Left: Artists Jim Shaw and Marnie Weber. Right: Artist Monica Bonvicini with West of Rome, inc. founder Emi Fontana. (All photos: Tamara Sussman)
Encountering a cracked sheet of bulletproof glass on which the gnomic half-question “Just an Image in the Room in Which This is Happening of Good Taste?” was spelled out in drippy enamel, I knew I had found what I was looking for. The piece, along with other drawings and text works hung in storefront windows, lured visitors into Monica Bonvicini’s “Not for You,” the second coming of Emi Fontana’s West of Rome, inc., a series of exhibitions the Milan dealer sponsors in various cities, scouting alternative real estate for contemporary art projects. Installed in the former Pasadena retail outfit Organized Living (signage still intact), the comprehensive selection of the Italian artist’s work drew curious looks from local shoppers. Those at the nearby Trader Joe’s grocery store, accustomed to Acconci Studio’s Mobius Bench at the bottom of the escalator, seemed surprised nonetheless to find leather-wrapped hammers so close to their frozen foods.
Inside the second-level space, a ring of six black lacquered harnesses hung from the fluorescent-lighted ceiling, programmed to tremble slightly every eight minutes. An empty back storeroom’s utilitarian double doors looked sexily nihilistic next to Bonvicini’s framed collages of ink-splattered cityscapes, hurricane aftermath, and stenciled declarations. Visitors trod lightly on the gallery’s drywall-paneled floor, which periodically gave way, leaving menacing apertures throughout the space. “I love it! I’ve already made three holes,” remarked a woman in platform shoes. “Hopefully we’ll do the most damage tonight.” MAK Center for Art and Architecture director Kimberli Meyer later noted, “This work is so much about architecture plus language. Memory, too. Your body must remember the jolt it feels as you fall through the floor.”
Left: Artists Alex Slade, Sharon Lockhart, and Andrea Bowers; Semiotext(e)'s Chris Kraus; and dealer Susanne Vielmetter. Right: Artists Kathryn Andrews and Stephen Prina.
Pulling my kitten heel out of the plaster (leaving a tidy puncture), I joined the party on the mall’s terrace, where MoCA curator Ann Goldstein shared her memories of architect Welton Becket’s adjoining department store (now a crestfallen Macy’s). Nearby was architect Ravi GuneWardena, whose firm designed the Pasadena residence that hosted Olafur Eliasson’s 2005 West of Rome, inc. project, and Art Institute of Chicago assistant curator Lisa Dorin, who is helping organize an exhibition of Bonvicini’s work for the museum. Chris Kraus identified institutional architecture around Pasadena (read: Art Center) while her Semiotext(e) intern admitted to fantasies induced by Destroy She Said, Bonvicini’s 1998 video installation.
At sunset, the sky turned pink and blue (matching Bonvicini’s new work, Pink Curtain) and the illuminated Organized Living sign flicked on. Guests drifted to the South Pasadena restaurant Briganti, the lucky among them greeted by a maître d’s Italian serenade; as Fontana and Bonvicini arrived, the two dining rooms erupted in applause. An infinitely long dinner table stretched across the patio to accommodate an exhaustive guest list, including artists Marnie Weber, Jim Shaw, Andrea Bowers, and Mike Kelley; curators Aimee Chang, Rita Gonzales, and Eungie Joo; dealers Marc Selwyn, Shaun Caley Regen, Susanne Vielmetter, and Metro Pictures’ Helene Winer; writers John Welchman and Jori Finkel; and a group of Italian students from Bocconi University’s Laboratory of Creative Productions. My amiable company kept the conversation lively, debating the design value of bidets and the dysfunctionality of the Olsen twins’ former residence. The group thinned out minutes before midnight, despite promised tiramisu and torta alla frutta; many had to work the next morning. I held out for dessert, truly a “Happening of Good Taste.”
Left: William Pope.L with Miss Black Factory 2005, Pasqualina Azzarello. Right: Performer Rufat Hasanov.
“Time Out said there’s a black actor performing about race. And I guess that’s you, but where’s the performance?” demanded one particularly aggressive member of the viewing public at William Pope.L’s performance/installation on wheels, “The Black Factory,” which took up temporary residence on a stretch of Fourteenth Street at Union Square last Saturday. Part bazaar, part museum, part potlatch, the Factory “performed” blackness as commodity fetish. Participants in yellow T-shirts and kilts served visitors with “twice-sold” canned goods and tar-dipped stuffed animals, with the reminder that art dealers Kenny Schachter and The Project set the price at $250 per can (this day’s proceeds went directly to the Foodbank for New York City). Meanwhile, Pope.L encouraged donations of “black objects” to be catalogued and included in the “museum,” an inflatable igloo strung with Murray’s Pomade, sneakers, and lots of old vinyl.
Huddled against the morning rain under a makeshift tent, the Black Factory functioned as a footnote to the chants and calls of a rally protesting Israel’s military action against Lebanon just feet away on the park steps, but by afternoon, with clearing skies, and a collection of bongo drummers taking up the place of the protesters, a carnival atmosphere replaced the morning’s sobriety. When tour manager Lydia Grey took a knife to one of the Factory watermelons, the thirsty crowd thickened, snatching up slices off a table strewn with blowtorched reggae albums while remaining almost completely unaware of the part they played in a racially loaded public spectacle, despite the blackface-masked performers nearby.
Left: The New School's Vera List Center for Art and Politics director Carin Kuoni. Right: The Black Factory tour manager Lydia Grey.
By this time, the performers were well into their own skits (written independently under Pope.L’s guidance). Performer Josh Atlas promised a special guest appearance by Janet Jackson but quickly donned a moplike red wig himself (“I want to hear the real Janet Jackson!” clamored one cheated woman), while Rufat Hasanov prostrated himself and began a Pope.L crawl. Nikki Pike attempted to engage a sullen-looking college student. Scribbling “Yo homeless: off the streets (Bloomberg’s REAL PLAN)” on a portable whiteboard, Pike turned to her solo audience: “I’ve only lived in New York twenty-one hours, so I don’t know much.”
Pope.L kept guard at the truck, chatting up friends and strangers alike from the passenger seat. That morning, the Black Factory’s parking permit had been revoked, a bureaucratic setback that reminded me of the NEA’s infamous withdrawal of support from Pope.L’s 2002 Maine College of Art retrospective. But, despite “a few casualties,” as Pope.L put it, the show did go on. Carin Kuoni, director of the New School’s Vera List Center for Art and Politics, the event sponsor, thrilled to the Factory’s direct engagement with the public. “It’s Saturday,” Kuoni explained. “People are in a more open-minded mood.” A crowd of tourist types gazed impassively as Pike, in a Sambo mask, shouted, “The US is making niggers out of everyone!” Kanene Holder, who was recruited first thing in the morning, returned with black plastic bags of Vaseline, matches, Barbie books, and potting soil from a ninety-nine-cent storeall objects she decided “represented blackness”and spent the day offering up and explaining her selections to passersby.
After convincing one pipe-smoking skeptic that he was, indeed, the “CEO” of the Black Factory, Pope.L elaborated on the project’s obligations: “Everywhere we go we try to hook up with a charitable foundation to give back to the community we visit.” As Kuoni discovered in her efforts to identify a local charity, even forging these ties can become an exercise in overcoming preconceptions about race. “When I first spoke with the Foodbank,” Kuoni explained, “they told me they were not only for black people.”
Left: Musician Keith Fullerton Whitman. Right: Musician Richard Chartier. (Photos: D. Robert Wolcheck)
On Saturday evening, walking along a desolate stretch of Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn, I could hear music washing over warehouses and empty lots several blocks before I found my way to BAPLab, a daylongor, more accurately, nightlongfestival of new media and new music. Local nonprofit Bushwick Art Project (“We did not move East of Williamsburg. . . . We are and will forever be Bushwick”) organized the busy affair, the second in their series of benefit events designed to draw attention to the creative efforts of those stationed more than three L-train subway stops outside of Manhattan. Despite spreading across twenty thousand square feet of space at 3rd Ward, a huge, newly renovated building that offers production facilities to this very community of artists, the jammed-together crowd at the door—young, white, artfully dressed—was jammed together throughout.
I wandered among video projections, unspooled film reels and videotapes, homemade robots, and digital displays brought together by about a dozen curators overseen by BAP’s Ruth Garon and R. J. Valeo. Garon described the event as “highlighting the organic overlap” between these disciplines, and the entreprenurial promoter, who arrived in New York from Israel only a year ago, hopes to grow BAPLab into a multiday festival à la SONAR or MUTEK, twin anchors of the experimental electronic music scene. Independent curator Ashley Colgate, who selected a number of the room-size new-media installations, offered casual theories about the “reformed hippie” aspect of a large segment of the new-media population, and I couldn’t help but picture LoVid’s Kyle Lapidus, who had performed earlier in the evening and was at that moment roaming the hallways in a jailhouse-orange jumpsuit and two pairs of 3-D glasses.
As with any event involving almost one hundred artists, the quality of the work varied. Recognized names like Guy Ben-Ner, who represented Israel at the 2005 Venice Biennale, and Douglas Henderson, who has exhibited at the Whitney, stood out, but Geoffrey Bell’s Musical Chair: A Game for One and projects by a number of current students at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, which were scattered along hallways, also impressed. Unlike previous new-media festivals I have attended, everything here worked, even if one could complain that much of it worked in similar ways. (The favorite: Manipulate an unexpected element—water, dust particles, etc.—to create unexpected change in sound track or on nearby screen.)
Left: Independent curator Ashley Colgate with Creative Time producer Gavin Kroeber. (Photo: Andrew Bicknell) Right: Musicians Camea and Insideout. (Photo: Scott Bintner)
Back-to-back performances by musicians Richard Chartier and Keith Fullerton Whitman were an early-evening highlight. The two were a study in contrast. Chartier, a former painter who recently performed at the Hirshhorn Museum in conjunction with the Hiroshi Sugimoto retrospective, has a shaved head and was clad head-to-toe in black. He hovered over a laptop, coaxing an unexpectedly loud (given his Minimalist bent) and organic (given his digital source material) sound from what he later described as “about sixty preselected files, collaged together.” Whitman, who is affiliated with Harvard’s Studio for Electro-Acoustic Composition, was in a red T-shirt and shorts, his long beard touching the guitar in his lap while clusters of loud, bright, high-pitched, digitally tweaked notes hung in the too-hot room during his half-hour set. After a quick “Thank you,” he packed up his gear at 9:45 PM and headed to the Lower East Side for a scheduled 10 PM performance at Tonic.
I ventured upstairs, past a doorless bathroom (with a spotlighted toilet) marked by graffiti cajoling passersby with the words “Don’t be shy,” and into the first of four gargantuan raw spaces, three of which were given over to live music, DJs, and VJs. Seated listeners lined the walls, perhaps saving their energy for the wee hours, when abstract musical experimentation was to give way to more danceable fare. I cashed in my drink tickets and stood beneath slowly spinning chandeliers that evoked Sputnik and, given the context, disco balls; each was adorned with a die-cut metal band that shaped the light into textual clichés like “THINGS WON’T BE THE SAME.” Looking east over low-rise, lower-rent Brooklyn, I imagined the sun crawling up and the view that would greet the tired revelers in just a few hours.
Left: NADA President Andrea Smith, NADA cofounder John Connelly, and NADA President Emerita Sheri Pasquarella. Right: Artist Walead Beshty. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)
When the conversation grew too promotional, too professional, or simply too much, I ducked out of the throng of young dealers and headed to the quieter side of the terrace at the Standard Hotel on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. The pastel blue of the pool and the soft pink glow of the balcony lights made the night feel plush and clubbyan atmosphere in tune with the PR strategy of the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA). Bigwig dealers are keen to tell you that nada means “nothing” in Spanish, but proud NADA members had traveled from far-flung places like North Carolina and Massachusetts to attend this summit.
It was the first humid evening of the inaugural NADACON, an amorphous series of weekend events, which included the opening party, one brunch, three collection tours, one artist-curator talk, one panel discussion, and one private roundtable meeting that I was reminded multiple times I was not allowed to attend. NADA, according to their mission statement, is about honest dealing and community and not, as their epithet might imply, selling art. The party was collegial. Dealers and gallery assistants clanked bottles of swampy Grolsch and exchanged well-rehearsed repartee. As the night wore on, the poolside became ever more dominated by dealing, the kind that’s usually preambled with wheeling. In other words, the sort usually found at “the fair”two words that dripped off lips in rushed whispers like an impure thought.
Left: Dealer Mary Leigh Cherry, Dan Hug, and NADA fair director Heather Hubbs. Right: Dealer and art advisor Lowell Pettit.
The NADA brass welcomed me with open arms. I was handed from NADA fair director Heather Hubbs to NADA president Andrea Smith to NADA cofounder John Connelly back to Smith and finally to President Emerita and NADA mastermind Sheri Pasquarella, who presided over the event like last year’s prom queen. Upon being asked why she stepped down from such heights, she responded, “NADA needed to spread its wings and fly, like the Mariah Carey song.”
The next morning we gathered for a brunch of dim sum, chicken feet, and Bloody Marys at Black Dragon Society’s new space in Chinatown, where the young dealers in young art were looking a little gray. After breakfast, new NADA member and art advisor Lowell Pettit championed NADA’s supportive network and waxed lyrical about the strangeness of the word dealer in the association’s name. “It highlights the excess and exclusivity of our business,” he said. “But what other professions call themselves dealers? Antique dealers, car dealers, card dealers!"
The next day, the shuttle bus, a mighty beast of seasoned age whose history was marked by the scraped-off casino logo on its side, took us from the Standard to the Ovitz Family Collection in Santa Monica. Ovitz was not in attendance, but collection curator Andrea Feldman Falcione led the tour with a sophisticated intern, Julianne Rosenbloom, in towa step up from the Broad collection tour, where a recently recruited intern led the proceedings alone.
Left: Taka Ishii Gallery's Jeffrey Ian Rosen. Right: Julianne Rosenbloom with Ovitz Family Collection curator Andrea Feldman Falcione.
Past the imitation-brass Lichtenstein of a setting sun in the courtyard and through the glass front doors, I walked into the lobby and was greeted by a Kippenberger nude portrait of Michel Würthle. Walking from office to office, I observed the work of Raymond Pettibon, Julie Mehretu, Ed Templeton, Diane Arbus, Peter Doig, and many of his students. There were a cluster of Leipzig artists, a Richard Prince for every occasion (one painting appropriately included a check made out to Ovitz for $175,000 to “Buy Back Painting”), and a large number of Blum & Poe protégés. Although most pieces were stunning, the rhyme or reason of the collection was, let us say politely, impossible to discern.
After a question from Pasquarella, who chewed gum and blew bubbles throughout the tour, about whether the employees knew the value of the work on the walls, I asked Feldman Falcione, What is the unifying force of the collection? She had dropped hints about Ovitz’s tastes; he doesn’t really like video, he once had a penchant for photos, but he’s now seriously into imagistic paintings. After hemming and hawing about space and process, she eventually proclaimed with a tone of finality, “We buy works we like.” The tour ended. As Feldman Falcione was swarmed by NADA dealers with outstretched business cards and inquiries about unsolicited submissions (she accepts them, by the way), I asked her intern what she thought the collection was all about. “I work under a Richard Prince,” she said with a shrug. “I'm not sure, but . . . he knows what he's doing with his money."
Left: Creative Time curator Peter Eleey with artist Miranda Lichtenstein. Right: Collector Beth DeWoody with Creative Time director Anne Pasternak. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco)
I grew up with the occultmatronly “aunts” introducing me to the teachings of Aleister Crowley and pagan activist Starhawk and stores with names like Moonshadow and Mother Earth Magick. Now, years after laying aside the mysteries of runes, tarot, and numerology, I found myself summoned to the East Village for Tuesday night’s preview of “Strange Powers,” Creative Time’s fantastical group show (named after a Magnetic Fields song) exploring supernatural transformation. Creative Time’s Peter Eleey and the New Museum’s Laura Hoptman, the exhibition’s curators, both share a conviction that “art can change the world,” though Hoptman seemed most interested in the otherworldly properties of the objects, while Eleey clung to a more empirical position. The curators took their charge seriously, down to their participation in Douglas Gordon’s work requesting that the nonprofit organization “do something evil.” “One intern’s entire job was to locate the most powerful curse,” noted Hoptman. “She eventually convinced a satanic cult to share their formula.”
The hexperformed on a letter-size area of black paintwas cast mere hours before the main event. Creative Time, like the Adversary, prefers its evil fresh. The other charms, rituals, and psychic ephemeraincluding Euan Macdonald’s spellbinding video, Healer, 2002, and a pitch-black room containing The Ghost of James Lee Byars, 1969—felt at home in the raw, reportedly haunted former theater building. Exhibition artist Miranda Lichtenstein was on hand to discuss her documentation of a spiritual “cleansing” of the space. Meanwhile, Mari Spirito, just through curating her own summer group show, “A Broken Arm,” at 303 Gallery, recruited visitors to investigate an eerie glow emanating from a chink in a wall. Was it art? A poltergeist? Was it available as an edition?
Left: New Museum curator Laura Hoptman tests out Senga Nengudi's installation Makes Clean. Right: Dealer Andrew Kreps, 303 Gallery's Mari Spirito, Frieze US editor James Trainor, and Anne Pasternak.
Dinner was held at the slick new Chinatown Brasserie, a restaurant haunted by memories of the sorely missed performance venue Fez. Passing the subterranean lounge’s carp-laden pond, I wondered: What would Fez favorite Karen Finley have done with all these fish? I dove into the sticky dumplings and moo shu, while dealer Andrew Kreps confessed to being “politically opposed to meat” between mouthfuls of chicken. When the discussion turned to the conspicuous lack of meat-based work in Chelsea, artist Peter Coffin divulged that his very first sculpture, crafted at the prime age of sixteen, was a “scary monster made from raw meat.” “Where is it now?” I wondered. “I ate it.” Before the conversation grew completely unpalatable, I switched back to the show’s theme, asking Kreps if he believed in ghosts. “Nope,” he said. “I believe in a lot of freaky things. But ghosts? Too specific.”
Spirited away by taxi, I was tardy for P.S. 1’s thirtieth-anniversary roller-disco benefit at the Roxy, just missing the school-cum-museum’s headmistress Alanna Heiss. Having advocated for the space since 1976, I can hardly blame her for calling it an early night. Taking to the arena with camera in hand, I contemplated the wisdom of mixing rinks with drinks, though I didn’t have to think long before stumbling over the falling bodies of haphazard art lovers. Remembering that curator Ali Subotnick broke her arm at a Roxy bash hosted by David Zwirner three years ago, I slowed myself to a snail’s pace.
Left: Fashion designer Cynthia Rowley. Right: Sean Kelly Gallery's Boshko Boskovic and Tei Carpenter.
Earlier at dinner, collector Beth Rudin DeWoody galvanized me with memories of Susanne Bartsch’s infamous Roxy Halloween parties, but tonight was a decidedly less costumed affair. A few adventurous skaters donned their “Le Freaky” best, but despite the disco fever, the bicentennial theme of my boyfriend’s outfit went without comment. Perhaps his ensemble was too specific. I bumped into Cynthia Rowley, dolled up in a flowing, white, Xanadu-esque one-piece. “Before tonight, I had no idea that my husband was such a rock ‘n’ roll, hotshot, roller-skating fiend,” said the demure fashion maven, who’s cohosting another P.S. 1 anniversary fundraiser, a revisitation of the museum’s inaugural Prom party, this October.
As the crowd thinned, the floor was reinvigorated by the introduction of a small posse of “Strange Powers” stragglers, including Eleey, Spirito, and Creative Time’s Maureen Sullivan. I admit surprise at their finesse: Spirito adroitly demonstrated a scrunched-down cannonball technique, giving her speed if not delicacy. “Who needs drugs? Who needs the gym? This is so fun!” she enthused. But the fun couldn’t last forever, and by 1 AM, dance legends First Choice were singing “It’s not over” through the club’s Phazon sound system while skaters examined their injuries. (Their endurance was rewarded, however, with vintage P.S. 1 exhibition posters salvaged from the Roxy’s trash.) Hitting the rain-soaked Chelsea streets, we all felt a little closer to the spirits.
Left: Joanna Zielinska and artist Paulina Olowska. Right: Artist Wilhelm Sasnal with CCA curator Lukasz Ronduda. (Photos: Adam Mazur)
As I stumbled through heavy curtains Monday night into “USA,” Wilhelm Sasnal’s film exhibition at Warsaw’s Center of Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, I was slightly unnerved to find myself confronted by the 16-mm vision of a woman posing and cavorting in abandoned airplane wreckage somewhere in the Mojave Desert. My flight on LOT Polish Airlines a few days earlier came to an end with a rather “creative” landing, and Sasnal’s film strayed a bit too close to the visions that flashed before my eyes when we rather violently entered Warsaw’s airspace. Nevertheless, the sound track, comprising music from various ’50s Polish films, seduced me to linger and enjoy the playful desert dérive, a peculiar cross between Jack Smith’s Scotch Tape, Antonioni’s The Red Desert, and Survivor.
The galleries were heaving and hot, so after wandering through the rest of the showwhich includes W.E. Love Ranch, 2006, a video installation documenting Texan cowboys castrating calves and eating the offcutsI decided to enjoy my first Eastern-bloc opening in the fresh air of the courtyard below. Having spent a whirlwind weekend touring various galleries and museums in town, I happily bumped into several of the locals who populate this city’s rewarding scene. The amiable and informed Lukasz Ronduda, curator of the Sasnal show and CCA’s Archive of Polish Experimental Film, was busily distributing exhibition catalogues on the stairs as he welcomed guests such as Foksal Gallery Foundation’s savvy Joanna Mytkowska, Berlin-based artist Florian Zeyfang, and Miroslaw Balka. As I reached the courtyard, Piktogram’s Michal Wolinski led me to a bar serving the local summer specialty, apple juice mixed with vodka, and continued to feed my new hunger for stories about Polish street sculpture, Polish punk, Polish modernist architecture, Polish artists working in chemical plants, and ’70s-era Polish art publications that are frustratingly out of print.
Left: Foksal Gallery Foundation's Joanna Mytkowska. Right: Artist Florian Zeyfang with Piktogram editor in chief Michal Wolinski.
The CCA is a pleasantly weathered, lo-fi cultural megaplex, and among the various exhibitions and activities taking place, I made a beeline for the opening of Paulina Olowska’s exhibition, “Rainbow Brite,” also curated by Ronduda. In the catalogue for Sasnal’s show, Ronduda claims that Olowska and Sasnal belong to a new generation of Polish artists for whom art functions to intensify and exploit the imagination and its connection to everyday life. If Sasnal’s films constitute a “private cinema” that plays with the history of Polish experimental film and seems to slip through multiple frames of time and place, for CCA Olowska has more specific prey in mind: the '80s. After a room featuring five Warhol-cum-Sturtevant-cum-Koons silver screenprints of an alien primate’s face, the subject at hand became more apparent upon entering a three-room installation with multiple projections of the cult 1984 movie The NeverEnding Story. Screened on billowing white sheets, the film is presented in five languages for which subtitles were produced. In another nod to Warhol, the exhibition, according to Olowska, will be kept open twenty-four hours a day. Never ending indeed.
My own recollection of The NeverEnding Story has more to do with the Giorgio Moroder theme song performed by ex-Kajagoogoo frontman Limahl, which, like clockwork, began to emanate from speakers in the courtyard outside, to which I returned. Olowska herself suddenly materialized in what I am told is typically dramatic fashion, and her remarkable dress and cape were printed with what would appear to be a scene from the film. She began to dance and writhe in a manner that recalled her 2005 project Alphabet, for which she posed to resemble the shape of each letter. I tried to follow her sybaritic code until I was drawn into conversation with Ronduda about Polish filmmakers old (Pawel Kwiek) and new (Piotr Uklanski, whose new feature-length western is forthcoming). Ronduda was brimming with energy, ideas, and enthusiasm for unearthing Poland’s overlooked cultural past and connecting it to Warsaw’s talented cache of young artists and curators. Definitely worth a trip back soon to see what he and his cohorts have in store, but next time I’m flying British Airways.
Left: Zacheta National Gallery curator Maria Brewinska with CCA Ujazdowski Castle director Wojciech Krukowski. (Photo: Adam Mazur) Right: Visitors dance in front of Paulina Olowska's installation.