First Time’s a Charm

Kathmandu, Nepal

Left: Kathmandu Triennale Patron Artist Francis Al˙s with Kathmandu Triennale curator Philippe Van Cauteren at Yala Maya Kendra. Right: Kathmandu Triennale Symposium curator Veeranganakumari Solanki Jamwal with Kathmandu Triennale founder Sangeeta Thapa and moderator Sanjeev Uprety at YalaMaya Kendra. (Except where noted, all photos: Kate Sutton)

WE CAN’T SEEM to get enough of the White House exploding—at least as moviegoers. No disaster flick is complete without a CGI medley of world monuments meeting their improbable ends, one after the other in a crescendo of increasingly bombastic catastrophes.

But synchronized destruction packs far less thrill when the effects don’t have to be faked. On April 25, 2015, Nepal was jolted by an earthquake that claimed 8,800 lives, leaving nearly 3 million people homeless and toppling countless centuries-old heritage sites. Within seconds, the catalogue of the country’s sacred temples and central tourist attractions was wiped out. When attempting to translate this devastation to film, artist Kishor Kayastha chose to focus less on the physical bricks and more on the rituals that originally animated them, suggesting that the lost structures could spring anew from this same life-giving force.

Kayastha’s Shifting Valley was screened last Friday at the opening ceremony of the inaugural Kathmandu Triennale, which itself was reborn from the Kathmandu International Art Festival. Founder Sangeeta Thapa touts this shift in format as a semantic pledge to a project that began when Thapa was worried that her program at Siddhartha Art Gallery was just not enough to nourish the city’s contemporary art scene. “When you’ve got a roster of thirty artists showing over ten years, it starts to feel repetitive,” Thapa confessed. “I realized there was still more we could do.” In 2011, she simultaneously launched the Siddhartha Art Foundation alongside the first KIAF, which was followed by a second edition in 2013.

Left: Artist Amrit Karki with his hillside painting in Kirtipur. Right: Taragaon Museum founders Namita and Arun Saraf at The Chimney.

At the opening, Thapa assured the crowd of artists and attending dignitaries that her decision to dedicate the freshly refigured triennial to the victims of the earthquake was not intended to fetishize the destruction but rather as a means to understand its impact, and thus more fully appreciate the country’s resolve to press forward. With this purpose in mind, tapping a foreign curator might have risked simplifying the narrative, but S.M.A.K. artistic director Philippe Van Cauteren proved an ideal match, pulling off a surprisingly seamless blend of international and local artists. For starters, he leveled the field by insisting that visiting artists come “with empty pockets,” to create work only through direct engagement with the city. He then recruited European collectors including Marc Vandecandelaere and Marleen Scevenels to not only underwrite the production of works by local artists but also help serve as on-site assistants, stacking cookies for Song Dong, molding clay sparrows for Ricardo Brey, or creating “rocks” for the community-authored project instigated by Mithu Sen.

Of course, part of Van Cauteren’s success was due to the generous loan of S.M.A.K.’s institutional infrastructure. The Ghent-based museum sent a small delegation to collaborate with the triennial, including a communications team and production manager Bjorn Heyzak. “I always involve my museum in my projects,” Van Cauteren noted, as if this was a peculiar thing to have to explain. Thinking back to his 2015 Iraq pavilion in Venice, he clarified, “That was a little different. For some reason, none of my team wanted to come with me to Baghdad.”

Limited to a slender two-week run, the Kathmandu Triennale is split among four venues, each reflecting a specific exhibition typology: the commercial Siddhartha Art Gallery; the palatial Patan Museum; the nonprofit Nepal Art Council; and the Taragaon Museum, a private initiative dedicated to preserving scholarship on Nepal’s cultural heritage. “You have to understand, Nepal was a closed country up until the 1950s,” Taragaon founder Arun Saraf told me over dinner at the Yak & Yeti Hotel’s much-loved Chimney Restaurant. “When Nepal suddenly opened to foreigners, you had all these social scientists pouring in to write their theses and document the traditions before they disappeared or got contaminated. But now those scholars are in their eighties and their kids don’t care about Nepal, so where is all this research? Just in an attic somewhere.” Saraf and his wife, Namita, founded the Taragaon Museum in 2009 as a showcase for these academic efforts. Doubling down on the cultural-heritage angle, they sited the museum in the old hostel by the same name, which had been designed in 1971 by Austrian architect Carl Pruscha, whom the United Nations had recruited to work on preservation in the Kathmandu Valley.

Left: Artist Song Dong at the Nepal Art Council. Right: Artist Mithu Sen with Flint's Wol Balston at Yala Maya Kendra.

The Sarafs probably could not have imagined the relevance the documents would take on less than a decade later. When I first heard the triennial’s theme—“The City”—I have to admit I winced. It struck me as just the sort of cop-out catchall one could expect from a European adventurer besotted with Bhaktapur and the thrill of a good haggle. But by taking on this seemingly banal subject, Van Cauteren pulled a maneuver similar to Kishor Kayastha’s Shifting Valley, moving the focus from the city’s broken body to its less tangible qualities.

Nearly two years past, the earthquake still looms large over Kathmandu. Buildings slump, bricks bulge, and cracks run along the facades of holy temples. In Patan, families squat in the ruins of their former homes, while a forest of wooden poles prop up houses against further collapse, ensuring that the streets can no longer be navigated according to the old routines (if they can be passed at all). This situation is reflected in the exhibition’s recurring motif of cartography. Mapmaking manifests in manifold forms, from Francis Al˙s’s inscription of a trail of melting ice through Mexico City to Alice May’s collaborative cityscapes, sketched in the back of shared cabs. There’s Lois Weinberger’s concept-based cartography; Jorge Macchi’s exquisitely excised roadmaps; Sunita Mahajaran’s gauzy textile collages of city terraces; Birendra Pratap Singh’s woozy street scenes, embedding buxom, bare-bellied women into architectural elements and open windows; and a photogenic contribution from Pokhara, Nepal–based artist Amrit Karki, who spent several months convincing residents of the suburb of Kirtipur to let him paint a red frame over a certain section of the hillside cityscape.

Understandably, another common theme was ruin, but only in the sense of intentional collapse. At the Nepal Art Council, Ciprian Mureşan constructed a miniature cardboard copy of Bucharest, a city hit by an earthquake of its own in 1977. Visitors were encouraged to walk across the model Carl Andre–style, reenacting the devastation. One floor up, Song Dong had enlisted an army of volunteers to help stack Toblerones, tea cookies, and brightly colored candies into a mandala-like portrait of the capital. A live-feed camera was rigged to the ceiling to capture the gradual demolition of this cookie Kathmandu, as visitors helped themselves to the sweets over the two-week exhibition period. At least, that’s how it was supposed to work. “Once word got out that there were free biscuits, people just came with bags,” Thapa lamented. The entire piece was wiped out before the end of the opening, leaving only empty pedestals and some brief video footage of the feeding frenzy.

Left: Artist Kailash K. Shrestha with Marpha Foundation's Jessica Kain at Taragaon Museum. Right: Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust's Pratima and Prithivi Pandé.

Van Cauteren’s initial introduction to the city’s art scene came in 2015 when Bengaluru-based curator Veeranganakumari Solanki Jamwal invited him to lead a workshop at the university. The student base remained strong throughout the triennial, with swarms of smiling volunteers at each venue. “It was actually a little disconcerting,” Al˙s admitted. “Ever since I arrived in Nepal, I’ve been surrounded by students, and then suddenly at my public talk, I look out and I see all these international art people.” While it’s true, curators Katerina Gregos, Cosmin Costinas, and Diana Marincu, Artland Project’s Ali Newling, and Dhaka Art Summit’s Emma Sumner all put in appearances, dealers were few and far between. When I inquired about Oscar Murillo’s fifty unique zines, handmade with the students and then left scattered about the venues, Van Cauteren shrugged. “Oscar’s attitude was, ‘If they get stolen, they get stolen.’ We don’t have gallerists hovering over our shoulder here. It’s a total break from standard methodologies.”

Not entirely. Like other -iennials of note, the exhibition boasted a hearty parallel program, which included a commune of Poznań-based artists roosting in the Patan microcommunity of Saugal, a showcase of the Bengal Foundation at Park Gallery, and roving open-air screenings of Michael Candy’s short film Ether Antenna, which played out Buddhist narratives with a cast of charming, homemade robots wandering the Himalayan hills. True to some of these tales, shit got real, fast. If the first chapter had me aww-ing at its Short Circuit–like antics, by the end, I was shielding my eyes from the abject antenna-on-antenna violence.

Left: Outdoor screening of Michael Candy's Ether Antenna. (Photo: Sahil Guraya, Robic Upadhayay) Right: Artist Karan Shrestha at Yala Maya Kendra.

Also grappling with some hard truths was the group exhibition “Built/Unbuilt: City/Home,” staged upstairs at the arts complex of Tangalwood. Curated by art historian Dina Bangdel, the show pairs three local artists with three artists based in Qatar, a country home to over four hundred thousand Nepali laborers. Having sat through my share of well-meaning panels on labor politics in the Gulf, hearing the Nepali perspective certainly gave me pause. For starters, there’s the intriguing distinction between the words for where one lives and where one works. Artist Mekh Limbu underlined this disjuncture with a project built on his father’s experience constructing houses in Doha. Using Google Maps, the artist printed out thumbnail-size street views of some of the two hundred houses his father has built. He balanced these against a single photo of the family house in Nepal, which his father has been able to visit only six times over the past twenty-one years. During the opening ceremony, Limbu’s father was called onstage to be honored for his efforts by a crowd including the Qatari Ambassador. Later, in the accompanying panel discussion, someone broached the delicate elephant of “what the international media calls ‘modern slavery,’” especially in a moment when skilled builders are so desperately needed in Nepal. “If it wasn’t a good deal for us, we wouldn’t be taking it,” Limbu replied, slightly indignant.

Shifting perspectives also marked Emelina Soares’s work, a floor mandala created using natural earth linked to the artist’s personal history: red clay from India, asphalt and limestone from Qatar, and gray sand from Nepal. Unlike with the Song Dong or Muresan installations, the crowd was noticeably reticent to participate in the demolition of the immaculate carpet by accepting the artist’s invitation to walk across it. “Everyone who encounters me changes me. I want to show that,” Soares assured the room. She found further inspiration in the Nepalese attitudes toward destruction. “They just resolve to build it all back up again and that’s that,” she marveled. “No one minds the mess.”

Left: Artist Leonardiansyah Allenda at the Patan Museum. Right: Artist Kailash K. Shrestha, Anil Chitraker, and Dominique Lämmli at Yala Maya Kendra.

I was still thinking about this the next day at a conversation on public art, where artist and educator Sujan Chitrakar brought up ritual masks. “It’s a question of sustainability,” he argued, referring to the tradition, rather than the materials. “They say traditions can only last one and a half generations. If you wait two, then you’ve lost it. This is why you burn your mask after each performance, so that the artist will have to make it again the next year and thus keep the tradition alive.”

Chitrakar’s point was lovely but it reminded me of an opening-day conversation I had with banker Prithivi B. Pandé, whose wife, Pratima, is the director of the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust. He detailed some of the foundation’s ongoing restoration projects, lamenting that work on one temple was stalled after some local scholars had raised public outcry over the use of modern reinforcements. “They want it built exactly according to how it was originally constructed, with no extra foundations or supports. And what happens when it falls down again? They say, ‘We build it back,’” Pandé said. “Don’t get me wrong, I sympathize. But they’re not the ones trying to raise funds for this.”

Kate Sutton

Left: Artist Lee Kit with the Kathmandu Triennale's Sujan G. Amatya. Right: Artist S.C. Suman at the Taragaon Museum.

Best in Show

Hong Kong

Left: Artist Zhang Xiaogang, dealer Johnson Chang, and Liu Jianhua. Right: Para Site director Cosmin Costinas and Serpentine Gallery CEO Yana Peel.

“THERE ARE MORE PEOPLE in this room than there are in all of Marfa, Texas. Although—it’s just as international,” said Chinati Foundation director Jenny Moore to an agreeable Jay Jopling.

It was Monday night, and we were at the Balinese Potato Head’s bar in Sai Ying Pun celebrating the opening of Theaster Gates’s solo show as well as the soon-to-open fifth edition of Art Basel Hong Kong. And the crowds were international indeed, including patrons Ivan Pun and Alan Lo, artists Carlos García de la Nuez and Eddi Prabandono, collector Serge Tiroche, RA’s Tim Marlow, and Taipei-based model and designer Leslie Sun.

I rolled into the party directly from my delayed flight, missing by a few hours the launch of satellite fair Art Central’s third edition (hosting more than ninety galleries in a large white harbor-side tent) and, in town, a cosmopolitan selection of shows celebrating mostly male artists (with the refreshing exceptions of Su-Mei Tse at Edouard Malingue and Tatiana Trouvé at Galerie Perrotin). The Pedder building alone introduced Do Ho Suh at Lehmann Maupin, Urs Fischer at Gagosian, Kim Tschang Yeul at Pearl Lam, “Roland Flexner – Ai Weiwei” at Massimo De Carlo, Heinz Mack at Ben Brown, Mel Bochner at Simon Lee, and a lively retrospective of paintings by Panama-born Hong Kong artist Luis Chan at Hanart TZ Gallery. “Welcome to my room,” Gates cheered as I settled into the plush interiors hidden at the back of the restaurant, where an elated crowd jigged about to disco. The good mood later relocated to the dark nightclub Cassio, where we joined Edouard and Lorraine Malingue, Marcel Crespo, Nadia Chan, George Armaos, and Art Basel director Marc Spiegler dancing into the night.

Left: Kukje Gallery CEO Hyun-Sook Lee and dealer Tina Kim. Right: Platform China director Sun Ning with collectors Li Huina and Huang Yu.

“Please check the Insights section and tell me what you think,” invited the industrious head of Art Basel in Asia, Adeline Ooi, during the surprisingly busy private view of Art Basel Hong Kong, which opened its doors to VIPs at 3 PM on Tuesday. She was referring to the exclusively Asian section of the fair. Overall, I preferred the less-mature presentations by emerging artists in the Discoveries section, but then there’s really no point caviling about what many agreed was the best edition of the fair so far—and a further assertion of the brand in their newest region of conquest.

“The same high standards, but each fair has its local flavor,” said Stefan Benchoam of Proyectos Ultravioleta, visiting from Guatemala. “I particularly like this one because I don’t know anything about it.” It was a reminder of what art does best, that even its most commercial embodiments encourage cross-borders openness. “Amazing!” “Wow!” “Incredible!” and “Oh la la!” were the enthusiastic reactions to Huang Yong Ping’s virtual-reality headset at Kamel Mennour’s booth, where one could revisit the artist’s Empires project at the Grand Palais during the last Monumenta. It happened to be one of many VR sensations this year. (Others include Asia Art Archives’ re-creation of Guangzhou in the 1990s and Zaha Hadid paintings brought to life in her exhibition at Taikoo Place, as well as various works produced as part of a partnership between the fair and Google Arts & Culture.)

That evening, galleries Esther Schipper, Neugerriemschneider, STPI, Take Ninagawa, and Urs Meile organized a dim sum feast at Duddell’s with an eclectic crowd including artists Rirkrit Tiravanija, Ryan Gander, Tobias Rehberger, and Daniel Boyd, curators Christina Li and Alexie Glass-Kantor, and Fondation Galeries Lafayette director François Quintin. Afterward, we caught up with those leaving Kukje/Tina Kim’s dinner at SEVVA and bounced from one party to the next, joining Sadie Coles and Shane Akeroyd at Salon 10, lasting a few crowded minutes at the M Woods party at the Studio, and dancing with the waiters at Cassio.

Left: Art Basel Americas director Noah Horowitz, Duddell's cofounder Alan Lo, and Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. Right: Art Basel Asia director Adeline Ooi.

On Wednesday, I joined Michael Lin for nibbles and wine at a reception whose organizers would rather us leave the details anonymous. We discussed the shifting art scenes between Beijing and Shanghai with Rockbund museum curator Li Qi and artists Rania Ho and Wang Wei, whose mosaic floor is one of the more notable installations in the Encounters section of the fair. I barely managed to make it past the bouncers at Ophelia for the BMW art journey cocktail reception with adviser András Szántó; thankfully we were ushered in by Hedwig Solis Weinstein. “What do you think? I found her in Shenzhen!” Tolga Albayrak said excitedly, pointing to ChaCha, the Chinese R&B singer on stage—indeed, pretty excellent.

I ran into artists Ho Tzu Nyen, Cao Fei, and Lim Tzay Chuen, Fei’s husband, in a VIP section at the back, and there we pondered our options: Asian Dope Boys with Justin Shoulder at de Sarthe’s new space in Wong Chuk Hang (we later heard that it was great and loud), Empty Gallery’s party for Takeshi Murata (a friend texted me that “the music is sick!”) or Takashi Murakami’s and Galerie Perrotin party at Bibo. We ended up at Ping Pong for the Serious Adult Dance Party organized by Adrian Cheng, Klaus Biesenbach, and Linyao Kiki Liu to celebrate K11 and MoMA PS1’s .com/.cn show. There wasn’t much dancing—probably because it was so packed. But there were plenty of serious adults, including Shanghai Art 21’s Thomas Wüstenhagen, artists Morgan Wong, Trevor Yeung, Yu Cheng-Ta, Cedric Maridet, and Ming Wong, Qiqi from Tai Kwun, Ingrid Chu, and Mathieu Borysevicz—among many, many others.

Justin Shoulder at de Sarthe Gallery, March 22, 2017.

The next day we stopped at the Pawn for collector Yang Bin’s wine sharing. “I collect art, but also wine,” he said as he poured us a Chateau Labegorce Margaux 2000 from a Nebuchadnezzar-size bottle. We then crossed the harbor toward the Harilela Mansion, where the family was hosting Alia Al-Senussi’s party for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The main bar was covered with bamboo and topped with an image of a bald eagle, while the corridors had LACMA-branded red lanterns. I ran into artist Ari Benjamin Meyers, whose show at Spring Workshop is powerful by all accounts. (Also not to be missed were “Soil and Stones, Souls and Songs” at Para Site, and the anthropological “Ambiguously Yours: Gender in Hong Kong Popular Culture” at the M+ pavilion.) LACMA director Michael Govan and other guests queued to talk to the fortune-teller in the lounge—though I think that she said the same thing to all of us: “You had many family and work pressures in the last ten years, but from now on, everything only gets better.” One can only hope.

After more dim sum, noodles, and cardamom-infused coffee, we hit the dance floor with a passion to a retro playlist. “I can’t believe they are playing this song! It was my first kiss,” sighed DIS magazine’s Marco Roso as we swayed to the Communards’ “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Of course, everyone ended up at Cassio again, but it seems more appropriate to conclude with this romantic flashback, which gives a nice tinge to a week of art parties mostly oblivious to the otherwise ugly news of our time.

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Left: Vitamin Creative Space's Zhang Wei. Right: Spring Workshop founder Mimi Brown, UBS's Deborah Ehrlich, and Art Basel's Noah Horowitz.

Weekend Update


Left: “The New Normal” curators Guo Xi, Wenfei Wang, Yang Zi, and Alvin Li. (Except where noted, all photos: Alexandra Pechman) Right: Eli Osheyack. (Photo: Dre Romero)

THE WEEKEND BEFORE the fifth edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong, a rivalry of sorts peaked between the Beijing and Shanghai art scenes. Expecting to divert the art world en route to Hong Kong, amid lifted visa requirements to allow visitors to the mainland for seventy-two hours, both cities packed the weekend with openings. Shanghai, with its meteoric rise in the art world, has worked hard to eclipse Beijing’s status as the country’s art capital. This year, Beijing pushed back, inaugurating Gallery Weekend Beijing, a spinoff of the Berlin edition helmed by Thomas Eller, who reached out to a mere forty thousand special guests.

The first day began with a handful of openings—fourteen galleries total, plus a few museums, were chosen to participate. Most events took place at 798 Art District, the massive decommissioned military factory that plays equal host to some of China’s best galleries and tourist traps selling CHAIRMAN MEOW cat T-shirts. Still, it’s the place to be: Urs Meile’s new space kicked off the weekend with a performance by Cheng Ran, and Platform China also moved from Caochangdi, the nearby arts district, in late 2015. “We want people to know what the real galleries are,” Platform China director Sun Ning told me. “There’s a lot of rubbish. 798 can be kind of a mess, but we know who’s good.”

To that end, the weekend saw a number of shows organized by young China-based curators, a stark contrast to the international prestige-mania characteristic of Shanghai. At Long March Space, Robin Peckham put together “Marching in Circles,” a show dealing with the chaos of art-world oversaturation, and at Galleria Continua, Colin Chinnery curated Zhuang Hui’s work on the Qilian Mountain range. “I’m working to make ends meet!” Chinnery said at the opening, sarcastically.

Left: Dealer Lu Jingjing and curator Yao Mengxi. Right: Linyao Kiki Liu and Thomas Eller.

Tiffany Xu of Cheng Art caught the show and weighed the competitive vibes. (She inaugurates her new art space soon.) “We like galleries to compete,” she said. “Then you can be someone. Or maybe you’ll be forgotten.”

“In Beijing, most radical spaces really are commercial galleries,” said Beijing Commune’s Lu Jingjing, when I stopped by to see their new show, curated by Yao Mengxi. “You do shows that you won’t sell. It’s a competition, but it’s from your peers.” (In that vein, galleries competed quite literally: A Best Exhibition prize would be awarded by a jury assembled by the Gallery Weekend.)

“Have you graduated yet?” Michael Xufu Huang of M.Woods greeted UCCA director Philip Tinari, who is studying at Oxford, at the opening of their new show later that evening. “I’m graduating,” Huang added, with a smile.

The exhibition title, “The New Normal,” refers to Chinese government doublespeak to explain the flatlining of Chinese growth, while the Chinese name “State of Exception”—clearly it has less of a ring in English—alludes to the term given to emergency orders that have become normalized in China. The show was originally set to feature only Chinese artists, but as of a few months ago, almost one-third of participants are foreign, though global political tides clearly made the topic more urgent. “You can’t talk about globalization in China without including international artists,” curator Alvin Li said.

Left: ADL's Rouzbeh Akhbari and Felix Kalmenson. Right: Dealer Sun Ning.

“Beijing has been waiting for something to put us on the international calendar,” said Billy Tang of Magician Space later on at the official Gallery Weekend Beijing gala dinner. “It’s super smart that they’re tapping into the momentum,” he said, adding cautiously, “to bring the crowds back.”

Crowds there were. The overbooked event (nearly four hundred people RSVPed) had a last-minute change of venue to Art Factory, right inside 798. Over the weekend, dealers from Blain|Southern and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, as well as Pilar Corrias and Esther Schipper, among others, made the trip. From Săo Paulo, Daniel and Alexandre Roesler made their first trip to Mainland China since 2003, en route to Art Basel.

I asked MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach what he thought of the Beijing edition of Gallery Weekend, versus the Berlin edition, and he accidentally responded in German. “It’s total déjŕ vu,” he offered as an excuse.

On Saturday there was plenty else to see around the city for those who didn’t want to be boxed into 798, from a project by Lu Pingyuan at JNBY, a high-end mall, to the Shen Xin performance at the small alternative space Salt Projects, Yuan Fuca and Liya Han’s newish spot on a historic hutong. I opted to go to Caochangdi, where Ink Studio opened a show of Tai Xiangzhou paintings.

Left: Collin Chinnery and Zhuang Hui. Right: Artist Cui Jie and UCCA director Philip Tinari.

“Five years ago, no one would have considered Shanghai important to Chinese art,” said gallery director Craig Yee. “Now Beijing is doing this Berlin personality,” he added.

“It’s not because of me!” a nearby Eller replied.

The weekend, like a lot of things in China, came together quickly and at the last minute: The first newsletter didn’t go out until January. Eller first visited Beijing in 2006 and noticed some key similarities to Berlin: “You’re close to power and you’re close to artists,” he said, noting both cities really have no significant art fairs. “So you put your money with the galleries.”

After the Ink opening, I headed to the VIP dinner at Green T. House, JinR’s palatial restaurant-cum-spa on the outskirts of Beijing, decked out with pond-size bathtubs, a collection of caged birds, and a massive garden and reflecting pool. A song from the sound track to Arrival played in the hangar-size dining room on repeat.

Sunday’s big draw was Linyao Kiki Liu’s Si Shang Art Museum, with openings of ADL’s Tides of Sand and Steel and a show of recent acquisitions. The appointment-only private museum, complete with an on-site hotel, lies past the Beijing international airport—practically in a different province—but it didn’t stop anyone from making the trek. Liu’s mom personally poured the champagne.

Left: Cheng Ran performance. Right: Cheng Art's Tiffany Xu.

ADL’s was yet another exhibition that dealt with the anxiety of place as globalization renders each one more like the other—or nonexistent. The research-driven artist collective began documenting the desertification of places such as Ningxia and Hebei provinces during a residency with the museum.

A few fairgoers noted Beijing’s smoggy skies as a strange counterpoint—China’s premier vowed recently to make the skies blue again. “It was so blue. Almost APEC blue. I thought they put blue dye in the sky,” said Anna-Victoria Eschbach of publishing platform Tria. They had just released a book object from Lin Ke, the artist who seems to be everywhere after relocating from Hangzhou to Beijing a few years ago. “You do still have to move to Beijing to be an artist,” Randian editor Daniel Szehin Ho noted.

The weekend capped off with another edition of Serious Adult Dance Party at Lantern Club hosted by Liu and Biesenbach—a reiteration of the Shanghai Art Week fete at the now-closed Shelter (and, reportedly, the most successful night in the infamous club’s history). The dance part was more restrained—people still had to make flights to Art Basel. But it’s clear that Beijing wants to be taken seriously.

Alexandra Pechman

Real Surreal


Left: Artist Raja’a Khalid. Right: Art Dubai fair director Myrna Ayad. (All photos: Rahel Aima)

“IT’S SOMEWHERE BETWEEN a craft fair and gun show. Doesn’t it feel that way?” an artist observed, watching VIPs gamely shuffling to lackluster beats at the after party for Art Dubai’s Tuesday preview. The cash bar left many reminiscing about the heady nights, just a few fairs ago, of free-flowing libations and late, late fetes on the beach.

Several attendees were heard wishing the DJ would play some Arabic “or at least Turkish” music. People from the region wanted to actually dance. As for those parachuting in from farther away (their numbers were up), were they not in Dubai precisely to carouse, with those self-consciously orientalized wrist twirls, on a man-made island, surrounded by ersatz canals and the kind of bling I once heard a collector memorably describe as “pussy and Ferrari art”?

I had just arrived from The Room: Cooking Liberty, a gastronomic performance by Beirut-based collective Atfal Ahdath. Inspired by professional spinach-hater Salvador Dalí’s 1973 cookbook Les Dîners de Gala, the twelve multisensory courses unfolded over three acts (“Glass,” “Shell,” and “Egg”), bookended by potent arak- and cognac-based cocktails. In one, there was nothing to eat, only a giant conch shell daubed with “Dalí’s perfume.” Walls were draped in red velvet, tables lined with electric candelabras, and the ceiling fluttered with thousands of peacock feathers. Surrealish more than surrealist, it was good fun nonetheless.

Left: Artists Vivek Vilasini and Mohammed Kazem. Right: Curator and writer Tirdad Zolghadr, curator Wassan Al-Khudhairi, and Art Papers editor Victoria Camblin.

Middle Eastern surrealism has been enjoying something of a resurgence in the past two years, with the Sharjah Art Foundation’s recent conference and Cairo exhibition “When Art Becomes Liberty: The Egyptian Surrealists (1938–1965)” and Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath’s well-received multicity show “Art Et Liberté: Rupture, War and Surrealism in Egypt (1938–1948).” And why not? It’s not like things are getting any less absurd, either regionally or abroad. (One of the vitrines in the display antechamber of the dinner included a taxidermy Chinese pheasant, its bouffant golden coif an unpleasant reminder of Muslim Ban 2.0, which would go on to be struck down later that night.)

Bardouil and Fellrath’s steadying hand could also be felt in the halls, which boasted far less decorative art than usual. Risks were few with the notable exception of Iranian galleries such as Tehran’s Dastan’s Basement, which gave its booth over to artist Fereydoun Ave for a curated installation. Perhaps that was to be expected following a few difficult years as the fair struggled to recover from the twin blows of the rouble crashing and Art Basel’s purchase of ART HK. They needn’t have worried, with galleries in the contemporary sector reporting brisk sales, and even the usually sluggish modern sector doing well, bolstered perhaps by new fair director Myrna Ayad’s inaugural three-day modern-art symposium.

Left: Curator Reem Fadda, curator Eungie Joo, and artist Shadi Habib Allah. Right: Dealers Kourosh Nouri and Nadine Knotzer of Carbon 12 in Dubai.

A casualty of the fair’s new direction is the experimental Marker sector. The curated section focused on a different geography each time, providing visitors with the rare opportunity to engage art from places including Central Asia, West Africa, or the Philippines. The influence of international director Pablo del Val was felt in the galleries from the 2015 focus region of Latin America, which had some of the fair’s strongest booths. Particularly exciting were D21 Proyectos de Arte from Santiago and Piero Atchugarry Gallery from Pueblo Garzón, whose striking monochromatic presentation brought together Pablo Atchugarry’s marble sculptures and Yuken Teruya’s delicately fractal trees in shopping bags. Also notable was Dubai gallery Carbon 12, with delicious ceramics from Monika Grabuschnigg that managed to surprise despite the gilded candy-colored phallic warheads and a suite of drawings from this edition’s much-buzzed discovery, Amba Sayal-Bennett. No one could believe she’s only twenty-six; if there’s anything this city loves, it’s youth. At Isabelle van den Eynde, another local gallery, a seven-foot suspended rope sculpture, finished by Emirati conceptualist Hassan Sharif’s assistants after Sharif’s death last fall, served as a poignant memorial to the artist, who was beloved as the father of the UAE’s contemporary art scene.

“Where is the contemporary in this? Nobody loves themselves in this city,” artist Raja’a Khalid remarked at the massive Alserkal Avenue gala dinner the following night. She was feeling the love: Everyone agreed her warehouse commission featuring five personal trainers working out in multihour displays of performative masculinity was the arts district’s unequivocal highlight. This year, we were there to celebrate the inauguration of Concrete, OMA’s first building in Dubai. All translucent moveable panels and rough-textured walls, the building is stunning in its unexpected humility and is currently home to a worthy exhibition of Syrian portraiture organized by Rasha Salti and Mouna Atassi. “It’s not networking, it’s collaboration!” I overheard among the beautifully dressed guests mingling over canapés and juice. “I don’t feel the need to network anymore.”

Left: Curators Aya Mousawi and Simon Sakhai of the Moving Museum and Delfina Foundation director Aaron Cezar. Right: Curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath.

Dinner was charmingly served family-style, and with a blessed rapidity that was roundly appreciated during this week of lingering dinners and lunches. Seated opposite me was John Martin, Art Dubai’s boyishly affable founder, and talk turned to inflated attendance figures and why the zoned arts cluster model shared by Alserkal Avenue and Gillman Barracks is doing so well in Dubai but floundering in Singapore. I wondered how things were going back in the VIP lounge, where I had just left an intriguing conversation on “Lebanese Lite.” A curator explained it as the Arabic equivalent of Translatlantic English, but the term lent itself well to the “Sharjah Beirutennial,” as a local artist dubbed it. We had just watched the unveiling of the $100,000 Abraaj Group Art Prize winner Rana Begum’s installation on a floating island across from the VIP lounge. The geometric arrangement of colored Plexiglas morphed rewardingly depending on your position and the quality of light. Smaller maquette versions were available at the Third Line’s booth, in a move that felt a little gift shop.

Curator and critic Murtaza Vali found himself seated next to MinRASY Projects director Rana Sadik, who enthusiastically showed him a paparazzi shot she had taken of his “Vetements for Balenciaga” long kurta and sweatpants combo at the Sharjah Biennial. “I’m on trend!” he later crowed, repeating it softly to himself, with no small modicum of wonder. Maybe it was his kurta, or maybe it was the desi mood that seemed to have spread among galleries, which included shows from Lala Rukh, Rashid Rana, Vikram Divecha, and Sudarshan Shetty. The UAE’s art scene has historically privileged Arab and Iranian art, but with inaugural editions of the Lahore and Karachi biennials and the Kathmandu Triennale soon joining the Kochi Biennial and Dhaka Art Summit, things are beginning to shift. “Dhaka is my favorite place to go skinny dipping,” Delfina Foundation’s Aaron Cezar exclaimed the next day, in between practicing his lines for Iván Argote and Pauline Bastard’s Born to Collect game-show performance, which pitted collectors against one another and seemed, from what I was able to catch, enormously fun.

Left: Writer and filmmaker Emmanuel Balogun, artist Albrecht Pischel, Sharjah Art Foundation’s deputy director Reem Al-Shadid and curator Ryan Inouye, and MoMA’s Atheel Elmalik. Right: Anthropologist and writer Uzma Z. Rizvi and Abraaj Group Art Prize curator Omar Berrada.

Highlights at Alserkal included the lovely, hushed intimacy of Rukh’s watery vistas at Grey Noise and Sara Rahbar’s stygian bronze sculptures of contorted limbs at Carbon 12, while at Lawrie Shabibi, Mounir Fatmi crossed more than just the color line in a video work that included the artist blacking himself up with shoe polish. Palms included. I wondered whether the artist had ever met a black person before. Frederick Douglass and Moten would pop up again at a lunch for the Artissima fair the next day. “This idea that we’re going to create a mass movement out of nothing, or that a show is going to be a paradigm shift?” mused a young curator. “It’s not realistic. Douglass’s fugitive narrative is proof that the commodity speaks but we don’t need more theory, we need new ways of thinking. Theory will just trap us in terms again.”

Over in the theory tent (Hans Ulrich Obrist was conspicuous in his absence), I caught a fantastic Global Art Forum panel from Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths, who teased out synergies between conducting an airport and playing a concert organ. Especially memorable were the clips of his disembodied, sock-clad feet, pedaling as if he were not subject to gravity.

Always a reliable visual tl;dr, the GAF cushions this year were emblazoned with the € and Ą symbols in a nod to Rem Koolhaas’s YES regime. They were updated with the ₹, or Indian rupee, and the Saudi Riyal because, as GAF commissioner Shumon Basar explained, “Times have changed and you need a sequel.”

Left: Dealers Mark Prime and Priya Jhaveri of Jhaveri Contemporary. Right: Brownbook editor Rashid bin Shabib, publisher Lars Müller, architect Fatma al-Sahlawi, and Kayoko Imamura.

Yes, times have certainly changed, but as I took a boat ride back to the fair—the canals are functional! Who knew!—one afternoon, I had trouble articulating why. At lunch, a senior curator remarked that the fair’s nonprofit and educational programs seemed to have dissipated and “it feels like it doesn’t have a personality anymore. With [former Art Dubai director Antonia Carver], you really felt her presence; Myrna hasn’t really made friends.”

And yes, despite the same people being here—all those friends we made along the way—there’s something that feels impersonal about this edition. For a long time, Art Dubai’s nonprofit programming anchored the city’s art scene, which made for an exciting few weeks in March and little else (at least on a more critical, discursive level). Now, it feels as if it’s passed that baton to Alserkal Avenue to focus on becoming a successful commercial fair again, as if it decided to finally put on its game face, look directly into the camera, and say, “I’m not here to make friends; I’m here to win.” I think that’s great.

Rahel Aima

Left: Global Art Forum comissioner Shumon Basar. Right: Dealer Thibault Geffrin of The Third Line in Dubai.

March in Time


Left: Mohammed Abdallah of Ashkal Alwan and Sharjah Biennial 13 curator Christine Tohme. Right: Raqs Media Collective performing The Necessity of Infinity. (All photos: Gökcan Demirkazik)

THE DIRECT FLIGHT from Istanbul released predominantly Euro-American passengers at the Dubai airport, where they were gently ushered to interterminal shuttle trains by Southeast Asian DXB employees—all amid glossy ads for residential developments featuring traditionally dressed nuclear Emirati families. This image stayed with me not least because the developer and self-described “provider of premium lifestyles” in question, Emaar, was the Platinum Sponsor of the Sharjah Biennial 13, but also because the scene made the correlation between ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and their connection to mobility and leisure, all the more explicit.

I arrived in Sharjah, the neighboring emirate, two hours later, just in time for the “Interlocutors Conversation,” which served as an introduction to the geographic dispersion of Tamawuj (literally meaning “rising and falling in waves” or “fluctuation” in Arabic), the current edition of the biennial, across five cities. Each interlocutor––that is, section curators not wanting to call themselves “curators”––spoke for one of the four other cities: Kader Attia for Dakar, Zeynep Öz for Istanbul, Lara Khaldi for Ramallah, and Christine Tohmé for Beirut. But the real subject of the panel was the age-old question of what institutions are for––this time, aptly laden with natural and poetic metaphors such as Attia’s “field of emotions” and Öz’s “latent seeds.”

In the Q&A, one audience member rather clumsily pointed out the elephant in the room by saying certain Gulf Labor Coalition members were still not able to enter the UAE; in response, Tohmé thanked her for bringing up this crucial topic and passionately added that she was “against obliteration of any movement,” noting that she did everything in her capacity to bring artists with travel difficulties to Sharjah––to resounding applause.

Left: Curator Kat Anderson, artist and writer Noor Abuarafeh, curator Cynthia Silveira, and curator Enam Gwebongo. Right: Director of Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen Giovanni Carmine, artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan, and curator and critic Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez.

Now that this rather delicate issue was voiced and addressed, March Meeting comfortably settled into the luxuriant yet often ironic poetry of (particularly Beirut-style) performances that either dealt with history in a speculative fashion or clinically deconstructed a historic or contemporary phenomenon. First was The Necessity of Infinity, a poignant new commission by Raqs Media Collective that unraveled as an imaginary dialogue on subjectivity and the universe between the tenth-century Persian scholars Ibn-Sina and Al-Biruni. At the end, we formed long lines to be seated for a different kind of performance—a “lunch performance” by Cooking Sections—in which all of the courses featured some sort of ingredient, such as sea asparagus or cassava, conducive to fighting against desertification. The Lebanese journalist sitting next to me seemed genuinely confused between bouts of foodstagramming, and with each course, made a point of asking Cooking Sections’ Daniel Fernández Pascual: “But do people really eat this in real life? How did you know it would work?”

At the biennial’s thirteenth edition, regional powerhouses were well represented by the likes of Mathaf director Laura Barlow and the Istanbul Biennial’s Bige Örer, as well as progressive European institutions such as the Van Abbemuseum, with its director Charles Esche; however, others, especially North Americans, were notably absent during the opening days, perhaps due to the concurrent Garage Triennial of Russian Art. In Mureijah Square’s village of white cubes, the talk of the town––including its shipment to Sharjah––was Monika Sosnowska’s seventeen-thousand-pound Constructivist steel Façade, 2013, which competed with another behemoth: Marina Castillo Deball’s similarly massive but more delicate Hypothesis of a Tree, 2016, made of bamboo and countless rubbings on Japanese paper. In the same gallery, Metahaven’s video on the possibility of “digital clouds” being dimensional frontiers, Information Skies, 2016, was singled out as the public favorite. Barış Doğrusöz and Lamia Joreige’s horizontally inclined, conceptually crisp propositions and Khalil Rabah’s Broodthaers-inspired Palestine After Palestine: New Sites for the Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind Departments, 2017, also made lasting impressions. That evening we were whisked off to Al Hamriyah, forty minutes away from downtown Sharjah, to see works at the newly built Al Hamriyah Studios. After an all-too-brief stay, crowds overdosing on art enthusiastically flocked to a cozy dinner on cushions by the Gulf.

On Sunday, I got a chance to explore other parts of the biennial at Calligraphy Square, the Flying Saucer, and the Planetarium. The first of these was especially strong, with its blend of new and older medium-defying work that questioned limits and politics of perception, including pieces by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, İnci Eviner, and Nida Sinnokrot, next to reflective, water-themed gems of paintings by Tamara Al Samarraei and the late Ali Jabri. Later in the evening, London-based Arts Territory curator Katarzyna Sobucka rescued me and my lost friends, and we finally made it to the screening of Ahmad Elghoneimy’s cryptic Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You at the unlikely Al Hamra Cinema, the mecca of local Bollywood lovers.

Left: Curator Eungie Joo and Reem Shadid of Sharjah Art Foundation. Right: Joe Namy’s Libretto-o-o: A Curtain Design in the Bright Sunshine Heavy with Love, 2017.

The highlight of the following day was undoubtedly Abu Hamdan’s lecture-performance Bird Watching, which expanded on the subject matter of his sound installation at the Calligraphy Square—the Saydnaya Prison in Syria—to a full house, and left many heavy-hearted and teary-eyed with its brilliant intertwining of silence and violence. The collective mood of the biennial posse drastically shifted once everyone headed to Dubai for the closing party, with a brief layover at Alserkal Avenue for openings at Green Art Gallery and Grey Noise, as well as new Alserkal Avenue commissions. A long and narrow road with huge meticulously lit palm trees took us to a villa on a presumably man-made island, where Emaar is developing luxury condos. Under thumping beats, Kenan Darwich of Berlin-based Fehras Publishing Practices admitted that he was relieved to be able to “let it go” and drink in an open space, while I heard Galeri Nev’s Lesli Jebahar, a fellow Istanbulite, complain about the lack of breeze and yearn for the Bosphorus. The night ended promptly at 2 AM, not long after the bar began charging 50 dirhams (approximately 14 USD) for a can of Budweiser.

On Tuesday, I decided to make a second pilgrimage to the commission-studded Al Hamriyah Studios, which felt all the more deserted (pun intended) without the March Meeting crowd. Excepting a few indulgent works (Abdelkader Benchamma’s trompe l’oeil room), the art here spoke beautifully to an all-too-human desire to change one’s course of life for the better, not working against but with the world’s strange tamawuj. When I realized that I was the only visitor left in the building, I snapped out of the hypnosis invoked by the Otolith Group’s The Third Part of the Third Measure, 2017, about queer African American minimalist composer Julius Eastman. The driver beamed at me as I hurried to the shuttle, full of fear of being stranded in the desert. Just as my panic was leaving, the engine stalled. He got out and left the door open without saying anything. This time I smiled and, thinking back on the day’s works, said to myself: “Bring it on.”

Gökcan Demirkazik

Spread the Love

New York

Left: Whitney Biennial curators Christopher Lew and Mia Locks. Right: Puppies Puppies. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky)

DESPITE AN AGGRESSIVE ATTACK on the arts from the current White House, our museums remain sanctuaries of civilization. Wednesday night’s opening of the Whitney Biennial proved that. Unexpectedly, it also unfolded as a model of democracy—and difference.

After seventy-eight attempts by Whitney Museum curators to survey recent art made in America, this was the first to see its (usually giant) opening postponed by a blizzard. It also marked the first biennial in the museum’s two-year-old Meatpacking District building. And it was the first—maybe ever—to win just about universal approval.

Traditionally, the Whitney’s signature show is cause for complaint. People doubt that the art on view is art. Or they find it boring, or white-male-privileged, overly beholden to market forces, or irrelevant. Not this time.

Left: Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg. Right: Novelist A.M. Homes with artist Celeste Dupuy-Spencer and novelist Scott Spencer.

As organized by curators Christopher Lew and Mia Locks, the 2017 edition doesn’t give curmudgeons nearly enough to satisfy their need to hate. That’s all about assuming a superiority of knowledge or taste. These days, the perpetually destabilizing world of alternative facts has reduced many in the art world to grabbing at straws.

Isn’t art supposed to upset the applecart? This biennial rights it. That’s unusual.

There’s no gender or generational imbalance here. On Wednesday night, the thorny entanglements of blue-chip galleries and museum trustees didn’t come up. Nevertheless, faces in the crowd did not reflect the show’s racial diversity. Most were white. That said, the evening did not have the taint of insider privilege either. Indeed, most of the usual art-world attendees appeared to have stayed home. I spotted the Eisenbergs, the Horts, and Beth Swofford, but most first-line collectors were absent, as were a host of big-name dealers.

Perhaps that was because the top dogs were treated to a Sotheby’s-sponsored preview on Monday. More probably, many people couldn’t amend their calendars after the snowstorm forced the canceling of Tuesday’s invitational opening; canceled flights kept away out-of-towners.

Left: Curator Valerie Smith and artist Jon Kessler. Right: Artists Lucy Raven and Tala Madani with dealer Pilar Corrias.

This was not a bad thing. The hastily combined guest lists for Tuesday and Wednesday resulted in a more even-keeled, demographic spread than it otherwise might have been. By itself, that made for a stronger statement of community—a welcome development in the face of brutal opposition from the White House. The following day, the Trump administration announced its intention to defund not just art but nearly everything in American life except war.

Leave it to the nerve-working but maybe brilliant Jordan Wolfson to make the point with his VR entry to the exhibition, where he enacts a brutal hate crime with excessive violence and no emotion whatsoever. I didn’t have the stomach to watch all of it. Others in the crowd, like dealer Mike Egan, found it not only tolerable but fun.

All in all, the atmosphere at the Whitney was unusually congenial and lacking in rivalry or snobbery. Whitney director Adam Weinberg’s biggest worry on Wednesday seemed to be Pope L.’s large pink cube of misinformation, which is outfitted with dozens and dozens of slowly desiccating slices of baloney. No one is likely to say the exhibition is full of it. And, Weinberg said, “At least it doesn’t smell as bad as it did during installation. A good sign!”

Left: Artist Asad Raza. Right: Artist Jordan Wolfson and dealer Jeffrey Deitch.

Despite, or because of, a certain emphasis on three-dimensionality—particularly Samara Golden’s show-stopping realization of the high-rise disease that developers are spreading throughout New York—painters were quick to compliment other painters.

“I like how aggressive they are,” primo biennial artist Dana Schutz said of KAYA, aka Kerstin Brätsch and Debo Eilers, whose collaborative project is devoted to reframing the painted canvas—in this case by hanging it behind resin shower curtains and attaching it to hardware ripped from their shared studio bathroom. In the adjacent space, fart-happy paintings by Tala Madani made for a delicious synchronicity, but Brätsch was quick to enthuse about the paintings of Henry Taylor, and not just because of their topicality. “I love the way they’re painted,” she said.

That was nice. In fact, everyone was pleasant, gracious, interested, excited. Even in a good exhibition, one expects a little grumbling. Not that selective, opening-night crowds are ever all that critical. Maybe they were just relieved that no Russians interfered. And that they could let the artist who calls himself Puppies Puppies speak for them. He, or perhaps an actor, held the torch for free expression, standing throughout all five hours of the opening, dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

Anicka Yi’s Fantastic Voyage, a 3-D video into the biological swamp, was a big favorite, mobbed by friends and admirers, as were Jon Kessler’s techno-smart sculptures, visual essays on the refugee crisis and a planet of quickly disappearing species, including the human. Louise Lawler, soon to be the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, took a special interest in Lyle Ashton Harris’s multiscreen personal photo diary and was curious about the annotated paintings Frances Stark had made of musician Ian F. Svenonius’s 2015 book Censorship Now!!, which speaks to the dark moment we’re in. Dealer Gavin Brown, eschewing conversation, read every single word on the spot.

Left: Artists John Riepenhoff and Frances Stark. Right: Bobby Jesus on a Jessi Reaves ottoman.

Ironically, though Svenonius railed against a creeping loss of humanity, this gallery became one of the opening’s primary social spaces, possibly because the huge ottoman by Jessi Reaves in the center of the room invited much hanging out. Reaves wasn’t the only one to make sculpture of furniture. Kaari Upson’s sexualized couches also made a play for attention, though they didn’t provide people reeling from Wolfson’s nearby video any chance to sit down and recover.

For that, they had Reaves, whose functional furniture-sculptures dotted the show. But they couldn’t beat the oxygenating pause offered by Asad Raza, whose indoor arboretum of young potted trees will flower during the exhibition at the same time Pope L.’s meat dries. “Afterward, I want to make a public garden somewhere,” Raza said, delighted by their popularity among the guests. Just goes to show: If you want to keep art alive, bring live art.

And load it with old-fashioned content, as Lew and Locks did. “We wanted to give the artists a chance to push back,” Locks said. And they do. Even with (mostly digital) weak spots, their ragtag biennial is a well-lighted path to a world we’d like to see—clear-headed, familial, vital, sensitive to our “postironic” moment, and indifferent to fashion.

Ultimately, this biennial somehow makes sense of the senseless time in which we live. And that is a notable achievement.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Dealers Bridget Donahue and Ash L'Ange with artist Allison Katz. Right: Dealer Sarah Watson, artist Kaari Upson, and dealer Mike Egan

Rainbow Connection


Left: Serpentine Gallery CEO Yana Peel, Moderna galerija's Zdenka Badovinac, Serpentine artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist, Garage director Anton Belov, and Stedelijk Museum director Beatrix Ruf. Right: Artist Taus Makhacheva with Anya Dyulgerova. (Except where noted, all photos: Kate Sutton)

A SALTSHAKER, A BRACELET, and a romantic folklorist painting of a prophetic bird walk onto a wooden stage: That’s the premise of Taus Makhacheva’s Way of an Object, 2013, a marionette show featuring replicas of three items from Dagestan’s Gamzatova Fine Arts Museum engaging in museological debates as they bemoan their fate as passive exponents wrenched from their original contexts. While the traditional Avar “horned” salt box and Kubachi wedding bangle mourn the loss of their specific cultural use-value, the miniature Viktor Vasnetsov painting whines that it’s the one who should really be complaining, having ended up exiled to Dagestan, as part of a late 1920s push to redistribute museum holdings from Moscow to other Soviet republics, all in the name of forging a unified cultural landscape for the world’s largest country.

It didn’t take. To this day, culturally speaking, the country now known as the Russian Federation still maintains at best an unwieldy grasp on its sweeping territory—home to nearly two hundred nationalities and one hundred distinct languages. So far, the most substantial efforts at expanding artistic representations of Russia have been made by the National Center for Contemporary Art, which maintains outposts in locales such as Kaliningrad, Vladikavkaz, and Yekaterinburg, the last being arguably the most internationally minded. (Its Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art is set to open its fourth edition this September, with a show curated by Museu Serralves director Joăo Ribas.)

Left: Artist Antonina Baever (“Genda Fluid”) with Ural Biennial curator Joăo Ribas. Right: Garage curator Yulia Aksenova with Triennial curator Tanya Volkova.

But the NCCA has been on shaky ground in the wake of a series of scandals that left the organization subsumed last summer by ROSIZO, a Kremlin-friendly bureaucratic behemoth of an exposition company. The Moscow Biennale hangs in a similarly nebulous state. Its seventh edition—to be curated by institutional salve Yuko Hasegawa—was confirmed only in late January, just a day after the organizers of the Russian Pavilion in Venice broke an increasingly awkward silence, at long last unveiling plans to present the mildly baffling combination of Grisha Bruskin, Recycle, and Sasha Pirogova.

Enter the Garage Triennial. Unlike the Moscow Biennale—or its precocious little sister, the Moscow International Biennale for Young Art—this museum-based exhibition models itself after the Whitney Biennial, sending a team of six curators on site visits around a country that spans eleven time zones. (And you thought America was hard to see.) As Garage director Anton Belov tells it, the idea spun out of conversation with the museum’s chief curator, Kate Fowle, who was contemplating a trip to Vladivostok, not realizing it was a nine-hour flight.

Of course, like any ambitious undertaking, there were a few qualms. In the spirit of inclusiveness, the six curators—Katya Inozemtseva, Snejana Krasteva, Andrey Misiano, Ilmira Bolotyan, Sasha Obukhova, and Tanya Volkova—originally formed a list of 120 artists, almost double the final roster. “Kate Fowle took one look at this first list, and asked, ‘And where exactly do you plan to put all of that work?’” Belov recalled, grinning.

Left: Garage patron Roman Abramovich with founder Dasha Zhukova. (Photo: Nikolay Zverev) Right: Artist Ugo Rondinone with his installation outside the Garage. (Photo: Serge Outrush)

The pruning process required some excruciating, sometimes inscrutable decisions. For instance, while Moscow is irritatingly well-represented (with some token “Siberians”—Evgeny Antufiev, for instance—having long since relocated to the capital), there was scant mention of the country’s Second City, Saint Petersburg. “The thing is,” newly minted Garage curator Valentin Diaconov reasoned, “Saint Petersburg already has its own scene, its own infrastructure and institutions and functioning galleries. I think when the curators were trying to determine what types of artists might benefit most, it just didn’t make sense to give those slots to Petersburg artists.”

So why didn’t they trim the Moscow offerings? After all, everyone loves Pavel Pepperstein, but to give such a well-represented figure a massive wall seemed a little excessive. Diaconov just shrugged with his trademark tact, but another insider put it more bluntly: “I’m not even sure any of the curators bothered to visit Saint Petersburg.” That would certainly give a different spin to the triennial’s tagline: “The country, as you’ve never seen it.”

Another conflict arose over whether to include Crimea. “Technically it’s part of the Russian border,” Obukhova stated, carefully and firmly, at the press preview. During the research process, the curator had traveled there personally, carrying on discussions with the otherwise orphaned art community. While no Crimean artists were officially included, some of those conversations will be brought to Moscow in April as part of a special seminar on what is to be done with Crimea. It was an unexpectedly elegant solution to a truly messy problem.

Left: Artists Sergey Poteryaev and Andrey Syailev. Right: Artist Olga Chernysheva and writer Boris Groys.

Slightly less elegant was the triennial’s cluttered hang. The bilevel space was broken down into thematic groupings by individual curators, from “Master Figures” to “Personal Mythologies” to “Street Morphology,” which included street-art commissions by artists such as Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai and Kirill Kto in the surrounding Gorky Park. Of these subchapters, Misiano’s “Fidelity to Place” was a standout, including: Makhacheva’s marionettes; Sergey Poteryaev’s playfully ahistorical collages of the Ural village of Staraya Utka (Old Duck); Aslan Gaisumov’s recovered house numbers from his partially destroyed hometown of Grozny; and Vladimir Seleznyov’s charming Metropolis. Nizhny Tagil, 2016, an immersive installation that filled a room with emptied milk cartons, sardine cans, shoe boxes, and other trash that the artist gathered around his Ural hometown. When the lights dimmed, masterfully applied glow-in-the-dark paint transformed this scattered garbage into a surprisingly cohesive cityscape.

Downstairs, Krasteva’s “Common Language” section kicked off with several “schools” by the crowd-pleasing Krasnodar-based ZIP Group. Each institution was consigned to its own wooden structure: the School of Aromatherapy and Luscious Painting offered visitors a chance to “paint” a mountain landscape with air fresheners, and the School of Minimalism and Cleanliness suspended solid-colored towels like monochrome banners. Meanwhile, the School of Futurism and Martial Arts reassigned classical Constructivist poses’ fresh political applications as “protest aerobics,” coining moves like the “baton block” or “barbwire squats.”

Upstairs, the Vladivostok-based artist collective 33+1 also constructed a separate structure to block off their collective display. “Originally I offered to have 33+1 do the entire triennial,” artist Pasha Shugurov told me. “But the curators only gave us this small space. Maybe next time . . . ” He guided me around the crowded installation, rattling off unknown artists until we came to a large mottled canvas affixed with a death certificate. “It’s titled The Last Painting,” Shugurov explained. “The artist threw himself from the tallest skyscraper in Yekaterinburg and landed on the canvas.” The story seemed a little too horrific to be true—though the American in me skipped straight to the potential biohazard part—when the cool twinkle in Shugurov’s eye suggested that the “33+1” of the collective’s name might be more like “33-in-1”: Shugurov.

Left: Artist Aslan Gaisumov. Right: Artists Dmitry Gutov, Yuri Albert, Vladimir Dubossarsky, and Pavel Aksenov.

With all this—and a full program of film screenings to boot—it was easy to forget that the triennial wasn’t Garage’s only offering this spring. The museum’s main foyer was consumed by The Tail Wags the Comet, a hulking new, multilevel installation by the extraordinary Ira Korina, who, along with Makhacheva, is on tap for this year’s main project at the Venice Biennale. Upstairs, a group show delved into the institution’s impressive archives, while, outside, the Garage’s Rem Koolhaas–designed facade was crowned with an Ugo Rondinone rainbow. As part of the museum’s extensive inclusivity program, children from nine cities across the country had responded with fifteen hundred pictures of their own rainbows, which were hung on a wall in front of the museum’s entrance. During the press conference, Belov stressed the importance of the rainbow as a symbol of all things “happy” and “joyful.” Somehow, it took me a full half-hour to remember that “happy” had another synonym more closely associated with the rainbow.

In the run-up to the triennial, Russia’s social-media set fretted over the possibility of too much Moscow representation. But the Thursday-evening opening was true overkill, with cameos by almost all the city’s principal figures from several decades. Besides the sixty-plus triennial participants jostling for cocktails were artists including Dmitry Gutov, Yuri Albert, Olga Chernysheva, Vladimir Dubossarsky, Sergey Bratkov, the Blue Noses, Sasha “Palto” Petrelli, Gosha Ostretsov, Lyudmila Konstantinova, Olga Bozhko, Valery Chtak, Misha Most, and EliKuka. Garage founder Dasha Zhukova and Roman Abramovich kept to the café, where they were surrounded by friends and well-wishers. Meanwhile, prodigal provocateur Marat Guelman was back from Montenegro, where he had retreated following some high-profile adventures in Perm. Other known rabble-rousers Andrey Erofeev and Dmitry Khankin traded notes upstairs, while rising curatorial powers Katia Krupennikova, Alisa Bagdonaite, Daria Parkhomenko, Anastasia Shavlokhova, and Ekaterina Perventseva scoured the grounds for new names. Fledging gallerist Mariana Guber-Gogova and her twin, Madina Gogova, culture minister of the Republic of Karachaevo-Circassia, showed up in support of Artwin Gallery artist Anya Titova, while XL gallery veterans Elena Selina and Serge Khiprun poked around Korina’s multiple spaces. Dealers Sadie Coles and Eva Presenhuber were on hand for Rondinone, while international curators Zdenka Badovinac, Sally Tallant, Maria Lind, Beatrix Ruf, and Boris Groys flew in for the Garage’s advisory board, convening the next day.

Left: Curator Dasha Parkhomenko, MEL Studio's Fedya Dubinnikov, and Triennial curator Katya Inozemtseva at Garage. Right: Artwin Gallery's Mariana Guber-Gogova and Madina Gogova.

In the interest of furthering international exchange, the Garage Museum had devised travel grants for curators. The program was highly competitive. More than 130 applicants vied for ten slots; at least three recipients chose to delay their travel, slightly undercutting the brunch in their honor planned for the following morning. Perhaps this was for the best. As happens with a scale of this event in Moscow, things got more and more “festive.” With the Marriott Grand signing on as a sponsor, agreeing to host all the artists, curators, board members, visiting critics, and assorted guests, all roads—no matter how convoluted—eventually led to the same hotel lobby.

While I never made it past the lobby that night, many who did crammed into a hotel room on the third floor to celebrate triennial artist Mayana Nasybullova’s birthday. In line for coffee at the curator brunch the following day, Nasybullova showed me cell-phone footage of the scene, where artists Olya Kroytor and Sveta Shuvaeva bounced on a bed beside Korina, Diaconov, and assorted members of Chto Delat. Every other available space was occupied by artists from all corners of the country. When the room reached capacity, the party spilled down to the pool and hot tub, with several artists seemingly forgetting their speed dates with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Ruf, scheduled for bright and brutally early the next morning.

Also in line for coffee, Poteryaev peered over my shoulder at the video and nodded approvingly: “This is the real triennial.” We then swiped forward to some pseudo-elicit shots of artists in hotel bathrobes, requisite jacuzzi pics, and an epic bout of couch-wrestling. The country, as we’ve never seen it.

Kate Sutton

Left: Triennial curator Andrei Misiano with curator Viktor Misiano. Right: Artists Sveta Shuvaeva, Ira Korina, and Olga Chernysheva.

Good Humor

Manila, Philippines

Left: Bellas Artes's Efren Madlangsakay and Bellas Artes Projects and Dhaka Art Summit's Diana Cambell Betancourt with architect/curator Aurelien Lemonier on Not Vital's chapel in Bataan. Right: Art Fair Philippines cofounder Trickie C. Lopa. (All photos: Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva)

I HAVE YET TO FIND a taxi driver who thinks wrong of president Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte since his election last May. His approval ratings regularly exceed 80 percent, despite the controversial hero’s burial he organized for former dictator Ferdinand Marcos last November, or the indiscriminate slaughtering of suspected drug dealers and users—including children. His war on drugs amounts to more than seven thousand shot dead so far (more than during the martial-law period, artists tell me), reinforcing the “doing what it takes” attitude gaining popularity worldwide. And yet the economy seems pleased, and the Philippines is now posting one of the fastest growth rates in the world, at 6 percent. This bodes well for the art market, too, I thought as I flew into Clark International Airport. I arrived a day prior to the opening of the successful fifth edition of Art Fair Philippines (now taking over four car-park floors) to first drive to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan, by the South China sea, a peaceful prelude to my visit the next day to metro Manila.

“Sometimes we’ll have drinks and dinner in different houses,” Diana Campbell Betancourt nonchalantly shared, with a large smile and a sway of her hand, while showing us an eclectic collection of houses, peculiarly displayed as if in an entertainment park, including the nineteenth-century national hero José Rizal’s ancestral home, a reconstruction of the hotel Oriente, and tribal wooden homes on stilts, among many others—forty and growing. “Jose Acuzar doesn’t collect art, but he collects houses,” Campbell Betancourt explained of the Filipino real-estate developer. She works with Acuzar’s daughter Jam in developing a residency program, an exhibition space, and a contemporary art sculpture park up on the hill, as part of the Bellas Artes foundation, started in 2013. And so curator Aurélien Lemonier and I followed her at sunset in a four-wheel-drive car to the first structure of the park: a Not Vital chapel close to completion, from the stairs of which we enjoyed the view and wine in plastic cups while contemplating the region’s grim history (in 1942, approximately seventy-five thousand Filipinos and Americans marched to Japanese prison camps, known as the Bataan death march).

Left: Artist Carlos Celdran. Right: Artists Angela Velasco Shaw and Ashley Bickerton.

The next day, we were joined by curator Gridthiya Gaweewong and researcher “Waew” Kasamaponn Saengsuratham, and on we went for the slow drive to Manila. I arrived at the fair just in time for the vernissage. As usual, the crowds from the most Latino country in Asia showed much enthusiasm for art and fun. I ran into artists Angela Velasco Shaw and Ashley Bickerton. “We were so crazy that they had to peel us off the walls!” Bickerton exclaimed, reminiscing of their student life at CalArts. More artists joined us on the new top-floor terrace—Buboy Cańafranca, MMYu, Isabel R. Santos, Nona Garcia, and Kawayan de Guia.

On Thursday, Eva McGovern Basa was launching the No Chaos No Party book at the new private club Manila House—a hefty, colorful volume presenting the work of twenty-eight Manila-based artists. I swung by to see artist Wawi Navarroza, spotted socialite Tessa Prieto-Valdes, and talked to dealer Matthias Arndt, before going to the exhibition of Mexico-based artist Carlos Amorales, curated by Campbell Betancourt, followed by a seated dinner, organized by Jam Acuzar at the just-inaugurated Bellas Artes Outpost at Karrivin Plaza, above the Drawing Room gallery. Banana leaves were set on two long tables, on which rice, fish, meat, and other fare awaited guests. The list included artists James Nares and Maria Taniguchi, collector Marcel Crespo, curators Ute Meta Bauer, Tobias Berger, and Cosmin Costinas, and Ayala Museum director Mariles Gustilo. I had wanted to go to the Green Papaya Art Projects benefit for artist Ferdz Valencia, who suffered a stroke last December, but my traffic app projected a discouraging hour-long ride. Most of us moved on to the party at nearby club 20/20. “Are you a mermaid?” asked organizers Superstarlet_xxx and Anton Belardo as the basement space fell into a trance with a passionate drum session by Chiko Hernandez.

Left: Superstarlet_xxx, artist Anton Belardo, and Kikay Punch. Right: Filmmaker and artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

On Friday, collector Anton Ramos threw a discreet lunch for writer Sarah Thornton, who was in town for one of her captivating talks later that day at the fair—exquisite as always. “We are here as 100 percent tourists,” joked artist Leung Chi Wo Warren, enjoying his first time in Manila. “Your films have changed my life,” a member of the audience gasped during Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul’s talk, minutes before his excellent solo-exhibition opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design that afternoon. “I make films about simple things,” said Apichatpong. “My boyfriend, my dogs, my trees, the things I would be sad if they disappeared from my life.” I ran into Lani Maestro, who, with Manuel Ocampo, will represent the Philippines at the Venice Biennale, before driving with Poklong Anading and MMYu to 1335 Mabini for the opening of three shows: Carlos Celdran’s performative intervention regarding the Catholic Church’s opposition to the Reproductive Health Bill, for which he’s pending a year-long jail sentence for blasphemy; a group show by Junyee, Gus Albor, and Tengal Drilon on Filipino current affairs, specifically the new presidency and recent killings; and a solo exhibition by Kiri Dalena, featuring a shattered-glass installation and a video—also a reference to the growing number of people killed under the current administration.

“Let’s have a beer then,” said dealer Birgit Zimmermann after the opening, as we couldn’t find a taxi to take us back to Makati for drinks organized by Silverlens gallery. “Let’s go to the ugliest girly bar you’ve ever seen,” Zimmermann laughed. It wasn’t ugly, but it certainly was entertaining. “Please have a sense of humor,” advised Celdran, who, while awaiting his jail sentence, still runs his famous tours of the old Manila. Art-world visitors joined tourists in a witty and theatrical World War II historical walk on Saturday morning, taking in the damage and the resilience that the Philippines still exudes today. From crying to laughing and back—what else can we do?

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Left: Art Basel Asia director Adeline Ooi, writer Sarah Thornton, and Alexandra A. Seno, head of strategic development Asia Art Archive. Right: Art Fair Philippines cofounder Lisa Periquet and dealer Isa Lorenzo.

Pier Review

New York

Left: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch. Right: Artists Cindy Sherman, Sterling Ruby, and Melanie Schiff. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky)

UNSETTLING TIMES have unsettled the art world. If this year’s Armory Week pointed up any one trend, it was a certain changing of the guard from the top down.

For the first time since the election of Donald J. Trump, conversation dominated by national politics took a back seat to who-killed-Cock-Robin speculation over Metropolitan Museum director Thomas Campbell’s resignation on Tuesday. That only deepened the mystery of Andrea Rosen’s bombshell letter announcing the closing of her gallery, hard on the heels of Hauser & Wirth’s equally rumor-mongering separation from the gallery’s Los Angeles partner, Paul Schimmel. When the “failing” New York Times starts living up to Trump’s epithet by reviewing art at the fairs within the context of dealer fashions—Diary territory!—you know the earth is shaking.

The week actually began on a socially conscious note, when the Museum of Modern Art premiered Tania Libre, Lynn Hershman Leeson’s documentary about the activist Cuban artist Tania Bruguera. “Art is dissent,” Bruguera said during a Q&A with Leeson and curator Stuart Comer.

Left: Dealer Gavin Brown. Right: Artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila, dealer Marian Goodman, and artist Lawrence Weiner.

There wasn’t much evidence of that idea on Tuesday, when the young, curator-driven Spring/Break Art Show opened to VIPs on two floors of the former Condé Nast building in Times Square.

Once inside the now squalid offices, any hope for the discovery of a new underground on the order of 1980’s “Times Square Show” had to be abandoned. With a few exceptions, exhibiting curators—some of them professional dealers, others artists representing themselves—took a slapdash, art-schooly stab at “Black Mirror,” the theme chosen by fair organizers Ambre Kelly and Andrew Gori.

Conceptualism faded beneath an onslaught of digital imagery, 3-D printing, and robotics, with occasional relief from the proudly handmade. In the latter category, Cate Giordano stood out with her Ed Kienholz–influenced domestic environments, but a biker barber shop presented by Eve Sussman and dealer Simon Lee seemed less like art than a slight distraction from it. Four Letter Word Projects curator Lynn Sullivan succeeded, however, where many did not, with a thoroughly professional group exhibition in what was formerly a kitchen.

Left: Artist Joyce Pensato. Right: Dealer Anton Kern and artist Chris Martin.

Across town, at the Park Avenue Armory, the polar opposite of this chaotic experience awaited at the serene opening of the Art Show, the Art Dealers Association of America’s stately annual fair. Yet even here, where the rumor mill went into overdrive, the landscape was noticeably populated less by the jewel-encrusted dowagers and retired bankers than a younger generation more engaged with contemporary art than American modernism, which once ruled this fair.

“I’ve seen more billionaires tonight than I ever did in Basel,” said ADAA president Adam Sheffer. MoMA people such as director Glenn Lowry, painting and sculpture chief curator Ann Temkin, former president Agnes Gund, and trustee Donald Marron all converged at once. “Well,” Temkin declared. “You know how we like to shop!”

Also on the floor was Nancy Spector, who is returning to the Guggenheim Museum—this time as deputy director as well as chief curator—after just a year at the Brooklyn Museum. “I couldn’t resist the tug of home,” she said.

Another turn of the wheel was just inside the entrance, where Paula Cooper, who probably has mentored more dealers than any other gallerist, chose her first appearance here in twenty years to introduce her new hires, battle-scarred veterans Lisa Cooley and Jay Gorney, with a solo show of new Kelley Walker collages that verge on territory claimed by another gallery artist, Christian Marclay.

Left: Dealers Maureen Paley and Oliver Evans. Right: Artist Jacolby Satterwhite.

San Francisco dealer Anthony Meier also set tongues wagging with a $1 million glass-and-mirror sculpture from 1981 by Larry Bell. Many guests were captivated by the vintage photograms in the Hans P. Kraus Jr. booth and by the giant light-box photo of an interior scene by Rodney Graham at 303 Gallery. “I feel like I’m in the art!” exclaimed dealer Lisa Spellman.

This fair is always beautiful to behold, partly because the small scale of the booths encourages dealers to focus on solo projects, like the miniretrospective of Joyce Pensato paintings at Petzel. (Luhring Augustine should always hang Josh Smiths on mauve walls.) “Some say we’re the star of the show,” boasted dealer Sean Kelly, indicating paintings by Ilse D’Hollander, a Belgian artist who died at age twenty-nine.

Matthew Marks, from whose gallery Brice Marden and the estate of Tony Smith recently decamped, put his best face forward with delicacies from Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper Johns. “Jasper gave that to Robert Scull’s son for his bar mitzvah,” he said of a 1961 painting that featured a cast fountain pen. Marc Selwyn turned up with a mix-and-match presentation of gorgeous drawings by Lee Bontecou and Jay DeFeo.

No such sense of order attended Wednesday’s opening of the Armory Show, the anchor fair of the week and the first fully under the control of director Benjamin Genocchio. He spoke enthusiastically of changes he has wrought: “slimming” the number of galleries (to 210), (thinly) carpeting wider aisles, repositioning booths, and removing one aisle and adding both cross-paths and more open spaces, which included a faux village green for the commissioned installation of red-and-white polka-dotted sculptures by Yayoi Kusama. But they didn’t add up to a better experience of art on these unforgiving piers.

Left: Dealers Lisa Cooley and Jay Gorney. Right: Dealer Alex Logsdail.

I couldn’t help but think that that the fair might benefit from returning to its new-art-only origins and consolidating on a single pier. Jeffrey Deitch recalled those beginnings as the Gramercy Art Fair with a re-creation of his magenta Florine Stettheimer Collapsed Time Salon. Designed by Ricky Clifton and Jane Kaplowitz, it included a wall of historical works with many of far more recent vintage. “I hear you’re in line for the Met job,” joked collector Irving Blum to Deitch. “But only if you take Paul Schimmel with you.” (As insiders know, there’s no love lost between those two.)

It was, in any case, a shame to hide curator Jarrett Gregory’s Focus section—an exhibition rather than a regionally organized ghetto—at the far end of Pier 92, up the rickety stairs, past the quiet twentieth-century art booths, and in front of a misplaced VIP room.

“It’s super-international,” Gregory said of her selection, which put the emphasis on politically or socially engaged artists and privileged female artists, few of them white.

Left: Nancy Spector, Guggenheim Museum artistic director and chief curator. Right: Shelly Fremont, John Waters, and Frankie Rice.

At the back of Pier 94, the new Insights section, for young galleries, got high marks from attendees. Of particular note was the Zohra Opoku installation in Seattle’s Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, which took the $10,000 Athena Art Finance prize for best booth. And it deserved it, though Various Small Fires had a nice collection of Mernet Larsen drawings, and in the main section, P420, König, and Continua also had admirable presentations.

All the same, it was exhilarating to move back to proper galleries that night, when Marian Goodman—possibly the most stable point in the New York art world—opened shows of new works by Lawrence Weiner and Eija-Liisa Ahtila, with Robert Barry, Joan Jonas, and Mary Heilmann in attendance, while Gagosian’s Madison Avenue flagship welcomed a different generation of art stars (Cindy Sherman, Albert Oehlen, Mark Grotjahn, Richard Prince) to a strangely erotic exhibition of new paintings and ceramic sculptures by Sterling Ruby. The Goodman group dined at the Monkey Bar; Gagosian’s crowd repaired to a buffet at the dealer’s Kappo Masa downstairs.

With this head of steam, Thursday brought the simultaneous openings of the Independent and NADA fairs. With its selective group of top mid-level galleries, the Independent’s residence at the sun-drenched Spring Studios was the far more pleasant experience, where artists—in particular, Magali Reus (The Approach), Derrick Adams (Tilton), Anna Betbeze (Gorney), Andrés Eidelstein (Karma), Darja Bajagić (Carlos Ishikawa), and David Shrigley (Anton Kern)––really had a chance to shine and/or disturb.

Left: Artist Sue Williams and Fortnight Institute cofounder Fabiola Alondra. Right: Artist Zohra Opoku.

With its mostly tiny stalls and much-wasted space, NADA had little clarity. Maybe I was too weary to take in any more art-as-merchandise, except in the larger, more experienced galleries such as 11R, Callicoon, Moran Bondaroff, and Tif Sigfrids. Meanwhile, the new Sue Williams show at 303 was a breath of fresh air, and in his New York debut at Lisson Gallery, Pedro Reyes’s sculpture and drawing installation seemed more like a festival than a single exhibition. “It’s the artist’s revenge,” he said, mostly as a riposte to Trump’s denigration of Mexican nationals.

By the time I got to the Modern Institute/Karma dinner at En Japanese Brasserie, where Jordan Wolfson more or less held court over Eidelstein and Walter Price, I was at the point of praying: Whatever comes next, please let it be in one place.

It isn’t likely, however, that the art world will actually contract. Still, in a week, when the Whitney Biennial arrives, it could bring yet another reshuffling of the cards.

Left: Artist Adam Pendleton with dealer Janine Foeller. Right: Artist Mary Heilmann with dealer Lisa Spellman.

Linda Yablonsky

Future Offerings


Left: PinchukArtCentre's founder Victor Pinchuk and artistic director Bjorn Geldhof. (Photo: Sergey Ilin, PinchukArCentre) Right: Artist Nikita Kadan with Future Generation Art Prize nominee Ibrahim Mahama. (Except where noted, all photos: Kate Sutton)

WHEN THE PINCHUKARTCENTRE first announced the Future Generation Art Prize in 2010, the competition’s name was met with some cynicism, if only because, in the context of the art world at that time, the “future” was dubious at best—a few laps around Art Basel’s Statements section followed by a fiery demise at Philips and then maybe an embarrassing afterlife hosting Miami parties for struggling luxury brands.

Nearly seven years later, “the future” invites a different cynicism. Not to be one of those Americans who makes everything about Trump, but . . . Suffice to say, just a month into his official presidency, the prospect of a tomorrow at all hangs on perilously thin strings.

It was partially for the distraction from social-media doomsaying that I flew to Kyiv last Friday for an exhibition of the twenty-one artists and collectives short-listed for the FGAP’s fourth edition, which had been delayed a year due to political unrest. Trump’s Twitter-thuggery may have effectively ousted Ukraine from the front page, but the country’s conflicts are far from resolved. That Wednesday witnessed the March of National Dignity, where thousands commemorated the third anniversary of the Euromaidan Revolution. Meanwhile, I felt increasingly sheepish having to converse with cab drivers and trolley-bus ticket-takers in Russian.

Left: Future Generation Art Prize nominees Vajiko Chachkhiani and Aslı Çavuşoğlu. Right: FGAP nominees Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Firelei Báez, and Phoebe Boswell.

Further violating decorum, on arrival I ambushed PinchukArtCentre artistic director Bjorn Geldhof with questions over hotel breakfast (generally understood as a social no-fly zone). “Putting together a project like this, bringing in all of these international artists and producing new commissions with them—it’s a tremendous investment,” he admitted. “This is why we originally decided to delay. But now we’ve realized that we have to risk this investment, because the international conversation has to continue. Even as I look back on the first Future Generation from 2010, the impact the prize has had on the local scene has been amazing. We can’t quit now.”

This resonance is perhaps partially due to the community-accented lilt of previous commissions (see FGAP 2014 winner Carlos Motta’s Patriots, Citizens, Lovers . . ., a collaboration with local LGBTQI activists and their support networks). A portion of the credit, however, should go to the other initiatives Geldhof has spearheaded, including the conversion of one of the exhibition spaces into a library and a project that recruits emerging Ukrainian art historians to research the country’s art scene. “It’s important to get these art historians while they’re young, so they are not as dug into their narratives,” Geldhof said, grinning. “But also so that they have the fire to keep up with these older artists, you know, drinking vodka late in the evenings to get all the good stories.” Spoken with the voice of experience.

Geldhof heads up this year’s jury—international curators Nicholas Baume, Iwona Blazwick, Mami Kataoka, Koyo Kouoh, Jérôme Sans, and Jochen Volz—that will decide the recipient of the $100,000 grand prize, to be announced later this month. The exhibition of work by the short-listed artists will then travel to Venice, where Geldhof will reinstall the show with help from Anna Smolak, the prize’s first guest curator, who oversaw the Kyiv edition.

While these kinds of showcases are known to be uneven, the Krakow-based curator’s presence makes a tremendous difference. In just three months, Smolak managed to root out unlikely continuities among twenty-one artists and collectives, ranging from Martine Syms, Kemang Wa Lehulere, Li Ran, and Phoebe Boswell to Vajiko Chachkhiani and Sasha Pirogova, due to represent Georgia and Russia, respectively, at this year’s Venice Biennale. For the opening piece, Smolak worked with Sol Calero to refigure the Venezuelan artist’s Casa de Cambio, a brightly colored exchange booth where visitors can barter for Calero’s drawings.

Left: Artist Zhanna Kadyrova. Right: Curator and critic Katya Taylor with Platforma editor-in-chief Yuriy Marchenko.

“We adapted it so that it now echoes the previous format of the Pinchuk reception room, with the artist’s desk and the chairs where the institution’s used to be,” Smolak explained. As an additional touch, the suspended waiting-room-style monitors now broadcast videos from Kharkiv’s SOSka Group, creating an additional tension between Calero’s candy-colored tropicana and the comely squalor of the Ukrainian countryside.

On the next floor, Smolak’s pairing of Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s sumptuous paintings and Firelei Baez’s gorgeous collages and book-cover interventions (“a visual archive of the margins,” as the curator put it) gained an additional element of drama from the bass line of Vivian Caccuri’s nearby Oratorio (Tidal Wave), 2017. The Brazilian artist’s sound piece seeks to rectify Christianity’s musical tradition of shunning low frequencies by using forbidden “pagan beats” to compose an Ambrosian hymn. She blasted the hymn from a minishrine of subwoofers, which sent the flames of attendant candles bouncing along with the bass. Down the hall, Iván Argote played sound to a different effect, rounding out a new film with a voice-over from a Femen activist he had met in Paris. “As a political refugee, she might not be able to travel back home. But at least her voice can still be heard here,” Argote reasoned.

The lunacy of current affairs was further illustrated (literally) by Andy Holden’s film Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape, 2011–16, in which the artist’s animated avatar leads the audience through a lecture on how the specific quantum mechanics of the cartoon world—i.e., the idea that gravity doesn’t take effect until you acknowledge it, glancing down at your feet to discover you ran off the cliff five steps back—find parallels in our current political situation (cut to clips of the Arab Spring or Trump goofily gliding down that fateful escalator). The walls in Holden’s screening room immersed the viewers in a brilliant, Kermity green. “When I do this live, I have an actual green screen on hand, so I can pop in and out of the cartoon landscape as I’m speaking,” Holden explained. I jotted down the dates for his upcoming Tate performance. (More potential distraction?)

Left: FGAP nominee Kemang Wa Lehulere with Stevenson Gallery's Lerato Bereng. Right: FGAP nominee Li Ran.

The youngest of the nominees, twenty-five-year-old Rebecca Moss, has already built up her own semicomic persona as “that artist.” Last September, she had been on board Hanjin’s Geneva, traveling from Vancouver to Shanghai as part of the “Twenty-Three Days at Sea” program offered by Access Gallery. A week into Moss’s journey, however, the shipping company went belly up, and the ship was refused port. For two weeks, it drifted aimlessly around the Pacific, until it was at last allowed to dock in Tokyo. “It was really frustrating at the time, yes, but, when you step back and look at the situation, it was also admittedly hilarious and absurd,” Moss mused. “It’s probably what led me to make these videos,” she added, motioning toward a line of monitors showing loops of simple, endearingly stupid actions, such as the artist in a frog costume, pogo-sticking in a puddle, or a peony rustling hesitantly in the breeze from a whoopee cushion.

As I passed through the rooms, I couldn’t help but remark how sensual the experience of the exhibition was. It wasn’t just Caccuri’s bass line, rattling one’s rib cage. The exhibition space was rich with smells, ranging from the botanical canopy covering Baez’s cave-like installation to the loamy earth, coal, and ash of Dineo Seshee Bopape’s Mabu/mubu/mmu (all variations of the word for “soil”) to the gritty funk of Non Orientable Nkansa II. 1901–2030, Ibrahim Mahama’s towering installation of three hundred shoemaker boxes, some sourced from Ghana, others “re-created.” “I dated it 1901–2030 to reflect the materials and the memory of the history of these systems of trade,” Mahama told me. I was so overwhelmed by the presentation, it didn’t occur to me to ask him why his history extended into the future.

Tackling the times even more directly was Aslı Çavuşoğlu’s Future Tense, 2017. In Turkey, things have escalated to the point where journalists can no longer professionally address current events. The only people who can speak about politics with impunity are fortune-tellers. “Now you have all these fortune-tellers getting invited to speak on the evening news,” Çavuşoğlu recounted. “It’s like our version of ‘Fake News.’” For her commission, the artist worked with clairvoyants from across the country, compiling a sixteen-page newspaper from clippings ranging from “Coup in Two Months” to “Two Jaguars Are Running Towards India.”

Left: Damage to Davyd Chychkan's exhibition “Lost Opportunity” at VCRC. Right: FGAP curator Anna Smolak with Sol Calero's Casa de Cambio.

Contemplating the unpredictability of the present, I took a break from the PinchukArtCentre to pay my respects to the Visual Culture Research Centre, where Serhiy Klymko, Yustyna Kravchuk, and Ruslana Koziyenko talked me through Davyd Chychkan’s solo exhibition “The Lost Opportunity.” Titled after the fizzling out of the Maidan movement, the show originally opened on February 2. Just five days later, however, a group of masked men stormed the space and proceeded to tear up the artist’s intricate watercolors, spray-painting the walls with nationalist slogans such as Slava Ukrayini (“Glory to the Ukraine”). I found myself almost charmed by a wall neatly branded with the word mozhlyvist’ (possibility). “That’s kind of poetic,” I pointed out. “That wasn’t theirs,” Klymko shot back, explaining that the artist had painted the exhibition title on the walls as part of the original installation.

To avoid other such misunderstandings, when the VCRC elected to reopen the show, destruction and all, they added video footage of the attack, as well as a written statement. “We want to be clear that this isn’t an artwork,” Kravchuk stressed. “But people need to understand what they are looking at.” Watching the footage, I was intrigued by one of the vandals who paused to document the damage on his cell phone. “That’s how they do it these days,” Klymko shrugged. “It all goes straight to social media.” (Sad.)

The attack aside, VCRC plans to continue its programming, including an upcoming group show on feminism timed for International Women’s Day. “Are the artists worried at all about a repeat?” I wondered. “Of course, everyone is a little nervous, but we have hired security now,” Klymko replied. Koziyenko added: “Besides, if you’re going to handle topics like these, you have to be prepared.”

I thought about her words later at the official FGAP opening, while watching the Lviv-based collective Open Group’s Diorama, 2017. The freshly commissioned film nods to the Soviet tradition of creating dioramas to mark famous historical wars. In this case, however, a corporate think tank has been tasked with planning a diorama that could capture a perfect peace. The brainstorming session mainly comprises shots of a conference table, as participants lapse into Don Draper reveries about dappled sunlight and waterfalls and forests filled with birdsong. “But birds don’t just sing for no reason,” one brainstormer objects. Another points out that a bird’s song makes it easier for its predators to find it. Worth the risk?

Kate Sutton

Left: FGAP nominee Dineo Seshee Bopape. Right: FGAP nominees Carla Chaim and EJ Hill.

Resistance Is Fertile

Los Angeles

Left: Curator Rebecca Matalon and Visual AIDS Associate Director Esther McGowan with poster by Mike Mills & Experimental Jetset. Right: Kayrock's Leslie Diuguid and Karl LaRocca. (Except where noted, all photos: Alex Fialho)

“I’VE READ MORE BOOKS THAN TRUMP,” claimed a silk screen at Karl LaRocca’s Kayrock Screenprinting booth at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair this weekend. “Not hard!” asserted an Angelino in a crop top amid the bustling throngs of bibliophiles. Tallies, texts, and the possibilities and pitfalls of democracy were clearly legible throughout the fifth annual LA iteration of Printed Matter’s Art Book Fair, exemplified by Mike Mills and Experimental Jetset’s mural-size poster towering over the crowd, reading “2,864,974”: an amplification of the margin of Hillary’s popular vote lead as of January 2017. The election and its discontents loomed large.

Print culture as democratic form gave a palpable sense of urgency at this year’s LAABF, held in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary. Striking messages adorned zines, periodicals, posters, tote bags, pamphlets: “If you read something, say something”; “Educate Agitate Organize”; “Global warming is not fake news”; “Archive and survive”; “Keep your laws off my body”; “In support of books”; “No human being is illegal”; “Self-publish be happy.” Timelier, responsive formats had the advantage here.

Printed Matter board president Philip Aarons stressed the organization’s commitment to providing a platform for artists to be unabridged, uncensored, and as political as they may be: “We learn more by what is printed than on canvas.” Zine guru and General Idea’s surviving steward AA Bronson returned to the fair he was instrumental in founding for the first time since its LA premiere—fittingly, also the first time he’s been back in the United States in years. “I’m impressed,” Bronson said. “It feels like every other booth has anti-Trump materials for sale or takeaway.” For his keynote presentation, “My Life in Books,” a highlight, Bronson reveled in publications that have acted as his guides. (Naturally, Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture made the list.)

Left: Coorinator of Printed Matter Fairs and Editions Jordan Nassar and curator of Printed Matter Fairs & Editions Shannon Michael Cane. (Photo: Kevin Devine) Right: Printed Matter's Krista Manrique, Max Schumann, and Leslie Lasiter.

The LAABF’s Antiquarian section, with its retrospective consideration, provided an engaging genealogy of protest in print. Adam Davis from Portland, Oregon–based Division Leap sold perhaps the first book to be designed as a weapon: Uwe Wandrey’s 1968 Kampfreime, a collection of protest chants from the German Student Movement bound in aluminum with sharp protruding edges for use as a baton or dagger. A text with teeth. Arthur Fournier at Fournier Fine & Rare displayed 1970s Young Lords posters alongside a 1971 “Free Angela” poster from the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa & Latin America, among other gems. Fournier spoke to the importance of putting oneself on paper as a means to access citizenship and self-representation and praised the LAABF’s fresh mix of old and new materials. “The activity of print is alive and an ever-changing conversation. You can be in dialogue with people who died a long time ago as long as you have the underground zine or poster they published.”

The standout display was the exhibition dedicated to California zinester and urban legend Teen Angel, curated by David De Baca. Teen Angels was a zine published and distributed by artist Teen Angel (whose real name and identity was largely unknown) throughout the 1980s into the 1990s, focusing on Chicano youth, graffiti, lowriders, and lifestyle in the varrios of the Southwest United States. Teen Angels is exemplary of the enormous impact of zines and their ability to create community through representation. (“Zines saved my life,” noted one exhibitor.) Spreads by the self-described “people-oriented” Teen Angel educated the community on “how to dress like a pachucho,” how to wear “chola bands,” “cruising into the past” lowrider history lessons, and more. An intergenerational crowd packed the faux-terra-cotta shingled room, ranging from old-timer contributors to the original Teen Angels to Chicanos too young to have read the zine during its original run but no less enamored with the drawings, style, and Cali vibes. The display centered on cultural heritage and influence from our southern border, one of many constituencies so wrongly vilified by the current #notmypresident.

Left: LAABF Classroom program curator / MoMA librarian David Senior. Right: Artists Marco Kane Braunschweiler and Hannah Black before MoCA Screen of Black's recent video works.

The fair pulsed with resistance, dynamic visitors looking for action. Bronson mentioned that Los Angeles has a particularly strong zinester community, comprising nearly one-third of the LAABF exhibitors, while Printed Matter executive director Max Schumann argued that the LAABF provides a “space for community, collaboration, exchange, and tactility.” Estimated attendance neared forty thousand. Multiple exhibitors stated emphatically that, in this technological day and age, a flyer on a lamppost or other wheatpasted agitprop has greater potential to reach those from other walks of life than a post into our internet bubbles. Queer zines, feminist presses, antiracist working groups, etc., offer visual resistance.

New York City denizen Kembra Pfahler had a California homecoming with multiple LAABF gigs, including an opening night set with her band, the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, a Dirty Looks screening at Human Resources, and a display of butt prints and drawings at London gallery Emalin’s booth. Pfahler’s steadfast commitment to performance interventions and antics dates to the 1980s Reagan era and before, and there is much to be learned from her undersung influence and “availabilism” mantra to make do with what is available. “Harsh times require a harsh voice,” Pfahler noted matter-of-factly, when asked about all the love she received in LA. “We need new Wigstocks, Woodstocks, and feminisms.” (The only time the audience didn’t break into overwhelming applause at Pfahler’s commentary was when she profusely thanked ex-MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch during the LAABF opening.)

Left: Dancing Foxes Press's Karen Kelly and Barbara Schroeder. Right: J. Morrison at his Homocats LAABF booth.

The activist-oriented Friendly Fires section supported some of the most powerful booths invested in liberation politics (at the LAABF, that is; the nearby Nah Fair featured “49 ungovernable projects & hustles . . . mostly p.o.c. and entirely anti-authoritarian”). In Friendly Fires, Kimi Hanauer from Baltimore’s Press Press advocated for multilingual modes of address and nonhierarchical forms of publishing as a response to both the English language and books as symbols of power. Allison Conner from LA’s Women’s Center for Creative Work highlighted their intersectionalidad publication and other gatherings of publics fostered by the center, including groups on parenting as protest and the Moozis, “a collective of Muslims folks interested in learning through internal exchange.”

The Women’s Center for Creative Arts’ Making Art During Fascism workshop, facilitated by artist consultant Beth Pickens, provided “pro tips on being active and engaged while maintaining your practice and wellbeing” and answered “FAQs for artists in the trumpocalypse,” a response to what Pickens called “the disastrous hate crime that was the 2016 election.” Pickens cited Jonathan Swift as an example of the effectiveness of satire and pamphlets dating back to the eighteenth century and responses to the AIDS crisis by Gran Fury as productive models of artistic activism. She also provided useful tactics for sustained creative strategies and self-care:,, and the Indivisible Guide are worth looking into online. Beseeching artists to continue to come back to their vision, Pickens asked self-inventory questions: “What can I offer? (Time, money, specific skills, equipment, previous experience, space, etc.)”; “In what ways do I want my practice to be integrated into and separated from my activism?”; “Are there opportunities for coalition building?”; “What do I need to be well 1) physically, 2) mentally, 3) emotionally, 4) financially, 5) spiritually?” We have a long way to go, but the programs, political horizons, and pleasures of the text at the LAABF left me heartened amid the insanity. As Pickens said: “Justice, like an art career, is a marathon.”

Alex Fialho

Left: Division Leap's Adam Davis. Right: Arthur Fournier of Fournier Fine & Rare with Young Lords Party poster.