Chance Encounters

New York
04.29.06

Left: Jonas Mekas with Guggenheim curator and event host John G. Hanhardt. Right: Ken Paik Hakuta with Thomas Krens.


In a cab en route to Wednesday evening’s “Nam June Paik: A Memorial Tribute” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, my companion and I were momentarily surrounded by a chanting crowd of striking carpenters. The scenario had a performance-like quality that the late video-art pioneer and Fluxus member might have appreciated. Arriving a few minutes late to the event itself, we entered the museum’s rotunda as some old television news footage about a public appearance made by Paik’s Robot K-456, 1964, on the occasion of Paik’s 1982 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art was being screened. The still-bizarre sight of the eccentric mechanism careening down Madison Avenue and eventually colliding with a moving car transfixed the crowd, which snaked up Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous spiral to the third floor.

The clip over, Guggenheim film and media curator John G. Hanhardt introduced director Thomas Krens. Characterizing the attendance record set by Paik’s Guggenheim retrospective in 2000 as “eloquent testimony to his prescience,” Krens then handed over, via Hanhardt, to Paik’s nephew and studio manager Ken Paik Hakuta. After identifying a few special guests—including former Walker Art Center director Martin Friedman—Hakuta commented on Paik’s curious ability to make new friends—even after his death. After a round of applause for Merce Cunningham (present but not speaking), and a clip from his collaboration with Paik, the artist’s widow, Shigeko Kubota, took the rostrum. Recalling her husband’s plans for a Cage centennial concert, she urged those assembled to return to the museum in 2012, ending, simply, “I miss you Nam June Paik.” Next, Shuya Abe, who collaborated with Paik on his video synthesizer as well as on Robot K-456, recalled his friend with obvious affection, explaining his fondness for Zen-like injunctions that might take him a year to fully understand, “two months at the fastest.”

Left: Ken Paik Hakuta and Shuya Abe, coinventor of the video synthesizer. Right: Nam June Paik's wife, artist Shigeko Kubota.


After a brief extract from Global Groove, a 1973 piece made with the synthesizer featuring Allen Ginsberg chanting through a maelstrom of trippy visual effects, the mic was passed to Jonas Mekas, who brought the house down with a wry account of Paik’s visit to the White House in 2000. Apparently, Paik, having recently suffered a stroke, attended in a wheelchair but insisted on standing to greet President Clinton. No sooner had he done so than his pants fell down, in what Mekas considered a planned performance that was characteristically “outrageous yet also innocent, and right to the point.” Curator Russell Connor had his own store of Paik anecdotes, remembering the artist’s mischievous promise: “When videophones become popular, I will start a topless answering service.” Kunsthalle Bremen director Wulf Herzogenrath then showed a number of images including several of a cello performance by Chalotte Moorman in which the musician wore Paik’s TV Bra for Living Sculpture, and discussed other of Paik’s projects in Germany, including his collaborative work with Karlheinz Stockhausen. (Paik first went to Germany in 1956 to study music history at the University of Munich.) New Museum director Lisa Phillips recalled her first meeting with Paik, in 1984. “He completely derailed my belief that the notion of genius was just a cultural construction,” she said, a tinge of emotion seeping into her voice. “Every time I talked to him, I left knowing he was a genius.”

Left: Yoko Ono moments before her performance. Right: Shuya Abe.


Returning to the stage to introduce a concluding performance by Yoko Ono, Hakuta shared some childhood memories of his uncle, who apparently directed him to “watch more TV,” destroyed the family piano as part of a 1963 performance in 1963, and advised him, in all seriousness, that he should aspire to own a McDonald’s. Finally, after two helpers in head-to-toe black and ninja masks had carried a large canvas of a vase to the front of the stage and unrolled a canvas bag heavy with ceramic fragments, Ono walked on and took a seat. A soundtrack of birdsong faded out and, after a burst of dissonant song, she announced: “The vase has been broken into 450 pieces. Take one home and promise to think of Nam June.” She took out her knitting (I’m not making this up), and the crowd began to mass around her to claim their (signed) fragments before filtering out into the night.

Michael Wilson

Left: Yoko Ono's assistants. Right: Yoko Ono (Photos: Felix Herzogenrath)


Total Bequest Live

New York
04.28.06

Left: Bibbe Hansen with Andrea Rosen. Right: Al Hansen's grandson Channing Hansen with Tilda. (All photos: David Velasco)


A line was already forming outside Andrea Rosen Gallery when I arrived a half-hour early for Monday night’s first-come-first-serve “3rd Rail Revisited—An Evening of Al Hansen Performance.” The event, organized by Hansen’s daughter Bibbe in collaboration with Gracie Mansion Fine Art, drew an eclectic crowd; boho-affected youth mingled with “friends from Connecticut” in tweeds and ribbed pastels. The gallery eventually reached capacity, with over one hundred attendees waiting to be touched by the spirit of the late Fluxus artist, who died in 1995.

With a solo show in Rosen’s project space, a significant presence in a group exhibition at Pavel Zoubok, and work in Geoffrey Hendricks and Sur Rodney (Sur)’s tenth-wedding-anniversary installation at Printed Matter, renaissance man Hansen is finally having his Chelsea moment. In a market reportedly infatuated with youth, Hansen, almost eleven years beyond the pale, continues to go against the grain.

Left: Artist Sur Rodney (Sur) and husband, artist Geoffrey Hendricks. Right: Gallerist Pavel Zoubok.


Inside, old friends and curious newcomers lined up at an orange telephone to hear messages Hansen had left on German photographer Pietro Pellini’s answering machine. Mansion chatted with Los Angeles–based critic Peter Frank, while Hendricks and Rodney (Sur)’s assistant, artist Ethan Shoshan, cavorted with a younger generation of Happening virgins. Some anticipated faces, such as fellow Fluxist Yoko Ono, Beck (Hansen’s grandson), and Carolee Schneemann, didn’t show. (“Oh, you know, the two of them had a thing,” Rodney (Sur) explained vaguely of Schneemann’s absence.) I sidled up to Mansion to elicit the truth about a different rumor: “Of course Al introduced John to Yoko—or at least that’s what he always said.” Frank chimed in: “I have no idea how he knew John, but Al managed to know everybody.”

The evening kicked off with a towering projection of Hansen describing his first encounter with John Cage at the musician’s storied composition course at The New School. Reciting Cage’s reaction to the artist’s musical ignorance, Hansen recalled him exclaiming, “I don’t need to unlearn you at all—you don’t know anything!” Four friends-of-Hansen—artists and frequent collaborators Larry Miller and Alison Knowles, as well as Hendricks and Frank—then took the stage for the first live performance, an execution of Hansen’s Alice Denham in 48 Seconds. This was an homage to the author and pinup queen comprising a complicated series of boings and rat-a-tat-tats extracted from toddler toys. Afterwards, a younger group, carrying themselves with jovial pride, reinterpreted Ladder Poem #2, painting a white stepladder light blue to the tune of an old Hansen song, strangely redolent of Beck’s folkier forays.

Left: Gallerist Gracie Mansion. Right: Ethan Shoshan, Channing Hansen, Gillian Wilson, and Jack Waters perform Ladder Poem #2.


This night of memories and renewal offered a stark contrast to the Guggenheim’s sanitized presentation of Marina Abramovic’s Seven Easy Pieces. While a few archivists recorded the evening for the gallery, no one patrolled the dozens of others snapping pictures, good-naturedly heckling the performers, or otherwise interacting with the show. It was as permissive as a backyard party, with a concomitant lack of pretension, but was not without structure: ideal conditions for performance.

As Bibbe stood up to describe her memories of the Happenings scene, audience members gradually made their way towards the stage, carrying pink balloons and assorted trinkets. A young woman, Gillian Wilson, began breaking bottles with a hammer while Bibbe merrily propelled a toy across the floor and Miller circled the crowd, carrying a cheap boombox that played samples of Beck songs. Often prone to shivers of embarrassment, especially in the presence of self-styled wackiness, I nevertheless felt my jaded edges soften and enjoyed the frenzy. Later I heard Bibbe recall: “As a little girl, I did the glass-breaking part. It gave me a license to destroy!”

Left: Pavel Zoubok gallery's George Bunker III. Right: Larry Miller and crew spark a happening.


The evening culminated in a touching rendition of Hansen’s obsequy Elegy for the Fluxus Dead, lovingly performed by his grandson Channing. Echoed by a projection of his grandfather performing the rite in 1994, the young Hansen listed dead Fluxus artists, adding, after the filmic Al had finished his tribute, those who had died since the recording, including Hansen himself, Nam June Paik, and Allan Kaprow, before wrapping his head in masking tape and opening his arms to the audience. “Oh! That piece always makes me cry,” Mansion remarked afterwards, and she certainly wasn’t the only one. As I made my way towards the door, I stopped to chat with Channing, who noted gracefully, “not everyone can say they inherited a performance piece from their grandfather.”

Rhine Shrine

Philadelphia
04.25.06

Left: “Make Your Own Life” Artist Stephen Prina. Right: Curator Bennett Simpson.


At the Friday night opening of “Make Your Own Life: Artists In and Out of Cologne,” one room of the Philadelphia ICA had been transformed into a plush listening lounge and was pumping out the sounds of the city. In the early going Linda, long-serving matriarch of the gallery’s guards, put on a hot slab of techno (“my favorite,” she said) and strutted with me. Curator Bennett Simpson conceived the record-lined room, and the show as a whole, in 2004, a few months before he hopped ICAs—Philadelphia to Boston. But despite the pull of the music, there was a fair amount of elbow room at the reception, suggesting that a dense though effortlessly discursive essay on Cologne tracing its collaborative experiments in identity through twenty years of work by German, American, and English artists doesn’t capture the hearts of the city’s students in quite the way that buzzy crowd pleasers (Yoshitomo Nara, say) have in the recent past. A shame, because the show was a blast.

Simpson seemed to be having fun nonetheless, effusive and approachable. Once I’d revealed my identity as a writer he lingered on a recent journalistic abuse. “Did you see the Wall Street Journal today?” Simpson asked me, referring to a breathless story about the current liquidity of Martin Kippenberger and Kai Althoff in resale. “They quoted me in service of something I would never want to say.” (He had spoken extensively of the artists’ virtues, only to see his words serve as tacit endorsement of an accelerated market.) “It was horrifying. This show is not about the market.” Indeed, the German picture on view here, of relentless resistance, would not jibe for that morning’s Journal readers.

Touring the show, I noted first Stephan Dillemuth and Nils Norman’s Friesenwall 120 Ruined, an almost life-size model of their legendary alternative space, collapsed and in tatters. Twelve artists contributed to the piece. “Friesenwall 120 began as a social space, then it became more of a hang-out situation, then it was an archive. Then it was a historical space,” Dillemuth offered, exactingly. “In a way it is a template of ’90s new creative curating.” A pause. “Now we show it as a failed project.” New York dealer Carol Greene and I enjoyed the work’s cutout puddles of cork and incidental dabs of glitter, finding it in many ways to be a more satisfying and relevant resurrection than the Peace Tower at the Whitney Biennial (another exercise in archaeology and remodeling) and one that made for a more effective centerpiece.

The show does flag here and there, but only because the fullness and authenticity of mood seems to render some individual pieces less than vital. Others are so perfectly present that they function even in abbreviated form: Stephen Prina’s Galerie Max Hetzler has been rehung for the fifth time in fifteen years at about a fifth of its full size, and has lost none of its punch. The artist and I goofed for a while, talking about tenured life at Harvard and how happy he is in Cambridge. I mentioned that a friend told me he had passed away. “I think that’s Steven Parrino. It happens every now and then,” he shrugged. “It hasn’t affected my auction prices.”

A buffet for ninety on long tables in an echoing garret of the museum stuck so promptly to its 8:00 PM start that by the time I had corralled my companion and ambled upstairs, we had missed not only speeches from the ICA brass but also the nicest bits of a gigantic salmon. Most guests were on dessert; some were getting ready to leave. Indeed there wasn’t much to the affair, until Simpson rose to deliver some stirring words about the two-year germination of the show. “I learned about curating,” he said, visibly emotional. “I learned about you. I learned about myself. Thank you.”

Afterwards, attendees gravitated towards the White Dog Café, a homey restaurant and bar around the corner. I sat down at a round table with several of the artists who had ditched the dinner early, including Norman, Dillemuth, and Merlin Carpenter. Despite generational and geographical differences, the friends often spoke as a chorus, delighted to arrive at irreverent conclusions. “You are not taking my picture. The Artforum diary is like the fucking National Enquirer,” exclaimed Carpenter, to titters at the table. “You don’t want to take our picture,” Dillemuth added, looking up from his own digital camera. “You want to take theirs.” He waved his hands towards the dense herd marching down the middle of the street towards the bar, led by Simpson, photographer Christopher Williams, and critic Diedrich Diedrichson. There were roars of laughter . . . and Dillemuth quietly snapped a picture.

Friends and Romans

Beverly Hills
04.21.06

Left: Larry Gagosian with Francesco Vezzoli. Right: Farrah Fawcett greets Gore Vidal. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)


“Who but Gore?” Francesco Vezzoli asked UCLA Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin last Saturday night. The artist was explaining his choice of subject for “The Gore Vidal Trilogy,” his first exhibition at Larry Gagosian’s multilevel Beverly Hills outpost. “Gore is the intellectual and cultural bridge between Italy and America,” Vezzoli said. “Who else—what gay man—could represent the link between cinema, literature, history—everything I care about? Only Gore. He is the master.”

The crowd around us parted like the Red Sea as “the master” himself passed by in a wheelchair necessitated by a chronic knee problem, looking dapper at eighty in a gray pinstripe suit and dimpled smile. He was attended by a clutch of paparazzi and a documentary film crew that included Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down), Vidal’s nephew (family resemblance: strong). “Gore has appeared in so many documentaries about other people,” Steers said. “We thought it was time he had his own.”

Left: Yvonne Force Villareal with Farrah Fawcett. Right: Milla Jovovich and Francesco Vezzoli. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)


Indeed, the entire evening was dedicated to Vidal, who drew a mix of guests that everyone present seemed to think was strange. “This is just so weird,” said Philbin, as the writer was wheeled into conversation with former Gucci designer Tom Ford. Richard Buckley, Ford’s silver-haired companion, was watching. “Is it me or is this a strange evening?” he asked. “I’m enjoying myself. But what is it?” Was he confused by the billboard-size movie poster picturing Vezzoli as the doomed Sebastian in an imaginary sequel to Suddenly, Last Summer? (Vidal cowrote the screenplay for the original with Tennessee Williams.) Or by the screen-printed canvases of that film’s cast and amours du jour (Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher, Montgomery Clift), each embroidered with mawkish metallic tears and set in a Hollywood Walk-of-Fame star-shaped frame? Or by the trannies primping in a behind-the-scene dressing room visible only through a staircase peephole (Vezzoli’s living homage to Myra Breckinridge, Vidal’s sex-change satire)? Peter Bogdanovich was hanging out beneath the big poster, near Elizabeth Taylor’s cleavage. “Great evening,” he enthused, in a sepulchral Boris Karloff tone.

Left: Dennis Hopper. Right: Ed Ruscha and Pat York. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)


Meanwhile, Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer was leading a conversation on art great and small—with collectors Alan Hergott (Hollywood power lawyer) and Beth Swofford (Hollywood power agent)—too intense to notice Yvonne Force sweep in with her “date” for the evening, Farrah Fawcett, both wearing chocolate brown dresses and dark shades. Fawcett, I was reminded, had her first featured role in the movie of Myra Breckinridge. Now I know how David Letterman must have felt when she last appeared on his show: I listened to her talk for ten minutes but for some reason the only words I could make out were, “What artist turns down $100 million?” (Evidently, she was speaking of Gregory “Ashes and Snow” Colbert.)

Vezzoli was trapped in a photo-op with Milla Jovovich and a voluptuous Courtney Love, two of the personalities in his Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula, which is ensconced in its own theater on the gallery’s second floor, but also currently playing at the Whitney Biennial. It was actually a bit weird watching it with the stars in the room, a moment when art and Hollywood truly mingled.

Left: Francesco Vezzoli with director Peter Bogdanovich. Right: Stephen Eckelberry and Karen Black.


Most strange was how few artists were present: Besides Vezzoli, I noted only Ed Ruscha, Ari Marcopoulos, and Monica Bonvicini. But you couldn’t walk two steps without bumping into some celebrity. Karen Black (the real Karen Black, not the Kembra Pfahler version) even offered to read my palm. “You think too much and it is getting in your way,” she told me with a meaningful look, and introduced me to her fedora-capped husband, Steve Eckelberry. Oddly enough, Michael York, one of the stars of Fedora, a 1978 Billy Wilder movie that is a Vezzoli favorite, was there too. “Bizarre, isn’t it?” said T: The New York Times Style Magazine editor Stefano Tonchi.

Indeed, this was the first art opening I have ever attended that felt like a bar mitzvah. Perhaps it was the Rodeo Ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the setting for the dinner, where the crowd really swelled: blog queen Arianna Huffington, collectors Eli Broad and Dean Valentine, producer Max Palevsky, restauranteur Michael Chow, Wendy Stark, and Paris Hilton, who gatecrashed. She sidled up to Vidal’s table with her boyfriend, Stavros Niarchos, and introduced herself. “Paris Hilton?” he said. “That is the silliest name I have ever heard.”

Left: Impresario Malcolm McLaren. Right: Billy Corgan with David LaChapelle. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)


Some have criticized Vezzoli as an opportunist whose only talent is for drawing attention. Then why did so many of us show up? Herd instinct? Glamour quotient? Need for love? I’ll leave that to art history, but the attention part is for sure. On reflection, however, it seemed that Vezzoli had orchestrated a performance as mad as Caligula, but with a court in fancier dress.

Photo Finish

Tel Aviv
04.19.06

Left: Israeli Art Prize winner Sharon Ya'ari, dealer Daniella Luxembourg, and Tel Aviv Museum of Art director Prof. Mordechai Omer. Right: Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art Director Dalia Levin.


“Sharon Ya’ari is the poet of Israeli photography,” enthused Daniella Luxembourg after the presentation of the Israeli Art Prize at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art last Friday. The New York–based dealer and art consultant (and jury member) continued, “Photography is the most important Israeli art. Given the political conflict and the constant presence of international press, artists don’t want to simply document events. They want to document their thoughts.”

Impassioned and politicized are the two adjectives that best describe the newly thriving Tel Aviv art scene. Israel’s answer to the Turner Prize is in its eleventh consecutive year, but the second Intifada prevented it from achieving prominence earlier. Now, with the fragile ceasefire, Israel appears calmer than it has been in years and Tel Aviv looks like many other cosmopolitan art centers. Collectors live in palatial villas in the well-watered suburbs to the north. Artists have studios in the dusty industrial districts to the south. Dealers are literally in the middle, often with galleries on the ground floor of residential buildings from the 1920s and ’30s.

Left: Tel Aviv Museum of Art curator Ellen Ginton and gallerist Irit Sommer. Right: Dealer Shifra Shalit-Intrator with artist Miri Segal.


Although the local art scene is on the outward-looking secular left, the partially state-funded Tel Aviv Museum of Art still finds it difficult to embrace emergent art—hence the rise of the nimbler Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art—so the Israeli Art Prize is a significant event in the larger institution’s calendar. The awards ceremony started at noon on a hot spring day. The director and chief curator of the museum, Prof. Mordechai Omer, delivered his speech entirely in Hebrew, so “Chag Sameach” and “Nathan Gottesdiener” were the only words that I recognized. Gottesdiener is the elusive Munich-based patron who puts up the twenty thousand dollars awarded to an exceptional artist under forty living in Israel. He is reputed to own an unrivalled collection of German realist art by Otto Dix, George Grosz, and other notables. When approached for comment, he would only say, “I don’t give interviews. I want the artist to have the stage.”

“Hope for Long-Distance Photography,” Ya’ari’s exhibition of black-and-white photographs and filmic “frame loops,” did indeed hold sway as much of the talk at the sober opening was about art and politics, rather than the usual banter of “How much?” and “Showing where?” Tel Aviv Museum curator Ellen Ginton discussed Ya’ari’s work in relation to “post-traumatic experience,” while past Israeli Art Prize winner Miri Segal said solemnly, “The majority of my work does not express a political opinion. Nevertheless, in Israel, it is not possible to look at art apolitically.” Ya’ari agreed, but took a slightly different line: “I don’t want to do what people expect from a certain location. I prefer art where politics is metaphorical—not narrative, direct, or verbal.”

On our way to the artist’s lunch at a nonkosher “fusion” restaurant called Nana (Arabic for “mint”), we drove down historic Rothschild Avenue and saw the building that was the site of both the original Tel Aviv Museum (founded in 1932) and the declaration of the State of Israel (in 1948). The grand tree-lined boulevard is now the home of Sotheby’s and new-style galleries like Sommer Contemporary Art. I was seated next to Irit Sommer, the thirty-four-year-old Swiss-Israeli dealer who has just attained that benchmark of international success—a stand at Art Basel. She told me, “Brave curators like Francesco Bonami, Dan Cameron, and Charles Esche came here when things were very tense. That was a lifeline. Now artists are returning from London, Berlin, and New York. Collectors are making more frequent visits. It’s still a small art world, but it’s very dynamic and intellectually complex.”

Left: A work by Sharon Ya'ari. Artist Michal Rovner.


Three days later, I returned to the Tel Aviv Museum to see the permanent collection and Michal Rovner’s blockbuster solo show “Fields.” The galleries of small easel paintings (from Renoir to Pollock) were quiet, but Rovner’s show was heaving with visitors of all ages. They were riveted by her video-projected people-cum-letters and by the violent force of her abstract fire landscapes. Amidst the crowd, I bumped into Rovner. She observed: “If you work with people, it is impossible not to be political.”

As we were driving back to our hotel by the beach—and making plans to spend the afternoon marveling at surfers negotiating the peaceful Mediterranean waves—we took a wrong turn and encountered a roadblock. From the car, I could see police, paramedics, and ambulances. A suicide bomber had killed nine people and injured at least fifty others. It was the worst incident of its kind in over two years.

Bowery Girls

New York
04.17.06

Left: Rivington Arms' Melissa Bent with David Shapiro. Right: Artist Le Tigre's JD Samson with friend Megan.


Openings at the four-year old Rivington Arms have always been mob scenes, and, on the evidence of last Thursday’s unveiling, the gallery’s relocation to Second Street at the Bowery will calm them down not one bit. With new photographs and a video from Hanna Liden, the room was packed unpleasantly tight, with three times as many people outside, leaning against parked cars and exchanging glances. The distinctive mix of New York subcultures that the gallery has brought together over the years is now so tightly defined that it borders on self-parody: look left for Anne Collier and Matthew Higgs, or Tara Subkoff, or grinning chaps from Wall Street; look right for a cluster of uptown preps, Terence Koh, and proud parents of proprietress Mirabelle, Brice and Helen Marden. See Roberta Smith rub shoulders with grubby skateboarders and wild-eyed grad students. Great fun.

The new gallery is elegant, with wide floorboards, lean parentheses of exposed brick around the gallery drywall, and a delightful rustic double arch across the middle. It’s seems twice the size of the old storefront shoebox but not nearly as large as a typical Chelsea warehouse, a comfortable transitional space. Hard to know if gallerists Marden and Melissa Bent are aware of the ghosts in the foundations, but the new Rivington Arms sits atop an apartment that played a massive part in the lives of a quiet contingent of the night’s visitors. “That is a real piece of New York history,” a former schoolmate of Marden’s pointed out, with strong, if mixed, emotions. But the bygone age to which she referred was hardly antique, and perhaps unlikely to inspire universal sentiment: “Scotto lived there. He orchestrated the entire rave scene [with N.A.S.A at Shelter Club, a near-mythical weekly party for early ’90s New Yorkers] and kids were there all day, every day, coming up or coming down. I took my first hit of acid there. A lot of people did.”

Left: Artist Patrick O'Dell and aNYthing's A-ron the Don. Right: Artist John Finneran.


The afterparty took place a block away at The Cock, the recently-relocated gay bar on the site of another known as The Hole, where the gallery crowd were squashed against bemused regulars while enjoying the open bar and a chance to flout the city’s smoking ban. The name change has not made the place much less of a hole. Again, it was impossible to move, and the crowd swayed as best they could to cheery tunes spun by fashion designer Benjamin Cho. A small space cleared momentarily and Marden seized the opportunity to dance among a few old friends. I spoke with pinstriped photographer Hollister Lowe, who had braved the second phase of the evening, to find out what he was making of it all. “Rivington Arms openings are always great because of the people they attract,” he told me, “I come for the inspiration of the crowd.”

Make-up had run and free drinks disappeared by 11:00 PM, and the party ended on schedule. Another bacchanal was evidently starting, for the bartender had begun dancing in his drawers on the bar and upfront hustlers were chitchatting by the entrance. I stood on the street with John Finneran, a native New Yorker now based in Cape May, whose second solo show will open at Rivington Arms in November. We conducted dizzying simultaneous debates about the gallery and the Mets’ energetic start to the season, both of which ended with “they’re just getting started,” the qualified optimism of the long-suffering fan. Bent appeared, impressively still dressed to the nines in the floor-length, slate ball gown and updo in which she’d started the evening. A dishy boyfriend draped his blazer over her shoulders and they disappeared into the night. A-ron the Don, a downtown figure for more than a decade, rolled up on a bicycle to press the flesh, then pushed off. A painfully skinny man in his fifties or sixties came sputtering out of the door. “That’s Rene Ricard,” Finneran said casually, the poet who wrote the first major essay on Basquiat in 1981, a groundbreaking piece in the now-well-worn mold of mythologizing the very young and very gorgeous. It wasn’t the night’s first reminder that art bohemias old and new can’t help but overlap and intermingle, the energy of the junior inflecting the wisdom of the senior and—it’s to be hoped—vice versa.

William Pym

Left: Michelle Harper and artist James Brittingham. Right: LMCC associate curator Adam Kleinman and artist Nick Frankfurt.


Bomb Prom

New York
04.14.06

Left: Cindy Sherman. Right: New Museum director Lisa Phillips, actor Leon Falk, and artist and guest of honor Elizabeth Murray. (All photos: Patrick McMullan)


Chelsea restaurant The Park was the appropriately springlike venue for BOMB magazine’s 25th Anniversary Spring Gala on Monday evening. Rolling up half an hour after the 6:00 PM kickoff, I immediately bumped into former Artforum staffer Megan Riley, who assured me (quite correctly, as it soon transpired) that there’d be other familiar faces in attendance. Having tracked down my companion, I headed inside, picked up a program, seating card, and sugary-sweet lychee martini, and took the lay of the already bustling land.

A fundraising silent auction was in progress, with a few lots hung opposite the bar near the entrance, and the remainder displayed in the semi-outdoor dining area. As is customary at such events, the works up for grabs were a mixture of winners and fillers, known names and family friends. On the “if only I had a couple thousand bucks to spare” wish list included No Title (My first conscious), 2004, a handsome pen-and-ink drawing by Raymond Pettibon; Angel, 2003, an ethereal lithograph by Luc Tuymans; Poisoned Man, 2005, an intriguing woodblock print by Dana Schutz; and Local Focus, 2000, a rich screenprint by Robert Rauschenberg. Browsing the checklist, I noticed that several works bore an unexpected caveat: Should buyers decide to sell their acquisitions, they were required to offer first refusal to the gallery of the artist in question.

Left: Artists Tom Otterness and David Salle. Right: Exit Art director Jeanette Ingberman with curator Robert Storr.


A recent Post-It Note-size pencil sketch by Robert Gober also attracted attention, though more for its starting price (an optimistic ten grand) than for its aesthetic qualities, while Richard Serra’s untitled paint-stick drawing from 1999, valued at twenty-thousand dollars, upped the ante still further. More obvious bargains were a screenprint by Paul Chan (bidding opened at a modest $150) and, on the upper end of the scale, a vibrant new drawing/assemblage by Elizabeth Murray, one of the evening’s three honorees (the others were poet Bob Holman and Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg), on offer for an eight thousand dollar minimum bid. BOMB senior editor (and Artforum family member) Nell McClister joked about her win-win situation: “Whatever doesn’t sell I get to hang on my office wall.”

Making the scene were a number of artist-donors including Lawrence Weiner, Billy Sullivan, Gedi Sibony, David Salle, Mary Heilmann, Gary Indiana (contributor of a candid photographic portrait of John Waters), and a jubilant Keith Sonnier, about to bid New York au revoir for Paris and the South of France. Curators, dealers, and supporters were out in force too: Even a cursory glance around the room revealed James and Jane Cohan, Milly and Arne Glimcher, RoseLee Goldberg and Dakota Jackson, Robert Storr, Paula Cooper, and actor Wallace Shawn. At around 8:00 PM, we were asked to take our seats for the obligatory speeches—introductions by Tim Nye and editor Betsy Sussler and toasts by artist Jessica Hagedorn, Judy Hudson, and sculptor Jessica Stockholder. Hudson’s was hands down the most memorable: The artist and writer delivered a ribald fantasy in which she imagined Murray’s paintings quitting the walls to indulge in nocturnal bacchanalia.

Left: Dia Trustee Frances Bowes and gallerist Anthony Grant. Right: Artists Allan McCollum and Vera Lutter.


As dinner commenced, Lee Klein, a “writer/licensed NYC tour guide” supposedly on gossip duty for the New York Sun, joined Riley, my companion, and I at a tight corner table. Shortly thereafter, one final diner arrived, Artnet editor Walter Robinson’s wife. Robinson himself attempted to follow suit shortly thereafter, but either couldn’t squeeze into the awkward seating, or preferred to stay a safe distance from Klein. (The reporter himself told us, several times, that they’d fallen out years ago. He was fuzzy on the details but assured us, “his girlfriend likes me”). Our man from the open-topped bus regaled us with several more extraordinary anecdotes, an account of his recent and soon-to-be-broadcast win on The People’s Court (episode title: “The Artful Dodger”—set your TiVo now). It was to be hoped that the evening’s sale had left BOMB itself similarly victorious.

Happy Returns

New York
04.12.06

Left: Artist Katy Schimert. Right: Gallerist Nicole Klagsbrun and Billy Sullivan.


Making the gallery rounds last weekend was an education: First I learned that you haven’t really lived until you’ve been stuck in a small elevator with large personalities like Jack Pierson, PaceWildenstein's Douglas Baxter, and retired JPMorganChase art advisor Manuel Gonzalez; and, second, that you really haven’t lived until you’ve lived.

How else to explain the new wave of mature artists—Billy Sullivan, Amy Sillman, Alexis Rockman, and Katy Schimert—all converging on Chelsea in signature style, showing work with more power, authority, and freshness than any has exhibited in years? Indeed, I even heard people on the street speak of Sullivan, who is about to turn sixty, as the hot new artist of the moment. “Billy Sullivan?” one woman said. “He's going to be very important.”

Left: Artist Alexis Rockman, critic Dorothy Spears, and artist James Siena. Right: Billy Sullivan with self-portrait.


Funny to think of Sullivan as an overnight star. He’s been exhibiting since the ’70s, though never to the acclaim that his appearance in the current Whitney Biennial has brought—and that his affectionate new portraits at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery will likely intensify. They don’t just capture personalities but very particular moments that would be a shame to let pass undocumented. “It’s his breakout show,” said painter Jane Dickson, echoing the general sentiment of the muses on hand.

After the reception, the sluggish elevator to the dinner in Klagsbrun’s West Village penthouse gave us time to reflect on Sullivan’s success. His fairy tale isn’t the kind where the artist graduates with collectors in hot pursuit and scores a double-page spread in a fashion magazine on the occasion of his or her solo debut: Sullivan started showing in a gallery on Fifty-Seventh Street just when the art world was moving downtown.

Last summer, at just about the moment he was selected for the Biennial, his eldest son died in a paragliding accident. “I'm just going to say this here,” Sullivan told the friends at Klagsbrun’s gathering. “I lost my son this year but I feel him very much with me. My pictures are in the Biennial and now I have this show at Nicole’s and you’re all a part of all of it.” There wasn’t a soul among us who didn’t have to fight back tears.

Left: Curator and writer Klaus Kertess. Right: Artist Theo Rosenblum.


“I’m really happy,” Katy Schimert said of her new exhibition at David Zwirner, which included a garden of wire-mesh trees that seemed to bend and sway with the movements of the crowd around them. Clearly, happiness is the new cool. Everyone was smiling as the artist, looking very rite-of-printemps in a gay yellow frock with a bouquet of yellow blooms in her arms, greeted friends, including the Matthews, Barney and Ritchie.

“I’m really happy,” Alexis Rockman echoed at Leo Koenig, where it was clear that he had entered an important new phase in his painting. His canvases are still cast in the doom of global warming, but they have exchanged the old illustrational realism for sensuous texture and material heft. One even has Angelo Filomeno–style crystals embedded in it. What happened? “Dorothy Spears,” Rockman said, naming his partner. They’ve been together for a few years but seem to have created a new excitement—maybe like Marina Abramovic and Paolo Canevari, who were married at last this weekend.

Left: Artist Oliver Herring. Right: Artists Matthew Ritchie and Matthew Barney.


“I'm totally happy,” Amy Sillman kept repeating to everyone in the crush at Sikkema Jenkins who could not seem to get enough of her diaphanous new paintings, semiabstractions with a hint of goofy cartoonishness. No one wanted to leave even after the owners had turned out the lights. They should have known: Artists only ripen in the dark.

Futures Trading

London
04.03.06

Left: ICA artistic director Ekow Eshun. Right: ICA chairman Alan Yentob, ICA managing director Guy Perricone, Anthony Fawcett, and Beck's sponsorship manager Chris D'Sylva. (Photos: Will Cooper Mitchell)


A speech from Institute of Contemporary Art artistic director Ekow Eshun and a six-course succession of intricate canapes that started with truffle and artichoke amuses-bouche and ended, three hours later, on port and Stilton marked the ceremony at the “Special View” for this year’s Beck’s Futures competition. Eshun spoke touchingly, if briefly, on the tenacious post-war spirit with which the ICA was founded and a continuing belief in “a better tomorrow,” but as he spoke it felt like the event at hand could do with some amping up. There were only 150 guests at this tidy, Tuesday night pre-preview on the Mall, a small fraction of the attendance at the following night’s traditional Private View, surely replete with indecorous shoving, smashed champagne flutes, and waylaid entourages. And what a curious, unshowy bunch it was, dressed down and quiet. The most notable celebrity sightings of the early going were Alan Yentob, long-serving artswallah for the BBC, his old crony Janet Street-Porter, revered commissioner of what was affectionately called “yoof” television twenty years ago, and her pal Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, and all had come and gone by the time the first treats went around. Amateurish touches from young artists punctured the musty calm, from Seb Patane obsessively adjusting the volume on his chilly, pulsing mixed-media mélange of Aleister Crowley and mountain climbing, to 2005 Futures nominee Donald Urquhart, who hadn’t bothered to RSVP, making a sweet stink in a Scots brogue at the entrance.

Left: Beck's Futures nominee Seb Patane. Right: Herald Street founder Nicky Verber. (Photos: William Pym)


Urquhart was rambunctious once he’d at last made it upstairs. “The best work here is the most derivative, so that’ll never win.” Did he mean Matt Stokes’s balletic restaging of a ’70s Northern Soul night in a Dundee church, I wondered, a film of hypnotic, comfortable familiarity? “What, the one by Mark Leckey?” he guffawed, underscoring an obvious thematic link. “I think the shoes should get it,” he eventually opined, meaning Walk a mile in my shoes, 2006, Bedwyr Williams’s tidy cubbyhole display of collected size thirteens with dangling luggage tags that detail revealing facets of the artist’s psyche. “The shoes are beyond déjà vu, so the judges will probably love it.” Minutes later I introduced myself to Beck’s art sponsorship consultant Anthony Fawcett, who helped conceive the competition in 1999. Both a gentle man and a powerhouse matchmaker between nascent art projects and corporate coffers, Fawcett predictably emphasized Beck’s longstanding support for the visual arts before pondering its place in the current star-making system. The company co-commissioned Rachel Whiteread’s House in 1993 after all, a work that transformed the artist’s profile almost overnight and dramatically upped the public-art ante in Britain. The stakes were not as high tonight, but intense speculation surrounded each exhibtor nonetheless.

Left: Artist Yinka Shonibare. Right: Artists Matthieu Laurette and Haluk Akakçe. (Photos: Will Cooper Mitchell)


There was, naturally, no end to the bottled Beck’s, so by 10:00 PM the contemplative early mood had vanished and the volume had greatly increased. I sought out nominee Pablo Bronstein to talk to him about his whispery architectural addition of arched doorways, which was displayed in such a way that it proved very difficult to digest. Indeed, most visitors, myself included, failed to notice his piece at all until waved towards an out-of-the-way label. Lubricated Bronstein, raffish, did not mince words. “They fucked me up the arse, unquestionably.” He laughed. “It’s all good though.” Fawcett, at this point equally high-spirited, let his spunk show with a final thought. “The Turner Prize took the idea from us of sharing the prize money among all the nominees, they stole it. And the total purse for Futures is still larger than Turner’s. Everyone really is a winner here.” Yet, as the party fizzled and everyone shuffled down the grand staircase towards the exit, it was hard to forget that one winner will be more equal than others.