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Jan. 18, 2007 

On Jan. 10, 2007, avid New York art lovers filled Cooper Union's so-called "Great Hall" in lower Manhattan to hear Documenta 12 director Roger Buergel say something, anything, about the forthcoming "Monster Mash" in Kassel, Germany, as we referred to Documenta 11 back in 2002 [see "Monster Mash," June 7, 2002]. Sadly, the audience came away puzzled, at best, as Buergel -- a lecturer in "visual theory" at the University of Lünenburg, Germany -- kept his remarks in the ether.

"What is an exhibition?" Buergel asked, surely rhetorically. "We must reflect upon the situation in ontological terms." He did hit one provocative note when he showed a slide of the cargo-container art galleries of "Art Positions" at Art Basel Miami Beach, and said that the image struck him as an "allegory of the esthetic of death." He was stretching the truth a little bit, though, since his image was unpopulated, and in reality "Art Positions" was quite the lively scene, with a bar and cabaret at its center. 

Buergel's advance position paper for Documenta 12 is similarly theoretical. The art is expected to be "often difficult, and even more often impossible to understand." Visitors to the exhibition are "invited to consider their own habits of perception and to work on themselves," as if the global contemporary art survey were some kind of esthetic Dr. Phil Show. To this end, Buergel asks three questions of the audience: 1) Modernity? Is modernity our antiquity? 2) Life! What is bare life? and 3) Education: What is to be done?

As to these three guiding questions, Documenta 12 has supposedly addressed them via a "dialogue" involving "more than 80 journals, magazines and online media worldwide" all under the direction of Georg Schöllhammer. This seminar, so to speak, is to culminate in the publication in early 2007 of Documenta 12 Magazine, a "journal of journals." Alas, Artnet Magazine was not invited to participate in this discussion! We're too busy, anyway.

Though a list of the artists who have been invited to take part in Documenta 12 has not yet been released, preparations have begun on what is being called the "exhibition architecture" -- a temporary structure known as the Crystal Palace. This "lightweight and airy pavilion," designed by French architects Lacaton & Vassai, is currently being constructed on the lawn in front of the Orangerie palace, and is to have the same 10,000-square-meter footprint as the palace itself. Apparently, however, funding for construction is not yet in hand, and the project may remain an asphalt footprint only.

In any case, the architecture is designed "to create space for learning experiences." Buergel: "The moment when the exhibition is perceived not as a mere collection of sensational trophies, a junk room, a discourse factory, or a shopping mall, but as a broadly defined space for experience -- that is the moment when the architecture has the task of enabling learning experiences."

One artistic project for Documenta 12 is well under way, however. Last fall, the Brazilian artist Ricardo Basbaum distributed 20 steel objects to people in Europe, Africa and South America, who all agreed to live with the object and document their experiences. For details, see

At the Jan. 17 ribbon-cutting for Doug Aitken's giant-sized sleepwalkers installation on the exterior of the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA director Glenn Lowry seemed positively giddy to be on the same stage as Republican mayor Michael Bloomberg, who joined him along with Aitken, Creative Time director Anne Pasternak and folk singer Seu Jorge, who is featured in the film. "We are so lucky to have Michael Bloomberg as our mayor," Lowry declared of the man whom some still remember as overlord of "Guantanamo on the Hudson," the nickname for the holding pen on Pier 57 where over 1,000 protestors were detained during the 2004 Republican National Convention. "He's the finest mayor of any city in America!" For her part, Pasternak called her colleagues "the best partners a girl could have," and boldly championed art's ability to "provoke thought." Bloomberg brought everyone down to earth with his remarks about his support for the arts. "It makes the city a lot of money," he told the crowd.

According to its website, Sotheby's auction house has raised its buyer's premium from 20 percent on the first $200,000 of the purchase price to 20 percent on the first $500,000, a substantial jump that should improve the company's profitability (Sotheby's stock is currently trading at more than $33 a share).

As yet, Christie's has not matched the raise. A spokesperson for the firm noted that "As the world's leading art business, we will make our own decision about our own rates based on our own assessment of our business needs."

It looks like the Musée du Louvre in Paris may well trump the Guggenheim Museum as a global player. The French museum has officially confirmed that it will join the Gugg in a new, multibillion-dollar Saadiyat Island tourist development in Abu Dhabi. Much more lucrative than the Guggenheim deal, the French Government will rent the "Louvre" name and its art to the new enterprise, scheduled to open in 2012, for a sum that Le Monde has reported may total between $800 million and $1 billion, with all construction being financed by the United Arab Emirates. According to the plan, after 20 years, the new institution will lose the rights to the Louvre name and have to rebrand.

The initiative is directed by the International Agency of French Museums, a new state agency set up to spearhead international initiatives to capitalize on French art treasures, with jurisdiction over state institutions including the Musée d'Orsay, the Musée du Quai Branly, the Château de Versailles and the Pompidou Center, in addition to the Louvre. According to Le Monde, in the coming 10 years, the IAFM is to provide management expertise to the Abu Dhabi project for a fee of $91 million, put together four annual touring shows for the Abu Dhabi Louvre worth $195 million, and put some 300 artworks on "permanent" display there, worth $260 million. IAFM is also said to be planning a Pompidou Center Shanghai project.

A collection of French art world luminaries have protested the government initiative, and a petition against the perceived commercialization of the national patrimony has been signed by 2,400 people, including current and former directors and curators of the Louvre, the Pompidou, Musée de l'Orangerie and the Musée d'Orsay. The petition is viewable at

The 90-year-old Op Art maestro Edna Andrade is in the middle of a late-career resurgence of interest, opening a show of her golden period (1960-1966) at Locks Gallery in Philadelphia, Jan. 19-Feb. 24, 2007. Currently in an assisted living complex, Andrade reports that this year has been her best ever: "I have been busy as a bird dog trying to get rid of my stuff, and trying to get ready to die," she told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I made more money this year than I ever made. I think people are finally catching up with me."

In addition to the Locks show, an Andrade retrospective opens at the Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill, Pa., on Mar. 28, 2007, and she also features prominently in several surveys of Op Art, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art's "Pop Art and Its Affinities," July 29, 2006-June 2007, and "Optic Nerve: Perceptual Art of the 1960s," Feb. 16-June 17, 2007, at the Columbus Museum of Art. In March Philadelphia's University of the Arts, where Andrade taught for 30 years, is to unveil a scholarship fund in her name.

Manhattan's Chelsea art-gallery district is fast developing a second identity as a center of contemporary design, notably with two separate exhibitions of works by Australia-born, London-based "designer of the year" Marc Newson (b. 1963), whose riveted aluminum Lockheed Lounge sold for a record $968,000 at Sotheby's. An exhibition of Newson's new chairs, screens and other furniture works -- done in Carrara marble -- opens at Gagosian Gallery on West 24th Street, Jan. 25-Mar. 3, 2007. And the new showroom Sebastian+Barquet, launched by art dealer Ramis Barquet at 601 West 26th Street, debuts its collection of Newson's designs, including the Lockheed Lounge prototype (now rumored to carry a $2.5 million price tag) and the sleek Event Horizon table from Brad Pitt's collection.

Designed by Enrique Norten and directed by Jose Lobon, the new showroom also boasts a collection of works by Paul Evans, Max Ingrand, Vladimir Kagan, Carlo Mollino, George Nakashima, Isamu Noguchi, Gio Ponte, Jean Prouvé and Jean Royere. "We really try to focus on incredibly unique pieces -- prototypes, one-offs and limited editions -- or iconic pieces that define a designer's oeuvre or a movement's piece de resistance," said Barquet. Sebastian+Barquet's new presentation opens on Jan. 25, 2007.

Upstate New York's very own vanguard artist, Richard Prince, is having a museum show in what could arguably be called his neighborhood museum, the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, N.Y. "Fugitive Artist: The Early Works of Richard Prince, 1974-77," Jan. 28-June 24, 2007, presents over 50 drawings, prints, altered text works and mixed media photo-collages, all made between 1974 and 1977, that provide a new context for Prince's well-known exploration of themes of authorship, repetition and identity, according to curator Michael Lobel.

More news in the quest to keep Thomas Eakins' The Gross Clinic in Philadelphia. The fund drive has snagged a $7 million donation from Athena and Nicholas Karabots of Fort Washington, Pa., bringing the total sum raised to $37 million ($68 mil is needed to match the amount offered to Thomas Jefferson University -- the painting's current owner -- by the National Gallery of Art and Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum). Nicholas Karabots is director of the Amrep Corp., a magazine wholesaler and major land developer in New Mexico.

The Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, and the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo have announced that they have teamed up to buy Rachel Whiteread's Untitled (Domestic) (2002). The sculpture, measuring 266 x 230 x 96 ½ inches, is a casting from an interior staircase in London gallery Haunch of Venison. The work will alternate annually between the two museums, but kicks off at the Albright-Knox.

The Detroit Institute of Arts recently counted up the number of new artworks it had acquired in 2006, and came up with an impressive number -- 998 works. Highlights include James McNeill Whistler's Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers (1893), a 7 x 10 in. oil on panel seascape that had been lost to public view since 1904, and a collection of 54 garments, decorative pouches and other Great Lakes-region textiles, ca. 1820-1890. The Detroit Institute expects to complete its renovation and expansion project, which includes a 31,383-square-foot addition designed by Michael Graves and Associates, in November 2007.

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., is hosting an exhibition of works by postmodernist pioneer Sherrie Levine. "Living Artists of Distinction: Sherrie Levine, Abstraction," Jan. 26-May 13, 2007, features works made after O'Keeffe's paintings of the New Mexico desert and Alfred Stieglitz's "Equivalents" photographs. The exhibition is accompanied by Sherrie Levine: Abstraction (Arts Club of Chicago, $15) by O'Keeffe Museum curator Barbara Butler Lynes.

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has appointed Peter Eleey as its visual arts curator, succeeding Douglas Fogle, who is now at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh organizing the 55th Carnegie International for 2008. Eleey was formerly curator at Creative Time in New York.

And Creative Time's new curator is Nato Thompson, who has been a curator at MASS MoCA since 2001. Nato joins Mark Beasley at Creative Time, who joined the public art organization this winter from London, where he worked as an independent curator.

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