Subcultural Capital


Left: Gallerist Jose Freire with Sunn 0))) frontman Stephen O'Malley. Right: Gallerist Maureen Paley with Banks Violette. (All photos: Sarah Thornton)

“Lot o' beards in tonight.” The barmaid at the Bethnal Green pub at which I'd arranged to meet my companions was bemused to find her regular Friday-night clientele augmented by a contingent of hirsute music fans eager for a performance, orchestrated by artist Banks Violette, by the doomy, LA-based art-metal band Sunn O))) at Maureen Paley’s gallery. Decamping at precisely 6 PM, we found a small crowd of similarly styled folk forming a line outside the gallery. We joined it, and within fifteen minutes the line had tripled in length and anticipation was building fast. We knew only that the performance was scheduled to commence some time between 6 and 8 PM. By 6:30 or so, current Turner Prize shortlistee Mark Titchner, having that afternoon found out about the imminent closure of Delfina studios, where he is a current resident, was already weary of the uncertainty.

Soon thereafter, we followed Team Gallery owner Jose Freire in through the back door, earning jealous glares from a line that now extended around the block. Freire, bubbling with excitement, led us to an upstairs room where Violette had constructed a “ghost” of the band's own, functional setup. Guitars and amps (Sunn amps, naturally) had been cast in the artist's now-signature blend of resin and salt and the walls lined with dense graphite drawings. Paley was delighted with the elegantly atmospheric effect: “Magic, magic, magic.”

Back downstairs, Freire assured me that I'd know when the performance was starting because “the building will shake like there's an earthquake. They did a sound check a few hours ago and you could hear the windows rattling.” Only then did I notice a small sign outside the entrance to the lower gallery: “No entry until after performance.” Sure enough, again according to Freire, “Banks said he was going to do a performance that would make the building come down but no one was going to see it.” I wondered fleetingly whether the fans waiting outside, patience eroding, were privy to this information.

Left: Gallerist Rodolphe Janssen and Phillips de Pury & Company consultant Olivier Vrankenne. Right: Artist Paul Noble with collector Vicky Hughes.

“Can we store Banks's robe in here?” asked Alissa Bennett, the artist's wife, of a gallery employee seated in the office, gesturing with a voluminous black cloak. “Yeah, it's my robe,” her husband chipped in. “It's very important.” Vital apparel stashed, the couple melted away and I got talking to Noah Garson, a plumbing supplier who provides the aluminum tubing that Violette uses in many of his sculptures. “Plumbing supplying is what it is,” he admitted. “But working with Banks makes it so much more interesting.” A beaming Wolfgang Tillmans edged past us, and finally, on the dot of 7 PM, an ominous bass rumble signaled the start of the concealed action. Finding myself, for once, in the right place at the right time, I couldn't resist peeking behind the white sheet veiling the performance space. “This is sedate,” commented Violette, reappearing immediately behind me. “It'll get very loud and ugly.” Draped in black and wreathed in dry ice, the band were an imposing sight—even without the salt-and-resin coffin in which the guest vocalist, Mayhem's Attila Csihar, was sealed. As a thin crack began to edge across the ceiling and a lightbulb popped above my head, I thought it prudent to join the crowd in the exterior courtyard.

There, artist Lorin Davies and I squeezed through the throng surrounding the bar, spotting gallerists Rudolph Janssen and Christabel Stewart (of Hotel) and artists Sue Webster, Savage Pencil, a.k.a. Edwin Pouncey, and Chris Cunningham. I also bumped into an old friend, Anthony Sylvester, who, I soon learned, now does promotional work for Sunn O))) and other bands. But despite his close association with the musicians, even Sylvester was finding that the evening had already raised some unusual questions: “If you're not here to not see the band, what's your experience of them, then?” Collector Vicky Hughes conceded that “I'd like to be a voyeur. I'd like to be in the room with the band,” and some others seemed similarly frustrated by their deliberate exclusion (though Davies rated it as the band's “best visual performance”). An hour or so later, I was about to raise the issue with artist Paul Noble when the sound juddered to a halt and London seemed, for a moment, quieter than it ever had before.

Michael Wilson

Left: Artist Gardar Eide Einarsson. Right: Valentina Salaris and Alissa Bennett.

Parents Day

New York

Left: Author Sean Wilsey and critic Celia McGee. Right: Stephen Shore.

I caught the early end of Stephen Shore’s Wednesday-night opening at 303 Gallery as lots of late-afternoon sun filtered down Twenty-second Street. For most of Chelsea’s gallery hoppers, there was still time for a late-afternoon promenade; just in front of the gallery steps, Bob Nickas strolled by, presumably enjoying the last rays before making a more appropriately timed arrival, and designer John Bartlett slipped past, headed in the other direction. Stepping in alongside International Center of Photography curator Carol Squiers and collector Neil Frankel (dog in tow), I found Shore leisurely leading a small crowd of enthusiasts from photo to photo and pausing to sign the occasional book. Hardly larger than drugstore prints, the matted and framed images required the kind of intimate encounter that was aided by Shore’s personalized explanations. (Pointing out the fingernail shadow above a toilet lid in a New Mexico restroom, Shore found camaraderie with a fellow Rollei owner: “It’s the only camera with the flash underneath rather than over the lens.”) Along with a selection from 1972’s “American Surfaces” series (shown recently at P.S. 1) and a few larger prints from 1973’s “Uncommon Places,” Shore also exhibited a 1971 Super-8 video and, for the first time, pages from a “visual diary,” a scrapbook from his now-famous 1972-73 road trip. The artist described the works as “related in time” but noted that the video (his only Super-8 work) precedes the 1972 photographs but features “some of the same places in New York City, Amarillo, Texas, northern New Mexico, and Route 22 in New Jersey” that he returned to—this time with a still camera—over the next year. Maika Pollack, of Brooklyn’s Southfirst gallery, approached Shore to invite him to “Mystic River,” its current group show, organized around the feeling evoked by Shore’s 1979 photograph Merced River and based in part on an interview conducted with Shore by exhibition curator (and participating artist) Noah Sheldon.

Left: Author Francine du Plessix Gray. Right: Southfirst Gallery owner Maika Pollack.

Already late for a panel on “memoir” at SoHo’s Housing Works Bookstore, I hailed a cab downtown and slipped inside, where a modest assortment of book-club types listened intently to the discussion between best-selling authors Sean Wilsey (Oh the Glory of It All) and Francine du Plessix Gray (Them: A Memoir of Parents). Experts on hysterical mothering (Wilsey locates his mother somewhere between Norma Desmond and Joan Crawford), the panelists deftly fielded such questions as “What was the worst thing your parents ever did to you?” The audience thrilled to Gray’s proclamations, such as her top-down observation that, with the “example set by a government that is so steeped in lies,” we will also have “that Harvard girl who plagiarized a novel.” Interestingly, both Gray and Wilsey have family ties to the art world. Gray’s father, Alexander Liberman, was a painter in addition to being the legendary art director of Condé Nast, and her mother was an avant-garde hat designer; Wilsey’s stepmother, in what he described as her “crowning achievement,” recently raised money for the construction of the new de Young Museum in San Francisco. One of the first large-scale projects by architects Herzog and de Meuron in the United States, the museum has a very personal resonance for Wilsey. “One of the first pieces I ever wrote, in 1999, was about the two architects who built the museum,” Wilsey recalled. Wilsey’s mom doesn’t seem to have read the article, or, if she did, it failed to give her a deep appreciation for cutting-edge architecture. “She doesn’t know anything about culture,” he explained. “She wanted to have the museum’s marble floor ripped out because it wasn’t conducive to wearing Manolo Blahnik heels.”

Michael Wang

Road to Ruin

New York

Left: Fernando the Clown at Richard Ruin's performance at The Kitchen. Right: Artists Betony Vernon and Jeff Burton. (Photo: David Velasco)

Hoping for one last evening of Chelsea revelry before the area emptied out for the holiday, I cobbled together an idiosyncratic Thursday-night itinerary consisting of openings, a benefit, and a performance. After drifting around half a dozen receptions, my companions and I ended up at Casey Kaplan Gallery for a show of new work by Jeff Burton, including photographs in which his usual “Where’s Waldo?” approach to bare skin is broadened to include rephotographed ’70s porn-shoot transparencies overlaid with hand-drawn crop marks and disturbingly intimate portraits of iconic filmmaker and Hollywood Babylon writer Kenneth Anger.

Friends of the artist, including the occasional six-foot-tall glamazon in a pleather miniskirt, comprised most of the crowd; Neville Wakefield and the ubiquitous Klaus Biesenbach were also on hand. When I asked Burton about what led to Anger’s patched-up bloody nose, he responded, “I was told he was gay-bashed. He asked me to document his attack. I don’t know if he was telling the truth; it may have just been a performance.” On our way out the door, a friend offered, less charitably, “Maybe his plastic surgeon botched him.”

Left: Artist Peter Coffin. Right: Artists and North Drive Press editors Sara Greenberger Rafferty and Matt Keegan. (Photos: David Velasco)

We were headed to White Columns, where North Drive Press, the annual print-and-multiple publication produced by artists Matt Keegan and Sara Greenberger Rafferty, who met at Columbia’s MFA program, was hosting a small benefit party. The photographs comprising Harrell Fletcher’s exhibition had been temporarily displaced by taped-up examples of the eclectic contents of issue three, available next month. Four exquisite-corpse drawings, each created by four artists and printed in editions of twenty-five, were also on view. It’s NDP week in New York: The duo emceed a “live version” of the publication at The Kitchen on Tuesday that included video screenings, what Greenberger Rafferty described as her “Andy Kaufman-like” presentation of Carol Bove’s sound piece Future of Ecstasy, and a live improv set by band/artist Hurray.

I was myself headed to The Kitchen, for the US debut of Richard Ruin, German artist Martin Eder’s alter ego, and his band, Les Demoniaques. My last exposure to Eder, whose current solo show at Marianne Boesky Gallery includes an artwork that has my vote for best title of the year—Masturbating Woman Surrounded by Bad Towels, 2006—was on a small monitor at Fredericks Freiser Gallery, where he was depicted naked, in a bathtub, vomiting copious amounts of blood. Sure enough, one in-the-know audience member cautioned a woman taking a front-row seat that she might wish to move, as if Ruin were about to treat us to a gory version of a Gallagher performance. Pair that with The Kitchen’s “Adults Only” press-release warning; Boesky’s admission that, while she had heard Ruin’s music, she didn’t know what to expect of the performance; and her gallery director Adrian Turner’s ability to rattle off the daily rate for twins, topless women, and—of course—an old man hired to chase the topless women, and my interest was piqued.

Left: MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach. Right: Curator Neville Wakefield. (Photos: David Velasco)

The audience for the show, which was cosponsored by the Art Production Fund, was largely the collector faithful, though I did spot Clarissa Dalrymple and a few younger artists. Ruin walked onto the stage, which was decorated like a high-school prom with silver foil and black helium balloons, in a sharkskin suit; his five bandmates were equally slick. They launched immediately into their set of vampy rock songs, distinguished by Ruin’s torrents of lyrical clichés: Every song seemed to include “drifting stars” and a “baby” who said things that were “stuck in [his] mind.” These were accompanied by a wall-size projection of Eder’s short video clips (his trademark soft-focus softcore) and interspersed with brief live vignettes involving Turner’s aforementioned cast of characters and Fernando the Clown, all of which added up to what artist Sue de Beer approvingly called an “elaborate seduction.” Indeed, the rousing ovation that greeted him—the audience members tossed onstage the calla lilies that had been laid out on their seats—proved that Ruin’s crooned come-on had worked its charm.

Brian Sholis

Left: Richard Ruin et Les Demoniaques. Right: Jeff Burton's Untitled #206 (Kenneth Anger Eyes), 2006.

House Red

New York

Left: Collectors Norman Dubrow and Alvin Hall and Salon 94 owner Jeanne Greenberg Rohaytn. Right: Artist Wangechi Mutu. (All photos: David Velasco)

Sunday was one of those oddly changeable New York spring days, and the gentle rain that was falling as I left my apartment downtown had given way to pleasant sun by the time I reached Salon 94, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and Nicolas Rohatyn’s chichi domestic project space on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Shoving open the townhouse’s weighty iron-and-glass front door, I was greeted by the sound of a quartet—a cellist, a violinist, and two drummers—entertaining guests in the lobby with an enjoyably meandering improvisation. After lingering for a few minutes with a glass of wine in hand, I pressed on into the main room to survey a collaborative installation by artist Wangechi Mutu and London-based architect David Adjaye.

The drink was more than usually appropriate, as Exhuming Gluttony: A Lover’s Requiem is a “beastly feast” in which an ovoid slab of pale wood is continually anointed by red wine that drips from an arrangement of dark bottles suspended above it. Surrounded by dark grey wood-paneled walls that appear to have been peppered with bullets, and to which strips of packing tape and bundles of fur have been haphazardly affixed, the heavy table-like form assumes a romantic, Beuysian aura. Veiling the curved sweep of window that overlooks the garden was a translucent curtain printed with a colorful but ambiguous image, the visual juxtapositions combining with the intensifying aroma of wine-soaked wood clearly angling for an intoxicating mix. Nairobi-born Mutu, currently also showing at Sikkema, Jenkins & Co., was clearly pleased to have made the connection with Adjaye, who worked with Olafur Eliasson in Venice last year and is currently designing the new contemporary art museum for the city of Denver. According to Greenberg Rohatyn, “Wangechi asked David to help her house some ideas she was working on, and they grew into Exhuming Gluttony. They worked together designing the space, brainstorming materials, and on the final realization of the idea.”

Left: Salon 94 gallery director Fabienne Stephan, artist Derrick Adams, and curator Bob Nickas. Right: Architect David Adjaye.

By 5 PM, the opening’s midway point, the venue had reached capacity. A camera crew from German television station ZDF made free movement around the slab, from which wine was now spilling onto the floor and forming small but potentially hazardous puddles, something of a challenge. New York Times critic Roberta Smith and the Village Voice’s Jerry Saltz made an entrance and, after exchanging a few words with Greenberg Rohatyn, melted away again. Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden held court at one end of the room; MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach commanded the other. Rumors of a Vogue scribe in the house were sending ripples of interest through the style-conscious crowd. Seeking a moment’s respite, I maneuvered down a long ramp into the garden, where a posse of small children was making its own scene, buzzing about among the potted plants.

Reentering for another round as the music started up again—the two drummers performing unaccompanied this time—I spotted art-world impresario Yvone Force Villareal with husband, artist Leo Villareal, artists Marilyn Minter and Deborah Grant, and curators Bob Nickas and Jeffrey Uslip, all looking suitably wary of the sometimes very slightly swaying and now thoroughly marinated object around which they all edged. But Mutu and Adjaye, both continually surrounded by friends and admirers, diligently attended to by a purple-swathed Greenberg Rohatyn, and clearly enjoying the occasion, appeared relaxed throughout. Despite the project’s portentous title and the work’s intimations of decadent overkill, its introduction to the world at large proved a blessedly civilized affair.

Michael Wilson

Left: Artist Muna El Fituri with Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden. Right: Artist Deborah Grant.

Dinner and a Show


Left: Martin Creed. Right: Beatrice Trussardi, president of the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, with friend and Gaia Trussardi. (All photos: Marco De Scalzi)

Tuesday evening in Milan was so hot that there were more people out on the terrace overlooking the Piazza del Duomo than inside the Palazzo dell’Arengario. The building, which is in the pure Fascist style, currently houses a new exhibition by Martin Creed, organized by the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi. Here, the British artist makes effective use of an entrance and a colonnaded corridor, employing the former as a backdrop for a striking video projection of a girl vomiting red liquid, and transforming the latter into a theatrical space by playing with the lights. Inside a third room, the source of a noise that could be heard as far away as the piazza was revealed to be the mechanically opening and closing lid of a white piano.

The foundation, named for the fashion designer who died seven years ago, is run by his daughter Beatrice. Having no permanent exhibition space in Milan, it occasionally occupies public spaces with the agreement of the city. Recent interventions were presented at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, for example, and in the atrium of the city’s main railroad station. It was fitting, then, that among the first people to appear at the opening was Stefano Zecchi, cultural commissioner of the right-wing City Council and a professor of aesthetics at the local state university, even though he is notoriously unsympathetic toward contemporary art. But—Zecchi aside, perhaps—the English artist’s deadpan humor is widely appreciated in Italy, and Massimiliano Gioni, the foundation’s artistic director, thought of him immediately upon discovering the building’s availability. Creed has a further Italian connection in the form of a house in Alicudi, an island off the Sicilian coast, which was the setting for a photographic project by his ex-girlfriend Paola Pivi.

Left: Gallerists Michele Maccarone, Francesca Minini, and Francesca Kaufmann. Right: Artist Patrick Tuttofuoco and Fondazione Nicola Trussardi Artistic Director Massimiliano Gioni.

At the opening, Creed was feted by a youthful crowd, many of whom were members of Milan’s burgeoning student population. It was appropriate, then, that he gave a lecture at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera the next day. In addition to the students, a few well-known figures attended, including directors of museums both far (Fabio Cavallucci, from the Galleria Civica in Trento) and near (Milan-based Giacinto di Pietrantonio, from the Galleria d’arte moderna e contemporanea in Bergamo), critics and curators such as Francesca Pasini and Marco Meneguzzo, and gallery owners Claudio Guenzani and Giò Marconi, as well as others from the Lambrate district, Milan’s new art neighborhood. The city has few art events with an international profile—important artists have shows in private galleries, but rarely in public spaces—so it was heartening to see some non-Milanese dealers and other artists who had found success abroad, including Luca Vitone, Simone Berti, Francesco Bernardi, and Diego Perrone (invited by Gioni to exhibit in the current Berlin Biennale).

After a few hours of idling on the terrace, the group headed to dinner at the foundation’s quarters next to Teatro alla Scala, a buffet that, while delicious, was tiring to those expecting a sit-down affair. Many were impatient for Creed’s concert, slated for 9:30 PM. But it was not until over an hour later that the band—Creed and two young women—ventured onstage. Those who held out witnessed a rock set that was at once simple and energetic and blessed with an endearing, ironic wit, a precise corollary to Creed’s work and a fitting end to the evening.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Left: Guggenheim Senior Curator Germano Celant with Martin Creed. Right: Hauser & Wirth gallery director Gregor Muir with Michele Maccarone.

Reality Bites

New York

Left: The Museum of the Moving Image audience. Right: Impresario Jeffrey Deitch. (Photos: Brian Palmer)

“When I first started out in the art world in the ’70s, the whole idea of a self-respecting artist waiting in line to be in a TV show would have been ridiculous,” asserts Jeffrey Deitch in the opening minutes of the first episode of Artstar, Deitch Projects and VOOM HD Networks’ reality television series set in the New York art world. Previewing at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, the hour-long episode follows the selection of eight would-be luminaries from a motley crew of over 400 hopefuls who showed up at Deitch’s Wooster Street Gallery last winter for an open call. The show’s editors seized, predictably, on the oddest of the oddballs (a middle-age automatic painter producing works in seizured fits while standing in line, a cringe-inducing nerdy freestyle rapper, a giant talking foam head straight out of the Bread and Puppet Theater), set to a soundtrack of judge David Rimanelli’s zingers and infused with a healthy dose of eye rolls, smirks, and nonplussed expressions from Deitch, producer James Fuentes, and other invited adjudicators Debra Singer of the Kitchen, Carlo McCormick of Paper magazine, and performance-art historian and curator RoseLee Goldberg. Watching the final cut for the first time, the show’s artists lined up together in the front row, squirming alternately in pain and pleasure at their shared public debut.

The Museum’s Deputy Director, one of those overzealous MCs whose needlessly exhaustive summaries and self-aggrandizing remarks turn Q & As into one-man shows, dominated the post-screening discussion. The participating artists mostly resisted the impulse to dish the “dirt.” “This is not Survivor,” warned sculptor Sy Colen. “There were no enemies developed in the process. We all learned from each other.” (Witnessing Colen’s education first-hand, I overheard painter and former club kid Christian Dietkis explaining the rave-culture significance of pacifiers to the sixty-eight-year-old sculptor.) “I felt like I got the experience of my son who went to RISD,” Colen mused. “He got four years; I got four weeks.” Indeed, the series’ plot devices sound more “art school” than “art star”: an “art parade,” Coney-Island-sign-painting lessons, and, apparently, a whole lot of dressing up.

Left: Artstar participant Bec Stupak with artist Malcolm Stuart. (Photo: Michael Wang) Right: Artstar participant Anney “Fresh” McKilligan. (Photo: Brian Palmer)

Dread-headed video artist Bec Stupak described her interest in hair and makeup (“in ugliness”) and mentioned that several of the artists involved experimented with “personas.” “It was totally self-aware,” remarked Dietkus. Working out of a gutted space in the AT&T building downtown on Lispenard Street, the artists mostly chose to work on month-long projects over the course of filming, though Dietkus dismissed the studio as “too dusty,” which put a moratorium on work during filming. Skeptical of Artstar’s collaborative angle, Dietkus also alluded to a “premeditated” show “winner.” (The show struggles with the idea of competition, eschewing what producer Abby Terkhule calls “the elimination route” while banking on the adrenaline of the “competitive New York art scene.”) The solo show at Deitch Projects (always a possibility within Artstar’s premise) went to Stupak, with whom the gallery had a prior relationship through her work with Assume Vivid Astro Focus. Since the show, her art world connections have grown exponentially.

With Artstar accessible only to HD satellite owners and, throughout the summer, visitors to the museum, there aren’t going to be a whole lot of home viewers in the city, but the show will be accessible to a smattering of dish owners (on Gallery HD) across the country. After this rather limited release, Deitch disclosed, the show will likely be pushed to broadband networks, and they’re already looking into podcasting. “With what we’re doing on the inside of the New York art world, it’s a lively day if one hundred people come into the gallery. But with a big international audience, our website can get 100,000 hits.” Deitch has already attracted interest from an Asian television company, where they might launch a version of Artstar “in collaboration with a gallery there.” Hanging out amidst the museum’s collections of zombie masks and werewolf skins at the post-screening reception, Stupak and partner Malcolm Stuart (who described himself as “the boyfriend” in a snarky acknowledgement of his newfound television role) seemed giddy with Artstar’s possibilities. “If it can be TV, let it be TV,” Stuart entreated. “The phobia of being a sellout has become passé.”

Michael Wang

Left: Artstar participant Christian Dietkus. (Photo: Michael Wang) Right: Artstar participant Abigail DeVille. (Photo: Brian Palmer)