LAST TUESDAY NIGHT, after three disgruntling years in its grim white tower on the Bowery, the New Museum finally came up with a winner: “George Condo: Mental States.” Gone were the ragged installations and pallid provocations of its recent past. Gone was the fluorescent morgue lighting and repellent white cube. Here was warmth and splendor, gentility and genius—and unbridled pleasure in (gasp!) painting.
The once forbidding south wall of the fourth floor, now a velvety gray, supported fifty variously sized examples of Condo’s scabrous Pop-Surrealist twists on old-master and modern figuration. They looked magnificent in their salon-style hanging under soft, warming spotlights. And the attending crowd had just enough stardust to give the opening a fleeting boost on the blogosphere’s fickle celebrity meter.
Kanye West probably had to show, following his collaboration with Condo on the cover of his new album. Sporting gold chains, gold rings, and gold teeth, the rapper looked made to order for the paparazzi when he posed with Condo before a display of the artist’s golden bronze busts. “Gold is good!” West avowed, before walking through the show with his entourage, while Marc Jacobs, Mary-Kate Olsen, and Adam Kimmel had to parse it out on their own.
But none of them turned as many heads as the elderly gentleman in a pin-striped suit and fedora picking his way across the room on the arm of Tony Shafrazi. “Who is that man in the hat?” asked Gavin Brown. Massimiliano Gioni wondered the same, as did several others. “That’s Malcolm Morley,” I said. “Oh wow, Malcolm Morley!” was the awed response each time. Clearly enjoying the ruckus he was raising, Morley let himself be surrounded by admirers, while Condo received guests beside his longtime German dealers Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers. “We had our first show with George in 1984,” said a beaming Sprüth. Nowhere to be seen were Lawrence Luhring and Roland Augustine, who had been Condo’s American dealers before he signed up with Per Skarstedt last year.
I asked Condo whether it had been his idea to repudiate the tired white cube, whose eradication from contemporary art cannot come soon enough. “That was completely Ralph Rugoff,” he said. (Rugoff organized the show for the Hayward Gallery, where “Mental States” will open during Frieze week next fall.) “It’s worked out well,” agreed Laura Hoptman, who brought the show to the New Museum, her last before her recent return to MoMA.
The Julian Schnabel family, including one ex-wife, one girlfriend, and at least three grown children, fanned across the room as if to conquer it. John Currin arrived absent his wife, Rachel Feinstein, who was, he said, at Lever House in her hazmat suit installing The Snow Queen, a massive exhibition of baroque statuary, larger-than-life wooden soldiers, and painted mirrors that attracted much of the Condo cohort, including Condo, to its opening a mere forty-eight hours later, on Thursday night.
At the Lever House opening, there were the Schnabels again (minus Julian); there was Jacobs with his “good friend” and ex, Lorenzo Martone; there were Calvin Tomkins and Dodie Kazanjian, whose flattering profiles of Condo and Feinstein (in the New Yorker and Vogue, respectively) gave them a certain claim to face time with the artists.
And there were plenty of others from the Currin-Feinstein firmament to populate the scene: Sean and Michelle Landers; Lisa Yuskavage and Matvey Levenstein; Sarah Morris and Liam Gillick; Tony Oursler and Jacqueline Humphries; Sarah Sze and her doctor-author husband, Siddhartha Mukherjee. From the film world came Sofia Coppola and Bob Shaye. Feinstein’s parents and sister easily moved among them all, hobnobbing with Aby Rosen and Samantha Boardman; Lever House curator Richard Marshall; and novelist Francine Prose, whose book Goldengrove Coppola is adapting for the screen. Feinstein cleverly balanced her duties as a mother with her obligations to her art by making one resin maid with two of her three children. “Francis and Holly made the birds,” Currin said proudly of the pigeons on the figure’s colorful head.
Rosen, who owns Lever House, now also owns every piece in the show with Tico Mugrabi. The exhibition’s emphasis on decor radically departs from previous lobby fare served up by the likes of Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, and Tom Sachs. “We like different!” Rosen said, before leading the way to the casual, finger-food dinner next door at the Warhol-bedecked Casa Lever.
The fairy-tale character of the evening contrasted sharply with the eeriness of the Pierre Huyghe show that opened on Friday at Marian Goodman. A feature-length film, The Host and the Cloud, made in part in a deserted Parisian folk art museum, mystified many of those watching at one end of the darkened gallery. Staff members whose heads the artist outfitted with lighting fixtures illuminated the path to the other end, where small and utterly transfixing sea creatures slowly moved through the rocky regions of three aquariums, each of which Huyghe had given a different monochrome palette—terra-cotta pink, cobalt blue, dusty gray—and a different set of otherworldly organisms that had never seen either the light of day or dry land.
Left: Filmmakers Rainer Judd and Sofia Coppola. Right: Dealer Marian Goodman with art historian Linda Nochlin.
In the blue tank, what appeared to be heavy rocks floated improbably on the surface of the water while tiny luminescent fish huddled in tight formation below. A reddish slug with a long tail and a tiny head oozed up the side of the terra-cotta tank. Most hypnotizing was the gray tank, where a spiky black weirdo climbed up one spongelike rock as a feathery white creature with no discernible body flailed at the bottom and two other indescribables tangled in the back. “What am I looking at?” I asked Huyghe. “It’s a performance,” he said. “Last year performance art was everywhere. This is my contribution to the genre.”
The surreality of the evening continued downtown at the deliberately tacky Westway, a former strip club on the West Side Highway that Matt Kliegman and Carlos Quirarte—proprietors of insiders’ NoHo boîte the Smile—are turning into . . . a strip club, but for hipsters of both sexes. Ten- and twenty-foot poles for dancers (not present) begged for action while inexperienced staff offered cold crab cakes and skewered chicken to guests including artist Steve McQueen, Whitney Museum chief curator Donna De Salvo, MoMA film department curator Josh Siegel, critic Dennis Lim, and Participant’s founder Lia Gangitano. She was with a young man who had just nailed a job as a stripper and was eager to start training on the poles.
This was a far cry from the old-school ambiance of the three-person show opening Saturday night at Sikkema Jenkins. Andrea Blum held court in the project room, where fellow artists such as David Humphrey, Kelley Walker, Wade Guyton, Allan McCollum, Rochelle Feinstein, and Seton Smith were studying a variety of computer-generated images derived from Blum’s “rainbow house,” a hilltop cabin with tinted windows that she has designed for a pair of Italian collectors. “I was thinking what it might be like to look at life from the inside of a rainbow,” she said. In today’s art world, it seems, there is no other way.
Left: Curator Cecilia Alemani, artist Aďda Ruilova, and New Museum associate director Massimiliano Gioni. Right: Artist Pierre Huyghe.
ENCOUNTERING THE SWANKY CROWD gathered at the red-carpeted VIP entrance last Thursday at Pragati Maidan, I guessed that this year’s India Art Summit was going to be an intimidating event. I was wrong. In fact, the building’s severe Soviet-style architecture formed a counterpoint to the hedonist revelry within. Alcohol flowed freely (quite literally: Cocktails were on the house), and celebrities appeared high on art—or each other. Theorist Homi K. Bhabha paraded around with his pal Anish Kapoor, who rubbed sharp-suited shoulders with superstar Indian artists: Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Vivan Sundaram, and Gigi Scaria (whose work will show up in India’s pavilion at the next Venice Biennale). The omnipresent Hans Ulrich Obrist dashed about (presumably in preparation for the KHOJ Marathon he was hosting on day two). Sheena Wagstaff of Tate Modern fraternized with art historian Geeta Kapur (diligently wielding her walking stick). Every once in a while, someone bumped into the armed security guards “protecting” M. F. Husain’s controversial paintings.
Undoubtedly, the summit’s third edition appealed to a wider range of international bigwigs than its previous iterations. Or, as the press release put it: “Visitors from seventeen cities in India and sixty-seven cities around the world” turned up. Speculations that India and China are going to be the next “superpowers” were aired regularly. “We feel there is huge potential here,” confided Nadine Knotzer of Dubai’s Carbon 12. By and large, the quality of artworks was better this year too. Bangalore-based Gallery SKE’s booth was a favorite: Here, Sheela Gowda’s work, consisting of cascades of plaited hair, shared the limelight with Sudarshan Shetty, who lounged on a smooth wooden bench—i.e., his artwork. A silver sign on the seat read GOD ENVIES MY MORTALITY. Indeed.
Left: Michelle D'Souza of Lisson Gallery. Right: Yamini Mehta, Christie's head of Indian modern and contemporary art, with dealer Mortimer Chatterjee.
Speaking of Supreme Beings, rumor had it that the father of postcolonial theory, Bhabha, lingered especially long over Ranbir Kaleka’s painting-cum-video installations. (Perhaps, he was pondering their “in-between-ness”?). Nearby, artists Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra played it safe. This mischievous duo, better known as T&T, set up a billiard table with two balls––a pink one that stood for one’s sexual partner and a white one that symbolized condoms. If participants got either ball into a hole, they received a gift: boxer shorts printed with images of condoms. Elsewhere, artworks seemed to be flying off their perches as rapidly as T&T’s billiard balls were ricocheting around the table. Dealer Mortimer Chatterjee couldn’t have been happier: “The Indian art scene has come of age,” he bubbled, having sold all his wares.
In her official postfair statement, the summit’s director, Neha Kirpal, announced that there “were literally hundreds of first-time buyers” and “many of the most expensive works . . . went to international private collectors.” Yet not everyone was raking in the chips. New York’s Thomas Erben, who participated last year, confessed to playing the waiting game: “I have heard from colleagues that in the Indian market only Indian or India-related material sells. This still seems to be the case.” Such dampeners notwithstanding, there was general jubilation that at least Indian collectors were buying.
If some galleries decided not to participate at the summit, they benefited from its presence in the city anyway. This was certainly the case for Talwar Gallery’s solo exhibition of Ranjani Shettar’s dreamy gold-and-blue installations. In Lagoon, azure- and pistachio-hued beads dangled from the ceiling. Resembling bunches of glossy fruit in deep, dark forests, the work provided a restful respite from the fair’s bustle. “There’s so much energy around the summit that it’s spilling over into satellite events,” observed Radhika Chopra, director of the nonprofit Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art. The most glittering of these “spillovers” was the Škoda Art Prize 2011. Its launch at the Taj Palace Hotel was (arguably) more glamorous than the summit’s opening. Modeled along the lines of Tate Britain’s Turner Prize, the award was given to Delhi-based Mithu Sen, to the jubilation of the artist and the distress of some critics who felt that Kiran Subbaiah should have bagged it instead. Luckily, we could drown our sorrows with champagne cocktails as we pondered Sen’s audio-visual display, which featured (among other treats) pink drawings of naked men coupling and defecating next to white flowers.
The summit’s self-congratulatory mood was tempered with debates about lacunae in India’s infrastructure––most of the fair’s panel discussions addressed this concern. Such talks are timely given the plans afoot for a new museum in Delhi (which The Guardian has already dubbed “Delhi’s Tate”) as well as the state of that city’s government-run National Gallery of Modern Art. The latter is hosting Anish Kapoor’s first retrospective in India in its new wing. Given that the Exhibition Hall’s gleaming black-tiled floor (that could belong to a classy bathroom) drags attention away from Kapoor’s works, even a sympathetic observer would have to admit that the show has not exactly boosted the NGMA’s reputation.
Anupam Poddar’s closing party at his private museum––aka the Devi Art Foundation––compounded the impression that different versions of India are currently jostling against one another. Here, pink martinis battled with the flavor of juicy, orange-spiraled jelabis; a shadow puppet show from Andhra Pradesh, reenacting the Ramayana (think Hanuman, the monkey god, stamping on blue-black demons), competed with the seductive strains of Bollywood hits wafting from the dance floor. “What is, like, authentic?” muttered a perplexed visiting journalist in the wee hours.
Left: Artist Jiten Thukral playing his game. Right: Dealer Abhay Maskara.
In front of Pierre Huyghe's Untitled, 2010, at Marian Goodman at the VIP Art Fair.
EVERYONE WAS AT THE VERNISSAGE for the VIP Art Fair last Saturday morning. Or so you would think, given the not-so-VIP wait times. Even those with a special VIP pass found it awfully hard to load the online-only fair’s login page for the first few hours. “there is a ‘we are so loved that its slow’ note at VIP site. not great,” VIP dealer Magda Sawon Twittered that afternoon.
But once you were in, everyone was there. Or so I imagine. Anyway, there were certainly a lot of galleries represented, and really prize ones, too: Zwirner, Gladstone, Presenhuber, Miro, and a bunch of others that I would list, except that the site is now “applying a series of upgrades,” “in order to improve performance,” and so is thus temporarily unavailable for a cross-check.
When it’s all working properly, it’s intriguing to navigate. An everyman avatar—in this case a shady-looking, slouchily dressed silhouette—stands “near” each piece of art so you can see the scale. He glides eerily from work to work, shrinking and expanding accordingly. Even for non-collectors, the viewable price ranges make for an interesting feature: Who knew photographs from Cindy Sherman’s most recent creepy collector-lady series were running $250,000–$500,000 (at L&M Arts), the same range as a vintage Sam Francis gouache on paper? Or that one could pick up a “live marine ecosystem” put together by Pierre Huyghe for €100,000–€250,000 at Marian Goodman? (An online video “trailer” for the untitled fish tank made salient the strangeness of the whole endeavor.)
Of course, it wouldn’t be an art fair without some kind of party, and last Thursday the VIP organizers threw one at the Eventi hotel in New York, a site chosen, I’m hoping, because the bar downstairs was designed by the guy who did visual styling for Blade Runner and Tron. There were the requisite free drinks and a smattering of iMac stations where one could test-drive the fair. Riffs on the acronym (which officially stands for “Viewing in Private”) abounded. “The only thing better than Viewing in Private is Drinking in Private,” a friend whispered as she set out the door, presumably with the intention of doing the latter. After a short speech celebrating the kickoff, VIP Art Fair cofounder James Cohan left us with the tidbit, “So whether it’s Viewing in Pajamas or Viewing in Prada, we look forward to hearing what ‘VIP’ means to you.”
In front of Cindy Sherman's Untitled, 2008, at L&M Arts at the VIP Art Fair.
Which of course begs the question: Who cares what you wear to this thing?
You don’t have to wear anything.
You don’t have to pack.
You won’t have to think about what you might be able to get past security. You won’t need to renew your passport. You won’t have to buy a guidebook or rehearse the basics of a new language. You won’t have to rent a car or negotiate strange transportation systems. You won’t have to put yourself at the mercy of erratic algorithms to get the best price for a flight. You won’t have to go to the airport.
You won’t have to see any crummy exhibitions just because you’re stuck in town and have nothing better to do. You won’t get sore feet. You won’t have to get a skanky hotel room (or a nice one). You won’t catch the flu. You won’t need to scan a party to see if there’s anyone to avoid. You won’t see anyone you like, either. You won’t end up doing strange, arguably regrettable things after midnight on a beach or in an abandoned monastery near other people doing the same arguably regrettable things. You won’t have to wait in line for a bathroom while two or three or four people are stuck in there doing God knows what.
You don’t need a tan—nor will you get one. You won’t meet anyone cute. You won’t get any free tote bags or Art Production Fund towels or any other useful swag. You won’t see any Art Fair Art. You won’t get drunk on somebody else’s dime or have the chance to reflect on the differences between makes of champagne (or vodka or gin or rum). You won’t see Eva and Adele. Or Beyoncé and Jay-Z. You won’t hear any cool bands and you won’t see any tired performances. You won’t see any inspired ones either.
You won’t stay up late fraternizing with foreigners and get up early to fraternize with even more. You won’t have to hear about it. You won’t be stuck for too long in some godforsaken city or for too short a time in a city you love. You won’t have to return to piles of catch-up e-mails. You won’t have enviable experiences with new writers, curators, dealers, strangers. You won’t see nor furtively dance near (!) any celebrities. You won’t have adventures. You won’t have to be concerned about liking the food. You won’t attend any boring dinners. You won’t have to worry about whether or not you’re on the list. You won’t have to hunt for the afterparty or the after-afterparty. You won’t arrive at an event and wonder if you’re missing something elsewhere and you won’t get somewhere and know precisely that this is it.
No one will take your picture.
EVERYONE KNOWS THAT FLORENCE is a venerable has-been, renowned for its icons of Western art history and top designer shops. So it was fitting that the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi chose the city to celebrate the centennial of its fashion house and to showcase its contemporary art program through the exhibition “8 1/2,” the number of years it has been producing site-specific shows in various evocative Milanese spaces.
The occasion was the men’s fashion trade show Pitti Immagine Uomo, which has produced art exhibitions since 1999. The opening-night crowd, an esoteric cross section of art and fashion, was dwarfed by the large-scale installations in the cavernous Stazione Leopolda, a former nineteenth-century train station. Fondazione Pitti Discovery’s fashion curator Maria Luisa Frisa chatted with artist Sissi, who sported a pom-pom hat and a woven silver-and-gold clutch resembling one of her sculptures. Florence’s thirty-five-year-old mayor, Matteo Renzi, and his culture deputy, Giuliano da Empoli, were out and about; Suzy Menkes was spotted rushing out to the Alberta Ferretti catwalk at the Santo Stefano al Ponte church. The Trussardi exhibition presents a selection of works drawn from the thirteen shows produced so far by the foundation in sundry, usually closed palazzi, curated by artistic director Massimiliano Gioni. Just inside the door were the tilted car and trailer of Elmgreen & Dragset’s Short Cut, overshadowed from behind by Paweł Althamer’s giant, nude, self-portrait blow-up doll—a carnivalesque premonition of the glory that was in store that week: naked men, scantily clad men, and men in leather.
Left: Dealer Massimo De Carlo and critic Alessandra Mammi. Right: Arist Paweł Althamer and Julia Matea.
In front of Urs Fischer’s toasted House of Bread, the artist’s operations manager, Angela Kunicky, and architect Peter Marangoni engaged in a tongue-in-cheek comparison of Damien Hirst’s diamond-studded skull, For the Love of God, and Michelangelo’s David: A copy of the latter stands guard in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, where the former is being shown. “You can’t compare them as works of art,” Kunicky insisted. “Think about the sculpture’s physique and gestures.” Peter replied, “What about the teeth?” I soon left for the other end of the station, a space called Alcatraz, where L’Uomo Vogue was having a party in honor of the 125th birthday of Italian shoemaker Pantofola d’Oro. The main event was a match made in heaven: A bevy of muscle-toned wrestlers in tight shorts were tussling on the stage set of an old-style gym.
The Trussardi dinner, haute cuisine created by Il Ristorante Trussardi alla Scala chef Andrea Berton, was served on the other side of a black curtain. Gioni stood up to toast Beatrice Trussardi, the brilliant young beauty who heads the Trussardi Group as president and CEO, adding that he and curator Cecilia Alemani had just been married at New York’s City Hall. I jumped in a taxi and headed down the Arno to join the fashion crowd at Club Cavalli, owned by the Florentine designer Roberto, where if you wore an animal print you risked looking like the furniture—as a few Italian women, propped on stilettos, did. It was like a journey back in time to the 1980s, with a pastiche of retro styles from the Gothic arches to the sinuous mirrored balcony. “It is meant to be ironic,” show designer Julie Lombardi explained, looking around. “Or maybe not.”
Left: Maria Luisa Trussardi. Right: Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo with curator Francesco Bonami and Paola Manfrin.
The next day I paid a visit to Hirst’s precious memento mori at the Palazzo Vecchio, where it is sequestered in a pitch-black room next to the former study of Francesco I de’ Medici. Five guards stood about the lavishly decorated room, a precious jewel box itself, designed by Giorgio Vasari; the exhibit, organized amid controversy by Florentine Francesco Bonami, has been insured for about $100 million. For my money, the gem-encrusted $2 million Victoria’s Secret bra recently displayed on model Adriana Lima is stiff competition—and an awesome memento vivere. Just across the Ponte Vecchio, I paid homage to other anatomical examples at the eighteenth-century Specola, Europe’s first scientific museum, which would have been the ideal showcase for Hirst’s masterwork if not for the necessary security measures: There were not only livestock cross sections and sharks floating in glass cases but wax human figures ŕ la Maurizio Cattelan and a harrowing diorama of the plague in the manner of Jake and Dinos Chapman. After a tour of the thirty-four rooms, death was palpable to this living mind.
The Trussardi menswear runway event that evening at the former train station offered some compelling anatomy too. An endless stream of beautiful men were all adorned in skins—every piece was made of leather, including refined V-neck tees and shiny lightweight trenches, harking back to the company’s beginning as a glove maker. Looking serious in spite of her signature topknot, überfashionista Menkes sat in the front row across the catwalk from the Trussardi family. Everyone clapped as the sleek greyhound, the company’s mascot, loped with the model down the runway, and Menkes snapped a picture. We all adjourned to the exhibition hall, where I caught Gioni and Alemani watching the male guard stripping as part of Tino Sehgal’s Selling Out. In the next room was Cattelan’s We, two self-portrait dummies in bed together. I mentioned to Gioni the theory that he and Cattelan were alter egos. He replied thoughtfully, “These days I am only wrestling with myself.”
“THERE IS A STRANGE DISQUIET,” wrote Dennis Cooper in Mike Kelley’s 1993 catalogue Catholic Tastes, “in looking too long and hard at the face of a druggie. The same goes for the artist, the criminal, the genius.” After Kelley’s opening last week at Gagosian Beverly Hills, I am inclined to add to Cooper’s list the wholesome harem girl, the dour gnome, and Colonel Sanders. There was little that could disquiet the enthusiastic horde that turned out for the event, however, as the faces of Kelley’s latest archetypes, which populate the installations Kandor 10/Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #34 and Kandor 12/Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #35, embodied Cooper’s conceit: “They no more convey their subjects’ complicated ideas than the stained-glass windows in a chapel tell parishioners what god is supposedly intending.”
Kelley’s intentions, on the other hand, may have been clearer: to seamlessly conflate the complexities of two longtime bodies of work, the “Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction” series (the basis of his celebrated Day Is Done) and the “Kandor” series (a boundless picturing and repicturing of Superman’s hometown). The show is as irresistible as it is tricky. “Is that vacuum part of the work?” asked one attendee, and then, “Is that a Kaari Upson grotto?” The hulking mass of faux rock housed a tiny cityscape trapped in a bottle (surrounded by what looked like piles of dirty undies) and played off the bubble-gum colors of an adjacent Laugh-In-like stage flat.
Slipping from the grooviness of the main gallery into the witchiness of Gogo’s “Main Gallery South,” I spotted a rakish set of archetypes lurking in the shadows: the Pope of Trash (John Waters), the anti–It Girl (Chloë Sevigny), and more than one Hollywood heiress (China Chow; Liz Goldwyn) smirked and sulked among icy little bergs glowing atop pedestals. Perhaps the nearby art was making them thirsty as well; Mexican Blind Cave Worm—a soft sculpture wound around twenty-four packs of Corona—offered the only libations in sight.
Eventually someone whispered to me, “We’re going to the roof.” I followed artist Davida Nemeroff—whose plucky East LA Night Gallery may well be the antithesis of the Gagosian enterprise—past a bouncer, down a corridor, and into an elevator. And if proof was needed we were headed the right direction, it was provided by the company of one Mr. Waters; shoulder to shoulder with the luminary (and stopping on nearly every floor), I had ample time to proffer some chatty questions, which Waters craftily turned toward his latest book, Role Models.
Then—ding!—we arrived at the rooftop. Avoiding the voracious crowds below, Kelley celebrated topside with a close-knit group of friends, curators, collectors, assistants, and collaborators such as Scott Benzel (who coproduced Kelley’s videos), Gagosian’s Allyson Spellacy, artist Julian Hoeber, and photographer Fredrik Nilsen, most of whom fled the deck as a light LA rain crept over Beverly Hills.
I too set off—for the West Hollywood restaurant Jar, which had been turned over to Gagosian for Kelley and 160 of his nearest and dearest including artists Marnie Weber and Jim Shaw, Paul and Karen McCarthy (with whom I shared a table and a fittingly oversize saucer of creamed corn), Ed Ruscha, and Trulee Hall; museum directors Ann Goldstein and Michael Govan; West of Rome’s Emi Fontana; and collectors Eugenio López and Eli Broad. As the meal commenced, Kelley stood to offer a long list of acknowledgments, not least of which was Mr. Gagosian, who later remarked to the gathering of locals, “I can’t believe people in LA are still up. What is it, like 9:30?”
With the hour edging close to bedtime (shortly after the second of five courses), the restaurant thinned out, leaving the real in-crowd behind for cookies and mini–banana cream pies. As I made my own way toward the exit, the elated artist swung around and planted a big wet kiss on my cheek. Yes, I blushed . . . with only my own Catholic tastes to blame.
Left: Miguel Gutierrez in Heavens What Have I Done at Abrons Arts Center. (Photo: Ian Douglas) Right: Belarus Free Theater's Being Harold Pinter at the Public.
ANYONE WHO THINKS there’s nothing to buy or sell in the performing arts has never been to APAP. The annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference in New York, which this year fell from January 7 to 11, features over one thousand showings by more than five hundred artists, all hoping to get their “product” picked up. And this isn’t even counting the increasingly ambitious (overstuffed?) festivals that have coalesced around APAP like asteroid fields sucked into the Death Star’s gravitational pull. It’s like the city becomes one giant performance mall.
“It’s a marketplace—let’s not kid ourselves,” said the choreographer Miguel Gutierrez, during a Saturday morning panel at Performance Space 122 on international touring, collaboration, and commissioning. Gutierrez’s rich, sprawling solo Heavens What Have I Done was part of Ben Pryor’s American Realness, a concurrent festival designed with adventuresome shoppers in mind. “If you’re an artist, you have pieces you apply to grants with—the official pieces,” Gutierrez said later that day, during a performance of Heavens at Abrons Arts Center. “This is not one of those pieces.”
But it is a strong piece, and it proved strong enough to leave an imprint in the hazy APAP torrent of shows, parties, panels, and networking sessions, most of which necessitated at least some consumption of alcohol, punctuated by mad crosstown/downtown/interborough dashes. What a thing of beauty and cockeyed optimism is the hypothetical schedule of conference attendees, few of whom will make it to all or even most of what they plan to see; the Walker Art Center’s Philip Bither had a particularly lovely color-coded chart, which looked almost doable were Bither able to bilocate. Such is the stress of trying to take in everything you’re supposed to see that it’s actually a relief when the inevitable visa screw-ups delay foreign artists’ debuts. (This year it also looked like the Belarus Free Theater artists weren’t going to make it out of their country—and then they did, and nobody could get into their sold-out show in Mark Russell’s Under the Radar theater festival at the Public. Same old APAP story.)
Brian Rogers's Selective Memory at PS 122. (Photo: Paula Court)
“It feels like I’m playing human Tetris,” said Laura Nicoll, who was enduring her first APAP as the marketing manager of Performance Space 122, whose eleven-day interdisciplinary COIL festival ran through the 15th. She and a few colleagues were catching an early dinner at V Bar on Saint Marks, in between the opening COIL show and the opening Under the Radar toast.
“You’re going to hit a cone of exhaustion that will help you,” assured Brian Rogers, an APAP veteran who, as artistic director of the Chocolate Factory in Long Island City and a participating artist in COIL, was doing double duty. “It’s like getting so drunk that you’re sober.”
I could relate by 10:30 PM Saturday, when I staggered back into Abrons, having zoomed over to the Baryshnikov Arts Center to catch a performance by Wally Cardona. Abrons was my last official stop of the night, where I would catch my sixth show of the day, and I had long since passed through the other side of my cone of exhaustion.
But then Ann Liv Young’s Mermaid Solo began: All of a sudden I knew exactly where I was.
Ann Liv Young in Mermaid Solo at Abrons Arts Center. (Photo: Christy Pessagno)
There’s nothing like the fear of being hit with flying chunks of raw Spanish mackerel to situate you in a specific time and place. This is especially true if those chunks are being ripped out of the whole (reeking) fish by a bare-breasted, reptile contact lens–adorned woman, as she heaves her rubber fishtail–encased body around a kiddie pool, wreaking further havoc with her giant fin. Live art: There’s nothing like it.
And there’s nothing quite like Young. She was lying calmly in her pool when we entered, but it still took one of her handlers informing us that the show wouldn’t start until everyone left their seats and surrounded her onstage (ominously covered in plastic) to get most people anywhere near her. As one woman said none-too-quietly to her companion, “No way am I moving down to that tub.”
A few people did come to grief with the mackerel. But Young endured the most injury and insult, piercing her lip on a bone and getting her ankles wrenched around inside her unwieldy mermaid costume. Everything that could go wrong did, from microphone malfunctions to what appeared to be Young’s allergic reaction to the fish. And Young let it all hang out, completely in control of being out of control. Is there any performer doing more interesting work with the art of failure right now?
“Just seeing her oil herself out of her fish costume for five minutes was pretty rad,” said Keith Hennessy, whose gorgeously smart Bessie Award–winning solo Crotch (All the Joseph Beuys References in the World Could Not Heal the Pain, Confusion, Regret, Cruelty, Betrayal or Trauma . . . ) was also part of American Realness. He sat along one wall during Young’s show, nodding along in fascination. Nearby sat a seemingly equally engaged Lane Czaplinski, the artistic director of Seattle’s On the Boards theater, and the choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones, whose Them, a powerfully disturbing take on the relationships of young gay men, had been performed earlier that day in the same space.
“I’d do ’em in the same weekend, just for the stench problem,” said Czaplinski, referring to the equally pungent dead goat that makes a key appearance in Them. Dazed audience members milled around in the wake of Young’s exit, and Czaplinski grinned broadly: another happy APAP customer.
EVERY ART SEASON in New York gets off to a slow start. We know this. But the new year’s openings last weekend were more subdued than usual. Perhaps it was the arctic chill in the air, the icy slush underfoot, the heavy boots that slowed movement, and the ear-muffling hats that made people seem distant. Numbers turned out, but even the cool and the quick disappeared under layers of quilting and fake fur. The streets of Chelsea seemed barren. “Even though it’s cold, I’m surprised there aren’t more people out,” said White Columns director Matthew Higgs. Perhaps the new guard was hibernating. Which made this a good time for gathering wool and news, like the item about Clarissa Dalrymple’s appearance in the current French Vogue posing for Tom Ford in the buff.
At Luhring Augustine on Thursday night, I also learned that the man who gave a name to the blank Generation spent the Christmas break rediscovering the printed word. “Like other people, I’ve been reading newspapers online,” said a rosy-cheeked Richard Hell. “But then I bought the Sunday Times,” he said, “and reading it off the page was a revelation.”
Hell was there with Christopher Wool, who was in the group show “Untitled (Painting),” as was Wool’s wife, Charline von Heyl. Their friend Larry Clark was screening Tulsa, a silent black-and-white film he had made in 1968 of the gang in his seminal photo book of the same name and had never before made public in America. A housecleaning turned it up and curiosity made him look at it. “It’s all there, he said. “My whole thing, come to life.”
Friday night brought a new snow flurry and a new crowd of refugees from the cold to openings at David Zwirner for Christopher Williams and the early years (1970–74) of 112 Greene Street, the pioneering, grab-bag art space in SoHo where anyone could bring an artwork at almost any time. (The gallery later moved and became White Columns.) One of the original artists was Gordon Matta-Clark, and most of the show at Zwirner features (barely) surviving examples of work he put there. It also has token sculptures, films, and drawings by a few others, such as Jene Highstein, Tina Girouard, and Richard Nonas, whose diagonal stretch of wooded blocks many present took for a Carl Andre. The one that tripped everyone (literally), though, was a bundle of fresh carrots on the floor by Larry Miller.
In attendance was Ned Smyth, who has organized another 112 Greene show opening this week at Salomon Contemporary featuring artists who didn’t make the cut at Zwirner, such as George Trakas, Jackie Winsor, and, well, Smyth. Nowhere in evidence was there anything by Jeffrey Lew, who started and oversaw operations at 112 Greene. One veteran of the period, but also not in the show, called it “the Google version of art history” for its abbreviated outline of the story, while the gallery itself, with its spotless white walls and pristine floor, sanitized what was left of it.
More history was waiting at Friedrich Petzel, where John Stezaker was on hand with beautiful silk screens (in color) and collages of found publicity photos, dating from 1979–83 and 1992, all made during residencies in New York. Leave it to a new year to resuscitate old work! Stezaker, who is roughly the same age as those in the 112 Greene show, is on a roll. “Thanks to this man,” he said, indicating Jake Miller, his dealer in London. Since the appearance of his collages in New York—at White Columns—four years ago, Stezaker’s work has been in demand here too. Later this month, he’ll get his first major retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery, and he was clearly relishing the prospect.
Next door, Seth Price was showing a number of videos on small monitors mounted to the walls between partitions. It was pretty dark in there, though I did make out Jordan Wolfson, Sean and Michelle Landers, and Sylvia Kouvali and Alex Logsdail, the last two vacationing in our frigid town. The natty Peter McGough was holding court, meanwhile, at Cheim & Read, where he and David McDermott were showing fresh carbon-print photographs, still lifes, and portraits of ’40s-style models. Who does carbon printing anymore? It’s painstaking and expensive. “There’s only one guy, in California,” McGough said. “But we got him!”
Among the guests who came for dinner at John Cheim’s art-appointed loft were Louise Fishman, curator Philip Larratt-Smith (who is organizing the first Louise Bourgeois retrospective to detail her involvement in psychoanalysis), and Jean-Louis Bourgeois, the artist’s son, who wore a large hat and made a conversation-halting entrance when he was carried in on the arms of two handlers, a bright red corded telephone receiver, sans phone, pressed to his ear as he talked to the air. An expert in African architecture who lives in Mali, he turned out to be quite a jokester. “Call for you!” he said to McGough, pointing to the handset. “Better answer it.”
But it was the call of art, from Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, that brought intrepid Manhattanites such as Philippe Vergne, Anne Pasternak, Ann Tenenbaum, RoseLee Goldberg, and Glenn O’Brien, as well as Brooklynite Paul Auster, to Long Island City on Saturday afternoon, where Jon Kessler, whom Salon 94 represents now that Jeffrey Deitch has flown the coop, was showing his wacky kinetic sculptures from the ’80s and ’90s at the Fisher Landau Center. “John was really one of the first to use computers to generate art,” Rohatyn said, though Kessler put together most of the works in this show by hand. “There’s an awful lot of fabrication here,” Walter Robinson commented. “I know!” Kessler replied. “That’s what I do, man!”
Saturday night the doings heated up, with openings for Martin Boyce (Tanya Bonakdar); Christian Philipp Müller and Fia Backström (Murray Guy); Michelle Stuart (Tonkonow and Salomon); Sam Samore (D’Amelio Terras); Joe Zucker (Mary Boone); Ann Craven (Maccarone); and both Joe Bradley and, working together, Nate Lowman and Rob Pruitt (at Gavin Brown), among others. Stuart’s show, highlighting work from the ’70s, is a quiet standout. Samore, who somehow lives simultaneously in New York, Paris, and Bangkok (“the most fascinating city I’ve ever seen,” he said), talked about his first job, writing news for a San Francisco television program called Happy Talk. “It’s from T. S. Eliot,” he said, which was news to me. I thought it was from Oscar Hammerstein.
Zucker’s subtle new paintings of ships and volcanoes on scored Sheetrock divided into quarter-inch squares look like pastel mosaics, tapestries, and geometric abstractions all at once. Each required thirty-two thousand methodical strokes of the brush and six months’ labor. “I was an inch shorter after I painted them,” Zucker said, stretching, though he appeared none the worse for wear. Most of the energy of the evening was, as usual, at Maccarone and Brown, which drew the largest crowd. But of course it has the biggest space. Bradley’s expressionist new paintings are a world away from his previous hard-edged architectural abstractions, while “Bedbugs,” the Pruitt/Lowman collaborations, seemed to come out of nowhere. “So many people have been obsessed with bedbugs, we thought we’d, you know, address them,” Lowman said. They did so with paintings of the ugly things, jerry-built constructions, and a white shag rug they found on the street.
Not long ago Pruitt had an enormous show that took up all of the Brown gallery and Maccarone as well. In a few months, Lowman will be doing the same. “So there’s that link too,” he said, though at about the same time Pruitt, who pulled off his annual art awards extravaganza only last month, will erect a ten-foot-tall monument to Andy Warhol in Union Square, commissioned by the Public Art Fund. “I don’t know,” he said when fund director Nicholas Baume commented on the breadth of his recent production. “Do you think I’m overexposed?”
Left: Artist Rob Pruitt. Right: MoMA curator Christian Rattemeyer and MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey.
DOHA, THE ISOLATED CAPITAL OF QATAR, is more a half-city than a city. Only partly built up. With a resort here and a luxury hotel there and long stretches of sand in between, the Persian Gulf lapping at its eastern side. I was there for the opening of the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, having landed a couple weeks or so after Qatar won the bid for the World Cup in 2022—an event that will quite literally make Doha. Over the next decade the workers will be brought in, the plots of land divided and subdivided, and this place at the end of the desert will materialize.
The people were visibly excited. Banners hung in the streets with a photograph from the announcement ceremony. Sheikh Hamad, who in 1995 overthrew his father as emir of Qatar in a bloodless coup, while his father was out of town, was seen raising high the symbolic copy of the trophy, his image whipping in the wind that blew up the sand. A variation showed Sheikha Mozah, self-consciously glamorous in a Western way and the only one of the three wives who appears in photographs, holding the golden object with the emir. This version was printed full-page on the back of The Peninsula.
In brushy black and white sheikh and sheikha appeared side by side again in the white lobby of the Mathaf. They were paintings by Yan Pei-ming. And for a while at the opening party for the museum, these portraits were seen only through the glass front of the building—a renovated school far out in a neighborhood called, in the new Gulf style of urban planning, Education City—the doors remaining closed.
Left: Curator Nada Shabout and designer Miuccia Prada. Right: Yassin Alsalman (aka the Narcicyst).
Guests stood around on the carpeted concrete, chilly, speculating as to whether the party would be a strictly outside affair despite the sandstorm. It wasn’t until the portrait subjects themselves arrived that the idea became clear: They would be the first to enter. They made their way up to the building, the sheikha in hijab—no sign of the Chanel icicle-heel boots she was recently photographed wearing in London—the guests following them but held back at the door by the guards. Time passed as a private tour was given. Outside Jeff Koons was poking around, seeming cheerful. On a stage below there were music and poetry performances that no one really listened to, a program led by, as if to proclaim Qatar’s allegiance to modernity, somebody named the Narcicyst.
Eventually, the volume was kicked up and the doors swung open. “Hubris,” rapped the Narcicyst, “Using my illusions. All—a—bout—the—mu—sic.” Buffered by an entourage that included, oddly or not, Miuccia Prada, the sheikh and sheikha exited the building and proceeded through the freshly parted crowd to an awaiting black car.
“Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art,” the inaugural exhibition, is less a show than a showing of the museum’s collection, which spans the Arab world and the past century and a half through six thousand works acquired by Sheikh Hassan, cousin of the emir. The 260 works on view have been arranged under ten impossibly general headings: Nature, City, Society, and so on. Deena Chalabi (who organized the presentation with chief curator and acting director Wassan Al-Khudairi and guest curator Nada Shabout) stressed a few times that the extensive display was necessary; that at this early moment in historicizing modern Arab art, it was best to put as much of it out there as possible. More focused, curated exhibitions would come later. Chalabi is the museum’s head of strategy.
Throughout, the artists are seen engaging with European and American styles, although at a lag: a cubist village scene by Faiq Hassan and a number of impressionist compositions, for example, were all made around midcentury. A standout work was an untitled painting by Egyptian artist Ramsis Younan, a surreal composition from 1942 in which an armless woman reclines amid empty hills or dunes, her shoulders descending to one triangular breast, her legs rendered as wide trunks.
Left: Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned (left). Right: A guide at the Museum of Islamic Art. (Photos: Kyle Bentley)
Rather than relying on Western art comparisons while taking in the offerings, visitors tried hard to look with new eyes. So much so that at times other faculties faltered, and they found themselves unwittingly enacting a kind of modern art parody.
“Excuse me, one question, this piece there,” one member of the press called out to Chalabi. “There’s no name. Uh, on the floor.”
“Like a book,” his female companion chimed in.
“Like a book,” he agreed.
“I’m sorry?” Chalabi said, walking toward him.
“The object.” He nodded toward the middle of the gallery.
“Oh, that’s . . .” Chalabi said. “That’s a bench. You’ll see many of those scattered around!”
Arabesque, many details, without beginning and without end. That was the refrain I heard while visiting the Museum of Islamic Art, said by a guide as he pointed to silk rugs, ceramic chargers, and carved doors. The collection is exquisite, housed in a spectacular building designed by I. M. Pei that opened in 2008 and that looks out onto the water. Yet there is an eerie silence inside that hovers over the sound of vacuum cleaners. One gets the impression that the best pieces are on view and the selection doesn’t regularly rotate, however often the vitrines are wiped down. A place that in the Doha of today lacks a real audience apart from perhaps visiting politicians.
In a warehouse space on the grounds of the MIA, two contemporary exhibitions organized by the Mathaf opened the day after the Mathaf itself did. “Told/Untold/Retold” is a grouping of new commissions centered very loosely on a theme of storytelling, by twenty-three artists with roots in the Arab world. There is a range of media and of approaches, from the unfortunately literal (Buthayna Ali’s installation of twenty-two large slingshots representing forced migration from the twenty-two Arab states) to the enigmatic (Hassan Khan’s video of a luminescent fish that transforms into a loudspeaker suspended in a room with two men dancing jerkily to Egyptian sha’abi music). The other exhibition, “Interventions,” brings together five artists in monographic presentations that are almost mini-retrospectives, each capped by a new commission. A smell of petroleum wafted through due to the final work in the show: Dia Azzawi’s new Wounded Soul, a Fountain of Pain, an installation with a bronze Trojan horse standing in a basin of crude oil.
The final party for the Mathaf was at the Ritz-Carlton. Journalists Negar Azimi and Yasmine El-Rashidi and I took a taxi up the corniche through the business district, alongside the buildings rising faster than the demand and out onto desert highways leading to the small island far north on which the hotel stands. The party, which was in a separate building out back, was crowded with people eager for house music. My companions left; I stayed a moment, then realized the error.
On the way up to the hotel to try to get a car, I saw Richard Flood from the New Museum, who was with a Belgian builder who works for Walid Raad. They were on their way to the party. I told them it was bad. Richard suggested the hotel’s cigar lounge, Habanos, which recently had had a Mambo Italiano night. We found Negar and Yasmine in the lobby, and they joined us. Inside the lounge there was a cha-cha band playing. We sat on couches under a portrait of Fidel Castro, as two young women sung Sade into microphones decorated with Christmas ornaments. “Coast to coast, LA to Chicago, Western male . . . ” drifted out into the room, but I seemed to hear a different verse: Arabesque, many details, without beginning and without end.
THE SHORT DRIVE from the Norton Museum of Art to the opulent Breakers hotel takes the visitor past some notable landmarks, including the picturesque Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. Built in 1925 in Spanish Gothic style, the building was also the venue for Donald Trump’s characteristically extravagant January 2005 wedding to Melania Knauss. As we made our way down South County Road, Graham Russell, the Norton’s associate director of development, recalled flocks of souvenir hunters descending the moment the ceremony was over, stripping the place of flowers in a matter of minutes. And as a sleek black ride piloted by a silver-haired gent pulled out in front of us, she identified this season’s must-have car, the Bentley convertible. Welcome to Palm Beach.
I was in town, along with a trio of other New York critics (all of us instantly conspicuous among the pastels in head-to-toe black), to take in two recently opened exhibitions at the museum, attend a discussion with one of the featured artists, and visit the home of a local collector. First up was a tour of “Now WHAT?” (continually misidentified as a similarly irritable-sounding “WHAT Now?”), an assortment of work culled from the recent round of fairs in Miami by Norton curators Cheryl Brutvan and Charles Stainback. Having held down the fort at home during the fairs this year, I was looking forward to a summing-up of what I’d missed. But the show, assembled at speed (Stainback cheerfully admitted to having arrived at the theme—of information and its conveyance—in “about an hour”) and presented as an up-to-the-minute snapshot, was finally too modest and too scattershot to satisfy that admittedly unrealistic desire.
Aiming less for absolute contemporaneity and the better for it was “Stare,” a good-looking show of photography installed in galleries newly dedicated to the genre. Juxtaposing familiar but still resonant prints by Diane Arbus, John Coplans, Walker Evans, and Ed Ruscha with others by the less canonical J. D. ’Okhai Ojeikere, and more recent projects by Vik Muniz and Taryn Simon, “Stare” reaps the benefits of a more open-ended conceit, exploring “that singular moment when we cannot look away.” Simon, represented by entries from her series “Contraband,” joined Stainback for a Friday evening “public” conversation in front of a small group of trustees and donors, including chairman of the board Kemp Stickney and Works of Art committee member Joey Pearson. (Oddly, for all the institution’s customary trumpeting of accessibility, the talk wasn’t recorded for a broader audience—membership, it seems, still has its privileges).
Simon recalled getting her start via a process of “weaseling in.” (Art school wasn’t part of her parents’ plans for her, so she found a way into classes at RISD while a student at Brown). Stainback thought the approach might still color her work, the making of which often requires access to seemingly impenetrable places, and Simon’s comments on her series “American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” seemed to confirm his suggestion. But while she may have become accustomed to involving herself in some strange situations, Simon made no claim to fearlessness. Of visiting hibernating bears’ caves in Virginia, she admitted: “I was terrified that my strobes were going to wake them up, and in the first den, they did. There was a lot of outdoor peeing on that shoot too.”
Simon described “Contraband,” a taxonomic visual record of seizures made by US customs over the course of a single week, as “a depressing portrait of the flattening of the world—everyone chasing the same few things.” Were there any guns among the confiscations? wondered a suddenly bloodthirsty Stainback. “There were pistols from Afghanistan,” she answered, “but they were mostly ornamental. There were some BB guns, and a few dead birds that they told me were used in witchcraft. But even fruit can become a threat in that context. A banana can become a weapon.” What about “terrorist-type items,” Stainback pressed. “There are fewer risks being taken by travelers now,” the artist said. Apparently, the relative anonymity of the mail makes it a safer option for modern agents of chaos.
Left: Dealer Sarah Gavlak. Right: Artist Phillip Estlund.
Following an evening at the Breakers Seafood Bar (which, a guide informed us during a breathless half-hour walkthrough, is one of five watering holes in the 140-acre beachfront resort, which opened in its current form in 1926 and also houses nine restaurants, two golf courses, ten tennis courts, a 7,800-bottle wine cellar, and teams of perpetually bubbly wedding planners and personal trainers, sommeliers and masseurs, babysitters and hairdressers), Saturday got off to a slow and unseasonably damp start. Still, one doesn’t turn down lunch at Beth Rudin DeWoody’s place (or rather places—she owns several large properties side by side, with facilities comparable to the hotel’s). So by 1 PM, we were sipping iced tea and munching salad in one of her conservatories, looking out on a rain-soaked lawn.
My notes from that hour or two consist mainly of a column of names. A few of the artists represented in her vast collection: Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Anton Henning, Takashi Murakami, Tom Sachs, Erwin Wurm, Lisa Yuskavage, Evan Penny, Will Cotton, Liza Lou, Roe Ethridge, Jack Pierson, Rudolf Stingel, Larry Bell . . . the list goes on and on. That this was an extraordinary, and extraordinarily valuable, array was beyond question. Ironic, then, that the overall effect was extremely cluttered. DeWoody seemed, as one of my colleagues observed, less an art collector than an art hoarder, piling acquisition on acquisition, lending works out, perhaps, in part simply to clear a route to the fridge(s).
Lunch done, we returned to the Norton for a tear around its permanent collection and jolly Nick Cave show, then dropped in on Gavlak Gallery, by common consent Palm Beach’s single noteworthy dealership. Recently relocated from West Palm Beach, Gavlak is now tucked away behind the luxe fashion outlets of Worth Avenue, in a second-floor space not coincidentally owned by collector Jane Holzer. Proprietor Sarah Gavlak, who also runs a project space in her Manhattan apartment, shows a variety of boldface contemporary names alongside a few lesser-knowns, and keeps an eye on the international market. She was also, after a quick reapplication of lipstick, happier than most to pose for a picture (and I thought this town was all about appearances).
Back at the Breakers, we dined with affable new Norton director Hope Alswang (last seen after Friday’s event chasing down a Rolls-driving guest while shouting “I wanna lick your car!”), peeked into another wedding in progress in the grand ballroom, and took a final swing around the five heated pools, with their lolling retirees and signs reading PLEASE RESPECT GUESTS’ SERENITY. As the hotel’s press pack (easily three times the heft of the Norton’s) has it, “everything you want, anytime you wish, can be yours.” Simon, seeker after the seemingly impossible, might well approve.