PRINT September 2003


David Rimanelli

Cooling off in Venice, 2003. Photos: Roman Mensing.

June 11

VENICE BIENNALE. Arrive around noon at Marco Polo Airport after a predictably unpleasant trip. There’s a shuttle to the dock. The vaporetto is crammed with sweaty people, the heat unreal, and I feel tired and ill-tempered, so I opt for a water taxi, even though it costs 80 euros, which given the exchange rate, is easily more than a C note—livin’ large. This is a sensible way to squander money: sitting alone at the back of a boat that could easily accommodate ten people, I feel rather glamorous, like Monica Vitti. Maybe this will be fun after all. The driver leaves me off at the Rialto: “You see that street between the bridge and the palazzo? Your hotel is that way.” What I see looks like an extremely narrow and dark alley, and I’m amazed that I find the hotel, located on yet another impossibly narrow and gloomy street, Calle de la Balote. Its rooms are modern and air conditioned. Feeling sanguine about Venice.

After a long nap, I meet my vivacious young Artforum colleague Scott Rothkopf in the lobby—we’re staying in the same hotel—and we go to a party that Monika Sprüth, Matthew Marks, and Eva Presenhuber are throwing at the Palazzo Nani, on the Dorsoduro, the first of many. Crowded, stiflingly hot even on the terraces. Bad food and not much of it. Hellos, handshakes, kisses, good-byes. Afterward, pass by the Scottish party—more like a rave (Jim Lambie DJ’s). A huge line of twentysomethings decides me against. Maybe Scott should go.

Collaborators Oleanna and FLEAS on the site of Martha Rosler’s Speculations and Speculative Fictions, 2003. “Utopia Station,” Venice Biennale, 2003. Photo: Martha Rosler.

June 12

BREAKFAST ON THE TERRACE OF THE GRITTI HOTEL with Scott, art historian James Meyer, and our editor, Jack Bankowsky. A well-heeled dealer sidles up to me at the buffet as I pour a glass of peach juice and hisses, “Enjoying your witches’ breakfast?” In fact it was rather genteel. There’s no discounting the view of Santa Maria della Salute and San Giorgio Maggiore; perhaps go see them on Saturday. James points out the reputedly cursed, Byzantinesque Ca’ Dario across the Grand Canal. Several of its occupants died unnatural deaths or went mad; at least one notorious homosexual murder case is associated with it, very Talented Mr. Ripley. Rich Americans in clashing pastels clamber into water taxis. “It’s a disaster, an absolute disaster,” one lady exclaims, perhaps bemoaning the gradual disintegration of her blown-out coiffure in the miasmal humidity. As we prepare to embark ourselves, we’re treated to a priceless picture: Damien Hirst breakfasting with his dealer Jay Jopling—and his accountant.

The Arsenale. After complaints about the merciless heat—at points over 40 Celsius, which an Italian acquaintance says is higher than one’s body temperature—the most typical remark concerns the inappositeness of Francesco Bonami’s overall title, “Dreams and Conflicts: The Dictatorship of the Viewer”; no one misses calling it the dictatorship of the curator.

“Utopia Station” probably the most notable of the curated shows within the Biennale, even though the installation of disinstallation (Rirkrit Tiravanija’s signature?) makes it strenuous, not to say impossible to see the art. Unwilling to move into Utopia Station, I suppose I’m perforce foreclosed from really “getting it.” The catalogue text, “What Is a Station?” by curators Tiravanija, Molly Nesbit, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, dilates on the significance of spatiotemporal distension: “The Utopia Station in Venice, the city of islands, is part of a larger project. Utopia Stations do not require architecture for their existence, only a meeting, a gathering. We have already had several, in Paris, in Venice, in Frankfurt, in Poughkeepsie. . . . ”

We take a break and have our own little gathering—James, Jack, Scott, Matthew Marks, and me—drinking iced tea in the “garden” outside; the delightful Linda Nochlin joins us. There seems to be a lot of squabbling going on, among installers still at work, among bumptious visitors. Aggravated conversations on cell phones. Matthew and James rather at odds over the contemporary fortunes of Conceptual art. Even though he dislikes most of the fifth-generation Conceptualism on view in the Arsenale, James argues pro, citing contemporary (I call them “mannerist”) Conceptual practices he regards as valid; Matthew confesses he’s bored by so much visual poverty and redundancy. Neither likes the Arsenale shows, but they quarrel—pardon me, discuss the issues—anyway. While checking out the “work” in the garden, James and I get into a little spat because I resent him for shushing me as I make “inappropriate” (read: clearly audible) comments. So this is Utopia . . .

Maurizio Cattelan, Charlie, 2003. “Delays and Revolutions,” Venice Biennale, 2003. Photo: Roman Mensing/

I take a stroll with Linda to see Martha Rosler’s collaborative work, at which point I decide that this Biennale is devoted to dirty-hippie art. (I defer to Eric Cartman, of the television show South Park fame, who often shouts: “I hate dirty hippies!”) I ask Linda if she had ever been a dirty hippie; yes, she answers, perhaps she had been. Dirty hippie–dom becomes a leitmotiv of this Biennale.

Francesco Bonami and Daniel Birnbaum’s “Delays and Revolutions” in the Italian pavilion. Organized and installed like the typical large group show, as such it’s easier to see and evaluate and like and dislike the various works. Triumph of “conservatism,” in contrast to Utopia Station’s botched mille plateaux. Although I was “prepared” (had heard about) Maurizio Cattelan’s Charlie, a remote-controlled child/monster/self-portrait on a tricycle, actually encountering it at random in one of the galleries is rather jarring—agreeably so. “He wins,” James remarks with a tinge of irritation. The piece is so obnoxious. The creepiest element is the bobbing head, ostensibly a likeness of Cattelan, although I don’t really see the resemblance and I see the artist just about everywhere I go here. Ali Subotnick explains that the doll represents Maurizio as a child, but the head still looks uncannily grown-up. Later, I see an actual child running in fear from Chucky/Cattelan. Whoever operates the remote control obviously enjoys this, so instead of simply letting the victim go, the sculpture is sent after the kid to terrorize it some more. Presumably, the piece takes its name from Cattelan’s journal Charley, but I’m struck by the notion that it’s a pointed reference to Charles “Charley” Ray, whose sculpture Aluminum Girl, 2003, is among the “star” projects in the Italian pavilion. The pudendum looks odd; I’m told that Ob-Gyn and art collector Don Rubell described it as “engorged.” At one point, Charlie perambulates in the same gallery as Charley’s sculpture—and not far from The Perfect Ride, the cuckoo project by Ray’s model, Jennifer Pastor. It all feels rather uncomfortable.

The large gallery at the top of the Italian pavilion is given over to an ample selection of Richard Prince “Cowboy” photographs. “Aren’t you proud to be an American?” cocurator Birnbaum asks me, smiling. The Salone Principe makes a strong impression, although such a grandiose installation of otherwise familiar works suggests that the celebration of Prince’s loving-it “critique” of the mythos of the Wild West as transmitted by cigarette advertisements is no less motivated by recent geopolitical events. My favorite of the big pictures shows four cowboys at rest in Bad Rock Pass, each one individually illumined by a ray of sunlight piercing the sublime/hokey cloud formations above.

Barbara Gladstone, Shaun Caley Regen, and Sadie Coles are having a big party at the Excelsior Hotel on the Lido. Fun. A woman I don’t know asks me to dance, but I demur. “What’s the matter, don’t you like women?” she says in a kittenish yet sinister tone that reminds me of Ashley St. Ives in Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. As the party wears on, a number of revelers go skinny-dipping. Wild woman Linda Nochlin among them.

Clockwise from top left: Charles Ray, Aluminum Girl, 2003. Installation view, “Delays and Revolutions,” Venice Biennale, 2003. Photo: Roberto Marossi. Shaun Caley Regen and Jennifer Pastor, Venice, 2003. Martin Kippenberger, Ohne Titel (Lieber Maler, Male Mir) (Untitled [Dear painter, paint me]), 1979–80, and Francesco Clemente, Porta Coeli, 1983. Installation 
view, “Pittura/Painting,” Venice Biennale, 2003. Photo: Roman Mensing.

June 13

BONAMI’S PAINTING SHOW AT THE MUSEO CORRER. Supposed to meet Jack outside the Basilica but I’m late. Head to the Museo Correr alone; trapped in an endless queue, miserable. When I finally enter the exhibition, very sweaty and feeling dirty, I see Scott and Jack chatting amiably on a bench. Scott remarks that the Buren in front of us is nice, which prompts me to expel the following sentence: “Whatever, I’m so sick of fucking correct smart taste”—and it’s not even noon. A sour, not to mention somewhat embarrassing start to my day of aesthetic and intellectual delectation. Indifferent to the show. At the Lido party last night, a young matron said I had to see the Kippenberger sex painting; she wanted to have a discussion about it with me.

Return to the Giardini. Almost every pavilion bores me, although I like Erik van Lieshout’s shanty outside the Dutch pavilion; the video inside shows some guys trolling around Amsterdam looking for pickups: “You want a boyfriend?” They keep suggesting places to meet men, presumably gay bars, but in fact these are ethnic groceries and restaurants. “He likes that ugly Chinese,” one of them screams. Music by 50 Cent.

More parties: for Fred Wilson and the American pavilion at the Cipriani, on the Giudecca. Wilson looking chic in an Hermès suit (a gift, rumor has it, from the fashion house—very Hollywood). Go for cocktails. All the Americans are there, very dressed up. Nice chat with Louise Lawler, who isn’t even in this Biennale, but she’s taking pictures. “Louise, you actually go to shows you’re not in?” Mindful of the “blackamoor” theme of Wilson’s installation, a friend suggests I visit the famous Venetian jeweler Nardi, which specializes in diamond-and-ruby-encrusted blackamoor bracelets, cuff links, etc. Then leave for the Artforum dinner at Harry’s Dolci. The grand cattle call that night is the French pavilion dinner for Jean-Marc Bustamante, hosted by Bernard Arnault of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. I opted for the intimate affair: There’s actually a breeze tonight, it’s refreshing sitting outside, and the company’s charming overall, among others incoming Artforum editor Tim Griffin, Birnbaum, Nochlin, Meyer, and our foremost utopian, Nesbit. Delighted to find Pompidou curator Alison Gingeras there; Artforum associate publisher Charles Guarino thoughtfully seats us together, all the better to foment scabrous gossip. Return to San Marco with Alison, where we join the throng outside Haig’s Bar, the hipster hangout during the Biennale, across from the Gritti. Rudolph Stingel comes by, and I apologize profusely for not recognizing him when I saw him earlier in the Giardini even though I know him perfectly well; heatstroke, you know. Actually, I think I confused him and Bonami, just to make things worse. It’s bruited among knowing operatives that Oliver Payne and Nick Relph’s video in “Utopia Station,” which won the Golden Lion prize today, wasn’t even working when the jury came round to see it. Karl Lagerfeld walks by.

Pruitt/Early, Estelle Schwartz (Crazy), 1989, still from “Music Videos,” 7 minutes.

June 26

Back in New York. “BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY” OPENS AT DAVID ZWIRNER. A coproduction with Charley, the clever, brittle journal edited by transcontinental bon vivant Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, and Ali Subotnick. The most recent Charley is the best so far, dedicated to “forgotten” or “disappeared” artists of the ’80s and early ’90s. In the style of Cattelan’s other journal, Permanent Food, all the pictures come from previously published materials: art magazines, exhibition catalogues, books, but oddly auction catalogues—seemingly such a rich trove—are omitted even as the format mimics that of a fat Sotheby’s or Christie’s publication. The “forgotten” concept is intrinsically mean-spirited, which the editors must realize as they sidestep the issue in their brief statement: “Charley 03 is a time machine . . . Suspended between nostalgia and archeology . . . a minority report and a flash back.” Some of the selections are harder to parse than others, e.g., “Who’s That Girl,” an article on Alex Bag that appeared in a ’96 issue of Frieze. Didn’t she have a show just last year that got its share of press? The same goes for omissions: Where’s Cady Noland, perhaps the most notable circa-1990 MIA? “Cady Noland is still in history,” Subotnick says. “People have never forgotten her.” The Zwirner exhibition had a small Noland, but when told about the show the artist asked that it be removed. Pruitt/Early’s music videos of karaoke performances, made at Macy’s Herald Square in 1989, are way bizarre: Lisa Spellman moodily sings “Me So Horny”; Richard Phillips strikes rocker poses for “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” The ultimate star turn, however, belongs to art consultant Estelle Schwartz as she lip-synchs to Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”; at one point her image fractures into ten Estelles. But Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Homeless Vehicle, Version 3, 1988, was my favorite piece. I’ve always loved this trolley, once so humorlessly championed by October. It’s pure—that is, unintentional—camp, the most delicious species thereof.

A skate party at the Roxy followed the opening. “It was supposed to be glamorous, but everybody got hurt,” Subotnick relates. She should know: Dragged down by a fellow skater, she fractured her wrist.