Left: Gilles Hennessy and Sabina Belli. (Except where noted, all photos: Nicolas Trembley) Right: Chicks on Speed at the Pompidou Center. (Photo: Bertrand Prévost)
These days, fashion week in Paris looks a lot like art week, with countless galleries hired out by top designers to show off their creations and acres of prime museum real estate used for runway shows: Haute couture has obviously concluded that contemporary art adds that necessary je ne sais quoi to its glamorous proceedings. “Entrepreneurs like us could be described as the new patrons of the arts, latter-day Medicis,” said Sabina Belli, standing with Gilles Hennessy at an event unveiling a hundred-year-old cognac at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. The venerable concoction is composed of more than one hundred liqueurs—and goes for €100,000. It does come in a specially designed box by Jean-Michel Othoniel.
The weekend got off to a roaring start with a performance at the Pompidou by interdisciplinary savants Chicks on Speed and master film artist Douglas Gordon, all outfitted for the occasion by legendary stylist and collector Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. A slideshow featuring the girl group posed in the art-filled home of Swiss collector Franz Wassmer was very entertaining. (The penthouse, with a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower, recently served as the site of a chichi after-party celebrating the arrival of the traveling Fischli & Weiss retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne.) By the end of the antics, Gordon was completely nude, sitting onstage in a bath of fluorescent paint, while the Chicks hollered over booming electro beats: “He is stuck in the art market, stuck in the art market!”
Not to be outdone, Bless invited its audience to a performance on the roof of the Montparnasse Tower. There, buffeted by blasts of wind, you could mingle about the catwalk with the newest generation of critics, curators, graphic designers, artists, and architects. Later, the art crowd reconvened at Dior’s luxe jewelry show, where Eric Troncy, a director of the Consortium in Dijon, had been commissioned by designer Victoire de Castellane to present her latest collection, “Belladone Island.” The jewelry was first displayed in the popular virtual-world video game Second Life in a setting created by artists Ida Tursic and Wilfried Mille, followed up by a “real-life” show among Monet’s water lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie (with a film by Thai independent auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul, highlighting the carnivorous plants that inspired the pieces, as an added bonus).
One event not to be missed (or so I heard, having missed it) was the preview for David Lynch’s retrospective, “The Air Is on Fire,” at the Cartier Foundation. The filmmaker worked with star cobbler Christian Louboutin on three shoes incorporated into sculptures. Apparently, the fashion world turned out in full force, including such glitterati as L’Wren Scott, Juergen Teller, Agnès B., Yohji Yamamoto, Inès de la Fressange, and even Balenciaga cynosure Nicolas Ghesquière, who—you guessed it—just completed a collaborative project with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster at the Musée d’Art Moderne.
Fashion loves an art star, and this season’s headliner proved to be appropriation doyenne Sturtevant. Her Warhol-inspired Black Marilyn was exhibited at Colette as part of the festivities marking the temple of high-concept chic’s tenth anniversary. Ten curators selected works for the boutique’s walls, including Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Stephanie Moisdon, Marie-Claude Beaud, Jeffrey Deitch, and Payam Sharifi. Cementing Sturtevant’s cult status, the most popular place to be and be seen at week’s end was the artist’s Thaddaeus Ropac blockbuster, “Raw Power,” a potent mix of works referencing everything from Robert Gober to Abu Ghraib. A minisymposium brought together the critics Ann Hindry and Raimund Stecker, Sturtevant herself, and MMK Frankfurt director Udo Kittelmann to dilate on the topic “falsity/truth.” I knew I wouldn’t understand a word, so I quickly shuffled off to neighboring gallery Cent8, where Serge Leborgne was presenting the work of Georges Tony Stoll, then hooked up with artist Hinrich Sachs, who accompanied me to Thomas Hirschhorn’s jarring exhibition at Chantal Crousel. Hirschhorn recently published a lengthy letter in Purple explaining why he didn’t want to be associated with fashion. Who could’ve guessed he’d be fighting off couturiers?
Saturday evening finally ended at Castel, the chic Parisian club, where Ropac and Frog magazine—whose cover features Sturtevant posing in vintage Chloé—threw a party for the artist with a dress code: “No messy running shoes.” Though Sturtevant had dislocated her shoulder while preparing for her exhibition, she was quite happy to dance till the wee morning hours surrounded by fashion folks like Irié, Pierre Hardy, and the CEO of Lanvin, now the art world’s special new friends.
Left: Artist Catherine Lord, curator Helen Molesworth, and “WACK!” curator Connie Butler. Right: Artists Martha Rosler and Martha Wilson. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)
“Vaginas, vaginas, vaginas. Aren’t they wonderful?” one local female curator whispered to me, and indeed, the moment I stepped into Thursday’s VIP reception celebrating “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” her point had been won. The first thing one sees upon entering MoCA’s Geffen Contemporary is Magdalena Abakanowicz’s thirteen-foot-tall knitted red vagina; imagine Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde as a gargantuan tea cozy.
Strolling among the roughly 450 works by 120 women artists, I was struck by the exhibition’s overwhelming diversity, from the truth-telling portraiture of Alice Neel and the bawdy pageantry of Judy Chicago to postfeminist Cindy Sherman and posthuman Orlan. Inspired efforts—seldom glimpsed by viewers outside of textbooks—appeared around each corner: nude snaps of performance artist and Throbbing Gristle member Cosey Fanny Tutti from her 1976 “Prostitution” show, held at London’s ICA, or Mako Idemitsu’s inadvertently hilarious film Inner-Man, 1972, in which a dancing naked male is superimposed on an image of a placid geisha.
In the main gallery, one rambunctious donor in a fur coat overturned an Isa Genzken floor sculpture when she clipped it with her very high heels. Security arrived on cue to admonish her, to which the dowager protested, “How was I to know it was art?” Nearby, the ubiquitous writer-curator Warren Niesluchowski stood in front of a pink-and-black Mary Heilmann (a taste of the painter’s upcoming retrospective, opening in May at the Orange County Museum of Art). The exhibition “really does re-create the moment,” he told me, tugging at the silk scarf around his neck. “Who knows what history will do with the movement, but right now it’s monumental."
MoCA director Jeremy Strick, designer Lorraine Wild, and MoCA chief curator Paul Schimmel. Right: Artist Judy Chicago.
As the crowd sipped white wine beneath a psychedelic green light show installed on the museum’s outdoor plaza, Carolee Schneemann tugged on my elbow and wondered aloud, “What on earth is ‘WACK!’ supposed to mean?” My slow reply didn’t suit the artist, infamous for pulling a scroll from her vagina in a 1975 performance, so I ducked into the lobby and checked the catalogue: Curator Connie Butler chose the word to echo the acronyms of the many feminist activist groups operating at the time. (The new coinage, it should be noted, is not itself an acronym.)
Back outside at the bar, I overheard artist Karl Haendel call out to photographer Walead Beshty, who was nibbling grilled vegetables, “I didn’t know you were a closet feminist!” The delightfully (but not overwhelmingly) female crowd clasped hands and shared hugs, making the affair feel a bit like a high school reunion, an impression underscored by the many artists turned out in their finest taffeta and lace. The mood was euphoric.
The following day, the light show gave way to faux-Hawaiian decor for an artists’ lunch held on the same plaza. Long tables were set with brightly colored tablecloths and bamboo chairs, and the hot sun glared overhead as eighty-nine-year-old LA artist and lithographer June Wayne delivered the commencement speech. She glided to the lectern slowly, but once there her words were delivered with energy and panache. Presiding like a female Capote—petite, bespectacled, and in possession of a rapierlike wit—she offered a mélange of history and advice, including my favorite remark of the afternoon: “Feminism will have won when women can be as mediocre as men."
After Wayne’s valediction, the exhibiting artists queued up for their own moment at the podium. What began as a simple declaration of name and location (“Monica Mayer, Mexico City”) was quickly seized as an opportunity to be heard, and proclamations against the war and memorials for the dead followed. MoCA director Jeremy Strick, wearing a black turtleneck and a wool sports coat, kept a firm, professional smile on his face as he attempted to remain cool despite the eighty-degree weather. A grim-faced Abakanowicz delivered an extended lecture on powerful European women throughout history. “We were not just one moment. There have always been powerful, fearsome women.” It took Suzanne Lacy, grande dame of the city’s long-lived Woman’s Building here in Los Angeles and chair of the MFA Program in Public Practice at Otis College, only four words to deliver the same message. Raising her fist jubilantly, she called out, “Suzanne Lacy! Fierce feminist!"
Left: Documenta 12 artistic director Roger M. Buergel with Documenta 12 magazine editor in chief Georg Schöllhammer. Right: Documenta 12 magazine's Cosmin Costinas and Afterall's Pablo Lafuente. (All photos: Armin Bardel, © documenta GmbH)
“So where is it?” whispered Frieze’s Dominic Eichler, slipping into one of the chairs set up in the main exhibition hall of Vienna’s Secession. Like me and numerous other critics and journalists, Eichler had come to attend the Monday-afternoon press conference launching the first issue of the Documenta 12 magazine, titled “Modernity?” Before I could answer, Die Tageszeitung’s Brigitte Werneburg confronted the panel, headed by D12 artistic director Roger M. Buergel and the magazine’s editor in chief, Georg Schöllhammer: “How can we ask anything if we don’t have the magazine yet?”
The D12 team’s decision to hand out the publication after the press conference was part of a larger strategy to transform the once-every-five-year mega-exhibition into a “medium”: namely, from a show curated around a predetermined theme into an active (and interactive) process. For the press conference, “we didn’t want a speech, nor texts about aesthetic experience,” said Buergel. “We want to get people not just to stand there but to produce.” In other words, Buergel wasn’t about to volunteer a curatorial tract, let alone a prosaic artist list.
When I finally got my hands on the goods, it quickly became apparent that this is a wide-ranging yet intimate read, which runs from Buergel’s reflections on the origins of Documenta to the Beirut artist Tony Chakar’s epistolary essay penned shortly after Israeli bombs pummeled the city, “To the Ends of the Earth.” The eighteen other contributions, including materials from the late Lee Lozano and Mira Schendel, were selected by Schöllhammer from over three hundred texts, almost all created after he invited ninety-one publications from around the world to respond to three questions: “Is modernity our antiquity?” “What is bare life?” “What is to be done?” (Artforum and Frieze, while being “the most relevant information media in the international art world . . . represent other formats than those magazines included in the project.”)
Vienna Secession's Melanie Ohnemus and curator Helmut Draxler. Right: archplus's Martin Luce (left) and Anh-Linh Ngo (right).
Schöllhammer’s choices from the larger pool of submissions (the next two issues, “Life!” and “Education,” will appear in April and May, respectively) is not a definitive selection, but rather a guide for future DIY editors: This summer in Kassel, visitors will be able to edit their very own version of the magazine inside the Documenta Halle, which the organizers hope will include a print-on-demand service. Those unable to make the trip can download articles from a website in the works. But the miles are worth clocking, since the editors of the participating periodicals—from Ghent’s A Prior to Zehar, based in Donostia-San Sebastián—have been invited to transform the Halle into an editorial office of sorts and produce on-site commentary.
What a plan: Instead of preparing a stodgy brick of a catalogue, D12 has managed not only to garner international pre-event press coverage but also to sensitize editors, writers, and readers to the questions that the exhibition will try to address. The curators have effectively combined Okwui Enwezor’s moving “platforms” of conferences with a virtual network that will continue to produce texts up to, during, and even after the show.
Kassel’s provincialism is its greatest asset, forcing curators to bridge the local and the international in a way that organizers in a city like Berlin would never imagine necessary, and the D12 team insists that the magazine has been a two-way learning process. “The project took us to regions where we had not planned to go,” said Buergel. “Modernity means different things in France, Spain, and Lebanon.” “In China, they say, ‘We never had a modernity, and we never will,’” added his partner Ruth Noack. “Although Käthe Kollwitz has been influential in Chinese printmaking.” “These dialogues are the working process,” continued Buergel. “These correspondences are the form of the exhibition.”
I caught up with other participants at a party held later that evening, and heard repeatedly that D12’s questions prompted a dialogue between local and global perspectives. “It was better to think about our history from our own perspective than to make a general statement about modernity,” said Heie Treier from Tallinn’s kunst.ee. Editors had the chance to meet one another via “regional and transregional” meetings, which, so far, have taken place in Johannesburg, Hong Kong, São Paulo, Cairo, New Delhi, Singapore, Beirut, and Bratislava. Next stop: New York (later this month). Budapest-based curator Lívia Páldi, speaking about exindex’s participation, summed up the attendees' effusiveness: “It really energized the scene. We were forced to look at ourselves from an outside perspective.”
Left: Dealer Yvon Lambert, artist Richard Jackson, and Yvon Lambert director Olivier Belot. Right: Marina Abramovic. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)
Ladies and gentlemen: The limited-edition goodie bag has arrived. At least, that's how it seemed on two consecutive party nights last weekend, when after-dinner art swag was nearly as rich as the money behind it.
First, on Friday night, at the dinner celebrating Franco-American gallerist Yvon Lambert’s capitulation to Chelsea colossalism, wooden-tray-bearing waiters surprised the guests by serving signed and numbered rubber duckies with dessert. The squishy yellow multiple, decked out in a green military helmet and a big paper neck-tag ID, commemorated California artist Richard Jackson’s inaugural exhibition at both the old-school and the newly cool Richard Gluckman–designed Lambert space, in the formerly cool Lot 61. (The ancien cuisine dinner of beef tournedos, however, was held in a rented recording studio down the street.)
For “The War Room,” in the big new gallery, Jackson installed a folded-up Bucky Fuller Dymaxion Map but substituted for the usual skin a reproduction of a Jasper Johns map painting of the world. (The original is in the Ludwig Museum in Cologne.) Human-size ducks armed with strategically placed air-pressurized tubes surrounded the canvas and, apparently, had ejaculated multicolored paint before the reception. I heard there was paint all over the ground, but I never saw the floor—too many people on it. This was a very Franco-Latino-Brooklyn crowd and included the entire roster of artists affiliated with Lambert’s New York branch: Joan Jonas, Kay Rosen, Anna Gaskell, and so forth, along with newbie painter Melvin Martinez, seated at my table beside Isabel (de la Cruz) Ernst. Her mother, Rosa de la Cruz, who was also there, is—surprise!—building her own museum in Miami, near her nonprofit Moore Space, and using an interior decorator as her architect. Architects don’t understand art, she said, I think. Unfortunately, Gluckman was not nearby.
On the way out, we were all given a slim exhibition catalog signed by Jackson. But this modest volume, even with the ducky, was only a harbinger of greater things to come on Saturday night, when Marina Abramovic celebrated her sixtieth birthday with a black-tie dinner at the Guggenheim. The booty there included the latest addition to the Illy Art Collection of coffee cups: A hefty Abramovic picture-mug. Another gift was the decidedly mixed pleasure of being first to see Seven Easy Pieces, the film that Babette Mangolte has distilled from Abramovic's weeklong residency at the Guggenheim during PERFORMA05, Roselee Goldberg’s first biennial of performance art. The final goodie of the all-Marina-all-the-time evening, which was really its own reward, was a catalogue—unsigned—from Charta, of—what else?—Seven Easy Pieces.
Left: David Byrne with Cindy Sherman. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Björk and Antony. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)
Cutting forty-nine hours of live footage to a reasonable length can't be easy, but Mangolte's film, ninety-two minutes of extreme close-ups showing Abramovic in self-inflicted agony, captures little of the rousing live experience. Of course, back then, audience members were free to leave anytime. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such nihilism combined with such narcissism,” said Pat Steir, when the lights came up. Personally, I was wishing they had opened the bar before the screening—and I am not a drinker.
Never take anything too literally in the art world, I always say, particularly the term black tie. Matthew Barney, for instance, merely donned a black T-shirt under his dark blue suit and still looked pretty suave. Abramovic, who scripted the entire evening within an inch of its Serbian life, had instructed the women to be “outrageously elegant,” and they eagerly submitted, most with more elegance than outrage. For her part, Abramovic wore a blue dress created for her by Givenchy, though she chose her own accessories: cheap plastic Halloween-skeleton earrings, one black, one white. The best outfit, though, probably belonged to the cherub-faced heldentenor Antony, who wrapped a white parachute-silk schmatte around his considerable chest with even more considerable élan. “It’s just a rag that was lying around,” he told me, but he looked fabulous, really, and sounded even more angelic than usual, including, of course, on “Happy Birthday.”
Rumor had it that Abramovic had tried to book Eartha Kitt to join him in a duet. Imagine! As it happened, Antony had plenty of friends and collaborators in the audience: an effervescent David Byrne (with new flame Cindy Sherman), a grim Lou Reed (with his old flame, Laurie Anderson), and a sweetly bojangled Björk, very attentive as her tablemate Kiki Smith explained the difference between this down-home, old-friends affair and the stiffer kind of art dinners one usually suffers at institutions. “Most of the time, you’re the one artist at the table, and you’re expected to entertain everyone else,” she said, her eyes sparkling as she took in the 350 familiar faces around her. “This is the biggest concentration of artists I’ve ever seen in one room!” agreed Shirin Neshat. “When it wasn’t a funeral, you mean,” someone else chimed in. (In fact, this very rotunda would become the site of a memorial for art historian Robert Rosenblum just a few days later.)
Unusually, for an art-world event today, just about everyone at the dinner could remember the '70s. That’s when Abramovic first came on the scene with Ulay, her former mate. Much to everyone’s surprise, he was there, too, standing up to cheers as Abramovic called out his name on a list of others—Chrissie Iles and Artforum’s own Charles Guarino—who shared her birthday (though not her birth year, as she was careful to note). At last, it was time for cocktails, and she raised a glass to toast, well, everyone, with “The Marina Abramovic,” a thick blood-red drink designed for the occasion by artist Ektoras Binikos from ingredients that might have included eye of newt and toe of frog, for all we knew, though we were told it was made from sixty-year-old balsamic vinegar, bitters, kumquats, and—in place of the blood and tears Marina had desired—red pepper powder. Oh yes, and gin.
Left: Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Matthew Barney. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)
On a menu described as “a fusion between the European Union and American democracy, designed to strengthen the body and elevate the soul,” the main course was—vegans be damned—“Serbian lamb killed in the traditional way.” (I’m told that means it was strangled.) During the meal, Abramovic thanked all of her significant others, starting with hubby Paolo Canevari and including her trainer and her all-important dermatologist, the notorious Dr. Norman Orentreich. (At this, there was much knowing laughter—a little too knowing, if you ask me.) “When you get old, you get wise,” Abramovic said, making me wonder if I should not be running out for Thermage or perhaps to slaughter a lamb, before I turn sixty, too.
Left: Christy MacLear, executive director of Philip Johnson Glass House, with collector Susan Bishop. (Photo: Patrick McMullan) Right: Collector Douglas Maxwell. (Photo: David Velasco)
The Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, will open to the public for the first time this spring. You’ll finally be able to have dinner there—for fifty thousand dollars. Or a reception on the grounds for twenty-five thousand. On Friday evening, a cocktail party marked the occasion in another still-stunning modern landmark, the Four Seasons Restaurant, the kind of glamorous, adult event that would make any schlub feel like they are in a New Yorker cartoon. The Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson–designed ambience was supersexy: a midcentury masterpiece with booze. Though the room was filled with suits I didn’t recognize, I enjoyed it immensely. Parking myself on the vintage Mies banquette, I wound up chatting with a couple of architects from RISD (we admired the Richard Lippold stalactite over the bar and discussed precocious schmoozers: One of their students had his picture taken with Johnson and then displayed it on the wall during each of his crits), fellow ink-stained wretches (from the Times and the Paris Review), and a chap from Knoll (“Artforum. I used to get it. A bit dense, no?”). This June, an inaugural gala picnic at the Glass House that will feature the Merce Cunningham Dance Company restaging its 1967 performance promises to be fabulous.
The next day, I made another house call. The collector’s “open house” is a strangely denatured social situation. As a yenta intrigued by other people’s stuff, I find them irresistible. Art collecting is perhaps the most esteemed form of shopping in our culture today. Thanks to the Armory Show, several big art accumulators in town graciously “open their homes” so other Armory-affiliated VIPs can check out their stuff. Here’s the protocol: You show up and wander around their art-filled pad strictly for connoisseurship purposes—sometimes the collectors make themselves available for chitchat and offer coffee, sometimes not—all the while pretending not to notice that what you’re really marveling at is the money that enables these people to live in their own private kunsthalles. It’s a passive-aggressive display of conspicuous consumption exalted by the noble calling of art patronage. Who could resist? These people are to contemporary art what Imelda Marcos was to shoes.
On Saturday morning, Douglas Maxwell “opened his home” (a phrase I heard several times when fellow collectors thanked him for graciously doing so). Dr. Maxwell is a psychoanalyst with a “full twenty-hour load” of sessions each week. He also teaches a class called “The Contemporary Art Experience” at NYU (Continuing Ed.) and has curated exhibitions as well. He, his objets, and his practice occupy three floors in the sleek converted loft building he owns in the West Village. I liked to imagine his analysands’ free associations funding the entire superswanky operation, but I seriously doubt that.
Anyway, in Maxwell’s kitchen, near a wall piece that looked like a head in a bag, we kibbitzed with another collector in from London. “Unlike analysis and curating,” said our trim, affable host, “collecting is a passion . . . an affliction, really! It’s personal. I trust my unconscious. I don’t want to explain why a piece grabs me. This collection reflects my eye.” I noticed his squarish Gucci frames as a Mozart symphony softly serenaded us. “When people come here I don’t want them to like everything! I don’t follow fads. Absolutely not. I don’t buy as an investment—though the Robert Gobers at this point are like transferring assets . . .” An affliction? “I always go to an art fair with no money and I don’t want to like anything!” he confessed. “Then I leave with like five or six pieces.” I can relate. I do the same thing all the time at H&M!
Passing through a white-walled, high-ceilinged foyer that opened onto a big, bright main space with nondescript furniture—one of those ICA-like spaces clearly all about the art—I was struck by the preponderance of dismembered body parts amongst the art specimens displayed almost clinically in this luxe, antiseptic environment: a large, processed photo of a woman “knitting” half a baby (working from the feet up to the torso); a clear, plastic, body-shaped bag hung limply from the wall near a sign that said DO NOT TOUCH THE ART. In a niche, a Gober news clipping reported on a man who intentionally sawed off his own hand. Lots of floor pieces: a knitted, Goberesque hairy leg, with sock and shoe; an eensy little mouse-hole door, with steps, framing the message STOP CRYING, DON’T BE A BABY; a faux “weed” sprouted from the spotless white wall a few steps away from Freud and Josef Breuer’s Studien über Hysterie as a tote bag. (“It’s a real oil painting.”) Tons of stuff.
I asked Maxwell to put on his analyst’s hat: “What drives the urge to collect?” “Well, there’s an obsessive component, for sure.” He sees himself as a caretaker of the art and added that's why he allows groups to come in and see the stuff. Walter Benjamin talked about “ownership” as the most profound, mystical relation to the object, I observed. “Well, I’m very proprietary, that’s for sure.” Maxwell described two recent mishaps, when pieces were damaged. One arm piece that extended out from the wall fell on the floor, and a foot-tall golemlike figure peering around a corner had to be redone. In both cases, the artists “are friends” and were happy to help.
Later in the day, a veteran artist pal ranted about a prevalent mode of art collecting and the weird effect it produces of schlock, sterility, and wealth: “We’re in a denatured world. Doesn’t Slavoj Žižek say we want things 'decaffeinated'? Like chocolate without sugar, coffee without caffeine. It’s like Paris Hilton! You know it’s thousands and thousands of dollars, but it looks trashy, like some schmatte she got from the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn. But they do that to art. It gets the imprimatur of one of them, then they all have to have it. It’s like a Lexus. When your work can’t be colonized like that, it’s difficult to find a market. Your market niche,” she cackled.
A weary German guy and a perky, polished lady, clearly art-fair regulars, bonded with our host. “Do you know so-and-so in London?” the lady beamed at Maxwell like he was a cute puppy. “She has some similar things. How do you keep track of it all?” “It’s all in here,” he points to his head. “I have pieces here, in storage, in Europe . . .” They agreed that Basel is the best fair and that Skulptur Projekte Münster is great to do by bike.
As I headed for the exit, two lady VIPs of a certain age rushed in, “Douglas!” they ran to hug him. “This is so hot!”
Left: Visionaire's James Kaliardos with Studio Museum chief curator Thelma Golden. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Robert Bishop and Woodson Duncan. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)
Left: Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Armory Show. Right: Martha Stewart at the Art Show. (All photos: David Velasco)
A mere five years ago, the Art Show was a somewhat sleepy affair, offering the slowest moving of opening-night crowds a chance to gawk at the excess inventory of a clutch of modern-master dealers, some outright schlock, and occasionally the blue-chip stock of a contemporary gallery with the cash reserves to acquire prime postwar work. But around that time, the Art Dealers Association of America, whose members apply to exhibit at the fair, began inviting contemporary galleries to join, and with the election of Chelsea dealer Roland Augustine to the organization’s presidency last year, the fair now has a noticeably younger cast. As I strolled past two wall-covering grids of silver balloons (shades of Andy) flanking the fair's entrance, I remembered reading that ten galleries are exhibiting simultaneously in this fair and the Armory Show across town.
One upshot of this two-timing is that, whether to make things easy on the new audience or because they have drawn so frequently from the well of their artists’ studios that they are out of inventory, seven of those dealers opted for single-artist presentations. Cheim & Read brought a bevy of Louise Bourgeois sculptures, while CRG chose to highlight Jim Hodges’s spider webs from the early '90s. A “one-person show” in a fair booth seems a bit dubious when listed on an artist’s bio, but when the work is new or, in the case of PaceWildenstein’s strong selection of Ad Reinhardt works on paper, most from the late-’40s, just plain strong, I’m happy to focus my wandering eye.
Matthew Marks kept things simple, showing a large orange curve by Ellsworth Kelly, a suite of seven drawings by Brice Marden, three pint-size Tony Smith sculptures, and early-’60s works on paper by Cy Twombly and Willem de Kooning; Peter Freeman displayed Gerhard Richter’s Nose, 1962, Marcel Broodthaers’s Chapeau blanc, 1965, and a Reinhardt black painting that nicely complemented Pace’s earlier works. D’Amelio Terras brought a lovely green-and-blue “Infinity Net” canvas by Yayoi Kusama, dated 1967, from the personal collection of the French artist Arman. And Chicago’s Rhona Hoffman showcased two late-’70s Leon Golub portraits, of d’Estaing and Kissinger. If you weren’t satisfied with the one-artist presentations on offer, it was easy enough to cobble together your own virtual blockbuster: David Zwirner, Anthony Meier, and David Nolan all brought strong early Richters.
I caught up with Augustine and asked him whether he’d encountered resistance from stalwart fair exhibitors as he attempted to change the fair’s profile. “Of course,” he answered, “but it was a fairly organic process. In essence, we’ve raised the bar.” If Fifty-seventh Street avatar Joan Washburn was in any way perturbed, she masked it well. But then again, she made the cut. Nodding toward the cluster of Pollocks she was looking to move this weekend, the doyenne said she was happy for the expanded audience. “And anyway, those who are only interested in the new don’t bother me. They just walk on by.”
Left: MoMA curator Peter Reed, MoMA president Marie-Josée Kravis, and Verona Middleton-Jeter, executive director of Henry Street Settlement. Right: Dealer Emmanuel Perrotin.
As Jay Jopling, Tim Blum, and a wave of other Armory Show exhibitors rolled in after installing their Pier 94 booths, I glanced at my watch and darted downtown to catch the packed New York premiere of Eve Sussman’s new film, The Rape of the Sabine Women, the much-anticipated follow-up to her acclaimed 89 Seconds at Alcázar. It was being presented with a live score by Cremaster sound track designer Jonathan Bepler; the composer was in Berlin with his wife, who was about to deliver a baby, and unable to make it to New York, so he had conducted rehearsals by Skype. The clatter he conceived, which ranged from a chorus of coughs to percussive butcher-knife sharpening (by musicians walking the aisles!), certainly animated the proceedings. Unfortunately, the eighty-minute-long film, while not without many beautiful moments, gets stuck in the no-man’s-land between on-the-cheap artist video and big-budget Hollywood production and also ultimately drowns in its too-numerous art-historical and cinematic references.
Still, I could’ve stood almost any kind of film—or my iPod, or a book—on arrival at the Armory Show on Thursday morning: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, slated to kick off the fair’s press conference at 11:30, neglected to show up until noon and used the event as his daily briefing, which netted a prolonged series of questions about the 9/11 memorial, taxes, and Staten Island. Antsy art journalists bounced off the entrance gates like pinballs.
We were all eager to experience this year’s heavily touted upgrades. These days the big-four fairs are a bit like publicly traded companies (and dealers impatient shareholders): Fair organizers have to beat expectations. As one first-time exhibitor put it, “You’d have to be an idiot not to make a profit,” so making back the booth-rental fee is no longer enough. Despite higher sales totals than ever, last year our hometown convention seemed to lose some of its mojo, with widely discussed dealer defections and a seeming lack of support—in the form of coordinated events—from the community at large. This year, the Armory Show slid a few weeks forward on the calendar, to coincide with the Art Show, consolidated its proceedings under one roof, hired celebrated restaurateur Danny Meyer to oversee the catering, and sent a full quarter of last year’s exhibitors packing, opening the doors to twenty-nine new recruits. (Spencer Brownstone, Giti Nourbakhsch, and Rodolphe Janssen are out. CANADA, Harris Lieberman, Michael Stevenson Gallery, the Armory’s first-ever exhibitor from Africa, and Istanbul’s Galerist are in; the latter, whose crates were languishing in Cologne courtesy Lufthansa, must be credited with the sparest opening-night hang. Those returning after hiatuses include Daniel Reich and Tanya Bonakdar.)
Left: Artist Vito Acconci. Right: Henry Street Settlement's Elizabeth Reid with ADAA president Roland Augustine.
All but one of the new initiatives went swimmingly. Glancing up appreciatively at the high ceiling, 303 Gallery’s Mari Spirito admitted she was glad to be off the “claustrophobic” piers a few blocks south. Keeping all the exhibitors together on one pier was universally hailed. Starting the MoMA-benefit preview at 11:30 AM cut down on complaints about collectors sneaking in early. Aside from a few non-square walls and shoddy carpet jobs (one midtown dealer’s frames listed off the wall as if the pier were floating midriver), what was there to complain about? The food. Meyer wasn’t allowed on the premises Thursday, and famished exhibitors schemed to cut the hour-long queue in the VIP lounge, the only source of nourishment for the several thousand people in attendance.
Testifying to the sheer number of competing fairs (Scope, Pulse, LA Art, Red Dot, DiVA, and others, I’m sure), to the auxiliary events worth attending, and most of all to the crowds, one collector described her red-eye in from LA: “It was like an airborne opening.”
And the art? With the exception of Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s mirror-lined garbage truck, which Mayor Mike commented on but few others seemed to pay attention to, there were few bold gestures on the floor. This is a tidy fair, all business: Save for a few strays like Lenny Kravitz, we weren’t even treated to celebrity sightings on the pier. The “big” excitement was work by artists in unexpected booths, whether newly landed or snatched from a competitor. Painter Edgar Bryan, who flirted briefly with 303, will show in February 2008 at Zach Feuer and has a painting on the booth. Not to be outdone, 303 has signed up Jeppe Hein, who recently exhibited at Sperone Westwater. Two Los Angeles artists, Eric Wesley and Karl Haendel, are now working with Maureen Paley and Harris Lieberman, respectively. Got it?
One ear-to-the-ground New York museum curator took all the Kapoors and Craggs and the endless midsize paintings by youngish and midcareer artists as a sign that the big fairs have jumped the shark. Glancing at his one-artist list of names to remember (congratulations, Anthony Pearson!), he lamented that these events are no longer the places to discover new talent. The buttoned-up uniformity was a little disappointing, but always up to a challenge, I offer the names of (more or less) new-to-me artists whose work I enjoyed Thursday afternoon: Charlie Hammond, who has a number of intuitive, comic, anthropomorphic abstractions and altered photographs at Sorcha Dallas, a Glasgow gallery I’m happy to see here; Adel Abdessemed, who’s well known in Europe but has had little Stateside exposure, represented by a sly installation of ten upturned airplane nose cones with Guston-like painted eyes at Kamel Mennour; and Anne Hardy, whose two unnerving photographs of jerry-built sets with Christmas trees and shooting targets are at Maureen Paley.
Painter Joanne Greenbaum summed up one of the difficulties viewers face with the presenters’ evenness: “Sure, good work looks good. But even bad work looks good.” The event’s organizers got much right this year; add only free wireless-Internet access and more readily accessible food, and this bare-bones fair (no public programs; few commissioned artist projects) will have met all the goals it sets for itself. And what of the exhibitors? I’ve been a bit of a skeptic when it comes to “Art-Fair Art.” But after a nine-hour tour through this year’s Armory, one can’t help but wish for a few cheeky interventions or at least some really ambitious conventional art. The strength of today’s market should give license to a little daring. If not now, when?