Left: Artist Takashi Murkami. Right: Dealers David Nash and Robert Mnuchin. (All photos: David Velasco)
A few decades ago, people spoke of the shock of the new. On Wednesday night, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale was all about the incredible wealth of the few. The auction, which totaled $362 million, was the biggest in the company’s history. Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s chief auctioneer, said the sale was the result of “global hunger” on the part of “global individuals” who “live everywhere.”
Facing eighty-three lots, Meyer began by speed-reading the rules. The first few works flew off the block with remarkable efficiency, but it wasn’t until Lot 9, Takashi Murakami’s naked and fully erect My Lonesome Cowboy, 1998, that mouths began to drop. Word had it that dealer Marianne Boesky had consigned the work and that, some time ago, Meyer himself had almost bought the seminal sculpture. (Meyer told me that he'd decided against it because his mother was coming to visit.) The crowd delighted in a virile volley of bids between Philippe Ségalot on the aisle and Sotheby’s Alexander Rotter, who was on the phone with someone who many suspected was Steve Cohen but others thought might be Viktor Pinchuk (although the Ukrainian billionaire usually has a dealer like Larry Gagosian or Jay Jopling bid for him in the room). Eventually, Rotter’s client won the sculpture for $15.2 million, nearly four times its $4 million high estimate. Even Murakami, who was sitting at the back of the room with artist Chiho Aoshima, was wide-eyed with amazement.
The next battle was for Yves Klein’s shimmering, gold-leaf MG9, circa 1962, the first of twenty-one lots consigned from the collection of Helga and Walther Lauffs, which had been on long-term loan to the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum in Krefeld. Mrs. Lauffs (Walther died in 1981) had sold 155 stellar connoisseur’s pieces, including a fantastic Bruce Nauman, a Cy Twombly, and a Lee Bontecou, to David Zwirner and Iwan Wirth and consigned about 150 equally credible but slightly flashier works to Sotheby’s.
Some fantasized quaintly that the bidding on MG9 was a style war between French luxury-goods rivals François Pinault and Bernard Arnault, as Ségalot (Pinault’s main consultant) bid against Gregoire Billault, Sotheby’s Paris rep, who could have been on the line to Arnault, a known Klein supporter. The canvas carried an estimate of $6 million to $8 million, but the bidding increased to an engorged $23.6 million, the price at which the gloriously outsize bullion sold to Ségalot.
Left: Art adviser Sandy Heller. Center: Dealers Rachel Lehmann, Jean-Pierre Lehmann, and Emmanuel Perrotin. Right: Dealer Jay Jopling.
The six Lauffs daughters sat in a row at the window of a large skybox and watched another Klein (a signature IKB), a folded white Piero Manzoni canvas, a copper Carl Andre floor piece, a much-admired cadmium-red Donald Judd, and a set of four Warhol boxes, among other artworks, command high and often record prices. By the end of the evening, the Lauffs lots had brought in $96 million, double their low estimate, but as my press-pack colleague Walter Robinson observed, “They look bored up there. Do you think they’re knitting?”
The next breath-holding episode in this pecuniary pageant was Lot 33, Francis Bacon’s allegorical Triptych, 1976, a complex picture whose central panel depicts a black bird of prey devouring the innards of a headless human figure. Despite the challenging subject matter, the bidding started at $60 million. Three telephone bidders took it up to $67 million, then one dropped out, and a client on the phone to Sotheby’s London-based Oliver Barker and another on the line with Patti Wong, chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, knocked it back and forth in million-dollar increments.
At $76 million, the bidding stalled. Meyer, who seemed to be having fun, cajoled Wong’s bidder by saying, “Look at it in euros, it’s cheaper,” then, “Be brave,” and finally, “I can feel one more.” When Wong’s client split the bid and offered only half a million more, Meyer replied gallantly, “$76.5 million, of course.” Then Barker’s bidder offered $77 million, and Wong was back into protracted negotiations with her caller, who declined to go higher. “Are you sure, Patti? What if I beg?” asked Meyer. The hammer finally came down and set a worldwide record price not just for Bacon but for any postwar work of art. The final figure with buyer’s premium was a massive $86.3 million. Gerard Faggionato, a dealer who represents the Bacon estate, told me there are twenty-eight major triptychs, but only eight or nine in private hands. Appreciative of the landmark price, he said, “It gives me confidence in the value of art!”
But who bought and underbid the work? Why would Meyer evoke euros if Wong’s client came from the region in which she is chairwoman? The bids were so slow, one got the feeling that Wong might be on the end of a chain of phone calls. With regard to Barker’s collector, the auction house admitted he was “European private.” Rumors were circulating that the intellectual Bacon went to London but was not bought by Damien Hirst. The tall, dashing Barker explained, “Of the group of postwar artists who are ordained by the market, Bacon is the only non-American. The market clearly understands that he is a groundbreaking artist. A year ago, we sold the Rockefeller Rothko. Now, in a completely different financial climate, we have shattered that price.” Indeed, that Rothko went to Qatar, and the power axes of the art world continue to shift.
One very American and less successful part of the sale involved the lots consigned by newsprint magnate Peter Brant, who is said to have eked guarantees worth $70 million to $80 million out of the auction house. In the age of the Internet, it is hard to believe the official line that Brant was “raising money to buy another paper mill,” and some suggested that he was seeking cash to pay for his rumored half of Larry Gagosian’s $200 million purchase of Warhols from the Sonnabend estate.
Absolutely everyone describes Brant as extremely shrewd, but Perry Rubenstein waxed most lyric: “Peter is a genius. His level of connoisseurship is above and beyond. His sophistication allows him to sell these things without compromising his collection.” Indeed, looking at the lots, which did not fare well, one would assume he was better off without them. Dealer Jose Mugrabi ended up buying Warhol’s vast Detail of the Last Supper (Christ 112 Times), 1986, for $9.5 million, while Gagosian got lumbered with Jeff Koons’s Caterpillar Chains for $5.9 million.
When the hammer came down on the final lot (Yoshitomo Nara’s Light My Fire, which was picked up by Murakami for $1.2 million), eight works of art had sold for more than $10 million and fourteen for over $5 million. There were loads of highs. The late Robert Rauschenberg’s homage to lower Manhattan, Overdrive, 1963, commanded $14.6 million, a new record for the artist. And a few lows. Rothko’s limpid Orange, Red, Yellow, 1956, which was owned entirely or in part by Sotheby’s, was “bought in,” i.e., didn’t sell, at $33 million. Sotheby’s staff seemed relieved and happy. As Francis Outred, a London-based specialist, quipped, “The art-market boom has only just begun!”
Left: Trader Liam Culman with art dealer Marianne Boesky. Right: Sotheby's Alexander Rotter, Tobias Meyer, and Anthony Grant.
Left: Collector François Pinault. Center: Giancarlo Giammetti with designer Valentino. Right: Dealer Larry Gagosian. (All photos: David Velasco)
What happens to the art market when other financial markets are suffering a grim credit crunch and liquidity crisis? It experiences an unexpectedly high volume of rich and varied gossip. Whisper campaigns about who is guaranteeing what for more than the high estimate, apprehensive speculation about foreigners’ taste in art, and fractious squabbles about the quality of competing “masterworks” by the same artist punctuated the days leading up to Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on Tuesday night. Against this background, the Christie’s team was methodically peddling forty-three paintings, eight sculptures, two works on paper, an installation by Mike Kelley, and a house designed by cult modernist architect Richard Neutra. They called it “a smarter, tighter, sober sale, which accurately reads the market.”
The auction began sluggishly but then started to ascend when Lot 11, Tom Wesselmann’s erotically charged Smoker #9, 1973, sold for $6.8 million, a world auction record for the artist. Next up was Andy Warhol’s black and beige Double Marlon, 1966. Peter Simon, the British-based owner of fashion retailer Monsoon, was selling, and David Martinez, the Mexican megacollector, was said to have guaranteed. The auction house had thrown an over-the-top party meant to “bring the cultural history of the painting to life” at the Soho Grand Hotel. Evidently, the marketing hoo-haw paid off. After a ping-pong of telephone bids taken by Christie’s Brett Gorvy and Ken Yeh, the work sold for $32.5 million.
Next up was Richard Prince’s gory Man-Crazy Nurse #2, 2002, which was being sold by Douglas Cramer, the producer of the television series Dynasty. Ever since art-industry newsletter the Baer Faxt made the pithy announcement that “Richard Prince is working independently,” the rumor mill has been in the kind of overdrive that would befit the 1980s-era soap. Some say Prince sold paintings out of his Guggenheim show directly to billionaire Ukrainian collector Viktor Pinchuk. Others say Larry Gagosian took a commission on the deal. A dealer colleague of Barbara Gladstone, Prince’s gallerist since 1988, said, “His lack of loyalty is less than appealing.” Indeed, word has it that Gagosian Gallery has lined up an exhibition in Rome. Although the gallery would not confirm that Prince had joined the roster, one of its senior directors was willing to assert, “Unlike other artists whose markets are ahead of their reputations, Prince has earned his market and will sustain it. A new gallery with a new tier of collectors can take an artist up an echelon. The Gagosian empire competes more with the auction houses than with the galleries.” Needless to say, a world auction record for the artist was set when dealer Christophe Van de Weghe bought the Prince painting for $7.4 million.
Left: Dealers David Zwirner and Philippe Ségalot. Right: Lucian Freud's Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, 1995.
From there, the auction mostly glided along, with auctioneer Christopher Burge conducting the momentum like a maestro. The bidding on Lot 22, Adolph Gottlieb’s Cool Blast, 1960, ended with a genuine burst of applause. Robert Manley, head of the evening sale, described the painting of a red orb above a black blast, as “a perfect-storm picture, similar in size and color to one in MoMA,” and the lot had the additional support of a Gottlieb solo show at PaceWildenstein on Fifty-seventh Street. The iconic picture sold for $6.5 million, almost quintupling the urbane Abstract Expressionist’s previous auction record.
Next up was Mark Rothko’s red and yellow No. 15 from 1952, described by Christie’s Brett Gorvy as a “rare wow painting, with glorious color relationships and an ideal scale, offering both monumentality and an intimate exchange.” Like the Gottlieb, it was put up by top-tier California collector Roger Evans and, after a well-mannered volley of bids, sold for $50.4 million to Andreas Rumbler, head of Christie’s Germany, suggesting the lot went to Europe, perhaps even to a Russian with a taste for happy abstraction.
When Warhol’s 1978 Oxidation Painting, Lot 25, hit the block, I was treated to some minor comic relief. In the back row, I overheard an endearing conversation between two upscale Beavis and Butt-heads.
“That’s a Warhol, you know,” said one gentleman to the other.
“No, it’s not!” said the other.
“Yes, seriously, they call it a ‘piss painting,’” the first one snickered.
“No!” replied his incredulous friend.
The work, whose materials are described as “copper metallic pigment and urine on canvas,” sold for a wholesome $1.9 million.
Left: Collector Peter Simon. Center: Collectors Jacqueline and Irving Blum with art adviser Mark Fletcher. Right: Auctioneer Christopher Burge.
Everyone took a deep breath when Lot 37, Lucian Freud’s large-scale Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, 1995, appeared on the revolving turntable, if only because it was a miracle that Christie’s art handlers had managed to get the big girl on there. The chunky nude, a modern-day Rubens/Renoir, was perhaps too visceral to be “commercial,” but the bidding started at $20 million and someone on the phone with Gorvy took it for $30 million ($33.6 million with buyer’s premium), the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist. Lucian, the grandson of Sigmund, is eighty-five years old. A respectful round of applause ensued.
At Lot 42, Burge said, “A slight change of pace, ladies and gentleman,” then introduced Kathleen Coumou from Christie’s Realty International, who announced Neutra’s five bedroom, five-and-a-half bathroom Kaufmann House, 1946–47. Earlier in the day, she had explained that “putting the house in the evening sale was a competitive part of our pitch to the consignor. We’re presenting it as an art object, which has never been done in quite this way before.” She added that they’d received positive responses from “people who collect significant properties,” as well as from international buyers who usually purchase in Manhattan or Palm Beach but were considering Palm Springs. The house sold for its low estimate: $15 million hammer.
In the end, the auction totaled $348 million, the second-highest total ever, with 95 percent of lots sold. Only three works, including Roy Lichtenstein’s Ball of Twine, 1963, failed to sell. Moreover, eight world records were set. Toward the end of the press conference, I congratulated Marc Porter, president of Christie’s Americas, on the tremendous price achieved by Freud’s thought-provoking fat lady. He smiled and said, “Yes, the painting makes you go home and look at your own body. On that note, I think I’ll be off now!”
Left: Christie's Robert Manley, Laura Paulson, Amy Cappellazzo, and Brett Gorvy. Right: Collector Douglas Cramer with writer Joyce Haber.
People tend to use the word transformative to distinguish art from anything that isn’t. In art itself, after all, it’s not always easy to tell. That’s a good thing. Art needs ambiguity. Yet it was another, even more evangelical term that kept popping up during the tony events scheduled around New York’s spring modern and Impressionist auctions last week, when that roving band of tragedy and privilege called the art world threatened not just to transform but to “redeem” itself from all that falls at its feet.
Thursday night, PaceWildenstein saved face at the somewhat compromised opening of Zhang Huan’s exhibition, which was divided between the gallery’s two Chelsea venues. At the Twenty-fifth Street location, the Chinese art star had installed a furry, brown, and pregnant fifteen-foot-tall simianlike figure (apparently a surrogate for China) with a smaller cub (apparently a surrogate for the artist) portraying the monkey on its back. There seemed to be blood on it. The Twenty-second Street space, to which I traveled in one of the pedicabs supplied by the gallery, had an even more colossal, five-by-twenty-foot gray slab made of Zhang’s medium of choice: compressed incense ash collected from temples all over China. I had initially assumed the firemen on the street were part of the show, but the sweet smell of smoke soon made it clear that something was actually burning inside—incense, of course, but enough of it to set off alarms. Unfortunately, among the restive crowd of swells impatiently waiting at the door, there were no altercations, only exhalations of hushed reverence once the fire chief was satisfied that the building was not burning down and no terrorist had planted a bomb. A VIP line quickly formed at a side door for collectors, who were admitted ahead of the hoi polloi and who viewed the slab from a catwalk built high above it.
What they saw was a young seated woman sliding along a track and dipping a brush into pots of dark or light ash, with which she was reproducing the vintage black-and-white photo, depicting Chinese workers digging a miles-wide canal, that she held in her hand. The work was quite beautiful and hugely ambitious, but it also seemed nauseatingly patriotic, a paean to Maoist socialism. Or perhaps it was just an overstated appreciation of exploited laborers everywhere. In any case, something—perhaps even the heavily incense-scented air—made me queasy, so I hied over to Sperone Westwater, where Tom Sachs had reconstructed the usually dour gallery into a series of theatrically lit, museumlike rooms displaying his latest foamcore, Con Ed–barricade, and burned-wood creations for “Animals,” his best show in years.
I heard more than one person say it would “redeem” Sachs from his pandering to socialites and launch him into the serious art stratosphere. His prices would soar, they said. Women would fall at his feet. Grown men would grow weak in the knees when he appeared. Yet when a rather dazed Sachs showed up later the same evening at Lever House for the socialite-heavy dinner and dance party that collectors Aby Rosen and Alberto Mugrabe and dealers Thaddaeus Ropac, Richard Edwards, Angela Westwater, and Gian Enzo Sperone threw for him, all he could say was, “Malcolm McClaren is spinning in the other room!” But McClaren, dressed in dark glasses and a cropped gray jacket, was taking a break. “I can’t believe they expect me to follow a wedding band!” he moaned, speaking of the lounge act that was playing in a bar off the lobby.
In fact, most of the 750 Rockefellers, Boardmans, Gugelmans, Gubelmanns, Guinnesses, Loebs, and other Park Avenue princes and princesses stayed in the Lever House plaza, shielded from the street by realistic-looking plastic privet hedges. Buffeted by the likes of John McEnroe, Peter Brant and Stephanie Seymour, Larry Gagosian, Adam Lindemann, and “Johnny” (Jean) Pigozzi, they bent elbows with equally royal downtown bohos like Philip Taaffe, Donald Baechler, Laurie Simmons, Glenn O’Brien, Will Cotton, the Starn Twins, and Hope Atherton. On view, in what Mugrabe told me was a two-million-dollar exhibition, were DieHard-car-battery towers and a bronze skateboarding quarter-pipe in the lobby and Sachs’s signature Hello Kitty sculptures, here redeemed from duct-tape limbo and reproduced, in white-painted bronze, at a sensibly monumental twenty-one feet in height. One rescued the plaza from the sin of Damien Hirst’s monstrous Virgin Mother, which had been removed to make room. The other two, including a weeping Miffy rabbit, were pissing outdoor fountains.
The only time the waters actually parted, however, was when a suitably bronzed Valentino entered with his partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, after which they were swallowed by the crowd. Did Valentino own any work by Sachs? “We commissioned a shopping bag a few years ago,” Giammetti said, sounding a bit sheepish. “Perhaps soon we will get an actual piece.”
Left: Dealer Angela Westwater with Samantha Boardman. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan) Right: Dealer Marc Glimcher with a fireman. (Photo: Jason Augustine/Patrick McMullan)
Many of the Lever House guests—along with Lou Reed, Richard Belzer, Elizabeth Peyton, and Rirkrit Tiravanija—showed up the next night at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery for the opening of “Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?” A collaboration between dealer Gavin Brown and artist Urs Fischer, the show was pulled together in just three weeks. Fischer had covered the entire gallery with a startlingly realistic trompe l’oeil wallpaper reproducing the walls, ceiling, ceiling fixtures, and works on view in Shafrazi's most recent group exhibition. For his part, Brown had the floors covered in a white Rudolf Stingel carpet, gathered two dozen actual artworks (formerly in Shafrazi's inventory), hung them on Fischer's wallpaper (versions of which are for sale, made to suit each customer's home or office).
It's the zingiest and most perceptively organized group show so far this year and has the best poster ever: a 1974 tabloid photo of New York's Finest leading a handcuffed, almost unrecognizably young Shafrazi away from the Museum of Modern Art, where he had just sprayed Picasso’s Guernica with the phrase KILL LIES ALL in red paint.
This gesture, though performed as a Vietnam War protest, proved far more effective as an act of self-promotion, apparently qualifying the perp for a storied career in art dealing, while compelling the museum to return the painting to Spain. Some critics have never forgiven him—but this was redemption week, after all, and Shafrazi, whose fame has been somewhat waning, was poised to benefit—and he knew it. His excitement was palpable as he led visitors through the show, encouraging men to drink from Rob Pruitt's site-specific “Viagra Falls” installation along the staircase, shaking his head at the thirteen thousand dollars it cost to ship paintings like Malcolm Morley’s Age of Catastrope from the Broad Foundation, waxing lyrical over Fischer’s Richard Serra wallpaper in the hall, and giddily pointing out the fine points of a room in which Jeff Koons’s polychromed wood Wall Relief with Bird hung over Kenny Scharf wallpaper on a brick wall I didn’t realize was not there until I reached out and found it to be more wallpaper. “It's not often you get to paint over another artist's work,” said Lily van der Stokker of the hot-pink cave she painted around Fischer's Scharf wallpaper in another room.
“Tony’s back!” someone said, as everyone who wasn’t going to the Bowery Hotel, where Luhring Augustine was holding a grown-up dinner for Christopher Wool, jumped into limos headed for the Tribeca Mr. Chow’s and a Peking-duck–and-champagne birthday party for Shafrazi. When it came time for dessert, the reveling Brown stood up on a chair to give a toast. “Growing up in the suburbs of Europe,” he began, “we heard all about Tony Shafrazi.” He called the evening “a dream come true,” told Shafrazi that his guilt was now assuaged and that he was “redeemed,” and presented him with a large cake decorated with a blue-icing facsimile of Guernica. The crowd, which now included Irving Blum, Simon de Pury, Massimiliano Gioni, Andrew and Christine Hall, Anton Kern, Clarissa Dalrymple, and Adam McEwen, hooted and hollered as the cake was wheeled around the room on a gurney and two busty babes clad in leather, cleavage-enhancing motorcycle-cop gear handed Shafrazi a pastry bag containing hot-pink icing and left it to him to vandalize his own cake with the graffito I AM SORRY—NOT. Jerry Saltz, a longtime unbeliever in Shafrazi, anointed the moment “historic.”
A hard act to follow, though Lisa Dennison gave it her all on Saturday night, with a sophisticated and delicious family-style dinner (catered by Craft) for Cindy Sherman at Sotheby's, which is offering her Untitled (A, B, C, D, E), 1975, a five-part work estimated to bring sixty to eighty thousand in its afternoon sale on Thursday. The second of two artist dinners Dennison organized to promote a sale since leaving the Guggenheim for the auction house (the first featured Ellsworth Kelly), it brought out a crowd of about one hundred, including heavyweight collectors like Don and Mera Rubell, Marieluise Hessel, and Christophe de Menil (none of whom are known for buying or selling at auction) plus Blum and the Broad Foundation’s Joanne Hyler (who most definitely are) plus Thelma Golden (could she be in line for Dennison’s old job?) and a smattering of longtime Sherman cohorts like Louise Lawler and Betsy Berne.
Why did Sherman agree to such a dog-and-pony act? “I think it's creepy,” said Metro Pictures’ Helene Winer. Sherman shrugged. “It seemed like it might be a nice way to have a party for some friends,” she said and noted that, because the art on the surrounding walls was for the evening sale and didn’t include hers, “It doesn’t really feel like this dinner is about me.” She was right. “Don’t you feel like maybe you’ve died and no one bothered to tell you?” Don Rubell joked. “It’s a very clever promotion,” said Mera. Dennison called it “a dream come true.” I guess, unlike some of us, she had already been redeemed.
It seemed a tad contradictory to walk through Brooklyn in a howling nor’easter to see a movie about nihilistic Southern California skate kids, but so it goes. I was at BAM Rose Cinemas last Friday night to catch Ken Park (2002), the as-yet-undistributed-in-the-US feature by chameleonlike cinematographer Ed Lachman, and to hear Lachman and codirector Larry Clark talk about the film. Kicking off a festival of Lachman’s lenswork, which includes I’m Not There (2007), Far From Heaven (2002), The Virgin Suicides (1999), Less than Zero (1987), True Stories (1986), Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), and many other award-winning films, Ken Park turned out to be very much a Clark project—Kids II, say, even though, as the audience learned, it was supposed to be Kids I.
I found a seat in the packed theater as Lachman was introduced, and we were informed that Clark would be late. Lachman, a slim, compact man with a black fedora and wooden cane, said he was pleased to be back in Brooklyn, as one of his earliest features was The Lords of Flatbush (1974), and that he’d let Ken Park speak for itself. With that, the lights went down. The Kids parallels were immediately signaled in the credits, which noted that in addition to being codirected by Clark, the screenplay was written by Harmony Korine (who cowrote Kids). The boy-on-skateboard-with-punk-rock-sound-track intro sealed the connection—even if this was sunny, suburban Visalia, not the gray, gritty environs of New York City. Watching as the freckly, redheaded skater arrives at a crowded skate park, sits on one of its plateaus, removes a digital video camera and pistol from his backpack, and unceremoniously blows his brains out, I braced myself for the partly empathetic, partly exploitative vérité treatment of teenage wasteland that is Clark’s stock-in-trade. Indeed, Korine wrote the screenplay from real-life stories Clark had collected from young people he had known, met, or heard about.
Our suicidal lad is the titular Ken Park, or “Crap Neck” as his friends called him in a literal reversal of his name. The ensemble narrative unfolds as we meet several of Park’s teen friends, neighbors, and their families, whose bleak-to-bittersweet lives are introduced in segments focusing on each. There is an unassuming kid enjoying a Graduate set-up, having sex with a daughter and her mother in parallel. Another sensitive skater is verbally and physically abused—and then drunkenly molested—by his macho butthead father. A beautiful young Filipina with a devout Catholic father successfully plays the dutiful virgin when Dad is around—until he catches her in flagrante delicto with her Bible-study boyfriend. A tightly wound kid who lives with his treacly, solicitous grandparents ends up stabbing them to death in their bed, though not before indulging in autoerotic asphyxiation while watching a women’s tennis star on TV.
Ed Lachman. (Photo: Jonathan Barth)
As with Kids, it’s hard to know what to make of this stuff. The characters and situations are compelling, and Lachman’s cinematography is masterful throughout, with sickly green lighting for interiors and crisp, bright sunny exteriors heightening the contrast with the teens’ dark lives. He uses long shots when one would expect close-ups and lingers on unexpected visual details. Occasionally, he lingers too long—as on the tennis masturbator’s rope of sperm (quite authentic) and the bullying father’s penis as he urinates and chugs a beer simultaneously. But as tender as some scenes can be, a whiff of voyeuristic exploitation hangs over the film, which, given Clark's prior work, can probably be safely attributed to him. Ken Park culminates in a protracted, authentic threesome between the barely legal teens, and without my being moralistic, it’s hard not to imagine the filmmaker getting off on the proceedings.
Afterward, Clark and Lachman took the stage and fielded questions. According to Clark, the film was shunned by US distributors not, as one might assume, for the very long, very real sex scenes, but because one of its producers didn’t pay to clear the music rights. This seemed implausible, but the questioner didn’t press further. Asked about a falling-out with Korine over the project, Clark feinted, saying that yes, they did have a falling-out, but not over Ken Park. He didn’t elaborate. Responding to a question about multiple takes, Clark revealed that the autoerotic asphyxiation scene was (thankfully) only done once and that the young actor was devastated afterward.
For his part, Lachman said he was inspired by Eastern European films for this project, hence the many long shots and close-ups from low angles. He recounted how he and Clark met at an art fair in Austria some years ago, noting that it was Clark’s photography, along with Robert Frank’s, that made him want to become a cinematographer in the first place. When they met, Lachman asked Clark whether he’d ever wanted to make a film. The answer was yes, and Ken Park was supposed to be Clark’s directorial debut. The distribution problems led Clark to make Kids in the meantime. Clark said that, coming from the art world, he was unprepared for the censorship involved in making feature films.
Lachman mentioned that he thought of Clark’s photo books as diaries, and it was this concept, along with Stephen Frears’s film Bloody Kids (1979), that informed Ken Park. He also noted that kids like the ones portrayed are only able to survive by creating their own “families” among themselves. Clark said that the threesome scene “is like salvation” and called it “the cleanest scene in the film,” compared with the various horrors inflicted by the parent characters on their children. Clark concluded by admitting that Korine came up with the Ken Park/Crap Neck name and was very attached to it, forcing the filmmakers to seek approval from the real-life skateboarding star Ken Park, who apparently consented.
Lachman is a champion cinematographer of protean range and skill, but Clark’s singular vision can leave viewers feeling unclean, and I am no exception. Leaving the theater and facing the rain, I felt like I needed a shower.
Left: A view of the Am Vets Building. Right: Chinati Foundation director Marianne Stockebrand. (All photos: Andrea Claire)
Before his death in 1994, Donald Judd spent two decades buying up land in West Texas and installing his work in the buildings of the old Fort D. A. Russell, now home to the Chinati Foundation. The Am Vets Building in the center of Marfa, site of last weekend’s symposium on Judd’s writings, felt like an installation of an entirely different sort. Handpainted panels with US military insignia hung in the entryway. Metal folding chairs with the names of dead soldiers painted in white letters on their backrests stood in front of a painting at the back of the room that resembled a Neo Rauch rendition of Joe Rosenthal’s famous Iwo Jima photograph.
On Saturday morning, I installed myself on a metal chair as Chinati director Marianne Stockebrand began outlining Judd’s beginnings as a writer. He was, she recounted, hired by Hilton Kramer in 1959 as a reviewer for Arts magazine and wrote for various editors for nearly six years. (“Hard to believe, but Hilton Kramer was easy to work for,” Judd says in his introduction to the Complete Writings 1959–1975.) Mel Bochner, who wrote for the magazine after Judd, was the first of eleven presenters scheduled over two days. He offered an overview of Judd’s writing—and tossed a few rhetorical grenades into the audience. “So much of what’s being done now lacks passion and purpose,” he said, unlike the early ’60s, when “something was at stake.” Bochner cited Judd’s criticism as an antidote to the “bad and bland” writing of the era—save Greenberg and Rosenberg, of course—and compared him to Truffaut, whose writing for Cahiers du Cinema essentially “created the climate for his own work.”
David Raskin, of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, followed with a discussion of Judd’s scale, then Richard Ford, a Texas professor emeritus who translates Judd’s writings into Spanish for Chinati, analyzed Judd’s style, noting the short sentences, borrowed from Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, and his fondness for funky word constructions like isolable, presageful, and awesomely.
We were then released, blinking, into the Texas sunlight. Lunch could be purchased from trucks parked nearby and eaten on tables set up like a church picnic. It felt like a picnic, too, with attendees eating alongside presenters like New York Times critic Roberta Smith, art historian and symposium moderator Richard Shiff, and Rainer Judd, who’d screened her biopic short starring Martin Donovan as her father the day before at the first Marfa Film Festival.
After lunch, Smith took the mic and offered the symposium’s most personal account of Judd’s critical thinking and influence. Smith worked as his assistant in the mid-’60s and penned the featured essay for the artist’s 1975 catalogue raisonné (which she dismissed during the Q&A as “juvenilia”). She talked about how “everything in his vicinity had been considered and criticized,” then homed in on “Specific Objects,” Judd’s influential 1965 treatise on postwar art—an essay “not about Minimalism”—and likened his approach to “language as a specific object” in that you have to consider what’s left out as much as what’s left in.
More presentations followed; audience members came and went. Among them were local(ish) artists Jeff Elrod and Michael Phelan; Miles Bellamy, owner of the Spoonbill and Sugartown bookstore in Brooklyn and his wife, architect Leah Kreger; affiliates of Ballroom Marfa, whose delirious Christoph Büchel/Mike Nelson–ish “Hello Meth Lab in the Sun,” by Jonah Freeman, Justin Lowe, and Alexandre Singh, is perhaps the most talked-about show in town at the moment; and a variety of Texan academics, architects, and art tourists.
After the presentations, I walked over to the Judd Foundation to check out the presentation of handwritten and typed drafts of “Specific Objects” organized by archives manager Valerie Breuvart—a kind of drawings show for writers, accompanied by a Shiff essay. Then it was on to Chinati, where we wandered at dusk through the former artillery sheds and adjacent buildings gazing at the Judd and Dan Flavin installations, and into the Arena, a gymnasium restored by Judd, for a buffet dinner of upscale paisano fare surrounded by the same people we’d seen all day—and a wave of dressed-up folks we didn’t recognize.
After dinner, we headed over to the lounge at the Thunderbird Hotel—actually a renovated midcentury motel—for drinks and talked with Phelan, who, with his wife Meghan Gerety, runs United Artists, Ltd., when they’re in town. Two weeks earlier, UAL’s opening for their current exhibition featuring Nate Lowman, Aaron Young, and Agathe Snow drew the kind of art-world merrymakers that would have made for a, well, slightly different evening. This was an assignment, however, with a nine o’clock morning call.
I was up early enough the next morning to stumble into a power breakfast behind the Brown Recluse, where Smith and Bochner were rehashing some of the previous day’s arguments. Fellow presenter Nicola von Velsen showed up in time for Bochner to offer his assessment of German art history (“Nothing’s happened since Durer”), and then art historians Molly Nesbit and Ann Reynolds appeared. Apparently, they’d moseyed into town for something other than the symposium, but we didn’t see them again.
Back in our seats at Am Vets, we were treated to presentations by Kunsthalle Bielefeld director and curator Thomas Kellein and a discussion about anarchist lit (with some Judd thrown in) by Canadian art historian Allan Antliff. MoMA’s Ann Temkin was forced to cancel and dispatched a curatorial assistant to read her paper. The finale was a room-clearing presentation-cum–endurance artwork by artist David Rabinowitch (whose “Fluid Sheet Constructions” from the mid-’60s are currently installed at Chinati), in which he read fragments culled from Judd’s writings with copious decontextualized references to Hume, Locke, Berkeley, Wittgenstein, Leibniz, and others. “He just pulled all the sentences that have the word object in them,” one of my seatmates pointed out.
Another al fresco lunch, then the symposium wrapped up with a panel discussion that wandered into strange territory around the question “What can we do?” in a world that is falling apart. Then it shifted to Judd’s legacy—Shiff suggested that he “killed” AbEx—and feelings about nature and land preservation (the artist was critical of Earthworks that marred what he called “new land”), a subject that would make a great starting point for a future gathering.
Left: Book dealer Miles Bellamy, Delilah Bellamy, and architect Leah Kreger. Right: Briar Bear Phelan with artists Michael Phelan and Meghan Gerety.
Left: Collector Axel Haubrock with dealer and Gallery Weekend manager Michael Neff. Right: Curator Daniela Palazzoli, Isabella Bortolozzi, and artist Danh Vo. (All photos: Saskia Draxler)
Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, has described his city as “poor but sexy.” Cheap, safe, and social, Berlin offers haven to all kinds of creative freelancers. Although it may be laid-back, however, it is not particularly cosmopolitan. Thus the annual Berlin Gallery Weekend, initiated in 2005 by a number of established Berlin galleries as an attempt to glamorize and internationalize the local art world, has in the past seemed more hopeful than realistic.
This year’s edition opened last Thursday with a VIP tour of the private homes of select dealers. Collectors and journalists were driven through Berlin’s thin traffic in black Audi limousines. What we saw, basically, was a variety of interior-decorating styles. Guido Baudach’s place, for example, had a vintage, flea-market look, while Markus Lüttgen and Thomas Flessenkemper’s apartment high up in one of the Soviet-style towers at Straussberger Platz—where a new showroom for Axel and Barbara Haubrock’s collection and the new Texte Zur Kunst office have recently opened—had a slicker aesthetic. The latter’s interiors were designed by architect Etienne Descloux, who has been hired by many dealers (to design both their homes and galleries), including Giti Nourbakhsch, Isabella Bortolozzi, and Jörg Johnen. Lüttgen pointed out his living-room window to the opposite tower, where David Adjaye is renovating collectors Gaby and Wilhelm Schürmann’s apartment and where Adamski Gallery is located. Straussberger Platz, it seems, is shaping up as something of a hot spot. Many of the hosts seemed a bit reserved (some might say “German”), except for Baudach, whose house has a natural openness and has probably seen many jovial get-togethers.
In the evening, the caravan moved on to the new five-star Hotel de Rome for Gallery Weekend’s opening reception, sponsored by Axa Art. The atmosphere was professional yet stylish. Lively conversations went on between collectors—among them the Haubrocks, Kasia and Pawel Prokesz, and August von Joest—and dealers. “Independent collectors” were also present, an Internet-based organization formed by Wilhelm Schürmann and others who think that not only artists but also collectors have to group together to strengthen their position vis-à-vis the multiheaded monster called the art market.
Left: Artist Carroll Dunham. Right: Collectors Kasia and Pawel Prokesz with dealer Giti Nourbakhsch.
Many of us reconvened at 1 PM the next day for a Felliniesque event: the laying of the cornerstone for an avant-garde condo building at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, designed by architect Roger Bundschuh in cooperation with artist Cosima von Bonin, that will be inhabited mostly by art-world players like Munich collector Peter Wiese and Chinese artist Zhao Gang. Sunglasses were needed, perhaps because, in the bright sunlight, the guests’ morning-after faces looked just a bit too real.
Some of the openings that night were sparsely attended, leading us to wonder whether the whole event was a bit overambitious, given the actual size of the local audience. Bortolozzi had her hip, youngish crowd, while the “serious” people went to David Claerbout’s brilliant show at Galerie Johnen. Carlier Gebauer was exhibiting many Erik Schmidt paintings in their giant new gallery in Markgrafenstrasse. It seemed, however, to be just a regular night of openings—except, of course, for the black limos. Eigen + Art, which was opening a Carsten Nicolai exhibition, was full as usual, as was Contemporary Fine Arts, exhibiting work by Tal R. Both galleries held their dinners, which were somewhat rowdy affairs, at Clärchens Ballhaus, an old GDR dancehall that has been turned into a kind of touristy pizza place. Everybody was there: Gerd Harry Lybke’s male artists (Martin Eder, Jörg Herold, et al.) made a powerful impression, while August von Joest told anecdotes about his first Neo Rauch purchases and about the neighborhood complaints regarding the penthouse swimming pool he shares with Corinna Hoffman.
Left: Artist Erik Schmidt. Right: Artist Kirsten Ortwed with dealer Aurel Scheibler.
Saturday had two events titled “The Opening” by British artist Merlin Carpenter, who is represented by my partner, Christian Nagel. The first took place at the Mercedes headquarters—the largest auto showroom in the world—where Carpenter made guests wait about an hour until he finally drove by in his own polished 1980s Mercedes. Leaning out the open window, he painted four white hanging canvases with a comically oversize brush, leaving only a few hasty marks. A similar performance took place two hours later at the Cornershop, a clothing store in Mitte. Both were attended by what Diedrich Diederichsen once called “hipster intellectuals”—some Texte zur Kunst writers, Volksbühne music booker Christoph Gurk, curator and Frieze editor Jörg Heiser, Diederichsen himself, and artists Michael Beutler, Sarah Staton, and Josephine Pryde, all of whom mixed amicably with Gallery Weekend VIPs like Jeane Freifrau von Oppenheim and her friend Ingeborg Baronin von Maltzahn. Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, who had just left her position as Art Basel codirector, made a surprise appearance.
The weekend’s main event was meant to be Saturday’s grand gala dinner at the Berlin Convention Center. Following Thursday’s luxurious kickoff at the Hotel du Rome, however, the gathering seemed anticlimactic. The party just never took off. Gregorio Napoleone was dying for a hamburger and begged his gorgeous wife, Valeria, a ravenous art collector, to leave early. Freda and Izak Uziyel, opting for kindness, made no comment. Christian Boros seemed still to be riding high on the opening of his collection’s showroom during the Berlin Biennial. Still, everybody tried to be as cheerful and entertaining as possible, toasting to Berlin’s great future—a future that we have been anticipating for more than a decade. But if you really want “sexy,” better drinks and cozier spaces would do the trick.
Left: Collector Christian Boros. Right: Artist Katja Barth with dealer Guido W. Baudach.