16 May 2007

Grand Tour: stop, revive, survive

This Northern summer offers an once-in-a-decade opportunity for collectors to sample the latest trends in international contemporary market. Michael Hutak previews a blockbuster European season.

It swings round every ten years, the "harmonic convergence of super exhibitions", according to Artnet, that has signposted the phenomenal growth of the international market since the 1970s. 2007 will see the big four of contemporary events -- the Venice Biennale, Art Basel, documenta XII and the Münster Sculpture Project -- all open within a couple of weeks in June. This fortunate freak of scheduling delivers Basel, the Biennale, documenta, held once every five years, and Münster, held every ten years since 1977, to all strata of the international art milieu: artists, curators, gallerists, critics, consultants, bureaucrats, Museums, foundations, dealers, publishers. Oh, and collectors.

La Biennale di Venezia

With former Museum of Modern Art curator, Robert Storr, taking the reins, hopes for renewal for Venice are high this year. Curators of the world’s longest-running biennale have negotiated a rocky critical road over the last few stanzas. After the sprawling over-determined glut presided over by Italian contemporary art godfather, Francesco Bonami in 2003 (11 co-curators and 375 artists), came a vastly pared-down but no more engaging over-reaction from Spanish co-directors, Rosa Martínez and María de Corral, in 2005 (some 80 artists). Storr, who has had an unprecedented lead-in of 36 months since his appointment to prepare, is expected to deliver a more coherent vision, one that he has claimed will openly celebrate “the plural” as “the very essence” of art. For the Italian Pavilion, which is always given over to the director to make his own special statement on the contemporary scene, Storr has selected artists that include photographer, Rosemary Laing. New York represented Laing is the first Australian to be picked for the Italian Pavilion, eclipsing the past efforts of venerated Australian Venice veterans such as Nolan, Boyd, Kngwarreye or Tillers.
In the national lineup at this, the 52nd International Art Exhibition, Venice’s Olympian pretensions finally widen to include previously “unexplored” territories, with the addition of Turkey, India and Africa for the first time. This pitch has been mired in controversy over the choice of works from the Dokolo African Collection of Contemporary Art for the African exhibition, following reporting of Sindika Dokolo’s alleged links with Angola’s repressive diamond trade. Despite this development, the opening up of the Biennale to African art is a good thing, and means to reflect an international art scene which operates in an age of globalised trade and technological convergence, increasingly estranged from any notion of (an occidental) centre. Of course, Venice during the three day Vernissage literally embodies that centre, as the artworld’s rich and powerful, from billionaire collectors to celebrity artists, converge to see and be seen with 30,000 of their closest friends and admirers.
The Australia Council attributed 2005’s record attendance of 187,000 visitors to see Ricky Swallow at the Australian Pavilion to the efforts of entrepreneurial commissioner, John Kaldor. Kaldor led a donor group of some 75 collectors around Venice who had paid a minimum $5000 to earn champion partner status as a supportor Australia’s Venice presence. All very corporate. Chosen to play for Australia this year are three artists – Susan Norrie, Daniel von Sturmer, and Callum Morton – whose work, in a break from tradition, will be presented in three different locales across Venice, a move away from the exclusive use of the unfortunate beach shack that doubles as the Australian Pavilion on the hallowed Giardini di Castello. This year von Sturmer’s video will inhabit the difficult Giardini space, while Norrie will show at the Fondazione Levi and Morton at an uncertain venue. Tracey Emin (Britain) and Sophie Calle (France) will add class to the contest. If you haven’t booked your room yet, you won’t be going.
Vernissage: June 7, 8, 9 for invited guests. Runs till November.

Art 38 Basel

After some well-earned R&R in Venezia, most art life aficionados will car-pool private jets to deposit them in Basel, Switzerland, for the world’s premier commercial art fair. If Venice is for the artworld’s collective brainstrust, Basel is set up for its collective trust funds. At Art 38 Basel -- it’s their 38th year – organizers invite about 300 of the world’s leading contemporary art galleries which will display the often engaging wares of 2000 of the world’s leading artists; a show so exclusive, some of the world’s most prominent dealers can’t buy themselves an invite. For collectors, all this worlds’ best practice might make Basel appear as though its put on for those to whom six-figures for an artwork is small change. And it is. Still organisers claim the fifty thousand visitors it gets over 5 days “come to see the most rigorously juried selection of what the international art market has to offer, and to meet the insiders and stars of the art scene.” In a pluralist artworld this may seem hype, but it’s also true.
Art Basel divides itself up into Art Premiere (for multiples and editions and emerging galleries), Art Statements (a series of solo shows by selected artists) and Art Unlimited (for large-scale installations and projects). After you’ve snapped up a Miro, a Rusha, two Hirsts, and a Warhol, mingle with the great and good at the cafés on the Messeplatz. From “Down Under”, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery will travel to Basel for the twelfth consecutive year. And outside the main exhibition, the Liste 07 survey of young artists is always interesting and the extraordinary Beyeler Foundation, just outside Basel, will still have its landmark, Edvard Munch: Signs of Modern Art running (till 15 July. www.art.ch/go/id/ss/
Tuesday, 12 June, 2007 Vernissage for invited guests, runs till 17 June.

documenta XII

If Venice anoints the artists who will be sold at Basel, Kassel is where they typically made their name. Known for breaking the careers of younger artists, documenta’s key venue is the Fridericianum, opened in 1779 as Europe's first public museum. Bombed by the Allies in 1945, it’s damaged frame would be the venue of documenta I, in 1955 by Arnold Bode, whose exhibition of works by modernist icons such as Arp, Beckmann, Klee, Matisse, Mondrian, Kandinsky, de Chirico, Chagall and Picasso, among others, at once renewed post-war German art connection with its past and renounced the repression encapsulated by the Nazi’s infamous exhibition of “Entartete Kunst or Degenerate Art in Munich in 1937. Over the decades documenta, always influential, became archetypically monumental. Okwui Enwezor’s documenta XI in 2002 drew 650,000 visitors but was criticised for being so broad it verged on indigestible. documenta XII director Roger Buergel was tight-lipped on any concrete details at a press conference in February, and confirmed just two artists: Ferran Adria, who is actually a leading Barcelona chef; and Polish artist Artur Zmijewski, who will present a Bach cantata performed by a deaf choir. Buergal, an art historian, has revealed that he wants to ask his audience three questions: Is modernity our antiquity? What is bare life? and the ever-popular, Education: What is to be done? The cognoscenti’s concern is if we can’t come up with the answers who will have failed? Buergel or us? Kassell, the town, is a mixed bag. When visiting Australia earlier this year, curator Ruth Noack, coincidentally, also director Buergal’s partner, told the Sydney Morning Herald the “food is terrible, the hotel’s suck,” and “people only go to Kassel… for the art”. It gets crowded.
Vernissage: 14 & 15 June 2007.

sculpture projects muenster 07

It cannot be merely coinicidence that MoMA, New York, will open a 40-year retrospective of US sculptor Richard Serra’s monumental minimalism just two weeks before the fourth international Münster Sculpture Project, or the sculpture projects muenster. Mounted every ten years since 1977 in this lively German university town, Münster is the pinnacle for contemporary sculptors, and has been a bellwether to the careers of the likes of Serra, Jeff Koons, Donald Judd, Claes Oldenburg and Martin Kippenerger. This year 35 artists have been invited to create new, site-specific work in the city. Expect works from Thomas Schütte, Rosemarie Trockel, and Mark Wallinger to attract attention. The reliably brilliant and esteemed curator, Kasper König, will again oversee Munster, which he has nurtured since the beginning with Klaus Bussmann of the Landesmuseum in Munster.
Grand opening, 16 June

First published in Australian Art Collector

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