As Berlin Art Week approaches, we all know there is much more to the art world than just auctions and appetizers. One arts journalist has a sense of humor, and that’s Paris-based art writer Nadja Sayej. In her witty new book, Biennale Bitch: Adventures of an Arts Reporter, which drops September 27, she shares 30 hilarious stories of life as an arts reporter over the past 10 years traveling to art biennales around the world.
From biennale to art fair and back, she plows through a food review of the Venice Biennale, butterfly kisses Cate Blanchett and meets David Hasselhoff at the Berlin Wall. A follow up to her first print book, The Celebrity Interview Book, Nadja rolls through the art scene with a Nikon camera full of snapshots of Salma Hayek, Patti Smith, Lady Gaga, Claude Picasso, John Waters, Thom Yorke and even the Wu-Tang Clan.
The book looks at the art world through the lens of a comedian who brings a dash of Gonzo journalism to the mix. From bad weather to missed flights and food poisoning, this is a book about the art world indeed—except it’s about everything that comes with the art; the bloopers, the personalities and of course, the hors d’oeuvres. This book is a slice of living art history from the voice of one female art critic and art journalist who has seen it all. Nadja spoke to us from Paris about Art Basel, Gonzo journalism and the art of not taking yourself too seriously.
Local Suicide: Why are you writing a book called Biennale Bitch?
Nadja Sayej: I question myself: Am I bitch to the biennale or a bitch of the biennale? It actually depends on the biennale. Attending these kinds of events is a bit like acting; you’re there to be professional, and yet so many people who come to these events celebrating the arts and creativity want to have fun because, well, you have to live your life somehow. That’s when the magic happens. And that’s what you’ll find in my book.
LSD: For the uninitiated, what is a biennale?
NS: A biennale is a huge art exhibition that’s often international and happens every two years (a triennale happens every three years). A curator is hired to come up with a theme and choose artists who represent their vision of sorts. Imagine a music festival without music that lasts for three months; rooms filled with stuff.
LSD: Which celebrities have you met at art biennales?
NS: I got to photograph A$AP Rocky at Art Basel Miami Beach while he was doing a performance art piece, I called up Patton Oswalt in Marrakech and saw Brad Pitt at Documenta. There are also cameos from Robert Crumb, doing vodka shots with Anish Kapoor and meeting Helmut Newton’s wife Jane Newton for her very first selfie.
LSD: Who goes to art biennales?
NS: Art critics because it’s their job to write about them. Curators because if it’s not their job, they’re better at schmoozing than the most of us. Artists, if they want to support their friends or get some intel, or just party. Bankers wanting to get laid. Art collectors who have nothing else better to do! Wait, they have the money. We need ‘em. Museum directors dying to get out of the office.
People looking to get rid of their old, outdated business cards in an inconspicuous manner.
LSD: How is this Gonzo art criticism?
NS: It’s kind of my thing, I maybe even invented it. When you’re a special breed of part-art critic, part-culture journalist and part-comedian, as well as a huge fan of Hunter S. Thompson, then you are a Gonzo art critic. I think in the art world, it’s important to criticize more than just the art, but everything around the art, as well. But it’s also important to not take yourself so seriously, plus using comedy in the art world might actually make it more accessible. Imagine that!