Pleasure Principality

Monte Carlo

Left: Collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Right: The view from the helicopter. (Photos: David Velasco)

With the DVD release of Dynasty: The Complete Second Season still pending, my life has been sorely lacking in glamour of late. So when Turin’s Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo alerted us that their plans called for a press junket for foreign journalists to Monaco last Saturday for the unveiling of “Glowbowl”—a terse survey of contemporary art drawn from the foundation’s collection by artistic director Francesco Bonami and independent curator Martine Frésia—I dusted off my Nolan Miller evening wear, scored a stash of Ambien, and prepared for a transatlantic redeye.

Monaco doesn’t have an airport, so I flew into Nice, where I was then whisked off by helicopter to Monte Carlo and the palatial Hotel Metropole. “It’s a bit kitschy, isn’t it?” declared congenial press person–cum–BBC documentarian Helen Weaver, as I eyed the lobby’s gilded pillars and fusty Persian rugs. A pastiche paradise, Monaco is glamorous but not chic, less sophisticated than merely expensive. (A typical spaghetti alla pomodoro, I was told, could easily set me back eighty euros. I decided to stick to the prearranged fare.)

At the hotel, I was introduced to collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, the fondazione’s president, who also happens to have been responsible for producing Maurizio Cattelan’s audacious re-creation of the Hollywood sign on a crest of landfill in Palermo during the 2001 Venice Biennale. Patrizia recounted how, on a return visit to Palermo, she feigned ignorance and slyly asked her taxi driver to explain the origins of Cattelan’s tribute to the Los Angeles landmark. To her delight, the driver responded that it was for a movie being made in the area starring Sylvester Stallone.

Left: Gheri Sackler, Rita Rovelli Caltagirone, and Delphine Pastor. (Photo: Marco Novello) Right: Curator Francesco Bonami. (Photo: David Velasco)

Monaco has no museum of contemporary art, so the show itself was held in a scanty exposition space above an outpost of Marlborough Gallery. The exhibition was the brainchild of a “scientific committee” comprising three Monaco residents—Rita Rovelli Caltagirone and Gheri Sackler (both members of the Guggenheim’s acquisition committee), as well as native Monegasque Delphine Pastor, a local art dealer and scion of one of the principality’s most prominent families. The show was organized with a view toward developing a proper space for contemporary art in Monaco, with the idea of inviting major collectors to showcase their goods and thus build momentum for a museum, but none of the players involved could offer more specific plans. “There’s great interest, but nothing’s confirmed,” Sackler told me.

At the opening, the ever-gregarious Bonami led a tour in French for the well-heeled crowd (men in bespoke suits with pocket squares, women decked with brilliants), putting on a rather dazzling show and drawing a few laughs. (I didn’t understand a word, but I think I caught the gist of his spiel in his catalogue text, which included such germane if slightly strained analogies as “a contemporary art work is like a F.1 racing inside your mind, even if you hate it you can’t dismiss it, like you can’t dismiss a F.1 racing under your window, you can try not to look at it but you will always hear it.”) Though he can play the jester, Bonami’s no fool, and despite its cloying title, the show is an engaging, if slightly generic, adaptation of a well-developed contemporary collection. Subtlety is not the exhibition’s forte, culling from big names of the brassy '90s, and prominently featuring such standards as Matthew Barney, Maurizio Cattelan, Sarah Lucas, and Shirin Neshat. Scoring first place in controversy was Thomas Hirschhorn’s Camo Family, 2006 (last seen at Barbara Gladstone’s booth at the Frieze Art Fair), the fulsome brutality of which sharply contrasted with the more comic violence of Cattelan’s Bidibidobidiboo, 1996, an installation depicting a squirrel committing suicide. Much of the work was business as usual, though two shining exceptions were recent videos by young Korean artists: Koo Donghee’s excellent Tragedy Competition, 2004, and Lee Yong-Baek’s sparkling Angel Soldier, 2005—two finds which Bonami also included in his recent group show of contemporary Asian artists, “Alllooksame,” at the foundation's space in Turin.

Left: RS&A's Mark Sanders. Right: Helen Weaver and Olivier Borgeaud of the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. (Photos: David Velasco)

In a taxi on our way to dinner, Helen noted that you don’t have to wear seatbelts in Monaco. Italian critic Cesare Cunaccia quipped: “It’s very free here, but you have to pay for it—a land of opportunity.” Dinner was young salad and filet mignon for 130 at La Salle Empire, an ostentatious banquet hall dappled with chandeliers and faux Greek statues and banked by a billboard-size stab at Renaissance realism. The waiters performed in a manner that some might describe as impeccable, though to my bohemian mores it was a bit exotic. At odds with the otherwise perfectly posh dinner was an incongruous sound track (Prince’s “Alphabet St.”?) and a large projection of Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s Zidane installed high above the diners.

Afterward, a few diehards, myself among them, repaired to the bar of the Hotel de Paris, where an awful band crooned Broadway show tunes for drunken expats. With an eye on my watch (the next day’s return flight meant an early wake-up call), I stepped out into the balmy Côte d’Azur night, my Champagne wishes and caviar dreams already sated.

David Velasco

Left: The dinner at La Salle Empire. (Photo: Marco Novello) Right: Art consultant Josephine Hsieh and Thomas Fallegger of Chinart Collection Corp. (Photo: David Velasco)

Left: Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Vogue Italia editor in chief Franca Sozzani, and Count Brachetti Peretti. (Photo: Marco Novello) Right: Gheri Sackler with Maurizio Cattelan's La rivoluzione siamo noi, 2001.

Left: Critic and curator Frédéric Bonnet. Right: Art journalists Nicole Buesing and Heiko Klaas. (Photos: David Velasco)