Left: Hedi Slimane. Right: Artist Thomas Ruff poses in front of one of his “Jpegs.”

Last Saturday’s openings in Paris were quieter than usual, perhaps due to the cold wind blowing across the capital but maybe also because of a gastroenteritis scare. In the middle of Rue Louise Weiss, Emmanuel Perrotin, who informed me of the proliferating virus, made sure not to shake my hand when we said hello. I was just arriving from Galerie Nelson, where Thomas Ruff was showing new images from the “Jpegs” series presented in the Italian pavilion at last summer’s Venice Biennale. (Nelson was among the first to show Ruff’s ’80s portraits, when the gallery was located in Villeurbanne.) The show, comprised of disparate images mostly found browsing the web (though some come from tourist guidebooks) and enlarged to a super-size format then pixilated, is presented as an abecedary, from “aa” (American architecture) to “wi” (war in Iraq). Talking with Ruff, I sensed that my questions—How do you select images? Why this format?—were overfamiliar, so a cigarette break came as a welcome relief to both of us. On the sidewalk we encountered Bernhard Mendes Brgi, the director of the Kunstmuseum Basel, who offered incisively, “This is a great show.”

If Ruff wins the prize for biggest photo, Hedi Slimane wins for the biggest invitation—ever. The poster he made for “As tears go by,” his new show at Galerie Almine Rech, didn’t even fit into my letterbox: I had to queue up at the post office to retrieve it. In the gallery, a famous paparazzo stood around waiting for the show-business crowd (Karl Lagerfeld was expected), but no famous faces materialized—not even Slimane himself.

Left: Air de Paris's Florence Bonnefous with artist Elaine Sturtevant. Right: Writer and curator Andrea Viliani.

Fortunately I had met up with the elusive Slimane the day before while he was finishing his installation. Standing in the gallery darkened by black film affixed to the windows, he was cute and sweet as usual. The show, Slimane’s first in Paris after a curatorial outing at Thaddaeus Ropac last year, is a lot like the poster: black-and-white and large. The photographs, printed on semitransparent fabric, were taken in the clubs and pubs of London’s rock scene and focus particularly on the infamous Pete Doherty, frontman of Libertines and Babyshambles and Kate Moss’s on-again off-again boyfriend. Slimane told me that a few years ago he had sensed a renewal of energy in the scene, and had begun to track those musicians whose extraordinary aura filled the tiny venues they played. I had to take his word for it.

Back on Rue Louise Weiss, I breezed through opening receptions for Omer Fast (at gb agency), Mark Dion and Bob Braine (at In situ Fabienne Leclerc), and Philippe Decrauzat (at Praz Delavallade) before ending up at Air de Paris for Trisha Donnelly’s new exhibition, which was by far the most crowded opening on the block. If Slimane wins for biggest invitation, Donnelly wins for the most cryptic one. It consisted of a few sentences written by hand in Russian, with a phone number. I attempted to call but a recording informed me that the person I tried is not accepting calls at this time. Dial (415) 810-4295 and say hello from Paris.

Left: Gallerist Bruno Delavallade with artist Philippe Decrauzat. Right: Artist Clemens von Wedemeyer.

The show, emphasizing the concepts of “nano” and “less,” is the opposite of the outsized shows I’d seen earlier that evening: Tiny drawings made while the artist looked through a magnifying glass; sound pieces that begin and end at random; and blurry photos of microscopic writings engraved in wood are among the works on view. Donnelly implored me to not take her photo before dashing off to the back office. After a while, everyone wandered over to L’Haudierne for the usual blanquette de veau; I think Air de Paris is single-handedly keeping the restaurant in business. The crowd was lively, however, and at the bar I spotted curators Giovanni Carmine, Thomas Boutoux, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, and artists Anders Guggisberg, Koo Jeong-A, and Clemens von Wedemeyer, who is shooting a new film—coproduced by Pierre Bal Blanc and to be included in the forthcoming Berlin Biennale—in a Paris banlieue.

No party during the first week of January is complete without the galette des rois and Luna, the daughter of Edouard Merino, found the bean in her slice of cake and was named queen. Elaine Sturtevant, Eva Presenhuber, and Andrea Viliani began to dance with gallery owner Florence Bonnefous, but others wanted to continue the party at agns b. headquarters, where the designer and art patron was celebrating thirty years of business with guests like Patti Smith and David Bowie. Feeling the first symptoms of gastroenteritis, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to carry on. It’s better to prevent than to cure, as we say in France—so I called it a night.

Nicolas Trembley

Girl Talk

New York

Left: New York Times critic Roberta Smith with artists Collier Schorr, Joan Snyder, Tamy Ben-Tor, and Barbara Kruger. Right: Joan Snyder. (All photos: Erin Feinberg)

Is Feminism undead like vampires? Mythical like Bigfoot? Or more like porn: You know it when you see it? Moderated by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith for the paper’s fifth annual “Arts and Leisure Weekend” this past Saturday, artists Joan Snyder, Barbara Kruger, Collier Schorr, and Tamy Ben-Tor offered a bouquet of symptoms triggered by the f-word: “Feminisms” plural, Smith clarified (at Kruger’s suggestion).

“Did you have to be a Jew to be on the panel?” wondered my gentile, veteran artist pal as we grabbed our coats afterward. “What was with all the Holocaust references?” “It’s a hotline to gravitas,” I speculated. But I’d wondered, too. Schorr had hitherto evaded my Jewdar, but my shiksa friend was right. The women artists chosen by Smith were in fact all Chosen. I then wondered why Smith, who surely must have noticed, neglected to mention this in a context where identity issues were being served on a platter to Times culture vultures. Far from dull—as one might fear of anything with “isms” in the title—this panel was disturbing in so many ways.

Senior panelist Snyder, a self-described “maximalist” abstract painter, recalled the bad old days when “feminism was a dirty word. I would write on a painting and people would say, ‘She’s a feminist!’ Julian Schnabel would write on a painting and people would say, ‘Oh, he’s so sensitive. He’s a hero!’” Poor Schnabel. He emerged as the afternoon’s shorthand for overvalued, puffed-up masculinity. “I’m really excited to be a girl!” Schorr recalled enthusing when co-panelist Barbara Kruger lectured at SVA, where she studied in the ’80s. Today she was dressed like a superannuated schoolboy with a butch coif, natty blazer, and riding boots. Back then, the impressionable younger Schorr noticed that Schnabel’s catalogue was way bigger and fancier than Snyder’s. But she pored over the female painter’s again and again: “You gain a lot when you do something big and padded,” the creator of a photo entitled The Purloined Dick paid homage to the elder artist seated beside her. “But sometimes people want to look at the smaller thing.”

“Schmoozebeasts!” scribbled my neighbor into her pad.

Smith noted that women compose more than half the humanity “vomited out of art schools” every year but only twelve percent of the collection at MoMA. What’s up with that? The panel didn’t quite solve that mystery, but did expose oodles of problems with the word in its title. The two younger panelists were eager to distance themselves from the f-word—lumping “feminism” with “victimism.” “All women are different, and all Holocaust victims are different,” declared the Sabra Ben-Tor, equating “the weak” that need feminism (unlike her) with Holocaust survivors. “I don’t want to be in the roundup of lady artists, or gay artists, etc.,” agreed Schorr, who emerged amidst the identity politics of the early ’90s when gender-bending was welcomed aboard the multicultural rainbow. “Put me in a show of landscape artists,” suggested the photographer, whose series “Jens F.” portrays a German schoolboy posed as Helga, the housewife that painter Andrew Wyeth studied in secret for two decades.

Left: Tamy Ben-Tor. Right: Barbara Kruger.

Ben-Tor bravely came out against ideology. “This situation is for me awkward,” confessed the performance artist, “because I don’t believe in it [feminism] at all. My art is about my personal interests. [Feminism is a] struggle of human beings, not just women. The Holocaust is not just a struggle for Jews. Ideology hides the truth. Once you have ideology, people have interests.” If people didn’t have interests, there’d be no ideology—maybe even no “isms” at all! Snyder got concrete right on the anti-ideologue’s ass: “Don’t you think most of the problems in the world now are caused by men?” asked the abstract painter to hearty applause. “That’s a very superficial version of reality,” retorted the grad student at Columbia. The Upper East Side-looking old bat next to me with a Henri Bendel bag perked up: “Identifying with the aggressor!” she hissed. Oy.

“It was so healing when I was in Germany to see the Holocaust through the point of view of the German—not just the victim,” Schorr added, supporting the not-weak Ben-Tor, who she hadn’t yet flattered. May I say, Feh-minism? Agreed, we don’t want to be victim-identified here, but must we go the extra mile and embrace our inner Nazi? “The thread that motors this discussion is power,” observed Kruger, sounding just like a Barbara Kruger piece. “How is power threaded through our culture?” Identifying with the victim and identifying with power are two sides of the same coin. “I think it would be great if women didn’t have to be extraordinary to be considered mediocre (like one of the boys),” she said to cheers from the audience, mostly women, mostly of a certain age.

“Invisibility is not a pretty picture,” Kruger summed it up eloquently, despite jet lag. She was just back from opening a retrospective in Australia. Earlier, Snyder quoted her feminist born-and-bred daughter, Molly Snyder-Fink, who asked: “Which women are able to tell their stories and which women are not? And why?” The panelists offered four distinct answers. They weren’t particularly pretty—but this isn’t a beauty contest, right?

Rhonda Lieberman

Family Values


Left: Cinders co-owner Sto. Right: Artist Brian Bibbo.

The crowd at the tumbledown space on the Williamsburg rim that houses Cinders—storefront gallery, one-stop shop for every variety of DIY geegaw, and social hub for Brooklyn artists—was in high spirits on Friday night. In fact, good cheer was a stated aim of “The Family Room,” a two-part group show of twenty-seven artists from around the country. Small works were hung densely in the eponymous room, a lavish if largely two-dimensional simulacrum of domestic leisure with a clumsy crackling trompe l’oeil fireplace, trinket mantle, and overstuffed love seat. The show’s celebration of home comforts was scheduled to straddle the turn of the year, its glittering potential and immediate aftermath. Here are “the seeds of a New Year planted and promising,” read the optimistic (and impressionistic) press release.

It was a party geared toward creators, specifically those on the younger end of the scale, and the histories and connections between those present were unfathomably convoluted, focused on covert cultural exchange conducted through secret agreements, oddball care packages, and coded email messages. Seemingly every limb on this family tree has a fable explaining its existence. Owners Kelie Bowman and Sto quickly explained that the gallery is called Cinders because Bowman’s house burned down while they went on a ten-minute beer run during a celebration of their newly signed lease. When I spoke to avid supporter Patrick May, one of the founders of the older, storied (and now dormant) Open Ground Gallery on nearby Grand Street, he added further anecdotal wallop. “Sto put on a great show in my space a few years ago. He brought a live rooster in for the opening, and it was such a hit that they couldn’t kill it afterward. It lived with them for a year.”

Left: Cinders co-owner Kelie Bowman. Right: Artist Patrick May.

Much of the work on view was plainly derivative or tributary. On this particular evening it was hard to miss the nuances of technique and mood that Chris Johanson, Brian Calvin, Brian Chippendale, Tom Friedman, Marcel Dzama, and Jim Houser have popularized recently. But idolatry is a happy symptom of youth, much like a style––also prevalent here––that’s baldly emotional or confessional. An advantage to this simple candor is that there’s no leader and no star of the group: Marquee names like Phil Elverum (the Anacortes, WA, guru best known as The Microphones) and Ginger Takahashi (of cult journal LTTR) make work that is more polished, but no more important, than anything else on the walls. Speaking with Brian Bibbo, whose pixelated portrait formed from gridded, differently-puffed-upon cigarette filters was a popular talking point at the opening, I learned of another pixelated work in progress, in which pigments were created by orally mixing different flavors of chewing gum. Asked the subject, Bibbo said, chewing, “a set of teeth,” and after a pause, let out a giggle as if newly struck by the literalness of his endeavor. “When it comes to my work I like to keep it so that I can understand it.” The crowd surrounding us roared affectionately. Bibbo’s creation reflected the general mood, which was all about openness and ideas. Folks not only talked, they listened!—and ideas ricocheted about the place without any loss of momentum.

Sto opened up to me as I made for the door. “It seemed so hard to get anything done through the mainstream channels, to show and to tour and for creative tokens to be exchanged. I just figured that I knew a lot of people who felt the same way as me, and that we could create an alternative. I grew up in DC, with the Dischord Records community, thinking about Ian Mackaye [the label’s founder and the accidental architect of the straight edge movement], and it seemed so easy and obvious to make a parallel world.” I heard a fair amount of chest-thumping that evening, but this boast took me by surprise. Not without legs, this analogy—and a strong model to live by. Sto contended that the alternative music scene of the ’80s prevailed because it was able to grow stronger and hammer out its working methods without resistance or pressure from more established outlets. It wasn’t interested in what was happening where the money was, because the insecurity and jealousy caused by that kind of thinking would weaken its ideals. Outside, two bike messenger types engaged in an elaborate secret handshake. “So dude, I got a job at Pace Wil-dun-steen,” said one to the other. Unsure of what to say, dude exhaled an arid “Wow” in response. But that was all I heard of Chelsea. The names hoisted high tonight were New Image Art in LA, Lump Gallery in Raleigh, and Space 1026 in Philadelphia. More-than-possible dreams, and worthwhile ones. “They look happy, and if they look happy things are going well,” May said, warmly. “The most I can honestly say about my space is that we threw good parties for five years.”

William Pym

Left: Two revelers at the opening reception of “The Family Room.” Right: Artists David McQueen and George Ferrandi.

Team Spirit

New York

Left: Artist Banks Violette. Right: Team Gallery's Jose Freire with Mary Boone.

Now I know why people go to openings of shows by artists they’ve never met. No, not just because they’re looking for dates. It’s because openings can be fun! At least, that’s how it was at Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue gallery last Thursday, when the legendary dealer got the winter season off to a rousing start by turning both of her galleries over to outside curators. Neville Wakefield’s “Hiding in the Light” opens at her Chelsea location later this week, while the future-forward head of Team Gallery, Jose Freire, is already rocking out at Fifty-seventh Street with “View 9: I Love My Scene,” set to play out in three parts over the next four and a half months.

“When was the last time you heard of one dealer asking another to curate a show?” Freire grinned. “Let’s face it,” he confided, “I’ll never have a gallery that looks like this.” And he grinned again. In fact, lots of people were smiling. Was that money in their pockets or were they just glad to get back on the scene after the interminable holiday hiatus? Some scene: Two of the five artists in the show are deceased and none of them are women. If cheerful Carol Bove was any indication, however, these numbers didn’t dampen any spirits. (Bove is in the forthcoming “Scene 3.”) Covered in red dots, the checklist’s story was clear. The show itself took longer to puzzle out.

Left: Artist Keith Sonnier with daughter Olympia. Right: Artist Lane Twitchell.

“Can someone explain all this to me?” whispered Keith Sonnier, whose 1988 neon and aluminum Sphinx Position 1 was one of three way-cool sculptures featured in the main gallery, surrounded by Cecil Beaton and Weegee photos and fantasy drawings of Neoclassical architecture by young Brit Pablo Bronstein. (Real name!) “I’m just a boring old formalist,” said Freire of his choices, a personal blend of classicism and nostalgia for punk, fashion, and art scenes past. The other two sculptures were Lothar Hempel’s deconstructed-bicycle monument to societal meltdown, Abstrakter Sozialismus (Abstract Socialism), 2002, and a poetically titled, burnt-wood cathedral of a modular sculpture by Banks Violette, Hexdriver (Fucked Up and Ready to Die), 2006.

Violette, who incidentally claims Sonnier as one of his heroes, was among the first to make a purchase. The artist nabbed a Cecil Beaton from another lusting customer, dealer Stefania Bortolami, as a gift for his wife (and Sue de Beer screenwriter), Alissa Bennett. Both Bennett and Bortolami thought they looked like one of the photo’s two pouty women in black. Talk about classic! Here was one of those true, every-time-I-hear-the-word-narcissist-I-take-out-my-checkbook moments that define our moment. Violette paid $2,000 for the vintage goodie; his own newborn sculpture was priced at $75,000.

Left: Artist Barry Le Va with art historian Lisa Rubenstein. Right: Writer Alissa Bennett.

“I’m having my second career!” Boone exulted. “I mean,” she said, nodding to the ever-more-svelte Freire, “I’m giving my old career new life!” It had taken fifteen tries before Freire would return her call. “After years of being a nobody,” he explained, “everyone calls my gallery every day now.” Boone laughed. But was she asking other ear-to-the-ground types to suss out new artists for her? “Hardly,” said Boone, who recently hired P.S. 1’s Amy Smith-Stewart to be her in-house curator. “I want to make an impact on the culture.” Freire nodded in agreement. “Anyone can tell you that the big money is in the secondary market,” Boone went on. “I mean, how many people are making fortunes today with work I showed twenty years ago?” (Whoops!) So what did it mean to Smith-Stewart to be the curator of a commercial gallery? “Frankly, I don’t know yet,” she said. “I only just started.”

At Bottino, Boone needed two separate dining rooms to accommodate her guests, three generations of artsters who seated themselves in interesting ways. Guggenheim director Lisa Dennison paired off with Ross Bleckner in the rear private room, while Bruce Ferguson and Barry Le Va took a table together with New York rock photographer Roberta Bayley (who is scheduled for “Scene 2”) in the front, as did young dealers like Daniel Reich and Mirabelle Marden. And what can we say about a table where Anton Kern, Andrew Kreps, and Clarissa Dalrymple choose to spill the wine with Jim Lambie, Lothar Hempel, and Derek Bell, a heartthrob painter from Berlin on whom Sonnier’s sultry seventeen-year-old daughter, Olympia, developed an immediate and not, it seemed, entirely hopeless crush? That in an art world fueled by a powerful blend of pride and resentment, love is always in the air?

Linda Yablonsky

Bones of Contention

New York

Left and right: Views of “Bodies . . . The Exhibition” (Photos: Bill Serne for the St. Petersburg Times)

I’ve long been a fan of cadaver gags—medical students mailing organs and body parts with cards reading “Have a heart” or “Thought you needed a hand,” or posing undissected corpses on campus benches in rakish postures, leaving them to leer at passersby. Hence I was surprised to find little gallows humor in “Bodies . . . The Exhibition,” a pricey, formaldehyde-for-the-whole-family show of jaunty, expressive stiffs and their constituent parts. Strained playfulness, yes—several specimens are pressed into everyman roles as basketball players, symphony conductors, sprinters, even Rodin’s Thinker—but all in the service of earnest, educational points about muscle function or the nervous system. George Romero’s zombie hordes wouldn’t be caught dead with these skinless stereotypes, drained as they are of all wit, originality, and vital bodily fluids. Their styleless voguing takes the un- from uncanny and the fun out of funereal.

Housed at the South Street Seaport Exhibition Centre in a building previously occupied by fishmongers, “Bodies” eschews the funky decay the port was famous for. Rather, the exhibition space is as antiseptic as a newly opened GAP. So too is the packed-in holiday crowd, composed, as far as I could tell, of tourists and borough families—average Americans satisfying their hunger for the truly flayed flesh and full-frontal genitalia Hollywood denies them. The crowd’s responses—or lack thereof—may have been the most shocking aspect of the show. I didn’t hear one “eww . . . gross!” from the many children in attendance, or even a contextualizing lecture from a concerned parent. The only exchange worth reporting came from a twentysomething couple staring blankly at an artfully splayed female pelvis. Man: “Kinda puts me off doing the deed.” Woman: [bemused silence].

This show clearly wasn’t designed for sickos like me, but beneath its seemingly innocent science-fair surface lies some genuinely disturbing viscera. Organized by Premier Exhibitions, Inc. of Atlanta, Georgia, “Bodies” is both the latest iteration of a trend in controversial cadaver exhibits and an example of the McDonaldization of the museum business. Premier Exhibitions, along with Arts and Exhibitions International (which is run by a former Clear Channel executive), specializes in touring megashows of audience-tested materials—Titanic wreckage, King Tut’s treasures, plastinated cadavers—with broad, obvious appeal. The shows are typically mounted in otherwise respectable art museums and freighted with hefty ticket prices and blockbuster publicity. In the case of “Bodies,” the $24.50 ticket may be justified by the $25 million Premier spent in acquiring the collection of cadavers, but it’s blood money nonetheless.

As I gazed at a ten-foot-long array of a horizontally sliced man, parsed with a butcher’s precision into thin cuts of braciola, I couldn’t help but think of the dodgy source of the bodies themselves. Premier purchased the remains of the twenty-two people on display along with 260 other human specimens from Dalian University in northern China, which, according to the New York Times, was “previously implicated in the use of executed prisoners for commercial purposes, having supplied bodies to Gunter von Hagens, the German entrepreneur who started the first traveling show of the dead, ‘World of Bodies.’” Rather than steer clear of scandal by seeking another source, Premier not only made a deal with Dalian but also hired von Hagen’s former Chinese partner, Dr. Sui Hongjin, to broker it. This gives the lie to the exhibition’s website disclaimer that “Premier Exhibitions, Inc. is not affiliated with any other organizer of human anatomy exhibitions, including Gunther von Hagens, Gerhard Perner, or Genlife Biomedical.” Premier claims that the bodies are those of “the poor, the unclaimed, or the unidentified,” and that it was shown confidential documents ensuring their ethical provenance, but given China’s record of human rights abuses, particularly of prisoners, this is cold comfort.

So what remains of these remains? Beyond the silly poses and the visually arresting circulatory system room—whose anthropomorphic arrangements of scarlet, illuminated veins and arteries recall the Mantle twins’ operating theater in Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers—there’s the “ick” factor (intestines and other specialty meats), Surgeon General-style moralizing (cancerous lungs and sclerotic livers), odd ideas about family entertainment (Penises! Labia!), and unexamined chauvinism (of the two female bodies present, one, sliced vertically into quarters, is used to illustrate obesity). Worth $25? A double-feature rental of Fantastic Voyage and Evil Dead 2 over a deli platter would do the trick for the same price.

Andrew Hultkrans

Cop and Robert

New York

Left: Curator David Ross with PaceWildenstein's Arne Glimcher and Douglas Baxter. Right: Robert Rauschenberg with Merce Cunningham. (All photos: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

“Mr. Rauschenberg hasn’t arrived yet,” the press officer informed me brightly as I signed in for the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Robert Rauschenberg: Combines,” “but, ah, Mr. Bennett has.” Sure enough, hot on my heels was none other than Tony Bennett, legendary Queens-born crooner and, not incidentally, committed figurative painter. As Bennett and his companion checked their coats, I made my way up the main stairs and towards the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, where the exhibition of sixty-seven works made between 1954 and 1964 is on view. Fifteen minutes after the slated opening time, the gallery was already packed and buzzing.

Organized by Paul Schimmel, Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (to which the show will travel in May), and organized and installed at the Met by Nan Rosenthal, Senior Consultant in the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art, the show both packed an immediate punch and made an unarguable case for a protracted return visit. The installation (cleanly designed by Dan Kershaw) was favorably compared to the Guggenheim’s cluttered 1997 retrospective and 2000’s ill-conceived installation of Synapsis Shuffle, 1999, at the Whitney; not since the latter’s roundup of his 1962-64 Silkscreen Paintings in 1990 has the artist been the focus of such a successfully focused show.

Left: Artists Mark di Suvero and James Rosenquist. Right: Marian Javits and friend.

Tearing myself away from the first room, a substantial show in itself containing Untitled, 1954, arguably the first of the genre-bending painted constructions on which the survey focuses, and the iconic Bed, 1955, among others, I spotted the artist just ahead, surrounded by admirers and clearly enjoying the occasion. A quick look around sufficed for me to also complete my mental checklist of major New York museum directors: Glenn Lowry? Present. Thomas Krens? Yep. Philippe de Montebello? Naturally. Adam Weinberg? Over there taking photos. Also doing the rounds was an extraordinary cadre of illustrious figures including James Rosenquist, Frank Stella, Mel Bochner, Leo Steinberg, and—wheelchair-bound, as was the eighty-year-old artist—old friend and collaborator Merce Cunningham.

But while the crowd’s demographic tended towards the senior and sedate, a scattering of much younger viewers also made their presence felt. The boys in particular were an endearing spectacle in their slightly-too-big suits and just-this-side-of-unkempt hair. I noticed one immersed in an extended and not entirely friendly eye-level face-off with the tire-encircled Angora goat in Monogram, 1955-59. Elsewhere, perhaps thinking ahead to the imminent holiday, one little girl discussed with her father whether the stuffed bird in freestanding Combine, Untitled, 1954, is a turkey. (For the record, it’s a Dominique hen.)

Left: The Met's Nan Rosenthal with Robert Rauschenberg. Right: Police Commissioner Ray Kelly with Robert Rauschenberg.

Eventually, we filtered back downstairs to the grandiose Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court, where the juxtaposition of a flautist with the neo-classical sculptures on permanent view hinted at the possibility (albeit remote) of Bacchanalian revelry later in the evening. Among those loitering at the bar and sampling the hors d’oeuvres were curator Donna De Salvo, art historian Thomas Crow, critics Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz, and scene chroniclers Walter Robinson of Artnet and Robin Cembalest of Art News. At around eight o’clock, a burst of applause signaled Rauschenberg’s reappearance. Hearing a woman to my side express the desire for a camera, I snapped a quick shot of the artist, then one of her. “They’ll be all over the internet tomorrow!” she shrieked. “Truer than you think,” I replied. “Well, I have my own photo of the artist already,” she bragged, “from 1979,” and flounced off.

Collaring me to catch up and share an unconfirmed rumor that Sting was somewhere in the building, Cembalest then pointed out a high-ranking member of the real police, New York City Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly. We immediately agreed on the need to find out two things from the man: what in particular had prompted his attendance, and whether he had any insight into the likelihood of the then-threatened (and, at time of writing, well-underway) metropolitan public transport workers’ strike actually taking place. With one eye constantly glued to his BlackBerry (“You really oughta get one of these.”), Kelly denied any exclusive knowledge of the dispute, but did reveal one intriguing nugget: America’s modern master and America’s top cop share a lawyer.

Michael Wilson