18. March 2015

The curator Ingrid Pfeiffer finds several art events to compensate for the unpleasant weather.

By Ingrid Pfeiffer

In recent years I have been in New York in May several times for the FRIEZE art fair rather than, as in previous years, for the ARMORY SHOW, which is always held in early May. Because this year I still had to meet with collectors and experts for two of my upcoming exhibition projects, I switched my visit back to the week of the ARMORY SHOW, which was, however, less pleasant, because of a heavy snowstorm and daytime temperatures of nine degrees below zero Celsius.

A number of other art fairs are always held in parallel with the ARMORY SHOW, which this year was a generous presentation of high quality, for example the small VOLTA fair, which was located right next to the large halls on Piers 92 and 94. Particularly worthy of mention, however, was the hip INDEPENDENT fair, which since 2009 has been organized in a building in Chelsea that once housed the Dia Art Foundation: a small but lovely fair with around fifty galleries on three floors in a charming old building with steep stairs.

Initially, this fair had an alternative charm: the stands seemed rather improvised, and the walls between the booths were thin and temporary. That is no longer the case: it can no longer be called "young and upcoming" since galleries like Michael Werner's present museum-quality objects very professionally and in aesthetically perfect form, including top-flight works by A. R. Penck from the 1970s. It was a great pleasure to see objects again that I had shown in my Penck exhibition in 2007.

Even more interesting for me, however, was the so-called ART SHOW, which is organized by the Art Dealers Association of America and is always held in parallel with the ARMORY SHOW in the very imposing building on Park Avenue where the show was first held. Well-established galleries and art dealers exhibit in it, and they tend to show more modernist classics and high-priced goods.

This year, visits to collectors were even more important to me, such as one to an eighty-eight-year-old woman who knew Sonia Delaunay personally and showed me wonderful works by that artist she will lend for my upcoming exhibition STORM WOMEN: Women Artists of the Avant-Garde in Berlin, 1910--1932 (October 30, 2015--February 7, 2016). Sonia Delaunay and each of the other seventeen women artists will have a room of her own in the exhibition.

Egon Schiele's Oeuvre Is Incredibly Existential

Because there is currently a large retrospective on Delaunay at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, which will travel to Tate Modern in London, it was extraordinarily difficult to assemble early and first-rate works for our Delaunay room: that sound of competition is always fatal, since hardly any collectors and even fewer museums will lend works for a third time after such lengthy exhibition periods. In Delaunay's case, in the end we just managed to find other lenders, but doing so required detective work seeking out alternatives.

Because we curators at the Schirn are rarely working on just one exhibition project--even one as large as STORM WOMEN, with around three hundred works from all over the world--I also spent time in New York negotiating loans for my next exhibition, on the Viennese painter Richard Gerstl (1883--1908). To that end, I was at the Neue Galerie, a private museum near the Guggenheim Museum that specializes in Gustav Klimt and Viennese art. It is currently showing a magnificent exhibition of portraits by Egon Schiele. Although this popular artist is reproduced far too often, he always surprises me: his oeuvre is incredibly existential, and when you see many unfamiliar works from private collections for the first time in such an exhibition, the pleasure is all the greater and all the more unexpected. For me, nearly everything I had just seen at the fairs paled in comparison to these still "wild" works ...

Otherwise, the programs of New York's museums were not especially spectacular. Instead, there was a museum-worthy exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea: In the Studio: Paintings, curated by John Elderfield, the former chief curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA. For years now, there has been a trend in New York in which large galleries such as Gagosian and Zwirner offer exhibitions of museum quality and even beyond, for hardly any museums can afford the transportation and loan costs that these big players on the international art scene can. Elderfield's absolutely breathtaking selection of works, which sheds light on the theme of the artist in the studio, included major works by Matisse and Picasso as well as an important painting by James Ensor that was hanging right by the entrance in my Ensor exhibition of 2005--6.

Most of the works in this exhibition were loans from large museums and collections in Europe and the United States, probably including a few from private collections that were actually for sale. One can only assume that the horrendous exhibition and insurance costs are nevertheless covered if one or two works worth several million are sold. It is fascinating and at the same time terrifying to see the extent to which large galleries have taken on the task of museums through such practices.

One exhibition is, however, causing a sensation in New York, though it is probably not so much tourists seeking out the Guggenheim Museum as it is art world professionals: the large retrospective of On Kawara (1933--2014), an artist whose Date Paintings are familiar to us in Frankfurt thanks to their constant presence at the Museum für Moderne Kunst. Walking down the sloping spiral of the Guggenheim Museum, a work that is rigorous as it is disturbing is revealed with such scope and detail: mirroring, cataloging, and reflecting on one's own life and providing incredible quantities of materials. He produced paintings, telegrams, newspaper clippings, maps, postcards, and much more. This exhibition in the Guggenheim's spiral presented with such unbelievable aesthetic quality is perfectly suited to the site, whose architecture also mirrors time and space.

Many of my colleagues in New York talked to me about the upcoming Yoko Ono exhibition at MoMA, which is scheduled to open in mid-May. MoMA's curators have traveled to the Guggenheim Bilbao several times over the past year to learn about our tour there. The installation of works in Bilbao precisely mirrors its installation in Frankfurt, right down to the sequence of the walls texts, though the rooms in Bilbao are larger. The Ono exhibition was extremely successful: Bilbao alone had more than 600,000 visitors, and all four venues together (Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Krems, and Bilbao) had around a million.

MoMA intends to concentrate exclusively on Ono's earliest works from the 1960s, which were also the focus of our show, but we also wanted to offer a retrospective of her development up to the present. It appears that MoMA will dispense with that. In any case, the list of works mentioned in the announcement does not include anything that was not shown in Frankfurt as well. I am very excited to see in detail what they will adopt from our presentation and interpretation!