Ichwan Noor’s Beetlesphere at Art: 1 by Mondercor Gallery, now on view at Art Basel Hong Kong
Courtesy Hanart Square
“Forty-four Sunsets in a Day” by Jennifer Wen Ma
An inflatable sculpture called “Lethargic Aesthetics” 2012 by Guan Huaibin, represented by Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong
Art – Art Basel Hong Kong 2013
There is a new Art Basel show! With half of the participating galleries coming from Asia and Asia-Pacific, Art Basel in Hong Kong assumes a significant role in the international artworld, providing a portal to the region’s artists. The new show gives galleries from around the world a platform in Asia to demonstrate the way they work with artists, and bring their highest quality work and contemporary art to Hong Kong.
Known as the gateway between the East and West, Hong Kong ranks among the world’s most dynamic international capitals. A 21st century metropolis, it is a port city with a vast skyline rising above its bustling Victoria Harbour. In addition to the many museums, concert halls, and performance spaces, a vibrant melting pot of cultures makes Hong Kong a place of endless exploration.
The show’s four exhibition sectors are designed to present an exceptional selection of works, including museum-quality pieces by proven masters and new artworks by emerging artists. Additional exhibitions and events, timed to coincide with Art Basel’s Hong Kong debut, will take place across the city’s thriving gallery scene and in its growing array of cultural institutions.
May 20, 2013 |
Here is a small sample of Vincent Johnson’s Strange Los Angeles Pictures photography program
Vincent Johnson Artist and writer in Los Angeles
Vincent Johnson Artist and writer in Los Angeles
Art Basel Hong Kong is clearly the most important new major global event on the international art circuit. It will held in one of the world’s most luxurious cities, that is also one of the top dining destinations on the planet. This edition of Art Basel is already showing waves of difference in that it is anticipated to exponentially raise the stature of Hong Kong based artists who have been overlooked because of the phenomenal attention paid to mainland China’s art scene in Shanghai and Beijing. Except for a few artists, this has not been the case with artists based in Miami, evidenced by the recent moves of several of Miami’s young art stars to Los Angeles. Local Miami artists claim that they have been energized but largely overwhelmed and swept aside by the tidal wave of Art Basel Miami Beach and its sometimes over twenty satellite fairs. This edition of Art Basel is also drawing international attention to the existing and expanding Hong Kong art scene. The debut of the 645,000 sq. ft. exhibition museum space M+ in 2017 will transform Hong Kong into one of the must visit global destinations for viewing contemporary art year round. One other key difference between the Miami Art Basel and that of Hong Kong, is that over half of the galleries showing in Art Basel Hong Kong are based in the Asia-Pacific region. Whereas Art Basel Miami Beach has seen no more than three Miami art galleries at this fair at any given year, with many years having only one Miami based gallery. Another key difference is that the Art Basel Kong Kong is specifically and definitively dedicated to empowering the Asia-Pacific Rim artworlds, from centers of production, to centers of distribution such as the gallery cluster of international commercial galleries in Singapore. The Asia-Pacific Rim region already has a spectacular number of world-class art fairs, superior and vast in size contemporary and historical art museums, and serious publications on art. It will be interesting to watch up close and from afar as Asia’s impact on the global art economy escalates and shocks. This blog post will be updated during Art Basel Hong Kong’s debut week.
Having been to the last nine Art Basel Miami Beach fairs, I dare say the Hong Kong Edition might be the most exciting and sought after new art fair worldwide.
Here is a small sample of Vincent Johnson’s Strange Los Angeles Pictures photography program
CULTURE 0 0 Meneame0 0 10 0
ART BASEL HONG KONG
Art Basel Hong Kong has positioned itself as the premier art fair in Asia.
Art Basel Hong Kong: A Success StoryBy Grace Piney
The first edition of Art Basel Hong Kong (2013) closed on Sunday May 26. The event was highly praised by critics and collectors, and had an impressive volume of sales.
More than 60,000 people attended the fair and admired the work of 3,000 established and emerging artists. Many of them are showing their work for the first time in an art fair in Hong Kong.
BUI CONG KHANH. The Past Moved, 2010. 10 Chancery Lane Gallery. Hong Kong, China.
A considerable number of art directors, curators and administrators from museums and international institutions visited the fair, including members of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco; the Asia Society from New York; the Pompidou Centre in Paris; the Dallas Museum of Art; the Beyeler Foundation, in Riehen; the Contemporary Arts Institute, London; MoCA of Miami; M+, Hong Kong; OCAT, Shenzhen from Beijing; The Royal Academy, The Serpentine Gallery and the Tate Gallery from London; the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art from Beijing; the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis; the White Rabbit Collection from Sydney; and the Yellow River Arts Centre from Yinchuan.
Although final figures have not yet been revealed, the information available indicates solid sales in all sectors. Several galleries have described to the media their experiences meeting new collectors from the region. Others say they had finalized sales to Asian collectors that had been in the making for up to two years, and most gallery owners reported that they had sold their entire collections during the first days of the event. The overall reception generated great excitement with this first edition, and optimism about the future of the growing art market in Asia.
ABDEL ABSESSEMED. Cheval de Turin, 2012. David Zwirner Gallery. New York, NY.
In addition to the interest shown by trade professionals, it is important to mention the participation of the public that visited the exhibition halls and attended a total of 14 lectures and 11 discussion sessions during the three days. To celebrate the first edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong, the Asia Society and the Absolut Art Office organized a pre-program entitled “homegrown talent”, which featured the best local artists.
There were three meetings with the public. The first was a lecture entitled “The Artist and the Gallery Owner” by the Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang, in a conversation with Leng Lin, President of Pace Beijing and Founder of Beijing Commune. The second was a discussion entitled “Building New Museums in Asia” and the third, “The Interest of Collectors”. Other lectures focused on the influence of the media on the development of art, and on globalization and its impact on artistic practices. In addition, there were book releases by artists such as Noritoshi Hirakawa, Li Liao, Kacey Wong, Wang Yuyang, Xingwei Wang, and Wu Zhang.
1. MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ. Measuring Body Heat (A). Galerie Krinzinger. Vienna, Austria. 2. SHOMEI TOMATSU. Misa Shin Gallery. Tokyo, Japan.
Art Basel elicits great interest in the regional art scene. The fair’s program always attracts business, and promotes short and long-term economic activity in the cities where it is held, as well as genuine interest in local art.
As it happens during Art Basel Miami Beach, on the other side of town, Hong Kong galleries and cultural organizations organized more than 150 cultural events in what is known as “Kowloon Cultural District”.
1. 2P TANG KWOK HIN. One-Man-Show. Contemporary Art Gallery. Hong Kong, China. 2. VIK MUNIZ. Pictures of Magazine 2 Study of Ostrich, After Nicasius Bernaerts, 2013. Galeria Nara Roesler. Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The first edition of Art Basel Hong Kong featured 245 of the most important galleries in the world, divided in four sectors. Fifty percent of the participants had exhibition spaces from Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, underscoring the commitment to Art Basel in the region. While the main sector, “Galleries”, presented established galleries from around the world, “Insights” was devoted to the presentation of precise contextual and thematic displays developed by the artists. “Discoveries” was the platform for younger artists. There were also displays of large-scale sculptural installations by leading artists from every continent.
Art Basel Hong Kong has positioned itself as the premier art fair in Asia. The second edition will take place from 15 to 18 May 2014. ■
The high-art event that started in Switerland in 1970 debuts in Asia
Art Basel, the modern art festival that began in Basel, Switzerland in 1907 and expanded to Miami in 2002 is debuting in Asia this year. Each year, Art Basel attracts many of the wealthiest modern art collectors in the
Above:’The Pilgrim and the Pirate’ by Samsul Arifin, represented by the Nadi Gallery, Jakarata, at Art Basel,
Photo By Jessica Hromas/Getty Images
“Periphery” 2013 by Seung Yul Oh, represented by One and J. Gallery, Seoul at Art Basel, May 22, 2013 in Hong Kong.
‘Encounters’ by Wang Yuyang and ‘He Tao Yuan’ by He An, represented by Tang Contempory Art gallery, Bejing and Bankok at Art Basel, May 22, 2013 in Hong Kong.
The Debut of Art Basel Hong Kong
by sue hostetler
To Be Titled by Dan Colen, 2011.
“Hong Kong is the gateway to China,” says renowned local interior designer and architect Todd-Avery Lenahan, explaining why the cosmopolitan city has been anointed the newest host of Art Basel, the most esteemed art fair in the world. “The demographic of buyers is diverse and highly sophisticated, with tremendous interest in Western artists, as much from young collectors as from established ones.” Currently working on the new Wynn Cotai resort in Macau for Steve Wynn, Lenahan is one of many high-level art connoisseurs looking forward to the premiere of Art Basel in Hong Kong. Almost two years after the company behind Art Basel bought a majority stake in Asian Art Fairs Ltd., which founded the Art HK contemporary art fair, the newly rechristened Art Basel in Hong Kong will open May 23 to much international fanfare, boasting work from more than 3,000 artists and 245 of the world’s leading galleries. This expansion into Asia gives the storied fair an unparalleled three-continent, year-round engagement with the art world’s cognoscenti (Art Basel’s other shows are the Switzerland behemoth and its Miami Beach spin-off).
Magnus Renfrew, Art HK’s original fair director and now director Asia of Art Basel, has overseen the transformation. A longtime believer that Hong Kong is a natural home for a major international art fair, he is confident that both attendees and participants will be blown away. “We are geographically positioned at the heart of Asia, and we are the region’s financial center,” Renfrew says. “There is no tax on the import or export of art, and Hong Kong has an increasingly expanding cultural sector and culturally interested population.”
Art Basel’s shows are perhaps most renowned for each selection committee’s unflinching rigor in choosing galleries to participate, as well as for the curation of the fairs’ various sectors. In Hong Kong, more than 170 exhibitors of modern and contemporary art will show work in the main sector, including New York’s Dominique Lévy gallery and 303 Gallery. Many eyes will be on the Insights sector, which will present projects devised specifically for the fair from 47 galleries in Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. The Discoveries sector will likely be the most experimental, with solo and two-person exhibitions by emerging artists and, in an exciting twist, a $25,000 prize.
Special exhibitions and events at local galleries will also be of immense interest, as the arrival of blue-chip international players like Gagosian Gallery and White Cube—joining local stalwarts such as Hanart TZ Gallery and Osage—has invigorated the Hong Kong gallery scene in recent years. The multitude of events and special exhibitions at Hong Kong’s cultural institutions and nonprofits is dizzying, including a parallel program of talks presented by Asia Art Archive. Widely regarded as the most important collection of source material on the recent history of art in Asia, Asia Art Archive has grown from a single bookshelf in 2000 to a trove of more than 35,000 records with thousands of physical and digital items. And the government is getting in on the art act, too, by celebrating the opening of its new Artspace @ Oil Street, a 1908 heritage building that has been converted into space for working artists, curators, and the public.
Not surprisingly, Art Basel in Hong Kong has proved attractive to corporate sponsors looking for a foothold in this fast-growing, significant region. Deutsche Bank has signed on as lead partner, joining associate sponsors such as Davidoff, Audemars Piguet, and Absolut Art Bureau, all of which also support the shows in Switzerland and Miami Beach. In fact, many people have compared today’s Hong Kong art market to the one in Miami Beach 10 years ago. “The market is in a relatively early stage of development here, much like the atmosphere in Miami when we opened there,” Renfrew says. “We want to be part of the cultural surge in this dynamic city, and the show provides the perfect global platform for that.”
The Bernier/Eliades galleryat Art Basel Hong Kong 2013
After Frieze New York and before the Venice Biennale, the tireless and likely jetlagged international art clique has touched down en masse in Hong Kong, where the first Art Basel outpost in Asia opened to the public on Thursday. Here, we’ve assembled a cognoscenti’s guide to where the insiders are eating, partying, and sleeping it off–including picks for both the elegant classicist and those willing to brave sweaty dance floors and no-reservation policies.
The Upper House’s lobby
Mandarin Oriental: The Original. Initially known simply as The Mandarin, the hotel was recognized as one of the best in the world when it opened in the 60s. A recent and quite pricey facelift has added some polish to its old glamour. This is actually the official hotel of Art Basel HK, where a slew of events are happening, although expect most of the deal-making to occur over martinis at M Bar or beers at the more casual Captain’s Bar. mandarinoriental.com
The Upper House: In a city that can’t get enough ostentatious luxury, the newish Upper House has set itself apart with its tasteful and subtle interiors–nary a touch of red or gold in sight. The top floor bar and restaurant, Cafe Gray Deluxe, boasts some of the best views in Hong Kong, and was the venue of an intimate cocktail party that Net-a-Porter threw for the artist Terence Koh. upperhouse.com
Amber at The Mandarin Oriental
Amber: Back to The Mandarin. San Pellegrino’s highly influential, annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants list recently ranked Amber as Hong Kong’s number 1–an impressive honor in a city rightly known for its many dining options. In an elegant setting best enjoyed on expense accounts, feast on French fare with a nod towards the east/west crossover culture unique to Hong Kong’s history. amberhongkong.com
Ronin: At the cusp of Hong Kong’s culinary scene, Ronin is billed as a Japanese izakaya with a speakeasy feel, but don’t roll your eyes–there are no comically elaborate cocktails here. This tiny, no-reservations eatery is located behind an unmarked door on a quiet side street–and it’s nearly impossible to score a table there, especially this week. But of course there’s also Yardbird, a yakitori in Sheung Wan from the same owners that feels like Ronin’s louder and more fun little brother. roninhk.com
The lounge at Kee Club
Kee Club: Picking up where the infamous China Club left off–it’s still open, but now irrelevant–this members only-ish club (annual dues aren’t exactly required) is Hong Kong’s answer to Soho House, and host to a recent Saint Laurent soiree. The upstairs has a dinner-club vibe that subtly turns into a bottle service situation, while downstairs it’s dance-y and dark. Appropriately, Kee’s chef has concocted a Swiss-themed Basel menu that is available all week. keeclub.com
Salon Number 10: This little gem is quickly shaping up to be Hong Kong’s version of Rick’s Cafe Americain–minus the fascists, of course. One will encounter distinguished travelers of all nationalities here, and the owners Alec and Ellis (who also run the men’s boutique Moustache) are the most gracious of hosts, DJ-ing, suggesting drinks, and generally making you feel like you’re at a great house party. facebook.com/SalonNumber10
Art Basel stages global Modern and contemporary art shows, held annually in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong. Founded by gallerists in 1970, Art Basel supports the role that galleries play in the nurturing of artists, and the development and promotion of visual arts.
Art Basel wraps up in Hong Kong after show of world’s finest
Competition between Western artists and Asian works ‘very positive’, Art Basel organisers say
More than 240 galleries from around the world showed their works at Art Basel’s Hong Kong debut which closed yesterday. Mainland artist Zhang Xiaogang’s works, above, were among the many on show. Galleries from the West brought in major works from big-name artists and reported strong sales last Wednesday. It was also reported that deals were still being negotiated by regional galleries in the minutes before the show closed. Photo: Jonathan Wong.
A week of art madness ended yesterday with the closure of exhibition Art Basel’s Hong Kong debut, which turned into a showdown between 245 galleries from around the world.
Galleries from Western nations – making up half of the total number exhibiting – pulled out the big guns, bringing over major works by big-name artists, and they reported strong sales last Wednesday on “VIP day”.
Galleries from the Asia-Pacific region, including Hong Kong, said business was slow the first couple of days and they had to work extra hard to draw attention from collectors. Some said sales began to pick up towards the end of the fair and that deals were still being negotiated 30 minutes before the fair closed.
Gallery Hauser & Wirth sold SP234 by Sterling Ruby to an art foundation on the mainland for more than US$250,000. Pearl Lam from Hong Kong soldFour Noblemen by Zhu Jinshi for US$195,000. London’s Victoria Miro, co-presenting with Asia’s Ota Fine Arts, sold the 1988 Yayoi Kusama workFlame of Life – Dedicated to Tu-Fu (Du-Fu) for US$2 million to an Asian collector.
Taiwanese dealer Tina Keng sold eight works from the series Eight Tall Sunflowers by Xu Jiang for US$2.6 million and Wang Huaiqing’s abstract workChinese Emperor for US$2.6 million.
Keng said the competition was particularly keen.
“All the big [Western] artists are here. So you must bring the Asian equivalent,” Keng said.
One Asian dealer said their gallery was like a monster in their home country, “but here compared to these big Western galleries, I’m like an ant”.
Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew said many collectors had gone home to do some research into artists whose work they had seen at the fair before returning on the final day to buy.
“The competition has been very positive and it helps drive up the standard of the presentation across the board,” Renfrew said. “Western galleries feel the pressure as much as the Asian ones.”
Originally known as Art HK, the fair has run since 2008 under this name and became the largest in Asia. In 2011, Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach organisers MCH Swiss Exhibition (Basel) acquired a 60 per cent stake in Art HK organisers Asian Art Fairs, leading to the event’s transformation into Art Basel this year.
Despite the change, there was no drop in participation by local artists, with some 26 Hong Kong galleries exhibiting to the fair’s 60,000 visitors.
Hong Kong artist Stanley Wong, who was showing at local gallery Blindspot, said the fair this year had become more sophisticated with improvement in the standard and calibre of work on show. “But at the same time, I don’t see anything very edgy and powerful,” he said.
This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition on May 27, 2013 as Art fair wraps up after show of world’s finest
Art Basel fair in Hong Kong attracts global celebrities
Western art dealers focus attention on wealth of Chinese buyers
‘Aztec Pattern’ by South Korean artist Osang Gwon displayed at Art Basel in Hong Kong. Photograph: Alex Hofford/EPA
The branding hits as soon as you leave Hong Kong International airport and spot two huge billboards heralding the Asian debut of the world’s most prominent art fair, Art Basel. Amid a PR frenzy that drew the likes of supermodel Kate Moss and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, it seemed that even the torrential rain and 18,000 lightning strikes across the territory hours before the VIP preview on Wednesday were just part of the city-wide spectacle.
There is much familiar about Art Basel in Hong Kong, which joins the original fair in its namesake home city in Switzerland and a sister event in Miami Beach – not least the sponsors. Trolleys of Ruinart champagne stalk the aisles at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. A BMW “art car” brightly painted by Spanish artist César Manrique is displayed outside one entrance. Absolut ArtBureau, an offshoot of the vodka drink company, has commissioned an “art bar” by Adrian Wong, in which a Cantonese lounge singer performs with an animatronic band of multi-limbed manga-like creatures, evoking a mix of colonial kitsch andBlade Runner.
Art Basel’s purchase of the previous Art HK fair two years ago led some locals to question whether Hong Kong’s art scene was becoming a post-colonial venture for importing western art into Asia. With China now the world’s second-largest art market after the US, and Asia home to more billionaires than North America, the attraction seems obvious.
In recent years, several top commercial western galleries have set up outposts amid the Louis Vuitton and Prada stores in the city’s central business district, including American Larry Gagosian, the world’s richest art dealer, in 2008 and London gallerist Jay Jopling’s White Cube in March 2012.
At packed-out private views, both galleries brought out their big guns. White Cube showed the Chapman Brothers’ macabre new installation,The Sum of All Evil, vitrines packed with thousands of miniature figures in violent torment; and Gagosian presented paintings by the late New York graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
But the wooing of the Chinese collectors and their vast wealth is a long, slow process. Most western galleries have yet to convince the big buyers of mainland China, whose taste for contemporary art remains patriotic, according to market analysts.
Graham Steele, director of White Cube Hong Kong, said: “The barriers are coming down, but not as fast as western dealers would like them to. There isn’t the cultural momentum yet. The major Chinese collectors come to Hong Kong for Christie’s or Sotheby’s auctions of Chinese art.”
US gallery Pace’s Beijing branch, which explicitly declares itself an Asian gallery and runs a different programme from the US and UK branches, has found success by becoming a major dealer for Chinese contemporary artists. Its stand at the fair included work by Zhang Xiaogang, whose paintings have fetched multimillion-pound prices at auction.
Several British dealers said that Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines, which are more familiar with western culture, were their most important markets in Asia. Australians are also major collectors. Ellie Harrison-Read, sales associate at Lisson Gallery, said: “Big names such as Anish Kapoor and Marina Abramovic, people who are familiar, sell well. Brand is very important here.”
This seemed to be apparent in big sales of the fair’s first day. London’s Victoria Miro gallery sold a wall-sized painting by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama for £1.32m and White Cube sold a Gary Hume sculpture for £66,243, while 15 sculptures by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, depicting a cartoon version of the artist and his dog, sold for £89,428 each.
The local art scene, which has long felt overshadowed by the Chinese contemporary art boom, has mixed feelings about the influx of international dealers. Pui Pui To, director of 2P gallery, one of Hong Kong’s few art spaces to represent local artists, said: “Now that the blue chip galleries have arrived, it’s become much tougher for us to survive.”
Spiralling rents have pushed younger galleries further from the city centre. Pui Pui To’s gallery, which is showing in Art Basel, is on a backstreet in Sai Ying Pun in the city’s western district. “The only brand names round here are McDonald’s and KFC,” she said.
However, she praised Art Basel in Hong Kong’s director, Magnus Renfrew, who founded Art HK for supporting the local art scene through educational programmes and collaboration with non-profit, artist-run projects. Renfrew said that when he first arrived in Hong Kong it was referred to as a “cultural desert” with little audience for contemporary art: “Since the fair opened, the number of visitors has grown from just 19,000 in 2008 to 67,000 last year and the gallery scene is more sophisticated.”
He believes that the current imbalance between the art market, which has long had a big presence in the territory with Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses, will change with the construction of the West Kowloon cultural district, which will include the M+ museum of visual culture, twice the size of Tate Modern, and 16 performing art museums. An outdoor exhibition of inflatable sculptures on the site, M+ mobile, which includes a giant upturned cockroach, a suckling pig you can walk into and British artist Jeremy Deller’s bouncy castle version of Stonehenge, has drawn 130,000 visitors in just three weeks.
Lars Nittve, executive director of M+ and the founding director of Tate Modern, compared the exhibition to the sensation caused by Carl Andre’s bricks when they first were shown at the Tate. “Really for the first time in Hong Kong it has provoked public debate about whether something that looks ugly can be art. Can you jump on art? Can art be fun?”
Harriet Onslow of Pearl Lam Galleries, based in Hong Kong and Shanghai, thinks there will be room for a wider range of galleries as the art scene diversifies. “Collectors are not going to decide against buying one of [the smaller galleries'] artists for HK$5,000 just because I’ve sold them something for HK$200,000,” she said.
However the work of one of the local artists in the Pearl Lam booth suggests that Pui Pui To is not alone in her ambivalance towards the internationalisation of Hong Kong’s art scene. Tsang Kin-wah offers a tongue-in-cheek critique of the art fair system in a text installation in which scathing comments in vinyl lettering spread across the floor like the tentacles of an octopus:
Onslow said: “It’s about how fucking awful art fairs are and how it’s no longer about the art but the fair. The text is etched on glass because that signifies how the art and the artist is disappearing.”
Yet in the Deutsche Bank’s exclusive VIP room another work by the artist, best known for painting words in English and Chinese in seemingly floral patterns, offers a more positive if rather cynical take, with the phrase “Making Art, Making Money” discernible in the grey text. It seems unlikely that Tsang Kin-wah at least will be disappearing any time soon.
FINANCIAL TIMES LONDON
May 24, 2013 6:39 pm Miami, now they take Hong Kong
By Georgina Adam
Basel brand hits HK; one fair in, one fair out in California; massive deflation for sculpture
Apowerful battalion of the art world’s grandees jetted in from New York, London, Beijing and many other points to attend the new Art Basel in Hong Kong, which launched this week and ends on Sunday.
This is the first truly “Basel” edition of the Asian fair, which the powerful Swiss firm acquired two years ago. And anyone who knows the other two fairs in its portfolio – Basel and Miami Beach – will have recognised the “brand”, with every detail, from typeface to maps, now homogenised throughout.
While the transformation from the ArtHK fair is not radical, the new owners have smoothed some things out, for instance distributing stands better between the two floors and placing the VIP lounge upstairs. The fair is spacious and well lit, flattering the art on view. But with “Basel Basel” round the corner, some galleries have not brought their best works, and others are frankly a muddle. But there are high points, among them Peter Blum’s marvellous offering of early Kusama works including “Phallic Bowl” (1965) in the $300,000 range – showing up the brash, garish offerings of more recent Kusama works. And the small Australian gallery Sullivan and Strumpf is showing subversive tableaux of figurines by Penny Byrne – “iProtest” – inspired by political unrest across the world.
Some exhibitors, including Blum, are attending for the first time, specifically because it is now a Basel event. Other newbies at the opening were the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, his partner Dasha Zhukova, Wendi Deng Murdoch and posses of collectors and museum directors including Lacma’s Jeffrey Deitch. Artists – Fernando Botero, Takashi Murakami, Abbas Kiarostami and many of the best-known Chinese names – had also hotfooted in.
As for sales, Hauser & Wirth reported a shower of deals and Arndt immediately sold a flowered puppy by the hot Indonesian artist Eko Nugroho, “Flower Generation II” (2012), to Adelaide’s South Australia Museum for $54,000 and a Jittish Kallat to the Belgian collector Guy Ullens, tagged at $180,000, while Hanart quickly placed four ink paintings by Qiu Zhijie with a big New York museum for $20,000 each. “There’s a dramatic difference in sales this year,” said a beaming Tim Blum. while Paul Kasmin also said business was “excellent”.
. . .
Along with the new fair, the week marked an extraordinary change in Hong Kong as an art hub. The night before the fair opening, the six galleries in the Pedder Building staged a joint vernissage and were so mobbed that a sign outside announced “Queuing time approx 30 minutes”; once in, visitors could see Basquiat at Gagosian or the new Lehmann Maupin space, showing a quintessentially Hong Kong scene by Zheng Guogu. The same crowd then packed into White Cube and Perrotin nearby. All of this was inconceivable just two years ago before the Basel juggernaut, with its 50,000-plus list of VIPs, rolled into town.
. . .
While there is certainly a lot of buzz about the growing art market in California, fairs there are not gaining any traction. The third edition of Art Platform Los Angeles, one of a portfolio of fairs owned by Chicago’s Merchandise Mart Properties, has just been cancelled. Held in a hangar in Santa Monica airport – where it had relocated last year after being held downtown – the fair had failed to attract enough support for its upcoming September edition.
But as one dies, another is born: Silicon Valley Contemporary, planned for April next year in San Jose Convention Center. The founders, who already organise other fairs in upscale locations such as Aspen and the Hamptons, come from the technology sector and say they will revolutionise the fair model. “We will look for the intersection between a physical art fair and a virtual one with online auctions,” says executive director Rick Friedman, adding that he will “introduce basic Valley tenets such as open systems, transparency in pricing and art value, full disclosure and ease of transaction.” About 60 international exhibitors are being sought for the first edition, which is slated for April 10-13 2014.
. . .
Inflation art is the newest thing – blow-up sculptures. Cynics who dismiss such works of contemporary art as “just a lot of hot air” are delightedly pointing to the fate of a number of these pumped-up monsters. In Hong Kong, a crowd-pleasing exhibition – called Inflation! – on the site of the future M+ museum in West Kowloon was recently hit by heavy rainfall. McCarthy’s “Complex Pile”, a giant brown simulacrum of excrement (you read that right, sadly) as well as a flower sculpture by the Korean artist Choi Jeong-hwa, “Black Lotus”, were punctured and collapsed. And the much ballyhooed giant rubber duck floating in the harbour, the work of Florentijn Hofman, popped and flattened into a yellow omelette. They have all been pumped back up now.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
Art Basel highlights Hong Kong’s new statusMay 24, 2013 12:52 AMBy Aaron Tam
HONG KONG: The first Art Basel to be hosted by Hong Kong boasts a prestigious array of international art. Staging the art fair here highlights the city’s new role as an arts hub amid an explosion of personal wealth in mainland China.The annual four-day show is the world’s premier art fair and has until now only been held in Switzerland and the United States. Wealthy VIPs flocked Wednesday to the waterfront exhibition center hosting the fair, which opened to the wider public Thursday. Dressed in glamorous outfits and against a backdrop of popping champagne corks, they perused an eclectic mix of works from more than 3,000 international artists exhibiting through 245 of the world’s leading galleries. The main section showcases work from an international group of 171 modern and contemporary art galleries, with selections of paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and video. In one room a Volkswagen Beetle had been compressed into a giant sphere. Another installation drawing crowds featured a dishevelled human-sized rabbit sitting on a log, created by the U.S. artist Marnie Weber. Internationally renowned artists whose work is on display include Britain’s Damien Hirst, French artist JR and the German photographer Andreas Gursky. Other sections feature selections from the Asia-Pacific region curated for the show, large-scale sculptures and a section with solo and two-person exhibitions from emerging international artists. The boom in Hong Kong’s international art market is largely a result of the fast-growing wealth of mainland Chinese, some of whom are investing heavily in art. “Having seen the high quality and vast range of presentations from galleries across the globe,” Art Basel director Marc Spiegler told reporters, “I can assure you that the first edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong promises many discoveries and delights.” Art Basel ordinarily exhibits at home, in the Swiss city of Basel, as well as in Miami Beach in the US, but, Spiegler said, the Hong Kong show will emphasise works from Asia. Hong Kong is “a place where all Asia feels at home and with many bridges to the west,” he continued. “Here in Hong Kong, we will provide a global stage of international exposure for galleries and artists in Asia.” There is also a growing interest among Asian collectors in different types of art aside from traditional works. Gagosian, White Cube, Acquavella, Lehmann Maupin and Galerie Perrotin are just some of the big-name galleries to have arrived in the city in the past two years despite sky-high rents. “Art Basel in Hong Kong is evidence that Asia is becoming paramount to the international art world,” said Pearl Lam in a statement for Art Basel’s opening. Lam runs galleries of the same name in the southern city and in Shanghai. Art Basel replaces Art HK, Hong Kong’s former art fair, which was set up in 2008. It was recently taken over by Switzerland’s high-profile Art Basel franchise, which has been showcasing modern and contemporary art since 1970. “This is a truly historic moment for the art scene in Hong Kong and in Asia,” Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew said. “The arrival of Art Basel in Hong Kong strengthens the city’s position as the leading art hub in Asia.”
THE Hong Kong art market is strong and prosperous, buoyed by low taxes and free of the censorship that inhibits much of the art on the mainland. But the local scene has long felt overshadowed by the big-name Chinese contemporary artists. So many were jittery at the opening today of the inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong, concerned that an influx of big galleries from New York, London and Paris would crowd out the booths peddling home-grown talent. There was little need to worry. “Competition drives up the standards. It already has after five years,” said Magnus Renfrew, the Asia Director for Art Basel Hong Kong. He is well placed to know, having spent years running Hong Kong’s art fair when it was an independent, scrappy event. Art Basel bought the fair last year, and its first Hong Kong incarnation runs until May 26th. Of the 245 galleries showing at the Hong Kong Convention Centre, over half are Asian. Of these, 26 are from Hong Kong, the strongest showing for any city except New York. This week Hong Kong is filled with art events, talks and the usual high-flying parties. To expose Hong Kong’s contemporary art scene to international buyers, Art Basel invited its top dealers and collectors to a special tour of the Wong Chuk Hang area on the waterfront of Aberdeen, where old warehouses have been renovated into new galleries. Some of Hong Kong’s most venerable art galleries have been decamping to Aberdeen to escape the exorbitant rents of the central district and to inhabit a livelier, younger area. Among those with branches there are Alisan Fine Arts, the first professional gallery in Hong Kong to show contemporary art, and Pekin Fine Arts from Beijing. So what are Hong Kong artists producing? Mostly art that feels very Chinese.
The booth of Schoeni Art Gallery is dominated by a video installation by Hung Keung (pictured). Trained at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, Mr Hung also studied art in London, Germany and Switzerland. Yet his piece “Dao x Microcosmic Play and Appreciation” feels rooted in Chinese culture. It features three round tables topped with black glass arranged a few feet apart. Tiny cameras circulate around the tables, their images projected on white screens. One table holds a black Buddha, small but his presence looms. Another is scattered with black toy-like tanks, helicopters and jet fighters. The third features a solitary small stone. This work is about peace and calm in an era of violence, explains Mr Hung. Traditional Chinese art views the white colour of rice paper as “an infinity surface,” he adds. “Now I am saying the screen represents white paper. The black toys on black glass give the feeling of black ink.” The booth of Gallery EXIT, a local gallery based in the Wong Chuk Hang neighbourhood, features the work of Ivy Ma, a Hong Kong-based artist. Her piece “Mother” is a large, hanging portrait of her mother carved in plywood. Measuring one meter by two meters, the image is from a photograph taken in the early 1950s, when Ms Ivy’s mother arrived from southern China as part of a wave of immigrants escaping the Communist revolution. “Mother” smiles pleasantly at passers-by, her face brimming with hope, her hair fashionably styled in a ‘50s bob. The work feels quintessentially Chinese, but with a wider contemporary appeal.
Artists from Guangdong province in southern China have long influenced art in Hong Kong. At the Pekin Fine Art space, works on paper by Chen Shaoxiong capture images of protests, such as democracy advocates who oppose Beijing’s efforts to restrict political freedoms in Hong Kong. His sweeping brush strokes on white paper give these pieces an unusual intensity, though they are not much larger than a legal pad. “He is making ink relevant to contemporary society,” said Meg Maggio, the founder of Pekin Fine Art. “Not many can do that.” In the confines of the exclusive VIP room run by Deutsche Bank at the fair, a large wall length work by one of Hong Kong’s best-known painters, Tsang Kin-Wah, is the star piece. The artist is known for painting words in English and Chinese in patterns that evoke wallpaper. In this piece, the phrase “Making Art, Making Money” is easily discernable in grey against white. Like a growing number of Hong Kong artists, Mr Tsang is happy to embrace the creed.
Art Basel Prepares To Open Its Doors To The Public
By Jessica Hromas (GETTY) – 5/22/13
HONG KONG – MAY 22: A woman looks at work by Yayoi Kusama, represented by Victoria Miro, London, and Ota Fine Arts, at Art Basel, May 22, 2013 in Hong Kong. (Photo by Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)
After a strong showing by VIPs on Wednesday, Thursday saw more swift business in the aisles and booths of the inaugural Art Basel in Hong Kong fair (the best of which ARTINFO has highlighted in this video). During its first day of being open to the general public, fair heavyweights like Hauser & Wirth, Paul Kasmin, and Arndt made major sales, while a slew of Asian galleries also made big moves. New York’s Paul Kasmin Gallery sold three pieces from Francois-Xavier and Claude Lalanne’s “Famille De Moutons” series of sheep sculptures for a total of $650,000 to a Hong Kong-based collector. The gallery also sold the Ivan Navarro neon and mirror works “Sway (Grand Gateway)” (2011) and “War Hole” (2012), the latter fetching $20,000 from a Swiss collector. Hauser & Wirth had another big day, selling two works on paper and four paintings by Zhang Enli at prices ranging from $25,000-$180,000, as well as Michael Raedecker’s “suspended” (2008) for $200,000. Arndt, of Singapore and Berlin, sold Jitish Kallat’s “Prosody of a Rising Tide” (2011-12) for $180,000, two editions of Entang Wiharso “Feast Table: Undeclared Perceptions” (2012) for $90,000 each — one of them to Berlin’s Thomas Olbricht Collection — Eko Nugroho’s “Flower Generation II” (2012) for $54,000, which was acquired by an Australian museum, and Jiechang Yang’s “Burning Tree” (2009), which was snapped up for €70,000 by a German collector. Long March Space from Beijing sold Made In Company’s “Play 201301″ (2013), which is featured in the fair’s Encounters section, for $325,000 to Australia’s White Rabbit Collection. The gallery also sold Wang Zhan’s “Artificial Rock No.146″ (2011) for $280,000. The Taipei- and Beijing-based gallery Tina Keng sold eight works from Jiang Xu’s “Eight Tall Sunflowers” series for a total of $2.6 million. Tokyo’s SCAI The Bathhouse sold Daisuke Ohha’s “BUKKA” (2011) for $22,000. ShanghART sold Yang Fudong’s “Forest Diary” (2000) for €45,000. And Sao Paulo’s Mendes Wood sold three untitled works by Lucas Arruda in the range of $10,000-20,000 each. A few galleries also reported additional sales from Wednesday’s VIP preview. Local gallery De Sarthe, did especially well, moving works including pieces by Alexander Calder and Lin Jing Jing for a total of $4 million in sales, all of the to Asian collectors intending to open private museums. Also on Wednesday, Sao Paulo’s Casa Triângulo sold two untitled works by Mariana Palma for $14,000 each to Hong Kong-based collectors. ===== OCULA
FACING OFF AT ART BASEL IN HONG KONG: A CULTURAL COMMENTARY OF A VERNISSAGE
23 May 2013
Stephanie Bailey – Hong Kong
When it comes to art fairs these days, it’s not just about selling. With collectors being extra cautious and new collectors (and new money) entering the art market, art fairs are also about building relationships, tastes and, in the 21st Century, more expanded notions of object-based art. Indeed, with art fairs and biennales proliferating around the world, there is not one art centre, but centres.
That Art Basel has come to Hong Kong to occupy two halls of the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre – (the world’s most occupied convention centre) – is a case in point. It is a clear indication of a certain global expansion taking place in the contemporary arts, mirrored by the sheer number of artists and galleries operating globally, each with their own approach, style and focus.
In reflection of this, Art Basel, which has always predicated itself on a certain globalism, is moving with the times. During Art Basel in Hong Kong’s press conference on Vernissage Day, Art Basel’s Director Marc Spiegler noted that 2013’s inaugural Art Basel in Hong Kong (ABHK) was not only a historical moment because Art Basel has come to Asia, but also because there has never been such a strong combination of eastern and western galleries presented together at an art fair. More than fifty per cent out of the 245 presenting galleries come from Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, from Turkey, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent to Australia and New Zealand, with twenty-six alone coming from Hong Kong. The result is eclectic (35 nations in total are represented), with styles intermingling but not necessarily blending. Some visitors commented on the mixed quality at ABHK during the preview. But perhaps this is not so much about good or bad art as it is about different art(s). In this, naming the sectors complementing the main Galleries section Discoveries, Insights, and Encounters, is telling if not instructive. Curated by Yuko Hasegawa, Encounters presents large-scale installations installed in various “plazas” within the fair halls. It aims to explore the ideas of “East” and “West,” looking at memory, history, and social contexts from a transcultural perspective. Works showing in Encounters include Jitish Kallat’s bamboo scaffolding encasing a large square column, Circa (2011), MadeIn Company’s leather-clad cathedral hung from the ceiling with rope, Play (201_B01) (2013), and a series of coloured venetian blinds arranged to produce a hanging mobile by Haegue Yang. Like the fair itself, Encounters is a patchwork of cultural (con)fusion. It is a state most clearly illustrated in the Discoveries section. Here, Kalfayan has presented photographs by Syrian artist Hrair Sarkissian against a series of vases produced in China in the Ming style, depicting scenes from the Lebanese Civil War in Raed Yassin’s, China. The work was produced as part of the 2012 Abraaj Capital Art Prize of which Yassin was a recipient. In this work, the global clusterfuck produced by the constant circulation and trade of objects and people is made apparent. The precision of Yassin’s statement is a testament to the artist’s sharp response to the notion of global culture and historical heritage in the 21st Century. This same kind of clarity is evident in other artists presented in Discoveries; a vibrant mix of emerging talent, from Brendan Early at Dublin’s mother’s tankstation, Tang Kwok Hin at Hong Kong’s 2p Contemporary, Becky Beasley and Matthias Bitzer at Milan’s Francesca Minini and Sanné Mestrom at Melbourne’s Utopian Slumps. Meanwhile, in the Galleries sector, there is a dynamic show of cultural range. Tokyo’s Gallery Koyanagi presents a mixed roster, including Olafur Eliasson, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Marlene Dumas, while Seoul’s PKM has opted for a selection of works including Minouk Lim’s Portable Keeper_White (2012) and a pair of Paradise Pies by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen. Of course, there are those who have made safer bets: Pace presents paintings and sculptures by China’s most expensive contemporary artist, Zhang Xiaogang, and Victoria Miro has brought Yayoi Kusama, who is everywhere. But not all choices have been so conservative (or calculating). Japan’s Mizuma provided a refreshing presentation showcasing new works including Yoshitaka Amano’s epic (and dirty) acrylic on aluminium panel Spring (2013), teamLab’s intriguing interactive animation installation, United, Fragmented, Repeated and Impermanent World (2013), Jane Lee’s deliciously textural oil painting, Fetish series-RB I (2013) and Makoto Aida’s ironically named, The Non-Thinker (2012). In this, ABHK isn’t just about cultural (or market) encounters. There are artistic face-offs happening everywhere, most of them unexpected. Take Haim Steinbach’s Untitled (plant, artichoke) (2012) at Lia Rumma: a green plastic form resembling a bonsai tree and an artichoke resting on a book. Steinbach’s green object immediately recalled a Tony Cragg sculpture, probably because I saw so many at the fair. Later, I chanced upon a Cragg bronze painted literally the same colour as Steinbach’s green plastic bonsai at Marian Goodman, aptly titled Versus (2012). It was a perfect moment of accidental (dis)unity. These relations make ABHK a promising space with which to assess global artistic practices, trends and tastes. Jose Davila, a favourite at 2012’s Art Basel Miami Beach, for example, is showing at both Mexico’s OMR and London’s Max Wigram, and his work chimes well with Seher Shah at Nature Morte. Similarly, The Breeder, presenting Greek artists Antonis Donef (ink drawings on archival paper), Andreas Lolis (marble carved to look like a pool of oil) and Stelios Faitakis (iconographic revolutionary paintings) are shown with Tao Xue’s paper sculpture, Socrates in China (2012), producing a synergy between two very different (yet wholly related) cultures. At the end of ABHK’s preview day, and after thinking about the significance of the fair from a cultural perspective rather than from buying and selling art (or lack thereof, given it is still early days), fair fatigue set in. I had become embroiled in Tang Contemporary Art’s installation of Yan Lei’s Limited Art Project (2012), exploring the complex narratives (and political ideologies) that have fed into the discipline of painting on canvas, a westernised tradition. Upon leaving, the only words I could muster to describe all that I had seen and thought in a day at the fair were those used in a work by Newell Harry, showing in a stellar group presentation at Australia’s Rose Oxley9 Gallery: “This Dam Mad Shit.” – [O]Tomorrow, Stephanie will assess the debates and discussions taking place at the fair, while reviewing the hotly anticipated opening ceremony, Paper Rain.
Lui Chun Kwong, Au Hoi Lam Osage Gallery Yuko Hasegawa giving a curator’s tour, standing with Haegue Yang’s Encounters installation, Journal of Mundane and Uncertain Days, 2013 Haegue YangJournal of Mundane and Uncertain Days, 2013 Martin Bell Tolarno Galleries Sehar ShahMammoth – Aerial Landscape Proposals, 2012 Nature Morte Brendan Early Presented by Mother’s Tankstation as part of DiscoveriesMatthias Bltzer and Becky Beasley Presented by Francesca Minini as part of DiscoveriesHrair Sarkissian and Raed Yassin Presented by Kalfayan Galleries as part of InsightsTony CraggVersus, 2011 Marian Goodman Gallery Barbara Kruger at Sprüth Magers Berlin London, and Kohei Nawa at Arario Gallery Madein CompanyPlay (201B01), 2013 Part of Encounters
At Art Basel Hong Kong, International Dealers Bet Big on Asian Market
By Barbara Pollack7:51am
Boers-Li Gallery’s booth, with ‘Fondle’ (2009–13) by Yang Xinguangon on the ground. (Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)
“We are really an Asian gallery,” said Pace President Arne Glimcher on Wednesday evening at the opening of the very first edition of Art Basel Hong Kong, at the Hong Kong Convention Centre on Victoria Harbour. Pace may be based in New York, but the gallery has run a Beijing outpost for the past five years, and that counts as a major plus at an art fair like this one, where dealers compete to make an impact in a burgeoning Asian market.
Technically, this fair has been taking place annually at the convention center for the past six years, bearing the name Art HK. But two years ago it was purchased by MCH Group, owner of the 43-year-old Art Basel, the world’s most prominent modern and contemporary art fair, and that fair’s wildly successful, 11-year-old sister event, Art Basel Miami Beach. This year’s edition, which runs through May 26, is the first under its new Swiss management, and although the morning of the opening on Wednesday brought torrential rains, the weather cleared up by the afternoon and collectors, sometimes accompanied by art advisors in stiletto heels, streamed in to tour the booths of 245 dealers.
Works by Andy Warhol at the booth of Dominique Lévy Gallery. (Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)
Certain improvements could be immediately felt, such as the floor plan, which is more open and spacious, and gives the lion’s share of space to blue-chip international dealers and major players from Japan, Korea and mainland China. There are also sections, called “Discoveries” and “Insights,” devoted to more recently established Asian galleries showing younger artists. The new management promised a boost in European and American collectors at the fair, and though a few could be spotted in the crowd on the VIP preview day, including Miami’s Debra and Dennis Scholl as well as the London-based Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova, the heavy hitters at this fair are collectors of Chinese contemporary art like Baron Guy Ullens and Uli Sigg, as well as Asian collectors, like the Indonesian-Chinese businessman Budi Tek, who is building a museum for international contemporary art in Shanghai.
For dealers from the West, a working knowledge of the market in the region comes in handy here. Building on its Asian client base and cultivation of Chinese artists, Pace brought “what we know appeals to Asian collectors,” as Mr. Glimcher put it, and that strategy met with success early in the day. Pace’s booth was consistently crowded with visitors clamoring for million-dollar examples of work by Chinese artists like Zhang Xiaogang, Zhang Huan and Li Songsong, whose works have seen soaring sums in the auction houses. Gagosian Gallery, whose two-year-old Hong Kong branch had opened a Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition the evening before (it’s the first major Basquiat exhibition in Hong Kong), was also busy at the fair. Too busy to talk to a reporter, said gallery director Nick Simunovic as he pointed out details of a Damien Hirst piece to a group of Asian collectors.
Works by Basquiat, Hirstt and Calder at Van de Weghe Fine Art’s booth. (Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)
But most New York dealers come to this fair with low expectations. “If I was doing this amount of business anywhere else, I’d shoot myself,” said Sean Kelly, who has scored a major coup recently in selling an archive of work by Taiwanese performance artist Tehching Hsieh to Hong Kong’s mega-museum project M+, which isn’t scheduled to open until 2017 but is already spending its sizable acquisition budget.
“This fair you can’t judge in four hours,” Mr. Kelly continued. “It’s a much slower affair than that. People come, they look, they ask questions, they return. So it’s a different rhythm.”
By contrast with other major contemporary art fairs, like New York’s Armory Show and Frieze New York, Frieze in London or Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Basel Hong Kong doesn’t have a collector feeding frenzy on opening day. Here buyers from throughout Asia were much more laid back, taking their time to familiarize themselves with European or American artists whose names were new to them. One artist every Chinese collector I’ve spoken with has told me that they want is Gerhard Richter—not so surprising, as his market is surging internationally at the moment—and the artist’s agent, Marian Goodman Gallery, which has branches in New York and Paris, managed to sell a major painting on 16 panels to an Asian collector in the opening hours of the fair.
Works by Kara Walker at Sikkema Jenkins Co.’s booth. (Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)
Other New York galleries brought more challenging material. Brent Sikkema spread across two walls of his booth a series of silhouette pieces by Kara Walker, whose work deals specifically with African-American imagery, much of it deriving from the era of Reconstruction after the Civil War. But Mr. Sikkema said he’d found that a surprising number of visitors to his booth were already familiar with Ms. Walker’s work. (As a kind of insurance, there were also the European visitors that the fair’s organizers had promised him would be on hand.) Like most New York dealers at Art Basel Hong Kong, Mr. Sikkema signed on to the fair with the understanding that patience will be required—it will take some more time before Hong Kong becomes an international art hub along the lines of Basel or Miami.
Hong Kong has, however, come a long way. Six years ago, the city was a sleepy backwater, art-wise, with only a handful of galleries and no major contemporary art museum in the works. At that time it appeared that Beijing—with its 100,000-plus artists and 400 galleries—would be the art capital of Asia, with Shanghai, which had its own burgeoning art fair and gallery district, in second place. But the mainland market faced two major obstacles. First, sales of art in mainland China incur a whopping 34 percent value added tax (VAT), making it almost impossible for foreign dealers to make a profit at mainland art fairs. Another hindrance was government censorship—the Ministry of Culture regularly plucked works out of booths. And hence, the rise of Hong Kong. In no small part due to the success of Art HK, the Hong Kong government started putting substantial muscle into the local art scene, first and foremost into the massive West Kowloon Cultural District with its $2.8 billion budget and planned M+ museum. That infusion of money and interest attracted Western dealers like White Cube, Gagosian, Emmanuel Perrotin and Lehmann Maupin, all of whom have opened galleries here in the past two years. Meanwhile, Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been holding auctions here since the late-1980s, more aggressively in recent years, and Hong Kong is now the third-largest auction market in the world.
Works by Yayoi Kusama, shown by Victoria Miro, and Ota Fine Arts. (Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)
The question for Hong Kong going forward is whether it will function more as a kind of post-colonialist art enterprise, importing Western art into Asia, or as a gateway for Asian buyers to have an impact on the global art dialogue. Ideally, it will do both. The Art Basel organizers have said that they will maintain a 50-50 split between Asian and international galleries—mainland Chinese galleries like Shanghart, Boers-Li, Pekin Fine Arts and Long March Space make a strong showing at this year’s fair—a sign that the fair will continue to have local character. Meanwhile, most galleries from New York and Europe, especially those that do not have a regular presence in the region, are still learning how to tailor their approach to Asian preferences, and to take things slow. “This is about us showing up, showing face, answering questions and taking inquiries seriously,” said Sean Kelly. “But it is equally about us learning from their culture. It’s a two-way street.”
Westerners and Easterners Alike Flock to Art Basel In Hong Kong
Art Basel in Hong Kong, formerly known as Art HK, is the place to go for East-meets-West-style work like Wu Di’s Plaything (2013). The painting shows a monkey-headed human figure in Western Renaissance garb on the end of a leash held by a human-headed monkey, all against a background of old master-style gold leaf.
View Slideshow Wu Di, Plaything, 2013. Courtesy of Shanghai Gallery of Art.; Zhuang Hui and Dan’er, 11 Degree Incline, 2008, lacquered metal sculpture, dimensions variable. Courtesy Magician Space, Beijing. ;
The artist, who is represented by the Shanghai Gallery of Art, showed A.i.A. an image of the print that had inspired the work on her phone. She didn’t know its origins or date, she said, speaking through a translator: “I downloaded it from the Internet.”
Overall, Tuesday’s preview of the inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong (May 23-26) saw steady sales and increased numbers of visitors from outside the region.
Major area collectors such as Budi Tek and Uli Sigg were in attendance, along with museum directors from near and far, such as the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art’s Philip Tinari and Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles’s Jeffrey Deitch.
This is the first year that the five-year-old fair is under the management of Art Basel. With the Swiss conglomerate newly behind it, the fair drew visits from many more European dealers than in past years, according to several gallerists who spoke with A.i.A. during the fair’s first hours.
The fair’s 245 exhibitors, hailing from 35 countries and territories, are spread over two floors of the gigantic Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, on Victoria Harbor. Younger galleries, in the Discoveries section, paid as little as $14,000 for their stands, while larger booths ran into the upper tens of thousands.
Dealers were reporting sales by the end of the first day, though the VIP preview wasn’t marked by the feeding frenzy that sometimes characterizes Basel’s home fair in Switzerland or its 11-year-old outpost in Miami Beach.
Victoria Miro (London) and Ota Fine Arts (Singapore and Tokyo), which are jointly exhibiting Yayoi Kusama, sold the artist’s 1988 painting Flame of Life-Dedicated to Tu-Fu (Du-Fu) to an Asian collector for $2 million. Galerie Gmurzynska (Zurich, Zug and St. Moritz) sold Fernando Botero’s painting Quarteto (2012) for $1.3 million to a Malaysian collector.
Dealers told A.i.A. that an already well-run enterprise is only getting better under new management.
“The fair’s layout is more orderly and calm than in past years,” said Daniel Lechner, of New York’s Cheim & Read Gallery, which has participated in the Hong Kong fair in the past, though not this year.
The question on many minds has been whether Art Basel’s acquisition of a 60 percent share of the fair would lead to it becoming more generically global. The organizers are keen to emphasize that over 50 percent of the participating galleries are from the Asia-Pacific region. Some 26 exhibiting galleries have spaces in Hong Kong, though a few of them are outposts of global enterprises like Gagosian.
Though attendance figures built slowly over the day, Arnold Glimcher, of Pace Gallery, which has had a venue in Beijing since 2008, told A.i.A. that a large part of the fair’s audience would attend over the weekend, when businessmen from Malaysia, Taiwan and Indonesia come into town.
Magician Space, from Beijing, is showing a work by Chinese artist duo Zhuang Hui and Dan’er in Encounters, a selection of large-scale sculptures curated by Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. The artists’ 11 Degree Incline, a giant black-lacquered metal sculpture of classicizing architectural ornaments, is based on garden architecture from the Qing Dynasty Summer Palace that was designed by an Italian, Giuseppe Castiglione.
While the uptick in Western visitors was the most salient first impression for many exhibitors, different dealers come to Hong Kong looking for different things. Simone Battisti, of Gladstone Gallery, New York, more highly valued the Malaysian and Chinese collectors he was meeting during the preview. “Why come to Hong Kong to talk to European collectors?” he said.
Rose Lord, of New York’s Marian Goodman Gallery, hadn’t noticed a significant increase in American visitors this year compared to the previous two trips the gallery made to Art HK. “Frieze New York was just last weekend,” she said by way of explanation. “And 15 hours is still a very long flight.”
Sean Kelly Announces Acquisition of Work by Tehching Hsieh
Sean Kelly announces a major museum acquisition of work by gallery artist Tehching Hsieh to the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority/M+ Museum in Hong Kong.Michael Lynch (CEO of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority) and Lars Nittve (Executive Director of the M+ Museum) announced the acquisition this morning in a press conference held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, timed to coincide with the opening of the Art Basel art fair in Hong Kong.
This acquisition is the largest to date of Hsieh’s work and will be the most comprehensive collection of Hsieh’s work to be held in a public institution. The acquisition comprises a complete editioned set of the One Year Performance works and Hsieh’s final long-duration performance, which lasted thirteen years.The years from 1978 through 1999 witnessed Hsieh’s development of six individual performance works- all but one lasted for periods of one year at a time-which are informally referred to as:Cage Piece, Time Clock Piece, Outdoor Piece, Rope Piece (with artist Linda Montano), No Art Piece and Thirteen Year Plan. During this 22-year period, his contribution to long-form durational performance art is the most profound of any artist. M+ has acquired a complete set of these works:One Year Performance 1978-1979 (Cage Piece) One Year Performance1980-1981 (Time Clock Piece) One Year Performance 1981-1982 (Outdoor Piece) Art/Life One Year Performance1983-1984 (Rope Piece) One Year Performance 1985-1986 (No Art Piece) Tehching Hsieh 1986-1999 (Thirteen Year Plan)The West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong is one of the largest arts and cultural projects in the world. A centerpiece of Hong Kong’s future West Kowloon Cultural District, M+ is a new museum for visual culture, encompassing 20th and 21st century art, design, architecture and the moving image from Hong Kong, China, Asia and beyond.Tehching Hsieh (b. 1950, Taiwanese-American) has been represented worldwide by Sean Kelly Gallery since 2009. Work by Hsieh will be on view this week at the gallery’s booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong (1D08).
SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST
All eyes on Hong Kong as Art Basel hits city, bringing tourism boost with it
Hong Kong’s newest arts fair may reflect the cultural and economic value of art, but also a globalisation of culture that can stifle artistic expression
An visitor at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery in Admiralty inspects 556,066,792,000, a work by Hong Hao, on display in the Boundless: Contemporary Art exhibition. Photo: Felix Wong
As the curtain goes up on the first Hong Kong excursion of the Art Basel international art show today, it will become the focal point not just for the art world, but for the city’s tourism efforts. The Tourism Board is promoting the Asian outpost of the world’s largest contemporary art fair as the centrepiece of an “Art Month”, which also includes a range of satellite fairs and the irrepressible, inflatable Rubber Duck. Even Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will attend the fair’s opening ceremony this morning – the first time the city’s top leader has presided over the opening of a major art fair. The dramatic boom in Hong Kong’s art fair business since the forerunner to Art Basel – Art HK – made its debut in 2008, has resonated across the region. So also has the emergence of the city and the West Kowloon Cultural District as centres for art auctions. Cities from Singapore to Tokyo and Abu Dhabi to Manila, are embracing art fairs not just for the lucrative business opportunities they create, but also for their power in branding the city and bringing in affluent visitors. But as more Asian cities rush to join the game, there are growing warnings of the key risk from the trend; the globalisation of culture via contemporary art. “Culture is very important in marketing a city,” says cultural critic and consultant Desmond Hui. “Similar to the construction of cultural districts and the cultivation of a creative economy, art fairs are part of the equation.” Unlike art biennales – which are organised by the authorities as an official presentation of arts and culture – art fairs are engineered by market forces and have a different role, and can forge a close relationship with a city. Governments should recognise the fact that art fairs play an important role in cultural and creative industries, Hui says. “In Hong Kong everything is market-driven, so the government doesn’t have to think. But if the government can provide appropriate support and let the private sector grow, the impact could be bigger,” Hui says. “A city’s cultural infrastructure does not equal the commercialisation of art.” Hong Kong government statistics released this month shed light on the attraction of building a cultural industry. Cultural and creative industries were worth HK$89.6 billion in 2011, 4.7 per cent of gross domestic product and a marked increase on their 3.8 share in 2005. Amid general growth in the number of art fairs, the Art, Antiques and Crafts sector was ranked as the third most lucrative cultural and creative industry, generating just over HK$10 billion – almost double the HK$5.4 billion recorded in 2007, the year before Art HK made its debut. It’s inevitable that other cities are doing their best to replicate such growth. Taking Singapore as an example, the government proactively supported the Art Stage Singapore fair in January. The Singapore government also offers overseas galleries the use of the historic Gillman Barracks, a contemporary art site put together by the government’s Economic Development Board. A tax-free zone has been created to draw auction business away from Hong Kong, while government bodies such as the National Arts Council and the Singapore Tourism Board actively co-operate to generate a creative buzz. Art critic John Batten says an art fair can draw the attention of outsiders and also takes on a wider public perception – thereby adding something to the city. But while a successful fair can serve as a branding tool for a city and draw cultural events to take place around it, it also needs the city, he adds. “The art scene wants to associate with Art Basel. But a good art fair also wants to associate with a city – an art fair wants to be seen as part of the fabric of a city,” Batten says. Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew says that rather than simply being a forum for the trading of artworks, an art fair shares both cultural and commercial functions. He wants the art fair to form a positive relationship with Hong Kong, and even serve as an ambassador for the city. “Art fairs can help promote a city as a cultural destination. We want to benefit the cultural scene in Hong Kong. We are not just bringing audiences to discover the city, but also curators and museum directors,” he says. “There is this increasing recognition of Hong Kong as a major centre, not just for the trading of art, but also as a networking and meeting place for the international art world. The fair helps build the brand of Hong Kong as a cultural and financial hub.” Renfrew recognises that cities also hope to ride on the back of art fairs to promote themselves. “It’s very natural for a host city of an art fair to use this opportunity to demonstrate their cultural strength. Governments are more aware of the importance of art fairs [as] key events of the cultural calendar. Culture is an important part of the identity of a city, and art fairs can play a strong PR role,” he says. But, Hui says, other cities such as Taipei and Tokyo, which host art fairs on a different scale, can benefit from a more established cultural infrastructure – the network of public and private institutions that cultivate creativity – than Hong Kong, Singapore, or mainland Chinese cities. Take, for example, March’s Art Fair Tokyo. It may not be the most glamorous event on the arts calendar, but it is able to showcase local art to a local audience already familiar with the subject from the city’s museums and other cultural institutions. Surrounding the fair is the Roppongi Art Night, an all-night art happening in the hip Roppongi Hills area. A smaller contemporary art fair, G-Tokyo, is held concurrently. These events, crowded with local youngsters, offer a different side of Tokyo to visitors. “There’s a long history of art in Japan. The Japanese like to appreciate art with their own taste. We don’t have to follow the global trend,” says Art Fair Tokyo’s executive director Takahiro Kaneshima. Kaneshima says many young art fairs in the region look up to Art Basel and Frieze, a contemporary art fair in London and New York. But by achieving a “global standard”, he says, they end up featuring the same galleries and the same artists. “We try to make our own style of art fair. It doesn’t make sense to have just another Art Basel,” he says. “The rich can go to Switzerland and Hong Kong. We feel that we should make a fair that is more interesting locally.” Kaneshima says he wants his fair to be a platform for local artists and collectors, and make art accessible. This year’s fair attracted 44,000 visitors viewing art works brought by 136 galleries – almost all of them from Japan. The balance is in stark contrast to Art Basel Hong Kong, where half of the galleries came from the West. “I always think; why doesn’t our fair have big international galleries? But the truth is, few people here are interested in them,” he says. “We should learn about the global context, but Asia has different aesthetics. We want to show and create our own. For Asian people, it’s nice to have this kind of ‘global’ art fair …but isn’t such a Western-style strategy some kind of colonisation?” Kaneshima says it is inevitable that art fairs will follow a western model. But he believes creating a uniquely Asian system is important. Japan’s economic troubles of the past two decades have been a wake-up call to collectors and artists, he says. They now take time to sell works of art through galleries and there is more effort to cultivate talent. “It takes five years to sell an expensive sculpture, and it takes 20 years to make an artist,” he says. Internationally popular Japanese artist Takashi Murakami is in Hong Kong for a solo exhibition of his new works at Central’s Galerie Perrotin Hong Kong. He says that today’s art fairs and the market are vibrant. “When I debuted [in the international scene] 20 years ago, I hoped for such conditions,” the artist says. “But young people misunderstood the concept of making money. Auctions put up the prices [of art works] in a short time, but there’s also a short lifespan for artists.” Murakami is helping the next generation of artists. He “coaches” emerging artists under his company, KaiKai Kiki, ensuring they create art with a “healthy” mentality so that the money goes into the pockets of the artists’ families as well as the artists themselves, reducing the temptation for them to blow their new-found wealth. In 2002, he founded the GEISAI Operation, an art fair offering emerging Japanese artists a taste of the art market. The development of Tokyo’s largely homegrown art fair scene contrasts starkly to that of Hong Kong and other cities, which have a weaker cultural infrastructure and rely on foreign-run fairs. The concern is that the interest of foreigners in a city can be transient. “Foreigners bring the Western style to Hong Kong, which serves as a platform for them. But what if they move away from Hong Kong?” Hui asks. This worries artist and critic Anthony Leung Po-shan. She believes the vibrant art scene – a parade of glamorous openings, parties and free-flowing champagne – is in fact sending an alarming signal to the city. “It is a new form of globalisation,” Leung says. “Contemporary art becomes a tool, the best social occasion for global elites. It is not about the cultural diversity that [UN cultural body] Unesco advocates. Contemporary art becomes a new label, like Louis Vuitton, that people are after.” Leung worries that such globalisation of culture through the contagious art fairs obsession will eventually undermine or even extinguish most indigenous local craft and cultures in Asia in the long run. In fact, Britain is already experiencing such a phenomenon, with officials deciding that the country’s age-old craft industries no longer warrant inclusion within its creative industries. While the British contemporary art scene has blossomed, last month Britain’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport released a consultation paper proposing to remove craft as a category within the creative industries as “most craft businesses are too small to identify in business survey data … we’ve not been able to provide gross value added data”. Leung says the growth of the culture sector in Hong Kong is mainly in contemporary art, while traditional art forms stagnate. “Will it kill the local art forms? It depends on the local authorities,” she says. “Art fairs create great synergies. The positive side is that these fairs help widen the spectrum of arts and culture. But with this developmental-state mentality dominating Asia, and creative industries becoming state policy, Asia becomes a place that is just about making money. Art fairs then become a merger not just of culture, but also of capital. Cities have to beware of art fairs.”
This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition on May 22, 2013 as Drawing a line between art and money
A sculpture by French artist Fabien Merelle at the Hong Kong Statue Square. It sold for 250,000 euros to a Southeast Asian collector. Photographer: Frederik Balfour/Bloomberg
Jolie Gems, Warhol, Wine Lure Billionaires to Hong Kong
Hong Kong is taking center stage on the global conspicuous-consumption circuit this week as billionaires descend on the city to choose from Angelina Jolie’s diamonds, Andy Warhol’s paintings and bottles of Romanee-Conti.
In what promises to be a champagne-fuelled 10 days, the city will see billions of dollars of contemporary art, wine, jewelry and snuff bottles go on sale.
Anchoring, what is informally referred to as Hong Kong art week, is Art Basel Hong Kong which opens to the public tomorrow. VIPs at today’s preview included Kate Moss; Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and his girlfriend Dasha Zhukova; and Jeffrey Deitch director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
“I am very happy this year,” said gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin who was beaming after spending time showing works of Takashi Murakami to Abramovich. Though the Russian hasn’t yet settled on a purchase, Perrotin sold out 10 Murakami fiberglass figures in the first few hours of the preview at $135,000 each.
Others share his enthusiasm.
“There is high anticipation as opposed to last year when everyone was holding his breath,” said Jasdeep Sandhu, director of Singapore-based Gajah Gallery, which is selling a new painting by I. Nyoman Masriadi for $350,000.
Dozens of galleries are taking advantage of the influx of well-heeled visitors to host openings, dinners and parties.
“I’m attending four dinners tonight but I won’t sit down at any of them,” said Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. “I’ll eat while I’m in the car.”
At the Pedder Building, six galleries held simultaneous vernissages last night. Gagosian opened with a show of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings, Pearl Lam has Chinese abstract painter Zhu Jinshi. Hanart TZ Gallery is featuring ink-on-paper works by Qiu Zhijie, while Lehmann Maupin has hung embroideries and neon by Tracey Emin.
“We’ve got a security guard to manage the crowd,” Lehmann Maupin partner Courtney Plummer said before yesterday’s opening. “It’s a great problem to have.”
A few blocks away, on two floors of a retro-1930s building designed by Robert Stern, White Cube held a party to mark the opening of a show by Jake & Dinos Chapman. On the 17th floor, Murakami held court at his opening at Galerie Perrotin.
Earlier, Galerie Malingue put on show in Hong Kong’s Statue Square a larger-than-life statue by Fabien Merelle. The French sculptor portrays himself balancing an elephant on his back. Numbered one in a series of three, it has already been sold to a private Southeast Asian collector for 250,000 euros ($322,770).
Wendi Deng Murdoch is hosting a party tonight at the Asia Society to promote her art website Artsy, while New World Development scion Adrian Cheng is holding a party at the swimming pool of the Grand Hyatt hotel(owned by his family) in honor of his K11 Art Foundation.
Ground zero for the week’s selling extravaganza is Art Basel Hong itself which opened its doors to VIPs at noon.
Rebranded this year as Art Basel Hong Kong, the fair formerly known as Hong Kong International Art Fair, is trying to maintain its distinctly regional flavor, with more than 50 percent of the 245 exhibitors coming from Asia and Asia-Pacific while focusing more attention on deep-pocketed visitors.
“Three years ago we had one person handling VIP relations,” said Art Basel Director Asia Magnus Renfrew. “Now we have 25 around the world and nine in Asia.”
The fair features a strong showing of European and U.S. heavyweights too. First-time exhibitor Dominique Levy Gallery from New York is selling Warhol dollar-sign works priced from $500,000 to $6 million and Zurich-based Galerie Gmurzynska is featuring pneumatic figure paintings by Colombian artist Fernando Botero.
Christie’s is holding its spring marathon of eight sales including contemporary Asian art, ceramics, jewelry, watches and wine from May 23-29 with a presale estimate of HK$1.3 billion ($167 million).
On May 24, Hong Kong-based Tiancheng International sells an antique diamond choker belonging to Angelina Jolie estimated at HK$4 million to HK$6 million in a charity auction to benefit Education Partnership for Children in Conflict.
Sotheby’s (BID) is selling 270 lots of snuff bottles on May 27, and fine watches on May 28.
At tonight’s Bonhams wine sale at the Island Shangri-La Hotel, an estimated HK$12 million of wine, cognac and whisky go under the hammer, including a bottle of Macallan 1946 (aged 56 years in oak barrels) that may fetch as much as HK$320,000.
The top lot of the sale contains six bottles of Romanee-Conti with a high estimate of HK$620,000.
Art Basel Hong Kong runs from May 23 to May 26 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. The lead sponsor is Deutsche Bank AG.
(Frederik Balfour is a reporter-at-large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton on New York dining and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.
Editors: Mark Beech, Richard Vines.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE./NEW YORK TIMES
Hong Kong Finds Its Footing in Art World
Thomas Lee for the International Herald Tribune
Visitors at the booth of Galerie Gmurzynska at last year’s Art HK fair, the precursor to Art Basel Hong Kong.
By XHINGYU CHEN
Published: May 22, 2013
As Art Basel inaugurates its first fair in the Far East on Thursday, it will not only be staking its claim to a growing market for contemporary and modern art, but also bolstering Hong Kong’s position as the dominant art hub of Asia.
Courtesy of Jitish Kallat and ARNDT Berlin
Jitish Kallat’s “Allegory of the Unfolding Sky” is on display at Art Basel’s inaugural fair in Hong Kong.
With the show, which features 245 galleries at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center through Sunday, the Art Basel Group has not strayed from its predecessor’s goal of staging an Asia-focused event. “I know there was an initial fear that Basel would just make a copy of what they do in Switzerland and Miami,” said Magnus Renfrew, Art Basel’s director for Asia and the founder of Art HK, the precursor to Art Basel in Hong Kong. “But we’ve maintained our original mission. A majority of galleries are still from the Asia-Pacific region.” Many galleries in the region had indeed expressed fears that they would be pushed out of the event in favor of bigger, global names in the art world. While the presence of international galleries has certainly increased, the fair has put a spotlight on regional galleries in its Insights section, which features projects developed specifically for the Hong Kong show. Art Basel is also continuing its tradition of presenting large-scale works from leading international artists in the Encounters section. This year’s selections, curated by Yoku Hasegawa of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, will feature 17 artists, including the Shanghai-based MadeIn Company, the Indian artist Jitish Kallat and the New Zealand-based artist Seung Yul Oh. There was little a decade ago to presage that Hong Kong would draw so many galleries, artists and collectors. When Art HK, the precursor to Art Basel Hong Kong founded by Mr. Renfrew, had its premiere in 2008, much of the art world viewed the city as little more than a gateway to the more artistically flourishing centers of Beijing and Shanghai. Demand for Chinese art was soaring at the time, and although Sotheby’s and Christie’s had already established presences in Hong Kong — international auction houses were not permitted to operate independently on the mainland — many of the city’s arts representatives were turned toward the blossoming arts centers of mainland China. The Hong Kong gallery offerings were little better. Save for a few veterans like Hanart TZ Gallery, which opened in 1983, and Osage Gallery, established in 2004, contemporary art galleries in the city were dealing largely with commercial art and offering few platforms on which artists could thrive. But Hong Kong has experienced an arts renaissance in the past few years, and the city now has 80 contemporary art galleries, according to Art Asia Pacific Magazine, with reputable dealers including Ben Brown Fine Arts, Gagosian, White Cube and Lehmann Maupin opening outposts in the city. For the economist Clare McAndrew, the author of a market report for the European Fine Art Fair this year in Maastricht, the Netherlands, Hong Kong’s free market and its lack of taxes on imports or exports of art have contributed to drawing these foreign galleries. The local government, meanwhile, has announced plans to invest 21.6 billion Hong Kong dollars, or about $2.8 billion, in a new arts hub, the West Kowloon Cultural District, where the M+ contemporary art museum is scheduled to open in 2017. Some of these developments have been in play for years, but many arts specialists credit the success of the Art HK fair, and its takeover in 2011 by the international giant Art Basel, with strengthening Hong Kong’s position as the artistic hub of Asia. “The acquisition of Art HK by Art Basel has unquestionably cemented the city’s position as a mandatory destination for collectors, curators and critics in the global art circuit,” said Nick Simunovic, director of the Gagosian Gallery in Hong Kong. For Courtney Plummer, director of Lehmann Maupin’s Hong Kong space, which opened in March this year, the idea of a Hong Kong gallery matured over time. “It really was a natural progression,” she said of the gallery’s decision to open in the city. “But we did notice that Hong Kong was in the air a lot, with the auctions, the opening of the Asia Society and the fair itself. The fair did not directly influence our decision to come, but it certainly made it clear to us that people love coming to Hong Kong.” In 2012, China had a 25 percent share of the global art market, much of it based in Hong Kong. The city is now the third-largest art auction center in the world, after New York and London, and Sotheby’s Hong Kong alone had sales of more than 7.8 billion dollars in 2011. Some major players in the Hong Kong art world caution against overstating the reputation the city had for many years as a “cultural desert,” however. Mr. Renfrew of Art Basel said that this “was the prevailing thought” when he was scouting in Hong Kong in 2007 but that it “was an unfair assessment.” “There were many different organizations, like Asia Art Archives and Para/Site, who were contributing to the city’s cultural life,” he said, referring to a regional cultural research organization founded in 2000 in Hong Kong and to a contemporary space founded in 1996 that is run by artists. “There were also a number of strong galleries, like Hanart and Osage, who had strong programming that was different from the purely commercial objectives of the city’s established antiques galleries,” he continued. “I see the city’s artistic developments as happening more in parallel with the fair.” Central to that development are Hong Kong’s protections of free speech and a culture of openness and critical thinking, said Robin Peckham, the founding director of Saamlung, a small project space and gallery in the Central district of Hong Kong. Mr. Peckham moved to the city from Beijing in 2009. “I was attracted by the more scholarly approaches in the working methodologies of artists in Hong Kong, and the broader culture of research in the art world,” he explained. “Hong Kong is already more significant than Beijing and Shanghai: the transparency of the gallery and auction business, the possibilities of serious curatorial research offered by M+ and AAA — none of that exists elsewhere in China.” Once Hong Kong’s art fairs and galleries shined a global spotlight on the city, the local government took notice. “We were seen mainly as a commercial enterprise, so they were not familiar with the cultural significance of an event like ours,” Mr. Renfrew explained. “But I think the local government has since been greatly encouraged by the success of the fair. Fair attendance has risen from 19,000 visitors our first year to 67,000 visitors last year. They realize now that there is a hunger for contemporary art from the local populace.” The city, which posted a surplus of 64.9 billion dollars in the most recent fiscal year, has embarked on an ambitious plan for the West Kowloon Cultural District, which will include 60,000 square meters, or 645,000 square feet, of exhibition space at the M+ contemporary arts museum. Lars Nittve, a former director of the Tate Modern in London and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, has been appointed executive director of the museum and Pi Li, a major figure in the Chinese art world, a senior curator. “The interest in Hong Kong developing a major institution has become stronger as a result of the fair and all the other developments throughout the city,” Mr. Nittve said of Art HK and its successor. “The perception of Hong Kong, and its position in the region as a major art hub, has been strengthened.” For some, however, the influx of international galleries like Gagosian and White Cube presents a risk to local artists and galleries because they often focus on global heavyweights like Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol, rather than on local artists. While this is sometimes true — Gagosian did have a Damien Hirst show last year at its space in the Pedder Building — the galleries are generally viewed as bringing fresh air, money and new collectors to the city. “The increased presence of international galleries is a very positive thing for Hong Kong,” Mr. Renfrew said. “They have raised the level of artistic programming and introduced major international artists to the city.” Not least, the changing landscape has encouraged local galleries to deepen their programming in the city. Tang Contemporary and 10 Chancery Lane are just two of the driving forces behind Art East Island, a series of exhibitions held in a warehouse building on the eastern reaches of Hong Kong Island. Past exhibitions have included an Ai Weiwei show and a Dinh Q. Le solo project. The spotlight that comes with each gallery opening, and with prominent fairs like Art Basel Hong Kong, could also presage good things for local artists. “There are dozens of great artists working in Hong Kong who for many years were more or less overshadowed by the developments in mainland China,” said Mr. Simunovic of the Gagosian Gallery. “As the cultural community grows,” he continued, “I think you will see Hong Kong-based artists rise to greater prominence.”
A version of this special report appeared in print on May 23, 2013, in The International Herald Tribune.
Arts & Leisure
Posted on May 21, 2013 05:34:52 PM
Art Basel to bring international flair to Hong Kong
HONG KONG — Art lovers, collectors and gallerists will gather on Thursday for Hong Kong’s inaugural edition of Art Basel, sealing the city’s status as an international art hub and Asia’s leading art destination.
The Hanart TZ Gallery, which showcases Chinese contemporary art, will be exhibiting at Art Basel Asia, in Hong Kong. — AFP
The four-day annual show is the world’s premier art fair and has until now only been held in Switzerland and the United States each year. More than 2,000 international artists and 245 leading art galleries will come together for the event to be held in the city’s waterfront convention center. “Art Basel really helps to affirm in people’s minds the status of Hong Kong as the art destination in Asia,” Art Basel Asia Director Magnus Renfrew told AFP. It replaces Art HK, Hong Kong’s former art fair which was set up in 2008 and recently taken over by the high-profile Swiss Art Basel franchise which has been showcasing modern and contemporary art since 1970. “It really helps to take this from being a fair of regional significance to one of global significance,” says Renfrew, who also headed Art HK. “The quality of application this year was far greater than what we received previously, it’s getting more difficult to get in.” Renfrew and his team are predicting huge growth potential in the Asian art scene and are expecting a greater presence from collectors from outside Asia. “There’s clearly a huge potential in Asia, there are now more billionaires in Asia than there are in Europe,” says Renfrew, adding that 25 VIP relations managers have been deployed around the world to drive VIP traffic to the fair. Better known as a fast-paced commercial hub which is home to global banks and designer brands, Hong Kong’s reputation as a thriving center for art collectors has only been established in the last few years. It has surged to third place in the global art auction market behind New York and London and Western galleries are falling over each other to open franchises in the former British colony. The sudden boom in the international art presence in Hong Kong has come largely thanks to the explosion of personal wealth among mainland Chinese who are investing in art and a growing interest among collectors for different types of art aside from traditional works. Since Art Basel acquired Art HK in 2011, 11 galleries have opened up in Hong Kong hoping to tap into the growing international art presence, Renfrew said. “I think the cultural ecology of Hong Kong is really starting to come together,” he said. Gagosian, White Cube, Acquavella, Lehmann Maupin and Pearl Lam are just some of the big-name galleries to have arrived in the city in the past two years, despite sky-high rents. The local art scene is also buzzing with the government’s development of a massive art and culture district on the harbor in Kowloon where contemporary art museum M+ is expected to boast a world-class art selection. International art stars are launching shows at major galleries in the city to coincide with Art Basel and tap into the current cultural buzz. Controversial British siblings Jake and Dinos Chapman — known as the Chapman brothers — will be opening an exhibition at White Cube on Tuesday, their first exhibition in China. Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami will launch a show at the French Galerie Perrotin on the same day. Art Basel’s four main sections at the Hong Kong show will focus on significant works from the past 100 years, projects specially developed for the show and large-scale sculptural and installation pieces. Selected emerging contemporary artists will also vie for a $25,000 prize. The city’s Hanart TZ Gallery, which showcases Chinese contemporary art, will be exhibiting at the show and is hoping to push its own reputation beyond its regional fan base. “With Art Basel, the promise is that the international is being brought to Hong Kong,” Johnson Chang, the gallery’s curatorial director, told AFP. Chang is hoping the show will help his artists reach global collectors and spark “new interest, new business and new connections.” Hong Kong has already made international art headlines this year with thousands of people flocking to see a giant rubber duck created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman floating in the city’s famous Victoria Harbor. It also hosted a major Andy Warhol exhibition which received more than 200,000 visitors during its three-month run. — AFP
Manila galleries participating in Art Basel HK
FOUR MANILA galleries will be participating in Art Basel Hong Kong which will run from May 23 to 26 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. They are: Silverlens and The Drawing Room under the “Galleries” category, and Manila Contemporary and ArtInformal in the “Insights” category. Silverlens will be presenting five of its represented artists: Mariano Ching, Patricia Perez Eustaquio, Gary-Ross Pastrana, Rachel Rillo, and Maria Taniguchi. The Drawing Room will be presenting new works by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Gaston Damag, Kawayan De Guia, Jose Legaspi and Mark Salvatus. Manila Contemporary will present new works by painter Winner Jumalon, while ArtInformal will be presenting works by Pam Yan Santos and Marina Cruz.
Chapman brothers unveil diabolical art in Hong Kong
The Chapman brothers presented their latest epic installation featuring thousands of little figures in violent conflict Tuesday at the sidelines of Art Basel in Hong Kong, but dismissed the renowned fair as a “shop”.
A close up view of “The Sum of all Evil” by British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman. The installation — which showcases miniature Nazis soldiers in various states of diabolical torment — is on display at Hong Kong’s White Cube gallery from May 21, 2013.
“The Sum of all Evil” by Jake and Dinos Chapman builds on previous works such as “Hell” (1999) which showcased innumerous miniature Nazis soldiers in various states of diabolical torment.
Their ambitions to use themes of war, genocide, the apocalypse and the evils of mass consumerism come in the form of tiny, tortured Nazi soldiers, skeletons and bloody corpses, and crucified Ronald McDonalds, the mascot of the fast food giant.
“I don’t want to think that making art or works of art are the pioneering objects of capitalistic markets, which ultimately they are, but I don’t really want to think about that,” Jake Chapman told AFP at Hong Kong’s White Cube gallery, as he unveiled the siblings’ first exhibition in China.
“One of the ways in which we proof our work from being implicated in that process is to make the work as awful as we can, so it can’t be mistaken for anything positive — it’s as cynical and pessimistic and anti-human as possible,” he said.
The four-day annual Art Basel show, the world’s premier art fair that is enjoying its inaugural showing in Hong Kong, is offering a crowded platform for around 2,000 international artists to promote and sell their work.
Nothing could be further from the artistic vision of the London-based pair, Jake Chapman insisted to AFP.
“If you’re an artist I think you allow yourself the privilege of believing that what you do is something to do with producing culture, rather than commodities,” he said, adding it was “best (to) keep away” from the massive fair happening nearby — dismissing the gathering as “a big shop”.
Art is, in fact, “to do with producing commodities and not culture”, he admitted, “but you don’t have to force yourself into the awful truth of it by going to art fairs”.
May 21, 2013, 7:18 PM
Roast-Duck Vodka, Anyone?
By WSJ Staff
Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
Skull for dessert? A Damien Hirst-inspired creation at the Mandarin Grill in Hong Kong
In a Fringe Club basement formerly used for ice storage, experience the world of artist Adrian Wong at his immersive installation “Wun Dun” (“cosmic gour in Cantonese). The Absolut Vodka pop-up bar shakes up visitors with drinks inspired by Hong Kong flavors (try the stiff roast-duck vodka served with a fresh bok choy leaf), colorful neon fish tanks, a cast of characters that includes a Star Ferry captain, a soundtrack courtesy of a furry robot backing band and an elderly Cantonese opera singer turned karaoke crooner.
The Mandarin Oriental hotel isn’t just sponsoring Art Basel; it’s also hosting works from “Hong Kong Eye” at its mezzanine Clipper Lounge. Over at the Mandarin Grill, chef Uwe Opocensky is serving up culinary homages to artists from Andy Warhol (Campbell’s-based tomato soup) to Damien Hirst (a chocolate-skull dessert sprinkled with hundreds and thousands).
Looking to run into a billionaire art lover or gallery owner at Hong Kong’s new Art Basel? Much of the air kissing and champagne swilling takes place off site, as VIPs land in the city in droves.
By Jason Chow
In Hong Kong, Art Basel organizers hope to replicate the social scene of its Miami Beach and Basel events. Here, Paris Hilton, left, poses at a Moncler anniversary party in December at Art Basel in Miami Beach.
Getty Images for Moncler
In case you missed rubbing elbows with superdealer Larry Gagosian and Indonesian collector Deddy Kusama at the Asia Society’s Art Gala on Monday, you’ll find much of the same crowd at Duddell’s, where a high-end Cantonese restaurant and Ilse Crawford-designed lounge meet exhibitions curated by the likes of Ai Weiwei (works aren’t for sale). Booked back-to-back throughout the fair, the space this weekend sees a private dinner hosted by Beijing’s Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art and an after party hosted by Paris’s Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Meanwhile, high-rolling individuals are pulling out the stops for their own fetes, from Adrian Cheng’s Art Basel vernissage after party at the Grand Hyatt on Wednesday to collector Richard Chang’s Thursday event at club-lounge Fly. Co-hosted by Dee Poon, daughter of Harvey Nichols department store owner Dickson Poon, the evening will also feature Chinese art duo Birdhead as the official photographer of the night. While most Hong Kong galleries unveil their exhibitions on Wednesday, Galerie Ora-Ora is staging a yacht party for the Art Basel elite the next day. Owner Henrietta Tsui said response has been so strong that she’s now taking two trips, each a group of 50, on her family’s 80-foot yacht to cruise Victoria Harbor and take in Hong Kong’s skyline. “I’m a local gallery trying to reach out to the international crowd,” she said. The most coveted invitation of the weekend? Saturday’s Art Basel closing party hosted by Yana Peel, founder of the debate series Intelligence Squared. The event takes place at the Jumbo Seafood Restaurant, the gilded floating palace in the middle of Aberdeen Harbor on Hong Kong’s south side.
Years before the West Kowloon Cultural District opens, Hong Kong’s art scene is still something of a treasure hunt.
Start at West Kowloon’s harborfront site: The city’s museum for visual culture M+ (projected opening: 2017) is making its presence felt with “Mobile M+: Inflation!” (through June 9), a crowd-drawing exhibition of six large-scale inflatable sculptures that include an outsize suckling pig by Cao Fei, a giant cockroach by Otto Li and Paul McCarthy’s scatological “Complex Pile.”
Para/Site, Yale University, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library
‘Portrait no 48.Yang Kang,’ 1830-1850, by Lam Qua, part of a Para/Site exhibition marking a decade after SARS.
Next, head to a former abattoir in Kowloon’s old town center, where the Burger Collection has joined forces with artist-run collective 1a Space for “I Think It Rains” (through June 30), the second of four experimental shows in its “Quadrilogy” series. On display are works by 20-odd artists and writers, from pop lyricist Chow Yiu Fai to conceptual-based artist Vittorio Santoro, while Friday sees a full day of “real time” art, including participatory performances by Wen Yau, Reds Cheung and Lau Ching Ping.
Back on Hong Kong island, “A Journal of the Plague Year” (through July 20) marks the 10th anniversary of the SARS epidemic, as well as the suicide of Cantopop star Leslie Cheung, with a series of installations that have already generated headlines. Among them are Lee Kit’s melancholy karaoke room dedicated to Mr. Cheung, a ghostly video by Apichatpong Weerasethakul screened in a 1970s tenement, and Ai Weiwei’s baby milk-formula bottles configured as a floor-based map.
Over in the corporate Island East complex, survey show “Hong Kong Eye” (through May 31) spotlights more than 60 works on home turf after debuting at London’s Saatchi Gallery last year. Pieces on display range from Chow Chun Fai’s painted film stills to a warped life-size taxi sculpture by Amy Cheung, but the real gem is the hefty 408-page catalog, complete with essays by curator Johnson Chang and critic Anthony Leung.
On nearby Oil Street, just a stone’s throw from the erstwhile Oil Street artist village, new government-run space Oi opens on Wednesday in a red-brick building that dates to 1908. Works by four artists explore themes of water and space (through Aug. 18), including a mist installation by mainland Chinese artist Yuan Gong and a video and sound work by Tsang Kin-Wah that uses footage from Japan’s 2011 tsunami.
Back west, conceptual artist Warren Leung Chi Wo occupies tiny 2P Gallery with “Bright Light has Much the Same Effect as Ice” (through June 11), a tongue-in-cheek look at Hong Kong’s coldest recorded temperature in 1893. For the record, it was zero degrees Celsius.
TIME OUT HONG KONG
Is Hong Kong ready for contemporary art?
Posted: 22 May 2013
That is the question. At a time when our city has been taken over by art more passionately and comprehensively than ever before, Edmund Lee takes stock of the conflicting notions that are shaping our future. In Hong Kong, circa May 2013, it seems reasonable to start the exploration of any topic with reference to a rubber duck. But in the context of our city’s art scene, it takes on a relevance all the more poignant than a mere passing allusion to Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s 16.5m-tall Rubber Duck, which is presently braving the polluted waters of Victoria Harbour. In the glorious days of our toy industry in the 1970s, rubber ducks were one of the major earners for Hong Kong, yet conspicuously absent from the homes of 99 percent of our population. And so it is the case with our abrupt rise towards the pinnacle of the global art market in the past few years, which certainly hasn’t been sufficiently reflected in the maturity of the art-viewing public. Hong Kong is a great gathering point for money, which art always follows. The odyssey for it to become a legitimate art capital, however, is only starting now. Here are some of the major issues that we must address, negotiate or generally begin to grapple with… Being a leading art market vs Becoming an art-conscious city As if you didn’t know, Hong Kong’s art market is flourishing. Some 67,000 people flocked to last year’s ART HK, compared to 19,000 during its first edition in 2008. There has been an expanding army of smaller fairs, like the recent Affordable Art Fair, to offer ‘cheaper’ pieces that are priced below $100,000. And our fair city has, somehow, grown to become the world’s third largest art market by auction sales. Indeed, in terms of business, it has been a period of exponential growth. But does this boom necessarily coincide with an increase in public awareness when it comes to contemporary art? “Absolutely,” says Claire Hsu, co-founder and executive director of the Asia Art Archive. “When we began over a decade ago, we had to beg people to come to our programmes and were lucky to get 10 people for a talk. Now we can easily get a full house with one email to the mailing list. We had about 7,000 people visit the Song Dong exhibition in January in under three weeks, and the staggering [attendance] figures at the art fair every year show people’s hunger to see contemporary art.” Magnus Renfrew, the director Asia of Art Basel who has closely witnessed our evolving art market over the past few years, agrees that things are turning for the better: “One learns about art through having the opportunity to see it, and I think historically in Hong Kong, there had been very few opportunities to see modern and contemporary art in an institutional setting. But that’s changing.” It is indeed a great time to be an avid art audience in Hong Kong. Aside from the fairs and auctions, local galleries specialising in contemporary art are growing more established by the year, while more multinational galleries are opening branches here than ever before. Just as an impressive diversity of non-commercial exhibition producers are emerging across the city (from the Asia Society to Oi!, the awkwardly titled new community art space at 12 Oil Street), the curatorial team behind M+ – the visual culture museum to be opening in late 2017 at the 40-hectare West Kowloon Cultural District – has been making great strides in assembling a collection to rival some of the world’s best. So all in all, what else could hold back Hong Kong’s ferocious climb up the art world ladder? An open mind vs The legacy of Hong Kong education When the M+ museum acquired 1,510 artworks from Swiss collector Uli Sigg’s legendary collection of Chinese contemporary art in September, the irrefutable coup was met with generally positive responses from most cities in which art matters – except right here in our city, where the reception was decidedly mixed and more than a few people questioned the quality of the works. Putting aside the debatable view that we might have overpaid for the collection, it’s hard to shake the impression that any informed and sensible discussion is simply way off the cards as our city continues to be run by generations of people who finished their education without ever encountering the notion of art history. In the February 2 episode of leading channel TVB Jade’s programme News Magazine (which was subtly titled Art – Rubbish), the oil painter Lin Minggang – the chairman of the Hong Kong Oil Painting Research Society who issued an open letter to condemn the Sigg Collection as ‘rubbish’ – elaborated on his philosophy. “Some of these works are nonsensical. Some are the opposite of art. There are, however, some people who do their utmost to promote and push these works,” bemoaned the conservative artist, who later added: “An artwork should give pleasure to the viewer. It should make you feel comfortable.” If Lin’s understanding of modern art is outdated by a century, so it appears to be the case of the television programme’s writer, who at one point enlightened the public by declaring – with reference to a Zhang Peili glove painting – that ‘one of the major characteristics of contemporary art is perhaps its incomprehensibility’. As if confirming that we’re indeed far behind the rest of the art world, the show then channelled Duchamp and played party pooper at this year’s Fotanian Open Studios by asking the visitors – including a bemused William Lim, the dedicated collector of Hong Kong art and co-chairman of Para/Site Art Space – if a mug for brushing teeth was an artwork. The casual preference of this mainstream television programme to find a clear-cut definition of the object over considering its origin, context or even the creative process reflects the jarring lack of art knowledge even in the most prominent of media. To the cynics, this is but a natural extension of our ingrained culture to find a model answer in everything. You see a porcelain urinal and you get a porcelain urinal. Simple. Artistic excellence vs Political consideration The stilted perspective presented by the programme didn’t end with its meditation on a ready-made object, however. After highlighting the negative coverage on the Sigg Collection in the Mainland and the pro-Beijing local press, it went on to pull out a controversial quote from the respected cultural critic Oscar Ho, who went on camera to dismiss the importance of Chinese contemporary art. “With a collection of such things, how meaningful would it be to put them in Hong Kong?” he asked, before adding: “Not only to Hong Kong, but these works are meaningless to the Chinese people too. Most of the people in China have no idea what these works are about.” The mainland Chinese population has certainly had little appreciation of the politically sensitive works on Mao and Tiananmen. But even if we pretend for a moment that artists such as Ai Weiwei, Fang Lijun and Zhang Peili weren’t already notable throughout the art world, is it by itself a valid reason to dismiss the group of historically important works that are finding a home here – precisely due to our freedom of expression – solely because they were severely censored in their place of origin over the decades? What are the odds that one can tie up art and politics in any constructive conversation when the country in question is still prohibiting the showing of iconic works like Andy Warhol’s silkscreen paintings of Mao – as is the case with the touring exhibition Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal, which is currently at Shanghai’s state-owned Power Station of Art before its next stop in Beijing? It’s disheartening to see the way our art development is scattered with comical putdowns by people in power, who, despite being well into middle age, may be coming across contemporary art meaningfully for the first time in their lives. Following the claim of Christopher Chung Shu-kun, chairman of the Joint Subcommittee to Monitor the Implementation of the West Kowloon Cultural District Project, that dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s middle finger to Tiananmen ‘can’t be considered art because even children can do that’, lawmaker Chan Kam-lam merely added to the idiocy by stating that political works ‘are not works of art’. If half of these many outrageous claims were meant for building up Hong Kong art instead of putting it down, we could well be in for something special. In a society that’s accustomed to polite applause instead of true and informed critical voices, however, it’s reasonable to conclude that Hong Kong simply doesn’t have the mature cultural atmosphere for its own art scene to really blossom yet. At a recent forum in Wan Chai’s Foo Tak Building to discuss the obstacles facing Hong Kong contemporary art, artist/scholar Anthony Leung Po-shan cited the 2009 transformation of the Hong Kong Art Biennial Exhibition to the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Biennial Awards as an illustration of the effects of the colonial political principle of ‘fairness’. By turning the biennial into a competition, it ensures a sense of fairness to the selection process. And where will that lead us? Artist development vs A lack of meaningful critique While there’s an enviable degree of artistic freedom in Hong Kong when compared to the Mainland, what we lack sorely is a culture of professional art criticism that could effectively give the artists an honest assessment on their practice – an essential part of the art ecology to situate the art created into a larger discourse. Good critics usually make good curators, but when critics are largely absent and artists begin to regard staying in the profession as a triumph in itself, it becomes increasingly difficult for Hong Kong art to rise above its sideshow status to the city’s prospering market. According to Cosmin Costinas, the executive director of Para/Site Art Space, there’s been a sense around here that the recent growth in our art scene ‘can lead to other opportunities – and not just in terms of [the operation of] commercial galleries’. “For some of the artists in Hong Kong, I think they need to make bolder decisions,” says the curator. “Now, both the galleries and all of us – including the non-profits and institutional – are trying to build something in Hong Kong. But I think it’s important to hear more loudly the voice of the artists.” And it’s not like a platform hasn’t been set for Hong Kong art to finally take the spotlight. As the first major Hong Kong contemporary art exhibition outside the city since 2007’s Horizons at Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the recent Hong Kong Eye showcase at London’s Saatchi Gallery attracted more than 200,000 visitors over its duration. The show’s co-curator Johnson Chang, who famously brought Chinese contemporary art to the world with his landmark exhibition China’s New Art Post-1989 in the early 1990s, told us ahead of the London showing last December: “The ‘export’ of art suggests influence. It builds self confidence and builds bridges of connection, which are very necessary for Hong Kong art now.” Speaking of the fundamental improvements that are required of our art scene, artist Lam Tung-pang says: “I believe the turning point could arrive when local entrepreneurs and private foundations – together with the support of the government – make a long-term goal to develop our local art and collecting culture.” The good news is that a concerted effort to contextualise Hong Kong art looks to be happening through a variety of different channels. Of the 867 works of visual culture that M+ has acquired outside of the Sigg Collection and that may be exhibited prior to the opening of the museum building, 700 are from Hong Kong and are mostly either collected from the artists directly or through their local galleries. More than three books have been published inside the past 12 months on the subject of Hong Kong contemporary art, while the growing interest in writing about our art history has also seen the AAA and the Hong Kong Museum of Art collaborate on an Oral History project with Hong Kong artists. Gallerists advocating conceptual art vs Prohibitively expensive overheads It’s one thing for a gallery to focus on selling wall-hanging pieces that go nicely into any living room; it’s quite another to be dedicating your space to conceptual art installations which are sometimes practically ‘unsellable’. When we talked to Nigel Hurst in late 2012, the gallery director and chief executive of Saatchi Gallery observed that many of our homegrown artists are not ‘particularly market-engaged’, which ‘makes their works more appealing to the art market in the first place’. Tell that to the resolute gallerists who are striving to carve out a place for our emerging artists with limited international reputation and non-existent secondary market potentials. “Hong Kong has a good, interested audience for contemporary art, but I don’t think there’s enough of an educated audience for conceptual art [yet],” says Pui Pui To, the Central Saint Martins graduate who founded 2P Contemporary Art Gallery in 2010. “We make exhibitions with works that nobody really needs or wants to buy. The biggest challenge is how you try to keep your gallery if you have nothing to sell – or if nobody wants to buy anyway. Our programme is extremely experimental, risk-taking and progressive. A lot of people who come by the gallery would be like ‘what’s this?’ The educated audiences are usually those who are already involved in the art world, like curators and writers; many of them come from overseas.” While a whole heap of overseas galleries are expanding into Hong Kong, galleries which are more committed to Hong Kong or Asian contemporary art have seemingly found the need to adjust their strategies. Just as Gallery Exit moved from Central to Tin Wan and Osage closed its Soho space to concentrate on its Kwun Tong galleries, Saamlung ceased operating as a commercial gallery and will move forward as a non-commercial project. Magnus Renfrew of Art Basel describes the environment for young galleries in Hong Kong as being ‘very challenging’. “The overheads for galleries are very, very high here, and the price point for emerging artists or perhaps other conceptual artists tends to be relatively low,” he says. “So to make it viable, you need to sell a huge quantity of work.” Given that it normally takes at least HK$2m to start a gallery, and that every exhibition costs about $15,000 to set up, a good and regular audience base appears to be the very least that a gallerist should be hoping for. “The rental in Hong Kong is just way too high for us to survive,” says To. “People can see that [2P] is not like those galleries on Hollywood Road. There are people coming to the gallery who want to know and take the time, listen to the audio, watch the video properly from the beginning to the end. Sometimes you put art in a context, and it’s not [about finding] any conclusion. Art doesn’t always have a conclusion. You can give the audience a direction but not a certain interpretation.” Rubber Duck vs Complex Pile Since late April, the imagination of the Hong Kong population has been ruthlessly captured by various large-scale inflatable sculptures around town. A few days after the exhibition Mobile M+: Inflation! was unveiled at the West Kowloon Cultural District, featuring such controversial pieces as Los Angeles artist Paul McCarthy’s poop-like Complex Pile and Chinese artist Cao Fei’s roasted pig sculpture House of Treasures, Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck arrived at the harbour to put the snap-happy public into a craze. The number of visitors to the M+ exhibition had topped 100,000 at the time of press, whereas nobody can really keep count of all the duck photos floating – or, indeed, otherwise – on the internet. The phenomenon for artists to scale up their works in order to grab attention is usually reserved for the more prominent art markets in the world, although, in Hong Kong’s case, the impressive sight couldn’t have planned for a better time to deputise here. To many people in the crowds, the question ‘is it art?’ may well be their first ever art awakening. “I think it’s a great show,” says Renfrew of Inflation!, probably no pun intended. “There’s a lot to debate about what art should be, what art could be. There had been other similar debates in other places around the world historically, as well. It’s a very important part of raising people’s awareness. It’s really quite an important moment.” Now that everyone is going to see the gigantic works, does it matter if quite a number of them have no idea whatsoever that they’re actually looking at, uh, art? “That’s a very good question, very interesting,” says M+ curator Tobias Berger, who goes on to distinguish Inflation! from works of public art, such as Rubber Duck. “Public art is the kind of art you talk about, you encounter it on the way to work and you cannot get around it. It’s public, it’s there, and I cannot choose not to go there. [As for] what we do with Inflation!, everybody who goes to that exhibition, they [have to] go there on purpose. We don’t really talk about our exhibition as a public art exhibition; it’s a sculpture exhibition for us. It’s basically like going to a museum. You would not use Complex Pile as a public art piece, because people would misunderstand it. But you can show it in an exhibition.” Ironically, the remarkable thing about our city’s burgeoning awareness towards art appreciation is that SK Lam – the AllRightsReserved creative director who has previously presented well-received showcases of the works by Yue Minjun and Yayoi Kusama for Harbour City’s marketing campaigns – has almost been forced to apologise for the inflatable duck’s immense popularity. “At first, we were only trying to avoid the typhoon season. We were also hoping to coincide with Art Basel and to take advantage of its momentum,” says the celebrity designer. “It’s an artwork after all. It’s not a toy or a prop. It’s not Doraemon. It’s not a licensed [cartoon] character.” He then turns whimsical: “It’s funny to say. Someone told me the other day that the rubber duck piece doesn’t inspire much introspection. I didn’t know what got into me but I just spontaneously replied ‘when it’s gone, you’d be thinking about it for a long time’.” Lam chuckles. “It’s not going to be here forever, you know.” Is that a threat to the unsuspecting public, the local art scene, or the precious overlapping section of both?
With 245 galleries, including 48 that have never shown in Asia, the event will rival Miami’s iteration of the fair in size.
First it was Switzerland. Then it was Florida, with a 2002 expansion that brought art-world glitter to Miami. Now, on Thursday, Art Basel arrives in Hong Kong. With 245 galleries, including 48 that have never shown in Asia, the event will rival Miami in size but remain smaller than the Swiss fair, which hosts 300-plus exhibitors. One big reason for the debut: China is now the world’s second-largest art market, after the U.S. The Art Basel network draws some of the world’s wealthiest collectors and bon vivants—including (at December’s Miami fair) Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. “It’s parties, food, companionship,” said Graham Steele, Asia director of the gallery White Cube, with sites in London, Brazil and Hong Kong. “This is a lifestyle for certain people.” The Asian iteration is a rebranded version of the large Hong Kong International Art Fair, often called Art HK, which launched in 2007. Art Basel organizers are making sure the VIPs are attended to. Art HK had just one person dedicated to important clients; Art Basel has 25. Many collectors are squeezing in the event, coming as it does just after New York’s Frieze and before Venice’s Biennale and Switzerland’s Art Basel in June. Collector Richard Chang, who splits his time between Beijing and New York, plans to be at all four events. “It’s a marathon,” he says. –Jason Chow
FINANCIAL TIMES LONDON
May 17, 2013 6:51 pm
East, west and points in between
By Caroline Roux
Super-curator Yuko Hasegawa’s flair for fusing cultures and disciplines is ideally suited to Hong Kong
Horizontal: it’s one of curator Yuko Hasegawa’s preferred words, though she is anything but. When we catch up over Skype in the week before Art Basel in Hong Kong, it’s 10.30pm in Tokyo, and Hasegawa, in fluent English, launches into an energetic discussion on the shifting geopolitical and cultural landscape and what this means to the wider art world. “Different methodologies, different cultural ideas, and a horizontal approach,” she says, leaving the high v low and east v west orthodoxy trailing in her wake.
Hasegawa is one of the contemporary art world’s global super-curators, popping up everywhere from São Paulo to Kiev, ushering artists from everywhere into a position that she hopes runs counter to what she calls the “west-centrism of knowledge in modern times”. In March this meant assembling the work of more than 100 artists and architects (a third of them from the Middle East) for the 11th Sharjah Biennale in the United Arab Emirates. She included critical work, such as a piece by the young Saudi Sara Abu Abdallah of a veiled girl staring at a written-off car. “It’s the nearest a Saudi woman will ever get to having a car,” explained Abu Abdallah at the time. “Icons of Christianity are taboo there,” says Hasegawa, “and nudity and pornography. But politically, it’s very free. I was surprised.”
Last year for Art Hong Kong (which has since become Art Basel in Hong Kong following its acquisition by Art Basel owner MCH), she curated a Projects programme of larger-scale work. This year it is reprised as Encounters, with 17 galleries delivering weighty installations that will appear in two piazzas that have been designed into each floor of the fair by architect Tom Postma. While these works – which include a series of brightly coloured acrylic boxes by New York-based Brit Liam Gillick, a Venetian blind installation by the Korean Haegue Yang, and a suspended sculpture by Beijing-based Wang Yuyang, who has been known to create vast spheres from energy-saving lightbulbs – are for sale, their presence is equally intended to widen the visitors’ vision and liven up the show. Magnus Renfrew, one of the fair’s four directors, says: “In a relatively new market like Hong Kong, it’s important to show the full perspective of what art can be.”
‘Visibility is a Trap’ (2013) by Laurent Grasso
This is all extracurricular for Hasegawa. She has a full-time job as chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo (MOT) and is professor of curatorial and art theory at the city’s Tama Art University. At the museum she has just presided over the opening of an exhibition of the Mexico-based Belgian artist Francis Alÿs, and is working on an autumn show that will blur the boundaries between art and design.
‘Complete Bin Developments’ (2013) by Liam Gillick
“I’m interested in cross-disciplinary work. I’ll be working with 25 to 30 artists and designers with a focus on how data and information can be visualised,” she says. Among them will be Ryoji Ikeda, a Japanese musician/artist/mathematician who creates challenging imagery and music out of binary code. “I’m less concerned with art historical positions and more interested in creating a platform,” she says.
Jitish Kallat’s ‘Allegory of the Unfolding Sky’ (2012)
Hasegawa has been a name to reckon with since the late 1990s – she was on the jury of the Venice Biennale in 1999 – but made her mark with the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, where she was chief curator and founding artistic director from 1999 to 2006. She commissioned the Japanese architects Sanaa to create the museum’s exquisite circular glass building, and introduced 10 site-specific installations by artists including James Turrell and Anish Kapoor that are integrated into the architecture.
Since its opening in 2004, Kanazawa has been an extraordinary success (and also put Sanaa on the international architectural map). “Everything there is horizontal,” says Hasegawa. “There are no borders. The museum is a part of the city and the city is a part of the museum. People come as though they’re visiting a shopping mall. They don’t know anything about contemporary art. In Japan, there is not such a hierarchical divide. High and low culture are on the same plane.”
‘La Rite Suspendue/Mouille’ (1991) by Chen Zhen
It’s this that has drawn her to Hong Kong, where last year she sat on the advisory board of the HK$21bn West Kowloon Cultural District project, which by 2018 will deliver a new arts complex to the city. “In Hong Kong and mainland China, people don’t have much opportunity to see big institutional presentations. In Hong Kong until now there’s been little cultural provision, though the film industry is really important. That’s the local culture. If I make the right selections for Encounters, it will really expose people to this kind of work. People come to the art fair out of curiosity, and it’s an open entry point.”
Hasegawa’s curation of Encounters does, in fact, have a historical viewpoint. There is an eight-metre wide 1991 installation by Chen Zhen. A Chinese artist who grew up during the Cultural Revolution and emigrated to Paris as soon as Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1986, he represents the artistic diaspora of that decade.
“Haegue Yang lives in Germany,” says Hasegawa. “There’s a cultural hybridity there, and an artist making their own reality.” And as for Turner Prize-winning Scottish artist Susan Philipsz, Hasegawa sees her sound art – in this case a piece called “It Means Nothing to Me” in which she sings a traditional Welsh folk song – as perfectly tailored to the Asian sensibility. “Asian people like performance, sound, music and memory. We are interested in temporality. Take calligraphy, for example. A western person will see the final form. But an Asian person will see the process and the work as something imbued with time.”
And with that, Hasegawa has leapt seamlessly from a Turner Prize winner to calligraphy; a woman who, rather like Hong Kong itself, can synthesise west and east.
All works shown above are in Encounters at Art Basel in Hong Kong
The numbers are impressive. Almost dauntingly so. Visitors to this week’s first Art Basel in Hong Kong will have as many as 250 galleries, originating from some 35 countries, to relish. The organisers make much of the fact that almost 50 per cent of the participants are from Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, as well they might: one of the strengths of their December fair in Miami is its distinctive regional nature (in that case, its relation to its Latin American neighbours), and the last thing we want from a fair is globo-blandness.
At Hong Kong, along with three other distinct sections – Galleries, for 170-plus mainstream international players; Encounters, for large-scale work; and Discoveries, for budding hopefuls – is the Insights section.
This features work that has been made specially for the event, from galleries in the Asia and Asia-Pacific region, and its inclusion reinforces the emphasis on that chunk of the globe – a vast and varied part, but united in its determination to make concrete its not-western identity.
‘Komedi Mafia Peradilan Indonesia’ (2008) by Heri Dono at Art:1 by Mondecor Gallery
‘Saturday Night’ (2007) by Insook Kim at 313 Art Project
‘Frida in Green’ (2012) by Chen Ke at Star Gallery
‘Untitled’ (2012/2013) by Brendan Huntley at Tolarno Galleries
‘Sèvres Vase à Bobèches’ (2012) by Francesca DiMattio at Houldsworth
‘Beetle Sphere’ (2013) by Ichwan Noor at at Art:1 by Mondecor Gallery
‘Horse with Bridles’ (2009) by Fernando Botero at Galerie Gmurzynska
‘Tribute to Thomas Struth’ (2010) by Tang Kwok Hin at 2P
‘Madame Zoo Zoo’ (2005) by John Chamberlain at Timothy Taylor Gallery
‘Contemporary Terracotta Warrior No. 10′ (2007) by Yue Minjun at Rhona Hoffman Gallery
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WALL STREET JOURNAL
May 17, 2013, 12:21 PM
A New Art Basel for Asia
By Jason Chow
de Sarthe Gallery
de Sarthe Gallery will exhibit Zhen Chen’s ‘Le Rite Suspendue/Mouille’ installation at the new Art Basel in Hong Kong.
Just as the jet set leave one art fair in New York, they descend on Hong Kong for the next.
Art Basel in Hong Kong, the latest in what has become an international circuit, kicks off on Thursday. The fair comes at a busy time for art lovers, just two weeks after Frieze New York and a week before the Venice Biennale. Art Basel, in Switzerland, takes place later in June.
“It’s a marathon—really intense,” said Richard Chang, a collector who splits his time between Beijing and New York and plans to attend all four events over two months.
Despite the crowded calendar, the international art world is making room for the Hong Kong fair, which represents Art Basel’s first foray into Asia. The region has never been more important: China is now the world’s second-largest art market after the U.S., according to an annual survey conducted by the European Fine Art Fair, and Southeast Asia’s wealthy have grown into voracious collectors of regional art, pushing the value of Asian works ever higher.
Damien Hirst’s ‘Ptolomeo, 2012′ appears at White Cube’s Art Basel booth.
A newcomer in name, Art Basel takes up the mantle from the Hong Kong International Art Fair, often called Art HK, which became the continent’s biggest art event since its 2007 launch.
Eyeing its growth, MCH Group, Art Basel’s owner, bought a majority stake in 2011, and is this year rebranding it in line with the fairs it has held in Basel since 1970 and Miami Beach since 2002.
Art Basel draws some of the world’s wealthiest collectors and bon vivants—Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton were among the attendees of December’s Miami fair—and organizers hope that the same will be true of its Asian edition.
“Before, the spotlight was already on Asia and Hong Kong,” said Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew, formerly director of Art HK. “With Basel’s resources, that spotlight is so much brighter.”
With 245 galleries, including 48 who have never shown in Asia, the Hong Kong event rivals Miami in size but remains smaller than the Swiss fair, which hosts 300-plus exhibitors. It already looks set to trump both fairs in terms of attendance: Last year’s Art HK counted more than 67,000 visitors, a figure that exceeds Art Basel numbers and which organizers expect to match this year.
The new fair will maintain Art HK’s focus on Asia: More than half of the galleries attending will be from the region, Mr. Renfrew said.
But the most deep-pocketed attendees are likely to notice one change: Art HK had just one person dedicated to VIP clients, which typically include major collectors, museum curators and gallery owners. By contrast, Art Basel has 25.
Among the institutions confirmed to attend are the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and the Dallas Museum of Art, while the guest list for a gala at the Asia Society on Monday includes the dealer Larry Gagosian, Blackstone Group Vice Chairman J. Tomilson Hill and philanthropist Fayeeza Naqvi.
Meanwhile, the fair has attracted Western galleries looking to tap into the growing ranks of Asian collectors, including Budi Tek, a Chinese-Indonesian tycoon who is building a private museum in Shanghai, and Qiao Zhibing, a Shanghai-based nightclub owner who decorates his establishments with works by Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley.
“The goal is to explore new markets,” said Marina Schiptjenko, director of Andréhn-Schiptjenko in Stockholm, which is exhibiting in Hong Kong for the first time. She added that the Art Basel name “guarantees quality” and was a major factor in convincing her to commit more than $90,000 to cover booth fees, transportation of the art, and travel expenses.
Artists are also making their first trip to the city. Brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman will attend their own exhibition at White Cube’s Hong Kong branch, where dioramas mixing Nazi soldiers and Ronald McDonald will be on display, and Berlin-based British artist Angela Bulloch will hold a solo show a few blocks away at Simon Lee Gallery.
“As artists, we’re hearing more about Hong Kong,” said Ms. Bulloch, whose “Short, Big, Yellow Drawing Machine” scribbles yellow ink on the wall in response to sound and will appear the fair. “When they asked me, I leapt at the chance.”
Basel organizers don’t track sales among exhibitors, but big spenders have come to Hong Kong in the past. At last year’s Art HK, gallery owner Pascal de Sarthe sold “No. 313,” a nearly 9-feet-tall oil painting by Chu Teh-Chun, for more than $3 million during the early hours of the fair.
As White Cube’s Asia director Graham Steele noted, however, Art Basel isn’t just about the art. “It’s parties, food, companionship,” he said. “This is a lifestyle for certain people.”
Hong Kong may have an edge on Switzerland on the cuisine front. “A lot of Asians come to Hong Kong because of the food,” Mr. Steele added. “They’re not so excited about restaurants in Basel.”
FINANCIAL CHRONICLE INDIA
Asian artists’ insights and discoveries to be unveiled at HK fair
Art Basel, the famous art fair that attracts art lovers from all over the world is set to launch its first Asian event in Hong Kong in the coming week (May 23 and May 26). The art fair will present 245 galleries from around the world with half of the exhibitors coming from the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia and New Zealand. Art Basel Hong Kong 2013, offers four distinct sections to showcase four different moods. Titled Insights, Encounters, Discoveries and Galleries, the first three offer visitors a sense of anticipation and expectation, whereas the section on Galleries is a viewing of artworks of artists represented by various Asian galleries along with others across the globe offering works of Asian artist.
Among the well-known Indian galleries participating from Delhi are the Vadehras, Nature Morte and Delhi Art Gallery. From Mumbai, there are Sakshi Gallery, Chemould Prescott and The Guild. We can expect today’s better-known painters such as Anju and Atul Dodiya, Jagannath Panda and Zakkir Hussain to be seen in this circuit. What caught my eye was Delhi Gallery Exhibit 320’s presentation of some very interesting work by Nandan Ghiya, a Rajasthan-based self-taught artist.
The Encounters section curated by Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, and Curator of the Sharjah Biennial 13 and promises to be exciting, with 17 ‘large-scale sculptural installations’ by leading artists from Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, China, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the UK. A variety of materials are used in these installations — traditional materials such as marble and bronze as well as wood and natural substances to highlight the need for conservation. Chinese artist Chen Zhen is one of these and will explore the earth’s physical forces in his natural media installation, Le Rit e Suspendue/Mouille, with disparate material including metal, plexiglass, water, earth, sand, found objects and pigment. There are other installations that might be very popular as the cry out for ‘audience participation’. Some of these major artworks are more than five metres in height and others may even stretch across more than 70 sq metres, on the two floors where they will be located.
Interesting installations include Japanese artist Takuma Uematesu’s agate set in shards of mirror to create chandeliers of reflections. Chinese artist Qin Chong’s 18 six-metre-high paper scrolls with paintings in soot is a giant installation. Perhaps the most unique one is Chinese artist Guan Huaibin’s somewhat eerie artwork, in which he creates a three-metre-high inflatable sculpture of a garden rock that expands and contracts to recreate the act of breathing.
What may be of particular interest to our Indian readers is that Berlin’s Arndt Gallery will present Circa 2011 by Indian artist Jitish Kallat (1974). The 120-part sculpture, which has been an on-going activity for the artist involves the painstaking recreation of ‘real bamboo scaffolding’, thus evoking what he calls ‘the transitory image of Mumbai as one sees it today: caught in a state of perennial (re)development’.
Peter Nagy of Gallery Nature Morte, was the very first from India to be invited to participate at the prestigious Art Basel in 2006. It was there that Nature Morte made one of the biggest sales at the fair, when Nagy sold Subodh Gupta’s acrylic on canvas for Rs 1.2 crore. This time, however, Gupta is being presented by Hauser and Wirth. As usual, we can expect that his tall creation of utensils moulded into an enormous vase-like structure with a long neck, will again attract plenty of attention.
(The writer is a winner of many advertising design awards and a painter of repute)
Four distinct divisions of exhibition ideations bring together a diverse reckoning in this year’s Art Basel Fair at Hong Kong (May 23-26, 2013). Galleries, Insights, Discoveries and Encounters promise to create more than a murmur of appreciation and candor.
Among galleries are Indian galleries of long standing repute and integrity-Chemould Prescott Mumbai, The Guild Mumbai, Vadehras Delhi, Sakshi Gallery Mumbai and Nature Morte.
At Hall 3, in Booth C24 Vadehras will showcase the best names in the Indian art circuit with the likes of works by Anju Dodiya , Atul Bhalla , Atul Dodiya , Faiza Butt, Jagannath Panda, Jitish Kallat, Juul Kraijer, Nalini Malani, Paribartana Mohanty, Shibu Natesan, Shilpa Gupta and Zakkir Hussain.
Interestingly two galleries that will showcase works by Indian artists will be Hauser and Wirth Switzerland and Arndt Berlin. Hauser and Wirth will showcase Subodh Gupta’s work and Arndt will showcase Jitish Kallat. Subodh Gupta’s untitled work with utensils moulded into a vessel with a long neck stand tall and draw eyeballs.
The second group called Insights has solo exhibitions and Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke will showcase the works of artist Manish Nai. Insights presents projects developed specifically for the Hong Kong show. These galleries must be based in Asia or the Asia-Pacific region – from Turkey to New Zealand, including Asia, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent – and exclusively present works by artists from that region. Solo shows, exceptional art-historical material, and thematic exhibitions of two or more artists are selected on the strength of the proposed project.
Discoveries gives a global platform to emerging contemporary artists from all over the world, showcasing work by the next generation of talent at an early stage in their career. Galleries present an exhibition of work by either one or two artists from their gallery program, preferably new and created specifically for the show. The prestigious Seven Art run by Aparajita Jain will showcase the works of artist Rajorshi Ghosh-while Bangalore’s Gallery SKE will present Mariam Suhall.
The fourth group Encounters is dedicated to presenting large-scale sculpture and installation works by leading artists from around the world, Encounters provides visitors with the opportunity to see works that transcend the traditional art fair stands. The sector presents these works in prominent locations throughout the exhibition halls. Encounters is curated by Yuko Hasegawa, Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo and Curator of the recent Sharjah Biennial 11. The Indian gallery will be Project 88 who will present the Raqs Media Collective.
Among magazines of repute there will be Bhavna Kakar’s TAKE a magazine that portrays Indian contemporary art and its happenings at its zesty best.
Organisers are stating that this fair is very Asian; it had previously been criticised for neglecting its regional roots before its collector base was ready for the gloss (and prices) of the international art market. This year, organisers say that over 50% of galleries are from Asia and the Asia Pacific region—although this includes Western galleries that have set up shop in Asia, such as Gagosian and White Cube, both of whom recently opened in Hong Kong. But of the 171 galleries in the main section the percentage of Asian galleries has risen, from 40% last year to 43% in 2013, considerably higher than at other international fairs.
Atul Dhodiya, Churning
Atul Bhalla, Two chairs in Johannesberg
Zakkir Hussain Man with a Public Telephone
Paribartana Mohanty, Different Jobs (Two)
A Cafe at Thiruvannamalai
OCULA: INTERVIEW WITH ADRIAN WONG
Adrian Wong is an artist, born and raised in suburban Chicago, who left to pursue undergraduate studies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Wong completed his first Masters degree in developmental psychology, splitting his time between the Bay Area and Armenia, where he was studying the development of metacognitive awareness in residents of the orphanage system. Throughout his research, Wong used art as a means of establishing a rapport with subjects fuelled by his limited ability to converse in Armenian. “But at some point, — Wong notes, “I shifted my focus to my art practice and completed an MFA in sculpture in 2005.” Soon after that, he wound up serendipitously in Hong Kong on what was initially planned to be an extended vacation. In Wong’s words, “A three month trip became six months, six months became a year, and I’ve been here ever since.”
You live between Hong Kong and Los Angeles, where you also teach sculpture and theory at UCLA. Does this living ‘between’ affect your approach to your own practice both formally and conceptually? What sort of theory do you teach your students?
Being constantly in transit allows me to see both places with fresh eyes. Conceptually, this has been incredibly useful, and has helped me to develop several research based projects from, Orange Peel, Harbor Seal, Hyperreal, which focused on the architecture of Chinese diasporal communities in California, to my current project, Wun Dun which draws inspiration from “soy sauce Western” restaurants and cafés in the Pearl River Delta. Formally, it’s been somewhat difficult, simply due to the logistics of international freighting. It’s led me to rely on on-site fabrication and modular modes of construction to allow for easier shipping and install.
I teach a range of topics in my classes. Most recently we’ve been working through a great deal of material reassessing social practices and dialogical/relational aesthetics. I also like to integrate a fair amount of material from outside of the field of art, from social psychology to comparative literature to experimental cookbooks.
Your work is often irreverent – exploring the cultural dynamics of Hong Kong. Exhibitions such as A Fear is This (Fountain – Tuhng Ngoh Dei Wan) at 1a Space, exploring the ‘vivid’ anxieties of Hong Kongers; superstition, public health, the mainland threat. But you mediate these fears (or horrors) with humour at all times so as to temper and perhaps mediate the irrational aspects of urban life and the impact 21st century city living has on cultural identity. Why is this sense of play so important to you?
Play has always been important to my way of making, because it allows me to maintain a healthy dose of uncertainty in my practice. I find that when playing, I can surprise myself, while planning often leads to a different kind of decision-making. It’s the difference between digging for treasure and searching for Easter eggs. It’s my constant hope that viewers of my work can engage with the materials and ideas in an analogous way.
You are doing a project for Art Basel Hong Kong in May 2013 – the Absolut Art Bar, which has sponsored such artists as Los Carpinteros, who produced the Guïro at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2012, and Jeremy Shaw, who produced the Kirlian Bar at Art Basel 43 in 2012. Your bar will be staged in the basement of the Fringe Club from the 22nd to 25th May, during the inaugural edition of Art Basel Hong Kong. Can you describe the idea behind this project and what intentions you have for it as (quoting from the statement on the piece) a performative and participatory piece drawing inspiration from Hong Kong’s history?
The term Wun Dun comes from Taoist cosmology, and refers to the nebulous state of the primordial universe before the celestial and terrestrial realms were demarcated. Depending on which text / translation is used, it is referenced both objectively—as a “cosmic gourd”—and subjectively—as a deity who “looks like a yellow sack” with “six legs and no eyes,” partial to singing and dancing. As the previous two bars were designed with in-built references to critical theory, I found it particularly interesting that the Eastern concept of Wun Dun nicely parallels a range of Western analogues: George Bataille’s writings on the informe: “All of philosophy has no other goal [than to give the universe shape]…affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit;” Jacques Lacan’s Object Petit A, an object of desire which facilitates our participation in the symbolic order—the most significant being the phantasy of a coherent mirror-self; Julia Kristeva’s description of the processes of abjection as caused by the primal repression of “the archaism of pre-objectal relationship…the immemorial violence with which a body becomes separated from another body in order to be;” among others.
For the bar, my aim is to create a fantastical space, infused with the “feeling” of Hong Kong’s history, untethered from its “real” history. A city with a notorious poor record of historical preservation, modern Hong Kong is as close to a city built on a “feeling” as any other that I’ve ever visited. It is populated with simulated historical facades and materials, reproductions, and reproductions of reproductions. Essentially, I want to concentrate this “feeling” into the venue, which will be populated with iconic architectures, performers, animatronic lounge musicians, exotic sea creatures, and the smells—both metaphorical and physical—of my adopted home.
What cocktails have you designed and what performances can we look forward to?
I’ve designed four cocktails in collaboration with Andres Basile-Leon, each drawing from the flavor profiles of southern Chinese cuisine. For one of them, we worked very hard to infuse the flavor of roast duck into Absolut vodka to create an elixir that is closer to an old, complex whiskey than a traditional vodka cocktail. In another, we incorporated a rare monkey-picked oolong, which is married with egg white. It should be a very exciting and unusual menu.
Each of the nights that the bar will be open, we’ll have a series of live performances by operatic lounge singers, accompanied by six-limbed animatronic musicians from 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Then from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM, several invited musical guests will be performing, including electronic music pioneer Christiaan Virant and sound artist Alok Leung.
In terms of audience, the Absolut Art Bureau, which organises the Absolut Art Bar series has stated an interest in producing bars so as to create a space solely for the artists – how would you respond to this relationship between artists and alcohol…or artists and Absolut?
I like to think of Wun Dun as an art installation that happens to serve alcohol, rather than a bar that happens to have art in it. And I believe that my sentiment is in synch with the way that the Absolut Art Bureau has managed the project. The entire team has been incredibly generous and supportive of my ideas from the get-go, and set out very few restrictions on what I could realise for my version of the Art Bar. (My original idea was to take over a section of the Hong Kong Zoo and Botanical Gardens, possibly even encroaching on a section of the orangutan habitat. This was only set aside after every possible effort to secure the venue was made.)
I guess I see the intent of the Absolut Art Bar series as an initiative to produce “installations” more so than “bars,” and as a sculptor I find this incredibly exciting. It marks a shift from a historical focus on two-dimensional works to more immersive modes of making.
Aside from Art Basel Hong Kong (and the Fringe Club’s basement), what else would you recommend for visitors to the city during the art fair? What is it that makes Hong Kong, well, ‘Hong Kong’?
I’d strongly recommend taking an afternoon to get away from the island, to explore the incredible diversity of the rest of Hong Kong. Over the past few years, I’ve led a number of excursions to the outer reaches of the city—hikes with wild macaques on Monkey Mountain in the New Territories, dining at the Sai Kung Public Pier, squid fishing off the coast of Lantau, night-swimming on Lamma.
If you were to introduce Hong Kong to visitors in five words, what would they be?
Adrian Wong was in conversation with Stephanie Bailey
OCULA: THE NEW ART BASEL HONG KONG
9 May 2013
Diana d’Arenberg – Hong Kong
Only two weeks to go before the inaugural Art Basel HK kicks off and it feels like the circus is coming to town. Inboxes are flooded with invites to art-related and art-themed bars, restaurants, new art clubs, pop-ups, collaborations and art retail and luxury events, ready to capitalize on the anticipated flood of international art visitors to the city. Art, art, art everywhere! What a difference a few years makes.
Held from 21-25 May Art Basel HK comes two weeks after Frieze NY and will be followed by the Venice Biennale, with a week rest before Art Basel opens in Basel. It will be an exhausting month of art, and with more and more art fairs and events crowding the annual art calendar, galleries and dealers will increasingly have to become choosier over which fairs to attend. But the importance of having a reach beyond the West, and a presence in a rapidly growing Asian market — particularly for European galleries doing business in an increasingly fiscally austere environment– is not lost on many international galleries, with a number already opening branches in Hong Kong and investing in building an audience in the region. It will be the “strongest ever line up, anywhere in Asia to date”, says Asia Director Magnus Renfrew, “with works from emerging young artists to the modern masters of the early 20th and 21st centuries on show”. Demand for booths at the transformed Hong Kong fair has been great and countless galleries didn’t make the cut with the selection committee. The number of exhibitors has been whittled down from a total of 266 in 2012 to 245 this year, allowing for larger booths and larger works. It will be the “strongest ever line up, anywhere in Asia to date”, says Asia Director Magnus Renfrew, “with works from emerging young artists to the modern masters of the early 20th and 21st centuries on show”. Although the list of galleries reads like the Debrett’s of the art world — lots of familiar established blue chippers and important heavy hitters — there are also a few newcomers this year including Tina Keng gallery from Taipei, New York’s 303 and Peter Blum galleries, and Wentrup and Johnen Galerie from Berlin, OMR from Mexico and Nara Roesler from São Paulo. Like Art Basel Miami Beach, which emphasises galleries from the Americas, and Art Basel, which largely features European galleries, Art Basel HK will stay rooted in the region and maintain a distinctly Asian flavour. Asian galleries will make up 50% of the exhibitor line-up, and the fair will feature 28 galleries with exhibition spaces in Hong Kong, including Platform China, Blindspot Gallery, Gallery Exit, and Grotto Fine Art as well of course as Western galleries who have recently set up in HK. Art Basel Director, Marc Spiegler, stresses that, “The selection confirms Art Basel’s commitment to Asia. The Hong Kong fair will look very different to Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Basel,” a prospect that many are looking forward to and counting on. “It will be a refreshing treat to Art Basel followers worldwide!” states gallerist Katie de Tilly of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery. “There is such a small presence and understanding of Asian art in the Western art fairs.” The fair will be divided up into four sectors: Galleries, the main wheeling-and-dealing sector of the show with modern and contemporary galleries; Insights, which will present 47 galleries from Asia and Asia Pacific with specially developed curatorial projects; Discoveries, a showcase of solo or two-person exhibitions by emerging contemporary artists from around the world; and Encounters, a presentation of large-scale installation pieces from around the world, which will become a key feature of the fair. This year will include works galleries including ARNDT (Germany) who will present a 120 part sculpture by Jitish Kallat; Long March Gallery (Beijing), who will show a suspended sculpture by MadeIn Company; Edouard Malingue Gallery (HK) who will showcase a neon text installation by Laurent Grasso; and Kerlin Gallery (Dublin) who will showcase a new commission by British artist Liam Gillick. A parallel program of talks and panel discussions, long a feature of the Art Basel fairs, will also be presented in collaboration with Asia Art Archive (AAA); the Asia Society; and M+, Hong Kong’s future museum for visual culture, which is currently exhibiting an installation of monumental inflatables at the site of the future West Kowloon Cultural District promenade. Para/Site Art Space and Spring Workshop, will offer an associated program of events throughout Hong Kong that will take place during the week of the shows. Hong Kong Eye, a curated group show of contemporary Hong Kong art which opened earlier this month and debuted at the Saatchi gallery in December, will be showing at ArtisTree until the end of May. The Art Basel Program will also be supplemented by gallery tours hosted by the Hong Kong Art Gallery association; Fotan Studios, a complex of industrial buildings housing dozens of local artists’ studios; and the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which will be featuring an exhibition of Chinese contemporary art. Meanwhile, for an off the beaten track look at the Hong Kong creative community, check out Chai Wan Mei: Art and Design Weekend, which will take place in the industrial suburb of Chai Wan on 24-25 May. The weekend will consist of exhibitions, performances, pop-up installations, video screenings, design, fashion, and more. It will be an exciting year not only for many galleries exhibiting at a Hong Kong fair for the first time, but also for Hong Kong which has been itching for greater international cultural visibility. The Art Basel brand’s global reach and reputation will no doubt provide greater exposure for local artists and institutions. Many hope it will also kick-start this city’s cultural evolution, stepping in where Hong Kong’s politicians and wanna-be Medicis have failed to step up. “Art is becoming an international language and at this particular time we’re developing an artistic and cultural scene in Hong Kong,” says HK artist and architect, William Lim. “It’s a great opportunity and a great time.” [O] Ocula affiliate galleries participating at Art Basel Hong Kong 2013:10 Chancery Lane Gallery2P ContemporaryArario GalleryArataniuranoArk GalerieARNDTBeijing CommuneBlindspot GalleryBoers-Li GalleryChambers Fine ArtChemould Prescott RoadGalleria ContinuaHardrien de Montferrand Galleryde Sarthe GalleryThe Drawing RoomEslite GalleryExhibit320Gallery ExitGagosian GalleryGajah GalleryGaleristHakgojae GalleryHanart TZ GalleryTaka Ishii GalleryTomio Koyama GalleryLong March SpaceMagician SpaceGalerie Urs MeileGalerie Mirchandani + SteinrueckeMizuma Art GalleryNanzukaNature MorteNeon ParcGaleria OMROne and J. GalleryOta Fine ArtsRoslyn Oxley9 GalleryPékin Fine ArtsPi ArtworksPlatform ChinaProject 88Ryan Renshaw GalleryGaleria Nara RoeslerSCAI The BathhouseSchoeni Art GalleryShanghai Gallery of ArtShanghARTMisa Shin GalleryShugoArtsGallery Side 2Sprüth Magers Berlin LondonStarkwhite GalleryTake NinagawaTang Contemporary ArtDianne Tanzer Gallery + ProjectsTimothy Taylor GalleryThe GuildTolarno GalleriesVolte GalleryWhite CubeMurray White RoomWhite Space BeijingGallery x-istLeo Xu ProjectsYamamoto Gendai
OMR, Mexico City Galeria Nara Roesler, São Paulo 10 Chancery Lane Gallery Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong Gallery Exit, Hong Kong Platform China, Hong Kong Spring Workshop, Hong Kong
ARNDT, Berlin Long March Space, Beijing Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong Asia Society, Hong Kong Para/Site, Hong Kong Hong Kong Museum of Art
“As partner in Hauser &S Wirth, Mr. Schimmel will help the gallery develop and will run a new Los Angeles arts space called Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. Envisioned as a museum-like destination for experiencing art in context, the new venue is expected to open in 2015 and will offer three to five major exhibitions per year. Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will place significant emphasis upon education and public programs, offering an array of on-going events and activities inspired both by its exhibitions and the local culture.”
“Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will be shaped as a cultural center. It will provide a platform for the substantial group of exceptional Los Angeles artists represented by the gallery; introduce Los Angeles to the work of artists from around the world through solo exhibitions and rigorously organised historical shows; invite leading scholars, curators and writers to participate in programs seeking new and compelling connections between history and the present day; and prioritize can be no dount ommunity engagement and lingering visits.”
The spectacular cultural program announced by the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel gallery is nothing less than astounding. It seems that it is a response to every criticism of MoCA Los Angeles. That it will do what the Jeffrey Deitch led MoCA has claimed it cannot do – as it had to become a Populist institution that allowed street art to overwhelm true high culture. There can be no doubt that this new gallery in formation will become the space that lifts Los Angeles’ cultural scene to untold new heights. Over the years many LA arts institutions have had dreams they could not realize, from building a major new museum building, to having the level of cultural programming that draws an international audience. It would seem that the gallery will also be providing the kind of public intellectual life that MoCA claimed was impossible to exist in Los Angeles. LA’s artworld thought that it was major error in having a former gallerist run a major contemporary art museum. It seems that the correct formula is to have a world class curator as the tastemaker, and the high minded deep pockets business end will make it all possible.
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles
The Hollywood Reporter has offered the news that former MoCA Los Angeles Chief curator Paul Schimmel has accepted a offer and position with Hauser & Wirth, one of the most powerful galleries in the world. This is the first world-class international gallery to expand to Los Angeles from Europe. The gallery would be the only one in Los Angeles with a contemporary art curator of the highest rank on its team. There are a few others internationally with major curators on its staff, such as Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris. Schimmel would be quickly moving beyond his departure from MoCA, which was fighting for its financial life, to one a commercial gallery with vast resources. I am anticipating that he will create thematic group shows with exhibition catalogs that will be as potent as the best shows ever curated at MoCA. His curatorial eye and vision will give the works he selects a double power – that of immediate curatorial validation from the highest of cultural authorities, yet within the context of a hugely commercial enterprise. Hauser & Wirth’s Los Angeles gallery space could become the dominant player in the LA artworld.
It has only been a few months since the gallery expanded into the Chelsea gallery district in New York City, opening a spectacular 23,000 sq. ft. space with an exhibition of the work of Dieter Roth. The gallery was also already operating on New York’s Upper East Side. Now with spaces in London, Zurich and New York City, the gallery will be expanding into Los Angeles. When this happens and the actual location and scale of the space is announced, it would join a small number of the super elite galleries that have recently expanded west into LA, including L&M Arts and Matthew Marks (2 separate new spaces). This new tier of LA gallery, which includes massive spaces at Blum & Poe, Regen Projects, Perry Rubenstein, LA Louver, Gagosian, are offering a platform for many international artists, many whom have never before exhibited in Los Angeles, or at least not in recent or even distant memory. Add to this Laura Owens 12,000 sq. ft. studio space, east of downtown LA, that is currently showing several of her recent large scale paintings. The space is already being used for readings, screenings, and possibly a show by the legendary New York City painter Alex Katz. Many LA artists are quite surprised to see the continued growth of the LA art market at the uppermost elevation. Yet it is also quite rewarding to go to openings at these new venues, as several are defacto LA kunsthalles that are also commercial galleries, bringing in the best of international art to Los Angeles as never seen till today. Perhaps this also means that more of LA’s own top art stars today, from Paul McCarthy to Thomas Houseago to Sterling Ruby, will be exhibiting some of their works here, created in airplane hanger sized studios, (McCarthy, 150,000 sq. ft. LA studio), Ruby, 90,000 sq. ft. LA studio) instead of shipping everything to NYC or out of the country.
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles
Hauser & Wirth take on Paul Schimmel for Los Angeles gallery
Friday, 24th May 2013
Press release: Hauser & Wirth is pleased to announce that internationally acclaimed curator and scholar Paul Schimmel has been named a partner of the gallery. Schimmel joins Iwan Wirth, Manuela Wirth and Marc Payot in leading an enterprise founded over 20 years ago.
Described by The Financial Times as ‘a marketplace of ideas’, Hauser & Wirth has locations in Zurich, London and New York. Its program focuses upon significant contemporary artists and includes historical surveys and thematic group exhibitions that advance new dialogues about art.
The gallery represents over 50 established and emerging contemporary artists, as well as the estates of Eva Hesse, Allan Kaprow, Josephsohn, Lee Lozano, Jason Rhoades, Dieter Roth, Philippe Vandenberg and the Henry Moore Family Collection.
Over the course of the past three decades, Paul Schimmel has become known as one of the most influential curators of his generation. Formerly chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), and recently a co-director of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, Schimmel is credited with playing a pivotal role in establishing southern California’s unique contemporary art scene as a potent force on the global cultural stage.
Pictured above: Legs of a Walking Ball by Eva Hesse
He is a scholar of the art of the 1950s; has created ambitious thematic exhibitions that have shaped recent art history; and has organized defining retrospectives for significant artists ranging from Willem de Kooning to Charles Ray, among many others.
As partner in Hauser & Wirth, Mr. Schimmel will help the gallery develop and will run a new Los Angeles arts space called Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. Envisioned as a museum-like destination for experiencing art in context, the new venue is expected to open in 2015 and will offer three to five major exhibitions per year.
Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will place significant emphasis upon education and public programs, offering an array of on-going events and activities inspired both by its exhibitions and the local culture.
Like Hauser & Wirth Somerset, the exhibition and outdoor art facility scheduled to open in 2014 on the historic 100-acre Durslade Farm at the edge of the ancient town of Bruton in southwest England, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will be shaped as a cultural center.
It will provide a platform for the substantial group of exceptional Los Angeles artists represented by the gallery; introduce Los Angeles to the work of artists from around the world through solo exhibitions and rigorously organised historical shows; invite leading scholars, curators and writers to participate in programs seeking new and compelling connections between history and the present day; and prioritize community engagement and lingering visits.
Pictured above: Plans for Hauser & Wirth’s Somerset gallery
Hauser & Wirth will announce additional details about the location, design and programs of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel in early 2014.
‘Los Angeles has been an essential part of Hauser & Wirth’s history from the very beginning,’ Iwan Wirth commented. ‘In 1992, our first year in business, I saw Paul Schimmel’s MOCA exhibition ‘Helter Skelter’, and for me it was a revelation. Los Angeles is a place of breakthroughs. Dieter Roth’s first exhibition in the United States took place in Los Angeles.
‘The work of pivotal figures we represent – Allan Kaprow, Richard Jackson, Paul McCarthy and Jason Rhoades – would be unimaginable without the impact of Los Angeles upon their thinking and practices. And now younger generation artists like Diana Thater, Thomas Houseago, Sterling Ruby and Rachel Khedoori are extending our relationship with this amazing city.
‘We have long dreamt of opening a space in Los Angeles and making a contribution to the community that means so much to our artists and to us personally. We are honored and delighted to have Paul Schimmel as our partner in realizing that dream’.
‘Each of Hauser & Wirth’s locations reflects the distinct character of its city,’ said Marc Payot. ‘The buildings we occupy in Zurich, London and New York all have colorful histories, the local communities have very specific cultures, and these things influence our thinking about our program.
‘With Paul Schimmel leading our Los Angeles initiative, the gallery’s West Coast destination is guaranteed to have a fantastic sense of place, a great complement and counterpoint to our presence on the East Coast and in Europe’.
‘It is a great honor to join Hauser & Wirth,’ said Paul Schimmel. ‘The gallery has a profound dedication to artists, a consistent commitment to scholarship and a strong sense of community in an increasingly globalized world. The partners, directors, staff and artists of the gallery are an extraordinary extended family’.
About Paul Schimmel
Born and raised in New York and educated at Syracuse University and the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, Paul Schimmel has resided in Los Angeles for thirty years. He has spent much of his career examining the artists who have defined that city. Schimmel began his career at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston TX, where he was a curator from 1975 to 1977 and senior curator from 1977 to 1978.
He served as the chief curator of the Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach CA from 1981 to 1989. In 1990, he became chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), a position he held until 2012. At MOCA, Schimmel mounted many of the institution’s most ambitious and effecting exhibitions.
In addition to ‘Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s’, these included ‘Hand-Painted Pop: American Art in Transition, 1955 – 1962′; ‘Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949 – 1979′; ‘Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949 – 1962′; and ‘Under the Big Black Sun: California Art, 1974 – 1981′, the most comprehensive survey ever organized to examine the fertility and diversity of art practice in California during a unique period in American history when artists’ and institutions’ societal roles were re-examined dramatically.
Schimmel’s monographic exhibitions included shows devoted to Chris Burden, Willem de Kooning, Takashi Murakami, Sigmar Polke, Robert Rauschenberg and Charles Ray. He has won numerous honors and awards, including two awards from the Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC), seven awards from the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), and the Award for Curatorial Excellence given by The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (2001).
Mr. Schimmel has recently served on the Committee for the Preservation of the White House and the La Caixa Contemporary Art Collection Acquisition Committee. He has been co-chairman of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. In spring 2013 he received an honorary doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute.
About Hauser & Wirth
Hauser & Wirth is a global enterprise representing over 50 established and emerging contemporary artists, including Rita Ackermann, Ida Applebroog, Phyllida Barlow, Louise Bourgeois, Christoph Büchel, David Claerbout, Martin Creed, Berlinde De Bruyckere, Martin Eder, Ellen Gallagher, Isa Genzken, Dan Graham, Rodney Graham, Subodh Gupta, Mary Heilmann, Andy Hope 1930, Roni Horn, Thomas Houseago, Matthew Day Jackson, Richard Jackson, Rashid Johnson, Rachel Khedoori, Bharti Kher, Guillermo Kuitca, Maria Lassnig, Paul McCarthy, Joan Mitchell, Ron Mueck, Caro Niederer, Christopher Orr, Djordje Ozbolt, Michael Raedecker, Pipilotti Rist, Sterling Ruby, Anri Sala, Wilhelm Sasnal, Christoph Schlingensief, Roman Signer, Anj Smith, Monika Sosnowska, Diana Thater, André Thomkins, Ian Wallace, Zhang Enli, David Zink Yi, and Jakub Julian Ziolkowski. Hauser & Wirth also represents the estates of Eva Hesse, Allan Kaprow, Josephsohn, Lee Lozano, Jason Rhoades, Dieter Roth and Philippe Vandenberg, as well as the Henry Moore Family Collection.
A view of Hauser & Wirth’s cavernous new space, with one of Dieter Roth’s “Floors” in the back left (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
Yesterday afternoon, Hauser & Wirth opened the doors to its new space in Chelsea for a preview. The gallery’s only home until now in New York has been a townhouse on the Upper East Side, which, like all buildings of its sort, makes for a narrow, multilevel (and sometimes fragmented) art-viewing experience. The new gallery, the site of the former Roxy nightclub and roller rink on West 18th Street, is pretty much the opposite — a cavernous warehouse that, although it’s technically only one floor, seems to expand and spread in every direction.
Another view of the space
The space, first and foremost, is huge: 23,000 square feet, bested probably only by David Zwirner’s 30,000 square feet a block north and Gagosian’s 25,000 square feet of space nearby on West 24th Street. Compared to those two, both of them quite pristine white cubes, Hauser & Wirth’s new gallery has a much grungier, more industrial feel. Co-owner Marc Payot touched on that in his remarks yesterday, saying the gallery “didn’t want to create another white cube. We wanted to respect the architecture.” Not that huge, industrial spaces are anything new, mind you, but it’s just as well: the place is pretty jaw-dropping as is, and though there’s no doubt I’d prefer Chelsea still sport a roller disco rather than yet another massive gallery, at least the shell of the Roxy — its vaulted ceilings and skylights, a small plate on the floor where the roller rink used to start — remains. (As an amusing side note, I discovered that the Roxy’s former website is now a Japanese site about dogs.)
Björn Roth explaining his father’s “Landscape with Tower” (1976–94)
The gallery is opening with a show devoted to Swiss artist Dieter Roth and his collaborations with his son, Björn Roth. A somewhat abbreviated visit left me with the impression that this is a fantastic exhibition, and a great choice to inaugurate the space. Whether it’s “Large Table Ruin,” a sprawling installation made from the accumulated tools and miscellaneous studio detritus that seems to have a mind of its own; an assemblage made partly from junk and paint cans and toys; or a painting that includes plastic tubes and is activated by pouring liquid into them, Roth’s work is rough to its core. His aesthetic is one of controlled chaos, an embodiment of the provisional, and his palette full of browns and tans and earthy colors.
Dieter Roth’s “Floors” (click to enlarge)
All of this fits well with the feeling and architecture of the former nightclub — in addition to things that just fit, quite literally, in there, like Roth’s “The Floor” pieces, which are composed of two floors from his studio in Iceland. On a brief walkthrough of the show, which unfortunately was largely drowned out by noise from non-listeners and the echo of the space, Björn explained that his father had originally upended and installed the floors as artworks in 1992, when he was having an exhibition in Switzerland and didn’t have enough work to fill the giant space. I can’t help but take this as confirmation that by continually creating and opening huge spaces, the art world is encouraging artists to basically go big or go home — but that’s another story for a different day.
The second generation Roth and one of his sons, Oddur, also created a beautiful site-specific bar for the gallery, a permanent installation located in a little nook in the southeast corner of the space. To get to it, you traverse another permanent installation, Mary Heilmann’s “Two-Lane Highway” painted on the floor, while one of the bar’s windows overlooks the third permanent installation, a gleeful striped tape piece by Martin Creed that decks the entrance hallway and stairs.
Videos by Dieter Roth on the wall, Mary Heilmann’s “Two-Lane Highway” on the floor
A view of Martin Creed’s permanent installation from inside the Roths’ bar
The bar was the subject of much conversation among the assembled writers, artists, and others — I suspect because its dark wood, jumbled candles, coziness, and slightly underfinished feeling make it exactly the kind of place you’d want to hang out in (if only it were in Brooklyn …). Also because most of us will never actually get to hang out there: like so much of the art world, the bar won’t be open to the public, only accessible for special occasions.
Björn and Oddur Roth’s “Roth New York Bar”
Hauser & Wirth’s new space at 511 West 18th Street (Chelsea, Manhattan) opens to the public tomorrow, Wednesday, January 23, with the exhibition Dieter Roth. Björn Roth.
Edited by Michaela Unterdörfer, Hauser & Wirth, texts by Susanne Hillman, Michaela Unterdörfer, Iwan Wirth, Maria de Lamerens, graphic design by studio achermann, Zürich
2013. 1082 pp., more than 1500 ills.
21.90 x 29.30 cm
hardcover in slipcase
| History of the gallery’s past twenty years in a comprehensive reference work
| An example of an influential contemporary art gallery with branches in Zurich, London, and New York
When Iwan Wirth, Manuela, and Ursula Hauser founded the Hauser & Wirth Gallery in 1992, there was no art market in the current sense. The numerous fairs, auctions, biennials, and festivals were not initiated until later. Philanthropic entrepreneurs professionalized, public cultural institutions privatized, and collectors opened their own museums. Art become a status symbol and an investment; hence, the mediation of content, protected by the new profession of curator, also became more important. Parallel to its gallery platform and its over fifty artists, including Louise Bourgeois, Isa Genzken, and Paul McCarthy, Hauser & Wirth regularly shows historical stances in elaborate museum-like presentations of artists such as Egon Schiele, Francis Picabia, and Hans Arp. This publication devotes itself to the gallery’s artists in more than fifty generously illustrated chapters and includes an extensive chronology, archival material, and personal photographs of over two hundred exhibitions, shedding light on the gallery’s lively history.
In 1964, Eva Hesse and her husband Tom Doyle were invited by the industrialist Friedrich Arnhard Scheidt to a residency in Kettwig an der Ruhr, Germany. The following fifteen months marked a significant transformation in Hesse’s practice. ‘Eva Hesse 1965‘ running from 30 January to 9 March at Hauser & Wirth, brings together key drawings, paintings and reliefs from this short, yet pivotal period where the artist was able to re-think her approach to colour, materials and her two-dimensional practice, and begin moving towards sculpture, preparing herself for the momentous strides she would take upon her return to New York.
Hesse’s studio space was located in an abandoned textile factory in Kettwig an der Ruhr. The building still contained machine parts, tools and materials from its previous use and the angular forms of these disused machines and tools served as inspiration for Hesse’s mechanical drawings and paintings. Sharp lines come together in these works to create complex and futuristic, yet nonsensical forms, which Hesse described in her writings as ‘…clean and clear – but crazy like machines…’.
Seeking a continuation of her mechanical drawings, in March of 1965, Hesse began a period of feverish work in which she made fourteen reliefs, which venture into three-dimensional space. Works such as H + H (1965) and Oomamaboomba (1965) are the material embodiment of her precisely linear mechanical drawings. Vibrant colours of gouache, varnish and tempera are built up using papier maché and objects Hesse found in the abandoned factory: wood, metal and most importantly, cord, which was often left to hang, protruding from the picture plane. This motif would reappear in the now iconic sculptures Hesse would make in New York.
The time Hesse spent in Germany amounted to much more than a period of artistic experimentation. In Germany, Hesse was afforded the freedom to exercise her unique ability to manipulate materials, creating captivating, enigmatic works which would form the foundation of her emerging sculptural practice.
Eva Hessse 1965, 30 January until 9 March, Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, London, W1S 2ET. www.hauserwirth.com
Full gallery of images, press release and link available after the jump.
Images courtesy of Hauser & Wirth, New York
New York, NY… After World War II, a devastated Japan processed the impact of the atomic bomb and faced a cultural void. It was in this atmosphere of existential alienation that the Gutai Art Association (Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai) – a group of about twenty young artists, rallying around the charismatic painter Jiro Yoshihara – emerged in the mid-1950s to challenge convention. Although keenly aware of Japan’s artistic traditions, the Gutai artists attempted to distance themselves from the sense of defeat and impotence that pervaded their country, and to overcome the past completely with ‘art that has never existed before’. They burst out of the expected confines of painting with daring works that demonstrated a freewheeling relationship between art, body, space and time. Dismissed by Japanese critics as spectacle makers, the Gutai artists nevertheless produced a profound legacy of aesthetic experimentation, influencing Western critics and anticipating Abstract Expressionism, Arte Povera, Fluxus, and Conceptual Art.
‘A Visual Essay on Gutai’ traces efforts by these artists to resolve the inherent contradictions between traditions of painting – the making of images on a flat, framed plane – and the core tenets of a movement that called for experimentation, individuality, unexpected materials, and, perhaps above all, physical action and psychological freedom. On view at Hauser & Wirth New York will be more than 30 works spanning twenty years, all of them exciting responses to the constraints of painting and the limits of time itself.
Curated by Midori Nishizawa and organized with Olivier Renaud-Clément, ‘A Visual Essay on Gutai’ also marks the half-century anniversary of Gutai’s first U.S. exhibition, which was organized by the French critic Michel Tapié, noted champion of Art Informel. His ‘6th Gutai Art Exhibition’ was presented in New York City in September 1958 at the Martha Jackson Gallery at 32 East 69th Street – in the townhouse now occupied by Hauser & Wirth New York.
‘A Visual Essay on Gutai’ will remain on view at the gallery through 27 October and will be accompanied by a new publication based, both in concept and design, upon the twelve Gutai journals that the group published and disseminated internationally in the decade between 1955 and 1965.
The Gutai Art Association was formed by Jiro Yoshihara in July 1954, in the Ashiya region of Japan. Exhorting younger artists with such slogans as, ‘Don’t imitate others!’ and ‘Engage in the newness!’. Yoshihara challenged Gutai’s members to discard traditional artistic practices and to seek not only fresh means of expression but the origins of artistic creation itself. The Gutai artists responded with performance, installation, flower arrangement, and music, often in public places. In seeking to define this constantly changing body of work, Yoshihara penned The Gutai Art Manifesto in 1956, proclaiming ‘the novel beauty to be found in works of art and architecture of the past which have changed their appearance due to the damage of time or destruction by disasters in the course of the centuries…that beauty which material assumes when it is freed from artificial make-up and reveals its original characteristics.’ Yoshihara concluded the Manifesto by stating, ‘Our work is the result of investigating the possibilities of calling the material to life. We shall hope that there is always a fresh spirit in our Gutai exhibitions and that the discovery of new life will call forth a tremendous scream in the material itself’.
In working toward the goals outlined by Yoshihara, the Gutai group realized that the elements needed to make unprecedented art were in fact to be found in unexpectedly familiar places. Kazuo Shiraga wallowed in mud; Saburo Murakami leapt through expanses of paper; and Atsuko Tanaka employed bells and lightbulbs in theatrical performances. In tandem with such efforts, however, Gutai artists continued to struggle with the expected materials and physical parameters of classic painting techniques, and to explore abstraction as a means to escape its intellectual and creative confines. In ‘A Visual Essay on Gutai’, visitors to Hauser & Wirth will encounter works in which stretched canvas is married to acrylic, plastic, cloth, vinyl, resin, plaster, tin and even projected light – works that occupy a liminal realm between painting and sculpture. Works by Tsuruko Yamazaki, Norio Imai and Takesada Matsutani in particular ambush the pictorial plane with, respectively, cloudlike tin projections, white molded apertures, and glossy vinyl and resin blobs.
Kazuo Shiraga is perhaps the best known Gutai artist internationally. Among the works in ‘A Visual Essay on Gutai’ are two of his powerful ‘Performance Paintings’ – aggressive abstractions from the early 1960s in crimson and green. ‘I want to paint as though rushing around a battle field’, he wrote in 1955. He even used his feet to create these works in the heat of the moment.
The exhibition also includes two important paintings by Atsuko Tanaka, the most internationally recognized female figure within the Gutai group who is best known for creating the ‘Electric Dress’ (1955). This garment made of incandescent bulbs was painted in primary colors and worn by the artist during a Gutai performance. The physical dress with its tangled wires and brightly lit bulbs morphed into Tanaka’s two-dimensional paintings, which are seemingly whimsical works exploring the circles and circuits in which she was ‘sensing eternity’.
‘A Visual Essay on Gutai’ also includes two of Jiro Yoshihara’s famed ‘circle’ series of about 25 paintings, one of the most important bodies of work to emerge from the Gutai movement. ‘Work’ from 1967 is an important example from this series, which was influenced by the Zen artist-monk Nantembo Toju (1839 – 1926), an artist who worked in calligraphy and ink painting. In Zen tradition, the circle represents void and substance, emptiness and completion, and the union of painting, calligraphy, and meditation.
At a time when a majority of Japanese artists had adopted a Western approach to creating and criticizing art, Gutai’s ideas and works were repeatedly met with the question, ‘Is this art?’. What established Gutai as entirely unique was the fact that no one, often including the movement’s own members, could predict the group’s course and the manifestations its work would take. Gutai’s imperative to continually create something surprising took its artists in new directions, leading Yoshihara to ask himself, ‘whether or not the production process was stamped with the instant of creation as proof of the fierce desire to affirm a vivid sense of adventure and a free spirit’.
bruce nauman: mindfuck hauser and wirth london, savile row on from the 30th of january through to the 9th of march, 2013
from the 30th of january, 2013 hauser and wirth will present the work of renowned artist bruce nauman with an exhibition titled ‘mindfuck’
in the north gallery, savile row. the show, featuring an eclectic selection of works from throughout nauman’s career, will focus particularly
on his iconic neon sculptures and installations. the work triggers a critical dialogue surrounding a body of work whose central themes
explore the human condition, language, sex, and death. the experience of works by nauman speaks of a certain state of trauma,
a nod to the hysteric, and ode to the psychotic – to the consequences of the superego and to the logic of dreams.
weaved throughout the compositions is nauman’s bizarre ability to build visual and experiential manifestations that tap into the
complexity of the human unconscious. ‘mindfuck’ calls attention to the enduring weight of the mind-body split in the artist’s work -
neon sculptures such as ‘sex and death / double ’69′ (1985) and ‘good boy / bad boy’ (1986 – 1987) could be said to represent the
conscious and cerebral side of his art, whereas installations such as ‘carousel (stainless steel version)’ (1988) and
‘untitled (helman gallery parallelogram)’ (1971) focus on the phenomenological aspect of his exploration of perception, space, and the body.
nauman’s artistic approach enters the worlds of psychology, anthropology, sociology, and behavioural science.
the artist once stated that he wanted to make ‘art that was just there all at once…like getting hit in the back of the neck with a baseball bat’.
Former MOCA Chief Curator Paul Schimmel Inks New Gallery Deal
12:12 PM PDT 4/11/2013 by Degen Pener, Maxwell Williams
The deal with Hauser & Wirth could bring plans for the gallery to open a space in Los Angeles.
Paul Schimmel has landed.
our editor recommends
According to art world insiders close to the former chief curator of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Schimmel has inked a deal with the Zurich-based gallery Hauser & Wirth, which also has branches in London and New York. According to the sources, the deal will bring Schimmel to the gallery, and that plans for the gallery to open a space in Los Angeles are likely.
If this is the case, the gallery, which represents dozens of major artists including Paul McCarthy, Christoph Büchel, Pipilotti Rist and Rita Ackermann, would immediately become one of the biggest players in town.
The terms of the deal are not known.
Schimmel was fired from his position at MOCA amidst an imbroglio that included the resignations of the museum’s four remaining artist trustees, John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Catherine Opie and Ed Ruscha. Since Schimmel’s departure from MOCA, he has worked as the co-director of the Mike Kelley Foundation in Los Angeles. It is unclear whether the gallery — which handles the estates of many artists including Eva Hesse, Jason Rhodes, Allan Kaprow and Dieter Roth — will take Kelley’s estate aboard.
On March 19th, Hauser & Wirth hosted a conversation between Schimmel and Los Angeles-based artist Sterling Ruby at its London branch, in conjunction with an exhibition of Ruby’s work. This talk sparked rumors about the curator’s involvement with the gallery, and soon whispers turned to full-blown speculation.
Schimmel is one of the most highly respected curators in the field, having organized upwards of 350 exhibitions, most notably retrospectives of the artists Charles Ray, Paul McCarthy, and Takashi Murakami, as well as a host of thematic group shows. His swan song at MOCA, “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962” about artists who physically damaged their canvases was hailed by the LA Times as “boldly thoughtful” and “illuminat[ing] a big — but overlooked — idea.”
A rep from the gallery did not reply to a request for comment.
Armory Show creative director Michael Hall has resigned effective Friday. He confirmed his departure to A.i.A. by phone today.
Hall will take up a new job at Hauser & Wirth Gallery next week after almost seven years with the Armory Show. Hauser & Wirth opened an Upper East Side location in 2009, and will inaugurate a new venue in Chelsea in January.
Hall started at the fair in 2005 as operations manager but became managing director when Katelijne De Backer left her post as director in 2011. He became creative director this fall. He was involved in developing the talks and film series (Open Forum and Armory Film) and the regional “Focus” section, and selected and worked with commissioned artists.
Cofounding director Paul Morris resigned in September after 18 years. On Sept. 27 A.i.A. broke the news that the Armory Show, the Volta Show and Art Platform Los Angeles were up for sale by Chicago-based Merchandise Mart Properties.
The Armory Show’s centennial edition will take place March 7-10, 2013, at piers 92 and 94 on the Hudson River.
PHOTO: Michael Hall and Jacob Fabritius. Photo by Catarina Lundgren Åström via Flickr.
Iwan and Manuela Wirth with Thomas Houseago’s Hermaphrodite, 2011
Photographed by Norman Jean Roy
On the heels of a major New York expansion, the gallery world’s Swiss power couple is set to open a cultural center in the English countryside.
New York’s Chelsea art district is fighting its way back from the devastating floodwaters of Hurricane Sandy. Countless works of art have been lost, and some of the smaller galleries may not survive, but the art community as a whole seems amazingly buoyant. At David Zwirner on West Nineteenth Street, where the water level hit five feet, Diana Thater’s video installation Chernobyl is up and running in the only operable space a week and a half after Sandy, while construction crews labor around the clock nearby. One block south, work is continuing full tilt on Hauser & Wirth’s huge new gallery, whose opening date is scheduled for January 22. Marc Payot, the Hauser & Wirth partner who is in charge here, tells me he hadn’t wanted to look at this space originally, because it wasn’t on the ground floor—but he did so, and it’s turned out to be a very smart decision. Confidence in the future, which has helped to make Hauser & Wirth one of the world’s most powerful contemporary-art galleries, is what drives the art world these days.
Iwan Wirth, a 42-year-old Swiss who started the business 20 years ago in Zurich, has never been afraid to think big. Exuberant, curly-haired, bursting with enthusiasm for his artists and their projects, he has transformed the London art scene during the past decade with his three galleries in Mayfair. Now, at 24,700 square feet, his emerging New York behemoth—formerly known as the Roxy, the famous eighties disco and roller rink—will be one of the largest column-free art spaces in town. Hauser & Wirth has had a smaller gallery on East Sixty-ninth Street since 2009, but now that it represents Paul McCarthy, Roni Horn, and several other important American artists exclusively, Iwan has decided that they need “a bigger playground.” He adds, “The artists will want this, and it’s important that we feel it before they do.” Martin Creed, the British Turner Prize–winner, is re-creating the grand stairway of the new gallery as an artwork. Because Dieter Roth, the late Swiss artist whose work will also inaugurate it, insisted on having a bar in all his exhibitions, Hauser & Wirth is installing one (permanently) in what used to be the Roxy’s VIP area, over the stairs. The exhibitions will stay up much longer than they do in other New York galleries: There will be only four a year. Unlike the globe-girdling Gagosian empire, Hauser & Wirth has no plans to establish outposts in other cities. “The artists lead the way,” Iwan tells me. “We’re located in exactly the right places, and now we have the ideal space in New York.”
Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1994
Photographed by Norman Jean Roy
I spent some time with Iwan and Manuela, his wife and business partner, in England last summer. Theirs is very much a family business. Iwan, who has been buying and selling art since he was sixteen, went to see Ursula Hauser in 1990 because he had an opportunity to buy a Picasso and a Chagall, but only half the money needed to pay for them. Ursula, a self-made retail and department-store magnate who became one of Switzerland’s greatest art collectors, found him charming, and agreed to put up the money. They celebrated the joint venture with a bottle of cognac, three snifters of which so unhinged nineteen-year-old Iwan that he became inarticulate when Ursula introduced him to her daughter Manuela, and then drove his car into their fence as he was leaving. Manuela overcame her dubious first impressions of him (“arrogant, young”); she joined the new firm of Hauser & Wirth as his secretary and agreed to marry him four years later. Their offices are side by side now, in their big, suavely modern gallery on Savile Row, and they have an equal share in all decisions—except those regarding sales. “Like Ursula, Manuela is useless as a salesperson,” Iwan tells me, “because she doesn’t like to let go of things, and she’s too polite to nag people. It’s much easier for me because I have to pay the bills.” All three of them are passionate collectors, and the personal family collection, most of which is in a warehouse in Switzerland, covers a very wide range of art in addition to the core holdings in modern and contemporary.
“Being Swiss,” he says, “you have to be a bit of a pirate—go out and find the treasure, because it won’t find you. We’re a small country surrounded by big players, and you have to find your niche. When we started our gallery in 1992, most of the important painters were taken, and local collectors already had strong relationships with galleries. So the niche for us was artists who were making more complicated work, work that needed support, that was highly important but not commercially successful. A lot of the artists we take on don’t have a market—our job is to build it.”Their first artist was Pipilotti Rist, a young Swiss whose uproarious video Ever Is Over All, produced by Hauser & Wirth, would soon take the art world by storm and be acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. Jason Rhoades and Paul McCarthy, two Americans whose unruly, in-your-face sculptural installations had cult status but scared off dealers and collectors, joined the gallery soon afterward, as did Louise Bourgeois, a legendary older artist whose market fell far short of her reputation. Others followed—Roni Horn, Ellen Gallagher, Rashid Johnson, Sterling Ruby, the estates of Eva Hesse and Henry Moore—50-plus artists and estates, more than a third of whom are women. “I’m a feminist,” Iwan explains. “I’ve always felt that women artists in the twentieth century are dramatically underrated, underrepresented, and underpriced.” (Manuela teases him because his family comes from the Appenzell region of Switzerland, where women couldn’t vote until 22 years ago.)
Hauser & Wirth artists check in, but they don’t check out; not one has ever left this artist-centric gallery. Iwan estimates that he spends 95 percent of his time working with and for his artists, and the other 5 percent on art sales in the secondary market, which, because he’s so good at it, keeps the gallery afloat. “The best thing about the art market,” he says, “is that it’s unstructured and unregulatable. That’s the nature of the beast. Sharing knowledge and information is the backbone of our business. Things that would put you in jail in another industry are not bad in this wonderful world. This suits me very well because that’s the way I think and function. I’m a fish in water. People confuse prices with quality, but if you’re knowledgeable and have a feeling for art, even in this crazy market, you can find great art that’s affordable.”
In 2000, Iwan joined forces with David Zwirner and opened Zwirner & Wirth in New York on East Sixty-ninth Street. They did a lot of great shows together over the next nine years but decided to go their separate ways because of what Zwirner describes as “brand confusion”—they still share artists, inventory, and clients, and continue to work together. “It’s a lot of fun to have a real friend in this industry,” says Zwirner. “Somebody I can trust a hundred percent.” Meanwhile, with the Zurich operation thriving, Iwan and Manuela established themselves in London—first in Piccadilly, then Savile Row. They moved their family over in 2005, put their four young children in English schools, and then, in 2007, they discovered Somerset.
On a typically English day—cloudy with periods of rain—Iwan, Manuela, and I are driving southwest in their sturdy Land Rover. It’s two hours to Bruton, the town where they went looking for a country place of their own and fell in love with the ancient, historic, and spiritual landscape of Somerset. (This is King Arthur territory, and its history goes back to Neolithic times: We pass Stonehenge on the way.) They bought a fifteenth-century farmhouse and set to work renovating it, a five-year project that involved extensive landscaping of the 500-acre property—restoring an apple orchard, putting in wildflower meadows, a walled vegetable garden, and 40,000 trees and bushes with the help of New York–based landscape designer Miranda Brooks. They moved in a few months ago, and the children now live there full time; Manuela and Iwan commute from London on weekends. “It’s the epicenter of everything we do now,” says Iwan. “It was in horrible condition when we first saw it. But within half an hour, Manuela looked at me, I looked at her, and we knew this was destiny. The place found us.”
The rain is coming down harder as we get closer, driving on a narrow lane that keeps turning into green tunnels between the thick high hedges on each side. “They’re ancient and full of birds and berries and small animals,” says Iwan. “I’m actually planning a book about Somerset hedges.” We enter the property, passing flocks of sheep, a monumental Thomas Houseago sculpture, and an allée of stone heads by Hans Josephsohn, which have just been delivered. Inside the front door, where two long rows of dark-green wellies are lined up, in various sizes, the two youngest children fling themselves into their parents’ arms. A deep immersion in English country life is the keynote here, coexisting with the challenging works of art on view throughout the marvelous old house.
The next morning, the sun keeps trying to come out as Iwan and Manuela offer an overland tour of Durslade Farm, the adjoining, 200-acre property that the gallery bought three years ago, and which they are turning into a local cultural center. The farm buildings here, which date from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, haven’t been inhabited for 20 years, and the place is a picturesque ruin—it was the setting for some scenes in the film Chocolat. Scheduled for completion in the spring of 2014, the renovation will provide art-exhibition and education spaces, film screenings, a two-acre landscaped park (with 24,785 plants) designed by Piet Oudolf, who did the plantings for New York’s wildly popular High Line, and a world-class restaurant and bar. The heart of the project is an ambitious artist-in-residence program, which has already started with a year-long visit from Pipilotti Rist, along with her ten-year-old son. As Iwan says, there’s a tradition of writers, music and theater here, but it’s a desert when it comes to visual art. “This is where art can go to work and change people.
“This place is a slowing-down facility,” adds Iwan, whose cornucopia of ambitious projects might overwhelm a fainter spirit, but who himself never seems rushed about anything. That night, sitting at the long dining table in the barn, with his four children, their nanny, and Phyllida Barlow, a 68-year-old, little-known English artist who’s recently joined the gallery, Iwan is indefatigable. He carves and serves the steaks he’s just grilled—from an animal on the next-door farm—passes around a huge wedge of Cheddar from the artisanal cheesemaker we visited this afternoon, and urges us to have another glass of his excellent Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He banters with Phyllida about the sculpture he’s asked her to make for the ancient well in their garden.“He’s forever young,” Mary Heilmann, another artist he represents, told me, “and he’s forever old.”
This month Hauser & Wirth is giving a dinner party in the entrance hall of the New York Public Library to celebrate the opening of its Chelsea gallery. All its artists are invited, and the gallery is flying them in from around the world. Both the setting and the scale are momentous, yet somehow appropriate. Anthony d’Offay, London’s most important art dealer from the late sixties until he closed his gallery in 2001, told me recently that he has known three great contemporary dealers. “There was Leo Castelli, Xavier Fourcade, and now, Hauser & Wirth. These three have had the old-fashioned idea that encouraging the artist and being truthful and doing great shows has an important role in the world. It’s not about making a trillion dollars. It’s about enthusiasm for great works of art. Iwan goes to sleep at night, and dreams about art.”
Iwan Wirth is standing at the top of the stairs in the former Roxy dance club and roller rink, which he recently had renovated into the largest of the outposts of his global art enterprise, Hauser & Wirth. It is the week of the opening of the big-box gallery’s first show, a survey of the rather intimidating work of Dieter Roth and his son Björn Roth, and he’s introducing his artists to each other: Zany British conceptualist Martin Creed, styled a bit like Willy Wonka (and who enlivened the entry stairway with strips of colored tape), meet world-weary Indian Subodh Gupta, draped in a scarf and looking desperate for a tea. Thirty-three of Wirth’s artists made the pilgrimage altogether, and many are still jet-lagged after being called from all over the world. “Everybody knows me, but not everybody knows each other,” he says with Swiss bonhomie. “It’s like a class reunion, only they’ve never met before.”
The grand opening of this converted disco is the biggest thing to hit West Chelsea since Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately, the exhibition space is up a flight. What was once a sweaty, shirtless dance floor is now, thanks to architect Annabelle Selldorf, a vast, tidy exhibition hall, the largest column-free space in Chelsea. Later this month, the dealer David Zwirner, Wirth’s former partner in New York, whose own gallery already takes up most of 19th Street, is opening a five-story expansion on 20th Street, which Selldorf also designed. As the art gets supersized along with the profits, these new galleries look and feel like museums. Gagosian was a pioneer of this model, but, as one curator who has worked with both attests, “Iwan’s no Gagosian. He’s so warm,” and “unusually focused on art which is difficult to understand.”
And on naughtiness: Ten years ago, when Hauser & Wirth opened a gallery in a former bank in London, Paul McCarthy created a bawdy, messy food-fight video work featuring people wearing oversize heads portraying Osama bin Laden, President George W. Bush, and the Queen Mother. “These spaces are about education, of course,” says Wirth, a burgherish but still boyish 42.
Wirth’s journey began in 1990 outside Zurich, when he was a teenage entrepreneur looking for seed money to help buy a Picasso and a Chagall to then resell. He persuaded a department-store owner, Ursula Hauser, to invest, and after they started Hauser & Wirth together, he married her daughter Manuela. At first, the gallery worked in the “secondary market,” matching old works with new owners, before beginning to represent contemporary artists — which wasn’t easy, since, as Wirth has admitted, “No artist really needs to show in Switzerland.” They overcame their place on “the periphery” of the art world — though very much at an epicenter of European money — by punctilious customer service. (Wirth once cited good bookkeeping as a major reason for his success.) And by having good taste in what they bought for themselves: “They were my best collectors,” says Rita Ackermann, an abstract painter born in Hungary who now lives in New York and joined last summer. “A dealer must collect the art themselves.” The gallery brags that it’s never lost an artist.
In Zurich, Hauser & Wirth is part of a hybrid commercial and noncommercial arts complex in a former brewery; outside London, it is building a local cultural center with an artists-in-residence program. But in New York, the gallery that represents museum-approved artists like Pipilotti Rist, Roni Horn, Louise Bourgeois, and Dan Graham was tucked away from the contemporary-art spotlight in a townhouse on the Upper East Side, shared with Zwirner until 2009. (The Zwirner & Wirth partnership ended around the time Wirth started looking for spaces downtown; Zwirner has cited a need to avoid “brand confusion.”) The gallery’s arrival in Chelsea — in this New York dream palace, a Ziegfeld for art — is a sign that art globalism goes both ways. It’s not just Gagosian in Hong Kong, it’s also foreigners planting their flags in the New York market.
With, of course, their own values. “I think with Iwan it’s not a commercial venture. It’s very much about the artists and what they need and what they want,” says Paul McCarthy, who is seated with his wife in a bar designed by Oddur Roth, Dieter’s grandson, a cozy tangle of industrial junk. “For me, the pieces have gotten bigger, almost to the point where I can’t show them. They’d have no place to go; who would own them? Instead of saying ‘Scale down, this is better for your art’ — which means better for sales — Iwan just follows.” Which sounds awfully indulgent, but when I ask Wirth about it, he says, “It’s not carte blanche — well, of course, it is carte blanche, but in a very controlled way.”
“You can be a great artist but still make really horrible decisions,” says Ackermann, who felt that, when she met Marc Payot, the also-Swiss head of Hauser & Wirth in New York, “it was the first time in my life when I had spoken honestly and completely with a dealer.” Payot tells her, she says, “This is a better one, that is a worse one, that is a piece of shit.”
Traditionally, Wirth explains, the secondary market has paid for the fun part: the creating of new art. Now, as more young artists are successful in their own right, he’s taken to looking for “who is overlooked,” he says, pointing around to the Roth exhibition as an example. “This is why we do historic shows — we’re creating a context,” he says. Actually selling art is another matter — the transactions increasingly take place at art fairs. “The problem you have with galleries is that there is no trigger point,” he says. “People just come and come again and then come again.”
*This article originally appeared in the February 11, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.
An artist’s impression of Hauser & Wirth Somerset in Bruton. Photograph: Hayes Davidson
London! Zurich! New York! And now eight miles south of Shepton Mallet, convenient for the A303 and Bristol-Weymouth railway line. One of the world’s leading commercial galleries has revealed plans to expand its operations into what were derelict farm buildings in Somerset.
When galleries such as Hauser & Wirth announce expansion, it normally means a new space in Mayfair or Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, not what was, for centuries, a working farm in the middle of the English countryside.
The gallery said it would open its latest outpost on the edge of Bruton in the summer of 2014. “This is a beautiful part of the world and also a very creative part of the world,” said Alice Workman, who will be in charge of Hauser & Wirth Somerset. It will consist of a gallery and arts centre which “will serve the local community and town but also act on a national and international level”.
The gallery is expecting about 40,000 visitors a year and is an interesting development. While the public appetite for contemporary art seems to grow and grow, the chances of any publicly funded galleries being planned soon is remote. It could provide a model for other galleries to follow.
Somerset does not have any significant contemporary art galleries, said Workman. “We’ve got a great arts scene in Bath and Bristol but they are a good hour away.”
Planning permission was granted last week for a gallery and arts centre on what was originally built as a “model farm” dating back to 1760. There is a cowshed, a piggery, stables, barns, a farmhouse and land – but most of it is in a terrible state of disrepair with some buildings not safe to enter.
It could become something of a country retreat for Hauser & Wirth’s artists and the farm has already been visited by names such as Pipilotti Rist, Roni Horn, Phyllida Barlow and Paul McCarthy.
“Our artists are finding this a really exciting and inspiring project,” said Workman. “It is something really different.”
Hauser & Wirth was founded in Zurich in 1992 by Iwan and Manuela Wirth and Ursula Hauser, opening on Piccadilly in London in 2003 and the Upper East Side of Manhattan in 2009. It expanded again in 2010 when it opened a new London space on Savile Row.
Workman said there was no real template or model to follow, and the enterprise was something “completely new”.
The site, Durslade farm, lies on the edge of Bruton – about 30 minutes from Glastonbury – and is not far from the railway station so it will not only attract visitors in cars.
Piet Oudolf has designed the landscaping including a one-and-a-half-acre meadow garden.
Workman said the local support had been striking. One resident is the Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud, who said: “I’m excited that this magical town is being given such a shot in the arm in a way which is full of interesting promise. Art, architecture and cultural activity are not always the most common form of regeneration that small market towns see and it’s going to be interesting to chart how the wider pull of Hauser & Wirth Somerset will colour the atmosphere of Bruton. This project will bring culture from our cities into the rural world – one which I inhabit and love – and I’m particularly looking forward to the mix that it will generate.”
Installation view, ‘Dieter Roth. Björn Roth’, Hauser & Wirth New York NY, 2013“You like some Jägermeister?” asks Björn Roth, a Marlboro Red burning in an ashtray next to his coffee at half past noon on a recent afternoon. “It’s healthy.”Roth, the son and sometime collaborator of the late German-born Swiss art polymath Dieter Roth, is standing behind the bar he built — with the help of his sons, Oddur and Einar, and a retinue of assistants — for “Dieter Roth. Björn Roth,” the inaugural exhibition at Hauser & Wirth’s new mega-gallery in New York’s Chelsea, in the former Roxy roller rink-cum-nightclub on West 18th Street. A majestic survey of the Roths’ three-decade meditation on the art-making process through accumulation, decadence, and decay, the show opens tomorrow though Björn Roth and company have been working since mid-December to install it. They have been filling Hauser & Wirth’s massive 25,000 square foot space with a suite of Dieter’s Clothes Pictures— paintings made with the late artist’s hand-tailored suits (he lost 75 pounds in the early 90s)— and two abstract murals painted on the white siding of portable classrooms in Aesche, Switzerland. “All the other buildings were sprayed with graffiti, but they had so much respect for Dieter they didn’t touch ours,” says Björn, who lives in Iceland, where he is working on some new pieces with his own son Oddur.But Dieter is never far from this thinking. Shortly before Dieter Roth died in 1998 at the age of 68, he asked Björn to imagine they were on a train ride.“If I get off on the next station, will you continue with the train?” he asked his son.He was not pressing me at all,” Björn says. “It was a question, and I said, ‘Of course’ because the only thing I know is to ride this train.”Björn RothFor the New York show, Björn, in an homage to the Manhattan skyline, is reprising Dieter’s chocolate and sugar factory with two ceiling-high towers, one of Guittard chocolate, the other of rainbow-hued sugar crystal busts of Dieter with human, lion and sphinx heads. “The funny thing is that you can’t use cheap chocolate, or it will break,” says Björn, grabbing a handful of wafers. “There’s not enough oil.”Anchoring the exhibition are two floors extracted in 1992 and 1998 from Roth’s Mosfellsbaer, Iceland studio and the ever-expanding process piece “Large Table Ruin” —made from three-decades worth of drills, hammers, work tables, film, projectors,paints, beer bottles, and lamps and various installation tools. “It doesn’t look like it, but it’s a very chronological piece,” says Björn, laughing. “This table is in high danger of getting glued. Though that would be sad because these are the spare bulbs for the projectors.” And while the 128-screen video installation “Solo Scenes,” a document of the last year of Dieter’s life, speaks —like so many Rothian pieces — to impermanence, the bar, made of bits of machinery (and a harpoon) from and old Icelandic whaling factory, candle sculptures, and relics of the old Roxy, is intended to stay open for the life of the gallery. From top: Dieter Roth/ Björn Roth. Tischtuch mit Palmenbildern, 1986-1994; Installation view, ‘Dieter Roth. Björn Roth’, Hauser & Wirth New York NY, 2013“I’ve had carte blanche,” says Björn of installing the show, conceding that this latest exhibition is rather spare compared to his first show with Hauser & Wirth in Zurich in 1998, a week before his father died. “It became a hangout for artists and all the guests were filmed,” he recalls. “I remember Paul McCarthy and Jason Rhoades having fun there. Christopher Wool came with his father. Urs Fischer worked there as a bartender. At that time he a young artist and probably needed the money and possibly he liked to [bartend].”The original bar — and subsequent iterations — were meant to function as a cosmos in itself. But just because it’s a work of art doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to grab a drink. “Maybe we’ll fly in a braumeister from Germany for the opening, but it has to be done in the right way,” says Björn, pouring a second round of Jägermeister. “A lot of people try to make their own beer and it tastes like vomit.”The bar at Hauser & WirthBut imbibers beware: the Hauser & Wirth saloon (and all its patrons) will be filmed. As will the opening: guests will be invited todrive remote controlled cars outfitted with cameras to make short, ankle-level videos. Adds Roth. “They make really great films.”
My personal style signifier is, apparently, my scarves. My wife, Manuela, was a great help here; she said I am “a scarf person”. I wear scarves because I fly so much and it is always warm, then cold, and I get a sore throat. I have them in all colours, fabrics, shapes; and I lose them quite regularly so I have to buy more. There is one from my friend Andi Stutz [owner of Fabric Frontline Zurich]; and whenever I go to visit Subodh Gupta, we seek out shops in New Delhi.
The last thing I bought and loved was a Swedish wood-splitting axe from the amazing German catalogue Manufactum. I love wood-chopping and I have a collection of axes. This one, called the Graensfors cleaving hammer (£111), is an art work. 0800-096 0938; www.manufactum.co.uk.
And the thing I am eyeing next is a “bella macchina” Berkel antique meat slicer, a high-quality industrial machine that slices your salami very thinly, safely. It’s very erotic. It really affects the quality of your food, and I am a food person. www.volanobiz.com/berkel-meat-slicers.htm.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is an 18lb salmon from my first fishing trip to Iceland. I went with my friend Björn Roth, the son of Dieter Roth. It was late-season fishing and it was the only salmon I caught in four days. Bjorn told me to stuff it, so we did, and now it hangs in our kitchen.
The last item I added to my wardrobe was a bespoke suit from my neighbour in Savile Row, Kilgour. It’s dark-navy, single-breasted and made in light wool serge. I have walked up and down Savile Row 10,000 times over the past few months, as our new gallery took shape, and have been impressed by the construction of these suits. 8 Savile Row, London W1 (020-7283 8941; www.kilgour.eu).
My favourite room is the kitchen in our London house. The world stops at 6pm for our family dinner. When I am in town that is an iron rule, and so it is the most important room.
A recent find is a restaurant in Somerset called At The Chapel, run by Catherine Butler and Ahmed Sidki. It is a unique place – a bakery, a cultural centre, a pizza place and a grill. And also – completely different – the Duty Free Paul Smith shop at Heathrow’s Terminal 5. The older I get, the earlier I find I want to get to the airport, so I often have 30 minutes to kill. At The Chapel, High Street, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0AE (01749-814 070; www.atthechapel.co.uk). Paul Smith Globe, Departure Lounge, Heathrow Terminal 5 (020-8283 7066; www.paulsmith.co.uk).
The last music I downloaded was actually amassed by my staff – I got an iPod for my 40th birthday this year. They all downloaded their favourite tracks, from 1970s punk to classical; my own musical taste is embarrassingly ill-educated. I can listen as I drive to Somerset.
If I didn’t live in London, the city I would live in is Los Angeles. Firstly, because it would be the ultimate challenge to live a completely different life; LA is the absolute opposite side of the coin to London. Secondly, many of our artists live there, and it would be extraordinary to be closer to them. And there is no other place where nature and the urban are so interlinked – sea, desert and city.
An indulgence I’d never forego is St Galler bratwurst, which you can get in the Kronenhalle in Zurich – the role model for all other artists’ restaurants. Ramistrasse 4, Zurich, CH-8001 (+4144-262 9900; www.kronenhalle.com).
The books on my bedside table are Marcel Duchamp and the Forestay Waterfall, an extraordinary history of Marcel Duchamp and his final masterpiece, Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau, 2° le gaz d’éclairage. This was edited by a guy who worked for me once, and it has texts by every Duchamp specialist. And another that’s completely different: The King of Oil: The Secret Lives of Marc Rich by Daniel Ammann, a present from my Zurich director. Rich is an interesting character and a great art collector.
My favourite website is Education City, a website for my children to do revision. It keeps me up to date with their curriculum. www.educationcity.com
With his round glasses and curly dark hair, Iwan Wirth looks a bit like a grown-up Harry Potter. Highly focused and energetic, the Swiss art dealer, at just 39 years old, is one of the most influential and successful players in the market. His gallery, Hauser & Wirth, has outlets in Zurich, New York and London, with an artist roster that includes such established names as Roni Horn, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell, the estates of Lee Lozano, Eva Hesse, Dieter Roth and the Henry Moore family collection, alongside emerging artists such as David Zink Yi or Zhang Enli. A recent coup has been the acquisition, with New York dealer David Zwirner, of a large part of the Lauffs collection of minimal and conceptual art, some of which will be exhibited at Hauser & Wirth’s stand at the Maastricht fair next month.
Wirth opened his first art gallery at 16, at a time when he was still using the school telephone to make calls. A significant moment was meeting Manuela, daughter of the wealthy collector Ursula Hauser, in his 20s; he married Manuela and the three founded Hauser & Wirth in Zurich in 1992. By 2000 Wirth was forging ahead – a joint partnership in New York with David Zwirner was followed by the opening of a London gallery in a Lutyens-designed former bank at 196 Piccadilly in 2003. He then expanded into Shoreditch in the east end of London with a project space, Coppermill, which hosted keynote shows by Paul McCarthy, Martin Creed and Christoph Büchel; he moved out of Coppermill in 2007. The joint gallery with David Zwirner has ended, although the two dealers continue to collaborate, and H&W has its own space in New York.
Now H&W is opening its biggest space yet, in the heart of London’s West End. The 15,000 square foot, column-free gallery with six metre ceilings, divided into two parts, will be inaugurated this autumn with a major show devoted to Louise Bourgeois, who celebrates her 100th birthday next year. It is currently being refitted by architect Annabelle Selldorf.
We meet in the upstairs floor in Old Bond Street above the famed Red Room of the Old Master dealer Colnaghi, which H&W uses for contemporary shows once or twice a year. Piled high on the table are artists’ books – supporting the gallery artists through publishing catalogues and books is an important but lesser-known aspect of the gallery’s work.
Does the decision to open another space in London say something about the position of the British capital at the heart of the art market? I ask. “London had expanded so rapidly in the previous few years, and it was specialised in younger material which was worst hit,” he answers. “But now the London market is back on track, and the Giacometti price is a sign of this. Also, my experience is that non-American collectors now hesitate travelling to the US, they just don’t want to go through that hassle, they prefer to come to London.”
“For us, London is close to Switzerland where we have a strong collector base, a strong artist base. And then we are European, in the sense of doing business in an old-fashioned way.” He laughs: “When we went to New York I said we were the Aga of galleries,” referring to his traditional, methodical Swiss approach, “but they totally failed to understand, they don’t have Agas [old-fashioned range-style cookers] there … ”
We are speaking the day after Giacometti’s “L’Homme qui Marche I” (1961) achieved over £65m just up the road, at Sotheby’s. What does that price mean? I ask. “It is one of the rarest and most iconic trophies that you can have, I was never offered a Walking Man,” he says, “And at last sculpture has also found its rightful place – I always thought it was under-valued, but no more.” En passant, he gives credit to the auction houses for their managing of the art market downturn. “I’m quite impressed how they steered through the storm,” he says. “They did a very good job of re-instilling confidence. Of course they were also partly responsible for the excesses of the boom as well!”
During the downturn, art galleries were getting the upper hand as vendors became more hesitant to risk their works of art at auction and were more likely to sell them through dealers. I ask Wirth if the recent huge prices change this. “I’m afraid the Giacometti price will tip the balance back again in favour of the auction houses,” he says. “We had a buyer’s market, but it didn’t feel like a buyer’s market any more at Sotheby’s sale,” he says.
Whether or not the pendulum will swing back, Wirth is convinced that his position on both on the primary and secondary markets is the most successful business model for a gallery. “It is a balance, but operating on the secondary market makes very long-term investments in the careers of certain artists possible. The cycles are far more extreme if you just do primary,” he says.
We walk over to the new space in Saville Row, of which he is obviously proud. One side consists of a vast raw space, with no columns; Wirth stands obediently in the centre, admiring the bare breezeblock walls while being photographed. Is it true that he always shows a new space to his artists before making a final decision? “Absolutely! I see them very much as part of the family, I love building galleries!” he says. “It’s great to create these spaces for art, with artists. Sometimes an artist might show for 15 years in the same gallery, and a new space stimulates them.”
Wirth is known to be very close to his artists, who range in age from 30-year-old Polish artist Jakub Julian Ziolkowski to Louise Bourgeois at 98. I ask him if this is easy. “I started out so young, everyone was older than me!” he says. “30 or 60 were the same to me then, and actually it never occurs to me to think about the age of the artists, I just look at the art.”
“The art market is at its most interesting moment for a very long time because for the first time it is truly global,” he says. He has another appointment and with Swiss punctuality is anxious not to be late. In conclusion I ask if he has any more expansion plans. “No” he says, waving good-bye. “But then I always say that – until I find another space.”
The rise of Swiss gallery Hauser & Wirth has been characterised by a quiet modesty some might interpret as stealth. “For those who’ve been watching, we’ve achieved a great deal,” says the gallery’s London director, Gregor Muir. “Hauser & Wirth may appear to some as an emerging gallery, but in fact it is one of the largest operations in the world.”
On 14 October, Hauser & Wirth opens the doors of its newest London space in the middle of Mayfair, on what was once the site of the English Heritage HQ. Designed by architect Eric Parry, it was recommended by its agent David Rosen at Pilcher Hershman, for its “New York factory” appeal. “This is the joy of London,” says Muir. “Finding this space was so unexpected.”
Opening night is scheduled during Frieze Art Fair, to be witnessed by everyone who is anyone on the global art scene, and the inaugural show will be Louise Bourgeois: The Fabric Works (“Untitled” 2007, pictured), a museum exhibition that comes straight from the Vedova Foundation in Venice. Many of the works are being shown for the first time, some of which have been lent by the Hauser family. Meanwhile, at Hauser & Wirth’s flagship gallery in Piccadilly, a Jason Rhoades show runs in tandem. For his 2005 exhibition, Black Pussy… And The Pagan Idol Workshop, Rhoades filled the former bank with flea-market junk and hung the place with 427 neon words, all euphemisms for vagina. He said he drew his inspiration from Mecca. So we can believe Muir when he says, “October will be an all-singing, all-dancing month for Hauser & Wirth.”
Now may seem like an odd time to be expanding an international art business, but this family-run outfit has always launched new galleries in dire circumstances. Iwan Wirth teamed up with his wife, Manuela Hauser and her mother, Ursula, to form their eponymous gallery, launching in Zurich in 1992, during the last recession and accompanying art-world slump. They opened their first London space in 2003, in a cultural and economic climate still reeling from 9/11, and at a moment when London’s top gallerist, Anthony d’Offay, had created shockwaves
by closing his space to become an “armchair dealer”. While the Establishment played it safe with bestsellers or retired to the sofa with its pipe and slippers, Hauser & Wirth moved into the grandiose ramparts of an Edward Lutyens-designed building opposite the Royal Academy and showed big, difficult, non-commercial, art.
It was all very impressive and smacked of authenticity, a rare commodity on the contemporary art scene, but who were these Swiss people with their good taste and bottomless funds? Such questions ricocheted around the velvet upholstery of antiquated London nightspot Tramp, during Hauser & Wirth’s discreet launch party. “Eight years on, people still don’t quite know,” says Muir. “I sit here and wonder when the penny will drop and they’ll realise Iwan isn’t just one of the biggest gallerists in London, but in the world.” Wirth has been placed in the top 20 of Art Review‘s Power 100 list every year since 2003, so I think they may have an inkling; he was No.11 in 2009, compared to Larry Gagosian’s No.5. What people really want to know is if Wirth’s muted yet meteoric rise is a threat to Gagosian, the man we all take to be the most powerful art dealer in the world.
In 2009, just as this recession got under way, Hauser & Wirth continued its expansion, this time to New York. Iwan Wirth already inhabited the building as half of the secondary market dealer, Zwirner & Wirth; but its new incarnation, as a large-scale, high-performance primary market gallery, was described by art commentator Robert Ayers as “an act of inspired art historical chutzpah”. They opened with legendary Sixties artist Allan Kaprow, inventor of the “happening”, who first produced his installation “Yard” in the same building, in 1961. Was this a red rag to New York-based Gagosian, or are comparisons missing the point? After all, Kaprow is no Jeff Koons, Gagosian’s bestselling, porn-star loving, figurehead artist. This is earnest stuff with no eye for fashion or sales. The closest Wirth gets to “the great male artist” is Paul McCarthy, known for his gigantic Disneyesque figures including “Gnome Buttplug” (Santa holding a sex aid), made for the City of Rotterdam, 2001. But McCarthy’s work is also rooted in the non-commercial “happening”: he performed psychosexual acts such as “Class Fool” (1976), in which he hurled himself about in a classroom splattered with ketchup until he was bruised and confused. He threw up, put a Barbie doll up his rectum and only stopped when the audience could take no more.
“Hauser & Wirth is a different type of model, unlike any other gallery,” says Muir. “We’re not just selling a product. Our focus is artists and they are unusual, distinctive people.” The right kind of space is intrinsic to the Hauser & Wirth vision, Muir tells me. Its acquisition of the cavernous Coppermill depot off Brick Lane in London led to shows such as Cristoph Büchel’s Simply Botiful exhibition (2006), for which the artist built sets of a sweatshop, recycling camp, a hotel/brothel and an import-export shop; visitors clambered up ladders and through dirt tunnels. In Turner Prize-winner Martin Creed’s 2007 show at the Coppermill, viewers were plunged into blackness save for a screen showing a penis sliding in and out of a woman’s anus to a slow, rhythmic beat; for the opening, this was accompanied by a live orchestra. The Labour government called Coppermill an outstanding rejuvenation project but was unable to halt the eventual destruction of the building, hence the three-year-search for a comparable space, ending with Savile Row.
The money for all this, one assumes, comes from the secondary market, buying and selling Modern Masters at auction and at art fairs such as the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF). This is not the glossy, social world of contemporary art galleries such as White Cube and Gagosian; it is the domain of some of the highest net-worth individuals on the planet, “people who don’t make a noise,” says Muir. “Iwan isn’t social, he has another agenda.” It is a world familiar to the Hauser family, however, whose private art collection is housed in a railway-shed museum outside Zurich, which also contains studios, a library and archives. They collected Louise Bourgeois for more than 20 years before her death last year. Not born to collecting like his wife, Iwan Wirth had nevertheless started his first gallery by the age of 16. The opening hours were Wednesday afternoons and weekends, to fit in with his school timetable. Who knows where his love of art came from, but his father climbs mountains and there is a sense that Wirth’s phenomenal drive, steady climb and expansive vision form a sort of conceptual mountaineering. He is hands-on with his artists, loves travelling with them and displays an energy that would put most 20-year-olds to shame. Then again, he is only 40, quarter of a century younger than Gagosian and younger, too, than Jay Jopling and his YBAs.
Hauser & Wirth
Louise Bourgeois, Paul McCarthy, Martin Creed
Portraits by the British artist Anj Smith appear at first glance to be those of young women. But careful viewing reveals elements that throw their portrayal of femininity into question—a few strands of facial hair, an Adam’s apple. Smith says the ambiguity is intentional, and that she was inspired to investigate issues of gender in her work by a close friend who recently underwent gender reassignment surgery. Her paintings are at once radical explorations of identity and sexuality, fused with a painting practice that has its roots in a fifteenth-century aesthetic and technique, a striking contrast that invigorates her work.
All of the eleven paintings on view at Hauser & Wirth in New York are small, but painted in intricate detail. At times Smith’s brushstrokes are scarcely detectable as hairline traces across her canvases. In other instances her brushstrokes are not detectable at all, as she has seamlessly created porcelain complexions and diaphanous textiles using an oil technique only achieved by true painting masters. It takes the artist six to nine months to create each painting, but the complexity of each piece succeeds in creating scenes that are surreal and alluring, well worth her time-consuming efforts. - Nadiah Fellah, NYC Contributor
Anj Smith | High Blue Country, 2012, Oil on linen, 14 1/4 x 11 in
Anj Smith | Portrait of a Girl in Glass, 2012, Oil on linen, 18 1/2 x 15 3/4 x 1 in
Anj Smith | The moon, like a flower, 2012, Oil on linen, 14 1/8 x 11 1/4 in
Among the many tediously-depicted details in each painting—common elements of which are insects, reptiles, monkeys, jewelry, flowers, cigarette butts—is Smith’s portrayal of each figure’s hair, richly highlighted, and which is intricately woven into braids and knots, adorned with feathers and fabric. That the tendrils seem to take on a life of their own is contrasted by the figures’ sullen or lifeless expressions, many shown in a three-quarter profile, another motif tying the artist’s work to a Flemish or Dutch painting tradition.
Anj Smith | Fruits of the Forest, 2012, Oil on linen, 19 5/8 x 16 7/8 x 1 in
Anj Smith | Fruits of the Forest (detail), 2012, Oil on linen, 19 5/8 x 16 7/8 x 1 in
Further conjuring Northern Renaissance masters like Jan Van Eyck is Smith’s use of symbolism, like the skulls so often seen in devotional paintings as momento mori, or reminders of the viewer’s mortality. However, she has written that, “symbols no longer stand for fixed intentions and a skull can mean pretty much anything…I feel those old defunct symbols retain a kind of ‘half-life’ meaning, a vestige of their purpose. As their original content decays in the present, they still suggest something to us, even if that ‘something’ is less clear and is morphing into something else.” The artist’s reimagined context for these symbols can be seen in her placement of an Alexander McQueen knuckleduster ring in the painting Fruits of the Forest, which features skulls in its design. The traditional symbol of mortality thus becomes one associated with consumerism and luxury, blurring the line between its traditional use in painting and the popular currency its gained as a fashionable icon. In another painting, New Blooms at the Ossuary, a crevice below ground and the decaying side of ghostly sea vessel reveal caches of skulls, each precisely rendered in detail. The artist’s myriad use of the motif in this instance borders on the absurd, taking the singular use of something meant to convey religious reflection, and repeating it until it becomes virtually meaningless.
Anj Smith | New Blooms At The Ossuary, 2012, Oil on linen, 22 x 27 1/2 x 7/8 in
Anj Smith | New Blooms At The Ossuary (detail), 2012, Oil on linen, 22 x 27 1/2 x 7/8 in
Although Smith’s paint handling is generally uniform and smooth, she departs from this method in her depiction of uneven terrain. By building up the oil on the canvas, parts of her paintings become almost sculptural, projecting off the surface of the work in high impasto to suggest a rocky texture. This technique is used in The Sentry, a picture of an androgynous reclining nude, whose gender is kept mysterious by a swatch of red fabric extending from the groin. Although the figure wears dark lip rouge and a flapper-style headband, closer observation reveals a barely-detectable layer of hair that covers the figure’s arms and legs, each strand rendered in painstaking detail. Despite the painting’s title, it is unclear what this figure guards, leaving one to contemplate its literal or allegorical meaning.
Anj Smith | The Sentry, 2012, Oil on linen, 18 1/8 x 15 3/8 x 7/8 in
The dark and whimsical nature of these works creates an aesthetic that is distinct, while displaying the artist’s ongoing engagement with the history and tradition of painting. In their careful rendering and rich, saturated colors, Smith’s paintings in themselves become like the priceless objects that are depicted within them. It is telling that the paintings in this show were sold almost immediately. Each tiny scene is an endless expanse of visual imagery and symbolism, and one could spend several moments tracing the minute details in her landscapes and portraits. Within each work are also remnants of popular culture and contemporary fashion that reward a meticulous eye. For this reason, Smith’s paintings are best experienced in person, where their sumptuousness and complexity can be fully appreciated.
Anj Smith | Ziggy, 2012, Oil on linen, 16 7/8 x 15 3/8 x 7/8 in
Anj Smith: The Flowering of Phantoms is on view at Hauser & Wirth in New York through February 23rd.
Anj Smith was born in Kent, England in 1978 and studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Art and Goldsmith College, both in London. Since 2003 she has had multiple international shows, in Europe, India, Thailand, and the US. Smith currently lives and works in London.
Nadiah Fellah is a graduate student of Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY in New York.
Imagine that you’rean art dealer, and when you ask one of your artists for a work to sell at the Frieze Art Fair, he presents you with a thousand copies of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” in Arabic. What do you do? If you’re Iwan Wirth, you place those books smack in the middle of your booth, just as the artist, the Swiss sculptor Christoph Büchel, wanted. Did he ever consider just saying no? “Absolutely not!” Wirth insists. “But after the piece sold, we removed it. People were stealing the books. Why would anyone want to walk around an art fair with a copy of ‘Mein Kampf?’ ”
Looking like a grown-up Harry Potter with unruly curls and a hearty laugh, Wirth, 36, has become one of the most powerful players in contemporary art since founding the gallery Hauser & Wirth with his wife, Manuela, and mother-in-law, Ursula Hauser, in their native Switzerland in 1992. They now have outposts in Zurich and New York, as well as three gallery spaces in London, where he and Manuela live with their four children. Frieze, now in its fourth year, is Britain’s biggest art fair, drawing 152 galleries and some 63,000 visitors. It is also a highlight of Wirth’s business year. “It’s the center of gravity of the London art scene,” he says in his singsong Swiss accent, “thrilling, exciting and completely exhausting.”
Juggling the roles of curator, construction mogul, psychologist, entrepreneur and nanny, Wirth had a frenzied Frieze week in October. After presiding over the opening of a palatial new gallery on Old Bond Street, he gave a beer-and-sausage party to celebrate an installation by Büchel at his cavernous East London project space. Then there was the premiere of “Sick Film,” by the British artist Martin Creed. Wirth also had to buy for collectors at the London auctions that week, where he hoped to bag a Peter Doig painting for Hauser & Wirth’s own collection. After all of that, in addition to taking his children to school each morning, he still had several million dollars’ worth of art to sell at the fair.
Born in eastern Switzerland to an architect father and schoolteacher mother, Wirth got the art bug at 7, when he staged his first show — copies of Giacometti and Henry Moore sculptures he made himself. “I sold them for 75 francs,” he remembers proudly. Wirth opened a commercial gallery in their village at 16 and set up as a private dealer in Zurich in 1990. There he met Manuela, the daughter of a wealthy Swiss family. Together they acquired an ambitious contemporary-art collection for her mother and established Hauser & Wirth. Their artists include Europeans like Isa Genzken, Andreas Hofer and Pipilotti Rist, although Wirth has a penchant for “big boy” U.S. sculptors like Paul McCarthy and the late Jason Rhoades. He is equally excited about Büchel, whose East London show included a replica of an illegal industrial recycling plant. “When you meet a great artist like Paul, Jason or Christoph, you just know,” Wirth says. “There’s a particular type of energy — and they need a big gallery like ours to support them.”
That support comes from his secondary market, which generates most of Hauser & Wirth’s turnover. Like his rivals, Larry Gagosian and Jay Jopling, Wirth is an ace salesman. Having set new records at each of the first three Frieze fairs, he had high expectations for 2006. Wirth says that the frenzy of the fairs has transformed the art market, by replicating the buzz of the auction room and spurring even veteran collectors into making impulse purchases. “If people have time to decide, they’ll take it,” he observes. “The miracle of the art fair is that they don’t.”
By the second day of Frieze, almost all of the art in Hauser & Wirth’s booth has been sold, including a $480,000 McCarthy sculpture. The Old Bond Street gallery had opened smoothly, as had Creed’s film, although Büchel’s factory installation proved trickier. Local officials panicked at possible safety risks, and then a truck crashed into a sign outside. But his only disappointment was being outbid for the Doig painting at auction. “It was a beauty,” Wirth lamented. “My limit was £600,000, but I went up to £800,000, and someone bid £820,000. I tell collectors to set a limit and stick to it, but that’s what happens. It’s like a doctor telling his patients not to smoke and being a terrible smoker himself.”
Alice Rawsthorn is the design critic for The International Herald Tribune.
NEW YORK. Hauser & Wirth is opening a gallery space in New York in September as part of its long-term strategy to increase US market share. The gallery will expand its Zurich- and London-based operations at a time when shrinking demand for contemporary art has led several galleries to close international branches and others to cut staff.
“Everybody is looking at costs, and so are we,” said gallery owner Iwan Wirth. He added: “The art market has shrunk, but we made a decision one year ago that if there’s one place we want to be, and need to be, for the next 20 years it’s New York.”
The space will be located on the first four floors of the Upper East Side townhouse currently occupied by Zwirner & Wirth gallery. The six-story building, which was purchased by Ursula Hauser in 1997, is the site of the former Martha Jackson Gallery where Allan Kaprow installed his famed work Yard in 1961. The gallery, which represents the artist’s estate, will recreate the installation for its inaugural exhibition. Mr Wirth told The Art Newspaper: “Many of our artists, like Allan Kaprow, Paul McCarthy, Eva Hesse and Roni Horn, have no gallery representation in New York. We have great relationships in America and we want to shorten the distances.” Hauser & Wirth partner Marc Payot will run day-to-day operations at the New York outpost.
Although Mr Wirth will no longer share a space with New York dealer David Zwirner, the pair will continue their collaboration in the secondary market. Meanwhile, Mr Zwirner will also open a new space on 19th Street in Chelsea this September, in a building designed by Shigeru Ban, whose new Centre Pompidou-Metz opens next year.
International powerhouse gallery Hauser and Wirth makes a dramatic addition to its list of locations (Zurich, London, New York’s Upper East Side) this week, when its mammoth new space opens at 511 West 18th St. in Chelsea. A.i.A. attended a press preview Monday.
The new space’s debut comes less than two weeks after the row of small galleries on West 27th Street finally re-opened after Super-storm Sandy. Situated on the second floor, the new facility was unaffected.
“Dieter Roth. Björn Roth” (Jan. 23–Apr. 13) is the first exhibition on West 18th Street, and it includes installations, sculpture, video and prints by the father-and-son team, about half the works on loan from the Dieter Roth Foundation, Hamburg. Featured are more than 100 objects, created since the 1970s, some never before shown in the States.
As Hauser and Wirth’s Marc Payot told A.i.A. during a preview visit this fall, “Roth represents a kind of father figure for many of the artists we represent, in that his work is process-oriented and often collaborative, as well as highly complex and multilayered.” A gallery press release points out that Roth’s work sprung from a central concept of the indivisibility of art and life.
Visitors are greeted in the entryway by a site-specific, permanent work by Martin Creed, in which vertical stripes of colorful duct tape of various designs adorn the wall of the stairway that leads up to the second-floor space to the reception desk.
There, visitors turn a corner into a nearly 25,000-square-foot, column-free, sky-lit space under wood ceilings supported by black steel trusses. New York architect Annabelle Selldorf oversaw the design of the new facility, which is in the former home of the Roxy discotheque. It neighbors the High Line elevated park and Frank Gehry’s building for the IAC headquarters.
Large parts of the space are perfumed with the scent of chocolate, from Selbstturm (Self Tower), 1994/2013, a giant column of busts made out of chocolate, stacked on glass shelves in a metal frame, whose production continued in the gallery, with two young men cooking up the chocolate and carving the busts. “There are two-men teams working in 12-hour shifts,” the gallery’s Michael Hall told A.i.A.
Björn Roth led a walkthrough of the show Monday, explaining the genesis of two gigantic works, The Floor I (1973-1992) and The Floor II (1977-1998), that are actual floors from studios Roth occupied, displayed upright in the manner of a painting.
“The idea of the floor paintings came in 1992,” he said, when they had a large wall to fill in an exhibition. He pointed out where a section of the floor had been cut out to accommodate a door in that wall, saying with a smile, “we had to cut a door in the floor.”
Standing in front of some paintings made from tablecloths, he noted that “most works in the show are made from materials that had some other life.” The paintings are dated with huge spans of time, like Tischtuch mit Gechirrbildern (1987-94). “His philosophy was that you don’t do much at any one time,” he said, speaking of his father. “When I look at these paintings, every line brings memories from different times.”
Memorabilia from the Roxy adorns a café/bar created by Björn, who often collaborated with his father to create bars, and Björn’s son Oddur, whose name, he explained to A.i.A., is Icelandic for the point of a spear. “The business end,” he added with a mischievous smile.
“Some staffers had birthdays during the installation, which we celebrated here,” Hall pointed out, “and you can still see leftover cake in the glass-fronted filing cabinets above the bar.”
“Those are American-made cabinets,” Oddur told A.i.A., “which were exported to Iceland maybe 50 years ago, and which we found as scrap and brought back to the States. Scrap always has a history. And we live off of it. Or,” he asked philosophically, taking another drag on his cigarette, “does it live off of us?”
Oddur was standing in the bar, near a large glass cabinet in which scraps of paper were whirling around. “That’s a shredder for tearing up bad reviews,” he said with a meaningful glance at an art critic standing nearby.
For some reason I missed seeing the documentary Gerhard Richter Painting, released in 2012. I finally took the time to watch it on Netflix, and it is an incredible and meditative portrait of one of the most gifted and recognized living artists; who’s equally skilled in the styles of photo-real and abstract painting. I have loved his work ever since I realized it was his artwork on the cover of Daydream Nation, and it is inspiring to be a fly on the wall to his method in this film.
It’s so rare in one’s art life to experience absolute completeness, to see every work—even if only in a single medium—by an artist. But right now, in Cologne, Germany, you can do just that with Gerhard Richter. Through May 17, Bonhams is currently hosting an exhibition of every single one of Mr. Richter’s artist books, or Künstlerbücher as they say in German. You can take a peek at them over on the artist’s remarkably comprehensive website.
Mr. Richter has lived and worked in Cologne for 30 years, and is pretty much royalty there. In 2007, he installed a set of stained glass windows with randomly generated little colored squares in the Cologne Cathedral, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Pretty beautiful stuff.
Doing a complete Richter painting show would be a little bit trickier; his website lists more than 3,400 works in that medium, and that isn’t even counting the ones that he’s destroyed.
CBC NEWS CANADA
Gerhard Richter cityscape earns record-setting $37M at auction
1968 Milan city square painted in style of blurred photo
Visitors take in Gerhard Richter’s Domplatz, Mainland during a Sotheby’s preview in New York. The large-scale 1968 oil painting set a new auction record Tuesday night when it sold for $37.1 million US. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
A massive Gerhard Richter painting depicting an Italian city square has set a new auction record, fetching $37.1 million US in New York.
Domplatz, Mainland, which the venerable German artist painted in 1968, earned the record price at a Sotheby’s auction of contemporary art in New York Tuesday evening.
The sale, dubbed “a major accomplishment” by Sotheby’s contemporary art chief Tobias Meyer, now marks the highest price ever paid at auction for a work by a living artist.
German artist Gerhard Richter, seen in Paris in 2012, is considered one of the world’s greatest living artists. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)American collector and Napa Valley vineyard owner Donald Bryant purchased the large-scale cityscape, which measures about 2.7 metres square. The painting “just knocks me over,” he said.
Originally commissioned by the Milan offices of Siemens Elettra, the oil painting depicts shops facing the city’s cathedral and was created in a style that suggests an out-of-focus photo. According to the auction house, Domplatz, Mainland is considered one of the best examples of Richter’s 1960s photo-painting technique.
The works of art in the age of the mechanical reproduction have a price, anyway. And sometimes it isn’t a low price at all. A print by an artist could be more expensive than an original picture drawn by another painter. Galleries and museums know it and an example comes from Italy. Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin presents the German artist Gerhard Richter‘s editions. Taken by the Olbricht Collection, they are a series of works realized in a certain number of copies – in that case lithographs, serigraphs, photographs, objects, paintings on canvas, on paper, on aluminum, even books and posters. Curated by Wolfgang Schoppmann and Hubertus Butin, the show exposes more than 160 artworks, among which there are two world previews – Die Welt (2012) and Babette (2013), that are the last two edition produced by the great master.
The merit of that initiative is the synthesis: the visitor can admire the German artist’s most important works in a unique space. OK, they aren’t the original pieces. Richter himself clearly expressed his opinion about it. In 1998, into a letter sent to The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), he wrote that the purpose of his copies was the democratization of art: “I consider the editions as awelcome alternative to the realization of paintings, that are unique pieces. The editions represent a fantastic chance to present my work to a wider public”. Everyone is free to believe him or not.
Gerhard Richter, Elisabeth II, 1991, Courtesy of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin
Gerhard Richter, Kerze II, 1989, Courtesy of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin Gabriele Girolamini
Gerhard Richter solo show
Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo
Via Mondane, 16
Turin (Italy), January 31st 2013 – April 21st 2013
“I can’t see it,…is it me?” I watched a young woman step closer to the canvas titled, Uncle Rudi. She was now physically closer and she was looking hard, but the image kept its distance.
Gerhard Richter, Uncle Rudi, 1965, oil on canvas, 87 x 50 cm (Lidice Gallery, Lidice, Czech Republic) used with permission of the Gerhard Richter studio
Meaning in Gerhard Richter’s art can also keep its distance. The elusiveness of meaning is, in some ways, a central subject of Richter’s art. Since the early 1950s, Richter has painted a huge number of subjects in wildly conflicting styles. For most artists, one style emerges and evolves slowly, almost imperceptibly, over the course of their career. This is because artists often continue to work through problems that remain relevant and perhaps, because they achieve a degree of recognition and the market then demands that style. In other words, collectors often want what is known. Artists who abandon their signature style do so at some risk to future sales. Still, some artists do push in startlingly new directions. Willem de Kooning abandoned abstraction for the figure against the advice of his dealer, and Pablo Picasso famously pursued opposing styles simultaneously—think of his volumetric, even bloated Neo-Classicism compared to the collages where he pressed flat every volume in sight.
The Impossibility of Meaning
During Richter’s long career, he has produced art in an unprecedented number of conflicting styles starting with the propagandistic Social Realist art he made as a student at the Dresden Art Academy in Communist East Germany. After his move in 1961 to Düsseldorf in the West (via Berlin—the wall was begun the same year), he co-founded a German variant of Pop art which he, somewhat jokingly, termed Capitalist Realism. Since then he has painted high-pitched realism (sometimes blurred just enough to soften the image, or sometimes wiped or scraped beyond all recognition) and produced representations of abstraction (as opposed to abstraction itself). He has explored many of the most pressing visual issues of our time, the relationship of photography to painting, memory and the image, art’s role in the representation of war and politics, and perhaps most importantly, the impossibility of fixed meaning.
Image and Ideology
Richter was born in Dresden, Germany on the eve of the Second World War. His two uncles were killed in the war and his father served, but survived. His schizophrenic aunt, Marianne, was murdered by the Nazis as part of their drive to euthanize the sick. Less than a week after his thirteenth birthday, Richter heard some 3,600 British and American planes drop more than half-a-million bombs on Dresden (he then lived just outside the city). 25,000 people were killed in these raids and the Soviets would quickly occupy Eastern Germany. Unlike the idealized, classicized nudes that Adolf Hitler had promulgated, the young Richter was taught Social Realism at the Dresden academy, a celebration of the heroism of communist workers. Once in the West, Richter found that the relationship between image and ideology reversed yet again. Here, images in advertising and popular culture celebrated material wealth and the culture of capitalism. Under the Nazis, under the Soviets, and in the West, Richter saw art used to express political ideology. His art, while deeply concerned with politics and morality, rejects the very possibility of answers, even of the idea that we can know.
Uncle Rudi Uncle Rudi, the painting the woman had stepped closer to see, is painted in the grays of a black and white photograph. It is small and has the intimacy of a family snapshot. We see a young man smiling proudly and awkwardly. He is clearly self-conscious as he poses in his new uniform. One has the sense that a moment before he was talking to the person behind the camera, likely a friend or family member. Rudi would die fighting soon after the photograph that is the basis for this painting was taken. This is the artist’s uncle, the man his grandmother favored and the adult the young Richter was to model himself after. But nothing in this painting is clear. Not the relationship between the artist and his uncle, not the tension between Rudi’s innocent awkwardness and his participation in Nazi violence, not even in the relationship between the photograph and Richter’s painting. The artist has drawn a dry brush across the wet surface of the nearly finished painting, and by doing this, he obscures the clarity of the photograph, denying us the easy certainty we expect. Richter reminds us that Uncle Rudi, like all images, promise and then fail to bring us closer to the people, things or places represented.
Text by Dr. Steven Zucker
Gerhard Richter’s October 18, 1977
An exhibition by Gerhard Richter
Permanent Collection / Museum of Modern Art
Gerhard Richter’s 15-painting cycle is quite simply one of the most important works of art of the second half of the 20th century. Now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the collection of black and white oil paintings drew from ubiquitous photographs of the Baader-Meinhof era. Angering the German public when it first appeared in the late 1980s, it has become recognized as Richter’s masterwork.
The complete paintings and their source photographs
Interview with Robert Storr, MoMA Curator/Dean of Yale Art School
Daniel Kunitz, writing in slate.com, is a little more balanced. Kunitz takes Richter down a notch or two, but generally reaffirms Richter’s importance and talent.
Both articles arrive on the eve of a major retrospective of Richter’s work at the Museum of Modern Art. The centerpiece of the exhibit is Richter’s 15-painting cycle, “October 18, 1977,” which explores the imagery associated with the Baader-Meinhof era. MOMA added the cycle to its permanent collection recently, and the retrospective serves as its coming-out party.
Richter’s work almost defies analysis. Is it art? Jed Perl doesn’t seem to think so. He indicates that Richter’s technique of tracing photographs as source material for his work implies a mind devoid of artistic creativity. Kunitz recognizes the coldness, but sees a method to Richter’s madness. He also recognizes a power from viewing Richter’s work in person.
Robert Storr, the curator of the MOMA collection and the person who both secured the purchase of the “October 18, 1977″ cycle and organized the Richter retrospective, certainly believes that Richter is among the most important contemporary artists. Storr understands that Richter’s work can be interpreted as sham or art; his 152-page book about the “October 18, 1977″ cycle is essentially a book-length justification for spending such a large sum of the Museum of Modern Art’s money on a man who hasn’t quite yet been consensually accepted into the pantheon of great modern artists.
Storr’s book is flawed in that he offers supposedly dispassionate analysis of the controversy over MOMA’s acquisition of the Richter cycle without acknowledging his central role in the decision to acquire the works. “In June 1995,” writes Richter, “to the surprise of close observers of the scene as well as the public at large, it was announced that October 18, 1977 had been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art for an undisclosed sum.” This Clintonian “mistakes-were-made” dissociation continues unnecessarily throughout the book when Storr describes the facts surrounding his purchase.
But this is a minor quibble. When analyzing the actual artwork, Storr succeeds in his argument. Through an in depth exploration of Richter’s technique, his critical reputation, and his choice of subject matter, Storr clearly demonstrates Richter’s importance as an artist and the importance of his art. Perl just as clearly disagrees; his New Republic piece feels so angry at Storr that I can’t help but wonder if Storr and Perl had a childhood falling out and Perl is nursing a lifelong grudge.
The vast majority of Richter’s work is immediately accessible. Even the most uncomplicated minds can grasp the cold emotional impact of his fuzzed renderings of contemporary photos. Further context behind the subjects of his paintings is not generally necessary.
“Man Shot Down”
But “October 18, 1977″ is altogether different. This is a work that is all about context. It is a collection derived from imagery that would have been instantly recognizable to a German who viewed it in the late 1980s. Had he chosen American imagery of a similar time period, one can imagine a painting of Patty Hearst, in full Tania garb, with a beret and a rifle, leaving the bank she had just robbed. One can imagine a grief-stricken girl, her arms outstretched as she hovers over the body of her dead friend on the campus of Kent State University. Richter’s images of a glamorous Ulrike Meinhof, the prone body of a dead Andreas Baader, the giant funeral of Gudrun Ensslin, Jan-Carl Raspe, and Baader–these had all been similarly burned into the cerebral cortex of the German who viewed Richter’s work for the first time in the late 1980s.
And the story that they told was entirely contemporary. Though “October 18, 1977″ featured imagery that was a decade old by the time of his first exhibition of the work, in the late 1980s the Red Army Faction was at its deadliest; ten years after the events of Death Night West Germany was still struggling with the legacy of the Baader-Meinhof Gang. It was impossible to view the works with a dispassionate eye, any more than it would be possible to objectively view a retrospective of modernist portraits of Osama bin Laden in New York City in 2001.
But this, of course, is the great challenge of the work. Whereas West Germans of the late 1980s could not look at the works dispassionately, a contemporary New York audience has precisely the opposite problem. “October 18, 1977″ clearly has a shelf life, at least as 1980s analyses of the work go, and the further that the work travels from its geographic and chronologic home, the more the context disappears.
Visitors to the work at MOMA can read detailed placards explaining the paintings. They are also encouraged to buy Robert Storr’s book for a more accurate and nuanced understanding. It’s not hard to see why: if a visitor wasn’t told the subject of the exhibit, he or she would be hard pressed to know what it was about. Even where Richter’s source photos were fairly clear cut, such as Baader dead with his face tilted back in a grimace, the resulting painting becomes blurry and indistinct; even if the viewer could recognize that the subject was a dead body, the painting offers no indication of who he was or the context of his death.
Others paintings seem even more obscure to contemporary American viewers. The filled-to-bursting bookshelf? The record player? Where are they from? Why did Richter choose them? The 1980s German would have recognized the bookshelf as Baader’s, and understood from press reports that it was filled with dozens of volumes of Marcuse, Horlemann, Marx, Engels, Guevara, and Debray, countering the common perception of Baader as a violent poseur. The record player: symbolic of the freedom enjoyed and exploited by these pop culture heroes. But for a modern American audience, they are simply a bookshelf and a record player, evoking nothing.
One doesn’t need a placard explaining the background of the Mona Lisa to appreciate it. One doesn’t need to have Monet, or Picasso, or Rembrandt explained. So, the argument goes, having to fully contextualize a work that was designed to be presented without context means that the work utterly fails.
I’m not so convinced. Experiencing art benefits from contextualization. Even works by acknowledged masters like Monet, Picasso, and Rembrandt. On a surface level one can enjoy their works for the pure emotions they stir unencumbered by context. But our learning and appreciation is deepened by understanding the context in which the work arose.
That said, devoid of context, Richter’s cycle is cold, dreamy, and fundamentally, brilliantly, sad. His technique–or crutch, as Kunitz calls it–of blurring the details of the two-dimensional worlds of found photographs, renders life somehow inert. It certainly puts a distance between the viewer and the viewed; great tension is generated as we are pushed away from subjects that would normally draw us in. Unlike old masters, the only way to discern more detail from Richter’s work is for us to move further away.
Gerhard’s Richter’s work is often divided into photo-based painting and abstraction. This division is contested in a much-anticipated restrospective opening this month at London’s Tate Modern
Mark Godfrey, Saturday, 1st October 2011
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), whose work is the subject of a retro-spective at London’s Tate Modern this autumn (6 October–8 January 2012), has always been interested in abstraction. He experimented with abstract forms while a student in Dresden, and was famously impressed by the radical work of Jackson Pollock and Lucio Fontana when he visited Documenta 2 in 1959. After his move to Düsseldorf in 1961, Richter created paintings resembling Informel works but rejected these from his catalogue raisonné when he began to archive his paintings later in the decade. In 1967 he made a little-discussed series of 23 small paintings which show him playfully working through all the languages current in American Abstract Expressionism and minimal painting. One panel has an emphatic paint stroke, another is made with overlapping bands of grey paint; there is a painting showing right-angle lines placed at regular intervals which appears to quote Frank Stella’s 1961 paintings, and a panel called Bunt auf grau which features a splatter of paint against a background crossed by strange hazy curves.
Richter was also confounding the distinction between abstraction and figuration early on: in Tisch (1962), his first photo painting, the image of the table is partially obscured by gestural strokes created with solvent. By the late 1960s he had painted townscapes and mountainscapes in such a way that the images of cities and mountains were discernable only from a distance, and dissolved into brushwork when the viewer approached. Richter also associated abstraction with the readymade – he based his first group of ‘Colour Charts’ from 1966 on paint sample cards found in a Düsseldorf paint shop, suggesting that abstraction could be found in the world of the everyday.
Richter worked on many series of grey monochrome paintings in the mid-1970s sometimes using a brush, and elsewhere using a roller. He wrote at the time that ‘grey is the welcome and only possible equivalent for indifference, non-commitment, absence of opinion, absence of shape.’ The ‘Colour Charts’ from this moment of the mid-1970s (unlike those of 1966) were based on numeric and chromatic systems, as well as on chance: Richter would take the three primaries and grey, and mix them in predetermined increments to produce 1,024 shades. The shades were arranged according to chance procedures: as with the ‘Grey Paintings’, these ‘Colour Charts’ indicate Richter’s hostility towards expressive paint handling and his sense at that time that to compose colours according to harmonies was a meaningless pursuit. In 1970, Richter also painted his series of ‘Details’, which were enlargements of photographs of swirls of oil paint, and ‘Clouds’, which he seems to have been drawn to because they were natural phenomena close to abstraction in that their shapes are always changing.
Richter had completed many different series of abstract works by 1976, and yet it is only this date that he names as marking the beginning of his ongoing series of ‘Abstract Paintings’. This is because he sees the work of 1976 as marking a break with the ‘Grey Paintings’, even though there were strong connections between the 1976 works and the ‘Details’ from 1970. Whereas the ‘Details’ were derived from photographs of single swirls of monochrome oil paint, the 1976 paintings were based on photographs of polychrome oil sketches. These ‘sketches’ were freely painted collections of small brushstrokes on top of smooth atmospheric backgrounds. Richter would crop the photographs, project them onto a bigger canvas at an enlarged size, trace around the projected image, and create a painting based on the traced forms. For all its strange beauty, there is a polemical side to a work such as Abstraktes Bild (Abstract Painting; Fig. 3): the painting was made just as Gestural Expressionism was returning to European and American painting with all the attendant rhetoric about subjectivity, bravado, and spontaneous painting processes. Richter’s abstract, by contrast, is the result of a series of mediations and transformations. Looking at it, we cannot really identify what we are seeing, nor do we have a clear sense about the scale of the original paint strokes.
In the early 1980s, Richter relinquished the idea of basing his major abstractions on photos of smaller paintings, and while this turn was described by some critics as a sign of Richter’s freedom and personal joy, others such as Benjamin Buchloh argued that Richter was extending his critique of expressionist painting. Whereas many artists at this time attempted to compose colours according to subjective preference, it was suggested that Richter’s colour combinations were deliber-ately absurd. Whereas other painters returned to gestural paint handling, Richter filled his works with a range of marks (atmospheric backgrounds, floating geometric shapes, broad brushstrokes, paint applied with a roller), so as to demonstrate the rhetoric of painting, and to indicate that the possibilities open to abstraction were mere possibilities – exemplified by Eule (Owl), from 1982 (Fig. 2). If the various modes of painting present in Richter’s work recalled moments from the history of abstraction, their co-presence in the final painting indicated that the utopian promises associated with these different moments of abstraction were impossible to revive in the present. Richter’s paintings could serve to remember the history of abstraction, but also to emphasise its irretrievability.
It was around this time that he began to use a tool that has become associated with him ever since – the squeegee. Richter’s squeegees are thin rectangular sheets of Perspex fixed at right angles to a wooden handle. The squeegee pulls paint across the surface of a canvas, and as it does so, it wipes it off, but never perfectly. Richter paints a single panel in many campaigns, applying paint to the canvas with a brush or dabbing it on with the squeegee, and then working over the surface with a squeegee: each layer represents a moment of time during the long creation of the painting.
The squeegee produces a range of material and visual effects depending on factors such as the pressure exerted by the artist, the elasticity of the canvas at different points on its surface, the heaviness of the paint and its oil-to-pigment ratio. After a few layers, the canvas surface will be uneven with raised accumulations of paint and thinner areas: as the squeegee passes over now, the oil paint splits over thicker areas producing yawning tears showing through to the under-layers made at earlier moments, or glides more easily over lower areas creating streaking thin lines of pulled paint. It should be said that the final surfaces of many of the best squeegee paintings show brush marks, scrapings made with the wrong side of the brush or a knife, and patches of congealed paint with peculiar creases and wrinkles.
The squeegee could be described as a rather mechanical tool. Certainly it is true that it removes personalised brushwork and creates instead striations and tears that could not be made by hand. The unpredictable surfaces it produces are chance outcomes and one might therefore align Richter’s squeegee paintings with his lifelong interests in chance which are more clearly evidenced in his ‘Colour Charts’. And what does it mean to make a painting through a series of erasures rather than by additive composition? There is a kind of negativity and even brutality implied by this method: the final painting is what Richter found to be the tolerable end-point of a series of destructive erasures, each one ruining the painting as it had existed at that moment, rather than an end that was planned out, projected, and pursued from the beginning of the work. Another negative dimension of the series of squeegee paintings emerges if we recall the size of the series as a whole. The sheer proliferation of squeegee paintings suggests that Richter has been subjecting the idea of the masterpiece to critique and also that he has positioned painting between mass production and individuality. There are hundreds and hundreds of squeegee paintings, yet each one is extremely different. Our appreciation of the individuality of each work is somewhat tarnished by our knowledge of the size of the series: the specific appearance of a single work can seem a bit meaningless because there are so many other paintings that are equally similar, and equally different.
Many art historians, curators and critics have addressed these points when writing about Richter’s abstract paintings, particularly Benjamin Buchloh in a series of wonderfully insightful essays. Richter himself has never really produced an overall theory of abstraction, but has provided some intriguing texts and statements. One of the first texts from 1982 described the paintings as ‘fictive models [that] make visible a reality we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can postulate’; in 1986; he told Buchloh that the paintings were for him ‘models of society… pictures that are about the possibility of social coexistence’ (the paintings Richter was making at the time featured different kinds of strokes, colours, and surfaces, and were not exclusively made with a squeegee). Writers have grappled with these and other of Richter’s statements about abstract painting, but one component of Richter’s own commentary about his abstract paintings tends to be ignored. This is Richter’s contention that the paintings remind him of phenomena from the visual world and particularly from nature, his insistence that ‘we only find paintings interesting because we always search for something that looks familiar to us. I see something in my head and try to find out what it relates to.’
In 1986 Richter told Buchloh that the paintings ‘remind you of natural experiences, even rain if you like. The paintings can’t help functioning that way. That’s where they get their effect from, the fact that they incessantly remind you of Nature, and they’re almost naturalistic anyhow.’ By the time Richter made this claim, he had already been using titles like Clouds and Birds, and he would go on to call groups of paintings Forest and River. Richter’s titles do not usually indicate that the painting resembles the entity named in the title, but instead that it recalls the experience of looking at that entity. For instance, Wald (Forest) 3 (Fig. 4) does not look like a dense group of trees, but is reminiscent of what it is like to look about in a forest, when your gaze is caught up with the near and far at once.
To understand why critics have largely ignored Richter’s tendency to make these connections, one might recall the reception of Jackson Pollock’s titles such as Autumn Rhythm and Lavender Mist. Though these titles were actually given by Clement Greenberg, modernist critics (himself included) wanted to stress the achievements of Pollock’s work in terms of forms and processes and feared that these literary and metaphorical titles would encourage facile readings of the paintings. Viewers (they thought) could fixate on these titles and the paintings might be reduced to them. The spills and splatters of Pollock’s paint would no longer be seen as radical assaults on the verticality of painting, and instead would be viewed as landscape effects. Just so, the critical negativity of Richter’s abstractions would be undermined if we concluded our account of them by saying some look a bit like waterfalls. But is there a way to think about this approach to abstraction more subtly?
Recently Kaja Silverman has been more prepared to look at Richter’s willingness to think about his paintings in these terms, and she has argued that this is one aspect of the artist’s tendency to make analogies in his work. Richter (she argues) brings unlike things together whether photography and abstraction, abstraction and landscapes, the victims and oppressors of history, always asking how they might be similar rather than opposed. Her argument touches on a series of diptych paintings titled January, December and November. Silverman builds from the fact that Richter’s series of works about the Baader-Meinhof group are sometimes referred to as the October paintings and she relates the colours of these three works to those grisaille works. She also notes that they were made just before the moment of Germany’s reunification and the collapse of the Berlin Wall and like others, she indicates that the paintings express considerable ambivalence on Richter’s behalf about the rebirth of a united Germany.
Silverman’s reading is sometimes a bit far-fetched (she writes of November that in it, ‘Ennslin’s ghost still shines through’) but it is welcome, especially because the more one thinks about the large series of squeegee abstractions, the more one realises the limits of overarching arguments about the signifi-cance of the squeegee, about chance, about erasure and mechanical processes, and about the relationship of Richter’s paintings to the history of abstraction. Quite simply, these arguments do little to articulate why some paintings are more compelling than others, and what makes certain paintings so powerful. Silverman starts off this section of her account by stating that Richter’s series of diptych paintings, January, December and November, are for her the artist’s ‘greatest abstract works’. I personally adore many groups within Richter’s squeegee abstractions including the three 849 paintings from 1997 with their purple tones and peeled-away patches, and the jewel-like eight-part 858 series which were made on small aluminium panels so as to produce hair-thick striations of an unbelievable colour range. Yet there is a particular group of four large works made in 1989 that I consider to be the absolute pinnacles of Richter’s achievement with abstraction: Atem (Breath), Kurs (Course), Fluss (River) and Fels (Rock); (Figs. 1, 5 and 6).
These four paintings are all made on vertical canvases three metres high by two-and-a-half metres wide. This towering and imposing format is important to their meaning, and differentiates them from other squeegee works which are either landscape in orientation or square. In these four works, as in others, the squeegee produces different effects over the surfaces. Striations, rips and flecks characterise other paintings but in all four of these, the final pull of the squeegee travelled downwards rather than across and so the striations and tears and flecks travel downwards too. Again, this is different to other works from this time – horizontal and vertical canvases – where the final squeegee move was lateral.
We can be more specific about the character of Richter’s downward rips in these paintings if we compare them to other downward drifts in post-war abstraction: the Abstract Expressionist drip, the trammels in Morris Louis’ Unfurled paintings, and then the drooping wall-based sculptures that Eva Hesse, Robert Morris and Richard Serra were making around 1967–68. The drip running off a brushstroke in a painting by Kline or De Kooning is an unintended result of loading a brush with too much paint and wiping it across a surface very quickly: it is retained on the surface to signal the spontaneity of the painter’s movements. By contrast, the downward trails of thinned acrylic paint in Louis’ works are intensely controlled and created in the service of careful colour combinations: they no longer signal bravado. Finally in post-minimalist works such as Richard Serra’s Belts, Robert Morris’ Felts and Eva Hesse’s Aught, materials tumble to the floor as gravity acts on them. Here we are less inclined to think about the artists’ subjectivities or compositional facilities, and indeed these have become irrelevant: instead we are faced with real materials which collapse because of their material properties.
Richter’s downward squeegee pulls signify in different ways from all these models: unlike the abstract expressionist gesture, the squeegee drag is slow, not quick; the paint does not travel because it is liquid, but because it was dragged down. Unlike Louis, Richter cannot really control the appearance his movement will produce. And unlike the post-minimalist collapse, there is more going on here than a painterly process and an exploration of materiality. Richter’s paintings produce associations with a range of ideas and effects connected to this downward pulling, and these associations are so powerful because with their scale the paintings make us feel a sense of a downward pull so viscerally.
The titles draw out these associations too, but not primarily because of a simple resemblance between the painting and the natural entity the title names. There is first a material connection between the title and the painting: looking at Fels (Rock), you have a sense of the mineral quality of Richter’s paint and recognise pigment as ground rock; looking at Fluss (River) one feels that the flow of a river over rocks is physically similar to the pulling of paint over a bumpy ground. More significantly, the titles help us to articulate the effects the paintings produce, but only if we read the words against the grain – Rock, Breath, Course, Flow: looking at the paintings I can imagine being pulled downwards in a river, a feeling of breathlessness, or what it is like to face a vertical and impenetrable rock face and to imagine falling from it.
The ‘nature’ that these titles summon up is brutal and inhumane rather than cosy and beautiful, and this is the point, I think. It was Richter, after all, who once wrote: ‘Nature, in all its forms is always against us, because it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy, because it knows nothing and is absolutely mindless: the total antithesis of ourselves, absolutely inhuman.’
It could seem too easy to associate the pulls in Richter’s squeegee abstracts with the look of destruction (charred marks on burnt walls, melting metal) or with cultural mourning practices (ripping one’s clothes during mourning; the waterfalls in the newly built memorials to the Twin Towers) or with physical markers of grief – crying, collapsing to the ground. And yet it is also wrong to dismiss these associations completely. Richter’s abstracts – or rather, this particular group of four paintings, from the hundreds of his abstracts – for me are such devastating masterpieces because they cause us to think and feel of all these things without ever being reducible to them.
Mark Godfrey is curator at Tate Modern, London, and co-curator with Nicholas Serota of ‘Gerhard Richter: Panorama’ at Tate Modern (6 October–8 January 2012). Visit www.tate.org.uk/modern for more information.
Memory and Memorialization: Gerhard Richter’s September
This account will begin like every other, with facts; the only pieces of information that are known to be certain. At 8:45 AM on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – a bright, cloudless morning – a hijacked commercial airliner hit the North Tower of New York City’s World Trade Center, causing immediate and irreparable destruction on a scale that was to that point unprecedented on American soil. At 9:03, a second plane took down the South Tower. Via a diverse and extensive array of media channels, the magnitude of these events unfolded live and in real time in front of a stunned world. The German painter Gerhard Richter, along with his wife Sabine, was on that morning en route to New York for the opening of a solo exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery. With the airspace over the city immediately shutdown, Richter’s plane was diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia where he had no choice but, like everyone else, to wait and to watch. Two days later, on September 13, he returned home to Cologne.
Four years later, in 2005, Richter painted a small canvas depicting a horizontal blur colliding with two vertical thrusts against the backdrop of a clear, sky blue. At approximately 28 x 20 inches, this painting is forgettable in scale. Richter himself attests that he was at first unsatisfied with the outcome and nearly threw the work away. But, readily identifying its innate poignancy, a friend visiting his studio insisted that the artist give the canvas a second look. This is the painting September, that was acquired shortly thereafter by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York. Though close inspection in fact reveals the painting to be a depiction of the second plane hitting the South Tower, the abstracted nature of the work makes the reference to 9/11 – as that day has come to be known colloquially – only oblique. Even the title lacks precise detail, positioning the painting as a channel of meditation between the viewer and the experience, rather than simply reportage. From an art historical perspective, this work implicitly questions whether an event that is so undeniably cataclysmic can be depicted from a neutral standpoint. Can the artist act as interpreter and reduce the events of that terrible day to a scale that is intelligible, stripping away the complex cavalcade of emotions that it immediately and inevitably stirs up? And, concomitantly, can a simple act of memory on these grounds function as act of memorialization?
In his book-length essay September: A History Painting, curator Robert Storr attempts to frame an answer the seemingly straightforward question “What is the meaning of a single, small, almost abstract depiction of one of the most consequential occurrences in recent world history?”. Storr begins by situating the work in the context of Richter’s oeuvre: “Physically, September belongs to a fairly sizeable body of work that Richter has created over the last decade or so, pieces that at a distance resemble gray smudges.” This type of work, balanced somewhere between the gestural intimacy of painting and the detached immediacy of photography, is typical of Richter’s overall project as an artist; that is, his decades-long interrogation of pictorial conventions, and an upending of our most basic assumptions therein. Though this painting is smaller than is usual of Richter’s output of this kind, Storr notes that its “scale places it in the range of many of the media images people saw on television at the time of the attack and since, while also countering the tendency in history painting of representing major events in rhetorically big formats with melodramatic effect.” From the outset, Storr presents the painting as deeply connected with memory, yet distinct from traditional aesthetic discourses on that subject.
Richter’s recollection of that day is one that is in fact uniquely suited to the twenty-first century. The attacks of September 11, 2001 have the dubious distinction of being the first (and to date, the only) terrorist attacks to be broadcast live. Moreover, 9/11 stands as the best-documented event of its type, thanks in large part to an overall democratization of media. It is a day remembered as much by cell phone pictures and amateur videos as by the lenses of photojournalists and the news media. Even for those who experienced the atrocities firsthand, it is a day that is largely recalled via these mass-mediated images. In her 2003 book, Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag explains, “A catastrophe that is experienced will often seem easily like its representation.” In this sense, photography plays a privileged role in the construction of memory and often goes so far as to substitute for lived experience – which is true of Richter’s experience of 9/11 – as it is of most of the world’s. Sontag elaborates, “Nonstop imagery (television, streaming video, movies) is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite. Memory freeze-frames; its basic unit is the single image.” Memory, therefore, is conditioned; it is inherently unstable, subject to revisions and corrections. The question for Richter then becomes, given these conditions of reproduction that are specific to the digital era, what can painting offer? After all, what could eclipse the images of bodies falling from buildings and smoke-enveloped neighborhoods that are so indelibly ingrained in the collective conscience?
Atlas Sheet 744, 2006; Stripes, WTC.
The source imagery for this painting, however, is anything but abstract. A page from Richter’s Atlas – the scrapbook that he has been keeping since 1962 of found images – reveals an obsessive repetition of a news photograph of a plane hitting one of the towers. Buchloh positions Richter’s Atlas as both didactic and mnemonic project that partakes in an archaeology of memory without making any commentary on it. Instead, he uses the Atlas as a jumping off point and a means for personal reflection: “Richter, as a subject of the postwar period, would now have to rephrase this very question, namely, whether it could even be possible to conceive mnemonic images at the moment of the most violent, collectively enacted repression of history, a repression for which photographic media-culture had become now… the primary agent.”
There is only one other instance in Richter’s five-decade career where he is explicitly dealing with world events and collectively experienced trauma in his painting. This cycle of 15 small photorealist paintings, collectively entitled October 18, 1977 depict the aftermath of the terror enacted by the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, a small but militant left wing terrorist organization that carried out killings and kidnappings throughout the 1970s in Germany. The date in the title refers to the specific day when the bodies of the principal members were found dead in their jail cells under questionable circumstances. These images, which were in actuality painted from police photographs, recall memento mori as the subject matter consists of lifeless bodies, empty jail cells, and funerary scenes. Stylistically, the paintings are executed in black and white and while each image is clearly legible the paintings overall have a blurred quality. This simultaneously recalls both newsprint – the form of dissemination of this information – as well as the haziness of memory.
Paintings from the October 18, 1977 cycle
Benjamin Buchloh sees the elision of the actual acts of terror in favor of the fate of their enactors as an attempt to counteract the representational limitations of painting in regards to the depiction of history. He writes, “The inability of painting to represent contemporary history resulted first of all from the transformation of historical experience into an experience of collective catastrophe. It therefore seemed that only photography, in its putative access to facticity and objectivity, could qualify as an instrument of historical representation.” Instead of mimicking the photographic function of reportage, Richter utilizes photography’s assumed indexicality to a different effect – to depict secondary moments – the results of the terror, rather than the terror itself. This tactic serves to neutralize any judgment or critique on the part of the artist. Buchloh concludes, “Richter’s October 18, 1977 attempts [only] to initiate a reflective commemoration of these individuals.”
The October 18, 1977 paintings were in fact displayed at MoMA in the fall of 2002 as a part of a retrospective survey of Richter’s career, where they caused quite a controversy. In the wake of 9/11 that MoMA would display (and eventually acquire) imagery whose explicit subject was terrorism was an odious idea for many, especially those towards the conservative end of the political spectrum. Though the paintings were intended as neutral depictions, their representational fidelity to their subjects made them implicitly charged.
From this standpoint, it is easy to understand the relationship between the October 18, 1977 cycleand September. Storr writes, “September is a coda to the October cycles, the image of self-immolation in pursuit of self-determination, a totalizing doctrine consummated by death…. But unlike in the October cycle, the haze of September subsumes those who suffered in the attack along with those who perpetrated it.”Unlike the Baader-Meinhoff paintings, Richter does not rely on photorealism here in order to convey information, opting instead for an abstracted representation of the attack. At first glance, it is easy to overlook what exactly the content of this painting is. As Storr describes, “The more time spent with the painting the more fully that terrible knowledge [of what they are actually looking at] dawns on the viewer.” Richter has stripped the image of specificity. Even the painting’s title – September – does not fully reference the event. Here, “The decision to paint what cannot be painted, is the principle means of critique.” Like the October 18, 1977 cycle, the painting acts as a jumping off point for a more sustained reflection, but in this case does so through abstraction, rather than representation. The painting acts, not as a stand-in for memory, but rather as an instigator for reflection and remembrance. While on the one hand, September is a representation of a universally experienced event, on the other it is deeply indicative of the artist’s own thought process. Storr observes, “Like October 18, 1977, [September is] a delayed response to a powerful jolt to his system, an aftershock rather than a direct transcription of the initial shock itself, reminding us that Richter is, at his most emotional, a ruminative artist rather than an impetuous ‘expressionist.’”
Buchloh, Benjamin H.D. “A Note on Gerhard Richter’s October 18, 1977.” October 48, (1989): 88-109.
.“Gerhard Richter’s “Atlas”: The Anomic Archive.” October 88, (1999): 117-145.
Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2003.
Storr, Robert. September: A History Painting by Gerhard Richter. London: Tate Publishing, 2010.
 Robert Storr, September: A History Painting, (London: Tate Publishing, 2010), 57.
*Jaime Schwartz is a second year student in the MA in Modern Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies program at Columbia University.
interventionsjournal · Interventions is the online journal of the Modern Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies (MODA) program at Columbia University
Playing in the Ruins: The Late Abstraction of Gerhard Richter
“Richter’s late abstraction re-constitutes aesthetic totality from the ruins of modernism. It compels conviction because, rather than pretend that the ruination never happened, it is made of that debris, that negation.”
In the summer of 1995 the Anthony D’Offay gallery in London held an exhibition entitled Gerhard Richter: Painting in the Nineties. Comprising abstract painting alone (Richter’s oeuvre is notoriously heterogenous) the exhibition provided the opportunity to consider Richter’s development since his Tate Gallery Retrospective of 1991. My instinctive reaction to these new paintings was two-fold: first, these late Abstract Paintings were qualitatively better than those that came before (that is Richter’s “painting in the eighties”); second, that this improvement related somehow to a playfulness in this later work, a desire to frolic—as Wood puts it—in the “ruins” of Modernist painting.
A similar sense of “playing in the ruins” is evident in the writing of American author Thomas Pynchon (albeit in the ruins of literature rather than painting). Where Wood uses the term “ruins,” Pynchon prefers the term “entropy.” Central to this study is the belief that play—with its emphasis on openness and subjectivity and its rejection of closure and prescriptive outcome—is an essential part of what I will term “counter-entropic” practice. In this paper, the late abstraction of Richter is approached using Pynchon’s terminology. Drawing together American literature and contemporary German painting, it demonstrates how both writer and painter have found playfulness the best means to counter the entropic tendency—the ruins—that both consider one of the salient characteristics of Postmodern culture.
1. Two Paintings by Gerhard Richter
If I am to demonstrate that Richter’s abstraction of the 1990s marks a qualitative shift in comparison to that of the 1980s, it is first necessary to define the salient characteristics of both periods: that is, what do these paintings look like? This question can be addressed most effectively if an individual painting is elected to represent each suite of paintings. In so doing I run the risk of undermining other elements of Richter’s painting project (the Photo Paintings, Colour Charts, Grey Pictures and so forth). Nonetheless, all the paintings on show at D’Offay belonged to Richter’s abstract oeuvre, and, as such, Red (1994) (Fig. 1) has been taken to represent his recent interests and obsessions. If one is to compare like with like, it is also necessary to elect an abstract painting to represent his painting in the eighties. Abstract Painting [576/3] (1985) (Fig. 2), therefore, will stand for the earlier decade.
Red  is a large painting, measuring 200cm x 320cm. Filling one’s field of vision, it suggests monumentality, grandeur even. Our visual experience is dominated by the eponymous color of the title, which forms a veil through which we peer at a chaos of earlier workings. This is not, however, the triumphant primary of Yves Klein or Barnet Newman. Rather, it is a bleached and dirty looking red, an impure variant generated by the smearing of wet paint into wet paint. Bits of acid green and blue poke through, signs of the earlier activity which led (perhaps) to the completed work. The main manufacturing process seems to be one of accretion, dominated by the building up of layers of paint: yet the red paint which determines the character (and title) of the painting serves as much to destroy that which is underneath as to construct the visible image. On closer inspection, it becomes clear that some sort of spatula or squeegee has blurred the wet surface of the painting, and many of the arabesques and swirls of paint which remain visible are the product of this pseudo-mechanical process.
This fact directs our attention toward the means by which Red  was produced. This line of enquiry is aided by the suite of thirty three color photographs contained within the exhibition catalogue which chart the complex of gestures and counter-gestures that led to the finished painting. It is clear, on attending to these, that the production process is lengthy and unpredictable: the initial stages bear no relation to the finished painting. The working process is difficult to define causally: Red  has been constructed through the interaction of “organic” (brushed, controlled) paintwork and “mechanically” (scraped, squeegeed) interventions. It is clear on attending to the painting itself, however, that these “scrapings” are neither the multi-directional marks of erasure, nor has Richter chosen to submerge them behind subsequent layerings of paint. If anything, their role is positive (compositional) rather than negative (erasive). Their mechanical identity (as opposed to the organic brush-marks and semi-expressionistic gestures which underlie them) is integral to the identity of the painting. Richter has afforded them prime position: they sweep across the top of the painting in bold strokes, generating Red ’s primary dynamic (horizontal, from left to right). The underlying layers of paint also bear traces of the same semi-mechanical disruption which has afflicted the top (red) layer of paint. Creation is also destruction; construction also de-construction.
In short, there is a sense of play here, an openness to accident and unpredictability.
Abstract Painting [576/3]
Abstract Painting [576/3] is a smaller painting than Red , measuring 180cm x 120cm. Like Red  it is not representational, yet where Red  comprises mostly one color, this earlier painting is multi-colored. A large block of yellow dominates the upper half, the centre is occupied primarily by a tinted salmon-pink, and ultramarine blue dominates the bottom section. These three areas of color have been applied with a large brush, and are flat, uncompromising monochrome statements. The (many) painterly incidents which surround them are, however, not so easy to describe. Grey “squiggles” dynamically traverse the canvas, and are in turn overlaid by frenzied painterly activity. The yellow area is overlaid with gestural red brush-marks, and the pink-tinted mid-section by thick opaque smearings of pure cadmium red. Underlying the blue area are gesturally brushed passages of grey paint, and the left side of the painting is dominated by an acidic lime green which is in turn overlaid with the same salmon-pink that dominates the centre of the painting.
It is immediately clear that Abstract Painting [576/3] comprises a far wider vocabulary of formal languages and painting styles than Red . Indeed, it appears to comprise a catalogue of the rhetorical devices of the expressionist abstract painter—Jackson Pollock’s drip co-exists with Mark Rothko’s flat fields of primary color, Franz Klein’s gestural calligraphy and so on. This range of styles and techniques draws our attention toward Richter’s method. The mid-1980s is the period of the “color-sketches” whereby Richter reproduced (via a process of transfer and enlargement) small paintings on a large scale. Painted in 1985, Abstract Painting [576/3] epitomizes this policy of re-presenting the rhetorical devices and codes of painterly abstraction: to apply the terminology used in my description of Red , it re-presents “mechanically” an “organic” original. This process is clearly visible here: the painting appears to comprise areas of flat color which co-exist with seemingly “gestural” brush-marks, yet this initial perception proves deceptive. The paint-marks that transverse the canvas from the top-left corner have been “shaded” to create the illusion of spatiality, their upper half tinted to create a three-dimensional trompe l’oeil effect; the flecks of green paint that suggest unmediated painterly activity have been printed onto the surface of the painting with a sheet of glass; the cadmium red which overlays the mid-section of the painting has been applied with a printer’s squeegee, and so on. As such, the gap between organic (model) painting and the mechanical method of production could not be further emphasized.
In short, Abstract Painting [576/3] is the product of a prescribed and carefully executed process: that sense of play evident in Red  is absent.
The above descriptions point to similarities as well as differences between the two paintings (and, by association, the two periods): both comprise a combination of “organic” and “mechanical” modes of painting, and both maintain an uneasy relationship between the two. Interpretation of both paintings, however, remains difficult. (Conventional) abstract expressionism operates on the premise that there exists a direct and unmediated relationship between artist and artwork. Both Red  and Abstract Painting [576/3] problematize this relationship. Nor is it possible to categorize either as “abstract” paintings in the conventional sense. The process of abstraction generally involves a two-way relationship between an external reality (whether that be physical, psychological or whatever) and the canvas. Neither Abstract Painting [576/3] nor Red  maintains such a relationship. Neither can be described using conventional psychological categories such as gesture or expression; nor theological terms such as transcendence. Neither tells us of Richter the author, and nor do they point outward toward some reality that exists beyond itself.
Where these issues are the subject of much literature on Richter, what is interesting here is the shift from a prescriptive methodology to one characterized by playfulness and openness. The manifest subject of Richter’s abstraction, as many commentators have noted, is the crisis of legitimacy facing abstract painting in the Postmodern present. Abstract Painting [576/3] demonstrates this crisis through that process of double-negation described above (of organic painting by mechanical re-presentation, and vice-versa). Red , however, was produced through a process more complex than the simple re-presentation of an organic original. The method here is one of concretization, a building up of the paint surface through the combination (fusing) of organic and mechanical painting.
Why this shift?
The answer, I suggest, can be understood in relation to “entropy.” Where there are few examples of the term appearing in relation to visual practice, the theme of entropic decline is common within twentieth century American literature and is particularly significant in the work of Thomas Pynchon. In order to introduce the manner in which Pynchon’s work engages with the theme, the following section is structured in relation to two of his stories [Entropy (1960) and The Crying of Lot 49 (1965)]. Only five years separates these two works, yet the development between them, I suggest, provides a model with which to understand and evaluate the shift in Richter’s painting between the 1980s and 1990s.
2. Two Stories by Thomas Pynchon
Entropy revolves around two central characters. The first is Meatball Mulligan, a “beatnik” observed in the process of holding a lease-breaking party which is slowly degenerating into chaos. Upstairs, the second character, Callisto, is living a carefully monitored life in a hermetically sealed hothouse. Where Mulligan’s domain is dominated by raucous interaction, Callisto’s is an ordered enclave which insulates him from the vagaries of the outside world. The story is therefore composed around the opposition between Callisto’s order and Mulligan’s chaos. As literary critic Tony Tanner (1972) puts it,
There is a kind of perfect music which acts like a ‘closed system’ and finally resolves all into a terminal sameness; there is a noise which might lead to chaos (a terminal sameness of another kind)…
In the search for “perfect music,” Callisto has retreated from the world of interaction into his own airless void. His fear of chaos and ambiguity has led not only to a supremely ordered environment, but to an extreme form of entropy (in his closed system, heat energy cannot be transferred to the small bird whose life he is trying to save by warming it in his hands). The futility of attempting to live in a “hothouse,” isolated from the world, is finally revealed: Callisto’s “perfect music” has resolved all into terminal sameness. Callisto’s hothouse is counterbalanced in Pynchon’s story by an alternate form of entropic death. Mulligan’s party has moved into its fortieth hour, the guests are in various states of inebriation, and communication between the revelers has become increasingly discordant and reached the point at which it has virtually collapsed. Where Callisto faces the terminal sameness of inertia, Mulligan faces that of chaos.
If entropy may be defined as a tendency toward both “disorder” and “inertness,” then Mulligan metaphorically represents the former, and Callisto the latter. In short, both characters demonstrate conditions of entropy.
The Crying of Lot 49
Five years later Pynchon published The Crying of Lot 49. The story follows one central character, Oedipa Maas, in her investigation of the estate of an ex-lover. As she sets about her task she discovers more and more clues pointing to the existence of an underground organization (the “Trystero”) which opposes (and provides a secret alternative to) the official lines of communication. Oedipa is never sure if the Trystero exists or whether she is hallucinating its existence as an antidote to the drabness of her life. As her quest for truth progresses, she has many hints of an alternate reality which hovers just outside her perception. One example of this strange experience occurs when she arrives at the city of San Narciso:
Though she knew even less about radios than about Southern California, there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate. There’d seemed no limit to what the printed circuit could have told her (if she had tried to find out); so in her first minute in San Narciso, a revelation also trembled just past the threshold of her understanding.
This location of meaning just beyond the “threshold of understanding” is a central aspect of the novel. The clues which appear to Oedipa reveal only glimpses of reality, but “…never the central truth itself which would destroy its own message irretrievably.” This phrase captures the essence of the book: The Crying of Lot 49 consistently rebuffs the reader’s attempts to locate a coherent meaning within its narrative. The principle means by which this is effected is Pynchon’s ambiguous treatment of the Detective genre of literature. The Californian detective stories of Raymond Chandler provide a model for the story. But rather than the narrative leading toward the denouement of a criminal, a set of clues eventually pointing to a resolution of previous mysteries, Pynchon’s story begins with conventional life firmly in place, and gradually moves toward a condition of increasing mystery and ambiguity.
Despite the brevity of the above synopses, a distinct shift can be observed between these two stories. Entropy is a dialectical story: Callisto and Mulligan stand not so much as characters in their own right but metaphoric equivalents to a crisis within American literature. Pynchon has written a story which engages dialectically with its eponymous title: the two characters represent the polar culminations of inertia and chaos so absolutely that they become little more than ciphers for the scientific tendency that provides its title. Where Entropy engages with its eponymous theme in a dialectical manner, The Crying of Lot 49 abandons the metaphor in favor of a more ambiguous mode. If Callisto and Mulligan represent two polar entropic threats, it is unclear whether Oedipa represents anything at all: her name seems either to signify too much or too little. Names in novels operate traditionally either in a literal or metaphoric manner, but Pynchon rejects this convention. The name “Oedipa Maas” is neither real nor metaphorical (in the sense that Callisto and Mulligan are metaphors). “Oedipa” suggests a female version of Oedipus. “Maas,” it has been suggested, may denote “mass,” and therefore link with Newtonian physics. Terry Caesar, on the other hand, has suggested that the name may consist simply of a verbal joke: “Oedipa my ass.” Any of these interpretations may reflect Pynchon’s intention, or none. In refusing to confer a unique identity upon his heroine, Pynchon frustrates our desire to predict her behavioural patterns. Where the meaning of Entropy occupies a central role in the construction of the story, the meaning of The Crying of Lot 49 exists peripherally.
This shift—from the dialectical to the playful, from the prescriptive to the open—is not dissimilar to that which occurred within Richter’s practice between the 1980s and 1990s.
And this shift—in both painting and writing—can best be understood, I suggest, using Pynchon’s terminology: entropy.
The 1980s so far have led us to the discovery that the craving for unlimited freedom may be ultimately entropic. It deprives art of direction and purpose until, like an unwound clock, it simply loses its capacity to work.
…as the society is saturated to the limit, it implodes and winds down into inertia and entropy.
Generally associated with the running down of a system (whether that be a small machine or the universe) the culmination of the entropic tendency has been theorized variously as disorder and inertia. The two claims cited above reveal such a tendency: for Suzi Gablik, the collapse of the guiding principles which bound cultural activity under Modernism has engendered a crisis within the visual arts, whereas for Jean Baudrillard it is the saturation of images that characterizes the contemporary world which is the entropic agent. Further examples range from Danto’s thesis that art after Warhol is merely the repetition in diluted form of what came before, to Fukuyama’s claim that we are living after history. Such claims may easily be confused with alarmist assertions of a deterioration in cultural standards. My intention here is avoid such generalized claims in favor of a more precise definition that relates to the cultural context within which Richter is working.
The Fantasy of Theory
The first entropic danger is the colonial tendencies of visual theory. The tendency for the art work to be considered a text to be deciphered rather than an object to be evaluated is typical of a Postmodern critical sensibility, as Grizelda Pollock outlines in her appraisal of new feminist theory:
…art is perceived as something made, produced, by a social mind and psychically-shaped body which ‘writes’ upon it’s materials to produce a series of signs which have to be read like hieroglyphs or deciphered like complex codes. The real realm is not that of optics but graphics.
What is significant in the present context is the hegemony of such a trend within contemporary theoretical and curatorial practice. In order to explore this tendency, I turn to Ian Heywood’s paper “Primitive Practices: Against Visual Theory” (1994). The purpose of Heywood’s paper is to criticize the aggressive tendencies of “visual culture.” Heywood begins by noting that visual art is especially vulnerable to the reductive tendencies of cultural theory. Borrowing from Bauman’s essay “Legislators and Interpreters” (1987), he suggests that the effect of theory on art over the past twenty years has been largely negative. Heywood first outlines the theorist’s ideology of culture (which, following the breakdown of traditional modes of social organization in the early eighteenth century had the net effect of empowering the intellectual via the legislative power of knowledge), and goes on to note that within late modernity the legislative power of grand theory is on the wane. As a consequence the theorist/legislator has been replaced by the expert who enjoys absolute autonomy and freedom, yet (consequently) finds him/herself politically impotent and detached from any real ethical responsibilities. It is this aspect, for Heywood, which lends visual theory its sinister undertones. It is the fantasy of theory to imagine that it can (indeed, must) step in to inform and illuminate what is otherwise an ignorant practice: for the expert, art is a “primitive” practice desperately in need of the legitimizing power of theory. Where Pollock notes that the Postmodern critic attends to the textual qualities of the art work, Heywood goes further in suggesting that recent theory is actively antagonistic to the intrinsically visual qualities of the work. For the expert, the deeper stratum contained within the art work is theoretical, (rather than poetic) but ill-formed or incomplete and the task of the theorist to correct what is an ill-informed, and (at worst) dangerous practice. The metaphor which Heywood applies to this process is that of coursing:
With special concepts and methods we are to course for meaning, to flush out slyly innocent representations from their hiding places; ‘decoding’, ‘deconstructing’ and ‘demystifying’ we catch and flay our quarry, laying bare its secret interior, and ending its earthy, secret life.
It is this recognition of the tendency for contemporary theory to deprive art of its auratic quality, to render it textual, that is of particular significance here. Visual theory, which seeks to colonize painting for its own instrumental ends, represents the first entropic threat to what Richter calls the “incomprehensibility” of painting. The Daily Practice of Painting (Richter’s studio notes, exhibition statements and interviews) is replete with statements which assert the value accorded an opaque, auratic form of practice. However, the belief that the deeper stratum contained within his art work is theoretical rather than poetic has led many critics – most notably Benjamin Buchloh – to suggest that the Abstract Paintings represent a memorial to the past possibilities of painting.
Taken in isolation, the solution to this first “entropic” difficulty would seem to be a non-theoretical, organic form of painting. This is not, however, Richter’s choice: the distinguishing characteristic of both Abstract Painting [576/3] and Red  is the very problematizing of ‘organic’ painting (Pollock’s drip, Kline’s calligraphy and so on). The reason for this, I suggest, can be understood in relation to the debased nature of the organic gesture today. To defend this claim, I turn next to Jean Baudrillard’s vision of entropy.
A Saturated Culture
Jean Baudrillard’s first writings represent an effort to extend the Marxist critique of capitalism beyond the scope of the theory of the mode of production. His later work evolved a theory that attempts to comprehend the nature and impact of mass communications. He began focusing on the media in the mid 1960s, and developed the belief that, in the new Postmodern world, we are bombarded with information-rich images every moment of our lives, the consequence of which is the collapse any distinction between what is real and what is not. For Baudrillard, we live in a world of “simulacra”, in which the image of an event has replaced direct experience. For Baudrillard, therefore, it is the breakdown of the correspondence between the real world and the image of the world that is symptomatic of entropic decline within contemporary culture. The Marxist critic Douglas Kellner provides a useful outline of this tendency in Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Poststructuralism (1989):
In a society supposedly saturated with media messages, information and meaning ‘implode,’ into meaningless ‘noise,’ pure effect without content or meaning. Thus Baudrillard claims, ‘information is directly destructive of meaning and signification, or neutralizes it…information dissolves meaning and the social into a sort of nebulous state leading not at all to a surfeit of innovation but to the very contrary, to total entropy.’ (my italics).
Entropy, according to Baudrillard’s vision, is implicated in the very structure of contemporary culture, which, saturated to the limit, has brought with it the “death of art.” The principle characteristic, as Kellner notes, is the loss of an organic relationship between experience and the representation of that experience. In the face of the mass production of imagery, the capacity for an image to stand as an unmediated (organic) representation of experience is problematized.
Unsurprisingly, such claims have not been met without criticism. As Christopher Norris has noted, the rejection of any form of “truth” (Baudrillard rejects any defense of truth claims as a hopeless appeal to obsolete Enlightenment habits of thought) can lead only to moral nihilism. Furthermore, the conception of reality as nothing more than a product of various codes and signifying systems assumes that experience can be interpreted only from a socio-cultural perspective. Nonetheless, the notion of a breakdown between experience and its representation is symptomatic of much Postmodern critical practice (it is central to both Benjamin Buchloh and Stefan Germer’s critiques of Richter’s Abstract Paintings, for example). It also remains a constant concern for Richter himself. Both Red  and Abstract Painting [576/3] explicitly problematize organic painterly activity through a process of mediation (whether that be one of transfer and enlargement or one of mechanical disruption of organic gesture), and the Abstract Paintings take their place within a body of work dedicated to resisting an organic artistic vision.
Wood has written of the recent ruination of traditional aesthetics. This ruination, I suggest, has been brought about by a variant of that saturation of visual information to which Baudrillard refers: the quotational tendencies of Postmodern practice. High Modernist styles of painting are now being quoted as part of the Postmodern project of deconstructing originality and authenticity (Phillip Taaffe’s recycling, for instance, of Minimalist and Optical painting). The “ruins” to which Wood refers are generated by the reduction of organic and mechanical modes of production to the level of rhetoric. The second entropic threat to the kind of auratic painting Richter values is the rhetorical (even clichéd) nature of Modernist abstraction, when, as Benjamin Buchloh puts it, “…gesture could still engender the experience of emotional turbulence, when chromatic veils credibly conveyed a sense of transparency and spatial infinity, when impasto could read as immediacy and emphatic material presence…”
In short, Richter cannot return to an unproblematic (organic) mode of painting, just as Pynchon cannot return to the unambiguous denouements of Raymond Chandler.
4. From Demonstration to Non-Demonstration
Returning to Pynchon, the significance of Entropy in relation to this study becomes apparent when one considers the ease with which it gives itself to theory. Callisto’s fear of chaos and ambiguity has led not only to a supremely ordered environment, but to homogeneity and inertia, whereas Mulligan’s party brings with it the alternate entropic condition of disorder. Pynchon has written a story which engages dialectically with its eponymous title: the two characters represent the polar culminations of inertia and chaos so absolutely that they become little more than ciphers for the scientific tendency that provides its title. Pynchon acknowledges this irony years after writing the story:
The story is a fine example of a procedural error beginning writers are always being cautioned against. It is simply wrong to begin with a theme, symbol or other abstract unifying agent, and then try to force characters and events to conform to it.
In presenting a dialectical equivalent to the entropic process, the story is rendered subservient to the interpretation. Tanner writes of the “dangerous seductiveness of metaphors of doom”, yet this is precisely how Entropy has been constructed. Entropy is unable to counter its eponymous tendency precisely because it demonstrates it.
Where Entropy communicates its meaning dialectically and unambiguously, communication in The Crying of Lot 49 is always incomplete. Pynchon’s concern in both stories is related to the problem of decipherment; but where Entropy engages dialectically with this concern, it manifests itself in the later story as a permanent instability—a playfulness—in the relationship between the interpreting mind of the reader and the varying fields of signification it must negotiate. Of prime importance to the present thesis is the fact that the shift which occurs between the two stories does not represent a volte-face in Pynchon’s practice. The Crying of Lot 49 is not a demonstration; yet, significantly, nor is it absolutely non-demonstrative (there remains throughout a curious sense of meaning just beyond the threshold of understanding). The shift is from binary, dialectical structure to one that is open, multivalent and playful.
The same is true, I suggest, in regard to the shift from Abstract Painting [576/3] to Red .
Abstract Painting [576/3] polarizes organic and mechanical modes of practice in an equivalent manner to that in which Callisto and Mulligan polarize the two culminations of entropy. What is significant is the ease with which paintings such as Abstract Painting [576/3] lend themselves to dialectical interpretation, the ease with which Buchloh et al are able to course (to use Heywood’s term) beneath the surface of the 1980s abstraction. After such “expert” analyses, Abstract Painting [576/3] comprises little more than hidden text (and not well hidden at that). What marks Richter’s 1980s abstraction is its binary structure—its lack of playfulness—which allows “meaning” to be woven easily around it. Organic and mechanical modes of practice are rendered textual through incongruous juxtaposition; as such, they remain little more than ciphers for painting’s crisis (as Pynchon’s Entropy remains little more than a cipher for literature’s crisis). The visual particularity (and consequent meaning) of the early abstraction is submerged beneath its textuality. In demonstrating crisis, the locus of the 1980s Abstract Paintings is fundamentally theoretical: they come behind the various interpretations of Richter’s abstraction.
Where Entropy provides a model for understanding Abstract Painting [576/3], Pynchon’s later story provides a paradigm for Richter’s later painting. Importantly (again echoing Pynchon) the shift which occurs between the two paintings does not represent a volte-face in Richter’s practice. Red  certainly operates in opposition to the binary structure of the early work. Where the early abstraction demonstrates the difficulties which confront painting through a process of double-negation, the late abstraction is produced through a process more complex than the simple re-presentation of an organic original. Red  was produced after countless actions and counter-actions (the repeated application and removal of paint). Each canceling of the plethora of earlier painterly activity was also the moment at which a new possibility was made visible. If the traces of this layering proved unsatisfactory visually, then Richter continued to work. By its very nature, the sheer quantity of visual phenomena which are brought into being through this (playful) method cannot be adequately conveyed through language. In being produced “backwards,” theory is forced to come after practice.
But what exactly is at stake here: what are the “ruins” in which Richter is playing, and why does “play” represent a positive quality in Richter’s painting? In other words, a closer understanding of the term “play” is needed.
5. Red : Playing in the Ruins
The term “play” suggests a lack of seriousness, a certain frivolousness. But Richter’s playfulness is deadly serious (one only has to read The Daily Practice of Painting: Richter’s studio notes, exhibition statements and interviews—to appreciate this). I have argued that “play” might be understood as an attempt to counter the “entropic difficulties facing contemporary cultural production,” and in the previous section suggested that the concretization of his late abstraction represents an attempt to overcome these (as noted, Red  plays with the tropes [mechanical and organic] of abstract painting, carefully walking a tightrope between the two modes.) By repositioning, re-constituting, pushing one way then the other, the process that generated Red  is dominated by a constant sense of becoming and transformation– a significantly different form of play, I would suggest, to that witnessed in much Postmodern practice. Where many Postmodern strategies (irony, pastiche and so forth) are described as “playful,” Richter’s methods are driven by a different agenda.
The kind of “play” that dominates Postmodern practice is generally theorized as a reaction to the “seriousness” of Modernist practice. Many commentators have noted that Modernity is marked by a relocation of art away from the life-world, and this interest in autonomy, this will to purity, can be seen in much abstract painting of the twentieth century. One example will stand for many others: Ad Reinhardt began his painting career with geometrically abstract paintings. His first contact with the theories of Modernist abstraction came in the late thirties and early forties with the study of Malevich and Mondrian, and his oeuvre is famously dominated by a continual process of reductivism. His career ended with a seven year period (1960-1967) during which he painted nothing but square canvases in which two barely distinguishable coats of black paint form a cruciform trisection of the surface. With these ‘black’ paintings, he argued, reductive Modernist painting refines itself to a point at which further progress cannot be made. Here, playfulness is forbidden, seriousness, purity and closure are all. And it is this closure—this seriousness, this drive toward (Parnassian) purity which many Postmodern painters react against. If Reinhardt represents Modernist exclusivity, the paintings of David Salle might be taken as emblematic of this opposing tendency. In “Post-Modernism,” Charles Jencks describes one of Salle’s paintings:
Disparity is the key, as in Burning Bush, 1982, where two pornographic images contrast with a political cartoon and a burning bush (?) of abstraction. The implication is that they are all the same at the level of imagery. We make no sense of the First World War caricature fleeing with his loot of clocks; nor to the girl peering at the viewer from between her legs. What does give pause is the way these images jump back and forth in successive readings. No sooner has one finished decoding the outline cartoon than one is off chasing a three-dimensional girl with a headache…
Salle’s painting is certainly more “playful” than Reinhardt’s: In combining imagery from such diverse sources as pornography, advertising and abstract painting, Burning Bush generates alternate and conflicting interpretations. However, in encouraging the breakdown of the traditional signifier/signified relationship, the playfulness of Salle’s painting, I suggest, merely demonstrates the Postmodern condition of painting. And in surrendering to demonstration, Burning Bush represents a significantly different form of play to that we see in Red .
From the least to the most probable state
As argued, Richter’s “serious” play is informed by a desire to counter the entropic state of painting in the Postmodern present. Norbert Wiener has suggested that
As entropy increases, the universe, and all closed systems in the universe, tend naturally to deteriorate and lose their distinctiveness, to move from the least to the most probable state…
Both Reinhardt’s and Salle’s painting represent a high level of probability. David Hockney, writing in 1968, claimed to know of eighteen painters working in London, all of whom (following Reinhardt) were producing black square canvases. Salle’s paintings are predictable simply in their repetitiveness. As the American critic Thomas Lawson observes,
Salle records a world so stupefied by the narcotic of its own delusory gaze that it fails to understand that it has nothing actual in its grasp. Amid seeming abundance, there is no real choice, only a choice of phantasms. The world described in Salle’s work is a jaded one, rife with sluggish melancholy. The steady leaching of meanings from objects and images breeds an enervating uncertainty. Artists and viewers alike stumble through a maze of false clues and incomplete riddles, coming on the same viewless arrangements and empty repetitions in the search for a coherent identity. Signs and props are ritually shuffled like so many commodities on the floor of a department store of the imagination, with a compulsive repetition that offers a dwindling satisfaction.
The concretization of Red  – Richter’s refusal to demonstrate the jaded condition of contemporary culture (defined so eloquently by Lawson)– represents a different form of “play” to that which dominates the studio practice of David Salle. This is not a “ritual shuffling” of the rhetoric of painting. Rather, it is an attempt to allow play a positive role in generating a genuinely aesthetic form of painting. In other words, Red  communicates the difficulties confronting painting through visual means – a quality inextricably linked to the playful means of its production. The red paint which provides the painting with its title has a highly specific character: stood in front of the painting, its “soiled” quality is tangible, physically present within the irregular and partially transparent smears of pigment which vainly attempt to cover the underlying layers of paint. The visual scrutiny provided at the beginning of this study reveals that Red  is not reducible to the homogenized sameness of theory. It is clearly a painting which is concerned with the problematic nature of painting in the 1990s (this is undoubtedly Richter’s subject matter), yet it possesses specific material qualities which communicate this meaning in a significantly different manner to Burning Bush. Red  counters the (entropic) coursing tendencies of Buchloh et al by refusing to demonstrate the manifest difficulties which attend painting in the nineties.
6. The Spectacle of the Unknowable
Writing in 1991, Dan Cameron claimed that the
…legacy of Reinhardt’s painterly proposition is that we now know that if we want to preserve art’s capacity to mystify us, to present us with the spectacle of the unknowable, it is generally preferable to conceal sublimity in the place where we least expect to find it.
Richter values art’s capacity to mystify us, to present the “spectacle of the unknowable”: but locating that “place where we least expect to find it” has become increasingly difficult within the Postmodern period. During the early 1980s a “new spirit” in painting was being heralded after its exile of the previous decade. Richter, however, refused to join in the celebrations, openly condemning the return of painting as little more than a market driven phenomenon. His response to “all this entertainment” was to problematize organic painting through that juxtaposition of two modes of practice which characterizes Abstract Painting [576/3]. As the Postmodern period developed, however, this binary mode of subverting organic painting became assimilated into the mainstream: it became an orthodoxy. The “new spirit” of the mid-1980s was, by the time Richter painted Red , more than a decade old (A New Spirit in Painting is now as much a part of history as the exile of painting fifteen years earlier). During this period, a host of Postmodernist practitioners (some more talented than others) followed Rauschenberg’s lead and hybrid works (cross-cultural, cross-media and so on) came to dominate the marketplace.
In short, conventional methods of “concealing sublimity” had become, during the period under scrutiny, increasingly orthodox. Where the earlier painting polarizes the two modes of practice in order to deny singularity, such a practice had become orthodox by 1994: to continue with the binary mode of Abstract Painting [576/3] would effectively entrench the crisis of contemporary painting. It is his sensitivity to this problem which prompts Richter to abandon the “model-painting” methodology favored throughout the 1980s in favor of the playfulness of the late abstraction.
Red  is clearly “not-Modern,” but the manner in which it is “not Modern” is difficult to determine. Postmodern practice is conventionally characterized by subversive tactics such as irony and pastiche (examples range from the allegorical classicism of Stephen McKenna and Carlo Maria Mariani to Mike Bidlo’s copies of paintings by the Modern masters). Richter’s late abstraction, however, neither parodies nor ironises the transcendental pretensions of earlier abstract painting (the various false-starts, changes, shifts, and erasures that led to Red  belie such a claim). Red  is not a Postmodern painting: Richter despises the contemporary loss of value which accompanies Postmodern art, and rejects the orthodoxies of Postmodern painting as vehemently than he does those of Modernism. To claim—as Buchloh et al have done—that Richter’s late abstraction is determined by Modern (or counter-Modern) orthodoxies is to miss the point that the defining feature of these paintings is their refusal to engage dialectically with either period. Where the existing literature considers Richter a “Postmodern” painter, Richter’s engagement with the orthodoxies of Modernist painting is based on something entirely different: the ontology of painting.
Richter has suggested that “Painting is the making of an analogy for something non-visual and incomprehensible: giving it form and bringing it within reach. And that is why good paintings are incomprehensible.” Playfulness—an openness to accident and visual specificity—is one means, I suggest, with which to achieve this incomprehensibility. This belief is informed partly by conventional “academic” research, but also, and importantly, by “practical” research (painting and making). It is this experience which informs this authors belief that “play”—an essential part of good studio practice—is to be defended in the face of the colonial tendencies of theory. The studio experience involves decisions, analyses and evaluations that attend to the visual particularities of the art work and which are integral to the development of a piece (indeed, they frequently determine the outcome). Richter’s repeated claim that “good” painting can be neither categorized nor anticipated reflects my own belief that a healthy studio practice is characterized by a more multi-faceted, playful, non-reductive relationship with the work in hand than a more dialectical, prescriptive mode of practice. This study has revealed that what Buchloh and Germer find “difficult to understand” (from outside practice) Richter (playing in the studio) does not.
Blackmur, R. M. Reason in the Madness of Letters. (Harcourt, 1967)
Buchloh, Benjamin. “Richter’s Facture: Between the Synecdoche and the Spectacle,’’ in (Ed. Papadakis), New Art. (Rizzoli, 1991).
Caesar, Terry. A Note on Pynchon’s Naming. (CEJL 1981).
Cameron, Dan. “Robert Ryman: Ode to a Clean Slate,” in Flash Art, Vol.XXIV, No.159, Summer 1991.
Fukuyama, Francis. “The End of History,” in The National Interest, Vol.16 No.1.
Gablik, Suzi. Has Modernism Failed? (Thames and Hudson, 1984).
Heywood, Ian. Primitive Practices: Against Visual Theory. (Routledge, 1995).
Kellner, Douglas. Baudrillard: A Critical Reader. (Blackwell, 1994).
Kellner, Douglas. Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Poststructuralism. (Blackwell, 1994)
Norris, Christopher. Uncritical Theory: Postmodernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War. (Lawrence and Wishart, 1992).
Pollock, Grizelda. “Trouble in the Archives,” in Women’s Art Magazine, (Sept/Oct 1993).
Richter, Gerhard. The Daily Practice of Painting: Writing 1962 – 1993. (Thames and Hudson, 1995).
Tanner, Tony, City of Words. (Harper and Rowe).
Poster, Mark (ed.). Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings. (Stanford University Press, 1988).
Pynchon, Thomas. ‘Entropy’ in Slow Learner: Early Stories. (Picador, 1985).
Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. (Pan, 1979).
Wiener, Norbert. The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society. (Houghton Mifflin, 1954).
Wood, Paul. “The Ruined Abstraction of Gerhard Richter,” in (ed. Roberts), Art Has No History!: The Making and Unmaking of Modern Art. (Verso, 1994).
 Wood, Paul. “The Ruined Abstraction of Gerhard Richter,” in (ed. Roberts), Art Has No History!: The Making and Unmaking of Modern Art. (Verso, 1994) 19.  Gerhard Richter. Tate Gallery, 30 October 1991 – 12 January 1992.  The bracketed number that follows each of Richter’s titles denotes its numerical position with his oeuvre (that is Table  (1962) is the first catalogued work).  In “Richter’s Facture: Between the Synecdoche and the Spectacle,” Benjamin H. D. Buchloh notes that “Mechanical and organic aspects of the painterly procedure – these are the two oppositional terms between which Modernist painting has shifted since Manet with ever increasing radicality and exclusivity.” Buchloh, Benjamin. “Richter’s Facture: Between the Synecdoche and the Spectacle,” in (ed. Papadakis), New Art. (Rizzoli, 1991), 91.  Tanner, Tony. City of Words. (Harper and Rowe), 35.  Aubade, Callisto’s companion, breaks the window of the apartment and “…turned to face the man on the bed and wait with him until the moment of equilibreum was reached, when 37 degrees Fahrenheit should prevail both outside and inside, and forever, and the hovering, curious dominant of their seperate lives should resolve into a tonic of darkness and the final absence of all motion.” Pynchon, Thomas. ‘Entropy’ in Slow Learner: Early Stories. (Picador, 1985), 94.  “In the kitchen two of the girls from George Washington and the sailors were singing Let’s All Go Down and Piss on the Forrestal. There was a two-handed, bi-lingual morra game on over by the ice-box… (The players) were nose to nose, screaming trois, sette at the tops of their lungs…The noise in Meatball’s appartment had reached a sustained, ungodly crescendo.” Pynchon, Thomas. Ibid., 92.  Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. (Pan, 1979), 13.  Pynchon, Thomas. Ibid., 69.  Tony Tanner develops this argument in Thomas Pynchon. Ibid., 60.  Caesar, Terry. “A Note on Pynchon’s Naming,” (CEJL 1981), 52.  Gablik, Suzi. Has Modernism Failed? (Thames and Hudson, 1984), 35.  Kellner, Douglas. Baudrillard: A Critical Reader. (Blackwell, 1994), 56.  Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History in The National Interest, Vol.16 No.1., 3-18.  Pollock, Grizelda, ‘Trouble in the Archives’ in Women’s Art Magazine, Sept/Oct 1993, 12.  One example will stand for the others. In the summer of 1995, the Institute of Contemporary Art, London held an exhibition entitled Mirage: Enigmas of Race, Difference and Desire. Its aims and ambitions read as follows: “An exhibition which charts the influence of Frantz Fanon and his text Black Skin, White Masks upon a generation of young black artists… Renee Green’s work Revue examines, through text and image, how Josephine Baker was regarded by contemporary critics as an archetype of exotic African sexuality, engendering fear and fascination. In his series of black and white stenciled canvases Glen Ligon uses text to raise important issues concerning race and identity…” Catalogue statement, Mirage: Enigmas of Race, Difference and Desire, ICA, London, 3.  A paper which was published in Artists from Europe; “Works from the Leeds European Fine Art Symposium,” 1994.  As an example of this he cites the effect of Modern Art and Modernism (1982) on the study of art, which distinguishes between “good” (politically correct) and “bad” (Formalist) modernism.  “In this fantasy, culture is an all embracing set of encoded texts which can be understood and regulated (in the mind at least) through the concepts and methods of theory…” Heywood, Ian. Primitive Practices: Against Visual Theory. (Routledge, 1995), 98.  “Visual culture is chronically unable to see or understand the work of art as art. Its object, the thing it studies, is formed of dumb materials containing ‘meaning’. The work and its meaning are divided into two levels: an obvious or surface layer and a deeper, more obscure stratum, a ‘hidden text’. The significance of the art work, why it is worthwhile for theory to bother with it at all, resides in this text, and in the influence, the effects, it may have.” Heywood, Ian. Ibid., 98.  “Theory has nothing to do with a work of art. Pictures which are interpretable, and which contain a meaning, are bad pictures…” Richter, Gerhard. Ibid., 99.  Jean Baudrillard defines simulacra as “copies of an original which never existed” (see Jean Baudrillard,Selected Writings. (ed. Mark Poster). (Stanford University Press, 1988), 253.  Kellner, Douglas. Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Poststructuralism. (Blackwell, 1994), 68.  For Baudrillard, Pop is the point at which art implodes, at which the relationship between the real and the representation collapses, the point at which art becomes merely the reproduction of signs within the world.  Norris, Christopher. Uncritical Theory: Postmodernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War. (Lawrence and Wishart, 1992), 45.  Nonetheless, Baudrillard’s writing has proved highly influential upon practitioners and critics alike. A direct response to Baudrillard’s critique of simulation was developed by the Neo-Geo school during the early 1980s (at the same time that Richter was developing the early Abstract Paintings). A group of New-York based artists (including Peter Halley, Philip Taaffe and Ross Bleckner dedicated themselves to illustrating Baudrillard’s theories in the form of simulacra of late Modernist paintings. Halley for example produced simulated versions of high-Modernist abstract painting (which, perversely, are emptied of the “emptying” drive of classical Modernist abstraction).  Buchloh, Benjamin. “Richter’s Facture: Between the Synecdoche and the Spectacle,” in Papadakis, Ibid., 194.  Tanner turns to Norbert Wiener’s The Human Use of Human Beings (1954) in support of this definition. For Wiener, “As entropy increases, the universe, and all closed systems in the universe, tend naturally to deteriorate and lose their distinctiveness, to move from the least to the most probable state…” Wiener, Norbert. The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society. (Houghton Mifflin, 1954), 12.  As the social scientist R. P. Blackmur claims, “Entropy, from the point of view of the rational imagination is disorder and is indeed its field. Actually we have been as busy, as violent and as concentrated as the ant-heap. We are torpid only because we feel glutted with energy and feel it only as trouble.” Blackmur, R. M. Reason in the Madness of Letters. (Harcourt, 1967), 62; Pynchon, Thomas, op. cit. (1960), 14.  Pynchon, Thomas. Ibid., (1960), 14.  This claim is substantiated (paradoxically) by Tanner’s summation of the story’s meaning: “‘The attractions of ‘the closet’ in the madness of the modern world are clear enough in Pynchon, but so is the need to resist those attractions in some way. The ‘closed circuit’, the sealed off refuge, the hothouse world of fantasy, the dangerous seductiveness of metaphors of doom: these can lead to inhumanity and death.” Tanner, Tony. Ibid., 35.  Play: “(1): to engage in sport or recreation: to move aimlessly about: TRIFLE (2): to toy or fiddle around with something <played with her food> (3): to deal or behave frivolously or mockingly : JEST (4): to deal in a light, speculative, or sportive manner.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.  Jurgen Habermas provides a succinct definition of this tendency in Modernity: An Incomplete Project: “The project of modernity formulated in the eighteenth century by the philosophers of the Enlightenment consisted in their efforts to develop objective science, universal morality and law, and autonomous art according to their inner logic… Each domain of culture could be made to correspond to cultural professions in which problems could be dealt with as the concern of professional experts…” Habermas, Jurgen. “Modernity – An Incomplete Project.” (in Postmodernism: A Reader), 103.  Jencks, Charles. “What Is Post-Modernism?” in (ed. Anderson) The Truth About the Truth. (Tarcher/Putnam, 1995), 84.  Lawson, Thomas. in Suzi Gablik, Has Modernism Failed? (Thames and Hudson, 1984), 50.  Cameron, Dan. “Robert Ryman: Ode to a Clean Slate.” (in Flash Art, Vol.XXIV, No.159, Summer 1991), 15.  Richter, Gerhard. The Daily Practice of Painting: Writing 1962 – 1993. (Thames and Hudson, 1995), 99.
Since 1999 Jonathan Field has taught Art History at the Savannah College of Art and Design and has exhibited his artwork widely throughout the United States. Visit www.jonathanfield.org for more information on Field’s academic and practical interests.
Monique Prieto, Opus, 2002
Acrylic on canvas
60 x 72 inches
Courtesy ACME Gallery, Los Angeles
The End of Representation
Painting is dead was a theory, not a fact. As such, it informed our experience and interpretation of paintings produced under the pall of such a fatalistic declaration. In the 1970s and 80s, those who continued to make paintingsand there were many good artists who didrisked marginalization and charges of elitism or navet. Painting went underground; ostensibly smarter and less commercial, conceptual art prevailed. Then, What the 1990s seem to have brought us, according to Christopher Knight, is the death of the death of painting, which no longer functions as an operating principle, either overt or covert.1
Paintings first obituary is attributed to the French artist Paul Delaroche, who is said to have uttered, From today, painting is dead, upon first seeing a Daguerreotype in the late 1830s. Swayed by photographys capacity for the faithful representation of reality, could Delaroche have overreacted? Could death-of-painting proponents be misreading irony for seriousness? Published in 1881, Gustave Flauberts Dictionary of Received Ideasa primer of clichs and a critique of bourgeois gullibilitydefined photography: Will make painting obsolete. (See Daguerreotype.) Implicit in Flauberts sarcasm is the nave presumption that painting is, in essence, a mimetic form of art. Beyond capturing the likenesses of mortals in portraits, paintings prerogatives have always leaned toward the imaginative and evocative.
Ingrid Calame, g-kgg-kooo-kggkooo-kggkoo, 2003
Enamel on aluminum
48 x 48 inches
Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York
Although painting suffered little in the second half of the nineteenth century, its salvation is presumed to have been the invention of abstraction in the 1910s. Formally, expressively and sensually, abstraction gave painters something to paint. Freedom from the demands of representation, however, instilled abstract paintings first floweringfrom Wassily Kandinsky to Ad Reinhardtwith an overwhelming sense of doubt. Jackson Pollock is said to have denied the purely abstract nature of his drip paintings and Reinhardt was the last to defend nonrepresentational painting against the traditional association of painting with mimesis. No illusions, no representations, no associations, he wrote. The art of figuring or picturing is not a fine art.2
After Pop, which is primarily a re-representational art based on representations of representations, paintings prior options of representation and abstraction were realigned. Soliciting artists responses to the idea that painting has ceased to be the dominant artistic medium at the moment, a 1975 issue of Artforum opined: The debates between its two major ideologies, abstract and representational, have outlived their usefulness.3 Although representational painting persisted as a minor art form, the mimetic mandate shifted conclusively from painting to photography, while abstraction was split into formal and conceptual approaches, a situation that continues today. The divide characterized not only painting (including Daniel Burens decidedly anti-formal paintings followed by those of Blinky Palermo and Olivier Mosset, for example) but non-medium-specific art forms, such as conceptualism. Conceptual artists stressed the fact that their art works were abstract, in the manner of language, rather than representational or figurative. At the same time, they were adamantly opposed to formalist painting, despite its adherence to abstraction.4 Personified by Clement Greenberg and Kenneth Noland, formalism was rejected for its emphases on perception, aesthetics and taste; Its a mindless art, wrote Joseph Kosuth in 1969.5
Perpetuating Duchamps distinction between retinal and conceptual art, and his association of retinal art with the slur, common in Duchamps time, bte comme un peintre (stupid as a painter), conceptual artists claimed intelligence for themselves. Brice Mardens paintings are kinda dumb, declared Mel Ramsden, a member of the conceptual collaborative Art & Language. Dismissing an essay on Mardens profundity by Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Ramsden accused the critic of a rationalization or a naturalization of the parameters of media, museum and market. I think Gilbert-Rolfes idea of this bullshit art-criticism is that it serve as a deodorant, preventing us smelling the stink of modernism, by which he meant formalism. Ramsdens attack was supported by an interview with Marden, who said, A painters just this odd weird person who has to do this dumb thing called painting.6
Laura Owens, Untitled, 1995
Acrylic on canvas
66 x 60 inches
Courtesy ACME Gallery, Los Angeles
Gilbert-Rolfe is no intellectual slouch but his affinity for Marden (bolstered by his own practice as an abstract painter) situated his critical interpretations on the opposite end of the theoretical spectrum from Benjamin H. D. Buchloh and his support of Gerhard Richter. In his 1981 essay, Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting, Buchloh hammered away at the authoritarian, patriarchal and bourgeois values of contemporary figurative painting along with its tendency to commodify history and style. In contrast to the desperately nave gestures of the Neo-expressionists, Richters painting served as a judicious model of the impossibility of authentic painterly expression.7 Buchlohs cooption of Richter for the anti-painting, conceptual avant-garde formed the subtext of his interview with the artist in 1986. Commended by Buchloh for his cynical depreciation of painting, Richter adamantly disagreed. I see there neither tricks, nor cynicismI know for a fact that painting is not ineffectual. When Buchloh interpreted Richters paintings as knowing illustrations of the bankruptcy of representation and abstraction, Richter countered with an affirmation of their capacity for expression and the communication of content. Incredulous, Richter asked the critic, You dont really believe that just the dumb showing of brushstrokes, of the rhetoric of painting and its elements, could accomplish something, say something, express some kind of yearning8 The conflict reveals Buchlohs futile attempt to characterize Richter as smarter than he wants to be.
Richters work did much to blur the divide between abstract and figurative painting. Subsequently embracing both modes are artists such as Laura Owens, whose early paintings revisited the abandoned project of 60s stain painting. Likewise thinly and inelegantly painted, her figurative works depict dreamy land- or skyscapes and evocative fairy-tale creatures. The shapes in Inka Essenhighs paintings have similarly evolved from amorphous anime-inspired forms to highly modeled, obviously anthropomorphic figures. The spills, stains, blobs and drips of richly hued, non-referential color in the works of Monique Prieto, Ingrid Calame and Aaron Parazette remain more rigorously abstract. Even the recent incorporation of text by Parazette and Prieto does not affect the abstract nature of their paintings. The words serve as dumb structures on which to hang sensual manipulations of color and surface.
One of the great surprises of the 1990s was the frequent inclusion of works by Owens, Essenhigh, Prieto, Calame, Parazette and other abstract artists with the non-abstract paintings of artists such as Kevin Appel, Sharon Ellis and Adam Ross in exhibitions like Spot Making Sense (Grand Arts, 1997), Abstract Painting, Once Removed (Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, 1998) and Glee: Painting Now (The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, 2000). Ellis and Ross paint shimmering images of visionary, otherworldly landscapes, while Appel is known for pale geometric depictions of imaginary modernist interiors. Shared by all these artists is a new interest in form, long discredited by conceptual art. More than simply retinal, neoformalist painting appeals to the viewers body through gesture, scale and the physicality of paint. Meaning and reference to earlier art, cartoons, psychedelia and science fiction are as significant as color, space and composition. Unlike Formalist painting of the 60s, the existence of meaning does not critically dilute the nature of this painting.
Neo Rauch, Hatz, 2002
Oil on canvas
Framed: 84 1/2 x 100 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches
Courtesy the artist, David Zwirner, NY & Galerie EIGEN + ART, Leipzig/Berlin
In contrast to neoformalism, conceptual abstraction is practiced by artists such as Jonathan Lasker, Thomas Scheibitz, Julie Mehretu and Damien Hirst, whose paintings derive from an anti-formalist impulse. Their works are not representations of abstract paintingsas might have been thought in the recent postmodern pastbut inscriptions or illustrations of ideas. In a related attempt to legitimize recent figurative painting, critics have also linked it to the conceptual project. Artists such as Luc Tuymans, Neo Rauch, John Currin, Peter Doig and Elizabeth Peyton are identified with a strain of artists working conceptually with figurative painting,9 and praised for their paintings capacity to convey conceptual content.10 But that content is ambiguous rather than straightforwardly narrative, as Russell Ferguson points out in a recent essay on the crisis in representational painting.11 According to Alison M. Gingeras, the prevalence of ambiguity demonstrates that figurative painting today has lost its legibility.?12 Figures, landscapes, urban settings and accessories are recognizable but not identifiable in a cumulatively narrative sense.
Although it might seem to defeat the purpose of conceptually based art, ambiguity was also an essential quality of the most rigorous strain of 60s conceptualism. Intentionally difficult and practically indecipherable, Art & Languages text pieces demonstrate the impossibility of transparent representation. While the words make sense, they have no relationship to objects or events in the real world. The difficulty encountered in the interpretation of works by Art & Language extends to Richters painting, as Buchloh understood it. David Salles arbitrary juxtapositions of unrelated figures and images exhibit a comparable ambiguity, as do Rauchs inexplicable episodes of human interaction in spatially expansive, retro-futuristic tableaux. The ambiguity and the instability of meaning, which seems arbitrary or at least in a constant state of flux, are hallmarks of contemporary figuration.
Despite revisionist attempts to resuscitate the reputations of Alex Katz and Fairfield Porter (in The Undiscovered Country at the UCLA Hammer Museum in 2004) and Francis Picabia and Bernard Buffet (in Dear Painter, paint me at the Centre Pompidou in 2002, in which Martin Kippenberger is celebrated as the prototypical conceptual painter), representational painting appears to be exhausted. While its goal of depicting observable reality was long ago assumed by photography, nonrepresentational paintingboth figurative and abstractis widely practiced and displayed. Given the potential for duplicity in photography (think Yves Kleins leap into the void) and Photoshop (think Oprahs head on Ann Margarets body), paintings capacity for truth-telling surpasses technological reproduction.
The veracity of figuration and abstraction derives from their human origins, whether expressed through the artists touch or mechanical devices, such as spray guns, masking tape or computer-generated sketches and studio assistants. As a paint-covered thing, rather than an immaterial image like a photograph or video projection, a painting has a convincing physical presence. There is something more to art than its skin, Thomas Hess wrote in 1968. Painting is not stuffed derma, and there are some physical and metaphysical bones beneath the illusion of two dimensions.?13 To be seducedmentally, visually or bodilyby a painting is no longer a stupid crime but a pleasure.
1?Christopher Knight, Fresh Paint, Los Angeles Times, 4 April 1999, Calendar, 6.
2?Ad Reinhardt, Art-as-Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt, ed. Barbara Rose (New York: Viking, 1975), 50, 55.
4?See Ian Wilson, Conceptual Art, in Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, eds. Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999), 416-417 and Joseph Kosuth, Art as Idea as Idea: An Interview with Jeanne Siegel, in Art After Philosophy and After: Collected Writings, 1966-1990, ed. Gabrielle Guerico (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), 47-49.
5?Kosuth, Art After Philosophy, in Art After Philosophy, 18.
6?Mel Ramsden, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfes As-Silly-As-You-Can-Get Brice Mardens Painting (Artforum, October 1974, The Fox 2 (1975): 8-10.
7?Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting, in Art After Modernism, ed. Brian Wallis (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984), 120
8?Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Gerhard Richter: Legacies of Painting, in Art Talk: The Early 80s, ed. Jeanne Siegel (New York: Da Capo Press, 1988), 111-17.
9?Matthew Higgs, quoted in Linda Yablonsky, What Makes a Painting a Painting? Art News 104, no. 4 (April 2005): 101.
10?Alison M. Gingeras, Lieber Maler, male mir Learning from Kippenberger: Figurative Painting as Provocative and Sincere, Critical and Sentimental, in Dear Painter, paint me Painting the Figure Since Late Picabia (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2002), 10.
11?Russell Ferguson, The Undiscovered Country (Los Angeles: Hammer Museum, 2004), 94.
12?Gingeras, Lieber Maler, male mir, 10.
13?Thomas B. Hess, Willem de Kooning (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1968), 23.
JED PERL ON ART Saint Gerhard of the Sorrows of Painting
Post date: 03.29.02
Issue date: 04.01.02
Gerhard Richter is a bullshit artist masquerading as a painter. His retrospective, at the Museum of Modern Art until May, is a colossal bummer–a hymn to deracination, a visual moan. This seventy-year-old artist works in paint on canvas, but what he sends out into the world are not paintings so much as they are Neo-Dadaist puzzles engineered to inspire philosophical flights of fancy among art professionals who are more interested in massaging their world-weary minds than in using their jet-lagged eyes. The Modern, that inner sanctum of art-world officialdom, has gone all out for Richter, bringing together some one hundred eighty-eight canvases that span forty years, so that museumgoers can see how he has packaged and repackaged his hold-everything-at-a-distance pose, serving up both realist and abstract images, both blurred gray photorealist scenes and coarsely colored rehashes of Abstract Expressionist brushwork. Robert Storr, the senior curator in the department of painting and sculpture who organized this show, will tell you that there is beauty in this chilly stuff, but all I see in Richter and his supporters is a loathing for painting’s hellbent magic.
Everything in Richter’s work is muffled, distanced, impassively ironic, as if it were being seen through a thick, murky sheet of glass. What some observers regard as the signs of hope that Richter sprinkles through his work–a photorealist image of a candle, or a blurry rendering of his young son–are witheringly calculated, like stills from an avant-garde soap opera in which the feelings are overcooked and bland. This vast show is an experience, all right: an experience of visual deprivation. At the Museum of Modern Art, Richter is presented as the painter-who-kept-painting-in-spite-of-the-death-of-painting; and to an art world that was once brainwashed into believing that painting was dead, he represents the newer painting-is-not-dead form of brainwashing. He plays the role of Saint Gerhard of the Sorrows of Painting. And a weird ennui, a kind of shared psychosis, hovers in the gallery air.
The exhibition begins with gray canvases done from photographs in the mid-1960s, after Richter, who was born and studied art in East Germany, moved to the West. Storr makes much of this linkage between Richter’s coming-of-age in wartime and postwar Germany and those woozy monochromatic images of smiling relatives and humdrum household objects and figures in news photos, as if the dispiriting times in which an artist lives justify the creation of inert art. In his catalogue essay, Storr brings a honey-toned portentousness to a text that covers some seventy-five tightly packed pages. He is writing the life of the saint. The art world is Richter’s wilderness. The mood is deprivation chic. “Transposing the frozen action of the photograph into the enduring but temporally ambiguous realm of painting,” Storr explains, “Richter fastened on the emblems and ephemera of postwar life and distilled their often bitter essence in tonal pictures whose poetry is a combination of matter-of-fact watchfulness and unrelieved uncertainty.” This sounds augustly metaphysical, but what Storr’s distillations and “uncertainty” actually amount to are Richter’s chilly moods. Gray can be one of the greatest weapons in a painter’s arsenal, of course, if the restrained hues are mixed from rich colors so that they have fiery undercurrents, or if they are spaced and proportioned to create a visual music. But gray is just a logo for Richter–an advertisement for the tedium of postwar existence.
Richter presents his murky images with the certainty of scientific proofs. These paintings have a technological veneer. They are handmade objects with a weirdly mechanized gleam. And this effect turns Richter’s canvases into the ultimate buyables for hip collectors who want something that fits right in with their electronic gadgetry and sparely expensive décor. The curators, the dealers, the collectors, the critics, and the artists who admire Richter’s work–and they are legion–believe that he is showing them how we live now, as sensitive sad sacks in a manicured minimalist bubble. And of course the fact that Richter is German is supposed to guarantee the authenticity of his experience.
Although this show has been accompanied by mea culpas to the effect that we Americans are too slow to recognize new European art, the truth is that Richter is only the most recent in a series of European artists, and especially German artists, who have received a kind of manic adulation in the States; they include Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz, Sigmar Polke, and the photographer Andreas Gursky, who was the subject of a show at the Modern last season. For an audience whose attitude toward the very idea of art is one of fashionable doubt, an artist who can associate himself with the calamitous history of Germany takes on an extra-artistic importance. Richter has no interest in the visual histrionics that Kiefer once used to bulk up his shallow thoughts about the War and the Leader and the Homeland; but Richter’s more restrained and veiled approach to German history is perfect now, when there seems to be some embarrassment about the lunatic fervor with which people fell all over themselves in praise of Kiefer a decade ago.
There is an analytical chill to Richter’s work: if Kiefer was phony Wagner, Richter is phony Kafka. One of Richter’s quixotic remarks (they come by the truckload) goes like this: “The picture [I guess he is referring to photography] is the depiction, and painting is the technique for shattering it.” That little nugget takes you to the core of Richter’s blandly nihilistic attitude. It is difficult to be impressed by all this talk about painting’s being a destructive force, since the talk is being done by an artist who demonstrates no ability to construct a painting in the first place. Richter never escapes from the wanly monochromatic atmosphere of the paintings in those early galleries at the Modern, even when he is using raucous color in some of the abstractions done in more recent years. Color in Richter’s work, red and green or black and white, has no contrapuntal effect. There is no sense of how a particular amount of color creates an emotional impact. The sizes of the paintings are arbitrary, and the color is all localized and trivialized, dispiritingly descriptive in most of the realist paintings and blandly emblematic in some of the abstract ones.
There is much talk about the range of Richter’s work. He does paintings after news photographs and family snapshots, he does landscapes and seascapes and still lifes, he does abstractions with bold brushwork and others with viscous rivulets of paint. Yet everything that Richter paints brings us back to the same tepid, tamped-down vision. Each image looks as if it were excerpted from some vast, undifferentiated stock of images. In fact Richter owns such a collection of images, a compendium of snapshots and pictures taken from newspapers and magazines that he calls his Atlas; it was exhibited at the Dia Center in 1995. And Richter’s compositions have the perfunctoriness of clippings. Where an image begins or ends is utterly arbitrary. And his brushwork–which is all trickery and gimmickry–never serves to structure the space.
You may wonder how Richter achieves those blurry, smudged effects in the photorealist works, or those layers of rumpled paint in the abstract ones. This is idle curiosity. Technique is just a form of visual static that disrupts–and confers a false importance upon–banal images. One of the motifs in the early part of the show is a roll of toilet paper. This inspires Storr to muse, in an interview with Richter: “What happens when the subject is not Titian but a toilet paper roll?” (Richter has taken an interest in an Annunciation by the Venetian master.) The talk that Richter’s work inspires can sound like a skit on “Saturday Night Live,” except that nobody is laughing.
The Museum of Modern Art does not give living artists retrospectives so much as it gives them sainthood, and Storr has done such a thorough job on Richter’s behalf that even a skeptic would say that there is a weird fascination in the proceedings. There is a kind of diabolical logic to Storr’s writing, so that anything that has ever been said about Richter’s paintings, positive or negative, becomes a form of praise. Argue that his work is boring, and Storr explains that this is a beautiful boredom. Describe his work as anti-painting, and your comment becomes a way of insisting on the importance of the work as painting.
Richter’s “contribution to the medium,” Storr acknowledges, has been described as that of a “lethal parodist, dour undertaker, dry-eyed mourner, systematic debunker of cliches, demystifying conjurer of illusions, or as tenacious seeker of ways to make visible the longing and queasy uncertainty inherent in our hunger for pictures.” Yet through it all Richter has, “paradoxically or stealthily, demonstrated painting’s resiliency.” Richter, Storr writes, believes that painting can be “`everything’ shadowed by the fear of `nothing.’” He “has managed to straddle the divide between conceptual and perceptual art,” not by “hedging his bets” but by “bridging the gap.” Storr’s catalogue essay is written with the intricate twists and turns of the expert courtier. The reader is lulled into believing that the entire history of art in the past fifty years flows straight into these stupefyingly lifeless paintings.
I do not dislike one or another of Gerhard Richter’s paintings. I reject the work on fundamental grounds, as a matter of principle. I do not accept the premise on which his entire career is based: that in the past half-century painting has become essentially and irreversibly problematical, a medium in a condition of perpetual crisis. This is a counterfeit crisis, as far as I am concerned. This crisis is the invention of cynical marketers who, disguised as fashion-conscious nihilists, have managed to bulk up the essentially marginal figure of Duchamp until he overshadows Matisse, Mondrian, and all the hard-working makers and finders of the century just passed. Although he is quick to express his reservations about Duchamp, Richter would be nowhere without the Dadaist deity telling us that art has failed. Remove the phony crisis, remove the aura of oh-so-elegiac loss, and Richter’s work dissolves right before your eyes.
The fundamentally unanalyzed fact of Richter’s career is his slavish dependency on photographic images. We would do well to remember that only four years ago Robert Storr organized at the Modern a retrospective of Chuck Close, another contemporary artist whose career is grounded in a slavish dependency on photographic images. These are not artists who from time to time take an interest in the particular qualities of certain photographic images, or who find compositional or structural ideas in photographs that intrigue them and that they think of bringing into their work as painters. They cling to the two-dimensional images that the camera produces in order to concoct their own two-dimensional painted images. True, many of Richter’s abstract paintings are done without reference to photographs. But even in these cases he reaches for the smoothed-out glossiness of a color xerox, and in other cases, the abstractions are based on photographs–some seem to be painted replicas of photographs of abstract brushwork. I think Richter wants all his non-objective images to have the melancholy feeling that adheres to coarse reproductions of Abstract Expressionist classics.
Basically, Richter and Close have ceded the act of creation to the camera. After which they dither around with notions of facture and style–they give their photographic material a personalized “artistic” spin. Yet there is always a deadness to this work: the deadness of their dependency on the photograph, of their inability to make anything on their own. They want us to believe that that deadness is a form of hipness.
Richter and Close are far from being the only contemporary artists who are hardpressed to respond to nature if they do not have a camera to do the looking for them. Countless academic portrait painters, who will never garner any attention at the Museum of Modern Art, depend on photographs when they do their work; and they are dismissed as sentimental hacks. With Richter and Close, however, photorealism has an avant-gardist eclat, as if their own inability to reconstruct the world could be blamed on modern art, which has left them photo-dependent. Richter spouts banalities about photography’s taking on “a religious function. Everyone has produced his own `devotional pictures.’” And Storr trots out the old cliche about “photography’s historical usurpation of painting’s function of representing reality,” as if great painters had not been working directly from nature straight through the twentieth century. There is no crisis in the artist’s relationship with reality.
A few days after the Richter show opened I was in London, where the big event at Tate Modern is a Warhol retrospective. I do not regard Warhol as a great artist, but at least his early Marilyns and Lizes, which come out of the same years as the first works in the Richter show, have a funny punch. For a time in the early 1960s, Warhol was using the silkscreen process and his overheated color sense to give photographic images a boisterous graphic impact. After that, his work is nothing at all; but what really bothered me in London was not the assembly-line vacuity of the paintings that filled the gloomy halls of Tate Modern so much as the many groups of school-age kids who were being shepherded through the show. There are by now several generations of museumgoers who have been trained to regard photo-dependency as a fact of artistic life. And they may ultimately be unable to understand that the act of creation can be a genuinely independent act. They may find themselves going through the Richter retrospective at the Modern–or at museums in Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, where the show is headed in the coming year–and feeling an emptiness in the work, but they will have no way of understanding this emptiness, since they have been taught to believe that there is no alternative to this photo-derived junk.
Gerhard Richter is a post-Duchampian message artist. The curators and the critics who embrace his work are the same ones who long ago accepted the most visually and intellectually impoverished forms of Minimal and Conceptual art as key late-twentieth-century achievements. They may still like that stuff, or at least they say that they like it, but art professionals know instinctively that the end-of-art pose may eventually threaten their very livelihoods. That’s where Richter comes in. He is one of a number of artists who can get the art world beyond the nihilistic poses while aggrandizing the endgame attitudes. Richter is presented as the way out of our troubles, and it is truly extraordinary how many people are eager to climb on the bandwagon. Weeks before the show opened, The New York Times Magazine ran a huge profile of Richter by Michael Kimmelman, the paper’s chief art critic, and when the work was up Kimmelman was at it again, praising Richter for maintaining “a kind of cruel faith” in painting.
There is something cruel about the Richter retrospective: it is cruel to see what it does to painting. Richter’s work is preachy in a dry, quixotic way that many people mistake for seriousness incarnate. In place of structural dynamics, he offers mingy technical precision; the work has the cool fussiness of a lesson plan. I am reminded that Richter went to art school in East Germany at a time when Socialist Realism was still the order of the day, and in his twenties he actually did some murals of the Happy Worker variety. Half a century later Richter is still preaching to the converted, only to a different congregation. Everything he has done since coming to the West remains polemical, in a kind of après-postmodernism, art-is-over-long-live-art way. He gives a Socialist Realist rigidity to postmodernism’s most cherished hopes and dreams. The work has a get-with-the-program sullenness.
That Richter does both representational and abstract paintings, and does them sometimes more or less simultaneously, may strike some people as a heartfelt response to the sense of multiplying possibilities of modern art. There is, after all, an inherent unity between representation and abstraction, and this may turn out to be the essential discovery of twentieth-century art, a discovery that is lodged deep in the achievements of Picasso, Matisse, and Klee. But Richter makes a mockery of this unity. His abstract and realist works may hang in close proximity, but they are locked in an intellectual face-off, as disconnected from one another as they are from any meaningful sense of structure, of paint quality, of metaphor, of poetry. He gives the giddy possibilities of modern art a hectoring, polemical presentation.
Richter gives us nothing to look at, but the chatter that swarms around his work is full of brain crushers. In the early 1970s Richter created 48 Portraits, a series of black-and-white photorealist renderings of the faces of modern worthies, ranging from Einstein to Stravinsky to Dos Passos to Hindemith. (It also includes artists who seem to have wandered into the twentieth century by accident, such as Puccini.) 48 Portraits, which hangs above a stairway at the Modern, may well be the most visually inert set of canvases ever displayed in this museum. That will seem like a criticism, until you read what Richter says about 48 Portraits: “Those were the typical neutral pictures that one finds in an encyclopedia,” he explains to Storr. “The issue of neutrality was my wish and main concern. And that’s what they were. That made them modern and absolutely contemporary.”
When I look at a photograph of a modern artist whom I admire, such as Stravinsky, I do not find it neutral at all. I am excited by what I can learn about a person from a photograph. And I believe others are too. So why does anybody accept Richter’s neutralist bilge? The only thing that I find more depressing than this charlatan is the passivity of the museumgoers who pass before his works: they may have an inkling that they are being had, but they are unable to trust the evidence of their eyes.
These paintings do not give off anything, but they are manipulative to a truly extraordinary degree. They hang there on the wall and insist on your making something of them. At times Richter wants us to make something out of nothing, as in the Color Charts, vast paintings dating from the 1960s and 1970s in which each rectangle is filled in with something like a commercial color mixture. (Even Storr doesn’t know what to say.) At other times Richter aims to produce an intellectual chowdown. A prime example here is October 18, 1977, a series of fifteen black-and-white paintings from 1988 based on photographs and video footage related to the story of the Baader-Meinhof gang. This series, in which scenes from the misadventures of the legendary leftist group are given a grainy black-and-white elegance, are a dictionary definition of radical chic. As art, they are numb. As conversation starters, they are just the thing. You can wonder if several prison deaths were suicides, as the official accounts had it, or something else. You can wonder at what the murderous activities of these radicals tell you about German society. Storr has already devoted an exhibition and a book to these works; they are in the Modern’s permanent collection.
Storr believes that these silly paintings reflect Richter’s complicated political vision, as a man who has rejected the ideological extremism of communism (hasn’t everybody?) but is also skeptical about the liberal society of West Germany. Storr looks at Richter’s pallid exercises in political noir and thinks what he imagines are big, subtle thoughts. Richter makes him realize that “truth is fragmentary, that its enemy–ideology–is ultimately murderous, and that history is irremediable and, for the most part, irretrievable.” Maybe what Storr and Richter are really saying is that the appropriate photographer was not at the scene.
There is a kind of self-help, twelvestep-program atmosphere around the Richter retrospective. From room to room, Richter confronts hard truths, and grows as a man and as an artist. Having begun with tough love, he is now said to have become a poet of an old-fashioned sort of romantic love. There is a Hallmark-card sentimentality about the excitement with which critics are saluting the recent portraits of his youthful wife and his young son, both of whom he paints in a soft-focus, dime-store-Vermeer style that is apparently easily mistaken for the real thing. The sourpuss conceptualist has matured into a Wordsworthian elder. Storr sees in Richter’s paintings of his young son “an elusive mix of fascination, bemusement, and uneasiness, which is an adult manifestation of the devoted, puzzled, and wary gaze a child might direct at its parents.” The vacuum-packed tenderheartedness of these recent works is seen as Richter’s apotheosis; but the apotheosis turns out to be just another photo-op.
A little over twenty years ago, Richter and Warhol, these two artists who are currently the subjects of enormous retrospectives in New York and London, were among some three dozen artists included in an exhibition called “A New Spirit in Painting” at the Royal Academy in London. The show, which mingled the work of several generations, was hailed by Christos M. Joachimides, one of the curators, as telling the world that “the artists’ studios are full of paint pots again and an abandoned easel in an art school has become a rare sight.” “A New Spirit in Painting” featured the work of Neoexpressionists such as Schnabel, Baselitz, and Kiefer, and of harder-to-categorize artists such as Balthus, Kitaj, Auerbach, Freud, Twombly, and Helion, as well as established modern masters such as de Kooning and Picasso.
The London show generated a good deal of excitement, in part because it presented a broader range of work than you might normally expect from a trendsetting exhibition. But in the twenty years since 1981 there can be little doubt that the artists who have received the most attention are the ones who always remained open to the possibility that the paint pots might again be empty and that the easels might again be abandoned. True, Freud has had a phenomenal success, and Twombly has enjoyed a retrospective at the Modern. But among the representational painters included in “A New Spirit in Painting” who felt no need to slavishly mimic photographs, three who have had retrospectives in New York–Balthus, Freud, and Kitaj–have had those shows not at the Modern but at the Metropolitan. My point is not that Robert Storr and his colleagues at the Museum of Modern Art prefer certain artists while some of us prefer others. My point is that there is an ideology to their preferences, an ideology that is determined to deny the freedom that is inherent in the very act of painting.
As it happens, just a few days after the Richter show opened at the Modern to a round of thunderous applause, Balthus’s last two figure paintings went on display at C&M Arts in Manhattan. (They will be there until sometime in April.) This extraordinary event has provoked barely a flicker of publicity, and yet these two canvases, done by one of the twentieth century’s greatest artists when he was in his early nineties, instantaneously overshadow everything about the appalling Richter retrospective.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, completed in 2000 and first exhibited at the National Gallery in London, is a moonlit vision of a girl asleep in a rocky landscape. Painted with the delicate, flickering hand of a very old man, this dusky reverie, in purples and greens and golds, has already taken its place (at least in my judgment) among the Venuses and the nymphs and the enigmatic lovers of Titian, Correggio, Rubens, and Watteau. The second, unfinished composition shows a girl reclining on a daybed in a room where Balthus’s final cat dreams a final dream while a dog lifts its head to a window and looks out at a mountainous landscape in which every curve echoes the young woman’s angular body. Taken together, these two works show us the world that Balthus was conquering at the time of his death, a world in which the figures have a new kind of rococo attenuation and the jewel-like richness of the color is sometimes given a muffled padding of chiaroscuro. There can be no question that Balthus needed more time to bring the second painting, here called The Waiting, to the perfected state of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But A Midsummer Night’s Dream, all by itself, constitutes one of the greatest gallerygoing experiences that New York has ever offered.
In London, A Midsummer Night’s Dream found virtually no admirers. In New York, C&M Arts has been host to a small following of fanatical artists, but they are the fringe. I am sad about this, but I am not surprised. In an art world in which people are trained to admire Richter’s techno-chic impersonality and Warhol’s ghoulish exuberance, the painterly riskiness of Balthus’s technique is going to be incomprehensible. And for anybody who is open to the experience of Balthus’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the whole argument about the end of painting, the argument on which Richter has been feeding for forty years, is immediately reduced to a howling absurdity.
The Gerhard Richter retrospective is the Museum of Modern Art’s current definition of what matters in contemporary art. Of course no single exhibition can be said to define a museum’s viewpoint, but considering the enormous size of this retrospective, and the fact that it is the second show that the Modern has devoted to Richter in recent years, and the critical position that Storr currently holds at the museum, there is reason to believe that we are in the presence of a signal event. The Richter retrospective is also one of the last shows that we are going to see in the museum’s current quarters, which will close in May, at which point the museum will move its operations to Long Island City so that a vast expansion program that is slated to be completed in 2005 can go forward on West 53rd Street.
Thus the Richter exhibition takes on a Janus-faced aspect. We see the people who are in charge at the museum laying their bets on what has mattered in the past forty years, even as they suggest what will be remembered in the years to come. And what have they come up with? This painting without savor, without warmth, without life. The Museum of Modern Art used to be accused of developing and promoting a one-track way of thinking about twentieth-century art. This approach, which emphasized the logical development of a modern language of form, had a visionary power that museumgoers could accept as the whole truth or as some part of the truth, but in either case this vision gave the museum its fascination–and certainly its integrity. In recent years, however, that vision has eroded until it is unrecognizable, and by now all that the powers that be at the Museum of Modern Art want to do is blend in with whatever is happening in the art world at large. The Modern, for all its unrivaled collections and international clout, has become a wanna-be institution. The Richter retrospective is one more grim reminder that this museum that once led taste now only follows.
The Museum of Modern Art now imagines that the way to succeed is to join in and go along, so it accepts the standard-issue international art stars and whatever incoherent catch-as-catch-can view of the history of twentieth-century art will give that work its shaky legitimacy. This is the kind of tactical thinking that lay behind “MoMA2000,” the recent overview of the museum’s collections, which offered a variety of anti-chronological and non-chronological and thematic approaches, and was conceptually indistinguishable from the theoretical caprices that have turned so many European surveys of modern art into forgettable sideshows. It was during “MoMA2000″ that I began to hear artists saying that they felt increasingly dispirited about the very prospect of going to the museum.
Critics of the Museum of Modern Art receive a standard response, which is that the museum has always had its critics, and that the biggest game in town is always going to take some big hits. Yet the entire question of content may be increasingly irrelevant at the Modern. The museum’s attention has shifted from the development of a truly loyal public to the brute dollars-and-cents questions involved in figuring out how to get enough people through the doors to meet revenue goals and to satisfy the public and private funders who are supporting a vast expansion plan. There can be little doubt that, despite the downturn in museum attendance since September 11, the Modern will in the long run bring in the crowds. Richter is said to be a hit. And the museum has a blockbuster, “Matisse/Picasso,” scheduled for Long Island City in 2003.
Yet when it comes to the issues that once animated this museum–how tradition relates to innovation and how both relate to the experience of the eye–there is a small but growing number of museumgoers who see the Modern as an institution that has not only lost its way but also lost its mind. No retrospective in recent years has had the inviolable lucidity of the great shows that William Rubin once organized. And nothing that the museum has done about contemporary art in recent years has really been daring or engaged: it has all been art-world business as usual. When I consider what has been going on at the museum and then realize that Richter’s parched vision is what the museum is offering as its temporary farewell to West 53rd Street, I cannot help but wonder whether the Museum of Modern Art will ever again be capable of properly presenting the great feast of twentieth-century art that it once set before the people of New York City and the world.
Jed Perl is the art critic for The New Republic
Copyright 2002, The New Republic
November 6th, 2012
Reflections on Gerhard Richter: Painting 2012
by Alex Bacon
I think every observer of contemporary art sometimes wonders if warmed-over modernism is the only possibility left for abstract painting. Once the dominant expression of both the historical and the neo-avant-garde, but now pursued only by a select few, the mode feels locked into an endless repetition of long-tired tropes like objecthood, flatness, and material specificity; or else the esoteric investigation and extension of certain minor formal questions—what happens if the stretcher is placed this way, or made of this material, or put in dialogue with this kind of mark, and so on. On the surface Gerhard Richter’s latest series, the Strip paintings (2012) he recently exhibited at the Marian Goodman Gallery, appear to be yet another symptom of this stale endgame.
Richter’s Strip paintings solicit such a reading because they explicitly play with, by making reference to, aesthetic terms Richter has been working with for several decades now. To be specific, the Strip paintings take the image of a particular example of one of Richter’s abstract paintings, “Abstract Painting 724-4” (1990) and submit it, with the help of digital software, to a complex set of rules for a game of chance that resulted in the fracturing of the painting into a horizontal patterning of 8,190 linear striations. Richter’s 2011 artist’s book Patterns documents many of the more than 4,000 patterns that his software-driven game generated, some of which Richter selected to be made up into paintings. The paintings themselves consist of a digital print of one of the patterns made up at a size ranging between roughly 60 to 80 inches wide by 60 to 120 inches long, mounted between aludibond and perspex, and hung on the wall of the gallery like a traditional oil-on-canvas painting.
The aesthetic experience of a given Strip painting is a very particular and unexpected one. From a distance, as in reproduction, the paintings are unassuming, seeming to verge on the decorative in their insistently flat patterning of stripes. However as one approaches a Strip painting, and allows its field to fill one’s vision, fairly quickly a particular kind of optical experience begins to unfold as the viewer’s brain attempts to process the information being relayed by his or her eye, and the experience is something like a descent of static across the retina. The eye tries to ascertain a sense of pictorial space by teasing out relationships between the individual stripes and their positioning across the overall pattern, but the attempt is somehow foiled by the precise way that Richter has calibrated the stripes and their coloration (or rather, has done so via the selections he has made from the many possibilities presented by the computerized game of chance). The eye remains caught, suspended indeterminately as it were, within this field of static color.
Instead of either resting flat on the picture’s surface, or leading the eye into an abstract, fully optical space, Richter’s stripes blur out vision, much in the same way that his familiar “Richter effect” of blurring representational photographic imagery makes it seem in those paintings as if we are looking at the image through murky water. In a photograph-based Richter the image before us never fully coheres, always seeming to be at a certain remove that we can never truly bridge, and as our eyes attempt to focus the image it only seems to pull farther away. This is a playing up of the constructed nature of photographic representation, yet in the new Strip paintings it is not the nature of photography that is being commented upon, or even of representation; rather—because the works are fully abstract—the same trope of blurred vision is made to operate at the level of perception itself, the object having been removed, the subject here is that act of perception made self-reflexive.
The Strip paintings generate this aesthetic experience because of our expectations of how to look at a painting, and as such our first demand—made unconsciously of course, because with eyes trained by centuries of cultural conditioning—is that the individual stripes separate from one another to establish a sense of abstract illusory space by demarcating different positions in that space relative both to one another and to the flat surface of the painting. Remarkably, this does not happen. My best guess as to why is that the individual stripes are too narrow, there are too many of them, and the range of color variation across them is too limited, in such a way that in trying to recall the works, they reappear in my mind as the “green” painting, the “red” painting, the “blue” painting, etc., even though I know very well that there is always something of a spectrum of color in each painting.
Add to this the scale of the work, the key—alongside the particular materiality of the thin plastic and metal support—to these paintings needing to be seen in person, despite ostensibly consisting of digital prints generated by a computer program. For the sense of scale that is achieved by a literally large format in combination with the particular materiality of a printed digital image of a regularized stripe pattern mounted between metal and plastic, is important because a certain sense of scale is necessary to establishing the field condition that generates the particular optical effect of that field as a vibrating, pulsating static haze suspended just off the wall and before the viewer.
In my opinion, even though we are dealing with visual perception, this is a step forward on Richter’s part in the direction of a materialist project because these paintings radically deny the received wisdom that vision is natural and authentic. Of course vision is, like many things, the product of thousands of years of evolution, during which time it has developed in ways that are advantageous for survival, rather than to seamlessly convey “reality,” which, in such a positivist reading is always imagined to be simultaneously shared and singular in its purported universality. We never see things “as they actually are,” and to understand what I mean here about the constructed nature of perception we have only to think of how we experience a white room. The shadows that fall here and there are not physical properties of that room, but are rather ways that our brain makes sense of visual data such that we can navigate that space.
It is not in itself remarkable that a charged perceptual experience is the subject of Richter’s new paintings, as he is far from the first to make the viewer’s physiology the subject of a work, its medium even. There is a long, though much maligned, history of this in modernist art, arising with force in Europe in the 1930s as an offshoot of the international constructivist tradition of geometric painting, and its major early practitioners were Josef Albers, Victor Vasarely, and Auguste Herbin. Additionally, in the 1920s Marcel Duchamp had already anticipated art’s increasingly retinal orientation with his rotoreliefs which—unlike the intuitively worked out paintings of Albers, Vasarely, and Herbin—were explicitly intended to play off the structure of the viewer’s perception, in a manner that Duchamp devised himself, proud to have discovered a technique of optical stimulus not yet published in a scientific journal.
This making over of the viewer into the subject of the work by activating or, perhaps better put, subjecting, his or her perception to the terms of the work makes the rotoreliefs the direct predecessors of the Op-Art explosion of the 1960s when legions of artists, most now forgotten, devised all sort of elaborate devices for the titillation and provocation of the human sensorium, and in the process gave us what Barbara Rose characterized at the time as folk art for the space age. Alongside this populist form of optical art arose a more subtle expression of this desire to activate the senses, paintings by artists like Jo Baer, Walter Darby Bannard, Paul Brach, Robert Irwin, and Kenneth Noland, that have most typically been characterized as either Minimal or Color Field, respectively, but which are in fact concerned with making the viewer aware of the operations of his or her vision, of its constructed nature, via barely detectable pulsations of line, color, and field that occur at the edge of perception.
They have their direct precedent in the subtly glowing, shifting, and temporally unfolding fields of Ad Reinhardt’s Black paintings. Reinhardt had himself arrived at this format in the early 1950s by working through the impasses of prewar geometrical abstraction—largely caught, as it had been then, between equally undesirable expressions of optical bombardment, on the one hand, and lifeless recapitulations of structure and form, on the other. The trick, then as now, is striking a balance somewhere in-between, or at least a step back from either of these limit cases wherein the subjectifying effects solicited when these lines are overstepped seems to remove them from the realm of painting—because they are either too much vehicles for optical spectacle, or are too much mute objects.
The desirability, in this case at least, of the work staying within these painterly boundaries is that if the painting can hold itself just before arriving at one or the other of those limit cases then there is the possibility, as in Richter’s new Strip paintings, that a comment can be made on how vision delivers to us experiences of things in the world, rather than itself becoming one of those experiences by exceeding the limits of painting to emerge on the other side as either spectacle or decoration. It is by walking this thin line that the viewer can remain the author of his or her own experience, rather than the passive recipient of the effects dictated by the work—whether that is as either an optical stimulus or as a mute object commanding and determining the space around it.
In a moment where visual culture proposes ever more insidious and seductive reasons for our subjection there is the necessity for art to allow us the possibility, via a radical materialist neutrality, to carve out an imaginative space where we can determine our own subjectivity. The formal terms of Richter’s Strip paintings generate a palpable tension between optical subjection and the excessive open-endedness of decorative neutrality, both of which are strategies, present everywhere around us in the products of the culture industry, that are directed towards numbing and defanging resistance, and are premised on our acceptance of vision’s supposed universal and naturalized primacy. It is my sense that radical abstraction is most necessary at those moments wherein a particular structure of perception and experience has become so overdetermined and exhausted by its appropriation by the culture industry that, in an Althusserian sense, an outside has become as if fully foreclosed.
It is no coincidence that abstraction was born on the eve of World War I, was nourished by the Russian Revolution, and reemerged and was radicalized in the face of the horrors of the Vietnam War, May ’68, and civil rights. At each of those moments it became clear that neither the traditional aesthetic counterstrategies of the avant-garde, nor the play with dominant representational paradigms was enough to truly create resistance. What minimalism proposed in the 1960s, and what Richter’s Strip paintings propose today, is that in a moment where ideology and representation seem to have become one and the same the only answer is to gesture to an alternative space, a heterotopia to speak in Foucaultian terms, where that determination is, even if only for a moment, fictively suspended.
Like the child that crawls into a discarded cardboard box to take imaginative respite in its neutrality from the intense pressures to conform to one cultural demand or another, the best abstract work makes no impositions on, or demands of, the viewer, but instead allows him or her to reflect back on the nature of these demands, and on his or her place within them. This is not a pseudo-New-Age call for the viewer to determine his or her own destiny, or discover an inner true self that is somehow obscured by the dross of society: I am not naïve enough to think that such a state of self-determination can ever be found. But, while there might not ever be an inner authentic subject waiting to be released, there is the necessity that the subject be given the ability to step back somewhat and see laid out before him or her at least some of the various structures and possibilities of identification that bind him or her. In this way certain abstract work like Richter’s is not merely compensatory, because it does not in fact offer to replenish something proposed to be lacking—phenomenological plenitude, for example—but rather suggests to hold, as best it can, all of these terms momentarily in abeyance—that is its radical neutrality.
Richter’s Strip paintings allow for just such a self-reflexive opening up because their static optical haze locates the viewer perpetually at the moment just before spectacle—rendered as the optical bombardment that we expect to ensue, but which the paintings always hold at bay—closes down our subjectivity. Our potential for self-determination is revealed to be that brief moment, metaphorically as thin as Richter’s stripes perhaps, before we are overwhelmed, and in the process it is suggested that it is in that very space that we might discover the potential for resistance. Richter is not naïve enough to think that art can tell us what to do, but rather that it can, at its best and most truly political (and this is a lot), direct us to a subjective positioning where the potential for action might be located. It cannot itself propose what those actions might be—after all that would be too much hubris on the part of the artist—but rather allows us the ability to even think what they might be in the first place.
It must be said that a position such as Richter’s, of radical self-doubt, seems to be only truly available to an artist who has experienced a time when painting’s access to radicality, innovation, and relevance was available, even assumed. Such availability simply does not exist for a young artist coming of age in the past few decades, let alone today, for whom painting has only ever been backed into a corner and embattled. How do you trouble conviction if you are not even aware of what it means to be convinced by a work of art in the first place? Further, is it even possible to have this experience of conviction today, as it was in the 1960s? While I may enjoy looking at painting, am even moved from time to time, I do not think I would use the term “conviction” to describe this experience, and I think that this is a condition of my own particular position within history.
This is not a call for a recentering of painting around old values, since much has been gained—intellectually, if not always aesthetically—in the medium having been tested, deauthorized, and problematized. Nor is it to say that interesting work cannot be done with painting in such a questioning, plural, and interdisciplinary mode—as indicated by the work of Wade Guyton, R.H. Quaytman, and Karen Sander, among others. What I am claiming instead is that this does not solve the issue, which I raised at the start of this essay, of how to push forward rather than endlessly track back and forth over recent history.
This is similarly not meant as a positivist call for a return to “originality,” or to any other traditional values, but is rather an open call made in response to the present historical impasse, which is one where it is quickly becoming a condition of our moment that there is no longer any recent past to problematize and render indeterminate, as there was, say, in the 1980s, when the pious proclamations of Modernism (capital “M”) were recent, and as such susceptible to rearticulation. Today’s recent past consists of nothing but those recycled and rearticulated nuggets of the past, a situation which is, again, not in itself bad, and there is even a sense that appropriation still has something to say about our current social, cultural, and political climate—as in the corporate industrial junk aesthetic of an Isa Genzken.
However, the pressing question seems to me now to be whether we recycle and recontextualize those appropriations to make of them something like a post-post-modernism, which I can’t imagine holding much interest except for the art world initiate—and even then how much interest, really?—or do we instead perhaps think of the present as demanding again the kind of abstract art that intervened in the early 20th century in those difficult moments of war and social revolution? Abstraction, and painting even, may have a renewed role to play in the contemporary moment, or that is the sense I had standing before Richter’s Strip paintings, because they made it clear to me that there is new ground to be broken in terms of engaging with how perception operates in our contemporary moment, and abstract painting has always had the best tools at its disposal to deal with those kinds of perceptual problems. Of course the jury is still out, but in the meantime the fact that Richter’s own working through of his back catalogue, via a tried-and-true methodology of chance and the technologized readymade no less, to get at something new and of the moment suggests that there might be some fresh air on the horizon after all. Though it remains to be seen how a young artist might obtain a level of nuanced historical awareness, the lack of which has become almost a defining characteristic of my generation, approaching the level Richter necessarily had to have had in order to paint these paintings.
Alex Bacon is a Ph.D. candidate in Art & Archaeology at Princeton University and is currently preparing the catalogue raisonne of Ad Reinhardt’s Black paintings. His most recent publications on contemporary art include essays on Francis Alys and Gilbert & George. He is also the editor, with Hal Foster, of Richard Hamilton (MIT Press, 2009).
Essay by Lynne Cooke
In my picture atlas…I can only get a handle on the flood of pictures by creating order since there are no individual pictures at all anymore.
In 1964 Gerhard Richter began amassing onto panels photographs he had collected over the previous few years–sometimes as potential sources for his paintings and sometimes on their own account. Eight years later these and subsequent related panels were exhibited in Utrecht, Holland, under the title Atlas van de foto’s en schetsen (Atlas of photos and sketches). Since then Richter has continued, albeit intermittently, to supplement his “picture album.”1 And periodically it has been returned to public view: it was shown in 1976 in Krefeld, 1989 in Munich, and 1990 in Cologne.2 Recently updated, it now is comprised of almost six hundred panels and some five thousand photographs.
Atlas is not quite as homogeneous as its first panels seemed to predict. While they contain mostly amateur snapshots together with reproductions from newspapers and popular magazines, these categories were rapidly expanded to include portraits, pornographic imagery, and pictures of famous historical figures and events–Hitler and concentration camp survivors among them. In addition, the artist’s own photographs, working sketches, and seemingly casual views and vistas soon infiltrated the increasingly heterogenous array. That Atlas would serve other functions than simply those of a repository for storing memorable images became evident when sketches for installations, plans for public commissions, technical drawings for domestic furnishings, and collages of hypothetical settings on a truly monumental scale were added.3 More recently, large sequences of almost serially produced landscapes, travel vistas, and still lifes have been incorporated, suggesting that once the piece grew, the artist began to orchestrate it in terms of an overall composition, establishing larger rhythms, conjunctions, and references among the parts, and instituting a more strictly gridded layout. That is, what initially had a contingent, improvisational, cumulative character has taken on, with time and with repeated public presentation, a certain internal logic and dynamic peculiar to itself. In this way an album has metamorphosed into a potentially encyclopedic project, notwithstanding the personal, provisional, and incremental impulses continuing to generate it.
It is apposite that photography is the pivot of this, the most extensive work in Richter’s oeuvre. A constant in his art of the past three decades, for him it has always had a dialectical relationship with painting. Given that questions of representation lie at the heart of Richter’s enterprise, this relationship has inevitably proven a shifting, mutating one–from the early sixties when photography provided motifs for paintings to the past decade when the artist has both overpainted photographs and exhibited as prints photographs of certain paintings originally generated by rephotographed photographs. Dave Hickey has persuasively argued against the canonical historical rationale for the changes that took place in the practice of painting after the advent of photography: namely, that painting changed because photography appropriated its descriptive and representational functions. “Richter’s photo-paintings infer,”Hickey argues, “…[that] painting changed after the advent of photography not because photography usurped its descriptive function, but because photography prioritized it, thus valorizing the referent over what it signified.”4
If photography provided the painter, faced with the question of what to paint, with certain basics, abstraction offered another set of possibilities that were, for Richter, equally but not necessarily more plausible; abstraction and figuration, he believes, have parallel status as pictures. Through recourse to mirrors, panes of glass, and small reflective aluminum spheres, Richter then further permutated this preoccupation with representation by wedding these works to their contexts. Incorporating the surroundings–in effect, an idiosyncratic mode of working in situ–allowed him to extend in more encompassing ways the dialectic between what is seen and what is represented, as well as the media of that representation.
Richter has frequently asserted that he has no program and no ideology, and that he proceeds according to no preconceived plan. For all its compendious nature, Atlas is governed by no overriding logic and no polemic. Unlike, for example, Bernd and Hilla Bechers’s projects, Atlas is not an archive: there is neither a coherent and systematic compilation of an identifiable body of material nor an archaeological exhaustion of a specific subject. In retaining a hybrid identity, Atlas loosely adheres to some of the preoccupations informing Richter’s paintings without being exclusively governed by them. Most of its recent components are photographs taken by the artist himself rather than images culled from published sources, corresponding to the fact that since 1975 Richter has seldom depended on found motifs for subject matter. Not only are the initial images now his own, but they are often made in closely related series or sequences. Nonetheless, those that have been retrospectively included in Atlas do not necessarily constitute all that the artist took of any particular motif, nor are they always the very ones that provided the models for individual paintings. Images only exceptionally stand alone, independent and iconic; on such occasions they are framed within pencil borders as with presentation drawings, contextualized in hypothetical installations, or masked and glued to sheets onto which color studies can be developed in preparation for painting. The relational character of the groupings within most of the panels is fully in accord with the contingency underpinning the presentation of the work as a whole. For, the arrangement of the panels follows a loose rather than strict chronology, with placement determined in part by the character of the venues–wall dimensions, heights, and proportions–in which Atlas is to be exhibited. Sequencing and grouping is thus employed to establish a mode of reading that is differential and contextual.
Faced with the mass of imagery available today, Richter asserts that all one can do is try to order it. He makes no attempt to offer an overriding interpretation, there is no promise of comprehensibility and definitiveness of the kind vouchsafed in an archive or by archaeology. As Benjamin Buchloh astutely notes, the relationships between the images “generate meanings and disintegrate readings.”5 Hence, something provisional and resistant to precise meaning emerges in Atlas, something which Buchloh eloquently characterizes as a check both against the impulse to generate understanding and the ever-present desire for it. Atlas hovers, therefore, between the promise of taxonomic order as devulged in the archive and the total devastation of that promise, which is implicit, for example, in the amorcellated, antirelational potential of photomontage. The images, fragments or details are commonplace, almost stereotypical. In their sheer ordinariness, conventionality, and ubiquity, many of these photographs seem almost interchangeable or generic, and hence serve to underplay those staples of photographic discourse: the photo as icon and the photo as index. They approach the condition Richter seeks for his paintings, which as pictures are located always between the concrete and the abstract. Buchloh argues persuasively that “We can no longer speak of ‘photography’ in terms of a homogeneous formation of practices, discourses, and institutions (no more than we could speak of ‘politics’). Photography can be discussed as a private phenomenology and as a partial semiotics, but not as a coherent, comprehensive history.”6 At a moment when the digital is replacing the analogue and the dominant paradigms of photography are undergoing a sea-change, Atlas returns the question of the referent to centerstage.
1. “Gerhard Richter/Jan Thorn-Prikker: Ruminations on the October 18, 1977 Cycle,” Parkett 19 (1989), p. 143.
2. Small sections of Atlas have been shown on occasion, for example, in the recent retrospective, “Gerhard Richter,” Kunst- und Austellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, 1993.
3. In a recent interview, Richter spoke of the “dream of mine–that the pictures will become an environment or become architecture, that would be even more effective. Quoted in Dorothea Dietrich, “Gerhard Richter: An Interview,” The Print Collector’s Newsletter 16, no. 4 (Sept./Oct. 1985), p. 130. In effect Atlas does this when fully on view.
4. Dave Hickey, “Richter in Tahiti,” Parkett 35 (1993), p. 86.
5. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, “Gerhard Richters Atlas: Das Archiv der Anomie,” Gerhard Richter, vol. 2 (Bonn: Kunst- und Austellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1993). Translation by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh.
“This week, a young man who once passed for the buffoon of the American art scene was posthumously elevated to the level of the most serious contenders for the attention of multimillionaire buyers of contemporary art. Indeed, Basquiat was arguably the great winner in Christie’s sale.”
Bloomberg news 5.16.13:
“Last night, Basquiat’s “Dustheads” estimated to bring $25 million to $35 million, went for $48.8 million to an unnamed client on the phone for whom Christie’s international specialist Loic Gouzer was bidding. Gouzer worked with Leonardo DiCaprio on Christie’s May 13 auction to benefit conservation.”
“The record Basquiat canvas depicts two colorful, big-headed characters on a black background; one looks dazed, the other confused. The title refers to the street slang for the users of the drug PCP, or angel dust. The neo-expressionist painter died at 27 in 1988.
Although Christie’s didn’t identify the seller, dealers said the painting was consigned by collector Tiqui Atencio.
The Basquiat market has been on the rise. In 2012, his auction sales totaled $161.5 million, more than doubling from the previous year, according to Artnet. He ranked 8th last year, compared to 18th in 2011, overtaking Lichtenstein and de Kooning.
Last year, Basquiat records were set and toppled. In November, his untitled canvas depicting a fisherman with a halo sold for $26.4 million at Christie’s in New York. Less than five months earlier, a 1981 self-portrait sold for $20.2 million at Christie’s in London.”
Priceless: Mr. Chow on Basquiat
Posted: 05/14/2013 10:51 am
When Basquiat was still sleeping on friends’ couches in the 80′s, Michael and Tina Chow were helping him survive. They purchased his paintings. They commissioned him to paint their portraits. They fed him and befriended an artist they believed in.
Few establishments were hipper in the mid-80s than Mr. Chow, on Manhattan’s East 57th street. On a given night, one could observe the biggest stars of New York’s exploding art scene there. Describing a dinner there attended by Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes, Cathleen McGuigana observed for a New York Times Magazine cover story about Basquiat in 1985 that the restaurant’s fine menu and “elegant cream-lacquered interior” placed it “light years away” from artist hangouts a generation before.
“But art stars were different then,” she added.
It’s been 25 years since Basquiat died of a drug overdose, but Michael Chow still remembers the young, tragic art star vividly. He reflected on the brief and bright life of his friend in a conversation with Jim Shi for Christie’s, the art auction house. A May 15 auction of one of Basquiat’s most famous works, Dustheads (1982), is expected to break a record for the artist, currently set at $26.4 million.
Jean Michel Basquiat’s Journal On Race
“Artists turn anger into beauty, into poetry. In Basquiat’s case, his radar sensitivity on racism was very strong. I’d never met anyone so sensitive to it, and with good reason. No taxi in New York City would stop for him. He faced a lot of prejudices: There was the notion that black people could not be artists, and when you introduced him to non-African Americans, if he sensed even the littlest bit of racism, he wouldn’t shake your hand.
“He was an international painter and he wanted to be a worldly man. He was very curious. I remember when we traveled to Hong Kong and spent two weeks there and had a great time. I took him to my tailor and he went crazy, buying everything in sight. Then we met very prominent friends of mine who invited us to a very expensive restaurant at The Peninsula called Gaddi’s. He immediately called the waiter over and quietly ordered the most expensive bottle of wine.
“At the end of the day, we’re talking about poetry, we’re talking about magic, and we’re talking about making paintings that speak. At the end, you just look at the painting and ask yourself, ‘does it move me or not?’ [Basquiat] had the charisma and his paintings were powerful. They moved you.”
Jean Michel Basquiat’s Journal On Talent
“Most of the time when he painted, Jean-Michel didn’t look at the canvas. Like Francis Bacon and a few others, spontaneity was the most important thing for him — that organic mark. And yet he had this accuracy with anatomy and with truth, which is evident in his fantastic drawings.”
“Of course he was very ambitious. He wanted to be the greatest painter in his category, and he succeeded, I think. He was a powerful, powerful painter.”
“I didn’t know this at the time, but I was kind of a hero to him for whatever reason. His calling card, in order to introduce himself to me, came in the form of a painting of myself that he left on my doorstep in 1985. And since I acquired it so easily, of course my first reaction was that I didn’t treat it very well.”
“Soon after, we fell in love with each other, so to speak.”
Portrait of Michael Chow by Jean Michel Basquiat On Put Downs
“Even during the period of his greatest success, the establishment still did not acknowledge him. They were still putting him down all day long.
“But the more times you go down, the more you come back with a vengeance. Someone once said all artists have to get knocked down three times. If you can do this, like Muhammad Ali did winning three championships, then you become the greatest.”
On James Dean… and Cuddling
“Like James Dean, one doesn’t know what the future would have held for Basquiat. Some do very well, some don’t do very well. Most artists, I believe, only have six golden years. After that, it’s difficult to reinvent again. Jean-Michel had his six years. If I saw him today, I would just cry for five minutes and give him a cuddle. I can’t put into words the impact he has had on me. In short, I loved him.
Eyes and Eggs by Basquiat (1983)
(excerpts from reportage on the explosive market for Basquiat’s works).
It is great to see Basquiat’s works skyrocket beyond any and all negative narratives about his life, to where now his works are consumed, visually devoured and poured over for their aesthetic powers and formal invention. His works are hopefully opening the door for more artists of color to have their works considered in this way, as verses continually being framed only in discourses about racism, slavery, struggle, poverty, urban despair and misery. Jazz musicians suffered just as much if not more than did Basquiat, yet it is the sheer beauty and astounding musical structures and execution that rose and still rises about any earthly elements that weighed down upon them in life.
Vincent Johnson 2/14/2013
the following texts have been compiled and excerpted by the artist and writer Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic works on view in Seoul
Kukje Gallery offers broad survey of Basquiat’s major works and his life
Published : 2013-02-17 19:22
Updated : 2013-02-17 19:22
“Untitled (Hand Anatomy),” 1982 by Jean-Michel Basquiat. (2013 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York)
African-American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s artistic career lasted only eight years before he died at age 27, but he still remains as a mainstay in the global auction market: A drawing by Jean-Michel Basquiat was sold at the top price of $15.2 million at an auction last Friday in London.
And now, some of his iconic works are on view at Kukje Gallery in Seoul until March, offering a broad survey of his works that left a lasting impression in the contemporary art scene in the 1980s.
As Basquiat said about his artistic process, “I don’t think about art when I’m working. I try to think about life,” his paintings reflect his personal life and the world he lived in.
Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Julio Donoso/Sygma/TOPIC)
Starting as a graffiti writer on the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan under the name of “SAMO” (Same Old S―-), Basquiat rose to fame when he emerged in the New York art scene in the 1980s. Despite his lack of formal arts training, he was praised in the American and European art circles for his unique works.
The artist not only contributed to bringing street art to mainstream, but also incorporated his artistic talent to T-shirt designing, jewelry making, and music performance.
His paintings feature multiple personal and social messages presented through symbolic texts, list of words and imagery.
Some of them comment on racial issues and refer to prominent black figures in American society such as jazz musician Charlie Parker and baseball player Hank Aaron.
Basquiat’s 1981 painting mixes his personal stories and his idol by using cars and airplanes with symbolic words to depict his sickness during childhood and a hammer that symbolizes the legendary baseballer Aaron, who in 1974 broke the home run record formerly set by Babe Ruth.
Anatomy is also a significant part of his art, reflecting his personal trauma of having to undergo a splenectomy after being hit by a car at age 7.
He developed an interest in anatomy into visual language after his mother gave him a copy of the medical text “Gray’s Anatomy” when he was in hospital.
Before he died of a heroine overdose at age 27 in 1988, he led a short yet prolific career, producing works that left a lasting impression in the contemporary art scene which later garnered him a reputation as a Neo-Expressionism icon.
When he was 21, Basquiat was the youngest of 176 artists to be invited to the Kassel Documenta in 1982. His works were shown at the international art event alongside those of such established artists as Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol. He also collaborated with his idol Andy Warhol, whom he befriended in 1983 and whose death later made a great impact on him.
The exhibition runs through March 31 at Kukje Gallery in Jongno, Seoul.
New Yorker magazine
A museum-worthy show of fifty-nine paintings confirms a common assessment of Basquiat’s brief glory: rousingly fresh in 1981, masterly in 1982, and stumbling thereafter. (He died in 1988, at twenty-seven.) At his peak, the former graffitist commanded a synthesis of Abstract Expressionism and Art Brut, with blazingly original uses of written and symbolic language, like the maestro of a great jazz orchestra. Then his pictures lost coherence, becoming less than the sums of their parts. Was it drugs? Was it too-fast fame? Basquiat’s decline is easy to moralize but trivial relative to his rise, which remains as deathlessly marvellous as that of Arthur Rimbaud. Through April 6.
This story appears in the November 5, 2012 issue of Forbes Life. by John Keats,
“As a young artist in 1980s New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat desired nothing so much as to match Andy Warhol’s success. This auction season, a quarter-century after both artists’ deaths, he’s coming tantalizingly close to fulfilling his wish. In May, Phillips de Pury sold an untitled 1981 painting in Basquiat’s characteristic street-naïf style for a record $16.3 million, nearly $2 million more than when the market for his work last peaked in 2007. A month later, Christie’s sold a larger 1981 canvas for $20.1 million, a record it expects to break in November with a third 1981 painting that the auction house is positioning as a sort of self-portrait in the guise of Jesus Christ.
The vintage of all three pictures is no coincidence. “Basquiat reached his peak almost at the beginning of his career,” says Christie’s specialist Loic Gouzer. “You have this raw character who’d just slipped from the street to the art world.” Within just two to three years of his breakthrough, the toxic combination of drug addiction and public adulation had all but done Basquiat in, and he finished himself off with a heroin overdose in 1988–at the age of 27–having produced approximately 1,000 paintings at a broad range of quality levels. “That’s a perfect market to work within,” observes market insider Richard Polsky, author of The Art Prophets. “There are enough paintings that we can deal in them, but it’s fairly finite because he had a short and sweet career.”
But why are prices now rising precipitously? According to Gouzer, Warhol deserves some credit, as do American masters such as Jackson Pollock. “With those artists, we’re no longer talking $20 million, so even a lot of very rich people are out of the game,” he explains. “When we look at what was done in America beyond those guys, Basquiat really shapes up to being numero uno. He was a great colorist, a great draftsman, and he had a great sense of scale,” Gouzer adds. “I think we’re going to see a $100 million Basquiat. People have this subconscious panic. People want to buy him before he becomes Pollock.”
Polsky agrees that the Basquiat market still has room for growth but is wary of putting him in Pollock’s or Warhol’s league. “Basquiat’s market is 100 percent speculative,” he argues. “It’s 100 percent market driven. It’s not art-history driven. Basquiat is a semimyth, and he’s on his way to becoming a full-blown myth.”
And in that respect, at least, Basquiat has aced the Warhol test.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Burroughs triptych to be sold at London auction
Work by US artist, who died aged 27 in 1988, is tribute to his favourite writer and is valued at between £4.25m and £6.25m
Detail from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Five Fish Species, a celebration of his favourite writer, beat author William Burroughs. Photograph: Sotheby’s
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s tribute to the mad and bad world of William Burroughs – including the unfortunate night in Mexico when he shot and killed his wife in a William Tell game – is to be sold in London after 30 years in the same ownership.
“Basquiat is the blue chip artist of the moment,” said Branczik. “He is recognised today in perhaps the same way he recognised Burroughs in the 1980s as someone who was streets ahead of his time – Basquiat is the artist who everybody wants at the moment so we have high hopes of it doing well at auction.”
A quarter-century after he died of a drug overdose at the age of 27 in downtown Manhattan, Jean-Michel Basquiat needs no introduction. The fame that he pursued relentlessly and recklessly throughout his brief career seems secure, buoyed by museum retrospectives, films, books, sympathetic critics and a bounty of supremely wealthy collectors, who now buy major works by him for $20 million or more. For anyone who needed proof that this last part isn’t just the result of market hype, there is Gagosian Gallery’s current exhibition of more than 50 works.
The majority of the pieces on view come from 1981 through ’83, when the Haitian-American, Brooklyn-born graffiti artist made his improbable leap into the upper echelon of the art world. The trademark Basquiat work of the time has a central figure—a fisherman, a warrior, a boxer—hovering amid gnomic phrases, some of them crossed out, in front of high-pitched fields of color that compare favorably with Abstract-Expressionist masters Hans Hofmann and Clyfford Still.
Though Basquiat fit perfectly alongside then-ascendant Neo-Expressionists like Julian Schnabel, who aimed to return figurative painting to the realm of vanguard art, a bit of distance shows that he was regularly outclassing them. One of the best works here, La Hara (1981), offers an unhinged-looking cop with blood-red eyes surrounded by an array of marks—smudges, scratches, a thermos and what may be a fence. No wonder he pissed people off.
Many of those early works are so colorful, so humming with anxious, energetic lines that they threaten to produce bodily shocks. Don’t forget, though, that Basquiat could also be uproariously funny (1982’s Obnoxious Liberals has a panicked figure wearing a shirt that reads “Not for sale”) and subtle, perhaps even romantic (1985’s Now’s the Time, an eight-foot-wide circular painting on wood that resembles the eponymous Charlie Parker record, its title written in little white letters at its center).
For me, the real joys come in ’83 and ’84, when Basquiat was cramming more text and bits of photocopied anatomical drawings into his paintings. The frenetic energy has dissipated, but the resulting tableaux, laden with an increasing number of competing figures, elicit intellectual rather than emotional responses.
The prevailing narrative, that Basquiat’s work declined as he reveled in fame and drugs, remains hard to dispute, but the show offers a few startling exceptions, like Riding with Death (1988), one of his last paintings. A nude man is astride a skeletal horse; he seems to be slipping into the bronze monochrome background, disappearing into the picture. (Through April 6)”
An untitled work by Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1981 just sold for $20,170,071, according to the Christie’s Twitter feed. The sum marks a new auction high for the artist, breaking a record set just this past spring at Phillips de Pury & Company where another untitled work from that year sold for $16.3 million.
According to the Artnet price database, the work that was purchased this evening in London last sold at auction in May 2007, when it made $14.6 million at Sotheby’s New York.
The new record reflects prices already achieved on the private market. After that Phillips auction, many collectors said they’d seen plenty of Basquiats sell for prices in the $20 million range.”
Sergey Skaterschikov, an art-market analyst Davidson consulted, has spent years studying how insiders shape the market — one “completely based on manipulation,” he told me. A case in point, he said, is the surge in demand for the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“What happened is auctions and dealers succeeded in convincing collectors that Basquiat is a Warhol proxy, a peer to Warhol with a discount,” he said. These insiders used research, catalogs and special exhibitions to advance their arguments; the more demand they generated for Basquiat, the more money they could devote to promotional materials. “They all have a vested interest to keep the story going,” Skaterschikov said.
That’s one reason Basquiat’s art has been hunted so aggressively over the last six years. One of his paintings, optimistically estimated to be worth $12 million, recently sold at auction for $16 million. As Skaterschikov put it, “In this market, perception is reality.””
“Phillips de Pury
An untitled 1981 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat set a record auction price for the artist, $16.3 million, on May 10, 2012.”
5/10/2012 @ 11:48PM |2,681 views
$16 Million Basquiat Sets New World Record At Phillips Art Sale
“The contemporary art auction at Phillips de Pury tonight in New York set a new world record for a work by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Untitled from 1981 sold for $16,322,500 including premiums to beat the previous record of $14.6 million set in 2007. The work went to a private bidder.
Top sellers of the night besides the Basquiat were Untitled VI by Willem de Kooning, which sold for $12,402,500; Untitled (Bolsena) by Cy Twombly for $6,242,500; Brushstroke Nude by Roy Lichtenstein for $5,458,500; and two by Andy Warhol: Mao ($10,386,500) and Gun ($7,026,500). The mood tonight was lively if not as electrifying as a certain diamond auction at Christie’s late last year. Women in Louboutin shoes and men with the long, artfully coiffed hair of European royalty milled around drinking champagne downstairs in the lobby before the sale started. Later in the main room they clapped appreciatively when the Basquiat sold. Most of the buyers were longtime art patrons, according to Michael McGinnis, Phillips’ worldwide head of contemporary art. Bidders from Russia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East are especially strong this year, he said.
Basquiat’s Price Soars Fivefold as $320 Million Auctions Start
By Scott Reyburn – Jun 27, 2011 4:51 PM PT Bloomberg news
“Phillips de Pury & Co. via Bloomberg
“Self-Portrait” by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The 1985 acrylic-on-wood painting at Claridge’s Hotel, London, on June 27.
A Jean-Michel Basquiat self-portrait sold last night as London…
The Basquiat, dating from 1985 and featuring a half-length self-portrait next to a wooden panel covered in bottle tops, fetched 2.1 million pounds ($3.4 million) at Phillips de Pury & Co.’s first contemporary sale at Claridge’s in Mayfair. The price was five times the $647,500 it fetched at Phillips de Pury, New York, in 2003.
“Self-Portrait” by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The 1985 acrylic-on-wood painting was included in a 32-lot auction of contemporary works held by Phillips de Pury & Co. at Claridge’s Hotel, London, on June 27. Source: Phillips de Pury & Co. via Bloomberg
Phillips de Pury & Co. via Bloomberg.
“The Basquiat was one of five works with minimum bids by third party guarantors. It fell to the guarantor, bidding by phone, for slightly more than the 2-million-pound low estimate.”
“Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich is selling a massive 8-ft. wide Jean-Michel Basquiat painting at Christie’s in New York on Nov. 12, where it’s expected to fetch about $12 million. Untitled (Boxer) (above), painted in 1982, is an important “proxy self-portrait,” Brett Gorvy, Christie’s international co-head of postwar and contemporary art, tells Bloomberg. “The black artist as defiant hero.’” In 2002, Ulrich, a noted collector, sold Basquiat’s 1982 Profit I at Christie’s for $5.5 million. In July, Irish rock band U2 sold the artist’s Untitled (Pecho/Oreja) for $10.1 million at Sotheby’s in London. The auction record for a Basquiat work was set at Sotheby’s in New York last year with the $14.6 million sale of 1981′s Untitled.”
At $1.5 Million, Basquiat Leads Auction
By CAROL VOGEL
Published: May 13, 2005
“Phillips, de Pury & Company
“Catharsis” (1983), by Jean-Michel Basquiat, sold for $1.5 million.
A classic 1983 Basquiat was the evening’s winner. The canvas, with red lines that resemble dripping blood and words like “thumb,” “spleen,” “left paw and “suicide attempt scrawled across it, was expected to sell for $1.2 million to $1.8 million. Two collectors went for the painting, which sold to an unidentified telephone bidder when the hammer fell at $1.2 million or $1.5 million with the fee Phillips charges buyers.
February 10, 1985
New Art, New Money
By CATHLEEN McGUIGAN
HEN JEAN MICHEL BASQUIAT walks into Mr. Chow’s on East 57th Street in Manhattan, the waiters all greet him as a favorite regular. Before he became a big success, the owners, Michael and Tina Chow, bought his artwork and later commissioned him to paint their portraits. He goes to the restaurant a lot. One night, for example, he was having a quiet dinner near the bar with a small group of people. While Andy Warhol chatted with Nick Rhodes, the British rock star from Duran Duran, on one side of the table, Basquiat sat across from them, talking to the artist Keith Haring. Haring’s images of a crawling baby or a barking dog have become ubiquitous icons of graffiti art, a style that first grew out of the scribblings (most citizens call them defacement) on New York’s subway cars and walls. Over Mr. Chow’s plates of steaming black mushrooms and abalone, Basquiat drank a kir royale and swapped stories with Haring about their early days on the New York art scene. For both artists, the early days were a scant half dozen years ago.
That was when the contemporary art world began to heat up after a lull of nearly a decade, when a new market for painting began to make itself felt, when dealers refined their marketing strategies to take advantage of the audience’s interest and when much of the art itself began to reveal a change from the cool and cerebral to the volatile and passionate.
As an artist’s hangout, the elegant cream-lacquered interior of Mr. Chow’s is light-years away from the Cedar Tavern, that grubby Greenwich Village haunt of the artists of the New York School 30 years ago. But art stars were different then. Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and their contemporaries, all more or less resigned to a modest style of living, worked for years at the center of a small and intimate art world in relative isolation from the public at large.
But today, contemporary art is evolving under the avid scrutiny of the public and an ever-increasing pool of collectors in the United States, Europe and Japan; and it is heavily publicized in the mass media. Barely disturbed by occasional dips in the economy, the art market has been booming steadily.
As a result of the current frenzied activity, which produces an unquenchable demand for something new, artists such as Basquiat, Haring or the graffitist Kenny Scharf, once seized upon, become overnight sensations. In their circle, and certainly among the top artists whose careers took off a few years sooner, artists such as Julian Schnabel, David Salle and Robert Longo, annual earnings easily run into six figures. Not only are the numbers involved great – both the dollars and cents and the size of the art audience – so is the breathtaking speed with which work by a new artist can become a cultural fixture.TAKE BASQUIAT. FIVE YEARS AGO, HE didn’t have a place to live. He slept on the couch of one friend after another. He lacked money to buy art supplies. Now, at 24, he is making paintings that sell for $10,000 to $25,000. They are reproduced in art magazines and also as part of fashion layouts, or in photographs of chic private homes in House & Garden. They are in the collections of the publisher S. I. Newhouse, Richard Gere, Paul Simon and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
His color-drenched canvases are peopled with primitive figures wearing menacing masklike faces, painted against fields jammed with arrows, grids, crowns, skyscrapers, rockets and words. ”There are about 30 words around you all the time, like ‘thread’ or ‘exit,’ ” he explains. He uses words ”like brushstrokes,” he says. The pictures have earned him serious critical affirmation. In reviewing a group show of drawings last year, John Russell, chief art critic of The New York Times, noted that ”Basquiat proceeds by disjunction – that is, by making marks that seem quite unrelated, but that turn out to get on very well together.” His drawings and paintings are edgy and raw, yet they resonate with the knowledge of such modern masters as Dubuffet, Cy Twombly or even Jasper Johns. What is ”remarkable,” wrote Vivien Raynor in The Times, ”is the educated quality of Basquiat’s line and the stateliness of his compositions, both of which bespeak a formal training that, in fact, he never had.”
That favorable review came after Basquiat’s first solo show at the Mary Boone Gallery in May 1984. The same month, a self-portrait painted mostly in black and white – stark, powerful and sexually charged – was included in the international survey exhibition that celebrated the reopening of the renovated Museum of Modern Art. Then, proving the solid marketability of his work, a painting of his appeared for auction at Christie’s spring sale of contemporary art. Painted only two years earlier and sold originally for $4,000, it fetched $20,900 on the block.
THE EXTENT OF BASQUIAT’S SUCCESS would no doubt be impossible for an artist of lesser gifts. Not only does he possess a bold sense of color and composition, but, in his best paintings, unlike many of his contemporaries, he maintains a fine balance between seemingly contradictory forces: control and spontaneity, menace and wit, urban imagery and primitivism. Still, the nature and rapidity of his climb is unimaginable in another era. The audience for art is larger now than ever before, and collecting original art is no longer the sole province of the very rich. The upwardly mobile postwar generation, raised on art-history courses and summer trips to Europe, aspires to collect and has the cash to do it. Even when collectors lack cash, some institutions, including banks, now recognize their need. Sotheby’s, the auction house, is willing to lend a portion of the price of an artwork at 2 to 4 points above the prime-interest rate. Given the extraordinary prices of the older blue-chip artists ($1 million for a vintage Jasper Johns, for example), a lot of collectors naturally turn to the young up-and-coming painters whose works are still available for $50,000 and down. For many new art patrons, connoisseurship of contemporary art is a necessary part of the urban life style. They look for paintings that are esthetically aggressive, that physically assault space. The artworks offer proof of up-to-the-minute taste and have a perfect showcase in the reclaimed lofts or gentrified houses in which so many upper-middle- class urbanites now live. With all these new consumers, the number of dealers has mushroomed: in 1970, for example, there were 73 galleries listed in the Art Now: New York Gallery Guide; today there are nearly 450.
This expanding market for contemporary art coincided with a shift in the direction that art itself was taking. Since the late 1960′s, the contemporary mainstream had been dominated by the austere constraints of Minimalism – Brice Marden’s simple areas of solid color, for instance – or the cerebral concerns of Conceptualism, like the mathematical cubes of Sol LeWitt. The forms that art often took seemed to reject the collector – environmental art such as earthworks couldn’t be neatly crated and taken home to hang over the stereo system. But in the late 1970′s, artists such as Jonathan Borofsky, Neil Jenney and Susan Rothenberg began, in vastly different ways, to paint recognizable figures on canvas. Bold color and the sensuality of a richly painted surface returned, appealing to an art public that had been starved, baffled or bored for a decade. Many art patrons hadn’t felt a comparable excitement since the early 1960′s. Eugene Schwartz, for example, who, along with his wife, Barbara, amassed an important collection including Frank Stella, Morris Louis and David Smith, stopped collecting altogether in 1969. One day in 1980, he saw a painting by the artist Julian Schnabel in a dealer’s gallery. ”It brought us from the 60′s to the 80′s in about 14 seconds,” he said, and since buying it he has been collecting again – ”compulsively.”
Not everyone in the art world is overjoyed at what is happening. Some think neo- expressionism, as much of the new work is called, is a hyped-up fad, doomed to a short life. ”The new expressionism tends to be a generalized Angst ,” says Thomas Lawson, a painter and editor of Real Life Magazine, a small-circulation artists’ journal. ”You can’t tell what the artist is reacting to. It’s not very reflective.” Lawson thinks Basquiat is talented but that those of lesser skills will inevitably burn out.
In any case, Julian Schnabel’s highly publicized success made him the first art star of the 1980′s and created an atmosphere of expanded possibilities for any promising artist since. For someone as ambitious as Basquiat, high expectations are matched by the pressures of succeeding. Basquiat’s sometimes-stormy rise and struggle with the art establishment provide a look at how the artists’ names and their works are marketed in the art world today. His successful career demonstrates the competitiveness among dealers for artists; dealers’ pricing and marketing techniques; their control of supply and demand and the importance of the European market for today’s American scene. Further, Basquiat’s example shows how an artist tries to create and to preserve his autonomy in this heady environment. The danger is always that the glamour and fuss will cloud the meaning of the artwork itself. FROM THE START Basquiat has displayed a notoriously mercurial disposition, which certainly helped bring him early attention in a world in which a lot of noise doesn’t hurt. Like his paintings, which are at once childlike and fearsome, he can be both engagingly shy and temperamental. Henry Geldzahler, critic and former curator of 20th-century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, comments, ”His personality, both charming and disdainful, is very attractive.”
He was born in Brooklyn to a Haitian father, a successful accountant, and a Puerto Rican mother. His parents separated when he was 7. Basquiat dreamed of becoming a writer and a cartoonist – his father brought home paper from the office for him to draw on, and his mother sometimes took him to museums. His renegade streak surfaced early. ”At 15, he left home and went to Washington Square Park, reported Suzi Gablik in her book ”Has Modernism Failed?” ”I just sat there dropping acid for eight months,” Basquiat told her. ”Now all that seems boring. It eats your mind up.” He dropped out of school again at 17 (after, he says, he threw a cream pie in the principal’s face) and began writing poetic messages and drawing odd symbols with a friend named Al Diaz on walls around town, especially in SoHo. The messages, in Magic Marker, were vaguely anarchistic and ranged from the obvious – ”Riding around in Daddy’s convertible with trust fund money”- to the ominous – ”Plush safe . . . he think.” They signed the phrases with the tag ”SAMO” and the copyright symbol. Basquiat explains that SAMO was meant to suggest a brand name or corporate logo; he has also said that it stood for the expresway, the graffiti captured a lot of attention. ”At that time, whenever you went to an art opening or a hot new club, SAMO had been there first,” says Jeffrey Deitch, a critic who co-manages the international art advisory service at Citibank and was an early Basquiat champion. (Citibank advises its customers that art of quality can be considered a good investment. And, with other leading banks, it also now accepts fine art and furniture as collateral against loans.) Eventually, SAMO was unmasked. For Keith Haring, who had admired SAMO’s handiwork, the realization came when he sneaked a young artist named Basquiat into the School of Visual Arts. The next day, SAMO’s leavings were scrawled all over the school.
Basquiat, like many aspiring artists, worked at a number of odd jobs, including selling junk jewelry on the street on the lower part of the Avenue of the Americas, and he crashed a lot of art parties and openings. ”He was always broke,” recalls Diego Cortez, a curator and critic who met him during this period at the Mudd Club, the now-defunct punk hangout that was headquarters for the art and rock underground. Basquiat was also painting designs on sweatshirts and coveralls and playing in a band called Gray. ”It was a noise band,” he says. ”I played a guitar with a file, and a synthesizer. I was inspired by John Cage at the time – music that isn’t really music. We were trying to be incomplete, abrasive, oddly beautiful.” It was not unlike his art. Basquiat exhibited some of the drawings he was making at occasional art shows at the Mudd Club and in the new-wave salons that Keith Haring organized at such popular nightspots as Club 57.
Neo-expressionist painting was having a growing impact on the SoHo scene in 1980. A trio of Italians, known as the three C’s – Francesco Clemente, Sandro Chia and Enzo Cucchi, all of whom used the human figure in their epic- scaled, potent canvases – had major exhibitions in New York at the Sperone Westwater gallery. People began to talk about waiting lists for certain hot new painters. That summer, the emerging artists of the punk and graffiti underground had their own art event, at a rather unusual alternative space. In a former massage parlor near Times Square, a loose confederation of artists from the South Bronx and the Lower East Side collaborated to turn the dilapidated structure into ”a sort of art funhouse,” as Jeffrey Deitch put it in Art in America. Crammed with a crude, energetic assortment of drawings, posters, low-budget scraps of film, exotic fashions and sculpture, the ”Times Square Show,” as it was called, had a trashy exuberance that lived up to the neighborhood. (A work called ”Man Killed by Air Conditioner,” which was simply a life-size clay figure crushed on the floor by a real air-conditioner, typified the show’s deadpan humor.) Basquiat had contributed to the exhibition by covering an entire wall in splashes of spray paint and brushwork. ”A patch of wall painted by SAMO, the omnipresent graffiti sloganeer, was a knockout combination of de Kooning and subway spray paint scribbles,” wrote Deitch. That was Basquiat’s first press notice.
No one can remember exactly when the epitaph ”SAMO is dead” first began to appear scrawled around the Bowery and SoHo, but when Basquiat and his collaborator Diaz had a falling out, Basquiat killed off his alter ego. Diaz became involved in music, and Basquiat, though he had been the prime author of SAMO’s musings, turned increasingly to making art. He had no real materials: he painted on salvaged sheet metal or broken pieces of window casement and made assemblages out of junk. One work from that period, now owned by the artist Francesco Clemente, is a four-inch-thick slab of dirty yellow foam rubber on which a childlishly rendered car is outlined in black.
One day in 1980, Diego Cortez, who had been following Basquiat’s work with interest and had begun to act as his agent, brought Jeffrey Deitch to the tiny tenement apartment on the Lower East Side where the artist was then living with a girlfriend. The first thing Deitch saw was a battered refrigerator that Basquiat had completely covered with drawings, words and symbols, the lines practically etched into the enamel. ”It was one of the most astounding art objects I had ever seen,” says Deitch. Scattered all over the floor of the apartment were drawings on all sizes of cheap paper covered with images and smudged with Basquiat’s footprints. ”Jean kept on working as if we were interrupting him,” Deitch remembers. He picked out five drawings made on typing paper, and paid $250 in cash for them. This was probably Basquiat’s first sale; Cortez had to remind him to sign the drawings.
In January 1981, Cortez put together a show called ”New York/New Wave” at P.S. 1, the alternative-space gallery in Long Island City, Queens. Although the show featured work by graffiti artists, Cortez also showed some paintings by Basquiat, mostly minimal – lines of crayon or paint drawn in childlike fashion on unprimed canvas. The message was clear: though Basquiat had cruised onto the underground art scene on the crest of the graffitists’ new wave, his work was distinctly different. In fact, neither he nor the graffitist Keith Haring had ever ”bombed” – spray painted – dormant subway cars in the train yards at night, a necessary rite of passage in the authentic graffiti subculture. More importantly, as the critics pointed out, Basquiat’s paintings embodied more formal ties to the history of art. He may have grown up, like most kids, on a diet of comic books, but clearly he had also had a taste of Picasso. (Basquiat says that ”Guernica” had a big impact on him when he first saw it as a teen-ager in the Museum of Modern Art.)
Few dealers made the trek to Queens to see the P.S. 1 show, but several influential people did come. The Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger, who has a gallery in Zurich, saw Basquiat’s work for the first time there. Although he wasn’t ready to make a commitment to it, Henry Geldzahler was impressed indeed. Several months later, Geldzahler bought the first of the three works of Basquiat he was to acquire. It was half a door that Basquiat had found on the street to which he’d applied half-torn posters and layers of scribblings. ”It was covered with as dense and rewarding an array as a 1955 Rauschenberg,” says Geldzahler. ”I decided to overpay. I offered $2,000 for it. I knew he was authentic and I wanted to say, ‘Welcome to the real world.’ ”
For the Italian painter Sandro Chia, then new to America, Basquiat’s paintings captured the spontaneity and ”emotional reality” of the city. The paintings were full of disparate elements that somehow worked together, though there was no apparent system linking them – ”just like New York,” notes Chia. He commended Basquiat’s work to the Italian dealer Emilio Mazzoli, who promptly bought 10 paintings for approximately $10,000 and set a date on the spot for Basquiat to have a show at his gallery in Modena. That spring, Basquiat went to Modena (his first trip to Europe), made a few more paintings there and had his first one- man show. WHILE BASQUIAT was in Europe, the buzz of the New York art world was of the opening of the spectacular double show that Julian Schnabel was having simultaneously at the Mary Boone and Leo Castelli Galleries in SoHo. People gossiped about how Schnabel and his dealer, Mary Boone, had won the imprimatur of Castelli, who handles Rauschenberg and Johns and hadn’t taken on a new artist in nearly a decade. In fact, while Schnabel came to epitomize the new artist-as-celebrity, Mary Boone became a public persona in her own right, the best known of a new breed of young dealers: bright, aggressive and hardheaded in business matters.
Annina Nosei, who had opened a gallery in SoHo in 1980, invited Basquiat to join it in September 1981 at the suggestion of Sandro Chia. He needed money and a place to paint. He was given cash to buy supplies and the use of the gallery’s basement storeroom as a studio. ”He had, perhaps, seen in me the mother type,” says the dealer, who suggests that that image led to later conflicts.
Basquiat worked feverishly, encouraged by Annina Nosei, who sometimes brought collectors down to the basement while he painted. Now rich with color, his paintings began to evolve from the sparer look of the work in the P.S. 1 show: large, primitive figures were filled in and articulated with raw detail and there was less of the all-over drawing of symbols and words. In a book published last year, ”The Art Dealers,” by Laura de Coppet and Alan Jones, Annina Nosei described her strategy for selling these works: ”I was putting together major sales to important collectors who were buying, for example, the Germans. I told them that they should have a work by Jean Michel Basquiat also, for $1,000 or $1,500 more on the bill of $25,000 they had already run up. This worked quite well: these collectors gained an early commitment, told their friends, and all of a sudden Basquiat’s paintings were found in collections beside more well-known artists, as the youngest of all.” At first, she priced his works very low, so that ”later when I show paintings for $2,000 the improvement in that new work confirmed the small commitment already made.”
The dealer was said to be selling canvases by Basquiat at a brisk pace – so brisk, some observers joked, that the paint was barely dry. Basquiat says he did not always feel the paintings were finished. Meanwhile, the basement-studio arrangement was gaining a certain notoriety. Critic Suzi Gablik called it ”something like a hothouse for forced growth,” and Jeffrey Deitch referred to it when he reviewed in Flash Art magazine Basquiat’s show at Annina Nosei’s in March 1982. Deitch wrote: ”Basquiat is likened to the wild boy raised by wolves, corralled into Annina’s basement and given nice clean canvases to work on instead of anonymous walls. A child of the streets gawked at by the intelligentsia. But Basquiat is hardly a primitive. He’s more like a rock star. . . . (He) reminds me of Lou Reed singing brilliantly about heroin to nice college boys.”
What press attention Basquiat received from the show was mostly favorable, and one month later, when he made his West Coast debut with a show at the Larry Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles, William Wilson of The Los Angeles Times wrote, ”We are simultaneously convinced that he is a tough street-voodoo artist and a painter of astonishing precocity.”
Basquiat began chafing in the hothouse. With a second show scheduled at Mazzoli’s in Modena, he went to Europe again. ”They set it up for me so I’d have to make eight paintings in a week, for the show the next week,” says Basquiat. ”That was one of the things I didn’t like. I made them in this big warehouse there. Annina, Mazzoli and Bruno were there.” (Bischofberger was now representing him in Europe.) ”It was like a factory, a sick factory,” says Basquiat. ”I hated it.” The Mazzoli show was canceled. After that episode, Basquiat decided to quit the Nosei gallery. ”I wanted to be a star,” he says, ”not a gallery mascot.” He returned to the basement, where there were about 10 canvases, most of them unfinished, that he wanted to get rid of. In a classic display of his notorious temper, he slashed them, folded them, jumped on them and poured paint on them. Although the dealer says that Basquiat simply was destroying work that he didn’t intend to finish, the art world buzzed about the incident. ”Jean Michel more than anyone has made a success story out of scandal,” says Cortez.
”Jean was ungrateful,” Annina Nosei says. She believes she was responsible for launching Basquiat’s career internationally. ”But he was sweet in the end.” According to the dealer, their relationship as artist and dealer was not clearly severed that fall. (As with most galleries, there were no contracts involved.) Many months later, in February 1983, she mounted a one-man show of his work while he was cementing a relationship with a new dealer.
During the autumn of 1982, Basquiat lived like a hermit in a loft on Crosby Street in SoHo. ”I had some money; I made the best paintings ever,” he says now. ”I was completely reclusive, worked a lot, took a lot of drugs. I was awful to people.”
The fruit of that work, painted in a privacy he never knew at the Nosei gallery, made a big splash when it was unleashed on the art world in November 1982 at a one-man show in the Fun Gallery, run by Patti Astor, a former underground movie actress, and her partner, Bill Stelling. Bold and colorful, the canvases were crudely, irregularly stretched, and the works had more of the gritty immediacy of the paintings he had done before he joined the Nosei gallery, in part because he returned to a more intense drawing of words and symbols. ”I liked that show the best,” says Bischofberger. ”The work was very rough, not easy, but likable. It was subtle and not too chic. The opening was great, too. It drew young blacks and Puerto Ricans, along with limousines from uptown.”
Late that winter, he spent time in Los Angeles, preparing for a second show at Larry Gagosian’s gallery and working at the dealer’s house. Again, he felt pressure and regrets now that paintings were released that ”I didn’t want released.” A number of dealers had been courting Basquiat in New York. (”It’s no honor,” he says wryly. ”There’re more dealers than artists these days.”) One was Tony Shafrazi, an Iranian who had been interested in showing Basquiat in his SoHo gallery as early as 1981. In 1974, he had sprayed red paint on Picasso’s ”Guernica” when it still hung in the Museum of Modern Art. Police removed him from the scene while he spelled out his name for bystanders. The painting, protected by varnish, was undamaged, and finally the case came to nothing. Ironically, Shafrazi has helped legitimize the graffiti-art movement by becoming the dealer for such artists as Haring, Scharf and Ronnie Cutrone, but, partly because of the Picasso incident, he got nowhere with Basquiat. Others who had discussions with the artist included Metro Pictures (Robert Longo’s gallery) and the Monique Knowlton Gallery.
Basquiat’s temperamental nature didn’t always allow him to receive these overtures with grace. One dealer, visiting his loft and noting his fondness for health food, went away and came back with a big jar of fruits and nuts. ”But what she really wanted were my paintings,” he says. ”She tried to tell me that her chauffeur, who was black, worked with her in her gallery, not that he was her driver.” As she walked out of his door in defeat, Basquiat leaned out his window and dumped the contents of the jar on her head.
When Basquiat finally did join a new gallery, he went straight to the major leagues and, to the surprise of some of his friends, joined Mary Boone. ”I wanted to be in a gallery with older artists,” he says. And he wanted to insure, as well, that any lingering associations with graffiti art were severed.
Mary Boone, perhaps reacting to a spate of publicity about herself and her business style, now is careful to avoid any appearance of hype and self- promotion. In fact, initially she regarded Basquiat with caution, she says, vaguely repelled by all the fuss. ”There was a period of about a year and a half, whenit was impossible to wake up in the morning and not hear about Jean Michel Basquiat,” she says. Introduced to him by Bischofberger, she says she waited until she became convinced that Basquiat had staying power. ”I’d walk into some collector’s home and there would be something by Jean, hanging next to Rauschenberg and Stella,” she recalls. ”It looked great. It surprised me.” She has sold his paintings to such longtime clients as Peter Ludwig, the German candy tycoon who has his own museum of contemporary art in Cologne, and to Sidney Janis, the 88- year-old dealer who has hung Basquiat’s work in three group shows at his gallery.
Though Annina Nosei encouraged his high productivity of paintings, since Basquiat joined Mary Boone’s gallery he has tended to hold on to pieces longer and rework them more, with his new dealer’s blessing. ”His output is high,” she says, ”but he’s getting more critical of what he holds back.” He estimates that last year he finished 30 or 40 paintings. Yet any danger of the market’s being flooded with Basquiats is offset by the fact that Mary Boone represents the artist jointly with Bischofberger – they split the standard dealer’s commission of 50 percent – who takes much of the work to Europe to sell. The Boone gallery’s promotion of Basquiat has been low key; he didn’t have a one-man show there until last May, his second season with the gallery, and the dealer charges $10,000 to $25,000 for a painting, a purposeful underpricing, she says.
For the most part, Basquiat is pleased, although the pricing of his work does bother him. Paintings by such Boone superstars as David Salle sell for $40,000 and up. ”David Salle’s been at it longer, I know,” sighs Basquiat. ”I should be patient, right?” DOWN ON THE Lower East Side, in a small newly renovated building that he rents, which is owned by Andy Warhol, four big empty canvases are waiting for the touch of Basquiat’s brush. The vast whiteness of the canvases seems a world away from the dirty walls on which he first exhibited his work. Downstairs, a friend named Shenge, who acts as major domo, has his quarters, while the floor above the studio is Basquiat’s domain, the place he keeps his VCR and a hundred or so cassettes of his favorite movies. In one corner is the director’s chair the late Sam Peckinpah used while shooting ”The Wild Bunch” and ”The Osterman Weekend.”
Basquiat takes a tube of paint and squirts a blob of brown pigment directly onto the virgin canvas, which is actually white paint spread over a work he never finished. It gives the surface a layered texture he likes. In fact, many of his paintings deliberately expose the buildup of layer upon layer, the shadow of an earlier version poking through. He ”edits” by painting over. Under his brush, a brown face soon begins to form on the canvas. ”The black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings,” he says. ”I realized that I didn’t see many paintings with black people in them.” Some of the figures are taken from life. For example, one powerful painting was drawn from a sad old man in a wheelchair whom Basquiat saw on a neighborhood street last spring. ”He would say to the young Puerto Rican helping him, ‘Put me in the sun, put me in the sun.’ He was a Cajun, from Louisiana. I gave him some money and he wanted to hug me, to pull me in. I pulled back.” But the vision is transformed in Basquiat’s bold painting. It is saturated with red, the wheelchair like a throne, the old man almost a god whose head is a primitive mask, frightening and defiant.
”Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy,” a book by Robert Farris Thompson, lies on his studio table, and thus it raises the question of influences on his art. His early rendering of primitive faces was instinctual, he says; he studied African masks later. He has never been to Haiti and there was no Haitian art at home when he was growing up. But his early inspirations include the master employer of primitive impulses, Picasso. Actually, says Basquiat, ”I like kids’ work more than work by real artists any day.” SINCE I WAS 17, I thought I might be a star,” Basquiat says. ”I’d think about all my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix. . . . I had a romantic feeling of how people had become famous. Even when I didn’t think my stuff was that good, I’d have faith.” In the last year or so, Basquiat has established a friendship with an artist who probably understands the power of celebrity better than anyone else in the culture. Once when he was trying to sell his photocopied postcards on a SoHo streetcorner, he followed Andy Warhol and Henry Geldzahler into a restaurant. Warhol bought one of the cards for $1. Later, when Basquiat had graduated to painting sweatshirts, he went to Warhol’s Factory one day. ”I just wanted to meet him, he was an art hero of mine,” he recalls. Warhol looked at his sweatshirts and gave him some money to buy more.
In his show at Mary Boone’s last spring, Basquiat exhibited a painting called ”Brown Spots.” It is a portrait of Warhol as a banana, a sly reference to an album cover Warhol once did for the Velvet Underground. That same spring, in ”The New Portrait” show at P.S. 1, a portrait appeared by Warhol of Basquiat, an acrylic and photo-silkscreen painting, with Basquiat posed like Michelangelo’s David.
Their friendship seems symbiotic. As the elder statesman of the avant-garde, Warhol stamps the newcomer Basquiat with approval and has probably been able to give him excellent business advice. In social circles and through his magazine, Interview, he has given Basquiat a good deal of exposure. Though Warhol teases Basquiat about his girlfriends, Basquiat finds the time to go with Warhol to parties and openings. In return, Basquiat is Warhol’s link to the current scene in contemporary art, and he finds Basquiat’s youth invigorating. ”Jean Michel has so much energy,” he says. One acquaintance suggests that the paternal concern Warhol shows for Basquiat – for example, he urges the younger artist to pursue healthful habits and exercise – is a way for Warhol to redeem something in himself. When asked how Warhol has influenced him, Basquiat says, ”I wear clean pants all the time now.”
Through a series of working collaborations in the last year, the relationship between them has flourished. First, at the suggestion of Bruno Bischofberger, they made a suite of 12 paintings with Francesco Clemente, with each of the three artists working in turn on each canvas. Then Basquiat and Warhol collaborated on huge pieces of unstretched canvas, some of them 10 by 20 feet. Warhol would silkscreen or paint words or symbols, a blown-up headline from The New York Post, for instance (”Plug Pulled on Coma Mom”), or perhaps a giant corporate logo such as Paramount Pictures’ mountain peak. Basquiat would then tackle the canvas, painting in his own strange figures, words and symbols. Thirty of these collaborative works, now owned by Bischofberger, will probably be exhibited in Europe. ”I’d run out of ideas,” says Warhol, to explain his involvement in the project.
But after Basquiat’s show at Mary Boone last spring, some critics complained that his recent work had grown too soft, too slick – and one blamed the long shadow of Warhol. ”They’re fresh out of the Factory,” – wrote Nicholas A. Moufarrege in a blistering review in Flash Art. ”These new paintings are too charming, they lack the nitty-gritty hip-hop and the jagged power that his last New York show at the Fun Gallery emanated.” Geldzahler saw the influence, too, but not as a negative force: ”The paintings had a lot of Warhol, but that’s to be expected. Basquiat seems to be able to keep his balance.” The artist himself is pleased with the work. ”I think I’m more economical now,” he says. ”Every line means something.”
Success, however, and sudden public scrutiny, can mean an end to artistic experimentation in private. ”Basquiat, like Schnabel, makes a great many works,” explains the collector Eugene Schwartz, who has bought three of the artist’s works and donated one to a museum in Israel. ”In exploring new ideas, he makes mistakes. But within that work he also has made minor masterpieces. I say ‘minor’ only because they haven’t yet stood the test of time.” But for some artists, the pressure to succeed and simply to repeat past successes can be too much. ”I think there’s a greater tendency today for artists to burn out,” says Barbara Haskell, curator of the Whitney Museum. ”It’s a question of whether they can maintain a personal space to work out and take the next step.”
”People think I’m burning out, but I’m not,” Basquiat insists. ”Some days I can’t get an idea, and I think, man, I’m just washed up, but it’s just a mood.” What doubtlessly helps Basquiat and many other artists to transcend the pressure is simply their own deep drive to make art. ”There’s really nothing else to do in life, except flirt with girls,” he jokes, then gets serious. ”If I’m away from painting for a week, I get bored.” Even when he had been painting at Warhol’s studio during the day, or if he had been out in the evening, he would often go home alone to work. He still keeps rock-and-roll hours. ”He’ll run in here in an $800 suit and paint all night,” says his friend Shenge. ”In the morning, he’ll be standing in front of a picture with his suit just covered in paint.” MEANWHILE, ONCE A painting is finished, it takes on a life of its own. As part of the never-ending marketing effort, paintings by Basquiat and other hot young art stars are always being crated and shipped. They are flown to an exhibition in Europe, a dealer on the West Coast, a collector’s home. This winter, Basquiat’s work was shown at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, more work was part of a show of young Americans at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and new paintings were unveiled for sale in Bischofberger’s Zurich gallery. And as the paintings move, their price escalates. Schwartz remembers the three Basquiats he bought less than four years ago. ”They were just lying there,” he says, ”No one wanted them. Now you can’t get them.” Geldzahler says he has been priced right out of the Basquiat market. And while the art public waits to see Basquiat’s newest work at his next New York show, next month at Mary Boone’s, his early paintings continue to pump life – and money – into the market. The works surface at auction, as five did at Sotheby’s last fall, or perhaps are quietly bought from a private collector by a dealer who will hold them and wait, dazzled by their meteoric appreciation. The artist, who does not profit from resales, may be off at work in a new direction, but even the paintings he said goodbye to long ago keep going round and round in today’s heady art world.
Cosmos Suite paintings 2013: Celestial Storm by Vincent Johnson. Oil on canvas. 30″x40″.
This is the first painting I’ve created in the year 2013. Each of the paintings in the Cosmos Suite and Nine Grayscale paintings employs different elements in terms of paint application, type of painting media used, and the range of colors worked into the painted surface. This particular painting has four major layers of paint with more layers added and blended into the already laid down and worked paint. The second layer is allowed to bone dry before the last layers are applied. I’ve compiled several recipes for creating the paintings, which take several weeks as the underpainting layers are air-dried. After applying the third layers, I rest the work for a day or more to figure out what will be the plan of attack to complete and resolve the painting. With each work I strive to produce an elegant and beautiful image that is also compelling to engage from the perspective of the history of painting and of contemporary painting practices today.
Celestial Storm: Studio view (2013)
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles
New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos suite (2012)
Golden Dream (2012), part of the Cosmos Suite of paintings
California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch (2010) by Vincent Johnson. Archival Epson print (Private Collection, Miami, Florida). I provided this image as I realized its clear similarity to Golden Dream, which I completed a week ago in my studio in Los Angeles.
Two at Night (2012) from the Cosmos suite of paintings, Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches
Cosmos. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson
Cosmos Red Yellow Green. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson
Green God. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson
This new painting series is part of my ongoing exploration of painting materials and techniques from the history of painting. The works combine knowledge of painting practices of both abstract and representation paintings. The works concern themselves purely with the visual power that paintings can do through the manipulation of paint. Some of the underpaintings are allowed to dry for months; some of those are built dark to light, others light to dark. None are made in a single setting. Most are worked and reworked using studio materials. Each new series takes a different approach to the painted surface from how the paint is applied, to varying the painting mediums. This suite concerns itself with the layering of paint by building up the surface and altering and reworking the wet paint with studio tools.
Two larger paintings will be completed and photographed on Sunday, July 15, 2012 and posted here.
Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting: The Storm (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles, California
Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting, Snow White/White Snow (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles
Vincent Johnson, Nine Grayscale Paintings, Beacon Arts Center, Los Angeles, (2001). Oil on canvas. Each panel is 20×24 inches.
photograph of silver paint on my hands in studio, Los Angeles, during the creation of Nine Grayscale paintings.
Vincent Johnson – in Los Angeles studio working on Nine Grayscale Paintings, 2011
Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications. His photographic works were most recently shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. His most recent paintings were shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles. His 2010 photo project – California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch, is in exhibition at Another Year in LA gallery in West Hollywood through early March 2013. His work has appeared in several venues, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (Freestyle (2001, The Philosophy of Time Travel, 2007, and The Bearden Project, 2011-2012), PS1 Museum, Queens, NY, SK Stiftung, Cologne, Germany, Santa Monica Museum of Art, LAXART, Las Cienegas Projects, Boston University Art Museum, Kellogg Museum, Cal Poly Pomona.
‘Self Portrait I’ by Ryan Gander, 2011, at the Lisson Gallery stand at Frieze Art Fair
By Emma O’Kelly
Economic doom and gloom may be swirling overhead, but during the Frieze Art Fair wealth, glamour and decadence still reign supreme. At the VIP opening, fat-walleted, fashioned-up collectors queued in droves to get in and scope out the 173 galleries and their artworks, which, as always, ranged from incredible to inscrutable, to downright annoying.
What to make of the swirling umbrellas placed on upside-down zebra print wallpaper designed ‘in homage to famous new York restaurant Gino’ by Alex Zachary? How to respond to Andra Ursuta‘s ‘bog body’- a life-size sculpture of herself dragged from a marsh and covered in splodges of silicone to represent semen? A little goes a long way at Frieze; its size guarantees sensory overload, but straightforwardly beautiful pieces such as Doh Ho Su’s fabric sculptures of doorknobs, pipes and lightswitches, or Carsten Nicolai‘s tableaux at Galerie Eigen+Art provide anchors in the storm.
Christian Jankowski‘s Riva yacht could be bought either as a boat or an artwork, depending on how much you were willing to pay for it, and had men clustering to take their picture next to it. Though it was meant as a symbol ‘to open wide the structures behind selling art’ in the words of the artist, it felt more Ideal Home Show than art show. Less oblique was Michael Landy‘s Credit Card Destroying Machine, first shown, remarkably, in the Louis Vuitton store in Bond Street last year. You put in your card and receive a signed drawing.
Now in its ninth year, the fair is as buoyant as ever, if a little more conservative than in previous years, and 2012 will see a sister event in New York and an additional Frieze Masters fair in London, dealing in artworks made before 2000. At the Frame part of the show, in which 24 young galleries exhibit one artist, curators whispered that South American artists especially those from Brazil and Argentina, are the ones to watch.
The ripple effect created by Frieze means galleries across town pull out all the stops to woo collectors, and a host of excellent shows, among them Ahmed Alsoudani at Haunch of Venison, run long after the tent has gone. Opportunists too, pitch in; on the south side of the Regents Park, a strip of John Nash terraces have been converted into millionaires pads with price tags of up to £45m. During Frieze, one mansion is turned into a temporary gallery of works from private collections for a show called The House of the Nobleman. Around 700 guests sashayed across the park to the opening party – and this time it wasn’t art they were after.
Frieze Art Fair 2011
Galerie Eigen+Art dedicated its whole stand to Carsten Nicolai
Michael Riedell at the David Zwirner stand
Untitled work by Isa Genzken at David Zwirner
Untitled (tondo) by Jason Martin at the Lisson Gallery stand
‘Parking garage’ by Rita McBride at the Mai 36 Galerie Zurich stand
‘August 6, 1945′ by Matthew Day Jackson at Hauser & Wirth
‘Crush’ by Andra Ursuta at the Ramiken Crucible gallery in the Frame area of Frieze
The Box Gallery from LA reignites the work of Judith Bernstein
‘Norman Foster’ by Xavier Veilhan at the Galerie Perrotin stand
Elmgreen & Dragset’s untitled piece suggests a woman in a morgue
Untitled by Ahmed Alsoudani, on show at the Haunch of Venison in Mayfair
The White Cube chose Frieze week to launch its third London gallery in a 1970s warehouse on Bermondsey Street. Retrofitted by Casper Mueller Kneer Architects, the building’s 780sq m South Galleries opens with ‘Structure & Absence’, a group show that uses the Chinese concept of a scholar’s rock as a motif. It features several veterans of White Cube and Frieze alike: Andreas Gursky, Brice Marden, Sterling Ruby, Gabriel Orozco and Damien Hirst
Photography by Ben Westoby, courtesy of White Cube
A visitor admires Nigel Cooke’s ‘No Holidays’ (2011) at Frieze Art Fair.
Artists, collectors, critics, curators and dealers have descended on London through Sunday to take part in the seventh annual Frieze Art Fair (www.friezeartfair.com), a key marketplace for contemporary art globally, with 173 galleries from 33 countries, showcasing more than 1,000 artists. Frieze’s success has inspired an autumn art jamboree throughout the city, stimulating satellite fairs, auction sales and shows in other galleries.
Started in 2003 by Frieze Magazine editors Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp to sell contemporary art to a growing cohort of international collectors, fair participants are vetted by a committee of their peers to attract blue-chip galleries, as well as a high-spending, contemporary-art-loving audience. “We provide a focused contemporary art fair—that is our appeal,” Ms. Sharp says.
Almost since its inception, Frieze stole contemporary thunder from those old ladies of the art market—Tefaf in Maastricht, strongest in Old Masters and antiques, and Art Basel, which spans both modern and contemporary. The appeal of Frieze, says art consultant Tanya Gertik, is “the energy and the buzz. It’s very sociable.”
Courtesy of Cristina Grajales Gallery, New York
Sebastian Errazuriz’s ‘Porcupine Cabinet’ (2011) on show at PAD.
Since Frieze first opened, international art fairs, alongside their cousins—the biennials—have proliferated: Art Basel spawned Art Basel Miami Beach, which then generated Design Miami and, in turn, Design Miami Basel, set up to achieve the same market intensification for contemporary design that the mother fair had achieved for art. Older fairs, like Art Chicago and the Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair, have ceded some priority to newer fairs, such as Art Hong Kong and Masterpiece London.
But some collectors find the blockbuster model overwhelming, preferring a more intimate environment. “The minute a fair gets too large, the enjoyment goes out of it,” Ms. Gertik says. Bernard Hartogs, a collector of art and design, adds: “I don’t go to Frieze. It’s too big.” This is one reason why Frieze Week has also, quietly, become PAD week.
It was in 2007 that DesignArt first opened in Hanover Square, with just 19 galleries. Hoping to benefit from the seasonal delirium, French antique dealer Patrick Perrin and modern- and contemporary-art specialist Stéphane Custot, the founders of the successful Pavillon des Arts et du Design in Paris, launched a complementary fair to Frieze, offering one-off and limited-edition contemporary design mixed in with classic European modern design. A year later, the fair was offered Berkeley Square, a prime location, and the charmingly Continental mix of decorative arts, with modern and contemporary design, began to gel. By 2009, the duo felt confident enough to introduce modern art to the mix, experimenting in London with the formula pioneered in Paris. The renamed Pavilion of Art & Design London would invite galleries who specialized in fine art, decorative art or design that post-dated 1860—made after the advent of industrial mass manufacture, but without the contemporary art that is so well served in Regent’s Park.
Running through Sunday, PAD (www.padlondon.net), is small and selective, with only 58 galleries. The genial mix of art, design and fine craft—Cristina Grajales’s stand this week offers two striking cabinets by Christophe Côme and Sebastian Errazuriz, while Jousse Entreprise has a classic Jean Royère sofa—promotes a way of living with art as much as the buying of it.
Gérard Faggionato of Faggionato Fine Arts in London, says PAD “is comfortable, and people come back two or three times during the week.”
Like Frieze, PAD doesn’t issue an overall statement of sales, arguing that since sales often aren’t concluded until months after the event, such statistics are misleading. Instead, it points you to the quality of the exhibits. Andrew Duncanson from Modernity has rare pieces by Alvar Aalto; Todd Merrill, an outstanding 3.5-meter sculpture of a dandelion (circa 1960) by Harry Bertoia; and Bernard Jacobson, some magnificent Robert Motherwell canvases. “The material is very good,” Julian Treager, a collector of fine art, design and jewelry says. “Last year, I bought a vintage Cartier necklace from the 1970s. The year before, some pieces by Studio Job from Carpenters Workshop Gallery.”
For the past five years, these two very different fairs have flourished in a finely balanced symbiosis. Next year, however, things are set to change when Frieze launches Frieze Masters, a second fair that will partly encroach on PAD’s territory by exhibiting works of art from antiquity through 2000. Frieze Masters will occupy a marquee specially designed by New York art-space specialist Annabelle Selldorf, on the other side of Regent’s Park from the contemporary fair, with its own program of events. Ms. Sharp explains that they are “bringing a contemporary approach to historical art—we will bring this art to new audiences.” This initiative has been inspired by her recognition that “the past is present in every decision contemporary artists make. This is an opportunity to explore those connections more imaginatively.” Meanwhile, in May, Frieze hopes to recreate its London achievement in New York, with a contemporary fair on Randall’s Island Park, overlooking the East River.
PAD, however, remains unintimidated. Full of confidence in their concept, and with a line-up of loyal galleries, PAD too is launching a New York edition, Nov. 11-13. As Frieze and PAD continue in full swing, there is competitive tension in the air.
Mr. Perrin hopes his prime location, in Berkeley Square, will keep his modern dealers away from Frieze Masters. “If you bring the right collectors in front of the right booths, the dealers will trust you,” he says, adding that “Frieze had no interest in modern painting. The people from contemporary art have almost no interest in the past.”
Was the lack of booze a sign? Previously on opening night in the big tent, waves of waiters would set out at a given time to distribute a slow flood of Pommery, gradually inebriating a crowd of revelers.
This year change is afoot. After a hard afternoon of strolling the boulevards of the fair, we started to wonder when the sparkling wave would hit us. So it was a shock to notice that bottles of Pom were being quietly distributed to each gallery stand, to be served at the discretion of the dealers. This year then, getting a drink depended on how much a gallerist decided they liked you. The horror of a critic dependent on a gallerist for a free drink!
But to be fair to the fair, rationing the booze was a good move; after all, as various gallerists I spoke to pointed out, opening night in recent years has tended to get a bit messy. And for sure, the more subdued, polite atmosphere this year seemed to demand more seriousness and consideration from the VIP crowd. But turning down the fizz-quota seems to reflect the broader sense of caution and unease in this year’s edition: with economic uncertainty and the threat of a further worldwide recession casting a shadow on the art market, the mood was definitely downbeat.
Money was clearly a preoccupation and not in a good way. One gallerist in the Frame section (the “emerging” gallery section) brooded over the hike in stand fees; and that, combined with the grinding increase in VAT imposed by the government this year, made turning a profit tougher than ever. Throughout the fair, the need to cover costs appeared to determine how gallerists filled their stands. In good years, you tend to see stands with less work, bigger work, or single-artist presentations. This year, however, clutter and density was the rule, with dealers presenting often-smaller works across a greater range of their artists. Large sculpture, apart from the biggest galleries who can still afford to hold sizeable spaces, was notably lacking. And by and large, dealers were playing it safe with the kind of work on offer: swathes of uncontroversial, positive, and colorful paintings and sculptures, easy for collectors to like, gave the fair a weirdly lurid visual buzz, but little punch.
Was it anxiety over sales that gave this year’s fair too much of the pile-it-high trade-fair vibe? Or was it the changes to the layout of the fair? It seems trivial, but the cafés and drink counters, previously located throughout the fair, had been tucked away in separate wings of their own. Not so trivial perhaps, as the same shift out from the main spaces was also imposed on those special artists’ commissions that art fairs nowadays like to indulge in, and which has often been a highlight of a visit to Frieze. Frieze Projects, curated for the second year by London curator Sarah McCrory, seemed this year almost invisible, with the bulk of them either offsite, web-based or shifted into discrete spaces on the periphery of the fair. Pierre Huyghe’s unnervingly dreamlike aquarium, Recollection—with its bemused hermit crab inhabiting a replica of Brancusi’s bronze Sleeping Muse (1910) and creepy spider crabs grazing on Mars-like pinkish rocks—was tucked away in a space behind the restaurant. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the tent, Peles Empire (Katharina Stoever and Barbara Wolff) put up a vodka bar in a shared space with LuckyPDF (London internet-art hipsters) whose video studio was situated in a dark anteroom.
This only left Christian Jankowski’s bombastic and profoundly stupid The Finest Art on Water to occupy a space alongside the conventional stands. Jankowski’s project consisted of a 10m luxury motor yacht, being sold as a motor yacht, for €500,000. Alternatively, you could also buy it “as a work of art” for an extra €125,000. As far as “critical” gestures go, Jankowski’s insight into the vacuous intangibility of art-value displayed all the fatigued, witless cynicism of an art world now profoundly uncomfortable with the ethics of its relationship to private wealth, yet inertly incapable of doing anything about it. How else, also, to appreciate Michael Landy’s naively raging intervention at Thomas Dane’s stand? Visitors queued to have their credit cards shredded by a Tinguely-like credit card-munching machine, in return for various scrappy drawings by Landy. His bizarrely moralizing obsession with the ascetic rejection of consumer capitalism—at an art fair—seemed like a bad case of having your cake and not eating it.
Ironically, all this whining about the corruption of the art world by money accompanied a bit of belt-tightening when it came to the Frieze Projects and Frieze Talks themselves, with fewer projects and talks than in the last few editions—suggesting a budget cut, or at least a desire not to distract the punters too much from the urgent business of buying stuff, with or without their credit cards. It also starts to throw up the uneasy question of what kind of event Frieze Art Fair really is, especially when one considers that Frieze projects, for example, continues to receive public subsidy to put on artists’ commissions in what is essentially a trade fair for rich collectors, and where the entrance fee for members of the public unlucky enough not to have a VIP pass is now a dissuasive £27.
So the gloss, the glamour, and the fun of the fair have all faded a little. Frieze Art Fair needs to pay the bills and get ready for its leap across the Atlantic for its impending, Armory-busting edition next May in New York. On its Eastern Front, Frieze needs to stave off the increasing threat of the FIAC in Paris—and the danger that some galleries will opt for one over the other: already this year Barbara Gladstone and Friedrich Petzel have opted for FIAC without Frieze—perhaps a sign of things to come. In an art market no longer quite as fizzy and bubbly as before, the days of free-flowing champagne may not be back for some time.
October 16th, 2011
Yves Klein all photos by Caroline Claisse for Art Observed
This year marked the 2nd iteration of the House of the Nobleman, a privately sponsored exhibition which took place at the Boswall House, 15,000sqft mansion at 2 Cornwall Terrace, overlooking Regent’s Park and the Frieze 2011 Art Fair. Art Observed was on site for the private viewing. On view were works by Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin, Peter Paul Rubens, Edgar Degas, Max Ernst, Damien Hirst, Marlene Dumas, Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, Sigmar Polke, Christian Boltanski, Anish Kapoor, Nick Hornby, Matthew Day Jackson, Cecily Brown, Lucian Freud, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Longo, Alexander Calder, Eugenia Emets, Francesco Clemente, Salvador Dali, Peter Doig, Olafur Eliasson, George Condo, Takashi Murakami, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Gerhard Richter.
Monet, Claude “ Chemin dans le brouillard”, (1879)
more images after the jump…
Boltanski, Christian “Reliquaire”, (1990)
Shaw, Raqib “Portrait of Dorothea Kannengeisser”, (2008)
Doig, Peter “C+ W (Country and Western)”, (1983)
Hirst, Damien “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue”, (2000). Calder, Alexander “Enseigne de lunettes”, (1976)
(left) Richter, Gerhard “Entwurf fur Grund (Basic Draft)”, (1972)
(right) Ernst, Max “Fleurs sur Fond Vert”, (1928)
Doug Aitken, Now (2011) at 303 Gallery NY. All photos for Art Observed by Caroline Claisse.
AO is on site in London for this week’s Frieze Art Fair. With 173 galleries selling an estimated $350 million worth of art, a level of anxiety pervades as the week’s results will be indicative of the overall international contemporary art market. Works like Christian Jankowski’s droll The Finest Art on Water and Michael Landy’s Credit Card Destroying Machine directly comment on the world economic state, while the overall demeanor remains upbeat, with art world moguls and A-list celebrities enjoying the festivities.
Michael Landy’s Credit Card Destroying Machine (2011), Thomas Dane Gallery
More text and images after the jump…
Christian Jankowski, The Finest Art on Water (2011).
Retired fashion designer Valentino was photographed on the smaller of two infamous Christian Jankowski boats. Priced at €65 million while simply a boat, the 204-foot yacht jumps to €75 million once deemed a piece of art—as approved (with certificate) by Jankowski. When the Guardian asked Jankowski how the global recession is impacting art, to which he replied, “I don’t see the effect. I’m not one of the people who ever made much money.” No buyer information has been released thus far.
The Financial Times reports that the Tate team has been buying with its £120,000 budget, seeking mostly familiar artists. Among others, they have acquired works by two important woman artists: the yellow Tumour (1969) by Alina Szapocznikow is a wall-based polyester sculpture in toxic yellow from Broadway 1602 of New York, and a portfolio of Portuguese artist Helena Almeida spans four decades of the artist’s drawings and photographs from Madrid’s Galeria Helga de Alvear.
Iwan Wirth, at Hauser and Wirth
Ida Applebroog Modern Olympia (after giotto) (1997-2001), Louise Bourgeois Untitled (2005) at Hauser and Wirth
Paul McCarthy at Hauser and Wirth
Thomas Houseago, Hermaphrodite (2011). In Regent’s Sculpture Park
Other major sales include the purchase of Haus des Lehrers (2003) by Neo Rauch, sold by David Zwirner to an American collector for $1,350,000. Thomas Houseago has also been selling well, with his sculpture Hermaphrodite (2o11) reported at $425,000 and his Earth Mask II (2011) sold through Hauser & Wirth.
Artist Michael Landy with his Credit Card Destroying Machine (2011), Thomas Dane Gallery
Despite the platform of optimism and glamor, Thomas Dane’s presentation of Michael Landy’s latest work draws attention to the contradiction of this year’s fair. Credit Card Destroying Machine (2011) does what its name suggests: in order to make a drawing, Landy’s odd conglomeration of rickety wires and dead animal heads destroys a credit card. The work on paper is then given freely to the viewer who volunteered a now ruined credit card.
Landy supervised the showcase on Wednesday, telling onlookers that the machine is intentionally “very human”—sometimes it breaks, sometimes it gets caught on things. The analytical and journalistic consensus is that the work speaks to the underlying tension of Frieze this year: although upbeat and enthralling, the financial complications paired with human error are an undeniable, often unspoken presence at the fair. Landy’s work successfully targets the mixed emotions via disseminating sensationalism. The work is on reserve for $189,000.
Tom Dingle, Gallery Director at Thomas Dane of London, confirmed that spirits were high. “I feel no looming dread,” he told AO, “Frieze is always good fun and all our friends are here.”
Pierre Huyghe, Recollection (2011).
Another popular work is Pierre Huyghe’s Recollection (2011). Crowds discussed the hermit crab living inside a Brancusi Muse replica (originally 1910) with adoration and fascination. The work is reminiscent of Brancusi’s work during Art Basel, which was juxtaposed with Richard Serra’s more contemporary black paintings at Fondation Beyeler.
Art dealer Jay Jopling at White Cube booth.
White Cube Bermondsey is the gallery’s third space in London at a very large 58,000 sq ft, with the full site totaling 1.7 acres (74,300 sq ft). Prior to its renovation, the building was a warehouse. Its inaugural exhibition, Structure & Absence, is on view through November 26th, which includes Chinese scholars’ rocks, and comments on the work of living artists Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst and Gary Hume, among others. At the new space, White Cube includes an auditorium to host lectures and other programs. Founding dealer Jay Jopling was on site at Regent’s Park, speaking animatedly near Damien Hirst’s fresh pastel dot paintings.
Hirst features heavily in this week’s contemporary auction sales, which thus far have proven successful. A standout example is art star Jacob Kassay, whose work exceeded its estimate at Phillips de Pury by $147,000, officially selling at $257,000. Just two years ago, Phillips de Pury had priced him at $8,000, surprising everyone with an actual selling bid of $86,500. Tomorrow at Christie’s, Gerhard Richter’sKerze, or Candle (1982) has a high estimate of nine million pounds.
Anish Kapoor at Lisson Gallery
Although powerful gallerists traditionally dominate the crowd on site and by reputation, this year was one for the artist and activist. Correspondingly, Art Review announced the 100 most powerful people in the art world, and Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei ranked number one, with gallery tycoons Larry Gagosian and Ivan Wirth at numbers 4 and 8. Ai Weiwei’s designation follows his recent release from arrest and detainment by the Chinese government earlier this year.
Asian influence on the fair has been hotly debated by art critics and journalists. The Chinese economy has been largely accepted as a global powerhouse, and so too as an art market one. In 2011, White Cube and Lehmann Maupin both sought to open galleries in East Asia, and Galeri Perrotin and Lehman Maupin continue to seek space. Gagosian Gallery has a showroom in Hong Kong, as inaugurated by Damien Hirst’s diamond-covered baby skull in the Forgotten Promises exhibition. Many of the galleries at Frieze now also show at Art HK in Hong Kong, which was purchased by Art Basel Miami.
Along with the Asian presence, South America stood out as well with works such as Brazilian gallery A Gentil Carioca’s Visiting Portraiture by Laura Lama. For 50 pounds, visitors can purchase a professional ‘makeover’—a portrait of the visitor at a much older age.
Urs Fischer, Untitled (2003), Gagosian Gallery
In a crowd of friends and notables, celebrity sightings were numerous. Musician Gwen Stefani, and models Natalia Vodianova and Elle Macphearson were counted in the crowd alongside collectors like Princess of Sharjah Hoor al-Qasimi, Sir Nicholas Serota of Tate, and the Serpentine Gallery‘s power duo Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones (fresh from talks at Tuesday’s Bidoun Auction).
Ultimately, art, parties, and economic confidence largely diverge. Hesitations at the fair have yet to reveal booming sales results, and while the auction hammer prices are high, this does not fully quell fears. As the fair continues through the weekend, only time will tell.
Elmgreen & Dragset, The Fruit of Knowledge (2001), Victoria Miro Gallery
Paul Simon Richards for Live from Frieze Art Fair this is LuckyPDFTV. Photo by Polly Braden. Courtesy of Polly Braden/ Frieze
As many of you probably know, i love contemporary art fairs. Yes, it’s pure porn art and there’s too much to see, most of which is quite frankly bad. But there are good surprises as well and i don’t mind spending hours in front of painted horrors if at some point i stumble upon a piece that will move me. I’m that easy. Besides, art fairs expose me to works and artists i would otherwise never have accepted to look at.
That’s how in mid-October i found myself in Regent’s Park, London, clutching my hard earned press pass (did they make bloggers sweat to get an accreditation!), expecting to be blown away. Year after year, i had read about the Frieze art fair in mags and newspapers. It looked extravagant and fearless. It looked like an art fair i would enjoy.
Alas! What the 173 galleries exhibited inside the gigantic pavilion was a bit uneventful.
Maybe the euro crisis had compelled gallery owners to be cautious and somewhat conservative in their selection of art works. Maybe my expectations were too high. I walked from corridor desperate for some excitement to photograph.
I was keen to see Pierre Huyghe’s crab living inside a Brancusi head but i never managed to locate it. I didn’t manage to miss Christian Jankowski’s 65-metre yacht though. Made by a specialist boat builder, the luxury ship could be purchased at the merchant’s prize for €500,000. Or for €625,000 if you fancied having the artist sign it. The references were obvious (Duchamp, financial crisis, bling culture, etc.), the whole point not so much.
Of course it wasn’t all pain and gloom. The PM3 of the talks are online, there was Nathalie Djurberg! there was Nathalie Djurberg!, i ended up in The Guardian (albeit in a photo gallery showing people who confuse art fairs with fashion shows) and i did find works that make this post worthy of a quick scroll down:
Michael Landy, Credit Card Destroying Machine, 2010 (Thomas Dane gallery). Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Frieze/ Linda Nylind
Michael Landy was showing a Tinguely-inspired eccentricity that shred your credit card in exchange of a drawing by the artist. You might remember that 10 years ago Landy spent 2 weeks destroying all of his worldly possession in an empty store on Oxford Street.
Over some 20 years, street photographer Igor Moukhin chronicled rallies and protest marches across Russia.
Brian Griffiths, Bear Work Wear (black), 2011 (Vilma Gold gallery)
As i screamed earlier, there was Nathalie Djurberg! there was Nathalie Djurberg!
Nathalie Djurberg, Woods, Gio Marconi. Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/ Frieze
Nathalie Djurberg, Woods, Gio Marconi. Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/ Frieze
Nathalie Djurberg, Woods, Gio Marconi. Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/ Frieze
In Encounter(s), Tejal Shah collaborated with artist Varsha Nair. Wearing a straightjacket, outstretching their bodies, they wrapped themselves around pilars, across stairs, through gates and against other pieces of architecture. The work amplifies the paradox of our highly networked reality wherein technology variously connects, only to ironically distance us.
Tejal Shah, Encounter(s), 2006
Marina Abramovic, The Levitation of Saint Teresa, 2010 (Lisson Gallery)
In case you were wondering ‘how much does the work below cost?’, i found some figures online: In Frame, the section in the fair for young galleries showing solo artist presentations supported for a second year by Cos, sales were also substantial. François Ghebaly sold out their Patrick Jackson booth, selling Dirt Pile on Table (roots&glass) (2011) priced at $9,000; two versions of Heads, hands and feet (2011) for $15,000 and 3 dirt pile sculpture for $20,000 all to significant international collectors.
Patrick Jackson, Head, Hands and Feet (black) + Head, Hands and Feet (red), 2011 (François Ghebaly Gallery)
Wolfgang Tillmans. Faltenwurf (Grey), 2011 (Galerie Chantal Crousel)
Dawn Mellor, South African Gallerist Kristen Scott Thomas is showing neo-institutional critique works by Zurich based artist Chaz Bono, 2011 (Team Gallery)
Alex Hartley (of the Nowherisland fame) was showing what looked like a photo of the Unabomber cabin. Close (very close) inspection revealed that it was a sculpture with the architectural model carved and built into the photography of the landscape itself. The series is on show at Victoria Miro this Winter.
Alex Hartley, Waiting for Daylight to End (Kaczynski Cabin), 2011
Cinthia Marcelle, O Cosmopolita, 2011
This is the billy-goat costume that Paweł Althamer wore to travel the world on the footsteps of a Polish children’s-book character.
Sorry i have no title nor author for the following works:
More images. Photo on the homepage: Paul Simon Richards for Live from Frieze Art Fair this is LuckyPDFTV. Photo by Polly Braden. Courtesy of Polly Braden/ Frieze.
FINANCIAL TIMES LONDON
October 12, 2011 7:06 pm
Frieze Art Fair, Regent’s Park, London
By Salamander Davoudi
Five-day event will showcase $350m worth of art displayed by 173 galleries
London’s Frieze Art Fair opened its doors to VIP guests on Wednesday in an optimistic mood, defiantly showcasing the beautiful, the bohemian and the bizarre despite the volatility in world markets and concerns over the impact on the art world.
High-profile collectors and celebrities such as Russian entrepreneur Evgeny Lebedev and model Elle Macpherson gathered in Regent’s Park at London’s leading fair for the sale of contemporary art, which traditionally sees millions of pounds change hands.
This market has enjoyed several years of strong growth, especially at the top end, but amid global economic uncertainty and in the wake of a few weak London auctions last week, dealers are anxious to see if sales of contemporary art will hold up.“The market feels sound. For people who have accumulated wealth contemporary art is, in a way, one of the most sophisticated ways of enjoying it…But people do say that the middle part of the market is suffering,” said Nicholas Logsdail, owner of London’s Lisson Gallery, which made five sales in the first three hours.
The White Cube gallery reported brisk trade, selling Antony Gormley’s “Spy”, a rusted steel standing figure, for £300,000 as well as Andreas Gursky’s “Cocoon II” for €600,000. An untitled 2011 painting by Mark Bradford also sold for $400,000. New York’s David Zwirner Gallery, meanwhile, sold a 2003 work by the German painter Neo Rauch for $1.35m to a US collector.
Hiscox, the insurers, have estimated that the five-day event will showcase $350m worth of art, $25m less than last year, displayed by 173 galleries from all round the world, including dealers from Colombia, Peru and Argentina for the first time. As in previous years, the fair also includes a sculpture park.
Many of the pieces on display use the internet and social networking to examine the role of information. A project by the German artist Oliver Laric will exist online only – he is filming the fair and creating an archive of slow-motion footage.
Matthew Slotover, co-founder of Frieze, said: “More galleries applied than ever before to take part. When the markets turned down in August we were worried but good art always sells. This is about getting quality works through the door.”
Laurence Tuhey, associate director of the Timothy Taylor Gallery, said there had been significant interest in the New York-based artist Kiki Smith. Her stained glass piece “A Behold” sold in the afternoon for $125,000. “We had expected doom and gloom but the energy at the start of the fair was really good,” he said.
Among the more experimental pieces of art on display yesterday included Beijing artist Liu Wei’s video installation called “The 400 Blows” in which 400 men pull down their trousers and show their bottoms to the camera. French artist Pierre Huyghe created an aquarium featuring a hermit crab
The fair’s “Frame” section, dedicated to young galleries displaying solo artists, was bigger than in previous years. “This is the younger more experimental side of the market. But the work sells if the work is good,” said Francois Ghebaly, owner of the Ghebaly gallery.
Mr Ghebaly was displaying American artist Patrick Jackson’s work. Within two hours he had sold Mr Jackson’s “dirt piles” – tables piled with dung-like dirt, for $9,000.
Auctions at Sotheby’s Christie’s, Bonhams and Phillips de Pury will be held at the end of “Frieze Week” including Bonhams’ first “Contemporary One” sale on Thursday.
“People are generally quite nervous in the contemporary art market after the collapse of Lehman’s when the market fell off a cliff. That could easily happen again,” said Robert Read, fine art expert at specialist art insurer Hiscox.
“There is a hell of a lot of cash held by the uber wealthy that is looking for a home to go to. There are not that many investment opportunities generally at the moment. So the purchasing power is there but whether they will be tempted by the contemporary art market is another matter.”
Stefan Ratibor, director of the Gagosian gallery, which sold seven pieces in the first three hours said: “Sometimes we sell more sometimes we sell less but it is really too early to comment on the state of the market. We need to wait and see what happens in the auctions at the end of the week.”
The Frieze Art Fair takes place each October in central London, under a very big tent in Regent’s Park. The 2011 edition, the fair’s ninth, accommodated 173 galleries, and from the Oct. 12 VIP preview through the Oct. 16 close, 60,000 visitors passed through. It’s anyone’s guess how much money changed hands — with those numbers, presumably quite a lot. Despite the sinking global economy, there is money for art in London. There is also art for money.
At Frieze, Michael Landy and Christian Jankowski presented projects that made that point crystal clear. Landy is the YBA who publicly destroyed all his possessions in 2001– more than 7,000 items, everything inventoried beforehand — in a giant machine he built for the purpose, as a site-specific project for Artangel.
What a difference a decade makes. Landy brought a new, more Tinguely-like machine to London dealer Thomas Dane’s stand at Frieze. This crowd-pleaser, a 12-foot-tall assemblage of saws, animal skulls, hand puppets and countless gears, destroyed credit cards proffered by game collectors. In return, each received a drawing in marker made on the spot by the same machine, but signed by the artist. (The machine was priced at $189,000. No word on any takers.)
Jankowski’s readymade sculpture was even more absurd. One of nine commissions for Frieze Projects, a nonprofit (ha!) program curated by the Frieze Foundation’s Sarah McCrory, it was actually an Aquariva Cento speedboat that was dry-docked beside the model of a Ferretti super-yacht, the kind super-rich collectors parked in front of the Giardini during opening week of the current Venice Biennale — Jankowski’s inspiration for the project.
Both boats were for sale, either as personal sailing vessels or as Christian Jankowski artworks — lusting collectors had their choice. (For the speedboat, the price was £500,000; as an artwork, it went up to £650,000. The built-to-order yacht was going for €65 million; as a certified Jankowski, it would cost €75 million.)
A salesman from Ferretti, trained by the artist, was on hand to make the pitch either way. “Only by completing the deal does the artwork exist,” Jankowski said. At this writing, it is still a boat. And Frieze is still a marketplace, though I did appreciate the attempt to provide commentary and context for the fair’s vast expanse of art merchandise. And humor is always welcome when serious money is afloat.
Still, salesmanship is the name of the game at an art fair, where the best art is the art that sells itself. Evidently, that was the case at the front-and-center Gagosian Gallery stand, which was wrapped in posters gathered by Franz West. The artist was also represented by a pink, raised-finger bronze, a smaller version of the one he made for Venice. It sold early on, as did a Dan Colen painting that featured a supermarket cart and went for a good six figures.
Also at Gagosian, a fetching wall work of bulging ceramic pots by Piotr Uklanski was priced at $150,000. An equally effulgent red-on-black resin painting by Uklanski held a wall at the booth of Milan dealer Massimo de Carlo, who was offering as well a palm tree-on-bathroom tile painting by Rashid Johnson and a cartoony Kaari Upson drawing that amounted to an exegesis of her work to date.
Though Gavin Brown’s enterprise won the fair’s award for best booth with a clean, straightforward hang, I pegged Greene Naftali’s for the most colorful presentation. Anchored by a red, white and blue flying-drawing-table construction by Guyton/Walker, it showed a silvery, Jacqueline Humphries painting that is among her best yet, a terrific Rachel Harrison amalgamation, and a wall of monochrome paintings by Paul Chan that used old books as canvases. “It’s about the ambiguity of knowledge,” Carol Greene explained.
Dealers trade in information, and like everyone else, I went not just to look at art but to talk about it. Conversation is what rules an art fair, which is just another word for social networking, allowing people who might envy or despise each other in normal circumstances to bond over art. The passion grows in the aisles and spreads via daily after-fair dinners and inebriating parties, where the discussion continues, and deals are consummated, alliances are created, and opportunities for further discussion crop up.
Talk, as the one of the Sunday papers would note, is the new art form, and London was full of it. The fair hosted its own series of artist conversations, while at the ICA, Paul Chan had a face-off with Museum Ludwig director Kasper Koenig. Artist and filmmaker Duncan Campbell appeared at Hotel Gallery’s new Herald Street space (Wolfgang Tillmans‘ former studio) for a discussion of European economic theory with author John Lanchester that was as stimulating as Campbell’s postcard-based film about German economist Hans Tietmeyer was engrossing.
And at the Serpentine Gallery, co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist hosted his annual Frieze weekend marathon, an avant-garde variety show of brief lectures and performances. It really should be televised, though I’m not sure that Rodney Graham‘s lobbing of potatoes at a gong would be as edifying on the small screen as it was in person.
In fact, what Frieze has going for it is London, where exhibitions in museums and nonprofit spaces opening at the same time lend some welcome depth to the homogenizing effect of sheer commerce.
Tate Modern had Gerhard Richter and Tacita Dean. The Serpentine had films by Anri Sala. The Hayward Gallery had retrospectives for Pipilotti Rist and George Condo, the Whitechapel Gallery featured Wilhelm Sasnal, and the Camden Arts Centre had new videos by Nathalie Djurberg, who went all out at the fair and installed her furry, fantastically grotesque plasticine puppet sculptures in the stand of Gio Marconi from Milan.
If I had been a buyer at Frieze, I might have gone for an untitled abstract painting by Glaswegian Cathy Wilkes, a beauty that The Modern Institute sold easily for £15,000. I also liked Ryan Gander‘s Self-Portrait, a spread of palette-like glass discs bearing paint smears, that Lisson Gallery sold for £60,000.
But I was most intrigued by a Richard Wentworth book sculpture trailing audio tape and ribbons and placed high up on a mirrored shelf in the same booth — the only work in it that didn’t find a buyer. “There were conservation concerns,” said Lisson’s Nicholas Logsdail.
No such issues came up at Hollybush Gardens’ booth, where a long scroll of cheap paper marked with council-flat coal dust by Knut Henrikson was selling to DIY-minded collectors who relished the chance to recreate it themselves as soon as the paper disintegrated.
That and the Landy and Jankowski gestures aside, however, daring was not in the fair’s character. Not that it ever can be when the stakes are high, though that seems all the more reason for dealers to be bold.
A twisted Madonna and Child painting and sculpture by Jake & Dinos Chapman, at the entrance to White Cube‘s booth, was about as radical as anyone got, but it wasn’t half as compelling as Miroslaw Balka‘s skull-like glass rock encased in rusted wire, a work from 2007, in the same booth. Nor was it as sexy as Tillmans’ big blue abstract C-print at Maureen Paley‘s stand, where it sold for $78,000.
But who cares about prices when there are discoveries to be made? That was the draw for the Sunday fair, Oct. 13-16, 2011, an unpretentious satellite show of 20 young galleries organized by Limoncello Gallery director Rebecca May Marston. As the fair was located in the bowels of a university basement, finding it alone was an adventure. Inside, its open plan strongly resembled New York’s Independent fair, with overlapping presentations and friendly young dealers eager to do the required duty — talk about the art.
But what brought it all back home were the four elevating gouaches of plastic bottles and glassware by Allyson Vieria offered by Lower East Side dealer Laurel Gitlen. For me, they were the art highlight of the week, exciting enough to make me wish for $4,500 to burn.
Just goes to show: when it’s truth and beauty you want, look first in your own backyard. Come May, that’s where Frieze reappears next — on Randall’s Island in the East River. How well it makes the transfer to the shores of New York is open to question.
Let’s talk. LINDA YABLONSKY is an art critic who writes for Artforum.com, the Art Newspaper, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, W and other publications.