Forest for the Clouds


Left: Moscow Biennale curator Yuko Hasegawa. Right: Moscow Biennale Expert Council Members Semyon Mikhailovsky, Zelfira Tregulova, and Joseph Backstein. (Except where noted, all photos: Kate Sutton)

AS TITLES GO, “Clouds ⇄Forest,” Yuko Hasegawa’s for the Seventh Moscow Biennale, is lyrical, if a little typographically challenging. While clouds and forest may intertwine, the former will never know what it means to take root, just as the latter will never take flight. Hasegawa meant this as a metaphor for a generational shift between what she terms “Forest Tribes”—artists using more or less traditional media—and “Cloud Tribes,” the children of this recent rootless era of networked communications and digital technologies. (The CliffsNotes version might call this “89plus.”)

Hasegawa’s brand of quiet grace and observation has earned her remarkable loyalty from the artists with whom she works closely, but professionally she holds a reputation as one of the few who can pull together a cohesive biennial in eight months—which was how much she was allotted for Moscow. In practice, it was hard to pry the “tribes” apart. Video installations by Cécile B. Evans, Susan Schuppli, Rohini Devasher, and Ryan Trecartin settled smoothly alongside Louise Drulhe’s Bitchain topographies, Aurora Sander’s sculptural ode to the woes of the Airbnb maid, or Gauri Gill’s gorgeous collaborative drawings, made together with Warli artist Rajesh Vangad. This synthesis was summed up smartly by artist Justine Emard and dancer Mirai Moriyama’s Co(AI)xistance. The film captures Moriyama interacting with an anthropomorphic robot, their movements wavering between courtship and confrontation. “I told him to just act like a human,” Emard said, with a shrug, when asked about the process. “It was important to me that this wasn’t sci-fi. I wanted to work with what we already have.”

But the wispy elegance of “Clouds ⇄Forest” couldn’t help but snag in the gnarly limbs of Moscow’s museum infrastructure, inadvertently revealing the discrepancy between the mistier denizens of the art scene, who cherish international mobility and visibility, and the more stationary institutions that would prefer to double down on their respective traditions.

Left: Critic Egor Sofronov with artists Anastasia Potemkina and Alina Gutkova. Right: Artist Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov.

The Moscow Biennale paradoxically contains both impulses. As a rule, the character of each edition has been inextricable from its location—whether that be the shiny, half-built skyscrapers of Moscow City; the cavernous hulls of Artplay; the bland hotel-lobby-like promenades of the New Manege; or the grand pavilions of the V.D.N.Kh., a sort of World’s Fair for the former Soviet Republic where curators Bart de Baere, Defne Ayas, and Nicolaus Schafhausen hunkered down in September 2015 for the ten-day art boot camp that was the sixth biennial. While suited to the occasion, the V.D.N.Kh. is currently undergoing a transformation into a Museum Island–style complex centered around a showcase space for ROSIZO, the Ministry of Culture’s exhibition export arm, which is, as of last spring, also directly overseeing Russia’s National Center of Contemporary Art and its network of regional outposts. (Those in the know can only give thanks that ROSIZO gained curator Alisa Prudnikova in the bargain, as there could be no better guiding light for an otherwise dimly lit bureaucratic beast.)

With V.D.N.Kh. occupied, and progressive-minded institutions like Garage and V-A-C preoccupied with their own programs, it wasn’t quite clear that there would even be a Seventh Moscow Biennale until late January, when the Ministry of Culture launched a two-day volley of press releases announcing both the roster for the Russian Pavilion in Venice (another looming uncertainty) and the Moscow dates, curator, advisory board, and location: the State Tretyakov Gallery’s modern and contemporary wing, just opposite Gorky Park on the Krymsky Val.

The New Tretyakov (as it’s commonly known) wields a formidable—often mind-blowing—collection, picking up with the clear-cut jaw-droppers of the Russian avant-garde and carrying through the greatest hits of socialist realism, the cheap shots of Sots Art, and a tepid attempt at the present. Alas, institutional might does not always translate to available power outlets. The building was designed to showcase paintings and the occasional pedestal-bound sculpture, not the complex multimedia installations Hasegawa required. Blackout curtains were brought in to carve out narrow corridors between viewing spaces, enhancing projections but rendering navigation treacherous. The biennial’s supposed centerpiece was Björk’s Digital, a series of six VR experiences departing from the singer’s 2015 Vulnicura album, but each time I circled back to the installation it was either not functioning or comically over capacity.

Left: Dishon Yuldash at ISSMAG Gallery. Right: Artist Gauri Gill.

As Hasegawa explained, Björk is someone who makes very personal work using cutting-edge technologies, which meant she was neither forest nor cloud. This might explain her perplexing billing in the original announcement as a “special guest,” a designation shared with her ex, Matthew Barney, and Olafur Eliasson, ostensibly the most famous artists on the roster. (It made one wonder if the branding had been workshopped with the artists before it hit the presses.) For whatever reason, shortly after the press blast, Barney canceled a performance that would have bridged the September 12th grand opening of Cai Guo-Qiang’s “October” at the Pushkin Museum and the biennial’s September 18th launch. Instead, visitors had to negotiate the sudden downtime, making me long for the days when the Biennale’s parallel program pumped the city with bright-red banners and bad reception wine.

Speaking of signage, on the Biennale’s opening day, the facade of the New Tretyakov was branded with the massive slogan “the Pride of Russia”—referring not to the Biennale but to the metallurgical expo lumped in the other half of the building. Meanwhile, across the street at Gorky Park, Beyoncéd strains from Frank Ocean’s “Pink and White” sailed over the streams of young hipsters, still a week too early for the Garage’s epic Takashi Murakami solo. This stark generational divide reverberated even more strongly at the Monday morning press conference, when Tretyakov director Zelfira Tregulova trumpeted the exhibition as one “of art, not artistic illustrations of social or political issues.” Which would be . . . bad?

Left: NCCA curator Sasha Burenkov. Right: ROSIZO NCCA's Alisa Prudnikova and Masha Gurnina.

This clash of muddled conservatism with international ambitions had coursed through the previous evening’s lecture by esteemed art historian Sergey Khachaturov, as part of the Biennale’s educational program. Tasked with answering whether there is such a thing as “pure art,” Khachaturov turned to Orest Kiprensky’s beloved 1827 portrait of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, the muse strumming in his ear. The critic then proceeded to tick off three “pure” geniuses of our time—James Turrell, Bill Viola, and William Kentridge—before venturing a fourth: Kirill Serebrennikov, the prominent dissident director of the Gogol Center, currently in prison facing trumped-up charges of embezzlement and fraud. Serebrennikov’s “Little Tragedies”—a staging of four of Pushkin’s plays—had opened to unequivocal raves days before the biennial’s opening, despite the pronounced absence of its director.

If Khachaturov’s definition of “genius”—Serebrennikov excepted—rang distinctly of the forest (or perhaps a privileged suburban garden park in Phoenix), it is reassuringly far from representative of the tastes of Moscow’s Cloud Tribes, which are graduating in ever-higher numbers from institutions like the Rodchenko School, the Institute of Contemporary Art (launched in 1991 by Moscow Biennale founder Joseph Backstein, but now primarily fronted by artist Stas Shuripa), and Anatoly Osmolovksy’s BAZA institute. The question is, What are all these young art students to do, now that the financial sucker-punch of international sanctions and heightened visa restrictions has added ever more obstacles to the game of Frogger that is “making it” in the international scene (or, at the very least, to an e-flux)?

Left: Artist Dashi Namdakov. Right: Artist Sayaka Shimada.

To shed some light, I met the enterprising young curator Sasha Burenkov at the Moscow NCCA, where the choreographic collective Isadorino Gore’s Alexandra Portyannikova and Daria Plokhova were just wrapping up a performance workshop. Burenkov guided me through the show on the Shiryaevo Biennale (a one-day progressive exhibition on the shores of the Volga, not far from Samara), before we ventured to ISSMAG, a project space specifically conceived by Dishon Yuldash to cater to emerging artists. Run more as a labor of love than a gallery, the venture is on its third location in three years. As Yuldash confessed, there is such a thing as too much success. After opening in a ritzy window vitrine in downtown Moscow, ISSMAG moved to the empty NIIDAR factory, where flocks of the young and beautiful would descend just to hang out. “After all the good clubs closed, there hasn’t been anywhere to go, so we would open an exhibition and have three hundred people there to party,” Yuldash recounted. The move to a two-story garage was partially intended to shift the focus back to the work itself, though ISSMAG is still struggling to find a sustainable format. “In a moment like this, you don’t have a right to close this kind of space,” Burenkov reasoned. “It has to keep going somehow.”

On my way back to the New Tretyakov, I detoured through Zaryadye Park, the thirty-two-acre “urban wilderness” designed by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, landscape architects Hargreave Jones, and the Russian bureau Citymakers. Moscow’s first new park in several decades, Zaryadye, occupies the empty lot directly across from Red Square and the Kremlin. Until 2006, the site had been host to the three-thousand-room Rossiya, once the world’s largest hotel and arguably also one of its most soul-sucking. (Granted, most of my memories of the place involved having to routinely produce my passport and keycard while wandering through its labyrinthine halls to prove I wasn’t a prostitute—an accusation my twenty-year-old self found mildly flattering.) A High Line on steroids, Zaryadye Park features four climate zones, representative of Russia’s various regions, as well as an outdoor amphitheater, a panoramic bridge, the site of the future philharmonic, a 4-D theater, and an ice cave containing an installation by artist Alexander Ponomarev—the grizzled “captain” of this year’s Antarctica Biennale.

Left: Artist Michael Najjar. Right: Artist Siji Krishnan.

The park had rushed to open in time for the September 9th “City Day,” commemorating Moscow’s 870th birthday. Putin made a point of driving his own golf cart from the Kremlin across Red Square to preside over the festivities. The enormous fanfare might have been aimed at taking the edge off the park’s cost: supposedly to the tune of some $250 million—a number nearly echoing the 250 million visitors recorded in the park’s first weekend. Alas, amid the frenzy, ten thousand exotic or endangered plants were destroyed or pocketed. Just two days after the opening, administrators soberly announced that the park would be undergoing immediate restoration, opening several hours late that first Monday, and that entrance from here on out would be allowed only in fifteen minute intervals. (And the ice cave? “Come back in October!” a security guard scoffed.)

By the time I reached the New Tretyakov, a similar entrance system was in place, with security guards attempting to temper the surge of guests, who pooled around the museum mezzanine’s model of Tatlin’s tower. Biennale organizer Tatiana Nemirovskaya spotted me in the crush and expertly extracted me from the champagne-fluted masses, spiriting me off to an elevator to the fourth floor. While this meant working backward through the exhibition, the route allowed me to follow the logical progression of the collection, from Aristarkh Lentulov’s prismatic rooftops, Boris Kustodiev’s voluptuous absurdities, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s brooding portraits, to Aleksandr Deineka’s melancholic monuments to the human form, where I ran into Garage chief curator Kate Fowle admiring the strapping goalkeeper mid-save. “It’s actually really great that everyone has to exit through the collection,” she mused.

The path also allowed me to catch the handful of Biennale works installed within the collection. In particular, I appreciated the two Hussein Chalayan suspended sculptures of torsos melting into motion just in front of Lyubov Popova’s 1915 relief The Jug on the Table. Their harmonious coexistence gave an inkling of the exhibition Hasegawa might have delivered with more time, had she the luxury of playing to the museum’s strengths rather than fighting its limitations. As it were, I contented myself with admiring the clouds nestled within the forest, grateful I didn’t have to pick sides.

Kate Sutton

Left: Artists Bahar Behbahani and Aurora Sandor's Ellinor Aurora Aasgaard with Moscow Biennale assistant Atsuhiro Miyake. Right: Moscow Biennale's Nick Molok-Tolstoi with artist Marie-Luce Nadal.

Liquid Dreams


Left: Artists Daniel Steegmann Mangrané and Armando Andrade Tudela. Right: Critic Cédric Aurelle, artist Julien Creuzet, and Antonin Creuzet.

“CONGRATULATIONS! IT’S PACKED!” I shouted to Magalie Meunier, assistant curator at Lyon’s Institut d’Art Contemporain (IAC), as we squeezed through the crowd at the opening of the exhibition “Rendez-Vous.”

The Lyon Biennial, now in its fourteenth edition, is the brainchild of Thierry Raspail, and “Rendez-Vous” is the section that he continues to cocurate. Since 2002, this part of the biennial has been a platform for promoting up-and-coming French artists and their equally dewy international counterparts, invited by the directors of ten biennials across the globe.

In the courtyard at IAC, this création internationale was presented entirely in French by its matrix of organizers. Thomas Teurlai, an alumnus of Lyon’s school of fine art, was honored for his masculine installation involving a filthy shower and strobe lights, and the crowd was introduced to Bose Krishnamachari and Jorge Fernández Torres, curators of the Kochi-Muziris and Havana Biennials, respectively, who had traveled many miles for the occasion. From Cuba, Torres selected artist Duniesky Martín, who here probes the collective memories of Cuban and American society through film synopses presented on six iPads.

Left: Arists Marco Godinho and Lara Almárcqui; Philippe Quesne, codirector of the National Dramatic Centre at Nanterre-Amandier; Biennale de Lyon's Thierry Prat; Floating Worlds curator Emma Lavigne; and artists Elizabeth Clark, Ari Benjamin Meyers, and Eva Reiter. Right: Artist Christodolous Panayiotou.

I ran into Martín and Torres at the Musée d’Art Contemporain (MAC) in the company of the collector Francisca Viudes, who runs an artist’s residency in Nice. MAC is one of two main venues for the biennial, “Floating Worlds,” guest-curated by Emma Lavigne of Centre Pompidou Metz. Lavigne’s title references Zygmunt Bauman’s notion of “liquid modernity,” also a nod to the “modern” theme that defines this and the previous biennial. The works center around language, form, and music as they are made transient, or “liquid,” through the impact of time and the elements.

For a new work by Rivane Neuenschwander, titled Bataille, we followed the Brazilian artist’s invitation to piece together phrases from words beautifully woven onto scraps of fabric made to look like clothing labels. Also from Brazil, Viudes is alert to the ongoing ecological and ethnic crises caused by deforestation in the region. Fastened to her shawl were the words “Protect the people of the Amazon.”

The other half of Lavigne’s exhibition is at La Sucriére, a former sugar factory scenically located on a tip of land where the Saône and Rhône Rivers meet. With a massive sheet of silk, courtesy of Hans Haacke, flowing at its center, the space is dominated by white works of the same generation as the late Bauman. (As one French critic joked, “Floating Worlds” sometimes looks like an advertisement for laundry detergent.)

Left: Jorge Fernández Torres, director of the National Gallery Cuba and of the Havana Biennial, with collector and curator Francisca Viudes and artist Duniesky Martín. Right: Critic Isabelle Harbison with Mary Cremin, director of VOID Art Space, artist Camille Norment, and José da Silva of the Art Newspaper.

At Monday’s vernissage soiree, the whites were broken up by the circulation of Lyon’s characteristic pink praline cakes. Upstairs, Ari Benjamin Meyers had enlisted local art students for a band named the Art, which jammed their way through a themed track list, including the aptly titled “The Opening.” On the rooftop of the factory, Meyers’s indie rock was replaced by techno beats, and artists, curators, and critics alike threw their coats and tote bags in a pile and danced into the wee hours.

At three in the morning I made a French exit and, failing to find a taxi, left the remote location in a stranger’s rugged Renault. “I like to do coke and just drive around,” my chauffeur told me. Why not? A white-powdered finish to my bright night in Lyon.

Kristian Vistrup Madsen

Medium Cool

New York

Oscar Lucien O’Brien and Terence O’Brien Pincus at the September 10, 2017 memorial for their father, Glenn O’Brien, shown at right in a 2006 photo by Todd Eberle. Photo: Todd Eberle.

WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, it’s kind of presumptuous for someone to declare that your memorial is “what you would have wanted,” when probably what you really would have wanted was to be there for it, basking in the praise and chuckling at the euphemisms.

There are very few times when anyone could dare speak for Glenn O’Brien, but I feel confident saying he would have both approved of and attended the glamorously depressing memorial for him held earlier this month at the SVA Theater in Chelsea. For one, the evening was more akin to a greatest-hits tribute than a parade of black crępe. This was planned not as an evening of cherry-picked memories to elicit tears and laughter, but an abbreviated marathon—like a 10K, say—of readings of pieces that O’Brien had authored over five decades of being a raconteur.

“Glenn would have hated having people get up and tell stories,” explained Gina Nanni, his Hitchcock-blonde widow, afterward. “He would have gotten up at every one and yelled, ‘That’s not how it happened at all!’”

How it did happen was that the writer (and frequent Scene & Herd contributor) Linda Yablonsky and Nanni corralled thirty-six speakers who aligned with O’Brien’s myriad stints, tastes, talents, and moments (and he had more facets than a flawless Tiffany brilliant-cut). The speakers—including Vincent Fremont, Carroll Dunham, Lynne Tillman, Jerry Saltz, Hailey Gates, Anne Kennedy, Joseph Kosuth, Andy Spade, and dozens more—either chose or were entrusted by the evening’s two executrices with a selected (and condensed) piece of O’Brien’s writing.

The five hundred or so people in attendance were a testament to the wide net that O’Brien, who was born in Cleveland in 1947 and died in New York in April, cast loftily across the worlds of art, music, fashion, media, and film. Chloë Sevigny, Fabien Baron, André Balazs, Barbara Gladstone, Olivier Zahm, Joshua and Ben Safdie, Claudia Gould, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Alan Faena, Ian Schrager, Anne Pasternak, Chris Blackwell, Sam Shahid, Roberta Smith, Ted Muehling, Tara Subkoff, Danny Fields, Alison Sarofim. And that’s not even including the artists: Richard Prince, Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, Will Cotton, Dike Blair, Billy Sullivan, David Salle, Julian Lethbridge, Dan Colen, Adam McEwen, Jean-Philippe Delhomme, Hanna Liden, Peter McGough, Marilyn Minter, Blair Thurman, Collier Schorr, Rita Ackermann, Ouattara Watts, Haim Steinbach, Jayson Musson . . .

After an introduction by Yablonsky, Fremont—who was on hand for O’Brien’s start in publishing in the early 1970s, working for Andy Warhol’s Interview as an editor/writer—began the show with a 2016 piece about the Warhol photographer Billy Name: “I wanted to live in those pictures and hang out with the stars.” Next, Christopher Bollen (playing O’Brien) and John Giorno (playing Warhol) reenacted a 1977 interview that O’Brien conducted with Warhol (and which the former brilliantly edited into sterling Andyisms).

There was an impressively wide array of texts. Three speakers read from O’Brien’s 1980s Artforum column “Like Art: Glenn O’Brien on Advertising,” including one from 1987, performed by Esquire editor Michael Hainey, about the ridiculously unsexy ads for condoms during the AIDS crisis. From Paper in 1997, Colter Rule read a piece on what we could expect if O’Brien were crowned king, and Joan Juliet Buck read about the disrespect (fiscal and otherwise) accorded to writers. From O’Brien’s 2011 book How to Be a Man, Richard Hell and Christopher Wool read his directions for using vulgar insults correctly, and Laurie Simmons read his directives on how to be a host. Eric Goode read a poem from a posthumously published book, Ruins with a View. The show was closed with brief and moving remarks from his two sons, Terence and Oscar.

“Even though we all know the writing, it was so enlightening to take in the enormity of his achievement,” said Jeffrey Deitch. “He’s one of the great humorists of our time, and it’s very rare that someone can write so well about music, art, fashion, politics, and so on. I came out saying that Glenn O’Brien is our Baudelaire—and when people want to understand what it was like in New York during this period, they will read Glenn’s writings.” (Is he our Nostradamus too? Deitch read from a 1990 piece in which O’Brien predicts that Donald Trump will be the president.)

At a dinner after at the Bowery Hotel, I heard again and again that O’Brien’s passing felt like the end of an era—the end of a culture that was in, about, between, from, to, for, and by downtown New York. Of a culture that began a half-century ago with the birth of Warhol’s Factory and reached a kind of zenith in the 1980s in Lower East Side nightclubs and SoHo galleries and cooler-than-you magazines like Interview, Paper, and Details (and this one). Of a culture that was then decimated by AIDS, decentralized by the internet, and displaced by the metastasizing financial industry, not to mention upstaged by the new professional creative class (a vicious spiral in a voraciously upscaling New York epitomized by, say, the Bowery Hotel itself).

Indeed, you could argue that this world died some time ago, that only our illusions of it live on in holdouts like O’Brien, who weathered the transition so well by playing the artful twentieth-century man of letters while delivering the twenty-first-century Pro goods. With several once-prominent magazine people both speaking and in the audience (names withheld to protect the delusional), the night also felt like a memorial for the Day of the Writer itself, another profession rendered redundant by the ongoing extinction of Printasaurus Rex and the millions of SEO-savvy pancreatives who can just do stuff for free on their phones during the boring parts. And with the art and fashion worlds having been reduced to globally nomadic trade shows that must be grammed, tweeted about, and sold, who has time to read anyway?

The irony is that O’Brien was among a handful of people who helped lay the framework for today’s social media, which is, after all, just unmediated media. The simple idea behind Interview was to publish (more or less) what people really said, just like the idea of Pop was to celebrate what people actually saw. Insofar as some of the Downtown Baroque that O’Brien helped invent might have been esoteric to many, O’Brien was to the Twitter-born as exoteric as Simon Cowell.

So, in the end, O’Brien was a writer who was so much more than a writer—and a New York fixture who was truly, in the end, a man of the world and who managed, in the end, to transcend all of it and be, in the end, Glenn O’Brien.

David Colman

Monica Bonvicini’s Belt Out, 2017, at the Küçük Mustafa Paşa Hammam. (Except where noted, all photos: Gökcan Demirkazik)

EVEN BEFORE TURKEY’S failed foreign policy of “precious isolation” materialized, we weren’t big on neighbors.

Despite Turkish-language proverbs such as “Neighbors [even] need the ashes of each other,” my generation was taught to fear the neighbor (who coveted “our” land and resources) during “National Security” classes at school, and we returned to homes where thick curtains would—almost magically, of their own accord—shut tight moments after sunset. In a 2001 video simply titled Neighbor, Bülent Şangar captures this tension: Like in a first-person shooter game, the artist follows his neighbors’ movements with the barrel of a gun from behind semitransparent tulle curtains—shooting the video at the same time.

Although Şangar’s work is not part of “a good neighbor,” the Elmgreen & Dragset–curated fifteenth edition of the Istanbul Biennial, it addresses the question at the heart of the show: How do we live together without descending into mediocrity, (auto-)censoring, and communal violence? In a country where state violence has become the norm, the genius of “a good neighbor” lies in its seeming banality, which, as Michael Elmgreen suggested with Nordic politeness at the press conference, “may be a conscious choice on the curators’ side.”

Every other choice was also conscious—and calculated. For the second time in a row, the biennial used a high school for its press conference (this time, the four-hundred-year-old Saint Benoît French High School instead of the Italian High School); the rest of the exhibition seemed like a counterpoint to Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s dizzying, scavenger-hunt-like Fourteenth Istanbul Biennial, which included thirty-five locations (including mobile, imaginary, and underwater ones). Elmgreen & Dragset’s spans just six locations, all (except one) within short walking distance; more than thirty new commissions from fifty-six artists formed a manageable—even cozy—parcours that eschewed high-flown theory and curatorial poetic license. In contrast to the all-caps title of Christov-Bakargiev’s “SALTWATER,” Elmgreen proclaimed: “a good neighbor is always written in lowercase. Anything can come before or after . . . and I would like to think there is an invisible question mark at the end.”

Left: Artist Xiao Yu. Right: Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen, artists and curators of the fifteenth Istanbul Biennial.

After the meticulously kept verdure of Saint Benoît, Xiao Yu’s stubborn donkey at the entrance of Istanbul Modern proved quite a contrast (and a controversial one at that). Inside, an austere and pared-down sculptural narrative dominated, with forceful propositions from Adel Abdessemed, Candeğer Furtun, Lydia Ourahmane, and Rayyane Tabet linking representational regimes to our built environments. A remarkable exception was Kaari Upson’s magnificently dark set of Oldenburgian-cum-informe furniture and objects, including urethane paper towels and an armchair for “The Artist Is Present”–length use.

On my way out, curator Jens Hoffmann (and artistic codirector of the Twelfth Istanbul Biennial) anxiously asked the pervasive question: “Are people coming?” “They” did come after all, but without the fanfare of guided patrons’ circle tours and sit-down gallery dinners hosted at Cezayir Restaurant. Most international professionals seemed to be hunting solo instead of in packs: From Hoffmann to CAMH’s Bill Arning to Delfina Foundation’s Aaron Cezar, they entered my vision only briefly. So it was a shock when I saw a big friendly table hosting an Al Serkal Avenue dinner and another studded with Tate Modern’s Clara Kim and Vassilis Oikonomopoulos at the experimental eatery Yeni Lokanta. (But who were those people who rode the Contemporary Istanbul cars emblazoned with the letters “VIP”? That and the rationale behind covering an art fair with fake grass remain a mystery.)

Back at the Galata Greek Primary School, visitors were treated to a generously installed group of works that resonated with the inherent dichotomy in Elmgreen & Dragset’s own artistic practice. Elaborate, fictive immersive environments (Pedro Gómez-Egańa’s dazzling elevated apartment on wheels, operated by live performers, and Scenario in the Shade, Jonah Freeman & Justin Lowe’s four-room extravaganza on subcultures as chosen families) competed with simple yet heartrending gestures, such as Erkan Özgen’s and Dan Stockholm’s works on trauma and death. Stockholm’s negative casts of his own hands were mounted on metal scaffolding tubes like the ones he used to touch every single surface of his father’s home after he passed away, whereas Özgen’s video showed a deaf and mute Syrian boy, a refugee from Kobanî, recounting an extremely violent series of events with bodily gestures—a shattering survivor testimony that I found problematic due to the lack of the artist’s mediation.

Left: Artist Bahar Yürükoğlu and Pilot Galeri’s Amira Arzık. Right: Artist Burçak Bingöl and Collective Çukurcuma’s Naz Cuguoğlu.

But it was a trio on the third floor of the Pera Museum that really got me: Tatiana Trouvé stacked painted bronze casts of all the soaps her assistants used during preparations for her exhibitions since 2002 in a gradually thinning, fragile-looking column next to Lee Miller’s shocking mise-en-scčnes in the abandoned apartments of Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler (including an auto-portrait in Hitler’s bathtub). A subversive monumentality and interest in human traces also prevailed in Fred Wilson’s pseudo-encyclopedic installation Afro Kismet, in which he covered two large walls with unconventional Iznik tiles boasting rich mauves, sandy browns, and petroleum greens (as opposed to the Ottoman red, blue, and green). An homage to the largely invisible or no longer existent Afro-Turkish communities, the walls spelled “Mother Africa” and “Black is beautiful” in calligraphic Arabic script. Only the tiles in Rüstem Pasha Mosque could rival the splendor.

A certain Istanbullite brand of oxymoronic elegance, combining understated splendor and epicurean ostentation, was in evidence at the opening ceremony in the gardens of Palais de France, as well as at Ömer Koç’s soirée at the Abdülmecid Mansion in Kuzguncuk, on the other side of the Bosphorus. Due to heavy bridge traffic, I arrived at the mansion as disgruntled as the rest of the international press corps, but this turn-of-the-century neo-Orientalist jewel box—empty save for two dozen works from Koç’s private collection—made me forget all about that.

Inside, Bige Örer and I shared our astonishment at how such dramatic interiors—where every surface is intricately painted, marble, ceramic, or intarsia—brought the best out of the works on view. The private obsessions of Turkey’s most influential arts patron were theatrically laid bare: Besides the obligatory pair of photographs by Elmgreen & Dragset, the spotlit, deformed bodies of Patricia Piccinini neighbored Daphne Wright’s upturned Stallion and Swan made of white marble dust and resin. The first Turkish prima donna to perform in Europe, Semiha Berksoy seemed to give birth to a cock in an electrifying self-portrait from 1974. And I thought the mysterious and worldly Academic Life Room Model, 1783, by Austrian master Franz Xaver Seegen was a stand-in for the elusive collector, who insisted on pronouncing Istanbul with a hard i in the old-fashioned, true Istanbullite way. Oh, and there were rhinoceroses. Lots of them.

Left: Artist Candeğer Furtun. Right: Artist Young-Jun Tak.

Mahmoud Khaled’s installation at a Bauhaus villa in Cihangir, Proposal for a House Museum of an Unknown Crying Man, was a museum complete with an audio guide—just like Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence a couple streets away—commemorating the fictional life of a lachrymose homosexual man who fled to Istanbul from Eygpt and purportedly built this house to avoid persecution. While the midcentury kitsch and sentimentality of Khaled’s work was not to everyone’s liking, I saw it as a subtle queering of Atatürk’s 1935 Marine Mansion in Florya—another inspiration for the artist—which laid patriarchal notions of progress on the psychoanalyst’s divan.

It took me a while to recover from the opening party at Soho House Istanbul (featuring DJ sets by, naturally, Elmgreen & Dragset) and its aftermath at the queer-friendly bar Gizli Bahçe. But eventually I crossed the Golden Horn to see the Küçük Mustafa Paşa Hammam in Balat. This beautifully renovated fifteenth-century bathhouse was a hair-raising epilogue to the rest of the show: Monica Bonvicini occupied the male apodyterium (where men undressed) with two sculptures, one of which spelled out GUILT in polished stainless-steel mirrors that reached thirteen feet high. Seeing her Kaaba made from men’s belts (Belt Out) in the adjacent caldarium made me realize why she was relegated to the quieter, more conservative side of the water. I shivered and sweat from the heat coming from the two other sculptures—cascades of long LED lights held together in a Hesse-like fashion with electrical cables and wires. Having lived most of my life under an Islamist populist autocracy, this sensation was strangely familiar: at once homey and totally unfamiliar.

As the sun set, I ditched my plans to see the only remaining work of the biennial, an Ugo Rondinone installed outside the biennial’s “neighborhood” precincts. A permanent gift to the city from Koç Holding, sitting atop a municipal cultural center in Beşiktaş, this rainbow-colored text sculpture was first exhibited in Taksim Square at the Paolo Colombo–curated Sixth Istanbul Biennial in 1999—exactly a month after the big August 17 earthquake. It was comforting to think that I would forget about it in time, eventually seeing it on the bridge highway one night on my way back from the Asian side, only to be gently reminded that I shared Rondinone’s question with almost everyone in this scarred yet bustling, ever-captivating megacity: Where do we go from here?

Gökcan Demirkazik

Ugo Rondinone’s Where Do We Go From Here, 1999/2017. (Photo: Onur Dogman)

Running with Scissors

New York

Writer Kat Herriman with the RUN Cafe menu. (Photo: Kaitlin Phillips)

ON JUNE SECOND, two weeks before the Summer Solstice, the artist Aurel Schmidt told me she’d been forced to hire a bartender for openings at her gallery Romeo to deter underage beer-stealers. (Nothing like a new crop of thirsty teens.)

The art world’s part-time fakirs—downtown purists sating themselves with free beer and fresh art, and occasional communal-style meals from the likes of Rirkrit Tiravanija and Agathe Snow— did okay from 6 to 8 PM on Thursday. The last night of the summer! For Susan Cianciolo’s “RUN Prayer, RUN Café, RUN Library” at Bridget Donahue, self-serve lime-and-apple sangria was available, albeit in Dixie cups. I kept waiting for people to complain about the booze rationing, or at least recall swishing with fluoride in kindergarten—even when you had a summer cold and could not breathe through your nose! But they didn’t. Everybody was in a good mood. I mean, they were perspiring, obviously. “We have air conditioning,” said Donahue, shaking her head. (Artists like her because she tells the truth, and I must say I like her snappy e-mails.)

The crowd waited patiently for quesadillas personally grilled by Steven Arroyo, the cult owner of LA’s twenty-five-seat Escuela Taqueria. (“He flew in from Los Angeles,” said Cianciolo affectionately.) He’s the strong silent type. A self-contained man! A man unlike the man waiting in line behind me—who I refuse to quote on the grounds that he’s an adult still telling strangers he “went to Bard.” (Why must I make this joke at every party?)

Sensing that I was disturbing the chef’s innate purity, the benign kind that radiates off all humans who like their work, I lurked around the silent, acne-free women Cianciolo solicited and dressed for RUN PRAYER— a performance-art work from 6 to 7 PM, of ten women sitting in a meditation circle. Like a sewing circle that doesn’t gossip! Among them was downtown’s designer Maryam Nassir Zadeh (Cianciolo was wearing MNZ’s apple-red low-heeled shoes). “Who I casted in it was very important to me, I knew they could do it,” said Cianciolo. “They’re all women. That’s what made it so special.”

They did not rehearse, and they were all beautiful in that I-don’t-wear-makeup-French-girl-way. They had what I’m going to call ANGEL SKIN (Peau d’ange), a kind of French lace I learned about while flipping through Sew a Beautiful Wedding by Gail Brown and Karen Dillon in an effort to improve myself in the RUN Library “house.” Especially artist Maia Ruth Lee, the pregnant woman who “famously” walked the Eckhaus Latta runway last week. (The Cut approved.)

On the back of one of the sitters’ chairs was a piece of printer paper with very lightly drawn pencil writing, perhaps explaining the ritual:

women prayer group
history of female saints
being with source
happy with or without symbol
women prayer circle
saints holding hands
holding energy
trees plants

And at the very bottom: I Don’t care if you don’t fucking like me (in cursive).

At the opening of “RUN Prayer, RUN Café, RUN Library” at Bridget Donahue.

I can’t think of anyone in the world who doesn’t love Susan. It’s fairly obvious that she’s popular and angularly beautiful in the vein of Rita Ackermann (they used to be roommates)—but absolutely zero percent divisive, a sort of quiet healer type to all those sober people from the ’90s. (The first JSTOR result for “Susan Cianciolo” is “God Save the Zine.”) Almost everyone I spoke to at the opening said they’ve worked with Susan “forever.” Most just quite literally said, “Oh. I love Susan.”

“She’s fantastical,” said Kat, the young woman who just spent three months organizing Cianciolo’s archive. “You know? It’s like she’s somewhere else . . . Someone gave her a NY tourist scarf, and she made it into a pleated skirt.” (In an interview turned palm reading for Index in 1999, Dam Darcy told Cianciolo: “You have a very long pinky, which signifies that you’re very intuitive, you run on your dreams a lot.”)

As at all openings, starved for some New York neuroticism, I began wide-eyeing literally anyone who would have me. A bubbly woman with a cup of sangria breathlessly introduced herself. “I’m Susan’s neighbor!” She had seen the artist around Fort Greene for five years, only recently learning who she was. “It’s good to know she’s doing something!” We looked at the artist across the room, so well postured and secure. “She just is laughing over there,” said her neighbor brightly.

The neighbor really wanted to introduce Susan to “my friend Susan, who lives in Soho,” and also a friend of hers named Sibyl, “who is doing a performance-art piece about the first day of fall tomorrow at the Whitney Museum.” (“It’s like anti-pretentious and also based in a lot of real ritual.”) Sibyl is Sibyl K-e-m-p-s-o-n. The neighbor wanted to introduce me to Jennifer Krasinski, who she knows from the theater world a lonnnng time ago. “I think she’s written for things,” she said. “I know!” I didn’t say. (Another neighbor of Cianciolo’s posted about being the artist’s neighbor—quite the community in Brooklyn you have there!)

Eventually I found my real friends, by which I mean the painter Sam McKinniss, and waited for people to find him. Within minutes, artist Torey Thornton, of A-Ron’s gallery Moran Bondaroff, strode toward us, already speaking from across the room. “Lessssssss talk about it, lessss talk about it. Let’s. Talk. About. It.” They spoke, for some time, about McKinniss’s crisp white polo shirt from Uniqlo. (“I like white clothes,” said McKinniss, who was born and raised in Connecticut, and is looking very thin.)

Left: Artists Sam McKinniss and Torey Thornton. Right: Bunny Lampert, Susan Cianciolo, and Steven Arroyo. (Photos: Kaitlin Phillips)

Then there was a series of art gallerist blind items:

—How’s he dress? Button-up shirt in raw denim or a fucking muumuu?

—No, he’s in, like, Comme.

—Comme to the toe. All right, all right, all right. That can mean a lot of things. You’re either exotic or stiff.

Eventually, we made our way to the after party at Happy Ending, still discussing various sartorial and aesthetic concerns, like how this month the New York Times featured McKinniss and Thornton in an article called “The Beauty of Ugly Painting,” written by a twenty-six-year-old. Thornton anti-fashionably carried a DUANE READE BY WALLGREENS bag as a purse. (“My partner—my partner doesn’t exist, but if I had one, we wouldn’t collaborate,” deadpanned Thornton. Actually I think he was serious.)

FYI: Happy Ending is now called Better Times, because Happy Ending had a “woman problem.” Or as my friend Dan Allegretto succinctly said: “I guess they took down their ticker tape: Forty days since our last rape!” On the telephone outside, a woman was mock-screaming into her cellphone for the benefit of the smokers, since smokers are the best gossips (because they don’t really believe in the future): “I’m sitting between Brett Ratner and Harvey Weinstein and they’re both like, “How are you?” They’re like violent weirdos, I like it . . . Half of what I do is not my job.” I’m sure she was phoning someone in Los Angeles, because who cares in New York anymore about Harvey Weinstein, unless he’s optioning your novel, just to shelve it for ten years.

Inside, Jamie Simone, a model and freelance DJ at Beverly’s—whom I know from Instagram as Pool Honeys—explained that she’s getting a rotary phone and moving to LA, where her Instagram handle will play better. “I’m not going to pay you back,” she told McKinniss after charging a drink to his tab. “But you know I’m a generous friend. The most joy—I don’t know if it’s like a Cancer thing—the most joy—I’m a Cancer—the most joy I get is from giving my friends joy.” Some people just have great energy.

McKinniss pointed out Bridget Donahue’s mother perched at the bar. “Are you the mother,” I asked. “Yes, and I’m trying to behave myself,” she said, and asked if I knew Thor Shannon. I nodded noncommittally. “Last opening he gave me a cocktail, and I danced on the bar. So this time I’m trying to behave myself.” Me too, me too.

Kaitlin Phillips

History Again


Rehearsal for Gerard & Kelly’s Modern Living at the Farnsworth House. (All photos: David Huber)

THE WEEK BEFORE LAST, fifty miles east of Downtown Chicago, on the bank of the Fox River in Kendall County, where Trump beat Clinton by a hair, a young woman in a neon-green getup and white volleyball kneepads stood on the deck of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and made a small request: “Welcome. Please take off your shoes or put shoe covers on.”

We’d stepped, a gaggle of globalists, into a rehearsal for Modern Living, a new performance by artists Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly commissioned for “Make New History,” the Second Chicago Architecture Biennial, directed by Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee and timed to coincide with the Expo Chicago art fair. Modern Living is the third in an ongoing series of works sited at canonical modernist residences—after the Schindler House in California and the Glass House in Connecticut—exploring how queer intimacy is produced outside of dominant ideas of family. For the next hour we moved as we pleased, my own attention tacking, bicuriously, between two dancers—a WO (Julia Eichten) and a MAN (Zack Winokur).

I stretched booties over my soles. I ambled inside. “Rub the belly button. Expose the clavicle. Twist the hips,” intoned WO. When I returned to the deck, MAN had shed his pants and shirt and kneepads. Now he was upright, butt-naked, his Hanes around his ankles and hands above his head, posing as Alba, the Georg Kolbe bronze figure in the reflecting pool of the Barcelona Pavilion. There was shattered glass (prerecorded) and shrieks (live), followed by a séance at the dining table with incantations about tenuous client-architect relations. Then, to conclude, the two rendezvoused at the doorway, one on each side of the threshold. They leaned in face-to-face but remained separated by inches, repelled like opposed magnets. It was a fitting end to the performance and, as I would discover, an appropriate start to this biennial, which strained to keep reality at bay.

Left: Chicago Architecture Biennial artistic directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee. Right: Artist Amanda Williams.

On Thursday morning, fifty miles west of the Farnsworth House, at the Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan Avenue, Mayor Rahm Emanuel probably stood on a riser and said, “Welcome.” I say probably because that event was for local media and I—a member of the culture press—was invited to an earlier, Rahm-less “press breakfast,” where scones and sarcasm were served. “Imagine inviting 140 architects into your home and saying, ‘Do something,’” said Mark Kelly, Chicago’s culture commissioner. Imagine!

Fortunately, not all the biennial’s participants are architects (there are artists and even fashion designers among them) and Johnston and Lee are a capable pair of designers with significant pedigree (a renovation of the MCA Chicago just wrapped up, and their new building for the Menil Drawing Institute in Houston will open next year). In terms of curation, this year’s biennial is sharper and more refined than the inaugural edition. Off-site projects and affiliated programs were pared back and better edited. The Garfield Park Conservatory—a sprawling hothouse and civic wonder—hosted an installation by François Perrin and an elegiac performance by Ana Prvački, who collaborated with architects SO-IL on whimsical full-body air filters for the brass quartet. The Graham Foundation presented an exhibition by David Hartt exploring Moshe Safdie’s unfinished Habitat Puerto Rico project from 1968.

More apparent to me this year were the peculiarities and hierarchies of the main venue (a onetime library). Displays in corridors with fluorescent lighting and dim ground-floor galleries pale in comparison to those in elegant former reading rooms. The show’s visual and philosophical tour de force, Vertical City, is reserved for the finest space, Yates Hall. For this, Johnston and Lee invited fifteen architects to revisit the Chicago Tribune Tower competition of 1922, a watershed event that has inspired polemical copycats over the years, most famously the zeitgeist-defining exhibition of postmodern “late entries” organized in Chicago in 1980. The 2017 towers—sixteen-foot-tall scale models—were presented alongside the 1922 proposals of Adolf Loos (an oversize Doric column) and Ludwig Hilberseimer (an orthogonal slab-and-column structure), thereby framing the exercise, I think, as a blurring of two iconographic regimes once seen as binary. The term “scale models” is misleading, however. Better to treat them as totemic—one-to-one depictions of process and sensibility rather than representations of inhabitable buildings. What you see is what you get, and I’m certain you’ll be seeing them on Instagram for the next four months.

Left: PIN-UP’s Felix Burrichter and artist David Hartt. Right: Graham Foundation director Sarah Herda and architect Jürgen Mayer.

A symposium organized by the Harvard Graduate School of Design on Thursday afternoon cemented Vertical City’s importance, with six of the eight architect-panelists participating in the tower pageant. GSD dean Mohsen Mostafavi had a hunch that practitioners today treat history differently than they did in 1980, and he was proved correct. While postmodernists preferred quotation and pastiche, the panelists spoke of “fusing,” “merging,” and “copying” (ŕ la Nicolas Bourriaud’s “Postproduction” or Lawrence Lessig’s Remix Culture). Emanuel Christ described “history as the toolbox,” but if you remixed the metaphor, swapping out “toolbox” for “database,” his notion of “searching for solutions” would still hold. In practice, the biennial’s title isn’t an imperative, a fiery call to action, but a droll command: Siri, make new history. Instead of an open commons with a wide range of producers, its operating procedures are more akin to contemporary platform-capitalism, under which a few rarefied institutions—in this case, the Modern Movement, the West, the Ivy League—determine the rules.

It’s a small wonder then that opinions divided along old borders. Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao contended that “history occurs through people.” Burkina Faso–born, Berlin-based architect Francis Kéré took a long look at the starched audience and, with palpable melancholy, remarked, “Architecture is far, far, far away from people.” This humanist impulse extends to the functional and social concerns of their respective towers—awkward prerogatives considering the unspoken agenda of the biennial, which was more didactic than its curators let on. History is a synonym for a brand of formalism advanced by a loose network of architects, most of them San Rocco–reading Europeans in their forties, who are represented in the exhibition by OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, 6a, Christ & Gantenbein, Kuehn Malvezzi, PRODUCTORA, Sam Jacob, Go Hasegawa, Christian Kerez, and Pezo von Ellrichshausen, among others. (Were Johnston and Lee not the gatekeepers, they’d be included.) A talented bunch of designers, they reject the razzle-dazzle of the digital and the programmatic preoccupations of Rem Koolhaas, and their calling card is an austere yet casual aesthetic of simple geometries and bold platonic shapes. The Loos and Hilberseimer of Vertical City belong to this coterie’s canon, and outsiders became reluctant interlopers.

“Why does architecture have to be an enemy of modernism?” asked Go Hasegawa, rhetorically, during a Friday afternoon conversation with Kersten Geers, part of a series of talks organized by Columbia University GSAPP. Hasegawa was speaking of his education in Japan, but he then generalized. “We, as a generation, are free from this trauma. Maybe we can be more honest.”

Left: Architect Florian Idenburg and artist Ana Prvački with performers. Right: Architect Kazuyo Sejima.

If I may be forthcoming, or Freudian, I’d contend this pluralism is less a triumph over intergenerational conflict or patricide than a survival tactic—a form of affect-management at a moment of overwhelming crisis. In the face of Silicon Valley futurism and a toxic political discourse (as I write: “Trump Tweets Doctored GIF of His Golf Ball Hitting Hillary Clinton”), the invocation of history is regarded as a reassertion of liberal democratic values—a soothing theme that all of us can, and must, get behind. Yet just as obnoxious tweets of politicians are not politics, historical objects and styles and persons are not history. Politics and history are processes, and the biennial, by isolating form-making from the production and occupation of space, precludes an active role for architecture.

“What do you think?” I was asked countless times during the opening, in corners of galleries and back seats of cars. There’s a certain way of asking that question—wherein sincere curiosity is shadowed by gut-level uneasiness—that says more than any answer. The tone was the answer. As with any big thematic exhibition, individual participants offered compelling counternarratives to the theme (for instance, Gerard & Kelly’s Modern Living and DOGMA’s Rooms, a survey of famous domestic spaces from antiquity to the present, examined how social formations are entangled with the activity of living). But the larger curatorial frame, an adventure in disengagement, failed to convince me why this biennial should matter. Architecture felt small, isolated, gutless, and inconsequential. Architecture felt squandered. There it was, inches from the city and a world apart.

David Huber

View of Vertical City installation at Chicago Cultural Center.