Rich Relations

New York

Left: Joey Gabriel, Nan Goldin, Lola, and Gail Thacker. Right: Xavier Guerrand-Hermès with gallerists Jessica Fredericks and Andrew Freiser. (All photos: David Velasco)

Last Friday, the first official day of the Armory Show, I earned the purple heart of art-schlepping, trekking all over town to gawk at cutting-edge tchotchkes and their human support system: the dealers, the artists, the merely curious, and most importantly, the collectors—supershoppers who are the target audience and, implicitly, the stars of this fancy trade show.

I began in the morning at an “open house,” a ritual for VIPs, wherein collectors show fellow big spenders their stuff. As press, my status there was uncertain—existentially and practically, as they didn’t quite confirm my RSVP. But it could have been an oversight, right? I showed up anyway at the deluxe apartment in the sky (as seen in W mag) where Sotheby’s auction maestro Tobias Meyer resides with Mark Fletcher on the sixty-sixth floor of the sleek Time-Warner building surrounded by stunning views and a pitch-perfect mélange of current art. The exposed plywood on some walls—à la a cool art installation—combined with sumptuous antique furniture to create a super-manicured Paul McCarthy-meets-Louis Quinze-via-Gagosian vibe.

An assume vivid astro focus wall piece artfully splattered the entire living room like a cartoony membrane enclosing a Warhol “gun,” a John Currin head, the shocking wraparound view of Central Park, and a salmon-colored velvet couch where I kibbitzed with a nice collector couple from Chicago and Miami. They too, have an assume vivid astro focus thingie (“but not as big,” they told our host graciously) and nine hundred pieces of poodle art, I was excited to learn. They were like my parents, but with money. Amidst the “vivid” sprawl, I noticed the giant Warhol Gun aimed right at Madam Collector’s head, as we chatted about the close-knit Chicago art world and the challenges of art-shlepping—internationally, or even just getting out to P.S. 1 in Queens. Our panoramic view of Central Park was jauntily haunted by the lightbulb-covered dollar sign by Tim Noble and Sue Webster reflected in the window.

Left: Artist David Weiss. Right: Artist Peter Fischli.

I had a Proustian moment, not able to place, at first, the familiar-looking dandy charming a clutch of collectors across the room. It was Jonathan Hammer, now based in Barcelona and minus his flowing, Kenny G.–like locks. “I butched up,” the yenta declared. I looked at his ascot. Well, everything’s relative. “Don’t forget to see the Jonathan Hammers in the Matthew Marks booth!” he jested, reminding the collectors as they headed out.

I settled into the groovy Artforum lounge area at the Armory to watch the relatively well-heeled crowd roam the white-cubicled trade-fair setting. “Who are these people anyway?” I heard someone wonder. “Doesn’t look like a lot of people are buying art. Must be dealers. Or artists not in the show checking out the competition—or wondering why they’re not in better booths?” It’s the county fair of the international art world. Instead of a prize heifer, Ronald Feldman, for example, displayed Hannah Wilke’s prescient exhibitionism and pussy-ceramics from the ’70s. It was surreal and kind of ridiculous to look at influential art in this mallish mise-en-scene. A gaggle of middle-age collector ladies appreciated the notorious image of the fetching artist bedecked only with the caption, “Beware of Fascist Feminists.” “My daughter gave me a T-shirt that said, “This is what a feminist looks like,” one of them bragged. Right on, sister.

From the Armory I checked out the Nan Goldin and Fischli & Weiss shows opening at Matthew Marks, since I was going to the dinner later. In the context of schlepping and schmoozing, the Nan Goldin slide show/film about her troubled older sister was an incongruously moving actual art experience, expressing family dysfunction, irremediable loss, mortality, and senselessness, and a reminder that art can be powerful, healing, and cathartic—as well as a status symbol and home decor.

Left: Kim Heirston with Massimo and Angela Lauro. Right: John Waters.

Sublime in a different way, Fischli & Weiss, dressed as a rat and a panda in their droll video, communed with mythical woodland creatures and frolicked in the Swiss Alps. Along with Nayland Blake in the bunny suit (who I ran into at dinner, though not in the bunny suit), I wondered if Marks might at some point have a group show of all his gallery artists dressed as animals. And if so, which animal would Nan Goldin be?

Alas, there were no gift bags at the Hermès party for John Wesley (whose perky work graces its Madison Avenue windows). And it was not very festive to sip champagne and munch the dainty bonsai snacks surrounded by security guards (seemingly one per guest) protecting the stairway and the wall of purses from the sparse, well-turned out, mostly lady guests (all nonetheless potential perps and purse-snatchers—or at least that’s what it felt like!). Quel mixed message: Waiters greet you at the door with a tray of champagne while a phalanx of security guards repels you from the merch. I had a lovely chat with collector, Francophile, and free-spirit Laura Skoler, who I want to adopt as my Auntie Mame. “My daughter gave me a magnet for the fridge,” she told me, “that says: ‘I don’t have tennis elbow, I have Visa wrist!’”

Downtown, the “Ridyke-ulous” opening at Participant Inc. was livelier—and aptly named. Co-curated by A. L. Steiner and Nicole Eisenman, it was hopping with performances, lesbians, and friends of lesbians. Gracing the entrance, a petit, pasty fellow gyrated in his skivvies with a fuzzy black fake Hitler mustache. Why did this person look so familiar? He handed me one of the flyers tucked into his waistband, then I realized: Aha! It was curator Dean Daderko. Ridyke-ulous. Downstairs, another guy—with particularly hairy legs—ran around in a bathrobe and wig. Also Ridyke-ulous: a gal cavorting in her panties with a cellphone “earring.” As Eisenman herself de-pantsed, I kvetched with Gary Indiana and Kathe Burkhart, whose recent Liz tableau, No Fucking Way, towered over the salon-style plethora of “ridyke-ulous” art, abounding in penis-substitutes and soiled panties.

Left: Curator Jacob Robichaux, Mike Stillman, and Steve Williams. Right: Gallerist Anne de Villepoix.

By the time I arrived at the dinner for Goldin and F & W, at Barbuto, I was fried. In my overtaxed condition I mistook Terry Winters for Fischli—or was it Weiss? It was good to see the avuncular crackpot John Waters, and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself seated across from Jean Stein (whose oral history of Edie Sedgwick I love). You can never be too rich or too thin, but you can definitely get enough culture (and champagne) for one day. And I had.

Rhonda Lieberman

Paris Confidential


Left: Gallerist Emi Fontana, artist Mike Kelley, and Rosamund Felsen. Right: Artist Lari Pittman, gallerist Margo Leavin, artist Roy Dowell, and MoCA director Jeremy Strick.

“Who is Steven Arnold?” was the question heard most frequently at last week’s opening of “Los Angeles 1955–1985: Birth of an Artistic Capital” at the Centre Pompidou. The LA art world descended upon a freezing Paris expecting to see works by the usual suspects but was surprised at the inclusion of the late gay genre photographer that they’d never heard of—one of Mike Kelley’s curatorial suggestions. With only eighty-five artists and 350 works representing thirty years of art history, literally dozens of visiting art-world heavies debated who should maybe have had his coveted spot: Charles Garabedian, Karen Carson, Kim MacConnel, James Hayward? Or, God forbid, the pre–Ferus Gallery Lorser Feitelson, Helen Lundeberg, or Rico LeBrun? “It would be impossible to do this show in LA,” said MOCA’s Jeremy Strick. “Who do you include and how do you leave people out?”

Los Angeles is the flavor of the moment in Paris, with a concurrent show of projects by the Angeleno architecture firm Morphosis installed on the same floor of the museum, Allen Ruppersberg and Guy de Cointet at Galerie Air de Paris, and Mike Kelley at Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot (the last sold out by the time of the vernissage). The Parisian gallerists Bruno Delavallade and René Praz threw a stylish party to honor the artist-nurturing career of legendary LA dealer Rosamund Felsen at their tony Square de l’Avenue Foch apartment. On the walls was a small survey of their own collection of LA art—including Jim Shaw, Jeffrey Vallance, and Sam Durant—set among midcentury furniture by Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, and Verner Panton. “We picked the furniture up years ago for nothing at flea markets,” said Delavallade. Kelley recognized his early-’80s performance prop in a corner of the room. “Jim Isermann sold this to help buy his house in Palm Springs. That was so long ago it looks like a piece of ancient history!”

Left: Artist George Herms with The Librarian. Right: Gallerists René Julien Praz, Rosamund Felsen, and Bruno Delavallade.

At the opening Tuesday night, with four thousand invited guests, the enormous Los Angeles contingent of artists, collectors, dealers, and museum officials was in for a surprise: VIP entry tickets were meaningless. “This is France,” snarled the burly security guard. “Liberté, égalité, fraternité—you VIPs can wait like the rest of the people.” In the freezing, rainy darkness, groups of Angelenos reenacted the storming of the Bastille, with pushing, threatening, begging, and outrunning to try to get past not one but three successive guard points to the exhibition. “We couldn’t get in—so we had to become ‘ugly Americans’!” said Santa Monica Museum of Art Director Elsa Longhauser. Another museum director pronounced it, “The most disorganized opening I’ve ever been to in my life.” Many artists in the show—and heavyweight collectors like Blake Byrne—were forced to wait up to two hours.

Once inside, the war-weary brigade expressed relief at how solid the show looked. “It is definitely a French point of view, but it looks terrific,” said LA fixture Margo Leavin. The consensus was that it is more thorough and better curated than Lars Nittve’s 1997 survey, “Sunshine & Noir”. But there were caveats. The Light and Space artist Douglas Wheeler pulled out of the show because he wasn’t granted enough installation space. “Shouldn’t they have a wait-list for inclusion—like the airlines?” asked one collector.

Left: Centre Pompidou. Right: Norton Simon curator Michelle Deziel.

With curator Catherine Grenier giving greater space to the more established LA art stars—Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Lari Pittman, George Herms, and Mike Kelley among them—there was a refined scramble to fit everyone else in. The result is nooks and crannies of video, film, and ephemera that work primarily because of chic French design. “This is really thoughtfully arranged—and it was not an easy show to install,” approved LACMA curator Stephanie Barron.

At the reception for four hundred at Restaurant Le Georges on the Pompidou roof, all eyes watched the clock, for the next day was the last chance for the LA contingent to catch a plane for New York in time for the Armory opening—and the new LA Art Fair at the Altman Building, the destination of choice for those who intended to pick the Los Angeles art stars for the next museum survey.

Over dessert, one cheeky museum curator asked me if it wasn’t a conflict, writing this piece when I’m a lender to the exhibition. “Pas du tout,” I replied, glancing at my watch…

Barry Sloane

Mid Drift

New York

Left: MoMA director Glenn Lowry. Right: Collectors David Teiger and Kati Lovaas. (All photos: David Velasco)

“A great swath of established galleries—reliable fair exhibitors elsewhere—is missing.” So noted White Columns director Matthew Higgs, pinning down one of several ways in which this year’s Armory Show is different from its predecessors; there are also significantly fewer booths and an increased number of one-artist presentations. Contrary to MoMA director Glenn Lowry’s press-conference platitude about fairs offering a “nonhierarchical” view of art, this missing center accentuates a very real hierarchy: At or near the top, one finds blue-chip contemporary galleries occupying more square footage to exhibit fewer artists; at the other end of the scale, young galleries and nonprofits are crammed into Manhattan Mini Storage closets (“I can’t stand anywhere without blocking something I want people to see,” said Guild & Greyskhul’s Sara VanDerBeek) or squeezed into hallways abutting bathrooms.

Among the holdouts are a number of New York dealers, perhaps the most talked-about subject during the Thursday afternoon lull between the arrival of the early-bird collectors, who showed up at noon along with the members of the press, and the evening’s MoMA-benefiting vernissage, which offered staggered entry times beginning at 5:00 PM. Gone are Marian Goodman, Tanya Bonakdar (who participated in last month’s ADAA fair), Luhring Augustine (ditto), and even relative newcomer Daniel Reich. Missing too was Barbara Gladstone, who sent out an e-mail press release for next month’s Matthew Barney exhibition during the evening reception, signaling that it was business as usual down on Twenty-fourth Street.

Left: Armory Show cofounder Paul Morris. Right: Collector and dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn.

Gladstone, Bonakdar, and Roland Augustine, all unencumbered, prowled the aisles with collectors David Teiger, Mickey Cartin, and Glenn Fuhrman; a posse from Miami including the Rubells, Rosa de la Cruz, and Craig Robins; Chicago-based museum patron Sara Szold and Londoner Anita Zabludowicz. Activity was low-key, serious, and brisk; by 3:00 PM, when the piers were empty enough for an extended audience with just about any dealer, most reported having already made back their booth fees. (Sikkema Jenkins & Co. partner Meg Malloy noted that she even conducted some business on Wednesday.) Yet the chestnut about artists not being able to keep up with the fairs seemed finally to contain a kernel of truth, as spectacular artworks (and attendant spectacular sales) seemed few and far between.

“I represent over twenty artists, and I still can’t come up with enough art,” noted The Project’s Christian Haye, who had flown in some exquisitely messy Otto Muehl paintings just for the weekend from the exhibition now on view in his LA gallery. One splash was Barnaby Furnas’s lush, abstract, twenty-seven-by-eleven-and-a-half-foot red tide: Subject of a “Talk of the Town” piece in this week’s New Yorker and similar to two recently commissioned by Aby Rosen for the Lever House, it was snapped up from Marianne Boesky’s booth by an (unnamed) institution. Down the aisle, a surprise came from Ronald Feldman, who devoted his booth to feminist art pioneer Hannah Wilke. “So, are these supposed to be, like, vaginas?” I overheard several visitors inquire as they pointed to works from her “Starification Object Series” (and inadvertently pointed out the necessity of this micro-retrospective).

Left: Whitney director Adam Weinberg with Pace gallery's Marc Glimcher. Right: Actor and collector David Alan Grier with Studio Museum curator Christine Kim.

But with few secondary-market jaw-droppers on offer, most pleasures were modest: a slick one-two punch of Anselm Reyle and Vincent Szarek at Almine Rech; swirling, slate-gray Rezi van Lankveld paintings at The Approach and Diana Stigter; Carter Mull’s opulent photos of shattered surfaces at Rivington Arms; a Spencer Finch photo series at Rhona Hoffmann; and quasi-psychedelic Weegee portraits of New York landmark buildings at Matthew Marks. Florian Slotawa presented surprisingly engaging household-object sculptural assemblages at Sies + Höke, where I was told that he is constructing a “twenty-five-foot-tall, Minimalist tower” of items taken from a collector’s home—including the bed—for the upcoming Berlin Biennale.

At 5:00 PM, I was told that the crowd-control and guest-list duties switched from the fair staff to MoMA, and I was temporarily stuck between (and without access to) the piers, a frustrating situation until I saw John Waters similarly turned away from the check-in desk. Temporary exhibitor’s passes helped us through the gates, and once back inside I encountered more curators than were evident earlier in the day. MoMA’s John Elderfield held court midway down Pier 92, where I also passed his former colleague (and now UCLA Hammer Museum Senior Curator) Gary Garrels, the New Museum’s Richard Flood, the Whitney’s Donna De Salvo, David Kiehl, and Adam Weinberg . . . I had soon spied so many Whitney staffers that it felt like another Biennial event.

Left: Clarissa Dalrymple with Neville Wakefield. Right: Artists Collier Schorr and Karel Funk.

Tomasso Corvi-Mora, standing in front of three small, strong paintings by “Greater New York(er)” Richard Aldrich, was in an expansive mood, countering my reservations with a reminder that, even if people felt the fair was a little enervated this year, we were nonetheless still in the midst of an unprecedented boom that has provided stability for untold numbers of deserving artists. Bellwether’s Becky Smith expanded on the point in her inimitable manner: “It’s not like a Filene’s Basement wedding dress sale, but I’ll take it.”

Elsewhere, David Zwirner announced that he is now representing Sue Williams by presenting a new, large canvas, and I chatted with artist Yuri Masnyj while out of the corner of my eye I clocked Peter Blum substituting fresh Joseph Marioni paintings for sold ones. (Marioni is first up in Blum’s new Twenty-ninth Street gallery, opening April 26.) Artists were hard to find, though I did see Collier Schorr and Karel Funk at 303’s booth and photographer Ryan McGinley cruising the aisles in headphones. When I walked past Mathilde ter Heijne’s life-size mannequin at Susanne Vielmetter’s booth and its recorded voice called me an asshole, I began to think McGinley might have had the right idea and called it a day.

Left: The Project's Christian Haye and Jennifer Orbach. Right: Whitney curators David Kiehl and Donna De Salvo

It turns out that all the artists were in Chelsea at The Park, my next stop. Creative Time was throwing a reunion party of sorts, and dozens were on hand, including Andrea Fraser, Chris Doyle, Christine Hill, Jules de Balincourt, Laurie Simmons, and Marilyn Minter, whose new billboard—titled Mudbath, as was the party—was visible outside the window. A DJ played ’80s pop hits and a portrait photographer was documenting the scene for a soon-to-be-published anthology of the organization’s projects. After ten-plus hours on my feet, the camera flashes, free-flowing alcohol, and the lack of a decent meal had me floating on a hallucinatory cloud; it took a text message—“Please pick up dry cat food”—to bring me back to reality. I headed down the stairs, past video artist Aïda Ruilova and dozens of others just arriving, and hit the sidewalks in search of a bodega and some rest.

Brian Sholis

Cram Session


Left: MIT List Visual Arts Center curator Bill Arning and critic Irving Sandler. Right: Artist Coco Fusco with baby.

At the 94th annual CAA conference, outgoing executive director Susan Ball, bidding her constituents farewell after twenty years at the helm, injected a bit of suspense into a largely lackluster convocation with a well-timed “odds are my successor is in the house tonight.” A nice device, but was I alone in sensing a collective shrinking into the seats? What crowd could be tougher to please? A third of the CAA’s fourteen thousand members—MFA-candidate job-seekers, venerable academics, a star curator or two—had gathered at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center for four days of networking, discount book-buying, and over 180 sessions on topics from ancient Mesoamerica to “Bio-Tech and Bots.” In short, it was an art-loving binge-thinker’s paradise.

Why then, were “dull as dishwater” and “stale” among the mordant first takes on this year’s session offerings? One veteran reminisced about the ’70s and ’80s, when “everyone knew what the hot topic was and a thousand people would show up for that panel.” In his keynote address, Nation critic Arthur Danto considered the respective roles of the artists’ statements and works themselves in his Apex Art exhibition “The Art of 9/11.” “The objects are indispensable,” he concluded, “but the words are prosthetic.” This dialectic echoed through the chilly halls of what painter and writer Mira Schor dubbed the Hynes’s “Mussolini architecture.” How could words and slides alone cut it for those of us drunk on the object glut of Chelsea, art fairs, biennials, and the studio? A not unrelated lament, from Nick Mirzoeff, director of the visual culture program at NYU: “There are so few fucking parties at this conference!”

Left: Curator Okwui Enwezor. Right: MIT Visual Arts Program director Ute Meta Bauer and artist Judith Barry.

But of course there were parties, and some bracing sessions. By Friday one could detect an attitude shift, as peevishness gave way to relayed highlights from the dais. Among them for me was “Implementing Diversity in Art-History Pedagogy,” chaired by Coco Fusco. Panelist Richard Meyer said that despite students having stormed out of his USC course on “Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Art,” he still shows Linda Benglis’s 1974 Artforum ad and Robert Mapplethorpe’s images of fisting (which the effervescent Meyer helpfully defined). He just takes precautions, like showing not the fisting images themselves, but a portrait of Mapplethorpe at his 1978 “Censored” opening, in which those images appear, quite legibly, on the wall beside him. Susan Cahan, a former Norton Collection curator turned professor, chronicled her search for the least biased contemporary-art survey text. Alas, in those she considered—by Brandon Taylor, Edward Lucie-Smith, Tom Crow, Lisa Philips, and the quartet behind Art Since 1900—she found outrageous examples of discrimination. Melanie Herzog and Paul Prindle, a professor-student team, described their thoughtful approach to teaching a class on art, gender, and sexuality to a “shock-prone student body” at a small Catholic school in Wisconsin.

At Saturday’s “Curators as Critics” session, introduced by Irving Sandler and chaired by independent scholar Debra Bricker Balken, the “crisis in criticism” seemed to be an article of faith. Bill Arning, curator at the MIT List Center, recounted his tutelage under the “visionary” former Village Voice arts editor Vince Aletti and introduced the contemporary curator/critic’s thorn in the side: conflict of interest around living artists. Harry Cooper, curator of modern art at the Fogg, analyzed the hybrid role and ended with “a plea for critical criticism.” Helen Molesworth, chief curator at the Wexner Center, confessed she’d be a “dark cloud” over the proceedings, but ended with signs of hope: diversified practices like those of artists collective LTTR, a “nascent return” of artist-writers like Andrea Fraser, and new-model galleries like Triple Candie (“it’s a time of small gestures”). Bennett Simpson, associate curator at Boston’s ICA, concluded that “transparency and disinterestedness do not exist.”

Left: Sculpture Center curator Anthony Huberman and artist Mike Smith. Right: ZRC SAZU's Marina Grzinic and architect Kyong Park.

As it turned out, there was a hot panel this year, namely “Art and Politics in Africa: Africans and the Avant Garde.” There weren’t quite a thousand people there, but it was standing room only, a situation artist, writer, and curator Olu Oguibe clearly relished as he recalled an audience of four at his CAA session a decade ago and declared a “unique moment in contemporary African art studies.” The weightiness and promise of the papers (topics included the 1966 First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar), incisive discussant critiques, charming marshaling style of chair Nnamdi Elleh, and engaging audience questions (including one from a scholar of Japanese art seeking parallels of cross-cultural exchange), lent this session real urgency. Art historian James Meyer summed it up as “the liveliest, freshest session at this year’s CAA.”

Ah yes, the parties. On Wednesday there was a champagne reception for CAA awardees of distinction in the Newbury Street townhouse surrounds of Vose Galleries, est. 1841. Among awardees present were Okwui Enwezor and Gregg Bordowitz, who shared this year’s Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism. On Thursday night, Marquard Smith, editor-in-chief of the London-based Journal of Visual Culture, hosted an intimate party at the Charlesmark Hotel, where cold beer and good lighting soothed the corporeal agitation of ten hours of conferencing. The weekend’s “giant art party,” as it billed itself, was at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies. On Friday night, a few hundred conference escapees crammed into its main space, where videos by early CAVS fellows (Pat Hearn, Stan Van Der Beek) were projected, and into the Christmas-light-lit barroom, where current fellow Mike Smith’s rough-cut video about a “middle-age self-learner” who never quite makes it to MIT screened. Introductions were made between the likes of a Media Lab researcher bringing ultra-cheap information networks to a sub-Saharan African country and a Harvard fellow focusing on the persistence of the fascist aesthetic. One partygoer observed that it felt “just like New York.” Maybe, but more to the point, it was distinctly fun, and distinctly young, two reads one wouldn’t readily apply to the CAA conference itself. The former isn’t so imperative: CAA’s notorious serious-mindedness might be a necessary counterbalance in the current art-market culture. But a younger membership would seem to be essential, for both the present and future of CAA. That would take a cheaper ticket. At $145 (for early-taker, paid members) to $355 (for on-site, nonmembers), the cost of admission is just plain exclusionary. N.B., successor in the house.

Jennifer Liese

Ruf Trade


Left: Fireworks by Cerith Wyn Evans and Ian Hamilton Finlay. Right: Tate Triennial artist Daria Martin. (All photos: Rolf Marriott)

Midway through last Tuesday’s opening of the third Tate Triennial, a substantial percentage of the assembled guests set aside their cocktails and their chicken tikka–filled mini-ciabattas, and trooped out to the Tate Britain’s front lawn to watch one of Cerith Wyn Evans’s characteristic firework texts go up in smoke. As the gunpowder parcels ignited on a pair of metal armatures, fleetingly spelling out in white a two-verse poem by Ian Hamilton Finlay—in which permutations of the phrases “How blue / How sad / How small / How white / How far” are repeated, each ending once with an exclamation mark, then with a question mark (though I believe Wyn Evans reversed the original order)—someone muttered ironically, “Ah, mortality, transience, melancholy.” Actually, it did tug at the heartstrings a little. But the spectator had a point. We had a good idea of what was coming, and we got it.

The same could be said of curator Beatrix Ruf’s choices for the show as a whole, which is presented as a snapshot of contemporary British art practice and had a faintly enervated feel similar to the last one—Ruf’s superficial distinction being to leach out the previous show’s colorful palette and spread out the thirty-six artists’ works. Virtually none of the attendants I polled had a word, good or bad, to say about the show; few, though, thought it quite deserved the thorough pasting Guardian art critic Adrian Searle had given it—and Ruf’s “abysmal rhetoric”—in the morning’s pages. (Tate director Nick Serota was wearing a face like thunder when I glimpsed him, but possibly he’d just eaten one of the caterers’ egg-filled mini-bagels.) Barbican curator Mark Sladen was cautiously affirmative about Ruf’s work, but quickly changed the subject to his recent peregrinations around Scandinavia. My companion summed up, wailing: “Who’s it for?” Well, not anyone who’s seen the main London gallery shows during the last year, of which this was mostly an effective filleting. Assessing the crowd during my return visit a few days later suggested a different audience: students and adventurous pensioners.

Left: Triennial artist Marc Camille Chaimowicz with Tate curator Catherine Wood. Right: Triennial artist Lali Chetwynd.

The show’s thematic hinge is, broadly, neo-postmodernist: “repetition, reprocessing, and the appropriation of images and facts, on a spectrum between tribute and pastiche,” says the Tate—which leaves the door open for virtually everyone and allows the pointed placement of current elder statespersons like John Stezaker and ex–Throbbing Gristle provocateur Cosey Fanni Tutti (whose roomful of vintage porn-magazine spreads featuring herself was predictably popular) alongside Mark Leckey’s earthy and fatigued comic-strip animation featuring two soporific drunken oafs, a gothic-flavored skull-and-mirrors sculpture by Douglas Gordon, performances directed by Tino Sehgal, and a fair whack of lachrymose figurative painting (with Peter Doig at the head of the class). The backward glance was all that truly unified the show, and the obvious risk in what was otherwise a totalizing of artistic autonomy is that everything becomes acceptable. Summing up something of the event, Art Review’s Lupe Núñez-Fernández told me she’d been waiting in Daria Martin’s film installation during a projector malfunction when one woman walked in, decided she’d “got it”—“Oh, a black film in a black box”—and spun on her heel.

Still, it evidently looked different if you were a British artist overlooked by Ruf. After the show, in a nearby pub, neo-formalist sculptor Gary Webb toasted Liam Gillick for his contribution (a suspended text in black plastic) so effusively that the latter almost immediately beat an excusatory retreat, before the tired and emotional tyro proceeded to vent his apparent frustration at his outsider status by flinging ketchup at the hostelry’s walls. Oh dear. But it was gratifying—finally—to see a bit of unchecked vim and a splash of bright color.

Martin Herbert

Wagon Covered

New York

Left: Whitney director Adam Weinberg. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Biennial artist Christopher Williams with artist Jacqueline Humphries. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

“Have you been around yet? Find me later. I need to dish,” urged artist Mathew Cerletty at the opening of “Day for Night,” the 2006 Whitney Biennial exhibition. I popped out of the elevator at the foot of Matthew Day Jackson’s looming Conestoga wagon and found myself on the show’s “downtown” floor. Predictably, it was impossible to get a real sense of the art, not because of the overwhelming crowds or the scope of the exhibition but rather the zigzagging circulation of the opening promenade is more about scoping fellow visitors than whatever was on display behind them. (One errant cruiser had already stumbled into Yury Masnyj’s installation, which Masnyj was hastily trying to reposition in anticipation of an even bigger crush the next night.) With the usual celebrity suspects—Chloe Sevigny, John Waters, Kim Gordon, and Thurston Moore—on hand, the game was in the meta-moment: Clarissa Dalrymple attended her portrait by Billy Sullivan; graffiti-chic entrepreneur Aron, who is thinly disguised as the baseball bat-wielding “Arod” in the novel Reena Spaulings, hung out with Biennial-featured Bernadette Corporation members, and Jeff Koons appeared doubled in Adam McEwen’s fake obituary of the neo-Pop star.

Left: Artist Spencer Sweeney with Participant Inc director Lia Gangitano. Right: Hanna Liden. (Photos: Michael Wang)

At the basement bar, I overheard one woman ecstatically describing works that “looked like the back of Artforum” (referring to Galerie Bischofberger’s signature ads featuring Alpine folk scenes)—perhaps thinking of Hanna Liden’s ambiguous staged photographs on themes culled from the Nordic folklore and pagan ritual. Indeed, a flavor of the occult mingled with the cult this year, with works by Steven Parrino, Jutta Koether, and Anthony Burdin channeling nihilistic shamanism. Rirkrit Tiravanija and Mark di Suvero’s restaged Peace Tower (which includes the work of many of the original artist-contributors) ambivalently filled the activist-art quota with its deadpanned blend of idealism and post-nostalgia. Of course, celebrity culture and the mainstream press also staked their artworld claim. A man in a business suit asked me where he could find Francesco Vezzoli’s star-studded Caligula remake. “It’s gotten so much press I have to find it tonight,” he explained. “Gawker?” I ventured. “No, the New York Times.” With the crowds filtering down toward the bar and the artists and gallerists disappearing into the VIP room to exchange toasts, I headed to downtown restaurant Lovely Day to partake in the festivities honoring Rivington Arms artists Dash Snow and Hanna Liden. The endless fried rice certainly beat the Whitney’s calculated artistic fare, and Iles and Vergne showed up in time for dessert. Guests, invited or otherwise, kept streaming into the rather intimate venue and the party was forced to move up to Gavin Brown’s Passerby. “The Whitney was b-o-o-o-ring,” complained writer David Rimanelli. “This is where all the glamorous people are.”