John Waters at B. B. King Blues Club & Grill. (Photo: Samuel Roeck)
YULETIDE APPROACHED with its crazy caravan of characters: the reindeer, the elves, the suicidal Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. The pitiful Tiny Tim in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The disappointed Divine in Female Trouble, who hasn’t received her cha-cha heels as requested from her square, long-suffering parents. (“I better get them cha-cha heels!” “Nice girls don’t wear cha-cha heels!” Down comes the tree on top of Dawn Davenport’s mother during the ensuing hissy fit, one of the best Christmas scenes ever—at least, according to this Jew.)
In this season of glad tidings, last Tuesday, John Waters served himself up live onstage at B. B. King Blues Club & Grill on the formerly smutty but now eerily family-friendly Forty-second Street for an evening of Christmas-themed stand-up: dish about his “empire of filth” (“I’m overexposed. Is there a documentary I’m not in?”), sensible but controversial opinions (“Babies born with original sin? It’s the exact opposite!”), crèche humor (he confessed, when passing a nativity scene: “I’ve locked eyes with a shepherd. I’m cruising a shepherd . . .”). Most important was his Xmas wish list, delivered with the gusto of Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: “I want a tabloid for intellectuals! The National Brainiac! ‘Nadine Gordimer Has Cellulite!’ ‘Renata Adler Weighs 300 Pounds Now!’” “I’d love to have my own religion. I’m tired of writing ‘Cult Director’ on my tax form. I want to write ‘Cult Leader’!” “I want free shrinks for everyone! You don’t need to be ‘even’ all the time—if I were, I wouldn’t have a career!” He also rued missed shopping opportunities, like Ingmar Bergman’s trash can “that he threw his bad ideas in” so “I could throw my bad ideas there, too.” Waters stayed up late to bid on it in Sweden but lost because “I was cheap. But it was just IKEA.”
For over an hour, a sold-out room of adoring fans (probably the queerest crowd ever at B. B. King’s) was assailed by a barrage of wit from Mr. Waters, who resembled Steve Buscemi and Don Knotts’s love child in an exquisite cadmium-red velvet Issey Miyake suit, glancing only occasionally at his notes behind an incongruously drab wooden lectern. Smuggling his jolly, freak-friendly brand of transgression into mainstream audiences via vehicles like Hairspray, he’s a fine role model for the young people. (“To many of you I must seem like Paul Lynde. And I accept that.”) He aims to please.
Coming out as an art weenie as well as a connoisseur of crime and kitsch, on the top of his Xmas list was Art: Waters longs for “real sticks and stones by contemporary artists like Paul McCarthy,” whose “Heidi smeared in fecal matter” and Santa Claus butt plugs he glossed for the crowd. Fischli & Weiss (his favorite artists) “should do sticks and stones out of rubber. Richard Serra [would be] cool, how butch and claustrophobic. [And] Mike Kelley shabby stocking stuffers—so grimy and pathetic for Xmas . . .”
Before the Cult Leader–wannabe appeared onstage, a slide show advertised tribute bands (Pink Floyd, Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Simon and Garfunkel) to the roomful of fans sipping drinks and eating dinner.
“Are you excited?” asked a youth at my table who was way younger than Pink Flamingos. Of course!
As we all chuckled and hooted, the Baltimore-bred raconteur dished about his leading ladies (Divine, Edith Massey, and Debbie Harry), his pet obsessions (anal bleaching, Peyton Place, and art books), and his career as a professional crackpot. I had the uncanny sensation that I was watching Waters’s tribute to himself, like a dapper, queer Lola Montès doing the dinner-theater recap of her fabulous life. Instead of a circus with Peter Ustinov as ringmaster, it was B. B. King’s blues-themed restaurant. Like a human sacrifice of entertainment, the famous auteur had volunteered for the dangerous high-wire act of stand-up with all the vulnerability and defensive virtuosity that the genre requires, though we were all rooting for him. His shtick polished to a shimmer by decades of self-promotion, he was like the most self-aware animatronic figure ever—spewing anecdotes on demand during the Q&A—and an apt avatar for the formerly raunchy and now Disneyfied Times Square (finally “wholesome” as Hairspray), where, just across the street, a gigantic effigy of Whoopi Goldberg menaces passersby from the creepy, bland facade of the Madame Tussauds wax museum.
After the set, fans who paid “VIP prices” lined up along the bar area for a meet-and-greet with Waters like they were waiting to see Santa. Instead of getting presents, they were bringing him stuff to sign. I was hoping everyone could sit on his lap for a photo op. In his plush red designer duds, with his avuncular and urbane vibe, he was part Cult Auteur, part Celebrity Theme Park Character, wishing everyone “a scary, merry, biracial, bisexual Christmas!” And to all a good night.
“WE DON’T FUCK AROUND WITH CHRISTMAS,” said Mara McCarthy, director of the Box LA, at her holiday party in Altadena last Friday night, one of a string of holiday activities and end-of-season wrap-ups scattered across Los Angeles. There’s plenty of evidence of that: After seeing the premillennium installation by her father, Paul McCarthy, Tokyo Santa Santa’s Trees, currently up at LA MoCA, and his more recent chocolate Santa with Tree and Bell (replete with rounded butt plug), I—not unreasonably, I thought—expected some scatological take on the most American of commercial holidays. But aside from a few boxes of the chocolate Santas (and the white-bearded elder McCarthy quietly presiding like some sort of LA Saint Nick), the party was authentically Christmas, right down to mulled wine made from the recipe in It’s a Wonderful Life.
The following night, still a step or two behind due to holiday spirits, I arrived at Machine Project for a distinctly unholiday festivity: a gothy screen test for a music video for local noise outfit the Gowns, directed by artists Dawn Kasper and Deanna Erdmann. Their appointment had dropped out and they persuaded me to get “all gothed up,” like I’d gotten kohl in my stocking. Smeared lipstick and eyeliner seemed a small price for fifteen minutes of Warholian screen-test fame.
The lipstick came off fine, but traces of eye makeup lingered when I set off for my first party on Saturday night, this one for Culver City dealers Blum & Poe at the Mandrake. It started out as a low-key office affair but quickly transitioned into a real party populated with collectors, artists, and curators (almost the entire Hammer staff came, including Russell Ferguson, Douglas Fogle, Ali Subotnick, and Corrina Peipon) drinking from the open bar and eating Korean tacos from the famed Kogi BBQ truck parked in back. Besides the usual holiday-party chatter, I witnessed Jeff Poe inquiring about a Hello Kitty painting from collector Susan Hancock, who recently hosted a show about the ubiquitous Japanese cat at her café/gallery Royal/T. Lots of speculation was afoot about the new MoCA director, slated to be announced early next year, with guesses running the gamut of notable New Yorkers and the odd auction-house specialist, though a European wild card was also name-dropped. On my way out of the party, Tim Blum introduced me to Maurice Marciano, collector and founder of Guess. He clutched my hand with fervor and declared in a crisp French accent, “You have a passion for life, you must follow it.”
Pressure. I wasn’t quite sure where the passion was, but I did follow a lead to another party. Two neighboring artist-run spaces in Chinatown were having dual openings: Dave Hughes at WPA and Bobbi Woods at 2nd Cannons. I’m not sure whether it’s the tight hallway and diminutive spaces (2nd Cannons is a closet-cum-vitrine), but openings on Bernard Street always feel packed: lots of grad students, long-haired rocker types, and occasional Chinatown éminences grises like artists T. Kelly Mason and Dennis Hollingsworth.
Nearby, the Fellows of Contemporary Art, in conjunction with their current exhibition “All Time Greatest” (for which I provided a bit of gratis writing), hosted a concert of LA artist-musicians including Steve Roden, Eamon Ore-Giron, and Lucky Dragons. I stumbled into the strangely subdued affair (some whispering, mostly bearded twenty-somethings plopped on cheap blue wall-to-wall carpet) right before Lucky Dragons’ set, which involved Sarah Rara (no sign of Dragons cohort Luke Fischbeck) handing out CDs for people to create their own light shows off a projector while she sang mournfully along with her laptop. When curator Shamim Momim and artist Mark Verabioff skipped out midway through Ore-Giron’s set (which included an unspeakably strange, brightly lit keyboard and long steel tubes) for drinks at Hop Louie, I followed suit. Around the bar was talk of even more holiday parties: Mike Kelley DJing booty bass at his studio soiree and Gagosian’s supposedly first-ever holiday fete, spearheaded by its Beverly Hills crew (complete with a curated show of the employees’ work in a utility closet).
The following day, I made my way to the Hollywood Hills home of collector (and newly minted gallerist) Shirley Morales, who was flying the flag (literally) for artist Mario Garcia Torres. The intimate afternoon affair served mostly as a going-away party for Garcia Torres and his wife, curator Magali Arriola, as the two were decamping to Mexico City, where Arriola is taking up a position at the Museo Tamayo. I crouched on the sofa with poet Joseph Mosconi and Scoli Acosta, looking through the maquette of their new children’s book based on hidden phrases culled from websites. Its strange and beautiful nonsensicality seemed a perfect prelude to Christmas in LA: “Jeez! a zebra is far less lucid than some celestial naked mole-rat. Uh! this sober mastodon indiscreetly awakened that dramatic hippopotamus.” Precisely.
IN 2007, Larry Gagosian brought Jeff Koons, Piotr Uklanski, and Richard Prince to Barvikha, the “Luxury Village” forty minutes outside Moscow, temporarily setting up shop upstairs from Alfa-Bank and across from the Lamborghini showroom. Few in the art public ever made the trek—unfathomable traffic and a lack of public-transportation options played at least some part—and most critics based their venomous reviews on press images. A certain disenchantment, then, greeted the ArtChronika Foundation’s decision to host the December 10 award ceremony for the third edition of its annual Kandinsky Prize in the Barvikha Concert Hall, where locals typically pay upward of five hundred dollars to see Ace of Base or Erykah Badu, knowing it’s safe to leave sable in the coatroom and their bodyguards in the Bentleys.
“So which one does Medvedev live in?” one young arts writer asked, ogling the line of mini-garch “cottages” across from the shopping center, in what are for all intents and purposes the slums of Barvikha. I explained that the real residences were in compounds much farther into the woods, where armed guards and twenty-meter-high walls kept most would-be gawkers out.
To help solve the transportation dilemma, Kandinsky Prize organizers arranged for a delightfully patronizing “ArtTrain.” I went with this option, sure it would be a good time (as only Russian trains can be), and certainly preferable to the possibility of sitting for two hours in traffic listening to remixes of the painfully popular single “Russian Girl.”
Left: Gathering for the ArtTrain at the Belorussky Voksal. Right: Artist Oleg Kulik admires artist Sasha Petrelli’s Overcoat Gallery on board the ArtTrain. (Photos: Sergey Shakhidzhanyan)
I arrived at Belorussky Train Station, where a trio of burly men sporting ArtChronika tote bags pointed me to the New Year’s tree in the center of the platform. A group of two hundred “creative types” had already gathered, though you could hardly identify anyone for the hats, hoods, and scarves (though I did spot Moscow Biennale commissioner Joseph Backstein, hard to miss with his ever-present curatorial team). Thermoses of rum-spiked tea were passed from cluster to cluster, but it was little consolation against the subzero temperatures. “Who here looks warmest?” asked a friend. “We could go cuddle with them.” Winzavod Art Review editor Elena Panteleeva and I decided on artist-activist Anatoly Osmolovsky, whose Day-Glo orange jacket had that reassuring polar-expedition look, although Osmolovsky may be the very last person to whom one would suggest “cuddling.” (It was Osmolovsky who led a charge at last year’s prize announcement, leaping from his seat and bellowing “The shame, the shame!” when rumored Eurasianist Alexey Belyaev-Gintovt took top honors for his Patria-filia, a gilded ode to the Motherland. A public letter-writing campaign ensued, with art-world heavyweights like Ekaterina Degot and Boris Groys coming to blows over questions of freedom of speech and fascism.)
The move to Barvikha was obviously an attempt to avoid any of last year’s “unpleasantness.” The event was also clearly aimed at potential sponsors, a distinction evident when the ArtTrain rolled into town. Young Artist of the Year nominee Evgeny Antufiev and I could hardly maintain our composure as we filed down the road’s icy shoulder, while Maybachs and their tail cars whizzed past, bewildered at the spectacle of two hundred parka’ed proletarians on a field trip to the Luxury Village.
By the time the entire ArtTrain delegation made it across the “Rublevka” highway, the concert hall’s lobby was already full of the elegantly attired crowd and their over-Sprited cocktails. Shalva Breus, chairman of the ArtChronika Foundation, smiled reassuringly at collector and Alfa-Bank president Petr Aven, while notorious socialite Ksenia Sobchak, artist and dealer Aidan Salakhova, and curator Olga Sviblova posed for adoring paparazzi, making it clear that they themselves hadn’t taken any ArtTrains with their impossible footwear.
Left: Guggenheim curator Valerie Hillings and curator Olga Sviblova. (Photo: Sergey Shakhidzhanyan) Right: Zurab Tsereteli, head of the Artist Union. (Photo: Konstantin Rubakhin)
I sweet-talked my way into a Hennessey sans Sprite and then joined a conversation between Moscow Museum of Modern Art director Vasily Tsereteli and Young Artist of the Year nominee Sasha Frolova. A disciple of artist Andrey Bartenev, Frolova has made a name for herself—or several, really—performing with her group Aquaerobika, purring heavily accented lyrics—like “Come on, catwalk me / I’ll catwalk you” and “Mascara / Lover / Shower” (which all rhyme in Frolova’s English)—while decked out in revealing, candy-colored latex outfits, blurring the lines of naughty and naïveté long before the first Lady Gaga single dropped in Russia.
It took three “final warnings” to get guests out of the lobby and into the auditorium for the ceremony. The seat assignments played out Russia’s own “Power 100.” Through “connections” and some last-minute shuffling, I landed in row 3, where there were at least six empty seats between Phillips de Pury’s Svetlana Marich, controversial curator Andrey Erofeev, and me. The fact that invitations weren’t delivered until the day before the opening (a drama I became intimately acquainted with when the office girls accidentally put me on speaker instead of hold while they were strategizing how to reach “priority” guests) had little to do with this; in Moscow, it’s a truism that VIP actually stands for “Very Important but not Present.” At least until the afterparty.
Also absent this year were the foreign “celebrity guests.” Last time, the ceremony had been punctuated by performances from the Gao brothers, the Chapman brothers, and Marina Abramovic. This year, the committee decided to recognize local heroes Boris Orlov and Oleg Kulik as the guests of honor (although this may have had something to do with earlier plans for an Elmgreen & Dragset performance wildly exceeding the foundation’s financial capabilities).
Left: Alfa-Bank’s Petr Aven with Ksenia Sobchak. (Photo: Sergey Shakhidzhanyan) Right: ArtChronika Foundation chairman Shalva Breus. (Photo: Konstantin Rubakhin)
They did, however, manage to score a foreign keynote speaker. Whereas in 2008 Moscow veteran Boris Groys lectured on art and power, this year the foundation invited Robert Storr, who stuck to rhapsodizing about Kandinsky and the place of the “Spiritual/Conceptual” in contemporary art. “Bigger, shinier, brighter, more expensive—this does not mean better,” he declared, not waiting for his translator to catch up. (Someone should have reminded Storr where he was.)
Antufiev was the first winner of the night, taking the prize for Young Artist of the Year over fellow nominees Frolova and erudite up-and-comer MAKE. Antufiev is something of a dark horse, a self-proclaimed alien from Tuva, a Siberian province near the Mongolian border, where the artist lives in close quarters with his mother and sister, creating intimate and unsettling effigies: dolls woven from human hair and decorated with animal skulls, lost teeth, buttons, or dead bumblebees. “I guess I’ll thank my mom?” he said, when prompted to give an acceptance speech, then began describing a dream he’d had the night prior in which Prime Minister Putin had presented him with the award.
In the category of Media Project of the Year, Electroboutique’s Aristarch Chernyshev and Alexei Shulgin won with CRITI-POP, which lauds the iPod as a source of artistic inspiration. The collective sent comely young curator Anna Belyaeva to accept the award on their behalf; her speech denounced a world where the “rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”
Artist Oleg Kulik and curator Anna Belyaeva, accepting the Media Project of the Year award. Right: Winzavod Art Center director Nikolai Palashenko. (Photos: Konstantin Rubakhin)
It was hard not to be touched when Vadim Zakharov opened his acceptance speech for Project of the Year (fellow nominees were Pavel Pepperstein and Nikolai Polissky) with a few words in honor of Olga Lopukhova, a much-loved curator who had died the day prior. From there, he launched into a tirade against the perverted values of a contemporary art scene that prioritizes being seen at Basel, Frieze, and Miami over recognizing its own heroes. Zakharov’s rant was somewhat dampened by the fact that the work that won him the prize centered around spilled porridge. “Conceptual” porridge.
I had managed to swing two glossy invites to the postparty dinner, but I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of trying to get back to the city at 2 AM (suspecting that Barvikha might not be teeming with gypsy cabs like the rest of Moscow). Besides, the ArtTrain attendants had promised “warm beverages” on the way back.
It turned out that the beverages were not so much “warm” as “warming.” Plastic cups were promptly passed down the aisles, along with bottom-shelf vodka and barely potable tomato juice. I was somewhat surprised to see winner Antufiev across the aisle from me and flashed him a congratulatory smile. He leaned over and held out a fist. Unfurling his fingers, he revealed one of his crumpled bumblebees, whose wings he had painted yellow and purple. One can only wonder what a ten-thousand-euro prize even means to this kid, if anything. It’s a gratifying thought.
Left: Artist Dan Graham. Right: Japanther. (Photos: Sam Horine)
BUNDLING UP for the first major round of post-Miami New York gallery openings on a frigid Thursday evening, I half-expected most potential attendees to have decided in favor of a mug of hot chocolate and the televisual company of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. But while the streets of Chelsea were predictably dark and desolate, unbowed dealers had turned up the heat to pull, collectively, a decent crowd. My first port of call though looked unpromising. Anton Kern was showing more of LA painter Brian Calvin’s signature slacker portraits, but the work’s ice-cream colors and laid-back vibe had yet to attract much of an audience. An unaccompanied Matthew Higgs roamed the near-empty space as a large bucket o’ beers on ice remained unmolested.
The contrast with PaceWildenstein, just two blocks and three minutes away, could hardly have been starker. Diffuse clouds of incense smoke lent the space a saunalike air as guests hobnobbed in the shadow of a vast seated Buddha made from compacted ash by Chinese sculptor Zhang Huan. If the artist was aiming to conjure the mystique of an ancient temple, the reality was closer to a Twenty-seventh Street superclub. In the more confined environs of Daniel Reich Gallery, Christian Holstad’s “The World’s Gone Beautiful” also suggested a balmier environment than the subzero reality, with what looked like melted shopping carts pooled on the floor. At Morgan Lehman, Kysa Johnson’s reworkings of classical art using the visual language of microbiology worked up a kind of historical-perceptual friction, while at Sean Kelly, Anthony McCall’s “solid light” projections at least looked like they should have generated warmth.
Hopping a cab to Long Island City, I checked my coat and hat at the Vere Condominium, where cocktails were being served to kick off not-for-profit stalwart SculptureCenter’s gala honoring Dan Graham, and was immediately drafted into a conversation with artist Jutta Koether about the relative merits of extant biographies of Francis Bacon (she recommended Daniel Farson’s gossipy The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon). I also spotted artists Fred Wilson, John Miller, Ugo Rondinone, and Walead Beshty, curators Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne, and impresario Malcolm McLaren, the last unassailable in a perfect tweed suit. After a discordant vocal performance by artist Rita Ackermann, the first of three “sets” listed in the program, we were ushered next door to the Center itself for dinner.
Seated alongside Electronic Arts Intermix executive director Lori Zippay, Japanther bassist Matt Reilly, and dealer Jose Martos (my first New York employer, back in 2001), we dipped into some fondue as the second set commenced. Introductory spiels by trustee James L. Bodnar and artist Michael Smith (the latter incorporating a video love letter from Rodney Graham and band, currently “backpacking around and playing gigs” in Australia) gave way to a tag-team “astrological tribute” by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Apparently Dan Graham, a “fiery Aries,” swears by his horoscope. “Dan’s ruler of the ascendant is Saturn,” Gordon informed us. “He might have clown hair one day and a crow tattoo the next, but he is always ahead of his time. His execution may be strange, but the result is always brilliant.”
“I have Venus in Aquarius, too,” the irrepressible artist himself announced, receiving an award from SculptureCenter director Mary Ceruti. “That means the most important thing to me are my friends.” Needless to say, this went down well. “I consider myself a gifted amateur,” he continued. And while dismissing “this teenage idea of art being about fun,” he admitted, “what I’m getting out of it is tickets to travel the world and experience some of my favorite culture.” According to Gordon, one of Graham’s favorite bits of musical culture is the Fall song “Repetition,” so it must have given him a thrill to see her and Moore then perform it for him, even if she did have to kick over a folding chair to get the crowd’s attention and read the lyrics from a sheet of paper. Only a final—frenetic—outdoor performance by Japanther, battling not only the elements but also a repeatedly collapsing mirrored backdrop by the artist of the night, was more invigorating.
The following evening saw the opening of “Moving Shapes and Colors” curated by writer Brian Droitcour at Chinatown alternative space 179 Canal. Dealer Rob Hult was among those attempting to negotiate the packed and darkened second-floor space without incident, shuffling between abstract videos (CMYK color fields, neon pyramids) by Duncan Malashock, Sabine Gruffat, and others. He trailed the afterparty as a smoky affair, so we jumped ship for Gavin Brown’s annual holiday bash at his gallery, which promised “food of an indefinite number” and “extended dancing indefinitely.” Bagging a table and a cupcake, we watched the space fill with faces familiar from the night before—Higgs, Koether, Ackermann—and just plain familiar: Elizabeth Peyton, Clarissa Dalrymple, Marty Eisenberg. An impassioned performance by TV Baby, channeling Suicide and covering Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline,” got at least one or two of the aforementioned moving, while the later appearance of Michael Stipe—on the arm of art-world celebrity walker Klaus Biesenbach—augured a shiny happy gathering. Indefinitely.
WELL, THIS WAS A SURPRISE. As soon as I heard that the Velvet Underground (actually, a subset—there’s no true VU without deceased rhythm guitarist Sterling Morrison) would be closing the 2009 season of “Live from the NYPL,” I immediately (and excitedly) assumed they’d be playing. So, apparently, did the rest of the SRO house. As program director Paul Holdengraber noted in his introductory remarks last Tuesday, the event sold out in three minutes and twenty seconds. Keyed to the recent Rizzoli coffee-table book The Velvet Underground: New York Art, edited by Johan Kugelberg, which collects a trove of unseen photographs, posters, ads, and other ephemera from the band’s 1965–70 run, the evening instead turned out to be all talk. Engaging talk, to be sure, but those expecting the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (or even MTV Storytellers) would come away disappointed. Personally, I’d just hoped to hear the only musician who could ever keep Lou Reed focused and honest—neo-primitive drummer Moe Tucker—play with him after all these years.
Another surprise: Lou and Moe were accompanied by Doug Yule, the callow but talented bassist/vocalist who replaced John Cale after the second VU LP, White Light/White Heat. While Reed and Cale’s ego clashes are legendary (and probably the reason Cale was not at this event), it was Yule who continued performing under the VU name long after all original members had departed. Hard to imagine the prickly Reed sharing a stage with him again. But there they were: Lou, Moe, and Doug, led to their chairs by the evening’s moderator, longtime Rolling Stone editor David Fricke, whose lanky physique and Prince Valiant hairdo persist, agelessly, from the past millennium. As if to bury their early image as black-clad art trash, the three Velvets appeared in neat sweaters and collars, resembling aging preppies.
Fricke started at the very beginning, VU’s first paying gig at New Jersey’s Summit Senior High School in 1965. Reed had no memory of this, though he later offered that original VU drummer Angus MacLise quit before the gig because the band would be told when to start and finish playing. This was unacceptable to MacLise, a staunch avant-gardist, who considered it a sellout. “Angus was hardcore,” Reed said. They then recalled their nonpaying residency at the Café Bizarre, a Village tourist trap where the band members were given a burger a night for their efforts. They were ultimately fired for playing “Black Angel’s Death Song” to an audience of drunken sailors, who started a small riot when the band refused to stop playing the tune.
By then, they’d been discovered by Andy Warhol, who wanted them to be the Factory’s house band. As usual, Reed exhibited much affection for Andy. “He was the great protector,” Reed said. “We wouldn’t have gotten a record deal without him—they thought he was the lead guitarist or something. He ‘produced’ our first record [The Velvet Underground & Nico] by not letting the recording engineer change anything.” The bigwigs at the band’s label, MGM/Verve, were “just stupid,” according to Reed.
Tucker chimed in, “Lou had a more scholastic relationship with him, but I loved Andy. I did some typing for him.” These secretarial duties were transcribing the tapes of Factory banter that would eventually become a: A Novel, whose title she unintentionally helped determine. While transcribing, Tucker would leave out the “icky words,” as she called them. Noticing this, Warhol asked her, “Maybe you can just put in the first letters?”
In the middle of a warm reminiscence about Morrison, Reed tourettically interjected, “To this day, I don’t think there’s been anything that’s close to us in the whole universe. We weren’t kidding around!” Reed continued that it was doo-wop songs like “Coney Island Baby” that made him want to be a songwriter. In the Velvets, however, he banished the Chicago blues influence that underscored so many rock bands of the ’60s. “In VU, you were fined ten dollars for playing a blues lick. It wasn’t legit—all these white boys playing blues.” Fricke brought up Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” whose bass-and-drums intro eerily presaged the VU sound. Reed recalled hanging outside jazz clubs, listening to Ornette through the grates. When Wim Wenders had asked him what his favorite song was, Reed said “Lonely Woman.”
Fricke then focused on Yule, who’d been silent up to this point. Soon after Yule started to talk, Reed got up without excusing himself and walked offstage, presumably to go to the bathroom. It was hard not to see this as a passive-aggressive swipe at his former protégé. “The first time I saw VU was at a Harvard party,” Yule recalled. “Cale was absent—sick—but the gig changed my life.” Asked whether he caught the transgressive nature of the Reed lyrics (like “Candy Says”) he ended up singing, he said, “I was very naive. I didn’t understand the songs at the time.”
Asked what she heard onstage at a VU show, Tucker answered, “Mostly Lou. He’s a noisy little guy.” As if on cue, Reed returned and, in the middle of a discussion of the wildly distorted scuzz epic “Sister Ray,” interrupted, “Do you remember what the engineer said during that session? ‘I don’t have to listen to this shit. When you guys are finished fucking around, let me know.’ We weren’t outcasts. They were stupid.”
Fricke mentioned the band’s poor reception in psychedelic San Francisco. “We were OK,” Reed countered, accusingly. “The press wasn’t OK. Rolling Stone wasn’t OK.” Defensively, Fricke said, “I was in high school at the time!” When Fricke started reading a quote from Reed, Lou stopped him. “I don’t buy secondhand quotes of myself.” “But it’s reprinted in the book,” Fricke said. “What does that mean?” Reed shot back. “I love Johan, but there are two mistakes on page 2.”
While in debunking mode, Reed also noted that the black clothes and perennial sunglasses of their early days were functional. At the time, they were often playing behind movie screens showing avant-garde films by Jack Smith and others. The clothes and shades kept them invisible and prevented them from being blinded by the projector. He added that not too much thought was put into the iconic banana image on the cover of their debut record. Imitating Andy, Reed remembered the artist saying, “Ooh, we have to do a cover. What do we do?” “Andy got excited about it because you could peel it and it was pink underneath,” Reed explained, drolly. “Nobody had ever seen a pink banana before.” He then got a dig in at the Rolling Stones, saying they copied the cover concept “years later” for Sticky Fingers.
Finally, Holdengraber ascended to the podium on stage right to read some questions from the audience. Pretty conventional stuff. Asked whether the band could have predicted that one day they’d be interviewed in the New York Public Library, Tucker flatly said “No,” while Reed replied, “I couldn’t think forty years into the future back then.”
“TBILISI IS FAMOUS for its huge watermelons in summer; the currency is called lari, and you get Chanel-stamped plastic bags for your grocery shopping.” Or so Basel-based artist Tobias Madison summed it up. I wanted to see for myself (Google Maps just proffers a beige mass), and so last Tuesday, as friends were calling up Continental tickets to Miami on their BlackBerrys, I boarded a plane from JFK to Kiev with a midnight connection to Tbilisi for the sixth annual “Tbilisi” exhibition—this one organized by Arts Interdisciplinary Research Lab (AIRL) and Kunstmuseum Bern curator Daniel Baumann, with Ei Arakawa, Ani Chorgolashvili, Nana Kipiani, Gela Patashuri, Gio Sumbadze, Ana and Tea Tabatdze, Sergei Tcherepnin, and others. This edition, “Never on Sunday,” would start while I was in the air, but catching even four of the six days seemed worth the jet lag.
Although every iteration of the show takes a different form, this year billed paintings, films, musical scores, and recordings by artists from Tbilisi—not to mention Berlin, Frankfurt, New York, Oslo, Riga, Zurich (the list goes on)—to be performed, presented, distributed, enacted, and sold in this fifteen-hundred-year-old city of four million in the Caucasus. Almost all flights into and out of Tbilisi take place in the middle of the night. The airlines tell you the schedule is a matter of economics—cheaper airport fees for off-hours operations—but in hindsight, perceptual reversals seemed the country’s signature logic.
Dropping my bags at the apartment (shared with eight others), I caught a brief nap before splitting a taxi to Varketili-3 IV Microrayon Building 425, the formidable Khrushchev-era housing block just outside downtown. In Tbilisi, “taxi_ means anyone with a car looking to make a few bucks, and “just outside of town” usually entails semicleared land, for grazing cows and goats, pockmarked with concrete and rebar structures in varying stages of construction . . . or in some instances dilapidation. Varketili, however, is hardly a small pock. Easily identified from the air, in recent years its residents have received attention (see Paul Devlin’s 2003 documentary Power Trip) for their response to the post-Soviet privatization of utilities, often bypassing commercial meters to hot-wire the mainframe grid, if not just generate power themselves.
By 10:45 AM, a group of about thirty had gathered for the first event of day 2. (Regrettably, not making day 1 meant missing a hands-on encounter with the Futurist holdings of Tbilisi’s Grishashvili Museum-Library, as well as a lesson in the bizarro Sino-Futurist stage designs of Petre Otskheli.) Within fifteen minutes, a light rain began to fall. Someone bought vodka. Cigarettes were shared like it was pre-Bloomberg New York. And though we spent the morning in the building’s unheated stairwell, I don’t think anybody really cared that another hour passed before Georgian artist Gio Sumbadze found a power source for his piece—a recording made from the building’s doorbell tones—at last audible from the speakers of his half-charged laptop.
That afternoon, the crowd regrouped in Tbilisi proper. White sheets stood in for swimwear in the subterranean hot-sulfur baths, where arms, legs, and noses thawed from the frigid morning. Ei Arakawa and Sergei Tcherepnin (whose great-grandfather directed the National Conservatory in Tbilisi from 1918 to 1921) taught and led the performance of two scores in the steam-filled sauna, their sounds protracted by the acoustic forces of the tile and marble room.
Some serial shows (the Emergency Biennial and Manifesta come to mind) don’t just take their sites as muse but actually try to intervene in local social dynamics. Others, such as the Venice Biennale (the pavilions of smaller nations in particular), tend to instrumentalize art as politics. Later that evening, as I ran around wheat-pasting posters featuring the lineup of “Tbilisi 6” events with Madison and fellow New Jerseyy cohort Dan Solbach, we began to discuss the specific site specificity of this exhibition. On the one hand, its mutable structure was a product of Tbilisi—as much articulated by the show’s digressions as by the events themselves. But on the other, its politics were completely implicit. Certainly, conversation elicited war stories—tales of the city’s sole luxury high-rise, the Hotel Iveria, located on the official public plaza, which was converted to refugee housing in the 1990s as several hundred thousand ethnic Georgians fled the newly hostile conditions of the semiautonomous Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions that border Russia—but not one work I saw in this show sought to “ameliorate” local problems. Rather, existing conditions (which have drastically improved in the past ten years) were allowed to shape the events.
Left: Artist Nick Mauss. Right: Artist and PROVENCE coeditor Tobias Kaspar and artist Mikaël D. Brkić, Varketili-3 Microdistrict.
“Evenings are capped off with drinks at the top-floor bar of the newly opened Radisson (former site of the Iveria),” Solbach noted. Or, just as likely, “at the Turkish disco in the Brutalist, underground shopping mall beneath the hotel’s courtyard.” But on that particular night, we were instead persuaded by Giorgi Shanidze and some other students at the Tbilisi Art Academy to hit up the Russian bar nearby, where a kid who couldn’t have been more than eight sold roses for johns to give to hookers, and couples slow-danced to Bob Marley.
The following days and nights brought performances and temporary installations at the conservatory, on a street corner, in a car-parts market, at Shanidze’s apartment, under the pulsing TV tower (like the on-the-hour shimmer of Paris’s Eiffel, but nonstop and more psychedelic). While the exhibition would continue through Monday, including a special launch of PROVENCE issue “R” (“P” having come out during Art Basel last June) and a release party for Jay Chung and Q Takeki Maeda’s related mix tape, my last full day was Saturday.
That morning, a hale group of thirty boarded buses for the Caucasus Mountains, halting about twenty miles outside the Russian border near the crest of a snow-packed pass. The brightly muraled interior of a large, semicircular stone “monument for Georgian-Russian friendship” (built by the Soviets in 1983) would serve as backdrop for some works performed by Tcherepnin and several more by Norwegian artist Mikaël D. Brkić.
It was beginning to feel a bit like summer camp. Soon we were in vehicles to the valley for dinner at Gela Patashuri’s home in the village of Bakhani. Loading bags with spirits, bread from Gela’s mother’s bakery, and chunks of a pig, we traveled the last half mile on foot. Shanidze and a couple of his friends took over preparing dinner. A fire was built, paintings by Nick Mauss and Nik Gambaroff were installed on the roof, photographs by Rezo Glonti and Ani Chorgolashvili on the windowsills, and Kerstin Brätsch and Madison strung lengths of fashion-district polyester (last installed as part of Baumann’s “Tbilisi Avant Garde” exhibition at Casey Kaplan Gallery this summer) across the rafters.
If the structure of “Tbilisi 6” ran counter to politically driven international biennials, it also resisted the seemingly ad hoc, though in fact tightly administrated, Performa model. This project didn’t set out to be “revelatory” in any conventional way. The press release only listed who, where, and when—no explanation of what. There were no clipboards, no TicketWeb. At times, the group dynamics felt uncomfortably insular. I’m sure security guards were pissed that we postered a parked truck. But it was the precariousness of this show, an assumption that the next event on the schedule probably won’t happen so let’s just enjoy this one, that’s noticeably absent at other performance-centered exhibitions. In “Never on Sunday,” art was an occasion for more interesting conversations. A reason to share your vodka, argue, make mistakes, make up, go have some fun.
“IT’S AMATEUR HOUR,” said one fair director, hoisting a ladder. “Lots of new galleries that have never done a fair before.” That the director in question happened to be changing a lightbulb during his own VIP preview spoke mountains about the altered economic and social climate at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach agglomeration. A clusterfuck of competing parties, talks, openings, concerts, performances, brunches (still no time for lunch), and dinners, the unconnected continued to get held up at the velvet rope—even if this year the rope was slung a little lower, giving access to the main fair for some of the best previous NADA-ites, and passageway to the third- and fourth-tier fairs for anyone with enough cash in hand for a booth. With so many galleries bowing out or going belly up, there’s a little more room at the bottom of the top.
“Move on up” became the mantra around younger fairs like Pulse, Aqua, and Scope. It wasn’t simply a reordering of the pecking order, though; some of the fairs themselves actually picked up shop. NADA hightailed it to the counterfeit elegance of the Deauville Beach Resort, roughly fifty blocks north of the main fair, while Pulse (less imaginatively) scooted into NADA’s vacated spot at the Ice Palace Studios in Wynwood.
At the Deauville, NADA inhabited two cavernous converted ballrooms. Mammoth chandeliers hung over the scene next to the gaping ports of ’60s-style air conditioners, mixing a retro sci-fi look with what Mara McCarthy at the Box called a “likably gaudy French faux-historical ballroom.” The dealers here looked less nervous than the ones at the big fair, and a few even proclaimed that they’d sold out their booths in the first hours of Thursday’s VIP preview. Dealer François Ghebaly unloaded all of Patrick Jackson’s Koons-meets-Steinbach kitsch cases. Ditto Sunday gallery, which was showing some unusual trompe l’oeil oils by Kirk Hayes. Joel Mesler at Rental bragged to anyone who would listen that his booth of Brendan Fowlers had moved so quickly that he’d set up a satellite stand in his hotel room upstairs. After telling me the good news, he disappeared to it, collector in tow.
After a quick jaunt back to the main fair, I set off for the Whitney Museum party at the Standard, a short cab ride away to a calmer world far from the Collins hubbub. Here the velvet rope was still conspicuous, and I watched as a girl at the door stonewalled a sweet-looking old couple without bothering to consult the list in her hand. (She finally let them through with a patronizing sermon: “I’m doing you a really big favor.”) I shuffled in behind them and out onto a deck bar overlooking a placid lagoon, hanging around for what seemed to be an entirely civilized cocktail party. On the way out I caught sight of John McEnroe, looking the part of the graying champion and gabbing about art with a determined-looking dealer. (The following day I spotted him again, this time eyeing some Liu Yes at Sperone Westwater.)
That night I chased party after party, strung along by the city’s feverish energy. Most seemed to be hosted by loose groups of dealers at strange Miami bars, where the music ranged from third-rate dance-party hip-hop (a Berliner party supposedly headlined by Peaches, who never seemed to materialize) to the inexplicable “cold wave” (one, at the Living Room, simply titled “Wierd”). A text-message caveat smartly warned me off one of many soirees: “Not worth it. Rabid door people. Random Miami locals inside. Super Trashy!” Technology saves.
Left: Collector John McEnroe. (Photo: Francine Koslow Miller) Right: Viktor & Rolf. (Photo: Ryan McNamara)
The following day, I dragged myself out of bed for a “grand bouffe and cotillion” at the W hotel organized by Emi Fontana for her young nonprofit West of Rome Public Art. After a few announcements, Fontana introduced artist Mike Smith, who slowly began to undress, transforming from an articulate middle-aged man into Baby Ikki, a toddler in undersize white sunglasses with a five o’clock shadow. He tumbled around in his diaper and bonnet, inducing a wave of uncomfortable giggles through the crowd. Near the end, he broke character and removed his getup, a “first-time” moment that I’m told is something of an event. Event or not, it was certainly a relief.
I skipped across town to Pulse, arriving just as punk legend Exene Cervenka (showing work with DCKT) finished her set in the Ice Palace’s grassy courtyard. At first the layout to the fair seemed uncannily familiar, but to their credit, the organizers had added a tent section to the original warehouse that included gallery solo projects and a diminutive screening room curated by the MIT List’s João Ribas. After I’d spent days wandering in a scopophilic haze, this fair was almost refreshing: Very little actually caught my eye. It wasn’t all bad, though: Lora Reynolds put on a good solo with Mads Lynnerup, and Pippy Houldsworth had strange and quiet works on paper by Rachel Goodyear. But the real saving grace was Ben Gocker in the back room of PPOW. This was the Brooklyn librarian’s first time showing anything, anywhere, and his astute visual poems ranked among the most exhilarating discoveries of the week.
Left: Artist David LaChapelle. Right: MoMA's Jenny Schlenzka with MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach.
So many of these miasmal evenings are spent in the back of taxi cabs looking for the best party; my last night in Miami, I decided to pare down the schedule. Who wants to fight their way through Friday-night traffic from a Visionaire launch party at the Delano to an afterparty headlined by the Misshapes (how retro) at the Standard? After a leisurely dinner at Spiga organized by collector John Morace and including fellow collector and LA MoCA patron Rosette Delug and Los Angeles fixture Margo Leavin (“Miami Beach, when I first came here, was where New Yorkers came to die”), I simply wandered into the hotel bar at the Raleigh for a nightcap and was quickly caught up in the evening’s frenetic pace. An intimate party feting Klaus Biesenbach’s appointment as director of P.S. 1 culminated with the in-crowd (Biesenbach, James Franco, Peaches, Diana Picasso, et al.) getting tipsy with one hundred bottles of champagne (half a bottle for each guest) on the beach. It might have been a bit quixotic to expect a quiet Friday night in Miami.
But my evening didn’t end at the Raleigh. Soon I was dragged with the Mexico City contingent to the basement of the Shore Club for some passionate karaoke. Artist Mario Garcia Torres played backup on bongo drums as Eduardo Sarabia gave a fierce performance (if such is possible) of Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra.” Parting ways far too early (late?) in the morning, artist Jeff Kopp turned to me and gave praise: “I love Miami.”
THIS YEAR, I PAID my Miami penance up front, with back-to-back red-eye flights—seventeen hours’ worth—from Moscow. In return, I was rewarded with indecently warm weather and the delicious stupor of intense sleep deprivation. This meant that by the time I arrived at Emmanuel Perrotin’s gallery for dinner on Tuesday night (after pantomiming the address to my French cab driver), it already felt like the afterparty. The good-natured dealer had flown in the majority of the participating artists—among them Matthieu Mercier, Bernard Frize, and Daniel Firman—for the group exhibition and two solo shows being hosted at his Miami gallery, effectively opening up his home to half his artist stable. “We’re a package deal,” joked Frize. The artists were joined by a sizable but similarly dazed crowd of jet-lagged jet-setters, including collectors Richard Chang and Jean Pigozzi, art adviser Lauren Prattke, curator Jérôme Sans, and fellow gallery artists Jesper Just and Daniel Arsham.
In the garden out back, artist duo Kolkoz (whose carnivalesque backward WELCOME sign crowned the front of the building) took to the DJ booth for a set of their trademark eclectica, familiar to frequenters of peripatetic Paris nightclub Le Baron. Not far from the dance floor, Le Baron ingenues André Saraiva and Lionel Bensemoun and Le Clique’s resident pinup, Chi Chi Menendez, were on hand to welcome the party back to Le Baron’s pop-up bar at the Delano’s Florida Room.
Of course, where Le Baron is concerned, nothing ever really starts before 2 AM, so I took advantage of the break and hit the Standard for a midnight meal. Half disoriented and half delighted by the hotel’s logic-defying layout, I emerged from the pool area and mistook the Paul Kasmin dinner for the more casual dinner with friends waiting for me at the other side of the pier. After making polite acknowledgment of the few familiar faces (and clocking designer Christian Louboutin), I spied my table across the pool, where tomato salads and tuna tartare were all we could coax from a closed kitchen. (Gratefully, they were more accommodating with last call.)
Maybe it was the jet lag, maybe the full moon, or maybe just that spring-break feel of vodka cocktails in poolside plastic cups, but on the way out, we couldn’t resist a dip in the Standard’s glorious pool. Artist Cyprien Gaillard led the charge with a back flip into the deep end while the others poached beach towels and improvised swimwear. By the time we made it to the Florida Room, our wet hair, smeared makeup, and generally dishabille appearance got us to the front of the line without even having to flash the club’s obscenely coveted VIP cards.
Wednesday evening, having nobly put in my due diligence at the fair despite only managing two hours of sleep, I celebrated with champagne around the private pool of collector Oleg Baybakov’s penthouse at the new W Hotel before descending to the first floor for the opening of Bruce High Quality Foundation’s “Happy Endings.” The multisite exhibition features a series of lo-fi works (a kiddie pool with Styrofoam “barge” manned by Raggedy Andy), videos expounding on the etymology of pedagogy, and the Performa fave Art History with Benefits, which explores the history of sex, money, and power as played out in the art world (all with a healthy dose of humor, of course).
From there, I crossed the street to the Bass Museum for the Bombay Sapphire–sponsored opening for Deitch wunderkind Dzine and selections from the Jumex Collection. Before I could see anything other than Dzine’s handcrafted (I believe the technical term is tricked out) chandelier, girls in “Bombay” suits shuffled me toward an impromptu bar covered in the artist’s brightly colored murals. While craning my neck to find non-Bombay offerings (the swirling blue-light logos bathing the building front had something of an adverse effect), I was amused to observe artist Andrey Bartenev struggling with a rapidly tumbling floral arrangement, which was subtly accented with blossoming bottles of gin. “Let me get this out of your way,” the bartender offered tersely, whisking the regrettable decoration under the bar.
Stepping out with curator Claire Staebler and Fondation d’Enterprise Ricard director Colette Barbier, we paused to scope the newly retooled Oceanfront area, where Amanda Blank was already midconcert. Collins Park has lost something with the cancellation of “Art Positions,” whose industrial trailers gave the space an appealing energy. The revamped Oceanfront now looks more “Shakespeare in the Park” than cutting-edge art, outfitted as it is with a low-budget stage and a cluster of bright red benches. We debated joining the concert on the beach but opted instead for the telecast.
The last traces of jet lag worked in my favor Thursday morning, as I was more or less on time for Ai Weiwei’s 10 AM kickoff talk for “Art Conversations,” this year at the Oceanfront. The change in locale leavened the studied seriousness of previous fair editions; this was more of a communal sunbathing session. My perch on an unsettlingly sticky back-row bench provided me with a privileged position from which to watch the accumulating sweat spots on the back of all the button-up shirts. Midway through the talk, these same shirts started to come off like it was a party.
The growing nudity did not seem to faze moderator and Artforum contributing editor Philip Tinari, who made a valiant effort to get a discussion going despite Ai’s stubbornly evasive or obstructionist answers. (Regarding the artist’s upcoming plans to fill one swimming pool with milk and another with coffee: “What happens when the milk goes bad?” Ai: “It’s spoiled milk.”) Tinari did manage to get a provocative line or two from the artist, particularly when he asked Ai whether there was anything he’d like to say to any spies in the audience: “Your time is over,” Ai declared, without a hint of humor in his voice.
Left: Artist Ai Weiwei. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Collectors Aby Rosen, Samantha Boardman Rosen, and Stavros Niarchos. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan)
Early-evening events that night––Aaron Young’s in-studio performance, the Whitney Cocktail, and a party at the Miami Art Museum––were geographically unappealing, so I grabbed a mojito at Tap Tap on Fifth Street before taxiing back up to the W for a dinner in honor of collectors Peter Brant, Alberto Mugrabi, and Aby Rosen. Over the course of the week, I had observed access to the W growing more and more convoluted, and this was no exception. What I had expected to be a relatively manageable seated dinner ended up as a buffet for nearly four hundred, masterminded by PR guru Nadine Johnson. Hopeful parvenus lined the lobby, trying unsuccessfully to BlackBerry their way through the two security stations.
Once past the bouncers, the objective was a little less clear. The seventy-something table setup technically meant that every guest had the opportunity to rub shoulders with Naomi Campbell, but the cramming of chairs and the press of couture meant that many preferred to camp out with the closest cocktail. There were at least four droppable names at every table, with art-world royalty—the Broads, the Mugrabis, the Acquavellas, the Villareals—joined by the likes of Val Kilmer, Stephen Dorff, and Nicky (but not Paris) Hilton. Apparently, I was not the only one who had expected something more intimate. “I left my own dinner for this, but I’m not sure I even understand what ‘this’ is,” an Interview correspondent moaned to a sympathetic dealer. “Don’t worry,” she consoled him, “I left mine, too.”
Not bothering with the buffet lines (“What are you waiting for?” I asked one American collector. “I’m not sure. But I’m hoping it’s hot”), I made my way to the Standard to catch the last ten minutes of the Swiss Institute’s launch of a limited-edition calendar featuring snapshots of New York artists on their bikes. More my speed, with the lovely likes of Swiss Institute curator Piper Marshall, Emma Reeves, and the always-affable artist Matthew Brannon enjoying the ocean breezes on the pier. Bumping into the very same disgruntled dinner guest from earlier, we exchanged self-satisfied smiles and promises to meet up later at the Florida Room for the We Have Band concert.
Left: Collector Jane Holzer and artist Aaron Young. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Kehinde Wiley with Fab 5 Freddy. (Photo: David Velasco)
IS THIS THE NEW “MATURE” MIAMI? The story this year, after the success of the New York auctions, was supposed to be one of recrudescent decadence and sybaritic splendor: big sales and Sex Pistols on the beach. Instead, the first two days were an (arguably more enchanting) mix of “low-key” dinners and “intimate” soirees. UBS decided not to go forward with its annual ecumenical extravaganza on the shore; the Sex Pistols gig turned out to be a flighty rumor hawked by the press. Christie’s Amy Cappellazzo, herself a onetime Floridian, took a moment at an opening to wryly reminisce about a time when art parties consisted of “squares of orange cheese, Carr crackers, and cheap wine.” Looking around, even postboom Miami has standards. But oh for the days of easy lobster and Iggy Pop.
The NADA fair’s usual early view had been moved to later in the week, so Tuesday night’s trek instead began with a preview of the fifth Design Miami. First big surprise of the year: proximity parking. Traffic gridlock approaching the fair had been the most notable feature of last year’s fete, but this edition was surprisingly . . . accessible. Inside was an attractive crowd complemented by attractive objects, including surreal works from Designer of the Year Maarten Baas and Styrofoam-cast furniture by new It Boy Max Lamb. The well-worn distinction between “design” and “art” occasionally seemed superfluous, though there were some around to defend its borders. “Art can be design, but design can’t be art,” said Ben Jones, one of a few crossover artists with a project at Design/Miami. But perhaps another bystander put it best: “Here you get to touch the merch.”
Left: Designer Maarten Baas. Right: Designer John Bennett, Calvin Klein, and Isabel Rattazzi.
From Design Miami we hoofed it to Terence Riley and John Bennett’s elegant glass pied-á-terre—“A mix between Philip Johnson’s guest house and a David Hockney,” Riley smiled—where the pair was celebrating the launch of Antoine Vigne’s smart-looking book Le Corbusier in His Own Words. Bill Arning, who knew Riley from “his ACT UP days,” arrived snapping photos with an enthusiastic entourage. The party felt small and classy, and its coziness didn’t diminish, even when Calvin Klein dropped by to pick up a book and tour the house’s collection. Personal fave in the master bedroom: a Tom Sachs compartment, made for Riley as a tribute to his tenure at MoMA, filled with old phone-message notes to Riley and a lighter. (To someday burn them with?)
Excess might not quite be back, but at least there’s still plenty to do. Forced to choose among a) Emmanuel Perrotin’s typically raucous buffet dinner, b) a glammy opening for “The Reach of Realism” at Miami MoCA, and c) Art Basel’s welcome reception at the Mondrian, we opted for another option entirely: the preview of “Beg Borrow and Steal” at the Rubell Family Collection. Thankfully—or not, depending on your perspective—it seemed everyone else had the same idea. Collectors Adam Lindemann and Amalia Dayan brushed shoulders with public art producers Nicholas Baume and Anne Pasternak and artists Ai Weiwei, Karl Haendel, and Ingar Dragset. “You have to hand it to them for the title,” said Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler, who dropped by on his whirlwind tour of the evening’s events. On the back patio, a wall of donuts hung in a grid echoed Forrest Myers’s SoHo Wall, while upstairs a Cady Noland Budweiser installation suggested inspiration for some of Jennifer Rubell’s more novel catering ideas. I followed Clarissa Dalrymple, who was herself “following Andy Warhol,” i.e., a peripatetic Mera Rubell trussed up in a spiky black wig. “If you don’t do what you want to do, how can it be worth doing?” Rubell opined. The pair raved about the Sterling Ruby masturbation video recently on view at New York’s Foxy Production. “It changed the way I look at men,” Dalrymple said approvingly.
A broken drawbridge on the Venetian Causeway made us late to Paul Kasmin’s plein air dinner for designer Mattia Bonetti at the Standard. We arrived in time to catch a few stragglers and a glimpse of the menu (choice of grilled branzini or skirt steak—a rare moment of real food in Miami). Some skinny-dippers lapped the pool; some brave souls set off for one of many parties at the Fontainbleau. (“All suits and tits,” one friend helpfully noted the next day.) We decided to call it a night.
Next morning: the big fair. I showed up to the press conference hoping for some coffee, but all they had was champagne. PR genius? The line at the entrance for the 12 PM “First Choice” view was less dramatic than in prior years. MoMA trustee David Tieger had hustled his way to the front of the pack; collector Eileen Cohen was less hurried but not far behind. After the first big rush through the gates, people seemed to take their time, and we soon lost ourselves in the new layout. This year, ABMB strove to be simultaneously more spacious and more focused, bringing its various programs (“Nova,” “Positions,” “Kabinett”) under one roof and expanding the square footage from 385,000 to more than 500,000 (and adding five new galleries in the shuffle). Most had more floorspace, but this also meant that quiet moments were all the more palpable. On occasion, prominent dealers could be spotted sitting alone at their booths, confirming that sometimes there’s no lonelier place than a fair.
Left: Dealers David Zwirner and Kristine Bell with LACMA director Michael Govan. Right: Dealer Shaun Caley Regen.
At least the work looked good, and those collectors who were around seemed to be buying. Jorge Pardo designed an eye-catching booth for neugerriemschneider. Wallspace brought a stack of Walead Beshty copper boxes that had been shipped sans packaging through FedEx, making for some nicely aestheticized bumps and scuffs. A series of six hundred Hanne Darboven notes was turning heads at Klosterfelde, while down the aisle at Regen Projects, Gillian Wearing’s uncanny reprise (with creepy face mask) of Robert Mapplethorpe’s late-’80s memento mori self-portrait won a few hearts. “I told her that she should try to redo his self-portrait with the bullwhip,” Shaun Caley Regen quipped. Pause, then a thought: “But that would probably require a full bodysuit.”
Gmurzynska’s booth was also on many tongues (at least among those that could pronounce it), due to some complications that morning involving US marshals, a recondite lawsuit, and the seizure of six million dollars’ worth of paintings. The whole story seemed a canard until some of the details were splashed on the cover of the Art Newspaper, the fair’s daily broadsheet. To its credit, the gallery somehow managed to pull itself together that afternoon to host an informal press conference for Sylvester Stallone, who was having a retrospective of sorts in the booth amid all the Picassos and Boteros. Halfway through the day, at least two of the actor’s works had sold: Childless #1, from 2009, and the more figurative Trapped Ideals, from 1977.
Left: Whitney Museum chief curator Donna De Salvo with dealer Carol Greene. Right: Dealer Martin Klosterfelde.
More conspicuous was the empty booth of Christian Haye gallery (né the Project) in Row H. “We just thought they were taking their time to install,” noted one dealer, “but then they never showed up.” On the upside, the fair’s organizers allowed Sies + Höke gallery across the way to take over the space (at least temporarily) for free; they used it for a scattered, forlorn-looking chess-piece installation by Kris Martin, titled Lost.
Blissfully gone was “Supernova,” the fair’s closest approximation of a red-light district, where dealers were once forced to stand all day in open-spaced minibooths. Its dissolution opened up more room in the “Nova” program, which comprises sixty-four galleries glommed together at the fair’s north end and includes upstarts like the Breeder gallery and Dubai’s the Third Line. “I’m going to put out cards so that people stop asking about my hometown,” said Sunny Rahbar, a proprietor of the latter. “I tell people, ‘Dubai’s going to be fine. Now buy some art!’”
But also gone were the much-loved (by attendees, at least) Art Containers on the beach, which meant no engaging stopgap between the fair’s 9 PM closing and the public “Art Loves Music” concert by the ocean (this year headlined by UK musician Ebony Bones). Without the anchor between, crowds drifted, and many set off for other events: Stallone’s dinner at the Setai; Bruce High Quality Foundation’s performance at the W; a reception for the Jumex Collection at the Bass Museum; AnOther Magazine’s soiree at the Delano solarium; cocktails for Teresita Fernandez, ForYourArt, and Cartier.
Others (myself included) took a brief break from the festivities and prepared for the night ahead. More rumors abounded about a Shepard Fairey/Dr. Dre set at the Delano (unlike the Sex Pistols, this one turned out to be true), but it seemed as though the best fun was Deitch Projects, Art Production Fund, and Campari’s postprandial concert at the Raleigh Hotel—Miami’s version of the kunsthalle bar—this year featuring a performance by the unquantifiable and charismatic Santigold. Solange Knowles and designer Jeremy Scott got sweaty near the stage; by the end of the set, even collector Eli Broad, at his usual table up front, was on his feet, hands raised. “This year, I’ve been to silly parties and respectable ones,” said (Sir) Norman Rosenthal. “But this is Renoir in Miami.” Bal du Raleigh?
Left: Dealers Andrew Richards and Marian Goodman. Right: Solange Knowles and designer Jeremy Scott.