April began with a trip to a place long unvisited: Athens, Greece, where Documenta 14, under the artistic direction of Adam Szymczyk, opened its first of two ventures.
Documenta is a 5-yearly survey of trends and developments in contemporary art, held in Kassel, Germany. It was established in 1955 by architect, artist and curator Arnold Bode with the aim of breaking through Germany’s extreme isolation after the Second World War: a reconciliation through art and culture. For this 14th edition, Szymczyk decided to use a second location: Athens. Under the name ‘Learning from Athens’, he presented the city’s political history and the current economic problems and migration crisis within the framework of international art.
Whether or not he succeeded is, like many subjects today, cause for strong polarisation, and we are probably unlikely to see a consensus. I was unconvinced by the presentation in Athens. Perhaps I didn’t spend enough time there, but the scale alone (200 participants) was too overwhelming to be able to form a clear picture. I have yet to see the presentation at Kassel and will perhaps be able to form a better judgement afterwards. However, I greatly enjoyed the presentation in the National Museum for Contemporary Art (EMST), which included works by artists from parts of Europe that remained inaccessible until recent years. Wonderful examples included Socialist Realist works from 1969 by the Albanian painter Zef Shoshi.
The special programme for International Friends of Documenta 14 included a visit to the Acropolis Museum, designed by Bernard Tschumi. Our guide, Dionysus, explained Athens’ political history and its complex road to democracy, which made it clear that economic challenges and large waves of migration have always been part of the city’s history, even thousands of years ago. This visit was an excellent elucidation of Szymczyk’s theme.
Another memorable occasion was the visit to the Deste Foundation, established by Greek-Cypriot collector Dakis Joannou and his wife Lietta. Part of his immense collection is on display in his house in Athens. Jeff Koons plays a prominent role in this collection; he even designed Joannou’s motor yacht, Guilty.
In April came the confirmation that a new tradition has been born with the second edition of Nynke Tynagel’s and my LOVE Party. Held in my office in Amsterdam, the theme this year was IMAGINE, inspired by John Lennon’s and Yoko One’s famous song, and just a few blocks from the Hilton Hotel where the couple held their famous honeymoon Bed-In-for-Peace performance in 1969. More than 150 guests found their way to the beautiful 1922 building in which my office is located.
In May I was back in New York, where a wonderful survey of Marsden Hartley’s (1877-1943) Maine paintings demonstrated how well the MET is employing the former Whitney building by Marcel Breuer as a platform for 20th-century art. Also at the MET Breuer was the legendary Brazilian artist Lygia Pape (1927-2004) with her famous installation Ttéia 1, consisting of illuminated beams of wires strung from the ceiling to the floor.
New York also featured a novel combination: the TEFAF fair, originally a Dutch venture, at the Armory on Park Avenue coincided this year with Frieze NY. TEFAF gave a lavish opening by American standards to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its two fairs in New York: the autumn fair for old masters and antiques and the spring fair for modern and contemporary art. There was lots of post-war art of exceptionally high quality, including several beautiful works by Jesús Rafael Soto (1923-2005), a wonderful stand by Vervoort with Gutai works by Sadaharu Horio, and works by the American artist Sheila Hicks. At Frieze, Alexander Gray Associates presented a previously unknown series of paintings by Betty Parsons (1900-1982). Beautiful works by an artist who is best known as the gallerist responsible for launching the careers of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Clifford Still and Barnett Newman.
In this year of a constant stream of international art events, this bonanza was followed immediately by the opening of the 57th Venice Biennale in Italy. French curator Christine Macel’s theme Viva Arte Viva, an examination of humanism, was divided into nine sections. Interestingly, sound works played a prominent role and the Turkish, Mexican and French pavilions also focused on sound as art. Mexican artist Carlos Amorales held a beautiful performance with clay pipes during the opening.
The highlight in Venice for me was the honouring of American artist Carolee Schneemann for her groundbreaking work over the past six decades. Schneemann, who is known for her 1964 happening Meat Joy and her highly provocative performance Interior Scroll from 1975, received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.
Another highlight was the double exhibition ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ by Damien Hirst, a work ten years in development, in which he exposes all the clichés that adhere to art, from classical antiquity to the most recent art. Here too, opinions differ wildly. I have always seen the essence of Hirst’s work as a manipulation of the market and a highly critical commentary of all the clichés and conventions of the art world. I consider him a genius at tearing this world to shreds.
In Juni there was the annual migration to Switzerland, first for the Zurich Art Weekend and then on to Art Basel. In Zurich, the highlights were Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno’s (1973) Aerocene project (2016) at Museum Haus Konstruktiv and a two-man show of Donald Judd (1928-1994) and Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) at Galerie Gmurzynska’s Talstrasse location. Saraceno is known for his ambitious trapeze installation In Orbit (2013), which plays with weightlessness and levitation. The pairing of Judd and Malevich created a wonderfully delicate link that was so clear it was surprising it hadn’t been picked up earlier.
It was a strong year for Art Basel, though Unlimited was not as intriguing as previous editions and for me the highlight was the installation of Ai Weiwei’s Iron Tree (2016) on the Munsterplatz. Perhaps because I am considering including the work in an exhibition in Amsterdam next year. But more about that in 3Q2017.