Frieze Frame

London
10.17.08

Left: Kling & Bang's Erling Klingenberg outside his Sirkus project. Right: Gwyneth Paltrow. (All photos: Ryan McNamara)


“If any gallery tells you they’re doing well but their neighbors are doing poorly, don’t listen,” advised one veteran insider the night before the fair. “What it really means is that they’re the ones that are doing poorly.” Ruses, euphemisms, and circumspect sales pitches are the beloved lingo of every fair, even one as hip and unflappable as Frieze. Nobody was willing to rat out their neighbors this round (there’s always Miami), but many dealers admitted that they had arrived in London “expecting the worst”—though by the end of Wednesday, they also claimed that the worst was held at bay.

At the 11 AM VVIP preview, the ranks were thin; speaking to the pervasive market anxiety, many saw this as the first ominous sign of impending doom, while others (perhaps more convincingly) credited Frieze’s notoriously exclusive VIP list. That said, Charles Saatchi, Dasha Zhukova, Dakis Joannou, and Frank Cohen were all spotted pacing the stands, though none I spoke to mentioned any purchases. This being dizzy London, I wasn’t surprised to count as many celebrities as collectors: George Michael, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sienna Miller, Sofia Coppola, Kate Bosworth, and members of Duran Duran all poked about during the early hours of the preview. Coppola, less reticent than most collectors, was even happy to mention a few faves, including Victoria Morton’s paintings at Sadie Coles and Roe Ethridge’s photographs at Andrew Kreps.

Left: Dealer Sadie Coles. Right: Irish Annie, dealer Stuart Shave, and Modern Art's Kirk McInroy.


The art wasn’t so political, but the people often were; Obama fever ripples through the art world on this side of the Atlantic as well. Paltrow, sporting an Elizabeth Peyton–designed BARACK IS BEAUTIFUL pin, wasn’t shy about her intentions. “They still haven’t sent me my absentee ballot,” sighed the London-based star. “I’m beginning to get suspicious.” Three weeks before the election, Obama pins were the accessory of the moment, with Studio Museum director Thelma Golden and numerous others working their own, too. (If art-world McCainiacs exist, they’ve made themselves scarce.)

The tone of the fair was arguably decided some weeks (or months) earlier, when dealers finalized their inventory lists: few videos, lots of salable prints and paintings, nothing in the way of provocative Art Fair Art declarations. “The days of selling videos for $150,000 are over,” chimed one prominent dealer. (But if Larry Gagosian has anything to say about it, you can still sell a Richard Prince “Nurse” painting for seven million dollars.) With even big-statement stalwart Gavin Brown taking the safe route (qua some admittedly handsome prints by Eduardo Paolozzi and paintings by Jonathan Horowitz and Rob Pruitt, among others), the fair’s playful prestidigitations have largely been relegated to Frieze’s program of commissioned artist projects, a short-circuiting of the Art Fair Art economy that suggests a silent co-opting of the whole enterprise: What is Art Fair Art, after all, if not an affirmation of the artist-dealer partnership?

Left: Artist Cerith Wyn Evans, CCA Wattis director Jens Hoffmann, and dealer Luisa Strina. Right: Collector Frank Cohen.


“I just lost two hours at Sirkus,” enthused a peripatetic Rome-based curator, commenting on Kling & Bang’s faithful re-creation of the defunct Icelandic bar. If fun, the piece was a limited statement at best. (By now, reconstructed bars constitute their own special subset of art.) Bert Rodriguez’s Where You End and I Begin, an amateur foot-massage stand manned by the artist himself, was more penetrating, if still a bit too nice. “I wanted to do the massages out in the open to reflect mall culture, which is all this is, essentially,” Rodriguez said while rubbing my feet. “But because I’m not a professional, I also see myself as something like a helpful friend or a lover after a long day.”

The hands-down coup of this year’s projects was Cory Arcangel’s Golden Ticket. Ingeniously echoing Willy Wonka’s sly selection mechanism, the work, which involved persuading fair organizers to send chocolate bars to each of the galleries whose applications was rejected, takes as its subject the delicate ecology of the fair’s vetting process. One “lucky” gallery, in this case Milanese dealers Studiò di Giovanna Simonetta, was awarded a golden ticket, allowing it a free booth at the fair (if you don’t count costs for shipping and walls); the booth was also specially marked on the map as a “Frieze Project,” making it simultaneously a celebrity and a pariah in the midst of the capitalist jungle. “A lot of journalists have come by,” said director Arianna Di Nuzzo, ambivalent about and a bit fatigued from all the attention. “But it really is a great opportunity, and we’re taking it as such.” If the work evokes Roald Dahl’s classic tale, it also brought to mind Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery”; it’s a double-edged sword that encapsulates the fair’s unique blend of cynicism and whimsy.

By the end of the day, I still hadn’t heard of anyone selling out their booth, though a rumor (later confirmed) had it that “Thomas Dane almost sold out.” “Cautious optimism” seemed to be the viral boilerplate asserted by dealers around the fair. “C’mon—don’t use the Sarah Palin standard,” railed one fired-up New York consultant in the VIP lounge. “You can’t call the fair a success just because the tent hasn’t burned down!” Some took all the nay-saying with a grain of salt. “Everyone’s just being dramatic,” said veteran dealer Daniel Buchholz, rolling his eyes. “This economic mess will all be over by January.” Others found a silver lining amid the gloom and doom. As Marc Foxx’s Rodney Hill noted, “The vibe during installation was just fabulous. The economy is really humbling—it brings everyone together.”

Left: Artist Ai Weiwei. Right: Dealer Maureen Paley and artist Wolfgang Tillmans.


October in the last extant stable society. After the fair, I rushed to a Rockefeller Foundation dinner for the Bellagio Fellowships hosted at the Langham Hotel (a site of Bosie and Oscar Wilde’s famous dalliances). As Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones introduced a series of speakers, affluent guests enjoyed an endless flow of wine and a divine mint sorbet and cake dessert. Service was impeccable in the way that only grand old hotels can manage; as I left, the Landau’s restaurant manager helped me to put on my coat. With the cost of the affair, one hazards that they could have sponsored a whole other fellowship. But that’s not the way of the system—and the system wouldn’t have it any other way. “Art and drugs are the last remaining unregulated markets in capitalism,” artist Pavel Büchler later opined. “Those economies will survive just fine.” For better or worse, the frills, the VIP pandering, the stuffy dinners, and the contrived and overcrowded parties aren’t going anywhere—and neither is the art.

David Velasco

Left: Vilma Gold's Laura Lord and Rachel Williams. Right: Sofia Coppola.


Brussels Sprouts

Brussels
10.15.08

Left: Dealer Barbara Gladstone. Right: Dealers Almine Rech and Larry Gagosian. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)


Last week, while bankers worldwide were tearing out their hair over falling financial markets, people in the art world, at least in Europe, kept up a burble of nervous cheer. “Everyone here is so happy,” Almine Rech noted during a brief tête-à-tête with Larry Gagosian, one of 140 guests at dinner in her nineteenth-century manse in Brussels last Saturday night. The occasion for the celebration was “White Earth,” the Anselm Reyle show that the Parisian dealer presented in the Belgian capital, where Barbara Gladstone was also debuting a new base the following night.

“Art brings people together,” replied the affable Gagosian, whose galleries in New York, Rome, London, Los Angeles, and now Moscow make him something of an expert. We took a moment to observe the brace of boozing bourgeoisie from Paris and Berlin who were standing in the living room before artworks by Damien Hirst, Ellsworth Kelly, Reyle, and Rech’s grandfather-in-law Pablo Picasso.

Rech’s husband, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, entertained a few of their expensively clothed collector friends from Ghent, like Bernard Soens and Mimi Dussolier, while Gladstone held down another corner with New York collector Jane Holzer and curator Francesco Bonami. Now working with thirty assistants, rather than the paltry five he needed just a few years ago, Reyle exulted in the big, shiny assemblages he had concocted for the cast-detritus installation, hoisted into several artfully deconstructed rooms above an old parking garage that will soon give way to a new building housing the gallery. The show, Rech said, made her presence in Brussels official.

Left: ICA London director Mark Sladen with Massimo de Carlo's Ludovica Barbieri. Right: Curator Francesco Bonami.


Along with galleries, more artists are moving there, too—at least according to Kunsthalle Zurich director Beatrix Ruf, who was sharing a smoke with the buoyantly entitled young American artist Jordan Wolfson. “It’s true,” said Kris Martin, the Belgian artist from Ghent who was my dinner companion that evening, along with Flemish architect Xavier Donck and Copenhagen dealer Claus Andersen. Brussels apparently offers even bigger spaces and cheaper rents than Berlin. Its central location, the reason it became headquarters for the European Union, also makes it easy for collectors to stop in.

All of this factored into Gladstone’s decision to rent the beautiful town house where Bonami organized her park-side gallery’s debut show, “No Information Available,” a play on Kynaston McShine’s defining 1970 Museum of Modern Art show on Conceptual art. Bonami chose an unusual mix of European and American artists, including Rosemarie Trockel, Isa Genzken, Franz West, Mitzi Pederson, Bojan Sarcevic, and Wolfson.

“This is all an experiment,” Gladstone said. “We don't know how it’s going to work out.” She may have been reacting to stock-market jitters, though no one in Brussels seemed overly concerned. “Now all those people who bought all that art might actually have to look at it,” commented Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, admiring two 1991 paintings by Genzken, made from studio-floor rubbings. “A young artist today could make a whole career out of that,” Bonami commented.

Left: Dealers Aurel Scheibler and Maureen Paley with artist Gary Hume. Right: Artist Anselm Reyle.


“It’s amazing that all these artists traveled all this way to be here tonight,” Gladstone said during her very grand dinner for 170 in the chandeliered marble pile Palais d'Egmont, a short walk through Parc d'Egmont, behind the gallery. She was speaking not just of those included in the show but of many others whose respect she has won over the years, artists like Thomas Hirschhorn, Cameron Jamie, Pierre Bismuth, Damián Ortega, and Andro Wekua (who came with his equally stunning girlfriend, photographer Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili). Other tables accommodated Dussolier, wearing (apparently at Gladstone’s request) the same fabulous Dries van Noten necklace of antique bangles and rings she had the night before, consultant Allan Schwartzman, MAC (Hornu) director Laurent Busine, and Willem de Kooning Foundation director Amy Schichtel.

The rest of us felt like extras on a movie set, especially walking through a klieg-lighted courtyard, famous for executions performed there in centuries past, to the afterparty at Bar Rouge, every cerise inch of which lived up to its name.

In London, afterparties were the mainstays of every evening leading up to the opening of this year’s Frieze Art Fair; in this case, the word party could mean a few blokes sitting around a pub, a seated dinner, or a big drinks-and-dance blowout.

Left: Artist Michael Craig-Martin. Right: Artist Roberto Cuoghi.


Monday night for me began with Michael Landy’s opening at Thomas Dane, where forty-five penciled portraits of the artist’s friends filled the walls. Many—like dealer Maureen Paley, artists Gary Hume and Rebecca Warren, and Landy’s former teacher, Michael Craig-Martin—even made it to see the show. Also on hand, paging through Landy’s new book, Everything Must Go, was artist Glenn Ligon, with designer Duro Olowu (Studio Museum director Thelma Golden’s other half) and singer Nell Campbell, onetime queen of New York nightlife.

I don’t know how many people came to Tate Modern for a first look at Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s huge Styrofoam reproductions of sculptures by Alexander Calder and Louise Bourgeois in the Turbine Hall, but what looked like a thousand were upstairs stepping gingerly through Cildo Meireles’s retrospective, which included a standout installation of all kinds of barriers, hard and soft (fences, curtains, screens), on cracking green glass tiles made for stomping. On the other side of the Thames, the ICA attracted a much younger and more Italian crowd to Roberto Cuoghi’s London debut, “Suillakku,” a surround-sound installation that apparently translated his thoughts into ancient Assyrian music played by instruments of his own creation. With speakers positioned around galleries and gray foam rectangles on the walls, it looked a lot simpler than it was.

Massimo De Carlo hosted a dinner for Cuoghi at the subway-tiled Automat in Mayfair, after which I ran like the wind to Great Eastern Bar to try and catch the afterparty for Elmgreen & Dragset’s re-creation of a much wilder afterparty at Victoria Miro, but as is often the case while negotiating an art world that has set itself up in fiefdoms very distant from one another, I was, alas, too late.

Left: Curator Alexandre Melo with artist Cildo Meireles. Right: Art: Concept's Olivier Antoine.


By the next day, I had joined the ranks of those determined to be first at everything. I bailed early from the way-overcrowded Frieze Welcome Party to catch Catherine Opie’s latest photographs at Stephen Friedman and Julian Opie’s new painted and LED-lighted figures at Lisson. Then it was time to head to Soho for the party Jay Jopling was throwing—for whom, I wasn’t sure—though it seemed every pretty young thing in town had shown up for what I will dare to call the party of the week, even though the fair hadn’t started yet.

It was held in a building opposite the Groucho Club that is currently being converted into expensive apartments. Rented just for the party, it reminded me of Area, the ’80s Tribeca club that depended on changing environments and live performances to spice it up. This one was elegantly outfitted in half-constructed walls, exposed wiring, plywood floors, fresh graffiti, bare ceiling bulbs in yellow cages, and tables made out of heating grates set on cinder blocks.

In many ways, it recalled a palace like the Egmont in Brussels—only with more bohemian splendor. In the downstairs bar, rows of candelabras were set on long tables for dinner. Upstairs, where the dance music was loudest, partygoers such as Stella McCartney, artists Sam Taylor-Wood and Jim Lambie, dealer Paul Kasmin, and a tranny curator named Arakis from the Basque Country wandered through the rooms making new friends and getting “shandy-boozed,” as performance artist Caron Geary so well put it. I heard one man tell two women, “Yes, I’m married—but I’m also single.”

Left: Art consultant Allan Schwartzman with Gladstone director Max Falkenstein. Right: Critic Jerry Saltz with dealer Stephen Friedman.


A couple of the bedrooms had funky old velvet armchairs and beds made with expensive linens. Beyeler Foundation director Samuel Keller climbed between the sheets with first one, then two, then four women. “I’m in bed with four lesbians and every guy here is looking at me with envy,” he said. “What’s wrong?”

The perfect way to start a convention, if you ask me.

Linda Yablonsky

Autumn Harvest

New York
10.13.08

Left: Consultant Karen Marta, artist Philippe Parreno, and a magician. RIght: Artist Matthew Monahan. (All photos: Ryan McNamara)


Chelsea always slows down a bit in October. Still, streets felt emptier than expected last Friday night. Those who showed up for openings fell into two camps: Team Envy and Team Schadenfreude. The former decided that the affluent crowds had taken Columbus Day weekend as a last call for second-home visits before winter’s arrival. The latter concluded that Hamptonites squeezing in one more trip were motivated not by Jack Frost, but by foreclosure jitters. A more likely reason for the quiet, of course, was that people had decamped early for Europe and the Frieze Art Fair.

Either way, given the giant question mark hanging over the market, each gallery corralled a sizable herd, even if overflow into the street lacked its usual volume. Yvon Lambert had cleared out its September show—Andres Serrano’s feces—to make room for dead horses. Berlinde de Bruyckere’s restrained, morbid forms were given “ample room to breathe,” according to director Cornelia Tischmacher, in “contrast to the horror vacui of Serrano’s show.” Noting that de Bruyckere’s exhibition would be up through Election Day, Tischmacher said, “I still remember the show that was up after President Bush was reelected . . . and the weird hush that ensued that day in Chelsea.”

After pit stops at Casey Kaplan, for exhibitions by Annika von Hausswolff and Garth Weiser, and Donald Moffett’s show at Marianne Boesky, I made my way to Fredericks & Freiser, where Zak Smith’s new exhibition drew a crowd that was as mohawked and fishnet-clad as his illustrated subjects. Discussing the installation of Smith’s drawings at an upcoming museum show, dealer Andy Freiser said that there was one installation requirement: “The piece has to be screwed into the wall.” Why? “Zak’s art has a history of being stolen. Let’s just say he has a younger clientele.”

Left: Artist Zak Smith (on right). Right: Artist Berlinde de Bruyckere.


“The evening’s about appearance and disappearance,” a magician gnomically uttered at Philippe Parreno’s opening two blocks away at Friedrich Petzel. The illusionist was happy to demonstrate, blipping a pom-pom out of existence and into my hands—much to the delight of a young Cuatro Villareal (son of Yvonne Force and Leo). In the adjacent gallery, Sean Landers’s face played on multiple monitors, singing and blathering in a confessional wall of sound. But the hit of the evening was decidedly Anton Kern’s show by Matthew Monahan, whose biomorphic forms sandwiched between Plexiglas plates found a sensitive but unprecious way to scorn gravity.

Kern’s cozy dinner for Monahan was held at Malatesta Trattoria, where Guggenheim patrons Gil and Doreen Bassin broke bread with LA collector Shirley Morales and Bridget Finn, Anton Kern’s archivist and one of the four young masterminds behind the up-and-coming Cleopatra's project space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Meanwhile, dealer Stuart Shave, in town from London, lamented installation complications bedeviling his upcoming David Altmejd show. When one of the larger sculptures arrived, the gallery was forced to saw down a wall to fit it into the gallery. (The kicker being that they’ll have to repeat the process during deinstallation.)

While some feel that the financial crisis will benefit younger artists, as everyone downshifts to a level of collecting they can afford, Bassin thought otherwise: “The established artists will be fine, because competitive collecting won’t go away. We’re more concerned about emerging artists.” But thoughts of doom were diverted as Kern toasted the Monahans, who had flown in from LA, bringing also Matthew and Lara Schnitger’s young daughter, who was apparently “throwing rocks” during the installation. “She was trying to create a rock garden,” explained Monahan.

Left: Artist Garth Weiser, dealer Casey Kaplan, and artist Annika von Hausswolff. Right: Architect Steven Holl.


Later, at subterranean haven Beatrice Inn, Friedrich Petzel’s afterparty brought together dealers Andrea Rosen and Andrew Kreps, architects Steven Holl and Michael Mack, Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer and 303 Gallery’s Barbara Corti, and curators Cay Sophie Rabinowitz and Christian Rattemeyer, among others. When leaving, I almost lingered to see whether Beatrice would let in a girl on crutches. (Does pity trump inscrutable exclusivity?) But in this world of divisions, labels, and barriers, one guy got it right: Earlier in the evening, when I’d asked Monahan whether his daughter’s pebble sculptures meant she was an aspiring artist, he shook his head. “She’s an aspiring human being,” he said. Point taken.

Dawn Chan

Comfort and Joy

New York
10.10.08

Left: Anna Blessmann, designer Peter Saville, and DJ Paul Sevigny. Right: Artists Sarah Morris and Liam Gillick. (All photos: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan)


Unquestionably one of the more unfortunate fashion innovations of the past year was New Balance’s “Joy Division” sneaker, designed by artist Dylan Adair and supposedly still awaiting commercial release. Initial reports of the shoe, which borrows from the cover of the band’s classic debut album, Unknown Pleasures, met with widespread disapproval from fans—though perhaps more for the bizarre equation of soul-searching postpunk with a pleasant jog around the park than for its appropriation of Peter Saville’s instantly recognizable graphic. Last Thursday evening, Saville again found himself metaphorically stumbling down the catwalk, as Burberry’s uptown store and Men’s Vogue hosted the launch of his new book, Estate (which could also be considered the belated catalogue for a 2005 exhibition of ephemera and reference material at Zurich’s Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst).

This isn’t quite as incongruous as it might seem—Burberry’s current ad campaign features Sam Riley, star of Anton Corbijn’s recent Ian Curtis biopic, Control, and the brand is obviously keen to exploit this association to the hilt, however far off the mark it might seem. So not only was the store’s menswear department hung with blowups of a trench-coat-wearing Riley, it had also made space for a leering Paul Sevigny to spin some new-wave hits and invited a clutch of the volume’s essayists round for champagne and sliders. Of these, only Liam Gillick and Sarah Morris were in immediate evidence, though also on hand were dealer Casey Kaplan, curator Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, DAP’s Alex Galan, and, uh, actor Alan Cumming. Saville himself, who showed up lateish and clung to girlfriend Anna Blessmann, wore a slightly long-suffering look but posed politely.

“Oh, don’t mention that!” Saville’s response to an allusion to the Burberry event by curator and fanboy Matthew Higgs, interviewing him at a packed White Columns the following evening, was one of eye-rolling embarrassment. His arrival delayed again by traffic, Saville launched immediately into the chat in the manner of a hip twelfth-grade English teacher, his straggly black mop and likably hangdog features gelling nicely with the practiced conversational provocations: “Is it true that I never listened to the records I made covers for? Well, some of ’em it was better not to”; “‘Do something’ was as much of a brief as I ever got”; “My mother is still waiting for me to become successful.”

Left: Anna Blessmann, Visionaire's Cecilia Dean, and DAP vice president Alexander Galan. Right: Actor Alan Cumming.


Reflecting on a career characterized by a highly ambivalent relationship to his field—“I was intelligent enough to realize what design was, and intelligent enough to avoid it for as long as possible”—Saville presented a picture of a man still struggling to define his creativity. Describing his 2003 retrospective at the Design Museum in London as being based on “work that didn’t have to meet the approval of others,” he nonetheless balked at Higgs’s suggestion that this might just make him . . . an artist. Even shows at Manchester City Art Gallery and White Columns failed to prompt him to abandon his “professional” practice entirely, whatever its frustrations. Saville’s internal conflict was clearly genuine, but here his overstated reverence for art soon began to seem uncomfortably close to an excuse.

Admitting to losing his way entirely during a stint in LA during the early 1990s, Saville remembered that on the day of the big earthquake in ’94, he was close to penniless. “I had three dollars. It’s very weird being in the US with three dollars. Then back in London, I was very depressed for a while.” The honesty of the statement was affecting; for good or ill, the demise of Factory Records cast a longer shadow over this man than most. A “middle-aged guy who buys CDs of records he loved when he was in his twenties,” Saville verged on the curmudgeonly, but his enthusiasm for new projects appeared undimmed. Still, I struggled not to call bullshit his current gigs, including communications consultant for Daria Zhukova’s Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow, “creative director for the City of Manchester,” and designer of flat-pack museum plinths for amateur use. Suddenly, those New Balance kicks didn’t seem like such an aberration.

Centre and Periphery

New York
10.07.08

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
10.05.08

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.