Real World: Parrish

Long Island
08.13.07

Left: Museum Director Trudy C. Kramer with Parrish Trustee and contemporary-art collector Jean-Pierre Lehmann. Right: Exhibition cocurators Merrill Falkenberg and Eric Fischl. (All photos: Geir Magnusson)


“I should keep going, right? I’m hot now!” As I arrived at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton for Saturday evening’s opening of “All the More Real: Portrayals of Intimacy and Empathy,” the exhibition’s cocurators, painter Eric Fischl and the institution’s Merrill Falkenberg, had already embarked on the first of two double-act routines, and Fischl was making the most of his turn. Circled by a rapt crowd of silver-haired supporters, the odd couple were midway through a tag-team tour of the galleries that revealed as much about their personalities as it did about their project: Fischl was avuncular and unhurried, the younger Falkenberg ambitious and efficient. Fischl was an able guide, if not always a tremendously enlightening one (on a Joan Goldin photograph: “She saw in the watermelon some potential to talk about something outside the watermelon”); Falkenberg was clearer but a touch mechanical in comparison, even seeming a little naive at times (on Robert Gober’s Untitled [Candle]: “Everyone recognized it as a phallic symbol except me!”). This was a show concerned largely with representations of the human body—hardly an unfamiliar theme, but one that allowed Fischl and Falkenberg to sneak in a few works that might otherwise have been considered too confrontational for a museum best known for its Fairfield Porter collection.

“I was going to use this occasion to announce my retirement!” In a subsequent discussion between the curators, introduced by director Trudy C. Kramer and staged in an adjoining hall, Fischl got some mileage out of the idea of giving up painting for curating. He was clearly having fun, but a curmudgeonly side emerged soon thereafter in his comment about contemporary art’s purported “removal from human values.” “I have strong feelings and no ideas,” the artist continued. The line sounded well worn but nonetheless made an impression on those present, who either lapped it up or tutted disapprovingly.

Left: Ross Bleckner with Emily Eveleth. Right: Susan Chereskin and Alvin Chereskin, chairman of the Parrish's board of trustees


Fischl’s denouncement of cosmetic surgery as “denying the process of life” also evinced some uncomfortable fidgets, but perhaps more surprising was his abrupt request of Falkenberg: “Can we talk about that 9/11 thing now?” “This was supposed to be a spontaneous discussion,” she responded, appearing to sense a well-laid plan going astray, “but OK.” At this, Fischl launched into a rant about his Tumbling Woman, a bronze sculpture commemorating the World Trade Center attacks that was withdrawn from display at Rockefeller Center in 2002. His ultimate point, that portrayals of bodily vulnerability are difficult but necessary, was sound but derailed the discussion, and Falkenberg seemed to resign herself to this being the Eric Fischl Show.

Out in the garden for drinks, I searched in vain for familiar faces, having spotted the New Museum’s Lisa Phillips in the galleries themselves, but recognized only LAXART curator at large Jeffrey Uslip. Most other attendees seemed to be at least part-time locals, who buttonholed me repeatedly to offer their thoughts on the show, the museum, and the questionable dress sense of their fellow guests (ice-cream pastel fabrics, big hair, and heavy jewelry predominated). Dinner was a casual plein air buffet, and easy conversation with my tablemates, among them exhibiting artists Jeff Hesser, Emily Eveleth, and Cynthia Westwood, perfectly countered the earlier push-and-pull.

Michael Wilson

Left: Artists Bill King and Connie Fox. Right: Artists Catherine Murphy and Alexandra Moore.


Animal Farm

Long Island
08.03.07

Left: Artist Robert Wilson. Right: Artist Mick Reinman and actor Bill Paxton. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)


At last Saturday’s summer benefit for the Watermill Center—the annual Hamptons bash thrown by the institution’s founder, Robert Wilson—art and corporate sponsorship dovetailed with unusual ease, all the way down to the evening’s animal theme: “VOOM Zoo” (a not-so-subtle nod to the HD-TV provider). To that end, arriving guests were greeted by a photo-op alongside artist Andrey Bartenev’s performers, who wore frog costumes bedecked with ads.

Reeds and torches lined the steps leading up to the Watermill’s main hall, through which guests had to pass in order to reach the party. For the evening's high-heeled contingent, walking the path was a task befitting a medieval quest. The floor’s large cobblestones—and indeed, much of the grounds—were a death trap; one guest in stilettos was downed on her way. The normally fearless Marina Abramovic, when asked by DJ Spooky whether she had yet seen his sound-art installation ensconced beyond several grassy tiers, responded, “Oh, all those steps!” then muttered something about crutches.

Of course, the evening’s theme wouldn’t be complete without a dress code, in this case “Wild Chic.” Getups ranged from arts patron Christophe de Menil’s understated snake brooch to AOL executive Tatiana Platt's stunning yellow-feathered concoction of a dress, whose saliency nearly outstripped the giant corporate logos that adorned the mural overlooking the center's plaza.

Left: Guggenheim Museum director Lisa Dennison. Right: Artists Marina Abramovic and Paolo Canevari. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)


“This year’s sale will be through the roof,” promised Watermill arts and auction manager Maïa Morgensztern, as she monitored her staff’s last-minute preparations. “This time, we decided to go with hot, edgy art.” Her lush French accent at first made me think she’d said “hot, hedgy art,” which might have been equally apt, given the inclusion of crowd-pleasing pieces by the likes of Anselm Kiefer and Robert Mapplethorpe. Soon, though, the unflappable Morgensztern was called away by an urgent plea: Where’s the fish artist? Alfred Taubman’s asking about the fish.” The reference was to Wonjung Choi’s ichthyological mobiles, which hung in a corner of the tent near Robert Wilson’s video portrait of a panther.

Performances punctuated cocktail hour—here a Taiwanese drum troupe, there a woman sitting covered in red paint, as staged by artist William Pope.L. At last, everyone was called into the dining tent, where guests were greeted by a stunning tableau vivant: the burlesque star Dita von Teese, in pasties and garter belt, perched on a swing hung high from metal rafters. It was a re-creation of the scene in Wilson's video up for auction. As von Teese posed, one collector remarked, “It’s nice, but I wouldn’t put it in my house.”

“Your cars have been shipped to Mexico, to be auctioned off for charity,” joked Wilson, joined onstage by Abramovic. Wilson then spoke about the trick to filming a panther: “The most important thing is you listen, listen like an animal. When we shot this video portrait of the panther in the studio, no one moved. We animals listen.” He ended his speech by imitating the cries of an indeterminate species: “Woa woa woahahah.” His yelps made Lisa Dennison’s opening remarks positively sober in comparison, as she pondered, “Could [the Watermill] become one of the most significant artist colonies of all time?” The stage was then turned over to Bartenev and his cast, who performed an “animal competition” replete with people wearing foam chicken suits and wings.

Left: Actress Julia Stiles with artist Jonathan Cramer. Right: Dita von Teese. (Photos: Tyler Coburn)


While the performers cavorted, auctioneer Simon de Pury kicked off the evening’s sale with VIP tickets to Rufus Wainwright’s Judy Garland show at the Hollywood Bowl. Next up was a Nan Goldin photograph of model James King. Acknowledging the cognitive dissonance intrinsic to all art auctions, de Pury proclaimed, “The piece is invaluable . . . and we start it at two thousand dollars.” Throughout the evening, de Pury continued his mix of praise, strong-arming, and enthusiasm, saying to one participant, “I love the underbidder, especially when as beautiful as you.”

As the auction continued, I caught up with Dennis Oppenheim and White Box's Martin Liu, sitting near Dennison and Ilya Kabakov. Several seats away was none other than the kindly Bill Paxton (most recently starring as the polygamist patriarch in HBO’s Big Love), who talked a bit about his father’s art collection. Then, as I stared agog at the foam chickens’ antics in the auction ring, Paxton remarked, Zen-like: “Just enjoy it. You don’t have to define it.”

Those impatient for a dance party rushed center stage as soon as de Pury wrapped up, and several of us took a break outside, including Wilson administrator (and rumored Wainwright beau) Jörn Weisbrodt and writer/model (and Ryan Adams beau) Jessica Joffe. Collectors keen on acquiring more art made their way to the silent-auction tent, where a Sol LeWitt aquatint and a photo by Hunter S. Thompson made me dream of buying. In the meantime, Wilson’s crew turned their attention toward the after-party at the “Big House,” though many attendees debated moving on to a nearby Russell Simmons soiree.

So while twenty stalwart guests held down the dance floor, others began trickling off into the night. Artist Cory Arcangel, whose Warhol video game was on display, plotted to clear the dance floor, once and for all, by playing Journey’s power ballad “Don’t Stop Believing.” And had he actually been given permission to DJ? “I’ve reached the point in my career where I get to do anything I want,” he said. “Though it’ll probably only last for a month.”

Dawn Chan

Left: Artist Andrey Bartenev with performers. Right: Artist Cory Arcangel. (Photos: Tyler Coburn)


Trash and Vaudeville

New York
07.31.07

Left: Artists Dan Colen and Theo Rosenblum. Right: Artist Dash Snow. (All photos: David Velasco)


Ever since Led Zeppelin’s 1969 “Mudshark Incident” at the Edgewater Inn, hotel debauchery has been de rigueur behavior for the belligerent and famous. A consistently popular form of conspicuous destruction, it’s surprising that it’s taken so long for the practice to hit the gallery circuit. (Adam Dade and Sonya Hanney’s “Stacked Hotel Rooms” don’t count.) Enter Nest, Dan Colen and Dash Snow’s tribute to counterculture heroics, an installation at Deitch Projects re-creating their ritual “hamster nests,” in which the artists get a hotel room, tear up phone books, roll around in their mess, and do drugs until they feel like hamsters. Deleuze and Guattari would surely well up at such earnest commitment to “becoming animal.”

Last Tuesday’s private preview of Nest was an unusually intimate affair, the result of a tightly monitored guest list—fifty people, no switcheroos, no gate-crashing. By official accounts, that’s just five more than the number that actually worked to build the exuberant installation. Photographs of its construction had been popping up for weeks on Deitch director Kathy Grayson’s MySpace blog—from documentation of the thirty Pratt students who shredded twenty-five hundred New York yellow pages to provide the nest’s foundation, to the antics of the “fifteen fellow artists” (such as Jack Walls and Aaron Bondaroff) who infused it with mirth and (literal) spirits. “Isn’t it great?” Jeffrey Deitch, relaxed in jeans and a blue cotton dress shirt, asked me on entering the relatively snug confines of his Grand Street space. “It’s hard to keep the crowd this small.”

Left: Deitch Projects director Kathy Grayson. Right: Gang Gang Dance.


Amid the rolling hills of paper is a salmagundi of feathers, unidentifiable filth, and fluids (mostly piss and liquor, though one hopes for at least a smidgeon of blood and cum). Sticks and bottles breach the drywall, while graffiti, scumbled with streaks of mysterious liquid, consumes every inch of the walls. One bit, like a laconic Richard Prince, reads I MAY NOT GO DOWN IN HISTORY, BUT I’LL GO DOWN ON YER LIL SISTER; another, a large doodle of a penis sucking a man’s cock, perhaps unintentionally recalls Keith Haring’s bathroom mural at the LGBT Center. Cinching the Animal House aesthetic, Stella Schnabel’s leopard-print panties hang like a trophy high above the entrance. It’s surprisingly captivating—a rec room for those who make Vice and i-D magazines vade mecums.

Some attendees made reference to Walter De Maria’s New York Earth Room, housed around the corner in a space maintained by Dia, the venerable foundation established by Snow’s great aunt Philippa de Menil. The two works may merit a comparison, but on Tuesday night, the installation most strongly resembled a Chuck E. Cheese ballroom—albeit more flammable and built on a bender. The press release heralds Nest as a “contemporary answer to a ‘happening’” and an affirmation of freedom of expression. True, perhaps, though it’s hard not to add that trashing your hotel room—and then building a gallery show to commemorate the result—is also an expression of rather unusual privilege.

Left: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch. Right: Artist Nate Lowman, curator Neville Wakefield, and artist Adam McEwen.


With Bushwick noise man Prurient and downtown post-postpunk band Gang Gang Dance scheduled to play, I snagged a beer and surrendered to the fray. Snow, in trademark Skynyrd drag, leaped about the room, snapping pictures and welcoming friends—artists Hanna Liden and Nate Lowman, curators Neville Wakefield and Shamim Momin, and his dealers, Rivington Arms’s Melissa Bent and Mirabelle Marden, among many others. A video of a prior hamster nest, concocted in a Miami hotel, played in an annex gallery. Like rare footage of some lost Dionysian cult (or an extreme version of “Boys Gone Wild”), the video should satisfy the contemporary voyeur, though the libertine vision of Colen, Snow, and crew carousing and indulging their basest desires got me wishing that the Deitch installation were a bit more unhinged. At one point, I spied Snow’s eminent grandmother Christophe de Menil watching the video, obviously getting a kick out it. It’s a rare grandma who appreciates both Philip Glass and breaking glass. Snow is a lucky bird.

Just before the concert, I bumped into Terence Koh and downtown fashion guru Benjamin Cho. Koh had just returned from Greece, where he’d spent a night in the slammer with Casey Spooner and designer Bernhard Wilhelm. Apparently, the trio had snuck into the Parthenon along with a few friends to tape a performance and ended up in a rousing police chase with the Athenian authorities. The rest of their posse fled on foot, but Koh, Spooner, and Wilhelm opted for the bus and got caught; the best fun, I was reminded, usually happens outside the gallery. But soon, the lights went dark and the bands began to play, and everyone tossed the floor’s fetid confetti into the air. It was like New Year’s in July—and then we all began to sneeze.

The show is dedicated to Dash’s newborn daughter, Secret, who arrived into this world the morning prior. As I left the gallery, I noticed that Koh had thoughtfully brought a pair of tiny shoes for the wee bairn (who, understandably, along with mother Jade, didn’t make an appearance). I left the peculiar baby shower in good spirits, glad to know that a real shower awaited me at home.

David Velasco

Left: Whitney curator Shamim Momin. Right: Artist Terence Koh with designer Benjamin Cho.


Dirty Harry

New York
07.27.07

Left: Lucky Dragons's Luke Fischbeck. Right: Dirty Projectors's Dave Longstreth. (Photos: Amani Willet)


It is hard to offer more than very qualified praise for the Whitney Museum’s “Summer of Love,” a massive exhibition grappling with the explosive aesthetic and, to a limited extent, cultural discoveries of the late ’60s. Mind-expanding treats do dot the exhibition floor, viz Peter Saul’s grisly Vietnam fever dream and Verner Panton’s plush cave environment, but the show is bundled in unhelpfully approximate packaging and garnished with some unfortunate tat. How is one to respond to Janis Joplin’s daffy tattooed Porsche? Throwaway fun to some, the breezy employment of the hippie era’s broadest symbols stuck in my craw on Friday night. I was waiting with several hundred others in the downstairs cafeteria of the museum for a three-act performance dubbed “Psychedelia’s Progeny.” Few could predict the tenor of the evening. All we could be sure of were sets from New York poetry legend Bob Holman, Los Angeles–based musician and performance artist Luke Fischbeck (aka Lucky Dragons), and Brooklyn band Dirty Projectors.

Holman appeared, clad in porkpie hat, wide patterned shirt, and checkerboard Vans, to open the evening. His ebullient routine, in the avuncular Wavy Gravy mold, quickly evoked widespread mirth from the younger end of the room, which had no idea whether his performance was parody or the genuine article. I counted myself among the mystified. “This is a song for white guys having a hard time getting into reggae,” Holman announced at one point. Soon enough, wags in the crowd began to whisper mocking impressions, a shame but, in this context, not an enormous surprise. Bar the odd notable sighting—painter David Reed here, hot-shit band Grizzly Bear there, this or that industrious blogger everywhere—it was a disparate crowd of middle-aged, middle-class New York folks, many of them families with small kids, alongside hippies in their sixties and hipsters in their twenties, many with the same hairdos. No one would stand forth and set the tone. We could have just as easily been gazing at Janis’s Porsche.

Left: Stairwell Gallery director Hayley O'Connor. Right: Artist Ian Davis. (Photos: William Pym)


A mere five minutes after Holman exited stage right, the Lucky Dragons performance began with ritualistic and suggestive gyrations to a wash of synthesized tones. Rake thin and north of six feet, Fischbeck upped the ante with a Jurassic prowl among the seated audience. In the front row, a charged, ambiguous exchange took place with a scruffy lad engrossed in a hardback book (the new Harry Potter, presumably). Fischbeck wrapped things up by handing the audience long wires, then wordlessly indicating that they might make music for him by touching each other. This delighted most, and Fischbeck left the crowd giddy, baffled, and in good cheer. The stage was firmly set for Dirty Projectors, who played jittery, electrifying rock ’n’ roll. Frontman Dave Longstreth projected a fearsome guru persona (so strongly that bassist Angel Deradoorian had referred nearly all of my prior inquiries to the leader: “You’d have to ask Dave about that”). His taut focus, melismatic croon, and mussed prepster good looks unified an until-then-divided crowd. I recalled his mumbled words to the engineer during the sound check: “Turn up everything all the way until it starts to feed back.” We’d trumped uneasy ambiguity, at last, and found some honest collective energy.

“Why have a nostalgia show?” event organizer Limor Tomer asked me when all was said and done. “My intuition told me that this is what I should do. I mostly made an emotional connection.” The lack of logic, all told, had made the efforts of the evening braver and weirder than anything I’d recently experienced at a large-scale public event at a major institution. After being politely shunted out by the guards, I met Fischbeck and a few friends for a tequila sunrise in an uptown diner, a stirring send-off before his long journey to Mali to perform on national TV. What had happened with the kid in the front row, I wondered? “I spat in his book,” he stated sheepishly. “Then I felt terrible, so I wrote him a note to apologize. We spoke afterward. I think we are OK.” A long pause. “I made a bad decision, but I feel better about it now.”

Box Trot

Los Angeles
07.25.07

Left: Damon, Mara, and Karen McCarthy. Right: Artist Paul McCarthy. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)


Lately, new galleries have been opening with brisk regularity in Los Angeles, from aspiring blue chips founded by former directors of glitzy spaces, to enfants terribles launched by young Turks with the paint from art school still drying on their trousers. But last Thursday night’s grand closing party for the first show at The Box caused more than the usual stir. The gallery is the brainchild of young Mara McCarthy, daughter of Paul; it cultivates a decidedly nebulous business plan that acts like a nonprofit without the 501(c)3 designation—a non-nonprofit; and it opened with the work of an artist whose brilliant obsession may doom him to obscurity. With its art-royalty provenance, comparisons with New York’s Rivington Arms are unavoidable, but with Macarrone Inc. artist Mike Bouchet next on The Box’s schedule, and Mara and Michele Macarrone frequently seen hitting the town together, other affiliations might be inferred.

Five minutes after the advertised 8 PM kickoff, a bearish Mara McCarthy emerged in a black-and-white striped sundress to shove aside The Box’s gates. With the glass door propped open, her staff flicked on the show, producing a quartet of projections that consumed the gallery and illuminated the white facade of the sweatshop across the promenade.

With only a few exhibitions to his name in recent years, Spandau Parks, The Box’s inaugural artist, has hardly been pumping out product to shill; in fact, he has been diligently working on the same painting for over thirty years, a pace that makes Tomma Abts look like a speed demon. Hell, even Jay DeFeo quit The Rose after eight years. His testament to painterly obsession, a triptych that consumes a nine-by-twenty-foot wall, is many feet thick with sensual globs and smears of oil paint. Unfortunately, an up-close examination was out of the question, since the painting itself wasn’t actually on view. Instead, Parks exhibited videos of the painting, videos of videos of the painting, photos of the painting, photos of photos of the painting, photos of videos of the painting—you get the picture. It was no surprise, then, that throughout the reception, a cameraman shot footage of the videos of the videos of the painting. With as many levels of meta as there is paint to Parks's canvas, the show was a great big tease. Along with the official videographer, Parks circled the gallery and the smokers kicking the curb out front, looking every bit like a turtle in green T-shirt, ball cap, and large, wire-rimmed glasses. He’d poke his head out for a few passing words to the guests, then return to tromping around the gallery’s perimeter and snapping photos.

Left: Circus Gallery director John Knuth. Right: Artist Spandau Parks.


Paul McCarthy has long run a family business, with wife Karen, son Damon, and Mara all taking a hand in the studio at one time or another to help keep pace with his busy exhibition schedule. Though Mara’s gallery is a break from the family enterprise, the McCarthy clan displayed firm solidarity, and everyone gathered together for their daughter’s debutante ball. Like any proud father, Paul, with his coarse cottony beard and wry, knowing smile, took pictures of just about everything: the passing crowd, the play of light along the walls, and even the little old lady snapping the empty beer cans out of the crowd’s hands.

At the reception, gossip abounded about other new galleries preparing to descend upon the city, most notably one helmed by a rather unlikely trio: hip Gavin Brown along with L&M Arts’s Dominique Lévy and Robert Mnuchin. One collector mused that Brown was making an effort to cater to Laura Owens. A few short breaths later, the same collector complained about Barbra Streisand’s appointment to LACMA’s board, apparently without Babs shelling out a nickel.

When the gates clanked shut, we set off for dinner at a dimly lit, Colonial-style Mexican restaurant in Echo Park. I squeezed into a booth with Parks and Poppa Bear McCarthy, who snapped pictures of his roasted chicken from various angles. While a classy three-piece norteño band strummed “Guantanamera,” the conversation drifted from Paul’s obsessive reel-to-reel recording of his life over the last thirty years to Parks's show. I mentioned my frustration about the exhibition’s omission of its subject. Paul took a bite of his chicken and said, “Tell him about the sublime, Span.”

“Well,” Parks said, pausing to mull it over, as if, after thirty years, he had to get it just right. “The sublime is frustrating.”

Surreal Estate

New York
07.22.07

Left: The auctioneer. Right: Hamish Bowles, Vogue European editor at large. (All photos: David Velasco)


While the smaller fry have eBay, Christie’s estate auctions are yard sales for rich people. A bit more personalized than the usual auction, estate sales give you a (highly orchestrated) sense of one individual megashopper, whose accumulation, needless to say, is “significant” enough to merit a one-person show. At once mythologizing the collector (and her stash)—and clinically reducing it to shekels—the auction as ritual strikes a weird balance between a memorial service and a financial autopsy.

For those of you (like me) who didn’t know of María Félix (1914–2002), aka La Doña, the deceased shopper was a Mexican film icon in the ’40s; a celebrated beauty, jet-setter, art collector (mostly fantasias of herself by Diego Rivera, as well as by Surrealists Léonora Carrington and Antoine Tzapoff), and world-class accumulator of furniture, couture, and porcelain (including a massive selection of Jacob Petit—the largest ever to appear on the auction block!). The lavish catalogue documents her bona fides as a full-on “diva at home in high society and with artists on both continents” who “admired the intelligence of Jean-Paul Sartre.” And I continue to quote, because who can beat this? “Her clothes for smart race-going and even smarter parties and balls after the races were designed and made for her by Jean Desses, Dior, Valentino, Chanel, Givenchy, YSL . . . leading her to be named one of the Best Dressed women in the world in 1984.” Another fun fact: “She had inherited from her Swiss banker [fourth] husband a stable of thoroughbred racing horses at Chantilly outside Paris which at its height, had over 100 horses for which saddles and bridles, together with the jockey’s silks, were made for María Félix by Hermès.” Even her horses wore Hermès, OK?

While Christie’s first-floor gallery displayed a mise-en-scène evoking Félix’s lavish abodes, one needs the catalogue photos to truly grasp the over-the-topness we’re dealing with. She lived in a domestic phantasmagoria that was like Elsie de Wolfe meets Salvador Dalí: an exuberant temple of narcissism loaded with surreal beasties; tons of porcelain, ormolu, clam shells, and clawed feet galore; and furniture such as a “Regency polychrome painted dragon form day bed” (lot 267, estimated at twenty to forty thousand dollars) and garnished throughout by portraits of the diva in mythological getups. An amazing artifact in itself, the catalogue exalts Félix’s vanity as both a vocation and an achievement (“She never forgot her mother’s words, ‘It is not enough to be pretty; you need to know how to be pretty’”), juxtaposing glamour shots of La Doña in languid poses (perhaps dreaming of her next porcelain purchase?) with the exhaustive inventory of her stash.

Left: Lots from the María Félix sale. Right: Designer Nicolas Felizola.


In contrast to the catalogue’s paean to one woman’s greed, the vibe at Christie’s was downright Protestant: a demure, repressed-seeming cult of wealth. Like priests and nuns in subdued, irreproachably tasteful office attire, staffers scurried about the hushed paneled hallways, amid mysterious “bid” windows and tellers who seemed part church, part bank. Presiding at the podium, the auctioneer wielded the gavel with a cocky but solicitous air, maestrolike slicked-back hair, and a Windsor-knotted electric-blue cravat, ministering the transmutation of luxury goods into capital with an English accent and gracious hand gestures. He subtly flirted with the bidders on the floor—especially one Nicolas Felizola, a youngish “Mexican designer” in an open shirt and an Hermès belt who bought tons of couture. He was like a conductor eliciting a symphony of bids—from the floor, from the phone banks (absentee bidders calling in from their yachts and helicopters?), and online: the music of sales.

The James Christie Room felt like a sparsely attended conference of not particularly fab-seeming aficionados—with the exception of Hamish Bowles, slumped in the back. New York Times style photog Bill Cunningham was lurking there, too: “His presence always reassures me,” said my colleague, “that I’m at a ‘real’ event.” Indeed, sitting there watching the conversion of luxury goods back into capital became rather tedious. It was like being at a Final Judgment of sorts, where the “truth” of the collection is revealed according to the gospel of money. It took hours—and I attended only one afternoon session out of two days' worth. The fantasia of glamour elaborately conjured by the collector’s ego and celebrated by the catalogue is brusquely ripped away: Tchotchke by tchotchke, its naked truth (i.e., its market value) flashes across the ticker screen. Et voilà. When one of the more “important” lots, a darling Rivera portrait, sold for three hundred thousand dollars hammer (against an estimate of one fifty to two hundred thousand), there was a smattering of applause. Bravo.

“Though she finished her acting career in the 1960s,” discreetly crowed François Curiel, chairman of Christie’s Europe, in the postsale summary, “the María Félix magic ran through the salesroom for two entire days.” Total haul: $7,299,640.