Located well off the beaten track on a sleepy residential street on Philadelphia’s Main Line, the Barnes Foundation contains dozens of Impressionist and modernist masterpieces that eclipse the proudest holdings of many a big-city museum. It’s remote enough and allows so few visitors (by appointment only) that you need a car and a serious advance plan to get inside, and once there, you‘ll find it unprofessionally maintained and lacking in amenities. But it’s as magical and odd as it is because Albert Barnes, an irascible patent-medicine millionaire, took a page from Isabella Stewart Gardner’s playbook and stated in his will that the collection must be preserved and exhibited as it was conceived. Thus the same eccentric hang, same architecture, and the same lighting have been in place for fifty-three years.
But not, it seems, for fifty-four. Last week a judge ruled that the Barnes Foundation could move to a new location in downtown Philadelphia, breaking Barnes’s will in order to alleviate steep debts. The foundation has been losing money for decades, thanks to its measly opening hours, velvet-rope admission policy and general lack of buzz. Barnes was a moody man who felt ostracized by the major Philadelphia institutions; he left the foundation in the hands of historically black Lincoln University, whose administration was given control of the Barnes’s board of trustees. In the 1990s, the trustees occupied themselves with infighting and litigation while the foundation’s always-shaky fiscal situation grew officially dire, and in 2002, having ousted controversial board president Richard Glanton, they began their battle for the right to relocate. To save the collection from dispersal or dereliction, the trustees insist, it must be moved downtown and plonked between the marvelous beaux arts public library and the Rodin Museum, there to become a star revenue-generator on Philadelphia’s rapidly developing Museum Mile. It sounded OK to the judge and clearly sounds OK to the big-money trusts (Pew, Annenberg, Lenfest) that have cobbled together more than $150 million for the cause. Those of us who work around art and keep up on things here have been following the story in all its Byzantine convolutions for a couple of years now. But since Monday, when the judge broke the will, which sounds awfully dramatic, the local press has just gone bonkers. Last week brought front-page spreads, full editorial pages and monster Sunday features in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The art community, as a result, has Barnes once again much on its mind, and the chatter is more heated than ever. Mere mention of the story sparks voluble outpourings from dinner-party tablemates and openings-circuit chums. John Ollman, a dealer with thirty-five years of experience in Philadelphia, favors the move; or at least, he favors an immediate end to the mythology that surrounds the foundation: “It was conceived as a place of teaching for the disadvantaged, a new, accessible place for education,” he told me, referring to the nondegree art courses offered by the Barnes. “But under the purview of people with no institutional background it has become just the opposite, as inaccessible and elitist as the old institutions Barnes hated. It aspires to be a populist environment, but it is just dressed up to look like one.” Alex Baker, a savvy young local curator, laments the loss of the beguiling museological relic that is the original Barnes. “It is a site-specific thing. I understand that the move is being made to market Philadelphia as a cultural destination, but who says cultural tourism can save Philadelphia? And if private investors can bankroll the move, why can’t they bankroll it staying where it is?” Ingrid Schaffner, senior curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, takes a justifiably sentimental stance. “The pilgrimage was part of the experience, and it‘s a pity to lose it. I’ll miss the trip out to the Main Line, and the short walk through the beautiful suburb of Merion, to see one of the world's great idiosyncratic collections in the building, on the grounds, landscaped with the specimen plantingsall of a piece as Albert Barnes intended it.”
The Barnes Foundation is indeed an inimitable piece of American history, and no dream team of top-shelf architects, curators and money men will make the downtown experience as rich as the goofy and old-fashioned one in the suburbs. But lethargy is depressing Philadelphia and the local artists struggling to feed off the city’s enfeebled resources, and the controversy has proven to be a galvanizing force. Elegies for Barnes’s Main Line folly will soon be replaced by brawls about architecture and installation and the relative merits of various Matisses and Modiglianis that many of us will be seeing for the first time. Barnes would no doubt be appalled by the impending move, but he did love to stir things up in his famously straitlaced hometown. In that sense, at least, his legacy will continue to live on.
Left: Detail of an installation by Alex Singh at SVA. Middle: A studio at Columbia. Right: A sculpture by John O. at Hunter.
Art Basel Miami Beach déjà vu was inevitable at Columbia University’s MFA Open Studios on Sunday, as a flood of dealers and curators—even collectors—journeyed to the far Upper West Side in search of the next crop of bright young things. The fashionably interdisciplinary program has a who’s-who list of faculty (Kara Walker, Rirkrit Tiravanija) and consistently produces successful artiststhis year’s Whitney Biennial, which featured alums David Altmejd, Sue de Beer, Banks Violette, and Barnaby Furnas, was practically a class reunion. So interest in the annual sneak peak runs high, to put it mildly. The studios officially opened at 3:00, and as I walked in at five past, P.S. 1’s Bob Nickas asked me, “What did you see?” “Nothing yet,” I replied, only to learn that savvier visitors had begun their tours hours before. I was on time and therefore late. The place was crowded: Dealers Scott Zieher and Andrea Smith, Andrew Leslie and Adrian Rosenfeld (in town from Munich), Zach Feuer and Janice Guy, among others, were on hand, as were Columbia graduates Dana Schutz and Kamrooz Aram (who had his first New York solo show last spring), and the expected family members and friends of some fifty-plus students. Amid the crush I glimpsed plenty of paintings, almost no photographs, and a number of video installations (called “immediate environment” work by one dealer) that focused on kitchens, bedrooms, and other domestic spaces in which the artists gave low-key, everyday-life performances. After trudging through the rain to get from one studio building to another, Janice Guy said, “I don’t know why I come here,” immediately adding, “Of course I know why I come here, but I often wonder if it’s worth it.” I was feeling a little jaundiced myself. The glare of this kind of spotlight eradicates what school is ostensibly supposed to provide: a space for amateurism. It’s difficult to freely toy with an idea in the studio when someone is hovering with checkbook in hand and power players are discussing you in the elevator in terms borrowed from the futures market. The temptations pressure students to become impresarios—P.T. Barnums whose main attraction is their own work—though one told me of turning collectors away at the door: “This husband and wife came by my studio four or five times trying to buy something. They wouldn’t leave me alone.” Having already participated in shows around the world, she’s savvy enough to know that anyone trying to buy from an open studio is more likely a speculator than a long-term supporter.
Sunday’s outing offered an interesting contrast to two events held earlier in the week: the School of Visual Art’s open studios, on Friday, and Hunter College’s MFA thesis exhibition for midyear graduates, on Wednesday. If Columbia’s open studios thrummed with the nervous tension of Merrill Lynch recruitment day at Wharton, SVA’s had a noticeably laid-back vibe. No one knew who anyone else was, and better yet, no one seemed to care. Village Voice critic Jerry Saltz, who teaches at SVA and Columbia and is an indefatigable cheerleader of student artists, made the rounds, and we played a game of “Name the Influence.” Formal and conceptual connections between students and their teachers and, on occasion, between students and recent shows in Chelsea abound, and matching them up is a bit like playing Concentration.
At Hunter, too, there was a refreshing lack of self-consciousness. For several years, the school has played second fiddle to Columbia in the minds of Chelsea opinion makers while quietly turning out graduates whose art is just as good as that of their uptown counterparts, though palpably different. Unlike Columbia, where students work in several disciplines and sometimes master none, Hunter’s program emphasizes a traditional concentration on a single medium. Even if I thought this year’s work was a little retrograde (floor-based abstract sculptures ready for Fifty-seventh Street; wall-size self-portrait paintings based on photographs taken on fishing trips), much of it had a certain self-possession that was impressive.
In an ideal world, all of these students would take what they’ve learned off to tiny studios in the outer boroughs, where they‘d hone their ideas and edit their bodies of work before beginning to look around for a gallery. But we’re in the midst of a strong market and live in a terribly expensive city—not at all an ideal world for young artistsand it’s becoming more and more common for students to have gallery shows. Kevin Zucker, who had two Chelsea solos before he graduated (Columbia ’02) and is now with Mary Boone, is the poster boy of the phenomenon. Obviously this kind of early success can create hype, dauntingly high expectations, and a context in which every failure is a spectacular one—to say nothing of an art world in which youth itself is a selling point. (This may partly explain then-21-year-old Rosson Crow’s sold-out SVA BFA thesis show last spring.) Most dangerous, it can lead artists into a catch-22 wherein they find commercial favor before critics and curators even know who they are. As word spreads through the collector grapevine, what the artist hears is: “Collector X wants a painting like the one Y has.” Satisfying demand becomes priority number one, and critics and curators write the work off instead of trying to contextualize it. I saw promising artists at all three schools; here‘s hoping they don’t meet such a limited, if profitable, fate.
Left: Harvey Weinstein, Quentin Tarantino, and Bob Weinstein at MoMA. Right: Still from Reservoir Dogs.
Daring to question the Weinstein brothers of Miramax seems the very definition of leading with one’s chin. Little wonder, then, that when the fearsome moguls of American independent film agreed to be interviewed at MoMA last Thursday night, they chose an interlocutor with chin to sparethe prognathous prince of pulp cinema, Quentin Tarantino. The occasion was the studio’s twenty-fifth anniversary, to be celebrated over the coming months with the screening of fifty Miramax films (including Reservoir Dogs, shown after the discussion), fifteen of which will be donated to MoMA’s film archive. The house was packed, though not with starlets: Studio suits and assorted other behind-the-scenes players filled more than a dozen rows of seats reserved by Miramax. The rest of the crowd was typified by the callow NYU film student standing next to me in the entrance line, bereft of ticket but in full possession of a near-religious desire to rub elbows, or perhaps chins, with QT.
Tarantino did not disappoint, rocking a black skully that seemed designed to exaggerate the Jack Palance-esque contours of his face. My companion whispered that he resembled Popeye. I thought a human cannonball was more like it, and as I watched the director launch his rapid-fire questions at the Weinsteins, I waited for strongman Harvey to catch him in the belly and send him ricocheting around the hall. No such luck, for despite Tarantino’s film-geek fact-checking, his irrepressible gesticulations, his habit of punctuating every declarative sentence with a testy “Al-RIGHT?”, he was there as court hagiographer, charged with enabling the Horatio Alger story of two nice boys from Queens who just happened to parlay a Buffalo, New York, rock promotion business into the most influential American movie studio of the past twenty years.
The evening’s rosy agenda was set by a seven-minute introductory trailer that spliced together scenes from well-known Miramax moviesfrom the middlebrow frouf of Cinema Paradiso and Shakespeare in Love to the severed ears and discipline balls of Tarantino’s oeuvrewhile fleetingly acknowledging stillborn piffle like Bad Santa, lest we forget that even the Weinsteins can fall down, too. To avoid any whiff of conflict, past or present, the names Martin Scorsese and Tina Brown were studiously avoided in the ensuing discussion.
But the real elephant in the room was the brothers’ crumbling relationship with Disney, Miramax’s parent company and Fahrenheit 9/11 censor, from which the Weinsteins are attempting to extricate themselves. This bit of Hollywood seismology came up only briefly, at the end of the talk, when Harvey remarked that having an endless supply of billionaire corporate suitors made him feel like a pretty girl for the first time in his life.
A dubious claim, perhaps; but still a good deal more credible than Tarantino’s assertion that when Harvey wants you to change something, he isn’t an ogre about it, but convinces you by being “the coolest guy ever”; or Bob’s claim that the brothers’ lack of directorial vision (they wrote and directed the horror flick The Burning early in their career, then quickly realized they would never be Kurosawa, or even Chris Columbus) made them uniquely empathetic to the needs and whims of their directors.
While Miramax deserves many of the accolades it has received over the years, the truth is the Weinsteins didn’t build an empire out of their affection for the little guy; they rose to the top by not taking no for an answer. And those who were at MoMA received an object lesson in the uncanny power of Weinstein persuasion: When Bob asked his mom to stand up for the crowd, he received a stern, audible no. Still, seconds later, Weinstein mère was up on her feet, preening for all to see. At the end of the talk, Harvey, riffing on home-team lore, referred to Miramax as "the House That Quentin Built.” Fair enough. On this particular evening, though, it was “the House That Quentin Whitewashed.”
Left: Franz Ackermann and Elizabeth Peyton. Middle: Artist Christian Jankowski. Right: Havana Heat Club at Passerby.
Barely a week after the closing of Art Basel Miami Beach, where his giant, tangled roadmap of a wall painting in Gavin Brown’s booth was one of the highlights of the fair, Franz Ackermann managed to pack GBE (Modern) on Saturday night with local and international fans still recovering from their Sunshine State sojourns. It was the opening of “Nonstop HHC,” Ackermann’s first show in New York since 2001, and it found him looking bigger and brasher than ever. A sharp black-and-white photograph of an eye—his own—introduces the show, which pulses with colorful wall paintings and new “mental maps,” his trademark intuitive drawings of imaginary and real cities and spaces. A billboardlike painting, held up by floor braces, nearly fills the west wall. On it, the artist has taped a newspaper photo of the New York-bound Lufthansa Airlines jet that was forced by a bomb threat to make an emergency landing in Dublin earlier this month. Ackermann was a passenger on the plane, heading to New York to prepare this exhibition, and the experience obviously fueled his pre-existing obsession with tourism and terror. A table set up in front of the painting resembles a security checkpoint, with the contents of a bag spread out on it as if for inspection.
The opening was something of a culture clash, with Ackermann’s Berlin-and-Karlsruhe posse—brother, friends, assistants, metalworkersrubbing elbows with art-world regulars. In the crowd were curators Nicholas Baume, Alison Gingeras, Matthew Higgs, and Klaus Biesenbach; Clarissa Dalrymple; gallerists Jennifer Flay and Michele Maccarone; New York collectors (the Portnoys, the Horts); and artists Eberhard Havekost and Lothar Hempel (each with a show now on view at Anton Kern), Elizabeth Peyton, David Reed (who currently has new paintings at Max Protetch), Piotr Uklanski, and Christian Jankowski, among others. A homemade postopening dinner in the cozy gallery apartment upstairs kept the family vibe intact, especially with Brown’s rambunctious daughter running around the kitchen.
After dinner, Ackermann’s favorite band, Havana Heat Club, flown over from Germany, made their North American debut at Brown’s Fifteenth Street bar, Passerby. Ackermann produced HHC’s self-titled debut, which includes a special-edition screenprint made to help finance its production. He describes them thusly, “If you’ve never seen Motörhead live, now you have.” It was a spirited show with a small but energetic audience led by Ackermann’s brother, Stefan, up front. At midnight the band gave Ackermann a shout-out in honor of his forty-first birthday and presented him with an autographed guitar. The guitarist (who was the spitting image of Chris Farley minus about forty pounds) and the drummer (a long-haired chain-smoker straight from headbanger central casting) kept the crowd on its toes for a solid hour. There’s nothing like hardcore Bavarians making hardcore American rock ‘n’ roll.
Left: Havana Heat Club members autograph a guitar for Franz Ackermann. Right: Installation view at (GBE) Modern.
“If you’re talking about it, you’re probably not doing it.” Maybe Stephen Prina had this caution in mind when he opted not only to open his exhibition at Harvard’s Carpenter Center with a screening and performance, but to schedule the event at 11:00 PM—a time better suited to action than analysis. Prina is a newly appointed professor and artist/exemplar of the postmedium condition at Harvard’s Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, the exotically titled studio program where undergrads make art and movies as part of a well-rounded liberal education. By way of backstory, you may recall that VES’s former director, painter Ellen Phelan, was oustedI mean, resignedin 2001 after expressing her frustration (some felt a touch inelegantly) by denouncing the administration as “those cocksuckers in University Hall.” Her replacement, and Prina’s boss, is Shakespeare scholar and gender-studies pioneer Marjorie Garber, about whom I distinctly remember my then-Harvard undergrad sister waxing ecstatic during Thanksgiving break, circa 1986.
As the crowd filed into the Harvard Film Archive screening room, talk ran from art-worldly banter about the recent Miami Beach fair (“I told myself to enjoy it and I did!”) to topical chat regarding Art History Department star Yve-Alain Bois’s imminent departure for one of those plum posts at the Institute for Advanced Study—the Princeton-affiliated ne plus ultra of American academe where Kirk Varnedoe held a professorship after leaving MoMA. Spectacle trumped speculation at 11:10, when Vinyl II, 2000, Prina’s marvelous 18-minute 35-mm Russian Ark-at-the-Getty, began to unspool onscreen. The film is an extended, real-time “reveal” in which the camera pans out from a Baroque painting to a quartet of lady musicians playing a bland Prina chamber tune, then cruises through a wall to the next gallery, where the artist himself (in a neat red short-sleeve garbage-man suit) accompanies the same quartet, innocent as a choirboy, his honeyed voice out of synch and sometimes barely audible—hilariously rousing entertainment.
Back upstairs, near a buffet board weighed down with hot crepes and sundry fillings, Bill Arning, curator at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, told us between bites about a recent dinner where he’d chatted about pop music with a group that included Prina and Bois: “Yve-Alain looked like he had no idea what we were talking about and could not wait for the topic to change. I apologized and said, ‘I obviously spend way too much time thinking about pop music’ and Stephen says, ‘That's not possible! It’s the most important thing in the world!’"
As if on cue, Prina, now red-suited in the guise of his musical alter ego Red Krayola, picked up a guitar near an installation involving a piano and a bicycle and started tuning up for his evening of pop songs. Arning went to sit on the floor right up front, like a devoted undergraduate. After kicking things off with a song by Stephin Merritt, who, Prina noted, shares his interest in genre, he mentioned that in college he’d entertained a visiting John Cage with Carole King’s “It's Too Late” (which he then proceeded to play for us). Indeed, it felt a little too late, albeit strangely riveting, sitting there under the bright gallery lights while Prina dusted off one hit after another, his patter and vocal technique supremely confident, competent, and serene. “It’s incredible that this art thing permits him to just stand up there and do this,” someone behind me quipped. At one point our entertainer segued into something really strange undertaken with the aid of prerecorded percussion—“This is what I play at academic conferences,” he said. Meanwhile, the murmur around the crepes and berries had risen to a dull roar. Prina sat down at the piano to play a few ditties by Los Angeles writers and demimonde stalwarts Benjamin Weissman and Amy Gerstler (one, I think, was called “A Song about a Car,” and contained the lyrics “My DMVeee/record is shit-eee”). Of the evening’s set list, Arning enthused, “That was the best curating I’ve experienced in years.”
The crush at the New Museum‘s opening for “East Village USA” was snarly yet fun, a little like being jammed into one of those unisex bathrooms at the Mudd Club, sans vomit. It was Old Home Week for the art world’s Class of ‘81, seemingly a less-reserved bunch than one typically encounters nowadays, with air kisses replaced by cries of, “Shit, Anastasia, I thought you were dead!” The flamboyant mobtwo glasses of wine were knocked out of my hands in five minuteswas a veritable who’s-left of the era. Stephen Tashjian (Tabboo!) provided me with a running commentary worthy of Joan Rivers as the luminaries descended the steps into the first gallery one by one. Here was game-looking Patrick Fox, whose healthy glow belied his past as a Nan Goldin model. “He was married to Teri Toye! He‘s like the male Patti Astor!” bubbled Tashjian. Here also were painters David Sandlin and Robert Goldman (Bobby G in his years at ABC No Rio), as well as filmmaker Paul Dougherty (why wasn’t his legendary video for Suicide‘s “Johnny Teardrop” in the show?). Video activist Clayton Patterson, writer Baird Jones, Fluxus stalwart Geoff Hendricks, and choreographer Jeani Filippini: all present, all smiles. The neo-geo room was, predictably enough, the only one in which the salon-style hanging and high-energy vibe were missing. Of the movement’s big three, Peter Halley and Haim Steinbach (his bouncing baby, River, in tow) were present and accounted for, with Jeff Koons conspicuous in his absence. Next door, standing before an enormous Rodney Alan Greenblat sculpture, Fred Brathwaite (Fab 5 Freddie) appeared somewhat less svelte than in his Yo! MTV Raps days, though still flashing the money-makin’ fronts. And there was Greenblat himself, explaining to someone that he‘d spent the 1990s in Japan. Makes sense to me. On the top floor, given over mostly to photos of the scene, I was happily surprised to find Miss Understood, Porcelana, and Dany Johnson somewhere other than the basement of the Pyramid Club. Taylor Mead floated past, stopping to scratch his head (literally) before Patrick McMullan’s weirdly iconic shot of Cookie Mueller. And, natch, here came McMullan himself, with a giddy-looking posse in tow. Repping the Dealer Decade were the ever-dapper Sur Rodney Sur, Gracie Mansion, and Jay Gorney, who seemed particularly startled to encounter himself (circa 1985) in a Tom Warren portrait. Another gallerist observed, “I can‘t believe all the twenty-somethings here tonight. There’s this undergrad art groupie-ness in the air!” As if on cue, a young woman trotted past squealing, “Oh my god, RoseLee Goldberg!”
With the open bar staying open considerably past its 7:30 cutoff, things got more East Village by the minute, with revelers slow to repair to Bowery Bar for a “light supper” served in the artists’ honor. As noisy frothiness gave way to boozy bossiness, a gasp went up from the crowd near the entrance: Making her way down the steps was Holly Woodlawn. With those same film-goddess eyes and keep-the-fuck-away-from-me jowls used to such effect in Trash and Women in Revolt, the ex-Warhol drag superstar had everyone in the room trumped for cool. “Let's go sit in the stairwell, honey. My feet are killing me,” she growled to a companion. And just as quickly, she disappeared.
Left: Gallerist Grace Mansion, opening guest, and artist Rodney Alan Greenblat. Right: Brigitte Bulger, Fab 5 Freddie, and artist John Ahearn.
Left: Michel Blazy, The Missing Garden, 2002-04. Installation view, Le Plateau, Paris. Right: Dafne Boggeri, OK KO, 2004. Installation view, Le Plateau, Paris. (Photos: Marc Domage and Jérome Pierre-Jean)
On a freezing December evening, we rose from a winter’s nap and, automatonlike, lumbered out to our Twingo and drove up to Le Plateau for the opening of “Ralentir Vite” (Slow Down Fast), the first exhibition curated by the space’s new director, Caroline Bourgeois. A mixture of altruism and curiosity had led us to brave the cold. The two-year-old venue Le Plateau is one of those alternative spaces that one feels obliged to support, and we were hoping that the advent of Bourgeois would lend some spark to what has been, it must be said, a lackluster program. The driveup the Canal Saint Martin and past the Oscar Niemeyer Communist Center, then around the Buttes Chaumont and into the heights of a intriguing neighborhood replete with Jewish restaurants having Hanukkah celebrationsmade for a rather anticlimactic arrival at what always seems like a slightly generic contemporary art space (white walls, exposed ceiling fixtures) located in the lobby of a humdrum new apartment building. The sense of a venue that is public in mission yet decidedly local (geographically, at least) seems appropriate enough to the populist mandate of FRAC (Fonds régional d’art contemporain), which was founded in 1983 to spread contemporary art throughout France and elsewhere, and of which Le Plateau is the Parisian outpost. Bourgeois, formerly an employee of supercollector Francois Pinault, is one half of Bick Productions, which recently produced Point of View: An Anthology of the Moving Image, an eleven-DVD survey of major contemporary artistsfrom Douglas Gordon to Anri Salain conjunction with New York’s New Museum. For her first Le Plateau effort she once again went for big names (an infrequent occurance during the space’s first two years): There was a Bruce Nauman still-life video of his office, three works by David Hammons (notably, a pair of pants with gold-lined pockets sticking out), and two sculptures by the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Yet somehow it all looked a bit you-could-be-anywhere-in-the-art-world. More compelling were works by two locals: floral designs rendered in chalk on the floor by Michel Blazy, which got all over your shoes; and Michael Francois’s stack of big takeaway posters (a Gonzalez-Torres homage, perhaps, that also fulfilled FRAC’s “community outreach” mission).
In the gallery’s project room, Dafne Boggeri presented a string of Christmas ornaments that guests were invited to smash with a hammer. The crowd, which seemed to be mostly of anonymous young artists and art studentsthe kind that give you hungry “Who are you?”-type glanceshad already disposed of most of them. I did manage to do away with one, and was then handed a tiny slip of paper that said “ti senti miglio?” (feeling better?). I did, a bit, and decided to take another crack at “Ralentir Vite.” It was better the second time around. Carl and Julie, 2000, a wall-size video by Belgian artist David Claerbout (also included in Point of View), looked really good. Argentine Sebastian Diaz Morales’s video installation also impressed. The Man with the Bag, 2004, shows a Godot-like figure carrying a bag of bones through a desolate landscape. The best thing about the piece is its visual texture: It looks like a video processed on top of a landscape painting, so that all the expanses of desert and skin start suggesting panne velvet. This is a really maverick piece; we were both glad we‘d come. Has Diaz Morales hit New York yet? He trained in Amsterdam, lives in Mexico, and is in Paris this year. The work is credited to Production Le Fresnoy and Just Like a That Production, and appears courtesy of Berlin’s galerie carlier|gebauer. That’s today’s Europe for you.
Afterward, we checked out a couple of restaurants in the nabe. A rowdy Italian looked fun but was booked, so we drove back down the hill, through the fantastically colorful Rue de Belleville (with its Chinese and Thai eateries) and the Faubourg du Temple (with its Favela Chic dance joint), and wound up at a small Lyonnais place called Cartet. As we munched liver and sausage next to noisy Brits (who for once made us glad we didn't live in London), I found myself asking why Le Plateau, despite showcasing some decent, even quite good work, can’t live up to the colorful neighborhood around it. Perhaps Bourgeois, by presenting a range of international art, is aiming to fill gaps left by the increasingly cliquish agendas of the Centre Pompidou and the Palais de Tokyo. If Le Plateau wants to recast itself as a global art space, finebut must it rely on a cast of blue-chip characters already familiar from so many biennials and museum surveys?
On the left: Patricia Cisneros and Terence Riley. On the right (from left to right): Rem Koolhaas, Terence Riley, Richard Meier. (Photos: Patrick McMullan/PMc)
Terry Riley, MoMA's chief curator of architecture and design, bounced back from the cringe-making Starck shindig in twenty-four hours, celebrating his fiftieth birthday at a jolly fête hosted by Patricia Cisneros (philanthropist-socialite), John Keenen (Riley’s business partner), and John Bennett (his “life partner,” to borrow a quaint phrase). The potentates of architecture and design who had been buzzing around the fair all weekand many who flew in to pay their respects to the man in charge of one of the largest and most important museum design collections in the worldconverged for the festivities at Riley’s as-yet-unfinished Miesian courtyard house in the Design District. At this point, the house is little more than two horizontal concrete slabs with cinderblock walls, specially tagged in “festive” colors by local artists for the party. Another amusing detail: In lieu of buying additional insurance to underwrite the exploits of drunken revelers, Riley had the empty pool filled with multicolored inflatable gym balls, and at one point, Cisneros, Bennett, and Miami kingpin Craig Robins (Riley’s house may be the only Design District building he doesn’t own) all hopped in for a photo op.
Koolhaas was there. Rafael Viñoly turned up. The younger generation of starchitects was represented by Lindy Roy (of Vitra’s New York showroom fame) and OpenOffice's Galia Solomonoff (of Dia:Beacon fame), Michael Maltzan (of MoMA QNS fame), and UN Studio’s Ben van Berkel (of Wadsworth Atheneum famehey, wait, is that project still moving forward?). Speaking of younger generations, indefatigable party-boy Richard Meier showed up with two of his fetching “granddaughters”; it’s nice that he lets them stay up so late. After a week of networking orgies and commercial clusterfucks, and despite Riley’s best efforts (which included leading the crowd to the dance floor and, later, riding a red motor scooter through his house-to-be while posing for photos with friends), the party was an oasis of sweetness and civility.
On the left: The opening day crowd at the NADA art fair. On the right: NADA co-founder Sheri Pasquarella.
One way to tell that the NADA art fair, now in its second year, is officially on the map: Collectors snuck in Tuesday, two days before the official opening, while galleries were still unwrapping works fresh off the trucks. One way to tell that the NADA art fair is still experiencing growing pains: At the press preview just before Thursday’s opening, many of the booths were still in darkness as electricians made last-minute adjustments. (There were audible cheers whenever a booth’s lights unexpectedly switched on.) Inability to see the art didn’t seem to slow down the buying, though: New York gallerist Oliver Kamm reported selling almost everything in his booth within an hour of the opening; the owner of another young gallery (also based in New York, home to almost half of NADA’s sixty exhibitors) said: “All day Tuesday it was LA collectors saying, ‘Me, me, me!’” When asked whether anything was still available at his booth, Daniel Reich, characteristically laconic, replied, “No . . . nothing’s available . . . no . . . not really.” A prominent New York collector, contrasting NADA with Art Basel, summed it up thusly: “This one: refreshing. That one? Ho-hum.”
With so many people packed into the space (along with collectors and members of the press, gallerists Andrea Rosen and Jay Jopling, Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman, and other bigwigs were on hand) it was often difficult to assess the art, and the prevalence of incredibly dense salon-style installations didn’t help. Only one gallery (Vilma Gold) opted for a single-artist statementà la, say, Michele Maccarone’s presentation of Christoph Buchel & Gianni Motti’s pointed Guantanamo Initiative in her Art Positions container on the beachand only IBID Projects, based in London and Vilnius, kept things minimal: three walls, three artists. Their booth included the paintings of young Janis Avotins, born in 1981, whose age and stylistic influences might, pace Artforum’s November issue, suggest the descriptor “'The Tuymans Effect’ Effect." There was, as expected, a bicoastal onslaught of small, brightly colored, and often faux-naïve works on paper. Worth noting among this crowd were Canadian artist Brad Phillips’ delicate watercolors presented in a vitrine at Wallspace Gallery’s booth. The best of thesea picture of his girlfriend lying on a bed beneath a brightly colored blanketuncannily recalls an Egon Schiele drawing on long-term view at the Neue Galerie in New York. Elsewhere, several Europeans stood out. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for straight lines or maybe I simply needed something cool to take my mind off the Miami heat, but I was especially taken with Camilla Løw’s sculpture of four diamond-shaped Perspex panels dangling in the sunlight just outside Sutton Lane’s booth; Felix Schramm’s demure architectural fragment (an art fair-scale example of his larger installations) at Grimm/Rosenfeld also looked strong. But the latter work points to another problem that besets artists at both fairsparticularly those working in media that don’t allow multiples and editions: what they send to fill their dealers’ booths is not always representative of their work at its best. Faced with a production-line schedule requiring a solo show every two years at one (or several) galleries and works for an ever-increasing number of fairs, many artists in Miami voiced a wish that they could simply slow down. They were savvy enough coming out of MFA programs to find strong galleries to represent their work (and despite its increase in size over the last year, a majority of those participating in NADA are indeed galleries with strong programs); will they be savvy enough to leverage their sold-out shows into time for concentration in the studio?
None of these concerns were voiced too loudly at NADA‘s raucous Friday night party at the Sagamore Hotel, where Art Basel and NADA dealers rubbed shoulders with scruffy twenty-something artists and their friends in the rear garden by the pool. At 1:30 the crowd was herded out the front door so hotel guests could get their sleep, and the party split in two: some headed north to the Raleigh Hotel and others south to Bar Deuce. The procession of artists, dealers, collectors, and curators felt like an impromptu recreation of Francis Alÿs’s parade from midtown MoMA to Queens a few years back (though thankfully no one was holding Kiki Smith aloft). While walking, one New York dealer, who despite my prodding insisted on remaining anonymous, said: “This year the Frieze Art Fair felt like Basel set down in Regent’s Park in London. I think the NADA Art Fair is what Frieze was meant to be.” Odd comparison perhaps, given that from the beginning the London fair has emphasized top-drawer galleries in a pristine David Adjaye-designed venue. But the comment does underscore the general sense that NADA’s spirit of camaraderie and the sharpness of its gallery selections has provided a welcome contrast to cookie-cutter corporate fairs around the world.
On the left (left to right): Lauren Weiner, Benedikt Taschen, Terence Riley, and Samuel Keller. On the right: Philippe Starck and Jorge Perez.
Let‘s do the time warpagain. On Friday night, a few thousand people turned out for the opening of ICON, a new Miami condo development designed by Philippe Starck and built by developer-slash-collector Jorge Perez. Guests toured the building’s lobby, lounge, pool and spa, but, alas, the apartments were not available for inspection. A real estate agent informed methis is not a jokethat the units come in four conceptual varieties: Culture, Classic, Nature, and Minimal.
In terms of design, ICON is a pleasant pastiche of Starck’s greatest hitsall perfectly chic, but stale as last week‘s challah. There were the gauzy white curtains that first appeared at the Delano a decade ago; the gargantuan flower pots from the Mondrian in Los Angeles; and the old-timey crystal chandeliers from the Hudson Hotel in New York. If Starck’s aesthetic vocabulary was familiar, so, too, was his PR schtick. “I will say nothing because there is nothing to say, because I know nothing,” Starck told the assembled design enthusiasts, evidently attempting to wrap his extraordinary egomania in a cloak of humility.
Efforts to apply a high-minded gloss to this real-estate spectacle came up a bit short. Terence Riley, MoMA’s chief curator of architecture and design, was meant to host an onstage conversation with Starck to enlighten the crowd about the vision behind the “apartment-building-as-boutique-hotel” concept. Mercifully, someoneRiley? Starck? Starck‘s publicist?must have realized that this kind of a dialogue was not particularly appropriate in the context of such a swinging soiree, because it never happened. Not to be cheated out of the art-world cachet that his esteemed VIPs provided, Perez did announce that Riley and architect Richard Meier were on hand, while Starck slipped out early, leaving his guests to enjoy stir-fry and the booming sounds of a Japanese drum band. For some reason, a troupe of little people/dwarfs wearing novelty hats circulated among the crowd. Perhaps they were part of a tableaux vivant re-creating Starck’s plastic gnome stools? Anything is possible. If pretension and bombast were breakfast cereals, Philippe Starck would be General Mills.
Day two of the art fair began with a phone call from Yoko Ono. “Hello,” I said tentatively, picking up the receiver. “Hello,” she replied. With the easy part behind us, we talked about the weather. “Is it warm in Miami?” she asked. “Yes,” I answered. “And sunny.” I couldn’t believe itnot that I was actually chatting with Yoko, but that the conversation was virtually indistinguishable from one I might have had with my grandmother. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me, though, since she had absolutely no idea who had answered the ringing phone of her Talking Sculpture, perched on a table at an event celebrating the release of Hans Ulrich Obrist’s appealing exhibition catalogue-cum-artist’s book, do it. And, more to the point, just about all the other, live panel participants had practically phoned in their contributions, too.
But who could blame them? At this sort of eventand at Basel Miami there were many of themshort and sweet was the name of the game. And, besides, the invitation to the 11:30 AM book launch promised cocktails. The sooner it was over, the sooner we could get to the next panel, the next opening, the next glass of chardonnay. I shouldn’t be so cynical. After all, the panel offered a certain madcap fun, and it was events like these that gave one an excuse to commingle with immensely talented artists and curators in immensely beautiful surroundings, often with immensely beautiful (or, at the very least, beautifully dressed) people. Who wouldn’t, myself included, spend a few minutes on a panel in exchange for a trip to Miami, courtesyas we were repeatedly remindedof sponsor Bulgari’s extraordinary largesse? Still, something about the series of “Art Basel Conversations,” which would officially begin later that day, was already beginning to rub me the wrong way.
The real series premiere took place Thursday night at “Conversation StreamExperimental Artist Q & A,” a red-carpet-style event in the burgeoning Design District’s historic Moore Building, which was kitted out for the occasion with more velvet ropes and bouncers than opening night at The Producers. At first it seemed heartening, if difficult to imagine, that the stars that night were artists, rather than peripatetic “locals” like Shaq or J. Lo (the latter’s Miami manse was pointed out to me more than once by cabbies swelling with civic pride and tawdry tales of a four-thousand-dollar waxing spree at the Mandarin Oriental). Once I managed to hustle my way inside, however, it seemed that the bulk of the security budget was directed toward protecting a row of Plexiglas cases, each containing spot-lit and sparkling Bulgari jewels and each ostentatiously appointed with its own impassive guard. At one end of the space stood a low stage and at the other, of course, stood a bar. Between them, row after row of well-heeled collector types squeezed onto plastic chaise lounges, translucent Philippe Starck chairs, and enormous inflatable rubber balls, while waiters in sailor suits circulated colorful cocktails.
On the left: One of the Bulgari displays, complete with two armed guards. On the right: Panel moderator (and Artforum contributing editor) Daniel Birnbaum and artist Janet Cardiff.
Around 9:30, an all-star cast of artists took the stage, including (in order of appearance) Janet Cardiff, Jenny Holzer, Liam Gillick, Ernesto Neto, Trisha Donnelly, and Jeff Koons. Artforum’s own Daniel Birnbaum gamely served as moderator, or as he put it, “manager of chance.” One by one, he pulled questions at random from a box:
“Jenny, should art be political?”
“Janet, who is responsible for art?”
“Jeff, can art be original?”
One waited in vain for him to ask, “Trisha, what is the meaning of life?” But even with such weighty questions on the table, no real “conversation” took place, since the event’s organizers kept a lid on the pontificating by providing an enormous timer to ensure that no response exceeded a minute. As the seconds ticked by, some artists mustered earnest replies, but the crowd demonstrated a marked preference for the saucy numbers, laughing loudly when Cardiff replied to a question about the importance of location by remarking that it’s “pretty important when you’re having sex,” and when Neto fielded the perennial “does size matter” stumper by commenting, “big size, small size, it depends on how you do it.” Only Koons seemed somehow above the fray, buoyed by irrepressible optimism and two decades spent disavowing any personal ambition toward “critique.” Amid the sparkle of photographers’ flashes and Bulgari rocks, it was clearer than ever that he understands the collecting class the way Boucher understood Pompadour.
On the left: panel participants. On the right: Hans Ulrich Obrist chats with Yoko Ono. (All photos: Julieta Aranda)
“Hi there,” said John Armleder, the most glamorous-looking art-world denizen sinceforever. Looking up at the sky, he didn’t appear to be greeting usthe audience standing expectantly on the grassbut either a passing airplane or (as he explained to me later) the heavens themselves. With his signature braid and dark suit, and shades with one transparent and one dark lens, he looked more like some kind of luxurious pirate than one of Christ’s disciplesbut that, it seems, is what he felt like. Now that I think about it, the whole scene had clear biblical connotations. The gospel according to Hans Ulrich Obrist, also known as do it, is a modest-looking but wildly ambitious, small orange booka sort of do-try-this-at-home artmaking manualand we were gathered to celebrate its publication. At the very center of a long table presided Obrist himself, with six disciples on either side (though Yoko Ono was present only numinously, in the form of a phone connected to her apartment on Central Park West.) The sun was shining as always on the Miami Beach Botanical Garden as John Baldessari, Lawrence Weiner, Marina Abramovic, and others gave us some suggestions on how to really do it! For instance, this advice, courtesy of Abramovic: “With A Sharp Knife/Cut Deeply Into The/Middle Finger Of The Left Hand/Eat The Pain." Weiner said he never tells people what to do: “I don’t want to fuck up your day, I want to fuck up your whole life.” Or did he say he didn’t want to fuck up our lives? Nobody was quite sure afterward. Finally, Abramovic asked us all to lie down on the grass and, of course, we all did; she told us to scream for two minutes and, of course, we all did. It was loud. In short, it was a pretty strange book launch. But I would do it again anytime.
On the left: Obrist and artists Lawrence Weiner and John Baldessari. On the right: Marina Abramovic orders everyone to lie down.
On the left, a White Cube director speaks with visitors about a new Marc Quinn sculpture; on the right, New York gallerist Michele Maccarone.
In a cab from the Miami airport on Wednesday, I got a call from a savvy collector who suggested in not so many words that the art fair was all but over—before it had even begun. And judging from the diffuse energy at the vernissage that night, the prognosis seemed fairly accurate. By that time, any collector worth his fleur de sel had already breezed through the fair, and not during Wednesday’s afternoon “First Choice” preview either. Clearly, “First Choice” was for latecomers only, or, as promotional materials put it, major collectors, museum directors, press, and “special” VIPs. Shopping, it turns out, was already well underway Tuesday, when gallerists handed over their exhibitor passes to favorite clients, who, one dealer grumbled, showed up before the art was even hung. Early sales reports were inevitably mixed, with some gallerists complaining activity was slower than they had hoped while others were so booth-bound they scarcely had time to visit the restroom. Whatever the case, the extended chain of previews and previews of previews may have explained why so few “special” VIPs—save Tobey Maguire, seen eyeing an Ed Ruscha at Gagosianwere spotted among the opening night throngs swilling champagne from miniature bottles inelegantly fitted with plastic funnels.
The real action, it seemed, was elsewhere—which is where the action at this fair always seems to be. For unlike Basel proper, which comes with fewer private parties and (as might be expected) poolside cabanas, the overabundance of simultaneous events in Miami induces a near-manic paranoia in clued-in visitors endlessly worried that they’re in the wrong place at the right time. While many were off at the frenzied opening of the younger NADA fair across town, a select group gathered just across the street from the Convention Center at the gates of the botanical garden for the world premiere of Dan Graham’s puppet musical Don’t Trust Anyone over 30, the culmination of a more than decade-long project adapted from Wild in the Streets, a 1968 film starring, among others, Richard Pryor.
A little after eight, the confused throng pushed into the modest garden, artificially enhanced with the glow of both theatrical lighting and the free-flowing “Smirnoff Orange Crushes” provided, like nearly everything else at this fair, by corporate sponsors set on intoxicating an art-collecting elite. If art fairs were once simply about selling art, they now seem equally about selling liquor, cars, hotels, cigars, and diamonds. And what could be a more appropriate backdrop for a puppet theatrical both lampooning and wistfully lamenting the squandered countercultural ideals of the '60s? Graham himself may have put it best in his introduction to the first performance, remarking, “I thought why not do a puppet show, where people who used to be hippies can now come with their children . . . But in fact, we don’t have that audience at all.”
On the left, Art Basel Miami Beach seen from above; on the right, Walker Art Center curator and François Pinault Foundation director Philippe Vergne with Perry Rubenstein Gallery director Sylvia Chivaratanond.
The audience we did have was a group of art-world insiders, presided over by the show’s effervescent producer, Sandra Antelo-Suarez of Trans. Packed cheek-by-jowl in the small theater were P.S.1’s Alanna Heiss and Klaus Biesenbach (the latter now also of MoMA), Phaidon publisher and collector Richard Schlagman, Walker curator (and producing partner) Richard Flood, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Chrissie Iles, and the Art Production Fund’s ever-glamorous Yvonne Force, set soon to release her own musical production in the form of a CD by her duo (with friend Sandra Hamburg), Mother Inc. “The album includes my song ‘The Real Skinny,’ which is about my weight obsession since basically third grade,” Force confided before the show. “My real goal is to do it on Oprah and then give the CDs away for free to everyone in the audience.” The crowd also contained a number of dealers linked to artists linked to the project, like the Metro Pictures crew and Marian Goodman. Goodman was improbably poised to see the second puppet show by a member of her stable in just two weeks’ time, the first having been staged by Pierre Huyghe at Harvard. With Team America still in theaters, there’s talk of an incipient puppet zeitgeist, which Obrist commented is also being explored by Rirkrit Tiravanija and Philippe Parreno, but may have been kicked off by Christian Jankowski with last year’s Puppet Conference, which brought together Lamb Chop, Grover and their ilk at the Carnegie Museum of Art. A dissertation topic for art historians, circa 2015.
After the lights dimmed, audience members took in a lengthy spectacle, with marionettes compliments of Being John Malkovich’s Phillip Huber, video projections by Tony Oursler and Mike Kelley, and original music by Rodney Graham and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. The narrative centers around Neil Sky, a twenty-four-year-old, suede-befringed, pot-smoking rocker who’s elected president on a platform of teen enfranchisement. In between stops at campaign rallies and a modernist suburban drug den by way of New Canaan, we witness video footage of intergalactic puppet love and rousing musical sets provided live by the duo Japanther, which was shoehorned—drum set and all—into a tiny aperture adjacent to the puppet stage. But just like money, youth is something that somebody’s always got more of than you do—a moral that our hero has to learn the hard way. Without knowing the '68 movie, it’s hard for me to say precisely what Graham’s puppet show adds to the equation, except, of course, dazzling visuals and appropriately avant-garde credentials, as well as—perhaps most importantly—the frisson of a presumably liberal audience watching the show unfold a quarter-century after the fact, a month after an appalling election, and an hour after a shopping spree across the street.
We adjourned from the show to the garden for an appropriately youthful and real-skinny repast of mini-hamburgers and hotdogs—all this in marked contrast to proceedings poolside at the fabled former residence of Gianni Versace (and current party palace for hire), where the private-plane-sharing firm Net Jets was in the midst of wooing clients with gallon-size martini glasses brimming with Jules Verne-worthy crustaceans and generous dollops of caviar. In Miami, the spectrum of commitment seems decidedly narrow, from radical chic to radical decadence.
Dan Graham‘s Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30. Top left: still from a video projection. Top right: audience members Emi Fontana, Francesca von Habsburg (also a co-producer of the event), Monica Bonvicini and Romana Fabbri. Bottom: performance view.
Two views of Rosa de la Cruz‘s house. On the left, assume vivid astro focus’s upstairs installation; on the right, paintings (and the crowd) downstairs.
A tedious fifty-minute taxi ride from Miami Beach got us to the de la Cruz’s block just after midnight. Block, not house, because as we turned onto Bay Drive, we were greeted by a gridlock of limos, yellow taxis, Mercedes sedans (with drivers), and chartered buses that provoked even the relatively patient to hoof the home stretch. The size of the houses and the frenetic movement of valets and anxious guests recalled a late-night traffic jam in East Hampton. Artforum.com correspondent David Rimanelli was among several familiar faces exiting as we strolled up the gravel drivewayhe was in a rush to secure a seat in one of the plush rides back to town. Despite our late arrival, the garden was still packed to the hedgerows, with Miamians, decked in pastel and Day-Glo, slightly outnumbering the usual (art) suspects. Among the throng were a handful of eccentrically dressed “performers” (more Mardi Gras than P.S. 122) meant to give the evening a “Happening” feel. Since the promised high point—a performance by Los Super Elegantes—was, we would soon learn, sadly cancelled, the rest of the carnival felt a bit flat.
Before entering the house to see the much-hyped assume vivid astro focus (aka Eli Sudbrack and “collaborators”) show, to which the de la Cruzes had given over the entire second floor, I stopped for a brief chat with Jeffrey Deitch. As always, he percolated with infectious optimism. “Miami is the new New York. In ten years, all the key galleries will have branches down here. Artists love it—space is cheap, climate great, collectors plentiful.” After a quick cocktail and a last look at the scene in the garden, I almost believed him. A few moments later, I crossed paths with one of Deitch’s artists. She explained that a reality-TV crew had followed her posse around all day as they set up their booth, tooled around town in a Jaguar, caroused chez Rosa, etc. Clearly, the producer hit the jackpot.
As I entered the de la Cruz residence through the back door, a uniformed maid handed me a Xeroxed map of the art extravaganza inside. The floor plans were dotted with tiny numbers accompanied by a more-than-dozen-page checklist. Totally indecipherable—I couldn’t tell if the pictograms represented sculptures or the overstuffed white couches, so I decided to meander around the first floor relying on my own compass. The choice of work was very savvy, very German, and very '80s (vintage and wannabe): a giant Jonathan Messe (that one could easily mistake for an Immendorf); Rotten Renaissance Rita, 1984, a fantastic early Albert Oehlen; a very graphic Christoph Ruckhaberle; and a few younger Leipzig artists interspersed amid the crowd. Kippenberger and Kippenbergiana. Germanic painting would seem to be de rigueur this season in Miami—in fact the Leipzig trend was the only thing that connected the sparse, precise hanging of the newly expanded Rubell Family Collection and the baroque hang at the de la Cruz’s. Just when I thought all the trendy collecting angles had been played, I glanced into a small room and saw a cluster of diminutive framed drawings by artists from the Daniel Reich and John Connelly Presents stables. Happily, a few counterpoints to the hip-for-hip’s sake selection offered respite. A beautiful cream-and-gold Gonzalez-Torres candy spill sat in the corner, while a neon portrait of Annlee, from last year’s Huyghe-Parreno-M/M Paris installation, silently surveyed the passing partygoers.
On the left, Los Super Elegantes' Milena Muzquiz and Martiniano Lopez-Crozet (photo: Dean Sameshima); on the right, artist Christian Holstad.
On the way upstairs, another uniformed maid—I counted at least ten—requested that guests park their shoes. Here, finally, was the psychedelic wallpaper I’d been expecting! Once ascended, I ran into a New York gallery director who advised me that the work on the second floor was a replay of avaf’s Whitney Biennial installation (complete with spiral staircase), but despite her encouragement to do an about-face and have another drink in the garden, I forged ahead into the “environment.” Some recognizable contributions by other artists were jumbled up with signature assume vivid astro focus art/decor/props, but there were few standoutsnotably, two gorgeously intense Michael Lazarus paintings, one installed on a freestanding wall covered with General Idea’s AIDS wallpaper (yes, more wallpaper). Getting ready to head downstairs, I met a mildly confused Sydney Picasso clutching her Xeroxed map in an earnest attempt to determine what was what and by whom. She was not alone in her confusion—many in attendance, even devoted art collectors and curators, were baffled by the jumble of works and formal eclecticism. There were undoubtedly those who were titillated by the “youth” and “energy” of the installation, but the few artists and critics I chatted with seemed to feel the “collaborative” aspect to be thin and somewhat suspect. Unlike other “artist curates”–type shows, this exhibition seemed neither to propose a family tree of similar affinities nor to use other artists’ work to articulate a collective vision or aesthetic position. The whole mishmash was a salient example of a new-old trend that has a lot of currency these days: the artist-as-anything-but-an-artist. avaf strives to be a one-stop service providercurator, lifestyle guru, social impresario, art director, decorator, publicist, groupie, entertainment coordinator, and graphic designer—and , to a degree, succeeds. The collector gets maximum bang for his or her buck. But the most unsettling part was contemplating avaf’s choices of “collaborators,” who seemed more like the winners of a popularity contest than a group of artists selected according to some coherent set of criteria. When I quizzed a few partygoers the following day at the fair, one collector offered a convincing defense of de la Cruz’s support of avaf: “Rosa de la Cruz collects like a teenager.” Even if her zeal and generosity are laudable, the artistic result is pure high school. Maybe it was my lingering teenage contentiousness, but I couldn’t help but feel that a little Rubell-style autonomous art would have been much more challenging than this teeny-bopper Gesamtkunstwerk.
On the left, artist Lawrence Weiner and fellow guests (photo: Dean Sameshima); on the right, one of several performers at Rosa de la Cruz's party.
The grand annual party thrown by queen-bee Miami collector Rosa de la Cruz and her husband, Carlos, on Tuesday marked the unofficial first night of the third Art Basel Miami Beach fair. Arriving on a late-afternoon flight, I opted for a shower and a meal of M&Ms in my hotel room, though pre-Rosa dinner options were legion. New York dealer Barbara Gladstone fêted her star artist with a family affair one collector described as a “bar mitzvah for Richard.” The occasion: the display at the Rubell Family Collection infelicitously titled “American Dream: Collecting Richard Prince for 27 Years.” But I especially regretted not having the steam to accompany a friend to an intimate dinner for fifty—and given the melees that so many social events surrounding the fair tend to be, fifty is intimate—that another New York dealer, Andrea Rosen, was giving at Casa Tua, apparently one of the city’s better restaurants. I was told the environment was relaxed and congenial. My friend reported having enjoyed something of an oasis within an oasis thanks to the company of MoMA’s Ann Temkin and SF MoMA’s Madeleine Grynsztejn. The latter was excited about her upcoming Richard Tuttle retrospective, to be accompanied by a massive catalogue documenting the artist’s delicate works.
Rosen, it seems, was generous enough to provide limousines for guests en route to the de la Cruz party in fairly distant Key Biscayne. For me the transportation problem was solved by Bruce Bailey, the Toronto collector. In the spirit of Miamian excess, he had called for a limo that comfortably seated eight; thank God it wasn’t white. The painter Dan Colen and the photographer Dash Snow, an inseparable pair of raffiné artist hooligans, were with us. These boys are always heaps of fun.
The de la Cruz party was, uh, extremely well attended. At the entrance, guests received paper carnivale masks designed by assume vivid astro focusmorsels of cheap, transient party ephemera presumably intended to incorporate the itinerant American and European dealers, curators, and writers and the local rich folk into the expansive, electro-happening surge of the current star of the de la Cruz collection. In addition, several life-size cutouts of Los Super Elegantes’ Milena Muzquiz and Martiniano Lopez-Crozet striking louche poses were scattered about the grounds, a reminder that, originally at least, part of avaf’s installation on the second floor of casa de la Cruz was to have served as a set for an LSE concert that very night. Although Muzquiz and Lopez-Crozet attended the party, LSE was most present in its absence—a fact the cutouts only underscored. The concert had been cancelled days beforehand, and there was considerable speculation as to why. One suggestion: Mrs. de la Cruz was nervous about having a “rock band” performing in her house. If so, the famously generous collector certainly didn’t let on as she bafflingly alerted guests that Los Super Elegantes would soon be taking the stage. (They never did.)
On the left, Los Super Elegantes' Milena Muzquiz and artist Jorge Pardo with his wife (photo: Dean Sameshima); on the right, an unidentified guest, artforum.com correspondent David Rimanelli and photographer Dash Snow.
Pre-Rosa-dinner hostess-with-the-mostess Rosen, resplendent in a silver-sequined sheath, seemed utterly transfixed by the spectacle of the skinniest of skinny-hipped hoola-hooped dancing boys. Given the scores of roving dealers, I was impressed by her refreshing lack of mercantile single-mindedness. My personal highlight of the evening: Elizabeth Berkley, star of the 1980s sitcom Saved by the Bell and superstar of Paul Verhoeven’s absurdly underrated tour de force Showgirls, looking fabulous in a clinging pink gown that featured some truly startling décolletage. Once I sat next to Meryl Streep at a dinner party; she struck me as a nice lady. But I couldn’t take my eyes off Miss Berkley. I wear my aesthetic allegiances proudly. (The next day, by happenstance, I attended an opening in the Design District for Greg Lauren, Ralph’s nephew and Berkley’s husband. I asked her what she thought of the de la Cruz party. “Well, anyone who is so passionate about what she does is amazing. With some of her art, you respond to it even if you don’t really get it at first.” True. I praised Berkley for her virtually career-killing role in Showgirls. “That was such a daring, out-there performance, and everyone ripped you to shreds for it, but you were genius,” I rhapsodized. “I wish I could take you around the Hollywood studios and have you tell them what you just told me,” she answered.)
But as the evening wore on, and on, and on, the party, which I had enjoyed for some hours in high spirits, began to take a difficult, not to say sour turn, as taxis, cars, and limousines clogged the driveway. Egress was exceedingly painful. “Reminds me of my favorite novel, Day of the Locust,” a ne plus ultra art-world insider said, laughing. Bruce Bailey’s car was two hours late picking us up, and when we finally found it, we couldn’t locate Dan and Dash. Dash turned up eventually, but Dan was still making it happen at the party. Shortly after we managed our escape, I learned later, the police escorted Mr. Colen out of the de la Cruz compound. A dealer with his ear to the ground said the trouble started when Mrs. de la Cruz vociferously objected to Dan and Dash having sat down on the lawn; she reportedly yelled, “This isn’t Woodstock!” Assorted contretemps were rumored: something about hitting on the hostess’s daughter? On local matrons with jealous husbands? Things, in any event, apparently began to get hairy.
The next night I caught up with Dan and Dash at another soirée. I was surprised to see Dan, since I had thought he’d been hauled off in the paddy wagon the night before. But on the contrary, he seemed to have made some influential new friends. “The next morning,” he told me, “Dean Valentine”—UPN chairman and indefatigable collector—“called me up and said, ‘You’re my new hero.’”