Left: Curator Klaus Biesenbach with artist Andrea Zittel. Right: Gallerist Andrea Rosen with collector Arthur Goldberg. (All photos: Patrick McMullan)
“Do not touch” signs are a museum staple, but it was odd to see the officious warning plastered so liberally around an exhibition of work so explicitly dependent on ideas of physical interaction and practical function. I’d barely ventured into the main gallery at the first of two Wednesday night opening receptions for Andrea Zittel’s touring survey show “Critical Space” at the New Museum of Contemporary Art when a guard sternly directed me away from a carpeted area near one of the California desert-based artist’s sculptures-for-living. Confronted about the feet-and-hands-off policy, Zittel readily admitted to a simple concern for the work’s survival over a four-month run, a sensible but unavoidably disappointing decision. (The temptation to clamber into her isolation-tank-like A-Z Escape Vehicle was visibly eating away at even this evening’s modest and well-behaved cadre of friends and supporters.)
Across the street at snooty bar Opus 22, an altogether too-serious DJ was shielded by his version of the museum’s crowd-control device: a sign in front of the decks (CD decks, mind you) that read “NO REQUESTS.” Fellow DJ (and White Columns director) Matthew Higgs pointed and chuckled as he walked past on the way to cash in his coupon for a “free glass of wine or water.” Nodding hello to the owners of nearby Kravets/Wehby Gallery, my companion and I drained ours and headed over to The Park (the fancy Tenth Avenue restaurant, not the urban amenity) for cocktails and dinner courtesy of the museum and cohosts Sadie Coles, Regen Projects, and Andrea Rosen Gallery.
Left: The New Museum's Lisa Phillips and collector Martin Eisenberg. Right: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston's Paola Morsiani.
After negotiating a coat check apparently under the management of two small children, we almost immediately bumped into Higgs again, then the Village Voice’s Jerry Saltz, who, perhaps under the sway of Zittel’s domestic focus, seemed just as intent on running down his favorite current television shows (which included—perhaps predictablyCurb Your Enthusiasm andrather less soAmerican Idol) than top-rated exhibitions (Thomas Hirschhorn’s fearsome “Superficial Engagement” at Gladstone Gallery loomed understandably largest). Also encountered over Tom Collinses were Andrea Rosen Gallery Director Michelle Reyes-Landers and Whitney curator Shamim M. Momin. Drifting towards the buffet table, we were relieved to see that Zittel’s A-Z Food Groups, futuristic chow “inspired by the convenience and complete nutrition provided by dried commercial pet food” hadn’t yet made its way into The Park’s kitchen.
In the restaurant’s covered garden, we cast an eye over those assembled: When a single glance takes in newly appointed New Museum curators Richard Flood and Laura Hoptman, Whitney curator Donna De Salvo and museum trustees Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond J. Learsy, Studio Museum director Thelma Golden, independent curator and writer Klaus Kertess, and artists Jack Pierson, David Altmejd, Judith Eisler, and Josiah McElheny, you know there’s a good chance that something and someone noteworthy is being celebrated. Settling in next to Artforum colleagues Tim Griffin and Scott Rothkopf, and affable filmmaker T. J. Wilcox, we toasted A-Z Administrative Services’ continued preeminence, and ducked for cover as excitable MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach closed in wielding a camera (property of one Matthew Ritchie), intent on recording the evening for posterity, even if he never got to see the results. As we made our way out into the winter chill at the end of the evening, lanky architect Jonathan Caplan, commenting on the show, recalled those bullying signs and offered a cheeky closing assessment: “I kept looking around and thinking ‘How could I fit in that hole?’”
Left: Palais de Tokyo directors Jérôme Sans and Nicolas Bourriaud with Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. (Photo: Stan Rey-Grange) Right: The crowd gathers outside the Palais de Tokyo. (Photo courtesy Palais de Tokyo)
Marking the end of a four-year collaboration (and the contract that brought them together), “Notre Histoire . . . ” [“Our Story/History”] is a grande sortie for Jérôme Sans and Nicolas Bourriaud, the Palais de Tokyo’s founding directors. And what a farewell: The twenty-nine “emerging” French artists (and two collaborative duos) featured in the exhibition—almost all veterans of earlier Palais de Tokyo exhibitionswere asked to exhibit “their most spectacular work,” and, when it comes to the spectacular, size apparently matters. Loris Gréaud’s Sans Titre (une prophétie) [Untitled (A Prophecy)], 2006, a huge palpitating inflatable mountain, is the metaphorical heart of the exhibition. Staring it down is Habibi, 2003, an oversize skeleton by Adel Abdessemed that’s suspended in mid-airspectacular for sure. To see the whole exhibition one must scramble over Wang Du’s gigantic pile of newspapers (Luxe Populaire, 2001) or shimmy through Saâdane Afif’s Lost World, 2005, which features a tunnel that slowly rotates, like a county fair funhouse. Both installations proved fairly difficult passage for chic ladies in high heels, especially after a cocktail or two. But had they tripped it’s likely that someone would have broken their fallan amazing 15,000 visitors crammed into the venue on opening day.
The second-floor private cocktail lounge proved at first a safe haven from the masses, and the invited guests were plied with free champagne and sandwiches. But the sense of security soon morphed into dread as the teeming masses trying to squeeze up the stairs made it impossible to exit. After a while, security guards refused to let anyone up or down. Sans and Bourriaud were trapped upstairs, along with fashion design legend Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, artists Clemens von Wedemeyer and Elaine Sturtevant, curator Natasa Petresin, film producer Claude Berri, graphic designer Mathias Augustyniak, one or two supermodels, andof coursedealers, including Emmanuel Perrotin, Kamel Mennour, Art:Concept’s Daniele Balice, Yvon Lambert’s Denis Gaudel, and Cosmic Gallery’s Frédéric Bugada and Claudia Cargnel.
Left: Jérôme Sans with fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. Right: Model and photographer Astrid Muñoz with “Notre Histoire...” artist Matthieu Laurette.
It seemed like the entire Paris art community found a perch in this lounge. But perhaps that made space on the exhibition floor for international visitors, as the directors’ farewell exhibition is driven by a wish to internationalize their hometown’s emerging-art scene. “Notre Histoire . . .” is the opening salvo of a major plan, supported by governmental means, to promote French culture at home and abroad: Three more large exhibitions, including surveys of French artists at the Pompidou and the Grand Palais, will take place in 2006, and next year “Made in France,” a cross-disciplinary festival, will traverse the channel to play at UK venues. In an odd paean to this internationalist push, French curators and writers were not invited to write texts about the artists in the exhibition catalogue. Yet the show’s wall labels are presented only in French, and there are no subtitles for video pieces. Is this paradox emblematic of the difficulty Sans and Bourriaud may have faced with their mission? The local critic Thomas Boutoux offered a terse opinion on a compromise between rhetoric and reality: “This exhibition perfectly summarizes their overall program: neither as experimental or distinctive as hoped, but rather fawning and ultimately very crowd-pleasing.”
Later on, getting beyond the velvet ropes at the (in)famous and exclusive nightclub Le Baron on avenue Marceau was easier if one knew Benjamin Moreau and Samuel Boutruche, two hip “Notre Histoire” artists who collaborate as “Kolkoz” and are a part of the the club’s “crew.” (Some may remember their five-night early-December residency behind the decks at a temporary Le Baron in Miami Beach’s Shelburne Hotel.) Only a fraction of the overwhelmingly French crowd was admitted, but their numbers amounted to many more than the 110-person maximum capacity. Once inside, a French dealer politely asked me to not write anything remotely negative about the exhibition in an international venue, since this would be “the last thing France needs after all the negative stuff that has been said lately about the French and Paris. Especially after the riots in the suburbs and all . . .” His jitters made me appreciate the virtue of the Palais de Tokyo’s first four years: It made French art seem relevant enough to get an out-of-towner like me to make the trek for this event. Marc-Olivier Wahler, the artistic director at New York’s Swiss Institute and the Palais de Tokyo’s incoming director, could have inherited worse.
Contemporary senior editor Michele Robecchi, curator Thomas Boutoux, and critic Yoann Gourmel. Right: Visitors pass Adel Abdessemed's Habibi, 2003. (Photo courtesy Palais de Tokyo)
Left: The writer and friends face Helsinki winter on the way to ARS 06. Right: Roi Vaara performs his Golden Handshake, 2006. (Photo: Sanna Ikäläinen/Central Art Archives)
Touching down in Helsinki at midnight the captain smugly told us that the outside temperature was minus twenty-two degrees. Is that Centigrade or Fahrenheit, I mused wanly, as I toyed with my last packet of rice crackers. The primary reason for my trip was to attend the opening of ARS, Finland’s mega-exhibition of international art, which is staged every five years at Kiasma, Helsinki’s energetic contemporary arts center. However, I am currently cocurating another art festival in the regionMomentum, held every two years in Norwayand therefore had a few appointments lined up prior to the big reception.
The next morning I was joined by Annette Kierulf, my Momentum cocurator, and together the two of us set out to find art, armed only with a keen appreciation of international discourse and (in my case) a set of thermal underwear that my boyfriend once bought for a skiing trip. Our first stop was on the edge of town, where we met the Finnish-German artist duo Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen. The two of them live in a rustic house on a little island, and of course in summer you can row a boat . . . but in winter you have to walk across the frozen sea. “This is beautiful,” I rhapsodised, as my feet sank into the powdery snow well beyond the height of my black brogues.
Left: The crowd swells at ARS 06. Right: Artist Shu-Min Lin. (Both photos: Sanna Ikäläinen/Central Art Archives)
Tellervo and Oliver told us about the work which they are showing in ARS, The 1st Complaints Choir of Birmingham, 2004, a film that documents their attempts to get the people of a proverbially dreary English city to sing collectively about their individual woes. “Why does my computer take so very long?” they warble in unison. “And wh-h-y is the beer so expensive in town?” The artists filled us up with berry-flavored porridge, wrapped our inadequately shod feet in plastic bags, and sent us back across the lake with ski poles.
Over at Kiasma the party was kicking off. At the top of the building’s grand staircase the great and the good of Helsinki were greeted by local artist Roi Vaara, who was offering all visitors a golden handshakeconservators had painted his hand with gold leaf. This gesture of generosity chimed well with the show, which is highly confident, beautifully installed, and a pleasure to visit, and which successfully combining biennial favorites like Willie Doherty and Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba with some much less established artists. Having said that, though, the prevailing flavor wasn’t entirely to my taste. After a room featuring the intestinal tile work of Adriana Varejão and some overripe, computer-generated images of half-naked teens by the Russian collective AES+F, relief came in the form of The Fountain, 2006, a work by Polish artist Monika Sosnowska that consists of no more than a gentle drip from a corridor’s ceiling. I never knew I was such a Minimalist.
Left: A visitor participates in Shu-Min Lin's Inner Force, 2005. (Photo: Sanna Ikäläinen/Central Art Archives) Right: Artist Alexander Ponomarev, reporter Anne Siilahti, and photographer Raisa Karjalainen. (Photo: Pirje Mykkänen/Central Art Archives)
ARS is aimed squarely at a Finnish audience, and hanging out at the bar it seemed popular with the local artist crowd, in which could be seen luminaries such as prolific photographer Elina Brotherus and the artistic duo Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen. However, just as I was settling in I was whisked away by feisty Glaswegian artist Susan Philipsz, who took me to an impromptu party-within-a-party being thrown in the museum’s administrative offices. Here I discovered the Russians running the barthey had brought large quantities of vodka from the mother country, and the spirit was now flowing. Kiasma’s magisterial director, Tuula Karjalainen, who has done much to promote post-Soviet art, was demonstrating her version of a Russian dance, while one of the Muscovite crowd started explaining that the temperature was even worse in Saint Petersburg and that vodka is the only reliable form of winter protection. I left at midnight, and as I stumbled out into the snow I found that I was, indeed, curiously insulated.
Left: The New York Times's Dinitia Smith with Jim Jarmusch. Right: Jim Jarmusch. (Photos: Kenny Jacobson)
The first thing to remember is that he’s cooler than you. Cooler, in fact, than anyone has a right to be. Raised in Akron, Ohio, home of Devo, Jim Jarmusch studied poetry at Columbia, crashed CBGB in the ’70s with Richard Hell’s “Kid with the Replaceable Head,” was Nicholas Ray’s acolyte and teaching assistant at NYU Film School, used his Louis B. Mayer grant for film-school tuition to make his first feature, didn’t ever pay his tuition (but still received his degree a decade and many acclaimed films later), breaks bread with everyone from Bill Murray to Tom Waits to the RZA, made an entire film about coffee and cigarettes, loves Yasujiro Ozu and Jackie Mitoo in equal measures, and sports a gravity-defying, sandy-colored coif that, unlike Donald Trump’s, none dare call a loaf of challah. He’s also a pretty good writer/director, which was the reason for his inclusion in the recent New York Times “Arts & Leisure Weekend,” a series of conversations with prominent performers and culturati.
The second thing to remember is that anyone this cool is bound to be somewhat reluctant to analyze his own work, especially when he loves the gaps between words and the hobbled exchanges between people who speak different languages. Indeed, Lost in Translation could serve as the title of nearly every Jarmusch film if Sofia Coppola hadn’t already trademarked it. But then, Jarmusch would never be that obvious.
This is the problem at the CUNY Graduate Center. Times critic and novelist Dinitia Smith wants answers—blessing for her Joycean reads of his work, close analysis of scenes, acknowledgement of her ontology-recapitulates-phylogeny theory of his doggedly consistent style, explanations of how he works with “non-Jarmusch” actors like Johnny Depp, etc. The full-house crowdfilm students, video clerks, middle-aged movie mavens, the odd Europeanwants them too: What’s up with the Japanese plum Screamin’ Jay Hawkins eats in Mystery Train? Why aren’t there more female leads in your films? How can you “let the film find itself” if you shoot out of sequence? Will you listen to my band’s demo CD?
Jarmusch gamely faces this and moreimpassive, Cuban-heeled, deadpan as John Lurie in Stranger Than Paradise. Smith makes for an unlikely interlocutor: While obviously a Jarmusch fan, she seems scattered and unprepared, mismatching plot summaries and film titles, unable to sense when she’s not going to get anything further with a line of questioning, attached to her pet theories, and, at one point, suffering a coughing fit that takes her offstage during the audience Q&A, where she can still be heard hacking away behind the backdrop. The last gets a minor rise out of Jarmusch, who smiles and drawls, “I think she’s had enough of me.”
The venue, while comfortable, is similarly dissonant. A high-tech lecture auditorium, the room’s many mini-screens roll bland corporate ads while people are getting seated, then inaudibly and microscopically play the clips from Jarmusch films Smith wants to analyze. The effect is similar to watching a movie on an airplane fitted with those little screens that appear solarized unless you’re looking at them just so. I’d never seen Permanent Vacation, Jarmusch’s student film and first feature, so to not be able to hear a word of the scene Smith posits as the source code for his entire oeuvre was a tad irritating.
Nevertheless, Jarmusch’s discussion of this film provided the most revelatory factoid of the entire talk: Casting Chris Parker, his CBGB pal and inspiration for Hell’s “Kid with the Replaceable Head,” as his lead for his manic real-life behavior, Jarmusch found that Parker became silent, sullen, and slow-moving when the cameras rolled and changed the tone and rhythm of the film to reflect this. Voila! The Jarmusch styleborn of necessity, adopted with Puritanical rigor to all his subsequent films. To be fair, Jarmusch offered other reasons for his glacial pacing and minimal dialoguehis admiration for Ozu, his fondness for blank patches on poetry pages, his distaste for what a friend of mine’s father, an aging director, calls “that MTV shit,” i.e., quick-cuts and peripatetic camerawork, which was becoming trendy as Jarmusch emerged as a filmmakerbut this is the kind of hermeneutic nugget one goes to these talks to hear. Unfortunately, like the lines of dialogue in a Jarmusch films, they were too few and far between to ensure a truly satisfying narrative.
After the talk, I followed some of the crowd into the makeshift Tower Records outlet across the hall from the auditoriuma cross-promotional concessions stand for the festival’s culture-vultures. Noting the array of Jarmusch DVDs on sale, I instead opted for remasters of Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison and Charles Mingus’s Ah Um. For a director who claims that music sets the tone for his films and who never watches them again once they’re finished, these choices seemed fitting, made by patron saints of the type of creative outlawry Jarmusch cherishes. Plus, they’re cooler than you’ll ever be.
Crowds poured in and out of a new strip of galleries lining Twenty-seventh Street last Thursday on the site of downtown impresario Peter Gatien’s late Tunnel nightclub. Gone are the days of Michael Alig’s lunch box–toting club kids and events like Kurfew’s gay chickenfest Saturdays or Funkmaster Flex’s Sunday hip-hop nights, where the likes of the Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, and DMX partied with the plebs back before rap’s royals cloistered themselves in VIP rooms. These days it’s fresh art going down at John Connelly Presents, Clementine Gallery, Foxy Production, Wallspace, Oliver Kamm/5BE Gallery, and Derek Eller Gallery that brought the kids back to this cobblestoned stretch of far west Chelsea. Only a stone’s throw from their old turf, the building, with its idiosyncratic spaces, offers more square footage and street-level access to these emerging art world forces (all members of the New Art Dealers Alliance).
At Clementine, Otabenga Jones and Associates (a Houston artist collective comprised of Robert A. Pruitt, Jabari Anderson, Jamal Cyrus, and Kenya Evans) seemed to give a nod to the venue’s history with their critiques of hip-hop and corporate branding (I particularly liked a cowrie shell–encrusted Kangol cap) while at Foxy, Jacob Ciocci of collective Paper Rad gleefully appropriated some of the club kids’ infantile theatrics in an installation jam-packed with toys and video clips from the ’80s and ’90s. Two monitors housed in wooden boxes screened clips from the animatronics-crammed 1984 fantasy classic The NeverEnding Story and oozed liquid fog. “I never saw the movie when I was little,” Ciocci explained. “But everyone told me it reminded them of my work and I finally saw it this year. It had a big impact on me.” Ushered inside Ciocci’s Inspiration Superhighway box (the press release namechecks Joseph Cornell) along with three Japanese girls, I spent fifteen giddy minutes in Ciocci’s parallel universe of talking toys, cartoons, electro beats, and flashing lights. Pressed together atop a child-size cot fitted with Russ Troll Doll sheets, we were informed that “it all began in the seventh grade when I began seeing invisible boxes” and instructed to pull aside a curtain, revealing a wall-to-wall altar of monitors plastered with plastic toys. “Sugoi! [Super!]” gasped one of my boxmates.
Left: Curator Dean Daderko (middle) and artist Peter Coffin (right) with friend. Right: NADA Director Heather Hubbs and artist Lucas Ajemian.
Squirming through the sidewalk spillover (preternaturally warm weather made it feel like a block party) and spotting curators Bob Nickas and Shamim Momin among the fray, I arrived at John Connelly Presents along with artists Paul Chan, Jesse Bransford, and Peter Coffin (nobly navigating the throngs on crutches due to a broken foot). For the new space’s inaugural show, the gallery’s stable of post-Pop provocateurs took aim at the ends of modernism: Michael Phelan and Jonah Freeman rendered Stella’s concentric geometries in Home Depot materials like melamine and rope while Scott Hug and Michael Magnan erected a Buren-striped cylindrical folly lined with USA Today celebrity headshots. Curving through the gallery’s S-shaped floor plan (before its nightclub days the space functioned as a train station) I encountered the venerable AA Bronson and NADA art fair director Heather Hubbs in the project room before stumbling back into the streetside swarm.
The afterparty was held two blocks north at Secret. (The name reminded me of the glittery Trapper Keeper stickers Kirsten Stoltmann had used to adorn a self-portrait at Wallspace.) I immediately bumped into the neon-windbreaker-wearing Paper Rad artists (including Ciocci’s sister) along with a cluster of fans in matching acid colors. Ciocci, down to a puffy-paint T-shirt, explained his attire succinctly: “I go to a lot of thrift stores.” Jeffrey Deitch and John Connelly artists laid claim to the back room (Terence Koh, musician Phiiliip, Hug, and Magnan), though for another faction it seemed like the real party lay farther backin the club’s powder room. Connelly was a consummate host, moving effortlessly from guest to guest in a sharp black suit, while Foxy Production’s Michael Gillespie and John Thomson shared time with Ciocci and Stoltmann. I ran into Rhizome.org director Lauren Cornell with Cory Arcangel, whom she introduced (with an eye roll and air quotes) as a “Nintendo artist,” a tag that induced a quick thumbs down from the monkeying appropriator of “old” new media. On my way out of the club, I brushed up against graffiti artist Steve Powers (aka ESPO), arriving late and passing for a comic book gangster in a big-and-tall cream suit and matching fedora. It looked like the party was about to be injected with new life, but I was already half out the doorand besides, it was way past Kurfew.
Left: Artists Michael Magnan and Scott Hug. Right: Rhizome.org's Lauren Cornell and artist Cory Arcangel.
Left: Old Devil Moon restaurant's Dennis Driscoll with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. Right: Paper's Carlo McCormick.
With “I Love the '80s” nostalgia poised to swallow what's left of New York's twenty- and thirtysomething creative class, what remains of the object behind the infatuation? Monday night's preview of “The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984,” a sprawling study of roughly 450 works from that messy decade held jointly at New York University's Grey Art Gallery and Fales Library, promised an inside peek at the scurvy, savvy community builders who paved the way for ACT UP, the NEA Four, and Urban Outfitters.
Entering NYU's Bobst library, I confronted the sublimely terrifying maw of the Philip Johnson–designed foyernow architectonically enhanced by tall Plexiglas shields supplementing each of the floors' balustradesand followed the sound of Television's “Venus” to the Fales special collection room to see what curator Carlo McCormick, who worked along with NYU's Lynn Gumpert and Marvin Taylor, had pulled from the archives. Given the general rowdiness of the artists in the show (a disproportionate number of whom met their fate far too early), it's strange to see their work inhabiting this somewhat oppressive panopticon. But it's also fitting that NYU, the hunter-gatherer of downtown's acreage, is now showcasing New York’s grassroots art scene.
Before I became inured to the fluorescent-lit surroundings, I popped around the corner to the Grey Art Gallery, where revelers were beginning to arrive for the main celebration. Besides the innumerable deceased (this fast-living generation was notoriously hard hit by AIDS), conspicuously absent from the party were numerous now-blue-chip artists who had “graduated” from the scene years ago (Kiki Smith, Laurie Anderson, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, Nan Goldin, etc.), despite the fact that many still live a quick jaunt away from Washington Square Park. One wag noted that these artists' success amounted to something of a scarlet letter in this context; those who were “left behind would hate them.”
Despite a setting that could have devolved into resentful set-tos, the show itself is a far-reaching and inclusive survey that never loses its edge. The mixed crowd consisted of quirky elders (why are graying scenesters the only ones willing to take fashion risks?), wide-eyed students, and a smattering of polished kool things. Seeing two favorite artists in Richard Prince's Untitled (Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman), 1980, reminded me that much of this work was born out of a community that was simultaneously playful and inspired, while prints such as Candy Darling on her Deathbed, 1974, by scene chronicler Peter Hujar brought to mind the interlocking lives (and frequently reciprocal roles) of artists, subjects, and caregivers. This doesn’t mean that every piece represented the best work by its creator. Overheard: “Wait, that's by Kiki Smith? It looks so much like David Wojnarowicz. And on top of that it’s hideous.”
With upwards of 1,700 people in attendance, the gallery was packed tighter than a jar of pickles, and it didn’t take long for all the personalities to begin to blend together. Actor Michael Pitt, still working his Kurt Cobain Last Days look, made sure to flip his dusty-blonde hair over his eyes before letting me snap a picture. I knew I was due for some air when Glenn O'Brien, whose documentary TV Party is on the film festival circuit, began to resemble a long-lost twin brother of downtown legend Debbie Harry. Thankfully, the opening at the Grey was over anyway, and NYU's efficient security drones herded us out to the pavement. Outside I caught sight of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black's ever-popular and often-blue frontwoman Kembra Pfahler, whose piece in the show, Early Availablism, 1983, documents her practice of “making best use of what’s available.” “This is my new fiancé!” she exclaimed. As she grinned at him expectantly, the hubby-to-be quipped, “Yeah, you're gonna be Kembra Rothenberg soon.”
I quickly swung by Parsons for “Anarchy to Affluence: 1974–1984,” which was opening in conjunction with the NYU exhibition, but didn’t stay long. Despite some impressive wares by '80s designer to the demimonde Stephen Sprouse, the crowd had moved on, and I was already running fashionably late to the after party at Lit. “It's strange to see some of these people out at a club these days,” remarked an acquaintance once I had arrived at the hipster lair. “They look so anxious in this setting.” But others from the tenacious downtown crew seemed energized by the change of scenery. “I think the demographic just went down a decade,” noted McCormick with some excitement, eyeing a younger, prettier, over-capacity crowd that was bearing towards the homogenous. With T-shirts and jeans still the staple of cool indifference, the only mutable feature seemed to be the haircuts. As the old school mixed with the still-in-school, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore lounged in the red-lit back room and groupies for downtown heroes Bush Tetras lined up near the stage. “Is that pot I smell? I love pot!” McCormick shouted into the mic before announcing his “favorite band.” As the quartet opened with “Things That Go Boom in the Night,” I hazily recalled the personalities I had spotted that evening, many of whomfrom Lynn Yaeger and Colette to Sur Rodney (Sur) and Richard Hellhad infused lower Manhattan with artistic grit and unconventional glamour for the past three decades. While a tide of rapacious developers and up-all-night undergrads swelled outside, it didn't matter, because the night belonged to those with rent-stabilized digs. But my reveries were cut short when the show cleared out by 11:00PMthis is the old guard now, after all.
Last Saturday’s openings in Paris were quieter than usual, perhaps due to the cold wind blowing across the capital but maybe also because of a gastroenteritis scare. In the middle of Rue Louise Weiss, Emmanuel Perrotin, who informed me of the proliferating virus, made sure not to shake my hand when we said hello. I was just arriving from Galerie Nelson, where Thomas Ruff was showing new images from the “Jpegs” series presented in the Italian pavilion at last summer’s Venice Biennale. (Nelson was among the first to show Ruff’s ’80s portraits, when the gallery was located in Villeurbanne.) The show, comprised of disparate images mostly found browsing the web (though some come from tourist guidebooks) and enlarged to a super-size format then pixilated, is presented as an abecedary, from “aa” (American architecture) to “wi” (war in Iraq). Talking with Ruff, I sensed that my questionsHow do you select images? Why this format?were overfamiliar, so a cigarette break came as a welcome relief to both of us. On the sidewalk we encountered Bernhard Mendes Bürgi, the director of the Kunstmuseum Basel, who offered incisively, “This is a great show.”
If Ruff wins the prize for biggest photo, Hedi Slimane wins for the biggest invitationever. The poster he made for “As tears go by,” his new show at Galerie Almine Rech, didn’t even fit into my letterbox: I had to queue up at the post office to retrieve it. In the gallery, a famous paparazzo stood around waiting for the show-business crowd (Karl Lagerfeld was expected), but no famous faces materialized—not even Slimane himself.
Left: Air de Paris's Florence Bonnefous with artist Elaine Sturtevant. Right: Writer and curator Andrea Viliani.
Fortunately I had met up with the elusive Slimane the day before while he was finishing his installation. Standing in the gallery darkened by black film affixed to the windows, he was cute and sweet as usual. The show, Slimane’s first in Paris after a curatorial outing at Thaddaeus Ropac last year, is a lot like the poster: black-and-white and large. The photographs, printed on semitransparent fabric, were taken in the clubs and pubs of London’s rock scene and focus particularly on the infamous Pete Doherty, frontman of Libertines and Babyshambles and Kate Moss’s on-again off-again boyfriend. Slimane told me that a few years ago he had sensed a renewal of energy in the scene, and had begun to track those musicians whose extraordinary aura filled the tiny venues they played. I had to take his word for it.
Back on Rue Louise Weiss, I breezed through opening receptions for Omer Fast (at gb agency), Mark Dion and Bob Braine (at In situ Fabienne Leclerc), and Philippe Decrauzat (at Praz Delavallade) before ending up at Air de Paris for Trisha Donnelly’s new exhibition, which was by far the most crowded opening on the block. If Slimane wins for biggest invitation, Donnelly wins for the most cryptic one. It consisted of a few sentences written by hand in Russian, with a phone number. I attempted to call but a recording informed me that the person I tried is not accepting calls at this time. Dial (415) 810-4295 and say hello from Paris.
Left: Gallerist Bruno Delavallade with artist Philippe Decrauzat. Right: Artist Clemens von Wedemeyer.
The show, emphasizing the concepts of “nano” and “less,” is the opposite of the outsized shows I’d seen earlier that evening: Tiny drawings made while the artist looked through a magnifying glass; sound pieces that begin and end at random; and blurry photos of microscopic writings engraved in wood are among the works on view. Donnelly implored me to not take her photo before dashing off to the back office. After a while, everyone wandered over to L’Haudierne for the usual blanquette de veau; I think Air de Paris is single-handedly keeping the restaurant in business. The crowd was lively, however, and at the bar I spotted curators Giovanni Carmine, Thomas Boutoux, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, and artists Anders Guggisberg, Koo Jeong-A, and Clemens von Wedemeyer, who is shooting a new filmcoproduced by Pierre Bal Blanc and to be included in the forthcoming Berlin Biennalein a Paris banlieue.
No party during the first week of January is complete without the galette des rois and Luna, the daughter of Edouard Merino, found the bean in her slice of cake and was named queen. Elaine Sturtevant, Eva Presenhuber, and Andrea Viliani began to dance with gallery owner Florence Bonnefous, but others wanted to continue the party at agnès b. headquarters, where the designer and art patron was celebrating thirty years of business with guests like Patti Smith and David Bowie. Feeling the first symptoms of gastroenteritis, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to carry on. It’s better to prevent than to cure, as we say in Franceso I called it a night.
Left: New York Times critic Roberta Smith with artists Collier Schorr, Joan Snyder, Tamy Ben-Tor, and Barbara Kruger. Right: Joan Snyder. (All photos: Erin Feinberg)
Is Feminism undead like vampires? Mythical like Bigfoot? Or more like porn: You know it when you see it? Moderated by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith for the paper’s fifth annual “Arts and Leisure Weekend” this past Saturday, artists Joan Snyder, Barbara Kruger, Collier Schorr, and Tamy Ben-Tor offered a bouquet of symptoms triggered by the f-word: “Feminisms” plural, Smith clarified (at Kruger’s suggestion).
“Did you have to be a Jew to be on the panel?” wondered my gentile, veteran artist pal as we grabbed our coats afterward. “What was with all the Holocaust references?” “It’s a hotline to gravitas,” I speculated. But I’d wondered, too. Schorr had hitherto evaded my Jewdar, but my shiksa friend was right. The women artists chosen by Smith were in fact all Chosen. I then wondered why Smith, who surely must have noticed, neglected to mention this in a context where identity issues were being served on a platter to Times culture vultures. Far from dullas one might fear of anything with “isms” in the titlethis panel was disturbing in so many ways.
Senior panelist Snyder, a self-described “maximalist” abstract painter, recalled the bad old days when “feminism was a dirty word. I would write on a painting and people would say, ‘She’s a feminist!’ Julian Schnabel would write on a painting and people would say, ‘Oh, he’s so sensitive. He’s a hero!’” Poor Schnabel. He emerged as the afternoon’s shorthand for overvalued, puffed-up masculinity. “I’m really excited to be a girl!” Schorr recalled enthusing when co-panelist Barbara Kruger lectured at SVA, where she studied in the ’80s. Today she was dressed like a superannuated schoolboy with a butch coif, natty blazer, and riding boots. Back then, the impressionable younger Schorr noticed that Schnabel’s catalogue was way bigger and fancier than Snyder’s. But she pored over the female painter’s again and again: “You gain a lot when you do something big and padded,” the creator of a photo entitled The Purloined Dick paid homage to the elder artist seated beside her. “But sometimes people want to look at the smaller thing.”
“Schmoozebeasts!” scribbled my neighbor into her pad.
Smith noted that women compose more than half the humanity “vomited out of art schools” every year but only twelve percent of the collection at MoMA. What’s up with that? The panel didn’t quite solve that mystery, but did expose oodles of problems with the word in its title. The two younger panelists were eager to distance themselves from the f-wordlumping “feminism” with “victimism.” “All women are different, and all Holocaust victims are different,” declared the Sabra Ben-Tor, equating “the weak” that need feminism (unlike her) with Holocaust survivors. “I don’t want to be in the roundup of lady artists, or gay artists, etc.,” agreed Schorr, who emerged amidst the identity politics of the early ’90s when gender-bending was welcomed aboard the multicultural rainbow. “Put me in a show of landscape artists,” suggested the photographer, whose series “Jens F.” portrays a German schoolboy posed as Helga, the housewife that painter Andrew Wyeth studied in secret for two decades.
Ben-Tor bravely came out against ideology. “This situation is for me awkward,” confessed the performance artist, “because I don’t believe in it [feminism] at all. My art is about my personal interests. [Feminism is a] struggle of human beings, not just women. The Holocaust is not just a struggle for Jews. Ideology hides the truth. Once you have ideology, people have interests.” If people didn’t have interests, there’d be no ideologymaybe even no “isms” at all! Snyder got concrete right on the anti-ideologue’s ass: “Don’t you think most of the problems in the world now are caused by men?” asked the abstract painter to hearty applause. “That’s a very superficial version of reality,” retorted the grad student at Columbia. The Upper East Side-looking old bat next to me with a Henri Bendel bag perked up: “Identifying with the aggressor!” she hissed. Oy.
“It was so healing when I was in Germany to see the Holocaust through the point of view of the Germannot just the victim,” Schorr added, supporting the not-weak Ben-Tor, who she hadn’t yet flattered. May I say, Feh-minism? Agreed, we don’t want to be victim-identified here, but must we go the extra mile and embrace our inner Nazi? “The thread that motors this discussion is power,” observed Kruger, sounding just like a Barbara Kruger piece. “How is power threaded through our culture?” Identifying with the victim and identifying with power are two sides of the same coin. “I think it would be great if women didn’t have to be extraordinary to be considered mediocre (like one of the boys),” she said to cheers from the audience, mostly women, mostly of a certain age.
“Invisibility is not a pretty picture,” Kruger summed it up eloquently, despite jet lag. She was just back from opening a retrospective in Australia. Earlier, Snyder quoted her feminist born-and-bred daughter, Molly Snyder-Fink, who asked: “Which women are able to tell their stories and which women are not? And why?” The panelists offered four distinct answers. They weren’t particularly prettybut this isn’t a beauty contest, right?
The crowd at the tumbledown space on the Williamsburg rim that houses Cindersstorefront gallery, one-stop shop for every variety of DIY geegaw, and social hub for Brooklyn artistswas in high spirits on Friday night. In fact, good cheer was a stated aim of “The Family Room,” a two-part group show of twenty-seven artists from around the country. Small works were hung densely in the eponymous room, a lavish if largely two-dimensional simulacrum of domestic leisure with a clumsy crackling trompe l’oeil fireplace, trinket mantle, and overstuffed love seat. The show’s celebration of home comforts was scheduled to straddle the turn of the year, its glittering potential and immediate aftermath. Here are “the seeds of a New Year planted and promising,” read the optimistic (and impressionistic) press release.
It was a party geared toward creators, specifically those on the younger end of the scale, and the histories and connections between those present were unfathomably convoluted, focused on covert cultural exchange conducted through secret agreements, oddball care packages, and coded email messages. Seemingly every limb on this family tree has a fable explaining its existence. Owners Kelie Bowman and Sto quickly explained that the gallery is called Cinders because Bowman’s house burned down while they went on a ten-minute beer run during a celebration of their newly signed lease. When I spoke to avid supporter Patrick May, one of the founders of the older, storied (and now dormant) Open Ground Gallery on nearby Grand Street, he added further anecdotal wallop. “Sto put on a great show in my space a few years ago. He brought a live rooster in for the opening, and it was such a hit that they couldn’t kill it afterward. It lived with them for a year.”
Much of the work on view was plainly derivative or tributary. On this particular evening it was hard to miss the nuances of technique and mood that Chris Johanson, Brian Calvin, Brian Chippendale, Tom Friedman, Marcel Dzama, and Jim Houser have popularized recently. But idolatry is a happy symptom of youth, much like a style––also prevalent here––that’s baldly emotional or confessional. An advantage to this simple candor is that there’s no leader and no star of the group: Marquee names like Phil Elverum (the Anacortes, WA, guru best known as The Microphones) and Ginger Takahashi (of cult journal LTTR) make work that is more polished, but no more important, than anything else on the walls. Speaking with Brian Bibbo, whose pixelated portrait formed from gridded, differently-puffed-upon cigarette filters was a popular talking point at the opening, I learned of another pixelated work in progress, in which pigments were created by orally mixing different flavors of chewing gum. Asked the subject, Bibbo said, chewing, “a set of teeth,” and after a pause, let out a giggle as if newly struck by the literalness of his endeavor. “When it comes to my work I like to keep it so that I can understand it.” The crowd surrounding us roared affectionately. Bibbo’s creation reflected the general mood, which was all about openness and ideas. Folks not only talked, they listened!and ideas ricocheted about the place without any loss of momentum.
Sto opened up to me as I made for the door. “It seemed so hard to get anything done through the mainstream channels, to show and to tour and for creative tokens to be exchanged. I just figured that I knew a lot of people who felt the same way as me, and that we could create an alternative. I grew up in DC, with the Dischord Records community, thinking about Ian Mackaye [the label’s founder and the accidental architect of the straight edge movement], and it seemed so easy and obvious to make a parallel world.” I heard a fair amount of chest-thumping that evening, but this boast took me by surprise. Not without legs, this analogy—and a strong model to live by. Sto contended that the alternative music scene of the ’80s prevailed because it was able to grow stronger and hammer out its working methods without resistance or pressure from more established outlets. It wasn’t interested in what was happening where the money was, because the insecurity and jealousy caused by that kind of thinking would weaken its ideals. Outside, two bike messenger types engaged in an elaborate secret handshake. “So dude, I got a job at Pace Wil-dun-steen,” said one to the other. Unsure of what to say, dude exhaled an arid “Wow” in response. But that was all I heard of Chelsea. The names hoisted high tonight were New Image Art in LA, Lump Gallery in Raleigh, and Space 1026 in Philadelphia. More-than-possible dreams, and worthwhile ones. “They look happy, and if they look happy things are going well,” May said, warmly. “The most I can honestly say about my space is that we threw good parties for five years.”
Left: Two revelers at the opening reception of “The Family Room.” Right: Artists David McQueen and George Ferrandi.
Now I know why people go to openings of shows by artists they’ve never met. No, not just because they’re looking for dates. It’s because openings can be fun! At least, that’s how it was at Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue gallery last Thursday, when the legendary dealer got the winter season off to a rousing start by turning both of her galleries over to outside curators. Neville Wakefield’s “Hiding in the Light” opens at her Chelsea location later this week, while the future-forward head of Team Gallery, Jose Freire, is already rocking out at Fifty-seventh Street with “View 9: I Love My Scene,” set to play out in three parts over the next four and a half months.
“When was the last time you heard of one dealer asking another to curate a show?” Freire grinned. “Let’s face it,” he confided, “I’ll never have a gallery that looks like this.” And he grinned again. In fact, lots of people were smiling. Was that money in their pockets or were they just glad to get back on the scene after the interminable holiday hiatus? Some scene: Two of the five artists in the show are deceased and none of them are women. If cheerful Carol Bove was any indication, however, these numbers didn’t dampen any spirits. (Bove is in the forthcoming “Scene 3.”) Covered in red dots, the checklist’s story was clear. The show itself took longer to puzzle out.
“Can someone explain all this to me?” whispered Keith Sonnier, whose 1988 neon and aluminum Sphinx Position 1 was one of three way-cool sculptures featured in the main gallery, surrounded by Cecil Beaton and Weegee photos and fantasy drawings of Neoclassical architecture by young Brit Pablo Bronstein. (Real name!) “I’m just a boring old formalist,” said Freire of his choices, a personal blend of classicism and nostalgia for punk, fashion, and art scenes past. The other two sculptures were Lothar Hempel’s deconstructed-bicycle monument to societal meltdown, Abstrakter Sozialismus (Abstract Socialism), 2002, and a poetically titled, burnt-wood cathedral of a modular sculpture by Banks Violette, Hexdriver (Fucked Up and Ready to Die), 2006.
Violette, who incidentally claims Sonnier as one of his heroes, was among the first to make a purchase. The artist nabbed a Cecil Beaton from another lusting customer, dealer Stefania Bortolami, as a gift for his wife (and Sue de Beer screenwriter), Alissa Bennett. Both Bennett and Bortolami thought they looked like one of the photo’s two pouty women in black. Talk about classic! Here was one of those true, every-time-I-hear-the-word-narcissist-I-take-out-my-checkbook moments that define our moment. Violette paid $2,000 for the vintage goodie; his own newborn sculpture was priced at $75,000.
“I’m having my second career!” Boone exulted. “I mean,” she said, nodding to the ever-more-svelte Freire, “I’m giving my old career new life!” It had taken fifteen tries before Freire would return her call. “After years of being a nobody,” he explained, “everyone calls my gallery every day now.” Boone laughed. But was she asking other ear-to-the-ground types to suss out new artists for her? “Hardly,” said Boone, who recently hired P.S. 1’s Amy Smith-Stewart to be her in-house curator. “I want to make an impact on the culture.” Freire nodded in agreement. “Anyone can tell you that the big money is in the secondary market,” Boone went on. “I mean, how many people are making fortunes today with work I showed twenty years ago?” (Whoops!) So what did it mean to Smith-Stewart to be the curator of a commercial gallery? “Frankly, I don’t know yet,” she said. “I only just started.”
At Bottino, Boone needed two separate dining rooms to accommodate her guests, three generations of artsters who seated themselves in interesting ways. Guggenheim director Lisa Dennison paired off with Ross Bleckner in the rear private room, while Bruce Ferguson and Barry Le Va took a table together with New York rock photographer Roberta Bayley (who is scheduled for “Scene 2”) in the front, as did young dealers like Daniel Reich and Mirabelle Marden. And what can we say about a table where Anton Kern, Andrew Kreps, and Clarissa Dalrymple choose to spill the wine with Jim Lambie, Lothar Hempel, and Derek Bell, a heartthrob painter from Berlin on whom Sonnier’s sultry seventeen-year-old daughter, Olympia, developed an immediate and not, it seemed, entirely hopeless crush? That in an art world fueled by a powerful blend of pride and resentment, love is always in the air?
Left and right: Views of “Bodies . . . The Exhibition” (Photos: Bill Serne for the St. Petersburg Times)
I’ve long been a fan of cadaver gagsmedical students mailing organs and body parts with cards reading “Have a heart” or “Thought you needed a hand,” or posing undissected corpses on campus benches in rakish postures, leaving them to leer at passersby. Hence I was surprised to find little gallows humor in “Bodies . . . The Exhibition,” a pricey, formaldehyde-for-the-whole-family show of jaunty, expressive stiffs and their constituent parts. Strained playfulness, yesseveral specimens are pressed into everyman roles as basketball players, symphony conductors, sprinters, even Rodin’s Thinkerbut all in the service of earnest, educational points about muscle function or the nervous system. George Romero’s zombie hordes wouldn’t be caught dead with these skinless stereotypes, drained as they are of all wit, originality, and vital bodily fluids. Their styleless voguing takes the un- from uncanny and the fun out of funereal.
Housed at the South Street Seaport Exhibition Centre in a building previously occupied by fishmongers, “Bodies” eschews the funky decay the port was famous for. Rather, the exhibition space is as antiseptic as a newly opened GAP. So too is the packed-in holiday crowd, composed, as far as I could tell, of tourists and borough familiesaverage Americans satisfying their hunger for the truly flayed flesh and full-frontal genitalia Hollywood denies them. The crowd’s responsesor lack thereofmay have been the most shocking aspect of the show. I didn’t hear one “eww . . . gross!” from the many children in attendance, or even a contextualizing lecture from a concerned parent. The only exchange worth reporting came from a twentysomething couple staring blankly at an artfully splayed female pelvis. Man: “Kinda puts me off doing the deed.” Woman: [bemused silence].
This show clearly wasn’t designed for sickos like me, but beneath its seemingly innocent science-fair surface lies some genuinely disturbing viscera. Organized by Premier Exhibitions, Inc. of Atlanta, Georgia, “Bodies” is both the latest iteration of a trend in controversial cadaver exhibits and an example of the McDonaldization of the museum business. Premier Exhibitions, along with Arts and Exhibitions International (which is run by a former Clear Channel executive), specializes in touring megashows of audience-tested materialsTitanic wreckage, King Tut’s treasures, plastinated cadaverswith broad, obvious appeal. The shows are typically mounted in otherwise respectable art museums and freighted with hefty ticket prices and blockbuster publicity. In the case of “Bodies,” the $24.50 ticket may be justified by the $25 million Premier spent in acquiring the collection of cadavers, but it’s blood money nonetheless.
As I gazed at a ten-foot-long array of a horizontally sliced man, parsed with a butcher’s precision into thin cuts of braciola, I couldn’t help but think of the dodgy source of the bodies themselves. Premier purchased the remains of the twenty-two people on display along with 260 other human specimens from Dalian University in northern China, which, according to the New York Times, was “previously implicated in the use of executed prisoners for commercial purposes, having supplied bodies to Gunter von Hagens, the German entrepreneur who started the first traveling show of the dead, ‘World of Bodies.’” Rather than steer clear of scandal by seeking another source, Premier not only made a deal with Dalian but also hired von Hagen’s former Chinese partner, Dr. Sui Hongjin, to broker it. This gives the lie to the exhibition’s website disclaimer that “Premier Exhibitions, Inc. is not affiliated with any other organizer of human anatomy exhibitions, including Gunther von Hagens, Gerhard Perner, or Genlife Biomedical.” Premier claims that the bodies are those of “the poor, the unclaimed, or the unidentified,” and that it was shown confidential documents ensuring their ethical provenance, but given China’s record of human rights abuses, particularly of prisoners, this is cold comfort.
So what remains of these remains? Beyond the silly poses and the visually arresting circulatory system roomwhose anthropomorphic arrangements of scarlet, illuminated veins and arteries recall the Mantle twins’ operating theater in Cronenberg’s Dead Ringersthere’s the “ick” factor (intestines and other specialty meats), Surgeon General-style moralizing (cancerous lungs and sclerotic livers), odd ideas about family entertainment (Penises! Labia!), and unexamined chauvinism (of the two female bodies present, one, sliced vertically into quarters, is used to illustrate obesity). Worth $25? A double-feature rental of Fantastic Voyage and Evil Dead 2 over a deli platter would do the trick for the same price.