Finding Balance at Paris Photo 2014

This past weekend, photography fans and connoisseurs descended upon the Grand Palais for the 18th annual Paris Photo Fair. Held November 13-16, 2014, it boasted 143 galleries and twenty-six art booksellers representing thirty-five countries. Grandiose and historically rich, the venue provided ideal conditions for viewing photographs: the sprawling dome of the Grand Palais offered abundant natural light, while the tightly-packed booths were simple, cut-to-the-chase affairs, with off-white walls.

The upper level of the Grand Palais functioned as a non-commercial gallery space for recent acquisitions from the Museum of Modern Art as well as for the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts’ collection of early Indian and South Asian photography. Smaller wings displayed works sponsored by Giorgio Armani, JP Morgan Chase, and BMW. These spaces, located at the top of a grand staircase and away from the bustling ground floor, subtly linked the works on sale at Paris Photo with private, museum-quality collections, and underscored the potential for these photographs to act as investment pieces.

The beating heart of the fair was a social space at the base of the grand staircase, which was continually abuzz with visitors flipping through art tomes and awaiting artists’ signatures. Ample opportunity to encounter the artists themselves contributed to the sense that Paris Photo not only stimulates monetary transactions, but also the transaction of knowledge between enthusiasts and a shared passion for the medium.

Continue reading “Finding Balance at Paris Photo 2014”

Performance Art Takes Center Stage at Art Basel 2014 with “14 Rooms”

Photos by author unless otherwise indicated.

In addition to the staggering 233 modern and contemporary galleries at this year’s Art Basel (June 18-21, 2014 in Basel, Switzerland), notable were the separate spaces devoted to screening films by and about artists, performance art, and works that elude the (physical or conceptual) parameters of standard gallery spaces. The fair also encouraged dialogue by hosting daily lectures, artist talks, and panels.

One such discussion, moderated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, focused on the topic of the artist-as-choreographer, and took place early one morning, before the crowds descended. The speakers carried dual roles as dancers, choreographers, curators, and/or artists, and as such shared novel perspectives and anecdotes: Alexandra Bachzetsis, artist and choreographer, told that she selects performers based on the specific presence she wishes to convey, opting to focus less on the choreography than the people themselves, while Xavier Le Roy, dancer and choreographer, encouraged artists to accept that their works will take on lives of their own – a pertinent issue for pieces that can be executed posthumously. Yves Laris Cohen, artist and choreographer, spoke of his desire for a captive audience, and Isabel Lewis, dancer and artist, elaborated on the rejection of objecthood in her “occasions” – the name she’s coined for her works – explaining their attempt to exist not on a particular stage or exhibition, but in a specific and unique moment in time. The common thread connecting these ideas was the complex logistical considerations of orchestrating live artworks. It was evident that these art practitioners carefully consider aspects such as presence, unpredictability, unknowable audience movement, and site-specificity. What I did not realize at the time was that such conceptual frameworks would provide a constructive base for my whirlwind tour of Art Basel, which emphasized experiencing art rather than merely looking at it. Continue reading “Performance Art Takes Center Stage at Art Basel 2014 with “14 Rooms””

Opulence in 2013? Welcome to TEFAF

Three hours after boarding a train near Amsterdam, I stepped into the medieval town of Maastricht, which perks up around this time every year since The European Fine Art Foundation, or TEFAF, began in 1988. I joined the throngs of collectors, dealers, students, and art lovers in the wings. And then the doors opened to the world’s most lavish art fair, featuring exquisite fine art, antiques, jewelry and other treasures from more than 260 dealers.

TEFAF is as well known for putting on a spectacle as it is for its rigorous vetting process. To ensure that collectors can buy with highest confidence, a committee of 175 experts in various categories painstakingly examines each work for authenticity, condition, and quality. They employ XRF technology, and TEFAF was the first fair to incorporate The Art Loss Register. Furthermore, the fair is by invitation only: a gallery must have a fine pedigree in order to participate. Official categories include paintings, antiques, modern works, manuscripts, classical antiquities, haute joaillerie, design, and paper-based works. I was surprised at the diversity I encountered within these areas: modern sculpture, Uruguayan equestrian gear, Renaissance leather wall panels, Chinese porcelain, Iznik tiles, seventeenth-century metalwork, Japanese prints, Australian aboriginal art, and contemporary ceramics.

Though the fair’s calling card is Old Master paintings, the exhibition design boasted a modern flair, with sharp edges, sweeping high walls, a color palette of black, white, and gray, and a large-scale contemporary work adorning the entrance (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Entrance hall of TEFAF 2013 featuring Joanna Vasconcelos’ piece, Mary Poppins. Photograph by Harry Heuts.
Figure 1. Entrance hall of TEFAF 2013 featuring Joanna Vasconcelos’ piece, Mary Poppins. Photograph by Harry Heuts.

Continue reading “Opulence in 2013? Welcome to TEFAF”

(Nearly) Invisible Art: the Leiden University Medical Center Art Collection

The Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) is a world-renowned university and teaching hospital. What few people may realize is that it boasts an art collection and free public gallery, which hosts five shows per year. The LUMC holds an exhibition of nominees and winners of the Hermine van Bers visual arts prize—a yearly award that stimulates the development of young artists—and invites contemporary artists to create site-specific pieces in a large open hall with an abundance of natural light. The collection, primarily photographs, prints, and drawings, which began 25 years ago, continues today through the efforts of one curator, Sandrine van Noort. Interestingly, the purpose of the collection is markedly different from that of institutions devoted to art. Instead, the works provide the background for photos of newborn babies, offer a temporary escape from nail-biting stress, and splash color onto otherwise depressingly industrial cement walls. The art distracts from the hospital environment and brings a labyrinthine institution down to a more human scale.

David Lindberg, 45T Chinese Purple, mixed media, 2012.
David Lindberg, 45T Chinese Purple, mixed media, 2012.
Continue reading “(Nearly) Invisible Art: the Leiden University Medical Center Art Collection”