Left: John Van Doren and Adam Weinberg. Middle: Margo Leavin. Right: Michael Hort, André Schlechtriem, Harvey Shipley Miller, and Susan Hort.
Wine, wine, everywhere, but not a drop to drinksuch was the case Wednesday night at the benefit opening (for the Henry Street Settlement) of the ADAA’s seventeenth annual edition of the Art Show at the Seventh Regiment Armory in Manhattan. I was standing parched in a long line at one of the “main bars,” hoping to score a glass of San Pellegrino, when MoMA director Glenn Lowry passed by. He was wearing a bright red scarf with his sport jacket. I gave him a coy little Oliver Hardy finger wave by way of greeting and said, “You're not going to avoid anybody wearing that thing.”
“I forgot to take it off,” he said.
If true, Lowry was probably the only one in the joint trying to travel incognito. As motives for attending the Art Show opening go, being seen is probably in a dead heat with seeing who else is there. (Seeing art and buying art likely rank third and fourth. Where you think raising $1 million for Henry Street comes in depends on your view of humanity.) The venerable minifair has more quality art, at least on the high end, than hipper get-togethers such as Art Basel Miami Beach, but it isn’t as adventurous; TAS is about goods and quiet restaurant dinners afterward, where ABMB is all about trendiness and late-night parties. The seventy dealers at TAS were all ADAA members in good standing (sorry, Williamsburg), ranging from the hushed, red-velvet, early modernist ambience of Achim Moeller (leavened by a 1964 Christo-wrapped lantern), through the bankable semi-contemporaneousness of Knoedler, to the comparatively edgy Friedrich Petzel and David Zwirner.
I remarked cheerfully to Lowry that the occasion had the feeling of “a ball game.” After a couple of pleasantries he toddled off, perhaps wondering what the hell I meant. What I meant is that the Art Show gave me a bit of that feeling I get in the tunnel at the Garden, on the way into a basketball game. The buzz of anticipation, starting right at the coat check, surprised this usually wary skeptic. I realize modern art has been having it both ways for some timepeeing in fireplaces while trying to sell pictures to hang over the mantle. But I've never seen it all go down quite so smoothly and comfortably before. On the peeing side, the edgiest work in the Armory had to be a canvas by Christopher Wool stenciled with the words IF YOU CAN'T TAKE A JOKE GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE, meaning (according to most people I talked to) if you can't have fun in art then you ought to get out of it. And on the selling side there was Jim Hodges’s gold-leaf-covered New York Times, perhaps the showiest piece on view. Who knows what to make of it, but, as the white-gloved Glenn McMillan of CRG gallery reported, it sold almost immediately. Speaking of the Gray Lady, I personally liked Allan Ruppersberg’s very witty “study for a bookmark”a drawing consisting of a lot of blank space topped off by the New York Times's headline announcing the death of Willem de Kooning.
The crowd looked good, too: healthy, well-dressed and moderately upbeat. (Those last two words were also used by some dealers I talked to, offering their commercial prognoses for the Art Show.) Even the plastic-surgery queens looked less grotesque than usual. And their semibored grown kids seemed semiattentive to the art. Toward the end of the evening, I noticed that the real richies who paid up to $2,000 a ticket to get first crack at the goods had repaired to their idling town cars and a younger, black-clad (yes, still black-clad) art-world set had flooded in. At precisely 9:30 PM, however, the lights went off, and the security staff rather abruptly began herding folks toward the door. Too bad; I was having a good time. Just getting comfortable, in fact.
Left: Performers with Jason Rhoades and Paul McCarthy's “shit plugs.” Right: Street artist Bernie as “Punki.”
As people queued up for the opening of “Dionysiac” at the Pompidou Center last Tuesday night, a group of women calling themselves Les Artpies (a pun on “harpies”it sounds better in French)distributed flyers that stated, “Glory to virile art! Finally, the Pompidou Center has opened up to masculine art!!!” Clearly inspired by the Guerrilla Girls (though not wearing masksI recognized a few of the artists and journalists amongst them), the Artpies were expressing the view that the Pompidou has hit a new high with “Dionysiac.” While 93% of the works in the collection are by male artists, the flyer pointed out, this show is 100% pure male. The protesters labeled curator Christine Macel and the artists “Snow White and her fourteen macho men.” The artists seemed OK with that.
Anyway, such an imbalance is perhaps not surprising in a show that owes its theme and title to Nietzschespecifically, to his book The Birth of Tragedy, which dwells at length on Dionysus, god of ecstasy, madness and general chaos. The galleries smelled like shit, literally, and yak butter, thanks to Jason Rhoades and Paul McCarthy. The pair contributed several “shit plugs,” made from the waste left behind by Documenta XI viewers, preserved in blue cans with phallic lids. At six o’clock sharp, a crew of cranky-looking young people dressed up in white monkey suits entered and began dancing and squealing in a primal, determinedly Dionysian ritual that involved lighting candles stuck in the tops of the plugs. The show was officially open!
Previous Beaubourg exhibitions that, like this one, aimed to blur notions of art, life, entertainment, and performance“Hors limite,” “Au-delà du spectacle”were comfortably installed in the fifth floor galleries. As I navigated the crowd of visitors and dancing monkeys, I had to wonder why “Dionysiac” wasn’t given the same treatment; its voluminous pieces (most of which were commissioned for the show) seem cramped on the museum’s ground floor. With McCarthy and Rhoades, Maurizio Cattelan, Thomas Hirschhorn, Gelatin, and John Bock among the notable names on the roster, excessiveness and weirdness were to be expected, but, as usual, art-world pleasantries trumped subversion. It felt like just another opening, albeit one with costumes. Bernie, a street artist hired by Cattelan, gave a performance involving a scary-looking puppet that was a highlight of the eveningas long as you weren’t under age ten. Most of the few children in attendance took one look at Bernie and his puppet and ran, screaming and crying, in the opposite direction. Their parents must have missed the warning: “Some works may be inappropriate for sensitive audiences.”
Elsewhere, Hirschhornhis every move now tracked by TV cameras thanks to his controversial show “Swiss Swiss Democracy” at the Centre Culturel Suissepresented Jumbo Spoons and Big Cake, 2000, which is full of books that deal with utopia or the death of myths. “Yes, you’re walking on the artist’s piece,” was one familiar refrain. “Get off!” For his performance piece Cocktail, Kendell Geers offered free champagne to everyone, served in Baccarat crystal flutes cast in the shape of a penis (was it his?). The glasses were a hit, with art-worlders trying to tuck them discreetly into bags and pockets. “It looks like a urinary catheter!” “Yes, but it’s crystal!”
Not everyone was able to wait in the forty-five-minute line at the entrance of the shipping container that held Christoph Büchel’s fantastic Minus, an installation comprised of flash-frozen trash left over from a concert held on site the week before. It was already time to move on to Café Beaubourg for the usual round of drinking and smoking with Massimiliano Gioni, Emmanuel Perrotin, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Eric Troncy, Stéphanie Moisdon, Daniel Buchholz, Massimo di Carlo, Beatrix Ruf, and Migros Museum director Heike Munder. The whole Hauser & Wirth team, happy to represent fully one-third of the artists in the show, arrived before everyone left for Maxim’s, the unavoidable and tiresome post-opening spot. But the party wound up feeling more like one of the Palais de Tokyo’s over-the-top bashes than the usual ho-hum Beaubourg affair. With free drinks, penises everywhere, trendsetters and good music (one of Macel’s specialties), it was hard to find any reason to complain.
Left: John Bock. Middle: Thomas Hirschorn. Right: Christophe Brunnquell drinks from a glass designed by Kendell Geers.
Left: Francesco Manacorda looking at Oleg Kulik's Starz, 2005. Right: Christian Boltanksi's Odessa's Ghosts, 2005.
Colorful rumors and breathless warnings about the perils of visiting the Moscow Biennale are circulating with predictable alacrity. According to the grapevine, a Dutch installation techie was found dumped outside the city, groggy from Rohypnol, and corrupt police are supposedly extorting money from foreign visitors under the pretense of “visa checks” (though flashing your press pass might deter them). And then there's the biennial itself, plagued with controversies and troubles. The full list of artists was announced mere weeks ago, whereas the lineup of usual-suspect Euro-curators (Daniel Birnbaum, Iara Boubnova, Nicolas Bourriaud, Rosa Martinez, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist) had been in place since last spring. Most of these power players arrived days before the opening, leaving the bulk of the preparatory work to coordinating curator Joseph Backstein. That’s to say nothing of the tiff between Backstein, head of ICA Moscow, and Russian art gatekeeper Viktor Misiano, editor of Moscow Art Magazine and chief lobbyist for the bienniala clash that prompted the latter to be ejected from the team after Backstein asked the Ministry of Culture to dismiss him. This did not sit well with young Russian artists, some of whom signed an angry petition objecting to Misiano's oustingto no avail. Backstein won the bureaucratic battle thanks to support from artists Oleg Kulik and Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich, Evgeny Svyatsky, and Vladimir Fridkes of the collective AES+F.
All this debâcle sounded irresistible: a one-size-fits-all prefab biennial parachuted into a freezing-cold city that the local writer David Riff has memorably likened to “a monkey in a suit of armor.” Absolutely not to be missedeven if, like me, you decide to go one week after the opening, too late for all the parties.
So how is it? If you forget the main scandal that's preoccupying politically minded Russians (the $1.5 million budget and where it went) and the abysmal title (“Dialectics of Hope”), then the Moscow Biennale is a great show of new contemporary art that would do any city proud. But the Muscovite audience, accustomed as it is to homegrown art stars displaying yBa-style tactics of brash spectacularism (Kulik, AES+F, Vlad Mamyshev-Monroe), is apparently underwhelmed by its understated austerity. The fact that nearly all the artists are totally unfamiliar to viewers here doesn’t help; even Sergey Khripun, director of XL Gallery (the White Cube of Moscow), told me he'd only heard of five.
With forty-one artists, all under thirty-five, the biennial amounts to a mini-Manifesta, and the two main sites can be seen in a few hours. The old Lenin Museum and the Shchusev Museum of Architecture are a short slither away from each other over compacted snow and black ice around the Kremlin. In the former, Gelatin's Zapf de Pipi addressed the extreme temperature (and queuing and Lenin) via a makeshift outdoor toilet on the third floor, which featured a vast ugly stalactite of (possibly real) orange urine plunging down toward the courtyard. Another hit was David Ter-Oganyan's This Is Not a Bomb, a series of pseudoterrorist contraptions secreted around the building: ticking clocks, wire and batteries taped around pumpkins and jars of pickles, etc. Most of the video work is relegated to the Shchusev Museum, where you’ll also find a special installation by Christian Boltanski in which his rediscovered Odessa roots (lots of black coats hanging in a decrepit reconstructed palace) prompt him to fuse uncannily with Kabakov.
On Sunday night I hooked up with Elena Zaitseva, cocurator of “No Comment?” (an exhibition of young Russian artists in a paper factory), in the concrete chic of Maki-Kafe. She's philosophical about the “corruption” surrounding the biennial because what matters, she says, is the enormous and energetic parallel program that it has catalyzed. On Monday I tackled this program, some of which was infernally hard to find, as I had to contend with illegal cabs (i.e., hitching a ride in a Lada for a hundred rubles), erratic street numbers, endless courtyards within courtyards . . . It took me at least an hour to track down Gallery WAM, but I was rewarded by having the relics of Moscow Conceptualism enticingly explained to me by artist Yuri Leiderman. WAM's show is an appetizer to the best exhibition in town, “Accomplices” at the New Tretyakov (curated by Andrei Yerofeyev). This history of collaborative and interactive art gives a brilliant overview of how the scene has developed here since the '70s and shows how the collective spirit is still vital today, from the aggravatingly ubiquitous Blue Nose Group (three hairy blokes in bad underpants) to Radek (in which Ter-Oganyan is involved).
By Tuesday I was ready to tackle Viktor Misiano at the Pushkin Café, and I began to understand that the controversies around the Moscow Biennale are not primarily aesthetic but political. Although Misiano argues that six curators of this caliber and intelligence should have reinvented the biennial format in a radical way (and he's right), what’s really at issue, as he sees it, is a “neoliberal” government and a moneyed elite too eager to co-opt culture in order to facilitate markets and look global. Although the show contains excellent works, the circumstances of its production are highly troubling. Even left-wing political theorist Boris Kagarlitsky, author of the book from which “Dialectics of Hope” takes its title, publicly dissociated himself from the exhibition when he saw how it was unfolding.
As with most peripheral biennials, there's a trade-off here between wanting culture to represent a perfect ethical model and an awareness of the pragmatic realities of getting an event off the ground. The biennial may be a disappointment to many Russians, but the (self-funded) parallel program is more intriguing than anything a team of big-budget curators could have devised. If that energy can be channeled into the next biennial, we should see real fireworks.
We hopped in a cab last Wednesday night and headed over to ye olde sixth arrondisement, where Rirkrit Tiravanija's “Une Retrospective (tomorrow is another fine day)” was opening in the venerable Couvent des Cordeliers. The Couvent, a beautifully delapidated thirteenth-century gothic hall (and the site of a French Revolutionary club, where Marat's dead body lay in state), is the interim headquarters of the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC, whose building on Avenue du Président Wilson is closed for restoration. We've seen some good shows at the Couvent in the last year, including ones by Anri Sala and Annette Messager. The press material calls the hall a refectory, which would resonate with Rirkrit's communal meals of yore, and I went fully expecting to find some feast (or garage-band concert) in progress. On the contrary, we found ghostly evocations of past installations, each located in a discrete space with a prominent title emblazoned on the curving, pinkish, particle-board walls of the artist's temporary installation.
The first thing you saw was a plexi-windowed space called The Aquarium, which I later learned was a to-scale copy of the windowed space of the same name in the stairwell of the Avenue du Wilson ARC building. In fact, the whole installation of curving walls mimics the gallery spaces of that building, an echo of the artist’s to-scale model of Rudolf Schindler's house in LA, made for a show at the Vienna Secession. (A meditation on that piece was heard on the audiotape of the Paris show. One excerpt authored by the novelist Bruce Sterling: “I wish I could explain to you what it's like to live in the timeless space of one of these antique modern Schindler homes; in fact, I wish I could explain to you what it's like to live.”)
With The Aquarium, a svelte actress read from a typescript, something about ghosts and technology by French artist Philippe Parreno. At intervals, other women, acting as ARC tour guides, discoursed to small groups about the installations being evoked. I smiled when overhearing a mention of Plato's cave, and I found myself heading down memory lane when I heard an early food piece at the old 303 Gallery in SoHo meticulously recounted as “Un peu la cantine des artistes.” The crowd, of all ages and hip, was absolutely rapt, as if at some late-Surrealist theater piece.
The to-scale allusion to the ARC’s '30s architecture, with its great curving walls, lit by two long rows of fluorescent lights on the ceiling, was especially successful in the pale-stoned gothic hall. The dusty pink of the particle board looked very studied (and perfectly calibrated) next to the mottled stones and central, tall wood columns of the Couvent, by no means an easy exhibition space.
I spotted Hans-Ulrich Obrist, one of the show's three curators (the others are Laurence Bosse and Anne Dressen); Irie, the fashion designer and contemporary-art maven; the artist himself; and Laura Hoptmann and her husband, painter Verne Dawson. Laura reminded me, when I inquired, that she'd done her first project at MoMA in New York with Rirkrit, and that he'd been one of her advisors for this year's Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. Rirkrit also cocurated “Utopia Station” with Obrist and Molly Nesbit at the Venice Biennale two years ago. It’s a small world after all.
We walked out into the madeover Odeon area, complete with its new Starbucks and its lovingly restored bouillons, or workers' restaurants, and passed the great neoclassical Theatre de l'Odeon, its sandy luminousity peeking out from behind the tarps covering it during its elaborate renovation. Paris is full of such drastically cleaned-up, old-new buildings that really put a spin on my sense of memory and the past. Rirkrit's show had sent us into a kind of early-'90s tailspin, but that's what retrospectives do, don't they? As a rhetorical discourse, a ghostly disappearance, and a ramshackle monumentall rolled into onethe artist succeeded in making his Parisian nonretrospective seem like a haunting neoclassical ruin.
Left: Mary Kate Olsen. Middle: Tara Subkoff. Right: Models backstage. (Photos: Patrick McMullan/PMc)
The Imitation of Christ show at Lever House on Park Avenue last Sunday was a very chic fashion-week ticket. Tara Subkoff, the mind behind the madness, is notorious for her unconventional approach to the runway—in this case, she’d dispensed with it altogether. The seats fanned out in three directions to face the glass curtain walls of Lever House’s lobby; models stalked around the perimeter while the passersby and paparazzi outside looked on. There were also a number of planted gawkers, young but conspicuously unstylish women holding up copies of Marie Claire, Nylon, Vogue, etc. Perhaps they had a better view of the proceedings; within, one had to crane one’s neck an awful lot just to catch high-energy glimpses of the nonstop yet dispersed action. Mary-Kate Olsen was seated front and center, facing Park. Also in attendance: director Wes Anderson, Subkoff’s (former?) boyfriend. Imitation of Christ has always enjoyed a significant art-world following, and seen among the crowd were Jessica Craig-Martin, Cecily Brown, Stefania Bortolami, Amalia Dayan, Clarissa Dalrymple, Klaus Biesenbach, Mark Fletcher, and Milena Muzquiz of Los Super Elegantes. Mother Inc., so very present in the last few weeks, performed throughout the show to great acclaim. Dayan described Yvonne Force and Sandra Hamburg’s performance as “a piece of realism.”
The clothes: skimpy, revealing, pretty, and sometimes pretty absurd. Insect-faced models were typically draped with swathes of chiffonlike fabrics, often carefully arranged so as to barely cover their bee-stung tits; several looks were completely topless. But hey, this is Imitation of Christ, not Lane Bryant. Subkoff received cool reviews in the fashion press, but the mood at the show was buoyant. “Boots were very important,” remarked Muzquiz. “Floaty fabrics sewn into men’s suiting gave the garments an air of the contemporary business woman.” Word has it that Subkoff has some Imitation of Christ licensing deals in the works, so maybe her distressed and redressed thrift store/Courrèges aesthetic is about to hit the big time.
As Subkoff received her accolades from the crowd, we heard a loud crashing noise. A pane of Damien Hirst’s twelve-panel Pharmaceutical Windows (which once adorned his now-defunct London restaurant Pharmacy) had been smashed. Apparently the accident occurred when security guards were compelled to intervene as paparazzi ganged up on Olsen. A friend of mine with extensive connections among les grands was immediately on his mobile to art collector and Lever House owner Aby Rosen, who was upset but not freaked-out. Subkoff, however, blanched with horror. A friend consoled her: Darling, there’s insurance for this sort of thing, and besides it isn’t even a real work of art anyway, just lobby decor.
Left: Kristen Morgin, Sweet and Low Down, 2004. Right: Curators James Elaine, Aimee Chang, and Christopher Miles. (Photos: Elon Schoenholz)
It’s not often that the unfashionably early are rewarded in Los Angeles, but at the opening of “THING: New Sculpture from Los Angeles” at the UCLA Hammer Museum, those who showed up on time (myself included) were actually able to enjoy the exhibition, while latecomers were hustled through the crowded galleries in a scant five minutes by the officious guards. Five minutes? Actually, the drive-by viewing worked in the show’s favor, to the extent that “THING” curators Christopher Miles, James Elaine, and Aimee Chang predicated their choices on a generational return that reverses sculpture’s course from the late '60s expanded field to today’s discrete object-making. Call it sculpture in the imploded field. Though many of the works in the show seemingly relied on slowing down the viewer’s apprehensiontake Matt Johnson’s bronze orange peels, for exampletheatricality was out of the question on this particular night. Presentness may or may not be grace, but here it was the only option.
The usual funereal vibe of the Hammer’s two-level marble courtyard turned festive with a cast of thousands, including MoCA’s Ann Goldstein and Michael Darling; recent Hammer acquisition Gary Garrels; artists Christopher Williams, Liz Larner, Frances Stark, and Charles Long; gallerists Anna Helwing, David Kordansky, Susanne Vielmetter, and China Art Objects’s Steve Hanson; and more hungry young artists than one could possibly imagine. The archly laid-back crowd seemed more interested in the ebb and flow of the flash mob they had become part of than in making sense of the exhibition’s premise, though there were exceptions. Long, who essentially predicted this show with his quiet 2003 curatorial effort “Free Roaming,” helpfully noted that most of the things in “THING” were “roughly the size of household appliances.”
What, then, is “THING”? Or as Martin Heidegger might have asked, “What in the thing is thingly? We shall not reach the thing in itself until our thinking has first reached the thing as a thing.” My own theory perhaps owes more to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups than Heidegger: In “THING,” funk and finish fetish (the latter with its roots in custom-car culture) are the two great West Coast tastes that taste great together. Johnson’s Bread Face, for example, looks funk but was made with freakish exactitude using oil paint on cast plastic. Other artists venture off the proverbial map, offering up sculpture with a new (or, if not new, more oblique) syntactical structurefor example, Andy Ouchi and Taft Green folding unexpected painterly devices into their sculpture. In its relative openness, “THING” provides for such compelling detours. The show could have easily been called “WHAT THE FUCK? New Sculpture from Los Angeles”and I mean that in the nicest way possible.
Left: Kim Light, Gary Garrels, Shaun Caley Regen, Helen van der Moij, and Richard Hoblock. Right: Eddie Ruscha, Steven Hanson, Arlo, Frances Stark, and Erica Redling. (Photos: Tamara Sussman)
The Hammer’s Russell Ferguson, who was talking to Dia’s Lynne Cooke when I butted into the conversation, seemed mildly intrigued by my theory about the unholy matrimony of finish and funk, conceding that “there seems to be some relationship to sculpture from Northern California” (meaning funk of the dustiest variety). Taking a different angle, Ferguson spent his own two cents on the pervasive influence of Charles Ray. Indeed, six of the artists in the exhibition had studied sculpture at UCLA (where Ray holds court), and it seems likely these kids were hip to Ray’s kookier inclinations like material misapprehension and scale manipulation. Though not a student of his, Kristen Morgin pays tribute to Ray’s ghostly fiberglass car from 1997, Unpainted Sculpture, with her eerie, full-scale lowrider Sweet and Low Down, made of unfired clay, wood, wire, and cementthough one could look back to Ed Kienholz’s sutured sedan tableaux from 1964, which is a popular, permanent fixture further down Wilshire Boulevard at LACMA. Chuck Moffit’s eros bruises thanatos also explicitly follows from LA’s car culture, with an assemblage of upholstery, a V-8 engine, and other parts resting on blocks. Nobody I talked to mentioned Heidegger but most agreed “nearness” was an issue; there was something particularly regional about “THING.” In fact, most of the works in the exhibition indicated that recent developments in West Coast sculpture were, in fact, part of a longer, idiosyncratic local lineage: Larner, John McCracken, George Herms, Ken Price, Michael C. McMillen . . . I could go on.
Otherwise, “THING” seemed to prove that the MFA programs of Southern California are doing their jobs turning students into artists, and sculpture students are, for their part, busy making, well, things. The bulk of the assembled throng represented some relationship to the thriving local MFA programs and clearly had no difficulty digesting the exhibitioneven in five minutes. It’s difficult to say if this “definition” of sculpture-at-this-moment would play so well elsewhere. Judging by the mostly ebullient mood, nobody seemed to think geographic specificity was much of a problem. DJ Eddie Ruscha, with his own unique claim to LA’s artistic genealogy, spun the Dead Kennedys’s “California Über Alles,” a fitting tribute to the night of the “THING.”
The most radiant face in the art world last Thursday night belonged to Jane Smith, celebrating her ninetieth birthday at her LaGuardia Place loft with a party given by her artist daughters, Kiki and Seton. Before marrying their father, artist Tony Smith, Jane (née Lawrence) was a babe of Broadway. She appeared in the original production of Oklahoma in 1943, eventually taking over the romantic lead, and also modeled for the photographer Edmund Teske (1911–1996); his dreamy black-and-white portraits resurfaced in an exhibition at the Getty last summer, where several images of Jane pointed up her ageless beauty. Throughout the early 1950s, she sang with the Salzburg Opera, only returning to the concert stage in 1983, when she appeared in a recital with Rhys Chatham.
Jane married Tony Smith in Hollywood, with Tennessee Williams as best man. A Williams confidante from the moment they met in the 1940s, Jane still keeps her New Directions editions of his plays and stories close at hand. At least two friends from their old circle came for her birthday: novelist Donald Windham and Williams's patron Jeanne Bultman, a former Minsky's stripper who married Fritz Bultman, of the palatial Bultman Funeral Home in New Orleans's French Quarter. The studio and garden behind their residence was the setting for Suddenly Last Summer, which Williams wrote while living under their roof. Seton vividly recalled her mother's horror at the way critics in the 1970s savaged Williamsone of the greatest playwrights this country has ever produced. It was through him, she said, that Jane became part of the glittering circle that included Gore Vidal, Anna Magnani, and Montgomery Clift.
Among the fifty or so guests at the party were artists Richard Tuttle, Pat Steir, and Barry Le Va; the charming Lorcan O'Neill, in town from his gallery in Rome; and the imposing Virginia Dwan, mother of Earth art. Sitting tall and smiling in a red feather boa that was a birthday present from novelist Lynne Tillman, Jane was every inch the welcoming grand dame as Rob Storr (quickly quashing rumors of his imminent return to MoMA), Susanna Moore (in Oaxacan costume), New Directions editor-in-chief Barbara Epler, Susan Ensley, Walter Robinson, and Claudia Gould happily gathered round.
That true party animals do not die young was proved again the following night at Passerby, where Gavin Brown and Barbara Gladstone joined forces to celebrate their exhibitions of new work by Urs Fischer and Sarah Lucas. After a respectable interlude for drinks and oddly inappropriate tea sandwiches, Linda Nochlin led the likes of Elizabeth Peyton, Tony Just, Jessica Craig-Martin, Abigail Lane, and T. J. Wilcox onto the dance floor. (Even the demure Gladstone took a turn!) “Nothing much else to do here,” Nochlin said with a shrug.
As the party picked up steam, Lucas (whose show at Gladstone marks her first appearance in a New York gallery in seven years) serenaded new parents Gregory and Ivy Crewdson with creditable renditions of Kenny Loggins and Dolly Parton tunes. This behavior contrasted sharply with the role she took for her opening, where she put in only the briefest appearance and then repaired to the Half King for a pint. “Sarah had been working in the gallery for four days,” explained her beau, Olivier Garbay (“gay boy backwards,” she offered later on). “It was enough.” Her absence left attendees like Richard Prince, Michael Clark, Mary Farley, Hilton Als, and Charlie Atlas with two choices: Talk to each other or study the pantyhose-trailing metal buckets, bedsprings and concrete rugby balls (“sperm”) on view. Many studied. “Look,” exclaimed Gladstone, standing in the reception area. “It's the stars and stripes!” She was pointing to Aunty Jam, a large, rusted, globe-shaped metal cage set on plastered Army boots, with a stiffened pair of pantyhose flying from one side, under a spray of nylon stars on wire spokes. Prices were quoted in pounds. Pounds? “Sarah wants to be paid in pounds,” said one gallery rep. Can't say I blame herI do, too.
Left: Olivier Garbay and Sarah Lucas. Middle: Visitors enter Urs Fischer's bread house. Right: Gregory and Ivy Crewdson.
Not to be outdone, Urs Fischer had spent the week at Gavin Brown's Leroy Street space doing what one wag called “his Swiss folkloric thing,” and building a full-scale “gingerbread house” out of loaves of sourdough from a Sullivan Street bakery. The exhibition also included a platinum-blond wig that scratched itself with a mechanical hand and three laser-printed photos of Swiss streets and interiors “cracked” by meandering bands of red and white. People seemed to like these best.
For his part, Brown is never less than rousing as an art dealer, but time and again he demonstrates that inside his he-man chest beats the heart of a born set decorator. The back room at Passerby became an indoor oasis with his expert placement of potted palms, a couple of narrow, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, child-proof café tables and stools, and a surround of dark, heavy drapery. Rudi Stingel arrived right off a plane from Italy and after 10 PM the spillover from Matthew Higgs's “Trade” show opening at White Columns (and probably every other art event in town) thronged the door, the hallway, the bar, the toilets, and the sidewalk outside, where the art world's own Hardy BoysTobias Meyer, Todd Eberle, and Mark Fletcherwere venturing to park their car. When last seen, Lucas was leaping into waiting arms on the dance floor. Someone said it was too bad she would never remember the experience. Lucas had another opinion. “I always remember whatever I need to,” she said. Fucking A.
Left: Mother, Inc. performing. Right: Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, Leo Villareal, and Ann Tenenbaum. (All photos: Patrick McMullan/PMc)
The band was bee-oo-tiful, the crowd was bee-oo-tiful . . . It felt like Weimar in Chelsea on Wednesday night at Mother Inc.'s Fendi-sponsored CD “listening party” at Marquee. The cute invite, styled like a Fendi-brand 12-inch, advised a “Luxurious Lounge” dress code. I wore the tight brown Citizen cords I've worn all season: As a chronic skirt-addict, I'm working on accepting myself in pants. “You all look so great,” Yvonne Force-Villareal purred from the stage at her über-glam, über-connected art-world supporters. “I hope I look as good as you do!” The unofficial themes of the evening were vanity and the ever-more-explicit codependence between art, fashion, business, and shopping, with a subtext of insecurity. Marquee is a large, swanky club with the decor of a Gucci (whoops, Fendi!) store where you imagine high-end playas pour Cristal over girls' butts on less “cultural” evenings. As the duo Mother Inc., socialite/lady rappers Force-Villareal and Sandra Hamburg made their grand entrance descending a staircase, totally done in Fendi gowns and major hair and makeup, lipsynching to a remix of the disco ditty “Native New Yorker.” My own entrée was different. I wasn't on the list, though I'd RSVP'd. While assorted doorpeople determined whether I was kosher, I stewed and reflected, What is glamour without her handmaiden, humiliation? “It's humiliating even if you don't even want to go,” mused someone nearby, who also should have been on the list. “I think it's the people with the clipboards who are humiliated,” offered someone else.
Nevertheless, it's not often that I notice Jeff Koons waiting behind me on line. In the cold. He seemed calm. I waved to Casey Spooner, lead exhibitionist of Fischerspooner, the performance-art act where Mother Inc. made its onstage debut, rapping “Megacolon,” about a colonic. A mad, old baglady keeled toward the velvet-roped queue, raving in Chinese. She seemed a harbinger of something. Having made it inside, I tried to recover my “chi” while Nicholas Butterworth, who executive-produced the CD, gestured at the chic stage set, which suggested a luxe dressing area complete with two racks of clothes and a sleek couch where Fendi furs and finery were tossed as if by a frantic outfit chooser. “That's the real Fendi spring 2005 stuff. These girls don't realize how spoiled they are,” jested the music-industry vet, DJ, political activist and all-around involved guy. “It's not like this when you're on the road in Iowa.” As if!
“I'll never forget my art-world roots,” an exultant Yvonne pronounced in her eerily clear, firm, schoolteacherly diction to a dance floor crammed with beaming art-world insiders. “But I can get used to this!” Indeed, there was an infectious joie de vivre to seeing someone livin' her dream. In a purple goddess-ish Fendi gown, the Lady Yvonne was half all-noticing hostess, half overjoyed game-show winner. The girls launched into a rousing set, letting their fashion egos and ids run amok, “performing” as fashion victims obsessed with weight, plastic surgery and designer goodies. “ATM no TLC” is a touching paean to being kept: “You know what I want, better give it to me/How do you think I look so pretty?” is the catchy refrain. “Fashion Crisis” was the big production number. The girls introduced their fashion alter egostaller, thinner, more model-looking versions of themselves, one blonde, one brunetteand two soap-opera-handsome male authority figures, the Plastic Surgeon and the Shrink. All vogued their way through a well-choreographed ode to having a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. Sandra H., with her dark curls, was rather Maenad-esque, cavorting pregnant in her Fendi evening gown. “You're four monthsand you only look two!” stage-bantered Yvonne. Sandra bantered back, noting her collaborator's recent weight loss. The crowd ate it up. Mother Inc.'s lyrics express themes dear to both art and fashion: greed for luxury, beauty, and power.
One bystander couldn't put his finger on what disturbed him about all this: “The level of irony isn't quite right.” Hamburg and Force-Villareal seem to relish their self-imposed Stepford Wife-ism. Leo Villareal, Yvonne's nice, rich, supportive artist husband, was clearly proud: “She's funny. She has a sense of irony about it,” he told me. If he says so . . . Art collecting is perhaps the most esteemed form of shopping in our culture today. As an art advisorthat is, personal shopper to art collectorsand a well-documented clothes horse herself, Force is an über-consumer of both Art and Fashion. Mother Inc.'s performance of over-the-top shopping consciousness makes the classic Warhol move of turning consumption into production. By getting Fendi to sponsor them, their “performance art” about shopping becomes advertising for fashion, while fashion product placement, in turn, becomes part of their “performance art.”
The crowd was like a Vanity Fair party page, and not only because I recognized Ahn Duong, whom I only know of from party shots of chic events like this. I heard Salman Rushdie was there. And the fashionable plastic surgeon Daniel Baker. But your correspondent must apologize for neglecting to chat up famous people. Regrouping from the door tsuris, she was in a blicky mood and perked back up only at the end of the performance when most of the audience vamoosed. I really wanted to know what two totally tootsed-up drag queens thought of all this, since Mother Inc. were celebrating the values usually extolled by fashion-, man-, and status symbol-crazed queens. But alas, they disappeared in a pouf as I made my way toward them.
In a back lounge, on illumined display cubes, the latest Fendi bags were displayed like objets d'art. Fendi bodyguards hovered about, adding gravitas to the merch. Linda Yablonsky, the Artforum contributor who wrote the novel about junkies, said, “It's a merchandising party. It's how they do business. I'm not sure which business. Let's touch the bags and see if they”the bodyguards“say something!” Sure enough: “Ladies, step away from the bags.” I didn't even like them.
Left: Young artists visit the Kabakov studio, ca. 1980-81. Right: Ilya and Emilia Kabakov in Grenoble, 1994. (Photos: Moscow House of Photography)
“The piece is from '85,” says American critic and Ilya Kabakov expert Amei Wallach. “No, no, it's from '86,” retorts Joseph Backstein, Kabakov's old friend. Both of them should know, but here in the artist's former studiowhere the classic work 16 Strings has been reconstructedall straightforward facts seem to disappear into a thick cloud of Slavic mythology. It's January 30, the day after the opening of Moscow's first contemporary art biennale, and the curators, artists, and critics in town for the show have come here to pay homage. Kabakov built the studio himself in 1968 and lived and worked in it until he left the country twenty years later. It is a mecca and a sacred venue for recent Russian art, the birthplace of Moscow Conceptualism.
Minus twenty-two degrees Celsius is kind of cold, even if you've had several glasses of vodka during dinner, as most of us had before starting the difficult search for the studio. For me a drink was doubly necessary, since it is my first day off after a torturous installation process in the old Lenin Museum, one of the main venues of the biennale, which I organized along with five co-curators. Whenever you step into a taxi in Moscow you always have the feeling that it might be your last trip, but my fellow traveler and cocurator Nicolas Bourriaud and I manage to find the right building without incident. Snow is falling as we walk from one courtyard to the next and then up the famous 165 steps to the top floor. People appear in the dark, speaking French, and I notice Suzanne Pagé, director of the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and then one familiar face after another emerges: Rosa Martinez, cocurator of the biennale and director of the next Venice Biennale; Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, chief curator of Turin's Castello di Rivoli; the omnipresent Hans Ulrich Obrist, also a cocurator of the Moscow extravaganza; and all the key people from the Basel and Frieze fairs. Of all the exhibitions and projects that accompany the biennale, this show seems like the one nobody is willing to miss. It's a simple installation consisting of sixteen strings that run horizontally through the studio. Pieces of garbage with notes documenting everyday discussions among a typical Soviet-era family are attached like clothes on a line. The rooms is full of people silently reading, their heads sticking up above the strings.
So why is the artist not here himself? “He will never come back,” says Backstein (who took over the studio when Kabakov left the country in 1988 and turned it into an art school). “He made an exception when he attended his recent show in Petersburg. But he promised never to return to Moscow.” The city is the productive force behind everything Kabakov does, Backstein explains. “Moscow is the motor, but, of course, it's an imaginary city that probably has little in common with the Moscow of today.” So is Kabakov frightened of a confrontation between his imaginary Moscow and today's realities? I get no answer to that, since Backstein is already involved in other discussions.
One thing is left from the old days: A strange-looking lamp, festooned with lacy, flimsy material, hangs above a large table. I've seen it in innumerable photographs showing the key protagonists of the Kabakov circle: Boris Groys, Backstein, etc. It's made of the underwear of the artist's ex-wife Vicki. In a Russian art world that is being rapidly transformedinternationalized in a positive way, some would say, or commercialized and leveled, as others would claimthis fetishlike object seems to represent an increasingly rare point of permanence and stability. It's unique. I hope nobody turns it into a multiple.
“We are here to view an art exhibition. We are here for art, not politics,” Klaus Biesenbach said emphatically during his opening remarks at last Friday's private reception for “Regarding Terror: The RAF Exhibition,” the new show at the Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art (KW). Featuring over fifty artists, “Regarding Terror” bestirs the ghosts of the Red Army Faction, the group of Marxist-Maoist terrorists who hoped to destabilize the West German government and kick off the revolution via a series of targeted arsons, kidnappings, bombings, and shootings that began in 1968 and crescendoed in the '70s. Given that the RAF is as politically loaded a subject as you could think of, and that the debates surrounding the show turn precisely on the difficulties of drawing the line between art and politics, Biesenbach's claim seemed wishful at bestparticularly since the next speaker to take the floor was former Interior Minister Gerhart Baum, not exactly a regular on the Berlin openings circuit. Decrying what he sees as the German citizenry’s unwillingness to confront thorny social issues, Baum, at any rate, seemed to have politics very much on his mind.
“Regarding Terror”organized by former KW director Biesenbach, KW curator Ellen Blumenstein, and Felix Ensslin, a playwright and son of RAF member Gudrun Ensslinwas three years in the making. It was originally slated to open in November 2003 but was delayed when an early exhibition proposal leaked out to the press the previous summer, causing an outcry about “legitimizing” and “aestheticizing” terrorism. RAF victims' families sent an open letter of protest to the government, and wide public support sprang up around the idea that the show should not receive federal funding unless the curators promised to heed the families’ concerns and plan their presentation accordingly. Rather than accept federal supportand the conditions that were sure to come with itthe curators returned almost half of their initial grant and proceeded to fund “Regarding Terror” with private money, most of it raised through an eleventh-hour eBay art auction. This rudimentary outline occludes many of the details of the curators' grueling struggle to ensure that the spotlight focused on the exhibition instead of the minefield of RAF historiography, the politics of show planning, or Ensslin's personal connection to the subject matter. As Ensslin said to me, the curators had to walk a fine line: “We were attacked from the left for being too statist and from the right for glorifying terror.”
On Thursday, Blumenstein and Ensslin toured the show with successive waves of journalists both German and foreign; feuilletons (including a caustic essay in Die Zeit by RAF member Ulrike Meinhof’s daughter Bettina Röhl, who noted that “like the three letters S-E-X. . . R-A-F sells.”) were published in every major media outlet; and all week even taxi drivers offered up opinions on the proceedings: One artist told me that her cabbie, noticing her copy of the exhibition catalog, launched into a rant about how Andreas Baader was a good-for-nothing kid who would not have turned to terrorism if he wasn’t so “bored.”
The exhibition somehow manages to hold its own in the midst of this frayit comes across as neither explicitly didactic nor too aestheticized. This balance is achieved in part because the worksby a group of artists including Beuys, Kippenberger, Richter, and Polke as well as members of a younger generation like Michaela Miese and Johannes Wohnseiferfocus on media representations of the RAF. Thus the terms of the debate are subtly shifted from the group itself to what a wall text calls its “media echo.” (This will inevitably be used as a criticism; almost without exception, the brownish-yellow of faded newspapers and the black-and-white of news photos predominate.) The RAF was savvy about self-presentation, and it is difficult to overestimate the power of their polarizing presence in the '70s. One visitor at the private view, a music critic pursuing a doctorate on the subject of mourning, said, “For any German between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty-nine, the most prominent images from childhood are those of the RAF.” Another recalled seeing “Wanted” posters featuring members of the gang in every post office when he was growing up. The weight of history is palpable in the exhibition, which sprawls through the entire museum and into a nearby church. Several younger artists admitted to being intimidated by the context and unsure as to whether their creations would pass muster as ruminations on a subject that has launched dozens of dissertations and documentaries.
That the opening coincided with the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz only added to the gravity of the proceedings. So many people showed up for the Saturday-night opening that they had to close the doors to the museum for a while and the police arrived to control the crowd. But for the most part the receptions were not boisterous affairs, mostly taking place in an apartment on the museum's premises and attended by a mix of artists, curators, journalists, politicians, and historians. All the members of this diverse crowd seemed eager to espouse their own theories about the RAF, the controversy surrounding the show, and the place of both in the German imagination. One Berlin gallery director summed up a common sentiment, expressing doubt about the quality of art chosen primarily for its subject matter but emphasizing the show's importance and her need to visit multiple times in order to fully absorb it. As Ensslin said one night at dinner, “I don’t know how this show will affect the discourse surrounding the RAF. My only hope is that it does, and that people take into account these artistic positions in the future.” Since the media attention is unlikely to die down soonthe museum is still fielding daily calls from television producers and magazine editorsit is safe to say that his wish will be granted.