Left: Artist Trisha Donnelly with curator Daniel Birnbaum. Right: Astrup Fearnley, museum director Gunnar Kvaran, and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Few of us have had occasion to visit Oslo before, but a Saturday seminar organized by Daniel Birnbaum, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Gunnar B. Kvaranthe three curators of the show “Uncertain States of America” at the Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunstbrought a boatload of American artists and three European journalists into Viking territory. After two weeks of pale-gray German skies that faded to black at half past four in the afternoon, traveling even further north to witness the spectacle seemed like a perverse crash-course in surviving the Prussian winter.
My plane from Berlin was delayed, so after a quick trip to the minibank to load up on Norwegian Kroner, I arrived at the tail end of lunch (forgetting that in a socialist democracy like Norway, the train is faster than the cab). I took a seat next to German colleagues Dr. Michaela Neumeister (of Phillips de Pury & Company) and Niklas Maak (head of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung culture pages and part-time professor at Portikus). The towering Adam Putnam kicked off the post-lunch lectures with an homage to Steven Parrino via Yves Klein, whose Leap into the Void, 1960, Putnam punned, “hovers over” many of today’s artistic practices. Trisha Donnelly, blessed with a voice as seductive as Madonna's, ended the studious segment of our day with her homage to the compression of time in Nina Simone's “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” In between, we heard lectures from Ilana Halperin, Jesse Bransford, and Seth Kelly, but a thumbnail outline would do them scant justice. Afterwards, standing in front of Matthew Day Jackson's homage to Eleanor Roosevelt, Obrist led a small group on a “hurricane” tour of the show before hustling off to catch the Norwegian debut of Miranda July's film Me and You and Everyone We Know. The movie’s childlike humor and touching lyricism helped ward off the dark discontent of winter. If you’re lucky enough to have seen it, you’ll remember that even lines like “You poop into my butthole and I poop into your butthole. Back and forth . . . until the poop is one . . . forever” are lent an unexpected beauty. If not, well, you’ll have to take my word for it.
Later, huddled around the fireplace at the fabulous apartment of Mr. Hans Rasmus Astrup (Fearnley is his mother's name), Trisha Donnelly let slip what she called a “rectum-ification” while Adam Putnam denied us all a “de-abstractification” of his budding oeuvre. Both terms reminded me that I forgot to ask Halperin what exactly she meant by the phrase “coincidental erogeny” earlier that afternoon. An elderly gentleman asked me something in Norwegian as I hovered near the local variant of tiramisu. My inability to respond prompted him to continue: “Are you one of those bloody Americans here for that idiotic show of contemporary art?” Owning up, I asked him where he thought the discipline had lost its way. “I am an art historian and for me Mark Rothko is young.” Faced with what threatened to become an uphill battle, I excused myself and headed back toward the fireplace, where I bumped into a colleague making a similar escape. A well-endowed blonde had been chatting him up. “She asked me why Picasso is considered a great painter!” “Great question,” I retorted. “Why didn’t you answer?” Birnbaum’s story about a humorous misunderstanding was more entertaining: many moons ago he was talking to a serious contemporary art collector from Texas who earnestly expressed admiration for that “lovely young man Okwui Enwezor who was making a documentary in a castle in Germany.”
Surrounded by so much wood paneling, it felt as if we were in a “castle-apartment.” Some of us looked out of place, others right at home. Apparently, Mr. Astrup had double-booked himself that evening, bringing together what otherwise would have remained separate worlds as a group of Roman specialists (in town for a seminar of their own) were also invited to dinner. It was a situation that a Situationist might have dreamed up. Mr. Astrup's well-heeled friends stirred up more than just your usual “how interesting” cocktail conversation, and by the end of the evening I was in a swoon, enamored of Norwegian frankness and happy these latter day vikings were behind this newest invasion of our uncertain states.
Just how elite can you get? The invitation for a pre-press conference dinner from the 4th Berlin Biennale (BB4) promised the company of a “small, exclusive circle” of guests and curators Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, and Ali Subotnick. The rarefied group that assembled last week at Kunst-Werke's Dan Graham-designed Café Bravo turned out to be the usual suspects from Berlin's critical establishmentfrom Süddeutsche Zeitung arts editor Holger Liebs to Frieze scribe Kirsty Bell. As we “lucky few” listened to welcoming speeches by our hosts—Gioni, along with Hortensia Völckers, the formidable director of the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (the main state backer for BB4) and Markus Müller, the BB4 press director and Documenta XI's PR wizard, it began to dawn upon me: This evening, however well-intentioned, might be too elite to be interesting, let alone fun.
After all, what is exclusivity if you can't flaunt it? I tried to imagine throngs outside the café, enviously pressing their noses against the glass. But there was next to no one: One quick glance around the room and you could catalog every guest in attendance. At the dinner table, I sat beside Cattelan, who fed me a string of “exclusive” quotes. What is it like curating the Berlin biennial, titled 'Of Mice and Men?'“ I asked him. ”Exciting . . . challenging . . . rewarding!“ Could this biennial be considered a work of art, like the Sixth Caribbean Biennial? ”Oh no, it's a job."
And what a job: After interviewing over 300 Berlin-based artists, Cattelan and company had not only settled on a list of participantsfrom Tomma Abts to Cathy Wilkesbut also published another edition of Charley (the 700-plus page “Checkpoint” issue). More, it seems, is more: The team also produced a column in the local weekly Zitty, a diary in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung and a fake branch of Gagosian Gallery, opened in September. Did you have a problem with the real Gagosian? “Well, the gallery always wanted to work with me,” explained Cattelan. “So I thought this would be a good way to do it.” Gagosian never answered a request for permission, but “I took their silence as a yes.” Cattelan then insisted on asking me a question: “So . . . where do you come from?”
It was up to superconnector Gioni to incite a more serious mid-meal discussion. His threateither we ask a question or we don't get the next coursedid not deter anyone from remaining silent. But by dessert, the division of labor in the curatorial team was plain to see: Gioni handles statements, Cattelan provides comic relief, and Subotnick is the brains behind this operation. Consider the trio's answers to the sole question, posed by the Tageszeitung's arts editor Brigitte Werneburg. Why open the Berlin Gagosian with a show featuring works by Dorothy Iannone? Gioni went on about how biennials today can present older artists alongside younger ones. Cattelan: “Because she's sexy!” Subotnick: “She has a great apartment!” See what I mean? Everyone knows that real estate trumps sex appeal and curatorial manifestos.
Left: A woman holds up Gelitin's copy of her bra. Middle: Inserting a white shoe into the “Tantamounter.” Right: Dean Daedarko wearing the copy of his suit and T-shirt.
The toughest decision facing visitors to Vienna-based collective Gelitin’s “Tantamounter 24/7”a weeklong performance and exhibition featuring a homemade “duplication machine” that was presented recently at Chelsea gallery Leo Koenig, Inc.was what to bring. After casting about my apartment at midnight Tuesday for something suitable for reproduction, I settled upon a cork bulletin board covered with sentimental relics. Stuffing it in to the back seat of a cab, I was smugly confident that the lateness of my visit would mean a smaller crowd, but soon discovered that othersartists and students, thirtysomething businessmen, passersby lured out of the coldhad had a similar idea. The cramped space reserved for visitors at the front of the gallery was nearly full. (This being the most recent iteration of their playful installations-cum-endurance-tests, the Austrian pranksters were ferreted away inside a large sealed wooden box.) I found a spot in line, but what I brought wouldn’t fit inside the top-loading compartment marked for receiving.
No matter. The atmosphere was collegial (“I’m going for beer. Who wants beer?” queried a bike-messenger type) and the objects regularly popping out of the box broke up the monotony of waiting. Some duplications took minutes, others over an hour. The artists, who had already been locked behind the partition for six days, seemed to enjoy making sculptures. A blue-glass seltzer bottle was returned quickly, along with its copy: two blue plastic cups that were stuck together and speared with a turkey baster balancing a bent metal spoon. Brilliant. We played guessing games: Whose object would arrive next? How accurate a copy would it be? And would it involve pornography? Behind the wall the Gelitin boys (plus artist Naomi Fisher, who lent a helping hand) were obviously having fun: Most two-dimensional objects were returned accompanied by raunchy imagery excised from a seemingly inexhaustible supply of triple-X magazines.
Dean Daderko, an independent curator, put all of his clothes into the machine and wrapped himself in a copy of the newsprint exhibition poster while awaiting the results. No one who entered after he disrobed seemed to mind (or even notice) the unseasonal nudity. An hour later, his black T-shirt, suit, and wallet came back, along with its duplicate: a blue flower-print dress, some green rope mesh, a small belt, and a note: “Dean we love that you are naked so close to us.” Five minutes after that, a second note emerged: “Dean send us a picture of your new clothes.” The cameraphones immediately went to work as Daderko gamely struck a pose.
In honor of Thanksgiving, I had the invisible alchemists duplicate a greeting card that featured a photograph of a turkey. For good measure, I stuck in another card (depicting a monkey raising a mug of beer) as a gift. I should’ve guessed that the result would incorporate porn. (I leave it to you to guess what unclothed body parts best resemble the holiday bird.) Pocketing my treasures, I waved goodbye to those still waiting and headed home. It was 2:30AM: Gelitin had twenty more hours to go. Two afternoons later, the turkey on my dinner table seemed a little less appetizing than usual.
“Man, that Whitney museum sounds good!” actor/poet Jim Fletcher drawled into the microphone between sets at an evening of Cajun country music hosted by Richard Maxwell and the Reena Spaulings Fine Art posse. This installment in the institution's series of Friday night gigs was also affiliated with the French Embassy and Association Française d'Action Artistique's “Act French,” a citywide series of performances celebrating Franco-American cultural exchange. Performed by a revolving quintet of vocalists, including Fletcher, Maxwell, and Reena Spaulings's spritelike founder Emily Sundblad, the songs were sung mostly in French (notes often came in handy here) and were accompanied by a fiddler, guitars, and a guest accordionist.
A number of the tunes were popular (“Me and Bobby McGee,” “Diggy Liggy”) but rendered unfamiliar by the Louisiana dialect. (“We started the band before Katrina,” Maxwell assured me.) Fletcher stole the show, striking runway poses and pouting at the audience between bouts of singing, dancing, and showing off his talent on the harmonica. “Jim Fletcher, he picked all these songs. He’s the man tonight,” Maxwell admitted. Sundblad looked like she was having almost as much fun, do-si-doing with singer Sybyl Kempson and stripping off her hot-pink sweater to perform a French rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” in only her trademark (and slightly ratty) skeleton-print leotard. This was the fifth time the band (which, as both Sundblad and Maxwell informed me, “doesn’t have a name”) has performed since its debut at Reena Spaulings Fine Art's “Robert Smithson” exhibition in February 2004. While they've played only art venues to date (Passerby, Haswellediger), Sundblad expressed disappointment with the acoustics and feel of galleries: “I hope next time we’ll play at a bar, like the Rodeo Bar.”
Left: Reena Spaulings Gallery founder Emily Sundblad and singer Sybyl Kempson. Center: Actor and poet Jim Fletcher. Right: Performer Richard Maxwell, Scott Sherratt, and musician Catherine McRae.
While “Act French” had approached Maxwell, asking for his participation along with a number of “the city’s downtown theater elite,” the Cajun angle was Fletcher’s brainchild. “We were going to play French pop music,” Maxwell recalled. But Fletcher had been haunted by a French blues track he’d heard at a friend’s house: “I'd never heard blues in French and I'd never heard blues so right. It hit the pocket and I loved it. It sounded, like, African.” (Meanwhile a heated discussion about colonialism had ignited between a couple of audience members and the band.) “It’s about the moment of miscegenation,” Sundblad piped up, explaining that “Mon negre” is a Cajun term of endearment. “I do remember a conversation about indigenous French communities,” Maxwell added. With the band's origins as mixed up as a bubbling pot of Louisiana gumbo, Fletcher summed it up: “It's French, but it's American.”
Left: Marian Goodman and Gerhard Richter. Right: Critic and curator Robert Storr with MCA Sydney director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor. (Photos: David Velasco)
I hate to travel. Still, a tempting triple bill (and a “yes” from a favorite New York date) persuaded me to undertake the crossing from London, my habitual stomping ground, as some of you may know. Reviewing our admittedly rigorous schedule, my escort not so sportingly opted out of all but the glamorous main event, a dinner at the Four Seasons hosted by gallerist Marian Goodman to celebrate the star of her starry stable, Gerhard Richter. On my own, and all but stalled in a snarl of Village traffic (the 6PM start-time of my first engagement ticking past), I was beginning to fear my fickle pal had had the right idea.
Destination one: Galleria Illy, the coffee bar-cum-multiplex on West Broadway where Bookforum's editor, Eric Banks, was presiding over a reading devoted to the poetry of Roman decadent Catullus. As luck would have it, our host had not yet called the throng to order, and my spirits were already lifting when Peter Green, translator of a new edition of the ancient's verses, opened the proceedings with a pair of poems in the original Latinthe first, a tour de force of Galliambic form; the second, somewhat more colloquialand more characteristic of the poet’s oeuvre. (We'll have to take his word for it!) Perhaps it was the dead languageits fusty beauty at odds with the toxic modernity of Soho's main shopping dragbut more then a few in the audience succumbed to charmed giggles. Delight proved infectious, as the program moved through selections from Green's own English renderings, performed by a jazzy lineup that included everyone from Olympian wiseman Richard Howard to hipster classicist Daniel Mendelsohn to rectal romantic Toni Bentley.
Left: Gerhard Richter signs a book for a fan. Right: Anya von Gösseln of the Office for Contemporary Art with artist Jacob Maendel. (Photos: David Velasco)
Alas, already running late for my next event, I was forced to forgo “the really dirty bits” promised by Wayne Koestenbaum, though my next event, a buffet dinner welcoming Richard Flood (that hard-partying pillar of the American art community) back to New York, promised our bawdy classicists a run for their money. Regrettably, chiseled centurions in leather wrist gauntlets were in short supply, though a burgeoning company, including Flood's new New York boss Lisa Phillips (he assumes the post of chief curator at the New Museum she directs this fall), his old New York boss, gallerist Barbara Galdstone, recent MoMA defector Terry Riley, the Guggenheim's freshly elevated Lisa Dennison, early-bird collectors Ilene and Michael Cohen, and lawyer to the (art) stars, Michael Stout, all looked smart in more conventional festive wear. Flood, dependably jovial and presiding over a perfectly imperial Tribeca quadplex courtesy of collectors and recent Minnesota transplants Ed Bazinet and Wouter Deruytter, did pull off a respectable Nero. I had scarcely thanked our affable hosts for this lavish entertainment when the sight of a sizable Richter on the wall behind them reminded me that I was expected for dinner uptown.
Goodman pulls out the stops when Gerhard comes to town, and I thought the venue was an inspired choice. The Grill Roomvery Tom Ford for Gucci, albeit a few decades avant la lettrehas always been a personal favorite, spoiled only by the masters of the universe at lunch and the tourists at night. Taking it over is really the only way to go. As I arrived at the top of that fabled staircase, one prominent New York curator mouthed, in camp mock-dazzlement, “F-A-N-C-Y.”
Left: Catullus translator Peter Green. Right: Bookforum's Eric Banks with writers Richard Howard and Wayne Koestenbaum.
Fancy is as fancy does, I worried, confessing my decidedly unfancy behavior to Art Institute of Chicago curator James Rondeau: I was so short on time that I was forced to forego the opening, I blurted. He (squaring his shoulders) replied, “I have never done that!” Then, checking his perhaps too fulsome pride, ventured a more playful, “Something bad will happen to you.” I ventured towards the dining area with increased foreboding, but not only did my missing date miraculously materialize, but a quick scan of the seating cards revealed my assignment to be an altogether congenial one.
Another night our corner might have been deemed a kind of egghead Siberia, but if you know anything about the Goodman value system, you know that eggheads rate at least as high as titans of industry, a fact confirmed at the very next table, where the seats of honor flanking the artist were reserved for Rosalind Krauss and Benjamin Buchloh. I have been given to understand that Buchloh, an essayist (along with Dieter Schwarz) for the show’s handsome catalogue found Philip Johnson's tabernacle to the power lunch an unfit setting to fête his favored vehicle. I wondered if he would have been happier with, say, the brasserie redux of a Pastis or the rigor of a Matsuri. As a one-time editor of the critic, I'm well used to his have-your-Grill-Room-and-hate-it-too schtick, but that doesn’t stop me from counting him among our most credible critics.
Left: Bill Powers and Allan Ritcher. Right: Marian Goodman's Victoria Solano with Guggenheim curator Carmen Gimenez. (Photos: David Velasco)
Speaking of October, while discourse with my immediate partners was so festive and fluid that I scarcely noticed who filled the other ninety plus seats, never mind what was said, I did pick up on some ambient chatter attending the recent spate of negative reviews greeting Art Since 1900, the revisionist Modernist history-cum-textbook penned by four of that organ's chief protagonists. Indeed, with three of the authors in our corner that evening, and one, Hal Foster, directly across the table, I had the bad taste to vent my own frustration with the study to his wife, Sandy Tate. Truth be told, I don’t know anyone, outside the authors and their minions (who are admittedly legion) that is not exasperated by the parochial cliquishness of the treatment of the art of recent decades. Even I, a normally reliable fan of their individual efforts, felt so stifled by their version of the '90s that it will be a good while before I am able to crack the tome again to investigate the probable riches of the earlier sections.
It was time to go, and Rondeau's “something bad” had yet to befall me. In fact, one day hence, a considerable dividend was paid on my opening no-show in the form of a first visit to the exhibitionsans the masses and the madness. A promising young art historian I bumped into at the gallery confessed to “never really getting the abstractions,” and I had to shush a wag that reached me by phone as I stepped back out onto 57th Street and offered up the old painting-by-the-yard quip. Richter's abstractions, of course, have always walked a difficult line: One minute they are mere cipherslike Warhol's blanks, both foils for and negations of the blurry representations with which he juxtaposes them; the next, they are bottomless wells of nuance. “Read, learn, work it up, go to the literature” . . . the refrain is Joan Didion's, and her occasion a genuinely tragic one, yet nudged by the naysayers (not to mention a hall of grisaille panels set off by a squadron of fighter planes), I took her counsel. Catalogue in hand, I stepped across the street and into a McDonald's “town house,” secured a coveted upstairs window seat, and proceeded to make my way through the Buchloch essay along with the three-cheeseburger snack that is a favorite guilty pleasure.
The frisson of fast food and a slow read was recalling for me a bit too neatly the Latin-in-Soho moment that opened my excursion. There was Buchloch's faintly archaic, overweening allegiance to modernist negativity. (Indeed, at first I was skeptical of the utility of the broad-strokes sketch of the history of painterly negation he laid in, at least at this point in the Richter conversation. What, after all, are we to do with the surplus of fresh paintings that after all pack four galleries and a long hall?) But by the time I made it through the critic's rather inspired riff on color after color, and, in fairness, absorbed his gestures towards attending to the real specificities of each micro-manifestation of refusal, I was again the devotee. As for the art? Well, a few yardsor boltsI would happily hang.
Left: “Le Voyage intérieur” curator Alex Farquharson. Right: The “Infinite White Cube” room. (Unless noted, all photos Nicolas Trembley).
Paris is awash with visions of melancholy and esoteric variants of romanticism this autumn, both of which tend to put me in a very good mood. There's “Mélancolie” and “Vienne 1900” at the Grand Palais; the first retrospective of the neglected Girodet at the Louvre; and now a contemporary group show devoted to new manifestations of Symbolism in the work of young artists (mostly based in London and Paris) at Espace EDF Electra. (The cultural exchange between the two cities is also an amuse-gueule to the roughly twenty exhibitions of French contemporary art to be held simultaneously in London next October.)
The glass-fronted site of “Le Voyage intérieur” is a renovated Art Nouveau power station in the 7th Arrondissement, just steps away from Le Bon Marché and the best other top shopping destinations. While I was looking forward to seeing what could be done with the theme of “la Décadence,” I also knew that the show was going to be impossible to get a handle on during the opening, so I opted for the press preview instead. When I arrived, there were maybe five other people wandering around the blacked-out and drastically configured space, in addition to the seven or eight people directly involved with the show standing awkwardly by. (With its three floors, central two-story well, mezzanine, and slick glass elevator, the venue is well suited to design shows, though perhaps less so to art.)
Left: Artist Jean Luc Verna. Right: “Le Voyage intérieur” curator Alexis Vaillant and curator Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy.
As I walked down a newly erected and appropriately gloomy “Metaphysical Corridor,” illuminated by fake, fluorescent-lit cutout “windows” and mechanically fanned dark blue transparent curtains (shades of De Chirico or “The Turn of the Screw”), I ran into London gallerist couple Cornelia Grassi and Tomasso Corvi-Mora. “This show could never be done in London,” Grassi enthused, implying that the scenography would be thought too kitschnot empty-white-space enough. Having seen little of the art yet, apart from a handsome bronze bust of a helmet-haired androgyne by London artist Enrico David, I was inclined to agree. Both gallerists have artists in “Le Voyage”: Grassi represents Silke Otto-Knapp, whose smallish, Klimtesque paintings of hieratic dancers look highly appealing in the peacock-blue, double height “Salon Egyptien,” while Corvi-Mora shows Roger Hiorns, whose big, black, freestanding metal sculpture, reminiscent of '60s-era Anthony Caro, is hard to make out (and thus doubly mysterious) in the black-walled “Unknown Pleasures” gallery on the ground floor.
Walking upstairs, I found myself in an even darker, latex-lined room, dubbed the “Black Vampire Rubber Zone.” Here I encountered one of the curators, Alex Farquharson, who regaled me with some surprising arcana, such as the fact that the show was inspired by Joris-Karl Huysmans novel À Rebours (1884), that benchmark of fin-de-siècle decadence. According to Farquharson, he and Alexis Vaillant, the show's French curator, along with young scenographer Nadia Lauro, had tried to imagine what the reclusive hero Des Esseintes’s house “would look like today.” (“Not like this,” I said to myself. “Come over to my place.”) Farquharson explained that the hors concours presence in the show was that of Richard Hawkins, a Los Angeles-based artist who had spent time in Paris studying Symbolist texts. But that's not why I liked Hawkins's Chinese lantern collaged with male porn so muchit had more to do with the fact that two similar objects, minus the raunchy veneer, once hung in my own studio apartment.
Left: Artist Vidya Gastaldon. Center: The poster for “Le Voyage intérieur” (Courtesy: Heymann, Renoult Associées). Right: Curator Anne Dressen.
Returning to the show that night, which was appropriately cold, dark, and rainy (“un temps de chien,” the French would say), “Le Voyage” seemed more effectively creepy. There were a couple of limos outside; a few corporate types getting guided tours of the show; a pert little white tent that housed only a cloak room (no bar in sight); and a slightly bedraggled art-world contingent. The biggest group was gathered in the “Club Salo” gallery, where British artist Adam Chodzko's Reunion: Salo, 1998, was on view. Chodzko's piece, which documents a search for the now-grown children who appeared as nude extras in Pasolini's 1976 film masterpiece, prompted the most respectful response of the evening. With its nods to the French ideals of le cinema, l'erotisme, and le policier, Reunion: Salo had them worshipping yet again at the auteur's altar. Curator Bill Arning reminisced about his seeing the film when he was fifteenhow shocking it had seemed then, and how staid and august it all seemed now. Even Chodzko's snippets of nude kids being led around, on leashes and on all fours, by those cruel Italian fascists seemed to induce a very studious response.
Contrasting with all this darkness was an upstairs room called “Infinite White Cube.” This was the utopian epicenter of the show, a tongue-in-cheek paean not only to Jay Jopling's London gallery but also, the curators insist, to an all-white room in the Belgian Symbolist Fernand Khnopff's Brussels house, long since destroyed. Suffused in neon light, the room, a scenographic conceit by Lauro and the curators, looked cool and funny: a Light and Space piece run amok. Inside it was a soft floor sculpture by the French artist Vidya Gastaldon, with yellow velvet “pillows” recalling the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz. “Ca fait du bien, cette lumiere,” exclaimed one female viewer, as the room pulsed with electricity. In the gloomy climes of Northern Europe in November, the “Infinite White Cube”and “Le Voyage intérieur” in generalwere a welcome bright spell.
Left: Takashi Murakami, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, and Maurizio Cattelan. Right: Artist Susan Philipsz and curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist.
“T1,” yet another large-scale international periodical exhibition, opened in Turin last week in conjunction with the ARTissima fair. Organized by two accomplished curators (Castello di Rivoli's Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and Francesco Bonami from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago), staged at three museums and four additional venues, and involving ten “international correspondents” (consultants who offered suggestions to the curators) and seventy-five more-or-less young artists, the show provoked great expectations. Besides, foodies will know that it's truffle season, reason enough for a trip to Piedmont. Appropriately, the triennial’s inaugural theme, “The Pantagruel Syndrome,” was centered on the “consumption” of art: the constant hunt, the “swallowing” of large amounts on these weekend jaunts, and the hasty digestion of new works and new names.
As the venues were scattered, I joined a core of out-of-town visitors, jumped a shuttle, and started at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, where artists, curators, and other VIPs gathered for a quick, casual lunch. At the foundation I spotted a few interesting worksJeppe Hein's lightning benches were fun and Ryan Gander's video installation was hauntingbut there was still much to see elsewhere, so we hurried off. The next stop was the “Sala Settoria” at the Anatomia Patalogica dell'Université, where Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook was scheduled to deliver a lecture on death to eight corpses lying “in state.” One almost wants a palate cleanser between such experiences, as it can be difficult to move straight from, say, Takashi Murakami's anime-influenced sculptures to something of such a fundamentally dissimilar mood.
Left: Architect Massimiliano Fuksas, Turin mayor Sergio Chiamparino, and “T1” curator Francesco Bonami.
Right: Artist Mike Nelson at ARTissima.
In the pleasant company of The New Museum's Trevor Smith (a triennial correspondent) and his friend Arani Bose (working, by phone, on a breakthrough in stroke treatment and running his two galleries, in Chelsea and New Delhi), we crisscrossed the city, making it to three other venues before hiking the long way up to Rivoli at dusk. A dense fog turned the Castello into a stunning vision worthy of Caspar David Friedrich, and thus primed for contemplation, a small group made a pilgrimage to Chiesa di Santa Croce to hear Susan Philipsz's enchanting sound piece Stay With Me, 2005, a welcome respite from the day's clamor. But we couldn’t stay as long as we might have liked, as a magnificent dinner and the obligatory club after-party beckoned. Artist Markus Schinwald warned us at the door to the latter that it was “packed, loud, and steaming.” So of course, instead of turning around, we took his remaining drink tickets and forged our way inside.
Our Thursday was spent at the venues in Rivoli, and it was in this neighborhood’s spookily atmospheric buildings that I finally found hints of the promised Rabelaisian grotesquerie. Doris Salcedo's survey at the Castello itself is undeniably beautiful. The show centers on The Abyss, 2005, which gives the appearance of a heavy, eighteenth-century brick vault emerging from the white cube (itself carved out of the castle's original brick interior). Salcedo shipped the bricks, which perfectly match those of the building, from her hometown of Bogota to Turin. (Justifiably suspicious, though typically overzealous, customs officials destroyed the first shipment in its entirety.) This room within a room hovers just above the floor. Over time, the piece subtly develops an oppressive densityjust like the fog outside. Other highlights up on the hill included Michael Rakowitz's smart installation Dull Roar, 2005, (recently on view at Lombard-Freid in New York), Christian Jankowski's 16mm Mystery, 2004, documentation of Javier Tellez's human catapult (recently fired over the US-Mexico border), amazing videos by Miguel Angel Rios and Carlos Amorales, and Ed Young's Bruce Gordon Found Object [concept], 2002-03. Gordon is a Cape Town-based bar owner, sold (as a work of art) in an auction in 2002. He appeared in person in Turin as Young’s contribution to the exhibition.
Left: Artist Ed Young with Bruce Gordon. Right: “T1” curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev with gallerist Arani Bose and the New Museum's Trevor Smith.
Dinner followed the opening of ARTissima at Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo's private residencea beautiful city palazzo with an outstanding art collection and a subterranean swimming pool that one could peer at (through circular portholes) from the terrace above. It seemed like everyone was there: Hans-Ulrich Obrist flew in for the day; correspondents Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy, Raimundas Malasauskas, and Adam Szymczyk had just arrived from New York, Vilnius, and Basel, respectively; former Whitney and SF MoMA director David Ross showed up; and a just-married Pierre Bismuth was obviously happy on the arm of his beautiful wife Dessilava Dimova. Finally, Maurizio Cattelan, who I didn’t spot at the party, was at least represented by his Beuys-inspired La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi, 2000. Chatting with various correspondents over some Barolo (following the next day's roundtable discussion) netted some interesting proposals for countering biennial fatigue, ranging from a “centurannial” to be held in Turin every hundred years (as proposed by Ralph Rugoff of the CCA Wattis Institute) to a triennial in which the same seventy-five artists would be featured every time (suggested by Malasauskas).
By this point I still hadn't seen one key venue, the local galleries (which stayed open all night Saturday), and an entire art fair. But one can only swallow so much. By taking on its dilemma as its theme, even if obliquely, “T1” simultaneously fights against and flirts with the biennial form. Its shortcomings are thus due mostly to the consumers’ loss of focus when faced with such a spread. Though many well-known artists presented familiar works, “T1” still offered a range of discoveries, like Jesus “Bubu” Negron's work at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna. As often, many of the great moments happen off-site, like “Sold Out,” a smart show curated by Geoff Lowe, Jacqueline Riva, and Charlotte Laubard and presented in their apartment, and Susan Philipsz's stand-up a cappella rendition of “The Internationale” in a cramped local restaurant. “T1” left me feeling well fed, but already looking forward to a second helping.
Left: Mike Kelley. Right: Photographer Todd Eberle, Diana Picasso, and Stephane Emeret. (All photos David Velasco)
“If you're coming to the opening, plan on bringing a machete,” Gagosian director Ealan Wingate told a curator friend of mine who had come by the gallery earlier in the day for an informal preview of the much-anticipated Mike Kelley show, “Day Is Done.” He wasn't kidding. When I arrive on Thursday night, there is a queue stretching down 24th Street, with a long velvet rope and several hefty bouncers on hand to keep the throng in check. This sight is unnerving, but luckily I spy a Gagosian operative hovering near the door and she graciously lets me in immediately. I couldn't help but recall my club-going days in the '80s, when a casual friend at the door promised easy entry. As it happens, this memory is surprisingly apt once I penetrate the gallery. It is very dark insideyes, it initially brings to mind a jittery-making nightclub where you're supposed to be having so much fun. I'm not even going to try to summarize the exhibition: It is staggeringly complex and deserves at least one more and probably several further visits. Kelley's installationactually, more like a constellation of installations, overlapping and intentionally confusingevokes spook houses and horror movies (Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses  comes to mind), which makes bare-bones interpretive sense, as the traumatic dread afflicting high-school kids throughout the U.S.A. is a pervasive theme.
Left: Interview magazine's Ingrid Sischy. Right: Artists Jordan Wolfson, John Tremblay, and Cecily Brown.
“It really scared me,” a smart person remarks. But I'm more worried about painless egress. Sarah Watson, the director at Gagosian's Los Angeles base, ushers me through a series of back rooms, until we finally emerge onto the street, where a fleet of livery cars has been summoned to ferry guests to the party at 5 Ninth, the restaurant-cum-speakeasy in the Meatpacking District. “This is one of the things that's great about Gagosian,” Watson comments in passing. “There are so many people working here, they can manage this kind of chaos.” The fête itself is pleasant, but it feels rather unremarkable after the extremity and sensory overload of the show itself. Perhaps abjuring my reportorial duties, I remain seated on the same banquette throughout the party; people can come to me, I asseverate silently if rather grandiosely. I notice that the Metro Pictures gang is very presentHelene Winer, Janelle Reiring, and director Tom Hemanwhich reminds me that when I first heard about Kelley's doing a show at Gagosian, it was emphasized that he wasn’t necessarily leaving Metro, but that Larry had made him an offer he couldn't refuse: vast gallery acreage and major financing for the artist's most complex installation to date. I overhear Kelley saying, “I want to introduce Niagara, an old friend from Detroit”that is, his former bandmate (in Destroy All Monsters) and a star in the Detroit underground performance scene. The music playing at 5 Ninth, which the proprietors keyed to the event, is appropriate enough'70s punk, Sonic Youth, and the occasional, agreeably clashing pop song.
I arrived at the show on the late side, so most of the “important” people had already left for the modern and contemporary auction that same evening at Phillips. As the party gets crowded they re-appear en masse, many apparently crashing. “Every dealer in New York is here,” another dealer tells me. “And all the Europeans!” I do notice a few familiar faces in the packed, three-floor party: Tony Oursleran old friend and collaborator of Kelley'sand Jacqueline Humphries, Charline von Heyl and Christopher Wool, Anton Kern and Nathalie Karg, Tara Subkoff and Nate Lowman, Cecily Brown, Francesco Vezzoli, Piero Golia, Miguel Calderón, the Gelatin people, Tony Shafrazi, and Hollywood mogul Michael Ovitz. “I've never seen you in a suit and tie before,” Ovitz remarks. “It's my preferred costume nowadays,” I respond. “People see a white man in a dark suit and think, Hey, maybe he has money.” The party is evidently heating up as the night winds on, because as I'm heading out I witness an altercation between Niagara and Kelley's Los Angeles dealer, Patrick Painter. I'm sworn to secrecy on this one, but it looks really scary.
Left: SMH Director and Chief Curator Thelma Golden and artist Kara Walker. Right: Artist William Villalongo.
If at least one prominent critic carped that “Freestyle,” the Studio Museum in Harlem's 2001 survey of art by young black Americans, fizzled a bit when it came to the works of a few participants who appeared to believe in drab conceptual gravitas for its own sake, the Wednesday night opening of “Frequency” (not “Freestyle II” as the SMH website chides!) brooked no such reservations. It was as effervescent and bright a show as could be hoped for. On my arrival I was immediately crushed in the museum's vestibule with one of the show's lenders, and it was so tightly packed inside that we (as well as the fifty-odd folks behind us) were held in limbo until a few bodies popped out.
“There are two levels of amazement for me,” enthused SMH associate curator Christine Kim, who organized both shows with museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden. “Seeing this diverse work together in a single room after months, if not years, of preparation, and seeing the artists standing together in all their complexities.” “Both are unified,” she added while observing the 8PM photo-call, proud as a den mother. The real amazement was to see gallery owners chatting earnestly with any artist that wanted a word. Jack Shainman kept close to Hank Thomas, one of his two charges in the show, but genially worked the room, and Kelly Taxter (of Taxter & Spengemann) nipped from wall label to wall label, jotting visual notes with her cell-phone camera. “I live a few blocks away, so getting here was easy,” she said, explaining her sprightliness. I had thought she lived in Chelsea, as the gallery made its name while existing in the front room of an apartment on West 22nd Street, to which she retorted, “Not any more,” then added, “thank fucking God.” Collector Rodney Miller, not shopping tonight (“a little too fresh,” he enthused) stood with MoMA curatorial assistant Sarah Lewis. She and I shared a favorite from the show, Zoë Charlton's undainty illustrations, as well as the confidence that many of these artists would soon thrive, if not on (considerable) merit alone, then certainly on enthusiasm. It is not easy to peg the tone of the showto emphasize its “effervescence” seems like faint praise, as there is much swirling below the surfacebut it is clear that these exhibitions have already helped young black artists to persist with methodologies that are neither didactic nor isolated.
As the proceedings migrated from the museum to the after-party at The Harlem Grill, an elegant supper club a few blocks away, the spotlight shifted a bit from the new stars of “Frequency.” Here, a larger community of artists was celebrating itself, as the “Freestyle” old guard offered advice and embraces to the young bucks. Philadelphia-based “Frequency” artist Jina Valentine told me that “the biggest shock has been that they are as impressed with us as we are with them,” while Rashid Johnson, who proudly explained that “Freestyle” launched his career, didn't think it strange at all. “To experience the New York art world so suddenly is alarming and fascinating. We understand what they're going through and we understand what they're going to reap.” “Fraternity” is a word he (and many other artists) reached for, but with a sense of inclusiveness and mood of expansive possibility that was anything but parochial. If “Frequency” allows a group of artists' careers to develop productively instead of forcing them to clutch at market-friendly gimmickry to survive, we are all in luck. A conversation at the end of the evening with video and performance artist Kalup Linzy, who hails from Stuckey, Florida and spoke with a seductive, honeyed drawl, showed this fraternity's power at work. A pleasingly eccentric figure, Linzy spoke of his goals now that all his initial dreams had been fulfilled. “My only hope is that everything will come together before I die,” he said, sincerely, obviously in no big hurry. “If it doesn't, I'm gone. So it doesn't matter.”
I’ve never been to Kassel, which means I’ve never been to Documenta. Not Catherine David’s in ’97. Not Okwui Enwezor’s three years ago. Documenta 12, in 2007, will be the fifty-second anniversary (while they’re referring to it as the fiftieth, I doubt anyone will dare call it “golden”) of the ice queen of contemporary art exhibitions (which began as an off-shoot of a federal garden show, the rubble of heavily bombed Kassel having been buried beneath a vast rose bed). So when I heard Roger Buergel, D12’s curator, would be speaking in Vancouver about his plans for his really big show, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I mean, Canada’s just so much closer than Germany, and I’d heard that Buergel was an advocate of some kind of localism. While a critical darling, he is nonetheless a surprising pick for the Documenta gig. He was given the first Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement in 2003, but mostly for shows that operated as none-too-subtle rebukes to the current biennialism, with breezy titles like “Governmentality. Art in conflict with the international hyper-bourgeoisie and the national petty bourgeoisie” (in 2000 at Alte Kestner Gesellschaft in Hannover). Goodor should I say, guttimes!
Lucky for me I’d guaranteed at least some fun for the trip since my tour guide in Vancouver was Jeremy Shaw, the super-talented young local artist and electronic musician (Google his moniker, CircleSquare), who recently made his US solo debut at cherrydelosreyes in Los Angeles with an eight-channel video, DMT, 2004. The work focuses on Shaw and seven of his buds tripping on the eponymous synthetic version of a hallucinogen habitually ingested by Amazonian shamans. We opted to get high before heading off to the Buergel lecturebut only on really amazing sushi.
A small crowd of Vancouver’s cultural elite, artists, and dutiful students assembled outside the entrance to the UBC Robson Square Lecture Theatre directly across from the Vancouver Art Gallery, the shindig’s host. Jeremy introduced me to Michael Turner, author of The Pornographer’s Poem and a sharp commentator on the Vancouver scene, then pointed out the dignitaries in attendance: Artists Brian Jungen and Tim Lee chatted with Turner, while Jeff Wall had a face-to-face with fellow conceptual shutterbug Roy Arden. Someone referred to them as “the Dons.” Jeff Wall as the Tony Soprano of the art world! Wasn’t this what Rosalind Krauss discovered when her Wall catalogue essay for the Pompidou “swam with the fishes” due to having made an unfavorable comparison between the Don and James Coleman? Tracey Lawrence (Shaw’s gallerist), curator Helga Pakasaar, and the chic young critic Monika Szewczyk were also caught up in the swirl. I missed meeting my favorite Vancouver artist, Steven Shearer, because he snuck in late, just as Buergel was taking the stage.
Or rather, as Buergel’s collaborator, Ruth Noack, arrived at the podium. For most of the night, the Vienna-based art historian and critic held forth about “The Government,” an interrelated series of exhibitions in major European venues that the two had cocurated and that for all its Foucauldian pedigree sounded like quite a kegger. Much dialogue with disenfranchised factory workers. Exhibitions creating “flow.” “Stalinist totalitarian perversion of modernity versus corporatist perversion of modernity.” Martha Rosler. Allan Sekula. An archive of “documentary” pictures of a 1967-68 Argentinean counterpropaganda art action, Archivo Tucumán Arte. Representative shot: A banner proclaiming “Visita Tucuman, jardin de misere!” [“Visit Tucuman, garden of misery!”]. As I said, gut times.
After about an hour and fifteen minutes of the fun, I was ready to experiment with things stronger than DMT. “Rogue-r,”as Noack referred to himand I will have three topics that will guide us. Not illustrated by the art selected but enabling fantasies for it.” The first a question: “Whether modernity is our antiquity?” It was one of the most provocative statements of the evening, since, as Noack stated, after postmodernity we seem to have modernity again. (Here Buergel came alive, saying a little about his controversial postulate for a “new universalism.”) “Fantasy” numero dos: “Bare Life”life stripped of all its paraphernalia, taken down to sheer existence (a concept of Walter Benjamin via Giorgio Agamben)to be manifested by “dance and performance,” seemingly much of it by Eastern European women. The third: “Education.” In a nutshell, it seems D12 will be a show about global citizenship as well as a meditation on community, fragmentation, and site-specificity, in part by revisiting of 1955’s Documenta 1.
The presentation concluded. There were a few questions. The last, basically: “But what about painting?” Noack assured the questioner that she and Buergel loved painting, that “Rogue-r” trained as a painter, and that he had not only exhibited but sold some of his paintings. A few muffled groans, more sighs of relief, and, finally, applause. If I had not slipped out of my chair into a slough of despond, I might have rallied to inquire about the conspicuous absence of the word (or even the concept of) pleasure and its relationship to a critique of governmentality. Buergel and Noack didn’t seem worried about the quasi-colonialist potential of the Big Show operating as a legislating, hegemonic power, however well-intentioned and locally instantiated. Certain peoples and actions are always left out of the picture, no matter how global its perspective. Noack had partially hedged on something like this, claiming that she and her quiet colleague “were not going to have a canon.” Um, okay. Maybe the Kunsthalle Fridericianum’s being kept free for flash mob protest rallies.
Shaw and I headed for a bar. I vented: “Can you imagine either one of them finding the political, aesthetic, and communitarian commentary in something like Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore?” Jeremy just laughed and shook his head. Governmentalize that.
Left: Detail view of Andy Warhol's photobooth strip Untitled (Holly Solomon), 1963-64 (Photo: Bonhams). Right: Writer and professor Ann Reynolds stands before Janice Provisor's Roselawn, 1980.
What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? The Holly Solomon Estate auction on Sunday afternoon at Bonhams in Los Angeles was not your usual sale. In conventional terms it was something of a bust, attracting only a tiny crowd of bargain hunters and a few family friends such as Christine Nichols and Paul Masursky. A lack of current market darlings meant that many lots sold below estimate and a fair sprinkling were bought in.
Yet, with its startling variety of incredibly low-selling items, the Solomon sale functioned as an alternative art fair, a marketplace of the out-of-fashion, and a rigorous art-historical critique. The event was only a partial clearinghouse for the estate, including just a couple of obligatory Warhols, two solid Gordon Matta-Clarks, a nice Richard Tuttle, a great Charles Garabedian, and a cornucopia of about 250 other items that revealed the twists and turns of one of the most fertile and quirky minds of our era.
First as a collector and after 1975 in her Soho and uptown galleries, Solomon embraced art of nearly every persuasion, from Conceptualism to Pattern & Decoration, chunky abstraction to slick cibachrome photography. She was instrumental in jumpstarting the careers of Matta-Clark, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sigmar Polke, Judy Pfaff, William Wegman, and the entire P&D movement. An inveterate shopper, she was that rare dealer who bought both artists she showed and others whom she happened to like.
In today's hyped marketplace, Solomon's pluralistic pursuit of the new looks prescientonly the names of the artists have changed. The lethargic pace of the sale gave plenty of time for deep-dish thinkingwhat happened to some of these artists and who decided that their works and ideas were no longer relevant? This work seems more interesting than much of what one sees today in Chelsea or Culver City. What does that tell us about the current crop of tyro-geniuses?
Left: Frank Hettig of Bonhams talks with gallerist Marc Selwyn about works by Gordon Matta-Clark. Right: Bonhams's Cecilia Dan and museum director Victoria Rowe look on at Robert Zakanitch's Cotton Seed, 1975.
Fifteen paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Nicholas Africano looked totally fresh. These included sketches of neo-romantic nymphs and ephebes that seemed worthy of Christian Bérard. A 1980 tableau of the death scene from The Girl of the Golden West featured a killer epitaph in small handwritten letters: “Non morire, Johnson.” This kind of lyrical oomph was the ballast of Holly's sensibility, evident in the kooky brilliance of Kim MacConnel, Robert Kushner, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, and Rob Wynne, all of whose early works here seemed shockingly direct and alive.
While the auction was being filmed for cable television's Fine Living network, we played a game: “What’s Most Outré?” My friend, art historian Ann Reynolds, chose Joe Zucker's scary six-foot Octoport and humongous nutty diptych Kung Fu Tiger vs Crane, both from 1984. I picked the three big, iconic mid-'80s oils by Scott Kilgour and two early, murky abstractions by Lydia Dona. Outré-in-a-good-way winners were the clunky cookie-dough semi-abstractions by Janis Provisor and a group of five lusciously painted landscapes by Lynton Wells. The sale's sleeper, Wells's expert paint handling and deft use of photography and relief showed that he is a major artist missing-in-action.
The more time I spent with the collection, the more dangerously revisionist I got. Currently sidelined players like Tina Girouard and Izhar Patkin looked ready for primetime. Questions arose: Are Susan Hall's drawings from 1969 any less interesting than Amy Cutler's or Robyn O'Neil's from 2005? Why is Donna Dennis’s use of architecture-as-sculpture in the 1970s never referenced in the context of similar efforts today by Jorge Pardo or Rirkrit Tiravanija? Are the cartoonish paintings of Rodney Alan Greenblat and Milan Kunc any less charmingly dopey than those of Takeshi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara? What does Africano lack that Hernan Bas and Elizabeth Peyton have?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie? For today's youth-cult art market, it ain't what you got, it's the age that you do it. When today's derivative hotshots turn forty, they will go the way of last season's Hollywood starlets and boy toys. And after the dust settles, maybe some in the art world will look again at the lasting achievements of Solomon’s artists. Twenty or so years ago, she gave these artists a shot and now her eclectic taste has been disseminated in 250 or so directions. Even if no one broke a price record, the fact that these works have found new homes is a good thing. She believed in love, Alfie.
“Here's the thing to remember: Don't make fun of me, make fun of Mary,” Jeffrey Deitch quipped upon my arrival at the opening reception of David Salle's new show at Mary Boone's Chelsea space. Deitch, who had coproduced the exhibition and was working the crowd, whisked me off to meet Salle himselfuntil we lost one another in the crush. I couldn't even see Boone to make fun of her, though I did spot Ron Warren, her gallery director, being passed a wristwatch in the back office by the smart-looking couple on the other side of his oversize desk. He examined it tenderly, passing it from one hand to the other, and my eyes popped at the thought that the woman had put her Rolex in hock for a stake in the new work. (Warren disabused me of this notion later.)
But this was Salle at Boone, and the double-breasted suits were running the room as they have for twenty years, so what was I to think? As it turned out, the jewelry “deal” was the evening’s only conspicuous trading-floor moment; indeed, save for a cab ride downtown with Stella Schnabel (Julian’s daughter), who assured me in a blazing five-minute tirade that “everything is shit” (re: every artist I could name apart from Yves Klein) and “people are very confused” (re: the Salle opening), insouciance and reserve outweighed '80s-style bluster. Schnabel senior didn’t even bother with dinner, opting for mischief with Tracey Emin at Lehmann Maupin instead.
Said Salle dinner was at La Esquina, for a minute late last month New York's chicest subterranean boîte. Accessed through a taqueria on Lafayette Street, the entrance is marked by an “Employees Only” sign. “There are four sections: a Jeffrey section, a Mary section, a David section, and, um, a fourth section,” Deitch told me. “I can’t remember which section you’re in.” I knew right off I was in the kids' section because all the other tables were smaller, more softly lit, and had people like Thaddaeus Ropac at them. My bunch was scrappyas it turns out, there wasn't a bad seat in the houseand included sculptors Gedi Sibony and Robert Lazzarini, he of the distorted telephone booth, former White Columns helmswoman Lauren Ross, painter Lisa Yuskavage, various chums of Salle's, bold-faced and otherwise, and a pair of collectors who were quivering in anticipation of a Barnaby Furnas painting at auction this week.
Sibony, my immediate partner, ruminated with me for a while on the merit (or lack thereof) of Salle's canvases: on the one hand, their rudimentary Photoshop swirls and dry, programmatic psychedelia; on the other, their vastly enhanced paint handling and newly saturated palette. Struggling for closure, Sibony urged me to remember that the show's central vortex motif was “just an asshole, you know, a giant anus.”
Mary Schwab, Salle's assistant of eight years, had a sweeter, if inconclusive, line on the work: “I've been living with them every day; I've been there since their conception.” She did, however, venture that the paintings were “happy,” responding to a sincere enquiry after her boss, who looked drawn and uptight all evening. I didn’t help matters any by directing a number of deliberately ambivalent questions his way. “What’s your angle?” Salle demanded at one point. I wouldn't say. He gestured to his pal Adam Green, of the New Yorker, advising me to “talk to this guy, he has very interesting things to say.” After telling me that he wasn’t an expert on art, then explaining that his colleague, the peerless Peter Schjeldahl, was “good with the old stuff,” Green launched a defense of his friend’s work. “I don’t see why everyone has to give him a hard time. Why does he have to answer for everything?”
I caught up with Deitch again as the invited guests hailed cabs and handsome interlopers began to crowd the bar. He was chatting in a corner with the ingénue Tiffany Limos and Artforum editors Tim Griffin and Scott Rothkopf, and happily not giving a shit about anything, exactly the mindset I'd found him in several hours before. Here had been a generous, well-done bash, flashy but free from hysteria. But where was Mary Boone? She kept a low profile, and I still hadn't seen her by party's end.
Left: Artist Piero Golia's twenty-four-hour sleeping marathon. Right: Artist and curator Jordan Wolfson with Dennis Oppenheim.
My last stop was a block away at the Swiss Institute for “24-Hour Incidental,” a noon-to-noon presentation of ten performance pieces curated by video and installation artist Jordan Wolfson as part of Performa 05. There were perhaps twenty youths slumped against the wall when I arrived, just past midnight. I was drunk and a bit beat, and Wolfson, the Swiss Institute's associate curator Gabrielle Giattino, and outgoing artistic director Marc-Olivier Wahler (none of whom had left the premises for twelve hours) had a mad energy that impressed and exhausted me in equal measure. It wasn’t their fault. I scaled Yoko Ono's Yes Ladder, 1966, and almost got vertigo, then hopped on a stool to look through a peephole at Koo Jeong-A's makeshift construction in the gallery's storage area, an evolving diorama of bits and bobs of gallery effluvia. “Looks like Étant Donné,” I offered, the last shred of critical faculties giving way. There was a great intensity in the room, and I was sure then that I had been too promiscuous with my energies at the Salle dinner. It was nearing 3AM, and they had nine more hours to go.
On Wednesday night, as part of a weeklong series of talks, the art world’s po-mo poster boy, Jean Baudrillard, promoted his latest text, The Conspiracy of Art, at the swank new digs of Jack Tilton Gallery, a former residence of Franklin Roosevelt. In the second-floor ballroom where FDR married Eleanor, Sylvére Lotringer, founder of Semiotext(e) and the major importer of French theory in the '80s, presented Baudrillard as “pretty much the rock star of French philosophy” with “a New Deal for art.”
I was charmed to see the decent turnout. Baudrillard's ideas were in vogue about twenty years ago, when art came to consciousness of itself as a commodity. His writing about “the precession of simulacra” broke new ground in art blather. I wondered if he was the simulacrum of thought. The electric guitar screeches provided by No Wave veteran Arto Lindsay before and after the discussion were quaintly confrontational.
The sight of the Euro-arty-looking crowd induced a grad school flashback: The small “ballroom” was crammed with the same people who were in my po-mo theory seminarbut twenty years later! Plus art dealers. On the walls, a collegiate vibe emanated from poster-size photos, tacked up with pushpins: pictures of an open book, with pen and café crème; two Godard-ish students conversing on a sidewalk; a topless self-portrait. Had some wag installed a parody of the clichéd French intellectual and his accoutrements? The photographer was Baudrillard himself. “If art ceases to matter as art, why shouldn't Baudrillard make art too?” asked Lotringer, indicating his approval. “He's joined a group whose reason to exist he denies.”
“Art is everywhere but in art,” Baudrillard declared. “Art is no longer where it thinks it is.“ The Conspiracy of Art concerns how art has been infected by ”the narrow proximity between artist and consumer,“ by the “obscenity of interactivity.” “There is no more ‘formal’ difference between art and reality,” and this is a problem. “Art has now collapsed into the aestheticized banality of everything else . . . a ‘pornography of transparency’ that we can only experience with irony and indifference. It claims to be null: ‘I am null! I am null!’ But it is truly null!” he smiles triumphantly. “Striving for emptiness when it is already empty.” The problem, said the philosopher, is the fake nothings: “The snobs of nullity, the counterfeiters, must not be allowed free reign. The poetic operation is to make nothingness arise from signs.” Amen, brother. But at the end of the evening, which left most of the audience scratching their heads as some lined up to have their books signed, it wasn’t clear whether the “nothingness” achieved here was real, fake, simulacrum, or some combination of the above.
As this self-described “pessimist” spoke, I thought of über-modernist Michael Fried, who wrote “Art and Objecthood” in 1967 to defend art (that is, modernist art, à la Greenberg) against “objects”the mere stuff invading the art world at the time (in the form of Minimalism, installation, performance, etc.). Art isn't stuff, Fried argued; it's not just a bunch of objects that interact with the viewer. At the cusp of postmodernism, Fried saw what was happening but was famously wrong about the future of art. Weirdly enough, Baudrillard has arrived at a similar place almost forty years later. Like Fried, who defended art's autonomy, Baudrillard kvetched that art is “infected with the hyperreality that aestheticizes everything” and deprived of its specialness. He called for an art lifted and separated from “value,” from obscene “proximity” to the viewer, from the interactivity where "you (the viewer) are the artist.
“Art is inexchangeable,” Lotringer chimed in helpfully. “It cannot be reduced to value . . . we need a New Deal where things will not be exchangeable.”
I was glad to get a reality check afterward. New York Times writer Deborah Solomon marveled at how “all those guys, Fried, Arthur Danto, Hilton Kramer, start to sound alike about the 'end of Art.'” Don't these people have the hindsight to consider that maybe it's their point of view that's history, and that art will be just fine? “It's all over for them in the '60s,” she said. “They can't see anything after Brice Marden.”
How uncanny that Baudrillard's discourse lubricated big-ticket sales for art that made infinite jest about its own inflated “value” all the way to the bank. He was (mis)taken as the cheerleader for simulacra. His discourse was used to endorse the confusion between art and commodity by branding high-end product with fancy schmancy postmodern theory. His call now for art to subvert “the banality of hyperreality” puzzled the room that evening, but he's always been a Situationistvery anti-“society of the spectacle”an intellectual black hole aspiring to implode the system from within. They would have known that if they had actually read him. But few people did. His discourse was a fetish; “Baudrillard,” a brand name. That’s what people came to see tonight, and that's what they got. Most couldn't follow what the heck he was sayingand not for lack of trying. Some blamed themselves for it. Hes the antifetish fetish, but his brand identity is “difficult,” so . . . whatever!
If one only sees art through its exchange value, Baudrillard's remarks have a grain of truth. (We've all seen how collectors, dealers, and schmoozy artists can reduce art to mere “value.”) Indeed, the obscene “lack of distance” here seems to be between Baudrillard and capital, the “collapse” between his point of view and the market's. As Nietzsche says, if you gaze long enough into the abyss, you become it.
On the way out, there was a table stacked with Baudrillard books for sale, and Hatred of Capitalism: A Semiotext(e) Reader, for $17.
Left: Jesper Just and RoseLee Goldberg. Right: Norwegian actor Baard Owe among digital projections of the Finnish Screaming Men's Choir. (All photos: Paula Court)
Curator and critic RoseLee Goldberg and her husband, furniture designer Dakota Jacksonwho, along with Liz-n-Val, must be one of the New York art world’s most instantly recognizable coupleswere front and center at the Thursday night launch of Performa 05, a startup performance art biennial (the first of its kind) that Goldberg conceived and directed. The event was hosted by fashion designer Donna Karan at the Stephan Weiss Studio (named for her late husband, who made his sculptures there) in Manhattan's West Village, and was centered on a new multimedia presentation by young Danish artist Jesper Just.
Weaving through a cluster of PR folk at the door and into the spacious first-floor room, my companion and I immediately spotted the critic Jerry Saltz deep in conversation with Just's New York gallerist, the beautiful (according to New York magazine's summer poll at least) Perry Rubenstein, while around them flitted Performa board member Stephanie French, Jeannie Greenberg Rohatyn, curator Chrissie Iles, and artist Christian Marclay. Before any discussion of Just's imminent True Love Is Yet to Come, Saltz had a tip for us: based on her contribution to “Greater New York 2005,” the Village Voice scribe suggested making time on Monday, November 14 for Tamy Ben-Tor's performance Exotica, the Rat and the Liberal.
We took dutiful note: The three-week festival is spread across more than twenty venues and features the work of over ninety artists, so any advance guidance should prove invaluable. Seating ourselves in front of a heavily curtained stage, we also heard from Rubenstein about Just's visa problems, with his last-minute arrival in New York (five o'clock Wednesday afternoon) only secured with the assistance of Washington DC-based collector and lobbyist Tony Podesta. A little after seven o'clock, the lights went down and the curtain drew back to reveal distinguished Norwegian film and television actor Baard Owe, who glanced around briefly before launching into Doris and Fred Fisher’s oldie “Whispering Grass.”
Left: Goldberg, curator Chrissie Iles, and artists Shirin Neshat and Cindy Sherman. Right: Goldberg, Owe, and Donna Karan.
Fans of Just's video work will have had no trouble reconciling this and what followed with his previous musical explorations of masculinity and sentiment, suffused as it was in noir-ish atmosphere and Lynchian histrionics. But Just took things several steps further here, blending Owe's impassioned live renditions (which also included “Unchained Melody,” “Bless You for Being an Angel,” “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” and “Cry Me a River”) with some extraordinary layered projections that appeared almost holographic in their uncanny verisimilitude. Owe interacted with a variety of virtual settings and costarsincluding, most memorably, white-suited members of the Finnish Screaming Men's Choirand his total immersion in the artist's wistful universe earned him and his director an enthusiastic reception.
Addressing the audience immediately afterwards, Goldberg described a blushing Just as “a magician” who had “transformed what could be expected from twenty-first century performance.” Thanking some of the numerous friends and benefactors who had facilitated both his participation and the biennial as a whole, she finally introduced a verklempt Karan. The black-clad magnate instructed us, tearfully, that her husband’s former studio is “a very sacred space” and waxed emotional about True Love Is Yet to Come: “It's about moving forward and looking to the future . . . It's about love. The answer is love! I love you all!” And, drifting upstairs to explore the expansive living room and exquisitely designed rooftop garden (“I said to Stephen 'I have to be in the country,'” explained Karan, “so he said 'Then I'll build you a park'”), and taking in another round of emotional speeches from the key players along with our wine and nibbles, we were beginning to feel it.
As New York City's soul is sucked away by the tripartite hellmouth of gentrification, chain stores, and Starbucks, the West Village Halloween parade is an increasingly precious outlet for the freakiness of yore. Unlike the annual Gay Pride march, which has jumped the shark into corporate-sponsored vanilla-ness, the best part of the Halloween parade is that amateur creatures of the night far outnumber the pros. And, with the exception of the sublimely expressive skeleton puppets that kicked off Monday night’s spookfest, the regular devils and “cereal killers” (“backstabbed” with single-portion Cheerios boxes) are by far the most interesting. It was an evening of grassroots performance art at its best.
In a nod to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the skeleton puppets, hoisted far overhead, and a New Orleans jazz band lent a raucous, ramshackle Jazz Funeral ambiance to the Day of the Dead festivities. Squeezed by the good-humored crowd on Sixth Avenue in Soho, I was challenged, as always, by my petiteness. But it was a relief to just be myself, in my witch hat. At the first glimpse of the looming skeletons, a wave of hands wielding digital cameras shot up like some sort of undead salute: “Heil Skeletons!” In their devil horns and zombie masks, the audience was a hilarious microcosm of New York: freaks watching freaks, and snapping away.
One assumes one's fellow New Yorkers harbor rich fantasy lives beneath their boring exteriors and the parade offers a hotline into the psyches of all those people with whom you try not to make eye contact in the subway. This year was strikingly light on the celeb alter egos: I spotted a few Elvises, three Marilyns and Ali Gs, one Richard Simmons, and one dogged Austin Powers. There were also far fewer “Vacationer-in-Chiefs” than expected: one Devil/Bush affably waved to the crowd, and political couple Dubya and Arnold backslapped their way up Sixth surrounded by Fred Flintstones, Batmen, “Supremes for Hire” (the Diana Ross variety), adult “babies,” and a naked burly guy cavorting in a giant hollowed-out pumpkin “mini.” A Grim Reaper, endorsing “Ross Perot: Now There’s a Choice,” was strikingly haunting. Christianity was represented by: a friar cradling a live duck (for blocks!?), two amorous priests, and nuns galore (some with giant hooters, some plain). There was an observant “Jew” with payos (sidelocks) and yarmulke and a staff shirt from B&H photo (the super camera store run by super-Jews).
This backseat psychologist was intrigued to see the nonhumans that people identified with; one gentleman in particular caught my eye with an Oldenburgesque soft toilet that protruded from his front, accessorized by a roll of toilet paper. I kept imagining him telling his shrink: “I’m gonna be a toilet this year!” A male member waddled along in a cleverly made inflatable penis getup. “He’s touching himself!” shrieked an appreciative onlooker. I didn’t spot any walking vaginas, but two middle-age gals were “Just 2 Old Bags” bedecked in their personal shopping bag collections. And there’s always the wild and crazy guy with the cardboard box around his head labeled: “Mammograms: Place Boobs Here.”
The Artforum reader will be pleased to know that some parade-goers were inspired by art: five groups dressed up as Christo's “Gates,” plus one loner who was a single “gate.” Several people “framed” their heads as masterpieces: a Mona Lisa, who kept pausing to strike her enigmatic pose for the people at the curb; Vincent Van Gogh, gesturing at his bloody ear; a woman with her real head inserted into a “family” portrait; Frida Kahlo and her unibrow. A conceptual type in black sported a sign that read, simply, “Costume.” A Joseph Kosuth fan? Some getups were just inscrutable, like the giant dude in chaps with his head veiled in thick orange tulle: “What’s that?” some ghoul next to me wondered. “I don’t know, but his butt’s out.”
Left: Paul Auster, Jon Kessler, and Gina Gershon. Right: P.S. 1's Tony Guerrero and artist Ena Swansea. (Photos: Don Pollard)
The opening festivities for P.S. 1's batch of fall shows felt like a fancy version of their summer “Warm Up” series, with crowds hanging out on the courtyard steps, clutching beers in plastic cups, and even shelling out a five-dollar entry charge. Any attempt to navigate the former elementary school’s labyrinthine interior required a map to plot where each show or artist had set up camp. Photographer Stephen Shore, stationed in the café, busily signed copies of American Surfaces, his new monograph of road-trip shots from 1972 and '73; Dutch shutterbug Ari Marcopoulos and his wife presided over a table of fair-skinned, long-limbed Euro-dudes just outside (presumably “extreme” athletes he's currently photographing); while Coco Fusco arrived with her baby, whose Halloween ruffles and polka-dots lured a swarm of cooing admirers. Curatorial Advisor Bob Nickas demurely refused to pose for a picture, proffering: “There are so many beautiful people here, you should be photographing them.” Sure enough, I soon encountered curator and Director of Exhibition Design Tony Guerrero and painter Ena Swansea“the most beautiful couple in New York,” as Guerrero himself boastedboth of them grinning and kissing for the camera.
Back inside there was lots of photography to be taken in, with a room dedicated to Peter Hujar's black-and-white prints balancing the snapshot-like colors of Shore and Marcopoulos. After the painting-and-sculpture heavy “Greater New York 2005,” the last exhibition on view, the concentrated emphasis on a different medium is refreshing. Perusing the galleries, I heard lots of French and German, (shuddering a little when a woman gasped “Sehr schoen!” in front of Hujar's Boy Spitting, Germantown, 1981, which depicts a modern Hitlerjunge Quex sans shirt. (I can only imagine her reaction to Marcopoulos's boy-studded show.) Divas of all stripes were also well-represented, from the exhibition “Woman of Many Faces: Isabelle Huppert” to Hujar's poignant study of Gary Indiana wrapped in an Egyptian scarf to the real-life appearances of Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters and, at the end of the evening, Madame Huppert herself (the auburn-haired actress's much anticipated arrival in the city spawned the irresistible New York Post headline “MoMA SEES RED”).
With plenty of time in hand before the after-party, I decided to catch the final night of a series of Derek Jarman screenings at Anthology Film Archives. Grabbing samosas at Pak Punjab before the show, I ran into about half the eventual attendees (all die-hard aficionados) and ended up joining underground video curator and Plantains/Maison du Chic producer Nick Hallett and boyfriend Brock Monroe (of Mighty Robot AV Squad) on the way into the theater. The early short films offered insight into Jarman's oeuvre, via interwoven images of cameras, death's heads, mirrors, a man ecstatically slicking back his hair, monochromatic, gel-tinted beaches, bursts of flame, neoclassical monuments, St. Sebastian (sometimes in shades), and actor/production designer Christopher Hobbs. I snuck out halfway through the second program of music videos having caught Jarman's haunting productions for the Smiths (replete with the director's signature Union Jacks) but before getting bogged down in the overwrought campiness of his work for the Pet Shop Boys.
I made it to nearby B-Bar just as the P.S. 1 event was getting into gear. Director Alanna Heiss and chief curator Klaus Biesenbach loitered near the DJ, while artist Mike Cloud lounged nearby and ubiquitous party guests As Four breezed through in matching furry parkas. (“More like As Three,” a woman whispered, referring to the dramatic and overly publicized excommunication of the design collective’s fourth member.) With midnight approaching and a mandatory pumpkin-carving session well underway at home, it was time to slip out lest I incur my own excommunication.