CRITICS ROAST VENICE BIENNALE CURATOR
Directing the Venice Biennale can seem like a thankless task, as has no doubt been discovered by Robert Storr, director of this year’s installment, June 10-Nov. 21, 2007. Harsh words from art critics are par for the course, especially for a high profile show like the biennale. The daily newspapers and weeklies have all had their say, and now it’s time for those dinosaurs of the 20th century, the monthly art magazines, to weigh in with their reviews.
Storr’s maverick personality, not to mention a sharp pen he has frequently wielded in letters to the editors, have attracted a notably personal set of attacks from his peers in the art press. In the London-based Frieze magazine, for instance -- where Storr writes a column -- Daniel Palmer opines that "Storr’s curated shows are weighed down with the guilt of an ill-at-ease American," while Tirdad Zolghadr mocks Storr’s "old-school high-culture aficionado shtick."
Meanwhile, over in New York, Artforum magazine, in its 800-page September issue, refers to Storr’s show as "gloomy," "lackluster," "enervating," "awkward" and "middle-of-the-road," among other things. Most devastatingly, Tate Modern curator Jessica Morgan suggests that anyone could have predicted that Storr’s show would be "less than revelatory," and goes on to complain that "it is hard to discern any ideas" in his curatorial practice as a whole.
The choicest critique, however, comes from 2003 Venice Biennale curator Francesco Bonami. Bonami begins by complaining that he was in fact the first "American" to organize a Venice Biennale, since he had become a naturalized U.S. citizen two years before he got the job. He then goes on to assert that "if Storr is not the first to curate an American Venice Biennale, he is nevertheless the first to curate an Amish one," calling his show "oblivious" to the present, "staid" and comparing it to a stick in the mud.
Storr has already returned fire in an angry essay in Frieze, accusing his critics -- all unnamed -- of "intellectual fickleness and condescension towards seriousness and sobriety." Storr asserts that viewers who don’t like his show are jaded, and so have only themselves to blame if they think his selections predictable. "I am sure that some will find it convenient to fault me and my curatorial colleagues for their ‘biennial fatigue’," he writes, using a phrase that close readers of contemporary art criticism may recognize as belonging to New York magazine’s Jerry Saltz.
Storr goes on to complain about "former critics of ‘festivalism’" -- that would be New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl, who coined the catchy term -- who dared to call the show boring. Offering a rather nasty critique of judgment, Storr indirectly calls Schjeldahl’s writing "spasmodic" and further hazards that his "intellectual fickleness and condescension towards seriousness and sobriety in others are tell-tale symptoms of the dry-drunk dyspepsia of rebel dandies without a cause."
Exhausting, to be sure! According to the essay, Storr found time after the show to treat himself to a vacation to Pompeii -- and aficionados of argument are watching Artforum’s letters column for a further expected riposte from the Venice curator.
RUSSIAN ARCHITECTURE IN PERIL AT MOMA
The scorched-earth capitalism that took over Russia after the fall of Communism seems to be provoking something of a preservationist backlash, and the issue comes to New York with a symposium on the topic, Sept. 28, at the Architectural League of New York, and Sept. 29, at the Museum of Modern Art. The featured speaker is Sergey Gordeyev, a Russian senator who has founded the Russian Avantgarde Foundation (RAF) to help preserve notable examples of Soviet-era avant-garde culture -- particularly buildings made in the fertile period of artistic experimentation before Joseph Stalin’s crackdown on modernism.
Today the threat to the country’s modernism is less Communist Puritanism than it is shopping malls. One RAF goal is stopping development around Moscow’s Melnikov Museum, housed in the home of architect Konstantin Melnikov (1890-1974). Another proposal is the transformation of another Melnikov building, the Burevestnik Factory Club, into an architectural center (the RAF recently brought Rem Koolhaas to Russia to speak there).
The RAF -- whose six-member board includes the Guggenheim director Thomas Krens -- also spearheaded the restoration of the Russian Pavilion in Venice, which opened for the current Biennale on June 5, 2007. Additionally, as part of its effort to get the word out, it funded the current show at MoMA, "Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modernist Architecture, 1922-32," which focuses on contemporary photos of threatened Soviet structures by Richard Pare.MORE TROUBLE FOR JEONG-AH
Korean curator Shin Jeong-ah, already in hot water for having faked the credentials that landed her prominent positions in academia and at museums [see Artnet News, July 12, 2007], is facing still more problems from prosecutors, according to the Korea Times. The prosecution is now alleging that Jeong-Ah embezzled "hundreds of millions" of Korean won from sponsorship money during her tenure as curator at the Sungkok Art Museum, some of which she invested in the stock market. According to the paper, Jeong-ah fled to New York in mid-July following the scandal that caused her to lose a position co-directing the 2008 Gwangju Biennale, but returned to Seoul last Sunday to face multiple rounds of questioning from authorities. A Korean court refused to issue an arrest warrant for the forgery case, saying that it did not constitute a grave enough offense, but the prosecution plans to pursue jail time for the embezzlement charges. JORGE PARDO SURVEY
The art world’s hippest design artist, the Havana-born, Los Angeles-based Jorge Pardo, is having a major mid-career survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. Dubbed "Jorge Pardo: House," Dec. 4, 2007-Mar. 2, 2008, the exhibition presents 60 key works "according to their utilitarian typology in vignettes representing various rooms and areas in a house." The show is also said to extend beyond the museum itself to Pardo’s site-specific projects around the world, including his own house in L.A. The show is organized by MOCA director Bonnie Clearwater.
ART & ANTIQUES REVIVES
Goodbye advertorials, hello Vince Aletti. The Atlanta-based Art & Antiques magazine has given itself a makeover, with a retro-moderne design and a new editorial policy that emphasizes art over antiques. Under editor-in-chief Barbara S. Tapp and president Robert Ross, the mag relaunches in October with a cover featuring an abstract painting by pioneering Los Angeles modernist Hans Burkhardt and an accompanying story by U.C. Berkeley professor emeritus Peter Selz on the affinities between Burkhardt and Arshille Gorky. Inside, Aletti vamps on eccentric Czech artist Miroslav Tichy, while Belgian dealer-writer Paul Conru writes on Fang reliquary sculpture. Other features include an article on Helen Frankenthaler, a Q&A with PaceWildenstein president Marc Glimcher and, of course, a sizeable amount of material on antiques.
ARARIO TO OPEN CHELSEA BRANCH
Arario Gallery -- which already has two spaces in Korea, as well as one in Beijing -- is opening a New York branch this November. The 7,000-square-foot facility is located at 521 West 25th Street and advertised as "among the largest commercial galleries in New York." London architect David Adjaye is doing the design, and his plans for the second-floor location offer two galleries, one devoted to Arario’s stable of established Chinese, Indian and Korean artists, the other reserved for shows promoting younger figures.
The inaugural show at Arario New York is "Absolute Images II," Nov. 10, 2007-Jan. 13, 2008. Organized by gallery director Cheagab Yun, the exhibition features new works from a panorama of Chinese artists, many of them already quite familiar to the New York art world: Fang Lijun, Ji Da chun, Liu Jianhua, Sui Jianguo, Wang Du, Yang Shaobin, Yue Minjun, Zeng Hao, Wang Guangyi, Zhou Tiehai and Zhang Xiaogang.
PRAEMIUM IMPERIALE TO BUREN, CRAGG
The Japan Art Association has announced the winners of the 2007 Praemium Imperiale awards, which carry a cash purse of ¥15,000,000, or about $125,000. The winners are Daniel Buren (painting), Tony Cragg (sculpture), Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron (architecture), Daniel Barenboim (music), and La MaMa theater founder Ellen Stewart.
ARTS AWARD FOR ELLSWORTH KELLY
Americans for the Arts, the national arts advocacy organization, has named Ellsworth Kelly as the winner of its 2007 lifetime achievement award.