Wednesday evening on Miami Beach kicked off with the revived New York Dolls playing their unmistakable brand of proto-punk on the beach behind twenty shipping containers that had been converted into exhibition spaces by galleries showing young artists. The veteran band still looked the part: David Johansen in a studded kilt, his belly bared; Sylvain Sylvain in red jeans and cap; and newbie Steve Conte in an outsized pirate hat. Finishing up their tidy set with the crowd-pleasing “Personality Crisis,” Johansen struck a few classic poses, skinny arms in the air, and shouted, “If you don’t know who we are, we’re the New York Dolls”
Left: The launch party for David LaChapelle's Artists and Prostitutes. Right: Photographer David LaChapelle hams it up with Amanda Lepore. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)
I beat the mass exodus from the beach and dashed to the new, hyper-chic Setai Hotel, where Taschen was hosting a launch party for David LaChapelle’s book Artists and Prostitutes. Caught in the inevitable crush at the door, I ran up against a burly bouncer growling at a pushy, black-leather-Yankees-cap-and-gold-chain-wearing youth to “stay back.” “I’m David’s personal assistant,” the would-be entrant piped, “and if I’m going to leave I will be escorted off. I need to get in right now to deal with the slide show.” I slipped through along with Isaac Julien, his boyfriend Mark Nash, his onscreen star Vanessa Myrie, and his assistant Kelly. Inside, we immediately spotted LaChapelle’s muse, robosexual tranny Amanda Lepore, who was perchednude of courseinside an illuminated plexiglass structure in the middle of the pool and leafing through a copy of LaChapelle’s vapid tome. (Even Lepore couldn’t be bothered to look through the volume, replete with her own imageshe tossed her hair, crossed and uncrossed her legs that “cost as much as a house,” and cast absent Botox stares at the guests.) Grinning, Julien appraised the spectacle: “Perfect.”
New York photographer/drag queen/nightlife personality Greg “G-Spot” Siebel was at the poolside turntables, spinning pop hitsfrom “Genius of Love” to “Slim Shady”to the delight of revelers dancing atop the bouncy outdoor cushions. Clearly the king of his own party, LaChapelle stripped down to his undershorts and leapt into the pool, splaying himself Severin-style before Lepore’s transparent cage and eliciting coy admonishments from his delighted gaggle of twinky admirers (“Daaaaavid!”) before luring the lemmings in after him. Beaming and attentive, LaChapelle’s female PR attachés swooped in, emitting cute noises usually reserved for especially endearing infants and promising extra sets of towels, while the wait staff lowered platters of hors d’oeuvres to within the reach of wet fingers.
Left: Jeffrey Deitch at his party at the Raleigh. Right: Karen Elson fronts for the Citizens Band. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)
Determined to stay dry, I ran to the Raleigh Hotel in time to catch the tail end of the Deitch party, where Karen Elson-fronted Weimar-inspired cabaret act Citizens Band had just finished their set. Band founder/harlequin-doll-chic pioneer Jorjee Douglass and rocker Amy Miles were still in full makeup and costume (but aren’t they always?), and the band’s extended social scene (the collective itself numbers twenty-six) lingered around the pool. Deitch, in a deep purple suit, chatted with actress/designer Tara Subkoff and her boyfriend, artist Nate Lowman, while 2004 Whitney Biennial participant Terence Koh greeted just-announced ’06 pick Dash Snow in a trans-Biennial embrace.
The following morning, the crowds were out and about again by 9:30AM for collectors’ open houses. Three buses idled outside the Rubell Family Collection warehouse while chartered vans blasting air conditioning with the windows open unloaded their silk-wrapped, Swarovski-crystal-adorned, and varicose-veined passengers onto the sidewalks of the shabby Wynwood Arts district. It was art-world speed dating, the perfect spot for dealer-on-collector, collector-on-collector, collector-on-dealer, and dealer-on-dealer action: I spied Barbara Gladstone with the Rubells, the Rubells with Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg, the Eisenbergs with Pascal Spengemann, and Spengemann’s business partner Kelly Taxter with Andrea Rosen, all within ten minutes. The Rubell’s mini-museum (with Damián Ortega’s obelisk-on-wheels placed near the entrance seemingly an overdetermined nod to the new MoMA’s Broken Obelisk prime placement) fully caters to the public with a gallery guide introducing the exhibitions (including this year’s survey of contemporary Polish artists), wall texts, and even calculated voyeuristic flourishes: a meticulously ordered, glassed-in art library here, a shiny chrome-and-painted-steel exercise room there. A few blocks away at the new MoCA exhibition space (donated by real-estate developers Tony and Joey Goldman) local artist collective Friends With You has created “Cloud City,” a temporary installation of cross-digested “superflatness” in the roundgiant beach balls, colorfully painted walls, and oversized, cuddly alien gingerbread men. I overheard two New Yorkers near the funhouse entrance: “Be careful . . . behind that curtain lies what the art world has come to.” The response, after a quick peek: “This?”
Left: True North star Vanessa Myrie with artist Isaac Julien. Right: MoCA's Bonnie Clearwater with artist Albert Oehlen and Esther Freund. (Photo: MoCA)
Tuesday morning I encountered a Miami-bound artist on the New York subway, then joined a line of bicoastal collectors on the jetway leading to my plane. On the plane itself, I spotted more soon-to-be shoppers, PaceWildenstein's Marc and Andrea Glimcher, indie auteur (and new collector) Sofia Coppola, and David Johansen of the New York Dolls. Are tumbleweeds rolling through Chelsea?
Before you can see any art in Miamithis year Art Basel Miami Beach security seems to have enforced its no-collectors-posing-as-installers ruleyou have to attend a few parties. Braving streets flooded by the day’s torrential rain (some dealers at the Pulse Art Fair were coping with inches of water in their rooms), I headed to the Delano Hotel for the main fair‘s official welcome party. It was a near-perfect copy of last year’s shindig: leggy ladies, wearing orange instead of 2004’s white, offering greetings; dealers, from Tracy Williams to Johann König, happy to have a drink; a few collectors wondering aloud why they couldn‘t get into the convention center early this time; and ABMB director Sam Keller at the front door, pressing the flesh and offering bon mots. “I’m glad it rained today instead of tomorrow,” he opined. “The collectors can get wet. The art can’t.”
Left: Doris Amman of Thomas Amman Fine Arts with ABMB's Samuel Keller. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Gallerist Tracy Williams.
This year, fair organizers helped visitors reach the more remote destinations, and within half an hour I was on a shuttle bus headed north to MoCA for a party honoring Isaac Julien and Albert Oehlen. Jet-lagged Europeans napped; Americans swapped gossip. At the museum, the crowd was larger and more diverse, with a few fashion notables (Interview editor and event cohost Ingrid Sischy, Donna Karan, and photographer Bruce Weber) bobbing in the sea of young, tanned faces. True North, Isaac Julien‘s new three-channel film installation, is receiving its US premiere, and the icy expanses that it depicts gained traction from the contrast with the junglelike conditions in the museum’s courtyard.
“Death can come from a hundred directions at once,” the film‘s narrator intones, and by the time I crept away, I was beginning to appreciate her wariness, so threateningly dense was the crowd. Squeezing onto another bus, I headed next to Miami Art Central, whose party was billed as “this year’s Rosa de la Cruz event,” referencing the supercollector’s now-defunct annual gala. The route was backed up half a mile in either direction but most attendees proved to be locals out for a good time. With little food and an interminable wait to see the William Kentridge survey inside, many of us longed for the manse on Key Biscayne. I ducked into a taxi and headed back to Miami Beach: $47. I haven’t paid so much for transportation (without leaving the ground) since . . . well, last month in London.
Left: Designer Sonja Nuttall, Interview magazine publisher Sandra Brant and editor Ingrid Sischy, designer Donna Karan, and MoCA Director Bonnie Clearwater. (Photo: MoCA) Right: Gallerist Paul Kasmin.
The déjà vu of Wednesday afternoon‘s ABMB preview was lost on very few, especially fellow New Yorkers who see each other more often away from the Big Apple than back there. There was time to catch up, however, as the afternoon was oddly calm. Eigen + Art was, however, one booth that hummed all day: I was asked variants of “Do you work here?” four times in less than a minute when I stopped by around 2PM. But apart from those on the prowl for owner Gerd Harry Lybke’s Leipzig painters (business is so good he opened a branch there in April; thank you, Don and Mera Rubell, for your support) and the just-announced 2006 Whitney Biennial artists (the list fortuitously went public on preview day), there was little beat-the-clock frenzy. I had plenty of time in front of a 1920 Giorgio Morandi (ca. $2 million, it was one of several of the artist‘s quiet canvases available at Milan’s Galleria Tega).
I also lingered around a personal favorite, Thomas Zipp‘s array of small canvases and drawings hung atop a reproduction of Pollock’s The Wooden Horse: Number 10A, 1948 (at Guido Baudach). Impressive were iridescent mushrooms by Sylvie Fleury at Thaddeus Ropac; Alice, a 1961 canvas by John Wesley at Waddington; Kim Fisher‘s new large-scale paintings at China Art Objects; Martin Boyce’s space-dividing sculpture at Anton Kern and The Modern Institute‘s shared booth; John Stazeker’s new “Film Portrait” collages at The Approach; and Sigmar Polke‘s 1967 Match-stick Piece at Michael Werner. Most booths seemed to have little organizing principle, but Andrew Kreps’s cleanly installed selection of neo-Conceptualist works made a coherent case for the strengths of his program. Kudos too to Hauser & Wirth and Sadie Coles, who were willing to let artists (Mary Heilmann and Sarah Lucas, respectively) put an individual stamp on their boothsan all-too-rare occurrence at this fair, even with twice as many “Art Nova” galleries presenting younger artists as last year.
Left: Lauren Taschen greets artist Anthony Goicolea. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Center: Gallerist Gerd Harry Lybke. Right: The artist Orlan.
Peter Freeman‘s potential sale (to an unnamed museum) of a remarkable 1966 Marcel Broodthaers canvas was one of only a few institutional purchases I heard tell of, though curators turned out in full force: The Whitney’s Adam Weinberg was in early, and was still on his feet at 6PM when Philippe Vergne, the Walker staffer cocurating next year’s Whitney Biennial, joined him; Jérôme Sans and Udo Kittelmann made early-afternoon rounds and then disappeared; and the New Museum‘s Lisa Phillips and Richard Flood (“I’m going to C16I don’t even know what‘s there. I just know I’m supposed to go there!”), the ICA Philadelphia’s Claudia Gould, and the MCA Chicago‘s Dominic Molon all took an evening tour. Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis director Paul Ha was also on the circuit, the only one with a gaggle of patrons visibly in tow. It was heartening to encounter many of these folks near some of the better works on view: Thomas Hirschhorn’s globe-laden shelves at Chantal Crousel (snapped up by the Philadelphia Museum of Art by midafternoon) and Sterling Ruby‘s magnificent inverted stalactite at Christian Nagel’s and Bärbel Grässlin's shared booth (neither claims the artist in the fair catalogue).
By this point everyone had somewhere to go. Many drifted over to the younger, mostly European galleries exhibiting in shipping containers on the beach; others crossed the causeway to attend NADA‘s preview; still others headed off to Casa Casuarina (aka Versace’s house) for the second annual dinner hosted by Barbara Gladstone, Shaun Caley Regen, and David Zwirner. I chose sand, surf, and more artmy own dinner would have to wait.
Left: 2006 Whitney Biennial cocurator Philippe Vergne with Whitney director Adam Weinberg. Right: Gallerist Chantal Crousel poses in front of some of Thomas Hirschhorn's globes.
On the beach, the crowd skewed very young and local, though I did cross paths with a few collectors and Roxana Marcoci, a photography curator at MoMA. Several dealers said they were relieved to simply be open and working; fair staff forced them to close up shop for four hours during the afternoon, then the power went out in several containers for twenty minutes right as the vernissage began at 6PM. Peering over people's heads, I spotted a large drawing of a coy-looking waif glancing over her shoulder by Iris van Dongen (at Athens gallery The Breeder) that impressed, and three pleasing ink-and-watercolor drawings by John Kleckner at Peres Projects, the largest of which is a haunting free-floating severed head executed with old master-ish precision.
It‘s an energy-sapping week, and I’m working late. Perhaps Jason Rhoades, reportedly restaging Rob Pruitt's infamous white-line buffet through a trap door at the rear of his “Black Pussy” container on the beach, has the best strategy for surviving until Sunday.
Left: Artist Trisha Donnelly with curator Daniel Birnbaum. Right: Astrup Fearnley, museum director Gunnar Kvaran, and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Few of us have had occasion to visit Oslo before, but a Saturday seminar organized by Daniel Birnbaum, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Gunnar B. Kvaranthe three curators of the show “Uncertain States of America” at the Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunstbrought a boatload of American artists and three European journalists into Viking territory. After two weeks of pale-gray German skies that faded to black at half past four in the afternoon, traveling even further north to witness the spectacle seemed like a perverse crash-course in surviving the Prussian winter.
My plane from Berlin was delayed, so after a quick trip to the minibank to load up on Norwegian Kroner, I arrived at the tail end of lunch (forgetting that in a socialist democracy like Norway, the train is faster than the cab). I took a seat next to German colleagues Dr. Michaela Neumeister (of Phillips de Pury & Company) and Niklas Maak (head of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung culture pages and part-time professor at Portikus). The towering Adam Putnam kicked off the post-lunch lectures with an homage to Steven Parrino via Yves Klein, whose Leap into the Void, 1960, Putnam punned, “hovers over” many of today’s artistic practices. Trisha Donnelly, blessed with a voice as seductive as Madonna‘s, ended the studious segment of our day with her homage to the compression of time in Nina Simone’s “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” In between, we heard lectures from Ilana Halperin, Jesse Bransford, and Seth Kelly, but a thumbnail outline would do them scant justice. Afterwards, standing in front of Matthew Day Jackson‘s homage to Eleanor Roosevelt, Obrist led a small group on a “hurricane” tour of the show before hustling off to catch the Norwegian debut of Miranda July’s film Me and You and Everyone We Know. The movie’s childlike humor and touching lyricism helped ward off the dark discontent of winter. If you’re lucky enough to have seen it, you’ll remember that even lines like “You poop into my butthole and I poop into your butthole. Back and forth . . . until the poop is one . . . forever” are lent an unexpected beauty. If not, well, you’ll have to take my word for it.
Later, huddled around the fireplace at the fabulous apartment of Mr. Hans Rasmus Astrup (Fearnley is his mother's name), Trisha Donnelly let slip what she called a “rectum-ification” while Adam Putnam denied us all a “de-abstractification” of his budding oeuvre. Both terms reminded me that I forgot to ask Halperin what exactly she meant by the phrase “coincidental erogeny” earlier that afternoon. An elderly gentleman asked me something in Norwegian as I hovered near the local variant of tiramisu. My inability to respond prompted him to continue: “Are you one of those bloody Americans here for that idiotic show of contemporary art?” Owning up, I asked him where he thought the discipline had lost its way. “I am an art historian and for me Mark Rothko is young.” Faced with what threatened to become an uphill battle, I excused myself and headed back toward the fireplace, where I bumped into a colleague making a similar escape. A well-endowed blonde had been chatting him up. “She asked me why Picasso is considered a great painter!” “Great question,” I retorted. “Why didn’t you answer?” Birnbaum’s story about a humorous misunderstanding was more entertaining: many moons ago he was talking to a serious contemporary art collector from Texas who earnestly expressed admiration for that “lovely young man Okwui Enwezor who was making a documentary in a castle in Germany.”
Surrounded by so much wood paneling, it felt as if we were in a “castle-apartment.” Some of us looked out of place, others right at home. Apparently, Mr. Astrup had double-booked himself that evening, bringing together what otherwise would have remained separate worlds as a group of Roman specialists (in town for a seminar of their own) were also invited to dinner. It was a situation that a Situationist might have dreamed up. Mr. Astrup's well-heeled friends stirred up more than just your usual “how interesting” cocktail conversation, and by the end of the evening I was in a swoon, enamored of Norwegian frankness and happy these latter day vikings were behind this newest invasion of our uncertain states.
Just how elite can you get? The invitation for a pre-press conference dinner from the 4th Berlin Biennale (BB4) promised the company of a “small, exclusive circle” of guests and curators Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, and Ali Subotnick. The rarefied group that assembled last week at Kunst-Werke‘s Dan Graham-designed Café Bravo turned out to be the usual suspects from Berlin’s critical establishmentfrom Süddeutsche Zeitung arts editor Holger Liebs to Frieze scribe Kirsty Bell. As we “lucky few” listened to welcoming speeches by our hosts—Gioni, along with Hortensia Völckers, the formidable director of the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (the main state backer for BB4) and Markus Müller, the BB4 press director and Documenta XI's PR wizard, it began to dawn upon me: This evening, however well-intentioned, might be too elite to be interesting, let alone fun.
After all, what is exclusivity if you can‘t flaunt it? I tried to imagine throngs outside the café, enviously pressing their noses against the glass. But there was next to no one: One quick glance around the room and you could catalog every guest in attendance. At the dinner table, I sat beside Cattelan, who fed me a string of “exclusive” quotes. What is it like curating the Berlin biennial, titled ’Of Mice and Men?‘“ I asked him. ”Exciting . . . challenging . . . rewarding!“ Could this biennial be considered a work of art, like the Sixth Caribbean Biennial? ”Oh no, it’s a job."
And what a job: After interviewing over 300 Berlin-based artists, Cattelan and company had not only settled on a list of participantsfrom Tomma Abts to Cathy Wilkesbut also published another edition of Charley (the 700-plus page “Checkpoint” issue). More, it seems, is more: The team also produced a column in the local weekly Zitty, a diary in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung and a fake branch of Gagosian Gallery, opened in September. Did you have a problem with the real Gagosian? “Well, the gallery always wanted to work with me,” explained Cattelan. “So I thought this would be a good way to do it.” Gagosian never answered a request for permission, but “I took their silence as a yes.” Cattelan then insisted on asking me a question: “So . . . where do you come from?”
It was up to superconnector Gioni to incite a more serious mid-meal discussion. His threateither we ask a question or we don‘t get the next coursedid not deter anyone from remaining silent. But by dessert, the division of labor in the curatorial team was plain to see: Gioni handles statements, Cattelan provides comic relief, and Subotnick is the brains behind this operation. Consider the trio’s answers to the sole question, posed by the Tageszeitung‘s arts editor Brigitte Werneburg. Why open the Berlin Gagosian with a show featuring works by Dorothy Iannone? Gioni went on about how biennials today can present older artists alongside younger ones. Cattelan: “Because she’s sexy!” Subotnick: “She has a great apartment!” See what I mean? Everyone knows that real estate trumps sex appeal and curatorial manifestos.
Left: A woman holds up Gelitin's copy of her bra. Middle: Inserting a white shoe into the “Tantamounter.” Right: Dean Daedarko wearing the copy of his suit and T-shirt.
The toughest decision facing visitors to Vienna-based collective Gelitin’s “Tantamounter 24/7”a weeklong performance and exhibition featuring a homemade “duplication machine” that was presented recently at Chelsea gallery Leo Koenig, Inc.was what to bring. After casting about my apartment at midnight Tuesday for something suitable for reproduction, I settled upon a cork bulletin board covered with sentimental relics. Stuffing it in to the back seat of a cab, I was smugly confident that the lateness of my visit would mean a smaller crowd, but soon discovered that othersartists and students, thirtysomething businessmen, passersby lured out of the coldhad had a similar idea. The cramped space reserved for visitors at the front of the gallery was nearly full. (This being the most recent iteration of their playful installations-cum-endurance-tests, the Austrian pranksters were ferreted away inside a large sealed wooden box.) I found a spot in line, but what I brought wouldn’t fit inside the top-loading compartment marked for receiving.
No matter. The atmosphere was collegial (“I’m going for beer. Who wants beer?” queried a bike-messenger type) and the objects regularly popping out of the box broke up the monotony of waiting. Some duplications took minutes, others over an hour. The artists, who had already been locked behind the partition for six days, seemed to enjoy making sculptures. A blue-glass seltzer bottle was returned quickly, along with its copy: two blue plastic cups that were stuck together and speared with a turkey baster balancing a bent metal spoon. Brilliant. We played guessing games: Whose object would arrive next? How accurate a copy would it be? And would it involve pornography? Behind the wall the Gelitin boys (plus artist Naomi Fisher, who lent a helping hand) were obviously having fun: Most two-dimensional objects were returned accompanied by raunchy imagery excised from a seemingly inexhaustible supply of triple-X magazines.
Dean Daderko, an independent curator, put all of his clothes into the machine and wrapped himself in a copy of the newsprint exhibition poster while awaiting the results. No one who entered after he disrobed seemed to mind (or even notice) the unseasonal nudity. An hour later, his black T-shirt, suit, and wallet came back, along with its duplicate: a blue flower-print dress, some green rope mesh, a small belt, and a note: “Dean we love that you are naked so close to us.” Five minutes after that, a second note emerged: “Dean send us a picture of your new clothes.” The cameraphones immediately went to work as Daderko gamely struck a pose.
In honor of Thanksgiving, I had the invisible alchemists duplicate a greeting card that featured a photograph of a turkey. For good measure, I stuck in another card (depicting a monkey raising a mug of beer) as a gift. I should’ve guessed that the result would incorporate porn. (I leave it to you to guess what unclothed body parts best resemble the holiday bird.) Pocketing my treasures, I waved goodbye to those still waiting and headed home. It was 2:30AM: Gelitin had twenty more hours to go. Two afternoons later, the turkey on my dinner table seemed a little less appetizing than usual.
“Man, that Whitney museum sounds good!” actor/poet Jim Fletcher drawled into the microphone between sets at an evening of Cajun country music hosted by Richard Maxwell and the Reena Spaulings Fine Art posse. This installment in the institution‘s series of Friday night gigs was also affiliated with the French Embassy and Association Française d’Action Artistique‘s “Act French,” a citywide series of performances celebrating Franco-American cultural exchange. Performed by a revolving quintet of vocalists, including Fletcher, Maxwell, and Reena Spaulings’s spritelike founder Emily Sundblad, the songs were sung mostly in French (notes often came in handy here) and were accompanied by a fiddler, guitars, and a guest accordionist.
A number of the tunes were popular (“Me and Bobby McGee,” “Diggy Liggy”) but rendered unfamiliar by the Louisiana dialect. (“We started the band before Katrina,” Maxwell assured me.) Fletcher stole the show, striking runway poses and pouting at the audience between bouts of singing, dancing, and showing off his talent on the harmonica. “Jim Fletcher, he picked all these songs. He’s the man tonight,” Maxwell admitted. Sundblad looked like she was having almost as much fun, do-si-doing with singer Sybyl Kempson and stripping off her hot-pink sweater to perform a French rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” in only her trademark (and slightly ratty) skeleton-print leotard. This was the fifth time the band (which, as both Sundblad and Maxwell informed me, “doesn’t have a name”) has performed since its debut at Reena Spaulings Fine Art‘s “Robert Smithson” exhibition in February 2004. While they’ve played only art venues to date (Passerby, Haswellediger), Sundblad expressed disappointment with the acoustics and feel of galleries: “I hope next time we’ll play at a bar, like the Rodeo Bar.”
Left: Reena Spaulings Gallery founder Emily Sundblad and singer Sybyl Kempson. Center: Actor and poet Jim Fletcher. Right: Performer Richard Maxwell, Scott Sherratt, and musician Catherine McRae.
While “Act French” had approached Maxwell, asking for his participation along with a number of “the city’s downtown theater elite,” the Cajun angle was Fletcher’s brainchild. “We were going to play French pop music,” Maxwell recalled. But Fletcher had been haunted by a French blues track he’d heard at a friend’s house: “I‘d never heard blues in French and I’d never heard blues so right. It hit the pocket and I loved it. It sounded, like, African.” (Meanwhile a heated discussion about colonialism had ignited between a couple of audience members and the band.) “It’s about the moment of miscegenation,” Sundblad piped up, explaining that “Mon negre” is a Cajun term of endearment. “I do remember a conversation about indigenous French communities,” Maxwell added. With the band‘s origins as mixed up as a bubbling pot of Louisiana gumbo, Fletcher summed it up: “It’s French, but it's American.”