“Juanita, slap Fidel!” “Now, everybody DANCE!” Stumbling out of Andy Warhol's film The Life of Juanita Castro, 1965, into the blazing lights of an art fair café has to be one of the more jarring art-into-life transitions I've ever made. The film is being screened in a program selected by London’s cerebral art world playboy Cerith Wyn Evans for the mostly very interesting and well-selected “Artists Cinema” space organized by London-based nonprofit LUX and Frieze Projects. Throughout the Warhol film, which followed screenings of work by Ulla von Brandenburg and Kurt Kren, Evans wriggled with glee as if he was about to spr?ng from his finely ta?lored threads right into Ronald Tavel's lap. Who could blame him? I'd waited ten years to see this film again, and it didn't disappoint.
Giddily rehashing some of the better lines from the film, I head off for camping of a different sort. I approach the khaki confines of Andrea Zittel's hiking club, Interlopers HC, a tent-within-a-tent. Evidently art-fair visiting is the new aerobics: Many of the projects organ?zed by Polly Staple for Frieze this year involve a considerable amount of hiking, walking, and other calisthenic activity generally uncharacteristic of the London art world, despite its artists' penchant for psychogeography (other official perambulators ?nclude Martha Rosler, Richard Wentworth, Isabella Blow, plus Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda, while, off-site, Francis Alÿs's “Seven Walks” were presented by Artangel). But it seems that I have missed the last hike of the day led by the elaborately costumed Interlopers. No Baudelairean botanizing down the aisles for me, so I venture forth toward my preferred means of exercise: lifting a glass of champagne.
Left: Frieze Art Fair Artists Cinema curators Tirdad Zolghadr and Ian White. Right: Isabella Blow with artists from Andrea Zittel's Interlopers Hiking Club.
Every time I walk into five-star London institution Claridge’s I vow to discover the means of retir?ng there someday. Slipping into the stately dinner organized by gallerists Maureen Paley, Matthew Marks, and David Zwirner, I startle at the thrum of energy that accompanies a large gathering of the great, the good, the gifted, and the very rich. After a pleasant, but brief, reunion with Los Angeles collector Doug Inglish and MOCA's Ari Wiseman, I scan the high wattage crowd, which ranges from artists like Wolfgang Tillmans and Andrea Gursky to Tate top brass Sir Nicholas Serota and Sheena Wagstaff, from former Minneapolitans Douglas Fogle and Richard Flood to Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs (conspicuously not acting like Ronald Tavel), and, for that matter, practically every American collector I can think of, from LA MOCA board member Michael Sandler and his wife Brenda to Chicago museum patrons Howard and Donna Stone.
Although tempted to linger at this very dignified affair, my champagne buzz spurs me past Maureen Paley's twinkly-eyed director Dan Gunn, out of the hotel, and down through Berkeley Square to heed the siren call of the paparazzi at the newest (and most glamorous) incarnation of Nobu, home of tonight's Cartier dinner in honor of Frieze Projects. I arrive just after Zaha Hadid, and see each fold of her Miyake drapery illuminated by the flash-popping of the publicity pirranhas. Once safely inside, after a drink in the company of almost every artist whose name has recently graced a major art magazine, I am thrilled to discover that I have been seated next to off?c?al Conceptual Conversationalist Ian Wilson. Talk about top ten dinner party companionshis banter with gallerist Jan Mot kept me in stitches. After a spirited evening of chit-chat and incredibly delicious, slippery, citrusy, sumptuous gastronomic delights, I head east for a nightcap in decidedly less glittering surroundings.
The Joiners Arms, a down-at-the-heels East End gay pub whose opening hours are more convenient than those of most London establishments, is not itself tonight. The usual crack whores and pool-playing speed freaksand the art-fag elite who love themhave been largely replaced by aspirational international art youth celebrating itinerant London gallery Man in the Holocene, New York's The Wrong Gallery, and more, and who prance, dance, and drink desperately before last orders. I decide it's time to head home in order to be alert enough in the morning to appreciate Chrissie Iles's brilliant program of Thatcher-era film and video back in The Artists Cinema. Featuring the work of underknown British activist-artists like Stuart Marshallwhose film Pedagogue, 1988, is part of a body of work that makes him broadly comparable to Gregg Bordowitzthe screening seems a perfect occasion on which to consider the fate of bottom-of-the-barrel gay pubs in a very bullish market.
Left: Rena Bransten Gallery director Walter Maciel. Right: Collectors Jean Pigozzi and Anita Zabludowicz.
Having now visited the ~scope art fair in three cities, I report with confidence that a hotel bathroom is not an ideal setting for viewing art. Of course, participating in ~scope, which sets up camp in hotels near major art fairs, is far cheaper than renting a booth at Frieze (not to mention easier than getting past the latter’s selection committee), and arguably more convenient, since at the end of the day you can go right to sleep in the same room in which you show your wares. So eighty galleries, from San Francisco stalwart Rena Bransten to unknowns from out-of-the-way cities (Mantova? Cachan? Kitzbühel?), signed up for this iteration, hoping that an official nod from the Frieze publicity materials, in addition to a new, sleeker location (no floral wallpaper to compete with the art), would bump visitor numbers and sales.
The tube delivers me early Friday afternoon to St. Martin’s Lane, a boutique hotel that gained some notoriety for its Philippe Starck-designed interiors when it opened a few years ago. My artist companion and I can take or leave Starck’s efforts, but we agree that the variety of room layouts and the abundance of natural light streaming in from large windows make our tour a more palatable experience than expected. I manage to arrive within an hour of the opening, and, in one room, overhear Anita Zabludowiczenthusiastic collector, museum patron, and proprietress of a soon-to-open kunsthalle in Kentish Townasking fellow collector Jean Pigozzi, “Isn’t this fun?” (I would have expected to see both at Frieze, not ~scopeobviously a good sign for the fair’s producers.) She then inquires about the price of a small, charming Julie Heffernan painting and, when told it was “fifteen,” immediately announces she’ll buy it. The dealer repeats the sum“Fifteen thousand, not hundred”and Zabludowicz just as quickly retracts. I was surprised by the price, too. One doesn’t often encounter such steep rates at the ‘outsider’ fair; maybe the dealer had a premonition about who would show up.
Most galleries present a succession of small- to medium-scale paintings and works on paper; monomaniacally obsessive photographic self-portraiture, often featuring nudity, is also alarmingly prevalent. I have to give kudos to Mark Moore Gallery, which is presenting only one work, a (site-specific?) room-sized cardboard sculpture by Christopher Tallon that benefits from a mirror on one wall, and to Rokeby, a London gallery I had previously known only by name and which showed dozens of two-dimensional works (by Claire Pestaille, Kathrine Aertebjerg, and Zoë Mendelson, among others) that managed to make a virtue of their diminutive stature.
On Saturday, the dealers at Frieze who raked in cash from collectors on Wednesday and Thursday are paying penance by fending off hordes of commonersI mean sightseers. I decide to absent myself from the melee to take in the Zoo Art Fair, another alterna-expo, sponsored by Zabludowicz and her husband (along with others, including dealers showing at Frieze) and now in its second year. One could argue that the best part of this fair is getting there, as the trip involves a lovely twenty-minute walk through Regent’s Park towards the London Zoo, where the booths are housed in function rooms in two separate pavilions. The fair engagingly mixes a few non-profits into the group of upstart, mostly East End galleries that act as anchor tenants, and manages to evince “consistent quality” (in the words of one biennial director I flag down near the Apes & Monkey cage)which, alas, cannot be said for ~scope.
Left: One of Andrea Zittel's hikers at the Zoo Art Fair. Right: Rodolph von Hofmannsthal, Melissa Bent of Rivington Arms gallery, artist Annabel Mehran, and Thomas Hanbury in the Dicksmith Gallery booth.
One reason for this consistency might be the fact that when a gallery or organization is accepted, as Zoo exhibitions manager Alec Steadman informs me, they are welcome to their slot for three successive years: the fair as incubator. One European curator I speak with expresses concern that such young organizations are squeezing themselves into a narrow, overly commercial presentation model when they should be out experimenting. Indeed, a few of last year’s inaugural participants, like Hotel, Kate MacGarry, and the ever-more conspicuous Herald St., made their way quickly across the green lawns to Frieze. But others just schmoozed and went home, to reappear this year. Most of the dealers seem to be under thirty-five, and their bloom of youth gives Zoo a bit of a kids-playing-dress-up feel.
Part of this playhouse ambiance might be derived from the fact that the dealers settle into spaces that are probably smaller than the linen closets in the gracious homes where they hope their artists’ works will end up. (This didn’t stop one gallery from lending a corner of its teensy booth to the New York concern Rivington Arms, a gesture you certainly wouldn’t see under the slick white tent across the way.) The aisles aren’t much wider than a sidewalk, so once again smaller artworks and the lone pristine installation (a telephone-activated artwork by Carey Young in IBID Projects’ otherwise empty booth that was, regrettably, not working during my visit) make the greatest impression.
I was most taken with two tiny, dark, somewhat Netherlandish paintings by Edward Kay at Dicksmith Gallery, which were offset by Veronica Smirnoff’s equally small, colorful whirling-dervish icon paintings in The Great Unsigned’s booth next door. Also impressive were Jamie Shovlin’s watercolor copies (at Riflemaker) of ‘70s-era Fontana Modern Masters paperbacks. The artist has developed an idiosyncratic ranking system for the fifty-eight brainy tomes to “grade” them according to aesthetic and intellectual impact. Since I’ve visited three separate fairs and innumerable other art spaces in five days, this strikes me as being most helpful.
Left: Martha Rosler at the outset of her tour. Right: Peter Saville and Darren Flook in the Hotel booth.
Curated by the indefatigable Polly Staple, Frieze Projectsan intensive program of specially commissioned events for the Frieze Art Fairtypically serve to countervail the atmosphere of rapacious consumption in the Regent’s Park big top. This year, though, an “if you can't beat ‘em, join 'em” spirit seemed to prevail, judging at least from Matthieu Laurette’s What do they wear at the fair?, one of a number of walking tours on the Frieze Projects itinerary. In its first iteration (a later version would be led by Isabella Blow), on Friday afternoon, the tour was organized around three dealers’ booths and was led by legendary graphic designer and style authority Peter Saville. A snake of twenty-five people followed the stubbly laidback Mancunian as he meandered through the aisles to visit his friend Darren Flook in the Hotel stand. Darren and Peter proceeded to chat about who one dresses for as a dealer: your artists or your collectors? Darren conceded that here it was mainly for the latter: “No one’s going to be happy giving you £5,000 if you look like you’re going to spend it on crack.” After a brief stop at Klosterfelde, the tour wound up at the Herald Street stand with Nicky Verber and Ash L’Ange. Both were sporting virulently garish hues and confessed that Artforum publisher Knight Landesman, himself no fan of understated neutrals, was their model. Peter wanted to know if London was more stylish than Basel, and the boys said indeed it was: “Here the collectors read Vogue rather than Artforum.”
I was a bit perplexed by this event, but its value became clearer the next day during an interview I conducted with Laurette, Martha Rosler, and the critic Alex Farquharson for 104.4 Resonance FM. Laurette isn’t really interested in the specific detail of punters’ wardrobes, but rather in parodically overidentifying with the fair’s self-promoted image as a cool event and celebrity magnet. Clothes are not what you’re supposed to be looking at when touring the booths, but of course you do. Rosler’s tour also drew attention to what shouldn’t be seen: the toilet attendants, the organizer’s office, the planning department, the catering manager, and so on. Her behind-the-scenes investigation (for which participants had to wear yellow security vests) was perfect foil for Laurette’s fashion foray: ground-coffee grit versus cappuccino froth.
What were they wearing at the Stockhausen lecture? The composer and two musicians were clad in celestial white—half Laboratoires Garnier, half heavenly multitude. The demonstration of flutter-tongue sprachgesange microtones on an alto flute was completely thrilling, even if the full-blown tempest raging around the flimsy auditorium tent clearly annoyed the performers. They should have attended Tom Crow’s lecture the next day, which focused specifically on the competition between artists and their “envelopes” (i.e., the institutional frames). Crow cast the narrative of institutional critique as one of competition in which artists and architects jostle for the viewer’s attention. The lecture was consummate art-historical storytelling, but the mixed reactions to it rippled through that evening’s conversations: Was Rothko’s chapel really the progenitor of “institutional competition”? Was it wise to end the lecture with Cattelan? Wasn’t Crow open to gender critiqueall those macho artists who cut and drill, the only exception being Andrea Fraser’s G-string-clad grinding to the Bilbao Guggenheim audioguide?
French philosopher and art-world darling du jour Jacques Rancière was Sunday's heavy hitter. He was nervously agitated in his conversation with the unflappable Brian Dillonbut his exposition of the innate relationship between the politics of aesthetics and the aesthetics of politics was incredibly concise and cogent. The theory is way too complex to outline here, since it relies on the precise articulation of a very specific vocabularya precision that led Rancière to work up his sentences via small and stammered repetitions to make his point. En route he discussed the Pompidou's “Dionysiac” and the Walker's “Let's Entertain” exhibitions, offering no final judgments but pointing out contradictions in their rhetoric. The audience warmed to Rancière as he got down to specifics, and he seemed to loosen up in response.
An hour later I strode back into the auditorium tent for a discussion about the absolute with '60s conceptual dinosaur Ian Wilson. The seventy-seven-year-old Wilson, clad in a mausoleum-gray suit, his cranium intimidatingly large, took to the front of the auditorium with a microphone. He began by presenting a syllogism about the infinite that ended with the conundrum, “How can we have this awareness of the absolute in a world that seems so finite?” He spoke in such a slow and lulling way that I immediately became aware of the absolute desire to nod off. Various people chipped in to the “discussion,” including one of Andrea Zittel's knitwear-clad hikers, who asked Wilson to clarify what he meant by the absolute. Wilson responded to this intervention, as he did to most of the contributions, with a pause and a “Yes … thank you … I'll have to think about that.” I began to suspect that this was no discussion but a carefully planned performance. Scanning the room for help, I noticed David Lamelas, Laurette, Nicholas Logsdail, and the Frieze editorial team frozen in various stages of hypnosis and/or cynical disbelief. It was exactly how I'd always imagined an introductory Scientology workshop. Nevertheless, there were quite a few people ready to sign up for future sessions of Wilson's intellectual Pilates, including a smitten collector in the front row who had doubtlessly already bought the certificate proving this discussion had happened. Wilson wrapped things up after one hour on the dot and wafted out like a wraith.
Now pleasantly numb to the frenzy of the fair, I drifted to the Royal Academy of Music for a performance by Henrik Håkansson. Or rather, for a performance by a birda Eurasian goldfinchwhose contractual rider apparently stated that the audience should be seated at least fifteen minutes before he appeared onstage. The academy's auditorium was a fantastically overblown setting for the gig, featuring pompous Victorian portraits and chandeliers festooned with golden trumpets. On stage were four microphones surrounding a leafless branch, spotlit to receive the avian diva. But the real event was in the rest of the room: a thirty-strong professional film crew manning an elaborate setup of cameras, microphones, mixing desks, and a lighting rig (a single night's insurance on this equipment was rumored to cost £20,000). It was rivetingnot least because having a small animal performer threw regular concert protocol into crisis. (Should one clap when he appeared?) Finally the lights dimmed and a young woman in a sequined strapless evening dress walked onstage to put the birdie on the twig. Everyone held their breath; the only noise was the whirring of the 16mm cameras and the shuffling of the film crew, intent on rolling the camera down a track to zoom in on the feathered star. We waited for it to sing. Then we waited some more. Recordings of birdsong were played as a prompt, but the creature refused to perform. So we waited some more. It was by turns electrifying and banally Cagean. Eventually the bird did a poo. The cameramen changed the reel of film. The bird went for a walk along the branch and fell off it. A handler (the birdyguard?) sprang onto the stage to put it back on the branch. Time stretched immemorially; two more reels of film were changed. Finally, the girl collected the bird, and we applauded. I felt devastated. This was the most poignant allegory of entertainment and spectacle I have ever seen: attention and expectation; the machinery of stardom, nature, and culture; the refusal to deliver. Absolute genius andthrough the bird's ostensible failurethe most decisively trenchant success of the fair.
Left: Urs Fischer's work at Eva Presenhuber's booth. (Photo: William Wintercross) Right: Jay Jopling and Ydessa Hendeles.
The other day, on my glamorous daily bus commute down Hackney Road, I noticed a new sign on the Mecca Bingo complex: Play Bingo NOW! I have never thought of bingo as an imperative, but upon entering the seething opening of Frieze Art Fair number three, it occurs to me that Mecca’s management might have clocked a new cultural trend: “I’ll be at Anton Kern, D-SIX!” a fur-lined New York collector screams over her shoulder as she beats a path to the John Bocks. “Have you heard about the Jenny Saville?! It’s at Gagosian . . . I think it’s D-9!” cries another art tourist as she blithely tramples my right toe. Her Manolos are no match for Gwyneth Paltrow’s stealth stilettos, however, which reportedly spirited the actress down to Matthew Marks (C-8!) for a closer look at the David Armstrongs.
The fair’s Monopoly board map seems bigger this year, but there is no shortage of international collectors to fill it. Last year’s Frieze Art Fair sold £26 million worth of loot and more than doubled the previous, inaugural year’s attendance, and judging from the frenzied pace of the opening, it looks like all the participants, from A-1 (London’s Paragon Press) to G-18 (Istanbul’s Galerist), are set to keep their accountants busy in the coming weeks.
But Frieze prides itself on being an “artist’s fair,” so, champagne safely in hand, I decide to ignore the spreadsheets and jump into the slipstream of jovial London-based artists Enrico David and Josephine Pryde. David’s work is the star of London gallery Cabinet’s booth, one of the most engaging in the fair (it also features Bonnie Camplin, Gillian Carnegie, Will Benedict and Lucy Dodd, and a hell’s-a-poppin’ 1986 painting by David Wojnarowicz). Enrico’s sprawling wall collage Bubble Protest, 2005, merges Oskar Schlemmer and Hieronymous Bosch in a mechanical orgy of figures gorging themsleves, farting, and expelling their “dissent” into empty speech balloons.
Left: Claudia Schiffer. Middle: Paola Pivi's 100 Chinese, 1998, at the Wrong Gallery booth. Right: Zaha Hadid. (Left and middle photos: William Wintercross)
As we start off down the aisle, Mark Leckey, another Cabinet artist, emerges decked out in yachting wear for his cultural cruising: Navy Acquascutum blazer with gold buttons, grey trousers, blue shirt, extraordinary beige suede shoes, and a cravat designed as an edition by Enrico for über-savvy Galerie Daniel Buchholz from Cologne. Long live the British dandy!
As aerodynamically coiffed fashion matriarch Suzy Menkes sails by, Enrico enthuses about a Rosemarie Trockel work at the Gladstone booth, sewing up my realization that the art world has suddenly become very fond of needles. At Franco Noero, Caligulite Franceso Vezzoli collapses Josef and Anni Albers in his clever needlepoint Homage to the Squarethe Remake, 2002–2005. Massimo De Carlo pairs a beautiful Aligiero e Boetti embroidery with a recent Christian Holstad floor sculpture, and Galeria Luisa Strina has a poignant bit of stitch-witchery by the fascinating Brazilian artist Leonilson. But the current apex of this particular art format the Frieze Fair, at leastcomes from High Desert Test Sites’ prolific knitting enthusiast Lisa Anne Auerbach. Imported to London from California as part of a caravan that includes Andrea Zittel and the Interlopers Hiking Club, whose elaborately costumed activities were commissioned by Polly Staple for Frieze Projects, Auerbach is layered in her own knitted creations, such as a skirt whose pattern was determined by the Department of Homeland Security’s alert codes.
As usual, Los Angeles’s acclaimed youngsters are well represented at the fair, and having heard some hype rippling across the Atlantic already, I’m particularly struck by Sterling Ruby’s work at Marc Foxx. Gritty photo-collages that cannibalize images of his sculptural and installation work and two eerie ceramic peace symbols that put a pleasantly psychedelic spin on Lucio Fontana’s sublime ceramic sculptures snap me right out of my champagne stupor. Foxx is joined at the fair by several other Los Angeles galleries, including Blum & Poe, China Art Objects, ACME, Patrick Painter, and Peres Projects (who also recently launched an outpost in Berlin), but Regen Projects is conspicuously absent again this year, as are other strong California contenders like Richard Telles and David Kordansky. Whether they were too hip, too poor, or simply off the Frieze radar, one hopes they might find their way into the tent next year.
Left: Angela Choon and David Zwirner. Middle: Grayson Perry (Photo: William Wintercross) Right: Jeffrey Deitch and Dakis Joannou.
Judging by the goods shipped over from the opposite coast, the Counter-Reformation to New York’s Gothic High Renaissance might (finally) be at hand. A turn to a new, more cheerfully baroque dawn materializes in David Altmejd’s glittering work at Stuart Shave’s Modern Art and in Amy Gartrell’s flowery Victoriana at Daniel Reich. The baroque is also in high gear in Pablo Bronstein’s elegant architectural drawings at white-hot Herald Street, one of the many London galleries pushing up the UK representation at the fair this year.
Despite showing a stunning black folding screen at Berlin’s Galerie Neu, Tom Burr also seems to have left the darkness behind, in two knock-out white sculptures, both invoking Truman Capote, at Stuart Shave and Franco Noero. The whiteout continues at Eva Presenhuber, whose booth is decidedly the fair’s showstopper. Ugo Rondinone’s sculpture Thank You Silence, 2005, dispenses paper snow that accumulates quietly on the floor while passersby gape through massive holes in the walls left by Urs Fischer’s Matta-Clark style Middle Class Heroes, 2004.
Framed by Fischer’s cuts, glamorous collector Candida Gertler glides into view. Gertler is indeed a hero, having initiated the Outset Contemporary Art Fund, which whipped up the £150,000 Frieze Art Fair Special Acquisitions Fund for donations to Tate’s collection. This year’s purchases, selected by LA MOCA’s Paul Schimmel and the Musèe d'art Moderne de la Ville de Paris' Suzanne Pagé, include a performance work by David Lamelas and Deimantas Narkevicius’s engaging film The Role of a Lifetime, 2003, both from the amiable Belgian dealer Jan Mot. Daria Martin’s Close Up Gallery, 2004, a hit at this year’s ICA Beck’s Futures exhibition, was plucked from the East End’s astute Hotel gallery, and work by Stanley Brouwn, Anri Sala, Matthew Monahan, Zoe Leonard, and Alexandre da Cunha rounds out the list.
Left: Art Institute of Chicago curator James Rondeau. Middle: Sadie Coles HQ gallery director Pauline Daly and Gavin Brown. Right: Artist Terence Koh with Peres Projects Berlin gallery director Scott Weaver.
While a crowd gathers inside the Hotel booth to view the Daria Martin film, the aisle outside is at a standstill as the heaving hordes pause to watch a performance beginning down the aisle. Evidently, Santiago Sierra and Artur Zmijewski now have company in the emerging genre of Exploitation Art. The Wrong Gallery is presenting Paola Pivi’s 100 Chinese, 1998, in which a phalanx of fifty Chinese people of mixed age and gender, all sporting identical grey shirts and blue trousers, is wedged into a small white cube next to the fair’s tony restaurant and left to gaze out at their audience. Art commerce has vociferously embraced the notion that “the twenty-first century belongs to China,” but when faced directly with the hard stare of destiny, some collectors were shifting their feet uneasily.
While legendary duplicator Sturtevant sent out a card via Anthony Reynolds Gallery stating that she would be doing nothing at the fair between the hours of 19:00 and 21:00 on October 21 “in honor of appearance and temporality,” Elmgreen & Dragset are presenting a double act of a different sort. They’ve staged a facsimile of their Berlin dealer Martin Klosterfelde’s booth directly next to the original, complete with a Klosterfelde doppelganger, identical Matthew Antezzo paintings of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, plus duplicate, editioned works by Kiersten Pieroth, Dan Peterman, and Christian Jankowski. Allegedly, the impersonator playing Klosterfelde also played the German journalist in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Before all of the galleries start multiplying, I escape the fair with ever-ebullient Danish artist Kirstine Roepstorff, who was commissioned by fair sponsor Deutsche Bank to produce a work for their sleek VIP lounge. We brave the wilds of Notting Hill for a dinner at faux-rustic gastropub The Cow in honor of Elmgreen & Dragset, who have recently returned to the Old World after inaugurating their stint as Prada proprietors in Marfa, Texas. After feasting in the pleasant company of the ICA’s Jens Hoffmann, The Power Plant’s Reid Shier, Peres Projects’ Scott Weaver, and The Serpentine’s Rochelle Steiner, Kirstine and I notice at least three of the other guests have begun to take on the physical characteristics of Martin Klosterfelde, so we make haste for the White Cube party at sketch, hoping that it won’t be filled to the rafters with Tracey Emin replicants.
Amidst the hair pulling, elbow jabbing throngs at the entrance and rumors that even Sam Taylor-Wood has been denied entry, we slide surprisingly quickly into the hallowed, sticky-floored confines of the Mayfair club. All eyes are on flannel-shirted Julian Schnabel and his strapping, identically dressed son, but I make a bee-line for more champagne in the all-white disco suite, where I am quickly surrounded by gyrating members of German art collective hobbypopMUSEUM, some of whom nearly tumble onto the sofa occupied by Paula Cooper’s director Steve Henry and the Judd Foundation’s Madeline Hoffmann. I assemble a small army to advance on the stair-Nazis blocking our entrance to the amber glow of the top floor. We finally ascend into the gilded chaos upstairs, sliding by Andreas Gursky and Nina Pohl on the stairsbut urges of responsibility quickly begin to nudge my sybaritic tendencies into submission and I return home to rest before another busy day under the Big Top.
Left: Gabriele Schor, Margarethe Szeless, and Jeff Wall. Right: Marian Goodman and Agnes Fierobe, director of Goodman's Paris gallery.
Wednesdayby my count day three of the Frieze Art Fair, though the official opening was still twenty-four hours awaywas, for all intents and purposes, Jeff Wall Day. The London art world kicks into high gear for the fair, determined to show the droves of international collectors a good time. Indeed, in its third year, the ostensibly four-day fair has already metastasized into a week-long bacchanal that would, if not for the prospect of sunny Miami just ahead, beg the sobriquet “Fall Break.” In the midst of the madness, Jeff Wall's retrospective at Tate Modern provided an anchor and a tonic, reminding us what all the commotion is about in the first place: The art.
Festivities began early in the day, with a luncheon in the private upstairs dining room of the Ivy, a bastion of decent English food since before such a thing (strictly speaking) existed. Hosted by the reigning grand dame of New York dealers (and Wall's longtime agent) Marian Goodman, the party was en famille, the assembled company numbering a modest fifty or so. Wall is an artist who mounts major retrospectives the way most artists visit Pearl Paint, and the curators working on current exhibitions alone could have easily filled a table. They all came, naturally, with the notable exception of Peter Galassi, who is heading up the forthcoming MoMA retrospective. So did Maja Oeri and her husband Hans Bodenmann, Oeri in a seat of honor beside the artist. The Tate's Sheena Wagstaff, curator of the show, had his other ear. Oeri's Basel Schaulager (the literal translation is "show warehouse” but the real meaning, those who have visited will attest, is closer to “ideal exhibition space”) hosted the first leg of Wall's two-city tour earlier this year, in a hang as capacious as Wagstaff's is focused. Wall connoisseurs will have endless fun attempting to retrace the steps of the latter’s tutored decision-making and testing her edit against their own biases and inclinations. Everyone else will simply savor the artist’s achievement, which speaks so eloquently in this new hang.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. . . . Also on hand at the Ivy were maverick Toronto-based collector/curator Ydessa Hendeles, early Wall supporters and ever-prescient Cologne dealers Jörg Johnen and Rüdiger Schöttle, and, as Suzy would say, on and on into the afternoon. Lunch was Champagne, lobster, and chocolate soufflélots of Champagne, in fact. As the artist was fashionably late, cocktails dragged a touch, something I was still thanking the maestro for at 4 p.m., when I stumbled upon a full coffee pot at the Portman Square manse that provided the pleasantly decrepit site of Francis Alÿs’s “Seven Walks,” an exhibition commissioned by UK nonprofit Artangel. It was thanks to a reminder from Artangel co-director James Lingwood (who’d been within speaking distance at lunch) that the show made it onto my afternoon roster, but it was serendipity of a more cosmic sort that provided the subject of the body of work on view. I can do without the tables laden with documentationespecially those lists, which repeat on today's viewer like a ‘70s meal. There's lots to be said about old Conceptualist feints and how they do and don't work in the presentbut far be it from me to sully Scene & Herd with art speak. The walks (and that lone fox loosed in the museum) are, of course, pure poetry.
With a couple hours to spare before the 8 p.m. Wall preview at Tate Modern, we decided to squeeze in a few gallery openings. The rain was coming down in buckets, as they say, so my colleagues and I impersonated guests at the Hyatt Motor Court across the street (aesthetically humbling but better than a nasty cold) and the porter secured us a cab.
Jack Pierson's portraits at Alison Jacques looked good. A latter-day St. Sebastian, buff but knife-scarred, with a tough-and-tender Latin mien, was described in the press release as something along the lines of a universal symbol of pain and suffering. Since when, I wondered, do universal symbols wear asset-enhancing 2(x)ist briefs? “I know. I thought about retouching the waistband,” Pierson mused. “But,” he added pointedly, “I didn't.” A quick stop at Stephen Friedman, where one of my colleagues was anxious to touch in on Claire Barclay’s opening, left us but minutes to grab a pre-Wall bite on the fly.
Clarissa Dalrymple, glimpsing us through the bistro window, ducked in to tempt us on to a party and “ice bar” hosted by her chums Sadie Coles and Barbara Gladstone. But we had already decided: This was Wall Day, and we’d vowed to get to Tate Modern during the private view “and really see the show.” Before Dalrymple slipped back out onto Heddon Street, my other colleague complimented her on her ”butch trench,“ which she explained was by ”Michel Majerusone of those Belgians." She meant Martin Margiela, we decided. How many favorite people in the art world did you say we were allowed?
Late for Tate, despite the best laid plans. But not too late, and our purposefulness was rewarded. If the Basel hang was gratifying in a more-the-merrier way, the Tate show was restrained and focused. These works are “pictures” after all, and they are often shown to their best advantage in smaller, more enclosed spacesthat is, in "picture galleries.” The difficult but rewarding black-and-whites were given full play despite the honing that was demanded elsewhere. If this show’s procession of dazzling rooms does not send you back to the fairgrounds in search of the Wall of tomorrow (or today, should your wallet be thick enough), nothing will. The room that revolves around the Tate's own A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai) was breathtaking, the gallery of horizontal landscape panoramas was right and tight, and the room of late-ish work that hinges on the Caillebotte-conscious Overpass showed off a rather difficult batch of works like they have never been shown off before, as Goodman remarked to me (and she should know, since she stared at them for a month plus when they were first exhibited in her gallery). On my way out, I poked my head into the colorfully lit and massively crowded party room in the Cafe downstairs, but just as I did so a ringing in my jacket pocket reminded me that it was time to get myself home before my carriage turned into a pumpkin.
It’s that time of year again. Several thousand specimens of international art trash and flash have descended on London for the Frieze Art Fair. The first site of infestation was the Turner Prize exhibition opening at Tate Britain Monday night. What work was visible through the swarm of bodies revealed what seemed to be a surprisingly evenly matched line-up. Simon Starling, the local favorite, chose to obstruct the first room with his vast ShedBoatShed (Mobile Architecture No. 2), 2005, a shed that became a boat and then, you’ve guessed it, was reassembled to become a shed again. After maneuvering around this wooden hulk, you encountered his sequence of uber-conceptual and elegantly understated photography and text-based recursive systems. (Starling is famous for having ninety-word titles that take two paragraphs to explain, so I’m not even going to try.) Next up was Darren Almond with a four-screen video installation featuring Super-8 footage of his granny looking wistful alongside loops of a ballroom and the annual seaside lightshow catchily known as the Blackpool Illuminations. What with the plinky music, this was a somewhat sentimental entry, but a welcome reprieve from his ongoing Auschwitz fixation. The gloomy paintings of Gillian Carnegiethis year’s token painterlooked surprisingly OK, although this may have been due to the homily I received from Enrico David on her dynamically scatological use of impasto. A small painting of a luscious female derrière seemed to prove David’s argument, but Rosalind Nashashibi was having none of it. (“That bum is nothing to do with poo.”) The final room contained a trash-Pop playroom by Jim Lambie. In 2003 the Neo-Op Scot had filled Tate Britain’s Duveen Gallery with a massive multi-colored floor piece that, if crossed too hastily while drunk, could induce epilepsy. This year’s installation was tame by comparisonsilvery-black tape in cross-hatchings on the floor, topped by kitsch sculptures of giant birds, one of which was carrying a mirrored handbag. Fine if you like LSD visuals or need a totem against avian flu, but conceptually on the weak side. I headed for the bar (tooth-rotting sloe gin Bellinis) and eventually left with a crowd of artists and a handful of miniature bottles of gin courtesy of Gordon’s, the show’s sponsor. Their generosity immediately backfired as everyone went straight to the local pub and ordered crisps and tonic.
Thirteen hours later and I was back at Tate Britain, this time in the role of external witness to the Tate’s acquisition of Tino Sehgal’s This Is propaganda, 2002. For those of you living under a rock, Sehgal’s totally ephemeral work cannot be photographed or videoed, and thus cannot be “sold” in the conventional sense. Like all of his immaterial “situations,” it has to be transmitted verbally in the presence of a notary. The bemused lawyer, myself, seven members of the museum’s staff, Sehgal, and his two deadpan dealers sat around a table for ninety minutes while the “oral contract” was hashed out. Witnessing the precocious Sehgal negotiate the intricacies of legal jargon while the museum fretted over invisible sub-clauses was almost an artwork in itself. (Is it possible to show the work simultaneously in all four Tates and have it on loan?) When the moment finally came, Tino’s performative enunciation of the transfer of conceptual goods and their price was strangely thrillingnot unlike wedding vowsuntil I recalled his injunction the previous evening (“You have to be active! This is not passive spectacle!”). The gravity of historical burden kicked in: I have to memorize the six conditions attached to the Tate’s purchase in case I ever see them contravened. The longevity of this information surely stands in direct relation to my consumption of gin miniatures at Tate openings (institutional critique, c’est moi).
Performance loomed large again that evening. After swinging by Dietmar Lutz’s show at Emily Tsingou’s new gallery in King’s Cross, I figured it was time to pay a visit to the Gelitin boys at Gagosian. After signing a disclaimer at the entrance, I climbed up a step-ladder, sidled along a thin wooden corridor, and descended to a mirrored changing-room-cum-chill-out lounge where I exchanged my trousers and trainers for a white towel. From here it was a case of splashing through a cold and revoltingly flooded floor (carpets and cardboard bobbed underfoot), past a barrage of stained mattresses, to emerge into an abject water-garden for gay tramps: A ceiling-high mountain of crappy old furniture supported a splashy waterfall, while a large pink figure of an arch-backed male with a vast erection spouted yet more water onto a pathetic collection of plants. “Here,” announced our guide Cerith Wyn Evans, full of blissful appreciation, “they have challenged themselves to make the ugliest sculpture in the world. I think they are very close. Up there is the bathroom, a wonderful piece of engineering with see-through pipes.” Does it take solid performances? One of the gentle Gelitins intercepted before Cerith could answer. Half-naked, his cock nudging through a green plastic Hawaiian skirt, he encouraged us to experience the sauna, a knobbly green homemade pod fuelled by boiling water. As I inserted half of my body into this fearful sweaty capsule I felt an instant surge of claustrophobic nausea. The idea that you could get seven people in the pod was fascinating and slightly erotic, but on balance mostly repellent. Another Gelitin happily removed his underwear (miniscule, with a knitted appendage) and leapt inside. He emerged five minutes later, beatifically gleaming with sweat. Meanwhile Cerith had changed into his performance gear (Wellies and a resplendent pair of Y-fronts emblazoned with the tackle of Michelangelo’s David) and handed us a plastic cup of Ice White, a chemical impersonation of cider whose rancid bouquet made the installation’s heady dank stink of old furniture seem marginally more appealing.
Fearing the onset of pneumonia, I quit the puddly Gogo ahead of Cerith’s performance (an experimental Fluxus-style number involving a cello) and headed to the Lisson party for Rodney Graham and Lawrence Weiner. This was a bit of a staid downer after Gelitin’s multi-sensorial wonderland. Weiner was austere business as usual, but Graham pulled off a mariachi band to accompany his wonderful 35mm film of a spinning chandelier. Upstairs was a bar, surrounded by pub-style mirrored portraits of Rodney with a pint glass. But having supped on the toxic miracle of Ice White earlier, the evening had already peaked. L’Autriche douze points, Allemagne dix, Canada huit.
I arrive at the Saturday night opening of Jonathan Horowitz’s show “The New Communism” to find a sign at the front desk that reads, “Under the New Communism, phone calls to Gavin Brown’s enterprise will be answered by Gavin Brown himself.” (I discover a few days later when I call the gallery to ask a question that this isn’t entirely true; an assistant picks up, as the proprietor is, of course, in London for the Frieze Art Fair.) For some time now, Horowitz has explored ways to reinvest Pop iconography and conceptual strategies with contemporary social and political content, for instance in “Go Vegan,” his last New York outing, at Greene Naftali. (Horowitz has since left Carol Greene for Brown, and this is his first solo show at the buzzing “enterprise,” where his boyfriend Rob Pruitt is also on the roster.) For “The New Communism,” Horowitz has fashioned variations on the American flag, the most piquant being Three Rainbow American Flags for Jasper in the Style of the Artist’s Boyfriend, the boyfriend in question being Horowitz’s and not Johns’s, whoever that lucky guy may be. The checklist proves invaluable for interpreting many of the works (all dated 2005). “It’s actually more effective in describing what the show’s about than the actual press release,” Brown’s director Corinna Durland says, and the artist’s mother is overheard complaining that there weren’t enough of them at the desk. But even without the list, visitors readily identify references to postwar American art throughout “The New Communism”: “There’s the Hans Haacke” (Contribution Cube [Greencross]), or “the Baldessari” (The Medium is the Message, earth, pigment, and linseed oil on hemp), or “the Ryman” (The New Slavery [22 Hours of Illegal immigrant labor],” graphite on cotton), etc. I really like “the Tuttle/Ryman”—Untitled (Support Art About Nothing and Maintain the Status Quo) a grossly enlarged white vinyl sticker recalling the “special-interest” ribbons for AIDS, breast cancer, JonBenet Ramsey, whatever. “I wanted the work to be legible,” Horowitz comments. “I don’t ascribe to the belief that if you can make sense out of something it isn’t art.”
From Brown’s outpost on Leroy and Greenwich streets, I taxi “uptown” to the Jim Shaw show at Metro Pictures on 24th Street. Like most of Shaw’s work, “The Inky Depths/The Woman in the Wilderness” is immersed in Mondo Bizarro Americana, and as such makes for a nice pendant to the graphically and conceptually crisp “problems/solutions” posited in Horowitz’s “New Communism.” The densely layered installation of drawings, paintings, and sculptures is more than I can readily consume at a sticky opening, so I head to the after-party at Hiro, where I’m told that I’ve just missed what a colleague describes as “a classic Helene Winer moment.” Winer, who runs Metro with Janelle Reiring, usually evinces a charming acerbity and decidedly non-touchy-feely style. A little girl of the crazy-cute-demon-seed variety was frenetically darting around, bothering people. Winer crouched down to face level with the child: “We don’t talk to children. We don’t even think they’re cute. We’ll talk to you later, if you grow up to be interesting. What do you think of that?” Winer then resumed adult posture while the child, pensive for a moment, put a finger to her lip, and answered, “Well, it doesn’t hurt my feelings, but it does seem a bit harsh.” Winer: “It’s not personal. It’s more a global remark about kids.”
I return “downtown” for the Horowitz dinner in the spacious rooms above the gallery, where long tables have been set up for the guests and an aura of cozy bohemianism reigns. I stop in at the show again briefly to pick up my prearranged date for the evening, whereupon Mark Kostabi, who I wouldn’t think of as a GBE regular, waylays me. We enjoy some pleasant chitchat, and then walk out together. “Well, I’m going to dinner now,” I say awkwardly, and then enter the “special party entrance” to the side of the gallery’s public portal; Kostabi follows me, becoming my soon-to-be-unwelcome plus-two. It’s the usual convivial GBE crowd, with a few surprises besides my own. Chris Ofili, who recently left Brown for David Zwirner, is in attendance. They must still be friends—so adult! Spencer Sweeney, who had the previous show at GBE, is sporting sunglasses; evidently, he has taken Corey Hart’s song “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night” to heart. In just about any other human being this gesture couldn’t fail to annoy, but with Spencer it’s inexplicably charming. Today is Verne Dawson’s thirty-ninth birthday; chocolate cake is served. No dealers are in attendance, except eminent Parisian gallerist Yvon Lambert, who is showing at his Chelsea space Horowitz’s 2003 Silent Movie, a montage of scenes taken from sensory-impairment flicks such as The Miracle Worker, Tommy, and an obscure Joan Crawford vehicle, The Story of Esther Costello; a player piano accompanies the film with a medley of tunes from Tommy. I take a seat among Cecily Brown, Jacqueline Humphries, Clarissa Dalrymple, Rachel Harrison, Emily Sundblad—and Mark, who queries Cecily as to whether she’s a multimillionaire, and when she says no, declares: “I’m a multimillionaire, so you should be too, you’ve got so much more fame and credibility than me.” He proceeds to pull out a digital camera and starts snapping away at Brown, continuing long after his less-than-willing model asks him to quit and edging perilously close to paparazzo-terrorism.
All of this is makes me rather nervous. “This is all your fault, Rimanelli!” Gavin shouts at me. I shrug my shoulders. “Look Gavin, imagine the opening sentence of the next Scene & Herd: ‘Has bad-boy dealer Gavin Brown discovered a new artist swain, a certain Mark Kostabi? Such were the rumors percolating at his dinner for Jonathan Horowitz….’” “David, you might not leave this party alive.”
Three standing ovations, buffeted by extended applause from several hundred loudly cheering people, were not enough. Constant hugs and smiles from the assembled artists were not enough. Laudatory speeches were not enough. Even with the entire history of modern art rising to the occasion, none of it was enough to express the tender and powerful feelings that Elizabeth Murray inspired in her friends and colleagues on Monday night, at the “family” reception for her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.
“It's serious but not lugubrious,” said a giddy Rob Storr of the exhibition, which was more than ten years in the making. In fact, it is exuberant. Next to a world that seems in greater peril every day, it is a welcome sight in every way. “Uplifting,” many said, while every single guest seemed stuck on the same phrase: “I'm so happy this is happening!”
Indeed, the opening provided rock-solid proof of what is most attractive about the art world: the artists who band together in it. And when they include whole constellations of luminaries like Jasper Johns, Richard Serra and Brice Marden, PaceWildenstein mates Chuck Close, Alex Katz, Joel Shapiro, Lucas Samaras and Kiki Smith, and inner circle buddies Jennifer Bartlett, Jan Hashey, Ellen Phelan, Robert Moskowitz, Francine Prose and Murray's first dealer, Paula Cooper, all eager to hand the spotlight to Murray, life takes on a warm and fuzzy glow. At dinner every table had at least two artists, Cindy Sherman and Pat Steir, for example, Robert Gober and Sarah Charlesworth, or Gregory Crewdson and Fred Wilson, with Joan Jonas, Keith Sonnier, Vija Celmins and Terry Winters nearby. How many people could have taken this crowd, with its writers, trustees and curators, and made what could have been a stuffy dinner in MoMA's cavernous lobby feel like a marshmallow roast around the old hearth?
Not that many.
And how often are this many people this happy to see someone else get the credit?
Not that often.
Quickly correcting Glenn Lowry's observation that Murray was the first grandmother to get a MoMA showan erroneous impression disseminated by The New York Times (which evidently cannot accept the idea that a woman can create tremendously inventive paintings without making her achievement sound quaint), Storr then stuck his foot in it by calling Murray an “artist's artist,” a limiting characterization that distressed more than a few guests.
Storr recovered nicely but then seemed to depart from his prepared remarks as if they weren't good enough, letting one thought trail off to pick up a new one, only to abandon that and find himself lost in an anecdote about Luc Tuymans and Chris Ofili discovering Murray's work only last week. (Oh, well. What's a retrospective for if not the next generation?)
Finally, when Storr came to the part about the house of Matisse and Picasso putting out the welcome mat for Murray, he simply let go and broke down. As he wiped away the tears, you could sense the years it took and the battles fought to get the show, his swan song at MoMA, on the boards. Aggie Gund, Storr's chief ally and the retrospective's principal sponsor, was no less emotional in her address. “It's impossible for me to stay calm and quiet in front of Elizabeth's work,” she said. “Art like hers makes life worth living.”
It's no secret that Murray has spent the better part of the last year fighting both lung and brain cancer, continuing to paint all the while. The two new works that end the show, Do the Dance and the still-wet The Sun and the Moon (both 2005), almost literally pulsate with rhythm and color. She is clearly a hero to everyone who knows her, though that was the case before she fell ill. Surrounded by her children, Dakota, Sophie, and Daisy, and her husband Bob Holman, Murray was positively regal throughout the night. “I'm so happy you're here,” she kept saying to all who came.
She made that museum look great.
Left: Julie Verhoeven and Elisabeth Arkhipoff. Right: Steve Bassett and Eric Grunbaum. (Photos: Alain Levitt)
The only other time I’d noticed Tokion, self-described as “the National Geographic for our pop culture generation,” was when the groovily designed flyers (fin de siècle by way of Haight-Ashbury) for their last conference at Cooper Union caught my eye and aimed it at a stellar lineup of art and media people. This year’s third annual chatfest probes “Creativity Now,” and the line-up is no less impressive. Saturday afternoon, I caught two back-to-back panels: “Iconic Advertising” and “Design & Grace.” Heading across St. Marks Place, passing stall after stall of punk tchotchkes, I appreciated the creativity now of stupid T-shirts (“What Part of Me-ow Don’t You Understand?”; “It Took Me 40 Years to Look This Good”). I also marveled at how people subject themselves to the dreary hazing of a panel: a mélange of schlepping, awkwardness, and singing-for-your-supper barely mitigated by the usually “modest” honoraria, oodles of flattery, and the fleeting comfort that you were invited and not your frenemy colleague (And yes, you have to go through the ordeal and not make an ass of yourself. Or worse, bore people to death—and be remembered as “dull in person.”) Who can resist?
“Iconic Advertising” served up Eric Grunbaum, creative director of the ubiquitous iPod ads, Steve Bassett, the brain behind the Geico ads, and Peter Wijk, who oversees the Absolut Vodka campaign. After fumbling with his laptop and being tech-rescued by an Asian woman, Grunbaum gave a cute presentation about his team’s process that was as smart (big surprise) as the ads themselves. But it was all downhill from there. Steve Bassett was a really monotonous speaker, dryly warning that his account was not as “sexy” as iPods or vodka. We learned the Geico team must “overcome two factorsindifference and inertiaand get people to shop” for car insurance. After droning on about “consistency” in the Geico campaign’s message about saving money, he told the squirming room of twenty-something freelance designers: “Now I’m going to show you eleven Geico ads we’ve run over the years.” Who knew how hilarious those Geico ads were? Bravo, mister. I almost revivified. Then it was the Absolut guy’s turn. From Sweden, he too was an excruciating mumbler. Between them, the combined mumble/drone lulled me into a state of anguished torpor. If you, reader, ever agree to be on a panel please, please, sir or madam, do not mumble. These people came to hear you. Not to look at you (OK, we came to do that too, but lacking significant eye candy or diverting oddity we’d like an audible soundtrack too). The best take-away thought was Grunbaum’s point that good ads are “simple and human. They’re not about how clever and creative you (the copywriter/ad genius) are.” The Geico ads cleverly succeeded by playing up how boring it is to even hear about their product.
Next was “Design & Grace,” moderated by Penny Martin, editor-in-chief of SHOWStudio, a website that mingles art and fashion. Laurent Fetis, slumped in his suit like a rumpled Jean-Pierre Léaud knock-off, is a super-groovy French graphic designer and video director who speaks English in a fluent mumble. His remarkssomething about Beck and Björkwere probably quite interesting. His occasional collaborator and co-panelist, artist Elisabeth Arkhipoff, seemed amused (that she was speaking English?) and giggled enigmatically into her hand. She and Letis conferred amongst themselves, which de-centered the panel, as did the ongoing slide show of the panelists’ pieces that book-ended the stage: neo-mod-looking rocker stuff, abstract graphics, magazine covers, elaborate bad girl-looking doodles. Beck’s giant head, from a recent album cover designed by Letis à la Milton Glaser’s Bob Dylan poster, flashed the audience like a revenant of hipness. The versatile Julie Verhoeven, “much in demand for her creative direction and whimsical yet savage drawings,” is British and, yes, a fast mumbler too. That left the happy-looking artist Jeremy Blake as the sole panelist who projected decently. Erg!
Dressed like a trooper in a black trenchcoat-dress, high black boots, and a tidy blonde bob, poor Martin had quite a workout here trying to generate a discussion. All the panelists are “multi-taskers,” as she put it, moving between different media (graphics, video, painting, fashion, film) and working with rock stars. Cool. A conversation finally happened when Martin raised the issue of professional “pigeonholing” that plagues artists, designers, and everybody else. She noted the shift from early-twentieth-century aspirations for usable, everyday design to today’s less utilitarian vision, asking, “Is the ultimate destination for a designer now to be shown in a gallery?”
“It’s an ambition for people who don’t know the gallery world,” said Blake. “And the artists all want to work with Beck. The best thing is to mix it up. There’s a danger for younger artists to be defined too quickly. Go away, do something else and come back,” he advised. “It’s dangerous if you let anyone give you a shelf life. Stay safe from letting one group of people representor misrepresentyou.” Good luck!
“It’s very important to do different things,” agreed multi-tasking Arkhipoff, whose dark green leather boots and sheer black hose were great with a grey blazer. “You don’t get bored. To reconnaisser [sic] to one thingthat to me [is] a big problem. I do a lot of different things.”
“In the west,” Letis mumbled vehemently, “after the end of avant-garde, you need to find a sticker [label]. If there’s a designer who works as a banker in Japanthat’s completely normale.”
“Everyone’s a DJ,” Blake cheerfully observed.
“Maybe in USA,” retorted Letis.
Left: Matthew Monahan, Lara Schnitger, Thomas Houseago, David Kordansky, and Amy Bessone. Right: Ivan Golinko, Michele O'Marah, and Violet Hopkins. (Photos: Tamara Sussman)
My faithful photographer and I arrive ridiculously early at the opening reception for the group exhibition “Both Ends Burning.” The show, at David Kordansky Gallery, is a reunion of sorts for four Los Angeles-based artistsAmy Bessone, Thomas Houseago, Matthew Monahan, and Lara Schnitgerwho all met, circa 1994, at De Ateliers in Amsterdam. This is the first local gallery exhibition for them (though Schnitger appeared in “Thing” at the Hammer earlier this year), and anticipation runs high. Walking into the densely installed gallery, I immediately sense the show’s confrontational tone, first in Schnitger’s tensile fabric sculpture Return of the Dodo, 2005, a yellow-plaid-and-fur monstrosity stationed at the gallery entrance, and then in Houseago’s massive acephalic plaster Giant, 2005. Kordansky is antsy, apprehensivein other words, his usual self. The young gallery owner is a study in contradictions, by turns charming and acerbic, confident and paranoid, funny and dead serious. Perhaps the tone of this assertive exhibit reflects his frequently evangelical sense of purpose. As we arrive, his mission involves carrying in cases of Budweiser.
A beer or two later, and an hour into the opening, the gallery is nearly emptyeven the artists have yet to show. (This is the only opening in Chinatown on this night, but there is a “bash” at the Hammer Museum, miles away in Westwood.) We goof around during the relative calm, posing Kordansky for a corny photograph in front of Giant, the gallerist mimicking the sculpture’s crossed arms. (Kordansky will later apologize to the artist for this “cheesy” photo op.) A young girl with a video camera earnestly documents the exhibition. Meanwhile I chat with Christopher Williams and MoCA curator Ann Goldstein, who shares some photos from her cell phone (Chris taking a photograph, Wim Delvoye with his dogs, andno connectiondog poop outside the couple’s own front door), and we all acknowledge the complicated layers of mediation at this seeming nonevent.
Much to Kordansky’s relief, the artistsand a wave of other peopleeventually show up. The “crazy” October heatmid nineties on this particular dayis still baking the evening air. Monahan, looking carefully disheveled like his sculptures made of crumpled drawings, and Houseago, a big, gregarious English dude, seem very warm, both in terms of demeanor and body temperature (they’re wearing jackets). Painter Olivia Booth succinctly describes the steamy gallery as a “Swedish lodge.” The space is now thick with humanity, including gallerists from Chinatown (next-door neighbor Daniel Hug and China Art Objects’ Steve Hanson) and abroad (Christian Nagel and Modern Art Inc.’s Stuart Shave), Kordansky’s former gallery partner Ivan Golinko, writer/performer Malik Gaines, collector Blake Bryne, and MoCA curators Michael Darling and Ari Wiseman, who is organizing a 2006 “Focus” exhibition of Monahan’s work. Also on hand are local artists Mark Grotjahn (who shows with Monahan and Schnitger at Anton Kern in New York), Kim Fisher, Michele O’Marah, Jeff Ono, Mindy Shapero, and Anna Sew Hoy. Kordansky works the dense crowd, handing out the handsome exhibition catalogue (the gallery’s first) and hot pink wristbands for the after party atbig shockerMountain bar.
Outside the gallery, I talk to gallery artists Will Fowler, Patrick Hill, Violet Hopkins, Mark Flores, and the inevitable scene-stealer William Jones, who excitedly describes his recent for-hire photography work on the set of a Vena Virago film for, um, mature audiences, using ever-more-arcane slang terms to describe his female subjects’ “alien” anatomies. As the crowd reaches critical mass, the Budweiser runs out: It’s time to move on to Mountain. Everyone is screaming in conversation as guest DJ Hopkins cranks some rather noxious ’80s “classics” (“Poison Arrow” indeed), and a very relieved Kordansky celebrates a successful opening with the artists, letting his guard down, if only for one brief, sweaty moment.
Left: San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, Dede Wilsey, and Pierre de Meuron. Right: A scene from the midnight Cirque du Soleil performance. (All photos: Thomas John Gibbons Images.)
The new de Young Museum, a smart, sexy, copper-clad edifice by Herzog & de Meuron, has international eyes on an institution that’s historically been more comfortable catering to its local community than to the global entity known as the “art world.” With the exception of conceptually-inflected new photos by Catherine Wagner, the opening exhibitions—an ancient Egypt crowd pleaser, Jasper Johns prints—weren’t designed to engender critical dialogue. It was the building itself, with its metallic façade and twisty, asymmetrical tower, that was thought-provoking. An opening weekend that featured a black-tie gala and thirty-one continuous hours of free admission to the general populace revealed that this is a museum still in the process of getting comfortable in its understatedly glamorous skin.
Both partiesthe gala and the thirty-one-hour free-for-alltested the limits of the building’s allure, and its capacity. The tickets to the black-tie affair, at $250 a pop, were so popular that the museum had to go back to the printers for more (the event was reportedly attended by three thousand people). The throngs were skewed to the local sixty-something opera-and-symphony set and their junior-socialite spawn. As far as I could tell, there were more gentlemen in kilts (an “ironic” gesture toward formal wear) than international jet-setters.
Desperate for a cocktail, I waited in the long lines at the libation stations, overhearing office gossip, finance chat, and one elderly gentleman with an apparently overactive hearing aid who complained that the rather subdued salsa band was “loud enough to be in a stadium.” Full glass of vodka in hand, I squeezed into the darkened main atrium, which was dominated by a large, rather Op art Gerhard Richter photo mural.
I spotted Okwui Enwezor of Documenta 11 fame, who recently assumed the role of dean and vice president of the San Francisco Art Institute. He seemed to be polling responses to the installation of the museum’s collection, which includes crafts, textiles, and artworks from Oceania, Mesoamerica, and Africa as well as American painting and sculpture dating from the eighteenth century to the present. The curators have mixed things up, in many instances installing works from different time periods and locales in the same gallery. Before I could weigh in on this eclecticism, Jacques Herzog sidled past. He seemed a bit prickly. That morning, in an interview in the museum’s swanky auditorium with architecture maven Aaron Betsky (whose silver hair was slicked back in a manner that made him a dead ringer for David Ross, his former boss at SF MoMA), Herzog wasn’t shy about expressing his unorthodox views on how art should be integrated with architectureessentially hinting that architects should be as active as curators in the installation process. He also expressed his disdain for parties—though, at the gala, he attributed his less-than-vivacious demeanor to health concerns. “Every time I come to America I get the fluit’s the air conditioning,” he said.
Left: Former mayor Willie Brown with Dede Wilsey. Middle: The new de Young museum. Right: Actor Peter Coyote.
I headed off to find some hors d’oeuvres, passing Ed Ruscha, who was chatting with former Monkee Michael Nesmith. Ruscha is one of the artists commissioned to make new work for the reopened museum, and his contributiontwo new panels added to his 1983 painting A Particular Kind of Heaven, which was already in the museum’s collectionwas prominently displayed in the main hall. While waiting in another long line for marinated calamari with San Francisco artists Enrique Chagoya and Kara Maria, I spotted Kiki Smith, who’d also contributed a specially-commissioned piece—a sculpture called Near, which hung from the ceiling in the Contemporary Arts and Crafts Gallery. She was wandering around alone in an empty gallery with a piece of fruit. “This is a little too much for me,” she said of the crowds. “I just want to eat my apple.” Meanwhile, Dede Wilsey, the firecracker fundraiser who pretty much made the building happen (and the wicked witch in her stepson Sean’s recent memoir), held court wearing acres of pale green ruffles and an emerald-and-diamond necklace of similar scale that had rival matrons tittering about her need of bodyguards.
The “Midnight Surprise” promised in the invitation turned out to be a Cirque du Soleil troupe performing in front of the Richter piecetwo Speedo-clad musclemen in copper body paint engaging in sinuous acrobatics, followed by a shirtless juggler. What would Gerhard think?
I headed back the following evening, post-midnight, to check out the free-admission scene. Despite the hour, the line looked to be a good mile long, but the vibe in the queue was pleasant enough, staving off worries of an Altamont-style melee of crazed art-lovers. There was a range of just plain folk, people still in their formalwear from the previous night, drag queens, drunk teens, art students, night clubbers, and insomniacs. Inside, the lights, which had been elegantly dimmed the night before, were up full, and there were DJs and rituals performed by members of the local Santeria community—not something you often see at art museum fêtes. When I left, at half past two, the line still snaked deep into Golden Gate Park, an auspicious indicator that the de Young had far exceeded the weekend box office projection of forty thousand visitors. Now they just have to keep ‘em coming back.
Left and right: Scenes from Pierre Huyghe's A Journey That Wasn't shoot. (Photos: Public Art Fund/Tom Powel Imaging)
It goes without saying that one must suffer for one’s art, but some of us prefer to suffer for other people’s art. And so it was that on Friday night a few hundred hardy, masochistic souls, myself among them, showed up in a downpour at Central Park’s (roofless) Wollman Rink, where a sequence for Pierre Huyghe’s film A Journey That Wasn’t was being shot. The film, which will debut at the 2006 Whitney Biennial (it’s not just for Americans anymore!), centers around a trip that Huyghe and some fellow artists took to Antarctica earlier this year. Having heard stories that the changes wrought by global warming were creating new topographies and strange flora and fauna in the region, Huyghe was intent upon locating a mythical creature said to live on an unnamed island in the Antarctic Circle. The Wollman Rink event, organized by the Public Art Fund in collaboration with the Whitney, was to be a theatrical evocation of the voyage, and footage of the performance would be incorporated into the film. The audience had been informed that Huyghe’s cameras would be trained on them, too. In other words, they’d be extras as well as spectatorsa taxonomic slipperiness that analogizes the project’s polyvalent status as a journey, a performance, a film, and a text narrative (publishedfull disclosurein last summer’s Artforum).
Pleased as I was to have the chance to step into one of Huyghe’s halls of mirrors, I was dismayed at the prospect of seeing myself, on a screen at the Whitney, dressed in a clear plastic hooded ponchonot a good look, unless you’re going for a Hobbit-by-way-of-Helmut-Lang effect. But so inclement was the weather that I donned one of the dreaded garments, which bedraggled Public Art Fund staffers were handing out. It was an otherworldly scene: The rink (a TRUMP property, as bombastic logos everywhere proclaimed) had been transformed into a shallow lake, dotted with faux icebergs and ringed by klieg lights, with skyscrapers rising through the mist behind them. Off to one side, beneath a canopy (not a part of the original set design but necessitated, to the artist’s reported chagrin, by the rain), an orchestra was cacophonously tuning. In front of this set were bleachers, which were already stuffed with people, all huddled in their plastic ponchos like so many futuristic Frodos. There were parents with children, young couples, a deputy mayor or two, and numerous art-worldersincluding Dia’s Lynne Cooke, the Fogg Art Museum’s Linda Norden, Marian Goodman Gallery director Rose Lord, and Whitney director Adam Weinberg and curators Donna DeSalvo and Chrissie Iles (who is co-organizing the 2006 Biennial with Philippe Vergne). Crew members rushed about, muttering into walkie-talkies.
Since the bleachers were full, I found shelter in an open-sided tent nearby. Tom Ecclesexecutive director of Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies and, until recently, director of the Public Art Fundmade a short speech, welcoming the audience and telling them “not to act.” Then the lights began to pulse, cameramen waded into the water, and the orchestra struck up an atonal tune (composed by Joshua Cody and based on data derived from the topography of the Antarctic island where Huyghe and company set up camp). Fog started to billow from a machine a few feet from me. Lots of fog. At first, it eddied delicately, but soon became so thick that I wondered if the machine was malfunctioning. As the music crescendoed, my vision became totally occluded; just as I began to have trouble breathing, the orchestra quieted and somebody yelled “Cut!”
Left: Linda Norden, associate curator of contemporary art at the Fogg Art Museum, and Artforum's Scott Rothkopf, cocurators of last year's Huyghe + Corbusier: Harvard Project. Right: A scene from the shoot.
I stumbled, coughing, out of the tent. Pushing through the crowd, I overheard someone saying, “Did you get a load of the penguin?” Penguin? I thought. I spied a colleague, who asked, “Did you see the penguin?” I told him I hadn’t seen anything and moved on, eventually running into another coworker, who said, “So I heard you didn’t see the penguin.” It occurred to mestanding as I was in the rain at Donald Trump’s ice skating rink among people who could speak of nothing but penguinsthat I might be in the grip of a hallucination. But it developed that indeed, a penguinan animatronic, albino penguin, to be precise, representing the aforementioned mystery creature of the snowy wasteshad made an appearance during the take.
I was looking for Huyghe, but he proved as elusive as his avian quarry. I did find Eccles, and spoke with him about the project, his last for the Public Art Fund. For him, A Journey That Wasn’t has been a gratifying swan song, the “grandest statement yet” in the Fund’s recent series of performative projects (with Alison Smith’s The Muster being another example). “We’re right in the orchestra pit of the city here,” he said. The film’s scenic designer, artist Marc Ganzglass, took a less exalted view, commenting, “We’ve been out here eighteen hours a day, all week, in this monster rain. It’s been a battle.” Others I talked to noted that, while the rain was good for the film’s atmospherics, it was bad for the orchestra’s instruments and for morale. But the hardest part was over and, Ganzglass correctly noted, “It looks great.” He also advised me, as the crew geared up for the second take, to look for the penguin atop the tallest iceberg, which I didkeeping my distance from the fog machine. Expecting a sort of Abominable Snowman with vestigial wings, I was touched to see a cute little thing, resembling an animatronic marshmallow Peep, waddling into view. Clearly, it was more afraid of us than we were of it. And given our outfits, who could blame it?
Left: Whitney Director Adam Weinberg (facing away), Raymond Pettibon, Melva Bucksbaum, and Raymond Learsy. Right: Artist Zak Smith.
Slumped on a bench behind the check-in desk at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 2004 Bucksbaum Award winner Raymond Pettibon and his small-but-perfectly-formed entourage appeared to be less than fully engaged by the Tuesday evening reception. And despite the $100,000 paycheck and solo show attached to the still fairly new biannual prize (currently the largest of its kind), it was an oddly subdued affair. The select gathering of perhaps fifty people included museum director Adam Weinberg, curators Chrissie Iles and Shamim M. Momin, trustee and award funder Melva Bucksbaum, and dealers Shaun Regen, David Zwirner, and Clarissa Dalrymple. Oh, and artist Zak Smith, a natural Pettibon fan. But many others appeared to have been put off by the miserable weather, the approach of Yom Kippur, or both.
The work itself was typical of the Hermosa Beach, California residentonce a denizen of the underground LA punk scenes whose entry to the mainstream was made official with a profile in the New York Times Magazine. On view were drawings combining surf and baseball influences with a parade of literary references that reach from the Bible through Henry James to Mickey Spillane. Fans will love them; others may find themselves lost (though perhaps pleasurably so) in a labyrinth of pictorial and textual feints. Also included is an animated video, the artist’s second, that draws on a familiar vocabulary of curling waves, onrushing trains, and desperate characters. But the results are less satisfying than his work on paper, perhaps because of his newness to the medium. Sidling out half an hour before the official end of the event, Pettibon and company evidently had their own ideas about a more fulfilling destinationmost likely the nearby dinner at Neue Gallery’s Café Sabarsky, the guest list for which had apparently been whittled down to about one hundred of the reclusive artist’s closest friends.
Left: Elyse Goldberg and Julie Saul. Middle: David Hershkovits. Right: Lorne Michaels. (Middle and right photos: Patrick McMullan/PMc)
Skeptical that wienerschnitzel would enliven the sullen Pettibon posse, I headed for the former wild west of Tribeca and the canteen that kicked off its transformation to the thirty-something haven it is today. The Odeon’s twenty-fifth anniversary bash could hardly have offered more of a contrast to the Whitney event. The venerable downtown culinary establishment was already crammed and bouncing at nine o’clock. “There’s, like, nine zillion people here. I’m having the time of my life!” one wild-eyed guest bellowed into his cell phone. A last-minute RSVP had left me steeling myself for velvet-rope negotiations, but I needn’t have worried; despite a bevy of list holders and some of the meatiest bouncers I’ve seen in a while, I breezed in unchallenged. Immediately whipping past me in the opposite direction was novelist Donna Tartt and suddenly I was in the middle of an aging but active crowd that could have been plucked straight from the pages of Bright Lights, Big City. (I kept an eye out for Jay McInerney but, sadly, can’t report a personal sighting.)
A marquee that extended onto West Broadway almost doubled the available partying space, and it took some minutes to complete an initial circuit. Flashbulbs popped, mirror-balls spun, and the DJ dropped another pop hit. I spotted dealers Elyse Goldberg (of James Cohan Gallery) and Julie Saul (of the eponymous gallery)two familiar art-world faces in a sea of who-knows-who interspersed with longtime downtown scenesters and Page Six stalwarts: Candace Bushnell, Fred Schneider, Lorne Michaels, Paper’s David Hershkovits and Kim Hastreiter, and Isaac Mizrahi. Goldberg explained to me that she’d been a regular at the restaurant for years. “Odeon never goes out of style,” she raved. “You can sit there for hours, unbothered, while looking for ex-lovers or big shots in the mirrors that hang above your head at forty-five degree angles . . . It was originally a cafeteria, cheap food for starving artists, an oasis in an otherwise desolate area. Hard to imagine now, especially with that chichi Bouley coffee-and-croissant white box across the street.”
Goldberg introduced me to filmmaker Bette Gordon, another regular who regards the eatery as “her local,” and Charlie Ahearn, director of the old-school hip-hop classic Wild Style, who filled me in on his current projects, which include a new series of short films to be screened on MTV. A few minutes later, a grizzled but ebullient Anthony Haden-Guest rolled up and introduced himself with a bow so low that he almost ended up face down on the floor. The quickest glance around registered any number of ludicrous outfits and ill-advised dance moveswhich, after the glumness at the Whitney, was something of a tonic. As I made my exit, Chris Noth, a.k.a. Sex and the City’s Mr. Big, walked in, and the evening was complete.
Left: The staff of Ballroom Marfa with the artists of “You Are Here.” Right: A view of the Chinati Foundation's outdoor dinner for 1,500. (Photos: Alberto Halpern)
We woke up Saturday morning in motel beds, adobe guesthouses, and dew-damp tents to find that the freak cold front had passed and the skies over Marfa, Texas, were back to their regular shade of blinding blue. Lone Star hangover or no, we were determined to catch all we could of the nutty blur that was the Chinati Foundation’s nineteenth annual Open House weekend. Boots on. Find burrito and coffee. Hit the streets.
The first weekend in October was not always the “Marfa Gras” it is now. Before Chinati founder Donald Judd’s death in 1994, Open House brought to this one-stoplight town each year Don’s favorite bagpiper and maybe a few score of his old friends. The event slowly gathered steam until 2000, when Chinati unveiled a massive and much adored Dan Flavin installation. In the five years since, every media outlet from W to the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times has anointed Marfa a hip art destination; accordingly, Open House has spilled over the foundation’s gate and into town. Chinati still picks the date, mails the invites, and lines up the biggest actsthis year, the marquee names included artists John Chamberlain, Tony Feher, and Maureen Gallace, as well as Yo La Tengo, in a performance presented jointly with Chinati’s new neighbors Ballroom Marfabut they’re not the only dance in town anymore.
Call it a Burning Man for the Riesling set. Last weekend galleries both perennial and ephemeral opened in every corner of Marfa, in garages, in an ancient grocery store, in buildings that were ruins only last year. “You just come and walk around and look at galleries,” the girl pouring coffee at the Marfa Book Company explained into a phone tucked under her chin. A black van cruised up Highland Avenue with the slogans GO JOHNNY CHAMBERLAIN! and FEHER #1, which set the sidewalk coffee drinkers to giggling. Sometime later a naked Texas Tech sculpture student Saran-wrapped himself to the awning of a furniture store.
Left: Artists Carol Bove and Adam McEwen after the opening at United Artists, Ltd. Right: Yo La Tengo on stage. (Photo: Alberto Halpern)
Well, it takes all kindsor, as Marge who clerks for the judge down at Marfa’s big pink courthouse is wont to say: “All God’s children were there.” In the Chamberlain orbit were Marc Glimcher and Andrea Boudonis of Pace Wildenstein and Pace director and Chinati board member Douglas Baxter, as well as Matthew Drutt of the Menil Collection. Whitney board member Beth Rudin de Woody was there, as was Feher’s dealers Chris D’Amelio and Lucien Terras. The Dia crowd, including founder Heiner Friedrich, director Michael Govan, and chairman of the board Leonard Riggio, was in town, too, no doubt gratified, or perhaps appalled, at what their early support of Judd’s lonely desert outpost had wrought. Friedrich beamed as he welcomed art pilgrims to view his collection of works from Andy Warhol’s “Last Supper” series; in a twist their creator would no doubt have appreciated, the larger-than-life Jesuses now beam blankly down from the wall of a former discount store.
Back at Chinati, Chamberlain’s complex and silly early foam works cried out to be squeezed; the artist himself, on the other hand, most certainly did not. The week before he’d given a comically gruff interview to The Big Bend Sentinel (“How did his crush car pieces come to be included in Chinati’s collection, the artist was asked. ‘Bribery!’ he barked.”), and he kept up the rascally swagger all weekend. Made to stand on stage Saturday afternoon and explain his work, Chamberlain was blunt: “All I do is make it,” he said. “If you can’t see it in what I’ve made, there’s nothing I can say.” That evening he showed up two hours late to a fireside chat organized by Judd’s children at the Block, Judd’s former residence, leaving the hand-picked crowd to crunch around the gravel yard downing nervous shots of Patron. Meanwhile, at the gutted Holiday Capri motel, Yo La Tengo performed for an enthusiastic crowd of college students and art-worlders from all over and Feher seemed to be everywhere, sharing a raspy laugh over the fan van. We were even allowed to touch the water bottles and webbed knots of weed-whacker line he’d hung in one of Chinati’s abandoned stables.
Left: Chinati Foundation exhibiting artist Tony Feher. Right: An installation view showing some of Heiner Friedrich's Warhol paintings. (Photos: Alberto Halpern)
On Saturday I wandered back over to Ballroom Marfa for a second, sober look at Larry Bamberg’s new work Sweet White Light of a Cream Colored Inevitable, just to confirm that the lurking yellow mound and its nagging flies hadn’t been some beer-fed fever dream. Equally haunting was Matthew Day Jackson’s mobile of a dismembered wooden eagle: I stared up at it to find a shriveled but defiant rattlesnake head staring right back. The sun fell on the railroad tracks somewhere even further west than Marfa, and I walked back downtown. At the new United Artists, Ltd., the clean lines of artworks by Carol Bove, Adam McEwen, and Seth Price basked in the golden light that came in through the former garage’s wide, west-facing door.
But as every year, the best show in Marfa was not at Ballroom co-founder Fairfax Dorn’s now annual house party, but at the packed lunch counters, the realtor’s stoop, or anywhere one could sit and watch the sparks jump the gap between Marfa’s opposing terminals of Is and Becoming. The gals at Sandy’s 7 to 11 were already gearing up for Halloween but took time out to decorate their store windows with posters of the Mona Lisa and American Gothic framed in orange tinsel. At Carmen’s Café, a table of out-of-towners waiting for their chips and chile traded flip sentences that began “I don’t think the locals appreciate…” or ended “…and that’s why Donald Judd came here.” Don himself watched the whole proceedings from one of Laura Wilson’s handsome photographs hung in the back of the bookstore, and he wasn’t telling. On the road out of town Sunday morning the rental cars stopped one by one at Elmgreen & Dragset’s new, and newly vandalized, Prada Marfa, now surrounded by a sea of tire-churned mud after last week’s rain. The graffiti had been painted over, the busted door re-hung and sealed up tight. New handbags, their bottoms slashed out, had been airlifted in to replace those the vandals had carried off. There’s a new alarm system now, too. When somebody breaks in, it calls New York.
Left: An installation view. Right: James Cohan, Maxa Zoller, Robin Cembalest, Yinka Shonibare, and Stephen Friedman.
The attendees at the Wednesday evening opening reception for “Yinka Shonibare Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection” at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum were distinguished by a preponderance of formal suits and pocket squares, silver hair and lorgnettes (alright, I made up that least detail, but it certainly wouldn’t have looked out of place). Clustered in the oak-paneled lobby, the well-heeled and well-behaved group made for a welcome change of pace from Chelsea’s beer-fueled mob scene. Museum director Paul Warwick Thompson and curatorial director Barbara Bloemink were both busy ushering trustees and other bigwigs around the boutique-ish Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery (once the music room of the historic Andrew Carnegie mansion), in which Shonibare’s picks were on display, while other staffers hovered around, periodically directing visitors towards the labyrinthine tented passageway that led outside to the temporary washrooms, a reminder of the museum’s current woes (rumor has it that plans for a seventy-five-million dollar underground expansion, announced only in February, were recently cancelled, and their design triennial has been pushed back so far that now it would properly be called a quadrennial).
In a pleasant divergence from commercial convention, the post-reception dinner was also held at the museum, in a large, elegant space that might have been designed with just such a purpose in mind. Among those who strolled through “Extreme Textiles: Designing for High Performance,” another (comparatively sparse but oddly fascinating) current exhibition, to reach the event were Shonibare’s charming partner Maxa Zoller, his New York gallerist James Cohan and London gallerist Stephen Friedman, Cooper-Hewitt curator Elizabeth Chase and irrepressible Art News executive editor Robin Cembalest. After thanking those who needed thanking, Thompson presented gifts to Shonibare, Zoller, and Chase. Neatly wrapped in silver paper, they set the party babbling with curiosity. (Shonibare and Zoller each received a plate designed by Constantine Boym exclusively for the museum; Chase kept her present demurely under wraps).
Shonibare was born in London to Nigerian parents, grew up in Nigeria, returned to London at the age of seventeen, and has been based there ever since. Not only a finalist for the Turner Prize in 2004, he is also an MBEa Member of the British Empire. There’s a certain irony to an artist known for exploring themes of colonialism and migration being valorized by the very system he critique. Gleefully characterizing himself as a “cultural hybrid,” Shonibare had taken obvious pleasure in interacting, Fred Wilson-like, with an institution whose collection includes numerous items reflecting an era with very different attitudes towards exploration and the “exotic.”
Though gentle in comparison to Wilson’s overtly political rearrangements, Shonibare’s exhibition, a meditation on travel that includes objects from Europe, Asia, and America and that spans the past five centuries, incorporates some captivating items, including an extraordinary array of bird and insect cages, and (one of the artist’s personal favorites) a “match safe” depicting a man astride an ostrich. Teetering above it all on stilts are Shonibare’s own sculptures of the museum’s eccentric founding sisters, Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, clad in late Victorian-style outfits crafted from the artist’s signature contemporary pseudo-African textiles. With several more sculptures and a new series of paintings on concurrent display in Chelsea, Shonibare himself seems to be enjoying a similarly elevated though comparably idiosyncratic perspective.
I expect to be offered psychoactive drugs and scalped tickets outside a concert. But an apple? Then again, the Barbican Centre’s concert hall is used by classical musicians, and this is a Monday night Matthew Herbert gigor, more specifically, a performance of the British electronica boffin’s recent eco-friendly platter, Plat du Jour. Someone has already pressed a complimentary copy of The Ecologist magazine into my hand, and the audience (gaunt metropolitan girls for whom the apple might be a little fattening and who say “dude” without a hint of irony, guys who work for hip-hop labels like Stone’s Throw and dish about “folktronica”) is plumped out by lots of clear-skinned kids sporting brown corduroy and white dreads. The apple, meanwhile, is guaranteed Englishunlike pretty much all the apples you get in English supermarkets, as the bandleader points out onstageand pesticide-free. When Herbert, mid-concert, exhorts everyone in the audience to take a bite at once, they make a big crunchy noise that he samples for future use. Most of the people in the audience have done this for him before: “Now it’s apple time,” he says. “Woo woo,” says the audience. Herbert stamps his white Wellies and congratulates us on our percussive skills while the two aproned chefs cooking stage right gaze out happily. Welcome to the Rocky Horror Ecology Show.
Herbert (no relation, so far as I know) is, along with San Francisco-based Matmos, electronic music’s premier materialist. On previous records he’s sampled the sounds made by household implements, the human body, and books by Chomsky and Michael Moore. Plat du Jour’s clattering polyrhythms and wandering chromatic melodies were built up from samples of foodstuffs implicated in the worldwide decline in nutritional standards allied to the pursuit of the corporate buck: Broiler chickens, Coke bottles, sugar- and salt-laced snacks endorsed by celebrities, etc. Its sonic structures correspond to statistics about excess and starvation: “These Branded Waters,” a track employing manipulated mineral water, is 5 minutes 30 seconds long because, says Herbert, “sanitation coverage is fifty-three-percent in Bangladesh.”
All very clever, but as the bandincluding a percussionist playing Pyrex jugs, Coke bottles, and raw eggs, and three people, the classically trained Herbert among them, manning samplersruns through the album for the final time on this tour, precious few heads are nodding to the beats, which makes you wonder whether the self-imposed constrictions have resulted in a dearth of thrills. (Herbert himself is jerking as if he’s being electrocuted.) Then again, it’s a seated audience and there’s a spectacle to be viewed on stage. The aforementioned chefs are continually preparing food, some of it to be samplednot meaning “eaten”and a fannot meaning “a person”wafts the scents out into the audience. (In previous performances they sampled everything; but, laments Herbert, “that took too long, and it didn’t always sound very good either.”) The scent of toast takes a long time to go away, as Scatman Crothers pointed out in The Shining. There’s also some grisly footage of supermarket chickens and microwave meals scrolling past on a screen above their heads. The best use of this is for the penultimate track, “Nigella, George, Tony, and Me,” in which the meal Nigella Lawson cooked for Tony Blair and George Bush during a state visit is run over by a Chieftain tank manned by a crazed-looking Herbert.
The audience goes nuts for that one, but they’re clearly expecting it: The whole affair has the feel of a self-congratulatory rite, the £20 ticket price a tithe dropped in the collection box for the privilege of reminding oneself how impeccably socially aware one is. That self-confirmation happens at all gigs, though. If, thanks to Plat du Jour, one goateed English hip-hop dude foregoes the burger-chain feedbag in favor of healthier fareas I did on the night train homeHerbert might fairly say it was worth it.
Marfa, Texas, home of the Chinati Foundation, Donald Judd’s sprawling museum, sits squarely next to nothing at all, a town of 2,500 residents that is accessible by rather spectacular desert highways and, more directly, by Lear jet. Recently, the town itself has proven to be almost as much of a tourist attraction as Chinati, enjoying a burgeoning reputation as an austerely chic, exclusive little contemporary art mecca. Craig Rember, the Judd Foundation registrar, put it well when he told me that Marfa is now a town where you can find Goethe at the local bookshop, drop $50,000 on some art, and spend $300 on supper but where it’s difficult to get a haircut or batteries. It’s also something of a surprise to discover a real estate feeding frenzy, where modest land parcels are being snapped upsight unseenfor immodest money.
My wife and I rolled into town at about eight on Saturday evening, just in time for the opening reception we were scheduled to attend forty miles up the roada walk to the deli by West Texas standards. After checking into our hotel, we floored it through pitch-black night to Valentine (estimated population: 160). We arrived to find an incongruous glowing box perched on the side of the roada small structure about the size of a taco stand. Behind its shatterproof, plate-glass windows were posh-looking high heels and handbags. There amidst the tumbleweeds, in the very landscape where Giant was shot, was a boutique displaying accessories from Miuccia Prada’s fall 2005 collection. Was this the inevitable apotheosis of Judd-effect gentrification? Not exactlyit was Prada Marfa, Elmgreen & Dragset’s new, permanent sculpture, produced by local nonprofit Ballroom Marfa and New York-based Art Production Fund (co-founded by Doreen Remen and art maven/fashion enthusiast Yvonne Force Villareal). It’s more or less a perfect, if small, replica of a typical Prada emporiumexcept it will always be closed.
About fifty people were kicking up some dust under a crystal-clear canopy of stars. Orbiting Villareal, who warmly welcomed us, was a varied collection of confused locals and New York artists poncing about, Chelsea style. A couple of bejeweled, well-heeled ladies, trumped up in safari gear, were overheard declaring their disappointment that some of the sexy stilettos were out of stock back in Manhattan. At the bar, Ronald Rael (who designed the structure along with Viriginia San Fratelli) pointed to a floodlight that had attracted a swarm of moths and exclaimed, “Look, Prada Mothda!” San Fratelli mentioned that the structure, though consistent with Prada’s sleek image, was made from adobe. Somehow, this humble material (which Elmgreen told me is used in sixty percent of the world’s dwellings) failed to give the structure a common touch. The Berlin-based artists have a knack for stashing things where you wouldn’t expect to find themthey recently installed an ‘80s-era subway station in the basement of the Bohen Foundation in New York’s meatpacking district. One can only wonder what undocumented immigrants, who regularly cross the border nearby, will think when they stumble across Prada Marfa dehydrated and frightened. It’s a kind of perversely weird welcome mat.
Cruising out of town the following afternoon, we decided to have a second look at the thing in daylight. Another informal reception seemed to be in full swing. Out of the back of a pick-up truck, cocktails were being served to some fancy-looking cowboys and a few people we’d seen at a charming party hosted by Ballroom Marfa’s, Fairfax Dorn the night before. Someone was passing around a bottle of absinthe as I chatted with Boyd Elder (the sometime rancher who used to supply The Eagles with “inspiration” and generously donated his land for this project). “Everything was running smoothly until the Texas Railroad Commission told me that the awnings were trespassing on their land,” Boyd told me. “But we figured it out eventually.” Elmgreen and Dragset looked mischievous hanging out by a local’s customized shit-kicker wagon/hearse adorned with an impressive set of bullhorns. It was a less-than-subtle reminder of where I wasa desolate patch of land in a state whose motto seems to make belligerence a point of pride. Someone, at any rate, apparently felt that Elmgreen & Dragset had messed with Texas. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the sculpture was vandalized: The words “Dumb” and “DumDum” were spray-painted on two of its outside walls, and six purses and fourteen right-foot pumps were stolen.
Left: A view of Tom Friedman's exhibition at Feature. Right: A scene from artist Lee Walton's “life theater.”
Legendary Feature Inc. director Hudson describes the “more inspired . . . larger jumps” in Tom Friedman's latest work as a function of “maturing, expanding one's consciousness, expanding one's thinking.” The delicate, precious (yet conceptually rigorous) new works crowding the modest space precluded the possibility of an opening party, and on the first day of the show connoisseurs and the curious alike were admitted by appointment only. Continuing his Wittgensteinian explorations into the nature of experience (with an Einsteinian bent), Friedman tinkers in paper, paint, Styrofoam, and stuffing, fashioning a universe of phenomenological phenomena. In contrast to earlier explorations (or experiments, as he would describe them), Friedman now combines a variety of his signature materials within single works.
My 4:30 appointment left time before Chelsea openings, so I downed a quick egg cream at neighborhood standby Empire Diner and then caught the C train downtown to see the shows at Art in General. Arriving just after six, I found the art-seeking crowds already beginning to file in to see the new exhibitions. In the ground level window space, artist Lee Walton had installed a “life theater,” where guests could sit on particle-board bleachers and watch the show unfold on Walker Street (the real spectacle, of course, was the guests themselves). Beyond its rather didactic interrogation of the spectator-spectacle relationship, the piece soon realized its potential as a “chill room,” though the mothers and babies and murmuring couples had to share their quiet time with some even more antisocial characters. (A thin man in an NFL baseball cap with an NYPD patch sewn on the back came in and muttered something about “stealing your souls” to an instantly wary audience before staggering out). Upstairs, artist-in-residence Chemi Rosado Seijo produced a skate map of New York (with young scenesters gathering cross-legged in semicircles around the 411-style videos), and on the sixth floor, artists Sharon Hayes and Melissa Martin showed their newly commissioned works. Martin's crafty Pop-meets-Renaissance science portrait of her father as an (anatomically correct) array of cross-sectioned, shrink-wrapped butcher-counter meats, arranged in a faux refrigeratormade, all 300 pounds of it, entirely of chewing gummight signify any number of outré Freudian conflicts. Martin notes that she had to chew all the “fat” herself to achieve the proper consistency. “I stepped into the role of the father,” she explained. “My spit became like sperm.” Throughout this exegesis her actual father stood beaming by her side, his arm around her shoulders. In the adjoining room, Hayes's exploded multi-screen video installation (with four projectors and a central tower of monitors) featured on-the-street interviews (in the tradition of Chronicle of a Summer) shot during the month or so between the Republican National Convention and mid-October 2004.
Hailing a cab back up to Chelsea, I got off at West Twentieth for the closing of Feigen Contemporary's “Carry On.” Fashion photographer (and musician, artist, and filmmaker) Mark Borthwick had taken over the gallery for the evening, draping a wall of his own photographs with multicolored streamers and spreading figs, red grapes, and wild apples on stiff kale leaves across the gallery floor amid pots of black-eyed susans, bundles of mint, and eucalyptus leaves. (Needless to say, the air was heavy with the scent of another ancient herb.) I arrived just as the crowd passed around some crumbling, green tea-infused chocolate. Borthwick was sitting inside a teepee framereplete with windchimescradling a guitar as he breathed lines about love, interspersed with Sigur Ros-like yodels, into a microphone. Also needless to say, there was a bongo accompaniment, provided by artist David Aron. Sitting on the floor on a felt mat and stuffing bits of dried fruit in my mouth, I found myself wondering what the Ray Johnson bunnies peering out of their collages amid assorted mandalas and third-eye paintings (the press release terms the show “a gentle psychedelia”) were making of it all.
Up the street, John Connelly Presents was showing Nick Lowe's compulsively rendered drawings including “heads with cornrows vomiting into toilets, feeding flip-haired, hand-holding bodybuilders” all atop, of course, the ubiquitous pile of skulls. The hour of eight had come and gone, but I managed to slip inside Yinka Shonibare's opening across the street at James Cohan just before they shut the doors. The show, titled “Mobility,” was based on Sir Henry Raeburn's portrait of the Reverend Robert Walker ice skating. Skipping ahead a century in foot-powered technology, Shonibare's signature caramel-skinned, headless dandies in batik couture now perch atop nineteenth-century-style unicycles. Only the eclectically patterned guests rivaled Shonibare's richly patterned textiles (which included a bicycle batik): I saw bindis, Japanese scarves, peacock feathers in hair, and a woman wrapped in a Near Eastern print with a slit carefully cut for a peek of cleavage. (Happily I had chosen plaid-on-plaid for the evening.) Always one for the switcharoo, the artist himself stood apart from his admirers in a sharp black suitperhaps a sartorial homage to his Reverend muse. In a room drafty with the crosswinds of postcolonialism, Shonibare's unicyclists were up to more than one tough balancing act.
“Excuse me, do youis thisdo I find the earplugs here?” “I’m sorryexcI’m so sorry, do you have the earplug box?” “Hi, hey, yeah, do youyou don’t happen to knowwhere they put the box with the earplugs?” It’s around 10:30 on Saturday night in the lobby of Royce Hall, UCLA’s home for the performing arts, a dour, doughty, Lombardian fortress erected in imitation of Milan’s Church of San Ambrogio. This is the kind of place you go to for an evening of John Cale burbles, or maybe some Laurie Anderson found-word poems, or perhaps a deadpan morsel of Tom Waits or Lou Reed. You know, the boomer avant-garde as seen in the BAM Next Wave brochure, that annual lineup of well-into-their-fifties, once-edgy cats, as predictable, really, as Marty Allen following Jack Carter and Shelley Berman at Caesar’s Palace back in the day. What you most assuredly do not typically find at Royce Hall is a rush of well-heeled West Side minimalist-music aficionados tear-assing into the lobby to raid the cardboard box of earplugs. But the concluding performers of the night, the Japanese trippy/metallic noisemongers Acid Mothers Temple, are cranked so high their amps are belching Spinal Tap-ian clouds of purplish smoke.
It’s Terry Riley’s latest seventieth-birthday bash. At the start of the festivitiesoh, about three and a half hours agoUCLA Live’s impresario, the effusive David Sefton, informed us that Riley’s birthday was actually in June, and that he has had several shindigs since then, though ours has the distinction of being “the last of the celebrations.” It was clear that Sefton, an excitable Brit, had an agenda. This wasn’t going to be some fuddy-dud, Ph.D.-in-composition, grit-your-teeth evening of “new music” appreciation. No, this was UCLA Live, remember? And so the curator decided to sacrifice the sensibilities of his largely bobo, very academic subscriber base on the altar of Prolonged Sustainable Hipness. Sefton decreed that, after performances by electronic duo Matmos and Riley himself, a bunch of eardrum-searing Japanese neo-hippie hipsters would round out the evening with a rendition of Riley’s landmark keyboard composition “In C.”
As an oldster with fragile ears, I stand in the hallway just outside the auditorium, enjoying the rolling eyes of Vanessa Verdoodt, a Dutch-Belgian UCLA undergrad who can’t believe the wussiness of L.A.’s faux-edgy audiences: “Where I come from, if you come out of the club and your ears are not ringing so you cannot hear, they didn’t do a good job!” I can’t begin to describe the depths of wussiness to which I feel I’ve descended as the sonic onslaught drives me through the Royce lobby to the lounge, where, in a bizarre culture clash, the reward for the evening’s aesthetic rigors is a plastic cup of Bud Light on draft. Of course, even here, a good 200 feet from the big doors to the main hall, you can feel Acid Mothers Temple in your kneebones and the fillings in your teeth. Still, it seems craven not to endure the “permanent damage” Sefton promised, up close and first hand . . . until I notice the gentleman to the right of me in the ersatz VIP lounge. Long white beard, Father Christmas smile, eyes closed in chuckling beneficence . . . who is this dude greeting a gaggle of random well-wishers? An aging biker? A Boyle Heights car-wash owner? No, wait . . . good Lord, it’s Terry Riley! The birthday boy himself is blowing off the cow-sterilizing decibels of his acid-metal acolytes. I guess I don’t have to flay myself after all.
The crowd around Riley seems to split about fifty-fifty: Half Santa Monica culture vultures, half adorable teen hipsters who look like they stepped out of Bresson’s The Devil Probably. Somewhere in the center is a passel of early-middle-aged new-music types, like Phil Beaumont and Bruce McKenzie of the brilliant ambient-psychedelica ensemble Maquiladora, who toured with Acid Mothers Temple and revere them still. The soulful McKenzie, who once described himself as “Steve McQueen meets Jennifer Jason Leigh,” likens Riley’s four-hand piano piece to the nightmarish player-piano works of Conlan Noncarrow.
As for the Bressonian teens, I have one of the most surprisingly insight-strewn conversations I’ve ever enjoyed in a theater lobby with a trio of youthful Rileyites who see a continuum between his pioneering trance states and twenty-first-century digital composition. “Youth culture’s preoccupation with noise is naïve,” opines Annie O’Malley, a twenty-one-year-old senior at Occidental. “You look back at Beethoven and he was writing something to reproduce the feeling of the end of a rainstorm. Today there are things like Animal Collective that aim higher than just producing torturous soundthey aim for transcendence.” What’s Animal Collective? A quick Googulation tells me a) that it’s an outfit whose sound recalls “the psychedelic freak-outs of ‘90s west coast isolationists like Caroliner and Sun City Girls, the emotional hooks and bursts of punk, the textures and structures of minimal techno (à la the Kompakt label),” etc., and b) that I hate music critics. T.K. Broderick, a musician and recent USC film student, suggests that the question facing Riley’s compositional heirs today is the role of the listener: “How can the audience participate in real time? Be non-passive?”
The sagest exegesis, however, comes from one of three short, squat, mushroom-Afro’d white teens who emerge from Royce Hall in Acid Mothers Temple T-shirts with ehhh-whatever sneers on their faces. “It’s not that I don’t like feedback,” one of them shrugs, clearly at the beginning of an aesthete’s lifelong journey of cred-proving. “It’s that I don’t like this feedback.”
Left: Vito Acconci in conversation with Jeroen Boomgaard. Right: Artist Rezi van Lankveld and gallerist Juliette Jongma.
It all started Thursday night on the eleventh floor of POST CS, the Stedelijk Museum’s temporary home in Amsterdam’s former post office building, where Vito Acconci was giving a talk in conjunction with hisI should say their, since technically it’s the Vito Hannibal Acconci Studioretrospective, opening the next day.
But before that, at 7:30, W139, an alternative gallery space also taking temporary shelter in the POST CS building (albeit in the less glamorous basement) was launching a series of books, short monographs on recently graduated art students. They were running late as usual, in their laid-back, alternative-space kind of way. By 7:45 none of the scheduled speeches had commenced. Most days I’m happy to linger, but this time I just wanted them to get on with it so I could follow the buzz echoing through the hallways: Vito, Vito, Vito…. I discreetly bailed at 7:55 and headed upstairs to the “auditorium” (a rather official term for what was really just one half of the eleventh floor, the other half being taken up by the restaurant and hangout spot sensibly named Club 11). Most of the front row was marked “reserved,” something new in Amsterdam. Evidently it meant that some bona-fide VIPs were in our midst. Feeling deserving, I sat down in the hallowed row, next to Corinne Diserens, curator of the show, which was initiated by the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and co-organized by the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes. She was next to Barbara Gladstone. Behind us, the auditorium was packed, proof that we Amsterdam residents crave not only stardom (though every true down-to-earth Dutch citizen will deny this) but also intellectual stimulation … and that perhaps we’re not getting enough of either.
Acconci spoke with Professor Jeroen Boomgaard from the University of Amsterdam for a full knee-drumming, foot-tapping hour about his practice, moving chronologically (like the show itself). He began, as he did the last time I saw him talkin Miami four years ago (but who’s counting?)by discussing how he started as a writer, not an artist. “I became obsessed with the page, with the page’s sense of space. Choosing a word became impossibleany word referring to anything outside the page was wrong. Only direct references were possible, words like ‘there’ and ‘here’.” And from the middle of the page he moved to the edges and then to the corners and then right off of it onto the street, entering the art context through the back door, in order to defy, as he put it, the “Do Not Touch the Artwork” signs, which to him “seemed immoral, as though art was more valuable than people.” Asked to participate in the “Street Works IV” show in 1969, he came up with the infamous Following Piece. At this point in the talk he dropped a bombshell, revealing (for the first time, as far as I know) that the legendary photos of this work, of Vito apparently following different people in the street arebrace yourselfstaged. He never had pictures taken during the actual following. In fact, it was really because of gallerists that he started to make documentation at all, the kind of documentation that could be sold for as much as a painting. Instead he believes that documentation should be just that, documentation: Cheap, free for all, unlimited. I looked over two seats.
Left: Stedelijk Museum curator Maarten Bertreux with gallerist Waling Boers. Right: Artist Yang Fudong, an interpreter, and Stedelijk Museum director Gijs van Tuyl.
“Isn’t he divine?” Gladstone smiled to Eva Presenhuber, who came to say hello after the lecture. One young American artist could only agree, practically drooling as she opined, “I could fall in love with him, even though he’s three times my age. The way he talks, his passion, I hung on every word.”
The opening the next day was fine. Just fine. A bit quiet. The museum’s newish director, Gijs van Tuyl (brought in to put the museum back on the art world map, for God’s sake!) asked me, “Where are all the people of your generation?” Downstairs in the basement, I thought, drinking and smoking and probably dancing by now. “We have to make this museum young again, get the young people back to the museum. Wake it up and shake it up. This is a small town and it needs more….”
More indeed. Steve McQueen (one of Holland’s most prominent artists, though not Dutch) and Bartomeo Mari (MACBA’s chief curator and former directorpre-Catherine Davidof Witte de With in Rotterdam), apparently weren’t enough for a proper celeb attendance score. Was everyone packing for the “EindhovenIstanbul” openinga pendant to the Istanbul Biennialat the Van Abbemuseum the next night? Probably the biggest and most welcome news spinning around the Becks bottles was Nicolaus Schaffhausen’s appointment as new director of Witte de With. Maybe soon we’ll meet everyone there. Though not a basement, I hear it’ll be swinging.
Left: Dr. Christina Weiss with award recipient Monica Bonvicini. Right: Boxer René Weller with artist Tobias Rehberger.
I woke up Saturday morning to find red wine stains on a blouse I wore to the Tuesday night awards ceremony for the €50,000 Nationalgalerie Prize for Young Artodd, considering that I thought I had only drank champagne. That was several nights ago, so heaven knows what blows my memory has suffered in the meantime. I vaguely remember a story the director of the Kunstverein Braunschweig, Karola Grässlin, was telling me about riding a hotel elevator up and down all night longlike a somnambuliste dangereuseuntil her beau, gallerist Christian Nagel, came to her rescue. That was at the Clegg and Guttman book release party, and I know I drank only water there. That much I remember. Was that Wednesday? No, that was Friday . . . I think.
The capriciousness of memory was the topic of collegial conversation at neugerriemschneider the evening after the ceremony, when, as part of his exhibition, Rirkrit “Ne Travaillez Jamais” Tiravanija invited Tobias Rehberger to take part in the “Magazine Station #4” events at the gallery. Rehberger then invited René Weller (former world featherweight champion) to narrate for a live audience that night’s televised broadcast of the heavyweight boxing championship. Or was it the middleweight? None of the gallery-goers really knew anyway. Weller informed us that after a boxer has been knocked out, half an hour later he doesn’t have the slightest inkling of what happened! As if memories were physical things floating freely around our heads until some punch knocks them into exile…. Later I gabbed it up with Anri Sala, whose performance in Pursuit of Happiness, 2005, Jimmie Durham’s latest film (on view at the just-opened Art Forum Berlin fair), had me in a swoona girl’s easily impressed with a man who sets his mobile home on fire. He was mulling the confounding fact that firemen are actually called firemen. They should be called anti-firemen, right?
I came home that evening trying to sort through the memories of the night before. Word on the street was that a woman would receive the Nationalgalerie prize this year (previous winners being men, namely a bad painter whose name I forget and the unforgettable conceptual art duo Elmgreen & Dragset). It was high time for a lady to win, everyone said, to which I said “Bollocks!” Since when did “equal opportunity” politics ever truly play a role in the art world? Among the four nomineesJohn Bock and Anri Sala, representing this year’s out-of-luck gender, along with Monica Bonvicini and Angela Bullochthe general sentiment was that the latter was a shoe-in, having broken out of her well-known Pixelbox shell, so to speak. Granted, Bulloch had us all befuddled at first, but then enchanted with her Disenchanted Forest x1001, 2005, a living and breathing form of institutional critique. It makes use of the rules for numbering Berlin’s city trees and a cybernetic dance floor that took its cue from a classic Duchampian gambit: making things difficult to see in order to see them better.
This was perhaps also the philosophy of the Nationalgalerie jury members, who, in making it difficult for us to see the whys and wherefores of their decision, made it easier for many to speculate that it was certainly going to be difficult for Bulloch to win, given that she signed the petition against controversial collector Friedrich Christian Flick in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung earlier this year. Alas, whether or not this was the case, it seems all too true that institutions have been corrupted by the wicked ways of private collectors. But what else is new?
Left: Anri Sala, Waling Boers, Michael Krome, Caroline Schneider, and Rirkrit Tiravanija. Right: Martin Klosterfelde and John Bock.
And then there was the strange fact that nobody knew in advance that there was going to be a “second” (read: consolation) prize, namely the “public’s choice” awardakin to Miss Congeniality: No money, no crown, just a general acknowledgement of having almost cut the mustard. When it was announced that Bonvicini had taken first place and “public’s choice” was going to Bulloch, we really couldn’t believe our ears. Bonvicini too seemed aghast and was literally speechless when she received her golden bar of chocolate and a Day-Glo-green check for €25,000 (plus another €25,000 for the acquisition of the workan installation typifying her own form of institutional critique and involving an ironic, sadomasochistic playground of chain-and-black-leather hammocks). Meanwhile Miss Congeniality played her part well, gracefully taking the stage to receive her silver bar of chocolate from Peter Raue (Chairman of the Friends of the Neue Nationalgalerie). He mistakenly called her “Angela Bollock," but she remained as poised and was the belle of the ball as she received deep condolences from all and sundry. Everyone felt she had been robbed; even a fairly sober critic I ran into sledging around the Art Forum the next daywho loves Bonvicini’s identity-bending oeuvre just as much as the rest of ussaid, “It was as if there was a dog pissing against my leg all evening long.”
Later, while Bonvicini was hamming it up on the dance floor in the Hamburger Bahnhof’s café, Bulloch was running around town, leaving her aluminum-foil wrapped chocolate in one restaurant bar after another, which made it difficult to reconstruct events the next day. (“Where did I last leave my chocolate? Shouldn’t I retrieve it so that I might give it to John Bock for one of his videos?”) So I met her at the Tiravanija-Rehberger shindig and she was carrying around a purple sack with the aluminum-foil-wrapped prize inside. I think, if someone sees you with that, my dear, I thought, they’re going to say you’ve got your knickers in a wad, unable to get over the fact that you are an also-ran for the second time (the first being the Turner in 1997), “No, no,” she said when I voiced my concerns, “it’s just that I keep leaving the thing behind. I am quite pleased to have won the ‘popular’ prize.”
What a relief the week is over. We can all go back to our wild fantasies of starting up our own worldwide Gagosians, an idea inspired by Gagosian Berlin, a “guerrila franchise gallery” opened on Monday night by the curators of next year's Berlin Biennale. (No word from Larry yet.) During Thursday evening's performances by Icelandic artists at the Münzclub, Tiravanija suggested Gagosiann Bangkok (with a swirly Thai “g” and double “n”) and Sala would helm Gagozian Tirana, with plenty of red wine flowing and spilling over all those things we'll forget about in the near future.
Everyone who has any clue about fashion is over everything (I mean idea-wise, silly, not shopping!). So I was curious to see how this panel of prosdesigners Alice Roi, Behnaz Sarafpour, and Imitation of Christ’s Tara Subkoff, chatting with New Yorker writer Judith Thurmanwould vivify the deadish horse of “Generation X Fashion.” Of course you gotta wear something (as one was painfully reminded that September day, when the transitional weather presented huge challenges) but lately new ideas in fashion are as scarce as decent Gucci at Century 21: It’s all recycling, vintage, “modernity,” blah blah blah. “It’s a conservative time,” said Roi. “People are sick of extremes, think extremes are all cliché. So what do you do?”
The surprisingly healthy turnout for the panel looked mostly like fashion press, fashion students, and a smattering of schleps who maybe just go to anything branded The New Yorker. I sat next to a Boston-based gal with a power bob who sold ads at the mag. We had ample time to chat because the panelat the sleek new Alvin Ailey studios, a multi-culti paragon where fresh white tweens were being fetched by their Upper East Side-looking moms after Afro-American dance classstarted half an hour late, fashion standard time.
The ever-canny Thurman presided in a sheerish navy blouse and tailored skirt, gold bangles going up both arms (potentially gypsy-lady, but well pulled off), and brown pumps with navy opaque hose, striking the perfect note of polished but edgy bluestocking (literally). The all-girl panelists were contemporaries whose points of view emerged in wonderful contrast. Thurman cited Imitation of Christ’s echt-Gen X t-shirt of the early ‘90s: “Sincerity is the new vulgarity.” If she teased out a generational trait, it was perhaps a heightened self-consciousness about sincerity vs. irony, originality vs. copying. Far more interesting than the panelists’ shared zeitgeist was how their M.O.s were so different.
At a moment when the fashion center does not hold, Thurman opined, “There’s anarchy in the street, yet there seems to be a lot of creativity.”
“Creativity is pretty much dead,” Subkoff declared, “Vogue America is still dominant. It’s politics. How much you advertise.”
“There’s a lot of fear in the air,” said Roi, “A lot of propriety. For some people that feels good.”
Left: A design by Imitation of Christ. Middle-left: A design by Behnaz Sarafpour. Middle-right: A design by Alice Roi. Right: Tara Subkoff.
“I don’t agree,” said Sarafpour, who emerged as the Vogue ideologue of the bunch. If the panelists were fashion designer Barbies, Sarafpour would be Fashion Biz Barbie: A true believer in “modernity” (exclusivity, craftsmanship, whatever merits the crazy price points) and notG-d forbidlazily recycling vintage. Poised in a no-nonsense button-down shirt, knit tank-vest and slacks, she had on tomato red ballet flats that added a knowing burst of color to her neutral ensemble. Self-described “extremely wacky” Roi would be Artsy Barbie: Pudgy, in a white T-shirt, black smock-like jumper, shiny black tights, and flats, drawing attention to her face with an asymmetrical braid. Subkoff, rolling her eyes as Thurman listed her fashion credentials as a former preppie/actress/art school dropout, would be Bad-Girl Barbie. Adept at throwing attitude, she looked like a knockoff Gwyneth Paltrow in a skimpy sundress, jean jacket, and strappy sandals, but was refreshingly candid.
Subkoff brazenly de-mystified designer “originality,” revealing that she had worked as a “ragpicker” for big names (Isaac Mizrahi!), which meant combing thrift shops for stuff “they’d send to a pattern-maker, then down the runway with nothing changed.” “Something exclusively aesthetic is depressing,” added the art school dropout. “I’m interested in something that says something.” Imitation of Christ imports ‘80s art ideas to the shmatte set: Appropriation, the virtues of recycling, having shows in weird places, agitating against globalism, sweatshops and world hunger through fashion, rather than art because “the art world is tiny, and those (art) people know all this already.” She mentioned being influenced by “Situationist texts” (as Guy Debord rolled in his grave). The panel didn’t shy away from juicy topics, tackling whoppers such as: Why are there so few high-profile women in fashion and so many gay men? “Women are very unsupportive of each other in the fashion world,” Subkoff observed. “Anna Wintour only supports young gay men.”
“I only know a few straight designers,” added Roi. “And they’re horrible.” Sarafpour, the only female in her class of eighty to succeed as a designer, speculated, “Maybe I wanted it more than the other girls in my class….”
Moving from fags to fat: “The average selling size in America is sixteen plus!” Subkoff declared with conviction, after which a skinny live mannequin modeled one ensemble by each panelist. Subkoff showed a red suede trapeze mini-dress with cutout armpits and a hoodie. “It’s nice to have something on your head in the winter,” she glossed. “You waste ninety percent of your body heat through your head.” And you’ll need it, if you’re wearing little else. “I don’t think that would look very good on a plus sixteen size,” she admitted. Like I said, candid. Roi struck me as the most free-spirited and down to earth, though her black smock alarmed me, as did her chosen outfit, which was “inspired by Harold and Maude” and “mixing different feelings together.” So far, so good. But it was a “monastic or dentistry” tunic with a shearling vest over “feminine leggings.” Yick!
The highlight was when Subkoff coolly observed that Sarafpour’s frock was the “most retro, vintage-inspired piece we saw today.” Meow! Sarafpour coolly replied: “Inspired is the key word in that statement.” Snap! The frock was Audrey Hepburn-esque: Strapless, with a faux-passementerie pattern specially fabricated for Sarafpour in the Far East. Alas. When Sarafpour wasn’t havin’ it, Subkoff smoothly retracted her claws: “It was very pretty,” she added, kind of convincingly. Lovely.