Balcony Scene


Mickey Mahar in Anne Imhof's Angst 3. (Except where noted, all photos: David Kelley)

TAKING A LATE FLIGHT from Baltimore to Canada, I read an English translation of Jean Genet’s 1956 play Le Balcon (The Balcony). I read Carmen recalling one of her clients’ infatuation with the color blue: “I was a Madonna to whom a Spaniard might have prayed and sworn an oath. He hymned me, fusing me with his beloved color, and when he carried me to bed, it was into the blue that he penetrated.”

I read of sex workers and clients performing elaborate fantasies, playing within a play, pretending to be religious and political figures. I read the revolutionary upheaval that interrupted them.

The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, I arrived at Le Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal (MAC), the main venue for the ninth iteration of La Biennale de Montréal, titled “Le Grand Balcon” after Genet’s play. I joined a tour where the biennial’s head curator, Philippe Pirotte, dean at Frankfurt’s Städelschule, argued for an art that is materially invested, that may not speak directly to the conditions of its time, that may even seem strange, mysterious, and out-of-time, resisting literal messages.

Left: La Biennale de Montréal head curator Philippe Pirotte. Right: Performer in Zac Langdon-Pole's My Body… (Brendan Pole). (Photos: Marcus Civin)

Losing my place on the tour, I paged through my folder of printouts to reread Pirotte’s curatorial statement, zeroing in on this: “Le Grand Balcon invites us to rethink both the (im)possibility of an emancipation through pleasure—and its urgency. Asserting a hedonist politics far from the easy rewards of consumption, in an environment of potentially economic or political instrumentalization, the exhibition opposes a via negative of alienation, skepticism, discomfort, and loss.”

Just then, as if to prove that art, to be consequential, need not hammer at economic or ideological conditions, a young performer approached. She asked if she could recite a poem for me. It would be the same poem presented on the wall behind us, part of Zac Langdon-Pole’s My Body… (Brendan Pole), 2015, each letter of the poem a notecard-sized photograph of an ornamented letterform. Before her recitation, the young woman told me that Langdon-Pole’s uncle spoke it on his deathbed before passing away from AIDS-related complications. The first stanza of the short six-stanza poem seems like a refusal to let go: “My body / A clot / Of inscriptions / Flayed by / Sacred hunger / Clinching nothing.” The last accepts fate: “By the light / Of the axe / In my secret life / I am / with him.”

Attending the opening days of “Le Grand Balcon,” I began to feel like I was part of a play. Helpful hands were still replacing drafts of signs and labels with final versions, and, at the off-site venues, tidying up and covering windows for screening rooms. During the preview, Luc Tuymans posed for a picture in front of his sublime paintings of empty blue-walled galleries, and I swear I saw his muscles ripple—or was that his feathers rustling? At the benefit party at MAC, Kerry James Marshall—whose comic-book-inspired light boxes are featured as part of the biennial at Le Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal—moved patiently from gallery to gallery, sitting to watch seemingly every time-based piece in full. Eagerly taking in the new and commissioned work by excellent but lesser-known Canadian artists were dealers like Susanne Vielmetter and curators Polly Staple, Beau Rutland, Gary Carrion-Murayari, and Susanne Pfeffer, the last of whom was clearly enjoying the third and final iteration of the peripatetic “opera” Angst by Anne Imhof, who Pfeffer recently chose to represent Germany at the Venice Biennale.

Artists Nathalie Melikian, Luke Willis Thompson, and Lucy Raven.

In conversations and talks throughout the two days I spent in Montréal, biennial artists including Moyra Davey, Michael Blum, and Janice Kerbel discussed the material and lyrical qualities of their work. On an afternoon panel around the corner from MAC at the Society for Art and Technology (SAT), Luke Willis Thompson described his Cemetery of Uniforms and Liveries, 2016, a posthumous addition of two Black men to Andy Warhol's nearly all-white screen tests—both men, the descendants of victims of police brutality in England. Thompson recounted that some gallery-goers have found the silent 16-mm films the closest they’d come to looking in the eyes of a Black man. Thompson realized that a silent viewing room for the films at MAC best reflected his state-of-mind. “In an airless world, where we can't breathe,” he said, “of course there can’t be any sound.”

Kerbel’s opera work, Doug: Nine Songs for Six Voices, 2014, performed that evening at SAT, doled out a good dose of gallows humor. Each song describes in detail a different gruesome death for “Doug,” the unidentified unlucky object of Kerbel's fascinations. The fifth song, BEAR, for example, includes bits like: “Teeth sink into face, arm torn from place / Ribs crumble in crushing embrace.” Meanwhile, the steely angular cartoon heads in Nicole Eisenman’s nearly seven-foot paintings at MAC are cut from the same cloth as Kerbel’s Doug. Shooter 1 and Shooter 2, both 2016, are captivating and evil. One is bright red with a blue baseball cap, the other blue with an emerald green eye. They felt as if they might mutter something in a bizarre cartoon language, then shoot.

Artist Moyra Davey.

To discover the clearest articulation of what the curator promised as “hedonist politics,” I looked to artists David Gheron Tretiakoff and Njideka Akunyili Crosby, both exhibited at MAC, and Camille Norment, exhibited further afield in the warehouse gallery cluster Pied Carré. Tretiakoff’s 2008 video A God Passing documents the slow and deliberate transport of a gigantic statue of Ramses to a new museum in Egypt. The event prompts a crowd to cheer, spontaneously, “We are the greatest civilization of all time.” One man in the crowd has prepared a caveat though; he holds up a sign, and his shouts draw attention to the neglect of Egyptian political prisoners.

In Crosby’s layered work-on-paper the space of cross-cultural connection is thick. In Thread, 2012, a Black woman gently kisses the lower back of a white man. Her body holds rows of portraits, possibly ancestors, cultural heroes, foils, or compatriots. In Norment’s Lull, 2016, a live microphone swings back and forth like a pendulum over a speaker, almost touching it. Like Norment’s microphone and speaker, we are vulnerable. We might maintain calm if we keep things neat, and legislate distance between bodies, and between bodies and souls. If we violate that safe distance, we might screech and bristle. We might sing. We might progress.

Marcus Civin

Occidental Tourist


Left: Artists Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen at FIAC. Right: Curator Georges Didi-Huberman with artist Enrique Ramírez at Hôtel de Talleyrand. (All photos: Kate Sutton)

THIS YEAR, the weeklong gap between Frieze and Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC)—out of respect, it turns out, for Yom Kippur—gave way to some less than respectful headlines, pitting the two fairs in a bitter battle for galleries. While many collectors did have to choose between the events, most of the press ran with what they were given, trading tallies of who was in, who was out, and whether the early Brexit wounds were enough to counter “what happened to Kim.”

Thankfully, Paris didn’t seem too concerned with imaginary scores against London, focusing instead on the things it can be for itself. With almost a year since the attacks of last November, there’s still a palpable skittishness (a friend swore off a hipster-chic neighborhood café that prevented people from taking shelter during a recent false alarm), but also an atmosphere of purpose and even pride. Appropriately, this year’s FIAC week kicked off Sunday night with the opening of Georges Didi-Huberman’s sweeping historical survey at Jeu de Paume, “Soulèvements” (Uprisings!), which blanketed the city with beautiful, bolstering banners featuring images like Gille Caron’s photographs of the 1969 riots in Northern Ireland, Tadeusz Kantor’s 1967 Sea Concert, or Dennis Adam’s Airborne, a photograph of a red plastic bag soaring American Beauty–style against a cerulean sky.

“There’s a completely different energy in Paris right now,” dealer Daniele Balice observed. “No one cool thinks it’s okay to spend twenty-five euros on a cocktail anymore.” (NB: That didn’t seem to dampen enthusiasm for Scarlett Johansson’s gourmet popcorn bar, which made its weekend debut amid the galleries in the Marais.) When Balice’s gallery, the Belleville staple Balice Hertling, expanded to a second space earlier this year, it did so not because of the usual grow-or-go pressures. Instead, the gallery wanted to provide a rent-free platform to artist-run spaces and emerging galleries from abroad. For FIAC week, the venue was given over to What Pipeline, the Detroit space helmed by artists Alivia Zivich and Daniel Sperry, while future plans include collaborations with initiatives like Los Angeles’s Full Haus and New York’s Queer Thoughts. “Paris has a lot of great institutional spaces,” Balice continued. “I think it’s cool to host more alternative options as well.”

Left: Artist Neïl Beloufa and curator Emilie Renard at Occidental Temporary. Right: Balice Hertling's Daniele Balice.

A similar idea animates the new creative hub in Villejuif, a suburb in the shins of Paris, where an old factory building has been converted into studios for artists. Neïl Beloufa, the original homesteader, transformed his mammoth studio into the set for his first feature film, Occidental Hotel. Visitors find themselves strolling into a two-story, Modernist-lite hotel with a lobby, bar, and a carpeted second-floor hallway of rooms, accessible only through the occasional peephole. With the film currently in postproduction, Beloufa has decamped to a workspace closer to home, but for the remainder of the lease, he decided to open the Villejuif studio—including the film set—to other artists and curators for a series of loose exhibitions under the rubric “Occidental Temporary.”

Last Sunday evening, while Didi-Huberman was presiding over his uprisings, a crew of artists and their enablers descended on Villejuif for “The Next Event and Its Content,” Occidental Temporary’s final foray before the end of Beloufa’s lease. Among the offerings were a solo by sculptor Kira Freije, a showcase of collaborative paintings from the Galerie Palette Terre, and “That Cool Decline,” a series of interventions in and around the hotel set curated by Emilie Renard, Barbara Sirieix, and Anatole Barde, and boasting contributions from artists like Jirí Kovanda, Julie Béna, Agnieszka Polska, and Jo-ey Tang. “The title is an anagram of Occidental Hotel,” Renard clarified, though it could easily apply to the evening as a whole. Nabbing a cocktail from the bar, I slid into a “restaurant” booth with Freije, curator Stella Bottai, and Herald St’s Nicky Verber to wait for a fleeting sushi tray, which was being prepared by a very real caterer in the very fake kitchen. The seat provided the peripheral entertainment of watching guests test the handle of the hotel’s (decoy) restroom, then try to suavely back away as if they had known all along it was a fake door.

Left: Artist Kira Freije, Herald St's Nicky Verber, and curator Stella Bottai at Occidental Temporary. Right: Curator Elena Filipovic with Clearing's Olivier Babin.

After waiting out two sushi trays, it was off to Belleville to catch the tail-end of Henning Bohl’s opening at the What Pipeline pop-up. Bohl’s tapestries and collages were inspired by “the Knot Guy,” a mysterious entity who dedicates his online life to seeking out and shaming bad imitations of good Celtic knots. There couldn’t have been a more prescient form for the impromptu midnight dinner for fifty at a nearby Thai restaurant, where the system of high wooden tables and “authentic” cushions meant once someone was seated, any attempt to move resulted in a tangle of legs. (or, if you were lucky, other limbs.) I found myself wedged among dealer Alexander Hertling, artist Cédric Rivrain, and a comely bottle of wine, so I was content staying put, though I did experience a twinge of order envy watching some of the adventurous dishes headed to dealers Alex Freedman, Jenny Borland, Mathew Sova, and Paul-Aymar Mourgue d’Algue at the neighboring table. “Our gallery in LA is right next to a Thai place,” Freedman confessed. “I’m now a pro at ordering for forty.”

The next morning, What Pipeline continued their sojourn in Paris with a “booth” (actually an auxiliary kitchen) at the sophomore edition of Paris Internationale, a promising new fair initiated by local galleries Crèvecœur, High Art, Antoine Levi, and Sultana, alongside a sympathetic Swiss colleague, Gregor Steiger. Much needed both before and after the demise of FIAC’s own “young” satellite OFF(icielle), for its second outing, the Paris Internationale moved just up the Avenue d’Iéna from last year’s venue to the hôtel particulier of Calouste Gulbenkian. “He was like this Armenian Gatsby figure, but from Portugal,” fair co-director Clément Delépine helpfully put it, as I struggled to take in the grandeur of the central marble staircase.

Left: Green Art Gallery's Yasmin Atassi at Paris Internationale. Right: Curator Okwui Enwezor with artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige speaking at FIAC.

“The domestic setting is really important here. People in Paris are mainly buying art for their own houses,” explained Crèvecœur’s Axel Dibie, who had matched some wily Mick Peter sculptures with Louise Sartor’s postcard-sized gouache renditions of paparazzi shots of anonymous It-girls. Though I wouldn’t necessarily describe the sprawling marble palace as a “domestic interior,” Green Art Gallery’s Yasmin Atassi looked perfectly at home in an exquisite loveseat in the library, where she had a suite of stunners from Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, Chaouki Choukini, and Seher Shah. “This chair is actually Damascene,” she told me, as I marveled at its intricate inlaid detailing. “I borrowed it from my aunt’s place here in Paris. I figured if we were going to be in a house…” Looking even more comfortable were dealers Beat Raeber and Raphael Oberhuber, who were kicking back at KOW’s second-floor parlor, where the “desk” happened to be a balcony overlooking the Arc de Triomphe (as well as the little triangular traffic island below, where art adviser Alex Marshall could be seen frantically pacing, phone glued to his ear). Another booth used full bottles of Pellegrino to prop open their doors.

This bit of decadence was a sharp contrast with the reality for most of the participating artists (and, for that matter, dealers), a fact not lost at the fair. At Project Native Informant, Georgie Nettell and Morag Keil’s video The Fascism of Everyday Life, 2016, riffed on House Huntersesque TV shows with up-close-and-personal tours of the artists’ own apartments, from the half-empty kitchen cupboards to the slumbering roommates to Zoopla online property valuations. The opening salvo of stock footage of “domestic bliss” (young families beaming at each other across their spotless kitchens) was in keen opposition to the closing shot of Keil waving from her balcony atop a Chicken Cottage in Shoreditch.

Speaking of staying home, the designated small talk for the week seemed to be The Absence of Americans—a concept collectors Phil and Shelley Fox Aarons simply shrugged off when I bumped into them basking in the Eloise Hawser sculptures at VI, VII. While Americans may not have arrived en masse as in the past, there was a noticeable Angeleno presence, with galleries like Jenny’s, Chateau Shatto, and 1301PE at Paris Internationale. The California accent was even stronger at FIAC, with Blum & Poe, Regen Projects, Hannah Hoffman, Freedman Fitzpatrick, Overduin & Co, Ghebaly, Cherry and Martin, and San Francisco’s Jessica Silverman. Suddenly those plans for a Los Angeles FIAC franchise—quietly shuffled into oblivion after the original 2015 announcement—didn’t seem so strange.

Left: Artist Deanna Havas with dealer Emanuel Layr at Chez André. Right: Bugada Cargnel's Claudia Cargnel with artist Claire Tabouret.

FIAC opened Wednesday morning with a shower of unseasonably serene sunshine that made everything in the Grand Palais that much prettier. Dodging Belgians in the aisles, I caught a lush Sarah Crowner at Simon Lee, several choice Otobong Nkangas at In Situ/Fabienne LeClerc, some spirited new Urs Fischer pieces at Sadie Coles, and a solo presentation of Cathy Wilkes at Modern Institute. Upstairs, Micky Schubert paired gorgeous new collages by Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili with a bulbous, sofa-sized rock of sorts, built by her father, set designer Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili. “He made it for a play, but then people complained that it was too phallic,” Schubert admitted. “Actually, that story alone is sort of its own artwork.”

Another booth with its own narrative was Galerie Perrotin’s, a chic, black-and-white selection curated by Elmgreen & Dragset. “You should have seen it a month ago,” Ingar Dragset grinned. As part of the duo’s recent efforts to insert fairs into the museum, the artists had originally installed the gallery’s full FIAC booth as a solitary structure in an empty Grand Palais, open to the public for one day only on September 24. “How did you get permission?” I marveled. “It’s Emmanuel Perrotin,” the artist laughed. “He can make anything happen.”

Left: Dealer Fabrienne Leclerc at FIAC. Right: Mor Charpentier's Philippe Charpentier and Alex Mor at FIAC.

As for making things happen, across town in the Marais, the Fondation d’Entreprise Galeries Lafayette—who have confirmed their plans to launch their Rem Koolhaas–designed museum next September—dangled a teaser of what’s to come with their “Lafayette Anticipation” prelaunch program. For FIAC, this included “Joining Forces with the Unknown,” a group show curated by Charles Aubin, Anna Colin, Hicham Khalidi, and François Quintin that gathered artists like freshly minted Hugo Boss Prize winner Anicka Yi, Simon Fujiwara, Cally Spooner, Rayyane Tabet, Lucy McKenzie, and Oliver Laric in an old Weber Métaux hardware store in the Marais.

On the third floor, Khalidi graciously talked me through designer Mary Ping’s label, Slow and Steady Wins the Race, and its piece Metamorphosis, which invites leather craftsman to hybridize a set of three handbags from a worktable on site in the exhibition space. With each subsequent generation, the characteristics of the original handbags—“They’re recognizable shapes, but legally I can’t tell you whose,” Khalidi grinned—mutate and multiply, sprouting additional straps and handles. I had arrived just as the artisans were finishing the very last bag, which would complete the installation. “You’ll have to come back to see how it all develops,” the curator said. Deal.

Kate Sutton

Left: Artist Maurizio Cattelan with Myriam Ben Salah. Right: Project Native Informant's Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja with Jackson Bateman at Paris Internationale.

Beginning of the End

Prato, Italy

The Centro Pecci per l’Arte Contemporanea. (Photo: Mario Gianni)

IF YOU IMAGINE the End of the World as a grand affair, with heavy rains, big crowds, unfinished business, and universal judgement, well, then Fabio Cavallucci, director of the new Centro Pecci per l’Arte Contemporanea in Prato, has definitely chosen the right theme for the inaugural exhibition of the Tuscan museum—closed for renovation since 2010 and reopening now with an 85,000-square-foot architectural extension by Dutch architect Maurice Nio

“The End of the World” pre-previewed on Friday evening, but the grand opening program for the weekend—a busy one in Italy, with Art Verona, Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia, and the Contemporary Art Day in twenty-four museums and over 1,000 venues—comprised three full days of happenings. And a series of odd events.

Two days before the vernissage, a portion of the museum’s ceiling collapsed on the electricians installing lights over Julian Charrière's piece, sending one of them to the hospital. (He survived, but no one could charge their phone inside Pecci for the next three days.) Despite this omen and a black, gloomy sky, the Italian art world flocked to Prato, and in the early afternoon I boarded a minivan with a handful of braves. First stop of the VIP program: Villa Celle, the seventeenth-century farm (and chapel, and sixty acres of park) that hosts the collection of Giuliano Gori, on the Tuscan hills, thirty minutes from Prato. A “musical door” by artist and composer Daniele Lombardi was unveiled, and our slippery path took us to site-specific pieces by Burri, Kiefer, Stefano Arienti, Robert Morris, Loris Cecchini, Michel Gerard, and Magdalena Abakanowicz

Left: Centro Pecci architect Maurice Nio (left). Right: Centro Pecci director Fabio Cavallucci, artist Carlos Garaicoa, and Galleria Continua dealer Maurizio Rigillo. (Except where noted, all photos: Pia Capelli)

Miranda Macphail, curator of Villa Celle’s collection, and the only one in proper country attire, had us all hike up a steep field to preview Hera Büyüktaşçıyan's installation, a mysterious semi-emerging skeleton, glimpse of a future post-Anthropocene archaeology. On that hill, our own immediate future seemed doomed, as rain began washing over the small elegant crowd dressed up for that night’s exclusive dinner. Macphail called it a day only when a pretty art wealth-management expert shakily declared she “just wanted to go back.” 

By the time we returned to Pecci, to attend the conference that brought together the museum’s former directors, my fellow minivaners were sweaty, frizzy and covered in mud. In the new auditorium, Amnon Barzel (who launched the “first” Pecci in 1988), Antonella Soldaini, Bruno Corà, Daniel Soutif, Marco Bazzini, and Stefano Pezzato regaled the audience with anecdotes from twenty-eight years of Pecci’s history, and gave Fabio Cavallucci tips for his future management of the museum. But Cavallucci’s mandate expires in spring 2017, and unfortunately his first exhibition at Pecci is also very likely to be his last (hence, maybe, the apocalyptic subject). How a museum director can work brilliantly under such premises is an Italian mystery. This also explains the massive presence of many other museum directors, all checking on the new territory that, in the sibylline words of Irene Sanesi, president of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts in Tuscany, “will go to whomever will have it.” (For now, Nuoro’s MAN director Lorenzo Giusti is the most accredited). 

The Pecci’s loopy first floor that welcomed us for the exhibition preview that night was a museum in full last-minute, do-not-panic-ok-maybe-let’s-panic mode. The striking golden circular structure conceived by Maurice Nio as a spaceship with an antenna (project named “Sensing the Waves”) was boldly shining even under the Armageddon sky, but the interior was far from ready. Right outside the museum’s entrance, the bookshop’s delivery van sank into the parking’s pavement, and looked very much like an Elmgreen & Dragset installation. The rumbles of a thunderstorm blurred with the sounds of working drills, making the End of the World atmosphere quite palpable.

Left: Collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and MAXXI artistic director Hou Hanru. Right: Irene Sanesi, president of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts in Tuscany, and Elena Pecci.

Inside though, Italian art aristocracy gathered among works by Thomas Hirschhorn, Adel Abdessemed, Marlene Dumas, Olafur Eliasson, Qiu Zhijie, Cai Guo-Qiang, Henrique Oliveira, Jimmie Durham, Carlos Garaicoa, Marcel Duchamp, Umberto Boccioni, Tadeusz Kantor, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Boris Mikhailov. Dinner tables were set in Robert Kusmirowski's heavenly all-white Quarantine, with an organ playing Hanne Darboven’s “Requiem.” Center stage was occupied by Tuscan powerhouses: the holy trinity of Galleria Continua, Lorenzo Fiaschi, Mario Cristiani, and Maurizio Rigillo with artist Carlos Garaicoa, and the new director of Palazzo Strozzi Arturo Galansino, who just opened his first (and controversial) Ai Weiwei exhibition. Close by, curator Sergio Risaliti, guilty of installing a giant bronze turtle by Jan Fabre in Piazza della Signoria (a huge scandal among conservative Florentines), was deep in conversation with former superintendent Cristina Acidini

Mart director Gianfranco Maraniello hung out with old Neapolitan pals Andrea Viliani, director of MADRE, and dealer Alfonso Artiaco. By 10 PM, with abundant Tuscan wine but no food in sight, they were rehearsing lines from Totò e Peppino movies. Queen of their table was collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, not-so-secretly glowing after her latest achievement: the launch of the Italian Council, a much awaited agency for the support of Italian art: “I’m so happy to see that the ministry included our committee of private art foundations in the official announcement!”

Sandretto Re Rebaudengo’s hometown of Turin was also represented by Christian Valsecchi, Secretary General of Fondazione Torino Musei, and the thirty-one-year-old Nicola Ricciardi, who is in charge of the OGR, Officine Grandi Riparazioni, a new 215,000-square-foot cultural hub that will open in fall 2017 with a program of time-based visual and performative arts—an operation in which Fondazione CRT invested a whopping €80 million. “It’s a complicated building. It’s got over 1500 windows!” Ricciardi joked. 

Left: Curator Sara Dolfi Agostini, Lottozero curators Arianna and Tessa Moroder, and artist Anna Rose. Right: Artist Ekaterina Vasilyeva.

The following morning, we were all back to the (still) unfinished Pecci for the press conference, under an unexpected sun. Dario Franceschini, the Minister of Culture, did not show up—no one complained, and we enjoyed the presence of younger artists instead: Camille Henrot, Ekaterina Vasilyeva, and Francesco Bertelè among them. That night I opted out of Pecci’s DJ set (which I later discovered was—of course—canceled because of the bad weather again) and blindly ventured in North Prato for the opening of Lottozero, a new space for contemporary textile design, brainchild of sisters curators Arianna and Tessa Moroder. When I left for a quiet dinner in Piazza Duomo with curator friends and dealer Guido Costa, a group of resilients laid down pillows for the Sleep Concert that would take place from midnight to 9 AM.

Sunday was the mass opening, with a mile-long line going around Pecci's spaceship: over twelve-thousand people eager to witness the End of the World. The last ones were admitted at 10 PM. In Prato it is clear that those who survive the many ends of the world are not the strongest, but the most patient. 

Pia Capelli

Taking It to the MAAT


Left: Outside the Museu Arte Arquitetura Tecnologia. Right: Architect Amanda Levete and artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. (Photos: Kevin McGarry)

AS THE ECONOMY of the European Union’s arguably mellowest nation falters there are murmurs of a “Departugal” on the horizon. Nevertheless, 2016 seems to be the year that Portugal sashayed onto the runway of contemporary art. In March, a pilot edition of the ArcoLisboa art fair took place at the Fábrica Nacional da Cordoaria in the capital’s Belém neighborhood, and last week the Museu Arte Arquitetura Tecnologia (MAAT) opened just a few meters up the Tagus river. Helmed by Portuguese curator Pedro Gadanho, who left a post at MoMA for this homecoming, the museum is housed in a pair of buildings: the recently renovated former Central Tejo power station, an industrial complex of bricks and smokestacks in the time-honored tradition of alternative spaces, and a low-lying, alabaster spaceship next door designed by British architect Amanda Levete’s office AL_A, linked to the local style by a neutral facade of ceramic tiles.

It’s hard not to think of pixels while navigating Lisbon’s twisty alleys—and not only because of the necessity of incessantly dipping one’s face into Google Maps. In the analog world, the ground is packed with well-trodden scales of stone like the belly of a buried boa constrictor; above, shiny slabs of china are emblazoned on every building. Portugal’s decorative identity is rooted in an analog form of digital repetition, which in the age of apps evokes the colossal manpower required to install the entire city long ago. Art, architecture, and technology here go hand-in-hand—all brought together by energy, literally, both in the history of MAAT’s site as well as its sponsor. The museum is owned by EDP Foundation, a charitable subsidiary of Energias de Portugal, one of the largest energy companies in Europe, though the Portuguese government’s namesake share was bought out by China Three Gorges in 2011 in accordance with Portugal’s privatization mandates.

Tate director Nicholas Serota at the MAAT. (Photo: Paulo Coelho)

Art-worlders began to arrive on Sunday morning en route to London’s Frieze Art Fair. This bonny city already choked by the privatization of citizens (tourists) was further stifled by the Lisbon Marathon. “We love nothing more than marathons!” declared perpetual enthusiast Hans Ulrich Obrist—whose own marathon at the Serpentine Galleries was scheduled for the following weekend—despite the fact that our Uber to the Gulbenkian Foundation was vexed by traffic and street closures. At MAAT, a team of workers perched on hydraulic lifts were furiously working to complete the building’s facade in advance of the opening that evening. 

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster led us through the sinuous white corridors down to the inaugural program’s keystone, Pynchon Park, her faithful, sculptural interpretation of an environment described in Thomas Pynchon’s little-known 21st Century Tales: “a huge white arena surrounded by ramps, covered with a net and full of balls and giant colored books with soft carpeted pages.” Geometric, fun, and dystopian, it’s a perfect Instagram setting. Every twenty-four minutes the lighting scheme cycles through an entire day, sunrise to sunset, with shadows cast through the green-net canopy overhead, a remnant of celestial order presiding over her cagelike leisure zone.

As the city’s own natural golden gloaming turned dark, guests began to arrive along a promenade irradiated by a burning, Tungsten glow installed along the riverbanks. It was a who’s who of Portuguese society—or so I was advised; the crowd was mostly illegible to me. I spotted Iberian luminary Chus Martínez deep in conversation and caught Ingo Niermann waxing poetic on the somehow quaint scene before us: “This is like pre-9/11, or just the 1990s. The art world was already global but it was still Western-centered and manageable. No rush between fairs and auctions. The Bilbao effect was still a fresh hope in city planning. Art was all about ‘building bridges,’ with collectors, corporations, and governments as its humble supplicants…”

Left: Artist Haroon Mirza (left) and Semiconductor's Joe Gerhardt (center). Right: DIS cofounders Solomon Chase and David Toro. (Photos: Kevin McGarry)

As we were corralled from the new building and into the converted factory where dinner would be held, we entered a hall of gothic boilers and menacing piping that puts the Centre Pompidou to shame. “It’s like Berghain,” said David Toro of Dis, referring to the legendary Berlin nightclub. “This is the darkroom of dinners.” Indeed, the meal was not served here, but on a platform replete with Lucite chairs and stagey Edison bulbs suspended from several stories above. Over a bowl of “quinoto” (a neologism for quinoa risotto) oh so many acknowledgements were made by attendant leaders and dignitaries. António Mexia, CEO of EDP, joked about the last-minute, nearly finished state of the building that has just been unveiled: “It was on purpose, so it would be alive.”

More festive festivities were held on Tuesday as the museum’s debut week reached fever pitch. Over a caveman-scale chop of beef that night, (sometimes) Lisbon-based directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt shared an iPhone clip of a yellow Lamborghini turning donuts in the dusty courtyard of a nearby palace, evidence of the unique mix of history and lawlessness the city offers young artists. Everyone agreed that the museum’s commitment to showing work by contemporary Portuguese artists alongside international names was a good one, if still unfulfilled.

At the museum, Kuwaiti composer Fatima Al Qadiri warmed up the evening with a DJ set. By midnight the party was bound for Lux, a megaclub on the outskirts of town co-owned by John Malkovich (what?). That was about three hours too early, according to locals, and the party reportedly raged past dawn, abutting the final call for my flight to London, which allowed for an on time arrival at Regent’s Park, where a different sort of energy was swirling in a big white structure.

Kevin McGarry

Silent Nights

Rio de Janeiro

Left: Architect Rodrigo Ohtake and writer Ana Carolina Ralston at Z42. Right: Artists Lenora de Barros and Raul Mourão at Jacaranda.

IN A PACKED GALLERY AT JACARANDA, a new artist-run space in downtown Rio de Janeiro, Lenora de Barros kicked off a string of openings and parties surrounding the sixth edition of ArtRio with a performance in which she nailed paper letters forming the word silence to a wall. Her very loud action spells out the very absence of sound, a noisy and visual translation of the bizarre state of affairs in this city still in financial hangover from the Olympic Games. The sporting event that ended over a month ago left indelible marks in urban planning here, some of it now resembling scar tissue outlining glitzy postmodern contraptions already rotting under the sun, like Santiago Calatrava’s Museu do Amanhã.

So while some noise was made before the official VIP opening on a recent Wednesday, a gloomy silence dominated sales and the mood. The first days of spring in Rio came with cold gusts of wind, heavy clouds on the horizon and rounds of thunderous showers. Dealers idled at their stands waiting for collectors who wouldn’t show up in the smallest edition of ArtRio since its inception in 2011. The five warehouses it used to occupy along the oceanfront have now been reduced to three-and-a-half and most top-tier galleries from abroad—Gagosian, Pace, Hauser & Wirth, White Cube—aren’t to be seen. David Zwirner is the only superpower left, braving the turmoil, perhaps helped by the fact that Greg Lulay, a director at the gallery in New York, still has a seat in the event’s selection committee.

Left: Artist Brígida Baltar at the opening of her solo show at Nara Roesler. Right: Sergi Arbusà inside his installation at the Museu da República.

Max Perlingeiro, founding partner of Pinakotheke Cultural, a Brazilian blue-chip secondary market empire with branches in São Paulo and Rio, also sits on the board, but didn’t mind telling me upfront that this is not a fair for closing deals. “It’s more a vitrine,” he said, in his empty stand on opening day. Though the sun outside would come and go, temperatures inside the Píer Mauá soon rose with news of a scandal involving Graphos, a young gallery making its debut at the fair. In the first hours of the vernissage, a group of dealers denounced Graphos to the selection committee, alleging the gallery had brought a score of fake works to the event, among them pieces by Willys de Castro, Raymundo Colares, Ubi Bava, Antônio Maluf, and Maurício Nogueira Lima, all mainstays of Brazilian modernism and highly desired by collectors. Ricardo Duarte, the owner of the gallery, was forced to take down the works in question, an episode that dominated party banter around town.

At a cocktail on the rooftop of Caesar Park hotel on Ipanema beach, dealers and critics speculated on what could be real and what was fake. Brenda Valansi, director of ArtRio, showed up in an orange dress with a smile that would not leave her face for the rest of the evening. She told me the issue would be settled with a careful review of the documents related to each piece—but in a country where catalogues raisonnés are rare and signatures on authenticity certificates are sold and trafficked by money-hungry inheritors, will this lead to clearer answers?

Left: Artist Katia Wille at Z42. Right: Writer Beta Germano at ArtRio.

Scandals aside, the week brought to light the best and the worst of a series of new art spaces in Rio. They go from the gritty warehouses once abandoned and now teeming with artists in the old port area of Santo Cristo to a castlelike mansion in Cosme Velho, near the Christ statue that looms over the city. A show at Átomos, a place that actually squats the first three floors of an abandoned building doubling as a parking lot and studio for artists Manoela Medeiros and Romain Dumesnil, was named after a verse in Caetano Veloso’s song “Baby,” something about living in South America’s greatest city. While he was talking about São Paulo when he wrote the classic, artists like Adriano Costa, Vivian Caccuri, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Carlos Vergara, and the collective Opavivará made it sound like an ironic homage to Rio with works discussing the hype and failure of the sexiest of Brazilian cities. Powerful curators like Jochen Volz, behind this year’s Bienal de São Paulo, and the Guggenheim’s Pablo León de la Barra browsed the good pieces on display.

In contrast, Z42, an artist residency and exhibition space that took over a mansion near Corcovado, had a silly selection of works hung alongside similarly ridiculous captions. If it were all a joke, what a piece of institutional critique it would have been. But it wasn’t. The house later filled up with the fashion crowd as Vogue magazine rented the basement for a party. Nearby, the Solar dos Acabaxis, another abandoned mansion, was made over to house yet another art space. They had a bash on opening night, making it clear that Rio still shines beyond the dark clouds hovering over Píer Mauá.

Silas Martí

Temple Talk

Baalbek, Lebanon

The six standing columns of Baalbek's Temple of Jupiter at night. (Except where noted, all photos: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie)

CYNTHIA ZAVEN IS AN ARTIST, COMPOSER, AND PIANIST with wild curly hair and a steely demeanor. She is exceptionally talented and extremely busy, frustrating from a critic’s point of view. She teaches at a conservatory in Beirut, scores films, and travels constantly. She makes work when she wants to, when she has time. Her installations are slow, serious, and ephemeral. They can be captivating in the context of an exhibition but almost impossible to write about afterward. Zaven has no gallery, doesn’t sell, and seemingly feels no pressure to produce. She is adept at keeping the demands of the world at bay. We see each other often in passing—Hi! Bye!—but the last time I spent any time with her or her work was three years ago in Sarajevo. So when I heard that for a month this fall, Zaven was showing a twelve-channel sound installation in a site no less astounding than the two-thousand-year-old Temple of Bacchus, as part of “The Silent Echo,” the first exhibition of contemporary art ever to be staged among the vast Roman ruins of the ancient city of Baalbek, I pretty much dropped everything, moved scheduling mountains, and wrote a dozen apologetic emails on the two-hour-drive due east from Beirut.

Baalbek is one of the oldest cities in the world, steadily inhabited for some ten thousand years. Its history is a mille-feuille of Phoenician, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad, Abbasid, Mamluk, Ottoman, Syrian, and Lebanese influences. Situated on a major fault line, it has witnessed three devastating earthquakes, causing a pileup of ruins to make Walter Benjamin swoon. The most dramatic are the temples of Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, and Bacchus. They are some of the largest, most ornate religious structures ever built, anywhere, by the Roman Empire, and they incorporate elements of earlier temples too. Newly reopened after a long restoration, Bacchus is the most intact of the four and, while larger than the Parthenon in Athens, also the most intimate. For Zaven’s Perpetuum Mobile, twelve tiny speakers are raised high on thin stands, arranged in a broad circle. A piano composition circles around them, second by second, note by note, clockwise—echoing off the ancient stones, mixing with the contemporary sounds of birdsong and gunfire—until it collapses into disorder and chaos, eventually finding itself again. In theory, no two permutations of the installation are the same. But they all induce a kind of vertigo through mechanical and epochal time, history in free fall.

Left: Curator Karina El Helou. (Photo: Ibrahim Dirani/Al Mussawir) Right: Artist Cynthia Zaven with filmmaker Vatche Boulghourjian.

One of the factors making the exhibition possible—alongside a symposium on iconoclasm at the Sursock Museum in late September and a theater workshop culminating in a public performance in Bacchus on October 15—is the fact that visitors have totally vanished from Baalbek since the war in Syria began five years ago. Tourism is stunted and the local economy is a wreck. Nearly four hundred thousand Syrian refugees have flowed into the Bekaa Valley. Some have paid a high price for rapidly built apartment buildings in the now-very-crowded outskirts of Baalbek. Others are living in tents, fields, roadside encampments. Ever since the hysterical fighters of the so-called Islamic State seized the ancient city of Palmyra and began committing unspeakable acts of cruelty, the Lebanese have developed a psychosomatic tick. Mention ISIS in a crowded room and you can be sure someone will blurt out: “You know they are planning to blow up Baalbek!”

What’s more, the city is now a staging ground for the war next door, the place from which fighters are going off to battle on behalf of Bashar al-Assad—departing in shifts, some returning, others not, all of them easily replaced by men who need the wages. The city has been a Hezbollah stronghold since the 1980s. Huge sun-blasted cutouts of Khomeini and Khamenei still loom over the road into town. So too a billboard of Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, declaring: “Enta kabousahoum, ya sayedi” (You are their nightmare, sir), referring, as always, to Israel without naming it.

“The Silent Echo,” organized by Karina El Helou and featuring the work of nine international artists treading the line between art and archeology, was a modest proposal for bringing visitors back. I wasn’t alone in my enthusiasm. The opening, on September 17, drew a sizable if also curiously mixed-up crowd. From Beirut and further afield came artists, writers, curators, designers, polyglot filmmakers, producers, brash and discreet collectors, lady patrons in their gala dinner dresses, jaded art-school students who have seen it all but still find wonder in new work, diplomats, ambassadors, politicians, their proxies, bodyguards, and convoys. Everyone arrived in the late afternoon and headed for the garden terrace of the Palmyra Hotel, a jewel of the nineteenth century.

Left: Mayor of Baalbeck Hussein al-Lakkis with Culture Minister Roni Araiji. (Photo: Ibrahim Dirani/Al Mussawir) Right: Urban planner Amira Solh of Solidere with artist Ziad Antar.

The first person I ran into was, of course, Zaven, alongside her sister and the filmmaker Vatche Boulghourjian. She was making one last dash to the site. I followed her, but it was one of those openings adhering to protocol: speeches, ceremonies, rituals. I lost count of the speakers introducing “The Silent Echo” and wandered off. The big men (always) of the evening were the mayor of Baalbek (Hussein al-Lakkis), the regional governor (Bashir Khodr), the head of the local Russian Cultural Center (Naji al-Attar, who Helou met by chance, but who turned out to be her key into Baalbek), and the Lebanese culture minister (Roni Araiji, who recently sent two Beiruti bloggers to Paris and Rome as part of an ill-conceived PR stunt for a “virtual museum” of Lebanese modern art, meaning a website, a bad one at that, and an app that repeatedly crashed my phone, just saying).

Protocol as the radical chic of our day: All those men in suits, drivers and bodyguards, NGO staffers and multinational creative elites dressed to the nines, making a show of their interest in cultural heritage. Daylight faded from the ruins and we were stuck outside. A line of photographers jammed themselves in front of the speakers. Security guards blocked the way to Bacchus. No one could enter before the wazir (the minister). We had to scram until the wazir showed up, had a look, and left. Of course the wazir travels with an entourage, and on this particular evening, a big one. And it wasn’t even clear if the wazir was Araiji, specifically, or just abstractly men of good tailoring and political weight. I found relief in the good humor of the Istanbullu filmmaker Barış Doğrusöz, now living in Beirut, and Mustapha Yamout, aka Zico, one of the original founders of Ashkal Alwan, who helped with the technical aspects of “The Silent Echo.”

Left: Artist Théo Mercier. Right: Artist Susan Hiller. (Photos: Ibrahim Dirani/Al Mussawir)

With the exception of Zaven’s installation in Bacchus and Ziad Antar’s sculptures in a space below, all of the works in “The Silent Echo” are in the long, narrow hallways of Baalbek’s archeological site museum. One vision of hell is that which finds a politician’s entourage squeezing into the black-box rooms of biennial-style video installations. I ducked, crawled, and squished through god knows how many limbs to ease myself into one of them, the room most popular with the group: Susan Hiller’s The Silent Movie. I hopped a few times to see white type on a black screen. No sound. Seriously? I returned the next morning to find a mesmerizing piece composed of endangered or extinct languages, lullabies, stories, and tales. But for the opening, a black hole. Fortuitously, this left ample space to discover Théo Mercier’s great limestone-encrusted sculptures, Paola Yacoub’s ruminative installation on the excavations in downtown Beirut in the 1990s, and Marwan Rechmaoui’s Pillars, a series of scaled-down hi-rise buildings sprouting rebar, so much more effective here than they were in last year’s Istanbul Biennial. The urban planner Amira Solh, another formidable woman with big curly hair who comes often to Baalbek, nodded and told me the hallway where we were standing was used in ancient times to walk animals from their stables to the temples for ritual slaughter.

If Zaven was my reason for Baalbek, for many others it was Ai Weiwei. He wasn’t in town for the opening but had been there months before, during a trip to Lebanon to work with Syrian refugees (an initiative not to everyone’s taste). Helou, who left Lebanon at seventeen and now lives in Paris, had tried several times to reach him. No answer. One day she checked his Instagram account and learned he was in Beirut. Ever enterprising, the Palmyra Hotel’s owner, Rima Husseini, invited him to Baalbek. He went, and sent word to Helou the next day. He was in. The work he chose to show? Foundation, made from the bases of some two-dozen stone columns taken from a traditional Chinese house. The weight? “Sixteen tons,” Helou told me. Getting the piece to Lebanon “was an indescribable nightmare,” she said. “I didn’t have the structure. I didn’t sleep.” It was lovely in the end.

By the time I made it to Zaven’s installation it was night and all the more haunting beneath a vast, inky, star-strewn sky.

Left: Curator Nigel Tallis of the British Museum with curator Karina El Helou of STUIOCUR/ART. Right: Ashkal Alwan cofounder Mustapha Yamout, aka Zico.

TWO DAYS LATER, back in Beirut, the symposium on art and archeology followed. Hiller was in attendance—her 1987 three-channel slide projection, The Magic Lantern, was on view for a week in the Sursock Museum. With so many artists in the region (Yto Barrada, Ali Cherri, Iman Issa, Lamia Joreige, Walid Raad, Rayyane Tabet, Akram Zaatari) working on the historical, museological, and political aspects of archeology, the program seemed, at times, a little light. But it gave Helou the opportunity to share her ideas in a provocative way: “We didn’t want to do something political with the exhibition but we wanted to do something engaged.” She later made a finer distinction between the political and the poetic, all good (because debatable).

The archeologist Luc Bachelot gave a bewildering talk on the maxim “to build is to destroy,” ending with the question: “The world, what do we mean by it?” He was followed by Swiss curator Marc-Olivier Wahler, who could play an evil politician in a neo-noir film. He broke down the art-archeology complex into the three phases of a magic trick, like pulling a rabbit from a hat. Art was telling stories. Without them, “a vase is just a vase,” he said, “a stone is just a stone.” This went downhill from there. “Anyone can be an artist. Anyone can write a book. But can anyone tell a good story? That is the challenge. Anyone can be a curator,” he added, giving his grandmother as a prime example, a great curator when grocery shopping. From the audience, Solh, who is working on the Renzo Piano–designed archeology museum amid the Roman ruins of downtown Beirut, wanted to hear more on storytelling, because in Lebanon, archeology tends to be presented as relentlessly chronological to avoid the politics of history and who tells what.

But the speaker who pulled everything together and gave a talk equal to the verve and magic of Zaven’s work was Nigel Tallis of the British Museum. A specialist in Assyrian art, he pieced together a beautiful account from objects that have all been deliberately destroyed. Then he told a story of trying to puzzle out how the fragments of a relief fit together. The main piece showed a boatful of Phoenician warriors, charging forth. The match came to him suddenly. At the head of the ship, a woman with a baby in her arms. Warriors became refugees, fleeing for their lives. A chill ran down my spine. Tallis let a beat pass, and said quietly: “It was hard not to think of a more resonant piece.”

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Endless Love


Left: Endless Party in front of Studio Theater. Right: Artists Edka Jarzab, Cara Benedetto, and Helena Malewska. (Except where noted, all photos: Cathryn Drake)

LAST TIME I SAW WARSAW, a decade ago, the Palace of Culture and Science was a colossal ruin with darkened windows, an unwanted reminder of the grim Communist past towering over the city center. Now restored and full of life—with three museums, a multiplex cinema, four theaters, a swimming pool, an accredited university, and an auditorium that has hosted Miss World—it keeps company with a slew of new high-rises. Stalin’s “gift” to Poland, a plump babushka version of the Empire State building, was the epicenter of the sixth Warsaw Gallery Weekend as well as the setting of the newly inaugurated Not Fair.

The weekend kicked off Thursday evening with an intimate reception at the historic palace that is the seat of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, in the fashionable Mokotowska district, presided over by the cultural organization’s enthusiastic new director, Krzysztof Olendzki. From there artist Maria Kulikovska and curators Rainald Schumacher and Nathalie Hoyos, and I moved on to see the exhibition “Public Spirits,” at the Centre for Contemporary Art, in the Ujazdów Castle, a former royal palace and military hospital surrounded by parks. Introduced by UuDam Tran Nguyen’s video of a joyful motorcycle ballet, Waltz of the Machine Equestrians, the ambitious show, curated by Meiya Cheng, touches on the poetic forces that coalesce societies.

After a divine dinner of beet-infused dumplings at the museum’s Qchnia Artystyczna (“Kitchen Art”), our gang headed to the sleek headquarters of the Zwierciadło Foundation for a party inaugurating the Jankilevitsch Collection exhibit “The Abstract Landscape,” featuring a selection of works by Polish artists of different generations including Bownik, Piotr Uklański, Wjciech Fangor, and Jerzy Nowosielski. The view from the penthouse of the city at night was itself a stunning abstract landscape, and participants from the Not Fair cheerfully chilled out. At the dessert table we bumped into performers Edka Jarzab and Helena Malewska, who offered insight into American artist Cara Benedetto’s participatory performance Anything Can’t Happen, programmed for the next night at Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art.

Left: Dealer Michał Woliński and artist Zuzanna Czebatul. Right: Michał Kaczyński, director of Raster gallery.

Collectively the shows around town offered a crash course on Polish art history, begun the next morning with an exuberant tour of the National Museum of Art. Documenta’s Monika Szewczyk and Marina Fokidis then led a group to the Propaganda gallery to view Adam Jastrzębski’s “Poison,” gorgeous swirling candy-colored compositions that reflect the unpredictable out-of-control permutations of natural growths, even those created by humans, based on mathematic calculations by the artist.

“Most of the galleries here started as nonprofit foundations, so it is a very different way of working from a pure business model,” gallery director Jacek Sosnowski explained. Thus we headed to the incubator of the Polish avant-garde, Foksal Gallery, founded in 1966 by an influential group of critics and artists including Edward Krasiński and Tadeusz Kantor in a former Marxist-Leninist library, where they succeeded in evading Communist censorship when Socialist Realism was the only sanctioned style. Curator Lech Stangret presented the fiftieth anniversary show, “Miejsce. A Place,” while recounting anecdotes about the history of the site.

After grabbing lunch with artist Stanisław Blatton and his daughter, writer Phoebe Blatton, at Kameralna—a legendary literary hangout frequented by Roman Polanski and Janusz Glowacki—I set out to find the Foksal Gallery Foundation, the commercial offshoot of the Foksal Gallery (of which Documenta director Adam Szymczyk was a cofounder): The names are confusing in terms of private versus public, and the institutions illustrate the recent transformation in the local market.

Left: Actress Magdalena Wawrzynczak and filmmaker Wojciech Puś. Right: Artist Marie-Alix Isdahl Voisin of Schloss.

Many of Warsaw’s art galleries are tucked away in courtyards or upper floors, with little or no signage, and move frequently as shops are privileged over cultural institutions. I found the entrance to the Foksal Gallery Foundation behind a hair salon and came directly upon Artur Żmijewski’s “Collection”: a room animated by a series of black-and-white films following the faltering movements of people with MS. I sat and watched with Michal Cegłowski, one of the actors, while shadows of the projections washed over us. The gallery’s director, Andrzej Przywara, manages the Krasińki estate and former studio, in a 1960s apartment block, which a lucky few visited the next morning: “It was the best part of the whole weekend!” connoisseur Dessau later exclaimed.

After a cocktail that evening at the Xawery Dunikowski Museum of Sculpture, in honor of Ukrainian artist Kulikovska and her ephemeral self-portraits in soap, Homo Bulla, dealer Marta Kolakowska drove us to see Aleksandra Urban’s provocative popup show of lurid paintings and sculptures, “pfff,” displayed inside one of the little wooden cottages built for Finnish workers. Glowing in the dark among the trees like something out of Twin Peaks, it was a fitting introduction to the kickoff of the weekend-long “Endless Party,” directed by the Łódź film school professor Wojciech Puś, where we ended the night after an intimate dinner hosted by Trafo’s director, Mikołaj Sekutowicz, at the Miłość club.

Performance at the Endless Party. (Photo: Wojciech Puś)

We arrived for the party at a colonnaded space in the Palace of Culture illuminated entirely by floor-to-ceiling blue light beams to a performance featuring a group of skateboarders recruited from the streets, Leto Gallery’s Sebastian Gawłowski, and stylist Magdalena Wawrzynczak. “Three years ago when I met Magda she was a man named Peter, so she has another person inside and plays two characters in the film,” Puś said. It was being shot as a scene for the time-fusing Endless, a film by Puś based on the script of Last Year at Marienbad: “Once again I walk down these corridors, through these halls, these galleries, in this structure from another century, where endless corridors succeed silent, deserted corridors with a dimmed light.” The gender-blending narrative will incorporate two scenes from Paul B. Preciado’s memoir Testo Junkie; the atmosphere, however, evokes David Lynch’s Inland Empire, also filmed in Łódź.

All of Warsaw’s art galleries are young, and on Saturday I started at Raster, one of the first to open, only fifteen years ago, across the street from where the ninth Futurological Congress was being led by Julieta Aranda, Paolo Chiasera, and Mareike Dittmer, in the homeland of its textual inspiration, fictional character Ijon Tichy. On show were photos by Peter Puklus immortalizing his models as figures in an epic version of modern history, along with Rafał Bujnowski’s stark black-and-white paintings, in which the human figure is lost in a symbolic landscape of bare tree branches. Kasia Michalski, who opened a slick ground-floor space around the corner last year, was showing Rafał Dominik’s “After Humans, Before Robots,” a series of mixed-media works. At Lokal 30, the show “Gauguin Syndrome” comprised fantastic photographic collages by Filip Berendt, Ewa Juszkiewicz’s ghostly painted portrayals of disappeared artworks, and Katya Shodkovska’s video Julia, an interview with a young transgender prostitute who speaks matter-of-factly about the difficulties of life in Russia.

“I hate art fairs,” said Michał Woliński, director of the new Not Fair, voicing a common ambivalence over beer on the terrace of Piktogram, where he was exhibiting a group of marbleized paintings on cement by Zuzanna Czebatul. In fact, the Not Fair is not a fair. Warsaw Gallery Weekend is the only big contemporary art event in the city, and the Not Fair is a valiant attempt to inject a breath of fresh air into the nascent market. I asked Woliński if the works on show were actually for sale: “Yes, but everyone knows that the artworks in the Venice Biennale are for sale,” he replied. “And at the abc Berlin I was asked only once for a price.”

Left: Curators Daniel Muzyczuk and Adam Kleinman. Right: Artists Aleksandra Urban and Aleksandra Waliszewska.

Just as the roles of artist and curator are blurring, the art-fair model is developing its own identity crisis: It wants to be beautiful and intelligent, like a curated show, but really only fulfills its commercial role in the form of a salesroom proffering investment-worthy commodities. In any case, fairs in smaller markets cannot hope to compete with destination fairs like Art Basel and Frieze. Collectors go to those to get the pulse of the international art scene; other fairs do best to highlight their local contexts. And that is the strength of the gallery weekend, inspired by that of Berlin.

That afternoon I stopped by the Not Fair, which turned out to be an ensemble of shows by fourteen foreign and Polish galleries invited to engage a magnificent period hall of the Palace of Culture and Science. The dealers showing there were well aware of the lack of emphasis on sales. “It is like Art Basel’s Statements, but without the fair,” Jan Kaps said. “I am just happy for the opportunity to come and participate in the Warsaw art scene.” Artist Gizela Mickiewicz’s minimal folded constructions, shown by Warsaw’s Stereo gallery, seemed to be crawling across the marble floor, while Anouk Kruithof’s photographic details of clothes printed on translucent panels, shown by Rotterdam’s Cinnamon, melded magically into the space.

Following a tour at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art of the exhibition “Money to Burn”—about the transitional, post-Communist bling-obsessed 1990s in Poland, encapsulated nicely by Piotr Uklański’s framed dollar bill, Untitled (First dollar earned by Piotr, 30 August ’90, New York)—I walked with one of the curators, Magdalena Komornicka, back to the Palace of Culture and Science complex for the opening of “After the Rally,” at the Theater Studio Gallery. Along the way we were accompanied by drummers from the second demonstration of the day, the KOD (Committee in Defense of Democracy) protest against the newly elected conservative government’s unconstitutional firing of judges. The exhibition presented the documentation of mass protests, such as Tomáš Rafa’s films of the Maidan revolt and the battle of Sloviansk in the Ukraine, along with works of artists reacting to expressions of the “social body.” Yet it was a shadowy convocation next to the urgency of the masses gathered on the streets outside.

Left: Dealers Lucas Hirsch, Jan Kaps, and Christian Wirtz. Right: Krzysztof Nowakowski, president of Friends of Museum of Modern Art Warsaw. (Photo: Agata Araszkiewicz)

Later that night the VIP dinner, in a tent in the sculpture garden of the Królikarnia Palace, was more like a surreal picnic with small, strange dishes emerging erratically from behind white curtains. After an initial, hopeful crush, many decamped to restaurants, while Krzysztof Nowakowski, president of Friends of Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art, remedied the situation by smuggling in bottles of wine concealed in pockets inside his jacket. “He apologized for the quality,” joked writer Agata Araszkiewicz, a benefactor of the stash. “It is very Polish to find a creative solution,” added diplomat Klaudia Podsiadło.

When I arrived at Warsaw Central Station on the last day—back from a pilgrimage to Łódź to see “Notes from the Underground,” the Sztuki Museum’s delightful romp through revolutionary art and music under Communism—the Palace of Culture and Science was illuminated in purple, echoing its New York counterpart. So few remnants of Poland’s traumatic past remain, yet its shadows are palpable on the landscape, and Poles expect nothing so much as change. A few days later, the Catholic government would back down on its promise of a total abortion ban, after tens of thousands of women took to the streets to protest, all dressed in black.

Cathryn Drake

Full Circle


Left: Artists Anthea Hamilton and Helen Marten. Right: Choreographer Michael Clark. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)


You might be tempted to say, “Art,” but that’s not always the case. The highest purpose of a fair is to generate bonding opportunities for people who make art go.

When the fair is Frieze and the city is London, they come in great number from across the globe, the trouble spots and the tranquil ones (if such places still exist). Paths cross constantly, whether by intention or chance. The more incestuous the fraternity, the greater its success.

On Tuesday night, for example, a line formed outside the gallery that Brussels- and Paris-based dealer Almine Rech was opening with an exhibition by Jeff Koons. The new space is on Grosvenor Hill, just steps from Gagosian, Koons’s primary dealer. Yet one of the first visitors to pay his respects was David Zwirner, the artist’s other dealer in New York, where Rech will soon open another venue with a show of Picassos and Calders. Its two curators are her husband, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, the only legitimate grandson of you-know-who, and Sandy Rower, grandson of Alexander Calder.

May the circle be unbroken—that’s the fair week mojo.

Left: Dealer Almine Rech and artist Jeff Koons. Right: Artist Ed Ruscha and Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff.

Zwirner didn’t stay with Koons longer than it took to shake hands. The dealer had to get back to his Grafton Street outpost, where he was opening exhibitions by Neo Rauch and new collaborators Raymond Pettibon and Marcel Dzama. Gagosian had new paintings by Ed Ruscha.

The Koons and Ruscha shows were crowded with people shuttling between the two galleries. Rech had several Koons “Gazing Ball” paintings, plus two new stainless steel sculptures based on porcelain figurines of Degas ballerinas, but made so smooth and glossy that they looked as if they would liquefy at a glance. In fact, Koons said he had photographed the porcelain models underwater before making them tall and large. “The David’s not bad either,” he remarked, indicating his gazing ball–attuned appropriation of Jacques-Louis David’s Intervention of the Sabine Women. Personally, I wish he would return to contemporary subjects. “How were these paintings made?” asked French art blogger Judith Benhamou-Huet. Koons hesitated a moment. Wasn’t it obvious? “By hand,” he replied, gently.

The droll Ruscha, meanwhile, can still make word paintings that surprise. These were the color of a desert and juxtaposed the values of words like “mile” and “inch” through changes in scale. One canvas, however, had only arrows pointing in different directions. “They’re showing the way,” Ruscha said, breaking from a conversation with Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff, curator of “The Infinite Mix,” a show of music-driven video art that many people, Rugoff included, told me was not to be missed.

Left: Artists Nathaniel Mellors and Tala Madani with dealer Mara McCarthy. Right: Dealer David Zwirner.

But this night, the night before Frieze, belonged to the new. Dealer Bill Powers speed-walked me through Mayfair to Claridge’s, where Parisian dealer Kamel Mennour was opening a show of new work by Latifa Echakhch in a new, shoebox-size outlet on the opposite side of the hotel’s lobby from design dealer Patrick Seguin’s equally compact shop. Cognizant of a certain threat underlying the current American election, Echakhch had broken an oxidized, bronze liberty bell and scattered the pieces. “It’s a vintage bell,” she said. “I may have a smile on my face, but my heart is crying.”

We continued our walk. At the Pilar Corrias gallery, extended family associations gave added dimension to “Shitty Disco,” Tala Madani’s darkly feminine update on cave painting. By her side were Nathaniel Mellors, her artist husband, and her Los Angeles dealer, Mara McCarthy (daughter of Paul), as well as Bidoun editor Negar Azimi and MoMA curator Stuart Comer. On the way to dinner at Dickie Fitz, they stopped at Carroll/Fletcher to catch the closing minutes of a reception for Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, of New York and Ramallah, where there were small objects on tables and on the floor, which young artists now seem to prefer to walls.

At the urging of White Columns director Matthew Higgs, Powers departed for Tramps, where Peter Doig had organized a show of paintings by Denzil Forrester, soon to appear in New York. When the dinner for Madani turned out to be mainly truffle rice balls in no great supply, I taxied to the Kensington Palace Gardens home of Valeria Napoleone, a collector of art by women, who was hosting a heartier buffet for Jamian Juliano-Villani’s installation at Studio Voltaire. Among the guests was Anthea Hamilton, the lone Turner Prize finalist braving the market without gallery representation—no small feat during Frieze.

Fair organizers deserve praise for dispensing with weighty show catalogues—a waste of paper in this age of the JPEG—in favor of well-written journals put together by editors of Frieze magazine, which is celebrating its twenty-fifth year this week.

Left: Collector Valeria Napoleone. Right: Dealer David Cabrera, artist Joan Semmel, and dealer Alexander Gray.

The weather in London also went against custom, when bright sunlight and clear autumn skies accompanied thousands of VIPs to the fair’s fourteenth edition and to its younger sibling, Frieze Masters, opening on Wednesday at opposite ends of Regents Park. Due to the miscalculation of an Uber driver, I started at the latter, and was instantly baffled.

Hauser & Wirth’s presentation of modern works by the likes of Philip Guston with medieval religious paintings was confusing. “We’re collaborating with Moretti Fine Art,” explained gallery director Marc Payot. But why? “It’s interesting,” he said. Collaboration here was common. Chicago’s Corbett vs. Dempsey and London’s Thomas Dane combined to show 1960s collages and paintings by American and British artists. Dominique Lévy and Marianne Boesky joined forces with Sprüth-Magers for an all-Frank Stella arrangement that included a “stripe” painting—his first—from the Whitney’s Stella retrospective. The secondary market sure is quick.

Zwirner’s spare installation of signal works by Blinky Palermo, On Kawara, and Donald Judd, among others, was especially suave. “The committee gave us the prize for best booth!” Zwirner said, proudly. The Helly Nahmad corner was even simpler. It had just three paintings—all late Picassos. I needed lunch.

After spinning back several hundred years to the illuminated manuscripts at Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books, I stood impatiently in the twenty-first century line at the understaffed and inefficient Locanda Locatelli, praying the sandwich supply wouldn’t run out. The line happened to form at the top of the aisle for Spotlight, the section reserved for neglected ’60s and ’70s art resuscitated by galleries that Menil Collection curator Toby Kamps selected for the fair. “It’s good this year, isn’t it?” he said. Any fair that features paintings by Joan Semmel (at Alexander Gray) is fine with me.

Left: Sharjah Biennial curator Christine Tohme and Serralves Museum director Suzanne Cotter. Right: Sharjah Biennial artistic director Hoor Al-Qasimi.

In this carpeted, relatively pleasant place, one could actually focus on art—whenever people didn’t distract. I found LACMA director Michael Govan and his wife Katharine Ross at the Michael Rosenfeld stand, studying fetishistic, black leather heads by Nancy Grossman. “We already have one,” he said. He seemed to want more.

Frieze Masters, in fact, seems to be catnip for museum professionals. Geneva’s Centre d’Art Contemporain director, Andrea Bellini, was in the photo booth that Bologna’s P420 Arte Contemporanea brought to its restaging of Franco Vaccari’s “Photomatic d’Italia” (1972–74). Fondation Beyeler director Sam Keller stopped in at Freymond-Guth to see the latex wall and window sculptures that the late Swiss artist Heidi Bucher made by literally skinning the rooms of her grandmother’s condemned house. And Art Institute of Chicago deputy director Ann Goldstein was examining every Spotlight booth with Wexner Center director Sherry Geldin, the woman who gave Goldstein her first job, in the early years of LA MoCA.

On their exit, they passed Hammer Museum curator Aram Moshayedi and National Portrait Gallery director Nicholas Cullinan, who was making tracks from the Frieze tent so quickly that no one had a chance to ask if the rumors circulating that pegged him to replace retiring Tate museums director Nicholas Serota were true—or if Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick would get the nod.

The only person missing when I crossed the threshold into Frieze was Charon. All hell seemed to have broken loose, there was so much art and so many people buying it that I couldn’t help but wonder if a day would come when all of this would end up in a Xanadu well beyond Charles Foster Kane’s wildest dreams.

Left: Dealer Mehdi Chouakri with artists Mai-Thu Perret, Sylvie Fleury, and John Armleder. Right: Dealer Marian Goodman.

Basically, there are two kinds of dealers here: those that sell, and those that “place” work in select collections. I couldn’t tell if the galleries participating in a special section devoted to solo shows of the ’90s were doing either one, but it was fun to see what its curator Nicolas Trembley thought worth remembering of the time before the internet, before globalization, before Frieze, and before filthy lucre wiped out experimentation.

Galerie Neu’s Thilo Wermke and Alexander Schröder were standing by their Daniel Pflumm presentation and handing out little stickers. Stepping into the exact recreation of Wolfgang Tillmans’s first gallery show of photographs, at Daniel Buchholz’s Cologne space, in 1993, Tate Modern curator Mark Godfrey exclaimed, “I had no idea that the gallery was this small!” The photos featured plenty of people on Ecstasy. Remember Ecstasy? Remember exercise videos? At Mehdi Chouakri’s stand, Sylvie Fleury recreated her ’93 scatter of TV monitors playing the videos by such fitness gurus of the period as Jane Fonda and Raquel Welch. “That’s where I started finding sculptures in the old days,” Fleury said of the videos, “when the fashion world started making things that looked like art.”

Back in the aisles, Serpentine Gallery curator Hans Ulrich Obrist was handing out flyers for his “Miracle Marathon” this weekend. It focuses on magical thinking and turns on something he termed “fuckosophy.” I was intrigued. “It’s an urgent word, no?” he said.

At the Kurimanzutto booth, a jungle gym of a sculpture by Leonor Antunes hung like vines over the desk, where two bottles of champagne were on display—clear evidence that the Mexico City gallery had taken the Frieze stand prize, sponsored by Ruinart. “I’ve never won anything in my life before!” exclaimed an excited Mónica Manzutto. “Nothing! Never. This is great.”

Left: Artist Ingar Dragset. Right: Artist Laura Owens and Whitney Museum chief curator Scott Rothkopf.

This was the first Frieze I can remember where I spotted not a single carpetbagging celebrity, but I did see artists like Martin Boyce, Jim Lambie, and William Kentridge, some with work in the fair, others just looking. In the Focus section for young galleries at the far reaches of the tent, Ingar Dragset was studying the soft-penis paintings by Celia Hempton hung on thick walls she painted more abstractly at Southard Reid. And in a live performance, Darja Bajagić and Lloyd Corporation artists set up a faux internet café and teased fairgoers with luxury goods they couldn’t buy for all the money in the world.

Darkness fell, and it was on to Soho, where Laura Owens was showing an astonishing number of new and varied paintings at Sadie Coles HQ. “It took twelve art handlers to install the show,” reported Ryan Sullivan, one of many other artists in attendance, including Jordan Wolfson, Sam Falls, Magali Reus, Hillary Lloyd, Anthea Hamilton, and Helen Marten, who is definitely on a roll as a Turner Prize finalist with a concurrent solo show at the Serpentine.

Marten has mixed feelings about her sudden prominence. “If you win the Turner, you have to go on TV and speak!” she protested. “People think artists want the limelight, but it’s horrid.” I’m not sure Hamilton, who was beside her, agreed. Nonetheless, with curators like the Whitney’s Scott Rothkopf, Chisenhale Gallery director Polly Staple, and MoMA colleagues Laura Hoptman, David Platzker, and Comer joining dealers Carol Greene and Gavin Brown and Gisela Capitan, both artist got plenty of attention at the resolutely vegan, communal dinner at One Belgravia that Owens requested from chef Margot Henderson.

Matthew Higgs, an avatar of disco music from around the world—see his Instagram account—took to the decks with Andrew Hale to spin for dancers who wanted to stay up all night. (Apparently, quite few.)

Left: Dealer Sadie Coles. Right: Dealers Erika Weiss, Kathryn Erdman, and Maureen Paley with artist Maureen Gallace and dealer Cristian Alexa.

For those without hangovers and not required to stay in the Frieze tents, Thursday was a good day for walking around town to look at art in galleries and museums. First, at the ICA, Sharjah Art Foundation president Hoor Al-Qasimi announced the artists and locations (Sharjah, Beirut, and online) and discussed the connective tissue of the thirteenth Sharjah Biennial, opening in March and curated by Ashkal Alwan director Christine Tohme. “Everything we do is an experiment,” Al-Qasimi told me, speaking of the unsettled conditions in her part of the world—or, actually, everywhere.

I strolled down the Strand to the Store, a vacant office building where I watched all ten videos in Rugoff’s show, coproduced by the Hayward (currently closed for rehabbing) and the Vinyl Factory. Among the films—every one a standout—were a new, holographic piece by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Bam Bam’s Dream, a partly animated documentary that Jeremy Deller and Cecilia Bengolea made for the current São Paulo Bienal. It follows a female daggering champion in Jamaica and is by turns ecstatic and horrifying.

The evening brought even more joy in dance—with Maureen Paley’s hubbub of an East End party for Maureen Gallace at St John Bread and Wine coming right on the tail of the premiere, at the Barbican, of three new works by choreographer Michael Clark. Set to the music of Erik Satie, Patti Smith, and David Bowie, with gorgeous lighting by Charles Atlas and perfect costumes by Stevie Stewart, this was the happiest experience of my week—one shared with a predominately art-world audience (think Sarah Lucas, Jarvis Cocker, Charles Asprey, and ICA director-elect Stefan Kalmár).

“No frills beauty,” said Tate Modern curator Catherine Wood. “I loved being in Michael’s theatrical darkness—such an antidote to two days of overexposure in the fair!”

Context is everything.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Artists Space director Stefan Kalmár. Right: Artist Jeremy Deller and dealer Toby Webster.

Fish Tank


Left: Composer and conductor Esmeralda Conde Ruiz with Tate museums director Nicholas Serota. Right: Serpentine Gallery curator Hans Ulrich Obrist with artist Philippe Parreno, dealer Pilar Corrias and LA MoCA director Philippe Vergne. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

FRIEZE WEEK IN LONDON isn’t just about an art fair. It’s a marathon of social rubbernecking fraught with FOMO. One has to ease into it.

Last Friday afternoon, I had the good luck to find Pablo Bronstein at Tate Britain, admiring the stamina of the three women performing his suave meld of pedestrian and Baroque movement with “Historical Dances in an Antique Setting,” a commissioned show that has been going on continuously for six months. “The more I see these women, the more I love them,” Bronstein said, before I slipped into the 2016 Turner Prize exhibition and found ICA curator Matt Williams making a stealth visit with filmmaker Jeffrey Hinton. Judging from the always-illuminating (and unexpurgated) comment board, Helen Marten and Michael Dean have the odds.

That evening, Cabinet Gallery set the stage for the rest of the week by opening its new, purpose-built home in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens—a public park that was once the joy of the Victorian leisure class. No worries that decamping from scruffier headquarters in the East End will corrupt the gallery’s subversive character. Few others defy the white cube as boldly as this five-story dodecahedron.

Cabinet has a history of minting game-changers. (Think Jeremy Deller, Martin Creed, Mark Leckey, and Ed Atkins, among other Turner Prize winners and nominees.) Now it means to game the system. “A page is turning for London,” said collector and PICPUS publisher Charles Asprey. “It’s grown boring. Its art is boring. So if you’re going to do something new, you want to make it magical and beautiful, and not be afraid of those words.”

Left: Artist Jim Nutt. Right: Collector Norman Stone with Tate Modern director Frances Morris and collector Nora Stone.

Asprey “facilitated” (i.e. financed) the erection of the gallery he loves best as well as collaborated on its design with Cabinet founder Martin McGeown, his partner Andrew Wheatley, and architect Trevor Horne. They gave the building an additional boost by inviting gallery artists Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Lucy McKenzie, and John Knight to add both structural and decorative elements—specifically windows and, in McKenzie’s case, terracotta murals for balconies that flip the bird to MI6 headquarters across the park.

With Damien Hirst’s Newport Street behemoth just a few minutes’ walk away, the elegant, gray brickface building is expected to gentrify the area, which was hastily and none too prettily rebuilt after its bombing during World War II. For the moment, however, its nearest neighbors are farm animals. “Just wait,” Asprey said, with the confident smile of a man who knows he did something very right. “This is only the beginning.”

For the inaugural show, McGeown could not have made a more brilliant match than to tap Chicago Imagist Jim Nutt, whose surreally geometric portraits harmonize perfectly with the zigzag of the walls and Chaimowicz’s eccentrically angled windows. Knight’s single, tall “zip” of a window peeks out at the park between paintings that startled many first-nighters even more than the building.

Strangely, at least for an American, Nutt is relatively unknown in the UK. The last time he soloed in London was well before many guests were born. “I think he started out as a comic book artist,” one young visitor said. “I’ve never seen your paintings in the flesh before,” another told Nutt. “You really painted the hair!” Nutt smiled. “I did,” he replied. What else could he say?

Left: Artist James Richards and ICA London director Gregor Muir. Right: Artist Ed Atkins.

“Openings at the old Cabinet were never this big,” a regular told me, glancing at the many faces in a crowd that included dealers David Nolan and Isabella Bortolozzi, artist Michael Craig-Martin, Tate Modern curator Catherine Wood, collectors Andy and Christine Hall, and Nutt’s fellow Hairy Who veteran, Gladys Nilsson, his wife. “They’d be lucky to get more than twenty-five people.”

At least sixty came to dinner at St. John, where they seated themselves in cozy claques. Leckey and Atkins occupied a corner with Asprey, and outgoing ICA director Gregor Muir hung with James Richards, the artist on show at his institution right now. Emily King arrived with her spouse, Frieze cofounder Matthew Slotover, dressed in notable designs by Anthony Symonds, an art-fashion crossover that Cabinet shares with Bortolozzi, the designer’s dinner partner. Knight, who came from Los Angeles for the opening, pulled up a chair between art historians T.J. Clark and Anne Wagner. Chaimowicz was on hand too, still riding high on the previous night’s opening of his show at the Serpentine Gallery.

“I paid my dues for twenty-five years,” said the proud McGeown, who started Cabinet in an apartment in Brixton, and was first to show Elizabeth Peyton in London—in a pub. Now he’s betting on the duo Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel, creators of New Theater, which had its American debut only last fall at the Whitney Museum. Stay tuned.

Left: Artist Marc Camille Chaimowicz. Right: Artist Lynn Hershman Leeson and dealer Rachel Williams.

Richards popped up again Saturday night, at Rodeo Gallery in Soho, where dealers Sylvia Kouvali and Janice Guy combined forces to present his engrossing film collaboration with Leslie Thornton (Kouvali), and Leidy Churchman premiered new paintings (Guy). Weirdly, crocodiles were among the subjects of both presentations. Dinner was Indian and held at a hotel on the Strand that was just this side of postcolonial shabby. “Did you see the bar downstairs?” asked Walker Art Center curator Fionn Meade, who has worked with all three artists. “You don’t see bars like that anymore. (It was caged within a clubroom where past presidents of the establishment’s curry club were listed on the wall.)

Next afternoon, an unusually warm and sunny day, pretty much everyone who attended the opening—Richards, Meade, Kestner Gesellschaft curator Milan Ther—came to the ICA for a talk by Thornton, who condemned Jonas Mekas and Stan Brakhage (a mentor) for separating experimental film from the art world for too many decades. Zing!

At the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, artist Ryan Sullivan and Bard CCS director Tom Eccles were checking out Helen Marten’s big solo just as Vancouver-based collector Bob Rennie walked up, on his way to Chaimowicz’s exhilarating art-meets-design exhibition at the main gallery. During a week like this, you run into art people from everywhere no matter where you go. That evening, Paris-based curator Zoe Stillpass and Glasgow dealer Emma Astner were exiting the elevators at Shoreditch House, just as that cute-as-a-button artist couple, Eddie Peake and Celia Hempton, were entering for an early Sunday dinner. The fries were good.

Left: Dealer Isabella Bortolozzi. Right: Dealers Janice Guy and Sylvia Kouvali.

On Monday, a day after Prime Minister Theresa May committed the UK to exiting the EU by March, there was all sorts of hopeful speculation in the press and on the street about how many Americans at auctions or at Frieze would take advantage of a precipitous drop in the British pound. In this atmosphere, it was hard not to see Brexit impinging on Peter Wächtler’s invigorating, musical animation at Chisenhale Gallery. “I agree,” said gallery director Polly Staple. “But he could also be referring to the end of any relationship, or just a desire not to be trapped.” Whatever Wächtler meant by it, the top-hatted character making tracks in the film can’t get away fast enough—and yet never actually runs anywhere but in place.

Angst-ridden characters longing for comfort were also in Sanya Kantarovsky’s show of paintings opening at Stuart Shave/Modern Art. And in her “Trans Genesis” solo at Vilma Gold, Lynn Hershman Leeson had a video sculpture featuring Synthia, a woman whose moods were entirely dependent on the real-time ups and downs of the Dow Jones, visible in a ticker at the bottom of the tiny screen. “When the news is depressing, she stays home in the kitchen,” Hershman Leeson told me. “When it’s good, she goes shopping.” That day, she could have had a bargain.

At Tate Modern, meanwhile, there were hoards of happy people but not enough fish. Inflatable, Mylar fish, that is—the kind Philippe Parreno unleashed at Gladstone Gallery this past spring and that are currently wafting through the Brooklyn Museum’s entrance pavilion as well as the Turbine Hall, where his Hyundai Commission, “Anywhen,” was evolving by the minute, as directed by the actions of microorganisms squirreled away in a bioreactor at the back.

Left: Tate Modern curators Andrea Lissoni and Catherine Wood. Right: Artist Shadi Habib Allah.

“Boundaries are always porous in Philippe’s work,” dealer Pilar Corrias noted. Real life and fiction intersect. Screens and loudspeakers rise and fall, a film of a cuttlefish—narrated by a ventriloquist—unfolds, marquees flash on and off, the very realistic illusion of a thunderstorm occurs, Mylar fish hover at random, a radio program comes on to interrupt sound from the street outside—all to choreography designed by Isabel Lewis and Tino Sehgal, two of Parreno’s many collaborators on this project.

In my opinion, it’s one of the most thoroughly immersive and successful exhibitions this unforgiving space has seen yet. “That’s because there are no objects,” Gladstone said. “Philippe’s work is his brain. It’s not a product.”

Nor were there many collectors at the dinner she hosted with Corrias in the Colony Grill Room of Mayfair’s Beaumont Hotel. At least not the speculative kind, but the Nora and Norman Stone, Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner kind, with longtime Parreno supporter Maja Hoffmann and younger patron Dayana Tamendarova, who was out with Easton Foundation president Jerry Gorovoy. “I love it,” Westreich said. “I love it,” Nora Stone said. “It’s great, isn’t it?” said Hoffmann. “I nearly got killed by the artwork,” joked New Museum deputy director Massimiliano Gioni, of the show’s lowering screens.

Left: Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum and Pinault Foundation curator Caroline Bourgeois. Right: Frieze Art Fair director Victoria Siddall.

The head-spinning crowd spoke loudly of Parreno’s appeal to museums and absence from the auction block. Around us were Stedelijk director Beatrix Ruf, LA MoCA director Philippe Vergne, Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum, Pinault Foundation curator Caroline Bourgeois, MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, Serpentine chief curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, Beyeler Foundation director Sam Keller, and, of course, Tate Modern director Frances Morris and Tate museums director Nicholas Serota with the exhibition’s curators Andrea Lissoni and Vassilis Oikonomopoulos.

It felt like a conference, except that there were no speeches or toasts or even other artists or any reps from Frieze. “The speeches all happened today at lunch,” Corrias reported. That was business. “Tonight,” she said, “We’re celebrating.”

Linda Yablonsky

Candy Shop


Left: viennacontemporary artistic director Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt with viennacontemporary managing director Renger van den Heuvel. Right: Dealer Gregor Podnar and viennacontemporary board chair Dmitry Aksenov.

ON FRIDAY MORNING, everyone arrived utterly exhausted—yet somehow still intact. “In Vienna we live as people aspire to: We drink mineral water from tap, we swim in drinking-water-quality lakes, and we don’t have to talk about organic, because all of our products are raised in farms around Vienna. Plus, it is available to everyone, not only to the top 1 percent,” said the fair’s artistic director, Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt, “However, people see Vienna as old and opera, and are not truly aware of the quality of contemporary culture here.”

VC is a serious vehicle for rebranding Vienna as a contemporary city; over the weekend several professionals mentioned that this was their common goal. And indeed, the current fair brings a quality selection of local and international contemporary art. With 112 galleries from twenty-eight countries, it marked the fair’s second year at architect Rudolf Frey’s spacious (and well-lit) Marx Halle.

My personal tour guide for the day was curator and art historian Nico Anklem: a bright German who apparently knows the fair’s ins and outs—as well as its leading figures. At our first stop: “Zone 1”—solo shows by local galleries—we met with Salvatore Viviano. “If you know him,” Anklem said of Viviano, “You will know everyone.” A performance artist, ex-movie star, and current One Work Gallery director, the Italian native opened a two-hundred-square-foot space in 2014. “The gallery is always open,” he said: The lights stay on and all exhibited work can be observed from the street. Even more notable: The venue presents only one work per exhibition, hung on a single wall (that is also used as the gallery office’s shelving system). During the fair’s five-day run, artists Phillipp Fleischmann, Bert Loschner, Christoph Meier, Ute Muller, Sarah Pichlkostner, and Stefan Reiterer each exhibited a work a day. Friday was Pichlkostner’s turn—she showed a minimalistic metal piece resembling a non-functioning faucet.

Left: Curator Diana Campbell Betancourt with artist Rafiqul Shuvo and Carbon 12 dealer Nadine Knotzer (Photo: Kate Sutton). Right: Dealers Delphine Telesio di Toritto and Salvatore Viviano with curator Nico Anklam.

Nearby, in the “Reflections” section, dealer Emanuel Layr shared a booth with Croy Nielsen, who relocated from Berlin to Vienna. Was it a trend? Other Berlin galleries, like Gallery Crone and Beck & Eggeling, have opened Vienna spaces, while new galleries such as Galerie Nathalie Halgand pop up. A few dealers cited Germany’s stiff new export laws as one factor; others just gave shout outs to Vienna’s status as a melting pot and up-and-coming market. In the meantime, dealer Martin Janda was in the midst of talking sales with Italian collector Luca G. Castellani, who seemed pleased with Nilbar Güreş twill piece, later assuring us that sales are going fine.

How to make a booth truly unique? Talk to Paulina Bebecka, director of Postmasters—the only US gallery participating in the fair. Bebecka studied at Sotheby’s London alongside Steinbrecher-Pfandt, and now (“after years of wooing her,” as Steinbrecher-Pfandt put it) they finally decided to collaborate. The gallery’s very impressive installation of small-scale sculptures started as a project Bebecka initially curated in the US. It recently traveled to Istanbul before heading to the fair. Bringing political and social strands to the fair’s discourse, thirty-two mini-sculptures, each by a different artist, were beautifully arranged on a site-specific stagelike structure. There was a rousing piece by outsider artist John Byam; text work by Laurence Weiner, translated into the language of every country the mini-show visited; and a sugar boat by Xu Wang that paid homage to Chinese street-sculpture traditions.

Fresh air was in order. At the VIP room, artist Tjorg Douglas Beer not only proved to be a pro at mingling, but turned out to be quite familiar with the VIP’s secret backdoor entrance. After posing in a series of photos, smoking a “tzigi” (he says it’s the Swiss slang for cigarette), and talking about his recent move to Greece, we rolled back into the fair for some serious discourse.

Left: Dealers Emanuel Layr and Hennrikke Nielsen. Right: Artist Shubigi Rao and critic Bharti Lalwani.

With one-third of the fair’s exhibiting galleries from Eastern Europe, VC sees itself as a specialized arena for Eastern European art—a growing market. “Focus: Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania,” curated by the Albanian Adela Dmetja, featured mostly nonprofit galleries from Albania, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Macedonia. The space, organized as a group show, excludes hierarchy. Serbian artist Slobodan Stošic explained: “To combine all of these galleries and works as a mix—we are not divided into any nationality, only the names of artists are written down next to the work with pencil, which is very important because this is one of the problems of how art functions today. It has this colonial pressure. Many artists are trying to break from their roots to not be categorized. This is the trouble and also the hegemony of the art market.” A standout work—a glossy pink flag with the text A WORKER WHO CANNOT SPEAK ENGLISH IS NO WORKER—caught my eye. The piece is made by Macedonian artist Nada Prlja, a seriously interesting lady whose gallery, Serious Interests Agency, is the only nongovernmental supported art space in Macedonia.

Speaking of interesting ladies, curator Abaseh Mirvali was commissioned to create solo and dual-artist mini-shows in the “Solo Expanded” section of the fair. There, Thomas Fischer’s booth contained works by Seiichi Furuya, who creates poetic and contemplative moments in image and text. As Furuya was sharing a peculiar story about a boat he photographed in Dresden, later to find out that Kim Jong-un was on board, Anklem spotted the man who has made VC possible, founder of RDI and VC chairman Dmitry Aksenov. At that point we were becoming quite exhausted, and it was a miracle when Alexander Müller-Vivil, a man who refers to himself as a “candy-maker,” gave us a very refreshing mint, apparently from his own brand of sweets, Vivil. Will we be so lucky at Frieze?

Naomi Lev

Left: TBA21’s Sophie Bayerlein, Clemens Rettenbacher, Christine Böhler, and Frederike Sperling. Right: Curator Abaseh Mirvali, Wiels director Dirk Snauwaert, Serralves deputy director Joao Ribas, and writer Kate Sutton.