Pour It Up

Frank Expósito at the Absolut Art Awards in Stockholm

Left: Art writing winner Coco Fusco, art award winner Renata Lucas, and Absolut Art Award jury president Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Right: Absolut “Nature Bites” cocktails. (All photos: Frank Expósito)

“WE SAY THAT OUR GODFATHER IS ANDY WARHOL.” I heard this remark once from Absolut staff at the press conference for the Absolut Art Awards a fortnight ago, and twice at the dinner the following night in Stockholm. The company famously paired with the Pop artist for their debut artistic collaboration in 1986, and has since run through a host of big names—Keith Haring, Ed Ruscha, Robert Indiana, Ross Bleckner, Rosemarie Trockel—to commission advertisements that are now canonized in Sweden’s Spritmuseum. After a hiatus last year, the latest iteration of the award was being given to both an artist (Renata Lucas) and a writer (Coco Fusco), vetted by a celebrity jury that included Documenta 13 artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Kunsthalle Zurich director Beatrix Ruf, El Museo del Barrio chief curator Chus Martínez, Tensta Konsthall curator Maria Lind, and the artist Susan Hiller.

“I got a US Artist, a Guggenheim, a Fulbright, and now this in one year,” reflected Fusco at the morning press conference. “Nothing close to this has ever happened to me.” Her winning proposal will culminate in the publication of a book on Cuban performance art and its relation to government policies on “social danger.” Lucas’s project in turn will use her $100,000 prize to create a “disembodied museum,” which would be housed at one of Absolut’s partnering institutions. “The project is more like a script,” said Lucas. “It was very ironic for me to write about this dream vision when I’ve been dealing so much with the concrete reality around me.” The piece will alter the existing interior architecture of the yet-to-be-determined site in what I pictured to be less spectacularized versions of Matta-Clark’s incisions and Flavin’s fluorescents.

Left: Kunsthalle Zurich director and Absolut Art Award jury member Beatrix Ruf.

The ephemerality of Lucas’s work seemed to be of particular interest to the jury panel. “She’s impossible,” Ruf mentioned to me. “That’s her art: the impossibility of the real.” In pairing the two Latin American artists, the Nordic award looked to be homing in on art’s engagement with the world—no surprise given the panel’s Documenta lineage. “It would have cost nearly three times as much to realize her original idea for the Kunst-Werke in 2011,” said Kunsthal Charlottenborg director and 2013 award nominator Jacob Fabricius. That idea involved moving the facade of the Berlin institution up three feet. In relative terms, Absolut may have gotten a bargain.

At the dinner the following night, flown-in guests funneled between the long, white tables in a greenhouse located in Haga Garden. “I met the guy who handles the butterflies,” said artist and erstwhile Absolut bar designer Adrian Wong, who for his commission included a cocktail made with duck and bok choy. “They use this space as a butterfly sanctuary,” he clarified, “so they had to transport all seven hundred species out of here and into another building.” That itself felt a little Lucas, and I couldn’t shake the sense that this whole event was part of a master plan.

“It’s a very press-heavy event,” noticed art award finalist Theaster Gates. “But it’s still sexy.” (Was this a compliment?) He congratulated Fusco amid the crowd that also included a handful of Stockholm dealers like Marina Schiptjenko, Niklas Belenius, and Ben Loveless, mingling with the swarm of Absolut execs. “The funding is surely nothing to sneeze at,” Fusco said as she laughed, hugging Gates. Round one of vodka cocktails was being served and everyone went buzzing over to the bar.

Left: Art advisor András Szántó, artist and Absolut Art Award jury member Susan Hiller, and curator Alida Ivanov. Right: Galleri Nordenhake director Ben Loveless.

“Apparently they give a lifetime supply of this stuff to the winners,” Wong mentioned to installation artist Nadim Abbas, who also made the sojourn from Hong Kong. They sipped from coupe glasses a sweet nectar dusted with powder made from green nettles that had been taken from Christine Ödlund’s exhibition, “Music for Eukaryotes,” at Stockholm’s Galleri Riis. “Absolut has always been concerned with ecology and the product’s imprint on the world,” Christov-Bakargiev told us.

“I wouldn’t have participated in the jury if the prize didn’t give artists this much money,” said Maria Lind as people broke between courses. “It means Absolut is serious about their investment in the career of the artist,” though previous winners Anri Sala (2011), Rirkrit Tiravanija (2010), and Keren Cytter (2009) weren’t at the celebration. “They wanted to put their logo all over my work,” said artist Jeremy Shaw, another Absolut bar designer on the guest list. (The latest was Ry Rocklen.) “I opted to make a bar—not art—that I wanted to go to instead, equipped with trees and lasers.” Lind had given a tour of the Tensta Konsthall the day before, which was showcasing the work of Iman Issa in the only exhibition space located in the suburb of mostly Somalian immigrants. Bernd Krauss’s makeshift tennis boutique, equipped with Björn Borg’s glow-in-the-dark underwear, seemed to peeve some on the tour. “I’m just that passionate,” Lind concluded.

Left: Artist Jonathan Hirschfeld, Elastic Gallery director Ola Gustafsson, and Galleri Niklas Belenius director Niklas Belenius. Right: Kunsthal Charlottenborg director and Absolut Art Award nominator Jacob Fabricius.

After several more rounds of drinks at midnight, the DJ transitioned to “Blurred Lines”—not a subtle gesture—and like magic, curtains behind the back bar parted, revealing a whole new space for dancing and yet another bar for drinking (two) new Absolut cocktails. “I was hypnotized,” Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick said on her way out. Patron saint Warhol doing his work? Or perhaps there was just something special about those nettles.

Left: Art writing winner Coco Fusco with art finalist Theaster Gates. Right: Art award winner Renata Lucas, art writing finalist Lars Bang Larsen, and Absolut Art Award jury member Susan Hiller.

Left: Art award finalist Luis Camnitzer. Right: Renaissance Society curator and art writing finalist Hamza Walker with curator Michele Robecchi.

Left: Artist Nadim Abbas with 2013 Absolut Art bar designer Adrian Wong. Right: Art writing finalist Hito Steyerl.

Left: Artist Fredrik Soderberg and Magasin 3 director David Neuman. Right: Artist Béatrice Cussol (right).

Left: Artist and Absolute bar designer Jeremy Shaw with Pernod Ricard marketing director Vadim Grigiorian. Right: Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick and artist Matts Leiderstam.

Right: Absolut CEO Paul Duffy.

Left: Moderna Museet curator Fredrik Liew. Right: Absolut executives with artist and Absolut bar designer Ry Rocklen.

Left: Bonniers Konsthall curator Theo Ringborg with his wife, artist Meriç Algün Ringborg. Right: Galeri Non director Derya Demir, artist Ana Prvacki, and IASPIS director Lisa Rosendahl.

Left: Galeri Non director Derya Demir. Right: Dazed & Confused visual arts editor Francesca Gavin and Monocle culture editor Rob Bound.