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Earning from Athens?

Last year Art Athina, the more-than-forty-year-old fair of the Hellenic Art Dealers Association, got a last-minute overhaul: two months before the opening, in the midst of an institutional crisis and with the pitter-patter of global art feet crisscrossing Athens in search of Documenta sites, a new director was brought in and tasked with making the fair a bit more cosmopolitan. If the import from Kassel got a generally mixed reception, the city of Athens managed to seduce art-world pilgrims as a chaotic bohemia where rent is cheap and things are happening. The second iteration of Art Athina under its new leadership opened on June 18; now part of a week of openings and events in and around the city, the fair appeared poised to capitalize on the allure of Athens as the latest New Berlin.

The previous Sunday, the always-delightful Rodeo Gallery of London (formerly of Istanbul) inaugurated an outpost down by the port of Piraeus in a renovated warehouse — old pale stone walls, new pale wood floors — with an exhibition of paintings by Leidy Churchman. That afternoon visitors and locals alike had been bussed out to the leafy suburb of Filothei, to the home — or a home — of construction magnate and collector Dakis Joannou. They shuffled through a warren of windowless rooms containing highlights from his collection, acknowledged the many works by Roberto Cuoghi, and emerged upstairs to cruise the spread of kabob and salads and flag down trays of white wine. In the evening shows were opening: Chris Dorland at the project space Aetopoulos; Malvina Panagiotidi at Despoina Damaskou’s space You Cannot Hide for More than Seven Years. The parties went late — as parties do — and then the whole thing spilled out into the Saronic Gulf and slithered up again onto the shores of the island of Hydra.     

There, Dakis’s Deste Foundation was throwing its annual early summer party, for which an artist makes use of the former slaughterhouse perched up on the cliffs outside of town. This year it was David Shrigley, who showed a video of bleating goats. That night the food was vegetarian — a delicious faux souvlaki served in a pita — appropriate given the affection Shrigley clearly has for goats, though I suspect a Peter Singer–reading animal-liberation ethicist would still have found the whole thing barbaric. A trio in all black and sunglasses with vintage Rickenbacker guitars took to the roof of the slaughterhouse and banged out some vaguely Spacemen 3-ish droning rock ‘n’ roll repetitions in front a projection of the goat video. The playing would come to an abrupt stop, a goat would bleat, and then the band would jump back in. Again the festivities went on into the early morning. Some people went for a cold swim; most drank at the Pirate Bar.   

Back in Athens, Art Athina was taking place in a new venue, perhaps the biggest change from the previous year: it had moved from a stadium in Piraeus to the Athens Conservatoire, a long, low, concrete structure from the 1970s designed by the Bauhaus-trained Jan Despo. The building, which had remained unfinished for more than forty years after funding ran out — and which is itself the only completed piece of a cultural complex planned in late 1950s — is elegant and linear from outside, set back from the street and raised up on pillars. Inside, the lower level — where the fair was set up — unfolds in a meandering labyrinth of windowless rooms. The give-and-take between the International Style and local realities and particularities embodied in Despo’s building is, in some sense, updated in Art Athina itself: however much the organizers have worked to transform the fair into a node of globality, it remains, at the same time, rooted in localisms. Indeed, for those of us who are not buyers or sellers of art, who in fact have no stake at all in whether any art gets bought or sold, the simple premise of the art fair — out-of-town collectors buying art from local dealers, and local collectors from out-of-town dealers — works best when the traversal of commercial and stylistic distances produces some interesting vertigo.

It was a fair of two halves: one section contained the booths of the old-school — not to say provincial — Greek galleries, the other the mostly young spaces from Europe and the United States as well as those Greek galleries more at home among the international set. You had to go upstairs, outside, and cross a little plaza to get from the former to the latter. There were highlights on both sides, though I found it all worked best if you just wandered back and forth between the two, ascending and descending stairways, letting strange harmonies and discordances wash over you: Alexandros Psychoulis at, Hamish Pearch at London’s Soft Opening, Chryssa at Mihalarias Art, Mario Ayala at Sade out of LA.

Valina Svoronou, "Therapist office," High Tide Planetary Pull excerpt
Valina Svoronou, “Therapist office,” High Tide Planetary Pull excerpt, Comic book sketch, 2018. Courtesy of Hot Wheels Project, Athens.

Syndicate put together a thoughtful booth with Chrysanthi Koumianaki’s playful invention of a new language in a wall of colorful vinyl scribbles and powder-coated steel punctuations, set to the tune of a sound piece by Steffani Jemison based on a rediscovered utopian language. Andreas Angelidakis had a superb installation of his foam ruins, presented by the Breeder in a room shared with a new Athens space, Hot Wheels Projects, which, for its part, offered up work by Valinia Svoronou, sculpture and drawings spun off from her sci-fi graphic novel High Tide Planetary Pull. A curated section, helmed by Artemis Baltoyanni under the title “Pseudomorphs,” included works by Nik Greene showing with Bonny Poon from Paris: a loose typology of Greek magazines — overlapping, thematically arranged, and arrayed on the floor — with motion-activated cameras snapping pics of the shoes of those curious enough to stop and look. Rodeo installed kinetic sculptures by Liliane Lijn in a small, inaccessible courtyard. Viewable through the windows, they were four slowly turning white cones — she calls them “koans” — made in fiberglass and resin and ringed with thin fluorescent tubing.

It was getting steadily hotter as the crowds continued descending into the opening. I went off in search of the VIP bar. It was in a small room down a hallway and remarkably difficult to find; even when you’d found it, it was no easier to relocate the next time. After a few circles and dead ends I managed to locate it, only to be informed by a guard that the room had been commandeered by the president of the Hellenic Republic. I guess Prokopios Pavlopoulos likes to drink alone.

by Eli Diner

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Liquid City / Bruges Triennial 2018

Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity was first published in the year 2000. As described in the text, “modernity” was the natural conclusion of postmodern man, who imploded in an oscillation between overcoming modernism, which ultimately failed to fulfill its promises, and a hyper-self-awareness of future failure.

The “liquid society” derived from society’s inability to take form, manifesting only through expressions of extreme individualism — the only viable way for a society to rebuild itself from the ruins of the last “ism.” From Bauman onward, it has become difficult to think of the word “liquidity” without registering implications beyond its literal meaning. His definition has continued to ring like an empty truism, often deflated under its own theoretical weight.

For the second edition of the Bruges Triennial, “Liquid City” is both the title as well as the incipit upon which the exhibition is developed. The Bauman label here functions mainly via its metaphorical readings: applicable to the difficulties Bruges must overcome as a city suspended over water, the weight of its melancholy past (recall Bruges-la-Morte, or The Dead Bruges, by Georges Rodenbach), and its outlook toward the future. The adjective “liquid,” if it is indeed a reference to Bauman, sounds almost like an epithet; yet if we instead limit ourselves, as suggested by the curatorial statement, to simply thinking of Bruges as a city on water, we might avoid overanalysis and theoretical quagmire.

The premise of this triennial is primarily one of reconsidering a city in a way that projects a new future. This is rendered particularly difficult due to the fact that Bruges represents political factions in sharp contrast to one another, and is still linked to its medieval baggage of tradition and lifestyle that continue to define its society and public spaces. The courageous proposal of the two curators, Till-Holger Borchert and Michel Dewilde, in wishing Bruges a leap toward the contemporary (referring to visual arts and architecture), goes hand in hand with the idea that the city will not become isolated in the collective imagination as the drowsy and austere cradle of Flanders, brimming with swans and splendid Hans Memling paintings.

Much like the first edition of the Triennial, the second edition expands outdoors, crisscrossing the city from north to south, activating its most iconic locations. The projects — installations, sculptures, participatory experiments — attempt to respond to the city’s problems, including its inhabitant’s reluctance to share public spaces. G.O.D. (2018), by architecture duo Ruimteveldwerk, is a kind of meeting room consisting of a wooden platform enclosed on two sides by a white curtain reminiscent of those often found in the city’s houses. Located in the inner courtyard of a “social house” — formerly a shelter that later became a place of worship for the needy and elderly — the installation invites tourists to engage with local residents by modifying the appearance of the structure with flowerbeds, which contain a classification of vegetable species instead of adhering to their usual decorative function. Similarly, House of Time by German studio Raumlabor experiments with repurposing common areas in the hope of fostering a harmonious cohabitation among different generations.

OBBA, The Floating Island, 2018

The installations near the water convey a certain monumentality: the Selgascano Pavilion, a fluctuating bubble of fluorescent colors; The Floating Island by Obba, a navigable white waterway in the canal; the MFS III Minne Floating School by NLÉ’s Kunlé Adeyemi, a mobile classroom overlooking a park; and Skyscraper (the Bruges Whale) by Studio KCA, which is made up of five tons of plastic waste. Diametrically opposed to these examples is ACHERON I by Renato Nicolodi, a parallelepiped structure suspended over water, a whispered, tomb-like anti-monument, almost naturally inscribed in the city.

It is curious, however, that none of the projects will remain among the urban fabric of Bruges.

The Triennial instigates a worthy discussion, both ethical and theoretical: In the context of the urban landscape, will these commissions be considered public artworks or monuments marking a city’s turning point?

by Eleonora Milani

(Translated from Italian by Caroline Liou)

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Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More / Riga Biennale

In his widely celebrated book Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More, anthropologist Alexei Yurchak describes the paradoxical structure of Soviet subjectivity. Although the system was understood to be permanent, its unexpected collapse was received as a natural outcome. Appropriating this eloquent title, chief curator Katerina Gregos has consciously decided not to make another nostalgic or fetishistic show about the post-Soviet condition. Rather, she extrapolates the regional problems of post-Soviet Latvia onto the universal experience of change under late modernity. If in previous stages transformations were taken as traumatic and violent, today the condition of “shock” — similar to the “shock therapy” reforms that affected all post-socialist countries — becomes the new normal. Acceleration becomes so rapid it is as if “it was no more.”

The Faculty of Biology at the University of Latvia, the main exhibition venue, greets its visitors with the shocking sound of an electric charge clashing between two artificial apples suspended above a staircase, symbolizing the toxic marriage of art and science (Michael Sailstorfer’s Zwei Äpfel, 2017). Located throughout auditoriums, museums, and labs, the works question how change is experienced — both perceptibly and imperceptibly — under current conditions of ecological crisis and scientific innovation. As if following the Invisible Committee’s conviction that the main threat posed by humanity is not the disasters per se, but the mathematization of these disasters, some of the participating artists have aestheticized omnipresent methods of measurement and calculation themselves (Danilo Correale’s A Spectacular Miscalculation of Global Asymmetry, 2018, or Femke Herregraven’s A timeframe of one second is a lifetime of trading – I from 2013). Other artists, such as Julian Rosefeldt (In the Land of Drought, 2016) or Julian Charrière (Tropisme, 2016), instead try to reestablish a sensible connection with the outside world by demonstrating its vulnerability. In his essay film A Sense of Warmth (2013), Sven Johne narrates an eerie story of ornithologists secluded on a small island. After realizing ominous signs of global warming, the protagonist stops releasing birds captured in their nets, condemning them to painful death in order to help sustain more transient migrant species. The idea of “shock therapy” expands here from human to nonhuman economies.

Julian Rosefeldt, In the Land of Drought, 2016 (still)
Julian Rosefeldt, In the Land of Drought, 2016 (still). Courtesy of the artist and König Galerie, Berlin © Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018.

At the second location, the splendid residence of Kristaps Morbergs, artists reflect on how the new order has affected spatial relations in urban environments and interior design. For his deliberately kitsch installation Selected Objects from Eurotique (2018), Henrike Naumann constructed an absurdist “euro-repaired” flat with a giant Euro sign applied directly onto a fake window. The refurbishment compensates for the alleged misery of living conditions under socialism, and here becomes a witty remark on European integration. At the former Bolshevichka Textile Factory and Andrejsala Harbor, topics of obsolescence, deindustrialization, and gentrification in European cities are expanded from inner spaces into a city-specific study.

Two other biennale locations — Sporta2 Square and the Zuzeum art center — treat acceleration as a shared existential, political, and performative dimension, as in the way new communication devices and social media platforms penetrate our daily life and transform our subjectivities. In a sound installation titled Dear R., R., K., S… (2018), reminiscent of Susan Hiller’s sonic environments, portable speakers of various chassis, brands, and sizes installed on tripods whisper opening phrases from email correspondences. In this way artist Taus Makhacheva studies the human voice as it becomes automatically apologetic and confessional under constant time pressure. In his research project Euthanasia Coaster (2010), Julijonas Urbonas demonstrates accelerationist sensibilities with a concept for a steel roller coaster designed to kill its passengers via fatal plunge into an ultra-rapid terminal spiral.

Henrike Naumann, Eurotique, 2018 (installation view)
Henrike Naumann, Eurotique, 2018 (installation view). Courtesy of the artist and KOW, Berlin. Photo by Andrejs Strokins.

Trying to satisfy a mixed audience, the Riga Biennale masterfully balances austere retrospective art and accelerationist or post-internet aesthetics. But after seeing all of its projects, the trope of acceleration begins to feel like a somewhat meaningless hot topic. Urging viewers to respond to a range of global issues, the exhibition sometimes disregards or synecdochically simplifies local conditions of inertia. In particular, there is a recurring focus on “Putin’s assertive presence in the region,” culminating in Johne’s Dear Vladimir Putin (2017). As if dragged by an external locus of control, the show ignores Latvia’s own inner discomfort. The only work that touches on the current discrimination against the Russian-speaking population is the delicate Pidgin Tongue (2018) by Stine Marie Jacobsen, who constructs a hybrid language of Russian and Latvian together with children. While glorifying an “epoch of the nanosecond,” the Biennale hides its counter — stagnation, deceleration, and regress. Here, the exhaustive overflow of works and abundance of information make acceleration the very modus of art apprehension.

by Andrey Shental

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The Oil of Tehran

-Hafiz, for your sake, entered this tale-

Walk with him, say farewell, he’ll tear the veil.

—Khajeh Shamseddin Mohammad Hafiz Shirazi, Iranian poet,

circa 1310–1390 AD

My trip to Tehran was confirmed around the time President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear deal. Some might argue this would not be the right time to visit Iran, but somehow my timing could not have been better. The first reason for my trip was to visit Hamidreza Pejman, a young, local Renaissance man who is behind the foundation that carries his family name, Pejman. The foundation is divided into three locations: the first, Kandovan, is a nonprofit space and residency that aims to promote international exchanges by hosting foreign artists, curators, and critics. The space is often used to host workshops and talks, and it will also be my home for a week in Tehran, while I prepare for a talk and meet the local art scene.

A few minutes away from Kandovan, the second location of the foundation is a former drink manufacturing facility called Argo Factory. Built in the early 1920s, this fascinating brick building’s smokestacks dominate the Ferdowsi neighborhood, named after a nationalist poet (Iran celebrates its poets as much as, if not more than, its gods). Currently undergoing heavy renovations under the direction of Ahmadreza Schricker, the site will feature an exhibition space, bookshop, and café, all scheduled to open in 2020.

The-third space is the Café Musée Project, another non-profit organization located inside the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA). The museum was stylishly designed in 1977 by architect Kamran Diba, and houses a spectacular collection. I notice a pair of Giacometti sculptures beneath a Calder as I wander the spaces. The sculpture garden is a gem and includes works donated by sculptor Tony Cragg.

Tehran is massive, spanning 1748 square kilometers and with a population of more than fourteen million people. Traffic can be a little intense, but not more so than any other large metropolis. There is a weird energy, a chaos that somehow makes total sense-Inspired by the environment­-I ask the foundation to organize a series of studio visits with local artists. And that’s where the surprises begin.

The first stop is the studio of Nazgol Ansarinia, whose work focuses on the complexity of a fast-growing city in a country that quickly transitioned from a rural to an intensely urbanized state following the Iranian Revolution. This is followed by a visit with Yousha Bashir, a multimedia artist whose obsessively complex body sculptures will haunt me for the remainder of my Iranian nights. In Bashir’s studio, I notice a wonderful painting by Hoda Kashida, whose show at Etemad Gallery goes onto my agenda.

The following day I meet Neda Razavipour, a multimedia artist whose work best encapsulates the anxiety that characterizes being an artist in Iran. I learn so much in her studio, and I’m seduced by her unique performances and drawings. Following an hectic schedule, I also stop at Nima Zare Nahandi studio, an incredibly skilled drawer. But the more artists I visit, the more I realize that this trip won’t be long enough to see everything; I’ll need to come back.

Sina Choopani is my last studio visit. His critical approach to both Iranian and Western pop culture leaves me wondering about how the local art community manages to operate in isolation. Sina gives me a sticker with a portrait of Pasolini on it, which reminds me that I have to leave for Isfahan, the city where the director filmed parts of his Arabian Nights (1974) (— as movie experts at Pejman reminded me). Once in Isfahan, in the middle of Naqsh-e Jahan Square, and before Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, I start to question the so-called supremacy of the Western world. The-incredible-beauty and sophistication of Tehran leaves me speechless, and there’s no more room on my phone for pictures. No words can describe the magic of Isfahan, and as I walk through the streets, bumping into mosques and churches, I’m reminded that this was once one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

Back in Tehran, I am ready for my talk at the Pejman Foundation’s Kandovan building. I will be joined by Hormoz Hematian, owner of Dastan Gallery, one of the edgiest spaces in Tehran, representing artists such as Sam Samiee, Ardeshir Mohassess, and Amin Akbari. Hormoz started as an engineer before falling in love with art and spinning an interesting web of events, spaces, and out-of-the-box projects like Dastan +2, Dastan’s Basement, and the Electric Room pop-up. Throughout our conversation, we explore different ways of starting a gallery and integrating within the community. The room is packed, and people seem curious. Broaching the subject of art in Tehran, I quickly realize that we are only at the beginning of a much broader conversation. I haven’t met enough artists, visited enough galleries, or met enough people to understand the local circumstances well enough to give a constructive analysis. I know I must return.

Pejman brings me to the Monir Museum, opened in 2017 in honor of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Dedicated to a female artist, it’s the first institution of its kind in Iran. Now ninety-five years old, Farmanfarmaian once traveled extensively throughout Iran, exploring her interests in traditional craft and modernism. The museum is located in the Negarestan Garden, where a collection of classical pieces, including enigmatic portraits of Jafar Petgar, is also on display.

The Tehran Fine Art School

My two guides, Shakiba Abdollahian and Ali Hassan Zadeh, bring me to the very last stop of the trip: the Tehran Fine Art School directed by Ehsan Aghaie, a facility that can only accept 120 students at once due to its basic infrastructure and tight resources. The enthusiasm of its manager is contagious; he is probably the thirtieth poet I’ve met in less than five days. Perhaps because this is the end of the trip I’m beginning to feel very emotional. I begin wondering how isolated Iran actually is, or how commercial Western society might prefer to keep Iran in isolation.

During my time in Iran, I came to understand that the power of people and the individual takes precedent over the sometimes-absurd logic of supposedly dominant countries. The art community offers a diversity that makes Tehran a true reservoir of creative, independent practices. The real oil of Iran is its poetry. Nobody can dominate or imitate it. I did not see victims in Tehran, just gentle, elegant, and proud fighters.

by Daniele Balice

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A Private Journey through Art Monte Carlo

By 2026, more than sixteen thousand millionaires are expected to call Monaco their home (according to Knight Frank’s 2017 Monaco Insight Report), joining the many who have already moved to the principality for its economic and cultural potential. Art Monte Carlo has meanwhile already firmly established Monaco as a global art destination, and this year’s edition (the third under the Art Genève organization) brought several pleasant surprises, including museum shows and site-based projects in and around town.

The Nouveau Musée de Monaco organized a sensory dinner experience at the Riva Tunnel in Port Hercules, a storage unit for historic Italian yachting manufacturers. The catering was curated by experimental food designer Francesca Sarti, who started the London-based food-design hybrid agency Arabeschi di Latte. Sea salt, minerals, and seaweeds were the ingredients behind a minimal yet incredible tasting menu aptly situated amid boat models and black-and-white posters of 1980s Hollywood stars piloting stylish wooden speedboats.

The following day, driving further north, a show called Tattoo Sospir gently unfolded throughout the indoor and outdoor areas of Villa Santo Sospir in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Cocteau’s fresco house. The villa was originally the home of Francine Weisweiller, a philanthropist who would later share it with her art- and filmmaking friend following the shooting of Les enfants terrible. Curator Ilia Melia invited five artists to animate the already historically charged space: Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet performed an original play (written and staged by the artists themselves) relating to the history of the house and Cocteau’s eclectic personality; Linda Sanchez scattered ancient vases and props in the garden; Arnaud Maguet presented a sound piece with Cocteau’s poems and letters; and, finally, a dance piece by Pauline Curnier Jardin was performed.

The Nouveau Musee Nationale de Monaco hosted an incredible Alfredo Volpi retrospective, curated by Cristiano Raimondi. Born in Lucca (Italy) in 1896, the artist immigrated to Brazil with his family at the age of two, and this retrospective is the first in a public institution outside of his adopted homeland. Volpi’s paintings are highly identifiable for their texture and laborious preparation. However, he did not like being defined as an abstract painter, asserting he was more interested in popular culture and religious elements than pure geometry. Indeed, the exhibition is a fascinating case study of an artist who straddled modernist, concrete, and neo-concrete movements in Brazil.

Closer to the hills in Grasse, an hour from Monaco, Silvia Fiorucci-Roman has acquired a three-hectare property as a holiday home and mini-farm, which her five nieces and nephews use to harvest their own vegetables and raise hens. On these premises we met design curator Annalisa Rosso, who consulted Mrs. Fiorucci for “5 Rooms,” a project consisting of five on-site installations by the five winning designers of the 2017 Design Parade at Villa Noailles in Hyères.

This year was also the second edition of the Nomad design fair in Villa La Vigie, Karl Lagerfeld’s former Monte Carlo residence. Fifteen galleries were invited to curate exhibitions in the unique setting of this villa in Roquebrune. Highlights included: Formafantasma’s elegant lamp sets, such as Magnifier and Elmetto from Giustini/Stagetti (Rome); Nathalie Du Pasquier’s paintings; and Paolo Gonzato’s asymmetrical marble tables and ceramic vases from APalazzo gallery in Brescia. On the ground floor, Massimo De Carlo’s gallery presented hand-blown glass vases from Elmgreen & Dragset, while Etage Projects from Copenhagen displayed the SOAP series by Rotterdam-based designer Sabine Marcelis, which contains a table and chairs with a soapy matte surface made of resin. Elmgreen and Dragset also presented one of two specially commissioned projects, together with Asad Raza, who created Root Sequence: Mother Tongue for the Rolls-Royce Art Programme, an environment composed of twenty-six trees in wheeled containers, treated flooring, UV lighting, scents, and caretakers, altogether suggesting the experience of a wandering artificial forest.

Several dealers created elegant lounge settings around the fair. Gagosian offered a sort of mini living room designed in collaboration between Takashi Murakami and Virgil Abloh. Galeria Franco Noero presented a long dining table from Martino Gamper, while Kaufmann Repetto (a first timer at the fair) aligned a Pae White chrome-pink installation of fifty-six mirrored-glass bricks along a corner.

Another highlight was the Art : Concept booth, which presented four artists in conversation: Michel Blazy, Corentin Grossmann, Nathan Hylden, and Giuseppe Gabellone. Special mentions go to Michael Werner’s booth, with pieces by Joseph Beuys, Marcel Broodthaers, Enrico David, Peter Doig, Eugène Leroy, Piero Manzoni, Francis Picabia, and Sigmar Polke; as well as Campoli Presti’s selection of works by Christoph Ruckäberle, Liz Deschenes, and Eileen Quinlan. Meanwhile, a powerful lilac Irma Blank from 1984 and a nature morte by Riccardo Baruzzi at P420 commanded attention for their delicacy and sophistication.

by Alessia Stella

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SP-Arte / São Paulo

In addition to the São Paulo Bienal in September, the annual art fair in April has established a second platform for international gathering in São Paulo. This year activities commenced on the Saturday before the fair with an edition of Condo hosted by Galeria Jaqueline Martins featuring works by Vivian Suter at Proyectos Ultravioleta, Carla Filipe at Nuno Centeno, and Ahmet Ögüt at KOW, among others.

Also downtown, the Pivô foundation opened the next day with a three-person show featuring rarely seen films by Anna Maria Maiolino, an installation of kinetic sculptures by Ana Linnemann, and site-specific architectural interventions by Laura Lima, which force visitors to duck through a lowered ceiling and curatorial assistants to work from an elevated yet stifling box towering above the exhibition. Elsewhere MoMA’s 2009 exhibition “Tangled Alphabets” was somewhat resurrected in the form of retrospectives by Leon Ferrari at Galeria Nara Roesler (“Por um mundo sem inferno curated by Lisette Lagnado) and Mira Schendel at the Museum of Modern Art São Paulo (“Signals” curated by Paulo Venancio Filho).

SP-Arte, now in its 14th edition, bills itself as a festival rather than a fair, possibly because of the tax incentive laws that support it. A section presenting individual artist booths offered several compelling exhibitions. Cape Town’s Blank Projects presented Pedro Wirz’s Novos Amigos [New Friends] (2013–18), consisting of three wall-mounted timber shelves featuring ninety painted and glazed ceramics. These works had been crafted by the artist according to sketches made by friends and acquaintances who were inspired by Wirz’s tales of his native Paraíba Valley near São Paulo. After last year’s Sania Iveković’s solo booth, Valencia’s Espaivisor presented works by Mladen Stilinović, another Croatian conceptual artist. On view were photographs (Artist at Work, 1978 is an unlimited edition of eight b/w photographs depicting the artist asleep), collages, and acrylic paintings ranging from the early 1970s through 2001. Nearby, the Santiago de Chile gallery Aninat Isabel presented photographic documentation from Lotty Rosenfeld’s ongoing action art (since 1979) for which the artist uses white tape to transform highway median strips into crosses, thus protesting dictatorship and signs of hegemonic power. New York’s Zucker Art Books brought a selection of Dieter Roth editioned artist books to the fair, including his first: Kinderbuch (1957). With Brazilian galleries presenting poema/processo protagonists Falves Silva and Almandrade (at Roberto Alban from Salvador da Bahia), artist books by Lygia Clark (Livro Obra i, 1964/83 at DAN galleria, São Paulo), and cut paper works by Raymundo Colares (GIBI, 1970 at Pinakotheke, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Fortaleza), Roth’s work may gain new significance in discussions of European and Brazilian geometric abstraction.

In the main section, Luisa Strina Gallery presented Alexandre da Cunha’s Amarelinho (2005), a sculpture stack of seventy-two Styrofoam boxes used by mobile beverage vendors on the streets of Brazil. At Fortes d’Aiola Gabriel, artists Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca introduced five lenticular prints from Como se fosse verdade [As if it were true] (2017), for which they had invited forty-three commuters using a bus terminal in the periphery of São Paulo to pose for and give design indications that resulted in fictional record covers.

João José Costa, Untitled at SP-Arte/2018. Courtesy of Galeria Berenice Arvani.

The so-called Repertoire section featured individual artist presentations with works produced until the 1980s. Berenice Arvani from São Paulo opted for a staging of historical paintings and works on paper by João José Costa, one of the lesser-known members of Grupo Frente (1954–56) that paved the way for the constructivist movement in Brazil. Sé Galeria hung Arnaldo de Melo’s figurative sketches painted on collaged boards of New York gallery invitation cards during the mid-1980s.

While works by di Cavalcanti, Volpi, and other classics of Brazilian modernism are offloaded in the section dedicated to secondary-market dealers every year, one booth stood out: Bergamin & Gomide offered a neat selection of visceral sculptures and paintings by Günther Uecker, José Resende, Nuno Ramos, Antoni Tapies, Mira Schendel, Artur Barrio, and Tunga — all in brown, beige, white, and black tones.

Far away from the hustle of the fair, the cultural center Casa do Povo presented the performance Okidoki by American dancer and choreographer Trajal Harrell. Capturing our attention for nine minutes, Harrell’s piece was based on vogueing moves and saw the dancer flanked by audience members that he approached and poked, expressing anxiety and desperation that amplified as a score by Tom Monteiro wore on. On our way home we wondered if the work was not a parody of art fair chit chat and an appetite for artworks predisposed to commodification against a backdrop of struggling commercial galleries and failing democracy.

by Tobi Maier

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