deFINE Success

Savannah, Georgia

Left: Artists Angel Otero and Jack Whitten. Right: Isolde Brielmaier, chief curator of the Savannah College of Art and Design, with Kathryn Kanjo, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA, MAY BE BEST KNOWN as a crime scene—and what environment could be more hospitable to art? The society murder that inspired Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil took place in just one of this port city’s historic homes. The Savannah College of Art and Design has gone the book and film several times better by absorbing and restoring almost eighty buildings, each with a story of its own.

Several came into focus last week during SCAD’s fourth annual deFINE ART, a supremely well-organized festival of exhibitions, performances, and talks. The most impressive venue was the school’s airy tunnel of an 82,000-square-foot museum, erected on the footprint of an antebellum train depot. Architect Christian Sottile seamlessly incorporated what remains of the now-landmarked brick ruin into the museum’s recent concrete-and-glass expansion. Even if you don’t know that slaves made the bricks, the walls look poignant.

They spoke volumes last Tuesday evening, when SCAD held a reception for the visiting artists, students, faculty, and other college personnel attending deFINE ART’s opening. Invited by executive director of exhibitions Laurie Ann Farrell to moderate an upcoming panel, I arrived just in time to see Jack Whitten emerge from what Jennifer Rubell instantly characterized as “the single best talk by an artist that I have ever heard.” That assessment found favor with Angel Otero, another of the thirteen artists with exhibitions or solo projects on view during the week.

Left: Artist Odili Donald Odita. Right: Laurie Ann Farrell, SCAD executive director of exhibitions, with SCAD fine art dean Steve Bliss.

Each show at the museum transported us into the next. Whitten’s Erasures—works on paper and canvas from the 1970s—were all about removing historical references from his art in favor of invention and experimentation. “The ’70s were good to me,” said the seventy-three-year-old artist. Better than the ’80s, I thought, when Gerhard Richter’s squeegee paintings began zooming to the top of the market—years after the rudely marginalized Whitten made his. Perhaps the retrospective coming to the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, next year will be a corrective. “It’s going to be tough to whittle down all the great Whittens to just seventy-eight works,” said Kathryn Kanjo, the retrospective’s curator.

We stopped in front of drawings from 1974 that Whitten made with copy-machine toner. I wondered if Wade Guyton had seen them. Whitten noted that the variety of techniques he employed back then stemmed partly from the handmade papers he discovered through his wife, Mary, a paper conservator. “Paper taught me a lot,” he said.

“There seems to be a common thread of materiality running through these shows,” observed Isolde Brielmaier, SCAD’s chief curator. That was true of Otero’s abstract canvases, made with dried sheets of poured oil paints that look like wrinkled fabrics on the finished products. And Rubell’s participatory installation Free supplied scrumptious biscuits to those who dared enter her pitch-black homage to a Donald Judd box and edge their way to a glowing altar dripping local honey.

Left: LACMA director and CEO Michael Govan, Witte de With director and curator Defne Ayas, and Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden. Right: Artist Ingrid Calame.

Ingrid Calame, meanwhile, needed a hazmat suit to escape the dust that her commissioned, graffiti-like wall painting, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pit #4, #9, #7, raised during its making. Rosemarie Fiore burned firecrackers to get the fumage effect of her paintings; Odili Donald Odita relied on Michelangelo-style scaffolding for the weeks it took him to paint his Heaven’s Gate on the walls and ceiling of the museum’s lobby. I don’t know what hoops Damián Ortega jumped through to bring the stacked, mirrored, and hinged cubes of his Belo Horizonte Project to a hall running the length of the building, but I can’t imagine that it could ever look more breathtaking anywhere else.

My senses on full alert, I reached SCAD’s Gutstein Gallery, opposite its movie theater. Inside, Dallas-based artist Gabriel Dawe had strung two spectral—and spectrum-crossing—thread sculptures between the columns of a space that had once been a department store lunch counter where 1960s civil rights workers staged sit-ins.

Still reeling from this mash-up of history and color, I was shown to dinner at SCAD’s Poetter Hall, the former armory that was the school’s first building. (With its lime-green banister and alumni paintings on the walls, it looks nothing like an armory now.) There I met Paula Wallace, the former elementary school teacher who cofounded SCAD and is still its president, and Dr. Walter Evans, whose donation of seventy works from their extensive holdings of African-American art formed the core of the museum’s permanent collection. Later on I discovered that Evans also has a startling library that has made him the go-to guy for scholars of African-American letters, while Whitten, in his spare time, is an authority on the catching, cooking, and eating of octopus.

Left: Dealers Julia Fischbach and Emanuel Aguilar. Right: Artist Rosemarie Fiore.

This is why encounters outside more established centers of the art world can be so edifying. The conversations are different than they are in market-mad New York. The following day, an artists’ panel aimed at students was all about how to get a career going, as might be expected. But the three panelists—Otero, Calame, and Savannah-based Marcus Kenney—also talked about the conflict of relationships that results from being an artist and a parent at the same time. That is one subject I’ve never known to come up at any symposium I’ve attended before.

By Thursday, when I met up with my panel of museum directors—Michael Govan, Thelma Golden, and Defne Ayas—I had visited the other SCAD galleries; paged through letters by James Baldwin, Frederick Douglass, and Toussaint L’Ouverture at Dr. Evans’s house, along with books signed by Langston Hughes to the likes of Duke Ellington; and walked through a few of Savannah’s twenty-two garden squares. “You don’t have to be in any one place to be an artist,” Otero had said. But it does help to get around, to see how art travels, and what it does when it lands.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Artist Jason Hackenworth. Right: SCAD president and cofounder Paula Wallace with collector Ann Tenenbaum.

Cock and Bull


Left: Curator Paolo Colombo and dealer Gerard Faggionato. Right: Filmmaker Adolpho Arrietta and artist Cristina Iglesias. (Except where noted, all photos: Kevin McGarry)

“I’VE ALREADY BEEN PICKPOCKETED!” reported artist Mika Tajima via SMS on the eve of the preview of ARCOmadrid 2013. I’m pretty sure this petty calamity doesn’t really point to the continued economic distress of Spain and its capital city, where estimates suggest that more than a quarter of the population (and more than half of millennials) are out of work. But in the moment it felt like an illustration of that hard fact, the coil linking system to individual. (At the very least, it pretty much sucked for Tajima—and the three other people I knew who suffered the same fate over the weekend.)

Against all the economic odds, Madrid still puts on a solid show, as it has for more than thirty years, predating the era of biennialization and the parallel proliferation of competitive trade conventions. ARCO may lack the buzz of newer fairs in established art capitals and the novelty of smaller, boutique-y gatherings like Zona Maco in Mexico City or Art Brussels. Instead, ARCO seems to stake its identity on the debatable (if tenable) positioning of the Iberian Peninsula as the geopolitical crossroads for the twenty-first-century Western art world, in which Latin America is quickly emerging as a key player alongside Europe and the United States.

But Spain in and of itself remained a mystery to me. Most of the foreigners I spoke to, many of whom have been coming to ARCO for years, balked at the task of parsing the local scene. “Art is always, always about a place,” pontificated the itinerant Mediterranean curator Paolo Colombo at the preview. “And I think you can tell by the streets here what people are interested in”—referring, I think, to the well-ordered, leisurely core of the city. “Granted, I do only spend five days here every five years.” As a Brazilian dealer confessed to me, “I have some very good clients here, but beyond that . . . If you figure Spain out, let me know!”

Left: The Blanton Museum's Veronica Roberts with artist Mika Tajima. Right: Eliana Finkelstein of Galeria Vermelho.

Brazilian galleries in particular seemed interested in taking advantage of Spain’s unique position in the global marketplace. There was a high turnout from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba—ten altogether—who, via a private initiative called Latitude, organized an incubator project by which prominent dealers like Luciana Brito and Vermelho’s Eliana Finkelstein coached “baby galleries” like Emma Thomas on how to successfully carry off an international fair. They also hosted a big party capping off the week—Carnaval was just finishing up, after all, five thousand miles away (and next door in Portugal).

ARCO’s official “Focus” this year, however, was another national market: Turkey. The ten galleries included offered an uneven survey of work from the region (and beyond), with two notable highlights: Rodeo, whose booth included the history-saturated work of Banu Cennetoǧlu, and NON, which featured Asli Çavuşoǧlu’s Frieze Project, a video called Murder in Three Acts that mines the procedural crime drama.

But what was not on view at ARCO might have been just as interesting as anything that actually was. Around fifty directors and curators from many of the world’s leading biennials and museums were shipped in for a full docket of closed-door “professional meetings,” which in addition to being audienceless were also undocumented—a FOMO paradox! (Dealers, from their perspective, missed nothing: A parade of institutional power traipsed through the convention center all week.) “It’s rare that international colleagues have a chance to speak in such an intimate setting,” said the New Museum’s Lauren Cornell after an all-day session on biennials. In the hotel breakfast room, which also hemorrhaged curators, Hans Ulrich Obrist expounded on the fair’s long tradition of facilitating international conversations and the important role it played in introducing far-flung figures of his generation to one another. “ARCO is where everyone discovered Latin America in the 1990s. Latin America came to Europe through Spain.”

Left: SculptureCenter curator Ruba Katrib with New Museum curator Lauren Cornell. Right: Hans Ulrich Obrist.

By day, those not sequestered to these clandestine convocations were likely to bump into one another at (spoiler alert) the Prado—“an #artselfie of Las Meninas” would be a #metaartselfie, wouldn’t it?” posited SculptureCenter curator Ruba Katrib—or the Reina Sofía, which boasted a jaw-dropping exhibition of geometric abstraction highlights from the Cisneros Collection, curated by the collection’s director, Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, and Manuel J. Borja-Villel. Nearby, the CaixaForum Madrid featured a group show on chaos, juxtaposing Basquiat paintings with ritualistic masks from Indonesia, along with many other cultural mash-ups.

A little after 10 PM on Thursday, the perfect time for an early Spanish dinner, I arrived at the home of Isabela Mora, the Fondation Beyeler’s director of international projects, for a promised “intimate” postfair meal. Inside the sixth-floor flat overlooking the Buen Retiro I saw instead (to my delight/horror) close to a hundred familiar faces. “I didn’t realize this was a Mendes Wood party,” said the New York collector Charlotte Ford, referring to the young and gregarious São Paulo gallery. “Which means that everybody in the world . . . ” continued Richard Flood, no doubt alluding to the festive gauntlet of guests and brusque waiters crowding the parlor and hallways. In any case it was a blast, and internationals like Hou Hanru, Mario Ybarra Jr., Patricia Marshall, and Pablo León de la Barra sipped champagne and nibbled on pasta alongside local luminaries like Cristina Iglesias and “the Spanish Kenneth Anger,” as the legendary filmmaker Adolpho Arrietta was introduced to me.

The witching hour arrived—still too early for a real madrileño to begin their night—and all the jetlagged ARCOites decamped to their nightly end point, Bar Cock, a refined, wood-paneled watering hole that, despite being located in Madrid’s gayborhood Chueca, has nothing in common with another seedy Manhattan dive whose name it (mostly) shares. There commenced more dialogues, which, under the cover of night, are also sure to go undocumented in the annals of art fairs.

Kevin McGarry

Left: Artist Witte van Hulzen (center) and dealer Jaqueline Martins (right). Right: Artist Ben Nathan (left) and dealer Rodrigo Editore of Casa Triângulo Gallery (center). (Photos: Iago Barreiro)

Friends and Benefits


Left: Writer Pankaj Mishra. Right: Curator and Bidoun trustee Dana Farouki, Alia Al-Senussi, collector Mohammed Afkhami, Bidoun contributing editor Shumon Basar (center), and Lord Palumbo (far right). (All photos: Jon Austin)

IT WAS A QUEER CHOICE of venue for a recent benefit for Bidoun Projects. But there we all were, a hundred or so arty misfits and dignitaries gathered on a Thursday evening in the intimate cloisters of the London Sketch Club in Chelsea, an old boys’ club if ever there was one. “It smelled like old men when we first got here,” one guest whispered as we converged on the building’s jaunty salon, where portraits featuring former members of the club (depicted as black silhouettes on unprimed canvases) ran around the upper walls like a frieze. “Talk about postcolonial discourse,” said another.

Bidoun has always gravitated toward ambiguous contexts. It began in 2004 as a magazine focused on art and culture in the Middle East, but has since expanded into curatorial and educational projects. Operating as a nonprofit for the past three years, it has managed to artfully flout the conventional opinions and attitudes surrounding much discourse about its subject. “It’s almost the perfect choice,” artist and Bidoun contributing editor Sophia Al-Maria noted, scanning the room. “Pretty subversive, really.” We had been discussing the framed sketches of (female) nudes slung below the portraits of (male) club members—another salient feature of the space. One dealer, rendered giddy by the evening’s reminiscence of an older London (and perhaps by a gin or two), recalled earlier years when “you paid one pound to sketch naked women.” (“A more innocent time . . . ” he continued.)

Left: Tate Modern curator Stuart Comer. Right: Dealer Rose Issa.

Dealer Rose Issa was the first of seven speakers invited to read excerpts from the Bidoun archive, and she smartly chose from Negar Azimi’s piece “Fluffy Farhad,” on the celebrated Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri. Tate Modern curator (and, lately, Whitney Biennial impresario) Stuart Comer recited “Imprisoned Airs,” an excellent piece on the late, great avant-garde theater director Reza Abdoh cowritten by Reza’s brother, Salar. Gemini Kim accompanied each reading on piano, and the whole evening was a genteel illustration of Bidoun’s light touch, a playfulness they’ve cultivated among new generations of writers, artists, and thinkers on the Middle East. Jon Austin, photographing the night, recalled the Soft Power issue (#26) as his highlight, while “mythographer” Marina Warner, before her reading, mentioned the provocative issue devoted to Egypt (#25), in which page headers featured statements like “Why Egypt is not Tunisia.”

Azimi noted in conversation that though artists and contributors like Jeremy Deller and Lawrence Weiner were not technically from the region, they certainly fit into the Bidoun “universe.” This brand of cultural and social remix suffused the gathering and its eclectic group of guests. By the time contributing editor Shumon Basar stepped in for Deller to read Tom Morton’s “House of Dodi” (Deller was stuck at the airport), the room seemed bathed in a warm glow. Said fuzziness was no doubt encouraged by the soft lighting, Persian buffet, and the general familiarity and rapport among guests who included Alia Al-Senussi, Metropolitan Museum wallah (and Bidoun trustee) Sheena Wagstaff, collectors Vanessa Branson and Maryam Eisler, and dealer Sylvia Kouvali. In a nutshell, the night was, borrowing someone else’s words: “Weird! But warm. In a Chelsea way.”

It must have been around 9:30 PM when Sophia Al-Maria stood up to give the final performance of the night, a reading from her own “Paths of Glory.” “When we talk about our weddings, we are only barely talking about our marriages,” she began, continuing to tell a story about an arrangement Al-Maria evaded with her cousin (referred to as “Godzilla”), and his subsequent betrothal to another cousin, Moza. As her aunt looks over Godzilla and Moza’s wedding photos, she tells Al-Maria that she’ll be next. “Maybe,” Al-Maria says. A pause. “But probably not.” There was laughter—and a split-second of silence—before the room burst into applause.

Stephanie Bailey

Left: Gemini Kim. Right: Sheena Wagstaff, head of the Metropolitan Museum's Modern and Contemporary Art department, and dealer Nicholas Logsdail.

Material World

New Delhi

Left: Skoda Art Prize director Girish Shahane. Right: Dealer Lorenzo Fiaschi. (Except where noted, all photos: Zehra Jumabhoy)

THE FIFTH EDITION of the India Art Fair kicked off with a bang. Or should I say a smash? At the fair’s opening a couple weeks ago, dealer Lorenzo Fiaschi subbed in for artist Michelangelo Pistoletto—infamous in recent years for his performance Twenty-Two Less Two, in which he breaks giant gilded mirrors with a sledgehammer—and had a go at a piece of long, silvery looking-glass. CRACK! it went, shooting glittery shards all over Galleria Continua’s booth: The VIP preview had begun.

Mingling with the shiny fragments of mirror that night were lots of bejeweled guests. Among the art-world glitterati were William Kentridge, El Museo del Barrio chief curator Chus Martínez, Beaux-Arts editor Fabrice Bousteau, and the Guggenheim’s Sandhini Poddar. Also out and about were Lekha and Anupam Poddar, the mother-and-son co-owners of Delhi’s Devi Art Foundation; Tasneem Mehta, honorary director of Bombay’s Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum City Museum; and oodles of local talent. Mithu Sen posed for her portrait delightedly, a flower perched prominently in her hair (did it look purloined from one of her flowery paintings?). T. V. Santhosh rested wearily beside his Effigies of Turbulent Yesterdays, a sculpture of a beheaded rider astride a black horse with faux fountains of blood spewing from his neck. “So beautiful!” Bharti Kher exclaimed at the Kalighat patua paintings in Delhi Art Gallery’s booth, and “Bombay Boy” Bose Krishnamachari—the artist now known as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale’s cocurator—beamed with appreciation.

Left: Artist T. V. Santhosh. Right: Guggenheim adjunct curator Sandhini Poddar and Hanan Sayed Worrell. (Photo: Flint)

There was lots of soul-searching to be conducted at this fair, where mystical themes kept distracting us from material considerations. Gallery Espace’s gilded booth featured a peeling gold-leaf Tasbih by New York–based artist Zarina Hashmi (currently blessed with a retrospective at the Guggenheim). Pretty prayers notwithstanding, Paula Sengupta’s decapitated dolls were the truly moving items at Espace. They recalled nineteenth-century Tibetan figurines from the Losel Doll Museum in the Indian suburb of Mcleod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, where the Dalai Lama has his official residence. At Galerie Lelong, superstar artist Nalini Malani curated a “feminist” display: A Louise Bourgeois cozied up to a Nancy Spero, surrounded by floating female figures painted by Malani herself.

Like the previous Delhi Fairs, this one was liberally strewn with Subodh Gupta’s bartans, Bharti Kher’s bindis, and El Anatsui’s shimmery bottle-cap concoctions (imitating swathes of Ghanaian kente cloth). And though White Cube didn’t have a booth, we didn’t miss Damien Hirst: A photograph of For The Love of God ensured that his diamond-studded skull grinned toothily at visitors. Luckily, some usual suspects made unusual contributions. In Covering Letter, one of the fair’s official projects, artist Jitish Kallat screened Mahatma Gandhi’s letter to Adolf Hitler on a wall of mist. As we approach the letters, they disappear, and we feel like we we’re being swallowed in swirls of gleaming vapor. But it wasn’t all gilt and glow. “Unfortunately, some of the better foreign galleries, like Lisson, Hauser & Wirth, and White Cube, are not back,” lamented Sree Goswami of Mumbai’s Project 88. “Last year, they made us pull up our socks.”

Left: Tate Modern curator Jessica Morgan, Christie’s Amin Jaffer, and Nadia Samdani. (Photo: Flint) Right: Hauser & Wirth's James Lavender and artist Subodh Gupta.

But the fair wasn’t the only game in town, and with so many satellite events, there were plenty of escape routes. The most thoroughly hyped of these was “Homelands,” a giant traveling exhibition exploring the porosity of national boundaries sponsored by the British Council at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Curated by Delhi-based Latika Gupta, the show includes stars like Mona Hatoum (who arrived in fine form and delivered a lecture), Jeremy Deller, Nathan Coley, and Grayson Perry, who—are you surprised?—contributed one of his risqué vases. Hatoum’s Prayer Mat resembles a soft carpet or welcoming doormat, but from certain angles its brass pins glinted evilly.

Thankfully, we were assured of a more comfortable reception elsewhere. Unfortunately, despite its hospitable fete at the Czech Embassy, this year’s Skoda Art Prize (India’s version of the Turner Prize, directed by critic Girish Shahane) was less of a nail-biter than earlier editions. At the National Gallery of Modern Art, there were videos by CAMP, an igloo-esque sculpture by Srinivasa Prasad, some installations by Shilpa Gupta, and Veni, Vidi, Vici, a work by L. N. Tallur comprising a traditional terra-cotta roof on which tiny figurines do yoga. Are his levitating yogis smiling with predictive knowledge? No prizes for guessing who won: Tallur bagged the one million rupees—roughly $18,500—for his 2012 show at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum.

As always, the real challenge at the IAF was sorting fiction from truth in the gossip mill. The juiciest tidbit was that Peter Nagy of Delhi’s Nature Morte was selling out to dealer Aparajita Jain of Seven Art Limited. “Don’t believe all the rumors!” Nagy ordered, then explained: “As an American, I am not allowed to have a business without an Indian partner. Previously, my partner was Dr. Arani Bose of Bose Pacia. But, as he has closed his gallery in New York, I had to find a new Indian partner. Luckily for me, Aparajita was interested. For the next few years, both Nature Morte and Seven Art will continue with no visible changes.” And indeed Bharti Kher’s solo at Nature Morte, featuring a wooden staircase and wheel bedecked with (yes, you guessed it) shimmery, spermlike bindis, only reaffirmed the strong direction of the gallery’s program. “Bind the dream state to your waking life,” the exhibition’s title advised us. Far away—both in distance and aesthetic—Seven Art showed a video of water leaking across a concrete floor by Brazil-based artist Vijai Patchineelam. Oddly enough, the scene recalled a snow-covered battlefield.

Left: Dealer Peter Nagy of Nature Morte and Aparajita Jain, owner of Seven Arts Gallery. Right: Artist Bose Krishnamachari, director of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

Elsewhere, too, the specter of conflict loomed large: Christie’s and Sotheby’s were waging war. If the former was listed as a “partner” of the fair, the latter—whose South Asia department is now spearheaded by Yamini Mehta—achieved a coup too: Amrita Jhaveri (incidentally, a former Christie’s representative) decided to sell off part of her collection with Mehta. “It does say something when one of the savviest people in the field entrusts us with her collection,” suggested Mehta. The auction preview featured a fashion show (!): lots of sequins-studded outfits and a gold-tipped umbrella created by the designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, as well as plenty of bubbly “to celebrate,” as Mehta put it. Not to be outdone, Christie’s resident dandy, Amin Jaffer, cohosted a champagne lunch with the Samdani Art Foundation—a nonprofit organization dedicated to Bangladeshi art—at Olive Bar.

Back at the fair, international punters were joining the fray. “Over twenty-three museums were represented,” noted India Art Fair founder and director Neha Kirpal, and indeed reps from MoMA, the Guggenheim, and the Tate were clearly out in full force. Were they buying? “There was great museum interest. We did sell a fair share,” punned Aparajita Jain. “Fourteen booths sold out completely, and almost everyone reported sales,” maintained Kirpal. While there was general consensus that the fair had achieved better sales than last year, not everyone agreed it had spawned new collectors. “We are all selling, but to the same people,” contested Prateek Raja of Kolkata’s Experimenter gallery. “India has a young collector base,” explained Sandy Angus, a shareholder in IAF. “It has a long way to go before it catches up with the rest of Asia.” (Did he sound somewhat conciliatory?)

The week of the fair facilitated nostalgic meditations. “For us, this year was all about historical material—Nasreen Mohamedi, Zarina Hashmi, and Somnath Hore,” enthused dealer Mort Chatterjee. And in line with his assessment there was “A View to Infinity,” a riveting retrospective of the late Mohamedi at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Modern Art. To accompany her spare black-and-white line drawings, curator Roobina Karode reconstructed Mohamedi’s spare studio: a wooden stool, a drawing board, a geometry set. “It’s like a Sufi’s den,” said Karode. Were we about to cast off our materialistic shackles, ditch the hustle and bustle? That seemed like a fair trade.

Zehra Jumabhoy

Left: Tasneem Mehta, honorary director and trustee of the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, and art historian Estrella De Diego. Right: Dealer Rob Dean and Sotheby's Yamini Mehta.

Suffer the Children

New York

Left: Artist Nayland Blake. (Photo: Frank Expósito) Right: New Museum director Lisa Phillips and Alexander Skarsgard. (Photo: Neil Rasmus/

I KNEW A MUSEUM SHOW ABOUT “NYC 1993” would be creepy, I just didn’t know what kind of creepy. When the nostalgia train hits a time when you were actually an adult, you palpably experience the constructedness of history. Younger colleagues quizzed me “how it really was” like I was a stegosaurus hanging around the Museum of Natural History. (I guess I’d better get used to that…)

In the crowd in the New Museum lobby at the opening, a forehead tagged for Ash Wednesday was an apt harbinger of the evening: The implicit theme seemed to be “the suffering body of 1993.” The show was heavily skewed toward AIDS, gender politics, kinky sex, prostheses, fucked-up doll parts—like Charles Ray’s mutant family (a visual of arrested development with parents and children the same height, buttressed by two live normal-size guards, for scale)—all under the harshest medical lighting. We had lighting and white walls in 1993—but I don’t recall it seeming so harsh. Plus the bonus of schmoozebeasts and dealers running around enjoying “history’s” bump of (market) validation.

No Cary Leibowitz (whose profound “liteness” and marketing shenanigans with multiples were hugely prescient and influential). No word art à la Kay Rosen (which was also a big moment). No “loser art”—except Sean Landers’s écriture on legal paper monumentally installed to cover an entire wall. Mike Kelley was represented by relatively sleek framed drawings of garbage (not dirty stuffed animals). No messy scatter art. The typical aggressive shitshack of the era was represented by a large Jason Rhoades shed. There was an overall seriousness, sterility, and darkness in tone to the show—all under the harshest dental lighting, like at 4 AM in the club when they turn the lights on and you’re like “Ugh!”

Left: Artist Alex Bag. Right: Victoria Nicholson, New Museum associate director Massimiliano Gioni, and dealer Massimo De Carlo. (Photos: Neil Rasmus/

One floor alleviated the “suffering body”–in-medical-lighting vibe like a soothing intermezzo: People lingered on the wall-to-wall Rudolf Stingel plush orange carpeting, festooned with a Felix G-T hanging lightbulb sculpture and murals of birds in flight, a small window customized with Robert Gober “prison” bars. The floor was designed, someone observed approvingly, “like an art fair booth you want people to notice.” It was womblike. I saw Jerry Saltz approach a cluster of people and ask “how art was different in 1993” (as if the show had induced a state of instant amnesia). I glided away, so he wouldn’t ask me. Then he caught up to me under a Julia Scher video monitor titled Mothers Under Surveillance.

We eyed each other: “Security was big then,” he offered affably. “We loved security!”

“Make it stop!” I thought as I lurked near a Paul McCarthy piece featuring a goat on a large dirt-covered platform. Deb Kass spotted me and did a classic double-take: a fellow relic of the ’90s. Both of us miraculously free of cobwebs. “Check out Patty’s piece in there—it’s really dirty!” she pointed to a small “lesbian” room that was attracting a crowd. “And check out my ‘Yentl Temple’ on Twenty-Seventh Street. Fifteen Yentls—it’s crazy!” she self-promoted like a Crazy Eddie commercial from the ’90s!

Left: Scott Rothkopf, Whitney Museum curator and associate director of programs, and artist Cheryl Donegan. (Photo: Frank Expósito) Right: Artists Peter McGough, Elizabeth Peyton, Jack Pierson, and T.J. Wilcox. (Photo: Neil Rasmus/

Lutz Bacher’s video My Penis was mesmerizing: a close-up of William Kennedy Smith at his rape trial, saying “my penis” then screwing his face into a microgrimace like a gargoyle, repeated over and over again like an animated GIF. Then I thought of Anita Hill (technically 1991, but that era)… Clinton had just come into office… (“Make it stop!”)

Can you believe they included Annie Leibovitz but not Cary? They picked the wrong Leibowitz! Another striking omission, pointed out a fellow scribe, was Karen Finley.

History is written from the perspective of the winners. A veteran observer riffed they seemed to have curated this show basically working back from people who are marketable now, then checking to see what they were doing in 1993. Instead of digging up strangely neglected pieces hidden away in someone’s garage, they just typed a bunch of big names and “1993” into the keypad and had the registrars from Marian Goodman and Andrea Rosen send stuff over, he chuckled. No surprises like you’d expect when you consult an “archive,” or even a survey that ventures off the beaten track.

Left: Curator Klaus Kertess and artist Billy Sullivan. (Photo: Frank Expósito) Right: Artist Janine Antoni. (Photo: Neil Rasmus/

“This show feels so trustee-driven,” the observer went on, curated through the rearview mirror of the art market. But 1993 wasn’t only about what the proven commodities of 2013 were doing back then. What about the also-rans who were really interesting and influential but aren’t big sellers now, and conversely, the then big shots who are now in eclipse? Those are the kinds of revelations you want from a show about “NYC 1993.”

“Someone should do the Howard Zinn People’s Art History of 1993!” said artist Ryan McNamara. Totally.

Rhonda Lieberman

Left: Irina Serrano and artist Andres Serrano. Right: Charles Ray‘s work. (Photos: Frank Expósito)

The Big Chill

New York

Left: Artists Richard Phillips and Josephine Meckseper. Right: Writer Randy Kennedy and artist Ragnar Kjartansson. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

WINTER IS SLEEPYTIME IN NEW YORK. It’s cold. People hibernate. They’re saving themselves for Armory Week. Whatever the explanation, over the past couple of weeks, the art activity meter dipped as low as the biting temperatures. “What’s going on?” people asked, wondering at the general malaise blanketing the scene. Luckily, cabin fever also set in, bringing the loyal and the hardy with light social calendars and heavy overcoats to the isolated events on tap.

Take the odd assortment of collectors, artists, fashion writers, and sports car enthusiasts attending the January 29th dinner that The Aesthete, a year-old, advertising-free, digital magazine gave for Richard Phillips in the New Museum’s Sky Room. “I love the idea of a nonprofit magazine that supports art and culture,” said Brooke Geahan, an all-around idea person for the how-cool-is-this, proudly New York–centered enterprise.

Basically, the event launched a new video that would debut on the Aesthete’s website the following day. As directed by Baldomero Fernandez, it does for Phillips and his enthusiasm for high-performance driving what Phillips recently did for the even more risk-addicted Lindsay Lohan. The magazine, said the artist, had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: having the track at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut, to himself to drive his modified 1992 Porsche 964 at 140 mph. “The idea is to show a side of me that the public usually doesn’t see,” he said.

Left: Designer Cynthia Rowley, Matthew Settle, and artist David Salle. Right: Dealer Barbara Gladstone.

What guests saw behind the wheel was a Phillips completely obscured by his helmet and a safety-first driving costume that caught the attention of the magazine’s sole funder, Joseph Mimran, the collector and retailer responsible for the Club Monaco and Joe Fresh chains. After the screening, Mimran gave it the thumbs-up, except, he said, “I would have worn a turtleneck instead of a neck brace.”

Next night, either one would have been useful armor against the stiff wind blowing through Chelsea, where the sole opening was for The Visitors, a nine-screen film that the Icelandic cutup Ragnar Kjartansson was premiering at Luhring Augustine. Visitors stood or sat around the central screen, so hypnotized by the ballad that the film’s cast was singing over and over again that no one moved, not even New Museum deputy director Massimiliano Gioni or his wife, High Line Art curator Cecilia Alemani. “I think this is the first time we’ve stayed in one show for more than an hour,” he said.

Bonnie Clearwater, director of MoCA North Miami, was an early arrival to the party that followed at the Jane Hotel. “We own God,” she said of the 2007 Kjartansson work in the museum’s collection. “I love being able to say that.” From then on, it was harder to hear what guests like Björk (Kjartansson’s cousin), Dallas supercollector Marguerite Hoffman, and gallery artists Charles Atlas and Josh Smith were saying, thanks to the earsplitting volume of the symphonic music that Kjartansson had programmed for the evening. Relief— comic and otherwise—came when he mounted the balcony to lead a nostalgic sing-along of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”

Left: Curator and Parkett editor Bice Curiger with artist Yto Barrada. Right: Chloë Sevigny.

There was less music but more action the next night, when celluloid-film advocate Tacita Dean brought the panoramic chalkboard drawings she made for Documenta 13 to Marian Goodman. It was easy to feel swallowed up by their depths. Downtown, Leo Koenig played host to Parkett’s publisher Dieter von Graffenried and executive editor Bice Curiger, who were launching Volume 91 with artists Yto Barrada, Nicole Eisenman, and Liu Xiaodong on hand.

Over on West Twenty-Second Street, visitors dove out of the cold into openings for Nayland Blake and Darren Almond at two Matthew Marks galleries, clearly happy to have art to distract them from the bleak landscape outside. And down the street, in the rooms behind a painting show by Spanish artist Jorge Queiroz, Sikkema Jenkins introduced the addition of Tony Feher, Arlene Shechet, and Kay Rosen to its roster with a stellar presentation of new works by those artists and Arturo Herrera, a gallery mainstay. On my exit, several confused tourists from uptown were seeking the splendid Outsider Art Fair opening in the old Dia building farther down the street. “Just keep going,” I said. “Down there?” asked one, peering into the dark.

Things heated up at the darkened 303 Gallery, where Doug Aitken had literally torn up the walls and floor for a sculptural soundscape that evoked bodily fluids like milk and semen. Titled “100 Years,” it is the final exhibition in the gallery’s current West Twenty-First Street location. Soon, said owner Lisa Spellman, she will decamp for temporary quarters in a West Twenty-Fourth Street building designed by architect Markus Dochantschi, only to move back to her former spot two years hence, where a spanking new, mixed-use building rumored to be by Norman Foster will be standing.

Left: Artist Lizzie Bougatsos. Right: Dealer Matthew Marks, ICP director Mark Robbins, and artist Nayland Blake.

Dochantschi was on hand for dinner on the covered terrace at the Maritime Hotel, where overhead heaters did little to fend off the dropping outdoor temperature. Guests who included Chloë Sevigny, Mary Heilmann, Bob Colacello, Kim Gordon, David Hallberg, Adam McEwen, Beth Swofford, Alexis Rockman (credited as “Inspirational Artist” on the Oscar-nominated Pi), and the political firebrand Sue Williams supped with their coats on. Lizzie Bougatsos—DJ for the afterparty in the steamy bar at the top of the Jane—opened hers long enough to display a vintage T-shirt designed by Keith Haring and Malcolm McLaren that, she said, was a gift from Sinead O’Connor. (Talk about provenance.)

Otherwise, it seemed as if the fallout from Hurricane Sandy was still poking holes in Chelsea’s schedule of exhibitions. At the moment, historical shows appear to outnumber the new. On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Museum’s new contemporary curator Nick Cullinan, artists Rob Pruitt and Piotr Uklanski, dealers Bill Powers and Sam Orlofsky, and Julian Schnabel and his fiancée-with-child May Anderson had to go to the East Village for the opening of “Four Works, Four Years, Eight Weeks” at Oko, where Alison Gingeras has partnered with Daniela Luxembourg and Amalia Dayan in a storefront gallery that is presenting four Schnabel paintings from the 1970s, one at a time.

Left: Dealer Michael Jenkins. Right: Dealer Lisa Spellman and artist Doug Aitken.

After all this cherry-picking, it came as something of a shock on Thursday night to see West Twenty-Fourth Street engulfed by masses of people who came out for just a few openings: Alighiero Boetti at Gladstone, Trevor Paglen at Metro Pictures, and Jean-Michel Basquiat at Gagosian. “Amazing what art can do,” said Barbara Gladstone, gazing over the many heads around her, and she didn’t even know that the line of young people waiting to get into Gagosian had stretched nearly the length of the block—this, for an artist who wasn’t present. “I can tell you it’s worth the wait,” I heard one man say to friends far back in the line. “Really,” he said. “It’s the best exhibition I’ve ever seen.”

But he didn’t go into the Boetti, where the late embroideries on view were getting their first public exposure, or the Paglen, where he could have met a living artist whose photographs were etched onto a golden disc and launched into space last November, on a satellite now orbiting the Earth.

If you looked at the sky, however, you only saw the approach of winter storm Nemo, which shut down the region once again. Amazing what weather can do, eh? Hopefully, art will have an early spring.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Artists Tacita Dean and Julie Mehretu. Right: Artist Trevor Paglen.

Stepping Out

New York

Left: Dealer and Outsider Art Fair director Andrew Edlin and Ruby Edlin. Right: Artist Winfred Rembert and dealer Peter Tillou. (All photos: Isabel Flower)

“IF YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE a treacherous stairway, best to fill it with Dan Flavins,” dealer Frank Maresca quipped. He didn’t seem worried about whether visitors to the Outsider Art Fair would make the trek up to his fourth-floor booth in the old Dia Art Foundation building; the crowd’s adventurous energy was palpable from the start. The event’s twenty-first edition was the brightest in recent memory, and not just because of the illuminated staircase, or the free drinks (the cash bar was always a bone of contention when the fair inhabited a stale office building on Thirty-Fourth Street). At the opening the Thursday before last, Andrew Edlin (who recently purchased the fair from its founder, Sanford Smith) made the rounds with his daughter Ruby. Edlin’s small step for man amounted to a giant leap for the self-taught kind; bringing the fair to Chelsea proved an auspicious strategy for moving the “outside” “inside.” The art world at large is waking up to the dramatic work created off its beaten path.

Part of the fair’s draw is the generous program of talks, organized for the second year by Valérie Rousseau. (She’s a new member of the American Folk Art Museum’s curatorial team, and is married to Edlin.) Sunday’s panel, “A Bridge Between Art Worlds,” brought curators Massimiliano Gioni, Daniel Baumann, and Ralph Rugoff together on the roof of the Dia building. Their priority: how to lift the veil from outsider art’s seclusion. Referencing similarities between work (created concurrently, and without cross-pollination) by Adolf Wölfli and the Dadaists, Baumann implied that similar parallels might hold keys to a more comprehensive art history. Gioni, in turn, suggested exhibiting outsider artwork “not as a new king or queen we crown in our museums,” but as a force to disrupt the status quo. (Perhaps a dethroning in favor of anarchy!)

Left: Jerry Lauren and Carl Hammer. Right: Hakan Urfalioglu, Juliana Huxtable, and Scott Hug.

It’s an art-world rabbit hole, and one might start one’s journey by pursuing a particular artist’s work. At the fair’s opening, many attendees proudly trumpeted their favorites. “There’s only one outsider for me,” collector Jerry Lauren proclaimed, “and that’s Bill Traylor.” Nothing against the rest, as he explained: “I only like the best of the best.” Peter Tillou, a prominent Litchfield dealer usually associated with, well, just about everything (his collection Christie’s once dubbed “A Cabinet of Curiosities”), was there to cheer on his pal Winfred Rembert. Meanwhile, Dustin Yellin, an artist from the right side of the tracks, rolled up a sleeve to prove loyalty to the “outsider” cause: a faded tattoo of a 1949 drawing by Art Brut’s “original” artist advocate, Jean Dubuffet.

Thankfully, not everyone’s relationship to outsider art is monogamous. Several broad-minded collectors shared news about their own exhibition spaces, William Louis-Dreyfus, in Mount Kisco, and Victor Keen, in Philadelphia, among them. And, in a step toward the cease-fire called for between public museums and outsiders (most recently, by Jerry Saltz’s OAF-inspired write-up), Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz’s “Great and Mighty” collection will be shown this spring at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Left: Artist Dustin Yellin's arm. Right: Collectors Jill Bonovitz and Sheldon Bonovitz.

As artist Scott Hug explained, part of his disillusionment with the contemporary art world is “pedigreed celebrity.” Of course, the Outsider Art Fair abounds with pedigrees—just not those hyped at mother’s dining table. Martín Ramírez “studied art” at DeWitt State Hospital, Rembert on a chain gang, and Traylor on the streets of Montgomery, Alabama. Erika Wanenmacher double-majored in witchcraft, while George Widener was studied [sic] at Columbia University (neuroscientist Joy Hirsch, Ph.D., has been scrutinizing the savant’s brain scans for years).

The boundaries defining the genre’s small world can be both a draw and a drag, but perhaps because of the “outsider” designation, this particular art crew is usually arms open. Austria-based dealer Nina Katschnig and her colleague Sabrine Ben Mansour were both overjoyed to be at outsider art’s annual party. “It’s the one time of year when all of us get together,” Katschnig explained. The intimacy of the crowd could have come off as simply cliquish, but even those new to the fold seemed to find their place. “I’m so happy it’s pet-friendly!” one outsider-art neophyte exclaimed, giddily relating that even though the fair was not in fact outside, as she had initially supposed, it was inclusive enough for her two plus-ones: puppies in a shoulder bag. Leave your assumptions at the door.

Michaela Slavid

Left: Dealers Nina Katschnig and Sabrine Ben Mansour. Right: Dealer Maxwell Graham.

By the Book

Los Angeles

Left: John C. Welchman, codirector of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. Right: Poet and editor Anna Moschovakis at the Ugly Duckling Presse table. (All photos: Christina Catherine Martinez)

LAST THURSDAY NIGHT’S launch of the debut LA Art Book Fair at the Geffen Contemporary at MoCA took not just the building but also social-media sites and apps by storm, an earnest frenzy that had settled into a simple fact of life by the time I arrived on the scene Friday. Organized by Printed Matter as a companion to the NY Art Book Fair, the event hosted 220 exhibitors and sellers who came from all over the world, though the vibe was distinctly bifurcated according to the layout: More established galleries, publications, and booksellers were on the left half, while the micropresses, punk luminaries, independent artists, and sleepless staplers occupied the—okay, I’m sure there’s a better way to say this—separate-but-equal half of the space known as Zine World. There, AA Bronson sat in a folding chair in the corner, peacefully tapping away on a laptop, updating the fair’s Facebook page.

In Zine World, Guru Rugu (aka artist Adam Overton) might have helped you settle on one of many three-dollar zines from the Library of Sacred Technologies, taking special care to remove a rogue beard hair—“a sacred beard hair,” he clarified—from your new copy of A Dabblerist Manifesto. At the opposite end of the fair, the girls manning the table inside Gagosian’s two-room space gently shooed people away from the poignant, albeit somewhat misleading, display of books donated by Kim Gordon, John Waters, Ed Ruscha, and other friends of Kelley as a literary tribute to the late artist. “I know, I know,” one of them cooed to an irate man who had nearly pulled Helter Skelter off the shelf. As he left, she turned to her partner: “It’s, like, freaking people out that we have an installation made out of books, at a book fair, that you’re not allowed to touch.” A more straightforward offering was New York gallery Boo Hooray’s installation of Larry Clark’s stuff called, well, Larry Clark Stuff—rare T-shirts, posters, skate decks, and various effects from the filmmaker-photographer’s personal collection were up for grabs, a garage sale of cultural cachet. Two sexy young go-hards in leather jackets meticulously documented every inch of the presentation with a DSLR camera. “I can’t even believe it,” one said. “It’s mind-blowing.”

Left: Artist Luke Fischbeck. Right: Artist Adam Overton aka Guru Rugu.

You could only take so many laps around the space before you forked over for a new tome; thankfully (for my pocketbook), there was an eclectic program of talks and presentations that took up literally every hour of the fair. In the small, ad hoc Zine World Theater, the fledgling Art Book Review, cofounded by Andrew Berardini and Sarah Williams, hosted artists and writers expounding on the art books that have proved formative to their practices. “It really is great here,” said Anna Moschovakis, a poet and editor at Ugly Duckling Presse. “The space is so open, it just feels less hierarchical than New York.” Despite the lateral divide, all camps were indeed operating under the same roof, collectively representing the full gamut of what an art book can be.

On Sunday, about forty or so people sat in another makeshift theater on the Geffen’s mezzanine. n+1 senior editor Christopher Glazek took the microphone and greeted the crowd. “Hello. How many people here have student-loan debt?” A uniform show of hands. “Okay, now how many people here are in default on their student loan debt?” A slightly less uniform show of hands.

“Great! You’re in good company.”

Left: Sarah Williams, cofounder of the Art Book Review. Right: Werkplaats Typografie director Anja Wittels inside Werkplaats's “Books on Air” reading room.

Glazek and artist Sean Monahan were presenting their tragicomic pamphlet Certainty of Hopelessness: A Primer on Discharging Student Loan Debt, available online as a free PDF download. (The savvy young audience were invited to follow along on their smartphones.) “Our original intent was not to create a satire,” Glazek read from the introduction, “just to map the possibilities for broke postgrads interested in taking a more adversarial approach to dealing with their student debt.” Words like “presentation” and “primer,” however, cast such a wide semantic net that, from the start, the audience’s expectations of being treated to either a performance, a practical workshop, or some heady mix of the two were all nervously cohabitating in a zone of approximates. The theater itself had turned into one of Barthes’s lexias— “the best possible space in which we can observe meanings”—and reactions were diverse, to say the least. By the third or fourth slide, which suggested pleading disability by cutting off a leg or foot because it’s “more visually striking” than cutting off a hand and “potentially more persuasive to a judge,” some people were still waiting for a viable plan of action.

“But isn’t there a statute of limitations on student-loan debt?” interjected a woman at the back.

“Oh no,” Monahan piped in. “In fact, there are debtors in their seventies and eighties who are getting their Social Security checks garnished in order to pay back student loans.”

The woman sat back down and silently regarded her limbs.

“It strikes a very unusual tone,” Glazek later said of the pamphlet.

Left: LA MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch. Right: Sean Monahan (left) and n+1 senior editor Christopher Glazek (middle).

That tone continued to nag throughout the day, which ended with a conversation, titled “Art between the Cracks,” featuring Semiotext(e) founder Sylvère Lotringer and e-flux’s Anton Vidokle. The mezzanine theater was SRO, and people lined up against the walls and sat on the floor to hear the pair pontificate on the dangers of what they termed the “professionalization” of art education. “For most people now,” Lotringer said, “the moment they step into an art school they are dead, their life is over.” Then, unwittingly bringing the day full circle: “They will spend the rest of their life reimbursing the debt and that’s it.”

In an attempt to keep things from ending on a sour note, Vidokle praised the fair as a kind of informal education. “This is a really interesting gathering of people,” he argued, “because making artist books is so often a zero-sum game. Being at this art book fair has been more interesting for me than many of the art fairs I’ve been to over the last few years. There are things here that are alive, you know? Not just replicas of things that were once alive.”

Lotringer nodded emphatically. We all leaned forward, waiting for him to elaborate, hoping to close out the weekend with some gnomic summary of what it all meant. “Yes,” he said. “There is still some love somewhere for something.”

Christina Catherine Martinez

Left: Anton Vidokle in conversation with Sylvère Lotringer. Right: Artist Adam Villacin at his table in Zine World.

Center Stage


Left: Rafiq Jumabhoy, collectors Budi Tek and Guillaume Levy-Llambert, artist Takashi Murakami, and Nao Tazaki. (Photo: Ai Tee Hoon) Right: Art Stage Singapore founder and director Lorenzo Rudolf. (Except where noted, all photos Zehra Jumabhoy)

SOME CLAIM THAT THIRTEEN is a lucky number. Certainly Singapore’s art world would like to believe so. “Everyone struggled in 2012. But with a positive start like Art Stage, we all look forward to a prosperous 2013!” said Lorenzo Rudolf, the onetime Art Basel master and prosperous-looking founding director of Art Stage Singapore. The third edition of the fair was supposed to be the biggest yet. And in the tiny city-state of Singapore, size matters.

Art Stage 2013 was located at the massive Marina Bay Sands Exhibition and Convention Center, its glass-encased building facing the Sky Bridge that soars across the sea. What better positioning for a fair that seeks to replace Hong Kong as the window onto Asia? “What is very obvious for the 2013 edition is our Asian identity,” Rudolf proclaimed. Nearby, the lights of the much-feted Flower Dome glistened like the cynosure of a sci-fi fantasy landscape, its fluted armature reaching past natural flora toward the stars. If early Singapore art fairs tended to be somewhat hole-in-the-wall affairs, Art Stage 2013 set its sights high. Rudolf’s intention was that it be “more like a Biennale”; coinciding with a spate of openings in Singapore’s largest art district (the Gillman Barracks) as well as open studios at the Goodman Arts Centre (“the artists’ village”), the fair was part of a larger Art Week.

Left: Audrey Phng from Asian Art Options, collector Maisy Koh, and Eugene Tan of the Gillman Barracks. Right: Khairuddin Hori, senior curator at the Singapore Art Museum.

The city was a hive of well-organized, government-funded activity. At the colonial-era Cricket Club, directors from the National Art Gallery spoke about how a new $500 million museum—to open in 2015—will be the biggest (that word again) in Southeast Asia. In the meantime, the Singapore Art Museum continues its tradition of provocative displays. Indonesian Wiyoga Muhardanto’s Conversation Piece spoofs socially conscious gallerygoers. Below a partition that resembles a solid white wall, we witness (or, rather, infer) a party in progress: Since all we see of the “guests” are their feet, we judge their status through their shoes. (Do those tacky pumps resemble mine?)

Linked up with all this region gazing and revelry was the three-day WPO-YPO conference—themed “Deconstructing Asian Art”—for select collectors. It included local personalities like Richard Hoon and Guillaume Levy-Lambert, as well as Indonesian Budi Tek, the founder of two private museums (the Yuz Foundation in Jakarta will have a sibling in Shanghai later this year), and Lekha Poddar, co-owner of Delhi’s Devi Art Foundation. And it wasn’t tough to spot Hong Kong dealer-cum-socialite Pearl Lam (mauve-streaked hair competing with Jason Martin’s violently purple “painting-sculpture” at her booth). Japanese artist-dealer-collector Takashi Murakami was also around, hinting that he might be opening a branch of Kaikai Kiki Gallery at the Barracks.

Keeping his own counsel amid all this riotous socializing was Dr. Woffles Wu, plastic surgeon. On the Wednesday of the fair, he welcomed a (courageous) few into the cadaverous space he calls his “Maosoleum,” explaining his domain’s “delights.” The visit took place in the dead of night, where the face of the Chairman—on paintings, sculptures, and snuggled into installations—assumed a ghastly, ghostly glow. Guests padded around in hospital slippers (provided by the MD himself), sipping champagne tremulously. The lights went off, and we witnessed a whirling display of fluorescent lights and clanging machine-art. Fiberglass figurines on motorized platforms marched rapidly in a circular formation, individuality lost in the blur of humanity (what Dr. Wu called his “kinetic art display”).

Left: Artist Eugene Soh and actress Lam Hai Yen. Right: Artist Tisna Sanjaya.

Unfortunately, for a fair about Asia, there were few South Asian artworks to be found. “It would have been nice to engage more Indian galleries,” confessed Rudolf. “But the India Art Fair is in the same week, so there was nothing much we could do.” India’s loss was generally Indonesia’s gain: The latter nation boasted its very own pavilion at the fair. Here, artist Tisna Sanjaya, in filthy overalls, constructed a house, slathering dirty gray cement on a small structure as part of his in situ performance, I Like Kapital—Kapital Like Me. The work was (so explained Sanjaya) a mock-up of the kind of alternative housing projects he is busy establishing in his hometown, a comment on how big business destroys agriculture and the environment. (Does it matter that big business is also what fuels Indonesian art collecting?)

Such solid works mixed with the regular fare of Julian Opie video-paintings, Anish Kapoor satellite dishes (like upended sequins), and a rash of Chinese Cynical Realist paintings (more Warhol-inspired caricatures of Mao). Art Stage has finally morphed into a “globalized” venture: It looked much like any other art fair in the world, except with substantially more Southeast Asian and East Asian offerings. And, despite some surprises (did you see the sculpture of the horse that looked perplexingly distended?), it was as predictable as such “international” ventures tend to be. How many of Yue Minjun’s crazily smiling pink-faced figures can one see before becoming immune to their menacing charms? Amid the “Political Pop” (with its sarcastic themes and serious prices), a welcome respite was provided by FOST. The only local gallery at Gillman Barracks, at the fair it turned visitors on to the dainty-sinister work of Singaporean Sookoon Ang. Her sculptures and installations were inspired by fairy tales: cabinets featuring drawers stuffed with other worlds; bundles of broomsticks with silky platinum-blonde tresses like those of a storybook princess.

Left: Jean-Francoise Milou, architect of Singapore's National Art Gallery. Right: Collectors Dr. Woffles Wu and Richard Hoon.

The opening day was packed, but by Saturday visitors seemed thin on the ground. Strolling around in a perfectly cut pale gray suit, Sundaram Tagore from New York waxed lyrical: “This year there is a continuous flow of people. I even had clients who found tickets waiting for them in their hotel rooms.” Rudolf was cautious with his numbers, noting 40,500 visitors, up from 32,000 the year prior. But he ventured no comment on sales. Conor Macklin of London’s Grosvenor Vadehra was blunt: “There’s lots of dim sum here, but no main course. I sold things outside the fair, but nothing at the fair.” All signs suggested that Singapore-based galleries—who could afford to play the waiting game—had more luck.

At Iggy’s Restaurant on Orchard Road for the closing dinner of “Deconstructing Asian Art,” I ruminated on all this art love and greed. As I dipped my spoon into my “deconstructed” nasi lemak, I reveled in its exquisitely balanced flavors. A hint of fish in the wafer; a taste of coconut lurking in the green bubbles. The earthy hawker-center dish morphed into a decadent delight. But, I wondered, could such fancy fare make a satisfying meal? Was I missing the “real” Singapore in all this—admittedly tasty—finesse? “Hopefully we will get our fill of jalebis at the India Art Fair, where things are looking more exciting!” whispered mischievous Macklin. We drank pale pink Veuve Clicquot to that.

Zehra Jumabhoy

Left: Dealer Sundaram Tagore. Right: Shushma Goh and Low Sze Wee, directors of the National Art Gallery in Singapore.