THE FACEBOOK PAGE advertised “light electro-shock therapy” and “metal ball treatments,” so I guess I had fair warning going into Signal’s “Transformative Pain Conference” on Saturday night. Tucked away in a former rug warehouse a block away from the Morgan L stop, the four-year-old Bushwick gallery has become a de facto clubhouse for a new generation of Brooklyn artists thanks to its natural resources and solo show–driven program. As a result, alternative activities like the “Transformative Pain Conference” are surprisingly or not so surprisingly prevalent.
I hopped off the train at 8 PM ready for involuntary flinching and personal growth, dressed in a baggy sweater and jeans. Turns out I should’ve worn a swimsuit. The night’s main attraction wasn’t the ritualistic zappings but the in-house sauna, which served as the symbolic and literal hearth for the gallery’s first group show, “Watermark.” As I entered the unheated space I narrowly evaded a pack of half-dressed twentysomethings emerging from the hot-box installation, conceived by artist Frank Traynor (aka the purveyor of the Perfect Nothing Catalogue). A warm burst of eucalyptus and cannabis trailed them as they wiped their sandy feet on the rug outside the tunnellike entrance. Some disappeared into the backyard for a postsweat cigarette, while others reclined on the military cots put out by gallery owners Alexander Johns and Kyle Clairmont Jacques, who lounged amid the huddle.
“The pain conference is definitely an idea of Frank’s,” Johns said. “I think he saw the sauna as the pursuit of a kind of catharsis. Extreme physical states promoting a kind of renewal. Pagan rituals about resurrection extend back into prehistory, which became the basis of a holiday like Easter.” The young gallerist had recently received a dose of his own medicine, a shock treatment administered by artist Brady Gunnell, whose implement of choice, an adapted sex toy, left everyone buzzing. “Did you get shocked?” asked Clairmont Jacques. I shook my head. “Maybe you should try the metal ball treatment.” Uh huh…
The metal ball treatment was actually axiatonal alignment with a very affable man named Christian Dettloff, also wearing a baggy sweater in addition to some enviably stretchy pants. There was a queue, so I decided to wait it out in the sauna. The structure, consuming a corner of the gallery, was more tree fort than treatment center. A few bathhouse necessities—towels, water bottles, flip-flops—lent the scene just enough legitimacy. A wooden privacy screen stood adjacent to the entrance for those who wanted to strip or, in most cases, hang their coats. Did anyone take it all off? “It’s happened,” Clairmont Jacques answered. Getting down on hands and knees, I followed the curator into the dark. When I turned my iPhone on to record, the screen’s light bounced off the insulation blankets. “It’s like a womb in reverse,” said a voice in the blackness. “Everything you did before this was in preparation for now,” said another, riffing on the Sedona-in-Brooklyn vibe. “What will you do with this one life?”
Before anyone could answer, another participant burst through the leather flaps, causing everyone to erupt into salutation: an initiation process that greeted each new entry. The sauna’s population grew; things began to get very friendly. So what inspired this whole “conference”? “Most of the conversations started here, people who were interested or knew people who were interested in alternative body treatments,” Traynor said as he rolled a meat tenderizer over someone’s back. “They are not even all about healing. Like the electroshock, some are more about experience than outcome.” Last summer, Traynor opened a mud bath in the Rockaways; the sauna felt like an appropriate sequel in his postapocalyptic spa series. Sitting in his pseudo–sweat lodge, one could understand the appeal of these extreme physical experiences, especially for a generation increasingly interacting in a virtual realm.
Tides of friends came and left and eventually it was my turn. As I reemerged into the chilly, candlelit space, my only consolation was artist Sophie Hirsch, dawdling in front of a Hayden Dunham painting. The statuesque sculptor smiled: “I get claustrophobic in those situations,” she confided. I couldn’t begrudge her; she’s spatially… sensitive, after all. As the evening wore on the room mellowed—an effect of either the treatments or the wine (served in mugs). Conrad Winslow’s playlist interspersing Western orchestral music with Tibetan monk chants kept us from dozing off as we chatted till past our bedtimes. “It’s about dissonance,” Wilson said of his set. “About how disjointed pieces can come together through ritual.” The thought was more appealing than some of the noise.
RIO DE JANEIRO WAS INUNDATED. On March 16, the night the Cultural Secretary of São Paulo spoke at Studio-X Rio, I was elsewhere, shin-deep in rain-mud before my bus got stuck in traffic as water and protests surged. #OcupaBrasil had exploded. There was a pour-over from the weekend’s millions-strong marches against the incumbent Workers’ Party president, Dilma Rousseff. Her ministry appointment earlier that day of ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a gesture some assumed meant to shield him from prosecution in an ongoing corruption scandal, was blocked, and further stymied by the release of a leaked phone call between the two. (“Hotline Bling” remixes soon followed.) It was either apt or inopportune timing for the five-year anniversary of Studio-X Rio, the experimental lab of Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), located on the historic Praça Tiradentes in central Rio. Too bad we couldn’t get there.
The anniversary was titled “Five Years Thinking the Cities,” though outside the walls people were screaming about the country. The week of talks and exhibitions proved combative, and the program didn’t shy from the city’s architectural shortcomings—responsibility for which must be shared by both the left and the right. The session “Expanded Metropolis” proposed solutions for the urban stretch between Rio and São Paulo devised by GSAPP students, while “Lutar, Ocupar, Resistir” (Fight, Occupy, Resist) assessed the status and ingenuity of Brazil’s housing occupations, or squats.
Since 2001, occupations have spread across the country, as the social-housing project Minha Casa Minha Vida continues to deliver unoriginal, ineffective housing dominated by private-sector development. “Lutar, Ocupar, Resistir” highlights architects’ interventions into squats such as Mariana Crioula in Rio and Hotel Cambridge in São Paulo—the renovation of the latter brought on by the art direction for a film, Era o Hotel Cambridge, by Eliane Caffé. In remarks before the opening, Studio-X director Pedro Rivera, who curated the show, said the exhibition emerged from his trips to a milk plant turned squat in the early 2000s, since demolished to make way for Minha Casa Minha Vida housing. “Now they are being marginalized by this right-wing levante [uprising],” Rivera later told me, of occupation residents. “So the fact that coincidentally we opened this exhibition…” he laughed. “It’s not really coincidental.”
The day before the opening, Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, privately addressed the Columbia crowd at the Praca Mauá at the newly opened Museu da Amanha (Museum of Tomorrow). The mayor’s ties to Studio-X run deep: The city offered Columbia the building as part of a revitalization of the Praça Tiradentes, which will be eventually be accessible by light-rail. (Outside, the square is torn up by unfinished tracks.) “We are part of the process,” said Rivera, whose firm RUA Arquitetos participated in the exhibition “Uneven Growth” at MoMA last year and also won the bid to design the Rio 2016 Olympic Golf Course Clubhouse. The mayor has fostered plenty of revival (aka gentrification), including the Porto Maravilha project, which attempts to redefine the port zone as a cosmopolitan hub with new services and architecture, though not without criticism. After outcries that Porto Maravilha would displace thirty thousand people, developers have committed to building public housing. The $55 million Museum of Tomorrow, designed by Santiago Calatrava, is one of the most contentious buildings. It has no collection, and will mount temporary science-related exhibitions about “future scenarios for the next fifty years, approached from a perspective of sustainability and coexistence”—whatever that means.
Thursday’s panel for “Lutar, Ocupar, Resistar” featured Alejandro Castro Mazzarro, coordinator of the LatinLab at Columbia; Lurdinha Lopes, the coordinator for MNLM-RJ (the National Struggle for Housing Movement–Rio de Janeiro); and Ticianne Ribeiro de Souza, a Rio-based architect responsible for renovations at the Manuel Congo occupation in downtown Rio, one of the city’s best-known squats. The crowds were noticeably scanty despite the hundreds of online RSVPs. I imagine many who care about public policy were tracking protests rather than panels.
Lopes, who does community organizing with occupation residents, outlined how traveling to Rio’s center from the outer edges can take three to four hours. Thus, self-started housing is critical. Particularly pre-Olympics, improving social housing in the city center has not been a priority, especially for architects. The conversation soon evolved into a forum on architects’ responsibility in a city wracked by inequality and corruption, and a referendum on the legacy of the architecture of the Olympics.
“We see these atrocities: big museums that have nothing to do with the grounds they are built on. It’s absurdly disconnected,” Souza said, referring back to the Praça Mauá and the fact that, while the historic zone long supported Rio’s economy, it also received more slaves over hundreds of years than any port in the Americas. “What is the Museum of Tomorrow? Without judging it aesthetically or architecturally,” she said. “It’s a museum whose name is the Museum of Tomorrow. That doesn’t connect to the history of the place, a place where thousands of Africans were buried when they were brought to be slaves here. Look at the madness we make in architecture.”
The Spanish architect and professor Juan Herreros gave Friday evening’s talk about his Madrid-based firm Estudio Herreros, which has overseen the construction of hybrid spaces around the world, and followed on the previous day’s thread. The firm has taken on projects meant to bring services and affordable housing back to the center, from social housing in Barcelona to a combined bus garage–residential structure in Paris. “Recycling existing buildings and reprogramming them is the real task,” he said. “The neutral mask is what 99 percent of architects do.”
By that night there were protests of the protests. As I made my way home from Studio-X, people trickled into Carioca Station from a demonstration at Praça Quinze wearing the red of the Workers’ Party and chanting “Não vai ter golpe”—“You will not have a coup.” There was—and continues to be—fear that an ouster of the current government might resemble the military takeover of 1964, since specific charges still haven’t surfaced against Rousseff. The following days brought a steady stream of rallies—Theater for Democracy, Brazilian Cinema for Democracy, Festival for Democracy—spearheaded by prominent local musicians, filmmakers, artists, and collectives. Questions of the city’s architecture and who it belongs to may have faded into the background—but it’s the background that will remain as the rest plays out.
“LAST TIME I CAME TO HONG KONG I was sixteen, and that was in 1961,” recalled the Indian artist Nalini Malani last Sunday. “I had just finished high school, so my mother wanted to reward me with a trip, but nowhere too far. She said: Here is a ticket, I have friends there you can stay with.” It took fifty-five years for another auspicious occasion to return. But what an occasion it was. Three hundred of us were about to be seated in the Grand Ballroom of the Conrad Hotel for Asia Society’s gala honoring Malani as well as Cai Guo-Qiang and Yoshitomo Nara—also celebrating the august and essential institution’s sixtieth year. The dinner was a mellow warmup to the Art Basel Hong Kong jamboree, now in its fourth iteration.
The next night just about every gallery in town opened their doors to stragglers who made their way through a tropical downpour. Tracey Emin gave a talk at the Four Seasons for her double show at Lehmann Maupin and White Cube: “Art should make people stand still and be quiet,” she said. Tough luck in this town, though I was, quite incredibly, able to enact Emin’s words while taking in Laurent Grasso’s powerful new film Élysée at Edouard Malingue.
Left: Intelligence Squared CEO Yana Peel with NTU CCA Singapore's Nor Jumaiyah. Right: Spring Workshop founder Mimi Brown, Asia Art Archive founder Claire Hsu, and dealer Pearl Lam.
“You may get your clothes ink-painted, be adventurous,” joked Sylvie de Sarthe, standing in her gallery in front of Zhou Wendou’s ADHD, a large spheric ink fountain festooned with frenetic windshield wipers. I escaped the ink but still got wet in the rain. Those who made it to the launch of the satellite fair Art Central, including Delfina Foundation’s Aaron Cezar and SAPAR Contemporary’s Raushan Sapar, roamed the aisles bedewed. At the Pedder Building, Hanart TZ Gallery created a convivial atmosphere with Togolese pop band Gregmel & Africana, there to accompany the ecstatic, eclectic “Kung Fu in Africa: Golden Age Hand-Painted Movie Posters from Ghana (1985–1999).” Joining the Pedder roster this year was Massimo De Carlo, opening a show of paintings by Yan Pei-Ming, after which we set off for the Ping Pong Ginoteria, where Gagosian was hosting a neon pink dinner party for Dan Colen. The night ended (finally) at Kee Club, where Johnnie Walker showed me his two-week-old tattoo by Jake & Dinos Chapman, which he claimed the artists initially designed for his buttocks, “except I was flying back to Japan and couldn’t sit on it.”
The big fair opened to VIPs on Tuesday afternoon, and the general consensus was that organizers had finally nailed the integration of Asian and non-Asian galleries—the team and their new Asia director, Adeline Ooi, delivered. The Encounters section, curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor, included works by Tromarama, Richard Maloy, Brooke Andrews, Roberto Chabet, and Pae White, who Glass-Kantor told me purchased some of the medicine hanging from her tapestries in Kowloon. I ran into curator Thomas J. Berghuis talking to collector and museum owner Dr. Oei Hong Djien. Berghuis is working toward opening Museum Macan—Indonesia’s first international museum of modern and contemporary art—backed by the Indonesian businessman and collector Haryanto Adikoesoemo, in early 2017 in Jakarta. They discussed museum ecology and how important it is to recognize Indonesia’s rich cultural scene internationally.
The parties abounded that evening, with a Craig David concert at the Davidoff fiesta poolside at the Grand Hyatt, followed by a Net-A-Porter/Mr Porter fete at the Pawn featuring local jazz band the Carpio Brothers and then Le Baron at Lily & Bloom. By the time we made it to Tolga’s pop-up at the Kee Club, we wondered whether it might not be time to make our escape, until artist Wawi Navarroza and Magnus Renfrew joined us on the dance floor, trailed by the inexhaustible Art Basel director Marc Spiegler.
On Wednesday, MAP Office followed their residency at Asia Art Archives with “An Ocean Archive,” a panel drawing from their pursuit of mapping every island in the world, and at the Art Basel Salon artist Simon Denny and the Serpentine’s Amira Gad and Hans Ulrich Obrist tackled the buzzwords hacking and open source—a tie-in to the concomitant K11 Art Foundation/Serpentine exhibition “Hack Space” at the Cosco Tower, for which Chinese artists were invited to collaborate with Denny. Later we attended a dinner hosted by Royal Salute whiskey in the soon-to-be-renovated Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, where chef Uwe Opocensky prepared food according to Ray Kurzweil’s “immortality diet,” set on specially made white-and-gold porcelain flatware inspired by John Dee, occult philosopher and adviser to Queen Elizabeth. After discussing hidden symbols, stevia, and behind-the-scenes power, I followed Michael Lin to Leo Xu’s dinner at Mak Mak, arriving just in time to witness Xu blow out the candles on his birthday cake and take a selfie with Cui Jie. We then moved on to the Emergency Party at the House of Siren, packed with many of the same artists we’d seen around Hong Kong the past few days, including Cao Fei, Adrian Wong, Shane Aspegren, Lee Kit, Poklong Anading, and featuring performances by boychild, Ming Wong, Alexander Geist, and Bendik Giske.
The art marathon on Thursday included David Elliott’s excellent show at Mill6 of artists Mariana Hahn and Kwan Sheung Chi, a contemplative video by Angel Vergara at Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Rauschenberg’s Hong Kong debut at Pace, and above all an extraordinary walkthrough of M+’s show dedicated to the collector Uli Sigg. (“That’s not even 5 percent of the collection!” exclaimed M+ curator Pi Li.) “I have seen the works individually, but together they give a history of Chinese contemporary art,” said Silvie Seidlitz. “Go to Para Site!” exclaimed Art Fair Philippines’s Trickie Lopa, who had attended a talk by the domestic worker turned street photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani that morning. “It was so moving.”
That night, Jaipur pink and Jodhpur blue were the dress code at the ICA London’s seventieth-anniversary jubilee at the lavish Harilela Mansion in Kowloon Tong. “You have to mention Nisha Parmanand organized everything,” Alia Al Senussi instructed. “I didn’t want to wait in line, so I figured I would do it myself,” said advisor John Wolf, looking puzzled at the piece of fabric he had picked up at the congested Turban Station, where partiers were encouraged to dress in turbans. (Hamza Serafi fixed it for him.) For the sake of this column I eventually crossed the Victoria Harbour for Emmanuel Perrotin’s Welcome to Saint-Tropez soirée in Repulse Bay at The Ocean, where I was greeted by young boys and girls in shorts mimicking volleyball, a cheerful Perrotin, and a crowd that was enjoying themselves a little too much, including Tobias Berger, Izumi Kato, and Petch Osathanugrah. I tried to enjoy myself just enough so that I could still be fresh for the next day’s Artforum panel: “Museums: Public, Private and the Space in Between,” which, thankfully, was worth my restraint the night prior. The enviable lineup included artist Heman Chong, Hanart TZ’s Johnson Chang, M+’s Pi Li, UCCA director Philip Tinari, and Spring Workshop founder Mimi Brown, moderated by the magazine’s Charles Guarino, as they navigated the intrigue of censorship, money, and real estate. Hong Kong has solidly consolidated fairs and private dealings. Now it’s time for the art centers and museums—Tai Kwun and M+, no pressure!
Left: K11 founder Adrian Cheng and dealer Meg Maggio. Right: Johnnie Walker's Jake & Dinos Chapman tattoo.
Left: Patron Abdelmonem Alserkal with Alserkal Avenue director Vilma Jurkute. Right: MoMA Director Glen Lowry, patron Alia Al Senussi, and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Fazza) (All photos: Kate Sutton)
“SO, WHO DID YOU VOTE FOR?”
The question may be inescapable on social media, but I wasn’t prepared to hear it from the gate agent of my Doha-Dubai shuttle. Not sure how my response might impact my boarding (can you even “Feel the Bern” in Arabic?) I went with the best answer for these troubled times: “Not Trump?”
The fact that an airport attendant in Qatar would be so keyed to the US primaries—something that, at least up until this year, most Americans couldn’t care less about—is a powerful reminder that the future at stake come November doesn’t just belong to America.
This collective fate was mapped out in the tenth installment of the Global Art Forum, which launched last Wednesday from a tent outside Art Dubai, which opened a day earlier. “Ten years ago we said we wanted to found a fair in the desert, and everyone said we were crazy,” Art Dubai cofounder John Martin recalled. At that time, there were only two or three major galleries in town. Fast forward a decade and the city has become a genuine international art hub, with Art Dubai marketing itself as the world’s most global fair while spurring on local development. As writer Arsalan Mohammad observed, “It’s hard to think of another instance when an art fair has been so instrumental in creating a scene.”
Dubai’s art week kicked off Monday night with over seven thousand visitors swarming the Alserkal Avenue gallery district to fete its expansion, with cavernous new spaces for Leila Heller and the Third Line. Other debuts include the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation; ambitious commissions by Mary Ellen Carroll, Jessica Mein, and Mohammed Kazem; a sizeable project space, slated for reenvisioning by OMA Projects, but currently occupied by a stunning Michelangelo Pistoletto show; and the studio for eL Seed, the massively popular “calligraffiti” artist who just put the finishing touches on a jaw-dropping piece spanning fifty buildings in Cairo’s Zaraeeb community. “This is truly his masterpiece,” MoMA director Glenn Lowry proclaimed.
Over the course of the week, dealers and visitors shuttled back and forth from Alserkal to the fair, which, in its tenth year, has reached an enviable maturity. Global brands like Victoria Miro, Continua, Krinzinger, Franco Noero, and Sfeir-Semler bolstered homegrown acts like Green Art Gallery, Grey Noise, and Carbon 12, leaving just enough space for the fair to take some chances, inviting projects like Accra’s Nubuke Foundation, Ramallah’s Zawyeh Gallery, and Taipei’s Mind Set Art Center. A quick glance down the aisles and you might catch Nevin Aladağ’s basketball-court-patterned carpets at Rampa, Elena Alonso’s evocative works on paper at Espacio Valverde, a suite of Sudarshan Shetty’s ceramic-and-teak-patched vases at Daniel Templon, or a sprawling Janaina Tschäpe painting at carlier gebauer. “It’s the biggest piece in the fair, right?” dealer Francesca Kaufmann marveled, eyeing the Tschäpe. “Not quite,” Marie-Blanche Carlier demurred, nodding toward Blain Southern, where a sweeping Abdoulaye Konaté textile blanketed the entire back wall. At Third Line, the booth was split between a new piece by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, subject of a triumphant solo show at Sharjah Art Foundation, and stills of Youssef Nabil’s latest film, featuring a scintillating Salma Hayek belly-dancing. An older French woman sputtered to her husband: “But this is the wife of Pinault!” Her husband nodded, dutifully dropping his eyes to the carpet.
Over at SILVERLENS, dealer Jeffrey Deitch was admiring one of Maria Taniguchi’s acrylic “brick paintings.” “I did a studio visit with her when I was in Manila,” he explained. “I think she’s fantastic!” As he continued to inspect the work, SILVERLENS’s Isa Lorenzo turned to me, confiding, “Imagine, it was just a normal opening and then all of a sudden Jeffrey Deitch walks in…”
Deitch isn’t the only power player looking toward the Philippines. Last month, over twenty thousand visitors flocked to the nation’s fourth art fair. Meanwhile, the rise of high-profile collectors like Robbie Antonio (spotted fluttering through the aisles) makes it all the timelier for Art Dubai’s regional showcase, Marker, to fix its sights on the Philippines. Curated by Ringo Bunoan, the special booth roped in contributions from some of the country’s leading artist-run spaces, including Thousandfold, Post Gallery, and the 98B Collaboratory, who introduced Bunoan to Mark Barretto, a Filipino street artist based in Dubai. “You wouldn’t believe how many Filipinos live in the Emirates,” Bunoan assured me.
Part of Art Dubai’s success lies in its ability to bring worlds together. Besides Marker, Art Dubai offers on-site commissions, performances, cinema screenings, and educational intensives, along with the Abraaj Group Art Prize—which this year went to Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme—and not one, but two talks programs: the aforementioned Global Art Forum and the Terrace Talks, “remedial” conversations held amid the macaroons in the Abraaj VIP lounge.
This year, veteran GAF commissioner Shumon Basar brought in rookie codirectors Amal Khalaf and Uzma Z. Rizvi, who devised “The Future Was,” an astute spin on creative futurology. Over three days, speakers filled in the blank by covering multiple possible outcomes. For “The Future Was The Market,” Elie Ayache, author of The Blank Swan: The End of Probability and The Medium of Contingency: An Inverse View of the Market, gently guided audiences through a simplified version of his argument that the future must be written, not predicted, while wowing us with a densely knit graph plotting the metaphysics of the marketplace. (“That’s not actually how it should look,” Ayache admitted sheepishly. “I just used a different version of PowerPoint.”) For “The Future Was Cloud,” curator João Ribas winningly plotted the trajectory between the atomic mushroom cloud and the now-ubiquitous WiFi signal, observing our growing complacency with radiation. For another showstopper, “The Future Was Two Semi-Circles (Away from the Face),” artist Christine Sun Kim demonstrated the inflections and intonations possible when translating “future” into sign language. She left her audience swooning, if not slightly disenchanted with the limits of the spoken word.
These talks all took place in GAF’s spiffy new tent, kitted out with lava lamps and sleek sofas with a series of throw pillows commemorating four heroes: author and activist Begum Rokeya, first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova, science fiction writer Octavia Butler, and Maria from Metropolis, the first robot ever to appear on film. When writer Adrienne Maree Brown took the stage for her talk, “The Future Was Collective”—a powerful invocation of science fiction’s ability to affect social change—she assured the audience, “I’ll be careful not to sit on Octavia Butler’s face—though, as a Pleasure Activist, I’ve always wondered what that might be like.” Her talk ended on an even more intimate note: “Imagine the people in this room are the only ones capable of affecting change. What would that make you feel?” Hopeful? But then again, I picked a good seat.
The communal vibes stayed strong that night at “The Wedding Project,” a rollicking fund-raiser for the London-based residency, exchange, and exhibition program Delfina Foundation. Evolving out of a series of programs exploring the politics of food, “The Wedding Project” treated guests to an elaborate banquet. “I contemplated recruiting couples like Basel and Ruanne to have their wedding here,” Delfina director Aaron Cezar told me. “But then that got complicated.” No matter. With the bride and groom MIA, festivities continued undeterred in one of the hotel’s halls, which had been draped in a canopy of fairy-tale greenery. Each of the courses plotted one of the stages of love. Having been primed first with “Attraction,” a plum martini, and then “Infatuation,” an absinthe-laced cocktail served in a pineapple-shaped copper chalice, we passed through the root vegetables of “Attachment” and on to “Desire,” expressed through ortolan, the socially reprehensible dish of rare songbird, cooked whole. The Center for Genomic Gastronomy—a creative think tank advocating biodiversity—had conceived a vegan alternative made from bean curd and steamed fig. “The chefs worked it out so you’ll still get the sense of some crackling of bones,” Cezar assured us, gleefully tracking the revulsion that rippled through the room. As a final touch, the dish is eaten with a napkin covering one’s head, to hide the mess, yes, but also the shame.
“We must now toast the tragic lovers out there—and I see some of you are here for this dinner,” Cezar boomed. For “Grief,” Matheus Rocha Pitta’s contribution, guests were served loaves of bread baked full of desert sand. The next course, Candice Lin’s “Enslavement,” proposed throwing off the ties that bind. Her “Beggar’s Revenge Chicken” was served encased in ceramic modeled after the faces of the top eight of ArtReview’s Power 100. (Marc Spiegler, sitting across from me, should be relieved the dinner was kept small.) Crafted by students from the local art school, some likenesses—say, Ai Weiwei or Iwan Wirth—were more faithful than others. “I told them to pick a defining feature and focus on that,” Cezar admitted, which explains why the Marina Abramović chicken was 90 percent nose. “Hans Ulrich doesn’t have his glasses,” someone moaned, triggering Thomas J flashbacks. Of course, to actually eat the chicken, the effigy had to be destroyed. Leading the charge was powerhouse patron Delfina Entrecanales, who was presented with her own special chicken-portrait. “I smash it?” she asked no one in particular, before shrugging, picking up an empty pineapple chalice, and delivering a blow altogether unexpected from a near nonagenarian.
“Now sweetness will come through the wedding cake,” Cezar trilled, eliciting a snortle from Taus Makhacheva, the artist responsible for the dessert. As the immaculate slices were brought before each guest, it became apparent that we had reached “Disorder”: The cake was fake. But as intrepid guests were quick to figure out, the place settings were delicious, with plates made from toffee, napkins of marshmallow, and the cutlery a dubious candy-cigarette-like substance. “It seems you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Cezar concluded. “But you can take it home. And should. It’s a limited edition.” How forward thinking.
“IT’S A GREAT IDEA to repurpose a parking lot,” said one of the guests filling the lifts that serviced the Link Carpark in Makati, where the fourth edition of Art Fair Philippines opened last month. “But couldn’t they have invested in a grander entrance?”
On the sixth floor, we were greeted by nascent VIP queues and air-kisses from those who had already snatched their passes and made it inside. On the seventh floor, Nick Buckley Wood from Pearl Lam Hong Kong was running late for the airport and swiftly scanning the more than forty galleries and project spaces. “I came for that opera thing last night,” Wood said, referring to Gabriel Barredo’s Opera at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. “It was crazy, but good.” I spotted Aenon Loo of both White Cube Hong Kong and Gallery Exit lingering at Edouard Malingue’s booth with a good-spirited Lorraine Malingue. A crisp “I loooooove this!” broke out as I entered an exhibition at Crucible Gallery of line drawings and minimal sculptures by Arturo Luz (turning ninety this year). “Oh!” the voice continued. “Did I say that out loud?”
Left: National Gallery Australia curator Melanie Eastburn and dealer Matthias Arndt. Right: Art adviser Amelia Abdullahsani, dealer Michael Janssen, and TV host–nightclub owner Tim Yap at the Palace.
“It’s More Fun in the Philippines,” goes the Tourism Bureau’s official slogan, reminding me of Umberto Eco’s tracking of that supposedly American keyword “more” in his 1973 essay “Travels in Hyperreality.” The slogan is as overused here as “Same, same but different!” is in Thailand—a common conversational fallback. But even though I was braced for hyperbole, I was left aghast by Daniel Dela Cruz’s His Only Son, an installation in a dramatically lit black room featuring dozens of brass sculptures: crucifixes alongside torn and muscular and aging and pregnant (virgin?) bodies. “He’s very devoted,” I was told matter-of-factly. More deliberate garishness was to be found at the booth for Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan Mabini" nofollow="nofollow">Isabel Aquilizan Mabini Art Project, a pursuit the enduring couple—thirty-one years and five kids later—kicked off ten years ago with commissions from the street painter Antonio Calma. Named after the postwar Mabini Art Movement, the installation included a convenience store and sculptures made of stacks of paintings to be sold “by the meter,” pressuring the tenuous distance between low and high art. “She has a hat for every event,” said collector Hugo Bunzl, pointing at Tessa Rufino-Prieto Valdes of the prominent Rufino family, who had just joined the vernissage. I ran into Jasdeep Sandhu from Gajah gallery who had brought a couple of works by Ashley Bickerton, and we talked about Bickerton’s home base in Bali. “He is like in the movie The Martian: marooned on a foreign land and wondering ‘HTF will I get home?’ ” Exquisite agony.
On Thursday, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design opened “Locomotion,” a solo show with the Shanghai-based Taiwanese artist Michael Lin involving local pedicabs. Artist Kawayan De Guia shared tips on when to best visit the mountain town Baguio, and his father, the filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik (rocking the coolest E.T. tee), reminisced about pregentrified Beaubourg in the mid-1970s. “Is this the red light district?” asked one of my fellow travelers as we arrived at 1335 Mabini for the opening of two shows, one by socially engaged Bacolod-based artist Manny Montelibano featuring pole dancers, and the second including dreamy seascape paintings and plastic-wrapped sculptures by Korean artist Hong Soun. I spoke to Poklong Anading and Tad Ermitaño about their upcoming participation with Mark Salvatus in the Philippines pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Their subject? The perverse impact of the National Cultural Heritage Act, which has inspired some owners to demolish their buildings just prior to their fiftieth year to avoid rehabilitation costs.
Left: Dealers Aenon Loo and Lorraine Malingue. Right: Globe platinum director Isabel Katrina S. del Carmen and socialite Tessa Prieto-Valdes.
By that time we were due at MCAD’s afterparty at Bank Bar, a speakeasy accessible through the storage room of a 7-Eleven, inside a bank. An elated crowd was raving the night away as I met MCAD’s newish head of exhibitions, Fatima Manalili, recently back in the Philippines after a five-year stint at the Orange County Museum of Art. Soon enough I was distracted exchanging late-night wisdom with TV/radio celebrity and “eventologist” Tim Yap: “In Manila we are like the Smurfs, everyone knows each other, and everyone is super friendly.” We cheerfully followed him to one of his clubs, Revel at the Palace, where he gave us a grand tour of the premises, moving in sync with the music up and down stairs and via back passages to the various DJ decks of his palatial entertainment complex. (More: It had a pool.)
The next night, anticipating Manila’s nightmarish traffic, we gave up on the Wasak! party in Cubao. We missed out on some crazy beats at the artist space–cum–production studio, which features a reproduction of Guernica and a live ostrich. Instead, I lingered at the home of collector Jonathan Matti, where a happy Can Yavuz, whose Singapore-based Yavuz Gallery was exhibiting at the fair for the first time, talked shop with the other guests. “My collection is a collection of ideas,” said Alvaro Pertierra. Everyone nodded. If the fair was anything to measure by, ideas sold very well in Makati that week.
Left: TV host Tim Yap, Art Fair Philippines's Dindin Araneta, Singapore Art Museum curator Joyce Toh, and Fost Gallery's Stephanie Fong at Bank Bar. Right: Dealer Jasdeep Sandhu.
IF YOU’RE OLD ENOUGH, you’ll remember the term “urban primitive,” a pejorative (I always thought) coined during the late 1980s or early ’90s for the tatted, pierced, and dyed set who, through these various cosmetic alterations to their bodies, were somehow more in touch with the dissipating collective id that was being ravaged by Western cynicism and late capitalism.
I dunno—back then I recall the majority of UPs being aggro straight white dudes who smoked the shittiest weed and drank too much, calling anyone who had a sense of humor and not a jot of “tribal” ink on their bodies “fuckin’ faggots.” Well, imagine their horror, and my delight!, when Genesis P-Orridge, founder of industrial music and post-punk icon to many of these gents, married the irrepressibly sharp and sexy Jacqueline Breyer, aka Lady Jaye, in 1993 (“Gorgeous, like a female Brian Jones,” Genesis once said to me) and took in not only her surname, but her entire being as well (and she, of course, his) as part of a project they called Pandrogeny, an endeavor to throw off the shackles of binarism connected to sexuality and identity through various rituals and surgeries to look and become more like one another (gifting themselves with matching nose jobs and breast augmentations, for instance), and, in the process, blow the scope of their love up into the cosmos. Lady Jaye died in 2007, but s/he (a refangled pronoun, like h/er, to refer to the postsynthesis being of who they are as one) is still quite vividly alive in the artwork and music of Genesis, and in Genesis h/erself, who goes wherever h/er imagination guides, engaged more by novelty than consistency, and leaving a certain strain of likely gobsmacked fan from the era of Friends and denim rave pants where they firmly belong.
Left: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Tongue Kiss, 2003. Right: Visitors to “Try to Altar Everything” at the Rubin Museum.
On Friday the Rubin Museum had an opening soiree for “Try to Altar Everything,” a retrospective-cum–site-specific installation, which contains over thirty years of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s visceral paintings, sculptures, drawings, and collages that focus on h/er relationship to Hinduism and the Kathmandu Valley, beautifully appointed throughout that building’s gorgeous sixth-floor penthouse suite (anytime I ascend or descend the Rubin’s circular Art Deco staircase, I’m Jean Harlow…but fat). The lines were out the door as friends, fans, museum members, and the sundry curious arrived to see the show and contribute offerings for the 750 circular compartments installed into the walls of the exhibition, an artwork that is the titular centerpiece, a kind of all-encompassing shrine and aboveground catacomb for small (no larger than two by three inches) objects.
Admittedly, some of the things given enjoyed an upgrade to the sacred by dint of Genesis’s numinous hands touching and placing them into their compartments (a Pokémon card, a luggage tag), while others seemed to wear their specialness a bit more openly (a delicate-looking, helix-like object cut from acetate with text printed on its fragile strands; a heart-shaped sachet with a silky ribbon). One man I talked to had a hard time deciding whether or not to let go of a silver dollar his wife gave to him when they were teenagers. I think he just kept it. Another woman unloaded a necklace from an abusive ex-boyfriend: “The only nice thing he ever did for me during a rare lapse of complete selfishness,” she said. The first thousand people who brought in objects received a psychic cross, somewhat Orthodox in character, and a symbol of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, a religion founded in 1981 by Genesis and h/er band Psychic TV, whose manifesto contains a fabulous tenet we should all work a little harder at upholding: “THEE OBLIVION OV THEE OBVIOUS.”
Left: Visitors look at Cruciform (Sigil Working), 2005. Right: A visitor at “Try to Altar Everything” at the Rubin Museum.
I caught a couple of cute goth kids canoodling while admiring an illuminated coffin standing upright, its lid emblazoned with a composite image of Lady Jaye and Genesis nude, sans navel or sex organ (Gateway to Pandrodise [Walk Towards thee Light], 2010). Another couple looked at it, wishing they could buy it. They ended up sharing a big sweet kiss too. A docent looked at me, maybe somewhat puzzled by all the amour unfolding before a casket. “Well, you know, death makes a lot of people feel sexy,” I offered. “Being confronted with it makes them want to affirm that they’re alive.” She grimaced, and walked away. I then gently scolded someone for trying to touch a collage.
I managed to find Genesis hiding out downstairs, holding court at a cocktail table surrounded by Invisible-Exports’s Risa Needleman, filmmaker and producer Gala Verdugo, artists Dean Holdiman and Francesco Clemente, and the exhibition’s curator, Beth Citron. Anytime I’ve heard, publicly or privately, Genesis’s various tales about life and death (s/he’s been legally declared dead three times), magic and discovery (s/he was on a camping trip with h/er family in 1991 in Scotland when a random encounter with a Tibetan monk in the country brought h/er to Lama Yeshe, who said “If you’re fed up with this rock-’n’-roll business, why don’t you go to Nepal?”), or art and romance (Genesis first met Lady Jaye at an s/m club, where they had a besotted and hours-long conversation, with Genesis noticing toward the end that Jaye had been grinding h/er stiletto into some guy’s hand the entire time), I’m reminded of how dull and risk-averse much of my life is these days. When I tell Genesis that h/er hordes of fans are dying to see h/er, s/he said, “That’s why we’re sitting here, keeping our nerves intact.” Even goddesses need a break.
ARMORY WEEK IS BEHIND US. Art Dubai and Art Basel Hong Kong just ahead. So is MiArt, Art Brussels, and Art Cologne.
Forget the inner drummer. We now march to the circadian rhythm of fairs, even though a certain homogeneity has settled over them like a net. We know what we’re going to get before we see it. Places may change; faces hardly ever. Can fairs satisfy a longing for the sublime or do they only serve the needs of people who don’t have the time or inclination to see art parked anywhere but in their portfolios? Does art benefit from merchandising or suffer?
Consider the Independent, whose seventh edition opened with a VIP preview on Thursday, March 3. It was supposed to be an alternative. Small of scale, personable, and comprehensible, if not cutting-edge, it gave us a neighborhood market for the gallery equivalent of mom-and-pop shops. “It’s still a boutique fair,” said dealer Nicky Verber during the opening at its new digs at Spring Studios in TriBeCa. “But it feels different,” he said. “Maybe because the place doesn’t have a history.”
Not an art history, anyway. Founded at the former Dia in Chelsea by dealers Elizabeth Dee and Darren Flook, the Independent first announced itself as a “curated” fair, almost a protest against the engorging Armory Show and its numerous satellites. A few dozen dealers from the UK, Europe, and New York presented their wares within a nontraditional, open-plan design that gave the enterprise a funky exoticism. Last year, the building was sold to a development company that didn’t care about art. The founders, who were already planning a sister fair in Brussels—it debuts next month—had to move.
They landed in a former cigar factory where developers did everything possible to remove any trace of the past that might have given the building some character. The architect Jonathan Caplan, who has done well by several art spaces, put up solid dividing walls, two to a gallery. With the help of daylight pouring through massive windows on each floor, the design retained the openness of the original maze, but it also swept away the chaos. “It looks like fucking Bloomingdales,” said one usually optimistic collector. She wasn’t the only one to say so. “Bras, girdles, foundations,” another shopper cracked, as the elevator doors opened on six.
I didn’t have a bad experience, not by a long shot, but the warmth was gone, the sense of possibility—the idea that you could literally stumble over an artwork that might horrify or charm you, maybe both at once. Everything here was so tidy! The Mousse and Printed Matter bookshops were still in residence—on a couple of tables in the sixth-floor lobby—but the café? Oy. At the old Dia, it had benefited from a rooftop location near the books. Here, it was crammed into a suffocating interior room.
Left: Artists Douglas Coupland and Michael Stipe. Right: Dealer Maureen Paley.
Dee and Flook are not to blame. This is the world we live in—sanitized, commercial, and impersonal. Nevertheless, during the placid preview, the Independent still felt homey and, well, independent, almost like a regional startup with engaging personnel. The best spot was in a garret-like mezzanine on the seventh floor, reachable only by a staircase from the sixth. Verber’s Herald St shared the space with Karma, White Columns, and Artists Space—a nice mix of commercial and nonprofit. Colorful, and very comfy, chairs by Katy Stout attracted early attention at Karma. Ceramics by Bruce Sherman took the cake at White Columns, which overlooked the mall on the floor below.
At the Modern Institute booth, Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, an active collector of apartment-size art, eyed two paintings by Haley Tomkins. Unable to decide between them, he happily nailed both. Maureen Paley was doing “extremely well,” she said, placing a Wolfgang Tillmans and cast gourds by Paulo Nimer Pjota in “very good collections.” Kerry Schuss, Jack Tilton, Hannah Hoffman, and David Lewis all spoke to connoisseurs on the fifth floor, where Jay Gorney and Derek Eller had mined a cache of Karl Wirsums, hard by Venus Over Manhattan’s display of drawings by Peter Saul, and the raucous sculptures and wallpaper at Martos. Yet a civilized quiet pervaded the air, not excitement, even on a ground floor reserved for open-eyed first-timers like Chapter NY, Mitchell Algus, and Silberkuppe.
Maybe the only real alternative was to go back to the source—to individual galleries. That evening, one could pick from shows in Chelsea that surveyed work by Robert Barry (at Mary Boone), Ivan Chermayeff (at Pavel Zoubok), James Nares (at Paul Kasmin), or Adam McEwen (at Petzel). The effect was like seeing the movie you were watching on an airplane unspool on a wide theater screen.
Nares had built on the success of his extraordinary slo-mo film Street, with only slightly faster but equally captivating video portraits of friends like Jim Jarmusch, Amy Taubin, Hilton Als, Douglas Crimp, and Walter Robinson, among other rogues seldom displayed on gallery walls. The crowd at the reception was like a New Wave reunion that brought out Pat Place (a former bandmate of Nares’s in the original Contortions), Christopher Wool, Amos Poe, and Glenn O’Brien (another portrait subject).
People at Petzel were confused at first by the airport-security-like trays on tables at the gallery’s entrance. But they were actually graphite sculptures that led into the installation of large, undiscernible black structures. “That’s exactly what the IBM supercomputer looks like,” the artist said. Its shadowy presence was quite threatening—as, in their own way, were McEwen’s four wide-screen images of Manhattan’s tunnels, traffic improbably absent from each. I thought at first they were screen prints, or charcoals. Nope. They were printed on sponge. In the project room, game viewers climbed to the ceiling on a shuddering industrial staircase, its zigzag shape echoed in a plywood frame cut as a letter K. For Kafka? K-Mart? Kool? McEwen’s response: “You choose!”
Those who chose to accept invitations to dinner alighted in SoHo at what McEwen had told his family was “a cheap, tawdry bar in a bad hotel with river views and loud music.” Who wouldn’t want to go to that party? People did. The bar wasn’t that sleazy, but it was awfully cheap. No mixed drinks. Hell, they didn’t even stock tomato juice. Dinner? A couple dozen sliders were set out on the bar. Cocktail tables had cheese squares and a few grapes. But the view was as advertised. Very nice.
Stomachs grumbling, some people left early for dinner at home, or elsewhere. Others stayed to drink and dance. Glancing at my watch, I went to the Hotel Americano, where Kasmin’s guests were only just finishing the appetizer course of a seated dinner that filled the dining room with shining eyes, smart talk, and good hair.
Nights in New York are always young, but I think it was mainly out-of-towners who made off with die-hard locals to the Thursday night afterparties: Tolga’s Fair Club in the Americano basement, and the White Columns/Gavin Brown disco at Santos Party House. They must have been good. On Friday evening, when I got to the opening of Haegue Yang’s exhibition at Greene Naftali, some of the several curators examining her anthropomorphic woven-straw sculptures were still nursing hangovers.
Artworks provided a handy wakeup call for brains in need of sustenance, and the deep-sea blue of the walls in another room, where silvery folding-blind sculptures hung in the air like flying fish, were inordinately peaceful. It was quiet at Barbara Gladstone’s West Twenty-First Street temple too—not because no one was inside, but because everyone was sitting in darkness, watching a new film by Philippe Parreno, Li-Yan, partly shot right here, in Long Island City. Its projection was remote-controlled by microorganisms inside a bioreactor uptown, in Gladstone’s white-on-white townhouse gallery on East Sixty-Fourth, as they anticipated or responded to the climate and movement in the gallery.
I have no idea how it connected galleries in very different parts of town, because I hadn’t been there yet, but I do know that making the show had required the assistance of scientists, and that people coming from there spoke reverently of the colorful, helium-filled fish balloons swimming through the air.
Perhaps we’re all thinking about our climate, and pollution, political as well as environmental. Conversation at the three long tables set up for a rather elaborate dinner—at the Garage, a vast rental space near the Armory Show piers—inevitably turned to the presidential campaign, meaning Donald Trump, and Hillary versus Bernie. Mostly Trump, demagoguery and entertainment.
This was Parreno’s first show in New York with Gladstone, and the gallery went all out, flying Arnold & Henderson over from London to cater for well over a hundred people. They included a heavy complement of curatorial power—Hans Ulrich Obrist, Stuart Comer, the Walker’s Fionn Meade and Pavel Pyś, Tom McDonough, Tom Eccles, Chrissie Iles, Alex Poots, Simon Castets, Beau Rutland, Massimiliano Gioni. Clearly, Parreno is an intellect’s taste. Joining him were other ’90s-generation artists, like Sarah Morris, Matthew Barney, T. J. Wilcox, and Liam Gillick; a smattering of collectors (Ethan Wagner and Thea Westreich, Beth Swofford, Andy Stillpass, Mary and Rebecca Eisenberg); and a current generation of artists, represented by Rachel Rose and Ian Cheng.
“How incredibly exciting this is,” said Obrist, in the first of three toasts, this one aimed at Gladstone. Gillick spoke of his long admiration of and friendship with Parreno before giving Barney, whose studio is in Long Island City, an encouraging nudge. “Queens,” he said, raising his glass, “has never looked better.”
Next morning, it was back to business.
ARMORY ARTS WEEK got the jump on Easter this year by arriving on the first of March with its own Second Coming. On that day, the gods pulled back the curtain of winter to reveal, in all of its freshly sandblasted glory, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new modern and contemporary art sibling: the Met Breuer.
Excuse me. I meant to say, THE MET Breuer, the museum’s rebranding of the Brutalist jewel box on Madison Avenue that Marcel Breuer designed in 1966 for the Whitney Museum of American Art. Though THE MET has only an eight-year lease, it has taken possession of the born-again building as if the arrangement were permanent.
Red is the color of THE MET’s unnecessary new, block-letter logo. Red LED screens on express-ticket kiosks in the lobby address recent litigation over prices with the tortured phrase, “Full Suggested Admission Only.” (Those who choose to pay what they wish must go to the reception desk and face down an actual person.) And the concrete canopy over the building’s entry now sports the rouged underbelly of a Christian Louboutin shoe. But hey—that’s contemporary, no?
I pondered the question throughout a day of fresh starts that began at Emmanuel Perrotin, two blocks south of the Breuer, with a preview of a show by Erró, the eighty-four-year-old Icelandic Pop artist who is yuge in France but virtually a stranger to Americans—except for Carolee Schneemann. The two collaborated in 1963 on photographs of a naked Schneemann merging with her materials, and on a performance involving a horse, or so said Hans Ulrich Obrist, who knows everything about everyone and forgets nothing. As a teenager, Perrotin worshipped Erró, whose collages and paintings blend a Playboy aesthetic with that of Mad magazine and the Hairy Who.
It felt natural then to move on to Anke Kempkes, a dealer who specializes in second acts. She was christening the first of her Broadway 1602 gallery’s two new homes in an elegant, East Sixty-Third Street townhouse with coffee, pastries, and a lovely exhibition of work by the very underrecognized Pop artist Idelle Weber. (In May, Kempkes will join new Gavin Brown and Elizabeth Dee galleries in Harlem, where she’ll open an additional, much larger space.)
The unruly ruled at the fifth edition of Ambre Kelly and Andrew Gori’s “curator-driven” Spring/Break Art Show, the place to go for collectors who want to see art that does not look like art in spaces that are not white cubes. At this fun fair, independent curators and artists liberated from gallery representation kitted out the shabby, fake wood-paneled offices on two block-long floors of Manhattan’s main post office, at some undetermined date to become the new Amtrak hub, Moynihan Station.
During the sparsely attended VIP preview—it’s all about the evening opening here—I stumbled into one theatrical environment after another, some with next-level, new generation artworks that veered from the helplessly digital to the emphatically handmade. At the third-floor entrance were three thousand square feet of a digitally printed New York mural by Anne Spalter. In a darkened room on the fourth floor, Cate Giordano created a full-scale diner, with fake food, actual booths, and fully dressed stick-figure patrons. Chris Bors’s show was encapsulated in its title, “Guilty of Being White.” And tiny collages by the dry-witted filmmaker Jim Jarmusch appeared with new works by Michael Zwack, Robin Winters, and the French affichiste Jaques Villeglé in a scattershot room organized by Arielle de Saint Phalle and Taylor Roy.
Within a complex of rooms curated by Dustin Yellin was “Jimmy’s Thrift Store,” a display by Azikiwe Mohammed featuring neons, self-made vinyl records, toys, mail art, and a whole lot of other things that could call to mind New Davonhaime, a fictitious town named for the five cities in America with the largest black populations. “I’m just trying to make a place that’s a little less crappy than the world we have,” he said.
Another world was a hop and skip away at the Park Avenue Armory, where the Art Dealers Association of America held its gala preview of the Art Show, a benefit for the Henry Street Settlement. It’s also good for art, and even better for the social nature of people. Decibel-dampening carpet, flattering light, champagne stations, and commodious buffet tables all contribute to the illusion of an old-school salon. “It’s kind of nice that you can have a drink and look at art at the same time,” observed Lucky DeBellevue, one of several artists who came to see how the other half shops.
Small booths encourage dealers to limit their wares to small-scale solo presentations of works either freshly minted—by a Sherry Levine, Gillian Wearing, or María Elena González—or historic (read: male)—by the likes of Barry Le Va, Bob Thompson, or Sigmar Polke. The goal, of course, is to seduce the bejeweled dowagers and manicured businessmen in attendance still resistant to contemporary art. “You have to have the proper environment for something like this,” said philanthropist Phyllis Kossoff of an ink-on-mirror painting in the all–Nick Mauss 303 Gallery booth. “But it looks beautiful,” she added, as apology for moving off.
Longing eyes hankered for the sparkling, pulverized mica paintings by Polke (from 1999) that were hanging on the midnight walls of the Michael Werner booth. “I was in his studio when he figured this out,” dealer Gordon VeneKlasen told collector Barbara Jakobson, sounding still awed. David Nolan had roped off the front of his stand, where Le Va re-created a felt scatter piece from 1967 that he hadn’t exhibited since. “It comes with instructions,” Nolan said, “though you can choose either to drop or throw.” One section, however, requires a collector to give it a good kick.
I kicked myself up to the Breuer, where THE MET director Thomas Campbell and its president, Dan Weiss, were greeting a super-VIP crowd of trustees and lenders, as well as directors and curators from every other museum in town. All clearly were eager to see what a greenhorn modern and contemporary department overseen by Sheena Wagstaff had wrought with “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible,” a destabilizing experience of unforeseen proportions.
“My grandfather thought these paintings were finished,” said Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, owner of Woman in a Red Armchair, 1931, a done-over (and over) portrait of his grandmother, Marie-Thérèse Walter. It hangs on the fourth floor with a bunch of Cézannes that look even more deliberately undone. “You can see that from one day to the next, his feelings for my grandmother changed radically,” the grandson joked. “I guess he was a little testy.”
But the whole show is radical. It’s bold to open a branch of THE MET for modern and contemporary art with a show that looks back seven hundred years—but odd to borrow two-thirds of it from other collections. Or was that just a ploy to elicit gifts from any Leonard Lauders around? So went one theory floated by first-nighters faced with many dislocations. “That’s the same Janine Antoni I put in a biennial,” remarked New Museum director Lisa Phillips, once a curator for the Whitney. “And it’s in the same place!”
I found Brice Marden taking refuge in a room dedicated to “unfinished” Turners, the most beautifully lit room in the show. And it was sweet to catch Elizabeth Peyton gazing at her finished copy of an unfinished portrait of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David, who is represented by another incomplete portrait. “The underpainting is marvelous!” exclaimed more than one artist confronting abandoned-in-progress masterworks by Titian, Rembrandt, and van Eyeck that evening. “It’s fantastic to see it at the Whitney.”
Indeed, even with these clues it was hard to remember where we were, despite the building’s obvious face-lift and new personality, schizoid though it be. Well, it always takes time to get used to a new home. It has to evolve, as do the people in it. “It’s really different seeing a show one knew only on paper,” said Nicholas Cullinan, curator of “Unfinished” until he became director of London’s National Portrait Gallery. “It’s alive!” said Wagstaff of the institution before her. “There are so many parallels between the contemporary and the Renaissance that I’d never seen before—but that’s why we’re here.”
I had to go—to Perrotin’s dinner at Vaucluse for the jolly Erró. Sadly, Schneemann wasn’t at the table. But Peter Saul, a natural compadre, was, along with Bartholomew Ryan, cocurator of “International Pop,” the show currently in residence at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and that man about town, Jeffrey Deitch, who was conspicuous by his absence from the Wednesday morning VIP preview of the Armory Show.
Apparently, the term “VIP” is now as suspect as “unfinished.” By midafternoon, Pier 94 was so dense with supposed elites that it was almost impossible to see, or at least, to focus on, any art. Heads turned for Steve Martin, John Waters, and for Anderson Cooper, who peered closely at a Tracey Emin in Lorcan O’Neill’s booth before moving down the aisle.
This was the first Armory Show for director Benjamin Genocchio. The onetime art critic had prepared a mantra he repeated for the mobs of reporters rushing him. “This isn’t just an art fair,” he said. “It’s a New York institution.” He took pride in its lack of outside underwriting. “This is not a franchise brought to you by a bank,” he said, clearly a dig at Frieze, which depends on Deutsche Bank, and at Art Basel, which is tethered to UBS. “This is brought to you by the New York art world.” He predicted that dealers in the fair would do $200 million in business over five days, and said he felt humbled by the opportunity to “imagine what can be.”
One good idea would be to get off the inhospitable piers. And to integrate the special-focus galleries, with, say, Ronald Feldman, who turned his stand into a nightclub dominated by a kind of luminescent jellyfish chandelier by Shih Chieh Huang. Or near the Alberta Pane Gallery booth, where a naked woman with strategically draped long hair—the Italian artist Romina De Novellis—was filling the openings of her chicken-wire cage with edible white roses. This was a promotion for Ella, a rose-scented perfume launching in September at Barney’s, and a collaboration with Kreëmart, the art-and-dessert project conceived by Raphael Castoriano. “This is about feelings,” he said. Good to know.
Exhausted by having to part churning seas of art advisers and would-be collectors without a sign from God, I departed for the civilized environs of the Marian Goodman Gallery, which was screening three films by Tacita Dean—one is a recent portrait of David Hockney—and showing chalk paintings and photographs of California clouds installed, appropriately, near the ceiling. Dean is an artist of utmost integrity, yet even she made a kind of fashion statement by sewing printed silk, patch pockets onto her white shirt. (They are from a limited edition of pockets benefiting the RAFI Foundation.)
Left: Dealers Emmanuel Perrotin, Peggy Leboeuf, and Jeffrey Deitch. Right: ADAA director Linda Blumberg.
“This is a love fest for Tacita,” said Goodman in her toast to the artist at Tocqueville, where collectors made up a small minority of dinner guests who included friends like Roni Horn, Piero Golia, and Julie Mehretu, curators from museums in at least three countries (including Mexico City’s Tamayo, where Dean will have a show next year), and Jeff Clarke, the CEO of Kodak, whom Dean characterized as “the man who saved film.”
It’s true. Because of Clarke, a business executive dedicated to preserving and promoting an artist’s medium, Kodak is the only company in the world to manufacture film as well as freely supply digital-only movie houses with film projectors. I was surprised to hear that digital processes are not cheaper, so there’s really no reason for directors to trade in the richness or depth available to film for the flattening effects of high-def. In her own improvised monologue of a toast, Dean remarked, “A medium does not go obsolete; technology does.” She also quoted Hockney. “Inspiration,” he told her, “she does not visit the lazy.”
Yet only the lazy are smart enough to stay home during Armory Week. The rest of us suit up for the next fair. That’s how we stay so contemporary.
Left: Dealer Lorcan O’Neill and artist Kiki Smith. Right: Artist Tacita Dean.
IT RAINED IN MADRID over the weekend as ARCO—the world’s best-attended art fair—revved its gears for the thirty-fifth time. Further down corridors of the sprawling Feria del Madrid, staid suits gathered for “an annual meeting for insurance sector experts.” But we—less risk-averse, or more aesthetically minded—headed for the convention center’s Pavilions 7 and 9. There, framed by the patchwork pillows and unfinished wood of a rustic VIP lounge, the fair’s director, Carlos Urroz, spoke to reporters. “This ARCO is special,” he said. “Normally we have an invited country; this year we don’t. We’ve selected thirty-five galleries that are important to us.”
A painter put finishing touches on Audemars Piguet’s promotional booth. Boxes of sushi were realigned at a food court. Over in the exhibitors’ section, fair founder and grande dame Juana de Aizpuru stood at her booth, mobbed by flash cameras and the paparazzi bearing them, her electric-red hair like a beacon of what’s right and good with the art world in a little sea of what’s gone wrong with it.
The fair brought collectors like Norman and Elena Foster, curators like Manuel Segade and Marc-Olivier Wahler, local superstars like Marta Rincon, and art-world folk heroes Nicolas Bourriaud and Lorenzo Benedetti, who, despite bureaucratic interference, keep doing their thing.
People seemed pleased by what they saw. Aaron Moulton, cocurator of the anniversary section along with Catalina Lozano and Maria de Corral, commented, “It’s nice to actually see good art at an art fair instead of a lukewarm soup of sameness.” Elsewhere, Kiasma curator Marja Sakari praised the quality of work. “The legacy of Conceptual art is very well represented.” (There was certainly more than your usual photos of Marina Abramović with that scorpion on her schnoz.)
“Group exhibitions can be violent for artists. And dual exhibitions even more so,” said artist Christoph Keller. But this was different. He and Daniel Steegman Mangrané showed work in Esther Schipper’s booth in the “35 Anniversary” section. The two had developed the concept together, “so it was rather a collaboration,” he said.
I was learning things about Madrid. Learning that when it rains, the city, with its trees in planters, and plants spilling from window boxes, gets that fragrant smell of leaves and dirt. I learned also about acorn-fed ham. People told me the cabdrivers would take me on circuitous routes to get a little more money, and then the cabdrivers told me there were too many of them and they couldn’t get any work, except on weekends like ARCO.
By all accounts, the country has yet to emerge from its economic crisis. “People in Spain are still suffering,” said artist Jeronimo Elespe, noting that 50 percent of those under twenty-five in Madrid can’t find work. A dealer said that international collectors were buying. But Spanish collectors? Not yet.
“But there’s more hope,” Lucia Munoz, who was helping one gallery at the fair, said later. “Spain has a great group of young people. They’re hungry because they’ve been pushed off their horse. There are start-ups; art projects."
This year Americans imported their own form of anxiety—political anxiety, to be precise. Amid the vertiginous Anthropocene, are we on the brink of electing fools? At an agreeable dinner hosted at Opazo by Esther Schipper and Mehdi Chouakri, Moulton discussed the conspiracy theory that Trump was running a fake campaign, “that he’ll win the party nomination and on live TV announce that this was a hoax, do a mike drop, and the GOP implodes.”
“We’re living in reality TV 3.0,” he added.
“I’m telling you, we’re going to be the first to get voted off the island,” responded curator Abaseh Mirvali. She nodded at the rest of us hyphenated Americans at the table. (Mirvali said she was traveling home to vote—no risky absentee ballot for her.)
Spirits lightened as a group made its way to Bar Cock, a dark, high-ceilinged place where apparently every ARCO party ends up and then the real party begins. One woman gave advice to her friend about a dinner the following day:
“Watch out for the shrimp there,” she said.
“Is that a metaphor?” her friend responded.
On Wednesday and Thursday, galleries launched their best shows. Rosa Barba unveiled smart work at Parra & Romero. A tight group exhibition at Travesia Cuatro, with work by Amalia Pica and Mateo López, masterfully combined every art-show trope under the sun—doppelgängers, polarity, mirrors, displacement, and memory—and yet felt fresh. Galleries like Max Estrella and Maisterravalbuena kicked off shows too. A multisite project, spread out across the city and organized by curatorial whiz (and Artforum contributor) Javier Hontoria included work by Khalil Rabah and Johanna Calle.
Just two weeks ago, one American dealer had grumbled about ARCO, “Only Spanish dealers make any money.” Maybe she was referring to another era. Little of that putative regionalism was in sight at the fair. Galleries from around the world reported sales. An Asturias–based foundation (which left its forest-green plaques around work it had purchased, like an animal marking territory) acquired from Joan Prats a series of photos by Hannah Collins, inspired by Noah Purifoy and Walker Evans.
And then: Mobbed by pro paparazzi, girls in lace with selfie-sticks, and a rotating cast of dignitaries, the King of Spain paid a visit—and made a stop at Team Gallery. There, awaiting his royal gaze, were playful, post-Pantone-if-not-post-Internet abstractions by Cory Arcangel and Stanley Whitney.
At NF Galería, visitors pored over the medical X-ray light boxes accompanying Mateo Maté’s conceptual artwork: the sale of rights to various body parts after his death. Dealer Nerea Fernandez, standing nearby, said her mother had started their gallery nearly four decades ago. “I’ve been working in the art world since I was born, in a way,” she said. “I can’t imagine myself doing something else. So it’s not that I’ll stop working if I win the lottery. If I win the lottery, I’ll do bigger shows.”
Left: Dealer Pedro Mendes with collector Frances Reynolds and Frieze Art Fairs artistic director Jo Stella-Sawicka. Right: Dealer Nerea Fernandez.
Each long day flowed into a late dinner, and I knew I was in Spain when, like swords of Damocles, giant hams dangled over a bartender’s head. That was at a dinner by Kaj Forsblom that drew Katelijne De Backer and artist Jiri Georg Dokoupil, among others. The next day, on the fifth floor of a local manse, Mendes Wood and Travesía Cuatro joined forces to host their own fete. “The waiters can no longer serve alcohol because it’s too crowded,” someone said. Across town, in the opulent digs of a deceased interior decorator, five galleries—Crèvecoeur, Jocelyn Wolff, Nogueras Blanchard, Maisterravalbuena, and Mor Charpentier—supplied collectors and artists with ceviche and croquetas. People appeared fresh from various parties staged by embassies.
“I’ll always remember the first time we did ARCO,” Alex Nogueras had told me. “There was a terrorist attack by Basque separatists. It was shards of broken glass that were in a car parked outside.”
His partner, Rebeca Blanchard, said, “I was on the fair's committee for four years and...one of the first things Carlos Urroz did as director was to make it smaller.” She added, “Under the last director we almost decided not to come back. [The fair] didn’t have direction, and that coincided with the financial situation.”
Left: Artist Stefan Bruggerman and dealer Guillermo Romero. Right: Art NY director Katelijne De Backer.
But things were recovering. At their booth, which featured work by Perejaume and a stable of younger artists, Nogueras and Blanchard had sold to two FRACs in France. He said collectors were also “faster this year in making decisions.”
“Before they were more like ‘I have to think about it, send me a PDF.’ This year is more like, here, now.”
In the dim light of their joint party, Axel Dibie of Crèvecoeur turned from a conversation with French collectors Sébastien and Celine Peyret. “I do this job because of the autobiography by Man Ray, Self Portrait. After reading it, I wanted to live with art and artists—to live the adventure of art.”
There we were. Living the adventure of art, I suppose. And like that, ARCO was done, and the Armory Show was upon us.