NO VIP TOUR. You picked up your map and your program on your own time and devised your own hunt for treasure among the ninety exhibitions and events taking place in the seventh Glasgow International.
In her second outing as director, former Frieze Projects curator Sarah McCrory worked with a staff of six to construct a bootstrapping, urban exposition in seventy-five sites around this hilly, Charles Rennie Mackintosh–appointed city on the River Clyde. No frills. No usual suspects.
The biennial revealed itself slowly—not just in art spaces like the Common Guild and the Kelvingrove or Hunterian galleries but in shop windows, the ruin of a church, a public library, a graveyard, a roller rink, in drafty warehouses, storage units, bars, schools, theaters, and even in private apartments.
In fact, this sprawling festival of visual art may be the homiest biennial ever to hit the world stage—through almost entirely local means. Actually, it was more like a referendum on biennials. And why they matter to small cities like this.
Most of the free-admission show’s two hundred artists come from the UK, evidently a requirement of its civic and arts council funders. That left it to galleries and to exhibitions that McCrory organized for her Director’s Program to bring in the foreign nationals.
Mostly, this GI was about giving someone else a chance. No matter where they came from, that someone usually was a woman.
Quite literally, in the days following the April 7th professional preview, I could have counted the male artists selected to show on one hand. McCrory insisted that her biennial was not estrogen-heavy by design. “But,” she said, “I’m not against it.”
Nor was anyone else who came for the opening weekend that followed. Collectors and dealers were a small minority. Mainly, visitors were curators— – from Europe, Africa, and the US as well as the UK—or artists. That kept the general conversation focused on the subjects at hand—art, Glasgow, biennials—rather than the market. For Americans like me, the experience came with a bonus: For the first time in many months, I did not hear Donald Trump’s name mentioned once.
In the magnificent central hall of the Mitchell Library, the Canadian-born nomad Tamara Henderson had erected a garden of tall scarecrows to represent the seasons and phases of the moon. Each was sprouting plants and was costumed in hand-sewn, embroidered, and collaged fabrics that Henderson accumulated at residencies from Istanbul to Hospitalfields in Arbroath, Scotland. “You use what’s around,” she said, ducking into a hut with canvas walls that she painted to look like scratched negatives and that she made into a darkroom for developing images taken on site by a pinhole camera hidden in a pail.
Her show quickly became a popular social arena, no drinks allowed. There was a coffee bar, at least, at the festival hub, where several galleries were clustered. A new, dystopian sculpture by Monika Sosnowska—the black steel bones of a collapsed house by the utopian Polish architect Oskar Hansen—filled the Modern Institute space on Aird’s Lane with constructivist melancholy.
On a street corner in front of the gallery was an Instagram-ready road sign planted by Jeremy Deller. It read, BRIAN EPSTEIN DIED FOR YOU. That got a nod of recognition from Mary Zlot, the San Francisco–based collector and art advisor, who was visiting Glasgow for the first time in thirty years, accompanied by Gagosian director Robin Vousden.
It’s a wonder more people don’t come this way more often. Glasgow may be off the beaten track, but that’s one of its attractions, along with hundreds of artists—many of them graduates of the storied Glasgow School of Art—and occasional sunshine.
At the Glasgow Print Studio, Nicolas Party had painted the walls not in his customary bright colors but with gray and black designs to offset his first-ever show of mezzotints. Down the hall was Project Ability, a nonprofit for adults with mental or physical disabilities equivalent to San Francisco’s Creative Growth and New York’s Healing Arts Initiative.
From the latter, White Columns director Matthew Higgs brought portraits of bearded men by Derrick Alexis Coard to a show designed by Jim Lambie, who set colored balls into the walls to echo the drawings. But it was the affable Project Ability artist Cameron Morgan who took the cake with paintings of television shows like Tarzan, The A-Team, and Teletubbies. There was a show for each decade since the 1930s, each depicted on TVs that Morgan painted on wallpaper patterns he adapted from the style of each period. “I’m obsessed with television,” said the artist, who also makes ceramics and obviously has a feel for décor.
At Mary Mary, where dealer Hannah Robinson was showing popish paintings by New Yorker Emily Mae Smith, I ran into dealer Curt Marcus and Marrakech Biennial founder Vanessa Branson before moving next door to Matthew Smith’s debut with Koppe-Astner.
Across a pedestrian bridge that would suit any cold-war spy movie was, by all accounts, the festival’s biggest surprise: a galvanizing loan show of paintings and books by the early twentieth-century eccentric, Louis Michel Eilshemius.
What was this doing here? Well, said artist Merlin James, who took it upon himself to bring the show to the house he shares with the unjustly underrecognized painter Carol Rhodes, “I think of Eilshemius as our eternal contemporary.”
Rhodes was also in the International. Andrew Mummery presented her paintings ( aerial views of construction sites), in a former courthouse undergoing inevitable conversion to gentrified apartments. It was right across the road from a forbidding, Brutalist jail. Talk about human intervention in nature.
After hitting a two-man show of sculpture and video by Toby Christian and Duncan Marquiss that took up an unheated townhouse, we reached the Glasgow Sculpture Studios in time for the cocktail opening of “You Be Frank and I’ll Be Earnest,” an ingenious pairing (by the nonprofit’s director, Kyla McDonald) of two women in residence, the veteran Liz Magor (another Canadian) and a young New Yorker, Alisa Baremboym. “It’s all about permeability and leakage,” Baremboym said of her vaguely feminine, steel, resin, and shrink-wrapped sculpture. “Can you guess which is Frank and which is Earnest?” McDonald quipped.
I hustled through an April shower to the Gallery of Modern Art, where McCrory was opening a mini-retrospective of deep sea–themed sculpture by Cosima von Bonin. The artist, in a hot pink fright wig, was recording a performance by a dance company called HotNuts on her iPhone, while Jamie Crewe (aka Poisonous Relationship) serenaded the large crowd while strolling through it.
An impromptu cocktail party was soon underway at Regano, a nearby pub that reminded me somehow of Harry’s Bar in Venice. It must have been the crowd—the Modern Institute’s Toby Webster and Andrew Hamilton, dealers Sylvia Kouvali and Nicky Verber, Nottingham Contemporary curator Sam Thorne, The Gentlewoman editor-in-chief Penny Martin. Most would be among the thirty guests (including artists Alexandra Bircken, Sosnowska, and Deller) whom Webster and Hamilton invited to an informal dinner at an Indian restaurant that served long, thin tubes of the biggest papadums I’ve ever seen.
This was more like an art-fair social. At 10 PM, we peeled off for the GI’s opening party, a blowout at the School of Art that featured a psychedelic performance by Mega Hammer. Choreographed and designed by Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, it suggested an evening at Burning Man crossed with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable.
Next morning, a Friday, I woke up just in time for the lunch that Verber was giving at Gandolfi Fish for Bircken, whom McCrory had included in the group show opening that evening at Tramway. We arrived there in the silent hour before the opening, so we had the vast central hall of the former rail hub more or less to ourselves.
As the exhibition’s designer, artist Martin Boyce had divided the space into a generous maze of corrugated fiberglass screens. At one end were Bircken’s “trollies”—shelving systems of reclaimed steel rods, tree branches, nets, and wood planks set on the old tracks. They lead to a floor-to-ceiling, primary colored “chandelier” of gathered wool by Sheila Hicks, who also filled the old rails with red, yellow, and blue threads and sandbagged a wall with thick mounds of the wool. Pretty great.
An animation by Lawrence Lek that was playing in an alcove told the story of a fictional voyage of the QE2 cruise ship from the Suez Canal, past boatloads of Syrian refugees, and back to Glasgow, where it was built, and replaces the School of Art’s Mackintosh building, which nearly burned down in a 2014 fire. (It’s now undergoing restoration.) Videos by Amie Siegel and Mika Rottenberg round out the show. Previously seen in New York, they were a revelation to fresh eyes here.
The evening brought openings curated by Lambie for two storage spaces beneath the arches of a railroad bridge in Finnieston, an industrial wasteland. For one, he contributed cut-up pieces of furniture and a silver foil couch to photographs by Royal Trux vocalist Jennifer Herrema, who also sent a scatter of wigs and doll parts. Every picture had a sculpture extending from it like the choo-choo flying out of the fireplace in René Magritte’s painting.
After Sosnowska’s opening at the Modern Institute, the gallery hosted the biggest dinner of the week in a decommissioned church designed by Mackintosh. Need I say it was gorgeous? I’ll say it anyway. It was gorgeous. And the farm-to-table food by a local caterer was delicious. Anyone not too drunk to go on made off for Lambie’s Poetry Club, a double-height nightclub in another arch down the street from his gallery, the Voidoid.
The rest of the weekend was about flaneuring through neighborhoods east (where Sol Calero outfitted David Dale Gallery with a set for a telenovela serial) and west, where Crabshakk emerged as the best seafood lunch counter on earth.
Saturday morning found me in Asprey’s company at Kelvin Hall, where the sound of a fife-and-drum parade on the street outside elevated our visit to a sculptural installation by Claire Barclay and a show of suspended paintings on unstretched canvas by Helen Johnson that—with Henderson’s exhibition, the one at Tramway, and a group of ceramics by Aaron Angell in a botanic garden—won the consensus as the top draws of the biennial.
My own favorite moments came with under-the-radar biennial projects that summed up the whole experience: Young artists unaffiliated with any galleries doing it for themselves.
First, I stumbled on ’Scape, a startling installation of painting, photography, and sculpture in a townhouse near the University of Glasgow, where three young women (former schoolmates Ruth Switalski, Marion Ferguson and Belinda Gilbert Scott) had established a nonprofit exhibition space to show the work of other emergent talents as well as their own. I thought it was fabulous.
Even more fun was Sam Venables, a young woman with a mop of yellow hair who calls herself a “visual merchandiser.” She was launching a new company, It’s Friday, by inviting four young collectives from around the UK to make work for the windows of vacant, street-level storefronts below a parking garage next to a McDonald’s.
“This one got me into so much trouble with the tabloids,” Venables said of a storefront full of cardboard boxes by Littlewhitehead of Glasgow. Flopped between them were the bodies of four men in jeans and hoodies, either passed out or dead. (They were actually dummies, but they looked mighty real.) “Kids love it,” Venables told me, “but the neighbors called the police and tried to put up barriers.”
This is a good kind of trouble. “I think the biennial gives you a feeling of optimism,” said Sylvia Kouvali on Sunday afternoon, when curator John Heffernan drove us to Jupiter Art Land, a sculpture park outside of Edinburgh on the 120-acre estate of collectors Nicky and Robert Wilson. Stedelijk Museum curator Bart van der Heide rode shotgun.
Left: Hospitalfield director Lucy Byatt and artist Tamara Henderson. Right: DJ Johnnie Wilkes.
The idea, Heffernan said, was to commission site-specific work from artists who have never made work for outdoors or are new to the scene. They didn’t all fit that bill, but it didn’t matter. Among the park’s works was a cemetery (by Nathan Coley) that van der Heide deemed “creepy,” a Temple of Apollo by Ian Hamilton Finlay, and an earthwork by Charles Jencks. Our hands-down favorites were the stones Andy Goldsworthy set into coppiced trees, and a ravishing cave of amethyst crystals topped with obsidian rocks by Anya Gallaccio.
After a rapid tour of the once-every-five-year British Art Show in Edinburgh, I raced back to Koppe-Astner in Glasgow to join Hammer Museum curator Aram Moshayedi for the final performance of The French Mistake, a three-character musical play directed and designed by the Berlin-based American, Leila Hekmat. It owed a considerable debt to the camp of Jack Smith, but what the hell. I’m all for keeping transgression alive and well.
That evening, McCrory invited visiting curators and artists to a farewell dinner with local dealers at Drygate Brewery. It felt like a meeting of great minds dedicated to a common purpose—advancing contemporary art over beer and burgers.
“The point isn’t just to shake things up,” McCrory said of her youthful show. “The point is to show what’s already here.”
Left: Curator Kasper König with artist Julia Scher. Right: Coco Schmitz. (All photos: Arielle Bier)
“ARE YOU HERE to buy a car?” asked a dapper Frenchman waiting in line last Wednesday for the fiftieth anniversary of Art Cologne.
He was referring to Stuart Ringholt’s compact automobiles bearing cynical license plates like CURATOR or ART CRITIC parked at the entrance to the shiny Koelnmesse. There was a time when such “critical” gestures weren’t just de rigueur but actually meant something. Like in 1970, when Wolf Vostell, Helmut Rywelski, and Joseph Beuys staged a protest demanding rights for artists and publishers to be allowed into the fair, literally banging on the windows with keys and pushing their way in past a flabbergasted Rudolf Zwirner, setting the stage for new models of bringing artists into conversation with the business of art.
Consider that Art Cologne was the first ever contemporary and modern art fair in the world, one that has survived and succeeded through five decades of peaks and nadirs. After German reunification in the late 1980s and early ’90s, the art market crashed. “Imagine, you’re at the top of the scene and when you fall, you fall the hardest. The art market was dead for six years,” said fair director Daniel Hug who took the reins between 2007–2008, during another market dip, and reestablished Art Cologne as an international touchstone.
Left: Outside the fiftieth Art Cologne. Right: Dealer Max Mayer and Art Cologne director Daniel Hug.
Amid the recent disclosures around the Panama Papers and the “Nazi-looted” Modigliani seized at the Geneva Freeport, I was prepared for conversations about money-laundering and tax evasion. But the closest reference was the inclusion of Panamarenko’s Panama: Aeromodeller I (Model for aircraft), 1984, part of the fair’s featured exhibition “Eins, zwei Wechselschritt,” curated by Ellen de Bruijne and Stella Lohaus, surveying fifty years of avant-garde art across Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. “That was a happy coincidence,” de Bruijne said. The curators articulated the path from a male-oriented art world that once spotlighted Beuys, Marcel Broodthaers, and Stanley Brouwn to a woman-oriented present with Sine Van Menxel, Melanie Bonajo, and Nora Schultz. De Bruijne and Lohaus slipped in their own agenda, arguing that, as the popular Otherwild T-shirt has it, the future is female.
“I’ve been coming here with my parents since the ’70s,” said dealer Alex Duve, asserting his family ties with Art Cologne. He went so far as to bring an old fair catalogue from 1986, proudly displayed at his booth. But there were also relative newcomers, like New York’s Kate Werble, who first exhibited here two years ago, bringing small works in a suitcase to save on transportation, and who recently joined the selection committee for the fair’s “New Contemporaries” section. Part of what’s maintained Art Cologne’s success is Hug’s emphasis on new faces and youthful energy. Since 2012, the “Collaborations” section, run with NADA, has itself become a signature. Blood doping may be taboo in sports, but in the art world it’s a necessity.
At Deborah Schamoni, I caught a glimpse of AA Bronson and Keith Boadwee’s red-and-brown tartan paintings and Judith Hopf’s concrete snake sculptures. Are those from their collaboration at the Salzburger Kunstverein, where they shat paint onto canvases? “Yes, they’ve been very popular,” Schamoni said. “I would have sold two more, but then I show people the book and they are disgusted.”
Further along, I ran into Julia Scher who ran into the legendary Kaspar König who was promoting his new book Best Art: The Life of Kaspar König in Fifteen Exhibitions. He guided her to his table so he could personally sign and gift her a copy. “Where are you off to Julia?” König asked. Assuming her most convincing Dinglish accent, Scher replied, “Vee have to go to Ludwig Museum so vee can see ein film, und dann parties later.”
But even before that we were off to catch Anne Imhof’s choreographed Overture, at Galerie Buchholz’s Elisenstraße location. Zombie crowds followed entranced performers conducting banal gestures, slo-mo, to a moody Game of Thrones–style soundtrack. Terrified falcons were tied to poles, Pepsi cans were opened in sequence, gum was chewed, skin was shaved, and collector Mera Rubell shot a video of her husband Don watching it all.
Around the corner, Richard Hawkins’s exhibition opened at Buchholz’s other location behind the Antiquariat. Ogling the fine wares in the bookstore, a young woman whispered, “You have to be quiet here, this place is sacred.” Ancient Antonin Artaud publications and works on paper dotted the countertops in alignment with Hawkins’s exhibition “Being and its Fetuses,” featuring densely textured ceramic wall works influenced by an eponymous Artaud drawing. We finished up with Jacqueline Humphries’s show of luscious abstract paintings at Gisela Capitain.
After, we retired to the Wolkenburg for an elegant dinner hosted by Capitain, Buchholz, and David Zwirner. The medieval monastery-cum-hospital-cum–music school–cum–restaurant now boasts “modern lighting and air conditioning,” according to its website. Who could pass up such a treat? We gathered under a tent in the courtyard until a hefty gong rang and Capitain gracefully waved the guests inside.
Juicy conversation accompanied the succulent steaks. I spoke with model agent Eva Gödel, who staffed Rick Owens’s runway with young men willing to don genital-exposing tunics during Paris fashion week. “You should have seen the email thread titled Rick’s Dicks!” Talk quickly turned to more serious topics, with Brussels-based artist Lucy McKenzie speaking about the safety issues facing visitors heading to Art Brussels and Independent this week. “I just came to see Hawkins’s show. Traveling to Brussels is still a mess.”
Suddenly a video message popped up on my phone of Kasper König dancing at the Gürzenich banquet hall, site of the official Art Cologne party. “Who’s DJing?” asked ex-Forsythe Company dancer Josh Johnson. I had no idea, but decided the chandeliers were worth the trip. Anyhow, the Gürzenich was the site of the first Kunstmarkt in 1967—it seemed appropriate to pay homage. By the time we arrived, the crowd had mostly retired, leaving a few stragglers still hashing out sales.
When the emptiness got to be too much, we gathered a posse and repaired to MD Bar, passing ruins of former Roman city walls and under the thirteenth-century Hahnentor castle gate. There we found retired curator Veit Loers lurking in the darkened cocktail bar at 3 AM, just arrived from Venice with the Fridericianum’s Susanne Pfeffer. “In my generation, I worked with Kippenberger, Koons, and Förg,” he said. “Nobody cares about these people anymore,” though he finished on an optimistic note, describing his admiration for Neďl Beloufa.
Left: Artists Christian Jankowski and Thomas Zipp. Right: Dealer Deborah Schamoni and artist Jonathan Penca.
I decided to brave the basement of COCO Schmitz down the road, where I found a hot-tub-sized dance floor full of sweaty artists and writers grinding to 1990s soft rock and disco. “I’ve got a drunk artist sleeping in my bed,” said a desperate dealer perched at the bar. “Do you have an extra hotel room?” Another girl leaned over, “Sorry buddy. Better try your luck with the coat-check trick and take whatever’s left at the end of the night.”
Finally, at 5 AM, we rolled up to Schampanja, a dive bar where some of the Buchholz crew headed after dinner. The door opened to expose a topless dance party inside as a young reveler fell onto the street.
“Where are you going?” we asked, offering our cab.
“Now? Well, we’re going inside.”
“Ok, never mind, I’m coming with you.”
We’ll remain mum about further transgressions, but will mention that even at this late hour we indulged in some lively banter about the growing American love affair with Broodthaers since his retrospective opened at MoMA. “It’s all in the language. He’s closer to a stand-up comic than anything else!” shouted one Belgian curator as a sportive bartender deep-throated a bottle of Kölsch. I raised my own glass: “Prost”—to fifty more years.
Left: NADA organizers Heather Hubbs, Thomas Ahlgren, and Zack Tornaben. Right: Artist Christopher Williams.
MORE NIGHTS THAN NOT THIS PAST WINTER, Amanda Bates, a bartender at Public in North Adams, Massachusetts, would see her favorite new customer, Alex Da Corte. He would walk in from the museum across the street, where he and his two assistants and a team of seven workers were installing his eight-room survey, “Free Roses,” and order a glass of sangiovese or a mezcal with ice, depending on his stress levels. By the time it got to be spring, she was pouring a fair amount of mezcal, but she never saw him drunk. She would ask him about work; he would complain, gently, about a lack of sleep or a supply problem or a color or a part that wasn’t working. Then he’d say, tell me about you. A bartender is often a therapist, historically speaking, but it was Bates who began to catch transference. The girls at Public would go, “Why don’t you just ask him if he’s gay?” Bates wouldn’t do that, but she did tell me, with her bright admixture of sincerity and deadpan exaggeration, that she’s “irrevocably in love with the man.”
Bates knew she wasn’t alone. We were standing in a great long hall Saturday night at MASS MoCA, one of the biggest and best-looking museums in the country, with “Free Roses” and Sarah Crowner’s “Beetles in the Leaves” open upstairs and the party for Da Corte and Crowner all around. Twenty-nine minutes out of thirty, someone or other was hugging or kissing Da Corte or thanking him profusely, and in the thirtieth minute, Da Corte, who at thirty-five is young for his success, was drinking from the secret tequila the bartenders were keeping for him behind the wine. A group of his friends from New York—the artist Sam McKinniss, the writer Al Bedell, the artist Elaine Cameron-Weir, the artist Borna Sammak (Da Corte’s collaborator), and so on—were joking-ish about how they would propose to him, a sudden tinkling of glasses, an announcement to make, we’ve never known anyone as kind and tall and patient and like a hot dad who’s also a genius as you, Alex Da Corte, so will you marry us, what do you say.
It did feel like a wedding reception. There was a white-clothed buffet table of chicken tacos with what a sign referred to as “Latino-spiced rice and beans,” a liberally seasoned upgrade, you presume, from the erstwhile Hispanic-spiced variety. There was the slow-drifting tinsel noise of adult pop from elevated speakers. Plus, there was the fact that half the guests were in from out of town. A good few, like the rapper Naeem Juwan aka Spank Rock, had come from Philadelphia, where Da Corte lives. Da Corte’s family, in which three different males are named Americo, had come from New Jersey. Several top curators were in attendance, like Chrissie Iles from the Whitney and Massimiliano Gioni from the New Museum and the High Line’s Cecilia Alemani, and so was a contingent from Luxembourg & Dayan, where Da Corte had a big-hit solo show last year. Susan Cross, the curator at MASS MoCA, wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a massive rose, which looked in the middle like a vulva when she pinched it and stretched it out, laughing. Bates’s gift for Da Corte was a T-shirt that said SHOW ME YOUR KITTIES, because he specializes in the terrible pun, as well in the sexualized pet.
Like a lot of the people who know him and a few who don’t, Bates lasted less than ten minutes in the show before getting emotional, and another fifteen or twenty before deciding to come back the next day, or the day after that, to try to absorb the whole saturnalia in peace. One of Da Corte’s collaborators, Jayson Musson, spent most of the night leaning against walls, mostly because leaning against walls is just what he likes, but also because the installations are vertiginous enough to make giants reel. Da Corte is the greatest to ever do it, which is a direct quote from another of his collaborators, Dev Hynes, sent to me by text from LA. The “it” that Da Corte is doing, with all the hot trash at his disposal, all the compromising evidence of youth, is as much for people who never really go to see art as it is for people who only ever seem to see art. People floated up from the dinner, getting stuck in front of the three malevolent videos of “Night in Hell / Delirium,” a room laminated in jagged black-and-white-and-purple tessellations, or the absurdly sad 2010 Chelsea Hotel No. 2, named for the Leonard Cohen song that soundtracks its splashes of meat and stuff.
Alex Da Corte, A Season in Hell, 2012.
“I’m going to cry again,” said Bates, thinking about the white plastic swans holding candles in a neon pink-lit, Plexiglas pond. “My grandmother had those exact swans in a pond in her front yard, with all these hydrangeas, and she’d always let the hydrangeas die, and she’d never throw them out. Every piece in the show gives me a memory like that. It’s all these things I thought were dead or forgotten or no one else remembered them, but that’s just like Alex. He remembers everything.”
When Bates first got to know Da Corte for real, it was when a guy on Tinder was messaging her all the time, and she thought she was into it, but she didn’t know how to respond. The guy lived an hour away. “I’m outgoing, but I’m not that spontaneous,” she said. “But I told Alex about the guy, and he was just like, do it! Whatever! But do it now! It’s hard to explain, because it’s not what he says, it’s like, he says it and you feel like you can do it. He brings out the whatever in you.” Bates says whatever in the voice you would use to order another bottle of champagne at T.G.I. Friday’s before the strip club. She’s now in mad happiness with the Tinder guy, like five-hours-on-the-phone, drive-to-see-him-at-four-in-the-morning happiness. Recall the first time you felt that alight in your head, but imagine you also knew that feelings cause cancer, albeit a form of cancer curable by ecstasy: I can’t better describe the sensations of Da Corte’s work.
Da Corte himself walked through the door of the Mohawk Tavern, another bar right across the street, a few minutes after the opening ended, and bowed a little like a young Marc Jacobs at the sweetest applause. Bates handed Da Corte a drink, and Da Corte, for whom it was already too much, insisted I have it. The next morning, in the parking lot of the museum, he would take a bouquet he’d been given and toss it out the window of his van as he drove away: “Free roses!” Whatever! Rolling her eyes, Bates said, “He introduced me to his mom tonight, and I can’t even buy him a drink.” Da Corte put his number in her phone.
I asked her, when Da Corte was elsewhere again, what she had said to his mom. You’re probably not going to believe this, but I did. She wasn’t exaggerating. “Oh,” said Bates, “I told her he changed my life.”
IN BRAZIL, when things go badly you make it into a party. Take the infamous 1919 carnival after the Spanish Flu, or the recent protests calling for impeachment—or protests of those calls for impeachment—which often devolve into long, beer-soaked nights. So perhaps it’s no surprise that this year’s SP-Arte, Latin America’s largest art fair, held in the middle of the country’s worst recession in decades and political upheaval, charged on with a determined gaiety.
The lines of communication appeared aggressively open to the friendlier, more stable market in North America: The fair’s talks program focused on the Americas, with forums on the Cuban art scene and the Getty’s LA/LA initiative for 2017. The weekend before the fair, Nara Roesler opened a show of Cuban artist René Francisco, his first with the gallery, curated by collector Ella Cisneros-Fontanals.
“I had never curated a show before,” Cisneros-Fontanals told us. Would she ever do it again? “No!” The opening was followed by a lavish party at Nara’s Ruy Ohtake–designed home. On the roof deck, complete with a lap pool, director Daniel Roesler mused about Brazil’s current drama—which from that particular perch seemed very far away. “It’s a messy time.”
Left: Dealers Pedro Mendes, Magę Abŕtayguara, and Matthew Wood. Right: Pivô founder Fernanda Brenner. (Photos: Alexandra Pechman)
So look away. Roesler has a new space in New York’s Flower District. Mendes Wood DM joins them on the Upper East Side in the fall, and during the fair Mendes Wood and Michael Werner (say that five times fast) had a joint booth and also cohosted a party at the Copan Building Monday night.
Despite the downturn, new efforts continue to pop up on the domestic front: The week saw the opening of Luciana Brito’s new jewel of a gallery space in a former 1950s modernist home; Galeria Vermelho’s cinema space; and the opening of three shows at Videobrasil, just inaugurated last year. “Everyone is asking about the crisis,” Alexandre Gabriel of Fortes Vilaça told me on Monday night. “But here, life goes on.”
Later that night we landed a tour of Erika Verzutti’s new show “Swan, Cucumber, Dinosaur” at lodestar nonprofit Pivô. “They’re different notes to the idea of feeling the space with monsters,” Verzutti said of the massive, painted Styrofoam forms. Maybe a fairy-tale is the best response to a crisis. Another worthy example was South African artist Haroon Gunn-Salie’s show at Videobrasil. The exhibition recreated testimony about the mining dam break and resulting catastrophe in Mariana last year, which has been somewhat lost in the storm of other troubles. A victim donated a ruined home that stands in the middle of the space. “There's nothing more urgent,” Gunn-Salie said of the disaster.
At the fair’s opening on Wednesday, blissful ignorance was more the norm. At the entrance, a Maison Perrier-Jouët–sponsored installation spurted bubbles onto entrants. The Open Plan sector of commissioned works, curated by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, billed itself as an “exception area– as Visconti said, there was no defining theme. Rather, the section was a way to invite international dealers who may have been worried about the moment in terms of sales. A fine showing of foreign galleries still came—thirty-eight, some for the first time, such as Michael Werner and Simon Preston. White Cube, which had recently closed its Săo Paulo space, also brought a booth.
Săo Paulo Bienal curator Jochen Volz arrived at the fair on his way to Accra for a site visit. He spoke of “the contamination” of certain words meant to illuminate Incerteza Viva (Live Uncertainty), the title of this year’s show, given the political turmoil. “A lot of the words we’ve used have changed,” he said, noting that the word “measure” has come to characterize governmental measures—or, one could argue, inefficacy. “The word ‘uncertainty’ is more in use.”
Stephen Friedman’s booth focused on David Shrigley, who has never had a major show in Latin America. A drawing of a dirty pig announced: I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE / FOR THE MESS THAT I MAKE. The artist’s simplification of chaos into cartoonish ignorance struck a chord.
Some Brazilian galleries addressed the day more head on. At Casa Triangulô, Ivan Grilo’s plaque announcing AMANHA VAI SER MAIOR (TOMORROW WILL BE BIGGER) was a callback to Brazil’s 2013 protests—now gold-plated and for sale. Rio de Janeiro’s Portas Vilaseca showed photographs by Iris Helena of crumbling buildings in the northern state of Paraíba—inkjet on toilet paper. “If we sell everything, we can party,” Jaime Portas Vilaseca told me.
SP-Arte founder and director Fernanda Feitosa wore a star-spangled dress and galactic diamond-and-pearl earrings as she admitted it was the first year the fair did not increase in size. She noted the year had brought, if not the biggest fair, the largest number of visiting journalists. “Everything now is political,” she said. “The topic this week will be art.”
And so art it was, as much as politics can be divorced from it. A party on Thursday at the home of Feitosa and her husband Heitor Martins, president of the Museu de Arte de Săo Paul (MASP), followed that museum’s opening of “Histórias da infância,” a show literally about naiveté, uniting images of childhood from every corner of art history.
The fair’s wildest parties though were held over the weekend. Friday saw collectors Maguy and Jean Marc Etlin as well as Fabio Faisal and Tera Queiroz hold back-to-back celebrations—easy enough to navigate since they live almost next door to each other. The Etlins honored Dalton Paula’s solo project at Sé Gallery (winner of the fair’s Illy Sustain Art Prize) with a dinner, while Faisal’s late-night dance party didn’t begin until midnight. We heard from artist Marcos Chaves that the latter didn’t end until almost 7 AM—and of course there was the requisite mass dip in the pool. Things showed no sign of slowing down Saturday, when Mendes Wood held its much-anticipated annual party. Usually held at Wood and Mendes’s home, this year the gallery opted for a meaningful, and more massive, choice of venue: Lina Bo Bardi’s exquisite experimental space Teatro Oficina. It’s one of Bo Bardi’s few high-profile buildings—her leftist politics put her at odds with the military dictatorship and its supporters. So that party was maybe a tip of the hat to her spirit, in the wake of pro-democracy protests against a potential coup—though by midnight it was all but anarchy.
“This is a curation of one thousand people. I looked at hundreds of names,” Wood told me at the party, as people flooded onto rafters and beams and into the sprawling backyard. “These are the one thousand people you want to meet in Săo Paulo.”
I only met a dozen or so that night—a daunting enough task in itself. By the time I left, it was a little after 5 AM. I was just in time to miss the sobering light of day, or something like reality.
LANDING IN MILAN LAST WEEK for the twenty-first edition of MiArt, the city seemed lit by a new fire. Had last spring’s opening of the gilded new Fondazione Prada ignited a fresh fervor? Or had the influential galleries enlivening Italy’s financial center simply struck a golden mean between the historic and the contemporary?
The excitement was more than evident among the crowd at Wednesday’s opening for Carsten Höller’s survey at HangarBicocca, the massive exhibition space in a former Pirelli plant on the far north side of town. I was practically swallowed up by the scores of locals queuing up to enter an illuminated tunnel leading to a funhouse of the artist’s most memorable works: mushrooms, amusement-park rides, and all.
I fought my way through the hoi polloi and back to the city center, where two generations of galleries were inaugurating new spaces on the eve of the fair. Massimo De Carlo launched a Rudolf Stingel show in his second Milan space, near La Scala, in a palazzo designed by Giuseppe Piermarini, and Federico Vavassori opened an elegant exhibition of Emil Michael Klein on the first floor of an apartment building near the Castello. I dipped into Gió Marconi to catch a healthy suite of Günther Förg paintings from the early 2000s before heading off to De Carlo. Arriving at the strike of 8 PM, a posse of late-comers was politely turned away. “What, are we in Zurich now?” one joked.
Thursday morning was game day: the opening of the fair. While MiArt is something of a regional event, with Italians comprising roughly two-thirds of its 150-plus participating galleries, the crowd (curators Hans Ulrich Obrist and Jens Hoffmann and artist Sheila Hicks, among others) and creative layout projects an impressive cosmopolitanism and curatorial cogency. News broke just the other week that this would be the last edition helmed by artistic director Vincenzo de Bellis, who has been appointed curator of visual arts at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. I caught the Warhol Foundation’s Joel Wachs taking a breather during the preview, who shared that the efforts of Alessandro Rabottini, MiArt’s deputy director, justified the jaunt from New York. Indeed de Bellis and Rabottini engineered a system that exceeds expectations.
Two curated sections in particular offered more than the standard, siloed merchandising. THENnow featured sincere syntheses between “historical” artists and those working today, via pairings made by LACMA’s Jarrett Gregory and the Walker’s Pavel Pyś. A standout was Campoli Presti and Galleria dello Scudo, respectively showing Nick Mauss and the late Viennese-born Milanese painter Gastone Novelli. The more ingenious section was Decades, selected by Alberto Salvadori of the Museo Marino Marini in Florence. As the name suggests, participating galleries presented group shows of work, culled from their own stables, representing bygone pockets of the twentieth century. Richard Saltoun’s “The Body as Language,” featuring 1970s works by twenty female performance artists, was a superlative survey for a fair. However, it was bested for the Premio Herno prize by Wilkinson’s more succinct and interdisciplinary presentation of ’80s works by Jimmy De Sana, Joan Jonas, Laurie Simmons, and others, inspired by a cover of the short-lived ZG Magazine.
With just three long halls, time was the organizing motif of MiArt, which ran from the earliest decades of Decades to the principal contemporary section of the fair to the new galleries in the Emergent section—and onwards with the subsequent furniture area, Object.
As for the present, on Thursday night dealers wandered toward Porta Vittoria for MiArt’s state dinner–style banquet held inside a cavernous decommissioned palazzo–cum–ice-skating rink. I sat with the Hammer Museum’s Aram Moshayedi, dealer Maggie Kayne, and curators Douglas Fogle and Hanneke Skerath. A towering curtain of white fringe separated the main field of tables from the peripheral ones. Ethereal blue spotlights washed over the scene, blending everything together in the same icy hue. The negronis flowed freely—there and onto the unofficial afterparty at Bar Basso, the perennial local end up.
Around town, a string of special exhibitions played tricks with time. The final, 1940s home of the Futurists was the site of an apartment show organized by Galleria Zero featuring Dan Finsel, Mario Dellavedova, Renzo Martens, and Christine Sun Kim, among others. Unsurprisingly, the building is in the process of being converted into luxury condos, and our trip up the stairs was like an archaeology of gentrification. Another construction-zone exhibition was a solo show organized in a former Montessori school north of Porta Venezia, future home of a new project space called The Classroom. Videos by Italian-Libyan artist Adelita Husni-Bey documented workshops she had organized for pre- and post-pubescent students to role-play situations related to autonomy, cooperation, and social power structures. Meanwhile, down the street and underground in the posh catacombs of the Albergo Diurno, the Fondazione Trussardi staged a tourist-friendly show of abject creations by Sarah Lucas using commonly available Freudian ingredients such as pantyhose and eggs.
The next night, Kaufmann Repetto and Sadie Coles hosted a dinner with the Fondazione Trussardi in the equally ancient Bistrot Giacomo, a tony fish restaurant. Collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Fogle, and the new American curator of the Pompidou Florence Derieux mingled amid the intimate interlocking leather-bound libraries and velvet salons. Standing amid the crowd to toast Lucas, Trussardi artistic director and New Museum associate director Massimiliano Gioni christened her the “new Madonna of the Bathroom.”
Left: Serpentine chief curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and collector Nicoletta Fiorucci. Right: Dealer Hélčne de Franchis.
Saturday saw a second wave of openings on MiArt’s side of town. A younger crowd swarmed de Bellis’s space Peep Hole, showing paintings from the 1960s by septuagenarian Paolo Gioli, and across the street Lia Rumma had installed a new projection by William Kentridge. The Toilet Paper party that night seemed as if it might send me down the drain, worn out and overwhelmed by the storm of design people descending for the massively popular furniture fair Salone del Mobile.
Right now Milan feels effervescent, not always the case for the sober, fashionable city. My coda to MiArt week was a cocktail Tuesday night celebrating the Serpentine on the roof of the Rinascente department store, where news had yet to break about Yana Peel’s appointment as the storied galleries’ new CEO. The art crowd was heading out, supplanted by the stylish design wallahs, but MoMA’s Paola Antonelli, one of the visionaries straddling the worlds of ostensibly functional and functionless beauty, was there. She told me a story about returning to Milan, her hometown, years ago after having relocated to the states. As if they could smell it on her, shopkeepers all spoke to her in English. Why? She was smiling.
IN HIS TUESDAY op-ed for the New York Times, U2 frontman/iTunes spammer Bono encourages readers to “think bigger” about the refugee crisis, even going so far as to suggest a new Marshall Plan. “For as hard as it is to truly imagine what life as a refugee is like, we have a chance to reimagine that reality—and reinvent our relationship with the people and countries consumed now by conflict, or hosting those who have fled it.”
It is also difficult to make artwork about this kind of crisis. After all, it’s a very fine line that separates empathy from insensitivity. One solution is to allow asylum seekers to tell their own stories. This was the motivation for Bouchra Khalili’s The Mapping Journey Project, 2008–11, which opened this weekend at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Khalili’s short films show migrants tracing their personal journeys onto printed maps. Serbian collective шkart has pursued a similar strategy, handing out blank books for refugees to record their experiences and impressions, as well as collaborating on “migrant maps,” illustrated diaries that plot routes through Europe. In other contexts, the cartoon format of these hand-drawn atlases might recall that summer-camp song about a bear hunt (“Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go through it—have to go around it!”) Except this isn’t a bear hunt. The tales shared by шkart are ones of determination, desperation, and life savings spent for a spot in a truck.
For every work that resonates, there are countless others that draw criticism, despite (or because of) their earnestness. The highest profile among them may be Ai Weiwei. In February, the artist brought fourteen thousand life jackets from the shores of Lesbos to Berlin, where he used them to Christo the front columns of the Konzerthaus. When the venue hosted its annual Cinema for Peace Gala, guests had to pass through the columns and around an inflatable dinghy with a sign advertising SAFE PASSAGE. Inside, the already glittering gala-goers received shiny Mylar emergency blankets. Ai then encouraged attendees like Charlize Theron and Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova to take selfies draped in this same protective covering, as an exercise in “empathy” and “awareness.” The gesture seemed to suggest that social-media shares could be acceptable substitutes for action.
“There’s a lot of talk in the world right now as to what is the shape of activism—what does it look like when it’s on the table,” artist Olafur Eliasson told the full house at “15 Acts of Participation,” a twelve-hour public program running from noon to midnight at Vienna’s TBA21-Augarten last Thursday. Eliasson joined TBA21 founder Francesca von Habsburg for the opening act, an introduction to the institution’s ongoing Green Light project. The three-month workshop recruits volunteers from Vienna’s refugee community to help assemble eco-conscious lamps, designed by Eliasson and sold to benefit Vienna-based charities. Chicly polyhedral and outfitted with emerald-colored LEDs (“the shade of hospitality,” apparently), the lamps are modular and can be used either individually or combined into sculptural objects. “You could build a whole city out of these,” Eliasson laughed. Of course, it would be a city of useless walls, but maybe that was the point.
“There’s that quote about how politics are creative, so why can’t art be political,” von Habsburg chimed in. “But where is that line in the sand between art and politics? I know wherever it is, I may have stepped over it a few times in the past, but I am not a public institution. I am a private individual who is struggling to deal with the situation. When I see how this country has neglected…” she paused, her voice wavering. Catching the audience’s concern, von Habsburg turned to one of the Green Light participants: “Don’t worry Paymon, I always get emotional.”
“We need to understand that we don’t step into the art world to step out of reality,” Eliasson continued. “We step into the art world to step closer to the real world.” The artist pointed out that “reality machines” like TBA21 have a unique ability to “nurture the sense of being together, without being the same,” a claim he supported by citing his frequent disagreements with von Habsburg when it came to other artworks. “The cultural sector already has a framework for inclusion,” he concluded. “The question now is how do we scale it?”
According to Eliasson, first you must drop the pretense that there can ever be a “perfect” response. “There’s always the question, ‘Am I doing enough?’ ” the artist admitted. “The moment you say, ‘Maybe I’m not the best, but I’m OK, and this is enough,’ is the moment when people can step out of fear and step into the courage of saying, ‘I’m OK.’ This is the moment when true encounters can occur.”
Not that these encounters don’t face other, more tangible obstacles. “The Green Light workshop was conceived at a moment when the euphoria of compassion was at its height,” explained project curator Daniela Zyman. “Sadly, this moment has passed. There are new regulations and restrictions every day.” To counter this “process of bordering,” Zyman advocates for Paolo Virno’s strategy of “engaged withdrawal.” “If any of you practice yoga, you understand that sometimes you need to make one part of your body really strong, so you can make another part of your body flexible. We need to withdraw from certain parts of civil society’s limitations so we can be flexible in others.”
The Green Light project was designed with this flexibility in mind. Under current laws, TBA21 cannot pay workshop participants. Instead, proceeds from lamp sales are funneled into the Georg Danzer Haus, the Red Cross, and Caritas Vienna, organizations directly involved with providing food and shelter to the refugee community. As additional, unofficial compensation, the workshop provides German language classes—particularly crucial, as unaccompanied minors older than fifteen are ineligible to attend Austrian schools—and communal meals. The volunteers take turns menu planning, a little touch that is surprisingly meaningful when one considers that for the length of their processing—up to a year or more—asylum seekers are banned from earning (and thus spending) income and must eat whatever they are served at the shelters. “Someone even cooked African food,” project coordinator Anahita Tabrizi told me, beaming. “That was a real hit.” (“I missed African food?” one of the volunteers howled later, lamenting that he only ever thinks to make chicken and rice.)
Naturally, communal meals were the centerpiece of “15 Acts of Participation,” with lunch and dinner both served in the TBA21 courtyard. But rather than home in on the communities involved with the Green Light workshop, “15 Acts” took a broader look at the “processes of bordering” that Zyman had mentioned. The introduction by Eliasson and von Habsburg was supplemented with a screening of Neďl Beloufa’s Kempinksi, 2007. The film is a kind of science fiction, where figures living on the fringes of Bamako, Mali, describe visions of the future, including a scenario where buildings are made of light, and one can enter where they please. Coincidentally, Beloufa’s protagonists are lit by the lime-green glow of handheld neon lights, not entirely dissimilar to the ones made in the workshop.
Also screening was SUPERFLEX’s stunning new film Kwassa Kwassa. Shot in the Comoro Islands of the Indian Ocean, the narrative follows a boat through the stages of its construction through its eventual use as a transport shuttle to the neighboring archipelago of Mayotte. Thanks to France’s spot on the UN Security Council, Mayotte is, as of 2011, an official Department of France, and, as of 2014, an Outermost Region of the European Union, meaning that all that separates the inhabitants of the Comoran town of Anjouan from Europe is forty miles of deep blue sea. Kwassa Kwassa is rooted in a reexamination of the myth that gave the continent its name. In this particular instance, Zeus took the form of the white bull to carry Europa, the daughter of a Phoenician king from Tyre (now modern-day Lebanon) off to Crete, making Zeus, in the narrator’s reasoning, “the first coyote”—the local slang for passage providers.
Another of the “15 Acts” was the debut of selected output from a two-day workshop headed by Raqs Media Collective’s Shuddhabrata Sengupta. Young asylum seekers Anas Al Jajeh and Qasim Tahmasebi shared their own short films, expounding on what freedom means for them, before Tawab Baran took to the mic to share a poem in his native Dari. He’s posted over one hundred videos of his poetry on YouTube, tracking his progress from Afghanistan. Now that he has made it to Austria, however, his future remains uncertain. “They tell me my country is safe,” he shrugs.
Over one of the breaks, artist Atif Akin (“Act 8”) filled me in on his research into radiation as a transnational phenomenon. He also prints a zine on apricots, which he sees as an ideal model for migration flows. “Apricots can be traced from China to Azerbaijan to Turkey and Greece,” Akin informed me. “These routes have existed for centuries before us. This isn’t a new thing.” What mattered most to the artist, however, was terminology. In particular, he objected to the mischaracterization of what is going on in Europe as a “crisis.” “When you say ‘crisis,’ you delegate power to the authorities. You are saying it’s out of your hands. It should be in our hands.”
I responded the only way I knew how: I took his picture and posted it online.