Apt Pupil

Kochi, India

Left: Architect Rajiv Saini and artist Shilpa Gupta. (Except where noted, all photos: Beth Citron) Right: Artist-Curator Sudarshan Shetty and his daughter in front of Pyramid of Exiled Poets. (Photo: Ashiesh Shah)

“YES, IT IS A MONDAY” noted the sly public invitation to the third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. “That just means it’ll be a great start to the week.” But in the days prior to the December 12 opening, the extended family of India’s art world had already begun to gather in Mumbai for Subodh Gupta’s blockbuster-scale exhibition—his first in the city in nearly a decade, hosted by Delhi’s Nature Morte—and an excellent show of Dayanita Singh’s photography and portable museums in books, boxes, and suitcases at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum.

By Sunday the Mumbai–Kochi air route had become a fashionable shuttle to Kerala, transporting the art crowd to artist-curator Sudarshan Shetty’s exhibition in progress. Dealers Shireen Gandhy, Ursula Krinzinger, Prateek and Priyanka Raja, and Atsuko Ninagawa all made the trip, as did artists including Gupta, Jitish and Reena Kallat, Vivan Sundaram, and the theorist Geeta Kapur. As with the previous two editions of the biennial, a significant number of works were not installed by opening week. While this was frustrating for visitors who came all that way, optimists saw an opportunity to witness a kind of performance as things came together. Shetty gathered work by ninety-seven artists from thirty-one countries under the title “Forming in the Pupil of an Eye,” an elegant phrase from poet Sharmistha Mohanty’s work in the biennial but a somewhat abstruse theme for an exhibition that took on the slightly soft darkness and conceptual bent of Shetty’s own artistic practice.

Left: Artists Joan Jonas and Thao Phan. Right: Artist and Kochi-Muziris Biennale founder Bose Krishnamachari with Bhau Daji Lad Museum director Tasneem Zakaria Mehta.

“I felt lost, and not in a good way,” noted artist Vishal K. Dar, speaking about the experience of navigating the maze of Aleš Šteger’s Pyramid of Exiled Poets, an installation of wood, matting, dung, and mud supposedly modeled after the Great Pyramid of Giza. It could also be a metaphor for navigating the main venue of Aspinwall House: Moving from room to room, one was often surprised by the disconnectedness of works in adjacent areas. Sometimes this led to welcome revelations—for instance, happening upon trained miniaturist Desmond Lazaro’s exquisite installation Promise: The Scroll Paintings, which reflects on his family’s history and migration from Yangon, Myanmar, to Leeds, UK, in the 1950s, connecting to issues of home and nationhood of that are of the utmost importance today. His poetic assemblage incorporates paintings drawn from snapshots of his childhood, including Mum’s Flowers—of his mother’s prized plastic roses—while large-scale scroll paintings dramatically reveal images both official and personal, like the photo page of his grandfather’s British passport.

As tragic news from Aleppo trickled in to Kochi by Wednesday (a consequence of slow internet connections), Chilean poet Raúl Zurita’s Sea of Pain was resonant. The installation asked that we wade through a large hall of shallow water to reach a text dedicated to five-year-old Galip Kurdi, who perished in the Syrian crisis last fall and whose three-year old brother Aylan became the image of that crisis through a bloodied and ashen photo of him seen worldwide. While I appreciated the visceral and somewhat meditative experience, I wondered about the depth of the artist’s engagement with the subject and whether his use of water (common across this seaside biennial) rendered a strong enough connection to the context. More evocative here, I thought, was the adjacent sound installation Prime, by Oslo-based Camille Norment. Facing the sea, with a boat occasionally moving quietly through the frame, wooden benches emanated deep humming, “originat[ing] from the African American church practice of moaning,” according to the work’s label. These moved through the whole body, inviting a welcome sense of calm.

Left: Artist Dayanita Singh. Right: Artists Anant Joshi and Dhruvi Acharya.

At the parties, conversation inevitably departed from art to politics. (Actually, not just the parties. My taxi driver from the airport pointedly asked, “What happened in America?”—a question to which I could never muster a real reply.) But the more immediate concern in Kochi was India’s recent demonetization, theoretically intended to lessen corruption by rendering existing larger bills obsolete, but which in practice made day-to-day transactions challenging even for the privileged. As PIX cofounder Nandita Jaishankar Allana put it, “We Indians have gotten used to waiting in line for things,” referring not only to the process of procuring a drink at the biennial’s opening party but to the hours-long ATM queues across the country, as people queued to take out a single ₹2000 note (worth just about thirty US dollars but difficult to spend because of a scarcity of small change).

A short twenty-rupee rickshaw ride beyond Aspinwall lay more venues and collateral events. Of the official satellites, Anand Warehouse featured the strongest and most tightly focused selection of work, including a compelling installation of photographs and objects by Bharat Sikka and Shumona Goel, and Shai Heredia’s beautiful 2012 filmic meditation on the decay of independent cinema, I Am Micro.

Left: Artist Daniele Galliano. Right: Dealer Shireen Gandhy and artist Desmond Lazaro.

At Malabar House, Dayanita Singh had installed her latest project, “Kochi Box,” an exhibition composed of a single wooden frame and thirty photographs taken in the city in 2014. And the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) Academy held a tightly focused three-day program, organized by “expedition leaders” Ute Meta Bauer and Cesar Garcia and TBA21-Academy curator Stefanie Hessler, which considered the oceans, broadly but pointedly delving into migration, climate change, and our planet’s future.

Each evening of the TBA21 program was headlined by a performance. On the first night, New York–based Christopher Myers offered a moving talk, set to a musical score, about the notion of cultural “in-betweenness,” touching on the simultaneity of certain songs in disconnected places and then turning to his experience this past September with refugee children in Munich, “balanced precariously between here and there.” The following night, Joan Jonas delivered an extraordinary performance-talk about our relationship to ocean life at a venue just adjacent to Kochi’s fishing nets, captivating the art crowd as well as street vendors and passersby. While Jonas drew partially on her approach to the prior edition of that other waterfront biennial (Venice), the project was specific to Kochi. As she referred to “Uncle Fish,” a character in an Italo Calvino story who refuses to leave the sea to join his “civilized” family on land, it was impossible not to feel the sheer awesomeness of Kochi and its importance as a place of ongoing exploration at the edge of India today.

Beth Citron

Left: Textile historian and designer Mayank Mansingh Kaul, artist Vishal K. Dar, Brown Paper Bag cofounder Mansi Poddar, and architect Ashiesh Shah. Right: Artist Christopher Myers.

Unfamiliar Territory


Left: Moderna galerija's Zdenka Badovinac and Haus der Kunst's Okwui Enwezor. Right: Curators Vít Havránek and Geörg Schollhammer. (All photos: Kate Sutton)

“WE ARE LIVING IN AN ERA of cognitive capitalism, where maps are more important than actual territories,” Moderna Galerija director Zdenka Badovinac told the packed conference room last Thursday in Ljubljana. “Under these conditions, what’s important is not maintaining the integrity of a given territory, but rather widening the participation in mapping the world.”

Badovinac’s words formed the thrust of the two-day conference at the Moderna, part of the run-up to this year’s Igor Zabel Award ceremony. Founded in 2008 to honor the late Zabel (a cultural critic and senior curator at the institution), the biennial award recognizes thinkers working to redraw the art-historical maps around central, eastern, and southeastern Europe. This year’s €40,000 top prize went to Russian curator Viktor Misiano, with additional €12,000 grants presented to curators Anca Verona Mihuleţ and Viviana Checchia, and to the organizers of Budapest’s eye-opening OFF-Biennale.

Titled “What Art History?,” the conference—which boasted curatorial powerhouses Okwui Enwezor, Charles Esche, and Ekaterina Degot—was dedicated to Piotr Piotrowski, a Zabel Award laureate who died in May 2015. Piotrowski was a tireless advocate of “horizontal art history,” a mode of thinking that sought to break from the vertical hierarchies of the Art Since 1900–style canon. While it sounds good on paper (and Piotrowski made it sound very good indeed), questions linger around terminology. “Doesn’t ‘horizontal’ imply that we’re all lying down?” gibed curator Jelena Vesić.

Left: Igor Zabel Award laureates Viviana Checcia and Viktor Misiano. Right: Tímea Junghaus, art historian and director of Gallery8.

Vesić’s crack may have gotten some warm laughs, but this crowd didn’t strike me as the reclining type. Curators Daniel Grúň, Kathrin Rhomberg, and Georg Schöllhammer had arrived fresh from their triumphant Július Koller “One Man Anti Show” at MUMOK in Vienna. Eda Čufer and the artists of IRWIN popped in between planning meetings for the NSK Pavilion in Venice, while tranzit outpost directors Raluca Voinea (Bucharest), Vít Hravánek (Prague), and Dóra Hegyi (Budapest) caught up with colleagues Silvia Eiblmayer, Hedwig Saxenhuber, Branka Stipačić, WHW’s Ivet Ćurlin and Sabina Sabolović, and Grazer Kunstverein’s director Kate Strain, freshly imported from Dublin’s Project Arts Center and eager to meet her new neighbors.

“It is a privilege to be here in the house that Zdenka built,” Enwezor cooed, before delivering his keynote on Haus der Kunst’s pulse-quickening survey “Postwar: Art between the Pacific and Atlantic, 1945–1965.” The curator admitted that tackling the postwar period “inevitably involves the question of ‘which war?’” What we tend to call World War II was actually several conflicts taking place all over the globe, which Enwezor argued, resulted in “the unmaking of a certain notion of the world that had held constant since the late fifteenth century.” He then proceeded to outline how the rebuilding of Europe was inextricable from the forging of the postcolonial world. “There’s a tendency to over-valorize the European experience of the war to the exclusion of 65 to 70 percent of the world,” he said, pointing out that 1945 saw the formation of the Arab League and the Pan-African Congress in Manchester, divisions among China, Korea, and Vietnam, the rise of figures such as Juan Perón and Sukarno, and unprecedented mass migrations. Basically, the world as we knew it unraveled. This sounded uncomfortably relevant.

“Postwar” roots itself in Hannah Arendt’s claim that the technology of the Holocaust was perfected under colonialism, a connection that inevitably tainted the perceived humanism of the postwar moment. (For all its moral outrage after the war, France was loath to let go of its colonies.) Enwezor identified the primary postwar tension as the “conversation around existentialism (white European suffering) against colonialism (“the rise of the brown body”). This friction became especially salient as former colonial subjects began to pour into European cities. In the context of this “modern cosmopolitanism,” Enwezor argued, the museum’s role in shaping the civic imagination is vital. “The museum should be deployed as a staging ground for difference, for that which has yet to come. The museum should serve as a horizon, rather than a terminus, a point of cultural and epistemological indeterminacy.”

Here he stopped short, catching sight of a familiar face in the audience. “Oh, it’s great to see Peter Weibel here. They are running a rival exhibition on the postwar moment and we were fighting over loans. So, yes, it’s great to see you, Peter.”

Left: ZKM's Peter Weibel. Right: Curators Kathrin Rhomberg and Daniel Grúň.

During the Q&A, an astute audience member quizzed Enwezor over the use of jazz in the Haus der Kunst’s promotional video for “Postwar,” noting it would have irritated Theodor Adorno. (“Let’s be clear, Adorno was an idiot when it came to jazz,” Enwezor shot back.) He then fielded the inevitable question on Eastern Europe’s integration. “I’m not interested in inclusion at all,” Enwezor stated firmly. “The principal idea of ‘Postwar’ is to deterritorialize the landscape of art history, not to expand it through inclusion.”

The discourse boners around “deterritorialization” would be delicately deflated in the first of the two panels, when, after a thoughtful presentation by Hungarian art historian Edit András, Tímea Junghaus took the stage. The soft-spoken founder of both the European Roma Cultural Foundation and Budapest’s Gallery8 (a commercial gallery dedicated to promoting Roma artists), Junghaus plainly laid out the case of the Roma, a diasporic nation whose communality has long been independent of geographic borders. And yet, rather than be applauded for their progressively flexible notions of statehood, Roma are openly ostracized as “European outsiders.” Surmising that “societies create their own ‘black’ through their closest colonies,” Junghaus outlined how art history has complied in spinning Roma as the “the flipside of the noble savage”: “Gypsies—and whenever I say ‘gypsies,’ it’s always in quotes; I hope I don’t have to explain that—were depicted as the unbaptized heathens, thieves, pickpockets, and criminals as early as the fourteenth or fifteenth century.” I couldn’t help but notice that that timing coincided with the beginnings of Enwezor’s world order.

With Catherine David a last-minute no-show, the final panel was left to the capable minds of Akademie der Künste der Welt’s Ekaterina Degot and Van Abbemuseum’s Charles Esche. Degot began with some kind(?) words for Ljubljana: “It’s still a refreshingly Marxist and intellectual city,” she marveled, before diving into the question of “how to be truly, deeply critical in our work.”

“The question isn’t what is to be done. What is to be done is over. It’s how it can be done. Or, rather, how in god’s sake it can be done.” For starters, Degot argued that “museums have to cut ties with biennial culture the same way they have cut ties with art fairs. Art that is mainstream isn’t critical, it is discursive commercialism.” She lamented the time spent talking around an artwork, bemoaning how the biennial context had isolated artists from real critique. “You can’t just say, ‘That video looks unfinished,’ because the artist will just say, ‘That’s intentional.’ Under these conditions, failure is impossible. It’s all rather boring.”

Left: WHW's Ivet Ćurlin, Van Abbemuseum's Charles Esche, and Akademie der Künste der Welt's Ekaterina Degot. Right: Art historians Magdalena Radomska and Edit András.

Esche seconded Degot’s conclusion, toying with the possibility of a “demodernism” that could operate in a similar way as decolonialism. To ground the proposition, he returned to the early, libertine history of the Louvre, which Esche characterized as “part-brothel, part rave”—this was, of course, before the museum got into the business of national narratives. Leaping from brothel to cabal, Esche compared the modernist canon peddled by MoMA to a kind of Al Qaeda: “Just as Bin Laden always served as an inspiration, rather than a central control point, they’re setting up a narrative that is then given to other institutions to develop.”

Much like that metaphor, the propagation of narratives tends to slip from control. “The museum has to stop broadcasting and start listening,” Esche concluded. How? One potential solution is L’Internationale, a loose confederation of six diverse museums across Europe: the Moderna Galerija, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, MACBA, the Van Abbemuseum, M HKA, and SALT (an impressive initiative, for sure, but one wishes Esche had allowed for a little more airtime between an Al Qaeda comparison and the introduction of a new institutional network.)

L’Internationale’s first big project is the collaborative five-year program “The Uses of Art: The Legacy of 1848 and 1989.” Moderna Galerija is in the middle of a three-part 1980s-themed exhibition under this rubric, with the latest installment curated by whippersnappers Asta Vrečko and Martina Malešič. “Zdenka thought it would be good to get our perspective on the era, even though we were only born in the late 1980s or even 1990s,” Vrečko explained, as she trotted conference-goers through displays dedicated to Yugoslavia’s various boutique biennials.

After the exhibition tour, a bus took us up the narrow winding road to the picture-book castle that presides over Ljubljana. The castle’s two-level restaurant was divided between our Eastern-leaning art historians up top and an office holiday party downstairs—mostly male, with scattered dancing girls dressed like slutty elves. At our table, Hravánek approvingly scanned the elaborate menu (“A Sea of Flavours”). “We always eat so well at the Igor Zabel Awards,” Ćurlin chimed in.

“Poor Igor,” Stipačić purred, with a grin. Glasses were raised to Zabel. Multiple times.

Left: Igor Zabel grant laureate curator Anca Verona Mihuleţ. Right: Grazer Kunstverein's Kate Strain with tranzit's Raluca Voinea.

By the time we reached the entrées, the difference between the gatherings on the two floors had grown negligible—an acute lack of slutty elfwear aside. Eager to end/extend the evening (our mission remained unclear even to us), Ćurlin and I started to ask about descending the hill on foot, but were sternly warned this was “too dangerous.” Reluctantly, we piled into the bus, which, for all its bulk, was unable to turn around on the tiny road and had to back down. A busload of Eastern European art historians slowly careening in reverse down a hill—surely a metaphor in the making.

The next morning—which felt brighter and earlier than it probably was—Reina Sofia’s director Manuel J. Borja-Villel delivered the closing keynote. The coffee hadn’t kicked in, but Borja-Villel was packing jolts of his own, contrasting an image of Ines Doujak’s Dressed for Conquering, 2010–, the politically perilous daisy chain that sparked turmoil at MACBA last year, with images from controversial advertising campaigns, including Angela Merkel at a urinal or Hitler rocking an Afro. “In instances like these, the ad company may face a fine, okay, but in the end, they still get the publicity,” he argued. “Basically, the art world is fighting for freedom from the commercial system, while having less freedom than that system.”

In the short break before the award ceremony, resident-artist Ulay was on hand to guide visitors through his retrospective at the Mestna Galerija, while curator Vladimir Vidmar was busy taking guests through the meditative Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec solo show at ŠKUC. Over at the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova (an annex of Moderna Galerija since 2011), David Maljković was scrambling to fit in last-minute installation shots of his striking exhibition “Again and Again,” set to close the following day. For all its moaning about marginality, Ljubljana wasn’t looking so provincial.

Left: Curator Asta Vrečko. Right: WHW's Sabina Sabolović, Museo Reina Sofía's Manuel J. Borja-Villel, and artist David Maljković.

Immediately preceding the 8 PM ceremony were short presentations by the grant recipients. Misiano used his to deliver a close reading of Zabel’s seminal text, “We and the Others,” first published in the Moscow Art Magazine, a journal founded by Misiano. He was followed by the Sibiu-based Mihuleţ and Checchia, who, in 2010, swore off exhibition-making in favor of furthering critical discourse via Vessel, a residency program in Lecce, the heel of Italy’s boot. If few audience members batted an eye at the inclusion of southern Italy in eastern Europe, it may have been because Checchia insistently referred to things in terms of “north” and “south,” ending with the question, “What is more important: Where we operate or the knowledge we refer to?”

That question couldn’t be easily answered in the case of the last winner, the OFF-Biennale. “Ideological control over public resources has drastically limited the possibilities for progressive culture in Hungary,” co-organizer Nikolett Erőss reported. With a roster of 150 artists strong, the OFF-Biennale was the unicorn: a collectively organized biennial run without any state support (this means that of the thirty venues, not one was municipally or nationally funded.) Co-organizer Katalin Székely unveiled the theme for the 2017 edition: “Gaudiopolis,” an anomalous “children’s republic” that flourished in a Hungarian orphanage in the late 1940s until 1951, when it was nationalized (annexed?). Think Lord of the Flies, but instead of conch-lust, substitute a pint-size functioning democracy. I marveled at the organizers’ resolve, but Székely just shrugged: “Once more, we find we must build on the ruins.”

Kate Sutton

Quarter Pounder


Left: Kunst-Werke director Krist Gruijthuijsen and artist Hito Steyerl. Right: Artist Monica Bonvinici, Berlin Biennale director Gabriele Horn, MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, and artists Katharina Sieverding and Tobias Rehberger. (All photos: Louisa Elderton)

YOU WOULD BE HARD-PRESSED to find anyone who dresses up in Berlin—a heel over two inches, a shade that isn’t some variation of black. So the fundraiser gala a fortnight back to mark twenty-five years of Berlin’s Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art was the perfect excuse for me, a Londoner away from home, to don a dress and soak up the glamour.

How to make an entrance? Upon arriving, each guest was passed a lapis lazuli helium-filled balloon emblazoned with the letters KW. Moving through the candlelit courtyard (home to so many artist interventions through the years) most of these either escaped into the night sky or made it into the gallery only to float to the ceiling, forming a blanket of blue as the night progressed. I immediately bumped into curator Kasper König, who is busily preparing 2017’s iteration of the decennial Skulptur Projekte Münster; KW’s founding director Klaus Biesenbach, who had flown in for the night and was talking with collectors Karen and Christian Boros; and artist Donata Wenders, who too had just returned to Berlin following a grueling travel schedule.

The real entrance of the night, however, went to KW’s new director, Krist Gruijthuijsen, who was accompanied by a fanfare of bagpipes as he descended the staircase dressed in exquisite drag—a Marilyn Monroe–style wig and a floor-length sequin dress shimmering under the spotlight. “This is the future, Donald Trump,” he uttered, before describing the evening’s program as “a variety show of people from the past and people from the future” and asking for a round of applause for the next curator of the Berlin Biennale 2018, Gabi Ngcobo, who was present in the audience.

Left: Klaus Biesenbach and artist Olafur Eliasson. Right: Artist Adam Christensen.

Dinner was served in the gallery’s main exhibition space, long tables laced with silver glitter surrounding a stage where talks, music, and performances were offered up to more than three hundred guests. With a Jeremy Deller–initiated menu card colorfully drawn by a child, we feasted on soup with a beetroot lollipop, mushroom risotto, and tagliatelle ragout, followed by panna cotta served in a whisky tumbler. The degree to which the cocktail-and-champagne-soaked crowd listened to the night’s events was debatable, as artists who took to the stage struggled to be heard over the din—a little disrespectful amid a supposedly art-loving audience. Nora Turato pointed this out during her pseudo-rap performance, quieting the masses only momentarily.

Others to take to the stage included KW board member Julia Stoschek—whose Düsseldorf-based collection has just opened a branch in Berlin in a building that formerly housed the Czech Cultural Centre in East Germany—and artists Monica Bonvicini, Karl Holmqvist, Tobias Rehberger, and Katharina Sieverding, all of whom expressed their support for the institution. Nils Bech serenaded the audience with an a capella song.

Celebrating the 6,200 artists who have shown at KW over the past twenty-five years, Olafur Eliasson (another member of the board) promoted an artist portfolio of works by Andrea Büttner, Omer Fast, Carsten Höller, Adam Pendleton, and Santiago Sierra, saying, “We don’t want corporations to fund KW. . . We are the pebbles on the beach,” and imploring the crowd to help finance the exhibitions program. Each limited edition was hung around the edge of the room to further tempt collectors.

Left: Artist Kerstin Cmelka. Right: Gabriele Horn with collectors Julia Stoschek, Christian Boros, and Karen Boros.

I sat across from one of the very first artists to ever exhibit at KW, in the 1990s, Milovan Destil Marković, who organized a football match of artist versus curators—apparently they “let” the curators win, probably wise. His father had survived a concentration camp during World War II, and the recent rise of right-wing political agendas was all we could talk about. To my right was Hito Steyerl and architect Matthias Böttger, whose current exercise regime sees him dancing as animals: lions, lizards, hedgehogs, hippos. And in the name of dancing, to my left was David Regehr, owner of Berlin’s Clärchens Ballhaus, a former ballroom built in 1895 just down the road from KW on Auguststraße. True to its tradition, his wife, Lisa Regehr, continues to teach tango, salsa, and cha-cha to budding dancers amid the historic building’s antique mirrors.

The evening’s highlights were saved until last, as the mesmerizing Adam Christensen sang the blues and played the accordion, his gravelly, poetic voice full of passion and emotion. He was followed by Dorit Chrysler, who played the theremin—an early electronic instrument that remains hypnotic and bewitching. As empty tables displayed the remnants of chili-pepper-spiced cocktails and discarded desserts slopped on their sides, we all made our way to the dance floor, where beats drew people into the early hours, silver disco balls spinning above, heels off.

Louisa Elderton

Bubble Trouble


Left: Artist Ugo Rondinone with poet and artist John Giorno and dealer Eva Presenhuber. Right: Artist Maurizio Cattelan. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

MIAMI IS WHERE THE ART WORLD goes each December to seal its bubble—the one that makes art the center of the universe and keeps real life at bay.

But three weeks after the election of Donald Trump, the mood was different. Oh, there were plenty of the usual parties with many of the usual faces in the usual product-promoted places, but it wasn’t the same.

Actually, there was one new place—the Faena Forum. Otherwise, the weather was balmy and art was everywhere. So were Trump-Pence banners. And then there were the people who came to make or spend money and have a good time in the playground swamp of Miami Beach, its resorts, clubs, and restaurants. Just not quite as many as usual.

The Faena Forum is a nonprofit arena for film, performance, and symposia on the “wrong” side of Collins Avenue, opposite the beachfront Faena Hotel Miami. The Forum’s architect is Shohei Shigematsu, designer of the Metropolitan Museum’s “Manus x Machina” earlier this year and a partner with Rem Koolhaas at OMA. (The firm is responsible for three of the five buildings in the four-block billion-dollar Faena District development, not including an aesthetically opposed commercial condo by Foster + Partners.)

Left: Collector Don Rubell with artist Jennifer Rubell. Right: Dealer Felipe Dmab.

The five-story Forum, a fenestrated white cylinder connected to an equally fenestrated white cube, opened on Monday, November 28, following the previous day’s parade of bands and artist-made floats organized by curator Claire Tancons and led by musician Arto Lindsay. He was the first person I saw there on Tuesday morning, when my plane landed too late for a press conference with Argentine impresario Alan Faena and Ukarainian-born American financier Len Blavatnik, a major collector. Faena had the vision; Blavatnik bankrolled it.

Lindsay was setting up for his DJ turn that night, after a dance concert choreographed by Pam Tanowitz in a set by Shigematsu. The architect gave me a tour of the complex, starting in the lobby-cum-amphitheater of pink Italian marble. The third-story performance and party space accommodates a thousand people under a spiral dome and has a sprung-wood floor. Seating around the circular stage is in tall, irregular white pods. The building’s windows, which come in three hundred different shapes, are its structural support, leaving the interior free of columns.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? So why did it feel like a cruise ship circling a shark? Too “done,” maybe. Yet the unpainted concrete walls of a stairwell were beautiful. “The irony of architecture is that you can never make it better than the construction,” Shigematsu conceded. Likewise, his airy pyramid of a parking garage was gorgeous.

Left: ICA Miami deputy director and chief curator Alex Gartenfeld and ICA Miami director Ellen Salpeter. Right: Heike Bayrle and artist Thomas Bayrle.

On the beach side of Collins, both Faena and Koolhaas were lunching at separate tables in the garden café of the Faena Hotel, with interiors by the never-leave-well-enough-alone film director Baz Luhrmann. Damien Hirst’s twenty-four-karat gilded skeleton of a wooly mammoth (a loan from Blavatnik) looked positively Trumpian here.

There were two other firsts, both in museums, and both exhilarating. At the Moore Building, the ICA Miami’s temporary address in the Design District, the country’s first retrospective for German artist Thomas Bayrle opened that evening. At the same time, the Pérez Art Museum Miami was toasting the Argentine octogenarian Julio Le Parc’s first North American retrospective.

Bayrle’s “One Day on Success Street” began with a pretzel-like, abstracted Madonna of black steel pipe that was soldered between the crisscrossing rafters of the ICA’s three-story atrium. Just as stunning was the show’s finale—a pair of working windshield wipers conducting the music broadcast from a portable radio.

“Thomas’s work is all about deviation and aberration,” Alex Gartenfeld said of the show, which also includes cardboard sculptures evoking roadways and cathedrals, and illusionistic grids of highways and high-rises embedded with more Madonnas. “It’s a good thing for an old man,” Bayrle said of the presentation, which he called “old-style,” because he works in his studio with “just me, alone.”

Left: Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume. Right: A performance for Art Public by artist Naama Tsabar.

It must have taken a platoon to install, and to make, Le Parc’s “Form into Action.” Estrellita Brodsky and Tobias Ostrander—the show’s curator and coordinator, respectively—walked museum patrons through the exhibition’s spectacularly kinetic light sculptures, including a vibrating labyrinth as disorienting as a fun house, and a “game room” of interactive works for visitors to test their motor skills and peripheral vision. As Brodsky said, the show has “an element of danger and an element of playfulness.” Bases covered.

Collector Jorge Pérez, who had just announced a $10 million gift to his namesake museum, arrived just in time for dinner. That was my cue to return to the Moore Building for a taste of “Desire,” a group show of work by fifty artists detailing the throes of unbound sex and its fetishes. It was this year’s collaborative presentation by Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch.

Though the show grew successively more interesting on higher floors, as curated by Diana Widmaier-Picasso, “Desire” pointed up the problems of thematic shows by coupling works that otherwise don’t belong in the same room—unlike the claque of well- and high-heeled, Saint Laurent–clad guests, who tend to stick together. It also proved that, like social butterflies, not all art is timeless.

I heard that the dinner for three hundred, sponsored by Saint Laurent and W magazine, was as hot and sweaty as the show, but by then I was hopscotching around Northwest Miami.

Left: Sharjah Art Foundation president and director Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi and collector Dasha Zhukova. Right: Dealers Jessica Juckes and Eva Langret.

The Rubell family was holding its annual VIP preview of the last shows to grace their collection’s longtime home in Wynwood. In the rare non-Trump news that day came word of the family’s move next year to the Allapattah District, an undeveloped industrial neighborhood where Annabelle Selldorf will convert a warehouse that is the full length of a city block.

A model of the new space was on view in the library, where the progressively chapeaued Mera Rubell was displaying paper cutouts of the best-known in her family’s collection of some seven thousand works. Give these people room!

It was very crowded here, especially with Brazilians. The Getty was previewing its next, Latin American–focused Pacific Standard Time extravaganza with Brazilian art video. The other ground-floor show, “New Shamans,” presented six worthy Brazilian artists—three from Săo Paulo’s Mendes Wood Gallery. “I’m very happy,” said the gallery’s Felipe Dmab. He was dressed in a stripy, skirted outfit that, in another life, could have been designed by Eli Sudbrack, who actually contributed a swirling wall painting as colorful as Carnival in Rio.

Martha Stewart did a drive-by before heading to the “Desire” dinner. “How was I supposed to know who she was?” Don Rubell asked his daughter, Jennifer Rubell. What could she say but, “Oh, Dad!”

Left: Lady Bunny. Right: Dealer Nara Roesler and artist Julio Le Parc.

Upstairs was a show of new acquisitions, artists who first-responder collectors typically favor—Anne Imhof, Max Hooper Schneider, Karl Holmqvist, Hito Steyerl, Bunny Rogers, and Samuel Levi Jones, and more, and more. The show’s title is “High Anxiety”—pretty current, considering the moment’s tenor.

With the clock ticking, I headed out to Garcia’s Seafood Market and Grille on the Miami River, where dealers Shaun Caley Regen, Thomas Dane, and Eva Presenhuber combined forces for an oyster, shrimp, and lobster-claw buffet attended by artists and curators from Los Angeles, New York, and London who were refining the art of schmooze.

At the Cypress Tavern, Gavin Brown was hosting a boisterous and heartwarming sit-down for Bayrle and Gartenfeld, where talk of the latest Trump outrages, and what galleries could do to counter them, accompanied the steak frites. If I rushed, I could cover the yawning distance to the White Cube party at Soho House on the beach, where Anselm Kiefer would be dancing to music performed live by Chaka Khan. Forgive me, I was having too good a time to leave. Besides, I thought I should rest up for the next morning’s VIP previews for Design Miami and Miami Basel.

That was not the case.

I made it to Design Miami’s tent behind the convention center within minutes of its opening. Hardly anyone was there. Was I too early? I’m never early. What was going on? Some dealers weren’t there yet. Fair director Rodman Primack was still on his way. (Traffic in Miami is awful.)

Left: Artist Eli Sudbrack. Right: Collector Stavros Merjos with dealer Angela Westwater and Städel Museum director of contemporary art Martin Engler.

With no one to distract me, I had time to enjoy the semifigural Gaetano Pesce cabinets at Salon 94’s booth and the museum of jewelry designed by Man Ray, Calder, and Fontana at Louisa Guinness before sailing through the door to Miami Basel. The line was so short that the security gates seemed overstaffed.

This was not like any Basel fair I’ve attended in the past fifteen years. It was quiet. Very quiet. Had the Zika virus scared people away? Were the Trump supporters among the American collectors (too many to count) keeping a low profile? Where were the museum groups? Society photographer Patrick McMullan stood helplessly near the entrance, waiting. “Uber isn’t even surging,” said art publicist Adam Abdalla. “And that’s telling.”

Okay, Barbra Streisand did come by with James Brolin, but not many saw them—either because their visit was brief or because there wasn’t anyone around to notice. There was Steve Cohen, picking up his first Franz West from Presenhuber. There was Steve Tisch and family making tracks, their business concluded, and Michael and Susan Hort. And there was the adviser Alex Marshall, though without his star client, the First Daughter–elect. Many artists wish @dear_ivanka would be a more proactive guard against Trump’s extremism. “She’s doing what she can,” Marshall assured me, and quickly walked on.

Maybe the fair had deliberately restricted the VIP preview to actual VIPs. “That was sort of the idea,” allowed Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. And indeed, it had rewards.

Left: Dealer Krystyna Gmurzynska and curator Norman Rosenthal. Right: Beyeler Foundation director Sam Keller.

Swiss dealer Krystyna Gmurzynska had time to give me some background on her impressive Russian avant-garde presentation, curated by Norman Rosenthal and designed by Claude Picasso. Several of the rarer works on paper had been in her family for years. Even Serpentine Gallery curator Hans Ulrich Obrist hadn’t seen them before.

With no one else about, Andrew Fabricant showed me around the Miro, Picabia, Jim Dine, and other works in the elegant Richard Gray booth. I was glad to get lost in the warren of rooms built by Neugerriemschneider, to study the endlessly fascinating repercussions of Jill Magid’s Luis Barragán obsession at Labor’s booth, and to be grossed out by sploshing, the slimy sexual fetish action in photographs by Linder at Blum & Poe. And, lured by the aroma of freshly cooked pasta, I hung out for nearly an hour in the wildly festooned, noodle-overwhelmed Beyeler Foundation booth, where Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari had created a walk-in one-bedroom apartment version of Toilet Paper, their riotous look-sex-and-death-in-the-face biannual picture magazine. That was the most fun I’ve ever had at a fair.

From there, I found the Gagosian booth packed, but the gallery’s owner was pacing, with no one to talk to. Yet he was smiling. “It’s slow but good,” went the common refrain.

One after another, dealers such as Almine Rech, Carole Greene, José Kuri, Lisa Spellman, Toby Webster, and Esther Schipper agreed there were fewer people, but that those on the floor were serious types who came to buy, not browse. “I’m almost sold out,” said Rech, echoing many others. It wasn’t yet lunchtime. When did that happen? Art fairs are transparent places, but these must have been the most discreet sales on record.

Left: Dealer Shaun Caley Regen. Right: Architect Shohei Shagemutsu.

In fact, this Miami Basel was all about transactions, not relationships. If you were faced with someone whose political affiliations were anathema to yours, you didn’t encourage extended conversations—about art or politics, or anything. Trumpty Dumpty supporters were loathe to call attention to their politics or engage in any verbal scuffles with dealers, who were just as anxious to avoid confrontation. “They just didn’t say anything,” one dealer told me. “They came, they bought, and they went.”

It’s unlikely that an art fair could become a springboard to higher moral ground. But people were asking: What can we do?

Some dealers—Blum & Poe, Gavin Brown, Mary Boone, Susanne Vielmetter, Michele Maccarone—featured pointedly political art by Sam Durant, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Jonathan Horowitz, Barbara Kruger, Rodney McMillian, all but Tiravanija’s made well before the election. For most others, it was business as usual. By cocktail hour, the aisles were filled. The dealers were sitting down.

Night fell. In the botanical garden outside the convention center, John Baldessari was christening his BMW art car. In Collins Park, in front of the Bass Museum (closed for renovation), Nicholas Baume ended his popular run as Art Public curator—Philipp Kaiser takes over next year—with “Ground Control,” letting Lady Bunny and her Major Tom dancers loose in her Intergalactic Disco, and by unveiling Ugo Rondinone’s Miami Mountain. Rondinone’s soaring forty-one-foot totem of Day-Glo-painted boulders is the tallest (and heaviest) of the works debuted last spring near Las Vegas by the Art Production Fund and the Nevada Museum of Art. The Bass commissioned this one—pretty scary for a place so vulnerable to hurricane winds and the floods of climate change. Why so high?

Left: Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. Right: Architect Kulapat Yantrasast and dealer Magnus Edensvard.

“I wanted it to be taller than the trees,” Rondinone said at dinner, a strangely alienating, corporate affair at Mr. Chow sponsored by the Russian-owned Phillips auction house with the Bass and (again) W magazine. The artist and his dealers (Gladstone, Schipper, Presenhuber, Sadie Coles) were ghettoed at a single table with John Giorno and Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal. Almost everyone else got acquainted with strangers.

I thought about dropping into the Greene Naftali/Chantal Crousel dinner or another closer by, or one of the tawdry hotel parties, and wondered if there was still time for Joe’s Stone Crab, where Chuck Close, Shepard Fairey, and Sarah Arison were among the diners invited by the DC advocacy group Americans for the Arts. I was hoping they were cooking up some tactic to counter Republican defunding. Alas! Too many options too late.

The next morning began with the spirited opening of the NADA fair at the Deauville Hotel. Here was the polar opposite of the sober Miami Basel preview. Every booth was crowded—okay, they’re pretty small—and there was excitement in the air. People were buying. (Okay, prices for work by young artists are not stratospheric.)

Before catching a plane home, I stopped in on the brunch that the Public Art Fund was giving at Casa Tua for the artists PAF director Baume included in Collins Park. Rondinone was just leaving. “I feel like a voodoo doll,” he said—pricked by the demands an art-fair week can make on a person, not just an artist.

In a few days, all of this will be history lost—at least until January 20, when we might have reason to remember how it was inside the bubble before it burst.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Dealer Hannah Hoffman with collectors Isaac Joseph, Marija Karan and Joel Lubin. Right: Dealer Friedrich Petzel.