ART IS NEVER MORE FUN than when money doesn’t matter to it. Artists live to work, not model. Dealers stop fawning over investors who can’t tell a Basquiat from a Baechler. Auction houses see red. Collectors who buy art because they can’t live without it gloat as if their turn has come. And every opening seems like the last.
The high-rollers who showed up to receive Larry Gagosian’s blessing just the weekend before, during his Gramercy Hotel dinner for Richard Prince, only to hear rock impresario–turned-roastmaster Ron Delsener slag them, had disappeared by last Thursday’s postauction openings in Chelsea. Perhaps it was the pouring rain, but ever since Election Night—when New York became a town where everyone knows everyone (and likes them!)—streets that had been clogged with art tourists have been populated mainly by those who care to own them.
A smattering of interested parties shook off their umbrellas at Casey Kaplan’s reception for Julia Schmidt, a sweet-faced young woman from Leipzig whose lovely photo-based paintings manage to recall Luc Tuymans, Gerhard Richter, and Giorgio Morandi all at once. My companion liked the vagina paintings best. Schmidt looked puzzled. “Oh,” she said then. “You mean the caverns!” Just what I said.
At 303 Gallery, Serbian-turned-British painter Djordje Ozbolt was learning to endure his first solo show in New York the hard way, gripping a beer and attempting to speak cheerfully to all comers. “Is that a Paul Smith?” I asked of the colorfully striped pig in one of Ozbolt’s storybook landscapes. “Someone else mentioned that,” the sincere Ozbolt said. “Maybe it was subliminal.” I examined the Russian-icon-style portraits in the back. Family members? “Background characters from old-master paintings,” came the reply.
At Marianne Boesky, Barnaby Furnas was blinking back the horde lining up to see what he had been up to since his late Jesus phase. Abraham Lincoln, for one thing. “That’s my painting,” said tennis hero–turned-collector John McEnroe, examining a small portrait of the Obama idol. Meanwhile, John Currin orated his story of heroism from the day before, when he saved a woman from a mugging by three thugs on a dark SoHo street.
An even larger crowd rushed the back office at Bortolami Gallery for Aaron Young’s first show there, possibly because the walls were empty. I’m not counting the clever bronzes cast from broken police barriers inside the door. Or the blacklight room where guests had to put a quarter in a machine to see Young’s irradiated paintings of mushroom clouds.
Left: Dealer Stefania Bortolami. Right: Bortolami's Meredith Darrow and artist Aaron Young.
Young was in the back office, too, where artists Hanna Liden, Dan Colen, Hope Atherton, Nate Lowman, and Todd Eberle were huddled around the desks. “Please be nice?” Young said. I have no idea why. But let no one say that Stefania Bortolami is not a risk-taker. She rented the whole of Il Bordello, the unfortunately named and completely untried new diner on Twenty-third Street and Tenth, to toast Young’s atom-bomb peep show. “Even if the food is bad, we’ll still have a good time,” Bortolami said. “The bar is open.”
Friday night, Cindy Sherman and Metro Pictures showed everyone how it's done—to turn yet another art party into a unique event. Sherman’s life-size portraits of middle-aged women desperate to keep time from wreaking havoc with their faces capture the disparity between self-image and public image with chilling accuracy, and fearlessly enough to let herself show through. “Cindy’s social commentary is merciless,” observed the writer Lynne Tillman. “And beautiful.”
We watched the paparazzi lunge for Salman Rushdie, as novelist A. M. Homes looked on and Sherman artist buddies Laurie Simmons, Louise Lawler, and Sarah Charlesworth added some seasoned glamour of their own, as did Mera Rubell and her recently frosted bob. In a tailored black tuxedo and low-cut white blouse, Sherman seemed oddly monochromatic. “I didn’t want anyone to confuse me with the pictures,” she said, pointing to her furbelowed, patent-leather high-heeled sandals. “Right now, it’s all about the shoes.”
As for the show, it will either make plastic surgery extremely outré or cause a run on it. “It’s great to see Cindy’s pictures in the same room with some of her best subjects,” said director John Waters. “Especially since they seem to be the last to know it.”
Dinner was uptown at Per Se, in the Time Warner Building. This establishment, where Wall Street’s deer and antelope play, is known as the most expensive restaurant in New York. (Chef Thomas Keller, who created the French Laundry, the best restaurant in California, charged fifteen hundred dollars per person one recent evening for a special twenty-course menu.) And this was the week the art market tanked, along with the rest of the global economy.
Up on the fourth floor, overlooking Columbus Circle on a crystal-clear, sparkling night, Sherman’s guests were treated to champagne and hors d’oeuvres that included tiny grilled-cheese-and-bacon sandwiches and popcorn drizzled with truffle butter, served in paper cups.
After some time in the bar, we began to wonder where the dinner would be. At such places, where the private-club/living-room atmosphere dictates tables spaced well apart, one expects stiff, formal settings. But all we found were a couple of café tables and a cheese buffet. Then came the whispers: You have to see the kitchen. Go straight to the kitchen. It’s amazing.
After wending our way through the plush, carpeted dining room and down a narrow, bare hall, we found the bright, subway-tiled kitchen—and lo! There was the party. The cooks were all at their stations serving that scrumptious Keller food, a mouthful at a time: chowing down on smoked-salmon cones, short ribs and mash served on porcelain spoons, skewered chicken, plenty of caviar, and a magnificent raw bar laden with oysters, shrimp, lobster claws, king crab, and fresh crabmeat. One by one, the crowd trickled in: critics (Peter Schjeldahl, Calvin Tomkins, Dodie Kazanjian, Jerry Saltz), curators (the Public Art Fund’s Rochelle Steiner, the Whitney’s Donna De Salvo, the Studio Museum’s Thelma Golden, the Goss-Michael Foundation’s Aphrodite Gonou, the Ellipse Foundation’s Manuel Gonzalez), collectors (Jane Holzer, Peter Brant and Stephanie Seymour, Michael and Eileen Cohen, Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy, all of the Rubells), art advisers Curt Marcus and Kim Heirston, Aspen dealer Richard Edwards and New York dealer Tony Shafrazi, Metro artists Robert Longo and Isaac Julien, producers Vincent and Shelly Dunn Fremont, actor/writer Eric Bogosian . . . all old friends and colleagues—Friends of Cindy. Just folks.
What a great idea for a party. “We’re glad you all came,” said Metro co-owner Helen Winer. “Try everything!” said Janelle Reiring, her business partner. There were no toasts, no bothering with small talk at big tables where intimacy is never possible. This was closer to dropping in for dinner at Cindy’s house. “You have redefined fabulous!” enthused Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs. Sherman couldn’t stop smiling. “I was here for a party once,” she said. “It was so much fun it seemed like the right thing to do.”
I’ll say. What this party cost was anyone’s guess, and everyone tried to—a hundred thousand dollars was the average estimate. Whatever it was, it was too casual to be decadent—after all, we ate standing up in the kitchen—and it was also worth every penny, especially to celebrate a great artist in peak form.
“This is the end,” Saltz predicted over the dessert table, in the rear, where an array of homemade cookies, petits fours, donut holes, and bowls of Eskimo bars awaited eager hands. “It’s going to be a long while before we’ll see anything like this again,” he said. But I don’t know. Christmas is coming—and with money’s escape from the scene, the art world seems giddy with possibility.
Left: Artist Kenny Scharf. Right: Artist Djordje Ozbolt.
Left: Dealer Monika Sprüth. Right: Brooke Alderson and Peter Schjeldahl.
Left: Artist Barnaby Furnas. Right: Artist Lisa Yuskavage.
Left: Curator Neville Wakefield and P.S. 1 director Alanna Heiss. Right: Artist Nate Lowman.
Left: Artist Dan Colen. Right: Art consultant Jaime Frankfurt and dealer Stuart Shave.
Left: Metro Pictures's Janelle Reiring with Goss-Michael Foundation curator Aphrodite Gonou. Right: Artist Hanna Liden.
Left: Collectors Don and Mera Rubell. Right: Dealer Elizabeth Dee.