal entanglements to probe its potential essences and, well, high points. “What remains,” Larsen declared, “is a promise: a sense of becoming.”

First up was Gintautas Mažeikis, head of the department of social and political theory at Vytautas Magnus University, whose talk “Experience of Self-Othering: Between Altered States of Consciousness and Replaced Thinking” connected Timothy Leary, Aleister Crowley, and Lithuanian neo-shamanism, ultimately rejecting the traditional Jungian assessment of the collective unconscious in favor of a Frankfurt School perspective that Mažeikis deems a “soft transcendental approach.” For the non-Lithuanian participants among us, the highlight of Mažeikis’s presentation was a screening of a short film by local psychedelic explorer Jerry Geraldas Jankauskas made during Soviet times, when tripping out served as a tool of resistance against the psychic abuses perpetuated by the totalitarian regime against the populace.

Gintautas Mažeikis, head of the department of social and political theory at Vytautas Magnus University.


Recalling Robert Smithson’s assertion that vision is an authoritarian system, Yann Tytelman proposed a politicization of psychedelic thought via Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, Louis Wolfson’s Le Schizo et les langues, Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, and the history of alchemy. Tytelman, head of the visual arts department at Geneva University of Art and Design, turned us on to the history of psychedelia in the Francophone zone. It was quite its own thing—the French never took to the hippies, viewing their “program” as a very American (read: unserious) form of lifestyle politics, and by the time psychedelics arrived in France in the early 1970s the hippie movement had all but burned out. Instead of a countercultural wave, then, there was a dispersed group of individual explorers who etched out their own paths, including the band Magma, who utilized an invented language and engineered a form of psychedelic rock distinct from normative associations with the genre.

The director of education at the CAC, Audrius Pocius, was tasked with engaging primary- and secondary-school students (!) with the exhibition. He began by asking: “Is there a way to talk meaningfully about a psychedelic means of education?” In arriving at his positive answer, he devised a board game for a group of fifteen players divided into three teams. In playing, the borders separating the teams become blurred, the whole is no longer seen as a sum of its parts, and failure—losing—emerges as the thing to be embraced, the fuel that keeps the game running.

As the afternoon wore on, intrepid reconceptualizations of psychedelic ontology began to emerge from the unlikeliest of disciplines. Kristupas Sabolius is a philosopher from the University of Vilnius who has been researching the problem of imagination for more than a decade. (Sadly, his writings have yet to appear in English.) He arrived at a conception of anamorphosis, a perceptual effect employed by visual artists for centuries (and frequently experienced by users of psychedelic drugs), through a rigorous discussion of the history of reality as a philosophical concept from its inception in the High Middle Ages to Kant’s separation of reality from existence. “Being is always more than reality,” he concluded. “Existence is always more than essence.”

Psychologist Arūnas Kuras.


Til Mycha/Fungiculture journal were the sole participants in the Synod that also featured in the exhibition. Artist Beth Collar and curator Heidi Ballet read several texts by Mycha—a fictional author comprising Fungiculture editors Helen Stuhr-Rommereim and Silvia Mollichi, who aims to harness the potentialities of a psychedelic writing without the use of drugs—against a projection of images by Jennifer Evans. They were followed by Vadim Grigorian, who works in luxury culture as a marketing man, and whose presentation focused on his personal explorations of chronobiology through a garden he is developing at his home in the French countryside.

Eglė Rindzevičiūtė offered a fascinating history of cybernetics, from its origins in World War II through its heyday in the 1960s, its integration into various disciplines in the ’70s, and its influence on Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory, with its nonmodern insistence that we have never been separate from our animal selves. Indeed, cybernetics’ refusal to differentiate among mind/body and culture/nature/machine sounds ringingly clear to anyone who’s ever been on acid.

Clearly, given the scope of the day’s offerings, even those who haven’t were able to get a lot out of the First Psychedelic Synod. This most intense program came to a close with the personal reflections of Arūnas Kuras, a psychologist who experimented with psychedelics professionally during the Soviet era. While Kuras asserted that his use of drugs helped in the way of self-understanding, he ultimately advised against them, as he felt that they halted his spiritual development for several years. Sad news for all artists out there, according to at least one medical professional: Tripping is not the best way to enrich your creativity.

Instead, Synod participants were fortunate to have our minds expanded in other ways, perhaps unwittingly mirroring the aesthetic experience, as summed up by Larsen: “That is, when you, out of enthusiasm for an artwork, meditate on it until it falls into bits and pieces, and it must be stitched back together with words and ideas to become an event.”

Travis Jeppesen

Hirshhorn of Plenty

Washington DC
05.22.15

Left: Hirshhorn Museum director Melissa Chiu and Robert Bahadori. Right: Artist Shirin Neshat (middle). (All photos: Liz Gorman)


CURTAINS OF RAIN greeted dolled-up attendees for Saturday night’s gala at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Valets with oversize umbrellas led tuxedos and gowns from their black cars on Independence Avenue to the soggy red carpet at the museum’s entrance. It was all for naught: There was no staying dry, but it hardly mattered.

Dark skies lifted, eventually, making for an auspicious evening for...what, exactly? The event was intended as a fete for Shirin Neshat, the Iranian artist whose video and photography graces “Shirin Neshat: Facing History,” a midcareer survey that opened this week. But the Hirshhorn has almost never thrown a party for an opening alone. This gala doubled as the museum’s fortieth anniversary party and, maybe more important, as a debutante ball for the Hirshhorn’s new director, Melissa Chiu.

“The Hirshhorn has a storied forty-year history, and we’re just in the process of seeing all of the potential for the Hirshhorn to be a major national and international player,” Chiu said, six months into the job. To that end, she’s rebuilt the museum’s leadership, nearly doubling the number of trustees (from ten to eighteen). Last October, Chiu hired Gianni Jetzer, former director of the Swiss Institute, as the Hirshhorn’s curator-at-large. The next month, she named her chief curator: Stéphane Aquin, of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

“We’re all figuring it out,” Aquin said. “We want to raise the profile and make it a relevant institution again. We’re on the [National] Mall, and that means something—we’re not anywhere in the country. Speaking from the Mall, being a window onto the world, is a top priority for us.”

Left: Senator Tom Udall. Right: Melissa Ho and Paley Center for Media CEO Pat Mitchell.


A few hours into the party, after an extended rain delay, 250 or so guests filed down to the museum’s basement Ring Auditorium to hear a conversation between Neshat and Pat Mitchell, the president and CEO of the Paley Center for Media and former head of PBS. The firmly inside-the-Beltway forum didn’t dwell much on the finer points of Neshat’s photography or Islamic calligraphy. The artist instead showed family photos and recalled stories from her middle-class upbringing in Iran, her brief time at Berkeley before the revolution in 1979, and the traumatic separation from her family that followed.

“She went through all her formative years there [in Iran],” said Senator Tom Udall, speaking of Neshat, whose work he described as “powerful.” He admired her frank discussion about her background: “It educates the subject for all of us.” Udall voted in May, with almost every other US senator, in support for congressional review of any nuclear deal with Iran. (He declined a question about the current status of the negotiations.)

“I really hope that people in politics will come and see this show,” Neshat said. She described it as an allegorical or fictionalized presentation of Iranian political history as well as a look at America’s evolving relationship with Iran. “I don’t claim to know a great deal—I’m not an academic, I’m not a historian, I’m no expert at all. I’m only able to frame important questions that I think are perpetually important.”

The ongoing deliberations between leaders in the White House and Tehran would seem to be a fitting backdrop for Neshat’s artwork (and vice versa). But nuclear negotiations seemed far away on Saturday night. Dazzling guests, many of them hailing from the area’s Persian expat community, sat down to dinner in the Hirshhorn’s plaza late in the evening. A saxophonist toured from table to table. The soft white lighting on the Hirshhorn’s concrete exterior transported the museum to a different place—some other art world, far from Washington.

Kriston Capps

Left: Outside the Hirshhorn Museum. Right: Collector James Alefantis and Robin Fournier-Bergmann of the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent.


Studio 54

New York
05.22.15

Left: Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, and 1:54 Contemporary African Art founding director Touria El Glaoui. Right: 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair. (Photos: Alejandro Hincapié).


CONCURRENT WITH FRIEZE, the contemporary African art world had its own village fete: the New York edition of London-based 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which opened last week at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Inaugurated during Frieze London in 2013, the original fair drew over six thousand visitors to Somerset House, with that number rising to ten thousand in October 2014. With the New York iteration, founder Touria El Glaoui, daughter of the celebrated Moroccan artist Hassan El Glaoui, intends to establish 1:54 as the go-to platform for African contemporary art.

The journey from Manhattan turned out not to be that bad. Everyone I met seemed simply relieved that people were arriving, like one at the beginning of their own birthday party. It became clear that with so much contemporary art going on in the city, a major concern was that no one would make the trek. But interest in contemporary art from Africa has been steadily growing and continues to make its global presence felt: The week prior had seen the inauguration of the Venice Biennale with its first African-born curator, Okwui Enwezor, and with roughly 14 percent of the artists in his show from the continent. This follows Angola’s winning of a Golden Lion for best pavilion at the Biennale in 2013.

1:54 offered the chance for primarily European and South African galleries, many of whom had already exhibited together in London, to test the American market. Designed by Rashid Ali in collaboration with London-based RA projects, the fair felt intimate—even within the ecclesiastic-industrial space—and with sixteen galleries representing sixty artists, the excitement and hope of the collective was palpable on opening night, fueled by rum-and-pineapple cocktails.

Left: Conrad Botes stands in front of his mural Sad Man’s Tongue, 2015. (Photo: James Green) Right: Artists Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze and Fabrice Monteiro, dealer Mariane Ibrahim-Lenhardt, and artist Jim Chuchu. (Photo: Mariane Ibrahim Gallery).


I came upon Oliver Durey and Jack Bell of Jack Bell Gallery standing in front of Rassemblement, a dramatic large-scale artwork by Armand Boua from the Ivory Coast that depicted street children in Abidjan, painted on found cardboard using tar and acrylic. The African artist recently debuted at Saatchi Gallery in London as part of the current “Pangea II” exhibition, but this is the first time he has been exhibited in America—a direct result of 1:54.

All led to a discussion about the force and appeal of the smaller, scrappier fair and how it was a much more manageable experience for the visitor and the gallerist alike: excitingly independent while still in the vortex of a much bigger event. With the tall doors open to the garden and the evening light streaming in, we noted how there were similarities between 1:54 and the Untitled art fair held during ABMB, where Jack Bell Gallery had previously exhibited, a hint of the pastoral, even if what lay beyond were dockland wastes rather than Miami Beach.

“54” refers to the fifty-four countries of Africa that this fair gamely aspires to represent. With nearly half of the galleries from South Africa, it was South African artists who were most extensively represented. Indeed, the very first artworks to greet the visitor on entering the building were linocut prints by William Kentridge on dictionary pages shipped from America to South Africa. These works, the product of a remarkable multiyear collaboration between the artist and David Krut Projects, showed that it is possible to replicate the feel of a brushstroke in a lithographic print if there is enough skill and patience involved.

Also exhibiting in America for the first time: South African Conrad Botes, who installed a corridor with a mural of chalk on black board paint around figurative cutout bronze sculptures positioned on wall pedestals. He stood in conversation with African art scholar Dunja Hersak discussing how black board paint is not really a black at all but a “warm, inviting color.” Botes went on to describe the hellish dreamscapes he had depicted on the walls, where acts of cannibalism and self-evisceration abounded, as a “personal reflection on the daily lives of many people living in South Africa,” particularly in the wake of xenophobic violence.

Left: Dealer Gary Van Wyk stands in front of the portraits of Bobson Sukhdeo Mohanlall. Right: Magnin-A founding director Philippe Boutté, artist Omar Victor Diop, Magnin-A founding director André Magnin, and artist Nathalie Boutté. (Photo: Magnin-A).


Along with galleries from South Africa, galleries from Europe were also extensively represented, with a focus on art from Ivory Coast, Benin, Morocco, and Nigeria. Magnin-A Gallery exhibited predominantly artists from west and central Africa. As the creator of the Pigozzi collection of contemporary African art, André Magnin has had a definitive impact on what African contemporary art looks like in the West. On view were a selection of works from a number of artists who he has championed over the years, all in the Pigozzi collection, and now internationally recognized, including Chéri Samba and iconic photographs of Seydou Keďta and Malick Sidibé. There were some surprises, such as the powerful acrylic-on-canvas work by Malian Amadou Sanogo of twisting zoomorphic forms, the first time this artist’s work has been exhibited in America. Magnin, who continues to have a definitive role in the contemporary African art world, used the fair as an opportunity to introduce his forthcoming exhibition and publication Beauté Congo (1925–2015), which opens later this year at the Fondation Cartier in Paris and is set to contextualize contemporary art in the DRC for the first time.

One of only two galleries from the US, Axis Gallery of New York displayed a series of early color studio portraits by Bobson Sukhdeo Mohanlall from Durban, South Africa. Mohanlall portrays his young Zulu clientele wearing beadwork, the style of which allows for the pictures to be dated to 1965–75, against the same bright red curtain. Each image is a celebration of the individual photographed, allowing for freedom in self-presentation while still remaining within the defined constraints of studio photography. The intimacy and warmth of the portraits are reminiscent of the contemporary portraits of Zanele Muholi currently on show at the Brooklyn Museum.

Seattle-based Mariane Ibrahim Gallery had on view seven artists who live and work in Africa, four of whom were able to travel to New York for the fair, such as Kenyan artist Jim Chuchu, who came from Nairobi and whose work she was presenting for the very first time out of Africa. Mariane, who had shown in London, enthusiastically welcomed the New York edition of the fair as an “opportunity to present to a new audience” and encourage national interest in these emerging artists. She said that the fair created an important sense of community, enabling galleries to “have easy conversations, to feel less like outsiders, and to push forward a continent that is waking up to presenting their artists to the world.” How fun is that?

James Green

Left: Meghan Allynn Johnson, David Krut Projects, stands in front of a linocut print by William Kentridge, executed by David Krut Projects. Right: Dealer Jack Bell and artist Lavar Munroe. (Photo: Oliver Durey).


Maze Runner

New York
05.16.15

Left: Artist Pierre Huyghe. Right: Artist Alex Katz and Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villarreal. (Except where noted, all photos: Allese Thomson)


“THEY SUGGESTED CHAMPAGNE—and I said forget about it! So pedestrian, this isn’t Woolworths, you know.” Alex Katz is laughing big and talking about the opening party for his collaboration with Art Production Fund and Barneys, for which he designed an extensive set of limited-edition housewares. “I wanted martinis and corned beef—New York, New York!” I ask if he’s planning to go to Frieze, which opened its fourth edition earlier in the day. He shakes his head. “Depressing—it’s not art there, it’s interior design.”

“But all this?” I respond, gesturing at the linens, sheets, candles, blankets, towels, scarves, all in black-and-white and bearing sketches of the APF team.

“This is interior design, the real thing—I love it.” He lets out another bellow and resumes signing books. Outside, the Barneys sign has been replaced with a giant “ALEX KATZ,” and shoppers ask if there’s been a takeover at the historic department store. Everyone loves it.

Branding is everything. Another takeover: Monday evening at MoMA, Jean Nouvel addresses a polished audience of men and women (and Martha Stewart in crumpled linen and slacks) to discuss 53W53, a 1050-foot high-rise that will include 139 luxury apartments and three floors of gallery space for the museum. A cocktail party in the lobby follows, organized by Larry Gagosian, Patrick Seguin, and the Singapore-based Pontiac Land Group. I look around for MoMA friends but just find suits, ties, and BFA.

Left: Artist Ellsworth Kelly. Right: Dealer David Zwirner.


“Contingency—I want to control the conditions under which an accident will arrive,” Pierre Huyghe tells me the following evening on top of the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an hour before the private reception celebrating his commission. The installation includes a tank that perpetually leaks water; tiles have been uprooted and ecosystems planted inside. Frank Sinatra and Marvin Gaye play as the caterers set up. Huyghe asks the music to please be turned off—“it is not the right sound track.” He wears sunglasses and jeans and we look at the New York skyline, where MoMA’s new luxury tower will soon compete for airspace with the Chrysler and Empire State buildings. “It’s very hard to stand aside from your present moment,” adds Huyghe, “but if you make work in reaction, you become a prisoner of what you hate.”

Two hours later, I am sitting in the former refectory of the Episcopal General Theological Seminary, now the High Line Hotel, at a dinner for Ellsworth Kelly, which has a regal air—Brice Marden, Terry Winters, Rachel Harrison, and a hundred more join to honor the ninety-two-year-old eminence. “People still come and pray here,” says one, gesturing at the vaulted ceilings and stained glass. “But the convent couldn’t afford the space—so now it’s all events and more events.”

Guests line up after dessert to shake Kelly’s hand. “You have to keep on going—and pressing for more—it’s the only way,” the artist tells me with a smile. After, a few of us kept on going to the Edition Hotel, which launched in Miami Beach last Art Basel, now debuting their New York digs with a launch for the W art issue—every night had a different event timed with Frieze.

Left: Dealer Stuart Shave. Right: Dealers Jeffrey Deitch and Johann König.


Frieze New York has never been content with merely being a fair. There’s the lineup of organic-farm-to-table-ish restaurants (this year: Roberta’s, Dimes, Marlow & Sons, among others) and the Randall’s Island location, which makes attendance an event in itself. Its fourth edition, however, included a program (by smart artists and accomplished curators) so bedazzled that it began to read less fair than festival, which says everything about audience: “This is a fair with populist appeal,” one dealer says. Frieze Projects curator Cecilia Alemani had commissioned three elaborate mazes—a subterranean one by Samara Golden, a 3-D personality test by Aki Sasamoto, and an immersive reconstruction of George Maciunas’s 1976 Tribute to Flux-Labyrinth. Korakrit Arunanondchai presents a series of colorful massage chairs, while outside Allyson Vieira took over the lawn with lounge furniture intended to evoke a collapsed structure, like the ruins of an ancient city.

“Do you want to wear a cape?” asks a woman as I entered the tent for the VIP preview on Wednesday morning. She grabs my arm and points toward a rack of ponchos, another Frieze Project commission, presented by Pia Camil, which emphasizes again that one of the constitutive functions of the fair is not just looking at art but at people. If the fair’s purpose is to look at art brought by galleries paying up to $90,000 for a booth, all of this is, yes, a bit distracting—but in the age of the fair, the Frieze behemoth has emerged with a strong civic front, a takeover in itself. The fair expects forty thousand visitors over the weekend. “Art is just so hot right now,” says a collector, with a smile.

The presentations, however, need no bells and whistles: There is fresh, lively work everywhere, with many galleries privileging artists that don’t often receive prime real estate. Stuart Shave devotes his entire booth to Linder, with works from the 1970s and 2007 that sketch an evolution of pornography and its relation to women’s bodies. David Kordansky has a solo presentation of lush, sensuous abstractions by Lesley Vance, and Lisa Overduin gives her entire booth to Math Bass, a young, thoughtful painter currently featured at MoMA PS1. Berlin’s Kraupa Tuskany Ziedler shows Guan Xio and Katja Novistoka, but perhaps most stunning is an apocalyptic real-time moving-image installation by Ian Cheng at Standard (Oslo) on a screen that measures nearly thirty feet long and twenty feet tall. “It’s a reservoir of bodies and shapes that bump into each other and set off an entirely new chain of accidents—so no work is ever the same,” says dealer Eivind Furnesvik.

Left: Dealer Eivind Furnesvik. Right: Dealers Daniel Buchholz, Fillipo Weck, Peter Currie, and Alex Zachary.


In the halls, a Gagosienne mentions that Sterling Ruby, who recently left Hauser & Wirth, will be receiving many more shows at the gallery (wink, wink). Anton Kern debuts a psychologically charged portrait by his newest addition, Nicole Eisenman, and Andrew Kreps exhibits a sculpture by Hito Steyerl, one of the most-talked-about artists at the opening of last week’s Venice Biennale. At Société there is Bunny Rogers, who will show at Art Basel’s Statements this June. Also Sophie Calle at Perrotin, iconic Nan Goldin photographs at Matthew Marks, and Mary Heilmann at both Hauser & Wirth and 303 Gallery. The former shows museum-quality work from the 1970s while the latter presents vibrant recent painting: “So this is where they keep the light,” I overhear as I stand before her rainbow. Galerie Buchholz brings a vintage woven rug by Frances Stark, and Pilar Corrias shows a Philippe Parreno marquis that will soon be at Gladstone. If you’ve noticed this list weighs heavily toward the fairer sex, you’re not the only one.

The next night I walk to Chelsea to see Seth Price’s new exhibition, only to find Petzel’s metal garage doors pulled tightly shut. “It must be at the second space,” exclaims Jerry Saltz, who’s making the rounds with Roberta Smith. “Tenth Avenue is terrible—take Sixth!” he calls as a friend and I flag a cab. In a townhouse uptown, Petzel’s new second space is as traditional as ever: John Kelsey, Beatrix Ruf, Nick Mauss, Stuart Comer, Niklass Sevvung, Josh Smith, Adam McEwen, Laura Owens, Andrea Scott, and Jacob Proctor join to admire the show. Curated by Achim Hochdörfer, it brings together some eighty drawings made over the past fifteen years and offers, per the press release, a key to this artist’s “multifarious and elusive practice.”

Price went old-school New York for his dinner, selecting Monkey Bar (“it’s intimate, good for close conversation”). En route I make a detour to MoMA for the opening of “Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971,” curated by Klaus Biesenbach and Christophe Cherix. Biesenbach says that Ono’s fame has too long obscured her immense artistic influence: “Christophe and I worked together to create an exhibition that is like a time capsule; we conceived it as if it had happened in 1971.” But the crowd is anything but from the past—there must be thousands here for the party, spirited kids mingling with eager midtown suits. The line to get into the exhibition spans two floors. “She’s up there!” says one coming down the escalator. “Everyone is swarming around her, touching her. It’s amazing!” The party rages on in the courtyard. I don’t recognize a single person from Frieze—or anywhere, really—and standing in this space established to bring art to a wider public, I realize that this is what we’ve been working toward the whole time.

Allese Thomson

Left: Société Berlin's Daniel Wichelhaus. (Photo: Paige K. Bradley) Right: Dealer Sadie Coles.


All Apologies

New York
05.14.15

Left: Artist Nan Goldin. Right: Artists Space director Stefan Kalmár, Michael Stipe, and artist Thomas Dozol. (All photos: Benjamin Lozovsky)


AT THE UKRAINIAN NATIONAL HOME on Second Avenue, on Monday night at 8:25 PM, guests of Artists Space filled the four-foot band between the entrance to the room and the dinner tables. Staffers scrambled to sort the handwritten name tags that matched the attendees to their seats. “Just when you thought there was no more drama to be had,” a woman was saying to her companion. The dinner was in honor of Nan Goldin, so she could have been referring to anything: the seating arrangements, a photograph, a recently surfaced affair.

A third of the guests had just come back from the Venice Biennale, and two-thirds were planning on going to Frieze. It was humid in New York, without ever having been hot, and it felt like storming. People seemed surprised that they were out. “I had a weird day,” said three different artists severally in the space of ten minutes. One artist was Juliana Huxtable, who was set without a set list to DJ the afterparty, and who was dressed in something clingy with a fresh French manicure (the Grown Woman look is back). Another was Michele Abeles, wearing a matte pink shift dress printed with icons of fashion: Chanel perfume, Comme des Garçons hearts (the tag said Wacky Wacky). Ben, the official photographer for the night, came by to take a picture of Abeles and Daniel Chew, and Abeles said, “I’m sorry. I’m not ready.”

“I’ll tell you a secret,” said Marilyn Minter. She told it. “Now I’ll tell you a secret you can publish: Your thirties are better than your twenties. So much better! Your forties are better than your thirties. So much better! Your fifties are better than your forties, and your sixties are better than your fifties, and if you’re an artist like me or like Nan”—she meant an artist of a certain age, and of a certain bigtime feminine desirousness—“well, when you’re either dead or almost dead, everyone loves you.” She laughed. “Even the people who shouldn’t.”

Left: Negar Azimi, Pati Hertling, and Al Gilio. Right: Artists Juliana Huxtable and Emily Sundblad.


The same could be said of bohemia, which is very cool for the 2015 summer season. Here’s just one example: “Bohemia” is the theme of Texte zur Kunst’s new issue, with a long piece by Douglas Coupland on bohemia as classlessness. There are probably other examples, too. “I lived in bohemia,” David Hockney told The Guardian last week, “and bohemia is a tolerant place. You can’t have a smoke-free bohemia. You can’t have a drug-free bohemia.” Stefan Kalmár, the director of Artists Space, quoted these lines at the beginning of his speech, but in the mean (I mean German) way he said it, it seemed like he was saying that bohemia kills, and that tonight, we were honoring a survivor.

Nan Goldin is the Mother Teresa of the Mary Magdalene set,” Glenn O’Brien said to cheers in the middle of his laudation. Later he added that Goldin—whose curation of the 1989 Artists Space exhibition “Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing” made her a queer-radical bogeywoman of the Reagan era—was so forgiving, she’s probably forgiven you before you realize you’ve hurt her. Yet it was Goldin who showed off the Scott Campbell tattoo on her arm: I’m sorry, inked in a childish hand and rainbow letters. “I apologize before I fuck you over,” she told a room that spanned four, five generations, “I’m always, always sorry for anything I’ve done to hurt anybody—anybody in this room. Most of ’em.” At the end of her few-minute speech, she got a standing ovation. “It’s funny,” an arts lawyer said at the afterparty, “to think of how divisive her personality was.” The arts lawyer wasn’t the first guest to hint at the divisiveness of Goldin’s “personality”—that time-honored way to dismiss a woman when you don’t want to dismiss, or even discuss, her work—and nor was she the first to add that, actually, the dinner had felt really…nice, like a family affair. (People in this part of the art world must have unusually nice families.)

Left: Artist Marilyn Minter and Glenn O’Brien. Right: No Bra.


The afterparty was at Happy Ending, the new last good club in New York, and the bouncer was working overtime to keep its entrance smoke-free. Dutifully standing six feet away was the official photographer, Ben. He rolled me a cigarette. Very bohemian, I thought. “Shooting a party on the Lower East Side for Nan Goldin—it’s a trip,” he said. “What she did in the ’80s and ’90s was so raw and perfect, like an accident. It’s hard to imagine getting images like that now. Everyone’s so aware of the camera. Everyone looks at red-carpet photos, everyone’s sort of posed like celebrities.” Everyone, perhaps, except No Bra, who had performed at the dinner with her hair down over her nipples, her signature classlessness, then pulled on a Motherfuckers tee—all of which I’d dismiss as anarcho-chic were it not for the discovery that her e-mail address is at Hotmail. (Hotmail at this point is either punk or it’s the next theme of Texte zur Kunst.) I asked Ben if he thought that the dinner felt family-ish. “I shoot a lot of art parties, and I’ve been shooting the Artists Space parties for four years now, and this one did feel special,” he said. “But, I mean, it was Nan Goldin. Everyone loves Nan Goldin.”

It was a little after midnight, and there wasn’t going to be any drama, so I stood outside and waited for a car. A man I know came up on his skateboard. I thought I shouldn’t talk to him but I did. It started to rain the softest bit. In the car I stared at a text message that said “don’t be a stranger” and I thought how many years it would take.

Sarah Nicole Prickett

Back to the Futures

Venice
05.12.15

Left: Artists Adrian Piper and Glenn Ligon. Right: Venice Biennale artistic director Okwui Enwezor. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)


ONCE THE CURTAIN opens on a Venice Biennale, the tourists have to move over to make way for the art gang. The world’s oldest and most important international exhibition attracts an unstoppable force. It takes over restaurants and palazzos for private parties, books every available water taxi, and storms the gates of the Giardini in packs so swift and so vociferously divided in opinion that they would be the envy of barbarians anywhere.

The upside of opening week at the Fifty-Sixth Venice Biennale was the breathtaking quantity and variety of art going on view at a single moment. The downside was exactly the same. There was so much visual information to reckon with from the jump that a person could get her fill of exhibitions—and the competing social events around them—without ever setting foot in the Giardini.

As “All the World’s Futures,” the 2015 Biennale’s title, suggests, we can only see where we might be going by looking hard at where we’ve been. This edition, directed by Okwui Enwezor, tells us where we’re at, which is not in the best place imaginable—something most of us already know.

Left: Dealer Gavin Brown and artist Joan Jonas. Right: Artist Jimmie Durham.


It’s just that the present condition of humanity looks different to people from different parts of the world, who engage in different sorts of conflict and debate, have different cultural references, live according to different systems of value, work with different materials, and proceed from different personal concerns. Yet, remarkably, all speak the language of contemporary art. And there lies the wisdom of Venice—in the visual language of many tongues. Some, as many here learned firsthand, are not so easy on the ear.

Tuesday began on a promising note with the morning preview of an exhibition by Jimmie Durham at the Carlo Scarpa–designed Fondazione Querini Stampalia. I would hear people speak of it all week as the most poignant in Venice. Like many other shows, it had political content but it also came with feeling—for the underappreciated and underpaid Venetian labor force that makes the lagoon city such a lovely place for tourists like us, represented by way of strange and beautiful objects made from broken bits of old Murano glass.

Traditionally, Tuesday of opening week is the best day to explore the national pavilions in the Giardini without having to face long lines, so I went there first. It’s the day reserved for folk with privileged passes—curators, artists, and collectors like Beth Swofford, who gave support money and somehow toured the entire biennial before lunchtime. That has to be some kind of record. (In three days, I didn’t even see half.)

Much of Sarah Lucas’s British pavilion was painted as cream yellow as her catalogue’s tote bag and the macho, Franz Westian, pretzel-twisted bronze phallus with testicle sacs and legs that stood at the entrance and basically gave the finger to all comers. Inside were plaster life casts of women’s lower torsos—Lucas’s “muses”—sprawling over a deep-freeze here or hugging a toilet there, some with cigarettes in their pupics. Black, octopus-like cats gripped the floor. Lucas isn’t usually given to overstatement, but this was Venice and one biennial where subtlety was more the exception than the rule.

Left: Artist Danh Vo and curator Suzanne Ghez, winner of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. Right: Artist Sarah Lucas.


At the Danish pavilion, Danh Vo’s gift for understated provocation took several forms. One was architectural. Vo had returned the building to its original state by opening up long-covered clerestory windows and removing all artificial lighting. Another had to do with Vo’s love/hate relationship with Catholicism, a religion his father adopted before the family left Vietnam for Denmark.

The walls of one room were covered in a papal carmine silk. (The color derived from parasitic Mexican beetles.) Another room had a “Judas” table by Danish Modern designer Finn Juhl. And if you could read the letters inscribed—backward—on two glass walls by Vo’s calligrapher father, you would see nasty quotes from The Exorcist. The film also gave title to sculptures that were violent mash-ups of things loved and not. (Vo dubbed a seventeenth-century polychromed wooden cherub sprouting nails with the lyrical phrase Your mother sucks cock in Hell.)

As the Giardini filled with people, the word on the street was for Hito Steyerl’s virtual, computer-game video installation in the basement of the German pavilion. It had bots. It had dancing. It had music. It had freedom of choice and the most exhilarating experience of the morning.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot would have liked the trees that moved on little robots around the French pavilion to travel the Giardini paths but didn’t get the go-ahead for that. Too Disney, I guess. Representatives from the Spanish pavilion handed out small comic books of gay life by Francesco Ruiz that culminated in a porno newsstand within. And Pamela Rosenkranz filled the Swiss pavilion with a deep pool of flesh-colored, bubbling liquid that looked both pretty and poisonous.

Left: Dealers Sadie Coles, Max Falkenstein, Simone Battisti, Allyson Spellacy, and Barbara Gladstone. Right: Kunsthalle Basel director Elena Filipovic.


So much for the fun stuff. Call me partial, but I had the most profound experience in Joan Jonas’s legacy exhibition, “They Came to Us Without a Word,” at the American pavilion. In video, drawing, performance, and sculpture, this generous and poetic show is a meditation on, and confrontation with, the threat of extinction. Here is a seventy-nine-year-old artist at the top of her game looking back over the themes of her life and work while passing it on to younger generations. Most moving was a video where Jonas drew on her hooded face, marking time and place and a life in art. It felt all the more poignant in light of the sudden death, on April 29, of Jane Farver, former director of MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, the commissioner of Jonas’s exhibition. (The two had been working together in Venice on the show’s catalogue.)

“It was sad, sad,” she said at the Gritti, where Shane Ackroyd was giving a lunch in honor of both Jonas and Lucas. The sun was shining and the artists were enveloped by friends from London and New York—Gregor Muir, Stefan Kalmár, Kiki Smith, Clarissa Dalrymple, Adam McEwen. It felt just like home, with great risotto.

Meanwhile, over on the Bauer Hotel terrace, the Kurimanzuttos were hosting an even bigger and more international lunch for Durham. I found Kunsthalle Zurich director Daniel Baumann rubbing shoulders with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Koo Jeong A, Martin Hatebur and Peter Handschin, Nairy Baghramian, Eungie Joo, Marina Fokidis, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn—so many people, really, that it was almost hard to comprehend that all over Venice similar lunches were taking place, just with other faces from other lands. Clearly, moving the biennial up a month from its usual place on the art calendar did nothing to discourage anyone from coming. The weather was better than it usually is in June, anyway.

Left: Chisenhale director Polly Staple and dealer Sylvia Kouvali. Right: Artist Christodoulos Panayiotou.


All this time, I had been hearing the same tepid comments about Enwezor’s exhibition. “It has interesting…things,” was the most common refrain. “Too much video,” was another. “I hate it,” came into the mix at the many cocktail parties taking place that evening, along with “unforgiving” and “daring.” At Palazzo Loredŕn Dell’Ambasciatore, where Nicoletta Fiorucci was hosting a bubblicious party for Chisenhale Gallery director Polly Staple, it didn’t even come up. Across the canal, I could see another party for Isaac Julien in progress in the garden of Palazzo Malipiero-Barnabo—so near and yet so far.

Or not. A short time later, at a serene Metro Pictures cocktail on the quay in front of Harry’s Dolci, the first person I saw was Julien. Wasn’t he supposed to be at the other party? “I’m going there now!” he said, leaving the festivities to fellow gallery artists Gary Simmons and David Maljkovic, and dealers Janelle Reiring and Tom Heman.

A little farther down, Maria Baibakova was walking back from Marian Goodman’s party in a magnificent garden hidden behind the Fortuny fabric showroom, where Steve McQueen, Danh Vo, and William Kentridge were enjoying the night air and fine hors-d’oeuvres in the company of collectors from London, Los Angeles, and New York. Water taxis took us back to San Marco, too late for the Simon Denny cocktail at the Danieli. So I did what one does best in Venice. I got lost trying to find a dinner for Pattie Cronin, whose “Shrine for Girls” is one of the fifty-five collateral events attached to the biennial. By the time I found it, the Blain Southern party at the Bauer was underway and the usual chaos at the door made bed seem like the smarter choice. After all, this was only Tuesday.

Left: Artist Kerry James Marshall. Right: “Edge of Chaos” curators Nicola Vassel (left) and Vita Zaman (right) with artist Audra Vao.


Wednesday brought the first official VIP preview of the biennial, though on my way out I found Victoria Miro heading to Julien’s Rolls Royce–commissioned, multiscreened film about the unsung Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, though it appeared to have been shot in an Icelandic cave. Still, it was beautiful.

Once again, I headed to the Giardini, only to be stopped by Sylvia Kouvali, who led me to Christodoulos Panayiotou’s many-layered exhibition in the off-site Cypress pavilion—definitely worth the stop. Heading out, I was waylaid by the sight of Rob Pruitt’s Flea Market, curated by A Plus A gallery’s Tommaso Speretta. Pruitt was in New York preparing for the opening of his show at the Brant Foundation, but a biennial opening week has long legs. Inside the gallery was a beehive of young artists making and selling whimsical works of every description.

I had hoped to check out Denny’s listening-post of a spy operation at the glorious library on San Marco, but it was already time for Barbara Gladstone’s lunch at the Danieli. There, everyone I’d seen in the previous two days landed once again, along with Kunsthalle Basel director Elena Filipovic, Fondation Beyeler director Samuel Keller, dealer Shaun Caley Regen, and artist Thomas Hirschhorn. Was he happy with his placement in Enwezor’s show? “Happy?” he said. “I’m satisfied. Which isn’t the same as happy. But it’s very satisfying.”

Left: Dealer Monica Manzutto. Right: Collector Nadia Samdani with Samdani Art Foundation artistic director Diana Campbell Bettancourt and collector Rajeeb Samdani.


Finally, determined to see what brought me to Venice , I steamed back to the Giardini on foot and dove through the maudlin, torn black canvas bunting that Oscar Murillo draped on the portal of the Central Pavilion. Enwezor’s show began for me with the reinstallation of the evocative corpse of a dead tree, laid to rest by a (now) deceased artist, Robert Smithson. In the red Arena theater, designed (like the rest of the exhibition) by architect David Adjaye, there was a wonderfully lulling Charles Gaines musical performance drawn from his “Notes on Social Justice,” followed by the continuing marathon reading of Das Kapital, the undercurrent of this topical show.

As evidence of human suffering, geopolitics, inequality, and violence to body and soul passed by, I happened on the living—Glenn Ligon and a modest Adrian Piper, soon to be named the winner of the Golden Lion for best artist in the international exhibition. Kerry James Marshall strode through his room of bright new paintings, only a little rattled by the attention he was receiving from people pointing camera phones his way. Suddenly, there was a striding Enwezor. It had all turned out exactly the way he wanted, he said, rushing on. If he was aware of the widespread discontent he was causing, he must have been enjoying it. I imagine that was the goal.

People were talking up Mika Rottenberg’s video installation in the Arsenale. “I might be the only artist who used humor,” she offered from a table at a café as I raced along the canal to dress for evening. It brought yet another Fiorucci party, for Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and the Istanbul Biennial, and official dinners for Jonas and Lucas at almost neighboring (thank God) venues. Palazzo Pisani Moretta was jammed with many of those Americans who funded Jonas’s exhibition, curated by MIT List Art Center director Paul Ha. “I’m not me,” Jonas said. “This isn’t real.”

Left: Artist Nairy Baghramian. Right: LACMA curator Franklin Sirmans and artist Gary Simmons.


Overwhelmed or not, she bravely worked the room, greeting everyone personally, including the man with the bravest face, that of Farver’s widowed husband, John Moore. He was tucked away in a side room with the other bohemians from New York—Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg, dealer Gavin Brown, curator Mark Rosenthal, and Joan Simon, author of a forthcoming Jonas catalogue raisonné to be published by Gregory Miller, who was also present. So was Jason Moran, Jonas’s frequent musical collaborator, who has an installation of his own in Enwezor’s show and will be back in Venice to perform with Jonas in July.

This was almost a state dinner compared with what was going on at Sadie Coles’s vastly looser-limbed party for Lucas at the fashionably decrepit Palazzo Zeno, definitely the go-to celebration of the week. People, including Sheena Wagstaff, Mark Francis, Nicholas Serota, Helen Marten, Katie Holten, Gavin Turk, Dillon Cohen, Bice Curiger, Negar Azimi, Amanda Sharp, and former Frieze Projects curator Nicola Lees (now curator of the Thirty-First Biennial of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana, of all places) were everywhere—in the courtyard, on the stone staircase leading to the dining rooms and many salons, all of them crowded with the flush and the flushed. They picked at food, hugged the bars and each other, wandered up and down, and when the clock struck eleven they took to the dance floor where DJ Pam Hogg kept them on their feet till the wee hours, or longer.

Thursday dawned with a private view of the must-be-seen “New Objectivity,” a continually surprising show of Weimar-era German art at Museo Corer, curated by Stephanie Barron of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (It goes there next.)

I was about to depart for the Arsenale when I realized that “Slip of the Tongue,” the group show that Danh Vo and Caroline Bourgeois had curated for Francois Pinault’s Punta della Dogana, was just across the lagoon. I arrived to find MoMA’s Kathy Halbreich and Stuart Comer already there. The hush was broken by Stefan Simchowitz, who was giving a fast-talking, gobbledygook interview about the art market to a European journalist with a film crew in tow, barely stopping to take in what might be the most substantial and compassionate show in town. “This is everything Okwui’s show should have been,” I heard one person say. “Moral superiority doesn’t leave a lot of room for empathy,” a curator from an American museum replied. Oops.

Left: Curator Emma Lavigne and artist Céleste Boursier Mougenot. Right: Curator Joan Simon and pianist Jason Moran.


Night was approaching and my hopes for the Arsenale were quickly fading. Boats were leaving for the Bruno Bischofberger dinner at Le Stanze del Vetro on San Giorgio island. I could see the crowd from another boat motoring to the private island of the St. Regis San Clemente Palace. That’s where Samdani Art Foundation founders Nadia and Rajeeb Samdami of Bangladesh were honoring biennial artists Naeem Mohaiemen and Raqs Media Collective.

On board were Documenta 14 director Adam Szymczyk, Stedelijk Museum director Beatrix Ruf, Tate Modern director Chris Dercon, Fiorucci Art Trust curator Milovan Farronato, Protocinema founder Mari Spirito, and Delfina Foundation director Aaron Cezar, with a couple of hundred others. The foundation, which supports and promotes South Asian artists, also hosts the Dhaka Art Summit, the 2016 edition of which artistic director Diana Campbell Betancourt announced in an impressive speech given in the almost total dark of the hotel’s elaborate gardens.

After an enormous buffet, and feeling a little woozy from the events of the day, I hopped a boat back to San Marco, hoping to catch Haroon Mirza’s performance during a Sleepless Night at the Bauer, where independent filmmaker Jonas Mekas, ninety-three, was speaking for “The Internet Saga,” a show at Palazzo Foscari Contarini where he is the subject. I missed it all, though I bumped into artist Luigi Ontani as he exited the bar where Mekas gave his talk. “Amazing,” he said.

It wasn’t until I got to dealer Lorcan O’Neill’s ultraglam opening for Tracey Emin in Rome on Saturday that I finally got, to borrow Hirschhorn’s word, a satisfying take on the Arsenale. Before dinner at the Palazzo Taverna—an immense, ornate spread that makes every palazzo in Venice look like a small country cottage—Australian collector Amanda Love weighed in. “It’s great to see the biennial looking like a third-world country again,” she said, “albeit an impeccably curated one. It’s the best in twenty years.”

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Artist Thomas Hirschhorn. Right: Artist Tracey Emin with dealer Lorcan O'Neill.


Sink or Swim

Venice
05.11.15

Left: MoMA director Glenn Lowry with artist Joan Jonas. (Photo: Andrew Durbin) Right: The bridge outside the Prada Foundation.


VENICE IS, OF COURSE, SINKING. In some places, it’s collapsing. Like early last week when the bridge leading to the Prada Foundation buckled, taking down roughly seven wealthy-looking art-goers with it. Photo after photo of the soaked soigné struggling to climb out of the water circulated online. “LOL,” everywhere. Dresses, suits, purses, iPhones were ruined: The Fifty-Sixth Biennale di Venezia—titled “All the World’s Futures”—had arrived.

On Tuesday night, after the Biennale’s limited VIP professional preview, MoMA types joined director Glenn Lowry for a reception honoring Joan Jonas in a twelfth-century palazzo off the Riva San Biagio. Lowry introduced Jonas, who was interrupted mid-thank-yous by her white poodle Ozu, a star of her excellent US pavilion. The loving crowd instantly drew their phones from their pockets to Instagram the moment for all the world’s futures. The self-consciously “timeless” city has an uneasy relationship to the contemporary, despite the ubiquitous selfie sticks—the ware of choice for this edition’s street peddlers. And yet, amid the palazzo’s clutter of antique knickknacks, a lone totem of our century: a CD of Madonna’s Rebel Heart, prominently displayed on a pile of books on the mantel.

Outside, a pale blue suffused the haze. “It’s like there are seven sunsets,” said MoMA curator Stuart Comer on our water taxi back with Paul Ha, the MIT List director who had curated the Jonas pavilion and had been in the city for six weeks. Admiring the sky, I briefly forgot the pricey fervor—I heard more than one person refer to the Biennale as a “fair”—the ominous yachts docked at the Giardini, and the hundreds of receptions for the hundreds of artists in the show. We landed at San Marco, where David Zwirner had organized a dinner at the Metropole and next door, at the Danieli, Galerie Buchholz was hosting a party for the artist Simon Denny.

Left: Dealer Daniel Buchholz. Right: Artist Hito Steyerl with MoMA curator Stuart Comer. (Photos: Andrew Durbin)


Denny, who recently opened an exhibition at MoMA PS1 in New York, is representing New Zealand with a Snowden-focused show split between the Renaissance-era Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana and the Marco Polo airport. Against the library’s old-world, pre-NSA interior, Denny’s dense, brightly lit works, resembling glassy server farms qua corporate presentational cubes, felt alien and distant, chilly reminders of the heavily-surveilled world outside this under-Wi-Fi-ed Water World. The party carried on till midnight, when the hotel shut it down and many split off to their respective Airbnbs. A few others—artists Willem de Rooij and Malik Gaines, dealers Courtney Plummer and Peter Currie—congregated for a late-night carousal at Piccolo Mondo, Venice’s tiny nightclub in Dorsoduro. Guarded by a stout, belligerent owner, for twenty euros the (mostly gay) clientele got a watery Negroni and the best dance music from 2005.

On Wednesday the previews continued, with many in the art-world cortčge complaining about the “piety” of Okwui Enwezor’s Marx-inspired exhibition and the endless lines around the national pavilions. Anchoring the Central Pavilion was the David Adjaye–designed ARENA, which hosted such moving performances as Jason Moran’s STAGED and Charles Gaines’s translations of texts from his series “Notes from Social Justice.” The main event was a live reading, directed by Isaac Julien, of Marx’s Das Kapital, juxtaposed (cheesily) with numerous Marx impersonators wandering the streets of Venice. For those who bravely crossed the crowd to the very back of the Arsenale, Enwezor’s thesis was perhaps most convincingly elaborated in Im Heung-soon’s Silver Lion–winning Factory Complex, a vivid documentary about exploited female laborers in South Korea. In one scene, a woman describes the difficulty of leaving Samsung, which she terrifyingly compares to an ex-lover whom you can’t bring yourself to hate no matter how much they have punished you. A collision of curious and crisscrossed eras, everywhere Venice felt entirely and deliberately out of time: While the art world contemplated the world’s futures, thousands drowned in the Mediterranean, voyaging on the premise of a future—and an escape from a violent present—made perilous by the continent’s widespread and racist social dysfunction.

Left: Moderna Museet codirector Ann-Sofi Noring. Right: Timo Feldhaus and artist Maja Cule.


That night, across the Grand Canal on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice majordomo François Pinault held his superluxe dinner at the Cini Foundation. Several hundred (thousand?) guests in formalwear wandered from buffet station to buffet station enjoying the fresh oysters shucked by specialists flown in for the occasion. FOMO ran high as rumors circulated of a secret event deeper inside that required a second invitation. “What?” shouted a prominent collector as Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani passed her. “A dinner within a dinner?” ICA London director Gregor Muir chuckled at the thought: “That would really do it, wouldn’t it?” After, select partygoers shakily boarded vaporetti and water buses to the Giardini area for Tiffany Zabludowicz’s birthday party on her parent’s “modest” yacht, the Sea Bluez. Rumbling on choppy waters, the boat sent everyone to the couches and chairs near the champagne station or stumbling to the deck above, where talk turned to—what else?—what next: Lido, where a seventy-two-hour party had entered hour forty-eight? The Bauer Hotel? Most tried Piccolo Mondo, which was closed for a German-pavilion party, then quietly drifted home.

On Thursday evening, Marie Karlberg and Lena Henke’s M/L Artspace launched in the off-the-beaten-path Campo Santa Maria Mater Domini with “Please respond—,” a show featuring baggage-claim-friendly works by Nick Mauss, Ken Okiishi, Juan Olivares, and Anna Uddenberg. Upstairs, the Venetian neighbors looked down at the mostly foreign crowd of respondees. One, a nice man, stopped by with his dog, smiled at Uddenberg’s sculpture—half a female torso propped against a suitcase—and promptly returned home. After a seven-hour opening, much of the crowd departed for a party hosted by London’s Anal House Meltdown and the peripatetic Le Baron, where the line to get in wound down the stone street outside the Palazzina G—even before the party began. “What do you think this is? A sample sale?” the doorwoman shouted. Inside, twenty euros bought the (mostly straight) clientele a weak Negroni and the best dance music from 2013. And then, wails from the British in the smoking alley as news broke that the UK had handed Conservatives the majority, ensuring that, at least for now, some futures are on hold.

Andrew Durbin

Future Past

Milan
05.08.15

Left: Miuccia Prada. Right: Artist Wangechi Mutu, dealer Bruna Aickelin, and dealer Suzanne Vielmetter.


ANY GHOSTS FLOATING AROUND contemporary art have a fabulous new piece of real estate to spook. Dubbed the Haunted House by its owners, who sheathed its five stories in twenty-four-karat gold leaf, it’s one of ten buildings on the grounds of a former distillery in Milan that now make up the Prada Foundation. (A new nine-story tower that will house a restaurant and eight floors of exhibition space is still under construction.)

As the first institution dedicated to contemporary art in the city of La Scala and The Last Supper, it’s a game changer. As the fruit of designer-collector Miuccia Prada’s collaboration with architect Rem Koolhaas and OMA, it may be the most elegant private museum in the world—certainly the best that money can buy.

Left: Writer Shumon Basar and architect Cédric Libert. Right: Architect Rem Koolhaas.


Last weekend, Mrs. Prada and her spouse, Patrizio Bertelli, welcomed the president of Italy, billionaire collectors, jet-setting museum directors, the writer Umberto Eco, and artists including Damien Hirst, Wade Guyton, Andreas Gursky, and Goshka Macuga to dinner above the museum’s Wes Anderson–designed café and bar. This party was too exclusive even for me, so all I can talk about is the place.

Tricked out in 1950s-style décor, Anderson’s Bar Luce looks just like a film set, but that may be because the whole two-hundred-thousand-square-foot campus feels just like a movie studio.

Left: Prada Foundation director of programs Astrid Welter. Right: Graphic designer Michael Rock and Prada Foundation publications and research chief Mario Mainetti.


Roman Polanski selected the films unspooling in the museum’s plush two-hundred-seat cinema with a documentary about him. Mrs. Prada personally and permanently installed several works by Robert Gober with two by Louise Bourgeois in the Haunted House, which looks like a mirage above the bleak, industrial landscape outside the compound walls.

“The gold was a way to give value to the mundane,” Koolhaas noted during a May 2 press conference in the cinema. “I also discovered that gold is a very cheap cladding material,” he added with a grin. “And the light on gold changes the whole environment.” Another discovery was what he called “the efficiency of fashion. In eight hours you can make something sublime. For architects to reach the sublime takes eight years.”

Left: Artist Robert Gober and dealer Matthew Marks. Right: Artist Lara Favoretto.


Unusual even for Koolhaas, two opposite walls of the cinema are mirrored on the outside and open like drawbridges to form stages for concerts and other live performances on the outdoor plazas.

“This is the finest cinema in Europe, or maybe anywhere, ” Mrs. Prada whispered to National Portrait Gallery director Nicholas Cullinan, one member of her museum’s five-person Thought Council, an advisory curatorial board. Cullinan made the picks for “In Part,” an exhibition of works from the Prada collection that focuses on close-ups, cropped images, and body parts by artists who include Lucio Fontana, Maurizio Cattelan, Richard Serra, William Copley, and John Baldessari—a disproportionately male lineup barely relieved by the presence of an Eva Hesse and the Bourgeois on view in other buildings.

Left: Tate Modern director Chris Dercon. Right: Jewish Museum director Claudia Gould.


“In Part” complements “Serial Classic,” an exhibition of reproduced classical statuary that imagine how the lost originals might have looked. Salvatore Settis, Italy’s leading expert on antiquities, did the research and got the loans from such places as the Vatican Museum and the archeological museum in Athens. A contemporary art museum seems an odd place for ancient Greek and Roman statuary, even if they are imitations—until you see how far back the idea of repetition and appropriation in art actually goes. (A companion exhibition of similar copies but in miniature, “Portable Classic,” is on view in the foundation’s outpost in Venice.)

“The show,” Settis said, “is here for one purpose: to make people think.” I hate to dispel that lovely notion, but it actually makes people gawk—mostly at Koolhaas’s exhibition design and the severely modern two-story concrete and glass pavilion housing it. Travertine floors, aluminum foam walls, arched doorways, and abundant daylight give the building classical overtones that struck at least one museum director from New York as “fascistic.” But it’s beautiful, so that’s OK. Macuga has the next show in this space. It should be interesting to see what she makes of it.

Left: Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation curator Irene Calderoni. Right: LACMA director Michael Govan with Prada Foundation artistic director Germano Celant and Katharine Ross.


Behind the cinema, where Thomas Demand’s permanently installed Grotto looks right at home in the underground lair beneath it, is the barrel-shaped building of the old distillery. Collectively curated by the current Thought Council—Shumon Basar, Cédric Libert, and Cullinan—its three giant, concrete exhibition rooms have a stunning distillation of another sort, with just one work by Hirst, Pino Pascali, and Hesse in each.

Left: Artist Wade Guyton with Prada CEO and Prada Foundation cofounder Patrizio Bertelli. Right: Artist Thomas Demand


“Introduction” is a very personalized, rhythmically sequenced collection sampler by Germano Celant, the foundation’s longtime director—now its “superintendent of art and science”—and Prada. It embraces the minimal and the magnificent from twenty-five years of collecting, and it reflects Prada’s inimitable design style, which often combines seemingly incompatible elements to perfection.

Left: Serpentine Gallery’s Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist. Right: National Portrait Gallery director Nicholas Cullinan.


Take Barnett Newman’s Onement I—inaccessibly hung on the wall of a roped-off staircase to nowhere on patterned wallpaper of Prada’s own design. The show also includes a fifteenth-century de Medici Studiolo, a Kienholz installation with junked but working radios, and a room with a crazy-quilt salon hang of more than fifty paintings from the 1980s forward. The show ends by opening out to a hangar-like garage with several cars modified by artists such as Elmgreen & Dragset, Sarah Lucas, and Walter de Maria. (Apparently, Prada has been collecting cars for years.)

“I like the free flow of ideas,” the beaming designer said as she toured the show, fussing with this and that as she went. I couldn’t help but ask what would come next. “I’m already thinking,” she said.

Left: Head of publications at Mousse Stefano Cernuschi and artists Christian Holstaad, Michael Elmgreen, and Ingar Dragset. Right: Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo.


Saturday night brought a caravan of collectors and dealers to Turin, where collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo was celebrating her foundation’s twentieth anniversary by honoring Her Excellency Al Mayassa bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the spendthrift director of the Qatar Museums, with the StellaRe Prize. The award acknowledges women whose cultural, political, or economic activities make a difference to contemporary society.

When questioned, Re Rebaudengo defended her choice of awardee by expressing admiration for the Sheikha’s efforts to extend her cultural and educational activities to poor migrant workers in Qatar, despite her family’s suspected support of terrorists. Nonetheless, many in the crowd were uncomfortable, no matter what. Someday, the world will have to come to terms with all of the dirty blood money in the global art market.

Left: Collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and artist Francesco Vezzoli. Right: Dealers Ludovica Barbieri and Flavio del Monte.


People complained privately, because no one wanted to offend the super-generous Re Rabaudengo, all listened in silence to the odd lineup of speakers: Tate director Nicholas Serota, Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani, and Francesco Vezzoli, an artist whose work is yet to appear in the foundation’s collection. He spoke to Sheikha Mayassi’s accomplishments by limning those of the sexually deviant seventeenth-century Queen Christina of Sweden, though the reference might have been too subtle for the audience to catch.

Left: Dealer Massimo De Carlo. Right: Vogue Italia editor in chief Franca Sozzani.


When it was her turn, the personable Sheikha, who was educated at Duke and Harvard, gave a boosterish presentation of her efforts to help migrant Asian laborers—slaves, as many have it—in oil-rich Qatar. She wound it up by claiming that “Women in Qatar have equal status to men.” I found that an extraordinary statement, given that in her next breath, she credited her father, her brother, and her husband for her success.

Next day, back in Milan, where Expo Italia was underway, Massimo De Carlo opened a show of large hand-blown Murano glass vases by Elmgreen & Dragset. They contained beautiful pastel pigments that turned out to be the exact colors of the toxic chemicals in HIV drugs. That set us up for Okwui Enwezor’s politically charged, morally uncompromised, and often unforgiving “All the World’s Futures,” his exhibition for the Fifty-Sixth Venice Biennale, which requires some getting used to. Not everyone attending previews this week had the patience.

Left: Artist Theaster Gates. Right: Artist Isaac Julien and Fiorucci Art Trust founder Nicoletta Fiorucci.


But I’m getting ahead of myself. On Monday, May 4, the night before the Biennale’s first preview, a huge crowd of new arrivals in Venice came to Palazzetto Tito for a show of new paintings by Peter Doig. It included Theaster Gates and Isaac Julien, artists whom Enwezor has included in the Biennale. “I love looking at other people’s paintings,” Gates said. “And this guy is a real painter.”

Everyone liked the show, organized by Fiorucci Art Trust curator Milovan Farronato, and everyone jammed the narrow quay by the canal outside to board waiting water taxis taking them to dinner at Vecchie Carampane. “It’s Venice,” observed former Biennale director Bice Curiger, as she pushed through the crowd. “The ambulatory cocktail party.”

Left: Fiorucci Art Trust curator Milovan Farronato. Right: Collectors Martin Hatebur and Thea Westreich with artist Philippe Parreno and collector Peter Handschin.


Dealer Pilar Corrias provided an alternative with a dinner for Philippe Parreno—another artist in the Biennale—at the gracious Palazzo Persico, the San Polo home of collectors Barbara and Gaetano Maccaferri. I knew on first bite that this was going to be the most delicious meal I would have all week.

Though it seemed that half the art world had gone to the Doig dinner, the company here was primo too, and equally underscored the international character of the Biennale experience. Gathered around the buffet table were Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum; artists Rirkrit Tiravanija, Luigi Ontani, Koo Jeong A, and Carsten Höller; collectors Maja Hoffman, Ethan Wagner and Thea Westreich; the ubiquitous Serpentine Gallery cocurators Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist; and Pinault Collection curator Caroline Bourgeois.

Left: Tate Modern director Chris Dercon with Ullens Center director Phillip Tinari and Samdani Art Foundation artistic director Diana Campbell Betancourt. Right: Pinault Collection curator Caroline Bourgeois and Bard CCS director Tom Eccles.


Bourgeois was riding high on “Slip of the Tongue,” the group exhibition she has done with artist Danh Vo at the Punta della Dogana—the best that venue has ever seen, and one that counters Enwezor’s more morbid show with sensitivity and much needed sensuality.

After all, Venice is a romantic city, a labyrinth where getting lost is an exercise of the spirit. There’s no better, or more conflicted, place for art, its national politics, and its driving principles, all of which this Biennale is bringing to the surface. As MoMA director Glenn Lowry said of the Dogana show, “It’s complicated.”

Left: Artist Peter Fischli and Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum. Right: Art producer Asad Raza and collector Maja Hoffman.


Linda Yablonsky

Weekend Update

Berlin
05.03.15

Left: Dealers Daniel Buchholz and Alexander Schroeder. Right: Dealer Gerd Harry Lybke with Berlin Nationalgalerie director Udo Kittelmann and artist Martin Eder.


UPDATE FROM BERLIN: Klara Liden is still making punk art, developing a practice that began with smashing bicycles and evolved into architectural interventions. Laura Owens has incorporated text into her polite paintings—in the form of an apocalyptic death note. Cyprien Gaillard debuted a 3-D film that’s like Bill Viola gone major motion picture. Merlin Carpenter has begun a polemic about why the readymade really has nothing to do with fetishistic consumer value. (Take that, Koons!) The essay is due out next month. For now, see his show, which includes several identical objects—a pram, a fridge, a motorcycle, a spin table—sleek and ironic as ever. I text an image to a friend in New York: “Alex Israel? Props?”

I land in Berlin on Wednesday just past 8 AM and spot dealer Alex Zachary in customs. He’s arriving in time to see Isa Genzken, who’s just finished casting several young male models to catwalk jackets she designed in the 1980s (think flowers, ruffles, and chains) at her opening at Galerie Buchholz the following evening. I’m just in time to meet Galerie Neu’s Alexander Schroeder, one of the founders of Gallery Weekend Berlin twelve years ago, at a café in Charlottenberg. But first Zachary and I share a cab, dropping me at Bikini Hotel, 25 Hours—the city’s latest hip hotel—which overlooks the zoo. “Willkommen,” the receptionist says, then switches to English. “Your room is not ready, but you’re welcome to take a sauna and watch the monkeys.”

Each year, Gallery Weekend coincides with International Workers’ Day, which in Berlin has become something like a hard-core version of the Love Parade. I ask Schroeder what the Workers of the World were uniting for this time and he shrugs. “I don’t know, gentrification?”

Left: Artist and Schinkel Pavilion director Nina Pohl with BQ Gallery dealer Jörn Bötnagel. Right: Artist Timur Si-Qin.


“They shoot off water cannons—water cannons,” adds Carpenter, a genuine self-described Marxist, as he slouches against the wall of MD72, Galerie Neu’s second space.

Gentrification is already an animating principle of Berlin life, but it’s really salient at the Weekend’s Saturday night gala at the Kronprinzenpalais on Unter den Linden—now converted into a post-GDR event space—soon to be joined by a replica of the Kaiser’s city palace. It’s like Disneyland, except newer and more expensive and less fun. Artist and Schinkel Pavilion director Nina Pohl (in Saint Laurent knee-high boots—without a doubt the most elegant woman I see in Berlin) tells me at the welcome ceremony that Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, has been recruited to figure out what to do with the space, which was built without a function.

Manuel Miseur of Galerie Johnen appears and kisses Pohl on the cheek. “We’re merging with Esther Schipper,” he shares. “Imagine Pierre Huyghe, Ugo Rondinone, and Thomas Demand with Hans Peter Feldmann, Tino Seghal, Martin Creed, Thomas Ruff—it will be such a stable.”

Left: Dis cofounder Marco Roso and director of PRAXES Rhea Dall. Right: Artist Daniel Keller, dealer Amadeo Kaupa Tuskany, and Eleonore Hugendubel.


A new addition to another stable: Brazilian artist Renata Lucas at Neugerriemschneider—which happily, adding spirit of the weekend, means the Mendes Wood team, who also represents her, has hit Berlin full throttle. Lucas installed a fountain outside the gallery. Inside is entirely empty save black-polished pavement and a single, circular drain. Another new artist, at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Daniel Keller presents an exhibition based on a recent Texte zur Kunst essay about different structures for marriage—namely an LLC. He materialized the concept via four bioreactors bubbling with spirulina. “They’re single-cell asexual beings—no desire, no structure just growth,” says the artist. Wedding rings were strung across tubing connecting each to the other. And Sanya Kantarovsky has brought together a group of young painters at Tanya Leighton in a poised presentation that speaks, if anything, to the level of sensitivity and sophistication among emerging artists.

Left: Blau editor Cornelius Tittel, dealer Johann König, and Monopol editor Sebastien Frenzel. Right: Adviser Heather Flow with dealers Daniel Wichelhaus and Ales Ortzuar.


At the Owens exhibition, a strict no-photo policy is enforced. The paintings are fully installed, but Owens has not signed off—this is an artist who works until the twelfth hour, adding a spot of color, moving a canvas just so. 

Owens walks in. “Laura,” I wave. “Can you tell me about the text in the works? It’s the first time you’ve used text in your paintings?”

She gives me a deadpan look and says nothing. I press on: “It seems a loaded choice, considering it details aliens and cats finding eleven million bombs and destroying the earth. It’s a little—”

“Dark?” she answers and mutters something about being late to St. Agnes, an old church Johann König has used as a project space for several years, and which he has just renovated into a gallery that reads Rothko Chapel circa 2015. The association is doubled by Katharina Grosse’s enormous abstractions, spectacular and garish in the best sense of the word.

Left: Bloomberg reporter James Tarmy and dealer Alexander Hertling. Right: Kunsthalle Basel director Elena Filipovic (center).


Friday night in Berlin—Grille Royale, known for seventy-two-euro steaks and an upscale art-meets-fashion-meets-society crowd. (“It’s the place you don’t go to when you’re in Berlin,” Société’s Daniel Wichelhaus informs me. “Everyone is watching for everyone else.”) That night it hosts dinners for Liden, Gaillard, and Owens. Sadie Coles, Beatrix Ruf, Eva Presenhuber, Marc Spiegler, Isabelle Graw, Yngve Holen, Ida Ekblad, Matias Faldbakken, Richard Chang, Karl Holmqvist, Klaus Biesenbach, Glenn Lowry—a zoo indeed. The dinners eventually congeal into one, spilling into a paneled back room filled with photographs of naked young girls by David Hamilton. Gaillard was billed to DJ, but in a stunning act of persuasion convinced techno legend Moritz von Oswald to play instead. Oswald rarely performs. Even Philomene Magers takes to the floor—and the crowd, in the words of Graw, is “jeunesse dorée.”

The next day brought Neďl Beloufa and Gretchen Bender to the Schinkel Pavilion, the latter presenting Total Recall, 1987, a work that vivifies her conviction that society and technology are inextricably bound. Installed in a dank, cavernous room, the work felt more contemporary and radical than most artistic output being made today. Across town, the same applied to Genzken, who presented a slim, sinuous sculpture made in 1980, which was conceived via a computer the size of a small bedroom and which possesses the poetics of an Anne Truitt.

At the gala the next evening, Marco Roso, Dis cofounder and cocurator of the forthcoming Berlin Biennale, and I sit and discuss the readymade, the replication of capitalist systems, the capacities of art as a political tool. “Replication creates confusion. We’d sell work in Bed Bath & Beyond in an instant. You know, Putin’s right-hand man is a conceptual artist.” He has a gracious smile and a sensible mien. The table begins to debate the merits of open relationships. Conclusion: Go for it.

Left: Dealer Manuel Miseur and Bureau N founder Silke Neumann. Right: Dealer Mickey Schubert.


Across the table, Kunsthalle Basel director Elena Filipovic talks politics of fundraising and policy for cash-poor institutions. Her solo exhibition with Anicka Yi opens during Art Basel this June. As part of the show, Yi will also sell a limited-edition book, each page dipped in the scent of “forgetting”—the book is to be burned after reading. Upstairs, the castle, again, is the center of conversation.

“I think it’s quite nice,” says Bloomberg reporter James Tarmy. “It took Germany one hundred years to conquer Europe but they’ve finally done it. They might as well celebrate in the worst possible way.”

The Germans exchange nervous glances. “He’s American,” I break in. “Sarcasm!”

Nearing 2 AM, Pohl and I are leaning against the stately windows of the GDR banquet hall sipping drinks out of delicate crystal glasses when Fondation Beyeler director Samuel Keller and artist Andreas Gursky suggest Watergate, a premiere techno club. We shake our heads—“We continue in Venice,” she smiles. From afar, the party slightly evokes a corporate Christmas party, with so many men in business suits, made eerie by the place’s history. But any association is trumped by the energy from der Harte kern. I leave for my hotel on the zoo but am told the room stayed full until 5 AM.

Allese Thomson