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.
“Juanita, slap Fidel!” “Now, everybody DANCE!” Stumbling out of Andy Warhol's film The Life of Juanita Castro, 1965, into the blazing lights of an art fair café has to be one of the more jarring art-into-life transitions I've ever made. The film is being screened in a program selected by London’s cerebral art world playboy Cerith Wyn Evans for the mostly very interesting and well-selected “Artists Cinema” space organized by London-based nonprofit LUX and Frieze Projects. Throughout the Warhol film, which followed screenings of work by Ulla von Brandenburg and Kurt Kren, Evans wriggled with glee as if he was about to spr?ng from his finely ta?lored threads right into Ronald Tavel's lap. Who could blame him? I'd waited ten years to see this film again, and it didn't disappoint.
Giddily rehashing some of the better lines from the film, I head off for camping of a different sort. I approach the khaki confines of Andrea Zittel's hiking club, Interlopers HC, a tent-within-a-tent. Evidently art-fair visiting is the new aerobics: Many of the projects organ?zed by Polly Staple for Frieze this year involve a considerable amount of hiking, walking, and other calisthenic activity generally uncharacteristic of the London art world, despite its artists' penchant for psychogeography (other official perambulators ?nclude Martha Rosler, Richard Wentworth, Isabella Blow, plus Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda, while, off-site, Francis Alÿs's “Seven Walks” were presented by Artangel). But it seems that I have missed the last hike of the day led by the elaborately costumed Interlopers. No Baudelairean botanizing down the aisles for me, so I venture forth toward my preferred means of exercise: lifting a glass of champagne.
Left: Frieze Art Fair Artists Cinema curators Tirdad Zolghadr and Ian White. Right: Isabella Blow with artists from Andrea Zittel's Interlopers Hiking Club.
Every time I walk into five-star London institution Claridge’s I vow to discover the means of retir?ng there someday. Slipping into the stately dinner organized by gallerists Maureen Paley, Matthew Marks, and David Zwirner, I startle at the thrum of energy that accompanies a large gathering of the great, the good, the gifted, and the very rich. After a pleasant, but brief, reunion with Los Angeles collector Doug Inglish and MOCA's Ari Wiseman, I scan the high wattage crowd, which ranges from artists like Wolfgang Tillmans and Andrea Gursky to Tate top brass Sir Nicholas Serota and Sheena Wagstaff, from former Minneapolitans Douglas Fogle and Richard Flood to Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs (conspicuously not acting like Ronald Tavel), and, for that matter, practically every American collector I can think of, from LA MOCA board member Michael Sandler and his wife Brenda to Chicago museum patrons Howard and Donna Stone.
Although tempted to linger at this very dignified affair, my champagne buzz spurs me past Maureen Paley's twinkly-eyed director Dan Gunn, out of the hotel, and down through Berkeley Square to heed the siren call of the paparazzi at the newest (and most glamorous) incarnation of Nobu, home of tonight's Cartier dinner in honor of Frieze Projects. I arrive just after Zaha Hadid, and see each fold of her Miyake drapery illuminated by the flash-popping of the publicity pirranhas. Once safely inside, after a drink in the company of almost every artist whose name has recently graced a major art magazine, I am thrilled to discover that I have been seated next to off?c?al Conceptual Conversationalist Ian Wilson. Talk about top ten dinner party companionshis banter with gallerist Jan Mot kept me in stitches. After a spirited evening of chit-chat and incredibly delicious, slippery, citrusy, sumptuous gastronomic delights, I head east for a nightcap in decidedly less glittering surroundings.
The Joiners Arms, a down-at-the-heels East End gay pub whose opening hours are more convenient than those of most London establishments, is not itself tonight. The usual crack whores and pool-playing speed freaksand the art-fag elite who love themhave been largely replaced by aspirational international art youth celebrating itinerant London gallery Man in the Holocene, New York's The Wrong Gallery, and more, and who prance, dance, and drink desperately before last orders. I decide it's time to head home in order to be alert enough in the morning to appreciate Chrissie Iles's brilliant program of Thatcher-era film and video back in The Artists Cinema. Featuring the work of underknown British activist-artists like Stuart Marshallwhose film Pedagogue, 1988, is part of a body of work that makes him broadly comparable to Gregg Bordowitzthe screening seems a perfect occasion on which to consider the fate of bottom-of-the-barrel gay pubs in a very bullish market.
Left: Rena Bransten Gallery director Walter Maciel. Right: Collectors Jean Pigozzi and Anita Zabludowicz.
Having now visited the ~scope art fair in three cities, I report with confidence that a hotel bathroom is not an ideal setting for viewing art. Of course, participating in ~scope, which sets up camp in hotels near major art fairs, is far cheaper than renting a booth at Frieze (not to mention easier than getting past the latter’s selection committee), and arguably more convenient, since at the end of the day you can go right to sleep in the same room in which you show your wares. So eighty galleries, from San Francisco stalwart Rena Bransten to unknowns from out-of-the-way cities (Mantova? Cachan? Kitzbühel?), signed up for this iteration, hoping that an official nod from the Frieze publicity materials, in addition to a new, sleeker location (no floral wallpaper to compete with the art), would bump visitor numbers and sales.
The tube delivers me early Friday afternoon to St. Martin’s Lane, a boutique hotel that gained some notoriety for its Philippe Starck-designed interiors when it opened a few years ago. My artist companion and I can take or leave Starck’s efforts, but we agree that the variety of room layouts and the abundance of natural light streaming in from large windows make our tour a more palatable experience than expected. I manage to arrive within an hour of the opening, and, in one room, overhear Anita Zabludowiczenthusiastic collector, museum patron, and proprietress of a soon-to-open kunsthalle in Kentish Townasking fellow collector Jean Pigozzi, “Isn’t this fun?” (I would have expected to see both at Frieze, not ~scopeobviously a good sign for the fair’s producers.) She then inquires about the price of a small, charming Julie Heffernan painting and, when told it was “fifteen,” immediately announces she’ll buy it. The dealer repeats the sum“Fifteen thousand, not hundred”and Zabludowicz just as quickly retracts. I was surprised by the price, too. One doesn’t often encounter such steep rates at the ‘outsider’ fair; maybe the dealer had a premonition about who would show up.
Most galleries present a succession of small- to medium-scale paintings and works on paper; monomaniacally obsessive photographic self-portraiture, often featuring nudity, is also alarmingly prevalent. I have to give kudos to Mark Moore Gallery, which is presenting only one work, a (site-specific?) room-sized cardboard sculpture by Christopher Tallon that benefits from a mirror on one wall, and to Rokeby, a London gallery I had previously known only by name and which showed dozens of two-dimensional works (by Claire Pestaille, Kathrine Aertebjerg, and Zoë Mendelson, among others) that managed to make a virtue of their diminutive stature.
On Saturday, the dealers at Frieze who raked in cash from collectors on Wednesday and Thursday are paying penance by fending off hordes of commonersI mean sightseers. I decide to absent myself from the melee to take in the Zoo Art Fair, another alterna-expo, sponsored by Zabludowicz and her husband (along with others, including dealers showing at Frieze) and now in its second year. One could argue that the best part of this fair is getting there, as the trip involves a lovely twenty-minute walk through Regent’s Park towards the London Zoo, where the booths are housed in function rooms in two separate pavilions. The fair engagingly mixes a few non-profits into the group of upstart, mostly East End galleries that act as anchor tenants, and manages to evince “consistent quality” (in the words of one biennial director I flag down near the Apes & Monkey cage)which, alas, cannot be said for ~scope.
Left: One of Andrea Zittel's hikers at the Zoo Art Fair. Right: Rodolph von Hofmannsthal, Melissa Bent of Rivington Arms gallery, artist Annabel Mehran, and Thomas Hanbury in the Dicksmith Gallery booth.
One reason for this consistency might be the fact that when a gallery or organization is accepted, as Zoo exhibitions manager Alec Steadman informs me, they are welcome to their slot for three successive years: the fair as incubator. One European curator I speak with expresses concern that such young organizations are squeezing themselves into a narrow, overly commercial presentation model when they should be out experimenting. Indeed, a few of last year’s inaugural participants, like Hotel, Kate MacGarry, and the ever-more conspicuous Herald St., made their way quickly across the green lawns to Frieze. But others just schmoozed and went home, to reappear this year. Most of the dealers seem to be under thirty-five, and their bloom of youth gives Zoo a bit of a kids-playing-dress-up feel.
Part of this playhouse ambiance might be derived from the fact that the dealers settle into spaces that are probably smaller than the linen closets in the gracious homes where they hope their artists’ works will end up. (This didn’t stop one gallery from lending a corner of its teensy booth to the New York concern Rivington Arms, a gesture you certainly wouldn’t see under the slick white tent across the way.) The aisles aren’t much wider than a sidewalk, so once again smaller artworks and the lone pristine installation (a telephone-activated artwork by Carey Young in IBID Projects’ otherwise empty booth that was, regrettably, not working during my visit) make the greatest impression.
I was most taken with two tiny, dark, somewhat Netherlandish paintings by Edward Kay at Dicksmith Gallery, which were offset by Veronica Smirnoff’s equally small, colorful whirling-dervish icon paintings in The Great Unsigned’s booth next door. Also impressive were Jamie Shovlin’s watercolor copies (at Riflemaker) of ‘70s-era Fontana Modern Masters paperbacks. The artist has developed an idiosyncratic ranking system for the fifty-eight brainy tomes to “grade” them according to aesthetic and intellectual impact. Since I’ve visited three separate fairs and innumerable other art spaces in five days, this strikes me as being most helpful.
Left: Martha Rosler at the outset of her tour. Right: Peter Saville and Darren Flook in the Hotel booth.
Curated by the indefatigable Polly Staple, Frieze Projectsan intensive program of specially commissioned events for the Frieze Art Fairtypically serve to countervail the atmosphere of rapacious consumption in the Regent’s Park big top. This year, though, an “if you can't beat ‘em, join 'em” spirit seemed to prevail, judging at least from Matthieu Laurette’s What do they wear at the fair?, one of a number of walking tours on the Frieze Projects itinerary. In its first iteration (a later version would be led by Isabella Blow), on Friday afternoon, the tour was organized around three dealers’ booths and was led by legendary graphic designer and style authority Peter Saville. A snake of twenty-five people followed the stubbly laidback Mancunian as he meandered through the aisles to visit his friend Darren Flook in the Hotel stand. Darren and Peter proceeded to chat about who one dresses for as a dealer: your artists or your collectors? Darren conceded that here it was mainly for the latter: “No one’s going to be happy giving you £5,000 if you look like you’re going to spend it on crack.” After a brief stop at Klosterfelde, the tour wound up at the Herald Street stand with Nicky Verber and Ash L’Ange. Both were sporting virulently garish hues and confessed that Artforum publisher Knight Landesman, himself no fan of understated neutrals, was their model. Peter wanted to know if London was more stylish than Basel, and the boys said indeed it was: “Here the collectors read Vogue rather than Artforum.”
I was a bit perplexed by this event, but its value became clearer the next day during an interview I conducted with Laurette, Martha Rosler, and the critic Alex Farquharson for 104.4 Resonance FM. Laurette isn’t really interested in the specific detail of punters’ wardrobes, but rather in parodically overidentifying with the fair’s self-promoted image as a cool event and celebrity magnet. Clothes are not what you’re supposed to be looking at when touring the booths, but of course you do. Rosler’s tour also drew attention to what shouldn’t be seen: the toilet attendants, the organizer’s office, the planning department, the catering manager, and so on. Her behind-the-scenes investigation (for which participants had to wear yellow security vests) was perfect foil for Laurette’s fashion foray: ground-coffee grit versus cappuccino froth.
What were they wearing at the Stockhausen lecture? The composer and two musicians were clad in celestial white—half Laboratoires Garnier, half heavenly multitude. The demonstration of flutter-tongue sprachgesange microtones on an alto flute was completely thrilling, even if the full-blown tempest raging around the flimsy auditorium tent clearly annoyed the performers. They should have attended Tom Crow’s lecture the next day, which focused specifically on the competition between artists and their “envelopes” (i.e., the institutional frames). Crow cast the narrative of institutional critique as one of competition in which artists and architects jostle for the viewer’s attention. The lecture was consummate art-historical storytelling, but the mixed reactions to it rippled through that evening’s conversations: Was Rothko’s chapel really the progenitor of “institutional competition”? Was it wise to end the lecture with Cattelan? Wasn’t Crow open to gender critiqueall those macho artists who cut and drill, the only exception being Andrea Fraser’s G-string-clad grinding to the Bilbao Guggenheim audioguide?
French philosopher and art-world darling du jour Jacques Rancière was Sunday's heavy hitter. He was nervously agitated in his conversation with the unflappable Brian Dillonbut his exposition of the innate relationship between the politics of aesthetics and the aesthetics of politics was incredibly concise and cogent. The theory is way too complex to outline here, since it relies on the precise articulation of a very specific vocabularya precision that led Rancière to work up his sentences via small and stammered repetitions to make his point. En route he discussed the Pompidou's “Dionysiac” and the Walker's “Let's Entertain” exhibitions, offering no final judgments but pointing out contradictions in their rhetoric. The audience warmed to Rancière as he got down to specifics, and he seemed to loosen up in response.
An hour later I strode back into the auditorium tent for a discussion about the absolute with '60s conceptual dinosaur Ian Wilson. The seventy-seven-year-old Wilson, clad in a mausoleum-gray suit, his cranium intimidatingly large, took to the front of the auditorium with a microphone. He began by presenting a syllogism about the infinite that ended with the conundrum, “How can we have this awareness of the absolute in a world that seems so finite?” He spoke in such a slow and lulling way that I immediately became aware of the absolute desire to nod off. Various people chipped in to the “discussion,” including one of Andrea Zittel's knitwear-clad hikers, who asked Wilson to clarify what he meant by the absolute. Wilson responded to this intervention, as he did to most of the contributions, with a pause and a “Yes … thank you … I'll have to think about that.” I began to suspect that this was no discussion but a carefully planned performance. Scanning the room for help, I noticed David Lamelas, Laurette, Nicholas Logsdail, and the Frieze editorial team frozen in various stages of hypnosis and/or cynical disbelief. It was exactly how I'd always imagined an introductory Scientology workshop. Nevertheless, there were quite a few people ready to sign up for future sessions of Wilson's intellectual Pilates, including a smitten collector in the front row who had doubtlessly already bought the certificate proving this discussion had happened. Wilson wrapped things up after one hour on the dot and wafted out like a wraith.
Now pleasantly numb to the frenzy of the fair, I drifted to the Royal Academy of Music for a performance by Henrik Håkansson. Or rather, for a performance by a birda Eurasian goldfinchwhose contractual rider apparently stated that the audience should be seated at least fifteen minutes before he appeared onstage. The academy's auditorium was a fantastically overblown setting for the gig, featuring pompous Victorian portraits and chandeliers festooned with golden trumpets. On stage were four microphones surrounding a leafless branch, spotlit to receive the avian diva. But the real event was in the rest of the room: a thirty-strong professional film crew manning an elaborate setup of cameras, microphones, mixing desks, and a lighting rig (a single night's insurance on this equipment was rumored to cost £20,000). It was rivetingnot least because having a small animal performer threw regular concert protocol into crisis. (Should one clap when he appeared?) Finally the lights dimmed and a young woman in a sequined strapless evening dress walked onstage to put the birdie on the twig. Everyone held their breath; the only noise was the whirring of the 16mm cameras and the shuffling of the film crew, intent on rolling the camera down a track to zoom in on the feathered star. We waited for it to sing. Then we waited some more. Recordings of birdsong were played as a prompt, but the creature refused to perform. So we waited some more. It was by turns electrifying and banally Cagean. Eventually the bird did a poo. The cameramen changed the reel of film. The bird went for a walk along the branch and fell off it. A handler (the birdyguard?) sprang onto the stage to put it back on the branch. Time stretched immemorially; two more reels of film were changed. Finally, the girl collected the bird, and we applauded. I felt devastated. This was the most poignant allegory of entertainment and spectacle I have ever seen: attention and expectation; the machinery of stardom, nature, and culture; the refusal to deliver. Absolute genius andthrough the bird's ostensible failurethe most decisively trenchant success of the fair.