Thespian, Artist, Scholar: James Franco Heads to Yale – and RISD

June 10, 2010

IN THE AIR has a suspicion that James Franco is really a series of robots engineered during the Cold War to seduce enemies and steal atomic secrets — these robots just happened to develop the ability to feel and turned their new emotional faculty to an appreciation of art and literature. There is much evidence to support this theory, only the most recent of which is the fact, confirmed by Franco’s publicist, Genevieve Penn, that the actor will be attending both Yale University (for a PhD in English, after Harold Bloom sent him an email asking him to “please come”) and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), starting this fall.

While IN THE AIR wants to think that this is physically impossible (the schools are in different states), it’s possible to suspend some disbelief based on the fact that Franco has pulled a stunt like this before: this year he completed simultaneous M.F.A. programs in writing at NYU and Columbia University.

Now, none of this would be that impressive were it not for the fact that Franco has — at the same time that he’s been pursuing all of this higher education — been collaborating with some of the most prominent (and most remarkable) people in the art world. Last year, he conducted a video interview with Marina Abramovic for the Wall Street Journal in which he can be seen with the artist, wearing matching lab coats, peeling almonds, and eating gold.

If that were not enough to make IN THE AIR drool with envy, Jeffrey Deitch said, in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, “I wish Andy were here to meet James Franco. Andy would have been so enthusiastic.” Yes, Deitch is talking about Andy Warhol. He’s alluding to the fact that MOCA plans to screen a film that James Franco is making about the character he has been playing on General Hospital (“Franco,” the artist, who lands a show at the MOCA). IN THE AIR’s mind reels.

Oh yeah, and he’s been making movies, or whatever.

In the Air Predicts a Reality-Show Star

June 3, 2010

IN THE AIR is not given to self-flattery, except, well, okay, sometimes IN THE AIR is given to self-flattery, particularly when we nail a scoop. This happens to be another one of those times.

Last July, auditions were held at New York alternative space White Columns for the new Bravo reality show Work of Art, which premiers on June 9. It was a funny scene: hundreds of aspiring artists of all ages lined up around the block, waiting their chance to bring their work before the judges and hoping for a coveted spot on the show. IN THE AIR was there.

IN THE AIR conducted about ten interviews, and one of them was with the effervescent young painter Abdi Farah who — wait for it — ended up being one of the 14 contestants on the show! (Casting calls, with hundreds more hopefuls, were also conducted in Miami, Los Angeles, and Chicago, making the pick all the more uncanny.)

Well? Did IN THE AIR not make the call? If Farah wins and becomes some kind of art star, remember that you read it here first. IN THE AIR is just saying.

Founders Harry Blain and Graham Southern Leave Christie’s-Owned Haunch of Venison

May 31, 2010

IN THE AIR exclusive!: In news sure to shake up the London art world, Harry Blain and Graham Southern, the dynamic pair of dealers who founded the Haunch of Venison gallery eight years ago, will leave the business as of August. The development is the most significant upheaval at the gallery since it was acquired by the Christie’s International auction company in 2007, and comes little more than a year after the departure of Robert Fitzpatrick, the former MCA Chicago head who served both as Haunch’s international managing director and ran the New York space.

Founded in London, Haunch — a blue-chip operation that also has branches in New York, Berlin, and Zurich — is pressing on without its founders, according to Emilio Steinberger, who with Barrett White is co-director of the New York branch, which opened in 2008. “We want to give artists the best platform we can,” says Steinberger, who adds that he and White are actively looking to expand the Rockefeller Center-based outpost by adding a new space in Chelsea.  Meanwhile, Haunch plans to beef up its artist roster, and recently took on the estate of Venezuelan Op-Art sculptor and painter Jesus Rafael Soto. (The gallery is working with Soto in conjunction with his widow, Mme. Helen Soto, and his family.)

In a bit of internal musical chairs, the formidable Matthew Carey Williams, who came to Haunch from Gagosian Gallery in 2006 and was transferred to Christie’s private sales department in 2009, is moving back to Haunch to take on a leadership role at its London flagship. Last year, the gallery made a high-profile move when it leased space at 6 Burlington Gardens from the Royal Academy; that lease ends in 2011, and, according to Steinberger, renovations at the original Haunch of Venison Yard space will be completed in spring or summer of that year, and there may be some overlap when the gallery would produce shows in both locations.

As for Southern and Blain — the latter of whom London’s Independent called “Britart’s most powerful man” last year — their plans are not yet known. Blain did not respond to an email requesting comment on his departure and on his and Southern’s future plans. But it seems unlikely either of them will leave the art business. “Not many people in the art world would have been able to achieve what they did in so short a time,” says Steinberger. “We have every intention of working together, when we can.”

Pace Gallery to Open in Hong Kong and Shanghai?

May 26, 2010

Hot on the heels of Gagosian‘s announcement that he wants to open in Hong Kong — a plan the megadealer has been talking about for years, without a specific site in mind — IN THE AIR hears that Pace Gallery owner Arne Glimcher is looking to do the same, and, according to sources in Shanghai, possibly also re-locate the gallery’s entire China operation from Beijing to Hong Kong. Glimcher has previously and repeatedly expressed frustration with oppressive import/export restrictions and high taxes in mainland China, where the gallery opened a spacious $20-million Richard Gluckman-designed space in 2008.

Pace PR head Andrea Glimcher confirmed that the gallery was indeed looking into options to venture into Hong Kong, and possibly Shanghai as well. However, she denied the gallery had plans to vacate its Beijing premises in the 798 District. “Beijing is our home base,” she said, adding that the gallery recently expanded its venue there from 22,000 to 25,000 square feet. The timing seems right for Pace to grow out its much-vaunted China operation given the expanding local market, dramatically visible in the ballooning recent auction tallies there as well as the strong early sales and high attendance by mainland Chinese collectors at today’s vernissage of the third Hong Kong Contemporary Art Fair (Art HK 10).

Were Pace to leave its current China location, gallery artist Tara Donovan might have to rebuild the lovingly crafted Lego replica of the Beijing space, which she presented to Pace president Marc Glimcher and his wife, Andrea, at last week’s Creative Time gala.

Whitney in Talks to Lease Breuer Building to the Met

May 20, 2010

When the Whitney Museum of American Art‘s board of trustees meets next Tuesday to formally vote to approve its $680 million expansion into the Meatpacking District, IN THE AIR hears that a radical hush-hush new option will be on the table to mollify Leonard A. Lauder, the patron who gave the institution $131 million with the stipulation that it not sell its historic Marcel Breuer-designed home. To whit: the Whitney, which has long chafed under the cramped dimensions of its magnificent Brutalist building on 75th Street, would relocate entirely to its planned Renzo Piano satellite downtown — but instead of selling the flagship location, it would lease it to the august Metropolitan Museum of Art.

According to a well-connected source who heard about the secret talks from curators at both institutions, the trade-off would take place immediately after construction on the new Whitney location at the foot of the High Line — assuming it’s approved, as it is widely expected to be — is completed. (The museum, which so far has raised about 60 percent of the funds for the project, has until 2014 to break ground on the site.) According to another source who has been privy to the talks, the plan is hoped to get the Whitney out of a delicate bind. “They’ve come to the realization they can’t run two places, and they really want to build downtown,” said the source. “Leonard has given all this money but will withdraw it if they get rid of the Madison Avenue building. This is a way of keeping both buildings and benefiting from it.”

But while the plan may seem to hew to the obligations attached to Lauder’s 2008 gift, the largest in the museum’s history, it does so only to the letter rather than the spirit, since the patron’s intention was clearly to keep the museum uptown, not merely to own the building on paper. (Neither Lauder nor the Whitney responded to requests for comment.) Tensions have reportedly been mounting between the billionaire cosmetics magnate, who as chairman emeritus of the Whitney’s board has been dead-set against the new satellite, and curators at the museum who are strongly in favor of the project.  Even so, no one disputes the fact that the Whitney has run out of space and the Breuer building is woefully inadequate for the current taste for large-scale works and installations. With its current footprint, it can only exhibit approximately 150 pieces of art at any given time, a minuscule percentage of its 18,000-work-strong collection.

And while Lauder’s iron-clad requirements for his munificent gift say that the Breuer building may not be sold, it is unclear how long the embargo may last. The landmark status of the Whitney building, however, precludes it from either being demolished at some future point or retrofitted as a luxury apartment condo. It must remain in its original guise as a museum. According to sources close to both museums, sensitive discussions are also underway between the Whitney and the Met about an eventual sale of the building to the encyclopedic Fifth Avenue institution.

While the lease arrangement is still far from decided, IN THE AIR hears that curators at the Met are already pitching shows that could be produced off-campus and jockeying to claim the prime galleries in the Breuer building.

The partnership would make sense for the Met because even its massive exhibition space is already severely limited, plus the museum has been trending in a more contemporary direction in recent years, as evidenced by shows like “Pictures Generation” in 2009 and the ambitious rooftop installations. (There’s no indication at the moment what kind of shows the Met would produce in the Breuer building, however.) The handover would also be a way for the Met to revisit a historic missed opportunity: in the 1930s the museum was offered a chance to take over another Whitney asset, museum founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s nascent collection, and turned it down. After Whitney’s death in 1942, her family reached out to the Met again in 1943, at the height of World War II, to offer the collection despite the fierce objections of the Whitney’s staff. This time the Met agreed, but the collection was never transferred and the Whitney recouped its priceless legacy in 1948, according to art historian Avis Berman‘s book Rebels on Eighth Street: Juliana Force and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Urs Fischer Likes His New Show Better Than His Old Show

May 19, 2010

IN THE AIR took a relaxing train ride up to Greenwich, Connecticut, on Tuesday morning, to view Urs Fischer’s new exhibition at the Brant Foundation Art Study Center, “Oscar the Grouch.” After a quick shuttle ride to the estate, the center’s perky, likable director Allison Brant took invited guests through the show, which includes a miniature replica of the center, shining steel sculptures with finely-detailed photographic overlays (like those seen at the artist’s recent New Museum show), and his gigantic hole in the ground, You, from 2007. After being reeled by the tremendous, surrealistic installation, IN THE AIR asked Fischer how he felt his latest show compared to his New Museum exhibition (which was reported to cost $330,000 to create in that SANAA-designed building). Did Brant’s polo grounds just outside the door add a needed note of tranquility to the aesthetic experience?

Fischer shrugged. “I like this better,” he said, clad in a parka that still managed to reveal the extensive tattoos on the back of his neck. “The building is not crap. Everything you put in the New Museum looks thin. It takes the shine out of every thing. I like this better. I’m usually not happy, but I’m happy now.”

As they say in polo, Greenwich: 1, the Bowery: 0.

FIAC Lures Heavy-Hitters Gagosian, Blum & Poe

May 14, 2010

Big changes are afoot at the 36-year-old FIAC, Paris’s leading contemporary art fair, which takes place annually in October. After a successful outing last year, despite the continued global recession, director Jennifer Flay says that exhibitor applications have doubled for this year’s edition. High-profile new entrants to the Gallic booths will include New York’s Metro Pictures; Max Hetzler and Contemporary Fine Arts, both from Berlin; London’s Victoria Miro; and Blum & Poe and Regen Projects, both from Los Angeles; and Gagosian Gallery, which has spaces in New York, Los Angeles, London, Rome, and Athens, and is planning to open a Paris space this year. (Last year, Gagosian participated along with nine other galleries in FIAC’s special “Projet Moderne” section, a museum-like setting devoted to modern masterpieces, but it is significant that the powerful dealer is now taking a full booth in the fair.)

It’s an indication of FIAC’s new importance to the contemporary market that it has become an appealing place to do business for leading dealers hoping to sell to a discerning clientele. “We are very picky about art fairs,” says Blum & Poe co-founder Tim Blum, who represents such high-profile artists as Takashi Murakami. Blum & Poe currently participates in only the most prestigious fairs — The Art Show (the Art Dealers Association of America‘s annual New York fair), Art Basel Miami Beach, and Art Basel. Blum adds that, having recently opened a new space in Los Angeles , added additional artists to his roster, and built a strong client base in England and France, “doing one fair in Europe wasn’t enough. And being in Paris, at FIAC, isn’t a bad way to spend a few days.”

Flay has served as the fair’s artistic director since 2003, and was recently appointed general director after her predecessor, Martin Bethenod, departed to become director at collector Francois Pinault’s Pallazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana museums in Venice. Flay says that 2,500 square meters of the Grand Palais — where FIAC takes place — are currently being restored, and that in 2011 the fair plans to consolidate all of the exhibitor booths in the vaulted space, using the additional Cour Carrée du Louvre venue, which now houses younger contemporary galleries, to show special projects.

Flay remembers that in 2003, when she joined the fair during its 30th anniversary year, “FIAC: Birthday or Burial?” was the headline of one particularly nettlesome magazine article. “It was something of a blow,” Flay recalls. “I told [FIAC parent company Reed Expositions] that everything about the fair had to be changed, and that that wouldn’t happen overnight.” In 2006, the fair went a long way towards rejuvenating its image when it left the convention center at Porte de Versailles and returned to its original venue, the Grand Palais, after that building’s renovations were completed. “We’ve come a long way,” says Flay.

Jasper Johns’ Flag Sells for a Record $28.6 Million at Christie’s

May 11, 2010

During Christie’s sale of art owned by bestselling author Michael Crichton this evening, Jasper Johns‘ 1960–66 Flag sold for $28.6 million, a new record for a work by the artist at auction. That hulking figure is nearly double the $10–15 million estimate that had been tagged to the landmark work, which had an unsurpassable provenance, having been acquired by Crichton directly from the artist in 1973. Flag‘s buyer was New York dealer Michael Altman, who declined to comment after winning the painting. Pennsylvania dealer Richard Rossello, who was sitting near Altman, has also been floated as the possible buyer of the painting. Though $28.6 million was enough to set a record for a Johns at auction, it was not large enough to surpass the record price for a work of art by any living artist at auction: that figure is held by Lucian Freud, whose 1995 Benefits Supervisor Sleeping sold for $33.6 million at Christie’s New York in 2008. Nonetheless, Johns is still believed to hold the record for the price of a work sold by a living artist, since a larger version of Flag was reportedly sold recently to collector Steve Cohen for $110 million. Art+Auction Editor at Large Judd Tully has filed a full report from the auction on ARTINFO.

All in the Marlborough Family

May 11, 2010

IN THE AIR has heard that Marlborough Galleries will be making a bold move in the direction of image revamp come September when dashing young Max Levai, scion of Marlborough head honcho Pierre Levai, officially joins the family business. (Mugrabis, Acquavellas, Sulzbergers, Kennedys, Rockefellers, Medicis – hey, is nepotism really so bad?) The gallery, which operates spaces in New York, London, Madrid, Monaco, and Barcelona — and which has been around for over six decades — began battling its somewhat fusty image a few months ago when it invited it-girl curators Casey Fremont (of Art Production Fund fame) and Karline Moeller (of now-defunct Moeller Snow Gallery, which she ran with the late Dash Snow’s brother, Max) to curate “Look Again” for its Chelsea space, a show stocked with work by hot young artists like Peter Coffin and mid-career stars like Tony Feher. (Aside from the occasional foray into youth – Marlborough does represent sculptor Will Ryman – the gallery’s usual approach to contemporary art runs more to older practitioners like Botero.)

In July, the Chelsea space will unveil a lively-sounding group show curated by art adviser Sima Familant that includes pieces by the likes of the very un-Marlborough-ish Wade Guyton and Kate Gilmore. Max, 23, has been the secret force behind all of this youthful programming. We wonder if he knows what he’s getting into, working with artists and all that. Of course, he could always ask his father. Pierre started working at the gallery when he was twenty, and one of his first days on the job brought him in contact with a literally falling down drunk Francis Bacon. When young Levai helped Bacon to his feet, he was rewarded with a punch in the nose.

Met Museum: Attendance Is Through the Bamboo-Covered Roof

May 10, 2010

The big revelation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s annual director’s press luncheon today came early, when Met director Thomas Campbell opened his speech to assembled editors and reporters by announcing that the museum’s PR head honcho Harold Holzer had just informed him this morning that the museum’s attendance has been as high this fiscal year since anytime before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, and Holzer told IN THE AIR after the luncheon that the museum passed the 4 million mark on April 30. Last year’s total was 4.7 million. He feels confident the Met will hit 5 million by the end of June. The last time the museum hit that figure was in 2000. What accounts for the recent upsurge in visitors?

“It’s been building,” says Holzer. “New York tourism is getting stronger, and school programs are back in full gear.” The press meister, who hammers out Lincoln histories in his spare time, couldn’t resist plugging the museum’s “diverse, vivid schedule of exhibitions.” Might he mean… ahem… Picasso? That show, he says, will be past 100,000 visitors by tomorrow. The 2005 van Gogh drawings exhibition was the last show to bring in that many visitors that quickly. IN THE AIR is impressed. Goes to show Tim Burton‘s not the only one who can draw a crowd.