MIAMI IS WHERE THE ART WORLD goes each December to seal its bubble—the one that makes art the center of the universe and keeps real life at bay.
But three weeks after the election of Donald Trump, the mood was different. Oh, there were plenty of the usual parties with many of the usual faces in the usual product-promoted places, but it wasn’t the same.
Actually, there was one new place—the Faena Forum. Otherwise, the weather was balmy and art was everywhere. So were Trump/Pence banners. And then there were the people who came to make or spend money and have a good time in the playground swamp of Miami Beach, its resorts, clubs, and restaurants. Just not quite as many as usual.
The Faena Forum is a nonprofit arena for film, performance, and symposia on the “wrong” side of Collins Avenue, opposite the beachfront Faena Hotel Miami. The Forum’s architect is Shohei Shigematsu, designer of the Metropolitan Museum’s “Manus x Machina” earlier this year and a partner with Rem Koolhaas in OMA. (The firm is responsible for three of the five buildings in the four-block, billion-dollar Faena District development, not including an aesthetically opposed commercial condo by Foster + Partners.)
The five-story Forum, a fenestrated white cylinder connected to an equally fenestrated white cube, opened on Monday, November 28, following the previous day’s parade of bands and artist-made floats organized by curator Claire Tancons and led by musician Arto Lindsay. He was the first person I saw there on Tuesday morning, when my plane landed too late for a press conference with Argentine impresario Alan Faena and Ukarainian-born American financier Len Blavatnik, a major collector. Faena had the vision; Blavatnik bankrolled it.
Lindsay was setting up for his DJ turn that night, after a dance concert choreographed by Pam Tanowitz in a set by Shigematsu. The architect gave me a tour of the complex, starting in the lobby-cum-amphitheater of pink Italian marble. The third-story performance and party space accommodates a thousand people under a spiral dome and has a sprung-wood floor. Seating around the circular stage is in tall, irregular white pods. The building’s windows, which come in three hundred different shapes, are its structural support, leaving the interior free of columns.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? So why did it feel like a cruise ship circling a shark? Too “done,” maybe. Yet the unpainted concrete walls of a stairwell were beautiful. “The irony of architecture is that you can never make it better than the construction,” Shigematsu conceded. Likewise, his airy pyramid of a parking garage was gorgeous.
Left: ICA Miami deputy director and chief curator Alex Gartenfeld and ICA Miami director Ellen Salpeter. Right: Heike Bayrle and artist Thomas Bayrle.
On the beach side of Collins, both Faena and Koolhaas were lunching at separate tables in the garden café of the Faena Hotel, interiors by the never-leave-well-enough-alone film director Baz Luhrmann. Damien Hirst’s twenty-four-karat gilded skeleton of a wooly mammoth (a loan from Blavatnik) looked positively Trumpian here.
There were two other firsts, both in museums, and both exhilarating. At the Moore Building, the ICA Miami’s temporary address in the Design District, the country’s first retrospective for German artist Thomas Bayrle opened that evening. At the same time, the Pérez Art Museum Miami was toasting the Argentine octogenarian Julio Le Parc’s first North American retrospective.
Bayrle’s “One Day on Success Street” began with a pretzel-like, abstracted Madonna of black steel pipe that was soldered between the crisscrossing rafters of the ICA’s three-story atrium. Just as stunning was the show’s finale—a pair of working windshield wipers conducting the music broadcast from a portable radio.
“Thomas’s work is all about deviation and aberration,” Gartenfeld said of the show, which also includes cardboard sculptures evoking roadways and cathedrals, and illusionistic grids of highways and high-rises embedded with more Madonnas. “It’s a good thing for an old man,” Bayrle said of the show, which he called “old-style,” because he works in his studio with “just me, alone.”
Left: Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume. Right: A performance for Art Public by artist Naama Tsabar.
It must have taken a platoon to install, and to make, Le Parc’s “Form into Action.” Estrellita Brodsky and Tobias Ostrander—the show’s curator and coordinator, respectively—walked museum patrons through the exhibition’s spectacularly kinetic light sculptures, including a vibrating labyrinth as disorienting as a fun house, and a “game room” of interactive works for visitors to test their motor skills and peripheral vision. As Brodsky said, the show has “an element of danger and an element of playfulness.” Bases covered.
Collector Jorge Pérez, who had just announced a ten-million-dollar gift to his namesake museum, arrived just in time for dinner. That was my cue to return to the Moore Building for a taste of “Desire,” a group show of work by fifty artists detailing the throes of unbound sex and its fetishes. It was this year’s collaborative presentation by Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch.
Though the show grew successively more interesting on higher floors, as curated by Diana Widmaier-Picasso, “Desire” pointed up the problems of thematic shows by coupling works that otherwise don’t belong in the same room—unlike the claque of well- and high-heeled, Saint Laurent–clad guests, who tend to stick together. It also proved that, like social butterflies, not all art is timeless.
I heard that the dinner for three hundred, sponsored by Saint Laurent and W Magazine, was as hot and sweaty as the show, but by then I was hopscotching around Northwest Miami.
Left: Sharjah Art Foundation president and director Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi and collector Dasha Zhukova. Right: Dealers Jessica Juckes and Eva Langret.
The Rubell family was holding its annual VIP preview of the last shows to grace their collection’s longtime home in Wynwood. In the rare, non-Trump news that day came word of their move next year to the Allapattah District, an undeveloped industrial neighborhood where Annabelle Seldorf will convert a warehouse that is the full length of a city block.
A model of the new space was on view in the library, where the progressively chapeaued Mera Rubell was displaying paper cutouts of the best-known in her family’s collection of some seven thousand works. Give these people room!
It was very crowded here, especially with Brazilians. The Getty was previewing its next, Latin American-focused Pacific Standard Time extravaganza with Brazilian art video. The other ground-floor show, “New Shamans,” presented six worthy Brazilian artists—three from Săo Paulo’s Mendes Wood Gallery. “I’m very happy,” said the gallery’s Felipe Dmab. He was dressed in a stripy, skirted outfit that, in another life, could have been designed by Eli Sudbrack, who actually contributed a swirling wall painting as colorful as Carnival in Rio.
Left: Lady Bunny. Right: Dealer Nara Roesler and artist Julio Le Parc.
Upstairs was a show of new acquisitions, artists that first-responder collectors typically favor—Anne Imhof, Max Hooper Schneider, Karl Holmqvist, Hito Steyerl, Bunny Rogers, and Samuel Levi Jones, and more, and more. The show’s title is “High Anxiety”—pretty current, considering the moment’s tenor.
With the clock ticking, I headed out to Garcia’s Seafood Market and Grille on the Miami River, where dealers Shaun Caley Regen, Thomas Dane, and Eva Presenhuber combined forces for an oyster, shrimp, and lobster claw buffet attended by artists and curators from Los Angeles, New York, and London who were refining the art of schmooze.
At the Cypress Tavern, Gavin Brown was hosting a boisterous and heartwarming sit-down for Bayrle and Gartenfeld, where talk of the latest Trump outrages, and what galleries could do to counter them, accompanied the steak frites. If I rushed, I could cover the yawning distance to the White Cube party at Soho House on the beach, where Anselm Keifer would be dancing to music performed live by Chaka Kahn. Forgive me, I was having too good a time to leave. Besides, I thought I should rest up for the next morning’s VIP previews for Design Miami and Miami Basel.
That was not the case.
I made it to Design Miami’s tent behind the convention center within minutes of its opening. Hardly anyone was there. Was I too early? I’m never early. What was going on? Some dealers weren’t there yet. Fair director Rodman Primack was still on his way. (Traffic in Miami is awful.)
Left: Artist Eli Sudbrack. Right: Collector Stavros Merjos with dealer Angela Westwater and Städel Museum director of contemporary art Martin Engler.
With no one to distract me, I had time to enjoy the semi-figural Gaetano Pesce cabinets at Salon 94’s booth and the museum of jewelry designed by Man Ray, Calder, and Fontana at Louisa Guinness before sailing through the door to Miami Basel. The line was so short that the security gates seemed overstaffed.
This was not like any Basel fair I’ve attended in the last fifteen years. It was quiet. Very quiet. Had the Zika virus scared people away? Were the Trump supporters among the American collectors (too many to count) keeping a low profile? Where were the museum groups? Society photographer Patrick McMullan stood helplessly near the entrance, waiting. “Uber isn’t even surging,” said art publicist Adam Abdalla. “And that’s telling.”
Okay, Barbra Streisand did come by with James Brolin, but not many saw them—either because their visit was brief or because there wasn’t anyone around to notice. There was Steve Cohen, picking up his first Franz West from Presenhuber. There was Steve Tisch and family making tracks, their business concluded, and Michael and Susan Hort. And there was the advisor Alex Marshall, though without his star client, the First Daughter-elect. Many artists wish @dear_ivanka would be a more proactive guard against her father’s extremism. “She’s doing what she can,” Marshall assured me, and quickly walked on.
Maybe the fair had deliberately restricted the VIP preview to actual VIPs. “That was sort of the idea,” allowed Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. And indeed, it had rewards.
Swiss dealer Krystyna Gmurzynska had time to give me some background on her impressive, Russian Avant-Garde presentation, curated by Norman Rosenthal and designed by Claude Picasso. Several of the rarer works on paper had been in her family for years. Even Serpentine Gallery curator Hans Ulrich Obrist hadn’t seen them before.
With no one else about, Andrew Fabricant showed me around the Miro, Picabia, Jim Dine, and other works in the elegant Richard Gray booth. I was glad to get lost in the warren of rooms built by Neugerriemschneider, to study the endlessly fascinating repercussions of Jill Magid’s Luis Barragán obsession at Labor’s booth, and be grossed out by sploshing, the slimy sexual fetish action in photographs by Linder at Blum & Poe. And lured by the aroma of freshly cooked pasta, I hung out for nearly an hour in the wildly festooned, noodle-overwhelmed Beyeler Foundation booth, where Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari had created a walk-in, one-bedroom apartment version of Toilet Paper, their riotous, look-sex-and-death-in-the-face biannual picture magazine. That was the most fun I’ve ever had at a fair.
From there, I found the Gagosian booth packed, but the gallery’s owner was pacing, with no one to talk to. Yet he was smiling. “It’s slow but good,” went the common refrain.
One after another, dealers like Almine Rech, Carole Greene, José Kuri, Lisa Spellman, Toby Webster, and Esther Schipper agreed there were fewer people, but that those on the floor were serious types who came to buy, not browse. “I’m almost sold out,” said Rech, echoing many others. It wasn’t yet lunchtime. When did that happen? Art fairs are transparent places, but these must have been the most discreet sales on record.
Left: Dealer Shaun Caley Regen. Right: Architect Shohei Shagemutsu.
In fact, this Miami Basel was all about transactions, not relationships. If you were faced with someone whose political affiliations were anathema to yours, you didn’t encourage extended conversations—about art or politics, or anything. Trumpty Dumpty supporters were loathe to call attention to their politics or engage in any verbal scuffles with dealers, who were just as anxious to avoid confrontation. “They just didn’t say anything,” one dealer told me. “They came, they bought, and they went.”
It’s unlikely that an art fair could become a springboard to higher moral ground. But people were asking: What can we do?
Some dealers—Blum & Poe, Gavin Brown, Mary Boone, Susanne Vielmetter, Michele Maccarone—featured pointedly political art by Sam Durant, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Jonathan Horowitz, Barbara Kruger, Rodney McMillian, all but Tiravanija’s made well before the election. For most others, it was business as usual. By cocktail hour, the aisles were filled. The dealers were sitting down.
Night fell. In the Botanical Gardens outside the convention center, John Baldessari was christening his BMW art car. In Collins Park, in front of the Bass Museum (closed for renovation), Nicholas Baume ended his popular run as Art Public curator—Philipp Kaiser takes over next year—with “Ground Control,” letting Lady Bunny and her Major Tom dancers loose in her Intergalactic Disco, and by unveiling Ugo Rondinone’s Miami Mountain. Rondinone’s soaring, forty-one-foot totem of Dayglo-painted boulders is the tallest (and heaviest) of the works debuted last spring near Las Vegas by the Art Production Fund and the Nevada Museum of Art. The Bass commissioned this one—pretty scary for a place so vulnerable to hurricane winds and the floods of climate change. Why so high?
Left: Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. Right: Architect Kulapat Yantrasast and dealer Magnus Edensvard.
“I wanted it to be taller than the trees,” Rondinone said at dinner, a strangely alienating, corporate affair at Mr. Chow sponsored by the Russian-owned Phillips auction house with the Bass and (again) W Magazine. The artist and his dealers (Gladstone, Schipper, Presenhuber, Sadie Coles) were ghettoed at a single table with John Giorno and Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal. Almost everyone else got acquainted with strangers.
I thought about dropping into the Greene Naftali/Chantal Crousel dinner or another closer by, or one of the tawdry hotel parties, and wondered if there was still time for Joe’s Stone Crab, where Chuck Close, Shepard Fairey, and Sarah Arison were among the diners invited by the DC advocacy group Americans for the Arts. I was hoping they were cooking up some tactic to counter Republican defunding. Alas! Too many options too late.
The next morning began with the spirited opening of the NADA fair at the Deauville Hotel. Here was the polar opposite of the sober Miami Basel preview. Every booth was crowded—okay, they’re pretty small—and there was excitement in the air. People were buying. (Okay, prices for work by young artists are not stratospheric.)
Before catching a plane home, I stopped into the brunch that the Public Art Fund was giving at Casa Tua for the artists PAF director Baume included in Collins Park. Rondinone was just leaving. “I feel like a voodoo doll,” he said—pricked by the demands an art fair week can make on a person, not just an artist.
In a few days, all of this will be history lost—at least until January 20, when we might have reason to remember how it was inside the bubble before it burst.
Left: Dealer Hannah Hoffman with collectors Isaac Joseph, Marija Karan and Joel Lubin. Right: Dealer Friedrich Petzel.
LAST WEEK I SPENT THE SHOCKING, watershed days around the dawn of Trump’s America in Shanghai. While the events resonated here, it was less a shake than a quiver. After all, China and its overheating art world are far from the center of that particular storm—even if “Shyna,” as Trump so dismissively puts it, is in his crosshairs.
It wasn’t that long ago that Beijing, with its massive network of artist studios, underground movements, and exhibition spaces, was the center of the Chinese art establishment. But the past seven days confirmed a shift east toward Shanghai, with the business of exhibiting drawing a swarm of art pundits and enthusiasts for two competing fairs, one biennial, and dozens of galleries and museum shows—many, like Edouard Malingue, ShanghART, Aike Dellarco, BANK/Mabsociety, MadeIn, CC Foundation, and Capsule, in brand new spaces.
Last Monday at the Minsheng Museum, I sat at a post-opening dinner for “Everyday Legend,” a serious exhibition of works by eighteen artists, including Liang Shaoji, Shao Yinong, and Sui Jianguo (and not counting Sun Xun’s video, which was shut down by censors), curated by Jiang Jiehong and Nan Nan. “I am here to criticize,” said the critic Zhang Wei, sitting next to me. On trial were exhibition titles—including Venice’s “Viva Arte, Viva,” considered too juvenile by my Shanghainese neighbor. “They might as well use robots to come up with them,” he quipped, a reference to Liu Xiaodong’s exhibition at the Chronus Art Center in Shanghai’s M50 district, where the artist uses three robotic arms to paint on canvases.
The next day, the VIP preview of the third edition of the West Bund Art & Design fair started strong. With sizeable booths and only thirty-one galleries, there was an almost pleasing flow. Newcomers included blue chips like David Zwirner, Timothy Taylor (also showing Alex Katz’s lucent paintings in a pop-up next door), Gladstone Gallery, and Long March, as well as younger venues like Taipei’s TKG+ and the artist-run Canton Gallery.
I ran into patrons Dominique and Sylvain Levy manning a virtual-reality setup that displays their collection of works from the Chinese avant-garde. “You must try it,” said Dominique. “It’s just like the real thing.” Robot art and VR: Maybe it’s time to let the computers take over. From there we set off for the Chi K11 art space, featuring three exhibitions spanning thirty thousand basement-level square feet: media installations by Guan Xiao, sculptures by Neďl Beloufa, and the touring “Hack Space,” a group show curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Amira Gad that brings together artists such as Cao Fei, Firenze Lai, and Simon Denny. The place was packed. Beloufa pointed out his works to collector Jane Zhao while the Levys greeted artist Liu Wei and K11 founder Adrian Cheng.
Back at the West Bund gala, preprandial mingling included champagne in the Xiŕn Chǎng section, which featured solo presentations by Laurent Grasso, Qiu Anxiong, and Haroon Mirza. “Just like Unlimited,” argued a collector, referring to the Art Basel’s massive display (though to be fair, Xiŕn Chǎng is a bit humbler). I caught up with collector Lihsin Tsai, who was opening a presentation by Martin Creed with Qiao Zhibing in Qiao Space the next day. “Martin seemed so happy!” she said. Art historian Karen Smith, dealer Natalie Sun, and Waling Boers talked between tables while I greeted artist Gregor Hildebrandt, who had made the trip from Berlin with Alicja Kwade to show with his gallery, Galerie Perrotin.
Slivers of sea cucumber intestines arrived inside ice globes while loud promotional videos were projected on a large screen, “educating” the more than three hundred guests about West Bund and Shanghai. There was a surprising cheer when David Zwirner was asked to come to the stage, followed by a speech by He Juxing, founder of the forthcoming Star Museum, and then a folk song by Ci Kim of Arario Gallery. Dinner concluded with a plate of white chocolate shells flavored with coffee, mushroom, and Sichuan pepper, a confusing mélange—though artist Austin Lee, in town for a solo show at BANK, maintained his nonchalance as he sampled the abalones, Peking duck, and black truffle tofu soup.
Out in the cold, I was relieved when West Bund Art & Design founder Zhou Tiehai fixed me a ride with artist Wang Shang and Magician Space dealer Qu Kejie. We were headed for a party organized—just for the sake of it—by Sishang Museum director Linyao Kiki Liu and MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach at the Shelter, a former bunker-cum-nightclub. Dealers Sadie Coles and Nick Simunovic and Ullens Center director Philip Tinari rubbed shoulders with artists Li Ming, Jin Shan, and Alice Wang. “This place has a déjŕ vu from the ’90s,” said Biesenbach. It certainly had a touch of the sweaty Berlin underground. We partied while not knowing that the next day’s mood would take a drastic turn.
After all, this was before the devastating results of the US elections, in which Hillary Clinton, despite winning the popular vote by some margin, lost the presidency to Donald Trump. “It’s like somebody died,” I was told at the fair. “I’m going home to join the ACLU,” said another. Some American dealers cried in their booths, and even the most cynical merchant couldn’t have helped but notice when Asian and other global markets dipped. (The Dow dropped more than six hundred points, though it and other indexes recovered somewhat by the end of the business day.) The Chinese art world responded with resilience and a poker face. Some mentioned Brexit. Chillingly, a few businessmen cheered. Others turned inward. Most showed support to their American colleagues.
That afternoon we walked gloomily around the openings in the West Bund, sticking to the ground. ShanghART celebrated its twentieth anniversary with the group exhibition “Holzwege,” while Aike Dellarco launched its new space with shows for Wang Yi and Lee Kit. Art Stage directors Lorenzo and Maria-Elena Rudolf worked the crowds as if they were at home. Collector Daisuke Miyatsu had just flown in from Japan and was headed to Art Taipei next. Before dinner, I swung by Leo Xu’s gallery in the former French Concession neighborhood for Nina Canell’s exhibition, and later that evening, Martin Creed performed at Zhibing’s Shanghai Nights—a karaoke event so bling and over the top that people either indulged their inner vocalist or left at once.
On Thursday, another fair was thrown into the already impossible mix. The fourth edition of Art021 featured eighty-four galleries in the Shanghai Exhibition Center, a city landmark built in 1955 to mark the Sino-Soviet friendship. Walking the aisles were cofounder Kelly Ying, collector Chong Zhou, LACMA’s Matthew Thompson, Art Fair Tokyo’s Naohiko Kishi, artist Wang Fujui, and dealer Peggy Lin. And, in case you missed the Shanghai Center of Photography’s building at the West Bund, you could catch select works by China-based photographers from its permanent collection in the not-for-profit section. Leaving the fair, we decided to check out “You Won’t Be Young Forever,” an exhibition of young artists organized single-handedly by Biljana Ciric in a soon to be demolished three-story building. The highlight was the beautiful facade that featured a commissioned painting by Nathan Zhou.
But we were still only midway through the week. The next day was the opening of the eleventh Shanghai Biennale, curated by the Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective and titled “Why Not Ask Again: Arguments, Counter-Arguments, and Stories.” By the time we arrived for Friday’s opening at the Power Station, the hall was quickly filling up. Curators Sabih Ahmed and Tess Maunder were about to lead a tour. Artists Michael Lin and Charwei Tsai and curator Kit Hammonds watched a performer slowly sweep the floor as part of Lee Mingwei’s work. “She’s a former real-estate broker who hated her job, so she quit, began learning calligraphy, and applied for my open call,” the artist explained. Her gesture was convincing—she was no a robot! Covering three floors, with many video works and lots of natural media (wood, stone, rice), the first impression was of sepia-colored narratives and dark rooms, a carnival of ideas and personal stories and gestures that render geopolitical issues with sobriety and elegance.
Casual petits fours preceded a seated dinner for five hundred on the Power Station’s seventh floor. It was heavy on speeches and videos accolades for Power Station director Gong Yan, Raqs, other curators, the staff, and the artists. Among the many guests were Chinese Contemporary Art Award’s Uli Sigg and Liu Lili; dealers Mathieu Borysevicz and Ann Marie Peńa; biennial artists Heidi Voet, Ayesha Jatoi, Taus Makhacheva, Agan Harahap, Müge Yilmaz, Bianca Baldi, Anawana Haloba, Salome Asega, Olu Oguibe, and Bo Zheng; Minsheng Museum’s Lance Liu Jia; Rockbund Museum’s Liu Yingjiu; and Asia Art Archives’s Hammad Nasar—though the list goes on and on and on.
“Did you notice that there was so little information released before the biennial?” asked my seatmate, ShanghART’s Lorenz Helbling. “When you go to Venice, you can always read about the works ahead of time. Here they come as a surprise.” With more than ninety artists in this extravagant show, the surprises take time to digest. If only all surprises were so palatable, or soothing.
IN WHAT NOW SEEMS LIKE AN OMEN, I spent the Thursday before last huddled in a museum parking lot, watching a red sedan go up in flames.
“What about all the toxins?” I asked.
“They’re not blowing toward us,” replied artist Dalibor Martinis, waving his hand at the thick trail of black smoke. True. It was slithering up and away from us—toward observers on the terrace above.
We had gathered at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb to watch Martinis set fire to the car as part of his series of performances The Eternal Flame of Rage.
The sedan had been overturned pre-immolation, its belly exposed like a stinkbug in its final throes. “That’s a Yugo 45,” artist Ivan Dujmusic told me. “Everyone used to drive these.” (“The Worst Car in the World,” a surreptitious Google search confirmed.) “I was lucky to find such a historical model,” Martinis mused as the engine sputtered off a mild explosion.
Unsettled legacies were a running motif of the weekend, which centered around the launch of the first episode of My Sweet Little Lamb (Everything We See Could Also Be Otherwise), a seven-month program of events hosted by the curatorial quartet What, How and for Whom (WHW) in collaboration with the Kontakt Collection, a seminal grouping of works from central, eastern, and southeastern Europe assembled by the Erste Foundation.
The six-episode exhibition had been in planning for several years, but the tone of the opening events shifted this July, following the passing of artist Mladen Stilinović. The entire collaboration was subsequently dedicated to Stilinović, its title taken from a 1993 drawing by the artist that inscribes the program’s eponymous phrase under an outline of a pig stamped in red ink. After all: Everything we see could also be something else. (A motto as close to Hope as we may be able to get right now.)
Multiple interpretations thrived at one of the weekend’s highlights, a roundtable discussion led by MoMA curator Ana Janevski and featuring members of Kontakt’s art advisory committee Branka Stipančić, Silvia Eiblmayr, and Georg Schöllhammer. (Adam Szymczyk, a longtime member and Documenta 14 artistic director, was a last-minute no-show, though social media clocked him onstage in Kassel playing keys for a band fronted by artist Hiwa K.)
In a nod to Stilinović’s 1979 lecture “Against English Language,” Stipančić delivered the opening statement in Croatian. After a brief overview of Kontakt’s twelve-year history, she quoted from Igor Zabel’s argument that the Cold War caricaturing of Western Modernism versus Eastern Socialist Realism had resulted in a situation where the West was understood as the natural control group for the development of contemporary art, while the East was seen as the West’s stunted little sister, hopelessly emulating whatever it could but never really fitting into anything. (Schöllhammer illustrated this with an anecdote about Benjamin Buchloh’s quick dismissal of Polish filmmaker Józef Robakowski some years back: “Oh god, not another copy of Bruce Nauman.”) This narrative reduces the art-historical workload, ignoring not only the active exchanges taking place at events like the Paris Biennial but also the preexisting connections, correspondences, and even collapses between the former West and East.
“The division was never as solidified as we’ve narrated it,” Schöllhammer pointed out, adding that Yugoslavia was only “Easternized” in 1990, its affiliations rewritten retroactively. Here Eiblmayr chimed in, confirming that, for Austrians, the so-called Eastern Bloc “was where we vacationed, where our relatives lived. We didn’t have that fear of what you call the threshold, the Iron Curtain.” From there, the conversation touched on various institutions or initiatives that have tried to give voice to artists from the region—from Moderna Galerija’s Arteast2000+ Collection in Ljubljana and the network of Soros Institutes to Tranzit—but, as Janevski astutely noted, each of these still risk homogenizing how we talk about the East.
My Sweet Little Lamb presents an excellent chance to see things “otherwise.” Working together with Kontakt’s Kathrin Rhomberg, WHW curators Ivet Ćurlin, Ana Dević, Nataša Ilić, and Sabina Sabolović placed works from the Kontakt Collection in an illuminating dialogue with artists such as Július Koller, Wu Tsang, Halil Altindere, and KwieKulik, in a two-part exhibition split between WHW’s Galerija Nova and a neighboring apartment. Its opening program was then fleshed out with contributions from artists and institutions that helped shape the region’s scene.
The festivities officially kicked off Friday evening with the public opening of Sanja Iveković’s private archives, in the same Savska Ulica apartment where the artist performed her iconic 1979 work Triangle. Encapsulating a complete cycle of public exhibitionism and censure, the piece saw Iveković greeting General Tito on his visit to Zagreb with a carefully choreographed masturbation session on her balcony, followed by the (planned) arrival of a policeman, who forbids her from continuing. Nearly four decades later, the balcony has been remodeled into an ostensibly harmless reading nook, while the rest of the space has been set up with plain white tables and binders of source materials and sketches splayed for the public’s delectation. Given the typically understated tone of events in Zagreb, even the curators were caught off guard by the crush of the crowd, which included conceptual artist Goran Trbuljak, filmmaker Josef Dabernig, and Bratislava-based curator Daniel Grúň.
A little before 8 PM, the hordes began squeezing out the door of Iveković’s apartment and down Savska Ulica to Galerija SC, one of the key institutions driving Yugoslavia’s New Art Practice movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. As part of My Sweet Little Lamb, the gallery was hosting “One Is Not Enough,” an exhibition of photographs by filmmaker Friedl Kubelka, who had a way of capturing unfiltered intimacy on camera. (Witness two 16-mm films in which she stripteases off-camera, her lens trained on the reaction shots from men she recruited off the street.)
In the accompanying screening and artist’s talk, Kubelka openly bucked art-historical attempts to position her as the sexually empowered feminist, ŕ la Iveković’s and her irreverent Triangle. This resistance made the experience of watching Kubelka pose for self-portraits in the mirrors of Paris sex hotels feel invasive or even exploitative, rather than “empowering.” The Kardashian parallels dropped for me when the artist admitted that she took photos of her rivals to understand what made them attractive to men. Well, that and the similarly brazen acknowledgement that she considered her films on her aging—now deceased—mother to be a kind of revenge. Kubelka added that their relationship had improved markedly since her mother’s passing, prompting knowing laughs.
Left: Irwin's Dušan Mandič and Borut Vogelnik with MSU Zagreb curator Nada Beroš. Right: Collector Marinko Sudac at Galerija Nova.
Death may have been the pretext for Saturday’s main event—“Onward Cakes!,” a public memorial for Stilinović at Zagreb Youth Theatre (ZKM)—but the gathering could not have been more life-affirming. As his many devotees know, the artist had a habit of incorporating custard cakes—kremšnita—into his work, devouring them at the end of lectures, readings, or videos, smearing slices across paintings, or even hawking them on the street as “potatoes.” In keeping with the artist’s sweet tooth, Stipančić (Stilinović’s lifelong love and partner) and WHW structured the memorial as sets of three-minute reminiscences from cultural figures including Documenta 12 curator Ruth Noack; Moderna Galerija’s Zdenka Badinovac; the Tomislav Gotovac Institute’s Darko Šimičić; scholar Antonia Majača; artists Dan Perjovschi, IRWIN, and Ahmet Ögüt; and the artist’s brother and colleague, Sven Stilinović—all interspersed with copious cake breaks. (Artists Markita Franulić and Marko Marković skipped the formal divisions, spending their three minutes eating cake on stage in tribute.)
In one of the more heartrending contributions, Schöllhammer sat across from an empty chair to deliver a rendition of Stilinović’s 1978 artist book I Have No Time. As Schöllhammer repeated the titular mantra, his voice grew plaintive, the words “I’m sorry, Mladen, I had no time” echoing as an infinitely applicable refrain in moments like these, when last interactions get weighed and reweighed in an attempt to squeeze some additional significance, a last little parting gift of the artist’s presence.
Thankfully, we all had time. The memorial ended up stretching over three hours, leaving just enough pause before the evening’s openings, which kicked off at 6 PM at Galerija Miroslav Kraljević, where Nina Gojić was unveiling her new Multilogue for Later. At 8, visitors finally got a gander at the Kontakt Collection with the simultaneous opening of the two exhibitions curated by Rhomberg and WHW. Galerija Nova had gotten a slight sprucing for the occasion, with clean white walls ready to showcase a cluster of Mária Bartuszová’s sculptures (including the sublime Endless Egg, 1985), alongside Geta Brǎtescu’s 1978 Censored Self-Portrait, Tomislav Gotovac’s delightful 1962 work Showing Elle, and a 2005 Vlado Martek text piece lamenting that “by creating beautiful things I am doing the East a disservice.”
The Softić Apartment was located just off the city’s main square, though it required ducking into one of the “secret passageways” spun through Zagreb’s major thoroughfares. Inside, the telltale blue scotch-tape line of Edward Krasiński spanned the suite of sixth-floor windows, which provided an excellent view across the square to the building where the curators had hung Koller’s Question Mark Cultural Situation (U.F.O.), a bright red banner emblazoned with a symbol simultaneously suggesting an S, a question mark, and a punctuated infinity sign. In the living room, Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos’s tempera-on-chipboard Paysage de la Mort, 1971–77, held court above the couch, where visitors could sit and marvel at Dezső Magyar’s mesmerizing 1969 film Agitators, a barely disguised ode to the 1968 uprisings that featured Magyar’s fellow artists and philosophers ventriloquizing the Marxist arguments that fueled the Hungarian revolution of 1919. In the dining room, a constellation of Stilinović drawings benefitted from a sound track of “In My Language,” a text by autism activist Amanda Baggs, read aloud in Wu Tsang’s 2008 video The Shape of a Right Statement.
The curators seemed pleased with the results of the collaborative efforts, while visitors got distracted admiring the midcentury Yugoslav modern interior, with chic touches like the soft-cerulean-colored Olivetti typewriter resting on the desk alongside Roman Ondák’s 2003 Letter to the Slovakian Minister of Culture. “This was the apartment of my friend’s grandparents, and they haven’t done anything with it since,” Sabolović explained. “It’s great to see this work in a domestic setting, but it also makes you feel a little uneasy. It’s like you’re trespassing, but you still want to see it all.”
AS FAR AS ITALIAN ART FAIRS GO, nothing gets as international as Artissima. With its surreal number of curators (more than fifty) contributing to sections and prizes, its roster of global collectors, its constant new entries among exhibitors (Iran and Dubai are the latest additions), and its parade of collateral fairs and shows, Turin’s contemporary fair is the epicenter of an explosive Art Week.
Committed art travelers spend four or five days immersed in art and design, rushing from a castle to a former royal palace (Turin has been a capital city for most of its existence, and the first of the Regno d’Italia under the Savoia until 1865), and from a digital-art exhibition to an electronic music festival. Bouncing among the mainstream, the punk, the aristocratic, and the underground, almost never sleeping, we manage to leave town having gained some pounds, carrying some limited edition of fondants by maître chocolatier Guido Gobino (this year signed by Thomas Bayrle), and smelling of truffle to the tips of our hair.
And yet, the Turin Art Week is also the epitome of Italianity, as it seems to feed on contradictions and uncertainty. When the doors of the Oval open on a warm Thursday, the cultural elite of the city is supposedly in turmoil, as the first statements of new mayor Chiara Appendino (young, female, and from the antiestablishment M5S party) on the future of art institutions and blockbuster exhibitions have provoked at least one notable resignation (Fondazione Torino Musei’s president Patrizia Asproni). The traditional Turinese book fair has lost some limbs to its rival, Milan, sparking outrage. Artissima director Sarah Cosulich is at her fifth and final year at the helm, though she is hoping to be appointed again—which is unusual, since previous directors have left well before the end of their tenures, to greener pastures: Francesco Manacorda to Tate Liverpool, Andrea Bellini to the CAC in Geneva.
Left: Artist Jan Schabus and dealer Norma Mangione. Right: Dealer Sara Zanin and artist Evgeny Antufiev.
This edition, the twenty-third, is thus sometimes perceived as that of Turin’s “crisis,” but in my years covering Artissima I have never seen such a global attendance and wide range of collateral events. At the main fair, the quality is consistent: New art prizes are born every year, and large committees of curators wander among the 193 booths, trying not to bump into one another—the herd metaphor is definitely fitting. Sales are okay, “but it’s more about new contacts,” says everyone. (Being the last remaining country in Europe with a 22 percent VAT on works of art, it’s a miracle Italy still has an art market at all.)
The first person I meet as I check in at my hotel in Piazza Carlina is Christine Macel, the artistic director of next year’s Venice Biennale who is getting familiar with the impossible logistics of her task and with the Italian art world in general. We are both too impatient to wait for the scheduled shuttle so we call a taxi and get to the Oval before everyone else. I tag along just to see how many of the local dealers recognize the most powerful woman of 2017, and I am not surprised to see that her face and name don’t always strike a chord. (Dealers, do your homework!)
A nice interlude among the booths is “Corpo. Gesto. Postura,” the in-fair exhibition curated by Simone Menegoi that revolves around the theme of the body and gives international visitors a hint of the richness of Piedmontese collections (with works by John Bock, Sarah Lucas, Anna Maria Maiolino, Giuseppe Penone, Francesca Woodman). One of the key elements of the week is the newly built network among Turinese museums, now connected not only by shuttles (definitely an improvement from previous years) but also by an articulated exhibition plan that sees Ed Atkins both at Castello di Rivoli and Fondazione Sandretto, Wael Shawky at Rivoli and at Fondazione Merz, and lures you from one venue to another.
Left: Collectors Tony Podesta and Dalila Barzilai Hollander. Right: Collectors Leif Djurhuus and Ole Faarup.
At 6:30 PM, just as Artissima officially opens to the public, I’m off to the opening of Rosemarie Trockel’s “Reflections” at Pinacoteca Agnelli, in nearby Lingotto—the former FIAT headquarters. After a long drive, Artissima’s minivan deposits a large group of international curators in a dark and deserted parking lot, miles away from the actual entrance (I am beginning to think that uncomfortable minivans with drivers from hell are the price we pay for our privileged art-world existence). We find our way back and climb up to Renzo Piano’s “Scrigno,” where Gianni and Marella Agnelli’s collection is displayed too. Here, the committee of honor (and power) is all female: president Ginevra Elkann, director Marcella Pralormo, Trockel herself, dealer Monika Sprüth (who has produced Trockel’s amazing new body of ceramic mirroring sculptures), and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Pralormo, who also runs a yearlong public program of conversations with—and about—collectors, explains that Trockel’s enthusiastic participation was unexpected: “We were lucky to be chosen for this exhibition. She has canceled many before, and doesn’t usually attend openings, being a little agoraphobic.”
At dinnertime an existential choice has to be made: Should we join the young crowds at Arto Lindsay’s concert, part of the Club to Club music festival, this year hotter than ever (45,000 tickets sold)? Or should we dutifully attend Artissima’s party at the place any art pilgrim dreads most: the baggage-claim area of Caselle airport?
It’s midnight when we bravely attend the third opening of the day: the Others, the art fair founded six years ago by Roberto Casiraghi. First housed in Le Nuove, the former prison, it has now repaired to Regina Maria Adelaide, a former hospital and trauma center still complete with fluorescent lights and horrific machinery for the straightening of children’s scoliosis. One gallery takes advantage of the environment and shows images of dental procedures. “Don’t you find this a more relaxing setting?” Casiraghi jovially asks. (I don’t.) He says he is also location-scouting in Milan for the Miart week in April: “If you don’t have a parasite fair, you’re a loser,” he jokes. An unending flow of young visitors proves his point. Yet the Others has lost curator Olga Gambari to NESXT, a new nonprofit project/happening/festival that starts off on the right foot this year at the former industrial space Q35.
The following morning, a sleep-deprived VIP tour leaves at 9:15 AM for Galleria d’Arte Moderna (GAM), where an exhibition brings together two hundred works by revolutionary Turinese artist Carol Rama. Director Christov-Bakargiev, who is also in charge of Castello di Rivoli, is there to welcome us: ubiquitous, rumored to be difficult, absorbed in her smartphone, but smiling and always dressed in bright, optimistic orange. We introduce ourselves (again), and I realize how much of the Turin Art Week is in the hands of strong, controversial (but these are synonymous) women. When Artissima went for a new corporate image a few years ago, and chose pink with spiky flowers, it was prophetic.
At GAM, I am lucky enough to be picked up and driven to Reggia di Venaria Reale––the “leisure and hunting” baroque residence built by Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoia in the seventeenth century—where logistics are complicated by a national strike that includes part of the museum’s staff. (A national strike. Of museum attendants. During Art Week. How Italian is this?) The video and sound installation by Milanese duo Masbedo—Nicolň Massazza and Iacopo Bedogni—and curated by Paola Nicolin is worth the forty-minute trip. Three huge screens occupy the long nave of Citroniera with the images and repetitive noise of the restoration of delicate masterpieces: a Rosso Fiorentino painting, a medieval crucifix.
Friday night belongs to Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo: The dinner at her house is the event of the week. More than 150 guests have flown in from across the planet to enjoy risotto, agnolotti, and speeches by an international array of museum directors. Among them are Tom Eccles, director of the Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies, and Carlos Basualdo and Timothy Rub from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Both institutions have just held their board meetings at the Re Rebaudengo’s mansion: “I thought it’d just be easier to invite them here,” says our host, whose fondazione hosts a show by Josh Kline and a video installation by Harun Farocki. She has just given a guided tour of the fair (a “walkie-talkie”) and the following day, with her typical uber-human energy, she will take her American guests (Art Basel’s Marc Spiegler included) to her Guarene d’Alba country retreat for a truffle-themed weekend.
Left: La Gaia's curator Eva Brioschi. Right: Artissima's Back to the Future curator Eva Fabbris.
On the slip of paper I have been given at the entrance is the number 1, the lucky number of my table. I will be sitting with Patrizia, Kline, Spiegler, the Zabludowicz clan, and a tall easygoing young woman in a green dress. I give her my best informal Ciao!, before realizing she is Chiara Appendino, the aforementioned mayor. (Oops.) She is immediately summoned by Patrizia, who has taken her under her wing (and will hopefully advise her on the intricate dynamics of the Italian cultural world).
Appendino takes the microphone to declare: “Contemporary art is not just a matter of economics, but it’s about growing together as a community.” But everyone is too busy networking and taking in the latest additions to Re Rebaudengo’s ever-changing display. Two more works by Maurizio Cattelan have made their way to the marble hall of the residence, along with a large Rudolf Stingel by the white sofas. Curious collectors tour the house with a map.
The next evening is the art galleries’ White Night. “It will rain. It always does,” an experienced friend tells me while we head toward Palazzo Madama to pay one euro and see Grazia Toderi’s collaboration with Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, a poetic cabinet titled Words and Stars. Outside, it’s not just raining: It’s pouring. Both Guido Costa and Norma Mangione have planned large performances that take place anyway. At Palazzo Carignano, doors are open to the new magnificent venue of Franco Noero’s gallery, featuring a museum-worthy show of Mapplethorpe portraits.
Left: Getty Institute Pietro Rigolo, producer Nataša Venturi, and performer Michelangelo Miccolis. Right: The Others' Director Roberto Casiraghi (right) and Maddalena Bonicelli.
“You only get it once. Don’t miss it,” is the warning I receive about Sunday’s very exclusive invitation to La Gaia’s collection in Busca, near Cuneo, where Bruna Girodengo and Matteo Viglietta have built a spacious museum for their collection of more than two thousand pieces. It began with nineteenth-century paintings and is now one of the most powerful and graceful collections of contemporary art in Italy. Every year during Artissima they welcome a lucky few, redo the display, and then famously feed their guests at the nearby San Quintino country resort. In the four-story building there are iconic works by Giovanni Anselmo, Aldo Mondino, Bruce Nauman, Anish Kapoor, Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Bill Viola, and Anselm Kiefer. “About fifty works are always out, on loan, but some others are too fragile to be moved—Pino Pascali and Boetti never leave the building,” explains curator Eva Brioschi. The collection is busily networking with Centre Pompidou, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, and the Dia Foundation. The Viglietta are also patrons of Documenta.
They let go of their trademark Piedmontese shyness only over lunch, when a shower of giant white truffles covers fresh pasta and cheese fondue. And it’s then that I recall the words of Carol Rama’s nephew: “She was very connected, and well aware of what was going on in the rest of the art world, but never wanted to leave. She had exactly the life she wanted in Turin.”
AS THE TRAIN TRUNDLED INTO NEWCASTLE, I had a vision: A vast figure rose out of the gray mist. Its wings outstretched, it threatened to engulf me in a steely embrace. I’d encountered The Angel of the North.
The rust-red sculpture might look like the stuff of legend, but it’s rooted in gritty reality. In another age, the northeast was Britain’s industrial powerhouse. Built by Antony Gormley in 1998, The Angel reminds visitors that coal miners once sweat where it stands.
Gormley’s statue warned me, but my guide, Newcastle-based art historian Matthew Hearn, made the message clear: I was entering a Different Britain. I was the guest of the North East Contemporary Visual Arts Network (NECVAN), a conglomerate of sixty-odd organizations, artists, and curators on a mission to give outsiders the inside scoop on the region. My thirty-six-hour immersion in Newcastle and Gateshead included visits to artists’ studios (and taking tea with star-twins Laura and Rachel Lancaster) and artist-run spaces, a flying leap to the International Print Biennale (curated by Anna Wilkinson), and a jaunt to Laing Art Gallery, where Rosie Morris’s architectural installation Circles Are Slices of Spheres encircled me with cerulean-painted squares. A boozy dinner at the BALTIC museum served up (British?) beef with breathtaking views: The lights of Gatehead shimmered, BALTIC’s Julia Bell glittered, and curator Alessandro Vincentelli sparkled. “Isn’t this heaven? I came north years ago and never returned,” curator Michelle Hirschhorn-Smith confided.
For others, Paradise is more than one dinner away: The artist-led initiative NewBridge Project hosted “Hidden Civil War,” an exhibition of performances, installations, and slogan-carrying balloons. “It’s about exposing the divided nature of Britain,” director Charlotte Gregory growled. Craig Ames’s video Green and Pleasant Crammed paraded the epithets used for European immigrants during the Brexit debate: “swarm,” “beggars,” “besieged.” Back at the BALTIC, NECVAN unleashed its ten-year strategy for developing the northeast’s visual arts scene. “This is a call to action!” declared BALTIC’s fiery-haired director, Sarah Munro. The mission behind the missive: Look out, London! However, dealer Miles Thurlow argues, “The center is a disappearing concept. It’s a bit like the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz: There is no margin anymore. There’s no place like home.”
Really? Imitating Dorothy, I went home. Back to Cardiff and the National Museum’s celebration of the Artes Mundi 7. The Artes Mundi award is Wales’s answer to England’s Turner Prize. It competitively bestows a heftier sum upon winners—Ł40,000 makes it Britain’s largest monetary art prize—and, in contrast to the Turner (which limits itself to UK-based artists), the Welsh award is international. (Tagline: “Wales and the World.”)
This year’s shortlist includes Welsh Bedwyr Williams, Londoner John Akomfrah, Lebanese Lamia Joreige, French-Algerian Neďl Beloufa, Angolan Nástio Mosquito, and American Amy Franceschini. Phew! Curated by Artes Mundi director Karen MacKinnon, the exhibition of the Chosen Ones begins with a river (Joreige’s drawings of a doomed one in Beirut) and ends with the sea (Akomfrah’s soporific film set in Barbados). At the heart of the display is Williams’s Tyrrau Mawr, a video of an imaginary metropolis built on Cadair Idris. (Wales is as famous for its mountains as for its myths.) “This is most satisfying, my head slowly filling, my eyeballs being massaged by spectacular visions,” sighed critic Ric Bower, cuddling two glasses of red. Williams is the first Welsh-speaker to have made the shortlist. Will he win? “I will leave that to our judges!” said McKinnon, grinning. (The victor is to be revealed in January.)
Time enough for cocktails. Mingling in the foyer, the Welsh government’s Ken Skates bestowed hugs, and artist-cum-politician Peter Wong shook hands with educator Stephanie Bolt. David Anderson, director general of National Museum Wales, fraternized with local talent: Lee Williams, Neale Howells, and Richard Bowers.
The party spilled into the morrow, when Cardiff Contemporary, a citywide visual-arts festival, had its opening night. “It is the third time Artes Mundi and Cardiff Contemporary have run in parallel—connections between the local and international are manifest!” declared Ben Borthwick, director of Artes Mundi 6. This year, Cardiff Contemporary conquers unexpected territory. Below the stairs of the Angel Hotel, Megan Broadmeadow shows Let the Stars Be Set Upon the Board. Two video projections face each other. In one, a woman in a purple sparkly outfit walks on a cliff. In the other, the same woman appears in a gold sparkly costume. Water flows between the projections, connecting the doubles and separating them. Is Stars a metaphor for Wales’s status in the UK? Insiders who are also Outsiders? Or does it refer to the Welsh art scene, its love-ins proverbially confusing to guests?
Over at “The Garden of Earthly Delights”—less seedy than it sounds—a sprawling exhibition colonized the old Customs and Immigration Building. Staged by Wales-based artist collective tactileBOSCH, it commemorated Hieronymus Bosch. The private view of this steamy Paradise included a black-clad bouncer at the trellised gates and a Vampire (aka artist Lauren Williams) guarding the threshold. There were dancing clowns, sonic performances, and installations of mirrors. One cubbyhole was smothered in vegetation, nibbled apples perched on the verge of a grassy shelf.
Upon entering this green Eden, I caught the echo of distant music. Who needs Heaven when you can have a sip of sin? A man with the head of a goat led the way to the bar. Cocktails included “Neck Pain” and . . . Stop! A lady in a kimono spooned bloodlike liquid into someone’s mouth. “Care for a drink?” she asked. “I have had enough!” shuddered a bystander. Descending into the building’s nether regions, I encountered sad-eyed dolls hanging from the ceiling. In a nearby video installation, a fire raged: Was this Hell or Port Talbot’s infamous steelworks? Post-Brexit, the plants’ continuing existence is the subject of (heated) debate.
References to Wales’s past, Britain’s uncertain future, and their entangled aspirations proliferated in this garden of earthy delights. ARTPLAY’s multimedia offering Bosch. Visions Alive offered animated versions of the master’s masterpieces: Devils cavort with pink fish; bare-breasted damsels mate with man-beasts. A blond beauty clutches a man on a boat; their shadows coalesce as they sail into a shimmering sunset. I thought about angels, demons, and a multicultural Britain. Is heaven in our own backyard? Or, should I exchange my Welsh Real Ale for a cosmopolitan?
PEOPLE IN THE ART WORLD have a way of shielding themselves from reality—mainly by giving themselves to art. Last week in New York, election jitters gave urgency to every event, beginning with the sixth annual Spotlights lunch hosted last Tuesday—one week from Election Day—by the International Center of Photography.
If art sometimes reflects reality, it went further here by giving a clear sign of what’s to come: women running the show.
Are you ready, guys?
Apparently not, judging from the dominant female presence at the lunch. Okay, so the event honors women artists—in this case, Laurie Simmons—but still. “This campaign has been educational for women in society,” Simmons said in her opening remarks. Indeed! Where was the male support?
Left: Artist Carrie Mae Weems. Right: Haus der Kunst director Okwui Enwezor.
It didn’t matter. Having overdosed on the testosterone spread like a disease by Donald Trump, no one seemed to miss it—not with actress Molly Ringwald asking pertinent questions of Simmons during an onstage interview, a glowing Lena Dunham on hand to applaud her mother, and the regal Candice Bergen bolstering her dedication of a Mary Ellen Mark memorial scholarship with a $25,000 check.
After dark, events tipped toward gender parity. Architects Elizabeth Diller, Ric Scofidio, and Charles Renfro stood front and center at the Jewish Museum, where they designed the lovely, virtual-reality-flecked exhibition for midcentury French designer Pierre Chareau opening that evening—a first for Chareau in this country. I feel obligated to note that the museum has a female director, Claudia Gould. And though the lobby shows a “self-portrait” by Alex Israel, the image painted inside the blue skies of his profile was of his mother, where it all began. “Well, this is the Jewish Museum,” he said.
Downtown in Chelsea, the focus of Performa’s annual benefit gala was South Africa, the mother country of the performance biennial’s founder, RoseLee Goldberg (a woman very much in charge). Her evening’s trimmings included a New Orleans–style procession, through a room packed with 350 guests, led by Cape Town–based Athi-Patra Ruga, costumed like his choir and musicians in flowing white garments designed by the fashion collective threeASFOUR.
All benefits come with obligatory speeches. We know and accept this. But at the end of a two-year onslaught of political bloviating, even a lineup of toasters that included the indomitable Carrie Mae Weems, Steve McQueen (on video), and Chika Okeke-Agulu was no match for honoree Okwui Enwezor, who blew down the house.
“I didn’t come to the United States to succeed, or to leap across that invisible wall that Donald Trump wants to make real,” began the Nigerian-born Haus der Kunst director. “I did not come to the United States with a sense of my marginality or with a sense of my lessness,” he continued. “I came because it was simply the thing to do.”
Nevertheless, Enwezor became a star of the international exhibition circuit in 1997 by curating the second Johannesburg Biennial at age twenty-five and going on to direct Documenta 11, the 2008 Gwangju Biennial, and, among other big shows, the 2015 Venice Biennale. And he lived to tell about it here, in ways both self-serving and utterly profound. His speech definitely moved a diverse audience of artists, curators, and patrons, whom he helped feel at home in an increasingly threatening, post-apartheid world by describing what he called the “emotional geography” of a collective journey through the human imagination.
Many departing guests were facing multiple benefits as well as exhibition openings in days to come. Wednesday even threw in an art fair, the International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) show, which opened at the Park Avenue Armory—possibly for the last time. “Richard Solomon just told us that next year’s fair will be at the Javits Center,” said dealer Lawrence Luhring—forced out by programming, I presume, rather than the usual culprit: a conversion to luxury condos.
Up on East Eighty-Second Street, as a prelude to SculptureCenter’s benefit to follow in the Rainbow Room, Daniel Buchholz was opening “Portraits” by Iza Genzken, the evening’s honoree. The works on view, sealed behind thick plastic, were actually self-portraits collaged by the artist from pictures made of her by other artists. At dinner, Genzken appeared only in a video greeting sent from Germany, where she was ailing. But there were plenty of other artists seated at every donor table—tacit acknowledgement of the role director Mary Ceruti’s institution plays in launching careers. “We’re early and on point,” Ceruti noted.
Need I say it? Many of those early-bird picks have been women, such as this year’s Turner Prize finalist Anthea Hamilton and this year’s Hugo Boss prizewinner Anicka Yi, as well as artist Aki Sasamoto, currently exhibited in Long Island City. They were all present, with Jessi Reaves, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Hanna Liden, and SculptureCenter artist board members Sanford Biggers and Adam McEwen.
But the best was yet to come, this time in the distinctly male form of art historian Benjamin Buchloh. Charged with summing up Genzken’s accomplishments in under seven minutes, he delivered an astonishing, clear, and concise history of the past fifty years of art––and he did it without once leaving the subject of his fifty-year friendship with Genzken.
I couldn’t help thinking, If only politicians could give speeches like these! I was now looking forward to whatever the next night would bring. And though I was sad to miss the dinner at the Ukrainian National Home for Elizabeth Peyton’s New York debut with Gladstone Gallery, the evening did not disappoint.
Actually, it wasn’t exactly a speech I heard on Wednesday at the Brooklyn Museum but a kind of interrupted monologue by Iggy Pop. The rock god, who is nearly seventy and still amazing, even sitting still, was onstage with artist Jeremy Deller in a conversation moderated by poet Tom Healy. But Iggy didn’t need much prompting.
The subject was “Life Class,” an exhibition opening that night and accompanied by a must-have publication. The show features fifty-three drawings made last February by students, aged nineteen to eighty, who were selected by Deller to draw a nude Iggy––or, as Deller put it, “the most important body in America.” That body has been through a lot. “I wanted to make a good first impression,” Iggy confided to the audience, which included several of the students, wide-eyed at the larger-than-life projections of their drawings. “It was like a day in the high school I never went to.”
“The biggest surprise of this project,” Deller added, “was that it happened.”
After that dose of male physicality, women stepped up again, in the form of fabulously dressed artists attending the museum’s opening of “Pretty/Dirty,” a luscious Marilyn Minter retrospective that has landed in New York after stops in Houston and Denver, complete with signs warning of sexually explicit content. (Is there a better way to attract an audience?)
“This is my whole support system!” Minter exclaimed when she spotted Lorna Simpson, Cindy Sherman, Julie Mehretu, Laurie Simmons, Deborah Kass, J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons, and dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn arriving for a post-opening dinner shared with the Deller/Pop crew and an all-female staff from the museum: director Anne Pasternak, chief curator Nancy Spector, and Catherine Morris, curator of the Minter exhibition in Brooklyn. (The show originated with Contemporary Art Museum Houston’s director Bill Arning.) I asked Iggy if he ever felt exploited by Deller’s class. “I had to think a long time about that,” he said. “Until I got to a point where it really didn’t matter anymore what people said.” He looked happy.
More sobering was “Laundromat,” Ai Weiwei’s top-to-bottom installation at Deitch Projects of twenty-four hundred carefully organized and displayed shoes and laundered and pressed clothes abandoned by Syrian refugees in Idomeni, Greece. It’s a powerful encounter with a crisis too removed from here to grasp palpably.
Jennifer Blei Stockman was at the gallery on Friday morning, doing interviews for an HBO documentary on Ai’s extended project, which the Nobel Peace Prize winner says really began when he was in detention in China, connecting to the outside world solely through the internet. Indeed, Instagram plays a large role in “Laundromat,” where Ai’s postings from Greece cover the walls. Three thousand WhatsApp posts from all over the world—he also went to camps in Bangladesh, Turkey, Lebanon, and elsewhere—tile the floors. “I had to do it,” he said. “It’s huge, not just about one place.” Stockman asked him about his hopes for the show. “It will accomplish nothing,” Ai replied. “What can a gallery show do? How many people will see it?”
If Instagram has anything to do with it, more than just a few.
Not in crisis was Paulina Olowska, who had arrived with her husband from Poland for the aptly named “Wisteria, Mysteria, Hysteria,” her first show at Metro Pictures since 2010. And a smashing group of paintings and ceramic sculptures it is, celebrated with candelabras in the gallery and a lively lunch at Hotel Americano, attended by artist friends Sarah Crowner and Charline von Heyl, MoMA curator Laura Hoptman, and Tim Griffin, director of The Kitchen, where Olowska will stage a magical mystery performance in January. “You’re such a good artist,” collector Thea Westreich told Olowska. “Your paintings are always different, but they follow your same trajectory, and these are really strong.” No argument here.
The night belonged to galleries in Chelsea, where mallet-wielding youngsters at Paula Cooper played new Mark di Suvero sculptures like a gong. Terry Winters rolled out a slew of new paintings at Matthew Marks on Twenty-Second Street, and Ragnar Kjartansson surprised people such as critic Peter Schjeldahl, who was expecting long-form immersive videos, by showing shorter ones on monitors along with “adequate” landscape paintings of pleasant suburban homes in Israeli settlements on the West Bank, executed en plein air. “I didn’t want to show the other side,” Kjartansson said. “We know what’s there. This is maybe not what you expect.” Exactly.
Even more unexpected were the small naif drawings in Marks’s Twenty-Fourth Street space by none other than Nan Goldin. “I started drawing when I was ten,” she said. “Then I stopped, until last year. I didn’t realize till just now, when someone pointed it out, that they’re all about violence, sex, and death. I guess that’s my theme!”
Saturday afternoon departed slightly from the week’s usual run with a memorial for Tony Feher, whose friends filled Saint Mark’s Church for a poignant, bracing tribute to the sculptor, who died last June. (This was the only time all week when the presidential campaign did not come up.)
Back in Chelsea, the election now just two days away, Carol Bove absolutely commanded two of David Zwirner’s big spaces on Nineteenth Street with a show of large-scale rusted and painted steel sculptures. Think Anthony Caro, John Chamberlain, Richard Serra, but with the humor of a woman who dares to title her show “Polka Dots.” For a few minutes anyway, conversation strayed from politics to art—including the art of the political Ai Weiwei, who continued his four-gallery takeover of Manhattan with cast-iron tree trunks and root sculptures at Lisson Gallery and one giant patched-together actual tree reaching to the rafters at Mary Boone. “Know anyone who wants to take home a dead, twenty-four-foot-tall tree?” she joked. Actually, it’s magnificent.
A casual serve-yourself Mexican dinner at Tacombi followed. Ai said he’s heading next to the Mexican border to continue his documentary on migrants. I told him to be careful. This close to the election, with tensions running high, he could put himself at risk. “Why?” he asked. “Do I look Mexican? I’m not worried. I have a fixer. But on the US side, maybe I’ll wear a T-shirt that says ‘I’m Chinese.’”
The week ended on Sunday, with Dia’s annual Fall Night honoring Robert Morris, whose 1964 Green Gallery show has just entered the collection at Dia:Beacon. “I’m sure nobody here saw the original,” he said during his speech—the first time I’ve ever seen an artist at a gala accompany his speech with a PowerPoint presentation. It went over big––the whole thing––especially with this crowd, which included Wade Guyton (who gave an endearing toast) and Keith Sonnier. Each had Morris for a teacher, decades apart.
“I love the way Dia always includes a lot of artists at their galas,” said Art Institute of Chicago deputy director Ann Goldstein, eyeing a room where Dorothea Rockburne, Glenn Ligon, Fred Wilson, Nate Lowman, Tom Burr, Josh Kline, Josephine Meckseper, and Nick Mauss were in immediate view. So was the pioneering Joan Jonas, the only person there besides Morris who owned up to seeing his Green Gallery show in its original antiform glory.
Morris finished up his speech—another winner—with a list of what distinguishes the “best” art, which he dismissed by concluding with a quote from Ad Reinhardt. “The best art,” he said, “does not exist.”
Left: Collector Eleanor Cayre and artist Hanna Liden. Right: Isa Genzken in her video greeting for the Sculpture Center gala.