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Mapping History

“What you have to understand is that, for me, map collecting isn’t a casual hobby,” says Nicolò Rubelli, with a laugh. “It’s a disease, an addiction. If I see a map shop, there is no way I can pass it by. I have to go in.”

 

Rubelli, the fifth generation to run the eponymous textiles company founded by his great-grandfather in 1889, is not only a proud Italian but a proud Venetian. Even as a boy, he says, he appreciated the “incredible privilege” of being one of only about 60,000 permanent residents able to explore Venice’s streets and its bridges, its domes and its bell towers whenever he liked. When, at the age of 17, his father gave him an antique map of the north of Italy, he was hooked. “I loved the idea that, although the map was created in 1648, so much of the city and the area around it still looked the same,” he says. “It gave me a new way of looking at my home.”

 

For the aspiring architect, who went on to become an engineer, maps were not only a means by which to examine the make-up of the city but to understand the artistic sensibility of that period. “If you look at certain German maps of Venice, for instance,” he explains, “all the bell towers have pointed spires, because the map-makers had reinterpreted the city according to what they thought was beautiful at the time. Most of the publishers in Nuremberg had never been outside Germany, so often the maps they printed were embellished or fictitious – and that’s fascinating.”

 

Since he was given his first map three decades ago, the company CEO, whose fabrics adorn interiors including Buckingham Palace in London, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the Vanderbilt mansion in New York and St. Regis hotels in Rome and Florence, has amassed around 180 maps, printed between 1500 and the late 19th century.

 

Unlike many collectors, Rubelli doesn’t believe in hiding his printed treasures in drawers or darkened rooms. Each is mounted on white paper so its edge can be seen, then framed simply in wood, and hung “in a giant jigsaw puzzle” in rooms shaded from bright light during the week and opened up for his enjoyment on weekends. One of his most precious maps is also one of the earliest ever printed – in 1500, by Jacopo de’ Barbari. “He went from bell tower to bell tower above the city to draw it, so it’s a perspective view. What’s incredible is that it’s obviously Venice. Certain things aren’t there, like the [Santa Maria della] Salute church, which is beside my house and whose dome I can see from my window. But so much of what we see hasn’t changed at all.”

 

Today, having run out of wall space, Rubelli tries to buy books of maps (“which are pretty much the same price as single maps”); he has also bought a single terracotta globe, designed by Giò Ponti for porcelain maker Richard Ginori in 1929. “It’s the one exception to my rule, this globe: normally I don’t collect them because they don’t usually feature Venice, they’re overpriced, and I don’t collect 20th-century maps. But I love Giò Ponti’s work, and we have many of his drawings in textiles in our collection. So when I found this at a market in Padua, I just had to have it.”

 

rubelli.com

 

Images: Contour by Getty

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Artistic Alchemy

In a visionary body of work, rich in symbolism and pathos, California-based artist Hung Liu connects history to the present, East to West, mundanity to beauty. Dripping with immediacy, as if the artist has just put down the brush, her paintings of anonymous figures adapted from historical photographs are timeless, yet paradoxically anchored to the past, infused with a nuanced narrative and layers of psychological insight.

 

Born in China in 1948, Liu came of age during the Cultural Revolution. After high school, she was sent to the countryside where she spent four years working in the fields. There, she photographed and drew workers and their families. This was a formative experience for the young artist, who went on to portray ordinary people as the subjects of much of her work.

 

Following her early studies as a mural painter at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, one of China’s leading art schools, in 1984 Liu emigrated to America to pursue a graduate program in visual arts at the University of California San Diego. Today, from her hometown of Oakland in California, she re-contextualizes snippets of history that may not be lost, but have perhaps been forgotten. “I’ve come to think of these subjects as ghosts I ‘summon’ from the grainy, chemical surfaces of the photographic past,” she says. “That’s kind of going backwards technologically, from a newer medium to an older one, but mineral pigments on canvas can be very physical, bringing the image forward into the present in a vivid, present-tense way. There’s some kind of alchemy here, although I think of myself less as an advocate or guardian, more as a witch.”

 

On a visit to China in 1991, Liu found a treasure trove of studio photographs of 19th-century Chinese prostitutes, which became references for a series of riveting multimedia works. A series called Dandelions, meanwhile, is based on photographs she took on a road trip, the flowers often blown up to the size of the human figure. And the subjects of American Exodus, on show this fall at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York City, are based on images of migrants from America’s Depression era that she found in the Dorothea Lange archive at the Oakland Museum of California.

 

In a Wall Street Journal review of her 2013 Oakland Museum of California retrospective, Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu, critic David Littlejohn referred to Hung Liu as “the greatest Chinese painter in the U.S.”. Her art, which is represented in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, not only mirrors the unique duality of her extraordinary life experience, straddling two cultures, but transcends the boundaries of time.

 

Hung Liu: American Exodus is showing at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York City until October 22, 2016

 

Your address: The St. Regis New York

 

 

Crane Dance, 2011
The delicate cloud of circling cranes in this work has a profound underlying significance. “In China, cranes are considered auspicious, and are associated with the imperial palace and heaven,” says Hung Liu (below). “This woman is from a photo, circa 1865, by the American John Thompson. The juxtaposition of her hand with the cranes suggests the vast space between the imperial court and working peasants.”

 

 

 

 

Dandelion 11, 2015
“The woman and the flower are both ornamental, but the dandelion is mostly blown away. It suggests to me the unpredictable course of one’s life, no matter how ornamented one is,” says Liu.

 

Portrait-of-Myrna-Ayad,-Fair-Director,-Art-Dubai.-Photo-credit-Abbi-Kemp-(2)_EDIT.web

Art’s Movers and Sheikhas

Twenty years ago, you would never have imagined that Dubai would one day possess a booming contemporary art scene attracting the world’s biggest players. Yet today, the annual Art Dubai gathering has become one of the most important events on the international art calendar.

 

It’s not just the scale of the event that has grown but also the number of women involved: nearly half the artists exhibited are now female, as are many of the Middle Eastern gallery owners and curators. Although in the business world men rule, according to her Highness Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, president of the Sharjah Art Foundation, who organizes a biennial in her emirate of neighboring Dubai, “as sons take over their fathers’ business interests, women are free to work in an industry they’re passionate about”.

 

Events at Art Dubai and the Sharjah Biennial have attracted well-informed and deep-pocketed audiences. This year at Art Dubai, 94 galleries representing 500 artists from 40 countries attended, as well as 95 museums. And during the week of Dubai Art Fair in 2015, more than $35 million changed hands for artworks from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, ranging from $10,000 to over $300,000.

 

Dubai is now an ideal spot to buy works by local and international artists, as well as to find talent for future exhibitions. Today, Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s Flying Carpets, a steel grid sculpture suspended by rubber threads at Art Dubai in 2011, hangs in the Guggenheim in New York. The Qatari-American filmmaker Sophia Al Maria has a show at the Whitney Museum of American Art until October 2016; the 92-year-old Turkish poet and artist Etel Adnan is exhibiting at the Galerie Lelong in Paris and Dubai; and the late Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi’s solo show opened the new Met Breuer exhibition space in New York this year.

 

Here we profile four leading women who have put Middle Eastern art into the frame.

 

Myrna Ayad

The Fair Director

 

Art Dubai’s new fair director is an important player in the Middle Eastern contemporary art world. Born in Beirut in 1977, she has lived in the UAE for 30 years, editing the art magazine Canvas and publishing daily newspapers during Art Dubai that introduced the Western art world to some of the most exciting conceptual art in the Middle East.

 

Unsurprisingly, Ayad has an address book that reads like a Who’s Who of the art world. The royal families in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have all opened up their private art collections for her to write about, and before joining Art Dubai in 2016, she consulted on cultural strategy for luxury labels from Bulgari and Chanel to Mercedes.

 

Art Dubai, she says, is “a pulsating power-house... and a gathering of people who rarely have a chance to meet. Saleh Barakat of Beirut’s Agial Art Gallery once told me, ‘Coming here, I see everybody’ and I very much identify with that.” This year she met artists, curators, collectors and heads of galleries and museums from all over the world, from Princess Wijdan Al Hashemi of Jordan who founded the Jordan National Gallery in 1980 to Germano Celant, who is curating the Kienholz: Five Car Stud show at the Prada Foundation in Milan.

 

Although the number of women running galleries has increased, they have always been influential in the Arab art world, she says. Pioneers included Mouna Atassi and her late sister Mayla, who opened a library/gallery in Homs in Syria in the 1980s, Farida Sultan, whose eponymous gallery was established in Kuwait in 1969, and Princess Jawaher Bint Majid Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, who established Jeddah’s Al Mansouria Foundation for the Arts in 1988. She concedes, though, that the interest in the region’s art has increased substantially, partly as a result of the displacement of people, and the growth of the Arab diaspora. “Art in the region is highly prized but historically there have been, and still are, spells when conflict halts artistic and cultural activity. Living in the diaspora means that people are attuned to other cultures and generally have greater sense of community and collective vision, as well as more emotional attachment and pride in the creative output of their respective communities.”

 

 

Myrna Ayad, director of Art Dubai, has an address book that reads like a Who’s Who of the art world

 

 

Dubai’s El Marsa gallery presents Tunisian artist Nja Mahdaoui’s Trance

 

Diana Al-Hadid

The Artist

 

Born in Aleppo, Syria, Diana al-Hadid moved with her parents to Cleveland, Ohio when she was seven and used art, she explains, to make sense of her new world. “I was a real immigrant kid and didn’t speak English, and couldn’t read or write. My grandmother told me to draw hands and people and soon I became known as the weird kid who was always drawing.”

Fast forward a few decades, and the 34-year-old U.S.-art-college-educated, Brooklyn-based sculptor, who creates works using everyday materials from polymer and fiberglass to wood and steel, has become one of the most sought-after of her generation, and among the youngest to be represented by New York art dealer Marianne Boesky. During Art Dubai this year, Boesky sold seven of Al-Hadid’s sculptures to Middle Eastern collectors before the artist’s first major solo show, entitled Phantom Limb, took place at the New York University in Abu Dhabi.

Her punchy titles accompany powerful images. Phantom Limb – the phrase used to describe the sensation amputees sometimes feel of still having their lost limb – consists of white paint and gypsum dripping from formal plinths like stalactites, supporting a limbless and headless torso. Another, Fool’s Gold, features a reflective pool of shattered mirror atop three stacked blocks, from which dribbles of gold run out before reaching the floor. Both sculptures reveal an ultimate fragility and sense of loss, as the paint, canvas or gold just melts or trickles away.

Maya Allison, curator of Phantom Limb, believes Al-Hadid’s sculptures have “a visceral presence that channels some ancient, shared artistic memory. This mix of historical references and creative immediacy brings many different audiences into dialogue with her.”

 

Her vision clearly resonates all over the world. The David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, is showing a selection of her works until October 30, 2016; the city of Nara in Japan has commissioned her to make an artwork for their temple; and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London has a maquette for her sculpture planned for the main courtyard.

Isabelle van den Eynde

The Gallery Owner

 

In 2006, Isabelle van den Eynde was one of the first people in Dubai to show contemporary art, and in 2010, when a new art district started to grow in the gritty industrial Al Quoz site, she immediately moved her eponymous gallery there. Today, the warehouses and marble-cutting factories have been colonized by artists, designers and gallerists, and the burgeoning loft scene recalls New York’s SoHo in the 1970s and 80s.

She specializes in Middle Eastern art that represents, she says, “the voice of our region”. For Art Basel Hong Kong in 2015, she featured Hassan Sharif, who uses discarded materials to create artworks. His Cotton Rope No. 7 (2012), an Arab dictionary tightly bound with rope, was bought for the permanent collection of the M+ museum when it opens in Hong Kong in 2019.

She also represents two of the 17 artists represented in But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise at the Guggenheim in New York until October 5, 2016. Rokni Haerizadeh’s 2014 artwork, which lends its name to the exhibition, uses news clips overlaid with ink, watercolor and gesso to transform humans into animal hybrids, while Mohammed Kazem’s Scratches on Paper visually represents sounds by scratching and gouging paper with scissors. To van den Eynde, these works represent many of the social and political concerns facing the Middle East: “They make a permanent statement that goes beyond our lives.”

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi

The Curator

 

Royal mover and shaker Hoor Al Qasimi is an international force in the art world as president of the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF), set up by her ruling father, Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi. A graduate of the Slade School of Fine Art in London, with a further MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, she speaks an impressive seven languages (English, Arabic, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin and Russian) and curated the UAE pavilion to showcase Emirati artists at the 2015 Venice Biennale.

At home, Sheikha Hoor shows contemporary art in the most extraordinary places restored by SAF, including the Ice Factory in the coastal fishing town of Kalba, an abandoned 1970s cinema nearby, and a UFO-shaped building in Sharjah called the Flying Saucer, which was first opened in 1978. An old Arabic house in the center, made from silky white coral-stone, has been turned into the Bait Al Serkal gallery.

Unlike many curators, Sheikha Hoor sees herself primarily as an artist, and then as a curator, which is why her exhibitions tend to be more emotive experiences than archival. “I look at the role through the eyes of a painter,” she says. “When a person enters the space, something has to lead the eye. Composing the room, in the same way that you would compose a photograph, is very important.”

The 11th edition of Art Dubai (artdubai.ae) runs from March 15-18, 2017, and the 13th edition of the Sharjah Biennial (sharjahart.org) starts in March 2017
Your address: The St. Regis Dubai

Images: Abbi Kemp, Juliet Dunne, Corbis via Getty Images, Getty Images

 

Pioneering gallery owner Isabelle van den Eynde poses in front of Hassan Sharif’s White Knots

 

 

Diana Al-Hadid’s All The Stops, part of Unveiled: New Art From The Middle East at London’s Saatchi Gallery

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Golden Years

With its curvaceous black façade, The St. Regis Istanbul is a hymn to the style of art deco: a reflection of Istanbul’s golden 1920s, splendid in a palette of black and silvery gray, and standing in a prime location in the city’s most celebrated neighborhood, Nisantasi.

 

But in Turkish architect Emre Arolat’s hands, the hotel, which opened last year, doesn’t represent a backward step. For art deco – the sleek, streamlined style associated with the interwar era – has once again become a popular taste in the luxury domain: part of a new spirit of urban glamour. “We tried for the aura of the 1920s,” Arolat said, “but with the feel of a contemporary building in style-conscious contemporary Istanbul.”

 

Art deco is having a moment: amazing for a decorative style that celebrates its 90th birthday this year. Well, more or less. The term was coined in 1926, following an agenda-setting exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris the year before, and became shorthand for a style that celebrated streamlined luxury. Once again it’s back: both as a historical style and as a muse to new designers. For example, at London’s Pavilion of Art & Design (PAD) fair last autumn, Parisian gallerist Jean-Jacques Dutko showed striking art deco pieces, including new work by sculptor Eric Schmitt, amid other new designers channeling the deco essence.

 

Meanwhile, the energy of the early work sings anew. Coming between the wars, art deco proposed an optimistic new world despite (or possibly because of) the economic woes of the 1920s and ‘30s. Not only pleasingly muscular, those clean lines and strong curves combined with new materials such as concrete, chrome and bakelite to herald the new sense of progress, optimism and mobility, both social and physical. Art deco became well represented in the exciting new world of travel and leisure, plentifully applied in cinemas, restaurants and lidos – not to mention ocean liners and hotels where it made an enduring mark: indeed, other St. Regis hotels channeling the art deco idiom include The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, with sumptuous interiors by Yabu Pushelberg, and The St. Regis Singapore, which has softer deco-accented rooms. As Bevis Hillier, the historian and great post-war popularizer of art deco, put it in the 1960s, art deco was the “last total style”: scalable from pepper pots to skyscrapers.

 

It’s had some ups and downs along the way of course. Following a 1970s flourish, deco disappeared from view. But expert Mark Oliver of Bonhams auction house, which holds four art deco sales a year, has seen the style return in popularity and a new generation embrace its sleek lines. “Interest is really growing and 25- to 55-year-olds seem to be particularly interested,” he says. “They like its stylish glamour and the fact that it’s a more sensual alternative to mid-century modern.” 

   

Other influences may have been bought to bear. In 2013, Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic romp The Great Gatsby showed the style to a new generation, just as Ken Russell’s 1920s-themed The Boy Friend had in 1971. But it’s also true that our era shares a sense of opulence with the 1920s and 1930s, and that a generation of renowned interior designers, including Candy & Candy in the U.K. and Geoffrey Bradfield in the U.S., have re-imagined art deco as an imprint of modish new living.

 

 

The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, with interiors by Yabu Pushelberg,
channels the art deco aesthetic

 

 

Art deco architecture was known for its graceful, sweeping staircases

Meanwhile, there’s also been an explosion of interest in the architecture of deco and as Mark Oliver notes, a global network of enthusiasts has emerged. “Art deco is associated with Europe and the U.S., but you can also find it in Russia, South America – anywhere that has ever wanted to appear aspirational and stylish,” he says. “Fortunately you’ll now find a great eagerness to restore rather than demolish.” Thus, you’ll find art deco gems in Asmara in Eritrea, Casablanca in Morocco, Melbourne in Australia and Napier in New Zealand, which has a deco festival each year. Of course, many readers will have visited the wonderful art deco strand of South Beach Miami: a necklace of sub-tropical pastel-colored edifices along the oceanfront. It’s incredible to remember that many were run-down in the 1980s and came close to being demolished.

What the renewed interest in art deco means is that you’ll have to dig deeper to own classic deco antiques. As Jean-Jacques Dutko says, “Rare pieces with impeccable historic provenance are increasingly hard to find, and many good pieces are now in museums, private collections or foundations.” In the early 1980s, he adds, many collections were sold, following what he calls “the evolution of taste”. Simply, it became unfashionable – and this is when the clever money landed on it.

Anyone still interested in collecting art deco should acquaint themselves with the canon: a host of names including Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann for furniture and interiors, Edward McKnight Kauffer and Paul Colin for graphics, Paul Poiret for fashion and René Lalique for glassware and jewelry. In Paris last April, a Christie’s sale of French art deco fetched $34.3 million – including a 1929 ski-chair by Ruhlmann that took $4 million (it had previously sold in 1999 for $380,000). And art deco-style jewelry is also selling well. Chanel’s Café Society high jewelry collection, launched in 2014, is a tribute to the 1920s, while French designer Raphaele Canot’s Skinny Deco range also references classic art deco.

From the wearable to the walkable: art deco’s spirit now also imbues modern cities. There is, for example, an element of “starchitect” Zaha Hadid’s thrusting curves that evokes deco lines, while in New York, architect Mark Foster Gage is preparing to build a residential tower block with all manner of art deco-like decoration upon it – channeling the feel of that shimmering gargoyle-clad icon, the Chrysler Building. Meanwhile, in London, the art deco Battersea Power Station site is currently being refurbished as the smartest block in town. And as with The St. Regis Istanbul, something of that glitzy Hollywood excitement comes through, as an art deco building can turn anyone into a star. As Mark Oliver says of deco’s return: “It’s that sense of glamour. Nothing else is quite like it.”

Your address: The St. Regis Istanbul; The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort; The St. Regis Singapore

Images: Getty Images, Corbis

 

“Stromboli” and “Fuji” pedestal tables by Eric Schmitt, as seen at PAD

 

 

A classic art deco facade

 

 

Cool elegance at The St. Regis Istanbul

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Grit and Glitter

The Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas has every right to be frustrated when people only associate her work with hip-hop. “It’s so easy and lazy to do that,” she rails. “Just because it’s all black women and bling!” But this spring, visitors to Aspen’s Art Museum – housed since summer 2014 in an exceptional new building by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban – will be left in no doubt that there’s rather more to it than that. Here’s a diptych Super 8 film of Eartha Kitt spliced with lesser known artists singing Paint Me Black Angels; elsewhere are stunning silk screen acrylic panels of stills from the film The Color Purple. “That book and the film, with Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, are touchstones for women about breaking the silence around abuse, and how to be strong in spite of being a victim,” says the curator Courtenay Finn. The exhibition is called Mentors, Muses and Celebrities.

 

Mickalene’s work has never been short on content or visual drama. She’s known in the art world for her elaborate paintings – often of Afroed women who recall the heroines of the Blaxploitation movies of the 1970s – depicted in oils and acrylics and then bedazzled with copious quantities of glitter and rhinestones. “Those women, like Pam Grier and Foxy Brown, I’d grown up with them,” says Mickalene. “I loved their directness, their fierceness.”

 

In others, she delves into art history, stealing Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe from 1863 and reworking it with three modern muses, her friends Mnonja, Din and Qusuquzah. “When I use people as subjects, it’s important I know them,” she says. “I never want anyone to feel exploited or used or victimized.” Sometimes, she’s turned to the grids favored by the British artist David Hockney to create a work, and even included the tiles from Monet’s own house in the background décor in another. In 2011, she completed a three-month residency at Giverny, the property in France where Monet created, and painted, his famous garden between 1890 and 1926. “I’d never understood his sincerity as an artist until I spent time there,” she says. “It made me realize that when you’re sincere, it doesn’t matter what people think – it’ll work itself out.”

 

Now 44, Mickalene sold her first painting in 2004, at a group exhibition in New York – a self-portrait called Rumor Has It, showing the artist stripped down to her underwear in a super-size Afro wig, and stroking her cat She-La. “It was one of my last self-portraits,” she says. “And it felt great to sell it. It meant I could stop doing house-cleaning and I could stop being my own model.”

 

Nowadays Mickalene’s work is significantly sought after (Solange Knowles had her create the cover of her EP True in 2012) and costs rather more than the $8,500 which that early painting fetched. But it continues to be an exploration of black female beauty and sexuality, along with the underlying complexity of women’s lives. “Look at Eartha Kitt,” says Courtenay Finn. “An amazing performer with a strong presence but a difficult life, who went on to speak out against Vietnam.” A woman, then, who combined beauty and politics and was not averse to be covered in sequins – rather like a Mickalene Thomas work of art.

 

Mentors, Muses and Celebrities is at Aspen Art Museum from 10 March to 12 June. Your address: The St. Regis Aspen Resort

 

 

Untitled 15, 2015
Mickalene Thomas (below), creates explosive large-scale collages in rhinestones,
glitter, dry pastel, acrylic and oil paint on wood panel. “The conversation between
the patterns is what works, brings life,” she says

 

 

 

 

Portrait of Mnonja with Flower in her Hair 2, 2011
Mickalene’s friend brings to mind the singer Billie Holiday. The painting was
created using rhinestone, acrylic paint and oil enamel on wood, and the
background is a collage of found fabrics

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Different Strokes

One of the world’s greatest living painters, Sir Howard Hodgkin, is sitting in his wheelchair in his vast London studio. “Forgive me if I don’t get up,” he says. At 83 years old he can be forgiven for needing a little help to get around these days, yet his compulsion to paint and to travel the world remains indefatigable. In the first three months of this year he painted six new works in Mumbai, the city he first visited in 1964 and which he calls home for several months of the year. Since his return to London he has continued with his painting, standing painfully at an easel, for a major new show of works at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2016.

 

India has been a recurring theme in Hodgkin’s work throughout his life. The most recent exhibition of his works, at the Gagosian Gallery in London, was of his Indian Waves series, created in 1990 and 1991 and rediscovered last year in an attic. Each of the 30 works was painted on handmade Indian khadi paper, a fluid wave of ultramarine at the bottom of each sheet representing water, an emerald arch above representing hills, and vivid impressions painted over the top reflecting places and events in India.

 

The colors he uses capture the light and vibrancy of the country in big bold strokes. In Mumbai Wedding, joyful explosions of crimson, orange and yellow implode like fireworks in the sky. In Storm in Goa yellow lightning flashes over an electric green sky with a sultry, inky dark sea surging below. At the time he painted the series, Hodgkin admits he wasn’t sure about it, but today he confesses to being pleasantly surprised – a reaction which his patrons clearly felt, too; each of the paintings sold on the opening night for $90,000.

 

Although knighted in 1992, the London-born painter – who was evacuated aged eight during the Second World War to Long Island, represented Britain at the Venice Biennal in 1984 and has exhibited in leading museums including the San Diego Museum of Art and the Metropolitan in New York – never uses the title ‘Sir’. “It’s not relevant,” he quips, “unless it’s to try to get an upgrade on an airplane.”

 

But then, not much about Hodgkin could be described as straightforward. He doesn’t like to talk about his paintings, insisting, “It’s not the way I work.” And he particularly dislikes the label “abstract artist”, preferring to use the term “representational painter”.

 

While there are clues in their titles as to what each painting might represent, knowing that gets the viewer only so far. Hodgkin’s paintings are not true to life, being rather pictorial equivalents of their subjects, or what the director of London’s Tate Modern, Sir Nicholas Serota, describes as artworks that capture “both the tangible and intangible sensations that we retain from a fleeting experience”.

 

Hodgkin’s visual recollection is so strong that he rarely uses sketchbooks, painting instead from memory. Describing a trip he made with his partner, Antony Peattie, in 2014 to a Sufi music festival in Rajasthan, hosted by the Maharajah of Jodhpur, Hodgkin recalls “breakfasting on the hotel terrace, a flautist improvising and posing with a peacock, dour Uzbekistani musicians the picture of grimness and, in the distance, a white marble bench”. There you have the scene, better than Instagram because you can read into his word picture what you see in your mind’s eye: a reminder that his paintings are not snapshots.

 

New York’s Gagosian Gallery will display a selection of Howard Hodgkin’s latest works between March 4 and April 30, 2016.

 

Your address: The St. Regis New York; The St. Regis Mumbai

 

Images by: All artworks © Howard Hodgkin. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery, except ‘Tea Party in America’. Portrait by Robin Friend; © Howard Hodgkin. Image courtesy Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

 

 

Flying colors

Howard Hodgkin in front of his painting Border, 1990-91. Left: Hello, 2004-2008. As in so many of Hodgkin’s paintings, the brushstrokes spill over on to the frame, suggesting an exuberance without boundaries. Although this small work measures just 11½ inches x 13½ inches, it dominated the walls of the gallery in which it was first shown.

 

 

Tea Party in America, 1948

Hodgkin was just 16 years old when he painted this tea party on his first return visit to Long Island, where he had lived for three years during the Second World War with his mother and sister. Using a sable brush, he experimented with different techniques. The hand holding a jug is executed in a wash, the grey and white striped tablecloth appears combed, and white spotted beads on blouses and on wrists evoke pearls and diamonds. Enormous hands in the foreground place the painter (and spectator) at the head of the table, as a participant in the tea party, while the background recedes in a swirl of white and grey with mauve.

© Howard Hodgkin. Image courtesy Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

 

 

Where Seldom Is Heard a Discouraging Word, 2007-2008

One of 20 works completed in 2007 and 2008 when Hodgkin explored themes of American freedom and erotic intimacy – “the facts of life as visual art”, as the art historian Robert Rosenblum once described them – this boldly vibrant landscape is one of the largest in the series, measuring 80 1/8 inches x 105 inches. Three horizontal fields are dominated by a polka-dotted sky with a single, smudged cloud on the horizon above a sunny yellow wave anchored upon a burnt orange ground. The viewer is drawn into a landscape that reaches out beyond the physical limits of the painting, surging with optimism for the future.

 

 

Letters from Bombay, 2014-2015

For more than 50 years Hodgkin has been inspired by India, its landscapes and its people. Even India’s monsoons sweep through his visceral canvases. Every year he escapes the British winter to spend three months in Mumbai with his partner, Antony Peattie. “I am a representational painter but not a painter of appearances,” Hodgkin explains. “I paint representational pictures of emotional situations.” Thus the viewer can be led by this missive from Bombay in whichever emotional direction it takes him or her. Emphatic dark brushstrokes, like slashes, rupture the painting; a crimson fringe surrounds the blue bay, while a golden sunrise offers new horizons.

 

 

Old Money, 1987-1989

Old Money appears to be a comment on the tyranny of money in the consumer society of the late Eighties: awash with coins, a lottery of numbers and expectations, fruit machines and even an ATM, it features a hand reaching out among the green wads of notes. In conversation with Antony Peattie, Howard Hodgkin says that nobody seems able to respond to art “without a gush of words… I am happy for people to talk about my pictures but I wish devoutly that I wasn’t expected to talk about them myself. The more an artist talks about his work, the more his words become attached to it. I want people to look at my pictures as pictures, as things.”

arts_Gallery_No1-520x372

Art’s New Muses

On a spring evening earlier this year, a group of women gathered in a stunning apartment just seconds from London’s Kensington Palace. As the uniformed maid opened the door, it seemed as if we were being ushered into an über-exclusive cocktail party, a sensation boosted by the glamour of the guests, many of whom were dressed by the likes of Prada, Issey Miyake and Armani.

 

In reality, a far more interesting event was taking place. Among these women were the crème de la crème of the international art world. There was Julia Peyton-Jones, co-director of London’s Serpentine Gallery; Iwona Blazwick, who curates exhibitions for The Gallery at Windsor in Florida; our Italian hostess Valeria Napoleone, a committed collector of art by women; the artist Cornelia Parker; and Candida Gertler and Yana Peel, who set up Outset, an art fund which raises money to buy contemporary works for public collections all over the world.

 

The women had come to support Women for Women International, an NGO that has helped more than 400,000 women affected by war and conflict. The support here is not only a sign of how many women are willing to help to rebuild other women’s lives around the world, but of how women are becoming increasingly influential in the art world, with dozens of members keen to employ their skills, privilege and experience to help others.

 

Such a gathering of powerful women in art would have been impossible in 1971, when the feminist art historian Linda Nochlin wrote a seminal essay entitled, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”. Drawing attention to the lack of “women equivalents for Michelangelo or Rembrandt, Delacroix or Cézanne, Picasso or Matisse, or even in recent times, for Willem de Kooning or Warhol”, Nochlin pinpointed the social mechanisms that had kept women from the studio. Culprits included institutional sexism – men controlled the academies and women were not accepted into the Paris Salon for example, a crucial showcase for 19th-century French painters. More importantly, however, for centuries women had been primarily lauded for being mothers and castigated for traits such as creativity that were seen as masculine.

 

Today, the situation is different. Female artists are so ubiquitous that their presence no longer raises eyebrows. This year, for example, MoMA has hosted exhibitions devoted to Yoko Ono and Björk; Atlanta’s High Museum of Art has featured ceramicist Molly Hatch and photographer Helen Levitt; the Perez Art Museum in Miami showcased Brazil’s most expensive living artist, Beatriz Milhazes; major shows at London’s Tate Modern were devoted to Sonia Delaunay and Marlene Dumas, while the Museum of Fine Art in Houston showcased the collection of art historian Alice C. Simkins. Although still less expensive than their male counterparts, works by female artists are also selling for sky-high sums. In 2014, for example, a group of 21 black and white photographs by Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Stills 1977-1980, sold at auction for $6,773,000. The conceptual sculptor Cady Noland’s Oozewald (1989) fetched a similar figure at Sotheby’s New York in 2011.

 

Across the world, female curators, gallerists and collectors are stamping art with their imprint. There are nine women in the Top 20 of Art Review’s Power List 100 for 2014. At number 13 stands Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, chairperson of Qatar Museums, who has presided over the construction of a new cultural hub in the Gulf state. Also prominent are Beatrix Ruf, director of the Stedelijk, Amsterdam’s leading contemporary art museum; Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, director of this year’s Istanbul Biennial and recently appointed director of two of Turin’s major institutions, the Castello di Rivoli and GAM (Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art); and Marian Goodman, New York’s most respected gallerist.

 

Other women to have made their mark include Dasha Zhukova, who founded the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow (which recently reopened in a new building designed by Rem Koolhaas), and Donna De Salvo, the chief curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. To inaugurate the Whitney’s new Renzo Piano-designed home, De Salvo unveiled her show America Is Hard to See, and succeeded in putting an expression of “stupid bliss” on the face of the renowned critic Simon Schama.

 

The surge in women’s influence is fuelled by myriad factors. Iwona Blazwick believes the empowerment of women in culture reflects their disenchantment with the political realm in the latter part of the last century. “The really radical stuff was happening in theatre, literature, media and art,” says Blazwick. “Only later did it percolate into the wider culture.”

 

Opportunities for women differ from country to country. In Singapore, Emi Eu is director of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, a non-profit organization that runs exhibitions and residencies for artists working with print-making techniques. While Singapore’s art scene is less developed than that of New York, she says, both the Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum of Singapore have female directors – Susie Lingham and Angelita Teo. This, she suggests, perhaps indicates that opportunities might occur more readily when a cultural scene is still emerging.

 

Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #21, 1978,
courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, Michael Leckie

It is also possible that women’s strengths – their capacity for working together instead of competing, and working as a community rather than in a competitive way – make them ideal candidates for operating within arts organizations. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, who was director of dOCUMENTA (13), the 2012 German exhibition that was arguably contemporary art’s most radical and important showcase, believes women’s history of caring for things helps, too. “After all they have spent thousands of years managing domestic relations!”

 

The approach women take, it is widely agreed, is different, too, with female patrons taking a more sensitive approach. Valeria Napoleone, who has gathered around 300 works by female artists, from New York-based Tauba Auerbach to sculpture by the acclaimed Polish artist Goshka Macuga, says she believes she takes more time than many men. “I stop and think. It’s different from a competitive, rushing, speculative attitude.”

 

Napoleone also believes that to support artists, you have to do more than buy their work, which is why she regularly hosts dinners for leading emerging talents. “Artists need time to grow, to experiment,” she says. “They need to have the self-confidence to make mistakes. In that sense, they are like children.”

 

In spite of the rising prominence of women in the art world, the majority of the top jobs in the most prestigious institutions – the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Prado Museum in Madrid – are still held by men. “I think it has to do with tradition,” observes Emi Eu. “When the museums were set up [in 18th and 19th centuries], it was mostly men in the workforce. When women started to contribute, they took up more curatorial roles.”

 

Slowly, however, the situation is changing. “There was a glass ceiling,” admits Beatrix Ruf. “But in the last few years things have changed a lot. There’s a much more equal playing field. The last director of the Stedelijk was also a woman,” she points out, referring to her predecessor, Ann Goldstein. Another top museum, the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna, also boasts a female general director, Sabine Haag.

 

Nevertheless, there is still work to be done. Christov-Bakargiev observes that we are still living in a world where men inspire more confidence when business relationships and money are at stake. “Prejudice still exists,” she continues, before confessing that she has often asked male colleagues to accompany her to important meetings, “because that presence is comforting to the people I am meeting”.

 

Such challenges partly explain why women have made their biggest strides beyond the walls of institutions. A rollcall of the world’s leading private galleries would not be complete without, for example, Barbara Gladstone, who has outposts in New York and Brussels and represents the likes of Anish Kapoor and Elizabeth Peyton; Marian Goodman, who presides over spaces in Paris, New York and London and represents Gerhard Richter and Steve McQueen; and Victoria Miro, who represents Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, the world’s most expensive living female artist. Women also shine when they choose to start their own non-profit organizations. Just consider Dasha Zhukova, or Maja Hoffmann, founder of the LUMA Foundation in Arles in the south of France, or Marina Abramovic, the legendary performance artist who has now started her own American institute.

 

Flexibility is another factor that attracts high-achieving women to being their own boss. “I thought it would be more manageable to be a mother and work in the private sector,” recalls the gallerist Daniella Luxembourg, who co-founded Luxembourg & Dayan in a Manhattan townhouse in 2009, and this year has shown the Korean artist Minjung Kim and figure drawings by Richard Prince.

 

Born in Israel, Luxembourg started out at the age of 23 as a curator at an ethnographic museum in Jerusalem, before establishing her own art empire in New York. “It was a pioneering culture in Israel,” she recalls, highlighting how important cultural attitudes are to the status of women in society. “Everything was new. The Prime Minister was a woman. Women participated in the army.”

 

If the women who are shaping this world have one thing in common, it’s a profound passion for art. Iwona Blazwick recalls the first show she ever saw at the Whitechapel Gallery in East London, where she is now director. “It was by Eva Hesse,” she says, naming the celebrated German-born American sculptor whose emotional brand of Minimalism revolutionized the movement. “It changed everything I knew about art,” she continues, adding that she loves her role because “the excitement of looking and learning is extraordinary. Just when you think it’s gone as far as it can go [it goes further].”

 

When I talk to Blazwick, she is at the inauguration of the Venice Biennal. “I’ve just seen artists from Haiti staging an opera!” she enthuses. “The ability, as a curator, to provide a platform for those kind of expressions is a huge privilege. Being an artist is a very hard path. But as a curator you can define a zeitgeist and make an impact on social change.”

 

For Valeria Napoleone, the discovery of artists such as Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger in the late 1990s proved a turning point. “Women’s art offers so much potential to contemporary culture,” she declares. “These were artists who truly spoke to me. I felt a very strong sense of connection.”

 

A tendency to be more empathetic than men is another reason women are so valuable as curators, gallerists and patrons. It means they are able to turn their gaze outward beyond the art world to help others, as Napoleone did when she hosted the Women for Women International event. “Women take joy in nurturing and giving,” she says. “We enjoy the journey together.”

 

Your address: The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort; The St. Regis Atlanta; The St. Regis New York; The St. Regis Doha; The St. Regis Moscow Nikolskaya; The St. Regis Singapore

Valeria Napoleone, one of the world’s leading collectors of art by women

 

Dasha Zhukova, founder of Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art 

(Nikolay Zverkov © Garage Museum of Contemporary Art)

art

Great Walls of China

Peeking through a door into a warehouse in the ancient city of Wuxi on the coast of central China, the scene within could be one from the 19th century. In a large, light-filled room, dozens of artists are bent over rows of long white tables, each slowly and methodically dipping long, slender brushes into small porcelain dishes of gouache paint and then carefully applying it to a flat panel of silk.

 

The workers – some of the most accomplished painters in China – are creating hand-made silk wallpaper. Theirs is a highly skilled and painstaking craft, and with their heads bent and brows furrowed in concentration, they will employ as many as 100 brush strokes to create one leaf and spend up to an hour delicately shading the wings of a bird.

 

To create enough wallpaper to cover the walls of a single room will take them many hundreds of hours. But in a week they will have created something that is spectacular and utterly unique: a grand hand-painted mural, some 100ft wide, featuring the most dazzling backdrop of swooping birds, gnarled trees and vibrantly colored flowers.

 

In painting these eye-catching designs the artists are following an ancient tradition, for it is in Wuxi, and also the neighboring city of Suzhou, that the heart of China’s hand-painted silk industry has been based for the past 1,500 years. Once this artform meant scrolls and screens for China’s wealthy governing Mandarin class and its richer merchants, their designs symbolic displays of rank; a blazing dragon denoted power, a flowering peony wealth and beauty. But in the 18th century, these beautifully detailed designs of birds, flowers, trees and pastoral scenes were discovered by Western merchants, who ordered them to be painted on to silk to create wallpaper for export to Europe and America. In the midst of the craze in Europe for chinoiserie (from chinois, the French word for Chinese), the paper quickly became fashionable. It was transported on the ships of the East India Company and formed a significant part of China’s export trade to the West. Today, visit any number of historic stately homes in Europe or North America, and it’s likely that you will come across at least one wall in each that’s embellished with this fine Chinese art.

 

The Chinese company Griffin & Wong, established in 2007 as a collaboration with the descendants of the original Suzhou Silk-Workers Craftsman Guild, often refers back to homes of America’s Gilded Age for inspiration: mansions such as Marble House and Rough Point in Newport, Rhode Island, both owned by the Vanderbilts, Villa Vizcaya in Miami and the Winterthur Mansion in Delaware.

 

“The chinoiserie in these buildings is an interesting reflection of the stylish decades either side of the turn of the century,” says Douglas Bray, MD for Griffin & Wong in the Americas. “This was the Art Nouveau era when the wealthy lived in the grand hotels of New York and Florida for parts of the season, and then had the ambition and wealth to try to recreate the fantasy of a dramatic hotel lobby in their own homes. For the interior design world it was a golden time, and chinoiserie was a great part of the Gilded Age.”

 

Although in the latter part of the 20th century China’s Communist revolution, combined with the rise of Minimalism in the West, put a dampener on this exuberant form of decoration, it is now enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Chinoiserie is newly popular not only in fashionable circles, reflecting a trend in pattern and design, but in architectural practices, too, which appreciate the intrinsic value of historic artisanal craft and the bespoke element it contributes.

 

 

Left: Handsome pheasants inhabit an idyllic Chinese landscape on this
hand-painted mural. Right: Porcelain cachepots and ginger jars embellish
a classic chinoiserie garden (both by Paul Montgomery)

“While hand-painted wallpaper used to be very much a limited, high-society product for the Manhattan and London crowds, it is more widespread now,” says Bray. “The oligarchs in Russia love it, as do the upper echelons in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Even in places like South and North Carolina it has become very popular.”

 

Ironically, although produced in China for the West, it was almost unknown across wider China until about a decade ago. That, though, says Bray, is also changing fast. “The arc has been first for the hotels and high-end restaurants to commission and show the wallpapers, and then recently for the ultra-wealthy – a class that’s growing – to install it in their own villas and residences.”

 

The corresponding increase in demand for the skills of hand-painting has revitalized a craft that had been in danger of dying in a rapidly industrialized China. “Studios are popping up all the time and this is making it harder to find good artists,” says Tim Butcher from Fromental, a wallpaper company which has a large atelier in Wuxi with about 50 artists working in it. “All Fromental staff are skilled before they begin, but they start as apprentices and work their way up.”

 

It can take years to reach the top of their profession. Hand-painted wallpaper is still produced in much the same way as it has been for centuries. Unlike printed paper, which usually features one pattern that is repeated, chinoiserie typically consists of a single mural on a series of panels, presenting a panorama of Chinese flora and fauna. Each element is chosen for its symbolic meaning in the relationship between the concepts of Harmony and Nature.

 

Manufacture is a time-consuming process. First, the silk is treated with a hardening glue before it is stretched on a frame, ready for the design to be sketched by hand with a fine pencil. Then the painting begins. “Four or five artists work on each set,” explains Butcher, whose clients include Chanel and the entrepreneur David Tang, and who for The St. Regis Jakarta, which opens in spring 2016, is creating chinoiserie panels for the bedrooms. “Within any team there is a lead artist and usually an apprentice. The junior artists will paint in the first flat layer of color. The more experienced ones will then start adding in more detail such as shading, the veins on leaves or the petals of a flower. Finally, the finer details of shading will be added on to the birds and the tips of the flowers.”

 

The supreme expression of the craft is “unconscious painting”, a more spontaneous style of artistry in which a tree trunk is created with a single brush stroke. “It requires speed so that the end result looks natural,” says Butcher. “It is a given that an artist can produce fine, controlled brushwork, but the ability to create balance and form with loose and free strokes of the brush is a skill that’s harder to achieve.”
It is the painstaking building up, layer by layer, of pattern and color that gives painted silk wallpaper its exceptional depth and texture. On close inspection, the artist’s skill is revealed in the play of light and shade against the lustre of the silk, and the intricacies of the individual elements, from the folds of a dress to a bird’s multicolored tailfeathers.

 

This precision and detail is reflected in the cost. According to Virginia-based Paul Montgomery, who has 35 artists in China creating finely painted backdrops for clients who range from Hollywood celebrities to Middle Eastern royalty, hand-painted wallpaper starts at about $500 for a square yard. And yet considering the paper is unique, it can be thought of as an investment, he says, because it is also surprisingly practical. Not only does silk wallpaper make a room warmer and more personal, it also softens the acoustics.

 

While painted panels are the most popular with clients, Fromental has recently pioneered the complex skill of embroidering on paper, to create a striking three-dimensional look. “If it takes 30 hours to paint one panel, to fully embroider the same panel takes 300 hours,” says Butcher. “It needs a remarkable level of skill because the tension has to be completely even.” This can be embellished further with the addition of gems, crystals and precious metals.

 

Although technology has enabled murals to be as lavishly decorative as any client might want, a trend is emerging for hand-painted wallpaper whereby texture, rather than elaborate pattern, is the key attraction. “People still value the hand-painted and artisanal, but they want something that is simpler,” says Butcher. “So we created papers that are done with layered brush strokes for a gradation of pattern and deep color.” Often resembling an abstract painting, these hand-painted wallpapers are a superb fusion of old and new, and work even in the sharpest of contemporary interiors – gratifying evidence that there is still a place for time-honored craft in today’s design universe.

 

Griffinandwong.com; fromental.co.uk; paulmontgomery.com

 

 

Your address: The St. Regis Jakarta, opening spring 2016

 

Paul Montgomery’s Hemmerling design in porcelain blue on white
pearlized silk works to stunning effect in this elegant foyer

 

 

Layer upon layer of pattern and color give this
Fromental wallpaper exceptional depth and texture

03_South-by-Southwest-

The New Cultural Calendar

Sundance Film Festival

January

 

When it started in 1978, the Sundance Film Festival was given an almighty boost by the involvement of inaugural chairman Robert Redford. Not only did the name come from his most famous role as the Sundance Kid, but the Utah resident wanted to encourage U.S.-made independent movies. Now it’s the single most serious film festival in the world.

 

Who goes: directors, film buffs, the merely curious and the painfully serious.
Stand-out moment: the awards ceremony at the end of each festival – if you’re not there, you haven’t really Sundanced. sundance.org

 

Your address: The St. Regis Deer Valley

Jaipur Literature Festival

January

 

There’s a certain grandeur to Jaipur Literature Festival. It’s been held in the glorious “Pink City” since 2006 at the city’s historic Diggi Palace Hotel, originally steered by writer William Dalrymple, and is now the biggest lit fest on the Asian continent. The five-day festival is a great ticket, partly because of its location in the capital of Rajasthan, and also because for its five days it is free.

 

Who goes: India’s see-and-be-seen crowd, drawn
from Delhi, Mumbai and Rajasthan, as well as literary greats from J. M. Coetzee and Donna Tartt to Salman Rushdie.
Stand-out moment: the biggest draw in recent years has been Chetan Bhagat, a former investment banker turned bestselling author of six blockbuster novels who is hated by critics, but revered by young India. jaipurliteraturefestival.org

 

South by Southwest

March

 

As Texas’s alternative hub, Austin is special, and one of its biggest calling cards is the South by Southwest festival. With a name inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest, and often known as SXSW, it started in 1987 and has since flourished, held each March as a concatenation of hipster events: films, music, talks and tech startups in several venues. You’ll watch a band one minute – SXSW Music is the largest music festival in the world – and attend a talk on education the next.

 

Who goes: dressed-down Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and alt-music fans, avant-garde artists, assorted geeks and visionaries.
Stand-out moment: Bruce Springsteen’s keynote
speech to launch 2012’s festival. sxsw.com

 

Coachella

April

 

It’s Woodstock for Generation X: the biggest arts and music festival in California. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has taken place near the desert city of Indio since 1999, when acts included Beck and Morrissey. Since then it has moved from mosh pit to maturity, with a visual arts and lecture programme alongside the music. Pack sunscreen – and if it’s not quite out-there enough, then head to Burning Man in Nevada, which specializes in “radical self-expression.”

 

Who goes: music and new-media fans of all ages, plus Generation Ys with young children in tow.
Stand-out moment: in 2011, during their song Wake Up, Arcade Fire let loose thousands of beach balls on to the crowd, each one illuminated and synched with the music. coachella.com 

Hay Festival

May

 

Hay-on-Wye is a market town on the England/Wales border and while quaint, it wouldn’t be famous if not for Hay Festival, held here each summer. Founded in 1987, the festival has grown into what former President Bill Clinton called “the Woodstock of the mind”. It hosts global luminaries ranging from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Sir Paul McCartney and lures more than 200,000 visitors whom director Peter Florence describes as “argumentative, curious, skeptical and free-thinking”. Hay has also spawned numerous festivals worldwide, from Mexico to the Maldives.

Who goes: writers, readers, bohemians of a certain age and intellectual politicians seeking cultural heat.
Stand-out moment: last year’s talk between Carl Bernstein and Peter Florence about the journalist’s role in the downfall of Richard Nixon. hayfestival.com

 

Venice Biennale

June - November

 

In recent years there’s been a surfeit of art festivals all over the world, but one name sticks out: Venice Biennale. Dating back to 1895, it started as an elegant showcase for decorative art, then became the world’s greatest platform for innovative visual arts after WW1, hosting national pavilions, mostly in the gorgeous Giardini park. Since then it has maintained its lead as the world’s premier showcase for artistic talent, helped by its extraordinarily beautiful location.

 

Who goes: the fashion world always tags along with the art world at Venice; the city is the perfect stage, after all.
Stand-out moment: a model of a museum called The Encyclopedic Palace of the World at last year’s festival, in which visitors could find all the world’s knowledge.
Also key: Riva boat rides. labiennale.org

 

Edinburgh International Festival

August

 

Each summer, the capital city of Scotland welcomes a seething crowd to the biggest arts festival in the world. It has theatre at its core, but you’ll also find everything else, including visual arts, music and comedy. Founded in 1947 to boost postwar morale, the festival expanded so quickly that it began to subdivide, with the main festival spawning the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Edinburgh’s claim to be “one of the most important cultural celebrations in the world” is, if anything, understated.

 

Who goes: the Festival attracts a seasoned crowd from around the world, but the Fringe has been catnip to generation after generation of fun-seeking students in search of cultural thrills.
Stand-out moment: a haunting performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth on tiny Inchcolm Island, off the Scottish coast, in 2012. edinburghfestivals.co.uk

 

Frieze Art Fair

October

 

Such is Frieze Art Fair’s importance in London that a week in mid-October is now known as “Frieze Week.” When it started in 2003, Frieze was the missing ingredient that propelled the UK’s capital towards becoming a world art centre. So significant has it become that other art fairs have joined the October fray – most notably the Pavilion of Art and Design (PAD). Now the fair is in export mode, with Frieze New York, in May, now entering its third year.

 

Who goes: all the power players from the international art world, hedge-funders and oligarchs wearing dark clothes and dramatic spectacles.
Stand-out moment: in 2007 artists Jake and Dinos Chapman set up a table in front of the White Cube gallery’s stand and offered to draw on visitors’ £20 or £50 notes for no charge.

 

Your address: The St. Regis New York

 

Istanbul Biennial

October

 

Istanbul’s Biennial is one of the most challenging in the world. Since it began in 1987, it has mirrored the city’s development into a world hub. In the meantime the Turkish capital has welcomed the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art (2004) and a rash of gallery openings that have brought Istanbul into the big league. As well as a stunning setting, the Biennial also has a sense of political meaning: here, art reflects the transformation of Istanbul itself. Returns in 2015.

 

Who goes: a heady mix of radical artists, the glamorati, as well as urbanists and policy-makers who wish to see a city in flux.
Stand-out moment: in 2013 the Biennial took down its public artworks because of protests in Gezi Park. This gave the Biennial, already politically inquisitive, a real feeling of lived history. iksv.org

 

Your address: The St. Regis Istanbul

 

Art Miami

December

 

Everyone wants an excuse to go to the Sunshine State, and Art Miami is a good one. Located in Miami’s gallery-rich Wynwood Arts District, it’s one of the most venerable U.S. art fairs, luring legions of art lovers in early December and kicking off what is now known as Art Week. Alongside Art Miami, you’ll find CONTEXT (up-and-coming artists), Aqua Art Miami (performance, new media, installations) and of course, Art Basel Miami Beach, the U.S. wing of huge-hitting art show Art Basel.

 

Who goes: the international art crowd and celebrities from the worlds of film and music.
Stand-out moment: last year an unauthenticated piece by street artist Banksy, depicting a heart-shaped balloon, went on sale – complete with the wall it was painted on. art-miami.com

 

Your address: The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort

 

Images by: Hindustan Times via Getty Images, Gallery Stock, Getty Images, Dafydd Jones

Mexican Waves

Mexican Waves

For decades in the second half of the 20th century, Mexico City was dismissed as one of the most dysfunctional cities in the Americas, struggling to cope with a population edging past 20 million and an unfortunate geological site. Founded by the Aztecs in 1325 on an island on Lake Texcoco, the city had been built on soft soil which, as well as subsiding on a regular basis, was vulnerable to flooding and earthquakes. As other cities such as Buenos Aires and Rio flourished, constructing ever-higher skyscrapers, Mexico City had to be content with sprawling outwards, creating a conurbation that, futurists warned, was spiraling out of control.

 

Fast-forward to 2015, and how things have changed. The city is now a beacon of urban-design brilliance and all the world’s architects want a slice of the action. As architect Zaha Hadid observes, “Mexico City has the most amazing buildings – from Luis Barragán’s masterpieces to Félix Candela’s ‘shell’ building to really strong Brutalist and Mid-Century Modern structures.” In the past few decades, too, the city has undergone a renaissance, with a new generation of buildings by high-tech architects and designers. As well as a center of finance, Mexico City has become a hub for art, design and creativity, with an economy the size of Peru’s.

 

“Construction started to boom here even when other parts of the world were in recession,” says architect Ezequiel Farca, who works both in Mexico City and Los Angeles. “Architecture and design are going through a great phase now and are poetic and free enough to create something bold and full of imagination. Young architects are inspired by the Mexican masters, which you can see through their use of color, proportion and building techniques. At the same time there is a revival of furniture design and a greater appreciation for design icons such as Clara Porset and William Spratling.”

 

In the past ten years, not only have charming old buildings been given new life, but a mass of hotels, restaurants and stores have sprung up alongside the city’s 150 museums. New landmarks include the Soumaya Museum, designed by Fernando Romero, with its sinuous, futuristic form made of metallic, hexagonal reflective plates to house an art collection amassed by telecoms billionaire Carlos Slim Helú. Next door sits the Museo Jumex, designed by British architect David Chipperfield for fruit-juice giant Grupo Jumex’s contemporary art collection. Also winning admirers is the Chopo Museum, whose glorious extension by Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos is an addition to an original 1902 building by Bruno Möhring.

 

Working alongside local architects are a slew of big international names. British starchitect Norman Foster is coming to town to build, with local hero Fernando Romero, a much-needed new international airport. Argentinian architect César Pelli, who designed the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, came to Mexico City to build The St. Regis Hotel Tower in 2008, and Richard Meier is busy designing the Reforma Towers, a mixed-use project on main thoroughfare Paseo de la Reforma.

 

“Thanks to the constant relationship between Europe, North America and Mexico, architects and designers have found Mexico the most beautiful place to express their individuality and have constantly added to the city,” says Emmanuel Picault, a Frenchman who settled in the city when he was 18. “There is still a feeling of liberty and joy that brings people here.”

 

All of these projects highlight the vibrancy of Mexico City today. But they also add a new layer to a metropolis that has one of the most multifaceted histories of any city in the Americas. This is a city that has reinvented itself many times since the days of Montezuma, when its population was already a great deal larger than that of London.

 

When Hernán Cortés and his successors began work on a new colonial capital, it was the ruins of Aztec temples and palaces that they used as foundations for their own buildings. Cortés himself ordered the construction of the Metropolitan Cathedral – the oldest in Latin America – alongside the ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor. Centuries later, the architects of “New Spain” continually sought to layer their own designs over those of previous civilizations. Although the later modernizers of the 19th century adopted Spanish and European architectural styles – with influences from Gothic architecture, Spanish neoclassicism and Hispano-Moorish motifs – they were equally inspired by the local mestizo population, creating a style of architecture that was uniquely Mexican.

 

Walk around Mexico City today and one can observe the process of cultural fusion that has helped to shape the capital. In some parts, such as Colonia Roma, Condesa and Juárez, it is possible to see the French influence of the 19th century and again when Art Nouveau emerged, French-trained architects ruled, and villas sprang up all over the more desirable suburbs.

 

In other parts, exciting 20th-century architecture dominates: buildings that were created after the end of the revolution in 1920, when a process of re-evaluation began. While some architects, such as the country’s greatest Modernist Luis Barragán, found inspiration in the simple purity of Mexican adobe houses, others looked to Europeans such as Le Corbusier. By combining both – the pure geometry of Modernism and the organic warmth and character of traditional Mexican architecture – local architects created a regional fusion with a rich personality all of its own.

 

If there is one architect whose legacy looms the largest in the city, it is Barragán, who died in 1988. His warm, sensitive but contemporary buildings – among the few Modernist examples loved by traditionalists, too – are full of vivid color, rich textures and integrated gardens and fountains. The ranch house that he designed for Folke Egerström in San Cristóbal is considered one of the greatest delights of 20th-century architecture and a celebration of both the architect’s and client’s love of horses. Barragán’s Chapel and Convent in Tlálpan are a hymn to light and serenity, while his Satellite City Towers on the Querétaro Highway are a much-loved public landmark. The architect’s own house in Tacubaya is open to the public and an essential stop on any architectural tour of the city.

 

As well as creating a distinctive architectural lexicon with his own buildings, Barragán also inspired a generation of local architects. They included the great Ricardo Legorreta, who shared his passion for color and texture expressed in vivid, modern forms, and designers such as Félix Candela and Teodoro González de León, who injected Mexican architecture and design with an energy, dynamism and ambition not seen before.

 

There are plenty of other individualists, too, who have imparted their own specific style on the landscape. Agustin Hernández, for example, takes inspiration from the pyramids, patios and ziggurats of Mayan cities, inventing houses that look like concrete spaceships on slender supporting pillars, hovering over the hills around Mexico City. Adamo Boari and Federico Mariscal created the Palacio de Bellas Artes in the 1930s, inspired by a mixture of neoclassical, Art Deco and Art Nouveau design and graced with murals by Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros. And Juan O’Gorman built a home-cum-studio for Rivera and Frida Kahlo, designed in an early Modernist style but full of color, light and drama. The list goes on.

 

“We love mystery and surprises,” Ricardo Legorreta once said. “Even in our way of being we are quite mysterious. We say we are a simple people but we are extremely complicated. The depth of the architecture we create is the depth of Mexico and its people.” 

 

Dominic Bradbury writes on design and architecture. His latest book,
Mid-Century Modern Complete, is published by Thames & Hudson/Abrams

 

Your address: The St. Regis Mexico City

 

Images: René Burri/Magnum Photos, Adam Wiseman, Inigo Bujedo Aguirre/Viewpictures.co.uk

 

 

Fernando Romero's Soumaya Museum

 

 

Enrique Norten's Chopo Museum extension

 

 

Luis Barragán's Satellite City Towers

 

 

Inside Romero's Soumaya Museum

 

 

MEXICAN DESIGN STARS PICK THEIR FAVORITE BUILDINGS 

Ezequiel Farca, Architect

 

National Autonomous University of Mexico. “Located in Pedregal in the south of the city, an example of great urban planning, where you can spend the whole day looking at the wonderful modernist buildings, gardens and museums.” unam.mx

 Vasconcelos Public Library. “By Alberto Kalach, this is one of the most impressive contemp­orary buildings in Mexico City.” bibliotecavasconcelos.gob.mx

 

Casa Barragán by Luis Barragán. “Always inspiring because of the use of light, space, mat­erials and color.” casaluisbarragan.org

Emmanuel Picault, Designer and Gallerist 

 

National Anthropology Museum. “Unforgettable.” mna.inah.gob.mx

Anahuacalli Museum. “Diego Rivera’s last atelier.” museoanahuacalli.org.mx

Teotihuacan. “The most powerful archaeo­logical site close to Mexico City.”