Road to Ruin

New York
05.29.06

Left: Fernando the Clown at Richard Ruin's performance at The Kitchen. Right: Artists Betony Vernon and Jeff Burton. (Photo: David Velasco)


Hoping for one last evening of Chelsea revelry before the area emptied out for the holiday, I cobbled together an idiosyncratic Thursday-night itinerary consisting of openings, a benefit, and a performance. After drifting around half a dozen receptions, my companions and I ended up at Casey Kaplan Gallery for a show of new work by Jeff Burton, including photographs in which his usual “Where’s Waldo?” approach to bare skin is broadened to include rephotographed ’70s porn-shoot transparencies overlaid with hand-drawn crop marks and disturbingly intimate portraits of iconic filmmaker and Hollywood Babylon writer Kenneth Anger.

Friends of the artist, including the occasional six-foot-tall glamazon in a pleather miniskirt, comprised most of the crowd; Neville Wakefield and the ubiquitous Klaus Biesenbach were also on hand. When I asked Burton about what led to Anger’s patched-up bloody nose, he responded, “I was told he was gay-bashed. He asked me to document his attack. I don’t know if he was telling the truth; it may have just been a performance.” On our way out the door, a friend offered, less charitably, “Maybe his plastic surgeon botched him.”

Left: Artist Peter Coffin. Right: Artists and North Drive Press editors Sara Greenberger Rafferty and Matt Keegan. (Photos: David Velasco)


We were headed to White Columns, where North Drive Press, the annual print-and-multiple publication produced by artists Matt Keegan and Sara Greenberger Rafferty, who met at Columbia’s MFA program, was hosting a small benefit party. The photographs comprising Harrell Fletcher’s exhibition had been temporarily displaced by taped-up examples of the eclectic contents of issue three, available next month. Four exquisite-corpse drawings, each created by four artists and printed in editions of twenty-five, were also on view. It’s NDP week in New York: The duo emceed a “live version” of the publication at The Kitchen on Tuesday that included video screenings, what Greenberger Rafferty described as her “Andy Kaufman-like” presentation of Carol Bove’s sound piece Future of Ecstasy, and a live improv set by band/artist Hurray.

I was myself headed to The Kitchen, for the US debut of Richard Ruin, German artist Martin Eder’s alter ego, and his band, Les Demoniaques. My last exposure to Eder, whose current solo show at Marianne Boesky Gallery includes an artwork that has my vote for best title of the year—Masturbating Woman Surrounded by Bad Towels, 2006—was on a small monitor at Fredericks Freiser Gallery, where he was depicted naked, in a bathtub, vomiting copious amounts of blood. Sure enough, one in-the-know audience member cautioned a woman taking a front-row seat that she might wish to move, as if Ruin were about to treat us to a gory version of a Gallagher performance. Pair that with The Kitchen’s “Adults Only” press-release warning; Boesky’s admission that, while she had heard Ruin’s music, she didn’t know what to expect of the performance; and her gallery director Adrian Turner’s ability to rattle off the daily rate for twins, topless women, and—of course—an old man hired to chase the topless women, and my interest was piqued.

Left: MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach. Right: Curator Neville Wakefield. (Photos: David Velasco)


The audience for the show, which was cosponsored by the Art Production Fund, was largely the collector faithful, though I did spot Clarissa Dalrymple and a few younger artists. Ruin walked onto the stage, which was decorated like a high-school prom with silver foil and black helium balloons, in a sharkskin suit; his five bandmates were equally slick. They launched immediately into their set of vampy rock songs, distinguished by Ruin’s torrents of lyrical clichés: Every song seemed to include “drifting stars” and a “baby” who said things that were “stuck in [his] mind.” These were accompanied by a wall-size projection of Eder’s short video clips (his trademark soft-focus softcore) and interspersed with brief live vignettes involving Turner’s aforementioned cast of characters and Fernando the Clown, all of which added up to what artist Sue de Beer approvingly called an “elaborate seduction.” Indeed, the rousing ovation that greeted him—the audience members tossed onstage the calla lilies that had been laid out on their seats—proved that Ruin’s crooned come-on had worked its charm.

Brian Sholis

Left: Richard Ruin et Les Demoniaques. Right: Jeff Burton's Untitled #206 (Kenneth Anger Eyes), 2006.


House Red

New York
05.25.06

Left: Collectors Norman Dubrow and Alvin Hall and Salon 94 owner Jeanne Greenberg Rohaytn. Right: Artist Wangechi Mutu. (All photos: David Velasco)


Sunday was one of those oddly changeable New York spring days, and the gentle rain that was falling as I left my apartment downtown had given way to pleasant sun by the time I reached Salon 94, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and Nicolas Rohatyn’s chichi domestic project space on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Shoving open the townhouse’s weighty iron-and-glass front door, I was greeted by the sound of a quartet—a cellist, a violinist, and two drummers—entertaining guests in the lobby with an enjoyably meandering improvisation. After lingering for a few minutes with a glass of wine in hand, I pressed on into the main room to survey a collaborative installation by artist Wangechi Mutu and London-based architect David Adjaye.

The drink was more than usually appropriate, as Exhuming Gluttony: A Lover’s Requiem is a “beastly feast” in which an ovoid slab of pale wood is continually anointed by red wine that drips from an arrangement of dark bottles suspended above it. Surrounded by dark grey wood-paneled walls that appear to have been peppered with bullets, and to which strips of packing tape and bundles of fur have been haphazardly affixed, the heavy table-like form assumes a romantic, Beuysian aura. Veiling the curved sweep of window that overlooks the garden was a translucent curtain printed with a colorful but ambiguous image, the visual juxtapositions combining with the intensifying aroma of wine-soaked wood clearly angling for an intoxicating mix. Nairobi-born Mutu, currently also showing at Sikkema, Jenkins & Co., was clearly pleased to have made the connection with Adjaye, who worked with Olafur Eliasson in Venice last year and is currently designing the new contemporary art museum for the city of Denver. According to Greenberg Rohatyn, “Wangechi asked David to help her house some ideas she was working on, and they grew into Exhuming Gluttony. They worked together designing the space, brainstorming materials, and on the final realization of the idea.”

Left: Salon 94 gallery director Fabienne Stephan, artist Derrick Adams, and curator Bob Nickas. Right: Architect David Adjaye.


By 5 PM, the opening’s midway point, the venue had reached capacity. A camera crew from German television station ZDF made free movement around the slab, from which wine was now spilling onto the floor and forming small but potentially hazardous puddles, something of a challenge. New York Times critic Roberta Smith and the Village Voice’s Jerry Saltz made an entrance and, after exchanging a few words with Greenberg Rohatyn, melted away again. Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden held court at one end of the room; MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach commanded the other. Rumors of a Vogue scribe in the house were sending ripples of interest through the style-conscious crowd. Seeking a moment’s respite, I maneuvered down a long ramp into the garden, where a posse of small children was making its own scene, buzzing about among the potted plants.

Reentering for another round as the music started up again—the two drummers performing unaccompanied this time—I spotted art-world impresario Yvone Force Villareal with husband, artist Leo Villareal, artists Marilyn Minter and Deborah Grant, and curators Bob Nickas and Jeffrey Uslip, all looking suitably wary of the sometimes very slightly swaying and now thoroughly marinated object around which they all edged. But Mutu and Adjaye, both continually surrounded by friends and admirers, diligently attended to by a purple-swathed Greenberg Rohatyn, and clearly enjoying the occasion, appeared relaxed throughout. Despite the project’s portentous title and the work’s intimations of decadent overkill, its introduction to the world at large proved a blessedly civilized affair.

Michael Wilson

Left: Artist Muna El Fituri with Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden. Right: Artist Deborah Grant.


Dinner and a Show

Milan
05.22.06

Left: Martin Creed. Right: Beatrice Trussardi, president of the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, with friend and Gaia Trussardi. (All photos: Marco De Scalzi)


Tuesday evening in Milan was so hot that there were more people out on the terrace overlooking the Piazza del Duomo than inside the Palazzo dell’Arengario. The building, which is in the pure Fascist style, currently houses a new exhibition by Martin Creed, organized by the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi. Here, the British artist makes effective use of an entrance and a colonnaded corridor, employing the former as a backdrop for a striking video projection of a girl vomiting red liquid, and transforming the latter into a theatrical space by playing with the lights. Inside a third room, the source of a noise that could be heard as far away as the piazza was revealed to be the mechanically opening and closing lid of a white piano.

The foundation, named for the fashion designer who died seven years ago, is run by his daughter Beatrice. Having no permanent exhibition space in Milan, it occasionally occupies public spaces with the agreement of the city. Recent interventions were presented at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, for example, and in the atrium of the city’s main railroad station. It was fitting, then, that among the first people to appear at the opening was Stefano Zecchi, cultural commissioner of the right-wing City Council and a professor of aesthetics at the local state university, even though he is notoriously unsympathetic toward contemporary art. But—Zecchi aside, perhaps—the English artist’s deadpan humor is widely appreciated in Italy, and Massimiliano Gioni, the foundation’s artistic director, thought of him immediately upon discovering the building’s availability. Creed has a further Italian connection in the form of a house in Alicudi, an island off the Sicilian coast, which was the setting for a photographic project by his ex-girlfriend Paola Pivi.

Left: Gallerists Michele Maccarone, Francesca Minini, and Francesca Kaufmann. Right: Artist Patrick Tuttofuoco and Fondazione Nicola Trussardi Artistic Director Massimiliano Gioni.


At the opening, Creed was feted by a youthful crowd, many of whom were members of Milan’s burgeoning student population. It was appropriate, then, that he gave a lecture at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera the next day. In addition to the students, a few well-known figures attended, including directors of museums both far (Fabio Cavallucci, from the Galleria Civica in Trento) and near (Milan-based Giacinto di Pietrantonio, from the Galleria d’arte moderna e contemporanea in Bergamo), critics and curators such as Francesca Pasini and Marco Meneguzzo, and gallery owners Claudio Guenzani and Giò Marconi, as well as others from the Lambrate district, Milan’s new art neighborhood. The city has few art events with an international profile—important artists have shows in private galleries, but rarely in public spaces—so it was heartening to see some non-Milanese dealers and other artists who had found success abroad, including Luca Vitone, Simone Berti, Francesco Bernardi, and Diego Perrone (invited by Gioni to exhibit in the current Berlin Biennale).

After a few hours of idling on the terrace, the group headed to dinner at the foundation’s quarters next to Teatro alla Scala, a buffet that, while delicious, was tiring to those expecting a sit-down affair. Many were impatient for Creed’s concert, slated for 9:30 PM. But it was not until over an hour later that the band—Creed and two young women—ventured onstage. Those who held out witnessed a rock set that was at once simple and energetic and blessed with an endearing, ironic wit, a precise corollary to Creed’s work and a fitting end to the evening.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Left: Guggenheim Senior Curator Germano Celant with Martin Creed. Right: Hauser & Wirth gallery director Gregor Muir with Michele Maccarone.


Reality Bites

New York
05.17.06

Left: The Museum of the Moving Image audience. Right: Impresario Jeffrey Deitch. (Photos: Brian Palmer)


“When I first started out in the art world in the ’70s, the whole idea of a self-respecting artist waiting in line to be in a TV show would have been ridiculous,” asserts Jeffrey Deitch in the opening minutes of the first episode of Artstar, Deitch Projects and VOOM HD Networks’ reality television series set in the New York art world. Previewing at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, the hour-long episode follows the selection of eight would-be luminaries from a motley crew of over 400 hopefuls who showed up at Deitch’s Wooster Street Gallery last winter for an open call. The show’s editors seized, predictably, on the oddest of the oddballs (a middle-age automatic painter producing works in seizured fits while standing in line, a cringe-inducing nerdy freestyle rapper, a giant talking foam head straight out of the Bread and Puppet Theater), set to a soundtrack of judge David Rimanelli’s zingers and infused with a healthy dose of eye rolls, smirks, and nonplussed expressions from Deitch, producer James Fuentes, and other invited adjudicators Debra Singer of the Kitchen, Carlo McCormick of Paper magazine, and performance-art historian and curator RoseLee Goldberg. Watching the final cut for the first time, the show’s artists lined up together in the front row, squirming alternately in pain and pleasure at their shared public debut.

The Museum’s Deputy Director, one of those overzealous MCs whose needlessly exhaustive summaries and self-aggrandizing remarks turn Q & As into one-man shows, dominated the post-screening discussion. The participating artists mostly resisted the impulse to dish the “dirt.” “This is not Survivor,” warned sculptor Sy Colen. “There were no enemies developed in the process. We all learned from each other.” (Witnessing Colen’s education first-hand, I overheard painter and former club kid Christian Dietkis explaining the rave-culture significance of pacifiers to the sixty-eight-year-old sculptor.) “I felt like I got the experience of my son who went to RISD,” Colen mused. “He got four years; I got four weeks.” Indeed, the series’ plot devices sound more “art school” than “art star”: an “art parade,” Coney-Island-sign-painting lessons, and, apparently, a whole lot of dressing up.

Left: Artstar participant Bec Stupak with artist Malcolm Stuart. (Photo: Michael Wang) Right: Artstar participant Anney “Fresh” McKilligan. (Photo: Brian Palmer)


Dread-headed video artist Bec Stupak described her interest in hair and makeup (“in ugliness”) and mentioned that several of the artists involved experimented with “personas.” “It was totally self-aware,” remarked Dietkus. Working out of a gutted space in the AT&T building downtown on Lispenard Street, the artists mostly chose to work on month-long projects over the course of filming, though Dietkus dismissed the studio as “too dusty,” which put a moratorium on work during filming. Skeptical of Artstar’s collaborative angle, Dietkus also alluded to a “premeditated” show “winner.” (The show struggles with the idea of competition, eschewing what producer Abby Terkhule calls “the elimination route” while banking on the adrenaline of the “competitive New York art scene.”) The solo show at Deitch Projects (always a possibility within Artstar’s premise) went to Stupak, with whom the gallery had a prior relationship through her work with Assume Vivid Astro Focus. Since the show, her art world connections have grown exponentially.

With Artstar accessible only to HD satellite owners and, throughout the summer, visitors to the museum, there aren’t going to be a whole lot of home viewers in the city, but the show will be accessible to a smattering of dish owners (on Gallery HD) across the country. After this rather limited release, Deitch disclosed, the show will likely be pushed to broadband networks, and they’re already looking into podcasting. “With what we’re doing on the inside of the New York art world, it’s a lively day if one hundred people come into the gallery. But with a big international audience, our website can get 100,000 hits.” Deitch has already attracted interest from an Asian television company, where they might launch a version of Artstar “in collaboration with a gallery there.” Hanging out amidst the museum’s collections of zombie masks and werewolf skins at the post-screening reception, Stupak and partner Malcolm Stuart (who described himself as “the boyfriend” in a snarky acknowledgement of his newfound television role) seemed giddy with Artstar’s possibilities. “If it can be TV, let it be TV,” Stuart entreated. “The phobia of being a sellout has become passé.”

Michael Wang

Left: Artstar participant Christian Dietkus. (Photo: Michael Wang) Right: Artstar participant Abigail DeVille. (Photo: Brian Palmer)


Vanity Fair

Paris
05.15.06

Left: Artist and curator Xavier Veilhan with Karl Lagerfeld. Right: “La Force de l'Art” organizer Bernard Blistène.


“La Force de l’Art” is the somewhat pompous title of a mega-exhibition of new French art that opened at the Grand Palais on Tuesday after having weathered a weeks-long polemical storm in the media. Announced by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin during the FIAC art fair last October, the show was designed to be “a great exhibit dedicated to contemporary French art, one that will give new visibility to French creators.” The result amounts to a kind of Parisian Whitney Biennial, and has been tagged “Expo Villepin” by critics keen to denounce it as a media stunt aimed primarily at boosting the image of an unpopular government.

On a street closed to traffic for the evening of the opening we were greeted by police in riot gear. Possibly they were expecting to face protesters denouncing the idea of an “official art,” as was the case during the “Expo Pompidou,” held in the same venue in 1972. And don’t even try to play it like Pierre Bismuth, an exhibiting artist who had forgotten his invitation and was forced to argue his way in. But the ’70s are long gone, and nothing shocks anyone much anymore. Nevertheless, Tsuneko Taniuchi’s performance, in which she sang a kind of deranged Marseillaise, did cause a small stir: She was asked to stop after a while and complained to me that she was a victim of censorship.

Left: Curator Hou Hanrou. Right: Curator Stéphanie Moisdon.


Walking around beneath the giant, vaulted glass ceiling, my first impression was that the size of the interior made the works look like postage stamps. Then it hit me: I was in an art fair. Each curator (there are twelve in all) had built their booths independently, and some, like Bernard Marcadé’s panoramic tower, are strikingly ambitious. Artists were asked the same question all night: At whose booth are you showing? And just as at the fairs, where some are represented by multiple galleries, here some are presented by many curators. Bertrand Lavier seemed to be everywhere, which speaks well of his status on the French museum circuit, since for the most part the organizers were required to select works belonging to national collections.

But the real problem here lay in a curatorial unevenness that permitted the display of rows and rows of horrible paintings suggestive of the most lackluster FIAC booths; when presented with more than fifteen exhibitions side by side, one can’t help but make such comparisons. I couldn’t locate Philippe Vergne’s show “Entre les lignes,” which was supposed to occupy different parts of the nave, finding instead only one of his exhibiting artists, Tino Sehgal, who seemed vexed that a museum cashier didn’t want to participate in his performance. But why was Sehgal here anyway? He’s not considered to be a French artist. Perhaps this show is more like the Whitney Biennial, with its broad definition of “American artist,” than I had thought. Among the curators who sidestepped the pitfall of nationalism were Hou Hanrou and Eric Troncy, whose “superdéfense” features artists as diverse as Mark Handforth and Francesco Vezzoli.

Left: A “mediation officer” dressed in Daniel Buren. Right: Curator Olivier Zahm with Yves Saint Laurent designer Stefano Pilati.


Besides the excitement caused by a visit by the Prime Minister (the subject of a portrait by Yan Pei Ming), who was escorted by exhibition coordinators Bernard Blistène and Olivier Kaeppelin, the buzz focused on Olivier Zahm’s booth. Hovering around here were a crew of ’80s-era drag queens as well as André, the artistic director of the club Le Baron, who had created a vast, erection-sporting Mickey Mouse, and informed me that he had just opened a hotel. Zahm’s show is called “Rose Poussière” and each room is branded with the logo of a fashion label such as Rick Owens, Martin Margiela, or Yves Saint Laurent. I spotted YSL’s current designer, the charming Stefano Pilati, listening attentively to Zahm’s explanation of Assayas’s video installation. Here, too, I ran into Jan Mot from Brussels. We wondered if a dinner, or even just a drink, had been planned, but apparently the budget wouldn’t allow for it, given the presence of more than 200 artists. This put Alain Séchas, on his way to the taping of a TV show, in a not-so-good mood: He wasn’t going to be satisfied with a saw-cut slice of bread from Maja Bajevic’s performance.

Asking a “mediation officer” to indicate the exit, I remarked to him that the pink and white stripes of his jacket reminded me of a Daniel Buren (the French artist is due to deliver a lecture at “L’école de Stéphanie,” Stéphanie Moisdon’s pedagogical curatorial effort, on the last day of the show). “I am a Buren,” he said, “all the officers are.”

Nicolas Trembley

Love and Money

New York
05.11.06

Left: Art consultant Matthew Armstrong with L&M Arts exhibitions advisor Robert Pincus-Witten. Right: Sotheby's Worldwide Head of contemporary art and auctioneer Tobias Meyer. (All photos: David Velasco)


“Christ never said that money was the root of all evil. He said it was the love of money,” snorted art consultant Matthew Armstrong, as we headed into Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale on Wednesday. Sotheby’s saleroom is a vast rectangular hall with chairs positioned to either side of a processional aisle that leads to the “block” where works of art meet their taker. This central turntable—a lazy susan of art—suggests nothing more than “The Price is Right.”

Seating at auctions is no arbitrary matter. It’s the brutal means by which the auction house tells the world exactly what it thinks of you. Are you taken seriously enough to earn a seat in the first thirty rows? Is your wealth and power such that you require the reverential veil of a private skybox? Or are you amongst the upstarts and riffraff relegated to standing at the back? Luckily, a billionaire (whose name I can’t reveal) was too busy to attend, so I had a perfect seat in the fifth row on the aisle, directly behind Larry Gagosian, to the right of the Nahmad family, to the left of the PaceWildenstein gang, and in front of the night’s biggest spenders, dealers Dominique Lévy and Bob Mnuchin of L&M Arts.

Left: Collectors Eli Broad and Douglas S. Cramer. Right: L&M Arts directors Robert Mnuchin and Dominique Lévy.


At precisely 7:01 PM, the auction took off at a sprint. Four of the first five lots—paintings by Neo Rauch, Cecily Brown, Lisa Yuskavage and Christopher Wool—made quick and easy auction records for the artists. At Lot 8, a stunned silence fell over the room when the bidding on an Andreas Gursky climbed up to $2.3 million, the highest price ever paid for a contemporary photograph at auction. Ironically, it depicted the garish junk food of a 99 cent store, no doubt satisfying the ethnographic curiosity of the health-conscious rich.

Next up was Jeff Koons’s 1981-87 sculpture New Hoover Convertibles—a masterpiece guaranteed to give your housekeeper a good laugh. During this lot, I acquired a sense of the consulting style of L&M Arts. Visually, Lévy and Mnuchin make an unlikely pair. Lévy is a smart brunette with a meticulous sense of style that extends to her custom-made cufflinks. Mnuchin, wearing a crumpled black suit and undersized tie, looks more like a high school art teacher than a power player. Sitting with them was art historian and gallery eminence gris, Robert Pincus-Witten. Lévy made her bids by blinking deliberately, while whispering intimately into her cell phone. “It’s four point five with us” went the dealer-collector pillow talk. A quiet, respectful “congratulations” was all she uttered when her client won the work for $5.3 million.

When it came to the night’s top lot, Roy Lichtenstein’s Sinking Sun, 1964, Lévy was again on the phone, cool as a cucumber, and doing the double blink, all the way up to $14 million. Only when Tobias Meyer, Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art and chief auctioneer for Sotheby’s, was stalling in the vain hope of eliciting another bid, did Lévy show any sign of nerves, muttering an urgent “Come on!” When the hammer came down, it was below the guarantee of $17.5 million reputedly given to the seller, Joseph Helman.

Left: Collector Don Rubell. Right: Art Basel VIP coordinator Isabela Mora with Art Basel director Sam Keller and Gagosian gallery's Louise Neri.


Lot 31, a large white Robert Ryman canvas from 1962, offered another jaw-dropping moment. As bids climbed millions of dollars above the artist’s previous auction record of $2.3 million, cries of “This is insane!” and “Unbelievable!” could be heard as even the more reserved members of the audience developed rubber necks in an attempt to observe the bidding. In the end, L&M pulled out against a determined bidder sitting in a skybox on the phone to Parisian specialist, Gregoire Billault. After the hammer came down at $8.5 million, Mnuchin laughed and yelled out, “How about a ‘Wow,’ Tobias!” It was all theater.

Later in the evening, a 1975 de Kooning appeared on the lazy susan and it was Mnuchin’s turn to wield the paddle. To a “major international collector” on the other end of the phone, the dealer explained affably, “I want visiting rights in case it works out. That is my fee.” L&M don’t take commissions—they bid at auction as a “pure service” to their clients in order to retain “full objectivity” about the appropriate price of any given work. As the bidding progressed, Mnuchin gave a running commentary: “There will be three buyers on the left . . . We just bid ten . . . Gagosian has come into the game . . . I think we’ll bid now . . . Twelve right away?” And so it went until they started splitting the bids at $13,250,000. As the dollar values slowly inched up, Mnuchin said warmly, “I think we’ll give it one shot at fourteen million. How do you feel about that?” When the hammer came down, Mnuchin was happy and asserted victoriously to his client, “I think you have money and courage. Plenty of people have money, but few have your courage. Thank you very much.” By the end of the evening, L&M had spent $34.9 million on five works of art and underbid to the tune of twelve million on several more.

With sales of $128.8 million, Tobias Meyer had spearheaded the highest total in the history of Sotheby's Contemporary department, but many doubted that it was as lucrative as that record might suggest. A man with his eye on the money, Meyer believes that “The best art is the most expensive, because the market is so smart.” When questioned about the tight alignment of his personal “passions” with art that sells well, he said. “My relation to the market is much like a method actor. You have to make the feeling of the market your own feeling.” Indeed, Meyer is an astonishing character. As one dealer who requested anonymity remarked affectionately, “Tobias may pretend to be hard-nosed, but he’s really . . . an éclair.”

Sarah Thornton

Left: Critic Roger Bevan with dealers Perry Rubenstein and Thomas Dane. Right: Tobias Meyer post-auction.


Just Desert

Joshua Tree
05.11.06

Left: Lisa Anne Auerbach at the High Desert Test Sites. Right: Andrea Zittel and David Dodge. (Photos: Don Morrison)


If you don’t consider the colorful drive from Los Angeles to the Southern Mojave Desert (roadside dinosaurs, fifty-nine-cent “dig-your-own-cactus” outposts, and banners for “Grubstaker Days”) a cultural affair, then you may not fully appreciate the unconventional aesthetics of the High Desert Test Sites weekend. Despite raging gas prices and ninety-degree temps, visitors road-tripped to the annual celebration organized and presented by artists Andrea Zittel and Lisa Anne Auerbach, dealers Shaun Caley-Regen and John Connelly, collector Andy Stillpass, and local liaison Veronica Fernandez. Saturday’s first stop was the HDTS HQ in downtown Joshua Tree, where maps were distributed, sisters Amy and Wendy Yao set up their “Art Swap Meet,” and Aaron Gach’s mobile activist project, the Tactical Ice Cream Unit, was offering both political propaganda and frozen treats. (I chose a mango popsicle and the “Media” flyer.) Overwhelmed by the brimming schedule of events, I looked to artist Jeremy Deller’s HDTS 5 bumper sticker and asked myself “What Would Neil Young Do?” Like a cowgirl in the sand, I hit Highway 62 heading towards Test Site 4, the infamous A-Z West, which featured new work by Chris Badger, Faith Coloccia, Mark Klassen, as well as Carolyn Castaño’s Meditation Chamber for Peace and Revolutionary Thought, a recently customized Zittel Wagon Station. But the abundant sand disturbed the peace for several motorists and I spotted Zittel (looking pristine in a Fiber Form top of her own design) and partner David Dodge rescuing an unprepared RV from the delicate terrain. Though a concerned Dodge grumbled, “some yahoos drove off-road and I just pushed them out,” he made light of the incident the next day at his (new-agey) Test Site, Laughter Yoga at the Integratron, by inventing a yogic breathing exercise based on spinning tires.

Left: Artist Drew Dominick with son. (Photo: Don Morrison) Right: Artist Katie Grinnan. (Photo: David Page)


I traveled on to the farthest sites of the event; a group show including Jack Pierson, Kelly Martin, and Ryan McGinley; an evening performance by Flora Wiegmann; and Katie Grinnan’s Inverse Parade. At Grinnan’s Test Site 7, ACME’s Bob Gunderman offered some (unsolicited) practical advice for weekend campers: “Dig eight inches down and away from nearby water sources.” Duly noted. I approached the parade—a series of static, stand-up forms animated by a van driving viewers forward and back along the sculptural scape—where I spotted Grinnan stationed in the van with video camera. Slightly delirious but still grinning, the artist tried to describe the work’s departure for Socrates but confessed, “I’m sorry. I’ve been out here for four days.”

Auerbach was on hand to talk about this year’s sites. “Andrea didn’t want this to turn into a curated event,” she explained, “but we had to screen submissions due to all the artists wanting to participate. We also tried to make it more event-based rather than object-based this year.” I caught up with Zittel, who attested, “I wanted the events to bring attention to the pre-existing art sites here. What’s the point of abandoning more art objects in the desert? You might as well put up a stucco house.” Auerbach reported running out of 500 maps by Saturday afternoon, many of the takers art-world visitors from New York and LA, as well as the expected Burning Man types. “The two art worlds mesh really well and the vibe was great last night, though I did see some people who couldn’t handle the heat,” Zittel added, referring to a packed dinner at the Palms restaurant where the performative works of Marie Lorenz, Jay Lizo, and New York-based Donnie & Travis (slated to show at John Connelly Presents this June) were on view.

Left: Gallerist John Connelly. Right: Artist Dawn Kasper with ACME's Bob Gunderman. (Photos: Don Morrison)


At dusk, bats began to feed, coyotes called in the distance, and, at the West valley’s “Gamma Gulch,” musicians performed Gregory Lenczycki’s minimal score. An intimate crowd gathered around “The Grotto” (designed by Kathleen Johnson and Taalman Koch Architecture) to listen to both traditional instruments and a series of sounding wires strung between boulders. Though part two of Lenczycki’s concert was scheduled for dawn, I resolved to sleep in, giving my feet (and my tires!) a rest.

The activities resumed the next morning with additional, Sunday-only happenings: A walking tour lead by an eighty-nine-year old local named Justus Motter—who collaborated with artist Jacob Stein to present several sculptures on his property—and Dodge’s wildly popular yoga sessions. There, I heard one amused participant comment, “He’s not an artist, but that’s definitely art.” Artist Drew Dominick’s luncheon drew me to Coyote Dry Lake, where unsuspecting visitors (dining on smoked turkey and cornbread) gathered around the Plexiglas wall of a makeshift shelter. Inside, the heavily camouflaged Dominick, cloistered among more camo foliage, used a compound hunting bow to drive arrows into a target on the transparent wall, catching the carnivorous lunchers (and a few dirt bikers) off-guard. But it was Sunday evening that caught me off-guard, when I realized that, despite logging several hundred miles in the desert, there was plenty of artwork that I still had not seen. After an unscheduled pit stop at Pioneertown’s “Pappy hour,” where artists and organizers were unwinding over pitchers of beer, I reluctantly (and soberly) returned to my car to fight traffic and gas prices back to the city.

Catherine Taft

Left: Justus Motter. Right: Artists Elad Lassry and Lucia Noyce. (Photos: Don Morrison)


Big Business as Usual

New York
05.10.06

Left: Christie's doorman Gil at work. Right: Chief auctioneer Christopher Burge. (All photos: David Velasco)


What exactly does the art market look like? From the press pen at the back of Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale on Tuesday night, it was a sea of bald patches and faux blondes. The men were in grey, black, and blue, many wired up with ear pieces attached to cell phones, looking like the bodyguards and chauffeurs that they left leaning against their town cars outside, except that their suits were made-to-measure. The women were small servings of bare legs in high heels and diamonds.

There are two ways to ready oneself for a major auction—sparkling water and aspirin or a double scotch on the rocks. Christopher Burge, Christie’s twinkly-eyed chief auctioneer, swears by the latter. With a total of ninety-one lots, this was the longest evening sale Burge had ever taken. The marathon had to start a half-hour early to accommodate the clients’ dinner reservations, and was characterized by such unbearable cold that many people speculated that Christie’s had jacked up the air conditioning in order to keep people from falling asleep.

The sale opened with twenty-six works by Donald Judd. The wall pieces consistently outperformed the floor pieces, but together they commanded $24.4 million—well over their high estimate. Still the consensus among the press pack was that the sale was “underwhelming.” Later I encountered a long-time Judd dealer who said the reverse: “Minor pieces sold for major money. For us in the Judd world, the earth moved.” In the context of the sale, I found it oddly reassuring that, despite Christie’s innovative marketing, Flavin Judd’s impeccably hung show, and Roberta Smith’s impassioned rave in the New York Times (which some say added “a couple million dollars credibility to the sale”), the room hardly went wild. Rather, this was a low-key affair befitting the memory of the restrained, cerebral master. As one Christie’s expert admitted, “the artist is incorruptible.”

Left: View from the press pit—the Christie's crowd. Right: Christie's call center takes donations for Andy Warhol.


Only ten to fifteen people left after the Judd lots, suggesting that both the collectors who’d come to “watch the market” and the dealers here to “take a position” were principally interested in the customary fare. Marlene Dumas, the only living female artist featured in the sale, was first on the block with Feathered Stola, a sensuous painting of a slender woman masturbating. This was business as usual and the room immediately loosened up. Bang went Burge’s happy hammer and the intriguing crotch shot sold for $1.2 million, double its high estimate.

In the end, the sales total was a whopping $143.2 million—the second largest in the Contemporary department’s history—but nobody even got close to the edge of their seat. There were no gasps or reverent silences. Josh Baer (dealer and editor of the baerfaxt) informed me that the technical term for such auction house profits was “shitload.” When debate among the reporters turned to why the Stones, a San Francisco-based collecting couple, were selling their Eva Hesse, one offered, “They’re bored,” though the work sold for $2,256,000, an auction record for the artist and more than twenty times what they paid for it in 1992. Perhaps they were simply keen to cash in.

It was good business, but lackluster drama. As Glenn Scott Wright, director of Victoria Miro Gallery, commented after the sale of the night’s “top lot,” Andy Warhol’s 1962 Small Torn Campbell's Soup Can (Pepper Pot): “It’s a sign of the times that the vendor of a tiny painting made during our lifetime exited the room looking crestfallen—of all things—when his lot sold for only $10.5 million hammer.” The painting was put on the block by Warhol’s original LA dealer, Irving Blum, and guaranteed by Christie’s for $11 million. Was Blum’s disappointment more emotional than financial? As high prices become the norm, it becomes harder and harder to get that euphoric fix. Or perhaps it was because his close colleague, Larry Gagosian (bidding for suspected third-party guarantor Eli Broad), made the winning bid?

At the press conference afterward, Christie’s staff knocked back champagne to celebrate the “testimony to Judd” as well as the world auction records made for Hesse, David Hockney, Damien Hirst, Mike Kelley, Richard Prince, Brice Marden, Morris Louis, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, and Dirk Skreber. Burge said the event bore witness to a “strong, engaged, sensible market.” Later, with a well-deserved fresh scotch in hand, he leaned over and said, “Auctions are the most boring things on God’s earth.”

Main Attraction

Frankfurt
05.09.06

Left: Portikus director Daniel Birnbaum with Irish critic Caoimhin Mac Giolla Leith. (Photo: April Elizabeth Lamm) Right: Artist Simon Starling and gallerist and Art Now coauthor Burkhard Riemschneider. (Photo: Jonas Leihener)


Crossing the Old Bridge to an island in the River Main one discovers an oversize, rust-red shed, a medieval speicher. It’s the site of Frankfurt’s oldest rowing club, inaugurated in 1865, and now also of the city’s newest art house: Portikus, the gallery of the Städelschule and laboratory of curator Nikola Dietrich and director Daniel Birnbaum. As I made my way there last Friday, spring had sprung—just at the moment when it seemed as though we’d be sticking with winter. The meteorological surprise (which should have been par for the course) lent an idyllic tone to the evening – spectacular views of Germany’s only high-rise skyline were accentuated by the golden gleam of the Commerzbank building. Although the gallery’s architecture (by local Christoph Mäckler) has not been embraced by its public, it yielded fodder for many quips. Referring to its corrugated-cardboard façade, Irish critic Caoimhin Mac Giolla Leith suggested “an ‘appropriation’ of the pleated fashions of Issey Miyake.”

“Personal States / Infinite Actives,” the venue’s debut exhibition, features work by Tomas Saraceno and Marjetica Potrc. Saraceno’s transparent balloons, fanciful dwellings designed for an overpopulated world, drifted around both inside and outside the gallery, the floating utopia they evoked threatened only by our cocktail sticks. Underneath, discussion of improvised housing filled the air around the artist’s Prishtina-House, a vaguely baroque yellow-brick favela.

Left: Artist Olafur Eliasson. Right: Artists Ronald Jones and Felix Gmelin with bodyguards. (Photos: Jonas Leihener)


A garden party on an island in the middle of Frankfurt is hardly an everyday affair. We talked of philosophy and the long-forgotten sociologist Max Horkheimer. The drinks here were cheap, the taxis to and fro unnecessary (everyone arrived by bike), and I missed Birnbaum’s inaugural speech, which he himself described as dry and perfunctory. But while Frankfurt’s future and former culture ministers very nearly came to blows, most other guests were in good spirits, including the directors of Frankfurt’s three other major art institutions: Max Hollein (Schirn Kunsthalle), Udo Kittelmann (MMK), and fresh arrival Chus Martinez (Frankfurter Kunstverein). Nevertheless, Sofia Bertilsson, director of Nordenhake Berlin, reminded me that, “Franfkurt is full of surprises. You remember the last time that Frankfurt made the tabloids? The headline was ‘Hessen-Hannibal fraß Bernd, aus Berlin!’” Her reference was to a 2002 story in which a local man (a Frankfurter) had chopped off a Berliner’s penis and cooked it up as a supper for two, then brutally stabbed him to death.

Städelschule’s self-styled “punk” professor Mark Leckey, the best-dressed man in the room (though Tobias Rehberger, Simon Starling, and Michael Neff, all on hand, have provided strong competition in the past), was approached by a joyfully jesting Art Basel power player, Maria Finders, with the query, “Hey, aren’t you the fellow who did that Fiorucci Made Me Gay?” He retorted, “Gay, no. Hardcore, yes. Hardcore.” Busy bee Olafur Eliasson arrived late and left early, which was forgivable since he’ll be seeing a lot more of Frankfurt over the next two years: An elated Birnbaum recounted asking the Berlin-based artist to work on a project for Portikus and receiving the more-than-encouraging response, “Only if I can do twelve!” The first is an installation that turns Portikus’ rooftop into a nighttime showroom for a solar eclipse. What we couldn’t see that night, but was visible the next day, was that the bridge under our feet was tagged with a cryptic motto: “There is no demonstration in Disney Land.” How were we meant to read this foreboding declaration? The answer remains uncertain, but the Chronology—to borrow the title of Birnbaum’s new essay collection—of the new Portikus had begun regardless.

May Pole

New York
05.07.06

Left: NYU Chair of Art and Art Professions Nancy Barton. Right: Professor Jennifer Doyle and artist Jonathan Berger with Ron Athey. (All photos: Julia Portwood Hipp)


Given that it was not only May Day but also the afternoon of the immigrant workers’ protest march in lower Manhattan, traveling to see Ron Athey’s “durational performance” at Artists Space proved to be a somewhat durational affair in itself. The A and C trains had been diverted to the F track, making my trip from Brooklyn unbearably glacial. Then, though the performance was scheduled to begin at 5 PM, the small crowd of art journos and gallery punters—all white, youngish to middle age, surprisingly unpierced—had to mill about on Greene Street for half an hour or so before being admitted upstairs. Having read about and seen images of Athey’s past work, I expected something actively painful, perhaps bloody, certainly kinetic, and inherently political—at least in an identity politics/AIDS-awareness sense.

Hence it was amusingly disappointing—or disappointingly amusing—to find Athey lying motionless on his back on an elevated “bed” made of aluminum rods, staring blankly at an array of small disco balls hanging from the ceiling—a corpselike pose he would hold for the next five hours. OK, he was completely naked—waxed, shaved, and tribally tattooed; yes, he was covered liberally in Vaseline; sure, he had approximately ten large fish hooks stuck into his face, with leather straps pulling them taught against the “headboard” behind him; yup, his balls and penis seem to have been vacuum-pumped to a distended, spongy mass; and finally, you betcha, I suppose he did have a blue metal baseball bat stuck halfway into his ass.

No doubt all this was deeply uncomfortable, particularly considering its five-hour duration. A young female assistant even had to do a Clockwork Orange routine, periodically placing eyedrops into Athey’s unblinking eyes. Nevertheless, as I initially took in the tableau, searching for some meaning or drama that would elevate Incorruptible Flesh: Dissociative Sparkle to the narrative heights of Athey’s past performances, my heart sank when the earnest young curator, who I thought might provide some elucidation, approached me and whispered into my ear, “You’re invited to rub Vaseline on him—with or without gloves—but not on his face or his balls.” I bit the side of my tongue to stifle laughter. I’m all for interactivity in art, but really, did this invitation to further grease the already very shiny artist add anything to the piece? Did it mean anything?

Left: Rachel Eckhardt and Ron Athey. Right: Ron Athey.


I struggled with this and other related matters as I slowly circled Athey for an hour or so—ruminating on early-’90s San Francisco, RE/Search magazine’s “Modern Primitives” issue, body-mod/pain pioneer Fakir Musafar, super-masochist Bob Flanagan, “Bodies: The Exhibition,” and “daredevil” David Blaine, who at that very moment was submerged underwater near Lincoln Center, where he’d be in a plastic bubble for a week without surfacing. Athey’s piece was part of the NYU-sponsored “transgressive” performance series “Where Art and Life Collide,” and the press materials note that Athey and the other artists “consider themselves marginalized for reasons ranging from race, to class, to sexuality.” I find the circularity of this stance slightly silly. I mean, if you’re going to lie in state, so to speak, with a baseball bat plunged deep inside your ass and fish hooks tugging at your face, you are ensuring your continued marginalization—for reasons that have nothing to do with race or class. Sexuality, perhaps, though I’ve never heard of Louisville Slugger fetishists lobbying for equal rights. Other than being more outré and less crowd-pleasing, what distinguishes Athey’s present work from non-artist David Blaine’s durational stunts? Am I missing the point?

Maybe. Maybe not. Other than the era’s then-emerging scourge of AIDS—through which Athey found his artistic muse and message as an HIV-positive gay performer—domestic and geopolitical stakes today are much higher than they were in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Leaving Artists Space and catching the tail end of the immigrant march—a far more relevant statement of identity politics—I couldn’t help but conclude that Athey’s performance was solipsistic and, ultimately, empty. That the most thought-provoking aspect of the piece was the slow drip—probably unintentional—from the exposed grip-end of the bat onto the floor was dispiriting. Yes, it was diverting for a moment to wonder whether the fluid was sweat, melted Vaseline, or anal leakage, but this hardly advanced my understanding of or sympathy with living with HIV. Instead, Athey came across as a gag from Art School Confidential—or as little more than the cliché-transgressive whipping boy he once was in the eyes of the NEA-bashing right.

On my way out, I was caught off-guard in the elevator when a middle-aged woman asked me what I thought of the performance. Sensing that she clearly expected a positive answer, I mumbled something about “admiring him, as I certainly couldn’t do that,” but I felt like a liar. NYU’s press sheet claims that Athey subjects himself to “physical, cultural, and psychological challenges as a means to transform the conditions of the present,” yet there he lay entombed in a sparsely attended gallery in SoHo, four hours to go, while millions of “illegal” workers marched across the country, actively trying to change one of the all-too-real conditions of the present. Obviously, art isn’t required to be politically relevant and this isn’t a Marxist critique, but hey, if the bat fits . . .

Double Dutch

Rotterdam
05.04.06

Left: Witte de With director Nicolaus Schafhausen. Right: Artist Erik van Lieshout.


Why was one of last Friday’s trains from Paris Gare du Nord to Rotterdam so packed? The arrival of an orange-clad passenger reminded me that—of course!—Saturday was Queen’s Day, the beginning of Holland’s weekend-long homage to her Majesty. If you’re not a fan of beer festivals and public urination, however, this is a holiday to avoid, and perhaps this was the reason that there were so few attendees at Witte de With’s press conference about the first exhibitions to open under the leadership of newly appointed German director Nicolaus Schafhausen. Or had the crowd thinned in reaction to recent difficulties faced by the institution? (Witte de With had been accused of being too detached from its local context by members of Leefbaar, the populist, right-leaning Dutch political movement based in Rotterdam. One result of their protestations was the departure of director Catherine David, an outspoken figure who had apparently once told the local press that she thought The Netherlands neocolonialist, conservative, nationalist, and—this one must’ve really stung—provincial and anti-intellectual. Merci et au revoir!)

Schafhausen’s immediate assurance that his own contribution would not be an easily swallowed antidote to David’s was thus entirely to be expected. Also logical was his announcement of “Unraveling Rotterdam,” a series of informal discussions focusing explicitly on the local political situation. Schafhausen then introduced his new team—German curator Florian Waldvogel, Renske Janssen (a Dutch holdover from the last regime who knows the local community), Sophie von Olfers, and Zoë Gray—as well an advisory board comprising architects Nikolaus Hirsch and David Adjaye and artists Angela Bulloch, Joep van Lieshout, Sarah Morris, and Liam Gillick.

Left: Artist Mathias Poledna. Right: Artist Johanna Billing.


Announcements over, the small crowd moved into the galleries to visit Schafhausen’s debuts: a solo exhibition by Austrian Mathias Poledna and a group show titled “Don Quijote.” Poledna has divided the first floor into two parts, with films in each creating a kind of mirroring; black-and-white opposing color, sound balancing out silence, and movement countering the static pose. I found a very different arrangement two floors up, the works in “Don Quijote” lit only by timed, computer-controlled spotlights and accompanied by the rumble of thunder (a sound installation by Hannah Rickards). Michael Beutler’s scaffolding landscape provides further framing for the twenty-two young artists (average age twenty-nine).

Back downstairs, it was time for an artist’s talk featuring Poledna and Willem de Rooij, himself a member of the Witte de With’s board. Unfortunately, without specific direction, the discussion somehow drifted into a diatribe on LA and its weather. It seemed an appropriate moment to quit the scene and stroll a few blocks to the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen for the opening of the Bless retrospective. Bless, a celebrated fashion label run by Desirée Heiss and Ines Kaag out of studios in Berlin and Paris, are well known for Conceptual art–like gestures such as hijacking magazines to distribute their seasonal look books and refusing to pose for photographs. (The latter is about to change, though, as the duo has just been nominated as one of the one hundred most important people in Germany, an honor that necessitates a photo-op.)

Left: Boijmans curator Thimo te Duits. Right: Bless founder Ines Kaag.


Faithful to their guerrilla strategy and practice of opening temporary stores in unexpected locations, Heiss and Kaag integrated their products within the museum’s collection of design classics and in private storage areas. During the installation, when they put their famous fur wigs on the heads of the carved-wood, thirteenth-century sculptures Boijmans design curator Thimo te Duits almost passed out. “At least they could have asked!” he exclaimed when I encountered him, dressed in head-to-toe green in what could have been an homage to Dutch fashion heroes Viktor & Rolf. “No, no. It’s [Burberry] Prorsum,” he corrected, as we moved to the party in the museum restaurant. The room was full of old friends and loyal supporters of the brand, including Walter Van Beirendonck (also in green) and a number of visitors who had trekked all the way from Japan. The group seemed more like an extended family than business partners.

The two halves of the evening converged for an after-party, featuring artist David Lieske as DJ, at club Zaal de Unie. Other newly appointed, foreign-born directors of Dutch institutions, including Emily Pethick (English; director of CASCO in Utrecht) and Ann Demeester (Belgian; now head of the De Appel Center for Contemporary Art), joined Schafhausen to celebrate. Who says Holland isn’t international?

Nicolas Trembley

Left: Designer Walter Van Beirendonck. Right: De Appel director Ann Demeester.


Light and Space

New York
05.02.06

Left: New Museum director Lisa Phillips with Olafur Eliasson. Right: Artist Kelly Burns heads into an Eliasson sculpture.


“We finished this literally two hours ago,” a visibly relieved Ethan Sklar confided to me at the Friday night unveiling of Tanya Bonakdar Gallery’s expansive new ground-floor space. “Fortunately,” the director continued, “the lighting covers up the rough edges.” The forgiving visual effect came courtesy of a suite of new installations by Olafur Eliasson, which employed various kinds of unusual illumination that conspired with a restless crowd to make the just-completed interior seem virtually endless. Frieze US editor James Trainor leaned against a wall for a moment, then, at the suggestion that the paint might still be wet, sprang forward. Polled on the in-progress opening of James Lee Byars’s “The Rest is Silence” at no less than six Manhattan galleries—Perry Rubenstein’s three Chelsea rooms, Mary Boone’s venues in Chelsea and midtown, and Michael Werner’s Upper East Side outpost—he reported that the neighborhood events at least were “deathly quiet, as is appropriate.”

Still curious to take a look, I headed over to Twenty-Third and Twenty-Fourth Streets, both home to Rubenstein. Sure enough, the buzz at Bonakdar was here replaced by a respectful hush as, at the dealer’s largest branch, a few visitors paced solemnly around the late Byars’s The Sun, 1990, a circle of 360 pieces of gleaming white marble. At the bunkerlike smallest space, an attendant offered “decoding advice” to viewers of the four gilded columns that made up part of Self-Portrait, 1959. Rubenstein himself was seen shuttling collectors from work to work, but the geographical spread of the event dissipated its momentum. Exiting on the well-heeled heels of collector-philanthropists Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy, whose one-hundred-thousand-dollar Bucksbaum Award had just been given to artist Mark Bradford at the Whitney Museum, I nipped back to Bonakdar.

Left: Design critic Aric Chen and Tanya Bonakdar gallery director Ethan Sklar. Right: Gallerist Tanya Bonakdar and lawyer Hugh Freund.


“This event should be meditative too,” laughed Lombard-Freid Projects director Christian Alexa above the hubbub as I rejoined the near-capacity crowd, well aware that this wasn’t the evening for an uninterrupted art encounter. Also exploring, and talking it up, were artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, MoMA President Emerita Agnes Gund, the New Museum’s Lisa Phillips and Richard Flood. Your negotiable panorama, 2006, a circular enclosure containing a large central pool of water with a wave mechanism and lamp that cast a rippling line of light around the fabric wall, inspired a great deal of splashing and hooting. Artist Vargas-Suarez Universal cheekily suggested throwing in a coin, or even paying homage to Jackson Pollock’s infamous repurposing of Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace. Upstairs, The inverted mirror sphere, 2005, a twinkling construction suspended from the ceiling of the main gallery, proved irresistible to those tall enough to stick their heads inside.

Over at the Maritime Hotel’s North Cabana, my companion and I were joined at our table for dinner by gallery director James Lavender, artist Leo Villareal, and collectors Bill and Charlotte Ford and Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg. All declared themselves fans, more or less, of the unarguably spectacular show, and compared memories of the artist’s previous solo appearances at the gallery (the last of which was three years ago). After an appetizer, Bonakdar rose to her feet and, appearing endearingly nervous, read out a brief note of thanks to all concerned. The hundred-plus guests, who also included artists Sean Landers and Jason Meadows, curator Douglas Fogle, and Creative Time’s Anne Pasternak, responded with hearty applause. The similarly unassuming Eliasson escaped without addressing a word to the assembly as a whole, but most were happy to indulge his reticence. As did Byars’s, his show alone spoke volumes.