Wall to Wall

Ali Subotnick at GBE (Modern)

New York

Left: Franz Ackermann and Elizabeth Peyton. Middle: Artist Christian Jankowski. Right: Havana Heat Club at Passerby.

Barely a week after the closing of Art Basel Miami Beach, where his giant, tangled roadmap of a wall painting in Gavin Brown’s booth was one of the highlights of the fair, Franz Ackermann managed to pack GBE (Modern) on Saturday night with local and international fans still recovering from their Sunshine State sojourns. It was the opening of “Nonstop HHC,” Ackermann’s first show in New York since 2001, and it found him looking bigger and brasher than ever. A sharp black-and-white photograph of an eye—his own—introduces the show, which pulses with colorful wall paintings and new “mental maps,” his trademark intuitive drawings of imaginary and real cities and spaces. A billboardlike painting, held up by floor braces, nearly fills the west wall. On it, the artist has taped a newspaper photo of the New York-bound Lufthansa Airlines jet that was forced by a bomb threat to make an emergency landing in Dublin earlier this month. Ackermann was a passenger on the plane, heading to New York to prepare this exhibition, and the experience obviously fueled his pre-existing obsession with tourism and terror. A table set up in front of the painting resembles a security checkpoint, with the contents of a bag spread out on it as if for inspection.

The opening was something of a culture clash, with Ackermann’s Berlin-and-Karlsruhe posse—brother, friends, assistants, metalworkers—rubbing elbows with art-world regulars. In the crowd were curators Nicholas Baume, Alison Gingeras, Matthew Higgs, and Klaus Biesenbach; Clarissa Dalrymple; gallerists Jennifer Flay and Michele Maccarone; New York collectors (the Portnoys, the Horts); and artists Eberhard Havekost and Lothar Hempel (each with a show now on view at Anton Kern), Elizabeth Peyton, David Reed (who currently has new paintings at Max Protetch), Piotr Uklanski, and Christian Jankowski, among others. A homemade postopening dinner in the cozy gallery apartment upstairs kept the family vibe intact, especially with Brown’s rambunctious daughter running around the kitchen.

After dinner, Ackermann’s favorite band, Havana Heat Club, flown over from Germany, made their North American debut at Brown’s Fifteenth Street bar, Passerby. Ackermann produced HHC’s self-titled debut, which includes a special-edition screenprint made to help finance its production. He describes them thusly, “If you’ve never seen Motörhead live, now you have.” It was a spirited show with a small but energetic audience led by Ackermann’s brother, Stefan, up front. At midnight the band gave Ackermann a shout-out in honor of his forty-first birthday and presented him with an autographed guitar. The guitarist (who was the spitting image of Chris Farley minus about forty pounds) and the drummer (a long-haired chain-smoker straight from headbanger central casting) kept the crowd on its toes for a solid hour. There’s nothing like hardcore Bavarians making hardcore American rock ‘n’ roll.

Left: Havana Heat Club members autograph a guitar for Franz Ackermann. Right: Installation view at (GBE) Modern.