It was an offer I could not refuse: Fly upside-down from Berlin to Buenos Aires. When the architectural collective m7red invited me down south, the artist Carsten Höller provided the exceptional means of transport: A pair of Upside-Down Goggles, 1994-2001. As ophthalmologists and students of geeky trivia know, the human eye actually turns images upside down as rays of light are focused on the retina. The fact that things appear right side up is merely a trick of the mind. Inspired by equipment devised for psychological experiments, Höller's goggles simulate vision without the inversion of the retinal image. “In other words, you see what your eyeballs really see before the brain straightens things out again,” the artist notes.
The first leg of the tripfrom Berlin to Pariswas nothing short of spectacular. Whatever drugs you have taken, nothing can prepare you for takeofftake down?with Höller‘s goggles. The plane slowly fell down from the big runway on the top of the sky, and, just as I was revising my view of the cosmos, a steward delivered my next challenge: The meal tray. After catapulting a bread roll into my neighbor’s lap, I decided against pouring the Chardonnay into the wineglass and just drank the whole thing directly from the bottle. Vive l'expérience!
Moving around the airplane was easy, as they are all built according to the same cramped standard, a design I am all too familiar with. But getting from Terminal A to Terminal C at Charles de Gaulle was another story. The escalatorwith the stairs rushing up to my feetturned into a terrifying detour. Thanks to Madhav Bhatta, a businessman on his way to Beijing, I managed to find a seat near the right gate (Buenos Aires, not Abidjan). Waiting for our flights, we compared notes on duty-free luxuries versus gravity-free vision.
The next thirteen and a half hours from Paris to Buenos Aires were dark and dull. I ended up sitting in the middle of a row, so my view was limited to the miniscreen stuck on the seat in front of me. Emmanuelle Beartthe star of our in-flight movielooked fabulous upside down. So fabulous that I decided to throw out my facial creams and stand on my head every day. Sucking back another Chardonnay, I watched us fly up the coast of South America on the geo-map. By the time breakfast arrived, I had become an expert with the meal tray and the star of my row. Both my neighbors insisted on a full report of the experiment.
“Sin anteojos!” barked a rather large policeman manning the passport control. I found out quickly that this means “No glasses!” in Spanish. Thus ended my experiment. A heavy sensation invaded my head as I waited for my bag. When I missed the handle (twice), I realized that my hands had adjusted to the upside-down world. Indeed, my welcoming crewthe architects Pio Torroja and Mauricio Corbalanhad to convince me that the little things in life, from taxi doors to elevator buttons, were not inverted below the equator. “Maybe over in Australia...”
And the next experiment? Höller, who is preparing a solo show for September at Gagosian‘s London branch, has made works that explore hallucinogenic visions as well as drugs. Maybe I’ll do the opening on LSD.
It may be only a few golf swings from that height of East Hampton hoity-toitydom, the Maidstone Club, but for much of its sixty-nine years Guild Hall has contented itself with remaining a small-town art space dedicated to the artists in its hood. Of course, when the local talent boasts names like Close, Sherman, Salle, Fischl, Bleckner and Chamberlain, not to mention Pollock, de Kooning, and Rivers, the place may not have to try that hard to be the Little Museum That Could.
Take last Friday night, when all of the above (minus Pollock, de Kooning and Rivers, that is), joined Dennis Oppenheim, the Donalds (Sultan and Lipski), Trisha Brown, Keith Sonnier, Alice Aycock, Billy Sullivan, Douglas Baxter, Marla Prather, Mickey Straus, Larry Gagosian, Klaus Kertess, and at least a hundred other East Enders to view an exhibition by an artist with no regional ties whatsoever, Robert Rauschenberg. As if that were not enough to distract from the noise Southampton‘s Parrish Museum has been making about Herzog and de Meuron designing its future complex in Watermill, Guild Hall’s Ruth Appelhof paired Rauschenberg with Sag Harbor's own Cindy Sherman.
No. But curious, yes, and at times joyous. On the Rauschenberg side, we were given the ethereal “Hoarfrosts,” 1974-75, unframed transfer paintings on silk, cheesecloth, and satin that have not been seen together in this quantity since their joint airing at Castelli and Sonnabend in the mid-‘70s. Selected and installed by longtime Rauschenberg curator David White (a local resident), with the artist's other right-hand men, Charlie Yoder and Thomas Bueller, the works looked anything but dated and nothing short of ravishing.
Left: Corinna Durland and Clarissa Dalrymple. Middle: Matthew Higgs and Richard Prince. Right: Joe Zucker.
Next to this focused selectiona single body of work, after allthe capsule view of Sherman‘s career, drawn from various Hamptons collections and from different series (from the “Untitled Film Stills,” 1977-80, to the demented clowns, 2003), seemed too much a hodgepodge to gel as one show. Context came mostly in the form of Sherman herself, looking bubblicious with very blond hair and a bright yellow daisy planted in her shoulder bag. (“Someone stuck it in there,” she said. “I sort of like it.”) Diving through the crowd of summer tans repairing to the Georgica home of Ninah and Michael Lynne for a high-rolling auction and dinner was the vacationing Friedrich Petzel. But wasn’t this just like work? Vigorous nod. “That‘s why I’m so uncomfortable!”
The art world never sleeps, I commented the following night, during the Elizabeth Peyton/Nick Mauss opening at Glenn Horowitz Bookseller. “A good thing, too,” replied Matthew Higgs, “or I'd be out of a job.” The White Columns chief was getting his first-ever taste of the South Fork, not realizing that half the guests, who included Rob Pruitt and Jonathan Horowitz, Chrissie Iles, and Richard Prince and dealers Sadie Coles (with baby), Jay Gorney, and Gavin Brown, had actually trucked over from the North Fork, lately the Club Med of the younger art set.
In fact, putting both tines together made this the better, looser partyeven Barbara Gladstone wore white! Apparently Tony Just suggested pairing Peyton with Mauss. (“He knows how much I love Nick‘s work,” she said. He knows everything else about her too, doesn’t he?) But it was bookstore director John McWhinnie who had encouraged the several Peyton-Mauss collaborations hanging on the wall, with individual drawings and watercolors paying homage, in the way these artists do, to various lords and ladies of louche (from Florine Stettheimer to Pete Doherty). “Sold,” the checklist said, for every single one. “We know the market likes us,” McWhinnie said. “Now we have to see what the critics think.”
Okeydokey! But why ask for grades when you're too cool for school?
Left: Philip Martin, Tony de los Reyes, Mary Leigh Cherry, James Elaine, and
William Basinski. Right: William Basinski.
A band of red parachute silk stretched across the length of the back of the parking lot, separating the ground from the sky. Above the band were trees, rooftops, telephone poles, telephone wires, and a great deal of purple-gray, then gray-to-black clouds. The busy Angelenos who dropped in at the Venice gallery Cherry de Los Reyes Wednesday night for an ambient concert by William Basinski don‘t usually pay attention to these thingsor, I’d bet, to loops of wispy, smokelike fragments of sound that get repeated a hundred times or more. Do these people meditate? Three minutes during a yoga cooldown, maybe. But none of them were prepared for the spiritual slowing-down and spreading-out that took place during Basinski's “laptop concert” in the gallery’s backyard.
Basinski, the cocreator (with James Elaine) of a brilliant video-and-music work in the gallery’s current exhibition, trawled the audience with soft waves of echo-y, far-off sound that built, in gasping climaxes and rustling dissolves, to moments of godlike hum you could feel in your sternumall-embracing, bright-white-light-at-the-end-of-the-hallway music. Like a repeating and delicately varying Noh drama, Basinski‘s music hurtled toward neither payoff nor punchline. His insistence on a slowing and cooling of perception made many in the audience palpably nervous, unable to downshift their what-I-gotta-do-next brains. (One hyperpolished womanwho described herself as a “corporate trainer,” whatever that meansspent much of the concert frenetically tapping away at a Blackberry. The only words I could make out werein caps“TOTAL NARCISSIST.”) But to me the concert’s overall effect was of slowed breathing, widened sense perception, and the feeling of a full-body embrace. A rebirth, maybe!
Left: The crowd after the performance in the gallery back yard. Right: William Basinski and James Elaine, still from Trailer for 1,000 Films, 1998.
“My job is to take people into a spaceship,” the Byronic, leafy-locked Basinski told me. “We get on board and go awayto a place where children know. You see kids spacing outnobody could distract a kid. Adults do this”here he made the sound of an overanxious person tearing his hair out. ”You gotta scratch your way to the top just to keep a roof over your head. I get that part of it. But my job is not to listen to the audience‘s resistance. It’s my job to pay attention. I'm in the music."
Also in the music is Basinski‘s partner Elaine, who shot inadvertently terrifying footage of ticker-tape paper floating past the World Trade Center some time in the ’90s. In Elaine’s and Basinski‘s video, Trailer for 1,000 Films, couples clad like film-noir duos trudge through an infinity of post-parade paper. (Paper is the theme of curator/gallery owner Mary Leigh Cherry’s wraparound show, “Paper Beats Rock.”) “I shot it on super-8, then transferred it to super-VHS, which gives it that quality of having been through many generations.” With its alternations of July 4 giddiness and apocalyptic crumble, Trailer is the opposite of Basinski's laptop concertwhich Basinski summarized perfectly: “My job is to give you a blissout!”
Among those staggering around Cherry de los Reyes‘s backyard in a post-bliss recovery period were Kaz Oshiro and Kim McCarty; collector Dagny Corcoran; Flaunt magazine’s Elliot David; and approximately seven thousand crickets, who gave Basinski's pregnant post-show silence a cheering serenade.
Lithe, freckly and disarming, Cherry spoke about the work in her space with unusual tenderness: There was an oddly protective fervor in her voice when she said that “the most important element is not so much communication, but culture. That‘s what separates us from the animals.” Was this a suggestion that Basinski’s metabolic slowdown is “inaccessible” to hyperdrive-enslaved LA culture-vultures? “I think every kind of work of art produces a resistance,” said Cherry's partner, Philip Martin. “The role of an event like this one is to heighten and highlight that.”
Puffing yellow American Spirits after the show, Basinski enthused to a friend about his latest obsessionhis DVD copy of Wong Kar-Wai‘s new film 2046. “I have it on all over the house! I could just have it running and running forever.” When I asked him if he thought it was a little, well, overlong, he replied with outrage, “Oh, I don’t care about all that! The thing for me is that somebody created an ambient cinema!” As always, artists (unwittingly?) praise in others what they do themselves. Basinski created, with two speakers and an iBook, his very own ambient cinema, where the backyard of Cherry de los Reyes was the projector, and the insides of our darting, hopped-up, restless minds were the screen.
No Gavin Brown-organized event would feel quite complete without the impression that it might at any moment degenerate into chaos, but the opening of “Drunk vs. Stoned 2” (the first installment took place in April 2004) heralded its dizzily euphoric spirit via a press release that was later retracted, to be replaced by an almost-identical new one. (I never figured out what was wrong with the first one.) A group exhibition produced in collaboration with Milwaukee’s General Store gallery, “Drunk vs. Stoned 2” purports to explore the two different altered states named in its title as metaphors for two different approaches to the production and appreciation of art. “The lowered inhibitions and impulsive decisions of ‘drunk,’” rambled the revised blurb, “stand in stark contrast to the heightened sensitivity and methodical meandering of ‘stoned.’”
Meandering methodically through Brown’s West Village gallery after a couple of starter beers and a margaritabut no drugson the Artforum roof terrace (a rare treat), I discovered not just a lively, freewheeling summer show, but an old-time saloon complete with swinging timber doors, thrift-store décor, and an enthusiastic jug band. If most gallery openings are thinly disguised piss-ups buoyed by freeloading artists, students, and, uh, critics, the launch of “Drunk vs. Stoned 2” at least made no bones about the focus (or lack thereof) of most attendees. But having braved ninety-degree heat, didn’t we deserve our free beer? And wine? And tequila? And bourbon?
Sure enough, a selective poll revealed “drunk” to be the preferred state of most of those present, and the one most accurately reflective of the opening’s character in general. The majority of the art, however, seemed to fall into the “stoned” camp. A sampling of names on the checklistJim Shaw, Chris Johanson, R. Crumb, Paul Noble, Dearraindropconfirmed that the absorption in obsessive detail and predilection for inconclusive “what if?” musings characteristic of baked brains was well represented. But boozers were hardly neglected: The central placement of Pruitt & Early’s monumental beer-can-and-bumper-sticker construction Sculpture for Teenage Boys (Miller Pyramid, 13 High), 1990, announced that all too clearly.
Left: Foxy Production director Michael Gillespie. Middle: The crowd spills out of the gallery. Right: The camouflaged squad car.
Flitting between gallery and street corner, I found Foxy Production director Michael Gillespie, one of several New York gallerists anticipating new digs next season, taking a break from real estate headaches while painter brothers (and exhibition cocurators) Scott and Tyson Reeder prepared for a different sort of movesavoring their last few hours of freedom before becoming willing prisoners in the gallery’s upstairs space for a month-long no-exit residency. Nicole Klagsbrun director Lisa Cooley and artist Scott Calhoun demonstrated their best “drunk” and “stoned” expressions for me, while artists Gedi Sibony and Roy Stanfield discussed the prime ages for each kind of substance abuse, concluding that “stoned is for your twenties, drunk is for life.” Also spotted enjoying a tipple, or just basking in the evening sun, were Daniel Reich, Janice Guy, the Whitney’s Chrissie Iles, and White Columns director Matthew Higgs.
After the opening proper, a party, complete with smoke-belching BBQ, convened on the roof terrace. Jittery staff notwithstanding, all went smoothly until, at about half-past ten, two cops, clad in Hawaiian and Yankees shirts (respectively), arrived and ordered everyone out. Reportedly, someone had committed the heinous act of beaning one of them with a hot dog, though this sounded suspiciously like an excuse. Perhaps the discussion of the opening on several general interest blogs had rung alarm bells in advance (taken out of context, that title does begin to seem a little risky). Had there been complaints? Reports varied and rumors flew, but the sight of a squad car (cunningly camouflaged as a yellow cab) outside the gallery was a sobering one indeed.
Left: Boris Smorodinsky and Monique Chambers. Middle: An “erotic cyborg” on view in the museum. Right: Regina Lynn.
The Erotic Museum iswait for it!neither. But what does that mean to the hordes of strolling tourists passing Michael Jackson impersonators in front of Grauman‘s Chinese Theatre, peering at Hollywood Boulevard’s stripper-shoe stores and falafel stands before setting foot in this daunting sex-historical warehouse? Whereas the Hollywood Wax Museum and Ripley‘s Believe It or Notthe eroticists’ chief competition near the corner of Hollywood and Highlandsell Celebrity and Oddity to the Bermuda-shorts crowd, the Erotic Museum sells a Maxim-brand experience for sightseeing looky-loos. The opening of its folk art show on last Thursday had native sex industry vets and curious out-of-towners equally dumbfounded and (happily) flummoxed.
“The Folk Art Show”‘s would-be-endearingly corny trailer-park art was not the dignified fare one might find at, say, the American Folk Art Museum in New York. Nor will “outsider”-hungry hipsters find Dargeresque battalions of hermaphrodites or Joe Coleman’s epic splatter sagas. Nope, in lieu of down-home visionaries taking dictation from God, you get a hook-latch rug depicting a Farrahesque nude and a bunch of pillows knotted up like a dick and balls.
The objets likewise took a back seat to the opening-night party, which was characterized by the strangely sedate giddiness of sipping box wine while surrounded by gaping orifices and unsheathed swords. “I find it shocking that shock value is even part of it,” gasped Kor-Ali, songwriter and “music activist.” “Don‘t people understand the vagina is the greatest work of art ever? Our puritan-ness contributes to our miseducation which contributes to our misadventures.” (Kor-Ali used the word miseducation so many times I thought he must be the treasurer of the Lauryn Hill Fan Club.) His crony Candice Ianabi, stained-glass artist and therapist for autistic children, said the stained-glass porny images by Juan Martin del Campo, Jr., reminded her of her first work in the medium: “I did a black Virgin Mary with huge bling. What’s great about folk art is it shows the sensual side of the human condition in a way people can readily relate to.”
Anybody who‘s watched the Pam-and-Tommy-Lee video knows that awe-inspiring bodies in a state of radical undress cause language to descend to a primitive level somewhere about three stories below a Warhol movie; the Erotic Museum first-nighters were no exception. To wit: Boris Smorodinsky, the “CEO” of the joint, summarized his mission statement thusly: “It’s the beauty of people discovering something they have. . . they didn‘t know they have!” Or Ian Thomas, the Museum’s director of advertising, pulling out an old chestnut that dates back to the early days of adult entertainment: “I see couples put their hands in that big Plexiglas box where you can handle these dildos and sex toys, and I see the expressions they have when they look at each other and I realizethis is helping people forward their sex life.”
Regina Lynn, author of the The Sexual Revolution 2.0, a series of essays on the point where sex and technology touch, provided some much-needed wistful, innocent charm. Warm and sumptuous, Lynn, like her book, takes a cheerfully nonjudgmental approach to all mutations of the pleasure-seeking and tool-devising drives. (Her book even gives a shout out to “looners”people sexually aroused by balloonswho are now apparently joined with one another online.) She spoke optimistically about the potential of “teledildonics”in which one can manipulate a partner by remote-controlled sex toys while watching the other's ecstatic writhing via Webcast. Clearly, the future of multitasking is brighter than I imagined.
As the red wine was drained and the bowls of Hershey‘s Kisses were depleted, there was time at last to consider the permanent collectionfor instance, the Wall of Fame, surely the only place where Woody Allen will be found on top of Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Or the monitor showing slightly psychedelic ‘70s-era sex-ed tapes while headphones give you head-shattering playback of phone sex: One of the few exhibits that feel more Whitney Biennial than Jimmy Kimmel. The most poignant of all the displays was a teeny, postcard-size Picasso etching of intercurled figures peering at one another with genitals vulnerably exposed. As I leaned in to look at the image, CEO Boris cautioned me in words that epitomize the Erotic Museum’s uniquely bittersweet flavor: “Don't touch, or the whole evening will be ruined!”
Left: The Watermill Center with artwork by PaulaGabriela and Os Gemeos. Right: Virginia Coleman and Robert Wilson with a table centerpiece by Susan Miller Smith.
You can expect to have a good time at a party where the cha-cha shoes are limited-edition Havaianas flip-flops by Vik Muniz, printed with his signature chocolate drizzle. At just $100 a pair, they were among the limited-edition goodies at Robert Wilson's twelfth Annual Watermill Summer Benefit last Saturday. The theme this year was “Brazil.” That meant there were tropical fruit/palm tree centerpieces by Susan Miller Smith on every dinner table, four Brazilian artists in residence, and a hundred pretty-young-thing interns from other parts of the globevery promising as far as charm and energy go, if not pure theater.
Yet theater is clearly what the artists who contributed the event‘s monumental backdrops had in mind. The Brazilian collaborative team PaulaGabriela hung a huge, free-form assemblage of varicolored rubber and plastic tubing on one side of the main building’s façade, while the Sao Paulo graffiti twins, Os Gemeos, painted their cartoon characters on an adjacent wall the size of a drive-in movie screen. (The other on-site artists were Tatiana Grinberg and João Modé.) Speaking of movies, one guest was Wendy Keys, former director of the New York Film Festival. During a lull, she let on that George Clooney’s Edward R. Murrow biopic, Good Night, And, Good Luck—“Better than you’d think!”—will be this year’s opening night feature, and Catherine Corman, documentarian daughter of horror-flick honcho Roger, enthused about her forthcoming book and film about Joseph Cornell.
But on this night, any of the 700 attending glitterati who do not, as a rule, enjoy watching auctioneers work were out of luck, as Simon de Pury was all the show they were going to get. With diners trapped at ten-, twenty-, or thirty-thousand-dollar tables awaiting the spicy risotto-and-beans main course, de Pury suddenly appeared at the center of a dance floor painted with a bright Assume Vivid Astro Focus-style swirl (also by PaulaGabriela) and began a live auction that would top off the evening's take at just over a million dollars. (The event was underwritten, as usual, by LVMH, but where oh where were the hedge-fund zillionaires?)
Wielding a microphone in one hand and a toy gavel in the other, the ebullient Phillips chief darted about the tented dining pavilion extracting involuntary bids from invited guests like yours truly, for whom he thoughtfully (and loudly) bid up the chance to have a LeLabo perfume named after me with $7,000 I didn‘t know I had, until (thank God) a genuine buyerWhitney Contemporaries’ Lisa Anastosgave the final nod. More astonishing was the $110,000 that a woman no one seemed to know parlayed into a private commission for a “video portrait” by Bob Wilson himself. (At de Pury's request, Richard Perry, a benefit co-chair and the underbidder at $100,000, got one too.)
Left: Andrew Kreps and Simon de Pury testing Charles Kaisin's expandable plastic “K-Bench.” Right: Richard Meier and Louise MacBain (Photo: Patrick McMullan/PMc)
Wilson introduced these glacially paced videos last year, with Mikhail Baryshnikov dressed up as St. Sebastian. This year‘s example, on view in the silent auction tent (where unique chairs by Charles Kaisin or Fernando & Humberto Campana could be had for a song) was a video of Isabelle Huppert as the spitting image of Greta Garbo as photographed by Cecil Beaton. One can only imagine the potential makeup for Richard Perry. Perhaps if he poses with his wife, Lisa, they can be Avedon’s Duke and Duchess of Windsor?
One table that de Pury did not stray anywhere near was that of his onetime gal pal, publishing magnate Louise MacBain, who seated former Sotheby‘s chair (and now ex-con) Alfred Taubman to her left and architect Richard Meier to her right, while David Salle and Ralph Gibson held down the far end. Oddly, there were several empty seats at Wilson’s table, one of them vacated by Larry Gagosian, who left during cocktails. Still, with Annalise Soros, Calvin Klein, Veronica Hearst, Christophe de Menil, Bob Colacello, and Claudia Cohen there to keep Wilson company, no one really seemed to care.
Left: The Extra Action Marching Band performing at Galapagos. (Photo: Annie Sundberg) Right: “La Contessa,” the Band's Spanish galleon, at the Burning Man Festival.
The Extra Action Marching Band is a thirty-five strong troupe of Bay Area drum-and-horn hellions who play an aggro blend of Balkan brass music, New Orleans second-line funk, and primeval Moroccan trance, preceded by a raunchy flag team that marches, bumps, and grinds in corsets, hot pants, and pasties. They have graced the prestigious Guca brass band festival in Serbia, sailed the playa at Burning Man in a self-built Spanish galleon, and rocked the Hollywood Bowl with fan and colleague David Byrne. They incite near-riots wherever they go, and may be some of the best public art available in our chastened century. So when the band came to Galapagos in Williamsburg to kick off the final run of their “Eastward Invasion” tour, I needed to be there.
After an opening set by the local Hungry March Band, which is more musical but less explosive, Extra Action snake into the room. The band members bring in da funk in more ways than one. After three weeks living and touring in an already pungent Green Tortoise bus, Extra Action smells, um, powerful. Their heady stench acts as a kind of aromatherapy time-machine, transporting the audience to an earlier, bawdier eraElizabethan times, saywhen public drunkenness was common, instruments were acoustic, and showers didn’t exist. In the narrow, sold-out space, there is simply no escape from the all-sensory assault of these lascivious minstrels. David Byrne cowers at the back of the room, unadvisedly wearing all white. I take a musty pom-pom to the face, the flag team’s sweat permeates my clothing, and, straining to turn my head, I notice my female cousin receiving an unsolicited colonoscopic close-up from a thong-wearing male dancer named Roky.
After a riotous, deafening set that includes a version of “Back Dat Azz Up,” a horn player opens the door to the adjoining empty room that used to be the venue’s performance space. Both marching bands start playing and pour into the room, followed by the entire audience. Chaos ensues. Byrne, smiling, head-nods to the merged bands’ spirited version of “Kalashnikov,” a popular Balkan stomper. The lights are turned on and off, whether by the staff or the band I’m not sure. I look back through the open door to the now empty bar area, where the bouncer is reading the riot act to trombonist Ben Furstenberg. The music is so loud that I can’t hear what they’re saying, but I imagine Furstenberg explaining artistic license and Althusserian subjectivity as the enraged mook screams, “Shut your hole and get them the fuck OUTTA THERE!” Apparently sensing an impasse and abandoning further discourse, the bouncer re-enters the fray, trying in vain to get individual musicians to stop playing, a Sisyphean task that, in my view, only adds to the unhinged glee of the moment.
Meanwhile, the manager ascends to the soundboard deck and turns on a mic, pleading with the throng to vacate the room. Someone good-naturedly yells “Fuck off!” Clearly, the manager anticipated this gambit. Without missing a beat, he shouts, “That’s right, you can fuck me in the ass, but you still have to leave!” The line is such a bold departure from standard managerial rhetoric that the crowd actually honors his request, politely filing back into the bar/stage room to continue the revelry.
This is not to say there isn’t more trouble afoot. Returning from a cigarette break outside, I’m nearly bowled over by the now apoplectic bouncer forcibly ejecting Extra Action drummer Mutt Mule, just caught in flagrante delicto with two ardent fans in the bathroom. A petite woman in a green dress chases the fracas with a digital videocam. For a tour documentary, I wonder? For a lawsuit? Who cares? Least of all Mutt, who’s back inside twenty minutes later to rejoin his bandmates.
The Defense Department’s research into the “sleepless soldier” notwithstanding, the human body can only deliver total mayhem for so long. So it is with Extra Action, who can’t possibly top the continuous climax of the past two hours with a grand finale. Instead, they wind down like battery-powered cyborgs. Eventually, the flag team collects their sweat-soaked pom-poms from the rafters; dancers slither their way from table-tops to the floor, where, exhausted, they nibble at random ankles; audience heads are removed from flag-team crotches. The band slows to a mournful dirge and peters out, leaving Galapagos in a state akin to the aftermath of a Dionysian neutron bombnothing damaged, but with obvious traces of a massive blast of energy radiating everywhere.
Left: The Fabulous Pontani Sisters. Middle: A detail of Os Gemeos's mural. Right: Artist Steve Powers hanging signs in the Dreamland Artist Clubhouse. (Photo: Shane Brennan)
“This is Jeffrey at his finest,” announced Steve Powers, a.k.a. ESPO, assessing the Italian dinner served up in honor of the Dreamland Artist Club, Powers’s urban beautification project which, for the past two years, has recruited mostly New York-based artists to create signage for Coney Island businesses, concession stands, and arcade games. To celebrate, Jeffrey Deitch and non-profit Creative Time teamed up to throw a real “island party” in Brooklyn. Held in the sprawling Gargiulo’s restaurant (whose outdoor mosaics and plaster fountains have a new addition, Dreamland’s crowning achievement: A 130-foot-long mural by São Paolo artist duo Os Gemeos), the festivities included a fez-wearing tiki band and three performances by the World Famousand elaborately headdressedPontani Sisters. “This song goes out to all the tiki girls in the audience, all the mermaids, all the sea goddesses,” purred the marimba man into the microphone before the Pontani trio hit the floor in leopard-print turbans (one of three sets of headgear, including the pièce de résistance: masks of Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin haloed in white ostrich feathers). Table-hopping began almost as soon as the antipasti-, calamari-, and tortellini-stocked buffet opened, with Anne Pasternak, artist and ex-Warhol assistant Ronnie Cutrone, and Jeffrey himself playing musical chairs in the empty seat to my right.
With tortas on their way, cocurator Alexa Coyne took me down Surf Avenue and through the arcades to see the freshly painted art signs. Os Gemeos’s mural adorning the rear wall of the restaurant, painted over the course of three weeks in May, is this year’s most ogled addition. (The artists, Brazilian twins, reportedly didn’t even pause for meals.) The mural, a “Coney Island fantasy scene” according to Coyneincluding, of course, an ascending mermaidwas entirely created using tiny aerosol cans called “aliens” that had to be specially imported from the West Coast (thin, spidery lines define the graffiti style known as Pixãcao in São Paolo). Next door to that fairground landmark, the Coney Island Museum, Powers and gang have opened the Dreamland Artist Clubhouse, which functions as a sign shop, information center, and hangout. “It’s mental,” mused Coyne, who has spent so much time in Coney Island recently that she began to have nightmares her ashes would be scattered there. “It’s like having a contemporary art gallery on Coney Island.” By now the dinner guests were drifting over to the brightly lit clubhouse and the evening fair-goers were growing curious. Stopping in front of Powers’s “ass, gas, and cash” lightbox, one football-jerseyed local asked Powers what was inside.
Left: Artists and CreativeTime and Deitch Projects staff enjoying friendly competition. (Photo: Shane Brennan) Right: Artist Steve Powers and Alexa Coyne.
“It’s a sign shop.”
“You have, like, t-shirts?” the man asked, searching.
“No, we make signs.”
“Will you make me a sign?”
Powers was thrilled. “It’s a situationist comedy,” he said, half to me, half to no one in particular. Indeed, interaction with the Coney Island community is the project’s first mission. “At first people thought it was a scam,” but now, Powers attests, “they know we’re here for a duration. They know we’re a presence here.”
“Party in the sign shop!” exclaimed Peter Eleey, last year’s project producer, as more people wandered in and gawked at artist Matt Wright’s grocery store-inspired paper signs wheat-pasted to the clubhouse walls and ceiling. Powers scrambled on top of a cartoonishly larger-than-life “counter” (Wright and Powers plan to keep the shop/information booth open for business through Labor Day) and began taking photos of the crowd, while artist Mimi Gross stepped inside with her granddaughter Sara, who was grasping an enormous bouquet of helium balloons snagged from the waning festa italiana back at Gargiulo’s.
With midnight approaching and a long train ride back to Manhattan ahead, I realized I had better try my hand at winning some of the Dreamland art prizes at the arcades before it got too late. I fumbled through the prize list to see what I should try for. To my disappointment, the handsome Sol LeWitt silk scarves at the “Balloon Water Race” were all gone. But I did score a limited-edition stuffed toy by Los Angeles duo Dogg + Bone after a heated test of water gun marksmanship pitted me against an extended family of bedraggled day-trippers and a couple of fellow art-hungry dinner guests. After losing to a mom who took home a jumbo stuffed Stitch (Disney’s huggable surfing extraterrestrial), I finally won a round. The attendant, sizing me up, automatically reached for the “art” prizes and handed me a “Doggpony”a dog with a pony’s head. I wasn’t even given the chance to turn down Stitch.
Left: The crowd at the reception. Right: Ann Lamcombe and Richard Meier. (All photos: Jimi Celeste/PMc)
“I like the maid’s room, Richard” says a visitor, one half of a ballerina-and-polo-player-beautiful-couple whom architect Richard Meier is guiding around apartment 4B in his latest residential tower, 165 Charles Street, overlooking the West Side Highway. In a dark corner of the windowless little chamber is a video projection of shivering digital flowers. This turns out to be art by Jennifer Steinkamp, courtesy of Lehmann Maupin Gallery. There’s a faint whirr from the projector fan. “Well,” Meier says gently, “that’s a closet.”
Still, the closet is so well proportioned, with its frosty glass door, ebony-dark hardwood floor, and glinting hardware, that one could almost imagine living in there, domestically-employed or otherwise. (Especially with that digital projector for company.) That’s the point of this just-completed sixteen-story glass and white-steel edifice, the triplet of the pair of towers at the Hudson River end of Perry Street that Meier designed in 1999. While the apartments in those buildings were left as raw concrete and glass shells ready for customization by a brace of boldface names, 165 Charles has been designed down to the doorknobs by Meier, a consummate modernist known for his ability to create that fastidious calm attained only through exhaustively worked-out details. On a humid Wednesday evening, a party brings a hundred guests through the fourth floor model apartment, where halogen and sunset highlight the high-end touches in what is, according to the Vignelli Associates-designed pamphlet, “an environment that is truly a work of art … the first residence in Mahattan completely designed by internationally acclaimed architect Richard Meier.”
The designer is at this moment standing inside said work of art, surveying the good-looking crowd as it glides past the Miesian chaise in the living room. With his elegant black suit, luminous white shirt and hair, and black visor sunglasses, he evokes a convex Karl Lagerfeld. “The place looks bigger with furniture and people,” he muses, although the sublime floor-to-ceiling horizon views across the Hudson must help, too. Is it good to see another of his white towers bloom along the West Side Highway? “Three is better than two,” he says. How about even more towers, a miniature modern metropolis on the waterfront? The Modulor numerologist in Meier pauses to consider. “Maybe five. Not four.” Perhaps the fourth building in the story is already there: The Westbeth, that vast former industrial building just two blocks north, legendarily renovated by Meier into artists’ lofts in 1967-70, at the start of his career. In some ways it remains everything 165 Charles is not. In other ways, it is very much the same; both buildings feature erudite Corbusian forms brightly alighting on the grey surfaces of this dirty town. “Even Jane Jacobs liked it,” Meier says of the Westbeth. “You couldn’t do it today.” But today, of course, the idea of loft living has found its way from artists’ studios to the mainstream, even to apartment 4B. “These rooms have the same kind of scale and proportions,” Meier notes, “You don’t have to be an artist to need light and air.”
Back out on the sidewalk, in fading light and evening air, another apartment 4B visitor, an artist in a Bauhaus jacket who has lived in Westbeth since it opened, gazes up at 165 Charles’s new silvery facade, and out at the deepening claret sky over New Jersey. He won’t be drawn into the creaky topic of past versus present, art versus commerce. “The Westbeth was fine,” he says, “this building here is fine.” He looks over at the water and remembers, “There used to be the elevated highway here, three stories up. You couldn’t see the river. They had this corrugated metal fence between the piers. People used to curl up the corners of the metal and go through the dark to the water’s edge and have sex.”