A Critic's Diary

December: Ubu Trump, an Erotic Art Museum, Holiday Parties, and Au Courant Installations

Rainer Ganahl’s set for Ubu Trump at the Daniels Wilhelmina Funeral Home in New York on December 2, 2017.

Miami Basel nears, so to get into the mood, I head to a funeral home in New York on the 2nd, where the irrepressible Rainer Ganahl presents a reading of his piece Ubu Trump (2017), an obscenity-heavy update on the Alfred Jarry classic that includes all of the current administration’s favorites engaging in murder, corruption, an orgy, and so forth. The actors he convenes at the Daniel Wilhelmina Funeral Home in Harlem deliver lines from behind freestanding paintings of the rotund Père Ubu, each of which bears visages of members of the Trump clan. At one point, Ubu Ivanka declares: “Papa Ubu, all is very well, but we have to economize, take money from the poor, and hand it to the super-rich like us.” And with that, it is on to Miami.

Iron Maiden, by Peter Keresztury, at the World Erotic Art Museum in Miami Beach.

It has been a few years since I have been down for the fair, and I feel positively giddy stepping off the plane on the 4th. My philosophy with Miami Basel: commit firmly to few events, and only those with easy means of escape; pick decadence over exclusivity; visit the beach at least once; and enjoy as much local hospitality as possible. My first stop: something called the Surface x EMP Experience, which sees chef Daniel Humm, of Eleven Madison Park, serving tasty little sliders at a sprawling Marcio Kogan–designed mansion that is up for sale. The Experience is sponsored by Porsche, Sonos, and at least two wine companies. After witnessing such a collaboration, I almost feel my tour of duty is done for the week, but I must get to La Sandwicherie, which serves up beautiful, bountiful sandwiches 22 hours a day. I order a Terminator—meats and cheese stuffed into a croissant, and it is heavenly.

The World Erotic Art Museum is open late, so I stop by for the first time, and the panoply of art there is something to behold. There’s some Tom of Finland, a Mose Tolliver, a good amount of art-inflected photography, and a trove of extremely graphic things that I cannot for the life of me identify. Unrepentant and idiosyncratic, the Erotic Art Museum beats the hell out of most of the booths in the main fair, which are predictably bland and conservative. Nevertheless, there are the high points that make the trip worthwhile: a display by the great Firelei Báez at Victoria Miro’s booth; a creepy, dank, room made by Adam Gordon in Chapter NY’s stall; and Nicolas Ceccaldi’s high-gothic mysticism at Real Fine Arts, plus the kind of Philip Guston (via various dealers), Milton Avery (ditto), and Cady Noland (Gagosian) that one would be happy to see anywhere.

An installation by Adam Gordon in Chapter NY’s space at Miami Basel.

Across the water, NADA has taken up residence at the Ice Palace, after a long run at the lovable Deauville resort. It is cramped and hot, but there is camaraderie in the air. The most memorable sightings include Henry Gunderson at Loyal, Orion Martin and Andy Meerow at Bodega, Maija Peeples-Bright at Parker (wow!), and Vaginal Davis at Invisible-Exports. Back on the beach in Miami I run into the recently christened director of Untitled, Manuela Mozo, under its big tent and swoon over a Joan Brown at Anglim Gilbert Gallery and Deborah Roberts collages at Fort Gansevoort.

With the fairs out of the way, the Miami gallery and museum offerings can be enjoyed: the best, far above anything else, is a survey of fantastical portraits and sylvan landscapes by the Jamaican artist John Dunkley at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, which are unlike anything I have ever seen. In the galleries around town, Nancy Davidson is in fine form, showing menacing, funny blow-up sculptures at Locust Projects.

A nitrogen tank for making fresh ice cream.

And then there are parties—the most notable, perhaps, being a blowout that Hauser & Wirth mounts on the sand at 1 Hotel South Beach in honor of Mark Bradford. There is lobster, ice cream made on the spot using nitrogen, and a lot of fine tequila. On the comparatively low-key end, the band D’red D’warf, which includes John Miller, puts in a memorably trippy performance in SoundScape Park accompanying a noir-ish black-and-white video by Miller.

However, the true high point of this Miami Basel, for me, is finally visiting two permanent artworks that I have long wanted to see: Ed Ruscha’s series of murals at the Miami-Dade Public Library and quiet, solid stone blocks that Beverly Buchanan painted blue and placed in a shaded grove by the Earlington Heights Metrorail station. Biking back to Miami Beach, a barking dog chases me vigorously for about a block—it scares the hell out of me—before suddenly stopping and watching me pedal back to the beach.

Installation view of Tschabalala Self’s barnburner of an exhibition at Thierry-Goldberg in Miami.

Other Miami exhibitions: Ibrahim Mahama (White Cube); Derrick Adams (Primary Projects); Pepe Mar (Locust Projects); the debut of the luxe Institute of Contemporary Art, which sports little shows of one or a few works by Chris Ofili, Senga Nengudi, Abigail DeVille, Edward and Nancy Kienholz, Tomm El-Saieh, and Hélio Oiticica, plus a group affair called “The Everywhere Studio”; Mika Rottenberg (the Bass, the museum formerly known as the Bass Museum of Art); Ugo Rondinone (Bass); Pascale Marthine Tayou (Bass); the latest procurements made by the Margulies, Rubell, and de la Cruz Collections, of which the only real standout is an Andro Wekua robot-sculpture at the Rubell; Agustina Woodgate, Sinisa Kukec, and Naama Tsabar (Spinello Projects); Danny Fox (Bill Brady); Enrique Martínez Celaya (Frederic Snitzer Gallery); Katie Stout (Nina Johnson); slippery, inventive paintings by Christina Quarles (David Castillo Gallery); the Bas Fisher Invitational at a random house on one of the Sunset Islands; “Abstract/Not-Abstract, organized by Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch at the Moore Building; and a jawdropper of a show by Tschabalala Self of paintings set in New York bodegas (Thierry Goldberg), not far from which is a new commission by Urs Fischer. It’s a replica of a bus stop with water dripping from its roof onto a skeleton lying prostrate on the bench below—the most perfect Basel artwork I have ever seen.

Urs Fischer, Bus Stop (2017) in Miami.

Returning to New York, I see Yayoi Kusama’s selfie blowout at David Zwirner on an especially cold, dark day. I am thrilled to be able to cut the long lines it has been generating as a credentialed member of the press. While I would prefer not to wait hours in the winter to see these mirror-filled environments, they are immensely satisfying, and her underrated, out-there paintings are a nice bonus. God bless the Zwirner employees who make it all happen. On the 13th, I catch the second night of Yo La Tengo’s annual Hanukkah stand at the Bowery Ballroom, where they are supported by Los Straightjackets and the sublimely terrible Neil Hamburger.

Aria Dean, Untitled (Bale #1), 2017, at the Sunroom in Richmond, Virginia.

Before the holidays arrive and galleries start to shutter, I scramble to see shows. Among my favorite are “Et Tu, Art Brute,an exhilarating open-call exhibition in the basement of Andrew Edlin Gallery, curated by my friend Jamie Sterns, and, at Essex Street, a survey of sharp-edged readymades that Lewis Stein made from 1968 to 1979—a huge street light, a Billy club, velvet ropes, and, in a backroom, a red siren from around 1976 that is piercingly loud when activated.

On the 15th, I head down to Richmond, Virginia, for the first time, to participate in an art writing workshop run by Lauren Ross. The students provide a shot of energy, and the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts blows my mind (Aaron Douglas! Guston! Elizabeth Murray! Even Charles McGill!), as do the Christmas lights I see while heading to the restaurant Mamma Zu’s (recommended by Rose Marcus) for a tiramisu and a grappà.

Wine for sale at the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia.

Ross is nice enough to take me around town, and I see: Aria Dean (The Sunroom); “GLOW • GLIMMER • SPARKLE • SHINE” (Page Bond Gallery); Jaydan Moore and Isa Newby Gagarin (Page Bond Gallery); Nancy Blum (Reynolds Gallery); Andrea Donnelly (Reynolds Gallery); Jared Clarke (ADA Gallery); “The Embedded Message: Quilting in Contemporary Art” (Visual Arts Center of Richmond); “Like a Study in Black History: P. H. Polk, Chester Higgins, and The Black Photographers Annual, Volume 2” (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts); “Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China (VMFA); plus the informative American Civil War Museum, which shares its grounds with the quite chilling White House of the Confederacy.

Once again back in New York, I run into B. Wurtz—a perennial burst of sunshine—on the streets of SoHo one afternoon and hear a bit about what he is planning for his Public Art Fund project in City Hall Park.

On the news front, the one big development is the firing of Jens Hoffmann by the Jewish Museum (and the various other institutions that employed him) for reasons that are not entirely clear.

Jackie Winsor, Pink and Blue Piece, 1985, at Klaus.

It is the season of holiday parties, and one weekday evening a sizable chunk of the New York art world gathers at dealer Gordon VeneKlasen’s townhouse in the village. Champagne flows. As Christmas nears, galleries close for the year and I use the opportunity to venture to some more out-of-the-way museums, like the Derfner Judaica Museum in the Bronx, which has a deep and quirky permanent collection, Historical Richmond Town on Staten Island, Magazzino in Cold Spring, New York, the Staten Island Museum, and the arts center that David Hammons is quietly building in Yonkers. The day I go by, no one is around and the former industrial building is locked, but it looks like it has been handsomely renovated. What in the world is he cooking up in there?

Also seen in New York: Alison Elizabeth Taylor (Cohan); Jean-Luc Moulène (both Abreu locations, both excellent); Alex Mackin Dolan (Lewis); Rannva Kunoy (Karg); Alex Katz (GBE); great Dawn Mellor paintings of police women (Team); Kenny Scharf (Deitch); Antoine Catala (47 Canal); “Lucy Kim, Rachel LaBine, Isabel Yellin” (Lyles & King); Mira Schor (Lyles & King); Garth Weiser (Kaplan); Michelle Segre (Eller); “Inside the Nest,” with a mindblowing Beau Dick mask (Preston); Benjamin Kress (Callicoon); Jeff Keen (Hales); Farhad Moshiri (Perrotin); Gabriel Rico (Perrotin); Arthur Ou (Brennan & Griffin); Libby Rothfeld (Bureau); Molly Zuckerman-Hartung (Uffner); “Traces” (Pierogi); Maryam Hoseini (Uffner); “Jean Conner, Wally Hedrick, Deborah Remington, and Franklin Williams” (Karma); “In vitro” (Bodega), a wonderfully strange show about window displays with Atget, Sara Deraedt, Silvia Kolbowski, and more, organized by Josephine Graf; Sophie Hirsch (83 Pitt Street); Kyle Breitenbach (Shrine); “Kitchen Debate,” of Mexican contemporary art, organized by Paulina Ascencio (Rawson and Regina Rex); “Berlin Now” (Nolan); Freida Toranzo Jaeger (Spaulings); Peter Granados (Sargent’s Daughters); Stewart Uoo (47 Canal); Marissa Bluestone (Larrie); Sally Webster (33 Orchard); “Death LOLZ Presents…” (Ludlow 38); Glen Baldridge (Klaus); “Fingerspitzengefühl,” organized by Andrianna Campbell, which features a stunning Eva LeWitt wall piece and a Jackie Winsor cube of mirrors and wood that I would like to own; Dylan Kraus (Entrance); “Picture City III” (Carriage Trade); Andrew Hope 1930 (Lomex); Alicia McCarthy (Hanley); Charles Avery (Grimm);  Elizabeth Catlett (Burning in Water); Bosco Sodi (Kasmin); “Expanding Space” (Loretta Howard); Kathrin Sonntag (Thomas Erben); Emma Amos (Ryan Lee); McArthur Binion (Lelong); General Idea (MI&N); Donald Baechler (Cheim & Read); Brian Fahlstrom, Meryl Smith, and Rosha Yaghmai (Marlborough Contemporary); Elizabeth Murray (Pace), which is one of the most purely pleasurable shows I see all month; Tom Evans and Joshua Abelow (PAGE NYC, a little space in a hulking old building on Broadway in Tribeca); Chloé Elizabeth Maratta (Queer Thoughts); Lee Mullican (Cohan); Valeska Soares (Gray); Mathieu Malouf (Greene Naftali); Raphaela Simon (Tramps and Werner); Vahakn Arslanian (Edlin); Benoît Maire (Arsenal); Sylvie Fleury (Salon 94); Gilbert & George (both Lehmann Maupins); Brian Rochefort (Van Doren Waxter); Becky Kolsrud (JTT); Jesse Wine (Subal); Joshua Nathanson (Downs & Ross); Travess Smalley (Foxy); Tracy Thomason (Marinaro); Lydia McCarthy (Essex Flowers); September Diencephalon (Bible); Lena Tutunjian (Svetlana); Al Freeman (56 Henry); Greg Fadell (Liz Koury Projects); and Michael Landy (Sperone Westwater).

James Turrell, Twilight Epiphany, 2012, at Rice University in Houston.

For Christmas, I head to Houston with my mother to spend time with the family of my lovely fiancée, Lauretta, which affords group visits to the Menil Collection, where we catch “Thirty Works for Thirty Years” and Mona Hatoum, as well as Twilight Epiphany, the James Turrell skyspace at Rice University. The Turrell light show, sited in a giant ziggurat structure with a lofted roof, is scheduled to begin right at sundown but, curiously, nothing happens at the appointed time. A technician informs the gathered crowd that it will be fixed and then disappears. He appears a bit later, triumphant, explaining he was able to solve the problem with his iPhone. The color is rich and radiant, and many photos are taken inside and outside the building. The whole family approves.

Beau Dick, Bookwus (with rattles), 1990, at Preston.

On the last day of the year, I meet up with the great Anicka Yi at her home in Queens, to interview her for a story for W, and she’s generous in taking time to discuss the work she’s been doing with scientists of seemingly every kind. Late in the day, I head to Honey’s in Bushwick, which is filled with art types—Sterns, Andrew Durbin, Pati Hertling, Priscilla Jeong, and many more.

At half-past 11 p.m., I make it home, and Lauretta and I watch the local news channel NY1 as the ball drops. Seconds before midnight, it accidentally cuts to a commercial break, and we—along with who knows how many other viewers—miss the climactic moment. But that seems as good a way as any to begin 2018.

© 2019 ARTnews Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. ARTnews® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.