YOUR PLACE OR MINE?
Kate Sutton around Amsterdam and London Art Weekends
MORE THAN THREE YEARS after the pandemic brought the international art world screeching to a halt, we’re still figuring out how to put ourselves back together again. Dealers who stepped off the hamster wheel of the fair circuit were surprised to discover you could actually skip a franchise or two (or even more, depending on your jpg game.) In the run-up to Art Basel, galleries around the globe have been banding together for various permutations of the “Gallery Weekend,” a homegrown attempt to lure collectors to the brick-and-mortar locations everyone’s been paying so dearly for.
The question remains: Do these events actually work? Berlin Gallery Weekend, which just rang in its nineteenth edition at the end of April, has clearly figured out a formula, but it’s safe to say the city had a leg up in that department. Gallery Weekend Beijing, which wrapped up last week, boasts a hybrid model that rounds out local offerings with presentations by visiting galleries, but that’s still not quite enough to get folks—dealers included—queuing for a Chinese visa. Meanwhile, art weeks in cities like Salzburg and Ljubljana tend to be more subdued affairs, relying on the power of public cocktails and chic tote bags to attract new audiences at home.
Last Wednesday, the Netherlands entered the fray with the eleventh Amsterdam Art Week, a multiday program pegged to the Rijksakademie’s Open Studios, a reliable draw for bargain-hunters and budget-bound institutional directors alike. While there was some grumbling about the pride of place going to the (nonpaying) art school and the relegation of commercial projects to a Friday night slot, the galleries still found ways to sneak in cleverly plotted previews, staggering their schedules to make sure there was no overlap. I stepped off the train from Schiphol Wednesday morning with just enough time to drop off my suitcase before heading to Domenica for a lunch Annet Gelink was holding for Ryan Gander. “We were going to try a different restaurant, but then we found out another gallery is having their dinner there tonight,” Gelink apologized. To our benefit, it turns out. The food was fantastic, albeit maddeningly cast as a “surprise” à la transatlantic economy class (“Meal or pasta?”). Patrons like Inge de Bruijn-Heijn and her daughter, Aveline de Bruijn, who runs the family’s Quetzal Art Center at a vineyard in Portugal, joined Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s Cathy Jacob and Museum Beelden aan Zee’s Brigitte Bloksma in digging into the parade of plates of burrata, veal tartare, and decadent tagliatelle with branzino. Gelink’s Giulia Meloni, a Sardinian transplant, shrugged. “The Dutch are like Italians. They take their time at the table.”
Alas, I did not have the same luxury. Ducking out before the coffee was served, I managed to catch exhibitions-in-progress by Fernando Sánchez Castillo at tegenboschvanvreden and Dina Danish at Stigter van Doesburg. At GRIMM, Francesca Mollett had covered the walls with comely new canvases, while I was outright mesmerized by David Jablonowski’s totemic sculptures at Fons Welters. “They are made of the discarded bits from 3D printing,” dealer Nick Terra explained. I wasn’t sure I bought the narrative—isn’t the point of the technique that it reduces this kind of excess?—but I was certainly into the results.
I rounded off the afternoon at Stevenson, where Mawande Ka Zenzile had stationed the sunlit room with meditative paintings in cow dung on canvas. “South African artists are really having a moment this week,” dealer Joost Bosland observed. “You’ve got this show, Ernest Cole at FOAM, Simnikiwe Buhlungu at Ellen de Bruijne, Lungiswa Gqunta at AKINCI . . .” That moment continued over a proper Algerian feast—giant bowls of fragrant couscous, brussels sprouts, heaping plates of watermelon—across the canal at Raïnaraï, where the Prince Claus Fund’s recently appointed director Marcus Tebogo Desando, a few folks from the Mondriaan Fund, writers Olamiju Fajemisin and Eliel Jones, and gallerist Stefan Benchoam all huddled around a tightly packed table, Ka Zenzile and fellow gallery artists Cian-Yu Bai and Neo Matloga at its center.
The main event that night was a pep-rally style kick-off at Pakhuis de Zwijger. A thoroughly pepped MC trotted out Tinder-level art “jokes,” pausing just long enough to mangle the hashtag #AAW. Beside me, Fajemisin keyed it into her phone and was immediately greeted with banners for a wrestling league: “Crush and Destroy.” Truth be told, the evening could have used more of that energy. An early, well-meaning panel on hospitality derailed in its first minutes when Amsterdam Museum’s Margriet Schavemaker asked South African–born Desando about his experiences in the Netherlands. “Let’s be honest, it’s not an open place,” he replied, pointing out that leaving someone a welcome packet with a map is not the same thing as actually taking them by the hand and showing them a place. De Appel’s Lara Khaldi confirmed this impression. “Structurally, hospitality has a lot of power dynamics to it. In this case, there is an expectation to integrate, but the interest is not mutual.” “But to bring this back to art . . .” Schavemaker continued, her smile fixed in place. “Documenta, that was a riot, right?” (Good save.)
THURSDAY MORNING, I caught the Eurostar to London, which was heralding a Gallery Weekend of its own. With no studio visits to steal the spotlight, the headliner for the week was arguably Gagosian’s behemoth “To Bend the Ear of the Outer World: Conversations on Contemporary Abstract Painting.” Curator Gary Garrels had fashioned the exhibition as an expansion of his 2008 show, “Oranges and Sardines,” a six-artist affair at Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum. For this new update, Garrels padded paintings by the original sextet—Mark Grotjahn, Wade Guyton, Mary Heilmann, Amy Sillman, Christopher Wool, and Charline von Heyl, who had one of the show’s few true standouts—with fresh offerings by Frank Bowling, Laura Owens, Nathlie Provosty, and David Hammons.
The show was split between a window-conscious display at Davies Street (Katharina Grosse, Mark Bradford, Lesley Vance) and the Grosvenor Square headquarters, which opened with a pairing of Tomma Abts and Cecily Brown. “I knew it had to start with Tomma,” Garrels enthused as he talked me through his process. Soon we were joined by Sillman, who greeted the curator with characteristic warmth. “We’re neighbors!” “It’s true,” Garrels nodded. “There are probably more artists from the North Fork here than there are from New York.” There was also a sizable number of dealers, including Carol Greene, Gio Marconi, Stuart Shave, and Nicholas Logsdail, who mingled alongside Tate Britain’s Gregor Muir and the National Gallery of Art’s Nicholas Cullinan.
“A museum couldn’t get away with this,” Oscar Murillo observed, waving his hand around an upstairs room studded with statement pieces by Murillo, Thilo Heinzmann, and a Jadé Fadojutimi that was giving Monet waterlilies. Of course, there was the requisite critique—“you are Gagosian, you could pick any pieces in the world. Why these?”—but there were few complaints the following afternoon, when the gallery hired out a swanky ice cream cart to treat patrons (someone may or may not have sent me a photo after a rogue director added his own intervention, a sign reading “no dealers, no discounts.”)
Around the corner, Sprüth Magers was hosting a reception of its own for Andro Wekua, and Thomas Struth had orchestrated a saxophone concert, of all things, over at Max Hetzler, but I had to get out to Haggerston, where Hackney’s finest had turned out in full force for Seventeen Gallery’s exhibition of Rhys Coren’s easy, breezy, and incredibly complicated-to-construct paintings. Further east, Maureen Paley was inaugurating two shows: Avis Newman at Three Colts Lane and a tight display of ceramics by Reverend Joyce McDonald at the gallery’s newish Studio M in Shoreditch’s verdant Rochelle School. Afterwards, artists like Jane and Louise Wilson, Praneet Soi, Bruno Pacheco, and Behrang Karimi fêted the dual opening over plates of impeccably cooked fish at Rochelle Canteen.
“We’re really fortunate to be here,” Paley told me. “It was originally just a stopover while we moved into the new gallery. But as tenants, we get to use this downstairs space and enjoy this incredible food. It’s really made it hard to leave.” The catering truly was phenomenal—on par with the company—making me wish I had gone back for seconds before the fifty-minute cab to Holland Park for the Gagosian after-party at the recently reopened Belvedere, a seventeenth-century-stable-turned-modern-day-wedding-venue. Our crew arrived in time to catch waves of silver-haired patrons streaming out into gardens, not unlike that climactic scene of The Last Unicorn when all the unicorns come cresting out of the seafoam at once. Dealer Victoria Al-din checked her watch and shrugged. “Well, they did say the food stops at 10:30.” Inside, one would think the food had never started. Amid the decadent surroundings, ravenous partygoers were pouncing on margherita pizzas as soon as they left their little food corral (I did catch a special platter of fries being lovingly delivered to an empty table marked “reserved”). The bar was in full swing, though, and surprisingly efficient, with the basil margaritas flowing and barely a space out on the balcony. The bold ventured on to Groucho for the official LGW (I cannot not think Gatwick with that acronym) welcome party and still others to Chiltern, because apparently London brings this compulsion out in people, but I had to be up bright and early the next morning for a fancy bagel brunch at Waddington Custot. The gallery was unveiling the second chapter of “Picture This: Photorealism 1966–1985,” a beguiling survey of a surprisingly underattended movement. “Photorealism is such a misnomer,” director Jacob Twyford lamented. “These are not paintings trying to capture reality like a photo, they are paintings that take the photo as their reality.”
Writer Daniel Culpan and I paused to admire how Ralph Goings had tucked his signature into the bottom of the label on a Heinz Ketchup bottle, as well as some choice gleam along the sunlit flanks of several 1970s-era autos, which contrasted neatly with the airbrushed interiors of demolished cars by John Salt. “There’s only nine or so of these out there,” Twyford added, before turning to perhaps the trickiest work in the show: a wall-swallowing 1972 painting of a photocollage by Ben Schonzeit, whose visual antics wouldn’t feel out of place today.
Speaking of out of place, at Edel Assanti, Marcin Dudek’s “NEOPLAN” filled the better part of the gallery with an abandoned football bus that had been ravaged by an opposing fan base. “It actually arrived flat packed,” Berta Zubrickaitė told me. “It took five days to put it all together.” The result screamed Yellowjackets, with visitors encouraged to pick their way through the wreckage. At the opening, the artist had ignited flares, singeing the walls with streaks of tangerine. Director Charlie Fellowes and I agreed that the gesture really brought the room together (it also reportedly had sent attendees rushing out the doors).
London has no patience for the three-hour lunch. This is tiny sandwich culture, people. That afternoon I hit Lisson to catch Cory Arcangel and curator Omar Kholeif in conversation, and later, Phillida Reid for Edward Thomasson’s show “Burning Desires,” which included a searing performance of raw vulnerability by Josh Andraos. Ruminating on the inherent awkwardness of intimacy (a theme that was extending neatly to my WhatsApp threads), I made my way to Rodeo, where Nour Mobarak had restaged the world’s first opera—Jacopo Peri and Ottavio Rinuccini’s La Dafne, performed in 1598 for an audience of Medicis—with a cast sculpted from mycelium carefully cultivated by the artist. These singer-surrogates will appear in a larger scale this July, when the artist realizes the entire opera on stage in Piraeus. “There’s no record of the music,” Katy Green explained, “so Nour translated the libretto into the five languages that contain the most phenomes.” The only logical resolution, really, when you’re putting on a fungal opera.
If Gagosian’s sprawling blockbuster had set the tone for the week, other galleries weren’t afraid to keep things light and precise. At Modern Art’s Bury Street location, the Jacqueline Humphries show comprised only three paintings (granted two were basically walls in and of themselves), while next door at Sadie Coles, Lisa Brice showed only two: a riotous work she had made when she was twenty-three and a new painting created in response, delivering a bawdy twist on Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882.
Kate SuttonI ended my evening back in Bethnal Green at The Approach, where Tom Allen offered up a fresh bouquet of his mystic blooms. Over G&Ts on the benches outside, the conversation turned back to Coles. “It’s really amazing the international clout she has built for herself,” one gallerist marveled, “particularly given that she’s resisted the urge to franchise and just stayed rooted in one city.” But what are Gallery Weekends for—G&Ts too, for that matter—if not to show us the power of staying put?