News from New York: Gagosian’s Indonesian connection and YBA acquisitions, plus Whitney's "Parkett Biennial"

Accounting a-Gogo and a biennial's missing raison d’être


Creative financing

President Clinton may not be alone in riding the current wave of Asian money. It looks like New York’s art world is also doing things Arkansas-style.

A perusal of public records concerning the Gagosian Gallery turns up a number of interesting things. One is a file under US Uniform Commercial Code, which details the sources of financial backing and the collateral taken (they do not include the cash amount of the loans). From this one can learn that Mr Gagosian’s benefactors have in the last two years included the hostile-takeover cowboy Carl Icahn, “Planet Hollywood” entrepreneur Keith Barish, Estée Lauder heir and Whitney Museum trustee Leonard Lauder, and the Revlon Corporation (which is headed by Gagosian client Ron Perelman).

One of Mr Gagosian’s sugar daddies is more exotic—Bank Negara Indonesia, a formerly state-owned bank that was involved, according to the Far Eastern Economic Review, in a notoriously corrupt privatisation under Indonesia’s cronyist regime (most of the shares intended for public listing were preassigned to friends of President Suharto).

The bank seemed to have got a good deal for its 16 February 1996 investment—Gagosian put up as collateral not only inventory but all “equipment,” “contract rights,” “negotiable instruments” and “accounts receivable”—in other words, the basic assets of the gallery. Mr Gagosian has already gone in and out of close relationships with Condé Nast publisher Si Newhouse and media mogul David Geffen—could this be Gogo’s Lippogate?

In the dog house

Deitch Projects is keen on keeping its reputation for stirring up trouble. It invited the notorious Russian artist Oleg Kulik to parody Joseph Beuys’s “I like America and America likes me” performance at the René Block gallery in 1974—which included a dead coyote—with “I bite America and America bites me.” For two weeks after 12 April, Kulik literally lived as a dog in a cage, lashing out at passing humans. Deitch Projects director Sarah Watson explained that Kulik arrived at immigration “as a human and then made his transformation into a dog.”

Kulik is infamous in Moscow for a performance—which cannot be independently confirmed—during which he raped a pregnant Chechen woman. A propos Kulik’s reputation for savagery, Miss Watson adds philosophically, “I worry less about what he will do than I do about what the New Yorkers will.”

London calling?

Meanwhile Mr Gagosian has continued his post-Hirst attempts to jump on the YBA bandwagon, tentatively signing up the Scottish video artist Douglas Gordon—”We’ve been talking about it,” said a Gagosian spokeswoman, “but it’s not set in stone yet.” This comes on the heels of persistent but vague evidence of deals being made between Mr Gagosian and Charles Saatchi, a longtime Gagosian client. Neither side will comment directly, but sources say that Mr Gagosian and Mr Saatchi put in a bid together on a Dering Street property in London, and also mention comment made by Mr Saatchi to friends to the effect that he was opening a gallery in New York.

Wither the Whitney?

The Whitney Biennial opened on 19 March to the usual chorus of disapproval, in particular a maddeningly equivocal review by Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times, most voicing boredom with the Biennial’s conservatism and impersonal slickness (some dubbed it the “Parkett Biennial,” after the design-driven Swiss art revue where co-curator Louise Neri works). Of course, last time the critics said it was too personal, and the time before that it was not conservative enough.

The problem can be summed up by Biennial curator Lisa Phillips’s response made several months before the show opened, to the question “Why do a Biennial at all?” to which she replied, “Well, it’s an important show and everyone comes to New York to see it.”

It happens that the critics are just as foggy about the Biennial’s raison d’être as the curators are, and their reviews suffer from the same lack of clear objectives—like a party where everybody’s forgotten whom they originally came to meet. Part of this is due to the fact that in a capitalist US where a highly sophisticated commercial art market drives trends and new ideas, museums are really left chasing the caboose. Ms Neri has an unconcealed distaste for the art dealers, and tried quite hard to cut galleries out of the loop and focus on the artists—and there were, indeed, an unusual amount of artists without formal gallery representation.

However, in the end the Whitney was stuck in their usual position of competing with big money for the artists’ best work, and Ms Neri’s preference for the “non-commercial” just ended up serving a narrow (though not necessarily underserving) coterie of art galleries—Metro Pictures (Tony Oursler), Barbara Gladstone( Ilya Kabakov), David Zwirner (Jason Rhoades), Luhring Augustine (Paul McCarthy), and Gagosian (Chris Burden). Yes, photography was well-represented and so was LA—often at the same time, as in the work of Sharon Lockhart. But aside from a few gem-like digressions (like John Schabel’s super telephoto portraits of people sitting in airplanes) Ms Neri and Ms Phillips just sanctified the prevailing winds in the trade.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Gagosian’s Indonesian connection'