Vice has an interesting article on Michel Van Rijn, entitled How I Became One of the Most Successful Art Smugglers in the World
Eventually you began working with the police though. What made you flip? Well, I’d been on the run and was eventually arrested at my villa in Marbella. I knew one of the Italian godfathers of the mafia who also has a villa there. We are great friends. So within ten minutes of being arrested, his counsellor was in my cell. He said, “Felice cannot come but he sent you his kind regards,” so then I was sent to Madrid where I dined with a very important member of the police. He arranged for me to go to prison there instead of being extradited to France where they were really after me. I had the best time of my life in jail [in Madrid]. I had the guarantee I was coming out in a year and I bought a cell phone from one of the ETA boys in there. It was like that movie Goodfellas. I had my own kitchen, my own shower, and every day I could bribe one of the guards to go to the market—it was fantastic.
Sounds like a blast. It was, but things changed later when I went to the Jos Plateau in Nigeria. I saw these incredible Nok terracotta heads that they bury in the graves for their ancestors. They were potentially million-dollar pieces and I was there to buy them. But then I met the people—the Jos Plateau is very cold at night so we sat around campfires—and they hardly had anything to eat, yet they sit up all night to protect their ancestor’s culture from vultures who want to come and dig and steal and kill to get the terracottas. That touches your heart. You can’t deal with those things. You don’t want to have people dying for art. It was all just a game, but then I was on top of that hill and suddenly confronted with reality. If that doesn’t change you, you aren’t a human being.
After that I knew there were a lot of stolen Nok pieces that were going to be exhibited at a gallery in London—all worth around $400,000—sold to some of the wealthiest people in the world. I could’ve easily made a lot of money for myself by approaching the dealer and saying, “Give me 100 grand to keep my mouth shut about where they came from,” and I would’ve gotten it in a nanosecond. But instead I went to the Nigerian embassy and convinced the ambassador there about these stolen Nok pieces.
We went with the police and about 20 Nigerians into the gallery the day before the opening. There were all of these fucking posh people sipping champagne, and in we came to shut it down. You should’ve seen their fucking jaws! I made a statement: “Don’t touch the heritage of these people!” And it’s not that I was a white knight—not at all. But I began to come across certain things that I just couldn’t step over.
A movie of Michel’s life, written and directed by sub-culture specialist King Adz and co-produced by ex-CIA agent Bob Baer is now in the works. Called The Iconoclast, it will be like Gomorra set in the Louvre, with a bearded Tom Hardy playing Michel Van Rijn (or so rumor has it).
Weird World is an exhibition of artists’ books, photography and drawings exploring anthropological portraiture through an artistic lens, with an emphasis on the unseen, the occult, the weird, the wild, and the subversive. These artists present rare observational studies of various subcultures, ranging from punks and teenage ravers, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, to minority tribes of the Yunnan Province in China. These portraits provide an intimate yet omnipresent view of these seemingly exclusive unapproachable communities in their “natural habitats.” Reporting through an artist’s eye offers more than photojournalism, allowing their creativity to guide their observations, incorporate digital manipulation, and present their findings in unique sculptural formats.
Coinciding with this exhibition we are hosting open-call for the exhibition zine. The artists in exhibition will curate a selection of photographs, drawings and text to be published in a full-color publication alongside their own artwork, to be released at a closing party for the exhibition. For information on the open call please visit here.
The show opens October 6th and closes November 18th.
VMAN: Tehching Hsieh was born in Taiwan in 1950. He jumped off a boat in the New York harbor when he was 24, swam to the land and lived here for many years as an illegal immigrant. When he was 28, he decided to lock himself up in a cage in near solitary confinement for an entire year. Tehching considers this piece, One Year Performance 1978-1979 [also known as Cage Piece] to be his first mature work. As a young artist in Taiwan before he came to the US , he had done a couple of paintings and pieces which could be described as actions. For example, in 1973, he did Jump Piece, in which he jumped from the second floor window. There were similarities to what Yves Klein did in the 60s, but while Klein’s Leap into the Void was staged, Hsieh broke both his ankles. He still deals with the repercussions of that piece today. Living as an artist in Taiwan, he had heard words like “happening” and “conceptual art,” but did not know of any specific works or artists. He told me that he was just done with painting and was looking for an alternative way to make art.
I was stunned when we visited his studio and he told us that he had never had a solo museum exhibition in the U.S. His work has been so influential for subsequent generations of artists. Interestingly, he is not unknown. Many people know his work from their art history classes. Usually, the reason performance artists are not exhibited in art institutions is that their work is so difficult to convey to the audience after the performance is over. All that is left are photos, video recordings, or anecdotes from people who witnessed them. However, Hsieh’s work rises to the challenge of documenting fugitive performance art. Every time I look at the 365 self-portraits he made of himself during Cage Piece, it is obvious to me that his attempt to represent his experience of living in a cage for an entire year fails. And yet there is a strength in the documentation that allows me to glimpse at the monstrosity of the time he spent in this cell. Another reason he hasn’t been shown that much is that his work required him to withdraw from the art world. In One Year Performance 1985-1986 [also known as No Art Piece] he decided to not make art, not talk about it, look at it, or engage with it in any other way. And for Thirteen Year Plan (1986-1999), he decided to not show art publicly for thirteen years. So, in a way, his work has only been accessible since the year 2000.
Hopeful and Forlorn (2012) Silver Gelatin print, 45cm x 35cm —Ben Lichtenstein
Benno’s got a new exhibition called Cereal Dust opening this Saturday at Neospace
Good work pal!
Loosely based on a found poem entitled Let Down Reliable by Agnes Dux, Cereal Dust is a collection of black and white photo collages from Melbourne-based artist Benjamin Lichtenstein.
Produced entirely in the darkroom, the works in this exhibition represent an ambitious attempt by the artist to simultaneously bring together various images from his archive onto the imperfect and unforgiving medium of the light-sensitive page. The goal in Lichtenstein’s instance is an harmonious falling down and getting up again.
In this first solo exhibition for the artist, Lichtenstein shares a personal take on commencements and resolutions. In the wheel of fortune of people’s lives, it seems only the luck of the draw will dictate how many black tiles will occupy the spaces on their wheel. But with each disappointing landing on a black tile, comes the feeling that something has come to an end, like we always knew it would. And before the next spin, that feeling can be just right too.
Found scribbled on a piece of paper on the floor of a Berlin train station in 2010:
Let Down Reliable
By the time the snow will have returned to water, he will be away, In pursuit of the nourishment he’s trained himself to crave, Finding only the dust of yesterday’s cereal and the pangs of tomorrow’s hunger. And sure as shade, the water will once again dry. And freeze. And fall.
Images are central to my painting. The images are varied, while my treatment of them is very consistent. The imagery is refined to a point of anonymous functionality. The paintings are meant to feel as if they were pulled directly from the lexicon.I paint some things because they are things that I have seen, but more importantly, I believe they are things that the viewer has seen. I am painting from life, but not life purely found in the landscape, but the also psychological, mediated, and transcendental world that infects our consciousness.