"A Profusion of Enlightenment" @nytimes by KEN JOHNSON

Here comes the sun. And what a relief! With the winter solstice behind us, the days getting longer and brighter, and the dawn of a new year just around the corner, it’s a happy time to think about the light and the darkness and what those two terms mean for art and life.

THROUGH THE GLASS DARKLY Among the sunniest artworks on view now in New York is Spencer Finch’s “A Certain Slant of Light” at the Morgan Library & Museum. For this immersive installation, Mr. Finch covered many of the glass panes of the museum’s airy four-story atrium with rectangular sheets of translucent colored film. Suspended high overhead in the middle of the space is a set of clear glass squares, each freely turning in response to ambient air currents. As they turn, they reflect the sunlight filtered through the colored films, creating a crystalline, prismatic play of colors.

It’s all immensely subtle; visitors may not even realize they’re in the middle of a site-specific artwork. The title, taken from the first line of a poem by Emily Dickinson, seems appropriate, as it suggests an exquisitely sensitive attunement to ordinary experience. If you don’t remember the poem, however, you may be surprised on rereading it; it’s actually very dark. Dickinson’s slanted light “oppresses like the Heft/Of cathedral Tunes” and gives “Heavenly Hurt.” It’s “the seal Despair — An imperial affliction.” The last lines are chilling:

“Tears Become ... Streams Become ...” at the Park Avenue Armory. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

When it goes, ’tis like the Distance

On the look of Death

You don’t sense in Mr. Finch’s installation anything like Dickinson’s psychic distress. That’s a problem. His work is pretty but thin; it could use some darker substance.

(“A Certain Slant of Light” runs through Aug. 23 at the Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street; 212-685-0008212-685-0008, themorgan.org.)

BLACK WATER UNDER A NIGHT SKY There’s plenty of darkness in “Tears Become ... Streams Become ...” a vast, magical installation by Douglas Gordon at the Park Avenue Armory. It consists of two grand pianos that seem to float on a hockey-rink-size expanse of black water. Mr. Gordon designed it as the setting for a program of water-related music by Ravel, Liszt and Debussy, among others, played by the pianist Hélène Grimaud.

A photograph of an Antarctic iceberg, part of Sebastião Salgado's "Genesis." Credit Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas images-Contact Press Images

The final performance took place last Sunday. Now the installation remains, with a player piano operating silently, as if a ghost were at the keys.

Illuminated by small ceiling lights like stars in the night sky, the installation has a haunting, nocturnal feeling. The glassy water’s surface mirrors the armory’s high, barrel-vaulted ceiling and its infrastructure, creating a breathtakingly expansive illusion of deep architectural space. In its vertiginous complexity, it’s like a vision by the 18th-century printmaker Piranesi. Although in reality only about two inches deep, the water appears to be of indeterminate depth. What’s beneath the surface is unknown, a possibly infinite darkness, which you might read as a psychological metaphor for the unconscious, whence spring inspirations of creative imagination.


THE LIGHT OF THE DIVINE There’s much darkness in Sebastião Salgado’s art, too. At the start of “Genesis,” his exhibition of more than 200 photographs at the International Center of Photography, there’s a spectacular black-and-white picture of a giant iceberg under a luminous sky of mottled clouds. It’s an amazing object. Rising from a flat, black ocean, it has sharp peaks and ridges, a great hole through part of it and, most improbably, a blocky formation resembling the top of a medieval castle towering high over the lower, craggy base.

The iceberg picture belongs to a project Mr. Salgado began in 2004 to seek out and photograph landscapes, seascapes, wild life and indigenous peoples that appear untouched by the effects of technological progress. Hence the biblical title “Genesis,” suggesting a prelapsarian state of nature. Thus framed, the light that so strikingly breaks through tumultuous clouds in many of Mr. Salgado’s landscapes has a divine cast to it; it’s the beneficent light of God pouring down over all things great and small. What’s not pictured but looms off-camera are shadows of what William Blake called the “dark satanic mills” of modern industry.

Sarvavid Album Leaf 18 from "The All-Knowing Buddha: A Secret Guide," at the Rubin Museum of Art. Credit Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp (Belgium), Rubin Museum of Art

Like Ansel Adams before him, Mr. Salgado aims to arouse environmentalist concern. He and his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, founded the Instituto Terra, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reforestation and environmental education. There’s something contradictory about Mr. Salgado’s project, though. The camera is, after all, a modern machine, and he uses machines to travel by land, water and air to the remote places he captures on film. He is himself a kind of technologically armed invader altering planetary ecology, however slightly or greatly, wherever he goes. But that dimension isn’t reflected in his seemingly innocent photographs, and so they’re less complexly thought-provoking — less fully enlightening — than they might be.

(“Genesis” runs through Jan. 11 at the International Center of Photography, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, at 43rd Street; 212-857-0000212-857-0000, icp.org.)

REFLECTED LIGHT, SILVERY AND ENIGMATIC There are many different kinds of enlightenment. Consider “The Flat Side of the Knife,” an installation by Samara Golden at MoMA PS 1. Standing at a railing where you look into the museum’s two-story-tall Duplex Gallery, you behold a confoundingly complicated interior architecture with furniture, stairways, musical instruments, wheelchairs and many other domestic items rendered in silvery, foil-clad foam board. Light bounces every which way, creating a kind of crystalline, 3-D Cubism. Far below — farther than seems really possible — you see an arrangement of chairs, a sofa and a colorful rug. Then, looking up, you see the same objects attached upside down to the ceiling. It turns out that the gallery’s floor is covered by a grid of large mirrors; what you see when you look down isn’t real but a reflection of what’s above. Everything is doubled, and what you think is up may really be down, and what you take to be real may be a virtual reflection of the real.

The installation includes two videos projected on wall-mounted screens, both showing ocean waves rhythmically lapping a sandy beach. The sound of the waves fills the gallery. The screens are like windows to the outdoors, and they also suggest something metaphysical beyond the constructed interior. Maybe this is what Ms. Golden means by her thoughts quoted in the exhibition’s introductory text panel: “I hope my work can be like a door that opens to other times or moods. Maybe we can see that this kind of door is possible, but we don’t yet know how to cross its threshold.”

(“The Flat Side of the Knife” runs through Aug. 30 at MoMA PS1, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, at 46th Avenue, Long Island City, Queens; 718-784-2084718-784-2084, momaps1.org.)

An image of galaxies receding from "Dark Universe," a new Hayden Planetarium space show. Credit American Museum of Natural History,

BY THE LIGHT OF A WHITE MOON, ENLIGHTENMENT You may recall Aldous Huxley’s treatise on mescaline-assisted mind expansion, “The Doors of Perception,” which takes its title from William Blake’s mystical aphorism: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

But how, exactly — barring the use of psychedelic drugs — might a person progress toward this sort of enlightenment? A fascinating and remarkably thorough manual for seekers of higher consciousness is on view at the Rubin Museum of Art in an exhibition called “The All-Knowing Buddha: A Secret Guide.” It presents 54 paintings that illustrate step-by-step instructions for followers of Tibetan Buddhism. Delicately painted on 10-inch-by-10-inch paper sheets, most of the pages depict a monk having fabulous visions in a verdant landscape.

The album is thought to have been commissioned by a Mongolian patron and executed by unidentified artists in a Chinese workshop in the 18th century. Acquired in 1923 by a European missionary working in Inner Mongolia, it now belongs to the Museum aan de Stroom in Antwerp, Belgium. Although the album has no written text, scholars have done a lot to make sense of its trippy imagery. Its most recent examiners, Karl Debreczeny and Elena Pakhoutova, both Rubin curators and organizers of the exhibition, have provided brief, lucid explanations for every page. Leaf 36, for example, represents “full and complete enlightenment” in the form of a white moon emanating rainbow-hued light waves. Ensconced on a great blue lotus that rests on an ornate hexagonal pedestal, it’s guarded by a pair of fierce, flaming demons who are like cosmic bouncers.

(“The All-Knowing Buddha” runs through April 13 at the Rubin Museum of Art, 150 West 17th Street, Chelsea; 212-620-5000212-620-5000, rubinmuseum.org.)

DARKNESS UNFATHOMABLE What does one who ascends to the level of the all-knowing Buddha know? That’s hard to say for an ordinary mortal, but it might be worth asking such an enlightened one if he or she could shed light on the mystery of dark matter. That’s the subject of “Dark Universe,” an entertaining and educational 30-minute movie projected on the domed ceiling of the Hayden Planetarium. Created for a popular audience, it conveys up-to-date knowledge about how the universe began, what it seems to be doing now and where it might be going.

Here we learn something that has so far stumped scientists: It seems that if you calculate all gravitational forces observably in play in the universe, you can’t explain how it is that the stars and galaxies are organized as they evidently are. Something must be exerting some kind of gravitational energy to keep things in place, but what that is has eluded detection by any and all human-made instruments. It neither gives off nor reflects any kind of electromagnetic radiation. Yet if scientific theories are correct, there must be a shocking amount of it: Only 5 percent of the universe is what we think of as ordinary matter. The rest is unfathomably dark.

The 10 Art News Stories of 2014 You Need to Know @artnet


Installation view of Richard Prince, "New Portraits," at Gagosian
Photo: Paddy Johnson

Looking back on some of the most popular stories from our first year in business (since March, that is), some of the stories that turned up surprised us, while the appearance of others at the top of the list heartened us. In an effort to share some of these, we began with the top 50 stories that drove the most traffic on the artnet News website all year long. From there, we sifted the pickings down to our top 10 favorites. To our minds, these are the stories that most had people talking. Thus, without further ado, here are the top 10 stories from artnet News in 2014:

1. Beloved Illustrator Blasted by Fans Over Ferguson Artwork: When illustrator Mary Engelbreit departed from her normal fare of cartoon depictions of apple-cheeked children to post a work on her Facebook page that reflected the turmoil in Ferguson, her fan base turned on her.

2. Ways of Seeing Instagram: In his nifty piece about Instagram and art theory, Ben Davis explores how Instagram, an app that's only four years old, is "dominating the art conversation as no purely art-related topic has."

3. Kara Walker's Sugar Sphinx Spawns Offensive Instagram Photos: One of the most buzzed-about exhibitions of the year was Kara Walker's "A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby," a mammoth Sphinx-like figure coated in sugar that was commissioned by Creative Time and staged at the Domino Sugar Factory. Intended to comment on the sugar cane trade, and to serve as a cultural critique of representations of black women throughout history, the work, which had exaggerated breasts, bottom, and vagina, created an unintentional uproar on Instagram—viewers took selfies sexualizing the work for their followers.

4. We Asked 20 Women "Is the Art World Biased?" Here's What They Said": The art world is presented as an industry where its professionals, both women and men, have more freedom to express themselves and share equally in the ability to take advantage of opportunities. But is that true? artnet News canvassed women collectors, dealers, curators, and advisers to find out.

5. World's Biggest Art Collector Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani Dies at Age 48: Once held to be the wealthiest and most powerful art collector in the world, Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani of Qatar's ruling family died suddenly at his home in London in November. Since then, stories have been unfolding about the enormous debt he has left in his wake.

6. Richard Prince Sucks: When Richard Prince took over the space behind the Gagosian gift shop with his Instagram portraits taken from the Instagram feeds of various celebrities (and created a new twist to his practice of appropriation), many critics had something to say about it. But none lambasted the lazy and simple artworks quite as deliciously as Paddy Johnson.

7. Meet 20 of the World's Most Innovative Art Collectors: From Theo Danjuma to Maria Baibakova, these collectors were chosen for their ability to set themselves apart in the practice of collecting artworks, whether for their highly specific focus, their environmental activism, or their Renaissance qualities.

8. Have Art Fairs Destroyed Art? Zombie Abstraction and Dumb Painting Ruled in Miami: With his hilarious spot-on observations, critic Christian Viveros-Fauné takes Art Basel in Miami Beach to task for catering to the "connoisseur class" and loading up on "shiny surfaces, stacks of joke paintings, and enough zombie abstraction to inspire several remakes of World War Z." A must-read for anyone who went down to Miami, and even a must-read for just anyone.

9. Why James Franco's Cindy Sherman Homage at Pace Is Not Just Bad But Offensive: "James Franco's new exhibition at Pace is bad." That's how former artnet News staffer Ben Sutton starts off his piece about James Franco's exhibition of works in which he recreated the well-known images of artist Cindy Sherman. And the skewering only gets more intense from there.

10. Kanye West Gives Kim Kardashian Nude Portrait as Wedding Gift: Kanye commissioned British street artist Bambi, the so-called female Banksy, to create a wedding gift for his Internet-breaking bride: a nearly-nude portrait titled Perfect Bitch, depicting Kardashian posing from behind wearing nothing but a tiny G-string and Louboutin heels. The artist's instructions were to create "something regal but typically Kim."

"Contemporary Art Sizzles in Shanghai" By AMY QIN

The Power Station of Art, the first state-owned contemporary art museum in China, is host to the 10th Shanghai Biennale. Credit Qilai Shen for The New York Times

SHANGHAI — Few knew what to expect of the Power Station of Art when it blew onto the contemporary art scene here in 2012. Just one year earlier, the Power Station — the first state-owned contemporary art museum in China — had been but a half-baked idea in the minds of local government officials intent on transforming Shanghai into an international cultural capital.

By the time the Power Station was set to make its debut by playing host to the ninth Shanghai Biennale, construction workers and artists alike were hurrying until the final hours to prepare the space, a colossal decommissioned electrical power plant, for the show. Despite last-minute efforts, the hastily assembled biennale — with its roughly installed artwork, missing or misprinted wall labels and poorly trained staff — made for a lackluster start, leaving many with questions about the museum’s sustainability.

Now, two years later, those doubts appear to be diminishing as the Power Station, one of the few public institutions in China dedicated to contemporary art, finds its footing in the flourishing contemporary art scene here.

At the opening of the 10th Shanghai Biennale last month, crowds streamed through the seven-story Power Station to take in works by more than 80 artists from 20 countries, centering on the theme “Social Factory.” Organized by the writer and curator Anselm Franke of Berlin, the show, which runs through March 31, displayed few of the technical and production issues that dogged the preceding edition.

“This biennale is really a landmark event for China,” said Chris Dercon, director of the Tate Modern.

It is the first time in the biennale’s 18-year history that the chief curator had been given free rein to choose the theme. The decision to allow Mr. Franke that latitude was made by the museum’s academic committee, which was recently reorganized and includes prominent international figures like Mr. Dercon and Homi K. Bhabha, a humanities professor at Harvard.

“We want the Shanghai Biennale to be more international,” said Li Xu, deputy director of the Power Station. “This is a new kind of cultural confidence.”

The current biennale, which has been well received by critics and those in the museum world, is the latest milestone for the Power Station after a string of successful exhibitions. Highlights have included a large-scale exhibition on Surrealism shipped in from the Pompidou Center in Paris, a major solo exhibition by the Chinese contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang sponsored by Infiniti, and a 30-year retrospective of portraits in Chinese contemporary art organized by Mr. Li. The Power Station has embraced its role as one of the few public institutions in China dedicated to contemporary art, developing educational outreach and training emerging curators.

“The museum is really changing,” said Larys Frogier, director of the Rockbund Art Museum, one of the many private museums that have emerged in Shanghai in the last few years. “The next challenge for the Power Station as a public museum is to build not only a collection but a strong vision about Chinese contemporary art.”


Whether museum officials can convince the public that a government-mediated vision of Chinese contemporary art is credible remains to be seen.

While negotiating with censors has long been accepted by most art institutions, the Power Station, as a public institution, is often subject to greater scrutiny and censorship. Several artists were banned from exhibiting in the latest edition of the Shanghai Biennale. Pak Sheung Chuen of Hong Kong, for example, was cut from the show just a few days after a so-called blacklist of artists — which included him — appeared on social media, according to Cosmin Costinas, a biennale co-curator. The artists are said to have been banned from working on the mainland because of participation in recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Another Chinese artist, Song Ta, was also prevented from participating by culture bureau officials even though a show of his works, which often address Communist Party corruption, ran unimpeded in a Beijing gallery.

“Censorship is part of being a public institution in China,” said Uli Sigg, one of the world’s leading collectors of contemporary Chinese art. This year works by Ai Weiwei were removed from an exhibition that Mr. Sigg helped organize for the Power Station about the history of a prize the collector created for Chinese contemporary art.

“The paradigm for contemporary art is to show things as they are, to document and to criticize,” Mr. Sigg said. “It doesn’t represent China in the way the government wants it to be represented to their people and to the outside world.”

Museum officials agree that escaping the shadow of politics is among the foremost challenges facing the Power Station.

“When people first look at us they see politics before they see art,” said Gong Yan, the museum director and former editor in chief of the Chinese-language magazine Art World. “We want to shift this attention so that when people come to see the exhibits they can see the individual value of the Chinese artists and not just the entire societal context.”

Another issue for the Power Station is funding. Although the government paid for the $64 million needed to convert the 450,000-square-foot space into a museum, the institution — like many other public museums today — still struggles to find enough money for operations. And with prices for contemporary art skyrocketing, a lack of financing has also hampered the museum’s ability to build a substantive collection.

“The biggest problem is that the government is great at taking care of the hardware but not the software,” Mr. Li said. While officials have demonstrated an increasing willingness to invest in contemporary art, he said, the “speed of change has not been as fast as you might guess.”

A foundation to solicit private donations is being established. In the meantime, money problems have also hurt the museum’s ability to attract professional staff members, officials say.

“When the government talks about culture in China they are always talking about construction,” said Qiu Zhijie,  who as chief curator of the ninth Shanghai Biennale experienced the museum’s growing pains firsthand. “No one thinks that culture is like planting a tree, where you have to continue watering it.”        

"Olafur Eliasson on How to Do Good Art" @tmagazine by NED BEAUMAN

On the eve of his exhibition at the new Fondation Louis Vuitton, the artist discusses his work — which includes a school, an architecture practice, a charity, a cookbook and a herd of Icelandic sheep, and which is meant to make the world a better place. Really.

Unfinished wooden sculptures at Studio Olafur Eliasson which occupies a converted brewery in Prenzlauer Berg Berlin
Unfinished wooden sculptures at Studio Olafur Eliasson, which occupies a converted brewery in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin. Credit Nigel Shafran

“Irony or not?” said Olafur Eliasson, looking around the meeting table. At his studio in Berlin, the answer is almost invariably “not,” but perhaps here an exception could be made. Eliasson and a few of his staff were finalizing the title of a new book chronicling the five-year history of the Institut für Raumexperimente, a small art school that Eliasson ran until February. The title under consideration was “How to Make the Best Art School in the World.” “It would be nice to piss off the very academic art schools,” Eliasson said. “I do think we had the best students in the world. But is irony really the economy I want to support?” In the end, Eliasson and his staff agreed that such good-natured braggadocio was pretty harmless in irony terms, although the cover would be designed so that at first glance the book would appear to be titled simply “How to Make.” Eliasson had also ensured that the book would include a photograph of a puppy that one of the students had met on a field trip. “Every book should have a picture of a puppy in it,” he told me, “because it just makes you so happy.”

If, like me, you operate under the assumption that irony is automatically more sophisticated than earnestness, it is confounding to enter Eliasson’s world. One of the most extensive private holdings of his work belongs to the advertising executive Christian Boros, whose appointment-only museum in the Mitte district, the Boros Collection, was originally built as a Nazi air-raid shelter but over the years has also functioned as a banana warehouse and a notoriously debauched techno club. This is the nature of Berlin, where things cascade with contradictory meanings, where “post-” is a ubiquitous prefix, where hipsters chase oblivion in the ruins of old dogmas. Irony is almost always a safe bet here, not least in the expat art scene. So you arrive at Studio Olafur Eliasson with certain expectations, and when you find that, on the contrary, it is one of the most earnest places you have ever been, you start looking around for the cracks.

Clockwise from top left Inside the Horizon a recently completed installation at the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris One-way colour tunnel at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 2007 Your waste of time 2013 for which chunks of ice were transported from Icelands largest glacier into MoMAs PS1 gallery Your wave is a three-dimensional mesh of light-emitting cables hung over the Palazzo Grassi on Venices Grand Canal in 2006
Clockwise from top left: ‘‘Inside the Horizon,’’ a recently completed installation at the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris; ‘‘One-way colour tunnel’’ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2007; ‘‘Your waste of time,’’ 2013, for which chunks of ice were transported from Iceland’s largest glacier into MoMA’s PS1 gallery; ‘‘Your wave is,’’ a three-dimensional mesh of light-emitting cables hung over the Palazzo Grassi on Venice’s Grand Canal in 2006. Credit Clockwise from top left: Iwan Baan; Ian Reeves/Courtesy of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Matthew Septimus; Santi Caleca.

Eliasson was born in Copenhagen to Icelandic parents in 1967. His most celebrated work to date is 2003’s “The weather project,” for which the Turbine Hall of London’s Tate Modern was converted into a gigantic, artificial solarium, attracting over the course of six months two million visitors, who often felt compelled to lie down on the floor, spelling out political messages with their bodies or just gazing at themselves and each other in the mirror on the ceiling. My own favorite work of Eliasson’s is “Your waste of time,” an installation at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City last year that consisted of several chunks of ice, detached by seasonal melting from an Icelandic glacier, that had been fished out of a lake, shipped to New York and installed in the refrigerated gallery. There they sat for nearly four months, crystalline but also surprisingly grimy, stout as rock but also frail enough to need their own microclimate — individual and real and lost.

A lot of Eliasson’s works are like this: irruptions of the elemental into a museum setting, as if the building had sprung some mythic leak. Others are harder to convey in a high-concept pitch. When I visited the studio, Eliasson was working on a commission for the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a major new museum that opened in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris last month. In addition to taking over the ground floor for the Fondation’s inaugural temporary show, he would be constructing a permanent “grotto” from which the Frank Gehry-designed building could be flatteringly viewed. Although Eliasson showed me plenty of sketches and models for the exhibition, I never quite formed a clear idea of what he was planning to do, apart from that it involved mirrors and curves and tinted glass. This side of Eliasson’s practice takes the form of a highly refined fun house, subjecting you to experiments in human perception that don’t sound like much until you see them firsthand. The intended effect often seems to be a pre-intellectual wonder, so that you will have basically the same experience as the 5-year-old next to you. There’s a reason why Eliasson feels an imperative to appeal to the broadest possible audience. He believes that in normal life we have a tendency to hurry along on autopilot, seldom questioning our deeper assumptions. Art, by goosing the senses, can make us more conscious of our positions in time, space, hierarchy, society, culture, the planet. In the long run, this heightened consciousness will result in change for the better — emotionally, socially, politically.

Clockwise from left The weather project of 2003 which drew more than two million visitors to the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern Your rainbow panorama built on top of the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark in 2007 an interior viewemAndrew Dunkley  Marcus Leith Ole Hein Pedersen Studio Olafur Eliassonem
Clockwise from left: ‘‘The weather project’’ of 2003, which drew more than two million visitors to the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern;  ‘‘Your rainbow panorama,’’ built on top of the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark in 2007; an interior view. Andrew Dunkley & Marcus Leith; Ole Hein Pedersen; Studio Olafur Eliasson. Credit

In other words, Eliasson has a faith in the improving power of art that has been out of fashion since Victorian times. But his ambitions aren’t bounded by his studio. He is on friendly terms with Bill Gates, Kofi Annan and Michael Bloomberg, and regularly attends the World Economic Forum in Davos to discuss public policy with the people who make it. “I don’t go there to meet world leaders,” he joked. “I go to become a world leader!” In fact, he already talks like a politician much of the time, with a habit of disappearing into a haze of generalities and wonk-speak and anecdotes of uncertain relevance. The concepts he draws on — inclusivity and engagement and trust and so on — seem to have been filtered to ensure that you could no more be offended by his statements than you could be offended by the colored lights he puts in museums. Yes, he has given a TED talk.

And yet the longer I spent with Eliasson, the harder I found it to cling to my cynicism, because he’s such a good advertisement for sincerity. One of Eliasson’s friends, the author Jonathan Safran Foer, told me over the phone that he found spending time with Eliasson “overwhelming, whether overwhelming in the sense of at times feeling almost too much, or overwhelming in the sense of being really moving. You sit down with Olafur for a meal and he picks up the fork and stares at it for a moment and you think, Oh my god, he’s either inventing a new fork or wondering how to get forks to people who don’t have forks. ” He added: “After I’ve spent an hour with him I feel like I need a nap, but it’s because he has more curiosity than anyone I’ve ever met, and a greater belief in a person’s ability to be useful and to change things. Somehow he lives his entire life with the urgency of someone who just walked out of the doctor’s office with a dire prognosis.”

Clockwise from top left cooking using the Studio Olafur Eliasson cookbook Brooklyn Bridge as seen during Eliassons The New York City Waterfalls project in 2008 from the Grey Sheep series 2013 featuring Eliassons own herd of Icelandic sheep bred to rehabilitate the Icelandic economy at the studio two of the 90 staff members who assist the artist an advertisement for the Little Sun a solar-powered LED lamp distributed worldwide
Clockwise from top left: cooking using the Studio Olafur Eliasson cookbook; Brooklyn Bridge as seen during Eliasson’s ‘‘The New York City Waterfalls’’ project in 2008; from the ‘‘Grey Sheep’’ series, 2013, featuring Eliasson’s own herd of Icelandic sheep, bred to rehabilitate the Icelandic economy; at the studio, two of the 90 staff members who assist the artist; an advertisement for the ‘‘Little Sun,’’ a solar-powered LED lamp distributed worldwide Credit Clockwise from top left: Fg | Architektur & Indechs; Julienne Schaer/Courtesy Public Art Fund; Studio Olafur Eliasson; Nigel Shafran; Maddalena Valeri.

Eliasson has 90 people working for him. Few of them have job titles. Four days a week they all eat a healthy vegetarian lunch together in the light-filled canteen upstairs, with a rotating schedule for washing the dishes afterward. Initially, I found the atmosphere at the studio rather too good to be true, like a hippie cult before night falls. But when I joined Eliasson for lunch on my second day at the studio, I sat there eating my roasted carrots and enviously contemplating how much better my life would be if I, too, received that bounty of vegetables and sunlight and intelligent chatter. Sebastian Behmann, who heads Eliasson’s architecture practice, told me that you can track how long someone has worked at Studio Olafur Eliasson by how much healthier they look every year (and indeed many people have stayed on for a decade or more). Last year, Studio Olafur Eliasson published its own 368-page cookbook of sustainable vegetarian recipes.

This is just one of the unpredictable byproducts of the studio, which often resembles a sort of ongoing Apollo project. Others have included the art school, a full-scale architecture practice, a series of publications, a charity and a herd of Icelandic sheep. As motley as these pursuits may sound, Eliasson would argue that they all emerge from a single mind-set, and that they’ve all been made viable by his years of practical experience as an artist. “If you can make a show in Venice, which is the most difficult damned thing one can do, not just because working with Italians is a mess, but also because you’re in a city on water in the middle of nowhere and getting a hammer and a nail is impossible . . . you can make a show on the moon,” he told me. “So as an artist, you become an entrepreneur by definition. . . . The art world underestimates its own relevance when it insists on always staying inside the art world. Maybe one can take some of the tools, methodologies, and see if one can apply them to something outside the art world.”

Eliasson at work
 Eliasson at work. Credit Nigel Shafran

For instance, sheep. “It started with the financial crisis,” Eliasson told me when I asked about his herd. “Björk said everybody must think innovatively. So we started buying up lambs to rescue the Icelandic economy — but I think we ended up burdening it! My mistake was I wanted to turn it into an art project. Still, it was a nice excuse to go to the countryside and drink vodka and play with the sheep.” Eliasson began breeding lambs whose meat would be particularly well-suited to Moroccan tagines, with the intention of selling diced, marinated lamb to delis in Iceland. “I just couldn’t convince my partners that people in Iceland would eat tagine.” In the end, the lambs were slaughtered, their meat frozen and their wool knitted into 20 “secular prayer mats.”

Other ventures have been less quixotic. After they adopted two children from Addis Ababa, Eliasson and his wife, the art historian Marianne Krogh Jensen, started 121Ethiopia, a project that works to improve the lives of children in Ethiopian orphanages. 121Ethiopia operates on a modest scale. Little Sun, Eliasson’s other philanthropic enterprise, does not. Developed with the Danish engineer Frederik Ottesen, the Little Sun is a very efficient solar-powered LED lamp, cheerful in design and lightweight enough to wear around the neck on a lanyard. Since the lamp’s debut in 2012, more than 200,000 have been distributed, over a third of them to regions in Africa with no electricity, the rest at venues like Tate Modern or Coachella. While Eliasson was still discussing the Institut für Raumexperimente book, I was taken upstairs to the Little Sun workshop to meet Felix Tristan Hallwachs, who heads the project. “We’re not going to solve the Ukraine crisis, we’re not going to solve IS [Islamic State],” he said. “But in theory if everyone has a light at home and can study, then you have less chaos in the world, probably.”

One of Eliassons hanging sculptures in the studio
One of Eliasson’s hanging sculptures in the studio. Credit Nigel Shafran

If there isn’t much irony at Studio Olafur Eliasson, I came to feel, it’s not because irony is proscribed. Irony doesn’t offend anyone and it doesn’t go over anyone’s head. Irony is simply not required, because the things you can achieve with crusading sincerity are self-evidently so much better. At worst, you could argue that Little Sun makes Eliasson’s talk about the power of museum art look a bit vaporous by comparison. But at Studio Olafur Eliasson the distinction between art and direct intervention is barely even recognized. Hallwachs told me: “Olafur’s work uses media from photography to oil paint to all kinds of installations and architecture. Now business is part of the range of media as well.” Eliasson told me that he was hoping to present a work at the next G7 conference that would evaluate the German public’s degree of trust in Chancellor Angela Merkel and perhaps in the process inspire a renewal of the European relationship with Africa. I asked him whether, in order to achieve such an ambitious and specific political objective he would need to make a new type of work, something more targeted, more explicit. Possibly, he replied — but he would be just as likely to bring along something like “Riverbed,” which consists of a riparian landscape constructed inside the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen from 180 tons of Icelandic bluestone. For Eliasson, art need never be marginal, and art need never be just a carrier for a message. Art can change the world with the sheer intensity of its art-ness. Or, perhaps, by helping to get the artist in a room with the energy minister of Nigeria.

If Eliasson had his way, the same “everyone’s invited!” quality that makes his work so appealing to institutions might sometimes be pushed to extremes that would leave even those institutions flustered. Before I left the studio, I related to Eliasson something that happened to me in July last year at Warm Up, the Saturday afternoon dance party held in the courtyard of MoMA PS1. It was oppressively hot and muggy on the outdoor dance floor, and halfway through the afternoon I had the idea of going inside to spend a few minutes with “Your waste of time,” the piece with the chunks of ice, to cool off. Arriving at the gallery, however, my friends and I found that it had been locked for the duration of the event, so we could do no more than press ourselves against the chilly door. When I told Eliasson this story, he looked genuinely pained. “What a pity!” he kept saying. “What a pity! I would have left that door open.” But would he really have wanted drunken revelers slithering over this ancient ice that he’d imported from thousands of miles away? “If the ice melts and disappears — well, maybe it’s beautiful that there was once an iceberg, and then there was a party and now the iceberg is gone.” He pointed out that this would have been an excellent metaphor for man-made climate change. “People underestimate how robust art is.” He added: “If we don’t believe that creativity as a language can be as powerful as the language of the politicians, we would be very sad — and I would have failed. I am convinced that creativity is a fierce weapon.”

“Inside the Horizon,” a specially commissioned grotto by Olafur Eliasson, is now on view at the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. An exhibition of Eliasson’s work, the inaugural show at the Fondation, will open on Dec. 17 and run until Feb. 16, 2015.

The Fondation Louis Vuitton Opens at Last


The massive private art museum dreamed up by the LVMH chairman and prolific contemporary-art collector Bernard Arnault and designed by the starchitect Frank Gehry debuts on Oct. 27.

"The New Dealer" @tmagazine by Jonathan Griffin

David Kordansky might not be the biggest player in the L.A. gallery scene, but his manic enthusiasm and seemingly genuine determination to draw attention to underappreciated artists make him the most interesting by far.

strongINNER CIRCLEstrong Kordansky center with several artists he represents from left John Mason Rashid Johnson Kathryn Andrews Jonas Wood Mary Weatherford Elad Lassry Anthony Pearson Ricky Swallow Thomas Lawson and Lesley Vance
INNER CIRCLE Kordansky (center) with several artists he represents, from left: John Mason, Rashid Johnson, Kathryn Andrews, Jonas Wood, Mary Weatherford, Elad Lassry, Anthony Pearson, Ricky Swallow, Thomas Lawson and Lesley Vance. Credit Elena Dorfmann

There is little in the world that David Kordansky enjoys more than talking about art. According to the artists he represents and the collectors to whom he sells, this is his gift. The artist Rashid Johnson, whom Kordansky has represented since 2009, said he can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he and Kordansky have spoken about sales. There is no doubt that Kordansky, who is 37, can sell art like few other dealers, but he prefers to leave the closing of the deal to his staff. The venality of the current art business dismays him. Even in the 11 years since he opened his first gallery in L.A.’s Chinatown, the market has become bloated beyond recognition, he said, especially in the auction houses of New York and London. “I believe in art much more than I believe in the art world,” he told me last summer in the kitchen of his home in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife, the artist Mindy Shapero, and their two young children.


10 of David Kordansky’s Top Cultural Influences

As he christens his new space in Los Angeles, he shares his creative touchstones — including several artists he doesn’t represent but admires nonetheless.

In person, Kordansky is almost compulsively candid, by turns hectoring and vulnerable, outspoken and shy. “He wears his heart on his sleeve,” is the phrase I heard over and over again from the people who know him best. Candor can, of course, also be a form of performance. Collectors who enjoy the company of artists appreciate his eccentric, intimate manner, which make them feel like the chosen few.

Beneath his gym-fit, boyish exterior and positive, Californian outlook, his persistence and gritty ambition are evident still. He may disdain aspects of the art market, but the success of his business is obviously a source of pride. “I didn’t come from money. I’ve bootstrapped every step of the way,” he said.

Kordansky’s latest gamble is on a 12,705-square-foot gallery — designed by Kulapat Yantrasast, head of the architecture firm wHY — which recently opened in a nondescript midcity neighborhood halfway between the L.A. art hubs of Highland Avenue and Culver City, where his last two spaces were situated. With its bow-truss ceilings and abundance of light, the former martial arts studio and car dealership now exudes an ambience of cloistered calm. Comprised of two equally sized galleries, a viewing room and on-site art storage, the space also boasts a lounge for artists and their families, and private gardens for staff. Kordansky has always aimed to create “a culture of ownership” among his gallery’s employees. In return, he receives a degree of loyalty rare in the notoriously factious and gossipy gallery world.

Kordansky was born in Biloxi, Miss., to American Jewish parents; his father was a doctor and his mother a family therapist. In the late ’90s he was accepted at the small but esteemed Hartford Art School. In 2000, he moved to the West Coast to study in the graduate art program at the California Institute of the Arts under conceptual artists including Michael Asher, Charles Gaines and Martin Kersels. (Kordansky now represents the painter Thomas Lawson, the dean of the art school.) After college, he continued to make installations, perform and curate exhibitions of friends’ work with his classmate, Jeff Kopp. From the outset he approached running a gallery as a creative project, perhaps more like an artist than a businessman, and soon became known as the primary dealer for what has been called “the post-Mike Kelley generation.”

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    Washington, D.C.-based artist whose paintings, spanning the 1960s to the present day, had been much neglected prior to Kordansky’s interest. ‘‘Wide Narrow,’’ 1972. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, Calif.
    Israeli-born artist who often appropriates or digitally modifies images, transforming them into something more like sculpture. ‘‘Untitled (Boot A),’’ 2013. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, Calif.
    One of the Californian artists whose work helped bring ceramics to museums in the late 1950s. Sculptures from the exhibition ‘‘Crosses, Figures, Spears, Torques,’’ 2013. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, Calif.
    Known for his colorful, flat interiors, often depicting his own Los Angeles studio, as well as for paintings of boxers and basketball and baseball players. ‘‘Kitchen with Aloe Plant,’’ 2013. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, Calif.
    Artist who refers to aspects of African-American culture in paintings and sculptures made from materials such as black wax, mirrors, zebra skins and shea butter. ‘‘Un-American Idol,’’ 2014. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, Calif.
    Painter whose abstract works, made by building up thin washes of paint and attaching strips of neon, are inspired by California’s coastal landscapes. ‘‘Neptune’s Net,’’ 2013. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, Calif.
    Australian-born artist who casts his small sculptures, made from cardboard and rope, in painted bronze. ‘‘Magnifying Glass with Rope No. 1,’’ 2014. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, Calif.
    Los Angeles-based painter whose small-scale, luminous abstract paintings are inspired by traditional still lifes and landscapes. ‘‘Untitled,’’ 2014. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, Calif.
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Stories abound from those early days of Kordansky’s limitless, sometimes maniacal enthusiasm for his artists. The collector Mera Rubell remembers meeting him in 2006. Kordansky was determined to show her and her husband, Don, the work of a young artist he was representing, Aaron Curry, while Curry was on vacation. Reached by phone in Hawaii, Curry gave them permission to break into his studio, where Kordansky was soon pulling sculptures out of boxes and expounding on the artist’s ideas. The following morning — at 6 a.m., while shuttling the couple to the airport — Kordansky took them to meet Thomas Houseago, another sculptor he had recently begun to champion, who laid out his work in a studio borrowed for the occasion. Rubell says she was “blown away.” She and her husband later invited the two artists and their dealer to visit their museum in Miami. The trip was an inspiring and formative experience for the three men, who stayed up late into the night, drinking and arguing about Picasso, classicism and figuration in sculpture.

Kordansky’s passionate nature has not always worked in his favor. His professional relationship with Houseago buckled under the weight of its own intensity in 2009, when the artist left David Kordansky Gallery — a loss Rubell described as “a huge wake-up call” for the young dealer. Houseago finally settled with the international powerhouse Hauser & Wirth in 2011. “There was this abundance of youthful energy bouncing off each other that, in the end, was bigger than both of us,” Kordansky said ruefully. (Houseago agreed, but noted, “I can confidently say my career would not be where it is now without him.”)

The majority of his artists have stuck by Kordansky, however. His very first exhibition in Chinatown included Matthew Brannon, Patrick Hill, Will Fowler, Lesley Vance and William E. Jones, all of whom continue to show with the gallery. Brannon told me that Kordansky’s often blunt manner can be an asset, despite artists’ often fragile egos: “My therapist loves Dave. He says, ‘You always know where you stand with this guy; he treats you right, he’s telling you the problem.’ ”

Kordansky seated at center with a group of his artists in Los Angeles
Kordansky (seated at center) with a group of his artists in Los Angeles. Credit Elena Dorfmann

Kordansky now represents over 30 artists and counting, hence the need for space. He is still far from being the biggest fish in the L.A. pond — nor, perhaps, would he want to be. He prefers to avoid competition with his neighbors, who include Regen Projects near Highland Avenue, Blum & Poe in Culver City, Overduin & Co. in Hollywood, Marc Foxx, also a stone’s throw from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the power players Gagosian, Matthew Marks and Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, the last of which will take over a former flour mill in Downtown in 2015. When asked which galleries he feels a kinship toward, he instead looks across the Atlantic: to Johann König in Berlin, Standard (Oslo) in Norway or Herald Street in London. The art world loves youth, and Kordansky currently occupies the sweet spot between blue-chip establishment and cutting edge.

In contrast to his imposing new gallery space, Kordansky’s home is modest, perfectly scaled to a family of four and designed for living, not for entertaining. Kordansky grows kale, Meyer lemons and Persian cucumbers in the garden. He gave me the tour with the eagerness of a child showing off new toys. Succulents exploded from earthy ceramic planters made by Robert Maxwell and David Cressey on the deck outside the kitchen. In addition to pieces by artists Kordansky represents — Valentin Carron, Larry Johnson, Elad Lassry — the interior was furnished with Brazilian and Mexican Modernist pieces in rosewood and leather, and ceramics were displayed beside rows of art books on floor-to-ceiling shelves. A painted sculpture of a nude trapeze artist by the Japanese Pop artist Keiichi Tanaami sat on a coffee table, and drawings of outlandish figures by the Chicago Imagist Karl Wirsum hung on one wall.

Kordansky appreciates the Californian tendency to disregard hierarchies between creative disciplines; his gallery represents artists such as Ruby Neri and the Geneva-based Mai-Thu Perret, who both work in the tradition of John Mason, one of the Californian artists who, in the late 1950s, first brought ceramics into contemporary art galleries. (Mason, now 87, joined David Kordansky Gallery last year.) About half of his roster is made up of Angelenos, and a Californian sensibility infuses the program — not only in its emphasis on the region’s art-historical legacy, but also, more broadly, in its bias toward esoterica and marginalia, domestic themes and profane materials.

Kordansky likes to talk about “curating one’s life.” Shouldn’t we consider the architecture, the objects we handle, the furniture we sit on and the artwork we look at all as part of a unified aesthetic experience? He showed me a shelf of tiny Doyle Lane vases, each glazed a different color and texture. He would always rather stand in front of an object than look at a screen, and is particularly skeptical about what has recently been labeled “post-Internet” art — work made from Internet memes, online avatars, stock photos, patents and 3D scans. “We don’t even want to talk about the world any more,” he said. “We’re disconnected from core emotionality.”

In other places, talk of lifestyle is always related to an embarrassment about class, but in L.A. it’s an ongoing philosophical discussion. “The exterior of my life kind of runs itself,” Kordansky admitted over a lunch of grilled chicken and kale salad. “Now it’s about the interior, the spiritual. It’s about getting at the core of my existence — which is about my family.” There is little distinction in his mind between his professional and personal lives, or between his tastes in art and his philosophy of being. “It’s about having an open, holistic view rather than a myopic view,” he said. “Here culture is more attached to nature.” The greenery beyond the wide window, the home-grown salad and the stoneware planters seemed to reinforce his point.

Two years ago, Kordansky undertook a pilgrimage to the D.C. studio of Sam Gilliam, an 80-year-old African-American painter of the Washington Color School. Gilliam never achieved the level of recognition that his peers from the 1960s such as Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis did, in part because the art establishment didn’t know what to make of a black artist who refused to make work about race. Kordansky had been a fan of Gilliam’s radically innovative, unstretched, stained canvases for years, and had shared his enthusiasm with Rashid Johnson when they first met in 2009. (Johnson, who didn’t know many dealers — let alone young white dealers — who were interested in Gilliam’s work, was impressed, and agreed to join Kordansky’s gallery himself.) The pair asked Gilliam to do an exhibition in L.A., which Johnson would curate. They feared they were overreaching, and when they put their proposal to Gilliam in his studio, they thought he was laughing at them. In fact, they realized, he was crying.

As Kordansky told me this story, I saw that he was also close to tears. Since first working with Gilliam, he has placed his paintings in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rose Art Museum in Massachusetts. Without Gilliam, he said, the new gallery would probably not have been possible. There is nothing Kordansky is prouder of than having been able to bring him back into the spotlight. “The work has done for other people what it did for us,” he said. “There is no money in the world that can buy an experience like that.”

Correction: September 21, 2014
An article last Sunday about the Los Angeles art dealer David Kordansky, which recounted the key role he played in bringing the paintings of the 80-year-old African-American artist Sam Gilliam back into the spotlight, erroneously included a product among the types of things Gilliam bartered his work for at a lower point in his career. While he exchanged art for services such as dental work, he never traded art for laundry detergent.

"Speculation Swirls as New Christie’s Boss Gets Going" @wsj by Kelly Crow

Patricia Barbizet Christies new chief executive and boss Franois Pinault at a Jeff Koons exhibition in Paris in November                                       

Patricia Barbizet, Christie’s new chief executive, and boss François Pinault at a Jeff Koons exhibition in Paris in November. French Select/Getty Images

French billionaire François Pinault popped into the London headquarters of auction house Christie’s one day in 1994 to see some art. He was accompanied by one of his employees, Patricia Barbizet, who helped translate, recalls Brett Gorvy, the Christie’s expert who greeted them.

Last week, Mr. Pinault stunned the art world by promoting Ms. Barbizet to chief executive of Christie’s, which he bought in 1998. “I had no idea how far she’d go,” says Mr. Gorvy, now Christie’s chairman and international head of postwar and contemporary art. “The translator is now the boss.”

The move has unleashed a swirl of speculation about the 248-year-old auction house’s future, including a potential restructuring. The 59-year-old Ms. Barbizet wouldn’t confirm or deny that possibility during a senior-level staff meeting Wednesday in New York to introduce herself and other members of her new executive team.

“Give us a few days to look around,” she said, according to one person at the meeting.

Ms. Barbizet and Mr. Pinault declined to be interviewed for this article. She isn’t expected to speak publicly until Christie’s reports financial results in January. The auction house is part of Mr. Pinault’s private holding company, Groupe Artemis, where she is chief executive.

Some outsiders think she might run Christie’s only until Mr. Pinault hires a longer-term replacement for Steven Murphy, who stepped down as chief executive last week. Ms. Barbizet was widely known as a supporter of Mr. Murphy, who has said he left by mutual agreement. Some outsiders believe he clashed with Mr. Pinault. Mr. Murphy wouldn’t comment.

Ms. Barbizet has worked for Mr. Pinault since 1989 but isn’t well-known among the art establishment. Executives promoted since last week’s shake-up are longtime Christie’s auctioneers who enjoy the loyalty of employees and know the firm’s top collectors far better than she does.

Despite a calm, soft-spoken demeanor, Ms. Barbizet has a reputation as an efficient, powerful deal maker for her demanding boss. In 1999, Ms. Barbizet, who is French, helped carry out takeovers of Gucci and a stable of perfume brands in less than a month.

As Christie’s chairman, she controls approval of budgets, major deals and bonuses, according to employees.

Despite surging sales in the global art market, profits at Christie’s have been shrinking. Last year, the auction house sold a record $5.9 billion of art and collectibles at auction, up from $5.3 billion in 2012.

But profits fell to $122.6 million in 2013 from $153 million in 2012, according to financial statements filed by Arok International SA, a holding company owned by Mr. Pinault. The overall profit margin on art sales declined to 10.7% from 15.2%. In contrast, rival Sotheby’s boosted its profit margin to 15.2% from 14.1% in 2013 while selling $5.1 billion of art.

"Roberta Smith’s Top Art Shows of 2014: Gober, Koons and More" @nytimes by Roberta Smith

There are many ways to parse the highs and lows of the year just ending. Among the more uplifting events was, for example, the Detroit Institute of Arts’ being rescued from the city’s predatory creditors — and also from city ownership. Another was the large and fabulous assortment of Cubist works given by the collector Leonard A. Lauder to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the most important gifts in the museum’s 144-year history. Among the lows was the Met’s clumsy redesign of its three-block-long plaza along Fifth Avenue. (Never mind who paid for it.) The deepest low: the needless destruction of the building formerly known as the American Folk Art Museum by the Museum of Modern Art.

But one of the most memorable aspects of 2014 was the unusually high success rate among New York museums in the design and installation of exhibitions of contemporary art. The routinely dull arrangement of exhibitions is something you learn to live with in this town, where museum space is at a premium, and gallery design is often uninspired.        



But this year was different. There were several shows in which art and the surrounding architecture were seen to best — or at least much better than usual — advantage. Sometimes, the design and placement seemed almost laugh-out-loud serendipitous. The Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition “Zero: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-60s” a survey of adventuresome postwar European art, fits its spiral container with rare perfection (the show runs until Jan. 7). Art and architecture seem both radical and quaint in equal part, which makes sense: around half the art on view dates from 1957-62, the very years during which the Guggenheim’s building was completed and inaugurated.

Not surprisingly, several of these shows were monographic efforts in which artists had some or a lot of say in the show’s layout. At the Whitney, Jeff Koons and the curator Scott Rothkopf fashioned the building into a Koonsarama of considerable clarity and pacing. The layout opened yet another window onto ways Marcel Breuer’s big boxy volumes can be divided up and viewers routed through them.

The year’s most stunning transformation of space occurred when the Modern (and its photography curator Roxana Marcoci) gave the photo-Conceptualist Christopher Williams apparent free rein over the survey of his obsessively self-conscious art. He proceeded to work magic with one of its most hopeless spaces: a dead-end shoe box on the museum’s sixth floor that has done well with historical material (Gauguin and Seurat, for example) but not with much of anything of a 20th- or 21st-century nature. Covering a few walls with print, Mr. Williams layered together the exhibition with elements of its catalog and checklist as well as vestiges of previous shows in the gallery. It was a thicket of self-reference, but whether you deciphered it all or not, the actual show’s spatial precision and expansiveness were a revelation, achieved in part by keeping the artworks somewhat sparse.

Jeff Koons’s “Play-Doh” at his retrospective at the Whitney. Credit Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

In October, Robert Gober’s retrospective, overseen by Ann Temkin, who heads the Modern’s painting and sculpture department, added to the museum’s short winning streak. No surprise, an overtly Goberesque sense of spareness and quiet prevailed, in keeping with this sculptor’s installation pieces as well as the Charles Burchfield survey that he organized at the Whitney a couple of years back. The Gober exhibition unfolds (until Jan. 18) throughout the museum’s atrium and the second-floor galleries usually reserved for post-1980 works from the permanent collection, and it makes them look better than they ever have.

Other memorable museum-installation moments this year include the survey of the artist Chris Ofili at the New Museum, which was overseen by Massimiliano Gioni, the museum’s artistic director, and has some of the perfection of the Guggenheim’s “Zero” exhibition. Divided into distinct bodies of work in accordance with the museum’s architectural layout, the show seems also to have installed itself. It is one of the first times the museum’s galleries have escaped the inherent grimness of their proportions and lack of windows.

And at the Brooklyn Museum, hardly known for illuminating exhibition design, the darkened “Killer Heels” (until Feb. 15) brings a fitting sense of glamour and remarkably successful spatial flow to another dead-end gallery, while the Judith Scott retrospective (until March 29) accentuates the ingenious color sense of this artist’s yarn-wrapped sculptures to sparkling effect with an arrangement against traditional white walls. (It was orchestrated by Catherine J. Morris, of the museum’s Sackler Center for Feminist Art, and Matthew Higgs, director of White Columns.)

Scrutinizing “Kodak Three Point Reflection Guide ©1968, Eastman Kodak Company, 1968 (Meiko laughing) Vancouver, B.C. April 6, 2005,” at “Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness” at the Modern. Credit Jake Naughton/The New York Times

Of course, beneficial elucidations of space are never limited to big-name museums. Four occurring elsewhere this year that will stick in my mind include Darren Bader’s “The Show Is Three Shows,” a combination of found-object artworks and borrowed photographs evenly distributed around the walls and across the floors of the Andrew Kreps Gallery in Chelsea last spring. Another was “Macho Man Tell It to My Heart: Collected by Julie Alt,” an exhilarating exhibition of contemporary works accumulated by Ms. Ault, an inveterate alternative-art worlder, organized at SoHo’s Artists Space, where, for better and for worse, every show is some kind of departure from the exhibition form.

In Kai Matsumiya’s hole-in-the-wall gallery on the Lower East Side, Rainer Ganahl’s installation “El Mundo,” a double video projection, was based on an ad hoc performance by classically trained musicians at the unheated El Mundo discount store in Spanish Harlem in winter, amid only slightly distracted shoppers. It created a kind of reverie of art and determination in the conflation of two quite different spaces, uptown and down. And still open for viewing is the transporting exhibition devoted to Greer Lankton’s heroic, gender-bending life and work, which seems to all but float in a series of all-but-invisible vitrines at Participant Inc., through Dec. 21.

"Let the Peter Marino exhibit mess with your head" by Anne Tschida

Detail from Manolo Yllera  Peter Marinos Double Portrait

Detail from Manolo Yllera, Peter Marino’s “Double Portrait.”

While the highlights of Art Basel week usually include some of the top-quality artworks at the various fairs, this year two locally presented exhibits competed with the best of them.

Unfortunately, “Auto Body,” a temporary exhibit in a former auto mechanic shop on Bay Road in South Beach, produced by Spinello Projects, is no longer up. But it’s worth giving it a mention, as it may (and should) travel, and even the New York Times gave it a shout out on its Arts section cover during the week. Curated by three women and featuring video and performance from 35 local and international female artists, it was outstanding. The videos in particular from two Israelis, and several from black women, were mesmerizing. In the space that was open on two sides, allowing a nice breeze to blow through, you could take your time with the headphones and the videos, moving from one mini station to the next in a leisurely manner. The performances took place twice a day, and also addressed (sometimes in graphic fashion) the nature of the “body,” the status and, yes, the power of women.

At the Bass Museum, “One Way: Peter Marino” will be up until May. Do not miss it. One could view it as a monumental exercise in self indulgence from the architect, collector and patron; or as a massing of incredible art, but either way, it will leave you overwhelmed in a good way.

Installation from Gregor Hildebrandt

Installation from Gregor Hildebrandt.

First off, the entry up the often cumbersome ramp is an exhibit in itself, draped with black videotape strips from Jean Cocteau’s 1950s film Orphée, a site-specific work from Gregor Hildebrandt. It guides you through a sampling of Marino’s collection from the likes of Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. This shimmering, tunnel-like intro then opens up to the rest of the exhibit, where the ceilings seem to tower above you, filled with art stacked to the roof. A huge collection of Robert Mapplethorpe photos take over one room; various profiles by famed artists of the very distinctive Marino, in his trademark black biker and chaps gear, in another room. Another section shows off the outlandish architectural creations of Marino, including an entire casino-island in Singapore. And it culminates with gargantuan – there is no better word – paintings of Anselm Kiefer. If at any point in the tour of the exhibit you are looking down, you’ve missed it. There’s a cathedral feel to the whole thing, an intentional “wow” creating momentum that builds throughout.

One Way: Peter Marino” runs through May 3 at the Bass Museum of Art, 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; www.bassmuseum.org.

"Art Collectors Predict ‘Stampede’ to Cuba" @wsj by Kelly Crow

With the U.S. and Cuba restoring diplomatic ties, some art-world cognoscenti are betting that the tiny island could become the next hot corner of the global art market


Kcho  De le serie Puntos Cardinales Al borde del abismo  2007
Manuel Mendive  The Sons of Water Talking to A Fish  2001
Roberto Fabelo  Chicharrn  2012
Juan Pablo Ballester  F-I-D-E-L  1994
Lazarro Saavedra  The Sacred Heart  1995
Tonel  Self-Portrait Eating a Rat  1997
Yoan Capote  Protocol  2000
Kcho  De le serie Puntos Cardinales Al borde del abismo  2007

With the U.S. and Cuba restoring diplomatic ties, some art-world cognoscenti are betting that the tiny island could become the next hot corner of the global art market.

Collectors in the U.S. have been circling—and collecting—Cuban art for years, thanks to a little-known exception to the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba that makes it legal for Americans to buy Cuban art, which the U.S. government classifies as cultural assets (unlike, say, rum or cigars).

Now, collectors like Miami’s Howard Farber say they expect American art lovers to “stampede” to Cuba’s studios and galleries as soon as it becomes easier for them to travel and shop there. “I believe Cuban art has been a best-kept secret among a few collectors,” Mr. Farber said, “and now that Cuba is opening up to us I think more people will discover a genre that’s fresh and great.”

Prices for Cuban art began climbing during the recession, driven by collectors like Mr. Farber and Miami-based philanthropist Ella Cisneros as well as major museums like London’s Tate. Currently, prices for works by Cuba’s living art stars like Yoan Capote, Carlos Garaicoia and the conceptual art duo Los Carpinteros swing between $5,000 and $400,000 apiece.

Cuban art embodies a mix of Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences and motifs. Wifredo Lam, who died in 1982, is considered Cuba’s Picasso; Sotheby’s sold his 1944 work, “Ídolo (Oya/Divinité de l’air et de la mort),” for $4.6 million two years ago, a record price for the artist.

Cuban artists tend to favor found objects like weathered woods and scrap metals. Cuban art also has long addressed themes specific to the island, such as isolation and the sea: Rafts, towers and oars are frequent symbols. Political criticism tended to be depicted in coded imagery to sidestep censors; lately, more art has tried to address global concerns like immigration and the economy.

Miami collector Steven Eber said he plans to keep an eye on Cuban art to see if its artists experiment with different motifs should closer ties to the U.S. give them greater access to the Internet and permission to travel more widely. “How many paintings of boats do we really need?” he said, half-joking.

Dealer George Adams said the art scene also will need to stand up on its own merits after its “forbidden fruit” allure falls away.

Right now, works by Cuban artists aren’t necessarily less expensive in Havana than in New York or London. But collectors who visit the island can meet and form relationships with artists there that may result in small discounts or first dibs on new pieces—before the artists’ works reach galleries in Europe or New York. This type of access is particularly valuable for Americans competing with European and Latin American collectors who have been traveling to Cuba for years. Cuban dealers say Americans currently make up more than a third of their buyers.

New York dealer Sean Kelly, who represents Los Carpinteros, said he expects American collectors to focus on finding and visiting younger, edgy artists in Cuba who might not yet have been widely shown abroad. He said collectors also likely will crowd the next star-making biennial in Havana in May.

“If you’re the 24-year-old Jean-Michel Basquiat of Cuba, nobody in the U.S. has been able to discover your work. Now, we will,” Mr. Kelly said.

Mr. Kelly also thinks it could become easier for artists in Cuba to get permission to travel to the U.S.—still a difficult task now—and sell their work to Americans wielding U.S.-based currency and credit cards.

Getting into Cuba to shop has long been a tricky proposition. For decades following Fidel Castro’s 1959 communist revolution, collectors wishing to travel to Cuba needed a travel license from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which doled out a handful of licenses a year to Americans seeking to scout Cuba for “informational materials” like art.

Other collectors took advantage of different legal loopholes to get into Cuba to shop for art. The Treasury Department, for instance, agreed to issue travel permits to Americans who pledged to do humanitarian, scholarly or religious work in Cuba.

Mr. Farber, who made his fortune as co-owner of the Video Shack chain, sees parallels between the rebellious art made in China following the Tiananmen Square protests and art made during pivotal periods in Cuba’s revolutionary history. To gain access to Cuba’s art studios, he had to set up a charitable foundation five years ago and create an award for Cuban artists. Now, he owns more than 200 works and plans to go again next month.

Mr. Kelly is leveraging his educational license to fly his immediate family to Havana next week to attend the Dec. 28 wedding of one of the members of Los Carpinteros, Dagoberto Rodriguez Sanchez. “For Cuba, this is equivalent to Berlin’s Wall coming down,” he said. “We’re all ready to party.”                 

"When the Art Is Watching You" @wsj by Ellen Gamerman


One morning last week, a team of experts at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum searched for hidden spots in the rotunda to conceal tiny electronic transmitters. The devices will enable the museum to send messages about artworks to visitors via their smartphones while at the same time collect details about the comings and goings of those guests.

At today’s museums, all eyes aren’t just on the art. They’re on the visitors. 

Across the country, museums are mining increasingly detailed layers of information about their guests, employing some of the same strategies that companies like Macy’s, Netflix and Wal-Mart have used in recent years to boost sales by tracking customer behavior. Museums are using the visitor data to inform decisions on everything from exhibit design to donor outreach to gift-shop marketing strategies.

At the Dallas Museum of Art, a frequent-visitor program asks guests to check in at spots around the building via their phones or on kiosks. By doing so, members win points toward rewards, like free parking, special-exhibition tickets or private use of the museum’s movie theater. The museum then filters the data to better understand guests’ behavior, like how often they visit, which shows they flock to and what art they ignore.

An Estimote Beacon transmits to a smartphone ENLARGE
An Estimote Beacon transmits to a smartphone Estimote

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts analyzes data from tens of thousands of visitor surveys to help make certain curatorial decisions. If the numbers indicate people aren’t so interested in a coming show, it might be reworked, postponed or moved to a smaller gallery. “It’s really a culture shift in museums for the curators to pay attention not just to what’s significant art historically, but also what’s perhaps on trend,” says Kristin Prestegaard, the museum’s chief engagement officer.

The moves have some critics questioning whether the “Big Data” revolution that is transforming American corporations has a place in the nonprofit arts world.

“When you’re looking at the art, you don’t want the art looking back at you,” said Marc Rotenberg, a Georgetown University law professor who heads the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy research group. “It’s not as if people going out of museums say, ‘Jeez, I wish that museum knew a lot more about me, I would’ve had a lot better experience.’ It’s being driven by the possibility of increased sales, advertising and better marketing.”

As museums collect more personal information from their guests, privacy advocates warn, they’re opening themselves up to the same kinds of security breaches and potential lawsuits that have roiled companies like Home Depot and eBay. And with data-mining tools able to calculate a show’s most popular artworks, some museum observers worry that curators will choose exhibits that are the most crowd pleasing instead of the most challenging or artistically significant.

But museum directors say it’s about time the art world catches up to the private sector in retrieving basic information about their visitors to make informed decisions.

The Guggenheim Museum is installing electronic transmitters in its rotunda Seen here Gutai Splendid Playground February 2013 ENLARGE
The Guggenheim Museum is installing electronic transmitters in its rotunda. (Seen here: ‘Gutai: Splendid Playground,’ February 2013) Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal

“If a mall developer knew how many people crossed the threshold into the mall but didn’t know what people were buying or sales a square foot or sales per customer, their enterprise would be considered fatally flawed—but we’ve accepted that lack of information for over a century,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, director of the Dallas Museum of Art. “All we know is who walks through the door. We don’t know who they are, what they’re doing or what they’re learning.”

In a world where statistics used to be gathered by a guy in a gallery with a clicker, the big-data push is a potential game-changer. Today, when some museums make a pitch to prospective sponsors, they come armed with sophisticated graphs indicating what types of people come to the museum, what brings them there and why. Understanding audience behavior enables museums to target marketing for future exhibits or personalize messages to visitors based on their past viewing history. From an educational standpoint, data can help museums find the most effective tools for teaching their audiences about the art on the walls.

In recent months, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., and the Minneapolis museum have all launched national searches for data analysts.

Museums are wrestling with how to guarantee the privacy of their newly acquired data. To protect themselves, many institutions stress that visitors must opt in to any museum program that accumulates data about them. They also encrypt credit-card numbers and unlink payment details from the guest profiles stored in their databases.

Officials at the Dallas Museum of Art analyze visitor data ENLARGE
Officials at the Dallas Museum of Art analyze visitor data. Dallas Museum of Art

Even amid such cautions, the quest for data is intensifying. Until recently, the Met didn’t have a coordinated plan for collecting email addresses from its 6 million annual visitors, said Sree Sreenivasan, the Met’s chief digital officer. Now the museum asks for the information on an optional basis when visitors access the building’s free Wi-Fi. In only a few months, the Met has collected 100,000 email addresses.

More detailed information could help the museum deliver more personalized experiences to visitors, Mr. Sreenivasan said. “I want to be able to know exactly what people have seen, what they love, what they want to see more of, and have the ability to serve it up to them instantly,” he said. For example, “If someone loves a painting they’re looking at, they could get an instant coupon for the catalog, or a meal being sold at the cafeteria that’s based on it.”

The Met has also been experimenting with possible uses of digital beacons—devices that transmit a signal, allowing a smartphone to register its position within a given space. The beacons have the potential to direct visitors and deliver information about art while collecting data, on a voluntary basis, about guests’ movements inside the building.

In the art world’s search for audience data, the Dallas Museum of Art is often cited as a national leader. Through its two-year-old “DMA Friends” program, the museum offers free membership in exchange for names and email addresses (ZIP Codes and cellphone numbers are optional but many people often submit them). Before launching DMA Friends, museum deputy director Robert Stein sought help from a lead consultant on the design of the American Airlines frequent flier program. Like the airline, the museum uses the quest for points to encourage repeat visits.

Currently, the DMA is working with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Denver Art Museum to adapt DMA Friends to those institutions.

Bryan Smith, a 30-year-old medical researcher who joined DMA Friends with his wife two years ago, said he didn’t mind handing over some personal information if it meant he could participate in the rewards program. He is a frequent visitor, racking up enough points last year to win a 1930s-style beauty makeover for his wife, Lacey, and her friends at the museum.

Bryan Smith won a 1930s-style beauty makeover for his wife Lacey second from left and her friends at the Dallas Museum of Art ENLARGE
Bryan Smith won a 1930s-style beauty makeover for his wife, Lacey, second from left, and her friends at the Dallas Museum of Art. Dallas Museum of Art

For the last six months, Lacma has been using digital beacons to send notices to visitors about artworks located around them. Guests sipping a cappuccino in the cafe, for example, might be alerted on their smartphone—via a fingernail-sized transmitter in the table—that the structure nearby in the plaza is a sculpture by the Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto. “We immediately saw the opportunity to say, ‘Here’s where you are and here’s what’s cool’—we’re there to sort of whisper in their ear,” said Amy Heibel, the museum’s vice president of technology and digital media.

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., is crunching numbers for a more conventional purpose: retail. The museum began working with a data analytics company last year to increase gift-shop sales, fine-tuning its email blasts based on customers’ past purchases or the buying patterns of first-time shoppers. The effort made a difference: This year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday gift-shop sales were up 16% to 20% over last year, said Margit Hotchkiss, deputy director of audience and business development. The museum plans to integrate more metrics on visitors—like their ages, what exhibits they see and the lectures they attend—into its marketing campaigns sometime next year, she said.

Not everyone is diving into big-data gathering with equal enthusiasm. Some museum officials worry that such efforts might backfire if visitors feel they’re subject to the same intrusive tactics used by certain retailers.

LACMAs beacon tracking system ENLARGE
LACMA's beacon tracking system © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA

“We’re trying to balance that creepiness factor,” said Edward Gargiulo, director of membership and database marketing at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The museum generally avoids getting into all the detail it has about its guests when communicating with them, he said. For instance, when the MFA sends digital surveys to guests after they visit, it deliberately omits the date of that visit in case that level of specificity would unnerve the email’s recipient.

Businesses that cater to museums are driving the analytics, too. “Because it’s so important to museums now, there is a push to get even more data,” said Simon Dale, vice president of engineering for Acoustiguide, which creates audio tours for museums and studies how people engage with museum-related apps. Mr. Dale said museums are increasingly interested in beacons, which can help institutions glean data about how quickly visitors move through galleries and even how long they stand in front of a particular work of art.

At the Guggenheim, such beacons likely will be operating by the summer, accessible to people who download the Guggenheim app or rent an iPod Touch from the museum. Visitors will get notifications about text, audio or video connected to select artworks. Guests also might receive membership pitches and ads from the gift shop, though museum officials are still figuring out what such notices would say and where inside the building they would be allowed to appear, said Naomi Leibowitz, the museum’s associate director of digital media and rights.

Getting the beacons in place isn’t straightforward. The curving interior of the Frank Lloyd Wright building can misdirect signals from electronic sensors if they aren’t placed in precisely the right spots. The museum also must pay attention to artworks with materials like water, which can interfere with beacon transmissions. Another problem comes when lots of people gather around a single artwork, absorbing the signal. (The company making the Guggenheim’s beacon, Estimote, tried to troubleshoot this scenario by taking several large sacks of potatoes, hanging them close together and studying what happened to the signal.)

Last Thursday, the day the Guggenheim is closed to visitors, Estimote senior director of business operations Tanuj Parikh climbed the museum’s winding ramps. He took notes on the building’s features to send to his co-workers in Krakow, Poland, where the two-year-old company is working on devices for museums, stores, hospitals and hotels. He watched as the museum experts figured out where to put sensors that conform to the building’s landmark restrictions. The staff eventually decided to stick the devices near the light fixtures.

For Mr. Parikh, the technology is a natural fit with art. “You learn where in museums people are spending more time, which pieces of art are more popular—you can curate and adjust what you’re doing in real time,” he said. “Some museums are now thinking about it like retailers, asking ‘How do we get these visitors to come back more often?’”

Write to Ellen Gamerman at ellen.gamerman@wsj.com