Making History


Left: Artist LaToya Ruby Frazier. Right: Artist Anders Clausen and Wolfgang Tillmans. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)


“Our most successful ever.”


“One of the most upbeat fairs I can remember!”

That’s pretty much the consensus—from dealers—on the forty-eighth edition of Art Basel.

Now that it’s over we can say that collectors paid big—hundreds of millions—for the big names and spent more good money on the next tier and the one after that. Even as the world ties itself into sorrier knots every day, the market for modern and contemporary art is booming.

Is it like anxious eating? “Either that,” one dealer told me, “or it’s a demonstration of faith in art and a willingness to invest in our future.”

But you’ve already heard who bought what from whom for how much. So let me take the road less traveled and report on how it feels to be there.

Like a guilty pleasure, that’s how.

Left: Artist Arthur Jafa and dealer Gavin Brown. Right: Artist Doug Aitken.

Maddening, too. Meals, for instance, are rarely memorable for the food—generally overdone meat. Green salads are hard to come by. Cheese, however, is plentiful. So is wine and milk chocolate.

Perhaps that’s all one needs—other than friends.

Understand that this is one quiet city. Nothing happens that isn’t supposed to happen. People behave. It leaves the unexpected to the art.

Forty-eight hours before the June 13, VIP opening of the mighty fair, first responders—i.e. anyone not installing a booth—headed either to Zurich for the Gallery Weekend there or straight to museums for the amuse-bouche to the week’s horror vacui.

The choices were many.

At the beatifically lighted Fondation Beyeler, dealer Fernando Mesta joined a general swoon over “Wolfgang Tillmans,” a retrospective installed by the artist in a clarifying narrative that gave his photographs and (especially) his films even more sensuality than his sweeping, recent survey at Tate Modern.

Left: Kunsthalle Basel director Elena Filopovic and artist Christopher Williams. Right: Dealer Marian Goodman.

Out in the garden, meanwhile, Beyeler director Sam Keller was hosting a lunch for Tino Sehgal, one of the artists in a splendiferous new hang of the museum’s collection.

Dealer Marian Goodman, a guest at lunch, accompanied Sehgal to the spot where a female dancer was performing a work of his from 2000, ceaselessly folding and unfolding her apparently rubber-boned body on the floor.

The nominally more static Lying Figure, a 1969 painting by Francis Bacon, was the only other work in the room. “That’s the ugliest Bacon I’ve ever seen,” Goodman remarked, turning back to the dance, which proceeded with an enviable lack of concern for the passing time. “That must take a lot of strength,” the gallerist said. “And patience.” Not so much, Sehgal told her. “It’s the way I used to move in 2000,” he said.

Back in town, hungry-eyed visitors wafting through the Kunstmuseum Basel’s bunker-like addition harvested a healthy crop of sketches by Cézanne (one loaned by Jasper Johns), and a tit-for-tat exchange show with the Prado that paired Holbein with Zurbaran, Baldung with Velázquez, Memling with Goya. According to whoever is the museum’s resident comedian, “This is how history is written.”

Now we know.

Left: Dealer Sadie Coles. Right: Dealer Nara Roesler, artist Julio Le Parc, and dealer Emmanuel Perrotin.

At the institution’s contemporary branch on the Rhine, interested parties like David Zwirner Gallery director Bellatrix Hubert escaped the 90-degree heat in a retrospective program of films by Richard Serra. This was very cool. Farther afield, those jumping into the swift current of the river for a swim could float to the Tinguely Museum for Wim Delvoye’s first retrospective in Switzerland.

Retrospectives are, like, a thing here.

By dusk, the swelling art crowd had colonized every restaurant on Barfusserplatz and, probably, every other eatery in shouting distance of the Kunsthalle Bar. The beloved Bodega alone attracted a swarm of exhibiting dealers.

The Modern Institute’s Toby Webster and Andrew Hamilton hosted artists Anne Collier and Nicolas Party with Herald St’s Nicky Verber and Ash L’ange. At separate tables marking their own territories were Tanya Bonakdar, José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto, Nathalie Karg, Xavier Hufkens, Daniele Balice and Alexander Hertling, Simon Wang, and Deborah Schamoni, while Art Basel Conversations curator Mari Spirito entertained collector Dillon Cohen and advisor Fernanda Arruda.

This was the slow night.

Left: Collector Julia Stoscheck and Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. Right: Dealers Monica Sprüth and Philomene Magers.

Come morning, hundreds of collectors and curators would head to the ageist Liste fair, where young dealers rarely show work by artists over forty. Alas, on the way there, I was sidetracked by Art Parcours, the flâneur’s favorite.

Arrayed in museums and other public spaces around the Münsterplatz were interventions by twenty-two artists from nearly as many nations. Flaka Haliti raised white banners—ghosts—in the courtyard of the old Town Hall (or Rathaus), once the site of public executions. Marble figures by Reza Armesh commanded three different sites, one overlooking the Rhine. Also turned to the river was a neon propaganda poem by Rirkrit Tiravanija visible only from the nearest bridge. Marvin Gaye Chetwynd built a papier-maché video lab for a fictive diva and a mad scientist facing off in a room hardly large enough to contain their psychedelic egos.

There was also live art. Instead of walking to art destinations, Christodoulos Panayiotous gave distinctive necklaces to select curators to walk around town. Wu Tsang recast an historic hideout for revolutionaries as Club de Bâle, a speakeasy animated by Juliana Huxtable, Isabel Lewis, and other artists, but only at night.

The wow factor loomed larger at Art Unlimited, which gave off a definite whiff of carnival. Just inside the entrance, a translucent helium dirigible by the late Chris Burden magisterially circled a track behind a giant blue inflatable houseplant (Blue Star Linz, 1980) by Otto Piene while an LED text bar by Jenny Holzer hopscotched through the air.

Left: Artist Tino Sehgal. Right: Artist Juliana Huxtable and dealer Sophie Mörner.

Interactivity was also having a moment, even when it wasn’t as obvious as Subodh Gupta’s Cooking the World. The artist, dressed in kitchen whites, was dishing out food to consumers seated at a clean white counter inside a pavilion made entirely of strung-together battered pots and pans—a rather impressive sight, it has to be said.

Susan Hiller was also on site, encouraging negligent fairgoers to play the handsome Wurlitzer at the center of Die Gedanken sind frei (Thoughts Are Free), her installation from Documenta 13. On the walls were the lyrics to a hundred political songs. “People have to play the jukebox,” she said, frustrated. “But they’re just reading the walls! This isn’t something just to look at.”

In another part of the hall, however, people didn’t hesitate to throw off their shoes to walk on the 20,000 wooden eggs of Cildo Meireles’s Amerikkka, even though the raked ceiling above was made of 40,000, hollow gold bullets. Others were game to step through the turquoise steel cages by eighty-one-year-old Paolo Icaro, a onetime arte povera person who expanded his reach. “He made these to counter minimalism in New York,” said dealer Alessandro Pessoli, adding, “Minimalists aren’t famous for their use of color.”

If the fair gave out a People’s Choice Award for most popular project, Rob Pruitt’s Official Art World/Celebrity Lookalikes would have won handily. Covering the walls of a crowded booth, floor-to-ceiling, were downloaded portraits of artists, collectors, and curators that Pruitt paired with their perceived doppelgangers from moviedom, politics, and pop music—Maja Hoffmann and Elizabeth Taylor, François Pinault and Jeff Sessions, Norman Rosenthal and Jabba the Hut, etc. “This is hysterical!” said Hatje Cantz program director Holger Liebs. Collector Tony Salamé just laughed out loud.

Left: Artist Susan Hiller. Right: Collector Don Rubell with artist Wang Shang and collectors Mera Rubell, Michelle Rubell, and Jason Rubell.

Art can still be profound as well. All you had to do was submit to the Adrian Piper room, where suave gray walls held very dark photographs that the artist made of herself in 1971, as a hedge against disappearing. “Heartbreaking,” noted Wexner Center director Sherri Geldin. Across the aisle, grayscale photograms by Liz Deschennes formed a striking, abstract counterpart. “The most beautiful pairing here,” observed Martin Klosterfelde.

Another big winner was Arthur Jafa’s Apex, an eight-and-a-half-minute reel of disparate, often close-up images set to a pulsating soundtrack by Robert Hood, a DJ and techno music producer who is also an Alabama preacher. Though dated 2013, Jafa had done a new edit just hours before the opening. “Some of the frames just didn’t quite fit,” he said, as dealer Gavin Brown rolled his eyes. I knew why. The work was gripping as is.

No day at a fair ends when the lights go down in the exhibition halls. My main event that evening was Brown’s rollicking dinner at traditional Restaurant Löwenzorn for Jafa and LaToya Ruby Frazier, whose black-and-white photographs of Noah Purifoy’s outdoor museum of sculpture in Joshua Tree also impressed at Unlimited. Here was a great chance to hear her talk about this work, which Purifoy made in the 1960s from the wreckage of the Watts Riots. I caught her compassion for it. But that was later.

Before dinner, I stopped at the riverside Gasthof Zum Goldenen Sternen, where 303, Eva Presenhuber, Victoria Miro, and Regen Projects galleries were giving a dinner—hopefully more edible—for Unlimited artist Doug Aitken. Why were dealers Paula Cooper and Francesca Kaufmann mixing in with their respective Unlimited and Art Parcours artists, Matias Faldbakken and Latifa Echakhch? It’s a popular venue! Everyone cross-pollinated. And the sunset was glorious. Would such collegiality be evident on the selling floor?

As soon as the Art Basel doors opened the following morning, both floors were swarming with people eager to nail purchases made in advance of the fair via phone and email—a growing trend.

Left: Artists Mickalene Thomas and Raquel Chevremont. Right: Dia director Jessica Morgan.

The ground floor was too respectable, or awash with too much of the same-old, same-old for my taste. “What’s the price?” collector Jean-Pierre Lehmann asked Jay Jopling, a refrain that must have been repeated up and down the aisles thousands of times that day.

Lehmann was staring into a glass case at the golden skeleton of an animal fetus by Damien Hirst. Its two million was less than what dealer Jack Shainman set for a new painting by Kerry James Marshall, his first to feature white people. (It went to a certain museum in London.)

With Sarah McCrory, director of Goldsmith’s new gallery in London, I went upstairs to Statements—solo presentations by younger artists. I lost sight of McCrory within minutes. Each to her own pace!

At Emanuel Layr, Cecile B. Evans built an actual, three-story house for viewing a fictional television show where weather, words, and communal behavior all chip away at capitalist ideals. And at Labor, Documenta 14 artist Antonio Vega Macotela had fashioned an industrial music box from an enormous barrel roll perforated by nineteenth-century hammers and chisels typically used by miners in Bolivia. When turned by a viewer, the mechanism played the first known protest song in Latin American—one recognized by passing Colombian collectors, who started to sing along. “It’s dude art,” admitted dealer Pamela Echeverria. “But it’s also a precision instrument.”

Either stand could have won the Baloise Prize, which went to Sam Pulitzer and Martha Atienza. The entire Rubell family, however, was totally sold on the mirrored, geological lightbox sculptures of Chinese artist Wang Shang at Magician Space. “It’s tech meets the natural world,” enthused Mera Rubell.

Left: Artist Paolo Icaro with dealers Alessandro Pasotti and Fabrizio Padovani. Right: Artists Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen.

I was more taken by just about every one of fifty booths in the Feature section for undervalued artists or unknown works, including some by Nam Jun Paik (at James Cohan), Stan VanDerBeek (at The Box), and Stephen Willats (at Balice Hertling). Dealers took the time to speak at length about each.

It was time for lunch. That meant getting in line at the sausage stand in the courtyard. I squeezed in behind Art Institute of Chicago deputy director Ann Goldstein with artist Christopher Williams; Wexner Center director Sherri Geldin and her chief curator Michael Goodson; Santa Barbara Museum of Art photo and new media curator Charles Wylie; and Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs. Collector John Kaldor, a towering figure among Australians, was going around with Public Art Fair director Nicholas Baume.

I should mention that this fair attracts at least as many top museum professionals as art advisors. In other words, Art Basel is not for dilettantes. For social anthropologists, however, it’s like winning the World Cup. And if all you want to do all day is talk about art and its political or social import or its failure to make any difference, and why, this is the place to do it.

Political events in the big world—at this point, I’ll refrain from calling it the real world—kept intruding on people’s art joy. Following French President Emmanuel Macron’s election and withering rebuke to Donald Trump’s on climate change, his country has become popular with the cognoscenti. As Parisian dealer Niklas Svennung told me, “This is the first time, ever, that people came into the booth just to say thank you!”

At the close of the fair’s first day, dinners tend to be muted and small. Dealers generally are too exhausted to throw big parties. Even Larry Gagosian had to take a bench break in midafternoon. (The red and green benches facing the interior courtyard are Art Basel’s most treasured asset.)

Left: Collector Eyal Ofer and dealer Jeffrey Deitch. Right: Collector Dasha Zhukova and art adviser Sandy Heller.

The Approach’s Jake Miller and Emma Robertson took artist Magali Reus and supporters like 2016 Turner Prize winner Helen Marten, SculptureCenter curator Ruba Katrib, and Hepworth-Wakefield curator Andrew Bonvicini to Birseckerhof, which must be a dealer favorite. Andrew Kreps and Chiara Repetto were dining there too. So was Victoria Miro and her whole crew, while Stedelijk Museum curator Bart van der Heide was meeting a whole other group.

How do Basel’s restaurants survive when the art fair isn’t in season?

On Wednesday morning, I missed collector Maja Oeri’s breakfast at the Schaulager for David Claerbout, so I happily indulged in more of the main fair till it was time for the Swiss Institute’s annual lunch at Volkshaus. There a concentration of Swiss artists and curators applauded director Simon Castets’s announcement of the projected opening (next spring) for SI’s new, Annabelle Selldorf–designed building on Saint Mark’s Place—until now not notably so Swiss.

Conversations everywhere seemed to begin with whether you had come from Documenta 14 in Kassel or Athens or from Skulptur Projekte Münster or the Venice Biennale—or were going to one or the other after Basel. Home seemed a foreign concept—except to Elena Filipovic, director of the Kunsthalle Basel and curator of two edifying exhibitions opening that night. One introduced the work of the young Yan Xing. The other, “Ungestalt,” was a group show of mainly sculpture that amounted to Filipovic’s own version of “Eccentric Abstraction.” Much of it would strike tourists as ugly. Nothing was conventional. I liked it.

Left: Collector Ulla Dreyfus-Best. Right: Parkett cofounder Bice Curiger and dealer Niels Olsen.

Outside, just as Aitken and Oeri arrived for the Kunsthalle’s benefit dinner, I saw guests flatten themselves against the building wall as a flatbed truck drove slowly toward the street on the pedestrian walkway from Theater Basel next door. What was happening?

Additionally, musicians on the theater plaza were giving a bagpipe concert. As if that weren’t surreal enough, it turned out that one of the Tinguely sculptures that have been splashing water in the reflecting pool in front of the Kunsthalle garden for heaven knows how many years was on the flatbed, broken and beautiful and sad, proceeding offstage to that mournful music for either burial or repair.

After that, it was business as usual, only business seemed less competitive than social events—gallery dinners, a Kaleidoscope party for Martine Syms, a party at the Three Kings to celebrate the tenth anniversary of both the Zabludowiz and Julia Stoschek Collections, a Vito Schnabel lunch at the Donati for Walter Robinson, a private museum conference, side trips to the Kunsthalle Bern for Verena Dengler and Jill Mulleady or the Kunsthalle Bregenz for Adrián Villar Rojas.

What is a person to do?

I left for Athens.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Dealer Esther Schipper. Right: Artist Sylvie Fleury and curator Nicolas Trembley.

Five and Dime

Münster, Germany

Left: Artist Oscar Tuazon with his sculpture Burn the Formwork. (Except where noted, all photos: Alex Fialho) Right: Nicole Eisenman with her Sketch for a Fountain in the meadow alongside Promenade. (Photo: David Velasco)

THE ART WORLD IS A TRIP. With the Whitney Biennial, the Venice Biennale, Documenta in Athens and Kassel, and Skulptur Projekte Münster all coinciding in one “süperkunstyear,” it’s hard for even the most veteran art traveler to keep up.

Over the weekend, the venerable Skulptur Projekte Münster began to draw crowds from Documenta or en route to Zurich and Basel for this, its fifth edition since its inception in 1977. Skulptur Projekte’s unique model—new sculptural commissions installed mostly in public spaces every ten years—makes for a provocative scavenger hunt of public art. The show is deeply indebted to its two founding curators, Klaus Bußmann and Kasper König, and at Saturday’s jam-packed opening celebration at the LWL–Museum für Kunst and Kultur, König invited Bußmann on stage to rousing cheers.

More than four decades prior, Bußmann enlisted König to curate a section of a modern sculpture exhibition, which evolved into the show we have today. It was originally a pedagogical response to a maelstrom of criticism in the local Münster newspaper against the abstraction of George Rickey’s 1973 kinetic sculpture Three Rotating Squares. “We aimed to put the people of Münster in contact with the international scene,” Bußmann told me, “a local event on the highest level. In 1977, it seemed like Kasper and I were the only people who liked it—university students even tried to throw the Claes Oldenburg sculpture in the lake. But public opinion has completely changed over the years and people in the city have come to embrace the show.”

Left: Cosima von Bonin and Tom Burr's Benz Bonin Burr with Henry Moore's Die Archer in front of LWL–Museum für Kunst and Kultur. Right: Skulptur Projekte Münster founding curators Kasper König and Klaus Bußmann with Michael Dean’s Tender Tender.

The charismatic König has been central to each Skulptur Projekte since its inception, and the energy of the exhibition continues in part to derive from that early idea of exposing Münster to cutting-edge art. This year, König served as artistic director alongside curators Britta Peters and Marianne Wagner, and Skulptur Projekte featured thirty-five new projects, free of charge.

Works by Jeremy Deller and Ayşe Erkmen, social as much as sculptural, are noteworthy for their local engagement. Ten years and two Skulptur Projektes in the making, Deller’s Speak to the Earth and It Will Tell You, 2007–2017, takes as its subject the Schrebergärten, communities where German families are allotted twenty-by-twenty-meter garden plots for leisure time. Deller provided these families with a diary to fill however they like, with the understanding that the contents would eventually be made public. Over the decade, dozens of families participated, and the books can now be viewed in the Mühlenfeld garden colony. It’s a moving record of German life told through personal entries and pictures. While walking through the quaint community, I recognized teenagers whose family events were chronicled in one of the diaries relaxing in a hammock, and I felt an uncanny sense that I knew them.

Crowds were so excited about Erkmen’s work that I could hear the commotion from around the corner. For On Water, Erkman installed an underwater bridge of steel grates—approximately twenty-feet wide and two hundred feet long—across Münster’s inland harbor, so that it appeared as though the throngs crossing it were walking on water. I watched as nearly one hundred visitors playfully traversed back and forth. Curator Rick Herron spoke of On Water’s “generosity,” saying it “brings people together across communities and allows them to experience their city anew, through their bodies. The work itself disappears, and the only thing left is everyone engaging it. It’s deep, literally and figuratively.”

Left: Skulptur Projeckte Münster curators Marianne Wagner and Britta Peters. Right: Jeremy Deller with the Schrebergärten in the Mühlenfeld allotment garden colony of his work Speak to the Earth and It Will Tell You, 2007–2017.

Indeed, over the past four decades, Skulptur Projekte has made Münster into one of the world’s leading sites for public art, attracting international crowds biking from one work to the next. The small German town of approximately 300,000 residents expects close to 650,000 visitors to the exhibition over the course of its one hundred days. Sculptures from previous iterations by the likes of Daniel Buren, Dan Graham, Jenny Holzer, and Rachel Whiteread are still scattered throughout Münster as part of the city’s public collection. Montreal’s SBC Gallery director Pip Day reflected on the specific viewing context of Skulptur Projekte, in contrast to its German counterpart Documenta: “Because the works are not set to a distinct curatorial agenda, and it takes time to move across the city from sculpture to sculpture, there is a different relationship to the art, which is best considered both in and of itself and its particular location.”

The exhibition’s highlights include sculptures whose sites are constitutive to their meaning: Mika Rottenberg developed her video installations by integrating a pointed yet playful video about global trade—specifically a massive plastics market in Yiwu, China—within a defunct Asian bazaar. Hito Steyerl’s ongoing investigation into the aesthetics of information circulation is reflected in her sleek sculptures and automaton videos set within the futuristic lobby of a technocratic bank building. Nicole Eisenman’s nude, figurative fountains in bronze and plaster bask in queer frivolity while sprinkling water alongside the Promenade, adjacent to an historic gay-cruising space dating back to World War II. And Ei Arakawa composed his performative LED “paintings” by citing pastoral landscapes, setting them, naturally, in a meadow on the outskirts of Münster, best viewed around sunset.

Wherever so much public art lands, contention seems to follow. The lead up to Skulptur Projekte 2017 involved controversy surrounding two historical works situated adjacent to the LWL–Museum für Kunst and Kultur, the exhibition’s anchor. One of Henry Moore’s outdoor sculptures, Die Archer, is on long-term loan from Berlin’s National Gallery in LWL’s central square. Frustrated that the postwar sculpture’s installation extended into the more contemporary-minded Skulptur Projekte timeline, König and others wanted the Moore sculpture gone. Cosima von Bonin and Tom Burr’s collaboration then became a creative, tongue-in-cheek response: von Bonin’s flatbed truck also occupies the central square, and when seen from a particular vantage, it appears to have loaded the Moore sculpture onto its rig for removal. Burr’s shipping-crate addition sits on the truck, coyly labeled FRAGILE, hinting at the complex arena of negotiations inherent in public projects.

Pierre Huyghe’s After ALive Ahead in a former ice skating rink. (Photo: David Velasco)

The sculpture’s alliterative title and corporate ring, Benz Bonin Burr, also references another controversy in the same courtyard, where Otto Piene’s Silver Frequency lights up the exterior of the museum in a gridded composition. In an act of shameless branding, the regional municipal association Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe (LWL) has removed ten of the lights of Piene’s sculpture to place their LWL logo. (To be fair, Piene approved the decision before he passed away, though an artist should never be propositioned to compromise their work for logo placement in the first place.) In a guerrilla gesture, a local Münster resident covered the LWL logo with a gray veil the night before Skulptur Projeckte’s opening, and it has remained that way for days since. Atop a building across the street, Ludger Gerdes’s 1989 sign-sculpture—on loan from nearby Marl, site of a satellite exhibition—appropriately reads ANGST.

“We have to protect Skulptur Projekte Münster’s strong track record and good energy by making sure it remains independent and autonomous,” König said about the future of the exhibition. (This is likely his last at the helm.) To this end, he stressed the importance of its decennial rhythm as a deceleration of contemporary art. He also seemed surprised that I hadn’t made it to the opening party Saturday night, when the artists and hundreds of young locals descended on Club Favela for an all-night bacchanal. “You didn’t go? I was there. Fantastic DJs, very friendly and subtle,” he said. “Perfect for dancing.”

When our conversation turned to the past, particularly the controversy around the 1973 Rickey sculpture that, in a sense, started it all, König seemed pleased that, decades later, the sculpture remains in the State Park in Münster’s center. He and colleague Jana Duda laughed that its slow-moving kinetic energy and abstraction—once derided against with rallying cries—is seen as poetic, calming, and even meditative. “People eat picnics there now.”

Left: George Rickey's Three Rotating Squares, 1973, in the State Park. Right: Otto Piene's Silver Frequency in front of LWL–Museum für Kunst and Kultur.

Alex Fialho

Mediterranean See

Tirana, Albania

Left: Artist Emeric Lhuisset. Right: Artist Conor Rogers.

THE ITALIAN REGION OF PUGLIA is where the eighteenth edition of the Mediterranea Young Artists Biennale kicked off, its theme a perennial and problematic formula: “History + Conflict + Dream + Failure = Home.” The shows and performances, in Tirana and Durrës, Albania, present the work of 230 young artists and performers, aged eighteen to thirty-four, from Europe, Middle East, Africa, and the Mediterranean diaspora. It is fitting that the biennial takes place this time in Albania, a nascent country with an elusive national identity.

The biennial’s inaugural conference took place on the periphery of Bari at the Teatro Kismet, where politicians and curators held court in Juan Sandoval Medellín and Michelangelo Pistoletto’s 2009 installation Mar Mediterraneo: Sedie Love Difference, a congregation of sixty blue-and-green chairs composed to reflect the fluctuating form of the Mediterranean seacoast. The unruly proceedings began with numerous expressions of appreciation reflecting the organization of the nomadic biennial—commenced in Barcelona in 1985 and now sponsored by the BJCEM (Biennale des Jeunes Créateurs de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée) network, comprising fifty-nine members from twenty-one countries. Reflecting on his artistic manifesto, Pistoletto concluded hopefully, “Now we will go from democracy, which has never succeeded, to demopraxia”—that is, a human society cohered not by religion or nationhood but by nature and spirituality and the potential commons of art.

A performance of Alessandro Leogrande and Admir Shkurtaj’s opera Katër i Radës. Il naufragio followed, recounting the tragic sinking of the eponymous vessel in 1997 after a collision with an Italian navy ship attempting a blockade and ending with a haunting installation of the victims’ dripping wet garments. The incident, a symptom of a second wave of emigration from Albania in the wake of a pyramid-scheme scandal, reflected the reality of a new government that was just the old corrupt order dressed up in different clothes.

Left: Artist Gilad Ratman and Bunk'Art. Right: Artist El Montassir Abdessamad.

Among more than one hundred other artists, a jovial posse of Brits—Sadegh Aleahmad, Conor Rogers, Toby Campion, Ant Hamlyn, and Jamal Sterrett—roamed around the theater, beers in hand, enjoying the sunny day. Thus the mood was set for our overnight ferry crossing to Albania following a raucous buffet feast. As our ship pulled away from the dock, I sat on deck with Greek Cypriots Marina Makris, Elena Kallinikou, and Dimitris Chimonas, who would perform the paranoiac parable The dust is expected to retreat by tomorrow dressed in swimwear in an empty pool in central Tirana, and Francesca Greco, a performer from Taranto who sings traditional songs in the Griko dialect at funerals. Reflecting the current flow of migration back to Albania, including Italians in search of work, our journey proceeded with a discussion about ideas of home followed by the musicians in attendance playing and everyone else dancing to boisterous approximations of the tarantella into the wee hours.

After a bus ride from the coast serenaded by Italian music, that afternoon brought the official inauguration of Mediterranea 18 in Tirana’s Parku Rinia. The casual ceremony commenced late, and by that time prime minister Edi Rama had already come and gone. He clearly had better things to do: The previous week brought a brawl in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia parliament over the formation of a new government including ethnic Albanians, and at home Rama had yet to resolve a boycott by the opposition Democratic Party, which objected to measures vetting out corruption toward entry into the EU, leading to the forced election of a new president.

We began our tour of the exhibition venues at the National Gallery of Art, in front of which the chairs of Mar Mediterraneo seemed to have magically appeared and arranged themselves in formation. Many of the works—installed on the top floor of the modernist building, past displays of social realist art (some works already spirited away to Athens for Documenta 14)—were attempts to reconcile daily life with the fluctuating narratives of historic events. El Montassir Abdessamad’s photos of the Moroccan landscape endeavored to reframe its cartography, while Iva Lulashi’s paintings conflate porn with Communist propaganda, and Conor Rogers transforms quotidian industrial objects into precious works of art with miniature paintings of household scenes.

Left: Artist Gilad Ratman, curator Catherine Baÿ, and filmmaker Roland Sejko. Right: Artist Lek Gjeloshi, Pompidou curator Alicia Knock, and artist Adrian Paci.

Next to the museum lie the ruins of Hotel Dajti, once the most luxurious hotel in the Balkans and site of the fourth, and final, Tirana International Contemporary Art Biennial (TICAB) in 2009. Walking to the Italian Cultural Institute, we found the façade adorned with Ettore Favini’s striking Mirupafshim (Goodbye), 2017, a sail composed of red-dyed underwear the artist collected from Albanians living in Italy. “Some people did not even go home when they heard there was a boat leaving for Italy,” Favini explained, referring to the cargo ship Vlora, overloaded with as many as twenty thousand people and commandeered to the port of Bari in August 1991. “Many of them swam to shore and arrived dressed only in underwear, like comic-book heroes.” Artist Valentina Bonizzi added, “Nobody is really acknowledging the current flight of Italians seeking jobs in Albania.” I found, in fact, that the way to communicate in Albania was Italian.

From there the mosque’s call to prayer bade us to a nearby 1970s bunker, called Bunk’Art 2, adjacent to one of many government buildings constructed by the Italian fascists. We lost ourselves in meandering underground tunnels before discovering, in a dank dead end, Gilad Ratman’s video The Boggyman, 2008, an amateur video selfie taken by a devotee of mud immersion, a cult the artist got involved in after meeting adherents around the globe. “The secret is not to resist, to relax your body and let your legs float to the surface, and then it is easy to get out,” he instructed. “The impossibility of emerging from quicksand is a myth.”

The show at the former embassy of Yugoslavia, a structure symbolizing a broken nation of fractured factions, was about the failure of an idealized state. For sale, the pale pink building was like a Miami version of a Venetian Gothic palace. “The thought that came to my mind on entering the former embassy, stripped of any appliance—no floor, no ceiling, no doors, nothing: This is how the embassy of a nonexistent country must look like,” curator Sergio Edelzstein said. The only thing left was a grand piano turned on its side, which seemed to be a sculpture in the show. Theodoulos Polyviou’s Radiator is a pristine simulation of the object, except two of its pipes are united by a single knot—aesthetically beautiful but fatal to proper function. On the terrace was Sead Kazanxhiu’s The Floor Is Yours, 2016, a lectern fashioned from the barbed wire, as if leftovers from the constantly morphing of borders of the Balkan region. In fact, “the cleaning ladies went there thinking they would meet the ambassador,” recounted Driant Zeneli, the biennial’s artistic director.

Left: Artist Waleed Elsaid and designer Lucija Jankovec. Right: Artists Margarethe Drexel and Marco Marzuoli.

Over dinner with a group of Italian and Albanian curators and writers, Zeneli suggested that the biennial was more of a “happening.” A few artists, Egyptians and Tunisians, were not granted visas to come via Italy. The artworks, films, and performances that converged in Tirana evoked the sundry and ceaseless migratory paths and journeys that have shaped our cultures, rendering the guests, curators, and artists—many of them already refugees living in other than their native countries—immigrants floating through the peregrinations of history.

The National History Museum had the dimly lit air of a time capsule, its lobby enlivened with contemporary works like Ant Hamlyn’s The Boost Project, 2015–17, a giant inflatable orb expanded by Facebook “likes.” Three videos by Vangjush Vëllahu document Abkhazia, Varosha, and Agdam, places caught in the middle of ethnic or national border conflicts, two of them becoming ghost towns. In the exhibition hall, many of the works were about negotiating tradition within contemporary society. In Youssef Ouchra’s video Daqa El Marrakchia the mystical rhythm played by a tambourine is corrupted by the sound of coins in its belly, symbolizing the disruption of tourism and globalization. “A curator from West might have exoticized the Albanian context,” said the Serbian curator, Maja Ćirić, pointing to the power struggle involved in producing knowledge about the complex region. “Since the fall of Communism, it has been foreign curators like Harald Szeemann and René Block who have organized art exhibitions of Balkan artists.”

On my last evening I headed to the gargantuan Pyramid, constructed as a monument to former dictator Enver Hoxha and since renamed in honor of persecuted activist Pjetër Arbnori, currently functioning as a skate ramp and graffiti canvas as well as a cultural venue. Discovering that a concert by Jerusalem-based band El Container was delayed, I headed to the restaurant that served as the meeting point, passing by the freshly painted mural “HOME,” by Greek street artist Cacao Rocks. Iraqi artist Mahood Hachim told me he had just met the Palestinian musicians on the ferry and then recounted how he ended up living in France after being badly beaten and imprisoned by government officials for the content of his artwork. “It still hurts every day, but I am okay now. I can deal with the pain.”

We repaired to Komiteti, a funky café full of Communist memorabilia, with a diverse group of artists to pass the time drinking what is variously called raki, grappa, pálenka, šnops, or arak depending on where you came from. The real failure in the pursuit of happiness, it seemed, is the lack of freedom to build a home unfettered by the constraints of identity and conflict. The night continued with one and all rocking to El Container inside the Pyramid, Lebanese performer Lynn Kodeih leading the fray into the night.

Cathryn Drake

Left: Artists Adrian Paci and Ettore Favini. Right: Artists Dimitris Chimonas and Nicolas Vamvouklis.

Beautiful Strangers

Kassel, Germany

Left: Documenta 14 artistic director Adam Szymczyk. Right: Curators Hendrik Folkerts and Natasha Ginwala. (All photos: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie)

FOR A GOOD FOUR DAYS in the first half of June, an army of beautiful women marched, sashayed, and drifted into the central German city of Kassel for the preview and opening of Documenta 14.

Some were members of the actual Army of Beautiful Women, a continually growing band of the female-inclined and their howeverly gendered enthusiasts who have been initiated into a series of interrelated works by the artist Irena Haiduk. In material and conceptual terms, Haiduk’s project is to revive the design and manufacture of a durable uniform for the female workforce, taking numerous cues from the industrial history of Yugoslavia (and the political experience of feminism) along the way. For the inaugural days of Documenta 14, several members of the event’s battalion-sized curatorial team chose to wear key pieces from Haiduk’s Yugoexport collection—including the now iconic lace-up Borosana work shoe (peeking out from beneath curatorial advisor Natasha Ginwala’s mint-green sari), a sensible blue dress (elegantly belted by the curator Candice Hopkins), and a lavender jacket with dramatic slits in each sleeve (pulled off with great aplomb by the curator Hendrik Folkerts).

Other, official members of the Army of Beautiful Women included the Sirens, an elite, thirteen-person unit within Haiduk’s work, who were performing the artist’s Spinal Discipline, a mock runway show happening several times a day on an upper floor of the Neue Neue Galerie, Kassel’s brutalist, half-abandoned post office and distribution center, which, alongside the more traditional Neue Galerie, represents one of the two crucial nodes in the ellipse-like exhibition overall. The Sirens wore the full so-called “yugoform,” and were fairly compensated for their labor. More informally were the Documenta viewers and visitors who bought and wore the shoes, their price actively negotiated with the artist according to a sliding income scale.

Left: One of the performers in artist Irena Haiduk's Spinal Discipline in the Neue Neue Galerie. Right: The Met's chair of modern and contemporary art Sheena Wagstaff.

Perhaps most interesting of all were the soldiers in spirit, who resided wholly outside of Haiduk’s project but were no strangers to its core concerns. These were the women of an art-historical past who returned like apparitions, took up some of the more unassuming corners of the exhibition, and proceeded to blow my mind in small but consequential bursts as I wandered through the thirty-two venues scattered across the city.

One example is Amrita Sher-Gil, an Indo-Hungarian painter of Sikh lineage who was born in Budapest, became a sensational pioneer of the Indian avant-garde, and then died in Lahore of a sudden and mysterious illness at the age of twenty-eight. She is present in the Neue Galerie through two astonishingly good paintings from the 1930s, including her Self-Portrait as a Tahitian, which wrestles Paul Gauguin’s depiction of exotic sexuality back into a woman’s hands and gives it a remarkably powerful, self-emanating gaze of defiance and skepticism.

Others include a wonderful presentation of Maya Deren’s films, writings, and sound recordings of voodoo rituals in Haiti; Tina Modotti’s photographs of an Indian agronomist experimenting with wheat while exiled in Mexico; Maria Lai’s gorgeous paintings, textiles, and baked books; and Alina Szapocznikow’s haunting resin sculptures, many of them embedded with photographs of women who appear seemingly frozen in moments of agony, ecstasy, and the innocence of childhood. Another example still is the story of Tom Seidmann-Freud, a painter, illustrator, and author of children’s books, who was born Martha-Gertrud Freud, the niece of Sigmund, in late nineteenth-century Vienna. At the age of fifteen, her family moved to Berlin, where she changed her name and took to wearing men’s clothes.

Left: Artist Naeem Mohaiemen. Right: Artists Gauri Gill and Rajesh Vangad.

I won’t go so far as to argue that artistic director Adam Szymczyk has deliberately organized the first feminist edition of Documenta. But I think he may have actually created the conditions to allow such a thing to appear legible and be populated by this fluid army of Haiduk’s beautiful women and then some. Is there gender parity among this Documenta’s staff or participants? I have no idea and I haven’t counted and I’m not sure what the hard and fast numbers would really mean. But I do know that I was struck, day after day, by the twin spirits (and ghosts) of feminism and femininity, throughout the exhibition, in Kassel and echoing around the back of my mind from Athens. More concretely, I was impressed, one after another, by the very real women involved in all facets of the Documenta enterprise.

This began on day one, during the opening press conference at the Kongress Palais Kassel last Wednesday. What has been described elsewhere as a “fiery, combative” event was to my eye a more relaxed affair. Nine members of the Documenta 14 team sat in a line and spoke one by one. The curator Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung began his keynote address, on ways of being in a world of uncertainty and fear, with a quotation from Warsan Shire (ie, the poet behind Beyoncé’s Lemonade). Paul B. Preciado, curator of Documenta’s public programs, followed up with a talk on transitioning bodies, extending the metaphor from objects in the vitrines of an ethnographic museum—“We are no longer in the vitrines,” he said, “we have come out of the vitrines, we have been given the agency to destroy the vitrines”—to exhibitions, institutions, the nation-state, and the very planet itself.

The press conference bumped along for three hours. The Greeks made an astute decision in asking Lydia Koniordou, the current minister of culture and sport and a famous Athenian actress grounded in classical theater, to speak for Documenta’s other side. She painted a vivid picture of current conditions—“austerity measures that affect us all and are unprecedented in peacetime”—and the work that local artists are doing to resist fear and defy hardship. Natasha Ginwala gave one of the only acknowledgements of this Documenta’s rather difficult title, “Learning from Athens.” “Artists [in the exhibition] are linked together as teachers and thinkers. Learning is not a euphemism here.” Szymczyk gave the briefest remarks of all, noting that “we must act as political subjects,” and that “the process of becoming a political subject is a process of unlearning.” A throwaway, that.

Left: Artist Pélagie Gbaguidi. Right: Artist Emily Jacir with curator Yazid Anani, director of public programs at the A. M. Qattan Foundation.

What may have been most noteworthy was that every single speaker on behalf of Documenta’s greater administrative machine—including the organization’s amiable CEO Annette Kulenkamff; the chairman of Documenta’s supervisory board Bertram Hilgen, who is also Kassel’s mayor; and Hortensia Völkers, charismatic artistic director of the German Federal Cultural Foundation—championed staging one show in Athens, another in Kassel, calling them a single exhibition in two parts, and bringing with them the inevitable mess of history that has tied Germany and Greece together for generations, and not always nicely.

No journalists had anything tough to say about budgets or bad politics. There were virtually no questions of note and the only scrap of news that fell to the floor was the fact that Sindika Dokolo, the Congolese businessman who is married to Isabel dos Santos (aka the richest woman in Africa and the daughter of Angola’s slightly dictatorial president José Eduardo dos Santos), had funded the participation of artists from Africa and, in return, was getting a Documenta sampler in Luanda, to be curated by Szymczyk and Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung in 2018.

From there, I basically ran for four days. First, to the Hessisches Landesmuseum, to see the paintings of Ganesh Haloi, a terrific new series of lush color photographs by Gauri Gill, and Two Meetings and a Funeral, a three-screen video by Naeem Mohaiemen tracking the legacy of the Non-Aligned Movement through footage of a 1973 conference in Algiers. In the space of a staircase I ran into Frances Morris and Achim Borchardt-Hume of Tate Modern, Massimiliano Gioni of the New Museum, and Cecilia Alemani of the High Line. In Documenta Halle, I got a friendly wave from Gregor Muir, also of Tate, while I was fishing for the opinion of the dealer Andrée Sfeir, who has seen every single Documenta since Rudi Fuchs’s in 1982. It was too soon to say, but she was tentatively positive.

On Thursday, I bolted from the Neue Neue Galerie to the Glass Pavilions on Kurt-Schumacher-Strasse and took a spin through Mounira Al Solh’s recreation of her father’s bakery, which he opened in Lebanon in 1984 to give jobs to people who were mentally and physically disabled, and therefore wholly marginalized in the context of the country’s civil war. No one wanted to buy bread from the bakery until the town was nearly starving. Then, for a short time, the business was a stunning success. The artist, only a child at the time, pitched in and worked there, stuffing loaves of bread into bags for customers. A few weeks later, the bakery was bombed and burned to the ground. And lest you think the Lebanese are always tricky with history, know that every single word of this story is true.

Left: Art historians Paul Goodwin and Anthony Downey. Right: Artist Georgia Sagri performing her piece Dynamis in one of the Glass Pavilions on Kurt-Schumacher-Strasse.

In another of the pavilions, I was wowed by the paintings of Vivian Suter, who, in a fine bit of curatorial triangulation, is the subject of a luscious new film by Rosalind Nashashibi, alongside Suter’s mother, Elizabeth Wild, whose magazine-cut collages had caught my eye in the Neue Galerie. I continued on to Georgia Sagri’s Dynamis, a work totally captivating not only for how she and her fellow performers move, but in the fact that she is quietly, breathily singing, throughout.

Of course, this is not a flawless Documenta. You can walk into every room, ask yourself: What fresh horror is this?, and answer: Oh, Bengal famine, death and destruction in World War II, the abominations of slavery everywhere. It’s grim, and it’s thoroughly troubled by guilt and the desire to do good. Works like Artur Zmijewski’s Realism—a six-channel video, shot on 16 mm, in black-and-white, showing men with amputated limbs going about their days, exercising their stumps—are too fetishistic and in-your-face for me. On Friday afternoon, I had lunch with one of the more cantankerous elder artists in the exhibition. We were sitting in the rain when he looked up at Marta Minujín’s Parthenon of Books and said: “What is that, anyway? Why is it so fucking big? What’s the use of all those banned books up high and closed up in plastic? Take them down, put them on the floor, and let people read them.” The moments that seem to work better are those that capture a spiritual breakthrough, those that are true to the process of struggle.

And let’s say one thing plainly. The selection of works from the collection of EMST, the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, which fills the whole of the Fridericianum? Disaster. I get that it’s a gesture. But without any curatorial rigor, it doesn’t do anyone any good, not the history of modern-to-contemporary Greek art, nor the handful of works by other international artists called in to legitimize it. Filling the museum’s rotunda with Andreas Angelidakis’s stuffed camouflage tank is, as one colleague told me, quite a statement.

Left: Artist Mounira Al Solh. Right: Art Athina artistic director Stamatia Dimitrakopoulos with artists Angelo Plessas and Andreas Angelidakis.

But quite another statement was made in that same space on Saturday evening, when people packed into the rotunda, dismantled Angelidakis’s sculpture, and turned it into soft seating for the first session of Preciado’s Parliament of Bodies. This is the public programing arm of Documenta 14, and I’d heard nothing but negative reports about it from Athens. The director of an art space there told me it was the main thing that turned local audiences hostile. An Athenian photographer told me he’d gone to the first session and was so totally disgusted by the pretentious discourse that he’d walked out.

Much to my surprise, then, what followed in the Fridericianum was both powerful and down to earth. First, there was a pointed, detailed discussion of reparations for German war crimes against the Greeks in World War II. A young person in the audience—picture him in a splendid Angela Davis afro over a heavy five o’clock shadow and a bright floral dress—made the forceful point that the debt of colonialism was unpayable, so what else was there to do? Then he stood up and left the room. Three women from the audience sang a funerary song. Szymczyk, now sitting on a camouflage cube, seemed genuinely moved. “I understand that we cannot fix everything in one meeting,” he said. “This is just the beginning. But we are touching important strings. These are not exaggerated conspiracies. These are facts. An exhibition is just a pretext to bring these things to light.”

The next session featured the Syrian violist Ali Moraly, the aboriginal painter Gordon Hookey, and the professor Johannes Fabian, an anthropologist largely responsible for bringing to public attention the work of the late Congolese painter Tshibumba Kanda Matulu, whose cycle of 101 history paintings is a strong part of Documenta 14 in Athens. Fabian asked a question that summed up all that is uncomfortable about Szymczyk’s exhibition: “Why am I here?” He offered three possible answers: to be put on display as an exhibit, to be called upon as an informant on the past, to be called upon as a witness, because he was there and had some insight onto Tshibumba’s work when he was alive. “But what is being contested?” Fabian asked. “What court case is being tried?”

Left: Artist Rasheed Araeen. Artists Banu Cennetoglu and Amar Kanwar.

I left the Fridericianum with the artists Banu Cennetoğlu and Didem Pekün and headed to the Hauptbanhof for the opening party. The train station was packed. The curator Dieter Roelstraete was playing music and seemed like the happiest man alive. Later, when someone sidled up to me and asked, “So what is your space?” I knew it was time to split.

Defne Ayas, director of the Witte de With in Rotterdam, was feeling similarly—“Who are these people? This crowd is so horny!”—so we shared a cab to our respective hotels, bantering with the driver along the way. Originally from Belgrade, he told me Kassel was still just a small town, except for every five years when people came from all over. “It must be kind of fun,” I offered feebly. “Kind of,” he said. “But they are all totally crazy.” Then, for perspective on “crazy,” he reminded me that my home city is located between Syria, Israel, and the deep blue sea.

The next morning, at the crack of dawn, I flagged down a taxi to the train station. The driver bounded out of the car, threw open his arms, and cried out: “Beirut!” I blinked a few times. “Belgrade?” It was the same driver. “Last night, the art world was as crazy as ever,” he told me. Most of it had already moved on to Zurich Art Weekend or Skulptur Projekte Münster. I was happy to be going home. I was starting to think this army of beautiful women thing might actually catch on, that we might one day look back and say it started here. A dream. A delusion? Such is the deal with hope.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Sea Change

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Left: MECA founders Tony Rodríguez and Daniel Báez. Right: MECA Special Projects' Maria del Mar Frederique and dealer Javier Bosques.

SAN JUAN, DESPITE ITS RECENT BILLING as one of the art cities of the future, has none of the splashy hallmarks of a twenty-first century art hub. That is, there are no grandiose private museums, no sterile government-funded arts districts, no starchitecture vanities.

The city’s art scene, instead, exists in a strange symbiosis with a long-simmering financial crisis, concentrated in the neighborhood of Santurce, where unused commercial buildings beget studios, artist-run galleries, and sprawling murals. (And real-estate boons: Klaus Biesenbach and Alanna Heiss both own homes on the island.) The city often gets compared with Detroit, as both straddle artistic growth abetted by financial decline. (Puerto Rico’s debt is currently more than $120 billion; Detroit’s was $18 billion when it declared bankruptcy.) That seeming paradox achieved a peak intensity with the first edition of the MECA (short for Mercado Caribeńo) Art Fair in San Juan last week, just after Puerto Rico applied for a form of bankruptcy relief, the first time any state or territory has done so.

Dealers and collectors didn’t need much of a reason to make the trip. Early June in Puerto Rico brings Listerine-blue tides and humidity that wears as thick as wool—like Miami in HD but slo-mo. Flights from New York are just a few hours; the currency is dollars. It might be an ideal or an awful place for a fair—or both at once.

Left: Artist Juan Antonio Olivares and Matt Moravec. Right: Km0.2 cofounders Karlo Andrei Ibarra and Yiyo Tirado.

The fair was the brainchild of Tony Rodríguez and Daniel Baéz, who hail from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, respectively. On opening day, Baéz wore a spray of millennial signifiers—Disney-character lacquer pins, avocado-print socks, rose-gold tipped sneakers—as he explained the project’s beginnings. When traveling to fairs like ArteBA and ArtBo working as an assistant to Rirkrit Tiravanija, he rarely came across work from the Caribbean, despite knowing plenty of artists and dealers from places like Puerto Rico living abroad.

Baéz admitted he was afraid of telling his boss, Gavin Brown (he’s his personal assistant), that he was getting involved in an art fair. “He screamed, ‘Which one?!’ And I was like, ‘Mine!’ ”

He invited dealers, he said, “who weren’t going to be, ‘Sell, sell, sell!’ ” noting some other recent art-world excursions to the island. “It’s not like, ‘Come, buy this house, buy this art.’ ”

The fair, held at the Music Conservatory in Santurce, had about thirty exhibitors, only half of which were strictly gallerists: Others were billed as Special Projects like Green Go Home and the local artist-collective National, or else appeared in the Mecanismos projects section curated by Carla Acevedo-Yates of MSU’s Broad Museum. Outside the walls of the fair, much of the city’s local art got billing as Satellite Project participants—presumably watching how the results would play out from afar.

Left: Dealers José López and Agustina Ferreyra. Right: Dealers Oliver Newton and Margaret Lee.

I must have heard, “It’s a good excuse to come to Puerto Rico” from no less than a dozen people in from out of town. At 47 Canal, Margaret Lee joked, “We’re here to hang out and be in the tropics,” adding of the rushed timing, “I want to arrive in Basel really tan.” Her gallery shared a room with Matt Moravec’s Off Vendome, which brought Juan Antonio Olivares. “I’m an accidental Puerto Rican,” Olivares admitted, of having been born on the island to foreign parents.

A lot of spaces in town have one foot in PR and one elsewhere—San Juan’s Agustina Ferreyra will soon relocate to Mexico City, Embajada is run by ICI’s Manuela Paz and artist Christopher Rivera who live in New York. The latter showed work by Jesus “Bubu” Negron conceived during a recent residency in China—a series of prints making pictures of everything he needed translated.

Puerto Rican dealer Izam Zawahara Alejandro showed Hector Madera—formerly the director of the local space 20/20, he lived in New York before that. “The market is whatever you make of it. It’s on-and-off. I could be in New York, but you can go to New York in four hours. And it’s walking distance from the beach,” he added laughing. The location did offer enticing views of the water—though maybe that was also not a great incentive to spend hours at an art fair.

Left: Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico curator Juan Carlos López Quintero. Right: Curators Ysabel Pinyol and Larry Ossei-Mensah.

At Mechanismos, held in a separate building, I stopped by Km .02, whose Yiyo Tirado won the MECA 2017 Residency, a collaboration with Mana Contemporary and Clocktower Productions. Cofounder Karlo Andrei Ibarra noted most galleries and artists in the neighborhood have no formal contracts with the owners of the buildings. Often, the owner is the bank. “We’re like ocupas,” he said.

Later that night, the welcome dinner held at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico hosted just five tables, but lots of rum—a small but concentrated group of mostly dealers where seats changed freely. I ended up at a table with curators including Ysabel Pinyol and Larry Ossei-Mensah. “It’s like getting a startup to beta,” Ossei-Mensah noted about the DIY spirit of the small but lively fair. “It’s amazing they pulled this off.”

The next day I went back to MAPR, the island’s largest museum and home to historic works by Rafael Tufińo as well as large contemporary installations by Dzine and Pepón Osorio. “It’s a delicate situation,” curator Juan Carlos López Quintero said of the current moment. “We have bad news all the time, and this [fair] is something good.”

Left: Dealer Izam Zawahra Alejandro. Right: Closing night party at La Repuesta.

Later, in Santurce, Maria del Mar Frederique, who managed MECA’s special projects, toured a group around Calle Cerra, where we passed a new artist-run restaurant completely draped in murals; La Comuna, a new artist space with a rooftop bar; and Recinto Cerra, where Chicago-based space Produce Model brought a satellite project. “We’re not seeing any big money here,” she mentioned, adding sarcastically: “There’s no coworking spaces.” A flurry of openings and projects opened their doors until late at night, such as Mistral, El Lobi, and Km .02, run as a popup store selling revamped Nike wares for Colombian artist collective Carne.

There was plenty more. The next day, I took the two-hour drive to Guayanilla to see Allora & Calzadilla’s installation at Cueva Vientos, which recently graced the cover of the May issue of this magazine. In an open-air cave up a steep incline of rocks, the artists have installed Dan Flavin’s Puerto Rican light (to Jeanie Blake) 2, 1965—a green, glowing totem set at the top of the cave like a Virgin. Hiking back, we ran into the artists themselves. “I don’t like to come, because then I’m like, ‘You didn’t see this or this,’ ” Jennifer Allora said, noting that in June the light doesn’t come through the ceiling as strongly. In the middle of the forest, Allora talked about the project, which took nearly ten years to come together and, luckily, has been extended until next January.

That night, everyone ended up at Embajada, where White Columns’s Matthew Higgs DJed an opening for Chemi Rosado-Seijo. By midnight, people were heading to the bar La Repuesta, adjacent to yet another show at Diagonal, for a dance party that lasted into the morning. Exhausted by the Guayanilla journey, I booked it home early. It seemed a good sign that such a small fair had the capacity to tire us out. I wondered if it might get better traction as a post–Art Basel Miami Beach antidote than a June tag-on, but the founders have bigger plans than just Puerto Rico. Baéz said the fair could potentially rove around the region, mentioning Jamaica and Cuba as potential stops. The economic crisis could certainly prevent the fair from rooting here, so the open-ended plan seems wise—if a bit of a tease.

Alexandra Pechman

Left: Site of Allora & Calzadilla’s Puerto Rican Light (Cueva Vientos), 2015. Right: Street art in Santurce.

Foster Home


Norman Foster at “The Future Is Now” conference at Teatro Real. (Photo: Orlando Gutierrez)

LIKE MANY MARRIED MEN, Norman Foster takes enormous pride in his garage. His is brand new, an immaculate structure made of German glass and polished Japanese mirror, built behind a petite 1902 palace in Madrid that has been refurbished to house the Norman Foster Foundation, an archive and research center inaugurated on June 1, the illustrious British architect’s eighty-second birthday. The day before, itching to show the place off, Foster had some friends over.

“Jony!” said Norman, greeting Jonathan Ive, the T-shirt wearing chief creative officer of Apple. The two tanned designers brought it in for a hug. Ive had just arrived, presumably from Apple’s new Foster + Partners–designed donut-shaped headquarters in California. In short order, the garage door, a two-and-a-half-ton slab of glass supported by one wheel, was pivoted open by four hired hands, sweeping past Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913, depicting a Futurist man rushing in the direction of Le Corbusier’s original 1926 Voisin Lumineuse coach, which Foster acquired and had impeccably restored. The “Pavilion of Inspirations,” as it is referred to in press material, is a storehouse for memorabilia and miscellaneous Guy Stuff that a dad, if he is wise, knows not to bring into the house. In the architect’s case, a large Andreas Gursky photograph of the Engadin Skimarathon (Foster participates annually) and a large Robert Longo drawing of Russian fighter jets (Foster flies planes, the civilian type). Contained within a big vitrine were, among other mementos, miniature tensegrity structures and Dymaxion cars; Zeppelin models and Lionel model trains; an Olivetti typewriter; and, perhaps to tickle Ive, a first-generation iPhone.

Come evening, the driveway played host to a cocktail reception. Ivorypress publisher Elena Ochoa Foster, the architect’s glamorous Spanish spouse, was parked between the front gate and the palace porch, wearing a gold Claude Lalanne collarette and oversize, squared glasses. She welcomed invitees with kisses and inimitable facial expressions. Foster had told me that the choice to locate the foundation in Madrid was not determined, as many assume, by his wife’s nationality. But witnessing her cool, larger-than-life personality at the party—before wedding Foster, in 1996, she made a name for herself as a professor of psychopathology and as the host of a TV show called Let’s Talk About Sex—it is hard to imagine it located anywhere else (let alone Brooklyn, which was under consideration along with Manhattan, Berlin, and London).

Left: Outside the Norman Foster Foundation. (Photo: Nigel Young) Right: The Norman Foster Foundation. (Photo: Guillermo Rodríguez)

Lord Foster, less comfortable with freeform conversation—he fidgeted with his white Apple Watch as we spoke—prefers to ground discussion in things. Fortunately, there were plenty of things inside the palace. A selection of Foster’s models and sketches were displayed in nine rooms across two floors, which the architect roamed, hobnobbing with esteemed guests including James Costos, the former United States ambassador to Spain, and his partner, Michael S. Smith, the Obamas’ White House decorator, as well as billionaire captains of industry Alberto Cortina and Plácido Arango, companion of artist Cristina Iglesias, whose carbon-fiber canopy was suspended over the driveway. The usual accusation that architects are hopelessly complicit with power can’t be leveled against Foster: He is not some naive pawn of the powerful global elite but rather one of its members, with an estimated fortune of $220 million, according to last year’s Sunday Times Rich List. As for me, a pitiful, unpedigreed freelancer, I was underdressed and underage. With a few exceptions—Ochoa and Foster’s two teenage children, and middle-aged old money like Pia Getty—the attendees were up there in years. Septuagenarian Bianca Jagger, dressed in a beige full-length coat and silver platforms, seemed spritely, though, compared to the reclining bronze by Henry Moore next to her.

By 8:30 the next morning, most of these eminences, plus legions of students, had packed the seventeen-hundred-seat Teatro Real. The foundation’s director, María Nicanor, who arrived from London’s Victoria and Albert in January, kicked things off. Manuela Carmena, Madrid’s left-wing mayor, implored Foster in her welcome speech to help “reduce inequality in our city.” But as the day went on, this plea for equality proved one of the few things the guru-participants—drawn from art, architecture, urbanism, academia, and the tech industry—could not care to imagine. Titled “The Future Is Now,” the conference sought to demonstrate the foundation’s holistic, interdisciplinary approach to urgent global issues. The artists—except for Cornelia Parker, who kept it refreshingly kooky—spoke the studied managementese of consultants, discussing the “culture sector” (Olafur Eliasson) and its “very large return on investment” (Maya Lin). “First become a billionaire, then become a mayor,” advised Michael Bloomberg, who, after taking jabs at Trump, millennials, and other lowlifes, offered glowing endorsements of Elon Musk and similar visionaries. “You are one of them,” he said, gesturing to Foster. “Jeff Bezos is another one.”

“The Future Is Now” conference at Teatro Real. (Photo: Orlando Gutierrez)

Listening to Bloomberg and others talk, you started to feel that any apprehension about their future could not possibly be born of legitimate political or ideological difference. Instead, it’s some sort of character flaw—an indication of constitutional weakness. It took the conservative Ivy League historian and TV pundit Niall Ferguson, part of the panel on technology, to shatter the liberal consensus. And that’s when things got bizarre. (Was I really agreeing with Henry Kissinger’s authorized biographer?) After sitting through a keynote by architect Matthias Kohler on robotic construction, a conversation between Financial Times managing editor Gillian Tett and a tight-lipped Jony Ive (“The change right now is . . . intoxicating”), and then a long-winded fried-eggs-versus-omelets analogy by MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, Ferguson pounced. “There’s other things to do with eggs,” he said, recalling how, the night before, Tesla’s chauffeuring conference participants were targeted by angry huevos-wielding cab drivers protesting Uber. The self-appointed “voice of doom,” Ferguson accused the people who work in technology of being historically ignorant and warned of an impending backlash against their innovations by labor. “The rotten eggs have only just begun to fly!” Negroponte, giddy techno-optimist, dug in: “There is no question that twenty years from now, people will learn French by swallowing a pill.”

What goes in must come out, and Foster, who in his opening keynote championed the great life-giving potential of sewage for urban agriculture, returned to fecal matters. “I was reminded that really there is a history of technology responding to crises,” he said in his closing remarks, explaining how the Great Stink of London (1858) was overcome by the construction of a new sewer system, and the Great Manure Crisis (1894) by the eventual transition from horses to automobiles. Will high-rise farms fertilized by human waste satiate growing urban populations and stave off ecological collapse? If there’s one thing optimists and pessimists can both agree on, it’s that the future is shit.

David Huber