Thinking myself terribly clever, I arrived early to the inauguration of Stuart Shave/Modern Art’s new West End gallery last Thursday evening, under the assumption that this would guarantee a leisurely private viewing of Nigel Cooke’s exhibition “New Accursed Art Club.” Imagine my chagrin when, by half past five in the afternoon, the joint was already jumping, and caps were flying off beer bottles faster than rattled gallery staff could ice them down. Clearly, there are a lot of clever people in London. I double-checked my watch as the crowds pushed in.
And what a crowd it was. Artists great and small, glacially groomed international collectors, dealers, curators, family members, and jovial gate-crashers—nobody, but nobody, it seems, doesn’t love Stuart Shave. And everybody, but everybody, was queuing up to buy Cooke’s work. In terms of positive vibes and support, this event was a love-in.
Having been together since the beginning—Cooke has been represented by the gallery since its inception in 1998 and had his first solo show with Modern Art in 2002—it seems fitting that Shave and Cooke should come full circle for the inauguration of this fine new space. Designed by architect David Kohn, the project was a year and a half in the making, but well worth the wait. The venue is an artist’s dream—no period architectural foils to surmount and a great location in London’s burgeoning art epicenter, Fitzrovia. Both Cooke and Shave appeared composed and ready for action, but the pungent, fresh scent of linseed oil and plaster in the air suggested that preparations for the opening went down to the proverbial wire.
And the people kept coming. The show was going up in a blaze of glory, and those with vested interests stayed prudently close. Cooke’s New York dealer, Andrea Rosen, was on hand to lend support, seldom straying more than ten feet from the show’s jaw-dropping centerpiece, the eponymous New Accursed Art Club, 2008. Rosen held forth with London counterpart Sadie Coles; if only latecomer Maureen Paley had arrived sooner, the formidable trio could have held an impromptu power summit.
Tate Modern curators Stuart Comer and Frances Morris mingled with Frieze honcho Matthew Slotover, while myriad artists stood chatting amiably in clusters. My own conversation with artist Tim Stoner was unceremoniously interrupted by the hoo-ha accompanying the arrival of Claudia Schiffer. Watching impressed people ogle celebrities while trying to look unimpressed is always a chuckle, and watching them trying to “pap” Schiffer with their camera phones, while pretending to make a phone call, was even better.
The convivial bonhomie continued on at the afterparty held at art-world watering hole St. John. Critters predictably ruled the evening’s menu: skewered baby birds and pink Lord of the Flies–like piglets reposed on trays—the latter bunned-up and passed alongside platters of whole, unpeeled vegetables. As a southerner, I’m used to an “everything but the squeal” dining ethos, but several squeamish guests, having looked their dinner in the eye, decided to pass on much of the main fare—though the fish and chips were delicious.
Jane and Louise Wilson (looking less twinlike with each passing year) strode in and made a beeline for the food. “Where’s the grub? I’m bloody starving,” declared Jane in her broad Geordie accent. Filling me in on their forthcoming film short for Film Four, she explained that not only does their mother babysit on demand, but she typed up their film script as well.
As the evening wound down, Shave and Cooke showed signs of blissed-out battle fatigue, lurching arm in arm from the building like an old married couple celebrating their silver anniversary. If Thursday night was an indicator of the future, the charmed pair will be dancing the samba at their golden.
April may be the cruelest month for mixing memory with desire, as T. S. Eliot had it, but living in London he may not have realized what a fine time it is to be in New York—especially if you like showmanship. Take last week, which began for me in top form on Monday night, when vocalist Adam Dugas and harpist Mia Theodoratus gave an invitation-only recital in the faux-baronial (i.e., Julian Schnabel–designed) environs of the Rose Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel. Before a flickering hearth, and dressed in white tie and tails, the ultrasuave Dugas (familiar to some as the creator of the “Chaos and Candy” holiday show at the Box) put his pipes in the unexpectedly subversive service of a half-dozen musical numbers dating from the sixteenth century to the present.
The set went over big with the equally well-turned-out audience, which included Justin Bond (of Kiki and Herb), the Wooster Group’s Kate Valk and Casey Spooner (also half of Fischerspooner), architect Charles Renfro, and former New York City Ballet dancer Ryan Kelly and his partner in the Moving Theater, Brennan Gerard (currently in residence at the Park Avenue Armory). Much of the evening’s fun was in apprehending what tunes we were actually hearing in Theodoratus’s arrangements, which sounded at first like vaguely familiar madrigals, show tunes, and romantic ballads. As it turned out, they were actually hit pop songs by Radiohead, Britney Spears, Gnarls Barkley, and Donna Summer (“I Feel Love,” in French), though barely recognizable as such. By the time Adam and Mia, as they were billed, performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for their finale, they had created a whole new genre of Name That Tune cabaret.
I may have started the week on the top shelf, but, this being New York, there was nowhere to go but up. Tuesday brought me to another intimate and rousing evening, this one in Henry Richardson and Sarah Stranahan’s Upper West Side apartment, where actor Steve Buscemi and artist Robert Longo had gathered friends and supporters of Issue Project Room, the adventurous music and performance space that began on the Lower East Side five years ago and has left it—like so many of the artists, writers, and musicians the venue hosts—for the outer reaches of Brooklyn. (At the moment, it resides in the Old American Can Factory, near the Gowanus Canal.) Spunky founder and director Suzanne Fiol used the occasion, which featured solo turns by Elliott Sharp and Emily Manzo (on guitar and piano, respectively) and a completely hilarious reading by Jonathan Lethem, to launch a two-million-dollar fund-raising campaign. The sum is what Fiol needs in order to open the doors of Issue’s new downtown Brooklyn headquarters at 110 Livingston Street, a glorious McKim, Mead, and White building that formerly housed the Board of Education offices and that the city agreed to sell to (what else?) a luxury-development company, as long as it gave the ground floor to an arts organization. Issue won the spot.
As Buscemi and Longo both noted, New York has very few public venues remaining for performers to experiment and grow, the way each of them did in the 1970s and ’80s (at places like Club 57 and the original Kitchen in SoHo). “I wish I was more like the characters I play in movies,” Buscemi admitted. “So I could rob banks and give all the money to Issue Project Room.”
The Creative Time benefit on Wednesday night made me wonder whether a robbery might just be the ticket. The capacity crowd of five hundred art-worlders who filled Guastavino’s, the white-tiled Terence Conran party palace beneath the Queensboro Bridge, brought the thirty-four-year-old public-art organization some $1.1 million—a bonanza, of course, yet just half of what the nascent Issue Project Room needs. All the same, as one guest observed, “Who said art benefits couldn’t be fun?” This one was unforgettable, and not just because the Creative Time goody bag—a roomy white-leather carry-on by Matt Murphy (producer of White Columns’s cool canvas totes as well)—was genuinely good but also because the event doubled as a birthday party for the irrepressible collector and philanthropist Beth Rudin DeWoody.
DeWoody’s son, Carlton, and his lifelong pal Ariel Schulman (of Supermarché) started the evening off in high-flying spirits with a bouncy video set to the tune of the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love”—swapping “love” out for “Beth.” Indeed! In a surprise performance, introduced by Broadway musical director Susan Stroman, DeWoody came onstage dressed in a hobo costume with former hoofer Frederick Anderson and did the famous “We're a Couple of Swells” soft-shoe that Judy Garland and Fred Astaire did in Easter Parade.
I don’t know how many collectors with no song or dance training would be brave enough to do such a thing in public, but DeWoody absolutely pulled it off, clearly astonishing fellow patrons like Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy, John and Amy Phelan, Catherine Orentreich, Dana Farouki, and the entire Rudin family, as well as artists Mariko Mori, Donald Baechler, Alex Katz, Marilyn Minter, Rob Wynne, and about forty others who contributed to the silent auction. As DeWoody later told Creative Time director Anne Pasternak, there aren’t many arts organizations or institutions that would let her perform at a benefit.
But there was an even bigger surprise in store, this one for DeWoody, when she rose from her bows to be surrounded by thirteen male strippers from Hunkmania. People who had begun leaving the dinner stopped in their tracks as the well-choreographed hunks stripped to their shorts, on which were sewn letters that, when the men lined up for DeWoody’s inspection, spelled out CREATIVE TIME. Long after she came offstage, she still looked stunned. “I'm having post–stage fright,” she said, as guests around her madly scrambled for the gift boxes that waiters were carrying on silver trays. One box, it was rumored, contained a ticket for the bearer to receive a Cartier watch. Yet, perhaps playing it cool, the lucky guest didn't step up to claim their prize. Didn’t matter. In the art world, where illusion is king, everyone is a winner.
Left: Creative Time's Anne Pasternak and Salon 94's Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn. Right: MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach.
Given that Art Cologne, founded in 1967 as the world’s first contemporary art fair, was, due to lack of interest from international dealers and collectors, more or less declared dead two months ago, it was a welcome surprise last weekend to find the city on the Rhine living up to its avant-garde reputation. The week’s first event to properly mix jet-setters with laid-back Rhineland bourgeoisie was a ceremony the Monday before last at the Museum Ludwig honoring Peter Doig, winner of this year’s Wolfgang Hahn Prize. Doig, ever gracious, mentioned in his speech how proud he was to receive the award—despite having never before heard of its existence. The afterparty took place in the city’s famous Wartesaal, formerly the waiting room for Cologne’s train station and the venue (during the 1980s) of a well-known German talk show. Per the artist’s request, guests—among them Phillips de Pury’s Michaela Neumeister, collector Julia Stoschek (sporting a new pageboy haircut), AXA’s Bodo Sartorius, and artists Andreas Gursky and Jonathan Meese—danced to a set comprising nothing but reggae music. Museum Ludwig director Kasper König was joined on the floor by his dealer sons, Leo and Johann.
The next morning, Art Cologne opened its doors for a professional preview. In the past, the ground floor featured contemporary galleries and the upper floor modern dealers. Over the past four years, however, the grounds have become increasingly dominated by “Open Space,” an unconventional area (this year featuring fifty galleries) where booths lack walls, copious seating is available, and the floor is covered by a white velourlike carpet, both strange and beautiful. This unique arrangement was organized by Kathrin Luz and Meyer Voggenreiter, who will be working with Art Cologne’s new director, Daniel Hug, who begins in May. Wandering the space, attendees encountered artist Christian Jankowski playing a television-show moderator who auctions art in front of a patient audience, and Kitty Kraus’s ice sculpture, at Gabriele Senn’s booth, covered in black ink and melting into dark puddles. Young German artist Thomas Schroeren also impressed with his work Teach Me Some Manners at the booth of Berlin dealer Sandra Bürgel. As for the rest, a reduction in the number of galleries from 190 to 151 raised standards of quality, and the mood at the preview was typically buoyant.
That evening, the LA dealers Patrick Painter and Javier Peres joined Reiner Opoku, an art consultant and founder of TheArtFund, to open a temporary exhibition called “My Generation” at the spacious postindustrial venue Spichernhöfe, in the Belgian quarter. Directly across the street, collector (and notorious party animal) Sabine DuMont-Schütte hosted a reception in a tiny bar with canapés, wine, and lots of Kölsch. The crowd bounced back and forth between grand, flashy international statement (featuring the art of Liz Craft, Andre Butzer, and Tim Berresheim, among others) and cozy neighborhood get-together.
More LA imports were featured two nights later at the Excelsior, a five-star hotel located across from the Cathedral. There, in the banquet hall, Voggenreiter and Hug presented “Hotel California: Art from Los Angeles,” featuring works by, among others, Kirsten Stoltmann, Sterling Ruby, and H. K. Zamani. The champagne flowed in celebration of this cross-continental axis, and Hug, eager to begin his work resurrecting the fair, toasted all those present.
“Absolute mayhem” would be an understated way to describe Milan’s Salone del Mobile, which opened last Wednesday to roaring crowds of shoppers and speculators. Though I knew going in that the Salone is the world’s largest furniture fair, being among 350,000 design aficionados is much more intimidating in real life than one would imagine—especially when they’re all packed into the megalithic fairgrounds at Rho. Credit crises may be buckling some bank accounts, but it’s reassuring to know that there’s still a (huge) market open to people in need of that extra-special creative trimming to make their house a home.
Throughout the five-day event, the impeccably dressed, bleary-eyed masses spilled forth into dozens of parties that overlapped nightly in the Zona Tortona, where galleries served champagne in containers designed by Karim Rashid. Elsewhere, Axor played manufacturer to Philippe Starck, the designer with the Midas touch, who presented a line of haute-couture showerheads, and Bisazza showcased two otherworldly installations: Andrée Putman’s checkerboard corridors and a remarkable mosaic-covered life-size jet by Jaime Hayon. The leather wings, marble stairs, and glass cockpit made up for the lack of motor, and it did have brass propellers. The hottest enfant terrible among London’s design companies, Established & Sons, threw a party in an abandoned swimming pool called La Pelota, where a great stack of drawers by Shay Alkalay acted as the centerpiece, and lumber board brought a certain gravitas to the Richard Artschwager–inspired tables by Tate Britain architects Caruso St. John.
Left: Filmmaker Peter Greenaway. (Photo: Luciano Romano) Right: A view of the party for Established & Sons. (Photo: Ilze Godlevskis)
This fantasia of beautiful things did not detract from auteur Peter Greenaway’s multimedia extravaganza, Ultima Cena di Leonardo, which was shown at the Sala delle Cariatidi in Palazzo Reale, one of historic Milan’s most stunning buildings. Splashes of light flitted across a to-scale, high-resolution projected digital image of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. In keeping with its fascist heritage, the typically mercurial Italian government vetoed the use of the original painting just days before, perhaps due to the nature of the projected images, which included Leonardo’s painting of Jesus’s genitalia.
Around the corner, the SaloneUfficio touched on a topic grudgingly familiar to many of us today—the Office as Creative Hub—with Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Art Sign Offices at the Loggia dei Mercanti, once a commercial center in medieval Milan. There, eight structures mapped “the human body at full stretch in mind,” riffing on another of Leonardo’s concepts, the equilibrium between man and universe. Bright orange grid walls sheltered human-powered objects consistent with the fair’s sustainable-energy theme. With slogans like “Third Paradise” and “Love Difference,” Pistoletto also made manifest another of the week’s leitmotifs: eroticism in unlikely places.
Overwhelmed by all the benches balanced against invisible walls and chairs conjoined with unidentifiable organic substances, I savored the opportunity to stand still for a bit while waiting to enter Swarovski's Crystal Palace event in the Zona Tortona on Wednesday night, hosted by Nadja Swarovski. Outside, a battered, flaxen-haired Londoner attempted to control the increasingly edgy queue of two hundred. But once inside, aggression receded as revelers mingled amid the glimmer of chandeliers by deconstructivist architect Zaha Hadid, a mosaic wall by artist Marcel Wanders, and a giant crystal-coated globe by design team Studio Job. That same evening, right next door, Wallpaper* hosted a party featuring work by Thomas Demand and Jeff Koons in a multilevel architectural miasma.
Left: Artist Michelangelo Pistoletto. Right: Armida Armellini; Manlio Armellini, managing director of Salone del Mobile; Rosario Messina, chairman of Salone del Mobile; Letizia Moratti, mayor of Milan; and Vittorio Sgarbi, Milan's councillor for cultural affairs. (Photos: Luciano Pascali)
By Thursday, I was already suffering from overexposure to ingenuity, but the historic unveiling of Rem Koolhaas’s designs for the new Fondazione Prada snapped me out of my stupor. The foundation was established by Miuccia Prada and her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, in 1993, and in 1996, they invited legendary curator and critic Germano Celant to join as artistic director. For their latest construction, Prada and Bertelli commissioned Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture to redesign an old distillery that they own, Largo Isarco, into a space for both contemporary and traditional art.
Speaking on a panel with Celant and Bertelli in one of Largo Isarco’s lofty structures, Koolhaas said his designs involved “abstract transformations of scale,” adding that, in the final space, “we can work with artists on such transformations.” Equally democratic, Celant stressed the importance of putting culture on display and the necessity of integrating curating and architecture. Prada and her providential son Francesco watched quietly from the second row, enjoying the eloquent and businesslike Bertelli, while Vogue’s Hamish Bowles glowered astutely.
The following evening, on the other side of town, Prada’s current Fondazione hosted an opening for twenty-nine-year-old artist Nathalie Djurberg’s exhibition “Turn into Me.” Large sculptural installations featuring trees, houses, and a grotesquely realistic warty potato encased stop-motion films laden with orifices. Stray body parts from a giant woman lay half-encased in the floor, making reference to Djurberg’s earnest passion for Bataille’s “The Solar Anus.” The “death of mutual existence,” as stated in the press release, fueled her project, which found a strangely perfect home at Prada, an institution known more for its discreet ensembles than for any fascination with fecal matter. Some of Djurberg’s earliest advocates, UCLA Hammer director Ann Philbin and curator Ali Subotnick, joined the Serpentine Gallery’s Hans-Ulrich Obrist in admiring the sexually deviant scene. Surveying the work myself, I reflected on the Salone’s creative exuberance and thought I understood Milan’s slow-moving nature a little more—the city needs to conserve every ounce of energy to get through a week like this.
“It’s benefit season again,” sighed one guest as we hunted for our place cards at Bomb magazine’s gala last Friday. Indeed, said season comes with its own brand of subjects, ranging from the predictable—“My friend just bought a new country house on the North Fork”—to the positively absurd, like the tidbit about the guy who trained his dog to growl every time it hears the words “Mark Morris.” The Morris comment wasn’t a total non sequitur: The venerable choreographer had been enlisted to toast his celebrated colleague, Mikhail Baryshnikov, one of the evening’s three honorees. The other two were painter Mary Heilmann and Wooster Group director Elizabeth LeCompte.
Banquet-style tables had been installed in the Bowery Hotel for the occasion. Pink petals abounded. Beneath a heated tent erected over the balcony, early birds surveyed wares at the silent auction: a moody Peter Doig painting starting at $12,500, as well as a much-discussed Joel Shapiro print. Other goodies included Adam Helms’s ink-on-mylar drawing, with its talismanic figures, and a well-composed, enigmatic lithograph by Mamma Andersson.
“I can’t play my standards,” said downtown music maven Marc Ribot, the gala’s DJ. He watched a nearby game of pool while a ’50s jazz number played over the loudspeakers. “Even I wouldn’t want to listen to myself play John Zorn all night,” he explained, adding that his musical inclinations were more suited to “a ’60s whorehouse.” Was he still talking about Zorn?
The evening’s joke toasts did their best to live up to our current era’s confessional milieu. Morris’s speech, for instance, opened thus: “Even before Mikhail and I became homosexual lovers, I was familiar with his work.” Minter, saluting Heilmann, remembered those good old days when Heilmann was a surfer and a “smoking babe.” Added Minter: “We were homosexual lovers as well.” Not to be left out, LeCompte followed Casey Spooner’s own toast with the claim: “Casey and I are getting married.”
Over dinner, I discussed some of the more interesting interpretations of Bomb’s name with one of the magazine’s founders, artist Michael McClard, while buyers hurried back to the auction to make their final bids. Dealer faced dean when Anthony Grant and Robert Storr battled over a Nancy Dwyer text piece. Others seemed less enthusiastic: Under another piece, one collector had scratched their name out and scribbled MISTAKE: BUYER’S REMORSE. But regrets and second thoughts aside, everyone went home seemingly heartened by the evening.
Friday’s gala may have been a bit tonier, but Saturday’s Rodney Graham concert certainly didn’t lack production value. Held at the Abrams Art Center, the show, sponsored by nonprofit production organization Public Art Fund, promised the artist-musician’s psych-rock songs and an “amazing Rotary Psycho-Opticon.”
Lois, the opening act, got the night off to a rocky start, making a case for the irrelevance of singer-songwriters with acoustic guitars. I was relieved when the curtain rose, revealing, for all to behold, the mysterious Psycho-Opticon: an Op-art backdrop with five circular holes cut to form an imaginary pentagon. Behind the holes whirled a second layer of psychedelia—a pinwheel of stars and stripes.
Much has been made of music-lyric alchemy, that mysterious whole bigger than the sum of its parts. Graham’s got it figured out, that’s for sure: When singing “Just how low / Does your love meter go?” his melody stays unexpectedly high, then takes a last-minute woebegone dip. But it was actually his lyric–Psycho-Opticon pairing that did the most magic. Graham’s doleful quips complemented the contraption’s relentless, mind-melting effects; a terrific tone—wry and dogged—emerged from the mix.
Those who got a behind-the-scenes glimpse postshow discovered that the multistoried whirling backdrop was powered by one Sam Hyatt, “a friend of an intern” who had been instructed to pedal as she felt inspired. As I headed out of the theater for Triple Canopy magazine’s launch party in Brooklyn, I bumped into critics Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith. Saltz was making his way backstage—he said he wanted to try powering the Psycho-Opticon bike himself. After all, who says the critic no longer drives contemporary art?
“I think that line over there is for LA Art Weekend people,” said someone behind me as I stood in queue at the Hammer Museum last Thursday night, waiting for an appearance by Albert Maysles, elder statesman of American cinema verité. I half-expected to see officials sporting LAAW badges, but no such distinguishing markers were apparent. Having thoroughly consulted the itinerary of LAAW events—a compelling list of museum visits, openings, screenings, parties, and the like—I still wasn’t sure what, exactly, the Weekend constituted, other than a way to link disparate art and culture events in Los Angeles. (And some pretty good ones at that.) No choice but to go with the flow, beginning with a brief visit to the well-attended Maysles tribute in the museum’s magenta-hued Billy Wilder Theater. Hammer director Ann Philbin made some initial remarks, noting that she and her staff were starstruck on meeting the Grey Gardens codirector—and they’ve encountered their fair share of Hollywood talent. Maysles received an immediate standing ovation, which he humbly waved away; he seemed more interested in screening some of his portrait films, like an interview with Truman Capote from the early 1960s, material that Philip Seymour Hoffman must have studied before he nailed the writer’s fabulously bitchy drawl.
I squirmed though, recalling that Catherine Opie’s opening at Regen Projects—for a new series of photos of high school football games—would be wrapping up soon. I slipped out of the theater and, making a straight shot down Wilshire, arrived at the gallery in surprisingly good time. The crowd was spilling into the courtyard, beneath an outdoor text work by Lawrence Weiner, whose Whitney- and MoCA–organized survey was slated to open on Saturday at the latter museum’s Geffen Contemporary outpost. The relaxed, celebratory crowd inside the gallery, a mix of artists, collectors, entertainment lawyers, and art students, heated up the space. Whitney curator Donna De Salvo, in town for the MoCA exhibition, was chatting with Barbara Kruger, and there was Philbin, who must have snuck out of her museum even before I did. Opie was typically affectionate and clearly enjoying the attention. I’d seen her recently at a lecture at the San Francisco Art Institute, and she seemed concerned about how she went over. “They loved you,” I assured her—and they had.
Curator Gary Garrels noted that the Hammer had acquired more than one photo from the show. At the subsequent dinner at Dominick’s, 130 adoring guests took over the restaurant, eating family-style. The artist herself sat at a table near a crackling fireplace across from her partner, Julie Burleigh, and next to Shaun Caley Regen, who toasted her heartily.
Friday morning, amid a summery heat wave, I set off for the Weiner preview. By the time I arrived, the public remarks had already been made, and MoCA curator Ann Goldstein and De Salvo were sitting in the reading room happily comparing notes. In the Geffen’s ample space, the exhibition plays like a glorious force of nature—the angled walls form canyons of text, and bits of light stream in from skylights. Weiner ambled contentedly through the galleries, which also include a suitably bohemian companion show: a survey of Allan Kaprow’s Happenings and environments.
That night, Weiner danced beside a swimming pool (with one of his works emblazoned on the bottom) to a funk band at a buffet dinner in his honor at the modernist Beverly Hills home of MoCA trustee Rosette Delug. The clear, balmy night seemed made to order for the event, and the city’s twinkling lights spread out before us.
As with Opie, everyone had good things to say about Delug’s spirited hospitality. Last October, she threw an infamous party for Takashi Murakami, populated with naked Playboy Playmates painted to resemble manga characters; there were two such Playmates on hand for Weiner, only this time they sported painted-on majorette costumes. (Your guess is as good as mine.) The ladies served premium vodka from shot glasses made of ice to a crowd that included Ed Ruscha and his son Eddie, John Baldessari, Raymond Pettibon, and LACMA director Michael Govan. More thematically appropriate party ephemera included red and gray M&Ms printed with Weiner’s name, and yellow cocktail napkins emblazoned with one of his text pieces.
Guests were free to wander Delug’s art-filled home, but a small, excited crowd formed when someone cracked open a closet to reveal an immaculately arranged collection of designer shoes and bags. “Now this is art,” gushed a besotted attendee sporting a luxury brand or two herself. With equal excitement, artist Mark Bradford informed me that George Soros, the billionaire political philanthropist, was in the house. I wouldn’t recognize the guy if I saw him, but the idea that he was mixing with the crowd added a layer of absurd gravitas to the party. Later, to top it all off, one hearty, fully clothed reveler cannonballed into the pool.
Saturday paired glamour with philanthropy, when REDCAT hooked up with the weekend’s organizers to arrange a visit to Farmlab, the eco-conscious project of self-professed artist and philanthropist Lauren Bon. After a swanky Beverly Hills brunch of mimosas and truffle-oil-drizzled morsels at the Maison Martin Margiela, a group of CalArts supporters, and out-of-towners including David Selig, owner of New York’s eco-friendly restaurant Rice, convened at a compound in a gritty patch of warehouses and empty lots downtown to hear Bon’s convincing pitch on urban farming, water use, and tango dancing. We trekked through the dusty field in hundred-degree heat (parasols and hats provided).
The weather sapped my energy, so I lounged in the shade, then met a friend for dinner before schlepping back to Culver City for a party at Royal/T, a sprawling boutique touted as “LA’s first Japanese-style cosplay café”—which I assume explains the women in maid costumes offering trays of tea sandwiches and chocolates. Sipping on one of the free-flowing watermelon martinis, I couldn’t help but feel refreshed by the positive vibe. If only every art weekend went down this easy.
Left: Visionaire's Cecilia Dean. Right: Collector Lisa Feldman, artist Mitsuhiro Okamoto, and Royal/T owner Susan Hancock. (Photos: LA Art Weekend)
Last Thursday evening marked the first time that all three floors of Brussels’s new Wiels Centre for Contemporary Art, two floors of which had been inaugurated last year, would be open. The occasion was Mike Kelley’s first retrospective in Belgium, a confluence of exciting events that led Herman Daled, the museum’s president and an avid collector himself, to announce in his opening speech: “Wiels is born tonight.” Housed in the former buildings of the historic Wielemans-Ceuppens breweries, designed in 1930 by architect Adrien Bloome, the museum is for this show plunged into darkness, Kelley having requested that all the windows be covered. “I’m not an Impressionist,” the artist said. “I don’t need daylight.”
The exhibition, “Educational Complex Onwards: 1995–2008,” borrows its title from one of Kelley’s more famous works: a large-scale model, first shown at Metro Pictures in 1995, that represents the various schools the artist has attended. Many of the exhibited pieces revolve around the author’s themes of autobiography and memory and, according to Anne Pontégnie, the show’s curator, “succeed and respond to one another like episodes in a serial, allowing us to understand the internal development that characterizes the last two decades of Kelley’s works.” On the third floor, “Day Is Done,” a series of video installations based on photographs found in high school yearbooks that was presented two years ago at Gagosian’s branch in Chelsea, New York, was partially reproduced and provided something of a grand finale.
Gagosian had invited about eighty people to that night's exhibition preview and subsequent dinner at the breweries. I asked Pontégnie why she thought opinion concerning Kelley was so effusive, and she deduced it was because he was one of the first artists of his generation to say no to Minimalist aesthetics and, in the process, to work with unusual materials.
Left: Dealer Catherine Bastide and Museion director Corrine Diserens. Right: Wiels president Herman Daled.
“Where’s Mike?” was undoubtedly the question heard most throughout the evening. Mike was indeed there, talking with dealers like Ghislaine Hussenot and with representatives of international institutions who had made the trip to Brussels, including Nicholas Serota of the Tate; Ralph Rugoff of London’s Hayward Gallery; Kasper König of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne; Corinne Diserens, director of the Museion in Bolzano, Italy, which will open in May; Xavier Douroux of the Consortium in Dijon; and Dirk Snauwaert, Wiels director. Most of the works came from private collections—including that of François Pinault (who was absent that night)—with a minority coming from Belgium itself. Still, given the venue, it was hardly surprising that so many Belgian collectors were milling about: Anton and Annick Herbert, Sylvie Winckler, Filiep Libeert, and Bruno Van Lierde (who is building a center for his collection), to name a few.
At the dinner, in the magnificent ceremonial hall of the restaurant located in Brussels’s famous Grande Place, the panic caused by the seating arrangement was quickly resolved when everyone decided to sit wherever they liked. I found myself next to artists William Pope.L, whose show was opening the following day at the Galerie Catherine Bastide, and Pierre Bismuth, who had just come back from a residency in Oslo at Marta Kuzma’s Office for Contemporary Art Norway. Other artists present included Lee Ufan, who was accompanying dealer Micheline Szwajcer, and painter (and Wiels board member) Luc Tuymans.
The evening was relaxed, as everyone chatted over foie gras and an assortment of white fish, with frequent smoke breaks on the terrace. Kelley toasted Pontégnie, noting that he “did it for her,” and everyone applauded. Some decided to leave for one last drink at the famous artist-friendly bar L’Archiduc, but no one seemed set to stay out late, since Friday’s party was expected to attract 700 guests. It would have been 701, but unfortunately, I had to be back in Paris.
Left: Collector Annick Herbert. Right: Artist Luc Tuymans.
I don’t know of any young artist besides Ryan McGinley who can evoke Andrew Wyeth without seeming arch or trite. Or one modish enough to conjure an opening where downtown socialites the MisShapes have to be seen to maintain cred, yet still solid enough for the New York Times Magazine’s prim photo editor to accept his invitation to dinner. His deft straddling of wholesome and hip has a broad appeal that drew a crowd to last Thursday’s opening of “I Know Where the Summer Goes” big enough to have broken a Team gallery record, or at least its fire code.
Even after I pushed through the mob to the wall to look at the pictures, my view was blocked by gawkers whose backs were almost brushing the art, surveying the mingling morass in the center of the room. There, McGinley, looking all-American in a blue suit and a tie with red hearts, greeted guests with sustained buoyancy as interns studiously recorded his every move in photo and video.
In the show itself, models perform acts of quaint mischief—lighting sparklers, doing cannonballs at the old swim hole—in a fantasy landscape where time and underwear don’t exist. John Waters, who compares McGinley to the title character in Waters’s own film Pecker, called it “very Zabriskie Point,” though I found it more chaste (even with the token crotch shot) and less urgent than Antonioni’s epic. Overall, the series is ripe with languid sincerity and deserves its title, which comes from a Belle and Sebastian song that lilts, “No one likes a smart-ass.”
Left: Genevieve Jones and MisShape Leigh Lezark. Right: Artist Edward Mapplethorpe, dealer Alison Jacques, and artist and writer Jack Walls.
The photos’ indolent tone was in fact the result of months of hard labor, during which the artist documented, as he does, antics from a cross-country road trip of his own rigorous planning. Coley Brown, one of McGinley’s gangly muses, said the artist continued photographing in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes (shooting another model, Marcel, for the enigmatic picture Question Mark) even as a violent hailstorm broke out, and his coterie of skinny, naked people darted to avoid being struck by lightning. “I thought someone was going to die,” Brown said. Near-death experience aside, he would happily do it all again (“If I get invited,” he added wistfully). But not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. A friend told me how he dissuaded a willowy art student from applying: “Afterward, he’d be like a reality-TV has-been.” Others had more old-fashioned reasons for demurring. “I was supposed to go,” said Richard Bars, McGinley’s ex-boyfriend. “But I refused to take my pants off.”
The crowd began to thin around eight, and half an hour later, Team owner José Freire sounded his megaphone’s siren to expel the last of the stragglers. A decidedly smaller crew made their way south to the Odeon, the storied Tribeca setting of Bright Lights, Big City, which Team had rented out for the dinner. There I chatted with McGinley’s mother, learning that his artistic talent was first recognized when he took first place in a ShopRite drawing contest. He won a fourteen-inch truck. When the waiters began taking orders, I sat kitty-corner to writer Ariel Levy, who quoted McGinley at length in her article on Dash Snow for New York magazine early last year. Surely the experience of writing that tale of drug-fueled privilege prepared Levy well for her forthcoming New Yorker profile of First Lady–hopeful Cindy McCain.
Few artists were present, though former mentors, like Jack Pierson, Jack Walls, and McGinley’s old Parsons professor George Pitts, attended. McGinley dined with Waters and Michael Stipe, their dates, and Parker Posey. While McGinley is soon to make his silver-screen debut—he has a cameo leading a gay rights march in Gus Van Sant’s Milk, about the eponymous San Francisco mayor—I doubt he was asking his famous friends for performance tips. What he really wants to do is direct, and after two or three more road trips, he hopes to start making films.
The evening climaxed when, a little after 11 PM, Freire climbed atop a banquette, turned his bullhorn back on, and gave a glowing toast to his artist. Guests lingered for over an hour more, until the youthful contingent moved on to the Bowery Electric—the bar that recently displaced the CCTV haven Remote Lounge—where McGinley ushered a small crew past security. I withdrew around 2 AM, just before a set by the Virgins, McGinley’s friends and his perennial afterparty favorite. When I started toward the door, McGinley ambushed me with a bear hug and thanked me for coming—a disarming moment, since we’d met only that night. Ever the skeptic, I wondered if I was being cajoled into a world of fandom as artfully constructed as Planet Road Trip. But as the embrace ended and I mumbled chummy congratulations at McGinley’s shoulder, I decided it wasn’t a bad club to be in.
Is it just me, or are biennials getting bigger? While last Friday marked the official beginning of the fifth Berlin Biennial, titled “When Things Cast No Shadow,” the exhibition actually got under way last month, with an opening at the Schinkel Pavilion, where younger artists have been asked to invite older mentors to contribute works. The compact charm of that exhibition—Nairy Baghramian installed mirrors by Janette Laverričre with immaculately intimate precision—was but an appetizer to the smorgasbord of events that kicked off last week. Biennial curators Adam Szymczyk and Elena Filipovic—not content to stick to traditional installations at the biennial's four venues, including the Schinkel Pavilion, Kunst-Werke, the Neue Nationalgalerie, and an outdoor sculpture park—added a whole slew of happenings every evening except Mondays under the axiom “Mes Nuits sont plus belles que vos jours” (My Nights Are More Beautiful than Your Days), also the title of a 1989 French film by Andrzej Zulawski. As an extra feature, if you got lonely, you could book a “blind date” through the biennial’s website and end up with a participating curator or artist. With a day shift, a night shift, and blind dates in between, this biennial isn’t simply bigger—it’s working overtime.
Beyond the official biennial offerings, there was the usual slew of satellite (parasite?) events, from openings to parties. Just how does one choose between an invitation to celebrate with Texte zur Kunst at Cookies and another from Ömer Koc and René Block to see Kutlug Ataman’s Küba at Tanas Berlin? What does one wear on a night when one attends both Johann König’s bash at Ballhaus Mitte and Autocenter’s eschatological soirée “The End Was Yesterday”? And didn’t all the Basel-based invitations (such as Art Basel at Rodeo and Kunsthalle Basel at Grill Royal) get confusing? Aside from too many events (and too many travelers stranded at Heathrow, thanks to all the debacles at Terminal 5), there were tons of secrets. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, in town for an exhibition at Esther Schipper, was mum about her forthcoming installation at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. (To my every question, she replied, “Oh no . . . that would be telling too much.”) Then, I narrowly missed a scoop in the bathroom at the restaurant Prater, where Frieze held its wingding. “So I heard the next Documenta curator is . . .” someone said. As I pricked up my ears to hear the blessed name, a hand dryer vroomed, obscuring the answer. And despite a carefully honed guest list at Sammlung Boros, I finally broke into the bunker—but only on the condition that I never report what I saw inside!
Left: Dealers Philomene Magers and Monika Sprüth. (Photo: Lillian Davies) Right: Biennial artist Tris Vonna-Michell. (Photo: Andrew Berardini)
The best secret was the biennial itself; there, revelations outnumbered frustrations—at least if you were sticking to the artworks. (Szymczyk’s response to most of my inquiries was simply a contemplative “Hmm . . .”) After the preview, many were heard to moan “too polite,” “nothing spectacular,” or “no big names.” But don’t listen to them. Listen to critic Raimar Stange, who gave an instant overview at neugerriemschneider’s dinner party: “It’s by far the best biennial to date—and I’ve seen them all.” BB5 is all about the hidden life of subjects and objects, veering between day and night, the visible and the invisible, presence and absence, articulated meanings and unconscious destinies, sanctioned practices and secret uses. At Kunst-Wurke, while ruminating on Pushwagner’s cartoonlike drawings of an imaginary metropolis dominated by hellish routines, I thought to myself, “It’s all about urban critique.” When I came across Kohei Yoshiyuki’s photographs of lovers fucking in Tokyo public parks at night, “the secret life of cities” seemed the theme. But another aspect presented itself while watching Tris Vonna-Michell’s slide-and-sound installation on the institution’s top floor, which features a voice narrating the history of a derelict Detroit building. Do buildings become more “historical” when they become ruins? If their meaning changes when they fall into disuse, what happens to them at night when everyone goes home?
Left: Biennial artist Pedro Barateiro. Right: MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach with collector Julia Stoschek. (Photos: Miguel Amado)
BB5 turns critiques of representation on their head by unsettling the processes by which we invest objects with meaning. Wandering through the Skulpturenpark—really a series of empty lots running along the former no-man’s-land of the city’s old East-West border, now littered with trash instead of land mines—I had to ask myself at one stop: “Is this an artwork or an abandoned bicycle?” (It turned out to be a bit of both—an abandoned artwork, Auflösung, 2007, by Sofia Hultén, left over from an earlier project at the site last year.) If parsing the artworks from the trash didn't clarify matters, perhaps one could find illumination in Lars Laumann’s film Berlinmuren (2008). The short documentary, screened in a wooden hut amid the debris, follows a Swedish woman with “object-sexuality,” who married the Berlin Wall in an official ceremony in 1979. (For emotional—not political—reasons, she was devastated by her husband’s destruction in November 1989.) At the Neue Nationalgalerie, I was mesmerized by Melvin Moti’s ESP, 2007, a super-slo-mo film of a bursting soap bubble narrated by a man whose dreams foretell the future. After Moti’s reveries, little surprised me—not even Susanne Winterling’s installation in which the museum’s twin coat checks were emptied and transformed into mini exhibition sites, while visitors’ belongings were slung over bright yellow metal sculptures by Gabriel Kuri. Why shouldn’t coats hang from sculptures and coat checks store pictures?
That evening, the first of sixty-three nightly events got under way at the Skulpturenpark, as the French composer and singer Koudlam provided a live sound track to a screening of Cyprien Gaillard’s Crazy Horse, which was projected onto the side of an apartment building. Gaillard’s film documents the ongoing transformation of a mountain near Rushmore into a massive sculpture of the Lakota leader, whose face gradually emerges from the mountain. (The project won’t be finished for another eighty years.) “Even the rain seems appropriate,” remarked curator Luca Cerizza, one of hundreds of viewers huddling under umbrellas in the park. Much later that evening, reading the BB5 guidebook, I caught my own name listed as one of three interns for the biennial. Was there something I'd missed over the last year? Had I been dreaming?
Left: Biennial artists Ahmet Ögüt and Pilvi Takala. (Photo: Miguel Amado) Right: Tate Modern director Nicholas Serota. (Photo: Lillian Davies)
A swarm of Hedi Slimane look-alikes pressed shoulder to shoulder with a clutch of curators (what is the collective noun?) at the Wednesday-evening preview of Isa Genzken’s new exhibition at Hauser & Wirth. The place was jammed with baseball-capped boys sporting oversize glasses and freaky fringes. The fashionistas were obviously keen to see what they had missed out on last summer when hordes of Genzken groupies failed to get into the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Genzken’s Oil installation at the Italian event left me cold, but the most popular conversational opening salvo at the Hauser & Wirth bash was “Did you get in at Venice?” The response was a resounding “No” from most parties, which may explain the glut of curators milling around the German artist’s outlandish new sculptures. Mark Sladen, director of exhibitions at the ICA, was spotted darting through the throng, along with Donna De Salvo of the Whitney and Hans-Ulrich Obrist of the Serpentine. Tate luminaries were especially out in force: I counted at least four exhibition organizers among the crowd, including Achim Borchardt-Hume, Tate Modern’s curator for modern and contemporary art, and Frances Morris, the permanent-collections curator who organized the gallery’s recent Louise Bourgeois survey. A smiling Borchardt-Hume was decidedly coy when quizzed about the Tate’s strong showing: “Why could that possibly be?” he asked. Perhaps we can expect to see a new Genzken piece gracing the Tate’s walls sometime soon.
An impressive crop of artists and dealers had also popped along to the Piccadilly gallery to check out the artist’s architectural proposals for Ground Zero. Stuart Shave, Darren Flook, and Maureen Paley flew the flag for the gallerists, while Cerith Wyn Evans, David Batchelor, and Michael Raedecker were caught in the crush leading down to the basement bar. Wolfgang Tillmans had the good sense to clarify for the throng that “there’s only drink down there, art is upstairs,” later joining Genzken in the rarely opened top-floor American room, away from the crush. Interrupting their intense conversation in German, I asked why she’d dared to tackle the taboo of 9/11. “The US is afraid to talk about Ground Zero, it’s a very delicate thing,” she said. “But this is a positive show.”
Left: Hauser & Wirth's Roger Tatley with Whitney Museum chief curator Donna De Salvo. Right: Serpentine Gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones. (Photos: Gareth Harris)
Opinion on the floor was wildly divided over her sculptures, produced in consultation with a team of engineers to ensure that each model could withstand scaling up to the size of the original World Trade towers. “Mike Kelley meets Wal-Mart” was one less forgiving evaluation, but Henry Moore’s grandson, Gus Danowski, gushed that Genzken “is fully committed to her concept.” It’s worth popping across the road to the gallery’s Swallow Street space to view a series of photomontages that superimpose Genzken’s monuments on the Ground Zero site. Placed in the context of the desolate Manhattan location, her bold, bright vision makes intuitive aesthetic sense. The head of culture at the UK German embassy, Anne-Marie Schleich, is apparently set to e-mail architect Daniel Libeskind, imploring him to come and see the designs.
A word of caution, though, to anyone visiting the show: beware of objects protruding from the Genzken pieces. Serpentine Gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones almost took a dive when she stumbled over a leather cushion placed near one sculpture. A pregnant party guest had to maneuver herself gently around the Goofy assemblage, while a pair of gallery-hired “invigilators” held hands to form a protective barrier around the mammoth Italian Lamp. A gallery technician pointed out that a pink scarf had fallen from the mezzanine onto a branchlike sculpture hanging below; most partygoers presumably assumed the chiffon accessory was just part of the piece.
The highlight of the post-private-view dinner at the Le Meridien hotel was Hauser & Wirth director Gregor Muir’s (short and sweet) speech, during which he paid homage to Genzken’s unique approach. But the real high jinks came at the postdinner party, held in a nearby swanky basement club. Genzken, known for her love of clubbing, hit the floor first with her excitable German dealer, Daniel Buchholz. They were swiftly joined by Wyn Evans, who rapidly morphed into a one-man movement to revive voguing. As I left, Wyn Evans was pirouetting on a pair of crutches, and Genzken, resplendent in a silver baseball cap and gray tweed, was still smiling and dancing with Tillmans; that woman knows how to have fun.
Just as one fixture of the Harlem art scene, the ever-provocative Triple Candie, relinquishes its space (though the team behind “David Hammons: The Unauthorized Retrospective” and “Cady Noland Approximately” has promised to remain active), another, the Studio Museum, appears healthier than ever. On the evidence of the packed Wednesday-night opening of its new suite of exhibitions, at least, Thelma Golden’s uptown domain maintains its local preeminence and international reach. The ever-stylish chief curator was front and center as I squeezed into the main gallery, home to “Flow,” a showcase for new work by young African artists (most of whom currently live abroad), modeled after the museum’s highly successful 2001 show “Freestyle” and its 2005 follow-up of sorts, “Frequency.”
Deep in conversation with Bronx Museum of the Arts director Holly Block, Golden paused only to give the thumbs-up to our shutter man, but further inside the museum’s 125th Street digs, I clocked smart-looking dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and more dressed-down Whitney curator Shamim M. Momin giving the show a once-over. Following suit were Katy Grannan, a 2004 Whitney Biennial artist, and Wangechi Mutu, who showed at Rohatyn’s Salon 94 space in 2006. The artists featured in the show itself are lesser known in this country but were attracting intense interest nonetheless; I overheard a WNYC reporter grilling Grace Ndiritu about her three videos, and several competing photographers were kept busy stalking their prey through the building.
Left: Artist Wangechi Mutu. Right: “Flow” artist Otobong Nkanga with Racquel Chevremont Baylor and Corey M. Baylor.
Making the paparazzi’s passage more challenging were the likes of Mounir Fatmi’s Obstacles, a sculptural installation modeled after a barricade pointedly situated near the entrance to the main gallery, and Joël Andrianomearisoa’s large, untitled black tapestry suspended from the ceiling at the other end of the room. (“We’re married!” the latter shouted as he mugged for the camera with fellow “Flow” artist Moshekwa Langa.) As the traffic between galleries and bars intensified, I took a breather in the lobby and added a few more boldface names to my list. Artist Glenn Ligon? Check. Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman? Him, too. (He seemed remarkably composed, given that Takashi Murakami’s massive traveling retrospective was slated to open at his museum the next evening.) Saya Woolfalk popped up to announce, with irrepressible enthusiasm, her position as the Studio Museum’s artist in residence (and berate me gently for not visiting the institution more often), and Guggenheim Museum conservator Vanessa Kowalski introduced me to artist Shaun Leonardo, familiar from his performance with Kalup Linzy in the latter’s already-classic 2006 lip-synch video, Lollypop.
At the stroke of nine, the museum’s rather over-officious security guards ushered everyone out, and visitors clustered to settle their plans of attack. Competing suggestions had me vacillating between a couple of different afterparty locations: Suite 308 and Lenox Lounge, both just down the street. Surrendering to the lure of a known name, I eventually opted for the latter, a longtime staple of the jazz circuit, and arrived to find the Nat Lucas Organ Trio in full swing and a cadre of “Flow” artists holding court in the back room. Admiring the elegant Art Deco interior and taking in the thoroughly mixed, thoroughly relaxed crowd, I made a mental note, for the second time that evening, to head north more often.