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 yearMasturbating Woman Surrounded by Bad Towels, 2006was 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, andof coursean old man hired to chase the topless women, and my interest was piqued.
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 himthe audience members tossed onstage the calla lilies that had been laid out on their seatsproved that Ruin’s crooned come-on had worked its charm.
Left: Richard Ruin et Les Demoniaques. Right: Jeff Burton's Untitled #206 (Kenneth Anger Eyes), 2006.
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 drummersentertaining 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 againthe two drummers performing unaccompanied this timeI 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.
Left: Artist Muna El Fituri with Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden. Right: Artist Deborah Grant.
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. ButZecchi aside, perhapsthe 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 profileimportant artists have shows in private galleries, but rarely in public spacesso 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 bandCreed and two young womenventured 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.
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.
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.”
Left: Artstar participant Christian Dietkus. (Photo: Michael Wang) Right: Artstar participant Abigail DeVille. (Photo: Brian Palmer)
Left: Artist and curator Xavier Veilhan with Karl Lagerfeld. Right: “La Force de l'Art” organizer Bernard Blistène.
“La Force de l’Art” is the somewhat pompous title of a mega-exhibition of new French art that opened at the Grand Palais on Tuesday after having weathered a weeks-long polemical storm in the media. Announced by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin during the FIAC art fair last October, the show was designed to be “a great exhibit dedicated to contemporary French art, one that will give new visibility to French creators.” The result amounts to a kind of Parisian Whitney Biennial, and has been tagged “Expo Villepin” by critics keen to denounce it as a media stunt aimed primarily at boosting the image of an unpopular government.
On a street closed to traffic for the evening of the opening we were greeted by police in riot gear. Possibly they were expecting to face protesters denouncing the idea of an “official art,” as was the case during the “Expo Pompidou,” held in the same venue in 1972. And don’t even try to play it like Pierre Bismuth, an exhibiting artist who had forgotten his invitation and was forced to argue his way in. But the ’70s are long gone, and nothing shocks anyone much anymore. Nevertheless, Tsuneko Taniuchi’s performance, in which she sang a kind of deranged Marseillaise, did cause a small stir: She was asked to stop after a while and complained to me that she was a victim of censorship.
Walking around beneath the giant, vaulted glass ceiling, my first impression was that the size of the interior made the works look like postage stamps. Then it hit me: I was in an art fair. Each curator (there are twelve in all) had built their booths independently, and some, like Bernard Marcadé’s panoramic tower, are strikingly ambitious. Artists were asked the same question all night: At whose booth are you showing? And just as at the fairs, where some are represented by multiple galleries, here some are presented by many curators. Bertrand Lavier seemed to be everywhere, which speaks well of his status on the French museum circuit, since for the most part the organizers were required to select works belonging to national collections.
But the real problem here lay in a curatorial unevenness that permitted the display of rows and rows of horrible paintings suggestive of the most lackluster FIAC booths; when presented with more than fifteen exhibitions side by side, one can’t help but make such comparisons. I couldn’t locate Philippe Vergne’s show “Entre les lignes,” which was supposed to occupy different parts of the nave, finding instead only one of his exhibiting artists, Tino Sehgal, who seemed vexed that a museum cashier didn’t want to participate in his performance. But why was Sehgal here anyway? He’s not considered to be a French artist. Perhaps this show is more like the Whitney Biennial, with its broad definition of “American artist,” than I had thought. Among the curators who sidestepped the pitfall of nationalism were Hou Hanrou and Eric Troncy, whose “superdéfense” features artists as diverse as Mark Handforth and Francesco Vezzoli.
Left: A “mediation officer” dressed in Daniel Buren. Right: Curator Olivier Zahm with Yves Saint Laurent designer Stefano Pilati.
Besides the excitement caused by a visit by the Prime Minister (the subject of a portrait by Yan Pei Ming), who was escorted by exhibition coordinators Bernard Blistène and Olivier Kaeppelin, the buzz focused on Olivier Zahm’s booth. Hovering around here were a crew of ’80s-era drag queens as well as André, the artistic director of the club Le Baron, who had created a vast, erection-sporting Mickey Mouse, and informed me that he had just opened a hotel. Zahm’s show is called “Rose Poussière” and each room is branded with the logo of a fashion label such as Rick Owens, Martin Margiela, or Yves Saint Laurent. I spotted YSL’s current designer, the charming Stefano Pilati, listening attentively to Zahm’s explanation of Assayas’s video installation. Here, too, I ran into Jan Mot from Brussels. We wondered if a dinner, or even just a drink, had been planned, but apparently the budget wouldn’t allow for it, given the presence of more than 200 artists. This put Alain Séchas, on his way to the taping of a TV show, in a not-so-good mood: He wasn’t going to be satisfied with a saw-cut slice of bread from Maja Bajevic’s performance.
Asking a “mediation officer” to indicate the exit, I remarked to him that the pink and white stripes of his jacket reminded me of a Daniel Buren (the French artist is due to deliver a lecture at “L’école de Stéphanie,” Stéphanie Moisdon’s pedagogical curatorial effort, on the last day of the show). “I am a Buren,” he said, “all the officers are.”
Left: Art consultant Matthew Armstrong with L&M Arts exhibitions advisor Robert Pincus-Witten. Right: Sotheby's Worldwide Head of contemporary art and auctioneer Tobias Meyer. (All photos: David Velasco)
“Christ never said that money was the root of all evil. He said it was the love of money,” snorted art consultant Matthew Armstrong, as we headed into Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale on Wednesday. Sotheby’s saleroom is a vast rectangular hall with chairs positioned to either side of a processional aisle that leads to the “block” where works of art meet their taker. This central turntablea lazy susan of artsuggests nothing more than “The Price is Right.”
Seating at auctions is no arbitrary matter. It’s the brutal means by which the auction house tells the world exactly what it thinks of you. Are you taken seriously enough to earn a seat in the first thirty rows? Is your wealth and power such that you require the reverential veil of a private skybox? Or are you amongst the upstarts and riffraff relegated to standing at the back? Luckily, a billionaire (whose name I can’t reveal) was too busy to attend, so I had a perfect seat in the fifth row on the aisle, directly behind Larry Gagosian, to the right of the Nahmad family, to the left of the PaceWildenstein gang, and in front of the night’s biggest spenders, dealers Dominique Lévy and Bob Mnuchin of L&M Arts.
Left: Collectors Eli Broad and Douglas S. Cramer. Right: L&M Arts directors Robert Mnuchin and Dominique Lévy.
At precisely 7:01 PM, the auction took off at a sprint. Four of the first five lotspaintings by Neo Rauch, Cecily Brown, Lisa Yuskavage and Christopher Woolmade quick and easy auction records for the artists. At Lot 8, a stunned silence fell over the room when the bidding on an Andreas Gursky climbed up to $2.3 million, the highest price ever paid for a contemporary photograph at auction. Ironically, it depicted the garish junk food of a 99 cent store, no doubt satisfying the ethnographic curiosity of the health-conscious rich.
Next up was Jeff Koons’s 1981-87 sculpture New Hoover Convertiblesa masterpiece guaranteed to give your housekeeper a good laugh. During this lot, I acquired a sense of the consulting style of L&M Arts. Visually, Lévy and Mnuchin make an unlikely pair. Lévy is a smart brunette with a meticulous sense of style that extends to her custom-made cufflinks. Mnuchin, wearing a crumpled black suit and undersized tie, looks more like a high school art teacher than a power player. Sitting with them was art historian and gallery eminence gris, Robert Pincus-Witten. Lévy made her bids by blinking deliberately, while whispering intimately into her cell phone. “It’s four point five with us” went the dealer-collector pillow talk. A quiet, respectful “congratulations” was all she uttered when her client won the work for $5.3 million.
When it came to the night’s top lot, Roy Lichtenstein’s Sinking Sun, 1964, Lévy was again on the phone, cool as a cucumber, and doing the double blink, all the way up to $14 million. Only when Tobias Meyer, Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art and chief auctioneer for Sotheby’s, was stalling in the vain hope of eliciting another bid, did Lévy show any sign of nerves, muttering an urgent “Come on!” When the hammer came down, it was below the guarantee of $17.5 million reputedly given to the seller, Joseph Helman.
Left: Collector Don Rubell. Right: Art Basel VIP coordinator Isabela Mora with Art Basel director Sam Keller and Gagosian gallery's Louise Neri.
Lot 31, a large white Robert Ryman canvas from 1962, offered another jaw-dropping moment. As bids climbed millions of dollars above the artist’s previous auction record of $2.3 million, cries of “This is insane!” and “Unbelievable!” could be heard as even the more reserved members of the audience developed rubber necks in an attempt to observe the bidding. In the end, L&M pulled out against a determined bidder sitting in a skybox on the phone to Parisian specialist, Gregoire Billault. After the hammer came down at $8.5 million, Mnuchin laughed and yelled out, “How about a ‘Wow,’ Tobias!” It was all theater.
Later in the evening, a 1975 de Kooning appeared on the lazy susan and it was Mnuchin’s turn to wield the paddle. To a “major international collector” on the other end of the phone, the dealer explained affably, “I want visiting rights in case it works out. That is my fee.” L&M don’t take commissionsthey bid at auction as a “pure service” to their clients in order to retain “full objectivity” about the appropriate price of any given work. As the bidding progressed, Mnuchin gave a running commentary: “There will be three buyers on the left . . . We just bid ten . . . Gagosian has come into the game . . . I think we’ll bid now . . . Twelve right away?” And so it went until they started splitting the bids at $13,250,000. As the dollar values slowly inched up, Mnuchin said warmly, “I think we’ll give it one shot at fourteen million. How do you feel about that?” When the hammer came down, Mnuchin was happy and asserted victoriously to his client, “I think you have money and courage. Plenty of people have money, but few have your courage. Thank you very much.” By the end of the evening, L&M had spent $34.9 million on five works of art and underbid to the tune of twelve million on several more.
With sales of $128.8 million, Tobias Meyer had spearheaded the highest total in the history of Sotheby's Contemporary department, but many doubted that it was as lucrative as that record might suggest. A man with his eye on the money, Meyer believes that “The best art is the most expensive, because the market is so smart.” When questioned about the tight alignment of his personal “passions” with art that sells well, he said. “My relation to the market is much like a method actor. You have to make the feeling of the market your own feeling.” Indeed, Meyer is an astonishing character. As one dealer who requested anonymity remarked affectionately, “Tobias may pretend to be hard-nosed, but he’s really . . . an éclair.”
Left: Critic Roger Bevan with dealers Perry Rubenstein and Thomas Dane. Right: Tobias Meyer post-auction.