STEFAN KALMÁR AND MARTA FONTOLAN wish people in Marseille would listen. The Artists Space director and Gavin Brown Enterprise dealer both sit on a seven-person committee of “artistic” advisers for Art-O-Rama, a pocket-size fair that just celebrated its tenth anniversary in the French port city. “You can see the potential,” Kalmár said, when I arrived the day before the fair’s August 25th VIP opening. Indeed, I would.
I’d needed persuading. An art fair on the last weekend in August? Give us a break. Then again, it’s in Marseille, where Walter Benjamin became a convert to hashish, Le Corbusier built La Cité Radieuse, The French Connection got its start, and the French national anthem got its name.
I joined Kalmár, who’s been taking holidays in Marseille for years, at the welcome dinner he organized on the deck of the Erre, a sloop advertising “slow cruise and slow food.” For us, it remained docked in Marseille’s vieux-port (now a marina), in the shadow of the regional MuCEM, which offers optimum views of the sunset over the sea. Chef Christian Qui—aka SushiQui on Instagram and Facebook—leases the boat for a few weeks each August, another good reason to be here at this time of year.
Left: Art-O-Rama director Jérôme Pantalacci (left). Right: Art-O-Rama general manager Nadia Fatnassi and Sextant et Plus director Véronique Collard Bovy.
Over a splendid en plein air meal, prepared topside and served as the mood struck, I met my multinational cohort for the next few days. One was MoMA’s vacationing chief of media and performance, Stuart Comer. “I’m not really here for art,” he confided—as if anyone in our world ever took actual time off. Certainly not Project Native Informant founder Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja or Glasgow dealer Emma Astner, who (like everyone else) investigated beaches and shops but were here to indulge a certain curiosity about the fair. Danish-born, Berlin-based artist Benedicte Gyldenstierne Sehested came to meet up with Fontolan, an old friend. Berlin dealer Lars Friedrich, a participant in the fair, brought artists Georgie Nettell and Inka Meissner. Editor Mattia Ruffolo came for Davide Stucchi, a young Milanese artist who was at the tail end of a residency in Marseille, where he made the soap sculpture that his Munich-based dealer, Deborah Schamoni, would show at Art-O-Rama.
Friday morning began with a preview of several exhibitions at Friche La Belle de Mai (or La Friche), an enormous arts complex spread over several buildings of a former tobacco factory. “This is the biggest cultural center in Europe,” La Friche director Alain Arnaudet told me. He was too modest. Taken together, the buildings offer more than a million square feet of space for seventy different organizations and their exhibitions, films, concerts, studios, residency programs, and classrooms.
There was a lot of twin-city action among the group shows, where artist collectives in Glasgow and Montreal, for example, presented collaborative projects with their cousins in Marseille. The most elaborate, communal project by far gave a retrospective to the life and work of a fictional, hyperlinked artist named Raoul Reynolds, as imagined by Marseille’s artist-run Tank Art Space and a group of Glaswegians put together by curator Francesca Zappia.
The Goethe-Institut brought work by half a dozen young artists to an exhibition that cocurator Francziska Glozer described as “not a show but a presentation of individual positions by artists of one generation.” On another floor was an exhibition from Triangle France, one of the country’s better residency programs for foreigners—the one where Stucchi had been working. Opening that day was “Labor Zero Labor,” an exhilarating attempt by artist-organizer Benjamin Valenza to take YouTube hostage through an artist-run television channel that streamed live performances throughout the fair and will run another three months. “It’s about our use of screen devices and skill sharing,” explained Triangle France director Celine Kopp. The schedule included a sitcom, a magic show, and even a cooking show. Inevitably, one drama, by artist Virgil Fraisse, was partly a parody of the Netflix series Marseille. Like the commercial version, said artist Richard John Jones, “It’s really trashy.”
After a fine lunch at La Cantinetta, an Italian place that would become a clubhouse for the group from the boat, Art-O-Rama threw open its truck-size doors on a hall that has never known the pleasures of air conditioning. It was three in the afternoon, and it was cooler outside in the concrete garden between buildings that served as the fair’s main social space—drinks only, no food.
Perspiring collectors from the city and the region, distinguishable by their jewelry, hairdos, and advancing age, dutifully checked out the stock on hand, stopping first at galleries run by French-speaking people such as Axel Dibie and Alix Dionot-Morani of Crèvecoeur (Paris) and François Ghebaly (Los Angeles). Another busy stand was Bologna’s P420, where dealer Chiara Tiberio (late of Milan’s Raffaella Cortese) barely had a moment to say hello. However, the Mexico City–based artist Rodrigo Hernàndez gave me a personal tour of the new works he had on show there, before moving over to Madragoa, his other European gallery, opened in Lisbon just three months ago by former Franco Noero dealer Matteo Consonni.
And there lies the rub, or one rub, anyway. Can collectors trust such a young business to have the longevity needed for an ongoing dialogue? Consonni wasn’t worried, but it might do the fair some good to introduce more experienced independents into the mix. “It’s not so much about selling as building relationships and getting exposure for artists,” said Schamoni, expressing a sentiment echoed by Friedrich and fellow Berlin dealer Daniel Marzona. “It’s worth it,” Friedrich said. “At what other fair could I get a space this large for $1,500?” Or risk presenting two artists (Mathieu Malouf and Nettell) who silk-screened the same Op art image in different colors on the same size canvas, but offering them at different price points? I liked Friedrich’s nerve.
Left: Material Art Fair director of exhibitor relations Rodrigo Feliz. Right: Collector Sébastien Peyret and dealer François Ghebaly.
The publicly funded Art-O-Rama, which gets a boost from private and corporate sponsors, basically is two people: director Jerôme Pantalacci, who cut his teeth on the late legend of a Marseillaise dealer Roger Pailhas, and Nadia Fatnassi, the fair’s dynamo of a managing director. She was the point person who arranged the requisite VIP visits to collectors’ homes and artists’ studios, shuttles to openings or performances at galleries and to art sites elsewhere, and parties for opening and closing nights. She seemed to be everywhere at once—except perhaps at the one competing fair (helpfully listed on the VIP program), Paréidolie, for drawings—very popular, according to collector Frédéric de Goldschmidt, of Brussels, who did go to everything, as far as I could tell.
At the fair, dealers designed booths with walls and—in the case of Schamoni and Crèvecoeur—without, opting to place objects on the floor in open space. (Collectors awarded Crèvecoeur the Roger Pailhas stand prize.) There weren’t really aisles, just partitions. Four actual rooms were dedicated to solo shows by artists barely out of school; another had a very cool film by the Turkish artist Özlem Sulak. Two booths were given to nonprofits: Barcelona’s Green Parrot, and the homegrown M-Arc/Le Box, founded by shipping executive Marc Féraud and his wife, Marie-Helene, the culture czar of Marseille.
She was among the officials gathered (in an air-conditioned auditorium) that afternoon for a crowded press conference announcing Manifesta 13, taking place in 2020. Host city: Marseille, curator TBD. One featured speaker was the indomitable Hedwig Fijen, president of the Manifesta Foundation, who emphasized the importance of affecting a broad, nonart audience. But her thunder was stolen by the city’s long-term (twenty years) mayor, Jean-Claude Gaudin, who is nothing like the person portrayed by Gérard Depardieu on the Netflix show.
In an emotional address, Gaudin laid out the many strong points of Marseille, European Capital of Culture in 2013, largely thanks to him. But he overreacted, Donald Trump–style, when asked why he’d closed a city museum on which he’d lavished many euros. Because, he said in French, it was placed in an immigrant quarter in the hope of diversifying (er, gentrifying?) the neighborhood. “But no one ever went!” he thundered. “No one!”
Left: Jean-Claude Gaudin, mayor of Marseille. Right: Artist Davide Stucchi and curator Mattia Ruffolo.
By contrast, everyone—a big crowd—went to Art-O-Rama’s tenth anniversary beach party that night, including new arrivals Nicolas Trembley (from Paris) and Rodrigo Feliz (from Mexico City’s Material Art Fair). And there wasn’t an empty seat on the buses that took collectors and journalists through the Provençal countryside to Arles the next morning. First stop: an illuminating (and surprising) show of thirty-one van Gogh paintings curated by Bice Curiger from loans to the Van Gogh Foundation, a jewel-box museum established a few years ago by the late Luc Hoffmann, environmentalist father of collector Maja Hoffmann, whose LUMA Arles art center was on the itinerary as well.
Looming above its home in the Parc d’Ateliers is the construction of a Frank Gehry building that some say will be the tallest in the region. At 180 feet high, it dwarfs every other structure in Arles and, needless to say, looks nothing like anything else in France outside of Paris. Closer to the ground are several humongous hangars—sheds that once serviced railroad cars—cleaned up for the exhibition of übercontemporary art by that estimable queen of the retrofit, Annabelle Selldorf.
Jordan Wolfson’s wham-bam-no-thank-you-ma’am Colored Sculpture had just arrived in one gallery; an installation by William Kentridge was in another, small building. The main event was “Systematically Open,” an artist-curated group exhibition that showed self-portraits by the South African photographer Zanele Muholi to great and searing advantage, and suggested that Collier Schorr and Anne Collier should show together always.
Left: Collector Frédéric de Goldschmidt with artists Will Kerr and Özlem Sulak. Right: Artist Benjamin Valenza.
Back in Marseille, a few of us went on to a strip mall behind a supermarket to meet Sébastian Peyret, leader of a group of younger collectors who support even younger artists by pooling their purchases for a common entity, Atlantis, named for the atmospheric former physical therapy facility where they show recent acquisitions. It was hotter in there than the sauna it once was so I didn’t stay long. Besides, the one gallery dinner of the weekend was that evening—a birthday party at a tapas bar on the port for Ghebaly and Dibie, hosted by Schamoni, Crèvecoeur, and Ghebaly.
Sunday morning brought the fair VIPs to La Fabrique, the airy, multilevel home of psychologists and seasoned collectors Marc and Josée Gensollen. They are the Rubells of Marseille, but with a taste for small-scale, provocative work by artists who run from Buren, Boltanski, Andre, Nauman, and Dan Graham to Cattelan, Orozco, Tiravanija, Gonzalez-Foerster, Gillick, Bonvicini, and Monk. “It’s not a very speculative collection,” Marc Gensollen assured me. Indubitably not.
Lunch with Ghebaly, Marzona, and the French artist Gerard Traquandi at the Féraud’s hilltop home followed. “I think Art-O-Rama is a good fair to start the season with energy,” Marc Féraud said. “But who is its audience?” Kalmár challenged him. “Young collectors? The Maja Hoffmanns of the Côte d’Azure? Curators? It needs focus.” Marzona supported the scene. “There are good collections here,” he said. “I suffered, but only from the heat.” Kalmár took that as our cue to have a swim with our new best buds off a calanque, a limestone outcropping in the Bouches-du-Rhône, before dining at a Tunisian couscous place near the Hotel Residence du Vieux-Port.
Left: Château La Coste art center manager Daniel Kennedy. Right: Friche la Belle de Mai director Alain Arnaudet.
Monday brought a day of architectural epiphanies, starting with La Vieille Charité. Built in the seventeenth century as a homeless shelter and now the site of a few museums, it’s said to have inspired Le Corbusier. The architect’s Brutalist wonder of a housing project, La Cité Radieuse, where Kalmàr rents an apartment, was my next stop (amazing), followed by a private view of the Féraud’s serene Helmut Federle show at Le Box. Then, with attention paid to the list of regional art sites in the VIP brochure, we drove to Chateau La Coste, hotelier Patrick McKillen’s unbelievable winery and contemporary art center outside of Aix. Guided by center manager Daniel Kennedy, we toured a vast tract of land populated by grapes and extraordinarily sited artworks by Richard Serra, Franz West, Lee Ufan, Liam Gillick, Andy Goldsworthy, and many more, including the steel towers that Louise Bourgeois made for the opening of Tate Modern, and the pavilion that Gehry built outside of the Serpentine Gallery in 2008. The center’s main building is peak Tadao Ando. And the winery, OMG: Jean Nouvel maybe should stick with industrial architecture.
Back in town, Fatnassi told me that Art-O-Rama’s opening weekend had attracted 3,500 visitors and logged some €150,000 in sales. (Its artworks, by the way, stay put as an exhibition for two weeks.) By 2020, the little-fair-that-could ought to be a creditable anchor for Manifesta—hopefully with livelier galleries and a new, cooler location.
Still, as long as it has Marseille, it’ll be in the right place.
Outside the Kunsthalle Bern. (Photo: Alex Klein)
THE SOMMERAKADEMIE IM ZENTRUM PAUL KLEE has been a strange and secretive touchstone of the Bernese art world for ten years now. In fundamental ways it compares to other summer programs at a variety of European kunsthalles: The directors select a guest curator along with ten to twelve fellows (artists and writers under the age of thirty-five) to invite to Bern for two weeks of presentations and workshops.
But what is amazing about the ZPK Sommerakademie is its decadelong commitment to building an institutional identity by inviting alumni back to Switzerland, at the expense of the Sommerakademie’s main sponsor, the Berner Kantonalbank, for a dinner to celebrate the latest fellows. For transatlantic alumni, this has been huge. For Europe-based peers, who are offered a less fantastic travel stipend, it mostly depends on whether a trip to Bern fits into their summer schedule. Still, this unique, bank-funded migration of young artists to sleepy summertime Bern for one mysterious evening of speeches and buffet has produced its own rituals: dips in the fast-flowing Aare (where a couple years ago a nude man, cross-legged as if in meditation, was seen floating downstream in an inflated, transparent pill—immortalized as “The Nude Dude in the Tube”) and nightcaps at the ancient Kriessaal whiskey bar, for example. Yet all good things come to an end, and this year’s, it was strongly hinted, would be the last.
Drifting through Bern from the train station past familiar haunts, one can’t help but run into other Sommerakademie participants. At the Bahnhof I crossed paths with artists Avigail Moss and Aaron Flint Jamison, as well as curators Eric Friedricksen, Betsey Brock, Juana Berrio, and Anthony Huberman. At the restaurant overlooking a pit of live bears, I came across artists Martine Syms, Pedro Neves-Marques, and Alex Klein. Unlike other summertime art situations, returning alumni and faculty have nothing to do but show up to dinner, no exhibitions to see or anything to do but wander.
Generally, the atmosphere on alumni day tends to fall somewhere between the opening plenary of a conference, a high school reunion, and a gala dinner. As the years have gone on, the dinner part has decreased in gala-ness. Speaking to the general uncertainty that afflicts the world economy, the gradual and probably quite painful (to Swiss bankers) move toward greater transparency in the financial system, and perhaps the increasingly ungainly guest list, Max Haselbach, the Berner Kantonalbank’s head of education, put it best when he said: “Banking was easier before.”
But there was no way the Sommerakademie was simply going to fade away—evinced by the choice of artist Thomas Hirschhorn as this year’s guest curator, joining the likes of Diedrich Diederichsen, Jan Verwoert, Oscar Tuazon, Tirdad Zolghadr, Piplotti Rist, and Marta Kuzma in the program’s storied history. In the bowels of the Zentrum, Paul Klee’s baroque, raked 250-seat auditorium—designed by Renzo Piano prior to the 2008 market crash and generously accented with the same red found in all nationalistic Swiss branding—Sommerakademie director Jacqueline Burckhardt clarified that this was to be the last year as it is currently understood. But a little later, Nina Zimmer, director of the ZPK and Kunstmuseum Bern, announced her intention to carry on with the Sommerakademie, rebranded as the Sommerakademie Zentrum Paul Klee (dropping the “im”) with the sponsorship of the Bern University of the Arts.
“I am a soldier of truth,” Hirschhorn said, leaping to the stage to commence a clear, maniacal diatribe on what he expects of the fellows. “I am a soldier of truth,” he repeated, for emphasis. We almost expected him to drop and do one-armed pushups. “Are you? Where do you stand? What do you want?” These simplified inquiries were the theme of this year’s Sommerakademie and led to the presentation of the latest fellows: Ovidiu Anton, Lex Brown, Justin Davy, François Dey, Luis Garay, Kevin Kemter, Sasha Kurmaz, Tiona McClodden, Eliana Otta, Tabita Rezaire, Angelica Teuta, Wambui Kamiru, who were tasked with providing brief answers to the questions Hirschhorn posed.
McClodden, an artist based in North Philadelphia, noted during her time on stage to answer Hirschhorn’s questions that, since the Sommerakademie had begun that morning, she had experienced “at least ten racial microaggressions.” Kemter seemed earnestly stoked to take up Hirschhorn’s banner, almost as if he were relieved to finally banish art’s uncertainties. Meanwhile, across the motorway outside the Zentrum a lone protester, seemingly bummed about Hirschhorn, stood with a siren and an awkwardly phrased sign that said (loosely translated) PLEASE HONK! GENTLEMEN PREFER LAZINESS TO DICTATOR-HISCHHORN. Only hours old and already this Sommerakademie had stumbled on inspiring new frontiers of controversy.
Speeches over, it was time to get down to the snacks and wines in the lobby. Still more faces and friends came out of the woodwork: Rita Sobral-Campos and Ricardo Valentim, as well as past and current Sommerakademie faculty such as Yasmil Raymond, Stuart Bailey, and Raimundas Malašauskas.
In a surprise twist, dinner was held at a restaurant located in an industrial park about fifteen minutes outside of central Bern on the top floor of the supermarket chain Aldi’s Swiss corporate headquarters. Still more folks emerged: Agnieszka Kurant, Christian Philipp Müller, Giovanni Carmine, and Pamela Rozenkranz, as well as Bern’s own Martin Lötscher. The dinner itself was a tasty if predictably Swiss affair, with a delicious roast and some very nice-looking ribs at its center. Oddly, there was no provision for getting guests home from the industrial park, so while all had been transported on buses to the restaurant, a few were handed bus schedules and left to fend for themselves.
Undaunted, I managed to make it back to Bern for the mandatory nightcap at the Kriessaal with Bailey, Klein, Huberman, curator Juana Berrío, and artist Jacopo Mazzetti—to be joined later with the arrival of the next bus by Kurant and Rita Campos. The setting, a bar featuring aged whiskeys, spurred Bailey—himself no stranger to the kind of complex time travel embodied in Scotches—into retrospective reverie, wondering and lingering on those alumni who hadn’t decided to travel to Bern. What were they doing? Sifting through rumors, what’s happening with Kemang (Wa Lehulere)? Has anyone seen Jan lately? As the nostalgic impulse exhausted itself conversation turned to the future, especially the near future, which swung sharply into view as, groggy from spirits, I had to struggle through the chocolatey Swiss night to guarantee a spot on the last train to Zurich.
“I PREFER SEEING PRIVATE COLLECTIONS TO MUSEUMS,” said collector Wiyu Wahono. “They are like an enigma to decipher.” We were at a dinner at the home of another collector, Prasodjo Winarko, on the eve of the opening of Art Stage Jakarta, and Wahono’s opinion didn’t seem entirely unpopular, if only for the reason that visitors to his collection earlier that day were still in awe. The inaugural edition of the export of the Singaporean fair promised to be cheerful despite the city’s crippling traffic. “Hands down, they win!” muttered Singapore-based Filipino collector Lourdes Samson, comparing the challenge of navigating Jakarta with that of Manila.
Back at the Sheraton, the hotel’s owner, Alex Tedja, and collector Deddy Kusuma were warming up their voices to a live band in preparation for the next evening’s karaoke opening. Apparently many Indonesian high society gents practice weekly. At the back of the lounge, in a typically Indonesian cloud of clove-scented smoke, artist Agus Suwage, collector Dato M. Noor Azman, and curator Enin Supriyanto drank iced teas and beers. They were soon joined by a happy Jun Tirtadji, back from his gallery ROH Projects, where he had opened an exhibition in collaboration with Silverlens Galleries. Artist Jay Yao and collector Carlo Calma walked by holding a champagne flute: “This is my vacation!” It felt festive indeed.
The next day, Lorenzo and Maria Elena Rudolf, president and vice president of the fair, made a glam stop at collector Tom Tandio’s lunch with Yue Minjun. They were followed by former fair director of Bazaar Art Jakarta, now Art Stage Jakarta director, Leo Silitonga, donning a South Sulawesi ikat. “Maria Elena wanted all of us to wear something Indonesian,” he justified. The fair opened to exuberant crowds wondering what’s up with the two fairs in Jakarta this month (the eighth Bazaar Art opens this week), but heartedly welcoming the opportunity to mingle. “We are all friends,” I heard again and again, until I almost believed it. Art Stage gathers forty-nine galleries alongside a lavishly set presentation by the painter Affandi and a separate exhibition, the Collectors Show, featuring works from the collections of Rudy Akili, Deddy Kusuma, Melani Setiawan, Tom Tandio, Alex Tedja, and Wiyu Wahono in a bare shell floor of the hotel. “I got the roughest space to show the most expensive art,” joked Supriyanto. The fair provided plenty of socializing grounds, if not always the most groundbreaking works.
That evening, the opening party had collectors singing the Bee Gees poolside. “Never heard of them,” quipped a young millennial. “But it’s clear who the target audience is here.” The Platters’ “Only You” followed, and then some Temptations. Rudolf and gang did an earnest rendition of “Baila Morena.” “Can you imagine other fairs’ big players doing something like this?” I was asked. I could not, but it surely made me grin. Points for not taking yourselves too seriously, Art Stage.
After Heri Dono’s performance, I heard that collector Rudy Akili rapped, but I was already on my way to the young collectors’ party at the restaurant Sofia at the upscale Gunawarman Hotel. “You’ll see. Inside, you will feel like you’re in Budapest,” I was told by Tom Tandio as I set off with collector Natasha Sidharta, writer and filmmaker Patricia Chen, and a merry bunch including artists Dito Yuwono and Melati Suryodarmo and curator Mira Asriningtyas.
Left: Dealers Joseph Ng and Pearl Lam. Right: Photographer and collector Indra Leonardi, artist Yue Minjun, and collectors Lily Sajoto and Dr. Oei Hong Djien.
Saturday, I joined Mariles Gustilo, director of Manila’s private Ayala Museum, for a collections visit. We toured Akili’s space, where we were greeted by his adviser, Alia Swastika. At the fair I spotted collector Daisuke Miyatsu, curator Rifky Effendy, and artist FX Harsono, and caught up with the shy and usually studio-bound Eddy Susanto to talk about his painstaking canvases of historical narratives. That evening we stopped at Alex Tedja’s palatial house and were treated to a blue-chip wonderland. “I wish I had ceilings that high in my museum,” complimented Gustilo. We moved next door for what I had anticipated as a fun party at Deddy Kusuma’s, but after some customary singalong—“Imagine all the people…”—it turned into a midnight lecture on Indonesian art transmitted via multiple screens from the main stage to all the courtyards.
Eventually we escaped to join a group at Hide & Seek Swillhouse consisting of young Bandung and Jogja artists including Alin, Keni, Hahan, Titarubi, Zico, Wimo Ambala Bayang, Faisal Habibi, Agan Harahap, and Ruang Gerilya’s Wibi Rizqi Triadi. At last: dancing! A pleased Silitonga explained that the fair benefited from the recent government-issued tax amnesty that encouraged rich Indonesians to repatriate money home. “It went far beyond our expectations,” he said. I am constantly told the Indonesian art scene needs more international interest, but it certainly helps if the locals lead by example.
Left: Artist Heri Dono. Right: Lisson gallery's David Tung.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN Brazil and the Middle East meet in Japan? Artistic director Chihiro Minato conceived “Homo Faber: A Rainbow Caravan,” the third edition of the Aichi Triennale, as a journey, inviting curators Daniela Castro and Zeynep Öz—based respectively in São Paulo and Istanbul—along for the ride.
The trip was designed to take visitors, curators, and artists across the Aichi prefecture in central Japan from the bustling capital of Nagoya to the smaller, equidistant cities of Okazaki and Toyohashi—all located on the same train line. A new satellite venue, Toyohashi has a sizable Brazilian community, which is partly why Castro was drafted in.
At the press conference last Wednesday, Minato reminisced about how he traveled the world as a photographer in the 1980s, spending a year and a half in South America, near the Amazon. These formative experiences were meant to account for the triennial theme. Over a shandy at the Caravan Party thrown by the good people of Toyohashi the following night, he revealed his true inspiration: Santana’s 1972 album Caravanserail, featuring a giant blazing sun on the cover.
Left: Artists Nicholas Galanin and Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes. Right: Artist Jerry Gretzinger.
Colors in every shade of the rainbow dominated the agenda, starting with the boldly patterned shirt—nothing if not adventurous—Minato sported on the opening day of the triennial tour. Taking up an entire wall in the atrium of the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, which kept us busy for much of the morning, Jerry Gretzinger’s multipaneled aggregate of tiny colored maps set the tone. Shinji Ohmaki’s ephemeral floral patterns spreading out in concentric circles from a central pillar in Echoes-Infinity, 2012, were there for visitors to tread on, blending their pigments. The leftovers formed layers on layers of gorgeous color in a neat row of champagne flutes displayed next to the floor-based work.
In contrast to this chromatic orgy, the radiation-contaminated tree stumps from Fukushima and Hiroshima in artist Masao Okabe’s sobering series of black frottage drawings harked back to the previous triennial theme (“Awakening—Where Are We Standing? Earth, Memory, and Resurrection”), which responded to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant meltdown of 3/11.
The idea of the journey itself—from West to East—was conveyed chiefly through sonic means in British experimental musician Chris Watson’s twenty-channel surround-sound installation. Titled Great Circle, 2016, after the route airplanes generally take when traveling to Japan from the UK, the work charted the artist’s own travels from his home in Northumberland, UK, to the glaciers of Iceland, across Siberia and through the Gobi Desert all the way to Mount Horai-ji in the Aichi prefecture. As I lingered, the end of a rainstorm in Siberia’s tiger forests gave way to the eerie wailing sound of orcas captured with hydrophones beneath the Arctic Ocean.
Left: Artist Masao Okabe and curator Hiroyuki Hattori. Right: Artist Mai Ueda.
That afternoon, our human caravan wended its way from one art-filled venue to the next. With no time to spare, we had our packed lunch on the bus. “I’m so glad for this working experience,” Castro remarked. “The schedule for the opening is like a train table.”
The streets around Choja-machi, the heart of Nagoya’s once thriving textile district, were all but deserted in the midday heat. What used to be shopfronts now house art galleries. In one of those, the Jakarta-based collective ruangrupa set up a temporary school for the “citizens” of Nagoya, running workshops on “how to be disorganized” alongside karaoke sessions. Yoshio Shirakawa’s playful installation, stemming from his research into the city’s history, turned a nearby space into a camel-themed shop showcasing the decidedly unflattering LAKUDA underwear in a range of pale beiges.
By the time we reached the Nagoya City Art Museum, a combination of unrelenting heat and talk of deserts (Japan has its own, as Teshigahara Hiroshi’s 1964 black-and-white classic, Woman in the Dunes, attests) had me ready to devour Sharjah artist Abdullah Al Saadi’s lush red mountains in The Watermelon Series, 2014, exhibited inside. In front of the museum, adults and children extended the web made up of many-colored threads tied together in the latest iteration of Brazilian artist João Modé’s NET Project, spanning three venues in each of the triennial’s cities.
The opening reception at Nagoya Tokyu Hotel’s Banquet Room Versaille, which lived up to its name, was thronged—to put it mildly. “OMG—that’s more than the entire population of Palestine,” Beirut- and Ramallah-based artist Khalil Rabah exclaimed as he surveyed the palatial room where the whole Japanese art establishment, rubbing shoulders with local officials and their spouses, appeared to have converged.
“If all these people went to see the works, that would already be an achievement,” Rabah mused the next day, en route for Toyohashi City, where his work is exhibited. The densely wooded hills glimpsed from the bus offered some respite from the built-up industrial landscape around Nagoya and Okazaki.
The second city on our whirlwind tour of the Aichi Triennale served up some unusual locations in which to show contemporary art—from a disused set of rooms above a train station to an ordinary shopping mall that accommodated a new photography exhibition. After a stroll through a drab, dusty building overlooking the Okazaki castle that Mumbai native Shreyas Karle had transformed with subtle interventions, the traditional Edo period house and garden of the Ishihara family, in which several works by Japanese and international artists were presented, felt like an oasis.
When it came to seeing the works spread across several buildings at our final destination, only the most eye-catching pieces stood any chance of grabbing our attention. Laura Lima’s Flight (fuga, in Portuguese), 2008, a playground for birds complete with scaled-down landscape paintings and folded screens adapted to the avian viewer, was certainly among them. The tiny creatures—one hundred locally sourced Java sparrows and finches—didn’t appear to care much for the art. And who could blame them? As Lima put it, “Animals: We think we know about them. But they’re a total mystery.”
ON ENTRY TO THE SEATTLE ART FAIR this past weekend, initial impressions belied major underlying tech support (pun intended), given its backing by Microsoft cofounder Paul G. Allen and some artworks mentioned in the New York Times write-up—like Adam McEwen’s elegant/ominous graphite replicas of IBM supercomputers and Glenn Kaino’s live app tour, Aspiration.
But I was most compelled by artistic director Laura Fried’s whip-smart, weekend-long curatorial subversion of the robotic takeover. In her introduction to Kim Gordon and Branden Joseph’s brilliant chat at the CenturyLink Field Event Center last Saturday, Fried called for the “cross-pollination” of disciplines through her Projects & Talks meta-agenda. These events entertainingly addressed commodification through dance, performance, video, and conversations rooted in educating audiences about art-historical interventions relevant to grim economic changes (e.g., unaffordable housing; corporatization) akin to those currently sweeping American cities with ultra-alarming speed and feeding our collective artistic anxiety. Seattle as a site for this matrix of discussion felt apt given Amazon’s occupation a few blocks up. On that note, Gordon and Joseph launched their discussion with how Gordon’s recent 303 Gallery exhibition, “The City Is a Garden,” riffed on the gentrification of New York via her use of the gallery (in part) as a “showroom” for cubic Astroturf hedges roughly alluding to Chelsea’s High Line, and, in this, how her Design Office initiatives playfully “aim to please,” poking at the ways “artists are in service to galleries.” Check.
The fair’s intelligent Projects & Talks series also included Brendan Fowler’s “durational performance”: his group reading of a poetic chronicle of singular punk memories celebrated collectivity, especially performed in a raw and fabulous storefront that controversially (to developers, at least) inhabits high-rent real-estate space in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. Flora Wiegmann’s Halo of Consciousness was a meditative two-woman dance (with Rebecca Bruno) inspired by Antoinism, spiritual transcendence, and reincarnation, staged in Seattle’s gorgeously refurbished former train station. Dawn Kasper’s Star Formation, an interactive environment mapped by cymbals that chimed as passersby triggered sensors, was cacophonously relaxing since only ten people were allowed in at once. Wynne Greenwood’s foam furniture, In Loving Memory, installed in a neighboring park for public use, created welcomed cushioning: a soft offering to allay hard-edged booth labyrinth burnout. Compared with these engaging and fun Projects, the VIP party at the Seattle Art Museum felt unneeded and a wee bit boring—get us back into the art!
Paradoxically, these seemingly disparate Projects & Talks enhanced the booth viewing by encouraging chance encounters. Public Fiction’s impressive Middle Grays, Color Bars, and the comma in between was the only video installation in the fair, blasting a corner of the building with eleven short videos on multiple screens from the glory days of public-access television art, when on-the-air oddities could unfurl without being immediately stamped with corporate logos (or censorship, as evidenced by Google’s recent erasure of Dennis Cooper’s blog). TVTV, Laurie Anderson, Muntadas, and The Medium Is the Message aired in front of John Baldessari’s Six Colorful Inside Jobs, the “set piece,” as Public Fiction’s Lauren Mackler called it in her insightful talk with Henry Museum curator Emily Zimmerman. At this event, Mackler Skyped in contributing artist Cally Spooner, who called for aggressively maintaining opportunities to “stumble across artwork” and “to meet artwork in unmediated ways,” for artwork that remains “marginal to main programming,” and for collectors to champion art that isn’t “overtly packaged.” Thank you, Cally.
Spooner’s message resounded as I wandered the fair’s eighty-some booths that sought to unite Pacific Northwest arts with the West Coast and Pacific Rim, which it did beautifully. LA had an impressive presence, and there were some fascinating, regionally specific booths like Kagedo Japanese Art Gallery from Orcas Islands, focusing on Iriyama Hakuo’s dry-lacquer paintings. Pacific Northwest landscape painting is going strong as always, represented most remarkably in PDX Contemporary’s booth by James Lavadour and Adam Sorensen, whose painting of cascading waterfalls, The Optimist, glowed psychedelically from afar. Portland’s tiny but mighty gallery, Adams and Ollman, had a fittingly miniscule booth to showcase Ellen Lesperance’s deconstructed sweater-pattern drawings, textiled landscape paintings in themselves. Even Zwirner’s slick space, red and black with a Kusama Infinty Net, two shiny John McCracken sculptures, and a suite of R. Crumb pen and inks, took a stony regional twist when eavesdropping on booth conversations. Two ladies chatting in front of Crumb’s immaculate Mystic Funnies No.1: Mr. Natural and Flakey Foont in “Look and See!” went like this:
“Remember this guy from the ’60s? The guy who was on your Keep on Truckin’ T-shirt?”
Blank stare at Mr. Natural…
“Well, that was before you left the dark side…”
Still, we might as well be honest: The hit was Carrie Brownstein’s conversation with Kyle MacLachlan, aka Twin Peaks’s AGENT COOPER. Yes, Agent Dale Cooper himself actually came to the fair to discuss such topics as Pacific Northwestern identity (“aw-shuckness-style humility,” as Brownstein called it), David Lynch’s belief in the pine forest’s dark side, and how Portlandia furthers regional myth, depicting this corner of the country as a place where nature and artists can still semi-blissfully unite in unmediated, unpackaged bliss (with the help of legalized marijuana?). Seeing Yakima-born MacLachlan in his home state, talking articulately and hilariously with Brownstein about loving the wheat fields and the wine in Walla Walla, while committing one’s life to being a serious artist, was classic.
Still, anxious undertones about cherished areas under siege filtered into their Q&A. “If Seattle is unaffordable for artists now,” one kid from the packed back row asked, “should we all move to Walla Walla where you are?” “No! Don’t!” MacLachlan replied, only half joking. Brownstein intercepted generously with her answer, heroically calling on older artists to continue to find ways to support emerging artists in cities, regardless of how tough it becomes. Hopefully this nascent fair, only in its second year, will survive to support such innovative programming in the future.
THE WAY TO THE AEOLIAN ISLAND OF STROMBOLI—little more than the cone of a volatile volcano emerging from the Sicilian sea—is fraught with uncertainty (and often nausea), and once there you feel tugged between extreme attraction and alienation. In this intimate and explosive context, Fiorucci Art Trust’s sixth Volcano Extravaganza, “I Will Go Where I Don’t Belong,” orchestrated by artist Camille Henrot and curator Milovan Farronato, offered a fertile framework for contemplating the depths of the soul (or at least a fun excuse to hang out in paradise).
The weeklong program of exhibitions, film screenings, participatory performances, and readings invoked a different theme every day, announced each morning by email to nurture an atmosphere of suspense and improvisation. The first communication read: “The naufrage is coming and the wild Aeolian seas are threatening chaos on Stromboli’s shores.” And so the theme of day one was “Naufrage” (“Shipwreck” in French).
Some of us played our parts even before arrival: I was stranded in Milazzo with newlyweds Ragnar Kjartansson and Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir due to high winds, surely the doing of Aeolus, adversary of Homer’s Ulysses, who was run aground in the very same place. We had woken up at the Hotel Garibaldi to news of an approaching storm in the Adriatic and the slaughter in Nice. With no Cyclops to outsmart, the Icelandic artists rehearsed a musical performance on the steps of a church and then we repaired to the Trattoria Casalinga for a leisurely lunch.
Fresh from opening a show at the Barbican, Kjartansson had not yet had time to take a honeymoon, but Henrot had requested his presence: “If another artist asks you to do something, you must,” he declared. They got news that Vinyl Factory was on a private boat nearby that was setting off for Stromboli and decided to take their chances with them on the high seas: “Maybe this will be our honeymoon!” I returned to the port to learn that a boat we missed had crashed and turned around.
Starting off on the wrong foot proved felicitous: Although we missed the inaugural dinner—served on Odyssey-themed plates designed by Henrot and fired on the island of the fabled sirens, Li Galli, owned by Nicoletta Fiorucci’s partner, hotelier Giovanni Russo—our circumstances seemed part of the program, ordained by the evening’s screening of Jean Epstein’s Le Tempestaire, in turn a reference to Homer’s tale. (At dinner a couple of Turkish guests learned of the failed coup and decided they would not return to their country, choosing exile over possible persecution.) The next morning I maneuvered a ticket to Stromboli and then ran like hell to get my valise. Scheduled to perform that night, Juliana Huxtable and the Tempers’ Jasmine Golestaneh and Eddie Cooper were on my ferry, but Kjartansson’s entourage was still missing at sea.
The theme of day two was “Isolation,” and on arrival I ascended the steep slope of the volcano to the Fiorucci Art Trust House, formerly owned by Marina Abramović, host of the title group exhibition, curated by Henrot. YouTube footage of “Crossing the Line Ceremonies,” for which sailors dress in drag and strut before Neptune’s court to commemorate their first Equator crossing, was accompanied by a jarring, repetitive sound track. Henrot had covered the walls with frescoes depicting animals and humans, and hybrids of both, carrying out transgressive acts on one another, recalling ancient erotic cave drawings. In other rooms, historic paintings of sunken ships and drawings of vaguely unsavory situations by Walter Sutin were accompanied by sculptures evoking instruments for survival, such as a campfire of wood and plastic, Diyagram (Amnesiac beach fire), by Mike Nelson, and Giulio Delvè’s Moonshining, a distillery made of plumbing pipes, plastic tubes, and bottles that resembled a hospital infusion stand. Identical twins Alberto and Francesco Zenere alternately manned the exhibition and booking office for nightly film screenings hosted by local residents, one embodying good and the other evil. Artist Maria Loboda’s spell of the day, plastered mysteriously on the exterior wall: “A person could become an animal if he or she wanted to and an animal could become a human being.” You understand that in the time of Ulysses one could change form and identity depending on circumstances and necessity.
“I’ve got to stop wearing high heels in Stromboli,” Farronato said as we groped our way along the unlit narrow lanes after imbibing dream-inducing infusions by artist David Horvitz and chanting to the waves lapping the giant black rocks of the beach next to Fiorucci’s villa La Lunatica. Finding the home of our host, former fisherman Giuseppe Sgroi, we feasted in his vast fruit and vegetable garden and then watched Ben Rivers’s There Is a Happy Land Further Away. The meandering documentary footage portrays the languid inhabitants and landscapes of the isolated volcanic islands of Vanuatu, since destroyed by Cyclone Pam, while a gentle, faltering female voice recites a poem by Henri Michaux: “I am writing to you from the end of the world. You have to realize this.” The camera lingers on a black sow feeding three greedy piglets. We were told to send Horvitz our dreams, and that night I dreamt of two writhing rats nibbling my toes.
“Milovan says all volcanoes are connected,” curator Diana Campbell Betancourt explained. Later everyone convened at the Club Megà for Kjartansson’s delayed performance: “We left from Messina last night, but the boat started taking on water, as they say, and people were getting sick. The descent into Iceland’s Snæfellsjökull and up through the Stromboli volcano would have been more direct!” Dressed in a seersucker suit, he proceeded to sing romantic and bitter songs, bantering in between and ending with the Louvin Brothers’ “While You’re Cheating on Me.”
On the third day, “Maison Absolue (Ideal Home),” we gathered on the stunning terrace of La Lunatica for sunset drinks, and poet Jacob Bromberg read incantations before leading everyone in a game of telephone haiku. I sat between Egyptian-Armenian artist Anna Boghiguian, who is at once inscrutable and delightfully ingenuous, and curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, making a sphinxlike pair. Inside, a pop-up exhibition displayed postcards Henrot had sent to Yona Friedman, who superimposed mythical dogs and unicorns on scenic Stromboli backdrops. “I’ve always tried to promote improvisation as something necessary because planning is impossible,” Friedman says in Henrot’s 2007 Spatial Film, screening in a corner. “In the long term it is an illusion.” And that was just as well here. “Milo likes to tread the line [in stilettos, naturally] between improvisation and structure, never letting things go into complete chaos,” Henrot explained. “He is a magician.” I could not agree more.
“Bring goggles, a flashlight, and jellyfish sting gel,” Linda Yablonsky had advised. “It is camp in every sense.” The film nights at local homes were a version of sitting around the campfire telling ghost stories, and after dark you needed a flashlight to find your way back in the pitch dark. One night we all took part in collective storytelling at an outdoor amphitheater, voting on alternative twists and turns in the tale “Buffalo Head,” adapted by Henrot, Farronato, Bromberg, Horvitz, and Loboda from a story by Italo Calvino and performed by Amira Ghazalla. The next evening we ascended the volcano guided by artist Joana Escoval and Stefano Oliva, a native Strombolian who runs up to the top and down every day. They had forged a wild descent for us through the bushes that we could choose to take once we had gathered metal energy conductors created by Escoval, but a few of us decided to head to a lookout point to watch lava sliding into the sea and decode the volcano’s smoke signals.
Artist Amira Ghazalla.
We want to stay away from the literal, if not the littoral. We were like strangers thrown together in an unpredictable plot against the stark, dramatic backdrop of bougainvillea, black sand, and shimmering white villas—a smoldering crater looming above. And we were implicated in the narrative. Detective Poirot would have loved it. Far from the relentless daily bad news, “moving to an active volcano feels like the safest place to be for a while,” curator Tim Goossens posted on Facebook one day. Yet as Abramović had put it: “I had to leave: 326 people and so much hate.” Ingrid Bergman’s desperate character in Roberto Rossellini’s Stromboli: Land of God felt similarly, preferring to risk the wrath of the volcano than endure its society—finally recognizing, at the end of her rope, the light at the far side of darkness (with every hair in place): “Oh God, what mystery, how beautiful!”
The final day was “Exile,” and I saw my fellow campers off at the Scari dock, left to my own devices with the fuming volcano. The ferry headed straight into the bloodred moon toward Naples, leaving a luminous puddle on the serene surface of the sea. The party would throw Horvitz’s glass vessels, In the atmosphere where our mouths meet, 2016, each shaped by a breath of air, overboard to meet their destinies. And thus the denizens of the Volcano Extravaganza had encountered the fundamental beat of existence, the perfect chaos for a collective orgasmic dance—primeval and fatalistic, exhilarating and enervating all at once.