Left: Coco Fusco and the Guerrilla Girls. (Photo: Brian Sholis) Right: Curator Catherine de Zegher and artist Martha Rosler. (Photo: David Velasco)
On Friday, I attended the first half of a two-day symposium at MoMA on “The Feminist Future: Theory and Practice in the Visual Arts.” The sold-out Roy and Niuta Titus Theater was packed with vintage women artists, as well as chroniclers, comrades, and frenemies, whether they identified with the “f-word” or not. Thankfully, not much time was wasted quibbling over that, as is customary in such situations, though one questioner did complain about the “c-word,” which she found as deeply offensive as the “n-word.” The lady next to me wondered, “What’s the n-word?” Oy. I helpfully wrote it on her program. She later crossed it out.
The day started with palpable excitement. It seemed a roomful of underacknowledged women artists were about to taste vindication at MoMA, the stern, withholding mothership. The venerable Lucy Lippard kicked things off with a minihistory of our struggles, contrasting early feminist ideals of community and revolution with the more cynical early-twenty-first-century careerism. To an art-history student who earnestly asked how to overcome her peers’ allergy to the “f-word,” the sage elder replied: “It hurts our feelings when people don’t want to use the word feminist.” See? Feminists can be funny! Lippard went on to marvel that this conference was the “biggest sellout the museum ever had for such an event”—then quickly chuckled at her own hilarious Freudian slip.
The morning’s panel was zippy. Coco Fusco, in character as a military drill instructor, gave a brilliant strategy lesson: “Following these tactics, everyone will forget there was supposed to be a feminist future.” For example: “Bitch your way to the bank: Rebellion for rebellion’s sake—bad girls, erratic behavior, erotic exhibitionism—is easily sold,” she advised. More pointers: “The Personal Is the Profitable” (a slide illustrated “The Tracey Emin School of Art: It’s All About Me!”), “Fair and Balanced: Give opponents to feminism a place at every table as if they are a disadvantaged minority,” and, of course, “Tokenism, Not Quotas.” If anyone asked, as many did at the end of the day, what any of the mostly historical talks had to do with the “feminist future,” I would refer them back to Fusco’s spot-on diagnosis.
It was gratifying and a bit weird to see the Guerrilla Girls do their shtick at this museum, whose paltry representation of women inspired their oeuvre. Alas, their material remains true, outrageous, and provocative despite the fact that they are now museum pieces themselves. And like the best vintage fashion, the black gorilla heads are still fab on the dais, transforming their copanelists—and the entire room—into their “straight men”: “Keep Making Trouble,” the masked avengers advised. “Keep finding better ways to do it.”
Left: Artist Marina Abramovic with curator Okwui Enwezor. Right: Artist Orlan. (Photos: David Velasco)
Not making trouble, Carrie Lambert-Beatty was the delighted art educator with perfect diction, presenting the ingeniously subversive “Women on Waves” project, the floating clinic devised by Dutch Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, which provides abortions twelve miles offshore to women in countries such as Ireland, Poland, and Portugal, where the procedure is heavily restricted or largely illegal. The art historian, in a pixie haircut à la Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, pronounced the piece “activist assemblaaaahge” using art to “figure a space apart, an extralegal sphere [that] provides activism a safe harbor.” Completing the panel, Richard Meyer’s art-historical interest in cocks—that is, in censorship of gay male artists and in the Effeminists, the “flaming faggot” movement of the early ’70s—lead him to research art of that period in which “women were fighting to paint cocks, too—or photograph them.” Like a savvy vintage shopper, he served up three early-'70s finds that look great right now: Martha Rosler’s “Bringing the War Home” pieces, which collage House Beautiful glamour shots with militaristic horrors; Anita Steckel’s zesty phallic cityscapes, including what should be an iconic image of a giant woman straddling the Empire State building; and Joan Semmel’s not-glamorous naked couples experiencing “the reality of desire and aging.” He quoted Steckel, who philosophized, when her penis-filled tableaux provoked controversy in 1971, “If the erect penis is not wholesome enough to go into museums, it should not be considered wholesome enough to go into women. If the erect penis is wholesome enough to go into women, it should be considered wholesome enough to go into museums.” Right on.
The Q&A was like a Gong Show of pent-up sharing. Emerging from the woodwork, some of the questioners were in the collectives researched by Meyer. Several had to be “gonged” to let others have a turn. Sitting next to me, an MFA student from Hunter observed: “There’s all this talk about collectivity and the movement,” then she gestured at the mike and added, “but everyone gets up there and blows their own horn. It’s like this underdocumented moment, and everyone is searching for their own art historian.” Indeed, the “questions” were rambling reminiscences, promoting current projects and urging scholars to chronicle their work. The event had the uncanny tone of a High Holy Day when the heavenly accounts were to be reopened and Kafkaesque petitioners—hitherto neglected by the archive—might lobby the powers-that-be to inscribe them in the Book of Art-Historical Life.
After lunch, Marina Abramovic showed Balkan Erotic Epic. Posing as a pedagogue, she introduced video vignettes featuring genital imagery and practice from a very “other,” pagan Balkan tradition: men masturbating into the earth, women baring their privates to “stop the rain.” Next, professor of architecture Beatriz Colomina delivered a lengthy analysis of Le Corbusier’s perverse violation of a woman’s villa by mural. With copious documentation, Colomina traced the modern master’s fetishistic mishmash of figuration and violation, from obsessively sketching les femmes de la Casbah in Algiers (in his words, “By drawing we enter the house of a stranger”) to literally violating a woman’s house by vandalism: “Defacing her [villa with his Picassoesque murals] gave him his identity.” The old-school feminist painter in front of me started to squirm as Colomina elaborated and elaborated upon the modern master’s perversity: “Why is she talking about him?” she poked the elder next to her. “Oy, she’s killing me!” The analysis went on . . . “She’s trying to kill us.” “Murder! Enough already,” she actually heckled.
Left: Curator Ute Meta Bauer. Right: Eva Einhorn, LTTR's Ginger Brooks Takahashi, artist Carolee Schneemann, and LTTR's K8 Hardy. (Photos: David Velasco)
Next, the stately Geeta Kapur of New Delhi presented a careful deconstruction of two woman artists working in “desecularized India” who demonstrated “a testing of identification rather than the claiming or embodying of identification.” Unfortunately, whether due to the postlunch slump, several hours of confinement in the packed hall, or the previous talk (which was delivered in a thick accent to boot), a little deconstruction went a long way. The feisty seniors in front of me were restive as bored teens. There was tension between the old-school feminists—who had long awaited their validation moment at MoMA—and the academics whose abstract musings seemed to perpetuate the status quo. Finally, Martha Rosler took the podium with a big white cast on her wrist and a black T-shirt that said “WE WILL NOT BE SILENT.” By then, the morning’s promise had seemed to fizzle into a poststructuralist fatigue, and we were sorely in need of refreshment.
Left: Artist Steve Roden. Right: Artist John Bock with dealers Anton Kern and Shaun Caley Regen. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)
Driving from West Hollywood to Culver City to Chinatown last Saturday night, I couldn’t help but think of Woody Allen’s brief but miserable Los Angeles sojourn in Annie Hall. Cruising in a convertible down a preternaturally clean, palm-tree-lined street, Allen, the perpetually miserable New Yorker, jibes, “The architecture’s really consistent isn’t it? French next to Spanish, next to Tudor, next to Japanese.” His offhand derision did capture the schizophrenia of the LA art tour on this unseasonably chilly winter night, which offered up mournful sound art, whimsical abstraction, punk polemics, playful Germans, and pistol-packing Aztec warriors.
I rushed across the windswept plaza of the bleak palace that houses the MoCA Pacific Design Center in an attempt to find what I’d heard was a rare live outing by Steve Roden. Nary a performance was found (I’d heard wrong), but I was greeted instead by Dark over Light Earth, the polymath artist’s latest sound work. Roden’s project, initiated by Tim Ivison, draws inspiration from the paintings on view in “MoCA’s Marc Rothkos.” I climbed the stairs into the galleries, where the dim lighting and dour color fields made the music sound like a cyber-requiem for a suicide. The thin crowd of collectors, hipsters, and architects hovering in the gallery appeared dutifully awed by the churchy atmosphere, though they still managed to talk business. A group of collectors hemmed and hawed about their inability to secure work by this artist or that, one plaintively lamenting, “In California, the art market is worse than the real estate.”
Leaving the associated talk midway, I trotted down to Regen Projects for the opening of John Bock’s show of objects and drawings. Another rumored performance came to naught (unless his repertoire now includes quietly sipping beer). But even without one of Bock’s trademark lectures, the show secured his reputation as a mad scientist, the drawings reading like makeshift plans for world domination, with endless digressions.
Back in the car, I shot south to Culver City, where at Blum & Poe, Chris Vasell’s quiet, abstract paintings hung like wallflowers on the edge of a party that hardly seemed to acknowledge their presence. Vasell’s color washes, like Roden’s sound piece, channel the ghost of Rothko, with the rich colors fading in and out like a failed séance. Around the corner at Anna Helwing, Mario Ybarra Jr.’s show had drawn the Chicano and Latin-American community, with artist Daniel Joseph Martinez and curators Bill Kelly and Rita Gonzalez coming out to support the inveterate jester. In the drawings, Aztec warriors in blue jeans battled with hydras and cholos, giant eagles swooped down on Mexican cowboys, and teenagers sported assault rifles in front of single-family homes. Ybarra seemed happily dazed with his own good luck, cruising the gallery quietly, a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
At the newly redesigned Lizabeth Oliveria, former Dead Kennedys frontman and onetime presidential candidate Jello Biafra’s high, nasal whine and political agitation played to the packed gallery crowd. The opening brought out the reclusive Raymond Pettibon, whom I just missed, but whose darkly comic narratives hung alongside work by Chris Johanson, Manuel Ocampo, and Erlea Maneros.
Narrowly avoiding another night spent at the Mandrake, our art scene’s newest watering hole, I cut out of Culver City and hopped on the freeway to Chinatown, where the galleries were open later and a planned after-party at the Mountain Bar had been the buzz everywhere I’d visited. I started at Jack Hanley, where Matthew Higgs had curated (with Creative Growth’s assistance) a show of drawings by Aurie Ramirez. It was curious to see the reserved Higgs, a couple of dressed-down collectors in tow, motioning to iridescent and simply rendered drawings of young girls performing fellatio. Down the street at Daniel Hug, the massive black-cloth revolving sculpture by German artist Florian Morlat morphed the gallery into an impromptu dance floor as dowagers in fox furs two-stepped out of its way.
When the security gates finally clanked shut along Chung King Road, the assembled revelers moved en masse to the Mountain Bar. In the dim red light, Los Super Elegantes lounged on pillowed divans, San Francisco–based curators Kate Fowle and Dominic Willsdon tipped pints of lager, and, on the dance floor, half the students from the Mountain School of Art gyrated onstage to Higgs’s DJ set. Although I still overheard comments perfectly resembling Woody Allen’s depictions of a culturally vacuous LA (“Right now it’s a notion, but I think I can get money to make it into a concept and later turn it into an idea”), I can’t remember going to a better party, and many commented on how it felt like the old Chinatown—before the economic boom made everyone suspicious, rapacious, and mean. The mixture I experienced all night supported Allen’s comment, though LA’s schizophrenia is as much a charm as a detriment. As I was leaving the Mountain, I caught up with publisher Benedikt Taschen, stuck in line behind a group of twentysomethings at the bar’s door. I asked him if he’d seen any good art, “Yes, I saw some good art,” he enunciated in his clean German accent. “But I had better Chinese food.”
Left: LURE's Aaron Igler and ICA Philadelphia associate curator Jenelle Porter. Right: Space 1026's Andrew Jeffrey Wright. (All photos: William Pym)
ICA Philadelphia launched its 2007 program with thunderous and near-comical pomp on Friday night with “Locally Localized Gravity.” It’s a massive project that hopes to replicate the quotidian strategies of artists’ collectives––presenting four from Philly, four from elsewhere, and a lone individual artist––in a mega-exhibition and two-month program of over seventy-five ICA-endorsed events, not only in the institution but in homes, bars, and libraries and on street corners. I say “thunderous” because the scene most resembled the hormonal chaos of a rock club, with smashed beer bottles, prowling youth (from hip-hop heads to burnouts to now-ubiquitous freak-folk folks), and frantic individuals on cell phones trying to find estranged friends or avoid ex-lovers. It was clubby, and, man, this club has gotten big. At least a thousand people crossed the threshold over the course of two hours, more than I have ever witnessed here or indeed at any other art venue in five years in this city.
I say “near-comical” because while there was much of importance to discuss, both about the show and, broadly speaking, the local landscape into which it fits, there were no practical means of doing so. I cornered ever-poised ICA director Claudia Gould and asked her if she had any misgivings about approving the exhibition, which was arranged by staff curators Elyse Gonzales, Jenelle Porter, and Whitney Lauder Curatorial Fellow Naomi Beckwith. “None whatsoever,” she replied, as we looked down from the balcony bar on a room so packed that the crowd had begun to whorl and eddy in that wonderful oceanlike way that indicates a critical mass. “Why would I?”
I wondered whether these opening-night hysterics portended the challenge this show will face, whether discussions at this institution will have a hard time being as intimate and idiosyncratic as they should. During the ICA members’ private walk-through, participating artist Matt Bakkom had treated the preppy young friends to an outpouring of jargon, suggesting they keep “modes of interaction” and “an activated museum space” at the forefront of their thoughts. “I was trying not to be overly prescriptive,” Bakkom told me when we eventually met, “not frighten anybody, not confuse anybody.”
I wasn’t sure it worked. Looking after a blanket bazaar of hand-printed artists’ books, publisher Max Lawrence bellowed to a fellow Space 1026 member, “I have never heard so much shit about ‘commodifying’ in my whole life. Are you telling me art’s supposed to be free?” Perhaps the exhibition’s wall text had led the baying, product-hungry masses swarming around him to look for a quick souvenir of the night’s magic, speaking as it did of resourcefulness and cheap real estate. But cheap is not free. As I sat with Naomi Beckwith on top of the nearest piece of art, Black Floor Gallery’s literal and snottily stark black floor on wheels, the curator opened up. “We wanted to circumvent the images of either starving bohemia or rank commerce that these groups attract, and focused on those artists who find a way for their ideas and themselves to survive.” We had enough peace on our perch for a moment’s reflection. “There’s nothing harder than for creative individuals to occupy a space at the same time,” she continued, without inflection. I wanted to point out that her words applied as much to the pros who organize and typically view museum shows as they did to self-sufficient collectives. Unfortunately, Beckwith had been snared for a crisis discussion about dinner, now thirty minutes overdue and looking like it might not even happen. Wimpy student volunteers from Penn had not been sufficiently trained as name-takers, and streams of undesirables had found their way to the buffet in the back.
But it didn’t really matter. For now, the fact that so many had come together was the thing to celebrate. It had been a truly amazing spectacle. At dinner’s end, Gould made her way to a makeshift dais. Dim candlelight illuminated drained wine bottles, drunk youngsters, and smashed glass (littering the private dinner as much as anywhere else), and Gould told a ludicrous story about the dream she’d had on the plane back from her and senior curator Ingrid Schaffner’s recent scouting trip to India. She’d dreamed that she had been floating on the surface of the moon, and her story went, endearingly, nowhere. I don’t think she was drunk.
Left: Man Man's Sergei Sogay with Space 1026's Thom Lessner. Right: Whitney Lauder Curatorial Fellow Naomi Beckwith.
Surely your friends who attended the Whitney’s reception for Terence Koh’s first solo US museum presentation last Thursday night told you that it was a glamorous affair. It brimmed with all the usual suspects and more, from ubiquitous art-world intelligentsia like Thelma Golden (“Is this piece dangerous?”) and Adam Weinberg to icons like Bianca Jagger and twentysomething boys I didn’t even know existed outside their highly tailored Craigslist M4M postings and Manhunt.net profiles. (“Isn’t that LESbtm81?”)
And it was glamorous—especially if you were one of the sixty or so people standing in the path of the most conspicuous component of the piece, a four-thousand-watt ArriSun 40/25 movie light directed with laserlike precision from the museum’s first-floor project room toward a scrim on the museum’s front windows—a thin shield put up (against Koh’s wishes) to help keep the fulgent beam from interfering with traffic on Madison Avenue. Standing there in front of the elevators, within the corridor of palpable white light transecting the Whitney’s lobby, the (art) world seemed to slow to a magically lugubrious pace, liberated from the humdrum tempo of conventional, mortal time.
Koh already tackled something akin to Art Fair Art with his quixotic reproduction of The Cock’s back room—sans any of the lubricious activity that made the original worth reproducing—at the opening of Asia Song Society during last year’s Armory Show. Is he now auguring a genre of Opening Art? For if the Whitney’s press release speaks of Koh’s piece as “creating a psychological interaction that evokes desire and loss, pain and hope,” at the reception it mostly evoked an E! Oscar preparty. It’s like that episode of Murphy Brown in which a guest at an opening—ignorant of the “real art,” a mural on the ceiling—exclaims: “It’s brilliant! We are the art!” Silly, perhaps, but this “misrecognition” easily translates to Koh’s piece: It’s no longer Koh’s work that’s the spectacle, but the audience—a mixed bag of curators, dealers, museum directors, artists, writers, and unaffiliated scenesters who (like myself) took to the light like moths to a flame. (A return visit on Saturday showed a very different scene, with most visitors scuttling through the beam in a desperate bid for the stairwell—though a few apparently stuck around long enough to glimpse a mysterious large lead sphere placed furtively in the corner of the off-limits room that harbors the light.) I don’t envy the piece’s guards, but its rapturous reception on Thursday certainly speaks to the benefits of making everyone at an opening look fabulous, and Koh surely knows which side his bread is buttered on.
Koh’s legerdemain works better on some than others. At a “White Party” at Deitch Projects following the reception, Mary Boone (who held a “gold-themed” dinner for Koh the night prior at Mr. Chow) told me to “tell Javier—tell Terence—that I would love to represent him in New York.” Later I mentioned this to Koh’s dealer, Javier Peres. He seemed gracious but amused, answering: “Terence only works with me.” Can you blame Peres for not wanting to share? Especially considering that a recent New York magazine profile estimated that the artist raked in over one million bucks last year—necessary income, given the amount his dealer spends on his work. While the Whitney installation was, according to Peres, “one of the cheapest Koh projects to produce,” the follow-up fete and performance certainly weren’t, with Jeffrey Deitch rumored to have dropped a whopping $130,000 on the White Party's luscious setup.
It paid off . . . somewhat. Walking into Deitch was like entering a quiet, high-class, visually stunning rave. A fog machine had been pumped up to the legal limit (I didn’t even know there was one), and white shrouds were distributed at the door to those who failed to meet the party’s mandatory monochromatic dress code. Inside, young boys drenched in glaucous white powder wearing nothing but underwear and gossamer white veils circulated through the crowd, while a bar served vodka and white cranberry juice in plastic cups (you’d think you’d get glassware for the price). The performance consisted of Koh huddled on a stage banked by two giant Thomas Zipp–cum–Josiah McElheny Sputnik neon balls, mumbling gibberish in a voice reminiscent of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. One person in the front row was overheard whispering: “This is art history in the making. No one knows it now, but someday . . .” As if in response, another bird spurted: “What a sorry echo of the Fischerspooner show here five years ago, only with less sparkle and substance.”
Afterward, I made my way to 205 Club on the Lower East Side for 032c magazine’s “official” after-after-party, but inside it was a mob scene, overflowing with what looked like stragglers from Vice magazine’s launch party held at the bar the night prior. On my way to Chinatown’s Good World Bar & Grill for the less official after-after-after-party (prior to the real after-hours, I hear, later that night at ASS), I spotted Bruce LaBruce on his cell phone at the edge of a crowd queuing up to get into 205: “Javier! It’s Bruce. Slava and I can’t get in. Javier? Javier?? Javier??? . . . Fuck.” Unable to help, my friends and I staggered off to the next destination, where artists Banks Violette, Bozidar Brazda, and Dan Colen were among those prepping to really kick off the night. There’s more, of course, but you can’t blame me for being circumspect: I want to keep getting invited to these things, after all.
Left: Artist Tim Gardner and Veronica Schriber. Right: Dealer Stuart Shave with Tate curator Stuart Comer. (All photos: Lillian Davies)
Although we’d never met, Charles Saumarez Smith, director of the National Gallery, greeted me with kisses as I arrived through the grand portico entrance for the opening of “Tim Gardner: New Works.” Clearly, love was in the air, and for this intimate gathering in room one of the Trafalgar Square institution, a charming space the size of a living room, friends and relatives were gathering to admire Gardner’s landscapes and portraits. I met Gardner’s father, Jim, who introduced me to his wife, sons, nieces, and nephews, all of whom had traveled from Canada to celebrate. Gardner himself graciously talked me through the works at the National Gallery that had inspired him during his three-month residency in the summer of 2005—Turner’s cloud studies, Monet’s landscapes, and Rubens’s skies—and admitted that, upon arriving in London to work, he had wanted to “get away from portraiture.” As if describing cabin fever, he recalled a desire to “get out of the studio . . . and out into the world.”
Saumarez Smith called the room to attention to introduce the artist-in-residence program, emphasizing the transition that Gardner signals as the first non-British artist to participate since the scheme began in 1979. Saumarez Smith has tweaked the program in other ways, perhaps in an attempt to catch up with what Barbara Hopkins of the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation, a major patron of the arts in Britain, described as the precedent set by “the maverick down the road, Nick Serota.” Things momentarily took a surreal turn as David Lammy, British minister of culture, addressing the growing crowd, endorsed the “virtues of the New World—sublime landscapes and masculinity”—that he saw in Gardner’s paintings and drawings.
Left: Artist Nigel Cooke with Barbara Hopkins of the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation. Right: British minister of culture David Lammy.
On my way to the nearby room where guests migrated for drinks, I ran into an ebullient Christopher Riopelle, curator of the exhibition, in front of Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors. Riopelle described the way in which Gardner channeled works in the National Gallery’s collections into his own practice as “osmosis”—a process realized through “oblique references to historic works, but always in modern terms.” Surrounded by the sixteenth-century masterpieces of room nine, I found Stuart Shave, who claimed that this was his “first time to ever wear a tie”—an exceptional skinny Day-Glo number. A few months after seeing Gardner’s work at Shave’s London gallery, Riopelle asked him to bring over some of the artist’s work to present to the residency-selection committee. “No JPEGs, no PowerPoint,” Shave explained, as if describing the strange rituals of an ancient tribe.
In the National Gallery dining room, where we were soon escorted for dinner, I found Lonti Ebers, president of the Power Plant in Toronto, who lamented that it’s close to impossible to get ahold of Gardner’s work in his native country—it's “snapped up too quickly by international collectors.” Painter Nigel Cooke explained that when he was in art school, Leon Kossoff, now enjoying the studio space and museum access Gardner did, was simply “not cool.” Tom Windross, from the museum’s publishing department, thought maybe it was a generational thing: Today, “the kids are after anything Kossoff.” (I can’t say I’ve heard the same.) During a round of teary-eyed toasts at meal’s end, the Canadian high commissioner’s wife proclaimed that Gardner’s work made her “proud to be a Canadian,” and I heard someone exclaim, “This is like a wedding!” Indeed.
For a Thursday-night program enigmatically promoted as “an evening of words and song,” Patti Smith took just the length of a poem to set the evening’s tone, letting us in on the joke: “Should I clap quiet, because it’s a poem?” she wondered along with the reverent audience in the well-lit confines of the Robert Miller Gallery. “What I usually do,” she finished, taking mercy, “is nothing.” She had arrived calm, breaking off one moment onstage to hug her late-arriving daughter, Jesse, another to applaud the inventor of the lens (she was sporting new glasses). Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame only a few days prior, Smith had packed the gallery beyond what it could reasonably hold, and we, who had done neither of those things, sought her guidance.
Smith wished for an evening “like those from the '50s I used to read about” and told stories about the past: Peggy Guggenheim and Brancusi and Sam Wagstaff, names that loomed large on such bygone nights. She lauded the Robert Miller Gallery for its “old-fashioned and generous gesture” to have printed booklets of her poetry and photographs to commemorate the event. But comparisons to distant days risked hagiography. Were we there because of who Smith had been or who she was now, for what evenings used to be or how they might be today?
By way of answer, Smith sang songs new and old alongside her longtime bandmate Lenny Kaye. They were interspersed with long passages of poetry, the most impressive of which—“The Sword of God,” prologue to her epic in progress A Pythagorean Traveler, also the title of her exhibition at the gallery—encompassed not just the greater share of the evening but also the show’s cool, desultory black-and-white photographs. Marble statues, found and shot in far-off countries, became “fellas”; her casual asides between poetry and song became the performance itself (“much longer than the poems,” she admitted). All was reduced to her vernacular. The genteel surroundings and her casual air cloaked only for so long the fact that we would not be let off the hook or allowed to dissent from her version of the story: The night would be exactly the kind of thing people remembered because she wouldn’t let it be otherwise.
Less momentous, although just as crowded, was the following evening’s performance at the Whitney, where Text of Light—on Friday, a trio of Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, New York–based musician and writer Alan Licht, and percussionist Tim Barnes, with Leah Singer as guest projectionist—performed alongside slides and film by László Moholy-Nagy. The around-the-block free-Friday-night queue had crashed what was clearly meant to have been an intimate occasion, and had ushers reassuring those to whom the fire code denied entry: “I’ve attended enough of these to know there’ll be newcomers, and they don’t usually stick around long.”
Indeed, the contents of the second-floor gallery bordered on the ridiculous: elderly women plugging their ears, grown men in suits sitting cross-legged on the carpet, a wheelchair-bound couple in front of me eyeing the exits in vain for enough space to escape.
The performance began with Moholy-Nagy’s Light Play: Black-White-Grey, 1930, a film inspired by his kinetic sculpture Light Prop for an Electric Stage, 1928–30, present and on hand to rotate and spin variegated shadows. Out from a corner, drenched in echo, Text of Light’s improv was not quite: The band’s sound was composed, measured, emotionally coordinated with Singer’s minimal slide manipulation. Licht, using a guitar and a chain of effects pedals, found patterns—then layered them or let them go as diffuse as blurry light. Ranaldo and Barnes bowed their instruments until Barnes’s cymbals hummed alongside Ranaldo’s trademark low-grade feedback.
In the tight space, bass rebounded off the walls. Text of Light’s hypersensitive microphones brought the most incidental noise to bear, so that those streaming for the exits began to play their part, too, slamming doors that reverberated after they were gone. An hour after the band began it was over, leaving afterimages as vivid as the Josef Albers squares that hung down the hall.
Left: Artist Marty Kornfeld with Amalia Dayan. Right: Artist Daniel Buren with dealer Stefania Bortolami. (All photos: Brian Sholis)
“Congratulazione, mia cara collega,” Emi Fontana exclaimed to Stefania Bortolami at the opening of Daniel Buren’s exhibition “Variable/Invariable” at Bortolami Dayan. Indeed, the mood at the opening and at the following dinner was ebullient: Bortolami and partner, Amalia Dayan, had pulled off a coup of sorts, with a two-part exhibition of the eminent French Conceptualist, who had for years been a fixture of uptown powerhouse Marian Goodman’s roster. Buren’s departure from Goodman and his decision to show with the plush but quite new Bortolami Dayan, which so far has shown mostly younger artists, were topics of considerable interest. “It’s nice coming back to show in New York,” Buren remarked. Of course, his spectacular installation at the Guggenheim in 2005 was certainly a return, but the artist was referring to gallery shows; he hadn’t had a show with Goodman for some time. “I was supposed to do a one-man show last year, which Marian forgot to do,” so, spurred on by friend and fellow Bortolami Dayan artist Michel François, Buren decided to throw in his lot with a new generation.
In the main gallery, Buren exhibited paintings spanning the year 1966; installed from earliest to latest clockwise through the space, the pictures show Buren’s abandonment of painting, or, as Bortolami put it, “You see Buren becoming Buren,” the artist of preprinted striped canvases in lieu of conventional paintings. In the outdoor space next door, beneath the High Line, Buren created an installation of Plexiglas squares that hung from the elevated railway. I asked the artist which part of the exhibition constituted the variable and which the invariable. “It’s something I leave open,” he answered laughing. “The invariable stripe?”
Left: Artist Jordan Wolfson and dealer Carol Greene. Right: Curator Clarissa Dalrymple with dealer Janice Guy.
Carl Andre, attired in his invariable garb of workman’s overalls, attended the opening but not the dinner. But, representing Buren’s generation, Lawrence Weiner and his wife, Alice, came to both. Held at Wallsé, the Austrian restaurant in the West Village, the dinner was quite, one could even say unusually, enjoyable. I sat next to Kamel Mennour, Buren’s Paris dealer, who confirmed that Marian Goodman was quite displeased about Buren’s departure. “She’s not happy with me, either,” he added, as Goodman has a Paris gallery, too, and Mennour, like Dayan and Bortolami, is a relatively young gallerist. Also at my table: Bard Center for Curatorial Studies executive director Tom Eccles, Sandy Rower (Alexander Calder’s grandson), and artists Louise Lawler and Cecily Brown. The “Pictures”-era avatar and the avatar of that other thing—painting—were seated side by side, chatting amiably—so much for the critical jeremiads of the ‘80s. To my slight discomfiture, conversation turned to Scene & Herd itself. I don’t think Eccles approves, as he was very critical of my own involvement. For lack of a better retort, I told him he must feel this revulsion because he is Scottish and Presbyterian. Other guests of note included François, Guggenheim director Lisa Dennison (who, with Guggenheim adjunct curator and critic Alison Gingeras and associate curator Susan Cross, organized the museum’s Buren exhibition), MoMA curator Joachim Pissarro, Clarissa Dalrymple, Anton Kern and Nathalie Karg, Tim Nye, and Christian Haye. And lots of other people whose names Eccles undoubtedly notes, as one can only surmise he is a loyal reader of Scene & Herd.
Left: Artists Paulina Olowska, Monica Bonvicini, and Amanda Keeley. Right: Reena Spaulings Fine Art's Emily Sundblad. (All photos: David Velasco)
Anyone who was in town on Saturday will remember the day as freakishly warm, making the Chelsea openings circuit less the usual winter march from one heated space to another and more a springtime stroll. D’Amelio Terras presented one lively launch. “The loss of history makes them constantly curious and continuously horny . . .” was the promising title of a group show inspired by a Mekons performance at Dia in 1995. On that occasion, Vito Acconci had designed a hexagonal stage and filled in the gaps in the music with his own spoken narration. At D’Amelio Terras, band and stage were replaced by a multilevel seating unit that also emitted snippets of Acconci’s gnomic commentary, including the show’s title. The setup seemed to remind many visitors of their favorite childhood monkey bars, resulting in an unseemly scramble for the uppermost perch that only the soberest—Whitney director Adam Weinberg, for one, the Times’ Roberta Smith, for another—appeared able to resist.
At Elizabeth Dee Gallery, the game was rather to avoid the centerpiece, a worryingly ephemeral-looking sculpture by Mai Braun. This became increasingly difficult as the gallery filled to bursting with visitors curious to assess new director Jenny Moore’s curatorial smarts. Dee herself seemed overjoyed with the results and enthused, too, about the gallery’s next show, a project by the collaborative team New Humans. My companions nodded and smiled but, it was later revealed, were equally taken by Dee’s outfit, a trouser suit that had earned Scarlett Johansson an appearance in Us Weekly’s fashion “don’ts” column but, by common consensus, looked a whole lot better on the gallerist than it had on the starlet.
The opening of Polish artist Paulina Olowska’s first New York solo show, at Metro Pictures, had been trailed to me at least twice as the hip event of the evening, but it seemed oddly subdued by comparison. The gallery itself was nearly empty by the time I arrived, with just a few diehards, artists Elizabeth Peyton, T. J. Wilcox, and Cheyney Thompson among them, lingering outside. Also making the scene were Liam Gillick and Sarah Morris. I had fun catching up with the former—a fellow Brit—the discussion moving from family to facial hair to the pros and cons of transatlantic cruising in a matter of minutes. (Can it really be true that Ileana Sonnabend bought all the Queen Elizabeth II’s classic modernist furniture only to offload it to the Salvation Army?) After stopping in briefly at the local (and possibly only remaining) dive bar Billymark’s West for the commencement of Elizabeth Dee’s after-party (bemused regulars looking on), I cabbed it downtown to Barrow’s Pub on Hudson Street for Metro Pictures’s event. The venue was fractionally smarter than Billymark’s, but no Bemelmans, as evinced by the repurposing of a pool table for the hors d’oeuvres, not to mention the repurposing of what looked like Chicken McNuggets as hors d’oeuvres. Artist Dieter Roelstraete spun some loungey tunes, but despite the presence of some striking Eastern European clientele, it was another downbeat affair, and after an hour or so, I called it a night.
What’s the most intimidating kind of gallery? In my experience, it’s not the vast, gleaming Chelsea showroom but the knock-three-times-and-mutter-the-password backstreet shoebox. Artist Bozidar Brazda’s new project space, 127 (my cabbie got lost even with a map), was firmly in the latter camp, a miniscule strip-lit storefront in Chinatown with no sign or any other concession to the uninitiated. Arriving halfway through the Sunday-evening opening of a show of new work by Anna Parkina and Joep Van Liefland, I discovered exactly seven people in attendance (though, admittedly, one of those was Whitney curator Shamim M. Momin, and another Flash Art critic Adrian Dannatt). If Saturday night’s hospitality had been low-rent, here it was stripped down to the bare essentials: a stack of warm Buds in the corner.
Orchard may have been serving actual wine, but the corridorlike space was so dark and packed that I felt like I was in line for a club bathroom rather than angling to get a glimpse of some, uh, “Polish Socialist Conceptualism of the ’70s.” Yes, Gareth James and company had somehow contrived to transform a distinctly unsexy-sounding subject into another destination show. I bumped into artist Ellen Harvey on my way in, and she introduced me to Lukasz Ronduda, who curated the show in collaboration with Barbara Piwowarska. An excited Ronduda reeled off an efficient beginner’s guide to the artworks on view and handed me a sheaf of closely printed pages as “a brief introduction,” before disappearing into the crowd.
Reena Spaulings Fine Art, my final stop of the night, also disseminated some “challenging” text in the shape of an open letter from “Paris-based collective” Claire Fontaine, copies of which were available to all. (Its closing gambit: “Surrounded by a malevolent attention, obliged to perform useless tasks, wanting to change but not knowing how to. We feel alone.” Cheers, “Claire.”) Attendees had all either just come from 127 or Orchard (or Participant, Inc., or Canada, both also opening shows that night) or were just on their way to one or the other, making for some brisk movement up and down the stairs. Carol Greene, Rita Ackermann, and Jordan Wolfson were among those coming or going. Oh, and Tatum O’Neal showed at some point, though whether she, too, was making the rounds with equal dedication was unclear.
Left: Ryan McGinley with Richard Bars. Right: Participant Inc. director Lia Gangitano with artist Devon Costello. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco)
The ambitious, self-actualizing heroics of New Year’s resolutions often give me hives; I much prefer sleeping in—a gentle awakening to the postholiday cycle. So Wednesday, I chose to ease back into the New York art world via a friendly, low-key party at Lower East Side nonprofit Participant Inc. celebrating Devon Costello and Ilya Lipkin’s “Poster Project.” Director Lia Gangitano noted that the gallery floor had been repainted for the occasion, a noble endeavor, since the numerous posters—created by over twenty different artists—were only up for the night. (Printed Matter is hosting another, more official launch in February, though for now the works are on view in the Kantor/Feuer Window in Chelsea.)
In true DIY fashion, the black-and-white prints featured an eccentric mix of crude drawing, witty appropriation, and clever wordplay. Lipkin’s reproduction of a Wal-Mart ad he found in Vogue was disarmingly funny, as was artist Michael Paulson’s readymade list of the twenty-five things that make people laugh, despite the fact that there’s something about a formula for jokes that really robs them of their punch. (Paulson may have put it best when he said “humor is desperate, pathetic, and . . . just not funny.”)
Thursday night, I hit James Bidgood’s opening at ClampArt, where the auteur responsible for the classic 1971 homo flick Pink Narcissus was exhibiting some of his gorgeous erotic photographs from the ’60s, an obvious influence on artists such as Pierre et Gilles. I noted to him that the photos looked fresh and vibrant even today. “People are saying it looks contemporary!” the seventy-three-year-old artist exclaimed to an approaching friend. “You’re not contemporary. You’re an old fart!” his friend shot back.
I had planned the night as an all-gay outing, with my next stop Ryan McGinley’s inaugural show at Team Gallery. But before heading to SoHo, I peeked next door at Peter Hay Halpert Fine Art—an early mover of McGinley’s work—which, rumor had it, was throwing its own McGinley show to capitalize on the artist’s move to Team. Sure enough, the third-floor shoebox space was advertising “Ryan McGinley: The Kids Are Alright & Other Work,” even going so far as to mimic the dates of the Team show. But there was no party to speak of; Halpert apparently thought better of going head-to-head with José Freire et al. in that department.
Time was running short, so I hailed a cab and zipped downtown, where I found McGinley’s opening in full swing. McGinley went on a two-year road trip, traveling to dozens of Morrissey concerts in the US, the UK, and Mexico. The resultant photos, many of which are densely saturated in the concerts’ colored lights, feature candid shots of fans, regularly zooming in for seductive close-ups of enamored youngsters—a celebration of the ecstatic cult of fame and its ardent enablers. A few oblique pics of Morrissey himself are scattered throughout the show, though the shots are careful to avoid the singer’s face. It’s McGinley’s best work to date, solid evidence that he’s a perfect fit for Team.
After the opening, one hundred or so of McGinley’s friends and family eloped to the after-party at new Lower East Side hangout the Annex. Lounging around the open bar and hefty hors d’oeuvres was a mix of downtown figures old and new: Clarissa Dalrymple, Leo Fitzpatrick, Banks Violette, Adam McEwan, Emily Sundblad, Benjamin Cho, Peter Coffin, Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, Melissa Bent, Mirabelle Marden, Neville Wakefield, and Sophia Lamar. McGinley noted that his first Smiths album was Meat Is Murder (he fell in love with the cover and had the poster up in his locker for a year before even listening to the record), while Team owner Freire admitted, “I don’t actually like the Smiths or Morrissey. I always thought that Ian McCulloch had better hair.”
McGinley’s favorite band, New York–based quartet the Virgins, played a rare, crowd-pleasing acoustic set, at one point paying homage to McGinley’s subject in a cover of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.” I was curious to know more about the reclusive singer’s habits, so I asked Ryan if it was true that Morrissey only communicates via fax. “Only if he doesn’t want to talk to you,” he said. Fair enough—it certainly gets the point across. But the always charmingly provocative Freire may have outdone Morrissey in his pointedness, commenting “keep your enemies close and your friends . . . well, fuck your friends.” A New Year’s resolution I can live with.