Wild Palms

London
07.29.05

Left: Cerith Wyn Evans. (Photo: Ali Janka) Right: Kembang Kirang, playing the gamelan. (Photo: Polly Braden)


Full of honeyed light, looming tropical fronds, and lazily splashing koi, the third-floor conservatory is one of the quieter corners in that Brutalist warren of exhibition and concert halls known as the Barbican Center. It’d be a good place to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon in its own right, but add in the fact that Cerith Wyn Evans has mobilized this paradisiacal green zone with a chancy, multistrand sound piece—not to mention that the city’s feeling somewhat torn and frayed thanks to the recent terrorist bombings and the police killing of an innocent suspect—and, as was clear from the crowds that showed up last weekend, you’ve got a winner.

Entitled Eaux D’artifice (For K.A.), Wyn Evans’s five-hour work—on this date a combination of live performance and recorded tracks—takes as its reference points a 1953 short film by Kenneth Anger set in an eighteenth-century pleasure garden and the chance operations of keen gardener John Cage. Getting there early, I found the space all but empty and the piece drowsily rousing itself. David Bowie’s version of Across the Universe faded into a selection of softly keening vocals-and-cello pieces by the late Arthur Russell; moving through the maze of discreetly placed loudspeakers, one could hear snatches of birdsong—the sort of atmospheric filler Brian Eno used to call “MSG” and stir into a mix that wasn’t going well. Wandering across to an annex bursting with cacti turned up a live vocal quintet who didn’t seem to be performing their Elizabethan songs so much as scrappily rehearsing them, collapsing regularly into tinkling laughter. Soothing as this all was, I wasn’t up for five hours of it—so once my heartbeat had slowed to a crawl and I’d woken my companion up, we headed downstairs to the Barbican’s ground floor, where a very different kind of performance was scheduled.

Left: Voices Adastra. (Photo: Ariella Yedgar) Right: The Derby Tup, performed by the Harthill Tuppers. (Photo: Polly Braden)


About to close was “Folk Archive,” a knockabout exhibition of British folk art cocurated by Alan Kane and Jeremy Deller, last year’s Turner Prize winner. Standing in the exhibition hall, greeting family friends, and enthusing about a forthcoming stint as a judge of a competition for gurners—facial contortionists expert in pulling their lower lips over their noses—Deller directed us to the show’s live component of traditional Mummers’ plays, about to commence nearby. “You won’t be able to miss them,” he said, somewhat ominously. And so it proved. With a jingle of bells and a clatter of sticks, a troupe of “Tuppers” from Yorkshire—one in boisterous drag—knocked out an impromptu Morris Dance (a centuries-old English collective dance involving blunt swords called “rappers”—which might lead to some confusion if it ever crosses the pond) prior to performing the Derby Tup, an old fundraising playlet about an unfortunate ram that gets lustily slaughtered. (Cue a butcher asking female members of the audience if they’d like to stroke his blade.) Next up, in dusty Dickensian dress, were an octet of “hoodeners” from Whitstable, on the Kent coast, who swore that what they were about to relate—an inscrutable story that involved chasing a wooden-headed horse around and eventually coaxing an audience member to ride it—was still performed in their local pubs in the run-up to Christmas. Surreally entertaining (and well, if bemusedly, received) as it was, this double bill nevertheless made me faintly thankful I no longer live in either Whitstable or Yorkshire.

Back upstairs, Wyn Evans’ piece was in full gear. Added to the vocal group was another, specializing in snaky Renaissance polyphony; a wind quintet, perched on a walkway, essaying some Bartók-ish modernism; and, best of all, a full gamelan orchestra, bent over their mallets in natty green and orange uniforms and drumming up a funky yet decorous storm. Bowie was back on the stereo. Cacophony was avoided thanks to careful spacing of these attractions and weird fortuities of acoustics, allowing one to create one’s own mash-up of eras and cultures—a dizygotheca elegantissima, to borrow the fortuitous name of one of the plants. It was evident, though, from the sultry looks ricocheting among the single audience members—and the percentage that’d paired off under shady date palms—that the place had also developed an extramural purpose. For a few hours, this aleatory hothouse may well have been the best pick-up spot in town.

Martin Herbert

Solitary Refinement

Brooklyn
07.26.05

Left: Jeannie Hopper of WPS1.ORG. Right: Tim Goldsworthy and Tim “Love” Lee.


“Against Nature,” a weeklong series of performances inspired by the careening decadence of J. K. Huysmans’s novel of the same name, is a multidisciplinary collaboration at the ten-month-old theXpo Gallery in DUMBO. The neighborhood is deserted on summer weeknights; the gallery was an oasis of activity. Eric LoPresti, a painter, had hung his high-grade Photorealism—mostly paintings of bundled extension cords, with the remarkable exception of a knot of eels—on the walls. They are done in industrial OSHA hues and are placed on flat colored grounds carefully chosen for maximum “zing,” as they say in art school. LoPresti’s dilemmas as a painter—psycho-optical ones like, “We know the cords are there, yet we cannot see all of them, so how do we know they are there?”—are a bit long in the tooth, but he impressed them upon me with appealing earnestness. Tim “Love” Lee, a recording artist and founder/boss of the stalwart Tummy Touch record label, curated the series of spontaneous analog sound performances to accompany the paintings and commemorate the release of his new album. On the night I attended, the second of the week, Lee was playing a custom-made synthesizer named Macbeth while Tim Goldsworthy, fifty percent of cerebral disco ducks du jour The DFA, played his version of the Muse, the legendary and rarely seen machine built at MIT in 1972 in the hope that computer-generated tone sequences might completely replace the hi-fi as a source of sonic ambiance in the home. Daniel Reich Gallery’s Gavin Russom had modified the Muse to further pervert its outer-space patterns. Goldsworthy and Lee were warming up as I surveyed the scene.

Neither LoPresti nor Lee were particularly keen to discuss the finer points of the astonishing, encyclopedic rhapsodies of Huysmans’s splenetic classic, and their concerns did not outwardly seem to reflect the Frenchman’s. His ruminations—on flowers, Goya, Christianity, wine, fabric, Gustave Moreau, jewels, Incunabules—run the gamut of preoccupations available to a loopy and enfeebled aristocrat shuttered in a chateau. “I was trying to get out of a [music] publishing deal,” Lee told me while a taped mazurka played between the live sets, “so I said ‘I’m gonna make an album in a week, just make noise with two synthesizers and hand it in and free myself.’ Then I started enjoying it, and it took me three years. I ended up loving it. That’s Against Nature, which can also be translated as ‘willful difficulty.’ I learned the joys of willful difficulty.” He returned to the stage and started twisting knobs and sliding sliders with Goldsworthy and I began to understand how Huysmans’s book had inspired him; why a man who is best known for releasing populist dance music for cheery clubbing was tonight turning out hiss and interference, making ping-pong echoes bounce in and out of phase; and, most nightmarishly, channeling a detuned Suicide at Max’s in 1980 with the grimmest of synth lines. Lee had uncovered a central lesson of Against Nature: Being a misanthropic, self-absorbed bitch does not prevent you from expressing complex ideas clearly; in fact, the solitude it affords can take you far out, man, in a most useful way.

Left: Eric LoPresti. Middle: The Muse. Right: Artist Melissa Dubbin, who also performed as part of “Against Nature.”


“We are creating an oral history,” said Jeannie Hopper, a woman with three business cards and seventeen years of experience in radio programming. She’s the chief curator of WPS1.ORG, one of the truly great free-form radio stations on the Web and she was beaming the event live to the Internet from her laptop, interrupting the wall of sound now and then to pitch whispered comments to her listeners. Suggesting to me that “if we record these events we can return to them, we can figure out what they’re worth,” Hopper’s work was entirely in keeping with the evening. In documenting this moment for solitary future listeners she was complicit in returning it to the isolation in which it was conceived. “I believe in radio,” she told me. Another person in charge of programming, theXpo director Jan Larsen, spent most of the evening hidden in his office. But by the time we met he too was clearly caught up in the candid, contrary spirit of the evening. “This music would not be my choice at all. I like it a bit more bubbly and bouncy. You know. . .” a beat, then the coup de grâce: “Straight retail.” Even though there wasn’t a soul there who wanted to talk to me about Moreau’s Salome, or even Against Nature for that matter, I was plenty fueled to go home and argue with myself, in solitude.

William Pym

Helter Shelter

Los Angeles
07.19.05

Left: A performance view. (Photo: Dean Sameshima) Right: Brian Butler, Daniel Hug, Alessandro Nivola, Emily Mortimer, and Milena Muzquiz. (Photo: Sabina McGrew)


On Thursday night, Los Super Elegantes’ new musical, The Technical Vocabulary of an Interior Decorator, premieres at Daniel Hug Gallery in L.A.’s Chinatown, itself a Disneyfied fantasy neighborhood, at least by comparison to New York’s. Fans of Milena Muzquiz and Martiniano Lopez-Crozet’s theatrical mayhem have turned out in force, among them a passel of New York dealers—Jeffrey Deitch and his lovely assistant, Nikki Vassall, and Amalia Dayan and Stefania Bortolami—as well as Chinatown gallerist Javier Peres (LSE’s last play in L.A., The Falling Leaves of St. Pierre, was staged at Peres Projects), and David Kordansky. The performance is late getting started, and people are milling about in the patio area behind Hug’s gallery, sipping cocktails, gossiping, hooking up. The actors Alessandro Nivola and Emily Mortimer, who starred in The Falling Leaves, supply Hollywood shimmer; plenty of artists complete the scene, among them Kim Fisher, Stephanie Taylor, Aaron Young, Dean Sameshima, and Piero Golia. Finally, sweaty but enthusiastic, the crowd finds seats inside Hug’s gallery, which LSE has tricked up as a trippy mise-en-scene, the stage wrapping around the audience on three sides.

The play begins with publisher Ferrucio Wolf (Lopez-Crozet), having sold his travel magazine Bon Voyage, bemoaning the sad state of his décor. He calls upon visionary decorator Mimi Patino (Muzquiz) for help. The scene then shifts to the decorator’s office. Patino, in a bizarre triple-collared dress suggestive of a Balenciaga schoolmarm, confers with her assistant, played to extraordinarily campy effect by Paul Gellman, who starred in LSE’s 2004 Whitney Biennial extravaganza-on-a-shoestring, Tunga’s House Bar. “Your soft sculpture from Liechtenstein has just arrived,” he announces, his flailing arms encased in the artwork, a small aperture at its center serving as a mouthpiece. A fax has just arrived from one of Mimi's clients—Mimi works only from faxes. The client, a certain Florent, rhapsodizes over the transformative powers of nature. “My interest is less romantic perhaps,” Mimi comments, “but just as accessible. I like to work with manmade debris… gloves, bits of wire, cement. Dumpster. Can you write that down?” Paul then relates the goings-on at the super swell club (indicated by a neon arrow pointing to a hole in the wall and neon script spelling out “The Library”) that Mimi designed some time ago and that coincidentally adjoins Ferrucio’s apartment.

A lot of things happen. Summarizing an LSE performance can be tough. The duo is renowned for its inventive casting: In this instance, party-out-of-bounds L.A. collector Shirley Morales sashays through various scenes, frequently turning to the audience with a frozen smiling face that is just a tad creepy. It’s never quite clear what her role is, except just being fabulous by virtue of being Shirley. (Aside from Mimi and Ferrucio, all the characters go by their own names.) Mimi drags her client around his apartment while her assistants pile books on his hands and feet. Muzquiz explains: “We’re sculpting him. We got a lot of ideas from this ‘70s housewife book about making stuff from found objects. You know, like taking used egg cartons and making veggie dip containers out of them.” Eventually she moves the club kids over to Ferrucio’s apartment to complete the redecoration, viz, the destruction of the entire place. Jenna Curtis—an LSE performance veteran—sits front and center, trembling and wigging out throughout the scene. As she quivers uncontrollably, the partygoers tear the place apart. Mari, queen of the club kids, sponge-paints the walls red using sneakers, which she then nails to the wall, while a projection of Caravaggio’s Medusa’s head flashes on and off. Then the “decorators” collapse in a heap, much like the would-be revolutionaries at the end of Tunga's House Bar.

Left: Jennifer Nocon, Justin Beal, and friend. Middle: Stephen Prina and Alvaro Perdices. Right: Milena Muzquiz, Emi Fontana, and Martiniano Lopez-Crozet. (Photos: Sabina McGrew)


Mimi enters with Ferrucio, who is agog with delight over his refurbished pad. She points out various details, e.g., Mari’s paint splattered sneaker-chic wall, which she describes as a “Bruce Nauman—very extreme.” She hands Ferrucio his bill, reminding him that there is a “thirty percent discount for South American expats,” a self-reflexive moment, I think, as LSE seems to be commenting on their own image and its “destruction” in this work. Studying the bill, Ferrucio collapses in shock, whereupon a voice-over intones some Marxist-sounding blather about “production.” As it happens, this is taken verbatim from Fassbinder’s The Niklashausen Journey, where, as Muzquiz explains, “the hippie guy gives this lecture in a garbage dump to his Christian followers.” The Fassbinder moment is serendipitous. “The destruction, I mean decoration, scene reminded me of The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant,” Bruce Hainley comments. “In virtually every scene of that film, you have that Rubens-type painting backdrop. The way Marti and Milena use Caravaggio’s Medusa’s head seems analogous, a high art emblem for all the decadent shenanigans.” Only one criticism occurs to me: When Ferrucio receives the bill, he shouldn’t react with fainting horror, but instead shrug his shoulders and casually remark, “Not so bad.” Muzquiz responds enthusiastically to my suggestion.

Techincal closes with Lopez-Crozet and Muzquiz lip-synching a new LSE pop song that is a hit on Mexican radio. “It’s sort of like Mimi and Ferrucio are becoming us again at the end,” Muzquiz adds—another self-reflexive gesture? “Everyone says, ‘We love the song,’” she sighs, “I guess there’s no escaping the shaky-shaky-boom-boom appeal of what we do, no matter how much concrete poetry and readymade Marxism we shovel in.”

Afterwards, the cast and friends repair to a party at The Mountain, the Chinatown artist hangout designed by Jorge Pardo. The décor? Red and molten and vaguely Chinese. I never saw chinoiserie I didn’t like—but hey dude, like whatever. “Chinoiserie? More like cucaracharie,” Hainley says. And later still a small group, among them Muzquiz and Lopez-Crozet, decamped for an afterparty in my hotel room. Way fun, but I shudder like Ferrucio when I imagine the minibar bill.

David Rimanelli

Witch on Heels

New York
07.12.05

Left: A view of the Kiki & Herb performance. Right: The crowd on 25th Street. (Photos: Julian Fleisher)


Your diarist is wicked hungover but still committed to writing five hundred words about Kiki and Herb’s free concert Thursday night following the opening of “Founders Day,” the Jack Smith-inspired summer show at Grimm/Rosenfeld. (How many words is that?) The charming, disarming, and often alarming pair serenaded their adoring audience from a third-floor fire escape across 25th Street from the gallery. Framed by a spotlight against the brick façade of the gallery building, the mise-en-scène was very West Side Story meets Evita. Every once in a while a truck went by and blocked the talent. The mix of dumpiness and Hollywood fantasy was a fitting homage to Smith, the pioneer performance artist and filmmaker who died without a bean, got a posthumous retrospective at P.S. 1, worshipped—literally, with a shrine—B-movie actress Maria Montez, and filmed his best-known but still obscure flick Flaming Creatures on a Lower East Side roof in 1963.

With a nod to Smith, “wherever he is,” Justin Bond (a.k.a. Kiki) regaled every art world homosexual who was in town that night (plus Alan Cumming) with inspired song stylings, political commentary, and fire escape-straddling, at one point riding that banister like a giant blonde witch in a red sequined halter dress—a good witch evoking the Dionysian, anarchic, and profoundly transformative (when it’s done right) powers of art and drag to pierce our various little identity bubbles and the illusion of separateness that keeps us, um, separate. (Did I mention I’m hungover?) Ladies and gentlemen, it was a love fest. Between-the-ditties patter included swipes at the “Nazi pope” and at teetotaling religious types who run around blowing things up—which makes religion a bit more dangerous, Kiki philosophized, than tippling. I’d love to see her and Ann Coulter go at it on one of those Fox political gabfests. Justin had just arrived from his new base in London the day before the recent terror bombs, he’d told me earlier. One went off near his place. “It probably would have woken me up,” he deadpanned. On keyboard, Kenny Mellman (a.k.a. Herb) was brilliant as always, and as strange, intermittently erupting from a state of trancelike absorption into Tourette’s-like vocal outbursts. His howls were the perfect foil for Kiki’s wit.

They ended with a rousing sing-along version of a crucifixion ditty: “I’m bang bang bang bang bang bang banging in the nails!” The delighted crowd of “bitches and motherfuckers,” as Kiki lovingly addressed her flock, gleefully sung along like happy campers. Everyone was smiling.

Left: Kiki of Kiki & Herb. (Photo: Adrian Rosenfeld) Middle: “Scotty” and Sandi Dubowski. Right: Roland Perleman and Jared Geller. (Photos: Julian Fleisher)


The after party was at Siberia, the skankiest bar I’ve ever been to, with “nightmarish bathrooms” (as advertised on Citysearch). John Cameron Mitchell was the DJ, “perhaps winning a small battle with his own diminishing relevance,” observed one bitch, who nevertheless had “to give him credit for spinning some really cool tunes.” I chatted with filmmaker Sandi Dubowski, NYU MFA department chair Nancy Barton, and Scotty, a burly guy in a blue bunny suit. The late performance (which I didn’t stick around for) was “a mess,” Julian Fleisher, who produced Kiki and Herb’s concert CD and authored The Drag Queens of New York, said the next day. “Decent performers, Taylor Mac and Hattie Hathaway, and Divinia Handbag. Behind them onstage on the (skanky) couches, some director was directing two Joe D’Allesandro types to wrestle and Petit Versailles was waving a big black dildo around while Hattie Hathaway—who’s really the downtown drag community’s historian—was talking about Maria Montez and her relationship to Jack Smith, and these guys were rolling around in an almost lackadaisical way, oblivious to everything around them. Hattie’s little lecture was a perfect bookend to the evening, which began with Jack Smith’s penguin (in the show at Grimm/Rosenfeld). She was trying to tie the whole thing together, but was overshadowed by these low rent whatevers. Well, that cleared the room.” Fabulous.

Rhonda Lieberman

Pop Rocks

Los Angeles
07.08.05

Left: Petra Haden and the Sell Outs. Right: Stephen Prina “live.” (All photos: Tamara Sussman)


It was a beautiful summer Friday evening in Los Angeles as I arrived at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre for the world premiere performance of Petra Haden’s a cappella remake of The Who’s 1967 album, The Who Sells Out, presented by the Society for the Activation of Social Space through Sound (SASSAS). Encircled by lush flora, the Ford is a handsome, vaguely medieval fortress, its idyllic charms heightened by its proximity to the decidedly un-idyllic 101 Freeway. I reached the stage in time to hear the end of the sound check. Petra was the sole performer on the recording, but is joined for live renditions by nine female vocalists—including her sister, Tanya, and Carla Commagere, who on this night looked nine-and-a-half months pregnant and was the undeniable center of attention. Throughout the sound check, I sensed some obvious nervousness, probably attendant to the word “premiere,” but the rich harmony sounded great.

I can’t reach you
I strain my eyes
I can’t reach you
I split my sides
I can’t reach you

After the sound check, I followed Tanya into the backstage bowels of the Ford, and—just as I was thinking it—she jokingly referred to the scene in This Is Spinal Tap where the band gets lost in the backstage labyrinth. But this backstage scene was very mellow: No rock star shenanigans here. I said hello to opening performer Stephen Prina before heading to the patio to watch the audience arrive.

Reflecting the overlapping interests of the art and music communities, about half the crowd looked familiar. There were contingents with connections to Prina’s alma mater CalArts (James Welling, Thomas Lawson) and to Art Center (Taft Green, Julian Hoeber, Joel Tauber, Lindsay Brant), where Prina taught before taking a job at Harvard. Dave Muller, chatting with Alex Slade and Mungo Thomson, showed off the tiny Ozzy logo on his black satin jacket. I was told that Dan Graham, who literally wrote the book bridging art and music, might show. He didn’t, but I was somewhat placated by the appearance of honorary Professor of Rock Jack Black (who is dating Tanya) and Miranda July, whose film Me and You and Everyone We Know was debuting in Los Angeles and New York on that night.

Around 8:30, SASSAS organizer Cindy Bernard welcomed the crowd, and Prina, nattily attired in matching plaid vest and pants, took the stage, armed with an acoustic guitar. After a simple “Hi,” he launched into Magnetic Fields standard “I Don’t Want to Get Over You,” which generated a few appreciative laughs at the line “I could dress in black and read Camus.” Even Prina chuckled, uncharacteristically. With Prina’s nods to Petra’s Who redux, and his selection of a few choice cover songs, his admirers could contextualize the performance in relation to his larger, post-conceptual practice of quotation and, uh, contextualization. But, it became clear that art-world fans weren’t alone in the audience. For the uninitiated it might be difficult to know how to handle the oblique poetry and unadorned presentation of gems like “Galveston,” “You Are My Sister,” or “No One Calls Me Friend,” and I’m sure a few classic rockers were befuddled by the performance (like, who are you? Who, who?). One guy audibly expressed his dissatisfaction. Prina, somewhat taken aback, nevertheless responded quickly to the heckler: “And I thought the Taco Hideout Lounge was a rough venue.” (After the show Prina tells me he used to perform at said lounge in Galesburg, Illinois when he was sixteen. “And I used to do my chemistry homework there too.”)

Left: Jack Black and Tanya Haden. Middle: Petra Haden backstage after the performance. Right: Becky Stark and Miranda July.


Then, with impeccable timing, Prina performed “All The Young Dudes.” Dedicated appropriately if tautologically “to all the young dudes,” Prina’s, rather, um, straight rendition of the glam rock staple seemed to freak a few people out, especially when he picked out a young dude (with glasses) in the audience and expressed his interest in wanting him on stage, right then. The cover beautifully exploited the immanent tension between the art and rock audiences, implicitly asking: What’s the difference between an “appropriation” and a “cover”? Or, between “Conceptualism” and “concept” album? (Of course the album cover of The Who Sells Out from 1967, with its giant can of Heinz baked beans and Oldenburgian Odorono deodorant, is an early example of pop-music sampling of Pop art.)

These questions hung in the increasingly chilly summer air as Petra and the Sell Outs took the stage and...hesitated. Petra announced that she was nervous, and took a swig of yellowish liquid from a plastic jug. “This is not pee—it’s Throat Coat,” she assured the audience, dashing any hopes of rock-star outlandishness. Nudged out of the procrastination routine by her Sell Outs, the nervous jitters suddenly gave way to the anthemic “Armenia City in the Sky.”

Blame it on Roger Daltrey, whose voice and hair and ego never did it for me, but I’ve never liked The Who, so I had high hopes for Haden’s a cappella album when I heard Daltrey hated it. (Pete Townsend, for the record, totally digs it.) Somehow it makes sense that a group of ten women could get past macho rock star posturing in order to tease out the best parts of The Who’s concept album, particularly the complex vocal harmonics, nutty Radio London jingles—“Drink easy, Drink easy, Drink easy/Puh-lee-zee”—and mild-mannered psychedelia. Petra’s vocalized versions of Townsend’s back-masked guitar solos were flawless paeans to the master, and she was amusingly prone to erratic air guitar gestures, as if Townsend’s spirit had suddenly taken over. The group blasted through the first side of the record, putting “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand,” “Odorono,” and “Tattoo” through their paces.

With the opening notes of “I Can See For Miles” the crowd burst into honest-to-goodness arena rock adulation. Lighters were lit and, uh, glowing cell phones were held aloft. (Puh-lee-zee.) The group nailed the expansiveness of the epic hit with their sublime harmony, but for my money, the highlight of the evening was the charmingly dated and goofy “Silas Stingy.”

Money, money, moneybags
There goes mingy Stingy
There goes mingy Stingy

The set concluded and enthusiastic applause ensued. The group seemed flattered and a bit relieved. For an encore, they performed “Look Both Ways”—a Petra original, which the singer dedicated to her grandma Trudy. I walked out of the theater with “Silas Stingy” on the brain, and while waiting for my ace photographer to collect some parting shots, I tracked down a low-key Jack Black and pestered him for his post-show reflections. “I’m not so good at spontaneous, out-the-door-quotes. Um, I think it was great!” Not exactly the Face Melter I was hoping for, dude, but it will do in a pinch.

Michael Ned Holte

Park Life

London
07.06.05

Left: Tracey Emin and friend. Right: The Serpentine Gallery's Summer Pavilion. (Photos: Nick Harvey)


During my harrowing mini-cab journey from Shoreditch to Hyde Park, the meteorological prospects for the Serpentine Summer Party did not look good. A long overdue week of glorious weather had succumbed to fitful rain, and my overblown visions of sartorial extravagance, radical architecture, and green urban meadows were quickly giving way to damp disappointment. The taxi made its way gradually, detained slightly by the hordes scurrying off to a Babyshambles and Kasabian gig elsewhere in the park. The clouds lifted just as I noticed a large “Make Poverty History” banner for the Live 8 concert that would take place nearby two days later.

At the Serpentine, at least, it was easy to get the impression that poverty already was history. As soon as I had surfed my way through the first ten feet of impossibly expensive frocks and faux-bronze shoulder blades, a shocking blitz of flashbulbs indicated some fresh prey for the abundant paparazzi. In the afterglow emerged Kid Rock and his entourage.

My eyesight somewhat the worse for wear, I stumbled towards this summer’s Serpentine pavilion, a luminous curving timber and polycarbonate shell designed by Portuguese pals Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura, in collaboration with Cecil Balmond, Arup’s engineer wunderkind. Siza has described the temporary structure as “an animal whose legs are firmly attached to the ground, but whose body is tense from hunger with an arched back and a taut skin.” As I watched the beautiful and the Botoxed pounce on champagne and intermittent canapés, I began to see what he meant. While a brief appearance by the sun segued into a sunset worthy of Constable, small points of light appeared on the exterior of the pavilion’s gridlike cladding thanks to solar-powered lamps installed in each panel. The effect was not unlike an undulating airport runway at night, but perhaps the jet-set nature of my immediate companions was getting the better of my imagination.

After retiring my umbrella to a safe corner, I bumped into a lederhosen-clad Wolfgang Tillmans, who was slightly spellbound by the high-wattage arrivals near the official entrance to the party. Recognizing a fellow magpie, I inquired if Tillmans had brought a camera, but he replied, “Let’s just stand and watch,” which we did, until it was time to wander off to claim our first glasses of champagne.

Left: Paris Hilton. Middle: Serpentine Gallery Director Julia Peyton-Jones. Right: Ruby Stewart, Kimberly Stewart, Penny Lancaster, Rod Stewart, and Sean Stewart.


Having compared notes with seersucker-suited Sadie Coles, Jurgen Teller, and Sarah Lucas, we concluded that we (i.e. the art world) were definitely outnumbered. I decided to avoid a low blood sugar moment and went off in search of food. While I nibbled away on a small bowl of seaweed, Nick Relph, Oliver Payne, and Herald Street proprietors Nicky Verber and Ash L’Ange provided a pleasant alternative to the polo set. As Gavin Brown emerged from the crowd, I thought I should probably head into the gallery to see Rikrit Tiravanija’s “Rikritrospective.”

The final incarnation of Tiravanija’s conceptual retrospective—after stints in Paris and Rotterdam—the show seems appropriate for the Serpentine space, originally built in 1934 as a tea pavilion. Sandwiched between twin re-creations of Tiravanija’s New York apartment, the core of the show is a broadcasting studio run by Resonance 104.4fm that transmits a radio play written by Elizabeth Linden and Matt Sheridan Smith, adapted from a treatment by the artist. During the party, guests were invited to muse into the microphone about the possibility of time travel. Artist Ellen Cantor quipped, “Of course it’s possible, I do it all the time,” but restauranteur Rose Gray (of River Café) offered an alternative point of view: “Don’t be daft, I always live in the present.” When the DJ explained that Tiravanija was hoping to stage a kind of soap opera, the Royal Academy’s Norman Rosenthal seemed slightly confused, muttering, “Yes, I love opera. And I like soap.” He then launched into an enthusiastic elucidation of opéra comique.

Wandering by one of the kitchens, there was nary a curry to be found, but I noticed through the window that two women had smuggled in a magnum of champagne, lending a gilded note to the plywood surroundings. Even the most jaded relational aesthete could not help but thrill slightly at what happened next. In a flurry of pale yellow chiffon, Paris Hilton made her entrance into the kitchen, completely annihilating any previous notion I had of “social sculpture.” Her arrival initiated a celebrity avalanche, and the likes of Farrah Fawcett, Mariah Carey, and a smattering of rock stars—including David Gilmour and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Alex James of Blur, and Rod Stewart—punctuated the rest of my evening.

With music on my mind, I headed for the new pavilion, where arms were flailing and Jimmy Choo heels were breaking on the dance floor. From outside, with steam on the translucent panels beautifully refracting the light, the structure had taken on the air of a psychedelic Pentecostal rally. But paganism and aristotrash prevailed, and everyone danced in earnest under the building’s sensual curves until the DJ closed the evening with Howard Jones’s 1980s anthem “Things Can Only Get Better.” And so we wandered off to the Groucho Club to see if it was true.

Stuart Comer

Mother's Courage

New York
07.05.05

Left: Dancers in Jeremy Wade's performance. Middle: Wayne Koestenbaum. Right: A scene from David Quinn's fashion show.


The second and final performance of Robert Melee’s Talent Show last Thursday at The Kitchen drew a sold-out crowd. (At the last minute colorful pillows were thrown on the floor in front, kindergarten-style, for additional seating). The homage to current downtown performance ran the queer gamut from the haute-foppish pretension of Wayne Koestenbaum’s poetry reading (“But relatedness—Winnicott, Klein?—shines in her eyes”) to the pure gender-bending ridiculousness of Julie Atlas Muz’s anatomically perverse “Mr. Pussy,” which eschewed vagina dentata in favor of the relatively ineffectual vagina mustachio (Muz styles her “down there” as a crooning mariachi). The Melee-designed set—tinsel, Christmas bows, pastel linoleum, and faux wood paneling—garnered its own round of applause and was quickly incorporated into the performances via Melee’s ritual “marbleizing” (in pastel house paint that matched the decor) of his disrobed and heavily made-up mother. At any talent show there’s the disconcerting moment when productive play rubs up against actual skill (the piano prodigy is scheduled after the singing bellies, etc.) and on this night that moment arrived with drag act Shasta Cola. Her tightly choreographed, Chelsea-friendly act (she performs at The Barracuda, a gay bar on West 22nd Street), set to Destiny’s Child and avant rapper M.I.A., made use of an array of color guard props, from glittery toy rifles to hand-sewn flags, all handled with the gung ho expertise of a champion cheerleader.

For the most part, though, the acts followed in the “let’s put on a show” tradition of the New York underground, favoring enthusiasm over slick execution and embracing the dual aesthetic of the stumble and the sashay. The Dazzle Dancers’ bacchanal moved the greenroom onstage, where they dressed and performed spirit exercises before beginning their decidedly underrehearsed routine (which prominently featured campy slips and spills). Burlesque sensation Dirty Martini states in the program: “Dancing isn’t easy... I have no place to rehearse and if I’m lucky I take a class with Janet Panetta a couple times a week… These are the facts and it’s been this way since I moved here to be a dancer in the early ‘90s.” The talent show closed with an extended extravaganza of costume and fashion designer David Quinn’s summer collections. Making use of all the performers, the fashion show’s musical numbers channeled John Waters’s beehive nostalgia in a stunning spectacle that reached its camp apex with Cher’s “Half Breed.”

Left: A scene from David Quinn's fashion show. Middle: The talent show cast makes a curtain call. Right: The Kitchen Executive Director and Chief Curator Debra Singer and Robert Melee.


When the lights came on and actors wandered offstage in dishabille, I jumped on the L train to get to the much-anticipated book-release party for Deitch Projects’ Live Through This: New York in the Year 2005. When I arrived at the Bedford stop I was greeted by several foreboding missed calls on my cellphone. “Not enough fire exits” was the word from those wandering (or biking or skating) away from North 1st Street. The police had shut down the event before it even really got going. Bummed scenesters hung around the shuttered venue while the scheduled bands and DJs carried drum kits, speakers, and turntables to awaiting cars.

The fallout from the-party-that-never-was spread across Williamsburg. I ran into performer and downtown icon Sophia Lamar and friends on Metropolitan Avenue on their way to the apartment of Live Through This-featured couple Grant Worth and Phiiliip. Flyer still in hand, Sophia had planned to debut her new single at the now-cancelled festivities. Upstairs at the gathering after-party (or perhaps just “party”), artist Dash Snow complained that he only played four records before the place was shut down. Calling the night a bust, I went to meet friends at Graham Avenue hangout Daddy’s, but I still couldn’t get away from the Deitch crowd: Artist Noah Lyon was going through Live Through This page by page with friends in the bar’s dim light. He showed me his picture in the book and complained that they’d used his work without his permission. After snapping his picture and asking him to write out his name, I returned to my booth to find “Doctor Ninja” scrawled on my steno pad. Apparently, as with many of the denizens of this scene, he’s not in it for name recognition. But is a decent party that doesn’t get shut down by the cops too much to ask for?

Michael Wang

Tuttle Recall

San Francisco
07.03.05

Left: SF MoMA Curatorial Associate Tara McDowell, SF MoMA Trustee Mimi Haas, Madeleine Grynsztejn, and Richard Tuttle. Right: Jeffrey Frankel, Whitney Trustee Ginny Williams, Adam Weinberg, and Connie Wolf.


Richard Tuttle’s highly anticipated SF MoMA retrospective is, like his work, a deft balance of playfulness, elegant presentation, fine-tuned funkiness, and what one admirer described to me as a “slow burn” aesthetic. And on opening night, the art definitely smoldered, even if the festivities themselves were lukewarm. SF MoMA’s openings haven’t been particularly lively since “the go-go David Ross days,” as Bay Area-based art historian Pamela M. Lee put it. Back then, in the era of the dot-com bubble, the museum’s events pulsed with an—how to put this—irrational exuberance that’s been lacking ever since.

The Wednesday evening turnout, at least, harked back to headier times. In addition to Lee, who admitted she doesn’t get to many San Francisco art events these days, a number of luminaries who probably hadn’t been in this city in years were on hand. The Whitney’s Adam Weinberg and David Kiehl made it out from New York, as did dealer Jack Tilton and his wife, art consultant Connie Tilton. On the collector front there was Craig Robins, in from Miami, and New Yorkers Dorothy and Hebert Vogel. Also cruising the galleries were photographer Todd Eberle, erstwhile Nest magnate Joseph Holtzman, Andy Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, and MoCA LA curator Connie Butler, who contributed to the show’s hefty catalog.

Left: Anthony Meier, Celeste Meier, and Neal Benezra. Right: Richard Tuttle and Joel Wachs.


Apparently, this summer San Francisco is suddenly a stop on the international art-tourism itinerary. That’s a good thing for SF MoMA’s bottom line, as a number of locals have expressed concern that the show will be a tough sell for your typical San Francisco tourists, who can be counted on to line up in droves for Chagall blockbusters but might balk at Tuttle’s idiosyncratic, free-ranging, and challenging work.

But why worry? This was a party, and most in attendance were, to use curator Madeleine Grynsztejn’s term, “Tuttle-ites.” While she and the artist, who was cool but bemusedly beaming, held court in the galleries, the jet-set collectors admired their loans (with 341 works in the show, there was plenty of undisguised enumerating) and less-connected guests mingled in the atrium where a DJ set a mellow tone with lounge grooves and smooth jazz. This being California, the sushi flowed freely.

Local Tuttle-ites were also in the house—among them Kathan Brown, whose Crown Point Press had just opened a concurrent show of new Tuttle prints, as well as dealers Jeffrey Frankel, Rena Bransten, Cheryl Haines, and Anthony Meier—some of whom were spotted scoping for tickets to the sold-out panel discussion “The Art of Richard Tuttle: A Celebration.”

Left: Andrea Rosen and SF MoMA Trustee Norah Stone. Right: Artist Anna Von Mertens, Geoff Kaplan, Pamela Lee, SF MoMA Curatorial Associate Jill Dawsey, and artist Sarah Cain.


At that event, held Thursday evening, the paucity of tickets was explained by the fact that a good quarter of the seats had been reserved for the VIPs who had honored Tuttle at the post-opening dinner at the Four Seasons. Grynsztejn kicked off the love fest by showing a slide of the artist and cooing, “Ain’t he cute?” before shifting gears into a more stately curatorial talk. Then moderator Katy Siegel spoke about Tuttle’s influence on other artists, after which the event became a curious art-world version of This Is Your Life, with testimonials delivered by audience members as the artist listened appreciatively. Susan Harris talked about curating a Tuttle show; Brown fondly noted the artist’s tendency to “go into the ether”; and Berkeley-based poetry publisher and collector Rena Rosenwasser told of how Tuttle quirkily illustrated a book by his wife Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. “I’m so lucky to be able to collect,” MoMA Board of Trustees President Emerita Agnes Gund admitted, before covering the topic of how to live with Tuttle’s work.

Word was that Tuttle himself had devised this presentation format, which both focused on him and skirted the problem of his infamously circular speaking style. He did, however, offer a few pearls of wisdom, not the least of which was “Intentionality is a loaded term.” Loaded or not, you could feel his own intentionality in every detail of the evening, and you sort of had to love it.

Glen Helfand

Soggy Notion

New York
07.01.05

Left: A view of the Central Park Bandshell. (Photo: Tom Powel Imaging) Right: The audience.


On Monday night, I excused myself early from a friend’s book party to go uptown for the Public Art Fund-sponsored screening of William Kentridge’s Nine Drawings for Projection in Central Park, arriving just as an intermittent light rain began to fall. In the otherwise empty park, my companion and I found a few hundred people at the band shell, among them New Museum Director Lisa Phillips, Marian Goodman and almost all of her staff, composer Philip Miller (Kentridge’s longtime collaborator), and the artist himself. Staffers handed out clear plastic ponchos to everyone and, after a twenty-minute delay, the program began with Journey to the Moon, 2003, Kentridge’s eight-minute homage to George Méliès’s early experimental animation of the same name, accompanied by Jill Richards on the piano. The film whimsically mixes animation with live-action footage, and offers a peek at the artist at work in his studio, which transforms into a rocket ship that navigates the night sky and into the pages of an encyclopedia. Kentridge then introduced himself and the classical musicians who would play along with several of the films, telling the story of how he began making animations in 1989 to alleviate the monotony of “exhibiting drawings every eighteen months.” He noted that “Soho Eckstein,” the name of the main character in almost all nine of the films, came to him in a dream, and that since the beginning he has worked without a storyboard or script, using his characters in an allegorical manner akin to the Italian commedia dell’arte. He added that Felix Teitlebaum, his other protagonist, came to him in a dream that included the phrase “Felix Teitlebaum’s anxiety floods half of Central Park”; the irony of the night’s unfortunate weather was not lost on him or the audience members, who laughed appreciatively. Watching what amounted to a mini-retrospective, it became apparent that the richness of that dream still fuels his animated chiaroscuro world. There has been little “progress” in his technique over the years: Drawn lines become slightly more sinewy, the techniques used for panning across the page and pushing the narrative forward become slightly more sophisticated. His favored motifs, among them black phones, black cats, cluttered desks, and people walking through desiccated landscapes, were present from the beginning. The musical accompaniment, which ranged from plaintive to anguished, added emotional punch to the films, several of which were familiar from the artist’s 2001 retrospective.

As the night wore on, the rain intensified, scattering the few who hadn’t taken the ponchos to the cover of nearby trees. Everyone else gamely donned their rain gear, transforming the audience of art-world sophisticates into something resembling the crowd at a Gallagher comedy show, but, notably, hardly anyone left until after the last reel. The audience responded heartily to each short work, their claps mixing with the constant patter of raindrops. At the end of the evening—well past eleven o’clock—the artist, composer, and musicians bowed on stage, and received a well-deserved standing ovation from a crowd whose appreciation was not at all dampened by the meteorological conditions.

Brian Sholis