The Great Escape

New York

Left: Artist Frank Benson with Juliana. Right: Artist and New Museum Triennial cocurator Ryan Trecartin with New Museum Triennial cocurator Lauren Cornell. (Photo: David X Prutting/

“TO BE AN ARTIST is incredibly downwardly mobile. You could ruin your career,” says K8 Hardy in the “What-the-fuck-ennial” segment of comedian-artist Casey Jane Ellison’s talk show “Touching the Art.” “And you should, try to ruin your career.” Premiering on YouTube a few days before the opening of the Third New Museum Triennial, Ellison’s show speculates that “all of art is just for insane people, like, exclusively.” Which sounds about right, though these days don’t we wish it were a little more ruined, a little more insane? Curated by former Rhizome director Lauren Cornell and Ryan Trecartin, emblematic star of that first, “Younger than Jesus” triennial, this year’s exhibition includes fifty-one artists from over twenty-five countries and is titled “Surround Audience,” articulating a contemporary mode of being where technology influences our daily lives to such a degree that it extends or morphs or slightens our merely human bodies.

At Tuesday morning’s preview, Cornell held forth on the range of media covered—purportedly all of them, including a TV show (Ellison), an advertising campaign (K-Hole), and a public shower (DIS). She also touched on the show’s themes—colonialism, exploitation, racial profiling, constant connection’s effect on people and art, water, surveillance, escape, display—before directing our attention to the performance soon to take place “on the concrete slab outside.” Who could resist that sell? Most did. Trecartin, whom the museum has dubbed an “iconic” artist—transubstantiating the wunderkind into patron saint—also spoke, noting that the show began with thinking about language and poetry and expanded to consider people who might circulate in the art world but who also use it as a “jumping-off point” for activities that don’t traditionally take place in a museum.

Left: New Museum director Lisa Philips with artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Brendan Fernandes. Right: Nadine Zeidler, artist Oliver Laric, and Lauren Cornell. (Photos: Madison McGaw/

Funny how institutions so reliably structure programming around fantasies of escape and rebellion. Everyone already in wants a way out and everyone on the outskirts wants a way in. And judging by the nearly four thousand people who crowded the museum’s galleries that night, it would seem the hastiest escape is toward a center all dressed up in the margin’s mohair and slitted clothes. “I’ve never seen so many people at a museum opening. It’s not like this in Europe,” said triennial artist Shelly Nadashi, who’d escaped from Belgium. Many attendees seemed to be working more than one job/look, from the artist/performer boychild to artist/auction-house specialist Candyass to artist/musician Michael Stipe—now sporting a septum piercing (which I fully endorse).

A high-strung buzz permeated, and the art responded with attitude. Words made impact, most memorably in Lisa Holzer’s poem-paintings in the lobby and Juliana Huxtable’s photographs—two emblazoned with texts that could demolish you with their anguished/delighted collapsing of binaries. The latter were juxtaposed with Frank Benson’s 3-D printed sculpture of her reclining like the fiercest goddess and coated with metallic automotive paints. I also loved Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s collages and Verena Dengler’s sprawling installation of weavings, self-portraits, and gestural abstractions that included an emptied nail polish bottle labeled IDENTITY set atop a clawed, wall-mounted relief sculpture. Glad someone was able to fix that slippery creature. People couldn’t stop talking about Oliver Laric’s six-minute video depicting surreal metamorphoses of appropriated cartoons, mostly from anime like Sailor Moon or Akira. On the third floor, Josh Kline made Teletubbies political, their bellies broadcasting ex-cops’ recitations of outraged social media feeds.

Left: Collectors Shelley Fox Aarons and Phil Aarons with Daniel Steegmann Mangrané's Phantom. (Photo: David X Prutting/ Right: James Viscardi, Nick Kennedy, and artist Rachel Lord. (Photo: Madison McGaw/

If a triennial opened and no one could Instagram the night, would it really address late cybercapitalism’s absorption into our bodies? The endless scroll persisted well into the afterparty at the Top of the Standard, where every ten minutes or so a new strain of guests from the opening, or not, were flushed in. We were surrounded, though it was unclear who was the audience and who were the performers, our slashed and hyphenated identities jockeying for position only to collide in a mess at the open bar. Artist Rachel Lord sported unofficial fashion sponsors Eckhaus Latta. Ellison confessed that “Touching the Art” was looking for a new home from its current perch at Ovation TV. Trecartin’s b/f Anthony Valdez manned the DJ booth (he’d learned to play en route from LA). Jeffrey Deitch and Lisa Phillips jostled for territory with charter members of the XTAPUSSY/Spectrum crowds, NYC clubland veterans all. Huxtable, Raul de Nieves, Jacolby Satterwhite, and other young and restless epicureans built an afterafterparty from scratch at Home Sweet Home on the Lower East Side. “Well I guess it’s another night in the art world doing something,” tweeted local wit/painter Sam McKinniss, as dry as the dead of winter air outside, and I took a plate of steak and bread—they both tasted like blood. We were surrounded. The question was whether we needed, or wanted, to escape.

Paige K. Bradley

Third Time’s a Charm

Manila, The Philippines

Left: Art Fair Philippines cofounder Trickie C. Lopa and Bonhams deputy chairman Magnus Renfrew. Right: Artist Christina “Ling” Quisumbing Ramilo in her studio. (All photos: Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva)

“REMEMBER LAST YEAR, the people dancing on the first night?” asked dealer Edouard Malingue as we stood in a car park in Makati, the wealthiest of the cities composing metro Manila. “Of course I had to come back.”

For one week earlier this month the car park doubled as the grounds for Art Fair Philippines, at which Malingue was showing Jeremy Everett’s pastel-decayed blanket canvases. Except for a few galleries like Malingue’s who brought non-Filipino artists, the fair mostly surveys the local scene. Highlights included special projects such as Roberto Feleo’s large installation of earth-toned, humanoid sculptures referencing early-nineteenth-century anticolonial revolts and Geraldine Javier’s Let’s Talk About Art, a participatory wall drawing featuring croquis of dealers she knows. The preview was quiet—“A lot has been pre-sold,” complained an advisor from Singapore—but the mood lifted for the upbeat free-rum-cocktails vernissage. “People buy stuff and expect to take it home right away,” laughed a dealer. “And this year they take credit cards.”

“We even have shopping carts!” jested Fatima Avila of Tin-Aw, displaying canister works by more than one hundred artists reenacting a 1996 exhibition inspired by the slogan of then President Ramos, “Yes the Filipino Can!” Each can was discretely QR-coded—“it already looked like a supermarket, we didn’t want people to go straight for the star-names,” said artist and organizer Leo Abaya. The display included forty-four bamboo pieces by Alwin Reamillo portraying forty-four members of the elite police massacred last month during an antiterrorist operation. The Philippines mixes high and low drama quite naturally.

Left: Artist Paul Pfeiffer, curator Joselina Cruz, and collector Rocky David at MCAD. Right: Dealers Michael Janssen and Edouard Malingue.

Reamillo also had a solo presentation at Jia Studio and Hugo Bonzl, a flea-market-like exhibition built out of material from Japanese surplus stores—one of them a rolling cylindrical piano—that paid homage to the late provocateur Santiago Bose, cofounder of the Baguio Arts Guild. More of Bose’s bricolage, installed with the help of former student Kawayan de Guia, was to be seen in the show “Propaganda” at the Lopez Museum, alongside drawings by former activist Nunelucio Alvarado, Joey Cobcobo social-realism-themed thumb-and-woodcut paintings, Alvin Yapan’s video installation denouncing rice cartels, and World War II agitprop posters.

Some of us headed back through Manila’s congested traffic of jeepneys and cars for dinner at Silverlens, where Gabriel Barredo’s mesmerizing installation Opera, in production for more than a year, recalled Da Vinci’s science experiments and Giger’s surrealist narratives. “I am not sure I can eat,” smirked a guest, pointing at the fiberglass defect babies suspended in nylon pouches above the table. “But it’s growing on me.” After dinner we repaired to the home of collectors Gabby and Jia Estrella, where a sunglass-wearing Wawi Navarroza invited me to her book signing and the unpresuming collector Paulino Que softly talked a couple of us through the work of Filipino artists on the walls.

ART IS A GUARRANTY OF SANITY, stated Christina “Ling” Quisumbing Ramilo’s T-shirt on Friday morning. “I reuse everything,” she said, pointing at the organized mess of her studio. I set off for Jigger Cruz’s studio, where he spends his nights painting or playing drums, and bumped into an excitable Matthias Arndt, who was organizing the artist’s Plasticine-esque paintings to show in Hong Kong, Berlin, and New York. Before Paul Pfeiffer’s opening at Manila’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design—“You have to come back for the sunset!”—we stopped at yet another artist studio, this one belonging to Mark Justiniani and Joy Mallari. Justiniani had just finished one of his mirrored cabinets, while Mallari told us about her upcoming collaboration with the traditional Kalinga weaving community. Abused by a day in traffic, we joined more of our kind in a bar where artist Leeroy New and I managed to gesticulate a little on the dance floor while local couples slow-danced to the live music.

Left: Artists Mark Justiniani and Joy Mallari. Right: Ana Labrador, assistant director of the National Museum of the Philippines, and Jeremy Barnes, director of the National Museum of the Philippines.

Saturday, at Finale Art File, former members of alternative space Surrounded by Water, initiated by Wire Tuazon in the middle of a rice field in 1998, presented a commemorative exhibition and a slide presentation for an eclectic audience of artists, advisers, curators, dealers, collectors and auction house specialists—you know, the art world. Back at the fair, Patrick Flores’s jargony talk on the upcoming Filipino pavilion in Venice (the first since 1965) was greeted by rounds of applauses and head nods.

In the evening, 1335Mabini had a closing party for “bad girl” Jeona Zoleta and an opening for another artist, Tad Ermitańo, who brought a singular palm-tree log sound installation to the fair that involved cutting it and frying and eating the weevil larvae stuck inside. In the open vestibule of the colonial building surrounded by the red-light district, Ermitano’s former experimental noise band, the Children of Cathode Ray, played to the delight of collector Daisuke Miyatsu, who had been invited to talk about the market for the less plastic arts. “At least auction houses don’t touch sound and video,” someone had said during the exchange. Watching the chilled-out crowd I thought, Who needs the market when you’re having fun?

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Left: The Children of Cathode Ray: Regiben Romana, Tad Ermitano, Jing Garcia, Magyar Tuason, and Peter Marquez. Right: Artist Gabriel Barredo in front of his installation Opera at Silverlens Manila.

Ice Age

Longyearbyen, Norway

Left: Artist Olav Christopher Jenssen and Jan Martin Berg, director of Galleri Svalbard. Right: The Svalbard museum and university complex. (Except where noted, all photos: Cathryn Drake)

LONGYEARBYEN IS THE ULTIMATE FRONTIER TOWN, the northernmost settlement in the world and jumping-off point for the North Pole, complete with coal miners, extreme filmmakers, polar scientists, a seed vault for the apocalypse, a newspaper called Ice People, and even former Berlin art dealer Elda Oreto. And now there is a contemporary art museum: Kunsthall Svalbard chose to make its debut in the coldest of winter, just days after Solfestuka, the festival celebrating the return of the sun and the end of the polar night, with “Glacier,” an exhibition of works by Joan Jonas.

“The Arctic is the new thing,” said Leif Magne Tangen, director of the Tromsř Kunstforening. To get to the Norwegian territory you have to pass through the mainland, so I stopped in Tromsř on the way north to check out the newly opened “Traveling Alone,” an emotionally powerful exhibition touching on the lost innocence and alienation of adolescence. Chinese artist Yan Xing’s riveting roster of his early lovers, Daddy Project, starting with his mother’s boyfriends, grabbed me from the get-go. Jennifer Reeder’s film A Million Miles Away suggests that crying is a way to melt the heart of an angry teen. At Small Projects, an exhibition space run by artists Tanya Busse and Jet Pascua at the Sami Reindeer Herding Association, Lawrence and Vincent Malstaf’s installation Event Horizon—a light beam piercing airborne sawdust to create a falling stardust effect viewed in gas masks—would be the closest I would get to seeing an aurora borealis.

Left: Geir Haraldseth, director of Rogaland Art Center, and artists Camille Norment and Knut Ĺsdam. Right: Leif Magne Tangen, director of Tromsř Kunstforening.

Why open an art museum at the outer limits of civilization? When Queen Sonja and her entourage joined our flight from Tromsř to Svalbard, nobody lifted an eyebrow and the captain announced, “Your Majesty, ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts.” That answered at least the question about opening a museum during the deep freeze of polar winter: “Her Highness is on holiday and free from the strictures of protocol,” explained Knut Ljřgodt, director of the North Norwegian Art Museum (of which the Svalbard Kunsthall is a branch), over a dinner of reindeer and whale that night with mayor Christin Kristoffersen. The Svalbard archipelago is also attracting attention as global warming opens up arctic trade routes, recalling the quest for the Northwest Passage. Ljřgodt, who gained a foothold in this cosmopolitan outpost by quietly marrying curator Joakim Borda-Pedreira at the town hall, quipped: “This is our PS1, to be modest.”

Longyearbyen is a young town—officially no one is allowed to be born or to die here—and everyone is required to have a job. Although there are no taxes, so things like cigarettes and alcohol are very cheap, people are compelled here by the strange silence and light, and by the urge to reach the faraway and inaccessible. “This is the most special time of the year, when the twilight casts an enchanting blue light,” Longyearbyen’s former first lady Ingeborg Stangeland suggested over breakfast at Fruene Café, where you can find just about anybody in town you’re looking for at some point during the day. Polar filmmaker Jason Roberts was telling me about his work with Richard Long in Antarctica and with photographer Thomas Joshua Cooper in the Arctic, and lamenting Haunch of Venison’s demise. Government ministers and world leaders always seem to be stopping by, as Vivienne Westwood did recently.

The blustery meteorological situation was ideal for Jonas’s film Glacier, 2010, which evoked the intoxicating supernatural force of the austere landscape. Shimmering on the wall, as ephemeral and fantastic as the fickle weather just outside the window, it layered various encounters with an Icelandic glacier, its magnetic attraction drawing three explorers into a crevice, where they presumably plunged to the center of the Earth. The artist’s hands crumple crisp paper and draw outlines with chalk, conveying the wailing of the wind as well as magic rituals, and paint a picture with ice and black ink. For all its theatrical artifice, it was a surprisingly effective choreography of a cacophonous rabble of elements. Four related drawings and the 2012 video Reanimation filled out the rest of the space.

Left: Dealer Amanda Wilkinson and Ánde Somby, Sami Jolk artist and associate professor at the University of Tromsř. (Photo: Elda Oreto) Right: H.M. Queen Sonja of Norway and Thorhild Widvey, Minister of Culture. (Photo: Yngve Olsen Sćbbe)

The next day I found myself in the middle of a blizzard ascending a glacier in a sled driven by huskies. We came upon an ice cave, accessed through a very small hole in the ground, and descended by rope into a fantastic tunnel so deep and vast it was as if we were headed into the heart of the planet, like Jonas’s characters. When we emerged, the dogs transformed from snow-covered bumps to howling creatures. “Her Highness insisted on driving her own sled yesterday,” our guide said. It was a heroic effort just to take a leak, my freeze-dried food packet falling out of my snowsuit the way of the yellow trail. Yet at that moment, surrounded by the otherworldly terrain, it was easy to understand the Norwegian belief in trolls and why Princess Martha Louise relinquished her royal status to open a school training people to communicate with angels.

The intimate preview that evening at Kunsthall Svalbard matched the warmth of the wood-paneled space, rented from the Svalbard Museum. It included artist Olav Christopher Jensson, Jan Martin Berg, director of the Galleri Svalbard, Tone Winje, director of the Arts Festival of North Norway, Katya Garcia-Antón, director of Office of Contemporary Art Norway—and a 1,100-pound stuffed polar bear, killed in 2005 out of self-defense. Garcia-Antón defended the choice of artist Camille Norment to represent Norway: “She really connects with this long-standing tradition of experimental music in Norway, which during the last three decades has so fruitfully dialogued with the visual arts.” Speaking of Venice, Jonas’s show in Svalbard is a brilliant preview for the immersive installations she will present at the US pavilion. The talk turned to dog sledding excursions and the dress code for the next day’s official opening, also Sami National Day, calling for a “lounge suit.” Ljřgodt explained, “If you just specify a jacket they will come in snow gear.”

Cathryn Drake

Left: Katya Garcia-Anton, director of OCA, and Tone Winje, director of Arts Festival of North Norway. Right: Mayor Christin Kristoffersen and Knut Ljřgodt, director of the North Norwegian Art Museum.

Seven Year Itch

New Delhi

Left: India Art Fair owners Sandy Angus and Neha Kirpal. (Photo: Manoj Kesharwani) Right: Artists Thukral and Tagra. (Except where noted, all photos: Zehra Jumabhoy)

NOW IN ITS SEVENTH YEAR, this year’s India Art Fair recalled a debutante at the end of the season, i.e., a wee bit weary. The preview to the four-day affair boasted less zest than prior iterations. Of course, familiar faces could still be spied, even through the alcoholic blur of opening night: Multimedia artist Mithu Sen, with the obligatory dusky-pink rose pinned to her kurta, floated gaily by (she’d just won the Prudential Eye Awards for “Drawing” in Singapore). Did I see the Delhi-based husband-and-wife team Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta? Thukral and his artistic twin, the beaming Tagra, shook hands in fluorescent-suited splendor alongside their dealer, the black-clad Peter Nagy.

If art-world glitterati seemed thinner on the ground, Bollywood actors—like the stubbly Arjun Rampal—eagerly took their place. Happily, I also clocked first-timers associated with brains rather than brawn—like the Courtauld Institute of Art’s director Deborah Swallow and art historian Julian Stallabrass, critic Barry Schwabsky, and British artists Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane. And I reunited with long-missed friends: Bombay dealers Mort Chatterjee (of Chatterjee and Lal), Sree Goswami (of Project 88), and Abhay Maskara were on full charm offensive on opening night, though none of them had booths. “Collectors at the fair seem to be buying at the decorative end of the spectrum. We will remain on the sidelines until we see a fundamental shift in emphasis on the part of the organizers,” vowed Chatterjee.

In all fair-ness, a number of Bombay folk were happy to add to the cocktail. Chemould Prescott Road’s booth was stuffed with talent: Hema Upadhyay presented a white “painting”— actually a grouping of long-grained rice inscribed with miniscule words recording anxieties about migration. At Jhaveri Contemporary the sharp-edged, Op-arty sculptures of British artist Rana Begum were paired with Pakistani Hamra Abbas’s filigreed paper cubes in sea-colored shades. Arshiya Lokhandwala of Lakereen settled for serenity: Pakistani artist Waqas Khan had contributed two drawings with miniscule pencil-markings. My favorite (what’s new?) was Experimenter’s peaceful portion. Here, Kolkata dealers Prateek and Priyanka Raja shared Ayesha Sultana’s graphite geometric works on paper—finely drawn lines shimmering like spools of silver thread.

Left: Girish Shahane, artistic director of India Art Fair. Right: Dealer Conor Macklin of Grosvenor Gallery.

“In Delhi, the market likes recognizable names and colorful images,” warned Londoner Conor Macklin of Grosvenor Gallery. With only a few Indian collectors, the scene seems precariously poised. Nor is the Delhi fair the gateway to Asia that Hong Kong turned out to be, or which Singapore styles itself as. “The fair is at the risk of becoming too local if the significant international galleries choose not to participate, as has been the trend over the last three years,” Raja lamented. Luckily, many of the booths sold works to the intrepid collector Kiran Nadar. And the pall cast by the recession appeared to be lifting. New York dealer Thomas Erben was relieved: “We had more sales than in 2012. We actually covered our costs.”

Costs (or consequences) weren’t exactly on my mind at the various “satellite” events—a kebab-filled bash at collector Nitin Bhayana’s house of plush paintings, Outset Gallery’s bit of fun on Lodhi Road—which included toppling over the collective CAMP’s studious videos about the “Palestinian question”—and Sotheby’s annual piss-up at the Imperial hotel. Was that collector Anupam Poddar wearing red sneakers? “Yeah, the parties are almost as good as Dubai, but who cares about parties? I’d like to see some business,” said a visiting dealer after much red wine at artist Krishen Khanna’s dinner at the Golf Club. Quite so. Another martini please?

For those interested, there were some good art shows too. If the midcareer un-retrospective for text-savvy Raqs Media Collective at the National Gallery of Modern Art was not quite the cure for my Saturday-morning hangover, the late Mrinalini Mukherjee’s Transfigurations at the same venue had me transfixed. At Mukherjee’s first retrospective at the institution, sculpted jute and bronze organic forms huddle in puddles of light—sometimes resembling unfurling flowers, at others the squat outlines of menacing medieval warriors.

Left: Artist Bharti Kher and dealer Aparajita Jain. Right: Dealer Priya Jhaveri and Mark Prime.

There was gratification to be found at the fair too. Girish Shahane had curated a number of special projects, including Pakistani Muhammad Zeeshan’s doomed offerings: Dubbed On Indefiniteness (2008), wasli paintings, encased in vitrines, were inscribed with the words IN GOD WE TRUST. The letters were slowly obliterated with black ink. Not relying on the Almighty’s benevolence, Shahane had planned the Speakers Forum (which merrily included the Courtauld Institute of Art and Artforum’s Writing Art: Conflicts & Collaborations) with aplomb. Yet despite Shahane’s dizzying lineup of speakers—ART India magazine’s Abhay Sardesai, Hong Kong curator Jackson Chang, and the Hamburger Bahnhof’s Britta Schmitz among them—not all the panels were packed. Had the yummy food (and martinis?) sidetracked audiences?

As I took refuge in Francesco Clemente’s outdoor tent inhabited by painted Buddhas, I groped for enlightenment. Maybe the lackluster atmosphere had another cause? The second installment of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale opened last December to much fanfare. Perhaps it was too much to expect galleries, patrons, and would-be collectors to cope with a fair and biennial in such quick succession. Especially since the same small pond of people is expected to bankroll both.

Certainly many of the galleries who eschewed booths at the fair backed Kochi instead. Lisson Gallery organized Descend—the swirling whirlpool of water that is Anish Kapoor's contribution—while Chatterjee & Lal have a number of their stable on display, including performance artist Nikhil Chopra, who posed as the fifteenth-century Portuguese navigator Vasco Da Gama. Sadly, by the time I arrived in Kochi—after the fair—Chopra-as-Da Gama had sailed away. (Unfortunately, party time was just a memory too—replaced by a series of panels starring Shahane, Gayatri Sinha, and Mona Hatoum.)

Left: Artist Jitish Kallat, director of the 2nd Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Right: Artist Bose Krishnamachari, founder of Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

Curated by artist Jitish Kallat, India’s only biennial sprawls seductively over the port city of Fort Kochi. Taking into account Kochi’s ancient links with the spice trade, Kallat skillfully pulled together artworks related to science, astronomy, mathematics, and nautical navigations. At Kochi the smell of money doesn’t mingle ostentatiously with that of spices. From the earthy, crafty contributions of Valsan Kolleri to Benitha Perciyal dun-hued, aromatic sculptures enmeshed with Christian symbolism, Kallat’s choices couldn’t have been further from the superficial sparkle invariably associated with Art Fair Art. Even Bharti Kher suppresses her passion for iridescent bindis with her room-filling wooden triangles. As Stallabrass put it, Kochi is “very different from shopping.”

Nonetheless, as I watched yet another film referencing Kochi’s maritime past, I realized that at the biennial, too, commerce is vital—even if its operations are as convincingly disguised as Chopra himself. If commercial galleries hadn’t forked out for Fort Kochi’s unpretentious delights, we might not have had a biennial at all. Much like in the fourteenth century, when Kochi was the epicenter of marine bartering, the city’s prominence continues to be connected to cash. Money makes the Indian art world go round. Or, in Kochi’s case, stay afloat. Is that unfair?

Zehra Jumabhoy

Material World

Mexico City

Left: Dealers José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto. Right: Architect Enrique Norten and Zona MACO founding director Zelika Garcia. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

A FUNNY THING HAPPENS at art fairs. What you remember is seldom the art. That’s probably because the only context such random displays can give it is social. Thinking back, what comes first to mind is people you met, events you attended, and the city where all of it happened.

Zona MACO has the good fortune to be in Mexico City. That’s its main attraction. No matter which galleries show up to offer works by what artists, what ultimately resonates are the long lunches at Contramar and warmth of every personal exchange, the museums, the cantinas, the architecture, and the incredible snarl of evening rush-hour traffic circling the Independence monument to get across Reforma. As the Portuguese artist Ângela Ferreira put it, “I like this fair because it’s small and the quality is good. But I like the vibe in Mexico City best.”

For visitors from northern climes, the weather for MACO’s recent twelfth edition, February 4 to 8, also appealed. Some south-of-the-border dealers, however, wished founding director Zelika Garcia and artistic director Pablo del Val would move the fair back to its original slot in April. This time of year, they say, is the Latin American equivalent of our spring break. Big spenders go on vacation with their families. That could explain why there were more North Americans—from New York, Denver, Seattle, Durham, North Carolina, Los Angeles—among the VIPs than ever before.

Left: Dealer Jose García Torres and artist Simon Fujiwara. Right: Artists Mario Garcia Torres and Ryan Gander.

Among them were Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner. The first-line collecting couple arrived early on the third, a Tuesday, and stopped in for tea and mole at the new Roma Norte home of expat artist Danh Vō. Francis Al˙s also dropped by with Wiels Centre for Contemporary Art director Dirk Snauwaert for a tour of the three-story house, which Vō built last year on the footprint of a home formerly occupied by Pedro Reyes. By design, it has treacherous, Luis Barragŕn–style stone stairways without rails. “I sleep on the lower floor when I get too drunk,” Vō joked, as we passed through a guest room currently occupied by Juan Gaitán, installed as director of the Museo Tamayo only last month.

“There are 161 museums in Mexico City,” Gaitán told us. That’s an astonishing figure for a single city, even one as large and art-friendly as this one. “We’ve been to a handful,” Westreich said. “And they’re all spectacular.”

But MACO eve traditionally unfolds with a VIP gallery hop around town. From Vō’s house, even after dark, I could walk to Proyectos Monclova. On the ground floor, the British conceptualist Ryan Gander had collaborated on “Nobody walks away from true collaboration triumphant or un-bruised,” a clever show of variously arcane and technology-laced objects and installations with Mario Garcia Torres. “We think alike,” Gander said. Another Brit, Simon Fujiwara, filled the spacious upstairs gallery with trash bins common to German households but done in bronze, nearly nude canvases painted with the face makeup that Angela Merkel wears for television, and intriguing canvases sewn with strips of cast-off furs. It was quite a production, really, and included an animated video that I wished I’d had more time to watch.

Left: Artist Ângela Ferreira. Right: Museo Jumex director Patrick Charpenel and MUAC chief curator Cuauhtemoc Medina.

After Ubering across town to Carlos Amorales’s show of collage paintings at Kurimanzutto, there was no time, sadly, for Melanie Smith’s opening at Proyecto Paralelo or any of the other gallery openings, not at Gaga or OMR. So back to Roma it was for a pre-fair Gladstone Gallery dinner at Rosetta, where Anish Kapoor was holding court for some of the wealthiest collectors in Mexico’s 1 percent.

The guest list included representatives of the nonprofit sector as well: Patrick Charpenel, director of Eugenio López Alonso’s Museo Jumex; Cuauhtémoc Medina, chief curator at MUAC, the enormous contemporary museum at the University of Mexico; and former Jumex curator Patricia Martin, now director of Casa Wabi, the Tadao Ando–designed, Puerto Escondido artist residency founded by Bosco Sodi, who also turned up. Collector Richard Massey crashed the party, and then did the same at the table outside where the Monclova crowd sat down at 11 PM, prime dinner hour in this town, especially since the MACO welcome party at Covadonga wouldn’t get under way till midnight.

Yet the dealers participating in the fair were in their booths at the cavernous Centro Banamex at eleven the next morning for MACO’s VIP preview, invoice books and iPads at the ready. Actually, patience is required at this fair, where most sales take place in its final hours, so early on the action was sleepy. As one dealer told me, “If collectors here don’t know you, they won’t even come into the booth.” If they do know you, they’ll open their wallets.

Left: Collectors Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner. Right: Dealer Pamela Echeverria.

Thus, Josée Bienvenu, a returning dealer, had interested parties in her booth most of the day. Lacking introductions, first-timers James Fuentes and Tim Nye had to twiddle thumbs and force smiles. David Zwirner and Victoria Miro, on opposite sides of a transverse aisle, both offered works by Yayoi Kusama, a recently anointed superstar in Latin America. The galleries weren’t competing. “We planned it this way,” said Miro director Glenn Scott Wright. His broad grin indicated that business was just fine.

The fair is inclusive but not exactly democratic. Most of the big-ticket galleries get pride of place at the center of the main section, while midsize operations line the aisles. At the fringes are New Proposals, where small galleries present emerging artists in small booths, and the Modern Art section, organized by Museo Experimental El Eco curator Mauricio Marcin, for galleries with Calders, Miros, and Dalís. A separate section houses design galleries offering furniture, jewelry and ceramics.

While it was still quiet—the Jose Cuervo–soaked evening vernissage would bring crowds —it seemed a good time to “remember the future,” as Kunsthalle Lisbon codirectors Joăo Mourăo and Luis Silva described the strategy they chose for organizing this year’s Zona MACO Sur, a selection of seventeen solo presentations fronting the bathrooms at the back of the fair. “What binds these projects together,” Silva said, “is what the artists make of speculation.”

Most of their art, in other words, came out of fictive—or in the case of a film by Alejandro Almanza Pereda at Guadalajara’s Curro and Poncho—uncanny situations. At Marc Foxx, Gander proposed options for artworks that a collector could choose from. Brazilian Cinthia Marcelle had black and white paint rollers and buckets on the floor of the Galeria Vermelho booth, as an installation waiting to happen. Peruvian artist Jose Vera Martos produced a film about a museum built with a fake Neoclassical facade and Pre-Colombian inside, also fake. Gavin Brown and Laura Owens brought bright paintings and handmade books that dealer Thor Shannon suspected went over the heads of those who passed by.

Left: Museo Tamayo director Juan Gaitán. Right: Dealers Fernando Mesta and Thor Shannon.

At the junction of the main, the Modern Art, and the Zona MACO Sur sections, in a booth painted terra-cotta red, sat the pioneering Mexican dealer Enrique Guerrero. “He started it all for contemporary art here,” dealer Massimo Audiello told me. “He’s a glory of Mexico.” GAM (Galería de Arte Mexicano) looked like a stage set. Weirdly located in the Modern section, its three walls were open to the aisles and covered with tangled graffiti by Stefan Brüggemann. “It’s insulting,” said Argentine-American dealer Henrique Faria, “that Galería de Arte Mexicano would fall for such a terrible work.” He was even more outraged that a group of European investors allegedly paid $500,000 for it.

That wasn’t the only scandal brewing. After an evening reception at the Tamayo that Gaitŕn described as “like being at a wedding,” word got around that Charpenel was leaving Jumex. Curator Magali Ariola had already been sacked, but her spirits were as high as everyone else’s during a boisterous dinner at Contramar that José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto hosted with Zwirner directors Hanna Schouwink and Bella Hubert. An ebullient Eugenio Lopez, the Jumex founder, sat at another table. Later in the week, the New York dealer Marc Straus e-mailed a letter protesting the museum’s cancelation of a Hermann Nitsch show, supposedly to appease Catholics offended by the idea. (Asked for a comment, Charpenel did not respond.)

Otherwise, controversy took a back seat to flying the good-time art flag. House of Gaga proprietor Fernando Mesta had a whole other, somewhat younger crowd for another lively dinner at Mero Toro. Afterward, guests headed to a dance party sponsored by Perrier and Harper’s Bazaar Latin America, and hosted by its art issue’s guest editor, Igor Ramírez Garcia-Peralta, with Brenda Díaz La Vega at M.N. Roy. For me, this temple to the DJ was a nonstarter, but when I left the Camino Real hotel the next morning, the Guadalajaran artist Gonzalo Lebrija was just coming back from the party.

Left: Artist Bosco Sodi. Right: LAND founder Shamim Momin and artist Jose Davila.

The day’s itinerary started with an elegant show of silver plates, bowls, and Daguerreotypes by Simon Starling curated by Abaseh Mirvali for the studio at Casa Barragán. Across the street at Labor, Pamela Echeverria—one of the brightest young dealers in Mexico City—hosted a brunch on the gallery’s rooftop deck, while VIPs took turns wandering solo (as required) through her potent Santiago Sierra show downstairs. From there, Mirvali led a group from the MCA Chicago to the Mathias Goeritz–designed El Eco for the second part of Starling’s show, a short film featuring Pilar Pellicer, a dancer who had performed at the opening of the museum in 1953 that was choreographed by filmmaker Luis Buńuel.

That was a treat, but it only got better from there, when we departed for Ariola’s one-two punch of a Danh Vō exhibition with Abraham Cruzvillegas, curated by Clara Kim for Jumex. Both shows were almost ridiculously superfabulous, in an Arte Povera kind of way. Next came a lunch across the Carso Plaza at Bros, one of the better restaurants in developer Carlos Slim’s version of the Time Warner Center mall. Chef Margarita Carillo extolled Mexican cuisine by noting its new status on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, the first cuisine in the world to make it. Hosted by Shamim Momin, founder of LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division), and Artspace CEO Catherine Levene, the lunch celebrated Jose Dávila’s Homage to the Square, a limited-edition, gilded ceramic to benefit LAND and its Dávila exhibition scheduled for Pacific Standard Time next year.

Later on, back at the fair, I moderated a panel on collecting, “The One That Got Away.” The Belgian collector Alain Servais confessed that he only got jealous of others’ holdings when he saw a work that he wished he could steal. Dealer Monica Manzutto admitted feeling troubled by not always knowing where the money for art was coming from. (Hmm.) The evening brought the opening of a Sodi show at Hilario Galguerra, cocktails at the Colección Isabel y Agustín Coppel, an intimate dinner with Echeverria, Massey, Shannon, and dealer Danny Baez at Maximo in Polanco, and the boozy opening party for the Material Art Fair, a forty-gallery independent satellite offering attractively priced works by emerging international artists. Nightclub promoter Tolga Albayrak was also holding a fair-week party at the Hotel Condesa. At 1 AM, he texted that it was “nuts,” but by that time I was spent.

Left: Art adviser Ana Sokolov and FLORA ars+natura curator Jose Roca. Right: Wiels Centre for Contemporary Art director Dirk Snouwoert and artist Francis Al˙s.

Friday was my day to wind it up. It began at curator Chris Sharp and artist Martin Soto Climent’s one-room project space, Lulu, in Roma Sur, and a preview of “The Luluennial: A Slight Gestuary,” the first of a three-part biennial that cocurators Sharp and Fabiola Iza characterized as “a reliquary of slight gestures.” Tagged to a photograph by Gabriel Orozco, it included small works making big impressions by a half-dozen mostly European artists that were all a breath of fresh air.

Sharp then led the way to the Auditorio BlackBerry, the theater where Material’s second edition was opening for the day. This fair, cofounded by Yautepec Gallery dealers Brett Schultz and Daniela Elbahara with Incontemporary Art Advisory founder Isa Natalia Castilla, is really a true, low-rent alternative to MACO—small, energetic, friendly and unpredictable. Dealer Prem Krishnamurthy’s presentation of paintings by Elaine Lustig Cohen encased in an ironwork installation by José León Cerrillo excelled. Work by Ramiro Chaves at Argentina’s White Lodge also got my attention. So did minimalist drawings of golden punctuation marks by Angie Keefer at Kunstverein Toronto, ingeniously priced to fluctuate daily with that of gold.

Material also had the best VIP room I’ve ever seen: a carpeted platform erected over the seats in the theater’s balcony and outfitted with Herman Miller furniture and a full bar. A basement club turned out to be a group art installation by the Lower East Side collective Beverly’s. A shop on the ground floor offered small press and unique artists’ books, and limited-edition gifts. As one dealer at MACO confided, “I can’t wait to switch over to Material next year.”

Material might have the fun, but MACO has the power to drive the rest of us back to town.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Artists Elena del Rivero and Paola Bragado. Right: Artist Francisco Ugarte and collector Richard Massey.

Space Race


Left: Artist Dragan Živadinov. Right: Garage chief curator Kate Fowle with curators Snejana Krasteva, Bojana Piškur, and Igor Španjol. (All photos: Kate Sutton)

“DRAGAN, YOU HAVE to let Zdenka and I go. We would be so good in space!” Kate Fowle pleaded from the backseat of the black minivan, where she was nestled in alongside curator Zdenka Badovinac and artists Dragan Živadinov, Luchezar Boyadjiev, and Roman Uranjek. We were en route from the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art’s temporary pavilion in Moscow’s Gorky Park to the buzzy Buro Canteen for a private dinner in honor of the February 5 opening of “Grammar of Freedom/Five Lessons: Works from the Arteast 2000+ Collection.”

One of the founding members of Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK), Živadinov doubles as a cosmonaut candidate who has been to the stratosphere seven times and describes his day job as developing “the cultural policies of space.” The artist had spent that morning visiting the restricted-access Star City, about which he stayed casually mum. He did, however, indulge us by identifying the silver-haired gent he had been chatting with at the opening as Yuri Baturin—a two-time cosmonaut who currently serves on Russia’s National Security Council. “Before he started spending so much time with me, Yuri didn’t think of his research interests as having anything to do with art,” Živadinov proudly reported. “Now he’s a bona fide art lover.”

Space, Dragan. We were talking about space, and when you are going to let Zdenka and me go there,” Fowle reminded him. “I still haven’t committed to anything for the week before Venice.”

Left: Curator Defne Ayas. Right: Garage director Anton Belov and curator Nicolaus Schafhausen.

While that week may still be in limbo, Fowle, as the Garage’s chief curator, should have quite a busy summer, with the museum’s new Rem Koolhaas–designed building launching in June with a solo project from Rirkrit Tiravanija. As a send-off for the Shigeru Ban pavilion that the museum has occupied the past three years, the Garage delivered a power punch historical survey from the Arteast 2000+ Collection, which is maintained by the Moderna galerija in Ljubljana, where Badovinac has served as director for more than twenty years. It’s an exhibition a long time coming, as Fowle explained: “This was one of the first projects Zdenka and I talked about when I was considering taking this job. This country has never had an exhibition that considers Russian artists in the context of the Eastern Europe scene.”

Cocurated by Badovinac, Garage curator Snejana Krasteva, and Moderna galerija’s Bojana Piškur, “Grammar of Freedom/Five Lessons” uses the thematic division of “lessons” to structure selections from over sixty artists and collectives, loosely united by the shared experience of socialism (never mind how radically that experience might have differed for, say, Kazakhstani artist Yerbossyn Meldibekov and his Polish colleague, Katarzyna Kozyra). The exhibition punctuates genre classics like Ion Grigorescu’s seminal 1977 film Boxing, Marina Abramović’s controversial 1974 performance Rhythm 0, Mladen Stilinović’s iconic 1977 Artist at Work, and Sanja Iveković’s cheeky 1979 masturbation escapade, Triangle ,with projects from transition-era artists like Timur Novikov, Dan Perjovschi, Nedko Solakov and Chto Delat. The underdog vibes are strong here. See Krassimir Terziev’s 2005 Battles for Troy, an hour-long film that details the abominable treatment of Bulgarian extras during the shooting of Warner Brothers’ 2004 Brad Pitt vehicle Troy. Three hundred extras, all built like demigods and darkly handsome in a duly ambiguous, “Mediterranean” way (read: swarthy), played the front lines of both armies simultaneously, for a fraction of the cost of Mexican extras—or, for that matter, the horses. In his candid interviews with the participants, Terziev provides a close-up of a “background” nation coming to terms with its purported dispensability.

Left: Curators Viktor Misiano and Andrei Misiano. Right: Escape's Valeriy Ayzenberg and Chto Delat's Tsaplya Olga Egorovna.

Practicing politics on a more performative level, NSK set up a temporary embassy in the center of the show as part of the lesson plan on “The Power of Collaboration.” Founded in 1984 as an umbrella organization encompassing other collectives like Laibach, IRWIN, and Živadinov’s cosmist-inspired Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre, NSK later declared itself a state, reinforcing the claim with its own postage stamps and passports (of which fourteen thousand have been issued so far). As Fowle filled out a passport application, IRWIN member Borut Vogelnik told me about the group’s recent visit to Nigeria, where NSK papers have been confused for viable travel documents by desperate asylum seekers. Artists met with would-be applicants to clarify, taping the at-times heartbreaking interactions. “We explained that this was just an art project, but then somehow rumors got out that we were only saying that to trick people into not applying,” Vogelnik said, with a sad shake of his head. This clash of artistic intention with real consequences was one of the rare encroachments on the exhibition’s implicit eternal-underdog narrative.

More in keeping with the party line was the following evening’s “United Through Adversity” panel, which convened eleven artists and curators at the Garage’s impressive education center. According to moderator Krasteva, the panel’s goal was to untangle the contradiction of the exhibition title, with its implication that freedom could ever be constrained by grammar, let alone a concrete definition. Within minutes of Krasteva’s deft opening salvo, curator Viktor Misiano declared “freedom” to be a concept wholly dependent on its context: “The only way to judge its relative value is to understand its function within a specific situation.” Boyadjiev broke from semantics, indulging a romantic account of how, in the 1980s, he confused liberty with scenes from American movies. “Freedom is for beginners,” he concluded, to appreciative “mm-hmms” from almost all of the audience. Almost all. “I have to contradict you, my friend,” Živadinov cut in. “Freedom is not for beginners.” The artist then lapsed into a somewhat harrowing account of the time spent in prison for an unspecified artwork. “Sorry to voice such a conservative viewpoint, but after being confined in a tiny cell with two murderers, force-fed through tubes in my nose because I went on a hunger strike, I started to understand what it meant to truly wish for freedom.”

At this point, the elephant in the room—Russia’s “present circumstance” or “current situation” or however else it was phrased—took a break from its snooze. Audience members threw out sloppily packaged comparisons between the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Balkan Wars, until conversation inevitably veered to the subject of boycotts. Krasteva instinctively thrust the microphone at Olga Egorovna, who, as part of Chto Delat, led the charge in protesting last year’s Manifesta. At a loss for what to say, Egorovna waved the mic to her neighbor Misiano, momentarily forgetting that, as one of the founders of Manifesta, Misiano remains chair of its board. Realizing her gaffe, Egorovna blushed, but the curator kept his response genial, swearing that he would have been disappointed had artists just accepted a prescribed infrastructure without challenging it. At this point, Boyadjiev brought up Piotr Piotrowski’s quote: “Democracy is not Viagra.” “Maybe we can just wrap this up by agreeing that freedom is not Viagra?” he grinned. Perhaps not, but it sure made for some rousing discourse.

Kate Sutton

Left: Kate Fowle applies for NSK citizenship. Right: Artist Evgeny Granilshikov and curator Anastasia Shavlokhova.

Left: Artist Bjarne Melgaard. Right: Curator Lars Toft Eriksen. (All photos: Travis Jeppesen)

AFTER SPENDING THE PREVIOUS TWO WEEKS isolated in a borrowed apartment in Copenhagen, hammering out some five thousand words a day on an endless novel, me and my brain were ready for a thaw. So when the offer came to journey even further north to snowy Oslo, for the opening of “Melgaard + Munch” at the museum named after the latter, it seemed like the most counterintuitive move I could make at that moment. I instantly said yes.

I’ve known Bjarne Melgaard for a little over a year now. We’re mutual admirers of each other’s work. His art adorns the cover of my last novel, The Suiciders, and we shared a room at the Whitney Biennial last year—though you can be forgiven if you didn’t notice my installation on the wall; Melgaard’s work tends to overpower that of anyone he shows with—even if your name happens to be Edvard Munch, it turns out.

Still, the exhibition makes sense—and doesn’t. Even curator Lars Toft-Eriksen admitted this when he was pressed by an aggressive journalist from Les Echos during the afternoon preview. “Actually, I don’t think Melgaard has a lot do with Munch. You see a much stronger connection in his work to an artist like Gauguin.” Well, Ms. Journalist wasn’t having any of it. “So what is the point of this exhibition?” she asked, gesturing at the clusterfuck installation of paintings by the two artists juxtaposed on top of one another to elicit a collage effect in the second room. “I’m not making any art-historical arguments here,” Toft-Eriksen responded. “I’m putting together a common critical approach.”

“Was Munch gay also?” she shot back, more than a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “Is this exhibition supposed to be his coming-out?” What a question! Isn’t everyone gay once they’re dead?

Just then, Melgaard entered the room with his hot new boyfriend in tow. I asked him if he was happy to be back in Norway, his hjemland. He shrugged. “No way. I hate it. I’ve just given a billion interviews to journalists who keep asking the same stupid fucking questions over and over again.” That sucks. So, will you be giving a speech at the press conference today? “Haha. Sure. ‘Fuck you, Norway. I wish all of you DEAD.’ ”

Left: Art historian Ina Blom and Tim Smith. Right: Critic Katy Diamond Hamer and Munch Museum director Stein Henrichsen.

Oh well. There are worse things than being a Norwegian artist in 2015, as I would soon come to find out. And even though there were whispers that the show had been heavily trashed in the local media, he is the artist everyone loves to hate—and he loves to hate them back even more. Kind of like the GG Allin of the art world, only he smells a lot nicer.

Despite nearly slipping half a dozen times on the blanket of ice at the museum’s entrance, I was quickly warming up to Norway. Besides its most famous export—black metal—Norway is also an oil-rich country. In fact, it is one of the richest (and most expensive) countries in Europe, a land that enjoys an enviable regional autonomy given its refusal to join itself to the bureaucratic behemoth known as the European Union. And since it is Scandinavia after all, the country clings, in spite of its wealth, to the ideals of a social democracy. This translates into, among other things, a (nonviral) load of state funding for the arts. To give but one example, Oslo has more artist-run project spaces than any other European capital, according to Katya García-Antón, director of OCA Norway.

Once I finished taking in the exhibition at the Munch Museum, I was driven to the Office of Contemporary Art for a press briefing on Norway’s contribution to the upcoming Venice Biennale. In the past, Sweden, Norway, and Finland have had to contend with sharing the idyllic Nordic pavilion in the Giardini. This year will be the first in which Norway has the pavilion to itself. And in a somewhat unusual move, an American artist, Camille Norment, has been chosen. Though, to be fair, Norment has lived in Norway for the past ten years, and her work features in both public and private collections throughout the country. While Norment works in an array of media, she is primarily focused on sound. We visited her studio, where we were treated to a demonstration of the glass harmonica, an extremely rare instrument that will feature in her Venice project.

Back at the Munch Museum for the VIP opening, Melgaard’s assistant Tim Smith spilled the beans on one of the exhibition’s hidden secrets: the presence of The Scream—or one of its four extant versions—concealed behind one of Melgaard’s works. I’m not at liberty to reveal its exact location, but here’s a hint: Look for a still from your favorite snuff film.

Left: Antonio Cataldo, senior programmer at OCA Norway. Right: OCA Norway director Katya García-Antón and artist Camille Norment.

At the end of a long day, I was ready to go back to my room at the Thief—which had been described by locals variously as Norway’s best hotel and Norway’s most expensive hotel—and retire with my Genet and my Grindr. First I felt obligated to stop in and congratulate Melgaard at the afterparty; it was in the Thief’s first-floor lounge, after all.

Smoking outside, I was joined by a gilded postpubescent who has unfortunately already mastered the friendly alcoholic’s penchant for standing three inches away from the faces of total strangers when speaking. He informed me that he was upstairs throwing a bash for his employees, celebrating the two-and-a-half month anniversary of the electric car company he owns somewhere up north. He asked me what I was doing in Oslo.

“…Bjarne Melgaard,” he pondered. “Wait… I think I own one of his works! He does paintings of shipyards, right?”

“Not exactly,” I replied. “Perhaps you’re thinking of his famous painting Just Want to Get Your Black Infected Cock Up My White Ass and Be a Useless White Whore? There aren’t any boats in it, but it does feature some aquatic mammals.”

“Oh wait! He’s the guy who used to be a junkie and has now been clean for seven months, right?” Melgaard had told me earlier in the day that the Norwegian press had chosen to focus less on his art and more on his new drug-free lifestyle. “Wow, do you know him? Could you hook me up for a selfie?”

I was about to say I might even hold the camera for him—as long as he agreed to be my useless white whore—but alas, he was suddenly whisked away upstairs to his corporate orgy, which I suspect resembled an outtake from Salň, while I returned to the considerably restrained Melgaard afterparty (no drugs, but lots of brownies!).

There, I fell into conversation with the renowned New York hair stylist Bob Recine, who had designed the coifs on several of Melgaard’s sculptures and would continue traveling with the artist to Paris, where his show at Thaddaeus Ropac was set to open the following week. Our conversation ranged from Rene Ricard to the merits and minuses of being a cokehead versus a junkie… So actually not very far. We didn’t even make it to meth, Melgaard’s problem troll—though perhaps that had something to do with the company. “I don’t understand why people in the art world are so against it,” I remember Melgaard telling me once. “I have no interest in taking any drug if there’s no possibility that it might kill me.”

It would be so boring to be dead, and probably even more boring to live in a world where there’s no Bjarne. On a superficial level, he might be Norway’s most famous artist since Munch, but he is also the most prominent living artist to show the world a side of reality that very few wish to look at, acknowledge, or are frankly able to stomach. That’s the real miracle of Bjarne Melgaard’s work—that, and what I regard as its ejaculatory integrity. It hits you right in the face. Which is exactly where you want it, you dirty art whore.

Travis Jeppesen

Scenes from “Melgaard + Munch” at the Munch Museum.

Paramount Pictures

Los Angeles

Left: The Brutally Early Club at Ryan Trecartin's house. Right: Paramount Ranch director and dealer Alex Freedman with Project Native Informant's Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja and Ernie von Sastra. (Except where noted, all photos: Kate Sutton)

IT WAS 6:30 AM on a Friday in Los Angeles, and the three twentysomethings on the porch of Ryan Trecartin’s Los Feliz home shared that last-cigarette look of people who should have gone home hours ago.

In reality, they’d only just arrived, fashionably on time for the Brutally Early Club, a pet project of Hans Ulrich Obrist, who, amid all his cross-continental comings and goings, discovered the untapped meeting-planner potential of the wee hours. (There was some experimentation with a 4 AM “Hyper Early Club” Shumon Basar informed me, but that “never really took off.”) In its other iterations, B.E.C. tends to attract only the die-hard and the jet-lagged, but the scene in Trecartin’s dining room could have been cut-and-pasted from any It bar—though maybe that’s because I had run into a good portion of the guest list (Bettina Korek, Karen Marta, Kevin McGarry, K-Hole’s Sean Monahan) a few nights earlier at a ForYourArt party at Union Station. “Los Angeles is really the place for this kind of thing,” Obrist marveled, surveying the line for pour-overs and homemade corn muffins. “Here it’s no big deal to get everyone together at 6 AM because they are all already up.”

The stateside art world’s Second City, Los Angeles continues to enchant and enrage in unequal measure, bestowing on visitors the mystical rush of waking with the sun only to then force them to squander those precious extra hours in traffic, listening to the same three pop songs on repeat (two of which are by Taylor Swift). If the spate of reclaimed warehouses in Boyle Heights has challenged Culver City’s sway as the city’s preeminent gallery district, upstarts like Chin’s Push, Chateau Shatto, Farago, ASHES/ASHES, and Papillon Gallery have continued to test the limits of the art world’s GPS.

Left: XYZ's Soshiro Matsubara and Cobra with dealers Jeffrey Rosen and Misako Rosen. Right: Dealer François Ghebaly with adviser Heather Flow.

While only a handful of these young Turks infiltrated last week’s Art Los Angeles Contemporary, they dominated the roster at Paramount Ranch, the renegade fair held on an old movie set in the Santa Monica Mountains. Paramount Ranch launched last year as a joint initiative of Paradise Garage’s Pentti Munkonen and Liz Craft and dealers Alex Freedman and Robbie Fitzpatrick, who all felt that the duly quirky location (we’re talking the set of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman here) was just what was needed to capture the edgier elements of LA’s rapidly evolving scene. For its sophomore outing, which opened last Saturday, the two-day event swelled to over fifty galleries, nonprofits, and otherwise art spaces, with a similarly sizable rosters of special projects and performances. “Last year, everyone was just so blown away by the setting,” Freedman admitted. “This time we really have to prove ourselves as a functioning fair.”

From the looks of the Saturday morning kick-off—the closest art fairs come to a B.E.C.—Freedman didn’t have to worry. Gates opened to a ready swarm of collectors including Dean Valentine, Josef dalle Nogare, Susan Goodman and Rod Lubeznik, Axel and Barbara Haubrok, and Susan and Michael Hort. “Last year, we had no idea who would come, let alone that there might be that 10 AM rush,” dealer Jeffrey Rosen recalled. “This year we were prepared.” Over the next few hours, the main drag of old-timey storefronts saw a steady flow of traffic, with guests ranging from Hollywood types like Jodie Foster, Alison Pill, and Ethan Suplee to curators Jeffrey Deitch, Aram Moshayedi, Massimiliano Gioni, and Cecilia Alemani to artists Paul McCarthy, Silke Otto Knapp, Oscar Tuazon, Sanya Kantarovsky, Liz Magic Laser, Jon Rafman, Kon Trubkovich, Vito Brodmann—in short, too many to name. If, as that much-loved Baldessari quote wagers, for an artist attending a fair is akin to walking in on one’s parents getting it on, Paramount Ranch styled itself as an orgy for orphans. Artists congregated in clumps along the sun-drenched wooden porches of the main drag, with its fake bank, barn, and boarding house, while just outside of “town,” picnic blankets were spread around a teepee and a set of oversize letters spelling out FREEDOM. An entrance sign forbidding the use of marijuana made for amiable selfies, as Ziploc bags of various baked delicacies were passed from pocket to pocket, while the barkeeps at the Mandrake pop-up slung spicy micheladas over tables designed by Justin Beal and Jesse Willenbring.

Left: Musician Patrick Belaga and Artists Space's Stefan Kalmár. Right: Artist Eric Wesley.

It makes sense that a fair founded by two artists and two dealers would encourage a spirit of creative collaboration. Misako Rosen entrusted its barber shop to the Tokyo-based XYZ Collective, who set up a photo-op stand on the front porch. Over at Green Gallery, American Fantasy Collective recruited artist Donato Mezzenga to help construct a hermit hole, lit up in an eerie green and stocked with albums by Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, a stack of VHS tapes, and a well-worn copy of How to Survive on Land and Sea. Out in the pasture, fellow settlers Debo Eilers and Kerstin Brätsch built a two-story playhouse, the latest step in the continuing saga of the Kaya project they started in 2010 at what was then known as 179 Canal. The structure supposedly contained some of the “body bags” from the series, but my view was blocked by two young boys rejoicing in having locked their father outside. (Another sign of changing times, kids competed with dogs and edibles as the fair’s must-have accessory.)

Less kid-friendly, at the saloon Artists Space enlisted two ten-gallon-hatted models to help hawk T-shirts created by Eckhaus Latta using motifs from Tom of Finland (“They only have S and M,” a friend quipped, momentarily unnerving his size-L companion.) Remembering that the nonprofit had used a similar technique to sell artist-designed scarves last year, I complimented director Stefan Kalmár on his consistency. “Well, those cowboys were porn stars. These guys are…”—he ran an appraising eye over the closest cowpoke—“better.”

Another of the changes at the Ranch was the introduction of a five-dollar entry fee (waived for art students). While still a fraction of today’s going rate for art-fair admission, the added income enabled the organizers to build out the stables, which had been used as an empty space for sound installations and performances the previous edition. This year it was lined with stalls, hosting the likes of Gregor Staiger, Kendall Koppe, and Lulu, where I was particularly charmed by Allison Katz’s cabbage paintings and a Michael E. Smith sculpture adroitly fashioned from a pair of sweatpants. A few stalls down at Thomas Duncan, Oscar Enberg’s assemblages—one integrating a live goldfish—inspired more than a few double takes. As I leaned in for a better look, a girl in a tulle skirt and waist-length hair drifted in, a tiny toy terrier trailing behind her on its little pink leash. She carefully Instagrammed an Enberg, while the terrier seized the moment to urinate on the wall. “That happens all the time at Art Basel,” a witness deadpanned.

Left: ASHES/ASHES's Andy Guzzonatto, artist Bradford Kessler, and collector Phil Aarons. Right: Dealer Hannah Hoffmann.

With good vibes prevailing, sunset showdowns were confined to the pasture/parking lot, where Paramount Ranch’s prompt 5 PM closing time caused some minor havoc. “It’s all natural light here,” Freedman explained. “When the sun leaves, so do we.” The early curfew meant we had just enough time to catch Anish Kapoor’s new resin-and-earth works at Regen Projects before heading to Harmony Murphy and Ibid for a backyard barbecue, where Negar Azimi, Artemis Baltoyanni, and artists G. T. Pellizzi, Alex Rutner, and Ben Noam kept close to the fire pit. “You should try a burger,” dealer Magnus Edensvard urged, as I cast a wary eye over the makeshift buffet. “I made my own special sauce, like from a recipe and everything.” Dealer Johann König cut in to assure me, “it’s actually quite good.” I took his word for it.

Both galleries were open, with Murphy showcasing I Ching–inspired ink works by Pelizzi and Ibid screening William Hunt’s film Still yourself and calm your boots, an excruciating take of the artist crashing a car into a concrete wall. The viewing experience was intensified by the sounds of circling helicopters and rumors that police barricades were blocking the Seventh Street bridge. “It’s just a flash mob,” König shrugged, polishing off his burger. “I saw all these teenagers who were, you know, not gallery people, so I asked them what they were doing, and they said they had come to dance.” What better reminder to get over to Arlington Heights staple Jewel’s Catch One for the joint LA Art Book Fair and Paramount Ranch afterparty? At least there, with Future Brown on the decks, we knew we’d get something other than Taylor Swift.

Kate Sutton

Left: Dealers Johann König and Magnus Edensvard of Ibid Gallery. Right: Dealer Stefania Bortalami with artists Ei Arakawa and Kerstin Brätsch.

Third Time’s a Charm

Los Angeles

Left: Artist Frances Stark and dealer Marc Foxx. Right: Artist Lisa Anne Auerbach. (All photos: Christina Catherine Martinez)

“I LOVE THE CROWD,” said Frances Stark ahead of her keynote address at the third iteration of the LA Art Book Fair. “It’s so LA.” Indeed, the endless comments from attendees and exhibitors praising the energy and the vibe the book fair brings to an already packed Los Angeles art weekend that includes the stalwart Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC) and newcomer Paramount Ranch had at least something to do with the ranks of beautiful freaks descending on MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary. The temptation to devote the weekend to documenting their plumage persisted, but the half-images remain: ponytails of Skittle-hued hair faded to Klonopin whispers; a dot of oxblood lipstick on an errant tooth; a busted bra strap; a heartbreakingly placed zit.

This is the first year Printed Matter charged for entry to Thursday’s preview party, but walking up to the Geffen under a smoggy neon sunset and the honeyed beat of Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo,” it looked like the modest ten-dollar fee did little to quell the crowds. Any decrease in locals was more than made up for by glass-eyed out-of-towners and Snowpocalypse escapees come to kick our tires. I literally bumped into a New York editor who flicked on his iPhone recorder: “What does this fair mean to the community?”

A shit ton.

Left: Michael Rodriguez, Rudy Bleu, Manuel Paul, and Carlos Morales of the Maricón Collective. Right: Miranda July signs copies of The Thing The Book at The Thing Quarterly table.

“Who are your favorite exhibitors?”

Having just made a beeline to the Maricón Collective table, I sung their praises: A queer Chicano DJ crew started just last year “almost as a joke,” says founding member Rudy Bleu, Maricón Collective are known less for their old-school dance parties and afternoon brunches than for the imagery Manuel Paul creates to promote them—feathery graphite cholo erotica equally informed by the Art Laboe Connection, Teen Angels magazine, LA’s prison-industrial complex, and the log ride at Knott’s Berry Farm. This is real Los Angeles history—Source Family sycophancy is for tourists. Comparing notes on the week’s social imperatives, Joseph Mosconi of the Poetic Research Bureau agreed: “It’s like Art Basel now, but without the celebrities. But we have celebrities anyway, so who cares?”

Officially, there were about three hundred exhibitors from over twenty-one countries, but the open secret of opening night was all the last-minute table-scooching and booth-splitting going on in Zine World. My companion that evening showed up tableless with a stack of zines under one arm and left with an equally thick pile of self-published ephemera from peers and former strangers, with no dollars exchanged. On the larger main floor, the artist-run research repository Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (LACA) used its table to hold “office hours” with rotating shifts of artists, writers, and curators displaying portions of their own archives, remaining present for intimate talk-throughs of the outré displays. LACA cofounder Eric Kim, who is also on the board of the nonprofit Chinatown space Human Resources, put it this way: “After last year we thought, ‘Well, everybody’s browsing but no one’s really buying, so why don’t we just do something that allows that?’ ”

Left: Sarah Williams and Kate Johnston of the Women's Center for Creative Work (WCCW). Right: KCHUNG station manager Chrysanthe Oltmann aka DJ Vulvasaur.

By Friday afternoon, a brief fit of rain trapped fairgoers inside the Geffen for several hours, hunched over their purchases as they dashed out during a break in the clouds. The book fair closed at seven, but the night wore on with more launches and openings, starting with a party at 356 S. Mission for Lisa Anne Auerbach’s Knotty, a book of innocuous knitting-magazine photos paired with oddly complementary shots culled from shibari and BDSM fetish rags—the sexiness of patient obsession buoyed by the handmade fact of the book itself: Auerbach personally made all one hundred copies. “I’m threatening to start a press!” she said. We capped the night at a fist-pumping after-after-after-party at the Atwater Village warehouse HQ of the Women’s Center for Creative Work, drunkenly shimmying under liquid lights to the beats of DJ Vulvasaur.

Saturday was the best day for programming, though the matryoshka-like schedule of talks, panels, and presentations meant something was invariably missed. Awkwardly taking place in the adjacent Aratani Central Hall of the Japanese American National Museum, some of the programs were clearly expected to outgrow the makeshift theaters formerly constructed inside the Geffen, but the space was so large the turnout felt sparse even when it was good. Scoli Acosta advised us to check out X-TRA’s 1 IMAGE 1 MINUTE presentation, based on Micol Hebron’s column inspired by Agnčs Varda’s invitation for people to respond to a photographic image of their choice for one minute (results were broadcast on French television in 1983). We were asked to hold our applause until all fifty presenters had spoken. Many attempted to give an actual lecture in sixty seconds, but the best minitalks took on the mantle of performance, poetry, or confession. Suzanne Wright divulged her teen preference for air trumpet over air guitar: “Pretending to be her boyfriend playing trumpet made me feel sexy,” she said of Herb Alpert’s record cover for Whipped Cream and Other Delights. Marc Horowitz broke form entirely by taking the stage in Day-Glo orange coveralls (safety uniform? prison jumpsuit?), dumping a bag of fake autumn leaves and blowing them about with a leaf blower plugged in at the back of the hall. “Movie coming this fall,” he said just before his minute was up.

Left: Artist Meghan Gordon. Right: Artists Félicia Atkinson and Bartolomé Sanson of Shelter Press.

That evening, Stark presented “At the Rim of the Fucking Paradigm,” taken from the prospective title of a small press she once hoped to start. The talk was scheduled to take two hours, but Stark was not perturbed. “I always wing it. It’s just… this is emotional,” she said, patting the sheaf of notes in her lap. Reading from new and old texts, dispersed with commentary on the mundanities of being an artist and viewing LA through a car window, her talk was a characteristic collage of declarations (“I know I’m known for a certain insistence on the relevance of my personal reality”), provocations (“Being a teacher is like going into a room and giving head for an hour”), and frank inquiries (“What exactly is it that rubs between our efforts and our existences?”), sort of circling but not quite touching on what is so important about this zero-sum game of artists and making books. She read part of a text by artist Brad Phillips that he e-mailed her after it had been rejected by a Belgian publication called Confessions, choking up slightly at the words: “I am Daffy Duck. I cannot fill my holes. The best I can come up with is some sort of spiritual tampon.”

On my way out, a girl in a white sequined miniskirt played soprano sax on the sidewalk. The case for her instrument lay open at her feet, totally empty save for a neat row of zines for sale. A book fair of one, scoring the sound track to our packed schedules and bureaucratic slippages.

Christina Catherine Martinez

Left: Marc Horowitz performing at 1 Image 1 Minute. Right: Chiyo Uno of Guerrilla Girls.