Art update

John Giorno/Basel/Ile de Porquerolles/London June 2018

On June 5, I was delighted to join Melissa Chiu, Director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and other guests on a visit to John Giorno’s studio in Lower Manhattan. Giorno is an American poet and performance artist.  He was featured in Warhol’s film “Sleep” in 1963 and founded “Dial-A-Poem”, using a telephone service to communicate poetry in a modern way. His studio walls were filled with his paintings including “LET IT COME LET IT GO”, “LIFE IS A KILLER” and “BIG EGO”. On June 21, 2017, the artist Ugo Rondinone, husband of Giorno along with many collaborators created a sprawling, multi-part exhibition that presented the extraordinary life and work, celebrating his 80th birthday entitled “I ❤️JOHN”. It was a stunning 13 venue creation!


John Giorno and Author

We arrived in Basel on Sunday June 10th and on Monday morning, we headed over to the Schaulager Museum to see “Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts”, a retrospective spanning five decades of his career including 170 works in various media. Nauman continues to challenge the viewers with his ongoing reactions to his surroundings while engaging in cutting edge-technology. He is never repetitive unlike many other artists working today. His masterpiece “One Hundred Live and Die”,(1984) along with “Contrapposto Split”, (2017), a 3-D video installation, 33  years later illustrate his extraordinary intelligence, achievement and influence. This newer version of “Contrapposto Studies, i through vii”, (2016-17) contains a set of seven video projections with sound featuring Nauman walking in contraposto , through digital manipulation where the images are both positive and negative as well as chopped in half.


Bruce Nauman, SLEEP AND DIE SLEEP AND LIVE RUN AND DIE RUN AND LIVE, 1984. Photo courtesy Schaulager Foundation.

The next stop was the Beyeler Fondation to see “Bacon – Giacometti. It is the first time that these two giants have been exhibited together and it is the human figure that captures the imagination of both.  Their dialogue in this stunning museum is a rare treat.







Bacon – Giacometti, Beyeler Foundation. Photo courtesy of Domus.

Decades ago, seeing their work of fragmented and deformed bodies in the flesh seemed shocking to me as an art history student at McGill University. The elongated figures of Giacometti’s sculpture appeared as if all life had been sucked out of them. The tortuous pain and distortion in Bacon’s paintings were all pervasive. They haunted me then and still do to this day.  Isabel Rawsthorne appears in both artists works. Bacon’s portrait “Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a street in Soho” and Giacometti’s “Femme au Chariot”. Apparently, Isabel was both men’s lover and Bacon’s only female partner. There are 100 paintings and sculptures on loan from major museums and private collections in Europe and the USA. An outstanding “Triptych”, 1967 is on loan from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

We continued on to view Theaster Gates’ exhibition “The Black Madonna” at the Kunstmuseum.  An urban planner by training, he is involved with the Dorchester Projects, an urban renewal plan in Chicago’s impoverished South Side. His varied practice includes performance as he is the lead singer of the band  “The Black Monks of Mississippi”. Sam Gilliam’s “The Music of Color” exhibit, also on view at the Kunstmuseum is his first institutional solo show in Europe and focuses on the years 1967 – 1973. A reminder that he was the first African American to represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale in 1973. The forty-five works offer a challenge to the traditional boundaries between painting, sculpture and architecture.
Later in the afternoon, it was time to attend the opening of Art Basel Unlimited once again curated by Gianni Jetzer for the seventh year. Gianni is the former director of the Swiss Institute and currently the curator at large at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Of the 72 works featured from around the world the following artists resonated with us. We go from the future of a virtual reality technology world to the plight of African Americans to gun control. Bravo to Gianni for providing a range of issues for everyone to explore. Here are 3 works to engage in:


Jon Rafman’s “Dream Journal”, 2016-2017, was attracting an enormous audience when we sat on the vibrating loungers.  Acclaimed visual artist Rafman is recognized for his interdisciplinary practice that includes photography, sculpture, video, virtual reality and installation. “He presents a nightmare vision of a disturbing computer generated-generation world. Two female protagonists embark upon a Dantean journey across stage landscapes and phantasmagorical spaces, encountering a host of recurring characters; often hybrids between human, monster and animal. Unconscious fantasies find voice through the vernacular of virtual worlds, as primeval, libidinous encounters unfold in a series of surreal sequences. The film is scored by experimental musicians Oneohtrix Point Never and James Ferraro”.  This almost one-hour long video premiered at the Frieze Art Fair in March of 2017, presented by High Line Programs director Cecilia Alemani.

Rashid Johnson’s, “Antoine’s Organ”, installation consists of large black steel beams, lush green plants, wood pieces, videos, grow lights, rugs and a piano. The inspiring message is that there can be new life amidst the rough structural system of prison life.  Johnson is known for his conceptual post-black art. His practice includes photography, video and sculpture.


The first glance at Robert Longo’s debut of  “Death Star II” dazzles the viewer with it’s stunning shape and luminosity. On closer examination, one realizes it is a massive ball composed of bullets, in fact 40,000 bullets.  It is an ongoing theme in Longo’s oeuvre addressing gun violence in America. 20% of the proceeds of the sale will go to Everytown for Gun Safety. In 1993, Longo created Death Star consisting of 18,000 brass and copper bullets, which is now at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo.


Robert Longo’s Death Star II , 2017/18. Photo courtesy of the author.

Tuesday morning is the first VIP opening of this year’s 49th edition of the Basel Art Fair. We were invited to a champagne breakfast outside at 9:30 am and then lined up to enter at 11 am. It feels less VIP every year, as the crowds continue to grow and some booths are jam packed, which makes it extremely difficult to view the works.  290 galleries from 35 countries exhibited this year. A few of this year’s discoveries include: Elle Perez’s “Morning” at 47 Canal, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun “they and them” and photographs her friends and community in intimate emotional moments. Ron Terada who is based in Vancouver entitled TL; DR,(too long didn’t read) comprising of 52 paintings with texts including “Binge Watching as a Way To Remember”. Miguel Chevalier’s “Data-Cities “ is a virtual reality work consisting of a 60 minute video. Another VR work by Jacolby Satterwhite’s  “Entertainment Center, is an installation work consisting of wood, latex, paint, and mixed media. After confronting the new tech based works of art, it was refreshing to find the master, Damien Hirst’s “Colour Space” painting entitled “Smidgen”. In this series, Damien has gone back to working the canvas with his own hand and keeps to the tradition of the “Spot Paintings” with no two exact colors repeating in each painting, which is very important to the artist.

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Damien Hirst, Smidgen, 2016. Photo courtesy of the author.

As the topic of Blockchain and Art intrigues me, on Wednesday morning, I attended the Basel Arttech + Blockchain Connect conference. The first panel discussion “Art + Blockchain” included Kevin Abosch, artist IAMA Coin, Jerome Croisier, Chief Arts Officer at Maecenas, Marco Grossi, Director and Leader Blockchain Audit and Assurance, Deloitte AG, Jess Houlgrave, Co-Founder and COO, Codex Protocol, Roy Huang, Co-Founder Fresco, Blockchain Art Trust Distribution Network, moderated by Oliver Smith, Senior Reporter, Forbes.

It was challenging to listen to the panelists discussing their visions of a 21st century art world based on technology and transparency.  Being part of the opaque art world for many decades, one wonders when and if the Blockchain platform will be able to transform the existing system. Many years ago, we all said no one is going to buy art on the internet as art must be seen in person. That certainly does not apply today! Perhaps, we’ll be remembering the opaqueness of the art market in the not too distant future and wonder why it took so long for it to come into existence!

The Authentication + Tech panelists included: Nanne Dekking, Chairman of the Board, TEFAF, Founder & CEO, Artory, Alban Fischer, Global Head of Digital Platforms, Art Basel, Adeline Pilon, Co-Founder, Happening, Tom Toumazis MBE, Executive Chairman Tagsmart, Yan Waither, Global Manager, SGS Art Services, moderated by Alain Mestat, Managing Partner, PassionProducts.

Switching gears from museums and art fairs in Switzerland, it was time to fly to France and explore the island of Porquerolles, off the coast of the South of France.  It is accessible by a short boat ride from the coastal town of Hyeres. After a 15 minute walk, we discover the Fondation Carmignac, a new museum and sculpture park, recently opened on June lst by Charles Carmignac.  He has chosen this idyllic island to showcase his approximately 300 works of contemporary art. The inaugural exhibition “Sea of Desire”, written on a large painting by Ed Ruscha which greets the viewers upon arrival, is curated by Dieter Buchhart.  Viewing Sandro Botticcelli ’s “Venus” from the Musei Real di Turino with Lichtenstein’s “ Collage for Nude with Red Shirt along with Lichtenstein’s “Earth, Beach scene with Starfish”, is sublime! Carmignac is known to be one of the largest collectors of Lichtensteins in France. Other impressive works are Nauman’s  One Hundred Fish Fountain”, Basquiat’s “Untitled (Fallen Angel)”, Basquiat’s “Zing” a portrait of Charles Carmignac, and Tom Sach’s, “Bonsai” sculpture and Barcello’s “Not Yet Titled”.


Fondation Carmignac on the Ile de Porquerolles, Sandro Botticcelli ’s “Venus”, Lichtenstein’s Earth, Beach scene with Starfish.

To view this extraordinary collection in the transformed  21,500 square feet of exhibition space, barefoot and with only 50 visitors at a time is pure joy! Outside in the surrounding gardens, we discovered works by Plensa, Ugo Rondinone, Olaf Brunei and Jeppe Hein’s, “Path of Emotions”.

Off to London to catch up with the museums exhibitions  including “Picasso 1932 LOVE FAME TRAGEDY” at the Tate Modern, “All Too Human, Bacon Freund and a Century of Painting Life” at the Tate Britain, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Mastaba (Project for London, Hyde Park, Serpentine Lake)” at the Serpentine.


Pablo Picasso’s Seated Woman by a Window, 1932. Photo courtesy of the author.

The Picasso 1932 exhibit is absolutely stunning and a look into the year when Picasso enjoyed a most passionate love affair with Marie Therese Walter, hidden away in Boisgeloup.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude began collaborating in 1961 until her death in 2009. His ongoing commitment to their projects is remarkable. The exhibition includes a temporary floating sculpture on the nearby Serpentine Lake, totally funded by Christo. It contains 7,506 colored barrels and stands 65.5  feet high. It’s Christo’s wish to have a permanent Mastaba installed in Abu Dhabi which would be greater in height than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, approximately 400 feet tall.



Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Barrels and The Mastaba, 1958-2018. Photo courtesy of the author.