Dream a Little Dream

New York
06.30.15

The Just Alap Raga Ensemble performing Raga Darbari, Dia 15 VI 13 545 West 22 Street Dream House. Jung Hee Choi, La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, voices; Naren Budhkar, tabla. (Photo: Jung Hee Choi)


PROHIBITED FROM SPEAKING, applauding, taking photographs, making recordings, eating, drinking, or—in observance of a traditional Indian custom—pointing their feet in the direction of the performers, the crowd at the first of three concerts of raga darbari (a variant on the Indian classical form) given by minimalist pioneer LaMonte Young and his Just Alap Raga Ensemble at the Dia Center’s Twenty-Second Street Chelsea digs on a recent Friday evening was never going to start much of a party. Fortunately, the 150-odd studious attendees seemed perfectly content with the demands imposed on them, happy to keep a lid on it in the interest of witnessing a rare live appearance by the legendary seventy-nine-year-old composer and musician, his wife and collaborator Marian Zazeela, and their disciples Jung Hee Choi and Naren Budhkar.

Presented to mark the Dia’s acquisition of a new version of Young and Zazeela’s sound-and-light environment Dream House, incarnations of which have been on display at various sites in the United States and Europe more or less continuously since its premier incarnation at Munich’s Heiner Friedrich Gallery in 1969, the performance was framed as a tribute to the late Hindustani classical singer and teacher Pandit Pran Nath, whose perfection of the slowly unfolding unmetered section of the raga known as alap was a key influence on Young’s fascination with extended drones. Entering the wide white-carpeted space—which made the Dream House’s longtime walk-up digs on Church Street feel distinctly (albeit charmingly) poky by comparison—we were directed to remove our shoes, silence our phones, and take a program.

La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, and Jung Hee Choi, Dia 15 VI 13 545 West 22 Street Dream House, installation view. (Photo: Jung Hee Choi)


The last, unreadable under the conditions produced by Zazeela’s rose-tinted light-and-sculpture works and Choi’s large pinprick “light drawing,” goes into exhaustive detail on the historical and technical aspects of Young and company’s respective and collective oeuvres. It’s a fascinating but sometimes opaque document, and not one to flip through in situ. Filing it away for the ride home, I took up a spot just behind a rope that defined the performance area (no stage, just a simple rug equipped with a few flat cushions, a black balance ball, and Budhkar’s tabla), aimed for the lotus position, came up a bit short, and waited. A tambura whine emanated continuously from three large white-clad speaker stacks, and time began to melt pleasantly away.

After a good fifteen or twenty minutes, a shadowy group of figures made its way slowly, very slowly, from a side door into the arena. With infinite patience, the members helped one another settle into their designated spots, exchanged a few whispered words, and ingested something (acid? Tic Tacs? Fisherman’s Friend?) invisible to all but themselves. Budhkar spent some time tuning his tablas before sitting back in meditative silence. Young, imposing, white-bearded, cane-wielding, and clad in black robe, hat, and long gloves, gave a signal and began a gentle ululation. Rather than taking the place of the tambura, his voice and those of his band members joined it to produce an ecstatic “cloud” of two- and three-part harmonies that gained in intensity over the course of perhaps half an hour, the vocalists taking turns to improvise.

As the room became spiced with incense and the crowd settled in for the long haul, the quartet embarked on a second piece, this one featuring Budhkar’s exquisitely restrained no-frills drumming. While Zazeela looked oddly pained from time to time, Young retained a tranquil appearance throughout. Some audience members were flat on their backs by this point. I closed my eyes for a bit, opened them, shifted position, closed them again. The music seemed to phase in and out. My mind went to some unusual places. I may have drifted off for a bit. Then I opened my eyes and the musicians were gone. No, not quite gone—there they were, they were still making their way back to the stage door, jobs exquisitely done.

Michael Wilson

Making a Scene

Prague
06.29.15

Left: Daniel Herman, minister of culture of the Czech Republic and Pavla Petrová, director of the Prague Quadrennial, with the Poľana Choir from Jarabina. Right: Prague Quadrennial artistic director Sodja Zupanc Lotker. (All photos: Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva)


COINCIDING WITH THE FINAL WEEKEND of Art Basel, the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space took over the Czech city’s historic center. Organized around the three themes of Music, Weather, and Politics, the thirteenth edition focused on the “social function” of scenography, and featured more than sixty participating countries, with street performances, talks, exhibitions in Baroque interiors, sound walks, and boat rides down the Vltava River. There were easily as many perspectives as there were nations. “The world is not global as everyone is trying to tell us. It’s local,” said Sodja Zupanc Lotker, the quadrennial’s artistic director. “And for me, that’s good news.”

At the opening ceremony in Prague’s Old Town Square, four massive Fiat Ducatos rolled in with the Berg Orchestra and the Polana Choir from Jarabina, entertaining the gathered audience and passersby with a short, blaring concert of gypsy jazz and female folk polyphonies before driving off with Czech minister of culture Daniel Herman—who allowed the festival to use Kafka’s house rent-free—and the quadrennial’s director, Pavla Petrová. I met with Hong Kong–based curator Allan Shek Pang Tsui and the rest of his team. He talked about Hong Kong’s first participation in 1995, how they missed the 2003 edition because of SARS, and their love for the festival’s openness. Though he emphasized that the recent Umbrella Movement wasn’t part of their focus, I still caught allusions to it in their national pavilion.

Left: Sigurđur Guđmundsson and Makers exhibition commissioner Rebekka A. Ingimundardóttir. Right: Hong Kong team including stage designer Law Kwok Ho and curator Allan Tsui Shek Pang.


The shows varied in quality, and some were downright disappointing—though isn’t that the risk and pleasure of theater? “All of this is happening today?!” and “Where is [yet another event here]?” were questions I heard hourly from confused visitors, and indeed which I often expressed myself. But we all tried to take the confusion in stride, and roaming around this gem of a city in search of the quadrennial’s signature red banners and blue wooden chairs became a performative experience in itself. At the Clam-Gallas, an eighteenth-century palace off Husova Street, the main stairway was taken over by an installation of smiling skeletons by the Norwegian set designer Signe Becker. Upstairs, the United Kingdom projected a mélange of stage productions from years past. “It echoes the wallpaper that used to cover these rooms,” said theater designer Kate Burnett, pointing at the DVD menu page projected on the wall, which was festooned with paintings. Judging by the hypnotized looks of those seated on the floor, it worked. Latvia’s contribution, designed by Vladislav Nastavshev in a small room of Kafka’s house, featured a tense performer hanging by her waist from a wooden plank. At the Colloredo-Mansfeld palace, another eighteenth-century pile located opposite the Charles Bridge, one room had ice blocks hung from the ceiling in a sound installation by Finish artist Antti Mäkela. “Can you hear it?” asked curator Maiju Loukola, passing her hands under the dripping cubes.

Part industry mixer, part student event—sometimes it felt like queuing with fans for the musical Rent—the program officially opened to the public on Thursday. I was offered coffee by the greeter for the “Makers Exhibition,” a series of live “food and dining experiences” held in the Bethlehem Chapel Gallery, where some artists moonlighted as chefs as they developed and shared their epicurean concepts with visitors. There was France and Cyprus’s obscure channeling of Sartre’s No Exit and a lively cooking show by Icelandic artist Thorunn S. Thorgrimsdottir demonstrating a traditional receipe involving sheep head, but made vegetarian, as the artists weren’t allowed to cook meat in the venue. The coffee was divine, though. My scenic enthusiasm was restored by the invigorating, immersive four-channel video installation Glastonbury: Land and Legend, curated by the Victoria & Albert’s Kate Bailey across the street at Galerie Jaroslav Fragner.

Left: Choregrapher Po-Cheng Tsai with dancers Chiung-Tai Huang and Sheng-Hu Chang from Taiwan. Right: Polish scenographer Jerzy Gurawski talking to the crowd through Skype.


“If it weren’t for this room, they would have torn this place down already. Amadeus was filmed here,” I was told while back in a hall of the Colloredo-Mansfeld palace, where many SRO talks were held. I managed to catch some highlights, including Bianca Casady’s poems about dusty chandeliers and early-childhood synesthesia. She passed around her hat, into which we were encouraged to drop questions. “What’s with the feathers?” one paper read. “I guess I am attracted to things that are a little dirty,” she smiled. There was also a laborious Skype talk with Jerzy Gurawski, the revolutionary Polish scenographer who mixed spectators and sweaty actors in his unconventional stagings of the 1960s.

On Friday, Taiwan hosted a party celebrating Taipei’s hosting of the 2017 World Stage Design festival. The fete took place in a lackluster conference room of the Jalta hotel, though it did feature the best performance of the week: a sultry and elegant piece of choreography by Po-Cheng Tsai. Things were really beginning to heat up, and by the time I left Prague, I heard that people were arriving three hours early to the talk featuring Canadian polymath Robert Lepage. Altogether, it was Austrian curator Vero Schürr, in conversation with dramaturge Tom Sellar, who summed it up for me. “What makes a powerful experience is one that you remember, or one that actually changes behavior.” I don’t know about the latter, but certainly this unusual and generous exhibition made me feel like a student again.

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Dirty Dancing

Basel
06.22.15

Left: Artist Bunny Rogers and dealer Daniel Wichelhaus. Right Dealer Olivier Babin (left). (All photos: Allese Thomson)


“IT’S IMPORTANT that people keep the world dirty,” said dealer Olivier Babin last Thursday as he scanned a dark dance floor covered in broken glass. Many were soaked in sweat. A group of men stripped off their shirts. Lean bodies pressed against each other. There had been just one invitation to this party, a red-and-black animated GIF that eight galleries (Isabella Bortolozzi, Greene Naftali, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Mathew, Real Fine Art, dépendance, 47 Canal, High Art) had e-mailed to a select group. Galcher Lustwerk, Bianca Heuser, and Spencer Sweeney were set to DJ, though Sweeney, wearing a vintage NASA baseball cap, sat it out. (The Plaza Dance Club near the Messeplatz, where the party was held, wouldn’t allow him to install his turntables.) Those sweaty bodies mouthed all the words to Drake and Crystal Waters and Lil’ Kim and, around 4 AM, Meredith Brooks’s “Bitch,” and as the night and then the morning wore on, the mirrored walls began to moisten with condensed perspiration.

A cleaner sort of party: a Dieter Roth bar erected at Les Trois Rois for the run of Art Basel. In this opulent setting, the original structure seemed like something from the Pirates of the Caribbean, or an advertisement for Hauser & Wirth. David Zwirner and Larry Gagosian were less than pleased, I heard; they host dinners there too. Every night, there was a red carpet, velvet rope, and bouncers in slick black suits. A Saudi socialite had a birthday party. Mark Ronson was flown in to DJ. Leonardo DiCaprio, Christie’s Loic Gouzer, and the Mugrabis drank cocktails on its white-tented terrace.

Left: Artist Anicka Yi (left) and adviser Rob Teeters (center). Right: Dealer Meret Kaufman and artist Sanya Kantarovsky.


There’s a myth that people who work in art begin their lives as misfits and eventually make a world with one another. It’s an idea that feels increasingly at odds with reality. But on Tuesday, the second day of Art Basel, I met Bunny Rogers. She wore a purple ribbon in her hair. Her work brushes against and exaggerates our youthful affects and obsessions. With the Berlin gallery Société at Art Basel Statements, she debuted stones and medallions engraved with cartoon-like images and Carson McCullers poems, mining basic cultural tropes to render a portrait of the present. People came and went, often noting that, along with Avery Singer’s monochromatic paintings that cash in on digital exhaustion and bohemian nostalgia, Rogers’s was the best work at the fair.

“I didn’t think anyone I knew would come,” she whispered outside her packed dinner that night, which spilled from Schnabel restaurant onto a narrow cobblestone street. A waiter tripped and a wineglass shattered. “Make a wish,” Rogers said, reaching for my hand and closing her disarming blue eyes.

“What did you wish for?” someone asked.

“Not to be panicked,” she answered.

“Me too,” chimed another.

Left: Dealer David Lieske. Right: Artists Calvin Marcus and Chadwick Rattaten.


Several dinners (kurimanzutto and Chantal Crousel, Clearing and Essex Street, Standard [Oslo]) and many hours later, artist Anicka Yi and adviser Eleanor Cayre followed dealers Daniel Buchholz, Peter Currie, Amy Greenspon, Bianca Heuser, and Daniel Wichelhaus across an old stone bridge. The river was black and the moon half there. People were drunk and alive, eager to arrive at a tiny bar with an inconspicuous back door that led through a kitchen, down a staircase, and to a dungeonesque dance floor, sweaty and fiery as hell. (A party, we were later told, for the French tattoo magazine Sang Bleu.)

Rogers materialized out of the crowd and placed her hands over Yi’s shoulders. “I love your work so much,” she said. Yi kissed her on the cheek. Yi’s show “7,070,430K of Digital Spit” at the Kunsthalle Basel, curated by Elena Filipovic, was on everyone’s lips—an exhibition about forgetting, as if memory is something that must be lost. That same night, hundreds had attended a book launch for a limited-edition catalogue. Yi instructs that it be burned after reading. “Imagine the ashes,” said one as we watched people swim in the Rhine. “The air would be black with soot.”

The next evening there was a dinner at Restaurant zum Goldenen Fass to celebrate Avery Singer. Her immersive painting environment for Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler at Art Statements took as much from the Rockefeller Dining Room as the Room of Chiaroscuro and Gallery of Tapestries in the Vatican. Singer told me that she began with the banal—a rabbit, a vape, some numbers: “It gave me the ability not to have confines, to expand into the world.” She spent four months making the panels. It was a uniquely intimate evening, and when Amadeo Kraupa-Tuskany stood in the room surrounded by flickering candlelight, his toast felt less like a speech than a story. “Every one of you has been in some way a part of this. We are so lucky to have you.”

Left: Artist Max Hooper Schneider. Right: Dealer Jeffrey Rowledge, Chisenhale director Polly Staple, MoMA curator Stuart Comer, and artist Helen Marten.


“It’s so crowded you can barely move,” a collector had said minutes after Monday’s 11 AM opening for the twentieth edition of Liste, in the familiar former brewery on Burgweg. We were on the third floor, inside a room that included Real Fine Arts, Mathew, and High Art, the last debuting tanks by Max Hooper Schneider, green neon and fauna submerged in dark water—Pierre Huyghe gone Pop. (Schneider is Huyghe’s studio assistant.) Collectors and advisers buzzed around the artist, who leaned against a wall drinking beer in a leather jacket and dark sunglasses. Past the balcony, one could find Sam Pulitzer’s careful drawings of apocalyptic scenes, eggs, and rabbits at Mexico City’s Gaga. Two floors below, Derya Demir of Galeri NON Istanbul sold a group of eager collectors on earthy textiles by Günes Terkol, while around the corner Supportico Lopez showed a screen by Charlie Billingham, fat Marie Antoinette–like characters splashing wine, roiling in flesh. Crib-like wooden cages and doll-size houses lit in purple LEDs were positioned in an adjacent dark room, microcosms of angst and desire—Calvin Marcus at Clearing.

The stairwell was a social obstacle course, but well worth the run knowing you could find Mickey Schubert on the ground floor, showing Benedicte Gyldenstierne Sehested, who brought similar work to that which had featured in his unnerving exhibition in Berlin earlier this spring, dolls that owe as much to Cindy Sherman as they do to Hans Bellmer. Dublin’s Mother’s Tankstation had winsome wool works embroidered with glass seed beads by Australian artist Alasdair McLuckie, and Pentti Monkkonen won new fans with his Dandelion Lamps at the Geneva-based gallery Truth and Consequences. Descending further into the inferno, works by the artistic/curatorial/editorial collective DIS were on sale for the first time at Project Native Informant in the basement. Dealer Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja shared that all five editions of their installation from “Surround Audience,” the recent New Museum Triennial, had sold.

Left: Dealers Stefania Palumbo and Gigiotto del Vecchio. Right: Dealer Derya Demir.


Later that night, the restaurant Birseckerhof was overrun by galleries celebrating Art Unlimited artists John Knight, Wu Tsang, Ed Atkins, Helen Marten, and Leigh Ledare. Seating went to the wind and everyone moved from chair to chair, even stepping over tables to kiss each other hello. “To Art Basel!” a group on a banquette yelled, raising glasses of red wine into the air. I slipped out and made my way to the other side of the river for a more formal fete hosted by Massimo De Carlo and Michele Maccarone for Nate Lowman, Tony Lewis, and John Armleder. Lowman wore sweatpants. Peter Brant wore a suit. It looked new. “I’ve noticed his wardrobe has gotten quite nice since Rob Pruitt sold all his clothes,” said a friend.

“So often today the subject and the spectacle get mixed up, and you can’t tell which is which,” John Knight said at Art Unlimited, noting the conviction in installations by Atkins, Bruce Nauman, and Dan Flavin. He ran his hand across one of the works in his Worldebt, a project from 1994 that includes 165 slightly oversize credit cards printed with an image of the IMF and World Bank’s member nations (Angola, Chad, Mauritania, Qatar, the US). Instead of an account number there is a telephone number for a fraud and corruption hotline. Outside, Knight exhibited posters on the convention center walls mimicking Apple’s spotless advertisements for the iPhone—the design seamless, obsessively clean.

“The problem is when artists make work that wants to be spectacular and vulgar,” Knight said as he turned to leave, “but take that quality as an end in itself.”

Allese Thomson

Left: Dealers Marta Fontolan and Margherita Belaief. Right: Dealer Peter Currie and dealer and DJ Bianca Heuser.


Rite of Way

Basel
06.20.15

Left: Hirshhorn Museum director Melissa Chiu with Art Unlimited curator Gianni Jetzer. Right: Artist Tracey Emin and dealer Xavier Hufkens.


ART BASEL is code for ritual behavior: nightly revels in the bars of the Kuntshalle and Trois Rois, daily treks to the Schaulager and the Beyeler, deliberate runs for the Messeplatz or an ATM. In between, meetings, meetings, meetings. Lunches. Dinners. Drinks. It’s seductive, and necessary. Almost pagan.

Last Monday, returning pilgrims arrived in the rainy Swiss city for Art Unlimited, the kickoff for the mighty fair’s forty-sixth edition. Just inside the entrance, the bearded German artist Julius von Bismarck sat at a school desk on a giant, speedily revolving concave dish of concrete, reading a book and trusting centrifugal force to keep him in place.

A metaphor for a market spinning out of control? Too obvious. But spectacle is the DNA of Unlimited, where curator Gianni Jetzer scheduled several live acts for opening night. Kader Attia smashed the sixteen glass vitrines he’d made to memorialize the Arab Spring, the British singer Ghostpoet (Obaro Ejimiwe) picked up a mic on the platform stage installed by Gary Simmons, and eighty-three-year-old Franz Erhard Walther performed a union of art and artist by climbing into yellow trench coats that he lifted from a huge fabric wall work of the same color.

Left: Art Parcours curator Florence Derieux and Swiss Institute director Simon Castets. Right: Kuntshalle Basel director Elena Filipovic and artist Leigh Ledare.


All of this activity was window dressing for an uneven show of seventy-four grandstanding displays. Some carried actual grandeur, like Sturtevant’s version of a Félix González-Torres candy carpet—in electric blue—and a tour-de-force installation of 106 gray monochromes by Marcia Hafif, no two alike and never seen together before.

“Unlimited’s really good this year,” I heard people say again and again. It had emotional painting—sixty-five from Jakub Julian Ziólkowski alone. It had a lot of film. And it had Italians. “We’re coming back!” exulted the Milanese dealer Gió Marconi, noting the presence of vintage works by Dadamaino, Gianni Colombo, and the Greek-born Arte Povera-ist Jannis Kounellis. Sound was a big factor too, not just on Simmons’s stage but in the vocals wafting through the hall from Shilpa Gupta’s meteor of microphones, from the Tinguely-like instruments that Pedro Reyes made from the confiscated weapons of Mexican drug lords, and from the viewing room where Jacob Kassay made a Cagean marriage from an unspooling projector and a film of a stationary helicopter’s rotating blades.

Generally, though, the opening was a good chance for dealers, clients, and curators to reconnect after the monthlong vacuum between the opening of the Venice Biennale and the fair, an eternity for some. The evening’s dinners further closed the gap. The Gagosian and Zwirner galleries each hosted independent parties, but Blum & Poe, Sadie Coles, Gavin Brown, the Modern Institute, Johann König, Andrew Kreps, Franco Noero, and Anton Kern all joined forces for a convivial feast in the ornate Safran Zunft, a fifteenth-century building that once served merchants of another sort, the spice traders of Basel.

Left: Dealers Chrissie Erpf and Larry Gagosian. Right: Collector Poju Zabludowicz, dealer Iwan Wirth, collector Anita Zabludowicz, and dealer Paul Schimmel. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)


The fair opened the next morning to so many early-entry VIPs—nine thousand, I heard—that it seemed as if the usual politics of exclusion had given way to a new egalitarianism. Was there anyone in the art world who wasn’t there?

Actually, yes! American collectors. Only a handful showed up, but the 284 galleries admitted to the fair hardly noticed. On the ground floor, consumers flew like swallows to museum-level works returning to market. “We were sold out in the first fifteen minutes,” one dealer told me. Aisles became impassable and gallery stands were so crowded that it was hard to see the art. It sold hand over fist, but in Basel it always does.

“I think the weather is keeping everyone inside,” offered Paula Cooper Gallery director Alexis Johnson. “It’s all about Albert Oehlen,” said Berlin dealer Max Hetzler of his brisk trade in the artist’s paintings. “There are a lot of new kids in here,” noted April Street, the artist on the arm of curator Philip Kaiser. Recent graduates of Sotheby’s Institute of art advisers, perhaps, or children of collecting families out on dates. Larry Gagosian’s booth was so packed that I couldn’t get in. Nor could the dealer, who sat it out on a bench. “I pop up now and then,” he said.

Dealers like Zwirner would rehang their booths with fresh material every day. Not John Cheim. “I think it’s gross to change the booth,” he said from his own bench, after selling most of his stock. “I like people to see the work.”

Left: Dealer Lisa Spellman, artist Jacob Kassay, and dealer Katy Erdman. Right: Stedelijk Museum director Beatrix Ruf.


They stepped over it upstairs at Gavin Brown’s spacious stand, where the floor was covered in colorful area rugs by Martin Creed. Browsers nearly smothered the new marble Paul McCarthy sculpture—sold for $2.8 mil—at Hauser & Wirth, where a newly svelte Paul Schimmel served chocolates as well as art to the entire Zabludowicz clan, and cosplay geishas that Takashi Murakami had brought from Tokyo gave out candies to help advertise his forthcoming exhibitions in Japanese museums, where his work doesn’t often land. “I love it here!” an elated Andrea Rosen exclaimed. “You get to talk about art all day. What could be better?”

Maybe hearing an artist talk about it. That evening, it was Tino Sehgal’s turn in the Credit Suisse–sponsored, Richard Chang/Daphne Guinness–hosted hot seat for a conversation with Tina Brown. With the Kunstmuseum closed for renovations, an audience that included Marian Goodman, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Julia Stoschek, Art Binder creator Alexandra Chemla, Design Miami Basel director Rodman Primack, Andreas Gursky, Liza Lou, Beatrix Ruf, and that crack interviewer Hans Ulrich Obrist filed into the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, hoping for fireworks.

In past years, Brown’s softball questions have dulled many a sharp edge. This time Sehgal took passive-aggressive command. After describing him as an economist, she asked how anyone could tell that any of his constructed situations was art. “It’s not my business to decide,” he replied, before extolling the invention of soap as “one of the great achievements of the West.” The other—apparently there were only two—was the concept of opening hours as the tool of public assembly. Museums can gather millions during the time they’re open. Nations can’t do that, Sehgal said. Nor can theater, where people must show up at a precise time. “That’s an appointment,” he said. Brown took that as her cue to end the interview at twenty minutes in by saying they had an appointment with dinner.

Meanwhile, on the party boat Das Schiff, Emmanuel Perrotin was hosting a dinner for Murakami. AaRON was to perform there at 10:30, but by that time I was jammed into the Roth Bar at the Trois Rois, where Iwan Wirth was hosting a buffet dinner.

Left: Dealers Paula Cooper and Alexis Johnson. Right: Dealer Jeff Poe


One guest was the film producer Sybil Robson Orr, from whom I learned something: that the three-year-old Crystal Bridges Museum built by her cousin, the Walmart heiress Alice Walton, is now the second most popular in America, after the Met. “The whole family is really into it,” Orr said, as heirs to other fortunes, Peter Brant Jr., and Tiffany Zabludowicz, headed to the basement cigar room, where Leonardo DiCaprio was secluded with Gagosian.

Yet Basel does not seem in danger of becoming another Miami. For one thing, it’s too Swiss. Very insular. Take the lunch in the garden of Volkshaus Basel on Wednesday—the one day of the week warmed by sunshine—that the Swiss Institute gave for Swiss dealers, Swiss collectors, Pamela Rosenkranz (the Swiss artist representing Switzerland in Venice), and many of the twenty-six artists that Florence Derieux selected for the last and best of her three turns as curator of Art Parcours, perfectly matching artist and site.

Piero Golia installed a working guillotine in the Basel town hall. Nate Lowman planted three rows of big metal crosses made from parts of NYPD tow trucks in front of the medieval cathedral on the Münsterplatz. (The land, Lowman discovered, had once been a cemetery.) Davide Balula worked with New York pastry chef Daniel Burns to develop ice cream flavors that captured the essence of paintings he made with the help of dirt, smoke, burnt wood, and river water. “Ew,” Lowman said, when he sampled each one. “They really taste like what they are.”

Left: Collector Igor Costa, artist Vincent Fecteau, and Renaissance Society director Solveig Řvstebř. Right: Pinault Collection curator Caroline Bourgeois.


Back at the Messeplatz, a performance of The Metopes of the Parthenon, a play written and directed by the succčs de scandale Romeo Castellucci, was just getting under way in the raw space of Hall Three. I’d suffered through another Castellucci production before. It involved a realistic portrayal of incontinence. This one posed six riddles, as six actors died horrible, disfiguring deaths. If it hadn’t tried so hard to be profound, it would have been merely pointless.

Well, who said art had to be entertaining? Yet Anna Gaskell’s film Echo Morris—the most talked-about work at Art Unlimited—was an entirely engaging homage to, and parody of, the work of Sarah Morris, whose Strange Magic (about the Frank Gehry–designed Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris) was playing directly across the hall. The tandem screening spoke to various forms of exploitation, especially of successful female artists, and was the best antidote to poisoning by Castellucci. Or any art overkill. How can it be that Gaskell doesn’t have a gallery in New York?

Dealer Francesca Kaufmann had another question. “Why are we still the only gallery in Basel showing all women artists? People act as if we were a tiny minority instead of half the population. Can’t anyone get a clue?”

There was no time to ponder, not when Juliana Huxtable was reading her poetry in a Turkish bar across town that curator Jeanne Graf had turned into a temporary salon. There, the Balice Hertling and Hannah Hoffman galleries were hosting a book launch for the French artist Isabelle Cornaro. That was a radical change of both venue and crew from the Gegenwartskunst, where a show of sculpture by Martin Boyce happily coincided with another by Joseph Beuys.

Left: Artist Nate Lowman. Right: Artist Pamela Rosenkranz.


The Boyce/Beuys pairing was a world of interiors away from the outer-planetary sculptures by Anicka Yi and Vincent Fecteau that Elena Filipovic brought to Kunsthalle Basel. That put me right where I needed to be—mentally transported and physically at Theater Basel.

There wasn’t an empty seat in the house for the Fondation Beyeler’s free 11:30 PM presentation of Victory over the Sun, a Russian Futurist opera performed by the Stas Namin Theater of Moscow. “I hear it’s atonal and nonlinear,” said Art Basel director Marc Spiegler, just before the house lights went down. He was correct.

“They’re singing gibberish,” whispered Maria Baibakova, and left. Though the original scenic designer was Kazimir Malevich, who painted his first Black Square for the opera’s 1913 debut, the best I can say of this production is that Castellucci had nothing to do with it, and the Constructivist costumes were good.

Perhaps the Beyeler should stick to art. All week long the museum’s Marlene Dumas and Paul Gaugin shows had been drawing crowds so dense I was discouraged from going, but I was sure they were good. It’s Basel. Fairgoers on the loose could go there and also to the Schaulager, where they could roam all five floors, including the storage, to see the collection of the family that built the place, instead of the usual solo show by a contemporary artist.

Left: Artist Joe Bradley with dealers Lucy Chadwick and Thor Shannon. Right: Collector Alain Servais.


Despite its romp through the history of Western art since 1933—Ernst, Mondrian, Giacometti, Arp, Artschwager, Gober, Barney, Fischli & Weiss—the outspoken Belgian collector Alain Servais was disappointed. “They had the big names,” he said. “But not the masterpieces.” (Auctioneers, are you listening?) In a room of early-1980s paintings, Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong was more diplomatic. “The art wasn’t very good back then.” Artist Katherine Sieverding was more appreciative. “So many unseen works,” she said. She didn’t say anything else.

Thursday real life broke through the clouds with news that a twenty-one-year-old white racist had massacred nine black people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church. Weirdly, the Art Newspaper ran a story with the headline, “Black Art Matters,” about escalating prices for works by black artists. “Can you believe it?” asked Salon 94’s Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. “They left out David Hammons!” Her booth in the fair’s Feature section had the artist’s painted elephant dungs—politically charged yet decorative objects, from the early ’80s, as it happens.

Feature was cool. Karma International stepped out with Judith Bernstein. Raffaella Cortese paired photographs by James Welling and Zoe Leonard. Luxembourg & Dayan’s booth was a walk-in mirrored cell by Michelangelo Pistoletto.

Art was fun. Art was money. Art was done. People went home.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Artist Juliana Huxtable and curator Jeanne Graff. Right: Artist Liza Lou and Design Miami director Rodman Primack.


Paradise Garage

Moscow, Athens
06.16.15

Left: Collectors and Garage Museum founders Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova with dealer Larry Gagosian. Right: Garage Mjuseum project architect Ekaterina Gotovatynk with architect Rem Koolhaas.


ONCE KAZIMIR MALEVICH painted his first Black Square—one hundred years ago—art was never the same again. That’s particularly true in postrevolutionary Russia, where any form of revolutionary art either died or went underground once Stalin came in.

Last Wednesday night in Moscow, it resurfaced—hopefully for good—when the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art opened its permanent home in Gorky Park. Founded, and mostly funded, by collectors Dasha Zhukova and Roman Abramovich, it too could change the future of art in Russia. It may also alter the way we think about museums in general.

In a city where a seemingly imposed tranquility hides most activities behind closed doors, architect Rem Koolhaas and his firm OMA designed the Garage—named for its first incarnation in a Konstantin Melnikov–designed 1920s bus garage—for maximum transparency. Keeping its open plan, he wrapped the remains of a failed, fifteen-hundred-seat, Soviet-modern restaurant built in 1968 with a double layer of translucent polycarbonate. In daylight, the fifty-eight-thousand-square-foot building looks like an opaque silver Minimalist box floating six feet above a solid black bottom where an open breezeway once was. At night, lit from within, it becomes a shadow play of mysterious silhouettes.

Left: Dealer Sadie Coles and artist Urs Fischer. Right: Artist Erik Bulatov and his wife Natalya.


Enormous, appropriately garage-like glass doors open vertically to make entrances on two sides. Inside, Koolhaas restored concrete floors and staircases, exposed ductwork, added steel rails as well as a few plywood touches, and cleaned the graffiti off the original brown brick and green tile walls. Against the industrial elegance of the rest of the building the walls still look tacky, but in the context of history, also just right.

At a press conference that morning, Koolhaas posited the building as an argument against what he termed the “excessive architecture” common today, and expressed not just an admiration for 1960s Soviet buildings—in fact, he said, they inspired him to become an architect. How did his work at the Garage compare to his most recent triumph, the reinvention of a former distillery in Milan as the Prada Foundation? “There were many complications,” he told me. “But the main difference is that this in Russia.”

There’s another. On the evidence of its six opening shows, it was obvious that this was not yet another private museum for rich collectors to display their wealth for people who have little or none. For one thing, the Garage has no permanent collection of trophy art. Instead, under the direction of Anton Belov, a thirty-two-year-old former scientist and the publisher of Moscow’s Art Guide, it means to become a civic-minded research center and event space that will stage forums for debate and build an historical archive of “unofficial” Russian art, the kind not sanctioned by the government, within a program of exhibitions by established artists from abroad. Zhukova, meanwhile, characterized the museum as “the first public art library in Russia.” (So far the archive, directed by curator Sasha Obukhova, contains two hundred thousand publications.)

Left: Artist Jeff Koons and collector Francois Pinault. Right: Artist Jenny Saville.


“No one thought the Garage would last,” chief curator Kate Fowle told me over lunch at the Shigeru Ban–designed intermediary Garage nearby, where Katharina Grosse had created a magnificent “exploded” painting over rough terrain—one of the best in her career. (The pavilion will be demolished next year.) “Things change fast in post-Soviet Russia,” Fowle said. “Things change often. But we’re programmed through 2018. That’s unheard of.”

It isn’t possible to present contemporary art history in Russia through a collection of objects, she said, because they were either destroyed or taken out of the country. “The only way to talk about contemporary art here is to build an archive that makes public the ‘evidence’ of contemporary art from the 1950s to the 1990s, so people can unravel for themselves what was actually happening. Once that framework is established, then we can start to develop a collection of Russian and international art.”

For the opening, two infinity rooms by Yayoi Kusama—never before seen in Russia—competed with Tomorrow Is the Question, a three-part installation by Rirkrit Tiravanija that paid homage to the late Czech Conceptualist Július Koller, for whom table tennis was a presiding metaphor. Members of the Moscow Ping-Pong Club did their stuff on black tables set on a purple carpet, while guests joined in or helped themselves to dumplings cooked on site as well as T-shirts printed with question marks and also Russian-language questions like, “When is tomorrow?”

Left: Garage Museum chief curator Kate Fowle. Right: The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.


Also present was eighty-three-year-old Erik Bulatov, the first Russian artist to receive what will be a regular commission to create an artwork for the double-height atrium—in his case, an immense text painting. A line formed at the staircase leading to the rooftop terrace. The impatient wandered through an exhibition of artifacts relating to a temporary thaw in the Cold War, when Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev staged their famous “kitchen debate,” and watched the first of a planned trilogy of films by Anton Vidokle based on Cosmism, a nineteenth-century philosophy of immortality and resurrection that, he said, was the origin of the Russian space program.

Meanwhile, here, in inner space, Zhukova and Abramovich don’t seem to be getting anything out of the Garage other than the satisfaction of creating something larger than themselves. “They want to change society in Russia,” Belov told me. “We’re the post-Soviet generation,” he added. “We have free minds.” But the founders are not shouldering the entire cost. (This year’s operating budget is $15 million.) “All I do is fund-raise,” Belov said.

Thursday night’s exclusive dinner for the very VIPs who arrived that day was for show, not money. It was about privilege. "You know how people make guest lists for their fantasy dinner parties?” Jeffrey Deitch asked. “Dasha not only did that, but everybody actually came.”

Left: Artist Hope Atherton with dealer Gavin Brown. Right: Filmmaker George Lucas and Mellody Hobson.


Did they ever. The event was a like a party in Davos with a little Anderson Ranch thrown in. Scientists and tech geniuses mixed with two generations of collectors (Len Blavatnik, Wendi Murdoch, Victoria Mikelson, Jakob Berggruen, Oscar Engelbert, Maria Baibakova, Jean Pigozzi) who joined those with those other private museums (Francois Pinault, Dmitri Daskalopoulos, Pamela Kramlich, Griet Dupont). Figures from the world of fashion (Miuccia Prada, Stella McCartney, Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, fashion models Karli Kloss and Natalia Vodianova) rubbed shoulders with architects David Adjaye, Fernando Romero, Elizabeth Diller and Charles Renfro (who are restoring a huge park opposite the Kremlin), and Sergei Kuznetsov, the city of Moscow’s chief architect (his title).

Standing up for other institutions were the newly camera-shy MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, Serpentine Gallery codirectors Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Petyon-Jones, Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg, who just opened his own new museum—“the last one I ever want to build,” he said—and LACMA director Michael Govan, who is raising money to build another. “Dasha sits on my board, I’m on hers,” Govan said. “So I’m here.”

So was Arianna Huffington, who arrived with her daughter Isabella in the company of filmmaker George Lucas and his wife Mellody Hobson. Huffington was there to moderate the following day’s three art and technology panels, including one with Jeff Koons and Marc Newson, for a select roster of thirty guests—very, very VIPS like Metropolitan Museum director Tom Campbell. Why was Lucas there? “Dasha and my wife are friends,” he said. But he’s creating a new museum too, in Chicago.

Left: Serpentine Gallery codirector Julia Peyton-Jones. Right: Collector Victoria Mikelson and New Museum deputy director Massimiliano Gioni.


“It’s a museum for narrative art, the kind people in contemporary art ignore,” he said. Did he mean comic books? “Yes,” he said. “It’s mostly illustration, Norman Rockwell stuff.” Every few seconds, he was interrupted by young guests who said their lives were shaped by his movies and asked if he would pose with them for pictures. (In the Instagram age, no one asks for autographs anymore.) “The trouble with being very popular,” he said, when they stepped away, “is that you’re always popular.”

He wasn’t the only Hollywood presence. Producer Harvey Weinstein was another. So, to the surprise of everyone, was Woody Allen, who came with his wife Soon-Yi and their daughter Bechet Dumaine, and would be seated for dinner at a table with Larry Gagosian, New Museum deputy director Massimiliano Gioni, artist Francesco Vezzoli, and Mrs. Prada. But the most surprising guest of all was Alexander Boroda, introduced to me as “Roman’s rabbi.” He is also in charge of the Jewish Museum for Tolerance, the current inhabitant of the Melnikov garage and one stop on a daily sightseeing tour that the Garage arranged for visiting VIPs.

Another was the Tretyakov Gallery, the state museum of Russian art and home of Black Square, so neglected for so long that the underpainting is now visible—an amazing sight. But the museum, which is overburdened with government-approved art since Stalin, is about to undergo its own transformation under new director Zelfira Tregulova, a member of the post-Soviet generation that is determined to remake Russian culture. (In the early 1990s, when he was deputy director of the Guggenheim Museum, she worked with Govan on “The Great Utopia.”) The change will include an association with the Garage intended to bring the public to both museums, which are across the road from one another. “People will come here and also go there to see the emergence of this artistic revolution,” she said. “Russians don’t know this heritage.”

Left: Architect Charles Renfro with City of Moscow chief architect Sergei Kuznetsov. Right: Collector Maja Hoffmann.


The evening suffered two cocktail-hour interruptions, one planned and one not. The Russian performance artist known as Fyodor staged the guerrilla intervention, when four accomplices carried him into the museum, naked and folded into fetal position in a glass box that they set on the floor. It was creepy. Instagrammers circled like vultures. Temporarily flummoxed security guards carried the box out.

Tiravanija was responsible for the other performance, for which Zhukova ushered her bewildered guests outside onto a plaza that workers had finished making only that morning. Suddenly, a loud explosion shocked everyone to attention. It wasn’t a bomb, but fireworks that formed a square of black smoke in the sky over the museum—Tiravanija’s celebration of the Malevich painting’s centenary. It was also the dinner bell.

During the speech portion of the evening, Zhukova promised a surprise. It came a few minutes later, when the traditionally dressed Kuban Cossack Choir took the stairs to the exhibition floor and let out with rousing Ukrainian songs—a bold move at a time when relations between Russia, Ukraine, and the US are particularly tense. “I don’t think the non-Russian speakers here know what’s happening,” Baibakova said.

Left: Collector Maria Baibakova. Right: Architect Elizabeth Diller and Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg.


They didn’t, but people were having such a good time in such rarified company that it was well past midnight before they left for the afterparty at a new club called LOL. No doubt it went on till daybreak—3 AM in Moscow. By that time, I was packing for an early-morning flight to another economically compromised hot spot, Athens.

In an unintentional snub to Zurich Art Weekend, the collector and Deste Foundation founder Dakis Joannou had scheduled his own annual round of events for a rather different set of art tourists, among them filmmaker Tamra Davis, fashion designer Philip Colbert, Wallpaper magazine art director James Reid, and restaurateur Michael McCarty. They arrived at the Benaki Museum on Friday for the opening of “Design Office: Noise Name Paintings and Sculptures of Rock Bands That Are Broken Up” by Kim Gordon, artist, best-selling memoirist and cofounder of the broken-up Sonic Youth. With Bill Nace, her current bandmate in Body/Head, Gordon gave a transporting free performance on the terrace.

After Moscow, it felt like the other side of the world. The following day’s schedule included a visit to the Museum of Cycladic Art and this year’s Deste Prize exhibition, the best I’ve seen yet, and a show of public sculpture in the gardens of the French School at Athens curated by Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick. But the main event was the opening that evening of “Ametria,” an exhibition of centuries-spanning artworks culled from the collections of the Benaki and the Deste at the other, modern Benaki. Organized by a team of curators working under the direction of artist Roberto Cuoghi, it was so sexy, dense, and fascinating that it was easy to feel lost within the maze of an installation created by architect Alessandro Pasini. Also making its debut was a new project space for Family Business within the museum. It opened with “Dirty Linen,” an excellent exhibition of unknown works by mostly Greek artists curated by Myriam Ben Salah and housed in a structure designed by Joannou.

Left: Collector Dakis Joannou and Benaki Museum director Angelos Delivorias. Right: Restaurateurs Kim and Michael McCarty.


Andra Ursuta was the featured artist at the collector’s home that evening, where Urs Fischer, Deitch, and Gioni arrived from Moscow to join about a hundred other people for dinner and dancing. It was merely the a prelude to a cruise to Hydra the next morning, and the opening of “Hippias Minor,” an exhibition by Paul Chan at the Slaughterhouse, Deste’s project space on the island. That show included sculpture, a book that Chan published with a new translation of “Plato’s most controversial dialogue” on the truth of lies. For the opening, Chan staged a symposium to replace trivial chatter at the dinner that followed. “Hey,” Chan said, as the sun set over the Aegean. “When was the last time anyone launched a book about Plato in Greece?”

The message of the evening was that there are no answers. There was only Art Basel, and feeling the call of Ulysses, I went off to pack.

Linda Yablonsky

In the Loop

Barcelona
06.11.15

Left: Artist and collector Laurent Fiévet with Loop artistic director Conrado Uribe and Loop cofounder Emilio Álvarez. Right: ProjecteSD founder Silvia Dauder. (All photos: Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva)


TWO EVENINGS before the vernissage of the thirteenth edition of the moving-image fair Loop, I strolled down the streets of sunny Barcelona toward the galleries for the soft launch to the week’s festivities. At ProjecteSD, crowds had gathered for the opening of “Close-Cropped Tales,” and I grabbed an Estrella beer and talked to gallery founder Silvia Dauder and curator Anne-Laure Chamboissier about the constraints of collecting and storing video art. “Imagine what it’s like for sound!” said Conrado Uribe, the artistic director of the citywide festival, also called Loop, that runs parallel to the fair. The collecting conversation haunted us everywhere we went. “And then there are the copyright issues,” said veteran collector Michael A. Meer as we waited for lunch the next day at Flax&Kale, a vegetarian restaurant hosting the warm-up lunch organized by the fair. “It is good that they pushed through the economic crisis, and although you could tell there was less money, the art was always great.” A guest pulled a face at the watermelon and goat cheese combo in front of her, but most collectors, artists, and art professionals polished off their pumpkin raviolis and tuna burgers and reunited over chia-seed pudding. Loop appears to be the rendezvous for video aficionados: “Europe is the most progressive place for collecting video,” said dealer Emilio Álvarez, who cofounded the fair in 2003 with Carlos Duran.

Later that afternoon at the MACBA, curator Hiuwai Chu introduced two videos on show, Cabaret Crusades: The Path to Cairo by Wael Shawky and Garden Conversation by Bouchra Khalili, as well as Iman Issa’s sculptures Heritage Studies, while at the La Virreina Image Centre, the curator of Lisbon’s Fundaçăo Leal Rios showed select works from their collection in the cavernous space he was allocated under the impressive rooms hosting Sophie Calle’s retrospective. Some of us left to look amid the oyster stalls, fruits, and iberico hams in the boqueria for Antoni Miralda’s TV stall showing his works along with those of Malia Jensen, Teresa Serrano, Shahar Marcus, and Nezaket Ekici, part of his Food Cultura satellite project. “I really like this kind of proposition,” smiled collector and artist Laurent Fiévet, whose intervention at the Museu Picasso I later discovered on a video-scouting run around town with PMQ’s William To. A superimposition of scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Velazquez’s Las Meninas, Fiévet’s Carlotta’s Way series made for likable propositions of their own.

Left: Artist Antoni Miralda at FoodCultura Satellite Boqueria. Right: MACBA curator Hiuwai Chu and collector Alain Servais.


Early that evening the crowds convened inside the exclusive English-style club Círculo del Liceo to see video works by Francis Al˙s, Emily Jacir, and Bruce Nauman, among others, and to partake in the talk between curator Carles Guerra and collectors Emilio Pi and Helena Fernandino. “We have fourteen screens at home. When they aren’t running it looks like a TV shop,” said Fernandino, adding that they can’t help it when watching movies to spot sequences “that would make great videos!”—marking successive hits with the audience.

As the fair opened the next day at the Hotel Catalunya, the forty-five invited galleries—one video per room—created quite a stir in the corridors, forcing some doors to close to retain the feel of a dark oasis. Video, as a medium, unfolded in all its versatility, from painterly poetry in Sophia Pompery’s Still water, a water painting that reveals a mirror image before drying, to experimentations in Claudia Larcher’s Self, a morphing close-up of body-skin tissue, and movement, as in Michal Helfman’s %, a choreography as a musical canon. There was plenty of formal diversity, and although there were no commissions, many works had their premieres at Loop. “Good legs,” chuckled a viewer about a spy dressed as a woman in Juul Hondius’s Brilliant Punitive Raids, a photo-essay based on the 1988 assassination of Abu Jihad in Tunis.

More evidence of the fair’s conviviality was found during the many talks held in the hotel restaurant and the conference room. “I like sharing, otherwise I wouldn’t buy editioned works,” said Turkish collector Agah Ugur during his conversation with CollectorSpace founder Haro Cumbusyan. Friday night peaked with a spirit of camaraderie during the Discovery Awards, organized at the Estrella Damm Antigua Fábrica, a former brewery. “I hope they have wine,” joked a guest before uncovering six different kinds of beer, Spanish omelettes, and pizzas. After four days of doing like the fairgoers—i.e., purposefully inquiring about new artists, conscientiously catching up on established ones, and avidly sitting through every screening (yes, Loopers actually sit through entire videos)—I decided to retire early, jumping in a taxi with blinkvideo.de’s Julia Soekeland. Summing up the industry, she called attention to the strange contrast between different models of funding and distribution for moving-image works—galleries’ limited editions versus festival screening fees. “Just remember that there used to be a time when galleries sold signed DVDs!”

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Left: PMQ director William To. Right: David Gryn, director of Daata Editions, and collector Agah Ugur.


High Five

Shanghai
06.05.15

Left: Dealer Lorenz Helbling with MAXXI artistic director Hou Hanru. Right: Dealer Simon Wang and Li Qi, senior curator at the Rockbund Art Museum.


FIVE YEARS is a long time in Shanghai. Way back in 2010, the city’s World Expo attracted seventy-three million visitors: There were thousands of new taxis, half a dozen new subway lines, and new art spaces like the Rockbund Art Museum, the retrofitted former Royal Asia Society building off the Bund, all banded together under the slogan “Better City, Better Life.” Now there are also better museums, or certainly more of them. Five years on, the Expo’s Chinese Pavilion is home to a one-million-square-foot government-run museum, and the once-deserted industrial zone on the other side of the river has been rebranded the West Bund Cultural Corridor, an area that has sprouted a handful of museums in just a few years. The Rockbund, which celebrated its five-year anniversary last weekend with a spate of openings and parties, leads a new unruly pack vying for influence in Shanghai, the wick, as it were, of this city’s museum boom.

Shanghai’s art denizens frequently invoke RAM as the new old guard, though it’s technically just past toddlerhood. Others are just learning how to crawl: The splashier Yuz Museum (collector Budi Tek’s outfit) and Long Museum West Bund (founded by collectors Wang Wei and Liu Yiqian) both celebrated their first birthdays within the past three months. Indeed, just before RAM’s anniversary, the Yuz mounted its second-ever exhibition, “Myth/History II: Shanghai Galaxy,” inviting local DJs to ring in the opening weekend.

“The landscape is changing. It has an even more international perspective,” said Li Qi, senior curator at the Rockbund. Of course, museums aren’t the only big change from 2010: There’s also WeChat, the social media site now indispensible to art-world networking. “I don’t even carry business cards anymore,” Karen Smith, director of OCAT Xi’an, told me.

Left: V Art Center's Chao Jiaxing and artist Ding Yi. Right: Artist Cai Guo-Qiang.


The Rockbund’s own weekend-long celebration kicked off with an opening for Chen Zhen, “Without going to New York and Paris, life could be internationalized,” curated by Hou Hanru, artistic director of the MAXXI in Rome. An artist who died fifteen years ago might seem an ironic choice for a young museum’s birthday. But the exhibition, which focuses on the years Chen spent going back and forth from Paris to Shanghai in the 1990s, brought a note of poignancy to his death: He never saw the Shanghai his work anticipated.

At the opening I watched as Simon Wang of Antenna Space chatted with Zhang Ding, who spoke of his upcoming solo project at the ICA London. Heman Chong had come in from Singapore to see “hundreds of close friends” and to join the convening of Hugo Boss Asia Art Prize jurors the following Sunday. Dealer Leo Xu had just returned from Frieze New York—“I almost fell asleep at the table last night,” he laughed, taking it all in stride. The lull between Frieze and Art Basel meant a packed schedule for the Shanghai set: The next few days would see openings for Shi Yong at Xu Zhen’s MadeIn Gallery, Ding Yi at the Long Museum West Bund, and Zhang Eli and Christopher Doyle at the Aurora Museum, as well as an opening at the Sifang Museum in nearby Nanjing.

Around the corner, BANK, the studio of Mathieu Borysevicz’s MABSOCIETY, which opened about a year and a half ago, hosted dual solo exhibitions for Geng Yini and Heidi Voet. The latter moved to Shanghai four years ago with her husband, artist Michael Lin, who has also shown at the Rockbund. “Larys [Frogier, director of RAM] has raised the bar where it’s not just one of these real-estate vanity affair things,” Borysevicz said at the opening. “He’s done a program that’s really quite international yet inclusive of what’s happening in China.”

RAM’s packed but more modest opening reception on Friday night was followed on Saturday by a private champagne-and-caviar party and benefit auction in an adjacent building that was lit up like Vegas. “Unfortunately it’s my job,” Hou said jokingly of the swanky affair to ShanghART director Lorenz Helbling, adding, “I’m only here for twenty-four hours.”

Left: Collector Qiao Zhibing and Lihsin Tsai. Right: Artist Zhang Ding.


Karaoke-empire magnate–cum–art collector Qiao Zhibing and his girlfriend Lihsin Tsai—who are now planning an art center in Shanghai—sat in the front row near artist Cai Guo-Qiang, who had flown in from New York just for the occasion. His was the first show the museum put on: “When I received this exhibition, the museum was still under construction,” he pointed out.

“We are very proud at Rockbund of the example we put forth,” Frogrier told the audience, introducing the whole team—roughly a dozen people—to applause. Bidding, birthday cake, and techno ensued, with the benefit auction raising an impressive eight million RMB for the museum. Neon signage glared a time line of five years’ worth of exhibitions while guests leaned on decorative pillows printed with the number five.

Everything in Shanghai looks better at night—for one, no sign of pollution. Guests gathered amid the swathes of neon-pink and plasma-blue stage lighting, essentially rendering my iPhone camera useless. “They say it’s because everyone looks better in the pink lighting,” said Tsai, as she and Qiao took off for the Ye Shanghai karaoke club. Who needs rose-colored glasses?

Alexandra Pechman

Left: Artist Heman Chong, LEAP's Robin Peckham, and dealer Leo Xu. Right: Cutting the fifth-anniversary cake.


Different Strokes

Los Angeles
06.05.15

Left: China Chow at the gala for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Right: Eric White, artist John Baldessari, and Patricia Arquette. (Photos: BFAnyc.com)


“LAST YEAR on this podium, we were just dating. What do you call it? A one-night stand,” said Philippe Vergne. The director of Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art was presiding over his second official gala, held outside the museum’s Geffen Contemporary site on Saturday night. This year, the museum decided to honor an artist, the octogenarian conceptualist and MoCA board member John Baldessari, letting his work inform rather than rule the decor, a subtle shift from recent years when the museum would invite artists versed at creating spectacles to turn the gala into a quasi artwork.

Colored LEDs on the floor along the aisles beamed a digital cloudscape punctuated by an occasional orange sun, the light giving guests’ faces an underlit death-metal glow. The motif continued in the tabletops, rectangular light-box photographs of clouds, echoing Baldessari’s cloudy carpets featured in his retrospective at LACMA, which also honored the artist at its gala in 2011. The admonition “I will not make any more boring art” literally tent-poled the parking-lot dining room, projected large on either side of the long structure. Though a bit kitsch, the scenography appeared infinitely more subdued than, say, the expressionless, rotating heads of the performers used as centerpieces during Marina Abramović’s turn as impresario at a rather different MoCA gala in 2011, under the rather different stewardship of Jeffrey Deitch.

Left: Artist Sam Durant and LA MoCA director Philippe Vergne. Right: Artist William Pope.L. (Photos: Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)


Different is the operative word. Nearly sunk by financial mishandling in the era of Jeremy Strick and then rocked by Deitch’s controversial (if often crowd-pleasing) programming, MoCA’s been searching for a new identity since Vergne took the gig. Perhaps wary of the previous director’s penchant for bold, sudden moves, Vergne has gone the opposite direction, slowly and quietly building a new team for the museum, including hiring Helen Molesworth, who showed up in a sleeveless dress that flaunted her distinction as being perhaps the first tattooed chief curator at the museum. Vergne’s success at salving the wounded pride of the LA art world was evidenced by Baldessari’s return to the MoCA board as well as by the huge number of artists in attendance, including Barbara Kruger, Kathryn Andrews, Sterling Ruby, Diana Thater, and Mark Bradford, whose midcareer survey opens this month at the Hammer Museum. But the sign that certain sins had been forgiven was probably most evident by the presence of a gray-suited Paul Schimmel, MoCA’s former chief curator and current Hauser & Wirth partner, whose forced resignation in 2012 seemed to augur the departure of the current director’s predecessor a year later.

Vergne waxed long about Baldessari’s many artistic contributions, the artist himself keeping it short with a few goofy jokes (“When I moved to Los Angeles, I asked, ‘What’s a gala?’ ”). But the most touching moment of the evening, or at least the one that cut through all the pomp, was when Vergne and the crowd of almost eight hundred lifted their glasses to honor Chris Burden, who died of cancer only a few weeks before. “Last year one artist was in the room and is not in the room tonight,” Vergne said. “So I want to raise my glass to Chris Burden. He brought love to Los Angeles and to MoCA.”

Left: Janelle Monáe. (Photo: BFAnyc.com) Right: LA MoCA chief curator Helen Molesworth, artist Mark Bradford, collector Eileen Norton, and LA MoCA curator Bennett Simpson. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)


With the speeches and main course complete, R&B songstress Janelle Monáe took the stage in a white button-up and black bowtie. Her bouffant recalled the crown of a generation of funky godfathers and songsters, but her verve and upbeat anthems solidly captured the joyful best of Jackie Wilson. A few people slipped out quietly as the first bars of music shook the tent, including Danna and Ed Ruscha, who stopped at the entrance long enough for Danna to take a quick phone snap of Ed and Julian Schnabel near the assembled smokers. Back inside, a gang of LA artists danced alongside Patricia Arquette to Monáe’s cover of James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” a tuxedoed Catherine Opie, tie rakishly dangling, cutting the rug beside a shimmying Thomas Houseago.

I caught artist and musician Stephen Prina slipping out the door before the cocktail afterparty. We talked briefly about the nature of upheaval and controversy. “I always like the argument, but never the conclusions,” he said. Poking me in the chest, he added, “And you can quote me on that motherfucker.”

Andrew Berardini

Left: Curator Ann Goldstein, artist Barbara Kruger, and Sarah Watson. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan/WireImage) Right: Artist Catherine Opie and Julie Burleigh. (Photo: BFAnyc.com)


Hidden in Plain Sight

New York
06.02.15

Left: New Museum deputy director and Ideas City cofounder Karen Wong. Right: Artist Penny Arcade. (All photos: David Huber)


HERE’S ONE WAY to break through all that noise and get the attention of a mostly under-thirty-five-year-old audience, a demographic fawned over by marketers and worshiped like a cult by brands, a niche all of us millennials were born into against our will and can’t, even if we wanted to, escape: Woo it with impressive deck, then tell it to its face it’s screwed.

That was the route special-interest-money foe and free-culture friend Lawrence Lessig took last Thursday during his keynote at the New Museum’s three-day Ideas City festival, a biannual conference and street fair devoted this time around to the theme of invisibility. The techy Harvard Law professor whizzed through hundreds of well-cued slides, did a bit on the differences between the electrical grid and cable television he called A Tale of Two Networks, and played a blurry video of a dumb bird inside a Skinner box—the bird, like members of Congress, operantly conditioned by special interests—before he dropped this shocker: “Inequality hates youth.”

Lessig wasn’t referring to Bret Easton Ellis (although he might as well have been when he threw the over-fifty contingent under the bus: “I increasingly think my generation is the worst generation”). Rather, he was describing how unequal governance by wealthy oldsters shifts today’s burdens to tomorrow and forecloses future possibilities. “We need to remember and celebrate the equality that the Internet has come to stand for,” Lessig said, trying to bring arguments for net neutrality to bear on “the network we call democracy.” He formulated this comparison: If the Internet is ideally like the open and neutral electricity grid, enabling innovation through user freedom and diversity, then democracy in America resembles something more like the cable network, offering lots of choices and little control. Today a tiny fraction of people—precisely .02 percent—fund the primary elections that select the candidates the rest of the population gets to vote among. “The result is a democracy responsive to the funders only.”

Left: Architect Bjarke Ingels and science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson. Right: Lawrence Lessig.


A kind of tech and culture conference with an urbanism slant, the day proceeded on from Lessig’s mix of the Internet and inequality into issues of citizenship, political unrest, incarceration, surveillance, and mapping. I couldn’t say from which fields the approximately half-capacity audience inside the Cooper Union’s Great Hall came, though participants included cartographers, photographers, entrepreneurs, and activist consultants. The mayors of Houston, San Juan, and Ithaca, New York, discussed policymaking as a form of design. And science-fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson and architect Bjarke Ingels sat down to talk “plausible utopias.” The implausibility of this pairing—Robinson called for an alternative to capitalism; Ingels’s firm is designing Google’s new Silicon Valley campus—was overcome by their admiration for each other’s work and mutual enthusiasms for outer space.

If there’s something about these types of summits that make participants conflict-averse, it doesn’t mean that culture clashes can’t be the subject of discussion. “The unfortunate thing is that computer science programs don’t do a very good job at producing people who have empathy,” said ACLU technologist Christopher Soghoian during a standout panel on the “morality of information” with artist Trevor Paglen, activist Jillian C. York, and hacker anthropologist Gabriella Coleman. “Programmers are taught to communicate with other programmers,” Soghoian added. “They use buzzwords, they use lingo.”

Kind of like obfuscating art speech, right? But Paglen defended the right of artists to refuse to speak sensibly: “I’m actually not interested in making something that explains something to you. I’m interested in making something that tries to put something on the cultural agenda.” And images, Paglen added, are deeply strange things: “If you just go by the Snowden documents, mass surveillance looks like PowerPoint.”

On Friday morning, US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro delivered the festival’s second keynote. I streamed the event from Brooklyn, avoiding the levels of security that might trail a cabinet member and Democratic Party rising star. There has been speculation that Castro will be a vice-presidential candidate in the 2016 election, and the address did have the feel of a stump speech, more spirited than substantive. “We call ourselves the Department of Opportunity,” he remarked, explaining how their goal is to give people “the foundation they need to dream.” Aware that he was among creative “thought leaders,” Castro adjusted his rhetoric accordingly. “This doesn’t require a big government or a small government: It requires a smart government.” It’s not the size, it’s how you use it, essentially.

Left: Artist and architect Marjetica Potrč (top left) with students from HFBK Hamburg. Right: Occupy Wall Street cocreator Micah White.


That night, inside a gymnasium three blocks from the New Museum’s stack of cubes, a hot air balloon was repurposed as a dome. “A Performative Conference in Nine Acts” is how the event was billed, though the friend I was with described it as “very sad.” I’d describe the mood as lukewarm, amputated. Parents of teenage participants, friends of the DJ, and museum brass were there to show support, but, tapping their feet awkwardly around the gym’s perimeter, appeared almost like chaperones at a prom. Bowery Poetry Club proprietor Bob Holman stood atop a round stage in its center and read a poem off of dot-matrix-printer paper, the night’s first act in a series of anachronisms.

“Old New York, the New York that is passing away, was about pleasure, and pleasure is a radical value,” groaned downtown diva Penny Arcade during her performance of Longing Lasts Longer, a wry personal commentary on the city’s gentrification. “New York is in a coma. New York is in a sugar coma,” continued Arcade, outfitted with a red shock of hair and polka-dot dress, as sound collaborator Steve Zehentner cued Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy.” “If it’s not a macaroon, it’s an artisanal gelato. If it’s not an artisanal gelato, it’s a cotton-candy mojito. If it’s not a cotton-candy mojito, it’s probably a cupcake.”

If matcha green tea donuts and mango agua fresca were not what you were after at Saturday’s street fair, which encircled the museum’s Lower East Side address and spilled into a nearby park, there was raspberry pink peppercorn sorbet and toasted coconut milk chocolate ice cream. Organizers reserved half of a block for a food court where New New York’s gastro-industrial complex got put on full display. In one stall, a juice proprietor marketed raw, cold-pressed liquid under names like Elevated, Grounded, and Balanced. In another, Nicola Twilley and Zack Denfeld, two culinary brains technically part of the cultural programming, offered sooty confections free of charge but at one’s own risk: smog meringues flavored like air from London, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, prepared from eggs, gluten, hydrocarbons, nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide, nuts, orange, pine, rocks, soot, sugar, sulfur, and terpenes. Further down the street, Slovenian artist and architect Marjetica Potrč and her Hamburg students had constructed a one-hundred-foot-long table. They served gratis melon and bolles of bread, social lubricants they hoped would get attendees to open up about the city’s housing issues.

Left: The Living Theater’s performance of No Place to Hide. Right: AIRBNB Pavilion’s Fabrizio Ballabio, Octave Perrault, and Alessandro Bava.


Around 5 PM on the Bowery I caught part of the Living Theater’s NO PLACE TO HIDE. A participatory work by their late director Judith Malina, it dealt with the reasons for and consequences of going incognito. Performers stood in single-file lines, waiting their turn before aggressive, screaming examiners.

“State your name,” a man demanded.

“I don’t know!” a woman responded.

“Privacy or safety?” the man demanded.

“I don’t know!” the woman responded.

As the troupe took over the sidewalk, pedestrian flow was facilitated by members of Starwatch Security, the rent-a-cop outfit the museum hired to keep an eye on things. I asked one guard if there had been any trouble.

“No problems,” he answered. “Everything has been good.”

“And how many of you are there?”

“I can’t say,” he replied.

“And I see there’s NYPD too.”

“Yes. And undercovers.”

That’s one way to address invisibility.

David Huber