Ready Maid

Los Angeles
08.23.08

Left: Artist Mike Kelley. Right: A Royal/T maid serves espresso martinis. (Photo: Basil Childers)


No sooner did I get in the door to the Royal/T Gallery in Culver City last week than I was accosted by a gelato-wielding young woman in a housekeeper’s uniform—brown dress with frilly white slip showing, topped with frilly white apron and collar. Smiling sweetly, she asked what flavor I preferred.

Hmm.

Royal/T is a gallery with multiple personalities, among which are a bar, a teahouse, and a retail shop. Collector Susan Hancock opened it early this year, moving from New York to Los Angeles at the suggestion of Tim Blum and Jeff Poe, whose gallery is down the road from the space in Culver City. I was there for the opening of “All of This Is Melting Away,” an exhibition named for a Jim Hodges text collage hanging just inside the door. This in itself was not unusual. But I felt ever so slightly disoriented by the regressively costumed receptionist.

“This is a maid café and a gallery,” the woman said, gesturing toward three other women in French-maid costumes scooping gelato out of a mobile ice-cream freezer brought in to go with the exhibition’s “melting” theme.

Hmm.

Left: Musician Masaya Nakahara. Right: Collector Susan Hancock with Greene Naftali's Jay Sanders. (Photos: Basil Childers)


“Culver City is like Mayberry,” the jolly Hancock told me, adding that the ten-thousand-square-foot Royal/T was the first maid café in the US. (A second, Bar C, has just opened in Little Tokyo near MoCA’s Geffen Contemporary.) In case you are as ignorant of this phenomenon as I, maid cafés (meido kissas) are an outgrowth of “cosplay,” the performance-art part of the cutesy-poo, sexually deviant otaku culture imported from Japan. (Cosplayers act out their favorite manga characters. In LA, apparently, a Lolita-style nymphette is one of them.)

Looking around, I saw café tables and a bar to the left, beside a Plexiglas, hospital-style gift shop selling editioned toys by a passel of Japanese popsters. I turned to the exposed-brick wall on the right, where there stood three more display rooms that included a white fiberglass Yoshitomo Nara dog, some black glass sperm by Fred Wilson, a Tracey Emin JUST LOVE ME neon sign, a phallic Franz West, and a tabletop installation by Beth Campbell of fake potted orchids laid out in a grid on a “magic” carpet. The piece was new, made when Hancock requested such a carpet and Campbell complied, even though she does not take requests.

None of the art on the floor was for sale. That is because all of it belongs to Hancock. The works were selected for the show, or rather the shop—I mean the salon-de-thé—by Jay Sanders, more often found working as director of the Greene Naftali Gallery in New York. “I thought it would be nice to try something like this,” he said, looking around for familiar faces. On this dull, late-summer evening, there were, at that point, only a few: dealer Lisa Overduin, artist Paul Sietsema, and Campbell. “But,” he added with enthusiasm, “I got to book this great DJ to come from Tokyo.” He was speaking of Masaya Nakahara, a noise-music veteran who was to jam later that night at a club called the Echo with LA art luminaries Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley, who were making an exceedingly rare local appearance together.

Left: Dealer Lisa Overduin, artist Paul Sietsema, and Jay Sanders. Right: Royal/T costume designer Lun*na Menoh. (Photos: Basil Childers)


The downside of keeping up with art in LA is the driving. Getting to the Echo, which lies on the east side of Silver Lake in Echo Park, is something like driving to the Hamptons on a summer weekend in New York. There’s a lot of traffic, and when you finally get there, you start to suspect it was not worth the trip. But according to Sanders, “the boys” wanted to play in a proper music venue, not a gallery, so the Echo squeezed them in after the evening’s main event, a three-piece band called Xiu Xiu whose interminable set alternated between extremely harsh and beautifully delicate sounds.

The artists had been scheduled to go on at 10 PM. At midnight, they began setting up the stage: Kelley laid out a big baby blanket to cushion his amp and various noisemaking dolls; Nakahara set up a table crammed with wires, tape players, mixers, and portable hard drives; and McCarthy brought a guitar, some brown paper tubes (through which to blow), and electronic effects boxes he had bought only that day and never tried before. Had they rehearsed? “We try not to,” McCarthy said. “But we did have dinner together last night.”

At 12:30, a small crowd of devotees young enough to be Kelley and McCarthy’s grandchildren—former students, I guessed—pushed toward the stage, and the performance began with sounds so inhuman I can only compare them to a night in the jungle when every animal alive is either mating or feasting. For added effect, every now and then Nakahara, rolling his eyes back under their lids, would shriek into his microphone. In fact, sonic surprises abounded, and for all the wild sound, the performance was quite visual, thanks to the various props. So what if you couldn’t dance to it? You could liberate your mind to it, and isn’t that the proper pursuit of art—or at least a good reason to chase it into the night?


Powers Trip

New York
08.20.08

Left: Karin Kunstler-Goldman being waterboarded at a performance in conjunction with Steve Powers's Waterboard Thrill Ride, 2008. Right: Artist Steve Powers at the performance. (All photos: Sam Horine.)


I suppose it says something about where we’re at as a nation when the prospect of witnessing a live torture act in a decrepit amusement park seems like a reasonable—attractive, even—way to kick off the weekend. Or maybe it just says something about me. After all, Friday nights can be such a disappointment. But there I was, on the F train, traveling beyond Avenue X to the dark side (in this case, Coney Island) to watch artist Steve Powers and a trio of lawyers get waterboarded by a former army interrogator. (When my girlfriend canceled a drink date with a coworker to join me, her colleague quipped, “You two have so much fun together.”) As we got off the train, the boardwalk was shrouded by steel-gray thunderclouds, which soon gave way to a driving rainstorm, a coincidence so apposite I could have sworn that Creative Time, the producers of the night’s “performance,” paid for it. As I wrestled with my malfunctioning umbrella, the organization’s Nick Weist greeted us in a back alley and ushered us into a small, squalid room. Having watched the Christopher Hitchens waterboarding video on Vanity Fair’s website repeatedly—by the last few times, I admit, just to watch the fat bastard suffer—I had a sense of what to expect, so I was surprised to feel a mixture of morbid fascination and generalized revulsion.

The pretext for this odd demonstration was Powers’s installation Waterboard Thrill Ride, a pair of animatronic robots (interrogator and detainee) arrayed in an old photo studio around the corner, who do the dunk-and-shudder for a dollar a pop. Defending the provocative artwork, which was funded by Creative Time as part of “Democracy in America: The National Campaign,” its multi-artist, nationwide series of exhibitions and events culminating this September at the Park Avenue Armory, Powers has said, “What’s more obscene, the official position that waterboarding is not torture or our official position that it’s a thrill ride?” Now, let’s be clear, anyone who maintains that repeated, ritualized suffocation isn’t torture is a) not being serious, b) is an authoritarian sadist, or c) is covering his ass for war-crime liability. Powers has generated a lot of gawking press with his rather unsubtle piece, but at least he’s willing to eat from the pot he’s stirring, which is more than one can say for Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, and Alberto Gonzales.

Inside the room, decorated with small placards of female Disney characters, a sad-looking plant, Coke machines, and a jukebox, two paramedics stood by a gurney behind the crowd of thirty or so spectators (many of them journalists). Powers introduced himself and the event by saying that he didn’t intend the Thrill Ride to be political art, but “more like life drawing,” a representational act that “couldn’t be pushed to the right or the left.” He praised Coney Island, where he has lived and worked for years, as a “good place to confront horror.” He noted that today was the Feast of the Assumption (when Mary ascends into heaven) and that Catholics worldwide celebrate it with water rites. His mother, he said, reminded him of this, thinking it was an appropriate day for the performance, though she wanted him to make clear that it wasn’t her idea. Powers then introduced the professional interrogator, Mike Ritz, clad in black fatigues and combat boots, who, along with an identically dressed assistant, would soon be pulling generic but terrifying black ski masks over their heads and pouring red gas cans full of water onto people’s faces. Powers noted that he and the victims would be cuffed but not bound, as it was illegal to bind people, even though it’s legal to waterboard them.

David Dames being waterboarded at a performance in conjunction with Steve Powers's Waterboard Thrill Ride.


The participants left the room for a minute, then burst through the door; Powers, now hooded, was roughly guided to the inclined waterboarding table. (As Ritz explained afterward, the head is laid below the heart so that less water gets into the lungs, allowing the interrogators to prolong the procedure.) Ritz then stuffed a large black rag into Powers’s mouth, held the artist’s nose with one hand, and poured a steady flow of water onto the rag like a frat boy pours a pitcher of beer. After about eight seconds, Powers began to twitch and jerk on the table, and Ritz quickly removed the rag. Dazed and flushed, the artist was led out of the room. Without fanfare or dawdling, though with some mutual mask adjustment, the interrogators repeated the procedure on three lawyers who had volunteered for the experience—a man and woman in their sixties and a younger man with a T-shirt reading PRODUCT OF A ROGUE NATION. The woman, an assistant state attorney general, seemed to last the longest. The process was both officious and tawdry.

Powers reentered the room and, after a beat, said, “That sucked!” Ritz, revealing a T-shirt reading I YELL BECAUSE I CARE, spoke briefly about his trade. Calling waterboarding “torture” and an “ineffective technique,” he noted that interrogators look keenly at body language, like poker players scan for “tells,” and waterboarding victims not only blurt whatever comes to mind to make it stop but also become so physically agitated that they’re emotionally illegible. He reminded us that this was a pale approximation of a real waterboarding interrogation, which is “relentless,” and that tonight’s victims didn’t go through the “truck-by-truck process” real detainees endured. He repeatedly emphasized that the US military does not practice waterboarding—this was the province of “other government agencies”—and concluded by invoking the Stanford prison experiment, in which psychology grad students played prisoners and guards with Lord of the Flies results, saying that real-life wartime interrogations can descend very quickly into wanton sadism and gleeful persecution.

With this in mind, the audience was invited to the Freak Bar next door, for beer and bonhomie. Really? My companion and I decided to brave the rain instead.

Sugar Rush

New York
08.15.08

Left: Hans-Ulrich Obrist, codirector of exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery, with artist Terence Koh. Right: Exhibition co-curators Anat Ebgi, Kunst-Werke's Jenny Schlenzka, Asia Song Society's Elizabeth Lovero, and MoMA's Eliza Ryan. (All photos: Ryan McNamara)


Fabulous interns made up the bulk of the crowd at last Saturday’s “secret opening reception” at Asia Song Society (ASS), Terence Koh’s compact, bi-level Chinatown art space. There were interns for Interview and V, for Matthew Barney and Yoko Ono, and a gaggle devoted to Ryan McGinley (both current and alums). Hans-Ulrich Obrist dropped by, too. (Perhaps his interns had other plans?)

“Oh my God—all of these kids are in college. That makes me like forty,” pouted an obviously twenty-something artist, watching glumly as the juniors darted about sipping from bottles (with straps!) of Nicholas Feuillatte champagne, the latest enablers of art-and-alcoholism. (“Make sure to get lots of photos of them drinking it,” a nearby Tokion rep pestered a paparazzo.)

The hundred-plus artists in the show, titled “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” were “desired (or curated)” by Koh, along with Anat Ebgi, Kunst-Werke’s Jenny Schlenzka, MoMA’s Eliza Ryan, and the gallery’s own Elizabeth Lovero. The curatorial premise is, as Koh bluntly noted, “people we’d want to fuck.” It’s as arbitrary a conceit as any, a show that might have been more compellingly drawn together via Craigslist personals, but at least I didn’t have to face up to the usual pretensions to good taste.

Left: Artist Francesco Vezzoli. Right: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch and Deitch Projects director Kathy Grayson.


Thing is, the taste isn’t quite bad. Perhaps there’s something to this whole cult of superficiality. Others seemed to think so. “I’m not in it, but I think it’s a great criterion,” said Jeffrey Deitch, happily scoping the wares. Deitch director Kathy Grayson seemed to concur: “It’s pretty honest.” If not wholly original; Chelsea stalwarts might recall last June’s “The Guys We Would Fuck,” curated by artist Nayland Blake at Monya Rowe. Then again, what other exhibition would pair art scion Vito Schnabel with Marina Abramovic, club promoters the MisShapes with Cindy Sherman?

Horror vacui seemed to be the installation philosophy, with works flooding the walls and papering the floor and ceiling (and even spilling into the basement and onto the sidewalk outside). Even with the all-over-everywhere aesthetic, there were a few surprise standouts. Eternal nightlife impresario Sophia Lamar crafted a bruise-colored collage from used makeup-remover pads: “I’m not an artist. I just wipe my face with them every night. I think they’re beautiful.” P.S. 1’s Tim Goossens made an eldritch tribute to Saint Agnes out of fur-covered Russian dolls and bear bones. A friend speculated that a pair of dapper high heels and a studded Patrik Ervell sweater tossed in the corner were the contributions of Yvonne Force-Villareal and Doreen Remen, but as it turns out, the Ervell was Ervell’s contribution and the ladies of Art Production Fund are actually represented by a yearbook-style snapshot in the show’s special catalogue. There’s admittedly a ring of Beuysian democracy to the whole affair. Who needs to be an “artist” to make “art”?

Left: Nightlife promoter Sophia Lamar. Right: Artist Kembra Pfahler with a friend.


A “supersecret” party followed a couple of hours later—in the same space with most of the same people. This time, though, bouncers distinguished the chosen from the hoi polloi by way of special invites encased in Y-3 leather luggage straps, and certain special pieces “on loan” were removed from the walls for safekeeping. (A couple of Shermans, a Warhol book, a Basquiat, among others. “Where did my piece go?” asked a bewildered Francesco Vezzoli on arrival.) Precautions didn’t stop one bumbler from knocking over Star von Bunny’s precarious Ivory Soap sculpture in the center of the gallery. Members of Hercules and Love Affair rallied for a boisterous dance party in the basement, though Koh and Co. were nowhere to be found.

“That’s the way it always is,” said a straggler outside on the stoop. “Terence throws a party down here, and then he and his friends ditch it and have another party upstairs.” What would a supersecret party be without an even more supersecret one to aspire to?

David Velasco

Left: DJ Spencer Product. Right: Genevieve Jones with Donny.


Geek Chic

Brooklyn
08.12.08

Left: Lady Rizo. (Photo: Dawn Chan) Right: Artist Cory Arcangel. (Photo: Damien Crisp)


In the case of a legend as large as Bruce Springsteen, an extra homage never hurts—especially when said homage consists of a full-length glockenspiel concert. Inspired by the use of the instrument in the famous melody of Born to Run’s title track, artist and hacker Cory Arcangel procured one of the modest metallophones and made compositions for each song on the album. Released as a vinyl LP, Arcangel’s tracks have been performed live in snippets, but last Tuesday offered the rare chance for die-hard fans to see the full-length concert debut of the epic gesamtkunstwerk. As proof of the strength of Arcangel’s following, the show was sold out, despite the sweltering August heat and the remote location (Sunset Park, Brooklyn). The venue, Light Industry, is situated on prime real estate, between a pungent Snapple flavor factory and a federal prison. The concert was so tightly packed that the site’s stewards, Thomas Beard and Ed Halter, had to lock the doors to keep an overflow of hipsters, looking slightly greenish under the hallway’s fluorescent lights, from darting into the space.

The stage’s setup resembled tame karaoke, with bootleg Springsteen footage (mixed live by Charles Broskoski) projected on the back wall, and a glockenspiel placed to one side, looking as unassuming as a lectern. “Is the Boss going to play around New York anytime soon?” a groupie plied Arcangel, backstage. “No, I think this is the closest you’ll get,” he replied. I asked him about the glockenspiel’s physical demands. “There is a technique to the instrument,” he said. “You have to get into it. I’ve been practicing for the last two days straight.”

As the concert kicked off, those expecting stage jumps and fist pumps were sorely disappointed. Arcangel evinced none of the anthemic triumph so present in Born to Run. Instead, his performance took more of a cue from his classical-guitar training—though his Metallica T-shirt and high-top sneakers seemed more in tune with a casual aesthetic.

Arcangel did have a “cheat sheet” with him on a stand, featuring such advanced music-theory cues as “one-Mississippi . . . two-Mississippi.” “I did screw up in ‘She’s the One,’” the artist later admitted. “But you know what to do with mistakes: Just repeat them several times and no one notices.”

Left: Light Industry co-founders Thomas Beard and Ed Halter. Right: Comedienne Kim Cea. (Photos: Dawn Chan)


Having had my fill of pregentrified neighborhoods, I departed for more yuppified Brooklyn pastures: the gala opening of Galapagos’s new location in DUMBO. The site may be short on acoustic clarity, but it apparently preserves all that is meaningful and important about Galapagos: the interior reflecting pool. I arrived just as Geo Wyeth, accordionist extraordinaire (and college classmate), was finishing up his set. While Vanessa Hidary delivered her spoken-word poetry, two footmen of sorts—lissome guys in tight T-shirts—attended to the drag queen made famous by the 1968 documentary The Queen: Mother Flawless Sabrina. Flawless being the operative word, I asked whether she had any beauty secrets to share. “Duct tape!” offered one of the footmen. (“Write that down,” added Sabrina.)

Comedienne Kim Cea threatened to go home and make herself Xanax martinis if no one laughed, and the multitalented Nick Hallett sang to lighten the mood. After an intermission, all eyes turned to the Daisy Spurs, a high-octane, vamping, voguing, go-go-dancing svelte group that made all onlookers vow to do more sit-ups. Burlesque singer Lady Rizo did some seducing of her own. Revealing that her “foot bone was connected to her ankle bone,” she worked her way up through the rest of her anatomy. Meanwhile, outside, a polo-shirted, loafer-shod man out walking his terrier asked the bouncer, “What’s going on in there?” “A benefit,” the bouncer replied, with deadpan veracity. “Cool,” said the man. His tiny dog growled. And on that note, I cut a path through the neighborhood’s darkened lofts and condos, their resident gentry undoubtedly fast asleep and all but unaware of the sweaty undulations taking place in their midst.

Dawn Chan

Left: Mother Flawless Sabrina (center) with fans. Right: Artist and curator Nick Hallett with producer Earl Dax. (Photos: Dawn Chan)


A Separate Pace

Beijing
08.08.08

From left to right: PaceWildenstein president Marc Glimcher, translator Claire Chak, PaceWildenstein's Andrea Glimcher, Guy Wildenstein, PaceWildenstein chairman Arne Glimcher, Pace Beijing president Leng Lin, PaceWildenstein's Peter Boris, and artist Zhang Xiaogang.


Wardrobe anxieties ran high on the morning Pace Beijing opened its twenty-two-thousand-square-foot space in the capital’s Factory 798 Art District. “Are you wearing high heels?” Beijing gallerinas queried one another over MSN Messenger. “Are short sleeves OK for a Beijing opening in summer?” came an SMS from a Gagosian lieutenant. “Can we bring our two-year-old?” asked a New York Sun journalist in town to cover the Games. Seemingly silly dilemmas, questions like these actually cut to the pulsating heart of this pre-Olympic moment: Were we to regard last Saturday’s event as we would a happening of similar gravitas back in New York or were we still on the fringes, where codes do not hold iron-tight? Put another way, how seriously are we to take Beijing, even knowing now that it takes itself very seriously?

Determined not to get stuck in this anthropological conundrum, I approximated an outfit that split the difference and led my Manolo-shod date out of our hutong and into a cab. (We could have driven ourselves, if only the opening had been on an odd-numbered day; recently administered pollution-cutting policies regulate car usage according to the last digit of a license plate.) The 798 district, one of the six official tourist sites of the XXIX Olympiad, was resplendent after its makeover: beaming guards in new white BEIJING 2008 baseball caps directed hordes of visitors, flowers crowned the intersections, surveillance cameras watched the entrances. If one day has lived up to PaceWildenstein director Marc Glimcher’s widely quoted (and questioned) assertion in the New York Times a few months back that “798 now has more visitors than Chelsea,” this was it. I started by visiting a few of the shows I had neglected since the driving restrictions went into effect: Lin Tianmiao at Long March, where a perplexed Takashi Murakami queued behind us for entrance into a room of white silk; Wang Du at Tang, where Sun Honglei, an actor famous for playing policemen and mafiosi, sliced with a gallery-provided knife at a thirty-three-foot-tall shawarma skewer of photographs; a group show at Continua, where viewers stumbled over one another to stay out of the path of Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s automated Dumpster-on-wheels, which traced an arbitrary path through the gallery. Once we’d had our fill of polite conversation, we headed north to the Pace space, my date thankful for the new paving-stone walkways.

Left: SCAI the Bathhouse founder Masami Shiraishi with artist Takashi Murakami. Right: Artist Zhao Gang and James Cohan Shanghai director Arthur Solway. (Photo: Philip Tinari)


What to say about a show premised explicitly on a Column A–Column B notion of East and West? Paintings by Chinese artists met their Euro-American inspirations in combinations many have imagined but none have—until now—had the capital to realize. And so Wang Guangyi met Warhol, Liu Wei met Basquiat, and Zhang Xiaogang met Koons on temporary white walls beneath sprawling “Bauhaus” semi-arches. At one point, two Chinese artists got into a shouting match inches from a multimillion-dollar Murakami “Skeleton” painting. No one seemed to recognize them, but when Pace staff asked one to leave, the Chinese rumor mill spun into effect, all talk of colonizers come to cash in. “Encounters,” as the show’s title read, have always been fraught.

As the sun set over the government-named “Originality Square,” we decided it was time for dinner. (In a surreal twist, we had to wade through a beer garden and a lederhosen-clad oompah band poofing sweet alpine melodies, entertainment for the national holiday being celebrated by the Swiss cultural center next door to Pace.) We strolled with a contingent of US dealers to a café across from the restaurant Chaoji Ganbei (rough translation: “Down the Hatch!”) newly installed in the facade of the Ullens Center. Veteran dealers Jack Tilton, Chip Tom, and Jeff Poe sat down over Coronas and asked one another whether this was all for real, the tone a bizarre mix of envy and condescension toward the big guys who had taken the great leap.

Left: Artist Ji Zhou and fashion editor Xue Tie. Right: Ullens Center director Jérôme Sans with Ullens Center founder Guy Ullens. (Photos: Philip Tinari)


On the pedestrian promenade between the café and the restaurant, unlikely encounters ensued. At one point, I darted over to say hello to Ullens Center director Jérôme Sans, who was holding court in the middle of the street with Guy Ullens himself. Murakami and dealer Tim Blum (who seemed reluctant to let his artist out of his sight for even a minute) formed another cluster. Masami Shiraishi, the founder of Tokyo’s SCAI the Bathhouse, came over to say hello to Sans, too. Not recognizing Ullens, he grunted, “Murakami, I gave him first show,” and asked who the Belgian was. In response, Baron Ullens pointed desperately at the kunsthalle to his left, saying, “See that! My building!” I promptly returned to sitting with the jaded Americans and their talk of fallen empires and surprisingly reasonable Olympic-week plane fares.

We paid our bill and entered the restaurant to find that despite repeated confirmations with the New York hierarchy, places at the table (which featured the requisite PACE BEIJING–emblazoned Chinese fan) had been set for the Pace contingent and the band of auction-happy painters and quick-to-flip collectors around Pace Beijing president Leng Lin, but not for anyone else. The New Yorkers were welcoming, but we were playing by local rules, and according to Leng’s longtime assistant and hostess for the evening, there were no seats for us. I left as everyone began sitting down, recalling the oft-recounted tale of Pierre de Meuron rushing to the capital for the 2003 National Stadium groundbreaking, only to be shoved from the construction site by a female security guard—an apt allegory about China these past five years, which now seems to govern even insignificant “encounters” such as a gallery dinner. We walked the kilometer out of 798 and back to the main road that I remember traversing the evening of the factory’s very first gallery opening, in 2002, back when T3, the Bird’s Nest, and Big Shorts were seemingly delusional blueprints. Thankfully, for the moment, in Beijing it’s not yet hard to get a cab.

Philip Tinari

Left: Artists Wang Gongxin (left) and Lin Tianmiao (right) with their son Maotou. (Photo: Philip Tinari) Right: Dealer Jens Faurschou and curator Jennifer Vorbach.


They Shoot Horses

Long Island, NY
08.02.08

Left: Artist Robert Wilson with Christophe de Menil. Right: Artist Jonathan Meese with photographer Jan Bauer. (Photos: David Velasco)


To get to the Watermill Center from the Montauk Highway, you head north at the house with the white picket fence—away, that is, from the sand dunes and shoreline—and westward at the miniature windmill where Head of Pond Road forks. To people disciplined by the grids of Manhattan neighborhoods, directions like this can sound foreign to the point of seeming fantastical; they might as well be for Gliese 581 d (which is why so many of these same people do venture to places like Long Island, to seek out that alien form called “quaintness”). But those of us from New England are accustomed to the rural signpost and consider it, as you should, only distractedly. More often we intuit idiosyncratic routes, stop at produce stands; we get there whenever we do.

So it went last Saturday. I did make it, of course, to the Watermill’s summer benefit (its fifteenth) but first got ice cream and went to the beach. Then on back roads I circumvented a segment of the Montauk Highway, which around Southampton becomes two narrow lanes and, in the high season, two long trails of cars inching in opposite directions. But congestion would still get me. The Watermill, I found, would have its own summer procession, this one less Week End than 8 1/2. Robert Wilson, the center’s founder, would stand with a cane halfway down the path to the building’s main entrance and would welcome each guest, an affable gesture that would not preclude pomp and circumstance. There would be, in a line, the women in feathered hats or summer dresses posing with the men in suits of material correctly light in color and weight. There would be the “news” anchor with blown-out hair who had gone slack in contrapposto, her large microphone down. (“Nobody,” she would spit to her cameraman when certain people passed.) There would be, between the tiki torches, the white-shirted young men holding out trays of mojitos, which apparently would be not very good, given that a slew of them, still full, would litter the base of a nearby sculpture by Jonathan Meese, whose cryptically titled performance Marlene Dietrich in Dr. No’s Ludovico-Clinic (Dr. Baby’s Erzland) would be underway inside.

Left: Howard Stern with Beth Ostrosky. (Photo: Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan) Right: Musician Rufus Wainwright with Watermill creative director Jörn Weisbrodt. (Photo: David Velasco)


I never did learn what that title meant. Inside the sacred exhibition space, my shoes removed, as per regulation, I saw standing on a stage in a Meesian environment of junk and hand-scrawled phrases—DICTATORSHIP OF ART and ART IS NOT RELIGION and ART IS TOTAL PROPAGANDA, etc.—the Artist himself. Guns stuck, barrel-first, into his pants, Meese lifted dumbbells while his “official photographer,” in a shirt emblazoned in red with PROPAGANDIST, played his role. “It makes me think of Jack Smith,” Bill Cunningham said favorably, “thirty years ago!” and then the style photographer darted away to sneak some covert shots.

The bright young things were in back. There was Austin Scarlett—known, one guest informed me, for making a corn-husk dress on Project Runway—who blotted his face evenly, calmly, with a paper napkin, a silk polka-dotted scarf tied around his neck, while Russian artist Andrey Bartenev posed in a Leigh Bowery–like getup: red platform pumps and full-body black-and-white spandex that sealed in three tumorlike balloons. The New York Times once called Robert Wilson the “P. T. Barnum of the avant-garde,” a characterization that now sounded even fairer.

Left: Alan Wyse and Kim Cattrall. (Photo: Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan) Right: Musicians Sia and JD Samson. (Photo: David Velasco)


Seen in light of the events that followed, Meese’s installation seemed meant to be taken literally. Established hierarchies appeared intact. Under the tent, Wilson addressed the diners, as did a twelve-year-old boy who had been aiding the artist since 2003, when they met on a shoot for French Vogue. The latter’s speech was eloquent, suggestive of one written by parents: “I am deeply honored to be here tonight. . . . I have plenty of fond memories of the Watermill Center. . . . I remember Bob’s voice, his passion, and his power. . . .” (This syntax and the boy’s skin color must have been what prompted Jörn Weisbrodt, Watermill’s creative director and the evening’s emcee, to announce afterward to a mixed reaction: “Wow! Watch out, Obama!”) If art is a dictatorship, then it was unclear just who was in charge that night: Wilson or Meese or the equally theatrical Simon de Pury, who conducted a spirited auction during dinner, his voice made gravelly in order to really get in there, really drive up those prices. He did, however, soften at one crucial point. “For the next lot, I would like to ask for your total, total silence, do not applaud at any moment, do not make any noise,” he said. “Shhhh.”

The filets de boeuf went momentarily untouched; the tittering died down. Then, from the back of the tent, a shirtless, golden-haired man rode in on a white horse. De Pury was ecstatic: “Now we are going to sell—a horse!” A horse indeed, but not that horse, a horse named Golden Classics—one “much, much better looking” and “totally priceless”—who was currently in Texas. On the block was not only Golden Classics but also two breedings for her with national champions, chosen by the winner, and a seven-day vacation at the Blue Moon Ranch in Texas. My view was blocked, but JD Samson, the DJ that night, leaned over to me and mentioned that the woman giving these latter details happened to be wearing wings. Black feathered wings. But soon enough she and the others had flitted away, the horse having sold for thirty thousand dollars, and JD started up her set: “Awww . . . freak out!” People did, first on the dance floor and then in the hot tub and the pool at the party at the house down the road. And later, in the mood of excess, I stopped my rented car at the drive-through and my filet de boeuf met a Big Mac.

Kyle Bentley

Left: Photographer Bill Cunningham. (Photo: Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan) Right: Jayson Pugh, Robert Wilson, and auctioneer Simon de Pury. (Photo: Neil Rasmus/Patrick McMullan)