Chain Store


Left: Artists Jim Shaw and Marnie Weber. Right: Artist Monica Bonvicini with West of Rome, inc. founder Emi Fontana. (All photos: Tamara Sussman)

Encountering a cracked sheet of bulletproof glass on which the gnomic half-question “Just an Image in the Room in Which This is Happening of Good Taste?” was spelled out in drippy enamel, I knew I had found what I was looking for. The piece, along with other drawings and text works hung in storefront windows, lured visitors into Monica Bonvicini’s “Not for You,” the second coming of Emi Fontana’s West of Rome, inc., a series of exhibitions the Milan dealer sponsors in various cities, scouting alternative real estate for contemporary art projects. Installed in the former Pasadena retail outfit Organized Living (signage still intact), the comprehensive selection of the Italian artist’s work drew curious looks from local shoppers. Those at the nearby Trader Joe’s grocery store, accustomed to Acconci Studio’s Mobius Bench at the bottom of the escalator, seemed surprised nonetheless to find leather-wrapped hammers so close to their frozen foods.

Inside the second-level space, a ring of six black lacquered harnesses hung from the fluorescent-lighted ceiling, programmed to tremble slightly every eight minutes. An empty back storeroom’s utilitarian double doors looked sexily nihilistic next to Bonvicini’s framed collages of ink-splattered cityscapes, hurricane aftermath, and stenciled declarations. Visitors trod lightly on the gallery’s drywall-paneled floor, which periodically gave way, leaving menacing apertures throughout the space. “I love it! I’ve already made three holes,” remarked a woman in platform shoes. “Hopefully we’ll do the most damage tonight.” MAK Center for Art and Architecture director Kimberli Meyer later noted, “This work is so much about architecture plus language. Memory, too. Your body must remember the jolt it feels as you fall through the floor.”

Left: Artists Alex Slade, Sharon Lockhart, and Andrea Bowers; Semiotext(e)'s Chris Kraus; and dealer Susanne Vielmetter. Right: Artists Kathryn Andrews and Stephen Prina.

Pulling my kitten heel out of the plaster (leaving a tidy puncture), I joined the party on the mall’s terrace, where MoCA curator Ann Goldstein shared her memories of architect Welton Becket’s adjoining department store (now a crestfallen Macy’s). Nearby was architect Ravi GuneWardena, whose firm designed the Pasadena residence that hosted Olafur Eliasson’s 2005 West of Rome, inc. project, and Art Institute of Chicago assistant curator Lisa Dorin, who is helping organize an exhibition of Bonvicini’s work for the museum. Chris Kraus identified institutional architecture around Pasadena (read: Art Center) while her Semiotext(e) intern admitted to fantasies induced by Destroy She Said, Bonvicini’s 1998 video installation.

At sunset, the sky turned pink and blue (matching Bonvicini’s new work, Pink Curtain) and the illuminated Organized Living sign flicked on. Guests drifted to the South Pasadena restaurant Briganti, the lucky among them greeted by a maître d’s Italian serenade; as Fontana and Bonvicini arrived, the two dining rooms erupted in applause. An infinitely long dinner table stretched across the patio to accommodate an exhaustive guest list, including artists Marnie Weber, Jim Shaw, Andrea Bowers, and Mike Kelley; curators Aimee Chang, Rita Gonzales, and Eungie Joo; dealers Marc Selwyn, Shaun Caley Regen, Susanne Vielmetter, and Metro Pictures’ Helene Winer; writers John Welchman and Jori Finkel; and a group of Italian students from Bocconi University’s Laboratory of Creative Productions. My amiable company kept the conversation lively, debating the design value of bidets and the dysfunctionality of the Olsen twins’ former residence. The group thinned out minutes before midnight, despite promised tiramisu and torta alla frutta; many had to work the next morning. I held out for dessert, truly a “Happening of Good Taste.”

Catherine Taft

Left: Emi Fontana with dealer Shaun Caley Regen. Right: Stephen Prina's foot makes an impression.

Black Market

New York

Left: William Pope.L with Miss Black Factory 2005, Pasqualina Azzarello. Right: Performer Rufat Hasanov.

Time Out said there’s a black actor performing about race. And I guess that’s you, but where’s the performance?” demanded one particularly aggressive member of the viewing public at William Pope.L’s performance/installation on wheels, “The Black Factory,” which took up temporary residence on a stretch of Fourteenth Street at Union Square last Saturday. Part bazaar, part museum, part potlatch, the Factory “performed” blackness as commodity fetish. Participants in yellow T-shirts and kilts served visitors with “twice-sold” canned goods and tar-dipped stuffed animals, with the reminder that art dealers Kenny Schachter and The Project set the price at $250 per can (this day’s proceeds went directly to the Foodbank for New York City). Meanwhile, Pope.L encouraged donations of “black objects” to be catalogued and included in the “museum,” an inflatable igloo strung with Murray’s Pomade, sneakers, and lots of old vinyl.

Huddled against the morning rain under a makeshift tent, the Black Factory functioned as a footnote to the chants and calls of a rally protesting Israel’s military action against Lebanon just feet away on the park steps, but by afternoon, with clearing skies, and a collection of bongo drummers taking up the place of the protesters, a carnival atmosphere replaced the morning’s sobriety. When tour manager Lydia Grey took a knife to one of the Factory watermelons, the thirsty crowd thickened, snatching up slices off a table strewn with blowtorched reggae albums while remaining almost completely unaware of the part they played in a racially loaded public spectacle, despite the blackface-masked performers nearby.

Left: The New School's Vera List Center for Art and Politics director Carin Kuoni. Right: The Black Factory tour manager Lydia Grey.

By this time, the performers were well into their own skits (written independently under Pope.L’s guidance). Performer Josh Atlas promised a special guest appearance by Janet Jackson but quickly donned a moplike red wig himself (“I want to hear the real Janet Jackson!” clamored one cheated woman), while Rufat Hasanov prostrated himself and began a Pope.L crawl. Nikki Pike attempted to engage a sullen-looking college student. Scribbling “Yo homeless: off the streets (Bloomberg’s REAL PLAN)” on a portable whiteboard, Pike turned to her solo audience: “I’ve only lived in New York twenty-one hours, so I don’t know much.”

Pope.L kept guard at the truck, chatting up friends and strangers alike from the passenger seat. That morning, the Black Factory’s parking permit had been revoked, a bureaucratic setback that reminded me of the NEA’s infamous withdrawal of support from Pope.L’s 2002 Maine College of Art retrospective. But, despite “a few casualties,” as Pope.L put it, the show did go on. Carin Kuoni, director of the New School’s Vera List Center for Art and Politics, the event sponsor, thrilled to the Factory’s direct engagement with the public. “It’s Saturday,” Kuoni explained. “People are in a more open-minded mood.” A crowd of tourist types gazed impassively as Pike, in a Sambo mask, shouted, “The US is making niggers out of everyone!” Kanene Holder, who was recruited first thing in the morning, returned with black plastic bags of Vaseline, matches, Barbie books, and potting soil from a ninety-nine-cent store—all objects she decided “represented blackness”—and spent the day offering up and explaining her selections to passersby.

Left: Artist Kanene Holder. Right: Miss Black Factory 2006, Josh Atlas.

After convincing one pipe-smoking skeptic that he was, indeed, the “CEO” of the Black Factory, Pope.L elaborated on the project’s obligations: “Everywhere we go we try to hook up with a charitable foundation to give back to the community we visit.” As Kuoni discovered in her efforts to identify a local charity, even forging these ties can become an exercise in overcoming preconceptions about race. “When I first spoke with the Foodbank,” Kuoni explained, “they told me they were not only for black people.”

Michael Wang

Media Circus


Left: Musician Keith Fullerton Whitman. Right: Musician Richard Chartier. (Photos: D. Robert Wolcheck)

On Saturday evening, walking along a desolate stretch of Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn, I could hear music washing over warehouses and empty lots several blocks before I found my way to BAPLab, a daylong—or, more accurately, nightlong—festival of new media and new music. Local nonprofit Bushwick Art Project (“We did not move East of Williamsburg. . . . We are and will forever be Bushwick”) organized the busy affair, the second in their series of benefit events designed to draw attention to the creative efforts of those stationed more than three L-train subway stops outside of Manhattan. Despite spreading across twenty thousand square feet of space at 3rd Ward, a huge, newly renovated building that offers production facilities to this very community of artists, the jammed-together crowd at the door—young, white, artfully dressed—was jammed together throughout.

I wandered among video projections, unspooled film reels and videotapes, homemade robots, and digital displays brought together by about a dozen curators overseen by BAP’s Ruth Garon and R. J. Valeo. Garon described the event as “highlighting the organic overlap” between these disciplines, and the entreprenurial promoter, who arrived in New York from Israel only a year ago, hopes to grow BAPLab into a multiday festival à la SONAR or MUTEK, twin anchors of the experimental electronic music scene. Independent curator Ashley Colgate, who selected a number of the room-size new-media installations, offered casual theories about the “reformed hippie” aspect of a large segment of the new-media population, and I couldn’t help but picture LoVid’s Kyle Lapidus, who had performed earlier in the evening and was at that moment roaming the hallways in a jailhouse-orange jumpsuit and two pairs of 3-D glasses.

As with any event involving almost one hundred artists, the quality of the work varied. Recognized names like Guy Ben-Ner, who represented Israel at the 2005 Venice Biennale, and Douglas Henderson, who has exhibited at the Whitney, stood out, but Geoffrey Bell’s Musical Chair: A Game for One and projects by a number of current students at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, which were scattered along hallways, also impressed. Unlike previous new-media festivals I have attended, everything here worked, even if one could complain that much of it worked in similar ways. (The favorite: Manipulate an unexpected element—water, dust particles, etc.—to create unexpected change in sound track or on nearby screen.)

Left: Independent curator Ashley Colgate with Creative Time producer Gavin Kroeber. (Photo: Andrew Bicknell) Right: Musicians Camea and Insideout. (Photo: Scott Bintner)

Back-to-back performances by musicians Richard Chartier and Keith Fullerton Whitman were an early-evening highlight. The two were a study in contrast. Chartier, a former painter who recently performed at the Hirshhorn Museum in conjunction with the Hiroshi Sugimoto retrospective, has a shaved head and was clad head-to-toe in black. He hovered over a laptop, coaxing an unexpectedly loud (given his Minimalist bent) and organic (given his digital source material) sound from what he later described as “about sixty preselected files, collaged together.” Whitman, who is affiliated with Harvard’s Studio for Electro-Acoustic Composition, was in a red T-shirt and shorts, his long beard touching the guitar in his lap while clusters of loud, bright, high-pitched, digitally tweaked notes hung in the too-hot room during his half-hour set. After a quick “Thank you,” he packed up his gear at 9:45 PM and headed to the Lower East Side for a scheduled 10 PM performance at Tonic.

I ventured upstairs, past a doorless bathroom (with a spotlighted toilet) marked by graffiti cajoling passersby with the words “Don’t be shy,” and into the first of four gargantuan raw spaces, three of which were given over to live music, DJs, and VJs. Seated listeners lined the walls, perhaps saving their energy for the wee hours, when abstract musical experimentation was to give way to more danceable fare. I cashed in my drink tickets and stood beneath slowly spinning chandeliers that evoked Sputnik and, given the context, disco balls; each was adorned with a die-cut metal band that shaped the light into textual clichés like “THINGS WON’T BE THE SAME.” Looking east over low-rise, lower-rent Brooklyn, I imagined the sun crawling up and the view that would greet the tired revelers in just a few hours.

Brian Sholis

Hollywood Premiere

Los Angeles

Left: NADA President Andrea Smith, NADA cofounder John Connelly, and NADA President Emerita Sheri Pasquarella. Right: Artist Walead Beshty. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)

When the conversation grew too promotional, too professional, or simply too much, I ducked out of the throng of young dealers and headed to the quieter side of the terrace at the Standard Hotel on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. The pastel blue of the pool and the soft pink glow of the balcony lights made the night feel plush and clubby—an atmosphere in tune with the PR strategy of the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA). Bigwig dealers are keen to tell you that nada means “nothing” in Spanish, but proud NADA members had traveled from far-flung places like North Carolina and Massachusetts to attend this summit.

It was the first humid evening of the inaugural NADACON, an amorphous series of weekend events, which included the opening party, one brunch, three collection tours, one artist-curator talk, one panel discussion, and one private roundtable meeting that I was reminded multiple times I was not allowed to attend. NADA, according to their mission statement, is about honest dealing and community and not, as their epithet might imply, selling art. The party was collegial. Dealers and gallery assistants clanked bottles of swampy Grolsch and exchanged well-rehearsed repartee. As the night wore on, the poolside became ever more dominated by dealing, the kind that’s usually preambled with wheeling. In other words, the sort usually found at “the fair”—two words that dripped off lips in rushed whispers like an impure thought.

Left: Dealer Mary Leigh Cherry, Dan Hug, and NADA fair director Heather Hubbs. Right: Dealer and art advisor Lowell Pettit.

The NADA brass welcomed me with open arms. I was handed from NADA fair director Heather Hubbs to NADA president Andrea Smith to NADA cofounder John Connelly back to Smith and finally to President Emerita and NADA mastermind Sheri Pasquarella, who presided over the event like last year’s prom queen. Upon being asked why she stepped down from such heights, she responded, “NADA needed to spread its wings and fly, like the Mariah Carey song.”

The next morning we gathered for a brunch of dim sum, chicken feet, and Bloody Marys at Black Dragon Society’s new space in Chinatown, where the young dealers in young art were looking a little gray. After breakfast, new NADA member and art advisor Lowell Pettit championed NADA’s supportive network and waxed lyrical about the strangeness of the word dealer in the association’s name. “It highlights the excess and exclusivity of our business,” he said. “But what other professions call themselves dealers? Antique dealers, car dealers, card dealers!"

The next day, the shuttle bus, a mighty beast of seasoned age whose history was marked by the scraped-off casino logo on its side, took us from the Standard to the Ovitz Family Collection in Santa Monica. Ovitz was not in attendance, but collection curator Andrea Feldman Falcione led the tour with a sophisticated intern, Julianne Rosenbloom, in tow—a step up from the Broad collection tour, where a recently recruited intern led the proceedings alone.

Left: Taka Ishii Gallery's Jeffrey Ian Rosen. Right: Julianne Rosenbloom with Ovitz Family Collection curator Andrea Feldman Falcione.

Past the imitation-brass Lichtenstein of a setting sun in the courtyard and through the glass front doors, I walked into the lobby and was greeted by a Kippenberger nude portrait of Michel Würthle. Walking from office to office, I observed the work of Raymond Pettibon, Julie Mehretu, Ed Templeton, Diane Arbus, Peter Doig, and many of his students. There were a cluster of Leipzig artists, a Richard Prince for every occasion (one painting appropriately included a check made out to Ovitz for $175,000 to “Buy Back Painting”), and a large number of Blum & Poe protégés. Although most pieces were stunning, the rhyme or reason of the collection was, let us say politely, impossible to discern.

After a question from Pasquarella, who chewed gum and blew bubbles throughout the tour, about whether the employees knew the value of the work on the walls, I asked Feldman Falcione, What is the unifying force of the collection? She had dropped hints about Ovitz’s tastes; he doesn’t really like video, he once had a penchant for photos, but he’s now seriously into imagistic paintings. After hemming and hawing about space and process, she eventually proclaimed with a tone of finality, “We buy works we like.” The tour ended. As Feldman Falcione was swarmed by NADA dealers with outstretched business cards and inquiries about unsolicited submissions (she accepts them, by the way), I asked her intern what she thought the collection was all about. “I work under a Richard Prince,” she said with a shrug. “I'm not sure, but . . . he knows what he's doing with his money."

Strange Magic

New York

Left: Creative Time curator Peter Eleey with artist Miranda Lichtenstein. Right: Collector Beth DeWoody with Creative Time director Anne Pasternak. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco)

I grew up with the occult—matronly “aunts” introducing me to the teachings of Aleister Crowley and pagan activist Starhawk and stores with names like Moonshadow and Mother Earth Magick. Now, years after laying aside the mysteries of runes, tarot, and numerology, I found myself summoned to the East Village for Tuesday night’s preview of “Strange Powers,” Creative Time’s fantastical group show (named after a Magnetic Fields song) exploring supernatural transformation. Creative Time’s Peter Eleey and the New Museum’s Laura Hoptman, the exhibition’s curators, both share a conviction that “art can change the world,” though Hoptman seemed most interested in the otherworldly properties of the objects, while Eleey clung to a more empirical position. The curators took their charge seriously, down to their participation in Douglas Gordon’s work requesting that the nonprofit organization “do something evil.” “One intern’s entire job was to locate the most powerful curse,” noted Hoptman. “She eventually convinced a satanic cult to share their formula.”

The hex—performed on a letter-size area of black paint—was cast mere hours before the main event. Creative Time, like the Adversary, prefers its evil fresh. The other charms, rituals, and psychic ephemera—including Euan Macdonald’s spellbinding video, Healer, 2002, and a pitch-black room containing The Ghost of James Lee Byars, 1969—felt at home in the raw, reportedly haunted former theater building. Exhibition artist Miranda Lichtenstein was on hand to discuss her documentation of a spiritual “cleansing” of the space. Meanwhile, Mari Spirito, just through curating her own summer group show, “A Broken Arm,” at 303 Gallery, recruited visitors to investigate an eerie glow emanating from a chink in a wall. Was it art? A poltergeist? Was it available as an edition?

Left: New Museum curator Laura Hoptman tests out Senga Nengudi's installation Makes Clean. Right: Dealer Andrew Kreps, 303 Gallery's Mari Spirito, Frieze US editor James Trainor, and Anne Pasternak.

Dinner was held at the slick new Chinatown Brasserie, a restaurant haunted by memories of the sorely missed performance venue Fez. Passing the subterranean lounge’s carp-laden pond, I wondered: What would Fez favorite Karen Finley have done with all these fish? I dove into the sticky dumplings and moo shu, while dealer Andrew Kreps confessed to being “politically opposed to meat” between mouthfuls of chicken. When the discussion turned to the conspicuous lack of meat-based work in Chelsea, artist Peter Coffin divulged that his very first sculpture, crafted at the prime age of sixteen, was a “scary monster made from raw meat.” “Where is it now?” I wondered. “I ate it.” Before the conversation grew completely unpalatable, I switched back to the show’s theme, asking Kreps if he believed in ghosts. “Nope,” he said. “I believe in a lot of freaky things. But ghosts? Too specific.”

Spirited away by taxi, I was tardy for P.S. 1’s thirtieth-anniversary roller-disco benefit at the Roxy, just missing the school-cum-museum’s headmistress Alanna Heiss. Having advocated for the space since 1976, I can hardly blame her for calling it an early night. Taking to the arena with camera in hand, I contemplated the wisdom of mixing rinks with drinks, though I didn’t have to think long before stumbling over the falling bodies of haphazard art lovers. Remembering that curator Ali Subotnick broke her arm at a Roxy bash hosted by David Zwirner three years ago, I slowed myself to a snail’s pace.

Left: Fashion designer Cynthia Rowley. Right: Sean Kelly Gallery's Boshko Boskovic (left).

Earlier at dinner, collector Beth Rudin DeWoody galvanized me with memories of Susanne Bartsch’s infamous Roxy Halloween parties, but tonight was a decidedly less costumed affair. A few adventurous skaters donned their “Le Freaky” best, but despite the disco fever, the bicentennial theme of my boyfriend’s outfit went without comment. Perhaps his ensemble was too specific. I bumped into Cynthia Rowley, dolled up in a flowing, white, Xanadu-esque one-piece. “Before tonight, I had no idea that my husband was such a rock ‘n’ roll, hotshot, roller-skating fiend,” said the demure fashion maven, who’s cohosting another P.S. 1 anniversary fundraiser, a revisitation of the museum’s inaugural Prom party, this October.

As the crowd thinned, the floor was reinvigorated by the introduction of a small posse of “Strange Powers” stragglers, including Eleey, Spirito, and Creative Time’s Maureen Sullivan. I admit surprise at their finesse: Spirito adroitly demonstrated a scrunched-down cannonball technique, giving her speed if not delicacy. “Who needs drugs? Who needs the gym? This is so fun!” she enthused. But the fun couldn’t last forever, and by 1 AM, dance legends First Choice were singing “It’s not over” through the club’s Phazon sound system while skaters examined their injuries. (Their endurance was rewarded, however, with vintage P.S. 1 exhibition posters salvaged from the Roxy’s trash.) Hitting the rain-soaked Chelsea streets, we all felt a little closer to the spirits.

Bloc Party


Left: Joanna Zielinska and artist Paulina Olowska. Right: Artist Wilhelm Sasnal with CCA curator Lukasz Ronduda. (Photos: Adam Mazur)

As I stumbled through heavy curtains Monday night into “USA,” Wilhelm Sasnal’s film exhibition at Warsaw’s Center of Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, I was slightly unnerved to find myself confronted by the 16-mm vision of a woman posing and cavorting in abandoned airplane wreckage somewhere in the Mojave Desert. My flight on LOT Polish Airlines a few days earlier came to an end with a rather “creative” landing, and Sasnal’s film strayed a bit too close to the visions that flashed before my eyes when we rather violently entered Warsaw’s airspace. Nevertheless, the sound track, comprising music from various ’50s Polish films, seduced me to linger and enjoy the playful desert dérive, a peculiar cross between Jack Smith’s Scotch Tape, Antonioni’s The Red Desert, and Survivor.

The galleries were heaving and hot, so after wandering through the rest of the show—which includes W.E. Love Ranch, 2006, a video installation documenting Texan cowboys castrating calves and eating the offcuts—I decided to enjoy my first Eastern-bloc opening in the fresh air of the courtyard below. Having spent a whirlwind weekend touring various galleries and museums in town, I happily bumped into several of the locals who populate this city’s rewarding scene. The amiable and informed Lukasz Ronduda, curator of the Sasnal show and CCA’s Archive of Polish Experimental Film, was busily distributing exhibition catalogues on the stairs as he welcomed guests such as Foksal Gallery Foundation’s savvy Joanna Mytkowska, Berlin-based artist Florian Zeyfang, and Miroslaw Balka. As I reached the courtyard, Piktogram’s Michal Wolinski led me to a bar serving the local summer specialty, apple juice mixed with vodka, and continued to feed my new hunger for stories about Polish street sculpture, Polish punk, Polish modernist architecture, Polish artists working in chemical plants, and ’70s-era Polish art publications that are frustratingly out of print.

Left: Foksal Gallery Foundation's Joanna Mytkowska. Right: Artist Florian Zeyfang with Piktogram editor in chief Michal Wolinski.

The CCA is a pleasantly weathered, lo-fi cultural megaplex, and among the various exhibitions and activities taking place, I made a beeline for the opening of Paulina Olowska’s exhibition, “Rainbow Brite,” also curated by Ronduda. In the catalogue for Sasnal’s show, Ronduda claims that Olowska and Sasnal belong to a new generation of Polish artists for whom art functions to intensify and exploit the imagination and its connection to everyday life. If Sasnal’s films constitute a “private cinema” that plays with the history of Polish experimental film and seems to slip through multiple frames of time and place, for CCA Olowska has more specific prey in mind: the '80s. After a room featuring five Warhol-cum-Sturtevant-cum-Koons silver screenprints of an alien primate’s face, the subject at hand became more apparent upon entering a three-room installation with multiple projections of the cult 1984 movie The NeverEnding Story. Screened on billowing white sheets, the film is presented in five languages for which subtitles were produced. In another nod to Warhol, the exhibition, according to Olowska, will be kept open twenty-four hours a day. Never ending indeed.

My own recollection of The NeverEnding Story has more to do with the Giorgio Moroder theme song performed by ex-Kajagoogoo frontman Limahl, which, like clockwork, began to emanate from speakers in the courtyard outside, to which I returned. Olowska herself suddenly materialized in what I am told is typically dramatic fashion, and her remarkable dress and cape were printed with what would appear to be a scene from the film. She began to dance and writhe in a manner that recalled her 2005 project Alphabet, for which she posed to resemble the shape of each letter. I tried to follow her sybaritic code until I was drawn into conversation with Ronduda about Polish filmmakers old (Pawel Kwiek) and new (Piotr Uklanski, whose new feature-length western is forthcoming). Ronduda was brimming with energy, ideas, and enthusiasm for unearthing Poland’s overlooked cultural past and connecting it to Warsaw’s talented cache of young artists and curators. Definitely worth a trip back soon to see what he and his cohorts have in store, but next time I’m flying British Airways.

Stuart Comer

Left: Zacheta National Gallery curator Maria Brewinska with CCA Ujazdowski Castle director Wojciech Krukowski. (Photo: Adam Mazur) Right: Visitors dance in front of Paulina Olowska's installation.

Soft Launch

New York

Left: Writer Rachel Kushner. Right: Soft Targets coeditors Dan Hoy and Daniel Feinberg.

The hip, youngish art/lit throng attending Tuesday’s launch party for Soft Targets—a new “handheld journal of poetry, artwork, criticism, short fiction, found images, sound, and other ephemera”—was surely feeling softer than usual due to the evening’s exceedingly swampy weather, which Soft Targets contributor and coeditrix Rachel Kushner called “velveteen,” but I call viscous. Like her beau Jason Smith, the de facto “intellectual godfather” of the journal, however, Kushner lives in LA, where inorganic swamp gas (and its attendant street-corner puddles of urban “milk”) is an option, not a feature. All I know is that I was not alone in conducting my own personal wet T-shirt contest before the first reader approached the mic.

The Paula Cooper Gallery offered ample space for the lively audience, but inadequate air conditioning, lending the affair an earthy funk. Even the generous supply of chilled Chardonnay and Bud couldn’t stanch the generalized effluvia, so after half an hour of air kisses and slick handshakes, the sweaty crowd—including author Lynne Tillman, avant-turntablist Christian Marclay, musicians/publishers Damon & Naomi, hepcat literary agent Chris Calhoun, Times columnist Bob Morris, and former Spinane Rebecca Gates—seated themselves on the floor to let the readers wash over them.

First up are the two Dans—Daniel Feinberg and Dan Hoy—the young superbrights who constitute the Soft Targets “Front Office.” One of them is poetry Dan, responsible for the high verse quotient of the journal; the other is art/theory Dan, who was a student of Smith’s at Occidental College. After offering some celebratory comments, they thank Smith for his inspiration, mentoring, and, most important, his ability to rein in their impulse toward creating “a conflation of Teen Beat and Soldier of Fortune.” Second is Smith himself, a charming, affable Florida native who studied under Derrida and is too boyishly fresh faced to come off as the intellectual godfather of anything. Nevertheless, he’s got theory chops, and his introductory remarks cheekily work the vaguely paramilitary vibe of Soft Targets—phrases like “pattern of flight,” “mode of retreat,” “new geometry of hostility,” and “taken from behind” drift by as the crowd collectively melts on the floor, fight/flight instincts thoroughly deactivated by the heat.

Left: Poet and cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum. Right: Writer Bartholomew Ryan and artist Adam Pendleton.

Smith leaves the mic to rousing applause, but not before introducing Kushner, his co-conspirator in Soft Targets’ “Office of Special Plans.” (Note: The real Office of Special Plans was a short-lived Pentagon “shadow CIA” run by former undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith, and was partly responsible for the “slam dunk” case for the existence of WMDs in Iraq. In general, if the word special appears on any government body or document, it likely denotes some type of sleazy, illegal black op.) Kushner reads her short story “The Tale of Rachel K,” which, despite its eponymous title, seems to take place sometime just after WWII. It is lovely and odd, with frequent descriptions of baroque, outmoded lingerie, but perhaps a stitch too long for this particular evening at the Paula Cooper Steam Baths.

Next up is Damon Krukowski, poet, publisher (Exact Change), and musician (Galaxie 500, Damon & Naomi), who reads a moving prose poem that questions the legitimacy of the creative act and jibes nicely with Smith’s failure/retreat metaphors. Its length is just right. Krukowski then introduces the diminutive, ultrastylish professor-poet-critic Wayne Koestenbaum, formerly known during his professorial stint at Yale as the Prince (Purple, not Tudor) of academia. Tricked out in a hot-pink oxford shirt, impeccably white pants, and matching two-tone sneakers, Koestenbaum reads from a work in progress called Hotel Theory, a split-column book: one column a theoretical meditation on hotel rooms; the other a cheeky novel, starring Lana Turner and Liberace, among others, centered on the fictional Hotel Women in LA. A potentially disastrous formula, to be sure, but like all of Koestenbaum’s work, it gracefully balances hard-won philosophical concepts with a genuinely funny camp wit. Also, Koestenbaum doesn’t seem to sweat. I’m doubly impressed.

Left: Jason Smith. Right: Musician and writer Damon Krukowski.

The sound/video presentation by teleseen was unfairly abandoned by most of the crowd as they quickly flowed outside in search of fresh air. A loose, postgame dinner party convened at the sprawling, convivial Markt, a Meatpacking District Belgian eatery. Over mussels and margaritas I met longtime Artforum contributors Lisa Liebmann and Brooks Adams and chatted with Smith and Kushner about Soft Targets, Echo Park, Marxism, and electoral politics. They possess that effortless blend of hipness and high theory particular to California cities and university towns. Soft Targets is similarly impressive, substantial, and wide-ranging. Let’s hope they don’t take their “failure fetishism” too far and succumb to an aesthetics of disappearance.

Ottmann Empire

Santa Fe

Left: Artist Jonathan Meese in Total Revolution = Dr. Eldorado. (Except where noted, all photos: Catherine Taft) Right: Anne Deleporte, artist Stephen Dean, SITE president Marlene Nathan Meyerson, SITE curator Klaus Ottmann, and dealer Leslie Tonkonow. (Photo: Carole Devillers)

“I’ve participated in many biennials, and I’ve learned that the earlier you get there, the better they treat you,” advised Stephen Dean, one of thirteen artists featured in this year’s SITE Santa Fe International Biennial, “Still Points of the Turning World.” Unfortunately, the tip came late and so did I, arriving Friday afternoon, just in time to make the exhibition’s opening reception. The fête for curator Klaus Ottmann’s unconventional biennial (which has been likened to a series of solo shows) was the first event in a weekend tailored to local and international tastes and punctuated by parties, performances, dinners, lectures, and very few social “still points.”

Sensing mixed reviews in the party tent (flooded the night before by a torrential rain), I queried a few locals: One woman, a painter, reported that Ottmann was “no Robert Storr”; another confidante suggested that this year would “push Santa Fe’s buttons.” After my initial skepticism about the mazelike exhibition design, I decided that Ottmann had managed to have his cake and eat it too, disavowing curatorial metaphor while letting it slip in the back door via the show’s poetic title. The idea of an international biennial with only thirteen artists and no “theme” seemed more public risk than institutional tough sell for Ottmann, whose canny proposal was fully supported by SITE Santa Fe director Laura Steward Heon, the museum’s board of directors, and its donors (who could be spotted all weekend sporting colored medallions displaying their level of generosity).

Left: Collectors Bill and Alicia Miller. Right: Marlene Nathan Meyerson, Anne Marion, President Emeritus John L. Marion, and SITE director Laura Steward Heon. (Photo: Carole Devillers)

I also sought out artists, including Snorre Ruch and Jon Wesseltoft of Thorns Ltd., the Norwegian trio whose electronic score, presented as a sound installation, will play for the run of the show, 185 days, without repeating itself. “You need to spend a long time in [the installation],” Ruch noted, “at least three days. The longest I spent in the piece was nine hours. It was quite disturbing.” At the after-party geared towards SITE’s younger set, German artist Carsten Nicolai and his Berlin dealer, Anne Schwanz of Galerie Eigen + Art, were looking forward to a pilgrimage to Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field. I also spoke with Santa Fe Trend publisher Cynthia Marie Canyon, who reported she “saw the fire ignite” at the opening, referring not to the “hot” show but to a track light that blew in Jennifer Bartlett’s room—thankfully, no damage or evacuations.

Day two started early, with private Biennial walk-throughs conducted by Heon and Ottmann. I joined the latter’s group at Wolfgang Laib’s sap ziggurats, which our guide philosophically considered the “most still point of all the still points.” We digested a selection of canvases by Peter Doig (who, summoning Rothko, Ottmann pegged as the most interesting painter working today) and moved toward Jonathan Meese’s first female sculpture, affectionately named Suzy Wong. “She has a really nice behind, actually,” explained Ottmann. “I moved her away from the wall so you could walk around and have a look. That’s what curators do.” After the tour, guests downed mimosas while waiting for the shuttle taking visitors to the homes of board member Bill Miller and his wife, Alicia, and collectors Sally and Thomas Dunning. The Millers balanced Currin, Koons, and Constance De Jong with Zuni, Comanche, and Incan artifacts, the latter lightheartedly described by Miller as “early Agnes Martins” and “Louis Vuitton of the Plains.”

Left: Artist Wolfgang Laib with Klaus Ottmann. Right: Galerie Eigen + Art's Anne Schwanz, artist Carsten Nicolai, Jonathan Meese, Brigitte Meese, and Nicole Hackert of Contemporary Fine Arts Berlin.

The afternoon highlight was Meese’s performance, Total Revolution = Dr. Eldorado, a Red Bull–fueled onslaught that underscored his scrutiny of false gods, cultural consumption, historical memory, and gender. Meese enlisted his mother, Brigitte, for the happening, and she announced at the outset: “Jonathan works himself into a kind of trance. . . . In South Korea last year, he fell off the stage and broke three ribs. So I am here as a kind of watchdog to keep him from injuring himself.” The “thirty-nine-minute performance with an additional six minutes” began coolly to a sound track of histrionic Muppet melodies, but escalated as Supertramp’s “School” masochistically played on repeat. The shirtless Meese (“Ezra Pound Is Back” scrawled in Sharpie on his bare skin) gave a good show of his “body dancing” while moving through littered domestic set dressing and past the fourth wall of a stylized Paolo Soleri proscenium.

The performance was recounted later that night over dinner, one of three hosted by SITE board member Douglas Ring and Cindy Miscikowski at their inviting home, designed by renowned Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. As guests arrived, an unexpected downpour left the caterers scrambling to arrange indoor seating. As a result of the shuffle, I found myself among a mélange of Angelenos, including MoCA director Jeremy Strick and his wife, Wendy; MoCA assistant director Ari Wiseman and trustee Audrey Irmas; breezy biennial artist Catherine Opie and her dealer, Shaun Caley Regen. Victoria Miro, Richard Gray Gallery’s Serra Pradhan, dealer Leslie Tonkonow (Ottmann's wife), and others came from points east. After our spicy Southwestern dinner, Ottmann admitted to me that he was fond of Santa Fe but missed his books in New York. When asked what was next he boldly joked, “No new projects yet. Tell Venice I’m available.”

Catherine Taft

Left: SITE director of external affairs Marc Dorfman with SITE foundation council members Sally and Thomas Dunning. Right: Jon Wesseltof and Snorre Ruch of Thorns Ltd.

Toast Masters


Left: Artist Anish Kapoor and architect David Adjaye. Right: Hans-Ulrich Obrist with foreign policy advisor Mark Leonard and Rem Koolhaas. (Photos: Sarah Thornton, unless otherwise noted)

A perennial problem besetting architecture: One man’s innovative construction is another’s massive toaster. As the crowds gathered at the Serpentine Gallery Thursday night to celebrate the opening of the new temporary pavilion, this year designed by Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond with a team of engineers from Arup, one could only marvel at the wildly disparate opinions it elicited. Koolhaas and Balmond have devised a translucent ovoid canopy that bulges over the curtain wall sheltering the café and auditorium, and while some talked of hot air balloons soaring over summer skies, others talked of golf balls and fungi, and one newspaper critic told me it was like a space station but also like a supermarket and concluded, “You see, you just can’t see up the sphincter of the thing, and that’s no good!”

One of the ideas behind the pavilion is that it should offer an opportunity to architects who have never worked in Britain before, and admirers were particularly eager to make obeisance to Koolhaas’s debut. Early arrivals included architect David Adjaye, artist Anish Kapoor, and Ralph Rugoff, the new Director of the Hayward Gallery, and when they had doffed their caps, they were replaced by a steady stream of stuttering student devotees. Koolhaas’s arrival also saw Hans-Ulrich Obrist in irrepressible spirits; the two seem to have bonded like soul mates, and they spent the first hour bent over notes with strangely trendy foreign-policy guru Mark Leonard. This might have had something to do with plans for their twenty-four-hour interview marathon at the end of the month, when Obrist and Koolhaas will jointly chew the ears off three dozen contemporary worthies, but they might as easily be planning a breakaway republic. Later, Obrist spoke in Koolhaasian style about “the impossibility of the possible and the possibility of the impossible.” I nodded, smiled, and then made fast for the bar.

Left: Hans-Ulrich Obrist with Serpentine Gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones. Right: Critic Richard Cork, curator Pierre Coinde, and artist Michael Craig-Martin. (Photos: Morgan Falconer)

Being a fine night on the tail end of a heat wave, Londoners just kept coming, particularly as there were reports that the air-conditioning had petered out across town at the opening of “Dark Matter,” the Malevich-inspired group show at White Cube. “I felt like one of the insects on Damien Hirst’s dead-fly paintings,” panted one critic. Pierre Coinde, from the roving curatorial project the Centre of Attention, was cool no matter the temperature beneath an extraordinary hat, a spaghetti tangle of black lines of fabric.

Eventually the masses took their leave but, for the elect, things were about to get going in Chelsea at the startling quarters of Lord and Lady Rogers. Outside, their house is typical of the larger Georgian buildings in the area, but inside the noted architect has gutted it and erected thin, vertiginous steel stairways reaching up to broad balconies. It’s toweringly magnificent, with a bathroom that is high comedy: A bright pink cubicle contains a yellow rubber sink with a tap halfway up the wall, such that it takes acrobatics to wash one’s hands. Guests, meanwhile, also needed nimble moves to eat rare beef while not leaning on the Philip Guston paintings and the Warhol Mao portraits. It was made no easier by the fact that the invite list had swelled far beyond capacity, leaving everyone from designer Ron Arad and architect Zaha Hadid to the venerable historian Eric Hobsbawm to get more intimate than they might have desired. The Serpentine’s director, Julia Peyton-Jones, thrives on this kind of thing, and despite trying to convince me that she suffers stage fright before speaking to such throngs, she managed to toast and thank absolutely everyone and the plumber. Something had to go wrong with all this clamor, and eventually someone slipped and rendered an enormous chocolate cake seriously structurally unsound. It was of no consequence however, as that too was later demolished.



Left: Artist Smadar Dreyfus with dealer Victoria Miro. Right: Flo, Grayson, and Philippa Perry.

I walked into Grayson Perry’s exhibition, “The Charms of Lincolnshire,” a little before six last Wednesday evening and found the artist in the midst of an interview for “PM,” the BBC Radio 4 flagship that British politicians consider platinum airtime. “We’re coming to you live from the Victoria Miro Gallery, where the private view starts in fourteen minutes,” said the broadcaster in his booming voice. “Grayson, talk us through your outfit for the opening this evening.” No longer just a transvestite potter, but an all-round multi-media sculptor, printmaker, photographer, curator, TV presenter, Times columnist, and clothes horse, Perry replied: “It was designed by a Saint Martin’s student for me. It’s kind of 1950s-tea-dress-meets-Wonder Woman with a touch of Elizabeth I.”

Since his Turner Prize victory in 2003, Perry has become the UK’s most famous artist. The British public love to loath Damien Hirst but, for better or worse, they love to love Grayson. Bored with Hirst’s obsession with money, the public gobble up column inches on Perry’s broad range of manias: sex, politics, death, violence, childhood, and the decorative arts. Visually transgressive, but verbally down-home, Perry has a flair for sound bites like “Rebellion is for squares” and “Coolness is the enemy of creativity.” No enfant terrible, Perry is more of a well-psychoanalyzed post-hippie intellectual with an unreformed desire to be the perfect little girl.

Artist Idris Khan with INIVA curator Cylena Simonds. Right: Collectors David Ross and Saffron Aldridge.

So, it goes without saying that there was a long, motley queue waiting to enter, and crowd control was at a premium. Ushers directed the human flow through the cheery gloom of the exhibition and then out to the terrace where bottles of beer and water were served by the canal. It’s always difficult to appreciate individual works in charged (and humid) circumstances, so the first job of the viewer was to identify the fourteen Perry pieces that were mixed in with the Victorian curiosities—a horse-drawn hearse, human hair embroideries, Babylonian tear bottles, and vintage photographs.

If the exhibition offered a bit of a “Where’s Waldo?” experience, the crowd offered up a game of “spot the hack.” I don’t remember ever seeing such a large congregation of critics, journalists, and other media types at a private gallery opening. I witnessed one weird moment when six people were simultaneously touching Perry—fingering his frock’s fabric, prodding the diamantes, reality checking his lean body underneath. The artist has this effect; people abandon their inhibitions and fetishism runs amok. Accustomed to seeing her husband manhandled, psychotherapist Philippa Perry was having a jolly good time. All dolled up with false eyelashes and an ample amount of all-natural breast, she introduced me to a handsome actor friend as having “an allotment where he grows his own beef . . . I mean leeks.” Why is it that shrinks always make the best Freudian slips?

And we hadn’t even gone upstairs yet. This evening included the unveiling of the biggest gallery back rooms in Europe. Victoria Miro, the grandest of London’s grande-dame dealers, has added 9,000 square feet of Claudio Silvestrin-conceived VIP space—with lounges, a cantilevered balcony, and a cavernous multipurpose room to be used this evening as a 160-seat banquet hall—and loos rumored to eventually house video facilities for which artists will be invited to make “site-specific” works.

Left: Guardian arts correspondent Charlotte Higgins. Right: Collector Lord Marland and Warren Miro.

Beyond another checkpoint and up some stairs to a champagne reception, another gathering of better-dressed people emerged. Intellectual pundits like Lisa Jardine and Marina Warner and collectors like Miel de Botton Aynsley, Robert Devereux, Mercedes and Ian Stoutzker, David Ross, and Saffron Aldridge mucked in with gallery artists like Thomas Demand, Idris Khan, Smadar Dreyfus, and Conrad Shawcross. It might also be worth noting the presence of British Council Director of Visual Arts and commissioner of the British Pavilion for the Venice Biennale, Andrea Rose. Could it be that this year’s British Council choice will coincide with popular opinion?

One thing that gives the art world its vitality is the mixing of social types. After a meal catered by Bistrotheque, Guardian arts correspondent Charlotte Higgins praised the great hall: “It’s like an Oxford College with all the paneling stripped out and painted white.” Just then, Lord Marland, a collector and fundraiser for the Conservative party, came over. When I introduced the Tory Lord to the feisty socialist writer, Marland joked, in a way that was oddly charming, “You’re death warmed up for me.” As the pair engaged in some good-natured political banter, I scanned the assembled crowd. The room had begun to clear, but Grayson, now wearing a bib inscribed with the word “Pansy,” his makeup a tad smudged, was still cracking wise: “Heat is the enemy of drag.”

Independents' Day

New York

Left: “Bring the War Home” artist Lizzie Bougatsos. Right: “Bring the War Home” artist Cyprien Gaillard with curator Drew Heitzler.

It’s hard to know how an opening party will pan out when it’s scheduled for the Fourth of July, just as it’s hard to know how a show will pan out when its checklist runs to nineteen tightly spaced pages, but the novelty of both inspired me to give up on firecrackers, Budweiser, and hot dogs to make my way to Chelsea’s Elizabeth Dee Gallery. Early invitations for “Bring the War Home,” curated by artist, bar owner, and former gallery impresario Drew Heitzler, promised a political sampler heavy on scrappy ephemera, text, and time-based work, all in a gallery that (between you and me) only pipes air conditioning to its private offices. Freaky black clouds glowered ominously through the afternoon, and Tenth Avenue was deserted but for dog walkers, a streetwalker, and a few joggers. A satisfying evening seemed far from guaranteed.

Anxieties dissipated as I caught sight of a bona-fide mob gathered outside the gallery. “I knew it was going to be weird, but this is twice as many people as we have ever had for an opening at this time of year,” said a bemused Juniper Perlis, Dee’s second-in-command, struggling to ice beer at pace with the thirsty crowd. Answers why, it turns out, were on the wall. The exhibition showcases work and artifacts from dozens of cliques, cooperatives, and collaboratively minded artists past and present, and while the lack of focus could be a problem elsewhere, here it’s the source of a kind of unity. The work spreads, and a mood of togetherness spreads with it. By the time the snowballing energy hit home (a huge amount of material covered four giant trestle tables) the crowd had multiplied, now dotted with the likes of dealer Andrew Kreps, curator Bob Nickas, artists Lizzie Bougatsos and Matt Keegan, fashion designer Patrick Ervell, and independent curator Jenny Moore.

Left: Artist Erik Hanson. Right: RED-I Projects' Ingrid Chu with BANK's Simon Bedwell.

“I wanted to include as many pirate, prankster projects as I could,” Heitzler explained after I expressed my admiration for the works included by BANK, a collective who, among many other projects, opened a space called Gallerie Poo-Poo in London in the late ’90s, and whose longlasting infamous “faxback” service helpfully corrected myriad errors in gallery press releases. “I couldn’t have done this show without including them. And listen, if you’ve learned about something that you need to tell someone else, then my job here is done.” I wanted to tell Dee that he’d done his job, and that she had too, perfectly, when news of her wedding (in two days time!) knocked me off my course. After telling Dee that “you’ve broken William’s heart” (how did she guess?) critic and artist Barbara Pollack asked the busy bride for a full debriefing on the Brooklyn Botanic garden’s terrain so that she could pick the right shoes (heels on lawns are trouble if you prefer your scenery standing up). I mainly scratched my head at the dealer’s schedule: She’s even coming to work on the morning of her ceremony.

Left: “Bring the War Home” artist Matt Keegan. Right: Independent curator Jenny Moore.

A chaotic after-show barbecue crowd boarded The Frying Pan, a docked craft on the Westside piers that bobbed gently on the tide. Artist Fia Backstrom’s monogrammed Elizabeth Dee tablecloths looked swell under platters of burgers, dogs, and slaw, and there was a certain majesty to the distant fireworks display, though the hooting of a posse of Italian soccer fans, flush from a World Cup semifinal victory over Germany, put a stop to my nascent patriotic reverie. The gallery crowd dissipated softly, headed to other rooftop bashes around the boroughs, leaving Dee and her family (in town for her wedding), the increasingly blotto Italians, and a few more non-natives affiliated with the show. I felt lucky to meet BANK member Simon Bedwell, and over the course of a convivial chat he offered some thoughts on production and progress. “I lost my first teaching job in 1994 and went on the dole. None of us had jobs, and that’s when things began to come together for us creatively. It’s this horrible basic equation, that you really start to get good work done when you have nothing else to do.”

William Pym

Left: Artist Josh Brand. Right: “Bring the War Home” artist Sam Gordon.

Court Appearance


Left: Artist Seton Smith with Centre Pompidou curator Christine Van Assche. Right: Architect IM Pei.

“Joy to the world! The child is (finally) come,” sung with audible relief, could have been the theme for last weekend’s very formal opening of the much-delayed Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, commonly known as the MUDAM Luxembourg, in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess and fellow travelers in the international Gotha. Shortly after climbing aboard the new TGV East train, decked out in red and pink by Christian Lacroix but missing air conditioning, I ran into Pompidou curator Christine van Assche and artist Seton Smith, and wasted no time in suggesting we share a taxi upon our afternoon arrival. We would have to hurry if we wanted to attend the press preview before the museum closed at 4 PM in order to prepare for the next day’s official opening.

I won’t recount the details of everyone’s talk that day—suffice it to say it focused on the difficulties that plagued the construction of the IM Pei-designed building and could be summed up as a dispute between the Ancients and the Moderns. The massive structure is now solidly set on a hill facing the city, and its multiple glass pyramids brought to mind Pei’s work at the Louvre. There is a “very Da Vinci Code” feel to it, according to a Flemish man I spoke to: “One triangle pointing up, and another pointing down!” The French woman at the helm of this ship, Marie-Claude Beaud, previously in charge of the Fondation Cartier and, before that, the American Center, greeted visitors by repeating over and over: “We have to seduce, we absolutely have to charm people!”

Left: Grand Duc Jean du Luxembourg arrives in his car. Right: MUDAM director Marie-Claude Beaud.

For “Eldorado,” the opening exhibition, Beaud invited American artist Gaylen Gerber to devise a minimal, delicate way of hanging works both in the collection and on loan from collectors. In his installation, paintings by Kay Rosen, Sam Salisbury, Charles Irvin, and Michelle Grabner seem to respond to sentences on the canvases of Rémy Zaugg, who was scheduled to take part in the event before he passed away last year. On the lower floors, I wandered through very large, professionally presented installations by Pipilotti Rist, James Coleman, Nari Ward, Andrea Blum, Tobias Putrih, Sancho Silva, and even a chapel created by Wim Delvoye. Though dubbed “Moderne,” the Museum’s collection is exclusively contemporary, its earliest pieces dating back only to the 1980s.

At a coffee shop created by the Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec (many of the museum’s rooms are filled with the work of designers, including Martin Szekely and Konstantin Grcic), I chugged a glass of coconut milk flavored with mint before hopping onto a bus ferrying museum guests to other events associated with the grand opening. I started at the city’s biggest private gallery, Beaumontpublic, where director Martine Schneider-Speller gushed “We’ve been waiting fifteen years for this—we have to celebrate!” She did so in her own way, with “Watch Out,” a group show featuring her favorite artists: Martin Kippenberger, Jonathan Meese, Jenny Holzer, and Marina Abramovic, the last represented by one of her “Balkan Erotic Epic” videos, in which men in traditional costumes go head-to-head in an erection competition.

Left: Tate Modern director Sir Nicholas Serota. Right: Collector Jacques Salomon.

Our options for dinner included the Banque du Luxembourg and the private garden of a collector’s villa. I didn’t hesitate in choosing the villa. There I was happy to find myself among the art world’s curatorial brain trust, from Carmen Giménez to Sir Nicholas Serota, Yuko Hasegawa to Robert Storr. MUDAM curator Björn Dahlström and his “at large” counterparts Claude Closky and Mark Lewis also greeted collectors Alain Dominique Perrin of the Fondation Cartier and Annick and Anton Herbert, and artists represented in the museum’s collection (Pierre Bismuth’s Mafioso look was particularly becoming).

Later that evening, the same crowd moved to a different scene: The Casino Luxembourg, a place well known for its repeated discovery of new artists. Artistic Director Enrico Lunghi was previewing an exhibition called “Tell Me,” which ended with a “silent” dance party in the cellar—the youngish crowd gyrated to music played through wireless headphones. I didn’t stay too late, as I was delighted to have finally received a pass for the next morning’s official opening, at which reporters (and artists) were requested to appear on time for the arrival of the Grand Duke Jean.

Left: Guggenheim curator Carmen Giménez. Right: Art Basel VIP coordinator Isabela Mora with curator Yuko Hasegawa.

As I arrived, helicopters hovering overhead and heavily armed guards stationed on the museum roof ensured that the press stayed behind the security cordon. Papparazzo shouted, “Your Highness, please look this way!” or “Your Most Serene, please look right here!” The woman beside me held a schedule of official arrivals, but when I asked her to identify the dignitaries, she invariably replied that she wasn’t sure: “There’s the Norwegian and Swedish courts, the ruling and non-ruling families, Fabiola de Belgique, and also the Jordanian royal family I believe.” I did, however, recognize Albert de Monaco.

I had never attended a blue-blood opening, and though it seemed a little like a mass—the ecclesiastical authorities had also been invited—I was actually surprised to find out that, after all, this other class was quite a bit like you and I. (Well, maybe not as well-dressed.) I even overheard one distinguished visitor suggest that he, too, thinks that, “prices today are a little over the top.”

Nicolas Trembley

Left: Artist Gaylen Gerber. Right: A view of Gaylen Gerber's part of the exhibition.

Show Stopper

New York

Left: Carol Gooden, curator Clarissa Dalrymple, Björk, and Matthew Barney. Right: Kiki Smith. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

The spring auctions were just getting underway when I left for a five-week sojourn at an isolated, wooded writer’s retreat in New England, though not so isolated I didn’t have access to a wireless Internet connection—even caves in Afghanistan seem to have that—so I read the gushing claims about how “smart” the art market had become in my absence. All I can say is I missed the right things, as far as I’m concerned, and came back in time for actual exhibitions where art still has the power to do something besides line a pocket. What makes the difference is their curators, several of whom are working artists.

Now, I don’t want to say that a dealer can’t put together an interesting gallery show, but how many would have the soul of Charles Ray’s humdinger at Matthew Marks? It’s really a museum show: a Giacometti, a Jeff Wall, a Mark di Suvero, and a shelf of wooden dolls by Edgar Tolson, all breathtakingly installed. This is one elegant way to introduce an artist to a gallery—just a mind at work, nothing for sale—but where were all the people? When I got to the opening, only a handful were around—Donna de Salvo (fresh from the triumph of her “Full House” at the Whitney), Kiki Smith, Michael Fried. It’s not like Ray has a show in New York every day. I asked gallery director Jeffrey Peabody why the place wasn’t mobbed. “Maybe because it’s a Tuesday?” he offered. “And it's summer?”

Yet there was a crowd over at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, whose group photo show was put together by youngish, hip-ish artists Justine Kurland and Dan Torop. Yet their mishmash, unlike Ray’s, didn’t feel very contemporary, their reliance on vintage photography notwithstanding. What’s more, I hardly knew anyone there.

Left: White Columns director Matthew Higgs. Right: Dealer Daniel Buchholz with Metro Pictures co-owner Janelle Reiring.

This is when I started to suspect I had been gone too long. It got worse the next day, when I went to the Arturo Herrera-curated group show at Sikkema Jenkins and felt absolutely lost until Artforum’s Scott Rothkopf showed up. “I don’t know anyone here!” I wailed. “I’ve never heard of any of these artists!” “I think that’s the idea of the show,” he snickered.

On Thursday night, the skies opened just as I got to Anton Kern’s tenth-anniversary show. Visitors bunched in the doorway to wait out the driving rain but, again, no one in my (formerly large) acquaintance. Had there been a total changing of the guard in Chelsea during the month I was away? It didn’t seem possible. Yet my only friend in the whole place was Kern himself, and we talked for several minutes before I realized that he didn’t seem to know anyone either.

Of course, it was still early. Things picked up some at the daisy-chain show that Rob Pruitt and Jonathan Horowitz put together at Andrew Kreps by asking Jennifer Bornstein to contribute a work and then ask someone else. She chose Chivas Clem, who invited Meg Webster, who invited Curtis Mitchell, and so forth down the line, in a heartwarming display of real community. It made me feel less a stranger. But it was Matthew Higgs’s multigenerational collage exhibition at Gladstone Gallery that made me forget all about dollar signs and strangers. I even forgot to go to the shows at Metro Pictures (of artists represented by Cologne dealer Daniel Buchholz) and Bortolami Dayan (curated by Banks Violette). “Dereconstruction” was just too involving, so well considered that it behooved one to linger and take it in.

Left: Artist Louise Lawler. Right: Writer Lynne Cooke with dealer Tracy Williams.

Like everyone else there—the Gladstone group, the whole crowd of cohosts from Metro, as well as several other dealers (Gavin Brown, Andrea Rosen, Friedrich Petzel) and many artists from the other Chelsea shows—I stayed on well into the evening, happily noshing on burgers and salad and chirping away with Joel Wachs and Laura Hoptman, Yvonne Force, Elizabeth Peyton, Buchholz, and Christopher Knowles.

It was a special thrill to meet Carol Gooden, who co-founded Food, the legendary SoHo artists’ restaurant of the 1970s, with Gordon Matta-Clark. Gooden lives about 12,000 feet above sea level now, in New Mexico, and had come to the party with Clarissa Dalrymple, who has been living in the loft that Matta-Clark and Gooden settled in those heady, pre-hedge-fund days. Now Dalrymple is struggling with her new landlords to keep this historic site in the right hands. (Gooden was in town to testify on her behalf.) Higgs was also collecting signatures, asking all the artists present to sign a blank canvas for later auction on behalf of a charity he supports. I signed too, feeling that special magic that only the art world can confer: Imagine going away a jaded critic and returning just a few weeks later to feel like a new girl in town! I will have to try this again, and soon.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Curator Bob Nickas with artist Tony Just. Right: Artist Charles Ray.

Liberal Media

Los Angeles

Left: Dealer Susanne Vielmetter. Right: Activist Pat Maginnis with Andrea Bowers and REDCAT director and curator Eungie Joo. (All photos: Julie Lequin)

Striking an apposite balance between serious and celebratory, Wednesday night’s opening of “Nothing Is Neutral: Andrea Bowers” at REDCAT drew both laid-back locals and conspicuous invitees. The two-project exhibition marks the LA debut of Letters to the Army of Three Displayed, 2005, an installation that redeploys archived letters written to the three founding members of the first Association to Repeal Abortion Laws, and the US premiere of Eulogies to One and Another, 2006, a series of hand-copied obituaries that traces the political work of two civilian activists, an American and her Iraqi counterpart, and in the process exposes Western media biases. “Both bodies of work hover between a very charged, urgent political present and a loaded recent past,” said REDCAT director and curator Eungie Joo. “The stakes are high now and I think Bowers’s work challenges the aestheticization of political struggle vis-à-vis radical ideology or action itself.”

Bowers elaborated the point. “I always use the aesthetic to seduce viewers into intense historical content. The show centers on female activists, from the ’60s and now, and specifically women who have been written out of history because they were so radical. I feel these women’s history is disappearing but there are still things we can learn from the model they presented.” Proof that this project has a polarizing force came when a gallery-goer allegedly vandalized one of the Letters . . . works while it was recently on view in Texas, although Bowers allows that the large, poster-size artist book (which is encased in a protective vitrine at REDCAT) may have simply been mishandled.

Left: Artists Dave Muller and Ann Faison. Right: Artist Christopher Williams with LA MoCA curator Ann Goldstein.

Tucked beneath the silvery lining of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, the roomy venue prevented a clash between the show’s gravity and those out to support Bowers and have a good time. In front of the intimate works, viewers were quiet and introspective, but around the corner at the REDCAT bar, the vibe was alive as artists like Catherine Opie, Mark Bradford, and Stephen Prina hobnobbed to artist and DJ Maryam Kashani’s proper mix of ’60s and ’70s soul classics. Joining the revelry, I was immediately approached by the slight but vivacious Pat Maginnis, founding member of the “Army of Three” and a major catalyst for today’s reproductive-rights movement. In her late seventies and still politically active, Maginnis recounted her recent participation in an Oakland protest (whispering its catchy title, “Boobs not Bombs”) at which many women (several in decorative pasties) and some men peacefully demonstrated against the war. She offered me a flyer featuring her own artwork—political cartoons more sobering than satirical.

“I’m not sure how the work will be received, but LA is my home and I do have lots of friends here,” Bowers continued, and many were in attendance, including artists Jessica Bronson, Dave Muller, and Thomas Lawson; curators Ann Goldstein of MoCA and Aimee Chang of OCMA; and dealers Bruno Delavallade and Susanne Vielmetter (with whom Bowers will present a new solo show in January). Towards the end of the evening, I spoke with Vielmetter, who suggested that Bowers would start composing her new work in two weeks (she can’t work all the time); I was also told that new videos were already underway and that Bowers was even shouting out editing ideas while installing “Nothing Is Neutral.” Just then, the title of Bowers’s “Flower Magick” sculpture recently included in Vielmetter’s group show across town hit home: You just “don’t fuck with the ladies.”

Catherine Taft

Left: Artist Mark Bradford. Right: Blum & Poe associate director Alexandra Gaty with dealer Bruno Delavallade and artist Mark Hagen.