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Date created
Tue, Oct 31, 2017
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1Q2017 Travails of an art advisor

Doug Atkin

Doug Aitken

The year got off to a wonderful start when the British designer and stylist Victoria Bartlett and I attended one of New York’s best-loved New Year’s traditions: the Annual New Year’s Day Marathon Benefit Reading, organised by the Poetry Project in the beautifully conserved St. Marks Church on East 10th St. This year was the 43rd edition with contributions from more than 200 poets and musicians.

We went, together with artist Ugo Rondinone, to support his husband, the poet and artist John Giorno. Not that he needed support. Giorno is known, among other things, for his solo performance in Andy Warhol‘s five-hour-long film Sleep (1963), in which, as the title suggests, we see five hours of footage of him sleeping. Giorno was one of the stars of the 23-hour-long poetry marathon. A lifelong Buddhist, he recited his beautiful, reflective poem ‘Everyone Gets Lighter’, in which he reflects upon old age.This wonderful evening spawned a visit to Rondinone’s studio in the heart of Haarlem, where he has carried out a beautifully minimal conversion of a large Neo-Romanesque church. Rondinone has recently made an imposing installation consisting of seven towers of brightly coloured rocks rising more than seven metres high in the Ivanpah Valley in Nevada’s Mojave Desert. Entitled Seven Magic Mountains, the artwork can be seen until the summer of 2018. His studio was still full of preparatory studies and several new pieces he is still working on.

Later in the month I attended the third annual Verbier Art Summit, which took place in the mountain village in Switzerland from 19 to 21 January. Initiated in 2014 by Anneliek Sijbrandij, the summit brings together artists, experts and aficionados in private houses for a series of lectures and debates that cast a critical eye on today’s art world. I have been a board member since 2015 and was enormously happy with the large attendance and the great enthusiasm for this year’s theme: Does Size Matter? Presented by guest director Beatrix Ruff and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the invited speakers included Rem Koolhaas and artist Tino Sehgal. A report on this successful summit will be published later this year, designed by Irma Boom. Next year’s guest director will be Daniel Birnbaum of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, who will concentrate on digital culture in art. Congratulations Anneliek on this enormous success.

A beautiful major renovation of a private residence kept me in Amsterdam for most of February. It is a wonderful honour and challenge to develop an art collection in parallel with shaping the space in which it will be seen. A unique opportunity. I hope to publish the result in a future newsletter.

Towards the end of February I saw At the Center of the World, a unique exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles of work by Jimmie Durham, one of America’s most enigmatic artists. In his research into the formal language of American culture, the artist, who is descended from Cherokee Indians from Colorado, has developed a powerful critique of the concept of history. As a Native American, he sees ‘official’ history as highly subjective. He strives to lighten the gravitas of history by showing its absurdity through humour and playfulness. His work is of course strongly influenced by his background but also shows how the whole of American history has been influenced by the Indians and their culture.

At the end of February, I attended the first Desert X, an exhibition spread across almost twenty locations in the Coachella Valley around Palm Springs, some 100 miles outside Los Angeles. Palm Springs has a beautiful modern art museum, a wealth of modern architecture and a rich design history. Desert X is attempting to place this small city on the international cultural map. The most imposing piece was the installation by Doug Aitken entitled Mirage (2017), a simple timber frame house covered in mirrored cladding that reflects the surrounding raw desert landscape.

In March I was in Maastricht for the 30th edition of the world’s most famous art fair, the TEFAF. The organisers of the fair were already eagerly looking forward to their new adventure, the opening in May of the first modern and contemporary TEFAF in the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Together with the Old Masters/Decorative Art fair in the autumn, this new fair will give a new élan to the TEFAF formula, which was originally established by a group of Dutch art dealers. In Maastricht my eye was caught by the brilliant 1948 work Elle Danse by Francis Picabia and a Design for a Recreation Room in the Kharkov Palace of Pioneers and Octobrists from 1934 by the lesser-known Ukrainian artist Vasily Ermilov (1894-1968).

This was followed immediately by the fifth Art Basel | Hong Kong, which is slowly but surely beginning to develop its own character. The fair had a balanced mix of Asian and Western contemporary art, such as Stars Art Group members Huang Rui and Ai Weiwei alongside Italian artists Piero Dorazio and Lucio Fontana. The fair is now of essential importance for the development and support of a growing art market in Hong Kong and the Asian region. Many of the larger galleries now have a branch in Hong Kong and the construction of the M+ Museum in Kowloon to house the collection of Swiss businessman and diplomat Uli Sigg will give a further impulse to the establishment of HK as an art centre in China. The opening is planned for the summer of 2019.

That’s it for the first quarter. Stay tuned… More soon on the busiest art year in two decades!