A Critic's Diary

June: Precisionism, Basel, a Hidden Bar, Galleries High in the Sky, a Great Deal of Fondue

A 1937 Cord Phaeton convertible in “Cult of the Machine” at the de Young.

For months, I have been dying to see “Cult of the Machine” at the de Young in San Francisco, a history of the United States’ first homegrown avant-garde movement, Precisionism, and thanks to wedding planning in the area, I manage to make it there at the start of the month. It is a show for the ages, with design pieces, photographs, and an absolute trove of paintings by people like Gerald Murphy, Ralston Crawford, Elsie Driggs, and more obscure names spaciously spread throughout the galleries. (Painfully, there’s no new New York stop for the show scheduled, but it will head to Dallas in September.)

Inside the David Ireland House.

Another Bay Area treat: we make it to the David Ireland House at 500 Capp Street in the Mission, which is an incredible place, not least for its hanging chandelier made out of two blowtorches and artifacts like a Duchamp portrait, his typewriter, and a little card for a Beuys show at David Nolan Gallery pinned to the wall. There’s a smart group show, too, called “School of Chairs,” with work by Feminist Land Art Retreat, Forrest Bess, Anicka Yi, and more.

I am away from New York for a good chunk of this month, mostly because of Art Basel, so I have trouble keeping up with shows in the city. My darkest nightmare is becoming one of those art types who only sees art at fairs, while ignoring galleries at home, so I try to squeeze in stops at galleries between meetings around town, and I make list of shows that will still be open later in the month, so that I can barnstorm through them when I’m back from Switzerland. Having said that, I absolutely love going to Basel, where the art and beer and wine flow like the river Rhine, and with none of the headaches of Miami.

Heaven in a gallery: Sam Gilliam, Carousel Form II, 1969, at the Kunstmuseum Basel.

On Sunday (the 10th this year), I arrive and knock off some museums, in this case the effective Bruce Nauman retrospective at the Schaulager and an ambitious but slightly corny tech-infused performance work that Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is staging at Augusta Raurica, a Roman amphitheater outside town with the House of Electronic Arts Basel.

Monday starts with Liste, where I see Eva LeWitt at VI, VII, Dalton Paula at Sé, Harumi Yamaguchi at Project Native Informant, and Jeanette Mundt at Société. Then it is on to Art Basel’s Unlimited sector, where galleries show very, very large artworks. (When the historians of future centuries attempt to understand the particular pathologies that destroyed our civilization, one hopes they will spend time studying it.) The video on offer is particularly strong this year, notably contributions by Martine Syms, Mark Leckey, and Camille Henrot, whose 2017 Saturday (just screened at MoMA) proves so popular that there’s a line later in the week when I go to give it another look.

Installation view of “Luke Willis Thompson: _Human” at the Kunsthalle Basel.

And then, Tuesday, the main fair. I walk every aisle, drawing a line on a map to ensure that I do not miss anything. Galerie 1900–2000 has a photo mural by Cindy Sherman adorned with Picabia drawings, Matt Hoyt and Patricia Treib look great together at Bureau, Kalfayan Galleries is doing a survey of Yannis Tsarouchis (a hero of Documenta 14), and Doreen Garner presents searing sculptures at JTT. There are also the blue-chip masterpieces, the hallmark of Basel: Sprüth Magers has Cady Nolands, Peter Freeman’s got a two-slab Richard Serra balanced in a corner, Zwirner’s got Alice Neel, and—perhaps my favorite sighting—Gisela Capitain has a wild Martin Kippenberger lamp-post sculpture that’s dressed up as a kind of Santa Claus.

The rest of the week is pretty much given over to museums, galleries, dinners, performances, and the like, while setting aside a few spare moments to enjoy the evening sun along the river, watching Basel natives float home from work.

Pierre Huyghe, Exomind (Deep Water), 2017, on view as part of the Art Basel Parcours program.

Shows seen in Basel: Rochelle Feinstein (Kunsthaus Baselland); Naama Tsabar (Kunsthaus Baselland); Raphaela Vogel (Kunsthalle Basel); Luke Willis Thompson (Kunsthalle Basel); Rodrigo Hernandez (Salts); Jumanan Manna (Salts); Bhanu Kapil and Khairani Barokka (Salts, where the cheekily named band Luci Lippard performs at the opening [video], which also features tasty, and tastily priced, sausages); Lynn Hershman Leeson (HeK); Adolf Wölfli’s gnomic masterpieces (Kunstmuseum Basel); Theaster Gates (Kunstmuseum Basel); Sam Gilliam (Kunstmuseum Basel), whose survey of 1960s and ‘70s paintings is one of the most impressive, joyful exhibitions I have seen all year; Hito Steyerl and Martha Rosler (Kunstmuseum Basel); Adolf Wölfli (Kunstmuseum Basel); Bacon-Giacometti (Beyeler Foundation); “Beyeler Collection / Nature+Abstraction” (Beyeler); Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger (Museum Tinguely); and, also at the Museum Tinguely, the sterling Gauri Gill, whom I interview about her quiet, monumental photographs of graves in Western Rajasthan.

Piping hot fondue!

The capstone of the week in Basel falls on the 15th, when George Nettle, Nate Freeman, and Josie Nash host their annual fondue blowout at the Restaurant Elsbethenstübli, which is overtaken with dozens of international art travelers. It takes a bit for the food to come out and so a great deal of wine—and then schnapps!—is consumed. I leave as the party moves on to the Kunsthalle and elsewhere, so that I can be up early for a trip to Colmar, France the next day, where I spend a good hour with the Isenheim Altarpiece, make a first-time visit to the Musée Bartholdi (it’s a treasure), and eat many meats at L’un des sens. My other trip beyond Basel is to the Emma Kunz Zentrum in Würenlos, which is even weirder and more wonderful than I thought it would be, with a bunch of the late artist and mystic’s majestic and intricate abstract drawings on view in a home not far from the grotto that she believed held healing properties.

The winner for the most elaborate event I attend in Basel is a dinner thrown by White Cube and Regen Projects in honor of Gates on a luxurious estate not far from the Beyeler. Well north of 200 guests are there, though most seem to be extremely rich people I have never encountered, so I am relieved to find writer Andrew Durbin and artist Jacolby Satterwhite sipping preprandial drinks and to end up at a table with SculptureCenter director Mary Ceruti. Mid-dinner, Gates hops up from his table, where Hans Ulrich Obrist, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Germano Celant, and Okwui Enwezor reside, and delivers a rousing speech, telling the moneyed audience to “Please support artists who live in your cities.” I wonder what the Trump-voting art dealer sitting next to me makes of all this.

The Hidden Bar at Art Basel.

There are other, more positive meetings, with Chris Sharp, who’s in Basel and soon will be in Monaco, where he’s curating a Tom Wesselmann show; the founders of Paris Internationale, who have a reception to toast their new fair; and Hannah Weinberger, who’s transformed an unused section of the convention center into a hidden bar called Hidden Bar, at the invitation of Basel majordomo Marc Spiegler. It’s charming and filled with art and when I go by to interview her she tells me, “Everybody has been very open and sweet.” These are sentiments not typically associated with art fairs, but she explains that it “has a lot to do with the people that are also here, working, because they’re artists—they’re friends.”

Shortly after arriving back in the United States, I go on two long drives. The first is to Glenstone, the once-secretive estate of Mitchell and Emily Rales in Potomac, Maryland, that is getting ready to open a roughly 200,000-square-foot new building. That story will be published later this month. (A nice bonus of driving there is that I’m able to stop off at the well-stocked Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington on the way home.) The other trip, with Lauretta, is to the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, New York, to see Simon Dinnerstein’s jaw-dropping Fulbright Triptych (1971–74) on the last day it’s on view, before it ships off to the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno. We also stop at the Everton Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on the way, but its art galleries are, regrettably, undergoing renovations. On the way home we grab dinner at Unclebrother, the resto and gallery started by Gavin Brown and Rirkrit Tiravanija in Hancock, New York, where there is very tasty curry with rice, plus tiramisu and a punchy show of paintings by Caitlin Cherry, Cheyenne Julien, Emily Mae Smith, and more.

Alexandra Bachzetsis performing PRIVATE: Wear a mask when you talk to me on the High Line on June 27, 2018.

The most high-profile gallery outing of the month has to be the five-venue “Painting: Now & Forever, Part III” at Greene Naftali and Marks, which generally delights all-comers, with great work by Sam Gilliam, Luchita Hurtado, Lois Dodd, Nayland Blake, Jasper Johns, and a huge helping of other artists. The opening on the 27th coincides with a performance by Alexandra Bachzetsis on the High Line titled PRIVATE: Wear a mask when you talk to me. Bachzetsis appears first in workout clothes, with a tower of hair atop her head. She’s applying makeup, and after disrobing down to a long black latex dress, asks an audience member to spray down her outfit. [Video] Soon enough, different dances—and exercises—are flowing through her body, and she’s in a man’s suit—her hair short—dancing the zeibekiko (as Gia Kourlas explains in her review), all studied, compressed sensuality. And then she’s singing a Greek ballad. Many phones are out in the audience, trying—and, of course, failing—to capture the moment. She’s magnetic.

By the time Bachzetsis concludes, the after party for “Painting” is in full swing on the rooftop of the Hotel Americano on West 26th Street. Whitney Claflin and Maggie Lee are DJing, and the place is teeming with artists, including Rainer Ganahl whom I also see the next day out on Governors Island. 

Rainer Ganahl’s Syria on view on Governors Island.

At a house on the island where Reagan and Gorbachev once met, NADA is hosting a show with artists represented by some of its members, including Jerry the Marble Fawn and Devin N. Morris. Robin Cemblast, Heather Hubbs, and Michael Mahalchick are all there hanging out, along with Ganahl, whose contribution is a bright green highway sign with an arrow pointing toward Syria. As I am getting ready to bike back to the ferry, Ganahl grabs me and begins relaying a harrowing experience he just had in Prato, Italy, where he says he was interrupted while giving a speech about his work on garment factories there, a project that was censored. We agree to meet to discuss the situation, and I head for the dock, just barely missing the boat.

However, the party I had planned to go to that evening—Robert De Niro celebrating Henry Taylor for winning the prize named for his artist father—has been canceled, so it is just as well. I head to the bar next to the pier, buy a beer and wait for the next ride home.

Huang Yong Ping, Bank of Sand, Sand of Bank, 2000, at Gladtone.

Shows visited: “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985” (Brooklyn Museum); Jean Dubuffet (Pace); Michal Rovner (double Pace); Dan Graham (Greene Naftali); heart-tugging Jane Freilicher paintings (Kasmin); an impressively big but sort of pointless-seeming sand castle by Huang Yong Ping (Gladstone); Sam Durant (Cooper); intricate Charles Gaines paintings (Cooper); Carl Andre and Lynda Benglis (Cooper); Tomás Saraceno (Bonakdar); awful Jenny Saville behemoths (Gagosian); Bo Bartlett (McEnery); resplendent Robert Kushner paintings (DC Moore); Katia Santibañez (DC Moore); the idea-rich onetime Futurist Bruno Munari (Kreps); rough-and-tumble Oscar Tuazon constructions (Luhring Augustine); Julia Dault (Boesky); Hans Op de Beeck (Boesky); John Latham survey, the highlight of which is an aquarium populated by books and piranhas (Lisson); Arthur Jafa (GBE); one-of-a-kind drawings (all unheard-of curves and angles) for bookbindings by Paul Bonet (Buchholz); Parker Ito (Team); Borna Sammak (JTT); Zak Prekop (Essex Street); a loving re-creation of the esteemed downtown club China Chalet by Ben Schumacher (Bortolami); Eugenio Dittborn (Alexander & Bonin); Paula Crown (For Freedoms); Jonathas de Andrade (Alexander & Bonin); “People” (Deitch); Frank Auerbach (Taylor); John Baldessari (Goodman); Howard Smith (Lombard); Alexis Smith (Garth Greenan); expectedly overwrought Marlene Dumas paintings (Zwirner); Nick Cave (Shainman); “Pine Barrens,” a great group show organized by Brandy Carstens with Van Hanos, Mathew Cerletty, Samara Golden, and other notables (Bonakdar); Tim Gardner (303); and Cecilia Vicuña, whose early politically engaged, Surrealist paintings look very strong (Lehmann Maupin).

Borna Sammak, Not Yet Titled (Couch), 2018, at JTT.

And more: The still-underrated Sheila Hicks (Sikkema); Tommy Hartung (C24); Laurie Simmons (Boone); “Evidence,” another superb group show, this one organized by artist Josh Kline, in which standouts include Liz Magic Laser and Paul Pfeiffer (Metro Pictures); smart Frank Heath videos (Subal); Andrew Masullo paintings, with their numbered titles lovingly painted atop them (Beauchene); Roger Herman (Hanley); Marianne Vitale (Invisible-Exports); “Altered” (Company); Peter Barrickman (Karg); Orion Martin (Bodega); a symphonic Lyle Ashton Harris show with videos, collages, life (Participant Inc.); Daniel Zeller (Pierogi); Dan Burkhart (Algus); Rotimi Fani-Kayode (Hales); Lindsay Burke (Marinaro); Jeff Perrone (Marinaro); Cynthia Carlson (Essex Flowers); a Thomas Bayrle retrospective that I wish was two to three times larger (New Museum); a selection of John Akomfrah multi-screen videos (New Museum); Hiwa K (New Museum); Anna Boghiguian (New Museum); Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa (New Museum); The Black School x Kameelah Janan Rasheed (New Museum); Bendix Harms (Kern); Francis Upritchard (Kern); baffling (not necessarily in a bad way) standing glass by Robert Irwin that seem to touch on his early acrylic columns as filtered through later 2-D experiments (Pace); “Moon Dancers” (Di Donna); Dan Muller (Blum & Poe); Paula Crown (For Freedoms); Eduardo Chillida (Hauser); Jesse Willenbring (Ceysson); sleek Ryan Foerster metal printing plates (Clearing); David Salle (Skarstedt); a Joaquín Torres-García survey with a bounty of paintings and sculptures I have never seen before (Acquavella); Josh Minkus (The Middler); and Justine Kurland, presenting a long row of photos of girls making mischief and torturing the odd boy (MIN).

Marico Kondo and Yuji Agematsu performing at Miguel Abreu on June 23.

I also see two shows on the upper floors of apartment towers in Lower Manhattan. Benjamin Asam Kellogg and Brigid Moore do a winningly eccentric show at Alyssa Davis Gallery, which is located high up in a West Village building, and Benjamin Bertocci shows psychotically intricate abstract paintings—all little marks—on small slabs of marble at Von Ammon Co., an enterprise that Team Gallery director Todd von Ammon is operating out of his apartment in the New York by Gehry building.

Near the end of the month, with travel out of the way for a bit, I move with extreme haste to catch shows that I have been waiting to see around town, and on the 23rd, while navigating through the Lower East Side and Chinatown, I notice a sign on Miguel Abreu’s Orchard Street space about a multi-hour performance by Marico Kondo and Yuji Agematsu, one of my all-time favorite artists. It seems that it has just begun. I open the door to find a few people sitting in plastic folding chairs drinking beer, watching as Agematsu mans a number of boomboxes and two video projectors in the space. He’s presenting photographs and recordings that he and Kondo made at markets throughout Mexico City—a frenetic but calming stream of accumulated memories pouring out in this modestly sized room on Lower East Side. I stay for maybe half an hour, mesmerized. Pretty soon I depart—there are other shows I need to see—but Kondo and Agematsu still have hours to go. I wish I could stay there all day.

Update, September 25: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the exhibition “Cult of the Machine” was not scheduled to travel.

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