Ottmann Empire

Santa Fe

Left: Artist Jonathan Meese in Total Revolution = Dr. Eldorado. (Except where noted, all photos: Catherine Taft) Right: Anne Deleporte, artist Stephen Dean, SITE president Marlene Nathan Meyerson, SITE curator Klaus Ottmann, and dealer Leslie Tonkonow. (Photo: Carole Devillers)

“I’ve participated in many biennials, and I’ve learned that the earlier you get there, the better they treat you,” advised Stephen Dean, one of thirteen artists featured in this year’s SITE Santa Fe International Biennial, “Still Points of the Turning World.” Unfortunately, the tip came late and so did I, arriving Friday afternoon, just in time to make the exhibition’s opening reception. The fête for curator Klaus Ottmann’s unconventional biennial (which has been likened to a series of solo shows) was the first event in a weekend tailored to local and international tastes and punctuated by parties, performances, dinners, lectures, and very few social “still points.”

Sensing mixed reviews in the party tent (flooded the night before by a torrential rain), I queried a few locals: One woman, a painter, reported that Ottmann was “no Robert Storr”; another confidante suggested that this year would “push Santa Fe’s buttons.” After my initial skepticism about the mazelike exhibition design, I decided that Ottmann had managed to have his cake and eat it too, disavowing curatorial metaphor while letting it slip in the back door via the show’s poetic title. The idea of an international biennial with only thirteen artists and no “theme” seemed more public risk than institutional tough sell for Ottmann, whose canny proposal was fully supported by SITE Santa Fe director Laura Steward Heon, the museum’s board of directors, and its donors (who could be spotted all weekend sporting colored medallions displaying their level of generosity).

Left: Collectors Bill and Alicia Miller. Right: Marlene Nathan Meyerson, Anne Marion, President Emeritus John L. Marion, and SITE director Laura Steward Heon. (Photo: Carole Devillers)

I also sought out artists, including Snorre Ruch and Jon Wesseltoft of Thorns Ltd., the Norwegian trio whose electronic score, presented as a sound installation, will play for the run of the show, 185 days, without repeating itself. “You need to spend a long time in [the installation],” Ruch noted, “at least three days. The longest I spent in the piece was nine hours. It was quite disturbing.” At the after-party geared towards SITE’s younger set, German artist Carsten Nicolai and his Berlin dealer, Anne Schwanz of Galerie Eigen + Art, were looking forward to a pilgrimage to Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field. I also spoke with Santa Fe Trend publisher Cynthia Marie Canyon, who reported she “saw the fire ignite” at the opening, referring not to the “hot” show but to a track light that blew in Jennifer Bartlett’s room—thankfully, no damage or evacuations.

Day two started early, with private Biennial walk-throughs conducted by Heon and Ottmann. I joined the latter’s group at Wolfgang Laib’s sap ziggurats, which our guide philosophically considered the “most still point of all the still points.” We digested a selection of canvases by Peter Doig (who, summoning Rothko, Ottmann pegged as the most interesting painter working today) and moved toward Jonathan Meese’s first female sculpture, affectionately named Suzy Wong. “She has a really nice behind, actually,” explained Ottmann. “I moved her away from the wall so you could walk around and have a look. That’s what curators do.” After the tour, guests downed mimosas while waiting for the shuttle taking visitors to the homes of board member Bill Miller and his wife, Alicia, and collectors Sally and Thomas Dunning. The Millers balanced Currin, Koons, and Constance De Jong with Zuni, Comanche, and Incan artifacts, the latter lightheartedly described by Miller as “early Agnes Martins” and “Louis Vuitton of the Plains.”

Left: Artist Wolfgang Laib with Klaus Ottmann. Right: Galerie Eigen + Art's Anne Schwanz, artist Carsten Nicolai, Jonathan Meese, Brigitte Meese, and Nicole Hackert of Contemporary Fine Arts Berlin.

The afternoon highlight was Meese’s performance, Total Revolution = Dr. Eldorado, a Red Bull–fueled onslaught that underscored his scrutiny of false gods, cultural consumption, historical memory, and gender. Meese enlisted his mother, Brigitte, for the happening, and she announced at the outset: “Jonathan works himself into a kind of trance. . . . In South Korea last year, he fell off the stage and broke three ribs. So I am here as a kind of watchdog to keep him from injuring himself.” The “thirty-nine-minute performance with an additional six minutes” began coolly to a sound track of histrionic Muppet melodies, but escalated as Supertramp’s “School” masochistically played on repeat. The shirtless Meese (“Ezra Pound Is Back” scrawled in Sharpie on his bare skin) gave a good show of his “body dancing” while moving through littered domestic set dressing and past the fourth wall of a stylized Paolo Soleri proscenium.

The performance was recounted later that night over dinner, one of three hosted by SITE board member Douglas Ring and Cindy Miscikowski at their inviting home, designed by renowned Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. As guests arrived, an unexpected downpour left the caterers scrambling to arrange indoor seating. As a result of the shuffle, I found myself among a mélange of Angelenos, including MoCA director Jeremy Strick and his wife, Wendy; MoCA assistant director Ari Wiseman and trustee Audrey Irmas; breezy biennial artist Catherine Opie and her dealer, Shaun Caley Regen. Victoria Miro, Richard Gray Gallery’s Serra Pradhan, dealer Leslie Tonkonow (Ottmann's wife), and others came from points east. After our spicy Southwestern dinner, Ottmann admitted to me that he was fond of Santa Fe but missed his books in New York. When asked what was next he boldly joked, “No new projects yet. Tell Venice I’m available.”

Left: SITE director of external affairs Marc Dorfman with SITE foundation council members Sally and Thomas Dunning. Right: Jon Wesseltof and Snorre Ruch of Thorns Ltd.

Left: MoCA assistant director Ari Wiseman and collector Douglas Ring. (Photo: Carole Devillers) Right: Artist Catherine Opie, Santa Fe Art Institute development director KC Bitterman, Wise Fool New Mexico director Amy Christian, and College of Santa Fe art department chair Kim Russo.

Left: Brigitte and Jonathan Meese in performance. Right: Dealer Victoria Miro. (Photo: Carole Devillers)

Left: Artist Jennifer Bartlett with Gayle Maxon-Edgerton, SITE Foundation council member and director of Gerald Petres Gallery. (Photo: Carole Devillers) Right: Collector Polly Addison, SITE director of education and public programs Juliet Myers, and collector Mark Addison.

Left: Curator Lance Fung with Laura Steward Heon and Marion Fung. Right: Catherine Opie with Jamie Smith and Noquisi. (Photo: Carole Devillers)