Sign of the Times

New York
12.18.09

Left: Artist Dan Graham. Right: Japanther. (Photos: Sam Horine)


BUNDLING UP for the first major round of post-Miami New York gallery openings on a frigid Thursday evening, I half-expected most potential attendees to have decided in favor of a mug of hot chocolate and the televisual company of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. But while the streets of Chelsea were predictably dark and desolate, unbowed dealers had turned up the heat to pull, collectively, a decent crowd. My first port of call though looked unpromising. Anton Kern was showing more of LA painter Brian Calvin’s signature slacker portraits, but the work’s ice-cream colors and laid-back vibe had yet to attract much of an audience. An unaccompanied Matthew Higgs roamed the near-empty space as a large bucket o’ beers on ice remained unmolested.

The contrast with PaceWildenstein, just two blocks and three minutes away, could hardly have been starker. Diffuse clouds of incense smoke lent the space a saunalike air as guests hobnobbed in the shadow of a vast seated Buddha made from compacted ash by Chinese sculptor Zhang Huan. If the artist was aiming to conjure the mystique of an ancient temple, the reality was closer to a Twenty-seventh Street superclub. In the more confined environs of Daniel Reich Gallery, Christian Holstad’s “The World’s Gone Beautiful” also suggested a balmier environment than the subzero reality, with what looked like melted shopping carts pooled on the floor. At Morgan Lehman, Kysa Johnson’s reworkings of classical art using the visual language of microbiology worked up a kind of historical-perceptual friction, while at Sean Kelly, Anthony McCall’s “solid light” projections at least looked like they should have generated warmth.

Left: Artist Zhang Huan. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Artist Rita Ackermann with musician Kim Gordon. (Photo: Sam Horine)


Hopping a cab to Long Island City, I checked my coat and hat at the Vere Condominium, where cocktails were being served to kick off not-for-profit stalwart SculptureCenter’s gala honoring Dan Graham, and was immediately drafted into a conversation with artist Jutta Koether about the relative merits of extant biographies of Francis Bacon (she recommended Daniel Farson’s gossipy The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon). I also spotted artists Fred Wilson, John Miller, Ugo Rondinone, and Walead Beshty, curators Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne, and impresario Malcolm McLaren, the last unassailable in a perfect tweed suit. After a discordant vocal performance by artist Rita Ackermann, the first of three “sets” listed in the program, we were ushered next door to the Center itself for dinner.

Seated alongside Electronic Arts Intermix executive director Lori Zippay, Japanther bassist Matt Reilly, and dealer Jose Martos (my first New York employer, back in 2001), we dipped into some fondue as the second set commenced. Introductory spiels by trustee James L. Bodnar and artist Michael Smith (the latter incorporating a video love letter from Rodney Graham and band, currently “backpacking around and playing gigs” in Australia) gave way to a tag-team “astrological tribute” by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Apparently Dan Graham, a “fiery Aries,” swears by his horoscope. “Dan’s ruler of the ascendant is Saturn,” Gordon informed us. “He might have clown hair one day and a crow tattoo the next, but he is always ahead of his time. His execution may be strange, but the result is always brilliant.”

Left: Musician Thurston Moore, Red Art Projects's Maureen Sullivan, and artist Michael Smith. (Photo: Sam Horine) Right: Dealer Daniel Reich. (Photo: David Velasco)


“I have Venus in Aquarius, too,” the irrepressible artist himself announced, receiving an award from SculptureCenter director Mary Ceruti. “That means the most important thing to me are my friends.” Needless to say, this went down well. “I consider myself a gifted amateur,” he continued. And while dismissing “this teenage idea of art being about fun,” he admitted, “what I’m getting out of it is tickets to travel the world and experience some of my favorite culture.” According to Gordon, one of Graham’s favorite bits of musical culture is the Fall song “Repetition,” so it must have given him a thrill to see her and Moore then perform it for him, even if she did have to kick over a folding chair to get the crowd’s attention and read the lyrics from a sheet of paper. Only a final—frenetic—outdoor performance by Japanther, battling not only the elements but also a repeatedly collapsing mirrored backdrop by the artist of the night, was more invigorating.

The following evening saw the opening of “Moving Shapes and Colors” curated by writer Brian Droitcour at Chinatown alternative space 179 Canal. Dealer Rob Hult was among those attempting to negotiate the packed and darkened second-floor space without incident, shuffling between abstract videos (CMYK color fields, neon pyramids) by Duncan Malashock, Sabine Gruffat, and others. He trailed the afterparty as a smoky affair, so we jumped ship for Gavin Brown’s annual holiday bash at his gallery, which promised “food of an indefinite number” and “extended dancing indefinitely.” Bagging a table and a cupcake, we watched the space fill with faces familiar from the night before—Higgs, Koether, Ackermann—and just plain familiar: Elizabeth Peyton, Clarissa Dalrymple, Marty Eisenberg. An impassioned performance by TV Baby, channeling Suicide and covering Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline,” got at least one or two of the aforementioned moving, while the later appearance of Michael Stipe—on the arm of art-world celebrity walker Klaus Biesenbach—augured a shiny happy gathering. Indefinitely.

Michael Wilson

Left: Artist Malcolm McLaren and Young Kim. (Photo: Sam Horine) Right: TV Baby. (Photo: Michael Wilson)


Left: Artist Walead Beshty, SculptureCenter director Mary Ceruti, and SculptureCenter curator Fionn Meade. (Photo: Sam Horine) Right: 179 Canal's Margaret Lee with Klaus von Nichtssagend's Rob Hult. (Photo: David Velasco)


Left: Artist Kysa Johnson. Right: An Anthony McCall installation. (Photos: Michael Wilson)