Female Trouble

Allese Thomson on the Independent fair and Jordan Wolfson’s (Female figure)

Left: Artist Frances Stark and dealer Gavin Brown. Right: Dealers Nicky Verber and Ash L'Ange. (Photos: Irina Rozovsky)

THIS YEAR, Vito Schnabel decided that women are underrepresented in the art world. And so, in an act of either spirited generosity or ham-fisted tokenism, he devoted the final edition of the Brucennial—the Bruce High Quality Foundation’s ritual riposte to the Whitney Biennial—to women, somehow rounding up a whopping six hundred of them. (Anyone who applied was granted a place on the wall.)

Sadly, he couldn’t admit all to last Thursday’s opening fete. “Waiting in line for an hour and a half in the freezing cold to see my own work after not being admitted because as I am not a ‘VIP but just an artist in the show’ baffles me beyond anything else,” wrote Marlous Borm on Facebook.

“Who wants to see six hundred artists in one room? The entire concept is just demeaning to the artists,” a friend pondered as we wandered through the fifth edition of Independent, which had opened earlier that day to VIPs like Sofia Coppola, David Byrne, Maurizio Cattelan, Beatrix Ruf, Jeffrey Deitch, Kim Gordon, and David LaChapelle. For this year’s iteration, architects Andrew Feuerstein and Bret Quagliara created fork-like walls for the fair’s famously nuanced booths, aiming to emphasize the art and not the galleries.

Left: Collectors Michael Hort and Susan Hort. (Photo: Allese Thomson) Right: Dealer Andrew Kreps. (Photo: Irina Rozovsky)

“Well, we are at a fair,” responded another, gesturing at the open floor. The place was filled with sculptures and paintings, many of which take up as subjects our digital “selves,” alter egos that stimulate an insidious narcissism, one bolstered rather than undercut by a consciousness of this condition. Looking around the airy, sunlit space, one could find work by Frances Stark, who turned pictures from her Instagram account into glass plaques (Gavin Brown). There was Eloise Hawser’s scintillating 3-D prints (Balice Hertling) and Oliver Osborne’s white canvases pasted with cartoons from language books (Vilma Gold). Also Josh Kolbo’s analog photos of cigarettes and condoms printed on leather, hung like floppy banners (Société), and Brad Troemel’s large, shrink-wrapped works juxtaposing brand-identity style guides and Bitcoins (Untitled).

It wasn’t all so different from the brand-happy consumerism-of-the-moment exemplified down the street at Red Bull Studios, where DIS magazine (and friends) was launching “DISown – Not For Everyone,” an “art exhibition posing as a retail store” featuring apparel and household goods by artists like Ryan Trecartin, Bjarne Melgaard, Amalia Ulman, and Telfar. Think Simon Fujiwara’s “gay wedding rings” and Hood By Air salad bowls. Boys can aspire to domestic bliss too.

Left: John Bock's piece at Sprüth Magers's booth at Independent. Right: A visitor with Daniel McDonald's work at House of Gaga's booth at Independent. (Photos: Irina Rozovsky)

But without a doubt the one work on everyone’s lips that day was (Female figure), or as most people referred to it, “the robot”: Jordan Wolfson’s quixotic, nearly half-million-dollar animatronic sculpture, supposedly making its debut that night in his inaugural show at David Zwirner. By 7 PM hundreds of visitors were streaming into the space: There were the downtown party kids, the uptown collectors, and hordes of international dealers. In the first room were several new ink-jet prints, one depicting Peter Pan committing suicide, another Wolfson’s girlfriend, photographer Gaea Woods, styled à la Rosie the Riveter, festooned with bumper stickers reading CRIPPLED SEX and WANTING LOVE. In a back room played his 2012 film Raspberry Poser, which cuts between images of Wolfson as a waggish skinhead roaming Paris and animated, cherry-red HIV viruses bouncing about high-end department stores and the cobblestone streets of New York’s SoHo to Mazzy Star’s “Fade into You.” The robot, however, was nowhere to be found.

“They’re saying I can’t get in to see the doll,” someone said impatiently. “I need to find Jordan. Now.”

“Apparently it’s not done,” said another. “I heard David was pissed.”

As discussion of the phantom robot’s whereabouts ensued, someone whispered to artist Anicka Yi, Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman, and a well-heeled collector to “come with them.” We ducked into a tiny room. And there, washed in bright light, she stood, grinding against a mirror, styled like Cool World’s Holli Would, all blond hair and pleather thigh-high boots and white thong leotard. She was covered in scuff marks, like she’d been torn from some bombed-out sci-fi fantasy. Her eyes bulged from behind a green witch mask. Connected to the mirror by a silver pole stabbed into her stomach, she twisted her hips, thrust her arms, and shook her bleached locks to the opening chords of Lady Gaga’s “Applause.”

Left: Karma's Brendan Dugan. (Photo: Allese Thomson) Right: Photographer Gaea Woods, artist Jordan Wolfson, and dealer David Zwirner. (Photo: Scott Rudd)

“I have never seen anything like this,” said Yi. “It’s beyond art.”

“This is the kind of thing, that if I saw it as a child, would have ruined my life,” said artist Brendan Fowler.

Wolfson elicits strong reactions. He is known for his confidence, his aptitude with the fairer sex, and his talent. His sometimes brutal depictions of women and callous representations of sex (and himself) provoke defensive reactions—“Can you imagine what people would say if Dan Colen did this?” asked one. But in Wolfson’s case, these portrayals are bracketed by moments of extreme vulnerability and self-awareness; his fantasies and anxieties emerge as centerpieces in the work.

Wolfson swept into the room, walking in front of his creation: “Please turn her off. She’s not done yet. Please turn it off.”

Left: Dealer Philomene Magers. Right: Swiss Institute director Simon Castets (center) with artist Harold Ancart (right). (Photos: Irina Rozovsky)

We dispersed, reconvening later for the dinner at Frankie’s Spuntino in the West Village. There the robot was the succès de scandale, a mysterious tabloid ingénue.

“She’s incredible, the way she moves,” waxed one dapper man.

“My girlfriend has competition,” said another guy.

The woman by his side grimaced: “She is a stripper that’s been skewered by her own pole. Seriously?”

The animatronic doll may or may not have been another play on our digital mirrors, but here, at least, it felt like we weren’t at the mercy of reflections and seductive simulacra. Instead, the room was filled with smart, powerful women. There was Whitney Museum chief curator Donna De Salvo mingling with the crowd. Curator Linda Norden sat immersed in conversation with curator Piper Marshall, art historian Claire Bishop, and Parkett’s Nikki Columbus, while publisher Miriam Katzeff chatted with Yi about her upcoming museum show.

Left: Dealers Christian Nagel (left) and Saskia Draxler (center). Right: Protocinema's Mari Spirito (left). (Photos: Irina Rozovsky)

Wolfson took a curator’s hand and whispered there was something she had to see. They walked to a corner where supermodel Helena Christensen leaned languidly across a chair.

“The real thing,” breathed one.

“She’s getting older, but still a goddess,” whispered another.

Zwirner stood and raised his glass for a toast: “Jordan has taken art to another level!”

“He will be the best of our generation,” I heard.

Someone shouted out playfully from the crowd: “Hey Jordan, do you automaton?”

Maybe Frances Stark put it best in her Instagram of the robot: “We can do this sans programmers.”

Left: Artist Mark Flood. (Photo: Allese Thomson) Right: Dealer Joel Mesler of Untitled. (Photo: Irina Rozovsky)

Left: Dealer Elizabeth Dee. Right: Dealers Daniele Balice and Alexander Hertling. (Photos: Irina Rozovsky)

Left: Dealer Janice Guy. Right: Dealer David Lewis (left). (Photos: Irina Rozovsky)

Left: Curator Piper Marshall with MoCA North Miami director Alex Gartenfeld. Right: Primary Information publisher Miriam Katzeff. (Photos: Allese Thomson)

Left: Dealer Jose Martos. (Photo: Allese Thomson) Right: Dealers Jake Miller and Emma Roberts. (Photo: Irina Rozovsky)

Left: Artists Space director Stefan Kalmar with MoMA curator Christian Rattemeyer. (Photo: Allese Thomson) Right: Dealer Anton Kern. (Photo: Irina Rozovsky)