Ichwan Noor’s Beetlesphere at Art: 1 by Mondercor Gallery, now on view at Art Basel Hong Kong
Courtesy Hanart Square
“Forty-four Sunsets in a Day” by Jennifer Wen Ma
An inflatable sculpture called “Lethargic Aesthetics” 2012 by Guan Huaibin, represented by Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong
Art – Art Basel Hong Kong 2013
There is a new Art Basel show! With half of the participating galleries coming from Asia and Asia-Pacific, Art Basel in Hong Kong assumes a significant role in the international artworld, providing a portal to the region’s artists. The new show gives galleries from around the world a platform in Asia to demonstrate the way they work with artists, and bring their highest quality work and contemporary art to Hong Kong.
Known as the gateway between the East and West, Hong Kong ranks among the world’s most dynamic international capitals. A 21st century metropolis, it is a port city with a vast skyline rising above its bustling Victoria Harbour. In addition to the many museums, concert halls, and performance spaces, a vibrant melting pot of cultures makes Hong Kong a place of endless exploration.
The show’s four exhibition sectors are designed to present an exceptional selection of works, including museum-quality pieces by proven masters and new artworks by emerging artists. Additional exhibitions and events, timed to coincide with Art Basel’s Hong Kong debut, will take place across the city’s thriving gallery scene and in its growing array of cultural institutions.
May 20, 2013 |
Here is a small sample of Vincent Johnson’s Strange Los Angeles Pictures photography program
Vincent Johnson Artist and writer in Los Angeles
Vincent Johnson Artist and writer in Los Angeles
Art Basel Hong Kong is clearly the most important new major global event on the international art circuit. It will held in one of the world’s most luxurious cities, that is also one of the top dining destinations on the planet. This edition of Art Basel is already showing waves of difference in that it is anticipated to exponentially raise the stature of Hong Kong based artists who have been overlooked because of the phenomenal attention paid to mainland China’s art scene in Shanghai and Beijing. Except for a few artists, this has not been the case with artists based in Miami, evidenced by the recent moves of several of Miami’s young art stars to Los Angeles. Local Miami artists claim that they have been energized but largely overwhelmed and swept aside by the tidal wave of Art Basel Miami Beach and its sometimes over twenty satellite fairs. This edition of Art Basel is also drawing international attention to the existing and expanding Hong Kong art scene. The debut of the 645,000 sq. ft. exhibition museum space M+ in 2017 will transform Hong Kong into one of the must visit global destinations for viewing contemporary art year round. One other key difference between the Miami Art Basel and that of Hong Kong, is that over half of the galleries showing in Art Basel Hong Kong are based in the Asia-Pacific region. Whereas Art Basel Miami Beach has seen no more than three Miami art galleries at this fair at any given year, with many years having only one Miami based gallery. Another key difference is that the Art Basel Kong Kong is specifically and definitively dedicated to empowering the Asia-Pacific Rim artworlds, from centers of production, to centers of distribution such as the gallery cluster of international commercial galleries in Singapore. The Asia-Pacific Rim region already has a spectacular number of world-class art fairs, superior and vast in size contemporary and historical art museums, and serious publications on art. It will be interesting to watch up close and from afar as Asia’s impact on the global art economy escalates and shocks. This blog post will be updated during Art Basel Hong Kong’s debut week.
Having been to the last nine Art Basel Miami Beach fairs, I dare say the Hong Kong Edition might be the most exciting and sought after new art fair worldwide.
Here is a small sample of Vincent Johnson’s Strange Los Angeles Pictures photography program
CULTURE 0 0 Meneame0 0 10 0
ART BASEL HONG KONG
Art Basel Hong Kong has positioned itself as the premier art fair in Asia.
Art Basel Hong Kong: A Success StoryBy Grace Piney
The first edition of Art Basel Hong Kong (2013) closed on Sunday May 26. The event was highly praised by critics and collectors, and had an impressive volume of sales.
More than 60,000 people attended the fair and admired the work of 3,000 established and emerging artists. Many of them are showing their work for the first time in an art fair in Hong Kong.
BUI CONG KHANH. The Past Moved, 2010. 10 Chancery Lane Gallery. Hong Kong, China.
A considerable number of art directors, curators and administrators from museums and international institutions visited the fair, including members of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco; the Asia Society from New York; the Pompidou Centre in Paris; the Dallas Museum of Art; the Beyeler Foundation, in Riehen; the Contemporary Arts Institute, London; MoCA of Miami; M+, Hong Kong; OCAT, Shenzhen from Beijing; The Royal Academy, The Serpentine Gallery and the Tate Gallery from London; the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art from Beijing; the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis; the White Rabbit Collection from Sydney; and the Yellow River Arts Centre from Yinchuan.
Although final figures have not yet been revealed, the information available indicates solid sales in all sectors. Several galleries have described to the media their experiences meeting new collectors from the region. Others say they had finalized sales to Asian collectors that had been in the making for up to two years, and most gallery owners reported that they had sold their entire collections during the first days of the event. The overall reception generated great excitement with this first edition, and optimism about the future of the growing art market in Asia.
ABDEL ABSESSEMED. Cheval de Turin, 2012. David Zwirner Gallery. New York, NY.
In addition to the interest shown by trade professionals, it is important to mention the participation of the public that visited the exhibition halls and attended a total of 14 lectures and 11 discussion sessions during the three days. To celebrate the first edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong, the Asia Society and the Absolut Art Office organized a pre-program entitled “homegrown talent”, which featured the best local artists.
There were three meetings with the public. The first was a lecture entitled “The Artist and the Gallery Owner” by the Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang, in a conversation with Leng Lin, President of Pace Beijing and Founder of Beijing Commune. The second was a discussion entitled “Building New Museums in Asia” and the third, “The Interest of Collectors”. Other lectures focused on the influence of the media on the development of art, and on globalization and its impact on artistic practices. In addition, there were book releases by artists such as Noritoshi Hirakawa, Li Liao, Kacey Wong, Wang Yuyang, Xingwei Wang, and Wu Zhang.
1. MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ. Measuring Body Heat (A). Galerie Krinzinger. Vienna, Austria. 2. SHOMEI TOMATSU. Misa Shin Gallery. Tokyo, Japan.
Art Basel elicits great interest in the regional art scene. The fair’s program always attracts business, and promotes short and long-term economic activity in the cities where it is held, as well as genuine interest in local art.
As it happens during Art Basel Miami Beach, on the other side of town, Hong Kong galleries and cultural organizations organized more than 150 cultural events in what is known as “Kowloon Cultural District”.
1. 2P TANG KWOK HIN. One-Man-Show. Contemporary Art Gallery. Hong Kong, China. 2. VIK MUNIZ. Pictures of Magazine 2 Study of Ostrich, After Nicasius Bernaerts, 2013. Galeria Nara Roesler. Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The first edition of Art Basel Hong Kong featured 245 of the most important galleries in the world, divided in four sectors. Fifty percent of the participants had exhibition spaces from Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, underscoring the commitment to Art Basel in the region. While the main sector, “Galleries”, presented established galleries from around the world, “Insights” was devoted to the presentation of precise contextual and thematic displays developed by the artists. “Discoveries” was the platform for younger artists. There were also displays of large-scale sculptural installations by leading artists from every continent.
Art Basel Hong Kong has positioned itself as the premier art fair in Asia. The second edition will take place from 15 to 18 May 2014. ■
The high-art event that started in Switerland in 1970 debuts in Asia
Art Basel, the modern art festival that began in Basel, Switzerland in 1907 and expanded to Miami in 2002 is debuting in Asia this year. Each year, Art Basel attracts many of the wealthiest modern art collectors in the
Above:’The Pilgrim and the Pirate’ by Samsul Arifin, represented by the Nadi Gallery, Jakarata, at Art Basel,
Photo By Jessica Hromas/Getty Images
“Periphery” 2013 by Seung Yul Oh, represented by One and J. Gallery, Seoul at Art Basel, May 22, 2013 in Hong Kong.
‘Encounters’ by Wang Yuyang and ‘He Tao Yuan’ by He An, represented by Tang Contempory Art gallery, Bejing and Bankok at Art Basel, May 22, 2013 in Hong Kong.
The Debut of Art Basel Hong Kong
by sue hostetler
To Be Titled by Dan Colen, 2011.
“Hong Kong is the gateway to China,” says renowned local interior designer and architect Todd-Avery Lenahan, explaining why the cosmopolitan city has been anointed the newest host of Art Basel, the most esteemed art fair in the world. “The demographic of buyers is diverse and highly sophisticated, with tremendous interest in Western artists, as much from young collectors as from established ones.” Currently working on the new Wynn Cotai resort in Macau for Steve Wynn, Lenahan is one of many high-level art connoisseurs looking forward to the premiere of Art Basel in Hong Kong. Almost two years after the company behind Art Basel bought a majority stake in Asian Art Fairs Ltd., which founded the Art HK contemporary art fair, the newly rechristened Art Basel in Hong Kong will open May 23 to much international fanfare, boasting work from more than 3,000 artists and 245 of the world’s leading galleries. This expansion into Asia gives the storied fair an unparalleled three-continent, year-round engagement with the art world’s cognoscenti (Art Basel’s other shows are the Switzerland behemoth and its Miami Beach spin-off).
Magnus Renfrew, Art HK’s original fair director and now director Asia of Art Basel, has overseen the transformation. A longtime believer that Hong Kong is a natural home for a major international art fair, he is confident that both attendees and participants will be blown away. “We are geographically positioned at the heart of Asia, and we are the region’s financial center,” Renfrew says. “There is no tax on the import or export of art, and Hong Kong has an increasingly expanding cultural sector and culturally interested population.”
Art Basel’s shows are perhaps most renowned for each selection committee’s unflinching rigor in choosing galleries to participate, as well as for the curation of the fairs’ various sectors. In Hong Kong, more than 170 exhibitors of modern and contemporary art will show work in the main sector, including New York’s Dominique Lévy gallery and 303 Gallery. Many eyes will be on the Insights sector, which will present projects devised specifically for the fair from 47 galleries in Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. The Discoveries sector will likely be the most experimental, with solo and two-person exhibitions by emerging artists and, in an exciting twist, a $25,000 prize.
Special exhibitions and events at local galleries will also be of immense interest, as the arrival of blue-chip international players like Gagosian Gallery and White Cube—joining local stalwarts such as Hanart TZ Gallery and Osage—has invigorated the Hong Kong gallery scene in recent years. The multitude of events and special exhibitions at Hong Kong’s cultural institutions and nonprofits is dizzying, including a parallel program of talks presented by Asia Art Archive. Widely regarded as the most important collection of source material on the recent history of art in Asia, Asia Art Archive has grown from a single bookshelf in 2000 to a trove of more than 35,000 records with thousands of physical and digital items. And the government is getting in on the art act, too, by celebrating the opening of its new Artspace @ Oil Street, a 1908 heritage building that has been converted into space for working artists, curators, and the public.
Not surprisingly, Art Basel in Hong Kong has proved attractive to corporate sponsors looking for a foothold in this fast-growing, significant region. Deutsche Bank has signed on as lead partner, joining associate sponsors such as Davidoff, Audemars Piguet, and Absolut Art Bureau, all of which also support the shows in Switzerland and Miami Beach. In fact, many people have compared today’s Hong Kong art market to the one in Miami Beach 10 years ago. “The market is in a relatively early stage of development here, much like the atmosphere in Miami when we opened there,” Renfrew says. “We want to be part of the cultural surge in this dynamic city, and the show provides the perfect global platform for that.”
The Bernier/Eliades galleryat Art Basel Hong Kong 2013
After Frieze New York and before the Venice Biennale, the tireless and likely jetlagged international art clique has touched down en masse in Hong Kong, where the first Art Basel outpost in Asia opened to the public on Thursday. Here, we’ve assembled a cognoscenti’s guide to where the insiders are eating, partying, and sleeping it off–including picks for both the elegant classicist and those willing to brave sweaty dance floors and no-reservation policies.
The Upper House’s lobby
Mandarin Oriental: The Original. Initially known simply as The Mandarin, the hotel was recognized as one of the best in the world when it opened in the 60s. A recent and quite pricey facelift has added some polish to its old glamour. This is actually the official hotel of Art Basel HK, where a slew of events are happening, although expect most of the deal-making to occur over martinis at M Bar or beers at the more casual Captain’s Bar. mandarinoriental.com
The Upper House: In a city that can’t get enough ostentatious luxury, the newish Upper House has set itself apart with its tasteful and subtle interiors–nary a touch of red or gold in sight. The top floor bar and restaurant, Cafe Gray Deluxe, boasts some of the best views in Hong Kong, and was the venue of an intimate cocktail party that Net-a-Porter threw for the artist Terence Koh. upperhouse.com
Amber at The Mandarin Oriental
Amber: Back to The Mandarin. San Pellegrino’s highly influential, annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants list recently ranked Amber as Hong Kong’s number 1–an impressive honor in a city rightly known for its many dining options. In an elegant setting best enjoyed on expense accounts, feast on French fare with a nod towards the east/west crossover culture unique to Hong Kong’s history. amberhongkong.com
Ronin: At the cusp of Hong Kong’s culinary scene, Ronin is billed as a Japanese izakaya with a speakeasy feel, but don’t roll your eyes–there are no comically elaborate cocktails here. This tiny, no-reservations eatery is located behind an unmarked door on a quiet side street–and it’s nearly impossible to score a table there, especially this week. But of course there’s also Yardbird, a yakitori in Sheung Wan from the same owners that feels like Ronin’s louder and more fun little brother. roninhk.com
The lounge at Kee Club
Kee Club: Picking up where the infamous China Club left off–it’s still open, but now irrelevant–this members only-ish club (annual dues aren’t exactly required) is Hong Kong’s answer to Soho House, and host to a recent Saint Laurent soiree. The upstairs has a dinner-club vibe that subtly turns into a bottle service situation, while downstairs it’s dance-y and dark. Appropriately, Kee’s chef has concocted a Swiss-themed Basel menu that is available all week. keeclub.com
Salon Number 10: This little gem is quickly shaping up to be Hong Kong’s version of Rick’s Cafe Americain–minus the fascists, of course. One will encounter distinguished travelers of all nationalities here, and the owners Alec and Ellis (who also run the men’s boutique Moustache) are the most gracious of hosts, DJ-ing, suggesting drinks, and generally making you feel like you’re at a great house party. facebook.com/SalonNumber10
Art Basel stages global Modern and contemporary art shows, held annually in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong. Founded by gallerists in 1970, Art Basel supports the role that galleries play in the nurturing of artists, and the development and promotion of visual arts.
Art Basel wraps up in Hong Kong after show of world’s finest
Competition between Western artists and Asian works ‘very positive’, Art Basel organisers say
More than 240 galleries from around the world showed their works at Art Basel’s Hong Kong debut which closed yesterday. Mainland artist Zhang Xiaogang’s works, above, were among the many on show. Galleries from the West brought in major works from big-name artists and reported strong sales last Wednesday. It was also reported that deals were still being negotiated by regional galleries in the minutes before the show closed. Photo: Jonathan Wong.
A week of art madness ended yesterday with the closure of exhibition Art Basel’s Hong Kong debut, which turned into a showdown between 245 galleries from around the world.
Galleries from Western nations – making up half of the total number exhibiting – pulled out the big guns, bringing over major works by big-name artists, and they reported strong sales last Wednesday on “VIP day”.
Galleries from the Asia-Pacific region, including Hong Kong, said business was slow the first couple of days and they had to work extra hard to draw attention from collectors. Some said sales began to pick up towards the end of the fair and that deals were still being negotiated 30 minutes before the fair closed.
Gallery Hauser & Wirth sold SP234 by Sterling Ruby to an art foundation on the mainland for more than US$250,000. Pearl Lam from Hong Kong soldFour Noblemen by Zhu Jinshi for US$195,000. London’s Victoria Miro, co-presenting with Asia’s Ota Fine Arts, sold the 1988 Yayoi Kusama workFlame of Life – Dedicated to Tu-Fu (Du-Fu) for US$2 million to an Asian collector.
Taiwanese dealer Tina Keng sold eight works from the series Eight Tall Sunflowers by Xu Jiang for US$2.6 million and Wang Huaiqing’s abstract workChinese Emperor for US$2.6 million.
Keng said the competition was particularly keen.
“All the big [Western] artists are here. So you must bring the Asian equivalent,” Keng said.
One Asian dealer said their gallery was like a monster in their home country, “but here compared to these big Western galleries, I’m like an ant”.
Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew said many collectors had gone home to do some research into artists whose work they had seen at the fair before returning on the final day to buy.
“The competition has been very positive and it helps drive up the standard of the presentation across the board,” Renfrew said. “Western galleries feel the pressure as much as the Asian ones.”
Originally known as Art HK, the fair has run since 2008 under this name and became the largest in Asia. In 2011, Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach organisers MCH Swiss Exhibition (Basel) acquired a 60 per cent stake in Art HK organisers Asian Art Fairs, leading to the event’s transformation into Art Basel this year.
Despite the change, there was no drop in participation by local artists, with some 26 Hong Kong galleries exhibiting to the fair’s 60,000 visitors.
Hong Kong artist Stanley Wong, who was showing at local gallery Blindspot, said the fair this year had become more sophisticated with improvement in the standard and calibre of work on show. “But at the same time, I don’t see anything very edgy and powerful,” he said.
This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition on May 27, 2013 as Art fair wraps up after show of world’s finest
Art Basel fair in Hong Kong attracts global celebrities
Western art dealers focus attention on wealth of Chinese buyers
‘Aztec Pattern’ by South Korean artist Osang Gwon displayed at Art Basel in Hong Kong. Photograph: Alex Hofford/EPA
The branding hits as soon as you leave Hong Kong International airport and spot two huge billboards heralding the Asian debut of the world’s most prominent art fair, Art Basel. Amid a PR frenzy that drew the likes of supermodel Kate Moss and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, it seemed that even the torrential rain and 18,000 lightning strikes across the territory hours before the VIP preview on Wednesday were just part of the city-wide spectacle.
There is much familiar about Art Basel in Hong Kong, which joins the original fair in its namesake home city in Switzerland and a sister event in Miami Beach – not least the sponsors. Trolleys of Ruinart champagne stalk the aisles at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. A BMW “art car” brightly painted by Spanish artist César Manrique is displayed outside one entrance. Absolut ArtBureau, an offshoot of the vodka drink company, has commissioned an “art bar” by Adrian Wong, in which a Cantonese lounge singer performs with an animatronic band of multi-limbed manga-like creatures, evoking a mix of colonial kitsch andBlade Runner.
Art Basel’s purchase of the previous Art HK fair two years ago led some locals to question whether Hong Kong’s art scene was becoming a post-colonial venture for importing western art into Asia. With China now the world’s second-largest art market after the US, and Asia home to more billionaires than North America, the attraction seems obvious.
In recent years, several top commercial western galleries have set up outposts amid the Louis Vuitton and Prada stores in the city’s central business district, including American Larry Gagosian, the world’s richest art dealer, in 2008 and London gallerist Jay Jopling’s White Cube in March 2012.
At packed-out private views, both galleries brought out their big guns. White Cube showed the Chapman Brothers’ macabre new installation,The Sum of All Evil, vitrines packed with thousands of miniature figures in violent torment; and Gagosian presented paintings by the late New York graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
But the wooing of the Chinese collectors and their vast wealth is a long, slow process. Most western galleries have yet to convince the big buyers of mainland China, whose taste for contemporary art remains patriotic, according to market analysts.
Graham Steele, director of White Cube Hong Kong, said: “The barriers are coming down, but not as fast as western dealers would like them to. There isn’t the cultural momentum yet. The major Chinese collectors come to Hong Kong for Christie’s or Sotheby’s auctions of Chinese art.”
US gallery Pace’s Beijing branch, which explicitly declares itself an Asian gallery and runs a different programme from the US and UK branches, has found success by becoming a major dealer for Chinese contemporary artists. Its stand at the fair included work by Zhang Xiaogang, whose paintings have fetched multimillion-pound prices at auction.
Several British dealers said that Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines, which are more familiar with western culture, were their most important markets in Asia. Australians are also major collectors. Ellie Harrison-Read, sales associate at Lisson Gallery, said: “Big names such as Anish Kapoor and Marina Abramovic, people who are familiar, sell well. Brand is very important here.”
This seemed to be apparent in big sales of the fair’s first day. London’s Victoria Miro gallery sold a wall-sized painting by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama for £1.32m and White Cube sold a Gary Hume sculpture for £66,243, while 15 sculptures by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, depicting a cartoon version of the artist and his dog, sold for £89,428 each.
The local art scene, which has long felt overshadowed by the Chinese contemporary art boom, has mixed feelings about the influx of international dealers. Pui Pui To, director of 2P gallery, one of Hong Kong’s few art spaces to represent local artists, said: “Now that the blue chip galleries have arrived, it’s become much tougher for us to survive.”
Spiralling rents have pushed younger galleries further from the city centre. Pui Pui To’s gallery, which is showing in Art Basel, is on a backstreet in Sai Ying Pun in the city’s western district. “The only brand names round here are McDonald’s and KFC,” she said.
However, she praised Art Basel in Hong Kong’s director, Magnus Renfrew, who founded Art HK for supporting the local art scene through educational programmes and collaboration with non-profit, artist-run projects. Renfrew said that when he first arrived in Hong Kong it was referred to as a “cultural desert” with little audience for contemporary art: “Since the fair opened, the number of visitors has grown from just 19,000 in 2008 to 67,000 last year and the gallery scene is more sophisticated.”
He believes that the current imbalance between the art market, which has long had a big presence in the territory with Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses, will change with the construction of the West Kowloon cultural district, which will include the M+ museum of visual culture, twice the size of Tate Modern, and 16 performing art museums. An outdoor exhibition of inflatable sculptures on the site, M+ mobile, which includes a giant upturned cockroach, a suckling pig you can walk into and British artist Jeremy Deller’s bouncy castle version of Stonehenge, has drawn 130,000 visitors in just three weeks.
Lars Nittve, executive director of M+ and the founding director of Tate Modern, compared the exhibition to the sensation caused by Carl Andre’s bricks when they first were shown at the Tate. “Really for the first time in Hong Kong it has provoked public debate about whether something that looks ugly can be art. Can you jump on art? Can art be fun?”
Harriet Onslow of Pearl Lam Galleries, based in Hong Kong and Shanghai, thinks there will be room for a wider range of galleries as the art scene diversifies. “Collectors are not going to decide against buying one of [the smaller galleries’] artists for HK$5,000 just because I’ve sold them something for HK$200,000,” she said.
However the work of one of the local artists in the Pearl Lam booth suggests that Pui Pui To is not alone in her ambivalance towards the internationalisation of Hong Kong’s art scene. Tsang Kin-wah offers a tongue-in-cheek critique of the art fair system in a text installation in which scathing comments in vinyl lettering spread across the floor like the tentacles of an octopus:
Onslow said: “It’s about how fucking awful art fairs are and how it’s no longer about the art but the fair. The text is etched on glass because that signifies how the art and the artist is disappearing.”
Yet in the Deutsche Bank’s exclusive VIP room another work by the artist, best known for painting words in English and Chinese in seemingly floral patterns, offers a more positive if rather cynical take, with the phrase “Making Art, Making Money” discernible in the grey text. It seems unlikely that Tsang Kin-wah at least will be disappearing any time soon.
FINANCIAL TIMES LONDON
May 24, 2013 6:39 pm Miami, now they take Hong Kong
By Georgina Adam
Basel brand hits HK; one fair in, one fair out in California; massive deflation for sculpture
Apowerful battalion of the art world’s grandees jetted in from New York, London, Beijing and many other points to attend the new Art Basel in Hong Kong, which launched this week and ends on Sunday.
This is the first truly “Basel” edition of the Asian fair, which the powerful Swiss firm acquired two years ago. And anyone who knows the other two fairs in its portfolio – Basel and Miami Beach – will have recognised the “brand”, with every detail, from typeface to maps, now homogenised throughout.
While the transformation from the ArtHK fair is not radical, the new owners have smoothed some things out, for instance distributing stands better between the two floors and placing the VIP lounge upstairs. The fair is spacious and well lit, flattering the art on view. But with “Basel Basel” round the corner, some galleries have not brought their best works, and others are frankly a muddle. But there are high points, among them Peter Blum’s marvellous offering of early Kusama works including “Phallic Bowl” (1965) in the $300,000 range – showing up the brash, garish offerings of more recent Kusama works. And the small Australian gallery Sullivan and Strumpf is showing subversive tableaux of figurines by Penny Byrne – “iProtest” – inspired by political unrest across the world.
Some exhibitors, including Blum, are attending for the first time, specifically because it is now a Basel event. Other newbies at the opening were the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, his partner Dasha Zhukova, Wendi Deng Murdoch and posses of collectors and museum directors including Lacma’s Jeffrey Deitch. Artists – Fernando Botero, Takashi Murakami, Abbas Kiarostami and many of the best-known Chinese names – had also hotfooted in.
As for sales, Hauser & Wirth reported a shower of deals and Arndt immediately sold a flowered puppy by the hot Indonesian artist Eko Nugroho, “Flower Generation II” (2012), to Adelaide’s South Australia Museum for $54,000 and a Jittish Kallat to the Belgian collector Guy Ullens, tagged at $180,000, while Hanart quickly placed four ink paintings by Qiu Zhijie with a big New York museum for $20,000 each. “There’s a dramatic difference in sales this year,” said a beaming Tim Blum. while Paul Kasmin also said business was “excellent”.
. . .
Along with the new fair, the week marked an extraordinary change in Hong Kong as an art hub. The night before the fair opening, the six galleries in the Pedder Building staged a joint vernissage and were so mobbed that a sign outside announced “Queuing time approx 30 minutes”; once in, visitors could see Basquiat at Gagosian or the new Lehmann Maupin space, showing a quintessentially Hong Kong scene by Zheng Guogu. The same crowd then packed into White Cube and Perrotin nearby. All of this was inconceivable just two years ago before the Basel juggernaut, with its 50,000-plus list of VIPs, rolled into town.
. . .
While there is certainly a lot of buzz about the growing art market in California, fairs there are not gaining any traction. The third edition of Art Platform Los Angeles, one of a portfolio of fairs owned by Chicago’s Merchandise Mart Properties, has just been cancelled. Held in a hangar in Santa Monica airport – where it had relocated last year after being held downtown – the fair had failed to attract enough support for its upcoming September edition.
But as one dies, another is born: Silicon Valley Contemporary, planned for April next year in San Jose Convention Center. The founders, who already organise other fairs in upscale locations such as Aspen and the Hamptons, come from the technology sector and say they will revolutionise the fair model. “We will look for the intersection between a physical art fair and a virtual one with online auctions,” says executive director Rick Friedman, adding that he will “introduce basic Valley tenets such as open systems, transparency in pricing and art value, full disclosure and ease of transaction.” About 60 international exhibitors are being sought for the first edition, which is slated for April 10-13 2014.
. . .
Inflation art is the newest thing – blow-up sculptures. Cynics who dismiss such works of contemporary art as “just a lot of hot air” are delightedly pointing to the fate of a number of these pumped-up monsters. In Hong Kong, a crowd-pleasing exhibition – called Inflation! – on the site of the future M+ museum in West Kowloon was recently hit by heavy rainfall. McCarthy’s “Complex Pile”, a giant brown simulacrum of excrement (you read that right, sadly) as well as a flower sculpture by the Korean artist Choi Jeong-hwa, “Black Lotus”, were punctured and collapsed. And the much ballyhooed giant rubber duck floating in the harbour, the work of Florentijn Hofman, popped and flattened into a yellow omelette. They have all been pumped back up now.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
Art Basel highlights Hong Kong’s new statusMay 24, 2013 12:52 AMBy Aaron Tam
HONG KONG: The first Art Basel to be hosted by Hong Kong boasts a prestigious array of international art. Staging the art fair here highlights the city’s new role as an arts hub amid an explosion of personal wealth in mainland China.The annual four-day show is the world’s premier art fair and has until now only been held in Switzerland and the United States. Wealthy VIPs flocked Wednesday to the waterfront exhibition center hosting the fair, which opened to the wider public Thursday. Dressed in glamorous outfits and against a backdrop of popping champagne corks, they perused an eclectic mix of works from more than 3,000 international artists exhibiting through 245 of the world’s leading galleries. The main section showcases work from an international group of 171 modern and contemporary art galleries, with selections of paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and video. In one room a Volkswagen Beetle had been compressed into a giant sphere. Another installation drawing crowds featured a dishevelled human-sized rabbit sitting on a log, created by the U.S. artist Marnie Weber. Internationally renowned artists whose work is on display include Britain’s Damien Hirst, French artist JR and the German photographer Andreas Gursky. Other sections feature selections from the Asia-Pacific region curated for the show, large-scale sculptures and a section with solo and two-person exhibitions from emerging international artists. The boom in Hong Kong’s international art market is largely a result of the fast-growing wealth of mainland Chinese, some of whom are investing heavily in art. “Having seen the high quality and vast range of presentations from galleries across the globe,” Art Basel director Marc Spiegler told reporters, “I can assure you that the first edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong promises many discoveries and delights.” Art Basel ordinarily exhibits at home, in the Swiss city of Basel, as well as in Miami Beach in the US, but, Spiegler said, the Hong Kong show will emphasise works from Asia. Hong Kong is “a place where all Asia feels at home and with many bridges to the west,” he continued. “Here in Hong Kong, we will provide a global stage of international exposure for galleries and artists in Asia.” There is also a growing interest among Asian collectors in different types of art aside from traditional works. Gagosian, White Cube, Acquavella, Lehmann Maupin and Galerie Perrotin are just some of the big-name galleries to have arrived in the city in the past two years despite sky-high rents. “Art Basel in Hong Kong is evidence that Asia is becoming paramount to the international art world,” said Pearl Lam in a statement for Art Basel’s opening. Lam runs galleries of the same name in the southern city and in Shanghai. Art Basel replaces Art HK, Hong Kong’s former art fair, which was set up in 2008. It was recently taken over by Switzerland’s high-profile Art Basel franchise, which has been showcasing modern and contemporary art since 1970. “This is a truly historic moment for the art scene in Hong Kong and in Asia,” Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew said. “The arrival of Art Basel in Hong Kong strengthens the city’s position as the leading art hub in Asia.”
THE Hong Kong art market is strong and prosperous, buoyed by low taxes and free of the censorship that inhibits much of the art on the mainland. But the local scene has long felt overshadowed by the big-name Chinese contemporary artists. So many were jittery at the opening today of the inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong, concerned that an influx of big galleries from New York, London and Paris would crowd out the booths peddling home-grown talent. There was little need to worry. “Competition drives up the standards. It already has after five years,” said Magnus Renfrew, the Asia Director for Art Basel Hong Kong. He is well placed to know, having spent years running Hong Kong’s art fair when it was an independent, scrappy event. Art Basel bought the fair last year, and its first Hong Kong incarnation runs until May 26th. Of the 245 galleries showing at the Hong Kong Convention Centre, over half are Asian. Of these, 26 are from Hong Kong, the strongest showing for any city except New York. This week Hong Kong is filled with art events, talks and the usual high-flying parties. To expose Hong Kong’s contemporary art scene to international buyers, Art Basel invited its top dealers and collectors to a special tour of the Wong Chuk Hang area on the waterfront of Aberdeen, where old warehouses have been renovated into new galleries. Some of Hong Kong’s most venerable art galleries have been decamping to Aberdeen to escape the exorbitant rents of the central district and to inhabit a livelier, younger area. Among those with branches there are Alisan Fine Arts, the first professional gallery in Hong Kong to show contemporary art, and Pekin Fine Arts from Beijing. So what are Hong Kong artists producing? Mostly art that feels very Chinese.
The booth of Schoeni Art Gallery is dominated by a video installation by Hung Keung (pictured). Trained at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, Mr Hung also studied art in London, Germany and Switzerland. Yet his piece “Dao x Microcosmic Play and Appreciation” feels rooted in Chinese culture. It features three round tables topped with black glass arranged a few feet apart. Tiny cameras circulate around the tables, their images projected on white screens. One table holds a black Buddha, small but his presence looms. Another is scattered with black toy-like tanks, helicopters and jet fighters. The third features a solitary small stone. This work is about peace and calm in an era of violence, explains Mr Hung. Traditional Chinese art views the white colour of rice paper as “an infinity surface,” he adds. “Now I am saying the screen represents white paper. The black toys on black glass give the feeling of black ink.” The booth of Gallery EXIT, a local gallery based in the Wong Chuk Hang neighbourhood, features the work of Ivy Ma, a Hong Kong-based artist. Her piece “Mother” is a large, hanging portrait of her mother carved in plywood. Measuring one meter by two meters, the image is from a photograph taken in the early 1950s, when Ms Ivy’s mother arrived from southern China as part of a wave of immigrants escaping the Communist revolution. “Mother” smiles pleasantly at passers-by, her face brimming with hope, her hair fashionably styled in a ‘50s bob. The work feels quintessentially Chinese, but with a wider contemporary appeal.
Artists from Guangdong province in southern China have long influenced art in Hong Kong. At the Pekin Fine Art space, works on paper by Chen Shaoxiong capture images of protests, such as democracy advocates who oppose Beijing’s efforts to restrict political freedoms in Hong Kong. His sweeping brush strokes on white paper give these pieces an unusual intensity, though they are not much larger than a legal pad. “He is making ink relevant to contemporary society,” said Meg Maggio, the founder of Pekin Fine Art. “Not many can do that.” In the confines of the exclusive VIP room run by Deutsche Bank at the fair, a large wall length work by one of Hong Kong’s best-known painters, Tsang Kin-Wah, is the star piece. The artist is known for painting words in English and Chinese in patterns that evoke wallpaper. In this piece, the phrase “Making Art, Making Money” is easily discernable in grey against white. Like a growing number of Hong Kong artists, Mr Tsang is happy to embrace the creed.
Art Basel Prepares To Open Its Doors To The Public
By Jessica Hromas (GETTY) – 5/22/13
HONG KONG – MAY 22: A woman looks at work by Yayoi Kusama, represented by Victoria Miro, London, and Ota Fine Arts, at Art Basel, May 22, 2013 in Hong Kong. (Photo by Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)
After a strong showing by VIPs on Wednesday, Thursday saw more swift business in the aisles and booths of the inaugural Art Basel in Hong Kong fair (the best of which ARTINFO has highlighted in this video). During its first day of being open to the general public, fair heavyweights like Hauser & Wirth, Paul Kasmin, and Arndt made major sales, while a slew of Asian galleries also made big moves. New York’s Paul Kasmin Gallery sold three pieces from Francois-Xavier and Claude Lalanne’s “Famille De Moutons” series of sheep sculptures for a total of $650,000 to a Hong Kong-based collector. The gallery also sold the Ivan Navarro neon and mirror works “Sway (Grand Gateway)” (2011) and “War Hole” (2012), the latter fetching $20,000 from a Swiss collector. Hauser & Wirth had another big day, selling two works on paper and four paintings by Zhang Enli at prices ranging from $25,000-$180,000, as well as Michael Raedecker’s “suspended” (2008) for $200,000. Arndt, of Singapore and Berlin, sold Jitish Kallat’s “Prosody of a Rising Tide” (2011-12) for $180,000, two editions of Entang Wiharso “Feast Table: Undeclared Perceptions” (2012) for $90,000 each — one of them to Berlin’s Thomas Olbricht Collection — Eko Nugroho’s “Flower Generation II” (2012) for $54,000, which was acquired by an Australian museum, and Jiechang Yang’s “Burning Tree” (2009), which was snapped up for €70,000 by a German collector. Long March Space from Beijing sold Made In Company’s “Play 201301″ (2013), which is featured in the fair’s Encounters section, for $325,000 to Australia’s White Rabbit Collection. The gallery also sold Wang Zhan’s “Artificial Rock No.146″ (2011) for $280,000. The Taipei- and Beijing-based gallery Tina Keng sold eight works from Jiang Xu’s “Eight Tall Sunflowers” series for a total of $2.6 million. Tokyo’s SCAI The Bathhouse sold Daisuke Ohha’s “BUKKA” (2011) for $22,000. ShanghART sold Yang Fudong’s “Forest Diary” (2000) for €45,000. And Sao Paulo’s Mendes Wood sold three untitled works by Lucas Arruda in the range of $10,000-20,000 each. A few galleries also reported additional sales from Wednesday’s VIP preview. Local gallery De Sarthe, did especially well, moving works including pieces by Alexander Calder and Lin Jing Jing for a total of $4 million in sales, all of the to Asian collectors intending to open private museums. Also on Wednesday, Sao Paulo’s Casa Triângulo sold two untitled works by Mariana Palma for $14,000 each to Hong Kong-based collectors. ===== OCULA
FACING OFF AT ART BASEL IN HONG KONG: A CULTURAL COMMENTARY OF A VERNISSAGE
23 May 2013
Stephanie Bailey – Hong Kong
When it comes to art fairs these days, it’s not just about selling. With collectors being extra cautious and new collectors (and new money) entering the art market, art fairs are also about building relationships, tastes and, in the 21st Century, more expanded notions of object-based art. Indeed, with art fairs and biennales proliferating around the world, there is not one art centre, but centres.
That Art Basel has come to Hong Kong to occupy two halls of the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre – (the world’s most occupied convention centre) – is a case in point. It is a clear indication of a certain global expansion taking place in the contemporary arts, mirrored by the sheer number of artists and galleries operating globally, each with their own approach, style and focus.
In reflection of this, Art Basel, which has always predicated itself on a certain globalism, is moving with the times. During Art Basel in Hong Kong’s press conference on Vernissage Day, Art Basel’s Director Marc Spiegler noted that 2013’s inaugural Art Basel in Hong Kong (ABHK) was not only a historical moment because Art Basel has come to Asia, but also because there has never been such a strong combination of eastern and western galleries presented together at an art fair. More than fifty per cent out of the 245 presenting galleries come from Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, from Turkey, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent to Australia and New Zealand, with twenty-six alone coming from Hong Kong. The result is eclectic (35 nations in total are represented), with styles intermingling but not necessarily blending. Some visitors commented on the mixed quality at ABHK during the preview. But perhaps this is not so much about good or bad art as it is about different art(s). In this, naming the sectors complementing the main Galleries section Discoveries, Insights, and Encounters, is telling if not instructive. Curated by Yuko Hasegawa, Encounters presents large-scale installations installed in various “plazas” within the fair halls. It aims to explore the ideas of “East” and “West,” looking at memory, history, and social contexts from a transcultural perspective. Works showing in Encounters include Jitish Kallat’s bamboo scaffolding encasing a large square column, Circa (2011), MadeIn Company’s leather-clad cathedral hung from the ceiling with rope, Play (201_B01) (2013), and a series of coloured venetian blinds arranged to produce a hanging mobile by Haegue Yang. Like the fair itself, Encounters is a patchwork of cultural (con)fusion. It is a state most clearly illustrated in the Discoveries section. Here, Kalfayan has presented photographs by Syrian artist Hrair Sarkissian against a series of vases produced in China in the Ming style, depicting scenes from the Lebanese Civil War in Raed Yassin’s, China. The work was produced as part of the 2012 Abraaj Capital Art Prize of which Yassin was a recipient. In this work, the global clusterfuck produced by the constant circulation and trade of objects and people is made apparent. The precision of Yassin’s statement is a testament to the artist’s sharp response to the notion of global culture and historical heritage in the 21st Century. This same kind of clarity is evident in other artists presented in Discoveries; a vibrant mix of emerging talent, from Brendan Early at Dublin’s mother’s tankstation, Tang Kwok Hin at Hong Kong’s 2p Contemporary, Becky Beasley and Matthias Bitzer at Milan’s Francesca Minini and Sanné Mestrom at Melbourne’s Utopian Slumps. Meanwhile, in the Galleries sector, there is a dynamic show of cultural range. Tokyo’s Gallery Koyanagi presents a mixed roster, including Olafur Eliasson, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Marlene Dumas, while Seoul’s PKM has opted for a selection of works including Minouk Lim’s Portable Keeper_White (2012) and a pair of Paradise Pies by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen. Of course, there are those who have made safer bets: Pace presents paintings and sculptures by China’s most expensive contemporary artist, Zhang Xiaogang, and Victoria Miro has brought Yayoi Kusama, who is everywhere. But not all choices have been so conservative (or calculating). Japan’s Mizuma provided a refreshing presentation showcasing new works including Yoshitaka Amano’s epic (and dirty) acrylic on aluminium panel Spring (2013), teamLab’s intriguing interactive animation installation, United, Fragmented, Repeated and Impermanent World (2013), Jane Lee’s deliciously textural oil painting, Fetish series-RB I (2013) and Makoto Aida’s ironically named, The Non-Thinker (2012). In this, ABHK isn’t just about cultural (or market) encounters. There are artistic face-offs happening everywhere, most of them unexpected. Take Haim Steinbach’s Untitled (plant, artichoke) (2012) at Lia Rumma: a green plastic form resembling a bonsai tree and an artichoke resting on a book. Steinbach’s green object immediately recalled a Tony Cragg sculpture, probably because I saw so many at the fair. Later, I chanced upon a Cragg bronze painted literally the same colour as Steinbach’s green plastic bonsai at Marian Goodman, aptly titled Versus (2012). It was a perfect moment of accidental (dis)unity. These relations make ABHK a promising space with which to assess global artistic practices, trends and tastes. Jose Davila, a favourite at 2012’s Art Basel Miami Beach, for example, is showing at both Mexico’s OMR and London’s Max Wigram, and his work chimes well with Seher Shah at Nature Morte. Similarly, The Breeder, presenting Greek artists Antonis Donef (ink drawings on archival paper), Andreas Lolis (marble carved to look like a pool of oil) and Stelios Faitakis (iconographic revolutionary paintings) are shown with Tao Xue’s paper sculpture, Socrates in China (2012), producing a synergy between two very different (yet wholly related) cultures. At the end of ABHK’s preview day, and after thinking about the significance of the fair from a cultural perspective rather than from buying and selling art (or lack thereof, given it is still early days), fair fatigue set in. I had become embroiled in Tang Contemporary Art’s installation of Yan Lei’s Limited Art Project (2012), exploring the complex narratives (and political ideologies) that have fed into the discipline of painting on canvas, a westernised tradition. Upon leaving, the only words I could muster to describe all that I had seen and thought in a day at the fair were those used in a work by Newell Harry, showing in a stellar group presentation at Australia’s Rose Oxley9 Gallery: “This Dam Mad Shit.” – [O]Tomorrow, Stephanie will assess the debates and discussions taking place at the fair, while reviewing the hotly anticipated opening ceremony, Paper Rain.
Lui Chun Kwong, Au Hoi Lam Osage Gallery Yuko Hasegawa giving a curator’s tour, standing with Haegue Yang’s Encounters installation, Journal of Mundane and Uncertain Days, 2013 Haegue YangJournal of Mundane and Uncertain Days, 2013 Martin Bell Tolarno Galleries Sehar ShahMammoth – Aerial Landscape Proposals, 2012 Nature Morte Brendan Early Presented by Mother’s Tankstation as part of DiscoveriesMatthias Bltzer and Becky Beasley Presented by Francesca Minini as part of DiscoveriesHrair Sarkissian and Raed Yassin Presented by Kalfayan Galleries as part of InsightsTony CraggVersus, 2011 Marian Goodman Gallery Barbara Kruger at Sprüth Magers Berlin London, and Kohei Nawa at Arario Gallery Madein CompanyPlay (201B01), 2013 Part of Encounters
At Art Basel Hong Kong, International Dealers Bet Big on Asian Market
By Barbara Pollack7:51am
Boers-Li Gallery’s booth, with ‘Fondle’ (2009–13) by Yang Xinguangon on the ground. (Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)
“We are really an Asian gallery,” said Pace President Arne Glimcher on Wednesday evening at the opening of the very first edition of Art Basel Hong Kong, at the Hong Kong Convention Centre on Victoria Harbour. Pace may be based in New York, but the gallery has run a Beijing outpost for the past five years, and that counts as a major plus at an art fair like this one, where dealers compete to make an impact in a burgeoning Asian market.
Technically, this fair has been taking place annually at the convention center for the past six years, bearing the name Art HK. But two years ago it was purchased by MCH Group, owner of the 43-year-old Art Basel, the world’s most prominent modern and contemporary art fair, and that fair’s wildly successful, 11-year-old sister event, Art Basel Miami Beach. This year’s edition, which runs through May 26, is the first under its new Swiss management, and although the morning of the opening on Wednesday brought torrential rains, the weather cleared up by the afternoon and collectors, sometimes accompanied by art advisors in stiletto heels, streamed in to tour the booths of 245 dealers.
Works by Andy Warhol at the booth of Dominique Lévy Gallery. (Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)
Certain improvements could be immediately felt, such as the floor plan, which is more open and spacious, and gives the lion’s share of space to blue-chip international dealers and major players from Japan, Korea and mainland China. There are also sections, called “Discoveries” and “Insights,” devoted to more recently established Asian galleries showing younger artists. The new management promised a boost in European and American collectors at the fair, and though a few could be spotted in the crowd on the VIP preview day, including Miami’s Debra and Dennis Scholl as well as the London-based Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova, the heavy hitters at this fair are collectors of Chinese contemporary art like Baron Guy Ullens and Uli Sigg, as well as Asian collectors, like the Indonesian-Chinese businessman Budi Tek, who is building a museum for international contemporary art in Shanghai.
For dealers from the West, a working knowledge of the market in the region comes in handy here. Building on its Asian client base and cultivation of Chinese artists, Pace brought “what we know appeals to Asian collectors,” as Mr. Glimcher put it, and that strategy met with success early in the day. Pace’s booth was consistently crowded with visitors clamoring for million-dollar examples of work by Chinese artists like Zhang Xiaogang, Zhang Huan and Li Songsong, whose works have seen soaring sums in the auction houses. Gagosian Gallery, whose two-year-old Hong Kong branch had opened a Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition the evening before (it’s the first major Basquiat exhibition in Hong Kong), was also busy at the fair. Too busy to talk to a reporter, said gallery director Nick Simunovic as he pointed out details of a Damien Hirst piece to a group of Asian collectors.
Works by Basquiat, Hirstt and Calder at Van de Weghe Fine Art’s booth. (Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)
But most New York dealers come to this fair with low expectations. “If I was doing this amount of business anywhere else, I’d shoot myself,” said Sean Kelly, who has scored a major coup recently in selling an archive of work by Taiwanese performance artist Tehching Hsieh to Hong Kong’s mega-museum project M+, which isn’t scheduled to open until 2017 but is already spending its sizable acquisition budget.
“This fair you can’t judge in four hours,” Mr. Kelly continued. “It’s a much slower affair than that. People come, they look, they ask questions, they return. So it’s a different rhythm.”
By contrast with other major contemporary art fairs, like New York’s Armory Show and Frieze New York, Frieze in London or Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Basel Hong Kong doesn’t have a collector feeding frenzy on opening day. Here buyers from throughout Asia were much more laid back, taking their time to familiarize themselves with European or American artists whose names were new to them. One artist every Chinese collector I’ve spoken with has told me that they want is Gerhard Richter—not so surprising, as his market is surging internationally at the moment—and the artist’s agent, Marian Goodman Gallery, which has branches in New York and Paris, managed to sell a major painting on 16 panels to an Asian collector in the opening hours of the fair.
Works by Kara Walker at Sikkema Jenkins Co.’s booth. (Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)
Other New York galleries brought more challenging material. Brent Sikkema spread across two walls of his booth a series of silhouette pieces by Kara Walker, whose work deals specifically with African-American imagery, much of it deriving from the era of Reconstruction after the Civil War. But Mr. Sikkema said he’d found that a surprising number of visitors to his booth were already familiar with Ms. Walker’s work. (As a kind of insurance, there were also the European visitors that the fair’s organizers had promised him would be on hand.) Like most New York dealers at Art Basel Hong Kong, Mr. Sikkema signed on to the fair with the understanding that patience will be required—it will take some more time before Hong Kong becomes an international art hub along the lines of Basel or Miami.
Hong Kong has, however, come a long way. Six years ago, the city was a sleepy backwater, art-wise, with only a handful of galleries and no major contemporary art museum in the works. At that time it appeared that Beijing—with its 100,000-plus artists and 400 galleries—would be the art capital of Asia, with Shanghai, which had its own burgeoning art fair and gallery district, in second place. But the mainland market faced two major obstacles. First, sales of art in mainland China incur a whopping 34 percent value added tax (VAT), making it almost impossible for foreign dealers to make a profit at mainland art fairs. Another hindrance was government censorship—the Ministry of Culture regularly plucked works out of booths. And hence, the rise of Hong Kong. In no small part due to the success of Art HK, the Hong Kong government started putting substantial muscle into the local art scene, first and foremost into the massive West Kowloon Cultural District with its $2.8 billion budget and planned M+ museum. That infusion of money and interest attracted Western dealers like White Cube, Gagosian, Emmanuel Perrotin and Lehmann Maupin, all of whom have opened galleries here in the past two years. Meanwhile, Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been holding auctions here since the late-1980s, more aggressively in recent years, and Hong Kong is now the third-largest auction market in the world.
Works by Yayoi Kusama, shown by Victoria Miro, and Ota Fine Arts. (Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)
The question for Hong Kong going forward is whether it will function more as a kind of post-colonialist art enterprise, importing Western art into Asia, or as a gateway for Asian buyers to have an impact on the global art dialogue. Ideally, it will do both. The Art Basel organizers have said that they will maintain a 50-50 split between Asian and international galleries—mainland Chinese galleries like Shanghart, Boers-Li, Pekin Fine Arts and Long March Space make a strong showing at this year’s fair—a sign that the fair will continue to have local character. Meanwhile, most galleries from New York and Europe, especially those that do not have a regular presence in the region, are still learning how to tailor their approach to Asian preferences, and to take things slow. “This is about us showing up, showing face, answering questions and taking inquiries seriously,” said Sean Kelly. “But it is equally about us learning from their culture. It’s a two-way street.”
Westerners and Easterners Alike Flock to Art Basel In Hong Kong
Art Basel in Hong Kong, formerly known as Art HK, is the place to go for East-meets-West-style work like Wu Di’s Plaything (2013). The painting shows a monkey-headed human figure in Western Renaissance garb on the end of a leash held by a human-headed monkey, all against a background of old master-style gold leaf.
View Slideshow Wu Di, Plaything, 2013. Courtesy of Shanghai Gallery of Art.; Zhuang Hui and Dan’er, 11 Degree Incline, 2008, lacquered metal sculpture, dimensions variable. Courtesy Magician Space, Beijing. ;
The artist, who is represented by the Shanghai Gallery of Art, showed A.i.A. an image of the print that had inspired the work on her phone. She didn’t know its origins or date, she said, speaking through a translator: “I downloaded it from the Internet.”
Overall, Tuesday’s preview of the inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong (May 23-26) saw steady sales and increased numbers of visitors from outside the region.
Major area collectors such as Budi Tek and Uli Sigg were in attendance, along with museum directors from near and far, such as the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art’s Philip Tinari and Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles’s Jeffrey Deitch.
This is the first year that the five-year-old fair is under the management of Art Basel. With the Swiss conglomerate newly behind it, the fair drew visits from many more European dealers than in past years, according to several gallerists who spoke with A.i.A. during the fair’s first hours.
The fair’s 245 exhibitors, hailing from 35 countries and territories, are spread over two floors of the gigantic Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, on Victoria Harbor. Younger galleries, in the Discoveries section, paid as little as $14,000 for their stands, while larger booths ran into the upper tens of thousands.
Dealers were reporting sales by the end of the first day, though the VIP preview wasn’t marked by the feeding frenzy that sometimes characterizes Basel’s home fair in Switzerland or its 11-year-old outpost in Miami Beach.
Victoria Miro (London) and Ota Fine Arts (Singapore and Tokyo), which are jointly exhibiting Yayoi Kusama, sold the artist’s 1988 painting Flame of Life-Dedicated to Tu-Fu (Du-Fu) to an Asian collector for $2 million. Galerie Gmurzynska (Zurich, Zug and St. Moritz) sold Fernando Botero’s painting Quarteto (2012) for $1.3 million to a Malaysian collector.
Dealers told A.i.A. that an already well-run enterprise is only getting better under new management.
“The fair’s layout is more orderly and calm than in past years,” said Daniel Lechner, of New York’s Cheim & Read Gallery, which has participated in the Hong Kong fair in the past, though not this year.
The question on many minds has been whether Art Basel’s acquisition of a 60 percent share of the fair would lead to it becoming more generically global. The organizers are keen to emphasize that over 50 percent of the participating galleries are from the Asia-Pacific region. Some 26 exhibiting galleries have spaces in Hong Kong, though a few of them are outposts of global enterprises like Gagosian.
Though attendance figures built slowly over the day, Arnold Glimcher, of Pace Gallery, which has had a venue in Beijing since 2008, told A.i.A. that a large part of the fair’s audience would attend over the weekend, when businessmen from Malaysia, Taiwan and Indonesia come into town.
Magician Space, from Beijing, is showing a work by Chinese artist duo Zhuang Hui and Dan’er in Encounters, a selection of large-scale sculptures curated by Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. The artists’ 11 Degree Incline, a giant black-lacquered metal sculpture of classicizing architectural ornaments, is based on garden architecture from the Qing Dynasty Summer Palace that was designed by an Italian, Giuseppe Castiglione.
While the uptick in Western visitors was the most salient first impression for many exhibitors, different dealers come to Hong Kong looking for different things. Simone Battisti, of Gladstone Gallery, New York, more highly valued the Malaysian and Chinese collectors he was meeting during the preview. “Why come to Hong Kong to talk to European collectors?” he said.
Rose Lord, of New York’s Marian Goodman Gallery, hadn’t noticed a significant increase in American visitors this year compared to the previous two trips the gallery made to Art HK. “Frieze New York was just last weekend,” she said by way of explanation. “And 15 hours is still a very long flight.”
Sean Kelly Announces Acquisition of Work by Tehching Hsieh
Sean Kelly announces a major museum acquisition of work by gallery artist Tehching Hsieh to the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority/M+ Museum in Hong Kong.Michael Lynch (CEO of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority) and Lars Nittve (Executive Director of the M+ Museum) announced the acquisition this morning in a press conference held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, timed to coincide with the opening of the Art Basel art fair in Hong Kong.
This acquisition is the largest to date of Hsieh’s work and will be the most comprehensive collection of Hsieh’s work to be held in a public institution. The acquisition comprises a complete editioned set of the One Year Performance works and Hsieh’s final long-duration performance, which lasted thirteen years.The years from 1978 through 1999 witnessed Hsieh’s development of six individual performance works- all but one lasted for periods of one year at a time-which are informally referred to as:Cage Piece, Time Clock Piece, Outdoor Piece, Rope Piece (with artist Linda Montano), No Art Piece and Thirteen Year Plan. During this 22-year period, his contribution to long-form durational performance art is the most profound of any artist. M+ has acquired a complete set of these works:One Year Performance 1978-1979 (Cage Piece) One Year Performance1980-1981 (Time Clock Piece) One Year Performance 1981-1982 (Outdoor Piece) Art/Life One Year Performance1983-1984 (Rope Piece) One Year Performance 1985-1986 (No Art Piece) Tehching Hsieh 1986-1999 (Thirteen Year Plan)The West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong is one of the largest arts and cultural projects in the world. A centerpiece of Hong Kong’s future West Kowloon Cultural District, M+ is a new museum for visual culture, encompassing 20th and 21st century art, design, architecture and the moving image from Hong Kong, China, Asia and beyond.Tehching Hsieh (b. 1950, Taiwanese-American) has been represented worldwide by Sean Kelly Gallery since 2009. Work by Hsieh will be on view this week at the gallery’s booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong (1D08).
SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST
All eyes on Hong Kong as Art Basel hits city, bringing tourism boost with it
Hong Kong’s newest arts fair may reflect the cultural and economic value of art, but also a globalisation of culture that can stifle artistic expression
An visitor at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery in Admiralty inspects 556,066,792,000, a work by Hong Hao, on display in the Boundless: Contemporary Art exhibition. Photo: Felix Wong
As the curtain goes up on the first Hong Kong excursion of the Art Basel international art show today, it will become the focal point not just for the art world, but for the city’s tourism efforts. The Tourism Board is promoting the Asian outpost of the world’s largest contemporary art fair as the centrepiece of an “Art Month”, which also includes a range of satellite fairs and the irrepressible, inflatable Rubber Duck. Even Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will attend the fair’s opening ceremony this morning – the first time the city’s top leader has presided over the opening of a major art fair. The dramatic boom in Hong Kong’s art fair business since the forerunner to Art Basel – Art HK – made its debut in 2008, has resonated across the region. So also has the emergence of the city and the West Kowloon Cultural District as centres for art auctions. Cities from Singapore to Tokyo and Abu Dhabi to Manila, are embracing art fairs not just for the lucrative business opportunities they create, but also for their power in branding the city and bringing in affluent visitors. But as more Asian cities rush to join the game, there are growing warnings of the key risk from the trend; the globalisation of culture via contemporary art. “Culture is very important in marketing a city,” says cultural critic and consultant Desmond Hui. “Similar to the construction of cultural districts and the cultivation of a creative economy, art fairs are part of the equation.” Unlike art biennales – which are organised by the authorities as an official presentation of arts and culture – art fairs are engineered by market forces and have a different role, and can forge a close relationship with a city. Governments should recognise the fact that art fairs play an important role in cultural and creative industries, Hui says. “In Hong Kong everything is market-driven, so the government doesn’t have to think. But if the government can provide appropriate support and let the private sector grow, the impact could be bigger,” Hui says. “A city’s cultural infrastructure does not equal the commercialisation of art.” Hong Kong government statistics released this month shed light on the attraction of building a cultural industry. Cultural and creative industries were worth HK$89.6 billion in 2011, 4.7 per cent of gross domestic product and a marked increase on their 3.8 share in 2005. Amid general growth in the number of art fairs, the Art, Antiques and Crafts sector was ranked as the third most lucrative cultural and creative industry, generating just over HK$10 billion – almost double the HK$5.4 billion recorded in 2007, the year before Art HK made its debut. It’s inevitable that other cities are doing their best to replicate such growth. Taking Singapore as an example, the government proactively supported the Art Stage Singapore fair in January. The Singapore government also offers overseas galleries the use of the historic Gillman Barracks, a contemporary art site put together by the government’s Economic Development Board. A tax-free zone has been created to draw auction business away from Hong Kong, while government bodies such as the National Arts Council and the Singapore Tourism Board actively co-operate to generate a creative buzz. Art critic John Batten says an art fair can draw the attention of outsiders and also takes on a wider public perception – thereby adding something to the city. But while a successful fair can serve as a branding tool for a city and draw cultural events to take place around it, it also needs the city, he adds. “The art scene wants to associate with Art Basel. But a good art fair also wants to associate with a city – an art fair wants to be seen as part of the fabric of a city,” Batten says. Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew says that rather than simply being a forum for the trading of artworks, an art fair shares both cultural and commercial functions. He wants the art fair to form a positive relationship with Hong Kong, and even serve as an ambassador for the city. “Art fairs can help promote a city as a cultural destination. We want to benefit the cultural scene in Hong Kong. We are not just bringing audiences to discover the city, but also curators and museum directors,” he says. “There is this increasing recognition of Hong Kong as a major centre, not just for the trading of art, but also as a networking and meeting place for the international art world. The fair helps build the brand of Hong Kong as a cultural and financial hub.” Renfrew recognises that cities also hope to ride on the back of art fairs to promote themselves. “It’s very natural for a host city of an art fair to use this opportunity to demonstrate their cultural strength. Governments are more aware of the importance of art fairs [as] key events of the cultural calendar. Culture is an important part of the identity of a city, and art fairs can play a strong PR role,” he says. But, Hui says, other cities such as Taipei and Tokyo, which host art fairs on a different scale, can benefit from a more established cultural infrastructure – the network of public and private institutions that cultivate creativity – than Hong Kong, Singapore, or mainland Chinese cities. Take, for example, March’s Art Fair Tokyo. It may not be the most glamorous event on the arts calendar, but it is able to showcase local art to a local audience already familiar with the subject from the city’s museums and other cultural institutions. Surrounding the fair is the Roppongi Art Night, an all-night art happening in the hip Roppongi Hills area. A smaller contemporary art fair, G-Tokyo, is held concurrently. These events, crowded with local youngsters, offer a different side of Tokyo to visitors. “There’s a long history of art in Japan. The Japanese like to appreciate art with their own taste. We don’t have to follow the global trend,” says Art Fair Tokyo’s executive director Takahiro Kaneshima. Kaneshima says many young art fairs in the region look up to Art Basel and Frieze, a contemporary art fair in London and New York. But by achieving a “global standard”, he says, they end up featuring the same galleries and the same artists. “We try to make our own style of art fair. It doesn’t make sense to have just another Art Basel,” he says. “The rich can go to Switzerland and Hong Kong. We feel that we should make a fair that is more interesting locally.” Kaneshima says he wants his fair to be a platform for local artists and collectors, and make art accessible. This year’s fair attracted 44,000 visitors viewing art works brought by 136 galleries – almost all of them from Japan. The balance is in stark contrast to Art Basel Hong Kong, where half of the galleries came from the West. “I always think; why doesn’t our fair have big international galleries? But the truth is, few people here are interested in them,” he says. “We should learn about the global context, but Asia has different aesthetics. We want to show and create our own. For Asian people, it’s nice to have this kind of ‘global’ art fair …but isn’t such a Western-style strategy some kind of colonisation?” Kaneshima says it is inevitable that art fairs will follow a western model. But he believes creating a uniquely Asian system is important. Japan’s economic troubles of the past two decades have been a wake-up call to collectors and artists, he says. They now take time to sell works of art through galleries and there is more effort to cultivate talent. “It takes five years to sell an expensive sculpture, and it takes 20 years to make an artist,” he says. Internationally popular Japanese artist Takashi Murakami is in Hong Kong for a solo exhibition of his new works at Central’s Galerie Perrotin Hong Kong. He says that today’s art fairs and the market are vibrant. “When I debuted [in the international scene] 20 years ago, I hoped for such conditions,” the artist says. “But young people misunderstood the concept of making money. Auctions put up the prices [of art works] in a short time, but there’s also a short lifespan for artists.” Murakami is helping the next generation of artists. He “coaches” emerging artists under his company, KaiKai Kiki, ensuring they create art with a “healthy” mentality so that the money goes into the pockets of the artists’ families as well as the artists themselves, reducing the temptation for them to blow their new-found wealth. In 2002, he founded the GEISAI Operation, an art fair offering emerging Japanese artists a taste of the art market. The development of Tokyo’s largely homegrown art fair scene contrasts starkly to that of Hong Kong and other cities, which have a weaker cultural infrastructure and rely on foreign-run fairs. The concern is that the interest of foreigners in a city can be transient. “Foreigners bring the Western style to Hong Kong, which serves as a platform for them. But what if they move away from Hong Kong?” Hui asks. This worries artist and critic Anthony Leung Po-shan. She believes the vibrant art scene – a parade of glamorous openings, parties and free-flowing champagne – is in fact sending an alarming signal to the city. “It is a new form of globalisation,” Leung says. “Contemporary art becomes a tool, the best social occasion for global elites. It is not about the cultural diversity that [UN cultural body] Unesco advocates. Contemporary art becomes a new label, like Louis Vuitton, that people are after.” Leung worries that such globalisation of culture through the contagious art fairs obsession will eventually undermine or even extinguish most indigenous local craft and cultures in Asia in the long run. In fact, Britain is already experiencing such a phenomenon, with officials deciding that the country’s age-old craft industries no longer warrant inclusion within its creative industries. While the British contemporary art scene has blossomed, last month Britain’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport released a consultation paper proposing to remove craft as a category within the creative industries as “most craft businesses are too small to identify in business survey data … we’ve not been able to provide gross value added data”. Leung says the growth of the culture sector in Hong Kong is mainly in contemporary art, while traditional art forms stagnate. “Will it kill the local art forms? It depends on the local authorities,” she says. “Art fairs create great synergies. The positive side is that these fairs help widen the spectrum of arts and culture. But with this developmental-state mentality dominating Asia, and creative industries becoming state policy, Asia becomes a place that is just about making money. Art fairs then become a merger not just of culture, but also of capital. Cities have to beware of art fairs.”
This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition on May 22, 2013 as Drawing a line between art and money
A sculpture by French artist Fabien Merelle at the Hong Kong Statue Square. It sold for 250,000 euros to a Southeast Asian collector. Photographer: Frederik Balfour/Bloomberg
Jolie Gems, Warhol, Wine Lure Billionaires to Hong Kong
Hong Kong is taking center stage on the global conspicuous-consumption circuit this week as billionaires descend on the city to choose from Angelina Jolie’s diamonds, Andy Warhol’s paintings and bottles of Romanee-Conti.
In what promises to be a champagne-fuelled 10 days, the city will see billions of dollars of contemporary art, wine, jewelry and snuff bottles go on sale.
Anchoring, what is informally referred to as Hong Kong art week, is Art Basel Hong Kong which opens to the public tomorrow. VIPs at today’s preview included Kate Moss; Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and his girlfriend Dasha Zhukova; and Jeffrey Deitch director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
“I am very happy this year,” said gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin who was beaming after spending time showing works of Takashi Murakami to Abramovich. Though the Russian hasn’t yet settled on a purchase, Perrotin sold out 10 Murakami fiberglass figures in the first few hours of the preview at $135,000 each.
Others share his enthusiasm.
“There is high anticipation as opposed to last year when everyone was holding his breath,” said Jasdeep Sandhu, director of Singapore-based Gajah Gallery, which is selling a new painting by I. Nyoman Masriadi for $350,000.
Dozens of galleries are taking advantage of the influx of well-heeled visitors to host openings, dinners and parties.
“I’m attending four dinners tonight but I won’t sit down at any of them,” said Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. “I’ll eat while I’m in the car.”
At the Pedder Building, six galleries held simultaneous vernissages last night. Gagosian opened with a show of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings, Pearl Lam has Chinese abstract painter Zhu Jinshi. Hanart TZ Gallery is featuring ink-on-paper works by Qiu Zhijie, while Lehmann Maupin has hung embroideries and neon by Tracey Emin.
“We’ve got a security guard to manage the crowd,” Lehmann Maupin partner Courtney Plummer said before yesterday’s opening. “It’s a great problem to have.”
A few blocks away, on two floors of a retro-1930s building designed by Robert Stern, White Cube held a party to mark the opening of a show by Jake & Dinos Chapman. On the 17th floor, Murakami held court at his opening at Galerie Perrotin.
Earlier, Galerie Malingue put on show in Hong Kong’s Statue Square a larger-than-life statue by Fabien Merelle. The French sculptor portrays himself balancing an elephant on his back. Numbered one in a series of three, it has already been sold to a private Southeast Asian collector for 250,000 euros ($322,770).
Wendi Deng Murdoch is hosting a party tonight at the Asia Society to promote her art website Artsy, while New World Development scion Adrian Cheng is holding a party at the swimming pool of the Grand Hyatt hotel(owned by his family) in honor of his K11 Art Foundation.
Ground zero for the week’s selling extravaganza is Art Basel Hong itself which opened its doors to VIPs at noon.
Rebranded this year as Art Basel Hong Kong, the fair formerly known as Hong Kong International Art Fair, is trying to maintain its distinctly regional flavor, with more than 50 percent of the 245 exhibitors coming from Asia and Asia-Pacific while focusing more attention on deep-pocketed visitors.
“Three years ago we had one person handling VIP relations,” said Art Basel Director Asia Magnus Renfrew. “Now we have 25 around the world and nine in Asia.”
The fair features a strong showing of European and U.S. heavyweights too. First-time exhibitor Dominique Levy Gallery from New York is selling Warhol dollar-sign works priced from $500,000 to $6 million and Zurich-based Galerie Gmurzynska is featuring pneumatic figure paintings by Colombian artist Fernando Botero.
Christie’s is holding its spring marathon of eight sales including contemporary Asian art, ceramics, jewelry, watches and wine from May 23-29 with a presale estimate of HK$1.3 billion ($167 million).
On May 24, Hong Kong-based Tiancheng International sells an antique diamond choker belonging to Angelina Jolie estimated at HK$4 million to HK$6 million in a charity auction to benefit Education Partnership for Children in Conflict.
Sotheby’s (BID) is selling 270 lots of snuff bottles on May 27, and fine watches on May 28.
At tonight’s Bonhams wine sale at the Island Shangri-La Hotel, an estimated HK$12 million of wine, cognac and whisky go under the hammer, including a bottle of Macallan 1946 (aged 56 years in oak barrels) that may fetch as much as HK$320,000.
The top lot of the sale contains six bottles of Romanee-Conti with a high estimate of HK$620,000.
Art Basel Hong Kong runs from May 23 to May 26 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. The lead sponsor is Deutsche Bank AG.
(Frederik Balfour is a reporter-at-large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton on New York dining and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.
Editors: Mark Beech, Richard Vines.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE./NEW YORK TIMES
Hong Kong Finds Its Footing in Art World
Thomas Lee for the International Herald Tribune
Visitors at the booth of Galerie Gmurzynska at last year’s Art HK fair, the precursor to Art Basel Hong Kong.
By XHINGYU CHEN
Published: May 22, 2013
As Art Basel inaugurates its first fair in the Far East on Thursday, it will not only be staking its claim to a growing market for contemporary and modern art, but also bolstering Hong Kong’s position as the dominant art hub of Asia.
Courtesy of Jitish Kallat and ARNDT Berlin
Jitish Kallat’s “Allegory of the Unfolding Sky” is on display at Art Basel’s inaugural fair in Hong Kong.
With the show, which features 245 galleries at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center through Sunday, the Art Basel Group has not strayed from its predecessor’s goal of staging an Asia-focused event. “I know there was an initial fear that Basel would just make a copy of what they do in Switzerland and Miami,” said Magnus Renfrew, Art Basel’s director for Asia and the founder of Art HK, the precursor to Art Basel in Hong Kong. “But we’ve maintained our original mission. A majority of galleries are still from the Asia-Pacific region.” Many galleries in the region had indeed expressed fears that they would be pushed out of the event in favor of bigger, global names in the art world. While the presence of international galleries has certainly increased, the fair has put a spotlight on regional galleries in its Insights section, which features projects developed specifically for the Hong Kong show. Art Basel is also continuing its tradition of presenting large-scale works from leading international artists in the Encounters section. This year’s selections, curated by Yoku Hasegawa of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, will feature 17 artists, including the Shanghai-based MadeIn Company, the Indian artist Jitish Kallat and the New Zealand-based artist Seung Yul Oh. There was little a decade ago to presage that Hong Kong would draw so many galleries, artists and collectors. When Art HK, the precursor to Art Basel Hong Kong founded by Mr. Renfrew, had its premiere in 2008, much of the art world viewed the city as little more than a gateway to the more artistically flourishing centers of Beijing and Shanghai. Demand for Chinese art was soaring at the time, and although Sotheby’s and Christie’s had already established presences in Hong Kong — international auction houses were not permitted to operate independently on the mainland — many of the city’s arts representatives were turned toward the blossoming arts centers of mainland China. The Hong Kong gallery offerings were little better. Save for a few veterans like Hanart TZ Gallery, which opened in 1983, and Osage Gallery, established in 2004, contemporary art galleries in the city were dealing largely with commercial art and offering few platforms on which artists could thrive. But Hong Kong has experienced an arts renaissance in the past few years, and the city now has 80 contemporary art galleries, according to Art Asia Pacific Magazine, with reputable dealers including Ben Brown Fine Arts, Gagosian, White Cube and Lehmann Maupin opening outposts in the city. For the economist Clare McAndrew, the author of a market report for the European Fine Art Fair this year in Maastricht, the Netherlands, Hong Kong’s free market and its lack of taxes on imports or exports of art have contributed to drawing these foreign galleries. The local government, meanwhile, has announced plans to invest 21.6 billion Hong Kong dollars, or about $2.8 billion, in a new arts hub, the West Kowloon Cultural District, where the M+ contemporary art museum is scheduled to open in 2017. Some of these developments have been in play for years, but many arts specialists credit the success of the Art HK fair, and its takeover in 2011 by the international giant Art Basel, with strengthening Hong Kong’s position as the artistic hub of Asia. “The acquisition of Art HK by Art Basel has unquestionably cemented the city’s position as a mandatory destination for collectors, curators and critics in the global art circuit,” said Nick Simunovic, director of the Gagosian Gallery in Hong Kong. For Courtney Plummer, director of Lehmann Maupin’s Hong Kong space, which opened in March this year, the idea of a Hong Kong gallery matured over time. “It really was a natural progression,” she said of the gallery’s decision to open in the city. “But we did notice that Hong Kong was in the air a lot, with the auctions, the opening of the Asia Society and the fair itself. The fair did not directly influence our decision to come, but it certainly made it clear to us that people love coming to Hong Kong.” In 2012, China had a 25 percent share of the global art market, much of it based in Hong Kong. The city is now the third-largest art auction center in the world, after New York and London, and Sotheby’s Hong Kong alone had sales of more than 7.8 billion dollars in 2011. Some major players in the Hong Kong art world caution against overstating the reputation the city had for many years as a “cultural desert,” however. Mr. Renfrew of Art Basel said that this “was the prevailing thought” when he was scouting in Hong Kong in 2007 but that it “was an unfair assessment.” “There were many different organizations, like Asia Art Archives and Para/Site, who were contributing to the city’s cultural life,” he said, referring to a regional cultural research organization founded in 2000 in Hong Kong and to a contemporary space founded in 1996 that is run by artists. “There were also a number of strong galleries, like Hanart and Osage, who had strong programming that was different from the purely commercial objectives of the city’s established antiques galleries,” he continued. “I see the city’s artistic developments as happening more in parallel with the fair.” Central to that development are Hong Kong’s protections of free speech and a culture of openness and critical thinking, said Robin Peckham, the founding director of Saamlung, a small project space and gallery in the Central district of Hong Kong. Mr. Peckham moved to the city from Beijing in 2009. “I was attracted by the more scholarly approaches in the working methodologies of artists in Hong Kong, and the broader culture of research in the art world,” he explained. “Hong Kong is already more significant than Beijing and Shanghai: the transparency of the gallery and auction business, the possibilities of serious curatorial research offered by M+ and AAA — none of that exists elsewhere in China.” Once Hong Kong’s art fairs and galleries shined a global spotlight on the city, the local government took notice. “We were seen mainly as a commercial enterprise, so they were not familiar with the cultural significance of an event like ours,” Mr. Renfrew explained. “But I think the local government has since been greatly encouraged by the success of the fair. Fair attendance has risen from 19,000 visitors our first year to 67,000 visitors last year. They realize now that there is a hunger for contemporary art from the local populace.” The city, which posted a surplus of 64.9 billion dollars in the most recent fiscal year, has embarked on an ambitious plan for the West Kowloon Cultural District, which will include 60,000 square meters, or 645,000 square feet, of exhibition space at the M+ contemporary arts museum. Lars Nittve, a former director of the Tate Modern in London and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, has been appointed executive director of the museum and Pi Li, a major figure in the Chinese art world, a senior curator. “The interest in Hong Kong developing a major institution has become stronger as a result of the fair and all the other developments throughout the city,” Mr. Nittve said of Art HK and its successor. “The perception of Hong Kong, and its position in the region as a major art hub, has been strengthened.” For some, however, the influx of international galleries like Gagosian and White Cube presents a risk to local artists and galleries because they often focus on global heavyweights like Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol, rather than on local artists. While this is sometimes true — Gagosian did have a Damien Hirst show last year at its space in the Pedder Building — the galleries are generally viewed as bringing fresh air, money and new collectors to the city. “The increased presence of international galleries is a very positive thing for Hong Kong,” Mr. Renfrew said. “They have raised the level of artistic programming and introduced major international artists to the city.” Not least, the changing landscape has encouraged local galleries to deepen their programming in the city. Tang Contemporary and 10 Chancery Lane are just two of the driving forces behind Art East Island, a series of exhibitions held in a warehouse building on the eastern reaches of Hong Kong Island. Past exhibitions have included an Ai Weiwei show and a Dinh Q. Le solo project. The spotlight that comes with each gallery opening, and with prominent fairs like Art Basel Hong Kong, could also presage good things for local artists. “There are dozens of great artists working in Hong Kong who for many years were more or less overshadowed by the developments in mainland China,” said Mr. Simunovic of the Gagosian Gallery. “As the cultural community grows,” he continued, “I think you will see Hong Kong-based artists rise to greater prominence.”
A version of this special report appeared in print on May 23, 2013, in The International Herald Tribune.
Arts & Leisure
Posted on May 21, 2013 05:34:52 PM
Art Basel to bring international flair to Hong Kong
HONG KONG — Art lovers, collectors and gallerists will gather on Thursday for Hong Kong’s inaugural edition of Art Basel, sealing the city’s status as an international art hub and Asia’s leading art destination.
The Hanart TZ Gallery, which showcases Chinese contemporary art, will be exhibiting at Art Basel Asia, in Hong Kong. — AFP
The four-day annual show is the world’s premier art fair and has until now only been held in Switzerland and the United States each year. More than 2,000 international artists and 245 leading art galleries will come together for the event to be held in the city’s waterfront convention center. “Art Basel really helps to affirm in people’s minds the status of Hong Kong as the art destination in Asia,” Art Basel Asia Director Magnus Renfrew told AFP. It replaces Art HK, Hong Kong’s former art fair which was set up in 2008 and recently taken over by the high-profile Swiss Art Basel franchise which has been showcasing modern and contemporary art since 1970. “It really helps to take this from being a fair of regional significance to one of global significance,” says Renfrew, who also headed Art HK. “The quality of application this year was far greater than what we received previously, it’s getting more difficult to get in.” Renfrew and his team are predicting huge growth potential in the Asian art scene and are expecting a greater presence from collectors from outside Asia. “There’s clearly a huge potential in Asia, there are now more billionaires in Asia than there are in Europe,” says Renfrew, adding that 25 VIP relations managers have been deployed around the world to drive VIP traffic to the fair. Better known as a fast-paced commercial hub which is home to global banks and designer brands, Hong Kong’s reputation as a thriving center for art collectors has only been established in the last few years. It has surged to third place in the global art auction market behind New York and London and Western galleries are falling over each other to open franchises in the former British colony. The sudden boom in the international art presence in Hong Kong has come largely thanks to the explosion of personal wealth among mainland Chinese who are investing in art and a growing interest among collectors for different types of art aside from traditional works. Since Art Basel acquired Art HK in 2011, 11 galleries have opened up in Hong Kong hoping to tap into the growing international art presence, Renfrew said. “I think the cultural ecology of Hong Kong is really starting to come together,” he said. Gagosian, White Cube, Acquavella, Lehmann Maupin and Pearl Lam are just some of the big-name galleries to have arrived in the city in the past two years, despite sky-high rents. The local art scene is also buzzing with the government’s development of a massive art and culture district on the harbor in Kowloon where contemporary art museum M+ is expected to boast a world-class art selection. International art stars are launching shows at major galleries in the city to coincide with Art Basel and tap into the current cultural buzz. Controversial British siblings Jake and Dinos Chapman — known as the Chapman brothers — will be opening an exhibition at White Cube on Tuesday, their first exhibition in China. Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami will launch a show at the French Galerie Perrotin on the same day. Art Basel’s four main sections at the Hong Kong show will focus on significant works from the past 100 years, projects specially developed for the show and large-scale sculptural and installation pieces. Selected emerging contemporary artists will also vie for a $25,000 prize. The city’s Hanart TZ Gallery, which showcases Chinese contemporary art, will be exhibiting at the show and is hoping to push its own reputation beyond its regional fan base. “With Art Basel, the promise is that the international is being brought to Hong Kong,” Johnson Chang, the gallery’s curatorial director, told AFP. Chang is hoping the show will help his artists reach global collectors and spark “new interest, new business and new connections.” Hong Kong has already made international art headlines this year with thousands of people flocking to see a giant rubber duck created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman floating in the city’s famous Victoria Harbor. It also hosted a major Andy Warhol exhibition which received more than 200,000 visitors during its three-month run. — AFP
Manila galleries participating in Art Basel HK
FOUR MANILA galleries will be participating in Art Basel Hong Kong which will run from May 23 to 26 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. They are: Silverlens and The Drawing Room under the “Galleries” category, and Manila Contemporary and ArtInformal in the “Insights” category. Silverlens will be presenting five of its represented artists: Mariano Ching, Patricia Perez Eustaquio, Gary-Ross Pastrana, Rachel Rillo, and Maria Taniguchi. The Drawing Room will be presenting new works by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Gaston Damag, Kawayan De Guia, Jose Legaspi and Mark Salvatus. Manila Contemporary will present new works by painter Winner Jumalon, while ArtInformal will be presenting works by Pam Yan Santos and Marina Cruz.
Chapman brothers unveil diabolical art in Hong Kong
The Chapman brothers presented their latest epic installation featuring thousands of little figures in violent conflict Tuesday at the sidelines of Art Basel in Hong Kong, but dismissed the renowned fair as a “shop”.
A close up view of “The Sum of all Evil” by British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman. The installation — which showcases miniature Nazis soldiers in various states of diabolical torment — is on display at Hong Kong’s White Cube gallery from May 21, 2013.
“The Sum of all Evil” by Jake and Dinos Chapman builds on previous works such as “Hell” (1999) which showcased innumerous miniature Nazis soldiers in various states of diabolical torment.
Their ambitions to use themes of war, genocide, the apocalypse and the evils of mass consumerism come in the form of tiny, tortured Nazi soldiers, skeletons and bloody corpses, and crucified Ronald McDonalds, the mascot of the fast food giant.
“I don’t want to think that making art or works of art are the pioneering objects of capitalistic markets, which ultimately they are, but I don’t really want to think about that,” Jake Chapman told AFP at Hong Kong’s White Cube gallery, as he unveiled the siblings’ first exhibition in China.
“One of the ways in which we proof our work from being implicated in that process is to make the work as awful as we can, so it can’t be mistaken for anything positive — it’s as cynical and pessimistic and anti-human as possible,” he said.
The four-day annual Art Basel show, the world’s premier art fair that is enjoying its inaugural showing in Hong Kong, is offering a crowded platform for around 2,000 international artists to promote and sell their work.
Nothing could be further from the artistic vision of the London-based pair, Jake Chapman insisted to AFP.
“If you’re an artist I think you allow yourself the privilege of believing that what you do is something to do with producing culture, rather than commodities,” he said, adding it was “best (to) keep away” from the massive fair happening nearby — dismissing the gathering as “a big shop”.
Art is, in fact, “to do with producing commodities and not culture”, he admitted, “but you don’t have to force yourself into the awful truth of it by going to art fairs”.
May 21, 2013, 7:18 PM
Roast-Duck Vodka, Anyone?
By WSJ Staff
Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
Skull for dessert? A Damien Hirst-inspired creation at the Mandarin Grill in Hong Kong
In a Fringe Club basement formerly used for ice storage, experience the world of artist Adrian Wong at his immersive installation “Wun Dun” (“cosmic gour in Cantonese). The Absolut Vodka pop-up bar shakes up visitors with drinks inspired by Hong Kong flavors (try the stiff roast-duck vodka served with a fresh bok choy leaf), colorful neon fish tanks, a cast of characters that includes a Star Ferry captain, a soundtrack courtesy of a furry robot backing band and an elderly Cantonese opera singer turned karaoke crooner.
The Mandarin Oriental hotel isn’t just sponsoring Art Basel; it’s also hosting works from “Hong Kong Eye” at its mezzanine Clipper Lounge. Over at the Mandarin Grill, chef Uwe Opocensky is serving up culinary homages to artists from Andy Warhol (Campbell’s-based tomato soup) to Damien Hirst (a chocolate-skull dessert sprinkled with hundreds and thousands).
Looking to run into a billionaire art lover or gallery owner at Hong Kong’s new Art Basel? Much of the air kissing and champagne swilling takes place off site, as VIPs land in the city in droves.
By Jason Chow
In Hong Kong, Art Basel organizers hope to replicate the social scene of its Miami Beach and Basel events. Here, Paris Hilton, left, poses at a Moncler anniversary party in December at Art Basel in Miami Beach.
Getty Images for Moncler
In case you missed rubbing elbows with superdealer Larry Gagosian and Indonesian collector Deddy Kusama at the Asia Society’s Art Gala on Monday, you’ll find much of the same crowd at Duddell’s, where a high-end Cantonese restaurant and Ilse Crawford-designed lounge meet exhibitions curated by the likes of Ai Weiwei (works aren’t for sale). Booked back-to-back throughout the fair, the space this weekend sees a private dinner hosted by Beijing’s Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art and an after party hosted by Paris’s Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Meanwhile, high-rolling individuals are pulling out the stops for their own fetes, from Adrian Cheng’s Art Basel vernissage after party at the Grand Hyatt on Wednesday to collector Richard Chang’s Thursday event at club-lounge Fly. Co-hosted by Dee Poon, daughter of Harvey Nichols department store owner Dickson Poon, the evening will also feature Chinese art duo Birdhead as the official photographer of the night. While most Hong Kong galleries unveil their exhibitions on Wednesday, Galerie Ora-Ora is staging a yacht party for the Art Basel elite the next day. Owner Henrietta Tsui said response has been so strong that she’s now taking two trips, each a group of 50, on her family’s 80-foot yacht to cruise Victoria Harbor and take in Hong Kong’s skyline. “I’m a local gallery trying to reach out to the international crowd,” she said. The most coveted invitation of the weekend? Saturday’s Art Basel closing party hosted by Yana Peel, founder of the debate series Intelligence Squared. The event takes place at the Jumbo Seafood Restaurant, the gilded floating palace in the middle of Aberdeen Harbor on Hong Kong’s south side.
Years before the West Kowloon Cultural District opens, Hong Kong’s art scene is still something of a treasure hunt.
Start at West Kowloon’s harborfront site: The city’s museum for visual culture M+ (projected opening: 2017) is making its presence felt with “Mobile M+: Inflation!” (through June 9), a crowd-drawing exhibition of six large-scale inflatable sculptures that include an outsize suckling pig by Cao Fei, a giant cockroach by Otto Li and Paul McCarthy’s scatological “Complex Pile.”
Para/Site, Yale University, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library
‘Portrait no 48.Yang Kang,’ 1830-1850, by Lam Qua, part of a Para/Site exhibition marking a decade after SARS.
Next, head to a former abattoir in Kowloon’s old town center, where the Burger Collection has joined forces with artist-run collective 1a Space for “I Think It Rains” (through June 30), the second of four experimental shows in its “Quadrilogy” series. On display are works by 20-odd artists and writers, from pop lyricist Chow Yiu Fai to conceptual-based artist Vittorio Santoro, while Friday sees a full day of “real time” art, including participatory performances by Wen Yau, Reds Cheung and Lau Ching Ping.
Back on Hong Kong island, “A Journal of the Plague Year” (through July 20) marks the 10th anniversary of the SARS epidemic, as well as the suicide of Cantopop star Leslie Cheung, with a series of installations that have already generated headlines. Among them are Lee Kit’s melancholy karaoke room dedicated to Mr. Cheung, a ghostly video by Apichatpong Weerasethakul screened in a 1970s tenement, and Ai Weiwei’s baby milk-formula bottles configured as a floor-based map.
Over in the corporate Island East complex, survey show “Hong Kong Eye” (through May 31) spotlights more than 60 works on home turf after debuting at London’s Saatchi Gallery last year. Pieces on display range from Chow Chun Fai’s painted film stills to a warped life-size taxi sculpture by Amy Cheung, but the real gem is the hefty 408-page catalog, complete with essays by curator Johnson Chang and critic Anthony Leung.
On nearby Oil Street, just a stone’s throw from the erstwhile Oil Street artist village, new government-run space Oi opens on Wednesday in a red-brick building that dates to 1908. Works by four artists explore themes of water and space (through Aug. 18), including a mist installation by mainland Chinese artist Yuan Gong and a video and sound work by Tsang Kin-Wah that uses footage from Japan’s 2011 tsunami.
Back west, conceptual artist Warren Leung Chi Wo occupies tiny 2P Gallery with “Bright Light has Much the Same Effect as Ice” (through June 11), a tongue-in-cheek look at Hong Kong’s coldest recorded temperature in 1893. For the record, it was zero degrees Celsius.
TIME OUT HONG KONG
Is Hong Kong ready for contemporary art?
Posted: 22 May 2013
That is the question. At a time when our city has been taken over by art more passionately and comprehensively than ever before, Edmund Lee takes stock of the conflicting notions that are shaping our future. In Hong Kong, circa May 2013, it seems reasonable to start the exploration of any topic with reference to a rubber duck. But in the context of our city’s art scene, it takes on a relevance all the more poignant than a mere passing allusion to Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s 16.5m-tall Rubber Duck, which is presently braving the polluted waters of Victoria Harbour. In the glorious days of our toy industry in the 1970s, rubber ducks were one of the major earners for Hong Kong, yet conspicuously absent from the homes of 99 percent of our population. And so it is the case with our abrupt rise towards the pinnacle of the global art market in the past few years, which certainly hasn’t been sufficiently reflected in the maturity of the art-viewing public. Hong Kong is a great gathering point for money, which art always follows. The odyssey for it to become a legitimate art capital, however, is only starting now. Here are some of the major issues that we must address, negotiate or generally begin to grapple with… Being a leading art market vs Becoming an art-conscious city As if you didn’t know, Hong Kong’s art market is flourishing. Some 67,000 people flocked to last year’s ART HK, compared to 19,000 during its first edition in 2008. There has been an expanding army of smaller fairs, like the recent Affordable Art Fair, to offer ‘cheaper’ pieces that are priced below $100,000. And our fair city has, somehow, grown to become the world’s third largest art market by auction sales. Indeed, in terms of business, it has been a period of exponential growth. But does this boom necessarily coincide with an increase in public awareness when it comes to contemporary art? “Absolutely,” says Claire Hsu, co-founder and executive director of the Asia Art Archive. “When we began over a decade ago, we had to beg people to come to our programmes and were lucky to get 10 people for a talk. Now we can easily get a full house with one email to the mailing list. We had about 7,000 people visit the Song Dong exhibition in January in under three weeks, and the staggering [attendance] figures at the art fair every year show people’s hunger to see contemporary art.” Magnus Renfrew, the director Asia of Art Basel who has closely witnessed our evolving art market over the past few years, agrees that things are turning for the better: “One learns about art through having the opportunity to see it, and I think historically in Hong Kong, there had been very few opportunities to see modern and contemporary art in an institutional setting. But that’s changing.” It is indeed a great time to be an avid art audience in Hong Kong. Aside from the fairs and auctions, local galleries specialising in contemporary art are growing more established by the year, while more multinational galleries are opening branches here than ever before. Just as an impressive diversity of non-commercial exhibition producers are emerging across the city (from the Asia Society to Oi!, the awkwardly titled new community art space at 12 Oil Street), the curatorial team behind M+ – the visual culture museum to be opening in late 2017 at the 40-hectare West Kowloon Cultural District – has been making great strides in assembling a collection to rival some of the world’s best. So all in all, what else could hold back Hong Kong’s ferocious climb up the art world ladder? An open mind vs The legacy of Hong Kong education When the M+ museum acquired 1,510 artworks from Swiss collector Uli Sigg’s legendary collection of Chinese contemporary art in September, the irrefutable coup was met with generally positive responses from most cities in which art matters – except right here in our city, where the reception was decidedly mixed and more than a few people questioned the quality of the works. Putting aside the debatable view that we might have overpaid for the collection, it’s hard to shake the impression that any informed and sensible discussion is simply way off the cards as our city continues to be run by generations of people who finished their education without ever encountering the notion of art history. In the February 2 episode of leading channel TVB Jade’s programme News Magazine (which was subtly titled Art – Rubbish), the oil painter Lin Minggang – the chairman of the Hong Kong Oil Painting Research Society who issued an open letter to condemn the Sigg Collection as ‘rubbish’ – elaborated on his philosophy. “Some of these works are nonsensical. Some are the opposite of art. There are, however, some people who do their utmost to promote and push these works,” bemoaned the conservative artist, who later added: “An artwork should give pleasure to the viewer. It should make you feel comfortable.” If Lin’s understanding of modern art is outdated by a century, so it appears to be the case of the television programme’s writer, who at one point enlightened the public by declaring – with reference to a Zhang Peili glove painting – that ‘one of the major characteristics of contemporary art is perhaps its incomprehensibility’. As if confirming that we’re indeed far behind the rest of the art world, the show then channelled Duchamp and played party pooper at this year’s Fotanian Open Studios by asking the visitors – including a bemused William Lim, the dedicated collector of Hong Kong art and co-chairman of Para/Site Art Space – if a mug for brushing teeth was an artwork. The casual preference of this mainstream television programme to find a clear-cut definition of the object over considering its origin, context or even the creative process reflects the jarring lack of art knowledge even in the most prominent of media. To the cynics, this is but a natural extension of our ingrained culture to find a model answer in everything. You see a porcelain urinal and you get a porcelain urinal. Simple. Artistic excellence vs Political consideration The stilted perspective presented by the programme didn’t end with its meditation on a ready-made object, however. After highlighting the negative coverage on the Sigg Collection in the Mainland and the pro-Beijing local press, it went on to pull out a controversial quote from the respected cultural critic Oscar Ho, who went on camera to dismiss the importance of Chinese contemporary art. “With a collection of such things, how meaningful would it be to put them in Hong Kong?” he asked, before adding: “Not only to Hong Kong, but these works are meaningless to the Chinese people too. Most of the people in China have no idea what these works are about.” The mainland Chinese population has certainly had little appreciation of the politically sensitive works on Mao and Tiananmen. But even if we pretend for a moment that artists such as Ai Weiwei, Fang Lijun and Zhang Peili weren’t already notable throughout the art world, is it by itself a valid reason to dismiss the group of historically important works that are finding a home here – precisely due to our freedom of expression – solely because they were severely censored in their place of origin over the decades? What are the odds that one can tie up art and politics in any constructive conversation when the country in question is still prohibiting the showing of iconic works like Andy Warhol’s silkscreen paintings of Mao – as is the case with the touring exhibition Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal, which is currently at Shanghai’s state-owned Power Station of Art before its next stop in Beijing? It’s disheartening to see the way our art development is scattered with comical putdowns by people in power, who, despite being well into middle age, may be coming across contemporary art meaningfully for the first time in their lives. Following the claim of Christopher Chung Shu-kun, chairman of the Joint Subcommittee to Monitor the Implementation of the West Kowloon Cultural District Project, that dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s middle finger to Tiananmen ‘can’t be considered art because even children can do that’, lawmaker Chan Kam-lam merely added to the idiocy by stating that political works ‘are not works of art’. If half of these many outrageous claims were meant for building up Hong Kong art instead of putting it down, we could well be in for something special. In a society that’s accustomed to polite applause instead of true and informed critical voices, however, it’s reasonable to conclude that Hong Kong simply doesn’t have the mature cultural atmosphere for its own art scene to really blossom yet. At a recent forum in Wan Chai’s Foo Tak Building to discuss the obstacles facing Hong Kong contemporary art, artist/scholar Anthony Leung Po-shan cited the 2009 transformation of the Hong Kong Art Biennial Exhibition to the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Biennial Awards as an illustration of the effects of the colonial political principle of ‘fairness’. By turning the biennial into a competition, it ensures a sense of fairness to the selection process. And where will that lead us? Artist development vs A lack of meaningful critique While there’s an enviable degree of artistic freedom in Hong Kong when compared to the Mainland, what we lack sorely is a culture of professional art criticism that could effectively give the artists an honest assessment on their practice – an essential part of the art ecology to situate the art created into a larger discourse. Good critics usually make good curators, but when critics are largely absent and artists begin to regard staying in the profession as a triumph in itself, it becomes increasingly difficult for Hong Kong art to rise above its sideshow status to the city’s prospering market. According to Cosmin Costinas, the executive director of Para/Site Art Space, there’s been a sense around here that the recent growth in our art scene ‘can lead to other opportunities – and not just in terms of [the operation of] commercial galleries’. “For some of the artists in Hong Kong, I think they need to make bolder decisions,” says the curator. “Now, both the galleries and all of us – including the non-profits and institutional – are trying to build something in Hong Kong. But I think it’s important to hear more loudly the voice of the artists.” And it’s not like a platform hasn’t been set for Hong Kong art to finally take the spotlight. As the first major Hong Kong contemporary art exhibition outside the city since 2007’s Horizons at Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the recent Hong Kong Eye showcase at London’s Saatchi Gallery attracted more than 200,000 visitors over its duration. The show’s co-curator Johnson Chang, who famously brought Chinese contemporary art to the world with his landmark exhibition China’s New Art Post-1989 in the early 1990s, told us ahead of the London showing last December: “The ‘export’ of art suggests influence. It builds self confidence and builds bridges of connection, which are very necessary for Hong Kong art now.” Speaking of the fundamental improvements that are required of our art scene, artist Lam Tung-pang says: “I believe the turning point could arrive when local entrepreneurs and private foundations – together with the support of the government – make a long-term goal to develop our local art and collecting culture.” The good news is that a concerted effort to contextualise Hong Kong art looks to be happening through a variety of different channels. Of the 867 works of visual culture that M+ has acquired outside of the Sigg Collection and that may be exhibited prior to the opening of the museum building, 700 are from Hong Kong and are mostly either collected from the artists directly or through their local galleries. More than three books have been published inside the past 12 months on the subject of Hong Kong contemporary art, while the growing interest in writing about our art history has also seen the AAA and the Hong Kong Museum of Art collaborate on an Oral History project with Hong Kong artists. Gallerists advocating conceptual art vs Prohibitively expensive overheads It’s one thing for a gallery to focus on selling wall-hanging pieces that go nicely into any living room; it’s quite another to be dedicating your space to conceptual art installations which are sometimes practically ‘unsellable’. When we talked to Nigel Hurst in late 2012, the gallery director and chief executive of Saatchi Gallery observed that many of our homegrown artists are not ‘particularly market-engaged’, which ‘makes their works more appealing to the art market in the first place’. Tell that to the resolute gallerists who are striving to carve out a place for our emerging artists with limited international reputation and non-existent secondary market potentials. “Hong Kong has a good, interested audience for contemporary art, but I don’t think there’s enough of an educated audience for conceptual art [yet],” says Pui Pui To, the Central Saint Martins graduate who founded 2P Contemporary Art Gallery in 2010. “We make exhibitions with works that nobody really needs or wants to buy. The biggest challenge is how you try to keep your gallery if you have nothing to sell – or if nobody wants to buy anyway. Our programme is extremely experimental, risk-taking and progressive. A lot of people who come by the gallery would be like ‘what’s this?’ The educated audiences are usually those who are already involved in the art world, like curators and writers; many of them come from overseas.” While a whole heap of overseas galleries are expanding into Hong Kong, galleries which are more committed to Hong Kong or Asian contemporary art have seemingly found the need to adjust their strategies. Just as Gallery Exit moved from Central to Tin Wan and Osage closed its Soho space to concentrate on its Kwun Tong galleries, Saamlung ceased operating as a commercial gallery and will move forward as a non-commercial project. Magnus Renfrew of Art Basel describes the environment for young galleries in Hong Kong as being ‘very challenging’. “The overheads for galleries are very, very high here, and the price point for emerging artists or perhaps other conceptual artists tends to be relatively low,” he says. “So to make it viable, you need to sell a huge quantity of work.” Given that it normally takes at least HK$2m to start a gallery, and that every exhibition costs about $15,000 to set up, a good and regular audience base appears to be the very least that a gallerist should be hoping for. “The rental in Hong Kong is just way too high for us to survive,” says To. “People can see that [2P] is not like those galleries on Hollywood Road. There are people coming to the gallery who want to know and take the time, listen to the audio, watch the video properly from the beginning to the end. Sometimes you put art in a context, and it’s not [about finding] any conclusion. Art doesn’t always have a conclusion. You can give the audience a direction but not a certain interpretation.” Rubber Duck vs Complex Pile Since late April, the imagination of the Hong Kong population has been ruthlessly captured by various large-scale inflatable sculptures around town. A few days after the exhibition Mobile M+: Inflation! was unveiled at the West Kowloon Cultural District, featuring such controversial pieces as Los Angeles artist Paul McCarthy’s poop-like Complex Pile and Chinese artist Cao Fei’s roasted pig sculpture House of Treasures, Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck arrived at the harbour to put the snap-happy public into a craze. The number of visitors to the M+ exhibition had topped 100,000 at the time of press, whereas nobody can really keep count of all the duck photos floating – or, indeed, otherwise – on the internet. The phenomenon for artists to scale up their works in order to grab attention is usually reserved for the more prominent art markets in the world, although, in Hong Kong’s case, the impressive sight couldn’t have planned for a better time to deputise here. To many people in the crowds, the question ‘is it art?’ may well be their first ever art awakening. “I think it’s a great show,” says Renfrew of Inflation!, probably no pun intended. “There’s a lot to debate about what art should be, what art could be. There had been other similar debates in other places around the world historically, as well. It’s a very important part of raising people’s awareness. It’s really quite an important moment.” Now that everyone is going to see the gigantic works, does it matter if quite a number of them have no idea whatsoever that they’re actually looking at, uh, art? “That’s a very good question, very interesting,” says M+ curator Tobias Berger, who goes on to distinguish Inflation! from works of public art, such as Rubber Duck. “Public art is the kind of art you talk about, you encounter it on the way to work and you cannot get around it. It’s public, it’s there, and I cannot choose not to go there. [As for] what we do with Inflation!, everybody who goes to that exhibition, they [have to] go there on purpose. We don’t really talk about our exhibition as a public art exhibition; it’s a sculpture exhibition for us. It’s basically like going to a museum. You would not use Complex Pile as a public art piece, because people would misunderstand it. But you can show it in an exhibition.” Ironically, the remarkable thing about our city’s burgeoning awareness towards art appreciation is that SK Lam – the AllRightsReserved creative director who has previously presented well-received showcases of the works by Yue Minjun and Yayoi Kusama for Harbour City’s marketing campaigns – has almost been forced to apologise for the inflatable duck’s immense popularity. “At first, we were only trying to avoid the typhoon season. We were also hoping to coincide with Art Basel and to take advantage of its momentum,” says the celebrity designer. “It’s an artwork after all. It’s not a toy or a prop. It’s not Doraemon. It’s not a licensed [cartoon] character.” He then turns whimsical: “It’s funny to say. Someone told me the other day that the rubber duck piece doesn’t inspire much introspection. I didn’t know what got into me but I just spontaneously replied ‘when it’s gone, you’d be thinking about it for a long time’.” Lam chuckles. “It’s not going to be here forever, you know.” Is that a threat to the unsuspecting public, the local art scene, or the precious overlapping section of both?
With 245 galleries, including 48 that have never shown in Asia, the event will rival Miami’s iteration of the fair in size.
First it was Switzerland. Then it was Florida, with a 2002 expansion that brought art-world glitter to Miami. Now, on Thursday, Art Basel arrives in Hong Kong. With 245 galleries, including 48 that have never shown in Asia, the event will rival Miami in size but remain smaller than the Swiss fair, which hosts 300-plus exhibitors. One big reason for the debut: China is now the world’s second-largest art market, after the U.S. The Art Basel network draws some of the world’s wealthiest collectors and bon vivants—including (at December’s Miami fair) Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. “It’s parties, food, companionship,” said Graham Steele, Asia director of the gallery White Cube, with sites in London, Brazil and Hong Kong. “This is a lifestyle for certain people.” The Asian iteration is a rebranded version of the large Hong Kong International Art Fair, often called Art HK, which launched in 2007. Art Basel organizers are making sure the VIPs are attended to. Art HK had just one person dedicated to important clients; Art Basel has 25. Many collectors are squeezing in the event, coming as it does just after New York’s Frieze and before Venice’s Biennale and Switzerland’s Art Basel in June. Collector Richard Chang, who splits his time between Beijing and New York, plans to be at all four events. “It’s a marathon,” he says. –Jason Chow
FINANCIAL TIMES LONDON
May 17, 2013 6:51 pm
East, west and points in between
By Caroline Roux
Super-curator Yuko Hasegawa’s flair for fusing cultures and disciplines is ideally suited to Hong Kong
Horizontal: it’s one of curator Yuko Hasegawa’s preferred words, though she is anything but. When we catch up over Skype in the week before Art Basel in Hong Kong, it’s 10.30pm in Tokyo, and Hasegawa, in fluent English, launches into an energetic discussion on the shifting geopolitical and cultural landscape and what this means to the wider art world. “Different methodologies, different cultural ideas, and a horizontal approach,” she says, leaving the high v low and east v west orthodoxy trailing in her wake.
Hasegawa is one of the contemporary art world’s global super-curators, popping up everywhere from São Paulo to Kiev, ushering artists from everywhere into a position that she hopes runs counter to what she calls the “west-centrism of knowledge in modern times”. In March this meant assembling the work of more than 100 artists and architects (a third of them from the Middle East) for the 11th Sharjah Biennale in the United Arab Emirates. She included critical work, such as a piece by the young Saudi Sara Abu Abdallah of a veiled girl staring at a written-off car. “It’s the nearest a Saudi woman will ever get to having a car,” explained Abu Abdallah at the time. “Icons of Christianity are taboo there,” says Hasegawa, “and nudity and pornography. But politically, it’s very free. I was surprised.”
Last year for Art Hong Kong (which has since become Art Basel in Hong Kong following its acquisition by Art Basel owner MCH), she curated a Projects programme of larger-scale work. This year it is reprised as Encounters, with 17 galleries delivering weighty installations that will appear in two piazzas that have been designed into each floor of the fair by architect Tom Postma. While these works – which include a series of brightly coloured acrylic boxes by New York-based Brit Liam Gillick, a Venetian blind installation by the Korean Haegue Yang, and a suspended sculpture by Beijing-based Wang Yuyang, who has been known to create vast spheres from energy-saving lightbulbs – are for sale, their presence is equally intended to widen the visitors’ vision and liven up the show. Magnus Renfrew, one of the fair’s four directors, says: “In a relatively new market like Hong Kong, it’s important to show the full perspective of what art can be.”
‘Visibility is a Trap’ (2013) by Laurent Grasso
This is all extracurricular for Hasegawa. She has a full-time job as chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo (MOT) and is professor of curatorial and art theory at the city’s Tama Art University. At the museum she has just presided over the opening of an exhibition of the Mexico-based Belgian artist Francis Alÿs, and is working on an autumn show that will blur the boundaries between art and design.
‘Complete Bin Developments’ (2013) by Liam Gillick
“I’m interested in cross-disciplinary work. I’ll be working with 25 to 30 artists and designers with a focus on how data and information can be visualised,” she says. Among them will be Ryoji Ikeda, a Japanese musician/artist/mathematician who creates challenging imagery and music out of binary code. “I’m less concerned with art historical positions and more interested in creating a platform,” she says.
Jitish Kallat’s ‘Allegory of the Unfolding Sky’ (2012)
Hasegawa has been a name to reckon with since the late 1990s – she was on the jury of the Venice Biennale in 1999 – but made her mark with the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, where she was chief curator and founding artistic director from 1999 to 2006. She commissioned the Japanese architects Sanaa to create the museum’s exquisite circular glass building, and introduced 10 site-specific installations by artists including James Turrell and Anish Kapoor that are integrated into the architecture.
Since its opening in 2004, Kanazawa has been an extraordinary success (and also put Sanaa on the international architectural map). “Everything there is horizontal,” says Hasegawa. “There are no borders. The museum is a part of the city and the city is a part of the museum. People come as though they’re visiting a shopping mall. They don’t know anything about contemporary art. In Japan, there is not such a hierarchical divide. High and low culture are on the same plane.”
‘La Rite Suspendue/Mouille’ (1991) by Chen Zhen
It’s this that has drawn her to Hong Kong, where last year she sat on the advisory board of the HK$21bn West Kowloon Cultural District project, which by 2018 will deliver a new arts complex to the city. “In Hong Kong and mainland China, people don’t have much opportunity to see big institutional presentations. In Hong Kong until now there’s been little cultural provision, though the film industry is really important. That’s the local culture. If I make the right selections for Encounters, it will really expose people to this kind of work. People come to the art fair out of curiosity, and it’s an open entry point.”
Hasegawa’s curation of Encounters does, in fact, have a historical viewpoint. There is an eight-metre wide 1991 installation by Chen Zhen. A Chinese artist who grew up during the Cultural Revolution and emigrated to Paris as soon as Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1986, he represents the artistic diaspora of that decade.
“Haegue Yang lives in Germany,” says Hasegawa. “There’s a cultural hybridity there, and an artist making their own reality.” And as for Turner Prize-winning Scottish artist Susan Philipsz, Hasegawa sees her sound art – in this case a piece called “It Means Nothing to Me” in which she sings a traditional Welsh folk song – as perfectly tailored to the Asian sensibility. “Asian people like performance, sound, music and memory. We are interested in temporality. Take calligraphy, for example. A western person will see the final form. But an Asian person will see the process and the work as something imbued with time.”
And with that, Hasegawa has leapt seamlessly from a Turner Prize winner to calligraphy; a woman who, rather like Hong Kong itself, can synthesise west and east.
All works shown above are in Encounters at Art Basel in Hong Kong
The numbers are impressive. Almost dauntingly so. Visitors to this week’s first Art Basel in Hong Kong will have as many as 250 galleries, originating from some 35 countries, to relish. The organisers make much of the fact that almost 50 per cent of the participants are from Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, as well they might: one of the strengths of their December fair in Miami is its distinctive regional nature (in that case, its relation to its Latin American neighbours), and the last thing we want from a fair is globo-blandness.
At Hong Kong, along with three other distinct sections – Galleries, for 170-plus mainstream international players; Encounters, for large-scale work; and Discoveries, for budding hopefuls – is the Insights section.
This features work that has been made specially for the event, from galleries in the Asia and Asia-Pacific region, and its inclusion reinforces the emphasis on that chunk of the globe – a vast and varied part, but united in its determination to make concrete its not-western identity.
‘Komedi Mafia Peradilan Indonesia’ (2008) by Heri Dono at Art:1 by Mondecor Gallery
‘Saturday Night’ (2007) by Insook Kim at 313 Art Project
‘Frida in Green’ (2012) by Chen Ke at Star Gallery
‘Untitled’ (2012/2013) by Brendan Huntley at Tolarno Galleries
‘Sèvres Vase à Bobèches’ (2012) by Francesca DiMattio at Houldsworth
‘Beetle Sphere’ (2013) by Ichwan Noor at at Art:1 by Mondecor Gallery
‘Horse with Bridles’ (2009) by Fernando Botero at Galerie Gmurzynska
‘Tribute to Thomas Struth’ (2010) by Tang Kwok Hin at 2P
‘Madame Zoo Zoo’ (2005) by John Chamberlain at Timothy Taylor Gallery
‘Contemporary Terracotta Warrior No. 10’ (2007) by Yue Minjun at Rhona Hoffman Gallery
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WALL STREET JOURNAL
May 17, 2013, 12:21 PM
A New Art Basel for Asia
By Jason Chow
de Sarthe Gallery
de Sarthe Gallery will exhibit Zhen Chen’s ‘Le Rite Suspendue/Mouille’ installation at the new Art Basel in Hong Kong.
Just as the jet set leave one art fair in New York, they descend on Hong Kong for the next.
Art Basel in Hong Kong, the latest in what has become an international circuit, kicks off on Thursday. The fair comes at a busy time for art lovers, just two weeks after Frieze New York and a week before the Venice Biennale. Art Basel, in Switzerland, takes place later in June.
“It’s a marathon—really intense,” said Richard Chang, a collector who splits his time between Beijing and New York and plans to attend all four events over two months.
Despite the crowded calendar, the international art world is making room for the Hong Kong fair, which represents Art Basel’s first foray into Asia. The region has never been more important: China is now the world’s second-largest art market after the U.S., according to an annual survey conducted by the European Fine Art Fair, and Southeast Asia’s wealthy have grown into voracious collectors of regional art, pushing the value of Asian works ever higher.
Damien Hirst’s ‘Ptolomeo, 2012′ appears at White Cube’s Art Basel booth.
A newcomer in name, Art Basel takes up the mantle from the Hong Kong International Art Fair, often called Art HK, which became the continent’s biggest art event since its 2007 launch.
Eyeing its growth, MCH Group, Art Basel’s owner, bought a majority stake in 2011, and is this year rebranding it in line with the fairs it has held in Basel since 1970 and Miami Beach since 2002.
Art Basel draws some of the world’s wealthiest collectors and bon vivants—Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton were among the attendees of December’s Miami fair—and organizers hope that the same will be true of its Asian edition.
“Before, the spotlight was already on Asia and Hong Kong,” said Art Basel Asia director Magnus Renfrew, formerly director of Art HK. “With Basel’s resources, that spotlight is so much brighter.”
With 245 galleries, including 48 who have never shown in Asia, the Hong Kong event rivals Miami in size but remains smaller than the Swiss fair, which hosts 300-plus exhibitors. It already looks set to trump both fairs in terms of attendance: Last year’s Art HK counted more than 67,000 visitors, a figure that exceeds Art Basel numbers and which organizers expect to match this year.
The new fair will maintain Art HK’s focus on Asia: More than half of the galleries attending will be from the region, Mr. Renfrew said.
But the most deep-pocketed attendees are likely to notice one change: Art HK had just one person dedicated to VIP clients, which typically include major collectors, museum curators and gallery owners. By contrast, Art Basel has 25.
Among the institutions confirmed to attend are the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and the Dallas Museum of Art, while the guest list for a gala at the Asia Society on Monday includes the dealer Larry Gagosian, Blackstone Group Vice Chairman J. Tomilson Hill and philanthropist Fayeeza Naqvi.
Meanwhile, the fair has attracted Western galleries looking to tap into the growing ranks of Asian collectors, including Budi Tek, a Chinese-Indonesian tycoon who is building a private museum in Shanghai, and Qiao Zhibing, a Shanghai-based nightclub owner who decorates his establishments with works by Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley.
“The goal is to explore new markets,” said Marina Schiptjenko, director of Andréhn-Schiptjenko in Stockholm, which is exhibiting in Hong Kong for the first time. She added that the Art Basel name “guarantees quality” and was a major factor in convincing her to commit more than $90,000 to cover booth fees, transportation of the art, and travel expenses.
Artists are also making their first trip to the city. Brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman will attend their own exhibition at White Cube’s Hong Kong branch, where dioramas mixing Nazi soldiers and Ronald McDonald will be on display, and Berlin-based British artist Angela Bulloch will hold a solo show a few blocks away at Simon Lee Gallery.
“As artists, we’re hearing more about Hong Kong,” said Ms. Bulloch, whose “Short, Big, Yellow Drawing Machine” scribbles yellow ink on the wall in response to sound and will appear the fair. “When they asked me, I leapt at the chance.”
Basel organizers don’t track sales among exhibitors, but big spenders have come to Hong Kong in the past. At last year’s Art HK, gallery owner Pascal de Sarthe sold “No. 313,” a nearly 9-feet-tall oil painting by Chu Teh-Chun, for more than $3 million during the early hours of the fair.
As White Cube’s Asia director Graham Steele noted, however, Art Basel isn’t just about the art. “It’s parties, food, companionship,” he said. “This is a lifestyle for certain people.”
Hong Kong may have an edge on Switzerland on the cuisine front. “A lot of Asians come to Hong Kong because of the food,” Mr. Steele added. “They’re not so excited about restaurants in Basel.”
FINANCIAL CHRONICLE INDIA
Asian artists’ insights and discoveries to be unveiled at HK fair
Art Basel, the famous art fair that attracts art lovers from all over the world is set to launch its first Asian event in Hong Kong in the coming week (May 23 and May 26). The art fair will present 245 galleries from around the world with half of the exhibitors coming from the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia and New Zealand. Art Basel Hong Kong 2013, offers four distinct sections to showcase four different moods. Titled Insights, Encounters, Discoveries and Galleries, the first three offer visitors a sense of anticipation and expectation, whereas the section on Galleries is a viewing of artworks of artists represented by various Asian galleries along with others across the globe offering works of Asian artist.
Among the well-known Indian galleries participating from Delhi are the Vadehras, Nature Morte and Delhi Art Gallery. From Mumbai, there are Sakshi Gallery, Chemould Prescott and The Guild. We can expect today’s better-known painters such as Anju and Atul Dodiya, Jagannath Panda and Zakkir Hussain to be seen in this circuit. What caught my eye was Delhi Gallery Exhibit 320’s presentation of some very interesting work by Nandan Ghiya, a Rajasthan-based self-taught artist.
The Encounters section curated by Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, and Curator of the Sharjah Biennial 13 and promises to be exciting, with 17 ‘large-scale sculptural installations’ by leading artists from Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, China, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the UK. A variety of materials are used in these installations — traditional materials such as marble and bronze as well as wood and natural substances to highlight the need for conservation. Chinese artist Chen Zhen is one of these and will explore the earth’s physical forces in his natural media installation, Le Rit e Suspendue/Mouille, with disparate material including metal, plexiglass, water, earth, sand, found objects and pigment. There are other installations that might be very popular as the cry out for ‘audience participation’. Some of these major artworks are more than five metres in height and others may even stretch across more than 70 sq metres, on the two floors where they will be located.
Interesting installations include Japanese artist Takuma Uematesu’s agate set in shards of mirror to create chandeliers of reflections. Chinese artist Qin Chong’s 18 six-metre-high paper scrolls with paintings in soot is a giant installation. Perhaps the most unique one is Chinese artist Guan Huaibin’s somewhat eerie artwork, in which he creates a three-metre-high inflatable sculpture of a garden rock that expands and contracts to recreate the act of breathing.
What may be of particular interest to our Indian readers is that Berlin’s Arndt Gallery will present Circa 2011 by Indian artist Jitish Kallat (1974). The 120-part sculpture, which has been an on-going activity for the artist involves the painstaking recreation of ‘real bamboo scaffolding’, thus evoking what he calls ‘the transitory image of Mumbai as one sees it today: caught in a state of perennial (re)development’.
Peter Nagy of Gallery Nature Morte, was the very first from India to be invited to participate at the prestigious Art Basel in 2006. It was there that Nature Morte made one of the biggest sales at the fair, when Nagy sold Subodh Gupta’s acrylic on canvas for Rs 1.2 crore. This time, however, Gupta is being presented by Hauser and Wirth. As usual, we can expect that his tall creation of utensils moulded into an enormous vase-like structure with a long neck, will again attract plenty of attention.
(The writer is a winner of many advertising design awards and a painter of repute)
Four distinct divisions of exhibition ideations bring together a diverse reckoning in this year’s Art Basel Fair at Hong Kong (May 23-26, 2013). Galleries, Insights, Discoveries and Encounters promise to create more than a murmur of appreciation and candor.
Among galleries are Indian galleries of long standing repute and integrity-Chemould Prescott Mumbai, The Guild Mumbai, Vadehras Delhi, Sakshi Gallery Mumbai and Nature Morte.
At Hall 3, in Booth C24 Vadehras will showcase the best names in the Indian art circuit with the likes of works by Anju Dodiya , Atul Bhalla , Atul Dodiya , Faiza Butt, Jagannath Panda, Jitish Kallat, Juul Kraijer, Nalini Malani, Paribartana Mohanty, Shibu Natesan, Shilpa Gupta and Zakkir Hussain.
Interestingly two galleries that will showcase works by Indian artists will be Hauser and Wirth Switzerland and Arndt Berlin. Hauser and Wirth will showcase Subodh Gupta’s work and Arndt will showcase Jitish Kallat. Subodh Gupta’s untitled work with utensils moulded into a vessel with a long neck stand tall and draw eyeballs.
The second group called Insights has solo exhibitions and Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke will showcase the works of artist Manish Nai. Insights presents projects developed specifically for the Hong Kong show. These galleries must be based in Asia or the Asia-Pacific region – from Turkey to New Zealand, including Asia, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent – and exclusively present works by artists from that region. Solo shows, exceptional art-historical material, and thematic exhibitions of two or more artists are selected on the strength of the proposed project.
Discoveries gives a global platform to emerging contemporary artists from all over the world, showcasing work by the next generation of talent at an early stage in their career. Galleries present an exhibition of work by either one or two artists from their gallery program, preferably new and created specifically for the show. The prestigious Seven Art run by Aparajita Jain will showcase the works of artist Rajorshi Ghosh-while Bangalore’s Gallery SKE will present Mariam Suhall.
The fourth group Encounters is dedicated to presenting large-scale sculpture and installation works by leading artists from around the world, Encounters provides visitors with the opportunity to see works that transcend the traditional art fair stands. The sector presents these works in prominent locations throughout the exhibition halls. Encounters is curated by Yuko Hasegawa, Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo and Curator of the recent Sharjah Biennial 11. The Indian gallery will be Project 88 who will present the Raqs Media Collective.
Among magazines of repute there will be Bhavna Kakar’s TAKE a magazine that portrays Indian contemporary art and its happenings at its zesty best.
Organisers are stating that this fair is very Asian; it had previously been criticised for neglecting its regional roots before its collector base was ready for the gloss (and prices) of the international art market. This year, organisers say that over 50% of galleries are from Asia and the Asia Pacific region—although this includes Western galleries that have set up shop in Asia, such as Gagosian and White Cube, both of whom recently opened in Hong Kong. But of the 171 galleries in the main section the percentage of Asian galleries has risen, from 40% last year to 43% in 2013, considerably higher than at other international fairs.
Atul Dhodiya, Churning
Atul Bhalla, Two chairs in Johannesberg
Zakkir Hussain Man with a Public Telephone
Paribartana Mohanty, Different Jobs (Two)
A Cafe at Thiruvannamalai
OCULA: INTERVIEW WITH ADRIAN WONG
Adrian Wong is an artist, born and raised in suburban Chicago, who left to pursue undergraduate studies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Wong completed his first Masters degree in developmental psychology, splitting his time between the Bay Area and Armenia, where he was studying the development of metacognitive awareness in residents of the orphanage system. Throughout his research, Wong used art as a means of establishing a rapport with subjects fuelled by his limited ability to converse in Armenian. “But at some point, — Wong notes, “I shifted my focus to my art practice and completed an MFA in sculpture in 2005.” Soon after that, he wound up serendipitously in Hong Kong on what was initially planned to be an extended vacation. In Wong’s words, “A three month trip became six months, six months became a year, and I’ve been here ever since.”
You live between Hong Kong and Los Angeles, where you also teach sculpture and theory at UCLA. Does this living ‘between’ affect your approach to your own practice both formally and conceptually? What sort of theory do you teach your students?
Being constantly in transit allows me to see both places with fresh eyes. Conceptually, this has been incredibly useful, and has helped me to develop several research based projects from, Orange Peel, Harbor Seal, Hyperreal, which focused on the architecture of Chinese diasporal communities in California, to my current project, Wun Dun which draws inspiration from “soy sauce Western” restaurants and cafés in the Pearl River Delta. Formally, it’s been somewhat difficult, simply due to the logistics of international freighting. It’s led me to rely on on-site fabrication and modular modes of construction to allow for easier shipping and install.
I teach a range of topics in my classes. Most recently we’ve been working through a great deal of material reassessing social practices and dialogical/relational aesthetics. I also like to integrate a fair amount of material from outside of the field of art, from social psychology to comparative literature to experimental cookbooks.
Your work is often irreverent – exploring the cultural dynamics of Hong Kong. Exhibitions such as A Fear is This (Fountain – Tuhng Ngoh Dei Wan) at 1a Space, exploring the ‘vivid’ anxieties of Hong Kongers; superstition, public health, the mainland threat. But you mediate these fears (or horrors) with humour at all times so as to temper and perhaps mediate the irrational aspects of urban life and the impact 21st century city living has on cultural identity. Why is this sense of play so important to you?
Play has always been important to my way of making, because it allows me to maintain a healthy dose of uncertainty in my practice. I find that when playing, I can surprise myself, while planning often leads to a different kind of decision-making. It’s the difference between digging for treasure and searching for Easter eggs. It’s my constant hope that viewers of my work can engage with the materials and ideas in an analogous way.
You are doing a project for Art Basel Hong Kong in May 2013 – the Absolut Art Bar, which has sponsored such artists as Los Carpinteros, who produced the Guïro at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2012, and Jeremy Shaw, who produced the Kirlian Bar at Art Basel 43 in 2012. Your bar will be staged in the basement of the Fringe Club from the 22nd to 25th May, during the inaugural edition of Art Basel Hong Kong. Can you describe the idea behind this project and what intentions you have for it as (quoting from the statement on the piece) a performative and participatory piece drawing inspiration from Hong Kong’s history?
The term Wun Dun comes from Taoist cosmology, and refers to the nebulous state of the primordial universe before the celestial and terrestrial realms were demarcated. Depending on which text / translation is used, it is referenced both objectively—as a “cosmic gourd”—and subjectively—as a deity who “looks like a yellow sack” with “six legs and no eyes,” partial to singing and dancing. As the previous two bars were designed with in-built references to critical theory, I found it particularly interesting that the Eastern concept of Wun Dun nicely parallels a range of Western analogues: George Bataille’s writings on the informe: “All of philosophy has no other goal [than to give the universe shape]…affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit;” Jacques Lacan’s Object Petit A, an object of desire which facilitates our participation in the symbolic order—the most significant being the phantasy of a coherent mirror-self; Julia Kristeva’s description of the processes of abjection as caused by the primal repression of “the archaism of pre-objectal relationship…the immemorial violence with which a body becomes separated from another body in order to be;” among others.
For the bar, my aim is to create a fantastical space, infused with the “feeling” of Hong Kong’s history, untethered from its “real” history. A city with a notorious poor record of historical preservation, modern Hong Kong is as close to a city built on a “feeling” as any other that I’ve ever visited. It is populated with simulated historical facades and materials, reproductions, and reproductions of reproductions. Essentially, I want to concentrate this “feeling” into the venue, which will be populated with iconic architectures, performers, animatronic lounge musicians, exotic sea creatures, and the smells—both metaphorical and physical—of my adopted home.
What cocktails have you designed and what performances can we look forward to?
I’ve designed four cocktails in collaboration with Andres Basile-Leon, each drawing from the flavor profiles of southern Chinese cuisine. For one of them, we worked very hard to infuse the flavor of roast duck into Absolut vodka to create an elixir that is closer to an old, complex whiskey than a traditional vodka cocktail. In another, we incorporated a rare monkey-picked oolong, which is married with egg white. It should be a very exciting and unusual menu.
Each of the nights that the bar will be open, we’ll have a series of live performances by operatic lounge singers, accompanied by six-limbed animatronic musicians from 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Then from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM, several invited musical guests will be performing, including electronic music pioneer Christiaan Virant and sound artist Alok Leung.
In terms of audience, the Absolut Art Bureau, which organises the Absolut Art Bar series has stated an interest in producing bars so as to create a space solely for the artists – how would you respond to this relationship between artists and alcohol…or artists and Absolut?
I like to think of Wun Dun as an art installation that happens to serve alcohol, rather than a bar that happens to have art in it. And I believe that my sentiment is in synch with the way that the Absolut Art Bureau has managed the project. The entire team has been incredibly generous and supportive of my ideas from the get-go, and set out very few restrictions on what I could realise for my version of the Art Bar. (My original idea was to take over a section of the Hong Kong Zoo and Botanical Gardens, possibly even encroaching on a section of the orangutan habitat. This was only set aside after every possible effort to secure the venue was made.)
I guess I see the intent of the Absolut Art Bar series as an initiative to produce “installations” more so than “bars,” and as a sculptor I find this incredibly exciting. It marks a shift from a historical focus on two-dimensional works to more immersive modes of making.
Aside from Art Basel Hong Kong (and the Fringe Club’s basement), what else would you recommend for visitors to the city during the art fair? What is it that makes Hong Kong, well, ‘Hong Kong’?
I’d strongly recommend taking an afternoon to get away from the island, to explore the incredible diversity of the rest of Hong Kong. Over the past few years, I’ve led a number of excursions to the outer reaches of the city—hikes with wild macaques on Monkey Mountain in the New Territories, dining at the Sai Kung Public Pier, squid fishing off the coast of Lantau, night-swimming on Lamma.
If you were to introduce Hong Kong to visitors in five words, what would they be?
Adrian Wong was in conversation with Stephanie Bailey
OCULA: THE NEW ART BASEL HONG KONG
9 May 2013
Diana d’Arenberg – Hong Kong
Only two weeks to go before the inaugural Art Basel HK kicks off and it feels like the circus is coming to town. Inboxes are flooded with invites to art-related and art-themed bars, restaurants, new art clubs, pop-ups, collaborations and art retail and luxury events, ready to capitalize on the anticipated flood of international art visitors to the city. Art, art, art everywhere! What a difference a few years makes.
Held from 21-25 May Art Basel HK comes two weeks after Frieze NY and will be followed by the Venice Biennale, with a week rest before Art Basel opens in Basel. It will be an exhausting month of art, and with more and more art fairs and events crowding the annual art calendar, galleries and dealers will increasingly have to become choosier over which fairs to attend. But the importance of having a reach beyond the West, and a presence in a rapidly growing Asian market — particularly for European galleries doing business in an increasingly fiscally austere environment– is not lost on many international galleries, with a number already opening branches in Hong Kong and investing in building an audience in the region. It will be the “strongest ever line up, anywhere in Asia to date”, says Asia Director Magnus Renfrew, “with works from emerging young artists to the modern masters of the early 20th and 21st centuries on show”. Demand for booths at the transformed Hong Kong fair has been great and countless galleries didn’t make the cut with the selection committee. The number of exhibitors has been whittled down from a total of 266 in 2012 to 245 this year, allowing for larger booths and larger works. It will be the “strongest ever line up, anywhere in Asia to date”, says Asia Director Magnus Renfrew, “with works from emerging young artists to the modern masters of the early 20th and 21st centuries on show”. Although the list of galleries reads like the Debrett’s of the art world — lots of familiar established blue chippers and important heavy hitters — there are also a few newcomers this year including Tina Keng gallery from Taipei, New York’s 303 and Peter Blum galleries, and Wentrup and Johnen Galerie from Berlin, OMR from Mexico and Nara Roesler from São Paulo. Like Art Basel Miami Beach, which emphasises galleries from the Americas, and Art Basel, which largely features European galleries, Art Basel HK will stay rooted in the region and maintain a distinctly Asian flavour. Asian galleries will make up 50% of the exhibitor line-up, and the fair will feature 28 galleries with exhibition spaces in Hong Kong, including Platform China, Blindspot Gallery, Gallery Exit, and Grotto Fine Art as well of course as Western galleries who have recently set up in HK. Art Basel Director, Marc Spiegler, stresses that, “The selection confirms Art Basel’s commitment to Asia. The Hong Kong fair will look very different to Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Basel,” a prospect that many are looking forward to and counting on. “It will be a refreshing treat to Art Basel followers worldwide!” states gallerist Katie de Tilly of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery. “There is such a small presence and understanding of Asian art in the Western art fairs.” The fair will be divided up into four sectors: Galleries, the main wheeling-and-dealing sector of the show with modern and contemporary galleries; Insights, which will present 47 galleries from Asia and Asia Pacific with specially developed curatorial projects; Discoveries, a showcase of solo or two-person exhibitions by emerging contemporary artists from around the world; and Encounters, a presentation of large-scale installation pieces from around the world, which will become a key feature of the fair. This year will include works galleries including ARNDT (Germany) who will present a 120 part sculpture by Jitish Kallat; Long March Gallery (Beijing), who will show a suspended sculpture by MadeIn Company; Edouard Malingue Gallery (HK) who will showcase a neon text installation by Laurent Grasso; and Kerlin Gallery (Dublin) who will showcase a new commission by British artist Liam Gillick. A parallel program of talks and panel discussions, long a feature of the Art Basel fairs, will also be presented in collaboration with Asia Art Archive (AAA); the Asia Society; and M+, Hong Kong’s future museum for visual culture, which is currently exhibiting an installation of monumental inflatables at the site of the future West Kowloon Cultural District promenade. Para/Site Art Space and Spring Workshop, will offer an associated program of events throughout Hong Kong that will take place during the week of the shows. Hong Kong Eye, a curated group show of contemporary Hong Kong art which opened earlier this month and debuted at the Saatchi gallery in December, will be showing at ArtisTree until the end of May. The Art Basel Program will also be supplemented by gallery tours hosted by the Hong Kong Art Gallery association; Fotan Studios, a complex of industrial buildings housing dozens of local artists’ studios; and the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which will be featuring an exhibition of Chinese contemporary art. Meanwhile, for an off the beaten track look at the Hong Kong creative community, check out Chai Wan Mei: Art and Design Weekend, which will take place in the industrial suburb of Chai Wan on 24-25 May. The weekend will consist of exhibitions, performances, pop-up installations, video screenings, design, fashion, and more. It will be an exciting year not only for many galleries exhibiting at a Hong Kong fair for the first time, but also for Hong Kong which has been itching for greater international cultural visibility. The Art Basel brand’s global reach and reputation will no doubt provide greater exposure for local artists and institutions. Many hope it will also kick-start this city’s cultural evolution, stepping in where Hong Kong’s politicians and wanna-be Medicis have failed to step up. “Art is becoming an international language and at this particular time we’re developing an artistic and cultural scene in Hong Kong,” says HK artist and architect, William Lim. “It’s a great opportunity and a great time.” [O] Ocula affiliate galleries participating at Art Basel Hong Kong 2013:10 Chancery Lane Gallery2P ContemporaryArario GalleryArataniuranoArk GalerieARNDTBeijing CommuneBlindspot GalleryBoers-Li GalleryChambers Fine ArtChemould Prescott RoadGalleria ContinuaHardrien de Montferrand Galleryde Sarthe GalleryThe Drawing RoomEslite GalleryExhibit320Gallery ExitGagosian GalleryGajah GalleryGaleristHakgojae GalleryHanart TZ GalleryTaka Ishii GalleryTomio Koyama GalleryLong March SpaceMagician SpaceGalerie Urs MeileGalerie Mirchandani + SteinrueckeMizuma Art GalleryNanzukaNature MorteNeon ParcGaleria OMROne and J. GalleryOta Fine ArtsRoslyn Oxley9 GalleryPékin Fine ArtsPi ArtworksPlatform ChinaProject 88Ryan Renshaw GalleryGaleria Nara RoeslerSCAI The BathhouseSchoeni Art GalleryShanghai Gallery of ArtShanghARTMisa Shin GalleryShugoArtsGallery Side 2Sprüth Magers Berlin LondonStarkwhite GalleryTake NinagawaTang Contemporary ArtDianne Tanzer Gallery + ProjectsTimothy Taylor GalleryThe GuildTolarno GalleriesVolte GalleryWhite CubeMurray White RoomWhite Space BeijingGallery x-istLeo Xu ProjectsYamamoto Gendai
OMR, Mexico City Galeria Nara Roesler, São Paulo 10 Chancery Lane Gallery Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong Gallery Exit, Hong Kong Platform China, Hong Kong Spring Workshop, Hong Kong
ARNDT, Berlin Long March Space, Beijing Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong Asia Society, Hong Kong Para/Site, Hong Kong Hong Kong Museum of Art
For some reason I missed seeing the documentary Gerhard Richter Painting, released in 2012. I finally took the time to watch it on Netflix, and it is an incredible and meditative portrait of one of the most gifted and recognized living artists; who’s equally skilled in the styles of photo-real and abstract painting. I have loved his work ever since I realized it was his artwork on the cover of Daydream Nation, and it is inspiring to be a fly on the wall to his method in this film.
It’s so rare in one’s art life to experience absolute completeness, to see every work—even if only in a single medium—by an artist. But right now, in Cologne, Germany, you can do just that with Gerhard Richter. Through May 17, Bonhams is currently hosting an exhibition of every single one of Mr. Richter’s artist books, or Künstlerbücher as they say in German. You can take a peek at them over on the artist’s remarkably comprehensive website.
Mr. Richter has lived and worked in Cologne for 30 years, and is pretty much royalty there. In 2007, he installed a set of stained glass windows with randomly generated little colored squares in the Cologne Cathedral, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Pretty beautiful stuff.
Doing a complete Richter painting show would be a little bit trickier; his website lists more than 3,400 works in that medium, and that isn’t even counting the ones that he’s destroyed.
CBC NEWS CANADA
Gerhard Richter cityscape earns record-setting $37M at auction
1968 Milan city square painted in style of blurred photo
Visitors take in Gerhard Richter’s Domplatz, Mainland during a Sotheby’s preview in New York. The large-scale 1968 oil painting set a new auction record Tuesday night when it sold for $37.1 million US. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
A massive Gerhard Richter painting depicting an Italian city square has set a new auction record, fetching $37.1 million US in New York.
Domplatz, Mainland, which the venerable German artist painted in 1968, earned the record price at a Sotheby’s auction of contemporary art in New York Tuesday evening.
The sale, dubbed “a major accomplishment” by Sotheby’s contemporary art chief Tobias Meyer, now marks the highest price ever paid at auction for a work by a living artist.
German artist Gerhard Richter, seen in Paris in 2012, is considered one of the world’s greatest living artists. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)American collector and Napa Valley vineyard owner Donald Bryant purchased the large-scale cityscape, which measures about 2.7 metres square. The painting “just knocks me over,” he said.
Originally commissioned by the Milan offices of Siemens Elettra, the oil painting depicts shops facing the city’s cathedral and was created in a style that suggests an out-of-focus photo. According to the auction house, Domplatz, Mainland is considered one of the best examples of Richter’s 1960s photo-painting technique.
The works of art in the age of the mechanical reproduction have a price, anyway. And sometimes it isn’t a low price at all. A print by an artist could be more expensive than an original picture drawn by another painter. Galleries and museums know it and an example comes from Italy. Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin presents the German artist Gerhard Richter‘s editions. Taken by the Olbricht Collection, they are a series of works realized in a certain number of copies – in that case lithographs, serigraphs, photographs, objects, paintings on canvas, on paper, on aluminum, even books and posters. Curated by Wolfgang Schoppmann and Hubertus Butin, the show exposes more than 160 artworks, among which there are two world previews – Die Welt (2012) and Babette (2013), that are the last two edition produced by the great master.
The merit of that initiative is the synthesis: the visitor can admire the German artist’s most important works in a unique space. OK, they aren’t the original pieces. Richter himself clearly expressed his opinion about it. In 1998, into a letter sent to The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), he wrote that the purpose of his copies was the democratization of art: “I consider the editions as awelcome alternative to the realization of paintings, that are unique pieces. The editions represent a fantastic chance to present my work to a wider public”. Everyone is free to believe him or not.
Gerhard Richter, Elisabeth II, 1991, Courtesy of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin
Gerhard Richter, Kerze II, 1989, Courtesy of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin Gabriele Girolamini
Gerhard Richter solo show
Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo
Via Mondane, 16
Turin (Italy), January 31st 2013 – April 21st 2013
“I can’t see it,…is it me?” I watched a young woman step closer to the canvas titled, Uncle Rudi. She was now physically closer and she was looking hard, but the image kept its distance.
Gerhard Richter, Uncle Rudi, 1965, oil on canvas, 87 x 50 cm (Lidice Gallery, Lidice, Czech Republic) used with permission of the Gerhard Richter studio
Meaning in Gerhard Richter’s art can also keep its distance. The elusiveness of meaning is, in some ways, a central subject of Richter’s art. Since the early 1950s, Richter has painted a huge number of subjects in wildly conflicting styles. For most artists, one style emerges and evolves slowly, almost imperceptibly, over the course of their career. This is because artists often continue to work through problems that remain relevant and perhaps, because they achieve a degree of recognition and the market then demands that style. In other words, collectors often want what is known. Artists who abandon their signature style do so at some risk to future sales. Still, some artists do push in startlingly new directions. Willem de Kooning abandoned abstraction for the figure against the advice of his dealer, and Pablo Picasso famously pursued opposing styles simultaneously—think of his volumetric, even bloated Neo-Classicism compared to the collages where he pressed flat every volume in sight.
The Impossibility of Meaning
During Richter’s long career, he has produced art in an unprecedented number of conflicting styles starting with the propagandistic Social Realist art he made as a student at the Dresden Art Academy in Communist East Germany. After his move in 1961 to Düsseldorf in the West (via Berlin—the wall was begun the same year), he co-founded a German variant of Pop art which he, somewhat jokingly, termed Capitalist Realism. Since then he has painted high-pitched realism (sometimes blurred just enough to soften the image, or sometimes wiped or scraped beyond all recognition) and produced representations of abstraction (as opposed to abstraction itself). He has explored many of the most pressing visual issues of our time, the relationship of photography to painting, memory and the image, art’s role in the representation of war and politics, and perhaps most importantly, the impossibility of fixed meaning.
Image and Ideology
Richter was born in Dresden, Germany on the eve of the Second World War. His two uncles were killed in the war and his father served, but survived. His schizophrenic aunt, Marianne, was murdered by the Nazis as part of their drive to euthanize the sick. Less than a week after his thirteenth birthday, Richter heard some 3,600 British and American planes drop more than half-a-million bombs on Dresden (he then lived just outside the city). 25,000 people were killed in these raids and the Soviets would quickly occupy Eastern Germany. Unlike the idealized, classicized nudes that Adolf Hitler had promulgated, the young Richter was taught Social Realism at the Dresden academy, a celebration of the heroism of communist workers. Once in the West, Richter found that the relationship between image and ideology reversed yet again. Here, images in advertising and popular culture celebrated material wealth and the culture of capitalism. Under the Nazis, under the Soviets, and in the West, Richter saw art used to express political ideology. His art, while deeply concerned with politics and morality, rejects the very possibility of answers, even of the idea that we can know.
Uncle Rudi Uncle Rudi, the painting the woman had stepped closer to see, is painted in the grays of a black and white photograph. It is small and has the intimacy of a family snapshot. We see a young man smiling proudly and awkwardly. He is clearly self-conscious as he poses in his new uniform. One has the sense that a moment before he was talking to the person behind the camera, likely a friend or family member. Rudi would die fighting soon after the photograph that is the basis for this painting was taken. This is the artist’s uncle, the man his grandmother favored and the adult the young Richter was to model himself after. But nothing in this painting is clear. Not the relationship between the artist and his uncle, not the tension between Rudi’s innocent awkwardness and his participation in Nazi violence, not even in the relationship between the photograph and Richter’s painting. The artist has drawn a dry brush across the wet surface of the nearly finished painting, and by doing this, he obscures the clarity of the photograph, denying us the easy certainty we expect. Richter reminds us that Uncle Rudi, like all images, promise and then fail to bring us closer to the people, things or places represented.
Text by Dr. Steven Zucker
Gerhard Richter’s October 18, 1977
An exhibition by Gerhard Richter
Permanent Collection / Museum of Modern Art
Gerhard Richter’s 15-painting cycle is quite simply one of the most important works of art of the second half of the 20th century. Now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the collection of black and white oil paintings drew from ubiquitous photographs of the Baader-Meinhof era. Angering the German public when it first appeared in the late 1980s, it has become recognized as Richter’s masterwork.
The complete paintings and their source photographs
Interview with Robert Storr, MoMA Curator/Dean of Yale Art School
Daniel Kunitz, writing in slate.com, is a little more balanced. Kunitz takes Richter down a notch or two, but generally reaffirms Richter’s importance and talent.
Both articles arrive on the eve of a major retrospective of Richter’s work at the Museum of Modern Art. The centerpiece of the exhibit is Richter’s 15-painting cycle, “October 18, 1977,” which explores the imagery associated with the Baader-Meinhof era. MOMA added the cycle to its permanent collection recently, and the retrospective serves as its coming-out party.
Richter’s work almost defies analysis. Is it art? Jed Perl doesn’t seem to think so. He indicates that Richter’s technique of tracing photographs as source material for his work implies a mind devoid of artistic creativity. Kunitz recognizes the coldness, but sees a method to Richter’s madness. He also recognizes a power from viewing Richter’s work in person.
Robert Storr, the curator of the MOMA collection and the person who both secured the purchase of the “October 18, 1977″ cycle and organized the Richter retrospective, certainly believes that Richter is among the most important contemporary artists. Storr understands that Richter’s work can be interpreted as sham or art; his 152-page book about the “October 18, 1977″ cycle is essentially a book-length justification for spending such a large sum of the Museum of Modern Art’s money on a man who hasn’t quite yet been consensually accepted into the pantheon of great modern artists.
Storr’s book is flawed in that he offers supposedly dispassionate analysis of the controversy over MOMA’s acquisition of the Richter cycle without acknowledging his central role in the decision to acquire the works. “In June 1995,” writes Richter, “to the surprise of close observers of the scene as well as the public at large, it was announced that October 18, 1977 had been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art for an undisclosed sum.” This Clintonian “mistakes-were-made” dissociation continues unnecessarily throughout the book when Storr describes the facts surrounding his purchase.
But this is a minor quibble. When analyzing the actual artwork, Storr succeeds in his argument. Through an in depth exploration of Richter’s technique, his critical reputation, and his choice of subject matter, Storr clearly demonstrates Richter’s importance as an artist and the importance of his art. Perl just as clearly disagrees; his New Republic piece feels so angry at Storr that I can’t help but wonder if Storr and Perl had a childhood falling out and Perl is nursing a lifelong grudge.
The vast majority of Richter’s work is immediately accessible. Even the most uncomplicated minds can grasp the cold emotional impact of his fuzzed renderings of contemporary photos. Further context behind the subjects of his paintings is not generally necessary.
“Man Shot Down”
But “October 18, 1977″ is altogether different. This is a work that is all about context. It is a collection derived from imagery that would have been instantly recognizable to a German who viewed it in the late 1980s. Had he chosen American imagery of a similar time period, one can imagine a painting of Patty Hearst, in full Tania garb, with a beret and a rifle, leaving the bank she had just robbed. One can imagine a grief-stricken girl, her arms outstretched as she hovers over the body of her dead friend on the campus of Kent State University. Richter’s images of a glamorous Ulrike Meinhof, the prone body of a dead Andreas Baader, the giant funeral of Gudrun Ensslin, Jan-Carl Raspe, and Baader–these had all been similarly burned into the cerebral cortex of the German who viewed Richter’s work for the first time in the late 1980s.
And the story that they told was entirely contemporary. Though “October 18, 1977″ featured imagery that was a decade old by the time of his first exhibition of the work, in the late 1980s the Red Army Faction was at its deadliest; ten years after the events of Death Night West Germany was still struggling with the legacy of the Baader-Meinhof Gang. It was impossible to view the works with a dispassionate eye, any more than it would be possible to objectively view a retrospective of modernist portraits of Osama bin Laden in New York City in 2001.
But this, of course, is the great challenge of the work. Whereas West Germans of the late 1980s could not look at the works dispassionately, a contemporary New York audience has precisely the opposite problem. “October 18, 1977″ clearly has a shelf life, at least as 1980s analyses of the work go, and the further that the work travels from its geographic and chronologic home, the more the context disappears.
Visitors to the work at MOMA can read detailed placards explaining the paintings. They are also encouraged to buy Robert Storr’s book for a more accurate and nuanced understanding. It’s not hard to see why: if a visitor wasn’t told the subject of the exhibit, he or she would be hard pressed to know what it was about. Even where Richter’s source photos were fairly clear cut, such as Baader dead with his face tilted back in a grimace, the resulting painting becomes blurry and indistinct; even if the viewer could recognize that the subject was a dead body, the painting offers no indication of who he was or the context of his death.
Others paintings seem even more obscure to contemporary American viewers. The filled-to-bursting bookshelf? The record player? Where are they from? Why did Richter choose them? The 1980s German would have recognized the bookshelf as Baader’s, and understood from press reports that it was filled with dozens of volumes of Marcuse, Horlemann, Marx, Engels, Guevara, and Debray, countering the common perception of Baader as a violent poseur. The record player: symbolic of the freedom enjoyed and exploited by these pop culture heroes. But for a modern American audience, they are simply a bookshelf and a record player, evoking nothing.
One doesn’t need a placard explaining the background of the Mona Lisa to appreciate it. One doesn’t need to have Monet, or Picasso, or Rembrandt explained. So, the argument goes, having to fully contextualize a work that was designed to be presented without context means that the work utterly fails.
I’m not so convinced. Experiencing art benefits from contextualization. Even works by acknowledged masters like Monet, Picasso, and Rembrandt. On a surface level one can enjoy their works for the pure emotions they stir unencumbered by context. But our learning and appreciation is deepened by understanding the context in which the work arose.
That said, devoid of context, Richter’s cycle is cold, dreamy, and fundamentally, brilliantly, sad. His technique–or crutch, as Kunitz calls it–of blurring the details of the two-dimensional worlds of found photographs, renders life somehow inert. It certainly puts a distance between the viewer and the viewed; great tension is generated as we are pushed away from subjects that would normally draw us in. Unlike old masters, the only way to discern more detail from Richter’s work is for us to move further away.
Gerhard’s Richter’s work is often divided into photo-based painting and abstraction. This division is contested in a much-anticipated restrospective opening this month at London’s Tate Modern
Mark Godfrey, Saturday, 1st October 2011
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), whose work is the subject of a retro-spective at London’s Tate Modern this autumn (6 October–8 January 2012), has always been interested in abstraction. He experimented with abstract forms while a student in Dresden, and was famously impressed by the radical work of Jackson Pollock and Lucio Fontana when he visited Documenta 2 in 1959. After his move to Düsseldorf in 1961, Richter created paintings resembling Informel works but rejected these from his catalogue raisonné when he began to archive his paintings later in the decade. In 1967 he made a little-discussed series of 23 small paintings which show him playfully working through all the languages current in American Abstract Expressionism and minimal painting. One panel has an emphatic paint stroke, another is made with overlapping bands of grey paint; there is a painting showing right-angle lines placed at regular intervals which appears to quote Frank Stella’s 1961 paintings, and a panel called Bunt auf grau which features a splatter of paint against a background crossed by strange hazy curves.
Richter was also confounding the distinction between abstraction and figuration early on: in Tisch (1962), his first photo painting, the image of the table is partially obscured by gestural strokes created with solvent. By the late 1960s he had painted townscapes and mountainscapes in such a way that the images of cities and mountains were discernable only from a distance, and dissolved into brushwork when the viewer approached. Richter also associated abstraction with the readymade – he based his first group of ‘Colour Charts’ from 1966 on paint sample cards found in a Düsseldorf paint shop, suggesting that abstraction could be found in the world of the everyday.
Richter worked on many series of grey monochrome paintings in the mid-1970s sometimes using a brush, and elsewhere using a roller. He wrote at the time that ‘grey is the welcome and only possible equivalent for indifference, non-commitment, absence of opinion, absence of shape.’ The ‘Colour Charts’ from this moment of the mid-1970s (unlike those of 1966) were based on numeric and chromatic systems, as well as on chance: Richter would take the three primaries and grey, and mix them in predetermined increments to produce 1,024 shades. The shades were arranged according to chance procedures: as with the ‘Grey Paintings’, these ‘Colour Charts’ indicate Richter’s hostility towards expressive paint handling and his sense at that time that to compose colours according to harmonies was a meaningless pursuit. In 1970, Richter also painted his series of ‘Details’, which were enlargements of photographs of swirls of oil paint, and ‘Clouds’, which he seems to have been drawn to because they were natural phenomena close to abstraction in that their shapes are always changing.
Richter had completed many different series of abstract works by 1976, and yet it is only this date that he names as marking the beginning of his ongoing series of ‘Abstract Paintings’. This is because he sees the work of 1976 as marking a break with the ‘Grey Paintings’, even though there were strong connections between the 1976 works and the ‘Details’ from 1970. Whereas the ‘Details’ were derived from photographs of single swirls of monochrome oil paint, the 1976 paintings were based on photographs of polychrome oil sketches. These ‘sketches’ were freely painted collections of small brushstrokes on top of smooth atmospheric backgrounds. Richter would crop the photographs, project them onto a bigger canvas at an enlarged size, trace around the projected image, and create a painting based on the traced forms. For all its strange beauty, there is a polemical side to a work such as Abstraktes Bild (Abstract Painting; Fig. 3): the painting was made just as Gestural Expressionism was returning to European and American painting with all the attendant rhetoric about subjectivity, bravado, and spontaneous painting processes. Richter’s abstract, by contrast, is the result of a series of mediations and transformations. Looking at it, we cannot really identify what we are seeing, nor do we have a clear sense about the scale of the original paint strokes.
In the early 1980s, Richter relinquished the idea of basing his major abstractions on photos of smaller paintings, and while this turn was described by some critics as a sign of Richter’s freedom and personal joy, others such as Benjamin Buchloh argued that Richter was extending his critique of expressionist painting. Whereas many artists at this time attempted to compose colours according to subjective preference, it was suggested that Richter’s colour combinations were deliber-ately absurd. Whereas other painters returned to gestural paint handling, Richter filled his works with a range of marks (atmospheric backgrounds, floating geometric shapes, broad brushstrokes, paint applied with a roller), so as to demonstrate the rhetoric of painting, and to indicate that the possibilities open to abstraction were mere possibilities – exemplified by Eule (Owl), from 1982 (Fig. 2). If the various modes of painting present in Richter’s work recalled moments from the history of abstraction, their co-presence in the final painting indicated that the utopian promises associated with these different moments of abstraction were impossible to revive in the present. Richter’s paintings could serve to remember the history of abstraction, but also to emphasise its irretrievability.
It was around this time that he began to use a tool that has become associated with him ever since – the squeegee. Richter’s squeegees are thin rectangular sheets of Perspex fixed at right angles to a wooden handle. The squeegee pulls paint across the surface of a canvas, and as it does so, it wipes it off, but never perfectly. Richter paints a single panel in many campaigns, applying paint to the canvas with a brush or dabbing it on with the squeegee, and then working over the surface with a squeegee: each layer represents a moment of time during the long creation of the painting.
The squeegee produces a range of material and visual effects depending on factors such as the pressure exerted by the artist, the elasticity of the canvas at different points on its surface, the heaviness of the paint and its oil-to-pigment ratio. After a few layers, the canvas surface will be uneven with raised accumulations of paint and thinner areas: as the squeegee passes over now, the oil paint splits over thicker areas producing yawning tears showing through to the under-layers made at earlier moments, or glides more easily over lower areas creating streaking thin lines of pulled paint. It should be said that the final surfaces of many of the best squeegee paintings show brush marks, scrapings made with the wrong side of the brush or a knife, and patches of congealed paint with peculiar creases and wrinkles.
The squeegee could be described as a rather mechanical tool. Certainly it is true that it removes personalised brushwork and creates instead striations and tears that could not be made by hand. The unpredictable surfaces it produces are chance outcomes and one might therefore align Richter’s squeegee paintings with his lifelong interests in chance which are more clearly evidenced in his ‘Colour Charts’. And what does it mean to make a painting through a series of erasures rather than by additive composition? There is a kind of negativity and even brutality implied by this method: the final painting is what Richter found to be the tolerable end-point of a series of destructive erasures, each one ruining the painting as it had existed at that moment, rather than an end that was planned out, projected, and pursued from the beginning of the work. Another negative dimension of the series of squeegee paintings emerges if we recall the size of the series as a whole. The sheer proliferation of squeegee paintings suggests that Richter has been subjecting the idea of the masterpiece to critique and also that he has positioned painting between mass production and individuality. There are hundreds and hundreds of squeegee paintings, yet each one is extremely different. Our appreciation of the individuality of each work is somewhat tarnished by our knowledge of the size of the series: the specific appearance of a single work can seem a bit meaningless because there are so many other paintings that are equally similar, and equally different.
Many art historians, curators and critics have addressed these points when writing about Richter’s abstract paintings, particularly Benjamin Buchloh in a series of wonderfully insightful essays. Richter himself has never really produced an overall theory of abstraction, but has provided some intriguing texts and statements. One of the first texts from 1982 described the paintings as ‘fictive models [that] make visible a reality we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can postulate’; in 1986; he told Buchloh that the paintings were for him ‘models of society… pictures that are about the possibility of social coexistence’ (the paintings Richter was making at the time featured different kinds of strokes, colours, and surfaces, and were not exclusively made with a squeegee). Writers have grappled with these and other of Richter’s statements about abstract painting, but one component of Richter’s own commentary about his abstract paintings tends to be ignored. This is Richter’s contention that the paintings remind him of phenomena from the visual world and particularly from nature, his insistence that ‘we only find paintings interesting because we always search for something that looks familiar to us. I see something in my head and try to find out what it relates to.’
In 1986 Richter told Buchloh that the paintings ‘remind you of natural experiences, even rain if you like. The paintings can’t help functioning that way. That’s where they get their effect from, the fact that they incessantly remind you of Nature, and they’re almost naturalistic anyhow.’ By the time Richter made this claim, he had already been using titles like Clouds and Birds, and he would go on to call groups of paintings Forest and River. Richter’s titles do not usually indicate that the painting resembles the entity named in the title, but instead that it recalls the experience of looking at that entity. For instance, Wald (Forest) 3 (Fig. 4) does not look like a dense group of trees, but is reminiscent of what it is like to look about in a forest, when your gaze is caught up with the near and far at once.
To understand why critics have largely ignored Richter’s tendency to make these connections, one might recall the reception of Jackson Pollock’s titles such as Autumn Rhythm and Lavender Mist. Though these titles were actually given by Clement Greenberg, modernist critics (himself included) wanted to stress the achievements of Pollock’s work in terms of forms and processes and feared that these literary and metaphorical titles would encourage facile readings of the paintings. Viewers (they thought) could fixate on these titles and the paintings might be reduced to them. The spills and splatters of Pollock’s paint would no longer be seen as radical assaults on the verticality of painting, and instead would be viewed as landscape effects. Just so, the critical negativity of Richter’s abstractions would be undermined if we concluded our account of them by saying some look a bit like waterfalls. But is there a way to think about this approach to abstraction more subtly?
Recently Kaja Silverman has been more prepared to look at Richter’s willingness to think about his paintings in these terms, and she has argued that this is one aspect of the artist’s tendency to make analogies in his work. Richter (she argues) brings unlike things together whether photography and abstraction, abstraction and landscapes, the victims and oppressors of history, always asking how they might be similar rather than opposed. Her argument touches on a series of diptych paintings titled January, December and November. Silverman builds from the fact that Richter’s series of works about the Baader-Meinhof group are sometimes referred to as the October paintings and she relates the colours of these three works to those grisaille works. She also notes that they were made just before the moment of Germany’s reunification and the collapse of the Berlin Wall and like others, she indicates that the paintings express considerable ambivalence on Richter’s behalf about the rebirth of a united Germany.
Silverman’s reading is sometimes a bit far-fetched (she writes of November that in it, ‘Ennslin’s ghost still shines through’) but it is welcome, especially because the more one thinks about the large series of squeegee abstractions, the more one realises the limits of overarching arguments about the signifi-cance of the squeegee, about chance, about erasure and mechanical processes, and about the relationship of Richter’s paintings to the history of abstraction. Quite simply, these arguments do little to articulate why some paintings are more compelling than others, and what makes certain paintings so powerful. Silverman starts off this section of her account by stating that Richter’s series of diptych paintings, January, December and November, are for her the artist’s ‘greatest abstract works’. I personally adore many groups within Richter’s squeegee abstractions including the three 849 paintings from 1997 with their purple tones and peeled-away patches, and the jewel-like eight-part 858 series which were made on small aluminium panels so as to produce hair-thick striations of an unbelievable colour range. Yet there is a particular group of four large works made in 1989 that I consider to be the absolute pinnacles of Richter’s achievement with abstraction: Atem (Breath), Kurs (Course), Fluss (River) and Fels (Rock); (Figs. 1, 5 and 6).
These four paintings are all made on vertical canvases three metres high by two-and-a-half metres wide. This towering and imposing format is important to their meaning, and differentiates them from other squeegee works which are either landscape in orientation or square. In these four works, as in others, the squeegee produces different effects over the surfaces. Striations, rips and flecks characterise other paintings but in all four of these, the final pull of the squeegee travelled downwards rather than across and so the striations and tears and flecks travel downwards too. Again, this is different to other works from this time – horizontal and vertical canvases – where the final squeegee move was lateral.
We can be more specific about the character of Richter’s downward rips in these paintings if we compare them to other downward drifts in post-war abstraction: the Abstract Expressionist drip, the trammels in Morris Louis’ Unfurled paintings, and then the drooping wall-based sculptures that Eva Hesse, Robert Morris and Richard Serra were making around 1967–68. The drip running off a brushstroke in a painting by Kline or De Kooning is an unintended result of loading a brush with too much paint and wiping it across a surface very quickly: it is retained on the surface to signal the spontaneity of the painter’s movements. By contrast, the downward trails of thinned acrylic paint in Louis’ works are intensely controlled and created in the service of careful colour combinations: they no longer signal bravado. Finally in post-minimalist works such as Richard Serra’s Belts, Robert Morris’ Felts and Eva Hesse’s Aught, materials tumble to the floor as gravity acts on them. Here we are less inclined to think about the artists’ subjectivities or compositional facilities, and indeed these have become irrelevant: instead we are faced with real materials which collapse because of their material properties.
Richter’s downward squeegee pulls signify in different ways from all these models: unlike the abstract expressionist gesture, the squeegee drag is slow, not quick; the paint does not travel because it is liquid, but because it was dragged down. Unlike Louis, Richter cannot really control the appearance his movement will produce. And unlike the post-minimalist collapse, there is more going on here than a painterly process and an exploration of materiality. Richter’s paintings produce associations with a range of ideas and effects connected to this downward pulling, and these associations are so powerful because with their scale the paintings make us feel a sense of a downward pull so viscerally.
The titles draw out these associations too, but not primarily because of a simple resemblance between the painting and the natural entity the title names. There is first a material connection between the title and the painting: looking at Fels (Rock), you have a sense of the mineral quality of Richter’s paint and recognise pigment as ground rock; looking at Fluss (River) one feels that the flow of a river over rocks is physically similar to the pulling of paint over a bumpy ground. More significantly, the titles help us to articulate the effects the paintings produce, but only if we read the words against the grain – Rock, Breath, Course, Flow: looking at the paintings I can imagine being pulled downwards in a river, a feeling of breathlessness, or what it is like to face a vertical and impenetrable rock face and to imagine falling from it.
The ‘nature’ that these titles summon up is brutal and inhumane rather than cosy and beautiful, and this is the point, I think. It was Richter, after all, who once wrote: ‘Nature, in all its forms is always against us, because it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy, because it knows nothing and is absolutely mindless: the total antithesis of ourselves, absolutely inhuman.’
It could seem too easy to associate the pulls in Richter’s squeegee abstracts with the look of destruction (charred marks on burnt walls, melting metal) or with cultural mourning practices (ripping one’s clothes during mourning; the waterfalls in the newly built memorials to the Twin Towers) or with physical markers of grief – crying, collapsing to the ground. And yet it is also wrong to dismiss these associations completely. Richter’s abstracts – or rather, this particular group of four paintings, from the hundreds of his abstracts – for me are such devastating masterpieces because they cause us to think and feel of all these things without ever being reducible to them.
Mark Godfrey is curator at Tate Modern, London, and co-curator with Nicholas Serota of ‘Gerhard Richter: Panorama’ at Tate Modern (6 October–8 January 2012). Visit www.tate.org.uk/modern for more information.
Memory and Memorialization: Gerhard Richter’s September
This account will begin like every other, with facts; the only pieces of information that are known to be certain. At 8:45 AM on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – a bright, cloudless morning – a hijacked commercial airliner hit the North Tower of New York City’s World Trade Center, causing immediate and irreparable destruction on a scale that was to that point unprecedented on American soil. At 9:03, a second plane took down the South Tower. Via a diverse and extensive array of media channels, the magnitude of these events unfolded live and in real time in front of a stunned world. The German painter Gerhard Richter, along with his wife Sabine, was on that morning en route to New York for the opening of a solo exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery. With the airspace over the city immediately shutdown, Richter’s plane was diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia where he had no choice but, like everyone else, to wait and to watch. Two days later, on September 13, he returned home to Cologne.
Four years later, in 2005, Richter painted a small canvas depicting a horizontal blur colliding with two vertical thrusts against the backdrop of a clear, sky blue. At approximately 28 x 20 inches, this painting is forgettable in scale. Richter himself attests that he was at first unsatisfied with the outcome and nearly threw the work away. But, readily identifying its innate poignancy, a friend visiting his studio insisted that the artist give the canvas a second look. This is the painting September, that was acquired shortly thereafter by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York. Though close inspection in fact reveals the painting to be a depiction of the second plane hitting the South Tower, the abstracted nature of the work makes the reference to 9/11 – as that day has come to be known colloquially – only oblique. Even the title lacks precise detail, positioning the painting as a channel of meditation between the viewer and the experience, rather than simply reportage. From an art historical perspective, this work implicitly questions whether an event that is so undeniably cataclysmic can be depicted from a neutral standpoint. Can the artist act as interpreter and reduce the events of that terrible day to a scale that is intelligible, stripping away the complex cavalcade of emotions that it immediately and inevitably stirs up? And, concomitantly, can a simple act of memory on these grounds function as act of memorialization?
In his book-length essay September: A History Painting, curator Robert Storr attempts to frame an answer the seemingly straightforward question “What is the meaning of a single, small, almost abstract depiction of one of the most consequential occurrences in recent world history?”. Storr begins by situating the work in the context of Richter’s oeuvre: “Physically, September belongs to a fairly sizeable body of work that Richter has created over the last decade or so, pieces that at a distance resemble gray smudges.” This type of work, balanced somewhere between the gestural intimacy of painting and the detached immediacy of photography, is typical of Richter’s overall project as an artist; that is, his decades-long interrogation of pictorial conventions, and an upending of our most basic assumptions therein. Though this painting is smaller than is usual of Richter’s output of this kind, Storr notes that its “scale places it in the range of many of the media images people saw on television at the time of the attack and since, while also countering the tendency in history painting of representing major events in rhetorically big formats with melodramatic effect.” From the outset, Storr presents the painting as deeply connected with memory, yet distinct from traditional aesthetic discourses on that subject.
Richter’s recollection of that day is one that is in fact uniquely suited to the twenty-first century. The attacks of September 11, 2001 have the dubious distinction of being the first (and to date, the only) terrorist attacks to be broadcast live. Moreover, 9/11 stands as the best-documented event of its type, thanks in large part to an overall democratization of media. It is a day remembered as much by cell phone pictures and amateur videos as by the lenses of photojournalists and the news media. Even for those who experienced the atrocities firsthand, it is a day that is largely recalled via these mass-mediated images. In her 2003 book, Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag explains, “A catastrophe that is experienced will often seem easily like its representation.” In this sense, photography plays a privileged role in the construction of memory and often goes so far as to substitute for lived experience – which is true of Richter’s experience of 9/11 – as it is of most of the world’s. Sontag elaborates, “Nonstop imagery (television, streaming video, movies) is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite. Memory freeze-frames; its basic unit is the single image.” Memory, therefore, is conditioned; it is inherently unstable, subject to revisions and corrections. The question for Richter then becomes, given these conditions of reproduction that are specific to the digital era, what can painting offer? After all, what could eclipse the images of bodies falling from buildings and smoke-enveloped neighborhoods that are so indelibly ingrained in the collective conscience?
Atlas Sheet 744, 2006; Stripes, WTC.
The source imagery for this painting, however, is anything but abstract. A page from Richter’s Atlas – the scrapbook that he has been keeping since 1962 of found images – reveals an obsessive repetition of a news photograph of a plane hitting one of the towers. Buchloh positions Richter’s Atlas as both didactic and mnemonic project that partakes in an archaeology of memory without making any commentary on it. Instead, he uses the Atlas as a jumping off point and a means for personal reflection: “Richter, as a subject of the postwar period, would now have to rephrase this very question, namely, whether it could even be possible to conceive mnemonic images at the moment of the most violent, collectively enacted repression of history, a repression for which photographic media-culture had become now… the primary agent.”
There is only one other instance in Richter’s five-decade career where he is explicitly dealing with world events and collectively experienced trauma in his painting. This cycle of 15 small photorealist paintings, collectively entitled October 18, 1977 depict the aftermath of the terror enacted by the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, a small but militant left wing terrorist organization that carried out killings and kidnappings throughout the 1970s in Germany. The date in the title refers to the specific day when the bodies of the principal members were found dead in their jail cells under questionable circumstances. These images, which were in actuality painted from police photographs, recall memento mori as the subject matter consists of lifeless bodies, empty jail cells, and funerary scenes. Stylistically, the paintings are executed in black and white and while each image is clearly legible the paintings overall have a blurred quality. This simultaneously recalls both newsprint – the form of dissemination of this information – as well as the haziness of memory.
Paintings from the October 18, 1977 cycle
Benjamin Buchloh sees the elision of the actual acts of terror in favor of the fate of their enactors as an attempt to counteract the representational limitations of painting in regards to the depiction of history. He writes, “The inability of painting to represent contemporary history resulted first of all from the transformation of historical experience into an experience of collective catastrophe. It therefore seemed that only photography, in its putative access to facticity and objectivity, could qualify as an instrument of historical representation.” Instead of mimicking the photographic function of reportage, Richter utilizes photography’s assumed indexicality to a different effect – to depict secondary moments – the results of the terror, rather than the terror itself. This tactic serves to neutralize any judgment or critique on the part of the artist. Buchloh concludes, “Richter’s October 18, 1977 attempts [only] to initiate a reflective commemoration of these individuals.”
The October 18, 1977 paintings were in fact displayed at MoMA in the fall of 2002 as a part of a retrospective survey of Richter’s career, where they caused quite a controversy. In the wake of 9/11 that MoMA would display (and eventually acquire) imagery whose explicit subject was terrorism was an odious idea for many, especially those towards the conservative end of the political spectrum. Though the paintings were intended as neutral depictions, their representational fidelity to their subjects made them implicitly charged.
From this standpoint, it is easy to understand the relationship between the October 18, 1977 cycleand September. Storr writes, “September is a coda to the October cycles, the image of self-immolation in pursuit of self-determination, a totalizing doctrine consummated by death…. But unlike in the October cycle, the haze of September subsumes those who suffered in the attack along with those who perpetrated it.”Unlike the Baader-Meinhoff paintings, Richter does not rely on photorealism here in order to convey information, opting instead for an abstracted representation of the attack. At first glance, it is easy to overlook what exactly the content of this painting is. As Storr describes, “The more time spent with the painting the more fully that terrible knowledge [of what they are actually looking at] dawns on the viewer.” Richter has stripped the image of specificity. Even the painting’s title – September – does not fully reference the event. Here, “The decision to paint what cannot be painted, is the principle means of critique.” Like the October 18, 1977 cycle, the painting acts as a jumping off point for a more sustained reflection, but in this case does so through abstraction, rather than representation. The painting acts, not as a stand-in for memory, but rather as an instigator for reflection and remembrance. While on the one hand, September is a representation of a universally experienced event, on the other it is deeply indicative of the artist’s own thought process. Storr observes, “Like October 18, 1977, [September is] a delayed response to a powerful jolt to his system, an aftershock rather than a direct transcription of the initial shock itself, reminding us that Richter is, at his most emotional, a ruminative artist rather than an impetuous ‘expressionist.’”
Buchloh, Benjamin H.D. “A Note on Gerhard Richter’s October 18, 1977.” October 48, (1989): 88-109.
.“Gerhard Richter’s “Atlas”: The Anomic Archive.” October 88, (1999): 117-145.
Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2003.
Storr, Robert. September: A History Painting by Gerhard Richter. London: Tate Publishing, 2010.
 Robert Storr, September: A History Painting, (London: Tate Publishing, 2010), 57.
*Jaime Schwartz is a second year student in the MA in Modern Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies program at Columbia University.
interventionsjournal · Interventions is the online journal of the Modern Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies (MODA) program at Columbia University
Playing in the Ruins: The Late Abstraction of Gerhard Richter
“Richter’s late abstraction re-constitutes aesthetic totality from the ruins of modernism. It compels conviction because, rather than pretend that the ruination never happened, it is made of that debris, that negation.”
In the summer of 1995 the Anthony D’Offay gallery in London held an exhibition entitled Gerhard Richter: Painting in the Nineties. Comprising abstract painting alone (Richter’s oeuvre is notoriously heterogenous) the exhibition provided the opportunity to consider Richter’s development since his Tate Gallery Retrospective of 1991. My instinctive reaction to these new paintings was two-fold: first, these late Abstract Paintings were qualitatively better than those that came before (that is Richter’s “painting in the eighties”); second, that this improvement related somehow to a playfulness in this later work, a desire to frolic—as Wood puts it—in the “ruins” of Modernist painting.
A similar sense of “playing in the ruins” is evident in the writing of American author Thomas Pynchon (albeit in the ruins of literature rather than painting). Where Wood uses the term “ruins,” Pynchon prefers the term “entropy.” Central to this study is the belief that play—with its emphasis on openness and subjectivity and its rejection of closure and prescriptive outcome—is an essential part of what I will term “counter-entropic” practice. In this paper, the late abstraction of Richter is approached using Pynchon’s terminology. Drawing together American literature and contemporary German painting, it demonstrates how both writer and painter have found playfulness the best means to counter the entropic tendency—the ruins—that both consider one of the salient characteristics of Postmodern culture.
1. Two Paintings by Gerhard Richter
If I am to demonstrate that Richter’s abstraction of the 1990s marks a qualitative shift in comparison to that of the 1980s, it is first necessary to define the salient characteristics of both periods: that is, what do these paintings look like? This question can be addressed most effectively if an individual painting is elected to represent each suite of paintings. In so doing I run the risk of undermining other elements of Richter’s painting project (the Photo Paintings, Colour Charts, Grey Pictures and so forth). Nonetheless, all the paintings on show at D’Offay belonged to Richter’s abstract oeuvre, and, as such, Red (1994) (Fig. 1) has been taken to represent his recent interests and obsessions. If one is to compare like with like, it is also necessary to elect an abstract painting to represent his painting in the eighties. Abstract Painting [576/3] (1985) (Fig. 2), therefore, will stand for the earlier decade.
Red  is a large painting, measuring 200cm x 320cm. Filling one’s field of vision, it suggests monumentality, grandeur even. Our visual experience is dominated by the eponymous color of the title, which forms a veil through which we peer at a chaos of earlier workings. This is not, however, the triumphant primary of Yves Klein or Barnet Newman. Rather, it is a bleached and dirty looking red, an impure variant generated by the smearing of wet paint into wet paint. Bits of acid green and blue poke through, signs of the earlier activity which led (perhaps) to the completed work. The main manufacturing process seems to be one of accretion, dominated by the building up of layers of paint: yet the red paint which determines the character (and title) of the painting serves as much to destroy that which is underneath as to construct the visible image. On closer inspection, it becomes clear that some sort of spatula or squeegee has blurred the wet surface of the painting, and many of the arabesques and swirls of paint which remain visible are the product of this pseudo-mechanical process.
This fact directs our attention toward the means by which Red  was produced. This line of enquiry is aided by the suite of thirty three color photographs contained within the exhibition catalogue which chart the complex of gestures and counter-gestures that led to the finished painting. It is clear, on attending to these, that the production process is lengthy and unpredictable: the initial stages bear no relation to the finished painting. The working process is difficult to define causally: Red  has been constructed through the interaction of “organic” (brushed, controlled) paintwork and “mechanically” (scraped, squeegeed) interventions. It is clear on attending to the painting itself, however, that these “scrapings” are neither the multi-directional marks of erasure, nor has Richter chosen to submerge them behind subsequent layerings of paint. If anything, their role is positive (compositional) rather than negative (erasive). Their mechanical identity (as opposed to the organic brush-marks and semi-expressionistic gestures which underlie them) is integral to the identity of the painting. Richter has afforded them prime position: they sweep across the top of the painting in bold strokes, generating Red ’s primary dynamic (horizontal, from left to right). The underlying layers of paint also bear traces of the same semi-mechanical disruption which has afflicted the top (red) layer of paint. Creation is also destruction; construction also de-construction.
In short, there is a sense of play here, an openness to accident and unpredictability.
Abstract Painting [576/3]
Abstract Painting [576/3] is a smaller painting than Red , measuring 180cm x 120cm. Like Red  it is not representational, yet where Red  comprises mostly one color, this earlier painting is multi-colored. A large block of yellow dominates the upper half, the centre is occupied primarily by a tinted salmon-pink, and ultramarine blue dominates the bottom section. These three areas of color have been applied with a large brush, and are flat, uncompromising monochrome statements. The (many) painterly incidents which surround them are, however, not so easy to describe. Grey “squiggles” dynamically traverse the canvas, and are in turn overlaid by frenzied painterly activity. The yellow area is overlaid with gestural red brush-marks, and the pink-tinted mid-section by thick opaque smearings of pure cadmium red. Underlying the blue area are gesturally brushed passages of grey paint, and the left side of the painting is dominated by an acidic lime green which is in turn overlaid with the same salmon-pink that dominates the centre of the painting.
It is immediately clear that Abstract Painting [576/3] comprises a far wider vocabulary of formal languages and painting styles than Red . Indeed, it appears to comprise a catalogue of the rhetorical devices of the expressionist abstract painter—Jackson Pollock’s drip co-exists with Mark Rothko’s flat fields of primary color, Franz Klein’s gestural calligraphy and so on. This range of styles and techniques draws our attention toward Richter’s method. The mid-1980s is the period of the “color-sketches” whereby Richter reproduced (via a process of transfer and enlargement) small paintings on a large scale. Painted in 1985, Abstract Painting [576/3] epitomizes this policy of re-presenting the rhetorical devices and codes of painterly abstraction: to apply the terminology used in my description of Red , it re-presents “mechanically” an “organic” original. This process is clearly visible here: the painting appears to comprise areas of flat color which co-exist with seemingly “gestural” brush-marks, yet this initial perception proves deceptive. The paint-marks that transverse the canvas from the top-left corner have been “shaded” to create the illusion of spatiality, their upper half tinted to create a three-dimensional trompe l’oeil effect; the flecks of green paint that suggest unmediated painterly activity have been printed onto the surface of the painting with a sheet of glass; the cadmium red which overlays the mid-section of the painting has been applied with a printer’s squeegee, and so on. As such, the gap between organic (model) painting and the mechanical method of production could not be further emphasized.
In short, Abstract Painting [576/3] is the product of a prescribed and carefully executed process: that sense of play evident in Red  is absent.
The above descriptions point to similarities as well as differences between the two paintings (and, by association, the two periods): both comprise a combination of “organic” and “mechanical” modes of painting, and both maintain an uneasy relationship between the two. Interpretation of both paintings, however, remains difficult. (Conventional) abstract expressionism operates on the premise that there exists a direct and unmediated relationship between artist and artwork. Both Red  and Abstract Painting [576/3] problematize this relationship. Nor is it possible to categorize either as “abstract” paintings in the conventional sense. The process of abstraction generally involves a two-way relationship between an external reality (whether that be physical, psychological or whatever) and the canvas. Neither Abstract Painting [576/3] nor Red  maintains such a relationship. Neither can be described using conventional psychological categories such as gesture or expression; nor theological terms such as transcendence. Neither tells us of Richter the author, and nor do they point outward toward some reality that exists beyond itself.
Where these issues are the subject of much literature on Richter, what is interesting here is the shift from a prescriptive methodology to one characterized by playfulness and openness. The manifest subject of Richter’s abstraction, as many commentators have noted, is the crisis of legitimacy facing abstract painting in the Postmodern present. Abstract Painting [576/3] demonstrates this crisis through that process of double-negation described above (of organic painting by mechanical re-presentation, and vice-versa). Red , however, was produced through a process more complex than the simple re-presentation of an organic original. The method here is one of concretization, a building up of the paint surface through the combination (fusing) of organic and mechanical painting.
Why this shift?
The answer, I suggest, can be understood in relation to “entropy.” Where there are few examples of the term appearing in relation to visual practice, the theme of entropic decline is common within twentieth century American literature and is particularly significant in the work of Thomas Pynchon. In order to introduce the manner in which Pynchon’s work engages with the theme, the following section is structured in relation to two of his stories [Entropy (1960) and The Crying of Lot 49 (1965)]. Only five years separates these two works, yet the development between them, I suggest, provides a model with which to understand and evaluate the shift in Richter’s painting between the 1980s and 1990s.
2. Two Stories by Thomas Pynchon
Entropy revolves around two central characters. The first is Meatball Mulligan, a “beatnik” observed in the process of holding a lease-breaking party which is slowly degenerating into chaos. Upstairs, the second character, Callisto, is living a carefully monitored life in a hermetically sealed hothouse. Where Mulligan’s domain is dominated by raucous interaction, Callisto’s is an ordered enclave which insulates him from the vagaries of the outside world. The story is therefore composed around the opposition between Callisto’s order and Mulligan’s chaos. As literary critic Tony Tanner (1972) puts it,
There is a kind of perfect music which acts like a ‘closed system’ and finally resolves all into a terminal sameness; there is a noise which might lead to chaos (a terminal sameness of another kind)…
In the search for “perfect music,” Callisto has retreated from the world of interaction into his own airless void. His fear of chaos and ambiguity has led not only to a supremely ordered environment, but to an extreme form of entropy (in his closed system, heat energy cannot be transferred to the small bird whose life he is trying to save by warming it in his hands). The futility of attempting to live in a “hothouse,” isolated from the world, is finally revealed: Callisto’s “perfect music” has resolved all into terminal sameness. Callisto’s hothouse is counterbalanced in Pynchon’s story by an alternate form of entropic death. Mulligan’s party has moved into its fortieth hour, the guests are in various states of inebriation, and communication between the revelers has become increasingly discordant and reached the point at which it has virtually collapsed. Where Callisto faces the terminal sameness of inertia, Mulligan faces that of chaos.
If entropy may be defined as a tendency toward both “disorder” and “inertness,” then Mulligan metaphorically represents the former, and Callisto the latter. In short, both characters demonstrate conditions of entropy.
The Crying of Lot 49
Five years later Pynchon published The Crying of Lot 49. The story follows one central character, Oedipa Maas, in her investigation of the estate of an ex-lover. As she sets about her task she discovers more and more clues pointing to the existence of an underground organization (the “Trystero”) which opposes (and provides a secret alternative to) the official lines of communication. Oedipa is never sure if the Trystero exists or whether she is hallucinating its existence as an antidote to the drabness of her life. As her quest for truth progresses, she has many hints of an alternate reality which hovers just outside her perception. One example of this strange experience occurs when she arrives at the city of San Narciso:
Though she knew even less about radios than about Southern California, there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate. There’d seemed no limit to what the printed circuit could have told her (if she had tried to find out); so in her first minute in San Narciso, a revelation also trembled just past the threshold of her understanding.
This location of meaning just beyond the “threshold of understanding” is a central aspect of the novel. The clues which appear to Oedipa reveal only glimpses of reality, but “…never the central truth itself which would destroy its own message irretrievably.” This phrase captures the essence of the book: The Crying of Lot 49 consistently rebuffs the reader’s attempts to locate a coherent meaning within its narrative. The principle means by which this is effected is Pynchon’s ambiguous treatment of the Detective genre of literature. The Californian detective stories of Raymond Chandler provide a model for the story. But rather than the narrative leading toward the denouement of a criminal, a set of clues eventually pointing to a resolution of previous mysteries, Pynchon’s story begins with conventional life firmly in place, and gradually moves toward a condition of increasing mystery and ambiguity.
Despite the brevity of the above synopses, a distinct shift can be observed between these two stories. Entropy is a dialectical story: Callisto and Mulligan stand not so much as characters in their own right but metaphoric equivalents to a crisis within American literature. Pynchon has written a story which engages dialectically with its eponymous title: the two characters represent the polar culminations of inertia and chaos so absolutely that they become little more than ciphers for the scientific tendency that provides its title. Where Entropy engages with its eponymous theme in a dialectical manner, The Crying of Lot 49 abandons the metaphor in favor of a more ambiguous mode. If Callisto and Mulligan represent two polar entropic threats, it is unclear whether Oedipa represents anything at all: her name seems either to signify too much or too little. Names in novels operate traditionally either in a literal or metaphoric manner, but Pynchon rejects this convention. The name “Oedipa Maas” is neither real nor metaphorical (in the sense that Callisto and Mulligan are metaphors). “Oedipa” suggests a female version of Oedipus. “Maas,” it has been suggested, may denote “mass,” and therefore link with Newtonian physics. Terry Caesar, on the other hand, has suggested that the name may consist simply of a verbal joke: “Oedipa my ass.” Any of these interpretations may reflect Pynchon’s intention, or none. In refusing to confer a unique identity upon his heroine, Pynchon frustrates our desire to predict her behavioural patterns. Where the meaning of Entropy occupies a central role in the construction of the story, the meaning of The Crying of Lot 49 exists peripherally.
This shift—from the dialectical to the playful, from the prescriptive to the open—is not dissimilar to that which occurred within Richter’s practice between the 1980s and 1990s.
And this shift—in both painting and writing—can best be understood, I suggest, using Pynchon’s terminology: entropy.
The 1980s so far have led us to the discovery that the craving for unlimited freedom may be ultimately entropic. It deprives art of direction and purpose until, like an unwound clock, it simply loses its capacity to work.
…as the society is saturated to the limit, it implodes and winds down into inertia and entropy.
Generally associated with the running down of a system (whether that be a small machine or the universe) the culmination of the entropic tendency has been theorized variously as disorder and inertia. The two claims cited above reveal such a tendency: for Suzi Gablik, the collapse of the guiding principles which bound cultural activity under Modernism has engendered a crisis within the visual arts, whereas for Jean Baudrillard it is the saturation of images that characterizes the contemporary world which is the entropic agent. Further examples range from Danto’s thesis that art after Warhol is merely the repetition in diluted form of what came before, to Fukuyama’s claim that we are living after history. Such claims may easily be confused with alarmist assertions of a deterioration in cultural standards. My intention here is avoid such generalized claims in favor of a more precise definition that relates to the cultural context within which Richter is working.
The Fantasy of Theory
The first entropic danger is the colonial tendencies of visual theory. The tendency for the art work to be considered a text to be deciphered rather than an object to be evaluated is typical of a Postmodern critical sensibility, as Grizelda Pollock outlines in her appraisal of new feminist theory:
…art is perceived as something made, produced, by a social mind and psychically-shaped body which ‘writes’ upon it’s materials to produce a series of signs which have to be read like hieroglyphs or deciphered like complex codes. The real realm is not that of optics but graphics.
What is significant in the present context is the hegemony of such a trend within contemporary theoretical and curatorial practice. In order to explore this tendency, I turn to Ian Heywood’s paper “Primitive Practices: Against Visual Theory” (1994). The purpose of Heywood’s paper is to criticize the aggressive tendencies of “visual culture.” Heywood begins by noting that visual art is especially vulnerable to the reductive tendencies of cultural theory. Borrowing from Bauman’s essay “Legislators and Interpreters” (1987), he suggests that the effect of theory on art over the past twenty years has been largely negative. Heywood first outlines the theorist’s ideology of culture (which, following the breakdown of traditional modes of social organization in the early eighteenth century had the net effect of empowering the intellectual via the legislative power of knowledge), and goes on to note that within late modernity the legislative power of grand theory is on the wane. As a consequence the theorist/legislator has been replaced by the expert who enjoys absolute autonomy and freedom, yet (consequently) finds him/herself politically impotent and detached from any real ethical responsibilities. It is this aspect, for Heywood, which lends visual theory its sinister undertones. It is the fantasy of theory to imagine that it can (indeed, must) step in to inform and illuminate what is otherwise an ignorant practice: for the expert, art is a “primitive” practice desperately in need of the legitimizing power of theory. Where Pollock notes that the Postmodern critic attends to the textual qualities of the art work, Heywood goes further in suggesting that recent theory is actively antagonistic to the intrinsically visual qualities of the work. For the expert, the deeper stratum contained within the art work is theoretical, (rather than poetic) but ill-formed or incomplete and the task of the theorist to correct what is an ill-informed, and (at worst) dangerous practice. The metaphor which Heywood applies to this process is that of coursing:
With special concepts and methods we are to course for meaning, to flush out slyly innocent representations from their hiding places; ‘decoding’, ‘deconstructing’ and ‘demystifying’ we catch and flay our quarry, laying bare its secret interior, and ending its earthy, secret life.
It is this recognition of the tendency for contemporary theory to deprive art of its auratic quality, to render it textual, that is of particular significance here. Visual theory, which seeks to colonize painting for its own instrumental ends, represents the first entropic threat to what Richter calls the “incomprehensibility” of painting. The Daily Practice of Painting (Richter’s studio notes, exhibition statements and interviews) is replete with statements which assert the value accorded an opaque, auratic form of practice. However, the belief that the deeper stratum contained within his art work is theoretical rather than poetic has led many critics – most notably Benjamin Buchloh – to suggest that the Abstract Paintings represent a memorial to the past possibilities of painting.
Taken in isolation, the solution to this first “entropic” difficulty would seem to be a non-theoretical, organic form of painting. This is not, however, Richter’s choice: the distinguishing characteristic of both Abstract Painting [576/3] and Red  is the very problematizing of ‘organic’ painting (Pollock’s drip, Kline’s calligraphy and so on). The reason for this, I suggest, can be understood in relation to the debased nature of the organic gesture today. To defend this claim, I turn next to Jean Baudrillard’s vision of entropy.
A Saturated Culture
Jean Baudrillard’s first writings represent an effort to extend the Marxist critique of capitalism beyond the scope of the theory of the mode of production. His later work evolved a theory that attempts to comprehend the nature and impact of mass communications. He began focusing on the media in the mid 1960s, and developed the belief that, in the new Postmodern world, we are bombarded with information-rich images every moment of our lives, the consequence of which is the collapse any distinction between what is real and what is not. For Baudrillard, we live in a world of “simulacra”, in which the image of an event has replaced direct experience. For Baudrillard, therefore, it is the breakdown of the correspondence between the real world and the image of the world that is symptomatic of entropic decline within contemporary culture. The Marxist critic Douglas Kellner provides a useful outline of this tendency in Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Poststructuralism (1989):
In a society supposedly saturated with media messages, information and meaning ‘implode,’ into meaningless ‘noise,’ pure effect without content or meaning. Thus Baudrillard claims, ‘information is directly destructive of meaning and signification, or neutralizes it…information dissolves meaning and the social into a sort of nebulous state leading not at all to a surfeit of innovation but to the very contrary, to total entropy.’ (my italics).
Entropy, according to Baudrillard’s vision, is implicated in the very structure of contemporary culture, which, saturated to the limit, has brought with it the “death of art.” The principle characteristic, as Kellner notes, is the loss of an organic relationship between experience and the representation of that experience. In the face of the mass production of imagery, the capacity for an image to stand as an unmediated (organic) representation of experience is problematized.
Unsurprisingly, such claims have not been met without criticism. As Christopher Norris has noted, the rejection of any form of “truth” (Baudrillard rejects any defense of truth claims as a hopeless appeal to obsolete Enlightenment habits of thought) can lead only to moral nihilism. Furthermore, the conception of reality as nothing more than a product of various codes and signifying systems assumes that experience can be interpreted only from a socio-cultural perspective. Nonetheless, the notion of a breakdown between experience and its representation is symptomatic of much Postmodern critical practice (it is central to both Benjamin Buchloh and Stefan Germer’s critiques of Richter’s Abstract Paintings, for example). It also remains a constant concern for Richter himself. Both Red  and Abstract Painting [576/3] explicitly problematize organic painterly activity through a process of mediation (whether that be one of transfer and enlargement or one of mechanical disruption of organic gesture), and the Abstract Paintings take their place within a body of work dedicated to resisting an organic artistic vision.
Wood has written of the recent ruination of traditional aesthetics. This ruination, I suggest, has been brought about by a variant of that saturation of visual information to which Baudrillard refers: the quotational tendencies of Postmodern practice. High Modernist styles of painting are now being quoted as part of the Postmodern project of deconstructing originality and authenticity (Phillip Taaffe’s recycling, for instance, of Minimalist and Optical painting). The “ruins” to which Wood refers are generated by the reduction of organic and mechanical modes of production to the level of rhetoric. The second entropic threat to the kind of auratic painting Richter values is the rhetorical (even clichéd) nature of Modernist abstraction, when, as Benjamin Buchloh puts it, “…gesture could still engender the experience of emotional turbulence, when chromatic veils credibly conveyed a sense of transparency and spatial infinity, when impasto could read as immediacy and emphatic material presence…”
In short, Richter cannot return to an unproblematic (organic) mode of painting, just as Pynchon cannot return to the unambiguous denouements of Raymond Chandler.
4. From Demonstration to Non-Demonstration
Returning to Pynchon, the significance of Entropy in relation to this study becomes apparent when one considers the ease with which it gives itself to theory. Callisto’s fear of chaos and ambiguity has led not only to a supremely ordered environment, but to homogeneity and inertia, whereas Mulligan’s party brings with it the alternate entropic condition of disorder. Pynchon has written a story which engages dialectically with its eponymous title: the two characters represent the polar culminations of inertia and chaos so absolutely that they become little more than ciphers for the scientific tendency that provides its title. Pynchon acknowledges this irony years after writing the story:
The story is a fine example of a procedural error beginning writers are always being cautioned against. It is simply wrong to begin with a theme, symbol or other abstract unifying agent, and then try to force characters and events to conform to it.
In presenting a dialectical equivalent to the entropic process, the story is rendered subservient to the interpretation. Tanner writes of the “dangerous seductiveness of metaphors of doom”, yet this is precisely how Entropy has been constructed. Entropy is unable to counter its eponymous tendency precisely because it demonstrates it.
Where Entropy communicates its meaning dialectically and unambiguously, communication in The Crying of Lot 49 is always incomplete. Pynchon’s concern in both stories is related to the problem of decipherment; but where Entropy engages dialectically with this concern, it manifests itself in the later story as a permanent instability—a playfulness—in the relationship between the interpreting mind of the reader and the varying fields of signification it must negotiate. Of prime importance to the present thesis is the fact that the shift which occurs between the two stories does not represent a volte-face in Pynchon’s practice. The Crying of Lot 49 is not a demonstration; yet, significantly, nor is it absolutely non-demonstrative (there remains throughout a curious sense of meaning just beyond the threshold of understanding). The shift is from binary, dialectical structure to one that is open, multivalent and playful.
The same is true, I suggest, in regard to the shift from Abstract Painting [576/3] to Red .
Abstract Painting [576/3] polarizes organic and mechanical modes of practice in an equivalent manner to that in which Callisto and Mulligan polarize the two culminations of entropy. What is significant is the ease with which paintings such as Abstract Painting [576/3] lend themselves to dialectical interpretation, the ease with which Buchloh et al are able to course (to use Heywood’s term) beneath the surface of the 1980s abstraction. After such “expert” analyses, Abstract Painting [576/3] comprises little more than hidden text (and not well hidden at that). What marks Richter’s 1980s abstraction is its binary structure—its lack of playfulness—which allows “meaning” to be woven easily around it. Organic and mechanical modes of practice are rendered textual through incongruous juxtaposition; as such, they remain little more than ciphers for painting’s crisis (as Pynchon’s Entropy remains little more than a cipher for literature’s crisis). The visual particularity (and consequent meaning) of the early abstraction is submerged beneath its textuality. In demonstrating crisis, the locus of the 1980s Abstract Paintings is fundamentally theoretical: they come behind the various interpretations of Richter’s abstraction.
Where Entropy provides a model for understanding Abstract Painting [576/3], Pynchon’s later story provides a paradigm for Richter’s later painting. Importantly (again echoing Pynchon) the shift which occurs between the two paintings does not represent a volte-face in Richter’s practice. Red  certainly operates in opposition to the binary structure of the early work. Where the early abstraction demonstrates the difficulties which confront painting through a process of double-negation, the late abstraction is produced through a process more complex than the simple re-presentation of an organic original. Red  was produced after countless actions and counter-actions (the repeated application and removal of paint). Each canceling of the plethora of earlier painterly activity was also the moment at which a new possibility was made visible. If the traces of this layering proved unsatisfactory visually, then Richter continued to work. By its very nature, the sheer quantity of visual phenomena which are brought into being through this (playful) method cannot be adequately conveyed through language. In being produced “backwards,” theory is forced to come after practice.
But what exactly is at stake here: what are the “ruins” in which Richter is playing, and why does “play” represent a positive quality in Richter’s painting? In other words, a closer understanding of the term “play” is needed.
5. Red : Playing in the Ruins
The term “play” suggests a lack of seriousness, a certain frivolousness. But Richter’s playfulness is deadly serious (one only has to read The Daily Practice of Painting: Richter’s studio notes, exhibition statements and interviews—to appreciate this). I have argued that “play” might be understood as an attempt to counter the “entropic difficulties facing contemporary cultural production,” and in the previous section suggested that the concretization of his late abstraction represents an attempt to overcome these (as noted, Red  plays with the tropes [mechanical and organic] of abstract painting, carefully walking a tightrope between the two modes.) By repositioning, re-constituting, pushing one way then the other, the process that generated Red  is dominated by a constant sense of becoming and transformation– a significantly different form of play, I would suggest, to that witnessed in much Postmodern practice. Where many Postmodern strategies (irony, pastiche and so forth) are described as “playful,” Richter’s methods are driven by a different agenda.
The kind of “play” that dominates Postmodern practice is generally theorized as a reaction to the “seriousness” of Modernist practice. Many commentators have noted that Modernity is marked by a relocation of art away from the life-world, and this interest in autonomy, this will to purity, can be seen in much abstract painting of the twentieth century. One example will stand for many others: Ad Reinhardt began his painting career with geometrically abstract paintings. His first contact with the theories of Modernist abstraction came in the late thirties and early forties with the study of Malevich and Mondrian, and his oeuvre is famously dominated by a continual process of reductivism. His career ended with a seven year period (1960-1967) during which he painted nothing but square canvases in which two barely distinguishable coats of black paint form a cruciform trisection of the surface. With these ‘black’ paintings, he argued, reductive Modernist painting refines itself to a point at which further progress cannot be made. Here, playfulness is forbidden, seriousness, purity and closure are all. And it is this closure—this seriousness, this drive toward (Parnassian) purity which many Postmodern painters react against. If Reinhardt represents Modernist exclusivity, the paintings of David Salle might be taken as emblematic of this opposing tendency. In “Post-Modernism,” Charles Jencks describes one of Salle’s paintings:
Disparity is the key, as in Burning Bush, 1982, where two pornographic images contrast with a political cartoon and a burning bush (?) of abstraction. The implication is that they are all the same at the level of imagery. We make no sense of the First World War caricature fleeing with his loot of clocks; nor to the girl peering at the viewer from between her legs. What does give pause is the way these images jump back and forth in successive readings. No sooner has one finished decoding the outline cartoon than one is off chasing a three-dimensional girl with a headache…
Salle’s painting is certainly more “playful” than Reinhardt’s: In combining imagery from such diverse sources as pornography, advertising and abstract painting, Burning Bush generates alternate and conflicting interpretations. However, in encouraging the breakdown of the traditional signifier/signified relationship, the playfulness of Salle’s painting, I suggest, merely demonstrates the Postmodern condition of painting. And in surrendering to demonstration, Burning Bush represents a significantly different form of play to that we see in Red .
From the least to the most probable state
As argued, Richter’s “serious” play is informed by a desire to counter the entropic state of painting in the Postmodern present. Norbert Wiener has suggested that
As entropy increases, the universe, and all closed systems in the universe, tend naturally to deteriorate and lose their distinctiveness, to move from the least to the most probable state…
Both Reinhardt’s and Salle’s painting represent a high level of probability. David Hockney, writing in 1968, claimed to know of eighteen painters working in London, all of whom (following Reinhardt) were producing black square canvases. Salle’s paintings are predictable simply in their repetitiveness. As the American critic Thomas Lawson observes,
Salle records a world so stupefied by the narcotic of its own delusory gaze that it fails to understand that it has nothing actual in its grasp. Amid seeming abundance, there is no real choice, only a choice of phantasms. The world described in Salle’s work is a jaded one, rife with sluggish melancholy. The steady leaching of meanings from objects and images breeds an enervating uncertainty. Artists and viewers alike stumble through a maze of false clues and incomplete riddles, coming on the same viewless arrangements and empty repetitions in the search for a coherent identity. Signs and props are ritually shuffled like so many commodities on the floor of a department store of the imagination, with a compulsive repetition that offers a dwindling satisfaction.
The concretization of Red  – Richter’s refusal to demonstrate the jaded condition of contemporary culture (defined so eloquently by Lawson)– represents a different form of “play” to that which dominates the studio practice of David Salle. This is not a “ritual shuffling” of the rhetoric of painting. Rather, it is an attempt to allow play a positive role in generating a genuinely aesthetic form of painting. In other words, Red  communicates the difficulties confronting painting through visual means – a quality inextricably linked to the playful means of its production. The red paint which provides the painting with its title has a highly specific character: stood in front of the painting, its “soiled” quality is tangible, physically present within the irregular and partially transparent smears of pigment which vainly attempt to cover the underlying layers of paint. The visual scrutiny provided at the beginning of this study reveals that Red  is not reducible to the homogenized sameness of theory. It is clearly a painting which is concerned with the problematic nature of painting in the 1990s (this is undoubtedly Richter’s subject matter), yet it possesses specific material qualities which communicate this meaning in a significantly different manner to Burning Bush. Red  counters the (entropic) coursing tendencies of Buchloh et al by refusing to demonstrate the manifest difficulties which attend painting in the nineties.
6. The Spectacle of the Unknowable
Writing in 1991, Dan Cameron claimed that the
…legacy of Reinhardt’s painterly proposition is that we now know that if we want to preserve art’s capacity to mystify us, to present us with the spectacle of the unknowable, it is generally preferable to conceal sublimity in the place where we least expect to find it.
Richter values art’s capacity to mystify us, to present the “spectacle of the unknowable”: but locating that “place where we least expect to find it” has become increasingly difficult within the Postmodern period. During the early 1980s a “new spirit” in painting was being heralded after its exile of the previous decade. Richter, however, refused to join in the celebrations, openly condemning the return of painting as little more than a market driven phenomenon. His response to “all this entertainment” was to problematize organic painting through that juxtaposition of two modes of practice which characterizes Abstract Painting [576/3]. As the Postmodern period developed, however, this binary mode of subverting organic painting became assimilated into the mainstream: it became an orthodoxy. The “new spirit” of the mid-1980s was, by the time Richter painted Red , more than a decade old (A New Spirit in Painting is now as much a part of history as the exile of painting fifteen years earlier). During this period, a host of Postmodernist practitioners (some more talented than others) followed Rauschenberg’s lead and hybrid works (cross-cultural, cross-media and so on) came to dominate the marketplace.
In short, conventional methods of “concealing sublimity” had become, during the period under scrutiny, increasingly orthodox. Where the earlier painting polarizes the two modes of practice in order to deny singularity, such a practice had become orthodox by 1994: to continue with the binary mode of Abstract Painting [576/3] would effectively entrench the crisis of contemporary painting. It is his sensitivity to this problem which prompts Richter to abandon the “model-painting” methodology favored throughout the 1980s in favor of the playfulness of the late abstraction.
Red  is clearly “not-Modern,” but the manner in which it is “not Modern” is difficult to determine. Postmodern practice is conventionally characterized by subversive tactics such as irony and pastiche (examples range from the allegorical classicism of Stephen McKenna and Carlo Maria Mariani to Mike Bidlo’s copies of paintings by the Modern masters). Richter’s late abstraction, however, neither parodies nor ironises the transcendental pretensions of earlier abstract painting (the various false-starts, changes, shifts, and erasures that led to Red  belie such a claim). Red  is not a Postmodern painting: Richter despises the contemporary loss of value which accompanies Postmodern art, and rejects the orthodoxies of Postmodern painting as vehemently than he does those of Modernism. To claim—as Buchloh et al have done—that Richter’s late abstraction is determined by Modern (or counter-Modern) orthodoxies is to miss the point that the defining feature of these paintings is their refusal to engage dialectically with either period. Where the existing literature considers Richter a “Postmodern” painter, Richter’s engagement with the orthodoxies of Modernist painting is based on something entirely different: the ontology of painting.
Richter has suggested that “Painting is the making of an analogy for something non-visual and incomprehensible: giving it form and bringing it within reach. And that is why good paintings are incomprehensible.” Playfulness—an openness to accident and visual specificity—is one means, I suggest, with which to achieve this incomprehensibility. This belief is informed partly by conventional “academic” research, but also, and importantly, by “practical” research (painting and making). It is this experience which informs this authors belief that “play”—an essential part of good studio practice—is to be defended in the face of the colonial tendencies of theory. The studio experience involves decisions, analyses and evaluations that attend to the visual particularities of the art work and which are integral to the development of a piece (indeed, they frequently determine the outcome). Richter’s repeated claim that “good” painting can be neither categorized nor anticipated reflects my own belief that a healthy studio practice is characterized by a more multi-faceted, playful, non-reductive relationship with the work in hand than a more dialectical, prescriptive mode of practice. This study has revealed that what Buchloh and Germer find “difficult to understand” (from outside practice) Richter (playing in the studio) does not.
Blackmur, R. M. Reason in the Madness of Letters. (Harcourt, 1967)
Buchloh, Benjamin. “Richter’s Facture: Between the Synecdoche and the Spectacle,’’ in (Ed. Papadakis), New Art. (Rizzoli, 1991).
Caesar, Terry. A Note on Pynchon’s Naming. (CEJL 1981).
Cameron, Dan. “Robert Ryman: Ode to a Clean Slate,” in Flash Art, Vol.XXIV, No.159, Summer 1991.
Fukuyama, Francis. “The End of History,” in The National Interest, Vol.16 No.1.
Gablik, Suzi. Has Modernism Failed? (Thames and Hudson, 1984).
Heywood, Ian. Primitive Practices: Against Visual Theory. (Routledge, 1995).
Kellner, Douglas. Baudrillard: A Critical Reader. (Blackwell, 1994).
Kellner, Douglas. Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Poststructuralism. (Blackwell, 1994)
Norris, Christopher. Uncritical Theory: Postmodernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War. (Lawrence and Wishart, 1992).
Pollock, Grizelda. “Trouble in the Archives,” in Women’s Art Magazine, (Sept/Oct 1993).
Richter, Gerhard. The Daily Practice of Painting: Writing 1962 – 1993. (Thames and Hudson, 1995).
Tanner, Tony, City of Words. (Harper and Rowe).
Poster, Mark (ed.). Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings. (Stanford University Press, 1988).
Pynchon, Thomas. ‘Entropy’ in Slow Learner: Early Stories. (Picador, 1985).
Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. (Pan, 1979).
Wiener, Norbert. The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society. (Houghton Mifflin, 1954).
Wood, Paul. “The Ruined Abstraction of Gerhard Richter,” in (ed. Roberts), Art Has No History!: The Making and Unmaking of Modern Art. (Verso, 1994).
 Wood, Paul. “The Ruined Abstraction of Gerhard Richter,” in (ed. Roberts), Art Has No History!: The Making and Unmaking of Modern Art. (Verso, 1994) 19.  Gerhard Richter. Tate Gallery, 30 October 1991 – 12 January 1992.  The bracketed number that follows each of Richter’s titles denotes its numerical position with his oeuvre (that is Table  (1962) is the first catalogued work).  In “Richter’s Facture: Between the Synecdoche and the Spectacle,” Benjamin H. D. Buchloh notes that “Mechanical and organic aspects of the painterly procedure – these are the two oppositional terms between which Modernist painting has shifted since Manet with ever increasing radicality and exclusivity.” Buchloh, Benjamin. “Richter’s Facture: Between the Synecdoche and the Spectacle,” in (ed. Papadakis), New Art. (Rizzoli, 1991), 91.  Tanner, Tony. City of Words. (Harper and Rowe), 35.  Aubade, Callisto’s companion, breaks the window of the apartment and “…turned to face the man on the bed and wait with him until the moment of equilibreum was reached, when 37 degrees Fahrenheit should prevail both outside and inside, and forever, and the hovering, curious dominant of their seperate lives should resolve into a tonic of darkness and the final absence of all motion.” Pynchon, Thomas. ‘Entropy’ in Slow Learner: Early Stories. (Picador, 1985), 94.  “In the kitchen two of the girls from George Washington and the sailors were singing Let’s All Go Down and Piss on the Forrestal. There was a two-handed, bi-lingual morra game on over by the ice-box… (The players) were nose to nose, screaming trois, sette at the tops of their lungs…The noise in Meatball’s appartment had reached a sustained, ungodly crescendo.” Pynchon, Thomas. Ibid., 92.  Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. (Pan, 1979), 13.  Pynchon, Thomas. Ibid., 69.  Tony Tanner develops this argument in Thomas Pynchon. Ibid., 60.  Caesar, Terry. “A Note on Pynchon’s Naming,” (CEJL 1981), 52.  Gablik, Suzi. Has Modernism Failed? (Thames and Hudson, 1984), 35.  Kellner, Douglas. Baudrillard: A Critical Reader. (Blackwell, 1994), 56.  Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History in The National Interest, Vol.16 No.1., 3-18.  Pollock, Grizelda, ‘Trouble in the Archives’ in Women’s Art Magazine, Sept/Oct 1993, 12.  One example will stand for the others. In the summer of 1995, the Institute of Contemporary Art, London held an exhibition entitled Mirage: Enigmas of Race, Difference and Desire. Its aims and ambitions read as follows: “An exhibition which charts the influence of Frantz Fanon and his text Black Skin, White Masks upon a generation of young black artists… Renee Green’s work Revue examines, through text and image, how Josephine Baker was regarded by contemporary critics as an archetype of exotic African sexuality, engendering fear and fascination. In his series of black and white stenciled canvases Glen Ligon uses text to raise important issues concerning race and identity…” Catalogue statement, Mirage: Enigmas of Race, Difference and Desire, ICA, London, 3.  A paper which was published in Artists from Europe; “Works from the Leeds European Fine Art Symposium,” 1994.  As an example of this he cites the effect of Modern Art and Modernism (1982) on the study of art, which distinguishes between “good” (politically correct) and “bad” (Formalist) modernism.  “In this fantasy, culture is an all embracing set of encoded texts which can be understood and regulated (in the mind at least) through the concepts and methods of theory…” Heywood, Ian. Primitive Practices: Against Visual Theory. (Routledge, 1995), 98.  “Visual culture is chronically unable to see or understand the work of art as art. Its object, the thing it studies, is formed of dumb materials containing ‘meaning’. The work and its meaning are divided into two levels: an obvious or surface layer and a deeper, more obscure stratum, a ‘hidden text’. The significance of the art work, why it is worthwhile for theory to bother with it at all, resides in this text, and in the influence, the effects, it may have.” Heywood, Ian. Ibid., 98.  “Theory has nothing to do with a work of art. Pictures which are interpretable, and which contain a meaning, are bad pictures…” Richter, Gerhard. Ibid., 99.  Jean Baudrillard defines simulacra as “copies of an original which never existed” (see Jean Baudrillard,Selected Writings. (ed. Mark Poster). (Stanford University Press, 1988), 253.  Kellner, Douglas. Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Poststructuralism. (Blackwell, 1994), 68.  For Baudrillard, Pop is the point at which art implodes, at which the relationship between the real and the representation collapses, the point at which art becomes merely the reproduction of signs within the world.  Norris, Christopher. Uncritical Theory: Postmodernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War. (Lawrence and Wishart, 1992), 45.  Nonetheless, Baudrillard’s writing has proved highly influential upon practitioners and critics alike. A direct response to Baudrillard’s critique of simulation was developed by the Neo-Geo school during the early 1980s (at the same time that Richter was developing the early Abstract Paintings). A group of New-York based artists (including Peter Halley, Philip Taaffe and Ross Bleckner dedicated themselves to illustrating Baudrillard’s theories in the form of simulacra of late Modernist paintings. Halley for example produced simulated versions of high-Modernist abstract painting (which, perversely, are emptied of the “emptying” drive of classical Modernist abstraction).  Buchloh, Benjamin. “Richter’s Facture: Between the Synecdoche and the Spectacle,” in Papadakis, Ibid., 194.  Tanner turns to Norbert Wiener’s The Human Use of Human Beings (1954) in support of this definition. For Wiener, “As entropy increases, the universe, and all closed systems in the universe, tend naturally to deteriorate and lose their distinctiveness, to move from the least to the most probable state…” Wiener, Norbert. The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society. (Houghton Mifflin, 1954), 12.  As the social scientist R. P. Blackmur claims, “Entropy, from the point of view of the rational imagination is disorder and is indeed its field. Actually we have been as busy, as violent and as concentrated as the ant-heap. We are torpid only because we feel glutted with energy and feel it only as trouble.” Blackmur, R. M. Reason in the Madness of Letters. (Harcourt, 1967), 62; Pynchon, Thomas, op. cit. (1960), 14.  Pynchon, Thomas. Ibid., (1960), 14.  This claim is substantiated (paradoxically) by Tanner’s summation of the story’s meaning: “‘The attractions of ‘the closet’ in the madness of the modern world are clear enough in Pynchon, but so is the need to resist those attractions in some way. The ‘closed circuit’, the sealed off refuge, the hothouse world of fantasy, the dangerous seductiveness of metaphors of doom: these can lead to inhumanity and death.” Tanner, Tony. Ibid., 35.  Play: “(1): to engage in sport or recreation: to move aimlessly about: TRIFLE (2): to toy or fiddle around with something <played with her food> (3): to deal or behave frivolously or mockingly : JEST (4): to deal in a light, speculative, or sportive manner.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.  Jurgen Habermas provides a succinct definition of this tendency in Modernity: An Incomplete Project: “The project of modernity formulated in the eighteenth century by the philosophers of the Enlightenment consisted in their efforts to develop objective science, universal morality and law, and autonomous art according to their inner logic… Each domain of culture could be made to correspond to cultural professions in which problems could be dealt with as the concern of professional experts…” Habermas, Jurgen. “Modernity – An Incomplete Project.” (in Postmodernism: A Reader), 103.  Jencks, Charles. “What Is Post-Modernism?” in (ed. Anderson) The Truth About the Truth. (Tarcher/Putnam, 1995), 84.  Lawson, Thomas. in Suzi Gablik, Has Modernism Failed? (Thames and Hudson, 1984), 50.  Cameron, Dan. “Robert Ryman: Ode to a Clean Slate.” (in Flash Art, Vol.XXIV, No.159, Summer 1991), 15.  Richter, Gerhard. The Daily Practice of Painting: Writing 1962 – 1993. (Thames and Hudson, 1995), 99.
Since 1999 Jonathan Field has taught Art History at the Savannah College of Art and Design and has exhibited his artwork widely throughout the United States. Visit www.jonathanfield.org for more information on Field’s academic and practical interests.
Monique Prieto, Opus, 2002
Acrylic on canvas
60 x 72 inches
Courtesy ACME Gallery, Los Angeles
The End of Representation
Painting is dead was a theory, not a fact. As such, it informed our experience and interpretation of paintings produced under the pall of such a fatalistic declaration. In the 1970s and 80s, those who continued to make paintingsand there were many good artists who didrisked marginalization and charges of elitism or navet. Painting went underground; ostensibly smarter and less commercial, conceptual art prevailed. Then, What the 1990s seem to have brought us, according to Christopher Knight, is the death of the death of painting, which no longer functions as an operating principle, either overt or covert.1
Paintings first obituary is attributed to the French artist Paul Delaroche, who is said to have uttered, From today, painting is dead, upon first seeing a Daguerreotype in the late 1830s. Swayed by photographys capacity for the faithful representation of reality, could Delaroche have overreacted? Could death-of-painting proponents be misreading irony for seriousness? Published in 1881, Gustave Flauberts Dictionary of Received Ideasa primer of clichs and a critique of bourgeois gullibilitydefined photography: Will make painting obsolete. (See Daguerreotype.) Implicit in Flauberts sarcasm is the nave presumption that painting is, in essence, a mimetic form of art. Beyond capturing the likenesses of mortals in portraits, paintings prerogatives have always leaned toward the imaginative and evocative.
Ingrid Calame, g-kgg-kooo-kggkooo-kggkoo, 2003
Enamel on aluminum
48 x 48 inches
Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York
Although painting suffered little in the second half of the nineteenth century, its salvation is presumed to have been the invention of abstraction in the 1910s. Formally, expressively and sensually, abstraction gave painters something to paint. Freedom from the demands of representation, however, instilled abstract paintings first floweringfrom Wassily Kandinsky to Ad Reinhardtwith an overwhelming sense of doubt. Jackson Pollock is said to have denied the purely abstract nature of his drip paintings and Reinhardt was the last to defend nonrepresentational painting against the traditional association of painting with mimesis. No illusions, no representations, no associations, he wrote. The art of figuring or picturing is not a fine art.2
After Pop, which is primarily a re-representational art based on representations of representations, paintings prior options of representation and abstraction were realigned. Soliciting artists responses to the idea that painting has ceased to be the dominant artistic medium at the moment, a 1975 issue of Artforum opined: The debates between its two major ideologies, abstract and representational, have outlived their usefulness.3 Although representational painting persisted as a minor art form, the mimetic mandate shifted conclusively from painting to photography, while abstraction was split into formal and conceptual approaches, a situation that continues today. The divide characterized not only painting (including Daniel Burens decidedly anti-formal paintings followed by those of Blinky Palermo and Olivier Mosset, for example) but non-medium-specific art forms, such as conceptualism. Conceptual artists stressed the fact that their art works were abstract, in the manner of language, rather than representational or figurative. At the same time, they were adamantly opposed to formalist painting, despite its adherence to abstraction.4 Personified by Clement Greenberg and Kenneth Noland, formalism was rejected for its emphases on perception, aesthetics and taste; Its a mindless art, wrote Joseph Kosuth in 1969.5
Perpetuating Duchamps distinction between retinal and conceptual art, and his association of retinal art with the slur, common in Duchamps time, bte comme un peintre (stupid as a painter), conceptual artists claimed intelligence for themselves. Brice Mardens paintings are kinda dumb, declared Mel Ramsden, a member of the conceptual collaborative Art & Language. Dismissing an essay on Mardens profundity by Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Ramsden accused the critic of a rationalization or a naturalization of the parameters of media, museum and market. I think Gilbert-Rolfes idea of this bullshit art-criticism is that it serve as a deodorant, preventing us smelling the stink of modernism, by which he meant formalism. Ramsdens attack was supported by an interview with Marden, who said, A painters just this odd weird person who has to do this dumb thing called painting.6
Laura Owens, Untitled, 1995
Acrylic on canvas
66 x 60 inches
Courtesy ACME Gallery, Los Angeles
Gilbert-Rolfe is no intellectual slouch but his affinity for Marden (bolstered by his own practice as an abstract painter) situated his critical interpretations on the opposite end of the theoretical spectrum from Benjamin H. D. Buchloh and his support of Gerhard Richter. In his 1981 essay, Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting, Buchloh hammered away at the authoritarian, patriarchal and bourgeois values of contemporary figurative painting along with its tendency to commodify history and style. In contrast to the desperately nave gestures of the Neo-expressionists, Richters painting served as a judicious model of the impossibility of authentic painterly expression.7 Buchlohs cooption of Richter for the anti-painting, conceptual avant-garde formed the subtext of his interview with the artist in 1986. Commended by Buchloh for his cynical depreciation of painting, Richter adamantly disagreed. I see there neither tricks, nor cynicismI know for a fact that painting is not ineffectual. When Buchloh interpreted Richters paintings as knowing illustrations of the bankruptcy of representation and abstraction, Richter countered with an affirmation of their capacity for expression and the communication of content. Incredulous, Richter asked the critic, You dont really believe that just the dumb showing of brushstrokes, of the rhetoric of painting and its elements, could accomplish something, say something, express some kind of yearning8 The conflict reveals Buchlohs futile attempt to characterize Richter as smarter than he wants to be.
Richters work did much to blur the divide between abstract and figurative painting. Subsequently embracing both modes are artists such as Laura Owens, whose early paintings revisited the abandoned project of 60s stain painting. Likewise thinly and inelegantly painted, her figurative works depict dreamy land- or skyscapes and evocative fairy-tale creatures. The shapes in Inka Essenhighs paintings have similarly evolved from amorphous anime-inspired forms to highly modeled, obviously anthropomorphic figures. The spills, stains, blobs and drips of richly hued, non-referential color in the works of Monique Prieto, Ingrid Calame and Aaron Parazette remain more rigorously abstract. Even the recent incorporation of text by Parazette and Prieto does not affect the abstract nature of their paintings. The words serve as dumb structures on which to hang sensual manipulations of color and surface.
One of the great surprises of the 1990s was the frequent inclusion of works by Owens, Essenhigh, Prieto, Calame, Parazette and other abstract artists with the non-abstract paintings of artists such as Kevin Appel, Sharon Ellis and Adam Ross in exhibitions like Spot Making Sense (Grand Arts, 1997), Abstract Painting, Once Removed (Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, 1998) and Glee: Painting Now (The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, 2000). Ellis and Ross paint shimmering images of visionary, otherworldly landscapes, while Appel is known for pale geometric depictions of imaginary modernist interiors. Shared by all these artists is a new interest in form, long discredited by conceptual art. More than simply retinal, neoformalist painting appeals to the viewers body through gesture, scale and the physicality of paint. Meaning and reference to earlier art, cartoons, psychedelia and science fiction are as significant as color, space and composition. Unlike Formalist painting of the 60s, the existence of meaning does not critically dilute the nature of this painting.
Neo Rauch, Hatz, 2002
Oil on canvas
Framed: 84 1/2 x 100 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches
Courtesy the artist, David Zwirner, NY & Galerie EIGEN + ART, Leipzig/Berlin
In contrast to neoformalism, conceptual abstraction is practiced by artists such as Jonathan Lasker, Thomas Scheibitz, Julie Mehretu and Damien Hirst, whose paintings derive from an anti-formalist impulse. Their works are not representations of abstract paintingsas might have been thought in the recent postmodern pastbut inscriptions or illustrations of ideas. In a related attempt to legitimize recent figurative painting, critics have also linked it to the conceptual project. Artists such as Luc Tuymans, Neo Rauch, John Currin, Peter Doig and Elizabeth Peyton are identified with a strain of artists working conceptually with figurative painting,9 and praised for their paintings capacity to convey conceptual content.10 But that content is ambiguous rather than straightforwardly narrative, as Russell Ferguson points out in a recent essay on the crisis in representational painting.11 According to Alison M. Gingeras, the prevalence of ambiguity demonstrates that figurative painting today has lost its legibility.?12 Figures, landscapes, urban settings and accessories are recognizable but not identifiable in a cumulatively narrative sense.
Although it might seem to defeat the purpose of conceptually based art, ambiguity was also an essential quality of the most rigorous strain of 60s conceptualism. Intentionally difficult and practically indecipherable, Art & Languages text pieces demonstrate the impossibility of transparent representation. While the words make sense, they have no relationship to objects or events in the real world. The difficulty encountered in the interpretation of works by Art & Language extends to Richters painting, as Buchloh understood it. David Salles arbitrary juxtapositions of unrelated figures and images exhibit a comparable ambiguity, as do Rauchs inexplicable episodes of human interaction in spatially expansive, retro-futuristic tableaux. The ambiguity and the instability of meaning, which seems arbitrary or at least in a constant state of flux, are hallmarks of contemporary figuration.
Despite revisionist attempts to resuscitate the reputations of Alex Katz and Fairfield Porter (in The Undiscovered Country at the UCLA Hammer Museum in 2004) and Francis Picabia and Bernard Buffet (in Dear Painter, paint me at the Centre Pompidou in 2002, in which Martin Kippenberger is celebrated as the prototypical conceptual painter), representational painting appears to be exhausted. While its goal of depicting observable reality was long ago assumed by photography, nonrepresentational paintingboth figurative and abstractis widely practiced and displayed. Given the potential for duplicity in photography (think Yves Kleins leap into the void) and Photoshop (think Oprahs head on Ann Margarets body), paintings capacity for truth-telling surpasses technological reproduction.
The veracity of figuration and abstraction derives from their human origins, whether expressed through the artists touch or mechanical devices, such as spray guns, masking tape or computer-generated sketches and studio assistants. As a paint-covered thing, rather than an immaterial image like a photograph or video projection, a painting has a convincing physical presence. There is something more to art than its skin, Thomas Hess wrote in 1968. Painting is not stuffed derma, and there are some physical and metaphysical bones beneath the illusion of two dimensions.?13 To be seducedmentally, visually or bodilyby a painting is no longer a stupid crime but a pleasure.
1?Christopher Knight, Fresh Paint, Los Angeles Times, 4 April 1999, Calendar, 6.
2?Ad Reinhardt, Art-as-Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt, ed. Barbara Rose (New York: Viking, 1975), 50, 55.
4?See Ian Wilson, Conceptual Art, in Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, eds. Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999), 416-417 and Joseph Kosuth, Art as Idea as Idea: An Interview with Jeanne Siegel, in Art After Philosophy and After: Collected Writings, 1966-1990, ed. Gabrielle Guerico (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), 47-49.
5?Kosuth, Art After Philosophy, in Art After Philosophy, 18.
6?Mel Ramsden, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfes As-Silly-As-You-Can-Get Brice Mardens Painting (Artforum, October 1974, The Fox 2 (1975): 8-10.
7?Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting, in Art After Modernism, ed. Brian Wallis (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984), 120
8?Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Gerhard Richter: Legacies of Painting, in Art Talk: The Early 80s, ed. Jeanne Siegel (New York: Da Capo Press, 1988), 111-17.
9?Matthew Higgs, quoted in Linda Yablonsky, What Makes a Painting a Painting? Art News 104, no. 4 (April 2005): 101.
10?Alison M. Gingeras, Lieber Maler, male mir Learning from Kippenberger: Figurative Painting as Provocative and Sincere, Critical and Sentimental, in Dear Painter, paint me Painting the Figure Since Late Picabia (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2002), 10.
11?Russell Ferguson, The Undiscovered Country (Los Angeles: Hammer Museum, 2004), 94.
12?Gingeras, Lieber Maler, male mir, 10.
13?Thomas B. Hess, Willem de Kooning (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1968), 23.
JED PERL ON ART Saint Gerhard of the Sorrows of Painting
Post date: 03.29.02
Issue date: 04.01.02
Gerhard Richter is a bullshit artist masquerading as a painter. His retrospective, at the Museum of Modern Art until May, is a colossal bummer–a hymn to deracination, a visual moan. This seventy-year-old artist works in paint on canvas, but what he sends out into the world are not paintings so much as they are Neo-Dadaist puzzles engineered to inspire philosophical flights of fancy among art professionals who are more interested in massaging their world-weary minds than in using their jet-lagged eyes. The Modern, that inner sanctum of art-world officialdom, has gone all out for Richter, bringing together some one hundred eighty-eight canvases that span forty years, so that museumgoers can see how he has packaged and repackaged his hold-everything-at-a-distance pose, serving up both realist and abstract images, both blurred gray photorealist scenes and coarsely colored rehashes of Abstract Expressionist brushwork. Robert Storr, the senior curator in the department of painting and sculpture who organized this show, will tell you that there is beauty in this chilly stuff, but all I see in Richter and his supporters is a loathing for painting’s hellbent magic.
Everything in Richter’s work is muffled, distanced, impassively ironic, as if it were being seen through a thick, murky sheet of glass. What some observers regard as the signs of hope that Richter sprinkles through his work–a photorealist image of a candle, or a blurry rendering of his young son–are witheringly calculated, like stills from an avant-garde soap opera in which the feelings are overcooked and bland. This vast show is an experience, all right: an experience of visual deprivation. At the Museum of Modern Art, Richter is presented as the painter-who-kept-painting-in-spite-of-the-death-of-painting; and to an art world that was once brainwashed into believing that painting was dead, he represents the newer painting-is-not-dead form of brainwashing. He plays the role of Saint Gerhard of the Sorrows of Painting. And a weird ennui, a kind of shared psychosis, hovers in the gallery air.
The exhibition begins with gray canvases done from photographs in the mid-1960s, after Richter, who was born and studied art in East Germany, moved to the West. Storr makes much of this linkage between Richter’s coming-of-age in wartime and postwar Germany and those woozy monochromatic images of smiling relatives and humdrum household objects and figures in news photos, as if the dispiriting times in which an artist lives justify the creation of inert art. In his catalogue essay, Storr brings a honey-toned portentousness to a text that covers some seventy-five tightly packed pages. He is writing the life of the saint. The art world is Richter’s wilderness. The mood is deprivation chic. “Transposing the frozen action of the photograph into the enduring but temporally ambiguous realm of painting,” Storr explains, “Richter fastened on the emblems and ephemera of postwar life and distilled their often bitter essence in tonal pictures whose poetry is a combination of matter-of-fact watchfulness and unrelieved uncertainty.” This sounds augustly metaphysical, but what Storr’s distillations and “uncertainty” actually amount to are Richter’s chilly moods. Gray can be one of the greatest weapons in a painter’s arsenal, of course, if the restrained hues are mixed from rich colors so that they have fiery undercurrents, or if they are spaced and proportioned to create a visual music. But gray is just a logo for Richter–an advertisement for the tedium of postwar existence.
Richter presents his murky images with the certainty of scientific proofs. These paintings have a technological veneer. They are handmade objects with a weirdly mechanized gleam. And this effect turns Richter’s canvases into the ultimate buyables for hip collectors who want something that fits right in with their electronic gadgetry and sparely expensive décor. The curators, the dealers, the collectors, the critics, and the artists who admire Richter’s work–and they are legion–believe that he is showing them how we live now, as sensitive sad sacks in a manicured minimalist bubble. And of course the fact that Richter is German is supposed to guarantee the authenticity of his experience.
Although this show has been accompanied by mea culpas to the effect that we Americans are too slow to recognize new European art, the truth is that Richter is only the most recent in a series of European artists, and especially German artists, who have received a kind of manic adulation in the States; they include Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz, Sigmar Polke, and the photographer Andreas Gursky, who was the subject of a show at the Modern last season. For an audience whose attitude toward the very idea of art is one of fashionable doubt, an artist who can associate himself with the calamitous history of Germany takes on an extra-artistic importance. Richter has no interest in the visual histrionics that Kiefer once used to bulk up his shallow thoughts about the War and the Leader and the Homeland; but Richter’s more restrained and veiled approach to German history is perfect now, when there seems to be some embarrassment about the lunatic fervor with which people fell all over themselves in praise of Kiefer a decade ago.
There is an analytical chill to Richter’s work: if Kiefer was phony Wagner, Richter is phony Kafka. One of Richter’s quixotic remarks (they come by the truckload) goes like this: “The picture [I guess he is referring to photography] is the depiction, and painting is the technique for shattering it.” That little nugget takes you to the core of Richter’s blandly nihilistic attitude. It is difficult to be impressed by all this talk about painting’s being a destructive force, since the talk is being done by an artist who demonstrates no ability to construct a painting in the first place. Richter never escapes from the wanly monochromatic atmosphere of the paintings in those early galleries at the Modern, even when he is using raucous color in some of the abstractions done in more recent years. Color in Richter’s work, red and green or black and white, has no contrapuntal effect. There is no sense of how a particular amount of color creates an emotional impact. The sizes of the paintings are arbitrary, and the color is all localized and trivialized, dispiritingly descriptive in most of the realist paintings and blandly emblematic in some of the abstract ones.
There is much talk about the range of Richter’s work. He does paintings after news photographs and family snapshots, he does landscapes and seascapes and still lifes, he does abstractions with bold brushwork and others with viscous rivulets of paint. Yet everything that Richter paints brings us back to the same tepid, tamped-down vision. Each image looks as if it were excerpted from some vast, undifferentiated stock of images. In fact Richter owns such a collection of images, a compendium of snapshots and pictures taken from newspapers and magazines that he calls his Atlas; it was exhibited at the Dia Center in 1995. And Richter’s compositions have the perfunctoriness of clippings. Where an image begins or ends is utterly arbitrary. And his brushwork–which is all trickery and gimmickry–never serves to structure the space.
You may wonder how Richter achieves those blurry, smudged effects in the photorealist works, or those layers of rumpled paint in the abstract ones. This is idle curiosity. Technique is just a form of visual static that disrupts–and confers a false importance upon–banal images. One of the motifs in the early part of the show is a roll of toilet paper. This inspires Storr to muse, in an interview with Richter: “What happens when the subject is not Titian but a toilet paper roll?” (Richter has taken an interest in an Annunciation by the Venetian master.) The talk that Richter’s work inspires can sound like a skit on “Saturday Night Live,” except that nobody is laughing.
The Museum of Modern Art does not give living artists retrospectives so much as it gives them sainthood, and Storr has done such a thorough job on Richter’s behalf that even a skeptic would say that there is a weird fascination in the proceedings. There is a kind of diabolical logic to Storr’s writing, so that anything that has ever been said about Richter’s paintings, positive or negative, becomes a form of praise. Argue that his work is boring, and Storr explains that this is a beautiful boredom. Describe his work as anti-painting, and your comment becomes a way of insisting on the importance of the work as painting.
Richter’s “contribution to the medium,” Storr acknowledges, has been described as that of a “lethal parodist, dour undertaker, dry-eyed mourner, systematic debunker of cliches, demystifying conjurer of illusions, or as tenacious seeker of ways to make visible the longing and queasy uncertainty inherent in our hunger for pictures.” Yet through it all Richter has, “paradoxically or stealthily, demonstrated painting’s resiliency.” Richter, Storr writes, believes that painting can be “`everything’ shadowed by the fear of `nothing.'” He “has managed to straddle the divide between conceptual and perceptual art,” not by “hedging his bets” but by “bridging the gap.” Storr’s catalogue essay is written with the intricate twists and turns of the expert courtier. The reader is lulled into believing that the entire history of art in the past fifty years flows straight into these stupefyingly lifeless paintings.
I do not dislike one or another of Gerhard Richter’s paintings. I reject the work on fundamental grounds, as a matter of principle. I do not accept the premise on which his entire career is based: that in the past half-century painting has become essentially and irreversibly problematical, a medium in a condition of perpetual crisis. This is a counterfeit crisis, as far as I am concerned. This crisis is the invention of cynical marketers who, disguised as fashion-conscious nihilists, have managed to bulk up the essentially marginal figure of Duchamp until he overshadows Matisse, Mondrian, and all the hard-working makers and finders of the century just passed. Although he is quick to express his reservations about Duchamp, Richter would be nowhere without the Dadaist deity telling us that art has failed. Remove the phony crisis, remove the aura of oh-so-elegiac loss, and Richter’s work dissolves right before your eyes.
The fundamentally unanalyzed fact of Richter’s career is his slavish dependency on photographic images. We would do well to remember that only four years ago Robert Storr organized at the Modern a retrospective of Chuck Close, another contemporary artist whose career is grounded in a slavish dependency on photographic images. These are not artists who from time to time take an interest in the particular qualities of certain photographic images, or who find compositional or structural ideas in photographs that intrigue them and that they think of bringing into their work as painters. They cling to the two-dimensional images that the camera produces in order to concoct their own two-dimensional painted images. True, many of Richter’s abstract paintings are done without reference to photographs. But even in these cases he reaches for the smoothed-out glossiness of a color xerox, and in other cases, the abstractions are based on photographs–some seem to be painted replicas of photographs of abstract brushwork. I think Richter wants all his non-objective images to have the melancholy feeling that adheres to coarse reproductions of Abstract Expressionist classics.
Basically, Richter and Close have ceded the act of creation to the camera. After which they dither around with notions of facture and style–they give their photographic material a personalized “artistic” spin. Yet there is always a deadness to this work: the deadness of their dependency on the photograph, of their inability to make anything on their own. They want us to believe that that deadness is a form of hipness.
Richter and Close are far from being the only contemporary artists who are hardpressed to respond to nature if they do not have a camera to do the looking for them. Countless academic portrait painters, who will never garner any attention at the Museum of Modern Art, depend on photographs when they do their work; and they are dismissed as sentimental hacks. With Richter and Close, however, photorealism has an avant-gardist eclat, as if their own inability to reconstruct the world could be blamed on modern art, which has left them photo-dependent. Richter spouts banalities about photography’s taking on “a religious function. Everyone has produced his own `devotional pictures.'” And Storr trots out the old cliche about “photography’s historical usurpation of painting’s function of representing reality,” as if great painters had not been working directly from nature straight through the twentieth century. There is no crisis in the artist’s relationship with reality.
A few days after the Richter show opened I was in London, where the big event at Tate Modern is a Warhol retrospective. I do not regard Warhol as a great artist, but at least his early Marilyns and Lizes, which come out of the same years as the first works in the Richter show, have a funny punch. For a time in the early 1960s, Warhol was using the silkscreen process and his overheated color sense to give photographic images a boisterous graphic impact. After that, his work is nothing at all; but what really bothered me in London was not the assembly-line vacuity of the paintings that filled the gloomy halls of Tate Modern so much as the many groups of school-age kids who were being shepherded through the show. There are by now several generations of museumgoers who have been trained to regard photo-dependency as a fact of artistic life. And they may ultimately be unable to understand that the act of creation can be a genuinely independent act. They may find themselves going through the Richter retrospective at the Modern–or at museums in Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, where the show is headed in the coming year–and feeling an emptiness in the work, but they will have no way of understanding this emptiness, since they have been taught to believe that there is no alternative to this photo-derived junk.
Gerhard Richter is a post-Duchampian message artist. The curators and the critics who embrace his work are the same ones who long ago accepted the most visually and intellectually impoverished forms of Minimal and Conceptual art as key late-twentieth-century achievements. They may still like that stuff, or at least they say that they like it, but art professionals know instinctively that the end-of-art pose may eventually threaten their very livelihoods. That’s where Richter comes in. He is one of a number of artists who can get the art world beyond the nihilistic poses while aggrandizing the endgame attitudes. Richter is presented as the way out of our troubles, and it is truly extraordinary how many people are eager to climb on the bandwagon. Weeks before the show opened, The New York Times Magazine ran a huge profile of Richter by Michael Kimmelman, the paper’s chief art critic, and when the work was up Kimmelman was at it again, praising Richter for maintaining “a kind of cruel faith” in painting.
There is something cruel about the Richter retrospective: it is cruel to see what it does to painting. Richter’s work is preachy in a dry, quixotic way that many people mistake for seriousness incarnate. In place of structural dynamics, he offers mingy technical precision; the work has the cool fussiness of a lesson plan. I am reminded that Richter went to art school in East Germany at a time when Socialist Realism was still the order of the day, and in his twenties he actually did some murals of the Happy Worker variety. Half a century later Richter is still preaching to the converted, only to a different congregation. Everything he has done since coming to the West remains polemical, in a kind of après-postmodernism, art-is-over-long-live-art way. He gives a Socialist Realist rigidity to postmodernism’s most cherished hopes and dreams. The work has a get-with-the-program sullenness.
That Richter does both representational and abstract paintings, and does them sometimes more or less simultaneously, may strike some people as a heartfelt response to the sense of multiplying possibilities of modern art. There is, after all, an inherent unity between representation and abstraction, and this may turn out to be the essential discovery of twentieth-century art, a discovery that is lodged deep in the achievements of Picasso, Matisse, and Klee. But Richter makes a mockery of this unity. His abstract and realist works may hang in close proximity, but they are locked in an intellectual face-off, as disconnected from one another as they are from any meaningful sense of structure, of paint quality, of metaphor, of poetry. He gives the giddy possibilities of modern art a hectoring, polemical presentation.
Richter gives us nothing to look at, but the chatter that swarms around his work is full of brain crushers. In the early 1970s Richter created 48 Portraits, a series of black-and-white photorealist renderings of the faces of modern worthies, ranging from Einstein to Stravinsky to Dos Passos to Hindemith. (It also includes artists who seem to have wandered into the twentieth century by accident, such as Puccini.) 48 Portraits, which hangs above a stairway at the Modern, may well be the most visually inert set of canvases ever displayed in this museum. That will seem like a criticism, until you read what Richter says about 48 Portraits: “Those were the typical neutral pictures that one finds in an encyclopedia,” he explains to Storr. “The issue of neutrality was my wish and main concern. And that’s what they were. That made them modern and absolutely contemporary.”
When I look at a photograph of a modern artist whom I admire, such as Stravinsky, I do not find it neutral at all. I am excited by what I can learn about a person from a photograph. And I believe others are too. So why does anybody accept Richter’s neutralist bilge? The only thing that I find more depressing than this charlatan is the passivity of the museumgoers who pass before his works: they may have an inkling that they are being had, but they are unable to trust the evidence of their eyes.
These paintings do not give off anything, but they are manipulative to a truly extraordinary degree. They hang there on the wall and insist on your making something of them. At times Richter wants us to make something out of nothing, as in the Color Charts, vast paintings dating from the 1960s and 1970s in which each rectangle is filled in with something like a commercial color mixture. (Even Storr doesn’t know what to say.) At other times Richter aims to produce an intellectual chowdown. A prime example here is October 18, 1977, a series of fifteen black-and-white paintings from 1988 based on photographs and video footage related to the story of the Baader-Meinhof gang. This series, in which scenes from the misadventures of the legendary leftist group are given a grainy black-and-white elegance, are a dictionary definition of radical chic. As art, they are numb. As conversation starters, they are just the thing. You can wonder if several prison deaths were suicides, as the official accounts had it, or something else. You can wonder at what the murderous activities of these radicals tell you about German society. Storr has already devoted an exhibition and a book to these works; they are in the Modern’s permanent collection.
Storr believes that these silly paintings reflect Richter’s complicated political vision, as a man who has rejected the ideological extremism of communism (hasn’t everybody?) but is also skeptical about the liberal society of West Germany. Storr looks at Richter’s pallid exercises in political noir and thinks what he imagines are big, subtle thoughts. Richter makes him realize that “truth is fragmentary, that its enemy–ideology–is ultimately murderous, and that history is irremediable and, for the most part, irretrievable.” Maybe what Storr and Richter are really saying is that the appropriate photographer was not at the scene.
There is a kind of self-help, twelvestep-program atmosphere around the Richter retrospective. From room to room, Richter confronts hard truths, and grows as a man and as an artist. Having begun with tough love, he is now said to have become a poet of an old-fashioned sort of romantic love. There is a Hallmark-card sentimentality about the excitement with which critics are saluting the recent portraits of his youthful wife and his young son, both of whom he paints in a soft-focus, dime-store-Vermeer style that is apparently easily mistaken for the real thing. The sourpuss conceptualist has matured into a Wordsworthian elder. Storr sees in Richter’s paintings of his young son “an elusive mix of fascination, bemusement, and uneasiness, which is an adult manifestation of the devoted, puzzled, and wary gaze a child might direct at its parents.” The vacuum-packed tenderheartedness of these recent works is seen as Richter’s apotheosis; but the apotheosis turns out to be just another photo-op.
A little over twenty years ago, Richter and Warhol, these two artists who are currently the subjects of enormous retrospectives in New York and London, were among some three dozen artists included in an exhibition called “A New Spirit in Painting” at the Royal Academy in London. The show, which mingled the work of several generations, was hailed by Christos M. Joachimides, one of the curators, as telling the world that “the artists’ studios are full of paint pots again and an abandoned easel in an art school has become a rare sight.” “A New Spirit in Painting” featured the work of Neoexpressionists such as Schnabel, Baselitz, and Kiefer, and of harder-to-categorize artists such as Balthus, Kitaj, Auerbach, Freud, Twombly, and Helion, as well as established modern masters such as de Kooning and Picasso.
The London show generated a good deal of excitement, in part because it presented a broader range of work than you might normally expect from a trendsetting exhibition. But in the twenty years since 1981 there can be little doubt that the artists who have received the most attention are the ones who always remained open to the possibility that the paint pots might again be empty and that the easels might again be abandoned. True, Freud has had a phenomenal success, and Twombly has enjoyed a retrospective at the Modern. But among the representational painters included in “A New Spirit in Painting” who felt no need to slavishly mimic photographs, three who have had retrospectives in New York–Balthus, Freud, and Kitaj–have had those shows not at the Modern but at the Metropolitan. My point is not that Robert Storr and his colleagues at the Museum of Modern Art prefer certain artists while some of us prefer others. My point is that there is an ideology to their preferences, an ideology that is determined to deny the freedom that is inherent in the very act of painting.
As it happens, just a few days after the Richter show opened at the Modern to a round of thunderous applause, Balthus’s last two figure paintings went on display at C&M Arts in Manhattan. (They will be there until sometime in April.) This extraordinary event has provoked barely a flicker of publicity, and yet these two canvases, done by one of the twentieth century’s greatest artists when he was in his early nineties, instantaneously overshadow everything about the appalling Richter retrospective.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, completed in 2000 and first exhibited at the National Gallery in London, is a moonlit vision of a girl asleep in a rocky landscape. Painted with the delicate, flickering hand of a very old man, this dusky reverie, in purples and greens and golds, has already taken its place (at least in my judgment) among the Venuses and the nymphs and the enigmatic lovers of Titian, Correggio, Rubens, and Watteau. The second, unfinished composition shows a girl reclining on a daybed in a room where Balthus’s final cat dreams a final dream while a dog lifts its head to a window and looks out at a mountainous landscape in which every curve echoes the young woman’s angular body. Taken together, these two works show us the world that Balthus was conquering at the time of his death, a world in which the figures have a new kind of rococo attenuation and the jewel-like richness of the color is sometimes given a muffled padding of chiaroscuro. There can be no question that Balthus needed more time to bring the second painting, here called The Waiting, to the perfected state of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But A Midsummer Night’s Dream, all by itself, constitutes one of the greatest gallerygoing experiences that New York has ever offered.
In London, A Midsummer Night’s Dream found virtually no admirers. In New York, C&M Arts has been host to a small following of fanatical artists, but they are the fringe. I am sad about this, but I am not surprised. In an art world in which people are trained to admire Richter’s techno-chic impersonality and Warhol’s ghoulish exuberance, the painterly riskiness of Balthus’s technique is going to be incomprehensible. And for anybody who is open to the experience of Balthus’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the whole argument about the end of painting, the argument on which Richter has been feeding for forty years, is immediately reduced to a howling absurdity.
The Gerhard Richter retrospective is the Museum of Modern Art’s current definition of what matters in contemporary art. Of course no single exhibition can be said to define a museum’s viewpoint, but considering the enormous size of this retrospective, and the fact that it is the second show that the Modern has devoted to Richter in recent years, and the critical position that Storr currently holds at the museum, there is reason to believe that we are in the presence of a signal event. The Richter retrospective is also one of the last shows that we are going to see in the museum’s current quarters, which will close in May, at which point the museum will move its operations to Long Island City so that a vast expansion program that is slated to be completed in 2005 can go forward on West 53rd Street.
Thus the Richter exhibition takes on a Janus-faced aspect. We see the people who are in charge at the museum laying their bets on what has mattered in the past forty years, even as they suggest what will be remembered in the years to come. And what have they come up with? This painting without savor, without warmth, without life. The Museum of Modern Art used to be accused of developing and promoting a one-track way of thinking about twentieth-century art. This approach, which emphasized the logical development of a modern language of form, had a visionary power that museumgoers could accept as the whole truth or as some part of the truth, but in either case this vision gave the museum its fascination–and certainly its integrity. In recent years, however, that vision has eroded until it is unrecognizable, and by now all that the powers that be at the Museum of Modern Art want to do is blend in with whatever is happening in the art world at large. The Modern, for all its unrivaled collections and international clout, has become a wanna-be institution. The Richter retrospective is one more grim reminder that this museum that once led taste now only follows.
The Museum of Modern Art now imagines that the way to succeed is to join in and go along, so it accepts the standard-issue international art stars and whatever incoherent catch-as-catch-can view of the history of twentieth-century art will give that work its shaky legitimacy. This is the kind of tactical thinking that lay behind “MoMA2000,” the recent overview of the museum’s collections, which offered a variety of anti-chronological and non-chronological and thematic approaches, and was conceptually indistinguishable from the theoretical caprices that have turned so many European surveys of modern art into forgettable sideshows. It was during “MoMA2000” that I began to hear artists saying that they felt increasingly dispirited about the very prospect of going to the museum.
Critics of the Museum of Modern Art receive a standard response, which is that the museum has always had its critics, and that the biggest game in town is always going to take some big hits. Yet the entire question of content may be increasingly irrelevant at the Modern. The museum’s attention has shifted from the development of a truly loyal public to the brute dollars-and-cents questions involved in figuring out how to get enough people through the doors to meet revenue goals and to satisfy the public and private funders who are supporting a vast expansion plan. There can be little doubt that, despite the downturn in museum attendance since September 11, the Modern will in the long run bring in the crowds. Richter is said to be a hit. And the museum has a blockbuster, “Matisse/Picasso,” scheduled for Long Island City in 2003.
Yet when it comes to the issues that once animated this museum–how tradition relates to innovation and how both relate to the experience of the eye–there is a small but growing number of museumgoers who see the Modern as an institution that has not only lost its way but also lost its mind. No retrospective in recent years has had the inviolable lucidity of the great shows that William Rubin once organized. And nothing that the museum has done about contemporary art in recent years has really been daring or engaged: it has all been art-world business as usual. When I consider what has been going on at the museum and then realize that Richter’s parched vision is what the museum is offering as its temporary farewell to West 53rd Street, I cannot help but wonder whether the Museum of Modern Art will ever again be capable of properly presenting the great feast of twentieth-century art that it once set before the people of New York City and the world.
Jed Perl is the art critic for The New Republic
Copyright 2002, The New Republic
November 6th, 2012
Reflections on Gerhard Richter: Painting 2012
by Alex Bacon
I think every observer of contemporary art sometimes wonders if warmed-over modernism is the only possibility left for abstract painting. Once the dominant expression of both the historical and the neo-avant-garde, but now pursued only by a select few, the mode feels locked into an endless repetition of long-tired tropes like objecthood, flatness, and material specificity; or else the esoteric investigation and extension of certain minor formal questions—what happens if the stretcher is placed this way, or made of this material, or put in dialogue with this kind of mark, and so on. On the surface Gerhard Richter’s latest series, the Strip paintings (2012) he recently exhibited at the Marian Goodman Gallery, appear to be yet another symptom of this stale endgame.
Richter’s Strip paintings solicit such a reading because they explicitly play with, by making reference to, aesthetic terms Richter has been working with for several decades now. To be specific, the Strip paintings take the image of a particular example of one of Richter’s abstract paintings, “Abstract Painting 724-4” (1990) and submit it, with the help of digital software, to a complex set of rules for a game of chance that resulted in the fracturing of the painting into a horizontal patterning of 8,190 linear striations. Richter’s 2011 artist’s book Patterns documents many of the more than 4,000 patterns that his software-driven game generated, some of which Richter selected to be made up into paintings. The paintings themselves consist of a digital print of one of the patterns made up at a size ranging between roughly 60 to 80 inches wide by 60 to 120 inches long, mounted between aludibond and perspex, and hung on the wall of the gallery like a traditional oil-on-canvas painting.
The aesthetic experience of a given Strip painting is a very particular and unexpected one. From a distance, as in reproduction, the paintings are unassuming, seeming to verge on the decorative in their insistently flat patterning of stripes. However as one approaches a Strip painting, and allows its field to fill one’s vision, fairly quickly a particular kind of optical experience begins to unfold as the viewer’s brain attempts to process the information being relayed by his or her eye, and the experience is something like a descent of static across the retina. The eye tries to ascertain a sense of pictorial space by teasing out relationships between the individual stripes and their positioning across the overall pattern, but the attempt is somehow foiled by the precise way that Richter has calibrated the stripes and their coloration (or rather, has done so via the selections he has made from the many possibilities presented by the computerized game of chance). The eye remains caught, suspended indeterminately as it were, within this field of static color.
Instead of either resting flat on the picture’s surface, or leading the eye into an abstract, fully optical space, Richter’s stripes blur out vision, much in the same way that his familiar “Richter effect” of blurring representational photographic imagery makes it seem in those paintings as if we are looking at the image through murky water. In a photograph-based Richter the image before us never fully coheres, always seeming to be at a certain remove that we can never truly bridge, and as our eyes attempt to focus the image it only seems to pull farther away. This is a playing up of the constructed nature of photographic representation, yet in the new Strip paintings it is not the nature of photography that is being commented upon, or even of representation; rather—because the works are fully abstract—the same trope of blurred vision is made to operate at the level of perception itself, the object having been removed, the subject here is that act of perception made self-reflexive.
The Strip paintings generate this aesthetic experience because of our expectations of how to look at a painting, and as such our first demand—made unconsciously of course, because with eyes trained by centuries of cultural conditioning—is that the individual stripes separate from one another to establish a sense of abstract illusory space by demarcating different positions in that space relative both to one another and to the flat surface of the painting. Remarkably, this does not happen. My best guess as to why is that the individual stripes are too narrow, there are too many of them, and the range of color variation across them is too limited, in such a way that in trying to recall the works, they reappear in my mind as the “green” painting, the “red” painting, the “blue” painting, etc., even though I know very well that there is always something of a spectrum of color in each painting.
Add to this the scale of the work, the key—alongside the particular materiality of the thin plastic and metal support—to these paintings needing to be seen in person, despite ostensibly consisting of digital prints generated by a computer program. For the sense of scale that is achieved by a literally large format in combination with the particular materiality of a printed digital image of a regularized stripe pattern mounted between metal and plastic, is important because a certain sense of scale is necessary to establishing the field condition that generates the particular optical effect of that field as a vibrating, pulsating static haze suspended just off the wall and before the viewer.
In my opinion, even though we are dealing with visual perception, this is a step forward on Richter’s part in the direction of a materialist project because these paintings radically deny the received wisdom that vision is natural and authentic. Of course vision is, like many things, the product of thousands of years of evolution, during which time it has developed in ways that are advantageous for survival, rather than to seamlessly convey “reality,” which, in such a positivist reading is always imagined to be simultaneously shared and singular in its purported universality. We never see things “as they actually are,” and to understand what I mean here about the constructed nature of perception we have only to think of how we experience a white room. The shadows that fall here and there are not physical properties of that room, but are rather ways that our brain makes sense of visual data such that we can navigate that space.
It is not in itself remarkable that a charged perceptual experience is the subject of Richter’s new paintings, as he is far from the first to make the viewer’s physiology the subject of a work, its medium even. There is a long, though much maligned, history of this in modernist art, arising with force in Europe in the 1930s as an offshoot of the international constructivist tradition of geometric painting, and its major early practitioners were Josef Albers, Victor Vasarely, and Auguste Herbin. Additionally, in the 1920s Marcel Duchamp had already anticipated art’s increasingly retinal orientation with his rotoreliefs which—unlike the intuitively worked out paintings of Albers, Vasarely, and Herbin—were explicitly intended to play off the structure of the viewer’s perception, in a manner that Duchamp devised himself, proud to have discovered a technique of optical stimulus not yet published in a scientific journal.
This making over of the viewer into the subject of the work by activating or, perhaps better put, subjecting, his or her perception to the terms of the work makes the rotoreliefs the direct predecessors of the Op-Art explosion of the 1960s when legions of artists, most now forgotten, devised all sort of elaborate devices for the titillation and provocation of the human sensorium, and in the process gave us what Barbara Rose characterized at the time as folk art for the space age. Alongside this populist form of optical art arose a more subtle expression of this desire to activate the senses, paintings by artists like Jo Baer, Walter Darby Bannard, Paul Brach, Robert Irwin, and Kenneth Noland, that have most typically been characterized as either Minimal or Color Field, respectively, but which are in fact concerned with making the viewer aware of the operations of his or her vision, of its constructed nature, via barely detectable pulsations of line, color, and field that occur at the edge of perception.
They have their direct precedent in the subtly glowing, shifting, and temporally unfolding fields of Ad Reinhardt’s Black paintings. Reinhardt had himself arrived at this format in the early 1950s by working through the impasses of prewar geometrical abstraction—largely caught, as it had been then, between equally undesirable expressions of optical bombardment, on the one hand, and lifeless recapitulations of structure and form, on the other. The trick, then as now, is striking a balance somewhere in-between, or at least a step back from either of these limit cases wherein the subjectifying effects solicited when these lines are overstepped seems to remove them from the realm of painting—because they are either too much vehicles for optical spectacle, or are too much mute objects.
The desirability, in this case at least, of the work staying within these painterly boundaries is that if the painting can hold itself just before arriving at one or the other of those limit cases then there is the possibility, as in Richter’s new Strip paintings, that a comment can be made on how vision delivers to us experiences of things in the world, rather than itself becoming one of those experiences by exceeding the limits of painting to emerge on the other side as either spectacle or decoration. It is by walking this thin line that the viewer can remain the author of his or her own experience, rather than the passive recipient of the effects dictated by the work—whether that is as either an optical stimulus or as a mute object commanding and determining the space around it.
In a moment where visual culture proposes ever more insidious and seductive reasons for our subjection there is the necessity for art to allow us the possibility, via a radical materialist neutrality, to carve out an imaginative space where we can determine our own subjectivity. The formal terms of Richter’s Strip paintings generate a palpable tension between optical subjection and the excessive open-endedness of decorative neutrality, both of which are strategies, present everywhere around us in the products of the culture industry, that are directed towards numbing and defanging resistance, and are premised on our acceptance of vision’s supposed universal and naturalized primacy. It is my sense that radical abstraction is most necessary at those moments wherein a particular structure of perception and experience has become so overdetermined and exhausted by its appropriation by the culture industry that, in an Althusserian sense, an outside has become as if fully foreclosed.
It is no coincidence that abstraction was born on the eve of World War I, was nourished by the Russian Revolution, and reemerged and was radicalized in the face of the horrors of the Vietnam War, May ’68, and civil rights. At each of those moments it became clear that neither the traditional aesthetic counterstrategies of the avant-garde, nor the play with dominant representational paradigms was enough to truly create resistance. What minimalism proposed in the 1960s, and what Richter’s Strip paintings propose today, is that in a moment where ideology and representation seem to have become one and the same the only answer is to gesture to an alternative space, a heterotopia to speak in Foucaultian terms, where that determination is, even if only for a moment, fictively suspended.
Like the child that crawls into a discarded cardboard box to take imaginative respite in its neutrality from the intense pressures to conform to one cultural demand or another, the best abstract work makes no impositions on, or demands of, the viewer, but instead allows him or her to reflect back on the nature of these demands, and on his or her place within them. This is not a pseudo-New-Age call for the viewer to determine his or her own destiny, or discover an inner true self that is somehow obscured by the dross of society: I am not naïve enough to think that such a state of self-determination can ever be found. But, while there might not ever be an inner authentic subject waiting to be released, there is the necessity that the subject be given the ability to step back somewhat and see laid out before him or her at least some of the various structures and possibilities of identification that bind him or her. In this way certain abstract work like Richter’s is not merely compensatory, because it does not in fact offer to replenish something proposed to be lacking—phenomenological plenitude, for example—but rather suggests to hold, as best it can, all of these terms momentarily in abeyance—that is its radical neutrality.
Richter’s Strip paintings allow for just such a self-reflexive opening up because their static optical haze locates the viewer perpetually at the moment just before spectacle—rendered as the optical bombardment that we expect to ensue, but which the paintings always hold at bay—closes down our subjectivity. Our potential for self-determination is revealed to be that brief moment, metaphorically as thin as Richter’s stripes perhaps, before we are overwhelmed, and in the process it is suggested that it is in that very space that we might discover the potential for resistance. Richter is not naïve enough to think that art can tell us what to do, but rather that it can, at its best and most truly political (and this is a lot), direct us to a subjective positioning where the potential for action might be located. It cannot itself propose what those actions might be—after all that would be too much hubris on the part of the artist—but rather allows us the ability to even think what they might be in the first place.
It must be said that a position such as Richter’s, of radical self-doubt, seems to be only truly available to an artist who has experienced a time when painting’s access to radicality, innovation, and relevance was available, even assumed. Such availability simply does not exist for a young artist coming of age in the past few decades, let alone today, for whom painting has only ever been backed into a corner and embattled. How do you trouble conviction if you are not even aware of what it means to be convinced by a work of art in the first place? Further, is it even possible to have this experience of conviction today, as it was in the 1960s? While I may enjoy looking at painting, am even moved from time to time, I do not think I would use the term “conviction” to describe this experience, and I think that this is a condition of my own particular position within history.
This is not a call for a recentering of painting around old values, since much has been gained—intellectually, if not always aesthetically—in the medium having been tested, deauthorized, and problematized. Nor is it to say that interesting work cannot be done with painting in such a questioning, plural, and interdisciplinary mode—as indicated by the work of Wade Guyton, R.H. Quaytman, and Karen Sander, among others. What I am claiming instead is that this does not solve the issue, which I raised at the start of this essay, of how to push forward rather than endlessly track back and forth over recent history.
This is similarly not meant as a positivist call for a return to “originality,” or to any other traditional values, but is rather an open call made in response to the present historical impasse, which is one where it is quickly becoming a condition of our moment that there is no longer any recent past to problematize and render indeterminate, as there was, say, in the 1980s, when the pious proclamations of Modernism (capital “M”) were recent, and as such susceptible to rearticulation. Today’s recent past consists of nothing but those recycled and rearticulated nuggets of the past, a situation which is, again, not in itself bad, and there is even a sense that appropriation still has something to say about our current social, cultural, and political climate—as in the corporate industrial junk aesthetic of an Isa Genzken.
However, the pressing question seems to me now to be whether we recycle and recontextualize those appropriations to make of them something like a post-post-modernism, which I can’t imagine holding much interest except for the art world initiate—and even then how much interest, really?—or do we instead perhaps think of the present as demanding again the kind of abstract art that intervened in the early 20th century in those difficult moments of war and social revolution? Abstraction, and painting even, may have a renewed role to play in the contemporary moment, or that is the sense I had standing before Richter’s Strip paintings, because they made it clear to me that there is new ground to be broken in terms of engaging with how perception operates in our contemporary moment, and abstract painting has always had the best tools at its disposal to deal with those kinds of perceptual problems. Of course the jury is still out, but in the meantime the fact that Richter’s own working through of his back catalogue, via a tried-and-true methodology of chance and the technologized readymade no less, to get at something new and of the moment suggests that there might be some fresh air on the horizon after all. Though it remains to be seen how a young artist might obtain a level of nuanced historical awareness, the lack of which has become almost a defining characteristic of my generation, approaching the level Richter necessarily had to have had in order to paint these paintings.
Alex Bacon is a Ph.D. candidate in Art & Archaeology at Princeton University and is currently preparing the catalogue raisonne of Ad Reinhardt’s Black paintings. His most recent publications on contemporary art include essays on Francis Alys and Gilbert & George. He is also the editor, with Hal Foster, of Richard Hamilton (MIT Press, 2009).
Essay by Lynne Cooke
In my picture atlas…I can only get a handle on the flood of pictures by creating order since there are no individual pictures at all anymore.
In 1964 Gerhard Richter began amassing onto panels photographs he had collected over the previous few years–sometimes as potential sources for his paintings and sometimes on their own account. Eight years later these and subsequent related panels were exhibited in Utrecht, Holland, under the title Atlas van de foto’s en schetsen (Atlas of photos and sketches). Since then Richter has continued, albeit intermittently, to supplement his “picture album.”1 And periodically it has been returned to public view: it was shown in 1976 in Krefeld, 1989 in Munich, and 1990 in Cologne.2 Recently updated, it now is comprised of almost six hundred panels and some five thousand photographs.
Atlas is not quite as homogeneous as its first panels seemed to predict. While they contain mostly amateur snapshots together with reproductions from newspapers and popular magazines, these categories were rapidly expanded to include portraits, pornographic imagery, and pictures of famous historical figures and events–Hitler and concentration camp survivors among them. In addition, the artist’s own photographs, working sketches, and seemingly casual views and vistas soon infiltrated the increasingly heterogenous array. That Atlas would serve other functions than simply those of a repository for storing memorable images became evident when sketches for installations, plans for public commissions, technical drawings for domestic furnishings, and collages of hypothetical settings on a truly monumental scale were added.3 More recently, large sequences of almost serially produced landscapes, travel vistas, and still lifes have been incorporated, suggesting that once the piece grew, the artist began to orchestrate it in terms of an overall composition, establishing larger rhythms, conjunctions, and references among the parts, and instituting a more strictly gridded layout. That is, what initially had a contingent, improvisational, cumulative character has taken on, with time and with repeated public presentation, a certain internal logic and dynamic peculiar to itself. In this way an album has metamorphosed into a potentially encyclopedic project, notwithstanding the personal, provisional, and incremental impulses continuing to generate it.
It is apposite that photography is the pivot of this, the most extensive work in Richter’s oeuvre. A constant in his art of the past three decades, for him it has always had a dialectical relationship with painting. Given that questions of representation lie at the heart of Richter’s enterprise, this relationship has inevitably proven a shifting, mutating one–from the early sixties when photography provided motifs for paintings to the past decade when the artist has both overpainted photographs and exhibited as prints photographs of certain paintings originally generated by rephotographed photographs. Dave Hickey has persuasively argued against the canonical historical rationale for the changes that took place in the practice of painting after the advent of photography: namely, that painting changed because photography appropriated its descriptive and representational functions. “Richter’s photo-paintings infer,”Hickey argues, “…[that] painting changed after the advent of photography not because photography usurped its descriptive function, but because photography prioritized it, thus valorizing the referent over what it signified.”4
If photography provided the painter, faced with the question of what to paint, with certain basics, abstraction offered another set of possibilities that were, for Richter, equally but not necessarily more plausible; abstraction and figuration, he believes, have parallel status as pictures. Through recourse to mirrors, panes of glass, and small reflective aluminum spheres, Richter then further permutated this preoccupation with representation by wedding these works to their contexts. Incorporating the surroundings–in effect, an idiosyncratic mode of working in situ–allowed him to extend in more encompassing ways the dialectic between what is seen and what is represented, as well as the media of that representation.
Richter has frequently asserted that he has no program and no ideology, and that he proceeds according to no preconceived plan. For all its compendious nature, Atlas is governed by no overriding logic and no polemic. Unlike, for example, Bernd and Hilla Bechers’s projects, Atlas is not an archive: there is neither a coherent and systematic compilation of an identifiable body of material nor an archaeological exhaustion of a specific subject. In retaining a hybrid identity, Atlas loosely adheres to some of the preoccupations informing Richter’s paintings without being exclusively governed by them. Most of its recent components are photographs taken by the artist himself rather than images culled from published sources, corresponding to the fact that since 1975 Richter has seldom depended on found motifs for subject matter. Not only are the initial images now his own, but they are often made in closely related series or sequences. Nonetheless, those that have been retrospectively included in Atlas do not necessarily constitute all that the artist took of any particular motif, nor are they always the very ones that provided the models for individual paintings. Images only exceptionally stand alone, independent and iconic; on such occasions they are framed within pencil borders as with presentation drawings, contextualized in hypothetical installations, or masked and glued to sheets onto which color studies can be developed in preparation for painting. The relational character of the groupings within most of the panels is fully in accord with the contingency underpinning the presentation of the work as a whole. For, the arrangement of the panels follows a loose rather than strict chronology, with placement determined in part by the character of the venues–wall dimensions, heights, and proportions–in which Atlas is to be exhibited. Sequencing and grouping is thus employed to establish a mode of reading that is differential and contextual.
Faced with the mass of imagery available today, Richter asserts that all one can do is try to order it. He makes no attempt to offer an overriding interpretation, there is no promise of comprehensibility and definitiveness of the kind vouchsafed in an archive or by archaeology. As Benjamin Buchloh astutely notes, the relationships between the images “generate meanings and disintegrate readings.”5 Hence, something provisional and resistant to precise meaning emerges in Atlas, something which Buchloh eloquently characterizes as a check both against the impulse to generate understanding and the ever-present desire for it. Atlas hovers, therefore, between the promise of taxonomic order as devulged in the archive and the total devastation of that promise, which is implicit, for example, in the amorcellated, antirelational potential of photomontage. The images, fragments or details are commonplace, almost stereotypical. In their sheer ordinariness, conventionality, and ubiquity, many of these photographs seem almost interchangeable or generic, and hence serve to underplay those staples of photographic discourse: the photo as icon and the photo as index. They approach the condition Richter seeks for his paintings, which as pictures are located always between the concrete and the abstract. Buchloh argues persuasively that “We can no longer speak of ‘photography’ in terms of a homogeneous formation of practices, discourses, and institutions (no more than we could speak of ‘politics’). Photography can be discussed as a private phenomenology and as a partial semiotics, but not as a coherent, comprehensive history.”6 At a moment when the digital is replacing the analogue and the dominant paradigms of photography are undergoing a sea-change, Atlas returns the question of the referent to centerstage.
1. “Gerhard Richter/Jan Thorn-Prikker: Ruminations on the October 18, 1977 Cycle,” Parkett 19 (1989), p. 143.
2. Small sections of Atlas have been shown on occasion, for example, in the recent retrospective, “Gerhard Richter,” Kunst- und Austellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, 1993.
3. In a recent interview, Richter spoke of the “dream of mine–that the pictures will become an environment or become architecture, that would be even more effective. Quoted in Dorothea Dietrich, “Gerhard Richter: An Interview,” The Print Collector’s Newsletter 16, no. 4 (Sept./Oct. 1985), p. 130. In effect Atlas does this when fully on view.
4. Dave Hickey, “Richter in Tahiti,” Parkett 35 (1993), p. 86.
5. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, “Gerhard Richters Atlas: Das Archiv der Anomie,” Gerhard Richter, vol. 2 (Bonn: Kunst- und Austellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1993). Translation by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh.
“This week, a young man who once passed for the buffoon of the American art scene was posthumously elevated to the level of the most serious contenders for the attention of multimillionaire buyers of contemporary art. Indeed, Basquiat was arguably the great winner in Christie’s sale.”
Bloomberg news 5.16.13:
“Last night, Basquiat’s “Dustheads” estimated to bring $25 million to $35 million, went for $48.8 million to an unnamed client on the phone for whom Christie’s international specialist Loic Gouzer was bidding. Gouzer worked with Leonardo DiCaprio on Christie’s May 13 auction to benefit conservation.”
“The record Basquiat canvas depicts two colorful, big-headed characters on a black background; one looks dazed, the other confused. The title refers to the street slang for the users of the drug PCP, or angel dust. The neo-expressionist painter died at 27 in 1988.
Although Christie’s didn’t identify the seller, dealers said the painting was consigned by collector Tiqui Atencio.
The Basquiat market has been on the rise. In 2012, his auction sales totaled $161.5 million, more than doubling from the previous year, according to Artnet. He ranked 8th last year, compared to 18th in 2011, overtaking Lichtenstein and de Kooning.
Last year, Basquiat records were set and toppled. In November, his untitled canvas depicting a fisherman with a halo sold for $26.4 million at Christie’s in New York. Less than five months earlier, a 1981 self-portrait sold for $20.2 million at Christie’s in London.”
Priceless: Mr. Chow on Basquiat
Posted: 05/14/2013 10:51 am
When Basquiat was still sleeping on friends’ couches in the 80’s, Michael and Tina Chow were helping him survive. They purchased his paintings. They commissioned him to paint their portraits. They fed him and befriended an artist they believed in.
Few establishments were hipper in the mid-80s than Mr. Chow, on Manhattan’s East 57th street. On a given night, one could observe the biggest stars of New York’s exploding art scene there. Describing a dinner there attended by Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes, Cathleen McGuigana observed for a New York Times Magazine cover story about Basquiat in 1985 that the restaurant’s fine menu and “elegant cream-lacquered interior” placed it “light years away” from artist hangouts a generation before.
“But art stars were different then,” she added.
It’s been 25 years since Basquiat died of a drug overdose, but Michael Chow still remembers the young, tragic art star vividly. He reflected on the brief and bright life of his friend in a conversation with Jim Shi for Christie’s, the art auction house. A May 15 auction of one of Basquiat’s most famous works, Dustheads (1982), is expected to break a record for the artist, currently set at $26.4 million.
Jean Michel Basquiat’s Journal On Race
“Artists turn anger into beauty, into poetry. In Basquiat’s case, his radar sensitivity on racism was very strong. I’d never met anyone so sensitive to it, and with good reason. No taxi in New York City would stop for him. He faced a lot of prejudices: There was the notion that black people could not be artists, and when you introduced him to non-African Americans, if he sensed even the littlest bit of racism, he wouldn’t shake your hand.
“He was an international painter and he wanted to be a worldly man. He was very curious. I remember when we traveled to Hong Kong and spent two weeks there and had a great time. I took him to my tailor and he went crazy, buying everything in sight. Then we met very prominent friends of mine who invited us to a very expensive restaurant at The Peninsula called Gaddi’s. He immediately called the waiter over and quietly ordered the most expensive bottle of wine.
“At the end of the day, we’re talking about poetry, we’re talking about magic, and we’re talking about making paintings that speak. At the end, you just look at the painting and ask yourself, ‘does it move me or not?’ [Basquiat] had the charisma and his paintings were powerful. They moved you.”
Jean Michel Basquiat’s Journal On Talent
“Most of the time when he painted, Jean-Michel didn’t look at the canvas. Like Francis Bacon and a few others, spontaneity was the most important thing for him — that organic mark. And yet he had this accuracy with anatomy and with truth, which is evident in his fantastic drawings.”
“Of course he was very ambitious. He wanted to be the greatest painter in his category, and he succeeded, I think. He was a powerful, powerful painter.”
“I didn’t know this at the time, but I was kind of a hero to him for whatever reason. His calling card, in order to introduce himself to me, came in the form of a painting of myself that he left on my doorstep in 1985. And since I acquired it so easily, of course my first reaction was that I didn’t treat it very well.”
“Soon after, we fell in love with each other, so to speak.”
Portrait of Michael Chow by Jean Michel Basquiat On Put Downs
“Even during the period of his greatest success, the establishment still did not acknowledge him. They were still putting him down all day long.
“But the more times you go down, the more you come back with a vengeance. Someone once said all artists have to get knocked down three times. If you can do this, like Muhammad Ali did winning three championships, then you become the greatest.”
On James Dean… and Cuddling
“Like James Dean, one doesn’t know what the future would have held for Basquiat. Some do very well, some don’t do very well. Most artists, I believe, only have six golden years. After that, it’s difficult to reinvent again. Jean-Michel had his six years. If I saw him today, I would just cry for five minutes and give him a cuddle. I can’t put into words the impact he has had on me. In short, I loved him.
Eyes and Eggs by Basquiat (1983)
(excerpts from reportage on the explosive market for Basquiat’s works).
It is great to see Basquiat’s works skyrocket beyond any and all negative narratives about his life, to where now his works are consumed, visually devoured and poured over for their aesthetic powers and formal invention. His works are hopefully opening the door for more artists of color to have their works considered in this way, as verses continually being framed only in discourses about racism, slavery, struggle, poverty, urban despair and misery. Jazz musicians suffered just as much if not more than did Basquiat, yet it is the sheer beauty and astounding musical structures and execution that rose and still rises about any earthly elements that weighed down upon them in life.
Vincent Johnson 2/14/2013
the following texts have been compiled and excerpted by the artist and writer Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic works on view in Seoul
Kukje Gallery offers broad survey of Basquiat’s major works and his life
Published : 2013-02-17 19:22
Updated : 2013-02-17 19:22
“Untitled (Hand Anatomy),” 1982 by Jean-Michel Basquiat. (2013 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York)
African-American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s artistic career lasted only eight years before he died at age 27, but he still remains as a mainstay in the global auction market: A drawing by Jean-Michel Basquiat was sold at the top price of $15.2 million at an auction last Friday in London.
And now, some of his iconic works are on view at Kukje Gallery in Seoul until March, offering a broad survey of his works that left a lasting impression in the contemporary art scene in the 1980s.
As Basquiat said about his artistic process, “I don’t think about art when I’m working. I try to think about life,” his paintings reflect his personal life and the world he lived in.
Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Julio Donoso/Sygma/TOPIC)
Starting as a graffiti writer on the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan under the name of “SAMO” (Same Old S―-), Basquiat rose to fame when he emerged in the New York art scene in the 1980s. Despite his lack of formal arts training, he was praised in the American and European art circles for his unique works.
The artist not only contributed to bringing street art to mainstream, but also incorporated his artistic talent to T-shirt designing, jewelry making, and music performance.
His paintings feature multiple personal and social messages presented through symbolic texts, list of words and imagery.
Some of them comment on racial issues and refer to prominent black figures in American society such as jazz musician Charlie Parker and baseball player Hank Aaron.
Basquiat’s 1981 painting mixes his personal stories and his idol by using cars and airplanes with symbolic words to depict his sickness during childhood and a hammer that symbolizes the legendary baseballer Aaron, who in 1974 broke the home run record formerly set by Babe Ruth.
Anatomy is also a significant part of his art, reflecting his personal trauma of having to undergo a splenectomy after being hit by a car at age 7.
He developed an interest in anatomy into visual language after his mother gave him a copy of the medical text “Gray’s Anatomy” when he was in hospital.
Before he died of a heroine overdose at age 27 in 1988, he led a short yet prolific career, producing works that left a lasting impression in the contemporary art scene which later garnered him a reputation as a Neo-Expressionism icon.
When he was 21, Basquiat was the youngest of 176 artists to be invited to the Kassel Documenta in 1982. His works were shown at the international art event alongside those of such established artists as Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol. He also collaborated with his idol Andy Warhol, whom he befriended in 1983 and whose death later made a great impact on him.
The exhibition runs through March 31 at Kukje Gallery in Jongno, Seoul.
New Yorker magazine
A museum-worthy show of fifty-nine paintings confirms a common assessment of Basquiat’s brief glory: rousingly fresh in 1981, masterly in 1982, and stumbling thereafter. (He died in 1988, at twenty-seven.) At his peak, the former graffitist commanded a synthesis of Abstract Expressionism and Art Brut, with blazingly original uses of written and symbolic language, like the maestro of a great jazz orchestra. Then his pictures lost coherence, becoming less than the sums of their parts. Was it drugs? Was it too-fast fame? Basquiat’s decline is easy to moralize but trivial relative to his rise, which remains as deathlessly marvellous as that of Arthur Rimbaud. Through April 6.
This story appears in the November 5, 2012 issue of Forbes Life. by John Keats,
“As a young artist in 1980s New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat desired nothing so much as to match Andy Warhol’s success. This auction season, a quarter-century after both artists’ deaths, he’s coming tantalizingly close to fulfilling his wish. In May, Phillips de Pury sold an untitled 1981 painting in Basquiat’s characteristic street-naïf style for a record $16.3 million, nearly $2 million more than when the market for his work last peaked in 2007. A month later, Christie’s sold a larger 1981 canvas for $20.1 million, a record it expects to break in November with a third 1981 painting that the auction house is positioning as a sort of self-portrait in the guise of Jesus Christ.
The vintage of all three pictures is no coincidence. “Basquiat reached his peak almost at the beginning of his career,” says Christie’s specialist Loic Gouzer. “You have this raw character who’d just slipped from the street to the art world.” Within just two to three years of his breakthrough, the toxic combination of drug addiction and public adulation had all but done Basquiat in, and he finished himself off with a heroin overdose in 1988–at the age of 27–having produced approximately 1,000 paintings at a broad range of quality levels. “That’s a perfect market to work within,” observes market insider Richard Polsky, author of The Art Prophets. “There are enough paintings that we can deal in them, but it’s fairly finite because he had a short and sweet career.”
But why are prices now rising precipitously? According to Gouzer, Warhol deserves some credit, as do American masters such as Jackson Pollock. “With those artists, we’re no longer talking $20 million, so even a lot of very rich people are out of the game,” he explains. “When we look at what was done in America beyond those guys, Basquiat really shapes up to being numero uno. He was a great colorist, a great draftsman, and he had a great sense of scale,” Gouzer adds. “I think we’re going to see a $100 million Basquiat. People have this subconscious panic. People want to buy him before he becomes Pollock.”
Polsky agrees that the Basquiat market still has room for growth but is wary of putting him in Pollock’s or Warhol’s league. “Basquiat’s market is 100 percent speculative,” he argues. “It’s 100 percent market driven. It’s not art-history driven. Basquiat is a semimyth, and he’s on his way to becoming a full-blown myth.”
And in that respect, at least, Basquiat has aced the Warhol test.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Burroughs triptych to be sold at London auction
Work by US artist, who died aged 27 in 1988, is tribute to his favourite writer and is valued at between £4.25m and £6.25m
Detail from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Five Fish Species, a celebration of his favourite writer, beat author William Burroughs. Photograph: Sotheby’s
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s tribute to the mad and bad world of William Burroughs – including the unfortunate night in Mexico when he shot and killed his wife in a William Tell game – is to be sold in London after 30 years in the same ownership.
“Basquiat is the blue chip artist of the moment,” said Branczik. “He is recognised today in perhaps the same way he recognised Burroughs in the 1980s as someone who was streets ahead of his time – Basquiat is the artist who everybody wants at the moment so we have high hopes of it doing well at auction.”
A quarter-century after he died of a drug overdose at the age of 27 in downtown Manhattan, Jean-Michel Basquiat needs no introduction. The fame that he pursued relentlessly and recklessly throughout his brief career seems secure, buoyed by museum retrospectives, films, books, sympathetic critics and a bounty of supremely wealthy collectors, who now buy major works by him for $20 million or more. For anyone who needed proof that this last part isn’t just the result of market hype, there is Gagosian Gallery’s current exhibition of more than 50 works.
The majority of the pieces on view come from 1981 through ’83, when the Haitian-American, Brooklyn-born graffiti artist made his improbable leap into the upper echelon of the art world. The trademark Basquiat work of the time has a central figure—a fisherman, a warrior, a boxer—hovering amid gnomic phrases, some of them crossed out, in front of high-pitched fields of color that compare favorably with Abstract-Expressionist masters Hans Hofmann and Clyfford Still.
Though Basquiat fit perfectly alongside then-ascendant Neo-Expressionists like Julian Schnabel, who aimed to return figurative painting to the realm of vanguard art, a bit of distance shows that he was regularly outclassing them. One of the best works here, La Hara (1981), offers an unhinged-looking cop with blood-red eyes surrounded by an array of marks—smudges, scratches, a thermos and what may be a fence. No wonder he pissed people off.
Many of those early works are so colorful, so humming with anxious, energetic lines that they threaten to produce bodily shocks. Don’t forget, though, that Basquiat could also be uproariously funny (1982’s Obnoxious Liberals has a panicked figure wearing a shirt that reads “Not for sale”) and subtle, perhaps even romantic (1985’s Now’s the Time, an eight-foot-wide circular painting on wood that resembles the eponymous Charlie Parker record, its title written in little white letters at its center).
For me, the real joys come in ’83 and ’84, when Basquiat was cramming more text and bits of photocopied anatomical drawings into his paintings. The frenetic energy has dissipated, but the resulting tableaux, laden with an increasing number of competing figures, elicit intellectual rather than emotional responses.
The prevailing narrative, that Basquiat’s work declined as he reveled in fame and drugs, remains hard to dispute, but the show offers a few startling exceptions, like Riding with Death (1988), one of his last paintings. A nude man is astride a skeletal horse; he seems to be slipping into the bronze monochrome background, disappearing into the picture. (Through April 6)”
An untitled work by Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1981 just sold for $20,170,071, according to the Christie’s Twitter feed. The sum marks a new auction high for the artist, breaking a record set just this past spring at Phillips de Pury & Company where another untitled work from that year sold for $16.3 million.
According to the Artnet price database, the work that was purchased this evening in London last sold at auction in May 2007, when it made $14.6 million at Sotheby’s New York.
The new record reflects prices already achieved on the private market. After that Phillips auction, many collectors said they’d seen plenty of Basquiats sell for prices in the $20 million range.”
Sergey Skaterschikov, an art-market analyst Davidson consulted, has spent years studying how insiders shape the market — one “completely based on manipulation,” he told me. A case in point, he said, is the surge in demand for the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“What happened is auctions and dealers succeeded in convincing collectors that Basquiat is a Warhol proxy, a peer to Warhol with a discount,” he said. These insiders used research, catalogs and special exhibitions to advance their arguments; the more demand they generated for Basquiat, the more money they could devote to promotional materials. “They all have a vested interest to keep the story going,” Skaterschikov said.
That’s one reason Basquiat’s art has been hunted so aggressively over the last six years. One of his paintings, optimistically estimated to be worth $12 million, recently sold at auction for $16 million. As Skaterschikov put it, “In this market, perception is reality.””
“Phillips de Pury
An untitled 1981 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat set a record auction price for the artist, $16.3 million, on May 10, 2012.”
5/10/2012 @ 11:48PM |2,681 views
$16 Million Basquiat Sets New World Record At Phillips Art Sale
“The contemporary art auction at Phillips de Pury tonight in New York set a new world record for a work by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Untitled from 1981 sold for $16,322,500 including premiums to beat the previous record of $14.6 million set in 2007. The work went to a private bidder.
Top sellers of the night besides the Basquiat were Untitled VI by Willem de Kooning, which sold for $12,402,500; Untitled (Bolsena) by Cy Twombly for $6,242,500; Brushstroke Nude by Roy Lichtenstein for $5,458,500; and two by Andy Warhol: Mao ($10,386,500) and Gun ($7,026,500). The mood tonight was lively if not as electrifying as a certain diamond auction at Christie’s late last year. Women in Louboutin shoes and men with the long, artfully coiffed hair of European royalty milled around drinking champagne downstairs in the lobby before the sale started. Later in the main room they clapped appreciatively when the Basquiat sold. Most of the buyers were longtime art patrons, according to Michael McGinnis, Phillips’ worldwide head of contemporary art. Bidders from Russia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East are especially strong this year, he said.
Basquiat’s Price Soars Fivefold as $320 Million Auctions Start
By Scott Reyburn – Jun 27, 2011 4:51 PM PT Bloomberg news
“Phillips de Pury & Co. via Bloomberg
“Self-Portrait” by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The 1985 acrylic-on-wood painting at Claridge’s Hotel, London, on June 27.
A Jean-Michel Basquiat self-portrait sold last night as London…
The Basquiat, dating from 1985 and featuring a half-length self-portrait next to a wooden panel covered in bottle tops, fetched 2.1 million pounds ($3.4 million) at Phillips de Pury & Co.’s first contemporary sale at Claridge’s in Mayfair. The price was five times the $647,500 it fetched at Phillips de Pury, New York, in 2003.
“Self-Portrait” by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The 1985 acrylic-on-wood painting was included in a 32-lot auction of contemporary works held by Phillips de Pury & Co. at Claridge’s Hotel, London, on June 27. Source: Phillips de Pury & Co. via Bloomberg
Phillips de Pury & Co. via Bloomberg.
“The Basquiat was one of five works with minimum bids by third party guarantors. It fell to the guarantor, bidding by phone, for slightly more than the 2-million-pound low estimate.”
“Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich is selling a massive 8-ft. wide Jean-Michel Basquiat painting at Christie’s in New York on Nov. 12, where it’s expected to fetch about $12 million. Untitled (Boxer) (above), painted in 1982, is an important “proxy self-portrait,” Brett Gorvy, Christie’s international co-head of postwar and contemporary art, tells Bloomberg. “The black artist as defiant hero.'” In 2002, Ulrich, a noted collector, sold Basquiat’s 1982 Profit I at Christie’s for $5.5 million. In July, Irish rock band U2 sold the artist’s Untitled (Pecho/Oreja) for $10.1 million at Sotheby’s in London. The auction record for a Basquiat work was set at Sotheby’s in New York last year with the $14.6 million sale of 1981’s Untitled.”
At $1.5 Million, Basquiat Leads Auction
By CAROL VOGEL
Published: May 13, 2005
“Phillips, de Pury & Company
“Catharsis” (1983), by Jean-Michel Basquiat, sold for $1.5 million.
A classic 1983 Basquiat was the evening’s winner. The canvas, with red lines that resemble dripping blood and words like “thumb,” “spleen,” “left paw and “suicide attempt scrawled across it, was expected to sell for $1.2 million to $1.8 million. Two collectors went for the painting, which sold to an unidentified telephone bidder when the hammer fell at $1.2 million or $1.5 million with the fee Phillips charges buyers.
February 10, 1985
New Art, New Money
By CATHLEEN McGUIGAN
HEN JEAN MICHEL BASQUIAT walks into Mr. Chow’s on East 57th Street in Manhattan, the waiters all greet him as a favorite regular. Before he became a big success, the owners, Michael and Tina Chow, bought his artwork and later commissioned him to paint their portraits. He goes to the restaurant a lot. One night, for example, he was having a quiet dinner near the bar with a small group of people. While Andy Warhol chatted with Nick Rhodes, the British rock star from Duran Duran, on one side of the table, Basquiat sat across from them, talking to the artist Keith Haring. Haring’s images of a crawling baby or a barking dog have become ubiquitous icons of graffiti art, a style that first grew out of the scribblings (most citizens call them defacement) on New York’s subway cars and walls. Over Mr. Chow’s plates of steaming black mushrooms and abalone, Basquiat drank a kir royale and swapped stories with Haring about their early days on the New York art scene. For both artists, the early days were a scant half dozen years ago.
That was when the contemporary art world began to heat up after a lull of nearly a decade, when a new market for painting began to make itself felt, when dealers refined their marketing strategies to take advantage of the audience’s interest and when much of the art itself began to reveal a change from the cool and cerebral to the volatile and passionate.
As an artist’s hangout, the elegant cream-lacquered interior of Mr. Chow’s is light-years away from the Cedar Tavern, that grubby Greenwich Village haunt of the artists of the New York School 30 years ago. But art stars were different then. Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and their contemporaries, all more or less resigned to a modest style of living, worked for years at the center of a small and intimate art world in relative isolation from the public at large.
But today, contemporary art is evolving under the avid scrutiny of the public and an ever-increasing pool of collectors in the United States, Europe and Japan; and it is heavily publicized in the mass media. Barely disturbed by occasional dips in the economy, the art market has been booming steadily.
As a result of the current frenzied activity, which produces an unquenchable demand for something new, artists such as Basquiat, Haring or the graffitist Kenny Scharf, once seized upon, become overnight sensations. In their circle, and certainly among the top artists whose careers took off a few years sooner, artists such as Julian Schnabel, David Salle and Robert Longo, annual earnings easily run into six figures. Not only are the numbers involved great – both the dollars and cents and the size of the art audience – so is the breathtaking speed with which work by a new artist can become a cultural fixture.TAKE BASQUIAT. FIVE YEARS AGO, HE didn’t have a place to live. He slept on the couch of one friend after another. He lacked money to buy art supplies. Now, at 24, he is making paintings that sell for $10,000 to $25,000. They are reproduced in art magazines and also as part of fashion layouts, or in photographs of chic private homes in House & Garden. They are in the collections of the publisher S. I. Newhouse, Richard Gere, Paul Simon and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
His color-drenched canvases are peopled with primitive figures wearing menacing masklike faces, painted against fields jammed with arrows, grids, crowns, skyscrapers, rockets and words. ”There are about 30 words around you all the time, like ‘thread’ or ‘exit,’ ” he explains. He uses words ”like brushstrokes,” he says. The pictures have earned him serious critical affirmation. In reviewing a group show of drawings last year, John Russell, chief art critic of The New York Times, noted that ”Basquiat proceeds by disjunction – that is, by making marks that seem quite unrelated, but that turn out to get on very well together.” His drawings and paintings are edgy and raw, yet they resonate with the knowledge of such modern masters as Dubuffet, Cy Twombly or even Jasper Johns. What is ”remarkable,” wrote Vivien Raynor in The Times, ”is the educated quality of Basquiat’s line and the stateliness of his compositions, both of which bespeak a formal training that, in fact, he never had.”
That favorable review came after Basquiat’s first solo show at the Mary Boone Gallery in May 1984. The same month, a self-portrait painted mostly in black and white – stark, powerful and sexually charged – was included in the international survey exhibition that celebrated the reopening of the renovated Museum of Modern Art. Then, proving the solid marketability of his work, a painting of his appeared for auction at Christie’s spring sale of contemporary art. Painted only two years earlier and sold originally for $4,000, it fetched $20,900 on the block.
THE EXTENT OF BASQUIAT’S SUCCESS would no doubt be impossible for an artist of lesser gifts. Not only does he possess a bold sense of color and composition, but, in his best paintings, unlike many of his contemporaries, he maintains a fine balance between seemingly contradictory forces: control and spontaneity, menace and wit, urban imagery and primitivism. Still, the nature and rapidity of his climb is unimaginable in another era. The audience for art is larger now than ever before, and collecting original art is no longer the sole province of the very rich. The upwardly mobile postwar generation, raised on art-history courses and summer trips to Europe, aspires to collect and has the cash to do it. Even when collectors lack cash, some institutions, including banks, now recognize their need. Sotheby’s, the auction house, is willing to lend a portion of the price of an artwork at 2 to 4 points above the prime-interest rate. Given the extraordinary prices of the older blue-chip artists ($1 million for a vintage Jasper Johns, for example), a lot of collectors naturally turn to the young up-and-coming painters whose works are still available for $50,000 and down. For many new art patrons, connoisseurship of contemporary art is a necessary part of the urban life style. They look for paintings that are esthetically aggressive, that physically assault space. The artworks offer proof of up-to-the-minute taste and have a perfect showcase in the reclaimed lofts or gentrified houses in which so many upper-middle- class urbanites now live. With all these new consumers, the number of dealers has mushroomed: in 1970, for example, there were 73 galleries listed in the Art Now: New York Gallery Guide; today there are nearly 450.
This expanding market for contemporary art coincided with a shift in the direction that art itself was taking. Since the late 1960’s, the contemporary mainstream had been dominated by the austere constraints of Minimalism – Brice Marden’s simple areas of solid color, for instance – or the cerebral concerns of Conceptualism, like the mathematical cubes of Sol LeWitt. The forms that art often took seemed to reject the collector – environmental art such as earthworks couldn’t be neatly crated and taken home to hang over the stereo system. But in the late 1970’s, artists such as Jonathan Borofsky, Neil Jenney and Susan Rothenberg began, in vastly different ways, to paint recognizable figures on canvas. Bold color and the sensuality of a richly painted surface returned, appealing to an art public that had been starved, baffled or bored for a decade. Many art patrons hadn’t felt a comparable excitement since the early 1960’s. Eugene Schwartz, for example, who, along with his wife, Barbara, amassed an important collection including Frank Stella, Morris Louis and David Smith, stopped collecting altogether in 1969. One day in 1980, he saw a painting by the artist Julian Schnabel in a dealer’s gallery. ”It brought us from the 60’s to the 80’s in about 14 seconds,” he said, and since buying it he has been collecting again – ”compulsively.”
Not everyone in the art world is overjoyed at what is happening. Some think neo- expressionism, as much of the new work is called, is a hyped-up fad, doomed to a short life. ”The new expressionism tends to be a generalized Angst ,” says Thomas Lawson, a painter and editor of Real Life Magazine, a small-circulation artists’ journal. ”You can’t tell what the artist is reacting to. It’s not very reflective.” Lawson thinks Basquiat is talented but that those of lesser skills will inevitably burn out.
In any case, Julian Schnabel’s highly publicized success made him the first art star of the 1980’s and created an atmosphere of expanded possibilities for any promising artist since. For someone as ambitious as Basquiat, high expectations are matched by the pressures of succeeding. Basquiat’s sometimes-stormy rise and struggle with the art establishment provide a look at how the artists’ names and their works are marketed in the art world today. His successful career demonstrates the competitiveness among dealers for artists; dealers’ pricing and marketing techniques; their control of supply and demand and the importance of the European market for today’s American scene. Further, Basquiat’s example shows how an artist tries to create and to preserve his autonomy in this heady environment. The danger is always that the glamour and fuss will cloud the meaning of the artwork itself. FROM THE START Basquiat has displayed a notoriously mercurial disposition, which certainly helped bring him early attention in a world in which a lot of noise doesn’t hurt. Like his paintings, which are at once childlike and fearsome, he can be both engagingly shy and temperamental. Henry Geldzahler, critic and former curator of 20th-century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, comments, ”His personality, both charming and disdainful, is very attractive.”
He was born in Brooklyn to a Haitian father, a successful accountant, and a Puerto Rican mother. His parents separated when he was 7. Basquiat dreamed of becoming a writer and a cartoonist – his father brought home paper from the office for him to draw on, and his mother sometimes took him to museums. His renegade streak surfaced early. ”At 15, he left home and went to Washington Square Park, reported Suzi Gablik in her book ”Has Modernism Failed?” ”I just sat there dropping acid for eight months,” Basquiat told her. ”Now all that seems boring. It eats your mind up.” He dropped out of school again at 17 (after, he says, he threw a cream pie in the principal’s face) and began writing poetic messages and drawing odd symbols with a friend named Al Diaz on walls around town, especially in SoHo. The messages, in Magic Marker, were vaguely anarchistic and ranged from the obvious – ”Riding around in Daddy’s convertible with trust fund money”- to the ominous – ”Plush safe . . . he think.” They signed the phrases with the tag ”SAMO” and the copyright symbol. Basquiat explains that SAMO was meant to suggest a brand name or corporate logo; he has also said that it stood for the expresway, the graffiti captured a lot of attention. ”At that time, whenever you went to an art opening or a hot new club, SAMO had been there first,” says Jeffrey Deitch, a critic who co-manages the international art advisory service at Citibank and was an early Basquiat champion. (Citibank advises its customers that art of quality can be considered a good investment. And, with other leading banks, it also now accepts fine art and furniture as collateral against loans.) Eventually, SAMO was unmasked. For Keith Haring, who had admired SAMO’s handiwork, the realization came when he sneaked a young artist named Basquiat into the School of Visual Arts. The next day, SAMO’s leavings were scrawled all over the school.
Basquiat, like many aspiring artists, worked at a number of odd jobs, including selling junk jewelry on the street on the lower part of the Avenue of the Americas, and he crashed a lot of art parties and openings. ”He was always broke,” recalls Diego Cortez, a curator and critic who met him during this period at the Mudd Club, the now-defunct punk hangout that was headquarters for the art and rock underground. Basquiat was also painting designs on sweatshirts and coveralls and playing in a band called Gray. ”It was a noise band,” he says. ”I played a guitar with a file, and a synthesizer. I was inspired by John Cage at the time – music that isn’t really music. We were trying to be incomplete, abrasive, oddly beautiful.” It was not unlike his art. Basquiat exhibited some of the drawings he was making at occasional art shows at the Mudd Club and in the new-wave salons that Keith Haring organized at such popular nightspots as Club 57.
Neo-expressionist painting was having a growing impact on the SoHo scene in 1980. A trio of Italians, known as the three C’s – Francesco Clemente, Sandro Chia and Enzo Cucchi, all of whom used the human figure in their epic- scaled, potent canvases – had major exhibitions in New York at the Sperone Westwater gallery. People began to talk about waiting lists for certain hot new painters. That summer, the emerging artists of the punk and graffiti underground had their own art event, at a rather unusual alternative space. In a former massage parlor near Times Square, a loose confederation of artists from the South Bronx and the Lower East Side collaborated to turn the dilapidated structure into ”a sort of art funhouse,” as Jeffrey Deitch put it in Art in America. Crammed with a crude, energetic assortment of drawings, posters, low-budget scraps of film, exotic fashions and sculpture, the ”Times Square Show,” as it was called, had a trashy exuberance that lived up to the neighborhood. (A work called ”Man Killed by Air Conditioner,” which was simply a life-size clay figure crushed on the floor by a real air-conditioner, typified the show’s deadpan humor.) Basquiat had contributed to the exhibition by covering an entire wall in splashes of spray paint and brushwork. ”A patch of wall painted by SAMO, the omnipresent graffiti sloganeer, was a knockout combination of de Kooning and subway spray paint scribbles,” wrote Deitch. That was Basquiat’s first press notice.
No one can remember exactly when the epitaph ”SAMO is dead” first began to appear scrawled around the Bowery and SoHo, but when Basquiat and his collaborator Diaz had a falling out, Basquiat killed off his alter ego. Diaz became involved in music, and Basquiat, though he had been the prime author of SAMO’s musings, turned increasingly to making art. He had no real materials: he painted on salvaged sheet metal or broken pieces of window casement and made assemblages out of junk. One work from that period, now owned by the artist Francesco Clemente, is a four-inch-thick slab of dirty yellow foam rubber on which a childlishly rendered car is outlined in black.
One day in 1980, Diego Cortez, who had been following Basquiat’s work with interest and had begun to act as his agent, brought Jeffrey Deitch to the tiny tenement apartment on the Lower East Side where the artist was then living with a girlfriend. The first thing Deitch saw was a battered refrigerator that Basquiat had completely covered with drawings, words and symbols, the lines practically etched into the enamel. ”It was one of the most astounding art objects I had ever seen,” says Deitch. Scattered all over the floor of the apartment were drawings on all sizes of cheap paper covered with images and smudged with Basquiat’s footprints. ”Jean kept on working as if we were interrupting him,” Deitch remembers. He picked out five drawings made on typing paper, and paid $250 in cash for them. This was probably Basquiat’s first sale; Cortez had to remind him to sign the drawings.
In January 1981, Cortez put together a show called ”New York/New Wave” at P.S. 1, the alternative-space gallery in Long Island City, Queens. Although the show featured work by graffiti artists, Cortez also showed some paintings by Basquiat, mostly minimal – lines of crayon or paint drawn in childlike fashion on unprimed canvas. The message was clear: though Basquiat had cruised onto the underground art scene on the crest of the graffitists’ new wave, his work was distinctly different. In fact, neither he nor the graffitist Keith Haring had ever ”bombed” – spray painted – dormant subway cars in the train yards at night, a necessary rite of passage in the authentic graffiti subculture. More importantly, as the critics pointed out, Basquiat’s paintings embodied more formal ties to the history of art. He may have grown up, like most kids, on a diet of comic books, but clearly he had also had a taste of Picasso. (Basquiat says that ”Guernica” had a big impact on him when he first saw it as a teen-ager in the Museum of Modern Art.)
Few dealers made the trek to Queens to see the P.S. 1 show, but several influential people did come. The Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger, who has a gallery in Zurich, saw Basquiat’s work for the first time there. Although he wasn’t ready to make a commitment to it, Henry Geldzahler was impressed indeed. Several months later, Geldzahler bought the first of the three works of Basquiat he was to acquire. It was half a door that Basquiat had found on the street to which he’d applied half-torn posters and layers of scribblings. ”It was covered with as dense and rewarding an array as a 1955 Rauschenberg,” says Geldzahler. ”I decided to overpay. I offered $2,000 for it. I knew he was authentic and I wanted to say, ‘Welcome to the real world.’ ”
For the Italian painter Sandro Chia, then new to America, Basquiat’s paintings captured the spontaneity and ”emotional reality” of the city. The paintings were full of disparate elements that somehow worked together, though there was no apparent system linking them – ”just like New York,” notes Chia. He commended Basquiat’s work to the Italian dealer Emilio Mazzoli, who promptly bought 10 paintings for approximately $10,000 and set a date on the spot for Basquiat to have a show at his gallery in Modena. That spring, Basquiat went to Modena (his first trip to Europe), made a few more paintings there and had his first one- man show. WHILE BASQUIAT was in Europe, the buzz of the New York art world was of the opening of the spectacular double show that Julian Schnabel was having simultaneously at the Mary Boone and Leo Castelli Galleries in SoHo. People gossiped about how Schnabel and his dealer, Mary Boone, had won the imprimatur of Castelli, who handles Rauschenberg and Johns and hadn’t taken on a new artist in nearly a decade. In fact, while Schnabel came to epitomize the new artist-as-celebrity, Mary Boone became a public persona in her own right, the best known of a new breed of young dealers: bright, aggressive and hardheaded in business matters.
Annina Nosei, who had opened a gallery in SoHo in 1980, invited Basquiat to join it in September 1981 at the suggestion of Sandro Chia. He needed money and a place to paint. He was given cash to buy supplies and the use of the gallery’s basement storeroom as a studio. ”He had, perhaps, seen in me the mother type,” says the dealer, who suggests that that image led to later conflicts.
Basquiat worked feverishly, encouraged by Annina Nosei, who sometimes brought collectors down to the basement while he painted. Now rich with color, his paintings began to evolve from the sparer look of the work in the P.S. 1 show: large, primitive figures were filled in and articulated with raw detail and there was less of the all-over drawing of symbols and words. In a book published last year, ”The Art Dealers,” by Laura de Coppet and Alan Jones, Annina Nosei described her strategy for selling these works: ”I was putting together major sales to important collectors who were buying, for example, the Germans. I told them that they should have a work by Jean Michel Basquiat also, for $1,000 or $1,500 more on the bill of $25,000 they had already run up. This worked quite well: these collectors gained an early commitment, told their friends, and all of a sudden Basquiat’s paintings were found in collections beside more well-known artists, as the youngest of all.” At first, she priced his works very low, so that ”later when I show paintings for $2,000 the improvement in that new work confirmed the small commitment already made.”
The dealer was said to be selling canvases by Basquiat at a brisk pace – so brisk, some observers joked, that the paint was barely dry. Basquiat says he did not always feel the paintings were finished. Meanwhile, the basement-studio arrangement was gaining a certain notoriety. Critic Suzi Gablik called it ”something like a hothouse for forced growth,” and Jeffrey Deitch referred to it when he reviewed in Flash Art magazine Basquiat’s show at Annina Nosei’s in March 1982. Deitch wrote: ”Basquiat is likened to the wild boy raised by wolves, corralled into Annina’s basement and given nice clean canvases to work on instead of anonymous walls. A child of the streets gawked at by the intelligentsia. But Basquiat is hardly a primitive. He’s more like a rock star. . . . (He) reminds me of Lou Reed singing brilliantly about heroin to nice college boys.”
What press attention Basquiat received from the show was mostly favorable, and one month later, when he made his West Coast debut with a show at the Larry Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles, William Wilson of The Los Angeles Times wrote, ”We are simultaneously convinced that he is a tough street-voodoo artist and a painter of astonishing precocity.”
Basquiat began chafing in the hothouse. With a second show scheduled at Mazzoli’s in Modena, he went to Europe again. ”They set it up for me so I’d have to make eight paintings in a week, for the show the next week,” says Basquiat. ”That was one of the things I didn’t like. I made them in this big warehouse there. Annina, Mazzoli and Bruno were there.” (Bischofberger was now representing him in Europe.) ”It was like a factory, a sick factory,” says Basquiat. ”I hated it.” The Mazzoli show was canceled. After that episode, Basquiat decided to quit the Nosei gallery. ”I wanted to be a star,” he says, ”not a gallery mascot.” He returned to the basement, where there were about 10 canvases, most of them unfinished, that he wanted to get rid of. In a classic display of his notorious temper, he slashed them, folded them, jumped on them and poured paint on them. Although the dealer says that Basquiat simply was destroying work that he didn’t intend to finish, the art world buzzed about the incident. ”Jean Michel more than anyone has made a success story out of scandal,” says Cortez.
”Jean was ungrateful,” Annina Nosei says. She believes she was responsible for launching Basquiat’s career internationally. ”But he was sweet in the end.” According to the dealer, their relationship as artist and dealer was not clearly severed that fall. (As with most galleries, there were no contracts involved.) Many months later, in February 1983, she mounted a one-man show of his work while he was cementing a relationship with a new dealer.
During the autumn of 1982, Basquiat lived like a hermit in a loft on Crosby Street in SoHo. ”I had some money; I made the best paintings ever,” he says now. ”I was completely reclusive, worked a lot, took a lot of drugs. I was awful to people.”
The fruit of that work, painted in a privacy he never knew at the Nosei gallery, made a big splash when it was unleashed on the art world in November 1982 at a one-man show in the Fun Gallery, run by Patti Astor, a former underground movie actress, and her partner, Bill Stelling. Bold and colorful, the canvases were crudely, irregularly stretched, and the works had more of the gritty immediacy of the paintings he had done before he joined the Nosei gallery, in part because he returned to a more intense drawing of words and symbols. ”I liked that show the best,” says Bischofberger. ”The work was very rough, not easy, but likable. It was subtle and not too chic. The opening was great, too. It drew young blacks and Puerto Ricans, along with limousines from uptown.”
Late that winter, he spent time in Los Angeles, preparing for a second show at Larry Gagosian’s gallery and working at the dealer’s house. Again, he felt pressure and regrets now that paintings were released that ”I didn’t want released.” A number of dealers had been courting Basquiat in New York. (”It’s no honor,” he says wryly. ”There’re more dealers than artists these days.”) One was Tony Shafrazi, an Iranian who had been interested in showing Basquiat in his SoHo gallery as early as 1981. In 1974, he had sprayed red paint on Picasso’s ”Guernica” when it still hung in the Museum of Modern Art. Police removed him from the scene while he spelled out his name for bystanders. The painting, protected by varnish, was undamaged, and finally the case came to nothing. Ironically, Shafrazi has helped legitimize the graffiti-art movement by becoming the dealer for such artists as Haring, Scharf and Ronnie Cutrone, but, partly because of the Picasso incident, he got nowhere with Basquiat. Others who had discussions with the artist included Metro Pictures (Robert Longo’s gallery) and the Monique Knowlton Gallery.
Basquiat’s temperamental nature didn’t always allow him to receive these overtures with grace. One dealer, visiting his loft and noting his fondness for health food, went away and came back with a big jar of fruits and nuts. ”But what she really wanted were my paintings,” he says. ”She tried to tell me that her chauffeur, who was black, worked with her in her gallery, not that he was her driver.” As she walked out of his door in defeat, Basquiat leaned out his window and dumped the contents of the jar on her head.
When Basquiat finally did join a new gallery, he went straight to the major leagues and, to the surprise of some of his friends, joined Mary Boone. ”I wanted to be in a gallery with older artists,” he says. And he wanted to insure, as well, that any lingering associations with graffiti art were severed.
Mary Boone, perhaps reacting to a spate of publicity about herself and her business style, now is careful to avoid any appearance of hype and self- promotion. In fact, initially she regarded Basquiat with caution, she says, vaguely repelled by all the fuss. ”There was a period of about a year and a half, whenit was impossible to wake up in the morning and not hear about Jean Michel Basquiat,” she says. Introduced to him by Bischofberger, she says she waited until she became convinced that Basquiat had staying power. ”I’d walk into some collector’s home and there would be something by Jean, hanging next to Rauschenberg and Stella,” she recalls. ”It looked great. It surprised me.” She has sold his paintings to such longtime clients as Peter Ludwig, the German candy tycoon who has his own museum of contemporary art in Cologne, and to Sidney Janis, the 88- year-old dealer who has hung Basquiat’s work in three group shows at his gallery.
Though Annina Nosei encouraged his high productivity of paintings, since Basquiat joined Mary Boone’s gallery he has tended to hold on to pieces longer and rework them more, with his new dealer’s blessing. ”His output is high,” she says, ”but he’s getting more critical of what he holds back.” He estimates that last year he finished 30 or 40 paintings. Yet any danger of the market’s being flooded with Basquiats is offset by the fact that Mary Boone represents the artist jointly with Bischofberger – they split the standard dealer’s commission of 50 percent – who takes much of the work to Europe to sell. The Boone gallery’s promotion of Basquiat has been low key; he didn’t have a one-man show there until last May, his second season with the gallery, and the dealer charges $10,000 to $25,000 for a painting, a purposeful underpricing, she says.
For the most part, Basquiat is pleased, although the pricing of his work does bother him. Paintings by such Boone superstars as David Salle sell for $40,000 and up. ”David Salle’s been at it longer, I know,” sighs Basquiat. ”I should be patient, right?” DOWN ON THE Lower East Side, in a small newly renovated building that he rents, which is owned by Andy Warhol, four big empty canvases are waiting for the touch of Basquiat’s brush. The vast whiteness of the canvases seems a world away from the dirty walls on which he first exhibited his work. Downstairs, a friend named Shenge, who acts as major domo, has his quarters, while the floor above the studio is Basquiat’s domain, the place he keeps his VCR and a hundred or so cassettes of his favorite movies. In one corner is the director’s chair the late Sam Peckinpah used while shooting ”The Wild Bunch” and ”The Osterman Weekend.”
Basquiat takes a tube of paint and squirts a blob of brown pigment directly onto the virgin canvas, which is actually white paint spread over a work he never finished. It gives the surface a layered texture he likes. In fact, many of his paintings deliberately expose the buildup of layer upon layer, the shadow of an earlier version poking through. He ”edits” by painting over. Under his brush, a brown face soon begins to form on the canvas. ”The black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings,” he says. ”I realized that I didn’t see many paintings with black people in them.” Some of the figures are taken from life. For example, one powerful painting was drawn from a sad old man in a wheelchair whom Basquiat saw on a neighborhood street last spring. ”He would say to the young Puerto Rican helping him, ‘Put me in the sun, put me in the sun.’ He was a Cajun, from Louisiana. I gave him some money and he wanted to hug me, to pull me in. I pulled back.” But the vision is transformed in Basquiat’s bold painting. It is saturated with red, the wheelchair like a throne, the old man almost a god whose head is a primitive mask, frightening and defiant.
”Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy,” a book by Robert Farris Thompson, lies on his studio table, and thus it raises the question of influences on his art. His early rendering of primitive faces was instinctual, he says; he studied African masks later. He has never been to Haiti and there was no Haitian art at home when he was growing up. But his early inspirations include the master employer of primitive impulses, Picasso. Actually, says Basquiat, ”I like kids’ work more than work by real artists any day.” SINCE I WAS 17, I thought I might be a star,” Basquiat says. ”I’d think about all my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix. . . . I had a romantic feeling of how people had become famous. Even when I didn’t think my stuff was that good, I’d have faith.” In the last year or so, Basquiat has established a friendship with an artist who probably understands the power of celebrity better than anyone else in the culture. Once when he was trying to sell his photocopied postcards on a SoHo streetcorner, he followed Andy Warhol and Henry Geldzahler into a restaurant. Warhol bought one of the cards for $1. Later, when Basquiat had graduated to painting sweatshirts, he went to Warhol’s Factory one day. ”I just wanted to meet him, he was an art hero of mine,” he recalls. Warhol looked at his sweatshirts and gave him some money to buy more.
In his show at Mary Boone’s last spring, Basquiat exhibited a painting called ”Brown Spots.” It is a portrait of Warhol as a banana, a sly reference to an album cover Warhol once did for the Velvet Underground. That same spring, in ”The New Portrait” show at P.S. 1, a portrait appeared by Warhol of Basquiat, an acrylic and photo-silkscreen painting, with Basquiat posed like Michelangelo’s David.
Their friendship seems symbiotic. As the elder statesman of the avant-garde, Warhol stamps the newcomer Basquiat with approval and has probably been able to give him excellent business advice. In social circles and through his magazine, Interview, he has given Basquiat a good deal of exposure. Though Warhol teases Basquiat about his girlfriends, Basquiat finds the time to go with Warhol to parties and openings. In return, Basquiat is Warhol’s link to the current scene in contemporary art, and he finds Basquiat’s youth invigorating. ”Jean Michel has so much energy,” he says. One acquaintance suggests that the paternal concern Warhol shows for Basquiat – for example, he urges the younger artist to pursue healthful habits and exercise – is a way for Warhol to redeem something in himself. When asked how Warhol has influenced him, Basquiat says, ”I wear clean pants all the time now.”
Through a series of working collaborations in the last year, the relationship between them has flourished. First, at the suggestion of Bruno Bischofberger, they made a suite of 12 paintings with Francesco Clemente, with each of the three artists working in turn on each canvas. Then Basquiat and Warhol collaborated on huge pieces of unstretched canvas, some of them 10 by 20 feet. Warhol would silkscreen or paint words or symbols, a blown-up headline from The New York Post, for instance (”Plug Pulled on Coma Mom”), or perhaps a giant corporate logo such as Paramount Pictures’ mountain peak. Basquiat would then tackle the canvas, painting in his own strange figures, words and symbols. Thirty of these collaborative works, now owned by Bischofberger, will probably be exhibited in Europe. ”I’d run out of ideas,” says Warhol, to explain his involvement in the project.
But after Basquiat’s show at Mary Boone last spring, some critics complained that his recent work had grown too soft, too slick – and one blamed the long shadow of Warhol. ”They’re fresh out of the Factory,” – wrote Nicholas A. Moufarrege in a blistering review in Flash Art. ”These new paintings are too charming, they lack the nitty-gritty hip-hop and the jagged power that his last New York show at the Fun Gallery emanated.” Geldzahler saw the influence, too, but not as a negative force: ”The paintings had a lot of Warhol, but that’s to be expected. Basquiat seems to be able to keep his balance.” The artist himself is pleased with the work. ”I think I’m more economical now,” he says. ”Every line means something.”
Success, however, and sudden public scrutiny, can mean an end to artistic experimentation in private. ”Basquiat, like Schnabel, makes a great many works,” explains the collector Eugene Schwartz, who has bought three of the artist’s works and donated one to a museum in Israel. ”In exploring new ideas, he makes mistakes. But within that work he also has made minor masterpieces. I say ‘minor’ only because they haven’t yet stood the test of time.” But for some artists, the pressure to succeed and simply to repeat past successes can be too much. ”I think there’s a greater tendency today for artists to burn out,” says Barbara Haskell, curator of the Whitney Museum. ”It’s a question of whether they can maintain a personal space to work out and take the next step.”
”People think I’m burning out, but I’m not,” Basquiat insists. ”Some days I can’t get an idea, and I think, man, I’m just washed up, but it’s just a mood.” What doubtlessly helps Basquiat and many other artists to transcend the pressure is simply their own deep drive to make art. ”There’s really nothing else to do in life, except flirt with girls,” he jokes, then gets serious. ”If I’m away from painting for a week, I get bored.” Even when he had been painting at Warhol’s studio during the day, or if he had been out in the evening, he would often go home alone to work. He still keeps rock-and-roll hours. ”He’ll run in here in an $800 suit and paint all night,” says his friend Shenge. ”In the morning, he’ll be standing in front of a picture with his suit just covered in paint.” MEANWHILE, ONCE A painting is finished, it takes on a life of its own. As part of the never-ending marketing effort, paintings by Basquiat and other hot young art stars are always being crated and shipped. They are flown to an exhibition in Europe, a dealer on the West Coast, a collector’s home. This winter, Basquiat’s work was shown at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, more work was part of a show of young Americans at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and new paintings were unveiled for sale in Bischofberger’s Zurich gallery. And as the paintings move, their price escalates. Schwartz remembers the three Basquiats he bought less than four years ago. ”They were just lying there,” he says, ”No one wanted them. Now you can’t get them.” Geldzahler says he has been priced right out of the Basquiat market. And while the art public waits to see Basquiat’s newest work at his next New York show, next month at Mary Boone’s, his early paintings continue to pump life – and money – into the market. The works surface at auction, as five did at Sotheby’s last fall, or perhaps are quietly bought from a private collector by a dealer who will hold them and wait, dazzled by their meteoric appreciation. The artist, who does not profit from resales, may be off at work in a new direction, but even the paintings he said goodbye to long ago keep going round and round in today’s heady art world.
Cosmos Suite paintings 2013: Celestial Storm by Vincent Johnson. Oil on canvas. 30″x40″.
This is the first painting I’ve created in the year 2013. Each of the paintings in the Cosmos Suite and Nine Grayscale paintings employs different elements in terms of paint application, type of painting media used, and the range of colors worked into the painted surface. This particular painting has four major layers of paint with more layers added and blended into the already laid down and worked paint. The second layer is allowed to bone dry before the last layers are applied. I’ve compiled several recipes for creating the paintings, which take several weeks as the underpainting layers are air-dried. After applying the third layers, I rest the work for a day or more to figure out what will be the plan of attack to complete and resolve the painting. With each work I strive to produce an elegant and beautiful image that is also compelling to engage from the perspective of the history of painting and of contemporary painting practices today.
Celestial Storm: Studio view (2013)
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles
New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos suite (2012)
Golden Dream (2012), part of the Cosmos Suite of paintings
California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch (2010) by Vincent Johnson. Archival Epson print (Private Collection, Miami, Florida). I provided this image as I realized its clear similarity to Golden Dream, which I completed a week ago in my studio in Los Angeles.
Two at Night (2012) from the Cosmos suite of paintings, Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches
Cosmos. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson
Cosmos Red Yellow Green. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson
Green God. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson
This new painting series is part of my ongoing exploration of painting materials and techniques from the history of painting. The works combine knowledge of painting practices of both abstract and representation paintings. The works concern themselves purely with the visual power that paintings can do through the manipulation of paint. Some of the underpaintings are allowed to dry for months; some of those are built dark to light, others light to dark. None are made in a single setting. Most are worked and reworked using studio materials. Each new series takes a different approach to the painted surface from how the paint is applied, to varying the painting mediums. This suite concerns itself with the layering of paint by building up the surface and altering and reworking the wet paint with studio tools.
Two larger paintings will be completed and photographed on Sunday, July 15, 2012 and posted here.
Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting: The Storm (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles, California
Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting, Snow White/White Snow (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles
Vincent Johnson, Nine Grayscale Paintings, Beacon Arts Center, Los Angeles, (2001). Oil on canvas. Each panel is 20×24 inches.
photograph of silver paint on my hands in studio, Los Angeles, during the creation of Nine Grayscale paintings.
Vincent Johnson – in Los Angeles studio working on Nine Grayscale Paintings, 2011
Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications. His photographic works were most recently shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. His most recent paintings were shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles. His 2010 photo project – California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch, is in exhibition at Another Year in LA gallery in West Hollywood through early March 2013. His work has appeared in several venues, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (Freestyle (2001, The Philosophy of Time Travel, 2007, and The Bearden Project, 2011-2012), PS1 Museum, Queens, NY, SK Stiftung, Cologne, Germany, Santa Monica Museum of Art, LAXART, Las Cienegas Projects, Boston University Art Museum, Kellogg Museum, Cal Poly Pomona.
‘Self Portrait I’ by Ryan Gander, 2011, at the Lisson Gallery stand at Frieze Art Fair
By Emma O’Kelly
Economic doom and gloom may be swirling overhead, but during the Frieze Art Fair wealth, glamour and decadence still reign supreme. At the VIP opening, fat-walleted, fashioned-up collectors queued in droves to get in and scope out the 173 galleries and their artworks, which, as always, ranged from incredible to inscrutable, to downright annoying.
What to make of the swirling umbrellas placed on upside-down zebra print wallpaper designed ‘in homage to famous new York restaurant Gino’ by Alex Zachary? How to respond to Andra Ursuta‘s ‘bog body’- a life-size sculpture of herself dragged from a marsh and covered in splodges of silicone to represent semen? A little goes a long way at Frieze; its size guarantees sensory overload, but straightforwardly beautiful pieces such as Doh Ho Su’s fabric sculptures of doorknobs, pipes and lightswitches, or Carsten Nicolai‘s tableaux at Galerie Eigen+Art provide anchors in the storm.
Christian Jankowski‘s Riva yacht could be bought either as a boat or an artwork, depending on how much you were willing to pay for it, and had men clustering to take their picture next to it. Though it was meant as a symbol ‘to open wide the structures behind selling art’ in the words of the artist, it felt more Ideal Home Show than art show. Less oblique was Michael Landy‘s Credit Card Destroying Machine, first shown, remarkably, in the Louis Vuitton store in Bond Street last year. You put in your card and receive a signed drawing.
Now in its ninth year, the fair is as buoyant as ever, if a little more conservative than in previous years, and 2012 will see a sister event in New York and an additional Frieze Masters fair in London, dealing in artworks made before 2000. At the Frame part of the show, in which 24 young galleries exhibit one artist, curators whispered that South American artists especially those from Brazil and Argentina, are the ones to watch.
The ripple effect created by Frieze means galleries across town pull out all the stops to woo collectors, and a host of excellent shows, among them Ahmed Alsoudani at Haunch of Venison, run long after the tent has gone. Opportunists too, pitch in; on the south side of the Regents Park, a strip of John Nash terraces have been converted into millionaires pads with price tags of up to £45m. During Frieze, one mansion is turned into a temporary gallery of works from private collections for a show called The House of the Nobleman. Around 700 guests sashayed across the park to the opening party – and this time it wasn’t art they were after.
Frieze Art Fair 2011
Galerie Eigen+Art dedicated its whole stand to Carsten Nicolai
Michael Riedell at the David Zwirner stand
Untitled work by Isa Genzken at David Zwirner
Untitled (tondo) by Jason Martin at the Lisson Gallery stand
‘Parking garage’ by Rita McBride at the Mai 36 Galerie Zurich stand
‘August 6, 1945’ by Matthew Day Jackson at Hauser & Wirth
‘Crush’ by Andra Ursuta at the Ramiken Crucible gallery in the Frame area of Frieze
The Box Gallery from LA reignites the work of Judith Bernstein
‘Norman Foster’ by Xavier Veilhan at the Galerie Perrotin stand
Elmgreen & Dragset’s untitled piece suggests a woman in a morgue
Untitled by Ahmed Alsoudani, on show at the Haunch of Venison in Mayfair
The White Cube chose Frieze week to launch its third London gallery in a 1970s warehouse on Bermondsey Street. Retrofitted by Casper Mueller Kneer Architects, the building’s 780sq m South Galleries opens with ‘Structure & Absence’, a group show that uses the Chinese concept of a scholar’s rock as a motif. It features several veterans of White Cube and Frieze alike: Andreas Gursky, Brice Marden, Sterling Ruby, Gabriel Orozco and Damien Hirst
Photography by Ben Westoby, courtesy of White Cube
A visitor admires Nigel Cooke’s ‘No Holidays’ (2011) at Frieze Art Fair.
Artists, collectors, critics, curators and dealers have descended on London through Sunday to take part in the seventh annual Frieze Art Fair (www.friezeartfair.com), a key marketplace for contemporary art globally, with 173 galleries from 33 countries, showcasing more than 1,000 artists. Frieze’s success has inspired an autumn art jamboree throughout the city, stimulating satellite fairs, auction sales and shows in other galleries.
Started in 2003 by Frieze Magazine editors Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp to sell contemporary art to a growing cohort of international collectors, fair participants are vetted by a committee of their peers to attract blue-chip galleries, as well as a high-spending, contemporary-art-loving audience. “We provide a focused contemporary art fair—that is our appeal,” Ms. Sharp says.
Almost since its inception, Frieze stole contemporary thunder from those old ladies of the art market—Tefaf in Maastricht, strongest in Old Masters and antiques, and Art Basel, which spans both modern and contemporary. The appeal of Frieze, says art consultant Tanya Gertik, is “the energy and the buzz. It’s very sociable.”
Courtesy of Cristina Grajales Gallery, New York
Sebastian Errazuriz’s ‘Porcupine Cabinet’ (2011) on show at PAD.
Since Frieze first opened, international art fairs, alongside their cousins—the biennials—have proliferated: Art Basel spawned Art Basel Miami Beach, which then generated Design Miami and, in turn, Design Miami Basel, set up to achieve the same market intensification for contemporary design that the mother fair had achieved for art. Older fairs, like Art Chicago and the Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair, have ceded some priority to newer fairs, such as Art Hong Kong and Masterpiece London.
But some collectors find the blockbuster model overwhelming, preferring a more intimate environment. “The minute a fair gets too large, the enjoyment goes out of it,” Ms. Gertik says. Bernard Hartogs, a collector of art and design, adds: “I don’t go to Frieze. It’s too big.” This is one reason why Frieze Week has also, quietly, become PAD week.
It was in 2007 that DesignArt first opened in Hanover Square, with just 19 galleries. Hoping to benefit from the seasonal delirium, French antique dealer Patrick Perrin and modern- and contemporary-art specialist Stéphane Custot, the founders of the successful Pavillon des Arts et du Design in Paris, launched a complementary fair to Frieze, offering one-off and limited-edition contemporary design mixed in with classic European modern design. A year later, the fair was offered Berkeley Square, a prime location, and the charmingly Continental mix of decorative arts, with modern and contemporary design, began to gel. By 2009, the duo felt confident enough to introduce modern art to the mix, experimenting in London with the formula pioneered in Paris. The renamed Pavilion of Art & Design London would invite galleries who specialized in fine art, decorative art or design that post-dated 1860—made after the advent of industrial mass manufacture, but without the contemporary art that is so well served in Regent’s Park.
Running through Sunday, PAD (www.padlondon.net), is small and selective, with only 58 galleries. The genial mix of art, design and fine craft—Cristina Grajales’s stand this week offers two striking cabinets by Christophe Côme and Sebastian Errazuriz, while Jousse Entreprise has a classic Jean Royère sofa—promotes a way of living with art as much as the buying of it.
Gérard Faggionato of Faggionato Fine Arts in London, says PAD “is comfortable, and people come back two or three times during the week.”
Like Frieze, PAD doesn’t issue an overall statement of sales, arguing that since sales often aren’t concluded until months after the event, such statistics are misleading. Instead, it points you to the quality of the exhibits. Andrew Duncanson from Modernity has rare pieces by Alvar Aalto; Todd Merrill, an outstanding 3.5-meter sculpture of a dandelion (circa 1960) by Harry Bertoia; and Bernard Jacobson, some magnificent Robert Motherwell canvases. “The material is very good,” Julian Treager, a collector of fine art, design and jewelry says. “Last year, I bought a vintage Cartier necklace from the 1970s. The year before, some pieces by Studio Job from Carpenters Workshop Gallery.”
For the past five years, these two very different fairs have flourished in a finely balanced symbiosis. Next year, however, things are set to change when Frieze launches Frieze Masters, a second fair that will partly encroach on PAD’s territory by exhibiting works of art from antiquity through 2000. Frieze Masters will occupy a marquee specially designed by New York art-space specialist Annabelle Selldorf, on the other side of Regent’s Park from the contemporary fair, with its own program of events. Ms. Sharp explains that they are “bringing a contemporary approach to historical art—we will bring this art to new audiences.” This initiative has been inspired by her recognition that “the past is present in every decision contemporary artists make. This is an opportunity to explore those connections more imaginatively.” Meanwhile, in May, Frieze hopes to recreate its London achievement in New York, with a contemporary fair on Randall’s Island Park, overlooking the East River.
PAD, however, remains unintimidated. Full of confidence in their concept, and with a line-up of loyal galleries, PAD too is launching a New York edition, Nov. 11-13. As Frieze and PAD continue in full swing, there is competitive tension in the air.
Mr. Perrin hopes his prime location, in Berkeley Square, will keep his modern dealers away from Frieze Masters. “If you bring the right collectors in front of the right booths, the dealers will trust you,” he says, adding that “Frieze had no interest in modern painting. The people from contemporary art have almost no interest in the past.”
Was the lack of booze a sign? Previously on opening night in the big tent, waves of waiters would set out at a given time to distribute a slow flood of Pommery, gradually inebriating a crowd of revelers.
This year change is afoot. After a hard afternoon of strolling the boulevards of the fair, we started to wonder when the sparkling wave would hit us. So it was a shock to notice that bottles of Pom were being quietly distributed to each gallery stand, to be served at the discretion of the dealers. This year then, getting a drink depended on how much a gallerist decided they liked you. The horror of a critic dependent on a gallerist for a free drink!
But to be fair to the fair, rationing the booze was a good move; after all, as various gallerists I spoke to pointed out, opening night in recent years has tended to get a bit messy. And for sure, the more subdued, polite atmosphere this year seemed to demand more seriousness and consideration from the VIP crowd. But turning down the fizz-quota seems to reflect the broader sense of caution and unease in this year’s edition: with economic uncertainty and the threat of a further worldwide recession casting a shadow on the art market, the mood was definitely downbeat.
Money was clearly a preoccupation and not in a good way. One gallerist in the Frame section (the “emerging” gallery section) brooded over the hike in stand fees; and that, combined with the grinding increase in VAT imposed by the government this year, made turning a profit tougher than ever. Throughout the fair, the need to cover costs appeared to determine how gallerists filled their stands. In good years, you tend to see stands with less work, bigger work, or single-artist presentations. This year, however, clutter and density was the rule, with dealers presenting often-smaller works across a greater range of their artists. Large sculpture, apart from the biggest galleries who can still afford to hold sizeable spaces, was notably lacking. And by and large, dealers were playing it safe with the kind of work on offer: swathes of uncontroversial, positive, and colorful paintings and sculptures, easy for collectors to like, gave the fair a weirdly lurid visual buzz, but little punch.
Was it anxiety over sales that gave this year’s fair too much of the pile-it-high trade-fair vibe? Or was it the changes to the layout of the fair? It seems trivial, but the cafés and drink counters, previously located throughout the fair, had been tucked away in separate wings of their own. Not so trivial perhaps, as the same shift out from the main spaces was also imposed on those special artists’ commissions that art fairs nowadays like to indulge in, and which has often been a highlight of a visit to Frieze. Frieze Projects, curated for the second year by London curator Sarah McCrory, seemed this year almost invisible, with the bulk of them either offsite, web-based or shifted into discrete spaces on the periphery of the fair. Pierre Huyghe’s unnervingly dreamlike aquarium, Recollection—with its bemused hermit crab inhabiting a replica of Brancusi’s bronze Sleeping Muse (1910) and creepy spider crabs grazing on Mars-like pinkish rocks—was tucked away in a space behind the restaurant. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the tent, Peles Empire (Katharina Stoever and Barbara Wolff) put up a vodka bar in a shared space with LuckyPDF (London internet-art hipsters) whose video studio was situated in a dark anteroom.
This only left Christian Jankowski’s bombastic and profoundly stupid The Finest Art on Water to occupy a space alongside the conventional stands. Jankowski’s project consisted of a 10m luxury motor yacht, being sold as a motor yacht, for €500,000. Alternatively, you could also buy it “as a work of art” for an extra €125,000. As far as “critical” gestures go, Jankowski’s insight into the vacuous intangibility of art-value displayed all the fatigued, witless cynicism of an art world now profoundly uncomfortable with the ethics of its relationship to private wealth, yet inertly incapable of doing anything about it. How else, also, to appreciate Michael Landy’s naively raging intervention at Thomas Dane’s stand? Visitors queued to have their credit cards shredded by a Tinguely-like credit card-munching machine, in return for various scrappy drawings by Landy. His bizarrely moralizing obsession with the ascetic rejection of consumer capitalism—at an art fair—seemed like a bad case of having your cake and not eating it.
Ironically, all this whining about the corruption of the art world by money accompanied a bit of belt-tightening when it came to the Frieze Projects and Frieze Talks themselves, with fewer projects and talks than in the last few editions—suggesting a budget cut, or at least a desire not to distract the punters too much from the urgent business of buying stuff, with or without their credit cards. It also starts to throw up the uneasy question of what kind of event Frieze Art Fair really is, especially when one considers that Frieze projects, for example, continues to receive public subsidy to put on artists’ commissions in what is essentially a trade fair for rich collectors, and where the entrance fee for members of the public unlucky enough not to have a VIP pass is now a dissuasive £27.
So the gloss, the glamour, and the fun of the fair have all faded a little. Frieze Art Fair needs to pay the bills and get ready for its leap across the Atlantic for its impending, Armory-busting edition next May in New York. On its Eastern Front, Frieze needs to stave off the increasing threat of the FIAC in Paris—and the danger that some galleries will opt for one over the other: already this year Barbara Gladstone and Friedrich Petzel have opted for FIAC without Frieze—perhaps a sign of things to come. In an art market no longer quite as fizzy and bubbly as before, the days of free-flowing champagne may not be back for some time.
October 16th, 2011
Yves Klein all photos by Caroline Claisse for Art Observed
This year marked the 2nd iteration of the House of the Nobleman, a privately sponsored exhibition which took place at the Boswall House, 15,000sqft mansion at 2 Cornwall Terrace, overlooking Regent’s Park and the Frieze 2011 Art Fair. Art Observed was on site for the private viewing. On view were works by Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin, Peter Paul Rubens, Edgar Degas, Max Ernst, Damien Hirst, Marlene Dumas, Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, Sigmar Polke, Christian Boltanski, Anish Kapoor, Nick Hornby, Matthew Day Jackson, Cecily Brown, Lucian Freud, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Longo, Alexander Calder, Eugenia Emets, Francesco Clemente, Salvador Dali, Peter Doig, Olafur Eliasson, George Condo, Takashi Murakami, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Gerhard Richter.
Monet, Claude “ Chemin dans le brouillard”, (1879)
more images after the jump…
Boltanski, Christian “Reliquaire”, (1990)
Shaw, Raqib “Portrait of Dorothea Kannengeisser”, (2008)
Doig, Peter “C+ W (Country and Western)”, (1983)
Hirst, Damien “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue”, (2000). Calder, Alexander “Enseigne de lunettes”, (1976)
(left) Richter, Gerhard “Entwurf fur Grund (Basic Draft)”, (1972)
(right) Ernst, Max “Fleurs sur Fond Vert”, (1928)
Doug Aitken, Now (2011) at 303 Gallery NY. All photos for Art Observed by Caroline Claisse.
AO is on site in London for this week’s Frieze Art Fair. With 173 galleries selling an estimated $350 million worth of art, a level of anxiety pervades as the week’s results will be indicative of the overall international contemporary art market. Works like Christian Jankowski’s droll The Finest Art on Water and Michael Landy’s Credit Card Destroying Machine directly comment on the world economic state, while the overall demeanor remains upbeat, with art world moguls and A-list celebrities enjoying the festivities.
Michael Landy’s Credit Card Destroying Machine (2011), Thomas Dane Gallery
More text and images after the jump…
Christian Jankowski, The Finest Art on Water (2011).
Retired fashion designer Valentino was photographed on the smaller of two infamous Christian Jankowski boats. Priced at €65 million while simply a boat, the 204-foot yacht jumps to €75 million once deemed a piece of art—as approved (with certificate) by Jankowski. When the Guardian asked Jankowski how the global recession is impacting art, to which he replied, “I don’t see the effect. I’m not one of the people who ever made much money.” No buyer information has been released thus far.
The Financial Times reports that the Tate team has been buying with its £120,000 budget, seeking mostly familiar artists. Among others, they have acquired works by two important woman artists: the yellow Tumour (1969) by Alina Szapocznikow is a wall-based polyester sculpture in toxic yellow from Broadway 1602 of New York, and a portfolio of Portuguese artist Helena Almeida spans four decades of the artist’s drawings and photographs from Madrid’s Galeria Helga de Alvear.
Iwan Wirth, at Hauser and Wirth
Ida Applebroog Modern Olympia (after giotto) (1997-2001), Louise Bourgeois Untitled (2005) at Hauser and Wirth
Paul McCarthy at Hauser and Wirth
Thomas Houseago, Hermaphrodite (2011). In Regent’s Sculpture Park
Other major sales include the purchase of Haus des Lehrers (2003) by Neo Rauch, sold by David Zwirner to an American collector for $1,350,000. Thomas Houseago has also been selling well, with his sculpture Hermaphrodite (2o11) reported at $425,000 and his Earth Mask II (2011) sold through Hauser & Wirth.
Artist Michael Landy with his Credit Card Destroying Machine (2011), Thomas Dane Gallery
Despite the platform of optimism and glamor, Thomas Dane’s presentation of Michael Landy’s latest work draws attention to the contradiction of this year’s fair. Credit Card Destroying Machine (2011) does what its name suggests: in order to make a drawing, Landy’s odd conglomeration of rickety wires and dead animal heads destroys a credit card. The work on paper is then given freely to the viewer who volunteered a now ruined credit card.
Landy supervised the showcase on Wednesday, telling onlookers that the machine is intentionally “very human”—sometimes it breaks, sometimes it gets caught on things. The analytical and journalistic consensus is that the work speaks to the underlying tension of Frieze this year: although upbeat and enthralling, the financial complications paired with human error are an undeniable, often unspoken presence at the fair. Landy’s work successfully targets the mixed emotions via disseminating sensationalism. The work is on reserve for $189,000.
Tom Dingle, Gallery Director at Thomas Dane of London, confirmed that spirits were high. “I feel no looming dread,” he told AO, “Frieze is always good fun and all our friends are here.”
Pierre Huyghe, Recollection (2011).
Another popular work is Pierre Huyghe’s Recollection (2011). Crowds discussed the hermit crab living inside a Brancusi Muse replica (originally 1910) with adoration and fascination. The work is reminiscent of Brancusi’s work during Art Basel, which was juxtaposed with Richard Serra’s more contemporary black paintings at Fondation Beyeler.
Art dealer Jay Jopling at White Cube booth.
White Cube Bermondsey is the gallery’s third space in London at a very large 58,000 sq ft, with the full site totaling 1.7 acres (74,300 sq ft). Prior to its renovation, the building was a warehouse. Its inaugural exhibition, Structure & Absence, is on view through November 26th, which includes Chinese scholars’ rocks, and comments on the work of living artists Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst and Gary Hume, among others. At the new space, White Cube includes an auditorium to host lectures and other programs. Founding dealer Jay Jopling was on site at Regent’s Park, speaking animatedly near Damien Hirst’s fresh pastel dot paintings.
Hirst features heavily in this week’s contemporary auction sales, which thus far have proven successful. A standout example is art star Jacob Kassay, whose work exceeded its estimate at Phillips de Pury by $147,000, officially selling at $257,000. Just two years ago, Phillips de Pury had priced him at $8,000, surprising everyone with an actual selling bid of $86,500. Tomorrow at Christie’s, Gerhard Richter’sKerze, or Candle (1982) has a high estimate of nine million pounds.
Anish Kapoor at Lisson Gallery
Although powerful gallerists traditionally dominate the crowd on site and by reputation, this year was one for the artist and activist. Correspondingly, Art Review announced the 100 most powerful people in the art world, and Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei ranked number one, with gallery tycoons Larry Gagosian and Ivan Wirth at numbers 4 and 8. Ai Weiwei’s designation follows his recent release from arrest and detainment by the Chinese government earlier this year.
Asian influence on the fair has been hotly debated by art critics and journalists. The Chinese economy has been largely accepted as a global powerhouse, and so too as an art market one. In 2011, White Cube and Lehmann Maupin both sought to open galleries in East Asia, and Galeri Perrotin and Lehman Maupin continue to seek space. Gagosian Gallery has a showroom in Hong Kong, as inaugurated by Damien Hirst’s diamond-covered baby skull in the Forgotten Promises exhibition. Many of the galleries at Frieze now also show at Art HK in Hong Kong, which was purchased by Art Basel Miami.
Along with the Asian presence, South America stood out as well with works such as Brazilian gallery A Gentil Carioca’s Visiting Portraiture by Laura Lama. For 50 pounds, visitors can purchase a professional ‘makeover’—a portrait of the visitor at a much older age.
Urs Fischer, Untitled (2003), Gagosian Gallery
In a crowd of friends and notables, celebrity sightings were numerous. Musician Gwen Stefani, and models Natalia Vodianova and Elle Macphearson were counted in the crowd alongside collectors like Princess of Sharjah Hoor al-Qasimi, Sir Nicholas Serota of Tate, and the Serpentine Gallery‘s power duo Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones (fresh from talks at Tuesday’s Bidoun Auction).
Ultimately, art, parties, and economic confidence largely diverge. Hesitations at the fair have yet to reveal booming sales results, and while the auction hammer prices are high, this does not fully quell fears. As the fair continues through the weekend, only time will tell.
Elmgreen & Dragset, The Fruit of Knowledge (2001), Victoria Miro Gallery
Paul Simon Richards for Live from Frieze Art Fair this is LuckyPDFTV. Photo by Polly Braden. Courtesy of Polly Braden/ Frieze
As many of you probably know, i love contemporary art fairs. Yes, it’s pure porn art and there’s too much to see, most of which is quite frankly bad. But there are good surprises as well and i don’t mind spending hours in front of painted horrors if at some point i stumble upon a piece that will move me. I’m that easy. Besides, art fairs expose me to works and artists i would otherwise never have accepted to look at.
That’s how in mid-October i found myself in Regent’s Park, London, clutching my hard earned press pass (did they make bloggers sweat to get an accreditation!), expecting to be blown away. Year after year, i had read about the Frieze art fair in mags and newspapers. It looked extravagant and fearless. It looked like an art fair i would enjoy.
Alas! What the 173 galleries exhibited inside the gigantic pavilion was a bit uneventful.
Maybe the euro crisis had compelled gallery owners to be cautious and somewhat conservative in their selection of art works. Maybe my expectations were too high. I walked from corridor desperate for some excitement to photograph.
I was keen to see Pierre Huyghe’s crab living inside a Brancusi head but i never managed to locate it. I didn’t manage to miss Christian Jankowski’s 65-metre yacht though. Made by a specialist boat builder, the luxury ship could be purchased at the merchant’s prize for €500,000. Or for €625,000 if you fancied having the artist sign it. The references were obvious (Duchamp, financial crisis, bling culture, etc.), the whole point not so much.
Of course it wasn’t all pain and gloom. The PM3 of the talks are online, there was Nathalie Djurberg! there was Nathalie Djurberg!, i ended up in The Guardian (albeit in a photo gallery showing people who confuse art fairs with fashion shows) and i did find works that make this post worthy of a quick scroll down:
Michael Landy, Credit Card Destroying Machine, 2010 (Thomas Dane gallery). Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Frieze/ Linda Nylind
Michael Landy was showing a Tinguely-inspired eccentricity that shred your credit card in exchange of a drawing by the artist. You might remember that 10 years ago Landy spent 2 weeks destroying all of his worldly possession in an empty store on Oxford Street.
Over some 20 years, street photographer Igor Moukhin chronicled rallies and protest marches across Russia.
Brian Griffiths, Bear Work Wear (black), 2011 (Vilma Gold gallery)
As i screamed earlier, there was Nathalie Djurberg! there was Nathalie Djurberg!
Nathalie Djurberg, Woods, Gio Marconi. Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/ Frieze
Nathalie Djurberg, Woods, Gio Marconi. Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/ Frieze
Nathalie Djurberg, Woods, Gio Marconi. Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/ Frieze
In Encounter(s), Tejal Shah collaborated with artist Varsha Nair. Wearing a straightjacket, outstretching their bodies, they wrapped themselves around pilars, across stairs, through gates and against other pieces of architecture. The work amplifies the paradox of our highly networked reality wherein technology variously connects, only to ironically distance us.
Tejal Shah, Encounter(s), 2006
Marina Abramovic, The Levitation of Saint Teresa, 2010 (Lisson Gallery)
In case you were wondering ‘how much does the work below cost?’, i found some figures online: In Frame, the section in the fair for young galleries showing solo artist presentations supported for a second year by Cos, sales were also substantial. François Ghebaly sold out their Patrick Jackson booth, selling Dirt Pile on Table (roots&glass) (2011) priced at $9,000; two versions of Heads, hands and feet (2011) for $15,000 and 3 dirt pile sculpture for $20,000 all to significant international collectors.
Patrick Jackson, Head, Hands and Feet (black) + Head, Hands and Feet (red), 2011 (François Ghebaly Gallery)
Wolfgang Tillmans. Faltenwurf (Grey), 2011 (Galerie Chantal Crousel)
Dawn Mellor, South African Gallerist Kristen Scott Thomas is showing neo-institutional critique works by Zurich based artist Chaz Bono, 2011 (Team Gallery)
Alex Hartley (of the Nowherisland fame) was showing what looked like a photo of the Unabomber cabin. Close (very close) inspection revealed that it was a sculpture with the architectural model carved and built into the photography of the landscape itself. The series is on show at Victoria Miro this Winter.
Alex Hartley, Waiting for Daylight to End (Kaczynski Cabin), 2011
Cinthia Marcelle, O Cosmopolita, 2011
This is the billy-goat costume that Paweł Althamer wore to travel the world on the footsteps of a Polish children’s-book character.
Sorry i have no title nor author for the following works:
More images. Photo on the homepage: Paul Simon Richards for Live from Frieze Art Fair this is LuckyPDFTV. Photo by Polly Braden. Courtesy of Polly Braden/ Frieze.
FINANCIAL TIMES LONDON
October 12, 2011 7:06 pm
Frieze Art Fair, Regent’s Park, London
By Salamander Davoudi
Five-day event will showcase $350m worth of art displayed by 173 galleries
London’s Frieze Art Fair opened its doors to VIP guests on Wednesday in an optimistic mood, defiantly showcasing the beautiful, the bohemian and the bizarre despite the volatility in world markets and concerns over the impact on the art world.
High-profile collectors and celebrities such as Russian entrepreneur Evgeny Lebedev and model Elle Macpherson gathered in Regent’s Park at London’s leading fair for the sale of contemporary art, which traditionally sees millions of pounds change hands.
This market has enjoyed several years of strong growth, especially at the top end, but amid global economic uncertainty and in the wake of a few weak London auctions last week, dealers are anxious to see if sales of contemporary art will hold up.“The market feels sound. For people who have accumulated wealth contemporary art is, in a way, one of the most sophisticated ways of enjoying it…But people do say that the middle part of the market is suffering,” said Nicholas Logsdail, owner of London’s Lisson Gallery, which made five sales in the first three hours.
The White Cube gallery reported brisk trade, selling Antony Gormley’s “Spy”, a rusted steel standing figure, for £300,000 as well as Andreas Gursky’s “Cocoon II” for €600,000. An untitled 2011 painting by Mark Bradford also sold for $400,000. New York’s David Zwirner Gallery, meanwhile, sold a 2003 work by the German painter Neo Rauch for $1.35m to a US collector.
Hiscox, the insurers, have estimated that the five-day event will showcase $350m worth of art, $25m less than last year, displayed by 173 galleries from all round the world, including dealers from Colombia, Peru and Argentina for the first time. As in previous years, the fair also includes a sculpture park.
Many of the pieces on display use the internet and social networking to examine the role of information. A project by the German artist Oliver Laric will exist online only – he is filming the fair and creating an archive of slow-motion footage.
Matthew Slotover, co-founder of Frieze, said: “More galleries applied than ever before to take part. When the markets turned down in August we were worried but good art always sells. This is about getting quality works through the door.”
Laurence Tuhey, associate director of the Timothy Taylor Gallery, said there had been significant interest in the New York-based artist Kiki Smith. Her stained glass piece “A Behold” sold in the afternoon for $125,000. “We had expected doom and gloom but the energy at the start of the fair was really good,” he said.
Among the more experimental pieces of art on display yesterday included Beijing artist Liu Wei’s video installation called “The 400 Blows” in which 400 men pull down their trousers and show their bottoms to the camera. French artist Pierre Huyghe created an aquarium featuring a hermit crab
The fair’s “Frame” section, dedicated to young galleries displaying solo artists, was bigger than in previous years. “This is the younger more experimental side of the market. But the work sells if the work is good,” said Francois Ghebaly, owner of the Ghebaly gallery.
Mr Ghebaly was displaying American artist Patrick Jackson’s work. Within two hours he had sold Mr Jackson’s “dirt piles” – tables piled with dung-like dirt, for $9,000.
Auctions at Sotheby’s Christie’s, Bonhams and Phillips de Pury will be held at the end of “Frieze Week” including Bonhams’ first “Contemporary One” sale on Thursday.
“People are generally quite nervous in the contemporary art market after the collapse of Lehman’s when the market fell off a cliff. That could easily happen again,” said Robert Read, fine art expert at specialist art insurer Hiscox.
“There is a hell of a lot of cash held by the uber wealthy that is looking for a home to go to. There are not that many investment opportunities generally at the moment. So the purchasing power is there but whether they will be tempted by the contemporary art market is another matter.”
Stefan Ratibor, director of the Gagosian gallery, which sold seven pieces in the first three hours said: “Sometimes we sell more sometimes we sell less but it is really too early to comment on the state of the market. We need to wait and see what happens in the auctions at the end of the week.”
The Frieze Art Fair takes place each October in central London, under a very big tent in Regent’s Park. The 2011 edition, the fair’s ninth, accommodated 173 galleries, and from the Oct. 12 VIP preview through the Oct. 16 close, 60,000 visitors passed through. It’s anyone’s guess how much money changed hands — with those numbers, presumably quite a lot. Despite the sinking global economy, there is money for art in London. There is also art for money.
At Frieze, Michael Landy and Christian Jankowski presented projects that made that point crystal clear. Landy is the YBA who publicly destroyed all his possessions in 2001– more than 7,000 items, everything inventoried beforehand — in a giant machine he built for the purpose, as a site-specific project for Artangel.
What a difference a decade makes. Landy brought a new, more Tinguely-like machine to London dealer Thomas Dane’s stand at Frieze. This crowd-pleaser, a 12-foot-tall assemblage of saws, animal skulls, hand puppets and countless gears, destroyed credit cards proffered by game collectors. In return, each received a drawing in marker made on the spot by the same machine, but signed by the artist. (The machine was priced at $189,000. No word on any takers.)
Jankowski’s readymade sculpture was even more absurd. One of nine commissions for Frieze Projects, a nonprofit (ha!) program curated by the Frieze Foundation’s Sarah McCrory, it was actually an Aquariva Cento speedboat that was dry-docked beside the model of a Ferretti super-yacht, the kind super-rich collectors parked in front of the Giardini during opening week of the current Venice Biennale — Jankowski’s inspiration for the project.
Both boats were for sale, either as personal sailing vessels or as Christian Jankowski artworks — lusting collectors had their choice. (For the speedboat, the price was £500,000; as an artwork, it went up to £650,000. The built-to-order yacht was going for €65 million; as a certified Jankowski, it would cost €75 million.)
A salesman from Ferretti, trained by the artist, was on hand to make the pitch either way. “Only by completing the deal does the artwork exist,” Jankowski said. At this writing, it is still a boat. And Frieze is still a marketplace, though I did appreciate the attempt to provide commentary and context for the fair’s vast expanse of art merchandise. And humor is always welcome when serious money is afloat.
Still, salesmanship is the name of the game at an art fair, where the best art is the art that sells itself. Evidently, that was the case at the front-and-center Gagosian Gallery stand, which was wrapped in posters gathered by Franz West. The artist was also represented by a pink, raised-finger bronze, a smaller version of the one he made for Venice. It sold early on, as did a Dan Colen painting that featured a supermarket cart and went for a good six figures.
Also at Gagosian, a fetching wall work of bulging ceramic pots by Piotr Uklanski was priced at $150,000. An equally effulgent red-on-black resin painting by Uklanski held a wall at the booth of Milan dealer Massimo de Carlo, who was offering as well a palm tree-on-bathroom tile painting by Rashid Johnson and a cartoony Kaari Upson drawing that amounted to an exegesis of her work to date.
Though Gavin Brown’s enterprise won the fair’s award for best booth with a clean, straightforward hang, I pegged Greene Naftali’s for the most colorful presentation. Anchored by a red, white and blue flying-drawing-table construction by Guyton/Walker, it showed a silvery, Jacqueline Humphries painting that is among her best yet, a terrific Rachel Harrison amalgamation, and a wall of monochrome paintings by Paul Chan that used old books as canvases. “It’s about the ambiguity of knowledge,” Carol Greene explained.
Dealers trade in information, and like everyone else, I went not just to look at art but to talk about it. Conversation is what rules an art fair, which is just another word for social networking, allowing people who might envy or despise each other in normal circumstances to bond over art. The passion grows in the aisles and spreads via daily after-fair dinners and inebriating parties, where the discussion continues, and deals are consummated, alliances are created, and opportunities for further discussion crop up.
Talk, as the one of the Sunday papers would note, is the new art form, and London was full of it. The fair hosted its own series of artist conversations, while at the ICA, Paul Chan had a face-off with Museum Ludwig director Kasper Koenig. Artist and filmmaker Duncan Campbell appeared at Hotel Gallery’s new Herald Street space (Wolfgang Tillmans‘ former studio) for a discussion of European economic theory with author John Lanchester that was as stimulating as Campbell’s postcard-based film about German economist Hans Tietmeyer was engrossing.
And at the Serpentine Gallery, co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist hosted his annual Frieze weekend marathon, an avant-garde variety show of brief lectures and performances. It really should be televised, though I’m not sure that Rodney Graham‘s lobbing of potatoes at a gong would be as edifying on the small screen as it was in person.
In fact, what Frieze has going for it is London, where exhibitions in museums and nonprofit spaces opening at the same time lend some welcome depth to the homogenizing effect of sheer commerce.
Tate Modern had Gerhard Richter and Tacita Dean. The Serpentine had films by Anri Sala. The Hayward Gallery had retrospectives for Pipilotti Rist and George Condo, the Whitechapel Gallery featured Wilhelm Sasnal, and the Camden Arts Centre had new videos by Nathalie Djurberg, who went all out at the fair and installed her furry, fantastically grotesque plasticine puppet sculptures in the stand of Gio Marconi from Milan.
If I had been a buyer at Frieze, I might have gone for an untitled abstract painting by Glaswegian Cathy Wilkes, a beauty that The Modern Institute sold easily for £15,000. I also liked Ryan Gander‘s Self-Portrait, a spread of palette-like glass discs bearing paint smears, that Lisson Gallery sold for £60,000.
But I was most intrigued by a Richard Wentworth book sculpture trailing audio tape and ribbons and placed high up on a mirrored shelf in the same booth — the only work in it that didn’t find a buyer. “There were conservation concerns,” said Lisson’s Nicholas Logsdail.
No such issues came up at Hollybush Gardens’ booth, where a long scroll of cheap paper marked with council-flat coal dust by Knut Henrikson was selling to DIY-minded collectors who relished the chance to recreate it themselves as soon as the paper disintegrated.
That and the Landy and Jankowski gestures aside, however, daring was not in the fair’s character. Not that it ever can be when the stakes are high, though that seems all the more reason for dealers to be bold.
A twisted Madonna and Child painting and sculpture by Jake & Dinos Chapman, at the entrance to White Cube‘s booth, was about as radical as anyone got, but it wasn’t half as compelling as Miroslaw Balka‘s skull-like glass rock encased in rusted wire, a work from 2007, in the same booth. Nor was it as sexy as Tillmans’ big blue abstract C-print at Maureen Paley‘s stand, where it sold for $78,000.
But who cares about prices when there are discoveries to be made? That was the draw for the Sunday fair, Oct. 13-16, 2011, an unpretentious satellite show of 20 young galleries organized by Limoncello Gallery director Rebecca May Marston. As the fair was located in the bowels of a university basement, finding it alone was an adventure. Inside, its open plan strongly resembled New York’s Independent fair, with overlapping presentations and friendly young dealers eager to do the required duty — talk about the art.
But what brought it all back home were the four elevating gouaches of plastic bottles and glassware by Allyson Vieria offered by Lower East Side dealer Laurel Gitlen. For me, they were the art highlight of the week, exciting enough to make me wish for $4,500 to burn.
Just goes to show: when it’s truth and beauty you want, look first in your own backyard. Come May, that’s where Frieze reappears next — on Randall’s Island in the East River. How well it makes the transfer to the shores of New York is open to question.
Let’s talk. LINDA YABLONSKY is an art critic who writes for Artforum.com, the Art Newspaper, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, W and other publications.
Frieze New York is only in its second year, but the mega-art fair, which opens to the public on Friday, already feels like an institution. And like most of the city’s traditions, this one has built-in pageantry: a weeklong blur of deals, dinners, parties, and of course, splashy openings. To lure the big-fish collectors and international artelligentsia in town, galleries have pulled out the big guns—Koons, Kelly, McCarthy. Here are a few blue-chip shows to see and be seen at this week.
If Frieze has a mascot, it’s Paul McCarthy’s Balloon Dog. McCarthy has gained renown for a litany of idiosyncratic works. He’s presented decidedly alternative views of allegorical characters such as Snow White and Santa Claus; questioned the merit of celebrity in art, and art in general; and recently moved into satirizing pop culture, with Pig Island and Rebel Dabble Babble. His eighty-foot-tall Koonsian inflatable pooch announces Frieze’s arrival to anyone in view of the East River. It also serves as a colossal companion to the free-to-all Sculpture Park’s other works, which include the pieces by Tom Burr and Franz West pictured here.
In the Drink
During a 1971 diatribe about Manhattan, Woody Allen mused, “There is no question that there is an unseen world. The problem is, how far is it from midtown and how late is it open?” At that point, the city’s most notorious “unseen world,” its 32,000 Prohibition-era speakeasies, was forty-one years into retirement. Double that, and nostalgia for the hedonistic twenties has led to the proliferation of legal speakeasies hidden, say, behind a phone booth in an East Village hot-dog shop. It also inspired L.A.-based artist Liz Glynn, who has concealed Vault, a speakeasy, within Frieze’s grid. Built like a ramshackle bank vault, with safe-deposit boxes containing symbolic objects, its location will be revealed to lucky fairgoers at random. On the cocktail menu: gin and vodka Vespers.
A 2012 installation by Glynn.
Photo: BLACKBOX (Bar), 2012, by Liz Glynn, stained wood, one hundred unique numbered glazed ceramic mugs, eleven stools, Xerox copies, and acrylic. Photograph by Calvin Lee. Courtesy of LAXART and the Getty Research Institute.
“Not all food is art,” Frieze Projects New York curator Cecilia Alemani says. “But [both food and art] are creative processes that start from very simple ingredients and transform them into something magic.” That was the essence of Food, the legendary artist-run Manhattan restaurant opened in 1971 by Gordon Matta-Clark and Carol Goodden. At Frieze, the icon is reincarnated as Food 1971/2013, a restaurant featuring artists as guest chefs. For a more traditional culinary experience, a number of the city’s hottest restaurants will also be on-site: Frankies Spuntino will be reprising its full-service restaurant, while Prime Meats will offer picnic fare. Marlow & Sons and The Fat Radish are returning, and Mission Chinese will make its Frieze debut with an array of dishes worth waiting in line for, including its famous Kung Pao Pastrami.
Photo: Tina Girouard, Carol Goodden, and Gordon Matta-Clark outside the restaurant FOOD prior to its opening, 1971. Photograph by Richard Landry. Courtesy Richard Landry, the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner, New York / London
Frieze New York, up and running through Monday, is a fashionista’s wet dream of what an art fair ought to be. Take a look if you want to know how the people who buy and sell contemporary paintings and whatnots are amusing themselves right now. Set in a meandering white tent on Randall’s Island in the East River—it’s just a quick taxi ride (or Frieze-organized bus or ferry ride) from Manhattan—Frieze New York is our Gilded Age art world’s answer to the perfect Edwardian country house party. The bleached-chic style can make ignorance and mendacity look pretty. At a time when the people with the heaps of money are terrified of anything that isn’t “curated,” whether it’s their Louboutins or their Warhols, Frieze is so finely curated that it becomes its own conceptual art work, annihilating whatever art happens to be on display. Even an interesting late painting by Joan Mitchell, at Cheim and Read, registers as little more than another color swatch. You don’t need an art critic to explain Frieze New York. Henry James would have savored the drop-dead elegance and seen straight through to the corruption, although you might want a little help from Marx or Keynes (take your pick) to explain exactly how it all works.
Everything about Frieze is designed to obliterate any particular impression.
Artistic experience is first and last a local experience—an experience of some particular thing seen in some particular time and place. The trouble with Frieze—and the same goes for Art Basel and all the rest of the high profile international art fairs—is that the particulars are effectively pulverized so as to create one grandiose global mash-up. To the extent that a fairgoer distinguishes one thing from another, it’s just a matter of determining the product placement in a top-of-the-heap trade fair. And whom does this all-in-one experience really serve? Well, it definitely serves the people who keep the galleries in business, because this is a constituency that has a lot of money but not a lot of time, at least so they will tell you. Contemplation is dead. Closing the deal is all that matters. At an art fair the mood is so keyed up that even the most lackluster work of art can begin to look as if it’s on steroids. And there’s always the chance that a collector will get in the mood and rev things up even further, with the adrenaline high of a purchase made more or less in public. Art collectors used to be inclined to be secretive. Now they’re pretty much all publicity hounds.
Actually, Frieze seems to have managed to send the entire Manhattan art scene into a mind-altering frenzy. This is only the second year Frieze, an established event in the London season, has appeared in New York. And it’s still fresh enough that the hometown team is eager to partner and stir things up—and make a bit of a rumpus—in the same few weeks that also include the major spring art auctions. Days before Frieze had opened, when I went down to Chelsea to see a few shows, there were already many more gallerygoers than you would normally see on a Tuesday afternoon. The international crowd had already arrived, anxious not to miss out on any of the fun. Over the weekend, the city is hosting a bewildering number of art and art-related happenings. And next Wednesday a major Jackson Pollock, November 19, 1948, is on the auction block in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Christie’s. I suspect that at least for all but the most exclusive events there may be some anxiety as to whether there are enough bodies to go around. At Frieze there are VIPs and VVIPs, at least so I gather. And to top it all off—and obviously coordinated with Frieze and the auctions—Jeff Koons, king of the trashmeisters and the top dog among the top selling artists, has a duo of shows opening in Chelsea. One is with his dealer of recent years, Larry Gagosian, but the second is his first appearance at the David Zwirner Gallery, which has a far more austere and intellectual atmosphere than Gagosian and might just persuade the chattering class that’s wearied of Koons to take another look. Koons is now ripping off the Greco-Roman sculptors and for all I know will be hailed for revitalizing neoclassicism.
Fairgoers stand in a room curated by Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, a New York art gallery.
I am sorry to be a party pooper. Of course I get a buzz out of Frieze, what with the people-watching and the suave food concessions (Blue Bottle Coffee, Court Street Grocers, The Fat Radish, Sant Ambroeus, and so forth). I could write about the work I saw that stood out a bit, including Mai-Thu Perret’s miniscule, minimalist, and possibly mystical gameboard-like paintings at Zurich’s Galerie Francesca Pia and Simon Evans’s pale, all-over collages featuring bits and pieces of lined paper and graph paper at New York’s James Cohan. But under the circumstances I refuse to be the well-behaved art critic assigning B- to this and C+ to that and maybe even a provisional midterm grade of A-. Everything about Frieze—from the blinding white light to the open floor plan with galleries flowing one into the other—is designed to obliterate any particular impression. And that’s what’s wrong with the whole godforsaken glamorous weekend. At Frieze, you’re being pushed to groove, not to grapple. You’re in the know, but you’re a know nothing.
“Smoking Room in a private Palais in Brussels, as seen from entrance, 1905,”by Maria Loboda.
The people who run Frieze certainly knew what they were up to when they positioned themselves on an island that has a bit of a never-never land feeling. It’s as if they had set out to deny New York’s great artistic history—what Donald Judd, in the title of one of his pioneering articles about the art of the 1960s, referred to as “Local History.” At Frieze, history is dead and New York’s legendary spirit of place is totally obliterated. Art is left to start from scratch every time, which perhaps explains the scratchpad stupidity of a lot of the work on display. It’s demagogues who want to obliterate the past. And there is something autocratic if not fascistic about the sleekly cosseted ambience in Frieze New York’s snaking white tent. Everybody walks around in a cheerfully hypnotic state. The flow patterns have been oh so beautifully worked out. If you go, you have no choice but to go with the flow.
Jed Perl is the art critic for The New Republic.
WWJD by Jack Early, 2012 (printed Lexan, lights, plywood, muslin, lentils, printed cotton)
Gallery: McCaffrey Fine Art B15
Untitled by Daniel Arsham, 2013 (broken glass, resin)
Gallery: Galerie Perrotin, C43
Fotini by Saint Clair Cemin, 2013
Gallery:Paul Kasmin, C13 (Sculpture Garden)
==New York Times
Special Report: The Art of Collecting
Frieze Art Fair Pitches Its Tent in New York
Frieze New York offered a strong showing of North American work in 2012, with 35 percent of galleries coming from that continent, 51 percent from Europe and 14 percent from other regions. Those proportions remain consistent in 2013.
By ROSLYN SULCAS
Published: May 9, 2013
LONDON — When the Frieze Air Fair, the cool teenager of the contemporary art world, set up shop in New York last year, there did not seem to be much surprise. But Frieze New York, which opens its second edition Friday in Randall’s Island Park in Manhattan, remains a daring move and a gamble for the London show and its organizers.
Contemporary art at last year’s edition of Frieze New York.
There is also a risk that the expansion of Frieze to the United States could dilute the impact or panache of its London edition, take galleries and collectors away from the mother ship, or attempt too close a clone of London in a very different context.
Amanda Sharp, who co-founded Frieze with Matthew Slotover in 2003, said that although it “did seem like a very big challenge,” the impetus to take Frieze to New York came largely from the European galleries that were showing at the London fair.
“I had mentioned the idea to about two people,” Ms. Sharp, a Briton, said by telephone from New York, where she has been based since 1999. “Then a German newspaper got wind of it, and wrote about it, and the deluge of interest was so extreme that I knew I had to find a location.” She describes how she went to Google to look for large green spaces and eventually drove out to Randall’s Island. “I knew it could be perfect for us,” she said.
The choice of the island, a part of Manhattan between the East River and the Harlem River that is unknown to many New York City residents, was a contentious one. In the 19th century, it featured a poorhouse, a reformatory for juveniles and a hospital; now it is mostly parkland with a multipurpose sports complex. Getting there involves either taking a 20-minute ferry or a fairly long car ride via the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, anathema to the New York love of convenience.
“People said we must be crazy,” Mr. Slotover said by telephone. “But to an amazing degree, in the first few minutes of arriving, the consensus changed 180 degrees.”
The attractive environment, together with Ms. Sharp and Mr. Slotover’s attention to detail — the food on offer, the V.I.P. lounges, the special projects scattered throughout the tent and the sculpture park outside — contribute to Frieze’s trademark theatrical charm, which is deemed a considerable factor in drawing galleries.
“They are very good at managing the environment and putting artists’ projects at the center of the fair,” said Louisa Buck, the contemporary art correspondent for The Art Newspaper. “People do go from the U.K. to exhibit because it’s a chance to show in a place that’s a lot less creaky than the Armory. It provides a much more stylish, highly regarded alternative.”
Last year, Frieze New York offered a strong showing of North American work, with 35 percent of participating galleries coming from North America, 51 percent from Europe and 14 percent from other regions. Those proportions remain more or less consistent this year.
The London fair, on the other hand, has a higher European-to-American ratio; last year, about 63 percent of the galleries came from Europe and 24 percent from North America. But Mr. Slotover added that there was already a high crossover of gallery applications for the two fairs, suggesting that if curators like the Frieze brand, they consider it worthwhile showing in both cities.
But there is at least one market that Frieze London has struggled to capture. “There is certainly a bunch of New York-based collectors who don’t travel that much,” Mr. Slotover said. “And what astounded us when we started the London fair was the depth of collecting in New York and across the U.S. It really is much bigger than any other country, and galleries want access to that market.”
Maureen Paley, whose gallery in London has been a longtime Frieze participant, exhibited at both the London and New York Frieze fairs last year, as well as at the Armory Show. She said it seemed obvious to her that the opportunity to be in New York, at what she described as a prime time on the international arts calendar, was not to be missed.
“The galleries that do involve themselves with Frieze are often creating stands that are very curated, rather than just displaying their wares,” Ms. Paley said. “It creates a particular atmosphere that is a little bit niche. In that way, New York was very consistent with the feeling of the London fair.”
Despite that consistency, the New York fair has a different feel, Ms. Buck of The Art Newspaper said. “They hired American curators, they take collectors around to local galleries. They are very context-specific, so in that way it is very different to Frieze London. Yes, they are both in tents in parks, but in very different tents, in very different parks.”
But Kim Stern, an art consultant and curator who divides her time between New York and South Africa, said that the works on display at the first Frieze New York fair last year did not differ significantly from what she had seen in London.
“What people take to Frieze New York is, for the moment, very much based on its London reputation,” Ms. Stern said. “As it grows in New York, that will shift, and we will start to see a very different landscape, particularly since I think people feel the perception is that, in America, they can be more bold than in Europe.”
That potential differentiation could be an important factor for Frieze, as two very similar fairs could lead regular London exhibitors to shift their allegiance to New York.
Ozkan Canguven of the Gallery Rampa in Istanbul, which exhibited twice at Frieze London before going to Frieze New York last year, said that the New York edition had been the best fair the gallery had ever done. “I had thought we would do better business in Europe, but New York had such an international crowd of collectors,” she said. “Americans, Brazilians, Mexicans, and lots of Europeans. I think London was more local.”
Although Ms. Canguven said her gallery would continue to show at both Frieze fairs, Ms. Sharp acknowledged that some regular exhibitors felt that New York was a more important market. But “it works the other way round, too,” she hastened to add.
“Some galleries who came to us first in New York have now applied for London,” Ms. Sharp said. “And New York gives us a broader group to market to, which is the whole idea — to establish more relationships, that people understand what we do.”
Mr. Slotover said that while the first edition of Frieze New York had lost money, he hoped that the event would break even this year and be profitable in 2014. The real issue for Frieze, then, may not be whether there is a conflict of interest between its editions in Britain and the United States, but whether there is a sufficiently deep pool of collectors to support both Frieze New York and the Armory Show.
“I’m not sure that the New York art market can really support two enormous fairs that draw upon the same collector base and same galleries,” Ms. Buck said. “Which one will it be? The jury is still out.”
“Contemporary art: one, us: zero,” quipped a friend as we mistakenly toured what appeared to be the off-limits back room of Marian Goodman’s booth at Frieze New York. We were looking for Tino Sehgal’s performance Ann Lee. Aware of the nature of Sehgal’s work probing social boundaries through real life situations, my partner and I weren’t entirely convinced our foray into Goodman’s secret room wasn’t part of the performance itself. Our mishap was worthwhile though: it brought us to Ann Lee, an adolescent girl performing a monologue as a fictional Manga character originally developed by Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno in 1999. The duo had purchased the rights to the character from a Japanese animation company, and subsequently invited other artists, such as Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Liam Gillick, to include her in their work. Originally a vacant character, she is figuratively filled by the artist’s intention. Sehgal’s version of Ann Lee comprises a rotating cast of confident, “robotic” 11-year-old girls, replete with mechanical limb movements, who directly engage audience members with questions like “Would you rather be too busy or not busy enough?” (Unsurprisingly, most audience members preferred to be too busy.) The piece examines a collective desire to be filled or occupied—with distraction, personal fulfillment, or what have you—and in turn, a fear of stagnation and vacancy. That “Ann Lee” focuses on the art fair goer seems an exceedingly apropos subject for the opening day of Frieze, which was mottled with well-shorn, busybody alpha patrons.
Though its performative nature and challenging salability is undoubtedly anomalous, Sehgal’s performance epitomizes the high quality of work at Frieze New York’s sophomore edition. The fair’s serpentine SO – IL-designed tent boasts twenty more booths than last year’s effort, reaching to 180 galleries in total. And while the titanic amount of galleries proves it impossible to adequately see the entire fair in one day (I was there a total of six hours and can only hope I caught a glimpse, at least, of everything), the overall tone of Frieze New York’s opening day was posh, bright, contemporary, and poised in addition to the usual bourgeois art fair goings-on, and the presence of decidedly cool, emerging artists penetrated the fair.
Most satisfying were booths resuscitating vintage chromogenic prints from decades past. Elizabeth Dee showed a photographic pairing by the lesser-known British photographer Mac Adams. The first photograph depicts a man seemingly wiring a bouquet of daffodils to spy on an unsuspecting woman, the second showing the subject at home amidst the arrangement, perhaps being unwittingly recorded. Titled Conversation [Diptych], the 1975 piece compresses crime narrative into highly staged mise en scène, a rare potential historical analog to the increasingly celebrated, idiosyncratic young conceptual artist Alejandro Cesarco. (With Murray Guy, Cesarco’s installation-cum-detective story The Streets Were Dark with Something More Than Night or the Closer I Get to the End the More I Rewrite the Beginning won the Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel in 2011.) For Frieze New York, Murray Guy presented Zoe Leonard’s vintage chromogenic prints, most of which were taken during her forays to remote Alaska in the mid-90s. The striking images—ranging from depictions of a dismembered bear and moose to a dead beaver laid prone in his watery grave—build upon feminist investigations into the gaze endemic to the 1980s, positioning the human being as predator and consumer. At Reena Spaulings, Ken Okiishi’s breathtakingly honest (but unsent) 1997 postcards addressed to art world luminaries such as Larry Clark or Jack Pierson track his coming-of-age lust for a straight friend—a gay rendering of the universal experience of potent desire, rejection, and consequent alienation.
The relative lack of work made before the 1970s was assuaged by a few unique, hard-hitting presentations from artists with decades-old careers. Gagosian showcased a work from Robert Rauschenberg’s lesser-known series of Gluts, metal assemblage sculptures made primarily in the late-eighties while the artist was visiting an economically depressed Texas. Paris’s Galerie Chantal Crousel showed an unusual vitrine-bound but characteristically explosive Thomas Hirschhorn, while B. Wurtz’s grocery-themed paper collages puzzled and dazzled at Richard Telles Fine Art.
The fair ushered in an exciting bevy of young London imports relatively unexposed in New York. London’s The approach brought Magali Reus’s strangely poetic custom-made stadium seats propped up by a crutch leg, meditating on notions of public support, as well as Alice Channer’s hybrid-state, droopy resin clothing. Carlos/Ishikawa, also of London, presented a solo showing by Steve Bishop one could likely smell before they see. In addition to a cutting of the gallery’s wall repositioned as a temporary structure delineating the booth, Bishop’s Listerine tray hilariously and noxiously permeates the fair—a new take on “cutting through fair bullshit.” Shoreditch’s Limoncello presented an Ikea kitchen-inspired installation replete with ceramics by Jesse Wine, who is perhaps on top of the never-ending surge in contemporary art pottery. David Raymond Conroy’s work at Seventeen wraps paravents in fabric (more commonly associated with African clothing), and juxtaposes them with photographic collages meditating on the functionality and history of photography.
London’s contemporaries across the pond presented equally successful, materially inventive work by young Americans. Gavin Kenyon’s bulbous yet phallic, fuzzy plaster works impart a dark take on relatively traditional sculpture at Lower East Side’s Ramiken Crucible. Fellow LES gallery 47 Canal shows the similarly inventive Stuart Uoo, who is the subject of a current two-person exhibition with Jana Euler at the Whitney Museum of American Art (Euler’s winsome paintings can be seen in the fair at Brussels gallery dépendance’s booth). Uoo’s work at 47 Canal comprises a set of busts representing, in a degraded, post-human fashion, each of the famed four females of “Sex and the City.” The mannequins, burnt, are fashioned with floppy hats, bandanas, and tutus, and tout wires for veins. Nearby hang a selection of exceedingly tacky yet expensive designer fabrics that help position Uoo’s busts as belonging to a private, post-identity fantasy world in which a gay (or straight, for that matter) man is just as likely to identify with Carrie Bradshaw as any undergrad co-ed.
If there’s anything surprising about Frieze New York’s second year, it’s perhaps the seamlessness of its presentation. Is the fair’s continued success too good to be true, especially given the long history of the Armory’s struggle for relevance? While the fair’s private usage of public, tax-supported New York property and the company’s refusal to hire unionized workers has precipitated heated New York City Council meetings (1), these issues have yet to turn many heads in the art world. No one wants to rain on the Frieze parade, presumably because New York has yearned so long for a hip, commercially viable fair. It could be argued that Frieze (and not entirely unlike this publication) is built on a highly commercial yet alternative, self-sustaining funding system. This well-oiled machine accrues cultural capital from Frieze’s exceptionally edited magazine, which in turn creates an attractive brand, fueling the pay-to-play desire to show in the fair. While this structure isn’t especially pernicious, it explicitly represents a new model of power: just to be rich or cool isn’t enough to claim your place at the front of the rat race. Today, you have to be both.
7Thomas Hirschhorn, Vitrine Murale “Natural Concretion,” 2007. Four mannequin heads, prints, brown tape, cardboard, plexiglas, neon, 98 x 65 x 23.5 inches. Courtesy of Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris. Photo by Alex Ross.
8B. Wurtz, Untitled, 2010. Plastic lid, collage, string, 48 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles. Photo by Alex Ross.
9Magali Reus, Parking (shade), 2013. Polyester resin, fiberglass, pigments, powder, coated aluminum, rubber stop-end, car magazine cover, Artex, 21.3 x 37.4 x 19.1 inches. Courtesy of The approach, London. Photo by Alex Ross.
10Steve Bishop, If Everything Has a Place, Place Too Has a Place IX, 2013. Removed MDF wall, 78.7 x 43.3 inches. Courtesy of Carlos/Ishikawa, London. Photo by Alex Ross.
11View of Seventeen at Frieze New York. Foreground: David Ramond Conroy, Broadway flats, 2013. Dutch Wax fabric, acrylic paint, wood, hinges, sandbag, 94.5 x 30.4 x 47.2 inches. Courtesy of Seventeen, London.
12View of Frieze New York, 2013. Courtesy of John Berens/Frieze. Photo by John Berens.
13Stewart Uoo, No Sex, No City: Miranda III, 2013. Polyurethane resin, epoxy, ink, pigment, paint, wires, cables, clothing, accessories, ferrofluid, razor wire, steel, feathers, hair, make-up, glitter, eyelashes, flies, dust, 84 x 30 x 30 inches. Courtesy of 47 Canal, New York.
14David Maljković, Monochromes, 2013. Plexiglas, wood, 3 palm fronds, bull dog clips, acrylic on canvas, trestles, 28.34 inches high, Plexiglas, 29.52 x 78.74 x 33.46 inches. Courtesy of the artist, Annet Gelink, Amsterdam, and Metro Pictures, New York.
Altro “Pier”, altra fiera. Dalle parti del 36, sempre affacciati sull’East River ci sono i capannoni di Basketball City, scelta – azzeccatissima – come nuova location della fiera Nada, che vi approda dopo diverse peregrinazioni.
Meno entusiasmo per il livello degli stand che, con una allure modernista che spesso caratterizza questa fiera, hanno optato per allestimenti che strizzano l’occhio più alla vendita che alla ricerca: piccole opere, pochi progetti, booth piccoli, a dispetto di nomi di grande tendenza ai blocchi di partenza. Anche qui non manca una rappresentanza italiana, con gli stand di Thomas Brambilla da Bergamo – che per l’occasione sfoggia gli americani della sua scuderia e un giovanissimo italo-croato di vent’anni – e di Luce Gallery da Torino. Anche questi li vedete nel video e nella fotogallery…
The Frieze Art Fair made quite the first impression last spring during its opening New York exhibition. Ever since, expectation and curiosity levels were high among fair-goers, waiting to see what this year’s fair will bring. Over 180 galleries will be taking part in the five-day fair, making the journey to Randall’s Island well worth its while. With so much to see, finding some focus might be daunting, so MutualArt has put together a list of 10 artists not to be missed at the fair.
Los Angeles based artist Dianna Molzan’s paintings are frequently described as sculptural and often break the convention of the picture surface as single, uninterrupted plane. But rather than shifting horizontally into the established register of another medium, it often feels as if her works are burrowing vertically, deeper and deeper into painting itself. The sculptural quality of the work is almost a by-product of Molzan’s investigation into the apparatus of painting in its most literal sense – the wood supports, the canvas, the paint.
Molzan has had solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston (2012), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2011), and her gallery, Overduin and Kite in Los Angeles (2009). Several of her works were included in the show All of this and nothing at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2011).
(Image: Dianna Molzan, Untitled, 2013, oil on canvas, 2 panels: 84 1/2 x 94 in / 214.6 x 238.8 cm overall, Courtesy of Overduin and Kite, Los Angeles)
Dianna Molzan’s work can be seen at Overduin and Kite, Stand C3.
Berlin-based Ivan Seal was a sound-artist before switching to painting a couple of years ago. Sound still plays a role in his art and at his In Here Stands It installation the paintings were shown alongside computer-generated sound works, whose structure and rhythm are akin to the flow of canvases on the gallery wall. Seal’s paintings share matter, scale and palette. He usually exhibits them in groups although they are conceived of independently and shown out of chronological order. The objects he depicts are inspired by his everyday surroundings and may seem plain and simple, yet Seal finds the eerie, dream-like quality in the mundane.
Recent solo exhibitions include Ivan Seal at Carl Freedman Gallery, London (through May 25th, 2013), the object hurts the spaceat RaebervonStenglin in Zurich (2011), True as applied to you; false as applied to you at Krome Gallery, Berlin (2011), I Learn by Osmosisat CEAAC, Strasbourg (2010) and Two Rooms For A Fall in Berlin (2009).
(Image: Ivan Seal, ‘prototype to get out no 3’ (2011), Oil on canvas, 70 x 60 cm, Carl Freedman Gallery)
Ivan Seal’s works can be seen at Carl Freedman Gallery, Stand C37
A 2005 featured artist at the Venice Biennale, Argentinean Jorge Macchi has gained international attention for his delicate meditations on the poetics of everyday life using a variety of media formats, from video installations to artist’s books to cut out newspaper collages. His work is characterized by a somewhat melancholic air, with subjects ranging from acts of random violence to unrequited love, the impossibility of conclusion, and the interplay between presence and absence.
Macchi solo show is up through June 16th at the Kunstmuseum Luzern in Switzerland. Selected solo exhibitions include The Singers’ Room, in collaboration with Edgardo Rudnitzky, at Galleria Continua in San Gimignano, Italy (2008);The Anatomy of Melancholy at Blanton Museum in Austin, Texas (2007); Gallery Night at Luisa Strina Gallery in São Paulo, Brazil (2007); Jorge Macchi at Galeria Ruth Benzacar in Buenos Aires, Argentina (2007); and Time Machine at Kilchmann Martin Gallery in Mexico City (2006).
(Image: Music stands still, 2007 iron, courtesy: Galleria Continua, San Gimigango/Beijing/Le Moulin, Photographer: Ela Bialkowska)
Jorge Macchi’s works can be seen at Galleria Continua, Stand C42
French artist Marie Cool and Italian Fabio Balducci live and work in Paris and have been working together since 1995. The grand logic behind the work of Marie Cool Fabio Balducci is an enigma that cannot be resolved in a single definition. Their art, which includes both live actions and videos, is a personal ethic, erected movement by movement through a very peculiar sociability, which could be thus devised: What distance should I maintain between the others and me to build an unalienating “living together”, an unexiled loneliness? The actions and what comes of them (still objects or drawings in a broader sense) do not provide an answer. These shapes tell of a disciplined and self-sustaining life, which joins those whose desires are chained to the paradox of the tetherless freedom, to favour the Free Spirit, emancipated and uncluttered of itself.
Marie Cool Fabio Balducci work together in Paris. Their work was shown in solo exhibitions at Site Gallery, Sheffield, at La Maison Rouge, Paris and Attitudes, Geneva in 2008, at The South London Gallery in 2009, at CAC Brétigny in 2010, at Villa Medici, Roma in 2011, at La Synagogue de Delme art center, FRAC Lorraine, Metz and Le Consortium, Dijon in 2012-2013. They also took part in the exhibition On Line: Drawing through the Twentieth Century (cur. Connie Butler and Catherine de Zegher) at MoMA, New York (2010), The Living Currency (cur. Pierre Bal-Blanc, 2010) and in La cavalerie exhibition at CAN, Neuchâtel. Their works have recently been added to the collections of MoMa New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Frac Île-de-France and Frac Lorraine, as well as Vehbi Koç Foundation, Istanbul.
(Image: Marie Cool Fabio Balducci, Untitled, 2008 (paper, table, 220 x 100cm), video: 37 sec, courtesy Marcelle Alix, Paris)
Marie Cool & Fabio Balducci’s work can be seen at Marcelle Alix, Stand B25
This year’s Turner Prize nominee David Shrigley will take over an entire wall of the Anton Kern booth with a vibrant range of themes and materials. Shrigley’s disquieting and often profound sense of humor becomes evident in every medium, i.e. drawings, prints, photographs, signs and paintings, mixing the mundane with the absurd. Shrigley draws a universe infused with satire. With a fierce line, he depicts human doubts and uncertainties, animating the twisted scenarios of our insecurities and obsessions. One of his works from “What the Hell Are You Doing?” titled “In I Go” depicts the artist (labeled as “me”) entering into a skull (labeled “my destiny”).
David Shrigley has recently presented solo exhibitions at Museum M, Leuven, Belgium (2010), Anton Kern Gallery, New York (2010), Kelvingrove, Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow International, Glasgow (2010), Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen (2009), Kunsthalle Mainz, Mainz (2009), Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen (2009), Fumetto, Kunstmuseum, Luzern (2009) and Galerie Francesca Pia, Zurich (2009). His work has been shown in numerous museums and international exhibitions including “Life on Mars”, the 55th Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA (2008), “Laughing in a Foreign Language” at Hayward Gallery, London (2008), “Learn to Read” at Level 2 Gallery, Tate Modern, London (2007), “The Compulsive Line: Etching 1900 to Now” at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2006), and “State of Play,” at the Serpentine Gallery, London (2004).
David Shrigley’s works can be seen at Anton Kern Gallery, Stand C2
The Brooklyn-based artist Martha Friedman often examines quotidian objects in her sculptures, manipulating the scale and material of such things as waffles, rubber bands, and nails, which emphasizes the surreal aspects of these familiar items. In Frieze, Friedman will show at the Wallspace gallery booth as well as an outdoor piece as part of this year’s Sculpture Park curated by Tom Eccles. Her outdoor piece is essentially a “tongue garden.” – – with glossy, pink tongues – a reoccurring motif in Freidman’s work – instead of tulips, and mulch that is made of black recycled tire rubber instead of dirt.
Friedman’s solo exhibitions include “Caught” at the Wallspace gallery 2012; “Erogenouse Zones” at the Jessica Silverman Gallery 2012; “Rub” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit 2010; “Rubbers” at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park 2010-2011.
(Image: Martha Friedman, Mechanical Disadvantage II, 2012, Steel, Concrete, 121x60x60, Courtesy of Wallspace Gallery)
Martha Friedman’s work can be seen at Wallspace Gallery, Stand C8
Zhan Wang is widely recognized as one of China’s leading contemporary artists today. Working in installation, photography and video, his sculpturally informed practice challenges ideas of landscape and environment, addressing the urban, rural, artificial and industrial. Zhan Wang’s art has a particular perspective fundamentally anchored in his relationship to his own cultural heritage. Among his most celebrated works is his series of “artificial rocks” – stainless steel replicas of the much-revered “scholar’s rocks” traditionally found in Chinese gardens. The mirrored surfaces of these often monumental objects absorb the viewer and its surrounding environment, enticing them to become part of the work,.The unevenness of the surface results in abstraction and a distortion of reality as reflected in the rock, thus creating a visual interplay between positions of tradition and modernity.
Zhan Wang has exhibited extensively in major museums and galleries across the world including the National Museum of China, Beijing, China; Williams College Museum of Art, Massachusetts, USA; Kunst Museum, Bern, Switzerland; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan; International Center of Photography, New York, USA; and the Asia Society Museum, New York, USA. He has also executed a number of art projects at significant landmarks such as Mount Everest and the Great Wall of China. His work was also included in the landmark exhibitions ‘Cities on the Move: Asian Contemporary Art’, Austria, France, USA, Finland, UK, Denmark (touring exhibition 1997-99) and ‘Synthi-Scapes: Chinese Pavilion’, 50th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy in 2003.
(Image: Zhan Wang, Artificial Rock No. 71, 2004, Stainless steel, 185 x 165 x 100 cm, Courtesy of Long March Space)
Zhan Wang’s works can be seen at the Long March Space, Stand D26
Eileen Quinlan makes bold photographic works that range from bright abstractions to dark, organic landscapes. Created by taking detail shots of commonplace objects and materials, they are captivating in their use of light, color, and scale. Quinlan creates images of dimensional confusion by photographing modest studio constructions of foam, mirrors, and other common materials. She is interested in exposing the formal constructs of photography, like light and shadow. She has also addressed the artificial scarcity created by a limited edition by displaying entire editions side-by-side and treating them as a singular piece.
Quinlan participated in a number of group exhibitions in 2012, including Blind Cut at Marlborough Gallery and Accrochage at Miguel Abreu Gallery in New York, Second Nature: Abstract Photography Then and Now at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA, and Printed at Mai 36 in Zurich. The highlight of last year, however, was unquestionably her September solo exhibition, Twin Peaks at Campoli Presti in London. Most recently, she mountedY? O! G… A., collaboration with Matt Keegan at The Kitchen in New York.
(Image: Eileen Quinlan, Ishtar, 2012, 60 x 48 inches, Courtesy of Miguel Abreu Gallery)
Eileen Quinlan’s works can be seen at the Miguel Abreu Gallery, Stand B57
Shot between 1994 and 1997 while Zoe Leonard was living in an extremely remote part of Alaska, the photographs presented at Frieze show animals that the artist hunted and butchered herself and with friends: a bear, a moose, a beaver, and a duck. Astonishingly anti-picturesque, they are key works in Leonard’s long exploration of the relationships between photography and images of nature.”I was afraid at first that I would have a hard time making art in Alaska. What I found was the opposite. I was surrounded by the complexity of nature, and I began thinking about our “progress” as a people, about the choices we have made,” says the artist about her experience.
Zoe Leonard has exhibited extensively since the late 1980s. Major solo exhibitions include Observation Point, Camden Arts Centre, London (2012); Photographs, Fotomuseum Wintherthur (2007), which travelled to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2008), MuMOK — Museum Moderner Kunst Stifting Ludwig, Vienna (2009), and Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2009); You See I Am Here After All, Dia: Beacon (2008); Derrotero, Dia at the Hispanic Society, New York (2008); Analogue, The Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, and Villa Arson, Nice (2007).
(Image: Zoe Leonard, BearPaw Hanging, 1996/1998 Silver gelatin print 24 x 17 in, Courtesy of Murray Guy Gallery)
Zoe Leonard’s works can be seen at the Murray Guy Gallery, Stand B5
Between 1954 and 1972, the Japanese avant-garde art movement Gutai (meaning “concrete” or “embodiment”) challenged traditional artistic media through spectacularly orchestrated exhibitions. Despite being one of the founding members of the Gutai Group, Tsuruko Yamazaki remains one of the less discussed members of the group. Her participation at Frieze New York 2013 will be the artist’s first solo presentation in the USA.
Starting in the 1950s, she created washes of colored dye, using hues of indigo, violet and magenta on outdoor installations in public parks before moving on to more Pop-influenced paintings in the 60s. She has presented a range of works including three-dimensional pieces made using sheets of tin, performances, and paintings. Throughout her decades-long career, Yamazaki has produced work on the themes of real and virtual images and sight/cognition/recreation that expresses her unique outlook on the relationship between the individual and the world.
Yamazaki’s solo exhibitions include “Tsuruko Yamazaki” at the Take Ninagawa gallry (2013); Lads Gallery Osaka (2012); “Beyond Gutai: 1957-2009” Galerie Almine Rech (2010); Gallery Cellar (2008-2009); “From Gutai to Today” Lads Gallery (2007); “Reflection: Tsuruko Yamazaki” Ashiya City Museum of Art & History (2004).
(Image: Tsuruko Yamazaki, Work, 2009, Dye, lacquer and thinner on tin , 47.5 x 47.5 cm, Courtesy of Take Ninagawa Gallery)
Tsuruko Yamazaki’s works can be seen at Take Ninagawa gallery, stand B23
In the midst of setting up her booth at the Frieze Art Fair, Los Angeles dealer Susanne Vielmetter was presented with a last-minute problem. One of the artists she’s showing, Andrea Bowers, disagreed with the fair’s decision to hire non-union workers (an issue that plagued the fair last year as well). Two days before Frieze’s preview, which is this Thursday, May 9, Bowers had decided to display a pamphlet and a written statement calling out Frieze’s anti-union labor practices. When she spoke to A.i.A. on the phone, Vielmetter was in the process of drafting an e-mail to Amanda Sharp, co-organizer (with Matthew Slotover) of the fair, to inform her of Bowers’s plans.
View Slideshow Sara VanDerBeek: Roman Women V, 2013, C-print, 20 by 16 1/4 inches. Courtesy Altman Siegel, San Francisco.; Kathryn Andrews: Claire, 2013, polished aluminum, certified film prop, 10 by 10 by 36 inches. Courtesy David Kordansky, Los Angeles. Photo Fredrik Nilsen.;
“It’s a free country,” Vielmetter told A.i.A. “My most important role is as a representative of the artist.” In addition to Bowers’s impromptu pamphlet, the gallery is exhibiting two of her large drawings on found cardboard (the material references homemade signs held by protesters), as well as a suite of 10 new paintings by Nicole Eisenman and landscape paintings with psychological undertones by Whitney Bedford.
Despite her potential conflict with the fair’s organizers, Vielmetter echoed what many dealers had to say about Frieze’s pleasant, outdoorsy setting and airy, light-filled exhibition space: “It’s the most visually stunning fair in the world and the quality of the galleries really is extraordinary.”
Nearly 200 international galleries will show at Frieze’s second annual New York outing (May 10-13). Like last year, the tent, designed by New York firm SO – IL architects, is one of the biggest draws for both dealers and art enthusiasts trekking out to Randall’s Island. Frieze is divided into three sections: the main area has 139 exhibitors; Focus, which highlights projects and artworks made specifically for the fair, has 30; and Frame, featuring solo presentations by emerging galleries, has 24.
According to several dealers who spoke with A.i.A. off the record, booth prices in the main section run from about $30,000 for 430 square feet to $90,000 for 1,290 square feet. The costs for the subsections are approximately $9,000 for a 270-square-foot spot in Frame and $20,000 for 350 square feet in Focus.
In addition to the galleries exhibiting in the quarter-mile-long tent, Sharp and Slotover have, like last year, organized a range of programming. “I almost see them as curators, not just art-fair directors,” said David Maupin, of New York’s Lehmann Maupin, who is showing Do Ho Suh and Teresita Fernandez in his gallery’s booth. There’s a sound art component, specially commissioned installations in and around the tent, a sculpture park on the waterfront, and a series of debates, panel discussions and lectures.
The most talked-about project is a re-creation of and tribute to FOOD, the short-lived SoHo restaurant run by artists Gordon Matta-Clark, Tina Girouard and Carol Gooden in the early ’70s. Both Girouard and Gooden will participate (roasting a pig and making soup, respectively); also on hand as artist-chefs will be Matthew Day Jackson (wartime food) and Jonathan Horowitz (vegan cuisine).
Frieze’s presence in New York has, again, attracted a range of smaller satellite art fairs in Manhattan. NADA (New Art Dealers Association) will set up shop at Pier 36 on the Lower East Side (May 10-12). Pulse returns to the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street (May 9-12). And PooL will take over the Flatiron Hotel on West 26th Street (May 10-12). Two fairs that jumped on the Frieze bandwagon last year—Red Dot and Verge—have decided not to return.
Claudia Altman Siegel, of San Francisco’s Altman Siegel, views art fairs in New York and abroad as particularly important. Her booth, in the Focus section, will have a solo presentation of work by Sara VanDerBeek. “Sara recently had a residency in Rome, and her new photos are depictions of women from Roman ruins in various stages of decay. They’re glamorous and sexy but in the context of stone sculptures,” Altman Siegel told A.i.A.
Gabrielle Giattino, of New York-based Bureau, is showing seven new paintings by Julia Rommel in Frame. In her mostly monochromatic paintings, Rommel manipulates the canvas, “dealing with the folds and staple holes that are a result of stretching and unstretching canvas.” Compared to some of the smaller fairs she’s participated in (Independent, Liste, NADA), Giattino finds Frieze to be more serious, with higher stakes. “Here, we’re small fish, and the mood is serious business. There’s more money at stake, and you can feel that.”
New York’s Tanya Bonakdar has a booth in the main section showing a small, pendulumlike sculpture by Sarah Sze and a painted wood bust by Mark Manders resembling unfired clay. Sze and Manders are both representing their home countries (the U.S. and the Netherlands, respectively) in this year’s Venice Biennale. Also on view is new work by Tomas Saraceno, Gillian Wearing and Olafur Eliasson.
Los Angeles’s David Kordansky is filling its booth with a range of work by many of the gallery’s artists. Highlights include three geometric, gravity-defying recent sculptures by John Mason, who has shown in the past with better-known L.A. ceramicists Peter Voulkos and Ken Price; a mid-60s hard-edge painting by Sam Gilliam that has been in his studio for 50 years; and, according to director Stuart Krimko, a “really killer” new John Pastore painting. Krimko seemed most excited about a conical Kathryn Andrews sculpture with a point so sharp it had to be hung high up on the wall to meet safety regulations.
Mehdi Chouakri, whose eponymous gallery is based in Berlin, is bringing a selection of artists he represents, including John Armleder, Sylvie Fleury, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Saâdane Afif, Charlotte Posenenske and Mathieu Mercier. The combination of Fleury’s sculpture, made up of hairpins and curlers, Mercier’s functional sofa and Möbius strip-like leather belts, and Feldmann’s large-scale photos of his original bookshelves will give Chouakri’s booth a “furniture/design kind of esthetic, like a living room,” he told A.i.A. by phone.
Discussing Frieze’s inaugural outing last year, Chouakri recalled that, partly due to the setting, “people were scared and wondered if it would work. Now, it feels like part of the city.”
In the lead-up to NYCxDesign, this weekend marks the opening of Frieze, NADA and Pulse art fairs in New York City. For art world regulars, it’s one of the few chances to see thousands of examples of contemporary art in a single go. For others, it can be pretty overwhelming. With Frieze’s takeover of Randall’s Island and NADA holding court at Basketball City at Pier 36, Pulse on 18th street remains one of the few convenient venues to get to—it also happens to be one of the most well-curated.
If you’re in the city and looking for a place to kick off your tour, we recommend dipping your feet at Pulse, where you can take in these highlights we spotted around this year’s NYC fair and more.
Photographer Rune Guneriussen explores the intersection of interior and exterior spaces, decorating natural landscapes with domestic items and traditional lighting. Ethereal and occasionally haunting, several examples of his most recent series are on view at Galerie Waltman‘s booth.
Multimedia artist Alicia Ross utilizes embroidery to create captivating portraits of the female form with religious undertones and overt sexuality. Her series “Moral Fiber” is currently showing at Black & White Gallery‘s space.
Japanese-born artist Sohei Nishino creates his aptly named “Diorama Map” by walking around a city with a disposable camera, later arranging and pasting the results to create a textural, layered and rich urban portrait. Visit Michael Hoppen Gallery‘s booth to see Nishino’s portrayal of Berlin and various other world cities.
With contributions from Hans Aschim and James Thorne; images by Cool Hunting and courtesy of the artists.
Frieze New York Founder Amanda Sharp On Her Mega Art Fair
By Walter Robinson / Portrait of Amanda created by Andrea Fella
Sometime early this century I invited Frieze magazine editor Amanda Sharp out to lunch. I took her to a glassed-in tablecloth joint down near the water in Battery Park. The location was good for a visitor from London, I thought, and close to the Artnet offices, where I had my own upstart magazine going. With Matthew Slotover, her partner in founding Frieze in 1991, she was soon to launch the Frieze Art Fair in London. Along with the new Tate Modern and the advent of Damien Hirst and Young British Art, Frieze would re-energize London as a global art capital.”New London Sun,” I titled the report I filed from the very first Frieze Art Fair in 2003, a reference not only to the stellar aspirations of the event but also to the beautiful weather, a rarity in the often overcast city. The 12-year-old glossy magazine was already “the arbiter of everything cool about Brit Art,” I went on to say. Now, the Frieze Art Fair would make it an eminence grise in the art market as well.Sharp grew up in London and studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University. Her own art collection is modest but personal, she says, consisting of artworks by artist friends. She has been a New Yorker for at least a dozen years.Recently I caught up with Sharp on the phone to talk about the second installment of the Frieze New York Art Fair, taking place May 10-13, in a custom-made structure out on Randall’s Island in the East River. It’s a very contemporary scene, with over 180 galleries from 32 countries, including more than 50 from New York.Above: Frieze founder Amanda Sharp.Walter Robinson: When you launched the Frieze Art Fair back in 2003, was subsidizing the magazine an issue? Did you anticipate that you would be re-energizing London as a global art market? Amanda Sharp: No, we weren’t far-sighted enough to think of the fair as a way to subsidize the magazine. In fact we worried that it might damage the magazine! We had thought for years that London needed its own contemporary art fair. In the end, we got frustrated that no one was doing it, and launched it ourselves. And we did not anticipate that the fair would “re-energize” the London art scene. It was the other way around, really. London was generating a lot of energy and we capitalized on it. Interest in young artists was exploding, more contemporary galleries were opening, the Tate Modern was inaugurated — all these events predated the opening of the fair.WR: The 2013 edition of Frieze New York, featuring galleries from 32 countries, suggests that we now have a global art world.
AS: Globalism is part and parcel of the way that the whole world is connected now, with constant and rapid cross-pollination and information exchange. If you ignore that, you are a dinosaur. And it’s funny, but an international fair serves a very local purpose, by bringing in interesting artworks that local artists wouldn’t have seen any other way.WR: A recent report showed a general pullback in the global art market by seven percent over the last year, with smaller galleries taking a disproportion-ately large share of the hit. Does your experience reflect that dynamic? Isn’t the market for contemporary art supposed to be growing?
AS: That’s not my forte, paradoxically. I think it’s clear that the interest in contemporary art is growing, and there are more people buying contemporary art than there were 10 years ago. But not everyone is benefiting, because we all know that a lot of the increase comes from big-ticket works that are going to a small number of people.WR: In the last decade or so we’ve seen a proliferation of digital art Web sites that offer a kind of virtual art market or digital art fair — most of them still in the beginning stages of development. So far, the art world seems to prefer the real-world fair experience. Does Frieze have any plans to adapt to the digital experience? What do you see happening in this virtual space going forward?
AS: I think people like to see art in the flesh, and I think there’s a good reason for that. One thing you can’t replicate digitally is the overall art fair experience, which involves looking at artworks right in front of you, not to mention the chance meetings, the networking and all of the accidental, enjoyable social interactions that don’t take place in quite the same way in the digital realm. Of course the digital experience has obvious benefits, and Frieze does a lot of stuff digitally — we have an app that helps visitors navigate the fair, and a mobile Web site — and we believe in the digital community. But it’s not the same as looking at art for real.WR: I understand Frieze New York is featuring a re-creation of Food, the late artist Gordon Matta-Clark’s pioneering SoHo eatery. Can you give us any details? Is the artist-as-chef a new category of artist?
AS: Cecilia Alemani, the curator of the project program, has been committed to this idea of bringing back an important exhibition from New York’s past and embedding it in the fair. Last year John Ahearn re-created what he had done at Fashion Moda, and this time around Cecilia thought of creating an homage to Food. Artists are cooking each day, re-creating some of its most beloved dishes — suckling pig stuffed with pineapple is one, and another is a roasted bone soup.WR: Frieze New York also promises a speakeasy, a cemetery and a color-coded garden. Can you give us any details on these features, or a preview of any other anticipated crowd-pleasers?
AS: Liz Glynn’s speakeasy is hidden inside the fair, and the lucky visitor is given a key. The barman will mix you a cocktail and tell you a special story — so it’s an immersive, playful experience. And the Andra Ursuta cemetery, if you come in on the ferry, as you walk up to the fair, you pass it on the way. Basically, it’s where images go to die, and the headstones bear fractured-image icons. So, it’s as if some dreams don’t quite make it out of that tent.WR: I imagine that managing the competing demands of several hundred alpha art dealers is something of a challenge. From your experience, can you characterize what makes an exemplary art dealer?
AS: The really good ones are those who find the artists, believe in the art, champion it, understand there’s a long view — they want to help artists find homes in the best museums. They are people who talk with passion and insight about the work. They are always prophets, aren’t they?WR: Fairs are great fun to visit, but it is art collectors and their purchases that fuel the all-important art economy. Can you give us any insight into what makes the contemporary art collector tick?
AS: Collectors are people who have caught a bug — it’s an obsession, it’s what they love, it’s what they devote all their time to learning about, they get enormous enjoyment and intellectual reward from looking at art and living with art and having access to artists. Their collections are totally personal and idiosyncratic. Those people are fantastic to meet and talk to, and those are the true collectors.WR: It’s been almost two decades since the launch of the new art fair era with the Gramercy International Art Fair at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York — are you sensing any fair fatigue?
AS: We have a lot of art fairs now, more than when we launched our fair 10 years ago, and I think there is some fair fatigue. But you don’t feel fatigue around the good fairs. Where good art is being shown, good galleries are present, and that’s always going to be an interesting event to visit. For some professionals, though, they can’t always be on an airplane every week. At some point there’s bound to be some sort of consolidation, where you’ll see a clear stratification between local fairs and international fairs.For more information visit friezenewyork.com
What will make New York’s art elite cross to a small island off Manhattan for a second year in a row? Try an 80-foot-tall inflatable dog, a re-creation of a famed SoHo eatery and 186 galleries participating in the Big Apple’s Frieze Art Fair.
‘Dominated Boat—Project’ by Maria Nepomuceno
The four-day event, which began Friday, is an offshoot of a London fair that’s become an important date on Europe’s art calendar. The inaugural New York version came close to selling out last year, with about 45,000 visitors and 180 galleries participating. (There are no plans to import London’s new Frieze Masters, which is oriented toward historical art.)
The fair has synced with major spring art auctions in New York and, once again, is touting its food offerings (particularly important given its remoteness from Manhattan eateries). A different artist will cook every day at the reincarnation of Food, a performance-art restaurant opened in 1971.
Here are five artists whose works visitors might want to put on their route:
Paul McCarthy: Towering over the fair tent, and visible from Manhattan, is the artist’s giant “Balloon Dog.” This spring, Mr. McCarthy, age 67, is having three shows at Hauser & Wirth’s two New York locations, as well as a show at the city’s Park Avenue Armory. The dog is made of tarpaulin rubber and inflated by a constantly-running blower.
Sarah Sze: The Chelsea artist, who won a MacArthur “genius” grant, is creating an installation for the Venice Biennale’s U.S. pavilion and working on a massive installation for New York City Transit’s new Second Avenue subway station at 96th Street. The 5-foot-high “Slow Sieve (Water Diviner),” at Tanya Bonakdar’s fair booth, includes screwdrivers, yarn, stones and a pencil. The gallery declined to disclose the asking price.
Cameron Platter: Working in a range of media, including wood sculpture, printmaking and drawing, the Johannesburg-born Mr. Platter has been dubbed the love child of Quentin Tarantino and Dr. Seuss. He’s been given a mini-exhibition by Whatiftheworld, one of three South African galleries at the fair. (Frieze this year hosts galleries from 32 countries.) His drawing “Cannibal” is priced at $12,000.
Maria Nepomuceno: An artist-run gallery in Rio de Janeiro, A Gentil Carioca, is showcasing this 37-year-old artist whose sculptures often feature floppy, tubular weavings or hammocks decorated with colored beads and pearls. Some of the rope she uses is recovered from ships. “Dominated Boat—Project” is an almost-5-foot-tall boat. The price is $25,000.
Thomas Ruff: The German-born artist’s ma.r.s. series is based on black-and-white photographs of the surface of Mars, taken by cameras aboard National Aeronautics and Space Administration craft. Mr. Ruff digitally altered the images, changing their perspective and adding color. David Zwirner’s booth is asking $95,000 for “ma.r.s.08 II.”
The Best Things to See at Frieze Art Fair NY 2013
From a recreation of Do Ho Suh’s apartment in green polyester to a creepily robotic chatty little girl, a look at what not to miss at this weekend’s exhibition on Randall’s Island.
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
The Frieze Art Fair in New York—the city’s answer to the famed London fair—kicked off Thursday morning in a torrential downpour. But intrepid fair-goers trekked to Randall’s Island by East River Water Taxi, where they were greeted by artist Paul McCarthy’s giant red inflatable dog, which towered over the fair itself. Unsurprisingly, the more than 180 booths inside offered everything imaginable. There is a slick Doug Aitken wall-mounted sculpture with the words “ART” written in cracked mirror (to remind us of our own narcissism? Of a discipline that’s falling apart? Or maybe just to serve as a mirror in case we have something in our teeth?) There’s a video by Chinese artist Qiu Anxiong, The Temptation of the Land (2009), which served as an animated commentary on the destruction caused by the construction of an Olympic stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, on the natives of Beijing. There was an empty, haunting self-portrait by the Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic, her mouth ringed with plated gold. By midday, the fair was chock full of people: designer Valentino Garavani, in a perfectly tailored brown suit, went from booth to booth—as did the actor Andrew Garfield, who appeared to be led around by an adviser. And deals were happening here: quickly but quietly, art appeared to be selling, under the nose of tourists and kids taking Instagrams. Below, our list of art not to miss at the fair. (Frieze New York, on Randall’s Island, runs May 10-13.)
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
1. Francesco Vezzoli, Unique Forms of Continuity in High Heels, Bronze, 2012 (Yvonne Lambert Gallery)
When you’re wandering through the wide alleys between booths, this loping golden sculpture by Francesco Vezzoli will stop you in your tracks. It’s simultaneously a riff on and commemoration of Umberto Boccioni’s 1913 sculpture, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, a touchstone of Futurism. But the original was also a symbol of masculinity: a bullish, mulscular soldier, rumbling forward through space and time. Now, Vezzoli recreates the statue in high heels—which, hopefully, will cause some gender-studies student somewhere to write a dissertation on what all this means for gender identity. Here we all are, collectively rumbling forward, in five-inch stilettos.
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
2. Katy Grannan, Anonymous, Bakersfield, CA, 2011, 2011 (Salon 94)
Haunting portraits by Katy Grannan ring the booth at Salon 94, faces that—even when you move past it to other booths—stay with you. Grannan, a young photographer who lives in Berkeley, Calif., has become well-known for choosing total strangers as subjects. She lets their cues dictate the photographs; these people aren’t posed, styled, or arranged. For the series shown here, Grannan traveled along California’s Highway 99—from the Mexican border to the top of the state—photographing people as she went along. The faces tell a million stories: of heat and hunger, poverty, and hard work.
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
3. Thomas Ruff, Various Portraits, 1980-1984 (David Zwirner)
No collection of faces could be more different from each other than Grannan and Ruff’s. Thomas Ruff’s portraits, 12 in total, are stern and passport-like relative to the emotional, large-scale portraits at Salon 94. But here, the objective approach, which Ruff picked up at the Dusseldorf Art Academy in the 1970s, makes this grid of blank faces about as neutral as wallpaper.
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
4. Marianne Vitale, Cockpit, 2013, P5
The fair is proudly touting “Frieze Projects”: a series of commissioned projects curated by Cecilia Alemani. Among them is FOOD, a recreation of the 1971 artist’s restaurant opened by Gordon Matta-Clark and Carol Goodden, which—in its new form—will serve food from a different chef each day of the fair. Another highlight: a monumental installation by Marianne Vitale, which towers at the center of the fair. Vitale, whose works consist of pieces of burnt bridges and outhouses, presents an enormous fragment of a burnt barn wall.
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
5. Alex Hartley, The Future Is Certain, 2011
When you walk by it, this mixed-media print appears to be a feat of nature: it’s a glossy photograph of a craggy South American rock face that includes architectural and sculptural elements. The two-dimensional photograph becomes 3-D where the artist has constructed a little ledge with rocks. Similarly, small windows into 3-D homes are carved into the image of the rock face, bringing Hartley’s landscape to life.
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
6. Dan Colen, To Be Titled, 2013, Gagosian Gallery
Dan Colen is known for his smashed basketball backboards, but here’s one unlike any we’ve seen before. The artist smashed backboards, set them in resin, and welded them together in an aluminum circle. It’s the centerpiece of Gagosian’s booth this year—and makes you sort of wish you were a hamster in a Dan Colen wheel.
There was something nostalgic and sweet about Zoe Leonard’s table of neatly assembled postcards from Niagara Falls from the 1920s—arranged in a way that the horizon lines in each image were perfectly aligned, and stacked in a way to resemble the waterfall itself.
Two eerily beautiful pieces at the fair this year are the transparent photographic lightboxes by the Canadian artist Rodney Graham. Drywaller’s Boombox (2013), at 303 Gallery, depicts a construction site with a dirty boombox, and Sunday Sun, 1937, lights up a wall at the Lisson Gallery. They’re painstakingly detailed (and highly nostalgic) tableaux reconstructed from the artist’s memory.
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
9. Pae White, Mobile, 2011, Andrew Kreps Gallery
American artist Pae White is fascinated with the idea of turning something transient and impermanent into something real. “It’s about monumentalizing something very temporal,” she has said. In the past, she’s made mobiles out of sculptural pieces of popcorn, and stage curtains for the Oslo Opera House, which David Coleman of Architectural Digest called similar to “crumpled tinfoil.” At Frieze, White presents a 2011 mobile of tiny pieces of fractured mirror, with the undersides painted with concentric rainbow circles. The kaleidoscopic mobile changes no matter how you look at it—or where you stand.
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
10. Bjarne Melgaard, Theresa starting to show she will die, and other works, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, 2013
Some booths are inviting—and then others are really inviting. The space at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise is painted entirely purple this year, and lined with a thicket of brightly colored blankets, each based on sketches by Norwegian phenom Bjarne Melgaard. Melgaard has produced a series of abstract paintings that directly complement the blankets, but it’s impossible to see those paintings unless you’re willing to climb over the sea of quilts to get there (some guests just chose to lie down on top of them). The blankets, by the way—which, by the end of the weekend, will surely be covered in sludge from everyone’s muddy boots—are going for $12,000 each.
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
11. Anish Kapoor, Untitled, 2013
After a mechanized robot angrily moves its windshield-wiper arms at you, and making it through a room set up with steps toward a lit-up Jesus, there is nothing more simple and powerful than a gold Anish Kapoor bowl, glowing against an empty wall.
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
11. Daniel Firman, Linda, 2013 (Perrotin Gallery Paris)
After walking from booth to booth for hours, it’s easy to get Art Overload: that feeling when your blood sugar dips, your stomach growls, and everything starts to look the same. It’s enough to make you want to pull your sweater up over your eyes, and, well, bang your head against a wall. That’s what French artist Daniel Firman has brought to life in Linda, a resin and plaster life-size portrait of a woman. She’s frustrated, she’s tired, and she is pressing forcefully against the outside wall of the Perrotin gallery. Part of the fun of looking at this piece, of course, is watching passersby react to it: they inevitably think she’s real, begin whispering to each other—Look at that eccentric art person!—until they realize she’s just a piece of plaster.
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
12. Gabriel Orozco, Roiseau 8, 2012, Galerie Chantal Carousel
One of the most mesmerizing pieces in the lot is a giant, circular bamboo reed affixed with hundreds of tiny feathers, by Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco. It’s punctuated by two photographic diptyches and illustrates the artist’s fascination with animals and the changing “equilibriums of the universe.”
Andy Jacobsohn/The Daily Beast
13. Do Ho Suh, Wielandstr. 18, 12159 Berlin, Lehmann Maupin (C11)
“Unbelievable,” one woman said to her husband, while stepping into Lehmann Maupin’s booth. “Un-fucking-believable.” She was describing Do Ho Suh’s Weilandstr. 18, a life-size replica of the artist’s former apartment in Germany—rendered in polyester. Do’s structure is a feat of architecture and engineering—and shows a great mastery of material. The translucent green polyester has been stretched into door handles, moldings, and even a telephone.
Isabel Wilkinson/The Daily Beast
14. Tino Sehgal, Annlee, 2013, Marion Goodman Gallery
This is perhaps the most alarming—and downright creepy—piece at Frieze. You walk into a large room at the Marion Goodman booth, which is completely empty save for a few fluorescent lights overhead. In the center of the room, a little girl in jeans and a blue shirt is talking—talking robotically, theatrically, but speaking to no one. She moves her arms as if they’re being remote-controlled, and for a minute you think: “Wait a minute, is this kid a robot?” But she’s not, she’s just an actor in a weird and thrilling performance piece by British-German artist Tino Sehgal. “I’ve wondered, what’s worse; to feel too busy, or not busy enough?” the girl asks into the ether. Then she turns to you, locking eyes: “Can I ask you, would you rather feel too busy or not busy enough?” “Uhh,” we say. But she continues: “What is the relation between a sign and melancholia?” Outside, a representative for the gallery explains that the piece is a commentary on Annlee, a Japanese Manga character whose identity was purchased by two artists.
Two mammoth sculptures by the American artist Paul McCarthy straddle New York’s rivers this week. The 181,000kg bronze Sisters, 2013, hulks down by the Hudson River, while Balloon Dog, 2013, the artist’s irreverent 80ft-tall take on the Jeff Koons original, squats beside the Frieze New York tent next to the East River. Meanwhile, Koons himself, an artist of huge ambition with the production costs to match, has rival shows opening this week at David Zwirner (C48) and Gagosian galleries (B59).
From Ugo Rondinone’s colossal figures at Rockefeller Plaza to Orly Genger’s installation in Madison Square Park (her work is made from 1.4 million feet of rope, equating to nearly 20 times the length of Manhattan), artists in the city are super-sizing their work to fill public spaces and huge commercial galleries.
“The market, which is much larger than it was ten years ago, has opened the door for artists to scale up their work and realise projects they couldn’t have done before,” says the art adviser Allan Schwartzman.
McCarthy, represented by Hauser & Wirth (B7), “is one of the greatest artists of our time, who went decades without access to money. He scaled up the minute he started to make money—the resources have made it possible,” Schwartzman adds.
As fairs like Frieze proliferate, and countries and collectors around the world pour money into contemporary commissions designed to put themselves on the cultural map, it seems that art, like gas, is expanding to fill whatever space is available.
The trend towards gigantism comes at a price. “We’ve got millions of dollars tied up in production,” says the New York dealer Sean Kelly, whose eponymous gallery (B46) is due to open a show devoted to the Cuban collective Los Carpinteros on Saturday. “Irreversible” consists of three monumental sculptures, one film, two light pieces and a room-sized installation, and is described by Kelly as an “enormous production”. Prices for the works range from $60,000 to $200,000.
Fairs like Frieze New York, which opened to VIP visitors on Thursday, are fuelling this growth. “There is a wheel of hysterical activity focused mostly on auctions and art fairs, which service the upper-tier, hyper-scale buyers,” Schwartzman says.
The sheer quantity of work available in the tent this week puts pressure on dealers to create displays that grab attention in a sea of art—and some galleries have commissioned works specifically for the fair. New York’s CRG gallery (A10) is showing just one work at Frieze: Mix (Americana), 2013, an 8ft by 16ft concrete mixing drum by the artist Alexandre da Cunha. “We approached Alex and asked him to make us a big work,” says the gallery’s director Richard Desroche. “We’ve become aware of the impact of solo shows and large pieces at fairs.”
“If you only see art at fairs, you might have the feeling that art is getting bigger, but that’s because you always need a crowd-pleaser. Large-scale works stick in people’s minds,” says Alex Gabriel of Brazil’s Galeria Fortes Vilaça (C50), which is showing floor-hogging works including Ernesto Neto’s Na esquina da vida com uma planta na mão, 2013, priced at $205,000, and Valeska Soares’s Finale, 2013, a mirrored table-top covered in crystal glasses containing alcohol, priced at $120,000.
Size isn’t everything
This is not quite the full story, however. There is plenty of art at the fair that is more quiet, contemplative and homespun. “We focus on work where the artist is involved with the brush stroke,” says the dealer James Fuentes (D22), whose pared-down presentation of four paintings includes Jessica Dickinson’s Hold-, 2011-13, priced at $30,000, and John McAllister’s days gently embered, 2013, priced at $40,000.
“There are a lot of artists who want to maintain the independence of art practice and not rely on production, so have a more DIY approach,” says Hans Ulrich Obrist, the co-director of the Serpentine Gallery in London. “We have a very complex world now where all of these realities can coexist.”
Marian Goodman Gallery (C7) is hosting a typically subtle performance by Tino Sehgal in which a child actor poses as a Manga character named Ann Lee and asks visitors questions, a personal approach that is the antithesis of the monumental.
Indeed, the trend for ambitious large commissions seems to be fanning a countercurrent. “There’s a real push away from what’s happening in Chelsea, which is becoming a place for blue-chip galleries showing expensive works,” says Loring Randolph of Casey Kaplan (A7). The gallery has a solo presentation of paintings by Julia Schmidt, ranging in price from $14,000 to $20,000.
For fair-goers in search of something less muscular than the giant art on show throughout New York, the Berlin gallery Wien Lukatsch (D30) is showing 49 clippings from Korean real-estate adverts pinned to the wall in a seven-metre installation by Haegue Yang. The work—Flat Utopia, 2004, on sale for €45,000—is so fragile that it has been shown only once before. “For me, it was tempting to show something so delicate and experimental,” says the gallery’s director Barbara Wien. “It’s a challenge for a collector.”
Click here for interview with Rondinone about his work at Rockefeller Plaza
When Frieze opened on Thursday morning it offered not just art and people-watching—the two go hand-in-hand—but, as many attendees noted, a great selection of food. There was pizza from Roberta’s in Brooklyn; a salad bar courtesy of the Fat Radish; and Chinese cuisine from the notoriously busy Mission Chinese.
Billy Farrell Agency
Sofia Sanchez Barrenechea
“Just be careful with Mission Chinese,” said the philanthropist Jamie Tisch. There’s so much garlic, “your breath might smell until Frieze in London.”
That’s in October, by the way.
Billy Farrell Agency
Maria Baibakova and Rashid Johnson
Between now and then, the art world has a lot of work to peruse—and a lot of partying to do. Just after Memorial Day is the Venice Biennale, then there’s Art Basel in June. Think of this past weekend in New York as a warm-up, a conditioning exercise for the European marathon. Who will get the gold in seeing and being seen?
Phil and Shelley Aarons at the second-anniversary dinner for Artspace hosted by Maria Baibakova.
On Thursday, there was a big new Jeff Koons opening at Gagosian, as well as a dinner in honor of Artspace, the digital arts marketplace, hosted by the Russian collector Maria Baibakova that brought out Lauren and Andres Santo Domingo; Christie’s chairman Amy Cappellazzo; Thelma Golden; and Shelley and Phil Aarons.
Richard Chai at the Clocktower Gallery to celebrate G-Shock watches and Visionaire magazine.
Billy Farrell Agency
Nate Lowman and Shamim Momin
For each guest, Ms. Baibakova commissioned a work made by the married artists Rashid Johnson and Sheree Hovsepian. Mr. Johnson and Ms. Hovsepian photographed an air plant and a silver vase, encased it in a wood frame and then dipped it in wax to make each piece unique.
On Friday, Paul McCarthy showed his new work, inspired by Snow White and Disney, DIS+0.26% at Hauser & Wirth, and the German artist Tobias Rehberger, recreated the Bar Oppenheimer in Frankfurt at the Hotel Americano in West Chelsea.
So, by Saturday, there was thankfully a lot to talk about, like how does Disney allow Mr. McCarthy to use their intellectual property? And what did everyone think of what Gwyneth Paltrow said about the Costume Institute? This was a good thing, because there were long dinners both in Midtown and downtown.
At MoMA, Volkswagen, VOW3.XE-0.60% MoMA director Glenn Lowry and PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach hosted a dinner to celebrate the opening of Expo 1: New York, an ecologically themed exhibition at various venues. This attracted its fair share of celebrities, including James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard, who came to enjoy a performance by Martha Wainwright.
Several of the guests at the Expo party did double duty with a dinner hosted by the virtual auction house Paddle8, Bulgari and Land, a nonprofit public art initiative that creates site-specific projects in Los Angeles. A big draw here—besides a live auction of paintings by Nate Lowman; Lucien Smith (which went for $24,000, even though it was estimated between $5,000 and $7,000); and Barnaby Furnas—was that it was taking place at Carbone on Thompson Street, probably the hottest restaurant in town right now. It’s delicious, too.
“New York magazine said the ribs are the best thing on the menu,” said Maria Bell, the Los Angeles art patron and television writer. “They’re a religious experience,” she added, after she tasted them.
Being on the art circuit on a weekend like this, said Stacy Engman, who, like many were also planning to go to Greenwich, Conn., Sunday morning for an exhibit at Peter Brant’s home, “can be exhausting. That’s why I always travel with these,” she explained, pulling a pair of sunglasses that covered nearly her whole face. This month, Ms. Engman has also made her sartorial choices simpler. She has been exclusively wearing a dress she had made from five yards of fabric in tribute to Vivienne Westwood “and the climate revolution.”
“You don’t smell badly,” said Rodman Primack, an interior designer and Paddle8’s head of auctions.
“Well, I’ve been washing it,” said Ms. Engman.
In an unusual twist, Simon de Pury, the auctioneer at this particular auction, purchased two of the six art lots, with his wife, Michaela, doing the bidding. There was a Wade Guyton “U Stencil” and one from Mr. Lowman, though not one of his now-famous bullet holes, which Mr. de Pury purchased for $100,000. (Its estimate: $30,000 to $40,000.)
“It’s very nice to let your auctioneer’s wife get away with that,” said Mr. de Pury. “A fantastic collection is being built right in front of my eyes.”
Meanwhile, a late-night art party at the Clocktower Gallery on Leonard Street showed how sometimes all you need are some Christmas lights and a little aluminum foil to make a great event.
Actually, Alex de Betak, the French furniture and fashion designer, and a team of 20 or so, spent days wrapping the various rooms in this majestic penthouse space with tin foil, mylar and silver confetti to create a kind of silver palace. The party was celebrating the 30th anniversary of G-Shock watches and the 63rd issue of Visionaire, which features indestructible, metallic plated 3-D reliefs of photographs of, among others, Kate Moss and Lady Gaga.
“For once you have a reason to make the Factory and push the envelope,” said Mr. de Betak, referring to Andy Warhol’s New York studio.
One room featured fans on which to throw the silver confetti; another featured tons of oversize mylar balloons. But perhaps the best space was the rooftop, which featured no silver at all, but just the best thing to look at, no matter the art fair: the cityscape of Manhattan.
Spartacus Chetwynd’s ‘cat bus’ at Frieze London 2010
When 7,000 people a day visited performance art veteran Marina Abramovic’s 2010 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, it proved a breakthrough for the medium. No one anticipated that so many visitors would queue for hours to sit opposite the artist. Since then, performance has enjoyed something of a revival, one that has happened in the very places the original performance artists of the late 1960s and 1970s shunned: public museums and art fairs. Once considered deeply avant-garde, an anti-commercial edgeland of the art world, performance is more popular than ever – and art fairs recognise this, as Frieze New York, whose second edition ends on May 13, illustrates.
As museums have embraced more interactive work, contemporary art fairs have shrugged off their trade fair trappings and remarketed themselves as cultural “events” able to hold their own in the visual arts calendar alongside the openings and biennials. Their aim is still to sell art, but their approach has shifted. Established in 2003, Frieze London has blazed the trail, with a full-time curator and an ambitious programme of non-selling installations and performances called Frieze Projects running alongside (and sometimes against) the commercial thrust.
Where Frieze leads, others follow. Art13, the London art fair whose inaugural edition took place in Kensington Olympia this spring, featured large-scale installations neatly punctuating the rows of gallery booths, as well as talks and a special booth for performance art. “It’s about visitor experience,” the fair’s director Stephanie Dieckvoss tells me. “Performance art refocuses people’s minds in a different way. I thought it was important to have a balanced curatorial aspect to the fair.”
By branding themselves as cultural destinations, contemporary art fairs have sought to represent not only the art market but artistic practice more widely. And, given that it’s often impractical for galleries to stage performances on their cramped stands, the fairs themselves have stepped in to fund a performance element. As Amanprit Sandu, curator of Art13’s performance programme, says, “These are quite difficult times economically and a lot of the artwork I’ve been seeing at art fairs over the past two years is 2D: the offering is a bit more conservative.”
At Frieze New York, however, the Marian Goodman Gallery has taken the risk and decided to show a work by the performance artist Tino Sehgal. When I visited the small walled booth, adults were standing round the edges listening to a girl not more than 10 years old tell how she used to be the manga character Ann Lee but has become “an individual”. First seen at the Manchester International Festival in 2011, Sehgal’s extraordinary piece – called “Ann Lee” – assumed a new significance in the context of the fair. “Now that I’m an individual,” said the girl with a serious expression and unflinching gaze, “I’ve met people who are tired of being an individual and having all these decisions to make.” Collecting art is, essentially, about making decisions that express individuality. The girl’s audience, recognising this, looked variously awkward and amused, taken aback by her poise and apparent wisdom.
“Ann Lee”, an edition of four, has a starting price of €80,000. On Frieze New York’s VIP day, Marian Goodman’s associate director Karina Daskalov tells me there has been “a lot of interest from museums”. Ever adaptable, artists have found ways to sell performance – often in the form of photographs, video and even left-over props. At Frieze New York, Vienna’s Galerie Krinzinger is selling 45 photographs from 1971 documenting performances by Otto Muehl, an influential Vienna Actionist, for a hefty $190,000. But Sehgal, wanting his performances to be truly ephemeral, does not allow them to be photographed. So instead they are sold in an oral contract between the artist and buyer in the presence of a lawyer, during which Sehgal explains how to re-enact the work.
One visitor to the Marian Goodman booth was overheard describing Sehgal’s piece as “a complete tonic”. Despite not being as easily sellable as painting or sculpture, performance art has the advantage of immediacy. As Cecilia Alemani, curator of Frieze Projects at New York fair, admits: “I’m an expert and even I get tired after seeing 180 booths. But performance can capture viewers’ attention.”
Yet Alemani’s Frieze Projects are less about attention-grabbing performances than creating social spaces for, as she puts it, “those moments when people want to take a break from the fair”. One such space is designed by artist Liz Glynn: a Prohibition-style speakeasy hidden in the tent, to which 200 visitors each day are given keys. These lucky few are then treated not only to cocktails strong enough to take the edge off even the most hectic art fair, but also to bartenders who serve them up with stories and magic tricks – a performance in itself.
Another Frieze Project is Matteo Tannatt’s series of benches around the fair, each of which has a script displayed beside it. The benches double as stages, with an actor moving from bench to bench performing the script or improvising. This, however, is more elusive than the secret speakeasy: during my day spent pounding the aisles of the fair, I didn’t once see a bench used as anything other than something to sit on.
Different fairs have different ways of presenting performance art. The best performance at Art13 was Bedwyr Williams’ “Expedit”, written for the occasion. Like all his performances, it began with him asking the audience to pretend they were moles. “It’s usually a London audience I perform to,” he tells me, “and they’re used to following other Londoners blindly around tunnels.” In “Expedit” he asked his mole audience to imagine burrowing down through the floor and up into the fashionable home of a couple of designers in order to ransack it. “I thought designers were a good choice because they collect things. Although it’s not the same as collecting fine art, it’s similar. My gallery wouldn’t thank me for lampooning visual art collectors – although it’s on the agenda.”
Though Williams’ satirical piece responded to the art fair setting, the performance artists at Art13 were not specifically requested to do so – a measure of the fair’s relatively conservative approach in its first year. While the Frieze Projects often work as “interventions” around the fair – Spartacus Chetwynd’s show-stealing giant “cat bus” at Frieze London in 2010, for example – the performances at Art13 were safely contained in one booth. Art fairs tread a fine line between creating spectacle and keeping their galleries happy: few dealers would thank them for scheduling a loud performance next to their booth, and Sandu admits she had to turn down the “really ambitious” proposals that wanted to “infiltrate” the fair.
But as museums embrace performance art, and performance artists themselves increasingly engage with the market, the medium will only become more common at art fairs – and not just in special non-selling sections. Today, performance art is more usually bought by museums than individuals, but Williams predicts change: “Performances at institutions are really well attended,” he says. “I think there’s a clamour for that kind of thing. And when people want something, collectors are usually quite close behind.”
It’s VIP Day at Frieze New York, which means half the designers in town have hightailed it to Randall’s Island to ogle the art. Gallerist Gavin Brown talked to Style.com about his love-hate relationship with the fashion business.
By Nicole Phelps
Published May 9, 2013
Bjarne Melgaard in his installation at Frieze.
Frieze New York, the art-fair import from London, kicks off today, and with it comes another round of cocktail parties, “intimate” dinners, and late-night bacchanals—most sponsored by fashion and lifestyle brands, and all inevitably bigger and louder this time, owing to the runaway success of last year’s Frieze fair. Gallerist Gavin Brown calls the mutually beneficial schmoozing endemic to art fairs (see Art Basel Miami) “the fashion/art death lock.” The British-born Brown has a way with words that rivals his way with artists—Elizabeth Peyton, Urs Fischer, and Alex Katz are all on his roster at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. At Frieze, he’ll showcase the work of Bjarne Melgaard. Who better to discuss the way New York’s culture producers make their livings by feeding off of each other? Just don’t get Brown wrong—he might be ambivalent about all the art/fashion shenanigans, but he still likes to be invited to the party.
NP: Frieze is back for another year here in New York. What did you make of last year’s fair? What did it do for the New York art scene?
GB: I’m not sure what it did beyond add to the noise—which is already very loud.
What does Gavin Brown have in store for this year’s fair?
Last year, you fried up anti-fracking sausages with Mark Ruffalo, and you won the Stand Prize from Champagne Pommery.
Did I? I don’t remember that.
At the time, I believe, you said Pommery’s 10,000 pound prize was “better than a poke in the eye.” You seemed bemused but also slyly aware of the benefits that kind of publicity can bring. True?
This was, in fact, in London. I was a little embarrassed. Winning a prize for a booth is silly in the first place. And for me to win it was sillier still. There were many galleries—younger galleries—for whom a win like that would make a serious impact. Of course, I absolutely deserved to win. There’s no doubt about that.
My mistake! What do you think about fashion and lifestyle brands sponsoring art shows? What do they get out of it?
I doubt they pay for the whole thing. Barely a fraction. The organizers make vast sums from the exhibitors, who in turn are the attraction that brings in the paying public, who spend a few bills to get in and gawk, but not spend. It’s a very complex and interdependent food chain or ecosystem. What do the brands get? I guess this is at the crux of the question around the fashion/art death lock. They get to put on the Technicolored cloak of the mystery that is art. While they wear it, they seem more interesting than they think they are.
The give-and-take between fashion and art isn’t new, of course. Do you remember a time before mega-brands were hosting parties for the art crowd?
Yes—absolutely. It mostly happens at art fairs, but actually, as I think about it, it happens everywhere now. Dinners for museum shows are sponsored by fashion companies, and half the people there are from the fashion world. It wasn’t always like that. The shift was easiest to see comparing each successive Miami Basel—you could see the change happening before your eyes. It was in Miami, of course, that the fashion/industrial complex felt safe to show its face. It seemed to give itself permission to move in—like colonists in an Arcadian land. Swapping beads for an entire cultural history. Before they arrived, we were still an oddball backwater. But as everything else became exhausted, as it inevitably would, art was all there was left.
Photo: Courtesy of Gavin Brown
The Enterprising Gavin Brown
Continued (Page 2 of 2)
Gavin Brown and Mark Ruffalo frying up anti-fracking sausages during the Frieze New York fair last year.
Do you ever want to go back to the halcyon days before artist/designer collaborations? Did they ever really exist?
Yes, they did exist. They were days when one threw a party to have fun. Not sell a name…. Ah, innocent days. Those parties are probably still happening—I’m just not invited. I never was. That’s why I threw my own parties.
How interested are your artists in collaborating with fashion brands? Has facilitating such partnerships become a bigger part of an art dealer’s job?
Some are. It makes sense for them. It’s part of the language they speak. Others are not. But the extraordinary profile of these businesses—they exist in the imagination like nothing else—is something that is a powerful lure to someone whose goal in life is to communicate. As to it being part of my job, not really. When it does happen, my job becomes more damage control than anything else.
How can such collaborations affect an artist’s career—for the better? For the worse?
Totally depends on the players involved.
Have we reached the art/fashion collaboration tipping point? Or did that moment come and go long ago?
I hope not. Now we are in it, let’s win it! I want more!
Do you have any dream collaborations, for yourself or for your artists?
I’m not sure. It’s not my job to think about that. I would love to throw some people in a room and see what happens.
Mark Leckey and Google, Urs Fischer and Norman Foster, Alex Katz and Marc Jacobs, Jeremy Deller and the Pentagon, Peter Doig and the Metropolitan Opera, Jonathan Horowitz and McDonald’s, Laura Owens and Walmart, Thomas Bayrle and Ford, Rob Pruitt and Claire’s. The list could go on and on.
What do fashion people get wrong about the art crowd? And vice versa?
The fashion crowd doesn’t get anything right about art. The two tribes speak two entirely different languages. You are either on one side or the other. This is a particularly interesting week to think about the difference: the punk Met Ball and Frieze Art Fair. Both sides using the other to dress themselves up as something they are not, and destroying something essential about themselves in the process. The punk Met Ball was particularly hideous. The final enslavement of one of the most powerful postwar social movements. Reduced to Sarah Jessica Parker’s fauxhawk. A sad and accurate diagram of the state of our culture. A crowd of shiny morons turning reality inside out so it matches the echo chamber of their worldview. Would Sid have been invited? What would he have thought? Is this what Mark Perry meant by “This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band”? The English art schools of the sixties and seventies—the cradle of this creative movement—must be writhing in their supply-side straightjackets. It only emphasizes to me that fashion—whatever that is—sees art (and artists) as an idiot-savant gimp, and they keep them on a leash, begging for glam snacks. And fashion follows along behind art, picking up its golden shit.
How different is the art world from the fashion world, in the end? Hasn’t all of the madness around collecting, and the obsession with which artist is up and which artist is down, eclipsed the art?
I see the fashion world with my nose pressed against the window, but from that perspective it seems dynamic, fast, frothy, and 99 percent empty. But that really isn’t so different from most cultural worlds—including the art world. There are creative and talented people doing incredible things at the heart of each arena. But both fashion and art suffer—in different ways—from the crushing weight of capital. And in this sense, they have both been co-opted to do capital’s bidding—as it reaches into every corner of the globe. Wherever you find an LVMH store, a brand-name contemporary art gallery will surely be very close by. The right bag and the right painting are the clearest ways possible for those with money to recognize each other.
Alemani has organized a series of installations, talks, and other programming for the Frieze Art Fair in New York, held in a snaking tent designed by SO—IL, May 10-13.
Cecilia Alemani’s favorite work of public art is Maurizio Cattelan’s massive statue of a hand that stands in front of the stock exchange in her native Milan, with every digit severed but an insouciant middle finger. While Alemani enjoys the provocation, she mostly admires the way it confounds expectations about what public art should be.
As the director and curator of High Line Art, she brings that spirit of disruption to the elevated New York City park designed by James Corner Field Operations (with Diller Scofidio + Renfro). Since taking the job in 2011, Alemani has exhibited a pickup truck with a brick-filled bed, an exihibition on miniscule sculpture, and artist-designed billboards that riff on commercial imagery, among many other works along the park’s route. This season a new exhibition, titled Busted, shows artists tweaking the tropes of monumental portrait sculpture. As the show opens, Alemani is also reprising her role as curator of Frieze Projects, programming presented alongside the Frieze New York art fair. Begun in London 11 years ago, Frieze has its second turn in New York from May 10 to 13. Once again, it will occupy a 1,500-foot-long tent designed by Brooklyn architecture firm SO—IL, pitched on Randall’s Island, a grassy stretch in the East River accessible by ferry from Manhattan during the event.
The Frieze fair will shift the New York art world’s center of gravity to an out-of-the-way island for a few days. How does your programming respond to that?
This year, we’re showing work by five artists. They’re all pretty young and almost all female. The idea is to highlight the communal spaces that people create out there—we want to emphasize squares, plazas, and benches. Andra Ursuta is even creating a cemetery for art. Andra says when she grew up in Romania the only way she saw art was traveling to visit churches. In a way, that’s similar to what you do when you take a ferry to Frieze: you go on a pilgrimage.
You’re also doing a pop-up recreation of Food, the artist-run restaurant cofounded by Gordon Matta-Clark in the early 1970s. Why revisit that project?
When first started working on Frieze Projects, I had the idea for one of them should always be an homage to an art space that was very important in our tradition but is now closed. When I decided that the theme of this year would be gathering and a communal space, I started thinking about Food. It’s such a part of New York’s history and the underground scene. What people remember with lots of joy is the artist-designed menus on Sunday nights. Gordon Matta-Clark’s famous menu was all different varieties of bones.
At Frieze, it’s going to be a small stand outside where the tent does a zigzag. We will have four different chefs, one every day, do a menu, and it will be a mix of people from Food reinterpreting their legendary dishes or others who might not have been to food but whose practice is inspired by it. It’s going to be simple and cheap. For me, it’s not just about recreating the idea, but it’s about making the same gregarious gesture.
The High Line draws a much wider audience than just art pilgrims, but as a park, it certainly makes a gregarious gesture to the city. How is curating for it different?
Last year we had 4.4 million visitors, so it’s definitely about creating a dialogue with an audience that is not an art audience. Visitors don’t expect to see art. They encounter it, and the encounter could be disturbing. It could be pleasant. It takes them by surprise. The architectural and horticultural side of the High Line is so perfect, I see the art as an intervention to disrupt the beauty.
How do you determine where to intervene?
I just invite artists to come and take a walk with me. I want to see an artist’s take on something that shapes a location, something that breaks it or makes it even better. We use the city as a pedestal, but the tricky thing is, the landscape and the cityscape changes every week—you walk by one day, and wow, that building went up five more stories.
The High Line has been criticized for contributing to skyrocketing development in nearby neighborhoods. How do you respond?
It’s easy to blame the High Line, but galleries moved into Chelsea in the 1990s, and that was already part of its gentrification. The High Line could have been torn down and you would just have more buildings, but now it’s a free public amenity.
How will the High Line’s third phase and Hudson Yards development affect your work?
I’m excited, because half of section three will be renovated like the rest of the park, but half will be left wild. There I could see big monumental sculptures, but I really don’t have any idea yet. I usually just go to an artist I like, and I’m usually pleasantly surprised.
Go for the art, stay for the food! This year’s Frieze Art Fair in New York is coming up with the goods, the food goods! Right now, several of our favorite New York and Brooklyn eateries are firing up the stoves and grinding the coffee beans to ensure we all leave the fair not only feeling cultured, but full! Frankies Spuntino and Marlow & Sons will have pop-up restaurants on-site while hotspots like Roberta’s, Mission Chinese, The Fat Radish, Saint Ambroeus, and Blue Bottle Coffee will be scattered in and about the 180 exhibiting galleries. We asked the chefs to share some sneak peeks of what they’ll be serving.
FRIEZE ART FAIR NEW YORK Randall’s Island Park
New York The Fat Radish The Fat Radish Roberta’s Roberta’s Saint Ambroeus Saint Ambroeus Blue Bottle Coffe
Some art-fair organizers are satisfied to put up a tent and offer what is essentially a supermarket—aisles and aisles of artworks for sale. But the organizers of Frieze New York, Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, the fair having its second annual edition beginning Wednesday with a kick-off party and running through next Monday, are aiming substantially higher than that with their special programming.
“We want to engage all the senses this year,” says Cecilia Alemani, the curator of Frieze Projects. “All of the works touch on the idea of gathering places, both at the fair and in the rest of our lives.”
Alemani chose last year’s projects as well, enthusiastically embracing the fair’s out-of-the-way location on Randall’s Island. Turning constraints into an advantage is something of specialty for Alemani, since her other job is curating the works along the High Line, the elevated train tracks on Manhattan’s West Side that have been turned into a spectacularly successful park.
The most singular element of Frieze New York 2013 is a tribute to, and reboot of, FOOD, the early-1970s artists’ collective founded by Carole Goodden and the late Gordon Matta-Clark. It straddled a fine line between being an actual restaurant—one where Richard Serra and Philip Glass dropped in for a meal—and a kind of performance art. Alemani has tapped two of the original artist-cooks, Goodden and Tina Girouard, as well as young contemporary artists Matthew Day Jackson and Jonathan Horowitz. Each will cook for one day of the fair.
Although the Frieze organizers have a reputation for culinary sophistication—the lineup of restaurant options includes the acclaimed Roberta’s and Mission Chinese Food—mere eating isn’t the point. “It’s about the collective energy that made these spaces alive,” says Alemani. The five artists she chose for the other Frieze Projects are no less thoughtful. Liz Glynn has created a hidden speakeasy that harks back to the days of Prohibition in New York; it will be accessible only via a key and a set of directions that will be given out at random to a few fairgoers. Maria Loboda has taken nineteenth-century interior design as the inspiration for a color-coded garden, planted right next to the tent where more than 180 galleries will convene. And Andra Ursuta has created a cemetery of sorts, dotted with marble slabs, representing “where art goes to die,” says Alemani.
Adding to the sensory stimulation are three sound pieces, experienced from listening platforms, including Haroon Mirza’s mixing and rebroadcasting of actual fair sounds. These will also be available at friezenewyork.com. “Sound is not the first medium people pay attention to,” says Alemani, who is always looking to expand our idea of what art can be. “I consider sound works to be as good as paintings, and it feels like a fresh approach to me right now.”
Frieze New York opens to the public on May 10 at Randall’s Island Park, New York; friezenewyork.com.
Everything You Need to Know About FRIEZE and NYC’s Spring Art Week
By Gary Pini
New York’s Spring Art Week is here! The weather has finally come around and it’s a great time to get out and enjoy the tons of gallery openings, art fairs, auctions and parties taking place from May 6th to the 16th. Here’s what’s happening:
Scene from Frieze 2012
FRIEZE New York 2013
The New York spin-off of FRIEZE returns to Randall’s Island from May 10 to 13, with a big “Private View” on Thursday night, May 9. It will be open to the public daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. starting Friday and, for a second year, is taking place in a giant tent designed by Brooklyn architecture firm SO-IL. You can get there via ferry from the dock at 34th Street and FDR Drive, by bus from the Guggenheim Museum, free shuttle from the Joe Fresh store or you can drive. Admission to the fair is $42 ($26 students). Over 180 worldwide galleries will be exhibiting and there’s also lots of side-projects, lectures and a tribute to the early ’70s, artist-run SoHo restaurant, FOOD, with artists/chefs doing the cooking and “exploring the relationship between food and art.” There’s also a big sculpture park with works by Paul McCarthy, Fiona Connor, Saint Clair Cemin, Pae White and more. To buy tickets and to check out all the details regarding getting there and back, go HERE.
NADA New York
NADA is also back for a second year in NYC, and they’re moving the fair over to the East River on Pier 36. Over 70 galleries will take over a space that’s normally occupied by Basketball City (299 South Street) and fill it with “new art by rising talents.” The opening preview is on Friday, May 10, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and then it’s open to the public until 8 p.m. that day and thru Sunday. Admission to this fair is FREE, so be sure to check it out. Go HERE for more info.
Piece on display at PULSE New York 2012
PULSE New York
PULSE celebrates its eighth anniversary with over 50 galleries, plus their unique “Pulse Projects” program featuring large sculptures, installations and performances. They’ll return to The Metropolitan Pavilion (125 West 18th Street) in Chelsea and are open for a VIP brunch on May 9 from 9 a.m. to noon and then open to the public thru Sunday. Tickets are $20 ($15 students). HERE‘s the details.
Tyler Matthew Oyer, Gone For Gold Courtesy Cirrus, which will appear at Cutlog
CUTLOG New York
One of the new-fairs-on-the-block, Cutlog, comes from Paris, where it started four years ago. Running from May 9 to 13 in the Clemente Soto Velez Center (107 Suffolk Street) on the Lower East side, the fair features 45 galleries, plus several performances, talks and films. Downtown musician/actor/painter John Lurie will be speaking about his work and about the changes in the LES neighborhood. There’s also Free Car Wash presented by The Fantastic Nobodies who will be dressed as members of the Village People. There are two days of VIP and media previews, but Cutlog will be open to the public on May 9 from 5 to 9 p.m., May 10, 11 and 12 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and May 13 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $15 ($12 students). Go HERE for more info.
Pool Art Fair New York 2013
This fair started in 2000 with a goal of bringing together artists that aren’t represented by big galleries. It will be open for three days, May 10 to 12, from 3 p.m.to 10 p.m. daily in the Flatiron Hotel (9 West 26th Street) and will include curated exhibitions, lectures, special projects and events. There is a suggested donation of $10.
COLLECTIVE.1 Design Fair
Another newbie this year, the Collective.1 Design Fair will focus exclusively on design and will include vintage as well as contemporary works. It was founded by the architect Steven Learner and runs from May 8 to 11 at Pier 57 on the Westside Highway at 15th Street. Tickets are $25 ($15 students). The details are HERE.
The tenth edition of this showcase for Brooklyn-based designers runs for three days — May 10 to 12 — in DUMBO’s St. Ann’s Warehouse (29 Jay Street, Brooklyn). Over thirty designers will show original, limited-edition pieces and furnishings.
And, of course New York’s art galleries are taking full advantage of all the crowds in town for the fairs, and they’re opening new shows:
The acclaimed Cuban art collective Los Carpinteros are opening a show of new works called “Irreversible” in three rooms at New York’s Sean Kelly Gallery (475 Tenth Avenue). You can check out some of their LEGO constructions, an installation entitled “Tomates” and a video of the reverse performance of a conga band and dancers. The opening reception is May 11 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the exhibit is up until June 22.
Jose Parla and JR open an exhibit of their recent collab, “The Wrinkles of the City: Havana,” on Tuesday, May 7, 6 to 8 p.m. at Bryce Wolkowitz (505 West 24th Street). It’s up until July 12.
Gagosian Gallery opens an exhibit of new works by Cecily Brown — it’s her first NYC show since 2008 — on Tuesday, May 7, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at their 980 Madison Avenue space. Also that night, they are opening a show of over 400 photographs from The Lost Album by the late Dennis Hopper on the fifth floor of 980 Madison. On Thursday, May 9, 6 to 8 p.m., Jeff Koons has his first New York show with Gagosian at 555 West 24th Street featuring new paintings and sculptures. And don’t forget to check out the current Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the gallery’s space at 522 West 21st Street.
Marlborough Chelsea (545 West 25th Street) is opening a big group exhibition called “Endless Bummer II – Still Bummin'” on Saturday, May 11, from 6 to 8 p.m. The show was curated by Drew Heitzler and Jan Tumlir and includes works by Ryan Foerster, Brendan Fowler, Jonah Freeman/Justin Lowe, Christian Marclay and many more. Mr. Heitzler also has his own show called “Comic Books, Inverted Stamps, Paranoid Literature” opening in the gallery on the same night.
Martos Gallery (540 West 29th Street) is hosting an exhibit of fifty “small” works from the collection of Anne Collier and Mathew Higgs called “Why is Everything the Same?”. The opening is Tuesday, May 7, 6 to 8 p.m. and the show is up until May 24.
There’s a big Bushwick gallery crawl AKA “Bushwick/Ridgewood FRIEZE Night” on Saturday, May 11, so head over there late and don’t miss the closing night of Brian Leo’s “100 Drones” that includes a “silkscreen print party” from 7 to 11 p.m. at David Kesting Presents (257 Boerum Street between Bushwick and White).
The High Line has an outdoor screening of “Modern Times Forever” by Superflex opening May 7 at the High Line’s 14th Street passage. It starts at 7 p.m. daily and runs until May 19th.
UK artist Tracey Emin will be showing an outdoor sculpture called “Roman Standard” in Petrosino Square (Lafayette Street between Spring and Broome) from May 10 to September 8. It’s a part of her show that’s on view now at Lehmann Maupin.
Roberta Bayley curated a group photo show called “Just Chaos!” that features images of early punk style. It opens on Thursday, May 9, 6 to 8 p.m. at Bookmarc (400 Bleecker St.) and will be up until May 23rd. You’ll find photos by Bayley, Laura Levine, Janette Beckman, Stephanie Chernikowski, Lee Black Childers, Godlis, Bob Gruen, Marcia Resnick and more.
The latest group show, “Wish Meme,” at the Old School (233 Mott Street) in NoLiTa includes over 50 artists spread over the building’s three floors and backyard. The works examine “21st Century wish fulfillment in the recession world.” There’s an opening reception on Wednesday, May 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. and it will be up until May 12th.
The Ed. Varie gallery (618 East 9th Street) is showing new work by three New York-based artists: Tyler Healy, Dean Levin and Evan Robarts. The three are participants in the Artha Project in the Brooklyn Navy Yards and there’s also a book — with photos by Clement Pascal and Johnny Knapp, designed by GG-LL — that documents the artist’s “process and studio environment.” The opening is May 10 from 6 to 9 p.m. and it’s up until June 2.
The Standard Hotel and the Paul Kasmin Gallery are hosting a book signing for “Kolors” by Kenny Scharf on Monday, May 13th, 5 to 7 p.m. at The Standard Shop (444 West 13th Street).
Peter Makebish curated a show of prints and works on paper from the Richard J. Massey Foundation for Arts and Sciences (601 West 26th Street).
Luxembourg & Dayan (64 East 77th Street) opens an exhibition, “Martial Raysse: 1960 – 1974,” on May 11. It’s the first U.S. show by the Paris-based artist in four decades and will be on view until July 13.
Leila Heller Gallery (568 West 25th Street) has a 5-day, multi-venue installation by London-based artist Reza Aramesh that starts on May 8, 11 p.m., at Marquee (289 10th Avenue) and winds up on May 12, 9 p.m., at the Bossa Nova Civic Club (1271 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn.) The gallery also has a show called “Bass! How Low Can You Go?” curated by Amir Shariat that opens May 8, 6 to 8 p.m., and runs until June 5th in their 25th Street space.
Vito Schnabel presents a group show curated by David Rimanelli called “DSM-V” in the “The Future Moynihan Station” (421 8th Avenue, enter on 31st Street) that will be open this week through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Charles Bank Gallery (196 Bowery) has a closing party for Garrett Pruter’s “Interiors” multimedia installation on Friday, May 10th, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Flux Factory (39-31 29th Street, Long Island City) hosts their monthly potluck and salon on Thursday, May 9. 8 p.m., with artist presentations, a poetry slam and more. “Please bring drinks or something tasty to share.” All the details are HERE.
A show of new works by Seth Price opens on Sunday, May 12, 6 tp 9 p.m. at Reena Spaulings Fine Art (165 East Broadway).
And finally, don’t forget the arty-parties. There are too many to mention and several are “invitation only,” but here’s a few that caught our eye:
There’s a big party on Tuesday night in honor of Paola Antonelli, the senior curator for architecture and design at MoMA, that’s hosted by Hannah Bronfman, Amani Olu and Larry Ossei-Mensah and sponsored by Beefeater 24 Gin.
Tate Americas Foundation has a live auction, dinner and after party on May 8 that is sponsored by Dior.
Visionaire magazine celebrates their “63 FOREVER” issue on Saturday night with an installation designed by Alexandre de Betak and music by Sebastien Perrin.
EXPO Chicago and Gallery Weekend Chicago are hosting a cocktail party on Friday in SoHo.
Whitewall magazine is hosting a “FRIEZE NY 2013” party on Wednesday, May 8, at Le Baron (32 Mulberry Street). Jeremie Khait is DJing.
Spring Art Fairs Converge on the L.E.S. This Weekend
Basketball City is being transformed for this weekend’s NADA Art Fair. Photo: NADA’s Facebook page.
The spring art fairs hit New York this week, as Frieze comes to Randall’s Island for a second year, and several satellite fairs pop up around town. Cutlog, a new multi-media fair from Paris, has taken over the Clemente Soto Velez building; previews begin tonight. They open to the public on Friday and run through Monday, May 13th.
The New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) is coming to Basketball City this weekend and will be open to the public May 10 – 12. It’s the first time the international fair will be on the Lower East Side (it was in Chelsea last year). Heather Hubbs, Director of NADA, told us they decided to move the fair to the neighborhood for a few different reasons. “The new venue offers more room to breath for everyone involved and it’s uncharted territory which NADA has a history of inhabiting,” she said. “Also, many of NADA’s members have galleries on the lower east side and it makes sense to bring the fair closer to them.”
For an in-depth look at the burgeoning LES art scene, check out this month’s cover story
Vincent Johnson is an artist (painting and photography) and writer in Los Angeles
Here is a small sample of my Strange Los Angeles Pictures collection of my photography.
The selected works are from my ongoing series on LA entitled StrangeLosAngelesPictures. The project’s purpose is to document the sometimes unreal imagery that one encounters in daily life in LosAngeles. The series is comprised entirely of Black and White digital photographs, taken mostly at night. In the work I bring my own aesthetic sensibilities and interior vision into the world with a camera. Often what will initially appear to be a relatively innocent series of visual elements found on a quite commercial block in LA, will actually reveal itself to be representative of a part of LA’s cultural history that has faded from memory. The city is layered with a dense and rich history, not only being the place where Hollywood was born, but also where neon first entered the US from Paris. There are countless artifacts of history buried in LA’s commercial corridors. From 1940’s dress shops to dead neon signs to the remnants of motor courts, LA allows its past to disappear or sometimes to become a phantom of its own once vital existence.
Take for example the ghostly character of the Wedding dress photo in the storefront in the San Fernando Valley. Although I had seen it dozens of times while driving by the area in which the store resides, I had not actually parked and walked up to the storefront. When I did I walked the corridor, teasing out small details that are hidden from the casual passerby. Yet when I directly engaged the storefont containing the wedding dress for sale, it appeared strange, mysterious, remarkable. It is this engagement with the uncanny that I attempt to capture. The works are shot in black and white to also harken back to the neon noir LosAngeles of the 1940’s and 1950’s, that is everywhere here yet buried in the sea of cars that LA often becomes. One encloses oneself from the world, from what is not necessary to one’s daily life. I as the artist delve deep into the actual event space of the cultural artifact, shoot it, and move on.
Wedding dress store, San Fernando Valley
archival digital photography by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles
Motel Pool, Motel Tangiers
archival digital photography by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles
Curtains – film prop for sale
archival digital photography by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles