Reale Deal

Milan
11.19.08

Left: Dealer Massimo De Carlo. Right: Trussardi Foundation curator Massimiliano Gioni, Beatrice Trussardi, and artist Tino Sehgal. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)


LAST TUESDAY EVENING in Milan, the Neoclassical Villa Reale became the sumptuous backdrop for a retrospective of Tino Sehgal’s living sculptures, set in motion among gesturing Canova marbles and an impressive assortment of nineteenth-century masterworks. Organized by the nomadic Trussardi Foundation and curated by Massimiliano Gioni, the selection of eight “situations” is billed as the “most ambitious and complete” assemblage of Sehgal’s “deproduced” objects, all but one of which were first presented in other contexts. Once home to Napoleon and the king of Naples, the palace’s cavernous salons were inhabited by seventy anachronistic specters, most of them posing, in typical Sehgalian fashion, as guards.

Arriving on the late side, I rushed around to see all the works, which would disappear Cinderella-like at an appointed hour. If it weren’t for the crowd blocking the door to one room, I would have tripped over the woman writhing on the floor in Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things, a piece that apparently comprises an anthology of gestures borrowed from videos by Bruce Nauman and Dan Graham. In this context, she resembled more than anything the paintings of female nudes and the white marble Venus by Pompeo Marchesi, reclining on a divan.

Just outside of the room where Selling Out was in progress, I encountered Graham himself, who was in Milan for the opening of his new pavilion, Sagitarian Girls, at Galleria Francesca Minini. Pushed into a corner by an attentive crowd, nubile young female and male guards took turns sinuously stripping out of their uniforms and then putting them back on against a cold backdrop of richly colored marble and brilliantly buffed parquet floors. In a long glass case along the adjacent corridor, a lineup of Medardo Rosso’s waxy sculptures seemed to be shifting shapes in solidarity. But it was the stylish Italian spectators—strictly prohibited by the artist, as usual, from photographing the fleeting vignettes—that made for the most fascinating subjects.

Left: Emilio Re Rebaudengo and collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Right: Collector Gemma Testa, Dan Graham, and critic Maurizio Bartolotti.


For This is so contemporary—which famously debuted at the German pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale—the original players were recruited to perform again, flitting around a room whose very uncontemporary artworks had been removed so as not to confuse the crowd. The work’s rehashing here only emphasized how well suited the scenario was to its original white-cube space, where the long line to get in provided much of the drama. (In addition to cramped legs, bitter grumbling, etc.) As I entered the room knowing full well what the silly guards would do, I found myself flinching as they hopped and lunged around me lilting the insipid phrase “This is so contemporary, contemporary, contemporary!” It’s difficult to convey the full sense of the tableaux vivants. At best, a picture would just show a middle-aged guard with hands raised in imitation of a bird in flight—which, well, may be a decent summary of the experience. An image of the spectators’ perplexed expressions might be equally evocative.

Kiss, the only other piece that I had witnessed previously, was lovely here—resonating as it did with a sensuous statue of an embracing Amor and Psyche in a nearby corridor. The work’s repetitive quality was suited to the opulent ballroom in which it was staged, which was missing only chairs along the periphery for vying dance partners.

A motley group of guards milling around in the final rooms clearly signaled that they were the “interpreters” of the show’s single premiere, This is critique, in which interlocutors are encouraged to engage in discussion about the exhibition (recalling Sehgal’s interactive piece on the art market in the 2005 Venice pavilion). For better or worse, Sehgal promises that this is the last time his collaborators will be disguised as museum guards; one presumes that docents are still fair game. A local schoolteacher approached me and implored, “If you are a critic, then you must say critical things about the artist’s work!” Performance anxiety ensued. Luckily, at that moment Gioni came by to announce that the museum was closed, cutting me off before I could open my mouth.

Left: Dealer Francesca Minini and artist Lorenzo Scotto di Luzio. Right: Artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss.


An intimate dinner party followed at the chic Trussardi alla Scala, just opposite the city’s famous opera house. An onslaught of artful and delicious dishes, each one better than the last, was delivered on little plates: crème fraîche cannoli tipped with caviar, foie gras sautéed in beer, mozzarella with tomato gelatin, polenta with cheese and white truffle sauce, apple cream with tonka beans, and pumpkin risotto to match the sleek space’s warm color. Gioni’s partner, Cecilia Alemani, in Italy this fall to work on Artissima and the “Italics” show at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi, showed up looking stunning in black with gold-trimmed pumps, while the understated and charming collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo attended with her son Emilio, who sported a cheerful plaid blazer, accenting his spiky red hair.

The “interpreters” of the exhibition seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, amiably chatting about the side effects of the undertaking. Philosopher and musician Andrea Labanca said they were given four-point improvisational guidelines during the intensive discussions with Sehgal leading up to the show, but the man from This Occupation noted coyly that he had been ordered not to give details. In addition to reuniting the performers from Venice, the exhibition also happily brought together former local acquaintances. Trussardi production manager Barbara Roncari said she was pleasantly surprised to run into her favorite high school teacher, who was one of the guards in the new piece. Meanwhile, the thirty-two-year-old artist himself, dressed casually in cool Berliner fashion, was served a specially prepared individual menu by his own personal waiter. For all his attention to the immaterial, Sehgal obviously does not leave the finer things in life up to chance.

Cathryn Drake

Left: Amor and Psyche. Right: Interpreter Andrea Labanca, Trussardi's Barbara Roncari, and Massimo De Carlo's Elena Tavecchia.


Turin About

Turin
11.17.08

Left: Turin Triennial curator Daniel Birnbaum with artist Paul Chan. Right: Artist Mika Tajima. (Unless otherwise noted, all photos: Kyle Bentley)


THAT EVERYONE WOULD SOON TIRE of those baggy exhibitions and themes, those endless fairs and “satellite projects,” was predictable. That their attitude would shift right around when the market did was predictable too. What was hard to foresee was that the market shift would produce a tidal wave bringing an electoral landslide for Barack Obama and then a dopamine flood overcoming the art world, significantly softening the economic blow. Some new words one heard at the second Torino Triennale (known as T2, like Judgment Day) and the fifteenth Artissima fair were manageable, sustainable, and realistic, and the relief with which even dealers exhaled them seemed surprisingly genuine, if inextricable from a heady moment.

I got the election news obliquely, in brief dispatches. I had voted Tuesday morning; flown out late that afternoon on Air France, and learned of the winner, around 7 AM Paris time, from an onboard announcement; caught glimpses of confetti on TV monitors at Charles de Gaulle; scanned front pages of day-old newspapers, expecting, with the confusion of temporal displacement, that they would register news that was actually still breaking; and found that, on landing in Turin, I could only drop my bags at the hotel before heading to the Promotrice delle Belle Arti, one of three triennial venues, for the press conference.

White House details quickly percolated into that Neoclassical palazzo. The people there, few American, at least by birth, compared numbers, fact-checked on iPhones, tilted screens displaying mostly blue maps toward one another. Dopamine levels remained high despite the tone of the surrounding show, called “50 Moons of Saturn,” which pulls works into orbit around that mythically melancholic rock. Perhaps sensing the dissonance, Daniel Birnbaum, the show’s curator, reminded the audience that first morning: “Melancholy is not depression; it’s about transformation, and the world is right now transforming rather radically . . . it’s very much about creativity and producing new things.” (The show itself is a transmutation of Birnbaum’s first book, written with Anders Olsson and recently translated into English: As a Weasel Sucks Eggs: An Essay on Melancholy and Cannibalism.)

Left: Dealer Chantal Crousel with collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Right: Dealer Alexander Gray.


The Promotrice held the most focused of the three presentations. There were flaming Wade Guytons; weird Gert and Uwe Tobiases; Jordan Wolfson’s film Untitled False Document, a conceptual feedback loop. The next venue on the tour was the Fondazione Sandretto, owned by compact Turin collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and featuring for the triennial a Paul Chan minisurvey, not particularly fresh for many visitors but probably more so for local audiences (it was apparently the artist’s first such show in Italy). Sandretto Re Rebaudengo happily talked with guests despite a voice hoarse, she strained out, “from shouting ‘Obama!’”

By the third venue, the grand Castello di Rivoli (which held, in addition to a group show, the triennial’s other big solo project, a light installation by Olafur Eliasson), the wall texts were beginning to jumble: “subjective experience,” “cultural identity,” “religion,” “personal history and historical memory.” “Constructed” and “reworked.” “Wittgenstein” and “Lacan.” On reading that “the attempt to restore meaning to a fluctuating existence is concretized in the objectivized presence of the works exhibited,” I decided to pack up.

It was Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo who had the party that night. There were official opening receptions at the triennial venues, but many people skipped those for quick cosmetic reparations in hotel rooms, showing up at the collector’s palazzo and spilling through a foyer decorated with Maurizio Cattelans, into a side room with Matthew Barneys and a Fiona Tan, and into a sala da pranzo with Allan McCollums. The Vanity Fair photographers were as pushy as ever. “Check out the pool downstairs,” Paul Chan side-mouthed to me. I did; it was triangular. Dinner for three hundred followed under the tent in the garden. It was molto Italiano: many courses, perhaps cooked, in part, by the hostess’s mother (who has apparently helped out at such events before). But the gathering was for extended relations too; a government figure, for example, brought two women, one blonde and one brunette, neither his wife, their tanned skin richly made up, and their style running more to spike heels than to mink stoles.

Left: Artist Piero Golia; Charlotte Laubard, director of the CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art, Bordeaux; and Artissima director Andrea Bellini. Right: Domus director Flavio Albanese.


The next morning, the triennial gave way to Artissima, which is not to say melancholy gave way to cannibalism (an activity often associated with art fairs). The fair, in fact, was so well selected and relaxed that it hardly resembled the blind consumptive beast we have come to expect in recent years. Often noted was the “curation,” not “direction,” of Andrea Bellini, then in his second year of organizing the event, and perhaps, he mentioned, his second to last. (Domus director Flavio Albanese speculated that Bellini might move on to a post at the Castello di Rivoli.) In addition to gallery booths (128 of them, a downsize from last year’s 131, which itself had been a significant downsize from the prior year’s 172), the fair had some small, curated projects, including a section devoted to young Italian artists without gallery representation; a retrospective of photographs by Paolo Mussat Sartor, documentarian of artists (most significantly those of Turin’s homegrown movement, arte povera); and an exhibition of work by young artists, such as Carter Mull, Stephen G. Rhodes, and Sara Barker, whose dealers were all invited to participate at a discount.

Bellini strolled the aisles in his blue suit and a tie by Jack Emerson, local kingpin of menswear. He mentioned that the fair, when it had around two hundred galleries, “was shit” and that the city representatives had come to him saying, “We don’t care about money; make it good, make it a cultural event.” The curatorial and more outwardly commercial forces work together in the fair, Bellini argued, as they have throughout art for centuries. “Giotto was a superstar,” he said. “Like the Jeff Koons of his time. He was a motherfucker—all those girls!”

Left: Dealer James Fuentes. Right: Artists Carter Mull and Mateo Tannatt.


But what about the dealers. “Usually,” claimed Francesco Stocchi, “they won’t talk to you if it’s sell, sell, sell. They’re, like, curators? Not today. But now?” Those in booths did seem happy to talk at length about their artists, when not twirling their pens or spacing out. Alexander Gray, in from New York, said that he welcomed the more relaxed pace and that people were in fact still buying. “This is the future,” he said. “The niche fair. No more developing, no more speculation.” The fair was in rich dialogue with Turin’s established art collectors, who, one visitor noted, were known for supporting “difficult work” (and for returning on the last day to haggle). Nascent New York dealer James Fuentes had come, he said, to establish roots in the fertile area rather than to sell out his booth. “Meet just one collector and it’s worth the trip.”

One gallery worker, pointing to the white walls, which were a good deal higher this year, noted: “Andrea wanted to build an art city,” and it seemed he had. I imagine the walls are actually high enough to dam the flood.

Kyle Bentley

No Guarantees

New York
11.14.08

Left: April Richon Jacobs, cohead of the evening sale; Robert Manley, head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie's; Brett Gorvy, international cohead of postwar and contemporary art; and Amy Cappellazzo, international cohead of postwar and contemporary art. Right: Dealer Emmanuel Perrotin and collector Adam Lindemann. (All photos: David Velasco)


WHAT DOES A COLLECTOR SAY when he has no money to spend? “This art is terrible.” But Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on Wednesday was one of the auction house’s best in terms of artistic content. After Sotheby’s had averted an art-market free fall the night before, dealers and collectors entered Rockefeller Center with a shot glass of hope. As art adviser Sandy Heller found his aisle seat, he said, “All asset classes are being repriced. Art is no different, but I think the great things will sell.”

Salma Hayek stood statuesquely in François Pinault’s skybox, while John McEnroe peered out from the window of dealer Bill Acquavella’s. After Christopher Burge’s gracious “Ladies and gentleman . . .” the first eight lots stumbled along. With the exception of a 1961 Tom Wesselman pastel (which made a record for a work on paper by the artist) and a 2007 Subodh Gupta painting (which failed to sell), the works all sold for less than their low estimates. Lot 9, Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (710), however, defied expectations when it commanded $14.9 million. Richters haven’t performed well at auction of late, but this “wealth of oils,” as it was described in the catalogue, caught more than one bidder’s attention.

Lots 15 through 17 were Louise Bourgeois sculptures—Spider V in cast bronze, Untitled (with Foot No. 2) in pink marble, and High Heels in fabric and metal—from a “Distinguished Private European Collection.” While the awkward marble sold below its estimate, the iconic domestic-scale spider and the sexy steel-heeled form sold within estimate to London-based Swiss dealer Iwan Wirth.

Lot 18 was a shallow Joseph Cornell cabinet with a mirrored back containing shells, powders, a butterfly wing, and other curios. Titled Pharmacy, the 1943 work anticipated Damien Hirst. Once owned by Pierre Matisse and “Teeny” Duchamp, the thoughtfully assembled object attracted hands all over the room and sold for $3.8 million, a world auction record for the artist.

Left: Art adviser Allan Schwartzman. Center: Collectors Jason Rubell, Michelle Rubell, and Don Rubell. Right: Collector Eli Broad (left).


Next up was the cover lot, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Boxer)—a strong image of black victory from 1982 given added luster by Obama’s election win. Consigned by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, the canvas sold to a collector on the phone with Brett Gorvy for a muscular $13.5 million. The Basquiat was one of four works bought by paddle number 1757, including Adolph Gottlieb’s Parallels, Yves Klein’s IKB 234, and Franz Kline’s Mars Black and White for a grand total of $22.8 million. The lineup of works suggested a new big spender who was keen to have one of each. When I nabbed Gorvy after the sale for clues about the nationality of the buyer, he said amusedly, “It’s no one you know!”

Lot 20, Yayoi Kusama’s 1959 “infinity net” painting, offered nostalgic drama when it prompted an old-fashioned, bull-market bidding war between dealers Bob Mnuchin and Philippe Ségalot. Burge had fun eliciting higher bids, at one point saying, “Surprise me, sir!” to Mnuchin. When Ségalot’s bidder stalled with momentary indecision, Mnuchin chided Burge, “I might lose it if you take too long.” When Ségalot took the bidding to $4.9 million, Burge cajoled, “Brave move, that.” In the end, Ségalot won the work for $5.7 million (with premium), resulting in an auction record for Kusama and making the work one of the most expensive by a living woman artist. The seventy-nine-year-old Kusama lives in an asylum near her studio in Tokyo. “The painting had it all,” said Ségalot, who, along with his business partner Franck Giraud, was active in the sale; together, they bought a total of five lots. “It was beautiful, early, large, and rare,” he added. “It once belonged to Donald Judd. It was the dream masterpiece.”

For a dizzy moment, one might have imagined it was May 2007—but then the minibubble burst. Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale (Festa sul Canal Grande) and Francis Bacon’s Study for Self-Portrait—both so expensive that their estimates were only available “on request”—failed to sell. According to the catalogue, neither was guaranteed by the house, but a virulent rumor suggests that the consignor of the Bacon is livid over the fact that he may have been deprived of a guarantee (an undisclosed sum promised to the seller regardless of the outcome of the sale), which didn’t go through because of a technicality in the paperwork.

Left: Auctioneer Christopher Burge during the sale. Right: Dealers Lucy Mitchell-Innes and David Nash.


The Bacon was followed by nine near-consecutive flops, and the auction turned ugly. By the time Burge announced the sixteen “master drawings” well known to be the property of Richard Fuld, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers, and his wife, Kathy, a trustee at the Museum of Modern Art, the reality of the greater economic world had entered the room like a herd of elephants. Back in July, the Fulds received a guarantee of $20 million. Tonight, the group of works, which included a stunning 1951 de Kooning Woman with remarkable “wall power,” as well as drawings by Arshile Gorky, Barnett Newman, and Agnes Martin, sold for $13.5 million. Perhaps more than any other, this consignment signaled the decline, if not the death, of auction-house guarantees.

Later, in a packed press conference, Christie’s press agent Milena Sales announced that the total result was $113.6 million—half of the sale’s presale low estimate—and drew our attention to the four gravity-defying artist record prices: Cornell, Kusama, Robert Irwin (for Untitled, 1963–64), and Paul McCarthy (for his fantastic bronze Michael Jackson Fucked Up [Big Head], which fetched $2.2 million).

Deputy chairman Amy Cappellazzo went with the upbeat message: “Considering people are hoarding cash right now, it was an amazing show of spending.” At the back of the room, Burge told me, “Since the 1950s, the art market has seen steady growth, with cyclical downturns in 1968–69, 1974, 1981, 1991, a minislump in 2001, and now late 2008. It tends to take the same path as the luxury real estate market.” Christie’s CEO Ed Dolman described the current economic environment as “mind-boggling” and likened the art business to “playing football on a very muddy field,” adding, “You need to interpret results in light of the environment in which you’re operating.”

In general, the Christie’s people looked relieved that the auction was over. As a press-pack colleague quipped, “Better to have the bloodshed behind you.” However, with heads rolling all over Manhattan, including Chelsea, the year ahead will no doubt require a refined sense of gallows humor.

Bare Market

New York
11.12.08

Left: Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art. Right: Designer Valentino. (Photos: David Velasco)


WHEN TOBIAS MEYER asked the crowd to take their seats at Sotheby’s on Tuesday night, the room quickly fell into uncommon silence. A thousand people in the room and you could hear a diamond cuff link drop. The art-market elite that attends the ticketed contemporary evening sales had been waiting, worrying, and imagining the worst. As one collector told me before the auction, “This is the downturn of the upper class. The second-home market is completely paralyzed. Even if people have money, will they want to be seen spending it on art?”

One didn’t have to hang around for long to discover that demand for a sexy picture that pushed the right buttons was “strong” and probably “hard.” Lot 4, John Currin’s delectable painting of two nude women touching each other uncertainly (as if they needed a man to tell them what to do), was consigned by Los Angeles collector Dean Valentine. Given that a Currin work had never surpassed the million-dollar mark at auction, many were skeptical that the canvas, titled Nice ’N Easy, would reach its estimated $3.5 to $4.5 million. However, three bidders went into battle, and a young woman from client services, Felicitas Rutt, won the lot for nearly $5.5 million, a record for the artist. For whom might she have been bidding? Perhaps her father-in-law—collector and Art in America owner Peter Brant.

Lot 5 was more typical of the “corrective” order of the evening. Jeff Koons’s Wishing Well, a quintessential example of late-'80s “boom art,” was part of a package of works consigned by London dealer Anthony d’Offay. Rumored to be guaranteed for over $4.5 million but eventually given the rather lower estimate of $2.5 to $3.5 million, the gold mirror fetched only $1,850,000 hammer ($2.2 million with the buyer’s premium), despite the underbidding of Larry Gagosian.

Left: Dealer Philippe Ségalot. Center: Collector Leigh Potts with art advisor Mark Fletcher. Right: Dealer David Zwirner. (Photos: David Velasco)


Eli Broad, a major player who had, last year, been vociferously warning others about the overheated market, picked up the bling “bargain.” With prices plunging, the billionaire property developer was on a collecting spree. By the end of the evening, he’d acquired a large orange Judd stack, a teeny 1955 Rauschenberg, and a Ruscha canvas emblazoned with DESIRE—a favorite art-world word—for a total purchase of $8.4 million.

“Is greed winning out over fear?” muttered Marion Maneker, the publisher of artmarketmonitor.com, from the press pack. “It sure looks like the old pros have backed up the truck and are making a quick getaway.”

The most expensive work of the evening, Yves Klein’s Archisponge (RE11), 1960, rolled out at Lot 12. Estimated in the region of $25 million, it went for a very respectable $21 million to a highflier on the telephone with Sotheby’s “Imp & Mod” man, Charlie Moffett. Whoever purchased the blue bas-relief also bought Cy Twombly’s Untitled (A Painting in Two Parts) (Bassano in Teverina) for $4.8 million, a figure that hit home within the vague ballpark estimate of $4 million to $6 million. One dealer thought this was just lucky. “With many of these wide-range estimates,” he said, “the auction house might as well have said, ‘Fuck me, we haven’t got a clue what it’s worth in this economy.’”

Left: Sotheby's Oliver Barker, Anthony Grant, and Grégoire Billaut. (Photo: Sarah Thornton) Right: Dealer Alberto Mugrabi. (Photo: David Velasco)


Lot 30, Philip Guston’s Beggar’s Joys, a pink and red AbEx canvas from 1954–55, represented the paradoxes of the current art market more succinctly than any other work in the sale. Best known for his figurative late work, Guston has his early piece pitched by Sotheby’s specialists as a “connoisseur’s piece”—auction-house parlance for an uncommercial work, which can sometimes be interpreted as code for “We’re gonna take a bath on it.” Rumor had it that MoMA trustee Donald Bryant had received a guarantee of $18 million—a careless sum given that the previous auction record for a Guston was only $7.3 million and Beggar’s Joys was rare but not a full-fledged signature work. In the end, the painting sold for $9 million hammer (or just over $10 million with premium) to San Francisco–based art adviser Mary Zlot.

Despite two lots that exceeded their high estimates (Currin’s “lesbians” and Alexander Calder’s elegant black monochrome Deux Dates mobile) and three record highs for individual artists (Currin again, Guston, and Richard Serra), the sale bore witness to the fact that Sotheby’s estimates had been set “when the world was a different place.” Moreover, the sixty-three-lot auction totaled $125 million, well below last May’s $362 million result. Twenty works failed to find a buyer—resulting in the lowest percentage of sales by lot in a multiple-owner contemporary evening auction at Sotheby’s since November 1994.

Still, the mood was remarkably upbeat. Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s debonair London auctioneer, explained: “Nonsensational markets, like Calder, are stable. We’re back to 2006 prices, and a situation where price is no longer dictating the reception of the work.”

On the way out of the salesroom, I saw Brant in a jubilant huddle with dealers Irving Blum and Tony Shafrazi. Brant made a remark about triple-A bonds, while Blum stated with relief, “It was not a disaster.” Shafrazi exclaimed, “When you consider the state of General Motors, it was an excellent sale . . . really excellent!”

Left: Collector Peter Brant, dealer Tony Shafrazi, and collector Michael Ovitz. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Sotheby's Alex Rotter. (Photo: Sarah Thornton)


Blue Note

New Orleans
11.10.08

Left: Artist Kalup Linzy. Right: Prospect.1 biennial curator Dan Cameron with jazz vocalist Germaine Bazzle. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)


ON HALLOWEEN WEEKEND, three years after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, the streets of New Orleans embraced a new kind of flood, one of tourists from New York and Los Angeles besotted with art.

Joined by a number of local enthusiasts, they formed the legion of VIPs who arrived for the opening of Prospect.1, the first New Orleans biennial. This exhibition, the inspiration of former New Museum curator Dan Cameron, features eighty-one different projects in art venues and public spaces all over town. That makes it the largest such exhibition ever in the United States. Supplemented by homegrown shows in galleries, derelict cottages, and abandoned lots, it took the weekend’s spectators into neighborhoods far beyond the forced hoopla of Bourbon Street and into the Big Easy’s wounded soul.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am right now,” Cameron told the several hundred faithful who showed up at the W Hotel on Thursday night, October 30, to greet visiting artists like Tony Oursler, Josephine Meckseper, Fred Tomaselli, Isaac Julien, and Wangechi Mutu. New Orleans collectors Charlie and Kent Davis, philanthropist Alexa Georges, Global Green CEO and architect Matt Petersen, New Museum director Lisa Phillips, private adviser Sandy Heller, and Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu were also among those toasting the cultural—and economic—resurgence that Cameron was hoping to spark.

Left: Artist Mark Bradford. Right: Artist Robert Tannen.


“Outsiders who come here to help don’t understand that we play by different rules,” said a friend who has spent her life in New Orleans, where unique intersections between politics, race, class, and corruption make for a particularly heady brew. Cameron, now also the resident visual-arts director of the local Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), was determined to prove the exception. “Can New Orleans gain economic salvation through cultural tourism?” he asked.

That was the $3.2 million question—that being the amount of cash it took to get Prospect.1 on its feet. No one expected the answer to be quick in coming, not in a city that often clings to the nineteenth century (including the old Napoleonic Code), its tragic flaw as well as the source of its charm.

Thursday, the first of two Prospect.1 vernissage days, was also the opening of KK Projects’s parallel show of site-specific installations in the blighted Eighth Ward neighborhood known as Saint Roch. Cocktails were served in the Bakery, a gallery where New Yorker Peter Nadin had sunk a number of terra-cotta sculptures—many of them enlargements of Michelangelo’s nose—in a large pool of black honey. Drawn to the garden by the Elysian sound of the James Singleton String Quartet, I pressed my nose to the glass of a completely derelict cottage, where New Orleanian artist Dawn DeDeux was placing a Mathmos-like cloud, fluorescent-green glass tiles inscribed with hurricane-shaped spirals, over the dirt floor.

Left: Sotheby's Lisa Dennison. Right: Creative Time curator Nato Thompson with artist Robert Green.


The Bakery is one of six decrepit spaces that KK Projects proprietor Kirsha Kaechele, a sunny transplant from Los Angeles by way of Guam, has acquired on Villere Street, fortuitously bounded by streets with the names Arts and Music. Bending to peepholes drilled through the plank walls of one wreck, a barnlike former package store, I watched two Oursler videos projected large on what remained of the far walls. Each featured some of the spunky neighbors who still live around there, rapping or singing and making their post-Katrina presence in this eerie place known.

Later, during dinner at Herbsaint on Saint Charles Avenue with Creative Time director Anne Pasternak and curator Nato Thompson, I learned from artist and Printed Matter director AA Bronson, in town to conduct a midnight Saturday séance with actor Peter Hobbs in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, that historically a disproportionate number of psychics have been gay.

Everyone in New Orleans seemed queer on Halloween night, even the seven hundred bewigged and costumed art types who showed up for Prospect.1’s French Quarter benefit at Antoine’s, established in 1840. Sotheby’s Lisa Dennison made her spunky horns visible in a red-devil gown that made even more sense when she donned a MISS ALASKA sash and smiled for the paparazzi. New Orleans Museum of Art curator Bill Fagaly dragged out his old dalmatian suit, and collector Dianne Ackerman seemed to rise from the floor in the Wonder Woman outfit she had found that day in a Mardi Gras shop on Decatur Street. (“I got a wardrobe for the weekend in just a couple of hours,” she touted.)

Left: Uma Thurman and Taya Thurman. Right: Collector Dianne Ackerman.


During a considerable service lull in the ten-course tasting menu, bandleader Glen David Andrews and the Lazy Six moved over two floors and fourteen dining rooms, raising a napkin-waving, chair-dancing ruckus in one upstairs room, while across the hall, Cameron and Toby Devan Lewis, Sanford Biggers and Jack Shainman, Fred Tomaselli and James Cohan, Julie Mehretu and Christian Haye, John Pilson and Tony Fitzpatrick, Amy Sillman and Brent Sikkema, Marcel Odenbach and Kathy Goncharov, were only a few of the odd couples scattered throughout. Elsewhere, two skinhead dancers in formal white performed balletic turns in the aisles between long tables seating Beth Rudin DeWoody and Randy Polumbo, New Orleans City councilmember at large Jacqueline Clarkson (introducing herself as the mother of actress Patricia Clarkson), and hometowners such as dealer Howard Read and artists Jacqueline Humphries, Lynda Benglis, and Robert Tannen.

Conversations veered between the art in Prospect.1 and the approaching presidential election. (Obama signs peppered lawns all over town.) Most people picked the Lower Ninth installations (by Mutu, Mark Bradford, and Nari Ward, among others) as the knockout location on the art tour. Bradford’s enormous ark, made of plywood boards papered with peeling advertisements from Los Angeles walls loomed over an empty plain where homes once stood, surrounded by lots still marked by concrete foundation blocks that eerily resembled crumbling tombstones. Near Leandro Erlich’s lone window perched high on a ladder like a triumphant fist, the hideous wreckage of a Katrina-battered house gave mute testimony to the once-broken levee behind it.

Some of us wondered whether this high-risk floodplain wouldn’t be put to better use as rice paddies or farms or parks for music festivals, especially with housing available in uptown neighborhoods above sea level. Perhaps the artworks, scattered hither and yon amid streets with bittersweet names like Forstall and (egad) Flood, made the contrast between leveling nature and “civilizing” art and architecture starker. Robin Rhode’s Duchampian turn put a geyser of a fountain inside a former public toilet, in a single gesture underscoring the power of water to both give life and take it.

Left: William Fagaly, curator at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Right: Artist Robin Rhode.


Just as profound, but in a more upbeat kind of way, were the works on view at the Studio at the Charles J. Colton School, a P.S. 1–style free studio and art-education program set up by Tannen and his wife, Jeanne Nathan, who also founded the Warehouse District’s CAC after relocating from New York in the late ’70s. Cai Guo-Qiang had hung a light display from the auditorium ceiling and Jose Damasceno outlined an impressive calculator on the floor of one room with pieces of chalk. But it was more enlightening to talk to resident artists like Eliza Zeitlin, whose assemblage of salvage and puppets exploding from an old hearse had previously served as a barge sailing Lake Pontchartrain in her brother Benh’s recent film, Glory at Sea. Michelle Levine related how she depicted Katrina’s toll on Louisiana by making portraits of all the McDonald’s signs around the state damaged by the storm, and Tatsuo Miyajima explained how the LED numbers blinking on the hivelike stones of his Pile Up Life Project are counting the fourteen hundred people said to have died in the disaster.

With these and many more artworks on my mind, I left Antoine’s and (literally) piled into a limo with dealer David Maupin, T magazine editor Stefano Tonchi, artist Anton Ginzburg, Kaechele, and other friends and drove through streets alive with Halloween revelers. We stopped briefly by the party of ghouls drinking champagne at developer Sean Cummings’s historic Esplanade Avenue mansion—formerly the studios where music legend Allen Toussaint recorded Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, U2, and various New Orleanian musicians like Ernie K. Doe, the Neville Brothers, and Lee Dorsey.

Left: Artist Eliza Zeitlin and filmmaker Benh Zeitlin. Right: Artist Sanford Biggers.


After a personal tour of Cummings’s sleek bachelor quarters upstairs, it was on to KK Projects’s outdoor performances and installations in a Bywater brickyard. Walking it was as close as I’ve come to an Owsley-strength acid trip in years. Fabulous. As I peered around in the darkness, people or artworks would suddenly appear, each a new cause for wonder, including a mirror-sided shack by Elliot Coon, seemingly set ablaze by a snaking pit of gas-fueled fire passing by it, AdrinaAdrina’s astonishing four-poster bed made from a block of ice that was lit from within, and the pièce de résistance, a submersive environment by Homemade Parachutes, a New Orleans collective, in an old molasses factory that bore more than a passing resemblance to the horror-film classic House of Wax. We stayed late.

The next day, artist Mel Chin opened his SafeHouse on Villere Street with a press conference announcing Operation Paydirt, a far-reaching art and science project to rid American cities of lead-polluted soil, of which New Orleans has a great concentration. The cleanup will cost at least three hundred million dollars, and to pressure Congress into allocating the money, Chin plans to collect three million hundred-dollar bills drawn by school children across the country and take them to the Capitol in an armored car bought for that purpose.

After that, I hit as many Prospect.1 and other local venues as possible. I started with Linzy’s film at NOMA, then took in installations at the CAC by Candice Breitz, Mehretu, Meckseper, and Cao Fei, before setting off for Skylar Fein’s re-creation of a NOLA gay bar (the site of a fatal fire), the Sally Mann show at the Ogden Museum, the Jim Richard painting show at Arthur Roger Gallery, and the Pilson and Fitzpatrick works at the Jazz and Heritage Center. Finally, it was time for KK Projects’s Ritual Feast, where I found Uma Thurman and her half sister, Taya (daughter of art patron and designer Christophe de Menil), among the three hundred guests awaiting the dinner gong at the three-hundred foot-long, pierlike table designed by DeDeaux, which took up the length of the block.

Left: Collectors Charlie and Kent Davis. Right: Dealer James Cohan.


The food, prepared by Michelin three-star chef Rocky Barnette, was served on thick, communal platters sliced from a long-leafed pine-tree trunk, one for every four people. I sat down with Howard Read and his wife, Katja, Art + Commerce co-owner Anne Kennedy, Brant Publications editorial director Glenn O’Brien, and Company Agenda’s Gina Nanni. Forced to eat with our fingers from one plate, the meal, interminably slow in coming from the mobile kitchen parked at the corner, proved the downside of glamour, at once demonstrating the necessity of sharing in the face of disaster and the self-serving generosity of carpetbagging. The paltry dinner was not enough to keep us on our benches, and between courses we had time to drive over to Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club a few blocks away to catch Linzy’s rousing performance with a New Orleans pickup band, organized for Prospect.1 attendees by the Art Production Fund.

Backed by the band, whose members (I heard) were not expecting a strapping male singer in a glittering silver unitard, Linzy had everyone in the club on their feet during a finale that began with the artist’s own “Asshole” and ended with James Brown’s “Please Please Please” and Ike and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” “Tonight, we put our hands together for Kalup Linzy!” shouted the MC. “Tuesday night, for Barack Obama!” That brought down the house.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Michelle Levine. Right: Dealer Emi Fontana and artist Monica Bonvicini.


Wrinkle in Time

Berlin
11.06.08

Left: Dealers Friedrich Petzel and Gisela Capitain. Right: Artist Candice Breitz, Kunsthalle Berlin director Thomas Eller, and Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit. (Photo: Ralf Kranert)


IF MOVIES ARE TO BE BELIEVED, each of life’s junctures deserves a sound track. So it seems worth noting that last week, during the various openings and affairs coinciding with Art Forum Berlin, I often found myself humming Blur’s “Out of Time.” (“To watch the world spinning gently out of time . . .”) Most of the events were oddly out of sync. Last Tuesday night, at the preview of the temporary kunsthalle, a “cube” on the Schlossplatz designed by Austrian architect Adolf Krischanitz, everyone kept asking whether they had been invited to the wrong event. Local hero Wolfgang Tillmans was there, normally a surefire sign that this was the place to be, but otherwise the building was oddly empty. The other burning question was why Candice Breitz had chosen to break her exhibition up into two parts, with the second half debuting at the end of November. (Perhaps she hadn’t finished the work in time?)

That same night, Vik Muniz opened his first German solo show at Arndt & Partner, exhibiting photographs of iconic artworks (such as Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #7 and John Baldessari’s What Is Painting?) re-created in unusual materials. Most compelling were his re-creations, from pure pigment, of works from seminal series like Lucio Fontana’s “Spatial Concepts” and Andy Warhol’s “Oxidation Paintings.” Muniz took a moment to note his most recent guilty pleasure: Looking at photos of dealers at art fairs to see if any were wearing the “McCain smile” (aka grinning while they’re losing).

Left: Artists Malcolm McLaren and Jim Lambie. Right: Artist Jeff Koons. (Photo: Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie)


The big opening on Wednesday night was Jeff Koons at Max Hetzler. The echt-American artist, who was also preparing an exhibition to open the following night at the Neue Nationalgalerie, appears to be storming the continent, and here he presented new works from his series of pastiche pixelation paintings. The mood was eerie and ominous—as though everyone was bracing for the crash that had not yet hit. It was a stark contrast with the exhilaration one felt everywhere just last spring during Berlin Gallery Weekend. No McCain grins here, though—just Obama pins.

Afterward, I set off for the BMW dealership across town on Kurfürstendamm, where the “Friends of the Nationalgalerie” were presenting the short list for their young artist prize. (To be sure, no cars were exhibited—not even an “art car.”) The most emotional moment of the night came not when Joachim Jäger, interim head of the Neue Nationalgalerie, read the names of the four artists (Annette Kelm, Keren Cytter, Omer Fast, and Danh Vo), but when he thanked the crowd for leaving the Mitte art center and coming out to “old” West Berlin. At this point, the crowd, which was actually largely made up of the sort of West Berlin lawyers and dentists who compose the “Friends,” fluttered with local patriotism.

On Thursday, the week hit its stride with the opening of the Art Forum fair and the Koons and Paul Klee shows at Neue Nationalgalerie. At Art Forum, it was business as usual. Eigen + Art’s Judy Lybke explained his ideal fair schedule: Sell out on the first day (he was just short of it, still offering a few smaller paintings when I passed), tell everybody about it on the second day, redecorate on the third, and then sell out again. At Contemporary Fine Arts’s booth, I spotted artist Markus Lüpertz, and everyone was atwitter over Georg Herold’s caviar paintings, which one passerby labeled “über-Deutsch.” CFA’s Philipp Haverkampf was in good spirits. He reported a decrease in phone calls for a few days after the Dow’s first major drop in September, but now, “Things are back to busy.” My favorite instance of color coordination had to be Oliver Koerner von Gustorf of September, who sported a purple jumper to contrast with his booth’s fluorescent yellow walls. No surprise he went on to win one of the fair’s two awards for “best stand.”

Left: Neue Nationalgalerie interim director Joachim Jäger with artist Annette Kelm. Right: Artist Christian Philipp Mueller and dealer Christian Nagel.


From there I headed to the Neue Nationalgalerie for the opening of “Der Kult des Künstlers: Koons and Klee”—a veritable exercise in alliteration. Peter-Klaus Schuster, retiring director of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Nationalgalerie, has been staging a slate of exhibitions around the theme of the cult of the artist. The series—which has featured Beuys, Giacometti, Schinkel, Warhol, and now Klee and Koons—constituted something of a farewell gesture before he stepped down on October 31. (Perhaps “Cult of the Curator” would have been a more fitting title.) Sadly, the Koons show lacks the nerve of his exhibition at Versailles—and what is Koons sans controversy?

At the opening, Thaddaeus Ropac’s Arne Ehmann argued that, contra current wisdom, it was wise for collectors to buy art on credit. Ehmann advocated stocking up on Marc Brandenburg, but writer (and Koons expert) Rainald Goetz opted for a purple Koons egg instead. Time was running late, though (and the guards were getting nasty), so I set off for a dinner on behalf of the friendly arts organization Galerie im Regierungsviertel hosted by artist Tjorg Douglas Beer and Art Basel’s Maike Cruse. The pair had invited a lively mixture to their home. Beer cooked the meat himself, while I discussed the merits of anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner with Kunst-Werke’s Gabriele Horn and artist Ylva Ogland. Artist Andreas Golder kept jumping up to get more wine, and the night kept up a warm and happy pace until someone finally broke out the Williams Christ brandy.

Left: Artist Wolfgang Tillmans. Right: Architect Adolf Krischanitz, Eigen + Art's Judy Lybke, and Holger Nawrocki. (Photo: Ralf Kranert)


Friday night commenced with yet another string of must-see openings. At Julius Werner, Sigmar Polke presented his “Lens” paintings, delirious glops of paint over patchwork and “corrugated” surfaces; sadly, the eminent artist had canceled his attendance at the last minute. Across the street at Aurel Scheibler, Malcolm McLaren, who would never miss one of his own openings, could be found outside smoking a cigarette with artist Jim Lambie, while people crowded inside to see his “musical paintings”—slow-motion images sampled from ’60s amateur porn.

Farther east, on Karl-Marx-Allee, Gisela Capitain and Friedrich Petzel opened their joint venture, called, unsurprisingly, Capitain Petzel—a striking gallery located in a modernist complex built during the socialist era. For the inaugural exhibition, gallery artists were asked to react to both the era and the gallery’s premises. The place was packed, and it was almost impossible to see the art. Petzel kept murmuring that he didn’t know anyone and jokily threatened to lock himself in his office, but Capitain wouldn’t let him. The grandiose location seems almost from a different era, as it was so obviously designed before the crisis. The dinner filled the colonnaded French restaurant Borchardt. At my table, critic Noemi Smolik chatted with collector Udo Brandhorst, not about his forthcoming museum in Munich, but about soccer. Meanwhile, others compared the launches of über-galleries Sprüth Magers and Capitain Petzel. (Sprüth Magers, which debuted their Berlin branch a little over a week prior, features only one artist, Thomas Scheibitz, and is more in line with the classic architecture of the Museum Island.)

Afterward, I skipped Peres Projects’s Halloween bash and set off for the illegal club Ritter Butzke, where a throng of drunken artists, critics, and dealers had gathered for the launch of the latest issue of Monopol. For a moment, anyway, thoughts of the economy dissipated; no crisis here, neither at the bar, nor at the decks.

Daniel Boese

Left: Isabella Bortolozzi's Marta Lusena with artist Danh Vo. Right: Berlin Nationalgalerie director Udo Kittelmann, Katharina von Chlebowski, and art historian Lutz Driever.