A bug's love life
Birds do it, bees do it—and on 31 May, museum patrons can, too. To celebrate (Celebrate? Really?) cicadas, set to swarm across the east coast of the US this spring after spending 17 years underground, the Staten Island Museum in New York is hosting a bug-themed singles mixer. “This unique event explores the strange and innovative ways insects attract a mate—from flashy displays to arresting scents and serenades—and what humans can learn from them,” according to the museum’s website. The evening kicks off on the Staten Island Ferry, followed by a dance party in the museum courtyard and a tour of its cicada-themed exhibition, “They’re Baaack! Return of the 17-year Cicada”. Guests can watch a time-lapse video of cicadas hatching and browse a variety of cicada specimens in the museum’s collection. Those looking to meet a mate can scout potential dates at The Love Motel, a bug-shaped sculpture by the artist Brandon Ballengé. The outdoor sculpture lights up at night to attract nocturnal arthropods—and could set the scene for human romance too.
A drink outdoors
Who doesn’t miss summer camp? The childhood pleasures of discovering the woods and swimming in the lake followed by a barbecue in the evening were only missing one ingredient: alcohol. Now we’re all grown up, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, is offering an opportunity to reminisce with its Summer Camp with Adult Drinks, during which the rooftop garden and café will be open until 9pm on weeknights. The fun and games begin on 31 May.
Franco infatuation doesn't fade
The art world’s utterly inexplicable infatuation with James Franco continues this summer, and it seems to have spread across the pond. The Hollywood actor is due to open a solo exhibition on 6 June at the Pace Gallery’s London outpost—“hosted” by the artist Douglas Gordon. The show, titled “Psycho Nacirema” (“American” spelled backwards, you see), is a reworking of the famous Hitchcock film from which it borrows its name and, according to a press release, “heighten[s] the psychological entrapment set out by Hitchcock, beckoning the audience to become a participating character within the plot”. Just a couple of days later, Franco is co-curating a group show at Victoria Miro, "Cinematic Visions: Painting at the Edge of Reality", along with the British artist and film director Isaac Julien and the London gallery's director, Glenn Scott Wright. Meanwhile, Franco is starring in a new video work by Paul McCarthy and his son Damon, Rebel Dabble Babble, opening at New York’s Hauser & Wirth gallery 20 June.
Finding beauty in the building blocks of life
The double-helix doesn’t get enough appreciation for its beauty. Now 60 years after the structure of DNA was determined by Francis Crick and James Watson, sculptor Briony Marshall has created DNA: Helix of Life, 2013, a two-metre tall DNA molecule, made of 600 mini human figures joined at the hands and feet, It was completed while she was a resident at Pangolin, a foundry in Chalford, Gloucetershire. For Marshall, the subject is close to heart: before turning to art she studied biochemistry.
A recently rediscovered sculpture by the late Baroque sculptor Antonio Corradini is on show at Moretti Fine Art in New York (until 7 June). The life-size sculpture of Endymion, the handsome shepherd of Greek mythology who spent most of his life in perpetual slumber, was created in around 1725. Gallery director, Fabrizio Moretti, acquired it from a private French collection after extensive research attributed it to Corradini. The piece is on offer for “several million dollars”, says a spokeswoman. The price of a good night's rest ain't cheap.
Oz pavilion really opens up
Australia is due to build a new pavilion in the Giardini at the Venice Biennale (1 June-24 November)—but the Singapore-born artist Simryn Gill is already dismantling the existing pavilion. Gill has removed part of the pavilion roof, exposing seven large-scale cibachrome photographs and a hollowed out sculpture, Half Moon Shine which will collect leaves and rain water. Gill explains how the idea came about. ''It was autumn [November 2011],'' she told the Australian newspaper The Age. ''Beautiful light, this mist coming off the water, leaves everywhere. The Australian pavilion is under this canopy of leaning trees, and I looked up and said, 'It would be so nice to take the roof off'." The existing pavilion has occupied the site since 1988 and was always intended to be a temporary structure; the new building, designed by the Melbourne-based architectural practice Denton Corker Marshall, should be open in time for the 2015 biennale (hopefully with a roof).
The Hong Kong-based artist Adrian Wong has created an outlandish, immersive art bar, part of the Absolut Art Bureau series, in the basement of Hong Kong’s Fringe Club. The installation, Wun Dun, which draws on the layered history of the city, features two furry animatronic creatures, a team of uniformed actors, duck-infused and monkey-picked oolong tea martinis and remixed soundtracks taken from porno films. “They’re immensely danceable,” says Wong in his inimitable deadpan style. But the highlight of Wun Dun is Lilian Chan, a former opera singer who sings nightly at the bar. The über glamorous songstress, a sprightly septuagenarian, is packing in the crowds, and revelling in her new found fame, so much so that we hear she has asked for a more spacious dressing room (such are the needs of a singing sensation).
Elephant man finds new home
You would think that a €250,000 life-size sculpture of a man balancing an elephant was a tough sell, but the Hong Kong dealer Edouard Malingue (3D20 and Encounters, E2) has defied expectations. He has offloaded Fabien Mérelle’s monumental Pentateuque, 2012, currently wowing the crowds in Statue Square Gardens in the Central district. The piece was sold to a Malaysian collector, in town for Art Basel Hong Kong, who plans to put the work on the roof of his home. Disappointed devotees of the elephant need not fear: as we went to press there were two more editions available.
Up in smoke
There’s one work of art—which reeks of luxury and is shaped by a skilled Dominican craftsman—that is not for sale at Art Basel Hong Kong. The work in question is none other than a limited edition art cigar presented to top collectors at a soirée this week at the fair organised by the exclusive cigar maker Davidoff. “Think leather, coffee, black currant and bark,” said the company president Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard, who revealed that the Belgian foodstuffs baron and collector Guy Ullens enjoys a good puff. Hoejsgaard should know: his high-profile cigar firm has just launched a series of talks in partnership with the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, proving there’s no smoke without art.
Turk does time
The UK artist Gavin Turk was spotted doing the rounds this week at the various gallery openings across Hong Kong. He popped up at Pearl Lam Galleries at the Pedder Building, where discerning art lovers pored over the in-your-face, chunky impastoed pieces by Zhu Jinshi. Turk, suffering from the effects of jet lag, told us that he was determined to make sure his body clock stays on UK time, so let’s hope he turns up to Hong Kong events at the right hour (we have been duly informed that he was on time for a talk at Art Basel Hong Kong organised by his galley Ben Brown Fine Arts—phew!)
At the White Cube stand (1D12) this week, an imposing figure stood head and shoulders above other fairgoers. The lofty visitor was none other than US artist Mark Bradford, who was having his picture taken with an equally statuesque Stephen Peel, the head of Asia at the private equity company TPG Capital. Sandwiched between the two, Graham Steele of White Cube did not quite measure up. With Bradford standing at 6ft 8in, and no doubt tired of basket baller stereotypes, talk turned to the possibility of making a documentary on the trials and tribulations of tall people. Clearly an advantage in a room heaving with collectors, Peel insists that big is not always better as it comes with its own sartorial woes. “Nothing fits. You always have to get your trousers tailored,” he quipped.
Bad weather and suspicions of foul play hung like a dark cloud over Hong Kong before the opening of the first edition of Art Basel Hong Kong. Earlier this month, the giant inflatable yellow duck created by the Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, seen floating merrily in Victoria Harbour, was deflated (above), with rumours that a wayward cigarette butt and even sabotage were behind the shrinkage of the big bird. But on Thursday morning, a yellow head and beak were spotted bobbing against the grey skyline across the harbour, signaling the joyful return of the duck, which had only undergone routine maintenance, according to organisers.
The duck wasn’t the only local appearing a little flat. Also looking quite deflated on the sodden grey morning of the black storm that marked the fair’s preview was Tobias Berger, the curator for the planned M+ museum who had organised an exhibition of inflatable art during the fair. “The inflatables had to be taken down for two days. They would have been blown away,” said Berger, presumably into the harbour where they would have made a colourful addition to the revitalised duck.
Tate Liverpool turns 25
Tate Liverpool—the first outpost for the museum outside of London, which helped revitalise the Northern industrial city—celebrates its 25th anniversary today and it’s certainly getting its share of well wishing. Arts organisations around the country, but especially in Liverpool, have been sending their congratulation over Twitter. Lady Lever Gallery in Merseyside, founded by the soap magnate William Lever, posted: “Wishing happy birthday to the youngster Tate Liverpool across the water. I remember when we were 25 back in 1947!” The Walker Art Gallery, known as the National Gallery of the North, said: “I can still remember queuing to see a lobster sitting on a telephone, was that really 25 years ago??! Happy Birthday Tate Liverpool” Further North, the Baltic contemporary art centre in Gateshead, tweeted “Happy 25th birthday to @tateliverpool… many happy returns from all at @balticmill :-)” And the museum expects more felicitationsto come, as artists who have previously shown at Tate send birthday cards, pictures and objects. Finally, starting Monday 27 May and running until the weekend, the museum celebrates its anniversary with a programme of public activities and events at the museum and throughout the Albert Dock.
Turk sculpture opens doors
A new sculpture by the artist Gavin Turk, of YBA notoriety, is on display in the public gardens of The Loxfords development in Inslington, London. The life-sized, bronze-cast doorway, simply titled Ajar, is cast from the original doorway of Loxford House; the 19th-century Regency-style mansion that was among the first children’s homes in London, and was the headquarters of the of the Action for Children charity. Commissioned by the developer Mount Avil, the sculpture directly references Rene Magritte’s painting La Victoire , 1939, but Turk sees more than just art history behind this homage: “Far beyond just a painted bronze door, Ajar is designed to be a surreal gateway and a spiritual journey through the imagination,” the artist says. “Never open or shut, familiar and yet iconic, the piece reflects a historic place of safety and youthfulness whilst representing a doorway to new life.” The official unveiling takes place on Saturday 25 May, where close to 300 local schoolchildren are expected to participate in a day of theatrical and creative events.
The marble halls of the Grand Hyatt rang with the sound of the Modern Media Group and the K11 Art Foundation’s revellers. Thomas Shao, the head of Modern Media Group which publishes The Art Newspaper China, celebrated the new addition to The Art Newspaper brand worldwide with a party attended by the cream of the Chinese art world. Present were famous artists Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi, Ye Yongqing, Zhang Enli and Liu Xiaodong, as well as the Swiss collector Uli Sigg, who recently donated most of his collection to the future M+. There were near riots as guests clamoured for The Art Newspaper China’s stylish tote bags.
Frost plays grandpa’s pal
Legendary figures are hard to play, and even more difficult when that figure was your grandfather’s close friend. But this didn’t deter Dan Frost, grandson of St Ives artist Terry Frost, from stepping into the shoes—or in this case between the sheets—of the painter Roger Hilton who, although confined to his bed with peripheral neuritis in the two years before his death in 1975, still produced an exuberant outpouring of drawings and writings, posthumously published as the seminal “Night Letters”. So convincing was Frost Jr’s portrayal of the ailing, railing Hilton in Third Man Theatre’s tragi-comedy “Botallock O’Clock” that the play was the toast of last year’s Edinburgh Festival and has now transferred to New York for the Brits Off Broadway season at the 59E59 Theater until 9 June, before returning to the UK in the autumn.
One of the art world's most distinguished and colourful characters has been caught on canvas. The Spanish artist Daniel Quintero has painted Sir Norman Rosenthal, the art historian and curator who made his mark as Exhibitions Secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts in London from1977 to 2008. The portrait, donated to the Ben Uri Museum & Gallery in North London, was painted in 1996. Rosenthal remains ubiquitous in the art world, and has co-curated "Empire State: New York Art Now" at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome (until 23 July).
Martin Creed gets Freudian
Martin Creed’s sparse conceptualism is not an obvious candidate for psychoanalytical readings but, as part of the UK-wide Museums at Night festival, the maverick artist appeared at the Freud Museum in London on 16 May and turned a 100-strong audience into psychoanalysts as he free-associated his way through his career. After a tense beginning in which Creed struggled with the idea of “trying to talk” because “talking is helpful to deal with feelings” and “feelings are the most important things in my life”, he gave the assembled throng an intimate and amusing guide to his work and musical repertoire, and the anxieties that inspired them. “I do therapy sessions, I take part in them,” Creed said as he stood in the stuffy upper galleries, “and I do feel like this is a therapy session, but one that’s more sweaty.”
The art of conflict
The artist Khaled Jarrar, a former captain of the Palestinian Presidential Guard, may well make waves with a series of works due to go on show at the Ayyam Gallery in London next month (20 June-3 August). Jarrar will construct a large concrete wall, dividing the gallery in two. To pass through, visitors must be weighed on a set of scales, "presenting an allegory for the humiliating process for citizens crossing the border between Israel and Palestine from both sides", says a press statement. Jarrar has also made a series of sport-inspired sculptures including a set of footballs made from concrete sourced at the West Bank barrier, a highly controversial structure erected by the Israeli government (in a canny move, the artist chiselled away at the wall in secret to obtain the concrete which he then fashioned into the fetching footballs).
Leo raises $38.8m for wildlife charity
Leonardo DiCaprio’s star-studded charity auction last night at Christie’s raised $38.8m for the actor’s eco-minded foundation, setting records for a number of contemporary artists, including Carol Bove, Joe Bradley, Dan Colen, Mark Grotjahn, Sergej Jensen, Bharti Kher, Robert Longo, Adam McEwen, Raymond Pettibon, Elizabeth Peyton, Rob Pruitt, Sterling Ruby and Mark Ryden. The proceeds all go towards wildlife preservation, especially tigers, which DiCaprio shows a special interest in, with three of the works in the sale by Zeng Fanzhi, Robert Longo and Takashi Murakami depicting the endangered cats. But who really benefits from charity auctions? An article from our September 2011 issue by Sarah Douglas looks into the trend.
Primo Levi remembered in Rome
In 1987, immediately following the death of the writer and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, the artist Larry Rivers was commissioned to create his portrait by the head of Fiat, Gianni Agnelli, who went to school with Levi. Rivers, made three big paintings, inspired by Levi’s novels: Witness, Survivor and Periodic Table. The works, which originally hung in the newspaper offices of La Stampa in what became known as “Primo Levi’s Room”, are on view to the public for the first time at the Jewish Museum in Rome (until 15 October). During the run of the show, the city’s Jewish Cultural Centre and the bookshop Kiryat Sefer will host a series of talks about Levi, and the annual International Festival of Jewish Culture and Literature, from 20 to 25 July, is dedicating several events to the writer.
Watercolours on a grand scale
Not all made today is “contemporary”, as can be seen in a major installation of watercolours by the artist Alexander Creswell. Depicting gorgeously crumbling facades of historic buildings, such as the church of San Sebastiano in Ferla, Sicily, the life-size works on paper in the show “Images on a Grand Scale” will be on view at Summers Place Auctions, Billingshurst, West Sussex, UK from 17 to 19 May. The artist relates her fascination with the church in an email: “A little village hidden in the hills behind Siracusa, Ferla doesn’t even get a mention in most guide books. It has no less than four notable churches—modest, diminutive and charming. All carried the scars of earthquake and neglect, two have been restored but the largest—San Sebastiano—is boarded up, cracked and abandoned. It became my favourite subject, my friend, and I revisit it each time I return to Sicily. I am always apprehensive in my approach lest one day it will be gone, crumbled away in the hot sun.”
On the fair’s front line
A lot of work goes into an event like Frieze: there is the crew toiling all hours to set up the mammoth tent, the art movers, the cleaners, the catering staff, the guards. While they all deserve our thanks, spare a thought for Hanna, who plays an important part in ensuring the safety of all the visitors to the fair. The sharp-nosed canine can be seen inspecting the tent each morning for any whiff of explosives before the fair opens. “It’s a different world,” one dealer remarked as Hanna trundled past on her morning round.
Drinking on the job
As the VIP visitors were taking in the art during Thursday’s opening of Frieze New York, reporters from The Art Newspaper were hard at work on their own very important assignment: trying to find a key to the artist Liz Glynn’s 1920s-style speakeasy bar, one of this year’s Frieze Projects. Given our thirst for, um, news, this mission took mere minutes. Key and location procured, two of our intrepid reporters made off for the secret venue, which is buried in a hidden wall within the grid of gallery stands. In their eagerness, our staffers forgot to use the secret “thrice knock, show your key” signal. We weren’t, however, the only ones to fail to read the instructions. Once inside, we bumped into the Miami collector Don Rubell and the British collector Peter Fleissig, both clutching glass mugs of the secret elixir served up by one of the devilishly attractive raconteur-bartenders, who told tales of starving artists trapped in circus cages, Caesar’s feet and sword fights. “There’s only one rule in the art world, and it’s that there are no rules,” Rubell said. Passing his drink to our ever- accommodating writers, Rubell said: “I can’t drink alcohol and look at art without it costing me a lot of money—take it.”
Wearing a different disguise every day in order to infiltrate the ultra-wealthy elite is none other than ace sleuth David de Jong, a crack reporter for Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. His mission is to identify and track down secret billionaires, precisely those elusive international oligarchs who stride the aisles of Frieze dressed down to avoid detection. By now, they have come to spot and immediately flee from the jobbing journo, so De Jong has donned a series of deceptive outfits—muffled up in scarf and shades, even. Thus he was spotted at the fair’s bookstall perusing the boxed special edition of The Situationist Times, the revolutionary journal created by his aunt, the avant-garde agitator Jacqueline de Jong—a “radical” contrast indeed.
Hands off Koons
Continuing the nudist theme, Jeff Koons’s voluptuous “Venus” sculptures were not the only racy objets d’art on display at Gagosian Gallery in Manhattan this week. A young woman, nude apart from a pair of fetching red flats and a garish body covering of blue, green and pink paint, was seen strolling around the packed-out private view of a show devoted to Koons’s recent work. The very scantily clad lady, named Dylan Hall, explained that she was part of an artist’s project (shorthand for publicity stunt) arranged by the New York gallery Lambert Fine Arts. And has Jeff himself seen the work of art bedecked in nothing but her birthday suit? “We saw him earlier today,” Hall said. “He said he didn’t want me to touch him.”
The architect Peter Marino was seen browsing the aisles at Frieze this week in his customary, eye-catching outfit comprising leather chaps. Countless curious onlookers were keen to chat to the man dubbed the “leather daddy of luxury”, including the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye. “I collect his work. I can relate to Wim’s piggies,” quipped the hirsute New Yorker, referring to Delvoye’s famous tattooed sows, available as works of art. “I’ve got lots of tattoos,” added Marino, revealing various striking examples of body art. But are they confined to his rather broad biceps? “No, but do you really want me to pull my pants down as well?” he cheekily enquired.
And best dressed goes to…
Sharp-eyed observers at Frieze may have noticed that über-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist is looking especially dapper, leaving art-world veterans wondering where this newfound nattiness springs from. The answer lies with the fashion giant Burberry, which, along with sponsoring the launch this Saturday of his new publication Do It! at its Spring Street store, has also decked out the august art intellectual in the finest threads available; they’ve even provided Obrist with an in-house stylist. Not so much a case of do it but wear it.
Make love not oil
The top oil executive Phil Epstein was strolling the VIP aisles with his wife, the fabled artist L.C. Armstrong, fresh from her sell-out triumph at Marlborough, when he was stopped dead in his tracks by IMAGINE NO FRACKING, a brand new work by Yoko Ono created especially for the fair. Boldly stencilled on the wall, this “open edition” could not help but arrest the veteran fuel-guru, now the chief executive of Warren Resources, one of the major independent drillers of oil on American soil with wells across Los Angeles. Epstein confided: “You know my wife is a painter, so she tells me there will be no eff-ing if I start fracking… and then I always promise her that the only thing I really want to frack is her!”
Peter Van Heerden may now be executive director of a highly fashionable arts centre that has hosted Christo and Jeanne Claude, William Wegman and many other artist’s exhibitions, but back in his native South Africa he was notorious as one of the most radical performance artists, indeed even starring naked in the New York Times. Thus, no sooner did he spy that striking and mysterious rule written at the entrance to Frieze, “Clothing must be worn at all times”, than he did what any self-respecting avant-gardist should do, and instantly bared his everything to screams of disbelief from visiting VIPs. By the time security came running he was buttoning back his shirt and discussing programming with his board of trustees.
Sheikh it up
Turkish artist Taner Ceylan has ruffled quite a few feathers in his native Istanbul with his saucy, homoerotic paintings of nubile men cavorting with each other. He may well make waves with his new work, which, he says, "shows what the Arab Spring is really about". The hyperrealist piece, aptly entitled Spring Time, shows a sheikh draped in leopard skin, smoking a cigar against a lavish set of wall tiles embossed with the motif for Louis Vuitton. "The sheikhs [in the Middle East] are living like this, they're so decadent," observes Ceylan whose striking painting of a bloodied peacock, available with Paul Kasmin gallery, is also turning heads at Frieze New York.
A truth too far for the Met
The Metropolitan may be hosting a major show on punk, but the museum appears to have little time for the woman who helped to dress the movement and shape its ideals. On the night of its annual gala, timed this year to coincide with the opening of the exhibition, the designer Vivienne Westwood arrived on the red carpet with a laminated photo of Bradley Manning inscribed with the word “TRUTH” pinned to her dress. When Billy Norwich, who was hosting a live stream of the celebrity arrivals on the museum steps, approached her, she was keen to draw attention to the US soldier who has been in military detention since 2010 for passing classified documents to WikiLeaks. “This is what punk was all about—about truth and justice and making a better world,” Westwood said. But the message appeared to be too much for Norwich, who unceremoniously cut off the veteran designer in mid-sentence, turned his back on her and promptly returned to telling other guests how “fabulous” they looked.
LL Coolector J
The musclebound actor and rapper LL Cool J, in the headlines recently because of a duet with the country singer Brad Paisley on the controversial song “Accidental Racist”, snacked his way through Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern auction this week in the private skybox, where free food and champagne flowed throughout the sale. Sporting a grey hoodie and black beanie cap, the eager collector, whose name stands for Ladies Love Cool James, seemed thrilled with his acquisitions (which reportedly included Picasso’s 1969 work Buste d’Homme for $9.7m), at one point posing proudly for pictures with the auction catalogue.
She sells seashells
Women, whether it’s Kate Moss or Alison Lapper, can’t seem to resist stripping when it comes to the British artist Marc Quinn. The latest to disrobe was the downtown muse Natalie White, who whipped off her scanties and emerged as a Botticelli beauty as soon as she saw Quinn’s 2013 sculpture The Architecture of Life at Mary Boone Gallery. Considering Quinn’s giant seashells have already been snapped up by the likes of Matt Stone, the co-creator of “South Park”, there was some concern that White might devalue the $1.2m sculpture in which she frolicked. But the work not only impressed Henry Moore’s daughter, Mary, who said “this is the sort of thing Dad would have loved”, but equally enchanted a visiting boy, who cried: “Mummy, there’s a live mermaid in the gallery!” White Cube should now be on high alert as the gallery unveils Quinn’s first ever “meat painting” at Frieze; Ms White has threatened to stage her own naked “meat dance” in its honour.
Anyone for tennis?
Visitors to the VIP preview of the new Collective.1 Design Fair on Pier 57 earlier this week were surprised to see a sprightly Gaetano Pesce playing ping-pong like a pro on a special table designed by the Brooklyn-based practice Snarkitecture. “I’m 73,” the famous Italian designer said. “I go to the Spin ping-pong club all the time in New York.” But has he always been a table-tennis whizz? “I used to play in a Chinese club near Canal Street, but my friends and I played so badly, they were always putting us in the corner,” he quipped.
Proof of the power of Frieze New York to penetrate every corner of the city can be seen in the project “12 Midnight”, which features saintly wooden sculptures installed in New York’s most modish nightspots, from Santos Party House to Sugarland to nightclub No 8. Incongruously enough, these works, which at first seem to resemble traditional polychrome devotional icons, turn out to be portraits of dying Middle Eastern and American soldiers, created by the Iranian artist Reza Aramesh and installed in all the hottest boîtes by the gallery Leila Heller. What the frenzied hipsters will make of these saintly apparitions placed within the sweat-drenched walls of Bossa Nova Civic Club out in Bushwick remains to be seen.
Not another biennial
The Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, in town for his show at Sperone Westwater, has just been through the proliferating Asian biennial madness; his old friend Jan Hoet, the founder of SMAK in Ghent, was heard boasting of being asked to curate some biennial in China despite not even knowing the name of the place (“it’s a new boom city nobody ever heard of before anyway”). Equally ambitious was the New York launch announcing the first international contemporary art biennial of Cartagena De Indias in Colombia (7 February-7 April 2014), held in a large rented space on Fifth Avenue filled with no more than six attendees, half of whom turned out to be catering staff. Perhaps in a bid to be the world’s most obscure biennial, the artistic director, Berta Sichel, did not even appear. Colombian artists can simply apply online to participate—or, as the event’s director announced pleadingly to the echoing empty room, “we’re inviting you all to come and be part of it”.
Italy 1, USA 0
Massimiliano Gioni, the intrepid New Museum associate director and organiser of this year’s Venice Biennale, is a foreigner living in New York. Born in Lombardy, Italy, he has made his home here—but the adoptive American appears to be somewhat ambivalent about his new compatriots, if a recent interview in Frieze magazine is anything to go by. Gioni is quizzed about a 2003 essay in which he wrote about “a vague sense of embarrassment about Italy”. Does he still have hang-ups about being Italian, asks Frieze. “I’m not obsessed with presenting the national identity,” he says, adding a stinging coda: “To be honest, until a few years ago it was actually more embarrassing to be American.”
Ai on stage
It is rare that trips to the bathroom are the stuff of high-quality drama, but in “#aiww: the Arrest of Ai Weiwei”, a play that covers the artist's 81 days in prison in 2011, they provide more than just a physical relief. Howard Brenton's play, showing at north London's trendy Hampstead Theatre (until 18 May), is based on Ai's own accounts in Barnaby Martin's 2013 book Hanging Man, and brings the torturous condition of silence to the fore. In such circumstances, Ai's needs to pee (there are three) punctuate the waiting game with welcome humour, and provide the otherwise limited conversation with his various guards (Ai's first request: “Comrades, let a man have a common piss!”) The play is understandably one-sided, and a salient reminder of the Chinese fear of "luan" (chaos and turmoil), but is also non-judgmental. Hearing conceptual art explained to the uninitiated gives pause for thought—Ai is asked about “Dumping millions of worthless seeds on London? Seeds made of clay, that can't even grow!” and answers “It's what people make of them that matters... What I care about is providing a new condition. For art.” And one minder's bewilderment about the money that can be made out of such concepts is fair enough: “Your art costs you sod-all to make, then you flog it for a fortune.” Sympathy extends to all the players within the regime. Catch it while you can.
From bad to worse
Piazza San Marco (remember when it was considered “the drawing room of Europe”) has just been freed of most of the intrusive structures that have protected the restoration work around the base of the Campanile for the last few years, when suddenly, overnight, the town council has placed this plastic shop in its stead. On the same day as Francois Pinault’s Charles Ray sculpture Boy with a Frog is being removed from the Punta della Dogana as an offence to the aesthetic pride of the city, the Comune installs a shop, full of absolute tat, that would look cheap (both shop and tat) even at a petrol station. The chairman of the company in charge of events in Venice calls it “harmonious and respectful of the Piazza”.
An unofficial follow-up portrait
Danish war artist Simone Aaberg Kaern has painted her second portrait of the Nato secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. But unlike her first, official portrait of the former Danish prime minister, which depicted him in front of a rocky landscape with a military plane flying past his head, Kaern's second work reveals a darker side to the controversial artist, who in 2002-03 flew a small aircraft from Denmark to Afghanistan, ignoring the flight ban imposed by the US military. In her latest portrait, Rasmussen is depicted bloody faced, apparently injured by war. The portrait is one of 14 Kaern has painted of acting and former Danish ministers, the most gruesome showing the defence minister, Gitte Lillelund Bech, with a slash to her mouth. But the artist is philosophical: works like these are necessary to show what war really means, she says.
Koons shops Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein enthusiasts can now recline on, drink from, and dry off with the artist’s imagery courtesy a limited-edition collection of housewares on sale at Barney’s New York. The pillows, cups, towels, placemats and other objects ($28-$295), available at the department store through the summer, are the product of over a year of discussions between the artist’s widow Dorothy Lichtenstein and the Art Production Fund. (Twenty-five percent of the collection’s proceeds benefit the New York-based non-profit.) Already, the project has a high-profile fan: at the launch party on 2 May, Jeff Koons was spotted purchasing a birchwood tray adorned with Lichtenstein’s 1972 image Blue Grapes ($80). Dorothy Lichtenstein, meanwhile, eyed a set of china dinnerware that closely resembles the mass-produced ceramics her husband created in 1966 ($265). “We gave them all away over time, so that was part of why I wanted to do these,” she says. “I’m happy to replenish.”
24 hours with Brian Eno
Brian Eno is probably best known for his music, but he never seems to have forgotten his art school roots. His 2006 release of 77 Million Paintings, a DVD which matched randomized images to Eno’s signature ambient music, should be proof enough of that. New York fans of Eno now have the opportunity to share the experience with one another. At 11:59pm tonight, 3 May, 77 Million Paintings will make its East Coast debut with a visual and audio installation at Café Rogue which continues for 24 hours. Fans with tickets—unfortunately all sold out—will have the chance to bask in the work’s mesmerizing glory for two hours at a time. The show continues through 2 June.
Awards all around
'Tis the season for art awards, it seems. New York city mayor Michael Bloomberg, is due to be honored by the Museum of Modern at their swanky annual “Party in the Garden” on 21 May. The mayor is also doing some honoring of his own: the Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge, which he established to support proposals by city planners to improve the lives of their citizens, has award the city of Providence a grand prize $5m for a proposal aiming improve the language skills of the city’s poorest children. The prize includes a work of art created by the New York City Waterfalls artist Olafur Eliasson, who coincidentally has just won the Mies van der Rohe award for contemporary architecture for his work designing Reykjavik’s Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, along with Henning Larsen Architects. Congratulations all around.
Dinner talk: artist bridges culture divides with Dubai pop-up restaurant
The artist Michael Rakowitz is back in action, working to bridge culture divides through the universal language of food. Following his popular Enemy Kitchen food truck, which roamed the streets of Chicago last year and was staffed by Iraqi cooks and American veterns, Rakowitz has opened a pop-up restaurant in Dubai that he hopes will spark conversations about culture, running for just one week until 7 May.
Commissioned by the Moving Museum as part of its show “Tectonic”, the work’s title Dar Al Sulh translates as “Domain of Conciliation” and is the Arabic term for a non-Muslim territory protected by a treaty. For the menu, Rakowitz is using his Iraqi Jewish grandmother’s recipes, including many foods no longer found in Iraq. “It will be the first such ‘restaurant’ in the Arab World to serve the cuisine of Iraqi Jews since their exodus, which began in the 1940s, serving the food on plates and trays that originally belonged to members of this ancient community and which survived the departure of their homeland,” the press release says.
“Jews were once Arabs, too,” Rakowitz says. “Their exodus from Arab lands is one that has been propagandised and mythologised by Israel, by the flawed narrative of Zionism, and by other entities in order to bolster specific cultural and political positions. Dar Al Sulh seeks to be a time machine, to reactivate a space when there was harmony, when Jews had not yet abandoned their Arab selves, before Jewish populations in the Arab world were assumed to be complicit with Zionism. The notion of conciliation is the central philosophy of Dar Al Sulh, meant to be reflected in the food and the conversations spoken around it.”
Each meal will follow the theme of that night’s conversation, and the independent curator Regine Basha is providing a little dining music with Tuning Baghdad, a soundtrack pulled from archival video footage and audio clips documenting Baghdad’s Jewish music scene from the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Turrell's Vegas revue
James Turrell has a busy spring coming up, with major museum retrospectives opening within weeks of each other on evert US coast, at LA’s Lacma (16 May-6 April 2014), the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (9 June-22 September) and the Guggenheim, New York (21 June-25 September). With such a full dance card, it’s surprising then to hear that the 70-year-old Turrell has found time to install a new public art work in May. Even more surprising is the location, a “luxury fashion centre” in Las Vegas called the Shops at Crystals, not the first venue you’d think of for the understated, Quaker artist. The commission is part of the ambitious CityCenter Fine Art Collection, which includes works by artists such as Antony Gormley, Jenny Holzer, Maya Lin, Richard Long, Henry Moore, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Nancy Rubins, and Frank Stella. According to the press release “the project is the transformation of the monorail station where light will immerse the space with color, in coordination with the arrival and departure of each train.”