ON THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, more than a hundred galleries in New York held opening receptions all at once. By comparison, the season kickoff in Los Angeles that day was a picnic—literally.
At sunset, three generations of hometown artists in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art gathered for a rare, possibly historic, communal meal. And what a pretty picture these seventy-five personages made! The mere sight of David Hockney and John Baldessari having a tête-à-tête with Frank Gehry was enough to send younger artists like Glenn Kaino, Alex Israel, and Liz Glynn over the rising moon. Sterling Ruby chatted with Walead Beshty, Catherine Opie with her neighbor Mark Bradford. Mary Corse, Larry Bell, and Helen Pashigan stood up for California Light and Space at a buffet replete with delectable grilled sausages, sauerkraut, salads, and crispy fries.
Under a text piece by Sam Durant posted high on the side of the Ahmanson building, Rodney McMillian hung with Charles Gaines and Roxana Landaverde at one picnic table, where architect Kulapat Yantrasast, Thomas Houseago, and art historian Muna El Fituri were also chowing down. Other art couples—Durant and Ana Prvački, Diana Thater and T. Kelly Mason—were so glad to see old friends that they hardly sat. “I think we’ll have to make this an annual event,” said LACMA’s smiling director, Michael Govan. “I hope we do,” nodded LACMA curator Stephanie Barron. I think they’ll have to, once the word on the joy in this one gets around.
Absent the presence of the usual cohort at museum events—dealers, trustees, students, assistants, collectors—everyone relaxed and talked shop, not business. “You might think we all see each other all the time,” Beshty told me. “But we don’t. Some people haven’t seen each other since art school and others never met at all.”
Speaking of new acquaintance, just across Wilshire Boulevard, the Sprüth Magers Gallery’s left-coast satellite was presenting a magnificent display of 1980s and 1990s installations by Hanne Darboven, virtually (and strangely) still an unknown quantity in this town. Any of the three room-filling spreads here could easily suit Govan’s museum. Nevertheless, the opening’s sparse attendance spoke to the late German Conceptualist’s relative absence from Angeleno radar thus far. “I’m lost,” said collector Grazka Taylor. “I know it’s hard,” replied dealer Sarah Watson, going on to explain Darboven’s fetishizing, numerical, and diaristic approach to folklore, geography, and passing time. “I’m still not sure I get it,” Taylor was honest enough to admit, before gamely plowing on.
Former Museum of Contemporary Art curator Phillip Kaiser, who had staged a Darboven show during a brief stint as director of Cologne’s Museum Ludwig, had no such trouble. Nor did Barron, who walked over from the picnic with gallery artist Thomas Demand. The show is something of an artist’s and curator’s dream, and Philomene Magers clearly was proud of it. The dinner she hosted at Lucques in West Hollywood brought together Hammer Museum curators Anne Ellegood and Aram Moshayedi, artist Analia Saban, collectors Teri and Michael Smooke, dealer Adrian Rosenfeld, art adviser Kimberly Chang, and actress Zoë Saldana. At this late date, can such a group create a groundswell for Darboven in LA? As the auction house people are so fond of saying, the market is smart, as if there were no manipulating hands at work. As Darboven might say, time will tell.
The following night, David Kordansky continued the German theme, sort of, with a debut show at his gallery by Andrea Büttner, which he paired with another for the Belgian Harold Ancart. But the evening really belonged to Doug Aitken.
That’s how it looked on the plaza in front of MoCA’s Geffen Contemporary, where a large crowd of young museum members lined up at food trucks and a free bar, and shouted over loud music. That gave the opening of Aitken’s midcareer retrospective, “Electric Earth,” the feel of a street fair—mainly because people could see each other out there. Guests entering the Geffen’s cavernous hall were immediately plunged into darkness.
Here’s a lesson. If you want people at thronged openings to look at your work instead of art-directing their own selfies, turn out the lights. In this case, that was the only way the exhibition’s curator, MoCA director Philippe Vergne, could show the wealth of film installations, light boxes, sound works, and projected videos that he included in the show. In the dim but sultry ambient light, Aitken dealers Shaun Caley Regen, Eva Presenhuber, and Lisa Spellman literally bumped into one another all at once. “Oh, it’s you!” was a common refrain. Eyes needed time to adjust.
And people took time to wend their way through the succeeding chapters of Aitken’s career. I didn’t come across a single person who didn’t enjoy it. “This show is hot!” Spellman exclaimed. “So many memories.”
Indeed. One could pick them out, starting with the multiroom, eight-channel title piece, a jittery walk on the LA wild side that, back in 1999, established Aitken as a master of what he calls the fractured screen. The show has many examples of that, though Vergne had installed an actual cinema for seven of Aitken’s more linear films. He also let Aitken dig up the floor of one gallery to reproduce the artist’s dripping and rubbled goodbye-to-all-that piece for the closing of Spellman’s previous location in Chelsea. Much of the work in the show was commissioned for far-flung sites and never seen before in LA—or by the artist since their first installations.
“It’s just incredible to have everything back in this city,” he told the lenders and funders present for the Christie’s-sponsored dinner that followed at Vibiana, a downtown event room that was built originally as Los Angeles’s first Roman Catholic cathedral. What better place to worship art and money?
“I don’t know much about religion,” Vergne began his remarks. “And I don’t know anything about entertainment. What I know is that Doug Aitken pushes the limits of what an exhibition can be,” though perhaps not as much as Aitken’s upcoming “Underwater Pavilions” promise to do. Announced earlier in the day, they are mirrored caves that Aitken has built up to depths of sixty feet off Catalina Island. Like his participatory “happenings,” willing snorkelers can dive or swim around the caves, his version of a living Earthwork.
I’m guessing that Maja Hoffmann, Aileen Getty, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and her son Eugenio, the Kramlichs (Pamela and Richard), and New York’s Museum of Modern Art director Glenn Lowry, who were among those at the dinner, are not going to take that dive. MoCA curators Connie Butler and Helen Molesworth? Or Aitken’s dinner partner, Beck?
The singer wasn’t there to perform. That job went to Tim McAfee-Lewis, music director of Harlem’s United Palace House of Inspiration, who flew in to surprise the crowd by walking through the room and crooning the Flamingos’ doo-wop standard, “I Only Have Eyes for You,” a touchstone for Aitken’s film Black Mirror. I’ll be damned if he didn’t sound exactly like the original.
Absent from the dinner was MoCA trustee Eugenio López Alonso, who was in New York. Nonetheless, he lent his Beverly Hills estate to the museum for a midnight afterparty, where guests could dance under the stars. One, Scott Bolton, was personally intimate with those stars. He is the space physicist who dreamed up the current Juno mission to Jupiter (the planet), and then made it happen. I was fascinated. Like the universe, the art world keeps expanding.
It looked pretty big the next evening, when Chelsea-style crowds swarmed the sidewalks amid openings in Culver City. Rodney McMillian, fresh from a triangulated presentation on the East Coast at the Studio Museum, MoMA PS1, and the ICA in Philadelphia, had a whole new, sharply political body of work, “Chisholm’s Reverb,” at Susanne Vielmetter. The title refers to a speech by the late Shirley Chisholm—those were the days!—broadcast in a front room arrayed with black ceramic vessels on white tables and a small mountain of black tape that McMillian called a “pod.” It was there to represent the congresswoman and many other black figures who have been shoved in history’s attic despite their ongoing influence. Another sound work was in a curtained room with no way in. “I really like the room you can’t get into,” said artist Alex Israel. “That’s cool.”
So far beyond cool it was hot were the immense “gardens” that Henry Taylor made at Blum & Poe. Despite the gallery’s huge space, it was almost too crowded to move across the dirt floor to see any of the painted portraits or found-object sculptures, though I did trip over a rusty water pump and a shopping cart lined with Astroturf and embedded in the dirt. A long line formed around a floor-bound swimming pool painting for entry to a black box viewing room, where Rastafarians were “performing” by rolling medicinal weed and smoking it. On the walls, a lyrical black-and-white film by Kahlil Joseph showed the same people doing much the same thing. You couldn’t just look at this work. You breathed it.
“We had to buy three ounces,” Jeff Poe confessed, though the legal limit per person is one. Clearly this involved teamwork—same as Mark Grotjahn’s show of 1990s works in the upstairs gallery. “It’s nice to see this stuff again,” Grotjahn said of the handmade signs he cadged from a variety of shop owners in exchange for paintings, just after leaving art school. Where are those paintings now? “Trashed, probably,” he said.
Lest we forget this is an election year—as if!—the evening turned to current events in the form of Sexy Beast, a benefit for Planned Parenthood organized by Night Gallery partners Mieke Marple and Davida Nemeroff with producer Eliah Perona. For its second edition, held in the theater of the Ace Hotel downtown, the trio was costumed in colorful neoprene designs by the diminutive, loudly made-up Barf Queen. This was the fun part.
The rest, as driven home in a speech by Planned Parenthood LA CEO Sue Dunlap, was serious business. Dunlap emphasized the terrifying future facing women in need of abortions, should the wrong person get elected to the presidency. Host Andy Richter personalized the issue with a story about him and his wife that had a happy ending, and filmmaker Dawn Porter made an equally heartfelt speech about abortion providers before receiving the Sexy Beast award for her documentary Trapped. Then came the inevitable auction of donated artworks, paddles by Math Bass.
It seemed to be going well when I left for the 1642 Temple bar in Echo Park, where friends of Erika Vogt were gathering to toast her opening that night at Overduin & Co. But I couldn’t help thinking of Durant’s sign at LACMA: “Like, Man. I’m tired (of waiting).”
Isn’t it about time people in politics made the right move? If art can do it, why can’t they?
Left: NASA’s Juno Mission principal investigator Scott Bolton. Right: Dealer Philomene Magers and curator Philipp Kaiser.
EVERY FOUR YEARS, the Olympics leaves a trail of heated debates as host nations are left to reckon with unpaid bills and abandoned stadiums. Culturally, however, the Olympics can effect more positive changes, encouraging evolving scenes to take stock of their own narratives. Take South Korea. “The 1988 Seoul Olympics really marked the first time we were able to see a lot of major international artists here,” recalled Hyun-Sook Lee, founder of the Seoul-based Kukje Gallery. Kukje, I learned, simply means “international,” a tag Lee earned by introducing local audiences to artists like Joseph Beuys and Frank Stella, parlaying her personal business savvy, a handful of antiques, and—crucially—her tolerance for European modernism into what is now a literal art-world dynasty.
The Olympics also prompted the construction of a behemoth of a building for the National Museum of Art (MMCA), which previously hunkered down in Seoul’s imperial Deoksugung palace. The massive new museum was settled about forty-five minutes away, in the forests of neighboring Gwancheon. “All our military government cared about was that we had the biggest museum in the world,” confessed MMCA curator Lim Dae-geun. “Back then, we were just an exhibition hall with no curatorial team and only a small collection, mainly things donated by artists. So the opening of Gwancheon was really the beginning of our history as a museum.” The collection Lim helped build is now partially on display in an exhibition commemorating the building’s thirtieth anniversary. Titled “The Moon Waxes and Wanes,” the five-hundred-work survey spins the history of Korean art as one of cycles of emergence, disappearance, and rediscovery.
To extend the lunar metaphor further, earlier this month South Korea hit its Harvest Moon. In the first week of September, the country’s three biggest biennials—Gwangju, Busan, and the SeMA Biennale Mediacity—opened back-to-back, sending art worlders scrambling to make their KTX trains, armed with WhatsApp group chats and “otter masks,” an ingenious device enabling the critically jetlagged to look simultaneously drained and unsettlingly dewy (“moistful”). Institutions were quick to get in on the action, trotting out the power-punch Kimsooja/Korean Art Prize combo at MMCA Seoul; fresh additions to the Space Lee Ufan in Busan; and ArtSonje’s “Still Acts,” a series of reenacted excerpts from the institution’s twenty-year history.
Left: Kukje Gallery founder Hyun-Sook Lee and Charles Kim. Right: MMCA curator Lim Dae-geun and Giseok Yi at MMCA Gwancheon
Rediscovery seems to be the primary engine propelling Korean art onto the current global art market. Particular interest has been paid to the artists of Dansaekhwa, a loose association of conceptual-abstractionists working from the 1950s on. The name means, quite simply, “monochrome painting,” though during our studio visit, movement mainstay Park Seo-bo described it more as “a way of emptying oneself.”
Artist Kim Yong-Ik may have a troubled relationship to Dansaekhwa (he prefers polka dots to monochromes), but he sympathizes with their strategies. “In a time of repression, my silence was a political statement,” he told us, during a walk-through of his show at the Ilmin Museum. I ran this theory by MMCA’s Lim Dae-geun, who argued that this political spin was a recent acquisition. “In many ways, the government saw Dansaekhwa as the safest artists, precisely because they weren’t trying to say anything.” He paused: “Sort of like America’s Abstract Expressionists.”
The next stop on our tour was Kukje Gallery, where a fascinating solo of late painter Wook-kyung Choi—one of the first Korean artists to openly embrace an American-branded modernism—was coupled with new pieces from Anish Kapoor’s Gathering Clouds: wall-mounted, concave surfaces coated in a gray paint that made them appear flat. “There isn’t a whole lot to say about these works,” the artist admitted. “Richter made a whole series of paintings out of grays, and I just wanted to see if it was possible to do it again.” But it wasn’t gray that we wanted to talk about. Earlier this year, Kapoor caused a stir by trademarking Vantablack, a military-grade material that is purportedly the blackest black known to man. “This isn’t black paint that comes out on a tube,” the artist protested, clarifying that the trademark was not on the color, but rather on the technology used to trap the light to such an extreme. An extreme, not the extreme. “Perhaps the darkest black is the black we carry within ourselves,” Kapoor cooed. “The blackest moment isn’t when you turn off the lights, but when you shut your eyes.” Ponderous and amply distracting, yes, but maybe not the most considerate analogy to feed a room full of jetlagged journalists.
Left: Artist Kim Yong Ik at the Ilmin Museum. Right: Artist Anish Kapoor with landscape designer Sophie Walker at Kukje Gallery.
Kapoor’s show was set to open Thursday, the same night as both the SeMA Biennale Mediacity and the Gwangju Biennale’s beloved temple dinner. With vegan food conquering all, we had to settle for a quick loop around the SeMA install on Wednesday. Curator Beck Jee-sook had lifted the biennial’s zaumesque title, “neriri kiruru harara,” from Shuntarō Tanikawa’s poem “Two Billion Light Years of Solitude,” which imagines life on Mars. “For me, this biennale is about nurturing languages that go beyond the limits of how we can imagine the world,” Beck explained, adding that the Sewol ferry accident had got her thinking about the ways contemporary art can respond to catastrophe. She settled on a “realism of the possible,” recruiting the likes of Nicholas Mangan, Cinthia Marcelle, João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva, and Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme. Concurrent to the exhibition, Taeyoon Choi ran an Uncertainty School, a series of workshops that challenged the local communities to rethink disability, through programming like Choi's collaborative intervention with Christine Sun Kim, Future Proof, as well as a performance from wheelchair-bound dancer Alice Sheppard, with help from Sara Hendren. While Sheppard was certainly convicting, I found myself most captivated by Ahmad Gossein’s The Fourth Stage and by Sleigh Ride Chill, a video by Kim Heecheon that managed to perfectly convey the acute dislocation one feels after having lost one’s iPhone and MacBook (to be honest, for most a far more relatable subject matter than the usual “pick a forgotten genocide, any forgotten genocide” biennial tactic).
This is not to discount the power of political context. The Gwangju Biennale was borne out of a passionate and now deeply entrenched drive toward democracy, a thrust that has propelled past editions into true civic initiatives. This year it was clear how much of that may have had to do with the biennial’s founder and former president, the charismatic Youngwoo Lee (or “Dr. Lee”), who stepped down during the last edition following the censorship of Hong Seong-Dam’s depiction of the Sewol ferry disaster in a parallel show. At this year’s opening, Dr. Lee was all smiles, but even with the man himself in the room, his absence resonated.
On the heels of Jessica Morgan’s spirited “Burning Down the House,” this year’s biennial felt like smoldering remains, with some light but little warmth. Acknowledging the all-female team—artistic director Maria Lind, curator Binna Choi, and a group of assistant curators—Lind offered the limp endorsement that “women are our future” (a phrase that only sounds rallying until you start to think about its implications). In a text describing the theme—or, as Lind prefers, the “set of parameters”—“The Eighth Climate” name-checked a concept formulated by twelfth-century mystic Sohrevardi and later fleshed out by his twentieth-century acolyte Henri Corbin. The basic premise is that art exists as a kind of extra-climate, a space for “potentiality” whose relationship to the ontological world is like that of the contents of a mirror to the objects it reflects.
Alice Sheppard performing at SeMA Biennale in Seoul.
If that’s the case, then, judging by the preview, we can safely presume the other seven climates haven’t yet been fully installed. Artists were just shy of panic mode, particularly after word spread that it would be a full two weeks before Hito Steyerl’s work would be ready. “Instructions were not followed,” Lind announced curtly at the opening press conference, after apologizing to the affected artists. At a press luncheon earlier in the day, she likened the experience to conducting brain surgery with nurses on their first day on the job. (In defense of those nurses, specificity may not be Lind’s specialty. Earlier the curator had introduced the biennial’s subtitle—“What Does Art Do?”—with the exhortation, “We need to remember that art does things.”)
If its theme dipped into mysticism, the biennial’s organization borrowed from Borges’s Encyclopedia, with work loosely divided into four sections: Abstraction, Kaleidoscope, Zones, and Works That Had to Be Shown in the Dark. Lind repeatedly insisted that the real bulk of the biennial was in its public programming, which had quietly been taking place for weeks amid the local community. “If this is the trend, then why bother with the exhibition at all?” wondered critic Sabine Vogel. I didn’t have a good answer, though I did appreciate strong contributions from artists such as Ane Hjort Guttu, Jeamin Cha, David Malković, Inseon Park, Mariana Silva, and Otobong Nkanga, who, during her performance, hurled an orange at an inattentive audience member not once but twice. “Would you call this love?” the artist howled at her audience. I know I was smitten.
If technicians were few, artists were plenty, with almost ninety of them flown in for the opening. The ceremony—traditionally a mind-blowing spectacle of aerial dancers and K-Pop celebrity ambassadors—was noticeably scaled down this year to some teenage breakdancers. More devastating was Gwangju’s complete lack of Freedom. The iconic nightclub—all K-Pop karaoke, midnight “snowstorms,” and dubious decision-making—was no longer in business, which sent the biennial’s once-fabled afterparty to the nearby Bugatti club, the kind of luridly lit dive where TV cops go for an off-the-books rendezvous with Shady Characters #1 and #2. With the help of Shady Character #3, I breached a wall of bottle service to find curators Phil Tinari and Magdalena Magiera, dealer George Armaos, artist collective Tromarama, and Trevor Paglen, whose Wi-Fi-giving Autonomy Cube had been mysteriously disconnected just before the VIP dignitaries arrived, though the reasons why were not fully clear. Things got even blurrier from there, but somewhere in between catch-ups with curator Sohrab Mohebbi, Triple Canopy’s Alex Provan, and artists Anicka Yi and Tyler Coburn, I missed the cue to reconvene at a neighboring karaoke bar, where Lind was coerced into taking on an Abba song. (“She was the quietest singer I’ve ever heard,” one bystander marveled.) Freedom may have come to an end, but bad decisions linger on.
Speaking of, I wouldn’t number the 9 AM bus to Busan among my better ideas, but I was determined to pull off the Korean Trifecta. Besides, this year’s Busan Biennale strayed from the usual format, concentrating two-thirds of its resources on a historical survey comparing the respective avant-gardes of Korea, China, and Japan. “It’s funny to see this kind of show without representation from Taiwan or Hong Kong,” writer Amy Lin observed, underscoring my own ignorance of what’s at stake in the region. To help fill in the blanks, the Busan Museum of Art hosted a multihour art-historical symposium, though I found artists like Sung Neung Kyung, Hori Kosai, and Ma Liuming were more than happy to provide their side of the story. How refreshing to see a biennial directing its international audience to this kind of art-historical brain trust, rather than the usual rat-race to scrape up salable works from the market’s Next Big Things (Now if only the second part of the biennial had gotten that memo.)
With a torrential downpour crushing any hopes of sampling Busan’s storied fish market, let alone its beach, I paid my respects to the ethereal Space Lee Ufan and retreated to Seoul. Briefly bussing the plaintive Lee Jung Seob survey at the MMCA’s Deoksugung Palace outpost, I headed to Gangnam for the closing dinner for Jaewook Lee’s synesthesia-driven solo at O’Newwall in Seoul. The restaurant was the fanciest I visited in Korea, specializing in the “art of food”—inspired arrangements of mushroom crepes, sashimi roses, and a plate with HAPPY DAY spelled out in wasabi paste, which was ceremoniously placed in front of philosopher Aaron Schuster, whom our waitress arbitrarily nominated the subject of the celebration.
Having barely made it through the eight courses to the black sesame ice cream, our band of marauders stumbled to an Astroturf lawn outside an all-night mall, where we chased sticky handfuls of glow-in-the-dark cotton candy with swigs from a ritzy bottle of soju swiped from dinner (Gangnam style). Suddenly Schuster spotted a booth grilling teriyaki skewers and resolved to snag one. We gawked. “It’s something about South Korea,” he laughed. “I just want to try everything, even though I know I’ve already had way too much.”
AMONG THOSE PROFESSIONALLY OBLIGED to look at and think about art, summer holidays engender two camps of tourists: those who travel to see it and those who travel to get away from it. In the wake of three weeks spent in Düsseldorf on an unofficial tour of the region’s museums, I can advise those of the latter weary-eyed and wanderlustful group that the Rhineland is not for you.
Great art is so highly concentrated here that it might as well spring the Rhine itself. The countryside situated around the mining valley of the Ruhrgebiet is littered with public institutions housing legendary collections assembled largely after World War II. Take, for example, the Caspar David Friedrich paintings at Museum Folkwang in Essen, or the endless masterpieces of late Gothic retables at the LWL Museum in Münster. A must-see for more contemporary enthusiasts: the breathtaking series of larger-than-life canvases made by Sigmar Polke for the 1986 Venice Biennale, at the Abteiberg Museum in Mönchengladbach (worth a visit for the Pritzker Prize–winning architecture by Hans Hollein alone).
What Germans lack in national pride they make up for with serious cultural heritage, and a week after Chancellor Merkel and Prince William met in town to commemorate the British invention of North-Rhine Westphalia, Düsseldorf Cologne gallery weekend was upon us. The three-day-long slide of openings started in 2009 as an experiment between two rival cultural capitals but in recent years has become one of the largest events unifying the region’s art scenes.
Left: Dealers Susanne Zander and Nicole Delmes of Delmes & Zander with collectors and Salon Schmidt proprietors Trixi and Dirk Mecky. Right: Dealer Berthold Pott, artist Max Frintrop, Conny Zinkin of Cologne Fine Art, and Art Cologne director Daniel Hug.
Newcomer Lukas Hirsch opened his gallery last Thursday with a collection of found (and stolen) industrial objects altered and mounted on the wall by artist Lukas Müller. It seemed that everyone I had met in town over the preceding weeks was in attendance––a scene dominated by students, alumni, and professors of the famed Kunstakademie. A few hours and countless Altbiers later, some of us found ourselves back at Peppi Bottrop’s studio, where artists Felix Amerbacher and Camillo Grewe put on a dangerous yet entertaining performance of acrobatics from the rafters. Testosterone filled the air and I was reminded of bros from my boarding school days: frustrated, bored, and full of flesh-and-blood Angst––no longer the teenage kind. After witnessing a long-winded, aggressive, and incoherent argument about the evening’s exhibition, I had to remind myself that here, where the patriarchy prior to Rita McBride’s tenure as director of the Akademie dominated so much of the self-identification of its students, boys will (try to) be Beuys.
Friday night. Cologne openings. A different city across the Rhine offers a different set of customs. In Germany, this means a different brew of beer, and here Kölsch was on the menu. Especially at Daniel Buchholz’s gallery, where the dealer presented Tony Conrad’s Super 8 combat film Beholden to Victory from 1980 in which actors––including David Antin, Tony Oursler, and the late Mike Kelley––were given no script, only restrictions and permissions making it a study in “good behavior.” Replete with archives, notes, edits, and other preparatory matter from the artist’s estate, the show offered a contextual glance into Conrad’s employment of structure to make an antistructural critique. I ran into a relaxed, good-natured Buchholz, who seemed to me more Cologne than Kölsch itself, smoking a cigarette in the garden. “There’s nothing to sell here, but if you have questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them,” he told me near the keg, seeming more a guest in his own gallery.
Left: Esther Schipper director Cornelia Tishcmacher with artist Martin Boyce. Right: Director of Ludwig Museum Yilmaz Dziewior with director of Düsseldorfer Kunstverein Eva Birkenstock.
Later, I joined Jan Kaps to celebrate Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel’s labor-intensive objects in wood, ceramic, and textile with a joint dinner attended by the parties of Markus Lüttgen, DREI, Rob Tufnell, Clages, and others at Cologne staple Haus Töller, where the lightest thing on the menu was, naturally, more Kölsch. Afterward, the consensus was to stroll over to MD Bar for a real drink, but I remembered that Buchholz mentioned heading to a bar with the ever-promising name of Champagne––or so I thought. After some confusion, I found him with artist and Polke protégé Udo Lefin at Shampanja, a gay Kölsch bar––I should have known––where Lefin had just ordered a round for everyone. Or, more precisely, he counted forty-two patrons in the room and ordered forty-two beers––a quirky German punctilio, of which, at this point, I was happy to partake.
Perhaps I partook too much, because the next evening, after what was supposed to be a forty-five-minute nap, I woke up two hours late for the shuttle to the official gallery weekend dinner. I took an eighty-euro cab ride to the Museum Morsbroich in Leverkusen, where the only remaining signs of food were ice cream cones and smatterings of Resteessen. So I went to the bar, in the garden of this baroque Schloß-cum–modern art museum, one of the first in Germany to show contemporary exhibitions after the War, a venue that just a week before had been saved from selling its collection to front costs in the city’s municipal budget––a neoliberal misinterpretation of the institution’s role not uncommon among midsize cities with large deficits that house many of the small, regional museums in the Rhineland. The proposed sale had been deplored by artist Gerhard Richter in an open letter to the mayor of Leverkusen as “alarming” and opposed by local taxpayers and friends of the museum, and a tentative strategy was devised to keep the institution afloat, for now.
Left: Artists Israel Aten, Christoph Westermeier, Martin Pfeifle, and Lukas Müller. Right: Artists Louis Backhouse, Andrew Christopher Green, and Jorge Loureiro.
The next evening in Düsseldorf, I found myself at Good Forever, a performance project space run by Tobias Hohn, Moritz Krauth, and Stanton Taylor––Kunstakademie students and disciples of Christopher Williams and Peter Doig––who took up the location of Matt Moravec’s previous Off Vendôme space for the summer. I arrived early to the smell of burning weed and incense, and an hour later, David Aird (known better as his stage name Vindicatrix) began to perform and play the best beats I had heard all weekend. Someone handed me a Xanax and a drink, and I felt my mind melt with the music as Aird repeatedly sang, “Let your body become your body” alternatively with lyrics from Beyoncé’s 2006 single “Check on It.”
Just as things were getting sexy, something happened: Performance duo New Noveta, dressed in brown, ruffled dresses––think 1980s austerity prom––pushed through the crowd, fighting over a pair of scissors, which they used to cut sacks full of sand hanging from their groins and bags full of squid ink hanging from the ceiling. Wet and shrieking, they wrestled into the street and an adjacent apartment building where the duel, presumably, continued upstairs. “Is there more, or…?” asked artist Andrew Christopher Green, after the ruckus. “I don’t know,” responded Taylor, answering for all of us in a moment of suspense so potent we hoped it would last forever.
Left: Good Forever cofounders Moritz Krauth, Tobias Hohn, and Stanton Taylor with artist Lina Hermsdorf. Right: Stäfel Museum Frankfurt curator Jana Baumann with dealer Paul-Aymar Morgue d’Algue of Truth & Consequences.
SHIFTING FROM THE START of a new school year in the morning to the season’s first round of Chelsea gallery openings in the evening was never going to be an entirely smooth transition, but there was at least a measure of common feeling among those who, on a Thursday evening, flooded the dozen blocks of former taxi garages that so many of us in the biz call home. There was a wholly expected though sometimes still jarring mix of excitement and resignation among the crowds wandering from one space to the next that made for a telling barometer of status and mindset, as the prospect of a new raft of encounters with the sublime and the ridiculous loomed.
Where to begin? With something like 130 openings uptown and down, coinciding with the bustle of New York Fashion Week, this was hardly an inconsequential question. After a pit stop for empty calories at the Tenth Avenue CVS—surely the area’s most vital professional resource—I headed south to Petzel Gallery for the opening of Kiwi artist Simon Denny’s “Blockchain Future States.” A sleek tripartite installation of computer case-mods, supersize board games, and infographics confronting the machinations of Bitcoin-era geopolitics, it would have been a sobering start to proceedings had there not been a bucket of trash beer to hand. Cracking open a can, I bumped into artists Davide Cantoni and Alexi Worth, the latter of whom rated one of Denny’s strategies in particular (“Wherever I see a speech bubble, I’m happy”), but was already planning a next move. I accompanied the pair down the block to Hauser & Wirth, the venue for Rashid Johnson’s similarly grand-scale “Fly Away.”
Skirting an air-kissing Jerry Saltz and Scott Rothkopf on the way up the gallery’s none-more-dramatic stepped entrance, I fetched up in another grand-scale installation, this one notably clogged with Instagrammers. Johnson held court as visitors orbited Within Our Gates, a massive arrangement of black steel shelves stocked with books, monitors, plants, and shea butter. From somewhere inside the work emerged the muffled sound of Antoine Baldwin playing the piano. Already shadowed by the sense that I might be running late, I headed out and over to the Kitchen, where Katherine Hubbard’s “Bring your own lights” was opening. An elegant and much more low-key affair, it also made for a useful interlude of relative quiet—even incorporating artist-designed seating—before the real crush began, a block north.
Festivities at Jack Shainman Gallery, Bortolami, Anton Kern, and ZieherSmith made for a hectic scene as the boldface names—a Thelma Golden there, a Jon Hamm there—began to accumulate. Matthew Marks, presenting a show of paintings by Peter Cain, was, characteristically, a lot more restrained. Over at Sikkema Jenkins, which was hosting new work by Leonardo Drew and Jennie C. Jones, the Guggenheim Museum’s Christina Yang directed me to what sounded like the center of the center—Matthew Barney’s opening at Barbara Gladstone: “There’s only a short line to get in.” Sure enough, not only was there a bouncer-administered one-in, one-out system in effect, but further queuing was required inside for admittance to the artist’s vintage refrigerated-room-filling installation DRILL TEAM: screw BOLUS. Three burly guys in summer dresses—not inappropriate garb given the inclusion of Barney’s sculpture TRANSEXUALIS—snaked through the space while a pair of adolescent skater bois admired the complex hardware of its complementary work, REPRESSIA. The authenticity of Björk’s tag in the guest book, however, felt doubtful.
Having clocked the Brooklyn Museum’s Nancy Spector heading, with laser-like focus, to check in on her guy (Spector curated Barney’s Guggenheim exhibition in 2002), I dipped into the westernmost of Marianne Boesky’s twin locations for half of Donald Moffett’s “any fallow field.” Then, finally, it was over to Tanya Bonakdar for a delicious warm, frothy tin cup of Turkish yogurt drink ayran, served at a “bacteria bar” in honor of collective Slavs and Tatars’ first show there, a meditation on the microscopic “original Other.” At a subsequent dinner, the group’s Berlin dealer Amadeo Kraupa-Tuskany talked far-flung travel while I did my best to edge away from the restaurant’s roaring fire (really), and another guest rested his forehead on the table. The next day we’d do it all again.
THE STREETS HADN’T YET BEEN CLEARED OF RUBBLE, leftovers of the protests that shook the city like an earthquake the past few days, when galleries teamed up to launch nearly forty parallel exhibitions to the Thirty-Second Bienal de São Paulo, which opened this week in tumultuous fashion. Despite barricades, fires still raging in the middle of main traffic arteries, and the acrid scent of tear gas hanging in the air, dealers arranged a marathon of openings for the weekend. In town for Bienal season, artsy types from all over the world braved the chaos to catch a glimpse of exhibitions set up in the aftermath of what many consider a coup d’état.
In the final showdown of a months-long process, the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was impeached last week and replaced with former vice president Michel Temer. While this outcome was predictable, the definitive ousting of a now disgraced leader accused—on flimsy grounds—of fiscal maneuvers to mask the difficult state of the country’s finances fueled waves of protests all over Brazil, and São Paulo’s Paulista avenue became the main stage of the manifestations.
While some critics sought refuge in hotel rooms away from the action, others managed to navigate, for art’s sake, the jittery metropolis. The city’s notoriously horrendous traffic didn’t help, which partially explains the timid crowds at some openings. A few galleries were actually empty by the time I arrived, but powerhouses of the local scene were buzzing.
Nara Roesler, for example, was packed as it launched two solo shows, one with historic works Hélio Oiticica made in partnership with other artists, like Antonio Manuel, Lee Jaffe, and Neville d’Almeida, and the other a survey of early and recent work by Vik Muniz. As phones in the room flashed with news of police brutality against protesters on Paulista, Muniz talked excitedly about his latest creations and ladies wearing stilettos thought twice about walking into the “Cosmococa,” Oiticica’s installation with slide projections and a mattress on the floor.
At Baró, a few blocks east, Lourival Cuquinha, one of the strongest public opponents of Rousseff's impeachment, unveiled a new work. Before the opening, he Instagrammed a video of himself shooting a gun as a sign of protest. The walls of the gallery were now riddled with bullets and the word golpe, Portuguese for coup, a measure of just how angry he is. Most artists have sided with Cuquinha and declared outrage with the ousting of the president, while many dealers and members of the higher echelons of the business world have embraced the change, hoping the new administration will improve the economy.
This class divide was evident the next day as José Olympio Pereira, head of Credit Suisse in Brazil and one of the country’s most powerful collectors, opened a Robert Storr–curated selection of his blockbuster works, from Lygia Clark to Adriana Varejão, inside the undulating Instituto Tomie Ohtake. A dinner at his palatial house later that night was filled with gallerists and financiers, while most artists danced the night away at a party hosted by the art space Ponto Aurora at Executivo, a former brothel in the basement of the Esther building, São Paulo’s first modernist high-rise. Posters decrying Michel Temer decorated the walls.
Chants of Fora Temer, or “Out with Temer,” also dominated the Bienal de São Paulo, and a banner with these words was even hung from the third floor of the colossal Bienal Pavilion. “When Temer took office, he said the uncertainty was over,” remarked chief curator Jochen Volz, as he opened the press conference to present the show. “But we want to talk about uncertainty. Art feeds on uncertainty,” he added, echoing the very apt title of this iteration: “Live Uncertainty.” The meeting ended with artists including Cristiano Lenhardt, Jonathas de Andrade, Bárbara Wagner, and members of the Opavivará collective parading in front of the curators and screaming Fora Temer.
With the greatest number of women artists (forty-seven) in Bienal history, Volz’s show, constructed on the eve of the deposition of Brazil’s first female president, targets global warming, environmental destruction, and other climate-related catastrophes. Many works, such as the gardens, huts, mazes, and towers made of dirt and bamboo by artists like Bené Fonteles, Ruth Ewan, Rita Ponce de León, Lais Myrrha, Pia Lindman, Dineo Seshee Bopape, and Susan Jacobs, touch on the power of traditional and indigenous methods of construction, a sharp contrast to the violence animating Brazil’s modern avant-garde movements of the 1950s, most notably the construction of Brasília, by the same Oscar Niemeyer who designed the Bienal’s space in Ibirapuera Park.
Left: Inhotim founder Bernardo Paz at the opening of the Bienal de São Paulo. Right: Cristiano Lenhardt's performance at the opening of the Bienal de São Paulo.
Historic documentaries by Leon Hirszman depicting work songs at cocoa and sugarcane plantations along with images of indigenous rituals by Vídeo nas Aldeias and de Andrade’s new film, in which fishermen caress and cradle agonizing fish, add to the show’s romantic vision of the natural world and the working classes as opposed to the evils of corporate culture. While somewhat heavy-handed in its esoteric, almost hippie outlook, the show delivers a potent selection of up-and-coming artists.
But nothing shone brighter than the political urgency that laced the exhibition’s opening. Tuesday’s VIP preview saw yet another series of protests, with artists walking around the pavilion in black FORA TEMER T-shirts that quickly became coveted collector’s items. A spoken-word concert was also improvised with chants against the new president. The lighting of fireworks attached to Sandra Kranich’s abstract paintings, a performance programmed as the day’s grand finale, evoked the spirit of the protests outside. After the explosions, which left black marks on the pavilion’s pristine walls, guests walked out under a thick cloud of smoke and the smell of gunpowder.
STEFAN KALMÁR AND MARTA FONTOLAN wish people in Marseille would listen. The Artists Space director and Gavin Brown Enterprise dealer both sit on a seven-person committee of “artistic” advisers for Art-O-Rama, a pocket-size fair that just celebrated its tenth anniversary in the French port city. “You can see the potential,” Kalmár said, when I arrived the day before the fair’s August 25th VIP opening. Indeed, I would.
I’d needed persuading. An art fair on the last weekend in August? Give us a break. Then again, it’s in Marseille, where Walter Benjamin became a convert to hashish, Le Corbusier built La Cité Radieuse, The French Connection got its start, and the French national anthem got its name.
I joined Kalmár, who’s been taking holidays in Marseille for years, at the welcome dinner he organized on the deck of the Erre, a sloop advertising “slow cruise and slow food.” For us, it remained docked in Marseille’s vieux-port (now a marina), in the shadow of the regional MuCEM, which offers optimum views of the sunset over the sea. Chef Christian Qui—aka SushiQui on Instagram and Facebook—leases the boat for a few weeks each August, another good reason to be here at this time of year.
Left: Art-O-Rama director Jérôme Pantalacci (left). Right: Art-O-Rama general manager Nadia Fatnassi and Sextant et Plus director Véronique Collard Bovy.
Over a splendid en plein air meal, prepared topside and served as the mood struck, I met my multinational cohort for the next few days. One was MoMA’s vacationing chief of media and performance, Stuart Comer. “I’m not really here for art,” he confided—as if anyone in our world ever took actual time off. Certainly not Project Native Informant founder Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja or Glasgow dealer Emma Astner, who (like everyone else) investigated beaches and shops but were here to indulge a certain curiosity about the fair. Danish-born, Berlin-based artist Benedicte Gyldenstierne Sehested came to meet up with Fontolan, an old friend. Berlin dealer Lars Friedrich, a participant in the fair, brought artists Georgie Nettell and Inka Meissner. Editor Mattia Ruffolo came for Davide Stucchi, a young Milanese artist who was at the tail end of a residency in Marseille, where he made the soap sculpture that his Munich-based dealer, Deborah Schamoni, would show at Art-O-Rama.
Friday morning began with a preview of several exhibitions at Friche La Belle de Mai (or La Friche), an enormous arts complex spread over several buildings of a former tobacco factory. “This is the biggest cultural center in Europe,” La Friche director Alain Arnaudet told me. He was too modest. Taken together, the buildings offer more than a million square feet of space for seventy different organizations and their exhibitions, films, concerts, studios, residency programs, and classrooms.
There was a lot of twin-city action among the group shows, where artist collectives in Glasgow and Montreal, for example, presented collaborative projects with their cousins in Marseille. The most elaborate, communal project by far gave a retrospective to the life and work of a fictional, hyperlinked artist named Raoul Reynolds, as imagined by Marseille’s artist-run Tank Art Space and a group of Glaswegians put together by curator Francesca Zappia.
The Goethe-Institut brought work by half a dozen young artists to an exhibition that cocurator Francziska Glozer described as “not a show but a presentation of individual positions by artists of one generation.” On another floor was an exhibition from Triangle France, one of the country’s better residency programs for foreigners—the one where Stucchi had been working. Opening that day was “Labor Zero Labor,” an exhilarating attempt by artist-organizer Benjamin Valenza to take YouTube hostage through an artist-run television channel that streamed live performances throughout the fair and will run another three months. “It’s about our use of screen devices and skill sharing,” explained Triangle France director Celine Kopp. The schedule included a sitcom, a magic show, and even a cooking show. Inevitably, one drama, by artist Virgil Fraisse, was partly a parody of the Netflix series Marseille. Like the commercial version, said artist Richard John Jones, “It’s really trashy.”
After a fine lunch at La Cantinetta, an Italian place that would become a clubhouse for the group from the boat, Art-O-Rama threw open its truck-size doors on a hall that has never known the pleasures of air conditioning. It was three in the afternoon, and it was cooler outside in the concrete garden between buildings that served as the fair’s main social space—drinks only, no food.
Perspiring collectors from the city and the region, distinguishable by their jewelry, hairdos, and advancing age, dutifully checked out the stock on hand, stopping first at galleries run by French-speaking people such as Axel Dibie and Alix Dionot-Morani of Crèvecoeur (Paris) and François Ghebaly (Los Angeles). Another busy stand was Bologna’s P420, where dealer Chiara Tiberio (late of Milan’s Raffaella Cortese) barely had a moment to say hello. However, the Mexico City–based artist Rodrigo Hernàndez gave me a personal tour of the new works he had on show there, before moving over to Madragoa, his other European gallery, opened in Lisbon just three months ago by former Franco Noero dealer Matteo Consonni.
And there lies the rub, or one rub, anyway. Can collectors trust such a young business to have the longevity needed for an ongoing dialogue? Consonni wasn’t worried, but it might do the fair some good to introduce more experienced independents into the mix. “It’s not so much about selling as building relationships and getting exposure for artists,” said Schamoni, expressing a sentiment echoed by Friedrich and fellow Berlin dealer Daniel Marzona. “It’s worth it,” Friedrich said. “At what other fair could I get a space this large for $1,500?” Or risk presenting two artists (Mathieu Malouf and Nettell) who silk-screened the same Op art image in different colors on the same size canvas, but offering them at different price points? I liked Friedrich’s nerve.
Left: Material Art Fair director of exhibitor relations Rodrigo Feliz. Right: Collector Sébastien Peyret and dealer François Ghebaly.
The publicly funded Art-O-Rama, which gets a boost from private and corporate sponsors, basically is two people: director Jerôme Pantalacci, who cut his teeth on the late legend of a Marseillaise dealer Roger Pailhas, and Nadia Fatnassi, the fair’s dynamo of a managing director. She was the point person who arranged the requisite VIP visits to collectors’ homes and artists’ studios, shuttles to openings or performances at galleries and to art sites elsewhere, and parties for opening and closing nights. She seemed to be everywhere at once—except perhaps at the one competing fair (helpfully listed on the VIP program), Paréidolie, for drawings—very popular, according to collector Frédéric de Goldschmidt, of Brussels, who did go to everything, as far as I could tell.
At the fair, dealers designed booths with walls and—in the case of Schamoni and Crèvecoeur—without, opting to place objects on the floor in open space. (Collectors awarded Crèvecoeur the Roger Pailhas stand prize.) There weren’t really aisles, just partitions. Four actual rooms were dedicated to solo shows by artists barely out of school; another had a very cool film by the Turkish artist Özlem Sulak. Two booths were given to nonprofits: Barcelona’s Green Parrot, and the homegrown M-Arc/Le Box, founded by shipping executive Marc Féraud and his wife, Marie-Helene, the culture czar of Marseille.
She was among the officials gathered (in an air-conditioned auditorium) that afternoon for a crowded press conference announcing Manifesta 13, taking place in 2020. Host city: Marseille, curator TBD. One featured speaker was the indomitable Hedwig Fijen, president of the Manifesta Foundation, who emphasized the importance of affecting a broad, nonart audience. But her thunder was stolen by the city’s long-term (twenty years) mayor, Jean-Claude Gaudin, who is nothing like the person portrayed by Gérard Depardieu on the Netflix show.
In an emotional address, Gaudin laid out the many strong points of Marseille, European Capital of Culture in 2013, largely thanks to him. But he overreacted, Donald Trump–style, when asked why he’d closed a city museum on which he’d lavished many euros. Because, he said in French, it was placed in an immigrant quarter in the hope of diversifying (er, gentrifying?) the neighborhood. “But no one ever went!” he thundered. “No one!”
Left: Jean-Claude Gaudin, mayor of Marseille. Right: Artist Davide Stucchi and curator Mattia Ruffolo.
By contrast, everyone—a big crowd—went to Art-O-Rama’s tenth anniversary beach party that night, including new arrivals Nicolas Trembley (from Paris) and Rodrigo Feliz (from Mexico City’s Material Art Fair). And there wasn’t an empty seat on the buses that took collectors and journalists through the Provençal countryside to Arles the next morning. First stop: an illuminating (and surprising) show of thirty-one van Gogh paintings curated by Bice Curiger from loans to the Van Gogh Foundation, a jewel-box museum established a few years ago by the late Luc Hoffmann, environmentalist father of collector Maja Hoffmann, whose LUMA Arles art center was on the itinerary as well.
Looming above its home in the Parc d’Ateliers is the construction of a Frank Gehry building that some say will be the tallest in the region. At 180 feet high, it dwarfs every other structure in Arles and, needless to say, looks nothing like anything else in France outside of Paris. Closer to the ground are several humongous hangars—sheds that once serviced railroad cars—cleaned up for the exhibition of übercontemporary art by that estimable queen of the retrofit, Annabelle Selldorf.
Jordan Wolfson’s wham-bam-no-thank-you-ma’am Colored Sculpture had just arrived in one gallery; an installation by William Kentridge was in another, small building. The main event was “Systematically Open,” an artist-curated group exhibition that showed self-portraits by the South African photographer Zanele Muholi to great and searing advantage, and suggested that Collier Schorr and Anne Collier should show together always.
Left: Collector Frédéric de Goldschmidt with artists Will Kerr and Özlem Sulak. Right: Artist Benjamin Valenza.
Back in Marseille, a few of us went on to a strip mall behind a supermarket to meet Sébastian Peyret, leader of a group of younger collectors who support even younger artists by pooling their purchases for a common entity, Atlantis, named for the atmospheric former physical therapy facility where they show recent acquisitions. It was hotter in there than the sauna it once was so I didn’t stay long. Besides, the one gallery dinner of the weekend was that evening—a birthday party at a tapas bar on the port for Ghebaly and Dibie, hosted by Schamoni, Crèvecoeur, and Ghebaly.
Sunday morning brought the fair VIPs to La Fabrique, the airy, multilevel home of psychologists and seasoned collectors Marc and Josée Gensollen. They are the Rubells of Marseille, but with a taste for small-scale, provocative work by artists who run from Buren, Boltanski, Andre, Nauman, and Dan Graham to Cattelan, Orozco, Tiravanija, Gonzalez-Foerster, Gillick, Bonvicini, and Monk. “It’s not a very speculative collection,” Marc Gensollen assured me. Indubitably not.
Lunch with Ghebaly, Marzona, and the French artist Gerard Traquandi at the Féraud’s hilltop home followed. “I think Art-O-Rama is a good fair to start the season with energy,” Marc Féraud said. “But who is its audience?” Kalmár challenged him. “Young collectors? The Maja Hoffmanns of the Côte d’Azure? Curators? It needs focus.” Marzona supported the scene. “There are good collections here,” he said. “I suffered, but only from the heat.” Kalmár took that as our cue to have a swim with our new best buds off a calanque, a limestone outcropping in the Bouches-du-Rhône, before dining at a Tunisian couscous place near the Hotel Residence du Vieux-Port.
Left: Château La Coste art center manager Daniel Kennedy. Right: Friche la Belle de Mai director Alain Arnaudet.
Monday brought a day of architectural epiphanies, starting with La Vieille Charité. Built in the seventeenth century as a homeless shelter and now the site of a few museums, it’s said to have inspired Le Corbusier. The architect’s Brutalist wonder of a housing project, La Cité Radieuse, where Kalmàr rents an apartment, was my next stop (amazing), followed by a private view of the Féraud’s serene Helmut Federle show at Le Box. Then, with attention paid to the list of regional art sites in the VIP brochure, we drove to Chateau La Coste, hotelier Patrick McKillen’s unbelievable winery and contemporary art center outside of Aix. Guided by center manager Daniel Kennedy, we toured a vast tract of land populated by grapes and extraordinarily sited artworks by Richard Serra, Franz West, Lee Ufan, Liam Gillick, Andy Goldsworthy, and many more, including the steel towers that Louise Bourgeois made for the opening of Tate Modern, and the pavilion that Gehry built outside of the Serpentine Gallery in 2008. The center’s main building is peak Tadao Ando. And the winery, OMG: Jean Nouvel maybe should stick with industrial architecture.
Back in town, Fatnassi told me that Art-O-Rama’s opening weekend had attracted 3,500 visitors and logged some €150,000 in sales. (Its artworks, by the way, stay put as an exhibition for two weeks.) By 2020, the little-fair-that-could ought to be a creditable anchor for Manifesta—hopefully with livelier galleries and a new, cooler location.
Still, as long as it has Marseille, it’ll be in the right place.