DESPERATE TO LOCATE SOME SHRED OF LIGHT, grace, or decency at the beginning of our new Dark Age, I lumbered downtown to see the Outsider Art Fair the Saturday before last—as my blessed sisters were marching, raging—at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea. I was in dire need of tempering my apoplectic bloody-mindedness. (When I saw our new chef à l’orange being sworn in with the Lincoln Bible—the same bible Barack Obama used for his 2009 and 2013 inaugurations—I wanted it to explode into flames.)
When I got there, I had the good fortune of meeting and talking to the delightful Jackie Klempay—proprietress of the former Jackie Klempay Gallery in Brooklyn, now Situations in Chinatown, which she runs with artist Mariah Robertson—about her display of works by Joyce Frizell (expressionistic owl drawings), Raynes E. Birbeck (sexy figurative drawings paired with boat and submarine sculptures made from paper, electrical tape, and toothpicks, among other media), and Jerry Torre, also more famously known as Jerry the Marble Faun, from Albert and David Maysles 1975 documentary Grey Gardens.
Klempay gave JTMF his first solo exhibition at her Brooklyn space in 2014. “He’s had an extraordinary life,” she said. No kidding: According to a 2015 interview she did with the artist, he was an assistant to 1970s cabaret star and frequent Hollywood Squares guest Wayland Flowers, who was known for his performances with his Mame-like dowager puppet, Madame; he worked for Saudi Arabia’s royal family and J. Paul Getty as a gardener; he survived horrific bouts of drug addiction and pennilessness; and he won the title of “Mister Baths”—with a $5,000 cash prize—at Manhattan’s gay Club Baths sometime during the late ’70s. Three of his carved stone sculptures were on view—an older work done à la Brancusi in Carrara marble and two others, like Celtic grave markers, stained by moss and pigment, in limestone. You wonder what our country’s right-wing regime, mostly white and exceedingly well-off, would think of the artists featured at the fair. How would they look at or value these eccentric objects, often made from cast-off materials, i.e., garbage, by black people, Latinos, Native Americans, queers, the poor, the HIV+, the homeless, the mentally ill, the physically disabled, and criminals (not the white-collar kind)—aka some of society’s most vulnerable people?
Left: Maripol and Jo Shane at the opening of “Known Unknown” at the Museum of Sex. Right: Jesper Lannung and Ricky Clifton at the opening of “Known Unknown” at the Museum of Sex. (Photos: Kelsey Stanton/BFA.com)
Kent Fine Art used their booth to honor visionary artist Paul Laffoley. The Harvard- and Brown-educated Laffoley, who died in 2015, made scrupulously wrought paintings of mandalas as charts to map out his thinking regarding extraterrestrial communication, the apocalypse, lucid dreaming, time travel, and psychotronic technologies. Dealer Andrew Edlin, the fair’s grand maestro since 2012, directed me to the booth of the UK-based Henry Boxer Gallery, which prominently featured William A. Hall’s delicate, numinous drawings—landscapes that seem filtered through Lebbeus Woods’s architectural designs, the Ming dynasty paintings of An Zhengwen, and The Jetsons. (Hall spent more than a decade of his life living in a car—cars appear frequently in his work.) Julie Webb of Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, Texas, hung up a handpainted sign by late artist Joe Light in her booth. It read: “Stupid fools [get] their nuts of [sic] by hurting people. Racism is one of the most ignorant things that could happen in this world. You have just got to have a deformed mind to be a racist.” I chatted with Webb briefly: “Not every person who lives in the South voted for him,” she said.
Edlin also organized a series of readings based on speeches made by Obama—a wide range of texts from the former president’s eight years in office were available on the fair’s website. Visitors who picked a speech and let the fair’s administrators know ahead of time that they wanted to read were given free admission. The glamorous nonagenarian Beatrice, Edlin’s mother, read the sad and confused speech Obama made on November 9, attempting to make sense of Trump’s victory. Another woman read a speech that Obama delivered when he visited Hiroshima last May—a first for a sitting US president. I read a speech which recounted the occasion in which he saw Egypt’s pyramids for the first time—he marveled at their beauty and mystery. After my short performance, I thought of something Stephen King said in a tweet after Obama’s January 10 farewell address: “You won’t hear anything so cogent and kind for a long time.”
On Wednesday, January 18, I went to the Museum of Sex—MoSex—for the opening reception of “Known Unknown: Private Obsession and Hidden Desire in Outsider Art,” a massive group exhibition scheduled to coincide with the fair. Organized by art dealer Frank Maresca and the museum’s Lissa Rivera, “Known Unknown” was staged to provide “tantalizing [and] sometimes disturbing insight into the psychological terrain of their creators.” The show features nearly two hundred pieces from artists such as Henry Darger, Aurie Ramirez (watercolor paintings of Bratz-like women in Alice Cooper makeup), Edwin Lawson (an architecture professor at the University of Cincinnati whose draggy, Mae Westy self-portraits were discovered after his death in 1980), Thornton Dial, Eugene von Bruenchenhein, Ike Morgan (rather unsettling Day-Glo renderings of XXX girls; Morgan was accused of murder when he was seventeen and spent twenty years confined to the Austin State Hospital as a psychiatric patient), Morton Bartlett, and Marilena Pelosi (quite possibly the only woman in the show, whose amazing and alien drawings call to mind Dorothy Iannone and Steven Fievet’s fucked up Baby Sue comics).
During the party I caught Kalup Linzy taking phone snaps of Steve Ashby’s hairy little sculptures encased in glass. I also saw actress Gina Gershon and jewelry designer Maripol—who influenced many of Madonna’s early ’80s looks—milling about.
Rivera introduced me to Norman Brosterman—art dealer, writer, and artist—who also happens to collect Japanese propaganda kimonos from the 1930s and nineteenth-century kindergarten artifacts. Brosterman introduced Maresca to the works of Gil Batle, who was also included in the show. Batle was a career criminal who has used his skills as an expert counterfeiter and tattoo artist to carve into the thick shells of ostrich eggs. His exquisitely detailed pieces, two of which were presented in a vitrine, illustrate events from his harrowing life spent behind bars. “Oh yeah—this is where a pimp gets murdered,” said Brosterman, pointing out an elegant filigreed scene. “And you see this guy here? He was raped with a toilet plunger.”
Before I left the museum, I struck up a fun conversation with a fabulous woman—a raven-haired minx!—in dramatic New Romantic eye maquillage and (maybe?) vintage Thierry Mugler trousers, so shiny, violet, and fitted. I asked her how she was planning on handling the next four years: “I’m gonna fuck whomever I want, look at art about fucking, and stay really, really mad.”
Left: Gil Batle works at Ricco Maresca Gallery. (Photo: Griffin Lipson/BFA.com) Right: Gina Gershon and Serge Becker at the opening of “Known Unknown” at the Museum of Sex. (Photo: Kelsey Stanton/BFA.com)
Left: Collectors Bob Fisher and Randi Fisher with SF MoMA director Neal Benezra. Right: Artist John Waters with collector Norah Stone. (Photos: Drew Altizer)
BEFORE LAST WEEK’S POLITICAL STORM, one of the first art fairs to blow into 2017 was FOG Design + Art Fair in San Francisco. In theme with its atmospherically obstructive name, gale-force winds and torrential rain grounded a spate of incoming flights, among them my own. But as I touched down early the next morning, my phone perked up with tidings of prefair goings-on among local galleries. At my request, I received a pic of artist Nicole Wermers and dealer Jessica Silverman, framed by the clean red lines of a Shiro Kuramata unit whose shelves were loaded with sand in a work by Wermers included in her show that had opened that night. I had intended to follow that crew to a dinner afterward at a trendy new Italian restaurant in the Mission. I missed dinner, and the basement reportedly flooded.
Similarly, the word from Adrian Rosenfeld’s grand opening of his eponymous space in Dogpatch—the neighborhood in which the inaugural San Francisco edition of UNTITLED fair would open that weekend—was that the mood was convivial, but the talk between Monika Sprüth and SF MoMA curator Gary Garrels was literally drowned out by percussive showers falling on a corrugated tin roof. The show, titled “Eau De Cologne,” featured a grouping of works by Holzer, Kruger, Lawler, Sherman, and Trockel presented in collaboration with Sprüth Magers. Perhaps inspired by the proximity to Airbnb HQ, another fruitful gallery sublet was FrankelLAB, inhabited by a group show courtesy of New York’s Miguel Abreu, which Abreu’s Andrea Neustein was reluctant to refer to as a “popup.” As a self-proclaimed “spy” from New York (several people roaming the city identified themselves this way) pointed out, a popup carries only a connotation in New York.
Left: Dealer Jessica Silverman. Right: Collectors Richard Kramlich and Pamela Kramlich. (Photos: Drew Altizer)
On Wednesday afternoon, the seven-hour gala opening of the FOG Design + Art Fair began to wend its way through the days of collectors and dealers who had gathered at Fort Mason from near and far. The beneficiary of the ticketed event was SF MoMA. It was busy. Booth-ensconced dealers segued from their iPad checklists to personal caches on their iPhones of local collectors in outlandish outfits. The next moment, art-world anthropologist Sarah Thornton—who three years ago became a San Francisco transplant by way of London—identified a younger milieu of collectors for me, among them high-ranking Apple designers. Thornton commented on how the city is intrinsically different from New York or London, whose art worlds are so encompassing that one can easily get lost inside them entirely.
Just as this gala—with wide red carpets everywhere, trodden upon by an infantry of silver food trollies offering steak, spring rolls, tomato soup, and other delicacies—did not feel like an ordinary affair, FOG isn’t organized in an ordinary way. Rather than a director, the fair has a steering committee of San Francisco collectors (dealers were recently removed from any formal involvement in organizing the fair) appointed by SF MoMA, and execution of the trade show is outsourced to an event production company. The result was a curious ontological setting, in which the show and its heavily catered opening might be considered a simulation of an art fair, produced by a company whose business is planning branded parties. However, passing by first-time participants such as Marian Goodman, Gavin Brown, and David Zwirner, all in the flesh, corroborated that FOG is not only real but is suddenly attracting the most formidable participants from an overcrowded field of more established events.
After making a requisite pilgrimage to SF MoMA Thursday morning, I returned to Fort Mason for a conversation organized in the back room of FOG between BAMPFA director Lawrence Rinder and artist Sterling Ruby. Not only Californian but famously polymathic, Ruby, as the de facto artist keynote of the week, reflected the breadth of the art-design spectrum along which various galleries participating in the fair also fell.
“I’m a maniacally interdisciplinary artist,” he said at one point. “He made his own pants,” Rinder confirmed, gesturing toward Ruby’s acid-washed pumpkin-colored jeans.
A not-so-quick jaunt across town to Dogpatch got me to the preview hours of UNTITLED, untrammeled by rain. The towering and quite breathtaking space was nonetheless deemed chilly by several dealers and collectors visiting from the southland. Indeed, lots of LA galleries made the trek. Lisa Overduin’s booth at the entrance stood out with a suite of hard-edge neo-hieroglyphic works by Math Bass, and around the bend Chateau Shatto had an assortment of paintings, from the bedtime-story register of Hamishi Farah to the brusque noir of Jacqueline de Jong. Making the rounds were independent dealer Ales Ortuzar with Hauser Wirth & Schimmel senior director Graham Steele, who was whiplashed, as usual, from intercontinental travel and who observed that 6 PM was approaching, which in California actually means dinnertime.
But many, myself included, were rushing to the top of the city to Grace Cathedral, where the Yves Klein Monotone-Silence Symphony was scheduled to commence at 6:30 PM. Presented by the newly merged gallery Lévy Gorvy, the mention of sealed doors by a Swiss host inspired a sense of urgency on approach. But as I entered the church there was an ease to the crowd––which numbered in the high hundreds––as people filed into pews.
“Music is as much about looking as it is about hearing,” Gorvy intoned as both dealers did their introductions. The piece would be presented in two parts: twenty minutes of the orchestra playing the same tone continuously, followed by twenty minutes of silence. I thought of two things immediately as the chorus of instruments struck their notes. One was that the inanimate sound carried a warm, windy harmony almost indistinguishable from a room full of voices. The other was that these ambiguous voices en masse sounded uncannily like one of the most iconic sounds of Silicon Valley (which, like the art trade, often casts itself in a light of pseudo-religious righteousness): the waking of an Apple computer.
IN THE SERIES OF LECTURES that now constitute A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf made the case that for a woman to write anything of substance, she must have access to resources—most notably, the titular claim to space—that could free her from the tedium of social convention. The argument was radical at the time in proposing the domestic sphere as a space for transgression and reinvention, rather than just a convenient place to keep your wife.
Woolf may not be namechecked in the press release for Sadie Coles’s current group show, “Room,” but her thinking pervades it. Curated by Laura Lord, the exhibition explores how fifteen artists (all, incidentally, female) have built, modeled, or reinterpreted the various architectures surrounding them—from the crusted nicotine scab of Sarah Lucas’s smoking parlor to the pharma-like capsules of Andrea Zittel’s Escape Vehicles to Andra Ursuta’s dreamy dollhouse rendition of a room from her childhood home.
In a separate space at the back of the gallery, dynamo New York–based dealer Bridget Donahue quite literally has a room to herself, which she has filled with “The Easy Demands,” a solo by the mighty Martine Syms. The arrangement is part of the gallery-sharing initiative Condo, a “collaborative exhibition” that launched its sophomore edition at venues across London the weekend before last.
In a moment when art fairs have purportedly rendered brick-and-mortar outfits obsolete, Condo reasserts the indispensability of the gallery space. Touting the benefits of an art fair without the bills, the project counters the doldrums of January—traditionally a slow month for the city’s art scene (something this week’s London Art Fair hoped to change)—by having galleries give up part (or all) of their space to international visitors. Participating galleries cover only their own expenses but also chip into the modest pot for PR and an opening party. “Last year, they had a closing screening program too,” Koppe Astner’s Emma Astner told me. “But by the time it got to Sunday evening, everyone was too exhausted to make it to the theater.” She paused, then added, “But, you know, like, good exhausted.”
Spearheaded by Carlos/Ishikawa’s Vanessa Carlos, Condo was conceived in the aisles—or, more accurately, the death-trap stairwells—of Liste during a conversation with Jeanine Hofland. At the time, Carlos, the Amsterdam-based and now itinerant dealer, had been experimenting with turning her space over to other galleries for a project she called a Petite Fair. “I was really struck by the generosity of that act,” she recounted.
Generosity would become Condo’s guiding mantra. The initiative launched last year with sixteen visiting galleries (well, fifteen visiting and then Dave Hoyland’s London-based gallery, Seventeen, because, as the Sunday Painter’s Will Jarvis put it, “everyone loves Dave”) setting up shop in eight local spaces, including Rodeo, Arcadia Missa, and Project Native Informant. This year, the event swelled to fifteen London galleries hosting twenty-one visitors (well, twenty visitors and, again, Seventeen, because everyone still loves Dave). While conceived as an art-fair substitute for cash-strapped younger galleries, Condo’s sophomore edition attracted staples such as Greengrassi, Herald St, the Approach, and Maureen Paley. “We had to think carefully about how to grow this,” Carlos admitted. “It was important that the bigger galleries coming in share that same spirit of experimentation and openness to collaboration.”
Perhaps reflective of the company it keeps, Condo launched with a party first. Participating galleries forwent Friday openings (Coles excepted) in favor of all-day previews on Saturday and Sunday. Otherwise, the daunting geographic sprawl—from the East End to Vauxhall to Peckham—would have necessitated the kind of social Sophie’s choices counter to the collaborative spirit of the event. Instead, early Friday evening, the thirty-six participating galleries and their guests gathered at the Union Club, a historic Georgian townhouse tucked in the middle of Soho. Quaint, yes, but not necessarily designed to host Condo-size crowds. Fortunately, the venue had recently taken over part of the building next door and adapted it into an upstairs dance floor, relieving some of the crush at the entrance. “This club’s like FIAC,” Mother’s Tankstation’s Finola Jones chimed in. “They’re always finding new spaces behind some door or another.”
The quirky layout gave each room its own distinct flavor. In the main bar, dealers including Jones and Maureen Paley rubbed shoulders with Frieze Art Fair director Victoria Siddall (characteristically radiant, even after having just flown in from the San Francisco fairs), Tate’s Gregor Muir, Chisenhale’s Polly Staple, Art Basel’s Alia Al-Senussi, and curator Omar Kholeif, while Hauser & Wirth’s Selvi May Akyıldız showed artist Issy Wood her newly acquired “I ❤ Caravaggio” T-shirt, a souvenir from a last-minute trip to Rome. In a portrait-lined parlor upstairs, Gasworks’ Alessio Antoniolli caught up with Serpentine curators Amal Khalaf and Rebecca Lewin and artists Cécile B. Evans and Yuri Pattison, while in the smoky back bar Ingrid Moe and Lloyd Corporation’s Sebastian Lloyd Rees and Ali Eisa kept it Nordic. Throughout it all, an amiable Oscar Murillo sat stationed at the door with the list girls. “I can’t decide if I want to come in yet,” he shrugged.
To the casual observer, it looked like an art-fair party at its best. But the abundance of good vibes might have had less to do with the generous libations and more with the fact that there was decidedly less at stake for the dealers in the room, many of whom struggle to regularly make rent, underwrite artists’ increasingly complicated commissions, and still keep up appearances on the international fair circuit. “You hear people brag about skipping one fair or the other these days, like we should be congratulating them for their self-discipline,” Jones told me. “The truth is, if you’re not in one of these art capitals, then the fairs just aren’t an option. We have to do them.”
But Condo is not about bringing proverbial bumpkins to the big city; if anything, this style of international exchange grows more vital for London with each passing day, as Brexit snowballs toward reality. “I haven’t seen my passport in seven weeks,” Project Native Informant’s Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja confessed, citing the demands of the residency process. In a culture that conflates ubiquity with credibility, can a young dealer afford to sit on the sidelines for that long? Certainly more than they could afford to pack up and start all over somewhere else.
Left: Dealers Nick Hackworth, Carl Kostyal, and Dave Hoyland at The Sunday Painter. Right: The Sunday Painter's Tom Cole and Will Jarvis with artist Emma Hart.
While Condo emphasizes exhibitions over the politics of geographic fluidity, its map sang of Brexit blues. Designed by Sam de Groot in a throwback to ancient cartography that superimposed a giant serpent over the Thames, the map’s double-sided format featured two high-contrast color schemes, riffing on the EU flag on one side and the Saint George’s flag (“It’s like the racist English flag,” Carlos explained) on the other. More troubling to some, however, was the ambitious sprawl of the territory that the map covered—particularly after a late night at the Union Club which made Saturday’s noon kick-off feel decidedly less generous than it originally sounded.
We began our day at Carlos/Ishikawa, where Murillo unveiled his massive new installation, Human Resources, which peopled a space-swallowing set of rudimentary wooden bleachers with a collection of effigies from the artist’s home country of Colombia. While these human figurines are traditionally burned at the end of the year in a ritual intended to bring good luck, here they stared blankly over an Ouyang Chun triptych brought by ShanghART and Antwerp-based Timmy Simoen’s contribution, a curious Aztec-themed model roller-coaster ride by the artist Yutaka Sone. Carlos and ShanghART’s Serein Liu were talking me through the process of putting the show together, when Hans Castillo, a family friend of Murillo’s now living in London, entered the space, took a seat, and broke into what sounded like . . . yup, a Spanish version of “Hotel California.”
“You have to do something a bit special for something like this,” reasoned Dépendance’s Michael Callies. The Brussels gallery had temporarily settled into the upstairs at Maureen Paley, where they had centered a display of works by Richard Aldrich, Sergej Jensen, and Haegue Yang around a Nora Schultz floor piece. Tying the room together was a subtle paint job that mapped out the placement of each piece on the opposite wall, creating a kind of shadow play that resonated nicely with Paley’s own group show downstairs, curated by writer Michael Bracewell. As the veteran East Ender noted, the initiative wasn’t just about bringing people out east but about bringing part of the east to the west by extending opening hours to Sunday. “Originally the East End galleries were open on Sundays because that’s when you go to the markets––to Columbia Road, to Brick Lane,” Paley told us. She stressed that the international aspect of Condo could not be undervalued as a display of collaboration, rather than competition––the usual model found at art fairs.
Left: Dealers Phillida Reid and David Southard. Right: Newly named director of Goldsmith's forthcoming gallery Sarah McCrory and The Approach's Jake Miller at Sadie Coles.
“For us, the exhibition process came about quite naturally,” Nicky Verber recalled, across the way at Herald St. The show revolved around a series of Bruce McLean photographs from Berlin’s Tanya Leighton, who also brought Sam Anderson and Pavel Büchler, and a mirrored piece by architects Robert and Trix Haussmann. These works were rounded out with some perky Amalia Pica pieces from Herald St, accented by contributions from Martin Boyce and Pádraig Timoney, courtesy of the Modern Institute. “We didn’t realize how many links there were between these artists until we started putting them together in the space,” Verber marveled.
Our next stops included the Approach (hosting Simone Subal), Vilma Gold (hosting Neue Alte Brücke), and Emalin (hosting Gregor Staiger), followed by a quick lunch at Shoreditch House before we zipped down to Peckham for the Sunday Painter (hosting Jaqueline Martins, Stereo, and Seventeen) and Arcadia Missa. The latter had given over its space to Oslo’s VI, VII gallery, which paired Than Hussein Clark’s comely “Constant Lampposts” with Emma Talbot’s You Do Not Belong to You (Universal Story), a handpainted silk tent illustrating the artist’s intricate theories about the linkages of the moon and menstruation. Suffice it to say, it’s good to be in sync.
While galleries were free to celebrate their Saturday nights as they pleased, Carlos booked a catchall table for forty at Tayyabs, a popular Punjabi spot steps from Whitechapel. “Careful how you breathe in here,” K11 curator Victor Wang warned me, mere seconds after I had already inadvertently inhaled some of the permanent spice cloud hanging heavily in the air. As my seatmates Francesca Gavin and Max Mayer caught up over curries, pakora, and papadum, it wasn’t just spice hanging around; a club-clad crowd teetered on their heels behind each table, the waiting area downstairs having long since spilled out into the streets. “It’s always that way,” someone mused. “I mean, the food’s good and cheap, but the seating situation is just legit insane.”
Leaving aside the evening’s intrigues to WhatsApp (but seriously, where was her phone . . . ?), my Sunday morning moved at a decidedly more leisurely pace, beginning with Union Pacific, which was hosting Misako & Rosen and Jans Kreps, and continuing to Project Native Informant (Mother’s Tankstation and Queer Thoughts), Rodeo (Supportico Lopez), and Southard Reid (Koppe Astner.) The Central stops covered, I soldiered on to Vauxhall for Greengrassi, where Proyectos Ultravioleta revisited some of the same themes as “Room” with the “These Architectures We Make,” a thoughtful selection commingling Felipe Mujica’s geometric-chic banners, Johanna Unzueta’s playful felt pipes, and Elisabeth Wild’s elegant magazine collages.
Architecture took on a more foreboding association in Chewday’s “The Middle Class Goes to Heaven.” A collaboration with Max Mayer, the exhibition takes its title from a slide show by Nicolás Guagnini that pairs images of drab modernist housing complexes with phrases capturing the uniquely aspirational malaise of the middle class—“health insurance,” “paid vacation,” “couples therapy,” etc.—in English, Spanish, French, and German. The slide show shuffled on alongside a set of photographs and dried samples of cemetery weeds by Jef Geys, as well as a trio of ancient Egyptian funerary objects stationed at a table by the door. The casual era-hopping implied that hard times were here to stay. Let’s at least hope this spirit of collaboration proves half as enduring.
Bluehats on the march: (front) producer Sharon Oreck; second row, dealer Rhiannon Kubicka and artists Laurie Simmons and Tina Hejtmanek; third row, financial advisor Billy Dobbins, artist Tom Burr, Coco Rohatyn, writer Andrianna Campbell; fourth row, designer Malia Mills, Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal, and dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky)
FOR ONCE, you didn’t have to be there to know, but if you did join the Women’s March on Washington this past Saturday, you saw firsthand what it meant to move with a civilian army against the extreme radical narcissism of Donald J. Trump.
It meant business.
Led by women, and weaponized only with pink knitted hats, hand-painted signs, and our voices, not a shot was fired, no fights broke out, and the freedom to speak and assemble won out.
Talk about a populist uprising! Unlike the media, the DC police estimated the crowd in the nation’s capital at one million citizens—all ages, ethnicities, and genders. Forget the celebrity speakers. The streets were so dense with people that it was near impossible to find the stage. This wasn’t the moment for celebrity, anyway. Here was a show that already had the greatest stars on earth: We the People.
Most marchers motivated themselves and arrived on their own steam individually or in groups. They were unified by outrage over the carnage that the fledgling, self-interested Trump administration had caused not twenty-four hours earlier, when it deleted LGBT and climate change–related pages from the White House and Department of Labor websites, threatened the NEA and NPR, and then started in on the repeal of Obamacare.
Over our dead bodies.
All day long and into the night, marchers on foot, in wheelchairs, and on shoulders shouted out spontaneous call-and-response chants: “Show me what democracy looks like / This is what democracy looks like!”
Have you ever heard the sound of a million voices speaking truth as one? It’s magnificent. Exhilarating. The sound reverberated in waves across the city, echoing across every state in this country and in cities from the bottom of the world to the top—too loud for the White House to mute.
The art world, which honors freedom of expression with every breath, wanted to be counted. It showed up in droves from around the country—in buses and cars, on planes and trains. I saw them on Instagram! But I can only report the experience of one busload—the fifty-three artists, writers, dealers, friends, and family from New York organized by the studio of Laurie Simmons. Respect!
Because we departed from the Public Theater in the darkness before dawn, it wasn’t until the bus made a pit stop that we discovered it was actually painted pink. Pure happenstance, as it was the official color of the day, signified by the hats on women at this and hundreds of sister marches everywhere.
Credit art people for style, at least. Our hats, supplied by dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn to help us keep track of one another, were blue with red stripes and customized with the words “NYC–D.C. Women’s March / January 21, 2017.” (They were the reason we lost no one during the march.) Within minutes, all fifty-three of us had festooned our hats with pink buttons that Marilyn Minter designed for Planned Parenthood, which read: DON’T FUCK WITH US. DON’T FUCK WITHOUT US. Laurie Anderson took charge of the WE THE PEOPLE signs we would carry. Matthew Weinstein brought stickers with the words TINY HANDS / BIG BUTTONS emblazoned over the image of a nuclear mushroom cloud.
We were ready.
Left: Artist Marilyn Minter. Right: Film producer Christine Schomer.
More than ready. Collector Sandy Brant, writer Deborah Solomon, and Rohaytn each brought sandwiches or cookies. Bloomberg art-market reporter Katya Kazakina arrived from the twenty-four-hour Starbucks in Times Square with jugs of hot coffee. Company Agenda founder Gina Nanni and artist Jon Kessler brought bottled water for everyone. And when Metro cards to transport us from our drop-off point in Silver Spring, Maryland, didn’t arrive in time, the writer and Washington native A. M. Homes saved our asses by collecting and delivering them to our prep area—a sidewalk in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts. For the trip home, designer Malia Mills carried a case of prosecco.
The Bluehats, as we now became, were great company. Joining several artists on the bus were poet Anne Carson, writers Robert Currie and Andrianna Campbell, actress Gina Gershon, film producer Catherine Schomer, singer Jenni Muldaur, and cinematographer Maryse Bartoli. Yet the group was no more exceptional than any other, including those on forty-seven buses from Michigan that drove twelve hours that morning and then home that night.
We all expected the march to be big. “You never saw so many people,” a friend from DC texted as the Bluehats hopped on the Metro. “No one can move in any direction. You’ll never find me. Good luck getting to the march.”
It was incredible. “Bluehats, listen up!” barked Muldaur, whose vocal megaphone carried information best. “Whatever happens, meet at Union Station by four!”
Nothing happened. Not for a long while, anyway. There were so many people packing every inch of the National Mall and filling every single street on every side of it that the march had nowhere to go.
For quite a long time, we were bottlenecked near the Brutalist National Museum of the American Indian with thousands awaiting the 1:30 PM start of the march. It was to circle the Mall by moving up Independence Avenue, passing the White House, and returning back down Constitution Avenue. Fat chance.
Communication stalled from network overload; cell phones had only spotty service. “Let’s try to find a space where we can do something meaningful,” suggested Bill Miller, Minter’s husband. There was no space. Word then had it that the march would start at two. Then people said it was canceled. Then it started to move.
Left: Juliet Homes with writer A. M. Homes. Right: Artist Laurie Anderson.
With Independence Avenue clogged, marchers took themselves along three parallel routes. Suddenly we were making tracks across Third Street and up Constitution, carried along by an endless river of sign-waving people and joining in the chants: “Hands too small, can’t build a wall!” “Fence in Mike Pence!”
It wasn’t until we were back on the bus, cell service restored, that we began to apprehend the magnitude of this event. Kazakina told us she was looking for a latrine when she stumbled into Michael Moore. (Imagine.) “He said this march is the largest public protest in this country, ever,” she reported.
Scrolling through photographs from around the world published by the New York Times was just astonishing. Only then was it clear how enormous and unified the opposition to the divisive and petty Trump really is.
Pictures told the story, especially on Instagram. (“I’m obsessed with the signs!” said public art producer Yvonne Force Villareal, eyes glued to her phone.) Still, as artists well know, it’s not what’s in their pictures that counts so much as what they represent. And that can be threatening.
In fact, the story behind the images is heroic: An evolving grassroots movement initially organized by a small group of women pushes back against a testosterone-fueled regime of blowhards attempting to enrich themselves and disenfranchise everyone else. If not for its zillion witnesses, who would believe it?
“Who voted for Trump?” asked Solomon. “I can’t find anyone.” “The thing to do is be vigilant,” said artist Marina Adams. Fourteen-year-old Coco Rohaytn swore she would be willing to give up high school if she could help organize protests full-time.
The following morning, Anderson sent an e-mail: “One thing I’ll never forget is coming back to Silver Spring on the Red Line in a train car where everyone was singing. This is usually the kind of thing that makes me want to kill myself, but yesterday was amazing. Black-white, men-women, all ages. Somehow most people knew—or could sort of fake the words to ‘The Littlest Worm,’ ‘America the Beautiful,’ and ‘If I Had a Hammer,’ etc. etc. Transcendent.”
Of course, the ratings-seeking, media-baiting president tried to dismiss it all with a tweet. No matter. Nothing could diminish the joy of this day or its promise of an active opposition armed not just with hats, signs, and voices but with the strength of a democracy that refuses to sell itself to the highest bidder.
Art world, take note.
“FINALLY!” was all anyone could think last Tuesday when Myanmar-based artist Aye Ko received the 2017 Joseph Balestier Award for the Freedom of Art. He’d been nominated for the prestigious prize three years running.
Ko immediately promised to “share it with the community, with the children, and for their education.” Kirk Wagar, US ambassador to Singapore, and Art Stage director Lorenzo Rudolf presented the elated artist-activist with an oversize check for $15,000. “His work is a good investment too,” said Rudolf, who apparently gets asked about this a lot. The other nominees, Indonesia’s Arahmaiani and Myanmar’s Chaw Ei Thein, seemed happy to let Ko have it.
“I am in my last nine days, but I have no doubt that this award will go on,” Wagar promised. His own future was hardly stable. An initiator of the prize, Wagar is one of the Obama-appointed ambassadors who the upcoming Trump administration has unceremoniously demanded vacate their residences by Friday’s inauguration.
I joined the ceremony after a quick detour at the Arts House, Singapore’s former parliament, for “Shared Coordinates,” a friendly regional project among dealers Edouard Malingue Gallery, ROH Projects, and Silverlens. The evening was nonstop, but there was time to relax after the US embassy awards at the Raffles Hotel Arcade. It celebrated three solo shows—by Ruben Pang, the Le Brothers, and Kenny Pittock—in as many spaces, sponsored by Chan Hampe Galleries and curated by new recruit Khairuddin Hori, formerly of Paris’s Palais de Tokyo. The party featured a lot of cake.
The next day, Art Stage opened to easygoing crowds eager to see the booths. I ran into Aaron Seeto, the newly appointed director of Indonesia’s Museum MACAN who confirmed that the institution will launch in November to coincide with the openings of the Jakarta and Jogja biennials. The genial collector Dr. Oei Hong Djien (has he ever missed an Asia-related art event?) roamed the aisles and spoke enthusiastically of the Bandung Philharmonic, which was to play a symphony in his honor in the upcoming days. Other collectors included Lourdes Samson, Wiyu Wahono, Hady Ang, and Alain Servais, who were joined by curators and artists such as Ute Meta Bauer, Xue Mu, Faisal Habibi, Joyce Toh, Louis Ho, Bruce Quek, and Han Sai Por. The whole event felt open and suffused with camaraderie—a feeling that would extend to the after-party at the White Rabbit, a former chapel in Dempsey Hill that offered live music indoors and garden tables and plenty of chatter outdoors.
“We need to meet outside the fair too!” exclaimed Gridthiya Gaweewong to Zoe Butt on a panel about privately funded institutions. Joined by Seeto, they agreed that Asia continued to lack a proper arts infrastructure—but “the future is a bright and shiny as the MAIIAM’s facade,” Gaweewong claimed, wearing a big smile. I followed Enin Supriyanto and Tom Tandio to the SAM Museum for courtyard canapés and the announcement of the eleventh Benesse Prize. This year’s selection was among works in the recent Singapore Biennale—titled “An Atlas of Mirrors,” it took this perhaps a little too literally, featuring many atlases and mirrors. The $27,000 was awarded to Thailand’s Pannaphan Yodmanee, with a special prize going to Singaporean artist Zulkifle Mahmod.
Left: MACAN's Aaron Seeto and curator Joyce Toh. Right: Curator Biljana Ciric, artist Robert Zhao, collector Hallam Chow, and artist duo Birdhead (Songtao and Jiweiyu).
Postprandial activities included champagne at the Mona Lounge at Sum Yi Tai in celebration of the fair’s talks program, organized by Nadia Ng. Tandio commandeered the karaoke machine while Supriyanto regaled us with stories about his time in jail as a student protester during the Suharto regime. Arya Pandjalu, Agan Harahap, Marcin Dudek, Maryanto, Natasha Sidharta, and Grace Samboh took over the smoking area on the terrace. I opted out from more drinks at Skyline but was easily roped into an impromptu nightcap in the hotel lobby with Canna Gallery’s Tommy Sutomo and Inge Santoso, who had pulled a Château Haut-Brion for artists Entang Wiharso, Sally Smart, and Elana Herzog. Into the night conversations moved from lamenting patronizing NGO-style exhibitions to logistics for visiting the upcoming bilocal Documenta.
As I was leaving Singapore the next day, I lingered at the “boozy brunch” organized by Pearl Lam’s new branch at Dempsey Hill, which opened with Zhu Jinshi’s thick abstract impastos. The works matched collector Chong Zhou’s shirt. “I should give it to Pearl,” he joked. At the Gillman Barracks arts cluster, galleries were preparing a suite of openings, kicking off with a talk by Birdhead at Shanghart. This year, Rudolf’s motto is “Art is an attitude,” a reference to Harald Szeemann legendary 1969 exhibition “When Attitudes Become Form.” Well, there isn’t much attitude in Singapore, but it seems that the concept of Southeast Asian Art Rudolf has been shaping since Art Stage’s inception is finally becoming a form, and, for better or worse, Singapore is now the central rendezvous.
Artist Papo Colo leads Procesión-Migración.
EARLY LAST SATURDAY MORNING, an audience of international guests gathered in a room off the courtyard of the Liga de Arte in Old San Juan to hear about Puerto Rico’s thriving art scene. “It’s important to understand the background—economic, ecological, political background—of why this is such a fascinating place and why this space needs a lot of attention and support right now,” MoMA PS1 director and chief curator at large Klaus Biesenbach told those of us who had jetted in for “Puertos Ricos: A Festival of Arts and Natures.” The related series of events and exhibitions would culminate with Procesión-Migración, a performance in the El Yunque National Forest by Puerto Rican artist and Exit Art cofounder Papo Colo, who planned to disappear into the jungle and practice four hundred days of silence while creating new work.
Days before, the US territory swore in its twelfth governor, Ricardo Rosselló, who is pushing to make the Caribbean archipelago the fifty-first state. He promised a new Puerto Rico, which is in the middle of a debt crisis that has brought unprecedented tax increases, angering its middle-class citizens.
Ever the trailblazer, MoMA PS1 founder Alanna Heiss, who is also an old friend of Colo’s, moved to Puerto Rico about four years ago and purchased a waterfront property in San Juan. “I looked all over. I was really excited about Puerto Rico because of the artists and the fact that it’s urban, and there are empty buildings here just like there were in New York in the 1970s,” she said. Biesenbach has visited the commonwealth often over the past seven years, and he soon followed Heiss’s lead, buying a farm in El Yunque nearly a year back. “Alanna of course was first,” he said. “She was always first.” They decided together that the first full weekend in January was a good time for the rest of the art world to learn why they love these islands.
Heiss hosted a cocktail party and welcome dinner in her Condado home on Friday night for the Puerto Rican art world, including artists Charles Juhasz-Alvarado and Jesús “Bubu” Negrón, collectors César and Mima Reyes, and dealer Agustina Ferreyra, as well as international guests such as MoMA’s president emerita Agnes Gund, MoMA PS1’s development director Angela Goding, and collectors Anita, Poju and Tiffany Zabludowicz. (Tiffany was cocurator of Procesión-Migración.) They gathered on Heiss’s sprawling terrace, which featured an outdoor living room, bar, and illuminated palm-tree sculptures by Juhasz-Alvarado that aligned with the actual palm trees swaying against the water.
Saturday morning began with a performance of the Puerto Rican national anthem by Eduardo Alegría under a tree near the gate of the Fort in Old San Juan. The audience walked up the cobblestone streets to the home of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, representatives for the US at the 2011 Venice Biennale who fed the group breakfast in their charming Spanish-style residence.
From there we walked along under the bright sun to the Liga de Arte for an opening of Colo’s works on paper and poetry organized by Heiss and Béatrice Johnson, where curators Marina Reyes Franco and Yasmil Raymond, Beta-Local codirector Sofía Gallisá Muriente, and nonagenarian artist Zilia Sánchez Domínguez filled us in on the Puerto Rican art scene. Then Colo’s partner, Laura Rivera, donned a mustache and did a reading, and it was time for the thirty-minute drive to El Yunque.
Colo’s Procesión-Migración was inspired by Puerto Rican playwright René Marqués’s 1953 La Carreta—which follows a family who leaves the countryside for San Juan, and then the Bronx, in search of a better life—as well as his own incredible story, including a forty-year-long sojourn in New York before he returned to the island several years ago.
“In Puerto Rico, migration happens every day. Just look at the airport,” said Colo. The artist led the five hundred participants in a two-hour procession that began at Biesenbach’s farm and proceeded downhill, with goats, oxen, and horse-drawn carriages, along the road that runs through El Yunque’s verdant landscapes and cascading waterfalls. Down the hill, the group stopped for one of the myriad performances. Two men, one in drag, made out passionately against a tree before walking onto the road. “Esto es amor!” (This is love!) Colo declared.
“Vive al Amor!” shouted the crowd, following along.
Papo Colo, Procesión-Migración, January 7, 2017.
The group eventually reached Colo’s foundation, where the artist will spend his four-hundred-day residency, walking gingerly on a winding, cinder-block-strewn path through his lush garden, passing by its wooden treehouse, before heading to the banks of the Río Espíritu Santo. The dozen or so performers descended into the river, stripping their clothes so that the artist could perform a ritual cleansing. The procession ended with a celebratory feast of chicken and arroz con glandules.
“It represents the idea of connecting and solitude, but also the difference between people who are connected through social media, and that everything is so fast,” said the artist Carlos Rolón/Dzine. “This actually goes back, and it digresses in a positive way.”
Those who still had the energy returned to San Juan and Embajada, a gallery started by NADA membership director Manuela Paz and artist Christopher Rivera, for the opening of Jorge González’s “359 Dias in 19 Meses.” Just over a year old, the space, which focuses on established and emerging Puerto Rican and international talent, already has one artist—Chemi Rosado-Seijo—in the upcoming Whitney Biennial. “These artists have always been around,” said the San Juan–born and –raised Rivera. “This is putting us on a more international platform.” Or, as Heiss had said about Puerto Rico’s artists earlier in the day: “They’re ferocious, they’re terrifying, and they’re real revolutionaries.”
On Sunday morning a group hiked through the jungle to Cueva Vientos, a bat-filled limestone cave where Allora & Calzadilla perched Dan Flavin’s eight-foot sculpture Puerto Rican Light (to Jeanie Blake)—named for Blake’s observation about the way red-orange, pink, and yellow neon tubes emulate the commonwealth’s light—some eighty feet above the ground. The project is Dia’s first offsite work since they installed Joseph Beuys’s 7000 Oaks at Documenta in 1982. Guests were asked not to post images on social media—or risk being sued by Flavin’s estate. “The work resists being photographed anyway. It’s not meant to be captured,” said Allora. “Listen to the sound,” whispered Raymond, who curated the project while she was at Dia. “It’s more spiritual than any church,” said MoMA PS1 trustee Sarah Arison. Dylan Brant called it the “show of the year.”
After, we were off to the Museo de Arte de Ponce, where its president María Luisa Ferré Rangel and director Alejandra Peña-Gutiérrez hosted a lunch in its Edward Durell Stone–designed building and gave a tour of its permanent collection, rife with old masterworks, and temporary exhibitions by Colo and Rolón/Dzine. (Ferré Rangel’s grandfather founded the museum, and her generosity made the weekend possible.) “I hope you will come back to Puerto Rico soon,” said architect and MoMA board member Warren James, who referenced a quote from the de Ponce’s founder, Luis A. Ferré: “When you have a divide you make that bridge, and that bridge is art.”
Left: Artist and Lucie Fontaine's employee Marco Cassani in front of Rumah Doa Bagi Semua Bangsa/The House of Prayer for All Nations (Chicken Church). Right: Artist Agnieszka Kurant and Daniel Alamsyah, founder of The House of Prayer for All Nations (Chicken Church). (All photos: Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva)
THE INDONESIAN ISLAND OF BALI isn’t (yet) an art-world hotspot. “It’s like you are coming to the forest with us before all the trees are cut,” joked Esti Dewi, the wife of artist Filippo Sciascia, hinting at the promise for industry scouts. Nested in a vacant joglo (a traditional Javanese house) containing intricate folk treasures, Kayu, the Balinese branch of conceptual “art employer” Lucie Fontaine, was launching its fifth project. “Ritiro” (retreat) opened at the beginning of last month and then moved on to Java’s Gereja Ayam, or Chicken Church—the weirdest of the anti-white-cube spaces on the tour. (At Sciascia’s studio, Honold Fine Art popped up a group show sharing five of the “Ritiro” artists, making for a sort of parallel—or competing—program of sorts.)
Just prior to the vernissage, offerings were made to a priest to alleviate the torrential rains flooding the roads. It seemed to work, and timid rays of sunshine greeted artists Ashley Bickerton and Bepi Ghiotti and collector Edo Jansen. We lolled around in the wooden joglo, trying to make sense of the seemingly unrelated works by Bickerton, Sciascia, Jumaldi Alfi, Lupo Borgonovo, Marco Cassani (coincidently, Kayu’s curator), Patrizio Di Massimo, Agnieszka Kurant, and Entang Wiharso, among others. Curator Nicola Trezzi presented The Nine Talismans, a book that loosely lists cases of relinquished or blurred authorships in art. Examples included Marisa Merz’s uncredited work in Mario Merz’s installations and Piotr Uklański’s September 2003 Artforum ad featuring Alison Gingeras’s ass. We were left to embrace the relational randomness among environment, discourse, and contents, but locals were grateful for new art-world blood, and visitors were excited to explore paradisiac Bali.
The days passed as slow as island life as the first batch of international visitors withdrew and the second trickled in. Kurant and Di Massimo showed up just in time for Cassani to show them his project and pack it for Java. After a day of visiting the temples of Tanah Lot, Goa Gajah, and Gunung Kawi, and an evening of Ramayana shadow puppets in a village courtyard that thrilled Madeline Hollander—on site to assist Kurant—some of us decided to make a day-trip to Bickerton’s creepy-whimsical mansion on the island’s south end. At home, the artist-surfer generously dispensed his high-spirited sarcastic wisdom: “Pubic hair, nobody does that anymore?” He winked admiringly, eyeing Di Massimo’s perverse-naive paintings on the Italian artist’s phone. “It’s not just a rip-off of Ugo Rondinone,” he added self-deprecatingly about his own new series before explaining: “I started those in the ’80s.”
The next day it was time to fly to Java to see “more strange magic,” as Werner Herzog put it in Into the Inferno. Herzog got many things right about Java, but he was wrong to describe the Chicken Church as Roman Catholic. “It’s neither a church, nor a chicken,” Cassani said. “It’s more like a dove,” someone suggested, eyeing the bird-shaped compound. Some explanation came from its founder, Daniel Alamsjah, who I ran into in the basement between a communal Muslim prayer room and a solitary monk’s cell. “I was praying one day, when I had a calling: to build a house for all, for all the prayers of all the nations,” he said, spreading his arms in the air. “Ritiro”’s incongruous group of works enjoyed more gravitas in the new venue. This was especially true of Kurant’s The End of Signature; once a projection on the facade of the Guggenheim, it is now a fierce neon ornamenting the dove’s neck. Alamsjah seemed very happy, as were the rest of us when we sat down to sip fresh coconuts and enjoy views of the valley.
“Let’s celebrate! If you celebrate life, life celebrates you,” exclaimed the irresistible Gwen Theresa The, an aspiring collector who performed in both Bali and Java inside Di Massimo’s work What Resists Persists, a mound of crumbling cushions from which emerges a hand or a foot. The buoyant The treated us to bubbly on the terrace of the Amanjiwo Resort, with panoramic views of Borobudur’s temple. The entertainment piled up: Deddy Irianto organized a dinner at the Plataran Borobudur resort, where I ran into artist Wimo Ambala Bayang while rushing back to Jogja for a presentation by Sigit Pius Kuncoro, curator of the upcoming biennial there. After supper, collectors Emmo and Narcissi Italiaander invited our group for a nightcap tour of their beautiful house.
“Why did they make it only one day?” many asked about the brevity of the show at the Chicken Church. “Because Kayu envisioned it as a dream—it’s here, and ‘Poof!’ it disappears,” Cassani said. I preferred artist Jimmy Ong’s explanation: “It’s out of a Pasolini movie—you go to see the big ship from a paddle boat, clap your hands, and you’re back on shore.” Poof!