Non! Mona Lisa ne voyage pas
The French have given a defiant thumbs down to the Italians who'd like to borrow none other than Leonardo's Mona Lisa from the Louvre in Paris. Silvano Vincenti, chairman of Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage, hoped to secure the famous, pack-em-in portrait for an exhibition in Italy in 2013. Vincent Pomarède, chief curator of paintings at the Louvre, told Agence France Presse that no formal request had been made but stressed that the 16th-century painting of the dour seated lady was too fragile to travel, pointing out that La Joconde has not left French shores since 1974....
Melly and Magritte
Liverpool-born jazz singer and surrealist fan George Melly, who died in 2007, always loved a good party. He was badly missed at the private view of Tate Liverpool’s “René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle” on 22 June. Gallery director Christoph Grunenberg recalled how he would regularly attend openings, fortified by his personal bottle of whisky. Melly also owned one of Magritte’s most iconic paintings, The Rape, which he sold, and he later let another picture go so that he could buy a stretch of the River Usk to indulge his passion for fly fishing.
Still-life with Brains
What will the art world do if there is a zombie apocalypse? Fortunately for us, the di Rosa collection in California explores this possibility with its current show at the Gatehouse Gallery. "Zombie-Proof House" (until 17 September), we've learned, "is a meditation on anxiety and hope in a troubled time”. The show features work by artists such as Suzanne Husky, whose wonderfully crafted cabin Sleeper Cell Round, 2011 we’re sure would make an excellent refuge from the undead hordes.
For those who missed it (like us, stuck at our desks closing our summer issue), Stephen Colbert and Jack White performed at the High Line this morning. The newly minted musical duo did America proud and sang the National Anthem. Could a Super Bowl gig be far off?
Dercon, De Botton and co don't hold back in Saatchi Gallery debate
Sparks flew last night at London's Saatchi Gallery as six high-profile art world figures tussled in a spirited debate over the motion: Museums Are Bad At Telling Us Why Art Matters. Speakers for the motion ignited the forum, with philosopher Alain de Botton boldly stating that museums have failed because they're "so boring", proposing that galleries need "a new framing device [such as] galleries for love and nature". Writer Ben Lewis went further, holding up a shoebox to sardonically explain how Tate Modern tried to make sense of the same object exhibited recently in a show of work by Gabriel Orozco (Empty Shoe Box, 1993). But his sharpest barb was aimed at the Damien Hirst show due to open next year at Tate Modern. "Find me one curator at the Tate who thinks Hirst's art matters and is meaningful," proclaimed Lewis (making chair Tim Marlow, director of exhibitions at White Cube - Hirst's dealer - a little jittery). But speakers against the motion were keen to make a stand, with Tate Modern director Chris Dercon turning once again to the shoebox exhibit (a popular object on the night), demonstrating the difference between "feeling and thinking" in his quest to highlight the thesis that museums are "theatres of conscience". Dercon pointed out that social media have helped to democratise art while Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, recommended James Elkins's publication on paintings that make people cry. Meanwhile, sparky Matthew Taylor, former advisor to Tony Blair, wants art to grab him by the throat, arguing that artists have lost their sense of urgency in the "lifestyle" led, celeb driven 21st century. Critic Matthew Collings, against the motion, drily quipped that being grabbed by the throat by painter Piero della Francesca was rather unappealing. The motion was defeated by a narrow margin (with Dercon and co no doubt relieved at their tiny victory). The debate was organised by Intelligence2.
Make room on the mantel
Artist Ben Rivers just can’t stop winning prizes. The UK artist’s 16mm film Sack Barrow, 2011, scooped Art Basel’s prestigious Baloise Art Prize last week (Kate MacGarry gallery). Other honours bestowed on Ben include a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award in 2010 and the Chicago Underground Film Festival 2011 prize for Best Experimental Film. But Rivers, whose work explores isolated
environments, was himself keen to get away from it all in Switzerland. “Ben tried to sneak in a holiday in Basel but I kept calling him back for interviews,” said MacGarry. The artist was unavailable for comment (no doubt having run for the hills). For those who missed out on Basel, please note: Sack Barrow will be shown at the Hayward Gallery in London (Hayward Project Space, 24 June-7 August).
Sermon on the Messeplatz
Things get stranger and stranger on the Messeplatz...on Thursday evening, this Jesus figure stood defiantly in the main entrance of Art Basel as the heavens opened, surrounded by a posse of black-shirted figures who turned out to be members of the Bleifrei art collective. “Art is like Jesus, it died and it’s coming again,” helpfully explained a group spokeswoman. But Jesus didn’t rise again when an Art Basel security guard appeared on the scene, insisting that the bedraggled bunch move on. The Son looked unhappy, hesitated and then shifted from the spot followed closely by his devotees, heading apparently to a kiosk on the Rhine. A violinist, with bin bags wrapped around his feet, played a mournful tune as the Messiah walked away.
Andy Warhol may famously have claimed that there was as much culture in a bottle of Coca-Cola as there was in a bottle of wine; but now the Homebase Project at Volta is confirming that there is also a rich brew of Berliner history in a bottle of beer. Lined up on their stand, the bottles of Ignatz Beer are named after Ignatz Nacher, legendary Jewish-German beermaker and main shareholder of the Engelhardt Brewery, whose building is now earmarked to house Homebase Art LAB. Anyone donating upwards of €1,000 towards the new base receives an elegant six-pack of this fragrant brew, produced in the original building to a traditional recipe. Each bottle is in a numbered limited edition with No 1 dedicated in a graveside ceremony this weekend to Herr Nager, who fled to and died in Zurich in the 1930s while the brewery was taken over by the Third Reich. After another post-war spell as a Communist enterprise, it is good that the venerable building is now producing beer for an honourable cause, and in the name of a great entrepreneur.
P-p-p-pick up a Penguin
Pierre Huyghe’s animatronic penguin that moves its head and wings in a creepily lifelike way, is proving a hit with cerebral and not-so-cerebral alike, with children in particular flocking to Marian Goodman’s stand. Even erudite French curator Suzanne Pagé was seen cooing over the creature. “It’s wonderful,” she said. “But the penguin is, of course, an old friend,” she added, revealing that Pierre’s beguiling bird had been on show at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, which she once led. But not everyone was bowled over. “It moves in very slow motion,” said a German visitor. “It could move a little faster.”
Battle of the bulge
“They’re treating us like animals!” fulminated one irate lady collector at the head of the crush in the Art Basel lobby in anticipation of the First Choice preview yesterday morning. The fateful combination of too many VIPs and not enough entry points meant that Swiss efficiency swiftly disintegrated into mayhem as the elite of the art world—not known at the best of times for their fondness for standing in line—revolted and stormed the barricades. Some, such as the normally dignified Don Rubell, crawled under the barriers while others climbed over the top, until the guards relented and opened the floodgates. For more Art Basel daily news, see our fairs section
Move over Brad…the supermodels have been out in force at Art Basel this year. Linda Evangelista was having a ball at her first Art Basel, eyeing up Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Out of the Night Five Eyes Face), 2011, at Anton Kern (2.1/K8) and Matt Johnson’s Mother and Child, 2011, at Blum & Poe (2.1/J16). “I must have a good eye as everything I like is sold out,” she said. Another iconic face, Naomi Campbell, attended the fair vernissage this week and was poring over Jason Rhoades’ saucy neon Untitled (From the body of work: My Madinah: In pursuit of my ermitage...), 2004, in Art Unlimited. This assemblage of neon signs includes a selection of explicit terms so let’s hope Naomi wasn’t taken aback by the rude words.
Make room on the mantel
Artist Ben Rivers just can’t stop winning prizes. The UK artist’s 16mm film Sack Barrow, 2011, with Kate MacGarry gallery (1.0/S12) has scooped Art Basel’s prestigious Baloise Art Prize. Other honours bestowed on Ben include a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award in 2010 and the Chicago Underground Film Festival 2011 prize for Best Experimental Film. But Rivers, whose work explores isolated environments, is himself keen to get away from it all. “Ben is trying to sneak a holiday here in Basel but I keep calling him back for interviews,” says MacGarry. The artist was unavailable for comment (no doubt having run for the hills).
If ever there was a design piece set to get kids frothing with excitement, then Asif Khan’s Cloud installation at Design Miami/Basel is it. The cumulus-crazy work, consisting of eight pots spewing out blobs of bubbling foam that wispily float into a Dorset fishing net above, so entranced one infant yesterday, he almost jumped in one of the soapy pots (tears were shed at the incident, which ended with the tot happily placated). “I believe that in the future, architecture will be light, intelligent and simple — like clouds,” says Khan, a winner of the 2011 W Hotels Designers of the Future Award. Another winner, design studio Mischer’Traxler, is also causing a stir with its “Collective Works” piece, a machine that, according to the designers, “produces only when it gets attention”. The cheeky contraption reacts to human presence, building and painting veneer pots when its sensors pick up people nearby. “She’s a sissy,” said Katharina Mischer of the minxy mechanism, “she has a mind of her own,” prompting comments that this may well be the first machine ever to have mood swings. For more Art Basel daily news, see our fairs section
Le Louvre’s coup
Art Basel may well be a glitzy affair but the event will have to compete with the star power of the Louvre, which tonight hosts a concert by pop songstress Janet Jackson. Forget Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage—the singer and sibling of the late Michael (Ms Jackson if you're nasty) has instead opted to play under I.M. Pei’s famous glass pyramid at the French museum for its twice yearly fundraising event titled “Liaisons au Louvre”. According to Jackson’s website, Louvre director Henri Loyrette is pleased as punch about the gig, saying: “Janet Jackson is one of the world’s greatest artistic treasures. Accordingly, we are profoundly honoured, and believe it most fitting, that her performance in the Louvre Museum will be yet another masterpiece captured under our glorious glass Pyramid. I believe the evening with Janet Jackson will be a great ‘coup’ for our institution!” Jackson’s website also points out that “an important Richard Prince painting is the showpiece of [a] live auction [also tonight]. Both Mr Prince and gallery owner Larry Gagosian will be present.” So does this mean Larry will skip the Basel japes for Janet?
Emin's bed heads for Oz (not the Hayward)
The question on everyone's lips at the Tracey Emin retrospective hosted by London's Hayward Gallery is: where is her headline-hitting piece My Bed? The answer lies in Oz. The sheet-stained work will travel to the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide next month for "Saatchi Gallery in Adelaide: British Art Now" (25 July-23 October), the fist exhibition organised by the Saatchi Gallery to visit Aussie shores. Just over ten years ago, the Canberra leg of Saatchi's "Sensation" exhibition was cancelled after controversy in the US over a Chris Ofili painting of the Virgin Mary that included saucy cutouts.
Grayling fracas unsettles exhibition
Professor A.C. Grayling wasn't the only one left reeling after students heckled him during a talk at Foyles, a central London bookshop, earlier this week over his plans to set up a new university, the New College of the Humanities, which plans to charge fees of £18,000 a year. The meeting ended in chaos after a smoke bomb was lit in the gallery venue which was also filled with works by artist Paul Lightfoot. "The bomb left a strong smell which lingered the next day, strong enough to put people off from entering the gallery. A couple of paintings were slightly damaged when they were taken down. Though I agree with the students' frustration, the smoke bomb is definitely not part of the show, an exhibition of years of work," Lightfoot told The Art Newspaper. His "Immaterial Lines" display (until 18 June) includes paintings, drawings and stories.
When the press assembled for the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary’s official unveiling of Matthew Ritchie's sonic pavilion, The Morning Line, in Vienna's Schwarzenbergplatz yesterday morning they received a little something special in their press pack—a temporary tattoo of the eight meter high, 20 ton pavilion, which is Ritchie's effort to represent the entire universe and the structure of knowledge that we use to visualise it. We chose to put our tattoo on our arms so that we could feel what it would be like to have the weight of the entire universe resting on our shoulders (that is, at least temporarily).
And the best dressed gondolier is…
There are many fine views to be had in Venice, not least from the summit of the Starn brothers’ vertiginous Big Bambú, which looms over the Peggy Guggenheim Collection on the Grand Canal (until 15 June). For those intrepid enough to scale its giddy heights, the sculpture provides a decidedly “Jungle Book” slant to the city's skyline. However, by far the best vantage point during the Biennale’s opening week has been from the passenger seat of the nifty gondola-shaped trolley cart that Austrian collective Gelitin has been using to ferry visitors to their picnic-cum-pavilion in the Giardini delle Vergini. Not only did this somewhat unorthodox form of transport to the outer reaches of the Arsenale provide welcome relief for the footsore art lover, but the fact that the contraption was being pulled by a comely and completely naked young man meant that the fortunate few to be treated to this most personal of services had an experience that was easy on the eye as well as the feet. Not for nothing has Gelitin’s contribution been christened Some Like it Hot. For more Venice news, see our special section and sign up for our bulletin with live reporting.
Academics like their learned little jokes and this clever variant on Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath (around 1609-10) in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, was making the email rounds of art historians last month.
Its creator is Deja Londoño, an artist and art history student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The piece was inspired by a comment by her professor, Monika Schmitter, in a lesson focusing on the old master. “Within days of our last class, Osama bin Laden’s death was announced,” said Londoño. “Monika shared a humorous vision she had of Caravaggio’s David with Obama and bin Laden instead. I couldn’t resist making the image, and found the perfect portrait of Obama with a David-esque remorseful face to use. Given Caravaggio’s realism, I thought it was funny to use that image with contemporary characters.”
While she initially worried that the Photoshopping might seem in poor taste, Londoño says most people have reacted to it well. “Putting the President in the role of an iconic hero has become a bit of a cultural trend now, so more than anything I think that’s what people find funny,” explained Londoño, adding some timely advice for Obama: “Maybe the President should just release my picture instead of the dead Bin Laden photos everyone wants to see.” Helen Stoilas
There’s always an impressive array of boats docked at the Giardini to be admired by the less affluent art world en route to the biennale pavilions. But this year one especially hefty vessel has been attracting keen attention. Not only does “Luna” block out a chunk of the skyline, but to prevent any prying eyes a large portion of the adjoining thoroughfare has also been cordoned off by a high fence patrolled round the clock by armed guards. So who is its powerful and somewhat paranoid owner? Perhaps it's billionaire collector and mega yacht-owner Paul Allen, trying this biennale to keep the dealers at bay? The security guards would name no names, but we can reveal the vessel’s security conscious owner was none other than “El Presidente de Chelsea.” If Roman Abramovich wanted to keep a low profile, mooring his mobile home was a bit of an own goal.
We're in the money
Apart from a love of art, there is another incentive to visit the US pavilion: Allora and Calzadilla’s musical money dispenser—where each transaction is accompanied by a random blast of music from the attached wind organ—the only working ATM machine to be found in or around the Giardini. Taking full advantage of the facilities on the VIP opening day was Guggenheim boss Richard Armstrong whose cash withdrawal caused the machine to emit a suitably Wagnerian blast, to the great amusement of his entourage, which included performance doyenne Marina Abramovic. “Now I don’t know whether to spend it or frame it,” quipped the museum major-domo.
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