Wall to Wall


Left: Gabriele Schor, Margarethe Szeless, and Jeff Wall. Right: Marian Goodman and Agnes Fierobe, director of Goodman's Paris gallery.

Wednesday—by my count day three of the Frieze Art Fair, though the official opening was still twenty-four hours away—was, for all intents and purposes, Jeff Wall Day. The London art world kicks into high gear for the fair, determined to show the droves of international collectors a good time. Indeed, in its third year, the ostensibly four-day fair has already metastasized into a week-long bacchanal that would, if not for the prospect of sunny Miami just ahead, beg the sobriquet “Fall Break.” In the midst of the madness, Jeff Wall's retrospective at Tate Modern provided an anchor and a tonic, reminding us what all the commotion is about in the first place: The art.

Festivities began early in the day, with a luncheon in the private upstairs dining room of the Ivy, a bastion of decent English food since before such a thing (strictly speaking) existed. Hosted by the reigning grand dame of New York dealers (and Wall's longtime agent) Marian Goodman, the party was en famille, the assembled company numbering a modest fifty or so. Wall is an artist who mounts major retrospectives the way most artists visit Pearl Paint, and the curators working on current exhibitions alone could have easily filled a table. They all came, naturally, with the notable exception of Peter Galassi, who is heading up the forthcoming MoMA retrospective. So did Maja Oeri and her husband Hans Bodenmann, Oeri in a seat of honor beside the artist. The Tate's Sheena Wagstaff, curator of the show, had his other ear. Oeri's Basel Schaulager (the literal translation is "show warehouse” but the real meaning, those who have visited will attest, is closer to “ideal exhibition space”) hosted the first leg of Wall's two-city tour earlier this year, in a hang as capacious as Wagstaff's is focused. Wall connoisseurs will have endless fun attempting to retrace the steps of the latter’s tutored decision-making and testing her edit against their own biases and inclinations. Everyone else will simply savor the artist’s achievement, which speaks so eloquently in this new hang.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. . . . Also on hand at the Ivy were maverick Toronto-based collector/curator Ydessa Hendeles, early Wall supporters and ever-prescient Cologne dealers Jrg Johnen and Rdiger Schttle, and, as Suzy would say, on and on into the afternoon. Lunch was Champagne, lobster, and chocolate souffl—lots of Champagne, in fact. As the artist was fashionably late, cocktails dragged a touch, something I was still thanking the maestro for at 4 p.m., when I stumbled upon a full coffee pot at the Portman Square manse that provided the pleasantly decrepit site of Francis Als’s “Seven Walks,” an exhibition commissioned by UK nonprofit Artangel. It was thanks to a reminder from Artangel co-director James Lingwood (who’d been within speaking distance at lunch) that the show made it onto my afternoon roster, but it was serendipity of a more cosmic sort that provided the subject of the body of work on view. I can do without the tables laden with documentation—especially those lists, which repeat on today's viewer like a ‘70s meal. There's lots to be said about old Conceptualist feints and how they do and don't work in the present—but far be it from me to sully Scene & Herd with art speak. The walks (and that lone fox loosed in the museum) are, of course, pure poetry.

With a couple hours to spare before the 8 p.m. Wall preview at Tate Modern, we decided to squeeze in a few gallery openings. The rain was coming down in buckets, as they say, so my colleagues and I impersonated guests at the Hyatt Motor Court across the street (aesthetically humbling but better than a nasty cold) and the porter secured us a cab.

Jack Pierson's portraits at Alison Jacques looked good. A latter-day St. Sebastian, buff but knife-scarred, with a tough-and-tender Latin mien, was described in the press release as something along the lines of a universal symbol of pain and suffering. Since when, I wondered, do universal symbols wear asset-enhancing 2(x)ist briefs? “I know. I thought about retouching the waistband,” Pierson mused. “But,” he added pointedly, “I didn't.” A quick stop at Stephen Friedman, where one of my colleagues was anxious to touch in on Claire Barclay’s opening, left us but minutes to grab a pre-Wall bite on the fly.

Clarissa Dalrymple, glimpsing us through the bistro window, ducked in to tempt us on to a party and “ice bar” hosted by her chums Sadie Coles and Barbara Gladstone. But we had already decided: This was Wall Day, and we’d vowed to get to Tate Modern during the private view “and really see the show.” Before Dalrymple slipped back out onto Heddon Street, my other colleague complimented her on her ”butch trench,“ which she explained was by ”Michel Majerus—one of those Belgians." She meant Martin Margiela, we decided. How many favorite people in the art world did you say we were allowed?

Late for Tate, despite the best laid plans. But not too late, and our purposefulness was rewarded. If the Basel hang was gratifying in a more-the-merrier way, the Tate show was restrained and focused. These works are “pictures” after all, and they are often shown to their best advantage in smaller, more enclosed spaces—that is, in "picture galleries.” The difficult but rewarding black-and-whites were given full play despite the honing that was demanded elsewhere. If this show’s procession of dazzling rooms does not send you back to the fairgrounds in search of the Wall of tomorrow (or today, should your wallet be thick enough), nothing will. The room that revolves around the Tate's own A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai) was breathtaking, the gallery of horizontal landscape panoramas was right and tight, and the room of late-ish work that hinges on the Caillebotte-conscious Overpass showed off a rather difficult batch of works like they have never been shown off before, as Goodman remarked to me (and she should know, since she stared at them for a month plus when they were first exhibited in her gallery). On my way out, I poked my head into the colorfully lit and massively crowded party room in the Cafe downstairs, but just as I did so a ringing in my jacket pocket reminded me that it was time to get myself home before my carriage turned into a pumpkin.

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