Rainbow Connection

Provincetown, MA
07.01.08

Left: Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Right: Actress Summer Bishil with filmmaker Alan Ball. (Photos: Dawn Chan)


One glance at the guide to the dozen or so venues for Provincetown’s Tenth Annual International Film Festival and I felt lost at sea. Or perhaps I was simply feeling the effects of the ferry, where I had sat alongside an entertaining range of passengers: several middle-aged couples of various stripes of the rainbow, optimistically headed back to command central; a few young “rich rapist types,” (as a friend termed them); and, of course, the film-folk like IndieWIRE editor Eugene Hernandez and managing editor Brian Brooks along with IFC’s Ryan Warner. We sorted through the festival’s offerings—from the North American premiere of Madonna’s Filth and Wisdom to rock-documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life. Word was that Man on Wire, about the man who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in 1974, was not to be missed. We put a star next to it.

Each day kicked off with a breakfast panel at yet another cozy seaside eatery—apparently the basic building block of life in Provincetown. Thursday morning’s panel, “Documentary Filmmaking,” featured filmmakers Lucia Small, Randy Barbato, and John Walter. Moderating was film critic Gerald Perry, who opened with the big questions: Why were audience-numbers shrinking after the “golden age of documentary—the year of Michael Moore?” No good solutions. Perry moved on to other, more perplexing, conundrums: Was documentary, as Walter put it, “a redemption of physical reality” or a “social construct”? “We think in forms—and story forms,” Walter said. “When we see something in reality that matches up, we mash the two together.”

That turned out to be the perfect thought to chew on during the screening of American Teen, which won its creator, Nanette Burstein, Sundance’s directing award for a documentary. The movie was a perfect social map of every high school archetype since The Breakfast Club. But was it scripted? Such questions were eclipsed by the distracting charm of one of the film’s leads, Hannah Bailey, a budding indie-filmmaker herself.

Left: Connie White, Provincetown Film Festival artistic director, with filmmaker John Waters, artist Marlene McCarty, and Ted Hope. Right: Actress Jane Lynch. (Photo: Dawn Chan)


If Thursday’s panel focused on larger issues, Friday’s breakfast was devoted to specifics—namely, Towelhead, the first feature directed by Six Feet Under’s Alan Ball. Ball and producer Ted Hope discussed the myriad challenges of making the film. (Given the movie’s much-discussed child molestation scene, it was hard to convince actor Aaron Eckhart that his role wasn’t quite that of a pedophile.)

At a reception that evening held in the Schoolhouse Gallery, director John Waters caught up with artist Marlene McCarty, while dynamo festival artistic director Connie White greased all the logistical and social cogs. (A party a night is no small feat.) Topping off the weekend was an awards ceremony in Provincetown’s high-school auditorium, which spilled over into a makeshift simulcast room in a darkened cafeteria downstairs. I arrived after actress Jane Lynch received the Faith Hubley Memorial Award, but in time to catch Quentin Tarantino, honored with the “Filmmaker on the Edge” prize, being interviewed by Waters, who asked if all the “close-ups of feet” in Tarantino movies were evidence of a foot fetish. “No, that’s just good filmmaking,” Tarantino replied.

Raw oysters helped keep the spirits high at the ensuing gala, where Paper’s Dennis Dermody talked of Provincetown’s good old days, “when John worked at the bookstore and I worked at the video store—and when I could still afford it here.” Towelhead’s next-generation-star Summer Bishil wandered the crowd with her mother. Like all the other partygoers, she had nothing to do but move in circles around the buffet. Gael García Bernal showed up wearing glasses, perhaps feeling more casual now that the designated paparazzi hour was over. As fans surrounded Tarantino, I couldn’t help but recall his response to another question earlier that day. When asked, “What’s the best gift a fan has ever given you?” the filmmaker responded: “Pussy. It’s a gift that doesn’t stop giving: There’s pussy, and there’s the memory of pussy.” And, unfortunately, there’s the memory of Tarantino remembering said “pussy.” Thankfully, any lasting taint in the air was erased by the sight of a local icon on Commercial Street: Ellie, a seventy-six-year-old baritone with long blonde tresses and calf-flattering gold sandals. Stationed in the public square, toting a sandwich board that read LIVING MY DREAM, she serenaded the crowd with “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” And just like that, optimism was restored; all was right in Provincetown.

Fresh Prince

London
06.28.08

Left: Serpentine Gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones with restaurateur Marlon Abela. (Photo: Richard Young) Right: Artists Richard Prince and Noel Grunwaldt. (Photo: Dafydd Jones)


I KNEW A GUY WHO WAS SO RICH HE COULD SKI UPHILL . . . announced the enormous joke painting in the central room of Richard Prince’s first solo show in a British public space, which opened at the Serpentine Gallery on Wednesday night. At a time when the art market continues to defy the laws of gravity and the latest cliché is that “art is the new gold!” the monster canvas was a fitting altarpiece. Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones, directors of the Serpentine, told me that Prince had conceived of the gallery’s various rooms as “chapels.” Indeed, the show offered spiritual uplift in the manner of, say, a great rock anthem, and many declared that it was the most pleasing Prince installation they’d seen to date.

London in the summer is the Serpentine. Outside the gallery in verdant Hyde Park, five hundred or so art-worlders drank beer beneath the setting sun. I stood for a moment, notebook in hand, daunted by the task of working the throng, until someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “See Simon Periton over there? He’s the sexiest man in the art world. Go talk to him.” So instructed, I strode over to Periton, who was standing with fellow artists John Stezaker and Carey Young, and asked them what they thought of the fact that all the works in the show were either newly made or from Prince’s collection of his own work.

Left: Model Stella Tennant with musician Bryan Ferry. (Photo: Dafydd Jones) Right: Artists Simon Periton, John Stezaker, and Carey Young. (Photo: Sarah Thornton)


The trio admired Prince’s obsessive collecting of everything from signed first-edition books to American muscle cars, particularly as it is relevant to his art, but opinions diverged when it came to withholding work. Fellow appropriationist Stezaker admitted that he couldn’t bear to let go of certain pieces. “Picasso kept back his best drawings to reassure himself that he was a great artist,” he said. “I like to have something in my possession to remind myself that I’m not shit.” Periton shook his head and said that while he had “a lot of records, books, some art, and other frivolous stuff that I don’t need,” when it came to his own work, he was “pooing all over the place.” Young, who had just sold nine works to the Tate, admitted straightforwardly, “At this early stage of my career, I’ve got too much of it and I’m glad to sell it.”

Next thing I knew, I was in a black cab on my way to Annabel’s—a notorious members-only restaurant with a lot of dark corners in which expensive people get up to no good. Here, the crowd was on a different cloud from the jeans-and-T-shirt artists in the park. In fact, there were so many glittering girls that I never figured out which one was Daria “Dasha” Zhukova. I thought I saw Roman Abramovich, but it turned out it was Viktor Pinchuk. (These billionaire oligarchs all look alike.) As the paparazzi snapped up singer Bryan Ferry and supermodel Stella Tennant, Art Monthly editor Patricia Bickers quipped, “I just don’t understand why the press don’t ask me what I’m wearing. I would tell them. Marks & Spencer, H&M, Top Shop!”

Left: Dealer Rafael Jablonka with Frank Dunphy, Hirst's business manager. (Photo: Dafydd Jones) Right: Art Monthly editor Patricia Bickers with artist Simon Patterson. (Photo: Sarah Thornton)


After eating a meaty meal in my assigned seat at table 10, I set to work trying to get a sense of what was really going down at this ad hoc power summit. About the work in the show, one collector told me, “Everything is going through Larry. Rumor is that the extra-large ‘Cowboy’ is going for ten million dollars, but don’t quote me.” As he continued to tell me about how he preferred to buy from Barbara Gladstone and Sadie Coles, I noticed Prince listening intently to Frank Dunphy, Damien Hirst’s business manager, and wondered about the nature of his independent financial advice. Then, at 11 PM, Hirst (who must own at least one “Nurse” painting) sauntered in to pay his respects.

Eventually, the crowd ebbed and I took one last look around. On the dance floor at the very back of the room, Sadie Coles director Pauline Daly was doing a mesmerizing solo performance to Estelle’s dance hit “American Boy” while a handful of Serpentine staff stood in what looked like a postmortem huddle. The white-clothed tables were entirely abandoned except for the long central one over which Peyton-Jones had earlier presided. On it sat two men in a sober tęte-ŕ-tęte. I couldn’t hear what Gagosian and Prince were saying to each other, but Estelle’s crystalline voice rang clear, “Take me on a trip, I’d like to go someday. Take me to New York. I’d love to see LA. I really want to come kick it with you. You’ll be my American boy.”

Sarah Thornton

Lucky Charms

Santa Fe, NM
06.26.08

Left: Artist Piero Golia with SITE Santa Fe curator Lance Fung. Right: Mongolian chef Chow Ke Tu performing the honorary blessing for Shi Qing's contribution. (Photos: Carole Devillers)


There are many touristy stereotypes concerning Santa Fe, New Mexico, a UNESCO-certified “Creative City.” (For one thing, as I discovered, it’s the sort of burg where housekeeping leaves a smudging stick of sage on the pillow in lieu of a mint.) Similar bromides accompany SITE Santa Fe’s international biennial, typically known for entertaining novel curatorial conceits. Last weekend’s opening of the biennial’s seventh edition, optimistically titled “Lucky Number Seven,” found high concept hitting the high desert. Curated by former dealer Lance Fung, the show was conceived as a loose set of ephemeral “site-inspired” commissions by twenty-two emerging artists. Participating artists were recommended by an advisory team of eighteen international curators and institutions, each of whom proposed three to five artists who, once vetted by Fung, were set loose in a severe, geometric space designed by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

Since none of the work had been shown before, the exhibition’s gambit relies on a measure of luck—not to mention trust in the curatorial partners and the artists themselves, who spent a good chunk of time in Santa Fe working on their projects. (In a nod to the surprise factor, the “Lucky” logo is a stylized fortune cookie.) Of course, the success or failure of opening-weekend festivities also relies on chance; who knows which, if any, of the tiers of receptions, meals, and exhibition tours will go smoothly? This being Santa Fe, events were marked by a relaxed pace, warm breezes, and generally friendly demeanors—though given the city's compact art community, one didn’t have to go far to find skeptics. “I feel like I need to do research before seeing this show,” a local told me.

Usual biennial suspects were refreshingly absent. This was no “Grand Tour” affair (though there were reportedly two “Gagosian girls” in town for Friday’s gala dinner). Few present were familiar with the young, unrepresented artists in the show, and there weren’t many recognizable art folk milling about, save Fung—whose face pops up on brochures and in every local publication—and brassy local Judy Chicago, who was hard to miss at Thursday’s press preview, where she chatted with Bulgarian SITE artist Luchezar Boyadjiev (who, like Chicago, wore dark glasses in the galleries). “We were in a show in Japan together,” Chicago proudly announced.

Left: Artists Judy Chicago, Luchezar Boyadjiev, and Nadine Robinson. Right: Artists Nick Mangan and Ahmet Ögüt. (Photos: Glen Helfand)


Early Thursday, Fung delivered an energetic speech to the press and assembled dignitaries, describing his show as one about “creating community” and “developing a family” of artists by spending time together on-site. The social events seemed conceived with similar spirit. The Friday-night gala, immediately following a champagne preview, took place in a tent decorated with swaths of red fabric and orblike Japanese lanterns. The Asian-style meal was christened with a Mongolian ancestral blessing, during which a long table of donors and political officials were offered ritual morsels of lamb and shot glasses containing a clear, unidentifiable liquid. It was a piece by Mongolian artist Shi Qing, whose contribution to the exhibition involved staging dinners of cross-cultural cuisine in local restaurants (regional food playing a large role in facilitating southwestern identity). Here, sitting through the performance was a lot like waiting to say grace—plenty of us just wanted to eat.

During dinner, few seemed willing to pass any sort of judgment on the show, and before long the event morphed into a more public, second-tier afterparty headlined by the Los Angeles–based band Dengue Fever. The band’s mix of a Cambodian vocalist and Southern California–style rock somehow struck many as “Doors-y” and even lured George King, the director of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, onto the dance floor.

The next day, various groups of SITE visitors were herded into shuttle buses for a tour of the off-site “Lucky” works installed in trees, parking lots, museums, and vacant buildings around town. Some out-of-towners also had the opportunity to see a number of Richard Tuttle and Gerhard Richter works and an outdoor Olafur Eliasson sculpture (the one on the cover of his Taschen monograph) at the home of collectors Mickey and Jeanne Klein, where the glass-box architecture, high-design furniture, and New Mexican vistas were equally breathtaking. Soon after, there was an afternoon reception for sculptor Susan York at the Lannan Foundation’s digs in the former Laura Carpenter gallery space. There I spotted a tan, trim Lucy Lippard sprint by, as I compared notes on the Klein collection with artist Roy McMakin, who’d just opened a handsome show at James Kelly Contemporary. Previous SITE curator Klaus Ottmann, out with dealer Leslie Tonkonow, was perfectly content to be without responsibilities.

Left: Curator Klaus Ottmann, artist Susan York, and dealer Leslie Tonkonow. (Photo: Glen Helfand) Right: Ferran Barenblit, director of Centro de Arte Santa Mónica, and artist Marti Anson. (Photo: Carole Devillers)


Late that afternoon, there was a nearly sold-out panel discussion with artists and curators in the auditorium of the local Dance Institute. Everyone was on good behavior until the Q&A, when William Wells of Townhouse Gallery in Cairo, one of the advising institutions, publicly questioned a rejected proposal by Egyptian artist Wael Shawky that involved appropriating Native American tribal rituals. SITE’s director Laura Heon capably responded, noting the local tensions around the issue, but artist Rose Simpson, a local representative in the exhibition (collaborating with family members Eliza Naranjo Morse and Nora Naranjo Morse), gave a more impassioned retort, acknowledging the deceptive “authenticity” of Santa Fe culture. Soon after, a stream of people noisily descended the bleachers and drove to a barbecue held in the old event tent, which, since the previous night’s dinner, had been accented with gingham tablecloths and wagon wheels suspended from the ceiling. The tangy, meaty meal, however, didn’t quite mollify the hungry masses—food ran out quickly, and reportedly a fistfight erupted over the limited seating.

A warm New Mexico night, and probably a few margaritas, went a long way toward healing any potential wounds, and Sunday’s farewell brunch on an outdoor patio was infused with a sunny, familial vibe. LA-based Italian artist Piero Golia, whose participatory leap-into-the-void installation, Manifest Destiny, is among the biennial’s iconoclastic highlights, wistfully summed up the experience of the artists: “I feel like it’s the end of summer camp.” Looks like someone got lucky.

Glen Helfand

Left: Helen Molesworth, curator of contemporary art at the Harvard Art Museums; artist Roy McMakin; and Michael Jacobs. Right: Dealer Miguel Abreu with artist Scott Lyall. (Photos: Glen Helfand)


Cy Unseen

London
06.24.08

Left: Filmmaker Gerry Fox and artist Tracey Emin. (Photo: Gareth Harris) Right: Dealer Leslie Waddington and Tate Modern director Vicente Todolí. (Photo: Rolf Marriott)


The early signs were not encouraging. A decidedly thin crowd had gathered at the start of the evening for the opening of Cy Twombly’s exhibition at Tate Modern, the artist’s first retrospective in fifteen years. A long row of keen black-shirted waiters greeted the few visitors filing into the upper echelons of the gallery. But where were the rest of the guests? Gradually, as the red wine flowed and the asparagus sticks (vegetables are all the rage at Tate) were devoured, a steady stream of stellar artists and dealers turned up to pay homage to the Rome-based superstar who, characteristically, decided not to attend his own private view. (His son, Alessandro, came instead.)

First up was Conrad Shawcross, the young British sculptor known for his eye-catching wooden contraptions, who was full of beans and more than happy to divulge his numerous future projects. He noted that he’s just about to head across the pond for a six-month residency at New York’s Location One institute, a center devoted to merging art and technology. His US jaunt culminates in a new project to be unveiled at Art Basel Miami Beach in partnership with the Paris-based dealer Emmanuel Perrotin. 
Shawcross was the first person that evening to argue that the Twombly show “rises as you go through.” The same point was made by the ubiquitous party boy and dapper coauthor of The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook, Peter York (“The show gets hotter and hotter”), who grabbed me midway through the exhibition to playfully ask, “How did that octogenarian manage to hang works all the way up there?” Before I could hazard any guesses as to curator Nicholas Serota’s approach, which was widely applauded by the private-view throng, I was waylaid by the porkpie-hatted Gerry Fox. The amiable documentary maker disclosed that he’s just put the finishing touches to a film on Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles for a Tate Modern exhibition launching this autumn. Tracey Emin, fresh from her barnstorming stint at the Folkestone Triennial, joined in the conversation and waxed lyric about the work on view. “I love Poems to the Sea,” she said, referring to a 1959 work hanging in the gallery. Rock star Bryan Ferry ran past and also joined the chorus of approval. “I’m a huge fan,” he shouted over the crowd, while Lady Helen Taylor, wife of dealer Timothy, said that she would definitely be making a return visit. Gagosian director Robin Vousden (predictably) couldn’t utter the superlatives quick enough: “Brilliant . . . glorious . . . exhilarating.”

Left: Artist Dexter Dalwood. (Photo: Gareth Harris) Right: Art historian Tim Marlow with Gagosian's Robin Vousden. (Photo: Rolf Marriott)


Would anyone be prepared to voice criticism? A few rebels could be found out on the Tate’s veranda, a heady haven for art-world smokers. Chirpy artist Dexter Dalwood, resplendent against the backdrop of St. Paul’s cathedral, was less shy than others. “Twombly was fantastic until 1988,” he confidently declared. After a lively debate about the problems of making art when you’re an “art titan” (as Twombly so obviously is), an equally academic discussion ensued with Chris Stephens, a curator of the Tate’s forthcoming Francis Bacon show, about the late British-art bad boy’s love of all things French. Big-name dealers Nicholas Logsdail and Victoria Miro strolled past while photographer Johnnie Shand Kydd and artist Maggi Hambling encircled the canapés.

Distraction then came in the form of artist Ed Linse, a member of the collective Artists Anonymous, who studied at one time with Georg Baselitz at the Universität der Künste in Berlin. When pushed to describe the experience of being taught by the high-profile veteran, Linse would only quip: “The worst thing one could say about Baselitz is what he says himself.” Apparently, even German art giants experience self-doubt.

Gareth Harris

Left: A view of the crowd. (Photo: Rolf Marriott) Right: Tate curator Chris Stephens. (Photo: Gareth Harris)


Riding the Wave

New York
06.20.08

Left: Musicians Jim Sclavunos and Lydia Lunch. (Photo: Chad Beckerman) Right: Critic Byron Coley, Abrams editor Tamar Bravis, and Thurston Moore. (Photo: David Velasco)


How many photographs of downtown scenestress and musician Lydia Lunch can one person stand? Scholars in future generations will now be able to piece together pretty much every outfit the postpunk doyenne ever wore in her first five years in New York, thanks to an avalanche of documentation in books from the past couple years: Marc Masters’s No Wave, Paula Court’s New York Noise, and Thurston Moore and Byron Coley’s just-released No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976–1980. Like any good insular art scene, No Wave kept outsiders (and audiences) at bay but photographers on hand. If you were one of the ten to fifteen unhappy-looking observers at the Mudd Club, the Kitchen, CBGB, or Tier 3, watching some legendarily abrasive band, odds are your pain is now catalogued and immortalized.

Draw a gently curving line, more or less, from the location of Dave’s Luncheonette, the oft-reminisced-about late-night Canal Street hangout, out through the Mudd Club, which sat a couple blocks south, and you’ll soon hit the site where KS Art stands today. It was there on Friday night that a party was thrown in celebration of the release of Moore and Coley’s book. In the flyer-and-photo-bedecked gallery, tourists past and present gathered to ogle both the walls and one another: Swimming through the soupy, overheated confines were Moore and his wife, Kim Gordon, Coley, Lunch, the Contortions’ James Chance, one-time Sonic Youth drummer and Lunch cohort Jim Sclavunos, musician Alan Licht, and many of the photographers—Robert Sietsema, Julia Gorton—whose work hung on the walls. Across the street, people glanced nervously at the Knitting Factory, where the main event—a Teenage Jesus & the Jerks reunion, for which Lunch had flown in from Barcelona—was scheduled for 8 PM sharp. KS Art proprietor Kerry Schuss, perhaps sensing some apprehension on my part, attempted reassurance: “They’ve been rehearsing for days!”

Left: Musician Lee Ranaldo and artist Leah Singer. (Photo: Laura Levine) Right: Kim Gordon. (Photo: David Velasco)


Lunch, who, in 1976, at sixteen, left her parents’ home in Rochester, New York, and who, two years later, was proclaiming herself “the best thing to happen to music in 250 years,” has evidently been a good sport—judging from the hours of interviews she gave to Masters, Moore, and Coley—about the canonization she resisted so thoroughly in her first go-round. (She’s loudly on record as being skeptical of No New York, the Brian Eno–produced compilation that helped give No Wave a name and Teenage Jesus a platform.) But what easier target for a notoriously audience-hating band like Teenage Jesus (from which original member James Chance was tossed merely because he couldn’t help but interact with the band’s crowds) than a sold-out, reverential sea of fresh faces?

First, though, we were treated to some trivia: a set by Information, the NO magazine–affiliated, constantly morphing No Wave footnote whose baffling presence was perhaps the evening’s most authentic curveball. “We’re quite amused you all came back,” noted the band’s Chris Nelson, utterly sarcastically. In turn, the band covered a song by the even more ephemeral Blinding Headaches (a trio perfectly memorialized in a Sietsema photo from No Wave, playing an LES rooftop show to all of seven distracted-looking friends). Information’s fifteen-minute set wrapped up with an elaborately announced, ten-second, one-chord-and-done “song.” In between, of course, came the amplified toy piano, the trumpet, and the unbelievably loud steel drum.

As for Teenage Jesus—with Sclavunos back on drums and “surprise guest bass player” Thurston Moore—they were as fleeting, nasty, screeching, and brutish as one could have hoped. Sclavunos stood behind his instrument, staring straight ahead; Moore scrutinized the set list, fiddled with his guitar, and absorbed Lunch’s abuse: “This is what happens when a member of Sonic Youth joins the band,” she spewed. “Fumble, fumble, fumble.” Whatever thrill there was in seeing our own alt-rock gods cut down before their elders quickly faded when Lunch turned toward us. “You have no fucking clue,” she said, glaring straight out into the rapturous applause: “Thanks for nothing.”

Shabby Chic

Folkestone, UK
06.18.08

Left: Folkestone Triennial curator Andrea Schlieker (left) with artist Christian Boltanski (right). (Photo: Barry Duffield) Right: Nathan Coley's Heaven is a Place Where Nothing Ever Happens. (Photo: Martin Herbert)


“A walk from riches to rags” is how Folkestone Triennial curator Andrea Schlieker described the event she has been working on for the past three years. It was Friday, the exhibition’s opening day, and we were standing at the “riches” end: the sunlit ballroom of the Metropole Hotel, a luscious relic of the Kentish coastal town’s Edwardian boom years as a holiday resort. As David Batchelor’s Disco Mechanique—comprising dozens of motorized faux glitter balls made from thirty-four hundred interlaced pairs of colorful Brazilian sunglasses—twirled in the room’s center, Schlieker promised “a string of pearls from the east to the west,” one made up of twenty-two artist projects, mostly by marquee names but with a surprising number hailing from the region, who have “responded to and articulated the town’s different levels of wealth.”

Though the artists frequently depart from Schlieker’s template—while nevertheless paying admirable attention to the local—“different levels” is right: Folkestone, like many an English seaside town, is half-sunk in desuetude. English tourists have long since taken to going abroad to escape English weather, and the town’s industry isn’t entirely healthy. “Since the ferry terminal to France closed down, Folkestone’s been on the slide, so the triennial is great,” one optimistic invigilator opined later, as we stood on a breezy hilltop at the far end of town. There, I was trying to fly one of Nils Norman, Gavin Wade, and Simon and Tom Bloor’s kites emblazoned with sardonic bits of “regeneration-speak”: e.g., UNEVEN DEVELOPMENT and HIPSTERIZATION STRATEGIES. Here, and in Adam Chodzko’s video, Pyramid, housed in a disused town-center shop and depicting Folkestone as first cursed, then magically rejuvenated, one sensed that if artists are going to be instruments of regeneration, they’re not necessarily going to keep quiet about it.

Left: Anthony Reynolds Gallery's Maria Statha with artist Mark Wallinger. (Photo: Martin Herbert) Right: Artist Tracey Emin. (Photo: Barry Duffield)


Will the triennial boost tourism? “I’m just here to see Folkestone, really,” offered current Turner Prize nominee Mark Leckey, who I bumped into on the windswept beachfront while I failed, even with map in hand, to find one of Tracey Emin’s miniature Baby Things bronzes (socks, shoes, teddies, etc.). Jeremy Deller, there to choreograph a series of outdoor slapstick performances, was relatively circumspect. “It’s just more art, isn’t it?” he said, reasonably enough. By this point, we were on a coach, hurtling toward lunch and overtaking curator Greg Hilty, who was riding a strange bike with a loudspeaker attached. Those who mocked him—me included—hadn’t been apprised of Kaffe Matthews’s Marvelo Project, wherein GPS technology triggers sounds as you ride her cycles around town. “Hark how fresh and varied the sonic landscape becomes,” Matthews writes in the catalogue. The sounds might at least drown out certain noises that are fresh in a different way. For example, the Folkestone youth we encountered shortly before, leaning out of their passing car and gleefully shouting “Cunts!” at our group, which included Richard Wentworth, who at that moment was explaining his series of signs identifying nonindigenous trees growing in the area. “Folkestone,” sighed Wentworth absently, giving the hooligans the peace sign.

Lunch, in a big tent in a spectacularly dismal part of the docks, turned out to be fish and chips, with—heresy!—no salt and vinegar, which suggested a few gaps in the organizers’ knowledge regarding the fundamentals of the seaside experience. (Should this disaster ever afflict you, try art historian Claire Bishop’s lateral solution: a drizzle of white wine.) Some things you can rely on, though: As the afternoon wore on, in classic English seaside style the rain fell. Cue punters taking shelter beside Mark Dion’s Mobile Gull Appreciation Unit, a bird-shaped info center on wheels, where the affable American dispensed facts about the local birdlife; or in Tacita Dean’s screening room, where the Berlin-based expat is presenting a characteristically beautiful 16-mm film of a boat crossing the English Channel at sunrise.

Left: Artists Jeremy Deller and Pae White with Andrea Schlieker and dealer Cornelia Grassi. (Photo: Barry Duffield) Right: Artist Adam Chodzko. (Photo: Martin Herbert)


And then—prior to a packed evening party back at the marquee, which led into a firework display—the sun came out again, as if it had been planned that way by the show’s ultimate organizer (that being Roger de Haan, former chairman of Folkestone’s biggest employers, insurance and holiday specialists Saga, who has invested heavily in the town and “lives in a weird glass house” outside it, according to a local cabbie). On the train home, it became apparent that there are some things you don’t really want second helpings of—such as fish and chips, even when purchased by Antony Gormley and consumed in the genial company of Sir Nicholas Serota and his writer-curator partner, Teresa Gleadowe, curators Alex Farquharson and Polly Staple, and Cabinet magazine’s Brian Dillon (who’d all already moved on to matters other than Folkestone). Over at the next table, meanwhile, the ideal tribute to an enjoyably exhausting day came from Leckey—who, by then, was lodged deep in blissful sleep.

Martin Herbert

Left: Mark Dion's Mobile Gull Appreciation Unit. (Photo: Martin Herbert) Right: Tate Britain director Stephen Deuchar (on left). (Photo: Barry Duffield)