Brazilian Painter of Visual Experience: Beatriz Milhazes

Brazilian painter Beatriz Milhazes brilliant work as a painter is by definition Post Conceptual Abstraction. Her work comes to form literally with the “return to painting” in Brazil in the 1980’s, after the Conceptual Artist era in Brazil had been fully realized. Milhazes works speak not merely of great visual beauty, but also raw energy orchestrated into a high symphonic episode that moves into both the greatest of dark and light. Mihazes continues to work in her small studio n Rio de Janero even with the call for more and more of her exhilarating and unique works, which get much more down and dirty with pattern and design, and break free into moments of explosive color emanating from what sometimes appears to be the salt of the earth turned into a universe of unequaled delight. I am completely aligned with what I see as Milhazes’ idea that art representing the beauty and pleasure of the world elevates us and brings us out of the darkness that can inhabit one’s life. This is something that I have personally dedicated to pursue in my own life’s work as an African American artist based in Los Angeles.

Vincent Johnson

Brazilian Artist Beatriz Milhazes Takes Center Stage in the U.S.
The artist’s work has been coveted for years by collectors throughout South America and Europe


Associated Press

© Beatriz Milhazes/Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary

Aug. 28, 2014 4:51 p.m. ET
The Works of Beatriz Milhazes
View Slideshow

Brazilian painter Beatriz Milhazes’s explosive botanical scenes will be on display in her first solo museum show in the U.S. at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Above,’São Cosme e Damião,’ (Saints Cosmas and Damian), 2014 Beatriz Milhazes/James Cohan Gallery, NY

Beatriz Milhazes’s explosive botanical scenes have been coveted for years by collectors throughout South America and Europe, but on Sept. 19, the Brazilian painter will open her first solo museum show in the U.S. at the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

The exhibit amounts to an official debut for the museum, the former Miami Art Museum that gained a new name when it moved into a sleek Herzog & de Meuron-designed building last year. PAMM has since held several group shows, but Ms. Milhazes’s “Botânical Garden” represents its first retrospective, organized by its chief curator Tobias Ostrander.

Mr. Ostrander said he chose Ms. Milhazes because her Spirograph-like paintings of overlapping blossoms, stripes and unfurling leaves will likely resonate with audiences in Miami’s climate—particularly the city’s growing Brazilian diaspora.

The 50-work show also comes at a time when the artist appears to be moving away from her signature bouquets toward compositions that feature more geometric shapes and straight lines. “Beatriz’s art was always sensual and dizzying, just sensory overload,” Mr. Ostrander said. “She’s moving more and more toward purely geometric forms.”

From a market standpoint, her decision could be a risk. Over the past decade, major collectors have gravitated toward her more-is-more arrangements—in part because the cheeriness of her canvases seemed to match Brazil’s economic rise. In May 2008, Buenos Aires collector Eduardo Costantini paid Sotheby’s $1 million for her rainbow-hued “Magic” from 2001, tripling its high estimate. That painting will be part of the PAMM show, along with flowery pieces lent by heavyweights like German publisher Benedikt Taschen, Austrian philanthropist Francesca von Habsburg and Washington lobbyist Tony Podesta.

Ms. Milhazes, speaking from her studio in Rio de Janeiro, said her shift toward abstraction is actually her artistic equivalent of coming home—because the story of 20th century Brazil hinges heavily on geometry. Ms. Milhazes, who grew up in Brazil during an era of dictatorship, said her peers rarely got to see much contemporary art. But her mother was an art-history professor, so she learned about Brazil’s latest art trends. Her family revered the Brazilian modernist painters of the 1930s, but the local art scene in the 1960s was all about the Neo-Concrete, a movement that prized art made using principles of geometry or movement rather than covering canvases in brushstrokes. Neo-Concrete stars included Lygia Clark, who cut shards of aluminumn to make origami-like sculptures, and Lygia Pape, who strung rows of gold thread to create obstacle course-like installations.

She knew about these Neo-Concrete artists, but she yearned to paint. Her first artist crush was Henri Matisse. In college, she studied journalism by day but took art classes at night and reveled in making collages from bits of fabric and colored paper. She attended Rio’s carnivals and parades and took inspiration from the effusion of ruffles and undulation. With her parents’ blessing, she started painting flowers with lacy curlicues in hot, Fauvist hues—but “I always felt like an outsider,” she said.

Her painting methods also stood apart. In 1989, she began experimenting with how to create a painting that could ape the stacked look of a paper collage, with some elements hidden behind others. Her eureka moment hit when she used acrylic to paint on a clear sheet of plastic, then used glue and pressure to transfer her designs onto canvas. Sometimes the design flaked, but she liked the decayed look such “mistakes” produced, she said. Nobody in Brazil was applying this decal-like process to fine art, and it became her breakthrough.

She has built a glossary of motifs to lay and overlay, and the PAMM exhibition charts their evolution. In the early 1990s, her works contain tribal references and Baroque designs like ruffles, beads, and flowers; later, she adds Pop elements like hearts, peace signs and fruity headdress shapes that nod to her compatriot Carmen Miranda. The market tends to favor the “exploding circles” series that followed in the next decade, where works like “The Son of London” revolve around blossoming dahlia-like forms.

Two of the three new works in the Miami exhibit hint at where Ms. Milhazes could be headed, led by “Flowers and Trees.” Gone are the frills and fruit, this canvas evokes a forest comprised almost entirely of circles. Ms. Milhazes, a former math teacher, said “there’s always been structure” to her paintings; her new works simply reveal more of the scaffolding.

Aug. 28, 2014 4:51 p.m. ET
The Works of Beatriz Milhazes
View Slideshow

Brazilian painter Beatriz Milhazes’s explosive botanical scenes will be on display in her first solo museum show in the U.S. at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Above,’São Cosme e Damião,’ (Saints Cosmas and Damian), 2014 Beatriz Milhazes/James Cohan Gallery, NY

Beatriz Milhazes’s explosive botanical scenes have been coveted for years by collectors throughout South America and Europe, but on Sept. 19, the Brazilian painter will open her first solo museum show in the U.S. at the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

The exhibit amounts to an official debut for the museum, the former Miami Art Museum that gained a new name when it moved into a sleek Herzog & de Meuron-designed building last year. PAMM has since held several group shows, but Ms. Milhazes’s “Botânical Garden” represents its first retrospective, organized by its chief curator Tobias Ostrander.

Mr. Ostrander said he chose Ms. Milhazes because her Spirograph-like paintings of overlapping blossoms, stripes and unfurling leaves will likely resonate with audiences in Miami’s climate—particularly the city’s growing Brazilian diaspora.

The 50-work show also comes at a time when the artist appears to be moving away from her signature bouquets toward compositions that feature more geometric shapes and straight lines. “Beatriz’s art was always sensual and dizzying, just sensory overload,” Mr. Ostrander said. “She’s moving more and more toward purely geometric forms.”

From a market standpoint, her decision could be a risk. Over the past decade, major collectors have gravitated toward her more-is-more arrangements—in part because the cheeriness of her canvases seemed to match Brazil’s economic rise. In May 2008, Buenos Aires collector Eduardo Costantini paid Sotheby’s $1 million for her rainbow-hued “Magic” from 2001, tripling its high estimate. That painting will be part of the PAMM show, along with flowery pieces lent by heavyweights like German publisher Benedikt Taschen, Austrian philanthropist Francesca von Habsburg and Washington lobbyist Tony Podesta.

Ms. Milhazes, speaking from her studio in Rio de Janeiro, said her shift toward abstraction is actually her artistic equivalent of coming home—because the story of 20th century Brazil hinges heavily on geometry. Ms. Milhazes, who grew up in Brazil during an era of dictatorship, said her peers rarely got to see much contemporary art. But her mother was an art-history professor, so she learned about Brazil’s latest art trends. Her family revered the Brazilian modernist painters of the 1930s, but the local art scene in the 1960s was all about the Neo-Concrete, a movement that prized art made using principles of geometry or movement rather than covering canvases in brushstrokes. Neo-Concrete stars included Lygia Clark, who cut shards of aluminumn to make origami-like sculptures, and Lygia Pape, who strung rows of gold thread to create obstacle course-like installations.

She knew about these Neo-Concrete artists, but she yearned to paint. Her first artist crush was Henri Matisse. In college, she studied journalism by day but took art classes at night and reveled in making collages from bits of fabric and colored paper. She attended Rio’s carnivals and parades and took inspiration from the effusion of ruffles and undulation. With her parents’ blessing, she started painting flowers with lacy curlicues in hot, Fauvist hues—but “I always felt like an outsider,” she said.

Her painting methods also stood apart. In 1989, she began experimenting with how to create a painting that could ape the stacked look of a paper collage, with some elements hidden behind others. Her eureka moment hit when she used acrylic to paint on a clear sheet of plastic, then used glue and pressure to transfer her designs onto canvas. Sometimes the design flaked, but she liked the decayed look such “mistakes” produced, she said. Nobody in Brazil was applying this decal-like process to fine art, and it became her breakthrough.

She has built a glossary of motifs to lay and overlay, and the PAMM exhibition charts their evolution. In the early 1990s, her works contain tribal references and Baroque designs like ruffles, beads, and flowers; later, she adds Pop elements like hearts, peace signs and fruity headdress shapes that nod to her compatriot Carmen Miranda. The market tends to favor the “exploding circles” series that followed in the next decade, where works like “The Son of London” revolve around blossoming dahlia-like forms.

Two of the three new works in the Miami exhibit hint at where Ms. Milhazes could be headed, led by “Flowers and Trees.” Gone are the frills and fruit, this canvas evokes a forest comprised almost entirely of circles. Ms. Milhazes, a former math teacher, said “there’s always been structure” to her paintings; her new works simply reveal more of the scaffolding.

131011-beatriz-milhazes-teaseBrazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes poses for a photo in front of one of her paintings in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2013. (Felipe Dana/Ap)

O Artista

Brazil’s Kandinsky: The Riotous Art of Beatriz Milhazes

Oct 13, 2013 4:45 am

With her exuberant murals bursting with Rio de Janeiro joie de vivre, Beatriz Milhazes is winning the art world’s heart.

In a pale lavender blouse under a gray blazer, Beatriz Milhazes is a portrait in understatement. Soft-spoken and with a bonnet of brown curls, she might be a docent or an art teacher on a class tour. But the bustle of museum handlers orbiting around her today and the scrum of reporters and television crews stalking the corridors of the Rio de Janeiro gallery quickly shatter the idyll.

“As a plastic artist you never think you’re going to be in the spotlight,” Milhazes tells The Daily Beast on a recent morning in Rio de Janeiro. We have fled the crowded gallery showcasing her career to a quiet room on the top floor of the Paço Imperial, a 18th century palace converted to a museum in downtown Rio. This is the last in a series of interviews for the week, and Milhazes is savoring the rare moment of quiet. “Now I guess it’s part of my life.”

Judging from the reception in Rio, and beyond, that is unlikely to change anytime soon. For the last two decades, Milhazes has been quietly raising the bar for the Latin American art world. More recently, her paintings have shattered auction records, floored critics, and mobilized dealers and curators from Tokyo to Chicago. In 2009, the Paris based Fondation Cartier dedicated an exhibit to Milhazes. She represented Brazil at the 2003 Venice Biennalle. She designed a wall mural for the restaurant at the Tate Modern and was commissioned to create 19 separate vaulted panels for the Gloucester Road station of the London Underground.

Fortune has followed fame. Her 2001 canvas O Mágico (The Magician), a bold work of deep blues and flying geometric shards, was an art house sleeper for years until Southeby’s sold it in 2008 for $1,049,000, at three times the floor price. In June of last year, O Elefante Azul (The Blue Elephant) auctioned for $1.5 million at Christies and in November, her picture Meu Limão (My Lemon), fetched $2.1 million at Southeby’s, a record for a living artist from Latin America. “She is a leading talent, and a huge influence,” says art dealer Ivor Braka. “There can’t be many examples Latin American artists who have impacted people’s minds and on markets that the way she has.”

The money trail is only one way to plot Milhazes’ career. Working from the same modest studio in Rio’s arbored Botanical Gardens neighborhood, she has spent the last three decades honing her craft. Fiercely single minded, she has painted through the market hype and the stream of visitors who have turned her atelier into a tourist shrine, turning out 11 or 12 pictures a year. Collectors are willing to wait 18 months or more for a new canvas.

Her rise has been described as meteoric, but that is hardly the case. “My overnight success took 30 years,” she likes to say, in a gentle takedown of the hyperventilating art market. “I used to have to go abroad to find collectors and curators. Now they come to the studio. My isolation is gone!”

For those interested in looking at the pictures behind the buzz, the sweep of her work is in full force in the Rio exhibit, a rare homecoming for the wandering artist. The show, Meu Bem (My Dear), which runs through October 27, is a retrospective of her career since 1989, featuring 60 paintings and collages, created out of crochet, lace and silk screens and acrylic paint. Displayed chronologically, each canvas is a starburst of shapes and colors, gathering intensity over the years.

The visual vortex begins even before you reach the main exhibition, as visitors are drawn into the museum rotunda to her giant mobile titled Gamboa 1—a cataract of baubles, orbs, stars, mandalas and cubes tumbling 30 feet from the skylight. Milhazes conceived the piece years ago as a stage prop for her sister, a noted Rio choroegrapher, dangling the sparkling ornaments just above the dancers’ heads. Later, with the help of a famous designer of Carnival floats, she rescaled it as ceiling-to-floor museum installation, transposing the sequined cadences of samba to sculpture.

Inside the gallery, each of the paintings on display has a fissile power of its own. Modinha (Little way) is a storm of arabesques, circles overlapping circles, and horizontal stripes, rendered in a brilliant tropical palette. Tempo de verão (Summer weather) is an eruption of Pop Art-styled stars, hearts and flowers gushing from glowing red and orange beams. The fashion designer Christian Lacroix once called her work a visual Big Bang. Milhazes herself celebrates in the chaos and “claustrophobia” of her works, many of which occupy entire walls.

The colors are rich and riotous, but the impact is complex and disorienting. I took my eight-year-old to the show, and she skipped through the five separate galleries as if on a sugar rush. Critics shoebox Milhazes as a decorative painter at their peril. “Sometimes people just don’t get her. Or they like her work almost for the wrong reasons, because they see it as facile or pretty,” says Braka. “In fact, her work is stunningly beautiful. And it’s not a la mode to be beautiful.”

One of the tropes about Milhazes style is that she is quintessentially Latin American. After all, her paintings at a glance are as big, as noisy and as over-the-top as Brazil itself. Her use of radiant primary colors and rudimentary looking shapes—circles, flowers, mandalas and stripes—flirts with tropical kitsch. “Sitting in gray, overcast London, you can perceive her work as delivering something we could hope for from Latin America,” says Tanya Barston, a curator at the Tate Modern. “As soon as I went to Rio I felt I could understand her work. Her studio is in the botanical gardens. The city of Rio emerges from forest, with exquisite tropical flora and fauna. There is incredible visual pleasure there.”

But that is partly an optical illusion. In Brazil, Milhazes says, serious contemporary artists steered clear of color, the use of which they associated with folk crafts and “low art.” That’s why so much of Brazilian modernism was done in drab, muted tones. Milhazes broke the rules, threw open the blinds and put color on steroids. Her canvases radiate shimmering gold and silver, burning orange, throbbing blues and even fluorescent green. “Color is frightening. Especially green, which has always been a stumbling block for painters. I love it,” she says.

Milhazes eludes tidy stereotypes even as she toys with them. She took the elements of pattern and decoration, a movement once dismissed as frivolous by art critics, and set them on a deliberate collision course. “She’s addressing you bodily,” says Barston. “There is a joyfulness and positivity there, but it’s wrongly interpreted as simplistic. She stands somewhere between tradition and carnival. There are a lot of other things going on in her painting,” she adds.

What distances Milhazes from the Latino cartoon is her willingness to trample boundaries and help herself to what the world serves up. And that in itself is a sensibility rooted in Brazil, a New World culture cooked up—like the national dish, feijoada—from scraps and flavors taken from just about everywhere.

One of her most visible influences is the work of Matisse, from which she learned to appreciate painterly issues of scale and composition. Yet she also proclaims her debt to Tarsila Amaral, the Brazilian modernist, whose work borrows heavily from the brash colors and blunt figures of popular art. Yet another influence is Bridget Riley, the British abstract artist whose storm of shapes and stripes translate vertigo onto canvas.

Pop Art and symbols of commercial culture mingle freely with modernism on her canvases. In one section of the gallery in Rio is a series of her paintings composed of candy wrappers and retail brands emblazoned on shopping bags, a nod to modernism but also to the seductive power of extravagance and consumerism. “I like to draw on elements that shout for attention,” Milhazes says. “They interest me chromatically and culturally, as emblems of exaggeration and extravagance.”

To Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon Guggenheim museum, that makes Milhazes a rebel. “She’s a visual omnivore, she celebrates color and is willing to embrace excess. That goes against the sensibilities of the mainstream, especially the chromophobes. But she’s working with vocabulary we haven’t seen since the early days of abstraction, which takes all the way back to [Wassily] Kandinsky.”

But don’t look to the Rio colorist for a soothing wall hanging. One of Milhazes’ “aha!” moments was when she read a statement by the famous French painter Yves Klein, who mastered painting in a single tone. “Klein said he painted in one color because once you add another, you have conflict,” she says. “That’s when I knew what I wanted and it was the exact opposite. I wanted the conflict.”

Picking a fight on canvas poses its challenges, as Milhazes readily admits. “It’s not easy to have one of my paintings at home, because it crowds out everything else,” she says with a laugh. (Asked if she had any of her own works at home, she smiled. “One, I think. I spend all day surrounded by them.”) At home, “most people, like to sit and gaze at something peaceful and serene, like the sea,” she says. “That’s not my work.”


pulsating brazilian art: beatriz milhazes

Beatriz Milhazes Art London Underground

The colorful fine art of Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes represent much of what we think of when someone mentions Brazil: bright tropical colors; pulsating energy and rhythm of Carnivale; a fluid movement mixed with a carefree passion for life.

Rio de Janeiro is a city that I love and have returned to many times.  There is just something so captivating about the people and the incredible beachside setting.  And when I learned that Milhazes’ studio overlooks the Botanical Gardens in the city, I wasn’t surprised: you can see the inspiration in her modernist still life paintings where floral shapes collide in a frenzy of vivid colors.


Beatriz Milhazes Brazilian Art

Born in Rio in 1960, Beatriz Milhazes has taken the international art scene by storm.  Well-known in Brazil, her first solo show in New York was held in 1996 and her career has been on a sharp rise since she was chosen to represent Brazil at the 2003 Venice Biennale.  This was followed with important commissions for public works in London – including a mural for the restaurant at the Tate Modern Gallery and an incredible series of paintings, which fill the arches of the Gloucester Road Station on London’s Underground (top image).


Beatriz Milhazes Art - Periquita

The contemporary art of Milhazes is often rigidly structured with repeating shapes and geometric patterns strewn across a canvas divided into ordered planes of intense colors.  Periquita (above) and Phebo (below), both of 2004, are a perfect example of her technique.  Rather than paint directly onto the canvas, Milhazes paints her spirals, circles and floral motifs on individual sheets of plastic that are allowed to dry and then carefully peeled off and layered onto the canvas to create a collage.  The overall effect is very flat and devoid of the artist’s brushstrokes.


Beatriz Milhazes Art _ Phebo

Continuing with the collage technique, as a New York City advisor of Brazilian fine art, one of my favorite pieces is entitled Brinquelandia (below) which roughly translates as Playland and is an homage to London’s retail scene with a mix of colorful shopping bags jostling for position amongst her trademark floral petals.


Beatriz Milhazes Art - Brinquelandia

One of Milhazes’ latest ventures has been the creation of fabulous mobiles and three-dimensional artworks (below).  Here we see the forms traditionally associated with her paintings suspended in time and space in a gentle ongoing dance.  They are simply entrancing for anyone who loves her work.


Beatriz Milhazes Art _ Mobile

Unlike other contemporary artists, Beatriz Milhazes actually produces less than a dozen of her soulful Brazilian artworks per year. This makes it difficult for her representing dealers who are limited by her output to mount gallery shows every four to five years. The good news for fans is that she is held in major museum collections.  The better news for collectors of Brazilian art is that her works can also be found through the secondary market via art advisors such as myself.

Richard Rabel, the|modern|sybarite


Centro Cultural Paço Imperial

Beatriz Milhazes at Centro Cultural Paço Imperial

Beatriz Milhazes, Dancing, 2007. Acrylic on canvas, 247 x 350 cm. Private collection. Photo: Ambroise Tézenas. Courtesy of Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain.



Beatriz Milhazes: Meu Bem

August 29–October 27, 2013

Centro Cultural Paço Imperial
Praça XV de Novembro, 48 – Centro
Rio de Janeiro – RJ
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 12–18h

T 55 21 2215 2622

Beatriz Milhazes is about to hold her first solo show in 11 years in Rio de Janeiro. On August 29, Paço Imperial, a historical building located in downtown Rio, will host the most extensive overview to date of the artist’s production, featuring more than 60 artworks including paintings, collages and prints, as well as a large mobile conceived especially for the space. Curated by French critic Frédéric Paul, sponsored by Banco Itaú and the energy company Statoil, and produced by Base 7 Projetos Culturais, the exhibition Meu Bem will present some of the artist’s most striking works since the late 1980s, coming from various public and private collections in Brazil and abroad. The various events planned for 2014 include the release of the catalog raisonné of her oeuvre in a deluxe edition published by Taschen, a documentary on her career, directed by José Henrique Fonseca, as well as her first traveling show in North America, to be held in a series of museums starting at Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM).

Beatriz Milhazes’s most recent institutional exhibitions in Brazil took place in 2002 (CCBB-RJ) and 2008 (Pinacoteca do Estado – SP). Although the artist has continued to show her recent production in sporadic exhibitions at her gallery in São Paulo, interspersing them with a busy international agenda, Meu Bem (My Dear) is a unique opportunity to take another look at historical works, to learn about the most recent developments of her production, and to identify some common threads, procedures and compositional strategies running through this vast set, which have made it one of the highlights of contemporary art worldwide at this threshold of the 21st century. She has participated in various biennials, such as those of Venice and São Paulo, and has held 30 solo shows in 11 countries, most notably at Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (Lisbon) and Fondation Cartier (Paris), while also participating in dozens of group shows, including The Encounters in the 21st Century: Polyphony – Emerging Resonances, at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (Kanazawa, Japan).

The most evident aspects of her work are its intense relation with Brazilian popular art, the dialogue with segments of applied art, including handicraft and embroidery, as well as a fertile proximity with three important moments in the history of Brazilian art: the baroque, antropofagia, and tropicalism. Other key features of Beatriz Milhazes’s work are the organicity of the forms and the intense chromatic interplay, which establish a relation of complementarity and contrast with an increasingly rigorous compositional structure. “She asserts strong links with European modernity and is on equal footing in the contemporary scene, in which she abolishes the often less than wise codes of abstraction,” explains Frédéric Paul.

It may seem strange to attribute the term “geometric abstraction” to such a sensual painting. But as the artist herself explains, the elements of this more rigorous and formal universe are also part of her repertoire, along with those drawn from fields like popular art and design. Moreover, “in the solitude of the studio, what functions is shape, color, structure, composition: questions clearly linked to abstract painting and geometry. The flower functions as color and as shape,” she adds.




London: Evolutions and Revolutions

Event Date: 12 – 20, 2010

Beatriz Milhazes came of age during a pivotal moment in Brazilian history. Following the collapse of the military dictatorship when vivid imagery and lush colors were being reintroduced into the local art scene, Milhazes absorbed herself in this new opportunity, pushing color and shape to exciting new levels. For her latest exhibition, Beatriz has created five new paintings and a window mural. The works display new movement in her style as she incorporates geometric abstraction, grid-like compositions and neon colors into her art. As always, Milhazes exhibits a profound command over her unique aesthetic and the show is worth checking out if you’re in London. For more info, click here.

Stephen Friedman Gallery
25-28 Old Burlington Street
London W1S 3AN


Beatriz Milhazes

Milhazes is known for her work juxtaposing Brazilian cultural imagery and references to western Modernist painting.
The daughter of a lawyer and an art historian, Milhazes was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1960.She studied social communication at Faculdades Integradas Hélio Alonso (FACHA), Rio De Janeiro from 1978 to 1981 and studied at the School of Visual Arts (Escola de Artes Visuais – EAV) of Parque Lage, Rio De Janeiro from 1980 to 1982.

Milhazes has had solo and group exhibitions in a number of museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. From 4-21 July 2009, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris presented a major exhibition of her work.

Milhazes’ paintings are in the permanent collections in many institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Banco Itaú, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
Milhazes is represented by Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.



Brazil’s top modern artist gets Rio homecoming

Aug. 25, 2013 2:53 AM EDT

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    Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes poses for a portrait in front of one of her paintings in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 23, 2013. More than a decade after her last show in her native Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s highest-paid artist is gearing up for a homecoming of sorts, a major retrospective spanning most of her 30-year career. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)


RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — She’s the toast of New York and beloved in Paris and London, but Beatriz Milhazes thinks there’s no place like home.

More than a decade after her last show in her native Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s highest-paid artist is gearing up for a homecoming of sorts, a major retrospective spanning most of her 30-year career. The exhibition, opening Thursday at the Paco Imperial Cultural Center in downtown Rio, brings together more than five dozen paintings, silk screens and collages covered in Milhazes’ signature riot of saturated color, concentric circles, upbeat flowers and meandering arabesques.

“I’ve shown in places that are obviously very exciting for any artist, but in a way showing in your city — I was born here and still live and work here — kind of grabs you more, excites you more, stirs you up more,” Milhazes told The Associated Press in a Friday interview as she supervised the installation of the exhibit, entitled “Meu Bem,” Portuguese for “My Dear.” ”It’s being able to say, ‘Mom, look what I’ve done.'”

Milhazes has plenty to show off. The 53-year-old has exhibited in the Venice Biennial, had a solo show at Paris’ Fondation Cartier and has works in the Reina Sofia National Museum in Spain and New York’s Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art.

In 2008, her painting “O Magico,” or “The Magician,” sold for more than $1 million, or around four times what was expected, at a New York auction, making her Brazil’s highest-paid living artist. She broke the record again last year when her “Meu Limao,” or “My Lemon,” went for $2.1 million at another auction in New York.

Though she once quipped it took her 25 years to become an overnight success, Milhazes said her slow path to international fame helped her cope with the spotlight.

“The first decade of my career, in the 1980s, was very local. It was only in the 1990s that I started showing work outside of Brazil, first in Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela, and then in New York. Then came Europe and Japan, but all very gradually, little by little,” said Milhazes, running her fingers through curly locks that recall the wavy patterns of her work. “During that process, sometimes I would leave for a bit and spend time in these other countries. But I never cut my ties with Rio. And that was an important decision. I need to feel that link with home, that understanding of what home is.”

Rio, a chaotic, coastal metropolis of 6 million, has informed Milhazes’ work from the beginning. Early collages featured snippets of fabrics culled from the costumes worn in the city’s world-famous Carnival celebrations, and her work still bursts with the swirly paisleys and arabesques that recall the its exuberant vegetation. There’s also something very Rio in her eye-popping palette, with its fiery oranges and yellows that evoke the city’s fierce summer sun, the blue of its limpid skies, the pinks and purples of  ipe trees in lavish bloom.

So alive with colors and shapes, Milhazes’ work seems to vibrate off the wall. “Havana,” a large 2003-2004 acrylic that’s part of the Rio exhibit, keeps viewers’ eyes busy as they jump from the kaleidoscopic flower burst at the center to the peace sign camouflaged amid a patchwork of bright hues to the flitting butterflies, sagging bunches of grapes, droopy roses or piles of tropical fruit.

“Ilha de Capri,” or “Capri Island,” from 2002, explodes with superimposed flower burst and hypnotic bull’s eyes of concentric circles against a background of vertical stripes. Tentacles unfurl from the red-hot core of the 2006 collage “Ginger Candy,” made in part from the flattened wrappers of Chinese sweets.

Though she rejects the word “style,” Milhazes defines her approach to art as geometric abstraction.

“I was always trying to bring together ‘high art’ painting with elements from my own culture here in Brazil. They are two very different worlds,” she said. “To be a proper painter you obviously have to look at the tradition that comes from Europe but at the same time, I didn’t want to stray from my life here in Brazil.”

Instead of painting directly onto the canvas, Milhazes developed a technique in which she uses acrylics to paint shapes onto plastic and then transfer them onto canvas, building palimpsests of intricate layers.

In reproductions, her work can look so perfect it appears computer-generated. But up close, it’s alive with little imperfections that make it even more irresistible to the eye. The paintings’ resined surfaces are strewn with scraps of paint, and traces of lines and smudges of color are still visible beneath layer after superimposed layer.

Frederic Paul, curator of the Rio show, said that despite its festive appearance, Milhazes’ work is fundamentally inscrutable.

“When you look at the paintings from up close, you don’t understand them at all,” he said. “You will never really know Beatriz’ work. You will always discover it.”


“Meu Bem” runs at Rio de Janeiro’s Centro Cultural Paco Imperial from Aug. 29-Oct. 27.



Artista plástica Beatriz Milhazes apresenta suas obras na Galeria Fortes Vilaça

Artista plástica Beatriz Milhazes apresenta suas obras na Galeria Fortes Vilaça
Valéria Gonçalvez/AE Artista plástica carioca Beatriz Milhazes apresenta suas obras na Galeria Fortes Vilaça, em São Paulo


Beatriz Milhazes at Fondation Beyeler

Beatriz Milhazes. Solo exhibition at Fondation Beyeler. Video on VernissageTV:… Foto: Nicolas Rinderspacher.


Art in Review

By Roberta Smith
Published: March 22, 1996

Beatriz Milhazes Edward Thorp Gallery 103 Prince Street SoHo Through April 13

First, a simple assertion: If abstract painting makes a comeback — and it probably will — women will have a lot to do with it. Support for that thought can be found in several SoHo galleries this month, and especially in the singularly impressive solo debut of Beatriz Milhazes, a Brazilian artist in her mid-30’s who was included in this season’s Carnegie International in Pittsburgh.

Simultaneously festive, tawdry and melancholy, Ms. Milhazes’s elaborately patterned paintings have a strange faded glory and a sure intelligence, with a layering of references, forms and colors that keeps the mind in constant motion. Her drifting, spherical patterns often cluster toward the top of her canvases like lanterns (or chandeliers) at a party, or luscious pieces of fruit on a laden tree. They can seem related to the Pattern and Decoration painting of 1970’s artists like Miriam Schapiro and Robert Kushner, or, more recently, the work of Philip Taaffe and Fred Tomaselli. But something in her work’s emotional tone; colors, and thin, shiny surfaces aligns it with the less abstract efforts of artists like Manuel Ocampo and Julio Galan, who also come from Roman Catholic post-colonial cultures.

The list of applied arts, crafts and women’s work evoked by these more or less floral patterns is marvelously dizzying. Without getting too disjunctive about it, they conjure lace making, beading, crocheting, stenciling, open metalwork, furniture decoration, hand-painted signs, wrapping paper and wallpaper. For breathing room, there are flat areas of color broken by bits of drawing that suggest both old, deteriorating walls and modernist monochromes.

Ms. Milhazes’s motifs rarely behave with decorative precision — they aren’t arranged symmetrically, nor do they repeat regularly — which also weighs them toward painting. So does her palette, which is dissonant in both appearance and allusion. For example, in “In Albis,” a deep blackish blue, suitable to depict the robe of the Virgin Mary, jostles a shiny sour green that has the flavor of a backwater saloon, while rosette designs are highlighted with a hot pink that come from a different century altogether.

Ms. Milhazes juggles a lot and drops almost nothing in these paintings. They show an artist looking deep into herself and her cultural roots and figuring what to give painting that it hasn’t quite had before. ROBERTA SMITH


Beatriz Milhazes : Natural forms + rigorous geometry
Beatriz Milhazes
Natural forms + rigorous geometry
Linda Chenit, January 26, 2009
Beatriz Milhazes/Bibi, 2003
Beatriz Milhazes/Bibi, 2003

The Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain is pleased to present an exhibition of the work of Beatriz Milhazes, one of the most celebrated Brazilian visual artists today. Offering an overview of her work of the past decade, the exhibition will include a selection of large-format acrylic paintings as well as a remarkable new collage that she has created specifically for the show. The Fondation Cartier has also commissioned the artist to produce a special architectural installation for the exhibition. Using a technique closely related to collage, she will apply motifs made of translucent adhesive vinyl directly onto the glass walls of the Fondation Cartier, creating an effect that is evocative of stained-glass. Reflecting her interest both in natural forms and rigorous geometry, this striking installation will enter into a powerful visual dialogue with the architecture of Jean Nouvel and the surrounding garden.

Beatriz Milhazes/Coisa Linda, 2002
Beatriz Milhazes/Coisa Linda, 2002

Brazilian Heritage

The work of Beatriz Milhazes occupies a unique position between Latin American and Western traditions. It is thus not surprising that she showed an early interest in the work of Brazilian writer and poet, Oswald de Andrade (1890–1954) and that of his wellknown companion, the painter Tarsila do Amaral (1886–1973). Andrade’s Manifesto Antropofago (1928) called upon Brazilian artists to develop their own unique culture by “devouring” European styles and melding them with elements derived from local culture. Tarsila do Amaral’s painting expressed this philosophy, combining the bright colors and tropical imagery of Brazil with the surrealism she discovered in Europe. Inspired by her predecessors, Beatriz Milhazes embraces a dizzying kaleidoscope of influences, following an approach that she describes as “culture eating culture.” Her canvases have an undeniably Brazilian flavor, filled with an abundance of brightly colored, highly decorative motifs. Much of the artist’s inspiration comes from the high and low art present in her native country, including sources as varied as ceramics, lacework, jewelry design, carnival decoration, and Colonial baroque architecture.
Beatriz Milhazes/A chuva, 1996

Beatriz Milhazes/A chuva, 1996
Beatriz Milhazes/Yogurt, 2008
Beatriz Milhazes/Yogurt, 2008

The delicate arabesques of tropical flowers and leaves have also found their way into her painting, revealing the artist’s fascination for luxurious vegetation. Other references for these works, which revisit the traditional genres of landscape and still-life, range from the contemplative works of Albert Eckhout – a 17th century Dutch painter who recorded the plants and animals of Brazil – to the modernist landscape designs of Roberto Burle Marx, known for his design of Copacabana beach promenade in 1970.

Beatriz Milhazes/Havai 2003
Beatriz Milhazes/Havai 2003

European Modernism

The paintings of Beatriz Milhazes express many of the formal preoccupations inherent in the history of abstract painting, from the vibrant color of Matisse to the rigorous structural composition of Mondrian. The underlying square fields of color that serve as the background for many of her works and the overlaying motifs, call to mind the work of early modernist abstract artists such as Kupka, Klee, and Léger. The artist has stated: “I am seeking geometrical structures, but with freedom of form and imagery taken from different worlds. Classical music, particularly the opera, as well as popular music such as bossa nova or tropicalia, motivate the “choreographed spontaneity” of the artist’s compositions. Stripes, rays, lines and circular forms evoke a synchronized rhythm while the dynamics of color articulate harmony and dissonance.
Beatriz Milhazes/Beatriz Milhazes

Beatriz Milhazes/Beatriz Milhazes

This clearly relates Milhazes compositions to those of other 20th century masters who have explored the relationship between music and art, such as Kandinsky and Delaunay. The use of intensely vibrant colors, such as fuchsia, gold or orange, endows her canvases with an explosive energy that many have compared to the breathtaking rhythm of fireworks.

Beatriz Milhazes/Ice Grape, 2008
Beatriz Milhazes/Ice Grape, 2008
Beatriz Milhazes/Set design for Tempo de Verão (Summertime),by Marcia Milhazes Contemporary Dance Company, 2006
Beatriz Milhazes/Set design for Tempo de Verão (Summertime),by Marcia Milhazes Contemporary Dance Company, 2006

Artistic Technique

To create this elaborate network of forms, Milhazes has developed a technique that is closely related to monotype and collage. The artist first paints the motifs and drawings of her work on translucent plastic sheets. She then applies them to the canvas and peels the plastic off, superimposing images and colors in a variety of combinations. During the transfer process, part of the motif sometimes tears, leaving portions of itself behind. These accidents create interesting surfaces marred by subtle imperfections. The slow and laborious process leads to rich palimpsests of overlaid images, some fully present, some masked, some only ghostly silhouettes.
Beatriz Milhazes/Taschen Store, New York City, NY, 2007

Beatriz Milhazes/Taschen Store, New York City, NY, 2007

During the past several years, the artistic production of Beatriz Milhazes has continued to expand, recently branching out into arenas such as, theatre sets, site-specific installations, and design work, including fabric and tapestry. She has also created two artist’s books, one in conjunction with the MoMA and one with the Thomas Dane Gallery, London, which explore the realms of printmaking and collage. Through her diversity of practice and multiplicity of sources, Beatriz Milhazes erases all distinctions between the high and the low, the national and the international, the classical and the contemporary, leaving her free to explore the entire realm of visual expression.

Beatriz Milhazes/In My Dreams
Beatriz Milhazes/In My Dreams

Beatriz Milhazes Bio_Express

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1960, Beatriz Milhazes entered Rio’s renowned Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage in the early 1980s. She emerged on the Brazilian art scene in the midst of what was known as “the return to painting” of the Geraçao Oitenta (the 1980s Generation), which followed the more austere conceptualist art that dominated the country in the 1970s.

Beatriz Milhazes
Beatriz Milhazes


Beatriz Milhazes

From April 4 to June 21, 2009Born in 1960 in Rio de Janeiro, Beatriz Milhazes emerged on the Brazilian art scene in the mid-1980s. Exhibited in many galleries and several international biennials, her work is represented in the collections of some of the world’s greatest museums.Intricately layered with a profusion of ornamental motifs, her vibrant and hypnotic paintings refer to sources as diverse as the Colonial baroque, high modernism, and popular Brazilian art.
For her exhibition at the Fondation Cartier, the artist presents a focused selection of large format acrylic paintings, chosen from her work of the past decade, as well as a monumental collage created especially for the show. She has also realized a monumental commission for the building’s glass façades. Her striking installations play with natural light to create a powerful visual dialogue with the architecture of Jean Nouvel and the surrounding garden.


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International art fair ArtRio only officially begins next week, but last night was a perfect kick-starter. Hundreds of cariocas and a few out-of-towners gathered downtown to see the largest exhibit to date of legendary artist Beatriz Milhazes.

The high ceilings of Paço Imperial, the Imperial Palace, came to life like never before with oversized paintings and collages that took over the two floors of the historic Portuguese colonial building constructed in 1738. The exhibit, curated by Frederic Paul, runs until October 27 and features 60 works by the artist from 1989 through the present day.

Ever since her painting, “Meu Limão,” or “My Lemon,” sold for a record-breaking 2.1 million dollars at last November’s Sotheby’s auction in New York, Milhazes has been widely recognized as the highest-paid living Brazilian artist in history. Her work can be found in the permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Milhazes’ last exhibit in Rio was in 2002. Eleven years and many international headlines later, she remains true to her origins. “I’m happy. I think it all worked out,” a beaming Beatriz told me after I patiently endured a gigantic line of new and old fans who wanted a photo, a word, or just a moment with the charismatic artist. There was a familiar tone of anticipation in her voice, like that of a young girl right before her first art show in the neighborhood, and it made her all the more endearing. In all these years, Rio has remained her hometown, where she is constantly surrounded by her family and friends.

After two rounds through the exhibit, I returned to the first floor to revisit the larger-than-life four-painting series titled, “Gamboa Seasons: Summer Love, Autumn Love, Winter Love, Spring Love” [pictured]. Milhazes had always wanted to do the traditional four seasons-themed series, but she grew up in Rio, and we don’t really have four seasons here (some say we have two: sun and rain), so the paintings demonstrate instead a “variation of heat.” And there’s no doubt that her paintings warm up the place: On a “cold” winter night (it was 60 degrees—perfect excuse for me to wear my favorite Marni boots and for half of the crowd to pull out their leather jackets), the layered, kaleidoscopic spheres in vibrant, citric colors of “Summer Love” were beyond heart-warming. Definitely worth a second—and third—visit.


Paula Bezerra de Mello

Public Relations Director

Paula Bezerra de Mello is the head of public relations and marketing for the famed Philippe Starck-designed Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro. A Brown University graduate, de Mello started her …


Color Inspiration: Beatriz Milhazes

By evad // April 10, 2008

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1961, Beatriz Milhazes works in the pure aesthetic style of the Pattern and Decoration movement. Influenced by her native land of Brazil, her vibrant and bold use of color and patterns create work that is as much playful, free and psychedelic, as it is geometric, organized and rhythmic.

The Pattern and Decoration movement was not originally popular in the art world because of the movements lack of political statements and stances, “art for arts sake:” “Though playful and innovative, especially in the use of materials, Pattern and Decoration didn’t make much of an impact in the art world. It was dismissed as frivolous, with the work regarded as purely decorative and thus not warranting serious critical or curatorial attention.” (NYT: Fresh Eyes on a Colorful Movement) What was deemed not worth talking about has now gained global visibility since its beginnings in the 70’s and 80’s.

Photo from

The Decoration and Pattern movement is not completely detached from society and the world around it. I feel the art, and artists involved, take a very positive stance that speaks not from the created politics and mottos of the mind, but from love and the appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us. And this philosophy of focusing more on the pleasures of life, rather than its hardships, is very evident in the shapes, colors and patterns of each of Milhazes’ piece.

Photo from James Cohan Gallery


Many of these explosions of colour originate in her small, compact studio, where she has been based since 1987. It is situated right next door to Rio’s luscious botanical gardens, and, inevitably, the forms and patterns of the flowers – delicate swirls and leaf-like shapes – have found their way into her paintings. She has also “taken advantage of the atmosphere of the city”, with its rich urban mix incorporating chitão (the cheap, colourful Brazilian fabric), jewellery, embroidery and folk art. Other influences range from architectural – the work of Roberto Burle Marx, the landscape architect and garden designer who created the five-kilometre Copacabana beach promenade in Rio – to Pop symbols such as Emilio Pucci fabric patterns. Painterly inspiration comes from the seventeenth-century Dutch artist Albert Eckhout, who travelled through colonial Brazil, and the Brazilian Modernist Tarsila do Amaral, as well as Mondrian, Matisse and Bridget Riley.
In the Studio,

Photo from James Cohan Gallery

Creative Process

“Evidence of her terms of reference can be found pinned to the walls of her studio – magazine fragments, postcards and pieces of clothing, as well as some of her own drawings.” She begins with an idea of colors and images, but “nothing is clear until the end”. And, maybe surprisingly, Milhazes is “very discipline in her creative routine.” (In the Studio)

She also incorporates a wide range of materials, including many that were original inspirations for the very piece:

In Cacao, for example, the gold foil squares of Ghiradelli chocolates play against the pastel packaging of Lindt, Lacta, and Nestle bars. Milhazes embellishes this brightly patterned surface with yet more floral shapes, here mostly cut from shimmering pieces of holographic paper. While some viewers may blanch at such sensory overload, preferring the relative austerity of a classic Cubist collage, I for one appreciate Milhazes’s decorative indulgence. Like the flowers and chocolates that partially inspire them, her works remain unstinting sources of pleasure.
Art in America, “Beatriz Milhazes at James Cohan”

Selected Work

Mariposa, 2004, acrylic on canvas, 98 x 98 inches Photo from James Cohan Gallery

An explosion of ornament is certainly apparent in Mariposa, where a pink and flesh-toned ground supports dozens of blooming flowers, including a dazzling dahlia whose deep violet core gradually fades to lavender petals. These floral fireworks are anchored on the right by a dark filigree of French curves that transforms the entire composition into a magnificent brooch.
Art in America, “Beatriz Milhazes at James Cohan”

Peace and Love, 2005-2006, Installation, Gloucester Road Tube StationPhoto by paulbence

Entitled Peace and Love, this monumental commission occupies an entire side of the station and creates a visual dialogue with both the architecture and the constant movement of trains and travelers within.

Each of the nineteen vaulted arches on the District Line platform at Gloucester Road contains a part of a dense, tightly-knit composition which skilfully combines many complex elements into an elegantly balanced whole. The work, like the station, has its own rhythm. The images run across the arches, creating their own momentum and mirroring the movement of the passengers and the trains inside the station. The vibrant colour and exuberant shapes within the work keep the viewer’s gaze in constant motion.
-Peace and Love

More Work

Photo from

Photo from

Photo from

Photo by didier

Photo by smallbox

Photo by Bree Apperley

Photo by Bree Apperley

Title Photo from James Cohan Gallery
 Thursday, January 7, 2010

Artist: Beatriz Milhazes

I first noticed the work of Beatriz Milhazes in the March 08 issue of Elle Decor. The article features the Victorian apartment of Rosa de la Cruz Bonfiglio which is steeped in art from painting to drawing and sculpture. Not surprising, Rosa’s parents are major collectors in Miami who have opened their contemporary-art-packed mansion in Key Biscayne to the public.

Courtesy of Elle Decor, below are 2 photos from Rosa’s apartment featuring work from Milhazes.

Artist Beatriz Milhazes was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1960. Milhazes has work in the permanent collections of, among others, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I love her use of color incorporating elements of modern design with her own spin of Brazilian culture.


Beatriz Milhazes:
“No Fear of Beauty”

Her opulent compositions have made Beatriz Milhazes one of the best-known Brazilian painters in the world. Matisse, Op Art, the brilliant colors of the carnival-a wide range of influences merge in her stunning paintings. Achim Drucks introduces the artist, who lives in Rio de Janeiro and is represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection.

Beatriz Milhazes, Beleza Pura, 2006; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin

Beatriz Milhazes, Beleza Pura, 2006; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
Beatriz Milhazes, Rosa branca no centro, 1997; Deutsche Bank Collection; © Courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery and Galeria Camargo Vilaco, São Paulo

Beatriz Milhazes, Rosa branca no centro, 1997; Deutsche Bank Collection; © Courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery and Galeria Camargo Vilaco, São Paulo
Beatriz Milhazes, O Pato, 1996/1998; Deutsche Bank Collection; © Courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery and Galeria Camargo Vilaco, São Paulo

Beatriz Milhazes, O Pato, 1996/1998; Deutsche Bank Collection; © Courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery and Galeria Camargo Vilaco, São Paulo
Beatriz Milhazes, Bala de Leite, 2005; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin

Beatriz Milhazes, Bala de Leite, 2005; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
Beatriz Milhazes, O Elefante Azul, 2002; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin

Beatriz Milhazes, O Elefante Azul, 2002; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
Beatriz Milhazes, O Espelho (The mirror), 2000; Deutsche Bank Collection; © Courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery and Galeria Camargo Vilaco, São Paulo

Beatriz Milhazes, O Espelho (The mirror), 2000; Deutsche Bank Collection; © Courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery and Galeria Camargo Vilaco, São Paulo
Beatriz Milhazes, O Sabado, 2000; Deutsche Bank Collection; © Courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery and Galeria Camargo Vilaco, São Paulo

Beatriz Milhazes, O Sabado, 2000; Deutsche Bank Collection; © Courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery and Galeria Camargo Vilaco, São Paulo
Beatriz Milhazes; Chokito, 2006; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin

Beatriz Milhazes; Chokito, 2006; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
Beatriz Milhazes,Nega Maluca, 2006; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin

Beatriz Milhazes,Nega Maluca, 2006; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
Beatriz Milhazes, Sul da América, 2002; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin

Beatriz Milhazes, Sul da América, 2002; Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
An explosion of form and color; circles of beautiful turquoise and silver surfaces, between them a blossom painted in hues of lilac that looks as though it had been made with a Spirograph set. The 1960s drawing tool also seems to have been used to draw the other violet spirals on the large-scale canvas. More stylized flowers hover around them, curlicues recalling seventies wallpaper; together with discs in orange and gold hues, they partially cover a massive black square-Malevich’s icon of a radically reduced abstraction is on the verge of being swallowed up by a colorful armada of ornamental forms.Beleza Pura, pure beauty, is the title Beatriz Milhazes gave her painting from 2006-it seems programmatic for the work of the artist, who was born in 1960 in Rio de Janeiro. “The word decorative is normally pejorative when it’s applied to art. I don’t have any fear of beauty,” she declared in 2006. Her title also refers to the hit of the same name by the singer Caetano Veloso, one of the chief figures of the Tropicalismo movement of the late sixties. Without being explicitly political, the vital energy of this movement of artists and musicians was directed against cultural monotony as it was propagated by the Brazilian military regime at that time. Folklore elements blended with American and European influences.Her paintings are the product “…of the mad struggle between baroque figuration and rigorous construction,” as Richard Armstrong, the current director of the New York Guggenheim Museum, formulates it. Armstrong was one of the first curators outside Brazil to take notice of the artist. In 1995, he invited her to take part in Carnegie International, the exhibition that led to her international breakthrough. In 2003 she represented Brazil at the Venice Biennale.But Milhazes’s painting with its disappearing black square can also be taken as a reference to another influential artistic movement in the country-Modernismo. One of the most important representatives of this Brazilian answer to the early European avant-garde movements was the writer Oswald de Andrade. In his Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibalistic Manifesto) of 1928, he developed his own, Brazilian version of modernism under the motto “Instead of pushing the foreign away, eat it.” He countered dominant European culture with tropical growth, naivety, savagery, and poetry. He recommended ingesting the most enriching parts of European culture, transforming them, and simply throwing the rest away.This strategy of transformation is crucial to Milhazes’s work. She operates from a variety of sources: along with the most important protagonist of Modernismo, Tarsila de Amaral, whose paintings blend European influences with indigenous forms, she cites Henri Matisse’s cut-outs and color combinations and the dynamism of Piet Mondrian’s late work as sources of inspiration-such as his famous painting Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43). Op Art influences and the wild fabric patterns of Emilio Pucci collide with decorative motifs from colonial architecture. The floral and plant forms she uses in many of her works-including O Pato (1996/98) from the Deutsche Bank Collection-were not made from nature, but based on various different models including Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits, tablecloths, and the “exotic” jewelry Miriam Haskell made for Carmen Miranda, the “Brazilian Bombshell” who conquered Hollywood in the 1940s and who embodied, in her bizarre costumes and fruit-bowl hats, the exaggerated cliché of the temperamental South American woman. Milhazes re-imports this phenomenon of exoticism, so to speak.The tension in Milhazes’s work is not only between figuration and abstraction, but also between the global and local influences that merge in her work. “I am an abstract painter and I speak an international language, but my interest is in things and behaviors that can only be found in Brazil,” she explained in a conversation with the musician Arto Lindsay. And this can mean the delirium of colors and forms at the Carnival in Rio, the melancholy bossas of Antônio Carlos Jobim, or the wave-shaped patterned promenades the landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx designed for the Copacabana beach.To many viewers, her brilliantly colored painting seems typical for Brazil-an error, as Milhazes explains in a catalogue to her project for the Fondation Cartier in Paris: “We don’t have a strong tradition of painting in Brazil, and especially not painting with color. When I became internationally known as a Brazilian painter, the international audience thought that I came out of a strong tradition of Brazilian painting. This is because there is a general lack of information on Latin American art. Due to Spanish colonization, some countries like Mexico or Venezuela have a strong painting tradition. This is not the case for Brazil. The most important and well-known Brazilian art is conceptual and constructivist. There is no special interest in color. Brazil is a colorful country, but its art isn’t. That is why people get confused. I use elements from my culture, and color is one of them, but I’m the only one to do so.”Pink, dusty rose, turquoise, orange-red-her silkscreen Rosa branca no centro from 1997 in the Deutsche Bank Collection is drenched in intense color. A stylized flower appears in the middle, surrounded by circles of pearls and filigree patterns reminiscent of lace tablecloths. Milhazes’s paintings are rarely arranged around a center as this one is, which lends it a kind of quietude. The images usually seem as though one spectacular explosion of color outshone the next, like fireworks. The precise compositions prevent the paintings from falling apart into individual elements; despite all their differences and tensions, they cohere as a whole.This is also due to Milhazes’s unusual working process. She worked with collage early in her career by introducing fabrics into her paintings. In the late 1980s, she began to draw the contours of her flowers and mandalas on transparent plastic foil, coloring them in with acrylic paint and then cutting them out after they dried. She can then shift these forms around on the canvas until they find their final position, where Milhazes adheres them to the surface with the colored side down and then pulls off the plastic backing, which she often uses for other paintings. This is why identical shapes often appear in different paintings. The artist explains: “I like the resulting smooth texture, the way in which the painting seems ‘frozen’ in time. I love painting, but I do not want the texture of the brushstrokes or the ‘hand’ of the painter to be visible on my canvases.”This “anti-expressive” strategy makes her paintings appear cool, while the process of construction remains visible. This process takes place entirely on the canvas; Milhazes does not use sketches for her paintings, and the transference of painted forms doesn’t always go perfectly. The paint tears, or a portion remains stuck on the plastic foil. The resulting irregularities seem like points of erosion and give the surfaces the impression of being weathered. Her canvases recall palimpsests in which multiple layers of time are superimposed.This sets her paintings apart from Bridget Riley’s flawless, purist Op Art compositions. The 2001 Riley show at the Dia Art Foundation left such an impression on Milhazes that she began experimenting with rectangles and straight lines for the first time. Since then, the range of her paintings has expanded further. She’s gone back to her early collages, this time adding variously colored paper to her works instead of fabrics-shiny, metallic-blue candy-wrapper paper, marbled wrapping paper, chocolate wrappers. In this way, she further intensifies the overabundance of visual stimuli that characterizes all her work. She directs the viewer’s gaze around the picture surface, without providing anywhere for it to rest. Milhazes’s paintings hover between a stunning ornamental beauty and an overload of forms, colors, styles, and quotes. It is not the kind of beauty in which the eye can rest, however; instead, it absorbs the gaze and threatens to overpower the viewer.

Modern Motifs, With Echoes of Brazil

Published: October 24, 2008

STANDING in a back exhibition space at James Cohan Gallery in Chelsea, the Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes sounded like a rigorous Constructivist as she discussed her four latest paintings, which were propped against the walls.

Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery

“Popeye” (2008)

Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery

“Summertime” (2004) a chandelier designed as a set piece for her sister Marcia’s dance company. Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery

Courtesy Maharam

“Horto,” a textile design.

Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery

“Ice Grape” (2008)

Joao Wainer

Beatriz Milhazes, has a solo show at James Cohan Gallery in Chelsea.

 “This one is based on squares, kind of a grid,” she said, pointing to “Mulatinho,” whose blocks of color are broken up by dots, rippling stripes, paisleylike ornaments, stylized flowers and a piece of carefully painted fruit.

Mr. Cohan, her dealer, who had just walked into the room, started laughing. “You and Mondrian,” he said.

Although Ms. Milhazes clearly considers herself a geometric abstractionist, those are hardly the first words that spring to mind when regarding her work, the focus of a solo show at the gallery.

Squares often come laced with lines and dots, circles frequently mutate into eye-popping targets, and everything is laden with motifs that evoke the multilayered culture of her home, Rio de Janeiro. There are arabesques, roses and doily patterns, borrowed from Brazilian Baroque, colonial and folk art; flowers and plants inspired by the city’s botanical garden, which is next door to her studio; and thick wavy stripes — a nod to the undulating Op Art-inspired mosaic pavement that the Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx created in 1970 for the promenade at Copacabana Beach.

Yet Ms. Milhazes, 48, maintains that her compositions are essentially geometric. “Sometimes I put the square behind,” she said, referring to the initial layer of the painting, “and I build up things on top of it. The squares may disappear, but they are still a reference for me to think about composition. And I’ve always been very loyal to my ideas.”

Today her career seems as jampacked as her paintings themselves. In addition to the show at James Cohan, which runs through Nov. 15, her first major career survey is on view at the Pinacoteca do Estado in São Paulo, Brazil. By early November, within a span of a month, three limited-edition projects — a tapestry, a textile design and an artist’s book — will have been issued. She has also just completed a new site-specific window installation for a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. (Sometime next year she will create a similar piece for the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center in New York.)

Then there is “Gamboa,” a sculptural installation that will be unveiled on Nov. 1 at Prospect.1, the contemporary-art biennial in New Orleans. Ms. Milhazes intends to transform one room of a 19th-century mint building into a shimmering chandelier hung with globes and flowers, all of which have been fabricated by workers at one of the many samba schools in Rio.

“It didn’t make any sense to organize a room with paintings,” Ms. Milhazes said of the project. “New Orleans was always about the vitality, the dancing and the music. So I link it — the carnival in New Orleans with the Carnaval in Rio. It will make this kind of dialogue between two cities.”

Growing up under the former military dictatorship in Brazil, Ms. Milhazes did not have access to the mainstream art world. Although Brazil has had an avant-garde art scene since the 1930s, opportunities for young artists in Rio were limited in the early 1980s, when she embarked on her career. Back then Latin American collectors typically focused on work from past eras. “We didn’t have any voice,” Ms. Milhazes said of her colleagues from that time.

For a young painter who longed to see the work of 20th-century masters like Mondrian and Matisse, the situation was especially arid. “Twenty-five years ago, if you didn’t travel, you never would see paintings,” she said. And today, she noted, painting is still only an undercurrent in Brazil’s art scene. “We have strong contemporary art,” she said, “but more in conceptualism and installation. So I am quite isolated here.”

But isolation also helped Ms. Milhazes develop her rather unusual working process. “You don’t have the history on your back,” she explained. She starts by painting with acrylic on sheets of plastic, working motif by motif, creating each image in reverse as if she were making a print.

Once a motif is dry she glues the painted side to the canvas, almost as if it were a decal, and then peels off the plastic to reveal a surface that looks handmade but is nearly unmarked by brushstrokes. Then she continues layering as if she were making a collage. When she developed this method in the late ’80s, she said, “it opened a huge door for me.”

The door opened further in 1992, when the Brazilian curator and critic Paulo Herkenhoff brought three Americans to Ms. Milhazes’s studio: Richard Armstrong, then a curator at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh and now the incoming director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in New York; Madeleine Grynsztejn, then a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago and now director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; and Fred Henry, president of the Bohen Foundation, a nonprofit group that commissions new works of art.

Mr. Henry soon became a devoted collector, and Mr. Armstrong eventually invited Ms. Milhazes to participate in the 1995 Carnegie International. “That was the opening,” she said. Through the Carnegie, she met a New York dealer, Edward Thorp, who began showing her work in SoHo the next year. Her career quickly became multinational. Now she frequently shows in Europe, especially London, as well as in Latin America, Asia and New York.

Ms. Grynsztejn said Ms. Milhazes’s widespread appeal lies in the fact that she is a “glocal” artist — someone whose work is grounded in the international language of modernism while also firmly rooted in her own place and time. “What I really loved about the work,” she said, “was the way that it merged figuration and abstraction, and even decoration and craft, within the highly intellectual enterprise of formal abstraction.”

She was also fascinated by the strong echoes of local culture in Ms. Milhazes’s work. After leaving the studio, she recalled, “I remember very vividly that when we sat down to lunch, the plastic tablecloth that covered the restaurant tables had the same bright, busy patterns” as Ms. Milhazes’s paintings. Later that day she experienced another jolt of déjà vu while passing the ornamental facade of a Baroque church. At that point, she said, “I understood that that vernacular had infiltrated at a very high level into Beatriz’s work.”

Yet despite the Brazilian feel of her work, there is nothing else quite like it in Brazilian art, past or present, said Adriano Pedrosa, a curator in São Paulo who has known Ms. Milhazes for years. “She seems to have a quite close relationship with Brazilian art history,” he said, “but that’s because she’s appropriating things.”

He also sees her oeuvre as being related to Antropofagia, a Brazilian movement of the ’20s and ’30s whose name means cannibalism. Mr. Pedrosa described it as “this concept where the Brazilian native artist appropriates foreign elements and digests them to produce something personal and unique.”

In fact Ms. Milhazes often says her major influence is Tarsila, a Brazilian painter who came out of that movement, as well as Mondrian and Matisse.

“In the beginning,” she said, “I felt a connection between Spanish Latin American and Brazilian, which is more Portuguese: the Baroque churches, the costumes, the ruffles, things that have volume or a sculptural shape.”

But ultimately, she said, although she wanted to incorporate all those things into her work, “I wanted to put them together based on a geometric composition. Because at the end of the day, I was only interested in structure and order.”

More Articles in Arts » A version of this article appeared in print on October 26, 2008, on page AR22 of the New York edition.


Beatriz Milhazes’ colourful canvasses

The Whitechapel Gallery’s Iwona Blazwick on why she’s co-curating a show by the Brazilian artist; alt=”Beatriz Milhazes, As Irmas (The Sisters) (2003)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Multi-coloured screenprint on Waterford 638g paper<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
131.4 x 151.2cm (51¾ x 59 5/8in)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
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Beatriz Milhazes, As Irmas (The Sisters) (2003)
Multi-coloured screenprint on Waterford 638g paper
131.4 x 151.2cm (51¾ x 59 5/8in)

Windsor Gallery, 3125 Windsor Boulevard, Vero Beach, Florida, 32963

Beatriz Milhazes, O Pato (1996 – 98)

The Whitechapel has always had a strong connection with Brazilian art (the gallery hosted the first UK show by Brazilian visual artist Hélio Oiticica in 1969 and has shown many Brazilian and Mexican artists over the years). With Brazil such a powerhouse at the moment the timing of the new show seems doubly resonant.

Blazwick was introduced to the work of Milhazes at Tate Modern when the artist was commissioned to create a mural at the end of level 7. “It was sensational and spanned the width of the building,” she says. “It’s absolutely extraordinary – a very immersive environment.

“The natural environment is omnipresent in Rio. It’s on the sea, there’s rainforest all around it but there’s also a darkness and an edginess and poverty. Beatriz’s work absorbs and celebrates that as well. She looks at traditional forms you might find in church interiors or peasant fabrics, love of lace and decoration and the excess of Carnival where the super poor become kings and queen for a day – or a week as it happens. You get these amazing head dresses festooned with glitter false eyelashes and all the rest of it. It’s very sparkly, very bling and about a conspicuous display of wealth and she draws that into her work. So there are all these different kinds of influences and an acknowledgement of the darkness of it and the oppressive nature of it.”

Beatriz Milhazes, Noite de Verão (Summer night) (2006)

Beatriz Milhazes, Noite de Verão (Summer night) (2006)

Eagle-eyed Phaidon readers might also spot the influence of Bridget Riley in some of Milhazes’ pieces from around 2003.

“There’s no European art visible in Brazil – no Matisses none of that great early foundational stuff that we’re accustomed to,” said Blazwick. “She only saw it in reproductions when she was at art school, books and magazines. Then the first time she went to New York she saw show by Bridget Riley and Sonia Delaunay. For her it wasn’t a trajectory across the 20th century from Delaunay in 1906 to Riley in 2000 – she saw them in the same time frame and they blew her away. The two bodies of work were profoundly affecting for her. And she discovered the stripe!”

At the time, Milhazes was already pursuing an idea of revolving forms where the viewer’s eye can never rest. “She wants this idea of a very dynamic pictorial surface,” continues Blazwick, “where that idea of revolution on every level is this idea of never having a beginning or an end or a centre. She talks about the eye being constantly drawn back and forth across the surface of her images. And she uses abstract geometry to give it a perspectival depth. She uses what the vertical and horizontal can give in sense of creating a sense of space, of layering of things seen through other things.”

Beatriz Milhazes: Screenprints 1996-2011runs from December 3 – February 28, 2012

Portrait of Beatriz Milhazes by Luis Gomes (2007) Portrait of Beatriz Milhazes by Luis Gomes (2007)
All See All Beatriz Milhazes


Beatriz Milhazes

Milhazes is known for her work juxtaposing Brazilian cultural imagery and references to western Modernist painting.
The daughter of a lawyer and an art historian, Milhazes was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1960.She studied social communication at Faculdades Integradas Hélio Alonso (FACHA), Rio De Janeiro from 1978 to 1981 and studied at the School of Visual Arts (Escola de Artes Visuais – EAV) of Parque Lage, Rio De Janeiro from 1980 to 1982.

Milhazes has had solo and group exhibitions in a number of museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. From 4-21 July 2009, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris presented a major exhibition of her work.

Milhazes’ paintings are in the permanent collections in many institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Banco Itaú, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
Milhazes is represented by Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.



Malba – Fundación Costantini

Beatriz Milhazes at Malba – Fundación Costantini, Buenos Aires
Beatriz Milhazes, Bye, bye love, 2012.

Panamericano. Beatriz Milhazes. Paintings 1999–2012

14 September–19 November, 2012

Malba – Fundación Costantini, Buenos Aires
Avda. Figueroa Alcorta 3415
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Guest curator: Frédéric Paul

Malba – Fundación Costantini is pleased to announce Panamericano. Beatriz Milhazes. Paintings 1999–2012, a selection of about thirty recent paintings by the renowned artist Beatriz Milhazes (born 1960 in Rio de Janeiro, where she lives and works), as well as a scenographic work specially designed for the gallery on the museum’s second floor. This is the first solo exhibit for Milhazes in a Latin American institution outside of her country, and it has been produced entirely by Malba.

Curated by Frédéric Paul, the exhibit focuses on the past ten years of the artist’s work, gathering pieces that are primarily from private and public collections in Brazil and the United States. Among these are two works on loan for the first time from the Guggenheim Museum in New York and one from the Museu de Arte Moderna in São Paulo. The local public will also have its first chance to place in their new context as part of the private collection of Eduardo F. Costantini, two important works, O mágico (2001) and Pierrot e Colombina (2009–10), which open and close this important decade for the artist.

The title of the exhibit, Panamericano, alludes to the to-and-fro between North and South, between new West and old West, a central theme of Milhazes. Exotic outside of Brazil, she continues to be so within it as well, and today she is recognized as one of that country’s most important artists.

“Numerous figurative elements are at play in Beatriz Milhazes’ paintings, but they appear there neutralized in relation to the real, which serves as their model. Her flowers are motifs of flowers. Her fruits are motifs of fruits. And it is without a doubt this reduction of their general form and the elimination of their substance which allow them to interact in the abstract painting with other forms from the decorative realm,” analyzes Frédéric Paul.

For the occasion of this exhibit, Malba has published a 124-page, Spanish-English bilingual catalogue, the first Spanish-language reference publication on a retrospective exhibit of Milhazes’ work. This book contains the essay “Beatriz Milhazes or The Advantages of Never Leaving the Labyrinth in Painting,” by curator Frédéric Paul; as well as the re-edition and the first translation to Spanish of two key texts about the artist: “Beatriz Milhazes – The Brazilian Trove” by critic and curator Paulo Herkenhoff, first published in 2001 for her exhibit at the Ikon Gallery (England) and at the Birmingham Museum of Art (United States), and an interview with fashion designer Christian Lacroix, which was originally published in Beatriz Milhazes/Avenida Brasil (Frédéric Paul ed., Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Centre d’art contemporain, 2004).

The artist
In 2003 Beatriz Milhazes represented Brasil at the 50th Venice Biennale. She also participated in São Paulo’s International Biennials (1998, 2004) and Shanghai, China’s Biennial (2006). Her most recently museum shows include Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, São Paulo (2008); Fondation Cartier, Paris (2009); Fondation Beyeler, Basel (2011), among others. Her works are found in the collections of museums such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, in Madrid.


Beatriz Milhazes. Hawaii, 2003. Screenprint. Edition : 40. 52 x 46 in. (132 x 117 cm.). Compliments of Durham Press.

Solo Show
Beatriz MilhazesIssue #84 Mar – May 2012United States, Vero Beach

Whitechapel Gallery
Silvia Medina

Beatriz Milhazes’ pictorial work begins with a confluence of artistic movements in her socio-cultural environment, from Tropicalia to Bossa Nova, dancing to the rhythm of the sublime and exotic beauty of her native Rio de Janeiro. Milhazes recreates the ancestral legacy of Rio’s sweet romanticism, fused to contemporary realities.

Many of the blossoming, colorful, spring-like images we see in Milhazes’ painting originate in her small and compact studio, where the artist, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1960, has worked since 1987. It is located right next to the city’s lush Botanical Gardens; inevitably, she finds there the inspiration for her flowery shapes and patterns, her delicate whirlpools, her leaf-like figures.

The artist has also been influenced by the atmosphere of her native city and its rich urban admixture, and her work incorporates chitão (the cheap, colorful Brazilian fabric), jewels, embroideries, and symbols from popular culture. Other influences include architecture—particularly the work of Roberto Burle Marx, the landscape artist and garden designer who created the Copacabana boardwalk—and pop icons such as Emilio Pucci’s fabric patterns. Her pictorial inspiration comes from Seventeenth-Century European artist Albert Eckhout, who traveled through colonial Brazil, and from Tarsila do Amaral, the modernist Brazilian artist, as well as Matisse, Mondrian, Le Parc, Bridget Riley, and Frank Stella.

Milhazes’ flowers are not a commentary on color, print, arabesques, or empty decorations, but on their role rituals, conceptualizing a vital parade of printing in her everyday environment; so, her inspiration emanates from transculturation and its endless aesthetic potential.

Milhazes’ art finds support on the precepts of the serigraphic pictorial tradition and in her experimentation with mixed techniques from contemporary art. Her paintings reveal for us a variety of readings and aesthetic paradigms, establishing a play of conceptualization where her work expresses the fact that description is unnecessary because it can mar the interpretive freedom of the artistic image.

Beleza Pura is the title Milhazes gave painting starting in 2006. “The word ‘decorative’ is usually pejorative when applied to art. I am not afraid of beauty,” she declared that year. The title also refers to a hit song of the same name by Caetano Veloso, one of the central figures in 1960s Tropicalia. While not explicitly political, the vital energy of that movement of artists and musicians was directed against cultural monotony during the military dictatorship in Brazil. Elements of folklore mixed with American and European influences are also present in Milhazes’ work.

Her paintings are the product “…of the crazy struggle between baroque figuration and rigorous construction,” as noted by Richard Armstrong, the current director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Armstrong was one of the first observers outside Brazil to make note of this artist. In 1995, he invited Milhazes to participate in the Carnegie International. In 2003, Milhazes represented Brazil at the Venice Biennale.

Milhazes’ work navigates toward the dancing circle of love. That carnival of passions surrounded by lush beaches and bohemian music, offers us the flavor and versatile rhythms of her tropical Olympus, where Latin America’s magical realism fertilizes the sanctuary she has built, proposing a fascinating mixture where orishás and angels come together in perfect harmony. Milhazes’ carnival is a confluence of poetics that emanate from the soul, evoking the warm lyricism that seduces the glamorous of her inner Rio de Janeiro.

Such glamour is also due to Milhazes’ unusual work process. Early in her career she worked with collages, through the introduction of fabric into her paintings. In the late 1980s, she began to draw the outlines of her flowers and mandalas on a transparent plastic sheet, coloring them with acrylic paint, and then cutting them out after drying. Afterwards she switches these shapes around the canvas until they find their final position; there they are attached to the canvas with the color surface facing down and the plastic cover is pulled away, often to be used in other works.

For the past decade, the range of her paintings has broadened even more. She has returned to her earlier collages, now adding paper in various colors rather than fabric; she uses a shining metallic blue, candy wrappers, marble paper, and chocolate wrappers. In this way, the overabundance of visual stimuli that characterizes her entire oeuvre is newly emphasized. Milhazes drives the viewer’s gaze around the surface of the work, without place for pause. Her works move between great ornamental beauty and an overload of shapes, colors, styles, and artistic assumptions.

Beatriz Milhazes

by Adriano Pedrosa

BOMB 78/Winter 2002, Artists on Artists

Beatriz Milhazes, My Baby, 2000, acrylic on canvas, 70×70”. All images courtesy of Edward Throp Gallery, New York.

Beatriz Milhazes’s paintings are executed in a small studio next to Rio de Janeiro’s luscious botanical gardens. The local flavor found in her work comes not as much from the picturesque location of the artist’s studio, but rather through the asphyxiating quality of her complex and overwhelming compositions, which somehow translate the specific site in which they are produced. Despite the multitude of colors and figures, seemingly appropriated from flora and fauna, populating Milhazes’s canvases, these paintings are above all urban — in a very Carioca fashion. Rio’s long-held image of opulence, epitomized by its beautiful scenery, has become enmeshed with associations of the violence found in its streets. Despite the exuberance and apparent joy in Milhazes’s paintings, they are implacably serious, with more than a dash of irony. It is revelatory to discover that they are not particularly easy to live with, and more than one collector has admitted to being misled by their irresistible lure.

In fact, tropical flora and fauna, Brazilian or not, have made their way into Milhazes’s canvases through several mediating layers and sources other than nature itself — call it secondhand experience in situ. A certain tropical fruit, for example, has been appropriated from the Dutch painter Albert Eckhout (who traveled through colonial Brazil in the 17th century), and rendered in blue.

Milhazes’s painting technique itself has mediating qualities: after painting most of her figures in acrylic paint on sheets of transparent plastic, she considers different possibilities of placement and position before gluing them to the canvas. These paintings are packed with references from high and low origins, both local and international, contemporary and historical: Brazilian Baroque imagery, sixties peace signs, carnival decorations, real and invented pieces of jewelry, embroidery, and lace. Modernism is a strong source here, from Brazilian masters such as Tarsila do Amaral (the leading figure of Brazilian Antropofagia) to foreign ones, such as Mondrian (think Boogie Woogie) and Matisse (especially the cutouts). Decoration is a major concern, again with local and foreign references, from Brazilian midcentury elements (through landscape architect Burle Marx) to more international ones (such as Art Deco motifs). The melting pot of sources from various times and territories is developed further in the making of the paintings, with the different elements either maintaining their characters or losing them in the vast and articulate net of references that make up Milhazes’s particularly New World lexicon. All this through a precisely constructed composition at once tight and tense, and an elaborate play of layers which at times short-circuits the relationship between pictorial background and foreground. A painting by Milhazes is like a rare Amazonian plant, both ravishing and deceiving, full of tricks and treats; as you approach it, you may discover that it is in fact carnivorous, and above all, a creation of human imagination.

Beatriz Milhazes, The Prize, 2000, acrylic on canvas, 39.5×39.5”.


Issue 40 May 1998 RSS

Beatriz Milhazes

Edward Thorp Gallery, New York, USA

Beatriz Milhazes’ work speaks of foreign things in a familiar language. This would perhaps account for much of the recent positive reception of this Brazilian painter in North American and European art circles. Facing one of her works, viewers may be pleased to recognise stereotypical elements that they have more or less carelessly constructed of the tropics (and Brazil stands in here, quite fittingly, for that vast, mysterious and sensual continent).

Milhazes is perhaps the only artist in Brazil to have critically addressed the exotic imagery identified with the country, doing so through the dextrous use of Modernist pictorial language. In her vividly coloured and intricately constructed paintings, Milhazes sets up an engaging play between low ‘foreign’ references and high European language. Figurative and abstract elements appropriated from tropical fauna and flora, folk art and craft, local pop culture, low fashion, jewellery, embroidery and lace, carnival and the colonial baroque are her major thematic sources, though recently Milhazes has also expanded her repertoire to include elements of a more ‘international’ origin (from Art Deco to 50s design motifs). Her palette of dazzling colours and hues could be taken, at a first glance, as being typically ‘native’; unsurprisingly, the use of black and white is scarce. Despite the unexpected colour juxtapositions, the overall result has a tense yet balanced pictorial effect (quasi-symmetry is one of the cunning compositional devices). In front of these carefully packed compositions with their elaborate play between figures, grounds, transparency and superimposition, your eye may wander through (if not fall prey to) labyrinthine trajectories.

It is curious to see how Milhazes’ paintings migrate from her studio in Rio to her gallery in SoHo. At her relatively small work space near the city’s beautiful Botanical Gardens (the flora, the fauna!), the paintings ­ which are rarely larger than 2.5 x 2.5 m ­ invade the compact rooms. There, due to the exiguous space (and far from Edward Thorp’s spacious white cube), the luscious, misleading and engulfing tableaux push you against the wall and force you to inspect the painting’s surface. Milhazes’ technique is to paint onto plastic, peel off the dried acrylic and glue it to the canvas. As a result, the brush strokes are still detectable, yet they have been frozen mid-way through the painting process, bearing a slick yet still gestural, duplicitous character (a feature which distinguishes her work from that of Pittman and Taaffe, two North American painters to whom she has been compared).

Milhazes’ painting bears an uneasy ironic character. In one painting a certain tropical fruit is in fact appropriated from Eckhout ­ the Dutch painter who travelled through Brazil in the 18th century ­ and rendered in blue. One enthusiastic New York reviewer described her paintings as ‘rare Amazonian plants’. But if the works are (stereo)typically Brazilian or Latin American, as Milhazes’ foreign commentators often proclaim, they play off this character with a less picturesque, less Edenic tone. The paintings are full of fictitious elements, small strategic forgeries and seemingly irreconcilable juxtapositions. Above all, they impose a sense of excess and confinement (in form and content) that is enlightening, suffocating and disorienting.

Adriano Pedrosa


Issue 161 RSS

Beatriz Milhazes

Paço Imperial, Sao Paulo, Brazil


Beatriz Milhazes Domingo (Sunday), 2010, acrylic on canvas, 2 × 3.1 m

Like it or not, the work of Beatriz Milhazes stands as a defining force in the history of contemporary Brazilian art. While often acclaimed internationally, her large-scale paintings, silkscreens and collages have long been sneered at by critics in her country of birth as frivolous, kitschy compositions grounded in the effects of colour alone, and lots of it. They have often been read – perhaps misread – as the blurry, ebullient aftermath of a carnival parade.

Milhazes has never denied Rio de Janeiro’s famous street parties and the exuberance of Brazil’s biggest national holiday as an inspiration for her work. Nor would it be possible to ignore the abundant colours of Rio’s botanical gardens, just blocks away from her three studios in the city’s lush southern district, where a deep blue sea meets a curtain of sloping green hills.

But Milhazes doesn’t do landscapes, far from it. Her latest retrospective – at the Paço Imperial, the former residence of the Portuguese royal family – makes clear that each canvas is painstakingly constructed. Milhazes’s geometric approach, which is often underappreciated, reveals her work’s deep connection to the matrix of moder-nity’s tropical manifestations. It is clear that her language is anchored in all things superlative: Milhazes likes the excess of gold, as well as the awkward luxury of the baroque churches that dot the hills of Minas Gerais, the southeastern state from where all the precious metals and stones were taken to fund Portugal’s colonial enterprise.

This is where Milhazes often confounds viewers. While she has always claimed to be an abstract painter, this declaration would seem to be at odds with the recognizable forms scattered across her compositions, from the figure of the
dove, fragments of church frescoes and wooden reliefs to flowers blossoming in psychedelic swirls. But these are not representations: Milhazes treats each and every detail – and this is evident in the sweet wrappers that appear in her collages – as a readymade, things uprooted from reality and transfixed in a picture plane that follows a logic of its own.

And it is a rigid, unflinching system. In a way, Milhazes’s paintings seduce the eye with more than their lavish displays of colour. The artist often overwhelms with a hidden mechanism of transfers, painting each layer on separate sheets of plastic that are later applied to the canvas. What seems spontaneous and whimsical is actually precisely calculated, obeying a grid of stripes and squares that has become more evident in her latest pieces but which has been there from the outset.

If this is Milhazes’s major strength, captured well by curator Frédéric Paul in his chronological display of some 60 works, it is also the point at which she comes closest to making a political statement. Together with her contemporary Adriana Varejão, Milhazes dared to break away from the legacy of concrete and neo-concrete art in Brazil, which to this day informs much of the country’s artistic production, diving instead into a hedonistic mass of sensuous forms.

But these lie only on the surface. What Milhazes seems to scream in her compositions is that Brazil was never as unilateral or rigid as the early stages of concrete art appear to suggest. Harking back to Tarsila do Amaral and the anthropophagy move-ment of the early 20th century, the artist fuses two distinct historical periods, the country’s opulent and at once miserable colonial heritage and its post-dictatorship state of tattered populist utopias.

Nothing is as crisp and clear as the concretists would have wanted it to be: flaws poke through the surface of their works, evidence of a social and political reality more concerned with appearance than with a sturdy support structure. Maybe this is why looking at a painting by Milhazes often translates to a guilty pleasure – too much sugar and reverie in a state still struggling with its very building blocks.

Silas Martí



Pérez Art Museum Miami

Beatriz Milhazes at Pérez Art Museum Miami

Beatriz Milhazes, Lampião, 2013–14. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Pepe Schettino.

Beatriz Milhazes: Jardim Botânico

September 19, 2014–January 11, 2015

Pérez Art Museum Miami
1103 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL 33132

The title of the exhibition references a particular place, while it metaphorically looks to also articulate a dichotomy structured into Milhazes’s oeuvre: a desire for rational order and geometry, confronted with an equally significant interest in sensuality, expression, and emotion. Jardim Botânico is the neighborhood in which the artist’s studio is located in Rio de Janeiro and is named for the turn-of-the-century botanical garden that forms its center. Similar to Milhazes’s practice, botanical gardens are both sensual and structured spaces. They are designed for visual pleasure, romantic sites filled with diverse colors and textures. Concurrently, they are highly organized and architecturally planned, areas for research and objective observation.

The exhibition looks to highlight the significance of Milhazes’s painting process, which evidences this play between order and expression. In 1989, through working with monotype techniques, Milhazes developed her signature painting method in which she paints individual elements in acrylic onto clear plastic sheets, allowing her to manipulate them in a manner similar to collage, testing their placement and layering them on a given canvas. These elements are then covered with an acrylic medium and adhered to the surface of the canvas. Once dry, the plastic sheet is removed to reveal the backside of the paint, with the image presented in reverse. This transfer process is an imperfect one and often bits of the thin skin of paint do not stick to the canvas. The patina that builds from these imperfections constructs rich and irregular surfaces that give the paintings a prematurely aged character. Their surfaces also distinguish these highly structured works from graphic design, with these imperfections humanizing the geometry of the forms that the artist engages, imbuing them with rich metaphoric and emotional undertones.

Curated by PAMM’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs Tobias Ostrander, the exhibition is organized in a loose chronology, with sequential sections focused around particular formal investigations. The selection of works reveals the artist’s trajectory from a focus on more figurative elements in the 1990s, such as carefully rendered lace, textiles, and pearls, up through recent works that evidence her increased interest in the optical effects of pure geometries, emphasizing dense line patterns and interlocking circular motifs. Through its ambitious scale and the importance of the individual works it presents, Beatriz Milhazes: Jardim Botânico represents the most significant exhibition of this artist to date.

About the artist
Beatriz Milhazes was born in 1960 in Rio de Janeiro, where she currently lives and works. From 1978 to 1981 she studied Social Communication at Hélio Alonso University, Rio de Janeiro. Between 1980 and 1982 she took courses at the School of Visual Arts Parque Lage in Rio de Janeiro. Her recent solo exhibitions include Meu Bem, Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro (2013); Beatriz Milhazes, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon (2012); Panamericano, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano, Fundacion Costantini, Buenos Aires (2012); Beatriz Milhazes, Fondation Beyeler, Basel (2011); Beatriz Milhazes, Screenprints 1996–2009, Whitechapel at Windsor, Vero Beach, USA (2011); Beatriz Milhazes, Fondation Cartier, Paris (2009); Beatriz Milhazes—Pinturas e Colagens, Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (2008); Beatriz Milhazes, Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Centre d’Art Contemporain, Bignan, France (2003); Venice Biennale, Brazilian Pavillion (2003); Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK (2001); and Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, USA (2001). Her work is in numerous museum collections throughout the world, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo; The 21st Century Museum of Modern Art, Kanazawa, Japan; and Museo Nacional Reina Sofia, Madrid.

Beatriz Milhazes: Jardim Botânico is organized by Pérez Art Museum Miami Chief Curator Tobias Ostrander and presented by Itaú. Support is provided by Graff, and in-kind support is provided by Consulate General of Brazil in Miami.


-Vincent Johnson

Los Angeles, California

July 29, 2012

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.

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 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

Los Angeles, California

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.


Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
10.09. – 05.11.2011The work of Rio de Janeiro born artist Beatriz Milhazes (1960) calls to mind cross-cultural references ranging from local flora, Rio’s urban verve or Brazilian Baroque.
Credits (from top): Beatriz Milhazes – Spring Love, 2010 // Mundy, 2011 // Manjary, 2011 //

Visionary Independent Curator Harald Szeemann: Articles and Interviews

Szeemann’s work

from Domus 898 December 2006

Harald Szeemann. Exhibition Maker, Hans-Joachim Müller, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany 2006 (pp. 168, s.i.p.)

Harald Szeemann reformed curatorial practice. Müller’s book leads us along the great Swiss critic’s intellectual path via his exhibitions.

  • by Maurizio Bortolotti

Harald Szeemann. Exhibition Maker, Hans-Joachim Müller, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany 2006 (pp. 168, s.i.p.)

Harald Szeemann reformed curatorial practice, a job that had been seen in museums for 200 years and was equated with that of the conservator, Alfred Barr having been the leading example for modern art. Müller’s book leads us along the great Swiss critic’s intellectual path via his exhibitions.

Harald managed to grasp certain aspects of contemporary art and create a far more versatile and mobile figure of the “critic” in the modern tradition. One who follows, interprets and defends artists’ projects when they are treading on experimental terrain without knowing exactly which direction they will take. His close bond with the artists of the 1968 generation, which can be epitomised with the names of Joseph Beuys, Mario Merz, Bruce Nauman and Richard Serra – the galaxy of reference for his entire lifetime – helped him create the condition of the independent curator. The person who is able to conduct a relationship with artists as a mediator and communicates with all the other art-world structures and the greater public.

However, he was not only a mediator of the art world. He was also a great interpreter thanks to a visionary capacity that distinguished him from all others, adversaries and imitators alike. He did not see the problem of curating exhibitions as a simple operational matter linked to the practice of organising. Harald had the ability to condense the symbolic force of a work or an object within the exhibition space, constructing exhibitions that were great productions of fantasy: visions of a specific epoch – the art of the second half of the 1960s – but also of a community or a geographic area. He always rejected the concept that art was simply an expression of formal values, the direction in which the art market and museums drove it for structural reasons.

In his work as a curator he managed to create a critical space that was independent of the other art institutions. This is also why he curated many apparently thematic exhibitions in his lifetime that seemed to have little or nothing to do with the artistic debate in course, such as the “Monte Verità” exhibition on the utopian community of Ascona, that on the concept of the total work of art “Der hang zum Gesamptkunstwerk”, and the “visionary” Switzerland, Austria, Belgium series and the “Money and Value” pavilion at the 2002 Swiss exhibition.

It was a method that allowed him to interpret his own times. These were flanked by exhibitions that had a profound impact on the contemporary art debate and changed the course of the history of art, such as “When Attitudes Become Form” and “Documenta 5”, which were followed by the no less important “Machines celibataires” and “Aperto 1980” at the Venice Biennale, plus the more recent ones he curated himself at the 1999 and 2001 Venice biennials.

In his exhibitions Harald always tried to pinpoint the conceptual density of the materials and he had an elevated idea of the avant-garde, able to show the world a different approach to the reality of art. In his work, he always tried to lend substance to artists’ visions and their ability to produce “personal mythologies” as he called them. The exhibitions often became visual routes, created using the artists’ works and objects of strong symbolic worth that were sometimes confused one with the other because of the everyday provenance of both. The aim, however, was always to conceive the exhibition as an autonomous space, a sort of social interstice in which to reconstruct a critical area that reacted to the secularisation of the world. In this sense, he was strongly influenced by the work of Joseph Beuys, at least from the 1970s on. As Müller wrote: “Szeemann thought he was the ‘most important artist since World War II.’ His faith in the (…) social and anthropological responsibility of the aesthetic paradigm and the vital reinforcement of visions was the strongest reflection for those utopias to which Szeemann’s exhibitions tried to lend substance.” (p. 108) The misinterpretations of his work by curators of the 1980s, who wanted to retrieve the European cultural substratum as a reaction to the standardisation and “Americanisation” of the world, were a direct consequence of this attitude.

Harald, however, understood how much the communication dimension had influenced art in the 1990s and with the ideas of “everywhere”, “open” and “audience of humanity” the two biennials of Venice clearly showed how hard he had tried to interpret that element of newness, sometimes with peaks of spectacularisation that were bound to the moment and managed to relaunch the Venetian institution in crisis. If today’s exhibitions have become common critical tools in the artistic debate – albeit often minus the conceptual density that his possessed – we owe much of it to him and are all indebted to him. If I think hard, I can still see his black Mercedes driving into the street for our last appointment in front of his office in Valle Maggia: the great Szeemann will be sorely missed.

Maurizio Bortolotti, Art critic


The show that made Harald Szeemann a star

Biennials and Beyond looks at the exhibitions, curators and artist run spaces that helped make art history

Harald Szeemann, curator of Live In Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form: Works - Concepts - Processes - Situations - Information
Harald Szeemann, curator of Live In Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form: Works – Concepts – Processes – Situations – Information
One of the things we love about art is its capacity to ruffle feathers. Maybe it’s the unresolved punk rocker in us at but the mockery, vituperation – not to mention the occasional dumping of manure outside a gallery entrance – that has accompanied some groundbreaking art shows over the years is all grist to our mill. Which is why we’ve spent the last week ensconced in Biennials and Beyond – Exhibitions That Made Art History 1962-2002, a new book that takes an in depth look at the shows that really did change the course of art.

Last night we were poring over the section dedicated to Live In Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form, the show held at Kunstalle Bern in the spring of 1969.  It was remarkable for a number of reasons not least because in Harald Szeemann, it introduced us to the idea of the curator as we know it today. Here’s a little extract from the book which will explain more.


Belt Piece - Richard Serra
Belt Piece – Richard Serra

As both foundational event and conceptual model, “When Attitudes Become Form” holds a special place in the curatorial imagination. It was the exhibition that brought international acclaim to the most important curator of the post-war period, Harald Szeemann. And it was the show that led Szeemann to re-create himself as an independent exhibition maker, founding a career path that would be followed by generations of curators. “Attitudes” has also come to represent the romantic conception of the curator as inspired partner of the artist, a creative actor who generates original ideas and structures through which art enters public consciousness.

Szeemann was an advocate for the new art that emerged in the 1960s, work grounded in an “inner attitude” elevating artistic prcess over final product. Across the diversity of Conceptualism, land art, American Post-Minimalism, and Italian Arte Povera, he also experienced a desire to be free of a system supplying aesthetic objects for the wealthy. He displayed this attitude and this aspiration by turning the Kunstahlle Bern into a giant artist’s studio, accommodating the practical demands of process -based art through Piero Gilardi’s idea of the exhibition as workshop and locus of discussion.

Capturing the ethos of the 1960s, Keith Sonnier contributed the phrase atop the catalogue page “Live In Your Head”. The catalogue alluded to Szeemann’sprcess as well as to that of the artists, containing the address list he used in New York and letters responding to his invitations to exhibit.


Art By Telephone - Walter de Maria
Art By Telephone – Walter de Maria

The book then goes into fascinating detail regarding the show. Richard Serra splashed lead inside the Kunsthalle foyer, Jan Dibbets excavated a corner of the building to expose their foundations. Michael Heizer smashed the sidewalk outside the museum while Daniel Buren pasted his signature stripes around the town and was promptly arrested for his trouble. Illegality was compounded with the burning of military uniforms outside the museum, which wasn’t part of the show but was associated by the public with it.

The conservative Swiss public did not react well to the show. There was mockery in cartoons  and manure, was indeed dumped at the entrace to the Kunsthalle. Despite positive reviews the museum cancelled Szeemann’s planned Joseph Beuys show. He resigned as director and the rest, as they say, became history.

Check out the book in the store, it really is packed full of fascinating stories and insights into the shows of the time and it’s fast becoming our go to read here at, filling in any gaps in our art history knowledge in an innovative but easy going way. It’s also particularly good on the role of commercial galleries, the influence of museums and corporate groups and the impact of globalisation on the art world.


Biennials and Beyond - Exhibitions That Made Art History
Biennials and Beyond – Exhibitions That Made Art History


Harald Szeemann 1933 – 2005


Remembering the life and work of one of the most influential and imaginative curators of the last century


Richard Serra

For me, since 9/11, there has been a daily ritual commemoration of the dead. I seem to be surrounded by death. Everything seems to make forgetting impossible. There is a growing voyeuristic detailed description of the terror of death via the media; and the more I consume, the less I grasp. Death as an incomprehensible phenomenon has produced a certain numbness in me and then I am told that a friend of mine for over 30 years has died and I am asked to write a few words. Writing is one form to seek compensation for loss. Death is an all too human fact. You don’t only live out your life, you also live out the lives of your contemporaries. Their mortality affects your living, your daily measure.
Harry was a great man who supported art and artists unequivocally his entire life. For decades he was able to pull forth meaning where others would only find absence – that is, he gave all artists the benefit of the doubt. The last time I was with Harry I laughed so hard I cried and that is the way I want to remember him.

Hans Ulrich Obrist

The curatorial work of Harald Szeemann was highly complex and cannot be seen as having just a single aspect. For me his exhibitions in Zurich – and above all Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk (The Tendency towards the Total Work of Art, 1983), which I visited every day while still at school – were formative experiences. This was due in part to Szeemann’s notion of the exhibition as a toolbox, as an archaeology of knowledge in the spirit of Michel Foucault. Whether he was showing Artaud, Gaudí, Schwitters, Steiner or contemporary artists, Szeemann accomplished the rare feat of bridging the gap between past and present. He tested out so many different modes of exhibiting, as well as curating many important solo shows: Beuys, Delacroix, De Maria, Duchamp, Merz, Nauman, Picabia, Serra … The 1985 Mario Merz exhibition, in particular, made a particularly lasting impression: Merz and Szeemann removed all the walls inside the Kunsthaus and displayed the work as an open field, with Merz’ igloos shown in the resulting space as a visionary and Utopian city: La Città Irreale.
Szeemann also saw his exhibitions as an ‘archive in transformation’. To me this was just as representative of his approach as the fact that he worked simultaneously as an independent curator and curator of Kunsthaus Zürich. Another important facet of his career was the way he oscillated between large and small, private and public. After the 1972 Documenta in Kassel, for example, there was the exhibition dedicated to his grandfather, held in a private apartment in Bern, with no hierarchy between the larger and the smaller show – entirely in keeping with Robert Musil’s observation that art can appear where one is least expecting it. Szeemann’s death is a major blow to the art world.

Visionary Belgium by Aaron Schuster

A mescaline-minded poet (Henri Michaux), the self-styled commissar of a bankrupt museum (Marcel Broodthaers), a bungling megalomaniac raised by a Belgian boulangerie owner and a web-footed French prostitute (Dr Evil in Austin Powers), an amateur scientist in tireless pursuit of the Absolute (Honoré de Balzac’s portrait of the Fleming Balthazar Claes) – Belgium, a country of visionaries? Such was the explicit wager of Harald Szeemann in his sprawling show, La Belgique visionnaire. C’est arrivé près de chez nous (Visionary Belgium. It’s in your neighbourhood) on display until mid-May, 2005 in the Victor Horta designed Palais des Beaux Arts. The late curator liked to refer to his method as one of ‘structured chaos’, and that is precisely what is presented here: a highly varied collection of paintings, advertisements, films, sculptures, books, archival materials and installations without any discernible organizing principle except to reveal that elusive quality known since the late 1970s as la belgitude.
The first thing to mention apropos this exhibition is Szeemann’s brilliant insight into which countries constitute the visionary core of Europe – the repository of its utopian longings, twisted dreams and undialectizable contradictions. ‘Visionary Belgium’ is the last in the sequence of three exhibitions, beginning with ‘Visionary Switzerland’ (1991) and followed by ‘Austria im Rosennetz’ (Austria in the Net of Roses, 1996). Here Szeemann’s intuition was spot on: one simply cannot imagine the same treatment of ‘major’ European nations like Germany, France and, in spite of its eccentricities, England, or even Spain or Italy. Visionary potential must rather be sought in the margins of the margins, in the dissident traditions within those countries that already have a ‘minor’ status. In this respect, one should also mention the Balkans, to which Szeemann consecrated the show ‘Blood and Honey’ in 2003. If the title of this latter exhibition cannot help but conjure up clichéd images of irrational violence on the one hand and the poetry of everyday rustic life on the other, this would seem to point to a more general difficulty implicit in the curator’s method. To borrow a term dear to him, this method might be dubbed ‘pataphysical anthropology’: an attempt to discern the ‘spiritual contours’ of a region via an examination of its most extraordinary and even unclassifiable cultural artifacts. As Szeemann understood, such an enterprise is not without dangers, and ‘Visionary Belgium’ sometimes risks becoming a mere ‘cabinet of curiosities’, reproducing the stereotype of Belgians as a darkly quirky, self-deprecating people. To voice another concern: the show also seems more backward than forward-looking, more retrospective in its approach than interested in divining what (if anything) is new and exciting in the Belgian scene.
These critical suspicions aside, ‘Visionary Belgium’ is an extremely rich exhibition. Apart from collecting together works of famous artists like René Magritte, Léon Spilliaert, Paul Delvaux, Félicien Rops, and Broodthaers, and contemporary stars such as Panamarenko and Wim Delvoye (a new upright version of the shit-machine Cloaca 2005), the main merit of the show lies in its unearthing of lesser known figures and events. To mention just a few: an extensive documentation of the avant-garde festival EXPRMNTL held each winter at the seaside resort Knokke from 1949 to 1974; the space reserved for pataphysician André Blavier’s personal library, including Professor Dewulf’s 1950s Debraining Machine; and, a large card catalogue transported from the archives of the Mundaneum in Mons, Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine’s early 20th-century utopian project to gather together all human knowledge. Benoît Poelvoorde’s C’est arrivé près de chez nous (1992), an exceedingly noir exercise in black humour, provides the show with its appropriate subtitle though it could have equally been named ‘The major ordeals of Belgium and the countless minor ones’ – a variation on the title of one of Michaux’s drug-inspired books. That major ordeal is none other than the strained existence of the Belgian state itself, a theme that resonates in many of the displayed works. Though the exhibition takes place within the rubric of Belgium’s 175th anniversary celebrations, it is significant that the country cannot commemorate this event without adding ‘and 25 years of federalism’, which is tantamount to simultaneously celebrating one’s birthday and divorce. Indeed, one could argue that the key to both Belgium’s visionary culture and its reactionary politics is precisely its lack of a well-defined centre or strong sense of national identity. It is therefore fitting that what ought to have the centrepiece of the exhibition, James Ensor’s The Entry of Christ into Brussels (1888) is missing; evidently Christ took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Los Angeles (the painting is in the Getty Museum). The absence of this remarkable work, mixing Christian theology with the International, in turn echoes another, more fundamental loss: the demolition of Horta’s La Maison du Peuple in 1954 – Brussels’s lost object of desire. It would hardly be a stretch to surmise that it is the populist socialist vision condensed by these two missing works – the breaking up of the dream of social fraternity – that provides the ultimate backdrop for the multiple visions of Belgium.
Szeemann is perhaps the single figure most responsible for the image we have of the curator today: the curator-as-artist, a roaming, freelance designer of exhibitions, or in his own witty formulation, a ‘spiritual guest worker.’ In a way this shift in the role of the curator makes perfect sense. If artists since Marcel Duchamp have affirmed selection and arrangement as legitimate artistic strategies, was it not simply a matter of time before curatorial practice – itself defined by selection and arrangement – would come to be seen as an art that operates on the field of art itself? Daniel Buren first voiced the critique of this development against Szeemann’s curatorship of Documenta 5 in 1972, and since then the polemic has only gained in intensity. Rather than repeating the same stale scripts, however, what would be useful today, and to my knowledge has yet to be written, is a critical history of curating, a study of the transformations in the manner of art’s staging and public presentation.1 It goes without saying that in such a study Szeemann would figure as one of the grand innovators.

1 One of the most interesting books on this subject is L’art de l’exposition. Une documentation sur trente expositions exemplaires du XXe siècle, Paris: Editions de Regard, 1998

Richard Serra and Hans Ulrich Obrist




The Bias of the World: Curating After Szeemann & Hopps

What Is a Curator?Under the Roman Empire the title of curator (“caretaker”) was given to officials in charge of various departments of public works: sanitation, transportation, policing. The curatores annonae were in charge of the public supplies of oil and corn. The curatores regionum were responsible for maintaining order in the 14 regions of Rome. And the curatores aquarum took care of the aqueducts. In the Middle Ages, the role of the curator shifted to the ecclesiastical, as clergy having a spiritual cure or charge. So one could say that the split within curating—between the management and control of public works (law) and the cure of souls (faith)—was there from the beginning. Curators have always been a curious mixture of bureaucrat and priest.

That smooth-faced gentleman, tickling Commodity, Commodity, the bias of the world—
—Shakespeare, King John1

Portrait of Harald Szeemann. Pencil and Paper by Phong Bui.

For better or worse, curators of contemporary art have become, especially in the last 10 years, the principal representatives of some of our most persistent questions and confusions about the social role of art. Is art a force for change and renewal, or is it a commodity for advantage or convenience? Is art a radical activity, undermining social conventions, or is it a diverting entertainment for the wealthy? Are artists the antennae of the human race, or are they spoiled children with delusions of grandeur (in Roman law, a curator could also be the appointed caretaker or guardian of a minor or lunatic)? Are art exhibitions “spiritual undertakings with the power to conjure alternative ways of organizing society,” or vehicles for cultural tourism and nationalistic propaganda?

These splits, which reflect larger tears in the social fabric, certainly in the United States, complicate the changing role of curators of contemporary art, because curators mediate between art and its publics and are often forced to take “a curving and indirect course” between them. Teaching for the past five years at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, I observed young curators confronting the practical demands and limitations of their profession armed with a vision of possibility and an image of the curator as a free agent, capable of almost anything. Where did this image come from?

When Harald Szeemann and Walter Hopps died in February and March 2005, at age 72 and 71, respectively, it was impossible not to see this as the end of an era. They were two of the principal architects of the present approach to curating contemporary art, working over 50 years to transform the practice. When young curators imagine what’s possible, they are imagining (whether they know it or not) some version of Szeemann and Hopps. The trouble with taking these two as models of curatorial possibility is that both of them were sui generis: renegades who managed, through sheer force of will, extraordinary ability, brilliance, luck, and hard work, to make themselves indispensable, and thereby intermittently palatable, to the conservative institutions of the art world.

Each came to these institutions early. When Szeemann was named head of the Kunsthalle Bern in 1961, at age 28, he was the youngest ever to have been appointed to such a position in Europe, and when Hopps was made director of the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) in 1964, at age 31, he was then the youngest art museum director in the United States. By that time, Hopps (who never earned a college degree) had already mounted a show of paintings by Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, Jay DeFeo, and many others on a merry-go-round in an amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier (with his first wife, Shirley Hopps, when he was 22); started and run two galleries (Syndell Studios and the seminal Ferus Gallery, with Ed Kienholz); and curated the first museum shows of Frank Stella’s paintings and Joseph Cornell’s boxes, the first U.S.retrospective of Kurt Schwitters, the first museum exhibition of Pop Art, and the first solo museum exhibition of Marcel Duchamp, in Pasadena in 1963. And that was just the beginning. Near the end of his life, Hopps estimated that he’d organized 250 exhibitions in his 50-year career.

Szeemann’s early curatorial activities were no less prodigious. He made his first exhibition, Painters Poets/ Poets Painters, a tribute to Hugo Ball, in 1957, at age 24. When he became the director of the Kunsthalle in Bern four years later, he completely transformed that institution, mounting nearly 12 exhibitions a year, culminating in the landmark show Live In Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form, in 1969, exhibiting works by 70 artists, including Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra, Eva Hesse, Lawrence Weiner, Richard Long, and Bruce Nauman, among many others.

While producing critically acclaimed and historically important exhibitions, both Hopps and Szeemann quickly came into conflict with their respective institutions. After four years at the Pasadena Art Museum, Hopps was asked to resign. He was named director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1970, then fired two years later. For his part, stunned by the negative reaction to When Attitudes Become Form from the Kunsthalle Bern, Harald Szeemann quit his job, becoming the first “independent curator.” He set up the Agency for Spiritual Guestwork and co-founded the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art (IKT) in 1969, curated Happenings & Fluxus at the Kunstverein in Cologne in 1970, and became the first artistic director of Documenta in 1972, reconceiving it as a 100-day event. Szeemann and Hopps hadn’t yet turned 40, and their best shows were all ahead of them. For Szeemann, these included Junggesellenmaschinen—Les Machines célibataires (“Bachelor Machines”) in 1975-77, Monte Veritá (1978, 1983, 1987), the first Aperto at the Venice Biennale (with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1980), Der Hang Zum Gesamtkunstwerk, Europaïsche Utopien seit 1800 (“The Quest for the Total Work of Art”) in 1983-84, Visionary Switzerland in 1991, the Joseph Beuys retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in 1993, Austria in a Lacework of Roses in 1996, and the Venice Biennale in 1999 and 2001. For Hopps, yet to come were exhibitions of Diane Arbus in the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1972, the Robert Rauschenberg mid-career survey in 1976, retrospectives at the Menil Collection of Yves Klein, John Chamberlain, Andy Warhol, and Max Ernst, and exhibitions of Jay DeFeo (1990), Ed Kienholz (1996 at the Whitney), Rauschenberg again (1998), and James Rosenquist (2003 at the Guggenheim). Both Szeemann and Hopps had exhibitions open when they died—Szeemann’s Visionary Belgium, for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and Hopps’s George Herms retrospective at the Santa Monica Museum—and both had plans for many more exhibitions in the future.

What Do Curators Do?

Szeemann and Hopps were the Cosmas and Damian (or the Beuys and Duchamp) of contemporary curatorial practice. Rather than accepting things as they found them, they changed the way things were done. But finally, they will be remembered for only one thing: the quality of the exhibitions they made; for that is what curators do, after all. Szeemann often said he preferred the simple title of Ausstellungsmacher (exhibition-maker), but he acknowledged at the same time how many different functions this one job comprised: “administrator, amateur, author of introductions, librarian, manager and accountant, animator, conservator, financier, and diplomat.” I have heard curators characterized at different times as:
Administrators Advocates
Bricoleurs (Hopps’ last show, the Herms retrospective, was titled “The Bricoleur of Broken Dreams. . . One More Once”)
Cartographers (Ivo Mesquita)
Catalysts (Hans Ulrich Obrist)
Cultural impresarios
Cultural nomads
Diplomats (When Bill Lieberman, who held top curatorial posts at both the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, died in May 2005, Artnews described him as “the consummate art diplomat”)
And that’s just the beginning of the alphabet. When Hans Ulrich Obrist asked Walter Hopps to name important predecessors, the first one he came up with was Willem Mengelberg, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, “for his unrelenting rigor.” He continued, “Fine curating of an artist’s work—that is, presenting it in an exhibition—requires as broad and sensitive an understanding of an artist’s work that a curator can possibly muster. This knowledge needs to go well beyond what is actually put in the exhibition. . . . To me, a body of work by a given artist has an inherent kind of score that you try to relate to or understand. It puts you in a certain psychological state. I always tried to get as peaceful and calm as possible.”3

But around this calm and peaceful center raged the “controlled chaos” of exhibition making. Hopps’ real skills included an encyclopedic visual memory, the ability to place artworks on the wall and in a room in a way that made them sing,4 the personal charm to get people to do things for him, and an extraordinary ability to look at a work of art and then account for his experience of it, and articulate this account to others in a compelling and convincing way.

It is significant, I think, that neither Szeemann nor Hopps considered himself a writer, but both recognized and valued good writing, and solicited and “curated” writers and critics as well as artists into their exhibitions and publications. Even so, many have observed that the rise of the independent curator has occurred at the expense of the independent critic. In a recent article titled “Do Art Critics Still Matter?” Mark Spiegler opined that “on the day in 1969 when Harald Szeemann went freelance by leaving the Kunsthalle Bern, the wind turned against criticism.”5 There are curators who can also write criticism, but these precious few are exceptions that prove the rule. Curators are not specialists, but for some reason they feel the need to use a specialized language, appropriated from philosophy or psychoanalysis, which too often obscures rather than reveals their sources and ideas. The result is not criticism, but curatorial rhetoric. Criticism involves making finer and finer distinctions among like things, while the inflationary writing of curatorial rhetoric is used to obscure fine distinctions with vague generalities. The latter’s displacement of the former has a political dimension as we move into an increasingly managed, post-critical environment.

Although Szeemann and Hopps were very different in many ways, they shared certain fundamental values: an understanding of the importance of remaining independent of institutional prejudices and arbitrary power arrangements; a keen sense of history; the willingness to continually take risks intellectually, aesthetically, and conceptually; and an inexhaustible curiosity about and respect for the way artists work.

Portrait of Walter Hopps. Pencil and Paper by Phong Bui.

Szeemann’s break away from the institution of the Kunsthalle was, simply put, “a rebellion aimed at having more freedom.”6 This rebellious act put him closer to the ethos of artists and writers, where authority cannot be bestowed or taken, but must be earned through the quality of one’s work. In his collaborations with artists, power relations were negotiated in practice rather than asserted as fiat. Every mature artist I know has a favorite horror story about a young, inexperienced curator trying to claim an authority they haven’t earned by manipulating a seasoned artist’s work or by designing exhibitions in which individual artists’ works are seen as secondary and subservient to the curator’s grand plan or theme. The cure for this kind of insecure hubris is experience, but also the recognition of the ultimate contingency of the curatorial process. As Dave Hickey said of both critics and curators, “Somebody has to do something before we can do anything.”7 In June of 2000, after being at the pinnacle of curatorial power repeatedly for over 40 years, Harald Szeemann said, “Frankly, if you insist on power, then you keep going on in this way. But you must throw the power away after each experience, otherwise it’s not renewing. I’ve done a lot of shows, but if the next one is not an adventure, it’s not important for me and I refuse to do it.”8

When contemporary curators, following in the steps of Szeemann, break free from institutions, they sometimes lose their sense of history in the process. Whatever their shortcomings, institutions do have a sense (sometimes a surfeit) of history. And without history, “the new” becomes a trap, a sequential recapitulation of past approaches with no forward movement. It is a terrible thing to be perpetually stuck in the present, and this is a major occupational hazard for curators.

Speaking about his curating of the Seville Biennale in 2004, Szeemann said, “It’s not about presenting the best there is, but about discovering where the unpredictable path of art will go in the immanent future.” But moving the ball up the field requires a tremendous amount of legwork. “The unpredictable path of art” becomes much less so when curators rely on the Claude Rains method, rounding up the usual suspects from the same well-worn list of artists that everyone else in the world is using.

It is difficult, in retrospect, to fully appreciate the risks that both Szeemann and Hopps took to change the way curators worked. One should never underestimate the value of a monthly paycheck. By giving up a secure position as director of a stable art institution and striking out on his own as an “independent curator,” Szeemann was assuring himself years of penury. There was certainly no assurance that anyone would hire him as a freelance. Anyone who’s chosen this path knows that freelance means never having to say you’re solvent. Being freelance as a writer and critic is one thing: The tools of the trade are relatively inexpensive, and one need only make a living. But making exhibitions is costly and finding “independent” money, money without onerous strings attached to it, is especially difficult when one cannot, in good conscience, present it as an “investment opportunity.” Daniel Birnbaum points out that “all the dilemmas of corporate sponsorship and branding in contemporary art today are fully articulated in [‘When Attitudes Become Form’]. Remarkably, according to Szeemann, the exhibition came about only because ‘people from Philip Morris and the PR firm Ruder Finn came to Bern and asked me if I would do a show of my own. They offered me money and total freedom.’ Indeed, the exhibition’s catalogue seems uncanny in its prescience: ‘As businessmen in tune with our times, we at Philip Morris are committed to support the experimental,’ writes John A. Murphy, the company’s European president, asserting that his company experimented with ‘new methods and materials’ in a way fully comparable to the Conceptual artists in the exhibition. (And yet, showing the other side of this corporate-funding equation, it was a while before the company supported the arts in Europe again, perhaps needing time to recover from all the negative press surrounding the event.)”9 So the founding act of “independent curating” was brought to you by . . . Philip Morris! 33 years later, for the Swiss national exhibition Expo.02, Szeemann designed a pavilion covered with sheets of gold, containing a system of pneumatic tubes and a machine that destroyed money—two 100 franc notes every minute during the 159 days of the exhibition. The sponsor? The Swiss National Bank, of course.
When Walter Hopps brought the avant-garde to Southern California, he didn’t have to compete with others to secure the works of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, or Jay DeFeo (for the merry-go-round show in 1953), because no one else wanted them. In his Hopps obituary, Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight pointed out that “just a few years after Hopps’s first visit to the [Arensbergs’] collection, the [Los Angeles] City Council decreed that Modern art was Communist propaganda and banned its public display.”10 In 50 years, we’ve progressed from banning art as Communist propaganda to prosecuting artists as terrorists.11

The Few and Far Between

It’s not that fast horses are rare, but men who know enough to spot them
are few and far between.
—Han Yü12

The trait that Szeemann and Hopps had most in common was their respect for and understanding of artists. They never lost sight of the fact that their principal job was to take what they found in artists’ works and do whatever it took to present it in the strongest possible way to an interested public. Sometimes this meant combining it with other work that enhanced or extended it. This was done not to show the artists anything they didn’t already know, but to show the public. As Lawrence Weiner pointed out in an interview in 1994, “Everybody that was in the Attitudes show knew all about the work of everybody else in the Attitudes show. They wouldn’t have known them personally, but they knew all the work. . . . Most artists on both sides of the Atlantic knew what was being done. European artists had been coming to New York and U.S. artists went over there.”13 But Attitudes brought it all together in a way that made a difference.

Both Szeemann and Hopps felt most at home with artists, sometimes literally. Carolee Schneemann recently described for me the scene in the Kunstverein in Cologne in 1970, when she and her collaborator in “Happenings and Fluxus” (having arrived and discovered there was no money for lodging) moved into their installations, and Szeemann thought it such a good idea to sleep on site that he brought in a cot and slept in the museum himself, to the outrage of the guards and staff. Both Szeemann and Hopps reserved their harshest criticism for the various bureaucracies that got between them and the artists. Hopps once described working for bureaucrats when he was a senior curator at the National Collection of Fine Arts as “like moving through an atmosphere of Seconal.”14 And Szeemann said in 2001 that “the annoying thing about such bureaucratic organizations as the [Venice] Biennale is that there are a lot of people running around who hate artists because they keep running around wanting to change everything.”15 Changing everything, for Szeemann, was just the point. “Artists, like curators, work on their own,” he said in 2000, “grappling with their attempt to make a world in which to survive. . . . We are lonely people, faced with superficial politicians, with donors, sponsors, and one must deal with all of this. I think it is here where the artist finds a way to form his own world and live his obsessions. For me, this is the real society.”16 The society of the obsessed.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Although Walter Hopps was an early commissioner for the São Paolo Biennal (1965: Barnett Newman, Frank Stella, Richard Irwin and Larry Poons) and of the Venice Biennale (1972: Diane Arbus), Harald Szeemann practically invented the role of nomadic independent curator of huge international shows, putting his indelible stamp on Documenta and Venice and organizing the Lyon Biennale and the Kwangju Biennial in Korea in 1997, and the first Seville Biennale in 2004, as well as numerous other international surveys around the world.

So what Szeemann said about globalization and art should perhaps be taken seriously. He saw globalization as a euphemism for imperialism, and proclaimed that “globalization is the great enemy of art.” And in the Carolee Thea interview in 2000, he said, “Globalization is perfect if it brings more justice and equality to the world . . . but it doesn’t. Artists dream of using computers or digital means to have contact and to bring continents closer. But once you have the information, it’s up to you what to do with it. Globalization without roots is meaningless in art.”17 And globalization of the curatorial class can be a way to avoid or “transcend” the political.

Rene Dubos’s old directive to “think globally, but act locally” (first given at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972) has been upended in some recent international shows (like the 14th Sydney Biennale in 2004, and the 1st Moscow Biennial in 2005). When one thinks locally (within a primarily Euro-American cultural framework, or within a New York-London-Kassel-Venice-Basel-Los Angeles-Miami framework) but acts globally, the results are bound to be problematic, and can be disastrous. In 1979, Dubos argued for an ecologically sustainable world in which “natural and social units maintain or recapture their identity, yet interplay with each other through a rich system of communications.” At their best, the big international exhibitions do contribute to this. Okwui Enwezor’s18 Documenta XI certainly did, and Szeemann knew it. At their worst, they perpetuate the center-to-periphery hegemony and preclude real cross-cultural communication and change. Although having artists and writers move around in the world is an obvious good, real cultural exchange is something that must be nurtured. Walter Hopps said in 1996: “I really believe in—and, obviously, hope for—radical, or arbitrary, presentations, where cross-cultural and cross-temporal considerations are extreme, out of all the artifacts we have. . . . So just in terms of people’s priorities, conventional hierarchies begin to shift some.”19

The Silence of Szeemann & Hopps Is Overrated

‘Art’ is any human activity that aims at producing improbable situations, and it is the more artful (artistic) the less probable the situation that it produces. —Vilém Flusser20

Harald Szeemann recognized early and long appreciated the utopian aspects of art. “The often-evoked ‘autonomy’ is just as much a fruit of subjective evaluation as the ideal society: it remains a utopia while it informs the desire to experientially visualize the unio mystica of opposites in space. Which is to say that without seeing, there is nothing visionary, but that the visionary should always determine the seeing.” And he recognized that the bureaucrat could overtake the curer of souls at any point. “Otherwise, we might just as well return to ‘hanging and placing,’ and divide the entire process ‘from the vision to the nail’ into detailed little tasks again.”21 He organized exhibitions in which the improbable could occur, and was willing to risk the impossible. In reply to a charge that the social utopianism of Joseph Beuys was never realized, Szeemann said, “The nice thing about utopias is precisely that they fail. For me, failure is a poetic dimension of art.”22 Curating a show in which nothing could fail was, to Szeemann, a waste of time.

If he and Hopps could still encourage young curators in anything, I suspect it would be to take greater risks in their work. At a time when all parts of the social and political spheres (including art institutions) are increasingly managed, breaking out of this frame, asking significant questions, and setting the terms of resistance is more and more vitally important. It is important to work against the bias of the world (commodity, political expediency). For curators of contemporary art, that means finding and supporting those artists who, as Flusser writes, “have attempted, at the risk of their lives, to utter that which is unutterable, to render audible that which is ineffable, to render visible that which is hidden.”23

This essay will be included in the forthcoming Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating
Edited by Steven Rand and Heather Kouris, published by Apex Art. It will be available by January 2007.


1 Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King John, Act II, Scene 1, 573-74. Cowper: “What Shakespeare calls commodity, and we call political expediency.” Appendix 13 of my old edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, edited by G. B. Harrison (NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), pp. 1639-40, reads: “Shakespeare frequently used poetic imagery taken from the game of bowls [bowling]. . . . The bowl [bowling ball] was not a perfect sphere, but so made that one side somewhat protruded. This protrusion was called the bias; it caused the bowl to take a curving and indirect course.”

2 “When Attitude Becomes Form: Daniel Birnbaum on Harald Szeemann,” Artforum, Summer 2005, p. 55.

3 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews, Volume I, edited by Thomas Boutoux (Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2003), pp. 416-17. Hopps also named as predecessors exhibition-makers Katherine Dreier, Alfred Barr, James Johnson Sweeney, René d’Harnoncourt, and Jermayne MacAgy.

4 In 1976, at the Museum of Temporary Art in Washington, D.C., Hopps announced that, for thirty-six hours, he would hang anything anyone brought in, as long as it would fit through the door. Later, he proposed to put 100,000 images up on the walls of P.S. 1 in New York, but that project was, sadly, never realized.

5 Mark Spiegler, “Do Art Critics Still Matter?” The Art Newspaper, no. 157, April 2005, p. 32.

6 Carolee Thea, Foci: Interviews with Ten International Curators (New York: Apex Art Curatorial Program, 2001), p. 19.

7 Curating Now: Imaginative Practice/Public Responsibility: Proceedings from a symposium addressing the state of current curatorial practice organized by the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, October 14-15, 2000, edited by Paula Marincola (Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, 2001), p. 128. Both Szeemann and Hopps passed Hickey’s test: “The curator’s job, in my view,” he said, “is to tell the truth, to show her or his hand, and get out of the way” (p. 126).

8 Carolee Thea, p. 19 (emphasis added).

9 Daniel Birnbaum, p. 58.

10 Christopher Knight, “Walter Hopps, 1932-2005. Curator Brought Fame to Postwar L.A. Artists,” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2005.

11At this writing, the U.S. government continues in its effort to prosecute artist Steven Kurtz for obtaining bacterial agents through the mail, even though the agents were harmless and intended for use in art pieces by the collaborative Critical Art Ensemble. Kurtz has said he believes the charges filed against him in 2004 (after agents from the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Depeartment of Defence swarmed over his house) are part of a Bush administration campaign to prevent artists from protesting government policies. “I think we’re in a very unfortunate moment now in U.S. history,” Kurtz has said. “A form of neo-McCarthyism has made a comeback. . . . We’re going to see a whole host of politically motivated trials which have nothing to do with crime but everything to do with artistic expression.” For the latest developments in the case, go to

12 Epigraph to Nathan Sivin’s Chinese Alchemy: Preliminary Studies(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968).

13 Having Been Said: Writings & Interviews of Lawrence Weiner 1968-2003, edited by Gerti Fietzek and Gregor Stemmrich (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2004), p. 315.

14 Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps—Art Curator,” Artforum, February 1996.

15 Jan Winkelman, “Failure as a Poetic Dimension: A Conversation with Harald Szeemann,” Metropolis M. Tijdschrift over Hedendaagse Kunst, No. 3, June 2001.

16 Carolee Thea, p. 17 (emphasis added).

17 Carolee Thea, p. 18.

18 With his co-curators Carlos Basualdo, Uta Meta Bauer, Susanne Ghez, Sarat Maharaj, Mark Nash, and Octavio Zaya.

19 Hans Ulrich Obrist, p. 430.

20 Vilém Flusser, “Habit: The True Aesthetic Criterion,” in Writings, edited by Andreas Ströhl, translated by Erik Eisel (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), p. 52.

21 Harald Szeemann, “Does Art Need Directors?” in Words of Wisdom: A Curator’s Vade Mecum on Contemporary Art, edited by Carin Kuoni (New York: Independent Curators International, 2001), p. 169.

22 Jan Winkelman.

23 Flusser, p. 54.



David Levi Strauss



Barry Barker
Flash Art n. 275 – November – December 2010 






TO REFLECT UPON an exhibition that took place over 40 years ago is a strange and salutary experience, and I am grateful that I still have the faculties to recall “Live in your Head: When Attitudes Become Form,” the exhibition I visited at the Institute ofContemporary Arts in London in September 1969. During the late ’60s through the mid-’70s, it was often considered inappropriate or irrelevant to critically refer to an artwork’s context or its authorship. It was the time of the “death of the author,” when any understanding of the work of art was to come solely from its own presence, withoutreference to metaphor, biography or any other outside circumstances. It now seems commonplace to consider the context of a work of art, which could be said to carry at least fifty percent of its meaning, whether it is relating to its materiality, physicality in terms of place, or social and cultural position. Looking back on this exhibition, context seems especially relevant.

From top left: (1, 7, 8, 9, 11) Live in your Head: When Attitudes Become Form. Installation views during the opening event at Kunsthalle Bern, 1969. © Kunsthalle Bern,Bern. (2, 3, 4, 5, 10) Live in your Head: When Attitudes Become Form. Installation views of the exhibition during the opening event at Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, 1969. (6) Live in your Head: When Attitudes Become Form. Harald Szeemann during the opening event at Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, 1969; sitting in the audience: Paul Wember, Director of Kunstmuseen Krefeld in 1969. (12) Live in your Head: When Attitudes Become Form. Paul Wember and artist Sarkis with two of the artist’s works during the opening event at Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, 1969; on the wall,Robert Morris, Batteries with Ripples, 1964; Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, 1969.
In 1968, the I.C.A. had moved from a small space in Dover Street to larger premises in the Carlton House Terrace, which backed on to the Mall, the road that leads to Buckingham Palace. This juxtaposition — the home of the British monarch close by what was meant to house the UK’s cultural avant-garde — was itself a paradox. This was the first time I’d visited this new I.C.A., but I had read and to some extent seen much of the work in “Attitudes” while traveling, and therefore was familiar with many of the artists in the exhibition. I walked down a few steps into an open, modestly largespace; it was obviously not an industrial space and bore the signs of being the ex-stables and coach house for the above apartments’ grand occupants of 18th-century aristocracy. The exhibition was curated and selected by the late Harald Szeemann, at the time director of Kunsthalle Bern, where the exhibition was first shown. The title was interesting in itself, as it implied the bringing together of ideas and thoughts, and their ability to inspire the formation of a material presence. Though in some instances they did the opposite, staying in the realms of language, or existing as works that — to quote the front of the catalogue — “live in your head,” which was the original title of ArthurMiller’s play Death of a Salesman (1949). The exhibition was conceived and curated notas a means of defining or fixing the art of its time, but the absolute opposite: to open up the concept of art and to change human perception of contemporary art as it was then understood. To quote Szeemann in his introductionto the catalogue, “In order to entertain certain ideas we may be obliged to abandon others upon which we have come to depend.” This exhibition was and still is a prime example of a curator responding to the work of contemporary artists, letting the artists provide the initiative rather than the curator imposing their personal theories or worldview, as often happens today. The subtitle to the exhibition, “Works-Concepts-Processes-Situations-Information,” in many ways describes its contents. These works asked spectators to join the artist in stepping outside their comfort zone — to allow

their consciousness to be realigned with a new order of things.

This was a time when many artists, writers and gallery directors, whether working withinan institutional or private context, found themselves in a world in which their vocation and even their aspirations no longer fit happily within a traditional definition of art or culture. There appeared to be a chasm between language, ideas and the world. Protests against the Vietnam War were at their height both in America and Europe. Lacking a fixed cultural order in equilibrium with the past, artists found themselves in a place of disenchantment. In a positive sense, however, it was also a time of discussion, idea exchange and information. The world was becoming a smaller place; every artist and thinker felt that there were many ideas and places to explore, yet they in turn had something to contribute to the cultural life of a global environment. It was in this spiritthat Szeemann researched and brought to light artistic developments of a younger generation. “When Attitudes Become Form” traveled from Kunsthalle Bern to the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld (Germany) to the I.C.A. London like a caravan traveling through a cultural desert from one oasis to another, picking up more local goods as it went along. It was brought to London on the initiative of the late Charles Harrison, who was a writer, freelance curator and assistant editor of the magazine Studio International.Harrison was approached by the sponsor of the exhibition, cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris, who offered to finance this ‘caravan.’ At the time, Harrison was planning an exhibition of his own, but he lacked funding. So instead he agreed to bring “Attitudes” to the I.C.A. if he could add his own selection of British artists, such as Victor Burgin (though he did not include the Art & Language group, which he was associated with). At that time, the I.C.A.’s director had little experience with visual art, let alone contemporary visual art (his discipline was in the theater), and so the institution accepted the show mainly for financial reasons — in other words because it was more-or-less free. Still, Harrison resented not being able to curate his own show, so much sothat when Harald Szeemann came to London for the opening, Harrison is quoted as saying that he “hardly talked to him.”

From top left clockwise: JOSEPH BEUYS, Jason, 1961. Live in your Head: When Attitudes become Form. installation view at Haus Lange Krefeld, 1969. ROBERT MORRIS, Felt Piece no. 4, 1968. GILBERTO ZORIO, Untitled (Torcia), 1969. JANNIS KOUNELLIS, Senza Titolo, 1969. All courtesy Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Germany.Photos: Archive Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Germany.
As soon as I saw the exhibition laid out before me I felt the mixed emotions of beingcaptivated and disappointed at the same time. As I came down the steps, on my left was a series of sacks that contained different kinds of grains [Jannis Kounellis, untitled, 1969]. Some visitors took handfuls and chewed them while viewing the exhibition and others threw them on the gallery floor. Some artists were invited by the sponsor to come to London and install their work; one of them was Reiner Ruthenbeck, from Germany, and it was his piece that drew my attention next, which consisted of tangled wire amid a pile of ashes [Aschenhaufen III, 1968] and was said to be about German war guilt. Ger Van Elk was invited to London to shave a cactus, which was filmed and then placed forlornly on a low brick wall in the gal lery [The Well Shaven Cactus, 1969]. JosephKosuth put statements in several of London’s local newspapers.

As for the disappointments, there were many. The installation of Eva Hesse’s works

somehow did not look convincing; it was some years later that Harrison admitted he

hadn’t installed them correctly through lack of instructions. Another disappointment wasthat Lawrence Weiner’s ‘wall removal’ [A 36 x 36 Removal to the Lathing or Support Wallof Plaster, 1968] was not ‘installed.’ However, the one major omission was of a work by an artist who we all wished to know more about at the time: Joseph Beuys. Beuys had been invited to the exhibition, and he offered a new work comprised of a Volkswagen Microbus and twenty-two sleds with fat and felt [Das Rudel (The Pack), 1969]. The I.C.A. could not afford the transport cost, so the British  Public lost out on seeing this major 20th-century work for the first time. In his introduction to the exhibition, Szeemannstated: “The exhibition appears to lack unity.” “[It]…gathers a number of artists whose work has very little in common yet also a great deal in common.” In hindsight, his remarks are understandable because the exhibition reflected so many different directions that were subsequently categorized as conceptual art, minimal art, arte povera, land art and installation art. One unifying aspect was the radical economy and simplicity of the artworks’ means and materials. Artists used common materials such as rope, wood, canvas, photocopy and language, often to greater effect than today’s artists who spend huge sums of money on fabrication.

In Bern, the exhibition so outraged the Swiss public that a few days after the opening

protesters placed a pile of dung in front of the Kunsthalle’s entrance. Yet in London

the attitude to the show was one of indifference; as long as there was no public fundingit could be happily ignored. I have come to believe that the Swiss public resented thefact that the exhibition had an English title together with the fact that it was sponsoredby an American company (Szeemann had already been accused by the Kunsthalle’s board of trustees of not showing enough Swiss artists). A month after the closing of the exhibition, Harald Szeemann resigned, going on to develop a more nomadic mode of working that has come to define much of today’s curatorial practice.


Barry Barker is a curator and writer based in London. He is Fellow of the University ofBrighton, UK. Amarcordis a new series of feature articles where Flash Art Internationalinvites writers and curators to discuss landmark exhibitions from the past.

Special thanks to Karin Minger of Kunsthalle Bern, and to Dr. Sabine Röder and Volker Döhne, respectively Curator and Photographer, of Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Germany.



The man who turned everything into art

Did Harald Szeemann single-handedly invent the idea of the contemporary curator? Three new books make the case

It is now widely accepted that the art history of the second half of the 20th century is no longer a history of artworks, but a history of exhibitions,” states—rather provocatively—the introduction to Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology. A concomitant phenomenon is the emergence of a new profession, namely that of the curator, and Harald Szeemann (1933-2005) is often credited with inventing the job.

Between 1957 and 2005, the Bern-born Szeemann organised a staggering number and variety of exhibitions, working in close collaboration with artists, exploring new forms of displaying art, redefining the role of the museum and ultimately expanding the notion of art. In 1961, he was appointed director of the Kunsthalle, Bern, where he staged monographic and thematic shows of contemporaries as well as displaying the art of the mentally ill and science fiction paraphernalia. His activity there culminated with the groundbreaking and controversial “When Attitudes Become Form” (1969), which saw Michael Heizer smash up the pavement outside the museum, while inside Richard Serra flung hot lead against the wall. The show eventually triggered Szeemann’s resignation. He went freelance, founding the deliciously named one-man band Agency for Intellectual Guest Labour, which applied to the museum the system of guest performances familiar to him from an early spell as a one-man theatre. He was appointed general secretary of Documenta 5 (1972), displayed his hairdresser grandfather’s belongings in his own flat (1974) and embarked on a series of highly original and ambitious thematic shows including “The Bachelor Machines” (1975), “Monte Verità” (1978) and “The Penchant for the Gesamtkunstwerk” (1983). From 1981 until 2000, he also held the position of permanent independent collaborator at the Kunsthaus, Zurich. In the 1980s, he staged a series of “auratic” sculpture exhibitions as “poems in space”. The 1990s saw him in great demand as an organiser of large-scale international surveys (including the 1999 and 2001 Venice Biennials) and striking out further afield, for example to Eastern Europe’s emerging contemporary art scenes. His last exhibition, “Visionary Belgium” (2005), was the

third in a trilogy of “mental-spiritual” country portraits

after “Visionary Switzerland” (1991) and “Austria in a Net

of Roses” (1996).

Next to works of art, object categories that found their way into Szeemann’s thematic shows included puppets, robots, machines, magazine covers, banknotes, propaganda, advertising, comics, personal memorabilia, utopian project documentation and architectural models—a real “Wunderkammer” which triggered free association and flash-like insights, making his exhibitions journeys through one’s own head as much as physical walks through space.

Despite this approach—more reminiscent of cultural anthropology than art history—Szeemann always held on to art’s position as an irreducible other, something different and apart. Not for him the equation of art and life or art’s immediate social and collective relevance, sought for and conjured by so many of his contemporaries. Accused by some of reverting to “art for art’s sake”, he countered with the primacy of the non-collective utopias he termed individual mythologies and his view of art as “a sum of narrations in the first person singular”: a reflection of his fascination both with those at the margins and resisting socialisation (outsiders, freaks and monomaniacs as much as artists) and with the notion of intensity, which served as the main criterion of his “tirelessly working art metabolism” (to

a traditional art history of

great masterpieces, he thus preferred an “art history of intensive intentions”).

Beginning in 1973, he put his Agency at the service of a Museum of Obsessions—his own as much as those of artists and creators. Indeed, so strongly did he extol the exhibition as a medium of expression rather than a merely mediatory activity that some accused him of turning it into a work of art, using the individual works on display as so many “touches of colour”. While Szeemann refuted this status as an artist, he did claim that of an author, staging deeply subjective shows.

Indeed, with its subtitle Catalogue of all Exhibitions 1957-2005, Harald Szeemann – with by through because towards despite flirts with the format of the catalogue raisonné, with over 150 entries which list information about catalogues, admission figures, tour venues and related events as well as reproducing selected press articles and exhibition reviews, interviews, exhibition floor plans, installation views, catalogue covers and exhibition posters, catalogue texts, Szeemann’s correspondence (including an irate letter from feminist art critic and curator Lucy Lippard), photographs with family and friends, and Szeemann’s own contemporary and retrospective notes and commentaries (the publication was originally conceived and produced in cooperation with Szeemann, and in view of his annotations’ lively, insightful and richly anecdotal character, one wishes they were even more numerous). An extensive bibliography completes the volume. Maybe the most telling document is Szeemann’s original address-list of artists in preparation for “When Attitudes Become Form” which, coupled with his travel diary, brings to life his frantic pace of studio and gallery visits. Editors

Tobia Bezzola and Roman Kurzmeyer, who both knew and collaborated with him on numerous projects, have compiled a dazzling panorama

of planet Szeemann.

While the Catalogue relies mainly on primary source material, Harald Szeemann: Exhibition Maker provides a more interpretive and discursive account of the curator’s career, organised along a general chronology but zooming in on major exhibitions, elegantly leaping from milestone to milestone and laying bare with fascinating clarity the internal logic driving the progression of Szeemann’s body of exhibitions. Art critic Hans-Joachim Müller also knew and worked with Szeemann, and this is a tender and incisive portrait by someone who candidly admits falling under the spell of “the maelstrom of Szeemann’s exhibitions, the fatal attraction of his fantasies, discoveries, assertions, these panoramas that he unfolded like paper scenes”. Interwoven with well-chosen photographs, this is a dense, beautifully composed text, which makes it the more

a pity that the English trans­lation should be so strangely inconsistent, at times elegant, at others all but incomprehensible.

Finally, Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology, the result of a research project of the International Curatorial Training Programme of Le Magasin, Grenoble, is the first in a series of curatorial notebooks developed jointly with the Department of Curating Contemporary Art at London’s Royal College of Art and was conceived as a companion to the Catalogue. The programme’s eight participants were granted access to Szeemann’s archive, located since 1986 at the Fabbrica Rosa near Locarno in Switzerland, which also functioned as the Agency for Intellectual Guest Labour’s headquarters: 300 sq. metres of structured chaos consisting of books, press clippings, correspondence, project documentation and objects assembled relentlessly since the early 1960s and kept in part

in empty wine cases of Szeemann’s favourite Merlot. Based on partly unpublished documents and interviews with close collaborators, the publication analyses the archive and the Agency as twin tools of Szeemann’s curatorial practice and examines in detail two of his projects, Documenta 5 (1972) and the Lyon Biennial (1997). The photographs of the archive are particularly engrossing.

Together and on their own, these three felicitously complementary publications function as fascinating insights into the universe of a man for whom each exhibition was an opportunity to create a temporary world and who still towers over the profession he pioneered.

Maud Capelle


June 2001 – Vol.20 No.5

Here Time Becomes Space:
A Conversation with Harald Szeemann

by Carol Thea

Harald Szeemann is a standard-bearer of change within the European curatorial tradition. He holds degrees in art history, archaeology, and journalism. Between 1961 and 1969 he served as director of the Kunsthalle Bern. Since he declared his independence by resigning his directorship in 1969, he has become one of the most important and active international independent curators, organizing such major exhibitions as “When Attitudes Become Form” (1969), “Happening and Fluxus” (1970), Documenta 5 (1972), “Bachelor Machines” (1975), “Monte Verità: Mountain of Truth” (1978), “Charles Baudelaire” (1987), and “Austria in a Lacework of Roses” (1996). He co-organized the Venice Biennale of 1980, where he created the Aperto, an exhibition for younger and emerging artists. Since 1981 he has been an independent curator affiliated with the Kunsthaus Zurich. He was the director of the 1997 Lyon Biennale, a commissioner of the 1997 Kwangju Biennial, and has been director of the Venice Biennale in 1999 and 2001. His exhibition in the Italian Pavilion of the Biennale, “The Plateau of Mankind,” officially opens June 9th and closes November 4th.

Collaborative work by Barry McGee, Stephen Powers, and James Todd. Artists chosen by Harald Szeemann for the 2001 Venice Biennale exhibition, “The Plateau of Mankind.”

Carolee Thea: The artist’s work is a seismograph of change in a society. When contemplating an exhibition, the curator must have a finger on this pulse, on the collective concerns of the moment, as well as on the more individual ones that inform an artist’s narrative.

Harald Szeemann: Yes, I also think that the curator has his own evolution. When you’ve been doing exhibitions for 43 years, you come to a certain point: the facteur Cheval said that with 43 years a human being reaches the equinox of life and can start to build his castle in the air, his “Palais idéal.” From this moment on, even if you do a show with contemporary artists, you want it to be not just a group show but a temporary world. And maybe this is why my exhibitions become bigger—because the inner world is getting bigger.

It is true that the changes you see with artists’ works are the best societal seismographs. Artists, like curators, work on their own, grappling with their attempts to make a world in which to survive. I always said that if I lived in the 19th century as King Ludwig II, when I felt the need to identify myself with another world I would build a castle. Instead, as a curator I do temporary exhibitions. We are lonely people, faced with superficial politicians, with donors and sponsors, and one must deal with all of this. I think it is here that the artist finds a way to form his own world and live his obsessions. For me, this is the real society.

View from the 1999
Venice Biennale.

CT: At the end of the 19th century there was a schism between art and technology; at the end of the 20th century there was a reunion. Aside from pragmatic information, the Internet has become a fantasy, a dream machine for the wired masses and a catalyst for globalization. What do you think about the effect of this technological revolution?

HS: This new technology makes an illusion of globalization, but again it creates a social split between those who can use it and those who cannot. In art we still have to go see the original object and discuss it with the artist. New technology does not know how to deal with the erotic element, with art that is spatial. This was always a problem. Think of Robert Ryman: he was always reproduced badly, but the originals are beautiful. We’re finally very old-fashioned—we must go around looking at originals. This is absurd, but it’s beautiful. When I was a student, hundreds of us had to go through the same books to find certain masterpieces; we marked our findings with pieces of paper. With the Internet, it is easier not to have to look through a thousand books—wonderful! But with art itself, we must go to the three dimensions.

View from the 1999
Venice Biennale.

CT: Mass production has been encroaching on the handmade for more than a century and was anointed into the art culture by Duchamp and Warhol. Now, in the computer age, the reproduction, the virtual, and the fictive have encroached further as products of information.

HS: Globalization would be perfect if it brought more justice and equality to the world, but it doesn’t. Artists dream of using computer or digital means to have contact and to bring continents closer. But once you have the information, it’s up to you what you do with it. Globalization without roots is meaningless in art.

CT: Do you mean, by “roots,” the individual narratives within the global village?

View from the 1999
Venice Biennale.

HS: Well, yes. An artist like Jason Rhoades uses technology, but he brings it into the service of the personal, as in the evocation of his father’s garden. The art is a new interpretation of something that possesses him. Also, a lot of things on the Internet are verbal. Only five percent is visual. The majority of people look through the ear. The Internet is good for information, but it never replaces eye contact. It also overloads you with a lot of trash. In a recent interview, Jeff Bezos defined the Internet as a narrow horizontal level of competence over all industrial fields. He compared it with electricity at the beginning of the 20th century, increasing speed for some things while revolutionizing others. Also, the digital image has extended possibilities. For me it is mainly information, but not art in itself.

CT: Jason’s accumulations come across as a trash heap that camouflages a narrative.

View from the 1999
Venice Biennale.

HS: That’s what I like about his work: he’s not isolating an object, ambiguous objects, “polybiguous” objects—he’s showing us that we all have the obsession to consume. All these objects in a structure are his obsessions. It’s no longer Duchamp’s pissoir, which is isolated. Accumulations were a revolt against Duchamp, but then, they too became objects, a strategy to make a new object—as in Jason’s case, albeit a temporary one. Of course you have inner rules, like a museum of obsessions in your head. Then there are the freedoms or constrictions that we have from place to place. For instance, I can work in the North as a freelance curator, but in the South, I must accept the position of director, as in the case of the Venice Biennale.

CT: You are considered the first independent curator. How did this occur?

HS: It was a rebellion aimed at having more freedom, because I already had eight years as Director of the Kunsthalle in Bern. Well, I was director, but we didn’t say director. We wanted to open up the institution as a laboratory, more as a confirmation of the non-financial aspect of art. Then I curated Documenta 5, which is considered the end of a career.

View from the 1999
Venice Biennale.

CT: Yes, to curate this exhibition, more than others, is to open oneself up to enormous scrutiny.

HS: Frankly, if you insist on power, then you keep going on in this way. But you must throw the power away after each experience, otherwise it’s not renewing. I’ve done a lot of shows, but if the next one is not an adventure, it’s not important for me and I refuse to do it.

CT: Conceptually oriented installation art and the foregrounding of the histories of exhibition spaces suggest a democratization of art challenges the museum’s elitism. In 1986 you took over unconventional, frequently gigantic venues: former stables in Vienna, the Salpetrière hospital in Paris, the palace in the Retiro park in Madrid. You invited artists to set up dialogues between their work and the chosen spaces.

Work by Maaria Wirkkala. Artists selected for the 2001 Venice Biennale exhibition, “The Plateau of Mankind.”

HS: In Venice I was glad I had white-cube spaces, but I also had the Arsenale, where the artists had to accept the historical space as it was. From the space problem came the question of the demand for objectivity and intervention, and how to give life to memory. During the last number of years in Venice, this was all about the survival of the institution of the Biennale. If you stay only in the Giardini, you maintain the nationalist aspect; for the institution to survive the 21st century, new spaces were needed.

CT: What does it mean to be Director of the Biennale after being an independent curator for so long?

HS: In Venice, only when you are Director can you show what you want. In ’95, I wasn’t Director and the planned exhibition “100 Years of Cinema” didn’t take place. I worked for the Biennale in different years; in 1975, I did “Bachelor Machines.” Of course, the contracts never came on time; I had to get money from a bank, and I paid the interest. Finally, I gave all museum contracts to the bank, and the museum paid the sum, which was 15,000 Swiss francs, directly to the bank. There are the usual delays in Italy with contracts, so we first started the exhibition in Bern, although it was produced for Venice. At this time I was taking over new spaces for art, specifically the Magazzini de Sal, the Salt Depository. In 1980, there were five curators. The theme was the ’70s. At that point I told them that we were in a moment when things were changing, so let’s not stop with Stella and the German painters. I told them we had to do Aperto or I would leave. The Aperto was not just a salon for artists under 35; I showed Richard Artschwager and Susan Rothenberg, Ulrike Ottienger and Friederike Pezold.

CT: The 1999 Aperto did not seem to focus only on young artists. Louise Bourgeois, Dieter Appelt, Dieter Roth, Franz Gertsch, and James Lee Byars were among your choices.

Work by Gerd Rohling. Artists chosen for the 2001 Venice Biennale exhibition “The Plateau of Mankind.”

HS: The Biennale of 1999, d’APERTtutto, was more in the spirit of the first Aperto, not limiting “young” to artists under the age of 35. I have always thought that if biennials wanted a future, they should emulate the structure of Documenta. And today, the oldest biennial—in Venice—when faced with so many biennials, should be the youngest.

CT: At Documenta, finally, does the curator have autonomy from the bureaucratic duties?

HS: Until 1968, there was a huge Documenta council; its founder, Arnold Bode, was a “degenerate” painter under Hitler. They wanted to show Germany what it missed in the “thousand years” of Nazism. After 1968, the council became quite absurd. They were missing many important issues, and for this reason they asked me to be the artistic director. All the former Documentas followed the old-hat, thesis/antithesis dialectic: Constructivism/Surrealism, Pop/Minimalism, Realism/Concept. That’s why I invented the term, “individual mythologies”—not a style, but a human right. An artist could be a geometric painter or a gestural artist; each can live his or her own mythology. Style is no longer the important issue.

Work by Joseph Beuys. Artists selected for the 2001 Venice Biennale exhibition, “The Plateau of Mankind.”

CT: In 1969 you curated the exhibition “When Attitudes Become Form: Live In Your Head.” It presented for the first time in Europe artists such as Beuys, Serra, and Weiner. With this exhibition, the process of creation was recognized as a work of art. It was also at this time that you became an independent curator.

HS: Yes, it was in March, only a couple of months after the end of Documenta 4, when I curated “When Attitudes Become Form.” How can you do this big exhibition, Documenta 4, and miss showing the works of new artists? So I did it in Bern in March. Of course, this made a big impact. Then I was asked to do the next Documenta with my own strategy. I dissolved the committee. It costs a lot to convene a committee of 40 people, and half are never present, anyway. Also it’s cheaper when one person travels to see colleagues and explore what is new in their region.

Documenta became the first of this new style. It became the image of the curator, a show by an author. In Venice, I also felt that we needed a good start like in the ’60s and ’70s—a complete change of structure—so I suggested that we adapt to this new system in 1999. I dissolved the national spatial unity of the Italian pavilion, causing a lot of trouble in Italy, where it was felt that a foreigner was destroying their country. But the artists preferred this. They didn’t like being only with Italians. They wanted to be with their international colleagues, where they learned more and were more competitive.

Work by Hans Schmidt
and Erich Bödeker.

CT: After suffering the difficulties of the bureaucracy, why do you feel that in 1999 and 2001 you were able to take the position of Director of the Biennale?

HS: Even though I am an independent curator, I took on the directorship because Venice is worth making the effort. The structure goes from a state organization to a foundation, and you’re always faced with the bureaucratic structure and financial problems. Now the Biennale is not only the visual arts; it incorporates architecture, film, theater, dance, and music, and there is enough space in the Arsenale to include the other arts. The Biennale is interested in continuity and collaboration among the arts, not only in isolated big events; it will become a laboratory and a place of creation. This is the future.

Yet it’s always the same in Venice: They promise you the space on January 10th and give it to you on May 10th. They’re renovating, patching all the walls and opening the roof. When all is done, you will be able to walk through from the Corderie to the Artiglierie. And now they’re restoring Isolotto, the location of Serge Spitzer’s installation Re/Cycle(Don’t Hold Your Breath) (1999). This installation was fascinating. Where once to see art only frontally disgusted everyone, now some artists with a theatrical touch show in spaces where you can see only a frontal view from the entrance.

Work by the Cracking Art Group.

CT: How will the 2001 Biennale differ from that of 1999?

HS: When you work with artists for 40 years, it’s no longer just a collaboration, but a going-together. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to show artists who were important figures from the late ’60s on. But there are also two, new, theater-like spaces, so you can play on the notion of performance. I have proposed to begin with two buildings that will form an international exhibition, a “Plateau of Mankind”: half-theatrical and half-projected. The entrance to the exhibition will be given a large space that will cover theater, social problems, all the races, what man can do to man, and then you are free again to give another accent, one from your unconscious. There are other ways of describing globalism, of being together. For instance, in old Paris, the Ballets Russes was a collaboration between artists, including Diaghilev, Picasso, Picabia, Satie, and Nijinsky.

CT: Does this early 20th-century model influence the way you will choose your artists for the Biennale?

Work by Niele Toroni.

HS: Well, I’m a European. It’s very strange that when you do an exhibition like the Biennale, you have only four months to make the show. So you cannot normally travel around the world. You go to the artists you want to show; you visit them and discuss the space, or you have them come. I did make lightning trips and discovered some things at the last minute, like the two Serbians, Tatiana Ristowski and Vesna Vesic. The Serbs were despised people in the world. It was like being in a second stage of seismographic culture. In the end, you must leave yourself open—to keep spaces free and to make room for surprise.

CT: Creating such a large exhibition is like making a film, but in compressed time.

HS: I was glad when people said that the exhibition was cut like in film. It really did correspond.

CT: What are some of the ideas for the new Biennale?

Work by Maurizio Cattelan.

HS: Well, I call it a “Plateau of Mankind.” So it is less a theme than a mood that gives to each art and artist the freedom of expression. The narrative will be, again, a walk from one surprise to the other.

CT: Last year, there was a lot of walking involved, but this was mitigated by surprise.

HS: Although one brain imagines the structure and themes, the walking leaves people free to decide the distance they want to take—an inner one or outer one. It’s another way of walking. In the cinema you are sitting and with video you can stand, but if it’s too long, you just sit. Exhibitions have a lot to do with space; the freedom is the space. In Parsifal, Wagner says, “Zum Raum wird hier die Zeit” (Here time becomes space).

This interview appears in different form in Foci: Interviews with 10 International Curators, a series of interviews by Carolee Thea published by Apex Art Curatorial Program in 2001. Several of the interviews appeared first in Sculpture.

Sculpture Magazine Archives

From: Artforum International | Date: 11/1/1996 | Author: Obrist, Hans-UlrichHarald Szeemann began his career as a curator, which spans more than 40 years, when he took charge of the exhibition ‘Dichtende Maler/Malende Dichter’ at the Museum in St. Gallen in Switzerland in 1957. Until 1969, he was the director of the Kunsthalle Bern, where he organized 12 to 15 exhibitions each year during his eight-year stint. He was responsible for transforming the museum into a venue which brings together emerging European and American artists.Ever since he “declared his independence” by resigning his directorship at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1969, Harald Szeemann has defined himself as an Ausstellungsmacher, a maker of exhibitions. There is more at stake in adopting such a designation than semantics. Szeemann is more conjurer than curator – simultaneously archivist, conservator, art handler, press officer, accountant and above all, accomplice of the artists.

At the Kunsthalle Bern, where Szeemann made his reputation during his eight-year tenure, he organized twelve to fifteen exhibitions a year, turning this venerable institution into a meeting ground for emerging European and American artists. His coup de grace, “When Attitudes Become Form: Live in Your Head,” was the first exhibition to bring together post-Minimalist and Conceptual artists in a European institution, and marked a turning point in Szeemann’s career – with this show his aesthetic position became increasingly controversial, and due to interference and pressure to adjust his programming from the Kunsthalle’s board of directors and Bern’s municipal government, he resigned, and set himself up as an Independent curator.

If Szeemann succeeded in transforming Bern’s Kunsthalle into one of the most dynamic institutions of its time, his 1972 version of Documenta did no less for this art-world staple, held every five years in Kassel, Germany. Conceived as a “100-Day Event,” it brought together artists such as Richard Serra, Paul Thek, Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Joan Jonas, and Rebecca Horn, and included not only painting and sculpture but installations, performances, Happenings, and, of course, events that lasted the full 100 days, such as Joseph Beuys’ Office for Direct Democracy. Artists have always responded to Szeemann and his approach to curating, which he himself describes as a “structured chaos.” Of “Monte Verita,” a show mapping the visionary utopias of the early twentieth century, Mario Merz said Szeemann “visualized the chaos we, as artists, have in our heads. One day we’re anarchists, another drunks, the next mystics.” Szeemann’s eclectic, wide-ranging shows evince a boundless energy for research and an encyclopedic knowledge not only of contemporary art but also of the social and historical events that have shaped our post-Enlightenment world. Indeed, in the last few years he has mounted a number of shows that reflect his penchant for mixing artifact and art, combining as they do inventions, historical documents, everyday objects, and artwork. Two of the largest offered panoramic views of his home country and the one across the Alps: “Visionary Switzerland” in 1991 and “Austria im Rosennetz” (Austria in a net of roses), which recently opened at the Museum fur Angewandte Kunst in Vienna.

Szeemann now divides his time between the Kunsthaus Zurich, where he occupies the paradoxical position of permanent freelance curator, and the studio-cum-archive he calls “The Factory,” located in Tegna, the small Swiss Alpine town where he lives. What follows is a record of the conversation I had with Szeemann last summer, in which he reflected on his more than forty-year career.

HANS-ULRICH OBRIST: Until 1957 you were involved in theater. Then you began organizing exhibitions. What prompted this transition?

HARALD SZEEMANN: When I was eighteen, I started a cabaret with three friends, two actors and a musician. But around 1955, sick of intrigues and jealousies, I began to move away from ensemble work until I was doing everything by myself – a one-man style of theater that reflected my ambition to realize a gesamtkunstwerk.

At the time I had already been visiting the Kunsthalle Bern for five years. Bern is a small city where everyone knows each other, and when Franz Meyer (he took over as director from Arnold Rudlinger in 1955) was asked if he knew anyone who could show Henry Clifford, then director of the Philadelphia Museum, around Switzerland, he proposed me, knowing my interest in all the arts, but particularly in Dada, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism. We visited museums, private collections, and artists; it was a wonderful month of “vagabondage.”

In 1957 Meyer also suggested me for an ambitious project, “Dichtende Maler/Malende Dichter” (Painters-poets/poets-painters) at the Museum in St. Gallen. Four people were already working on the show, but the two main directors had health problems and the other two were reluctant to take on an exhibition of this size alone. So they asked Meyer if he knew someone who could take care of the contemporary section, and he said, “I only know one person. It’s Szeemann.” I was the ambitious understudy who ended up getting the main part.

The intensity of the work made me realize this was my medium. It gives you the same rhythm as in theater, only you don’t have to be on stage constantly.

HUO: What drew you to contemporary art to begin with?

HS: Until I was nineteen I still wanted to be a painter, but the Fernand Leger exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern in ’52 impressed me so much that I said to myself, “I’ll never get that good.” Through Rudlinger’s exhibitions – ranging from Nabis to Jackson Pollock – at the Kunsthalle Bern, one could really learn the history of painting. He was the first to show contemporary American art to a European public and later, when he became director of the Kunsthalle Basel, he bought paintings by Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Franz Kline, and Barnett Newman for the Basel Kunstmuseum. He was friends with many artists – Alexander Calder, Bill Jensen, and Sam Francis – and through him I met a lot of artists in Paris and New York. In Bern he did a series of exhibitions called “Tendances actuelles 1-3″ (Contemporary tendencies, 1-3), a splendid survey of postwar painting from the Paris School to American abstraction. When he moved to Basel he had more space and more money, but his real adventure was in Bern.

Meyer served as director until ’61. He mounted the first exhibitions in Switzerland of Kasimir Malevich, Kurt Schwitters, Matisse’s cutouts, Jean Arp, Max Ernst, and he showed Antoni Tapies, Serge Poliakoff, Francis, and Jean Tinguely. By the time I took over the Kunsthalle in ’61, I was faced with this venerable past, so I had to change direction.

HUO: You wrote that Bern was something like a “situation.” A kind of “mental space.”

HS: I found art to be one way of challenging the notion of property/possession. And because the Kunsthalle had no permanent collection, it was more like a laboratory than a collective memorial. You had to improvise, to do the maximum with minimal resources and still be good enough that other institutions would want to take on the exhibitions and share the costs.

HUO: In the ’80s the Kunsthalle became more structured. The exhibition program was reduced from more than a dozen exhibitions a year to between four and six. And the introduction of “midcareer retrospectives” turned the Kunsthalle into an extension of the museums themselves – its elasticity was lost.

HS: Yes, everything was flexible, dynamic, and then suddenly everything changed. To hang an exhibition, to produce the catalogue, used to take us one week, and then suddenly you needed a four-week period between shows to photograph everything; with this slower pace came institutional pedagogies, restoration, and guards. In the ’60s we had none of this. For me, if there was a pedagogy it was about the succession of events; documentation was not important.

My approach attracted a younger public and a very young photographer named Balthasar Burkhard started to document exhibitions and events, not for publication but just because he liked what I did and what was happening at the Kunsthalle. That’s how I prefer to work. Actually I stopped publishing catalogues and just printed newspapers, which were anathema to the bibliophile collectors.

HUO: And that worked out?

HS: Of course. the Kunsthalle had an exhibition program but it also welcomed all kinds of participation. Young filmmakers showed their films, the Living Theater made its first appearance in Switzerland there, young composers performed their music – groups like Free Jazz from Detroit played – young fashion designers showed their creations.

Naturally this provoked reactions. The local newspapers accused me of alienating traditional audiences, but we also attracted a new audience. The membership increased from about 200 to around 600, with an additional 1,000 students paying a symbolic Swiss franc to belong. It was the ’60s and the zeitgeist had changed.

HUO: Which exhibitions influenced you most as you were starting to curate your own shows?

HS: Well, I already described some of what I saw in Bern and in Paris. Also very important was the German Expressionism show in 1953, “Deutsche Kunst, Meisterwerke des 20 Jahrhunderts” (German art, masterworks of the twentieth century), at the Kunstmuseum Lucerne, and, of course, in Paris ” Les Sources du XXe siecle” (The sources of the twentieth century, 1958), and the Dubuffet retrospective at the Musee des arts decoratifs in 1960, as well as Documenta II in ’59, curated by its founder, Arnold Bode. I also visited a lot of studios – those of Constantin Brancusi, Ernst, Tinguely, Robert Muller, Bruno Muller, Daniel Spoerri, Dieter Roth, among others. I saw the most fabulous show of Picasso in Milan in 1959. From the beginning, meeting artists and looking at important shows was my education – I was always less interested in formal art history.

Of my peers, I admired Georg Schmidt, director of the Kunstmuseum Basel until 1963. He was absolutely focused on quality, able to choose the work he wanted for his collection and to incite fabulous gifts like the La Roche collection. But I also admired William Sandberg, director of the Stedelijk Museum until 1963, who was Schmidt’s opposite. Sandberg was obsessed with information. Sometimes he exhibited only part of a diptych, for instance, or left a good work out of the show altogether because it was reproduced in the catalogue. For him ideas and information counted more than the experience of the object.

In a sense, I combined both approaches in my shows to achieve what I like to think of as selective information and/or informative selection. This is how I view my Kunsthalle years. In putting together an exhibition, I took both connoisseurship and the dissemination of pure information into account and transformed both. That’s the foundation of my work.

HUO: Tell me more about Sandberg.

HS: Amsterdam in the ’60s was the meeting point, the whole art world converged in the Stedelijk cafeteria under a mural by Karel Appel. Sandberg was very open-minded. He let artists curate exhibitions such as “Dylaby” with Tinguely, Spoerri, Robert Rauschenberg, and Niki de Saint Phalle; he was enthusiastic about new artistic directions: kinetic art, the California “light sculptors,” new synthetic materials. When Sandberg left, Eduard de Wilde took over and painting filled the Stedelijk. De Wilde was much more conservative.

I also have to mention Robert Giron, who had been exhibition director at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels since its inception in 1925, an exemplary institution. Everyday at noon curators, collectors, and artists met in his office to exchange the latest art-world news. When I met Giron, he had been running the Palais for forty years and he said, “You are too young, you’ll never hold up as long as me.” But out of my generation and the next, I’m the only one still going. It gives me pleasure.

HUO: What about Johannes Cladders, the former director of the museum in Monchengladbach?

HS: Cladders was always an idol for me. I knew him when he was still in Krefeld. He did not rely on grand gestures. He had a love of precision but precision based on intuition. His first space was an empty school building on Bismarck Street. It marked a great period. James Lee Byars presented a golden needle in a vitrine, the windows to the garden were open, the birds were singing. Sheer poetry. And Carl Andre did a catalogue in the form of a tablecloth. I asked Cladders to participate in Documenta V. He said, Okay, but I won’t take over a section, I’ll just work with four artists – Marcel Broodthaers, Joseph Beuys, Daniel Buren, and Robert Filliou – and integrate them into the rest of the show. It was his way of working. This was a period when everybody was fighting to establish the significance of their institutions. In the late ’60s, art and culture started to be promoted by politicians and it became important which party you belonged to, especially in Germany. Cladders established his importance quietly, with artistic deeds at the museum in Monchengladbach, while the nearby Dusseldorf Kunsthalle did it with power plays.

HUO: You said you went to Amsterdam every month. Were there other places you visited regularly?

HS: Yes, there was an itinerary of hope and ambition: Pontus Hulten’s Moderna Museet, in Stockholm; Knud Jensen’s Louisiana, near Copenhagen; and Brussels. In 1967 Otto Hahn wrote in The Express magazine: “There are four places to watch: Amsterdam (Sandberg and de Wilde), Stockholm (Hulten), Dusseldorf (Schmela) and Bern (Szeemann).”

HUO: At the Kunsthalle Bern you not only organized thematic exhibitions but also many solo shows.

HS: The Kunsthalle was run by artists – they were a majority on the exhibition committee, so I had to deal with a lot of local art politics. There were Swiss artists I loved – people like Muller, Walter Kurt Wiemken, Otto Meyer-Amden, Louis Moilliet – but in my view they were not well-known, so I organized their first solo shows. I also showcased international artists: Piotr Kowalski, Etienne-Martin, Auguste Herbin, Mark Tobey, Louise Nevelson. Even Giorgio Morandi had his first retrospective in Bern. I usually did a thematic exhibition first – for example “Marionettes, Puppets, Shadowplays: Asiatica and Experiments,” “Ex Votos,” “Light and Movement: Kinetic Art,” “White on White,” “Science Fiction,” “12 Environments,” and finally, “When Attitudes Become Form: Live in Your Head” – with both established and emerging artists, and then showed single artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Max Bill, Jesus-Rafael Soto, Jean Dewasne, Jean Gorin, and Constant. It was logical for a small city to do it this way, to alternate between solo and group shows. In a couple of exhibitions I showed the work of young artists – young British sculptors or young Dutch artists.

HUO: You mentioned “When Attitudes Become Form” which was a landmark show opost-Minimalist American artists. How did you put it together?

HS: The history of “Attitudes” is short but complex. After the opening in the summer of ’68 of the exhibition “12 Environments” (which included works by Andy Warhol, Martial Raysse, Soto, Jean Schnyder, Kowalski, not to mention experimental film and Christo’s first wrapped public building), the people from Philip Morris and the PR firm Rudder and Finn came to Bern and asked me if I would like to do a show of my own. They offered me money and total freedom. I said, Yes, of course. Until then I had never had an opportunity like that. Usually I wasn’t able to pay shipping costs from the States to Bern, so I cooperated with the Stedelijk, which had the Holland American Line as a sponsor for transatlantic shipping, and I only had to pay for transport in Europe. In this way I was able to show Jasper Johns in ’62, Rauschenberg, Richard Stankiewicz, and Alfred Leslie, and many more Americans later on. So getting this funding for “Attitudes” was very liberating for me.

After the opening of “12 Environments,” I was traveling with de Wilde (then director of the Stedelijk) through Switzerland and Holland to select works by younger Dutch and Swiss artists for two group shows devoted to each nationality that took place in both countries. I told him that with the Philip Morris money I intended to do a show with the light artists of Los Angeles: Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Doug Wheeler, Turrell. But Edy said, “You can’t do that. I’ve already reserved the project for myself!” And I responded, “Well, if you reserved that idea when’s the show?” His was still years down the road, but my project was for the immediate future. It was July and my show was scheduled for March.

That same day we visited the studio of a Dutch painter, Reiner Lucassen, who said, “I have an assistant. Would you be interested in looking at his work?” The assistant was Jan Dibbets, who greeted us from behind two tables – one with neon coming out of the surface, the other one with grass, which he watered. I was so impressed by this gesture that I said to Edy, “Okay. I know what I’ll do, an exhibition that focuses on behaviors and gestures like the one I just saw.”

That was the starting point; then everything happened very quickly. There is a published diary of “Attitudes” that details my trips, studio visits, the installation process. It was an adventure from beginning to end, and the catalogue, discussing how the works could either assume material form or remain immaterial, documents this revolution in the visual arts. It was a moment of great intensity and freedom, when you could either produce a work or just imagine it, as Lawrence Weiner put it. Sixty-nine artists, Europeans and Americans, took over the institution. Robert Barry irradiated the roof; Richard Long did a walk in the mountains; Mario Merz made one of his first igloos; Michael Heizer opened the sidewalk; Walter de Maria produced his telephone piece; Richard Serra showed lead sculptures, the belt piece, and a splash piece; Weiner took a square meter out of the wall; Beuys made a grease sculpture. The Kunsthalle became a real laboratory and a new exhibition style was born – one of structured chaos.

HUO: Speaking of new structures for exhibitions, I wanted to ask you about the Agentur fur Geistige Gastarbeit (Agency for spiritual guest work). I know that it served as a kind of base from which you mounted a number of significant shows in the early ’70s, but I’m unclear how the agency was founded.

HS: “When Attitudes Become Form” and the following exhibition “Friends and their Friends” provoked a scandal in Bern. To me, what I was showing were artworks but the critics and the public did not agree. The city government and the parliament got involved. Finally they decided that I could remain the director if I didn’t put human lives in danger – they thought my activities were destructive to humankind. Even worse, the exhibition committee was mainly composed of local artists and they decided that from now on they would dictate the programs. They rejected the Edward Kienholz show and the solo show of Beuys, to which he had already agreed. Suddenly it was war, and I decided to resign, to become a freelance curator. It was during that period that the hostility to foreign workers began to manifest itself; a political party was even founded to lower the number of foreigners in Switzerland. I was attacked since my name was not Swiss but Hungarian. In response, I founded the Agentur fur Geistige Gastarbeit, which was a political statement since the Italian, Turkish, and Spanish workers in Switzerland were called “guest workers.” The agency was a one-man enterprise, a kind of institutionalization of myself, and its slogans were both ideological “Replace Property with Free Activity” and practical, “From Vision to Nail,” which meant that I did everything from conceptualizing the project to hanging the works. It was the spirit of ’68.

Since I wasn’t under contract at the Kunsthalle, I was free from my duties in September of ’69 and then I immediately began a film project called “Height x Length x Width,” with artists such as Bernhard Luginbuhl, Markus Raetz, and Balthasar Burkhard. But soon offers to do shows started arriving at the agency. I organized an exhibition in Nuremberg “The Thing as Object,” 1970; in Cologne, “Happening and Fluxus,” 1970; in Sydney and Melbourne, “I Want to Leave a Nice Well-Done Child Here,” 1971; and, of course, Documenta V.

HUO: Let’s talk about your 1970 exhibition “Happening and Fluxus” in Cologne. In this exhibit, time was more important than space. How did you decide on this approach?

HS: During the preparation of “Attitudes” I had long talks with Dick Bellamy at Leo Castelli about the art that preceded what I had grouped under the rubric “Attitudes.” Of course Pollock was evoked, but also Alan Kaprow’s early Happenings and Viennese actionism. So when I was asked by Cologne’s cultural minister to do a show, I thought, This is the place to retrace the history of Happenings and Fluxus. Wuppertal, where Nam Jun Paik, Beuys, and Wolf Vostell had staged events, was nearby. So was Wiesbaden, where George Maciunas organized early Fluxus concerts, and in Cologne itself Heiner Friedrich promoted La Monte Young. I chose a three-part structure. Part one was a wall of documents that I put together with Hans Sohm, who had passionately collected the invitations, flyers, and other printed materials that related to all the happenings and events in recent art history. This wall of documents divided the space of Cologne’s Kunstverein in two. On each side, there were smaller spaces where artists could present their own work – this was the second part of the show. All kinds of gestures were possible: Claes Oldenburg put up posters and publications, Ben Vautier did a performance piece in which he provoked the audience, Kudo imprisoned himself in a cage, and so on. A third part consisted of environments by Vostell, Robert Watts, Dick Higgins, as well as Kaprow’s tire piece. To cap it all, there was a Fluxus concert with Vautier, Brecht, and others, as well as happenings inside and outside the museum with Vostell, Higgins, Kaprow, Vautier, and of course Otto Muhl and Hermann Nitsch.

During the preparations, I felt something was lacking. So a couple of weeks before the exhibition opened, I invited, against Vostell’s wishes, the Viennese actionists – Gunter Brus, Muhl, and Nitsch – to add some spice to what was in danger of becoming a reunion of veterans. It was the first public appearance of the Viennese and they took full advantage of the opportunity. Their spaces were filled with documents concerning the “Art and Revolution” event at the University of Vienna which was followed by a trial. Brus, Muhl, and Oswald Wiener were given six-months detention for degrading state symbols. Their sentences were later reduced except for Brus’. It was after that that Brus and Nitsch emigrated to Germany and founded the “Austrian Exile Government” with Wiener. Their films for sexual freedom and body-oriented art, and their performances caused a scandal.

It was all very messy. Vostell who had a pregnant cow in his environment was forbidden by the Veterinary Institute to let her give birth. So he wanted to cancel the show. But finally after a night of discussion we decided to open. Since the exhibition was upsetting the authorities, it had to open and stay open.

Beuys was not in the show, but of course he came knocking on the museum’s door in the name of his “East-West Fluxus.” The same happened in “Attitudes” with Buren. Though I didn’t invite him, he came and glued his stripes throughout the streets around the Kunsthalle.

HUO: But Buren was invited to Documenta?

HS: Yes. And of course I knew that he would put me on the spot by choosing the most problematic locations for his striped paper. He was very critical of Documenta. He said curators were becoming superartists who used artworks like so many brushstrokes in a huge painting. But the artists accepted his intervention, which took the form of discrete white stripes on white wallpaper. It’s only in retrospect that I heard that Will Insley was offended by the wallpaper along the base of his huge utopian architectural model. Beuys participated with his Office for Direct Democracy, where he sat throughout the run of Documenta discussing art, social problems and daily life with visitors to the show. He chose the well-known medium of the office to show that you can be creative everywhere. He also intended by his presence to abolish political parties, to make each man represent himself.

This was the first time that Documenta was no longer conceived as a “100 Day Museum” but as a “100 Day Event.” After the summer of ’68, theorizing in the art world was the order of the day, and it shocked people when I put a stop to all the Hegelian and Marxist discussions. With Documenta, I wanted to trace a trajectory of mimesis, borrowing from Hegel’s discussion about the reality of the image [Abbildung] versus the reality of the imaged [Abgebildetes]. You began with “Images That Lie” (such as publicity, propaganda, and kitsch), passed through utopian architecture, religious imagery and art brut, moved on to Beuys’ office, and then to gorgeous installations like Serra’s Circuit, 1972. You could lie down under the roof and dream to a continuous sound by La Monte Young. All the emerging artists of the late ’60s were present. And their works formed an exhibition that included performances by artists such as Vito Acconci, Howard Fried, Terry Fox, Byars, Paul Cotton, Joan Jonas, and Rebecca Horn. I also decided to use only the two museum spaces and forget about putting up sculptures outdoors. The result was a balance between static work and movement, huge installations and small, delicate works.

I always felt that it was the only Documenta possible at that time, though during the first two months the reception in Germany was devastating. In France they immediately grasped the underlying structure of moving from the “reality of the image,” such as political propaganda, to “imaged reality,” Social Realist work or photorealism, for example, to “the identity or non-identity of the image and the imaged,” Conceptual art, loosely speaking. I also wanted to avoid the eternal battle between two styles, Surrealism versus Dada, Pop versus Minimalism, and so on, that characterizes art history, and so I coined the term “individual mythologies,” a question of attitude not style.

HUO: Your notion of an “individual,” self-generated mythology began with sculptor Etienne Martin.

HS: Yes, this expression was born when I organized an Etienne-Martin show in 1963. His on-site sculptures called “Demeures” (Dwellings) were for me a revolutionary idea, though the surfaces were still in the tradition of Rodin. The concept of “individual mythology” was to postulate an art history of intense intentions that can take diverse shapes: people create their own sign systems, which take time to be deciphered.

HUO: What about Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipe (Anti-Oedipus)? Did it influence your way of conceiving Documenta V?

HS: I only read Deleuze for “Bachelor Machines,” not before. I’ve never read as much as people think I have. When I curate exhibitions I barely have time to read.

HUO: After Documenta, you founded what you called the Museum of Obsessions. How did it come about and what was its function?

HS: I invented this Museum, which exists only in my head, to give direction to the Agentur fur Geistige Gastarbeit. It was Easter ’74 and the agency had already existed for five years. Documenta had been a brutal exhibition: with 225,000 visitors, fragile pieces were easily damaged if you did not pay attention. I reacted to that by organizing a very intimate exhibition in an apartment called “Grand-Father,” which consisted of my grandfather’s personal belongings, and the tools of his profession – he was a hairdresser, an artist. I arranged these things to create an environment that reflected my interpretation of who he was. I have always maintained that it is important to try new approaches.

In “Bachelor Machines,” for instance, the show was slightly different in each museum to which it traveled. New things were constantly added, in tribute to the various towns where the show was held: it went from Bern, to Venice, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Paris, Malmo, Amsterdam, and Vienna. After Documenta, I had to find a new way of doing exhibitions. There was no sense in proposing retrospectives to my colleagues at the institutions; they could as easily do these shows themselves. So I invented something else. In the Museum of Obsessions I settled on three fundamental themes, metaphors that had to be given visual form: the Bachelor, la Mamma, and the Sun. “Bachelor Machines” was inspired by Duchamp’s Large Glass and similar machines or machinelike men, such as those in Franz Kafka’s short story “In the Penal Colony,” Raymond Roussel’s Impressions d’Afrique, and Alfred Jarry’s Supermale le Surmale, and it had to do with a belief in eternal energy flow as a way to avoid death, as an erotics of life: the bachelor as rebel-model, as antiprocreation. Duchamp suggested that males are only a projection in three dimensions of a four-dimensional female power. I therefore combined works by artists who create symbols that will survive them – like Duchamp – and those artists who have what I would like to call primary obsessions, whose lives are organized around their obsessions such as Heinrich Anton Muller. Of course, I also wanted to abolish the barrier between high art and outsider art. With the Museum of Obsession, the word “obsession,” which from the Middle Ages up to Jung’s “individuation process” had negative connotations, came to stand for a positive kind of energy.

Another exhibition in this series was “Monte Verita,” which embraced the themes of the “Sun” and “La Mamma.” Around 1900 a lot of Northerners traveled South to realize their utopias in the sun and in what they considered a matriarchal landscape. “Monte Verita” near Ascona, Italy, was such a place. Many of the representatives of the greatest utopias went there: the Anarchists (Bakunin, Malatesta, Guillaume); the theosophists; the creators of paradise on earth in the form of botanical gardens; the life reform movement, which considered itself an alternative to both communism and capitalism; then the artists of Der Blaue Reiter; the Bauhaus; the revolutionaries of the new dance movement (Rudolf Laban, Mary Wigman); later on El Lissitzky, Hans Arp, Julius Bissier, Ben Nicholson, Richard Lindner, Spoerri, Erik Dietmann. Ascona is actually a case study in how what are now fashionable tourist destinations get that way: first you have romantic idealists, then social utopias that attract artists, then come the bankers who buy the paintings and want to live where the artists do. When the bankers call for architects the disaster starts. When I did the show with the subtitle “Local Anthropology to Form a New Kind of Sacred Topography,” there was another goal: to preserve the architecture on Monte Verita, which, though it only covered a twenty-six year span, presented an entire history of modern utopian architecture. The life reformers who wanted to get back to nature built huts, the theosophists attempted to eradicate the right angle, then there was the crazy style of Northern Italian villas, and finally the rational style of the Hotel Monte Verita (first drawn by Mies van der Rohe but executed by Emil Fahrenkamp, who built the Shell Building in Berlin).

“Monte Verita” involved about 300 people who were either represented individually or in one of the sections, each devoted to a particular utopian ideology: anarchy, theosophy, vegetarianism, and land reform, to name only a few. You can imagine how much research it involved. Even during the exhibition new documents and objects kept arriving. To deal with them, I bought a bed made by an anthroposophical sculptor (who had worked for Rudolf Steiner’s first Goetheanum) where I put all the newly arrived objects and letters before they were integrated into the show, in which documentation was grouped thematically, while the artworks were hung in a separate space.

HUO: Did “Monte Verita” map psychogeographical connections?

HS: It helped me to retell the history of Central Europe through the history of utopias, the history of failures instead of the history of power. Looking at Hulten’s great shows at the Pompidou, I realized that he always chose an East-West power axis: Paris-New York, Paris-Berlin, Paris-Moscow. I chose North-South. It was not about power but about change and love and subversion. This was a new way of doing shows, not only documenting a world, but creating one. Artists were especially comfortable with this approach.

HUO: After “Monte Verita” you did “Gesamtkunstwerk”?

HS: Yes, needless to say a Gesamtkunstwerk can only exist in the imagination. In this exhibition, I started with German Romantic artists like Runge, a contemporary of Novalis and Caspar David Friedrich, and the architects during the French Revolution; then I included works and documents relating to major cultural figures like Richard Wagner and Ludwig II; Rudolf Steiner and Vassily Kandinsky; Facteur Cheval and Tatlin; Hugo Ball and Johannes Baader; Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet and Schwitters’ Cathedral of Erotic Misery; the Bauhaus manifesto “Let’s build the cathedral of our times”; Antoni Gaudi and the Glass Chain movement; Antonin Artaud, Adolf Wolfli, and Gabriele D’Annunzio; Beuys; and in cinema Abel Gance and Hans Jurgen Syberberg. Once again it was a history of utopias. In the center of the exhibition was a small space with what I would call the primary artistic gestures of our century: a Kandinsky of 1911, Duchamp’s Large Glass, a Mondrian, and a Malevich. I ended the show with Beuys as the representative of the last revolution in the visual arts.

HUO: Since the ’80s you’ve focused on several big retrospectives which you organized for the Kunsthaus in Zurich: Mario Merz, James Ensor, Sigmar Polke, and more recently, Cy Twombly, Bruce Nauman, Georg Baselitz, Serra, Beuys, and Walter De Maria.

HS: Again I was lucky. After ten years of thematic exhibitions I felt the need to return to the artists I had always loved. When Felix Baumann, director of the Kunsthaus in Zurich, gave me a job with the museum, I was able to offer artists a large retrospective or a special installation in one of the biggest exhibition spaces in Europe. Of course, I tried to make the shows as splendid as I could. Actually Serra and De Maria each did site-specific installations: Twelve Hours of the Day, 1990, and The Zoo Sculpture, 1992, respectively. With Merz we pulled down the walls and all his igloos formed an imaginary city. Having worked with these artists at the end of the ’60s, it was great to do major exhibitions with them all these years later. After a twenty-four-year wait, I was able to realize the Beuys exhibition in 1993. I secured most of his important installations and sculptures. The show was my homage to a great artist: I had always thought that after his death one ought to make an exhibition reflecting his concept of energy, and I was pleased when his friends who came to the show told me they felt like Beuys had just emerged from one of his sculptures.

HUO: How significant have group shows been to your curatorial practice?

HS: In 1980 I created “Aperto” for the Venice Biennale to show new artists or rediscover older ones. In 1985 I felt that a new kind of “Aperto” was needed, there was still a predominance of “Wilde Malerei,” and I wanted to introduce the somewhat forgotten quality of silence. The show I mounted was called “Spuren, Skulpturen, und Monumente ihrer prazisen Reise” (Traces, sculptures and monuments of their precise voyage) and it was introduced by Brancusi’s Silent Muse, Giacometti’s Pointe a l’oeil, and Medardo Rosso’s Ill Child, and included sculptures by Ruckriem, Twombly, and Tony Cragg at the end of the space, works by Franz West, Thomas Virnich, and Royden Rabinovitch in the center, and in triangular rooms works by Wolfgang Laib, Byars, Merz, and Tuttle. It was sheer poetry. This show was followed in Vienna by “De Sculptura,” in Dusseldorf by “SkulpturSein” (To be sculpture), in Berlin by “Zeitlos” (Timeless), in Rotterdam by “A-Historical Soundings,” in Hamburg by “Einleuchten” (Illumine). In Tokyo by “Light Seed,” in Bordeaux by “G.A.S. (Grandiose, Ambitieux, Silencieux).” As you can see, the titles of the shows became very poetic. They don’t weigh on the artists and their works.

HUO: You have gone back and forth, working both inside and outside official institutions. What’s made you keep a foot in each world?

HS: I wanted to organize noninstitutional exhibits but was dependent on institutions to show them. That’s why I often turned to nontraditional exhibition spaces. “Grand-Father” was done in a private apartment and “Monte Verita” in five locations never before used for art – including a theosophical villa, an ex-theater, and a gymnasium in Ascona – before it traveled to museums in Zurich, Berlin, Vienna, and Munich.

HUO: These shows demonstrate another tendency of your exhibits in the ’80s: an increasing number of shows in unusual exhibition spaces.

HS: Yes, absolutely. The shows I did in the ’80s were sometimes the first contact the local public had with new art, so by necessity they were group shows. At the same time, I looked for spaces that would be an adventure for the artists. These exhibitions also allowed younger artists to show internationally for the first time: Rachel Whiteread in Hamburg, Chohren Feyzdjou in Bordeaux. It’s not a coincidence that they’re mostly women. I agree with Beuys that at the end of this century culture will be the province of women. In Switzerland most Kunsthalle curators are young women and Pipilotti Rist and Muda Mathis are the liveliest artists. Their work has a truly fresh and courageous poetic aggression.

HUO: What about your current project “Austria im Rosennetz” (Austria in a net of roses) which just opened at the MAK in Vienna? How does it relate to the exhibition you did in 1991 on Swiss culture, “Visionary Switzerland”?

HS: “Visionary Switzerland” coincided with Switzerland’s 700-year anniversary. At the center of the show was the work of great Swiss artists such as Paul Klee, Meret Oppenheim, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Giacometti, and Merz, juxtaposed with material on those who wanted to change the world such as Max Daetwyler, Karl Bickel, Ettore Jelmorini, Emma Kunz, Armand Schulthess, and, of course, Muller’s autoerotic machine and Tinguely’s art-producing machines, surrounded by the work of artists like Vautier, Raetz, and so on.

This exhibition traveled to Madrid and Dusseldorf and was perceived as an homage to creativity rather than as a “national” exhibition. One thing that came out of it was the Swiss Pavilion of the World Exhibition in Seville 1992, where I replaced the Swiss flag with large banners by Burkhard showing parts of the human body representing the six or seven senses, and created a circuit of work that integrated information, technology, politics, and art, which began with Vautier’s painting La Suisse n’existe pas (Switzerland does not exist) and ended with his Je pense donc je suisse.

The minister of culture from Austria saw these events and asked me if I would do a spiritual portrait of Austria. I called it “Austria im Rosennetz.” It’s a huge panoramic show of another Alpine culture. Austria is a complex place, once an empire with a flourishing capital where East met West, it is now a small country. In the Museum fur angewandte Kunst, I begin with a room that examines Austria’s dynasty; the second room has portraits by Messerschmidt juxtaposed with Arnulf Rainer’s overdrawings of those photographic portraits and Weegee’s photographs. In the third room are the now classical Austrian artists and architects of the Vienna Secession. The fourth and fifth rooms are devoted to narrative, showcasing works by Aloys Zottl, an unknown nineteenth-century animal painter, Fritz von Herzmanovsky-Orlando, who wrote the book Gaulschreck im Rosennetz (Terror of the horses in the net of roses), Richard Teschner’s marionettes, and, finally, the carriage that transported the body of Crown Prince Ferdinand, who was killed in Sarajevo. The entrance hall is a kind of Wunderkammer with Turkish relics and Hans Hollein’s couch from 19 Bergasse, where Freud practiced psychoanalysis. The upper floor shows Austrian inventions: Auer’s lamp and its use by Duchamp; Madersperger’s sewing machine with Lautreamont’s poetic image and Man Ray’s The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse, 1920; Franz Gellmann’s World Machine with Tinguely’s late multicolored and brightly lit sculptures. Three screening programs are devoted to Austria’s influence on Hollywood: Erich von Stroheim, Fritz Lang, Michael Curtiz, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi, and many others (all of whom emigrated), and Austrian experimental film (Peter Kubelka, Kurt Kren, Fery Radax). The seats in this cinema are a work by Franz West who is represented throughout the show along with other contemporary artists: Maria Lassnig, Eva Schlegel, Valie Export, Friederike Pezold, Peter Kogler, Heimo Zobernig, and Rainer Ganahl, to name a few.

HUO: Given a century in which the exhibit is more and more of a medium, and more artists claim that the exhibit is the work and the work is the exhibit, what would you say are the turning points in the history of mounting exhibitions?

HS: Duchamp’s Box in a Valise was the smallest exhibition; the one Lissitzky designed for the Russian pavilion of the Pressa in Cologne in 1928, the largest. During Documenta V, I did a section “Museums by Artists” with Duchamp, Broodthaers, Vautier, Herbert Distel, and the Mouse Museum by Oldenburg, which I think was important. The master of the exhibition as medium is, for me, Christian Boltanski.

HUO: Which artists of the ’90s interest you?

HS: I appreciate the intensity of Matthew Barney, although having seen his show in Bern I prefer his videotapes to his objects. I also like younger video artists such as Pipilotti Rist and Muda Mathis.

HUO: I know you have a huge archive. How do you organize the information you need for your work?

HS: My archive changes permanently. It reflects my work. If I do a solo show I make sure to have all the documentation on the artist, if it is a thematic exhibit I keep a library. My archive is a function of my own history. I know that I do not have to look for Wagner under the letter W, but under “Gesamtkunstwerk.” I also sort museum collection catalogues by location, in order to have a mental portrait of the institutions. My archive is a collection of several libraries. There is one for Ticino, which originally grew out of “Monte Verita,” one for dance, film, and art brut; of course there are multiple cross-references. The most important thing is to walk through with closed eyes, letting your hand choose. My archive is my memoir, that’s how I look at it. Too bad I cannot walk through it any more. It has become so full. Like Picasso I would like to close the door and start another.

HUO: Despite the current increase in information about art via the Internet and other media, knowledge still depends a lot on meeting people. I see exhibitions as a result of dialogues, where the curator functions in the ideal case as a catalyst.

HS: The problem is that information can be retrieved via the Internet, but you have to go to the site in question in order to see if there is something behind it, whether the material has enough presence to survive. The best work is always the least reproducible. So you speed from one studio to the next, from one original to another, hoping that some day it will all come together in an organism called an exhibition.

HUO: In the ’80s hundreds of new museums opened their doors. But the number of significant venues did not increase. Why do you think that’s the case?

HS: Whether a place is significant or not still depends on personality. Some institutions don’t show courage or love for art. For many new museums today all the energy and money goes toward hiring a “star” architect and the director is too often left with spaces he doesn’t like and no money to change them. High walls, light coming in from the ceiling, a neutral floor are still the best bet and the cheapest one. Artists usually prefer simplicity, too.

HUO: By establishing structures of your own, you initiated a practice which only in recent decades has come to be called curator or exhibition organizer. You were a pioneer.

HS: Being an independent curator means maintaining a fragile equilibrium. There are situations where you work because you want to do the show though there’s no money and others where you get paid. I’ve been very privileged all these years since I’ve never had to ask for a job or a place to exhibit. Since 1981 I’ve been an independent curator at the Kunsthaus in Zurich, which has left me time to do shows in Vienna, Berlin, Hamburg, Paris, Bordeaux, and Madrid, and to run the museums I founded on “Monte Verita” with no state funds. But of course you work harder as a freelance curator, as Beuys said: no weekends, no holidays. I’m proud that I still have a vision and that, rarer still, I often hammer in the nails. It’s very exciting to work this way, but one thing is sure: you never get rich.

HUO: Felix Feneon described the role of the curator as that of a catalyst, a pedestrian bridge between art and public. Suzanne Page, a curator at the Musee d’art moderne de la ville de Paris with whom I often collaborate, gives an even more humble definition. She defines the curator as a “commis de l’artiste.” How would you define it?

HS: Well, the curator has to be flexible. Sometimes he is the servant sometimes the assistant, sometimes he gives artists ideas of how to present their work; in group shows, he’s the coordinator, in thematic shows, the inventor. But the most important thing about curating is to do it with enthusiasm and love – with a little obsessiveness.

Hans-Ulrich Obrist is a Vienna-based curator currently living in London

above copied from:

Miami Art Basel Countdown Report 2014

EVERY YEAR EVERYTHING CHANGES FOR MIAMI ART BASEL AND ITS SATELLITE FAIRS AND MONSTER PRIVATE COLLECTION SHOWS AND SMALL BUT AMAZING MUSEUM SHOWS. This year may be more different than any we’ve seen since Fireplace Chats began going to Miami for Art Basel starting in 2005. First off is the return of the art fairs to from Miami to Miami Beach. The Pulse Fair is the most recent to decamp from Miami and will be centrally located south of NADA (which moved from Miami to Miami Beach a couple/three years ago). The Scope Fair is spending its second season in Miami Beach in South Beach; not far away is the Untitled Fair, which debuted on Miami Beach and remains there with an even more potent program than ever before. Art Miami and its Context Art Fair, and its Miami Beach fair – Aqua Art Miami, together offer over 200,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space for during Art Basel Miami Beach 2014. Miami Project fair still has serious game in Miami, and is joined this year by the newest Miami art Fair: Concept Art Fair. The guaranteed superb museum retrospective experience will be of the work of the leading abstract painter in South America, Beatriz Milhazes, at PAMM. The brand new ICA Miami, formed by the former board of North Miami MoCA, will have its debut show in the Design District. North Miami MoCA will have a show by a Nigerian artist curated by an African art scholar. According to the NYTimes, Mana (the massive full service contemporary art venture in Jersey City  has invested in group of buildings covering five blocks, Mana will host an art fair in Miami in December. The several private collection exhibitions are described in the Art Basel Miami Beach 2014 press release:

“Reflecting the show’s long-term impact on the local art scene, South Florida’s leading
museums and private collections will again time their strongest exhibitions of the year to
coincide with Art Basel. Visitors from across the world will have an opportunity to view the
city’s internationally renowned private collections.
The Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation
(CIFO) will show ‘Impulse, Reason, Sense, Conflict/Abstract Art in the Ella Fontanals-
Cisernos Collection’, featuring works exhibited for the first time at the CIFO Art Space.
‘Beneath The Surface’ at the de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space will include
work by Félix González-Torres, Wade Guyton, Rob Pruitt, Dana Schutz and
Kelley Walker, among others.
The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse will celebrate
its 15th anniversary with an exhibition of work by Pier Paolo Calzolari, John
Chamberlain, Willem de Kooning, Olafur Eliasson, Dan Flavin, Michael Heizer,
Donald Judd, Anselm Kiefer, Jannis Kounellis, Sol LeWitt, Richard Long, Mario
Merz, Joan Miró, Isamu Noguchi, Michelangelo Pistoletto, George Segal, Richard
Serra, Tony Smith, Do-Ho-Suh, Franz West and others.
The Rubell Family Collection
will present ‘Collection Overview/50 Years of Marriage’.”

looking forward to seeing you all there in sun and fun Miami Beach and Miami! Vincent Johnson Los Angeles



Pérez Art Museum Miami mounts colorful solo show from Brazilian painter Beatriz Milhazes
10/10/2014 6:13 PM 10/10/2014 6:13 PM
vizarts10122 vizarts10121
From left to right: ‘Férias de Verão,’ 2005. Collection of Catherine and Franck Petitgas. ‘Feijoada,’ 2010. Collection Beatriz Milhazes. ‘Chora, menino,’ 1996. Colección Patricia Phelips de Cisneros, Caracas and New York.
From left to right: ‘Férias de Verão,’ 2005. Collection of Catherine and Franck Petitgas. ‘Feijoada,’ 2010. Collection Beatriz Milhazes. ‘Chora, menino,’ 1996. Colección Patricia Phelips de Cisneros, Caracas and New York.ORIOL TARRIDAS PHOTOGRAPHY
Beatriz Milhazes: Jardim Botânico, Milhazes’ solo show at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, is both a beautifully perfect title for the exhibit, and a misleading one as well.

The Brazilian painter has been popular for a couple of decades in Latin America and Europe, but this is her first U.S. museum survey, making it a bit of a coup for both PAMM and Miami. The more than 50 mostly large paintings simply burst from the walls in the several galleries they cover, with their outrageously bright colors and tropical flora imagery. It does feel like you are engulfed in a botanical garden, surrounded by shapes and hues that seem to have an organic life of their own and spiwll out from their canvases.

But these lovely paintings, with all their obvious decorative flourishes, start to become far more formal, less “wild,” when observing them closely, and especially as you move from early years to the most recent creations. The contrast becomes more intriguing as you dig deeper into Milhazes’ garden.

She is in fact intentionally playing with tension. She’s embracing her tropical environment — Jardim Botânico is the name of her neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro — and heritage, which includes the unique Brazilian cultural mix that has resulted in the exuberant carnival traditions and vibrant music.

But Milhazes is also schooled in the Modernist (and at times much more rigid and minimalist) trends that overtook European and Latin art during the 20th century. And then she plants textural, architectural and Pop culture elements into her yard, making her work more complex than what first meets the eye.

That’s why botanical is an essential part of the title: Her works are a framed study of detailed, specific bits and pieces that make up a micro-world, and not really an overflowing bouquet or untamed landscape.

The earlier works, made in the 1990s, start in the first room — where you can see the development of the mixture of abstract and literal detail colliding and taking on its own morphed form. Some of these can look like tapestries or jewelry — broaches and necklaces — with clear references to lace and ruffles and an almost Baroque-like imagery. One good example is Santo Antonio, Albuquerque from 1994; the pink, lavender and baby blue coloring is somewhat gentle, with a patterning that looks like doilies woven together with jeweled chains and interspersed with flowers and decorative knick-knacks.

It was at this time that Milhazes was inventing her own technique to make these paintings, which while feeling loose with their hyper-bright color schemes and elaborate interpretations, were actually precise in their composition. She didn’t leave the signs of brush-strokes behind after she applied a decal-like process to the creation of her works: She would paint on plastic sheets and then transfer the image to the canvas, layering them one on top of another, as though leaving layers of skin on the final product. That small touch, adding the collage element to all of her works, is what makes them less free-form and exploding than it seems from a distance. They are specimens, both natural and man-made.

Milhazes moved toward abstraction in the next decade, with circular and linear geometric designs becoming more prominent. Geometric abstraction has a long history in South America, so this too can feel part of an organic progression.

Flores e Arvores from 2012-2013 is an almost 3D culmination of all these influences, the huge painting truly leaping from a wall that seems trying to hold this kinetic, kaleidoscopic vision in. There are vertical and horizontal lines crossing over spheres and bubbles with more distinct motifs still popping through, in turquoise, yellow, pink, orange and purple coloring. These later works are more mural-like than confined to framed painting.

Like in any other garden, botanical and otherwise, there are surprising imperfections that also appear, marring in a good way. Milhazes suggests with these intentional markings that, mirroring nature, even the most gorgeous creations have flaws.

If there is a flaw in this exhibit, it is that even the lushest of gardens often need to be trimmed; at some point the number of psychedelic canvases sprouting from the galleries gets a little redundant. But Milhazes’ style and culturally influenced aesthetics are a fine fit for Miami, which is one reason why PAMM Chief Curator Tobias Ostrander picked her for this high profile solo outing. Milhazes combines references that reflect those of the multicultural New World, from Colonial Baroque to African rituals, from formal European artistic traditions to North American Pop culture. It’s a mix that Ostrander thought would resonate well in this cosmopolitan capital on the Caribbean rim, filled with people from points all over, and growing as an arts destination.

In fact, this is the first major in-house exhibit organized by the new museum and not brought in from elsewhere, which is a welcome trend. It will be the featured exhibit during Art Basel Miami Beach.

On your way in or out, don’t miss the new installation at PAMM on the ground floor, taking over from the Hew Locke piece comprised of dozens of colorful model boats and ships that helped inaugurate the museum. Hard to fill those shoes. But the monochromatic pieces from Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes, so different in tone from both Locke and Milhazes, nonetheless tie into the vision of the museum.

Antunes based these minimalist sculptures made of dark wood, brown leather and brass chains, on Brazilian architecture both Modernist and Afro-Brazilian. The linear meshes, weaves and planks that come down from the ceiling form a subtle maze through which you can quietly maneuver. It becomes immediately clear what a nice dialogue this installation has with another art asset here — the superb architecture of the Herzog & de Meuron building itself. Without screaming, they both stand handsomely and inviting.

Appropriately enough, the installation is called “a secluded and pleasant land. In this land I wish to dwell.”

What:S ‘Beatriz Milhazes: Jardim Botânico’

When: Through Jan. 11

Where: Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

How much: $16


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Miami and Miami Beach Art Fair Guide Online Guide to Miami Art Week 2014

Information about the art fairs and art events taking place in Miami and Miami Beach between December 1 – 7, 2014. The week is commonly known as Miami Art Week. Approximately twenty art fairs participate, positioned in the area between Miami’s Wynwood Art District, Downtown Miami and Miami Beach. For the second year running, will be offering a Day-by-Day Event Guide for Miami Art Week, with a wealth of information to make the experience fun, productive, and otherwise sublime. A special new section for evening and party planning will be included in the 2014 edition. The Day-by-Day Event Guide will become the “online go-to” guide for Miami Art Week! We’ll continue to update this guide and web page through November 29th. Below, you’ll find brief descriptions of the art fairs, including locations, hours, admission prices, and special events. If possible, plan on spending at least four days at Miami Art Week, as the week is flush with opportunities to mix, mingle; and, of course, feast one’s eyes on an incredible array of great art! Not only are the art fairs vibrant and engaging in of themselves, but related events occur at local art museums, private collections, non-profit art organizations, galleries and artist studios. An overview: Art Basel Miami Beach – held at the Miami Beach Convention Center is the largest art fair of the week, featuring more than 250 top galleries from around the world. Design Miami (a major design fair) takes place right next to Art Basel. Satellite art fairs: Scope Miami, Pulse, Select, NADA, and Untitled are also in Miami Beach and actually on or near the beach; enjoy the ocean view!. Hotel-based art fairs in Miami Beach include Ink and Aqua. Art Miami – held in Miami’s Wynwood Art District, is the most established art fair in Miami; it’s been around for years. Miami Project, Context, Spectrum, and Red Dot art fairs and many of Miami’s top art galleries are located in Wynwood. One can easily spend two days in the area and still miss a lot! Concept Fair is new for 2014 and it’s located at Bayfront Park. Miami River Art Fair is at the Miami Convention Center – James L. Knight Center, located in the downtown Miami. Free Shuttles – We highly recommend the free shuttle services offered by art fairs, especially when traveling between Miami and Miami Beach, and between downtown and Wynwood. Our Getting Around Town section in the Day-by-Day Event Guide will be the definitive companion for anyone navigating and schedule your weeks activities! Miami Beach Art Fairs Art Basel Miami Beach   |   Aqua Art Miami   |    Design Miami   |   Ink Miami   |   NADA Art Fair PULSE Miami   |   SELECT Fair   |   Scope Miami   |   Untitled. Miami Art Fairs Art Miami   |   Art Spot   |   Concept-Fair   |   CONTEXT   |   Fridge Art Fair   |   Miami Photo Salon Festival   |   Miami Project   |   Miami River Art Fair  |  Red Dot Art Fair  |  Spectrum

Art Basel Miami Beach 2013 logo Art Basel Miami Beach December 3 – 7, 2014 Miami Beach Convention Center, Miami Beach Art Basel Miami Beach is the most important art show in the United States, a cultural and social highlight for the Americas. Leading galleries from North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa show historical work from the masters of Modern and contemporary art, as well as newly created pieces by emerging stars. Paintings, sculptures, drawings, installations, photographs, films, and editioned works of the highest quality are on display at the main exhibition hall, while ambitious artworks and performances become part of the landscape at nearby beaches, Collins Park and SoundScape Park. Art Basel is comprised of multiple sectors, each of which has its own selection process and committee of experts, who review applicants and make the final selection of show participants. The seven show sectors offer a diverse collection of artworks, including pieces by established artists and newly emerging artists, curated projects, site-specific experiential work, and video. Galleries: The largest sector with more than 200 of the world’s leading Modern and contemporary art galleries – from North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia. They display paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, prints, photography, film, video, and digital art by over 4,000 artists. Nova: Designed for galleries to present one, two or three artists showing new works that have been created within the last three years, the Nova sector often features never-before-seen pieces fresh from the artist’s studio and strong juxtapositions. Positions: This sector allows curators, critics, and collectors to discover ambitious new talents from all over the globe by providing a platform for a single artist to present one major project. Edition: Leading publishers of editioned works, prints, and multiples exhibit the results of their collaboration with renowned artists. Kabinett: Participants are chosen from the Galleries sector to present curated exhibitions in a separately delineated space within their booths. The curatorial concepts for Kabinett are diverse, including thematic group exhibitions, art-historical showcases, and solo shows. Public: This sector offers its visitors a chance to see outdoor sculptures, interventions, and performances, sited within an open and public exhibition format at Collins Park (2100 Collins AVE) near the beach. Public Opening Night, Dec. 3, 8:30-10pm. A special evening program with live performances, as part of the Public sector. Film: The Film sector presents works in two venues: inside the Miami Beach Convention Center, and in the outdoor setting of SoundScape Park where works are shown on the 7,000-square-foot outdoor projection wall of the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center. Selections include works by some of today’s most exciting artists from Latin America, the United States, Europe and Asia. Survey: Survey presents precise art historical projects that may include solo presentations by an individual artist, or juxtapositions and thematic exhibits from artists representing a range of cultures, generations, and artistic approaches. Magazines: Art publications from around the world display their magazines in single-magazine stands or the collective booth. Editors and publishers are often present at the show. ADMISSION $45 (One Day), $100 (Permanent Pass), $32 (evening ticket after 4pm) $30 Students and Seniors with ID, and and Groups of ten or more $55 Combination Ticket for Art Basel and Design Miami HOURS Thursday December 4th, 3pm – 8pm Friday, December 5th, Noon – 8pm Saturday, December 6th, Noon – 8pm Sunday, December 7th, Noon – 6pm Art Basel Conversations | Daily at 10am Art Salon | Daily 1pm to 6:30pm EVENTS Visit the Art Basel Miami website for a full listing of daily Special Exhibitions and Events. Wednesday, December 3rd, 11am – 8pm Private View (by invitation only) Thursday, December 4th, 11am – 3pm Vernissage – Private View (by invitation only) Shuttle Bus Service The show has organized a shuttle bus service for visits to the museums and collections in Miami. The pickup location is directly across the street from Hall D of the Miami Beach Convention Center. Press and Media coverage about Art Basel Miami Beach None listed at this time up arrow

Aqua 14 logo AQUA 14 Art Miami December 3 – 7, 2014 Aqua Hotel, 1530 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139 AQUA 14 Art Miami will celebrate its tenth consecutive installment this December. It is one of the best fairs for emerging art during Miami’s Art Week. Over the years, the fair has been recognized for presenting vibrant and noteworthy international art programs with a particular interest in supporting young dealers and galleries with strong emerging and early-to-mid-career artists. Set within a classic South Beach hotel with spacious exhibition rooms that open onto a breezy intimate courtyard, Aqua’s surroundings will certainly be a favorite gathering spot not only for fun and relaxation during the busy week but also as a place to exchange and disseminate new contemporary art ideas. And with its close proximity to Art Basel and continuous shuttle service to Art Miami and CONTEXT Art Miami, Aqua Art Miami will transform into one of the top attended satellite art events for collectors, artists, curators, critics and art enthusiasts alike. Aqua Art Miami will feature 47 dynamic young galleries from North and South America, Europe and Asia; and innovative special programming including performance art, new media and solo installations. With this commitment to artistic excellence, along with building a dynamic young marketplace with new and increased opportunities around marketing and audience services, The classic South Beach boutique hotel has breezy, spacious rooms surrounding an intimate courtyard. A great place to relax and socialize during Miami Art Week. And Aqua Hotel is located within walking distance of Art Basel, just south of the bustling Lincoln Road restaurant and shopping area. 2014 Aqua 14 Exhibitors ADMISSION $15 One day fair pass (Aqua Only) $75 Multi-day fair pass (Aqua, CONTEXT and Art Miami) $10 Students 12-18 years and Seniors HOURS Thursday, December 4th, Noon – 9pm Friday, December 5th, 11am to 9pm Saturday, December 6th, 11am to 9pm Sunday, December 7th, 11am to 6pm EVENTS Wednesday, December 3rd, 4pm – 11pm, VIP Preview. Access for Art Miami, CONTEXT, and Aqua Art Miami VIP Cardholders & Press Press and Media coverage about Aqua Art Fair None listed at this time up arrow

Design Miami logo Design Miami/ December 2 – 7, 2014 Meridian Avenue and 19th Street, Miami Beach Convention Center, Miami Beach Design Miami/ is the global forum for design. Each fair brings together the most influential collectors, gallerists, designers, curators and critics from around the world in celebration of design culture and commerce. 2014 Highlights Will be added when then information is available. The program of exhibitions presented by carefully selected galleries from Europe, the United States and Asia will be enriched by a dynamic series of design talks, site-specific installations and satellite events. For details of Design Miami’s cultural programs, including Design Talks, Collaborations, and Design Satellites. Swarovski Crystal Palace will be back for the seventh consecutive year as a main sponsor of Design Miami/. ADMISSION General Admission: $25 Students and Seniors (with ID): $29=0 Combination Ticket for Design Miami/ and Art Basel $55 (at ABMB) Tickets are valid for one day only. HOURS Wednesday, December 3rd, 10am – 8pm Thursday December 4th, 10am – 8pm Friday, December 5th, 11am to 8pm Saturday, December 6th, Noon to 8pm Sunday, December 7th, Noon to 6pm EVENTS Tuesday, December 2nd, Noon – 6pm Collectors Preview Tuesday, December 2nd, 6pm – 8pm Vernissage Press and Media coverage about Design Miami/ None listed at this time up arrow

Ink Miami logo INK Miami Art Fair December 3 – 7, 2014 Suites of Dorchester, 1850 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139 INK Miami is a contemporary art fair held annually in December during Art Basel Miami Beach. The Fair is unique among Miami’s fairs for its focus on contemporary works on paper by internationally renowned artists. It is sponsored by the International Fine Print Dealers Association and exhibitors are selected from among members of the Association for their outstanding ability to offer collectors a diverse survey of 20th century masterworks and just published editions by leading contemporary artists. Since its founding in 2006, the Fair has attracted a loyal following among museum curators and committed collectors of works on paper. If you’re looking to purchase prints or works on paper, you should plan on attending this small art fair. This fair is located just a few blocks from the convention center and Art Basel Miami Beach. 2014 Ink Miami Exhibitors ADMISSION Free, No Charge HOURS Wednesday, December 3rd, Noon – 5pm Thursday, December 4th, 10am – 5pm Friday, December 5th, 10am – 8pm Saturday, December 6th, 10am – 8pm Sunday, December 7th, 10am – 3pm EVENTS Preview Breakfast, Wednesday, December 3rd, 10am – 11:30am Press and Media coverage about Ink Miami Art Fair None listed at this time up arrow

NADA Art Fair logo NADA Art Fair – Miami Beach December 4 – 7, 2014 The Deauville Beach Resort, 6701 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33141 Founded in 2002, New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) is a not-for-profit collective of professionals working with contemporary art. Our mission is to create an open flow of information, support, and collaboration within our field and to develop a stronger sense of community among our constituency. NADA’s fair is held in parallel with Art Basel Miami Beach and is recognized as a much needed alternative assembly of the world’s youngest and strongest art galleries dealing with emerging Contemporary Art. It is the only major American art fair to be run by a non-profit organization. Our international group of members includes both galleries and individuals (art professionals, independent curators, and established gallery directors). The various perspectives and ideas offered by our diverse roster creates a network which, at its most basic, is a resource which people could contribute to and take as much (or as little) as they are inclined. The benefits for some may be a matter of business, for others a source of intellectual or aesthetic stimulation. To date, our initiatives have succeeded on two fronts: making the contemporary arts more accessible for the general public, and creating opportunities that nurture the growth of emerging artists, curators, and galleries. Our EVENTS have included: artist talks/gallery walks with critics and curators; benefits in support of charitable institutions; members-only seminars to stimulate dedication and ethics in our profession; and an annual art fair in Miami, which is held in December and is free and open to the public. Don’t plan on walking to this art fair, look for the free shuttle service near Art Basel Miami Beach. The pick-up and drop-off is at 17th and Washington, near the southeast corner of the convention center. Shuttle service begins each day at 10:30am. 2014 NADA Exhibitors ADMISSION Free and open to the public HOURS Thursday, December 4th, 2pm – 8pm Friday, December 5th, 11am – 8pm Saturday, December 6th, 11am – 8pm Sunday, December 7th, 11am – 5pm EVENTS Thursday, December 4th, 10am – 2pm, Opening Preview by Invitation Press and Media coverage about NADA Art Fair – Miami Beach None listed at this time up arrow

Pulse Miami logo for 2013 PULSE Miami Indian Beach Park 4601 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL December 4 – 7, 2014 PULSE provides a unique platform for diverse galleries to present a progressive blend of renowned and pioneering contemporary artists, alongside an evolving series of original programming. The fair’s distinctive commitment to the art community and visitor experience makes PULSE unique among art fairs and creates an art market experience that is both dynamic and inviting. The Fair is divided into two sections and is comprised of a mix of established and emerging galleries vetted by a committee of prominent international dealers. The IMPULSE section presents galleries invited by the Committee to present solo exhibitions of artist’s work created in the past two years. In addition, PULSE develops original cultural programs with a series of large-scale installations, its PULSE Play video lounge, the PULSE Performance events. The PULSE Prize is awarded in New York and in Miami to one of the artists presented in the IMPULSE section. 2014 PULSE Miami Exhibitors ADMISSION General Admission $20 Students and Seniors $15 MultiPass (4 day) $25 2013 HOURS Thursday, December 4th, 1pm – 7pm Friday, December 5th, 10am – 7pm Saturday, December 6th, 10am – 7pm Sunday, December 7th, 10am – 5pm EVENTS Thursday, December 4th, 9am – 1pm, Private Preview Brunch (Invitation only) Complimentary Shuttle Service: PULSE will offer a shuttle service operating between Art Basel Miami Beach and Pulse Miami Beach. Shuttles will run from 9am to 8pm Press and Media coverage about PULSE Miami None listed at this time up arrow

Scope Miami 2013 logo Scope Miami Beach December 2 – 7, 2014 910 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, FL 33139 SCOPE Miami Beach’s monumental pavilion will once again be situated on historic Ocean Drive to welcome near 40,000 visitors over the course of 6 days. Over 100 Exhibitors and 20 selected Breeder Program galleries will present groundbreaking work, alongside SCOPE’s special programming, encompassing music, design and fashion. Long-established as the original incubator for emerging work, SCOPE’s Breeder Program celebrates its 14th year of introducing new galleries to the contemporary market. VH1 will also be presenting the ultimate mash-up of music, pop culture and nostalgia for adults who still want to have fun. There will be some great music on Miami Beach. The tickets are difficult to get but you can sill enjoy the music from the beach for free. Juxtapoz Magazine will curate and present a selection artworks. Juxtapoz Presents galleries embody the New Contemporary that is SCOPE’s hallmark and add a singular dynamism to the Miami Beach 2014 show. Juxtapoz will also release a special edition SCOPE newspaper featuring coverage of the Juxtapoz Presents programming. Scope will also feature a curated exhibition of artworks from Korea. SCOPE Miami Beach opens on Tuesday, December 2, to welcome VIPs and Press at its First View benefit, and will run December 2 – 7, 2014. 2014 Scope Exhibitors ADMISSION General Admission $30 and Students $20 Free for VIP cardholders Brunch, Tuesday: $150 First View, Tuesday: $100 HOURS Wednesday, December 3rd, 11am – 8pm Thursday, December 4th, 11am – 8pm Friday, December 5th, 11am – 8pm Saturday, December 6th, 11am – 8pm Sunday, December 7th, 11am – 8pm EVENTS Tuesday, December 2nd, Noon – 4pm, Platinum VIP First View. Tuesday, December 2nd, 4pm – 8pm, General VIP and Press First View. Friday, December 5th, 8pm – 11pm The Official VH1 + Scope Party (by invitation and confirmed RSVP only) Press and Media coverage about Scope Miami Beach None listed at this time up arrow

Select Contemporary Art Fair SELECT // CONTEMPORARY ART FAIR 72nd Street and Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL December 2 – 7, 2014 SELECT is pleased to announce its new location at 72nd Street and Collins Avenue in a grand-scale 40,000 sq/ft tent structure. We have selected this location for its multi-use capabilities, which include an adjunct amphitheater for performance and nightly music programming. The fair will have ample parking across the street and is a short walk from the neighboring NADA art fair. SELECT will evolve its vision of presenting 50 + cutting edge international galleries through the curatorial direction of Tim Goossens. Previously the Assistant Curator at MoMA PS1, Goossens is the Curatorial Director of envoy enterprise in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a Curatorial Advisor at the Clocktower Gallery, and serves on the curatorial advisory committee of SoHO House New York. Additionally, he maintains a roster of independent curatorial projects. SELECT will be held at 72nd street and Collins Avenue, just three blocks from NADA along the sands of beautiful North Beach. Our location has perks such as, beach front views, an attached parking lot, and an amphitheater for music and arts programing. We are conveniently located at the end of the John F Kennedy causeway (route 934), allowing for easy visitor access for clients moving back and forth from the beach to Wynwood. Shuttle: Free shuttles will be running between SELECT (72nd and Collins) and the Convention Center (17th and Washington). 2014 Select Miami Exhibitors ADMISSION Free Entry HOURS Wednesday, December 3rd: 11am – 8pm Thursday, December 4th: 11am – 8pm Friday, December 5th: 11am – 8pm Saturday, December 6th: 11am – 8 pm Sunday, December 7th: 11am – 6pm EVENTS Tuesday, December 2nd, 4pm – 8pm, VIP and Press Preview Press and Media coverage about SELECT Art Fair None listed at this time up arrow

Untitled Art Fair Miami Beach 2013 logo UNTITLED. December 1 – 7, 2014 Ocean Drive and 12th Street, Miami Beach, FL 33139 UNTITLED., is a curated art fair and is back for it’s third year, running December 1 – 7, 2014, in the heart of Miami Beach’s South Beach district at Ocean Drive and 12th Street. UNTITLED., the international art fair launched in Miami Beach in 2012. UNTITLED.’s curatorial approach to the traditional art fair model places an emphasis on the viewer’s experience by contextualizing the artworks exhibited at each booth. The fair presents a selection of international galleries and not-for-profit spaces, positioned side by side to create a less segregated fair installation. UNTITLED. 2014 is presented in a temporary pavilion on South Beach designed by internationally recognized architecture firm K/R, led by John Keenen and Terence Riley. The 60,000 square feet floor plan complements UNTITLED.’s curatorial approach and creates an exceptional viewing experience with abundant natural light and an open ocean view. The fair is located directly on the beach in the South Beach district at Ocean Drive and 12th Street, providing a quintessential Miami Beach event. 2014 Untitled. Exhibitors ADMISSION General Admission: $25, 4-day pass $30 Discounted Admission (Seniors and Students): $15 Miami Beach residents: $15 Groups of 15 or more: $15 per person Children under 12: FREE HOURS Wednesday, December 43rd, 3pm – 7pm Thursday, December 4th, 11am – 7pm Friday, December 5th, 11am – 7pm Saturday, December 6th, 11am – 7pm Sunday, December 7th, 11am – 4pm EVENTS Monday, December 1st, 6pm – 9pm, Vernissage. Tuesday, December 2nd, 1pm – 3pm, Press Preview. Tuesday, December 2nd, 3pm – 7pm, VIP Preview. Press and Media coverage about Art Untitled Art Fair None listed at this time up arrow

Miami Art Fairs

Art Miami logo graphic Art Miami December 2 – 7, 2014 Midtown Miami | Wynwood, 3101 NE 1st Avenue, Miami, FL 33137 Known as Miami’s premier anchor fair, Art Miami kicks off the opening day of Art Week – the first week of December when thousands of collectors, dealers, curators, and artists descend upon Miami. World-famous for its stylish gallery-like decor, its outstanding quality and extraordinary variety, Art Miami showcases the best in modern and contemporary art from more than 125 international art galleries. Art Miami maintains a preeminent position in America’s contemporary art fair market. With a rich history, it is the original and longest-running contemporary art fair in Miami and continues to receive praise for the variety of unparalleled art that it offers. It is the “can’t miss” event for all serious collectors, curators, museum directors, and interior designers providing an intimate look at some of the most important work at the forefront of the international contemporary art movement. Ample and convenient parking is available through the use of a four-story parking garage with 2,000 spots, located directly across the street from the Art Miami Pavilion as well as valet parking. A network of complimentary shuttle buses will run round-trip service between Art Miami, Aqua, and Art Basel Miami Beach. 2014 Art Miami Exhibitors ADMISSION $35 one day, $75 multi-day pass, $15 Students 12-18 years and Seniors A One Day Fair Pass provides admission to Art Miami and CONTEXT Art Miami Fairs. A Multi-Day Pass provides admission to Art Miami, CONTEXT Art Miami and Aqua Art Miami Fairs. HOURS Wednesday, December 3rd, 11am – 7pm Thursday, December 4th, 11am – 7pm Friday, December 5th, 11am – 8pm Saturday, December 6th, 11am – 7pm Sunday, December 7th, 11am – 6pm EVENTS Tuesday, December 2nd, 5:30pm – 10pm, VIP Preview (Access for Art Miami VIP Cardholders and Press Press and Media coverage about Art Miami None listed at this time up arrow

ArtSpot Miami 2014 logo ArtSpot Miami 2014 December 3 – 7, 2014 3011 NE 1st Avenue at NE 30th St, Miami, FL 33137 No details at this time. ADMISSION Not available at this time HOURS Wednesday, December 3rd Thursday, December 4th Friday, December 5th Saturday, December 6th Sunday, December 7th EVENTS None listed at this time Press and Media coverage about ArtSpot Miami 2014 None listed at this time up arrow

Concept Art Fair logo Concept-Fair December 2 – 7, 2014 301 Biscayne Blvd. (Bayfront Park), Miami, FL 33132 Inaugural Edition, Contemporary art fair featuring exclusively modern works from 1860-1980 including painting, sculpture, photography, design and objet d’art. Miami will focus on “fresh to market” blue chip secondary market works and modern contemporary masters. Limited to approximately 80 carefully selected dealers, it is designed as a sophisticated, elegant waterfront oasis for collectors during the frenetic Art Basel Week. This will be a fair for the serious collector and connoisseur presented in a relaxed, waterfront location adjacent to the Perez Art Museum Miami, Frost Museum in proximity to all major downtown hotels and the Brickell financial center, the second largest banking capital in North America. Our goal is to present a new fair at the “next level” from current December fairs. Uniquely, the hours will be until 9 pm creating a later “Miami Time” venue for collectors after the closing of other December fairs throughout the city prior to Miami’s later dining times. 2014 Concept Exhibitors ADMISSION One Day Ticket $15, Multiple Day Ticket $25 HOURS Wednesday, December 3rd, 1pm – 10pm Thursday, December 4th, 1pm – 10pm Friday, December 5th, 1pm – 10pm Saturday, December 6th, 1pm – 10pm Sunday, December 7th, 1pm – 7pm EVENTS Tuesday, December 2nd, 6pm – 8pm, Preview Tuesday, December 2nd, 8pm – 10pm, Collectors Invitational (Invitation only) Press and Media coverage about Concept None listed at this time up arrow

Context Art Miami logo CONTEXT December 2 – 7, 2014 Midtown Miami | Wynwood, 3101 NE 1st Avenue, Miami, FL 33137 CONTEXT along with the 25th edition of Art Miami will commence on December 2, 2014 with CONTEXT Art Miami’s highly anticipated Opening Night VIP Preview to benefit the Miami Art Museum (PAMM. The 2012 benefit preview attracted 11,000 collectors, curators, artists, connoisseurs, and designers and the fair hosted a total of 60,000 attendees over a six-day period. This immediately reinforced the CONTEXT fair as a proven destination and serious marketplace for top collectors to acquire important works from the leading international galleries representing emerging and mid career cutting edge works of art. The combined exhibition space of CONTEXT and Art Miami will increase the overall roster of galleries to 190 participants and cover 200,000 square feet. Ample and convenient parking is available for both fairs through the use of a four-story parking garage with 2,000 spots, located directly across the street from the CONTEXT and Art Miami Pavilions as well as valet parking. A network of complimentary shuttle buses will run round-trip service between Art Miami, CONTEXT, Aqua Art Miami and Art Basel Miami Beach. 2014 CONTEXT Exhibitors ADMISSION $35 one day, $75 multi-day pass, $10 Students 12-18 years and Seniors Tickets are sold online one month prior to Fair dates and onsite at the Box Offices during show hours. A One Day Fair Pass provides admission to Art Miami and CONTEXT Art Miami Fairs. A Multi-Day Pass provides admission to Art Miami, CONTEXT Art Miami and Aqua Art Miami Fairs. HOURS Wednesday, December 3rd, 11am – 7pm Thursday, December 4th, 11am – 7pm Friday, December 5th, 11am – 9pm Saturday, December 6th, 11am – 7pm Sunday, December 7th, 11am – 6pm EVENTS Tuesday, December 2nd, 5:30pm – 10pm, VIP Preview (Access for Art Miami VIP Cardholders and Press Press and Media coverage about CONTEXT Art Fair None listed at this time up arrow

Fridge Art Fair Miami 2014 logo Fridge Art Fair December 2 – 8, 2014 300 SW 12th Ave. (Corner of SW 12th Ave. & SW 3rd St) Miami, FL 33130 Fridge Art Fair is pleased to announce that its second Miami edition will take place at the Good Wall / Conch Hill Market, 968 Calle Ocho, Miami, Florida from December 2 – 8, 2014, thanks to major sponsorship by the Barlington Group and media sponsorship by Miami Art Scene. Once again, Founding Director Eric Ginsburg, a noted painter in his own right (mainly for his soulful portraits of dogs), will lead the Fridge team. “People should not be afraid to go and see art, and it should not cost a fortune,” said Ginsburg. “I want people to be happy, we want everyone from all walks of life to come to this fair and say, ‘that was really cool!'” In that spirit he has subtitled this edition “De Staatliches Bauhaus Rijpe Mango Editie.” Cara Hunter Viera of Fridge will serve as producer, Miami Art Scene’s Kat Wagner joins Fridge as fair as head curator for the Miami Edition and NYC based curator writer and dealer Linda DiGusta, co-director of Fridge 2014 in New York, stays on the team as curatorial consultant. Major sponsors are the Barlington Group, an urban development company committed to revitalizing neighborhoods within Miami’s the urban core. And, The Miami Art Scene, an influential art portal covering local, national and international art news and information. Exhibitor applications still being accepted. ADMISSION Not available at this time HOURS Wednesday, December 3rd Thursday, December 4th Friday, December 5th Saturday, December 6th Sunday, December 7th EVENTS Tuesday, December 2nd, VIP Preview & Opening Gala, at the Ball & Chain – Miami’s Famed Cotton Club – Circa 1957 Press and Media coverage about Fridge Art Fair None listed at this time up arrow

Miami Photo Salon Festival MIAMI PHOTO SALON FESTIVAL December 2 – 5, 2014 Cuban American Phototheque Foundation, 4260 SW 74 Ave. Miami FL. 33135 Miami Photo Salon – December 2 to 5, is an International Fine Art Photography Festival that takes place yearly during Art Miami week. Local and international photographers will showcase and exhibit work in a salon-style venue, in Downtown Miami where foot traffic between 13 visiting art fairs will bring to the area 75000 visitors, meaning artists participating will get in front of a huge audience, at a time when Miami is hosting the most important international art event in the world. For those interested in collecting photography, artwork is of the best quality, as MPSF art fair committee had selectively invited excellent artists, and it is possible to attend a VIP opening night preview on December 1st. 2014 Miami Photo Salon Festival Exhibitors ADMISSION One Day Ticket – $15 Students and Seniors – $10 Preview Ticket and Multi-Day Pass – $50 HOURS Tuesday, December 2nd, 11am – 9pm Wednesday, December 3rd, 11am – 7pm Thursday, December 4th, 11am – 10pm Friday, December 5th, 9:30am – 7pm EVENTS Monday, December 1st, VIP Preview 6:30pm – 10pm Friday, December 5th, 6pm Award Ceremony and Closing Remarks Press and Media coverage about Miami Photo Salon Festival None listed at this time up arrow

Miami Project logo MIAMI PROJECT December 2 – 7, 2014 NE 29th Street and NE 1st Avenue, Miami, FL 33137 Miami Project will return to the Wynwood Art District from December 2 to 7, 2014. It will again present a selection of historically important and cutting-edge contemporary work side by side, with a unique emphasis on the strength of individual exhibitors’ programs irrespective of their primary focus. Sixty galleries from across the United States will show at the fair. Galleries that represent prominent estates like those of Larry Rivers and Robert Mapplethorpe will exhibit next to those showing today’s most exciting young artists. Work from the historic avant-garde will inform and contextualize the best examples of contemporary practice. Galleries are curated into Miami Project based on a serious commitment to important living artists; extensive involvement with remarkable estates; and the strength of their program generally. The fair’s emphasis on presenting quality works in an intimate setting won over its 20,000 visitors last year, and the 2014 edition will again be boutique-scale, allowing for comfortable viewing in a relaxed atmosphere. Miami Project is housed in a deluxe, tent with soaring cathedral ceilings erected especially for the fair. It will feature roomy aisles and extravagant lounges for a pleasant visitor experience. Located at NE 29th Street and NE 1st Avenue in Miami. Miami Project is presented with support from the Wall Street Journal, Luxe magazine, Perrier, the Midtown Doral, Porcelanosa, New Amsterdam Vodka, and Shellback Rum. 2014 Miami Project Exhibitors ADMISSION One Day Ticket – $25 Multi-Day Pass – $40 Preview Ticket and Multi-Day Pass – $50 HOURS Tuesday, December 2nd, 5:30pm – 10pm Wednesday, December 3rd, 10am – 5:30pm Thursday, December 4th, 10am – 7pm Friday, December 5th, 10am – 8pm Saturday, December 6th, 10am – 7pm Sunday, December 7th, 10am – 6pm EVENTS Tuesday, December 2nd, 5:30pm – 10pm, Miami VIP Preview Press and Media coverage about Miami Project Art Fair None Listed at this time up arrow

Miami River Art Fair logo Miami River Art Fair December 4 – 7, 2014 Miami Convention Center @ James L. Knight Center Downtown – Brickell Financial Area 400 SE Second Ave, Miami, FL 33131 The third edition of the Miami River Art Fair, an international, contemporary art fair, will take place at the Downtown Miami Convention Center inside the James L. Knight International Center in Downtown. MRAF is providing a unique fair-going experience during the art fair season as the only waterfront art fair. Miami River Art Fair is featuring both an indoor booth setting at the Riverfront Hall of the Miami Convention Center and the one-of-a-kind Riverwalk Sculpture Mall, which is featuring monumental sculpture on the banks of the historic Miami River with a presence of monumental sculptures from Italy, France, Cuba, Colombia, Korea, Spain and a special presentation from Mexico. The Miami River Art Fair will feature galleries and projects with artists from all around the globe. The Miami River Art Fair paves the way for the arts in our financial district as the pioneer art fair of the Downtown Miami – Brickell areas during the winter art fair season. The City of Miami welcomes the Miami River Art Fair as a herald for the revitalization of the Lower Miami River district, the city’s waterfront destination of the twenty-first century. Please join us as we celebrate the 3rd anniversary of the Miami River Art Fair and the Opening Night Preview on December 4. Guests will enjoy Italian Limited Edition Organic Wine and exclusive performance uniquely created for the evening. Funds raised at the event support the Little Dreams Foundation who was established by Orianne and Phil Collins in February 2000. Its mission is to fulfill the dreams of young aspiring talent without the means to achieve their goals. Special Collectors’ Preview: December 4th, 4:00 – 6:00pm, $200 per guest. The exclusive first opportunity to preview and purchase works of art at the fair. Guests are also invited to stay for the Opening Night Preview form 6:00 – 11:00 pm. Opening Night Preview Benefiting Little Dream Foundation 6:00 – 7:00 pm, $100 per guest. Meet LDF’s celebrity mentors as Phil Collins, Romero Brito, David Frangioni among others godparents, sponsors and technical advisors. The 100% proceeds supports the Little Dreams Foundation The Miami River Art Fair 2014 is endorsed by the City of Miami, the Miami River Commission, the City of Miami Beach, the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Art Deco Preservation League. Miami River Art Fair complimentary Shuttle Service to transport passengers to other Art Fairs. 1) Every 30 minutes between The Miami River Art Fair and Miami Beach Convention Center. 2) Every 30 minutes between The Miami River Art Fair and Midtown Miami. Shuttle stop in front of JLK Center. 2014 Exhibitors – Not yet available ADMISSION FREE with online registration Complimentary Admission with Art Basel and Miami Art Fairs VIP Pass Complimentary group guided tour with online registration HOURS Thursday, December 4th, 7pm – 11pm Friday, December 5th Noon – 8pm Saturday, December 6th, Noon – 8pm Sunday, December 7th, 11am – 6pm EVENTS Thursday, December 4th, 4 – 6pm, Special Collectors Preview Thursday, December 4th, 6 – 11pm, VIP Opening The event will also support and raise funds for the Little Dreams Foundation, established by Orianne and Phil Collins in February 2000. Its mission is to fulfill the dreams of young aspiring talent without the means to achive their goals. Press and Media coverage about Miami River Art Fair 1) Virtual tour of 2013 edition of Miami River Art Fair 2) The Miami River Art Fair has been featured in over 50 international publications to date and in over 15 local, national and international local broadcasts, press interviews and video coverage segments. Here’s the link : up arrow

Red Dot Miami 2013 logo Red Dot Art Fair December 2 – 7, 2014 3011 NE 1st Avenue at the corner of NE 31st Street, Miami, FL 33137 Red Dot Art Fair is pleased to announce its 8th edition and return to the same prime location in Wynwood Art District in Miami, December 2- 7, 2014, concurrent with Art Basel Miami Beach. Building upon its reputation as a diverse fair, Red Dot will offer a unique selection of approximately sixty galleries exhibiting painting, sculpture, photography and fine-art objects. The opening reception on Tuesday, December 2nd, will benefit Center for Autism & Related Disabilities of Miami. Red Dot Art Fair strives to create a fair specializing in emerging, mid-career and established artists that present work of lasting value. The luxurious layout of the fifty thousand square foot tented venue will provide visitors with a sophisticated and friendly environment to view artwork presented by galleries and dealers. Red Dot is excited about being part of Miami’s vibrant art scene and its great fabric of galleries, museums and cultural institutions. 2014 Red Dot Exhibitors, not yet available ADMISSION One Day Ticket – $15 Week Pass – $25 HOURS Tuesday, December 2nd, 6pm – 10pm Wednesday, December 3rd, 11am – 5pm Thursday, December 4th, 11am – 6pm Friday, December 5th, 11am – 8pm Saturday, December 6th, 11am -8pm Sunday, December 7th, 11am – 6pm EVENTS Tuesday, December 2nd, 6pm – 10pm, Opening Reception Press and Media coverage about Red Dot Art Fair None listed at this time up arrow

Spectrum logo 2014 Spectum Miami Art Show December 3 – 7, 2014 3011 NE 1st Avenue at NE 30th St, Miami, FL 33137 No details at this time. ADMISSION General Admission $10 Opening Preview + 5 Day Show Pass $25 VIP Special Events Evening Pass – Includes special events & drinks (Dec. 4, 5, 6 – 6pm-10pm) $10 Students/Senior Admission $7.50 HOURS Wednesday, December 3rd, 6pm – 10pm Thursday, December 4th, 1pm – -9pm Friday, December 5th, 1pm – 9pm Saturday, December 6th, 1pm – 9pm Sunday, December 7th, Noon – 6pm EVENTS Wednesday, December 3rd, 6pm – 10pm, Opening Preview Press and Media coverage about Spectrum None listed at this time up arrow     === MIAMI NEW TIMES

Art Basel Miami Beach’s 13th Edition Prepares to Break Records

By Carlos Suarez De Jesus Published Tue., Sep. 30 2014 at 1:15 PM

Courtesy of MDC Museum of Art and Design
Shen Wei will present his first U.S. museum show at MOAD.

This year, our fall Arts & Eats Guide lists all that’s timeless and fresh in Miami, from visual art to delicious food. Theater, dance, music, and drinks all make a much-needed appearance throughout the season as well. Pick up one of our printed guides Thursday, October 2, where you’ll find profiles, interviews, and detailed event calendars to guide you through the upcoming cultural season.When Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) blitzes into town December 4 though 7, the event will likely break attendance records. For its 13th edition, ABMB will boast 267 of the planet’s top international galleries, selected from 31 countries, that will exhibit 20th- and 21st-century works by more than 2,000 artists at the Miami Beach Convention Center and various venues throughout the city. The zenith of Miami’s cultural calendar, Basel transforms our peninsula into a rambling art installation, with upward of 20 satellite fairs and scores of related events, including outdoor murals, installations, and pop-up shops mushrooming from South Beach to Wynwood, Little Havana, and Pinecrest. See also: New Bass Museum Curator of Exhibitions Reflects on Miami’s Artistic Boom The main event at the convention center, now recognized as the art world’s biggest block party, is expected to draw about 50,000 international visitors and generate close to a half-billion dollars in sales over its four-day run, according to experts. This year marks an increase of nine galleries from last year’s roster, including a whopping 90 galleries from New York City. By comparison, the Magic City’s booming arts scene will have a paltry presence, with the Fredric Snitzer Gallery returning to ABMB’s centerpiece Galleries section, while downtown Miami’s Michael Jon Gallery will make its debut in the fair’s Nova section at the convention center. It’s no surprise Snitzer’s gallery is returning. The owner has been a staple of ABMB since its inception and is a member of the fair’s selection committee. Michael Jon’s selection, however, has raised eyebrows among local dealers because the space is relatively new to a South Florida scene that, for the most part, is steaming over the repeated lack of local representation at ABMB. Also making its debut is Survey, a new sector of the fair boasting 13 select galleries that will feature art-historical projects ranging from solo exhibits to thematic showcases. New York’s Andrew Edlin Gallery will present a two-artist focus on the works of Henry Darger and Marcel Storr, ranking among the top offerings in the section. Special sectors will also showcase performance art, video art, public projects, and upstart galleries. The Positions section will feature 16 curated solo booths, including a meditation on “architectural destruction” by Syrian artist Hrair Sarkissian, who is represented by Greece’s Kalfayan Galleries. Among ABMB’s popular sectors is Public, an outdoor sculpture showcase organized by Public Art Fund director and chief curator Nicholas Baume, whose inaugural effort last year was hailed as one of the fair’s top attractions. Another returning crowd favorite is ABMB’s Film sector, in which curators David Gryn — the director of London’s Artprojx and Zurich collector This Brunner embrace the theme of playfulness for this year’s edition. Gryn will present more than 70 films and videos by an international compilation of artists. The works will screen at Miami Beach SoundScape on the 7,000-square-foot outdoor projection wall of the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center. This year’s satellite scene is expanding to downtown Miami with the inaugural edition of the Concept-Fair at Bayfront Park, where 80 exhibitors will feature blue-chip modern works from 1860 to 1980, including painting, sculpture, photography, design, and objets d’art in a tranquil setting far from ABMB’s more frenetic scene. The event will be housed in a $3 million spaceship-like circular tent with unobstructed views and a translucent ceiling designed to illuminate the artworks under South Florida’s tropical sunlight. Meanwhile, the 305’s top museums will trot out their best shows of the year to seduce visiting art-world cognoscenti and local Basel enthusiasts.

Photo by George Martinez/
Art Basel Miami Beach at the Miami Beach Convention Center, 2013

For its first anniversary, Perez Art Museum Miami’s (PAMM) Basel bash December 4 will feature a time-based art presentation by Future Brown with Kalela, an underground DJ supergroup. The museum will also unveil a commissioned work by Mexico City-based artist Mario Garcia Torres, whose project “incorporates photography, film, and objects that explore notions of South Florida as a site for withdrawal from society for the purpose of artistic creation,” according to the museum.PAMM also will display “Jardim Botanico,” the first major retrospective of Brazilian abstract painter Beatriz Milhazes. The artist is known for her complex and disorienting compositions bursting with wild, decorative patterns typically rendered in a glowing tropical palette. Both the Frost Art Museum and Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design (MOAD) will showcase influential Chinese artists in their marquee matchups. The Frost has lined up Wang Qingsong, one of China’s top talents, who has earned international raves for his innovative approach to photography. The artist, who began his career as a painter, picked up the camera in the late 1990s and now works in documentary and staged photography, computer-generated images, and sculpture. His solo, “ADinfinitum,” will feature expansive images capturing his homeland’s epic transformation brought on by booming globalization. At the historic Freedom Tower December 5, MOAD will partner with MDC Live Arts to present “Shen Wei: In Black, White, and Gray.” The artist’s first U.S. museum show will be dedicated to a solo series of paintings in collaboration with site-specific performances. Chinese-born, New York-based Shen Wei is a choreographer, director, dancer, painter, and designer who achieved fame as the lead choreographer for the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The artist, who has earned acclaim for his cross-cultural, bold movement-based spectacles, will premiere a suite of 11 theatrical and kinetic paintings while choreographing interpretive performances based on these works, resulting in a series of five public performances. If you visit the Bass Museum of Art December 4, you’ll have to navigate through a maze-like Gregor Hildebrandt installation made from hundreds of strips of tape gathered from video cassettes of the Jean Cocteau classic Orpheus. The meandering opus will be part of “One Way: Peter Marino,” a sprawling exhibit opening a window on the noted American architect and luxury designer’s multifaceted relationship with art. Marino, whose pioneering cross-disciplinary practice fuses art, architecture, fashion, and creative spatial design, has long been recognized for commissioning original artworks for his architecture and design. In addition to Hildebrandt’s shimmering tape passageways will be major installations by Guy Limone, Farhad Moshiri, Jean-Michel Othoniel, and Erwin Wurm. Works from Marino’s personal collection will include paintings by Loris Gréaud, Keith Haring, Richard Serra, Rudolf Stingel, and Andy Warhol. The exhibition will also feature sections dedicated to pop art, iconic portraiture, the German spirit, and photography. Marino worked closely with Jerome Sans, the exhibit’s curator, to strike a thought-provoking balance between his architectural work and designs, personal collection, and recent edition of cast-bronze boxes that will be showcased. Last year, North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) drew sizable Basel crowds for notorious British artist Tracy Emin’s first U.S. museum solo show. But this December marks a major litmus test for MOCA, which has been involved in a yearlong controversy. The museum’s board of directors filed a lawsuit against the City of North Miami in April before leaving MOCA with part of its collection and the city hiring a new director. On December 2, the embattled museum’s new administration will open “Shifting Paradigms: The Work of George Edozie,” signaling an institutional shift in focus while hoping MOCA’s fresh direction inspires crowds. Curated by Nkiru Nzegwu, professor of Africana studies at Binghamton University in New York, the exhibit seeks to “articulate and draw attention to the occurrence of a millennium shift in the epistemological paradigm of art-making and interpretation” while opening “MOCA, Art Basel, and the world to a new way of thinking and being in the world as truly universal,” says Babacar M’Bow, the museum’s new director. Edozie, a Nigerian artist who explores themes of identity in his narrative-based works, will present 50 works making their U.S. debut, including a series of freestanding sculptures constructed from fabric that will form his exhibit’s central installation.



Bass Museum’s New Curator of Exhibitions Reflects on Miami’s Artistic Boom

By Carlos Suarez De Jesus Published Tue., Sep. 30 2014 at 12:11 PM

Photo by Cristina Lei Rodriguez
Jose Carlos Diaz of the Bass Museum.

This year, our fall Arts & Eats Guide lists all that’s timeless and fresh in Miami, from visual art to delicious food. Theater, dance, music, and drinks all make a much-needed appearance throughout the season as well. Pick up one of our printed guides Thursday, October 2, where you’ll find profiles, interviews, and detailed event calendars to guide you through the upcoming cultural season. Jose Carlos Diaz is a pioneer. He helped transform Wynwood from a decaying warehouse district to a booming hothouse for creativity. Born in Miami, he’s one smart guy. In 2003 he turned his own apartment into the “Worm-Hole Laboratory.” It became a rehearsal space and home for cutting-edge art. Then he left town for five years, earning a master’s degree from the University of Liverpool and serving as a project coordinator during the 2010 Liverpool Biennial. In October of last year, he was named the Bass Museum of Art’s curator of exhibitions, just in time for the museum’s 50th anniversary. New Times recently caught up with the dark and handsome 36-year-old to ask about his new job and his views on how much the local art scene has changed. New Times: Where did you grow up? Jose Carlos Diaz: I was actually born in Miami and grew up in Northern California in Stockton. When did you become interested in art? My mother is an artist, so I have always been interested in art, but I also attended after-school art classes as a teenager. Visiting my local museum in Stockton ignited my interest in art and museums in general. You launched Worm-Hole Laboratory in 2003 in your tiny Edgewater apartment building [the Carolyn]. Can you tell us what inspired your mission and a little about the project? I had just finished my curatorial internship at the Rubell Family Collection. There I had learned so much about curating but did not have enough professional experience to become a museum curator or the funds to open my own gallery. The idea was to use my apartment as a rehearsal space. Miami is very entrepreneurial, so I just ran with it. Essentially, it became nomadic because I did not know how long it would last in the apartment or if other opportunities would emerge. One of the things I remember is that after you opened, you ran up a raft of shows in very rapid succession. How has Miami’s scene changed since then? Today it seems like there are so many galleries in Wynwood and the Design District, but it’s interesting to see how others have moved beyond these boundaries and are launching in downtown, west of Wynwood, and more northbound. It’s also amazing to see so many institutions celebrating anniversaries: the Bass, ArtCenter, Locust Projects, PAMM… Time flies, and it is great to see our roots grow deeper. Your apartment was so tiny. How did you manage to shoehorn group exhibits and other events into the space while continuing your daily affairs? I had an empty apartment, various part-time jobs, and lots of ideas! Miami has often had allure for young artists, so inviting someone to exhibit work in Miami never seemed to be a problem. I am not so sure I could do it now. Many of the artists you first exhibited at your space went on to become established Miami names. How did you find these artists? Who were some of the artists who caught your eye early on? I meet most artists through studio visits. I’m a natural people person, so if I connect with the art and the artist, often interesting ideas blossom. Diego Singh, Pepe Mar, and Cristina Lei Rodriguez were some core inspirations. Pepe and I both studied in San Francisco and we moved the same year. I met so many people from 2003 onward. Many artists I met back then are still making interesting work. I always admired the House and the artists involved. Actually, Martin Oppel and Daniel Arsham from the House launched Placemaker later. A decade later I have Martin in one of my shows, so that’s pretty cool.

Carlos Betancourt’s Amulet for Light in “Gold” at the Bass Museum of Art.

Some of your nomadic shows helped cement Wynwood’s nascent scene. How has the area changed since those times, and do you think it still has a future as an incubator for serious curatorial projects, or has that time come and gone? It’s really amazing to leave a transforming neighborhood and return five years later to see it as a true destination filled with galleries, restaurants, and people walking through the streets. Miami is always in motion, and spaces likeGucciVuitton are creating a lineup of shows that I would never conceive. I like that! They’re really thinking outside the box!Back in the early days of Art Basel Miami Beach, you curated a Christmas tree for the Frisbee art fair. Can you tell us about your artsy tree-trimming project? Not many people remember that! Jen Denike and Anat Ebgi, who were active in Miami, invited me to do a project. With little funds and the holidays approaching, I thought ornaments could be interesting since they are so sculptural. I bought a plastic light-up Christmas tree and asked artists to mail me their ornaments. I still use it as my Christmas tree. How has Basel changed since then, and what unifying or long-term impact has it had on Miami’s art scene? Art Basel Miami Beach continues to bring the international art world to Miami Beach. Satellite fairs, fringe projects, and exhibitions orbit that particular week, but I think since the earlier years, Miami is good at being active at showing great exhibits year-round. Lots of wonderful programming takes place too. In 2005 you co-curated “Hanging by a Thread” at the Moore Space, then run by Silvia Karman Cubiñá, who is now your boss at the Bass. What is it like working for her? I have always admired and looked up to Silvia as a mentor, so to work with her is really a dream come true. She has an impeccable eye for great art and curating excellent shows. I’m inspired! Before joining the Bass as the museum’s curator of exhibitions, you worked at the Tate Liverpool. Can you tell us about your experiences at that institution and some of the projects you were involved with there? I was quite lucky to move to a city that was once home to Henry Tate. Although Tate Liverpool is smaller than Tate Modern and Tate Britain, it pre­sents world-class exhibitions, both modern and contemporary, and rotates works from the Tate permanent collection. I was able to work with the collection and also assisted on Charline von Heyl’s solo show and a special project called The Source, which was a large outdoor pavilion by Doug Aitken filled with his video conversations he recorded with leading figures in the creative sector, like Tilda Swinton and Jack White. It was a huge AV challenge installing the work, but very rewarding! From that I curated a show tracking the last 25-year history of Tate Liverpool. Your first curatorial effort for the Bass, “Gold,” marks the museum’s 50th anniversary and is currently on view. How long did you work on your official Bass debut show, and what are some of your favorite works on display? I worked on the exhibit for about a year. As you can imagine, I really love all the works! The online new-media projects, by Patricia Hernandez and Yucef Merhi, are always in a state of flux, and I love that. One continues to monitor the price of gold, and the other, by Patti, is selling a virtual island for bitcoins, a type of online currency unregulated by the government. Anyone can access these works from home [at and]. Silvia has turned the museum’s profile around in short order, giving visiting and local artists a platform to exhibit projects in conjunction with older works in its collection. What’s the importance of this approach in terms of education? Our museum has a permanent collection that really allows us to go beyond and explore many areas. In fact, we have had real success focusing on fashion: Just last spring, Harold Koda curated a show about the subject matter found in Dutch vanitas-style paintings by pairing haute couture with contemporary works also addressing the same themes. What are some of your plans for the Bass, and what role does the museum fill on an institutional scene that has radically changed in the past year? I am working on some exhibitions and projects for the future. Many are a surprise! What can you reveal about yourself that readers might not know? I have a twin brother who won the Latin Grammy last year for best children’s album [Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band].



Art Basel in Miami Beach Launches Art Historical Sector

Benjamin Sutton, Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Art Basel in Miami Beach (ABMB) has established itself as one of the world’s foremost art fairs for all things brand new and cutting edge, and now the mega-fair is carving out some space for art history with its new “Survey” sector. Set to debut during this year’s edition, running December 4–7 (see “Art Basel in Miami Beach 2014 Boasts an Intimidating 267 Galleries“), the Survey section will boast 13 mini art historical presentations, including 9 solo exhibitions and 4 thematic shows. The inaugural lineup of Survey presentations will highlight lesser-known artists and movements. São Paulo’s Galeria Bergamin will showcase the work of Brazilian painter Alfredo Volpi, who was especially influential in the middle of the 20th century. Paris’s Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois will showcase two sculptures from around the same period by Niki de Saint Phalle, while Garth Greenan Gallery‘s solo presentation of paintings and sculptures by Paul Feeley will span the early-to-mid 1960s. New York gallery Menconi + Schoelkopf is bringing photographs and paintings by the Canadian-born American Ralston Crawford, one of the leaders of the Precisionism movement. Another New York gallery, Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, will show pieces spanning the decade between 1969 and 1979 by conceptual, minimalist, and land art figure Michelle Stuart. Works from roughly the same period by the Chilean Lotty Rosenfeld, including photo, video, and slides, will be displayed by Valencia’s espaivisor. James Fuentes Gallery, meanwhile, will display Fluxus artist Alison Knowles’s Big Book, a walk-in, book-shaped installation that made its debut in 1966. Galleri Bo Bjerggaard will present an exhibition of the Danish sculptor Poul Gernes’s work, co-curated by Gernes’s youngest daughters. Rounding out the solo presentations is Japan’s Y++ Wada Fine Arts, which will show dystopic and melancholy paintings by Tetsuya Ishida. The group shows in Survey boast a similarly eclectic selection. Perhaps most intriguing will be Cecilia de Torres, Ltd‘s exhibition of Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres-García’s self-titled constructivist art movement and workshop the Taller Torres-García, which spanned the 40s and 50s. New York’s Broadway 1602 will bring together works by four women artists who got their start in the 60s and 70s: the late French conceptualist Gina Pane; the New York-based sculptor and painter Rosemarie Castoro; the Brazilian artist Lenora De Barros; and Lydia Okumura, the Japanese-Brazilian artist known for her minimalist site-specific installations. New York-based Outsider art dealer Andrew Edlin will present a two-artist show juxtaposing works by Henry Darger and Marcel Storr. And finally Vienna’s Charim Galerie will show works by three of the Vienna Actionists: experimental feminist filmmaker Valerie Export; conceptual artist Andrei Monastyrski; and early Action painter Alfons Schilling.


ICA Miami Launch is Yet Another Reason to Leave New York in December

Pedro Reyes, Sanatorium Just in case you needed an excuse to make a trip to Miami this winter, the new Institute for Contemporary Art, Miami will open to the public on December 2 with exhibitions by artists Pedro Reyes and Andra Ursuta. Ms. Ursuta’s collection of new work includes Soft Power 1 and 2 (2013), huge sculptures of fists made from quilted comforters. Mr. Reyes’ installation, Sanatorium, will transform the museum’s second floor into a clinic where non-professionals will interview, diagnose, and provide visitors with one of 16 types of therapy, like Gestalt or hypnosis. First staged at the Guggenheim in 2011, it’s a “democratization of therapy, a ‘psychological first aid,’” according to a statement from Reyes on his website. The Mexico City-based artist will be on hand to train volunteer therapists and pass on suggestions for visitors’ treatment during the exhibition’s opening week, which coincides with mega-show Art Basel Miami Beach from December 4 through 7. “The exhibitions will seek to create a unique experience that’s both complementary to and distinct from the fair, and the city,” ICA Miami deputy director and chief curator Alex Gartenfeld told The Observer. ICA Miami’s opening comes after a dramatic spat between the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami and the City of North Miami. In August, some MoCA staff announced their departure from the museum and their plans to reopen as ICA Miami in the Design District’s Moore Building. Mr. Gartenfeld explained that ICA Miami hopes to set itself apart from the city’s art scene by focusing on emerging and experimental artists and commissioning new works. The opening exhibitions are also making use of the museum’s new 12,500-square foot space in the Moore Building, donated by Miami Design District Associates. Ms. Ursuta’s installations will be integrated into the architectural details found throughout the former furniture showroom’s atrium gallery, added Mr. Gartenfeld. Last week ICA Miami rounded out its leadership with the appointment of new interim director Suzanne Weaver, the former curator of modern and contemporary art at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. Ms. Weaver replaced Mr. Gartenfeld, who has moved into the position of deputy director and chief curator after previously serving as interim director of MoCA. The inaugural exhibitions will run from December 3 to March 2015 and will be free to the public. Mr. Gartenfeld wouldn’t give specifics on how long admission will remain free, but said only that visitors wouldn’t have to pay as long as the museum stays in the Moore Building.

Peter Marino, Still In Leather, Details the Mammoth Exhibition of His Collection

“One Way: Peter Marino” opens at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach on December 4.

Peter Marino (Photo courtesy Patrick McMullan) It’s always nice to see someone like Peter Marino walk into a fancy party, like he did at a dinner in his honor given by Design Miami Tuesday night, with all the suits and swanky dresses. This is because Peter Marino—the architect responsible for dreaming up most of the world’s high-end boutiques, who is also a designer, muse, motorcyclist and major collector—eschews anything that could be called “fancy” in favor of leather on metal on leather. His outfit for the evening: a leather vest pricked all over with metal studs, leather wristguards with metal spikes, a leather hat with a metal skull, a strand of leather hanging from his neck which holds some metal knives, leather belt, metal belt buckle, metal knuckles with skulls, leather pants, leather boots. All the leather is always black. He’s a great person to honor with a dinner, because he comes complete with three different modes of personality. Sometimes he prefaces everything with a long “Dude…” and sometimes he affects a strong British accent for no reason in particular. He also likes to refer to himself in the third person—not as “Peter,” as one might think, but as “The Pedro.” And then there’s his art collection. He’s got a thing for Renaissance Bronzes—he’s got 36 of them. He’s bought scores of Warhols, hordes of Hirsts, and many, many Mapplethorpes. Peter Marino owns so many Anselm Kiefers that Anselm Kiefer refers to Peter Marino’s house in Aspen as “The Anselm Kiefer Museum.” And this—this collection as loud as his outfits—is the reason for the dinner where he can totally disregard any sort of dress code. In December, the Bass Museum of Art in Miami will open “One Way: Peter Marino,” the first major review of his mammoth collection and his contributions to the world of fashion, architecture, and design. More on that in a second, but first I have to describe my first interaction with Mr. Marino, at the dinner Tuesday. You see, the star architect was not always the jet-setting man in black, the dynamo creator of designer stores, the guy ensuring that the ritziest of retailers could corral the shopper’s eye directly to the products upon entering the store. He was once Pete Marino from Queens, living in squalor and worshipping Warhol, who gave him his first work and exposure. “Dude… I’m just inviting all my friends for a free meal!” he said, swinging one leather-clad arm toward the two tables. (This would be Dude Peter, but he switched to British Peter later in the night, and other people were worried if The Pedro would come out, too). “I just ate at Tad’s Steakhouse for 11 years,” he bellowed. “99 cents a steak! I would just inhale them, and then I would go and stuff them in my pockets, just stuffing all these steaks in my pockets. Here he made some furious swooping motions with his arms toward himself, as if stuffing his pockets full of steak. His current pants were way too tight to have pockets, but the extra-beefy mental image of steaks in leather pockets was a nice one. “When Tad’s closed, I starved for two years,” he went on. “Look, dude… when people ask, ‘Isn’t it nice to have money?’ I’m like, dude… that was like two years ago!” The dinner continued on well into the night, and then, the next morning it was more Marino: he gave a chat in the offices of Peter Marino Architect, which naturally is very, very high up in a Midtown East building. My ears popped on the elevator zooming up, then I was lead past Warhols and Tom Sachs-drawn guides and Han Dynasty vases and Richard Princes and so on and so forth. He was talking about “One Way: Peter Marino,” and once again he had on more leather than all the biker bars in Detroit, and once again he was surrounded by guys in suits, and it didn’t matter. At least he called upon British Peter for the occasion. (Wherever was The Pedro, I wondered.) It was an attractive room, with models and drawn plans for private home commissions—homes in Lebanon, Star Island, Southampton, Sagaponack—and a view of that much-questioned skyscraper, One57, as cranes bring materials up to its peak. Mr. Marino went about describing what sounds like it will be one of the most talked-about things going on during Art Basel Miami Beach. There’s a room of Marino-designed bronze boxes, the walls all made of black leather. There’s a multi-part opera that Mr. Marino made in collaboration with Francisco Clemente and Dior designer Raf Simons. Also in the mix was Jérôme Sans, the co-founder of Palais de Tokyo in Paris and former editor-in-chief of L’Officiel Art, who curated the show. He was video chatting in from France, as one does. “I’m going to give a physical walkthrough of the show and then Jérôme is going to make sense of it all,” he said. He began by showing off the catalog, which had along its spine—what else?—a black leather clasp studded with metal. “Just in case the people didn’t know who the show was about!” Mr. Marino said. There are five commissions in the show. The first is by Gregor Hildebrandt, and it’s on the outside of the building. “I was like, how can that go over the outside of the building? Because I’m not crazy about the way it looks,” he said, to the slight consternation of Silvia Cubina, the executive director of the Bass Museum, who was standing right next to him. The Hildebrand work is a giant portrait of Mr. Marino. “You’ll see it from airplanes 38,000 feet in the air,” he said. He ran through a few more plans for other rooms in the exhibition—a lot of Mapplethorpes, a skeleton wearing a lot of leather called Peter Marino in 100 Years—and then turned it over to Mr. Sans, who began speaking of the show in his own style, one that was slightly more elliptical than that of the punchy, loud Mr. Marino. “The show has this life, and this presence, this skin, and it is going into the future, and the future cannot exist without the past,” the floating head of Mr. Sans said. “I love hearing that the show actually makes sense!” Mr. Marino said at the end of Mr. Sans’ remarks. Then, before everyone was to walk back out through the Hirst-heavy hallways and pieces of antiquities at every corner, someone asked which artist he first bought when he began collecting. “Warhol,” he said, in that put-on British accent. “I know that sounds very chic and all, but I was working for him, and he gave me a painting. He helped me out. One day he gave me a check and said, ‘If you’re smart, you won’t cash that, because my signature is going to be worth more than the check itself.’ But I was broke, so I cashed it. And what do you know! Andy was right.”

NADA Miami Beach 2014 Will Be the Anti-Art Basel

Rozalia Jovanovic, Wednesday, September 3, 2014


NADA Miami Beach 2012 Opening Preview The New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) has just announced its exhibitor list for the 12th edition of NADA Miami Beach. The art fair, which will take place from December 4–7 at the Deauville Beach Resort, will feature over 90 exhibitors with a little over 40 from New York, and including 36 international galleries, along with 15 exhibitors that are new to the fair. There are around twenty New York exhibitors that are not returning this year, including Churner + Churner, James Fuentes, the Hole, Horton (which merged earlier this year with ZieherSmith), Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery, Joe Sheftel, Kerry Schuss, Simone Subal, Kate Werble, Feature Inc. (the gallery’s founder, Hudson, died earlier this year), Andrew Edlin, Clifton Benevento, the Still House Group, Know More Games, Recess, and Devon Dikeou. Some, like Clifton Benevento and Simone Subal, are doing Art Basel in Miami Beach this year. Some are not making it to Miami at all this year. Kate Werble said she is attending two fairs in Europe in October—London’s SUNDAY Art Fair and the new FIAC satellite (Off)icielle—and her gallery just underwent an expansion. Some New York galleries that did not partake last year but are exhibiting this year are Bodega, Chapter NY, the Lodge Gallery, Grand Century, Koenig & Clinton, Kai Matsumiya, Simon Preston, Regina Rex, and Tomorrow. “Galleries apply to multiple fairs with multiple types of projects,” Maggie Clinton of Koenig & Clinton told artnet News. “The project we applied with to Art Basel Miami Beach was waitlisted.” While the gallery has participated numerous times in NADA Miami Beach, it did Art Basel Miami Beach last year. This year, it is participating in NADA and Untitled. But she said that their decision about which fairs to attend related more to the formats of the various fairs. “I think that NADA is an excellent format for emerging artists. Untitled is really great for curatorial projects. We have an artist that will be featured at the fair, and it’s the type of project that could not be shown at any of the other fairs.” Other advantages NADA has over the larger fair? “You’re not going to see way too much stuff,” Clinton said. “There’s not a huge discrepancy between larger booths and smaller booths.” While she noted the benefit of the larger audience at a larger fair, she said there was less chance of falling victim to so-called “fairtigue.” “You also have this moment in between, because of the architecture, to just have a coffee, and stop and see more art.” Without further ado, here is the list: Cooper Cole, Toronto, Canada The Apartment, Vancouver Andersen’s Contemporary, Copenhagen, Denmark Temnikova & Kasela, Tallinn, Estonia High Art, Paris, France Future Gallery, Berlin, Germany Natalia Hug Gallery, Cologne, Germany, Galerie Christian Lethert, Cologne Germany Linn Luhn, Dusseldorf, Germany Galerie Max Mayer, Dusseldorf, Germany Galerie Parisa Kind, Frankfurt, Germany Proyectos Ultravioleta, Guatemala City, Guatemala Tempo Rubato, Tel Aviv, Israel Apalazzo Gallery, Brescia, Italy Frutta, Rome, Italy, Federica Schiavo Gallery, Rome, Italy Galerie Bernard Ceysson, Luxembourg, Luxembourg Lulu, Mexico City, Mexico Rob Bianco, Oslo, Norway Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo, Japan Kayokoyuki, Tokyo, Japan Misako & Rosen, Tokyo, Japan Mujin-To Production, Tokyo, Japan XYZ Collective, Tokyo, Japan Roberto Paradise, San Juan, Puerto Rico Sabot, Cluj-Napoca, Romania Truth and Consequences, Geneva, Switzerland Glasgow International, Glasgow, UK Ibid, London, UK Kinman, London, UK Seventeen, London, UK Rob Tuffnell, London, UK Rod Barton, London, UK The Sunday Painter, London, UK Jonathan Viner, London, UK Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK 247365, New York, Brooklyn, New York Clearing, New York, Brooklyn, New York The Journal Gallery, Brooklyn, New York Courtney Blades, Chicago, Illinois Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago, Illinois And Now, Dallas, Texas Bill Brady Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri Artist Curated Projects, Los Angeles, CA Thomas Duncan, Los Angeles, CA Francois Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles, CA International Art Objects Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Overduin & Co, Los Angeles, CA Night Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Tif Sigfrids, Los Angeles, CA Young Art, Los Angeles, CA Locust Projects, Miami, FLA The Green Gallery, Milwaukee, WI David Peterson Gallery, Minneapolis, MN Alden Projects, New York American Contemporary, New York Nicelle Bauchene Gallery, New York Bodega, New York Brennan and Griffin, New York Callicoon Fine Arts, New York Canada, New York Lisa Cooley, New York Chapter NY, New York Independent Curators International (ICI), New York Eleven Rivington, New York Derek Eller, New York Thomas Erben Gallery, New York Essex Street, New York Zach Feuer, New York Foxy Production, New York Laurel Gitlen, New York The Lodge Gallery, New York Grand Century, New York Jack Hanley Gallery, New York Invisible-Exports, New York JTT, New York Karma, New York Koenig & Clinton, New York David Lewis, New York Magic Flying Carpets, New York Marlborough Chelsea, New York Martos Gallery, New York Kai Matsumiya, New York P!, New York Eli Ping Frances Perkins, New York Simon Preston, New York Regina Rex, New York Sculpture Center, New York Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York Tomorrow, New York White Columns, New York Creative Growth, Oakland, CA Adams and Ollman, Portland, OR Ratio 3, San Francisco, CA ===

Suzanne Weaver Will Lead Miami’s New Contemporary Art Museum

Sarah Cascone, Tuesday, September 23, 2014 Suzanne Weaver. Photo: Gesi Schilling, courtesy Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Miami, founded by the former board of trustees and staff of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami (see “MOCA North Miami Closes in Controversy“), is making a fresh start in its new Miami Design District home with Suzanne Weaver, who has been appointed the reborn institution’s interim director. A 20 year art world veteran, Weaver has previously held curatorial positions at institutions such as the Dallas Museum of Art and the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. Alex Gartenfeld, who had served in an interim capacity as director since September of 2013, following the departure of Bonnie Clearwater, has been promoted to deputy director and chief curator. He joined the museum in May of 2013 as a curator. The new ICA Miami looks to move past its troubled MOCA North Miami past, which saw the city fail to provide funding and led to a heated battle over museum leadership (see “The Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami Sues City For Breach of Contract” and “Racist Taunts Escalate MOCA North Miami Feud“). It will open in the the Design District’s Moore Building in December, presumably just in time for Art Basel in Miami Beach festivities (see “Art Basel in Miami Beach 2014 Boasts an Intimidating 267 Galleries“). The interim space, provided rent-free by Miami Design District Associates while the board of trustees seeks a new permanent home, measures 12,500 square feet. “We are thrilled to be welcoming Suzanne Weaver as our new interim director, whose talent, enthusiasm, and professional experience will be an invaluable asset as the museum continues to grow,” said Ray Ellen Yarkin, co-chair of the ICA’s board, in a press release. “It is truly an honor to work with such a highly talented and committed Board of Trustees and staff to launch a new museum of contemporary art dedicated to quality, excellence, and rigor,” added Weaver. “Together, we will create an institution that will be an important addition to Miami’s dynamism internationally and make a lasting mark on the intellectual, cultural, and artistic life of the region.” ==

SCOPE Bringing 111 Galleries to Miami in December

Sarah Cascone, Friday, September 19, 2014 Scope Miami Beach. Photo: Scope. Not to be outdone by Art Basel in Miami Beach, PULSE, NADA, and UNTITLED., the venerable SCOPE art fair, now in its 14th year, has announced its exhibitors for its 2014 Miami Beach edition. A total of 111 galleries will be on hand, representing 27 countries and 48 cities. The fair runs December 3–7. With a focus on emerging artists, SCOPE will once again feature its Breeder Program, which provides an important showcase for new commercial galleries. The fair will also introduce a FocusKorea section, a collaboration with the Galleries Association of Korea sponsored by the Korea Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (similar to the Korean section at this summer’s Art Hamptons, as reported in “Hamptons Art Fairs Target Hipster Collectors with Edgy, Nostalgic Artworks“). This year, SCOPE will partner with Juxtapoz Magazine in what is being described as “an exploration of the New Contemporary.” As part of “Juxtapoz Presents,” Kimou “Grotesk” Meyer will design and create an interactive newsstand installation inspired by old Brooklyn, and based on Meyer’s 2009 cover for Juxtapoz. The stand will sell artist-made goods, magazines, as well as the new book, Juxtapoz Hyperrealism. Here is the full list of SCOPE Miami Beach 2014′s participating galleries:

ACE Gallery | Los Angeles Andenken | Amsterdam Art Park Gallery | Seoul Art Projects Gallery | Hong Kong Artside Gallery | Seoul Asterisk Projects | Brooklyn AUREUS Contemporary | Providence Baiksong Gallery | Seoul Barbarian Art Gallery | Zurich Galerija Bastejs | Riga Beautiful Asset Art Projects | Beijing Tally Beck Contemporary | New York Gallery Bhak | Seoul Gallery Biba | Palm Beach Black Book Gallery | Denver blunt | Toronto Bon Gallery | Seoul Anthony Brunelli Fine Arts | Binghampton C-Arte | Buenos Aires C.A.V.E. Gallery | Venice Beach Callan Contemporary | New Orleans Lawrence Cantor Fine Art | Venice Chalk Horse | Sydney Chandran Gallery | San Francisco CHUNG Art Gallery | Seoul Chung Jark Gallery | Seoul Dorothy Circus Gallery | Rome Elizabeth Clement Fine Art | Danvers & New York Ethan Cohen Fine Arts | New York Collage Habana Gallery | Havana Contempop | Tel Aviv Copro Gallery | Santa Monica Corridor Contemporary | Tel Aviv DECORAZON | London Dubner Moderne | Lausanne E3 {a small gallery} | Ostend Faur Zsófi Galéria | Budapest Fifty24MX | Mexico City The Flat – Massimo Carasi | Milan Forré & Co. Fine Art | Aspen Emmanuel Fremin Gallery | New York Fresh Eggs | Berlin Gallery G-77 | Kyoto Gana Art | Seoul Gauntlet Gallery | San Francisco Gallery Godo | Seoul Galerie Frédéric Got | Paris Joseph Gross Gallery | New York Mark Hachem | Paris & New York Hashimoto Contemporary | San Francisco Cheryl Hazan Contemporary Art | New York Kashya Hildebrand | London Kirk Hopper | Dallas Dan Hort Projects | New York Inner State Gallery | Detroit JanKossen Contemporary | Basel K + Y Gallery | Paris Kallenbach Gallery | Amsterdam Jacob Karpio Galeria | San Jose Keumsan Gallery | Seoul L’inlassable | Paris La Ira de Dios | Buenos Aires Labartino | Miami Jonathan LeVine Gallery | New York Life as a Work of Art | New York Long Sharp Gallery | Indianapolis Luster | Brooklyn Galerie Magenta | Antwerp Magpi Projects | New York Primo Marella Gallery | Milan Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art | Salzburg & Vienna Miami’s Independent Thinkers | Miami Mighty Tanaka | Brooklyn Mirus Gallery | San Francisco Mordekai | New York Leila Mordoch Gallery | Miami NextArt | Budapest NUNC Contemporary | Antwerp Ohshima Fine Art | Tokyo OTCA | London Galleri Oxholm | Copenhagen Pabellón 4 Arte Contemporáneo | Buenos Aires Paik Hae Young Gallery | Seoul Paradigm Gallery | Philadelphia Parlor Gallery | Asbury Park Pavleye Art & Culture | Prague Phone Booth Gallery | Long Beach Project Gallery | Los Angeles Pyo Gallery | Seoul RARE | New York Red Corridor Gallery | Künzell Red Truck Gallery | New Orleans Duane Reed Gallery | St. Louis Rush Arts Gallery | Brooklyn Gallery Shilla | Seoul Shirin Gallery | Tehran & New York Stick Together | Amsterdam StolenSpace | London TBD Independent Projects | Key Biscayne Thinkspace | Los Angeles Tribe13 Gallery | Redwood Valley Vertical Gallery | Chicago Vice Gallery | Miami Vogelsang Gallery | Brussels Gallery on Wade | Toronto Wallplay | New York Waltman Ortega | Miami & Paris Wanrooij Gallery | Amsterdam Wellside Gallery | Seoul White Walls | San Francisco Woolff Gallery | London Wunderkammern | Rome Yellow Peril Gallery | Providence 55bellechase | Paris == ARTNET NEWS

UNTITLED. Lines Up 96 Galleries for Third Edition

Sarah Cascone, Tuesday, September 9, 2014 2014-july-22-untitled-miami-new As if Art Basel in Miami Beach‘s impressively long list of exhibitors wasn’t enough to look forward to this December (see “Art Basel in Miami Beach 2014 Boasts an Intimidating 267 Galleries“), there are also the event’s numerous competing satellite fairs, which are also beginning to announce their 2014 line-ups. The third edition of UNTITLED. (running December 3–7) has just unveiled plans to feature work from over 200 emerging and established contemporary artists represented by 96 galleries and non-profit art organizations from 18 countries, as well as 16 cities in the US. The fair will be hosted in a temporary beach-side pavilion designed by K/R architects under John Keenen. With a newly expanded curatorial team comprising artistic director Omar López-Chahoud and curators Christophe Boutin and Melanie Scarciglia, UNTITLED. will host a series of conversations, performances, and events, as well as special projects (see “Miami’s UNTITLED. Fair Adds Curators, Gets New Tent“). As part of the special projects series, Paul Ramírez Jonas will present his volcanic rock and cork sculpture, Publicar V (2010), while French conceptual artist Mathieu Mercier has created a series of new works for the fair, to be shown by New York’s Denis Gardarin Inc. New York non-profit gallery carriage trade will present Cutting Through the Suburbs, a multimedia project memorializing 1970s suburbia and featuring works by Gordon Matta-Clark, Bill Owens, and James Wines/SITE Architects & Howard Silver. The fair is also partnering with online art service Curiator, which will allow UNTITLED. visitors to peruse the fair’s offerings online, creating digital collections, both in the two-week period leading up to the annual event, for VIPs, and during its run, for all guests. Here is the full list of UNTITLED. 2014′s participating galleries: (+) R – Barcelona Ada – Richmond, Virginia Adn Galeria – Barcelona Andrew Rafacz, Chicago Arroniz – Mexico City Artag – Helskinki Art Nueve – Murcia, Spain Arts & Leisure Gallery – New York Asya Geisberg Gallery – New York Bitforms Gallery NYC – New York Bravinlee Programs – New York Carriage Trade – New York Carrie Secrist – Chicago Casa Maauad – Mexico City Cindy Rucker Gallery – New York Cirrus Gallery – Los Angeles, California Cristin Tierney – New York Curro & Poncho – Jalisco, Mexico De La Cruz Projects – San José, Costa Rica Diablo Rosso –Panama City Denis Gardarin Inc. – New York Denny Gallery – New York Document-Art Gallery – New York Espacio No Minimo – Guayaquil, Ecuador Formato Comodo – Madrid, Spain Fredericks & Freiser – New York Fridman Gallery – New York Galería Bacelos – Madrid Galeria Espacio Minimo – Madrid Galería Juan Silió – Santander, Spain Galería Nora Fisch – Buenos Aries Galeria Pilar – São Paulo Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran – Montreal Galerie Laurent Godin – Paris Galerie Richard – New York Galerie Thomas Fuchs – Stuttgart, Germany Gallery Sinne – Helsinki González Y González – Santiago Halsey Mckay Gallery – East Hamptons, New York Henrique Faria Buenos Aires – Buenos Aires Hionas Gallery – New York Inman Gallery – Houston Island Press – St. Louis Jack Bell Gallery – London Johannes Vogt Gallery – New York Johansson Projects – Oakland, California Josée Bienvenu – New York Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert Gallery – New York Koenig & Clinton – New York Kravets Wehby Gallery – New York Kristen Lorello – New York Lawrie Shabibi – Dubai Little Big Man Gallery – San Francisco Longhouse Projects – New York Lora Reynolds – Austin Lucia De La Puente – Lima Luis De Jesus Los Angeles – Los Angeles Lvl3 – Chicago Makebish – New York Maloney Fine Art – Los Angeles Marisa Newman Projects – New York Marso – Mexico City Max Estrella – Madrid Microscope Gallery – Brooklyn Mite – Buenos Aires Mkg127 – Toronto Monique Meloche – Chicago Mulherin – Toronto Narrative Projects – London Nathalie Karg Gallery – New York Nueveochenta – Bogotá, Colombia Parisian Laundry – Montreal Present Company – Brooklyn Projektrom Normanns – Stavanger, Norway Richard Heller Gallery – Santa Monica, California Rincón Projects – Bogotá, Colombia Romer Young Gallery – San Francisco Ronchini Gallery – London Royale Projects: Contemporary Art – Palm Desert, California Salon Dahlmann – Berlin Sandra Gering Inc. – New York Sic Helsinki – Helsinki Site:Lab – Grand Rapids, Michigan Steve Turner Contemporary – Los Angeles Steven Zevitas – Boston Susan Inglett – New York Taymour Grahne Gallery – New York Threewalls – Chicago Today Is the Day Foundation – New York Universal Limited Art Editions – Bay Shore, New York Upfor – Portland, Oregon Vigo Gallery – London Western Exhibitions – Chicago Y Gallery – New York Zieher Smith & Horton – New York Zürcher Studio, – New York   ==

Announcing PULSE Miami Beach Artists and Exhibitors
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PULSE Contemporary Art Fair is pleased to announce the artists and galleries exhibiting at PULSE Miami Beach 2014. The fair, in a new custom-designed venue on Indian Beach Park, will feature work from over 150 cutting-edge artists presented by a select group of exhibitors from Asia, Europe and the Americas.”As we move into the tenth year of PULSE, we are focused on celebrating artists, who are the core of the fair and the indeed the industry as a whole,” says Director Helen Toomer. “We are excited about our move to mid-Miami Beach and our newly-designed exhibition space that will compliment the presentation and discovery of these artists’ work and we look forward to welcoming the international arts community to our new home.” Read more about PULSE’s tenth year in Miami in the New York Observer and scroll down to read the full list of artists and exhibitors.
PULSE Miami Beach 2014
PULSE Miami Beach at Indian Beach Park. Rendering courtesy of PULSE Contemporary Art Fair.
PULSE Miami Beach 2014 Artists & Exhibitors – (Learn more hereArt Mûr, Montreal, Canada: Jinny Yu Ballast Projects, New York, NY: Russell Tyler (POINTS) Beers Contemporary, London, UK: Faig Ahmed | Janneke Von Leeuwen | Tony Romano | Pawel Sliwinski Black & White Gallery/Project Space, Brooklyn, NY: Michael Van den Besselaar Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York, NY: Yorgo Alexopoulos | Edward Burtynsky | Jim Campbell | Robert Currie | Airan Kang | Jimmy Nelson | Jose Parla Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, New York, NY: Yapci Ramos CC Gallery, Berlin, Germany: Maya Hayuk Danziger Gallery, New York, NY: Christopher Bucklow | Susan Derges | Hendrik Kerstens | Karen Knorr | Jim Krantz | Corinne Vionner Davidson Contemporary, New York, NY: Kiel Johnson | Darren Lago | Sam Messenger | Thomas Witte | Ghost Of A Dream De Buck Gallery, New York, NY: Simon Vega | XOOOOX De Soto Gallery, Venice, CA: Amelia Bauer | Brian Paumier | Ramona Rosales (IMPULSE) DIA Galería, Mexico City, Mexico: César López-Negrete | Ricardo Paniagua Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, OR: Ann Hamilton | Sean Healy | Isaac Layman | Julia Mangold | Anna Von Mertens Front Room Gallery, Brooklyn, NY: Mark Masyga | Sasha Bezzubov galerieKleindienst, Leipzig, Germany: Corinne von Lebusa | Christoph Ruckhäberle Galerie Simon Blais, Montreal, Canada: Jean-Sébastien Denis | Alexis Lavoie | Yann Pocreau Gallery Joe, Philadelphia, PA: Mia Rosenthal gallery nine5, New York, NY: Soojin Cha | Jessica Lichtenstein | Ignacio Muñoz Vicuña Gallery Poulsen, Copenhagen, Denmark: Barnaby Whitfield | Aaron Johnson | Jean-Pierre Roy | Eric White Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, WA: SuttonBeresCuller | Chris Engman | Margie Livingston | Whiting Tennis GUSFORD | los angeles, Los Angeles, CA: Genevieve Chua (IMPULSE) Heskin Contemporary, New York, NY: Doreen McCarthy | Jennifer Riley Horrach Moya, Palma de Mallorca, Spain: Aníbal López | Jorge Mayet  | Joana Vasconcelos Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco, CA: Jim Campbell | Jay DeFeo | Jutta Haeckel | Emil Lukas | Marco Maggi | Andrew Schoultz James Harris Gallery, Seattle, WA: Karin Davie | Gary Hill | Alexander Kroll | Cameron Martin | Alwyn O’Brien | Akio Takamori junior projects, New York, NY: Guy C. Correiro | Stuart Elster (IMPULSE) LAMONTAGNE GALLERY, Boston, MA: Gil Blank | Jeff Perrott | Joe Warwell LA NEW GALLERY, Madrid, Spain: Cristina de Middel | Santiago Talavera | Jorge Fuembuena LMAKprojects, New York, NY: Jonathan Calm | Popel Coumou | Claudia Joskowicz | Erika Ranee LYNCH THAM, New York, NY: Carlo Ferraris | Walter Robinson (IMPULSE) MA2Gallery, Tokyo, Japan: Ken Matsubara Miller Yezerski Gallery, Boston, MA: Evelyn Rydz | Nathalie Miebach | Deb Todd Wheeler New Image Art, West Hollywood, CA: Cleon Peterson | Retna | Maya Hayuk Nohra Haime Gallery, New York, NY: Natalia Arias Nuova Galleria Morone, Milan, Italy: Felix Curto | Mariella Bettineschi | Domenico Grenci | Sadegh Tirafkan Paci contemporary, Brescia, Italy: Michal Macku | Teun Hocks Patrick Heide Contemporary, London, UK: Pius Fox | Hans Kotter | Reinoud Oudshoorn | Dillwyn Smith Paul Loya Gallery, Los Angeles, CA: Tom Fruin Philip Slein Gallery, St. Louis, MO: Andrew Masullo | Gary Stephan | Chuck Webster | John Zinsser Purdy Hicks Gallery, London, UK: Sue Arrowsmith | Jonathan Delafield Cook | Claire Kerr | Susan Derges | Sandra Kantanen | Jorma Puranen Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA: Dawoud Bey | Joe Cunningham | Bovey Lee | Nathan Lynch | Vik Muniz Rick Wester Fine Art, New York, NY: Alyse Rosner | Laurie Lambrecht | Lilly McElroy ROCKELMANN&, Berlin, Germany: Florian Japp | Jeffrey Teuton (IMPULSE) Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica, CA: John Mills Rosa Santos, Valencia, Spain: Andrea Canepa SENDA, Barcelona, Spain: Oleg Dou | Anthony Goicolea | Sandra Vásquez de la Horra | James Clar Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica, CA: Phil Argent | Kathy Butterly | Rachel Lachowicz | Izhar Patkin | Berverly Semmes | Michal Rovner | Kiki Smith Schroeder Romero, New York, NY: Lisa Levy Shulamit Gallery, Venice, CA: Kamran Sharif | Shahab Fatouhi | Tal Shochat Sienna Patti Contemporary, Lenox, MA: Lauren Fensterstock | Susie Ganch taubert contemporary, Berlin, Germany: Adrian Esparza | Markus Linnenbrink | Markus Weggenmann | Beat Zoderer | Jan von der Ploeg | Dionisio González | Sylvan Lionni Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York, NY: Arahmaiani | Heri Dono | FX Harsono | Agus Suwage Uprise Art, New York, NY: Eric LoPresti | Erin O’Keefe Walter Maciel Gallery, Los Angeles, CA: Tm Gratkowski WAGNER + PARTNER, Berlin, Germany: Erwin Olaf | Mona Ardeleanu | Peter Dreher | Ruud van Empel WATERHOUSE & DODD, New York, NY: Kim Keever | Jean-François Rauzier | Xavier Guardans X-Change Art Project, Lima, Peru: Alessadra Rebagliati | Ana Cecilia Farah| Marian Riveros | MOHO Collective (POINTS) Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, NY: Marco Breuer | Lorenzo Vitturi | Alison Rossiter | Matthew Brandt | Assaf Shaham YUKI-SIS, Tokyo, Japan: Katsutoshi Yuasa | Kohei Kawasaki (IMPULSE) Zhulong Gallery, Dallas, TX: Alexander Gorczynski | James Geurts (IMPULSE)

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On the American Artist Jeff Koon’s: Articles, Interviews and Texts

Jeff Koons retrospective is at the Whitney Museum of American Art. It was supposed to debut at MoCA in Los Angeles, but was lost when Jeffrey Deitch left MoCA. It would seem that he took the exhibition with him. I believe I recently read that the exhibition wil not be coming to Los Angeles. MoCA also lost the Richard Hamilton retrospective, and the Jack Goldstein retrospective was dropped but fortunately picked up by the Orange County Museum of Art. I saw Koons survey show at MCA Chicago a few years ago. There is no other artist who is making objects that look like plastic, rubber, balloons that are actually digitally engineered metals.

Vincent Galen Johnson, Los Angeles.


London Review of Books

At the Whitney

Hal Foster

The child as an ideal of innocent vision is another old trope of modern art, and it too takes on a new twist with Koons, who aims to convey a youthful wonder at the object world around him. Here, however, innocence means less freedom from convention than delight in the commodity image, even identification with it, as he suggests in the account of a primal scene he gave in an interview with David Sylvester:

Childhood’s important to me, and it’s when I first came into contact with art. This happened when I was around four or five. One of the greatest pleasures I remember is looking at a cereal box. It’s a kind of sexual experience at that age because of the milk. You’ve been weaned off your mother, and you’re eating cereal with milk, and visually you can’t get tired of the box. I mean, you sit there, and you look at the front, and you look at the back. Then maybe the next day you pull out that box again, and you’re just still amazed by it; you never tire of the amazement. You know, all of life is like that or can be like that. It’s just about being able to find amazement in things.

This point of view – of the world seen by a boy precociously alert to the sexuality incited by consumerism – is one key to Koons, and it drives his refashioning of the readymade in terms of the child that commercial culture often takes us to be. As a result, his readymades have as much to do with display, advertising and publicity as with the commodity per se. (His father, Henry, was an interior decorator who owned a store in York, Pennsylvania, and even in his youth Koons was an avid salesman; he went on, briefly, to sell mutual funds and to trade commodities on Wall Street.)

Koons broke through in the early 1980s with a series titled ‘The New’ consisting of store-bought vacuum cleaners and other pristine appliances; set on or placed inside fluorescent light boxes, each immaculate product glows with a godly aura. Among the ‘New Hoover Convertibles’ is The New Jeff Koons (1980), a self-portrait which, enlarged from a family photo of the artist-to-be not long after his fateful encounter with the cereal box, also radiates a special wellbeing, here the wellbeing of a middle-class boy circa 1960. Shirt buttoned up, hair neatly combed, young Jeff sits at a desk with a colouring book, a crayon poised in his chubby fingers, and smiles up at the camera (adult Jeff, too, is almost always beaming in photos). In his lexicon ‘The New’ implies perfection in the sense of pure as well as packaged, and The New Jeff Koonsexudes both qualities. Although the family photo is obviously staged, so thoroughly does young Jeff inhabit the appointed role of budding artist that it seems absolutely authentic. Again, the mood is celebratory, and why not if your vision of life brooks neither death nor decay?

Koons is Panglossian in his artworks and statements alike, and – as with Warhol, who also ‘liked’ everything just as it is – this prompts the inevitable question: is he sincere or ironic or somehow both at once? It is difficult to call his bluff (again as with Warhol, you get stuck in his faux-naive language) or to catch him out (it’s been thirty years, and Koons is yet to step out of character). ‘I hope that my work has the truthfulness of Disney,’ he told Sylvester, and here as elsewhere it seems that Koons believes what he says and that his version of sincerity is the most sardonic thing ever. Yet when he adds, ‘I mean, in Disney you have complete optimism, but at the same time you have the Wicked Witch with the apple,’ you are given a useful insight into the workings of both impresarios.

This poisoned apple, this witchy charm, is what Koons offers in his best work, and when the ambiguity isn’t there, the performance falls flat. Thus his paintings are mostly a computer-assisted updating of Pop and Surrealism, equal parts James Rosenquist and Salvador Dalí (his first love), and the sculptures that mash up pop-cultural figures like Elvis and Hulk are also usually overdone. So, too, Koons often fails to inflect the three categories that are his bread and butter – kitsch, porn and classical statuary – with much edginess or even oddity; their tautological structures (‘I know porn when I see it’) appear to resist his attempts. Some of his objects cast a spell nonetheless, especially early ones such as his Hoovers presented as fetishes and his basketballs submerged in tanks of water, in a state of ‘equilibrium’ (the title of this 1985 series) that Koons likens to that of a foetus in a womb as well as to a state of grace (is there a pro-life message here?). He is also able to fascinate with objects that are not at all, physically, what they appear to be imagistically, such as Rabbit (1986), a bunny cast in stainless steel and finished to the point where it looks exactly like the cheap plastic of the inflatable toy that is its model. This is a talismanic piece for Koons, for it confirmed his shift from the relatively simple device of the readymade to the very painstaking one of the facsimile. Here he adapts the unusual genre, ambiguously positioned between art and craft, of the trompe-l’oeil object (the pictorial version of such illusionism is familiar enough), exactly reproducing a tacky curio (such as a Bob Hope statuette) or an ephemeral trifle (a balloon animal) in an unexpected material like stainless steel. Koons thus renders the thing (which is already a multiple) a weird simulation of itself, at once faithful and distorted; and, paradoxically, this illusionism reveals a basic truth about the ontological status of countless objects in our world, where the opposition between original and copy or model and replica is completely undone.

With this illusionism, as Scott Rothkopf, the curator of the retrospective, points out, Koons turns the readymade on its head, transforming cheap nick-nacks into ultra-expensive luxuries. His ‘Celebration’ series (1994-2006) includes twenty large sculptures of cracked-open eggs, balloon figures, hanging hearts and diamond rings; cast in high-chromium stainless steel, coated with transparent colour and polished to a mirror shine, they are inspired by the gifts we exchange on such occasions as birthdays, Valentine’s Day and weddings. These deluxe outsize decorations might strike even jaded viewers with the ‘amazement’ the young Koons felt in front of his cereal box; certainly they are fit for a king – or an oligarch.

What is the point of this art? Koons claims he wants to relieve us of our shame, which is why he focuses on two subjects where humiliation runs deep – sex and class. ‘I was just trying to say that whatever you respond to is perfect, that your history and your own cultural background are perfect,’ he remarks of the tschotskes (like the Bob Hope statuette) reworked in his ‘Banality’ series (1988), in language not unlike that of a cult therapist who has drunk his own Kool-Aid. Yet here too his work is more effective when our shame – or our ambivalence at least – is triggered, not wished away. When Koons desexualises sex, as in the images worked up with his ex-wife, the Hungarian porn star and Italian politician Ilona Staller (aka La Cicciolina), in the ‘Made in Heaven’ series (1989-91), there is little charge. Yet when he sexualises ‘things that are normally not sexualised’, as he puts it, such as children, flowers and animals, an edgy unease is sometimes the result.

Consider the porcelain boy and girl of Naked (1988). Rather than an Edenic purity, these pre-pubescent twins evoke a nasty prurience; they also gaze into an abundant flower that looks as though it might hold a dark Bataillean secret about the true nature of sexual organs. Koons makes his animals even more polymorphously perverse (based on toys and curios, they are creepily semi-human to begin with). Take Rabbit again. The bunny is an infantile thing, but it is also an adult symbol of rampant sex, and this one is erect in all its bulbous parts; Koons refers to it as ‘The Great Masturbator’ after a 1929 painting by Dalí. Or take Balloon Dog (1994-2000), which at first appears as innocent as its birthday-party inspiration. ‘But at the same time,’ as Koons says, ‘it’s a Trojan horse. There are other things here that are inside: maybe the sexuality of the piece.’ And after a while it does begin to look like a poupée by Hans Bellmer reworked for a super-rich kid. Edgier still is the sexuality suggested in Bear and Policeman (1988), a polychromed wood piece that shows a big cartoonish bear in a childish striped shirt looking down on a boyish bobby (whose whistle the bear is about to blow), and inMichael Jackson and Bubbles (also 1988), a well known porcelain piece that shows the King of Pop cuddling with his pet chimp (Koons predicts a whitened Jackson here). The two sculptures point to an illicit love that crosses not only generations but also species, and Bear and Policeman implies a further joke about English pop culture (the juvenile bobby) being schooled by the bigger, badder American version (the papa bear).

‘My work’ is meant to ‘liberate people from judgment’, Koons told Sylvester: ‘I’ve always been aware of art’s discriminative powers, and I’ve always been really opposed to it.’ And Rothkopf feels that Koons has indeed ‘achieved a kind of democratic levelling of culture’. Yet as with sex, so with class: his work is more effective when it sharpens our sense of social difference and tweaks our guilt about bad taste. Thus in the bar accessories that Koons made over in stainless steel in his ‘Luxury and Degradation’ series (1986), his ice pail, travel bar and the Baccarat crystal set register class distinctions rather precisely. And in the kitschy curios of the ‘Banality’ series we are not released from judgment so much as invited to entertain a campy distance from lowbrow desires or even a snobbish contempt for them.

In a telling moment Koons tells Sylvester that his work is ‘conceptual’ in that it uses aesthetics as a ‘psychological tool’. And at the end of the conversation he makes an extraordinary remark:

What I’ve always loved about the Pop vocabulary is its generosity to the viewer. And I say ‘generosity to the viewer’ because people, everyday, are confronted by images, and confronted by products that are packaged. And it puts the individual under great stress to feel packaged themselves … And so I always desire … to be able to give a viewer a sense of themselves being packaged, to whatever level they’re looking for. Just to instil a sense of self-confidence, self-worth. That’s my interest in Pop.

This credo fits in well with the therapy culture long dominant in American society (the only good ego is a strong ego, one that can beat back any unhappy neurosis), but it also suits a neoliberal ideology that seeks to promote our ‘self-confidence’ and ‘self-worth’ as human capital – that is, as skill-sets we are compelled to develop as we shift from one precarious job to another. When the perfectly presented boy in The New Jeff Koonslooks into the future, perhaps what he sees is us.




Jun. 20, 2014

From A.i.A.’s Koons Archive: Gary Indiana Reviews Koons’s Gallery Debut

Jeff Koons, Moses, 1985. Framed Nike poster; 45 1⁄2 x 31 1⁄2 inches. Edition 1/2. The Sonnabend Collection and the Sonnabend Estate. © Jeff Koons 




In the run-up to Jeff Koons’s first New York museum solo, opening this month at the Whitney Museum of American Art (June 27-Oct. 19), A.i.A. offers some of our writers’ observations on the artist from the archives. Here, a review by writer, filmmaker and artist Gary Indiana of Koon’s first gallery show, at New York’s International With Monument, from our November 1985 issue. This unusually poetic show of framed sportswear ads, bronze casts of sports and flotation equipment, and basketballs in water tanks possessed an internal coherence surprising for the diversity of the pieces, and carried a feeling of somber reverie quite at odds with the whimsical materials it used. As an ensemble, Koons’s show was unified by a preoccupation with physical gravity and metaphoric entropy. There were the ads, first of all, ranged along the gallery walls, each proposing some ideal states of being: blacks in tennis sneakers costumed as knights, as Moses, as Chairmen of the Board, balancing basketballs in their large hands or otherwise participating simultaneously in “the world of sports” and the real world of power relations, physical mastery and socioeconomic advantage paired in media fantasies. These pictures were extracted from a real series of Nike ads, beautifully contrived examples of mercantile allegory. Lifesaving and rescue were more specifically indexed by the bronze diving equipment and a small lifeboat, complete with useless bronze oars. The means of survival in the medium of water are rendered in these pieces as weighted, encumbering death traps, polished in places to shine and attract, but mainly crumpled looking, as if they’d been retrieved from the site of some disaster at sea, or hauled up from newly charted depths. Along with a bronze soccer ball and a bronze basketball, these works hint at perils hidden in our fondest assumptions—physical, social, whatever. Finally, the aquarium tanks situated throughout the gallery contained balls suspended illogically at fixed depths, neither floating nor sinking. These, conceivably, symbolize an unvarying actual state of things existing beneath the hyperactive surface of life—not death, exactly, which causes matter to continue doing things, nor what one would care to call life, but a state like narcolepsy, in which just enough energy accumulates and gets expended to maintain immobility. This (I think) is Koons’s metaphor for current conditions in the biosphere—in art, culture and the social world. Koons puts this all across with such finesse and amiability that I could be completely mistaken about it, but the show did invite interpretation.


When Jeff Koons painted Michel Jackson white
(Credit: Photo by Dalbéra, Jean-Pierre)

m porcelain to stainless steel.Jeff Koons, "Gazing Ball (Mailboxes)" (2013), plaster and glass, 58 1/2 x 130 3/16 x 24 1/2 inches (148.6 x 330.7 x 62.2 cm) (click to enlarge)

The Sculptor, Installation view Liebieghaus
Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988
Metallic Venus, 2010–12



Jeff Koons’s new sculptures

Sexy contemporary antiquities

Goddesses, hulks and cartoons inspire Jeff Koons












AMERICA’S most famous living artist, Jeff Koons, is an ambitious perfectionist. He experiments with digital technologies, pushing materials to their limits and testing craftsmen’s skills, while taking care to hide the evidence of these processes. A Koons piece is always partly about the exquisite appearance of the final product.

Six long-awaited new Koons sculptures are being unveiled this summer. “Balloon Swan” made its debut at the Beyeler Foundation in the Swiss town of Basel during the art fair. The 11.5-foot (3.5-metre), stainless-steel bird, with a shiny magenta finish, is the latest instalment in the artist’s bestselling “Celebration” series. The series was originally conceived as a way for Mr Koons to communicate with his estranged son after he and his Italian wife were divorced. An earlier work in the same range, “Hanging Heart”, briefly made Mr Koons the world’s most expensive living artist when it sold for $23.6m in 2007.

The series has always had a perverse side, but “Balloon Swan” is arguably the most sexually evocative so far. Mr Koons sees the sculpture as a “totem” that is “phallic from the front” but displays “sexual harmony on the side”. From the back, he points out, its buttocks look like breasts.

Sex has long been a Koons theme, so it is remarkable that he has waited until now to make classic full-bodied female nudes. In Frankfurt at the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, as part of a 44-piece sculpture retrospective, he has unveiled two goddesses of love. “Balloon Venus” looks like a “Celebration” sculpture but is actually the first work in the artist’s new “Antiquity” series. Inspired by the Venus of Willendorf, a tiny fertility goddess discovered in Austria and dating from around 23,000BC, Mr Koons’s sculpture proposes a new kind of idol—a high-tech grande dame whose untouchable polished surfaces reflect the viewer. Where the goddess is corpulent, Mr Koons’s Venus is palpably pregnant. For Mr Koons creativity and procreativity stem from the same root; his current wife, Justine, is expecting his eighth child.

“Metallic Venus” (2010), a saucy gal, marks a more dramatic departure from Mr Koons’s earlier style. The glossy turquoise statue includes a planter of living white petunias. The flowers are an odd touch, suggesting a Pygmalionesque desire to bring her to life. Venus was the Roman goddess of prosperity and victory as well as love. More than any of Mr Koons’s other new works, “Metallic Venus” feels like a dazzling trophy made for the super-rich.

Thanks to improvements in three- dimensional-scanning technology, “Metallic Venus” was made in only 18 months, which is fast by Koons standards. By contrast, two of the other new works at the Liebieghaus—“Hulk (Friends)” and “Hulks (Bell)”—took eight years to make. (Collectors who paid in advance for the works may complain that they are still waiting, but it is fashionable to have a multimillion-dollar Koons on order.) The artist explains that initially the technology was not good enough to do what he wanted and the Hulks “got trapped” in a spiral of “reverse engineering, endless scanning and re-detailing”. Mr Koons strives hard to create convincing illusions. The “Hulks” are painted bronze depictions of the inflatable toys that stand in for the green macho man; they look as light as air and have a finish that resembles plastic.

Mr Koons sees the “Hulk” and “Popeye” (the subject of the summer’s sixth new sculpture) as self-portraits. It is intriguing that a slim intellectual known for his classy business suits likes to represent himself as a pumped-up muscleman. “Popeye” is a stainless-steel statue in an unusually large range of translucent colours. He holds a silver tin of emerald-green spinach that could also be a pot of money. The messianic figure’s show of physical power is absurd but real.

Mr Koons’s icons are spectacular—and unrivalled. His figures have rich associations, immaculate shapes and luxurious materials. They speak to a global elite that believes in the holy trinity of sex, art and money. Art collectors enjoy seeing themselves reflected in what they buy.




Lunch with the FT

August 21, 2009 2:38 pm

Lunch with the FT: Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons

This may be something of a first for Lunch with the FT. So improbably blue is the summer sky over central London, and so unusually warm the temperature, that Jeff Koons wants to eat al fresco. So we dispense with the troublesome business of restaurants altogether and order a picnic, which we will eat, by special arrangement, on the roof of the Serpentine gallery, in the heart of Hyde Park, where his latest show Popeye Series is on display.

We step outside the gallery’s first-floor offices, and a couple of staff enjoying a crafty cigarette come scuttling back in to give us our privacy. There are chairs, a table and a parasol already set up, as well as a sumptuous spread of healthy summer food, including roast aubergine, beef, grilled sea bass and a tomato salad. We have a personal waiter. I order a glass of white wine, Koons has Diet Coke. The scene is weirdly idyllic, hidden from public view, although we are able to observe the goings-on below.

Koons, as ever, is dressed immaculately, in a suit and tie, and perfectly manicured. He moves round the table, so that we can both shelter from the sun, and seems to want to play host. He is courteous and boyish, looking younger than his 54 years, and radiates a kind of innocent charm that makes me think of a Frank Capra movie.

Lunch with the FT

Koons’s life can’t get much more wonderful. He is one of contemporary art’s most renowned practitioners, with spectacular rewards to match. He vies, as auction records tumble, with Lucian Freud and Damien Hirst for the title of the world’s most expensive living artist. In recent years, his giant, highly polished sculptures of seemingly trivial subjects – balloons, dogs, dolphins, rabbits – have been among the most sought-after art works of the new century. Two years ago, one of his “Hanging Heart” series – a magenta heart, cast in stainless steel and weighing 1,600kg – sold at Sotheby’s for $23.6m.

Critical opinion is divided, to say the least, over Koons’s work. He is castigated for the slickness of his product, and the pretentious claims he makes for it; but he is also lauded for his cleverness in combining the monumental effect of high art with the cheap pleasures of the banal. He has, according to veteran critic Robert Hughes, “the slimy assurance … of a blow-dried Baptist selling swamp acres in Florida”. But even this denigrator-in-chief admits: “The result is that you can’t imagine America’s singularly depraved culture without him.”

In the gallery downstairs, spectators are sidling curiously around the new show. There are more creations on offer – aluminium sculptures of inflatable pool toys entangled in trash cans and plastic chairs – as well as the giant Popeye paintings: busy, brash canvasses surround their eponymous hero with a wealth of extraneous detail.

I notice that all the visitors have smiles on their faces, particularly when they stop to study the sculptures, in thrall to the optical illusion that makes their hard metal finish look like inflatable plastic. I ask a gallery attendant if people want to touch them. “I want to touch them,” she says with surprising passion. This doesn’t feel like a depraved culture at play; it is, rather, as if a spell has been cast that has turned us all into five-year-olds.

Up on the roof, picking at our starters, I recount my observation to Koons. “You know, I enjoy real inflatables,” he says earnestly. “A lobster pool toy: it’s a wonderful thing, it has such a great optimism to it. But it won’t last. A real toy, within three months, would become soft. Its shape would be distorted, it would eventually lose its air. So the only way it can maintain its optimism and power is to transform it into a different material.” He makes it sound like he is performing a public service.

I remark that the innocence of the image is belied by the way his “toys” are enmeshed with other objects such as fences or trash cans. What is that all about?

“I went through a custody situation some years back with my son Ludwig, and I wanted to make a body of work that featured objects going through things, but not becoming distorted. It is important in life, when you’re faced with a challenge, not to have that cause trauma or make you lose your path. I believe in being able to keep your life energy in a very optimistic direction, not allowing trauma to take place.

“I was in Rome and saw this tree growing through a chain link fence, and I looked closely. It was interesting, but I was a little turned off by the trauma and the distortion. So I thought I could make these things, and they would go through other objects but they would maintain their course, and remain optimistic.”

This is narrated deadpan, and with evident sincerity. The child-like candour of Koons’s remarks does indeed feel like he is casting a spell. I feel, after listening to his analysis, that there is no disjunction whatsoever between the world of inflatable pool toys and the symptoms of psychic well-being. A fake lobster has become a signifier of mental resilience, suddenly invested with the moral seriousness of a Crucifixion scene.

The custody battle, after all, was palpable enough. It came after the breakdown of Koons’s heavily publicised marriage in the early 1990s to Ilona Staller, better known as La Cicciolina, porn star and Italian politician, who absconded to Italy with their son, now aged 16.

That trauma must have been very real, I say. Did he ever feel like addressing it more directly in his art?

He admits that the experience made him lose faith in humanity. “When I felt there were injustices against myself and my son, the only way I could get through it was to turn to my art, reflecting my moral position to my audience, and taking my ability to communicate with people even more seriously. I came out of it a stronger person, a stronger artist, a stronger human being.”

The Serpentine show is not Koons’s only significant London presence this year. A forthcoming exhibition at Tate Modern, Pop Life: Art in a Material World, will feature the artist’s “Made in Heaven”, a series of sexually explicit photographs that he made with his ex-wife, which scandalised the Venice Biennale, and the rest of the world besides, in 1991.

Most of us would feel a little sheepish to have those intimacies recalled; but Koons doesn’t do sheepish. “I feel very proud of that work.” he says. “It was about the removal of guilt and shame. I saw Masaccio’s ‘Expulsion [from the Garden of Eden]’ in Florence and I immediately thought I would like to make a body of work that was situated after the Fall, but without the guilt and the shame.”

Which meant that he didn’t believe in a Fall at all?

No, he says. The lesson of “Made in Heaven” was self-acceptance. “If you can’t accept yourself, how can you go on to achieve any kind of transcendence? You are distancing yourself from the concept of life and how life functions.

“There is one work, ‘Ilona’s Asshole’, which I have always particularly enjoyed.” (The photograph is as described, and also features a penetration scene, in ruthless detail). “To have the confidence to reveal oneself so intimately, to be so at ease with one’s own body. It is quite beautiful,” Koons says.

His work, he insists, is designed to appeal to everyone. “I have seen how works of art can be used against people, how they can be demanding and intimidating, by the suggestion that you can’t enjoy or understand them unless you have read this piece of literature, or know that piece of mythology. It is total disempowerment. But art has the ability to achieve the absolute opposite of that.”

But his art also made coded references that wouldn’t be understood by everyone, I say: even the seemingly innocent “Popeye” paintings were full of references to Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly.

“But you don’t need any of that. That’s my fun and my interest, but it is not necessarily the viewer’s interest. The works are totally open to the viewer. They invite the viewer in. And whatever the viewer’s history is, it’s perfect. This is a subconscious dialogue that is taking place, and the art is happening inside them. Everything of value and importance is occurring inside them.”

We talk about Koons’s most famous work, his “Puppy”, a giant, 43ft sculpture composed of 60,000 plants and flowers that currently stands guard outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. He says he conceived the work in Germany. Louis XIV was on his mind, and he found himself wondering what the Sun King would be imagining as he looked out of the window. “And I thought, maybe he would want to see a sculpture of a giant puppy made out of flowers … ”

Whoa, slow down, I say. Why on earth would Louis XIV want to see a sculpture of a puppy made out of flowers? “Because the most profound question in art is, do you want to be the server or do you want to be served? When you come home to a puppy at night, do you look at it and say, ‘Go and get my paper’, or do you roll it over and say, ‘How are you doing, boy?’ ”

The stream of consciousness is bewildering, but we move swiftly on. Koons’s loquacity means that he is barely touching his lunch.

“It has been embraced by the people of Bilbao. There are lots of weddings there. It has brought a lot of happiness to the place. And another interesting thing about it, Peter, is that it can’t be planted incorrectly. There are 60,000 decisions to be made and none of them is wrong.”

But a puppy is a puppy. I ask how he feels to have his work labelled as kitsch, a description he famously resists.

“When you use words like that, it feels like people are throwing tomatoes at me. These words reflect segregation and judgment, and I don’t believe in judgment. These images and objects are things that I am curious about. A child is open to everything, and accepting of everything. The highest state of being is acceptance. When you segregate, you create a hierarchy. But everything has its own beauty.”

Seeing the beauty in everything has made a lot of money for Koons. His well-rehearsed reaction to his work fetching such staggering prices is that he is glad it will be looked after, “because people tend to protect what they pay a lot of money for”. Other than that, he says, economic values “are a reflection of how you serve your community. I take it as an honour. When there is a time when [my works] are not seen as significant, I am sure those values will change.”

He collects art himself, much of which is in his Manhattan home. “Poussin, Dali, Picasso, Magritte, Picabia. Some Egyptian antiquities. And Manet – I have the last significant nude that Manet did in 1879. These are the things that give meaning to me. When you believe something is a masterpiece, it can change your life and the way you view things.”

He talks eagerly of a future project for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in which a steam train engine will be suspended from a giant crane. He describes it for me: “It will do everything a train does – choo, choo! – and then it will get faster and faster, it will inhale and exhale and then a noise will come from its braking – hsssss – and then – whoo, whoo! – it will reach this orgasmic plateau … ”

It is a When Harry Met Sally moment. I order what Koons is having (coffee). I say the piece feels sad to me, because the train won’t actually be going anywhere.

“And it is also a technology that is already in the past,” he adds. “It is very much a symbol. Once you are born, you are already participating in time. You have to become aware of your own mortality.”

It is, before long, time to come off the roof. Is this a great time to be producing art? I ask. “It’s a great time to be alive.”



Q. & A. | Jeff Koons on His New Champagne-Filled Balloon Sculpture and the DNA of Art History

This fall, an incredibly rare, highly valuable object created by Jeff Koons will become available for purchase. Two, actually. It’s up to you to decide whether to spend tens of millions on “Balloon Dog (Orange),” the massive sculpture being sold by the collector Peter Brant in November at a Christie’s auction (where it is expected to fetch between $35 million and $55 million), or the somewhat more reasonable figure of $20,000 on “Balloon Venus for Dom Pérignon,” the artist’s limited-edition Champagne-filled collectible made for the luxury brand. T spoke with Koons about the project and his forthcoming 2014 career retrospective at the Whitney, which will be the museum’s final exhibition in the iconic Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue.


How did the collaboration come about?


I very rarely do anything with brands. I worked with BMW to do an art car, and the reason I did that was because of the artists who had participated before, so I would have a dialogue with their work. With Dom Pérignon, other artists had been involved in their program. I wanted to participate in that dialogue. Also, they stand for quality — the same kind of quality that I like to attribute to my work.

How did you go about interpreting Dom Pérignon as a physical object?
They asked me if I would make something to contain the bottle, but with a special serving ritual. So I thought that I’d like to place it inside the Venus. It represents, for me, the continuum of life energy. I think of Titian’s “Bacchanal” paintings with the satyrs and the nymphs. All of the celebrations and the ritual of celebrating life energy.

What has led you to be so interested in this Venus figure? It’s been recurring in your work for a couple of years now.
It plays with scale. And its ability to be both masculine and feminine. It’s a feminine object, but its density, and maybe the patina of it, has a masculine quality. … I have been interested in narrative. If we look at human history, the only narrative of human history that we have is our genes and our DNA. Every other narrative is developed by political motivations. So the true human history is our genes and DNA. There’s an aspect of consciousness — consciousness is making connections. The way art works is connections. The more connections something makes, the more it imitates life itself. So if I am making a reference to Manet and Manet is referencing Velazquez and Velazquez is making a reference to Ariadne, the whole way back through this type of linkage is really like a replication of the way genes and DNA connect. I like to believe you can manipulate and form your own genes. These connections and ties that we make, the sense of family and the warmth that we take from that, I don’t think it goes without effect biologically.

What chromosome have you contributed to the DNA of art history?
It’s more an aspect of affecting consciousness in a way, rather than any specific physical traits. I am really very interested in the exercising of freedom. The freedom of an artist to absolutely experience enlightenment and total consciousness. Absolute freedom. That is the desire. How close we allow ourselves to participate in freedom, that’s another matter. …

Last spring you presented exhibitions at two competing galleries simultaneously. Was that a statement of freedom or of power?
Pretty good that you picked up on that. I have always had the freedom to show with any gallery that I’ve wanted to. We hear about these galleries, and they’ve become so big and so global in their identities, so everybody starts to focus on the galleries instead of the art. I wanted to do a show that felt very much on a street level, that a young artist could interact with. Before galleries were so global, artists used to have relationships with different gallerists. You would have somebody represent you in London and you would have somebody represent you in Berlin. Another friend in Spain and another one in Chicago. When galleries became global, these types of friendships disappeared. Because the galleries have a competing commercial interest. So, you might as well show at multiple galleries in your hometown. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all.

You are about to have the last exhibition at the Whitney Museum’s original home on Madison Avenue. Obviously, that is quite momentous, but there are two sides to it. One is that it feels significantly overdue for you to have a solo exhibition at a New York museum. But it also feels like a remarkable tribute that you are having the final exhibition at that space.
At first I was kind of mixed. When I was invited to be the closing show, I was like, “Do I really want to be the last show, or do I want to be the first show at the new museum?” Then I realized all of the incredible exhibitions that I had experienced at the Whitney and how it had changed my life. And the Breuer building is an incredible building, and I was absolutely thrilled they were able to make the whole building available for the exhibition. So I’m absolutely thrilled. It could not be in a more meaningful space.








I met Robert Plant maybe a year ago, and I told him, ‘You basically taught me how to feel.’ “—-Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons doesn’t necessarily look like an artist—and certainly not one who’s been slaving away in a garrison. In fact, he often looks more like he’s running for office, dressed in a suit and tie, his hair neatly cropped, an effervescent smile perpetually at the ready. But few artists truly embody their approach to making art as fully as Koons does. He is as All-American as it gets, a son of the Rust Belt (the industrial burg of York, Pennsylvania, to be specific) with an unbridled affinity for concepts that many artists actively try to disavow, like consumerism, accessibility, and populism.

In creating his work, Koons operates more like the self-made CEO of a small corporate enterprise, directing and project-managing it into being with the support of a staff of more than 100 artisans and assistants in his West Chelsea studio. But the fact that Koons’s life as an artist began as an off-hours endeavor supported by day jobs, working at the membership desk at the Museum of Modern Art and as a commodities broker on Wall Street, and eventually led to a robust retrospective in 2008 at the Château de Versailles—the same year Koons’s pieces reportedly sold for a cumulative $117.2 million at auction—tells you all you need to know about the kind of populist mythmaking that has frequently colored, and often fueled, his art. His work has drawn on the broad iconography of everything from Roman statues and classical busts to Michael Jackson, Popeye, balloon dogs, and household objects like basketballs and Hoover vacuum cleaners, playing with scale and context like some parallax fusion of Duchamp, Dalí, and Disney. Koons has also liberally inserted himself into is work, sometimes explicitly, as in his controversial Made in Heaven series, which was first exhibited in 1990, and more often through his runaway ambition and perfectionism, as in Celebration, a long-gestating cycle begun during a period when Koons was going through a divorce and faced near-bankruptcy.

Koons, of course, has not only rebounded over the last decade, but flourished, producing a prodigious amount of work, including his Popeye series, his bronze-and-wood Hulks (Bell), and his magenta Balloon Venus and turquoise Metallic Venus pieces. In 2012, he was the subject of two connected large-scale exhibitions in Frankfurt, Germany—one at the Schirn Kunsthalle, which focused primarily on his paintings, and another at the Liebieghaus featuring his sculptural work. The Whitney is also in the process of planning a major retrospective of his work set to open in 2014, and in September, it was announced that Koons would be consulting with New York State on designs for a new Tappan Zee Bridge.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell recently visited with Koons, 57, at his studio in New York City.

NAOMI CAMPBELL: You had an interesting exhibition titled “Popeye Series” in London [in 2009]. Why that Popeye image in particular?

JEFF KOONS: I think I was drawn to Popeye because it makes reference to our paternal generation, like the parents of people of my generation. I would think that to people like my father, and the people of his generation, Popeye is like a male priapist. So if you think in ancient terms, he would have a harem, a symbol of male energy. Popeye takes that spinach, and strength comes-art kind of brings that transcendence into our life, so I like these parallels. This enhancement of sensation. I think art teaches us how to feel, what our parameters can be, what sensations can be like; it makes you more engaged with life.

CAMPBELL: Some of your artwork has been sold for enormous prices. I know the Balloon Flower [Balloon Flower (Magenta)] sold for more than 12 million pounds. Do you see it as a mark of recognition, or is it completely academic to you?

KOONS: I think that it is some sign from society that at least some individuals find some worth in the piece and it is worth protecting and saving, that there is some cultural value. When things become more expensive, you would believe—or you would like to believe—that people want to protect them because they want to safeguard this storage, this kind of a value. But at the end of the day, the artistic experience is about finding your own parameters—for myself as an artist, having as intense and as vivid a life experience as possible-and then to trying to communicate that to others.

CAMPBELL: Your famous sculpture Puppy, in Bilbao, is about 40 feet high. What kind of challenges did it present to you?

KOONS: To make any artwork is always to be open to everything. I’d just had my “Made in Heaven” exhibition, and I’d really opened myself up for the baroque and the rococo. I became aware of those floral sculptures of Northern Italy and Bavaria. So I thought, Oh, it would be nice to make a living work, a work that shows the lifecycle just like an individual. There are also technical aspects of creating something like Puppy because you want to make it as economically viable as possible and also ensure that it functions and supports the lifecycle of these plants. Climates go to different extremes, so you want to make it flexible for different locations. When I first had the idea for Puppy, I thought, Oh, in the winter, Puppy could become this ice sculpture. But climates change so much today, that you are not allowed to do that.

CAMPBELL: So there is no right or wrong way of doing Puppy?


CAMPBELL: Michael Jackson and Bubbles is another famous piece of yours. There seems to be a lot of humor underlying your work. It this the key factor?

KOONS: You know, I met Bubbles, but I never got to meet Michael.

CAMPBELL: I met Michael, but not Bubbles.

KOONS: So it’s a kind of yin and yang. When I made that sculpture, Naomi, I was very much in awe of Michael’s talent. His breadth in so many different things . . . He was a live sensation, and I was always very intrigued by that. So I was really trying to communicate to people self-acceptance, and that whatever their history is, it has its purpose. I needed kind of spiritual, authoritative figures there to let people feel it’s okay, that you can go along with this self-acceptance of your own cultural history or the things that motivate you. So Michael was there as a contemporary Christ. If you look at the sculpture, it actually is like the Pietà. It has the same configuration, the triangular aspect, so it’s making reference to that. He is there like a contemporary Christ figure to assure people that it’s okay.

CAMPBELL: It’s nice to hear you speak about self-acceptance. You seem to care about people on a deeper level.

KOONS: People have always enjoyed looking at my work and presenting it for something else. My work is very anti-criticism, anti-judgment. Because of that, automatically there is some kind of energy. People who want to look at art on a very surface level, can go against the work in an easy manner. They will refer to it as kitsch.

CAMPBELL: I don’t like that word.

KOONS: I don’t like that word either because even using that word is making a judgment.

CAMPBELL: I think it’s a bullshit word—it’s a word people use just because they do not have a real understanding of what it means.

KOONS: You know, blaming the messenger always happens. I remember in 1986 when I made my Luxury & Degradation body of work. People would like to write this off as some blame-type thing. But it’s really about abstraction. It’s about awe and wonder. I’m from Pennsylvania, and when you go out for a drive in Pennsylvania, quite a few people in the community have a gazing ball in their front yard—like a glass reflective ball—on a stand. [To assistant] Lauran, can you bring up a gazing ball?

CAMPBELL: Do we have those in London?

KOONS: I don’t know. In Germany, in the 19th century, King Ludwig II of Bavaria helped bring back the gazing ball. I think in Victorian times there were a lot of gazing balls. It’s a way of people being generous to their neighbors. [Shifts attention to computer screen] Okay, this is one image of the gazing ball. You’ve seen them?

CAMPBELL: Yes, I have.

KOONS: That’s my Rabbit. If you think of the head of my Rabbit, the reason I made my Rabbit was to make reference to this type of generosity. The reason people would put [a reflective ball] out in the yard is, I think, for their neighbor to enjoy when they go by.

CAMPBELL: You started at the Art Institute in Chicago.

KOONS: I did my last year of school in Chicago, and ended up staying there for a year or so later. Originally, I went to Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, but I transferred to Chicago because of the artist collective the Hairy Who. As a young artist, I was able to learn personal iconography through artists like Jim Nutt and Ed Paschke. So it’s learning a vocabulary that helps you learn how to feel and how to make other people feel and experience.

CAMPBELL: Salvador Dalí is cited as one of your utmost influences, is that right? What in his work has particularly inspired you?

KOONS: I would have to say the surreal nature of it. You are young and you don’t know what art can be—you don’t know when you are older either—but the first part is the self-acceptance, this inward journey. Surrealism is very much about going inward. I always felt like that about Dalí. He was the first artist I got involved with after my parents got me a coffee-table book of his work. When I was 17, I called Dalí and asked him if he would meet me. And he told me, “Sure, just come to New York.” We met at the St. Regis hotel, and he asked me if I wanted to go see his exhibition at the gallery. I met him at the gallery and he posed for some photos. So his generosity was great.

CAMPBELL: Wow! So you came from Pennsylvania?

KOONS: No, from Baltimore then. It was very generous of him to take the time for some young artist. To answer your question, Dalí was very innovative. And there were many things he toyed with that really affected the art world. I think that pop art is very much based on and reflected on a lot of Dalí’s work. The idea of the Madonna . . . So the Pope was visiting New York, and Dalí saw his image in the newspaper, he zoomed into a photograph of the Pope’s ear and he painted a Madonna and child. It’s all Band-Aid dots. There was never anything like that before. It affected young artists. There were no Warhol silk screens. This is the ground floor.

CAMPBELL: I’ve read that sometimes you use a large number of assistants and you have a color-code system so they are able to paint a large volume of artwork in a short space of time. Do you think that masters like Van Gogh or Rembrandt would have been shocked or amused by this approach?


KOONS: Each painting takes from a year and a half to two years, so I wouldn’t be able to make between six and eight paintings a year. But because I am doing other activities—I want to make sculptures, I want to work on other projects—I can’t sit and paint all day. If I could, it would be wonderful. Then it would probably take me four years to make a painting, or maybe I’d change my technique and it would not be so realistic. But the reason for this is to be able to have this type of control that every gesture is the way I would do it, every color is controlled, the way the paint is applied is controlled. It’s not as if I have assistants and I’m like, “Okay, go and make something and I’ll come and sign it.” Everything is a system to control every gesture as if I did it.

CAMPBELL: I know that your wife [Justine Koons] is an artist. Do you work together sometimes, or do you create art independently?

KOONS: Our whole life is a collaboration. We have six children together. We just had our sixth child.

CAMPBELL: Oh, my god. Congratulations!

KOONS: Art in our family is the meaning of life. It’s an extension of our lives. Justine used to work at the studio, and I met her through a friend that worked at the studio—she is very artistic. We’ve been working on some jewelry projects together and she’s been very involved in—

CAMPBELL: Raising the family.

KOONS: Raising the family. She’s been a little distant from the studio itself. She makes her own drawings and paintings and jewelry.

CAMPBELL: Any signs in your kids that they might want to pick up a paintbrush? Obviously, kids do pick up paintbrushes . . .

KOONS: Our daughter is maybe picking up more signs from your line of work. She is very feminine. Her favorite book is Shoe-la-la! It’s about girls shopping for shoes.

CAMPBELL: I know this book.

KOONS: But all of our kids are bright, artistic, and talented.

CAMPBELL: Would you agree that art is everywhere in life: in advertising, TV commercials, album covers?

KOONS: I think that there are externalized things-the things that we come across—and art eventually becomes objectified as these external things. But real art experience has connections just like consciousness itself. The heart of this is the experience.

CAMPBELL: There are many people who describe your work as inspired by consumerism. Do you think that there are any parallels with the Warhol approach?

KOONS: Well, I think I am inspired by the world around me. I think everybody is. Ed Paschke told me as a young artist, “Everything is all here. You just have to look for it.” The only thing you can do in life is follow your interests. I try to kind of accept everything and have everything in play. No matter what it is, it’s okay—I can use it. So there are aspects of desire that I am interested in. There are also aspects of consumerism in my work, absolutely: heightened experience, display, and also dealing with class structure and trying to, in a way, level it. But my work has always been about acceptance and dismantling this hierarchy system of judgment where there is only one way to look at something and you must know something to be involved in. You don’t have to know anything. It’s about your own possibilities, our own insight.

CAMPBELL: What was the first piece you sold?


KOONS: Well, truly the first work I sold, my father would have sold it for me. My father was an interior decorator and he had a furniture store in Pennsylvania. He had a showroom window in our town of York. He was very, very supportive of my interest in art. I would make paintings and he would have them framed and put them in the showroom window. As a 9-year-old child, I would sell a painting for $900. Maybe it was not $900—maybe it was $300. I remember they sold one piece at $900. But after art school, my first artwork I sold was to Patrick Lannan. He is deceased now, but he headed the Lannan Foundation. He bought my first Hoover that I ever made. He came to my studio and he liked the work and said, “You know, Jeff, when I started off, I sold Hoovers door-to-door.”

CAMPBELL: No! He totally connected to it.

KOONS: He did. What’s interesting is that I used the vacuum cleaner in my work because I was making reference to that knock on the door that you would get in the ’50s from the Hoover salesmen.

CAMPBELL: Do you consider art a good commodity?

KOONS: I like to think of art more as an experience. Is it good or bad? It has information just like the library has information that helps us to stay alive. It has the ability to condense information to what’s really important and critical. It deals with archetypes. It has the essence of all human history in it, so it’s a shame that an economic aspect comes into it.

CAMPBELL: Does music play a big part in your life?

KOONS: When I was younger, I was very moved by Led Zeppelin. When I was about 16, I have a vivid memory of wanting life to be more interesting and listening to their music driving around in my car . . .

CAMPBELL: Blasting?

KOONS: Can be blasting, but really starting to get in contact with aspects of sociology and philosophy from the music. I met Robert Plant maybe a year ago, and I told him, “You basically taught me how to feel.”

CAMPBELL: You had a small part in Gus Van Sant’s film Milk [2008] as the character aptly named Art Agnos. Did you enjoy the experience?

KOONS: I did. Gus saw me on Today or some news program, and he told me that he thought, That’s my Art Agnos! And the experience was fantastic. Sean Penn was wonderful and very supportive of me not being an actor. James Franco was also very supportive. It was interesting, because the whole acting process about being in the moment—it was a philosophical experience for me, just as an artist, to try to be engaged with my life. At different moments, I kind of snapped myself into, “Wait a minute, I am here, this is it!”

CAMPBELL: You like spending money. It’s said the Celebration series almost bankrupted you. Apart from your projects, what is the biggest luxury in your life?

KOONS: Being able to make things. My family and I have a farm in Pennsylvania, and we love it there. Our children can run wild. I don’t have sports cars . . .

CAMPBELL: You have a truck.

KOONS: Yeah, I have a truck. As far as conspicuous kind of consumption, I am not really involved in that. I love art; I have artworks.

CAMPBELL: Do you collect?

KOONS: I collect. One of the most important reasons is I want to inform myself. I’ve acquired pieces that have changed my life. The Picassos I own had that effect on me. We got involved in collecting so we can educate our children that art is much bigger than their parents.

CAMPBELL: What’s left for Jeff Koons to do? What else do you want to do?

KOONS: Oh, man, I feel I have a lot to do. I feel like I have made certain things that, at times, consciously, I may not have been so aware of what I was doing—I was just doing it. You just do it. And now that I’ve gotten older, there is a certain consciousness that I have about art. I still really want to make something that is the highest state of experience for myself. I want higher states of experience, of excitement.

Naomi Campbell is a British supermodel.

Jeff Koons:

Jeff Koons: “Abstraction is a powerful weapon!”


Jeff Koons is without a doubt one of the best-known contemporary artists in the world. His sought after artwork, which is both innovative and expensive, explores current obsessions with sex and desire; race and gender; and celebrity, media, commerce, and fame. He’s been lauded by the art world, but his work has been deemed controversial and he has received criticism along the way for being kitschy! Despite any controversies, his sculptures are deep rooted in sensuality, sexuality and have a genuine concern for humanity. He is a true artist in every sense of the word!

Naomi Campbell recalls “I was fretting ahead of my meeting with Jeff Koons but this turned out to be all for nothing. Jeff looked so at ease with himself, and as a result, with all his surroundings as well. So much so that I felt that sitting across from him was a privilege and an invaluable opportunity, almost akin to a spiritual experience”. From his side, Koons did not begrudge the time necessary to explain in detail to our guest editor the idea behind his work and tell how he built his own personal “factory.”



NAOMI: Three years ago your “Popeye” exhibition was held in London. Why did you choose this cartoon hero?

KOONS: Popeye the Sailor Man was a hero of my parents’ generation. For my father and others of his age, he was something like Priapus – the symbol of manliness. He eats spinach and attains unprecedented power, and the art of this brings transcendence to our lives. I like this type of association. Art teaches us to feel, helps us realize our limits, forces us to be captivated with life.

NAOMI: Some of your works have jaw-dropping price tags. In 2008 “Balloon Flower” went for almost £13 million. Is this recognition? Does the sale price carry any significance for you?

KOONS: If the cost increases, one would like to believe that they want to preserve your work. It is a sign that people acknowledge the socio-cultural value of your creation. In this there is sense, but in the end a piece of art is an intense and vivid life experience, with which I try to share with others.

NAOMI: The height of your flower sculpture “Puppy” in Bilbao is 13 meters. Was that difficult to shape?

KOONS: I had just finished the exhibition “Made in Heaven,” so my mind was completely open to Baroque and Rococo. I learned about flower figures, which they create in northern Italy and in Bavaria in southern Germany, it wouldn’t be bad to create a living sculpture reflecting the Earth’s cycle. The “Puppy” is just this: the need to support plant life taking into account the temperature . . .

NAOMI: . . . and the passing of the seasons.

KOONS: Yes, the passing of the seasons. And this allows the sculpture to work in different climate zones. When this idea first came into my head, I thought it would be cool to do the “Puppy” as an ice sculpture. But the climate changes so quickly, and the idea didn’t take off.



NAOMI: Peter Brant (the owner of the house that publishes Interview, businessman and multimillionaire – Interview) ordered “Puppy” from you for his estate. Will you travel there to look after the sculpture?

KOONS: Right after he bought the work, I went to see him and with his whole family we discussed the nuances and wrote down instructions. I went to see him several times afterward with the changing of the seasons, but since then they have learned how to take care of the “Puppy” themselves. I would like to believe that no mishandling of the sculpture is occurring. If you give a picture of “Puppy” to a hundred children and ask them to draw it, all hundred drawings can be used for a new design. After seeing it, I, without having participated in the design of the sculpture, would almost certainly say “Wow!”

NAOMI: And here’s another work of yours, “Michael Jackson and Bubbles,” I love its humorous message. Before this I had only seen Jackson’s favorite monkey Bubbles in photos, even though I knew Michael.

KOONS: For me it was the other way around – I knew Bubbles but not Michael. But I think very highly of Michael’s talent. And in this sculpture I wanted to convey the idea of accepting oneself, that no matter what your story, it has its own special meaning. I did it in order to help people triumph over insecurity and poor self-esteem. So I choose a person with influence, whose example would show people that everything will turn out okay, that you are wonderful in your own way and just need to find motivation from within. Michael was a modern day Jesus. And if you look at the sculpture, you’ll notice a similarity with Michelangelo’s Pieta in a general sense, with a triangle at the base. This is a modern day Jesus, who tells people that all is well.

NAOMI: You seem to have such a deep sense of caring about people!

KOONS: Those that like my creations always perceive them as a symbol, as something more than just a shape. In all my work, I push back against criticism, against judgment and condemnation. And these features automatically generate a certain strength and energy. Those that see my work only in a bubble can easily judge it and call my art kitsch.

NAOMI: What an unpleasant word. Just rotten. People often say it when they don’t understand something.

KOONS: Exactly! But in using it, you start to judge. By the way, this is nothing new: They have always condemned the messenger, who simply bears bad news. Back in 1986 in the series “Luxury and Degradation” I told people that art intoxicates, that art and its abstractions are the most powerful form of communication, and that luxury actually humiliates the world. Then I started to work with reflective services. I took stainless steel – I like the proletarian aspect of this material. Some write off my methods as sinfulness and a feeling of guilt, but reality it can all be reduced to abstraction and a feeling of surprise. You know, I’m from Pennsylvania. In almost every yard there is a reflective ball. In the 19th century the King Ludwig II of Bavaria brought back the fashionability of such “magical” crystal balls. And it Victorian England this was completed. It’s simply a way to show your generosity toward your neighbors. (An assistant brings Koons a ball.) Are you familiar with this?


KOONS: This is my “Rabbit.” (In a catalog Koons shows his sculpture made of twisted balloons in the shape of a rabbit.) Look at it and you’ll get there here there is also a reference to that generosity. You see they set these balloons in the garden for the pleasure of passer-bys.

NAOMI: How cool is that! Jeff, I know that you graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago and likely spent a great deal of time in the Windy City. Have you met Barack Obama?

KOONS: Oh no. I only studied at the Art Institute in my final year. I began my education in Baltimore, at the Maryland Institute College of Art and transferred to Chicago because of a group of artists called Hairy Who, which included Jim Nutt and Ed Paschke and widely used personal iconography. It was from them that I hit the books on the dictionary of feelings and studied how to make others empathize with the work. (He shows the work of Ed Paschke with Mighty Mouse.) This is one of my favorite pictures. Look how Paschke uses color: Each detail is traced like the old masters, and then he adds color rays to give all this the glow of life… Jim Nutt’s work has all its roots in Dada and Surrealism: The group he imagined was developed in parallel with pop art, but in his work is more iconography, and in pop art objectivity.



NAOMI: They say that Dali had a strong influence on you. What inspired you in his work? Color? Form? Surreal images?

KOONS: Probably the latter. In youth you only vaguely know what is art. By the way, you don’t become smarter regarding this matter with age. It actually all begins with an internal journey, here’s Surrealism and Dada and that’s about it. Dali was the first artist whose works I met with – my parents bought be a book of his art. And at 17 I garnered up the courage to call Dali and ask if he needed me. He unexpectedly answered: “Of course, come to New York.” We met in the hotel St. Regis. He took me to his exhibition. I took a picture of him there, and he posed.

NAOMI: Amazing!

KOONS: No kidding. The fact that he found the time for a young artist was incredibly generous. By the way, here is standing in front of his hallucinogenic “Tiger.” (He shows a photo.) I have a sketch of this work hanging in my bedroom. In the picture is the image of a tiger, and if you pull away, you can see three heads of Lenin. Dali was a great innovator, he played with a lot of different things that had a major influence on the art world. Pop-art is in many ways a reflection of Dali’s ideas. Did you know that in ’58 he painted “Sistine Madonna?” The Pope came to New York, and Dali saw his picture in the paper and increased the size of the Pope’s ear. Then he drew an image of Madonna with a baby. Today this picture is located in the Vatican’s art collection. And the entire thing was done with dots. It inspired many young artists. You see before this no had created anything like it, there was no Warhol silkscreen printing, no Roy Lichtenstein comics. Dali is the ground floor, the base. He constantly experimented, read scientific journals, he was very interested in math…

NAOMI (to the side): And I will nevertheless ask you this question. (Turning to Koons.) I read that you have many assistants and that you’ve developed a special system of color codes so that they can quickly draw a large amount of work for you. Do you think masters such as Van Gogh or Rembrandt would be shocked by this approach?

KOONS: Every painting takes 1-2.5 years. This is very long and at this pace I wouldn’t be able to do 6-8 pictures in a year. And I still have other matters to attend to! I want to create sculptures, installations… I can’t sit and write all day. But I want to control everything, so I review the pictures daily. And every stroke, every gesture falls exactly where it would if I did it myself. I don’t say to an assistant: “Go draw something and then I’ll sign it.”

NAOMI: I know that your wife Justine is also an artist. Do you work together?

KOONS: Yes, our entire life is a complete collaboration. We have six children, the sixth was born 1.5 months ago.

NAOMI: Goodness! Congratulations!

KOONS: Thank you! Art is the meaning of life in our family. Earlier Justine constantly worked in the studio, she’s very artistic. We worked on jewelry projects together, but now she’s busy most of the time with…

NAOMI: … the family.

KOONS: Exactly. But she still draws pictures and creates jewelry.

NAOMI: And have the children tried to pick up a brush yet?

KOONS: No, but would believe that our young daughter Scarlett has already shown an interest in your profession? She’s very feminine, and her favorite book Shoe La La is about how girls buy shoes. In the evening she gives me a clothes catalog and says, “Read me a book Daddy!”

NAOMI: Just great! So, many critics say that your work is inspired by the ideology of consumerism. Do you think there’s any parallel with Andy Warhol and his famous Campell’s Soup design?

KOONS: Yes I was influenced by the world around me! When I was young, Ed Paschke said to me, “Everything has been created already, you just have to look around.” Follow your own interests, that’s what’s truly important in life. I try to take in everything, get involved in everything – it’s not important what. Of course there is a commercial component in this. Remember when you were a kid and thought, “This is what I want for Christmas!” It is still a question of desire, of genuine interest.

NAOMI: And did you have a lot of toys as a child? Popeye for example?

KOONS: Oh yes, I had a bunch of different stuff. Even though we lived modestly, my parents bought me everything I really wanted. But allow me to finish. In my art, I simply use these aspects of desire. Time passes. We passed from an agrarian culture through an entire era of industrialization and have become a service society. Therefore, the feeling of independence and axiom of a person who relies solely on their own strength has turned into an ideology of consumerism. By the way, I’m not as close to this ideology as many think. But I certainly use several manifestations of consumerism: A powerful and intense experience demonstrated in the face of a good. At the heart of my work lies inclusiveness. Our hierarchical system of reasoning offers only one path: You absolutely must know about the world of art. But I don’t like this view. I think that you really don’t need to know anything. Everything happens within yourself. Everything can be reduced to your own possibilities and your unique understand of the essence of things.

NAOMI: When did you sell your first work? What did it look like?

KOONS: My dad sold my first picture. He worked with interiors and we had a furniture store in Pennsylvania. And Dad displayed my work in the store window. I think I was nine years old when he sold one of these for $900.

NAOMI: Oh wow! You started early!

KOONS: Yes, yes, well, maybe it was only for $300. But I remember perfectly that somebody bought one of these for $900. I’m sure that Dad understood there were more interesting pictures than mine, but he gladly met me halfway. When I finished at the Institute, I sold right here in New York my first serious creation to the entrepreneur Patrick Lennon. He came to me in the studio one day, saw my work with a vacuum cleaner and said, “You know Jeff, I started out selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door.”

NAOMI: He understood that art was all around him!

KOONS: Exactly. In that work I hinted at the fact that half a century ago sales were at the forefront of culture. If someone rang your doorbell in the 50s, it was a vacuum salesman. I worked in direct sales myself during my childhood. I sold wrapping paper.

NAOMI: At Christmas time?

KOONS: Yeah year-round. Tape and wrapping paper – they’re all now in my “Celebration” series. I also sold chocolate.

NAOMI: In the little boxes?

KOONS: In the little ones. We lived in the suburbs. My parents would sometimes drive me around to different cities in the area, and I would walk around the neighborhoods knocking on doors. I really enjoyed it because you never knew who would open the door, how this person would look, would they be unkempt or beautiful, would they invite you in, what smells would be coming from the kitchen. It’s a pleasant feeling of apprehension.

NAOMI: And maybe a feeling of independence! They’re probably incredible feelings to experience at such a tender age.

KOONS: All this is about confidence in yourself and your abilities. And also about how with the help of others, people can satisfy their needs.



NAOMI: In 2002 you, David Bowie and Paul McCartney became honorary knights of the French Legion of Honor. That’s good company. After saying these names the question arises: Is music of great importance for you? Do you know David?

KOONS: I met with David and think he’s one of the most important artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. If we draw parallels with Ancient Greece, Bowie is the god Apollo. When he played music, he became a woman.

NAOMI: I adore him. He doesn’t play now, but at the opening ceremony for the London Olympics, we entered the stadium to his music.

KOONS: And Paul McCartney? My God, as a kid I watched the Beetles performance on the Ed Sullivan Show! I was also very inspired by Led Zeppelin – Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. At 16 I spent hours driving around in the car listening to their songs. I met Plant in person not too long ago and told him, “You taught me how to feel.”

NAOMI: And to dream?

KOONS: And to dream. Because music comes first. It enhances our senses, everything in it is about feelings.

NAOMI: You played the small role of Art Agnos in the film Harvey Milk in 2008. Was that an interesting experience?

KOONS: There aren’t words for it, fantastic! Director Gus Van Sant saw me on the Today Show and immediately thought, “There’s my Art Agnos!” Sean Pean was great to me even though I’m in no way an actor. And James Franco also supported me in every way.

NAOMI: Do you want to play another role somewhere?

KOONS: In the first place I’m very curious from the point of view of the essence of acting – it’s being in the moment. The drive to lead an engaging life, the feeling that it’s moving along and you’re sitting and waiting for your entrance to arena. For me this was a philosophical experience. I don’t think that all this helped me to act better, but as a person trying to life his life, it certainly helped. I felt moments clarify, and I said to myself, “Wait a second, I’m here, and this is it!”

NAOMI: It’s difficult when they say to you that you need to portray someone. But it’s pleasant when you can somehow erase yourself. That skill is always useful. Jeff, coming back to your immediate work, you told me at the beginning about the “Luxury and Degradation” series. It brings up the theme of alcohol and art. The collection featured some very interesting pieces of art inspired by Gordon’s, Jim Beam and Martell. Did you like the visual associations, or perhaps you were interested in the conceptuality of alcohol in society?

KOONS: I did “Luxury and Degradation” immediately after the “Equilibrium” series. I remember I was walking along 5th Avenue and at the corner of 22nd Street I saw a liquor store. In the window was a Jim Beam train with an engine, seven cars and rails. And I thought, “What a wonderful ready-made object!” But how to turn it into something connected with alcohol? That’s when I used stainless steel for the first time. The idea was that to create something visually intoxicating, you had to keep the spirit of alcohol. And then I understood that it would be a piece of art – you could cast the car that Jim Beam filled with alcohol and close its roof, and the work would keep its purity and honesty. They agreed. And that’s how the first object came to be.
Then I started observing one alcoholic. I saw how he started to mumble, followed his degradation, the chaos of his life. And I noticed how when you get on the subway in an affluent neighborhood, the advertising changes. It becomes more abstract. I recorded all this, filmed it and then painted it with oil. Depending on the level of affluence, society wants you to pull out your hair, make a lot of money, become successful. Then it beats you on the head with all of this and degradation begins.

NAOMI: It’s true, when you walk from Uptown to Midtown toward the Bronx, it really catches your attention. I noticed this when I was just 17 and had just arrived in New York.

KOONS: Abstraction is a powerful weapon!



NAOMI: Do you collect others’ art?

KOONS: I collect. The main reason for this is to stay informed. Several things that I acquired literally changed my life. For example, Picasso played a major role for me. Picasso has so many references to different things. He’s so pervasive! Such a high density of information, it’s breathtaking. And all his work was done in an intuitive manner. Picasso was able to repeat himself day after day. He had favorite themes and images that seemed similar but they still came out differently. My wife and I started to collect art so that our children understand that the world isn’t limited to the work of their parents.

NAOMI: Yes, Picasso blows my mind as well. Sadly it seems I’ve come to my last question, “What would the artist Jeff Koons like to do? What inspires him today?

KOONS: Boy, I want to do a lot. Some things I did on a whim. I just did, I just felt. A specific awareness of art only came to me over time. And now I want to do something that will be for me a high-level experience, feelings, excitement…

NAOMI: Do you want to challenge yourself?

KOONS: Why not? There are so many misunderstandings about me. People think that I have a real factory. They even compare me to Andy Warhol and his numerous assistants. But I actually just try to achieve a balance: On the one hand, I always have major projects that I dabble in for a long time. On the other, I try to make sure that all my work maintains its spontaneity. And directness.



Jeff Koons: interview


Best known for his marriage to La Cicciolina and his Jacko and Bubbles sculpture, Jeff Koons is one of the art world’s most divisive figures. We met him ahead of his first UK show


    Jeff Koons: interview

    Jeff Koons © MIchael Franke

  • Off and on, for almost two decades now, Jeff Koons has been the world’s most expensive living artist, selling work for upwards of $25 million, despite many of them, such as ‘Hanging Heart’ and ‘Balloon Dog’, not even being unique pieces. He’s also been married to an Italian porn-star-turned-politician, Illona Staller (better known as La Cicciolina), not to mention the messy divorce, custody and copyright suits. Yet he’s continually produced some of the most outrageous art of the last 40 years, creating giant puppies from pretty flowers and encasing vacuum cleaners in vitrines (long before Hirst’s shark). His first solo show in London focuses on his ‘Popeye’ series, based on the Depression-era cartoon character who thankfully is now out of copyright himself at the ripe old age of 80. Do I just call you Jeff?
    ‘My real name is Jeffrey Lynn Koons, but I’ve always liked the simplicity of Jeff.’Why is this your first public show in London? Is there something about you that we Brits just don’t get?
    ‘I have wonderful friends in England and have always participated in group shows here. I like to think of myself very much as an international artist, but I also know my own cultural history.’

    But your work still polarises people, like Marmite in the UK, or Dr Pepper in the US…

    ‘I’ve always dealt with my work in a very honest manner, and so whenever someone responds that they don’t get it, I feel like I lost that person.  Every time you do or make something you do it for that singular moment of communication. It happens one person at a time, but you want it to be effective. We all have the same pleasures and desires, I just think that some people are more protective and shelter themselves from their experiences, especially if it’s sexuality, the foundation of our life experience.’You talk about acceptance, but your work still has an edge, whether it’s a porcelain model of Michael Jackson with Bubbles or images of you having sex with your ex-wife.
    ‘All my work tries to embrace visual power, and acceptance does not have to be all warm and cushy, there’s also a violence to acceptance. I was a painter until I left art school, when I started to deal with things outside the self.’Was your recent exhibition at Versailles your crowning achievement?
    ‘It was a great experience. I had been thinking about Louis Quatorze and what he would want to create. Maybe he’d have woken up in the morning and wanted to see a piece like “Puppy” created out of 60,000 live flowers, and have it finished by the time he got home that night.’Although there was some grumbling from critics and tour guides there…
    ‘People’s attitudes can be amazing. I think if the guides were more open to that experience they would have seen the colour, the charge and the extravagance come back to Versailles. Not to mention the impracticality of it all, but showing at the Serpentine is just as special to me, it can have just as much power.’

    Let’s talk about the ‘Popeye’ series. Is it straight pop art?

    ‘I don’t think so, because pop is about an externalisation of the viewer. I like to believe that what I do is very much the activity of real art, where the artist has complete freedom to do what they want and show the connections with human potential.’

    What’s your spinach?

    ‘In my own life what gets me most excited are my children. They’re energising: to be able to share your life with them and to offer them opportunity is so enriching.’What’s your life-preserver?
    ‘That would be art and being involved in this whole process. You have to trust in yourself, it takes you to a very metaphysical place and that’s all an artist can do – make connections and be involved in something profound. Instead of creating anxiety, it should be a vehicle for removing it.’To quote another of your characters,  The Incredible Hulk, why wouldn’t I like you when you’re angry?
    ‘I tend to think that the glass is always half full, and I try to show that through my work, but what makes me angry is a failure of communication.’

    Talking of superheroes, one of your personal heroes was Salvador Dali.

    ‘I met him at the Saint Regis Hotel when I was a teenager. He took me to an exhibition of his and he posed for some photos in front of “The Hallucinogenic Toreador”. I now own the gouache study of that work and it hangs in my bedroom.’Do you buy anything else with your cash?
    ‘I have some Egyptian antiquities, but I’d much rather acquire a sculpture or a painting than a sports car. I’ve bought Picasso and Magritte and a very beautiful and vaginal [painting by French artist] Bougeureau.’You also employ 120 people in your studio, but you don’t like calling it a factory, is that correct?
    ‘I don’t feel very comfortable with that term. I make about eight paintings and 12 editions of sculptures a year. It’s not that we are involved in craft – I hate craft, craft is fetishism – but it’s just the time it takes to realise them.’Are you recession-proof?
    ‘I don’t really have a business model other than to make the work that I want to, and downtime is good because I’ve got a backlog. People get so caught up in the recession, but it’s like a roller coaster: in good times, everything else costs so much more, so it’s all relative. “Celebration”, one of my more successful series that includes “Balloon Dog” and “Hanging Heart”, took a long time to get finished in the ’90s because their ambition was great but the economic means really weren’t being addressed.’

    How do you feel about speculators flipping your work at auction? One even said that ‘Jeff Koons has performed better than oil’.
    ‘To a certain degree, I’m honoured, but I’m disappointed that they don’t enjoy the same connection to the power of art that I have as a collector. I love the responsibility of the maintenance or preservation of art. I want to protect it.’

    But you were on Wall Street once yourself, weren’t you?

    ‘I ended up becoming a broker, and it was really more like ad work, where you’re commissioned to do something except you don’t have the freedom of your own expression. But from childhood I was brought up to be very self-sufficient, so I would go door-to-door selling gift-wrapping paper and candies. I enjoyed the experience. It was my desire to communicate.’

    Is there any rivalry between you and artists like Damien Hirst or Takashi Murakami?
    ‘I consider Damien very much a friend; I don’t know Murakami that well. I enjoy showing with artists from my generation but I’m not involved in trying to create some branded type of product, because I believe you penetrate the consciousness through the idea more than with distribution. So I like to believe that I’m in that school, and only involved in the economic aspect of art through how good of an idea I’ve had.’

    Do you enjoy the attention of the art world?
    ‘I always wanted to be involved, I enjoy having the platform of success. I don’t enjoy it unless it’s about the work, so if I’m not in my studio for a couple of days I become quite nervous.’

    What would people be surprised to know about you, apart from your cameo in Sean Penn’s movie ‘Milk’?
    ‘I think there is a misunderstanding about my work that it’s about product and consumerism. Somebody recently came to me and asked if I could design a bookstore, but that’s not for me. I never did anything to create this other persona, even in the bodies of work that dealt with luxury and degradation where I warned people not to pursue luxury because it was like the alcoholic falling under the control of alcohol. It’s confusing the messenger with the message.’

    Jeff Koons shows at the Serpentine until Sept 13 2009.


jeff koonsNew York City, October 1986KlausOttmann: What is the theme of your new work?Jeff Koons: The basic story line is about art leaving the realm of the artist, when the artist loses control of the work. It’s defined basically by two ends. One would be Louis XIV — that if you put art in the hands of an aristocracy or monarch, art will become reflec-tive of ego and decorative — and on the other end of the scale would be Bob Hope — that if you give art to the masses, art will become reflective of mass ego and also decorative. The body of work is based around statuary representing different periods of Western European art. Each work in the show is coded to be more or less specific about art being used as a symbol or representation of a certain theme that takes place in art, such as Doctor’s Delight, a symbol of sexuality in art; Two Kids, of morality in art; Rabbit, of fantasy in art. Italian Woman would be a symbol of the artist going after beauty; Flowers would be art being used to show elegance and the strength of money; Louis XIV is power, a sym-bol of using art as an authoritarian means; Trolls, a symbol of mythology.Ottmann: What is your main interest as an artist?Koons: I’m interested in the morality of what it means to be an artist, with what art means to me, how it defines my life, etc. And my next concern is my actions, the responsibility of my own actions in art with regard to other artists, and then to a wider range of the art audience, such as critics, museum people, collectors, etc. Art to me is a humanitarian act, and I be-lieve that there is a responsibility that art should somehow be able to affectmankind, to make the word a better place (this is not acliche!).Ottmann: Where do you get the ideas for your work?Koons: It’s a natural process. Generally I walk around and I see one object and it affects me. I can’t just choose any object or any theme to work with. I can be confronted by an object and be interested in a specific thing about it, and the context develops simultane-ously. I never try to create a context artificially. I think about my work every minute of the day.Ottmann: How far are you involved in the actual production of your work?Koons: I’m basically the idea person. I’m not physically involved in the production. I don’t have the neces-sary abilities, so I go to the top people, whether I’m working with my foundry — Tallix — or in physics. I’m always trying to maintain the integrity of the work. I recently worked with Nobel prize winner Richard P. Feynman. I also worked with Wasserman at Dupont and Green at MIT. I worked with many of the top physicists and chemists in the country.Ottmann: Could you elaborate the term “integrity”?Koons: To me, integrity means unaltered. When I’m working with an object I always have to give the great-est consideration not to alter the object physically or even psychologically. I try to reveal a certain as-pect of the object’s personality. To give you an example: if you place a shy person in a large crowd, his shyness will be revealed and enhanced. I work with the object in a very similar manner. I’m placing the object in a context or material that will enhance a specific personality trait within the object. The soul of the object must be maintained to have confidence in the arena.Ottmann: How do you see the development of your work?Koons: The early work is very important to my personal development, but I don’t feel that it has the same so-cial value as my work from the time of “The New.” I feel basically that the core of my work stays the same. I try to carry the best of my work with me through each body of work while enlarging its parameters.Ottmann: What are the differences between your work and say someone like Richard Prince who rephotographs advertisement and media images?Koons: Richard and I have been friends for many years. His work is more involved in the ap-propriation as-pect, the aspect of theft, while my work comes from the history of the ready-made, which for me is position of optimism. Whether I’m casting my Jim Beam de-canter or creating a painting from a liquor ad, I receive all the legal rights from everybody — a very optimistic situation.

Ottmann: How do you manage to get all the legal rights?

Koons: I come out of a background of, at one time, being the Senior Representative for the Mu-seum of Modern Art. I was also a commodity broker on Wall Street for six years, so I have experience in deal-ing with people on a professional level. I had only one company in my last project that turned me down. And in each company I have to deal first with them, then with their lawyers, and in some cas-es with their advertising firms and their printers.

Ottmann How do you see advertisement?

Koons: It’s basically the medium that defines people’s perceptions of the world, of life itself, how to interact with others. The media defines reality. Just yesterday we met some friends. We were celebrating and I said to them: “Here’s to good friends!” It was like living in an ad. It was wonderful, a wonderful moment. We were right there living in the reality of our media.

Ottmann: What do you think about the fact that the owner of one of the largest advertising firms in the world, Charles Saatchi, is buying your art?

Koons: It’s not negative toward advertisement. I believe in advertisement and media complete-ly. My art and my personal life are based in it. I think that the art world would probably be a tremendous reservoir for everybody involved in advertising.

Ottmann: What is the significance of the Nike ads?

Koons:The Nike ads were my great deceivers. The show was about equilibrium, and the ads defined person-al and social equilibrium. There is also the deception of people acting as if they have accomplished their goals and they haven’t: “Come on! Go for it! I have achieved equilibrium!” Equilibrium is unattainable, it can be sustained only for a mo-ment. And here are these people in the role of saying, “Come on! I’ve done it! I’m a star! I’m Moses!” It’s about artists using art for social mobility. Moses [Malone] is a symbol of the middle-class artist of our time who does the same act of deception, a front man: “I’ve done it! I’m a star!”

Ottmann: Would you be interested in doing an ad?

Koons: I would be extremely interested. I’m not interested in corporations having my work. Some corpora-tions collect my work, that’s fine. But let’s say I use a specific product, like a Spalding basketball. I don’t want Spalding to have my basketball. I don’t do it for that reason. But if Spalding came to me and asked if I would like to work on an ad cam-paign, I’d love to do that.

Ottmann: Do you get money from companies for using their products?

Koons: Absolutely not. I would never accept it. Now, somebody like Jim Beam who has been so gracious to work with, I’ve given them a work of art, but if they would want to buy one I may feel uncomfort-able because the work was not done for that reason. I’ve given them something out of apprecia-tion of their being so tremendous to work with.

Ottmann: Do you consider the gallery the ideal space for your work?

Koons: I love the gallery, the arena of representation. It’s a commercial world, and morality is based gener-ally around economics, and that’s taking place in the art gallery. I like the tension of accessibility and inaccessibility, and the morality in the art gallery. I believe that my art gets across the point that I’m in this morality theater trying to help the under-dog, and I’m speaking socially here, showing concern and making psychological and philosophical statements for the underdog.

Text: © Copyright, Journal of Contemporary Art, Inc. and the authors.

Giancarlo Politi
GIANCARLO POLITI: I can’t imagine you in your studio, because many of your works are made in a foundry. How does your work come about?Jeff Koons: When I’m at home, where my studio is also located, the studio functions as an office and as a place where I pull away from the external world and reflect on it. I’m not actually in production there; the studio is a refuge — a place where I’m in a state of rest with respect tothe outside — and a place of contemplation.
GP: You speak of objects, and never of sculpture. Why?JK: First of all, I see myself as an artist, and not as a sculptor. Most of the time my work operates in a three-dimensional realm, possibly because it is more substantial than the two-dimensional realm of illusion. It defines a reality for me. In the system I was brought up in — the Western, capitalist system — one receives objects as rewards for labor and achievement. Everything one has sacrificed in life — personal goals or fantasies, for instance — in the effort to obtain these objects, has been sacrificed to a given labor situation. And once these objects have been accumulated, they work as support mechanisms for the individual: to define the personality of the self, to fulfil desires and express them, and so on…GP: What meaning does your work have for you?JK: In the past my work has always been about my personal, intellectual development. More recently it has involved the external world and how it functions socially. Whereas in the past I was more concerned with defining states of being that can be achieved by the individual, in more recent times I’ve extended my interest to social states of being that are more and more removed from what I could accomplish now, within my lifetime. Also, the work is being directed, since I have been defining a social state of being. I have also been redefining a personal state of being. On both the personal and the social level, though, my goals have been knowingly unachievable — biologically, psychologically and economically they just aren’t possible at this time.Lately, the work has taken on a dimension of alienation of the physical self. In the body of work I called “The New,” I was interested in an individual psychological state tied to newness and immortality: the Gestalt came directly from viewing an inanimate object — a vacuum cleaner — that was in a position to be immortal. Now the works, particularly the cast pieces, are maintaining the integrity of the object to such a degree that my hand, my own physical involvement, disappears. Nothing is done to alter the viewer’s confidence in (or the psychological perception of) the object. Any diminishment or increase of its imperfections would affect its ability to convince in the arena of display; and total confidence, total conviction, are essential if these works are to achieve their goal.GP: Is your work formed intuitively, or does it stem from market research?JK: My work is intuitive, but I also expose myself to as much information as I possible can, so I think it would be fifty-fifty. It involves directly seeing the manipulation that takes place within oneself and how one’s desires are directed, but then it also relies on the biological self, an intuitive self. In this sense my work differs from, say, Conceptual art; my work is more ‘ideal’ than conceptual. Conceptual art was always creating support mechanisms to hold itself together, to cover up any lies within its structure. The intuitive quality of my work precludes all need for deception. If a flaw is there, it is part of the system. That’s what I mean by functioning intuitively instead of trying to create an artificial support for the work.
Rabbit, 1986. Cast stainless steel, 104 x 48 x 30,5 cm.
GP: Does art have a social dimension?JK:Yes. I feel it’s the only valid way for art to exist, and the only way it can truly function. If art is not directed toward the social, it becomes purely self-indulgent, like sex without love. Whereas if art is functioning in the social sphere and helping to define social order, it’s working purely as a tool of philosophy, enhancing the quality of individual life and redirecting social and political attitudes. Art can define an individual’s aspirations and goals as other systems — for instance, economics — are defining them now. Art can define ultimate states of being in a more responsible way than economics can, because art is concerned with philosophy as well as with the marketplace.GP: Your work is very new. Do you think you are still in the field of art, or have you gone beyond?JK:My work, hopefully, is showing new possibilities of art. At the same time I am trying to look back, to see what attributes of art have been performing psychologically, and to work with those attributes in defining a new area, a situation in which the individual will have pure confidence in his position by virtue of the objects with which he surrounds himself. These objects will not be looked at in a contemplative way, but will only be there as a mechanism of security. And they will be accessible to all, for art can and should be used to stimulate social mobility. In fact I envisage the formation of a total society where every citizen will be of the blue blood. In such a society the individual will exist in a state of entropy, or rest, and will inhabit an environment decorated with object art that is beyond critical dialogue.Helena Kontova: Does that mean you’re working for the present or for the future?JK: The kind of transformation I’m talking about cannot be achieved overnight. Nevertheless, my work is being directed along these lines right now. My bust of Louis XIV (1986) is about the confidence that can be placed in a monarchic situation; it’s almost speaking about the ruins of Versailles. The stainless steel alludes to proletarian luxury, a necessary component of any political support system; and the light reflected in the shadows of the steel, which takes on a cerulean tone, reinforces a sense of intimacy and passiveness — the same kind of intimacy or passiveness one may feel, say, in a public square with a fountain or with a sculpture. Although the work is functioning in that area now, it needs time, just as the general economic situation needs time.HK: For whom does the work function in this idle way you are describing?JK: It functions for everyone. For the lower and middle class it will lead to an ultimate state of rest; for the upper class it will lead to an unprecedented state of confidence. So all members of society would benefit. There would be no losers.Gregorio Magnani: Can you explain what you mean by “proletarian luxury?”JK: The polished stainless steel has a reflective quality which is associated with a luxurious item. In my work the situation is set up so that the individual from the lower classes feels economic security in a fake situation. Polished objects have often been displayed by the church and by wealthy people to set a stage of both material security and enlightment of spiritual nature; the stainless steel is a fake reflection of that stage.
Flowers, 1986. Stainless steel, 32 x 45 x 31 cm;Louis XIV, 1986. Stainless steel, 117 x 68 x 38 cm. Photo: Fred Scruton.

GM: Don’t you think your bust of Louis XIV and many of the other works, as well, can be seen as enbodiments of the confidence that can be placed in a multinational situation?JK: The bust of Louis XIV is a symbol of the confidence that can be placed in an authoritarian regime but it is also a symbol of all labor exchange systems in history, including capitalism. What is being communicated is a decriticalized political situation. As Louis XIV is not performing as a monarch anymore, the lower class individual can feel comfortable that he can not be betrayed once he has gone into this state of entropy, and the upper class is able to partake in a false security and therefore can not betray the lower classes. Once the object has seduced the viewer into the acceptance of this political situation, there is no way for the lower class to revolt and there is no way for the aristocracy to betray again. If that were to occur, and it could not, the aristocracy would be biting its own tail.GP: Is there any connection between your work and the work of the past?JK: I’m deeply indebted to Marcel Duchamp, whose work, because it was directed outward from the artist and into the social arena, had a liberatory value for me. My work is connected with the past to the extent that it wishes to use the past psychologically, to reap the benefits inculcated in works of art by other artists — for example, the sense of entropy or equilibrium, devoid of critical dialogue, that ispresent in certain statuary.Giacinto Di Pietrantonio: A lot of people have been talking about the component of desire in objects. Are you acquainted with this philosophical debate, and do you see a relationship between your ideas and theirs? I’m thinking in particular of Jean Baudrillard.JK: My art has not been directed toward defining someone else’s philosophical point of view; it has often been admired for the way it has enhanced these points of view. Baudrillard envisages an end time when art will be purely nonfunctional, a term of economic exchange; I see the ultimate role of art as one of pure function. Where I see art going, its exchange value, its economic substructure, will be removed; it will function solely as a means of support and security. Seen from this point of view, my work has strong biological implications; the encasement of the vacuum cleaners, the idea of removal and protection, and especially the “Equilibrium Tanks,” where you have water sustaining a basketball, are all very womblike.Elio Grazioli: How is it possible for the immortality of the object to create a sense of security in the subject? Wouldn’t it have just the opposite effect?JK: Any insecurity it might create would be generated by the realization that one is not living in a state of entropy, or equilibrium, and by the consequent desire to return to the womb — which, of course, is an unachievable goal.EG: How do you go about choosing an object, if you want to eliminate its metaphorical quality? If you want to get away from a situation of critical evaluation where a vacuum cleaner is a breathing machine, or a basketball floating in a tank of water is a foetus?JK: I think my work still has that metaphorical value. The statuary body of work that I just used had it, and even the “Luxury and Degradation” show, the “Jim Beam” work, used the metaphors of luxury to define class structure, a pail being a symbol of the proletariat, and a Baccarat Crystal Set (1986) the edge of the upper-middle class. Now the work is functioning on metaphors of art. The bust of Louis XIV is a metaphor for art in the hands of a monarch; the vase of flowers (Flowers, 1986), art working to create a sense of economic stability; or the trolls, a metaphor for mythology. So I’m still dealing with metaphor, in order to produce a false front that will have substantiality to it. There has to be a false front under the present economic conditions, but it has to have stability to it, and confidence in itself.HK: How does your socio-political intention relate to, say, the American system as represented by Reagan and his following?JK: With Reaganism, social mobility is collapsing, and instead of a structure composed of low, middle, and high income levels, we’re down to low and high only. Reaganism has defined two ends, and these are the areas where insecurity is greatest. My work stands in opposition to this trend.

GP: Why do you work in series?

JK: In bodies of work like “The New,” the “Equilibrium” pieces, and the “Jim Beam”

work, I was working with the integrity of the artist, opening myself up to what art can be rather than getting locked into a particular aesthetic. The latter, for me, would be very boring. I prefer to look at my context from another angle continually, to enhance the core of my work and to define the parameters, to expand them. It also addresses a marketing issue, namely, that art has to continue to change. If I want to leave the door open to change, I also need the freedom to repeat myself.

GP: Two or three years ago you worked with images that came from advertisements. Can you explain why?

JK: My original concern was to clarify the content of my work, so that when a viewer came into contact with “The New,” or a doubledecker (New Shelton Wet/Dry Doubledecker, 1981), he would understand what it was about. For instance, near the object I would place things like a cigarette ad that would say “New Philip Morris Ultralight 100s” or a car ad that would say “New Toyota Family Capri” as a guide to the context of the work. In the “Equilibrium” work I formed a triad based on the Nike ads, bronzes, and equilibrium tanks, which functioned together to define one context. In the “Jim Beam” work, where I worked with liquor advertisements, the purpose was not so much to direct the viewer as to define social class structure. The Aqui Baccardi ad (1986) is defining a mentality and the desirability of luxury on an income of $15,000 or less. It says, “let’s gamble with our lives, let’s throw all our chips up into the air, and wherever they fall we’ll accept it.” Whereas the Frangelico ads are defining a $45,000 and up income, which is more concerned with being lost in one’s own thought patterns. These two publics are being deceived on different levels of thought, because they’re educated in abstraction and luxury on different income levels. The upper class would love to pull an individual with ambition and gumption from a lower class to the verge of the upper class, because that’s where the big takings of power are. If they can have you move through social mobility up to the edge of the upper class, they can go in and in one killing get 250 chips; but you’ll never break through, because luxury and abstraction are the guard dogs of the upper class. And the pursuit of luxury is degradation.

EG: Isn’t this the old problem of the avantgarde, where the artist, from the height of his intelligence, dictates that which you must and must not do? He gives you power, but he takes it away at the same time.

JK: My new objects reflect desire, they don’t absorb desire. It’s entropy, it’s energy that’s not being lost, but is in a state of rest. It’s not an absorption.

GM: How can your art have such an important social effect if the circulation is controlled by a limited circle of people?

JK: The freedoms that are fought for by art are never fought in the streets. It is a dialogue among few people which may eventually be reflected in the streets but isn’t created there. However, the people who are collecting and supporting my work are the ones that are in the same political directions as I am. They are responding to a dissatisfaction in art, politics, in philosophy. I feel aligned to them. Hopefully the ideas in my work will be disseminated through them to a larger audience.

GP: You are making very new and aggressive art… how do you fit into the New York situation? Do you look at other artists, or talk with them, or do you work alone?

JK: I’ve been in New York since the end of ’76, but have been participating in an open dialogue with the community only since ’79. Until recently I have felt like an outsider, although I have always been directly connected with the center of the art community. I don’t feel like an outsider right now; if anything I have to impose an outside position. I live down in the Wall Street area only for exclusion, so that I don’t have to walk out on the street and be confronted with SoHo or run into a specific dealer, and so on.

GP: What do you think the future of the art market in America will be like? Do you think galleries should change their strategies over the next ten years, in the light of developments like the recent boom in corporate art buying?

JK: I believe the responsibility of art must be controlled by the artist. I don’t feel that the galleries truly care, or can be placed in a position to assume the responsibilities of carrying the flag, because most are purely controlled by economics. On the other  hand, I think that the New York market at this moment is functioning almost in a Reaganist term of a true marketplace. So far the market has been very positive, because there are so many opportunities for the artists.

GP: Don’t you think that the power of corporations is influencing taste?

JK: I haven’t had corporations directly involved in purchasing my work, other than Chase Bank. They seem to participate in the art world only as a market signal, an indicator of speculative value.

GP: Do you think speculation is still important in art, more than status, for instance? Because for investments the stock exchange is probably a better bet sometimes.

JK: People should be able to state their opinion in art, and help to direct the course of art. But there are greater profits to be made in other areas, and they can be made much more rapidly than in art.



Various contributors and members of the editorial staff participated in this interview, which took place on the premises of the magazine, December 10, 1986.

Giancarlo Politi is the editor and publisher of Flash Art.

Jeff Koons was born in York, USA, in 1955. He lives and works in New York.



Flash Art 41 Years – More info







Kara Walker’s Haunting American Sphinx “A Sublety” at the Domino Sugar Factory, Williamsburg, Brooklyn


May 9, 2014
_Gala Dinner

The Riddle of the Sugar Sphinx; Kara Walker at Creative Time


2014 CREATIVE TIME Spring Gala Honoring Kara Walker

The marvelous sugar baby. An homage to unpaid and overworked artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchen of the new world on the occasion of the demolition of the domino sugar refining plant. AKA: A Subtlety.

The title is apt, not just because it is a paragraph describing the intent, but because, in confectioners parlance, ‘a subtlety’ is a shaped sugar treat. A sugar baby is normally a woman, one who is kept by a sugar daddy. The arrangement is one of money for companionship. Let’s be less subtle. A sugar baby is a product of a patriarchal society that sees a beautiful woman as an object to be paid for; sugar babies use this to their advantage.

The centerpiece is a giant sugar sphinx with Mammy’s head. Aunt Jemima when the syrup has all been wrung from inside her. The show aims to explore the world of sugar, the triangle trade from Africa to America. Creative time calls it ‘a conversation’. We are talking about slavery, racism, sexism and exploitation; those are the topics of conversation, but feel free to discuss any socio-economic ramifications of sugar production.

Who are these overworked and unpaid artisans? The slaves of the Caribbean. Who are these overworked and unpaid artisans? They are the cooks. Who are the overworked and unpaid artisans? They are the workers? Who are the overworked and unpaid artisans? They are the previous residents of Williamsburg.

_Gala Dinner
Photography by Ryan Kobane, Courtesy of BMF Media

Raw sugar is brown, bleached sugar is white. Sugar has been industrialized in the last 132 years, factories popped up to process the once rare and expensive treat into a commodity. Walker speaks about ‘the desire for refined sugar and what it means to turn sugar from brown to white and how that dovetails into becoming American’. Built on the backs of the working poor Dominos made white, American sugar in the building on the East River. Dominos didn’t pay their workers enough, ever, but it took until 2000 to have a strike, and a 20 month one at that. Dominos shut the factory down. Now it will become overpriced housing, setting aside 660 units for ‘affordable housing’. How far we have come.

Mammy’s bleached white head looks down at the factory floor with a blank stare. Mammy has been bleached and sanitized, just as the factory will be sanitized and turned into housing that no one in the current neighborhood can afford. In a word: ‘Gentrification’. Gentrification is racist. And to be clear, it is racism we are talking about.

Mammy has a vagina, no one wants to talk about it. The giant bleached sugar sphinx has a vagina and is probably paid about 30% less than other giant sphinx. The sphinx is unapologetically a woman. There should be more pictures of the vagina, photograph the sphinx from behind and see her 7 foot derriere and sugary vulva.

Some claim that the real war is the class war and the workers must unite against their common oppressor regardless of race, religion, or gender. This is a false metric and simply isn’t applicable in the United States. The struggle has to be viewed intersectionally. Mammy is a black working woman who will soon be removed from her home so that new apartments can be built – that’s intersectional.

2014 CREATIVE TIME Spring Gala Honoring Kara Walker
Photography by David Prutting, Courtesy of BFA

A Subtlety is beautiful. The Sphinx was resplendent in the under lighting,  terrifying, commanding, glowing, dominating her room. Walker created a piece that was much more than just aesthetically pleasing, but that should not discount from the beauty – it was really very good art on all levels.

The opening was attended by everyone in the art world. They dined as a conveyer belt served mixed drinks. Then none other than inventor of breakbeat, pioneer of hip-hop, the original, the legendary head of the Zulu Nation himself Dj Afrika Bambaataa took control of the dance party. Its difficult to express how cool that was.

_ DJ Afrika Bambaataa
Bambaataa creates a frantic situation.
Photography by Ryan Kobane, Courtesy of BMF Media
2014 CREATIVE TIME Spring Gala Honoring Kara Walker
Chuck Close.
Photography by David Prutting, Courtesy of BFA
2014 CREATIVE TIME Spring Gala Honoring Kara Walker
Anne Pasternak, Raquel Chevremont, Mickalene Thomas, Solange Knowles.
Photography by David Prutting, Courtesy of BFA
2014 CREATIVE TIME Spring Gala Honoring Kara Walker
Incredibly attractive Waris Ahluwalia and the lovely Jamie Tisch.
Photography by David Prutting, Courtesy of BFA
a Kim Gordon and Chloe Sevigny
Kim Gordon! (Body/Head was really great!) and Chole Sevigny
Photography by Christos Katsiaouni, Courtesy of Creative Time
2014 CREATIVE TIME Spring Gala Honoring Kara Walker
After dinner, the end of eating everything. : Wangechi Mutu

top photo credit The Artist; Kara Walker, and a subtlety of ‘A Subtlety’

Photography by David Prutting, Courtesy of BFA
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Hello World

How Kara Walker Built A 75-Foot-Long Candy Sphinx In The Abandoned Domino Sugar Factory

Images: Kara Walker, A Subtlety, 2014. Photography by Jason Wyche and Tim Daly, Courtesy Creative Time.

On Saturday, May 10thWilliamsburg’s legendary Domino Sugar Factory will open its doors to the public for the first time since factory operations ceased in 2004. In a highly-anticipated public art collaboration between Creative Time and artist Kara Walker, the abandoned factory will house a massive, sugar-coated sculpture that resembles a combination between the mammy archetype and the sphinxResting at 75-feet-long and 35-feet-tall, the massive piece is fully titled, A Subtlety: The Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World.

If Creative Time’s project with Nick Cave at Grand Central last year is any indication, it’s almost a guarantee that the installation will be enthralling (and busy). Additionally, visiting A Subtlety may be many New Yorkers’ last chances to tour the inside of the 132-year-old building (legally, anyway) before it finally makes way for a $1.5 billion reconstruction plan.

While the inspiration behind the sculpture is undeniably fascinating, The Creators Project was curious about how exactly Walker and her team built the boat-sized figure inside the mythological warehouse. Was it built in a studio and brought inside, Trojan Horse-style? Is it actually a colossal piece of candy, molded to look like an African-American archetype? And if so, how exactly does one go about sculpting a piece of sugar that big? For comparison, the Guinness World Record for the largest piece of marzipan was 53-feet-long and 40-feet-wide. 

To gain insight into the project, Creative Time connected us with several of the project’s collaborators, including artist Tim Daly of design company Dalymade Inc., casting expert Mike Perrotta of Sculpture House, lead modeler and milling guru Jon Lash of Digital Atelier, and artist Eric Hagan, the project’s “Director of Sugar” (“It’s probably the best job title I’ll ever have,” he told us).

The production team clarified several aspects of A Subtlety that could be easily misunderstood: first off, the sphinx is not a giant piece of candy; it’s a colossal foam sculpture that’s been encrusted in a layer of powdered sugar. Resting beside the sculpture, however, there are fifteen smaller statues that are, in essence, giant lollipops. All together, this might be the world’s largest creative experiment with sugar. 

Walker was approached about a year ago to collaborate on a project inside the factory. It was the space itself that caught her interest, and it inspired her to make a sketch of an iconic sphinx, modified to look like a stereotypical image of a female laborer:

“[My sketch] came to embody something I would never want to see, something that was about slavery and industry and sugar and fat and wastelessness. It was a kind of finger-wagging gloom-and-doom kind of sketch that embodied all of the themes about industrialization that the space contains: post-industrial America, the grandiose gesture of the industrialists, and sugar as the first kind of agro-business. 

For example, you can’t get sugar without heavy-duty processing; you don’t get refined sugar, you get other things. This desire for refined sugar and what it means to turn sugar from brown to white and how that dovetails into becoming an American were fascinating to me. Sugar is loaded with meaning, with stories about meaning,she said in an interview with Brooklyn Rail.

After Walker shared her sketch with the production crew, Art Domantay (the project consultant and director of fabrication), Tim Daly, and the rest of the team made a physical mock-up and gave the copy to Digital Atelier. The laser scanning/CNC milling/coating technology experts were then able to manipulate the body on a computer using various 3D-analyses, in order to perfectly prepare the shaped foam blocks needed for the very-curvy design.

Digital Atelier laser-scanning the mock-up of the sphinx.

“They wanted us to hot wire [the foam blocks]” said Jon Lash of Digital Atelier. “We kept saying it wouldn’t work well because we needed the radius of each form. If you start having compound curves in all directions and you have to stack these blocks, you can’t see the composition and have to guess about the building process. The last thing you want to do is interpret the artist’s idea yourself.” Lash and engineer John Rannou instead milled the structure’s entire bottom instead of hot wiring it, which takes three times as much time. This process laid the entire foundation, and the team could work their way up from there. Eventually they milled 440 bricks at 3′ x 4′ x 8′ each.

“The good thing is that [the main sculpture] was made just like the real sphinx,” said Lash. “Instead of stone blocks it was foam blocks, but it really was the same kind of construction.” After two and a half months, the crew had a sphinx of their own in Brooklyn. Walker eventually dusted the entire statue in over 30 tons of sugar by spraying it with a hopper gun and using some good old fashioned shovels—yielding a goddess-like sculpture that’s bright white.

Off to the side of the sphinx, however, there are fifteen statues of little boys. Each is 60-inches-tall and weigh 300-500 pounds a piece. Five of them, called the Banana Boys, are made of solid sugar. They are, in essence, giant lollipops shaped to look like fruit-picking child slaves. The other ten—five that are boys holding banana-holding baskets in front of them, five with baskets on their backs—are made of resin and coated in molasses.

Tim Daly, the crew leader of the figurines, explained that they were made after Walker bought ten-inch-tall tchotchkes she found on Amazon. These figurines were laser-scanned by Jon Lash’s team at Digital Atelier, and then they were blown up so silicone molds could be made by Mike Perrotta at Sculpture House.

The team used white granulated sugar, light corn syrup, and water heated to 300 degrees with turkey fryers before getting poured into the molds. While the Banana Boys could stand on their own, the boys holding baskets were weak at the wrists and ankles, and would either break or melt due to a lack of structural integrity. “The first one melted into the pallet,” Daly told us. “It disintegrated after a week, and we realized the only way the [basket-holding sculptures] would last was if they sat in a refrigerator.” Thus, the ten basket-holding boys ended up getting made with polyester resin and coated in molasses, white sugar, light brown sugar, and dark brown sugar, which explains the color inconsistency among the children.

This might be the largest creative endeavor with candy in the modern age. Walker told Brooklyn Rail that in the 11th century, people in the East began making marzipan structures. Royal chefs in Northern Europe began following suit, and would present the sculptures, called “subtleties,” as gifts. According to Eric Hagan, the project’s director of sugar, there’s been few (if any) sugar sculpture pieces this century that rival the size of the Banana Boys or the 30 tons of sugar used to coat the sphinxHe did mention German artist Joseph Marr, who also makes granulated sugar works, but at a smaller scale than Walker’s children sculptures, and not inside an actual sugar factory.

“Sugar is a temperamental thing,” says Hagan. “It’s not uniform, it’s going to decay, and as a fine art piece you can’t say how long it will last or if it will change over time.” Walker echoed his statement in her Brooklyn Rail interview, but added the positive note that “[Sugar is] such a fragile and volatile substance that doesn’t like to take on too many forms, which is fine. I keep trying to tell everyone that I’m not a stickler for conformity, so if each piece is wildly different, then that’s an attempt at freedom I guess.” 

“A Subtlety” is on view at Domino Sugar from May 10th-July 6th, Fridays 4-8pm, Saturdays and Sundays 12-6pm. For more information, visit Creative Time. A special thanks to Tim Daly, Mike Perrotta, Jon Lash, Eric Hagan, and everyone at Creative Time for helping with this article. 




In Conversation

A Sonorous Subtlety: KARA WALKER with Kara Rooney

From her all-enveloping cycloramas and iconic wall-mounted silhouettes to her searing films, drawings, and prints, Kara Walker’s work has remained fearlessly stalwart in its condemnation of social and racial injustice. With her most recent project, executed in collaboration with Creative Time, Walker shifts her focus from the cotton plantation of America’s antebellum South to its sickly sweet cousin: the sugar trade. At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected: A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant opens to the public on May 10th, and, as its title suggests, avows to be anything but ordinary. Earlier this month, Walker took the time out of her schedule to speak with Rail Managing Art Editor Kara Rooney about her hopes for the installation as well as its complex socio-political implications.

Portrait of the artist. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui.

Kara Rooney (Rail): The executionary details of this project were largely developed in secret, so that very few of us in the press are aware of what the final iteration will look like. Can you describe what viewers will encounter when they finally walk into the space on May 10th?

Kara Walker: I hate talking about it. The great thing about having a secret is that it just stays a secret.

Rail: In that case, let’s start with narrative, since that’s historically played such a significant role in your work. How did the story of the sugar trade influence your decisions on both a formal and intellectual level for this project?

Walker: It started with thinking about the space. I was approached by Creative Time a while back, maybe a year ago, about working with the Domino Sugar plant. One of the selling points for me was the plant itself, along with this amazing history of sugar and its attendant legacies of slavery. There are decades of molasses that cover the entire space; it’s coated—it’s an amazing relic or repository vessel that contains all of these histories, and so the venue is actually doing a good portion of the work. I began to think about how to arrive at a piece, given the work that I’ve done in the past, which has been primarily two-dimensional, and even with film and video thrown in, is large, but not this large. So I started with a lot of sketches; each sketch went from very minimal gestures to this maximal output with all kinds of moving parts. It came to embody something I would never want to see, something that was about slavery and industry and sugar and fat and wastelessness. It was a kind of finger-wagging gloom-and-doom kind of sketch that embodied all of the themes about industrialization that the space contains: post-industrial America, the grandiose gesture of the industrialists, and sugar as the first kind of agro-business.

For example, you can’t get sugar without heavy-duty processing; you don’t get refined sugar, you get other things. This desire for refined sugar and what it means to turn sugar from brown to white and how that dovetails into becoming an American were fascinating to me. Sugar is loaded with meaning, with stories about meaning.

Rail: What were some of your resources in looking into the history of the sugar trade and Domino’s role in particular?

Walker: There is a passage in a book by Sidney Mintz called Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (1985), where the author talks about the Middle Ages in Europe and England and how sugar there was a highly prized, expensive commodity.

Rail: It was for the aristocracy.

Walker: Yes. Sugar was rare, even considered medicinal. It was like gold, extremely precious. At a certain point coming from the East in the 11th century, there began an enormous effort, at the bequest of the sultans, to make these strange, grandiose marzipan structures. Once they were fashioned, they would present and give them to the poor on feast days. This tradition made its way to Northern Europe where the royal chefs began making similar sugar sculptures. The thing that really struck me about these sugar sculptures was what they were called—subtleties—there it is. [Laughs]. They were intended to represent the power of the king, not just in their being made of this prized commodity, but also in their representation of the signing of a treaty, or the hunt. So you had these sugar sculptures of the deer and the king, and there would be some kind of oratory or maybe a little poem that would be said, and then everybody would eat them. They would be presented between meals as this beautiful, edible trophy. It was after reading this that I realized I had to make a sugar sculpture and a large one. So that answers the first part of your question: the sugar sculpture. She is basically a New World sphinx. A New World thinking of the sugar plantations, the Americas, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, that sort of Rolling Stones-y brown sugar dovetailing of sex and slavery as it reaches the American imagination.

Rail: Does this New World sphinx—what sounds like a veritable femme-fatale—relate in any way to the black feminist literature that emerged in the ’70s, initiated by Alice Walker, for example, or is it something more visceral and personal?

Walker: Something more personal, definitely. I think the scale of the piece will probably embrace and eclipse almost anything that you bring to it. [Laughs.] We have 80 tons of sugar in this structure, which measures approximately 80-feet long by 40-feet high, so it doesn’t occupy the entire space but it does occupy it in a very specific way. She also has some sugar candy attendants who are about a third of this in scale.

Rail: What is their origin?

Walker: They are actually taken from 10-inch tall tchotchkes that I bought on Amazon—little black slave boys carrying baskets and presenting different things. They’re very goofy.

Rail: How has working with sugar as a medium challenged the way you approach themes such as white fears of black potency, violence, shame, and resistance? Is the transmission of these ideas still as direct for you as it has been with the cut silhouettes, drawings, and films?

Walker: It’s so much better, honestly! No, I don’t know if it’s better. I like the cutting paper thing, but—maybe it’s simply because it’s something that I’m doing that it feels similar, because it’s my own body. There is a similarity in working with cheap materials. [Laughs.] The cheapest materials available. They’re both temporal, ethereal materials to work with, very finicky. It feels cathartic in the way that working with silhouettes was for me coming from painting. There is a similar kind of movement into another set of dimensionality and scale. I am moving my body around it in a way that’s very new and exciting. The sugar itself is really just a paste, just sugar and a liquid. Once these components are mixed you have something that you can model and play with. Then, depending on whether you’re using heat or not, you get different properties, wildly different properties.

Rail: So this sticky sweetness of the 18th-century silhouette, and the craft tradition that goes along with that, has translated for you in a very physical way.

Walker: I think so, and even in a literal way. We’re literally sugarcoating history. [Laughs.] There are two different things that I’m doing with the sugar and those are what I need to clarify. The main object, the sphinx, is sugarcoated; the smaller objects—these servant figures, or procession of servants—are basically just like big lollipops. Those have been very problematic to work with. We’ve got these molds and they’re solid but we’ll see if they hold up. The first one just collapsed. It was really terrible at the same time that it was kind of awesome to look at because it became this pile of beautiful, caramelized amber. It’s such a fragile and volatile substance that doesn’t like to take on too many forms, which is fine. I keep trying to tell everyone that I’m not a stickler for conformity, so if each one is wildly different, then that’s their attempt at freedom I guess.

Rail: What color are they exactly?

Walker: They’re different colors. At the moment the one that is standing is mostly brown. He burned. He went from caramelized to burnt so he’s a little marbleized, really dark. The first one came out a beautiful amber color. Like when you see caramelized sugar drizzled on your plate, he was that color, but like I said, too soft.

Rail: And the larger sculpture is amber as well?

Walker: The sphinx is white, bright white.

Rail: The element of color is something that I want to discuss. With the silhouettes, the color black is inherent to the 18th-century art form you employ, whereas with sugar there is a transfigurative chemical process that must take place in order for it to become the white powder with which we are all familiar. In a sense, the silhouettes require little conscious agency on your part in order to elicit the desired references. But with these pieces, an additional step is necessary in order to enact that same physical transformation. How did this reverse process of moving from dark to light, a natural to an artificial state, resonate with you? For example, why did you decide to make the sphinx this gleaming white as opposed to brown, or even black?

Kara Walker “Selfie,” 2014.

Walker: I had my options: brown and white. I was thinking about all the products of sugar—molasses, brown sugar, natural sugar, and refined white sugar. I was experimenting with these different kinds of sugar, cooking at home, making all types of different candies, testing different boiling points, then just dumping it out and seeing what would happen. The white against the molasses of the walls of the interior of the refinery will be visually striking. I was also thinking about the fact that I am in a black interior. The plant is not a white-box situation. The project presented an opportunity to invert this paradigm and maybe call into question the desire for the refined—to ask what is lost in the process of refining. This is a testament and monument to the quest for whiteness, the quest for whatever that means. Authority—even as it’s presenting itself on its last legs—this ideal of mastery over continents, people, bodies, ecology. Yes, the sphinx is inverted in multiple ways. But part of it was really part of a visual oooh-factor. The way the light comes in, what the sugar looks like when it has been crystalized in a certain way. It’s a little bit crazy actually. Crazier than you imagine it. [Laughs.]

Rail: With the silhouettes, you’ve said that the minimal formalism of the cartoon profiles resonated with your idea of racial stereotypes, functioning as reductionist versions of actual human beings. With three-dimensional sculptures, this flattening of identities is disrupted. How did you contend with this dimensional shift?

Walker: Physically, it is a shift, but there’s something that resonates between those works and this work. I would not have thought, “this is the same as the silhouette,” but it does feel like it kind of operates in a similar way—it sets up an expectation in the viewer and then starts to complicate that expectation over the course of the viewing. With the three-dimensional shape, and specifically this sphinx-like one, the work becomes iconic, hugely iconic; it does the same thing in the way that the silhouette stereotype figures do. It transcends humanity in the way these other forms reduce humanity. So it’s larger than life, a set of representations that can’t be fully embraced all at once.

One aspect of the process that is different, however, is that I can’t be as hands on. For example, I’m not there now. I was there yesterday working on it along with a team of people and fabricators. It’s a way of working that I’m not used to.

Rail: You typically fabricate all of your work by hand, correct?

Walker: Yes. After the fact there’s often fabrication that happens because of the archival needs of the paper works, but that’s usually after the work has already been created.

Rail: What has that letting go process been like for you?

Walker: It’s a little weird. I feel very contrite when I’m around the folks who are working. Contrite and thankful, they’re doing a wonderful job translating my sketches, notes, and drawings and such.

Rail: The significance of titles seems critical to your output, usually appearing as very long and narratively descriptive. The title for this particular installation is similarly lengthy. How does this mode of naming serve your work?

Walker: In this case it’s kind of funny because the whole thing is so theatrical. In the gallery setting I like to play with the idea that we’re not entering into a dialogue with modernism or even, necessarily, with art. Rather, we’re entering into my universe, whether you like it or not. It’s kind of a coercion into liking it. There have been a few moments where I try to be subtler with my titles for a show, but it has felt like a weird capitulation or some demand for an austere, protestant kind of approach to good art or taste. So, yes, my titles are theatrical or maybe a little overbearing or hyped up. The idea of the artist as a kind of truth-teller is sort of hilarious, so why not go with it?

Rail: So they’re meant to be simultaneously theatrical and a way for you to re-write history?

Walker: Or to claim it, along with my own agency within the gallery setting—to maybe, for a moment, wrest control away from the white box or something.

Rail: They do leave little room for interpretation on the part of the viewer. I’m wondering if this type of, for lack of a better word, heavy-handedness is something you feel is necessary if we are to redirect our gaze effectively?

Walker: You think they’re heavy-handed? I think they’re hilarious.

Rail: I think they can be both. That’s what is so brilliant about the way they inform the work. They don’t back down.

Walker: They are bombastic, yes. There is a little bit of voodoo attached to it, I guess. By assuming authority over my own work I might actually have some authority over my own work, and I might actually convince the viewer that that, in fact, is true! It seems to work [laughs], although even I don’t always buy it.

Rail: You’ve spoken about the influence Adrian Piper had on your work as a younger artist. In light of your emphasis on titling and the way you’ve used text overall, I’m particularly interested in how her relationship to language has affected yours.

Kara Walker, Studies, 2014.

Walker: I guess the influence would be in my thinking about addressing the “other,” the other being the viewer or the objectifier of my work or my body. Sometimes you forget that it’s not all in your head and that viewers of your body and viewers of your artwork are objectifying and limiting, creating alternate realities and alternate narratives for you to reject. Piper’s work has been important for me in trying to understand or recognize what the relationship is that I have with myself as a subject and object.

Rail: Censorship is still a very present issue for you. Even almost 15 years after having received the MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant and the controversy that surrounded that award, as recently as 2012, a drawing of yours was temporarily banned from display at the Newark Public Library. It was shocking for me to think that in a community whose demographic is largely African American this imagery might be deemed too “racy” for the population. Since the Domino plant is also a public space that places you again in the position of addressing a non-artworld audience, was this something you had to consider as you developed the project?

Walker: Yes, this is a point of conversation we are having now. It may be an issue, and maybe it’s the representation of women that becomes the issue, maybe it’s the features on her face—her representation of blackness—is she iconic? Is she stereotypical? Is the figure strong? Is she debilitating? But as far as potential controversy, I don’t know what will happen with this piece. I’m not strategically thinking about these sorts of things when I work, but the imagery does come from my own sensibilities, my own ways of moving through the world. It has my own mixed-up sense of humor in it that is really present, the same type of humor that was embodied in the drawing displayed in New Jersey. I felt good about that work,  and then it disappeared to who knows where before it turned up in the library in Newark. At the same time, in the way the conversation and controversy surrounding that event evolved, it presented an opportunity for me to be an educator.

I’m not there to convert people into loving my art, but to explain that there is a process. Because sometimes for viewers—especially those who don’t have a lot of exposure to the arts—art just comes at them; it’s just there and there is no explanation. There is no understanding that along with this presentation comes a definite process, that there is an individual behind it. There are aspects of the museum and gallery world that are problematic for viewers, in that there isn’t an opportunity to answer back. Or you have to utilize these staid forms such as a panel discussion or an artist talk. In light of this, what should a viewer do if they’re upset or moved? Are you supposed to just hold it in, or do you react? There is something about the call and response of other aspects in the black community—in the black church, in music, in dance—where there is a way of activating the art so that it is alive and living and not this dead thing on a wall that you walk away from, that you feel or don’t feel or are terrorized by.

Rail: It reminds me, to a certain extent, of the controversy surrounding Robert Mapplethorpe’s X Portfolio in the early ’90s, and how the institutions that exhibited the work took the stance of aestheticized distance as a response—looking at the imagery and the idea of the other through a purely formal lens. Thankfully, you had art critics like Dave Hickey who rejected this viewpoint saying, “No, this is a cop-out. These images are supposed to be provocative, they’re meant to provoke. They’re meant to be dangerous and seductive and sexy.” So in that sense, I think that piece really did do something. There probably wouldn’t have been an occasion for discussion there otherwise. It means that your work has agency in the world.

Walker: I’d like to think so.

Rail: I want to return to the subject of the Domino Sugar Factory itself because it is such a loaded place; loaded with industrial history as well as a turbulent one of racial and class struggle. The original refinery was built in 1882. By the 1890s it was producing more than half of the sugar in the United States. So it is not only an iconic landmark in terms of its architectural façade, but served as a locus of activity and consumption in America for more than 100 years.

Even in the latter 19th century, after sugar was no longer grown and processed by a slave population, the plant continued to have an ongoing association with minimal wage earnings and extreme poverty. As recently as 2000, it functioned as the site of one of New York City’s longest labor strikes, with over 250 workers protesting wages and working conditions for 20 months.

Walker: Which didn’t turn out well.

Rail: Right. When you walk into a space like that, when you know this information, this factual history, how does that affect your vision for the space? How does the building itself influence the objects you create in response to it?

Kara Walker, “A Subtlety” (in process), 2014.

Walker: It messes with them. It messes with the space, or rather, it messes with the histories, which I always do too. [Pauses.] Imagine gathering all the sugar in the world in one location. This demands immense amounts of physical labor, from the Dominican Republic to Cuba and other sugar islands, that brought that product onto that site, and are still bringing that product onto the other site in Yonkers. Then there’s this insane amount of pressure, heat, centrifugal force, and manpower necessary to bleach the sugar. Not to bleach it, exactly, but to turn it from its natural brown to white state. There is all this knowledge that comes with that, the learned knowledge of the men and women who have worked on this site for years and years and years, not to mention of the families of these laborers. There is a living memory of the smell and the steam—this heavy molasses odor that’s still in the space.

Rail: It’s like the gooey, sticky manifestation of America’s original sin.

Walker: Yes. There’s this grassy, pungent, almost nauseating sugar smell that lives in the tissue of everyone who has worked in that plant. I wasn’t aiming to depict an accurate representation of labor, but to evoke the associated ideas of empire, of the past—their relics and ruins; you’re always cognizant of those mythical humans, for example, who built the Pyramids of Giza. There is this awe and wonder that goes hand-in-hand with these places but it’s without the thoughts of the sweat and labor behind it. I wanted to make something that would contain that sweat and labor in the histories of the totality of sugar production—the here and now and the past and present of it—but that would also elicit this terribly sad memory of all that’s lost. It’s colossal and at the same time temporary, made from something completely vulnerable to the elements and time. Hopefully that awesomeness will also be there.

Rail: My last question, which you just touched upon, circles back to this issue of class that’s raised in the setting of this work. Given the building’s future fate and the rampant gentrification currently taking place throughout New York, coupled with the fact that sections of the plant are already being dismantled for what is slated to be the largest residential construction on the Brooklyn waterfront, what are your thoughts on how this space’s identities as a historic site of racial and class warfare and its future trajectory as luxury condos coalesce or diverge from one another?  [It should be noted that 700 of these units have been slated for low-income housing, but that represents a mere 30 percent of the overall construction.]

Walker: I don’t know if I have a satisfying set of answers to that question. When I think about the space, and even before I was working in it, I recognized it as emblematic of the kind of shortsighted progress—the entrepreneurial, industrial, moneyed, ever forward, ever onward, no matter what, no matter who gets hurt—that has taken hold of the city.

I am an agent of tricksterism, and I knew I could use that. In order to bring myself to build something as heroic and herculean as this effort, I had to get into that mindset of industrial conquest. Now, whether or not the builders who are behind some of this project will get that, I can’t be sure. And I don’t know what that says to the people who are left high and dry by this constant moving, constant gentrification, constant building. I’m in a really tricky position because with this project, I wound up being both the beneficiary and the hand-biter. I have lived in the city for 12 years now and the work never seems to be done; the city is constantly pushing people out. I don’t know where everyone goes. Struggling, striving, there is a weird engine in the city that is constantly being fomented. The question that arises with the waterfront there is if we reach the pinnacle of condo building, when does it stop? When do we make space for everybody else?

Rail: And how do we make a stand against that? I imagine this project is one way of doing so.

Walker: I don’t know, do you think? I don’t know if this piece will do that. My feeling is—and this is a kind of pipe-dream poetic feeling—of the piece being present, and the piece disappearing. My greatest hope is that when all is said and done that the aftereffect is still there. That it’s not just another lost memory, like the lost memories and collective knowledge of the people who worked at the sugar factory. [Sighs.]



Culture Desk - Notes on arts and entertainment from the staff of The New Yorker.

May 8, 2014

The Sugar Sphinx

AP472881413685-580.jpgOver the past twenty-five years or so, ever since her spectacular New York début at the Drawing Center, in 1994, the now forty-four-year-old artist Kara Walker’s visual production—sculptures, cutouts, drawings, films—has beendiaristic in tone. But the diary Walker keeps is not explicitly personal; it’s a historical ledger filled with one-line descriptions about all those bodies and psyches that were bought and sold from the seventeenth century on, when slavery became the American way of life and its maiming shadows pressed down on black andwhitesouls alike.Walker knows that ghosts can hurt you because history does not go away. Americans live, still, in an atmosphere of phantasmagorical genocide—we kill each other with looks, judgments, the fantasies that white is better than black and that blackness is bestial while being somehow more “humane”—read mentally inferior—than whiteness. But what do those colors even mean? In Walker’s view, they are signifiers about power—the power separating those who have the language to make the world and map it, and those who work that claimed land for them with noremuneration, no hope, and then degradation and death.

In her silhouettes, Walker’s black characters are often fashioned out of black paper—the color of grief—while her white characters live in the white space of reflection. But, in recent years, this scheme has begun to change—radically, upping the ante on what Walker might “mean” in her gorgeously divisive work. Take, for instance, the success of Walker’s latest piece:


At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:
A Subtlety
or the Marvelous Sugar Baby
an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined
our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World
on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant

The title says it all, and then not.

Located in Williamsburg, the Domino Sugar Factory was built in 1882; by the eighteen-nineties, it was producing half the sugar being consumed in the United States. As recently as 2000, it was the site of a long labor strike, in which two hundred and fifty workers protested wages and labor conditions for twenty months. (I saw the piece before the installation was complete and look forward to going back.) Now the factory is about to be torn down and its site developed, and its history will be eradicated by apartments and bodies that do not know the labor and history and death that came before its moneyed hope. The site is worth mentioning at length because Walker’s creation is not only redolent of its history, it’s of a piece with the sugar factory—and its imminent destruction.

Measuring approximately seventy-five and a half feet long and thirty-five and a half feet high, the sculpture is white—a mammy-as-sphinx made out of bleached sugar, which is a metaphor and reality. Remember, sugar is brown in its “raw” state. Walker, in a very informative interview with Kara Rooney, says that she read a book called “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History.” There, she learned that sugar was such a commodity that, in the eleventh century, marzipan sculptures were created by the sultans in the East to give to the poor on feast days. This tradition made its way to Northern Europe, eventually, where royal chefs made sugar sculptures called subtleties. Walker was taken not only with those stories but with the history of the slave trade in America: Who cut the sugar cane? Who ground it down to syrup? Who bleached it? Who sacked it?

Operating from the assumption, always, that history can be found out and outed, Walker’s sphinx shows up our assumptions: She has “black” features but is white? Has she been bleached—and thus made more “beautiful”—or is she a spectre of history, the female embodiment of all the human labor that went into making her?

Walker’s radicalism has other routes, too: in European art history, which made Picasso and helped make Kara Walker. But instead of refashioning the European idea of coloredness—think about Brancusi and Giacometti’s love of the primitive and what they did with African and Oceanic art—Walker has snatched colored femaleness from the margins. She’s taken the black servant in Manet’s “Olympia”—exhibited the same year black American slaves were “emancipated”—and plunked her down from the art-historical skies into Brooklyn, where she finally gets to show her regal head and body as an alternative to Manet’s invention, which was based on a working girl living in the demimonde.

Walker’s sphinx is triumphant, rising from another kind of half world—the shadowy half world of slavery and degradation as she gives us a version of “the finger.” (The sphinx’s left hand is configured in such a way that it connotes good luck, or “fuck you,” or fertility. Take it any way you like.) Now she’s bigger than the rest of us. Still, she wears a kerchief to remind us where she comes from. She is Cleopatra as worker: unknown to you because you have rarely seen her as she raised your children, cleaned up your messes—emotional and otherwise. Walker has made this servant monumental not only because she wants us to see her but so the sphinx can show us—so she can get in our face with her brown sugar underneath all that whiteness. And, if that weren’t interesting enough, Walker has given her sphinx a rear—and a vulva. Standing by the sphinx, you may recall the playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’s 1995 essay “The Rear End Exists”:


Legend has it that when Josephine Baker hit Paris in the ’20s, she “just wiggled her fanny and all the French fell in love with her.” … [But] there was a hell of a lot behind that wiggling bottom. Check it: Baker was from America and left it; African-Americans are on the bottom of the heap in America; we are at the bottom on the bottom, practically the bottom itself, and Baker rose to the top by shaking her bottom.


The sphinx crouches in a position that’s regal and yet totemic of subjugation—she is “beat down” but standing. That’s part of her history, too.

And then, again, there’s art history. Over the years, we’ve seen the sphinx at the Pyramids, but have we ever wondered what was beyond that mystery? Walker shows us the mystery and reality of female genitalia while calling our attention, perhaps, to all those African women whose genitalia have been mutilated because they are “slaves” in blackness, too. When has the sphinx ever had a home? What is her real secret? The monumentality of her survival, the blood of her past now “refined,” made white, built to crumble.

Photograph by J Grassi/




Kara Walker And Her Sugar Sphinx At The Old Domino Factory

Posted: 05/07/2014 9:30 am EDT Updated: 05/07/2014 9:59 am EDT

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Refining, as Creative Time’s Chief Curator Nato Thompson reminds us inside this 30,000 square foot former Domino Sugar facility, is a process whereby coarse cane is decolorized, and brown is turned powdery and crystalline white.

Armed with such loaded symbolism, internationally renowned artist Kara E. Walker unveils her Subtlety installation this week, completely commanding this steel girded chamber of the industrial north and jolting you from your sugar haze. Towering over our heads is the resolute and silent face of a kneeling nude polystyrene white woman with African features, posed to resemble a 35 foot sphinx encrusted with sugar and to receive your questions. Subtlety indeed.


Kara Walker. The artist portrait in profile with her sugary sphinx in the background. (photo via iPhone © Jaime Rojo)

“I’m grateful to Creative Time for inviting me to create work in a place like this that is so loaded with histories and questions,” says Ms. Walker of the nonprofit organization that commissions and presents public arts projects like this one. She describes the turbulent process of creating her new mammoth piece, and all of them really. She says that her work often makes even her uncomfortable, which is somehow comforting.


Kara Walker (photo via iPhone © Jaime Rojo)

The left hand gesture of the mysterious sugary Sphinx captures the eye of artist Mike Ming who asks Ms. Walker what it signifies. The artist fingers her necklace and displays the charm hanging from it – a forearm and a hand forming the same fist-like pose.

“It means many things, depending on the source,” she explains, and she lists fertility as one and a protective amulet as another. Our ears perk up when she says that in some cultures it is a signal akin to “fuck you” and she has also heard that it can mean a derogatory four-letter term for a part of the female anatomy. And what does this thumb protruding between the index and middle finger mean here? “You’ll have to ask her,” she says smiling and nodding her head upward to the bandana crowned silent one.


Kara Walker. Detail. (photo via iPhone © Jaime Rojo)

Speaking of female anatomy, Ms. Walker deliberately and remarkably screams silently in the face of sexual stereotypes that prevailed and dehumanized women of African descent for the majority of North American history with this exaggerated caricature and her arching back quarters hoisted to the heavens. We only use past tense in that sentence to reassure ourselves that those stereotypes are distant and not at all connected to us today, but this may require a healthy helping of sunny denial to maintain the perception as we travel throughout the land.


Kara Walker. Detail. (photo via iPhone © Jaime Rojo)

The spectacle here is pushed by the extended pelvis, the protruding nether regions, the amply plump breasts rather pressed together. The presentation may summon pleasant perturbations in some viewers, while setting off murderous riots of horror in others, but we’ll all keep our associations to ourselves, thank you.

This is the giant white sphinx in the living room, sparkling white and sweet. Congratulations to “Subtlety” for at least partially hushing a PC crowd of normally chatty New Yorkers who struggle to make cocktail talk in the shadows of our heritage, and for that matter, our present. We feel lucky that this sphinx does not speak, for she would likely slaughter much with her tongue.


Kara Walker. Detail. (photo via iPhone © Jaime Rojo)

Accompanying the sphinx are more human scale children of molasses coloring, “Sugar Babies” standing before craggled industrial walls that are coated with the thick, dark brown syrup obtained from raw sugar during the refining process. She says the five foot tall figures are based on the trinkets of porcelain once sold widely, featuring adorably cherubic slaves carrying baskets into which you may place colorful hard candies for special guests of some refinement.

On a technical note, she offers special thanks to the fabricating sculptors who struggled with the amber candy material as it reacted to changes in temperature and humidity. The floor itself had to be power-washed to loosen and dispel an inch of thick goo, and as we spoke she pointed to the dripping of a molasses type of liquid from the ceiling onto the sculpture. Asked by the CT team if the sphinx should be whitened each time there was a drip, the artist decided that she likes the dripping effect so they will leave it as is and watch how the piece ages with the history of the building.


Kara Walker. Detail. (photo via iPhone © Jaime Rojo)

For those who will be drawn like bees to honey to this unprecedented monument of site specificity in a place directly welded to Brooklyn’s maritime history, America’s industrialization and its slave economy, Ms. Walker now transforms into a stomping giant before our eyes. To those who prefer the truly subtle, this show will be overlooked as too obvious.

Kudos to Creative Time, its director Anne Pasternak, and Ms. Walker for putting our face in it, even as we bemoan the loss of this soon-to-be demolished building and its connection to our history.


Kara Walker. Detail. (photo via iPhone © Jaime Rojo)


Kara Walker. Detail. (photo via iPhone © Jaime Rojo)


Kara Walker. Detail. (photo via iPhone © Jaime Rojo)

At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:
Kara Walker – A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

The exhibition will be open on May 10 – July 6, 2014. Free and open to the public – check here for more details.





Saltz: Kara Walker Bursts Into Three Dimensions, and Flattens Me

Kara Walker, A Subtlety, 2014.

Midway through my maiden visit to the derelict Domino Sugar refinery near the Williamsburg Bridge, while gaping in awe at Kara Walker’s great gaudy monstrosity, her towering naked sphinx with the head scarf and features of a black mammy, I had something like a vision. That’s the crazy comical power Walker’s best work can have. Particularly this work, elliptically and archaically titled A Subtlety: Or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the ­demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. This behemoth, part Cecil B. ­DeMille parade float, part alien, is accompanied by a retinue of life-size deformed black figures, boys carrying bananas or baskets with parts of other boys, all made from molasses and brown sugar.

I imagined this mad theatrical 35-ton thing—more than 35 feet high and 75 feet long, fashioned in refined white sugar over blocks of Styrofoam—pulled across the United States by the crew of misshapen brown attendants. I saw its ambiguous anarchic meanings, its otherness, stunning all who saw it. I fancied this an American ghost ship, never coming to rest until … what? I don’t know. I saw a new American Pequod, some Melvillian symbol for the original sin of slavery and its disquieting contemporary connections to the kind of hubris that brought us Iraq and then Abu Ghraib. Things that make America lose its humanity. Walker, who called A Subtlety “a New World sphinx,” has said that her work “is about trying to get a grasp on history … it’s kind of a trap … the meaty, unresolved, mucky blood lust of talking about race where I always feel like the conversation is inconclusive.”

That trap looms in this incredible sculpture, impeccably presented in the decrepit Domino refinery by Creative Time. This dank building, where layers of history are caked on the walls with molasses, this place where brown sugar was turned white, multiplies the lurking meanings in Walker’s work. Especially as no one captures and portrays the implicit connections between sex and power like this gifted artist. Sex is simultaneously visible and implied in her work, the abject violations of slavery and its long aftermath always close to the surface. (Her other art runs amok with mammies, pickaninnies, and Sambos being raped, beaten, or wooed by slave masters and southern belles.) Whiffs of Goya’s depictions of evil come to mind.

Walker has been an artistic force since 1992, when she first got the idea of using the so-called “minor art” of paper silhouettes to render—in vast, wall-filling panoramas—horrific, violent, and sexualized scenes of the antebellum South. I first saw her work while she was still a risd student and hadn’t yet hit on this device, one that reduces the world to monochrome and that, she once said, “kind of saved me.” Still, I gleaned, in a large drawing of black girls, done in chocolate, what I perceived as a new barbaric yawp come into America. Since then, and after receiving a MacArthur Award in 1997 at the age of 27, Walker has only gotten better, more wicked and out-there.

A Subtlety depicts a black-featured woman with enormous hindquarters arched and exposed, her protruding vulva presented as if for sexual delectation. She crouches, her breasts visible, her left thumb thrust through split fingers in an ancient visceral symbol for sex called the fig. Walker has never worked in three dimensions like this. Maybe no one has. This massive sculptural juggernaut—all this white in the midst of this dead factory coated in congealed brown sugar—suggests hidden causes and effects, cosmic condemnations, menace, cruel pleasures, and inscrutable things. I imagined birds of prey circling over it. Vitriol, fatalism, and grandiosity merge. James Baldwin once wrote of the white American remembering slavery as “a kind of Eden in which he loved black people and they loved him … everything … is permitted him except the love he remembers and has never ceased to need.” Baldwin suggests that this is partly the malignant cause of the “hysteria” of racism. As Walker puts it more concisely, “This sugar has blood on its hands.”

As I considered this while pondering A Subtlety, allusions to the Pequod gave way. Something darker, universal, and more unknowable formed. The white sculpture morphs in the mind into a stand-in for Melville’s white whale itself. The psychic bottom falls out. I remembered D. H. Lawrence’s incredible analysis of Moby-Dick: “Doom! Doom! Doom! Something seems to whisper it in the very dark trees of America. Doom! … Doom of our white day … And the doom is in America. The doom of our white day.” Then my vision came to an end.

A Subtlety: Or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. Kara Walker. Domino Sugar Refinery, Williamsburg.

*This article appears in the June 2, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.




Kara Walker in New York

Sour sweet

An artist sculpts America’s dark history


SUGAR is a cheap, seductive pleasure. But its sweetness belies a bitter history. For centuries it was a commodity harvested by slaves and refined into something white. Lately sugar has also become the villain of choice in the campaign to fight obesity. Leave it to Kara Walker, a provocative American artist, to turn the crystals into a work of art.

Last year Ms Walker was asked by Creative Time, a New York-based non-profit organisation that specialises in presenting art in public spaces, to create something for a cavernous disused sugar factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Ms Walker was a clever choice. For more than 20 years, she has been making work that is visually compelling even as it condemns some of the darkest moments of America’s slave-owning past. Her best-known pieces use Victorian-looking silhouettes to depict brutal, racist scenes from the antebellum south. Surprisingly, these works don’t nag. Rather, they are repulsively titillating, as if she is seizing skeletons from the country’s closet and making them dance.

Ms Walker, now 44, has had her share of big museum shows, but she has never before filled a space as large or as freighted with history as the Domino sugar factory. More challenging still, she decided to confect her work out of the sweet stuff itself, in all its sticky grit.

The full name of the installation (capital letters included) says it all, and perhaps too much: “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant”.

The work itself is more subtle, and more powerful. A procession of amber-coloured boy sculptures, five-feet high, sweet-faced and creepy, guide visitors to the main attraction. At the far end of dark factory, hunched and glowing, is a gigantic sugar-coated sphinx. With stereotypically black features, her hair wrapped in a bandanna, she crouches suggestively—perhaps submissively, despite being more than 35-feet high. Her powdery skin contrasts with the molasses-caked walls. A saccharine smell hangs in the air.

A monumental mammy sphinx hardly sounds nuanced. And yet the work is both surprising and complex, evoking not only the slaves of the sugar trade, but also the women who became sex toys, as disposable as lollipops. Like the sphinx in Egypt, this one presides over a site of ruins—after the show ends on July 6th, the factory is destined for the wrecking ball. A shiny new waterfront development will be raised in its place.

Working with sugar was a challenge. Sculptures either melted or broke into pieces. Some of the boy figures fell apart days before the show opened. “No one works with sugar,” says Nato Thompson, the curator. “Now we know why.” But for Ms Walker the real work involved transforming her ideas for the piece (which could sometimes be “finger-waggingly angry”) into a work of art. Her aim was to create something that would be “sweet on the eyes”, albeit a bit tough going down.



May 25, 2014 9:01 pm

Kara Walker, Domino Sugar Factory, Brooklyn, New York – review

Kara Walker’s ‘A Subtlety’©Jason Wyche

Kara Walker’s ‘A Subtlety’

Just outside Natchez, Mississippi there’s a restaurant called Mammy’s Cupboard, set inside the ballooning skirt of a 28ft-tall black woman. Built in 1940, the eatery has cycled through spells of decay and restoration, but it – or rather she, with her recently bleached features and polka dot headscarf – still towers over the low landscape, a degraded stereotype radiating queasy charm. It’s impossible to tell whether Mammy’s keeps operating as a straightforward statement of tradition or as an ironic twist on a racist reverie. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Kara Walker may never have patronised that particular establishment, but she has built a sculpture in Brooklyn that draws on the same mortifying imagery and outlandish size, turning the mammy into a mythic creature. The title is a lyric artwork in itself:

A Subtlety

or the Marvellous Sugar Baby

an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined

our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World

on the Occasion of the Demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant

Walker has attached the head of a black house servant to the body of a giant sphinx, made out of refined white sugar over a polystyrene core. This agreeably menacing beast slouches towards Manhattan, its hour come round at last. Her slow thighs rest in the empty Domino Sugar warehouse on the Williamsburg waterfront, where the smell of burnt caramel lingers in the air. Granulated tides once rose in this cavernous space, so deep and dense that for years nobody ever saw the floor.

Walker’s work transforms the industrial structure into a para-religious one. You enter the dim, rusting basilica at one end, and sense the sculpture’s presence in the distance before you quite get the measure of its size. To approach, you file down the nave to the bay where she crouches, three storeys tall, bathed in the pallor that flows from a skylight above her kerchief-crowned head. There is only one way to exit: past her mountainous, proffered behind.

The work’s title, “A Subtlety”, refers to a common furnishing of the medieval European banquet, a sugar sculpture moulded into curious and sometimes political form, such as an eagle, a battleship, a philosopher’s head, or a famous literary scene. But subtlety is an odd word for Walker, whose 1994 debut at the Drawing Center spotlit starchy silhouettes wallowing in crude sadism. Ever since, she has honed her rage on installations, films, drawings and paintings that adumbrate slavery’s shadow over American culture. Morbid, grotesque and funny, she shows how no one, black or white, remains unscarred by the destructive history of race.

Racist caricatures hold a strange appeal for her. In the same way that victimised groups adopt their persecutors’ slurs as a badge of pride, she heaps her work with pickaninnies, Sambos, mandingos and Uncle Toms, exorcising awfulness through brutal reiteration. “A Subtlety” unites two racist tropes in a single, succulent hybrid. The covered head and stoic face, with every feature a symmetrical ellipse, invokes the mythic maternal nursemaid who caters without complaint to the caprices of a white family. The bared breasts, cocked buttocks and swollen vulva suggest that whatever the female slave’s official job, she had other duties as well. Walker’s sphinx is all about nurturing and sex, loyalty and ruthless trade.

It is also weirdly adorable. Before reaching the big white mama, visitors pass a small army of molasses boys, balancing baskets filled with amber shards of crystallised sugar. Walker enlarged them from made-in-China tchotchkes discovered on Amazon. With their round limbs and big soft eyes, they are cute, in a Koonsian sort of way, producing Walker’s desired effect of “giddy discomfort”. They melt slowly in the spring heat, their dark bodies oozing on to the floor. Walker tempts us, then shames us for succumbing to her subversive wiles.

“A Subtlety” merges the literal and the metaphorical in a tour de force of subtext. To a great extent, New York was built on sugar, one of its earliest and most durable industrial products. The first refinery opened in 1730, and the business created many of the city’s most prominent families. The Havemeyers built the Domino refinery in 1856 and, by 1870, it was turning out 1,200 tons of lily-white powder a day – more than half of all the sugar in the US. When the plant shut down a decade ago, it ended the city’s 274-year tradition. The walls of the warehouse remain coated with a sticky residue, so that it looks as if they’re simply dissolving.

Soon, a new waterfront neighbourhood will rise on the site, a mixture of apartments, offices, stores, and open space – a microcosm of the post-industrial city that seems to have little room for working-class blacks. We keep hearing about the poisonous effects of sugar on our brains and waistlines; Walker delves deeper into the historical ravages: the field hands who grew and cut the cane and hauled it to ships sailing north; the workers in the refineries who “purified” the product until it was white enough to reimport for use on plantation tables. The ironies never cease: today, refined sugar has gone from being the gentry’s expensive consumer good to the scourge of poor black communities, where obesity and diabetes have reached epidemic proportions. Meanwhile, pricey organic food stores now dispense sugar in its rougher, browner, more putatively authentic forms.

Walker has a whole other repertoire of references, too. Sugar Hill was Harlem’s most comfortable neighbourhood in the 1920s, when it was named after the sweet life its residents enjoyed. Langston Hughes conflated the phrase with chocolate skin tones in his lascivious ode to women of various shades:

Brown sugar lassie,

Caramel treat,

Honey-gold baby,

Sweet enough to eat.

Walker responds to this male praise of dark skin and luscious flesh by creating a statuesque black woman who is whiter than white. She invokes the great marble colossi of the ancient world, Egyptian divinities, and fertility goddesses of yore – but she also brings up the less elevated history of skin-lightening, hair-straightening torments that blacks have regularly subjected themselves to in an effort to improve their status. Is that why we like this representation of a coffee-coloured woman, made artificially light and sweet? With this tangle of slippery meanings, Walker dares viewers to admire her creation, challenging each of us to ask why.

Until July 6;




Going to see Kara Walker’s ‘Subtlety?’ Read these first.

Artist Kara Walker's installation 'A Subtlety' is sugar-coated with an estimated 40 tons of sugar at the Domino Sugar factory in the Williamsburg section of the borough of Brooklyn in New York May 16, 2014. The sugar-coated sphinx-like figure measures 75.5 feet long, 35.5 feet high and 26 feet wide . REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Should you find yourself in New York this summer, one of the things that’s been heralded as a must-see (and must-smell) is the mammoth sphinx sculpture artist Kara Walker has created in the Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn. You’ll probably wait for about 20 minutes; Walker’s piece, free to view, is commanding lines that stretch around the block. But once inside, you’ll find not just Walker’s mammy sphinx but smaller, disintegrating sculptures crafted from resin and covered in molasses.

People cue up to see “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby,” by artist Kara Walker, on display inside the former Domino Sugar Refinery, located in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, Saturday, May 17, 2014. Four tons of sugar were used to create the 35-foot-high sphinx-like sculpture.The head of the large sculpture wears a kerchief and slightly exaggerated African features. Her breasts are exposed and her fists are thrust out, described by Walker as both submissive and domineering.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Walker’s installation is called “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.” It’s 35 feet high, and it took four tons of sugar to create. The installation closes July 6. Afterward, the refining plant will be torn down. (Medieval sugar sculptures were known as “subtleties.”)

NPR’s Audie Cornish spent time with Walker in the factory, which resulted in a piece for All Things Considered:

She’s doing what she does best: drawing you in with something sweet, something almost charming, before you realize you’ve admired something disturbing. In this case, that’s the horror-riddled Caribbean slave trade that helped fuel the industrial gains of the 18th and 19th centuries; a slave trade built to profit from an insatiable Western market for refined sugar treats and rum.

“Basically, it was blood sugar,” Walker says. “Like we talk about blood diamonds today, there were pamphlets saying this sugar has blood on its hands.”

She explains that to make the sugar, the cane had to be fed into large mills by hand. It was a dangerous process: Slaves lost hands, arms, limbs and lives.

“I’ve been kind of back and forth with my reverence for sugar,” Walker says. “Like, how we’re all kind of invested in its production without really realizing just what goes into it; how much chemistry goes into extracting whiteness from the sugar cane.”


Artist Kara Walker poses in front of her installation 'A Subtlety' sugar-coated with an estimated 40 tons of sugar at the Domino Sugar factory in the Williamsburg section of the borough of Brooklyn in New York May 16, 2014. The sugar-coated sphinx-like figure measures 75.5 feet long, 35.5 feet high and 26 feet wide . REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY)

Like Walker’s “Subtlety,” these novels were inspired by Caribbean slave trade and the way it affected the women of the West Indies. Though by no means a comprehensive list, here’s a jumping-off point:

The Book of Night Women,” by Marlon James

Significant parts of “The Book of Night Women” are, understandably, very difficult to read. Rape, torture, murder and other dehumanizing acts propel the narrative, never failing to shock in both their depravity and their humanness. It is this complex intertwining that makes James’s book so disturbing and so eloquent. Writing in the spirit of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker but in a style all his own, James has conducted an experiment in how to write the unspeakable — even the unthinkable. And the results of that experiment are an undeniable success.

Kaima Glover, the New York Times

“See Now Then,” by Jamaica Kincaid

As must be obvious by now, it is in Kincaid’s extraordinarily elegiac style, peppered with flashes of rage, that we see the artist at work. “See Now Then” is a novel written in high dudgeon. You are warned of this from the very start: The portrait she gives us of our heroine is bleak, unremitting. “Her legs were too long, her torso too short; her nostrils flatted out like a deflated tent and came to rest on her wide fat cheeks; her ears appeared just where ears should be but then disappeared unexpectedly and if an account of them had to be made for evidence of any kind, memory of ears known in one way or another would have to be brought forth; her lips were like a child’s drawing of the earth before creation, a symbol of chaos, the thing not yet knowing its true form.” In other words, Mrs. Sweet was an aging black female. The last thing her white, effete husband expected her to become.

— Marie Arana, The Washington Post

One of several small sculptures of young boys, covered in molasses, with fruit baskets holding unrefined sugar accompany "“A Subtlety"” by Kara Walker. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

“Wide Sargasso Sea,” by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea speaks of the history of cruelty and suffering that lies behind some of the West’s accumulated wealth, a history which in Jane Eyre is secret and mysterious, and only appears in brief glimpses. This is a book that gives voice to neglected, silenced and unacknowledged stories, exploring different inflections of marginality – gender, class, race and madness. Where historical events, recorded in written discourse, have shaped the opinions of many of the people of the former British colonies and education is exclusively from a Eurocentric perspective, the recovery of “lost” histories has a crucial role to play in allowing access to events and experiences which have not previously been recorded. This idea of “writing back” by breaking down explanations for events and favouring more localised narratives and perspectives has informed my own work, especially in the voices of the former slaves in my latest novel. Wide Sargasso Sea is an inspiration. Certainly, before the phrase was coined, Jean Rhys was a post-colonial writer whose work reminds us that “there is always another side, always.”

— Lara Fish, the Independent

“I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem” by Maryse Condé

History remembers Tituba as the West Indian slave who supposedly cast a spell on the young girls of Salem, Mass., and set off a tidal wave of paranoid accusations that left 19 “witches“ dead in its wake. But in the hands of novelist Maryse Conde, Tituba`s life becomes a marvelous canvas for exploring a particular dimension of the slave experience — how a young woman`s sexuality and skills as a healer ultimately made her an object of wonder and terror. …

Like Jean Rhys, Conde, who was born in Guadeloupe, is able to blend the fictional with the factual and imbue island scenes with remarkable lushness and enchantment. Author of five novels, five plays and a collection of Caribbean folk tales, she wrote this novel in 1986. Her husband, Richard Philcox, supplied the graceful translation from Conde`s native French. Just as Tituba`s voice should never have been silenced, Conde is too important a discovery for American audiences to ignore.

— Stephanie B. Goldberg, the Chicago Tribune

“Conquistadora,” by Esmerelda Santiago

If the American South had Scarlett O’Hara as its Civil War antiheroine, the English-speaking Caribbean of the 1800s had Annie Palmer. The real-life mistress of a Jamaican sugar estate during the final days of slavery, Palmer was the subject of legend and many lurid novels, most enduringly 1929’s “White Witch of Rosehall.” Lore says (most likely inaccurately) that Palmer practiced obeah, or sorcery; bedded slaves, then killed them; and murdered three husbands. She set the standard for cruelty and debauchery in a woman presiding over a plantation. …

But Santiago’s plantation mistress isn’t a shrew who derives sadistic pleasure from flogging her slaves. Nor is she their ministering angel, although she tends to the sick and oversees baptisms and prayers. Ana is something much more elusive and contradictory. She delegates the flogging, but flinches when the slaves scream.

— Gaiutra Bahadur, the New York Times

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