News from New York: Major Beuys work tipped for Beacon, while eco-artists discuss decomposition

And Connecticut energy broker Andrew Hall buys Georg Baselitz’s collection of German art


Yossi Milo: a miniature inspiration

So preposterously vast and dominant is the Gagosian Gallery taking up the whole corner block of West 24th Street (above) that occasionally, visitors would look up when exiting and spy, with amusement, a tiny and ramshackle gallery located directly opposite. Yossi Milo was the only gallery actually in front of Gagosian and, as a study in contrasts was delightful, a couple of small rooms up a winding stairway in a building still loud and smelly with taxi repair companies and car machinists. So modest and shoestring was the operation that one glanced across at Gagosian thinking: “How marvellous is the art world, that it can contain both such spaces with no possible contact, no imaginable connection between them.” Yet now, exactly as Milo has left this location, one of his artists has also left and simply gone directly over the road to Gagosian, only a few feet away in practical terms but a million miles in career achievement. For when Milo’s artist Alec Soth had his photographs of the Mississippi included in the last Whitney Biennial it was already an achievement for the minuscule gallery, but few could have imagined he would actually end up at Gagosian, where Soth’s new photographs are showing until the end of July (left, Mother and daughter, Davenport, IA, 2002). Now Milo is located smack opposite PaceWildenstein, let’s see if any of his remaining artists can cross over the other side of that divide.

Andrew Hall buys German as Larry loses out

The Connecticut-based energy broker Andrew Hall is certainly one of the most imposing of the new breed of famously frightening collectors, even if he is seemingly the only one who does not run one of these baffling hedge funds. Awfully tall, trimly bearded, and a champion rower back in his native Blighty, Hall buys boldly, not least a gigantic Anselm Kiefer outdoor sculpture that his suburban neighbours fought against so ferociously that Hall was forced to give it to a museum instead. Now Hall has pulled off the major coup of his career, buying the awesome collection of modern and contemporary German art assembled by none other than the painter Georg Baselitz himself (below). Baselitz, who does everything on a grand scale, has consistently bought the work of his contemporaries such as Markus Lüpertz, and on one occasion snapped up an entire gallery exhibition of Jörg Immendorf when nobody else was interested. Negotiations of this sale were being handled by Larry Gagosian but his cut was reputedly a little too chunky for everyone else’s taste, and in a major coup the Baselitz collection ended up being sold by young downtown gallerist Leo Koenig. Hall is now planning to open his own American museum of German art.

Block Beuys for DiaBeacon?

Meanwhile, it looks as if the most important installation ever made by Joseph Beuys may well be on its way to Dia Beacon, which is already a mecca for fans of the artist. While carrying out major renovations and expansion, the Hessisches Landesmuseum of Darmstadt in Germany is in negotiations to transport and display the legendary 1970s work Block Beuys which takes up a series of seven interconnected rooms to the museum in upstate New York. Very few institutions in America have the space, let alone the time, to install such a monumental work and Beacon seems like its most logical destination. Since funky alternative Brooklyn arts venue Galapagos is currently hosting a “Darmstadt evening” in which hot DJs remix the austere atonal music that the German city was once famous for, maybe a loan of the famous Darmstadt Madonna to the Metropolitan Museum would secure New York’s connection with the German city.

Russian artists imagine an Islamic world

It has been 10 years since Russian conceptual collective AES started work on their “Islamic project” but there could not have been a more appropriate time for its unveiling. When AES began the project back in 1995, it was a kind of comic science-fiction parable, using computer-enhanced imagery to imagine how Western cities such as Moscow, Berlin or New York would look under Islamic occupation. Their visions of the future were set in the year 2006, which is now nearly upon us, and to mark this anniversary, gallerist Claire Oliver has mounted a rich retrospective, complete with a luxuriant Bedouin-style tent with carpets, pillows and hookah, in which one can recline like a Pasha to contemplate this imagined Islamisation. The walls are hung with hand-made carpets bearing silk-screened prints of images such as nomads in Central Park, the domes and minarets of mosques in otherwise familiar city skylines and gun-toting fundamentalist fighters. Their cleverly doctored image of the Statue of Liberty wearing a burqa and carrying the Koran has now turned up, uncredited, at demonstrations, on the internet and on postcards. AES explain, “We understand this project neither as an anti-Islamic expression nor as a statement against the West. Rather we envision our project as a kind of psychoanalytic tool that can be artfully applied to expose the phobia and paranoia of our time”. Above, Liberty handmade bedouin carpet, silkscreen, edition of eight.

Back to nature: Sonfist plans to replant

A small but museum-worthy retrospective of the veteran environmental artist Alan Sonfist is at Paul Rogers’ 9W Gallery for the summer. Much of this is given over to Sonfist’s ambitious project, started in the mid 60s, to build 50 small gardens around Manhattan, mainly in abandoned lots, recreating the landscape of the island before it was inhabited. The show includes a large painting, originally part of a mural suite commissioned by the collector Salomon Brothers, showing how downtown New York would have looked when fully forested. After many trials and tribulations over 12 years, however, only one of these “Time landscapes” was ever actually made, occupying a narrow site on Houston and LaGuardia Place. Filled with trees, shrubs and wildlife that are native to New York, Sonfist had to personally guarantee that any trees which died would be replaced at his own cost. Now, thanks to the enthusiasm of Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, we may at last see more of Sonfist’s “Time landscapes”, whether at Collect Pond in the financial district or over at Red Hook in Brooklyn. If, after 40 years, this Sonfist project goes ahead, who knows what might happen to another major work, namely his Last piece (proposed 1973), artist’s body placed at death in a sealed transparent enclosure. According to Sonfist “The decay and growth of my body will present the continuance of my artwork”, and the project was apparently accepted at the time by Wolfgang Becker of the Ludwig Forum. A decaying artist in a transparent box would certainly draw museum crowds.

Mark Dion’s living log

Ecological artist Mark Dion, a disciple of Sonfist’s pioneering environmentally-friendly work, has his own version of a “time landscape” with the Vivarium, a 22-foot-long fallen log from a forest, kept in a 1,000 cubic foot glass vitrine. This fast rotting tree gathers around it all the moss, lichen, fungi and creepy insects one would expect (above), and has been a touring hit ever since being seen at the Aldrich’s fabled Dion exhibition in 2003.

Matthew Barney’s mouldy old tree

But rotting trees are not always what they seem in contemporary art. Take Matthew Barney’s De Lama Lamina, a float created in 2004 for the carnival in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, and the subject of Barney’s first film since the Cremaster series. The float itself, featuring a tractor and fig tree, was purchased by that ambitious Brazilian collector and dealer Fernando Paz and proudly displayed at the Belo Horizonte mansion he inhabits with his artist wife Adriana Varejao. That is until the poor old tree itself started coming to pieces in a notably mouldy manner. Barney himself flew down to Brazil to check the damage and then dispatched his fabricator-assistant, the young artist Fernando Mastrangelo, to repair the damage. Creating a completely new tree, re-cast in polyurethane from the original took some seven weeks and though Paz paid for the fabrication he got something of a bargain, an indestructible artificial tree, an eternal Barney, instead of a rancid log. Above, a dancer from Barney’s float holds a prop made of muddied farm implements and plant roots.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Major Beuys work tipped for Beacon'