COLUMNS

  • X-Files

    “MASHA’ALLAH,” exclaimed my fellow travelers upon learning that I was headed from Jeddah to the holy city of Medina: the Pakistani driver, the jolly Saudi desk agent, my Sudanese seatmate with bloodshot eyes. When I explained, in broken Arabic, that I would continue on to Al ‘Ula, a speck of a town more than a hundred miles away, they were less impressed. In 2017, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman set up the royal commission of Al ‘Ula (RCU) to develop the backwater’s breathtakingly preserved, UNESCO-anointed carved rock art of the ancient Lihyan and Nabatean kingdoms into a premier tourist

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  • Pleasure Dome

    SMASHED BETWEEN adult-film star Sasha Grey, filmmaker-artist Miranda July, and underground legend Ian Svenonius in the space of Wolfgang Puck’s original Spago on the Sunset Strip, a weird claustrophobia set in. So I skipped outside to watch magickian-artist Brian Butler, sword in hand, hollering Luciferean incantations in a bloodred glow as the moon rose above him. I half expected a demon to leap out from the Hollywood sign and eat us all in a single, wet gulp. The second edition of Frieze Los Angeles launched last week, along with cluster of ride-along art fairs, from the long-standing Art Los

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  • Continental Drift

    A CLOUD OF SMOKE rippled around Dhaka’s Shilpakala Academy late in the afternoon. Through it, we could see the occasional flame. Everyone continued chatting, unsure of what we were looking at, until a group in silver hazmat suits ascended a mound of dirt. We watched as the moonmen tended to the fires, part of a smelting performance by Swiss artist Raphael Hefti. Originally commissioned for a volcano in Milan, the heavy-metal presentation was meant to convey “part of the epic story of human civilization,” per the exhibition notes. Unluckily for me, it only prompted platitudes and non sequiturs

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  • Friend Zona

    “IS SOMETHING SPECIAL HAPPENING in Mexico City this week?” Rachel Kushner asked. I introduced myself to her during Laura Owens’s opening at House of Gaga, a day before Material and Zona Maco began. Kushner, in town to support her friend, was somewhat surprised to be running into so many other Angelenos. Owens’s dreamy abstractions, atypically small, hung well in the modest gallery—paintings and watercolors the size you’d hang in a breakfast nook, set off by custom wallpapers bearing cartoonish lemons and stripes in rogue geometries. A tiny rat in a hat and coat was painted in the corner. “It’s

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  • Retail Therapy

    “WHAT I LOVE ABOUT RACHEL IS she has this alchemy,” said the former Olympic swimmer Casey Legler, by way of introduction to Rachel Comey’s Fall/Winter 2020 runway show on Thursday evening at the SoHo restaurant/showroom La Mercerie. “Her art form lends itself to people who not only do things, but do really powerful, impactful things.” She was referring primarily to the time her wife, Siri May, the United Nations program coordinator for the LGBT rights group OutRight Action International, wore a Comey dress at the UN Open Debate on Women, Peace, and Security, giving the New York label a diplomatic

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  • Nacht Fever

    “I'M NOT FUCKING WITH THIS,” declared Lafawndah, as she rushed backstage, upstairs at Griessmuehle after an hour-long sound check before her Saturday-night performance at Berlin’s CTM Festival. “I want to go back to the hotel,” she told one of the managers trailing behind her. There wasn’t enough time. I had been sitting with the night’s other performers in the backstage lounge when one of the festival organizers came in and announced that everyone had to leave: Lafawndah needed the room to herself, “for her voice.”

    Banished downstairs, we watched an opening DJ warm up the floor. “I kind of want

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  • Stayin’ Alive

    “WHEN I EAT, I EAT MY OWN DEATH,” proclaimed a pile of bright green stickers, injecting a gloomy note into what otherwise promised to be a lively opening. However dour, artist Atul Bhalla’s warning was not going to keep me from India International Centre’s famed samosas and a cup of hot tea on a cold winter’s day. Curated by Arshiya Lokhandwala, the site-specific exhibition bore the sanguine title “We Are Still Alive: Strategies in Surviving the Anthropocene.” I spotted the statuesque Shalini Passi, the collector and founder of MASH (My Art Shalini, a digital platform that sponsored the project),

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  • Last Resort

    TO GET TO THE ALPINE VILLAGE OF VERBIER, I cabbed to the airport at five in the morning, flew to Geneva, and from there took the train two hours along the north side of Lac Léman. Then I transferred to a smaller train for another half hour before catching a ski lift into the clouds. This trek was thrilling at first—magical, really—and, finally, somewhat absurd, given that this year’s Verbier Art Summit is titled “Resource Hungry: On Our Cultured Landscape and Its Ecological Impact.” I had come solely to attend this event—for which the Dia Foundation’s Jessica Morgan had asked an array of artists,

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  • Singapore Fling

    I FOUND MYSELF on a recent Sunday evening in a Singaporean mall, at a dinner hosted by ShanghART gallery, meeting the country’s arts impresarios over Peking duck and century eggs. Dealer Lillian Wu and Rosa Daniel of the National Arts Council spoke of the country’s expanding arts scene—words such as “global platform” and “art hub” were as plentiful as the bonnes bouches on offer. And such talk is warranted. For readers unfamiliar with Singapore (as I was a couple weeks ago), I hereby report that the city-state is booming, enjoying new streams of money diverted from Hong Kong. On January 12, the

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  • Wanderer’s Love

    LANDING AT TPE ON JANUARY 16, just five days after Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-Wen’s triumphant reelection, I was ready for a jollier mood than what had loomed over the capital during my last trip. That was during the Taipei Biennial two years ago, when I witnessed the Democratic Progressive Party’s defeat in the local elections, followed by Tsai’s resignation as the party leader. Now, on my ride to the hotel, I immersed myself in the view outside. The beauty of Taipei’s built environment—rows of slightly worn office buildings elbowing restaurants, Japanese lettering against the backdrop of a

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  • Fog Machine

    FOR SEVEN YEARS, I’ve watched the art and design fair known as FOG recede and advance (last year, fifty-three galleries were present, this year a more manageable forty-eight); shift its art-to-design ratio (more art, less design); and beef up its ancillary programming (ten artist/curator talks in four days in the on-site auditorium). Taking place at the Festival Pavilion—the historic pier at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture––the fair features a considerable cadre of San Francisco galleries, or galleries with outposts in the city, and is disproportionately supported and visited

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  • Slipstreams

    “THIS IS THE BIGGEST PARTY IN AFRICA, as far as photography is concerned.” The Nigerian photographer and curator Uche James Iroha was holding court in the airy ground-floor exhibition hall of the Palais de la Culture Amadou Hampaté Ba, a spacious, gently decrepit multiarts complex and one of the main venues of Rencontres de Bamako. An established crossroads for art and ideas in Africa, the respected photo biennial is now holding its twelfth edition, which runs through the end of the month and marks twenty-five years since its founding in Mali’s capital.

    That’s an impressive run, not least because

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