Daniel Buren’s exhibition “Eye of the Storm: Works in Situ” opened Thursday night at the Guggenheim, with a three-tiered scale of exclusivity: ultra-privée at 6:00, when director Thomas Krens made his opening remarks, hailing this as a “great night for France;” 7:30 (my ticket); and 9:00 for la foule. It seemed that the entire French art worldor at least that of a certain generationhad turned out for the US apotheosis of un trésor national. The charming Lucien Terras served as my chaperone through Frogville, introducing me to Pompidou director Alfred Pacquement and Buren himself, who was attired in a black-velvet Mao jacketa sartorial echo, perhaps, of les soixante-huitards? “I don’t know who is left in Paris,” Terras remarked. “They’re all here.”
Among the notables: Pompidou president Bruno Racine, Suzanne Pagé of the Musée Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and Gilles Fuchs, the president of the Agence pour le Dévelopement International de l'Art Français, which each year administers the Pompidou’s Prix Marcel Duchamp. Fuchs is widely known on the French art scene for rallying collectors to concerted actions for the aggrandizement of contemporary French art, and he was likely a moving force in bringing so many of them to New York for Buren’s triumph. Orlanart-world precursor to Extreme Makeoverwas in full force, with silver-glitter bumps in her forehead and a veritable turret of parti-colored hair.
The exhibition, curated by Lisa Dennison, Susan Cross, and Alison Gingeras, is beautiful and works differently depending on whether it’s seen during the day, when the magenta gels with which Buren covered the skylight give the rotunda a warm, diffuse ambiance, or at night, when the sharp white lighting creates an antiseptic, echt-modernist look. But Buren’s “return” remains inescapably ironic regardless of all the celebratory oohing and aahing. His mirrored tower is a response to his first, disastrous experience at the museum, the Sixth International Guggenheim Exhibition in 1971. To refresh your memory: In October 1970, Thomas Messer, then the museum’s director, sent a letter to twenty-four artists from around the globe, inviting their participation in the show, which was overseen by associate curators Edward Fry and Diane Waldman; twenty-one accepted, among them Carl Andre, Walter De Maria, Donald Judd, Michael Heizer, Dan Flavin, Richard Serra, Mario Merz, and the young Buren. The most striking part of Buren’s contribution to the show was an immense cotton canvas with alternating blue and white stripes, suspended just a few feet below the museum’s skylight and extending down the rotunda to just a few yards from the floor. But before anyone had even seen the show (which was to prove a resounding failure with the critics, who much preferred “Information,” Kynaston McShine’s roughly concurrent international survey at MoMA), museum officials had removed Buren’s piece without informing him, much less asking for his consent. “The censorship was particularly curious considering that the organizers had previously fully approved of Buren’s installation,” Alexander Alberro wrote in a detailed essay on the fracas in October a few years back. “[T]he same [Guggenheim officials] that identified avant-garde art as work that ‘questions previous art styles, particularly those that directly preceded them’ (as Waldman wrote in the exhibition catalog) were now ‘eliminating’ Buren’s installation because it was 'in direct conflict with the work of other artists in the exhibition.'” All but five artists in the show signed a petition objecting to the removal of Buren’s work: Andre withdrew his piece in protest. (The five nonsigners were Flavin, Kosuth, De Maria, Judd, and Heizer.)
Left: Amalia Dayan and Stefania Bortolami. Middle: Ramon Gilsanz, structural engineer of Buren's mirrored tower. Right: Melia Marden.
I asked Buren whether the show is a kind of triumphal rejoinder to the 1971 imbroglio, and he replied, “Yes, one could see it that way.” I don’t know how else to see it; the very title of the exhibition reads as an allusion to the old controversy, with the museum’s rotunda as the “eye of the storm,” past and present. Unlikely that this historical background was on many of the revelers’ minds, though, as they swilled glasses of the Australian “champagne,” Jacob’s Creek. “C’est vrai que le champagne est australien?” Terras queried one of the (French) bartenders. “Oui, c’est vrai,” he answered with a shrug. “Il n’est pas cher.”
Left: Marc Jacobs, Rachel Feinstein, and Francis. (Photo: Patrick McMullan/PMc) Right: Anna Sui, Tobias Meyer, and Rachel Feinstein.
Throughout the day following the opening of Rachel Feinstein's second solo turn at Marianne Boesky, all anyone wanted to know was who had been there the night before. In fact, there was only one question: Was Marc Jacobs there?
Yes, Marc Jacobs was there! At the dinner, held at funky El Quijote (in the Chelsea Hotel), he was at the head table with a very glam Anna Sui, who had the ear of Sotheby's Tobias Meyer, who had the eye of art consultant Mark Fletcher, who was at the elbow of collector (and sometime John Currin model) Dianne Wallace, who was opposite Feinstein and Currin, who administered to his Connecticut Yankee parents, Anita and Jim, throughout the margarita-fueled evening.
Anne Bass enlivened a long center table with Brice and Helen Marden, Sean and Michelle Landers, Georgie and Gary Hume, and the art world’s own stage mother, Clarissa Dalrymple. Across the room, seated together like the Supremes in three shades of blonde were Yvonne Force, Jane Holzer, and Lisa Yuskavage, nattering with such neat nabobs as novelist Susanna Moore and that-girl-from-Prada, Katharine Ross, while Jessica Craig-Martin, Charline von Heyl, and Amanda Sharp swanned about with the usual visitor from Planet Fashion, Tara Subkoff.
In other words, it was a stylish party. But it was Feinstein's show, and not just her bubbly self, that lifted spirits in the first place. This sculptor of utterly wack, Baroque figures surrounded her four new pieces in painted wood and polyurethaned foam withsurprise!rather marvelous tondo paintings (on oval mirrors) of crunchy-faced, eighty-year-old women in eighteenth-century aristocratic French dress. (“Everybody takes life class in school,” said an astonished Georgie Hopton. “That doesn't explain why they’re so good!”) In Marie, 2005, the aged ex-farm girl cradles what friends in the crowd recognized as the freeze-dried doe (a gift from Ellen Gallagher) that Feinstein keeps at home, in her kitchen. Would Jacobs care to dress such a lady? “That would be a fun challenge!” he said.
In reality, the women who had done the posing were models hired through a casting agent seeking senior-citizen versions of the Botticelli-like, thirty-four-year-old Feinstein. The paintings, based on pastels also on view, bear only a vague resemblance to Currin's own crunchy-faced portraits of contemporary womennot that the two artists are competing. Indeed, one of the most fascinating aspects of the whole event was watching Currin turn into Mr. Feinstein.
Left: Elizabeth Peyton, Marc Jacobs, and Anna Sui. Right: Jessica Craig-Martin, Sandra Hamburg, Yvonne Force-Villareal, and Sarah Morris. (Photos: Patrick McMullan/PMc)
This transformation had actually begun at the gallery that afternoon, two hours before show time, while Feinstein was madly pushing around one of her large sculptures while coming up with titles to put on the checklist. Currin walked in, tripod and camera in hand, dripping wet and cursing the unseasonable snowstorm. “You work for months and months and knock yourself out, and then it fucking snows on the day of your opening!” he railed. Of course he was sympathetic. In fact, he had helped to scale up his wife’s sculptures from her folded-paper models. “John’s really good at Photoshop,” she said.
Before rushing home to change, the seven-months-pregnant Feinstein had just enough time to make a seating plan for the dinner. “Who do you want to sit with?” she asked Stefania Bortolami, who had been cruising the show with a client at the other end of her cell phone. “Marianne says the drawings are all sold already,” Bortolami pouted. Feinstein reassured her. “I have a couple more to finish at home,” she offered, wondering if her prices ($10,000 per drawing, $20,000 per sculpture) shouldn't be higher.
By dinnertime, nearly every work was spoken for. “Whoever thought I would turn out to be the mother of a big art star?” marveled Anita Currin, a high-school piano teacher married to a physics professor. “Or that he would marry another one! I mean, how often does that happen?”
In the art world? Every day.
Last week I took the morning train to Cologne. On the new high-speed line, the trip from Frankfurt only takes an hour (you feel like you’re playing some kind of virtual-reality game), and I didn’t even manage to finish reading the newspaper before I had to get off and attend to the strange question: What can you do with a hole in the ground and half a million dollars? That’s what Nicolaus Schafhausen, the newly appointed director of Cologne’s as-yet-unbuilt European Kunsthalle, has to figure out. (I was a member of the jury that picked him, so you can blame me if it turns out to be a failure.) What should the art institution of the future look like? It’s a question that is usually discussed in very abstract terms. With this new kunsthalle, Schafhausenex-artist, ex-dealer, director of Frankfurt’s Kunstverein for the past six years, and one of Germany’s most efficient art catalystshas a chance to realize an entirely new model.
Cologne’s disastrous cultural politics have recently led discontented local artists to take action. A few years back, the city decided to make way for a grand new arts complex by tearing down the Josef-Haubach-Forum, a building that housed two important institutions, the Kunstverein and the kunsthalle. Many members of Cologne’s art community opposed the plan, but the building came down anyway, in December 2002. The only problem was that the city couldn’t actually afford to build the complex, and, as various municipal bodies tried to settle on a downsized plan, the giant hole left by the demolition seemed destined to become a permanent feature of the landscape. So artists Rosemarie Trockel and Marcel Odenbach, along with a group of like-minded colleagues, got busy, founding the organization “Das Loch e.V.” (The Hole Association) in order to present alternative ideas for what should be built at the site. The European Kunsthalle is their brainchildnow they (and Schafhausen) just have to figure out how to fund it and who should build it. In October 2004 they organized an art auction and managed to raise €355,000 ($468,000): Among the artists who donated works were Trockel herself and Gerhard Richter, whose small painting Ohne Title brought €115,000 ($150,000).
So what is Schafhausen going to do? Arrange seminars in the hole? Perhaps, but not just thatand he doesn’t see raising millions or signing up a relevant architect as his primary tasks either. Rather, in his new capacity he sees himself primarily as a provider of ideas and a facilitator of new connections; for example, the Ludwig Museum has expressed interest in collaborating with this new organization. Who knows, maybe the homeless predicament will turn out to be an asset. There are art institutions that manage very well without a permanent venue for shows: ArtAngel in London, Museum in Progress in Vienna, and Milan’s Trussardi Foundation, for example. But comparisons to other institutions only go so far. “This kunsthalle is unique,” says Schafhausen. No one can deny that.
Left: Kit Hammonds, Simon Bayley, Craig Richardson, Thomas Lawson, and Annie Fletcher. Right: The crowd between sessions.
One of very few publicly funded galleries in the East End, the Showroom has a civic remit that primarily involves giving deserving artists their first London exhibitions. Last year, though, it expanded its brief to include an annual conference, which is why, during last Saturday’s freakish burst of warm weather, several dozen delegates elected to sit in the gallery’s windowless, triangular back room and listen to Thomas Lawson and Nicolas Bourriaud debate the modernist tropes encoded in The Incredibles. OK, so this was an uncharacteristically light moment but permissible: The conference’s title was “New Moderns?” and the aim of the speakerswho also included Amsterdam-based curator Annie Fletcher, Goldsmiths College academic Simon O’Sullivan, and American artist Daria Martinwas to determine whether artists’ current interest in modernist aesthetics and concepts was more than just another turn of fashion’s wheel.
Up first and jetlagged, Lawson hadn’t finished the paper he’d planned to present, which concerned the Wooster Group’s turn toward neo-modernist theatrics. Instead, he improvised loosely, and in a quasi-hopeful way, on various things he’d seen lately: flowers blooming in Death Valley after California’s flash floods, Donald Kuspit’s recent book on the end of art, Damien Hirst’s current show at Gagosian, the new MoMA and his students’ disinterest in it except as a place to go “looting” (presumably for aesthetic ideas, not objects). “I want something avant-gardish,” said Lawson. That inconclusive but telling sentiment resurfaced throughout the talks, suggesting the kind of desperate optimism that leads one to force a smile because it’ll trick the brain into feeling better.
Fletcher was more concrete than Lawson, presenting videos by three artists (Phil Collins, Maria Pask, and Gerard Byrne) whose work, she reckoned, marked a return to modernist interests in representation, participation, and empowerment. One aggrieved audience member leapt up to say that Collins’s work, featuring a disco-dance marathon in Ramallah, wasn’t political and at best could only lead to a “microutopia”which must have given Bourriaud déjà vu, since he got precisely that kind of flack when discussing relational aesthetics at an east London conference last year. The piqued spectator had a broadly applicable point. However much artists co-opt modernist stratagems, this time around there’s far less shared confidence in the project’s potential to rewire humanity. Bourriaud darkened matters further by connecting original modernism’s concepts of progress to war, technology, and imperialism, before segueing into a sketch of a globally inclusive art in the age of info overload. What the world needs now, the critic and curator postulated, is more artists who are able to “produce pathways through culture” and a maintenance of cultural diversity within an overall system that might accommodate it. As one might expect from him, Bourriaud had a catchy name for his idée“altermodernism”and posited it as “a reloading of modernism according to twenty-first-century issues.” So, we need to learn the language of other cultures, translate their cultural values, and connect them to the “world network.”
That sounds like a lot of work (and Bourriaud was vague on which aspects of modernism we might want to “reload”), but, according to O’Sullivan, the artists are going to do some of it for us. The art he likesspecifically that of young Scottish artistscreates, he says, subjectivity itself. Apparently editing his Deleuze-indebted paper on the fly, O’Sullivan enthusiastically described this art as productively mobilizing confusion to remake in its own image the audience that chooses to look at it (a real chicken-and-egg situation, that). From here, he veered into a weirdly lightweight characterization of the contemporary artist as a “fan” of older arta position that the final speaker, Daria Martin, was having none of. Screening several of her own short films, Martin maintained that, though her work might reference modernist moments (Giacometti’s early sculpture; sequences from Antonioni’s Blow-Up), it does so in the interest of creating a space for embodied fantasy in contemporary art. And it is, of course, artists like Martin who will decide if we get a new, or alter-, modernist moment. Though if it leads to a new post-modernismand as a result we’re all sitting here in five years’ time discussing which aspects of David Salle’s thinking are most vital for todayI’m going to find it hard to forgive them.
The Hort’s ginormous annual Armory Show brunch at their ginormous three-floor Tribeca loft was rollicking. As I entered their sprawling kitchen/living area, I noticed Jack Pierson’s funkily unmatched letters spelling out “Being Alone” over the mantle, and half the art world having bagels and coffee and schmoozing away. There was a lot of great work: Nicole Eisenman, Karen Kilimnik, Andrea Zittel, and Marlene Dumas among others; too much to absorb after my megadosage uptown, lest my head explode. Charlie Finch, the yenta from Artnet, was centrally located on a couch: “There’s Rhonda Lieberman,” he bellowed, “You’re a legend!” “I can’t hear you,” I said demurely, nearing the bagels, “would you mind repeating that?”
Lurking near the coffee urns, Nicolai Wallner of Copenhagen said he was excited that Yoko Ono had visited his booth. “She was nice,” he reported, beaming. Sorry, I couldn’t get any more detail. Charlie Finch, on the other hand, filled my ear with every speck of art world “dirt” I’d missed since I’d last run into him ten years ago. But alas, I’m not crazy enough to repeat it. Here. The Horts are big patrons of emerging artists: Two floors of their dwelling are set up like white-walled galleries, with labels, even (which I appreciated). It’s like they’re museum directors living in their own ICA.
“They buy a lot and they buy cheap,” said a veteran artist (not in their collection) who prefers to remain anonymous, “And throw a big party for themselves. ‘Hurray for me! Look what I can do!’ I guess I’ll go back (to the Armory) and sniff around my work. . .” She has a piece in a rather good booth. “See if anybody dropped some change on it and proselytize! These Belgian collectors are coming over later. . . .Better buy something tonight. I’m gonna do the Warhol technique: I’m gonna get them drunk and not get drunk. The only problem: It’s really hard to bear them when you’re not drunk. I know how these people are. They’re desperate for human contact and approval.” She was totally cracking herself up at this point.
Left: Alexander Berscheid, Andrew Ong, and Scott Lorinsky. Middle: Fernanda Arruda. Right: Jennifer, Kevin, and Ginger McCoy.
“It used to be a system of patronage,” she continued, kvetching about the art world in general, “It used to be about the artist. Now it’s about them.” The collectors, the buyers. “There’s no connection between them and the art. It’s projection on their part. They’re projecting that there’s some kind of linkage between the work and them.” I told her the collector that morning had said he loved to hang out with the artists. “Do you know how much that stresses me out?,” she exclaimed, “I want them to buy something! It’s like a john that goes to a prostitute, ‘This week I’d like a redhead. Next week I’d like a blonde. Oh look, there’s a Chinese artist!’“ She cackled, ”And I haven’t had my decaf yet!”
The last day was a real bust. “Aggie” Gund decided no press (thankfully before I'd schlepped up to Park Avenue) and big-name drawing collector Werner Kramarsky’s was as dead as I was by the time I got there. Just a few collector-lady stragglers and moi wandered amongst the fine specimens of Minimalism in his SoHo offices. There were some beautiful Eva Hesse drawings, but it was basically a gallery visit. By the time my editor showed up, they'd already closed, a little earlier than expected. No sense staying too long at the fair.
Dear Artforum diary, my mission this time was to attend several collectors’ open houses, where big art buyers esteemed for their shopping prowess graciously extend their hospitality so that fellow Armory Show VIPs can check out their stuff. What Imelda Marcos is to footwear, these people are to cutting-edge art. It was a weekend-long schlepathonin heels, though they weren’t requiredbut also a chance to see big-ticket contemporary art in its intended setting: some of the swellest pads in Manhattan. Alas, I skipped Jeanne Greenberg’s. The uptown dealer’s event was first thing Friday morning, and a l-o-o-o-ng weekend of vicarious consumption loomed ahead. Her thirty-five- or forty-foot-wide townhouse in the East Nineties also houses her gallery, Salon 94. A fellow collector who’d been there said, “I’d put a moat around it! I’d never let people know I lived that well.” I was already exhausted by the impending binge on objets d’art, plus the heaping side order of real-estate envy.
But inspired by my deep love of artand nosinessI forged on. The next stop: Yvonne Force’s cocktail party at her gorgeous west SoHo loft. Art choices as hot as this month’s Gucci purse (Sean Landers, John Currin, Matthew Barney) vied for attention with cool furniture: a vintage sectional sofa by Pierre Cardin and a John Chamberlain couch mysteriously shrouded in white, which no one sat on until several drinks in. One is greeted at the entrance by a bronzey dollar sign, as tall as a short person, lit up with light bulbs, by Tim Noble and Sue Webster. Bling. And probably good feng shui. The place is perfectly, fashionably correct. Yvonne, an art advisor and socialite-rapper, was in her element, twirling around the various collectors and dealers in a strapless Donna Karan with a poufy, tulipy, chiffony skirt. In her office, beneath a rather menacing, heavy-looking assume vivid astro focus light sculpture, she shared a war story about how she prevailed over other art-frenzied shoppers to score the big Martin Eder poodle painting: “They were saying, ‘I’ll donate it to a museum!’ ‘I’m not a flipper!’” Two rapt dealers and I tittered appreciatively.
Uptown, a Jenny Holzer mortuary bench confronted me as the elevator opened onto the luxurious spread of our next host. There was a small Gober thingie, Untitled (Drain), embedded in the wall above it. A cordial blonde asked me to please place my purse on the floor in the foyer, which made me feel ineffably suspect (at least they let me keep my shoes on). After depositing my vintage Gucci near a Richard Long ovoid pebble installation, I wandered among bewildered VIPs poring over their checklists, trying to navigate the swanky pad with a list of rooms but no floor plan. “Is this the 'Wide Hallway'or is that?” a middle-aged couple wondered sheepishly, in front of a dear little Jim Hodges foil square. There was a hushed vibe, though it was hard to tell whether due to reverence for the sleek Park Avenue digs or that it was early Sunday morning and there were no refreshments. A fellow collector called it “passive-aggressive hospitality. It’s ‘Come to my house. See what I have. Don’t really talk to me. And leave.’ This guy hosted a MoMA board event and made MoMA buy the water! And it’s a $20 million place . . .” In the rear of the apartment, the “Far Back Gallery” (dubbed “The Pussy Room” by a fellow collector) included Thomas Ruff nudes, an Inez van Lamsweerde print featuring Trish Goff’s pubic hairdo, and an erect Robert Gober beeswax candle flecked with pubic-seeming human hair. Yet the trove of “sexy” stuff seemed weirdly antiseptic. The apartment was decked out with one big name after another: A giant Gilbert and George (not one of the “poo” ones) in the kitchen; Gerhard Richter and Agnes Martin in the master bedroom; an “Ed Ruscha bedroom”; a Jeff Koons tchotchke; Cindy Sherman; Damien Hirst; plus art videos (including Wonder Woman, Dara Birnbaum’s appropriation-art milestone) going on every monitor. Mini-installations of pristine art books were displayed here and there. Clearly the abode of an art fan.
Left: Sarah Douglas, Christian Viveros-Fauné, and Joel Beck. Right: Dina, Dianne Wallace, and Martin Eder.
A fellow collector praised our host’s “commitment” to recent art, and the host affably agreed, “Yes, I should be committed!” Moving through the rooms, I heard him recount the same spiel several times about how he got started: “I would just call up artists and say ‘Hey, I’m twenty-three. Can I come to the studio and hang out?’ They all said, ‘Sure.’ I called up Roy Lichtenstein, I called up Jonathan Borofsky . . .” He knows every artist he collects, personally: “I deal with boring people every day as an investment banker crunching numbers. The art is the fun part. I like to hang out with the artists.”
It was particularly amusing to hear him chat in his office with two fellow collectors (a middle-aged couple) about the market, while standing in front of a video of a woman getting f*ed from behind by some guy who was simultaneously putting eye makeup on her (Alex McQuilken’s Fucked, 1999). They were going at it on screen while the three buyers stood there grousing about a certain dealer and how everything has gone to pot lately: “It used to be about building a collection,” sighed our host. “Now he”the aforementioned dealer“just wants the highest price.” The lady collector concurred, “It disturbs the order of the universe.” “I’ve been going youngerbut prices for younger artists are going up, too.”
On my way out, I almost stepped on the Richard Long ovoid shaped pebble installation right near the front door. That must happen a lot.
The opening of P.S. 1’s locals-only megasurvey “Greater New York 2005” marked the climax of a protracted and, for some, rather fraught selection procedure. Doleful also-rans nursing lukewarm beers in P.S. 1’s courtyard reported having had up to five studio visits with the show’s curators and still not making the cut; others complained of having had their initial invitations to participate humiliatingly revoked. Some of those who did secure a spot on the roster were not informed of their inclusion until mid-February and were then asked to make new work in time for the opening. Even the official list distributed on the day was headed “GREATER NEW YORK ARTISTS AS OF MARCH 11TH” (italics mine), as if to acknowledge a terror of commitment on the part of Klaus Biesenbach’s six-person curatorial team.
But in contrast to the chaotic hodgepodge that this seemed to portend, the show, which presents artists who have “emerged” since the first installment, in 2000, actually looked designed almost to a fault. Perhaps only the experience of having recently drifted through that vast deluxe shantytown known as the Armory Show could make 160 seem like a manageable number of contributors to a single exhibition, but even these tired eyes discerned a measured pace to the installation and a reasonable consistency to the quality control. Formal juxtapositions were generally neat, conceptual groupings happily fluid. As to attendance, it hardly seems worth naming names: Everyone who was in town and sufficiently healthy following a weekend of Armory-related festivities, including Artforum’s own party Saturday night, was there. That the opening began at midday and ran six hours eased the pressure a little (as did an inexplicable fire alarm around 4 PM, which scared a few people out of the building, at least), but anyone attempting a complete circuit inevitably found him- or herself edging sideways down a corridor or caught in the crush more than once.
For this reason, a few space-hogging installation works were all-but-unapproachable, and staking out a spot in which to watch a video was a serious challenge. In this respect at least, it was fortunate that every available space had been pressed into service, and that painting and sculpture were predominant. Predictable standouts included old (relatively speaking) favorites like Banks Violette, Cheyney Thompson, Kelley Walker, Nathan Carter, and Peter Coffin, with fresherif sometimes also unsurprisingsensations provided by, among others, Carol Bove, Dana Schutz, Jules de Balincourt, Anne Collier, and Richard Aldrich (the last also a participant in “Lesser New York,” Fia Backstrom’s imminent show of related and unrelated ephemera).
But as the preceding list of already-knowns implies, “Greater New York 2005” is hardly a bazaar of new discoveries. The majority of participants already have gallery representation. Wall labels bearing the phrase “courtesy of the artist” were scarce; one I did find, Deborah Grant’s, bore the hastily penciled-in addendum “and Roebling Hall.” Had Grant been signed up on the spot? If the show underscores any particular trend, it’s not an aesthetic one; rather, “Greater New York 2005” would seem to indicate that institutional curators now follow dealers, instead of vice versa, in the effort to seek out emerging talent. Add to this the volatile mix of youth and fame that so many of the participants embodyTyler Drosdeck, for example, had only just “emerged” from high school when the first “Greater New York” opened in 2000as well as an uneven gender balance (one guess who was under-represented), and a rather disturbing picture of the New York art world’s current ecology begins to emerge.
As the evening wore on, the crowds drifted away from P.S. 1 toward various after-parties; the most determined headed into Manhattan for the frenetic week’s last hurrah: A dockside reception at Pier 16, South Street Seaport, followed by a midnight cruise. On deck and searching for a stand-in photographer, I recruited a camera-wielding artist, Robert Melee. Given that he only got as far as bellowing “THIS IS FOR ARTFORUM DOT COM!” at his bewildered shipmates before dropping the camera and was spotted busting some ambitious moves on the dance floor just seconds later, I feared it was unlikely that we would get any usable shots but was happily proven wrong. Even the perennially sober Biesenbach cheefully admitted to having had “already many beers,” and as artist Saya Woolfalk and a few other landlubbers heeded the last call to disembark, artist Jen DeNike and P.S. 1 director Alanna Heiss dimmed the house lights, and we sailed off into the night.
Left: Artist Carlton de Woody and “Frisbee” curator Anat Ebgi. (Photo: Alexandre Singh) Right: Mary Jordan.
On Friday night, I found myself in a newly renovated loft above the former McBurney YMCA on Twenty-third Street, ambling among the candles and lace that filmmaker Mary Jordan had strewn about liberally in loving tribute to underground film nonpareil Jack Smith. The event was ostensibly a showcase for edited segments of Jordan’s forthcoming documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis; refreshingly, on a weekend during which it seemed that everyone in New York was selling something, the only thing on offer here was Smith’s dream of absolute beauty in an anything-goes environment. If that sounds corny, you probably haven’t seen Flaming Creatures. Sure, the people wandering around dressed like pharaohs with neon piping on their costumes were distressing (“Burning Man regulars,” one guest muttered), but Smith would have loved it, and, after all, we were there in his honor. “I wouldn’t be here today without Jack Smith,” said Christopher Tanner, an artist whose recent exhibition at Pavel Zoubok was the only gig in town that rivaled this one in silent-era-style sparkle. “Jack Smith was my mother,” he clarified. Taking notes and wearing a tie, I felt hampered by taste and propriety and so retired to a corner, where a woman I’d never seen before sat on my lap, poked around my notebook, and began waxing a mile a minute on the wonders of Smith. This was Mary Jordan. “You have to lie on the opium bed,” she told me, and soon enough we were in a darkened room, sharing a pouf on a recliner that could have fit ten people. This, I figured, was as close as I would ever come to life, circa 1962, in Smith’s East Village loft. Incisive, well-edited interviews about art and capitalism were projected high onto the wall across from us, and, while Mike Kelley, Andres Serrano, Nayland Blake, et al opined on the artist’s struggle for expressive autonomy, Jordan spritzed the air with verbal glitter. She had a knack for pitch-perfect malapropisms, saying “tintillating” and “venomently” with breathless authority. “Here is a place where we can find beauty,” she said, lolling with me while the party circled around us. “Smith was a master of ambiance for everyone.” She also told me that Richard Prince has just signed on to executive produce her film. We cannot wait.
Left: Artists Jen DeNike (in yellow), Sabrina Gschwandtner, and Peter Coffin. (Photo: Alexandre Singh) Right: Costumed revelers at the Jack Smith party.
Much as I would have loved to continue lounging on the opium bed indefinitely, I had to rouse myself from my reverie and head down the hall to the opening party for Frisbee, the newest of the young gypsy organizations that follow art fairs and pitch their tents next door. Like ~scope and NADA, Frisbee aims to offer an approachable, affordable alternative to the big brands in the main arena. Its bash was anarchic, too, if less utopian in tone than Smith’s. Chelsea-lit and -slick, the displays were geared keenly toward the collectors circulating through the crowd. The well-dressed curator Anat Ebgi scolded me when I put a bottle of beer on a shelf. Fair enough in the context, I suppose. Ebgi had picked a few good-value knockoffs, including Justin Lowe’s carpet of stacked pulp paperbacksmellow, loved-up Cornelia Parkerand a painting of a naked teen, isolated in the terror of the American lawn, that was a passable miniature homage to Eric Fischl. Who knew art students are looking at Fischl again? Shudders all around. There was knockout work, too, namely, Chris Verene and Christian Holstad’s video, a long home movie of (I’d venture to guess) a new-age baptism. Its action simultaneously evoked ballet class, Montessori schools, revival meetings, toddler birthday parties, and recovered cult-suicide tapes; I could have watched it all night. Completely fucked-up, completely without pretension, and willing to go anywhere. Jack Smith’s specter looms large.
Left: The crowd at Matthew Marks. Right: Larry Gagosian and Damien Hirst. (Photo: Patrick McMullan/PMc)
How many of the seemingly thousands of art-world revelers drinking to Damien Hirst on the Lever House terrace Friday night knew that what they were really celebrating was the end of art? At least that’s how it felt on West Twenty-fourth Street, where Gagosian presented Hirst's first show in New York since the former YBA gave up the bottle for more sober pursuits. Like painting. Executed in photo-realist style from pictures in magazines and print ads, the thirty variously sized works on view depicted Hirst's familiar fascinations with soul-killing violence and living death. One painting showed a lab animal discovering what it feels like to have a syringe poked in your eye. Others included an autopsy room, candylike pills, pill packages, a crack smoker, a suicide bombing, otherworldly quartz crystals, and precious pastel dots. Though many guests made the connection, Hirst may have thought he was avoiding comparisons to Jeff Koons by ordering hired hands to paint each piece in this chilling body of work rather badly. (One assistant was reportedly fired for painting too well.)
While those curious for a first look at what temperance had wrought formed a line outside that stretched halfway down the block, the more-privileged folk within the gargantuan gallery wandered about looking perplexed. Seasoned critics passed by with mouths agape, and Samuel Keller, the generally genial director of Art Basel, peered closely at one of several pill pictures, murmuring, “I don't know, I don't know.” Hirst, in rose-colored glasses and a jacket with a large skull painted on the back, kept to the back office with a gaggle of friends, followers, and a few collectors hoping to be chosen to pay up to $2 million for a canvas. Gallery reps from London, New York, and Los Angeles sidled past each other whispering bon mots like, “If your guy decides not to take it, my guy is definitely in.” One gallery director, when asked about the delicate politics of favoring one collector over another, replied, “My whole job is keeping clients from knowing how ugly it really gets.” (Only days before, of course, a New York court had awarded collector Jean-Pierre Lehmann a $1.7 million judgment against dealer Christian Haye for consistently leaving Lehmann out in the cold.) If rumor can be believed, Gagosian sold out Hirst's show for somewhere between $18 million and $20 million to cats fat enough to make snap judgments.
At these prices, it's difficult to understand how paintings that are not going to get any better with time can continue to acquire value. Though truth be elusive, let's just say that that is exactly Hirst's point: to empty art of meaning. In a market where money is so disposable, how can art transcend mere currency to become more than just a brand? If this is indeed Hirst’s message, then he has issued a galling challenge to every other living artist. It will be interesting to see who takes it up.
Meanwhile, down the street at Matthew Marks, life went on as if nothing were amiss. Hirst's fellow former YBA Gary Hume had several reasons to be cheerful as a crowd of stellar contemporaries sashayed among his shiny new snowmen (some the colors of Hirst's pills) and even shinier poured enamels on aluminum punctuated by oily black paintings of exclamation points. “That one is really creepy,” fellow Marksist Brice Marden said of Yellowstone National Painting, 2004, a large brown-and-yellow number. Hume liked that very much. “I know,” he said.
At the dinner, with Terry Winters, Sean Landers, Lisa Yuskavage, Nicola Tyson, Francesco Vezzoli, Rachel Feinstein and Hume's petite powerhouse of a wife, artist Georgie Hopton, in attendance, Andrea Rosen greeted John Currin with a warmth that was surprising, at least until it was whispered that Rosen had just sold a Currin painting in her inventory for well over a mil. (Is it true? Does it matter?)
As word filtered down from Park Avenue that the Hirst party had turned into an intensely British “art-fuck” fueled by a DJ imported from Leeds, half of Hume's company departed for Lever House, while other guests drifted south to Greenwich Street and dealer Gavin Brown's apartment-above-the-store to catch a command performance by Martin Creed. With his new trio, consisting of himself and two women on bass guitar and drums, Creed wowed the attentive crowd pressed against the kitchen stage, where the front rows were filled by curators Phillipe Vergne and Matthew Higgs and gallery artists Elizabeth Peyton, Rob Pruitt, and Rirkrit Tiravanija. Creed ended the set with the act's dependably rousing finale, “1 to 100,” followed by the equally infectious encore, “101 to 200.” Quite a night for Brits who count. And they wonder why we hate them.
Back uptown, a small group of youths gathered around Lever House owner Aby Rosen's newest acquisition, Hirst's thirty-five-foot-tall pregnant Madonna (or “The Virgin Mother”), installed on the building’s Park Avenue plaza. Staring at her animal-skull head and the fetus dangling from her exposed abdomen, one asked, “What does it mean?” His friend was quick to answer: “It's art, man.” Hirst could not have said it better.
Left: Ronald Lauder. Middle: Deitch Projects' booth. Right: Marieluise Hessel, Barbara Gladstone, and Jennifer Stockman. (All photos Patrick McMullan/PMc unless otherwise noted.)
At 4 pm on Thursday, a mere hour before the doors of the 2005 Armory Show opened for the preview gala for which ticket-holders had paid as much as $1,000 a head, the floor was still buzzing with non-paying “professionals”—a pre-preview group that, in something of a gaffe on the part of the fair’s organizers, included not only the press and museum dignitaries but a number of “discretionary” guests (read: collectors) invited by dealers who, for the first time, were permitted a pass or two for favorite clients unprepared to pay to shop. By 4:15, fair administrators had taken to the floor with megaphones, determined to remove the equally determined shoppers who were still busily extracting preferred-customer favors from their dealers of choice. It wasn’t until close on 5 pm that the last Hort and hanger-on was shown the door. Needless to say, the exceptions did not go unnoticed, resulting in a number of cranky ticket-holders who had anted up for a good cause—and first dibs. The preview gala, benefiting MoMA’s exhibitions fund, was prorated with respect to exclusivity: $1,000 per person at 5:00, $500 at 5:30, and a modest $250 at 7:00. The $1,000 ticket seemed rather absurd, given the mere thirty minutes of extra-specialness it promised. I defy anyone, no matter how rich or thin, to so much as check a coat and nab a glass of white wine in that amount of time. Perhaps the narrow window was a safeguard against poor returns on the thousand-dollar-a-head ticketsbest let in the $500 masses, lest the high rollers find themselves lonely in the vast sprawl of the piers.
The big-ticket early birds included MoMA chair Ronald Lauder and his wife Jo Carole, Henry and Marie-Josée Kravis, Rosa de la Cruz, Isaac Mizrahi, Patti Cisneros, Donald Marron, and Kathy Fuld, who huddled conspiratorially over a café table with recently decamped MoMA drawings curator Gary Garrels (now at the Hammer). PETA activists would have had a field day with their spray paint; ladies were resplendent in fur, and Guggenheim Chief Curator Lisa Dennison looked especially chic in a violet mink chubby. The piers looked pretty good too, compared to the tatty appearance of previous years. Booth sizes were more generous, though this of course meant that fewer galleries could be accommodated. Nonetheless, there were plenty of new faces, with last year’s mass of German galleries replaced by ambitious upstarts from Los Angeles: Black Dragon Society, Anna Helwing, David Kordansky, and peres projects are all first-time exhibitors. The most surprising and welcome debut was that of East Village trailblazers Nature Morte, back after twenty years and a move to New Delhi.
Left: Fernando Palazuelo and Susan Madden. (Photo: Dave Sanders) Right: Thelma Golden and Casey Kaplan.
But it must be said that the art seemed rather lackluster overall. This might be attributed to the ascendancy and proliferation of fairs in general. (Massimo De Carlo told me he does six a year. “That’s twenty percent of my time!”) With so many of them going strong, inventory must be getting low. On the upside, this Armory suggests that fairs today increasingly function as exhibition venues rather than just cash-register-crazy retail extravaganzas, and many artists now make context-specific works specifically with fairs in mind. Several galleries mounted single-artist presentations, among them Charles Long at Tanya Bonakdar, Lyle Ashton Harris at CRG, Rita Ackermann at Peter Kilchmann, and Alison Smith at Bellwether. The most remarkable of these solo booths was Hauser and Wirth’s, devoted to paintings from 1962–63 by the late Lee Lozano. A standout picture bore the text HE GAVE ME A GOOD SCREWING—paired with an image of a saw cutting into a log. Hot. Barbara Gladstone’s booth contained a curated exhibition of portraits by gallery artists and others. I admired Richard Prince’s double-sided Allen Ginsberg tribute, from his “Celebrity” series; Jane Kaplowitz’s triple portrait of Hammer Horror icon Peter Cushing in various ghoulish guises; a painting from Kathe Burkhardt’s star-worshipper-from-hell “Liz Taylor” series; and Stephan Balkenhol’s rather incongruous (in the portrait context) carved wood chicken. Most exciting to the gallery’s proprietors was a watercolor of LP covers by Dave Muller, which served “discreet” notice that the rising star had just been pirated from fellow New York dealer Murray Guy. Speaking of discreet notice, one could not help but notice the Chris Ofilis on display at David Zwirner. Ofili’s former New York dealer, Gavin Brown, was absent from the fair, because he is hosting his own mini salon des refusés at his Greenwich Street digs. Maccarone Inc. shared a booth with Berlin gallery Klosterfelde; each day is devoted to a different installation by a selection of their artists, with new-to-the-stable Carol Bove as Maccarone’s opening-night headliner. A Polish curator approached me there, asking if I was Christian Jankowski’s Berlin dealer. To Ms. Maccarone’s disappointment, I failed to make even a passing attempt at impersonation, and turned the curator over to the Jankowski’s New York representative—her.
I returned the next day for a closer look. Among the standouts were Sylvie Fleury’s “Egoïste” mural outside Eva Presenhuber’s booth; a cuckoo-brilliant John Bock sculpture in Anton Kern’s that riffs on Duchamp’s Large Glass, featuring bachelors Fassbinder and Bertolt Brecht, and married-with-child Bock himself; and Nate Lowman’s suite of large-scale photographs of oil rigs in flames at Maccarone/Klosterfelde. Massimo De Carlo’s booth was low-key but memorable, featuring a new painting by John Armleder that looked like a glittery Morris Louis executed in industrial paints, two disarming works by Paola Pivi, and Piotr Uklanski’s immense photograph of the sky, an homage to a Giovanni Anselmo. The Rivington Arms booth looked good too. I particularly liked Hanna Liden’s collaged photographs and Dash Snow’s video Hamster Nest, in which the artist and some friends frenetically shred paper, swill booze, and spill pills—in the nude. Elsewhere, an early-‘60s Alice Neel portrait in Victoria Miro’s booth seemed like an unwitting rejoinder to the brash but formulaic figurative work so much in vogue.
David Zwirner showed several sculptures by Isa Genzken, who just had her first show with the gallery. Genzken seems very much a sacred cow these days; few possess anything but admiration, even awe, for her recent diary-of-a-mad-housewife assemblages. Several of these, prominently displayed in Zwirner’s booth, were received with rapturous acclaim by the smart/cool aficionados. “Isa, we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy….” I sort of get it, but ultimately I don’t. Why are Genzken’s works so ooh-la-la wow? A colleague, who is entranced by them, maintained that in fact opinion on Genzken is split, but the more reserved parties have been more, well, reserved. Another work that drew numerous enthusiastic comments was by Danny Martinez, at The Project. “It’s so creepy,” Lisa Phillips told me. A kinetic Duane Hanson-esque super-realist sculpture of a down-on-his-luck working stiff slitting his wrists, it was indeed passably strange, though the effect was a tad diminished when I overheard a bejeweled collector lady remark, “Oooh, I like it.” Her hedge-fund-type man-thing chirped inanely, “This is fun!” Non-art-world workers on the piers identified differently—“He looks like one of us,” I heard one say. Maybe they’re feeling suicidal themselves after several days of servicing the movers and factotums of the art world.
Left: Still from The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. Right: Asia Argento. (Photo: Joshua Wildman)
Among the surprises at the US premiere of Asia Argento’s film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things were the Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys passed out to the huddled hipster masses in the Anthology Film Archives’ interminable stairway line, the pre-screening absence of Argento, and the presence of Lou Reed, wearing black leather pants, natch, and a gray cotton hoodie. The film, based on J. T. LeRoy’s story cycle of the same name, kicked off the twelfth annual New York Underground Film Festival, and Lou, apparently still “underground,” was charged with reading a touching if rambling statement by LeRoy that described his adolescent love of hiding in Asian movie theaters and his delight that his therapist of eleven years would finally be able to see all the images from his tortured childhood.
Argento, whose flight was delayed, is something of a star and sex symbol in her native Italy and, of course, the daughter of arty-horror director Dario Argento. Her film recalls Alison Maclean’s Jesus’ Son and Larry Clark’s Another Day in Paradise: It starts in the toilet and spirals downward from there. Plot is subordinated to episodic vignettes in which mood, memory, and hallucination murkily illuminate the motivations behind the characters’ self-destructive actions. Unsurprisingly, heroin is the drug of choice in all three films. But Argento’s effort is at once more expert and affecting than these and other junky travelogues, largely due to the delicate balance of debasement and tenderness in LeRoy’s work. It also doesn’t hurt that Heart is, despite its horrific context, a cute child’s coming-of-age story. Other, generally European examples of this often treacly subgenreMy Life as a Dog, Cinema Paradisoare among my most hated movies, so it’s to Argento’s credit that I didn’t find myself barking bile at the screen.
It’s to her even greater credit that, despite enlisting a parade of celebrities (Peter Fonda, Winona Ryder, Marilyn Manson, Lydia Lunch, Tim Armstrong, Billy Corgan, Hasil Adkins), she delivers a genuinely moving work that avoids nu-hipster slumming. Even Manson, bereft of hair extensions, ghoul makeup, and glass eyes, comports himself admirably (though his character does not). Much of the film’s success turns on Argento’s own fearless, self-lacerating performance as Sarah, the itinerant, lot-lizard prostitute who drags her young son, Jeremiah, through the circles of her personal hell. A perfect genetic splice of Uma Thurman and pre-makeover Courtney Love, Argento gives her all, and at times, it’s more than one wants. Seeing her appear for the Q&A after the screeningsoft-spoken, doped-out or jet-lagged, hair restored to an Italianate black, her thick Italian accent as much her own as the Tennessee drawl she adopts for the filmwas jarring and miraculous. Filled with typical indie-film laments (Q: “Why did you end the film where you did?” A: “Because we ran out of money”) the Q&A was less than enlightening but did no disservice to its subject.
The after-party, however, crammed into the lobby disco at the Tribeca Grand Hotel, was a trial, overstuffed with indie boys with Buffalo Springfield haircuts and understaffed behind the bar. I left early, wondering how anyone could blithely schmooze after the grim trawl through LeRoy’s childhood Inferno. Perhaps such lack of affect is all that remains of “underground” culture, whatever it might have meant once upon a time.
“Nature abhors a vacuum,” playwright Marsha Norman was saying. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of 'Night Mother was speaking of life in New York, but her observation perfectly characterized both the capacity crowd filling Mary Boone's Chelsea gallery for Eric Fischl's show of new paintings and the sudden plethora of Martin Kippenbergers all around town.
At Fischl's opening, just about the only empty space was between the many jostling pairs of legs. The artist stayed near the front of the gallery, greeting friends and fellow Boonies (David Salle, Karin Davie, Will Cotton, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders), while Mike Nichols submitted to an interview with a TV crew from “Gallery HD” that begged to hear about the time the director and Steve Martin traded the portraits that Fischl had painted of them. (Nichols ultimately donated his own to the Met.)
Fischl must do a lot of serious reading, as he seems to count an impressive number of literary luminaries among his friends. Aside from Norman, Joan Didion, Susan Minot, Francine Prose, and Frederic Tuten all flocked to his side, as did musician Arto Lindsay, Robert De Niro producing partner Jane Rosenthal, Bomb magazine’s Besty Sussler, and several generations of artists (from Sarah Charlesworth to Noritoshi Hirakawa), plus a fair measure of uptown bohotantes like Bianca Jagger, Wendy Lehman, and Judy Auchincloss. The half-dozen paintings on the walls behind them were made for bold-faced voyeurs. All were photo- (or rather Photoshop-)based bedroom scenes of a couple caught in various pregnant pauses. No one seemed to want to admit they were good. “They are what they are,” is the usual comment you get in these situations, but what Boone got was a whopping $450,000 to $550,000 each, according to a gallery checklist marked by five and a half red dots.
If Boone's gallery had the smartest crowd of the evening, the most startling art was at Matthew Marks, where Robert Gober's new installation created a cathedral-like hush. During the run-up to the Armory Show, people seemed unprepared for Gober's erotic confrontation with 9-11. At the center of his universe of kinky simulacra (altered New York Times pages, body parts in wax, bronze “ruins”) was a headless, crucified figure with water pouring from its nipples. On either side, two white doors left open a crack revealed the water's source, a rapidly filling bathtub containing a waxen, half-submerged torso. A sad, angry, elegant, and unsettling presentation. Whitney curators Elizabeth Sussman and Donna de Salvo gathered in a tight huddle with Brenda Richardson (who penned the accompanying catalog) and then with gallery directors Jill Sussman and Jeffrey Peabody, to whom they reportedly expressed “institutional interest.” When Marks entered at 6 PM (“Time to turn out the lights!” he said), he and the artist still had not decided whether to divide the show into individual components or sell the whole thing as one work.
It has been a decade since Gober's last New York show, but the person currently getting the art-world bum's rush is Martin Kippenberger. Admired as he has been by artists and critics, Kippenberger, who died in 1997, never generated a strong market in the United States. Well, that's over. (More than one observer called Kippenberger “this year's Richard Prince.”) Two Kippenberger sculptures were on display in a group show at Metro, Luhring Augustine is showing self-portraits in all media (though none are for sale), and on Madison Avenue Gagosian is opening a Kippenberger roundup “in collaboration with the estate.” (Where does that leave Gisela Capitain?) What's more, Tim Nye chose this moment to inaugurate his new duplex-apartment gallery at the National Arts Club with a show of Kippenberger wares (including a spiffy ninety-five-dollar catalog, twenty-dollar T-shirts, and five-dollar “I [heart] Kippenberger” bumper stickers) organized around a suite of forty small drawingsgoing for $640,000from the collection of Kippenberger's friend, patron, and barkeep, Michel Würthle.
Most people blamed the Armory Show, not a conspiracy, for the citywide convergence of Kippenbergers, but Nye's opening attracted a fair number of other dealersfrom David Nolan and Jack Tilton through Carol Greene, Anton Kern, Friedrich Petzel, and Andrew Kreps, to Reena Spauling's John Kelsey and Emily Sundblatt. Nolan claimed that Kippenberger's dream was to have seven shows in New York at once. Clearly, Godand the marketwere listening.
The undiscovered, the up-and-coming, and the never-will-be snaked along the cobbles of Wooster, around Grand, and back down Greene on Monday morning, braving a twenty-three-degree wind chill and an approaching snowstorm. It looked like the usual throng outside a Deitch Projects opening, but this time the kids were lining up in hope of being selected for the new reality-TV series Artstar. Created by artist Christopher Sperandio and dealer James Fuentes in collaboration with Jeffrey Deitch, the show will follow nine artists chosen to participate in a group exhibition at Deitch’s gallery. In the tradition of American Idol, the premiere episode will focus on this week’s open call, for which prospective art stars were instructed to show up with no more than five samples of their work. A few contestants had arrived before dawn, sleeping bags in tow.
Traipsing up and down the line, I met the club-kids-slash-designers Laidie Magenta and One-Half Nelson of Showroom XS peering from beneath a mountain of satin and taffeta, painters Alan Van Every and Joe Heaps Nelson, and an affable redhead, rumored to be an undercover reporter for the New York Sun, toting some art he “made last night.” Arriving late, the frenzied members of the collective Bruce High Quality clambered in and out of a very DIY head-shaped, blue-eyed float (named “Bruce”). When I asked whose name the Bruces were officially registering under, a masked head poked out from beneath a shower-curtained portal and offered, “I’m Bruce! I’m Bruce!” to which another member in a matching mask parried, “Mothership, mothership, man.” At that, I decided to call it quits, planning to check out the callbacks the next day.
Day two felt a bit like a high-school study hall. The hordes having been reduced to a manageable thirty-two candidates, a hushed tension had replaced the carnival of day one. All the artists were sitting around in a circle inside the private showroom, reading or covertly whispering (risking the reprimands of PA’s charged with keeping down off-set noise) while waiting to be summoned into the adjoining gallery-turned-soundstage. The outfits, at least, cut through the silence. Art student Abigail teVille sat aggressively apart from the crowd in a short fur coat and boots, and one of Artforum’s own interns sported a Neneh Cherry-meets-line-dancing-soccer-mom look in a fringed jacket and purple suede boots. There was also a guy who looked like a family doctor, stethoscope and all.
Murmuring “In-vest-i-ga-tive re-port-ing,” video artist and LTTR editor K8 Hardy jolted me out of my reverie, propelling me into the next room to check out the action in the inner sanctum. Keith Haring’s towering stick figures in primary colors doubled as an impressive stage setvery Nickelodeon, though a tad intimidating in the darkened space. David Rimanelli, it turns out, was judging, along with Paper's Carlo McCormick (both sipping Stellas between takes), artist Ryan McGinness, Deb Singer, and sundry others. Rimanelli summed up the task of paring down over 350 applicants to a mere nine: There were the “kids who get it and the kids who don't get it” and older applicants who represented what he termed “the other art worldthe one we don't care about.” One “crotchety old man” became indignant with the selection process, demanding, “Did you even get my name?” before getting nixed.
McCormick, commenting wryly on the legal side of the business, described the registration for the show as “sign[ing] away their visual rights, their souls, all the things you sign away to become an art star.” This was tongue-in-cheek, but there were some reservations among the applicants. Hardy had begun to get cold feet on Monday night, afraid that a negative portrayal on film could affect her career. Indeed, the sometimes-competing concerns and agendas of the various parties were, as Fuentes described it, “causing some degree of turmoil”not surprising when the goals of a single venture include curating an interesting exhibition, making watchable (and salable) television, andoh yeahproviding a platform for emerging artists.
The next morning, bright and early, our ever-considerate intern called to apologetically let me know that he wouldn’t be coming into the office. He had made the cast! I can't disclose his name (or those of his eight cohorts) because of the show's confidentiality agreement, but if Artstar “goes to series,” watch out for one platinum-haired intern-turned-television personality. And after that, who knows? From Artforum masthead to Artforum headline? We’ll be rooting for you, intern!
A meal, a workshop, a bonfire, a film screening, an interview, a hike...uh-oh! It’s relational art, rural style. Art in public has changed its flavor in the last ten years, from formal engagements with (preferably dramatic) sites to social collaborations with the locals. Few projects are more emblematic of this shift than “Artistic Interruptions” in Nordland, the outermost neck of Norway. Per Gunnar Tverbakk, the energetic organizer of this long-term program, argues that “interruption” is the operative word: His commissions aim to shake up forlorn, forgotten little towns by importing big name international artistsElmgreen and Dragset, Simon Starling, Aleksandra Miras well as lesser known home-grown talent. I was keen to do a road trip around the fjords to investigate the more relational projects, and set off with a pair of fellow travelers from London: Mark Sladen (co-curator of next year’s “Momentum,” the Scandinavian biennial) and artist Phil Collins.
Day one involved two flights and a ferry to a fisherman’s hut in the Lofoten Islands, a good base from which to see the precursor of Tverbakk’s program: a series of permanent sculptures commissioned in the ‘90s by Mauretta Jaukkuri (now director of Kiasma in Helsinki). We island-hopped the next day, tracking down some of these polite works by ‘80s artists (Endo, Raetz, Sarkis) and getting stuck in a snowdrift. The overall impression was of organic shapes in natural materials, which Phil rightly summed up as “stone doughnuts.” We were thrilled to find an exception in Dan Graham’s famous convex pavilionreferred to by locals as the “shower cabin” because of its appearance from the roadwhose distorted reflections manage to out-spectacle the stunning glacial landscape.
Later that day, back on the mainland, we paid a visit to Norwegian artist Maria Bustnes, who is stationed in the small town of Lødingen for a few months. Bustnes, a young relational artist, is clearly finding it hard to penetrate the local community, which has expressed a desire for her to find the “soul” of Lødingen. We visited the most notable features of the towntwo bars and the “silver triangle” (a grim junction where the church, the cemetery, and the old people’s home all face each other)and agreed that Bustnes has a tough job ahead of her. As a veteran of site-specific project work, Phil advised that she might have to reveal Lødingen’s “dark heart” instead.
Left: Sørfinnset school, “Artistic Interruptions” headquarters. Right: Søssa Jørgensen and Geir Tore Holm.
The next day involved a long drive from Innhavetthe Twin Peaks of Norwayto Sørfinnset, where Rirkrit Tiravanija and Kamin Lertchaiprasert (founders of The Land in Chiang Mai) have teamed up with a couple of Norwegian artists (Søssa Jørgensen and Geir Tore Holm) to produce The Nord Land, a spin-off of the former’s Thai project. Headquartered in an old school in a tiny village, the project has a self-consciously educational approach based onguess whatdialogue and traditional activities like cooking flatbread. Søssa and Geir were preparing a meal when we arrived: The menu included seal (caught on Friday as part of a workshop with some Greenlanders), salmon and roast cormorant. Local hunter Kenneth Norum, who’d shot the seal, joined us for lunch. Getting into the spirit, I “dialogued” with Kenneth, who was still hungover from the previous night’s binge on moonshine, but was coaxed into telling tales of local exotica, such as the killer whale who lived in a nearby fjord.
Although the atmosphere at the old school was relaxed and friendly, I found it hard to work out where the art was amongst all these benign open-air activities. It’s undeniable that this type of project raises more intriguing questions than a bronze Tony Craggbut for how long? What if The Nord Land is the relational equivalent of the stone doughnut, and looks just as dated and curiously irrelevant in a few years’ time? Fortunately Tverbakk is also commissioning artists who address the local and international more reflexively: Aleksandra Mir has proposed a Hollywood walk of fame for the nowhere town of Narvik, while Carsten Höller is planning a one-room hotel of two-way mirrored glass (Dan Graham’s pavilion meets motel tourism). In projects such as theseand Simon Starling’s plan to set a decrepit house afloat in the seathe artists import the full force of their own vision rather than getting lost in the locale.
Left: Pamela Anderson, Anthony Kiedis, and David LaChappelle. Right: Richard Prince and Larry Gagosian. (All photos: Patrick McMullan/PMc)
At the last minute, I received an e-mail letting me know that I’d been green-lit to attend all parts of what is, let’s face it, the art event of the year in Los Angeles, Larry Gagosian’s annual Oscar-week opening and dinner (and as everyone knows, it’s not about the openinganyone can get into that and doesit’s about the dinner at Mr. Chow immediately following). This year’s shindig was for Richard Prince. My favorite thing about the e-mail, aside from the fact of having secured its open sesame, was the question mark punctuating the list of possible attendees: “…EUGENIO LOPEZ, BROOKE SHIELDS, NATALIA VIODNOVA [sic] & JUSTIN PORTMAN, HEDI SLIMANE, MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ?” Very Richard Prince, that question mark, seeming to ask not so much whether these names would appear but rather, “Who the hell are these people?” And if the names appear on this list, does it matter if they actually show up? Would I even know Michelle Rodriguez if I saw her?
A little back story about Gogo’s plum annual gig: For 2000’s pre-Oscar blowout, Cindy Sherman premiered her “Brentwood Wives” series. That show brought new currency to Wilde’s observation that life copies from art (the photographs mirrored many of the key figures in the art-lovin’ throng). When Julian Schnabel commandeered the primo slot in 2001, his Before Night Falls was an Academy favorite. Despite the fact that someone as iconic as Leonard Nimoy, a.k.a., Spock, has been a Hollywood contemporary-art benefactor for decades, Gogo’s vaguely synergistic forays only underscore that Los Angeles is a single-industry town, and art isn’t quite industry. I’ve been going to openings in this burg for almost a decade and, while there are always plenty of hip cuties, I see more celebrities at the grocery store than I do at art events. The majority of Hollywood folk only buy art because they want something hanging on the wall that guests will recognize. Any young industry player could have a kick-ass collection for less, probably, than the average annual donation to the Kabbalah Center. But if a picture hangs on the wall and no one knows who made it, or roughly how much it set you back, is it really there?
I got to the opening late-ish. My first celeb of the evening would have been hard to miss: Snug canary-yellow dress, teal heels, luscious chestnut maneMrs. Peter Brant! Better known to most as supermodel Stephanie Seymour, she looks like Stephanie Seymour or how you think Stephanie Seymour would look. Which is like a Juergen Teller photo. Robbie Robertson’s plus-one appeared to be a hybrid of Seymour and Brooke Shields (who was a no-show). Put pictures of Kelly Lynch, Lisa Phillips, Sally Abermarle, and Kim Gordon together; call it Four Women Looking in the Same Direction. Snap Barbara Gladstone tête-à-têting with besuited Eva Presenhuber: an in-the-flesh, motherlode Girlfriends. Claire Forlani. China Chow. There were more pretty ladies than hot guysdreamy, sloe-eyed Hedi Slimane in gold boots and pocket-size Red Hot Chili Pepper Anthony Kiedis were major exceptions. Since most of the ladies accessorized the arms of much-older men, I got really excited when Los Angeles doyenne Barbara Davis glided by on the arm of a young walker, until someone informed me that the honors student at the Jerome Zipkin Institute was her grandson, Brandon. Sigh. The latest issue of US, not to mention the attendee list, had him partnered up with Mischa Barton.
Left: Brandon Davis, Barbara Davis, Richard Prince, and Steve Tisch. Middle: Stephanie Seymour. Right: Hedi Slimane.
The Check Paintingsmany a resplendent shit brown, all collaged with the artist’s canceled checksare Prince in his most Warholian mode. Andy made clear that every payment is a kind of identity check, and the IRS cosigned his diary. Prince finds the literary in the fiduciary haiku of check writing: “7/20/99, Mike Ovitz, $175,000, memo: buyback painting.” “6/2/04, Kim Gordon, $680, memo: Book Art Piece.” All the checks have Prince’s address in Rensselaerville, New York, and many sport a penned-in telephone number that’s presumably as “real” as the checks. (Just to make sure, I dialed it and got an automated voice informing me that no one was available to take my call.) Maybe it’s the digits for Second House.
On the way to dinner, as I walked down Camden to Mr. Chow, I overheard someone say: “Spago’s closedparty for the Academy.” Prince once deflated some smartypants’ use of the term simulacra by deadpanning: “Simulacra? Isn’t that, like, just a word for the next-best thing?” Is Mr. Chow a next-best Spago? Seated at what was probably the toniest “writers” table I’ll ever sit at (Bruce Wagner, Bret Easton Ellis), I watched some dressed-up next-best-things being turned away at the doornot on the list. But it’s all relative: I was feeling not even remotely next-best when a real thingPamela Anderson!purred her way up to me and my table companions, John Waters and Greg Gorman. Looking not tiny but perfect, she’s a supernova sexbomb, a feminine exemplar so powerful that she put me in touch withwhat did Lacan call it?my own special “not-all.” I may now have a clitoris. Oh, and the food at Mr. Chow: Let’s just say I felt thinner after having eaten.