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Sarina Tang on Currents – Arts and Music

Beijing-born philanthropist and collector Sarina Tang talks about her current projects involving contemporary art and culture.

Let’s start with your most recent project, involving Chinese artist Song Dong in São Paulo.

The exhibition is titled “Regenerated.” The word in Chinese has multiple meanings: “regeneration” means also “double life” and “second life,” and for Dong this exhibition meant exactly that. He’s entering the fifth cycle of his life (according to the Chinese Zodiac), which is the most significant, because by then you have already consolidated who you are and what you will be doing for the rest of your life. He feels very strongly that the Beijing where he grew up and where he started his artistic career hardly exists anymore, and he always had the ambition of reinstating beauty in the city. So the idea of building the “old Beijing” in a new city like São Paulo was so appealing to him that he put a lot of emotion into this work. When he finished the intervention, it was very emotional for me as well, because my family left China when I was very little, and moved to Brazil, a totally foreign country for them.

Tell me about the Currents – Art and Music foundation.

Among the goals of my foundation is to stimulate exchange between the art world in China and in Brazil. In China, and in Beijing especially, we’ve seen exhibitions of art from everywhere in the world, but so little from South America. Brazil has such a huge and long-established art production, and it was really worth showing in China. On the other hand, Chinese artists had been shown in the São Paulo Biennial, but otherwise Chinese art is hardly known locally. Since I was born in Shanghai and grew up in São Paulo, I felt I am probably the only person who knows both languages, both cultures. It’s been almost a mission for me to support this kind of exchange.

How did this mission begin?

My first interest in art was in Chinese painting. My father brought a trunk of Chinese paintings from Shanghai to São Paulo, and I looked at these when I was a child. I studied Chinese brush painting at the age of ten — at that time Zhang Daqian was living near São Paulo in Mogi das Cruzes, and my fantasy was to study with him. Obviously he wouldn’t take a child, so I studied with another professor. By the time I was ready to study with Zhang Daqian, he had moved to California. In Brazil there is no course on the history of Chinese art, so I decided to go to Paris. And since I studied art history in Paris, it was all Western art.

So my whole life I have been dealing with fine art, but almost always looking at Western art with a Chinese perspective, or how it relates to the Chinese sense of art history. For example, the work I did with Roy Lichtenstein in Singapore in 1995. I commissioned six monumental sculptures called Brushstrokes, as brushstrokes could be seen as a transplantation of Chinese painting in American Pop art. He also realized a series based on Song dynasty landscape iconography. Roy and I had many conversations about the development of those paintings, how he could catch the accent of Chinese painting in his Pop language. I was fascinated with that, and I thought that the Chinese people had to see this work. Unfortunately, he died in the middle of this, but his widow, Dorothy, allowed me to go ahead and show the paintings in Singapore and Hong Kong.

You are also a collector. Has art collecting changed in recent years?

I think that there are more collectors than ever before. It has become much more than a hobby — it has become a real competition. On the one hand, I think that it is fantastic, because that means more people appreciate art; on the other hand, it becomes tied to investment and social prestige.

What have you been working on besides the Song Dong project?

We started planning an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo with the collection of the Ullens family — with the idea that in the future São Paulo’s MAM will send their collection to China: traditional modern Brazilian artists together with new works created by Brazilian artists who I brought to China. However, the exhibition was canceled. But I curated an exhibition of Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen, who were both going to create new works for that exhibition, at Baró Galeria in São Paulo. We had an amazing response to it. Everyone said it was a world-class museum exhibition.

by Gea Politi

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Del Vaz Projects and Park View / Los Angeles

We all know. Los Angeles is blooming, looking more appealing every day. Museums are getting redesigned, local galleries are getting bigger, new galleries and international fairs are coming to expand their programs and offer more opportunities for everyone.

But the amplitude of the city always supports alternative realities, and some stimulating possibilities have recently emerged within small, domestic spaces located in areas not yet fully embraced by the process of urban development. Similar yet quite different, Del Vaz Projects and Park View are commercial art spaces that opened in 2014. Located in private apartments, both allow viewers to experience art at a slower pace. Because market pressures are less intense in these venues, they are able to combine risk with serenity.

Del Vaz Projects, located on the West Side of Los Angeles, is run by anthropologist Jay Ezra Nayssan, whose first show at M+B in 2012, called “Synesthesia,” and co-curated with gallerist Daniele Balice, revealed a taste for interior design objects and the history of art. The nature of the space is grounded in the concept of generosity, embodied by its Persian name that comes from the expression “dast-o-del vaz,” meaning “openhanded and openhearted.” This concept is the core philosophy of Del Vaz, and it anticipates the holistic nature of its program. Del Vaz invokes the spirit of an old-fashioned artists’ salon, though perhaps without the aristocratic tedium. It’s not an apartment taken over by a gallery, but an apartment hosting art, where you can still use the kitchen, the balcony, the living room and more. The most peculiar of Del Vaz’s curatorial choices is the three-month duration of each show, which is intended to encourage a deeper dialogue.

Located atop a hill in the MacArthur Park neighborhood, Park View was founded by gallerist Paul Soto. His modus operandi is “to consolidate a disparate but related group of artists in order to produce a completely new context under the heading of a commercial gallery.” Unlike Del Vaz, the Park View apartment’s naked atmosphere is somewhat alienating. Curated solo or group shows feature emerging artists, like LA-based Mark A. Rodriguez, in relationship with underappreciated historical artists, creating a critical context and market opportunity for both.

What is striking is the curatorial maturity and the clarity of the artistic statements within both spaces. “Bathymetry,” the opening show at Del Vaz, featured the work of Max Hooper Schneider and Natalie Jones among others, and helped these artists to receive much-deserved attention and led to shows in other LA galleries. K-Hole’s residency last January provided a functional intellectual passerelle between East and West Coasts — a quiet retreat before the release of the next trend-forecasting report. On the other hand, Park View recently functioned as an anchor for a retrospective dedicated to Charles Atlas. Spread across various venues throughout the city, the survey was organized by artist Paul Pescador, whose solo show at Park View closed just a few months earlier.

A French iteration of Del Vaz currently takes the form of a group show hosted by Daniele Balice in his Paris apartment — a project called “TulipoMania” by Michael Assiff, Julien Ceccaldi, Sterling Crispin and Valerie Keane, with contributions from Francis Picabia, Man Ray and the florist Pierre Banchereau. When the Los Angeles apartment re-opens at the end of June, with a solo project by Argentinian artist Nahuel Vecino, the profile of the space will evolve drastically. Not only will this be the first solo show in the young history of the space, but also the first time that an artist not directly related to the local scene will be featuredMeanwhilePark View is currently showing a solo presentation of Matt Siegle, and this fall will produce an exhibition with New York-based activists Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, otherwise known as The Yes Men.

In both galleries, the limited physical space not only fosters an obvious intimacy but allows for a stronger relationship with the artists and their art. Dexterity and adaptability are key words. Still, neither are founded on an improvisational impetus; rather, they rely on business plans thoughtfully crafted to suit the specific nature of a space in which the spectator is a participant, and a visit requires a certain social availability. Although the domestic spaces are integrated into their surrounding urban fabric, they do not seek to actively achieve a communitarian role. Del Vaz Projects and Park View are models that put forth the possibility of an art space whose existence is based on a viable rhythm and organic evolution. By fostering ideas through temporary, modest means, both open doors through which others may follow.

by Patrick Steffen

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No Problem: Cologne/New York 1984-1989 David Zwirner Books

“At least until the beginning of this century, there were always special relationships between certain cities.”

Thus Diedrich Diederichsen poses the issue in his contribution to No Problem: Cologne/New York 1984-1989, the recently published catalogue to the exhibition last spring at David Zwirner, New York, sounding more or less certain that such creative inter-city special relationships belong to a past both recent and irretrievably lost, replaced, one presumes, by the diffusion and monotony of art fairs and jpegs. Nostalgia wafts through the book. It is captured by Diederichsen’s title, “Before Globalization,” and more pensively, if less succinctly, in certain passages from the second essay, by Bob Nickas, which finds him wistful, wonderstruck, and ruminating on the nature of history, of time itself: “Even as we bend the shape of time, eternity may be difficult to fathom. Having no beginning or end, there are only contours to be mapped. As an ongoing process of expansion and contraction, an overlay and succession that continually eludes fixed coordinates, our map is always in a state of unfolding.” Indeed.

Philosophizing aside, the texts straddle history and memoir, and the nostalgia is that of the participant observer, affecting not only critic and curator but dealer as well. “This exhibition is of personal significance to me,” Zwirner was quoted as saying in the show’s press release, “as I grew up in Cologne above my father’s gallery and was very much inspired by the creative and collaborative spirit of this particular generation of artists, gallerists, curators, and critics.” Each of the three — Zwirner, Nickas, and Diederichsen — searches these six years of re-materialization (to borrow a phrase from Nickas) both for what has been lost and for the faint beginnings of the conditions of art today.

For Zwirner, writing in the forward, this is a story of institutions, markets and business models, of “a younger generation of gallerists” — Gisela Capitain, Max Hetzler, Monika Sprüth — who were “committed to their artists and realized that with an accelerating art market, productive career management demanded allegiances in New York” — Metro Pictures, Mary Boone, Barbara Gladstone — “point[ing] forward to the interconnected, global art world that is today taken for granted.” Diederichsen’s essay focuses on the shift in the center of gravity from Düsseldorf to Cologne at the beginning of the ’80s, the brief flourishing of the scene there — it’s preoccupations and parties — before things moved to Berlin by the mid-90s, and a bit on New York as seen from Cologne. For him, the key transformations of that decade, in Cologne as elsewhere, were, “the reconstruction or reintroduction of the artwork as a portable art-dealer-friendly object with a mimetic relationship to everyday culture and everyday life, and the spectacular presence of the artist as a component of the informal dimension of the art world.” Nickas, whose piece covers New York, is far less concerned with the specificities of place and periodization. Instead he provides a digressive appreciation and recollection of art in the ’80s — at times insightful, frequently rambling, and, in the final analysis, a morality tale in which that decade marked death rattle of significance in art, “perhaps the last period in which artists, critics, and curators, the exhibitions and the writing around art, led the way and were of consequence.”

The book is predictably attractive, with crisp reproductions and installation photographs supplemented by grainy documentary images of the work as it was originally installed and reproduced ephemera. There are numerous pictures of artists hanging out and Kippenberger acting out. A museum quality exhibition that sprawled through three Zwirner addresses on 19th and 20th streets, much of the work is great and much of it familiar. The story they’re trying to tell — that of the “influences, affinities, and dialogues” between artists in these two cities, the special relationship — never really comes into focus. From the Germans we get almost exclusively paintings — many sloppy and sardonic — those of the Junge Wilde and the circle around Kippenberger: Walter Dahn, Jiří Georg Dokoupil, Werner Büttner and Albert Oehlen. One notable exception, Rosemarie Trockel, is unfortunately represented by only two pieces. The work out of New York, by contrast, is mostly cool, appropriative or rigorous, that of Pictures Generation artists and their immediate successors. The big New York exception, George Condo, did go to Cologne and seems to have felt a real sense of kinship with his equivalents there, but this hardly constitutes a special relationship worth building an exhibition around. Further muddying the waters, a quarter of the works in the show come from artists who did not live in either New York or Cologne — Mike Kelley, Raymond Pettibon, Fischli and Weiss and Franz West. Though they all exhibited in one or both of the cities between 1984-1989, such criteria verge on incoherence. I guess you had to be there.

by Eli Diner

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Holly Herndon’s Platform

“It wasn’t like Snowden happened and then I wrote ‘Home,’” says producer Holly Herndon from her own abode in Los Angeles. She’s just off a flight from a show in Chicago, spending her first night in her new house, on the phone and in her pajamas while being interviewed about her second album, Platform.

“It was just more like a slow burn of realization. I just started to research it more and understand it more — and understand the extent to which it was happening. I think it just finally sank in.” By “it,” the producer — who releases her second full-length through RVNG Intl and 4AD on May 19 — means the culture of spying that the networked world routinely engages in and endures, often without realizing it. Because of global social media and governmental surveillance, the concept of privacy has changed radically over the past couple of decades, and Herndon’s music explores this explicitly. “It’s something that people in music really hate, or are almost allergic to — that if you theorize something, or if you talk about something, it takes away from the emotionality of the thing. It’s like music should just be felt with the heart or in some kind of emotional way, and I think that that’s really odd.” In “Home,” ghostly vocals contemplate surveillance (“I know that you know me / better than I know me”) amid a wash of whirring, racing, scuttling rhythms.

For her latest music video, “Interference,” Herndon and her collaborator-partner Mat Dryhurst worked with progressive graphic design agency Metahaven. It features mostly achromatic tones occasionally punctured by a blank red screen here, a full-color forearm there. The figure of Herndon herself appears from behind a tattered white flag as clattering sonic clusters swirl across cut and glitched vocal samples. A rarely heard word surfaces within the sound and is met with the video’s barely visible text that reads “EVERYWHERE AND NOWHERE.” It’s an equally aesthetic and unsettling experience. “I don’t believe in this strange separation of the soul and the mind,” says Herndon, speaking about what some might perceive as her overthinking of content and the privileged place of ideology in her music. “I think if something’s intellectually interesting then that can make something all the more emotional. I don’t understand this weird separation that music often has, where people get really upset by that idea.”

“Systemic inequality, surveillance states and neo-feudalism” are just some of the heady themes mentioned in the press release for Herndon’s Platform. They are addressed explicitly in track titles like “Unequal,” “DOA” (as in, “distributed autonomous organization”) and the creepy ASMR audio of “Lonely At The Top.” Here, artist and Berlin Community Radio presenter Claire Tolan whispers, “You’re so special, in so many ways,” in a track that’s without sound save for the soothing affirmations of the artist and the rubbing, massaging, salivating foley of bodies in motion. This is just one of several contributions to Platform by other artists working across disciplines, including New York-based composer and performer Colin Self, soprano Amanda DeBoer and Berlin-based Finnish production duo Amnesia Scanner. Herndon wants to be totally open about these contributions, with a transparent attitude that she says is all too rare. “Especially in music, you often have the ‘lone genius’ or the ‘lone icon,’ and it’s actually very rarely accurate. Usually there are a lot of behind-the-scenes people who aren’t being recognized,” Herndon says with a laugh. “So I don’t even know how radically different the process even is. It’s just more about being honest and open about how that process is working; working with people that aren’t necessarily musicians bringing in their ideas to the work.” Those ideas don’t only include Tolan’s work with the perceptual phenomenon of autonomous sensory meridian response on “Lonely at the Top,” but also an eight-channel ambisonic piece with performance artist Cuauhtémoc Peranda in “DOA” and Spencer Longo’s word sculptures in “Locker Leak.” Herndon explains that these contributions have “changed the approach toward lyric writing, or toward conceptual ideas around certain tracks, so I think about it more in those terms. As more a kind of decentralization or something, or a less hierarchical approach.”

Of course, ideas of “decentralized” and “nonhierarchical” structures are central to discussions of the internet, which is at the heart of Herndon’s concerns about global communication and networked technologies. They’re macro-events that have enormous consequences at the micro-level, and it’s a song like “Home” that situates both perspectives squarely within our relationships to our own networked devices. “I was really trying to get to that hyper-personal, almost domestic feeling that you have with your laptop,” Herndon says about “Chorus,” Platform’s lead single released last year. “Then with ‘Home,’ you could see it as break-up song. Where I’m like, ‘How could you do this to me!?’ But of course, we didn’t actually break up. It’s complicated.”

by Steph Kretowicz

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Florence Derieux on FRAC Champagne-Ardenne / Reims

On June 25, FRAC Champagne-Ardenne celebrates the relaunch of its in situ program after a two-year hiatus. The opening event is the first solo show in a French institution of American artist Lisa Oppenheim. Flash Art met with FRAC Champagne-Ardenne director Florence Derieux.

Before we get into the exciting grand reopening, I wanted to ask you: how do you feel the French social environment has changed after recent political events such as the Charlie Hebdo attack?

Depending on where one stands in society the perception might probably be different, but no one around me thinks that anything has changed. Those massacres were pure acts of terrorism and, as such, aimed at destabilizing the system by creating terror and division within the population.

What happened in the aftermath of those massacres is still unclear. But a recent poll brings extremely interesting elements of thought and analysis. For instance, the study shows that the “tolerance curve” has been going upward for a year, and that the tragic events that occurred in Paris at the beginning of January didn’t change this. It explains that more than half of the French population resists xenophobic messages, no matter what the context is. On the other hand, this report reveals that the number of anti-Muslim acts that have been identified during the sole month of January 2015 was as numerous as throughout 2014. France is a very paradoxical country, which makes everything difficult to understand.

Do you still feel a reaction and therefore a consequence in France? And if so, how?

Because we had elections a few weeks ago, and will have regional elections at the end of this year, the National Front entirely dominates the media right now. It basically plays the role of the tree that hides the forest, which is particularly problematic in the current context, precisely when France would need to discuss and renew its vision on so many issues. But the debate doesn’t take place. There is no space for it. Physically and intellectually. What I perceive is that the population deeply resents the fact that they’ve been, over the years, dispossessed of pretty much everything that constituted their lives.

And how does this affect contemporary art?

This situation generates a climate of anticipation of worst-case scenarios and self-censorship, which has already affected too many contemporary art institutions lately. Some politicians have in fact used the progression of the National Front to impose their personal views on several artistic programs around the country, arguing that they were “too elitist” or “not popular enough.”

Do you have a sense that this sabbatical will have been good for FRAC Champagne-Ardenne? What public reactions do you foresee?

During the renovation of the FRAC we developed a two-year program of collaborations and offsite projects with artists, professionals and different partners, in France and abroad. It’s been a period of experimentation for our institution, during which we explored different ways of working with artists, with the public and with other institutions. For example, we developed with Firstsite, in Colchester (UK), a very unique form of collaboration: the FRAC researched and curated an important retrospective of the work of Agnes Denes, which was exhibited there. The show was jointly financed and organized by the two institutions.

The FRAC entirely produced the installation that Antoine Catala presented in the context of the 12th Lyon Biennial. Additionally, in May 2014, we presented Catala’s first solo show in Italy, at Peep Hole, in Milan. Also we co-organized an important exhibition of the FRAC’s collection with the Museo Marino Marini in Florence.

Locally, we’ve simultaneously multiplied our efforts at communicating on our exhibitions in France and abroad in order to promote the FRAC to an even higher level and over a greater area within the region itself. And on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the FRAC, Champagne Pommery invited us to curate the exhibition they organize every year in Reims in their spectacular cellars. Today, we’re well aware of a very vivid anticipation of the reopening of the FRAC on the part of the local public, but also from our national and international audience.

FRAC Champagne-Ardenne will reopen with Lisa Oppenheim. Tell me more about this first show.

This exhibition is Oppenheim’s first solo exhibition in France. During that closing period, she researched the history of the institution and its exhibition program. And she decided to create a new series of photographs in relation to a series of works that were made and shown by Ann Craven during her residency at the FRAC in 2008. We’re also producing her new film, Hereditary Language, which gives its title to the show. It is structured around an eponymous sound piece by Les Levine, in which children are talking about their anxieties about life, and the future.

Where will you take FRAC Champagne-Ardenne next?

I recently realized that I’m only working in the art world when I work outside of the institution, but at the FRAC, I’m fully involved in politics! What I mean is that most of the time, I’m not a member of the art world, but I administrate a public institution, meaning that I’m basically trying to convince everyone to take part in a collective story — a very real fiction! How can we maintain public institutions and make them stay relevant in the current context is what is constantly on my mind. What has now truly changed is that we cohabitate with the Euro-American campus of Sciences Po. I hope that in the years to come we will develop a specific project together with them. This is what seems to be the most exciting perspective for an institution such as ours.

by Gea Politi

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Isabella Bortolozzi / Berlin

Most success stories begin with a formative event that becomes an integral part of the mythology surrounding them. For Isabella Bortolozzi, it was an encounter as a young child with a painting belonging to her father’s collection. From that beginning, her fascination and obsession grew until she finally decided to surrender and open a gallery in 2004.

Before moving to Berlin, you had a previous career as a translator. How did the gallery come about?

You are right! I didn’t study fine arts, and I worked for many years as a translator. My father was a collector of mainly paintings from the 17th and 18th century. After he passed away when I was in my twenties, I tried to document and archive his collection: this was my first encounter with art, as before I had just been observing him from afar. Retracing his collecting paths and all the stories related to the works he acquired over a lifetime (he was born in 1914) had a strong impact on me. The anecdote you refer to is accurate: I grew up in a hotel, and my father locked away a painting, which was supposed to be a Delacroix, because of its strong subject (it was an erotic/pornographic painting). I was supposed to see it only after my becoming of age (which of course didn’t happen).

When I moved the gallery to Schoenberg, the opening show was titled “Neolitic Porns.” My friend Henrik Olesen, who knew the story, encouraged me to show it, as it didn’t matter if it’s not a real Delacroix. We showed it with Paul Thek’s painting Neolithic Porn (1979–80). This gave us the idea for the title, which became plural: a mix between an orgy and a very sentimental show, which was basically a porn show.

Why did you decide to open a gallery in Berlin, and how has it changed over the last ten years?

It’s always hard to define what are the motivations for living in any given place. Regarding Berlin specifically, it wasn’t calculated — nothing I do is calculated in that sense — but it was a combination of curiosity and rootlessness, which I consider two very important drives. What attracted dealers I have no idea! The change that has taken place over the last ten years is a facsimile of change in the global art market. Let’s not be romantic: Berlin is a city like any other, but a little less driven, unfortunately.

Your first show in Berlin was by the Slovak artist Július Koller. The glass door to your newly opened gallery featured a big, hand-painted question mark. How do you think this exhibition set the tone for the ones that came afterward?

When I met Koller in Bratislava and invited him to do a show with me in Berlin, I asked him to just put a question mark in the gallery, to write it on the floor or where he wanted because the question mark had been his symbol. I liked the idea of opening the gallery with a question mark. My program is consciously selfish: it’s driven by my desires. And my desire is to question, and to question my desires, or the suspicion of taste.

You seem to stay in constant dialogue with a younger generation of artists such as Ed Atkins and Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff. How do you decide to take on a young artist?

This sense of wanting to allow the flow of the now to invade and even to risk its diversionary seduction, to allow this seduction, and to enter into it, as opposed to defending or promoting illusionary values — this is what defines the contemporary, for better or worse. That’s the place I want to be, the place I work from.

Your gallery is part of a generation of dealers who opened shop in the 00s and both enjoyed the years of the boom as much as you suffered the financial crisis of 2008. Has it been a rollercoaster?

When I opened my gallery, like anyone else starting out, it was never a question of boom or bust, but more of “must or dust.” I didn’t care about, nor was I interested in the ups and downs other people’s stock. I was more interested in the local, the popular front of friends and fellow thinkers, nothing more. The rise and fall of certain values, the inflation and deflation of the market, from hot to cold, from in to out, this moves according to laws in which I have no interest, and over which no artist can have control, despite certain illusions to the contrary.

How do you see your role as a dealer?

The role of a dealer is to remain open at all times to the unknown, and to create the conditions in which others can share this opportunity. That is to say, I clear a space for the emergence of something new. Nothing else matters.

by Marta Fontolan

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