Hot Commodities

New York
02.07.05

Left: Mother, Inc. performing. Right: Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, Leo Villareal, and Ann Tenenbaum. (All photos: Patrick McMullan/PMc)


The band was bee-oo-tiful, the crowd was bee-oo-tiful . . . It felt like Weimar in Chelsea on Wednesday night at Mother Inc.'s Fendi-sponsored CD “listening party” at Marquee. The cute invite, styled like a Fendi-brand 12-inch, advised a “Luxurious Lounge” dress code. I wore the tight brown Citizen cords I've worn all season: As a chronic skirt-addict, I'm working on accepting myself in pants. “You all look so great,” Yvonne Force-Villareal purred from the stage at her über-glam, über-connected art-world supporters. “I hope I look as good as you do!” The unofficial themes of the evening were vanity and the ever-more-explicit codependence between art, fashion, business, and shopping, with a subtext of insecurity. Marquee is a large, swanky club with the decor of a Gucci (whoops, Fendi!) store where you imagine high-end playas pour Cristal over girls' butts on less “cultural” evenings. As the duo Mother Inc., socialite/lady rappers Force-Villareal and Sandra Hamburg made their grand entrance descending a staircase, totally done in Fendi gowns and major hair and makeup, lipsynching to a remix of the disco ditty “Native New Yorker.” My own entrée was different. I wasn't on the list, though I'd RSVP'd. While assorted doorpeople determined whether I was kosher, I stewed and reflected, What is glamour without her handmaiden, humiliation? “It's humiliating even if you don't even want to go,” mused someone nearby, who also should have been on the list. “I think it's the people with the clipboards who are humiliated,” offered someone else.

Nevertheless, it's not often that I notice Jeff Koons waiting behind me on line. In the cold. He seemed calm. I waved to Casey Spooner, lead exhibitionist of Fischerspooner, the performance-art act where Mother Inc. made its onstage debut, rapping “Megacolon,” about a colonic. A mad, old baglady keeled toward the velvet-roped queue, raving in Chinese. She seemed a harbinger of something. Having made it inside, I tried to recover my “chi” while Nicholas Butterworth, who executive-produced the CD, gestured at the chic stage set, which suggested a luxe dressing area complete with two racks of clothes and a sleek couch where Fendi furs and finery were tossed as if by a frantic outfit chooser. “That's the real Fendi spring 2005 stuff. These girls don't realize how spoiled they are,” jested the music-industry vet, DJ, political activist and all-around involved guy. “It's not like this when you're on the road in Iowa.” As if!

“I'll never forget my art-world roots,” an exultant Yvonne pronounced in her eerily clear, firm, schoolteacherly diction to a dance floor crammed with beaming art-world insiders. “But I can get used to this!” Indeed, there was an infectious joie de vivre to seeing someone livin' her dream. In a purple goddess-ish Fendi gown, the Lady Yvonne was half all-noticing hostess, half overjoyed game-show winner. The girls launched into a rousing set, letting their fashion egos and ids run amok, “performing” as fashion victims obsessed with weight, plastic surgery and designer goodies. “ATM no TLC” is a touching paean to being kept: “You know what I want, better give it to me/How do you think I look so pretty?” is the catchy refrain. “Fashion Crisis” was the big production number. The girls introduced their fashion alter egos—taller, thinner, more model-looking versions of themselves, one blonde, one brunette—and two soap-opera-handsome male authority figures, the Plastic Surgeon and the Shrink. All vogued their way through a well-choreographed ode to having a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. Sandra H., with her dark curls, was rather Maenad-esque, cavorting pregnant in her Fendi evening gown. “You're four months—and you only look two!” stage-bantered Yvonne. Sandra bantered back, noting her collaborator's recent weight loss. The crowd ate it up. Mother Inc.'s lyrics express themes dear to both art and fashion: greed for luxury, beauty, and power.

Left: Kim Heirston Evans. Middle: Tara Subkoff. Right: Yvonne Force Villareal.


One bystander couldn't put his finger on what disturbed him about all this: “The level of irony isn't quite right.” Hamburg and Force-Villareal seem to relish their self-imposed Stepford Wife-ism. Leo Villareal, Yvonne's nice, rich, supportive artist husband, was clearly proud: “She's funny. She has a sense of irony about it,” he told me. If he says so . . . Art collecting is perhaps the most esteemed form of shopping in our culture today. As an art advisor—that is, personal shopper to art collectors—and a well-documented clothes horse herself, Force is an über-consumer of both Art and Fashion. Mother Inc.'s performance of over-the-top shopping consciousness makes the classic Warhol move of turning consumption into production. By getting Fendi to sponsor them, their “performance art” about shopping becomes advertising for fashion, while fashion product placement, in turn, becomes part of their “performance art.”

The crowd was like a Vanity Fair party page, and not only because I recognized Ahn Duong, whom I only know of from party shots of chic events like this. I heard Salman Rushdie was there. And the fashionable plastic surgeon Daniel Baker. But your correspondent must apologize for neglecting to chat up famous people. Regrouping from the door tsuris, she was in a blicky mood and perked back up only at the end of the performance when most of the audience vamoosed. I really wanted to know what two totally tootsed-up drag queens thought of all this, since Mother Inc. were celebrating the values usually extolled by fashion-, man-, and status symbol-crazed queens. But alas, they disappeared in a pouf as I made my way toward them.

In a back lounge, on illumined display cubes, the latest Fendi bags were displayed like objets d'art. Fendi bodyguards hovered about, adding gravitas to the merch. Linda Yablonsky, the Artforum contributor who wrote the novel about junkies, said, “It's a merchandising party. It's how they do business. I'm not sure which business. Let's touch the bags and see if they”—the bodyguards—“say something!” Sure enough: “Ladies, step away from the bags.” I didn't even like them.

Rhonda Lieberman