Left: Dealer Yvon Lambert, artist Richard Jackson, and Yvon Lambert director Olivier Belot. Right: Marina Abramovic. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)
Ladies and gentlemen: The limited-edition goodie bag has arrived. At least, that's how it seemed on two consecutive party nights last weekend, when after-dinner art swag was nearly as rich as the money behind it.
First, on Friday night, at the dinner celebrating Franco-American gallerist Yvon Lambert’s capitulation to Chelsea colossalism, wooden-tray-bearing waiters surprised the guests by serving signed and numbered rubber duckies with dessert. The squishy yellow multiple, decked out in a green military helmet and a big paper neck-tag ID, commemorated California artist Richard Jackson’s inaugural exhibition at both the old-school and the newly cool Richard Gluckman–designed Lambert space, in the formerly cool Lot 61. (The ancien cuisine dinner of beef tournedos, however, was held in a rented recording studio down the street.)
For “The War Room,” in the big new gallery, Jackson installed a folded-up Bucky Fuller Dymaxion Map but substituted for the usual skin a reproduction of a Jasper Johns map painting of the world. (The original is in the Ludwig Museum in Cologne.) Human-size ducks armed with strategically placed air-pressurized tubes surrounded the canvas and, apparently, had ejaculated multicolored paint before the reception. I heard there was paint all over the ground, but I never saw the floor—too many people on it. This was a very Franco-Latino-Brooklyn crowd and included the entire roster of artists affiliated with Lambert’s New York branch: Joan Jonas, Kay Rosen, Anna Gaskell, and so forth, along with newbie painter Melvin Martinez, seated at my table beside Isabel (de la Cruz) Ernst. Her mother, Rosa de la Cruz, who was also there, is—surprise!—building her own museum in Miami, near her nonprofit Moore Space, and using an interior decorator as her architect. Architects don’t understand art, she said, I think. Unfortunately, Gluckman was not nearby.
On the way out, we were all given a slim exhibition catalog signed by Jackson. But this modest volume, even with the ducky, was only a harbinger of greater things to come on Saturday night, when Marina Abramovic celebrated her sixtieth birthday with a black-tie dinner at the Guggenheim. The booty there included the latest addition to the Illy Art Collection of coffee cups: A hefty Abramovic picture-mug. Another gift was the decidedly mixed pleasure of being first to see Seven Easy Pieces, the film that Babette Mangolte has distilled from Abramovic's weeklong residency at the Guggenheim during PERFORMA05, Roselee Goldberg’s first biennial of performance art. The final goodie of the all-Marina-all-the-time evening, which was really its own reward, was a catalogue—unsigned—from Charta, of—what else?—Seven Easy Pieces.
Left: David Byrne with Cindy Sherman. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Björk and Antony. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)
Cutting forty-nine hours of live footage to a reasonable length can't be easy, but Mangolte's film, ninety-two minutes of extreme close-ups showing Abramovic in self-inflicted agony, captures little of the rousing live experience. Of course, back then, audience members were free to leave anytime. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such nihilism combined with such narcissism,” said Pat Steir, when the lights came up. Personally, I was wishing they had opened the bar before the screening—and I am not a drinker.
Never take anything too literally in the art world, I always say, particularly the term black tie. Matthew Barney, for instance, merely donned a black T-shirt under his dark blue suit and still looked pretty suave. Abramovic, who scripted the entire evening within an inch of its Serbian life, had instructed the women to be “outrageously elegant,” and they eagerly submitted, most with more elegance than outrage. For her part, Abramovic wore a blue dress created for her by Givenchy, though she chose her own accessories: cheap plastic Halloween-skeleton earrings, one black, one white. The best outfit, though, probably belonged to the cherub-faced heldentenor Antony, who wrapped a white parachute-silk schmatte around his considerable chest with even more considerable élan. “It’s just a rag that was lying around,” he told me, but he looked fabulous, really, and sounded even more angelic than usual, including, of course, on “Happy Birthday.”
Rumor had it that Abramovic had tried to book Eartha Kitt to join him in a duet. Imagine! As it happened, Antony had plenty of friends and collaborators in the audience: an effervescent David Byrne (with new flame Cindy Sherman), a grim Lou Reed (with his old flame, Laurie Anderson), and a sweetly bojangled Björk, very attentive as her tablemate Kiki Smith explained the difference between this down-home, old-friends affair and the stiffer kind of art dinners one usually suffers at institutions. “Most of the time, you’re the one artist at the table, and you’re expected to entertain everyone else,” she said, her eyes sparkling as she took in the 350 familiar faces around her. “This is the biggest concentration of artists I’ve ever seen in one room!” agreed Shirin Neshat. “When it wasn’t a funeral, you mean,” someone else chimed in. (In fact, this very rotunda would become the site of a memorial for art historian Robert Rosenblum just a few days later.)
Unusually, for an art-world event today, just about everyone at the dinner could remember the '70s. That’s when Abramovic first came on the scene with Ulay, her former mate. Much to everyone’s surprise, he was there, too, standing up to cheers as Abramovic called out his name on a list of others—Chrissie Iles and Artforum’s own Charles Guarino—who shared her birthday (though not her birth year, as she was careful to note). At last, it was time for cocktails, and she raised a glass to toast, well, everyone, with “The Marina Abramovic,” a thick blood-red drink designed for the occasion by artist Ektoras Binikos from ingredients that might have included eye of newt and toe of frog, for all we knew, though we were told it was made from sixty-year-old balsamic vinegar, bitters, kumquats, and—in place of the blood and tears Marina had desired—red pepper powder. Oh yes, and gin.
Left: Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Matthew Barney. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)
On a menu described as “a fusion between the European Union and American democracy, designed to strengthen the body and elevate the soul,” the main course was—vegans be damned—“Serbian lamb killed in the traditional way.” (I’m told that means it was strangled.) During the meal, Abramovic thanked all of her significant others, starting with hubby Paolo Canevari and including her trainer and her all-important dermatologist, the notorious Dr. Norman Orentreich. (At this, there was much knowing laughter—a little too knowing, if you ask me.) “When you get old, you get wise,” Abramovic said, making me wonder if I should not be running out for Thermage or perhaps to slaughter a lamb, before I turn sixty, too.
Left: Christy MacLear, executive director of Philip Johnson Glass House, with collector Susan Bishop. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Collector Douglas Maxwell. (Photo: David Velasco)
The Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, will open to the public for the first time this spring. You’ll finally be able to have dinner there—for fifty thousand dollars. Or a reception on the grounds for twenty-five thousand. On Friday evening, a cocktail party marked the occasion in another still-stunning modern landmark, the Four Seasons Restaurant, the kind of glamorous, adult event that would make any schlub feel like they are in a New Yorker cartoon. The Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson–designed ambience was supersexy: a midcentury masterpiece with booze. Though the room was filled with suits I didn’t recognize, I enjoyed it immensely. Parking myself on the vintage Mies banquette, I wound up chatting with a couple of architects from RISD (we admired the Richard Lippold stalactite over the bar and discussed precocious schmoozers: One of their students had his picture taken with Johnson and then displayed it on the wall during each of his crits), fellow ink-stained wretches (from the Times and the Paris Review), and a chap from Knoll (“Artforum. I used to get it. A bit dense, no?”). This June, an inaugural gala picnic at the Glass House that will feature the Merce Cunningham Dance Company restaging its 1967 performance promises to be fabulous.
The next day, I made another house call. The collector’s “open house” is a strangely denatured social situation. As a yenta intrigued by other people’s stuff, I find them irresistible. Art collecting is perhaps the most esteemed form of shopping in our culture today. Thanks to the Armory Show, several big art accumulators in town graciously “open their homes” so other Armory-affiliated VIPs can check out their stuff. Here’s the protocol: You show up and wander around their art-filled pad strictly for connoisseurship purposes—sometimes the collectors make themselves available for chitchat and offer coffee, sometimes not—all the while pretending not to notice that what you’re really marveling at is the money that enables these people to live in their own private kunsthalles. It’s a passive-aggressive display of conspicuous consumption exalted by the noble calling of art patronage. Who could resist? These people are to contemporary art what Imelda Marcos was to shoes.
On Saturday morning, Douglas Maxwell “opened his home” (a phrase I heard several times when fellow collectors thanked him for graciously doing so). Dr. Maxwell is a psychoanalyst with a “full twenty-hour load” of sessions each week. He also teaches a class called “The Contemporary Art Experience” at NYU (Continuing Ed.) and has curated exhibitions as well. He, his objets, and his practice occupy three floors in the sleek converted loft building he owns in the West Village. I liked to imagine his analysands’ free associations funding the entire superswanky operation, but I seriously doubt that.
Anyway, in Maxwell’s kitchen, near a wall piece that looked like a head in a bag, we kibbitzed with another collector in from London. “Unlike analysis and curating,” said our trim, affable host, “collecting is a passion . . . an affliction, really! It’s personal. I trust my unconscious. I don’t want to explain why a piece grabs me. This collection reflects my eye.” I noticed his squarish Gucci frames as a Mozart symphony softly serenaded us. “When people come here I don’t want them to like everything! I don’t follow fads. Absolutely not. I don’t buy as an investment—though the Robert Gobers at this point are like transferring assets . . .” An affliction? “I always go to an art fair with no money and I don’t want to like anything!” he confessed. “Then I leave with like five or six pieces.” I can relate. I do the same thing all the time at H&M!
Passing through a white-walled, high-ceilinged foyer that opened onto a big, bright main space with nondescript furniture—one of those ICA-like spaces clearly all about the art—I was struck by the preponderance of dismembered body parts amongst the art specimens displayed almost clinically in this luxe, antiseptic environment: a large, processed photo of a woman “knitting” half a baby (working from the feet up to the torso); a clear, plastic, body-shaped bag hung limply from the wall near a sign that said DO NOT TOUCH THE ART. In a niche, a Gober news clipping reported on a man who intentionally sawed off his own hand. Lots of floor pieces: a knitted, Goberesque hairy leg, with sock and shoe; an eensy little mouse-hole door, with steps, framing the message STOP CRYING, DON’T BE A BABY; a faux “weed” sprouted from the spotless white wall a few steps away from Freud and Josef Breuer’s Studien über Hysterie as a tote bag. (“It’s a real oil painting.”) Tons of stuff.
I asked Maxwell to put on his analyst’s hat: “What drives the urge to collect?” “Well, there’s an obsessive component, for sure.” He sees himself as a caretaker of the art and added that's why he allows groups to come in and see the stuff. Walter Benjamin talked about “ownership” as the most profound, mystical relation to the object, I observed. “Well, I’m very proprietary, that’s for sure.” Maxwell described two recent mishaps, when pieces were damaged. One arm piece that extended out from the wall fell on the floor, and a foot-tall golemlike figure peering around a corner had to be redone. In both cases, the artists “are friends” and were happy to help.
Later in the day, a veteran artist pal ranted about a prevalent mode of art collecting and the weird effect it produces of schlock, sterility, and wealth: “We’re in a denatured world. Doesn’t Slavoj Žižek say we want things 'decaffeinated'? Like chocolate without sugar, coffee without caffeine. It’s like Paris Hilton! You know it’s thousands and thousands of dollars, but it looks trashy, like some schmatte she got from the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn. But they do that to art. It gets the imprimatur of one of them, then they all have to have it. It’s like a Lexus. When your work can’t be colonized like that, it’s difficult to find a market. Your market niche,” she cackled.
A weary German guy and a perky, polished lady, clearly art-fair regulars, bonded with our host. “Do you know so-and-so in London?” the lady beamed at Maxwell like he was a cute puppy. “She has some similar things. How do you keep track of it all?” “It’s all in here,” he points to his head. “I have pieces here, in storage, in Europe . . .” They agreed that Basel is the best fair and that Skulptur Projekte Münster is great to do by bike.
As I headed for the exit, two lady VIPs of a certain age rushed in, “Douglas!” they ran to hug him. “This is so hot!”
Left: Visionaire's James Kaliardos with Studio Museum chief curator Thelma Golden. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Robert Bishop and Woodson Duncan. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)
Left: Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Armory Show. Right: Martha Stewart at the Art Show. (All photos: David Velasco)
A mere five years ago, the Art Show was a somewhat sleepy affair, offering the slowest moving of opening-night crowds a chance to gawk at the excess inventory of a clutch of modern-master dealers, some outright schlock, and occasionally the blue-chip stock of a contemporary gallery with the cash reserves to acquire prime postwar work. But around that time, the Art Dealers Association of America, whose members apply to exhibit at the fair, began inviting contemporary galleries to join, and with the election of Chelsea dealer Roland Augustine to the organization’s presidency last year, the fair now has a noticeably younger cast. As I strolled past two wall-covering grids of silver balloons (shades of Andy) flanking the fair's entrance, I remembered reading that ten galleries are exhibiting simultaneously in this fair and the Armory Show across town.
One upshot of this two-timing is that, whether to make things easy on the new audience or because they have drawn so frequently from the well of their artists’ studios that they are out of inventory, seven of those dealers opted for single-artist presentations. Cheim & Read brought a bevy of Louise Bourgeois sculptures, while CRG chose to highlight Jim Hodges’s spider webs from the early '90s. A “one-person show” in a fair booth seems a bit dubious when listed on an artist’s bio, but when the work is new or, in the case of PaceWildenstein’s strong selection of Ad Reinhardt works on paper, most from the late-’40s, just plain strong, I’m happy to focus my wandering eye.
Matthew Marks kept things simple, showing a large orange curve by Ellsworth Kelly, a suite of seven drawings by Brice Marden, three pint-size Tony Smith sculptures, and early-’60s works on paper by Cy Twombly and Willem de Kooning; Peter Freeman displayed Gerhard Richter’s Nose, 1962, Marcel Broodthaers’s Chapeau blanc, 1965, and a Reinhardt black painting that nicely complemented Pace’s earlier works. D’Amelio Terras brought a lovely green-and-blue “Infinity Net” canvas by Yayoi Kusama, dated 1967, from the personal collection of the French artist Arman. And Chicago’s Rhona Hoffman showcased two late-’70s Leon Golub portraits, of d’Estaing and Kissinger. If you weren’t satisfied with the one-artist presentations on offer, it was easy enough to cobble together your own virtual blockbuster: David Zwirner, Anthony Meier, and David Nolan all brought strong early Richters.
I caught up with Augustine and asked him whether he’d encountered resistance from stalwart fair exhibitors as he attempted to change the fair’s profile. “Of course,” he answered, “but it was a fairly organic process. In essence, we’ve raised the bar.” If Fifty-seventh Street avatar Joan Washburn was in any way perturbed, she masked it well. But then again, she made the cut. Nodding toward the cluster of Pollocks she was looking to move this weekend, the doyenne said she was happy for the expanded audience. “And anyway, those who are only interested in the new don’t bother me. They just walk on by.”
Left: MoMA curator Peter Reed, MoMA president Marie-Josée Kravis, and Verona Middleton-Jeter, executive director of Henry Street Settlement. Right: Dealer Emmanuel Perrotin.
As Jay Jopling, Tim Blum, and a wave of other Armory Show exhibitors rolled in after installing their Pier 94 booths, I glanced at my watch and darted downtown to catch the packed New York premiere of Eve Sussman’s new film, The Rape of the Sabine Women, the much-anticipated follow-up to her acclaimed 89 Seconds at Alcázar. It was being presented with a live score by Cremaster sound track designer Jonathan Bepler; the composer was in Berlin with his wife, who was about to deliver a baby, and unable to make it to New York, so he had conducted rehearsals by Skype. The clatter he conceived, which ranged from a chorus of coughs to percussive butcher-knife sharpening (by musicians walking the aisles!), certainly animated the proceedings. Unfortunately, the eighty-minute-long film, while not without many beautiful moments, gets stuck in the no-man’s-land between on-the-cheap artist video and big-budget Hollywood production and also ultimately drowns in its too-numerous art-historical and cinematic references.
Still, I could’ve stood almost any kind of film—or my iPod, or a book—on arrival at the Armory Show on Thursday morning: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, slated to kick off the fair’s press conference at 11:30, neglected to show up until noon and used the event as his daily briefing, which netted a prolonged series of questions about the 9/11 memorial, taxes, and Staten Island. Antsy art journalists bounced off the entrance gates like pinballs.
We were all eager to experience this year’s heavily touted upgrades. These days the big-four fairs are a bit like publicly traded companies (and dealers impatient shareholders): Fair organizers have to beat expectations. As one first-time exhibitor put it, “You’d have to be an idiot not to make a profit,” so making back the booth-rental fee is no longer enough. Despite higher sales totals than ever, last year our hometown convention seemed to lose some of its mojo, with widely discussed dealer defections and a seeming lack of support—in the form of coordinated events—from the community at large. This year, the Armory Show slid a few weeks forward on the calendar, to coincide with the Art Show, consolidated its proceedings under one roof, hired celebrated restaurateur Danny Meyer to oversee the catering, and sent a full quarter of last year’s exhibitors packing, opening the doors to twenty-nine new recruits. (Spencer Brownstone, Giti Nourbakhsch, and Rodolphe Janssen are out. CANADA, Harris Lieberman, Michael Stevenson Gallery, the Armory’s first-ever exhibitor from Africa, and Istanbul’s Galerist are in; the latter, whose crates were languishing in Cologne courtesy Lufthansa, must be credited with the sparest opening-night hang. Those returning after hiatuses include Daniel Reich and Tanya Bonakdar.)
Left: Artist Vito Acconci. Right: Henry Street Settlement's Elizabeth Reid with ADAA president Roland Augustine.
All but one of the new initiatives went swimmingly. Glancing up appreciatively at the high ceiling, 303 Gallery’s Mari Spirito admitted she was glad to be off the “claustrophobic” piers a few blocks south. Keeping all the exhibitors together on one pier was universally hailed. Starting the MoMA-benefit preview at 11:30 AM cut down on complaints about collectors sneaking in early. Aside from a few non-square walls and shoddy carpet jobs (one midtown dealer’s frames listed off the wall as if the pier were floating midriver), what was there to complain about? The food. Meyer wasn’t allowed on the premises Thursday, and famished exhibitors schemed to cut the hour-long queue in the VIP lounge, the only source of nourishment for the several thousand people in attendance.
Testifying to the sheer number of competing fairs (Scope, Pulse, LA Art, Red Dot, DiVA, and others, I’m sure), to the auxiliary events worth attending, and most of all to the crowds, one collector described her red-eye in from LA: “It was like an airborne opening.”
And the art? With the exception of Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s mirror-lined garbage truck, which Mayor Mike commented on but few others seemed to pay attention to, there were few bold gestures on the floor. This is a tidy fair, all business: Save for a few strays like Lenny Kravitz, we weren’t even treated to celebrity sightings on the pier. The “big” excitement was work by artists in unexpected booths, whether newly landed or snatched from a competitor. Painter Edgar Bryan, who flirted briefly with 303, will show in February 2008 at Zach Feuer and has a painting on the booth. Not to be outdone, 303 has signed up Jeppe Hein, who recently exhibited at Sperone Westwater. Two Los Angeles artists, Eric Wesley and Karl Haendel, are now working with Maureen Paley and Harris Lieberman, respectively. Got it?
One ear-to-the-ground New York museum curator took all the Kapoors and Craggs and the endless midsize paintings by youngish and midcareer artists as a sign that the big fairs have jumped the shark. Glancing at his one-artist list of names to remember (congratulations, Anthony Pearson!), he lamented that these events are no longer the places to discover new talent. The buttoned-up uniformity was a little disappointing, but always up to a challenge, I offer the names of (more or less) new-to-me artists whose work I enjoyed Thursday afternoon: Charlie Hammond, who has a number of intuitive, comic, anthropomorphic abstractions and altered photographs at Sorcha Dallas, a Glasgow gallery I’m happy to see here; Adel Abdessemed, who’s well known in Europe but has had little Stateside exposure, represented by a sly installation of ten upturned airplane nose cones with Guston-like painted eyes at Kamel Mennour; and Anne Hardy, whose two unnerving photographs of jerry-built sets with Christmas trees and shooting targets are at Maureen Paley.
Painter Joanne Greenbaum summed up one of the difficulties viewers face with the presenters’ evenness: “Sure, good work looks good. But even bad work looks good.” The event’s organizers got much right this year; add only free wireless-Internet access and more readily accessible food, and this bare-bones fair (no public programs; few commissioned artist projects) will have met all the goals it sets for itself. And what of the exhibitors? I’ve been a bit of a skeptic when it comes to “Art-Fair Art.” But after a nine-hour tour through this year’s Armory, one can’t help but wish for a few cheeky interventions or at least some really ambitious conventional art. The strength of today’s market should give license to a little daring. If not now, when?
Left: MoMA President Emerita Agnes Gund with dealer Marian Goodman. Right: Jeannette and Jeff Wall. (Unless noted: All photos David Velasco)
When I learned my friends at “Scene & Herd” were poised to pass on the big opening-night party for Jeff Wall’s MoMA retrospective due to the probable difficulty of securing a place at a table for one of their scribes, collegial spirit kicked in. “Plus,” my editor reminded me, “You share your name with one of Wall’s photos! You have to write.”
Wall, as it happens, is one of my all-time favorites, and having seen the capacious 2005–2006 Schaulager retrospective and Sheena Wagstaff’s radical edit for Tate Modern, I was itching to see how the show’s organizers, Peter Galassi (the museum’s chief photography curator) and Neil Benezra (the director of SF MoMA, where the exhibition will end its three-city tour), would parse this rather thoroughly sliced-and-diced material. The MoMA show is not, as one might reasonably surmise, the third stop of the Basel tour, but an all-new MoMA-originated production with its own tour (it stops at Chicago’s Art Institute on route to SF), complete with its own full-scale catalogue. What do we get in New York? A bare-bones Wall (the Galassi show is even smaller—though not by so much—than the Tate’s); a consistently thoughtful selection of images; a show that is sensitively installed, though it must be said that despite the exhibition’s relatively modest size, it is not, in the end, a roomy hang. Perhaps these still-new galleries are a mite small for the retrospective task.
Of course, I am the wrong person to ask. Being something of a Wall fanatic (not that Galassi isn’t, too), each picture held back is, for me, a baby murdered, and I can’t help but feel a little cheated by this spare selection. Do we lose too many recalcitrant but supremely worthy pictures, too many quirky scenes in the name of magisterial poise? Does Wall’s signature terrain vague get a little "terrain pretty” in this sampling? Where are Diatribe and Bad Goods and The Crooked Path (at least one of these!), and where is The Stumbling Block? Oh, bother, this nitpicking is tiresome. I respect Galassi’s tough-love determination to craft an exhibition for his space, and the results will serve MoMA’s audience well. Still, Galassi writes in his essay for the catalogue (which I’ve only had time to peek at) that “part of our pleasure” is debating the triumphs versus the less successful experiments, so just for the pleasure of it (and I am not merely being naughty), I will confess that my personal peeve is the cover choice. I do not think After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue to be one of Wall’s greatest works. It is too illustrative, even a touch cloying in its literariness, for my taste. But I digress . . .
Left: MoMA curator Peter Galassi with Jo Carole Lauder, president of the MoMA International Council. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: SF MoMA director Neal Benezra and Ava Benezra.
“Scene & Herd” is about not art but its mise-en-scène, and the scène on Tuesday evening was low-key but entirely congenial. I tripped from hello to hello through the pleasantly undercrowded galleries: Just past the coat check, I bumped into Times “Inside Art” columnist Carol Vogel, whose professional-grade gossip kept my ears perked well into the fourth gallery. There goes Rüdiger Schöttle, the Munich-based gallerist who provided the artist with his first internationally significant home. Wall’s work, of course, was relatively slow to get its due in this country, and the few words of Schöttle’s partner, Jörg Johnen, to me registered perfectly the mix of pride and maybe just a touch of regret that comes of having done the history-making due diligence and then stepping a bit to the background as the glory (and the spoils) roll in: “Here we are at the top of the heap—MoMA! It was inevitable, I guess, that we would finally meet here.” Speaking of glory, I ducked below the horizon of heads to greet Marian Goodman. The first lady of New York dealers, she squired Wall through the next stage of his career and into the two-continent big leagues. This was her night as much as Jeff’s, and she radiated what she always radiates these days: practiced noblesse oblige. “Don’t look now,” I thought to myself, “Here comes Jay Jopling.” Everybody likes Jay, of course, including me, because he is soooo charming—and so Jay. And being as Jay as he ever is, he hit me right off with a hard-driving question re the identity of a passing MoMA-board honcho. I thought I was the journalist! I divulged nothing.
My next hello went to Hans Bodenmann and Maja Oeri, the great Swiss patrons and the forces behind the grand Schaulager show and the catalogue raisonné that accompanied it, not to mention important funders of this exhibition. It is nice, of course, when lots of money comes with even more taste, and Jeff did not forget his thank-yous when speech time rolled around. Oh, and there was my old colleague David Frankel. Frankel labors someplace backstage at MoMA turning art criticism into English. I hope he gets a secret salary.
One virtue of Galassi’s extrataut selection is that I had time to make four laps of the exhibition before the dinner trumpets sounded. When I located my table in a part of Russia where some of you have likely done time, a glance at the place cards revealed another happy/worrisome sign of global warming. I drew the Guggenheim’s Lisa Dennison, who is very good company at affairs like these, and also San Francisco’s Carla Emil—she has great taste in art, which, of course, means taste like mine.
The speeches came—they always do—but each was well turned and to the point. Robert B. Menschel, the museum’s chair (and the guy, by the way, Jopling asked about), was appropriately official; Glenn Lowry, MoMA’s director, was crisp and full of fire as is his way (and after what can only have been a trying week); Galassi, who is a perspicacious student of his media (photography but also words), was perspicacious; and Jeff . . . now, Jeff is a very special speaker, and he showed his rhetorical stuff by pulling off that rather rare thing—authentic thanks in a setting in which such sentiments, because obligatory, are wont to feel rote. Despite his intellection (much mentioned this evening), Jeff has a plainspoken way about him that can be disarming—because (not tonight, of course) he says rather weird and often inspired things. He thanked his Canadian friends who, he noted, traveled far to be with him; he praised his curators, calling the experience of working with them “a blast,” words a less imaginative speaker might have reserved for fill-in-the-blank—post-Oscar party-hopping with Courtney Love—and he told a story about the serendipitous appearance of Matisse’s The Piano Lesson in the museum’s conservation room as he installed his show. Running into this great painting (a childhood favorite of his) frameless and at close quarters drove home the honor—and maybe the magical strangeness—of his own work taking its place in the great sequence of modern art that is synonymous with MoMA. It was nice.
The evening passed quickly, with the first fidgeting husbands holding off on watch-checking till well past nine. One of my partners remarked that people were maybe lingering over dessert a little longer than usual; the smell of coffee more often than not signals mass exodus at such events. But then Wall rose, and the ribbons of good-night wishers began to snake toward his center table and then back out to the periphery—and, eventually, the street. “Good night,” in fact, were my first words to Wall all evening, so congratulations were also in order, but there were a lot of people, so they would have to be quick. “It is a busy week, but maybe we should have that drink,” he offered. That’s awfully nice, I thought, but I won’t hold him to it.
As I headed downtown, musing about this beautiful show, my thoughts kept turning to a recent, relatively small picture, After “Spring Snow” by Yukio Mishima, chapter 34. It is a color image, and it was not on a light box. I have always wondered about those light boxes—how they would feel as time passed and their period-specificity began to show. Of course, I love them, but I also love dented Minimal sculpture. Both have their poetry. I wonder, might this little image auger the shape of things to come? Who knows. There was lots of talk about the rigors of converting the museum to European voltage (converters, apparently, can muck up the color). Perhaps next time it will be that much easier.
Left: Collector Glenn Fuhrman and Jeff Wall. Right: Collector and New Line Cinema CEO Michael Lynne with dealer Jay Jopling.
Left: Thomas Lawson, artist and CalArts dean. Right: Art historian Linda Nochlin with Andrew Brown, commissioning editor of Thames & Hudson. (All photos: Sarah Thornton)
Some art worlders lead sexy lives, others spend Valentine’s Day at the Hilton in midtown. Six thousand participants converged on the generic hotel with garish carpets for the academic talk-a-thon otherwise known as the annual conference of the College Art Association (CAA). With more than two hundred panels, receptions, meetings, and reunions, it is a polymorphous event kicked off by an awards ceremony, which one speaker said is “as close as art historians get to the Oscars.” Indeed, award winners were limited to a two-minute speech, and as most of the accolades honored lifetime achievement, many came prepared with a joke about aging. Some winners expressed their gratitude in meticulous detail; others simply offered a sketch. Upon accepting the Artist Award for a Distinguished Body of Work, Betye Saar was effusive: “I want to thank anyone who has ever shown a slide of mine.”
Jerry Saltz won the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism. “I’m writing as hard as I can,” he assured the crowd. “I love the art world. It’s my family and my subject.” To shed further light on his motivations, he explained that when he first started writing, his wife, New York Times critic Roberta Smith, told him that if he didn’t get better at it, she would kill herself.
Artist Duane Michals, with Scotch tape on his eyeglasses and green Wellington boots, delivered the keynote address. His half hour of autobiographical wisecracks was punctuated by the inquiring plea: “Are you teaching amazement in your schools?” He showed slides of his photo narratives, which included a drag version of “Untitled Film Stills” called “Who Is Sidney Sherman?”
The next day, it was back to the serious business of academia. Bigwig art historians wandered the corridors with entourages of grad students nipping at their heels. When they encountered dons of similar rank, they made sure to confirm the time and place of their postpanel powwow, while their students hung back in a tribal huddle, taking mental notes on the protocols of scholarly interaction. All observed with empathy the anxious gait of recent Ph.D.'s in dark suits on their way to interviews in hotel rooms, where members of the hiring committee might very well be sitting in a prim row at the foot of a king-size bed.
Is this academic conference the obverse of an art fair? Both are markets. But here, art historians are marketing themselves. Moreover, for the cost of a work by a mid-ranking German photographer (one in an edition of six), you can obtain a unique art historian for an entire year. Also, both occasions are increasingly focused on new art. Doctorates used to be written about work that was at least thirty years old; now, artists unheard of six months ago are being “historicized” at CAA. However, between the conference and the fair, there are deep schisms in taste. The fashionable artists at CAA—like Walid Raad’s Atlas Group—may be enjoying exhibitions at the erudite Paula Cooper Gallery, but they rarely produce the high-end hotcakes that pay for a dealer’s booth.
The conference bore witness to the glories of academic argot. Panels were resplendent with hackneyed jargon like the banal “dialectics of desire,” the predictable “challenge to essentialist identities,” and the deadly “rearticulation of the specificity of hegemony.” Some audience members played hangman. Others pondered the curious clear-plastic-encased gold braid on the conference-room chairs. I contemplated the conspicuous absence of blondes and concluded that CAA was a brunette affair.
The hottest panels were organized by the “new October junta” and attended by older October editors and contributors. The biggest draw of the weekend, “Virtualities: Contemporary Art Between Fact and Fiction,” played to a ballroom packed with people nervously scribbling notes. The panelists, largely contributors from October and Artforum, including Artforum’s editor-in-chief, Tim Griffin, were arguing (sometimes implicitly and always ambivalently) against the notion that there is, as Mark Godfrey put it, “no criticality in virtuality.” I sat next to Andrew Brown, commissioning editor for art at Thames & Hudson, who eventually whispered: “The irony is that this is a virtual discussion. The CAA is, by its nature, spectacular.” Indeed, it was excellent theater. The first four speakers performed their positions with struts and frets, while the fifth speaker concluded the friendly competition with a series of theoretical pirouettes on utopia. Then the session’s impresarios, T. J. Demos and Margaret Sundell, invited questions from the floor, and Tom McDonough stood up and delivered a devastatingly clever antidenouement. When I caught up later with McDonough, he admitted, “You need a complex language to analyze complex ideas, but there is a performative aspect. We have to admit it’s a code, signaling to an in-group.”
While “Virtualities” offered its fascinations, my favorite panel was an off-Broadway session organized by Wouter Davidts and Kim Paice. “The Fall of the Studio: Reassessing L’Atelier d’Artiste in the Post-studio Era” consisted of five well-researched case studies presented in chronological order, pulled together in a feminist tour de force by respondent Kirsten Swenson. All seemed to agree that “poststudio” is a misnomer. Although no longer a celebrated site of individual creativity, the studio is still a frame (for artists as diverse as Mark Rothko and Bruce Nauman), a center of interrelation and exchange (e.g., Olafur Eliasson workshop and office), and a subject matter (Jason Rhoades’s My Brother/Brancusi, now clearly canonized, was shown by several speakers).
When I finally hit the book fair, I was a little worse for wear. The “dialectics of tedium and engrossment” had taken their toll. Still, it was a pleasure to bump into Linda Nochlin. She’d been feted with a “Distinguished Scholar Session” and was doting over manuscript copies of her collected writings on Gustave Courbet, which come out in June. With essays going back to 1965, the book is as much about Nochlin’s intellectual development as it is about the artist. Pointing at the cover illustration, Courbet’s self-portrait The Wounded Man, the fabulous feminist twinkled, “Isn’t he the Mick Jagger of the nineteenth century?”
Left: Liane Thatcher with artist Mary Heilmann. Right: Curator Katy Siegel. (All photos: David Velasco)
In the aftermath of one of those nasty snowstorms in which one’s face is pummeled with what feels like ground glass and every sidewalk becomes a slippery slope to oblivion, Thursday night was bitterly cold. The dignified but cramped lobby of the National Academy Museum—right up Fifth Avenue from where a candlelight ceremony at the Guggenheim was welcoming the stolen-and-recovered Goya canvas to its Spanish painting show—was filled with a comparatively grizzled crowd trying to unbundle itself of dark and puffy coats and get up the narrow, curving stone stairs to see the New York debut of “High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting, 1967–1975.”
Odd as the academy might initially seem (brown rooms, parquet floor, linen walls, yellowish light) as a venue for an exhibition of—as Annette Blaugrund, the museum’s director, put it at the dinner after the opening—work that emphatically tried to repel the first iteration of the “painting is dead” virus, the place was weirdly appropriate. After all, the show’s subject is the heyday of artists being militantly out of place: young, bell-bottomed aesthetes with masters’ degrees and Led Zeppelin hairdos living in cavernous, poorly heated former sweatshops in order to try to save painting by physically defining it as spray-gunned imagelessness, latex poured directly on the floor, dangling vertical strips of canvas, and festive tents. The nine years covered by “High Times, Hard Times” are probably the last time—before they discovered the market in the ’80s, networking in the ’90s, and self-marketing in the twenty-first century—that artists earned their chops simply by being totally into their work. The sight of all those vets of pregentrification SoHo—Lynda Benglis, Carolee Schneemann, Dorothea Rockburne, David Diao, Joan Snyder, Elizabeth Murray, Michael Venezia, Howardena Pindell, Richard Van Buren, et al.—navigating rooms decidedly not constructed for their kind of art was pure ’70s. Had the academy let people smoke and booze in the gallery, admitted a couple of dogs with paisley bandanas, and had on hand a couple of crying babies (the show’s curator, Katy Siegel, left her infant at home), the affair could have been a time trip to Broome Street back in the day.
Though the exhibition is of my time, it ain’t of my place; I was in LA and elsewhere while all this crucial stuff was going on. So, of course, I recognized the writers (Michael Brenson, Phyllis Braff, Howard Singerman, Raphael Rubinstein, et al.) more than the artists. One of them, Thomas McEvilley, spied me scribbling in a reporter’s notebook. “You’re taking notes, Peter,” he said from behind me. “Are you going to write something?” Ah—pace Janet Malcolm—journalism as betrayal! I didn’t tell anyone to his or her face that I thought the gathering had the ring of a forty-fifth high school reunion—participants checking out the condition of their confreres and wondering how many of them would be around for the fiftieth. I didn’t tell anyone there, either, that I was moved by the palpable optimism of the work—a feeling that abstract art could change the world, without the addition of political bumper stickers.
To catch that vibe, I think, one had to be of a certain vintage. As the now-upstate painter Frank Owen (“I’m old enough to be in this show, and I’m not. Should I be irked?”) said to me, “Notice that the people in the galleries looking at the art are geezers like us. The young painters are downstairs pounding the booze.” At the dinner afterward—no hard liquor, but the wine flowed freely—I sat at a back table with the art historian and catalogue contributor Anna Chave; Diao (who’s in the show); Christine Williams, the academy’s press person (and, incidentally, daughter of Rockburne); and, later, a few table-hoppers. I picked up what gossip I could. Rumors were afloat that lack of money dictated that some artists would be represented by misleadingly small pieces; that the show could’ve gone to Europe (which, early on, was often more simpatico to such art than America) to Mies van der Rohe’s Haus Lange in Krefeld, but the exhibition organizers (Independent Curators International) demurred because of no climate control; and that Mel Bochner (in the catalogue as a participant, but nowhere to be seen at the Academy) pulled out “because he always thought he was better than the rest of us.” That last remark prompted me to wonder where the hell was Brice Marden.
Afterward, I rode the subway home with Venezia and his wife. We got off at the same downtown stop and walked through the small icy mounds together for a couple of blocks. Then we parted company, and I went back to my loft. Which was in pretty civilized and comfy shape when I moved into it sixteen years ago—thanks, indirectly but in no small measure, to the artists in “High Times, Hard Times.”
Left: P.S. 1 director Alanna Heiss, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, and artist Tom Sandberg. (Photo: Keith Smith for P.S. 1) Right: Actor Tim Robbins. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco)
Observing the long, shivering queue waiting for admission to last Sunday’s winter openings at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, I almost turned back, Scene & Herd be damned. But the line moved swiftly enough, and my perseverance was rewarded with a clutch of excellent shows (eight commenced simultaneously), as well as good people-watching. The schoolhouse was flooded with everyday patrons, art-world aristocrats such as Jonas Mekas and Marina Abramovic, and even some official royalty, namely Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, on hand for the opening of countryman Tom Sandberg’s installation of elegant black-and-white photographs.
Beginning on the third floor with Alanna Heiss’s “Not for Sale”—a show of works that artists have refused to part with—I spied some Oscar nobility, too. A well-bundled Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins stood with friend Rufus Wainwright admiring Squaring, Jennifer Bartlett’s calm painting of matrices of dots. When I approached Robbins, I promptly dropped my press kit, spilling checklists at his feet. P.S. 1 may be a museum now, but it remains the perfect mise-en-scène for awkward high school moments. I watched with some humiliation as Robbins and a security guard—gentlemen of the first order—rushed to gather the papers. Sarandon herself was all grace, too, when, a bit later, standing in front of Dana Schutz’s painting Ryan, I took a plunge and introduced her to the serendipitously present artist. They spoke for what seemed like forever. (“So where exactly is Zach Feuer Gallery?”) Afterward, I chatted with the overwhelmed Downtown for Democracy rep, who admitted: “I couldn’t bear to tell Susan Sarandon that I’d just taken my picture with her replica in the wax museum.”
Nearby, Richard Tuttle silently held court in a room devoted solely to his work, while curator Eugenie Tsai spoke with Shirin Neshat about her own contribution. Roaming about, I bumped into an exhausted Lawrence Weiner and his wife, Alice, just back from an opening in Chicago. “It was insane—too much flying. Yesterday was my sixty-fifth birthday, and I completely forgot,” he said. I pushed on to yet another room of beloved artifacts. While I was standing next to a tire sculpture, a curmudgeon on crutches approached: “You can sit on it, you know.” Weary after witnessing several other patrons chastened by guards for attempting just that, I asked how he was sure. “Well, I made it. I’m Mark di Suvero.” Fair enough. So why didn’t he sell this piece? “You don’t sell toys!” he gasped.
If “Not for Sale” offered a few inspiring glimpses into the creative process, the experimental fourth-floor show “Emergency Room,” curated by Dane Thierry Geoffroy (inexplicably known as Colonel), made an argument for why some pieces should be held back. The show, a revolving door of work by over thirty artists, is replaced every day by art responding to world events of the past twenty-four hours. On my way up, I noted several people clad in headbands marked in red Sharpie with headlines variously obtuse (SUBJECTIVITY IS IMPOSSIBLE) and ignominious (DON’T THINK). It made me long for Fashion Week, where at least airheaded commentary is coupled with sartorial savvy (or a gift bag).
The museum was soon to close, so I raced to the main floor to catch a glimpse of “Silicone Valley,” P.S. 1 curatorial advisor Nick Stillman’s more nuanced exploration of superficiality. Stillman said that he wanted to make an exhibition that was “quick and sexy—something you can walk through and leave with a good impression.” I can vouch for its success in that department, but I knew I’d have to return later for a better look. The tired cliché holds water: You don’t go to an opening if you want to see the art.
My companions and I learned the hard way that cabs don’t exist in Long Island City, so we made the short trek to the G train and slouched toward the after-party for Stillman’s show at Brooklyn gallery Jack the Pelican Presents. Somewhat subdued, and certainly less star-studded, a few artists roamed the space, including “Silicone Valley” participant William Pope.L, who complained about P.S. 1’s bureaucratic attempt to bar visitors from entering his smelly installation, a corridor of stuffed animals covered in peanut butter and mayonnaise. While surely not without its failings, after spending a day with Peter Caine’s gyrating sculptures, Julian LaVerdiere’s piles of eagle heads, Dennis Oppenheim’s giant bloody nose, and other artist curios, I thought that a little red tape was a small price to pay.
A surge in Chinese confidence and the daily drop of the dollar against the yuan were the deep background for last weekend’s opening of “Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation,” a show generated in the high times of the Clinton era as a sort of kickback for the selection of loans that made up the Guggenheim’s 1998 exhibition “China: 5,000 Years.” At every turn, one was reminded of the absurdity of such goodwill cultural diplomacy, given that America’s reputation is so thoroughly tarnished and China's so doggedly ascendant. And yet China is still good, for the moment, at having it both ways: The National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) insists on the distinction of “hosting” an exhibition organized by the Guggenheim (and the Terra Foundation for American Art, which stepped in to save the plan two years ago) while at the same time disregarding a great deal of protocol that attends to such claims. Enthusiasm about working in China, coupled with a Western sense of “laying groundwork,” insures that they can, at least for now, get away with it.
At the opening, dignitaries sat in the excruciatingly calculated Chinese order—whereby power diminishes the further one is from the center of the room—as Minister of Culture Sun Jiazheng and US ambassador Clark Randt Jr. (the latter was President Bush’s fraternity brother) both spoke in front of a giant red ribbon. The minister deployed the obvious metaphor of the two countries as an old couple, constantly quarreling but learning in the process. NAMOC inserted additional sponsors into the Guggenheim’s own precisely calibrated sponsor lineup, such that Yang Zilin of the China Bohai Bank (founded in December 2005 in the port city of Tianjin) joined Terra Foundation for American Art president Elizabeth Glassman and Alcoa CEO Alain Belda at the podium. (The Bohai Bank head used his five minutes to praise the amateur calligraphers in his ranks.) Cadillac China, another sponsor NAMOC courted independent of the Guggenheim’s impressive capital-mongering operation, used the opportunity to roll out its new SLS, with a line of the cars labeled “Art in America Special Luxury Vehicle” parked in front of the museum (a humble imitation of the BMW fleet at both Basels).
Sun and Randt cut the ribbon, the migrant-worker security guards hoisted open the imposing Soviet doors, and the crowd made its way into a series of rooms that actually did a nice job of telling the national artistic story. A Gilbert Stuart George Washington portrait and Benjamin West’s Penn’s Treaty with the Indians led gradually to Cassatt and Hopper, then Pollock and Rothko, Warhol and Rosenquist, Lawrence Weiner and Carl Andre, Julian Schnabel and Keith Haring, Kara Walker and Matthew Barney. The curators—a trio comprising Susan Davidson from the Guggenheim, Betsy Kennedy from the Terra Foundation, and Nancy Mowll Matthews from Williams College Museum of Art—had pulled together an impressive range of loans from more than seventy museums and collections around the country, all willing to put their prize holdings on an Air China cargo liner.
The NAMOC had been remade by preparators sent from New York, who brought things like track lighting and precision digital projectors. Dan Flavin’s green crossing green (to Piet Mondrian who lacked green) has probably never looked so good. Walker even shipped three overheads for her installation Insurrection! (Our Tools Were Rudimentary, yet We Pressed On), the cruel pathos of which was thoroughly lost on opening-night viewers, who used the projections as backgrounds for their own shadow puppets. Overheard in front of John Currin’s Thanksgiving: “Americans are so skinny!”
Left: A musician at the opening ceremonies. Right: Dealer Pi Li and artist Cai Guo-Quiang.
No Chinese bureaucratic milestone is complete without an awkwardly MCed banquet, and this one was spectacular. NAMOC research head Chen Lusheng, an archetypal Communist Party middle manager, read off names of dignitaries present in groupings spaced by musical interludes from a Chinese Kenny G wearing a white dinner jacket and playing “American music” (Carpenters, anyone?) on a soprano sax. NAMOC director Fan Di’an stood a few steps to the side through each of these naming marathons, scanning the crowd to search out faces that had not yet been introduced and then semidiscreetly whispering these into his MC’s ear in a valiant effort at bureaucratic damage control. The main table, reserved for people like Krens and the Cadillac brand manager, was graced with an impressive flower arrangement that later found its way onto the atrium floor in front of the exhibition’s title wall. I asked Beijing’s gallerist of the moment, Pi Li, who was seated next to me at table eighteen, where he would be now had he chosen to follow his old mentor Director Fan from the Central Academy of Fine Arts to the museum a year ago. Without a pause, he pointed to Manager Chen holding the name list on the podium and said, “Right there.”
Saturday night brought the real party. A fairly slim Guggenheim list gathered in the former prince’s palace that developer David Tang long ago turned into the China Club for cocktails and dinner hosted by Guggenheim-trustee hopefuls (and China-hedge-fund billionaires) Wilbur and Hilary Ross. It was one of those quarterly everyone-who’s-anyone-in-Beijing gatherings, loved by people like OMA partner and CCTV project manager Ole Scheeren and real estate magnate Pan Shiyi of Soho China. Artist Liu Xiaodong, whose Three Gorges painting cycle currently holds the auction record for a living Chinese artist (snapped up by a restaurateur during the November Beijing sales), sat next to me reminiscing about the year he spent in New York (1993–94) living in the basement apartment on East Seventh Street that had previously been occupied by Ai Weiwei.
Artist Cai Guo-Qiang (who will get the full-rotunda treatment in New York in January 2008) showed up halfway through dinner, fresh from meetings at the Olympic committee, with whom he is planning the opening-ceremony pyrotechnics. He missed a speech from Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, head of the American delegation to the “six-party process,” who joked about how nice it was not to be having dinner at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse with the North Koreans. The crowd-pleasing Krens ended the night by declaring that the Guggenheim is “inching closer to acquiring a significant building here in Beijing.” Like Minister Sun’s old couple, we may just be stuck with each other.
Left: Artists Zhan Wang and Zhang Xiaogang. Right: Artists Liu Xiaodong and Liu Dan.
Left: Antony of Antony and the Johnsons at the National Arts Club's Paris Bar. Right: Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, and Antony. (All photos: David Velasco)
On a bitterly cold Sunday evening in Manhattan, while most of the country was reportedly engrossed in something called the Super Bowl, I joined fans of a rather different stripe at the tony National Arts Club off Gramercy Park for a “Secret Show” by Antony, of Antony and the Johnsons. A benefit for Lower East Side gallery Participant, Inc., the performance promised to be the most intimate that the Mercury Music Prize–winning androgyne had given in some time, so its coincidence with the gridiron event of the season was barely mentioned and soon forgotten. Sorry, sports fans.
Arriving early, I negotiated a grumpy doorman and headed up to the sixth-floor Nyehaus Library (the club’s building houses, as well as a number of apartments, Tim Nye’s gallery) for preshow cocktails. The high-ceilinged, balconied room was soon filled to bursting with a well-heeled mix of patrons and collectors, artists and dealers, who had each shelled out a different amount, depending on whether they wanted a seat for the show or were prepared to crane their necks from the bar. (“I’ve never paid for a benefit in my life before,” admitted artist Kathe Burkhardt, “but I did this time. Lia [Gangitano, Participant’s founder] has done so much for me.”)
As Hal Willner spun unobtrusive party tunes, gallerist Marisa Newman admitted to me that, having once hefted Antony’s equipment, she still harbored roadie ambitions. Also very visible on the scene in the elegant room—hung with prints and drawings by Georg Baselitz in conjunction with Nyehaus’s current exhibition down the hall—were artist Jack Pierson (who had contributed a photographic edition to Participant’s cause) and Nan Goldin muse Joey Gabriel, Le Tigre’s Johanna Fateman and Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black singer Kembra Pfahler, Genesis P-Orridge with wife Lady Jaye, nèe Jacqueline Breyer (aka, as a couple, Breyer P-Orridge; whew!), and performance-art icon Marina Abramovic.
Left: Participant Inc. director Lia Gangitano. Right: The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black's Kembra Pfahler with Joey Gabriel.
After an hour of mingling, we were ushered downstairs for the main event. Progress was momentarily stalled by a bureaucratic attempt to funnel everyone through the elevator rather than down the stairs, but sensing impending gridlock, the organizers hastily reversed the decision. (“You look like a well-behaved lot.”) We trotted down, past a chaotic jumble of inhabitants’ bric-a-brac, to the first-floor Paris Bar. Vintage Scott Walker was playing as we arrived: a perfect theme for the long room’s crumbling antique glory.
Standing as close to the action as we could without actually stealing a chair, my companions and I searched in vain for the Amazing Disappearing Barman, as P.S. 1 director Alanna Heiss, ubiquitous independent curator Clarissa Dalrymple, and dealer Becky Smith filed past us en route to their first-class seats up front. Eventually, the most genteel of bum rushes on empty chairs began, the assembly went quiet with anticipation, and the man we’d come to see ambled onstage, followed by Johnsons Julia Kent and Doug Wieselman.
“I’m slightly terrified tonight,” the pale, heavy-set singer declared before launching into “Everything Is New.” Not having seen him perform before, I’d wondered whether his otherworldy warble could be reproduced outside a studio. The answer: Yes, and then some. Its effect was immediate and entrancing, and even Charles Atlas’s heavy-handed live video mix couldn’t detract from his voice’s eerie beauty. Forgetting his supposed jitters, Antony took breaks to show us a floral screen saver on his laptop sent to him by an old boss—he was a gardener in a former life—and to read us a new poem about toxic-waste site Yucca Mountain. (“It’ll be a good song, right?”) Devendra Banhart and CocoRosie contributed a ramshackle chorus to “Kiss My Name,” but for the remaining, delirious forty-five minutes, the crowd was Antony’s alone.
The show over, we found ourselves in unnervingly close proximity to a veritable Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson rubbing shoulders with a startlingly youthful-looking Kim Gordon, a typically hangdog J Mascis, and Rufus Wainwright. We also got to talking with Shortbus director John Cameron Mitchell, whom my companions later joined for dinner at nearby L’Express. 303 Gallery’s Mari Spirito and dealer John Connelly occupied a large table with friends, Elizabeth Dee and company also sat nearby, and Mitchell’s crew held the center. Antony himself was absent, but I’d be surprised, and a little disappointed, if his album I Am a Bird Now didn’t hit the stereos of most of those assembled later that night.
Left: Dealer Eva Presenhuber. Right: Chan Marshall of Cat Power with artist Slater Bradley. (All photos: David Velasco)
William Burroughs’s bed is exactly as you’d imagine it: A modest, low-set full-size draped with a patchwork quilt, a box of Kleenex and a small lamp on a bedside table. If it weren’t for the three bullet-ridden, human-silhouette shooting targets on the facing wall (Burroughs was a killer shot), I’d be tempted to call it monastic. The bed sits in Burroughs’s old boudoir, a perfectly preserved room on the first floor of John Giorno’s storied “bunker” on the Bowery. Though our Buddhist poet host was out of town on the occasion of my visit last Thursday evening, he’d agreed to lend his pad to Ugo Rondinone—Giorno’s lover of eight years—for a dinner party celebrating the artist’s recent Creative Time–produced public sculpture: two gorgeous, ghostly white aluminum trees planted outside the Ritz-Carlton in Battery Park. “This is where the lamas stay when they visit,” said Rondinone. Curator Francesco Bonami deadpanned: “But what do you do about all the llamas’ hair?”
The Creative Time crew played host, balancing poise and whimsy, though there was a speck of sadness in the air, perhaps due to curator Peter Eleey’s impending departure for Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center later this month. Eleey was his typical affable self. When I caught him chatting up Dana Farouki, the newest Creative Time board member and also a recent hire as a special coordinator for the Guggenheim’s massive Abu Dhabi project, he was friendly but skeptical of the Gugg’s expansionist tendencies, remarking that the whole thing will “surely be a palliative for the jihadists.”
The dinner was an exercise in incongruity: Handsome male servers attended to the half-dozen tables, set in a large room filled with Giorno’s witty screenprints, an ornate Tibetan altar, and the occasional painting by Keith Haring. I dined with Creative Time producer Gavin Kroeber and Gianni Jetzer, the new director of New York’s Swiss Institute. (He replaced Marc-Olivier Wahler, who recently split to preside over Paris’s Palais de Tokyo, where Rondinone is curating a group show this September inspired by Burroughs’s book The Third Mind—see, everything’s connected.) Jetzer seemed impressed with the States: “Las Vegas is the cultural capital of the twenty-second century.” He elaborated, describing a surreal road trip he took in 2000, traveling from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Los Angeles with artists Olaf Breuning and Daniel Buetti. “Olaf loved Vegas. He’d absolutely live there if he could.” After polishing off my spice cake, I got up to take a few pictures of the crowd. Some, like PDA mascots Hope Atherton and Gavin Brown, are coy when it comes to the camera. Others, like dealer Eva Presenhuber, are more enthusiastic. “It’s about time I’m on this thing! Let me get a cigarette,” she said, lighting up. “I want to be seen smoking.” God bless the Europeans.
Left: Creative Time director Anne Pasternak and artist Ugo Rondinone. Right: Curator Neville Wakefield, Creative Time curator Peter Eleey, and New Museum curator Laura Hoptman.
The next night, I attended the less exclusive, more rambunctious opening for “Radical Living Papers,” a show of alternative magazines at Gavin Brown’s Passerby. Bearded men milled the throng in what appeared to be '60s counterculture drag. What happens, I wondered while eyeing the crowd, when today’s youth become simulacra of their parents circa forty years ago? “We’re having a love-in on Valentine’s Day,” said Francis Coy, who worked on the show. The exhibition, comprising photocopied pages of psychedelic zines like Oz and International Times pasted on the wall, as well as a few copies of the original mags locked away in vitrines, is somewhat underwhelming—an exercise in pure nostalgia—even if its heart is in the right place.
No time to ponder. I hailed a taxi and headed to my next stop: Another Creative Time shindig, at MoMA, where Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall)—one of the stars of Doug Aitken’s sleepwalkers video currently projected on the museum’s facades—was due to play a concert. Crowd control—not to mention sound quality—isn’t the museum’s forte, and the whole affair was a bit bloated. Despite the artsy digs, the crowd was less Artforum and more Gawker/Radar/New York (each of whom had representatives on hand), though I did eventually eye Lawrence Weiner and Sarah Morris hanging about the balcony. Marshall’s voice was lovely and haunting as usual, though difficult to discern amid the crowd of Chatty Cathys. After a disappointingly short set, she returned for a brief encore, performing a strangely animated cover of Kenny Rogers’s “The Gambler,” which she sang directly to Aitken onstage. “Look at her, she used to be a 'fraidy cat, and now she’s fucking Charlie Chaplin,” shouted a naysayer. “Nah . . . it’s more like she’s channeling late Nico,” said a friend.
At the after-party at Star Lounge, Marshall was the perfectly charming, offbeat hostess. What’s it like working with Aitken? “He’s a superdude. Really down to business.” Did you just call him a superdude? “Yeah, superdude . . . super Do-o-u-ug,” she sang. She’s a weird girl, but sweet, ya know? I bumped into artist Slater Bradley, who claimed not to know Marshall well, though he did spend last Christmas with the singer in Miami. So if they’re not tight, I pointed out, then why were they both working the same look: extra-long-sleeve white button-ups (Marshall’s Dior Homme, Bradley’s Thom Browne) with fingerless gloves? “No way. We’re doppelgängers!” Marshall exclaimed, posing for a portrait. See? We’re all connected.
Left: Ugo Rondinone, Matthew Marks's Sabrina Buell, and curator Francesco Bonami. RIght: Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer.
Left: Centre Pompidou-Metz director Laurent Le Bon. Right: French president Jacques Chirac. (All photos: Nicolas Trembley)
Last Wednesday, the Pompidou Center celebrated its thirty-year anniversary. The prime of life! But that term didn’t characterize the evening’s attendees, a serious clutch of geriatrics. President Jacques Chirac himself was in attendance, so the guest list had been run through with a fine-tooth comb by the ceremonial service of the Elysee (the equivalent of the White House). After being whipped by a cold wind during a long wait on the piazza, you had to show your credentials and ID just to enter the main hall, a fact that put the museum’s generous donors, unaccustomed to waiting in line, in a somewhat middling mood. Having failed to alert the authorities to the fact that I wouldn’t arrive alone, my friend and I were directed toward the line of “problematic cases” being prepared for outright rejection.
So it was alone that I eventually penetrated the interior of the den decorated with giant flowers by artist Jean-Pierre Raynaud. Now upgraded to the “Quadra” category, I was still among the junior members of this grizzled crowd. I set out to find Pipilotti Rist, who had received the only contemporary art commission marking the anniversary—an enormous outdoor video projection and a sound installation in the infamous escalator tubes. No dice; Rist wasn’t in attendance. It was consequently in the company of Christine Van Assche, curator of new media and producer of Rist’s piece, that I found myself in a roped-off VIP area. At first, we didn’t recognize many of those there with us. But on seeing the mayor of Paris and his learned assembly of black-clad advisors, as well as the black-leather-bound matriarch of the Ricard family, we understood that these similarly monochromatic unknowns were bodyguards. I had missed the instructions to dress for a funeral and felt even more out of place.
President Chirac made an announcement regarding the expansion plans of Beaubourg and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, pending the approval of “Russia, India, Africa, and South America.” Vincent Noce, a Libération journalist, remarked that the audience dubbed Bruno Racine, the current president of the Pompidou, “Global Bruno.” Finally, Chirac announced that while awaiting the opening of new Beaubourg branches in Shanghai and Metz, it would be the Palais de Tokyo’s empty halls that would be requisitioned for the Pompidou’s exhibitions of contemporary French and international artists. Marc-Olivier Wahler, the current director of the Palais de Tokyo, heard the news as we all did, was livid, and confided that he needed to put back a glass of champagne on the spot. Had the glass been in hand, he might’ve done a spit take.
Left: Collector Katharina Faerber and Pompidou new-media curator Christine Van Assche. Right: Pompidou president Bruno Racine.
Chirac finished with a lively homage to Mme Claude Pompidou’s historic engagement with the avant-garde. (Her avant-garde gesture that evening? Dressing entirely in violet.) Agnès Fierobe, the director of the Marian Goodman Gallery in Paris, informed me that Mme Pompidou had shown only lukewarm appreciation of Beaubourg’s new visitor pass, designed by Annette Messager to be read as “FREE PASS” or, depending on how you read it, “FREE PISS.” Slightly annoyed, Messager’s group, composed of Gloria Friedman and artists Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier, had left early to gather in the corner café with Samuel Keller. Glancing around at the video screens tracing Beaubourg’s greatest moments, you couldn’t help noticing that they might’ve had the right idea: The museum’s inauguration, when Warhol demanded that guards gallop across the forum on horses draped with flags depicting Mao’s effigy, seemed much more fun.
I finally gained access, with artist Xavier Veilhan, to the new collection installation, of which only the modern art section was open (showcasing pieces from 1906 to 1960). It was a parade of classics. Since the hang emphasized monographic depth emanating from the museum’s relationship with artists and their families, donors came to verify that their masterpieces were being showcased. “Not a bad location for the new Rothko!” While I was nonchalantly looking at a Picasso series, a young woman came over to me and said, “He’s a very good artist. I’m writing a thesis about him . . . He was my grandfather. Good evening, I’m Diana.”
Certain guests concluded that this sedate affair nonetheless made sense since, at the opening in 1977, the numerous curators were at least thirty years old and, as they were nearly all still around, must necessarily be over sixty today. Gabrielle Maubrie, an unnerved gallery owner, challenged us to come up with the names of at least five of those original staffers. We couldn’t do it.
On leaving, we received a surprise gift bag that contained a chocolate truffle (only one?), a silk screen by the graphic artist Jean Widmer, a miniguide to Beaubourg for children, and a minikey USB player (produced by Samsung, a main sponsor). “Not even an iPod!” my neighbor exclaimed. After this somewhat forgettable evening, we stood looking at the immense banner on the sublime facade announcing the “Tintin by Hergé” exhibition—this season’s crowd-pleaser—and remarked to each other that even though the times have changed, the museum was still one of the most beautiful in the world.
Left: Collector Don Rubell and dealer Kevin Bruk. Right: 1301PE director Alexis Johnson. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)
The second half of January has been surprisingly hectic in the Los Angeles art world, though last weekend’s offerings—museum-exhibition openings and an art fair—brought a quiet denouement to the frenzy of activity. The third-annual Art LA fair, held in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, was the most recent attempt by local boosters to compete with more pedigreed rivals—in London, New York, Basel, and Miami—and prove that the West Coast can also support a big-deal commercial showcase. But I learned quickly that market-driven cheerleaders are about as convincing as used-car salesmen, especially when no one’s buying.
Art LA felt a bit like an adventure in munchkin land: Everything seemed diminutive, from the number of galleries (an expectedly small turnout) to the size of the booths (imagine a midsize bathroom). Nevertheless, a number of quality spaces were brought into the fold, including Daniel Hug, Patrick Painter, and Susanne Vielmetter Projects. But the most charming contenders at Art LA were the nonprofits, which injected the sales floor with a little mirth and experimentation, including editioned cupcakes at LACE and a squelching Styrofoam orchestra from Machine Project that sent more conservative collectors scurrying for the outside bar.
At the Thursday-night opening, full-time fair director and Midwest transplant Tim Fleming exuded inexhaustible cheer, flecked with moments of self-reflective honesty. “Most of the big LA galleries signed on in the last month,” he conceded, the thinking being, “‘Let’s do this scrappy little art fair.’” There were supporters and customers, of course, including Don and Mera Rubell, Dean Valentine, Seth Geller, LACMA’s Lynn Zelevansky, and MoCA’s young collectors group (the beneficiaries of the opening-night festivities). But conversations with dealers, normally eager to inflate sales statistics, brought news of few transactions. Tellingly, the dealers’ gossip centered around other fairs—anecdotes from Miami, booth locations at the Armory, and, in one case, the viability of the upcoming Gulf Art Fair in Dubai.
Wilshire Boulevard stalwart SolwayJones made the best of the situation, setting up a classic Tom Marioni installation in their booth, where, above a primrose-yellow refrigerator stuffed with bottles of Pacifico, a sign announced, “THE ACT OF DRINKING BEER WITH FRIENDS IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF ART, 1970.” I couldn’t help but sit and knock one back with the veteran conceptualist. “I got asked to do a show in a dry county in Tennessee,” he explained, pausing to sip the dregs of his bottle. “They told me I couldn’t bring any beer.”
Two days later, the Hammer Museum orchestrated Vija Celmins’s triumphant return to her alma mater, UCLA. The Celmins drawings retrospective—which opened last fall in Paris—was accompanied by soft openings for the current batch of Hammer Projects, including exhibitions by Erik van Lieshout, Ezra Johnson, Jan van der Ploeg, and the debut of a new film by Austrian artist Mathias Poledna. I spent half the night combing the crowd for the notoriously shy Celmins, to no avail, but I did manage to meet van Lieshout, a reputedly rambunctious Dutchman (“My challenge is to lose control!”), who seemed well behaved on the arm of new Hammer adjunct curator Ali Subotnick. Through the revealing interviews in his disarmingly funny documentary video on view, van Lieshout came off as a friendlier and more humane version of the aggressively bleak Lars von Trier, if such a thing can be imagined.
Strolling through the Celmins retrospective, one wondered how the artist’s labor-intensive, mostly grisaille drawings, dating from the late ’60s to today, would cope if they had emerged in the current frenzied climate. Here the work had space to breathe, and while most, it seemed, gladly succumbed to its genius, I heard one youthful upstart pronounce it “boring” with a dismissive flourish of his hand before disappearing into the tony crowd. Leaving the main lobby, I bumped into artist and CalArts dean Tom Lawson, whose artwork is as ripe for revival as Celmins’s. He filled me in on the previous night’s dinner, where literary luminaries Gore Vidal and Jean Stein held court alongside art-world heavy hitters. I asked how Celmins was surviving amid all this pomp and circumstance. “She’s shy, but she’s tough. And though Vija’s been through a lot, she’s come out quite all right,” he assured me.
Left: Hammer director Ann Philbin. Right: Artist Erik van Lieshout with Hammer adjunct curator Ali Subotnick.