Just Between Friends

New York
05.03.17

Trajal Harrell performing at the annual Friends of Artists Space dinner. (Photo: Dawn Chan)


SOME FUND-RAISERS, you can tell, are held together by the type-A wrath of a corporate-events planner. But not the annual Friends of Artists Space dinner, which is sweeter and much more interesting. It is held at the beginning of Frieze Art Week at the Ukrainian National Home in the East Village. There is no assigned seating. Everything unfolds leisurely, under the grand Art Deco¬–esque, mirrored ceiling of a banquet hall above the main restaurant, where old New Yorkers decide if they want their pierogies boiled or fried.

Last night’s dinner honored, in absentia, the artist, philosopher, and yogi Adrian Piper. As many know, she has refused to return to the United States since 2005, after being deemed a “suspicious traveler” on a TSA watch list. By underscoring the void she’s left, Artists Space gave fuel to a form of protest that seems particularly challenging: A body can always at least obstruct, in the worst case. But its sustained absence can’t do much, if others let it become forgotten. Piper did include the reproduction of a piece of hers from 1978, titled Aspects of the Liberal Dilemma, in the evening’s program, though. Its text leads you through an uncomfortably self-conscious monologue as you look at a photograph of black people, all in the context of art. If the digital world’s algorithmically protected echo chambers let people constantly slink back to a state of unexamined outrage, Piper’s artwork is needed more than ever for its ability to leave us seized with self-doubt.

According to Jay Sanders, newly at the helm of this nonprofit, Piper agreed to the suggestion to be honored “in this generative way,” as Sanders put it, by having “other artists presenting their own work that would speak, in whatever manner they chose, toward her work.” And indeed: The evening included a restaging of Trajal Harrell’s 2015 performance The Return of La Argentina, which hinges on movements drawn from Butoh and vogueing. (It’s worth noting that one of his costumes was a Comme des Garçons piece, which was more Kawakubo than most Met Gala attendees managed to pull off the night prior.)

Artists Richard Kennedy, Kyle Luu, and Stewart Uoo. (Photo: Dawn Chan)


Following Harrell—and braised fennel with saffron, and winsome remarks by Sanders—dancer and musician Richard Kennedy performed. His mix of looped vocals, processed into chords, evoked the a capella choral harmonies of American folk music. He sang lyrics such as, “There’s never a reason for violence against living things.” He explained to me that he was inspired by Piper’s iconic piece Catalysis III, 1970—where she went to Macy’s with WET PAINT painted on her clothes—and aimed to make something that would “disrupt the institution and represent the other.” He chose his outfit, by Iranian designer Pedram Karimi, to show solidarity with refugees and those banned from entering the US. “The material is very light and moves freely; unlike my refugee brothers and sisters in 2017,” he told me later.

Liam Gillick and Rachel Harrison, two board members, gave closing remarks. “It’s especially hard, these days,” Gillick said, “to create spaces of beauty and difficulty.” These days feels like a fraught term, these days. Almost exactly two years ago, down to the week, Piper unveiled her ongoing piece The Probable Trust Registry: The Rules of the Game #1–3, at the Venice Biennale. Participants chose to sign agreements with rather ambitious terms: “I will always be too expensive to buy.” Or “I will always mean what I say.” Or “I will always do what I say I am going to do.” It feels like a different world now, one in which breaking contracts is passed off as a sign of business acumen. You have to wonder how the Probable Trust’s registrants are faring with their promises—and what vital, prophetic work Piper will make next.

Dawn Chan

Last Calle

New York
05.02.17

Sophie Calle at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. (Photo: Leandro Justen)


SOPHIE CALLE WAS SMOKING AND TEXTING on stone steps in a green velvet dress, which I wanted to touch. She said sure, so I felt up the hem. It was heavy, deluxe. I asked her where she got it, and instead of answering, she asked me why I liked it. Suddenly I heard myself talking about my childhood, my mother who sewed dresses, and the velvet dresses I always asked her to make me, even after I knew how much the material cost. I stopped, embarrassed. Was I telling a secret? But anyone could see I had been a child, and it was obvious green velvet would suit me. Calle opened a map on her phone and asked if I knew the address where we were. I said that we were in Brooklyn, and that if she searched for Green-Wood Cemetery Chapel on the map, the address and directions would be given. “No,” she said. “That is not the right answer.” She went inside, where seventy were being seated for dinner, accompanied in silence by an unplayed pipe organ.

The occasion was the opening of a new public artwork by Calle, presented by Creative Time, called Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery. A high knoll is now home to a slight marble obelisk with a single slot, into which a visitor may slip a piece of paper (provided) on which she’s written whatever she wants to hide. It’s a quicker way of taking something to the grave. Twenty-five years from now, the work will be over, the secrets safely cremated––unless a thief who is also a handwriting expert gets there first.

Asked to give a speech, Calle began by looking around and announcing that “none of the people at the dinner had played the game.” (“The game” was what she was calling the work.) One woman raised her hand, au contraire. Calle seemed to wonder whether the other sixty-nine guests deserved a speech, and abruptly sat down. “When I have an idea,” she said, “I’ll start again.”

A man sitting next to me took a pen from his pocket and wrote this line on his place card in cursive. I asked him why. Surprised, he said simply: “Because I love her.” Calle had changed his way of thinking about the world and his work, and in particular had taught him to listen. I asked what his work was. “Communications,” he said. Before joining the New York office of Doctors Without Borders, he was employed by what he vaguely described as a travel company in San Francisco, which he called “San Frantastic.” I did not ask in what year of his communications career he had discovered the importance of listening.

Calle stood up again, having had an idea. She explained that she tried to buy a burial plot in Montparnasse, but the Parisian cemetery, home to some of the most respected corpses in France, doesn’t take reservations. Five or six years ago she bought one in Bolinas, California, where she lived and started making art at the end of her teen years. Now that she has been offered a plot in Green-Wood, she is wondering how many places she can be buried in, her body split up and deposited, like an inheritance among children, into (plural) graves. Calle said all this as though it had just now occurred to her, and we listened like we were receiving special information; in fact, she had said the same things in a T magazine profile, out three weekends ago. She added only a joke, saying that if she must be buried in one place, and if Montparnasse decides, after all, to reserve her a spot, “I will say no and be buried in Bolinas, because they took me first.”

Left: Katie Hollander, Creative Time executive director, and Elvira Dyangani Ose, Creative Time senior curator. Right: Creative Time artistic director Nato Thompson and Peggy Leboeuf of Emmanuel Perrotin. (Photos: Leandro Justen)


Katie Hollander, the director of Creative Time, explained between courses that the foundation had been trying to work with Calle for seven or eight years. Finally, Calle said she had the time and wanted, in Hollander’s words, “to bring a concept to life in a cemetery.” (Zombie conceptualism?) Several months earlier, the people at Green-Wood had told the people at Creative Time that they’d love to collaborate. Fortuitous, I thought. “Cosmic,” said Nato Thompson, the artistic director. “There’s no other word for it.” Thompson had spent his whole life avoiding death but was now beginning to plan for the after party. “I think I want to be cryogenicized,” he told me. “Like Walt Disney.” Hollander was likewise optimistic. “I don’t usually think twenty-five years ahead,” she said, “but now I know that’s how long I have to come up with a really good secret.”

The French-born photographer Pascale Lafay stepped out to find her husband smoking Camels with three different women. Lafay said they had been married in Atlantic City astride a huge wooden elephant and had moved to Jersey City for the studio space. She was working on a series wherein she projected photos of friends’ faces onto identical white plastic masks, “to make the faces more alike, the way plastic surgery makes them alike.” She had been, while living in Paris, “Sophie’s neighbor.” I said that Lafay must know things about Calle that were secret, even if banal: what time the artist got home at night or up in the morning. She said, “I know that people want to know many things about her.” Maybe, I said, she should be buried in Green-Wood next to Calle, so they’d be neighbors again. “No,” Lafay said, strangely. “Never.”

Calle’s neighbor at dinner was the actress Kim Cattrall, who was Samantha on Sex and the City (1998–2004) and has been the voice of Calle’s mother, may she rest in performance, in various iterations of Rachel/Monique (2006). After dessert, Cattrall and her tall younger boyfriend went with Calle to see the obelisk under cover of dark, then to share a ride home—that is, until Calle ghosted, leaving the couple stranded with no cabs for miles. “The first thing she said to me at dinner was that I was late, and the second thing was that I hadn’t seen the art,” said Cattrall. “Halfway through dinner, she says again that I was late. Of course she’s totally joking. Well, not totally. Then as soon as she’s satisfied, she disappears! That is so Sophie.” I was about to take a car to the city. Of course I could drop Cattrall off. “Park Avenue, please,” said the actress, and proceeded to talk in the backseat, in her luculent, stage-trained way, for the next forty minutes.

Sophie Calle. (Photo: Heidi Krautwald)


Years ago, an editor at W called Cattrall to tell her a story. “I thought he was going to tell me about a Calvin Klein model committing suicide,” she said, “or whatever it is that editors talk about in fashion.” He relayed, instead, that the magazine had done a piece on Ingmar Bergman at his far-out island home and that Bergman said his favorite TV show, which he liked to watch alone in his screening room, was Sex and the City, and his favorite character was Samantha. I would not have taken Bergman for a Samantha. “Nor would I,” said Cattrall. “It makes sense though, doesn’t it? Nothing embarrassed him.” Elaborating on her love for Bergman’s 1973 miniseries Scenes from a Marriage, she noted that television doesn’t often get to “the grist of reality,” and said that, in acting, “the truest thing you can express is often the most painful.”

Calle seems to think so too. “With Sophie,” said Cattrall, “you know she’s trying to open you up emotionally, and you know she’s going to play on your vulnerabilities in a subtle and mysterious way, and you think, ‘I know what you’re doing, you can’t fool me.’ Then as soon as you get in your head and forget about your feelings, bam! She’s got you.”

The next afternoon I went to the cemetery, where a tired Calle was taking secrets in person. Of the four thousand visitors who came that day, three dozen had been chosen on a first-come, first-serve basis to share their secrets with the artist face-to-face, seat-to-seat, on two benches. When she had seen the last visitor and heard her secret, Calle stood and held her gray wool blanket aloft like a surrendering soldier’s flag. The visitor, with her professional camera, snapped quickly a triptych: Calle talking and laughing at the camera, then laughing at the sky, then at us. The knoll drained slowly, abscess-like. “I thought it would be bigger,” said a post-teen goth with a Gucci backpack. “The thing?” asked her goth friend, meaning the obelisk. “Or the idea?”

The last visitor’s name was Heidi Krautwald, a German photojournalist living in Kiel. She had been in New York for two months; it was her last day in town. “I only had a little secret,” she said. “For Sophie, it was okay. She was happy to end with something light.” An hour later, Krautwald sent me two of the three photos. I wrote back asking what Calle had said when she lifted the camera, but she didn’t reply.

Sarah Nicole Prickett

Sophie Calle's Here Lie the Secrets of The Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery. (Photo: Sarah Nicole Prickett)


Mirror Mirror

Los Angeles
05.02.17

Left: Artists Justine Koons, Jeff Koons, and Alex Israel. Right: John Legend. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)


LAST WEEK, the Santa Ana winds came in hot and blustery across Los Angeles just as Jeff Koons hit town. Their convergence cannot have been a coincidence. An artist who staked his career on inflatables would naturally be on equal terms with high winds. Generally, they blow in his direction. And these did.

On Saturday, the Museum of Contemporary Art was to honor him at its star-studded annual benefit gala. On Thursday, Larry Gagosian—not one to let an opportunity slip by—opened a kind of popup Koons show that his Beverly Hills gallery assembled from three different bodies of work. Suffice it to say, this was not your usual sample sale.

Many people see only the reflective surface of Koons’s sculpture, because it can distract from the deep vein of melancholy that runs below the folds in the best of it. Yet Koons was positively buoyant, despite the death of his mother, at ninety, less than a week earlier.

For nearly forty years, Gloria Koons was a proud fixture at nearly every one of her son’s openings. I offered condolences. “My mother would have wanted me to be here,” he replied, with a wink. Then he moved through the gallery, attending to core collectors including Bill and Maria Bell and Benedikt Taschen.

Left: Philanthropists Lilly Tartikoff Karatz and Eli Broad. Right: Collector Maurice Marciano and LA MoCA director Philippe Vergne.


Justine Koons, the artist’s wife, carried a Titian handbag from the collection Koons produced in a recent collaboration with Louis Vuitton. Like so much of his art—or anyone’s, really—it looks better in the flesh. Ditto Ms. Bell’s white Stella McCartney dress with Koons’s Pink Panther image on the back. She also wore a silver Koons bunny on a silver chain around her neck and carried a Koons clutch. What was she planning to wear to the gala? “I may go for some of my normal clothes,” she said, blushing. What’s normal? “I have Rodarte,” she offered.

Irving and Jackie Blum were in the room. So were Mike Ovitz, Los Angeles Country Museum of Art director Michael Govan, Vanity Fair contributor Wendy Stark Morrissey, Jared Leto, and Leelee Sobieski. But the greater number was made up of lesser-known fans seeking autographs and a chance to pose for pictures with the artist. To their unconcealed delight, he complied for each.

One woman, a commercial photographer, told me that she’d driven from Las Vegas just for this opening. She wanted to see the work and its creator, whom she regarded as among the most culturally significant figures of our day. “He gets people talking,” she said. “That matters.”

Several works were on loan from their owners—at least three came from Eli Broad alone. They provided context for the one new sculpture—a dazzling blue bird of ultra-polished painted stainless steel that doubles as a fertile planter holding spring flowers. Based on a porcelain knickknack, it absolutely stole the show from the giant red Balloon Rabbit, the colossal Gazing Ball Hercules, the blue Sacred Heart, the liquescent Seated Ballerina of more recent vintage, and the “Gazing Ball Paintings” on view.

Left: LA MoCA director of education and public programming Amanda Hunt with artist Charles Gaines and LA MoCA assistant curator, Lanka Tattersall. Right: Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin.


“I didn’t want to like this show,” said one patron, “but I can’t help it. I really do.” That was the general consensus. “Doesn’t the show look like the ’70s?” Koons asked, on the way to dinner at Mr. Chow. “It’s so minimal,” he explained. I love the way Koons talks. But when I looked back, I saw that, for him, the installation was actually quite pared down, even spare. Continuing in this historical vein, he compared Balloon Rabbit to Nefertiti. “It follows the same lines,” he said. “And it’s so female, so vaginal.” Frankly, if you look closely, that isn’t a stretch either.

Dinner was of a more intimate scale than usual for this artist, but the weekend gala was ahead. Michael Chow circled the room, handing Koons and other artists present—Alex Israel, Jonas Wood—thick black markers, prodding them to make a drawing on their plates for a collection that will commemorate his restaurant chain’s upcoming fiftieth anniversary. “Can’t I do it on a clean plate?” Israel pleaded. Chow refused. “It’s art,” he said.

“It’s so good to see three different bodies of work together,” gallery director Deborah McLeod began the evening’s toast to “one of the greatest living artists.” She added, “Your art always makes us feel optimistic, which is what we need now.”

Koons stood. “You know,” he said, “you come into this world and you don’t need much. You can just be an artist. You can do anything. You can give people hope.” Noting his mother’s passing, he also acknowledged the many friends who were present, naming Eli and Edythe Broad, Taaschen, and the Bells. “Duchamp had Philadelphia,” he concluded. “I have Los Angeles.”

That was a good one.

Left: Dealer Larry Gagosian and the artist Jeff Koons. Right: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch.


For many artists living in LA—Laura Owens, Tacita Dean, Toba Khedoori—Friday night belonged to the premiere of Frances Stark’s feature-length adaptation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute on the big screen at LACMA’s Bing Theater. A student orchestra recruited from area schools performed the sound track, if you can say that about an eighteenth-century opera. Only the instruments actually had a “voice.” What there was to watch was the libretto, which Stark brilliantly translated into current vernacular, doubling lines and adding color. “I’m nervous,” she said, before the screening. “Mozart died five weeks after he finished writing this opera.”

Over at Blum & Poe in Culver City, seasoned Carroll Dunham and young Tony Lewis introduced new paintings. Lewis kept to the abstract. Dunham’s canvases depict naked caveman types in the hairy, complicated, genital-extending twists of a wrestling contest demonstrated on the exotic island where female sexuality was on display his last time out. I guess you could say, if pressed, that the new pictures are politically correct. “In art,” Dunham said, “all things are possible.” Even a modified southern menu of baked beans, potato salad, corn bread, and shoe-leather beef. It didn’t go late. The gala was coming!

It arrived Saturday night, in living color, in a big black tent with a magenta interior parked outside the Geffen Contemporary. Sharon Stone, Sean Penn, Ryan Seacrest, Pierce Brosnan, and Ricky Martin walked a purple carpet to slake the paparazzi’s thirst for celebrities who aren’t artists. Pace Barbara Kruger, Doug Aitken, Sam Durant, Dan Colen, Charles Gaines, Mark Grotjahn, Sterling Ruby, Ana Prvački, and the inimitable Genevieve Gaignard, coiffed in the world’s tallest beehive. “We have sixty artists with us tonight!” exulted gala and MoCA board cochair Maurice Marciano in his address to a crowd of eight hundred seated guests. “We have thirty trustees!”

Left: LACMA curator Christine Y. Kim with artists Frances Stark and Toba Khedoori. Right: Wendy Stark and LACMA director Michael Govan.


Then who were all these other people? Collectors and their friends. Dealers and their friends. Real-estate moguls, entertainment lawyers, and their friends. And MoCA’s former bad boys, Jeffrey Deitch and Paul Schimmel, though not together. Deitch, who kept a low profile, is opening an exhibition space in Hollywood. Schimmel had just returned from touring the Pharaonic Valley of Kings. He was dressed in a Bill Blass suit given to him by Nancy Rubins shortly after the death of Chris Burden. “She said he only got to wear it once!” Schimmel exclaimed. Now it’s his.

Scarlett Johansson narrated a film by Oscar Boyson that glimpsed various stages of Koons’s life, with cameos by Frank Gehry, George Condo, Scott Rothkopf, and Gagosian. Then it was MoCA director Philippe Vergne’s turn to wax poetic about Koons, whose editioned balloon-dog plates with Bernardaud—displayed outside the tent—has raised a ton of money for MoCA. Brosnan, who has attended the event before, introduced the honoree by characterizing him as the contemporary artist who “unites the power of art and celebrity.” Didn’t that hit home with this crowd! “We are inspired,” the actor said.

The artist then did exactly what his sculptures do—flattered the guests by flipping the focus back to them. “What we are celebrating tonight is the vitality of the art world in Los Angeles,” he began, connecting to his own local exhibition history from 1983, at LACE, through Daniel Weinberg, Margo Leavin, Luhring Augustine, and Hetzler galleries to Gagosian and the 2015 opening of the Broad. “Marcel Duchamp has Philadelphia,” he said again. “I have Los Angeles.”

Left: Artist Dan Colen. Right: Artist April Street and curator Philipp Kaiser.


If that line went over well the first time, it touched a nerve in the tent. The audience roared its approval. “This is the most concentrated area of my work anywhere in the world. If you want to see it, come to Los Angeles.”

John Legend came to the stage, and many women rushed it, hearts a-throb. The singer played right to them. “I hear he’s going to bring on a surprise guest,” said one. “I’m holding out for Beyoncé,” said her friend. Sorry, ladies. Legend’s guest was . . . Miguel!

Meanwhile, the LA art scene had reached a rolling boil, particularly in its museums. LACMA’s self-generated Picasso and Rivera exhibition was pure rock ’em, sock ’em bliss side by side with its imported Dwan Gallery and Moholy-Nagy shows. The Hammer’s Jimmie Durham show is probably his best ever, anywhere. And the Carl Andre retrospective on view that evening at the Geffen could not have suited that space better, especially paired with an affecting, politically minded group exhibition organized by Helen Molesworth that shattered, and enlightened, the American dream embodied by Koons with works by Arthur Jafa, Catherine Opie, and Sterling Ruby.

The next afternoon, Theaster Gates arrived from Chicago to close “Non-fiction,” a collaboration with MoCA at the late Noah Davis’s Underground Museum, with a performance by the Black Monks of Mississippi. The show, dedicated to victims of racist violence, featured work by David Hammons, Kerry James Marshall, Deana Lawson, Kara Walker, and Henry Taylor, among others. Los Angeles belongs to them too.

Linda Yablonsky

Here Comes the Judge

New York
04.28.17

Two panels adapted from publicity for l'Internationale situationniste #11, October 1967.


“THERE’S NOTHING THEY WON’T DO to raise the standard of BOREDOM.” When I was living in San Francisco during the 1990s, this sentence caught my eye as I passed a flyer stapled to a telephone pole. Printed on yellow paper, the flyer contained two rectangular comic panels. In the first, a short-haired woman in mod ’60s attire walks through a boutique, grimacing as she says the line. A sidebar to the panel read “In our spectacular society where all you can see is things and their price . . . ,” leading one’s eye to the second panel, where a bar at top continued, “Ideology tries to integrate even the most radical acts.” On the right side of the second panel, two straight-looking adults dance what appears to be the twist. The man says, “How right you are to steal books! Culture is everybody’s birthright.” His partner, triumphant, declares, “Maybe you can get the hippies, baby. But you can’t get us.” The short-haired woman, now in facial close-up at left, responds indignantly: “CULTURE? UGH! The ideal commodity—the one which helps sell all the others! No wonder you want us all to go for it!”

This, of course, was a Situationist detournement—a subversive, deadpan repurposing of pop-cultural detritus to radical political ends. At the time, its message seemed both dated (the decade of the early ’80s to the early ’90s was the last era when strains of American pop culture—hardcore punk, political rap, Riot Grrrl—seemed genuinely oppositional to mainstream consumer culture) and prescient (one could already see these underground styles being co-opted by corporations and sold back to us as “rebellion”—MTV’s Alternative Nation, Urban Outfitters, Subaru Impreza = punk rock, etc.). By the late ’90s, this recuperation process was complete, to the point where the tribally tattooed, heavily pierced dude sitting next to you on the train might be as rapacious a capitalist as Peter Thiel. At that point, it became unfashionable, even within ostensibly underground precincts, to fault anyone for their market ambitions. “Selling out,” once an unpardonable countercultural sin, became “cashing in,” resulting in, among other jarring tableaux, former Riot Grrrl Carrie Brownstein starring in an American Express ad. Maybe you can get the hippies, baby . . .

After roughly twenty years of this, during which the economy crashed to its lowest depths since the Great Depression and a vain, idiotic real-estate developer–cum–reality-TV star was elected president, it appears the time is right yet again for what paranoid right-wingers call “cultural Marxism,” a long-dormant tradition that includes, among other efforts, the Frankfurt School’s postwar critique of the “culture industry”; the Situationist International’s campaign against the spectacular nature of modern life in the form of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (1967), and various disruptive activities (including detournement); critical theory generally; Stewart Home’s The Assault on Culture (1988) and Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces (1989), both histories of counterculture; Joe Carducci’s puritanical, peerlessly intolerant anti-Pop rant Rock and the Pop Narcotic (1991); the original late ’80s to early ’90s run of The Baffler and its editor Thomas Frank’s The Conquest of Cool (1997); and most recently, Ian Svenonius’s Censorship Now!! (2015), a scattershot screed of quasi-communist scolding, delivered with tongue firmly in cheek, that makes this aging Gen-Xer weep with joy (even as I find much of it ridiculous, even dangerous).

Svenonius, the other Ian of Washington, DC’s ’80s punk scene who has fronted numerous bands (Nation of Ulysses, The Make-Up, Weird War, Chain and the Gang), written various essays and books, and hosted Soft Focus, an online talk show, has walked a very fine line for a very long time. On one level, he’s a zero-tolerance high priest of anticommercialism (much like his DC counterpart, Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye); on another, he’s a louche, ironic thrift-store fashion plate, inspired as much by ’60s bubblegum (particularly French yé-yé) as ’60s radicalism. Imagine if radical separatist feminists such as Mary Daly and Andrea Dworkin were half kidding, or if Serge Gainsbourg were a critical theorist, and you might begin to grok the rarefied row Svenonius has hoed for nearly thirty years.

Ian Svenonius performs at the Whitney Museum of American Art, April 14, 2017. Photo: Filip Wolak.


For this year’s Whitney Biennial, the artist Frances Stark painted eight spreads from Censorship Now!! (rendered as giant pages of text) and recommended that the museum host a performative lecture by Svenonius as a supplementary event. Called “On Re-Education,” and structured like a rock set list, the lecture involved Svenonius—in a black vinyl suit with black rubber nubbins, white shirt, and skinny black tie—playing quiet, ironic electric guitar solos over rudimentary drum loops while testifying on topics from the book in a mannered, talk-singing style. He was introduced with the line, “Either you’ve never heard of him, or you regard him with messianic fervor,” and the full-house audience seemed to agree; it was a very friendly room. Svenonius has a slight lisp and was simultaneously abject and charming, resembling the Kinks’ Ray Davies with dyed black hair.

As he semi-rapped passages from Censorship Now!! over self-generated, purposely dinky music, Svenonius exhorted the crowd to “turn the radio and TV off,” to accept “re-education to get rid of false consciousness, which is caused by the homicidal condition called capitalism,” and to vote for him so he can “have his finger on the button (I need a button).” He had helpers distribute an absurd nondisclosure agreement to audience members, as well as lapel buttons reading “I Survived Re-Education Camp.” Despite working a shtick that owes much to the ’60s and ’70s, Svenonius ranted extensively about the dire sociopolitical effects of marijuana (apparently to blame for the “nonsense logic we live in today”), claiming that the legalization trend was responsible for the 2016 election result: “Trump voters pulled the lever in a psychotic pique of resentment on their way to Ben & Jerry’s.” “Pot was okay for ‘all you need is love’ hippies; it was weaker then.” he concluded. “But not for today’s paranoid, Alex Jones–watching libertarians. It seems irresponsible for Bob Dylan to continue to insist that ‘everybody must get stoned.’” In his (consciously?) awkward, amateurish delivery and crackpot theorizing, Svenonius recalled the diversionary weirdos populating Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991); linking Smurfs to Hindu deities in the service of some grand, if daft, conspiracy theory is closely analogous to the completely baked (though not stoned) theses Svenonius regularly puts forward without warning or explanation.

Among many other deliciously unsupportable allegations, Censorship Now!! includes the following observations: “The music on the radio . . . is the thrown voice of Wall Street”; “The twist was a revolutionary force in breaking apart social units and enforcing individualist ideology”; “All this shaving [of facial and body hair] had another function[:] to enforce insensitivity, militarism, and a brutal machinist ideology”; “The yuppie aesthetic of connoisseurship has infiltrated everywhere and now there is only—for many of us—either luxury gelato or food made of chemical waste. IKEA, Martha Stewart, and Whole Foods make yuppiedom no longer a chic and extravagant choice but an enforced mode”; and “Just as the aristocracy had employed priests to explain their own divine right, the bourgeoisie invented their own magical imp, called ‘the artist,’ to explain and celebrate their own rise to power. It’s not a coincidence that ‘artist’ sounds very much like ‘atheist.’ The artist was invented as a gladiator to kill the old god for his paymaster.”

Addressing the book’s titular imperative, Svenonius writes, “We need a guerrilla censorship which uses all the cruel tools of a revolution. Pain, terror, absolute mercilessness; not to placate some hypocrite Christian morality or idiotic social code but to stomp out the grotesque subliminal mind control and hate speech of modern culture, media, news, politics, and art.” Despite its ominous Stalinist resonance, Svenonius’s plea for censorship essentially boils down to “corporations aren’t people / money isn’t speech.” His Adorno by way of Maximumrocknroll stance also means “censor all commercial crap and the cultural institutions that rationalize and abet it,” which puts him at odds with prevailing modes of pop-cultural reception. If contemporary pop is finally revealed to be a mass mind-control operation, as Svenonius believes it is, a great deal of pop criticism from the past decade will be instantly vacated, dismissed as the automatic writing of unwitting corporate stooges, intended to kill the old god for their paymaster.

So, not exactly the Unabomber Manifesto, but then, what is? Svenonius means it, man, even as he’s willing to allow a magical imp to appropriate his textual work and hang it in a group show sponsored by Tiffany & Co., J.P. Morgan, and Sotheby’s. He is simply carrying on the punk tradition, which he characterizes as a “psychotic, sci-fi-cartoon, cul-de-sac version of leftism” developed in response to the “ex-hippies’ reminiscences of sixties street fighting, narcotic bravado, and bohemian politics.” He doesn’t urge us to steal his book but to buy it (and his other books) and hide them in public libraries. After all, culture is everybody’s birthright.

Andrew Hultkrans

Practice Makes Perfect

Chicago
04.28.17

Left: Open Engagement Team Latham Zearfoss, Alex Winters, Crystal Baxley and Jen Delos Reyes. Photo: Mollie Nye. Right: Children’s Museum of the Arts’ Barbara Hunt McLanahan, Creative Capital’s Lisa Dent and Institute of Contemporary Art’s Amy Sadao during Open Engagement “Whose Museum? Our Museum. How Contemporary Art Museums Can Create Justice” panel.


WHAT IS YOUR REVOLUTION? The icebreaker question, raised by Field Foundation president Angelique Power during last week’s Practicing Utopia over Breakfast program, gets at the aim of this year’s art and social practice Open Engagement conference: critically examining and supporting social-justice-oriented artmaking and administration. The forward-thinking morning event took place at Tricia Van Eck’s 6018North, a dilapidated mansion brimming with art installations in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, just one of the more than twenty locations throughout Chicago—“our beautiful, scarred, complicated city,” as Power called it—partaking in the itinerant Open Engagement conference, now in its ninth year.

The following morning, I found myself in a more harrowing context: lying on the floor of the black-box theater at the University of Illinois, Chicago, in a chokehold with Jorge Rojas, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts’ director of education and engagement. Far from antagonistic, the confrontation was structured as part of artist Shaun Leonardo’s “I Can’t Breathe” self-defense workshop. Conceived just months after the murder of Eric Garner by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, Leonardo’s instructive workshop provided hands-on techniques to protect oneself against violence and to resist arrest. Dozens of participants paired off, switching roles between aggressor and defendant; the final stance found Leonardo instructing us on how to tuck our chins to allow for breathing in the same chokehold position that took Garner’s life as he gasped for air. As we practiced the defense maneuvers, Leonardo read from Nina Simone and concluded with Garner’s last words, speaking the refrain “I Can’t Breathe” eleven times. “It’s about locating it somewhere else,” Leonardo said of his workshop, which shifted the ubiquitous video of Garner suffocating into a space of tense, physical experience.

Left: MCA Chicago chief curator Michael Darling in front of Barbara Morgan photography of Merce Cunningham performing Root of an Unfocus, 1944. Right: Curator Risa Puleo and Gallerist Anastasia Karpova Tinari with Deana Lawson photograph. (Photo: Rhona Hoffman)


Theaster Gates, whose creative project speaks volumes to the potential of socially engaged art, also discussed location and trauma in the wake of police brutality during a keynote conversation. In a forthright dialogue with Open Engagement Chicago curators Romi Crawford and Lisa Yun Lee, Gates spoke about being approached by Samaria Rice regarding the relocation of the Cleveland gazebo in which her twelve-year-old son Tamir Rice was fatally shot by Cuyahoga County sheriff Timothy Loehmann. When the city looked to remove it, eradicating any material trace of the site of urban trauma, Ms. Rice reached out, and Gates responded. With Ms. Rice’s blessing, he arranged for the gazebo’s deinstallation and transport to his studio in Chicago’s South Side, where it remains as he and his collaborators carefully consider next steps with Ms. Rice.

The conversation took place within the impressive Stony Island Arts Bank on Chicago’s South Side, which had remained vacant for decades until it was rehabilitated by Gates and his nonprofit, Rebuild Foundation. The bank now holds the Johnson Publishing Library, Frankie Knuckles’s vinyl collection, and other cultural archives of the black experience and more. Gates spoke candidly about the limitations of his relationship to the gazebo as a “complicated, loaded object that is distinctly not about art,” while Lisa Lee pointed out that Ms. Rice perhaps wanted to have the structure considered by the radical imagination of an artist. When the conversation turned to the contours of Gates’s restorative project on the South Side and how it exists between his practices of urban planning, ceramics, and religious studies, Gates concluded emphatically, “As artists, sometimes we need to know a little bit more than how to make a fucking pot.”

Lee directs the School of Art and Art History at the University of Illinois, Chicago, the headquarters of this year’s Open Engagement, and she emphasized the centrality of care communities: “It’s about practitioners coming together, saying we believe in socially engaged practices and in one another to ask the questions creating critical inquiry and care.” Consciousness-raising and movement-building were paired with supportive uplift throughout, including a “Sappho & Sweat” embodied movement seminar with Chani Bockwinkel, involving somatics, poetry, and aerobics, as well as “Beauty Breaks: On Tender Resistance,” a workshop for people of color based in meditation and writing exercises with Sojourner Zenobia Wright, Jade Perry, and Amina Ross.

Left: Artist Brendan Fernandes and friend with work by Elijah Burgher at Western Exhibitions. Right: Western Exhibitions’ Scott Speh with work by Elijah Burgher.


Gates’s conversation was followed by the rousing JOY party, presented by Party Noire, and each subsequent Open Engagement evening featured queer-inclusive nightlife parties centering on communities of color across Chicago, including TRQPiTECA (wth DJs CQQCHIFRUIT and La Spacer) at Co-Prosperity Sphere and Slo ‘Mo at Reunion. Spearheaded by Latham Zearfoss, these considered nightlife contexts were “guided by the belief that transformative acts of change are deeply indebted to these marginal spaces of collective joy.”

While “self-care” is a buzzword of late, artist Marisa Morán Jahn advocates for the rights of domestic-care workers who aid others, including nannies, elderly and disability care providers, housekeepers, and more. Her keynote conversation with MacArthur Fellow Ai-jen Poo highlighted domestic workers as among America’s fastest-growing workforce yet one of its most overlooked and undervalued labor economies, excluded from the federal 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. Jahn’s social practice centers on the CareForce, a “superhero team behind every individual who needs care,” which she creatively imagines alongside domestic workers themselves.

Jahn’s wide-ranging presence throughout Open Engagement combined art and advocacy within and beyond gallery walls, exemplifying the possibilities of art as social practice. Her collaborative animations, policy posters, and outreach materials—all designed as know-your-rights tools—were on view in the illuminating Columbia College Chicago exhibition “Revolution at Point Zero: Feminist Social Practice,” curated by Neysa Page-Lieberman and Melissa Hilliard Potter, which “position[s] the feminist art movement as the progenitor of contemporary socially engaged art.” Meanwhile, parked outside the gallery was the CareForce One, a souped-up car that functions as a mobile studio for distribution of advocacy materials to caregivers at worker centers, bus stops, and other public places. Finally, the tireless Jahn concluded her weekend at the progressive Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, where bilingual tours of workers’-rights issues were followed by the CareForce Disco. Jahn collaborated with domestic workers to choreograph the participatory dance, narrating actions such as sweeping and voting in a powerful display of collectivized efforts toward sustainable care solutions. Coincidentally, Illinois is the seventh and most recent state to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, ensuring minimum wage, protection against sexual harassment, and more.

Left: Mallory Nezam and De Andrea Nichols with image of Mirror Casket, 2014, a sculpture and tactical performance created by Nichols, Nezam, Marcis Curtis, Sophie Lipman, Damon Davis, Elizabeth Vega and Derek Laney in response to Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, MO. Right: Images of the tactical performance of Mirror Casket, 2014, during protests. Mirror Casket is a sculpture and tactical performance created by De Andrea Nichols, Mallory Nezam, Marcis Curtis, Sophie Lipman, Damon Davis, Elizabeth Vega and Derek Laney in response to Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, MO.


Imperatives for progress were considered across the conference, with much transparency about access and the difficulty of transforming institutions. A lack of staff diversity within museums and cultural organizations was a major topic. Surveys cited included a 2013 Americans for the Arts study stating that 86 percent of executives at local arts agencies are white, as well as a more recent 2015 Department of Cultural Affairs initiative noting that 74 percent of senior staff at NYC cultural groups are white.

For “Whose Museum? Our Museum. How Contemporary Art Museums Can Create Justice,” Amy Sadao (ICA, Philadelphia), Barbara Hunt McLanahan (Children’s Museum of Art, NY), and Lisa Dent (Creative Capital) talked openly about committing to diverse hiring practices, mentorship, and professional development with the solution-based aim of breaking down barriers. Dent was reminded of a conversation with Arthur Jafa in which the filmmaker spoke about the “discriminatory” collecting practices of museums, which seems to have extended into hiring practices. In another useful conversation, speakers from the MASS Action (Museum as Site for Social Action) project provided resources for further reference around these issues, including museumhue.com, museumsandrace.org, visitorsofcolor.tumblr.com, #museumsrespondtoferguson, and #museumworkersspeak.

“Within the last ten years, it seems there has been much evolution within the field of social practice and individuated artist practices,” said Romi Crawford. Indeed, looking at Open Engagement’s and Theaster Gates’s contributions over the past decade, it’s hard to disagree. “It’s now about remaining open and receptive to those adaptations,” Crawford continued. Looking to the future, the Open Engagement team—founder and director Jen Delos Reyes, Crystal Baxley, Latham Zearfoss, and Alexandra Winters—outlined sustainability as the theme for the 2018 edition, to be held at the Queens Museum in New York. Beyond that, a question remained for the conference and the field: Who is going to support socially engaged work in the years to come? Open Engagement’s artist-led ethos sets it apart as a valuable coming-together and context for social engagement. Yet as Coya Paz said during the Funding Social Justice conversation, “Social value is not social change. We are trying to think radically and comprehensively about social change here, and that is often not a cute conversation you can Instagram.”

Alex Fialho

Left: Maria Varela and Maria Gaspar in conversation at the National Museum of Mexican Art. (Photo: Jackie Rivas) Right: Lisa Yun Lee, Romi Crawford and Theaster Gates at Stony Island Arts Bank.


Texas Tale

Dallas
04.25.17

Left: Dealer Jeremy Strick, artist Piero Golia, and collector Nancy Nasher. Right: Dealer Carla Camacho with artist Juergen Teller. (All photos: Kat Herriman)


MY FIRST DAY IN DALLAS, I revisited the mall of my childhood. Collector Nancy Nasher was my tour guide. This was her home, or rather ours: Northpark Center, the luxury retail property her parents, Raymond and Patsy Nasher, founded in the 1990s and subsequently filled with art. With a parade of collectors, dealers and artist in tow, we began with a spikey fire-engine-red sculpture by Mark di Suvero. We continued past Iván Navarro’s water towers (a recent addition that I caught at Madison Square Park) as well as several Anthony Caro sculptures, which Nasher pointed out with special affection, adding that Caro is the “most important British sculptor.” Only the shiny Anish Kapoor in the Louis Vuitton boutique surprises me, although I’d be hesitant to call either Kapoor or Caro the most important.

Private tours are a staple at the Dallas Art Week rodeo. The Karpidas and the Rachofskys tend to host visitors offsite, but I always look forward to Marguerite Hoffman’s collection in the suburbs. Hannah Hoffman, her daughter, gave the walkthrough this year, her first time participating as a dealer. “Family friends keep coming up to congratulate me,” she said, standing in front of a favorite Frank Stella. Would the local support translate into sales? “I hope so!”

Left: Dealers Barry Whistler and Dolly Geary. Right: Dealer Hannah Hoffman.


The bronze-ish Stella came to mind when looking at Pia Camil’s slatted woodworks at Dallas Contemporary. Historically, Dallas Art Week has predominantly run blockbuster shows of the white and male. But this year, Contemporary senior curator Justine Ludwig bucked tradition with the pairing of Camil and Ambreen Butt. I stopped by the museum on Wednesday afternoon to see the installation in progress. When I arrived, pieces of Camil’s Divisor Pirata were already flying overhead. Ludwig pointed at the MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN items woven into the found T-shirt tapestries. “It’s about the details,” she says. “Not about beating you over the head.”

I spotted Gagosian’s Andisheh Avini at the Power Station opening for Steven Parrino later that night, but never again. The entire gallery team appeared absent from a fair, despite the collective anticipation swirling around the brand name. When I peered into the unmanned booth on Thursday morning, I met artist Maneesh Raj Madahar. He invited me to sit on the floor, as he had during the five-month-long run of Dallas Chalet, artist Piero Golia’s secret 2015 show at the Nasher Sculpture Center. He explained that it’s a solo booth dedicated to remnants of the show. The paintings are scraps from a banner that had read THAT’S ALL FOLKS.

The press conference is a Dallas Art Fair ritual, but everyone seemed keener to attend than usual. Perhaps because the Dallas Museum of Art’s dedicated acquisition fund doubled this year, from $50k to $100k. The winners were announced by DMA senior curator Gavin Delahunty, who headed the jury alongside dedicated patrons including Gowri and Alex Sharma. With their new purse, the group picked out work by Justin Adian, Katherine Bradford, Matthew Wong, Summer Wheat, and Derek Fordjour. When I ran into Delahunty at Jessica Silverman’s booth, I told him that a boardroom debate over what to buy makes me think of an art-world version of 12 Angry Men, Reginald Rose’s 1954 courtroom drama. He shrugged and said, “It’s not like that. They keep us fed.”

Left: Collector Jimmie Johnson and dealer Chandra Johnson. Right: Artist Paul Manes and Barbara Rose.


I returned to the fair in the evening and spent several hours looking for George W. Bush. The President-turned-painter had RSVP’d for the opening gala, but it turned out that a last-minute engagement kept him away. The show went on without him, as it has for the past nine years, under the direction of its two cofounders, dealer Chris Byrne and developer John Sugrue. I spotted them by the entrance shaking hands with art adviser John Runyon, another Dallas pioneer.

I also bumped into art historian Barbara Rose. What did she think of the spectacle? “This is a fair for collectors, not investors,” she said. “Ninety percent of it is real. There aren’t the acres of brand names at astronomical prices you normally see at the endlessly proliferating art fairs.” She was happy to speak about Christopher Le Brun and Ed Moses, whose paintings she’d curated for Albertz Benda’s booth.

Ludwig spared me the walk to the after party. We parked in front of Forty Five Ten, a recently completed department store. The event was on the top floor, where Juergen Teller had installed several large portraits, including one of Kim Kardashian climbing—or perhaps descending—a hill. Marcel Duchamp’s staircase translated for the era of Bravo and E!.

Neither the former POTUS nor Kardashian was in attendance, but Teller was. I found him at the bar drinking champagne with ice. “It’s called a piscine,” he said. “The French do it.”

The crown jewels of Dallas are Tex-Mex and steak, but everyone kept asking for barbecue recommendations. You heard it here first: Don’t do that. I’d skip the sushi too, but beggars can’t be choosers. At the after party, I found myself eating nigiri, watching the naturally and not-so-naturally beautiful people dance. Kardashian’s ass loomed behind them like the moon.

Kat Herriman