At the main entrance of pavilion 7, the booth for Helga de Alvear was buzzing with TV cameras and press photographers. As camera crews were filming de Alvear being interviewed in the mist of controversy, her face stoic and unresponsive, I walked straight to this Thomas Demand photograph to the left of her and thought “I saw you in Venice.’
The ice was melting in the glass bowls that had once chilled Champagne and the catering staff was packing away long plastic tubes filled with winter fruit. The fair will already filled with people and there was no wait to get in. I had clearly missed a morning party.
I kept finding myself being drawn to a well represented group of Berlin galleries and German artists, almost as if I was looking for a familiar face. However, I also couldn’t help but notice and secretly chuckle at the one lone Philip Guston painting at Hauser & Wirth behind the gallerist desk placed almost like an impulse buy and a segment of the former Cuba pavilion from the Venice Biennale at another booth.
I spotted three middle-aged American gallery girls in London having the same problem I was, finding the entrance to the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican. We tried to enter a cinema, crossed the street, crossed back over, and then finally realized the entrance was buried deep in the underpass. Then somehow we managed to get lost separately once inside and then meet again at the ticket counter, that is how large the center is.
This was a Thursday in mid-December and perhaps the record crowds had already come and gone but the staff was still left creating a three staff for every 1 visitor ratio. There was even a staff worker opening doors, which made me feel like I should have given him 20p.
When I entered the exhibition, the space felt wrong and the image greeting me felt wrong. The space consisted of two floors with small cubicles along the sides of the upper floor and a larger ground floor in the center and a staircase next to a cinema projection screen in the middle. Projected onto the screen, you had a silent film on loop of Basquiat not painting or speaking but rather what could only be described as prancing around in place. This central image had to remain mute as the smaller rooms had his voice audible in the form of interviews, spoken poetry (4 corners of the earth on repeat), or films.
I wanted to go straight to the paintings on the ground floor but was told to go up the stairs, then I wanted to turn right, away from the crowds, but was told to start from the left. Patrolled and restricted, I had to start the exhibition in chronological order. It soon became apparent that I was being given a biographical account almost like how Obama wrote his autobiography before he ran for president, that if we knew his story, we’d vote for him. The approach seemed similar in manner, that somehow if the visitor was introduced to Basquiat’s biography and contextualized in his time, we’d be convinced of his merit. I thought back to the Cy Twombly exhibition at the Centre Pompidou earlier in the year and remembered just rooms and rooms of his paintings. That is what I wanted here but was given something else.
Not that biography isn’t important, I stood looking at the painting above and thinking so this is how/ when Madonna became the number 1 cartoon breakfast cereal, but a sense of speed was lost (a defining quality) as the result of the slow pace of learning his biography and those cubicles were like rest stops I didn’t want to take.
When I did finally get to the large-scale paintings, I wondered who has all of his work, Leonardo DiCaprio? Once you look at the paintings, you notice how clear the colors are and the lines of the text clean. You are given the feeling of first stroke was the last stroke, winning at the first punch.
After the exhibition, I left seeing the gardens of the Barbican to lazy chance and it didn’t cross my path. I looked for the restrooms but found none. In the end, I left with a carrot muffin having only found the cafe.
When a moment of unseen clarity erupts from its hard shell and becomes a colored, delicate light form leaving behind its dark liquid state, this is the image I want in my mind this new year and that they may all connect into a central living heart and feed other ideas. To the ideas about to die, the intensity of its color coalescing in the center to then go down into donut holes.
In Godfather III, Michael Corleone dies a dog’s death in the relentless Sicilian sun. He topples over from his throne filled with hate and holding an orange with a dog next to him, his face hitting the arid sand. Sans family, sans love, sans everything.
Michael Corleone, the only son with an American name, begins the story in the film dressed in military uniform returning home a war hero and bringing home an American girlfriend, telling her that (violence) is my family it’s not me. But every time he interacts with the outside world, they see him through his family; they see mafia guinea. When Michael does finally pledge his allegiance to his father, who doesn’t feel a certain joy when he says, “I’m with you now.”
If in a Balzac novel the social-climbing hero recently moved to Paris has to shed his provincial ways to make every gesture one of social grace or else he’d give himself away, then in America, he has to erase traces of his heritage: no more buying oranges, lawyers not violence, and get that cannoli out of my house. Along Michael Corleone’s journey to becoming American and less Sicilian, moving from the criminal underworld to the world above, you have other Americans who came and settled just a little bit before him, telling him no matter how much money he makes or how much he tries to be – he will never be American. You’ll always be a puppet you muppet. But the world above has just as many crooks and dishonest men as the world below, different weapon same intent.
The higher he climbs and the cleaner he makes his money, the more he loses his loved ones. His intentions were good and yet, where does Michael Corleone go so wrong, even he wonders by the end, “why am I so hated?”
There were two books lying on top of a row of books. When I picked up one in an excited manner, the other one fell behind the other books.
“I wrote my masters thesis on this book!” (It was Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)
“I’m interested in the other book.”
He walked over and reached his hand behind the books to pick it up.
“Pick any line from this book and it’s wisdom,” he said. For him, that book was love.
I looked over and read the title, “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)”
“But Andy Warhol was an asshole.” I took the book in my hand and briefly scanned it, thinking wisdom?
Long after this conversation ended and I was no longer apart of his life, I read as much of Andy Warhol as I could but there was no other line I liked more than that phrase inside the parentheses outside on the cover. So I kept using it and repeating it like this… from A to B and back again.
“Something beautiful. Something true … then, out of nowhere, a flock of birds flew by the window, extremely fast and incredibly close. Maybe twenty of them. Maybe more. But they also seemed like just one bird, because somehow they all knew exactly what to do…” Foer, found right in the middle of the book.
I discovered a song with my name in it while watching Us Dead Talk Love by Ed Atkins. Walking into the room, I was first attracted to the sweet voice of the speaking cadaver and a recurring slightly curved black line, cutting midway through the images like the first stroke of calligraphy writing, the focal point and the leitmotif to a love story. The slash rendered as eyelash took on the dimensions of an objet petit a. Two wide screens were alternating images of the cadaver’s severed head complete with high definition zits (the head kept making me want to leave but I stayed for the voice) and the iconography of romantic and erotic symbolism depicting falling apples and reclining marble statues.
Later, as the rambling narrative mentioned an eyelash and foreskin along with the meandering stream of words evoking fossilized time, the understanding of “I,” the metaphysics of representation, and the human body in biological terms, there it was, the obvious confession by the cadaver “as in, I love you.” As the images flashed binding the eyelash to a dream world and the melody of the voice feeling like love’s own caresses, the instrumental sampling from the musical Todd Sweeney comprised of horns and percussion rose to a climactic crescendo as I was lulled into my own reverie of eyelashes and eyebrows.
My beige suede ankle boots were thrown out the door, in a rather gentle act of aggression, landing softly not far from the doorway. A long time ago, in another country, this was practiced to wish someone good luck before a journey. My psyche pretended this was the case, whereas the shoe thrower was plunged into a momentary blackness as an epitaph to the encounter. My brief presence had taken his psyche to social modernist buildings found in Belgrade. Vacated buildings blackened in a fire complete with torn curtains billowing like rags and shattered glass windows. About as nourishing as a carbohydrate on carbohydrate snack.
When your shoes are traveling in mid-air and crossing a threshold through no volition of your own, you wonder maybe it’s not time to leave the apartment but rather the whole damn country. What was this journey I had already received well wishes for? The signal came in the form of Christo’s Floating Piers, an invitation to walk on water to an island on a lake, its pathway covered in a bright orange cloth. I went from two boots out the door to the country as boot. I had been thrown out into the world (Heideggerian thrownness).
Drunk on Campari, every month I went to the land of Campari, slowly making my way further and further south to where the lemon trees grew. The land had supplanted man. I went back and back, again and again. Without ever having written a book, I was living somewhere between Henry James’s Italian Hours and Goethe’s Italian Years – a form of Juni’s Italian Days. The train ticket prices found on Trenitalia were like a gift from God.
Southern Italy was an unknown of which I had formed a picture with my ears and the things I heard whispered were not safe. When I googled Sicily thinking of lemons, I found instead the African migrant crisis on the island of Lampedusa. I saw refugee eyes peering at me through the branches.
After my trip to Naples, I was ashamed of myself for having put one bank card in my jacket, some cash in my shoe, another credit card in my bag, and my passport in another pocket so that I wouldn’t lose everything at once if a scooter riding mugger snatched my bag off my shoulder. Now having to be mindful of my shoe, bag, and jacket, I found myself in a lively residential neighborhood in the center of town where people brought home 5 pizza boxes for dinner on their scooters. They actually had no free hands to make a getaway with my bag. Nowhere in Italy did I feel more taken care of by the community even as a tourist. One cappuccino later, and my order was remembered the next day.
Having my shoes thrown out the door intentionally, was unintentionally a blessing for my Italian days.
My arrival to this year’s Venice Biennale was a curious one. If I didn’t have a crowd of people depicting me as their face of Hell, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate all the allusions to Dante’s Inferno everywhere I went.
I saw Anne Imhof last September at the Hamburger Bahnhof observing her performers with a CEO stance, her feet slightly spread apart in line with the width of her shoulders. As I observed her stance, I became aware of my own crossed my feet prone to causing tilting stumbles. No one seemed to recognize her. Then a half year later, I saw her again winning the Golden Lion and she looked as though years had passed. The hard work and fatigue could be seen on her face.
The choreographed tableaus of “Angst” had changed to ones of hate shown through warring movements against oneself and others. Shadows moved like a herd created by the audience chasing the performers from above and then circling them as they stood looking down through a pane of glass. Small cotton ball bonfire flames burned in a corner, hands traveled down beneath the shorts and inched its way near the groin, a foggy imprint of breath made its way across the floor like one-legged footsteps. Fists appeared, first one, then two, then three – all lined up signifying a moment of unity within the struggle/ resistance.
Walking up to the German Pavillon, I thought is this a cliché, looks just like a building from the Third Reich. Ideology now looked like a cliché. The architecture had the body of classic Prussian style slightly gray in tone but the insides of a concentration camp examining room – Germany’s own pool of inferno blood being washed away by an overflowing pool of water. Imhof carried the burden of German history well on her shoulders and was even introducing non-Germans to “Faust.”
Before the performers arrived, I made a round of the space and found a little bee on the ground. While normally afraid of bees, I bent down and examined it and wondered are you chance or are you art. The bee was gone by the time I came back.
The accessories were laid out grouped in threes and fours, all meticulously placed along the walls, on tables or near corners. There on a Tuesday, around 2 weeks after the fact, the stars of the group were not present. Out of the group of 20 dancers, only 6 were performing the day I was there. Disappointed, the bodies I saw were a little less majestic, conveyed a little less power but even without the stars, I could see Imhof’s piece had come to Venice to kill.
In Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard,” the nephew Trancredi arrives unexpectedly one cold November evening to the Salina family home in Donnafugata soaking wet from a thunderstorm. Trancredi exclaims, “Careful, Nuncle; don’t touch me, I’m a sponge!”
It happens quickly, becoming a sponge. When I walked out of the train station in Noto, the pavement was dry but within 10 minutes, about halfway up to the city center, which gradually climbed uphill, small streams of water were diverging at the tip of my shoes with each step I took and I had to leap over larger puddles created in-between worn tracks in the road. The raindrops came down holding hands, hitting my glasses together in a splash. I cursed myself and got stares of curious pity from the drivers.
After the rainstorm drenched everything, within another ten minutes, I was climbing up the stairs of this church soaking wet. I’ve never seen one placed so high. Then, walking down the main street in front of Noto Cathedral, an image familiar and strange appeared, Andy Warhol in a black turtleneck against a yellow background in a show entitled “Warhol è Noto.” The poster hung like a banner down every lamppost and he was dressed in style even though that image must have been taken at least 30 years ago. But the exhibition had closed, I was too late. Walking back in the other direction, I saw the moon, not above the cathedral but below.
And then, as I was walking back toward the train station, this gigantic, perfectly in bloom red rose with tiny raindrops all over it peered down at me from above a fence.