Left: Detail view of Andy Warhol's photobooth strip Untitled (Holly Solomon), 1963-64 (Photo: Bonhams). Right: Writer and professor Ann Reynolds stands before Janice Provisor's Roselawn, 1980.
What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? The Holly Solomon Estate auction on Sunday afternoon at Bonhams in Los Angeles was not your usual sale. In conventional terms it was something of a bust, attracting only a tiny crowd of bargain hunters and a few family friends such as Christine Nichols and Paul Masursky. A lack of current market darlings meant that many lots sold below estimate and a fair sprinkling were bought in.
Yet, with its startling variety of incredibly low-selling items, the Solomon sale functioned as an alternative art fair, a marketplace of the out-of-fashion, and a rigorous art-historical critique. The event was only a partial clearinghouse for the estate, including just a couple of obligatory Warhols, two solid Gordon Matta-Clarks, a nice Richard Tuttle, a great Charles Garabedian, and a cornucopia of about 250 other items that revealed the twists and turns of one of the most fertile and quirky minds of our era.
First as a collector and after 1975 in her Soho and uptown galleries, Solomon embraced art of nearly every persuasion, from Conceptualism to Pattern & Decoration, chunky abstraction to slick cibachrome photography. She was instrumental in jumpstarting the careers of Matta-Clark, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sigmar Polke, Judy Pfaff, William Wegman, and the entire P&D movement. An inveterate shopper, she was that rare dealer who bought both artists she showed and others whom she happened to like.
In today's hyped marketplace, Solomon's pluralistic pursuit of the new looks prescientonly the names of the artists have changed. The lethargic pace of the sale gave plenty of time for deep-dish thinkingwhat happened to some of these artists and who decided that their works and ideas were no longer relevant? This work seems more interesting than much of what one sees today in Chelsea or Culver City. What does that tell us about the current crop of tyro-geniuses?
Left: Frank Hettig of Bonhams talks with gallerist Marc Selwyn about works by Gordon Matta-Clark. Right: Bonhams's Cecilia Dan and museum director Victoria Rowe look on at Robert Zakanitch's Cotton Seed, 1975.
Fifteen paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Nicholas Africano looked totally fresh. These included sketches of neo-romantic nymphs and ephebes that seemed worthy of Christian Bérard. A 1980 tableau of the death scene from The Girl of the Golden West featured a killer epitaph in small handwritten letters: “Non morire, Johnson.” This kind of lyrical oomph was the ballast of Holly's sensibility, evident in the kooky brilliance of Kim MacConnel, Robert Kushner, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, and Rob Wynne, all of whose early works here seemed shockingly direct and alive.
While the auction was being filmed for cable television's Fine Living network, we played a game: “What’s Most Outré?” My friend, art historian Ann Reynolds, chose Joe Zucker's scary six-foot Octoport and humongous nutty diptych Kung Fu Tiger vs Crane, both from 1984. I picked the three big, iconic mid-'80s oils by Scott Kilgour and two early, murky abstractions by Lydia Dona. Outré-in-a-good-way winners were the clunky cookie-dough semi-abstractions by Janis Provisor and a group of five lusciously painted landscapes by Lynton Wells. The sale's sleeper, Wells's expert paint handling and deft use of photography and relief showed that he is a major artist missing-in-action.
The more time I spent with the collection, the more dangerously revisionist I got. Currently sidelined players like Tina Girouard and Izhar Patkin looked ready for primetime. Questions arose: Are Susan Hall's drawings from 1969 any less interesting than Amy Cutler's or Robyn O'Neil's from 2005? Why is Donna Dennis’s use of architecture-as-sculpture in the 1970s never referenced in the context of similar efforts today by Jorge Pardo or Rirkrit Tiravanija? Are the cartoonish paintings of Rodney Alan Greenblat and Milan Kunc any less charmingly dopey than those of Takeshi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara? What does Africano lack that Hernan Bas and Elizabeth Peyton have?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie? For today's youth-cult art market, it ain't what you got, it's the age that you do it. When today's derivative hotshots turn forty, they will go the way of last season's Hollywood starlets and boy toys. And after the dust settles, maybe some in the art world will look again at the lasting achievements of Solomon’s artists. Twenty or so years ago, she gave these artists a shot and now her eclectic taste has been disseminated in 250 or so directions. Even if no one broke a price record, the fact that these works have found new homes is a good thing. She believed in love, Alfie.
“Here's the thing to remember: Don't make fun of me, make fun of Mary,” Jeffrey Deitch quipped upon my arrival at the opening reception of David Salle's new show at Mary Boone's Chelsea space. Deitch, who had coproduced the exhibition and was working the crowd, whisked me off to meet Salle himselfuntil we lost one another in the crush. I couldn't even see Boone to make fun of her, though I did spot Ron Warren, her gallery director, being passed a wristwatch in the back office by the smart-looking couple on the other side of his oversize desk. He examined it tenderly, passing it from one hand to the other, and my eyes popped at the thought that the woman had put her Rolex in hock for a stake in the new work. (Warren disabused me of this notion later.)
But this was Salle at Boone, and the double-breasted suits were running the room as they have for twenty years, so what was I to think? As it turned out, the jewelry “deal” was the evening’s only conspicuous trading-floor moment; indeed, save for a cab ride downtown with Stella Schnabel (Julian’s daughter), who assured me in a blazing five-minute tirade that “everything is shit” (re: every artist I could name apart from Yves Klein) and “people are very confused” (re: the Salle opening), insouciance and reserve outweighed '80s-style bluster. Schnabel senior didn’t even bother with dinner, opting for mischief with Tracey Emin at Lehmann Maupin instead.
Said Salle dinner was at La Esquina, for a minute late last month New York's chicest subterranean boîte. Accessed through a taqueria on Lafayette Street, the entrance is marked by an “Employees Only” sign. “There are four sections: a Jeffrey section, a Mary section, a David section, and, um, a fourth section,” Deitch told me. “I can’t remember which section you’re in.” I knew right off I was in the kids' section because all the other tables were smaller, more softly lit, and had people like Thaddaeus Ropac at them. My bunch was scrappyas it turns out, there wasn't a bad seat in the houseand included sculptors Gedi Sibony and Robert Lazzarini, he of the distorted telephone booth, former White Columns helmswoman Lauren Ross, painter Lisa Yuskavage, various chums of Salle's, bold-faced and otherwise, and a pair of collectors who were quivering in anticipation of a Barnaby Furnas painting at auction this week.
Sibony, my immediate partner, ruminated with me for a while on the merit (or lack thereof) of Salle's canvases: on the one hand, their rudimentary Photoshop swirls and dry, programmatic psychedelia; on the other, their vastly enhanced paint handling and newly saturated palette. Struggling for closure, Sibony urged me to remember that the show's central vortex motif was “just an asshole, you know, a giant anus.”
Mary Schwab, Salle's assistant of eight years, had a sweeter, if inconclusive, line on the work: “I've been living with them every day; I've been there since their conception.” She did, however, venture that the paintings were “happy,” responding to a sincere enquiry after her boss, who looked drawn and uptight all evening. I didn’t help matters any by directing a number of deliberately ambivalent questions his way. “What’s your angle?” Salle demanded at one point. I wouldn't say. He gestured to his pal Adam Green, of the New Yorker, advising me to “talk to this guy, he has very interesting things to say.” After telling me that he wasn’t an expert on art, then explaining that his colleague, the peerless Peter Schjeldahl, was “good with the old stuff,” Green launched a defense of his friend’s work. “I don’t see why everyone has to give him a hard time. Why does he have to answer for everything?”
I caught up with Deitch again as the invited guests hailed cabs and handsome interlopers began to crowd the bar. He was chatting in a corner with the ingénue Tiffany Limos and Artforum editors Tim Griffin and Scott Rothkopf, and happily not giving a shit about anything, exactly the mindset I'd found him in several hours before. Here had been a generous, well-done bash, flashy but free from hysteria. But where was Mary Boone? She kept a low profile, and I still hadn't seen her by party's end.
Left: Artist Piero Golia's twenty-four-hour sleeping marathon. Right: Artist and curator Jordan Wolfson with Dennis Oppenheim.
My last stop was a block away at the Swiss Institute for “24-Hour Incidental,” a noon-to-noon presentation of ten performance pieces curated by video and installation artist Jordan Wolfson as part of Performa 05. There were perhaps twenty youths slumped against the wall when I arrived, just past midnight. I was drunk and a bit beat, and Wolfson, the Swiss Institute's associate curator Gabrielle Giattino, and outgoing artistic director Marc-Olivier Wahler (none of whom had left the premises for twelve hours) had a mad energy that impressed and exhausted me in equal measure. It wasn’t their fault. I scaled Yoko Ono's Yes Ladder, 1966, and almost got vertigo, then hopped on a stool to look through a peephole at Koo Jeong-A's makeshift construction in the gallery's storage area, an evolving diorama of bits and bobs of gallery effluvia. “Looks like Étant Donné,” I offered, the last shred of critical faculties giving way. There was a great intensity in the room, and I was sure then that I had been too promiscuous with my energies at the Salle dinner. It was nearing 3AM, and they had nine more hours to go.
On Wednesday night, as part of a weeklong series of talks, the art world’s po-mo poster boy, Jean Baudrillard, promoted his latest text, The Conspiracy of Art, at the swank new digs of Jack Tilton Gallery, a former residence of Franklin Roosevelt. In the second-floor ballroom where FDR married Eleanor, Sylvére Lotringer, founder of Semiotext(e) and the major importer of French theory in the '80s, presented Baudrillard as “pretty much the rock star of French philosophy” with “a New Deal for art.”
I was charmed to see the decent turnout. Baudrillard's ideas were in vogue about twenty years ago, when art came to consciousness of itself as a commodity. His writing about “the precession of simulacra” broke new ground in art blather. I wondered if he was the simulacrum of thought. The electric guitar screeches provided by No Wave veteran Arto Lindsay before and after the discussion were quaintly confrontational.
The sight of the Euro-arty-looking crowd induced a grad school flashback: The small “ballroom” was crammed with the same people who were in my po-mo theory seminarbut twenty years later! Plus art dealers. On the walls, a collegiate vibe emanated from poster-size photos, tacked up with pushpins: pictures of an open book, with pen and café crème; two Godard-ish students conversing on a sidewalk; a topless self-portrait. Had some wag installed a parody of the clichéd French intellectual and his accoutrements? The photographer was Baudrillard himself. “If art ceases to matter as art, why shouldn't Baudrillard make art too?” asked Lotringer, indicating his approval. “He's joined a group whose reason to exist he denies.”
“Art is everywhere but in art,” Baudrillard declared. “Art is no longer where it thinks it is.“ The Conspiracy of Art concerns how art has been infected by ”the narrow proximity between artist and consumer,“ by the “obscenity of interactivity.” “There is no more ‘formal’ difference between art and reality,” and this is a problem. “Art has now collapsed into the aestheticized banality of everything else . . . a ‘pornography of transparency’ that we can only experience with irony and indifference. It claims to be null: ‘I am null! I am null!’ But it is truly null!” he smiles triumphantly. “Striving for emptiness when it is already empty.” The problem, said the philosopher, is the fake nothings: “The snobs of nullity, the counterfeiters, must not be allowed free reign. The poetic operation is to make nothingness arise from signs.” Amen, brother. But at the end of the evening, which left most of the audience scratching their heads as some lined up to have their books signed, it wasn’t clear whether the “nothingness” achieved here was real, fake, simulacrum, or some combination of the above.
As this self-described “pessimist” spoke, I thought of über-modernist Michael Fried, who wrote “Art and Objecthood” in 1967 to defend art (that is, modernist art, à la Greenberg) against “objects”the mere stuff invading the art world at the time (in the form of Minimalism, installation, performance, etc.). Art isn't stuff, Fried argued; it's not just a bunch of objects that interact with the viewer. At the cusp of postmodernism, Fried saw what was happening but was famously wrong about the future of art. Weirdly enough, Baudrillard has arrived at a similar place almost forty years later. Like Fried, who defended art's autonomy, Baudrillard kvetched that art is “infected with the hyperreality that aestheticizes everything” and deprived of its specialness. He called for an art lifted and separated from “value,” from obscene “proximity” to the viewer, from the interactivity where "you (the viewer) are the artist.
“Art is inexchangeable,” Lotringer chimed in helpfully. “It cannot be reduced to value . . . we need a New Deal where things will not be exchangeable.”
I was glad to get a reality check afterward. New York Times writer Deborah Solomon marveled at how “all those guys, Fried, Arthur Danto, Hilton Kramer, start to sound alike about the 'end of Art.'” Don't these people have the hindsight to consider that maybe it's their point of view that's history, and that art will be just fine? “It's all over for them in the '60s,” she said. “They can't see anything after Brice Marden.”
How uncanny that Baudrillard's discourse lubricated big-ticket sales for art that made infinite jest about its own inflated “value” all the way to the bank. He was (mis)taken as the cheerleader for simulacra. His discourse was used to endorse the confusion between art and commodity by branding high-end product with fancy schmancy postmodern theory. His call now for art to subvert “the banality of hyperreality” puzzled the room that evening, but he's always been a Situationistvery anti-“society of the spectacle”an intellectual black hole aspiring to implode the system from within. They would have known that if they had actually read him. But few people did. His discourse was a fetish; “Baudrillard,” a brand name. That’s what people came to see tonight, and that's what they got. Most couldn't follow what the heck he was sayingand not for lack of trying. Some blamed themselves for it. Hes the antifetish fetish, but his brand identity is “difficult,” so . . . whatever!
If one only sees art through its exchange value, Baudrillard's remarks have a grain of truth. (We've all seen how collectors, dealers, and schmoozy artists can reduce art to mere “value.”) Indeed, the obscene “lack of distance” here seems to be between Baudrillard and capital, the “collapse” between his point of view and the market's. As Nietzsche says, if you gaze long enough into the abyss, you become it.
On the way out, there was a table stacked with Baudrillard books for sale, and Hatred of Capitalism: A Semiotext(e) Reader, for $17.
Left: Jesper Just and RoseLee Goldberg. Right: Norwegian actor Baard Owe among digital projections of the Finnish Screaming Men's Choir. (All photos: Paula Court)
Curator and critic RoseLee Goldberg and her husband, furniture designer Dakota Jacksonwho, along with Liz-n-Val, must be one of the New York art world’s most instantly recognizable coupleswere front and center at the Thursday night launch of Performa 05, a startup performance art biennial (the first of its kind) that Goldberg conceived and directed. The event was hosted by fashion designer Donna Karan at the Stephan Weiss Studio (named for her late husband, who made his sculptures there) in Manhattan's West Village, and was centered on a new multimedia presentation by young Danish artist Jesper Just.
Weaving through a cluster of PR folk at the door and into the spacious first-floor room, my companion and I immediately spotted the critic Jerry Saltz deep in conversation with Just's New York gallerist, the beautiful (according to New York magazine's summer poll at least) Perry Rubenstein, while around them flitted Performa board member Stephanie French, Jeannie Greenberg Rohatyn, curator Chrissie Iles, and artist Christian Marclay. Before any discussion of Just's imminent True Love Is Yet to Come, Saltz had a tip for us: based on her contribution to “Greater New York 2005,” the Village Voice scribe suggested making time on Monday, November 14 for Tamy Ben-Tor's performance Exotica, the Rat and the Liberal.
We took dutiful note: The three-week festival is spread across more than twenty venues and features the work of over ninety artists, so any advance guidance should prove invaluable. Seating ourselves in front of a heavily curtained stage, we also heard from Rubenstein about Just's visa problems, with his last-minute arrival in New York (five o'clock Wednesday afternoon) only secured with the assistance of Washington DC-based collector and lobbyist Tony Podesta. A little after seven o'clock, the lights went down and the curtain drew back to reveal distinguished Norwegian film and television actor Baard Owe, who glanced around briefly before launching into Doris and Fred Fisher’s oldie “Whispering Grass.”
Left: Goldberg, curator Chrissie Iles, and artists Shirin Neshat and Cindy Sherman. Right: Goldberg, Owe, and Donna Karan.
Fans of Just's video work will have had no trouble reconciling this and what followed with his previous musical explorations of masculinity and sentiment, suffused as it was in noir-ish atmosphere and Lynchian histrionics. But Just took things several steps further here, blending Owe's impassioned live renditions (which also included “Unchained Melody,” “Bless You for Being an Angel,” “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” and “Cry Me a River”) with some extraordinary layered projections that appeared almost holographic in their uncanny verisimilitude. Owe interacted with a variety of virtual settings and costarsincluding, most memorably, white-suited members of the Finnish Screaming Men's Choirand his total immersion in the artist's wistful universe earned him and his director an enthusiastic reception.
Addressing the audience immediately afterwards, Goldberg described a blushing Just as “a magician” who had “transformed what could be expected from twenty-first century performance.” Thanking some of the numerous friends and benefactors who had facilitated both his participation and the biennial as a whole, she finally introduced a verklempt Karan. The black-clad magnate instructed us, tearfully, that her husband’s former studio is “a very sacred space” and waxed emotional about True Love Is Yet to Come: “It's about moving forward and looking to the future . . . It's about love. The answer is love! I love you all!” And, drifting upstairs to explore the expansive living room and exquisitely designed rooftop garden (“I said to Stephen 'I have to be in the country,'” explained Karan, “so he said 'Then I'll build you a park'”), and taking in another round of emotional speeches from the key players along with our wine and nibbles, we were beginning to feel it.
As New York City's soul is sucked away by the tripartite hellmouth of gentrification, chain stores, and Starbucks, the West Village Halloween parade is an increasingly precious outlet for the freakiness of yore. Unlike the annual Gay Pride march, which has jumped the shark into corporate-sponsored vanilla-ness, the best part of the Halloween parade is that amateur creatures of the night far outnumber the pros. And, with the exception of the sublimely expressive skeleton puppets that kicked off Monday night’s spookfest, the regular devils and “cereal killers” (“backstabbed” with single-portion Cheerios boxes) are by far the most interesting. It was an evening of grassroots performance art at its best.
In a nod to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the skeleton puppets, hoisted far overhead, and a New Orleans jazz band lent a raucous, ramshackle Jazz Funeral ambiance to the Day of the Dead festivities. Squeezed by the good-humored crowd on Sixth Avenue in Soho, I was challenged, as always, by my petiteness. But it was a relief to just be myself, in my witch hat. At the first glimpse of the looming skeletons, a wave of hands wielding digital cameras shot up like some sort of undead salute: “Heil Skeletons!” In their devil horns and zombie masks, the audience was a hilarious microcosm of New York: freaks watching freaks, and snapping away.
One assumes one's fellow New Yorkers harbor rich fantasy lives beneath their boring exteriors and the parade offers a hotline into the psyches of all those people with whom you try not to make eye contact in the subway. This year was strikingly light on the celeb alter egos: I spotted a few Elvises, three Marilyns and Ali Gs, one Richard Simmons, and one dogged Austin Powers. There were also far fewer “Vacationer-in-Chiefs” than expected: one Devil/Bush affably waved to the crowd, and political couple Dubya and Arnold backslapped their way up Sixth surrounded by Fred Flintstones, Batmen, “Supremes for Hire” (the Diana Ross variety), adult “babies,” and a naked burly guy cavorting in a giant hollowed-out pumpkin “mini.” A Grim Reaper, endorsing “Ross Perot: Now There’s a Choice,” was strikingly haunting. Christianity was represented by: a friar cradling a live duck (for blocks!?), two amorous priests, and nuns galore (some with giant hooters, some plain). There was an observant “Jew” with payos (sidelocks) and yarmulke and a staff shirt from B&H photo (the super camera store run by super-Jews).
This backseat psychologist was intrigued to see the nonhumans that people identified with; one gentleman in particular caught my eye with an Oldenburgesque soft toilet that protruded from his front, accessorized by a roll of toilet paper. I kept imagining him telling his shrink: “I’m gonna be a toilet this year!” A male member waddled along in a cleverly made inflatable penis getup. “He’s touching himself!” shrieked an appreciative onlooker. I didn’t spot any walking vaginas, but two middle-age gals were “Just 2 Old Bags” bedecked in their personal shopping bag collections. And there’s always the wild and crazy guy with the cardboard box around his head labeled: “Mammograms: Place Boobs Here.”
The Artforum reader will be pleased to know that some parade-goers were inspired by art: five groups dressed up as Christo's “Gates,” plus one loner who was a single “gate.” Several people “framed” their heads as masterpieces: a Mona Lisa, who kept pausing to strike her enigmatic pose for the people at the curb; Vincent Van Gogh, gesturing at his bloody ear; a woman with her real head inserted into a “family” portrait; Frida Kahlo and her unibrow. A conceptual type in black sported a sign that read, simply, “Costume.” A Joseph Kosuth fan? Some getups were just inscrutable, like the giant dude in chaps with his head veiled in thick orange tulle: “What’s that?” some ghoul next to me wondered. “I don’t know, but his butt’s out.”
Left: Paul Auster, Jon Kessler, and Gina Gershon. Right: P.S. 1's Tony Guerrero and artist Ena Swansea. (Photos: Don Pollard)
The opening festivities for P.S. 1's batch of fall shows felt like a fancy version of their summer “Warm Up” series, with crowds hanging out on the courtyard steps, clutching beers in plastic cups, and even shelling out a five-dollar entry charge. Any attempt to navigate the former elementary school’s labyrinthine interior required a map to plot where each show or artist had set up camp. Photographer Stephen Shore, stationed in the café, busily signed copies of American Surfaces, his new monograph of road-trip shots from 1972 and '73; Dutch shutterbug Ari Marcopoulos and his wife presided over a table of fair-skinned, long-limbed Euro-dudes just outside (presumably “extreme” athletes he's currently photographing); while Coco Fusco arrived with her baby, whose Halloween ruffles and polka-dots lured a swarm of cooing admirers. Curatorial Advisor Bob Nickas demurely refused to pose for a picture, proffering: “There are so many beautiful people here, you should be photographing them.” Sure enough, I soon encountered curator and Director of Exhibition Design Tony Guerrero and painter Ena Swansea“the most beautiful couple in New York,” as Guerrero himself boastedboth of them grinning and kissing for the camera.
Back inside there was lots of photography to be taken in, with a room dedicated to Peter Hujar's black-and-white prints balancing the snapshot-like colors of Shore and Marcopoulos. After the painting-and-sculpture heavy “Greater New York 2005,” the last exhibition on view, the concentrated emphasis on a different medium is refreshing. Perusing the galleries, I heard lots of French and German, (shuddering a little when a woman gasped “Sehr schoen!” in front of Hujar's Boy Spitting, Germantown, 1981, which depicts a modern Hitlerjunge Quex sans shirt. (I can only imagine her reaction to Marcopoulos's boy-studded show.) Divas of all stripes were also well-represented, from the exhibition “Woman of Many Faces: Isabelle Huppert” to Hujar's poignant study of Gary Indiana wrapped in an Egyptian scarf to the real-life appearances of Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters and, at the end of the evening, Madame Huppert herself (the auburn-haired actress's much anticipated arrival in the city spawned the irresistible New York Post headline “MoMA SEES RED”).
With plenty of time in hand before the after-party, I decided to catch the final night of a series of Derek Jarman screenings at Anthology Film Archives. Grabbing samosas at Pak Punjab before the show, I ran into about half the eventual attendees (all die-hard aficionados) and ended up joining underground video curator and Plantains/Maison du Chic producer Nick Hallett and boyfriend Brock Monroe (of Mighty Robot AV Squad) on the way into the theater. The early short films offered insight into Jarman's oeuvre, via interwoven images of cameras, death's heads, mirrors, a man ecstatically slicking back his hair, monochromatic, gel-tinted beaches, bursts of flame, neoclassical monuments, St. Sebastian (sometimes in shades), and actor/production designer Christopher Hobbs. I snuck out halfway through the second program of music videos having caught Jarman's haunting productions for the Smiths (replete with the director's signature Union Jacks) but before getting bogged down in the overwrought campiness of his work for the Pet Shop Boys.
I made it to nearby B-Bar just as the P.S. 1 event was getting into gear. Director Alanna Heiss and chief curator Klaus Biesenbach loitered near the DJ, while artist Mike Cloud lounged nearby and ubiquitous party guests As Four breezed through in matching furry parkas. (“More like As Three,” a woman whispered, referring to the dramatic and overly publicized excommunication of the design collective’s fourth member.) With midnight approaching and a mandatory pumpkin-carving session well underway at home, it was time to slip out lest I incur my own excommunication.