“DO THEY REALIZE they’re posing with an asshole?” My friend interrupted our conversation to point out two socialites smiling for a photographer as they stood in front of Margarita Gluzberg’s Pinstriptism, a semiabstract rear view of a figure in a deep bow. (“It’s the ass of the financial crisis,” the artist later told me.) I had flown to Moscow at the invitation of Baibakov Art Projects to attend the private view of “Natural Wonders: New Art from London” and was not surprised to find the VIPs more interested in one another than in the works of the twenty-two young British artists on display. Any artwork on a well-lit, vertical surface dissolved into a backdrop for the paparazzi. The atmosphere epitomized the aggressive glamour that has become a cliché of Russianness to rival the kerchiefed babushka. “I feel like I’ve bought the T-shirt,” quipped a visiting Brit.
Baibakov Art Projects founder Maria Baibakova presided regally over the space’s second opening, a gold Fendi dress and a pair of bodyguards lending her an air of power well beyond her twenty-three years. Baibakova is not the first beautiful Russian to initiate an exhibition program with funding from her favorite billionaire. (In this case, it’s not a husband or boyfriend but her father, forty-one-year old Oleg Baibakov, who has held top management positions in mining and development companies.) But she is the youngest and, paradoxically, the most qualified. Years before Baibakov Art Projects opened last December with a show of new commissions from young Russian artists, Baibakova worked at a Chelsea gallery while earning a BA in art history at Barnard. Shortly after getting her master’s at Courtauld Art Institute last spring, she made her curatorial debut, an exhibition of Russian and Central Asian art at Paradise Row gallery in London. “Natural Wonders” is something of a payback: Baibakova and her American staff curator, Kate Sutton, organized the exhibition in collaboration with Paradise Row owner Nick Hackworth, and about half the artists were drawn from his gallery’s roster.
Left: Oleg Baibakov. Right: Artists Oleg Kulik and Hermes. (Photos: Brian Droitcour)
The works on view were mostly big and theatrical, two qualities exaggerated by Katya Bochavar’s dynamic exhibition design. Hackworth professed a taste for the “baroque,” adding that Baibakova urged him to focus on works that would make a splash in Russia. (She might have been anticipating the moment when a culture reporter for national television pointed to a Dumpster and asked if it was a work of art.) Shezad Dawood’s Feature was a shoot-’em-up, eat-’em-up, cowboys-and-zombies movie screened behind a saloon facade with coyote pelts draped on the railing. A performance conceived by David Birkin (nephew of actress Jane) required a pianist to attach light-emitting diodes to his fingertips and play Ives’s daunting Concord sonata on the mute keys of an upright piano with its strings ripped out and tied in a knot. The odd duck was Ryan Gander’s Man on a Bridge, serial takes of a man peering over the edge of a highway overpass. Guests found its pavement tones and traffic noise underwhelming, and most of the ones who made it to the back corner where the projection was tucked didn’t remain longer than a few seconds.
Baibakov Art Projects occupies a space that once housed the production lines for hard candies and sticky fillings at the Red October chocolate factory. It’s a sweet location, right on the Moskva River, with a sidelong view of the Kremlin and a more direct one of the hulking, gold-and-white Church of Christ the Savior, a decade-old copy of a nineteenth-century cathedral demolished by the Bolsheviks in 1931, now Russia’s most prestigious place to pray. Red October’s owner plans to turn it into luxury condos at some point but meanwhile has given it over to art. Gagosian Gallery christened the former factory as an exhibition space with a temporary showroom last fall. The American gallery made renovations as a gift of sorts to Baibakova, who used her family clout and native intuition to navigate the Byzantine rituals of a big-time Moscow real estate deal.
The close partnership between the nonprofit Baibakov Art Projects and a commercial gallery like Gagosian (or Paradise Row, for that matter) might raise eyebrows in the West, but the distinction isn’t considered important here, given Russia’s nascent art infrastructure. Baibakova declined to comment on her own plans for the future. Russia is unpredictable; even a lease is no sure thing. Moscow Biennale commissar Joseph Backstein wants to use Red October for a satellite show at the third edition of his brainchild, scheduled for September, and he’s been going over Baibakova’s head to negotiate his own terms with the owner. An artist told me about a recent trip to Baibakov Art Projects when he witnessed Backstein slip in and wordlessly take a measuring tape to the doors.
Everything felt a little uncertain in Moscow last week, as oil dipped below forty dollars a barrel and the ruble continued its steady decline. Art Moscow, the city’s major contemporary art fair, was postponed from May to September to piggyback on the state-sponsored biennial, and there were protests against the proposed demolition of the fair’s traditional venue, the hideous Central House of Artists. But Russians are stoic. After all, they just had a major economic crisis in 1998, and they remember the everyday deprivations of Soviet life. Perhaps that’s why the audience had a hard time digesting the idea of repenting for consumption, the central conceit of Eloise Fornieles’s performance, Carrion. Throughout the four hours of the opening, the artist stood amid a mound of clothes (two tons, bought by the kilogram) as she executed a cycle of ritual acts: donning outfits, stripping to nudity, stabbing a strung-up calf, and stuffing the slits with notes of repentance submitted by the audience. I think most guests saw the performance as pure spectacle. (“This would have been better if they got a supermodel to do it,” said one well-dressed gentleman.) No one seemed apologetic about consuming; in fact, more than one person I talked to thought it was Baibakova who should apologize for an open bar where glasses of fruit juice and water outnumbered champagne flutes two to one. Besides, there was still an afterparty to come, and a public opening the next day, followed by more afterparties, and a state holiday on Monday that meant a three-day weekend for a bender of parties and feasts. Penance can wait until there are fewer opportunities to consume.
Left: Paradise Row owner Nick Hackworth. (Photo: Ilya Devin) Right: Overcoat Gallery (aka Alexander Petrelli). (Photo: Brian Droitcour)
SO NOW WE KNOW: The other shoe (clearly a mule) is definitely dropping on the current art market, at least by the look of the “gala” preview last Wednesday night for the twenty-first annual Art Dealer’s Association of America fair (aka the Art Show). On arrival, the first person I saw was Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer, whose forced smile indicated he was keeping up a good front. Of course, that’s his job. Mine is to see past it. Early in the evening, as usual a benefit for the worthy Henry Street Settlement, there wasn’t much to see, at least not in terms of a crowd. It was thin. That was lovely, making it possible to hold pleasant conversations about art with dealers who rarely can spare an innocent the-time-of-day during the prime sales hour.
In fact, most everyone at this fair, expecting the worst, seemed relaxed and easy, though some dealers wore dour expressions throughout the opening, which seems awfully bad for business. But who knows? Maybe it’s reverse psychology. High-pressure sales techniques clearly don’t work, at least not on MoMA trustee Donald Marron. Making an entrance, he ducked into PaceWildenstein, which always seems to get the choice location facing the door, just to stash his trench coat in the booth’s closet. “I’ll be back!” he said, wiggling out of the clutches of an employee trying to sell him one of the gallery’s late Sol LeWitt gouaches. “I just got here,” Marron said, turning away. “Give me a minute to look around.”
Left: Artist Peter Saul. Right: ADAA honorary chairman Agnes Gund. (Photo: Amber De Vos/Patrick McMullan)
“I hate this fair,” a visiting dealer muttered in my ear. “The booths are too small to make any kind of presentation, and everything looks terrible. Well,” she conceded, indicating Ronald Feldman’s back-corner booth, “that’s ambitious.” The veteran SoHo dealer, whose single-artist, art-fair material is dependably, if not commercially, best-in-show, had indeed gone all out, covering the booth walls in pitch-black fabric and plopping Tavares Strachan’s sealed, glass-walled kiosk at the center. Inside it was an actual New Haven parking meter ripped up with twenty feet of pavement (and attendant street trash), basking in bright fluorescent lighting. Some people, particularly an artist carrying a resentment, will do anything to avoid paying a parking ticket. It must have cost far more just to bring it to New York—but then where would art be now if not for the grand, overindulgent gesture?
Personally, I like this fair. Limited to seventy dealer booths, its scale is reasonable, its aisles comfortably carpeted, and its attractions sophisticated and subtle. This edition was particularly peaceful; perhaps bankrupt Lehman Brothers’ absent sponsorship was responsible, though I’m not sure anyone missed it. Well, maybe the company’s overindulgent CEO Richard Fuld, who probably won’t be buying art anytime soon. No one else appeared to be doing much business, either. Friedrich Petzel was literally twiddling his thumbs when I stopped by to see the Nicola Tyson torso paintings he had on view. Corinna Durland was perusing the shelves of vintage books that Gavin Brown had installed in his booth, apparently anticipating a hush. Sean Kelly, who was making his first appearance at this fair with a modest Antony Gormley “void” sculpture of steel rods, was telling collector John McEnroe that good secondary-market had been hard to come by. “It’s all mediocre!” the tennis pro complained, true to form. Collectors aren’t selling, Kelly explained, as their art holdings are retaining more value than any other “property” right now. There’s comfort, I suppose.
Left: Dealers James Cohan and Friedrich Petzel. Right: Critic Peter Schjeldahl with dealer Matthew Marks.
Not that there weren’t some thrills to be had, even if of the cheapest kind. I got a kick out of watching New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl join dealer Matthew Marks in caressing the suggestive Ken Price ceramics that the latter had on sale. One, of two pieces locked in amorous embrace, had a very appropriate title: Eek! And I loved playing Mungo Thomson’s fifty steel-hangar “chimes” on their coat rack, left from the last Whitney Biennial, at Margo Leavin. For the recession-weary, the ADAA instituted “Dealer’s Choice” bargains, for single works at “attractive” prices. That put a Joel Sternfeld photo of the High Line railroad weedscape on the market for ten thousand dollars at Luhring Augustine. “We’re just planting seeds here,” said gallery director Natalia Sacasa. No pun intended, I’m sure.
The most startling installation was at Michael Werner, in a juxtaposition of exquisite alabaster heads from 100 BCE Arabia with the late Eugene Leroy’s thickly impastoed twentieth-century paintings (once an inspiration to Georg Baselitz). The gallery has been gathering the heads for a few years now, director Gordon Veneklasen said, mostly from British collections that were started in the 1930s. A breath of fresh air at this obdurately conservative fair. I kept hearing people asking aloud what next week’s Armory Show will be like. “Disaster” was the most popular answer.
Maybe. Asked what he bought at the Art Show, Michael Ovitz said, “One of everything!” and darted out the door.
Frankly, things have been looking better in New York galleries of late, particularly those hot enough to make even those that claim to have seen everything blush. That was the case Thursday night, first at Lisa Yuskavage’s opening at David Zwirner, where she was displaying—truly the operative word—a number of beautifully executed, spread-legged portraits of women with prominent pudenda. Apparently, Rachel Feinstein, eight months pregnant with her third child, was the model for one of them, shortly after giving birth to her second. Oddly, John Currin seemed more entranced by another canvas, featuring two women. I heard someone mutter something about calendar art. Others simply expressed joy and wonder. This is why I love openings: the unfettered opinions they provoke in all.
Up in Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue rooms, Will Cotton was showing new Candyland paintings delectable enough to eat, attended by a crowd of literary suspects—writers Bill Powers and James Frey, old book-and-print dealer John McWhinnie—and artists like Cotton’s onetime studio mate Cecily Brown, also eight months pregnant, with her first. (“She’s so heavy!” Brown confided, sounding surprised.) Boone was locked in an intense confab with an especially scruffy Tom Sachs before decamping for dinner at Bottino in Chelsea, where the mood was notably upbeat—perhaps it was all that sugar in Cotton’s paintings?—and the guests included several gallery artists, both veteran (Ross Bleckner) and new (Jacob Hashimoto, Luis Gispert). Battlefield artist Steve Mumford, an adviser to Jeremy Deller’s present dialogues-on-Iraq show at the New Museum, gave the conversation at one table a current-affairs boost, speaking of his experience with troops in Baghdad in 2004. Why does that seem like ancient history? We took a moment to remember Steve Vincent, the art journalist who was murdered there in 2005 after writing an op-ed on the war in the New York Times. And then it was on to dessert.
Left: Dealer Mary Boone. Right: Artist Will Cotton and Mrs. Cotton-Miller.
“WELCOME TO LOS ANGELES. Welcome to LA. None of the above,” began Paul McCarthy, introducing his friend and colleague Dan Graham at a press conference the Friday before last, the kickoff to a weekend plump with events celebrating the first stop of Graham’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The cultural press corps was assembled, pens and BlackBerrys in hand, to welcome a couple of firsts: the first US retrospective for Graham and also the first major opening following the narrowly averted financial ruin of MoCA, recently saved by unlikely white knight Eli Broad. Graham, though, is interested in a sunnier side of the City of Angels. “Los Angeles art has been very inspirational to me,” he said, wearing a jaunty Hawaiian shirt. “You have very good vibes here.”
He was right. Despite all the troubles, good vibes did permeate that Valentine’s Day weekend. Over the next three days, there was a lot of love for Graham and the museum. Artist Raymond Pettibon DJed the first of two celebratory events on Friday night, which held an array of friends and well-wishers including artist Allen Ruppersberg and dealer Emi Fontana, board members who hadn’t jumped ship, and the Broads, who received an early walk-through with the exhibition’s curators, MoCA’s Bennett Simpson and the Whitney’s Chrissie Iles. (After MoCA, “Dan Graham: Beyond” heads to the Whitney and then the Walker in Minneapolis.)
At first glance, the exhibition seems cold: the pavilions of cool glass and aluminum, the walls lined with smallish, text-heavy documents, and the sheer mass of videos. But glance too quickly and you might overlook the massive curtained room hiding Rock My Religion, 1982–1984, or the ludic games in the phenomenological pavilions, or a “lipstick parlor” with cosmetics provided by the museum.
The following night at the more public members opening, I kept sneaking downstairs, hoping to catch couples in flagrante delicto in the center of the glimmering glass Heart Pavilion. Sadly, no one seemed in the spirit. On the way back to the courtyard to hear Tom Watson and Thurston Moore’s DJ set, I ran into Simpson and his colleague Ann Goldstein. I asked them about the exhibition’s title.
“Dan wanted a cool, California title.” Simpson said. ”He was in a record store in Venice when he saw a poster for Beyoncé, and it hit him—Beyond.”
“I didn’t know that story,” Goldstein laughed. “He sees his work reflected in everything.”
Graham’s actual presence at the public opening was quite brief. The headlining concert featuring Moore and Kim Gordon started at 10 PM; Graham departed around 9:30. Shortly after Graham left, the temperature dropped into the forties—low in Los Angeles, even in February—though few of the more than three thousand people in attendance were deterred. After MoCA’s recent financial roller coaster, which was accompanied by director Jeremy Strick’s resignation and, in recent weeks, the sacking of roughly 20 percent of the staff, the museum somehow felt normal again, as if its mission wasn’t to stagger through punches but to present important exhibitions of contemporary art to an appreciative public.
Left: Trulee Hall with artist Mike Kelley. Right: Artist Jennifer West. (Photos: Andrew Berardini)
As Moore and Gordon climbed the stage, the public rippled with appreciation. Here, as they always do when performing, Moore and Gordon managed to look seriously glum; nary a smile crossed their lips as they ground out their set to the flashes of dozens of cameras. But there was something oddly soothing to the discord, and the crowd pulsated along to Moore’s sometimes violent guitar work.
The following day I set off for a scheduled talk featuring Graham with Moore and Gordon. The conversation meandered; the highlight of the talk was simply Graham being Graham. Moore or Gordon would ask him some inane question such as “Where would you like to live in Los Angeles?” He’d start off somewhere around Echo Park and then divagate, swinging from Frankie Valli to the musical Jersey Boys to Sol LeWitt’s cat to when Moore lived beneath Graham to the music of Minor Threat and on. After one of Graham’s curious streams of consciousness, he paused, looked up at the audience, and, rubbing the back of his head, said:
“Art’s pretty great, isn’t it?”
Left: Actress January Jones. Right: A photographer takes a picture of K8 Hardy's contribution. (All photos: Neil Rasmus/Patrick McMullan)
THERE’S DECONSTRUCTION meaning the close reading and critical disassembly of a text according to a Derridean conception of difference, and there’s deconstruction meaning, well, ripping stuff up. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the latter interpretation that held sway at a Friday-night launch event for British fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s new line for Target. Transforming a warehouse on the West Side Highway into a pop-up store, the wannabe-hip retailer invited ten New York artists to make “one-of-a-kind pieces” for the temporary venue (described, optimistically, as a “dynamic social space”) using whatever odds and ends of the cut-price avant-garde threads they found appealing.
Aiming to highlight “the creative dialogue existing between the little-tackled binaries of DIY philosophy and convention, craft and mass-production, the individual and society,” and to create in the process “a kind of fashion anthropophagi,” the evening was also an opportunity for shoppers to snap up examples of McQueen’s ’80s-inflected womenswear—provided they were willing to join long lines and cower in the raking shadows of statuesque models. (My own position in the fashionista food chain was summed up when one of the latter casually draped her multiple acquisitions over me while displaying them to a friend.)
“He said, ‘Do you think fashion is art?’ and I said, ‘I don’t think it’s that simple of a question.’” A seven-foot blonde held court in one of the shopping enclosures as an iPod-on-shuffle DJ quit the decks and the Duke Spirit took to the stage. A tad theatrical for your correspondent’s taste, the band at least provided an alternative focus for the dozens of photographers—professional and amateur—on hand to document the occasion. The more heavily equipped shutterbugs had been camped out near the entrance waiting for celebrities and had found some eager prey in actresses January Jones, Amanda Bynes, and Michelle Trachtenberg, as well as stylist Philip Bloch. Art-world faces were fewer and further between, though New Museum curator Eungie Joo, Sara Meltzer Gallery codirector Jeffrey Walkowiak, and critic Domenick Ammirati were all seen picking their way through the show-biz mob.
Exhibiting artists K8 Hardy and A. K. Burns were on hand, too, as was the curator of the event’s nonwearable visual component, Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy. Cuy and company had accepted a tough assignment in agreeing to incorporate McQueen’s designs. And some of their contributions, it must be admitted, looked a little lost, especially in the cavernous, industrially styled interior. But Daniel Peterson’s photographs of improvised drawings made on his own left hand had a childlike appeal, and a set of sculptures by Chris Caccamise, purportedly inspired by some of McQueen’s recent interviews, had a certain obscure fascination. Really though, the evening’s parade of high-end footwear boasted at least as much aesthetic (and even conceptual) appeal as the art its wearers strutted past.
Left: Artist Carsten Höller. (Except where noted, all photos: Dafydd Jones) Right: A view of The Double Club. (Photo courtesy Fondazione Prada)
LAST OCTOBER AT TATE BRITAIN, during the penultimate “prologue” to this year’s Tate Triennial, curator Nicolas Bourriaud invited Carsten Höller to give a talk about traveling. Höller, a longtime fan of Congolese music, offered a meandering travelogue about his first visit to the Congo and the type of decor, food, and music he found there. He showed a couple of music videos and was at pains to tell us that this wasn’t an artist’s talk. It was business as usual, until Russian provocateur Alexander Brener stood up, blew a whistle, and began to babble about going to the insane asylum and finding fascinating music there. He moved toward the front of the stage with his partner, and they dropped their trousers—flashing their front bits to Bourriaud and Höller, their asses to the audience—while making idiotic noises and shouting “Fuck the Tate! Fuck the Serpentine!” Very ’60s, very infantile-retro—but somehow unexpectedly exciting.
Höller picked up his bag and walked out. Bourriaud looked perplexed. The Russians stayed put with their pants down. The audience sprang to life: “Get security to remove them!” “Get off the stage!” “No, wait, what that guy’s saying is right, he’s just not saying it well—who does this white artist think he is, going to the Congo and discovering the primitive happiness and music of its people?” “I’m canceling my Tate membership!” The level and intensity of debate that followed among the audience was indeed electric; who needs a speaker or even a moderator when the public gets to argue on its own?
Eventually, however, Höller was coaxed back into the building, and order resumed. Bourriaud asked polite questions about exoticism while the audience, fired up, disputed whether it was ever possible to be “just” a tourist, “just” interested in a country’s music, without a responsibility to convey the greater geopolitical picture. These were all the right questions, but I also sympathized with Höller’s simple desire to, in his words, “present a positive image of the Congo,” unimpeded by the burden of political misery; his appreciation of “crazy-paving,” blue “Primus” beer ads, and Congolese rhythms was charmingly unexpected in an artist whose work is usually marked by a scientific, almost cruel detachment.
Left: The Ullens Center's Virginia Ibbott and artist Isaac Julien. Right: Artist Takashi Murakami.
During that talk, Höller had also mentioned a forthcoming “Prada-Congo Club” in London. The title made me flinch—do we really need more product placement?—but the venue opened in November as “The Double Club,” a name much more in keeping with the artist’s penchant for twinned experiences (such as One Day, One Day at Färgfabriken in 2006). On the first week of January this year, I went to The Double Club twice with various art pals. Inside, the club’s decor lurched schizophrenically between Congolese styling and generic Western. The main area was a large warehouse-type space housing a back-to-back bar (the “two horse rider”): Congolese shack on one side, slick neon-and-copper affair on the other. Blue Primus beer ads adorned the wall, along with other quasi-psychedelic wall paintings and a blue-tiled area containing images of Krutikow’s Flying City Revolving, the Russian utopian project Höller recently included in “theanyspacewhatever” at the Guggenheim in New York.
The restaurant continued this cultural oscillation. Tables were either well-made Western or cheap crappy plastic; the walls were either Congolese crazy-paving or filled with art, presumably from Prada’s collection (spot the Boetti). The menu was either Western (bit pricey) or Congolese (cheaper, but heavy on the peanut). The third main component of the club was a disco with a rotating dance floor (cue memories of the Revolving Hotel Room, also from the Guggenheim show, and Höller’s 1996 Flying Machine). Apparently, the music is supposed to switch between Congolese and Western with each rotation of the floor, but every time I visited it was only Western dance tunes. Still, the boozing youth of Islington couldn’t get enough of it: The floor was packed and a long line was throbbing outside. I can also report with some disappointment that the toilets are completely Western.
Left: Designer Marc Newson (second from left) and dealer Larry Gagosian. Right: Archduchess Francesca von Habsburg with Sir Norman Rosenthal.
JUST THIS PAST TUESDAY, Prada and Larry Gagosian threw a “Prada-Congo Art Party”—for what or whom was unspecified, but it was the same night as openings for Murakami, Serra, and Twombly at the latter’s galleries. The scene was rammed to the gills with sloaney blokes and bimbonic blond Eurotrash. Normally in this situation, I spin on my heels and quit. But I was on assignment, meaning there was grim endurance ahead, of a kind I hadn’t undergone since Hans Ulrich Obrist’s last marathon. He was there, of course, along with a sprinkling of London dealers, assorted models, socialites, interior designers, fading rock stars, short artists, blah-blah (look at the photos). The guest list ran from Abramovich (Roman) to Zellweger (Renée). Everyone was ogling everyone else; heads were on constant rotation like CCTV cameras. Ninety-nine percent of this gene pool were completely unrecognizable to me, so a friend jotted down the names of various models on the back of a used envelope. “What an apt metaphor for this event,” he said as he handed it back, “they’d all go to the opening of an envelope.”
The take-home point, however, is that it was supposed to boost “art” interest in The Double Club now that it’s halfway through its six-month life span. From my experience, this is the last thing it needs, since Höller’s experiment has already been colonized by Islington locals and Afro-mafia. Even if the intended culture clash never takes place, as a restaurant/club the work seems a great success—a much-needed oddity in the backyard of Angel tube. As a work of art, it clearly beats comparable efforts such as Damien Hirst’s defunct Pharmacy and Jeppe Hein’s Career Bar. But it must also be subject to more searching questions, which takes us back to the Tate Britain talk in October. Soon after that discussion, a rebel offensive in Kinshasa led to a massive refugee crisis, and it’s now estimated that forty-five thousand people are dying every month in the Congo. (Although The Double Club is backed by Prada, some proceeds will go to Congolese charities.) Höller’s venture is consistent with his previous work and proposes an experience of cultural confrontation rather than fusion. But when backed by a major Western fashion house, is it ever possible to put two cultures together and expect experimental dissonance to ensue? And given recent developments in the Congo, is The Double Club just too belated an enterprise to have bite?
Left: Kunst-Werke's Denhart Harling, singer Inga Humpe, Kunst-Werke curator Susanne Pfeffer, and artist Anca Munteanu. Right: Dealer Javier Peres. (All photos: Maxime Ballesteros)
“I WISH I COULD just curl up with popcorn,” lamented artist Tiphaine Shipman last Friday, the eve of “Lynchmob”’s opening night. Setting up her appropriately creepy video juxtaposing flashes of blinding white light with disjointed shots of herself racing through dark and misty woods—“starkers” but for white socks—she glanced wistfully over to the room where Olivier Pietsch’s pastiche of dreamlike scenes and nightmarish assaults from well-known and obscure films was already up and running. A moment later, though, and she was back to the grindstone, helping curators Christopher David and Emilie Trice install work by thirty artists in .HBC, Berlin’s nineteen-thousand-square-foot former Hungarian cultural center.
Arriving at Kunst-Werke the following night, I remembered Shipman’s words as I snagged a bag of the complimentary popcorn for “Vorspannkino: 54 titles of an exhibition.” I snuggled in to watch the feature-film-length montage of fifty-four opening and closing credits (from Orson Welles reading the names for The Magnificent Ambersons to a sequence of Richard Billingham–esque stills for a film called Mein Papa) cherry-picked by the KW curators for projection at cinema-scale in the main gallery and on smaller screens scattered throughout the upper-floor “kinos.” If there were any Lynch clips, I missed them.
No clear narrative developed; instead, the string of clues and emotional triggers elicited a combination of excitement and anxiety. By clipping the appropriated sections to conform to the limits of legally citable information, KW not only dodged potential copyright infringements but created an academic’s wet dream: a captivating thesis composed entirely of footnotes. Considering that I had struggled the night prior alongside editrixes Francesca Gavin and Annika von Taube through Simon Starling’s deathly dry exhibition about climate change at the Temporäre Kunsthalle, I was happy to be reminded that nerdiness could be cool.
Cool seemed the proper appellation for the next stop of the night as well (though it wasn’t quite the nerdy variety). At John Kleckner’s second solo show at Peres Projects in Berlin, “The 40 Seasons,” I found the disconnect between the man (sweet and sunny) and his work (magnificently morbid) utterly disquieting. After working fourteen-hour days for several months to complete the forty drawings and watercolors at Peres, Kleckner claimed he felt “like Rip Van Winkle.” “I only check Facebook twice a day,” he told me with evident exhaustion. “I am so out of the loop. I feel like an anachronism,” he confessed before gallery director Tiffany Noe came to scold me. “I’ve been running around picking up popcorn, trying to figure out where it came from.” “You’re like Hansel and Gretel,” suggested artist Dean Sameshima.
I offered some kernels in apology, and graciously the gallery’s crew left enough for me to deliver to Shipman, who was by then DJing with “Lynchmob” cocurator Trice at the show’s opening. Past the DJs and farther into the exhibition, Stockholm-based artist Gustaf von Arbin created a more morose vibe, with a two-room installation of a cryptic crime scene and investigation area. “Let’s paint the soles of one of these red,” suggested critic Alix Rule, pointing to a series of vintage scuffed heels hanging on the walls and recalling Lynch’s 2007 collaboration “Fetish” with Christian Louboutin. “We’ll see how long it stays on the wall.”
The theme of the night was “surreal.” The wondrous array of work by artists including Douglas Gordon, Zak Smith, Yoon Lee, and John Isaacs (not to mention David Nicholson’s luscious painting of his estranged wife dressed like Marie Antoinette styled by David LaChapelle) was as dark and illuminating as the eponymous director’s own unnerving work. But the all-night vernissage was characterized less by an ominous decadence than a celebratory one, redolent of the moment when Laura Dern as Lula purrs, “This whole world’s wild at heart and weird on top.”
Left: Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin's Angela Rosenberg. Right: “Lynchmob” cocurator Christopher David.
THE OPENING OF FRANCESCO VEZZOLI’S “GREED” at the Gagosian gallery in Rome last Friday was inevitably a cause célčbre, drawing luminaries of the Italian art and fashion worlds along with a handful of international bigwigs. Dressed to the nines (and sometimes tens), the crowd crushed the entrance of the grand Neoclassical former bank, vying to enter as if it were the hottest club in town. Ladies perched on spike heels outside the door were saying into their mobiles, “Roman Polanski is arriving!” At the top of the stairs, attendees were greeted by a fake commercial, directed by none other than Polanski himself, in which Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams engage in a burlesque fracas over a bottle of the fictional perfume Greed.
Clad entirely in red velvet curtains, the magnificent oval gallery space was a cross between a boudoir and a funeral parlor; the oversize crystal bottle of faux perfume sat encased in a glass box in the middle. The spectacle of the opening itself was a fitting complementary performance for the work. Famous female artists—Tamara de Lempicka, Eva Hesse, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Niki de Saint Phalle, among them—were conjured via a series of needlework portraits framed as perfume endorsements, their faces embroidered with tears, as in Vezzoli’s prior work. Presiding at the center of it all, Larry Gagosian regarded the perfume vitrine and gently teased architect Firouz Galdo about how much he had charged to design the glass case.
Some guests argued that the commercial for Greed paled in comparison with the camp excess of Caligula, Vezzoli’s star-studded trailer for a nonexistent remake of the 1979 film. But it inspired my Italian companions to reminisce about “Cacao Meravigliao,” an ’80s song by Renzo Arbore that posed as a jingle for a nonexistent brand of Brazilian chocolate. One noted that he “personally preferred the scantily clad Brazilian dancers” to Greed’s starlets. Around this time, some trickster set off a stink bomb in the gallery, prompting speculation as to whether that was the true scent of the apocryphal perfume.
Vezzoli has the sort of unstudied nonchalance that makes you feel, on first encounter, as though you have known him forever (perhaps accounting for his ability to seduce celebrities into participating in his projects). “There are five liters of scotch in the perfume bottle—enough to kill you,” he noted enigmatically. “My work is not for sale,” he added. His visage on the bottle in drag (taken, naturally, by Francesco Scavullo) is an homage to Duchamp’s 1921 Belle Haleine, Eau de Voilette, for which the artist famously posed as his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy.
“It is not possible to judge it as art anymore,” observed curator Marcello Smarrelli, standing beneath a portrait of Frida Kahlo. “It exists in a completely self-referential system. That is what happens when art becomes business.” And what better place to fete the demise of the market—and the market’s enduring intersections with art—than Rome, the languishing former capital of an empire currently ruled by a prime minister who takes time off for plastic surgery and places attractive female friends on his TV shows and into ministerial positions?
The nineteenth-century Grand Hotel Plaza, a musty classic that appears in period films by Visconti and Zeffirelli, proved a suitably decadent backdrop for the dinner. Guests sauntered in through a palatial marble lobby, past an impressive version of the lion of Babylon descending the staircase and into the ballroom, decorated in Baroque church–cum–fin de sičcle overkill. Players included Milan fashion royals such as Vezzoli’s friend and patron Miuccia Prada, as well as Margherita Missoni, Silvia Fendi, Beatrice Bulgari, and Byblos’s Masha Facchini.
Red was the primary palette there, too. In the dark corner of a side room adorned with ruby silk wallpaper, Gagosian dined at a table with Polanski, Prada, artist Piotr Uklanski, curator Alison Gingeras, and collector Dasha Zhukova. Others swarmed a buffet, where I spotted showgirl Alessia Marcuzzi, hostess of the Italian version of Big Brother. August curator Achille Bonito Oliva alighted from group to group while Danilo Eccher, the new director of Turin’s GAM, and MACRO curator Claudia Gioia, former Red Brigade terrorist, lounged on a floral divan beneath naked stained-glass cherubim and gigantic crystal chandeliers. If you squinted a bit, you could pretend you were in Caesar’s Palace in Vegas.
Toward midnight, Fiat heiress Ginevra Elkann and her fiancé, Giovanni conte Gaetani Dell’Aquila D’Aragona, could be spotted smiling and canoodling to one side of the ballroom. Fading from jet lag, Valentina Castellani, daughter of Turin’s former mayor and a director of Gagosian in New York, sank into the upholstery next to Panorama magazine’s Silvia Grilli and Castellani’s counterpart at Gagosian Rome, Pepi Marchetti Franchi, and admitted how grateful she was that she had flown in on the dealer’s private jet. An understated Vezzoli mingled with the fashionable guests, and at night’s end he gleefully flitted around the room handing out the following day’s International Herald Tribune wrapped completely in a glossy fake advertisement for his perfume—the improvised pičce de résistance.
“GIVEN THAT BERLIN is considered the center of the art community—all galleries, all artists, want to go there—I wanted to show that there’s also this interest in Paris.” French curator Cédric Aurelle, coordinator of a recent Berlin-Paris gallery exchange, took a tough position in the grand top-floor reception hall of the French Ministry of Culture early Friday afternoon. Christine Albanel, Nicolas Sarkozy’s culture minister, was kicking off the Paris leg of the project, delivering a short speech about the “construction of a European culture through opportunities of mutual discovery.” Fleeing as quickly as she arrived, Albanel left her guests to discuss the logistics of visiting all thirteen Parisian galleries opening shows with German counterparts later that afternoon.
Initiated by the French Embassy in Berlin, the project was developed in partnership with twenty-four galleries—thirteen from Paris and eleven from the German capital. The goal was “to present the French art scene and to overrun all those clichés,” according to Jean d’Haussonville, a Berlin-based French cultural adviser. He alluded to “the French touch,” asserting “France is not just a country of classic moderns.”
Left: Esther Schipper's Christophe Weisner and dealer Edouard Merino. Right: Dealer Johann König with curator Elena Sorokina.
For Aurelle, the most difficult aspect of the project was persuading participants: “Like a cake, I need to find good ingredients, otherwise it explodes.” Apparently a good cook, Aurelle managed to amass an impressive group of galleries from each city, at once supporting existing partnerships and initiating a few unexpected exchanges. Aurelle selected the Berlin-based galleries first, each of whom then chose Parisian galleries with which they wanted to work. Berlin’s very contemporary Galerie Mehdi Chouakri selected a historical French gallery, Galerie 1900–2000. For Johann König, the choice of a French gallery was made “more according to artists. We wanted to work with Taryn Simon and Haim Steinbach.” Edouard Merino, cofounder of Air de Paris, saw the gallery’s partnership with Esther Schipper as an obvious match. “We had artists in common, and we really like the work of Angela Bulloch. This was an opportunity to connect.”
I started my tour late that afternoon in the Marais, where Lucile Corty was hosting an exhibition of artists from Sassa Trülzsch. German artist Dieter Detzner, standing with his pair of shiny pink wall-based sculptures, Jean and Baptiste (named after eighteenth-century French painter Jean-Baptiste Greuze), was working in the spirit of the project. “It’s a lot more fun than an art fair,” Detzner smiled. In Belleville, Balice Hertling and castillo/corrales drew crowds for Isabella Bortolozzi’s artists Jay Chung, Q Taeki Maeda, and Danh Vo. Across the Seine, in the thirteenth arrondissement, dealers Olivier Antoine and Giti Nourbakhsch were in good spirits at Art:Concept. Antoine explained that he and Nourbakhsch had been “friends for ages.” Presenting work by France-born Vincent Tavenne, Nourbakhsch quipped that she was “bringing the French back to the French—but German-style.” Around the corner, on rue Louise Weiss, gb agency director Solčne Guillier was hanging out with Berlin dealers Henrikke Nielsen and Oliver Croy. Guillier seemed pleased with the project and the smart—very gb agency—show in a temporary second space across the street from the main gallery by Croy Nielsen artists Nina Beier and Marie Lund, Judith Hopf, and Roman Schramm. “The thing I like about this project is that it’s not about the ‘French scene’ and the ‘German scene’—it’s individual projects and individual people working together in unique ways.”
Left: Dealers Giti Nourbakhsch and Olivier Antoine. Right: Artist Danh Vo.
A little after 8 PM, I finally made it to Saint Germain, where a well-heeled crowd was gathered at Kamel Mennour. The dynamic Parisian dealer was opening a show of work by Yona Friedman with Berliner Jan Wentrup. The dealers admitted that collectors had introduced them to each other, and the two maintained a jovial spirit of competition. “My gallery’s a little bigger,” Wentrup pointed out. A few blocks away, I met artist Kalin Lindena outside In Situ/Fabienne Leclerc, where the artist had installed her solo show, presented together with Christian Nagel. The lights were already out by the time I arrived, but Lindena graciously dashed in and flipped on the power for me, dancing through her sculptures and hanging tapestries that had “finally found their home.”
Inexplicably, art tourists were forced to choose between two separate dinners. Dealer Natalie Seroussi and the Saint Germain galleries were hosting their fete at Le Wagg (née Whisky ŕ Gogo). “I think a dinner at Wagg doesn’t really represent the Parisian scene,” complained dealer Denis Gaudel. Meanwhile, the “Right Bank” dinner, hosted by castillo/corrales, Balice Hertling, Gaudel de Stampa, and gb agency, was at the elegantly understated L'Oiseau Blanc La Capucine, tucked into a suitably discreet side street in Belleville. Both sides of town reunited at an afterparty at Regine’s, where art collective Andrea Crews’s cast of courtisanes and bodybuilders gave everyone someone to stare at. “What are they doing?” asked one French collector. “Is this something to do with Yinka Shonibare?” The evening pushed into the early morning, DJs Twin Twin and Kolkoz keeping the party on its feet.
For many, the tour of the Berlin-Paris shows continued on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday, most of the art set departed central Paris for the Ile des Impressionistes. There, Sylvie Boulanger and Daniel Kurjakovic, curators at cneai, Centre National de l’Estampe et de l’Art Imprimé (National Center for Print and Printed Art), hosted an afternoon of performances for “We’ll Know Where When We Get There,” developed with husband-wife artists Lee Ranaldo (of Sonic Youth fame) and Leah Singer. The project, featuring an exhibition, a Radio France program, and a limited-edition vinyl, incorporates prints, texts, and sound pieces by Ranaldo, Singer, and a group of friends and collaborators. John Giorno opened the event, presenting several poems, including his very recent “It Doesn’t Get Better,” a glorious surrender to fate and the financial crisis. Ranaldo and Singer, in from Stockholm that afternoon, took the stage at the end of the day, lauding the collaborative, international, and multidisciplinary nature of the project. “We’re just sending our tentacles out,” Singer said, “and then bringing them back in.”
TO A DISCOURSE often ranging between earnestness and dutifulness, Guy de Cointet’s nearly forgotten melodramas from a few decades ago sound new notes, but slip into the didactic key. At their best, they morph to the point of magic realism with a European playfulness and the tinny histrionics of Hollywood. (The late Frenchman lived in Los Angeles for the thrust of his career.) At their worst, they become language lessons the pedagogical insistence of which irritates in the manner of Sesame Street for grad students. The three performances staged Wednesday night at Greene Naftali, within an exhibition of Cointet’s drawings, went from worst to best.
Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman had come in from Paris (or a village outside it, where, she said, she and a small group of artists from Los Angeles now live) to perform the monologues as she originally had. Cointet, like a movie director, tended to use pretty women, and it is clear that they bring a fair amount of luster to performances that today exist mostly in pictures. Wistful and charming, Glicksman was buckling her red patent-leather shoe in front of a television playing her younger self when I mentioned she had drawn a big crowd. “It’s not me,” she gasped, “it’s Guy!” In either case, people streamed into the white room, looking at the bright graphic drawings with text written, often backward (Cointet was ambidextrous), in florid script that resembles Arabic, and then settling into rows of folding chairs or onto the ground.
My Father’s Diary from 1975 came first. Glicksman plays Lucy, a character telling of a book (the green trapezoidal object she holds) that her father gave her on his deathbed. “It is a book indeed,” she explains, “filled with pages of text and signs and diagrams, lively drawings laid out in a particular way.” From there, the story sees a war broken out, a fiancé departed, a mass evacuation done under rain of fire and melting metal. There might be a stop at a beach hotel, or that might be a photograph described. (The narrative weaves in and out of the pages; to fade for a moment is to lose the thread.) Sometimes she pauses to “read” a page, her finger tracing crisscrossed lines or loops, the curves of which her intonation follows, and to display history’s effects on the diary: ruined diagrams, bullet holes, spilled blood. The story ends when the war does and Lucy has reunited with her fiancé.
Left: Greene Naftali's Jay Sanders with art adviser Thea Westreich. Right: Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman performs Two Drawings at Greene Naftali. (Photos: David Velasco)
The actress exited, but the presence of a Sneaky Chef lingered, as we chewed on a cookie of a soap opera with a semiotics exercise baked inside. Going to the Market, also from 1975, upped the ante with cleverness. The couple in this one, named Roz and Adul, split up at a party when Adul is perceived to be a two-timer and, in the end, reunite beside a marketplace. Serving as key to (or map of?) the story is a painting of letters and numbers, series of which Glicksman points to as illustration, spelling out names or the initials of phrases she is saying, revealing them as in a word search. Again, though, much of the work’s appeal is in cleverness, and what sticks most is the actress’s quick memory.
Two Drawings from 1974 is the earliest and the best of the three. On the wall hang two identical compositions of numbers. Glicksman’s character explains she bought the first painting, by a craft-fair artist named Jim Brown, for its “aesthetic values” and only “slowly became aware of other things.” These other things make up a narrative detailing still another split-up and the quick exit on the next Greyhound of the female, in whose spiraling psyche the narrator finds herself immersed: “The art of Jim Brown,” she exclaims, “is quite remarkable!” The second painting, a surprise gift from a friend, is somehow nearly identical to the first one but shows, deep within its composition, the goings-on at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The story becomes a Möbius strip curling in on itself and is stronger for not having the tutorial structure. It ends with a twist, the hotel within the second composition said to hold its own story about a pair of paintings, one of which is seen “glowing in the darkness, the letters shining in blinding flashes.”
Left: Guild & Greyshkul's Johannes VanDerBeek. Right: Artists Daniel McDonald, Ryan Johnson, Dana Schutz, and Daniele Frazier. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)
The image was similar to what the New York Times envisioned for an event Thursday night: “Gallery Goes Out in a Burst of Energy.” The artist-run Guild & Greyshkul opened its closing show, “On from Here,” with a party befitting a college dorm. The crowd was actually collegiate in origin and fell into two school groups. The majority had gone to Cooper Union together, pretty much the rest to Columbia together. As with any school, there was competition. “Totally stubborn,” one artist said about another and gestured to a solid, rectilinear sculpture. The curating seemed to be open-door, the artists list running on the press release to three columns, around forty names each. Sara VanDerBeek, one of the founders of the gallery, laughed—“I couldn’t be a curator; I’m not smart enough”—and went on to say: “All I did was put the call out. Everyone was responsive; they only had a few weeks, but still most made new work.”
The beer ran out early, prompting a wave of exits. Two people twiddled fingers together in salutation through a hole in a piece made by Ryan Johnson. Sculptures were felled. VanDerBeek’s brother and gallery partner, Johannes, had white paint on his fingers from fixing an area on a still-wet painting by Francesca DiMattio that someone had brushed. “You could have hung it higher,” I said. “It just looked so good there,” he laughed. “That’s our philosophy: aesthetics before pragmatics.”
Aesthetics alone, however, will not raise twenty-five thousand dollars every month (nine thousand dollars for rent). Such concerns are of course appearing all around. One aid to a troubled economy came up when Sara VanDerBeek mentioned her middle name, Nea, given by her father, the late artist Stan VanDerBeek, in reference to the agency with which he was supposed to meet the day she was born: the National Endowment for the Arts. But it too seems on the brink.
Left: Artists Ernesto Caivano and Ellen Altfest. Right: Artist Glynnis McDaris, Museum 52's Matthew Dipple, and Guild & Greyskhul's Anya Kielar. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)
“IT IS A CONTEST of wit and logic and ideas and facts and argument and, most of all, persuasion.” Host John Donvan, introducing Tuesday evening’s debate in the Intelligence Squared US series at Rockefeller University, declined to mention another factor sometimes known to tip the balance: charisma. But the semantics of the motion—“the art market is less ethical than the stock market”—were sufficiently fuzzy that personal magnetism certainly seemed as though it might influence the outcome.
Speaking for the motion were gruff senior dealer Richard Feigen, schoolboyish Brit gallerist Michael Hue-Williams, and ditzy supercollector Adam Lindemann. Speaking against were sharkishly glamorous Christie’s deputy chair Amy Cappellazzo, avuncular painter Chuck Close, and artists’ favorite critic Jerry Saltz. But would the latter trio’s charm advantage be enough to carry the day? An initial audience poll clocked 32 percent for the motion and 30 percent against, with 38 percent undecided. It was anyone’s game.
Feigen, up first, argued that the art market is relatively unethical because it lacks regulation and offers buyers little protection. He got particularly fired up over “chandelier bidding” (the auction-house practice of making fake bids in order to stimulate competition), perhaps in part because he’d been called “a horse’s butt” for suggesting that eliminating the practice would take the drama out of sales. Slamming the strategy as inherently deceptive, he concluded that the auctioneer’s role has become dangerously ambiguous. Close, speaking next, attempted to redirect the debate by arguing that the value of art is not determined by money at all (a point that earned him a ripple of applause) and that the ethics of its marketing were therefore somewhat moot. Even if its financial value can be manipulated, he argued, its long-term significance comes from artists rather than buyers and sellers.
Hue-Williams, just off the last plane from a snowbound Heathrow, steered things back to the nitty-gritty with a recollection of having been stiffed on a potential big-deal purchase in his early days. He added that the art market lacks transparency—pointing to the creation of auction rings aimed at boosting prices—and has no barriers to entry. (“To become an art dealer, you need to have a pulse.”) Cappellazzo countered this with a theory (borrowed, characteristically, from economics) that the commonly agreed-on preciousness of art ensures that behavior around it is generally ethical.
Next to the podium, Lindemann, a self-described “consumptaholic,” began with a meandering comparison with the legal constraints on medical advertising, wondering why dealers aren’t subject to the same limitations as doctors if they really are more public servants than businesspeople. Pointing out that the art market depends on a type of dealing that might be considered “insider” in another field, he concluded, confusingly, “The whole system is ripe for anything to happen, and that’s the beauty of art and the art market.”
Left: The panel. Right: Jerry Saltz.
Saltz, last to speak, had his own views on what the beauty of art might be. “Art is not optional. It’s always been here, since the beginning, it has never gone away, it’s not going away. OK? It isn’t just a decorative hedge that grows in front of a market or in front of industry or philosophy. Art is a necessity, OK?” If the tone was slightly hectoring (“Am I yelling?”), the message was a refreshing corrective, but not necessarily a convincing argument against the motion. “They’re appealing to the cynical side of your nature,” he claimed of the opposing team. “I love these people, but I hate these ideas! I think you have to just let the art world be what it is.”
There followed a bout of free-form argument, with some respectable points (Cappellazzo: “I don’t think regulation ensures ethical behavior”) and some revealing admissions (Feigen: “I happen not to particularly like [the art world]”) dotting the banter. An entertaining tussle between the dealer and the auction-house boss ended with the latter stating flatly, “A work of art is only worth what someone can ask for it until it resells. Then you know what it’s really worth.” It made a kind of hardheaded sense but did little to endear her to the audience. Saltz returned to the debate’s primary analogy between the art and stock markets: “If you really want to make this comparison,” he shrugged, “you must really hate the art world.” A technical question from a lawyer in the crowd left him more despairing still. “I could never go to trial.”
Closing statements: Close repeated that only consensus can establish true value, and Feigen renewed his call for art-market regulation. Cappellazzo elevated the auction to “an art form” with its own “ancient rhythm and dance” and warned, bizarrely, “if you don’t have street cred, and soul, you ain’t gonna go very far in the art market,” while Hue-Williams bolstered his argument with allusions to Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the 1636 tulip-market crash. Lindemann, perhaps sensing victory, expressed his sympathy for the other side, and Saltz all but threw up his hands: “Yeah, it’s unethical, but no more than you are.” Final result: 55 percent for the motion, 33 percent against, with 12 percent undecided. So much for charm.
UNDAUNTED BY A STRING of empty airports along the way, I was lured briefly back to Milano last Thursday to join an unlikely gathering of artists and others for a convivial evening celebrating the city’s enduring art scene. No fewer than seven galleries opened a spate of lively ambitious shows, adding to the offerings already on view at other venues across town and confirming Milan’s preeminence as the art capital east of the Alps.
Immediately after landing, I headed for Lambrate to take the pulse of the galleries. At Massimo De Carlo, John Armleder staged an after-Christmas sale with funny-smart paintings bedecked with shiny ornaments and a selection of tinsel wreaths and trees doused with paint and pixie dust. After stops at Francesca Minini and Manuela Klerkx, I was approached by a mysterious woman who beckoned me through a dank tunnel to a cavernous raw space that looked like yet another casualty of the popped real estate bubble. The unheated new quarters of Galleria Zero, however, proved the perfect setting for a motley assortment of artifacts assembled by up-and-comer Danh Vo in his wistfully titled exhibition “Last Fuck.” Affixed directly to the towering concrete walls were, among other sundry items, a saddle used in the late ’50s by the last horseback missionary in Vietnam and a long chain hung with keys given to the artist by his ex-boyfriend, which purportedly unlocked a Tokyo hotel room, a Berlin apartment, and an Alfa Romeo (one hoped the car came with it).
Left: Dealer Gió Marconi. Right: Dealer Francesca Kaufmann, stylist Annalisa Milella, and dealer Chiara Repetto.
After Vo’s show, it was time to call on Galleria Raffaella Cortese for the opening of T. J. Wilcox’s “L’Eau de Vie,” an aquatic reverie braiding together tales of the spellbinding Marchesa Casati, a pool-bound baby turtle, and Japanese birds trained to catch and disgorge fish (try that with a worm). Gió Marconi unveiled a triple bill of fare with Vibeke Tandberg’s madcap collages upstairs and Wade Guyton’s ink-jet-printed canvases filling a suite of galleries on the ground floor. Although I’ve long been skeptical of this artist’s work, his grand outing here could teach us a thing or two about sprezzatura. Downstairs, in the basement, I happened on a gripping Venetian remake of Planet of the Apes, but I soon learned the video was actually a Catherine Sullivan work shot at a Miami palazzo and based on “a complex performative language called ‘Mousterian’ taken from theories of Neanderthal speech.”
Everyone gathered “halfway between Brera and Prada,” as Francesca Kaufmann could be overheard describing the location of her little complex, which was host to Thomas Zipp’s Italian debut. Her charming courtyard overflowed with guests including foreign dealers Guido Baudach and Gisela Capitain; local institutional grandees Gail Cochrane, Patrizia Brusarosco, and Flavio Del Monte; the ever-gracious Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo; and artists Lisa Oppenheim and Maurizio Cattelan, who explained his carefully tallied nights in Milan as a safeguard against the taxman. In Kaufmann’s tiny adjacent space, Zipp installed an ominous marble figure and an electric organ on which famed German curator Veit Loers delighted the crowd with rousing renditions of the old Bach church favorite Auf meinen lieben Gott.
The party continued at La Torre di Pisa, where Marconi, Kaufmann, and Cortese graciously hosted a cozy dinner for 120 guests. MAMbo curator Andrea Villani dropped in from Bologna with the star of his next show, Trisha Donnelly, adding to an artist-heavy crowd that also included locals Adrian Paci and Gianni Caravaggio. After three pasta courses (one for each gallery?) and a mountain of rare tagliata, everyone agreed that this night of collaboration injected a welcome sense of camaraderie into an apprehensive art world. Should such an evening become the rule, look for less red meat in the future.
Left: Brad and Brandon Belle. (Photo: Douglas Ljungkvist/Nyehaus) Right: Susan Sarandon with Nyehaus's Tim Nye. (Photo: David Velasco)
AS THE NATION’S Joe Sixpacks stockpiled brewskis for Super Bowl Sunday, Nyehaus got behind an arguably more delicate sport: table tennis. Seizing on the serendipitous congruence of an exhibition featuring an artist-designed ping-pong table and the incipient launch of Spin (“part ping-pong club, part urban social club, part off-Broadway ping-pong theater”), Wednesday evening’s event at the Gramercy Park gallery promised a heady concentration of geeky pursuits. The exhibition in question was Rirkrit Tiravanija’s “Reflection,” but in the absence of the celebrity chef himself, attention centered on two other players, actress Susan Sarandon, a backer of the club, and one Marty Reisman, legendary ping-pong hustler and veteran pro.
Reisman—1958 and 1960 US men’s singles champion, 1997 US “hardbat” champion—defied sporting stereotype in scarlet jacket, shades, and fedora. Like a latter-day Paul Newman for the wooden-paddle set, he took a backseat while teen pretenders Brad and Brandon Belle—identical twins, as if any further gimmickry were required—kept up rally after fluid rally on the mirror-finish stainless-steel table, aka Untitled (The Future Will Be Chrome), 2008. Space in the gallery was as tight as ever, but the guest list was so press-heavy that steering clear of mics and cameras proved more challenging than avoiding errant ping-pong balls. Another champion, East Coast supremo Ernesto Ebuen, held court at a standard table in the National Arts Club’s sixth-floor library, but the buzz was clearly in the gallery upstairs.
Left: Ping-pong players in the library. (Photo: Douglas Ljungkvist/Nyehaus) Right: Artist Michael Portnoy. (Photo: David Velasco)
“How do you pronounce his name again? Rear-krit? Rik-reet?” demanded New York video host Tim Murphy. (A fellow scribe shrugged in response.) A wearisomely enthusiastic promoter pressed a can of some just-launched anti-hangover concoction into my hand. “Are you covering the event?” a woman with a crisp home-counties accent inquired politely. “I’m an editor at OK! magazine.” A passing Marilyn Minter requested to shoot the photographer’s eyes (“They’re beee-autiful!”). While fielding these and other questions, I clocked dealers Tanya Bonakdar and Stefania Bortolami, design critic Alice Twemlow, and of course gallerist Tim Nye—though not Tiravanija’s dealer Gavin Brown, whose bearded visage appeared only as a blown-glass sculpture suspended in a corner of the room. Sarandon played down her own third-ball attack and side-to-side footwork—“I’m mediocre”—but plugged her incongruous new enterprise with the requisite gusto.
Back at the table, Reisman pulled a sheaf of paddles from his bag, made a selection, and squared off against Brad (or was it Brandon?). A couple of hesitant exchanges ensued, until Reisman seemed to feel some showmanship was in order and let rip with a couple of intimidating—though less than precise—forehand smashes. As this gambit devolved from potentially strategic play into showboating pose, Belle’s expression began to shift from tolerance to irritation. But gripping his paddle like a jazz drummer, the kid politely weathered the ordeal, and before long Reisman had re-retired. “You can’t crank it up in here,” he muttered. One admirer, aiming perhaps to distract the disappointed maestro, embarked on a quick introduction to relational aesthetics. The finer points were probably lost, but I think he got the gist. Game, set, and match?
Left: Artist Marilyn Minter. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: New York's Tim Murphy with Tim Nye in background, ping-pong champion Marty Reisman at right. (Photo: Douglas Ljungkvist/Nyehaus)