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Esra Ersen, Rehabilitation (detail), 2006

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São Paulo Biennial
November 1-14, 2006

With several artists orchestrating confrontational events, the 27th São Paulo Biennial is one of the more political international exhibitions this fall. Addressing the crises in Central Asia, the Afghan artist Lida Abdul talks to us about her video and performance projects, and Mexican provocateur Minerva Cueva brings her anti-capitalist energy to Brazil. Art activism continues outside of South America as well, with Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed's dark sculptures on display in Paris, and Isidro Blasco's suggestive collages on view in his native Madrid. The contrasting stillness of Tacita Dean's films, sensuously communicating man's struggle with nature and time, appears both in a new Phaidon monograph and amid the roiling dynamism of São Paulo.

  Rioja, Spain's greatest wine region, is where art, architecture, and wine meet. The pioneer in Spanish winemaking has great company — Calatrava, Gehry, Hadid, and Quemada, just to mention a few. Focused on the best of Spain and Spanish lifestyle, it's no surprise that style meets culture in Rioja. Visit to win a party for 20 and discover Vibrant Rioja.

Pinault Named Art's "Most Powerful"
(CBC, October 14)
ArtReview magazine has placed François Pinault, owner of both the Gucci fashion empire and Christie's auction house, atop its annual list of the 100 most powerful people in the art world. Pinault raised eyebrows this year when he moved his world-class art collection from Paris to Palazzo Grassi in Venice. Pinault's ascension displaced 2005's number one, British artist Damien Hirst, who slid to 11th on this year's list. Rounding out the magazine's top ten of art world luminaries are Larry Gagosian, Nicholas Serota, Glenn Lowry, Sam Keller, Eli Broad, Charles Saatchi, Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp, Bruce Nauman, and Jeff Koons.

Graffiti Captures Art World's Imagination
(Times, October 20)
Street art is getting its institutional, multimedia due. Hot on the heels of his widely reported Disneyland and Paris Hilton pranks, British artist Banksy saw his work fetch record prices at a recent Sotheby's auction in London. A series of his Kate Moss prints, imitating Andy Warhol's portraits of Marilyn Monroe, fetched $95,000, while a green, stencil painting of the Mona Lisa went for $108,000 — over five times the estimated bid. Meanwhile, the French have taken to photographer and graffiti artist JR, who, in response to the country's suburban riots last fall, adorned Paris street corners with posters of distorted black faces. His work is now being shown in one of those suburbs, Clichy, along with a concurrent exhibition of pictures of the town taken by the likes of William Klein, Marc Riboud, and Sarah Moon. Finally, the New York Times got in on the act by reporting on the history of graffiti on film, highlighting filmmaker Doug Pray's new graffiti documentary, Infamy.

Maya Lin's Political Disavowal
(Washington Post, October 22)
The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott recently penned a thought piece questioning sculptor Maya Lin's move away from politics. Lin, best known for her powerful Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington D.C., said at a recent lecture at the Smithsonian that she wasn't interested in commenting on monuments. Her recent work — which has included installations in public gardens and a map of the ocean fashioned from aluminum tubing — has carried geographic and environmental, rather than explicitly political, themes. Lin's claims that she is not a political artist prompted Kennicott to brand her as "self-delusional." Bemoaning the loss of Lin's politics as they had been perceived, he wrote, "What are Lin's values, beyond boilerplate lefty environmentalism?"

Sculptor's Beach Figures Must Go
(Guardian, October 20)
Following a recent ruling, sculptor Antony Gormley's Another Place, a series of 100 cast-iron nude men installed on a Merseyside beach near Liverpool, will have to move. The work has attracted over 600,000 visitors, and council officers had been expected to announce a $4 million grant to purchase and preserve the piece. However, complaints from local fishermen and windsurfers regarding the safety of the installation piqued fears of liability lawsuits. Belgium, Norway, and Germany have all played host to Another Place, and it is said that the piece will soon find a new home in New York. Gormley, who used his own body as the cast for the figures, said of the expulsion, "There is no logic to this other than small minds in some grey zone of human experience wanting to deny the unusual."

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[ São Paulo Biennial ]


Léon Ferrari / Rirkrit Tiravanija / Rivane Neuenschwander / Marepe

The 27th São Paulo Biennial forgoes national representation to survey works from 118 international artists exploring difference, coexistence, and collaboration in myriad ways. The exibition's title "Como viver junto" ("How to Live Together") is taken from a lecture series given by French philosopher and theorist Roland Barthes in the '70s and aims to express "an ethical sense of Living-Together." While physical and linguistic boundaries are exposed and challenged, no quick fixes or easy answers are provided.

Slovenia-based Marjetica Potrc fabricates architectural "case studies" in which contemporary building strategies, from Latin America to Europe to South Africa, are juxtaposed and hybridized, revealing sociocultural conflicts and overlaps. Italian artist Monica Bonvicini takes another tack, breaking structures down. A new video installation chronicles the demolition of a wall, and is complemented by a performance featuring four men destroying the walls of a white cube with their bodies. Meschac Gaba, originally from Benin, leaves the process of construction to his viewers, providing them with the building blocks for a Museum of Contemporary African Art, while Rirkrit Tiravanija shelters not art, but tropical plants, in a steel house aptly titled Palm Pavilion.

A native of Brazil, Marepe's work is rooted in localisms. He transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary, turning umbrellas and construction tools into art objects, and has, in the past, collaborated with children to produce utilitarian items, such as sandals, from scavenged materials. Turkish artist Esra Ersen also highlights the vernacular as a constantly shifting phenomenon; in one of her videos, immigrants to Sweden are asked what they would say if they could speak Swedish. More recently, she orchestrated an extreme "makeover" of a resident of Liverpool as a metaphor for the exclusion of residents' voices in the city's redevelopment plan.

Text art guru Lawrence Weiner had a rare moving-image presence during the Biennial's Fortnight of Films in October with films A First Quarter andA Second Quarter. The best of his followers, Korean-American duo Young Hae-Chang Heavy Industries, playfully stir things up with a new bilingual version of their Flash animation END CREDITS. (SK)

The S�o Paulo Biennial continues through December 17.

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Leandro Erlich

Galerie Emmanuelle Perrotin Miami
Now through November 25

  Buenos Aires-born Leandro Erlich plays mind games through his art, using trompe l'oeil effects and optical illusions to reassess notions of perspective and perception. In this show of installations and large-scale photographs, Erlich once again challenges conventional ways of seeing. A sizable three-dimensional object flanked by what appear to be windowpanes juts out from the gallery wall; from certain perspectives, the piece seems to cave in and suddenly resemble a carpeted hallway with doors. Erlich's photographs are equally effective, dramatically depicting people "falling" out of a house's windows, although these scenarios actually take place on a façade laid flat on the ground. (OS)

Nick Cave: Soundsuits
New York

Jack Shainman Gallery
Now through November 11

  Mixing ritual, fashion, performance, and racial commentary, Nick Cave's Soundsuits are towering monstrosities that completely obscure identity and rattle out crude percussive rhythms when worn. Presented on pedestals, the Soundsuits are elaborately crafted from both kitschy and organic materials including sequins, mirrors, Easter grass, painted wood, dryer lint, gourds, and even hair. One looks like a contained explosion of socks, gloves, and sweaters. Some suits have phallic headdresses, alternately underscoring African-American male sexuality and ironically echoing the pointy hoods of Ku Klux Klan regalia. With accompanying photographs showing how the suits transform anonymous black men into colorful demigods from African ceremonies, Cave's primal creations are a sensual spectacle. (SH)

Isidro Blasco

Galería Fúcares
Now through November 4

  Best known for collaged photographs mounted to armatures of wood and foam, Isidro Blasco creates installations and photo-sculptures informed by architecture, cubism, and the composite photos of David Hockney. While previous works depicted the interiors of various apartments in which the 44-year-old artist has lived, Blasco's exhibition in his native Madrid focuses on the exterior world, specifically the New York cityscape. In his off-kilter vision, corporate offices sprout from the rooftops of townhouses and thin strips of wood replace buildings cropped out of the picture, while billowing clouds and smoke obscuring the sky are ominous reminders of 9/11 and the current age of anxiety. (CYL)

Adel Abdessemed: Practice Zero Tolerance

Le Frac Île-de-France / Le Plateau
Now through November 19

  The color black and intimations of fear predominate Algerian-born Adel Abdessemed's first solo installation in a Parisian institution. A rising star shortlisted for this year's Prix Marcel Duchamp, Abdessemed, like pop sculptor Claes Oldenburg, monumentalizes common objects. Giant drill bits sculpted out of black marble and a clay chassis of a burned-out car reference violent clashes in Iraq or the recent ethnic riots in the Parisian banlieues. Yet Abdessemed is no cynic — he also presents a model for a collaborative artists' studio in Jerusalem, and a drawing, Dazibao, recalls subversive street graffiti, addressing both the possibilities and limitations of political discourse. (NB)

Adel Abdessemed's work is also on view in the São Paulo Biennial through December 17.

Airworld: Design and Architecture for Air Travel

Stedelijk Museum
Now through November 5

  Curated by the canonically stylish Vitra Design Museum, this survey of airline industry design presents a panoply of retro chic and futuristic fantasies. Though the exhibit spans from the first scheduled flight in 1919 to Norman Foster's current vision for the Beijing airport, preference is given to the "jet age" of the '50s and '60s, when the thrill and novelty of air travel attracted top-tier designers. Displays of bright plastic dinnerware, mod stewardess outfits with matching pillbox hats, airline shoulder bags, and aerodynamic architecture like Eero Saarinen's now-defunct Terminal Five at JFK Airport make you long for the days when people donned suits and gloves to board a plane. (BR)

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[ Minerva Cuevas ]

Minerva Cuevas

Minerva Cuevas is an activist artist who uses the contexts of museums, galleries, and the Internet to address social and political issues. Based in Mexico City, Cuevas is best known for the Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Co.). MVC began as an anarchist, anti-capitalist enterprise — giving away free subway tickets, barcodes to reduce the price of food in supermarkets, and student identification cards. Her project took on a corporate structure when she created a website and began distributing MVC's products and services internationally.

Invited to exhibit her work abroad, Cuevas has adapted her interventions to each venue. For an exhibition at Paris' Palais de Tokyo, she planted an actor dressed as Ronald McDonald outside a local McDonald's and instructed him to tell patrons about the quality of the food and workers' rights. For a public art project in Madrid, she solicited musicians of varied styles and nationalities to simultaneously play in a public square, resulting in a surprisingly harmonious event. For her first US solo show at LA's Luckman Gallery this fall, she put out an open call in Mexico City for superheroes and cast them in a video installation to address issues of social heroism and fantasy in relation to Hollywood films.

Murals commenting on corporate power and man's relationship to nature are another form of Cuevas' creative mediations. She altered the Del Monte canned tomatoes label into a bloody, wall-sized critique of the company's exploitation of Central America, used land deeds to discuss property rights, and created ads and logos advocating the protection of nature. At the São Paulo Biennial, she confronts the course of civilization with a montage of a crashed Varig plane, GM logos, and a quote from a Terena Indian stating, "The white man is afraid of listening." An artist of many talents, Cuevas considers many of her works to be cultural experiments — ones from which society ultimately benefits. (PL)

Minerva Cuevas' work is on view at the São Paulo Biennial through December 17.

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[ Lida Abdul ]


Lida Abdul

Sara Raza interviews Afghan video and performance artist Lida Abdul about her current participation in the São Paulo Biennial and the future of contemporary art in Afghanistan.
AK: Architecture, ruins, and monumentality are strong, recurring themes in your work. How has this been received within the context of this year's São Paulo Biennial?

LA: I think that in some sense, monuments are really cover-ups for ruins — nice little face-lifts — so that we don't have to pay attention to the trauma, death, and suffering that monuments hide. It's an old story: instead of seeing failure, we erect a wall so that we don't have to deal with the violence and horror.

The pieces I'm showing in the Biennial deal with events such as the former-USSR invasion of Afghanistan and how the same event is manifested differently in different parts of the world. Our degree of proximity to the event drastically changes the perspective we have of the event. I guess I would call my pieces anti-monuments because they are made of the residue of everyday life.

AK: The video work you're presenting at São Paulo (Dome, 2005) features a small Afghan child as the central protagonist. Why did you choose to depict a child?

LA: Children who live through war are simultaneously blessed and cursed because as children, they're surrounded by realities they don't fully understand, and therefore they're protected a bit. But there is a threshold past which they are psychologically damaged, and so many Afghan children are. Their lives are spent in the street, and from a very young age, many of them have to deal with survival. I continue to be amazed at how resilient some of them are. So I wanted to use children because in some sense, they represent a kind of fantasy world. They are willing to forget a little to move forward — something their parents' generation is unwilling or incapable of doing. There is a playfulness to the way I saw so many of them deal with the threat of violence; I was shocked by it, but then I realized that that was their way of disarming the potential for violence around them.

AK: This is the second time you've worked with curator Rosa Martinez since you met at the 2005 Venice Biennale. First, you participated in Painting as a Way of Living, a show she organized earlier this year at Istanbul Modern, and now you've met again at the São Paulo Biennial. What have your experiences been like working together?

keep reading the interview »

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  Tacita Dean
Jean-Christophe Royoux, Marina Warner, and Germaine Greer
Phaidon Press

Tacita Dean's contemplative films capture buildings and people on the verge of disappearance. Recording architectural ruins and deeply wrinkled faces, she evokes nostalgia and wonder at the passage of time. The daunting power of nature appears frequently in Dean's work, and she echoes sublime paintings in her film series Disappearance at Sea (1996) and her tumultuous blackboard drawings of ships in storms. Uniting her diverse practices are feelings of solitude and loss, communicated with a quiet sensuality. After her films attracted attention in the mid-'90s, Dean was nominated for the Turner Prize and honored with solo exhibitions at several museums, including the Tate Modern. She is currently nominated for the 2006 Hugo Boss Prize, and this timely monograph unearths the motivations behind her work with an intimate interview by Marina Warner and extensive selections of the artist's writings. In combination with essays by Germaine Greer and Jean-Christophe Royoux, the book illuminates Dean's process as a patient observer of overlooked beauty. (BR)

Tacita Dean is exhibiting film and photography at the São Paulo Biennial through December 17.

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Cover Art
Esra Ersen
Rehabilitation, 2006
Installation at São Paulo Biennial
Dimensions variable
Courtesy Moderna Museet, Stockholm
All Rights Reserved

Paul Laster

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