Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hats off to a new Pompidou centre Telegraph

It is, by any standards, a hard act to follow. When the original Pompidou Centre, designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, opened in the heart of Paris nearly 30 years ago, it was pioneering in more than one sense.
As well as propelling its architects into the international limelight, its epic presence and the shock of the new had a huge impact not just on Paris and the art world but on cities around the world. Arguably, it created the momentum for iconic, contemporary galleries and museums without which no major metropolis now feels complete.

But now the Pompidou itself – which draws in six million visitors a year – is branching out. Next Tuesday, construction work begins on the new Centre Pompidou-Metz, designed by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. Situated around 200 miles east of Paris and close to the borders of Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, the city of Metz will be graced with the Pompidou's first outpost and another extraordinary architectural emblem.

The building that Ban has designed for Metz was partially inspired by a Chinese peasant's hat which the architect found in a Parisian market. To Ban, the woven bamboo of the hat suggested a kind of architectural canopy which set him on a train of thought that eventually led to a vast, luminescent, conical roof that will tie the various elements of the new Pompidou together. Ninety metres wide, this sinuous crown will be made up of a timber frame woven into a hexagonal lattice and then coated in a fibreglass membrane topped with a layer of Teflon.

"It was not so much the shape of the hat that interested me but the way that it was made," says Ban, talking at his temporary European office perched on the roof of the original Pompidou Centre. "It was not only the pattern but the structure itself, which is very light but can span big distances.

The design of this building may look quite complicated but it's really very simple. The different spaces of the museum itself – the galleries, the 'nave', offices – each have their own appropriate shape and are clearly defined and then the roof brings them all together."

For Ban, Metz is the culmination of decades of experiment with structure and materials. He is one of the most original thinkers in contemporary architecture, best known for buildings with both a lightness of touch and unconventional building blocks. He has famously used cardboard and paper tubes to build disaster relief shelters on the one hand and churches and museums on the other.

His Naked House in Japan lights up like a lantern, with walls made of translucent layers of polycarbonate sheeting with the sublime quality of rice paper – one of a series of ground-breaking homes. The temporary office on top of the Pompidou Paris is also made of paper tubes, coated in the same fibreglass membrane that will soon be seen at Metz.

Ban's capacity to think beyond both fashion and tradition, like a modern-day Buckminster Fuller, has brought him international commissions not just in the Far East but also in America – where he went to study in the late 1970s – and Europe. So the pressure of designing a new Pompidou, with the example of the original floating in the background, seems perfectly appropriate for a man who has founded his work upon individuality and experimentation.

"Of course, the Pompidou is a very influential building," says Ban, who is collaborating on Metz with his French partner Jean de Gastines.

"I came to Paris to see it in 1978, a year after it opened, and admired it very much. But with Pompidou-Metz, any reference to the original is really in the spirit of invention or innovation, not the shape of the building or the design itself. When I entered the competition to design the museum, I thought that it was a very appropriate project for me because of the history of innovation and architectural evolution established by Rogers and Piano."

With this new £27 million building, Ban has created a series of contrasts between the fixed and the flexible, the open and the closed. The cone-like canopy, reaching upwards to meet a 250ft central spire, envelopes three giant concrete tubes stacked on top of one another, each pointing in different directions.

These are the galleries themselves, with vast picture windows at each end framing views of the nearby station – which will soon host a new high-speed TGV link to Paris – and the cathedral, as well as the hills around Metz and the 20–hectare park surrounding the museum.

There will also be a vast, cathedral-like "nave" or massive central hall, capable of holding larger art works, as well as the entrance forum, auditorium, offices, restaurant and other service spaces. Many of these spaces – unlike the more regulated galleries – can be adapted for a variety of uses and, in places, opened up to the surrounding parkland.

'We were asked to position the museum in this huge green area, so I asked a landscape designer to design the park and put the roof on top of this garden, so that outside space could be brought right into the building," says Ban. "Usually, an architect first designs an object and then a landscape designer plants trees around it. We reversed this process so there will be a strong connection with the park and nature. I wanted a building that is totally exposed to the outside."

Helped by the lightness of the canopy roof, Pompidou-Metz will have some of the feeling of a pavilion or marquee sitting among the parkland when it opens in late 2008. It is a pavilion that is already a catalyst for major new development across the city and a place where the Pompidou Centre can show more of its remarkable collection.

And for Ban, it will be a major cultural project that will open up his work to a whole new audience.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The battle for Paris The Guardian

The squatter art scene in the French capital is so big it's on the tourist trail. But now the riot police are moving in. By Angelique Chrisafis

The riot police arrived before dawn. Dozens of officers carrying riot shields, batons and tear gas parked their vans on an avenue on the fringes of Paris's Left Bank, ready for a confrontation. But the handful of film directors and actors inside the disused art deco cinema surrendered without a fight. They emerged blinking as police confiscated their projection equipment and theatre props, then bricked up the facade.

Le Barbizon, once one of Paris's turn-of-the-century "family cinemas", faced ruin in the 1980s, screening kung fu and porn films to stay alive, before shutting down and lying derelict and rat-infested for 20 years. Then, in 2003, a group of directors and actors broke in, secretly renovated it and turned it into an illegally squatted 100-seat showcase for plays and short films, as well as cinéma militant documentaries on the environment and the impact of France's nuclear power industry.

Like a dozen other illegal arts venues in Paris - empty factories, warehouses and parcel depots invaded and reclaimed by artists, designers and film-makers who can't afford the city's studio rents - Le Barbizon was a fixture on the local arts scene. It was supported by its neighbours, who were grateful for a cultural attraction, and an end to the rats, and its work was recommended by the local mayor. Thousands went to its screenings.

The raid on Le Barbizon and the threat of a string of other police evictions of squats artisques has panicked culture officials at Paris's city hall, who believe the capital's long tradition of squats and illegally occupied buildings are crucial to breathe life into its stultified arts scene. So integral are squats to Paris's cultural infrastructure that four years ago the city hall paid 7m euros to buy and renovate the most conspicuous one, 59 rue de Rivoli, a former bank not far from the Louvre, whose studio spaces showed street art, Duchamp-inspired sculpture, and trompe l'oeil paintings. With an estimated 40,000 visitors a year drawn by debris-sculptures hanging out of its windows, it was said by its illegal occupants to be the third most popular contemporary arts centre in Paris after the Pompidou Centre and the Jeu de Paume.

The city also rushed to buy up Les Frigos, empty cold-storage units near the Seine illegally occupied by artists and sculptors for 20 years. Now an established gallery and studio space, it sits near François Mitterrand's last "grand projet", the National Library. Even the Palais de Tokyo, a new official gallery space that the government hoped would kick-start France's ailing art scene, has hosted festivals of

squat art, inviting in installation and video artists from squats for heated debates. The notion of le squat artisque has become so mainstream in Paris that many are tourist attractions.

But the town hall's cultural leaders now fear the police and central government are putting the tradition in jeopardy in a clean-up of the city. Paris officials last week voted to protect Le Barbizon, as well as Paris's biggest arts squat, La Générale, an old shoe factory in Belleville occupied by 125 artists, film-makers and fashion designers.

Last Saturday, Le Barbizon's evicted directors projected a protest film on to their walled-up façade called: Smile, You've Been Bricked Up. Dozens of police again pulled up in vans, cordoned off the cinema and stood guard. Councillors pleaded with the police. Passers-by and shoppers joined the chorus: "Cops confiscate popular culture!"

"This is all about Nicolas Sarkozy," says Thierry Wurtz, the theatre director who ran Le Barbizon. He sees the crackdown on the squats as part of centre-right interior minister Sarkozy's campaign to be president. Sarkozy has already scored points, evicting hundreds of immigrants from France's biggest squat in the south of Paris. "He's just making a public show. I don't think he gives a shit about culture or artists."

Eric Offredo, a socialist councillor at the protest, says: "Paris is known for its big venues, its operas, cinemas, and the Louvre, but when culture becomes part of the establishment, we need to re-invent it. Art has to live and breath; these experimental spaces are crucial,"

Across the city, at La Générale, the biggest art-squat in Paris, artists were arriving for work. In one film-maker's office on the fourth floor, empty champagne bottles sat on a boardroom table surrounded by black leather chairs, with sweeping views over the rooftops of Paris. Around 125 artists work here on four floors of well-ordered studio space. They detest the term squat artistique and, like most other artists who have reclaimed derelict buildings, don't actually live there on mattresses , but rather turn them into tightly run work spaces and galleries.

La Générale has three exhibition spaces, a cinema and a photography lab, and has been used by more than 100 theatre companies and various fashion designers. Le Parisien newspaper calls it an "ideal city of art". But the building is owned by the ministry of education and there are plans to turn it into a psychiatric hospital.

"It would be a scandal for police to evict us when some people here are to show their work at Paris's international contemporary art fair this week," says Vladimir Najman, a Serbian-born economist who helps run the collective.

Arts leaders at Paris's city hall believe that work produced in squats could be a cure for the art establishment's malaise. The city of Picasso, Monet, Degas, Lautrec, Rodin, Van Gogh, and birthplace of just about every major art movement of the past 100 years, is now feared by critics to be in the artistic wilderness. Its scene has been in slow decline, stifled by bureaucracy and state control of spaces, and unable to compete with London, New York or Berlin.

Installation artist Eric Baudart, 34, sells in a gallery in the hip Marais area. Paris city hall has bought his work - pieces on transport, such as giant windscreens and road photos, as well as minimalist stone sculptures, some of which will show at the international contemporary art fair. But he still has to work in La Générale. "There is nowhere else like this in Paris," he says. "It's an autonomous space away from the officialdom of the arts world, where artists run their own studios for free. I've never produced as much work as I have since coming here."

Andrei Panibratchenko, the kilt-wearing charismatic founder of the squat, says: "Ever since Picasso and Chagall, modern artists in France have occupied spaces without paying rent; it's not going to stop now. Officialdom in Paris is creating heritage, not living art. No one is taking risks any more, so we feel we have to carry on.

"We want to prevent an eviction at La Générale, but whatever happens, the ethos of our project will continue elsewhere. At any given time I know where the empty buildings are in this city and what we could take over."

So important is La Générale, in fact, that the French culture minister promised this week that, although the eviction won't be stopped, the collective would be found a new space. But whether the squatters would want to work there remains to be seen.

Back at the gallery on Friday evening, a group of US visitors, giving whatever cash donation they chose, trooped into one of the tiny gallery spaces to look at installations such as a bucket of concrete thrown at a wall, and a large corrugated iron barrier filling a white room.

"I'm not opposed to the establishment. A lot of us work with institutions," says Sarah Fauguet, 28, who grew up nearby and has worked at La Générale since graduation from the prestigious Beaux Arts college. "But we're buying time here to create. I remember as a kid being taken by my parents to protest outside Les Frigos, which was under threat of eviction - now it's part of the Paris establishment."

The irony, however, is that it is that establishment, and the heavy bureaucracy that goes with it, that most squatters are trying to avoid.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Women on the Verge of a Very Finnish, Somewhat Cubist Breakdown NYTimes

INTERNATIONAL reputations and travels aside, artists typically rely on the solitude of a private studio to cultivate and execute their creative efforts. For the Finnish visual artist and filmmaker Eija-Liisa Ahtila, this is a fifth-floor loft studio in the old Kaapeli cable factory, overlooking an inlet of this watery city. Guarding the door behind a low wire barrier is her Catalonian shepherd, Harrison, recognizable as the same shaggy and endearing breed as Luca, an earlier pet whose death is featured in Ms. Ahtila’s 2005 installation film “The Hour of Prayer.”

That four-screen dramatic film is the only work among her “human dramas,” as she calls them, that is autobiographical. It was shown this year at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff, where in March Ms. Ahtila won the Artes Mundi international prize (about $74,000) for contemporary art with a human context. In April, her film “Ground Control,” about extraterrestrial contact, was viewed by 400,000 people a day on four billboard-size screens installed in busy sections of Tokyo.

This week Ms. Ahtila is coming to New York for Wednesday’s opening of her 14-minute film installation “The Wind” at the Museum of Modern Art. It will be accompanied by showings of her related feature-length film, “Love Is a Treasure.”

Sitting in her pristine studio here, which adjoins Crystal Eye, the film production company of her husband, Ilppo Pohjola, Ms. Ahtila described her medium as “moving images of stories that have already happened.”

She is primarily a fiction writer who draws on the world of human psychosis, mainly female, to transform individual case studies of mental illness into an imaginary dream world. By breaking the logical sequence of the narration, she introduces a Cubist interpretation of events that emphasizes perception over causality.

A no-nonsense woman of 47, dressed casually in jeans, a brown sweater and black running shoes, Ms. Ahtila is surrounded in her studio by warehouse shelving with neat upright file boxes and the kind of Finnish modern design elements — bright orange and red couches, a sleek water pitcher and glasses — that make visits to Helsinki so visually satisfying. Between films, she concentrates on serial photography; her current subject is women and Christian iconography. A Fra Angelico poster hanging on her studio wall states: “And every woman will be a walking synthesis of the universe.”

Ms. Ahtila views her film work more as theater than cinema, a new art that sets a stylized stage for fiction. Working in close collaboration with her cast, she often finds that an actor’s interpretation will improve her original concept of a character. During full production, script pages are pinned to the studio wall and she depends on a crew — cinematographer, set and prop designers, lighting and sound specialists, wardrobe and makeup people — for the technical and visual quality of her films.

But when she visited New York in January 2005, it was without a script or film crew, and the city was engulfed in a major snowstorm. She filmed the streets at night herself from her hotel window in Chelsea and around Madison Square Park, capturing the same enticing luminosity as that of a winter night in Helsinki. Thus began a chain of events — “a string of pearls,” she calls it — that became “The Hour of Prayer.” The film tells the story of Luca’s death from bone cancer, but is really about the stillness and emptiness of grief and the loss of what Ms. Ahtila calls “sensory surroundings.”

From those early scenes of New York, the film cuts to the winter landscape of her country cottage on a Finnish lake. It is evident when one views this landscape of icy waters against dense forests, shot as a still life and given greater depth by the zigzag configuration of rectangular screens, that her art belongs as much to the tradition of Finnish landscape painting from the early 20th century as to the world of film. (She began her art studies in Helsinki, rebelling against the prevailing abstract tradition, before studying film in London and Los Angeles.)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Alive and clicking The Guardian

Heath Bunting, the first internet artist, showed me his piece A Visitors Guide to London at an underground arts event in the early 1990s. By clicking on a dustbin or a bit of waste ground, you could take a magical mystery tour of the metropolis. It was primitive, innocent, and infused with a radical optimism. Bunting was one of a generation of young activist-artists for whom the digital revolution was a superhighway to world anarchy.

They are still at it, only now it's the commercial structure of the internet they are trying to subvert - one project recently commissioned by the new media art site is called Google Will Eat Itself; the creators propose to buy bits of Google until they own the entire business. Such artists now seem a bit old-fashioned. The internet is no longer a utopian possibility but an ever-mutating reality; the hacker has been replaced by conventional artists who simply want to show their work online. And the man who has been first to tap into this desire and produce the art equivalent of YouTube is Charles Saatchi, whose reputation as a businessman and collector could scarcely be more different from Heath Bunting's lo-fi activism.

This summer, the Guardian teamed up with Saatchi's Your Gallery site in the hope of creating an actual, as opposed to virtual, exhibition, drawn from the the unwieldy mass of photographers, sculptors and painters on the site. It was hard to know where to start, but a judging panel - me, artists Cornelia Parker and Marc Quinn, gallerist Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst and broadcaster Tim Marlow - eventually drew up a shortlist of 30. Then we asked readers to nominate their top 10: the work of these finalists goes on show at the Guardian's Newsroom gallery next week. Your Gallery is typical of the new face of the internet: it does not claim any political or utopian dimension, yet delivers the interaction dreamed of by the first cyber-idealists.

The technology has caught up with the dreams. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century is a good analogy. Printing immediately transformed how art was seen. People throughout Europe could and did see Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling through prints. Yet this only enhanced the demand to see the original, as photography and film stimulate tourism today.

In his famous essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin wrote that photographic reproduction would destroy the "aura" of the original work of art. In reality, masterpieces - even the "originals" of Duchamp's Readymades - have become ever more glamorous. The success of Your Gallery proves once again that people do not want to abandon the physical work of art, only find new ways to communicate it.

The Guardian has now helped Saatchi complete the circle and return the objects from his virtual gallery to a flesh and blood exhibition. Far from a betrayal of the non-physical nature of internet art, this is exactly what the artists who contribute work to Your Gallery want - to be seen. It is also a dramatic revelation of how, in the near future, this way of showing art may undermine the entire system of dealers, magazines and art fairs that calls itself the "art world".

There are no quality controls or limits on who posts art at Your Gallery, any more than there are controls on who posts a comment on a blog at the Guardian's Comment is Free website. The same democratic revolution that is transforming journalism promises to transform art. The 10 artists who have made it out of Your Gallery into the Newsroom are a hugely varied and debatable bunch, but what they have in common is that none of them have so far been picked up by the art world.

Art criticism is one of the things that has to change in a more democratic culture - as I quickly discovered when I joined the judging panel, a virtual, rather than face-to-face, process. Three of my picks made it into the final 10, and these are still my favourites - especially the nutty and grotesque art of Joshua Hagler, an anthropological window on to America's religious right - but what does getting them into the final 10 mean? Is this collective choice "the truth"? No, it's democracy. It does reflect a kind of consensus, but part of democracy is that you have the right to disagree totally.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The October Revolution

Russian collectors have become a major force in the art market of late—but most have concentrated on 19th-century paintings, Fabergé, and the occasional blockbuster, of which the most famous is the $95.2m Picasso Dora Maar au Chat sold in May in New York, probably to a novice Russian buyer.

Buyers for contemporary Russian art were overwhelmingly non-Russian until around five years ago. But no longer. A new class of collectors has appeared, while contemporary galleries are springing up fast in Moscow. This year it is believed at least 30 Russian collectors have attended Frieze, and oligarch Boris Berezovsky was spotted

at the Frieze private view

on Wednesday.

A driving force behind the new interest in contemporary art is the Moscow-based Club of Contemporary Collectors, founded five years ago by financier Mikhail Tsarev and three friends. Today it has 46 members, including the French-native but Moscow-based Pierre Brochet, Natalya Ivanova (who is a partner in the new Yakult Gallery) and Vladimir Dobrovolsky, who has bought at earlier Frieze fairs.

“About 20 people in the club are really active and attend most of the main art fairs,” says Sergei Khripun, director of XL (E13), the only Russian gallery at the fair, adding that “the number of collectors is significantly up this year”. Among the works he has on show is a large “underwater” painting (Black, 2006) by the highly fashionable duo Dubossarsky and Vinogradov (sold to a Dutch museum for €55,000, $65,000).

The club’s vice-president, Claire Savoretti and fellow member Dilyara Allakhverdova, were at the fair yesterday visiting XL. Model, 2006, by Irina Korina (€10,000, $12,000), was among the pieces on view on its stand—a work that the club bought for its foundation, which aims to promote Russian contemporary art both locally and internationally and to support the artists through acquisitions.

Earlier this year the foundation organised an auction with Sotheby’s, which raised enough money to fund a school of contemporary art for a year, as well as sponsoring Russian students to study abroad.

Moscow still lacks a contemporary art museum although two collectors are opening private museums. Plastic-window mogul Igor Marklin will show his collection in Tverskaya Street in central Moscow, while a few blocks away the Ekaterina Foundation’s space will show construction tycoon Vladimir Seminikhin’s modern and contemporary art holdings.

Ms Savoretti collects for herself as well as for the foundation, but was unable to buy anything at Frieze. “Everything seemed to be sold,” she said, “but it is not too important, because coming here means I can discover the artists, get information and then hopefully buy things later,” she added.

“It took generations to recognise the importance of Malevich or Kandinsky—our aim is to ensure that today’s artists don’t have to wait so long,” says Mr Tsarev.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

An offbeat homage to an unlikely pair International Herald Tribune

Under the motto "The Year of Art," this Rhineland capital has launched a Quadriennale that more than lives up to its hype. A dozen major exhibitions in museums and other public spaces are complemented by more than 20 shows in leading private galleries and an uncountable number of fringe events. The consistently high quality of this fine arts smorgasbord establishes Düsseldorf as Germany's only serious cultural rival to Berlin.
No fewer than seven public institutions in the city are devoted to modern and contemporary art. The prestigious Kunstsammlung Nordrhein- Westfalen, or "K-20," which is devoted to art of the 20th century, will soon acquire an extension nearly doubling its exhibition space. Art of this century is presented in "K-21," an elegantly renovated palazzo that once housed the state Parliament. Across the way from K-20, the grime- coated Kunsthalle, which has long borne unmistakable resemblance to a deserted bunker, is receiving a thorough makeover. Another neighbor, the historic Kunstakademie, continues to be a happy hunting ground for gallerists and collectors in search of fresh young talent.
Düsseldorf's progressive image is further enhanced by international architects like Frank Gehry and David Chipperfield, who have helped glamorize the city's once-defunct harbor area. Thus, the Quadriennale enjoys a fertile context that lends individual events additional authority. These range from "Mental Exercises," a Bruce Nauman anthology of video works and installations at the NRW Forum (through Jan. 14), to a chillingly reductionist ode to mortality by the Mexican installation artist Teresa Margolies at the Kunstverein (through Jan. 7). Meanwhile, K-21 is hosting a retrospective for the Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz (through Feb. 4), and the large-as-life figures of Manolo Valdés's "Las Meninas" saunter along a traffic island near the opera house.
Ironically, in a city that, with the aid of old masters Bernd and Hilla Becker and their gifted students, did so much to generate the international photography boom, the medium is largely absent from the official program. A number of gallery shows help to take up the slack. At Bugdahn und Kaimer, one encounters striking "Portraits from the Art World" by Dietmar Schneider. Under the rubric "Uniform," Gallery Voss features the ingeniously staged crowd scenes of Claudia Rogge.
A sense of dramatic staging also animates the large-format, black-and-white scenarios arranged by Jürgen Klauke, on view at the Hans Mayer Gallery. In many of these, the artist himself is the solo performer in an erotic-neurotic theater of the absurd. In comparison to earlier works, in which Klauke played with transsexual motifs, there is something almost classical in these dark-suited figures sprawled among tangled tresses of long black hair.
Klauke's self-dramatizations neatly complement the Quadriennale's central theme of the human body in the visual arts. Into this arena stride the true protagonists of the Düsseldorf event: Francis Bacon and Caravaggio. Surprisingly, the presentation at the Museum Kunst Palast (through Jan. 7) is the first German exhibition for Caravaggio's muscled œuvre, represented here by 30 canvases.
For the Francis Bacon show, entitled "The Violence of the Real," the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen has assembled 64 works dating from 1945, when Bacon exhibited the first of his celebrated triptychs, to 1991, the year before his death at 82. Among the exponents on view are 10 triptychs and numerous preliminary works, photographs and memorabilia. Bacon's writhing, tormented bodies suggest striking parallels, as well as contrasts, to the sensuous, earthy, well-fleshed figures that would created the 17th-century vogue of "Caravaggisimo."
Unlike Caravaggio, Bacon has been the subject of several important exhibitions in Germany, so that viewers can expect few surprises here. Yet there are revealing moments and sudden insights to be gained: from the icon-like, small-format heads that underscore the painter's fascination with classical painting or the "Studies for a Self-Portrait" (1979), on loan from New York's Metropolitan Museum, revealing the bulging, asymmetrical head that Louise Bourgeois once described as resembling nothing so much as "an overripe melon someone has sat on." Yet this small but stunning triptych turns these very irregularities into a painterly tour de force of sweeping curves, chiaroscuro effects and remarkable plasticity. This portrait of the artist as a vulnerable, far-from-young man has the stuff of fairy tale: of the repellent frog metamorphosing, before our eyes, into a handsome prince.
The models for Caravaggio's handsome princes and tormented martyrs were often youths recruited from the streets. Even his saints may reveal dirty feet, contributing with their very earthiness to the seemingly endless speculations about the painter's biography. Brawler, erotomane, murderer and a favorite of cardinals and noblemen, he died a mysterious, violent death.
Given the range of speculation about the painter's turbulent life, it would be comforting to say, "At least we have the pictures." But questions of attribution are almost as murky as the artist's biography. Following the baroque vogue of "Caravaggismo," the artist's star declined for two centuries, only regaining ascendancy at the beginning of the 20th century. As a result, scholarship now has to wend its way through an art- historical maze, tracking down originals, duplicates, copies and forgeries.
The Düsseldorf show takes this detective story as its point of departure, exhibiting originals and recently authenticated "discoveries" alongside duplicates from Caravaggio's own studio, copies later commissioned from other painters and outright forgeries. Only the fakes are clearly identified within the exhibition. For the rest, viewers are drawn into the drama of attribution, comparing for themselves different versions of the same motif and in the process discovering nuances frequently overlooked.
In the end, however, it is not the ongoing, sometimes acrimonious scholarly debate but the sheer power of figuration, the richness of color, the dramatic staging, the oblique framing that draw the viewer deeper and deeper into this odd but grandiose homage. A stately exhibition architecture heightens the effect. Long, comparatively narrow rooms have been augmented by niches suggestive of side-altars in a cathedral. With walls painted in rich, earthen tones, the total effect is hushed, sensuous, contemplative.
The curators at K-20 have had to contend with equally difficult spaces for the Francis Bacon show, but have failed to provide their Irish guest with suitable accommodation. A recycled exhibition architecture, originally conceived for last year's Matisse show, consists of a labyrinth-like setting with "cut-outs" that offer glimpses of works to come. This was a splendid concept for the Matisse show, which emphasized the borderline between interior and exterior spaces. The scheme makes no sense with Bacon. There is much that seems simply quirky here, but from which budding curators might learn a lesson or two. For example, if the decision has been made to situate labels to the left of works, stick to that principle unless the architecture forces you to do otherwise. And give folks a place to sit down.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Schlock and awe The Guardian

After Iraq, Katrina and Abu Ghraib, what should we expect from US artists? More than Saatchi's show delivers, says Adrian Searle

One can forgive current American art a degree of querulousness, ambivalence and doubt about itself and its place in the world. One might expect it to be critical of the culture of which it is a part, and expect it to be cynical as well as satirical. How could it be otherwise? USA Today, the Royal Academy's exhibition of new art from America, all collected by Charles Saatchi, is certainly bold. Whether it adds up to a statement, or defines a zeitgeist, is another matter.

It has a sense of anxiety and self-loathing; amid this are angry protests, displays of mock insouciance, and tragicomic buffoonery. Ryan Tracartin's sculptures made me laugh out loud. At 25, he is as much a film-maker as a sculptor, and his sculptures look like props. Until Hurricane Katrina, he was based in New Orleans. World Wall is a kind of childish grotto, with bits of bodies poking out of the walls, a huge, cave-like open mouth where a living room once stood, mad bulging eyes, a house whose roof is painted over with waves. An unnaturally skinny naked mother stalks the floor, head aloof. The unattractive but game Vicky Veterinarian has a cat burrowing in her shirt. Mango Lady's skin is made from mango peel. The characters are all in search of a plot, but there isn't one.

The painted and sculpted human beings throughout USA Today seem variously dumb, stupid, aggressive, abject, forlorn, ridiculous, damaged, sick, in distress, screwed up. This can be no coincidence. Or perhaps Saatchi has a taste for this sort of thing, this dismal view of the world. Almost everything else here shouts, screams, lacerates itself in self-loathing, hectors, assaults, appals, insults.

In Fuck the Police, Dash Snow presents 45 framed press clippings: Cops Busted in Sex Abuse, Cops Who Killed For Mafia, Cop in Coke Ring. The catalogue tells us Snow "started taking photos when he was a yobbish teenager", and that the headlines are all "splattered with jism". Well, that changes everything.

Perhaps the most telling sculpture is an anonymous figure, either cowering or in prayer. The body is a black bin-liner. Brown clay hands reach forward, palms flat on the floor. Behind the figure is a trail of crumbled clay. Huma Bhabha's sculpture has an odd vulnerability, however curtailed an image of a human it presents.

After 9/11, after Hurricane Katrina, after Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo, what should one expect from American culture, apart from rage and crawl-into- a-hole-in-the-ground-and-die abjection?

Perhaps that is what LA-based Jon Pylypchuk intends: his miserable little figures, touchingly dressed in remnants of fabric, stagger about on the floor, gather helplessly around the wounded, vomit in shock on the ground and upon each other. It is a horrible roundelay. All this goes on at ankle height. "Hopefully, I will live through this with a little bit of dignity," the title reads. Dignity is in short supply here. How about 222 plaster, wax and charcoal heads, each damaged in some way, each set inside a grubby little vitrine, in Beijing-born Terence Koh's Crackhead? Koh can't be accused of subtlety, any more than Banks Violette and her sculptural tableaux.

Violette's work is sculpture that wishes it was as edgy as a death-cult heavy metal band, but is about as dangerous as Spinal Tap. His casts of electric guitars, mock amplifiers and drifts of salt and sugar faking cocaine have schlock value, but little else.

In Barnaby Furnas's paintings, men in suits are being turned to mincemeat in a shoot-out on Hamburger Hill, and a flood of urethane red, like a bloody response to the poured and stained 1960s colour field paintings of Morris Louis, roars through a blue sky in another mammoth canvas. I can just see this sanguinous deluge displayed with pride in some American corporate lobby somewhere. That is one of the problems with art that attempts to make statements: it gets assimilated.

Paint becomes snot in a painted sneeze by Dana Schutz; she paints feelings as though they were regurgitated food. In one canvas, a head eats its own face, as well it might.

Schutz's paintings are at least funny and intelligently made. There are some silly paintings in this exhibition: a self-consciously badly painted decapitated horse with a huge penis, bluntly crass paintings of bits of bodies, Gerald Davis's deeply unpleasant paintings of adolescent sexuality.

Davis paints pubescent Monica giving head, and an x-ray view of teen Linsey's full colon, accompanied by a painted diary entry about her exquisite bathroom experience in the shopping mall. Where do we go with images like these? Am I meant to admire their more abstract qualities, or feel all smug at their sophisticated ironies?

USA Today is neither as good as I wanted it to be, nor as bad. When I say bad, I mean angry, lacerating, bitter, disillusioned, pained and powerful. In New York's Whitney Biennial, Richard Serra showed a rough little drawing of a now familiar image: a figure hooded in black, standing with outstretched arms on a box, waiting, so he thinks, to be electrocuted. "STOP BUSH," Serra scrawled on the drawing.

It may not be great art, but it doesn't need to be. That's the problem. I want an art more powerful - not just loud, not just blunt. Most of art's audience already know what they think about the state of America and the war on terror. The job of artists, novelists, film-makers, musicians and playwrights demands that they go further than stating the obvious. USA Today is an expression, more than anything, of impotence.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hunting for lost apartheid-era black art China Dialy

South Africa is scouring the globe to recover lost works by black artists that depict the turbulent apartheid era in a drive to educate young people about the struggle against white rule.

Vivid paintings of Zulu warriors and strife-torn black townships were shunned as too controversial, or simply too African, by mostly white South African art collectors under apartheid, and some were even banned.

But many paintings were quietly snapped up by foreign diplomats or visitors and spirited out of the country to adorn the walls of homes and boardrooms around the world.

The Ifa Lethu Foundation, supported by the ministry of culture, is trying to bring those works back to South Africa to display them in a touring exhibition of schools and community centres.

"This is about inspiring South Africans and forcing both black and white to confront their past and to celebrate what we have been able to achieve despite all the pain," Ifa Lethu Chairwoman Mamphela Ramphele said at the project launch in Soweto.

The travelling exhibition is also meant to educate young South Africans about the country's violent struggle against white rule and the sacrifices made by their parents' generation.

"It is making people aware of who they are and where they come from," said jazz maestro Hugh Masekela, who is backing the project. "If you don't know where you come from then you don't know where you are going."

The project first started when Australian diplomat Diane Johnstone donated a collection of 17 art works amassed during a posting to South Africa in the violent 1970s to the Pretoria Art Museum. That inspired a wider hunt for similar works.

Ifa Lethu has retrieved more than 60 works, including sketches of ghoulish figures depicting the 1976 Soweto street riots, a picture of women protesting apartheid laws, and vibrant paintings of traditional Zulu life.

Artist Sipho Ndebele sold his paintings of township life to Italian, German, and US diplomats and visitors after they were largely shunned by local buyers. Now one buyer from the United States has agreed to return some of it to join the exhibition.

"It is important for the young generation to know the history of our lives in art form," he said. "Despite the pain and grime of our lives, it is beautiful when we put it on paper."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Vuitton Plans a Gehry-Designed Arts Center in Paris NYTimes

Having grown rich by selling ephemeral new looks in fashion, the French luxury goods company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has now opted for a more permanent place in the art world by unveiling a striking design by Frank Gehry for a glass-covered complex housing a new cultural foundation in western Paris.

The plans, outlined at a news conference Monday, call for the building, whose cost is estimated at around $127 million, to open in late 2009 or early 2010. It will be on the northern edge of the Bois de Bologne in the popular children’s park known as the Jardin d’Acclimatation.

Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH, which includes Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Givenchy among its many brands, said the institution would be known as the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation. He described it as a logical follow-up to LVMH’s extensive sponsorship of the arts. “Its aim is to underline French creativity in the world,” he said.

He said the foundation would have a permanent collection formed from his own and LVMH’s art collections and would organize temporary exhibitions of the work of established and contemporary artists like Jean Dubuffet and Jean-Michel Basquiat or Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst. “We want to link timelessness and extreme modernity,” he said.

Suzanne Pagé, the outgoing director of the Musée d’Art Moderne of the City of Paris, has been named the foundation’s artistic director and will take charge of developing its program over the next three years.

With the foundation’s specific mission still uncertain, the immediate focus of attention was Mr. Gehry’s design, which, with its multifaceted deconstructed exterior, recalls his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and his Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The big difference is that the new building will be covered in glass, not titanium.

“The project is a dream, so the idea is to create a dream,” Mr. Gehry, 77, said at a crowded news conference at LVMH’s plush headquarters on the Avenue Montaigne. “The idea is of a cloud made of glass. The French are famous for their work in glass, so that’s exciting. It’s difficult to achieve in architecture, but we’re getting there.”

“I want everything to look like my drawings,” he went on, waving toward large reproductions of seemingly chaotic pen drawings. “The model is not quite there. We’ve built 30 or 40 models, and the design is still evolving. It’s not going to look exactly like this, so forgive me: I want the lines to look like the sketch.”

From the outside, the present design resembles a large transparent insect crawling through the park. Solid gallery spaces can also be seen, floating almost like organs, inside the building. The complex will also have an underground auditorium and a glass-covered roof and restaurant.

If completed, the complex may help Mr. Gehry dispel unhappy memories of his first experience of building in Paris. In the early 1990’s, he designed a new American Center here, but the center was forced to close by financial difficulties in 1996. The building remained empty and abandoned until last year, when it became the French Cinémathèque.

Mr. Gehry’s new building may also allow Mr. Arnault to score a publicity coup against his luxury goods rival, François Pinault, the owner of Christie’s, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and three chains of department and media stores. Last spring, after five years of wrestling with red tape, Mr. Pinault abandoned plans to build a $195 million museum for his contemporary art collection outside Paris and acquired the Palazzo Grassi in Venice instead.

Attempts by reporters to draw Mr. Arnault into commenting on Mr. Pinault’s setbacks in Paris were unsuccessful. “I think that any comparison with other initiatives is not pertinent,” he responded sharply. “I’ll leave it at that.”

What is no secret, however, is that while Mr. Arnault heads the world’s largest luxury goods group, Mr. Pinault has a far richer contemporary-art collection, one that he has been building steadily that and numbers more than 2,500 objects, with works by all the best-known artists of the last 40 years.

In contrast, according to Le Monde, Mr. Arnault began by buying a Monet in 1980 and has only recently turned his attention to modern and contemporary art. He has since reportedly acquired works by Yves Klein, Chris Burden, Takashi Murakami, Doug Aitken and Matthew Barney, among others. A large iron sculpture by Richard Serra also stands in the lobby of the LVMH headquarters here.

A no less important difference between the two men is that Mr. Arnault’s museum project seems likely to be realized. On Monday he was accompanied by France’s culture minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, and by the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, who both enthusiastically endorsed the new Louis Vuitton Foundation as well as Mr. Gehry’s design.

The Jardin d’Acclimatation is owned by the City of Paris, but LVMH has a 20-year concession to operate the children’s park, which continues through 2015 and gives it the option of developing the site for cultural purposes. The new complex, which will require the razing of an abandoned bowling alley, must still be approved by the Paris city council.