George Lindemann Wins Inaugural Better Beach Award
March 26, 2013
March 26, 2013
This internationally known and respected boutique institution, the first modern art museum in America, is about to unveil its first permanent installation in more than 50 years. And the pervasive feeling in-house is that the new arrival—a beeswax chamber designed by conceptual artist Wolfgang Laib, opening Saturday—couldn't be more true to the vision of Duncan Phillips (1886-1966) when he opened his private collection to the public in 1921.
"Duncan wanted the museum to be an intimate experience and have a spirit of experimentation," says Dorothy Kosinski, director of the Phillips. "A wax chamber by Wolfgang would be the biggest, most powerful expression of that spirit."
The German-born Mr. Laib has been creating beeswax chambers—small spaces lined with beeswax, gently lighted by a single hanging bulb—for more than 25 years. He uses hundreds of pounds of pure melted beeswax much like plaster, smoothly coating walls and ceilings until they almost resemble yellow marble—except with a warm glow.
The spaces offer room for perhaps two people comfortably but are said to be best visited alone. (The room at the Phillips, a former storage closet, is 6 feet wide by 7 feet deep and 10 feet high.) "There's a feeling you get inside the space that can't really described," says Mr. Laib, a diminutive, almost fragile-looking man with a voice barely above a whisper. "But it moves you."
The aroma of the beeswax is "totally seductive," Ms. Kosinski says, employing the kind of sensual language most often used to describe Mr. Laib's chambers. The intense color of the wax and its close proximity to your own skin in an austere space have also been cited as evoking a curiously visceral experience that is also meditative and spiritual. "It's really a new way of entering the artist's world," says Susan Behrends Frank, associate curator of research for the museum.
Mr. Laib's installations—involving other natural substances, such as pollen and rice, as well as beeswax—have been displayed at prominent museums and galleries around the world, including New York's Museum of Modern Art. Ms. Kosinski fully expects that visitors may not know what to make of the chamber when they see it. "But people being slightly perplexed is maybe not a bad thing," she adds.
Duncan Phillips might well agree. Though initially his collection consisted largely of Impressionist paintings, hardly controversial by the time he acquired them, he soon became known for bucking mainstream taste. He was one of the earliest patrons of the American modernists John Marin and Arthur Dove, and he bought the late work of Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) in depth after World War II, a period when it was dismissed as emptily decorative. And Phillips's admiration for Abstract Expressionism, when that was still a suspect style, is evident in pieces by Richard Diebenkorn and Willem de Kooning, among others.
In 1960, six years before his death, Phillips added a permanent exhibit of four Mark Rothko oils to be housed in a dedicated room. No other artist had received such an honor there. While Phillips designed the Rothko Room, as it came to be known, the artist was directly involved with deciding which walls the color-field paintings should hang on, the kind of lighting and even furniture that should be in the room. "I think it's the only exhibit Rothko himself installed," Ms. Kosinski says.
Now, for only the second time in its history, the Phillips Collection is dedicating another space for permanent residence, and Rothko has a lot to do with it. Two years ago, while participating in the museum's "Conversations With Artists" series, Mr. Laib stepped into the Rothko Room for the first time and was transported by "a very emotional, deep feeling," he says. "Like being in another world." Not unlike the effect Mr. Laib seeks in beeswax chambers.
Until then, Mr. Laib had concentrated on pieces that could easily tour. But he says he had begun to think it was "important that some things should stay, be permanent." He thought a permanent wax chamber in the Phillips would be ideal for intertwining reasons: The compatibility he felt between the color-fields and his wax chambers, and the chance to dispel what Mr. Laib has long considered a facile comparison some have made between his work and Rothko's. Mr. Laib's pollen pieces consist of the brightly colorful substance, which he gathers from near his home in southern Germany and then feathers on a dark platform, prompting a reaction he says he has heard too often—"Rothko on the floor." (Mr. Laib's "Pollen From Hazelnut" installation is on display at MoMA through March 11.)
"I have a deeper, more complex relationship with Rothko," Mr. Laib says, "and a permanent room would demonstrate that." His room is in the center of the original Phillips mansion; the Rothko room is at the far end of the Sant Building, an extension added in 2006.
"My immediate reaction," says Ms. Kosinski, recalling when she learned of Mr. Laib's desire to install a permanent beeswax chamber in the Phillips, "was that he's right. It would make total sense to have it here."
The Phillips had been exhibiting contemporary art, but Ms. Kosinski saw an opportunity for "the perfect expression of the desire to experiment, to let viewers have encounters with art on their own terms," she says, thus reinvigorating a key component of the museum's original mission.
"Duncan Phillips started off as a kind of timid collector," Ms. Behrends Frank says. "But toward the end of his life he made a really bold move by creating the Rothko Room. And now the beeswax chamber is really bold."
"Besides," adds Ms. Kosinski, "it's just cool."
Mr. Triplett is a writer in Washington
The Endless Renaissance, now at the Bass Museum, is an ambitious exhibit. It combines masterpieces from the permanent collection with contemporary video, sculpture and painting from six international artists, who incorporate ideas, concepts or imagery first forged in the Renaissance into their 21st century creations. This means there are some direct references, such as religious iconography in the work, and more highly conceptual and abstract connections that still attempt to thread a history of art throughout.
The most fascinating and enjoyable pieces in the exhibit are on the first floor, from Thailand’s Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook. They include large photographs and a delightful video, where the artist plays with co-mingling Western art and Eastern culture. She took paintings so well-known to a Western audience, such as a Rembrandt and a Van Gogh, and put large prints of them in front of Thai villagers, both men and women. The juxtaposition posed within the photos is simply beautiful. In one we see only the backs of the farmers, sitting on the ground in a lush green bamboo forest, staring at Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass encased in a baroque frame.
She has rightly named the work Two Planets. It’s incongruous to see this painting positioned in the open in tropical Southeast Asia — not how most Westerners view our classic art, usually in museums. What are these villagers to make of the French Impressionist’s depiction of fully dressed men and a naked woman? The settings are both pastoral — but worlds apart.
We get to hear what the villagers have to say in the darkened video room. While looking at a Van Gogh, they question and exclaim things such as “their ox carts look different from ours.” Or, “what, no bamboo. How do they do it?” “Is that a beard, is that a man?” And then they try to figure out how the French farmers are “thrashing the rice” when they are hauling hay. In this case, the 19th century farmer in Europe and in today’s Thailand do not appear too distant from each other; they would have similar concerns, and humorous observations, about everyday rural life.
On the ramp leading to the second floor we are fed examples of the real deal from over the last 500 years. From the Bass collection, there are paintings from the Flemish, Austrian and Florentine schools, each with their own tell-tale marks and coloring. Hanging here are a Rubens, El Greco, a Botticelli, and a huge tapestry covering one wall, from the 1500s. Most of these paintings depict scenes from the Christian Bible, with the ubiquitous inclusion of the Virgin Mary and various saints.
That easy familiarity with famous works dissipates as you walk onto the second floor. Barry X Ball’s portrait busts draw directly from a Renaissance heritage, but these are disturbing sculptures, ones not likely found in a Tuscan villa. The California native uses an amazing array of materials to make these busts, which can seem to be in frightening pain as they sit on their pedestals or hang from the ceiling. Crafted from unusual stone and steel, they appear to be melting or disintegrating.
Some of the portraits are based on famous sculptures that you’ll recognize; others are based on contemporary art-world figures such as Matthew Barney. There are some very lovely moments in Ball’s room too: The first duel grouping of busts that hang from the ceiling as you enter the room throws off incredible shadows. A shiny black figure of Belgian black marble reclines in the corner, looking so sensuous to the touch. The figure has breasts and a penis, and is called The Sleeping Hermaphrodite.
Figurative form altogether disappears in the next space, and so too does the clear connection to a Renaissance art history. But London-born Walead Beshty’s abstract, conceptually complex pieces are a highlight. There is a lot about process here. For instance, his copper panel sculptures are installed without gloves, leaving smudge marks all over them. The white “paintings” have a similar quality and look dirty from a distance, but the more you study them, the more interesting they become. His FedEx boxes also record a process, a journey, that has not changed much since the time of Michelangelo: artwork has always been shipped, bought, resold, ending up in a time and a place far removed from its origin.
Han-Peter Feldman and Ged Quinn’s paintings are a complete departure that can be difficult to digest. Liverpool native Quinn’s surreal allegorical paintings are in vogue across Europe. Scenes set in Romantic-era forests might include a bubble house, historical figures, a bleeding martyr or a crucified cat. The link to art history is overt here, intentionally over-the-top, but they aren’t to everyone’s taste.
You’ll need to take some time to figure out all that is going on in three large video screens that make up The Annunciation, from Finland’s Eija-Liisa Ahtila. Like the video on the ground floor, this is special for its simplicity of its everyday “characters.” Of course, the annunciation is one of the most depicted scenes in art since the dawn of Christianity, the gospel of how the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that her child will be the son of God. Here on screen it is reenacted in a studio by some friends (not actors). They too look at classic paintings and discuss them — how much did the angel really scare Mary? — along with talk of why donkeys are wondering around Finland (“don’t they belong in warm countries?” one asks).
The Bass came up with a nice mix of styles and forms for this exhibit, from some important artists on the world stage today. It might be hard for the viewer to keep up with the Endless Renaissance thread; each room feels like its own show, and, in fact, they are described as six solo projects. That’s OK. In fact, when exhibits try and force a theme, lead an audience down one path, it often doesn’t work. These speak for themselves, individually, and out of the broad scope of the artists’ work, you can take away what you want.
Stationed in front of one of his large self-portraits, the artist Chuck Close raised his customized wheelchair to balance on two wheels, seeming to defy the laws of gravity.
The chair’s unlikely gymnastics underlined the points that Mr. Close was making to his audience, 40 seventh and eighth graders from Bridgeport, Conn.: Break the rules and use limitations to your advantage.
The message had particular resonance for these students, and a few educators and parents, who had come by bus on Monday from Roosevelt School to the Pace Gallery in Chelsea for a private tour of Mr. Close’s show. Roosevelt, located in a community with high unemployment and crushing poverty, recently had one of the worst records of any school in the state, with 80 percent of its seventh graders testing below grade level in reading and math.
Saved from closure by a committed band of parents, the school was one of eight around the country chosen last year to participate in Turnaround Arts, a new federally sponsored public-and-private experiment that puts the arts at the center of the curriculum. Arranging for extra funds for supplies and instruments, teacher training, partnerships with cultural organizations and high-profile mentors like Mr. Close, Turnaround is trying to use the arts to raise academic performance across the board. “Art saved my life,” Mr. Close told the children. And he believes it can save the lives of others, too.
So now he was giving a pizza party and answering a question about why he started to paint.
“I wanted people to notice me, not that I couldn’t remember their faces or add or subtract,” he said, referring to the learning and neurological disabilities that set him apart from his classmates when he was growing up in Monroe, Wash.
A terrible writer and test-taker, Mr. Close used art to make it through school. Instead of handing in a paper, he told the children, “I made a 20-foot-long mural of the Lewis and Clark trail.”
Starting in Pace’s large central gallery, where his giant portraits of other artists like Philip Glass, Paul Simon and Laurie Anderson looked on, Mr. Close told the group that “everything about my work is driven by my learning disabilities.”
Born with prosopagnosia, a condition that prevents him from recognizing faces, Mr. Close explained that the only way he can remember a face is by breaking it down into small “bite-sized” pieces, like the tiny squares or circles of color that make up his paintings and prints.
“I figured out what I had left and I tried to make it work for me,” he said. “Limitations are important.”
With Mr. Close were a few other members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, which helped develop the Turnaround program. One of them, Damian Woetzel, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet who is a mentor to two other Turnaround schools, picked up on his theme.
“In dance we limit ourselves, as well,” he said. “There are five positions and everything comes from that,” he added, quickly demonstrating the basic ballet poses.
Filling out the cultural spectrum were the Broadway producer Margo Lion, a chairwoman of the committee, and the musicians Cristina Pato, Shane Shanahan and Kojiro Umezaki, all members of the Silk Road Ensemble, an international collaboration founded by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who is also a committee member and a mentor. One by one, they entered from different doors, startling the students with an impromptu concert featuring a tambourine, a gaita (a Spanish bagpipe) and a Chinese flute.
Clapping and stamping in time to the music, Mr. Woetzel soon turned the gallery’s open space into a dance floor. A couple of students whipped out phones to record the proceedings, while others raced across the room to avoid getting pulled in as participants. One reluctant dancer, captured by Rachel Goslins, a filmmaker and the executive director of the president’s committee, rolled his eyes and mouthed “Oh my God” as she circled him around the floor. Other students joined hands and began dancing as Ms. Lion and the school principal, Tania Kelley, her head flung back, swung each other around.
Mr. Close swerved through the crowd in his wheelchair.
“I never danced before,” Carolyn Smith, 13, said excitedly when the music stopped. “Usually I sing.” Carolyn was the lead in the school’s production of “The Wiz” last year. A brain tumor had caused her to miss so much school that her literacy teacher initially wanted her to turn down the part and focus on catching up, Ms. Goslins said. But being in the play — and reading and memorizing the script — helped her reading skills so much, Ms. Goslins said, that the literacy coach later told her, “I’m a believer.”
The afternoon offered a series of firsts for many of the students. Most had never seen such instruments, heard of Mr. Simon or Mr. Glass, or even visited Manhattan.
“It’s pretty cool to be in New York,” said David Morales, 14, who later asked Mr. Close about his technique, explaining, “I like how he makes it, how it comes all together.”
David, like the other Roosevelt students, had studied Mr. Close’s work in class and met him when he visited the school last month. So Mr. Close patiently answered questions.
“Is it easy to make these pictures?” (Well, it can take a while, Mr. Close replied.)
“How do you know what colors to use?” (Trial and error.)
“Can you draw? (Yes.)
“There is no artist who enjoys what he does every day more than I do,” Mr. Close told the group, setting off applause from the students. Repeating advice he often gives to young artists, he said: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up for work.”
When the bus arrived for the return trip, Ms. Pato and Mr. Shanahan again took up their instruments, this time to lead a parade of clapping students and teachers out the door.
Carolyn Smith, a pink rose in her hair, paused at the doorway and turned to Mr. Close. “I had a blast,” she called out. “Bye, Chuck. See you later.”
Barry X Ball’s Matthew Barney/BXB Dual-Dual Portrait Ensemble (2012) During this year’s Basel week, few artists made as much impact as Iván Navarro, whose fluorescent light sculptures sparked a crackling buzz in the big fair’s Art Kabinett sector and at its Art Public outdoor sculpture garden.
The Chilean-born talent’s “Impenetrables” project showcased five pieces made of neon ladders and mirrors that appeared to rise from an abyss beneath the convention center’s floor. The works, which continued Navarro’s exploration of the relationship between viewers and their architectural surroundings, were among the few must-see exhibits that cut through the white noise of Miami’s busiest cultural week.
But if you missed that show, don’t panic. You can still catch Navarro’s solo exhibit at the Frost Art Museum, where his sprawling show will remain on view long after the cacophony of Basel week has departed. His exhibit is one of several stellar museum shows, in fact, that will stay on display well into the new year.
“This exhibition offers our visitors the opportunity to fully understand the context of work that may, at first, appear as fragile constructions made of ordinary manmade objects,” says Carol Damian, the Frost’s director and chief curator.
Some might remember Navarro’s work from a group show called “Artificial Light,” organized by North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art at its Wynwood satellite space for ABMB’s 2006 edition. Back then, Navarro exhibited a pair of beautiful purple neon chairs so beguiling that a female spectator sat on them and crushed the neon-gas-and-glass creations.
This year, the electrifying talent is the subject of the Frost’s “Ivan Navarro: Fluorescent Light Sculptures,” featuring three floor sculptures, 14 wall sculptures, and three videos that illuminate his multilayered practice over the past ten years.
The exhibit includes Navarro’s The Nowhere Man series, making its debut in a U.S. museum. Inspired by the iconic pictograms created by Otl Aicher for the 1972 Olympics in Munich, its all-white, genderless stick figures appear to be running, jumping, and swimming. (Through January 27 at the Frost Art Museum at FIU, 10975 SW 17th St., Miami; 305-348-2890; thefrost.fiu.edu.)
Perhaps no other museum show drew a larger audience for its Basel opening than the Bass Museum of Art, where “The Endless Renaissance: Six Solo Artists Projects” brought together an impressive cast of talent from the United States, Finland, Germany, Thailand, and the United Kingdom to explore how historical works and concepts transform across time and morph through the eyes of diverse audiences.
“‘The Endless Renaissance’ links art from the past and the present, each artist in his or her own way, directly or indirectly,” says Silvia Karman Cubiñá, the Bass’s executive director and chief curator.
Take Barry X Ball’s sculptures, which twist classically inspired busts by using bleeding-edge computer technology to carve unusual materials. To create his whiplash-inducing Matthew Barney/BXB Dual-Dual Portrait Ensemble, Ball started with Mexican onyx, stainless steel, and various other materials. Then he employed an arsenal of equipment, including 3-D digital scanning, virtual modeling, and computer-controlled milling, to create a hyper-detailed face. Ball finishes the pieces by hand-carving and polishing the uncanny visages.
Another virtuoso work is his Sleeping Hermaphrodite, which features an eerily smooth figure lying nude on a mattress while tangled in a bed sheet. Ball’s brilliant handling of flesh and drapery boggles the mind and brings to mind the timeless symmetry and perfection of classical Greek sculpture.
Another notable artist at the Bass is Germany’s Hans-Peter Feldmann, who collects, orders, and re-presents amateur print photographic reproductions, toys, and trivial works of art. His painting of what appears to be a 19th-century aristocrat wearing a red clown nose is full of humor while smacking the starch out of tired notions of traditional portraiture.
Thailand’s Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, meanwhile, considers art through an outsider’s eye with her Two Planets series, in which she presents classic European paintings to villagers in remote Thai towns and then films them discussing the works. Her enchanting digital print Two Planets: Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass and the Thai Villagers, 2012, upends traditional Western notions of viewing and interpreting artwork and helps viewers see these famous paintings anew. (Through March 17 at the Bass Museum of Art, 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7530; bassmuseum.org.)
At the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, Bill Viola’s powerful video installations deliver a poignant commentary of how art can uplift the spirit. “Bill Viola: Liber Insularum” is the video pioneer’s first American museum survey since 2003.
“Many of these are among his most powerful works to date,” says Bonnie Clearwater, the museum’s chief curator and director. “These are emotional and spiritual works that speak to the human condition.”
Viola’s sensory-engulfing opuses typically delve into the concepts of birth and death, with a nod to both Eastern and Western art, as well as mystical, spiritual traditions.
MOCA’s exhibit was inspired by 15th-century Florentine cleric Cristoforo Buondelmonti’s tome The Book of the Islands of Archipelago, which records six years he spent wandering the Aegean Sea. Viola departs from that compass point to explore universal notions of being and nothingness, using the tale as an allegory of our lives wandering a transforming global landscape. (Through March 3 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 770 NE 125th St., North Miami; 305-893-6211; mocanomi.org.)
|Kevin Gonzalez Day|
Dark approaches and everyone’s left museum grounds for the Walgreens window displays across the street on Collins where Miami-based artist Cristina Lei Rodriguez introduced guests to her sculptures and installations behind the glass. Her use of plastic, paint, and resin to combine other objects and make new works with bursts of color is part of the appeal in her craft. She sets out to create a visually explorable landscape through detail. “The store front is an amazing place for contemporary art to really have a relationship with the street, with people who are walking by…For people to see art work up close in a different context and question the way that you see objects that are commercially to be bought,” Rodriguez said.
Cristina Lei Rodriguez
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* Complimentary admission for two to Bass Museum of Art VIP opening reception of The Endless Renaissance – Six Solo Artist Projects: Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Barry X Ball, Walead Beshty, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Ged Quinn and Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook – Wednesday December 5, 2012 | 9pm-12am
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Librado Romero/The New York Times
Rosemarie Trockel, an influential German artist, is receiving her first prominent exhibition in the United States with a show at the New Museum.
Any simple description of the solo exhibition opening on Wednesday on three floors of the New Museum on the Lower East Side runs the risk of sounding like a passage from a Paul Auster novel: the artist is a German woman whose work is among the most celebrated in Europe; the artist is a man from rural Idaho who could neither read nor speak and pieced together haunting constructions from cardboard; the artist is a Chicago man who secretly fashioned and photographed childlike dolls; the artist is a California woman with Down syndrome who made sculpture from yarn; the artist is an orangutan named Tilda.
“Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos” — a highly unorthodox survey of more than three decades of Ms. Trockel’s work and the first time she has had such prominent exposure in an American museum — is described accurately by all of the above. Ms. Trockel, 59 and based in Cologne, is indeed esteemed and widely influential, though for various reasons she has never been as well known in the United States as German contemporaries, including Anselm Kiefer and Martin Kippenberger, who died in 1997.
And yet several years ago, when she and Lynne Cooke, the chief curator of the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid, began considering a retrospectivelike exhibition that would define Ms. Trockel for a larger audience, the idea that emerged was a show that, if anything, would make it difficult for viewers to decide which works were hers and which were by somebody else.
She wanted to include pieces she loved by James Castle, a highly regarded, self-taught artist who died in 1977 after laboring in utter obscurity in Garden Valley, Idaho, making work that seemed to lie in some forgotten land between Rauschenberg and Warhol. She wanted art by Morton Bartlett, a commercial photographer from Chicago whose eerie plaster child-dolls, discovered after his death in 1992, have become a minor sensation, and by Judith Scott, a profoundly disabled woman who began making cocoonlike, yarn-encased sculpture at the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, Calif., in the last two decades of her life.
In addition to these artists, there are nine more, living or dead, not counting a few anonymous ones, who join Ms. Trockel in the show, their work sometimes intermingled closely with hers.
“I think of work often as the invisible made visible, and it doesn’t matter so much to me whether I made it or not,” Ms. Trockel said one recent afternoon on the New Museum’s second floor, as pieces by her and the other artists were readied for three large glass vitrines that looked like museum appurtenances from the 19th century.
In a recent essay in The New York Review of Books, the critic Charles Rosen wrote, “Art does not, of course, liberate us completely from meaning, but it gives a certain measure of freedom, provides elbow room.” In contemporary art Ms. Trockel has long provided more elbow room than most, in wildly esoteric work that ranges from figurative drawings to textile “paintings,” artist books, appropriation and surrealist sculpture and video.
In itself, the work can look like that of several different artists, as Ms. Trockel burrows into ideas, exhausts them and then moves on, sometimes returning to recycle the old, occasionally with a vengeance. One piece in the New Museum show is a clear plastic cube filled with the cut-up remains of many years’ worth of her trademark textile paintings, which she had saved in her studio. (A single painting similar to those she destroyed sold last year at auction for almost a million dollars.)
“It felt strange, but it also felt good,” she said of creating a kind of tomb of her earlier work. “I thought: it’s done.”
Part of the affinity Ms. Trockel feels for the so-called outsider artists she has included in the show comes from a sense of isolation that has often defined her life, caused by severe agoraphobia, which prevented her when she was younger from going outside much at all, and which still limits her ability to interact with people.
In a wide-ranging interview at the New Museum, where she was dressed elegantly and casually, with a dark sweater thrown around her shoulders, she spoke with an easy friendliness and enthusiasm about the exhibition. But throughout, she kept an interpreter at her elbow, despite being fluent in English and rarely having to search for words.
“I often see myself as an outsider artist,” she said at one point, “though of course I’m not. It’s wishful thinking, I suppose.”
Ms. Trockel shows at the Gladstone Gallery in New York and had a prominent installation at the Dia Art Foundation in Chelsea from 2002 to 2004. But perhaps because of her relative isolation and her general ambivalence toward the conventions of museum exhibitions, her exposure in the American art world has long been out of sync with her international reputation.
“With her the focus is always on the art, not the artist,” said Massimiliano Gioni, the New Museum’s director of exhibitions, who organized the show there with Jenny Moore, an associate curator. “Rosemarie’s work is important for a lot of younger artists right now, I think, because we’ve had so many years of the phenomenon of artist as rock star.”
He added, “You could think of this as a choral solo show.”
As at the Reina Sofía museum, where Ms. Trockel and Ms. Cooke originated the exhibition, the artwork has been supplemented in New York by natural-history objects that were never intended as art. But they embody many of Ms. Trockel’s biotic interests and slip into the new context as if they were made by her, or perhaps by Dalí or Matthew Barney or Mike Kelley. One is a giant taxidermied lobster nicknamed Cedric that Ms. Moore tracked down and borrowed from the Delaware Museum of Natural History. (The wall label for the lobster notes, with impressive precision, that it was “cooked on May 13, 1964, and weighed 27.5 pounds.”)
“I think when people come to the show,” Ms. Trockel said, “they should try first just to look and not to think, not to bring all of their conceptions and influences into it.”
It is a lesson that Ms. Trockel said she tried hard to follow in her own life. A creature of habit (she eats the same type of pasta for every lunch), she starts her day by staring deeply into a Bridget Riley dot painting that she owns, until the dots seem to move and sometimes change color.
Then her meditation moves on to a group of spare, smeary canvases also in her collection. These were painted not by an artist or even a human but by Tilda, an orangutan in the Cologne zoo. Three of them are included in the New Museum, credited to Tilda but identified as a single work by Ms. Trockel and given a title she has used for many works over the years: “Less Sauvage Than Others.”
“I just think of it as abstract art,” she said, looking at the green and yellow marks of simian expressionism. “Of course it’s not intentional, but it doesn’t matter so much to me.”
“I look at them so often,” she added. “But every time, it seems like the first time.”
“Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos” continues through Jan. 20 at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, at Prince Street, Lower East Side; (212) 219-1222, newmuseum.org.
-By Randy Kennedy
Last week, London hosted three major art fairs and several smaller and younger ones, enough to make any sane person wonder: have we reached the point of art fair overkill? I’ve often thought—and written—that the art fair scene has gone overboard, and now I’m not alone. On his Facebook page New York magazine’s art critic Jerry Saltz recently lamented the explosion of art fairs and the new custom among hungry galleries to send out email blasts from them announcing how many works they’ve sold. “We’ve built a worm into the system,” Mr. Saltz wrote. “The system is self-supporting and draws its power from everyone.” The point is timely, because London’s annual Frieze art fair—the highlight of a week of art parties and hobnobbing in British style—has sprouted a second fair, Frieze Masters, for more “historical” artworks. I was there for the opening of Masters, and it forced me to change my tune. And so, in the words of the great Marcel Duchamp, I will now “force myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”
Since 2003, Frieze has brought dozens of galleries from all over the world to London every October, and showcased some of the best and worst in cutting-edge contemporary art. The show happens under an architect-designed big top in Regent’s Park, and it has been a smashing success since its inception, drawing thousands of buyers and gawkers who feast their eyes and empty their wallets on fresh pieces of art. By riding the Saatchi wave of hipness and hotness in British art, Frieze founders Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover succeeded in crowning London as the world’s second great capital of contemporary art. For one crazed week every year, London’s parties and gallery openings rival anything New York can offer.
So, in 2012, has the sinking world economy affected London’s weeklong art bonanza? Apparently not, since several New York galleries continue to open across the pond in a big way. There was plenty of “friezing” at the opening of Pace’s brand-spanking-new space in the Royal Academy building, which featured the unlikely pairing of painter god Mark Rothko with Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. Then there was the opening of a swanky new townhouse outpost for David Zwirner, who presented a large Luc Tuymans show well-tailored to European taste. There was even an all-new gallery for Milan’s ever-popular Massimo De Carlo featuring new work by Piotr Uklanski, as well as sundry other extensions, expansions and pop-up shops.
With so much going on, it seems that now almost everyone is saying that art fairs are “out of control.” I’ve thought so for quite a while, yet when I satirized Art Basel Miami Beach less than a year ago, some readers were confused, while others, like Mr. Saltz, attacked me as if I had committed heresy against their church. Funny how quickly the tide turns in art’s little pond. In his Facebook post last Friday, Mr. Saltz proved he’s a switch hitter, rightly pointing out that we have “a hundred art fairs and international biennials … skyrocketing prices during a worldwide economic contraction. The art world’s reflexes are shot; its systems so predetermined that they’re driving us; we’re no longer driving them.”
This may be true, but the dynamic has changed for good and there’s no turning back. I can no longer think of the art fair phenomenon as “out of control,” because the fairs are the ones firmly in control. They control a large percentage of gallery sales, and therefore exert a big influence on the size and shape of art; they are a huge force behind art-buying habits and tastes. Fairs are no longer a good or bad thing, they are the thing, the new reality. Fewer and fewer people go to gallery shows, because sadly, people just don’t have the time or the interest. Or perhaps it’s just easier and more fun to show up in London, Miami, Rio or Dubai to see your friends and party like a rock star, while picking up a painting by a hot artist. These days, art fairs are the only weapons smaller galleries can wield against the large and ever-more-powerful auction houses, which continue their incursion even outside the sales rooms, with the expansion of their own privately brokered art sales. Fairs give the art-buying experience an auction-house sense of urgency, and those impulse sales keep many smaller galleries afloat.
Understanding the delicate balance between art and the art market is where the founders of Frieze have proven their mettle. Remember last May when they launched Frieze New York on Randall’s Island and drew dozens of galleries from around the world? Back then, I thought New York needed another art fair like I needed a root canal, but I was wrong. It was a big success—the place rocked, and it was packed. I was at first skeptical about the new London fair, Masters, which ran simultaneously with Frieze in another tent, across Regent’s Park: why would a company cannibalize its own business by running two fairs in the same town at the same time? The stated charter included only a subtle difference between the venues: “old” Frieze (now called Frieze London) shows only newish work, whereas new Frieze (Frieze Masters) is limited to “oldish” art. The criterion for “old” seemed pretty random: the work merely had to predate the year 2000, meaning in order to qualify for inclusion, it only had to be 12 years “old”!
But what does Masters mean in the grand scheme of things—and what does all of this say about the market today? Remember the story of the Greek god Kronos, king of the Titans. He came to power by castrating his father, Uranus, and then, fearing his own children (the Olympians) were destined to do the same to him, he ate them (Zeus was spared and eventually overthrew him, fulfilling the prophecy). Like Kronos, Frieze Masters has castrated its father—this year’s Frieze, newly dubbed Frieze London to distinguish itself from its younger New York sibling, logically lacked the energy and testosterone of prior Frieze fairs. It was crowded with art and people but lacking in quality, although, to be fair, there were hidden treasures. Why would the Frieze founders jeopardize their successful franchise by creating a fancier and more mature version of the same thing? Going forward, collectors will demand a higher-quality experience—more bang for their art fair buck—and the new Masters fair delivers the goods. This is not a bad thing; now the Frieze London fair can keep to its original course and stay true to its commitment to be younger and, hopefully, edgier.
In a sinking world economy, dollars will, in all fields, seek out the best values. The feeding frenzy and knee-jerk hunt for the hot, the new and the trendy will not come screeching to a halt, but it is definitely slowing down. Art collectors are bound to get smart and demand quality. Frieze has anticipated this shift and built an all-new venue, one that is both elegant and sophisticated. The decision to emasculate your own art fair by creating a new one must have been a tough one, but in the clash of the titan art fairs it was a smart bet, and it paid off. Frieze Masters could also work well in New York, where fairs of historical art are generally to be found in the fustier confines of the Park Avenue Armory. I hope to “see you real soon”!
-By Adam Lindemann