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Artnet News
Jan. 5, 2010 

It’s not every day you get a "heartfelt request" from Spencer Tunick. As a photographer, Tunick has become well-known for playful works that merge landscape photography with group nudity, convincing vast numbers of people to undress for him in various locales throughout the world, from Montreal to Sao Paolo to Miami Beach (at the Sagamore Hotel in 2007). Now, he is speaking out about the plight of Greenpeace activist Christian Schmutz, and calling for his release from a Danish jail.

During the recent, failed United Nations Climate Summit in Copenhagen (a.k.a. COP15), Schmutz was involved with a direct action during a banquet dinner for heads of state hosted by the Queen Margrethe II. Two other Greenpeace activists, Juan A. Lopez de Uralde and Nora Christiansen, entered the banquet in formal attire, posing as the "Head of State of the Natural Kingdom, and his wife," only to unfurl yellow banners that read "Politicians talk / Leaders act." Schmutz accompanied the couple, posing as their security escort, and was tasked with informing banquet security that they were with Greenpeace and engaged in non-violent direct action.

All three were detained, while a fourth activist, Joris Thijssen, was later rounded up for alleged participation in planning the stunt. A court rejected an appeal to have the four released immediately from jail, and they have been detained without trial until Jan. 7, 2010, when they will have their day in court. In a film clip Greenpeace released about the action, Schmutz states that he participated because he believes that action on climate change is urgent, and because he wants his son to inherit a better planet.

So, where does Spencer Tunick come in? Environmental issues have long been a subtext in his photographic mass-nude spectacles. In 1997, his project to snap a picture of a nude in every one of the 50 states took him to many state parks. In particular, his photo taken on Alaska’s Exit Glacier, featuring his future wife Kristin Bowler posed against the ice, made him aware of Alaska’s receding glaciers, according to the artist. The next year, he did his first New York project dedicated to the issue, tunick glacier, a nude tableau in Lower Manhattan.

In the lead up to COP15, on Oct. 3, 2009, Tunick staged a nude tableau with over 700 volunteers in a vineyard in Burgundy, France, with Greenpeace, "to draw attention to the effect climate change is having on French wine production." And it was during a previous collaboration with Greenpeace that Tunick met Schmutz, who helped the artist put together another art action as logistics coordinator for the environmental org, a 2007 project on Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland, where 600 volunteers posed nude in 10°C weather to call attention to climate change. Tunick describes Schmutz as "a wonderful caring human being."

The artist has penned a personal appeal to the ambassador for Denmark in Switzerland, calling the punishment meted out to Schmutz "not proportionate and not dignified to the royalty of Denmark," and adding, "kindly on the behalf of myself and the hundreds of thousands of people who have posed for me and support my art, please release him." According to Tunick, he has received no response.

Chelsea art dealer Elizabeth Dee’s one-year venture as proprietor of a nonprofit space, X Initiative at the former home of the Dia Art Center on West 22nd Street, is drawing to a close at the end of the month. The four-floor space became something of an avant-garde hit in its new incarnation, despite the absence of air conditioning and other amenities, hosting sprawling installations by hip artists like Christian Holstad, Tris Vonna-Michell and Keren Cytter as well as the "No Soul for Sale" art fair and Performa performances. Currently on view is a show of works by Hans Haacke, Artur Zmijewski and a group show, "Ecstatic Resistance." As a closing event on Feb. 3, 2010, X Initiative presents "Bring Your Own Art," a 24-hour event, inspired by the legendary curator Walter Hopps, a DIY art show to which all are invited. 

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts has organized the first major U.S. exhibition to focus on the imagery of the Hindu god Vishnu. "Vishnu: Hinduism’s Blue-Skinned Savior," opening in February 2011, presents ca. 120 artworks made in India between the 4th and 19th centuries. The show is guest-curated by Brooklyn Museum curator Joan Cummins, and subsequently appears at the Brooklyn Museum, June 24-Sept. 18, 2011, and the Portland (Ore.) Art Museum, opening in October 2011.

If you’re looking for reasons to go to Florida this winter, fair organizers David and Lee Ann Lester are doing their best to provide some. While the art business may be a little slow, the Lesters’ International Fine Art Expositions firm is trying to kick things up a notch, in part through innovative marketing (Lester recently emailed out a comic picture of himself with two black eyes, as a comment on "combative dealers" ). In addition to the yacht-based Seafair, which is scheduled to launch its 2010 tour in Sarasota in March, and the new London International Fine Art Fair at Olympia, scheduled for June 4-13, 2010, the Lesters have no less than three fairs coming up in Florida.

* The brand new Miami International Art Fair, Jan. 7-10, 2010, at the Miami Beach Convention Center, promises a lineup of about 70 contemporary art and photography dealers, mostly middle-of-the-road, but including Diana Lowenstein (Miami), Sundaram Tagore (New York, Beverly Hills and Hong Kong) and Waterhouse & Dodd (London); for a complete list, click here. A special promotion, "Five After Five," reduces the ordinary $15 admission fee to $5 for fairgoers who enter after 5 pm, and also promises weekend evening performances by Latin percussionists Roberto Perera and Bobby T.

* For its 13th year, Art Palm Beach, Jan. 15-19, 2010, at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, has the theme "Going Global." The highlighted illustration of the theme is a presentation at Goedhuis Contemporary of works by four Chinese artists -- Liu Dan, Xu Lei, Wei Ligang and Wang Tiande -- said to provide a preview of a "New Ink" painting show scheduled at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011. For a complete list of participating dealers, click here. A one-day pass is $15.

* The American International Fine Art Fair, Feb. 3-8, 2010, also at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, boasts more than 80 galleries from 13 countries. Long a top U.S. fair (especially back in the days before the Bernard Madoff scandal devastated Palm Beach society), the show includes top picture dealers Berry-Hill, Dickinson, Hollis Taggart, MacConnal-Mason and Richard Greene; furniture and decorative arts galleries like Carlton Hobbs, Macklowe, Mallet and M.S. Rau; and jewelry dealers Buccellati, David Morris, Graff, Sabbadini and Van Cleef & Arpels. The Feb. 3 vernissage to the event -- founded by the Lesters in 1997 as the Palm Beach International Art & Antique Fair, sold in 2001 to DMG World Media and reacquired in 2009 -- benefits the Norton Museum of Art; a one-day pass to the fair is $25.

The Guggenheim Museum "Kandinsky" exhibition draws to a close on Jan. 13, 2010, but before it does, his fans have a chance to spend a day talking about the spiritualist abstract-art pioneer. On Jan. 12, the museum holds a special symposium titled "The Universe Resounds: Kandinsky, Synesthesia and Art," including presentations by exhibition curator Tracey Bashkoff, Met curatorial consultant Magdalena Dabrowski, Brooklyn Museum publications head James Leggio and Hirshhorn Museum curator Kerry Brougher. Artist Matthew Ritchie presents his Hypermusic Prologue, and a discussion is moderated by MIT art theory professor Caroline Jones. Admission is $10; contact

Sleeper small-museum exhibition of the fall and winter art season has to be "Bold, Cautious, True: Walt Whitman and American Art of the Civil War Era," which closes at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, N.Y., on Jan. 24, 2010. Designed to "open an authentic window to America’s social and art history," the show pairs Whitman’s Civil War poems with mid-19th-century artworks by Winslow Homer, Eastman Johnson, Sanford Robinson Gifford and others. The exhibition includes close to 60 works in five thematic sections: The Poetics of a House Divided; The Poetics of Service; The Wound Dresser; The Poetics of Endings and Beginnings; and Bold, Cautious. The show was organized by the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, where it premiered last summer.

Does Sin City have a problem with sex? In an incident that the Vegas Sun describes as "head-scratchingly curious" for a city that depends on a racy image, Clark County has forced the owner of the Erotic Heritage Museum to use pasties to cover the nipples in a cartoony mural of topless female figures. The county claims that the work serves as an ad for a nearby Déjà Vu strip club, which happens to own the building that houses the museum, and therefore falls under an ordinance against areolas in outdoor advertising.

For its part, the Erotic Heritage Museum argues that the murals were conceived of as part of an urban art exhibition, poetically dubbed the "Ho-Down Mural Project," featuring KD Matheson, Paula McPhail, Veks 3, Vezun, Joseph Watson and Dray (Dray, apparently, also recently got in trouble for a mural featuring a topless angel). "Ho-Down" artist Niki J. Sands told the Sun, "The murals for the Erotic Heritage Museum represent Las Vegas culture, something that is unique as Las Vegas itself." And that now includes pasties, apparently.

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