Left: Artist Marty Kornfeld with Amalia Dayan. Right: Artist Daniel Buren with dealer Stefania Bortolami. (All photos: Brian Sholis)
“Congratulazione, mia cara collega,” Emi Fontana exclaimed to Stefania Bortolami at the opening of Daniel Buren’s exhibition “Variable/Invariable” at Bortolami Dayan. Indeed, the mood at the opening and at the following dinner was ebullient: Bortolami and partner, Amalia Dayan, had pulled off a coup of sorts, with a two-part exhibition of the eminent French Conceptualist, who had for years been a fixture of uptown powerhouse Marian Goodman’s roster. Buren’s departure from Goodman and his decision to show with the plush but quite new Bortolami Dayan, which so far has shown mostly younger artists, were topics of considerable interest. “It’s nice coming back to show in New York,” Buren remarked. Of course, his spectacular installation at the Guggenheim in 2005 was certainly a return, but the artist was referring to gallery shows; he hadn’t had a show with Goodman for some time. “I was supposed to do a one-man show last year, which Marian forgot to do,” so, spurred on by friend and fellow Bortolami Dayan artist Michel François, Buren decided to throw in his lot with a new generation.
In the main gallery, Buren exhibited paintings spanning the year 1966; installed from earliest to latest clockwise through the space, the pictures show Buren’s abandonment of painting, or, as Bortolami put it, “You see Buren becoming Buren,” the artist of preprinted striped canvases in lieu of conventional paintings. In the outdoor space next door, beneath the High Line, Buren created an installation of Plexiglas squares that hung from the elevated railway. I asked the artist which part of the exhibition constituted the variable and which the invariable. “It’s something I leave open,” he answered laughing. “The invariable stripe?”
Left: Artist Jordan Wolfson and dealer Carol Greene. Right: Curator Clarissa Dalrymple with dealer Janice Guy.
Carl Andre, attired in his invariable garb of workman’s overalls, attended the opening but not the dinner. But, representing Buren’s generation, Lawrence Weiner and his wife, Alice, came to both. Held at Wallsé, the Austrian restaurant in the West Village, the dinner was quite, one could even say unusually, enjoyable. I sat next to Kamel Mennour, Buren’s Paris dealer, who confirmed that Marian Goodman was quite displeased about Buren’s departure. “She’s not happy with me, either,” he added, as Goodman has a Paris gallery, too, and Mennour, like Dayan and Bortolami, is a relatively young gallerist. Also at my table: Bard Center for Curatorial Studies executive director Tom Eccles, Sandy Rower (Alexander Calder’s grandson), and artists Louise Lawler and Cecily Brown. The “Pictures”-era avatar and the avatar of that other thing—painting—were seated side by side, chatting amiably—so much for the critical jeremiads of the ‘80s. To my slight discomfiture, conversation turned to Scene & Herd itself. I don’t think Eccles approves, as he was very critical of my own involvement. For lack of a better retort, I told him he must feel this revulsion because he is Scottish and Presbyterian. Other guests of note included François, Guggenheim director Lisa Dennison (who, with Guggenheim adjunct curator and critic Alison Gingeras and associate curator Susan Cross, organized the museum’s Buren exhibition), MoMA curator Joachim Pissarro, Clarissa Dalrymple, Anton Kern and Nathalie Karg, Tim Nye, and Christian Haye. And lots of other people whose names Eccles undoubtedly notes, as one can only surmise he is a loyal reader of Scene & Herd.
Left: Artists Paulina Olowska, Monica Bonvicini, and Amanda Keeley. Right: Reena Spaulings Fine Art's Emily Sundblad. (All photos: David Velasco)
Anyone who was in town on Saturday will remember the day as freakishly warm, making the Chelsea openings circuit less the usual winter march from one heated space to another and more a springtime stroll. D’Amelio Terras presented one lively launch. “The loss of history makes them constantly curious and continuously horny . . .” was the promising title of a group show inspired by a Mekons performance at Dia in 1995. On that occasion, Vito Acconci had designed a hexagonal stage and filled in the gaps in the music with his own spoken narration. At D’Amelio Terras, band and stage were replaced by a multilevel seating unit that also emitted snippets of Acconci’s gnomic commentary, including the show’s title. The setup seemed to remind many visitors of their favorite childhood monkey bars, resulting in an unseemly scramble for the uppermost perch that only the soberest—Whitney director Adam Weinberg, for one, the Times’ Roberta Smith, for another—appeared able to resist.
At Elizabeth Dee Gallery, the game was rather to avoid the centerpiece, a worryingly ephemeral-looking sculpture by Mai Braun. This became increasingly difficult as the gallery filled to bursting with visitors curious to assess new director Jenny Moore’s curatorial smarts. Dee herself seemed overjoyed with the results and enthused, too, about the gallery’s next show, a project by the collaborative team New Humans. My companions nodded and smiled but, it was later revealed, were equally taken by Dee’s outfit, a trouser suit that had earned Scarlett Johansson an appearance in Us Weekly’s fashion “don’ts” column but, by common consensus, looked a whole lot better on the gallerist than it had on the starlet.
The opening of Polish artist Paulina Olowska’s first New York solo show, at Metro Pictures, had been trailed to me at least twice as the hip event of the evening, but it seemed oddly subdued by comparison. The gallery itself was nearly empty by the time I arrived, with just a few diehards, artists Elizabeth Peyton, T. J. Wilcox, and Cheyney Thompson among them, lingering outside. Also making the scene were Liam Gillick and Sarah Morris. I had fun catching up with the former—a fellow Brit—the discussion moving from family to facial hair to the pros and cons of transatlantic cruising in a matter of minutes. (Can it really be true that Ileana Sonnabend bought all the Queen Elizabeth II’s classic modernist furniture only to offload it to the Salvation Army?) After stopping in briefly at the local (and possibly only remaining) dive bar Billymark’s West for the commencement of Elizabeth Dee’s after-party (bemused regulars looking on), I cabbed it downtown to Barrow’s Pub on Hudson Street for Metro Pictures’s event. The venue was fractionally smarter than Billymark’s, but no Bemelmans, as evinced by the repurposing of a pool table for the hors d’oeuvres, not to mention the repurposing of what looked like Chicken McNuggets as hors d’oeuvres. Artist Dieter Roelstraete spun some loungey tunes, but despite the presence of some striking Eastern European clientele, it was another downbeat affair, and after an hour or so, I called it a night.
What’s the most intimidating kind of gallery? In my experience, it’s not the vast, gleaming Chelsea showroom but the knock-three-times-and-mutter-the-password backstreet shoebox. Artist Bozidar Brazda’s new project space, 127 (my cabbie got lost even with a map), was firmly in the latter camp, a miniscule strip-lit storefront in Chinatown with no sign or any other concession to the uninitiated. Arriving halfway through the Sunday-evening opening of a show of new work by Anna Parkina and Joep Van Liefland, I discovered exactly seven people in attendance (though, admittedly, one of those was Whitney curator Shamim M. Momin, and another Flash Art critic Adrian Dannatt). If Saturday night’s hospitality had been low-rent, here it was stripped down to the bare essentials: a stack of warm Buds in the corner.
Orchard may have been serving actual wine, but the corridorlike space was so dark and packed that I felt like I was in line for a club bathroom rather than angling to get a glimpse of some, uh, “Polish Socialist Conceptualism of the ’70s.” Yes, Gareth James and company had somehow contrived to transform a distinctly unsexy-sounding subject into another destination show. I bumped into artist Ellen Harvey on my way in, and she introduced me to Lukasz Ronduda, who curated the show in collaboration with Barbara Piwowarska. An excited Ronduda reeled off an efficient beginner’s guide to the artworks on view and handed me a sheaf of closely printed pages as “a brief introduction,” before disappearing into the crowd.
Reena Spaulings Fine Art, my final stop of the night, also disseminated some “challenging” text in the shape of an open letter from “Paris-based collective” Claire Fontaine, copies of which were available to all. (Its closing gambit: “Surrounded by a malevolent attention, obliged to perform useless tasks, wanting to change but not knowing how to. We feel alone.” Cheers, “Claire.”) Attendees had all either just come from 127 or Orchard (or Participant, Inc., or Canada, both also opening shows that night) or were just on their way to one or the other, making for some brisk movement up and down the stairs. Carol Greene, Rita Ackermann, and Jordan Wolfson were among those coming or going. Oh, and Tatum O’Neal showed at some point, though whether she, too, was making the rounds with equal dedication was unclear.
Left: Ryan McGinley with Richard Bars. Right: Participant Inc. director Lia Gangitano with artist Devon Costello. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco)
The ambitious, self-actualizing heroics of New Year’s resolutions often give me hives; I much prefer sleeping in—a gentle awakening to the postholiday cycle. So Wednesday, I chose to ease back into the New York art world via a friendly, low-key party at Lower East Side nonprofit Participant Inc. celebrating Devon Costello and Ilya Lipkin’s “Poster Project.” Director Lia Gangitano noted that the gallery floor had been repainted for the occasion, a noble endeavor, since the numerous posters—created by over twenty different artists—were only up for the night. (Printed Matter is hosting another, more official launch in February, though for now the works are on view in the Kantor/Feuer Window in Chelsea.)
In true DIY fashion, the black-and-white prints featured an eccentric mix of crude drawing, witty appropriation, and clever wordplay. Lipkin’s reproduction of a Wal-Mart ad he found in Vogue was disarmingly funny, as was artist Michael Paulson’s readymade list of the twenty-five things that make people laugh, despite the fact that there’s something about a formula for jokes that really robs them of their punch. (Paulson may have put it best when he said “humor is desperate, pathetic, and . . . just not funny.”)
Thursday night, I hit James Bidgood’s opening at ClampArt, where the auteur responsible for the classic 1971 homo flick Pink Narcissus was exhibiting some of his gorgeous erotic photographs from the ’60s, an obvious influence on artists such as Pierre et Gilles. I noted to him that the photos looked fresh and vibrant even today. “People are saying it looks contemporary!” the seventy-three-year-old artist exclaimed to an approaching friend. “You’re not contemporary. You’re an old fart!” his friend shot back.
I had planned the night as an all-gay outing, with my next stop Ryan McGinley’s inaugural show at Team Gallery. But before heading to SoHo, I peeked next door at Peter Hay Halpert Fine Art—an early mover of McGinley’s work—which, rumor had it, was throwing its own McGinley show to capitalize on the artist’s move to Team. Sure enough, the third-floor shoebox space was advertising “Ryan McGinley: The Kids Are Alright & Other Work,” even going so far as to mimic the dates of the Team show. But there was no party to speak of; Halpert apparently thought better of going head-to-head with José Freire et al. in that department.
Time was running short, so I hailed a cab and zipped downtown, where I found McGinley’s opening in full swing. McGinley went on a two-year road trip, traveling to dozens of Morrissey concerts in the US, the UK, and Mexico. The resultant photos, many of which are densely saturated in the concerts’ colored lights, feature candid shots of fans, regularly zooming in for seductive close-ups of enamored youngsters—a celebration of the ecstatic cult of fame and its ardent enablers. A few oblique pics of Morrissey himself are scattered throughout the show, though the shots are careful to avoid the singer’s face. It’s McGinley’s best work to date, solid evidence that he’s a perfect fit for Team.
After the opening, one hundred or so of McGinley’s friends and family eloped to the after-party at new Lower East Side hangout the Annex. Lounging around the open bar and hefty hors d’oeuvres was a mix of downtown figures old and new: Clarissa Dalrymple, Leo Fitzpatrick, Banks Violette, Adam McEwan, Emily Sundblad, Benjamin Cho, Peter Coffin, Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, Melissa Bent, Mirabelle Marden, Neville Wakefield, and Sophia Lamar. McGinley noted that his first Smiths album was Meat Is Murder (he fell in love with the cover and had the poster up in his locker for a year before even listening to the record), while Team owner Freire admitted, “I don’t actually like the Smiths or Morrissey. I always thought that Ian McCulloch had better hair.”
McGinley’s favorite band, New York–based quartet the Virgins, played a rare, crowd-pleasing acoustic set, at one point paying homage to McGinley’s subject in a cover of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.” I was curious to know more about the reclusive singer’s habits, so I asked Ryan if it was true that Morrissey only communicates via fax. “Only if he doesn’t want to talk to you,” he said. Fair enough—it certainly gets the point across. But the always charmingly provocative Freire may have outdone Morrissey in his pointedness, commenting “keep your enemies close and your friends . . . well, fuck your friends.” A New Year’s resolution I can live with.
Left: Brooke Alderson and New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl. Right: Artist Cindy Sherman with filmmakers Vincent and Shelley Dunn Fremont. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)
It’s not a terrorist attack we need to prepare for, it’s a weather event (an art-market cataclysm seems not to be in the offing). For proof, I offer last Thursday, officially the first day of winter in New York and the day I noticed the tulips coming up in my garden. They came up early last year, too, but that was February. Life is so speedy now! So corrupted by pleasure. Take the nights before Christmas: I loved them all.
I loved seeing Jack Pierson at his Printed Matter book signing on Thursday night, pretending to be superficial in a natty Prada suit while exuding complete sincerity to fans, including actress Lili Taylor, novelist Nick Flynn, and artist Mary Heilmann. “It’s really Richard Marshall’s book,” the ever-modest Pierson said of his handsome blue-linen tome. (Marshall wrote the text; Rizzoli published it.) I loved that. I also loved the book's absence of a dust cover. Pierson’s signature cigarette stub is embossed in gold on the back—a nice touch. He was spending the holidays in Rio. “It’s summer in Brazil, you know,” he said. “Funny,” I replied. “Here, too.”
I loved the Mylar runners that Daniel Reich and Milwaukee artist Scott Reeder had placed on the floor of Reich’s shoebox gallery as holiday decor, and the Mylar chuppah above the bar. They also put a mirrored disco ball near the ceiling and strings of soft white Christmas bulbs around the floor’s perimeter, leading to a tinselly fake tree. Reeder’s modest new painting, Money in Bed, got me with its title alone. It’s more abstract, and a lot less obvious, than American Dick, the image of an American-flag erection. In reproduction, actually, that flag made a nifty holiday postcard.
Reeder helped organize Milwaukee’s first international art fair this year with his brother, Tyson. Both turned up later at Heather’s Bar on East Thirteenth Street, which was packed with revelers who came to celebrate the birthdays of artist Anne Collier (thirty-six) and Nicole Klagsbrun gallery director Carolyn Ramo (twenty-seven). I was surprised to see so many people still in town. New York is supposed to empty out during the holidays—part of the reason I love it at Christmas. Everyone seemed to like the bar. “This DJ is fabulous,” said Matthew Higgs, Collier’s other half, starting his vacation from the nonprofit White Columns after a profitable run at the big bucks at NADA in Miami. “We made seventy-five thousand dollars,” he boasted, far less than what most dealers at Art Basel Miami Beach pay just to attend. “It was a lot for us,” he said, “but the best part was that forty-five thousand went to the artists, all young people no one had seen before. And it was fun,” he added. “That’s why I’m in the art world, you know. For the fun.”
Collier was having fun, too, though she hadn’t actually wanted to call attention to her birthday. Why pick a public place for it then? “I didn’t want to have to see all the same people,” she replied. Then why did everyone seem to know everyone else? Or were they just making very fast friends? I met Christian Jankowski just as some stranger came over to compliment him on his recent show at the Kitchen. “At the opening, we lost a third of the audience,” Jankowski reported. “Too much gore.” Even though it was fake? “They were trustees, or something,” he said.
The birthday bash turned out to be the East Village funk version of Cindy Sherman’s annual Christmas party, held this year on Friday night. This was an extremely posh and sophisticated affair that was about as close to the grand salons of yesteryear as I’ve experienced—artists, writers, actors, dancers, musicians, and children, all in extraordinarily good moods. It felt like the party scene in All About Eve, minus the viciousness. This party is the real reason I love being in town at holiday time. It didn’t happen last year, because Sherman’s new duplex penthouse, which has views all around, wasn’t built yet. “I guess this is the official housewarming,” she said, clearly loving it. (Who wouldn’t?) “Take a look around.”
The place has an open kitchen in the center of the top floor, where a sushi chef was preparing finger food. Downstairs, in the studio, there were tables laden with more to eat. I loved the Christmas tree—a teepee of tripods strung with white Christmas lights and handmade ornaments. “I don’t know about the bedroom,” actress Alexandra Auder said, sounding very much like her mother, onetime Warhol superstar Viva. “If I were a guy who wanted to do Cindy, my dick would go soft the minute I went in that room.” (I take that back about the viciousness.)
Curious, I tiptoed inside with Peter Schjeldahl and his wife, Brooke Alderson, who, in her past life as an actress, nearly stole the show as John Travolta’s aunt in Urban Cowboy. “It’s maybe a little too much Scandinavian hotel room,” offered art conservator Lisa Rosen, bringing up the rear. “I never care where I am,” Schjeldahl said, peering at the artworks in the room. (Sherman has clearly traded actively with her peers.) “It’s the company that counts.”
Be that as it may, we all loved the walk-in closet, not because it was bigger than many apartments (well, mine), but because its contents were so color-coded and uncluttered. Personally, I love it when a female artist can afford to live as large as a male. I also love a party that can accommodate both Lisa Yuskavage and Jerry Saltz, where dancer Stephen Petronio can explore with the likes of Parker Posey, Robert Longo, Laurie Simmons, and Yvonne Force Villareal. But I had to leave to get to the closing-night performance of The Fortune Teller, a marionette show by Skeleton Key (and former Lounge Lizard) bass player Eric Sanko limning the seven deadly sins in goth splendor. That’s why I missed Louise Lawler’s arrest, when she left the Sherman party and was caught in some sort of police dragnet on the way to Brooklyn. Remember when to be an artist was to be an outlaw, instead of a brand? Still, I hate it when the good guys get arrested. Then again, what good is a holiday if you can’t get caught having fun?
Left: LTTR coeditor K8 Hardy. Right: Bragan Thomas and Chris Spinelli. (All photos: Michael Wang)
Instead of the raucous, magazine-launch-as-a-good-excuse-for-a-party atmosphere I expected last Monday, when I slipped inside LTTR’s latest appropriated event space along the river in Williamsburg (for the release of the radical, lesbian, gender-queer publication’s fifth issue) I found hushed crowds pressed against the walls of the Glasslands Gallery. Artists James Tsang (going by Ingrid, his given name, in the magazine), in a black one-piece and heels, and Ashland Mines, in a hoodie and waistcoat, moved slowly through the performance space, clapping their hands and reciting what they described as an “old Appalachian traditional” by the light of a single bulb. The work’s title, Someone Else’s Song, aptly described a number of the evening’s queerings. The performances imbued appropriated material with a range of affects, from giddy talent-show enthusiasm (Michael O’Neill and Leidy Churchman of Tri-State Area’s celebratory pop-anthem covers), to the “deconstructive” criticality of Chris Spinelli and Bragan Thomas’s theatrical evocations of “WASP melodrama” classics, to the intergenerational reverie of Jeanine Oleson’s '70s-era lesbian sing-along.
“What happens in a performance when you take away the language?” asked Tsang. “What’s left is your body and your voice.” The different acts anticipated varying degrees of familiarity with their chosen texts. While Tri-State Area called out, “This is a song we all know by heart” before diving into Usher’s “U Got It Bad,” Oleson handed out Xeroxed pages from Something Good: A Feminist Sing-a-long Songbook and detailed her rediscovery of the 1973 manuscript (compiled by Di Otto) at the Lesbian Herstory Archives book sale. With Otto herself helping to lead the session, the mixed crowd quickly warmed to lyrics like “A room full of women getting high / Then I looked around and saw there wasn’t one guy!”
Left: Tri-State Area's Leidy Churchman and Michael O'Neill. Right: LTTR coeditor Ginger Brooks Takahashi.
Between acts, artist A. K. Burns set up shop in a booth offstage, exchanging straight currency for “gay dollars” that featured a prominent pink triangle. “You can circulate them,” explained Donnie Cervantes (of the artist duo Donnie + Travis), before slyly suggesting, “You can give it as a tip to someone you think is cute.” By the time Tri-State Area had finished their set (ending on Brenda-Lee-by-way-of-the-Pet-Shop-Boys’s “Always on My Mind”), Dean Daderko (in a RIDYKEULOUS defaced Guerilla Girls T-shirt) and Tsang’s tango dips drew the rest of the crowd into the dance party.
Meanwhile, editor K8 Hardy, working the merchandise table and sporting a grill of silver fangs, described the evening’s program as “fairly casual.” “We have to see who’s willing to perform for no money,” she reasoned. While the editors wanted to “include artists whose practice doesn’t easily translate into print” on the evening’s roster, they also tried to “push artists past their normal practice,” inviting several print and video contributors to perform for the first time. The latest issue of the magazine, LTTR V/Positively Nasty, puts pressure on the editors’ typical roles. “This is not just a magazine,” Hardy maintained. “This is an artists’ project.” For this issue, the editors resolved to work in ways that related more directly to the artistic practices of their contributors. “We wanted to be a lot more cutting, more severe with our editing. It’s a lot more political.” While past issues featured a single introductory statement, this issue features four editorials—from Ginger Takahashi’s economic analysis of the magazine’s production to Emily Roysdon’s “Conceptually Nasty,” an articulation of the issue’s theme. “We don’t mean ‘nastiness’ as in stupid-ass erotic shit, whatever it’s called . . . ‘porn,’” asserted Hardy. “At this point there were a lot of things about the project we had to write about and explain.”
Lou Reed’s epigraph billed his four-night St. Ann’s Warehouse residency and first-ever live performance of the entire Berlin album as “an evening to press between the crumbling leaves of Fall,” a claim only made more self-regarding by the insistent media flogging (“Sometimes called the most depressing album ever made,” quoth Ben Sisario in the New York Times) surrounding the event. The will-call line was heavy on formalwear, Times Arts sections tucked into overcoat pockets, graying ponytails, cigarette smoke drifting over ubiquitous war stories—even hearing aids. Some formulated their own pull quotes, evidently inspired: “This is a very, very special event”; “Only two or three people I go out for these days.” I preferred Julian Schnabel’s take (outfit, too: unruly beard, red and black lumberjack top), which came by way of the show’s introduction: “I wrote this one on my bathroom floor.”
This was the kind of overblown piety, Schnabel excepted, that froze press out and had us begging just to lay out a steep $67.50. Getting off the train, DUMBO looked surreal—lit-up trees, throngs of people, glassed-in condos, the river reflecting on an unseasonably warm night—and it was hard not to draw the parallel between the rehabbed underside of the Brooklyn Bridge and the rehabbed society pull of Lou Reed, ca. 2006. Inside St. Ann’s, his success regime was in full effect: signed posters for ninety dollars a pop, CDs for twenty, and T-shirts for thirty.
On an otherwise excruciatingly literal night—the album was “depressing,” therefore the audience would remain still and somber throughout; when the Brooklyn Youth Chorus chorused, “No, no, no!” they would also shake their heads, no, no, no—the only break in the mood was Schnabel’s set, a perplexing creation of Japanese screens in pale orange, yellow, and cream, set off by a fifteen-foot couch hanging vertically from the ceiling. Reed riffed on the otherwise inviolate solemnity, capping an extended guitar rave with a resigned shrug: “Oh, back into the land of depression now.”
Behind him, Lola Schnabel’s video matched Berlin’s song-cycle narrative shot for shot: kids in song were kids on-screen, alleys were alleys, Alaska was Alaska. Reed was center stage in jeans, gingerly holding his guitar; beside him, local soul goddess Sharon Jones sported a brilliant red cocktail dress; and off to the left, downtown muse-to-the-stars Antony sat quietly in black. Best dressed was original Berlin producer Bob Ezrin (other credits: Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Kiss’s Destroyer), who conducted the musicians while sporting a pale blue jacket with BERLIN emblazoned in white on the back.
We had skipped cozy holiday parties and the last sane Sunday of the year to see something momentous, and eventually Reed took note. Now thirty-three years old, Berlin felt new once again. Reed sounded like he was auditioning for his own ancient musical—tentative, feeling it out—and as the choir dopplered from a drawn-out “What a feeling” toward the buoyant closer, “Sad Song,” you could sense the crowd begin to hold its breath.
Forward then, through the album's finale, the encore (“Sweet Jane,” “Candy Says,” “Rock Minuet”), and Reed’s last dedication to Laurie Anderson: “She continues to teach me every day about the purity of music and life.” On the way out, Ezrin was soaked but exhilarated, exclaiming, “It was so much fun—I sweated my ass off.” Though he too called Berlin “music to cut your wrists by,” nothing but weary smiles lined the path to the door.