Centre and Periphery

New York

Left: Choreographer Sally Silvers. Right: Phill Niblock. (All photos: David Velasco)

“I don’t know what 95 percent of you are doing,” admitted Katherine Liberovskaya, the Montreal-based video artist and organizer—sort of—of the forty-four poets, musicians, and filmmakers gathered to pay homage to the composer Phill Niblock on his seventy-fifth birthday. The slate of participants alone ensured a good turnout on a rainy Wednesday night at Anthology Film Archives, but if the evening’s master of ceremonies was befuddled, what hope did we, the audience, have? “This whole evening was kind of haphazard,” Liberovskaya said, laughing—the cost, evidently, of organizing on the down-low in an effort to hide an otherwise public event from said event’s honoree. (Impressively enough, Niblock only figured it out a week before, when he accidentally glimpsed a press release.)

Who better to ring in the coming financial apocalypse with than a crowd of artists who’ve survived Manhattan’s routine depredations for the better part of fifty years? Niblock, the man of the moment, arrived in SoHo roughly half a century ago, falling in with a demimonde that included filmmaker and choreographer Elaine Summers; together, the two founded the interdisciplinary arts space Experimental Intermedia, Niblock’s home base—and frequent literal home, at 224 Centre Street—for the past forty years. Niblock’s reputation is as a composer (“Phill is very involved with music,” an eighty-three-year-old Summers said wryly. “He wants to be sure you hear it”), and his process-based métier—minimalist, single tones, recorded discreetly and then layered gradually over time—gave the celebration its template.

Left: Choreographer and filmmaker Elaine Summers. Right: Musicians David Watson and Matt Welch.

“This piece is based on seventy-five e-mails Phill sent me last year,” noted the critic and curator Jozef Cseres, encapsulating the overall “tribute” approach, itself a blend of numerology, superstition, word games, blurry video footage, squawking feedback, and frequent audience incursions. “What kind of name is Niblock, anyway?” asked guitarist Alan Licht, performing via a cell phone held up to a mike by Anthology’s archivist, Andrew Lampert, who then staged a mock meltdown in response to Licht’s supposed absence. In fact, the ubiquitous Licht was in the lobby downstairs; surprisingly, this performance was one of two involving phone calls—the other featured the choreographer Sally Gross thanking Niblock for use of his 401(c)3 status on innumerable grant applications. New York–based composer Michaal J. Schumacher, for his part, went for outright satire: a slow-building series of microtonal, discrete sound samples of Schumacher chanting “Phill.” He encouraged the audience to sing along.

What it all added up to was a giant, benevolent in-joke, a laid-back recap of a lot of years in the trenches in an arts scene willfully ignorant of both booms—say, the real estate surge of the past two decades, which has presumably made the Centre Street loft space in which Niblock and his friends still perform the envy of brokers everywhere—and (oncoming) busts. “Back then, Phill wasn’t as dapper as he is now,” quipped the chorale composer Mary Jane Leach. “He used to wear a blue denim shirt, battered corduroys, and boots, all the time”— a fairly exact description, give or take a bolo tie and jeans, of what Niblock appeared to be wearing that very evening. The avalanche of work commissioned specifically for the event eventually coalesced into a portrait of the artist as a working man: Phill in cargo shorts, swatting flies and slicing salami (Peter Shapiro’s video Phlies), Phill looking serious, wielding a mouse, computer screen reflecting on his glasses (Alexandra Dementieva’s Phill and the Red Mouse), Phill fumblingly putting batteries into a microphone (Liberovskaya’s Movements of Phill Niblock Working), Phill counting stripes on a woman’s dress (Irina Danilova’s Phill Counting Stripes on Liberovskaya’s Dress), and so on. A person could be forgiven for assuming we’d wandered into a wake or a retirement party, not a celebration of a still-producing artist. Until, that is, the nostalgic, overstuffed, four-hour evening came to a close, leaving Niblock just enough time to set the record straight: “Thank you for coming. I think that’s enough.”

Zach Baron

Left: Poet Chris Mann. Right: Musicians Okkyung Lee and Alan Licht.

Show and Tel

Tel Aviv

Left: Art TLV curator Andrew Renton. Right: Walker curator Peter Eleey, MIT List curator Bill Arning, Whitney curator Shamim Momin, and consultant Maureen Sullivan. (All photos: Cathryn Drake)

In Israel especially, politics are never far from one’s mind. The day before I arrived in Tel Aviv for the first edition of the citywide art exhibition Art TLV, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned in the face of corruption charges. He punctuated his exit with a radical message, characterizing the aggressive Israeli defense strategy as shortsighted and arguing that a withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem was the only way to peace. “The time has come to say these things,” he said in an interview for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. “We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself.”

That first evening, the Monday before last, at a dinner party hosted by Rivka Saker—managing director of Sotheby’s Israel and founder of the nonprofit Artis, organizer of Art TLV—I heard a riveting talk by Ron Pundak, who briefly recounted the history of Israel and his inspiring activities as head of the Peres Center for Peace. “We all want peace,” he said. “It is the leaders who need to come around to the idea that a strong neighbor is beneficial for everyone.” The terrace, where dinner was served to mostly American guests, featured a stunning panoramic view of the city lights. Curators Bill Arning, Peter Eleey, Shamim Momin, and Manon Slome; Contemporary Jewish Museum director Connie Wolf; and Milanese dealer Francesca Kaufmann were in attendance, as was Ethan Bronner, the New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief.

Left: Artist Anish Kapoor, Susan Kapoor, and dealer Irit Sommer. Right: Mayor Ron Holdai and Eyal de Leeuw.

In addition to Tel Aviv’s recent designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (for its profusion of decaying Bauhaus architecture), next year the city will celebrate its centennial; roughly set to coincide with these events, this fledgling international contemporary-art exhibition is slated to become a biennial linked to the fall biennials in Athens and Istanbul. Curated by Andrew Renton, the main exhibition at the Helena Rubenstein Pavilion, titled “Open Plan Living,” was a statement on modern life featuring an impressive roster of international artists. As we arrived, I spotted the casually dressed mayor, Ron Huldai, rushing out the door. “You’re the mayor!” I said, to which he replied, “At least this week!” Ulrich Strothjohann’s corridor-shaped box, featuring a mirror on which had been scrawled SICK OF GOOD BUYS, cleverly punned on the 1978 photo by Robert Frank. Kathy Temin’s giant dollhouse, My House, was a self-portrait replete with a pink room dedicated to Kylie Minogue surrounded by furry, fantastic Dr. Seuss trees. Rosemarie Trockel and Thea Djordjadze’s dummy Limitation of Life depicted the cumulative effects of our lifestyle. Afterward, there was a party in the adjacent Yaacob garden with Jennifer West’s psychedelic Rainbow Party projected on the pavilion’s exterior wall.

The next day, I set off for the inauguration of Mekomon, an open-air events space set in a gutted apartment building on Rothschild Boulevard, an area flush with modernist buildings in the midst of gentrification. After the official proceedings, I took a walk down the leafy avenue with Eyal de Leeuw, former Israeli cultural attaché to the Netherlands; he told me he had just returned to Israel to find the country full of excitement after the difficult period during the 2006 war with Lebanon: “There is an electricity in the air now.” He explained that the only thing to do after a bomb goes off is to clean up—and party: “They call Tel Aviv the bubble between Gaza and Jerusalem. But it is a small country, so everything that happens affects everyone.”

Left: Connie Wolf, director of the Contemporary Jewish Museum; Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, director and chief curator of the Aspen Art Museum; and curator Dalia Levine. Right: Artist Kathy Temin.

A whirlwind tour of Jerusalem’s Old City followed: We visited the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Shrine of the Book (which hosts the Dead Sea Scrolls, contained in a spaceshiplike capsule that can descend into a vault in the event of an attack). At noon, we were bombarded by a cacophony of church bells and calls to prayer emanating from the loudspeakers of the muezzin. Finally, at the Israel Museum, we took refuge in the nondenominational spiritual respite of James Turrell’s sky room.

That evening, the Jerusalem Foundation’s Art Focus opened “Can Art Do More?,” an exhibition on the periphery of the city at the Banit Center. A headache-inducing sound piece greeted us as we entered the enormous open space, but the rest of the exhibition was a wondrous display of nicely paced installations. Some of us were mesmerized by Nira Pereg’s video Sabbath, a simple statement on the irony of divisions in the service of religion featuring a repetitive slapstick rendition of Orthodox men and boys dragging barriers across streets to block off their neighborhood on the eve of Shabbat. The opposite side of the space featured another darkly humorous take on walls and divisions: Rona Yefman’s Pippi Longstocking, the Strongest Girl in the World, at Abu Dis, in which a dolled-up Pippi with red braids sticking straight out tries fruitlessly to move aside a panel of the wall with her bare hands, while sympathetic Palestinian passersby attempt either to help or to advise her. Another big hit was Joe Scanlan’s DIY Dead on Arrival (Ann Lee), a do-it-yourself casket and two flower stands assembled from IKEA components.

Not unsurprisingly, borders, divisions, and barriers were the thematic underpinning to nearly every one of the exhibitions I visited. These tropes were particularly salient in “Panoramic Landscapes,” at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. There, Ron Amir’s series of photographs Jisr-Caesarea depicted a barrier erected by residents of a wealthy town at its boundary with the adjacent poor Arab village. In the courtyard was Santiago Sierra’s Arrangement of Twelve Prefabricated Parapets, a simple cement installation that demonstrates the impossibility of dividing territory.

Left: A performance at “Can Art Do More?” Right: Artists Rudi Sele and Adrian Paci.

At street level, one could sense a feeling of optimism, with talk of the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, becoming the second female prime minister of Israel (after Golda Meir). On Thursday in Tel Aviv, Paul McCartney performed his first concert in Israel. When he started to sing “Give Peace a Chance,” the crowd of forty thousand cheered and joined in. That evening, as we toured the art interventions in Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighborhood built outside of Jaffa, Beatles songs emanated from people’s homes. In a kindergarten classroom, artist Elyasaf Kowner played guitar and sang in front of his video projection Facing the Wishes, in which children’s faces were juxtaposed with their spoken desires, such as “That there would be no more wars,” “That everyone would be satisfied from what they have,” and “That all the family would be healthy and have livelihood and that’s it.”

If anachronistic, there was also something comforting about the retro-counterculture vibe. On Friday evening at sunset, I wandered down to the Mediterranean seafront and followed drumbeats to the abandoned Dolphinarium disco, site of the 2001 suicide bombing that killed twenty-one people. As I stood watching the drummers and free-form dancers, a young man named Judah turned and handed me a joint. That, combined with the sound of sea spray washing off the rocks, brought a sense of universal calm.

Cathryn Drake

Left: Artist Elyasaf Kowner. Right: Curator Manon Slome, Artis founder Rivka Saker, curator Ellen Ginton, and artist Itzhak Livneh.

Gang of Four


Left: Turner Prize curators Carolyn Kerr, Sophie O'Brien, and Helen Little. Right: Tate Britain director Stephen Deuchar. (Except where noted, all photos: Gareth Harris)

Perched on a table bearing mountains of crisps and orange-stuffed olives (the foulest canapé ever consumed at a private view), artist Fiona Banner delivered her verdict on this year’s Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain: “This is the new, improved, unembarrassing Turner Prize. Every artist gets their own space, and there’s a real discussion going on between the four selected.” She wasn’t the only former nominee at Monday’s opening ruminating over this year’s intelligent selection of work by Runa Islam, Cathy Wilkes, Goshka Macuga, and Mark Leckey (the odd man out on the woman-friendly short list). Cornelia Parker and Mike Nelson were spotted sizing up Wilkes’s provocative installation I give you all my money alongside past prizewinners Jeremy Deller and Mark Wallinger.

The towering 1994 victor, Antony Gormley, stood out in the gallery devoted to Leckey. Transfixed by the artist’s 2004 film Made in Eaven, Gormley underlined the “sophistication of the references to Brancusi and Duchamp” in Leckey’s quirky slide projections and models. “This is a reflection of art in our time because it’s all become surface,” Gormley explained. “You have to find a new way of looking to discover depth,” he helpfully added.

Upstairs, among the crowds gathered in the Duveen Galleries, it felt a little like Six Degrees of Mark Leckey. First, actor Toby Jones, star of the recent Capote biopic, gave Macuga’s work a thumbs-up, diplomatically disclosing that he was a “good friend of Leckey’s.” Journalist Laura K. Jones then sauntered past and revealed that she had once dated the hirsute art star. “He always had a strange take on things,” she said. “Strange in a good way.” New York dealer Gavin Brown walked in soon after, declaring that the “boy Leckey done good.” (Brown’s an obvious champion, as he represents the Birkenhead-born artist.)

Leckey appeared at Brown’s side and joked that he’d had a “piss-poor reaction” from guests to his work, but his fellow nominees were less reticent. When asked whether any rivalry had sprung up between the short-listed artists, Islam playfully said that she’d be happy to indulge in a cake-throwing fight with Leckey.

Left: Artists Enrico David (left) and Jeremy Deller (right). (Photo: Rolf Marriott) Right: Artist Goshka Macuga.

Opinion on the floor was wildly divided over the work on view. Most people I spoke with lauded Macuga’s stark glass and steel sculptures, which reference the German modernist designer Lilly Reich, and Leckey’s Cinema-in-the-Round, a film of a lecture-performance by the artist. But Islam’s three films (especially Be the First to See What You See as You See It, which shows a woman smashing porcelain pieces) and Wilkes’s chaotic assemblage of mannequins, cash tills, and dirty bowls also stay in the mind.

Later in the evening, the effervescent trio of Turner Prize curators—Carolyn Kerr, Sophie O’Brien, and Helen Little—walked past, each sporting immaculate black outfits and the same lipstick. (A Tate uniform, perhaps?) Over their shoulders, I spotted dealers Maureen Paley and Kate MacGarry, along with Turner Prize judge David Adjaye. “The prize is a serious exploration of art today,” he said. “It’s not a quick candy fix.” The high-profile architect is plowing ahead with plans to build a home in San Antonio for the contemporary art collection of the late philanthropist Linda Pace. Adjaye also revealed he has another major new museum project lined up but declined to spill the beans. (It’s not in Europe, I gathered.)

Nelson appeared again and revealed that the Tate had bought his piece The Coral Reef, which will go on view as part of the Tate Triennial next February. The artist pointed out that he’s due to spend many hours at the gallery installing the complex, warrenlike work. The evening ended with gay porn star–cum-novelist Aiden Shaw telling me of his plans to complete a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of East Anglia, an artistic marathon if ever there was one.

Gareth Harris

Left: Artist Runa Islam. Right: Writers Laura K. Jones and Aiden Shaw.

Report Carte


Left: “Printemps de Septembre” president Marie-Thérèse Perrin with curator Christian Bernard. Right: Snowdrop. (All photos: Lillian Davies)

“They all know Martin Parr, so they get it.” DJ Guillaume Sorge was responding to my inquiry about how Jeremy Deller’s Folk Archive, an expansive collection of British “folk” art that opened last Thursday at the Palais de Tokyo, would translate across the English Channel. How would the eternally sophisticated Parisians read photos of, for example, Tom Harrington MBE, Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling champion, dressed in his floral embroidered briefs and undershirt? But as I approached the museum early Thursday evening, Peter Clare was already cheerfully leading Snowdrop, his life-size mechanical elephant, on short tours for enthusiastic young French attendees. It seemed an avenue of communication had been forged.

“When I first saw the elephant perform, as it were, six years ago, that was an epiphany for me,” Deller said. Snowdrop and the rest of the Folk Archive are being presented in “From One Revolution to Another,” Deller’s six-part project for Palais de Tokyo’s second “Carte Blanche” exhibition. (The first was presented last September by Ugo Rondinone.) For “Carte Blanche,” the museum invites an artist to act as curator but also, as Palais director Marc-Olivier Wahler put it, “to imagine something you’ve always dreamed of doing—something impossible.”

The Folk Archive works in Paris, in part because of the five other documentary projects shown alongside it that emphasize the common denominator of the exhibition—personal or collective action toward a type of utopian alternative. “This exhibition is about how you can go from being a miner to a glam-rock wrestler in a generation,” explained Deller.

Left: Artists Ed Hall and Jeremy Deller. Right: Artists Vincent Lamouroux and Marcelline Delbecq.

Hanging above much of the space, banners by Ed Hall chart the recent political history of Britain, from the miners’ strikes to the Iraq war. Hall was proud to have his work shown in the contemporary art context but lamented the absence of one piece: “I can’t get the banner I made for the Eurostar cleaners back. They said to me, ‘What’s more important, the banner hanging in the prestigious gallery in Paris or in use in our dispute over fair pay?’” Because Deller “wanted to have something in the exhibition having to do with France,” he included Golf Drouot: The Early Days of Rock in France, archival material from the legendary Parisian venue. Matthew Higgs presented work by William Scott, an artist with the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California. “Sound in Z,” organized by Matthew Price and Andrei Smirnov, chronicles the musical and industrial revolutions of 1920s Russia. Deller’s connection with the subject grew out of research for his forthcoming film on Depeche Mode fans, and the discovery of a very strong fan base in Russia. A little digging brought Deller and Price to Léon Theremin, “And then it was like, ‘Whoa, this is techno from the ’30s,’” says Price.

On my way out, I saw Yann Chevalier, curator of Confort Moderne, Poitiers, and mentioned my plans to go to Toulouse the next morning for the opening of “Printemps de Septembre.” He got me up to speed on curator Christian Bernard’s program for the three-week festival: “It’s not just young French artists—it’s all of the artists that you’ve got to follow.”

Left: Artists Samuel Richardot and Michel Perot. Right: White Columns director Matthew Higgs.

Toulouse is gorgeous. The rose-colored city is well designed for the “perambulation” that Bernard suggested was the ideal way to explore the work of forty-eight participating artists installed in twenty-four locations. The majority of the works were made specifically for exhibition in Toulouse, many by Bernard’s old students from the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. My first stop was the public art center bbb to see the exhibition of Samuel Richardot and Michel Perot, two recent graduates from the école, where they were both selected to participate in Bernard’s famous seminar—now in its final year. Their large-scale paintings (Richardot’s abstract and Perot’s figurative) were installed over John Armleder’s backdrop for the festival—a series of seven colors of wall paint used in a variety of combinations in the exhibition venues. Toulouse’s Lieu Commun was also a highlight, hosting a group show curated by Claire Moulène and Mathilde Villeneuve with artists from the 2008 summer residency at Les Ateliers des Arques in Les Arques, a village (population 190) in southwestern France. Claude Lévêque’s Rendez-vous d'automne (Autumn Rendezvous), installed at Maison Éclusière, also captured the spirit of the provinces, a voyage far beyond the barriers of familiarity.

At an evening cocktail at the Capitole (Toulouse City Hall), Bernard, “Printemps” president Marie-Thérèse Perrin, and mayor Pierre Cohen officially inaugurated the festival. Bernard clarified the title of this edition, “Là où je vais, je suis déjà” (Where I am going, I am already), explaining that “you can only see the works when you are ready—history forms perception.” Bernard also confirmed for me that his invitation of artists for “Printemps” was offered in a similar spirit to his seminar at Beaux Arts. With his selection, “it is not the thematic” that Bernard is interested in but “what develops out of this collision of work.”

Left: Curators Stéphanie Moisdon and Veronique Terrier-Hermann. Right: FIAC directors Jennifer Flay and Martin Bethenod.

Pushing past the growing crowd, I hurried down the cobblestone streets to catch the rest of the evening’s program. Vert Pâle (Pale Green), a performance by Marcelline Delbecq and her cousin Benoit Delbecq at Auditorium Saint-Pierre des Cuisines, was an homage to Russian silent-film actress Alla Nazimova. Walking back to Beaux Arts with Marcelline Delbecq and Vincent Lamouroux for the Red Krayola’s concert, we passed Sylvie Fleury’s contribution (and cheeky tribute to Toulouse’s aeronautics industry)—an installation of flying saucers lit by searchlights on the opposite bank of the Garonne River. Lamouroux told me about his work for the exhibition—installed at the Abattoirs Museum—and also his participation in Bernard’s Beaux Arts seminar. Toulouse, it seemed, was a veritable class reunion.

At around 10 PM, the Red Krayola started their energetic set in the Beaux Arts courtyard, and an hour later and a few streets over, Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet opened in the concert hall of the Les Jacobins Convent. The evening climaxed with a party in the garden behind the Abattoirs Museum where finally everyone seemed to relax. Like the crowds at Deller’s opening, the festival artists and organizers, locals from Toulouse, and many more who had traveled from Paris seemed to revel in the experience.

Lillian Davies

Left: Palais de Tokyo director Marc-Olivier Wahler, Art:Concept's Olivier Antoine and family, and Jeremy Deller. Right: Artist Claude Lévêque.

Left: Liverpool Biennial director Lewis Biggs. Right: Artist David Altmejd, Andrea Rosen's Branwen Jones, and Tate Liverpool curator Laurence Sillars. (All photos: Gareth Harris)

“Where the hell is it?” screamed the Scouse taxi driver struggling to find the opening party the Friday before last for the Liverpool Biennial in the Old Port area of the city. Warehouse after warehouse passed by until I spotted a beacon in the dark: a stream of silver-haired men (eminent European curators, no doubt) and young artists with big beards and tweed jackets moving toward the A Foundation’s complex for the Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2008 show. The trickle of partygoers quickly grew into, if not a flood, at least a tributary, with London dealer Anthony Reynolds, Letter to Brezhnev director Chris Bernard, and Ed Linse of Artists Anonymous spilling out into the beanbag-chair-strewn street. Inside, the warren of galleries (the place takes the warehouse-chic aesthetic to a whole new level) were flush with what can only be described as Liverpool’s “team youth”: bright-eyed young things who’ve produced some of the best new work I’ve seen in ages.

New Contemporaries board chair Sacha Craddock grabbed me and scrambled over Joe Doldon’s intricate cardboard Untitled (Floor) sculpture to rally the artists. The trio summoned—Raakhee Lakhtaria, Paul Bratt, and Haroon Mirza—seemed pleased but dazed (no doubt at the thought of taking those first tentative steps into the shark-infested waters of the art market) by the first-night jamboree. Indeed, work by fellow artist Steve Bishop was already being snapped up. His taxidermied fox shot through with fluorescent light tubes (Suspension of Disbelief)—one onlooker cheekily remarked that “taxidermy is a bit 2007”—obviously found favor with a Norwegian collector, who bagged the piece. The Scandinavian follows in the footsteps of Charles Saatchi, who bought two works by Bishop at his recent Royal College of Art MA show in London. Meanwhile, two soberly suited men from sponsor Bloomberg pored over video work by another young artist, Beth Collar.

After a mad dash for some air and alcohol at the alfresco bar, I spotted artist David Altmejd and his London dealer, Stuart Shave, chatting by the nearby paella stand. The Canadian artist, known for his disquieting, fantastic creations (who else has made werewolf heads such a hot topic?), continues to be one of the art world’s most prolific practitioners. Already on the plate are a solo show linked to the opera Doctor Atomic, at the Metropolitan Opera’s gallery in New York; an exhibition of works at Shave’s gallery in October (which Altmejd claims will be “very sexual”); and a stint at the Art Gallery Ontario.

Left: Artists Haroon Mirza, Paul Bratt, and Raakhee Lakhtaria. Right: Tate Modern curator Tanya Barson.

Soon the action moved to a second retrofitted factory space across the road, where the primary “Made Up” biennial bash was kicking off. Artist Sarah Sze and museum directors Simon Groom and Reyahn King were spotted en route, as were Laurence Sillars, curator at Tate Liverpool, and Branwen Jones, director of Andrea Rosen Gallery.

Perhaps it was the lower lighting (sex-shop red) or the presence of local personalities such as drag queen Mandy Romero that prompted an upbeat change in the evening’s tempo. Guests were ready to let their hair down, including biennial director Lewis Biggs, who danced with artist Lisa Milroy while sporting what looked like a blue garter wrapped around his upper arm. Curator Adrian George, looking dapper, encircled the pool of manic dancers. But it was performance artists Corinne Mynatt and Angus Braithwaite who proved to be the most stylish movers on the floor, closely followed by Cedric Christie, who is showing his two “art cars” in the city. The motors, which will eventually be crushed and displayed as paintings, were a big hit with the Liverpudlians. As Christie noted, “Artists Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler even showed me a photograph of their dealer perched on the hood.”

Red Planet


Left: Dealer Larry Gagosian with the Garage founder Daria “Dasha” Zhukova. Right: Artist Anselm Reyle, Gagosian's Victoria Gelfand, artist Piotr Uklanski, and Gagosian's Sam Orlofsky. (Photos: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan)

Last Tuesday, twenty-seven-year-old Daria “Dasha” Zhukova inaugurated her Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow with three projects by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The exhibitions were part of a multisite retrospective funded by Zhukova’s Iris Foundation—as well as by a personal donation from Zhukova’s boyfriend, Roman Abramovich, whose splashy debut in the auction houses last year (where in one week he plunked down nearly $120 million on a Freud and a Bacon) set pulses racing. Easily one of the most coveted invites of the year, the scramble for invitations became even fiercer with the announcement that Larry Gagosian would open his own temporary space in a former candy factory one day later.

Amid crashing economies (and conspiracy theories about the unique timing of the Damien Hirst auction), the top tiers of the art market flocked to Russia’s capital in hopes of rubbing shoulders with the country’s elite. What they found, however, was mostly one another, as a decidedly international crowd filled Moscow’s former factories for three days of openings, receptions, and VIP dinners.

Admittedly, Ilya Kabakov makes an unlikely poster boy for an art-world bacchanalia (despite setting a roughly five-million-dollar auction record last February with his work Beetle). Nevertheless, he was the center of attention last week, with the retrospective marking his first exhibition in Russia after twenty years abroad. Add the Midas touch of Zhukova and Abramovich, Russia’s golden couple (second, perhaps, only to Medvedev and Putin), and suddenly a long-overdue retrospective became the social event of the season. Even as Russian markets made their dramatic midweek dive, the so-called oligarchs appeared unfazed, eager to follow Abramovich’s lead in investing in contemporary art. At the Monday preview of the Kabakovs’ most recent work, The Gates, in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, one famous Russian collector wryly nudged another, only half in jest: “Have you bought anything yet?” Meanwhile, across the room, foreign gallerists congregated over photocopied face books, carrying on whispered debates over “which one’s the oligarch?”

Left: Artist Takashi Murakami. Right: Artist Aaron Young with motorcyclists. (Photos: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan)

While anticipated to be the splashier event, the Tuesday afternoon opening of two projects—An Alternative History of Art and Red Wagon—at the Garage was remarkably sedate, as the crowd wandered reverently through the newly renovated halls of the former Melnikov Garage. Those who could get past the notoriously tight security celebrated in the enormous main hall, sipping champagne and eying the closed-off café section where the chosen few were granted an audience with the Kabakovs, as well as a firsthand glimpse of Zhukova and Abramovich. The truly lucky were granted invitations to a private dinner, hosted by Zhukova and Emilia Kabakova, where a mixed crowd of collectors, scholars, and socialites nibbled on hummus and tried their hand at toasting with vodka (perhaps a bit too enthusiastically, from the look of the few who made it to the next morning’s symposium, huddling over their coffee cups while, onstage, Robert Storr, Boris Groys, and Katya Degot traded takes on the Kabakovs). On Wednesday, the last three of the Kabakovs’ installations opened at the Winzavod Center for Art, a converted wine factory now host to much of the Moscow art world. There visitors could engage with Ilya Kabakov’s Life of a Fly and Game of Tennis in a more intimate setting, as well as pass through the Toilet, an installation in which a public toilet is transformed into an impromptu communal apartment.

The scholarly tone of these exhibitions aside, those who came expecting a party were not disappointed. The events at the Winzavod were immediately followed by the opening of “For What You Are About to Receive,” Gagosian’s second exhibition in Moscow. (The first took place last fall in the posh Barvikha Luxury Village outside of town.) Located in the former Red October Chocolate Factory in the very heart of the city, the exhibition was divided between a sampling of the gallery roster and a condensed history of abstraction (which juxtaposed, for instance, a Jackson Pollock painting with a Takashi Murakami and concluded with six never-before-exhibited works by Cy Twombly). Artists including Murakami, Anselm Reyle, and Piotr Uklanski were on hand for the elite meet-and-greet.

Left: Curator Alison Gingeras and Sarah Hoover. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan) Right: Serpentine codirector of exhibitions Hans-Ulrich Obrist with Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

A veteran of the 2007 Moscow Biennale, artist Aaron Young was also on the scene, this time to watch over the production of Arc Light, one of his signature motorcycle performances. “Earlier, I would have said red is the color of Moscow,” he waxed. “But now I’d have to say it’s gold.” On arriving at the gallery, flush with works by Jeff Koons, David Smith, Anish Kapoor, Banks Violette, and Reyle, one curator had a similar take: “It’s all so shiny!”

Young’s performance, while certainly spectacular, was somewhat lost on the Moscow crowd, which assumed the motorcyclists to be just one more aspect of the evening’s entertainment, rather than elements of an artwork. As the crowd battled the cold with cocktails (all the while navigating the factory floors in impossibly fabulous footwear), the paparazzi snapped away at particularly photogenic partygoers Yvonne Force Villareal, Natalia Vodianova, Leelee Sobieski, Barbara Bush, and, of course, Zhukova, who never seemed to shake the team of photographers following her every move. Around 2 AM, the party moved from a dinner on the fourth floor of the factory to the trendy Soho Rooms club, where those who still could danced until the wee hours of the morning, while others clumped around the sushi buffet, vainly trying to fend off the inevitable hangover.

By Thursday evening, one could find the dwindling crowds blearily stumbling toward openings for Wim Delvoye (Diehl + Gallery One) and Tony Matelli (Gary Tatintsian). Luckily, the rollicking nature of the works on display seemed to energize attendees. In lieu of alcohol, Tatintsian served grateful patrons much-needed espresso shots, while at Diehl, many visitors opted out on champagne in favor of fruit juice. It seemed that those in the know wanted to rest up for the city’s next big bash: the François Pinault Collection opening at the Garage next February.

Kate Sutton

Left: Carlos Mota with Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal. Right: Justin Portman, Natalia Vodianova, and photographer Patrick Demarchelier. (Photos: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan)