Newsletter: July 2009 Part I
Art Basel 2009
I was pleasantly surprised by my first trip to Basel. At the fair the quality of works on view was excellent both in the modern and contemporary sections. And…even better news…sales were happening. Not just tiny things as in previous fairs but large, important and expensive works which bodes well for the art market. I spent the better part of 4 days combing the fair, trying to take it all in without going into overload having just experienced the Venice Biennale in all its glory just a few short days before. In addition to the fair which also included a section called Artist Statements where solo artists were featured, there was a Giacometti retrospective at the Fondation Beyeler (not only a wonderful show but an amazingly beautiful space) and a Van Gogh landscape show at the Kunstmuseum.
Some highlights of the fair included:
A black and white Lynne Cohen photo from 1980. Two Ruscha works on paper from the 1980s. A Jean Arp framed cutout on cardboard from 1927 called “Tete.” There were gorgeous Miró works on view and small Calder sculptures seemed to be in every booth I went into which is always nice. An Achrome by Manzoni from 1959 was outstanding at Karsetn Greve’s booth which also had a Twombly work on paper that was unforgettable. Two small subtle Richard Tuttle drawings caught my eye for a cool $25,000 each.
The hip artist Marc Swanson had his rhinestone antlers on view at Richard Gray Gallery’s booth. And Rudolph Stingel could be found in many booths. In fact, Paula Cooper had a small version of the large works with chain-link fence patterns found on view in Francois Pinault’s new exhibition, “Mapping the Studio” at the Punta della Dogana. There were a dozen artists whose work I had first seen at the Biennale who appeared en masse in the booth at the Basel art fair.
There were wonderful unique works made of aluminum, glass, and steel by Arturo Herrera for $15,000 each. I drooled over a Christo collage of “Orange Store Front” from 1965 that put my editioned print of the same subject to shame. A small, black wonderful Calder sculpture c. 1945 called “Big Bellied Bottle” could be yours for a mere $400,000. A Sarah Morris work was on view at White Cube’s booth which, by the way, was probably my favorite booth of the whole fair. They have the most wonderful spectrum of artists. They never disappoint.
I was surprised to see a number of works by the female Surrealist Meret Oppenheim who is best known for her fur-lined cup in the permanent collection of MoMA in New York. At a Zurich gallery’s booth I learned about a Swiss abstract expressionist/color field painter named Franz Fedier whose work was quite beautiful and relatively affordable. Nelson -Freeman was another favorite booth with a 1963 Agnes Martin that blew me away. Amazing that just using oil, graphite and ink on linen can create a work that causes a bit of a religious experience for the viewer (at least this viewer).
They also had Mel Bochner works and the artist whose work is on view at the Swiss pavilion in the Biennale, Silvia Bächli. She uses gouache on paper to create almost Chinese brushwork-like abstractions with simple lines and shapes. They also had a bright pink James Welling piece, an artist represented by David Zwirner, and a Richter oil and graphite on canvas from 1969 which was spectacular.
Donald Moffet’s shiny silver paintings were on view in a number of booths. Acquavella had a Paul Klee form 1938 that was outstanding in color and subject for 6 million US dollars.
Upstairs I was impressed with Jack Shainman’s booth which was devoted to the work of Kerry James Marshall. A Japanese gallery astounded me with the work of a twenty-something year old artist which involved intricately detailed drawings on paper and canvas. The major work in the booth had sold and they told me they would have to wait for him to produce more though they did have a book with his drawings for 1500 Euro for sale. There was some decent Chinese contemporary work on view. One of my favorites was a series of photos by Geng Jianyi–gorgeous.
A Pistoletto (also has work on view in Venice) work of a sink on a steel reflective surface caught my eye and was priced at 160,000 Euro.
A work on paper by Ruben Ochoa (whose installation at Peter Blum was an earlier blog entry) was very cool. Abstract and minimalist in nature it was made of concrete on paper and was installed with heavy duty screws to insure it would stay on the wall of the booth.
And I was amazed to see an artist whose work I had almost convinced a client to purchase many years ago on view at Barbara Mathes Gallery. Pizzi Cannella’s “Salon de Musique” was gorgeous and the subject of the chandelier brought me right back to Venice with all of its beautiful Murano glass light fixtures.
Tacita Dean’s photogravure in eight parts stopped me in my tracks. Entitled “Fernweh” which is a German term without an English equivalent meaning “an aching to get away,” it is a gorgeous black and white landscape made from found photographs with indecipherable scribbles randomly placed on the works. There was also a very affordable $600 print by Saul Steinberg entitled Cedar Bar from 1997. And colorful new prints by Chris Ofili were available for $900 each at Crown Point Press.
Feeling the need to see more affordable works I headed to SCOPE art fair (sadly I never made it to Volta or Liste).
There I fell in love with photos that looked like they were out of a fashion magazine but with an artistic twist by Izima Kaoru.
Stanley Wong’s Asian scrolls paid homage to the cultural heritage of China but instead of a painted landscape, the center of the scroll holds a modern photograph.
Venice Biennale 2009
The Venice Biennale
The Venice Biennale is the world’s oldest of its kind. Begun in 1895, it has come to include an exhibition with a theme chosen by a selected curator. This year the director of the Biennale is reknowned curator, Daniel Birnbaum. The 77 nations that have pavilions display works in the venues of the Giardini, the Arsenale, and many off-site palazzos and public spaces. Within the Giardini is a building which used to be called the Italian Pavilion but is now named Palazzo delle Esposizioni where the group show “Making Worlds” by the curator is held. The other part of the group show is found in the Giardino delle Vergini in the Arsenale.
I managed to see all of the Giardini in two and a half hours, pavilions, groups show and all. I was just not as impressed with the quality of the work as I have been in years past. I felt like Birnbaum repeated artists too often, not only within the Palazzo delle Esposizioni itself, but also by having artists in both the Arsenale and Giardini spaces. I wish he had included more artists I did not know instead of showing the same works to me in different parts of the exhibition.
After visiting the Pinault exhibit it was time to hit the Biennale full force and so I headed to the Arsenale to tackle it in one day. The Giardini would have to wait until the following day.
Walking in one is first greeted by a wonderful posthumous installation by the Brazilian artist Lygia Pape made of gold thread in rectangular forms.
The next room is filled with a Michelangelo Pistoletto installation in which the mirrors he began using in his work in 1961 and is so well-known for represent a search for identity and universality.
Susan Hefuna is a young Egyptian artist who creates architectural drawings on tracing paper in layers using lines, points, patterns that are carefully laid out according to a system. Her work was also in the group show in the Giardini.
Human Beings at Work by Pascale Marthine Tayou took up a massive section of the main hall of the Arsenale. It included architecture that might be found in a typical African village and videos projecting scenes from everyday life around the world, making connections between cultures that are perceived as radically different.
I loved Cildo Meireles’ Pling Pling from 2008. The viewer made his way through six brightly colored rooms each housing a flat screen television with either the same color of the room projected on it or the complimentary color of the room. For Meireles, color has an emblematic charge and this piece infused me with energy and life.
Jorge Otero-Pailos is young Spanish artist with a serious interest in the history of buildings and their relationship to people. His artwork consisted of a large sheet of latex placed on one of the last walls of the Doge’s Palace to get restored. When removed it created this beautifully patterned, architectural work that was lit from behind giving it a magnificent glow.
Chu Yun, an artist born in Beijing in 1977, believes that the meaning of art resides in the interstitial spaces between maker, object, and audience. The ongoing installation on view in the Arsenale consists of various household electrical appliances “divorced from their usual function by being placed in a dark room. Their flashing indicator lights comprise a small universe.”
I was also amused by the men who were bird calling in Pae White’s interesting installation. With a background in set design, she created a space as if it were a flattened birdcage. Chandeliers made of birseed and weavings in bright colors made up the interior of the space and the two men sounded exactly like birds as they hooted and hollered. It was a transformative experience.
The Chilean pavilion in the Arsenale highlighted the work of Ivan Navarro. He manipulates neon and structures that we are familiar with to create interesting optical illusions. In Death Row from 2006 he uses 13 aluminium doors and mirrors as well as a rainbow of neon lights to create infinite space which cannot be entered.
In the large Italian pavilion at the end of the Arsenale work by Giacomo Costa was mesmerizing. Part Asian-inspired, part photography capturing an abandoned city in decay, the 24 lightbox installations entitled Private Garden were extremely detailed.
I’ll never understand why the Chinese pavilion is hidden at the back of the Arsenale in an old oil drum facility. It is an odd space to show art. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a thought-provoking piece by He Sen which consisted of a number of monochromatic small framed paintings.
At first glance they appear to be simple with no perceivable details, but upon closer inspection, the brushstrokes are visible and Chinese characters are decipherable. The concept was to juxtapose what he considered a “weak” culture (China) with the strong Western cultures frames. He hoped that the viewer would take the time to look closely at the work.
AES+F’s new video was projected in the round at the Arsenale collatoral event, “Unconditional Love” which was dedicated to the egoism and irony of love as well as its realtionship to the emotional and physical states of both the individual and the public at large. I was eagerly anticipating this show but as one critic correctly suggested, this exhibition was more of an excuse to show the new AES+F video, The Feast of Trimalchio, than a cohesive and enjoyable exhibition. The stars of last Biennale, the Russian artists did not disappoint. The video is set in a modern day luxury hotel and “traces the contours of ephemeral passion.” It was a visual wonderland.
Jan Fabre is a Belgian artist whose massive installations could be found in the new space at the Arsenale across the water. The five-room installation follows the layout of the human body. He was “so moved early on by the Flemish masters’ directness in displayng the human body, suffering and torture that, as he puts it, body art and performance became the main elements of his work.”
United States Pavilion
I was very excited to see Bruce Nauman’s work in the United States space, especially because he won the most coveted Biennale prize this year for best national pavilion, the Golden Lion. The work on view is beautiful, but I had seen the majority of it before. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to the two off-site venues which had new sound installations by Nauman; I heard they were quite good. However, the work in the pavilion is quite good. I particularly enjoyed From Hand to Mouth from 1967. Though it is a body fragment, the viewer’s mind fills in the missing parts. You can see in your mind’s eye the careful and tender gaze looking down upon the hand. On the opposite side of the pavilion is 15 pairs of hands from 1996. These broze sculptures show the hands clasped together in a very intimate way. I had seen the work before in the basement of DIA: Beacon and so some of its power was sapped. If you have never seen his work you will enjoy the US pavilion; for those familiar with his work, head to the off-site spaces.
Fiona Tan had three new video works on view in the Dutch pavilion. Previously unaware of her work, I was truly moved by the work “Disorient” which was especially conceived for the pavilion. The voiceover for the imagery is taken from a book of Marco Polo called The Travels. Provenance consisted of multiple small screen black and white video images used as portraits with figures barely perceptible movements. The viewer almost feels like a voyeur, peeking in on initmate moments of the lives of the subjects. Rise and Fall was a double screen film reflecting on themes of memory and the passing of time. I wished I had had the opportunity to watch all of these videos in their entirety.
I loved the paintings in the Spanish pavilion by Miquel Barceló. The texture and abstractions also hold mysterious narratives. His subject matter over the past ten years has included primates, African landscapes and sea foam. As he did in his work from the 70s, he continues to experiment with the behavior of pigment and matter. The ceramic works on view are from the mid-1990s when he began experimenting with this medium.
Silvia Bächli creates paintings that seem to float on air. The brushstrokes, reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy, are abstract and linear. Her works include a great deal of negative space which tended to create a constant movement of my eye throughout the work. Her work was all over the Art Basel fair and was selling like hotcakes.
Denmark and Nordic Countries Pavilion (Finland, Norway, and Sweden)
There was quite a bit of buildup and hoopla before these pavilions were even on view. Best known for Prada Marfa (see old blog of mine), the artists Elmgreen and Dragset created an installation/group exhibition called The Collectors. The two pavilions house fictional bachelor’s pads with impressive collections of artwork. It highlights the often obsessive and egotistic state of the contemporary collector as well as the emphasis on excess (hence the dead person floating in the pool). The line during openings was hours long but I waltzed in without a wait on Monday. The hype was a bit overblown but the concept was clever. Keep your eyes and ears out for these two, they are a hot commodity.
Russian Pavilion-”Victory Over the Future”
Pavel Pepperstein is another name you will be hearing a lot of (his work was also all over the place–Pinault’s collection, the Basel art fair). In hisspace of the group show a room with a blacklight displays paintings and drawings on paper hung at eye level with numbers in neon signs below each work. These works are of fictional future events that would never really happen–landscapes of the future. The craftsmanship is excellent and one is drawn to investigate the works more closely. The one element of the installation I did not enjoy was the piped in music/talk; I found that it took away from the viewing experience.
In The Red and the Black Andrei Molodkin uses the familiar image of the Winged Nike of Samothrace in a small sculpture about a foot high. In each of these sculptures liquid is pumped in every few seconds. One fills with human blood, and one with oil. Three images are projected on large screens on the wall: the sculpture filling with oil, the one with blood, and a combination of the two liquids together.
As you walk down the long hallway towards a blacklit room, a crowd’s cheers escalate. There are figures drawn on all four walls of fans at a football match. But Alexei Hallima’s creation makes the viewer feel like the cheers are for him/her alone. It is an empowering experience. Just as you think it can’t get any louder, the noise abruptly stops, the lights come on and the crowd disappears.
Anatoly Shuravlev places thumbtack sized photos in the wall of the pavilion and on glass balls hung in the center of the room. The 1 cm images are of famous people who have changed the course of history: Elvis, Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, etc. This artist is interested in looking at how the future is revealed through the past.
I was pleasantly surprised by the work in the Russian Pavilion and it was one of my favorites in the Giardini.
Guests was the title of the work in the Polish pavilion by the artist Krzysztof Wodiczko. The windowless walls of the exhibition space are filled with trompe l’oiel projections of windows. But in a twist, the viewer of the exhibition is separated from what lies outside of the windows. The theme of the work is immigrants perpetually feeling like outsiders and guests. The scenes on view are virtual scenes but based on real life events in the day of the life of an immigrant: washing windows, waiting for work, etc. The glass appears to be frosted so there is a sense of anonymity and mystery as to who these people are. It was beautiful and very well done, but more importantly, it was extremely thought-provoking.
I immediately recognized the work in the Korean Pavilion as that by Haegue Yang, an artists whose work is also displayed in the group show at the Arsenale. Luckily, this exhibition had accompanying information which gave context to the work. The artist is interested in private or hidden spaces that appear unimportant to the average person but hold some profundity for her. Like McQueen in the British Pavilion, she shows video of the Korean Pavilion during the off -season, but where McQueen fails, Yang succeeds. Her video also includes footage of a neighborhood in Seoul where she used to live. She attempts to foster understanding and acceptance of others by bringing attention to these “marginal” spaces. The viewer becomes an important component of her work. This is not work you would want to own necessarily, but I was intrigued by the ideas that lay behind her creations.
Mark Lewis utilized the space of the “inhospitable” Canadian Pavilion by showing new media works. His work, Cold Morning, consists of four staged videos. The first shows a couple ice-skating in a kind of idyllic environment and situation. The second shows the view from a skyscraper looking out the window and down to the ground. The third is of a homeless person on the street warming himself up over the subway grates. The last depicts a fight in the streets between two groups of people. The works show scenes from modern day urban life in all its complexities.
The Australian Pavilion’s artist was also over-hyped for his Mad Max-like video but I found the videos of dancers with props in the lower floor of the pavilion much more entertaining and visually interesting.People utilized skateboards, stilts, rollerskates, and bikes in their dance moves demonstrating much more coordination than the average person has.
I also liked the Venice Pavilion which paid homage to the many years of Murano glassmaking by displaying glassworks of all kinds from all countries. There were some stunning pieces on view.
The pavilions that I was excited to see that turned out to be real disappointments were Liam Gillick’s IKEA kitchen in the German Pavilion, Claude Léveque’s S and M-like cages in the French pavilion, and Steve McQueen’s overrated and unsuccessful 30 minute film documenting what occurs in the Giardini when the Biennale is not going on (I got so bored I had to leave).
Group Show in Giardini: Making Worlds
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster is a French artist who made a video of her recollecting her work from the previous four times she has been in Biennale. The video has a melancholic tone but I enjoyed that she wanted to do something reflective and different for this year’s participation.
John Baldessari not only created the seascape imagery on the exterior of the building, but inside one finds a video from 1977 of a person painting the interior of a white room different colors based on the days of the week. For example, Monday=red.
Tomas Saraceno is an Argentinian artist born in 1973 who lives and works in Germany. He has a strong interest in architectural projects though his notions about what constitutes architecture are quite broad as is obvious in his work on view in the first gallery of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni.
Italian born Rosa Barba lives and works in Berlin creating films which transport viewers to dream-like dimensions. In this work, five projectors beam precisely choreographed phrases onto gallery walls. There is something very old school and soothing about this work.
Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg was the darling of the Venice Biennale and the Art Basel fair. She makes claymation videos that at once horrify and intrigue the viewer with figures ripping limbs off one another with jovial expressions. What begins as consentual fun takes an ugly turn towards the violent and scary. The videos are screened in a created environment of porcelain flowers, a surrealistic Garden of Eden.
Andre Cadere’s colorful Barres de bois rond made between 1970 and 1978 are placed intermittantly throughout the building. They are pleasant little surprises which interact with the other art on view.
Toba Khedoori, an artist represented by David Zwirner, was bron in Australia but lives in Los Angeles. Her drawings and paintings on paper are detailed representations of common items (chairs, trees, windows) that are separated from visual surroundings and placed in the midst of vast stretches of monochromatic white wax or black encaustic which encourages viewers to look at these objects in a new light. I really enjoy her work.
Simon Starling has created an installation housing a sculptural film projector that screens a documentary on the factory that made the very same projector–which just happens to be a true work of art.
It was an unexpected pleasant surprise to see work by the Gutai group in this show. Founded in Japan in 1954 it was a hugely important avant-garde movement which included performances, happenings, etc. The work on view was colorful and interactive and added whimsy to an otherwise fairly stale experience.
Pietro Roccasalva’s work was too derivative of Francis Bacon for me but the subject was very interesting. The work on view is part of a series of paintings revolving around the figure of an elevator attendant. Someone who embodies “a condition of perennial change, one in which, despite moving, you make no progress.”
Hans-Peter Feldmann is a German artist born in 1941. While much of his work has involved photography, this installation brings out the child in all of us. He “collects the ordinary and infuses it with a sense of wonder.” Toy figures and other random objects are plaved on rotating platforms and lit to cast shadows on the walls. It reminded me of something you would see in a baby’s room as you are trying to put it to sleep. It had elements of mobiles and puppetry. It brought back images of Calder’s Circus but with a more fantastical, magical quality to it.
What a scene the Iceland Pavilion was! In attempts to improve his painting, Kjartansson is staging a six month performance in which every day he will paint a new portrait of the same bikini-clad model who sits on the edge of the Grand Canal. Here he is hard at at work.
Some of the fun of seeing the off-site exhibitions is not the work itself but the interior of the old palazzi. The Ukranian Pavilion was transformed into a misty, sandy wonderland overlooking the Grand Canal, but I didn’t see any work in there worth mentioning.
The metal work in the East-West Divan space took up an entire wall of a church-like space. Viewers were encouraged to walk on it and interact with it in order to engage all of the senses including taking in the changes that occurred when different colored lights shown on the metal.
In the Lithuanian Pavilion Kempinas, a New York based artist, creates an installation made of videotape. He has used this medium for scupltural installation previously but this piece was made in order to resonate with the environment of a floating city. It attempts to create disquieting visual and physical experiences just as one feels a bit disoriented at first in a city that exists on water. It was a beautiful piece with a commanding presence for something that is ultimately so fragile.
I very much enjoyed Art Sway’s New Forest Pavilion. My favorite work was that by a resident artist from 2007, Hannah Maybank, whose paintings “contain areas of latex and acrylic carefully cut and peeled to reveal strata of layers reflecting contemplative beauty inherent in the natural world. Trees are recurring motifs that speak of the growth and decay that surround us.”
James Lee Byars Lived Here is a short-lived off-site exhibition of Byars work. In 1997 Byars died in Cairo and rumor has it that shortly thereafter a piece of graffiti appeared scrawled onto the brickwork in the doorway of a nearby building close to where Byars stayed during his regular visits to Venice. The grafitti said, “James Lee Byars Lived Here.” The Angel is a work made of 125 clear Murano glass spheres demostrating the artist’s interest in unique objects and multiples. Other works on view are done in colors Byars used most often: black, gold and red–colors of life, death and desire.
How serendipitous that while walking along the Fondamenta Nuove I happened upon a wonderful 3 screen projection showing imagery from my favorite city on Earth–Venezia. Over eight minutes the viewer sees aqua alta filling the streets, the Regatta, Carnivale, the Biennale, the festivals of the Redentore and the Salute, the film festival, the markets of the Rialto and general shots of Venice. Made by Gerry Fox, an award winning filmmaker who has shot films about artists including Gilbert and George, Gerhard Richter, Claes Oldenburg, and more. Truly beautiful! Till we meet again in 2011.