A New Art Ecosystem Arises in Southeast Asia

by Claudia Dias on July 6, 2010

In October 2008, the Asian art market registered seismographic activities, which revealed how quickly the complex boundaries between ethnic groups, language and religions are dissolving within Asia: in Hong Kong at Sotheby’s auctions of contemporary art from Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia, price results surpassed their estimates five-to tenfold, while prices for art from India and China were collapsing.


It may come as a surprise that most collectors of the world are now to be found not any longer in the U.S. or Europe but in China. According to Andrew Foster, managing director of Christie’s Asia, the auction houses concentrated their auctions since 2002 and 2006 on Hong Kong – now No. 3 on the Richter scale of the global art market – because now one can also bid via Internet and telephone. The auction results are gradually recovering to the record numbers from the boom years. Won-Jae Park, owner of the contemporary art gallery One And J. in Seoul, however considers most buyers of Southeast Asian Art are speculators, but that doesn’t mean “that there isn’t any good Southeast Asian art.”

In New York, Vishakha Desai, director of the Asia Society, is excited about the fact that after 250 years Asia’s trading accounts again for half of all world trade, and hence brought into motion the art trade within ASEAN countries too: recently a gallery from Mumbai opened a branch in Taipei, auction houses from Indonesia opened shop in Singapore, and art colonies from the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia exchange exhibitions with each other.  At the same time Desai complains that the Asian art market is entirely focused on sales.ranjani_sopheap-pich-w

Sundaram Tagore, who runs galleries in Hong Kong, New York and Los Angeles, falls into line with Desai’s view that the Asian art market is operated purely as an investment vehicle. “In the West galleries work like talent agencies for their artists; they represent in general a group of artists and grow with their success and fame. In Asia, however, artists define their own market: they make loose alliances with several galleries, which means, they really only work together on the secondary market.”

And recently auction houses started to commission directly artists for works which go for auction. Won-Jae Park thinks a lack of trust between galleries and artists are responsible for these kind of profit-oriented practices, but their success, he believes, will be short-lived. Astonishingly, galleries like Bodhi Art, Nature Morte and Bose Pascia in India, which operate according to familiar Western principle, nevertheless seem to survive in this shamelessly commercial art-landscape with its weak infrastructure.


Deepak Talwar, owner of galleries in New York and New Delhi comments: Artists, who bypass galleries are eliminating on so many levels their possibilities of getting exposed to potential collectors, museums, and critics etc.; with a gallery they can grow beyond just selling one piece at an auction, can even get a solo show; auction houses don’t take a position towards the piece of art, only in respect of its market value.” Investing into art for Talwar, means to build a collection , which requires financial resources, “but above all a concept and the courage to act one’s vision. One should concentrate on a small number of artists and also accompany them through various phases.” So far, Talwar cannot single out any contemporary Indian art-collection that could be compared with the in-depth collection of say the Dia Art Foundation.

2008 the Devi Foundation opened its doors in New Delhi, one of the first public collections in India. With more than 2,000 contemporary works from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, Anupam Poddar is the most important patron of the arts of the subcontinent. “Beyond the media hype on the soaring prices, there has been hardly any discussion about the quality of work. This indicates the infrastructural deficiency of Indian art criticism.  The art educational institutions in India are dated and they are not catching up with the rapidly changing art world.” Furthermore, Poddar fears that the myopic art authorities of the government could very well affect the development of the Indian art industry. Desai speaks in this regard of a missing Ecology of Art,(..) with which I mean curators, museums, galleries auction houses, and art critics which we desperately need for the development of quality criteria. There are not enough professionally run museums in Asia. The education system in Asia is focused more on science and finance, while the arts have been neglected.”donnaong_jasonlim-w

In contrast to Korea or India, Singapore is investing in a systemic improvement of infrastructure for the arts landscape; the beneficiary is ultimately the whole of Asia.  Only the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum and the Queensland Art Gallery can compete with the number of contemporary works from Southeast Asia. Both hold triennials on which artists dependent from remote countries such as Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, who only get few opportunities to display their works. The Queensland Art Gallery began exhibiting and collecting important works from Asia long before the art market even reached the artists. When the National Art Gallery of Singapore opens in 2014 it will have the world’s largest public collection of modern Southeast Asian art.

Anupam Poddar avoids auctions. Instead, he tirelessly visits artists’ studios and galleries, and never misses an international art fair in order to track down talent from around the world. Talwar remarks: “Buying at art fairs or auctions is like taking a shortcut: it eliminates the process of searching, and a single work says only little about the oeuvre of an artist.”

For the time being, however, it is still the price tag that overrules quality on the Asian art market .

This article was published in German in the KUNSTZEITUNG April, 2010; Text by Claudia Dias

Robert Ventura: The Strong And The Beautiful, 2009; courtesy of Tyler Rollins Fine Art
Ranjni Shettar: Bird Song III, 2009; courtesy of Talwar Gallery
Sopheap Pich: Cycle 2, Version3, 2008; courtesy of Tyler Rollins Fine Art
Sherman Ong: Ticket Seller, Video 2009; photo by Claudia Dias
Ming Wong: In Love for the Mood, poster 2010; photo by Claudia Dias
Donna Ong: “Asleep, A Room Awakens”, 2009; courtesy of Wada Fine Arts
Jason Lim: Ceramic works; courtesy of Jalan Bahar Clay Studios


Singapore, the New Team Player for the Art World

by Claudia Dias on June 14, 2010

During the unprecedented emergence of Asian economies the number of entrepreneurs with high net-worth who tend to invest large portions of their wealth into fine arts and other high-value collectibles has drastically increased over the past 10 years, and so has the demand for the management and storage of these new collections. Singapore, an established world banking center and a reputable location for wealth management, also often referred to as “the Switzerland of Asia,” seems most suitable as a location, since the country is highly trusted by business community for its safety and economical and political stability within the Asian region. The structural analogue of this opened at the beginning of 2010, when for the first time Singapore FreePort, a new Fort Knox opened its vault doors to customers, located right at the trading crossroads of the Middle East, India and China.


Singapore’s government agencies such as the EDB (Economic Development Board), the National Arts Council and the National Heritage Board have been instrumental in realizing projects of such scale, partially as shareholders, who ease the financial risks. For over 40 years the EDB has focused on still undeveloped but seminal economic branches and encourages their phased development. As a public agency it is able to create public-private partnerships with the next generation of entrepreneurs and to advance them with beneficial regulations. This is exactly what is happening with art market right now.

Thanks to the new Freeport and Singapore’s substantial subsidies, the ink is hardly dry on the promotional materials for Art Stage Singapore, the new art fair scheduled for January 2011. Lorenzo Rudolf, the former director of Art Basel, inventor of  Art Basel Miami Beach and co-creator of Shanghai Contemporary, chose Singapore as the location for his newest fair of international contemporary art. It will be staged in the soon to be completed Marina Bay Sands building, with its giant roof terraces 250 meters up in the sky; a building that is already an icon for skyscraper fans. According to Rudolf “Asia is on the way to become an important platform of the international art market” and Art Stage Singapore is supposedly the key opportunity for networking galleries, collectors and art institutions. The French Art 7 Design Pavilion for 2011 is also in talks. These two events would expand the spectrum of new art fairs to Design, Modern and Contemporary art.

The idea for the Singapore FreePort, the duty-free and tax-free depot, was a brainchild of founder Alain Vandenborre already in December 2004. Thanks to his partnership with Yves Bouvier, president of the Swiss Art shipping company Natural Le Coultre, the brainchild turned into a project. After one year of planning and 2 years of construction the first phase of the “Swiss wonder” has now opened. Insurance companies “with proper risk management favor safe keeping of assets in at least two different locations” and “the Swiss Freeports have also become quite overbooked over the years,” explains Alain Vandeborre, who holds an MA in Astrophysics and works now as serial-entrepreneur in Singapore.


Technologically equipped with the most advanced climate control and security systems, not only museums, National collections and auction houses have reserved strong rooms, but also international banks are entrusting their treasures under off-shore regulations to the Singapore FreePort at Changi airport. What accelerated the completion of the project was Christie’s signing up as an anchor client in April 2009; at one go 40% of the approx. 22,000 m2 capacity of Phase1 was leased for 30 years. The additional 25,000 m2 storage area of Phase2 shall be completed by the beginning of 2014.

It is not just about high value storage, but the entire fortress is an ecological and technological gem, which was designed by the Geneva architecture office 3MB3 in close collaboration with Swiss engineers, starting with its plant-covered facade conceived for climate-control purposes. Also the building contour brings to mind a jewel; the shape however is a product of the airport’s height constraints. To avoid any kind of water damage the cooling in the strong rooms is achieved simply by air circulation and the entire roof is going to be covered with the newest thin-film solar voltaics.

For the central courtyard Vandeborre and design collector Yves Bouvier commissioned Ron Arad with a monumental metal installation, of which the cell structure reminds one of a distorted space grid. Johanna Grawunder designed light installations to interlace the softer outdoor architecture with the rough windowless interior. During the daytime narrow stainless-steel panels reflect the sky, while at night they remind of darkened “windows” in front of the LED projected wall, which creates a “bioluminescent” effect for the plant façade. Grawunder transmutes the long corridors in the more exclusive areas of the vault facility with criss-crossed textures of LED and acrylic light into human and ecologically friendly passages.


Andrew Foster, COO of Christie’s Asia is confident: “The CFASS (Christie’s Fine Art Storage Facility) in London was a great success.” But with customers of the auction house frequently requesting additional storage possibilities in Asia, the Singapore FreePort project came in handy. “We are considering providing a secure storage area of an even larger share of the second Phase building.” Andrew Foster is not convinced that Singapore is going to turn into the art market hub for Asia like Hong Kong. He rather more expects the City State to play a central role for all art market supporting aspects.

Nevertheless, Singapore and the EDB are subsidizing the creation of an infrastructure for contemporary art by building innovative new museums and not a moment too soon: because 2011 the next wave of art fairs will hit Singapore.

This article was published in German in KUNSTZEITUNG May, 2010; Text and photographs by Claudia Dias, renderings are courtesy of Atelier d’Architecture 3BM3


Imaginary Lines From Out West

by Claudia Dias on March 28, 2010

WDM: …. but it is, that the real notion of an infinite space is perhaps one of the few thoughts that is worth thinking about more than once.*


In 1785 the US Congress passed the Land Ordinance for the creation of a national grid, to organize and distribute without dispute the Northwest territory. For this purpose Jefferson together with Hugh Willamson developed an American version of Roman centriation, a purely mathematical system that ignored settlements according to natural topography. He established a grid of 6 x 6 miles (36 sqare miles) townships, which then got subdivided into 1 mile square parcels. The surveying started along the Ohio River and westwards. Actually, if you fly across the country, you can still see the road alignments following the national grid “that have etched a pattern resembling a giant piece of graph paper onto most of the landscape west of Ohio.”(Elizabeth Barlow Rogers)

Looking at Walter De Maria’s sculptures and landscape works, I always wondered where his facination with the abitrary but exact meassure of one mile or kilometer might have its orign.  And the Land Ordinance could be an indirect source, since this abitrary grid often creates paradoxical interactions between access and landscape especially in the US.


“… ’68, I went to Europe; I saw my steel work in the Dokumenta. I realized it was good; it was perfect but that I didn’t want to make any more steel works in galleries or museums. It was really clear. So in October I filled (Heiner) Friedrich’s gallery (in Munich) with dirt, made this minimal flat horizontal earth sculpture in this gallery, then went to the Sahara in December, January of ’68, ’69, did the mile-long line, lost the photos and all that story, but realized that I was absolutely on the right track.”*

Sometime the same year WDM found time to make a Land Drawing, called Mile Long Drawing in the Mojave Desert. A straight one mile long white chark line crossing over one of the vast dry salt-lake beds, which over a few days got naturally “dismantled” with constant winds dissolving the edges and the lines defining the dimensional shape of a “tool”.

In 1977 he installed the permanent installation The Lightning Field, a one mile by one kilometer grid comprising of 400 reflective stainless steel poles, ca. 20 feet high creating elegant lighting rods. It hovers like an imaginary 1 kilometer / mile long horizon-line between sky and ground. Only a few people took the oportunity to go and experience the installation, which is an overnight excursion to Western New Mexico and where taking photographs is prohibited.


However, efficiency looks different. Not far away another grid directed toward the sky and looking for the invisible is the Very Large Array, which consists of 27 radio antennas arranged in a Y shape. The array is divided into three radii 120 degrees apart which define the size of a circle. In this case efficiency determines the layout. The idea is to take advantage of combining the information of all antennas and calculating the missing parts instead of covering a giant circular area with reflective parabolic dishes. It looks as nature is rather organized for circular then rectangular performances.

“The line in the invisible drawing is like the mirage line of a heat wave in the desert floor, I mean it’s something that’s there and it’s not there, and the idea of a yard square piece of paper is an idea, a close approximation of the whole field of vision in a desert. But partially I think it was just instinct, just saying that aesthetically we can’t do enough here in the city under this set of rituals and that the whole rules of the game have to be changed and that, if I go out and do this mile long piece, it’s going to be a more powerful experience than just experiencing these few perfect sculptures in the gallery.”*

In 1979 WDM returns to the city and installs the Broken Kilometer in the New York West Broadway space of the Dia Art Foundation, his answer of bringing this country’s vast landscape into the cramped place of the city. He displays a Kilometer not as a distance, but as a Quantity showing 500 perfectly equal 2 meter long modules lined up in 5 rows made of solid brass, reflective, in his words “in the color of light”*.

*Oral history interview with Walter De Maria, 1972 Oct. 4, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Image reference: VLA by NRAO; Walter De Maria; Walter De Maria, Mile Long Drawing, 1968; Google Satellite Image of Mojave Desert; Walter De Maria, Mile Long Drawing, 1968; The Whirlpool Galaxy M51, courtesy of NRAO/AUI and Juan M. Uson, NRAO; The Lightning Field, courtesy of Dia Art Foundation; VLA by NRAO; The Lighting Field  courtesy of Dia Art Foundation.


Justice to Judd

by Claudia Dias on February 26, 2010

“It takes a great deal of time and thought to install work carefully. This should not always be thrown away. Most art is fragile and some should be placed and never moved again.” *


I never understood the whole myth around Donald Judd’s work, and probably  never will  (as long it is presented on boring white gallery walls or, in the case of his furniture, covered with stacks of paper and magazines) … if it had not been for his brief for the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum, which has been created around Donald Judd’s intention to preserve and present to the public permanent large-scale installations of a limited number of artists in 1986 (many of the works displayed are his own; other works are of artists from his collection).

This idea to find the right undisturbed location, the right neutral but adaptable structures to house these works and to adjust these structures to make the art live with its surrounding changed my preconceptions.
100 reflective milled aluminum objects of the same outer size (41″x51″x72″) but with interior permutations were installed in two former Artillery Sheds, from which Judd removed the garage doors and replaced them with a continuous row of quartered windows which now floods the space with light and changes the mood of the installation depending on light and weather conditions. Judd also doubled the heights of these two buildings, adding a vaulted roof on top of the orginal flat-roof. (100 untitled works in milled aluminum, 1982-1986)

The Dia Art Foundation had already spearheaded this idea in New York with Walter de Maria’s The New York Earth Room installed in 1977 and The Broken Kilometer installed in 1979. Both installations still remain as anchors within the ever changing urban landscapes and neighborhoods of Manhattan.


The Chinati Foundation is located on 340 acres of land on the site of former Fort D.A. Russell in Marfa, Texas. Construction and installation at the site began in 1979 with initial assistance from Dia in New York.

“The art and architecture of the past that we know is that which remains. The best is that which remains where it was painted, placed or built.  Most of the art of the past that could be moved was taken by conquerors. Almost all recent art is conquered as soon as it’s made, since it’s first shown for sale and once sold is exhibited as foreign in the alien museums. The public has no idea of art other than that it is something portable that can be bought. There is no constructive effort; there is no cooperative effort. This situation is primitive in relation to a few earlier and better times.” *

Roni Horn’s pair of two identical truncated solid copper cones that are 35 inches long, tapering from a diameter of 17 inches to 12 inches were placed by the artist together with Donald Judd. The pair is part of a 1988 suite consisting of four sets of paired, solid copper forms, each hand-lathed to duplicate mechanical identity. The entire suite is titled Things That Happen Again.


Looking at both components at the same time, the viewer sees in the element at the end of the space that part which is invisible to him of the near-by object, completing the set while scanning the room. The object, as one comes upon it, tapers away into space as it presses down onto the floor (through its shape and own weight). It is far more a repetition than an architectural work could ever be, using the mobility of the sculptural object to orient the body in such a way as to generalize the effect of the room itself.  At the same time there is an inherent instability within the space, centerless and sensible to the desire to move the objects out of balance.

“Art and architecture – all the arts – do not have to exist in isolation, as they do now. This fault is very much a key to the present society. Architecture is nearly gone, but it, art, all of the arts, in fact all parts of the society, have to be rejoined, and joined more than they have ever been. This would be democratic in a good sense, unlike the present increasing fragmentation into separate but equal categories, equal within the arts, but inferior to the powerful bureaucracies.” *

Knowing that these works are installed with such permanence at a remote location in Texas will allow me to walk more easily the aisles of the next mammoth Art Fair.

* All quotes are by Donald Judd, from the Chinati Foundation catalogue and Statement for the Chinati Foundation/La Fundacion Chinati by Donald Judd

Please refer for further information to the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas
Photographs are courtesy of the Chinati Foundation, Dia Foundation, and Essem.W


Ricardo Mazal: A Burial Trilogy

by Claudia Dias on February 21, 2010

With his newest exhibition at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, painter Ricardo Mazal comes full circle with his intriguing trilogy, which is based on three different studies of traditional burial rituals.


In 2002 he started to investigate the Mayan “Tomb of the Red Queen“, a royal burial chamber from around 600 AD in Palenque, in his native country Mexico. Mazal visited and studied next in 2004 the forest tombs in Odenwald, one of 29 Friedwald cemeteries (“Peace Forest”) in Germany; and in 2009 he embarked on his last journey to witness the open field Tibetan sky burial, chaperoned by a 32 miles long pilgrimage around the sacral Mount Kailash.

The perplexing clarity of his work results after several stages from experimentation with photography, computer manipulation and ultimately the translation into gestural abstract paintings, by using foam-rubber blades to delicately layer oil paint onto the canvas. Mazal uses photography as a bridge between reality and abstraction. Frequently the results surprise even the artist, i.e. when he once reversed the colors of a photography and discovered that it closely resembeled one of his former paintings.


Captivated by several layers of enshrinement of the pre-Columbian tomb, first the red cinnabar covering the limestone interior of the sarcophagus, along with the stones of the pyramid and at last the dense surrounding jungle carry over into his work. Mazal’s series “La Tumba de la Reina Roja” remind of broken color fields, applied with a pattern that takes after the interlocking stones.

When the tomb was excavated in 1994 a female skeleton was found covered with jewels, gold and jade, all the contents were blanketed with red cinnabar dust; during the Mayan civilization, cinnabar, the common ore of mercury, was inserted into limestone sarcophagi not only as a decoration, but more importantly, to deter vandals and tomb raiders with its well-known toxicity.


Odenwald 1152” is for me Mazal’s most mesmerizing series, where his color fields turn into vertical abstract patterns with controlled and uncontrolled smeared stripes, which immediately recall the texture of tree barks. 1152 is the name of a tree in the forest outside of Michelstadt in the Oldenwald region of Germany. The forest has been turned into a cemetery one of 29 FriedWald, where people’s remains are interred in biodegradable urns beneath their chosen tree. Since 2000 “Burial in Nature” allows families, friends, couples or individuals to find their last resting places under century old pines, oaks, beech trees or newly grown birches, linden and ash trees for 15 to 30 years. Other forests in various landscapes throughout Germany offer this increasingly popular ritual.

According to Mazal, he took pictures of the forest, but the trees alone did not satisfy his eye, till one afternoon during sunset he started to photograph the light that was filtered through the trees: “I realized it was the light itself, the spirit, which sparked the emotions I was feeling.” The resulting abstract photographs became the starting point for this series.


With scarce fuel and timber resources (most of the country being above the tree line) and too rocky for digging graves, ‘sky burial’ or ritual dissection was once a common funerary practice in Tibet. Now however, condemned by the Chinese government, it is practiced only on rare occasions. The custom is to dismember the human corpse in specific locations and to place the parts on mountaintops, where they are exposed to the elements and birds of prey.  Though it seems that  Mazal’s newest paintings have been mainly inspired by the sight of thousands of vibrant prayer flags along the trek around Mount Kailash. These paintings are now on view at Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Ricardo Mazal – Solo Exhibition @ Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Beverly Hills (February 20 – March 20, 2010)
Please refer to the gallery for catalogue, inquiries and prices.

Sundaram Tagore Gallery
9606 South Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90210  Tel. +1 310 278 4520
Many thanks to Susan at Sundaram Tagore Gallery for photographs and material.

Photograph by Arnoldo González Cruz (INAH) for 2000 The Red Queen. Mesoweb;
Paintings by Ricardo Mazal, ODENWALD 1152 N.20, 2008, Oil on linen, 78″x78″, Novembre 10.07 (diptych), 2007, Oil on linen, 78″x33.5″, ODENWALD 1152 N.19, 2008, Oil on linen, 98.5″ x 33″, Rojo Malaquita 10, 2006, Oil on linen, 98.5″ x 98.5, ODENWALD 1152 N.5, 2008, Oil on linen, 78″ x 120″, ODENWALD 1152, N.10, 2008, Oil on linen, 78″x78″, Noviembre 27.09, 2009, Oil on linen, 40″ x 60″,
Enero 29.10, 2010, Oil on linen, 90″ x 90″


Walking the Lines of Nasreen Mohamedi

by Claudia Dias on February 4, 2010

A few weeks ago I came acrosss the fine-line drawings and b/w photographs of Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990). Infinite precision and sensibility in using multiple variations of lines, be it in thickness, distance and pressure these drawings of multiple horizons are simply magnetic.


Break the cycle of seeing
Magic and awareness arrives.*

During her lifetime Nasreen’s work did not get due recognition in India, according to Deepak Talawar, for her abstract modern works, influenced by European Constructivsm and Modernism were too non-Indian within the then Indian art scene. She devoted her work to the anonymous language of geometric clarity, where all is distance: “The drawings lift the body into space and give it a sense of its mathematical positioning,” writes Geeta Kapur in the Drawing Center’s catalog “Lines among Lines” from 2005.

Nasreen studied design in London and in Paris, traveled frequently to the deserts and beaches of Bahrain, Kihim and Kuwait, but lived and taught mainly in Baroda and later on in Bombay and New Delhi. “What seemed to attract her during these travels were not the monumental and the new, but the imperceptible cycles and imperfections of nature, the overlooked infrastructures and detritus of everyday life in the streets”. (Susette Min)


Alone among all Indian artists, she worked on small-format, strictly ruled drawings in ink, watercolor, and pencil on paper. She took many black and white photographs of seemingly random moments on her travels and daily life, but all were already composed with lines, be it street marking, yarns of a weaving stool or the waves of a dune landscape. She refused to exhibit the photographs and thought them inappropriate for the public eye, but she used them as a starting point for her fine-line drawings.

In the early 1960′s Nasreen started out with delicate tracery of grey-and orchre paintings, moved in the early 70′s to grid pencil drawings and graphic formalism and started in the early 80′s with drawings incorporating diagonals.

Her drawings are often compared with Agnes Martin’s works, however she only learned about the American artist late in her career. Personally, I find Nasreen’s work way more compelling, since they lack the doctrinarian, kind of religious undertone and tend to be more experimental, open and questioning.


Looking at the drawings is like taking an infinite break, and reveals the devotion, patience and depth of the artist behind the lines.
“For Mohamedi, life was not a matter of time, but of duration; for Mohamedi’s drawings engage with the thick activity of the world around her, they do not represent or render nature, or a particular aspect of the city, so much as they serve as a referent of time.” (Susette Min)

*From Nasreen’s Diary, July 17th1973, Baroda

Nasreen Mohamedi: Notes. – Reflections on Indian Modernism @ Kunsthalle Basel (February 7-April 4, 2010)

Please refer for catalogs and further information about Nasreen Mohamedi‘s works to Talwar Gallery , which represents the estate of the artist. Drawings and Photographs are by Nasreen Mohamedi, courtesy of Talwar Gallery.

Talwar Gallery 108 East 16th Street, New York, NY 10003, Tel + 1 212 673 3096


‘No Longer Empty’ – Making Creative Use of Space

by Ross von Burg on August 20, 2009

No Longer Empty is a public art installation created by Manon Slome. Formerly a curator at the Guggenheim Museum, Ms. Slome constructively and creatively utilizes spaces left empty by the implosion of NY’s Real Estate Market for a continuing program of floating art exhibitions. There was so much interest from artists and ‘space providers’ the project took off ahead of schedule with an initial installation earlier this summer next to the Chelsea Hotel and a current show up at a space next in the Caledonia, adjacent to the High Line on West 16th Street. 


This project installs interesting artists in high traffic areas designed to attract the viewers because of the volume of passers-by but also because its conceived of as a location that can both involve the public and make them feel comfortable in the space. 

As a site-specific public art project, No Longer Empty designs spaces in order to make a transformation in often high vacancy areas that need to be re-involved with both the streetscape and the people that pass by. By often using street-level commercial spaces now largely occupied by ‘For Rent’ signs, the project in its own way draws attention into the often raw or roughly finished interior spaces that provide the setting for its shows. 

An upcoming project will create an Oasis in Times Square. A quiet restful place among the noise traffic and tourists that crowd this section of midtown. The idea is informal and comes from both, a commitment to public art and from a rationale that breaks the whitewall gallery or museum methods of both display and curating.  No Longer Empty can put a show up in a few weeks or less. Compared to other galleries or museums which prepare shows months or sometimes years in advance. 

After having worked their entire careers mostly in Institutions NLE‘s creators see their spaces as open and accessible where anyone can walk off the street  with a stroller, take a look, leave a dollar and feel that they have both noticed and experienced something that would have been otherwise missing from their day. 

Because the locations are high traffic it can make a difference to the casual passerby and brings people into spaces that were either never finished or are now empty.  A trend likely to continue on the street level for sometime. ”The ‘For Rent’ signs are part of our look. Often the Real Estate Companies don’t want us to take them all down and we don’t want to either, ” Manon Slome said in a recent conversation. “The situation has gotten so bad many buildings have unfinished areas and some have run out of money and can’t afford to put down the rug and buy a sofa for the lobby.”  


No Longer Empty is not just a storefront model, but will install in other spaces as well and looks to expand its repetoire to include, musicians, bands, dance other kinds of performances as well as instructional talks. Creating a kind of multi-modal environment that reconfigures raw space as necessary for a particular event or installation.  In a way encouraging  the creation of a mobile nexus of art and interaction linked by the a social network of active participants, interested passersby in an active streetscape all working together to make a creative use of space that otherwise would have remained empty. 

Reflecting Transformation @ The Caledonia, 443 W 16th St, New York, NY (July 30 – August 29)

Photographs are courtesy of No Longer Empty.
For any enquiries please contact manon@nolongerempty.com


Dust Covers To Covet

by Claudia Dias on July 28, 2009

In the 1989 movie Back to the Future Part II, time-traveler Marty McFly visits a 2015 antique shop whose saleswoman shows him a book with a dust jacket and explains that it is from before the days of (fictional) dust-repellent paper. 


This year, only 6 years away, the most famous example of a dust jacket was on the first edition of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1925. With the jacket the collector’s value of that book is 20-30 times higher then without. Only in the early 1920′s the decoration from the book itself had moved to the dust jackets and later on simply to the cover design for hard-cover and paperback (now also for the internet). Today it happens that the cover designer is better known then the author of the book (i.e. Chip Kidd). 

Early on the independent literary publisher ‘New Directions‘, established in 1936 in New York, caught up with this idea and commissioned in 1940 Alvin Lustig to design the covers for re-editions for their “Modern Classics” series and for their authors like Tennessee Williams. He was influenced by the European designs of bauhaus and the Dada movement, and the Russian Constructivists books by El Lissitzky and Alexander Rodchenko, all with the intention of ‘knocking the eye off-center’.


Meanwhile, a healthy rivalry started with other designers ‘who could alter the form faster’, one of them being Paul Rand for the magazine “Direction”. 
‘By the mid-1940s, when he was designing all the jackets in New Directions’ “New Classics” series (which b.t.w. includes Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’), Lustig had combined modern type with abstract line drawings, or what he called symbolic ‘marks’, which owed more to the work of such artists as Paul Klee, Joan Miró and Mark Rothko than to accepted commercial styles.’


‘Like jazz improvisations, these non-representational images signaled the progressive nature of his publishing house. During the late 1940s he introduced collage/montage and reticulated photography, evoking surrealistic fantasies. And in the 1950′s he developed a series of paperback covers for Noonday and Meridian Books using only gothic and slab serif typography. Rand and Lustig clearly shared certain traits, since they were both fluent in the language of Modernism – each had a similar preference for contemporary typefaces and child-like scribbles – but each interpreted Modernism in their own ways’. (Quoted from Steven Heller “Paul Rand”)

Today Lustig remains famous for his cover designs but what amazes me that in his short life (1915-1955) next to books and magazines he designed sign systems, textiles, interiors, buildings and a helicopter, always applying his believes in modern abstract design! 


If you are interested in books, but maybe even more in their covers; here comes your chance: New Directions is preparing for a limited edition of some of their ‘Modern Classics’ books with the original cover-designs by Alvin Lustig; printed on dust-collecting paper, affordable and definitely something to covet.

Please refer to the publisher for inquiries and prices.

New Directions Publishing Corp.
80 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10011, editorial@ndbook.com

Photographs are courtesy of  Alvin Lustig Archive.


John McCracken’s Space Portals

by Claudia Dias on July 25, 2009

‘Color helps to define form.’  (Sketch Note from John McCracken, 1965)
This note and my memorized images of New Mexico’s landscapes, McCracken’s current residence, have opened my eyes to his work. This work is for me the total abstraction of the direct experience of nature. Counterpointing what I saw as the incomprehensible order of this vast and colorful desert landscape, his work is the physical translation of the nature’s essence condensed to pure color and shape; he crystalizes the hidden harmony and beauty that one can sense, without direct understanding.


At the same time McCracken has stories, absolutely unusual within the circle of the minimalist movement he his mainly identified with. His somewhat awkward tales of space aliens and time travel give a good idea of the independent and radiant quality of his work. I try not to link his work too much many of those  more dogmatic minimalist artists (perhaps the reason that ‘Dia:’ still has not included his work in their collection). Also, regarding minimalism: McCracken would probably  be the last remaining working artist.

‘By the way, one of the things that interests me about aliens is that they seem to operate in more than one dimension of reality comparatively, we operate in one, but they travel in time, and do weird things with space and matter.  They do stuff I like. Think, as a mild example, how it would be to see somebody in a spread of time. 
I think “minimalism” work is not always so minimalist, especially when you really see it and think about it – or, say, try to accurately describe it. But my tendency was to make my works more sensuous than most, and more what I thought of as beautiful. I felt that if something was beautiful, one could enjoy looking at it and therefore stand to apprehend the form in a full way – intellectually, emotionally, and experientially.’ (from “Interview/ John McCracken and Matthew Higgs” 2005)


Being afraid of the possibility that his sculptures would simply look like objects of fetish within the context of a white-box gallery, I thought I would prefer to see his work outdoors .

I first ‘discovered’ McCracken’s work about 10 years ago, a nearly invisible reflective stainless steel column called “Teton” in the sculpture garden of the Caldic Collection, Netherlands. It emerged out of absolutely nowhere, visible just as a vertical distortion in space. This year at ArtBasel40 a similar column, called “Liftoff” was placed, elevated on a pedestal on the main plaza, but since it was extremely crowded I experienced it more like a space-hole among the steadily moving mass of people. Unfortunately, at that time I think hardly anybody noticed the piece. Right now, David Zwirner Gallery is showing a similar sized bronze column in the controlled environment of his gallery. Its simple presence feels eery.

‘My works are minimal and reduced, but also maximal. I try to make them concise, clear statements in three-dimensional form, and also to take them to a breathtaking level of beauty’. (2000)

The “planks”, are probably the most iconic work which started his 40 year career; they connect two worlds: the physical and the mental. The reflective, monochromatic (rarely ‘multi-colored’), rectangular plank of approximately human size, stands on the ground that we walk on, but leans against the wall, that we look at.  


‘The plank is ‘out’ of the world (or on the edge of it), the column or block-form more ‘in’ the world’, McCracken explains.

‘California culture did of itself offer some inspiration for art, too. (..) I wasn’t into surfboards – despite what some people have thought – as much as cars. Not that many of them had great finishes – but the light in Los Angeles does something, too (..)’.

During his early years in Los Angeles McCracken developed his iconic reduced shapes and a technic that allowed him to achieve their perfectly smooth skin. The multiple layers of color and resin over fiberglass covered plywood give the objects their character of weightlessness and reflectiveness that keeps the observer in a distance. Different from minimalist and conceptual artists who handed out their work for fabrication, he sticked to making his work with his own hands, simply to have the final control over the outcome of color and shape, the quality that probably pulls the observer again into his work.


‘My time-travel experience involved two times and places. First, (..) in Northern California near Mt. Shasta. I’d gotten off the school bus for the last time and was spending a while standing at the edge of the highway gazing around and thinking(..). As I looked toward the sunset over the western mountains, a feeling came over me. I felt I was being watched by someone or something behind me, in the sky. I turned around and looked in that direction. Nothing notable seemed to be there except a few clouds, but the feeling was still there and persisted for some time. It was a strong experience, but, well, that was that.
The about fifteen years later, in 1966-67, in my studio in Venice California, I was thinking and musing one evening, and I happened to remember my earlier experience of being watched. I wondered what it might mean. I visualized that earlier scene. I saw myself standing on the road, I saw the sunset, and so on, and I felt again the odd feeling that I was being watched from the sky.
And then like a brick it hit me: I was seeing that scene from the same point in the sky where I had earlier felt I was being watched. I had spontaneously “come in” right there. It bowled me over. There had been someone watching me then, and it was me, from the future! To the accompaniment of something like bolts of lightning, I banged back forth between my two selves for awhile, seeing everything from one perspective, then the other. It was a very weird and interesting experience.
As to frontiers, that experience hints at one: inner reality. Physical reality is big, but inner reality, though slippery, is bigger – and it permits time travel, as does the mind.’ (quoted from “Interview / John McCracken and Matthew Higgs” 2005)


This summer John McCracken will have his first solo-show in the UK at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, accompanied by a wonderful catalogue with sketches and notes of the artist.

John McCracken @ Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Inverleith House (August 6- October 11, 2009)

6 works, 6 rooms  @ David Zwirner (June 27-August 14, 2009)
Please refer to the gallery for inquiries and prices.

David Zwirner
525 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011, Tel +1 212 727 2070
Many thanks to Jessica at David Zwirner for photographs and material.

Photographs: Portrait McCracken; “Teton” (1989), Rotterdam, NL; “Swift”(2007), documenta 12, Kassel; “Liftoff” (2009), Messeplatz at ArtI40I Basel; “Vision” (2004), David Zwirner, New York; “6 McCracken Columns” (2006), David Zwirner, New York; “Aurora” (2008), David Zwirner, New York


Cosmic Latte

by Claudia Dias on July 22, 2009

In 2001 Karl Glazebrook and Ivan Baldry, astronomers from John Hopkins University determined that the average color of all the light in the universe was calculated to be pale turquoise, but they soon corrected their findings from turquoise to beige, due to a computer bug. “It’s our fault for not taking the color science seriously enough,” admitted Karl Glazebrook. He added that the discovery was actually just meant to be an amusing footnote to a large-scale survey of the spectrum of light emitted by 200,000 galaxies. The newly calculated color, described more formally as III E Gamma, looks like off-white wall paint (in Photoshop the RGB value is #FFF8E7). Glazebrook, however preferred to tag it as “cosmic latte.”



In that sense the Daoist classic text, the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) warns that dividing the world into the five colors (black, white, yellow, red and blue) would “blind the eye” to true perception saying, that we would all think so much more clearly if we didn’t divide the world at all.
Confused? If cosmic latte is now a natural or synthetic color, I remembered that mixing all colors would lead eventually to black, but that black also represented the monochrome (or color-blind) philosophy of the Daoists. 
Tracing the history of natural pigments and dyes, Victoria Finlay describes in her travel book “Color” that conceptually, for Daoist artists 1000 years ago, black ink did contain all the colors, just as in Zen philosophy a grain of rice contains the whole world.
So in terms of colors, the greatest artist should be able to make a peacock seem iridescent, or a peach seem pink without using any colored pigments at all. Black was the color for the gentlemen artist, who combined the skills of poetry and painting, and who wanted to portray the landscape of the mind, not of the eye. Su Dongpo, a Chinese scholar from the 11th century, was criticized for painting a picture of a leaf bamboo using red ink. “Not realistic”, his critics said gleefully. “Then what color should I have used?” he asked. “Black, of course”.


There are no true black dyes. There are black pigments – charcoal is one, soot another – but pigments do not tend to be soluble in water, so it is hard to fix them onto fabric.
Puritans emerged in Europe in the 17th century and for true Protestant symbolism true protestant Black was needed. At that time many people dyed clothes in several vats – blue, red and yellow – until blackness was achieved. However, that was expensive. Just in time ‘Campeachy‘ logwood from the New World was marketed as good ingredient for both red and black dyes. Sooner rather than later this led to a logwood war fought between the British and the Spanish for logwood shipment rights, meanwhile pirates kept the shipments going, being paid with rum and whorehouses in the Caribbean. At the end (now called) Belize went to the British and many Belizeans today are descended from slaves who were forced to cut down this heavy dye wood … for no other reason than to help Europe be more black and pure.

I assumed the cosmic color would be if not black then at least yellow, as it is the color of light, or more accurately according to a Bihar yogi in Monghyr, India: “Yellow is the light in nature. It invites the soul, as black protects the soul; … the thing about yellow is that it has to be purified“. Victoria Finley was on the search for the yellow paint of the gown of the blue-skinned Hindu god Krishna, the playboy incarnation of the Supreme God Vishnu; personally I was on the quest for the natural yellow dye of my last year’s summer dress.


Monghyr piuri is an Indian yellow animal dye or pigment, but probably only a legend, according to which the dye was collected in a town called Monghyr, where the cows were fed mango-tree leaves and then their urine was supposedly used as color. There was never a confirmation nor any local recollection of that tale according to Victoria Finley.
Another pigment in use was Orpiment that means ‘Gold pigment‘, and contained arsenic, was thus quite poisonous, but this didn’t stop Javanese and Chinese from using it as medicine in small quantities.
Gamboge yellow, still comes mostly from Cambodia and Krishna’s yellow gowns were probably painted with this pigment instead of the more whiffy version from Monghyr. It comes from garcinia hanburyi – a tall tree related to the mangosteen. The paint is the resin, extracted similar to rubber. A gamboge collector makes a deep cut in the trunk, places a bamboo beneath the gash… and returns the next year. Gamboge is also one of the most effective diuretics in nature.
Saffron, the most colorful spice in the world grows as purple crocus fields all over the world. However saffron is not used as  a dye, a false assumption contributed by the fact that Buddhist monks wear ‘saffron’ colored gowns. Saffron has been grown since 500 BC in Kashmir, which now  produces less then a tonne a year. It has been grown all over the planet even in North Wales (Saffron Walden). Iran is probably now the largest producer; 170,000 flowers make one kilo of saffron, which means Iran’s annual production involves 28 billion flowers, 1/2 million people help to pick the flowers. Each kilo can be sold for $700, by the kilogram it is the most expensive spice, but a gram should last most cooks several months.different-yellows-w
After reading all this I can’t help to somewhat feel relieved that we now have synthetic pigments and dyes.

But Glazebrook‘s study revealed something more: because the stars (which formed 5 billion years ago) would have been “brighter” in the past, the color of the universe changes over time shifting from blue to red as more blue stars change to yellow and eventually to red giants. These too will eventually change into black holes. 
So does that mean cosmic latte will turn into cosmic espresso?