In July, galleries think they can break the silent contract to be open Saturdays and throw together group shows like nobody’s looking, because anybody who’s anybody is somewhere other than Manhattan. The upside is that the nobodies are still willing to make the effort to put on a good show, which is what happened Saturday at the NADA County Affair on Twenty-seventh Street and Fia Backström’s midnight Poetry Club at White Columns.
With an association of galleries hosting the first event, I expected to find art for sale, but the “fair,” held in the street, was devoted to more rustic forms of commerce: tag sales, bake sales, a raffle, and giveaways. The highest-priced items were the Museum of Miniature Art’s little portraits of Barack Obama, which sold for sixty dollars. Artist Scott Hug used the opportunity to unload old issues of K48 and other vintage curiosities, including Batman action figures based on the early-1990s animated series that would fetch more on eBay than in Chelsea. Dealer John Connelly, like Hug, cleaned out his storage and put together a one-man thirdhand clothing store, selling T-shirts, sneakers, and intimate apparel.
But most of the fair’s offerings were either edible—like sculptor Martha Friedman’s zucchini cupcakes—or otherwise ephemeral. Artist Joshua Smith and curator Jennifer Teets, inspired by Lucy from Peanuts, offered advice for twenty-five cents. At Klaus von Nichtssagend’s booth, Liz Luisada conducted experiments in automatic drawing, inventing stories on the spot for blindfolded subjects to illustrate or giving instructions for a celebrity’s portrait without revealing that celebrity’s identity until the sketch was finished. Tyler Coburn nailed Grace Jones.
I caught a performance by the two women of Vos, who danced in American-flag-themed costumes as Old Glory herself burned in the street. (“Isn’t that illegal?” someone whispered.) The fair concluded with an announcement of the raffle’s winners, who walked away with prizes including a Banana Republic weekend bag and designer sunglasses from Mary Ping. At 6 PM, participants packed up their Magic Markers, finger paints, cookies, and ice cream and dispersed.
Art was fun for everyone at the County Affair, but the late-night entertainment at White Columns promised to be a bit more highbrow. Backström’s Poetry Club was the coda to an exhibition she organized that I wouldn’t have recommended to anyone who doesn’t like to read standing up. A group show about the discourse surrounding group shows, it displayed clusters of press releases, a framed review, and transcripts of Backström’s theoretical dialogues about the show itself, to name just a few of the printed materials competing for attention. The Poetry Club provided a pleasant contrast: You could lean against the wall as the texts were served to you one by one.
The program opened with Malcolm Mooney, the original vocalist-lyricist for the early Krautrock band Can. Mooney read impassioned political verses to a jazzy, synthesized accompaniment. After writer Ariana Reines read Chris Kraus’s seminostalgic account of life as a stripper in New York in the early ’80s, there was a break, so those who arrived after the 12:30 AM kickoff could partake of the open bar. The atmosphere deteriorated during the next three numbers, the crowd made restless by microphone malfunctions and the free alcohol. But Swedish artist Karl Holmqvist rescued the night with his half-sung, elliptical meditations on lovers and mothers, constructed around pop lyrics and strung together across puns, homophones, and breathy, monosyllabic chants.
For the twenty or so stalwarts still in the gallery as 3 AM approached, White Columns director Matthew Higgs read from Sean Landers’s 1993 confessional [sic]. The passage oscillated wildly between self-doubt and self-love, with the latter most evident in the artist’s infatuation with a woman who expressed interest in his art and bore a physical resemblance to him. (“Her nipples were of my flesh.”) Higgs said that Landers could not be present to read because he was in Montauk. The possibility that Landers, who fifteen years ago wrote with the angsty uncertainty of a nobody, was now weekending among the somebodies, might have given hope to the young artists in the audience—at least to the ones who are in it for the Hamptons.
Left: 303 Gallery's Lisa Spellman and Mariko Munro. Right: The Virgins. (All photos: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan)
The scene outside 303 Gallery last Wednesday evening was surprisingly placid. With the seasonal doldrums setting in, I’d expected every New York art-world denizen lacking a Hamptons share to show up—for the free air-conditioning if nothing else—yet only the sparsest clutch of stoop sitters marked the Twenty-second Street location. The explanation was simple enough; I’d picked the wrong spot. 303’s Summer Celebration was planned for their new second space, just around the corner on Twenty-first. Arriving at the former posh real estate showroom (previously the classy-sounding club El Flamingo), I was reassured; the crowd was thin but swelling, and the hot-dog marquee outside was taking delivery of buns and wieners in anticipation of a hungry mob.
The venue’s capacious unfinished interior was home to a large stage, behind which a small digger perched atop a heap of fresh rubble. Two bars pushed vodka and Red Bull while opening DJ Matt Creed spun Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” “I haven’t heard this since I was in college,” enthused a Christie’s veteran. Whether headlining band the Virgins or guest DJ Thurston Moore would provide a comparable thrill remained to be seen. As Bill Pullman’s face (notoriously the subject of an entire essay in Greil Marcus’s 2006 book The Shape of Things to Come) loomed portentously over the room from a projection of David Lynch’s Lost Highway (Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point played opposite; both were Mary Heilmann’s selections), a glance around revealed the likes of artists Dash Snow and Marilyn Minter, as well as curators Francesco Bonami, Richard Flood, and Shamim Momin, mingling with willowy fashionistas.
The proximity of hipster waifs invariably has me craving dessert, so it was fortunate that Karen Kilimnik was on hand to dispense caloric “fairy food” in the form of chocolate-chip-cookie bites (also available were teeny-tiny chocolate-ice-cream cones that melted immediately in the heat). Few others joined me, however, distracted perhaps by the arrival of Kirsten Dunst, pretty-boy escort and anonymous gal pal in tow. With that mystical ability of the properly famous, the doe-eyed starlet made her appearance, posed “reluctantly” for photographers, then melted away undetectably. Those with a more demonstrable connection to the gallery—including painter Richard Phillips, Artists Space director Benjamin Weil, and MoMA curator Barbara London—stuck around a little longer.
Ducking outside for a break before a typically uncompromising but indifferently received noise-rock set by Moore (fifty years youthful that day, as announced by balloons and cake), my companions and I found ourselves in mildly deranged conversation with terrifyingly bejeweled “dating coach” Lauren Frances. The glamour puss regaled us with tales of a recent trip to Aspen (“The women there are awful”) before offering to call her ex-partner, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, seemingly just to prove a connection between them. At this point, clocking a lewd act in progress between two nearby parked cars, I decided recess was over. With the gallery’s Mariko Munro as my guide, I headed backstage to stash my bag before things got hectic. The Virgins were there, too, preparing unhurriedly to take the stage, and very nice, polite young men they seemed (their music, though, was forgettable, muddy acoustics notwithstanding).
Outside again, and there was barely time to bump fists with Art TLV curator Andrew Renton before the heavens opened and the hot-dog tent suddenly became unfeasibly popular—periodic partial collapses eliciting choruses of squealing. Braving the storm, we headed to the West Village’s cliquey Beatrice Inn where—naturally—our initial attempt to gain admittance was unceremoniously rebuffed (with the innovative twist that the doorman pretending the nonexistence of the afterparty had also just come from the earlier event). Nevertheless, after a phone call we were in but unexpectedly on our own; the place was empty. Turns out, we were a little early, but for a moment we scared ourselves with the possibility that Beatrice had opened a second space, too.
The title of this year’s Manifesta, “100 Miles in 100 Days,” seemed more logistical caveat than curatorial mandate. The impressive exhibition, which, along with parallel events, includes more than four hundred artists, is a veritable endurance marathon. This is the first time the roving biennial has been based in more than one city: the Italian towns of Rovereto, Trento, and Bolzano-Bozen. Perhaps the director, Hedwig Fijen, wanted to make up for the cancellation of the 2006 edition, scheduled for Nicosia, Cyprus, which was abandoned because of political discord among the curators and local organizers. But although the Alpine region of Trentino-Alto Adige looks picturesque and idyllic—lederhosen and hiking boots seemed practically de rigueur—it has also seen its share of political turbulence, with relations between the ethnic Germans and Italians still tense. The schizophrenic province, also referred to as Südtirol (South Tyrol), was part of Austria-Hungary until its annexation by Italy in 1919, and roughly half the population still speaks German in spite of an intensive relocation and “Italianization” program carried out by Mussolini with the help of Hitler, which was cut short by World War II.
Arriving in Trento last Wednesday night on the train from Rome, I headed straight for the local art-world hangout, the Green Tower restaurant, where I dined with Los Angeles collective My Barbarian, in town for their performance at the Galleria Civica di Trento. They described trying to organize a workshop with local volunteers around the theme of the left-wing extremist Red Brigades, which had been founded by local university student Renato Curcio; they were told it was not allowed. Barbarian Alexandro Segade said that when they tried to discuss regional politics in a workshop, they were shocked at the passionately divisive reactions. The unveiling earlier that evening of the bronze Family Monument—portraying the typical Trentino family as chosen in a contest during Gillian Wearing’s eponymous 2007 exhibition—was attended by protesters in white masks claiming to represent the “invisible families” that had been statistically disregarded by the competition. Barbarian Jade Gordon commented that the posture of the family, with the wife kneeling next to the husband, was tellingly sexist.
Coming from notoriously chaotic southern Italy, I expected impeccable organization up north. But the reality was perhaps the biennial’s most striking (or at least frustrating) lesson. When I finally arrived in Rovereto the next morning—after narrowly missing the train and being rescued by Manifesta employee Roberto Lunelli—the press representative explained, “There are twice as many people here as we anticipated.” In the courtyard of the sprawling Manifattura Tabacchi—a recently decommissioned tobacco factory and one of three sites of curator Adam Budak’s exhibition “Principle Hope”—I fortified myself with a gelato from artist Tim Etchells’s Art Flavours cart. A TV crew interviewed Budak beneath giant black balloons, part of an outdoor lounge installation. At the back was a spectacular facade of vivid flames, the entrance to Ragnar Kjartansson’s Schumann Machine, in which the Icelandic artist donned a tux and sang an ironic rendition of the composer’s Dichterliebe.
On the ground floor, at Copy-Right No Copy-Right, by Italian collective Alterazioni Video, a long queue led to a computer station where participants could make copies of music and films of their choice as an act of protest against intellectual-property laws. In the mazelike exhibition upstairs, I came across The Caregivers, by Libia Castro and Olafur Olafsson, a compelling video opera about eastern-European female domestic workers in Italy, which effectively depicted the pressing issue of immigration in Europe.
Daunted by the logistics of moving around Rovereto alone, I considered jumping aboard Christian Philipp Müller’s surreal Carrgo Largo float, which passed by seemingly unmanned near the train station as I headed toward the former cocoa factory ex-Peterlini. Here the centerpiece was Knut Asdam’s Oblique, a masterful video in which passengers travel together on a train through a meditative urban landscape. Exhausted by a visit to the must-see exhibitions at nearby MART—the surveys “Eurasia” and “Contemporary Germany,” with paintings by Germans Tim Eitel, David Schnell, and Matthias Weischer—I hitched a ride back to Trento with two people getting into their car. (They turned out to be Greek curator Daphne Vitali and her father, Carlo.)
After a much-needed prosecco pit stop in the packed courtyard of the Palazzo delle Poste, I braved “The Soul (or, Much Trouble in the Transportation of Souls),” yet another labyrinthine exhibition. The standout here was Following Room, by American artist Beth Campbell: an arrangement of identically furnished cubicles with glass dividers. Less effective comments on collective identity were five mock didactic “museums,” such as the “Museum of European Normality.” Pausing on the staircase, 303 Gallery’s Mari Spirito, on sabbatical in Europe for the summer, stopped and sighed, “I think there should be a law limiting the percentage of video allowed in a show.”
The best demonstration of the problems surrounding European integration was simply getting around. On a Manifesta shuttle to Bolzano on Friday, a row ensued when the Italian driver stubbornly insisted on following a written itinerary that was contrary to the official press schedule. The scene devolved into a comedy of the absurd when, to everyone’s bemusement, he stopped the bus in the middle of a roundabout to ask road workers for directions. We all agreed that this was evidence of the worst characteristics of the two local cultures: Teutonic rigidity and Italian disorganization.
The cavernous ex-Alumix, on the outskirts of Bolzano, showcased “The Rest of Now,” an evocative, lively exhibition curated by Raqs Media Collective dedicated to the beauty and artifacts of obsolescence. Zilvinas Kempinas’s Skylight Tower embodying projected light in negative with shimmering videotape strips hanging from the central skylight, while Jorge Otero-Pailos’s The Ethics of Dust transferred the accumulations of pollution on the wall to a facade of latex casts, preserving the residue of time as archaeological artifact.
By the time we reached the ghostly Fortezza/Franzensfeste, the Habsburg defense structure on the Austrian-Italian border where Hitler and Mussolini sealed their pact, I was wandering like a zombie from room to room, in no state to appreciate the ephemeral sound texts emanating in three different languages from the empty spaces. At that moment, the ominous, isolated fort itself seemed the most eloquent physical symbol of the randomness of political borders and national identity.
Left: Artist Ragnar Kjartansson. Right: 303 Gallery director Mari Spirito, curator Konstantinos Dagritzikos, and artist Beth Campbell.
“Kehinde. Wiley. The World. Stage. Africa. Lagos. Dakar,” proclaimed an echoey DJ via all-weather speakers bolted above the entrance to the Studio Museum in Harlem on Wednesday night. Noising up the crowd, another palpitating Afrobeat rhythm unfurled, and despite the onus of July heat waves in Manhattan, nobody wanted to wait to have a good time.
This section of Wiley’s ongoing “World Stage” project is also his first solo exhibition at the museum, as well as a homecoming of sorts to the place where, as an artist-in-residence in 2001, the painter honed his current style: gigantic oil-on-canvas portraits of young black men in poses derived from classical forms, with richly patterned backgrounds in bright hues and flamboyant curlicues harking back to everything from the Arts and Crafts movement to indigenous textiles of all stripes. Fans sated themselves in the gallery space with noses an inch from the paintings’ immaculate surfaces, or with prolonged hand-on-chin stares at six feet, or from a perch on the museum’s unusual balcony. The mood in the gallery rested somewhere between quietly reverential and familial; security guards couldn’t have been more relaxed as guests glided about in a mellow slipstream, and dealer Jeffrey Deitch and Deitch director Nicola Vassell negotiated sales and whispered in each other’s ears at the nucleus of the gallery space. The thrills began in an adjacent air-conditioned vinyl marquee that stretched the length of the museum, erected for the evening with two open bars, and liberally sprinkled with placards advertising an African rum distillery, the evening’s designated intoxicator. Museum director Thelma Golden snacked on popcorn while some downtown fashion dorks meandered about looking lost, out of the spotlight for the night. A live DJ went from playing full Fela Kuti sides to incendiary hip-hop classics, and a considerable dance floor took shape. A New York Times photographer seemed to suffer paroxysms of puppy love for several guests, not least Vasell, who led him on a merry dance all night long. It was hard to fault the nakedness of his feelings in such a crowd.
Left: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch, Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman, and Andy Cohen. Right: Artists Varda Caivano and Chris Ofili.
This is the nature of the Wiley experience: Since 2001, the thirty-one-year-old painter has built a lucrative practice through consistency, both in work executed and in celebration done properly. I have harbored warm feelings for him for years, since a Sunday-night fish fry—Wiley and actor David Alan Grier’s Atlantic catches—that remains the only sincere fun I’ve experienced at Art Basel Miami Beach, though I have been ambivalent toward the formulism, market friendliness, and respectability of the artist’s neo-Duveen classicism for almost as long. Veteran Chicago dealer Rhona Hoffman wouldn’t abide my discreet misgivings as I commented on the artist’s travel schedule and vivacious social presence en route to Deitch’s lavish dinner for a few hundred at the Alhambra Ballroom, around the corner from the museum. “Kehinde is in the studio,” she told me, “working his butt off, all the time. He will not stop.” I commended her for her support, even though it was Jeffrey’s night to bank checks. “I’m getting India,” she said, referring to one of the countries soon to feature on Wiley’s “World Stage.” (Another is Brazil.)
Come speech time, between salad and salmon, Deitch deferred to Brian Keith Jackson, a writer whose excellent profile of Wiley featured in the otherwise frighteningly generic Giant magazine plopped on every place setting. The crowd quieted as Jackson spoke of coming full circle, of a leg of the artist’s journey completed that evening, and of the artist’s capacity to build bridges. It was noted that Wiley went to Nigeria eleven years ago to find the father who had left before his birth. Satisfied and rather moved, I turned to my neighbor, Studio Museum assistant curator Naomi Beckwith. “Not just bridging the gap but making the world whole,” she said, nodding. On my other flank, artist Rashawn Griffin, another former SMH artist-in-residence, and participant in this year’s Whitney Biennial, pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows in demure, tacit approval.
Left: Artist Rashawn Griffin. Right: Artists Tanea Richardson, Marcus Zilliox, and Peter Halley.
There followed a reflective lull, an ideal cue for the surprise entrance of the Houses of Ninja and Xtravaganza, whose pneumatic voguing routine was met by spontaneous and more-than-merited squeals, whistles, and calls for an encore (granted). Hoffman scurried around taking photographs, and an until-then-flinty Glenn O’Brien stood up from his seat and grinned from ear to ear. (“I haven’t seen them in twenty years,” he told me before climbing into a waiting car at night’s end.) The Houses’ MC threw “How YOU doing?” at the crowd as the dancers strutted from the ballroom. Criticism had felt pointless for a while. At that moment, we were all thriving.
Left: Artists Glenn Ligon, Karen Azoulay, and Muna El Fituri with curator Joseph Wollen. Right: Artist Kalup Linzy.
In recent years, the foreign-gallery opening in China has developed into a complex ritual with its own unique social lexicon. Who can forget Galleria Continua’s 798 debut back in 2005, leaving Beijing awash in prosciutto, pecorino, and Chen Zhen installations? Or Galerie Faurschou’s dinner last November for the absent but still-living Rauschenberg, whose work opened their Beijing space, under a rented tent and catered by the Chinese capital’s lone Michelin-certified chef? Pace Beijing originally scheduled its China debutante ball for the Day of the Aligning Eights (8-8-08), to coincide with that other, slightly bigger coming-out party: the Olympic opening ceremony.
Such was the deep background for James Cohan Gallery’s tasteful garden wedding to Shanghai. At the end of a lane buried in a prime patch of the tree-lined French Concession, in a house, once occupied by the Chinese military, painted with the requisite fading Maoist slogan above the door, two hundred or so gathered last Thursday evening to celebrate the opening of Cohan’s Shanghai satellite with a group show of gallery artists on the theme of “Mining Nature.” Shanghai and New York being closer than they once were, the crowd was full of more than a few Chelsea habitués: Cohan director Arthur Solway (now fully relocated to Shanghai), video collector extraordinaire Pam Kramlich (a Shanghai half-timer), Performa curator Defne Ayas (in Shanghai more or less full-time, teaching for NYU), Wallpaper writer Andrew Yang (the man on the ground for Shanghai’s new “100% Design” fair), and even New York Social Diary contributor Jeanne Lawrence (in Shanghai “indefinitely”). This is, of course, to say nothing of the jet-setting Chinese—dealer Lu Jie, artist Zhou Tiehai, novelist Mian Mian, to name just a few—who closed the cross-continental gap long ago. And in a moment one could liken to the tossing of the bouquet, Jay Jopling appeared with a retinue of White Cube directors and local consultant (and former Ullens Center deputy director) Colin Chinnery in tow, prompting speculation that he might be next.
Left: White Cube creative director Susan May and director Tim Marlow with curator Colin Chinnery. (Photo: Philip Tinari) Right: James Cohan director Arthur Solway (right) with a friend. (Photo: Defne Ayas)
The garden party ended after repeated nudges in the form of flickering lights. Then it was on to restaurant M on the Bund, the continental standby with a manager who looks and talks like Truman Capote. Cohan’s college buddy—a longtime Shanghai expat with gruff, fluent Mandarin—gave the toast, a vague homage to dreams dreamed and dreams realized. Conspicuously absent from the family-of-the-bride table was Shanghai artist Xu Zhen, who had a solo show with Cohan in New York in February. (He didn’t attend that opening either, owing to a legendary fear of flying.) The four tables worked their way through three courses, syncopated by the rhythm of smokers running off to the bar between services.
After dessert, Solway sat down at my table and waxed poetic about his decision to Go East. He had lived in New York since 1979, drawn there after his father, a Cleveland art dealer, took him for a weekend in the city instead of giving him a bar mitzvah. They saw a lot of exhibitions, visited “Teeny” Duchamp on Tenth Street, and even caught a live performance of Hair. “It was not unlike the feeling I had first coming to Shanghai,” back in the early years of this decade. Who guessed that the Age of Aquarius might resonate here, today?
Left: Writer Andrew Yang with Performa's Defne Ayas. Right: Dealer Angela Li and architect Patrice Butler. (Photos: Philip Tinari)
Left: Collector Neil Frankel with curator Alison Gingeras. Right: Dealer Gavin Brown and Rachel Roberts. (All photos: David Velasco)
On a lovely summer evening, what could be nicer than strolling to the West Village, looking at art, and hopefully not being too vibed out by the self-absorbed crowd? Curated by Alison Gingeras, “Pretty Ugly” is a supersize group show sprawling between Gavin Brown’s Enterprise and Maccarone, fortresses of coolness where, according to the press release, “the fluidity of ‘pretty’ and ‘ugly’ will be played with and almost posit ‘pretty ugly’ as a third term which might apply to a vast range of artists and works, thereby fusing the two galleries into a single exhibition.”
This viewer spotted three categories: “Gross,” “Kitschy,” and “Weird Body Parts.” Some works were all of the above. Indeed, among the gross were the exalted Viennese male cutters Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler (whose photos documented a mummy’s nasty doings with a dead chicken), a fresh, juicy placenta (by Corey McCorkle), and Bruce LaBruce’s equally vibrant Blow Job with Pig Blood. Karen Kilimnik’s early scrawl DEATH TO PIGS! looked comparatively jaunty in a fancy frame. A kitschy John Currin tableau titled Equality in the Workplace shows a business meeting between a smarmy “suit” and a lady coworker whose boobs droop out of her blouse and onto the table like fleshy Slinkies. Lots of Hans Bellmer (weird doll body parts). Otto Dix’s ugly Germans. A Joel-Peter Witkin bod-mod torso with scarified “wings” in a punishing corset. A stunning Alice Neel painting of a spastic-looking Religious Girl.
You know, jolie laide art. Like Sarah Jessica Parker. I couldn’t help but think of Gertrude Stein, who noticed how certain “irritating annoying” works of art can suddenly upgrade from “reject” to “classic”: “First all beauty in it is denied, then all beauty in it is accepted.” I paused before a “bust” composed of paint gobs, like a de Kooning sculpture with three red clown noses. “Early Paul McCarthy?” a cute artist-seeming guy chuckled appreciatively. (The work was by Glenn Brown, I later checked.)
Especially at Maccarone, the stuff was so poorly labeled it was like Art Jeopardy for the in-the-know. So user-unfriendly. I puzzled with newbies Roberta Smith and Jerry “I don’t know anything!” Saltz over a salon-style wall hung in a total jumble, crazy-makingly labeled by “rows.” We wanted to find out who did the fetching portrait of Michael Jackson and E.T. but couldn’t crack the code because most of the pieces were simply Untitled. Sheepishly, we discovered Michael Jackson and E.T. was one of the few exceptions, but attempting to extrapolate the unknown Untitleds from the forest of known Untitleds was like driving while attempting to read a map. Annoying and distracting (though not as dangerous).
In the gallery as luxury boutique, such user-unfriendly labeling sends the subtle message that information is for buyers only. It’s not “If you have to ask how much it is, you can’t afford it.” It’s “If you have to ask what it is, you don't belong here, you rube! Go hire a personal shopper—I mean, an art consultant!”
Left: Artists Brian Meola and Jack Pierson. Right: Artist Rob Pruitt.
On to the afterparty! “Hookerish” best described the sleek, cushy decor at Norwood, a members-only, Soho House–like (but cooler!) club targeting “tweedy, artistic types” willing to pay dues to frequent the Fourteenth Street townhouse that some Gawker commenter anointed “the Algonquin douche table.”
“Well, look at who’s here . . . ” I sat with David Rimanelli and Chivas Clem (whose “Pretty Ugly” piece was an homage to Ebony and Ivory “exotic” beauty: a regal African lady and Barbra Streisand, both working a tribal look.) We watched the crowd from the opening schmooze away, but now way more attractively lit: artists Currin (holding forth about James Bond), Rachel Feinstein, and Rob Pruitt; White Columns director Matthew Higgs; Interview editor Christopher Bollen. A droll Scottish guy—with a nice Jewish boyfriend—amused himself by trying on my Star of David necklace. Oy. The champagne flowed, literally, from those wide-mouthed, tippy glasses that always wind up dribbling down my arm. With a smile as abstract as the resin John McCracken plank in his gallery, Brown glided through the bar area, a wolf man in a crisp navy gingham shirt, meeting and not always greeting his guests: “He didn’t say hello to me!” I heard someone exclaim in the gloaming.
“Well, what do you expect from these people?” said another.
“But we were friends!”
Merce Cunningham, Beacon Event, 2008. Performance view, Dia:Beacon, Beacon, NY. (Photo: Anna Finke)
After the Friday-night premiere of Mark Morris’s interpretation of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet—in which, faithful to the recently unearthed pre-Stalinist score, the star-crossed lovers survive for a last dance—I followed the Hudson down from Bard to Beacon on Sunday to see the Merce Cunningham Dance Company perform amid Dia’s monumental Richard Serra Torqued Ellipses. It was my second “Event,” as these performances are billed, in a year (I saw another at the grounds of the Philip Johnson Glass House), and the fourth in a series at Dia, each held in a different gallery. Here the staging, with marley mats at either end of the hangerlike space, forced the dancers to run back and forth behind the sculptures, pausing, occasionally, for a surreptitious solo.
Inside each COR-TEN-steel hull, a single musician, with a set of instruments, mics, or turntables, sent music either to large speakers positioned opposite each stage, where it was mixed with the output of the other musicians, or to smaller speakers installed within each structure, effectively turning the sculptures themselves into enormous sounding boxes. The music, material composed according to an original Cage scheme (Cunningham and Cage were, of course, longtime partners as well as collaborators), followed only the dictum that it last, collectively, as long as the dance. According to the composer Newton Armstrong, one of the four musicians, the directives have become “basically an oral tradition.” Yet, he added, “when you do it, it feels like a Cage piece.” Stephen Moore, of the dance company’s “music committee,” explained that, with such an unscripted piece, “the big thing is who you pick to play; Cage always had a stable of amazing players.”
The dancers carried out Cunningham’s exacting choreography (older excerpts combined with new material designed with his three-dimensional-animation software, Danceforms) with athletic precision—only their sweat-drenched costumes hinted at the demands of performing like a machine (or avatar). Afterward, Jonah Bokaer, founder of performance space Chez Bushwick, citing his experience as a former Cunningham dancer, explained thateven as an audience member“I felt the performance in my body.”
Throughout the performance, the audience was free to wander the gallery space and enter the sculptures. Along the long wall, dancers appeared and disappeared behind the hulking forms, while the stages were virtually invisible from anywhere but the far ends of the space, where the gallery opened to the out-of-doors. It was impossible to get a totalizing view. I ran into artist and theorist Simon Leung, arriving along with Yvonne Rainer and Joan Jonas; he informed me that, for this very reason, he had secured tickets to both performances that day: On one viewing, “you can’t see the whole thing.” I spied Serra himself looking on from the far corner of the gallery space and, after the performance, thought I’d ask Cunningham whether Serra had played any role in the staging of the day’s events. Cunningham, surprised at the question, responded that he “hoped Dia told him we were performing here.”
As soon as I arrived at the Area Sacra di Largo Argentina in the sultry Roman evening and looked down into the ancient ruins, I experienced something like an LSD-induced time warp: Bedouin transvestites had taken over four ancient temples dating from the fourth century BC. “It is a discotheque!” exclaimed an Italian passerby as he looked upon the colorful, pulsating encampment below. His female companion said, “It is not possible!” But there it was: Eli Sudbrack’s assume vivid astro focus collective was making its debut in Rome. Flashing neon hieroglyphs adorned the walls of the Temple of Juturna, and a multicolor projection bathed the columns of the oldest temple, devoted to fertility goddess Feronia.
As I descended the steps into the sacred psychedelic ruins, Roman artist Ra Di Martino said, “Strangely enough, this is the first time I’ve been inside these temples.” Wearing a kitschy crucifix adorned with images of the Madonna, the Italian journalist and provocateur Roberto D’Agostino seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, joking around with curator Francesco Bonami in a streamer-lined corridor. Standing before a giant poster of a woman in red who was too-much-woman-to-be-a-woman—like a transgender Jocelyn Wildenstein with exaggerated red lips and formidable cleavage to match—Bonami later commented that it took more than a month to get permission to invade the archaeological site with contemporary art, which seemed fairly expeditious considering the nature of the intervention and the bureaucratic rigmarole typically required to get authorization for anything in Italy. However, it seemed particularly ironic that this exhibition would be permitted today, given the condemnations of gay culture by Gianni Alemanno, the recently elected neofascist mayor, along with his dismantling of the previous administration’s extensive cultural initiatives. But perhaps the key here was the influence of the exhibition’s corporate sponsor: Enel, Italy’s largest power company.
Once I arrived in the center of the pulsating wooden construction and donned my tribal gorilla mask, I caught the carnival spirit and abandoned myself to the sacrilege of it all. Wafting about like a butterfly in a long black-and-white caftan, Sudbrack mentioned that he “hoped people would start dancing soon.” The debauched squat was plastered with blowups of cross-dressers and decorated with bunches of balloons inscribed with the names of Italian women and transvestites. One of avaf’s partners in crime, French multimedia artist Christophe Hamaide-Pierson, described a visit by Enel’s representatives the day before: “It was weird, they had no problem with displaying the naked breasts; it was the fetishistic features of the transvestites’ faces they didn’t like. But since then, I have seen lots of women walking around here in Rome with badly done work!” He said that members of avaf had been living a nomadic life, traveling constantly for the past two years to set up their campy road show around the world.
The ruins of Largo Argentina were excavated in the 1930s thanks to Mussolini’s desire to revive the symbols of Rome’s status as caput mundi, but somehow that dream was never quite realized. Although it contains some of the oldest relics in Rome and was the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination (in 44 BC), the sunken piazza is now essentially a cat sanctuary, and literally hundreds of the feral creatures run free among the stubs of columns and sacrificial altars. But not one of them was in sight during last Thursday’s opening.
According to the curatorial statement, the artistic intention was to “respect the archaeological site but at the same time revitalize it by dragging it into the present”—no pun apparently intended. Speaking of which, the dearth of drag queens was curious; the attendees of the opening party, feeding enthusiastically from an incredibly long table running the entire length of the piazza, were less art world than young professionals of the Roman haute bourgeoisie. Given the storied comportment of the ancient Romans, who reportedly partook in frequent orgiastic bacchanalia, the Largo Argentina may be the most appropriate venue for an avaf installation yet. The place even features remnants of public toilets from the Roman Republic, in case anyone decided to take it that far. But alas, no one danced. And the only hallucinogenic vision was an optical illusion: the signature avaf light prisms made by the lenses in our masks.
Left: Dealer John Berggruen with collector Norah Stone. Right: A view of James Turrell's Stone Sky. (All photos: Drew Altizer)
Weekend weather reports predicted haze from a thousand Northern California forest fires, but the air was surprisingly clear the Saturday before last on the drive to the famous-for-the-waters town of Calistoga in Napa Valley. There was, however, a bit of static when we pulled up at the gate of Stonescape, the weekend getaway vineyard and art compound of collectors Norman and Norah Stone. Our arrival was followed by a guest-list discrepancy, an overzealous security guard, and a parking snafu, but thankfully the vibe softened once we boarded the shuttle bus, which a friendly driver maneuvered up the short, winding road to the property. “Don’t look down,” he facetiously warned—the pavement barely accommodated the vehicle. He dropped us off on the idyllic grounds: hillsides with rows of grapevines, a spiffed-up farmhouse, and, to the left, the arched entrance to what is called the “Art Cave.”
Sporting a vibrant pantsuit and a large gold necklace that splayed in a full half circle over her collar, Norah Stone stood at the unofficial bus stop, greeting us warmly before sending us on a tour of the cave with Thea Westreich Art Advisory rep Suzanne Modica. “You really must check out the Turrell,” Stone added, pointing to an infinity pool in which seemed to float a large white cube.
Modica lead us through the glass doors into a vaulted chamber of the cave, where we encountered Caged tool #1 (hammer drill), an appropriately titled sculpture by Monica Bonvicini, which was surrounded by Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Magazine Station n. 2, Receiving Station, a gauzy curtain in rainbow shades that serendipitously reminded us that it was gay-pride weekend in San Francisco. Though separate works, Modica noted that the sculptures were first displayed together at Basel, and so they remained linked. As she took us farther into the 5,750-square-foot space, the architectural achievement was apparent. Designed by Bade Stageberg Cox and constructed from scratch by experts in subterranean building, the Cave is the realization of the Stones’ desire to reenvision the common subterranean wine chamber as a white-walled gallery with few right angles and a ceiling that artfully (and bafflingly) integrates lighting and sound. “Norman was very concerned that it not be echoey,” Modica relayed. Indeed, we could barely hear another small group (comprising collectors and SF MoMA art conservators) nearby.
Left: Artist Jimmy Raskin with Thea Westreich's Suzanne Modica. Right: Architect Martin Cox with collector Norman Stone.
Farther on were a group of Mike Kelley sculptures and photographs, along with John Baldessari’s A Painting That Is Its Own Documentation, an early text work that gains new elements each time it’s exhibited. We then passed an arrangement of Serras, Judds, and an elaborate recent work by Keith Tyson. A bar was set up just outside, and I was poured a glass of the Stones’ own AZS Cabernet—actually quite delicious. (Norman later announced that only fifty-six cases were produced that year.) Numerous black-clad servers offered one flavorful appetizer after another as we toured the property’s renovated 1887 old farmhouse. It’s modest in scale, though ennobled by some stellar examples of midcentury Scandinavian furniture, Campana Brothers chairs, a guest room filled with Cady Nolands, and a Sherrie Levine “Walker Evans” by the bathroom.
The grounds featured some spare, inventive landscaping, and the gradual arrival of other guests strolling through made the place look like a California update of Last Year at Marienbad. From the perspective of the farmhouse, I could see a bikini-clad woman—the Stones’ yoga instructor—standing at the edge of the Turrell pool. “There are disposable bathing suits in the changing rooms,” Modica noted, adding that sunset is the best viewing time. But that was at least an hour away, leaving ample time to imagine the social anxiety of swimming with a high-powered culture set—dealer John Berggruen, SF MoMA director Neil Benezra, Gagosian’s Andy Avini, and former Dwell editor Allison Arieff among them.
Left: Ava Benezra, SF MoMA director Neal Benezra, LA MoCA director Jeremy Strick, and Wendy Strick. Right: SF MoMA trustee Michael Wilsey and Bobbie Wilsey.
While chatting with LACMA curator Leslie Jones, who is organizing a forthcoming Baldessari retrospective, we were gently alerted that dinner was served—an impressive buffet of burgers (beef, turkey, rock shrimp, black bean) and summer salads. As we ate, Norman and Norah passed a microphone back and forth to tell their guests (perhaps a hundred of us in all) of the arduous experience of building the cave—storms, potential collapse, brave workers—and to remind us that we really shouldn’t miss the Turrell. “The water’s ninety degrees,” Norman announced.
Pleasantly sated at dusk, I ambled down to the compact men’s changing room, which was filled with elder collectors in various states of undress. (“I think they enjoy putting us in awkward situations,” one of them deadpanned.) I donned a paper swimsuit—snug and slightly waxy—and dove into the warm water. Entering Stone Sky requires some underwater maneuvering that one guest wittily likened to emulating Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure. I surfaced inside what looked to be a large square sauna cross-bred with a planetarium laser-light show. There, I encountered Norman Stone, LA MoCA director Jeremy Strick (who had toted his eyeglasses in a waterproof Ziploc bag), photographer Marion Brenner, artists Jimmy Raskin and Deborah Cox, and a few other nearly naked folks whose names I didn’t catch. The shared experience of getting inside made for a surprisingly democratic social space, and we splashed, conversed, and quietly looked upward, losing ourselves in the work’s eye-tickling color cycles and the warm Napa Valley night.
Left: Power Plant director Gregory Burke with Norah Stone. Right: 1301PE director Amy Divila with Matthew Linnell.
Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead? The run-on title of the cult British children’s TV show was a beautiful paradox: Watch this, but don’t. Think of it as practice versus theory. Unfortunately for the makers of the teatime staple, its signature injunction was all too tempting, tending to curtail any further, uh, discourse. “The New York Conversations,” a recent series of talks convened both to launch e-flux’s new premises on Essex Street and to provide conceptual fodder for a forthcoming issue of Belgian art journal A Prior, was similar in its apparent determination to inspire via negative example. And it worked; I was out the door with a whole hour left on the clock.
Perhaps I missed some crucial initial question—it’s true that I arrived five minutes late for the Saturday-evening session following a convoluted subway journey to the Lower East Side—but what the discussion was actually for or about was never made entirely clear. As I arrived, wedging myself into the tiny fluorescent-lit storefront (seemingly a derelict launderette), chef and participant Rirkrit Tiravanija was complaining about his self-imposed exclusion from some crucial earlier stage of the dialogue—“I didn’t expect to stay in the kitchen so long.” But whether or not this was the kind of meeting at which a talking stick was passed around or votes were taken remained ambiguous. Additionally presided over by artists Nico Dockx and Anton Vidokle (e-flux’s founder), this was the final installment in a three-day sequence of two-hour lunchtime and dinnertime lock-ins, and the mood was earnest.
The organizers had prefaced their meet with a set of rules for conversation cribbed from Peter Burke’s 1993 book The Art of Conversation in Early Modern Europe, including “Avoid too excessive pedantic or technical speech (like direct interrogation, the use of imperatives and short answers such as ‘Yes’ and above all ‘No’)” and “Adapt your conversation to the people you are conversing with.” Sage advice that was consistently ignored as the dozen or so glum faces around the luridly patterned conference table made your correspondent feel like a student in the wrong classroom or, worse still, the teacher’s lounge. That I was standing (seating was limited to a strip of chairs arranged along one side of the action) and boiling (thanks to one esteemed co-participant planted in front of the fan) didn’t help.
Gradually, very gradually, workable ideas emerged—but was it ever heavy going. “Immaterial labor is so exhausting,” quipped Vidokle, to the quietest of laughter. Incrementally, the discussion creaked around to a comparison of different models of art writing and a critique of “modalities of engagement” (what was that about technical speech again?), the potentially alienating aspects of being a “content provider” (tell me about it), “the difficulty of talking about practice,” and “moving beyond representation.” Apparently, artist Liam Gillick (you just knew he’d be involved in this, didn’t you?) had “rejected the notion of freedom” in an earlier discussion (cheers, Liam), but when Tiravanija’s sous-chefs finally rolled out the snacks around nine o’clock, allowing the official participants to stuff their stony faces while the rest of us could only, in the words of one, “perform communality,” I was forced to make my escape. After all, there might have been something good on TV.
Despite recent threats to its cachet from the proliferation of MFA exhibitions organized by professional curators, the summer group show remains a gallery’s chief R&D operation. At least there was a lot of healthy market testing going down last Thursday, when several Chelsea stalwarts—and one West Village newbie—welcomed the “slow” season with multiple-artist displays, each slouching toward the zeitgeist with varying degrees of novelty and chaos.
Anton Kern chose to flaunt the art world’s vaunted incestuousness with “Friends and Family,” a disarming play on the traditional invitational. Here, instead of a senior artist picking a work by a younger one, gallery artists and staff submitted pieces by their children, spouses, and siblings, as well as the odd friend. That left Kern free to include a $550,000 “Remix” canvas by his father, Georg Baselitz, as well as a $150 refrigerator-style oil by his son, Linus. Ellen Berkenblit came up with a 1965 photograph by her father, Melvin, and Marcel Odenbach showed a watercolor beside a rather nice floral one by his mother, Miriam Anita-Nöcker. The whole thing felt like a family picnic. All that was missing were the hot dogs and the three-legged race, though a kind of fabric sandwich board on a wooden tripod by married artists Matthew Monahan and Lara Schnitger looked as if it could have competed. It read ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
Those words certainly never occurred to collector Beth Rudin DeWoody and artist Donald Baechler, whose voracious appetite for art attracted quite a mob to “I Won’t Grow Up,” the group show they put together for Cheim & Read. At first glance, their presentation resembled a sixty-part visual essay on the miniature golf course, featuring a dizzying array of players, from Louise Bourgeois and the Chapman brothers to George Stoll and Kembra Pfahler.
DeWoody is no stranger to the friends-and-family entourage. It was her son, Carlton, she said, who introduced her to many in the younger set contributing to the show, which involves the things of childhood that artists, channeling Peter Pan, refuse to set aside. DeWoody installed much of it herself, though you could tell which half catered to her taste and which to Baechler's. (Paintings—by Brendan Cass, Scott Reeder, Djordje Ozbolt—seemed to fit his aesthetic; whacked-out assemblages by the likes of Beka Goedde and Brian Belott were more characteristic of hers.) “We worked well together,” she said. “It’s all good.”
It was really too crowded to tell. Thankfully, at least one dealer has a corner on the serene. That would be Barbara Gladstone, who also had news of a townhouse gallery she will open this fall in Brussels. (“No, not Berlin.”) Meanwhile, she hired Russell Ferguson to bring on this summer’s home show, “Idle Youth.” The UCLA Department of Art chair has cherry-picked work from six different decades (including the 1930s) and the studios of artists represented by over a dozen other galleries. And he did it without the help of any of his relatives, as far as I could tell.
The title, of course, derives from the famously dissolute nineteenth-century poet Rimbaud, and the show includes modestly scaled works that, to borrow a phrase from his catalogue essay, relish the miserable. Yet the mood at Gladstone was awfully accepting and pleasant. I saw so much respectable art and engaged in such polite conversation that I now believe it is possible for anyone to attend a party with an open bar and hear no one say anything either sordid or stupid.
During dinner, which took place in the gallery’s upstairs library and on the rooftop terrace, I found artist Amy Sillman locked in a serious conversation with Ferguson on the literary value of art. What happened to small talk? If it’s still true that artists lead the culture to its next well, then say good-bye to the heady cocktail of New York real estate and art-world money. Thinking may soon be back in vogue.
Left: Dealer Sarah Gavlak with artist Jack Pierson and hairdresser Jimmy Paul. Right: Anton Kern director Christoph Gerozissis.
Comic relief came from out-of-towner Mari Eastman, whom I first came across in a show at the Hammer Museum, when Ferguson was a curator there. Eastman clearly relished the chance to be in New York but was bewildered by the difficulty of finding a free bathroom in Manhattan. Another charmer was Marc Bijl, a Dutchman who drifted over from “Crop Rotation,” the summer show Clarissa Dalrymple organized for Marianne Boesky next door.
In fact, the guests represented an international mix of newcomers and old-timers. They included Roy Arden (who contributed a great video of a hockey-fan riot), Thomas Eggerer, Frank Benson, and Elizabeth Peyton, as well as dealers Michael Lieberman and Friedrich Petzel and curators Francesco Bonami, Richard Flood, and Laura Hoptman. George Shaw, visiting from London, was most amusing as he described his antidote to the current nightmare of international air travel. “If you share a name with a very famous person,” he said, “they’ll breeze you right through.”
If only I could have donned the mask of dewy youth when I dove into the bright college crowd hanging out at 7eleven, a temporary gallery at 711 Washington Street, where dozens of paintings by the outsider artist Ionel Talpazan tell the story of his kidnapping by saucer-flying aliens. This cheerfully nepotistic enterprise was established for the summer by three twenty-something-year-old women whose parents are either writers, artists, gallery directors, or, in one case, the developer who plans to tear down the building to make way for a small (ha!) hotel.
The founders, Genevieve Hudson-Price, Caroline Copley, and Sabrina Blaichman, grew up together and went to either high school or Cooper Union with the other three artists in “Invasions,” their terrific debut show: Theo Rosenblum (inspired environment with a river of fake green lava), Thomas McDonell (oil-on-cotton self-portraits), and Sebastian Black (life-size nude cutouts lounging in a piano bar). None of these youth know the meaning of idle. “I guess I should go home and let them do their thing,” said artist Jane Kaplowitz, Theo’s mother. “Not me,” replied another proud parent, artist Judy Hudson. “I’m having way too much fun.”
Left: Artist Theo Rosenblum, Lena Dunham, and Stella Schnabel. Right: Whitney curators Chrissie Iles and David Kiehl.
One glance at the guide to the dozen or so venues for Provincetown’s Tenth Annual International Film Festival and I felt lost at sea. Or perhaps I was simply feeling the effects of the ferry, where I had sat alongside an entertaining range of passengers: several middle-aged couples of various stripes of the rainbow, optimistically headed back to command central; a few young “rich rapist types,” (as a friend termed them); and, of course, the film-folk like IndieWIRE editor Eugene Hernandez and managing editor Brian Brooks along with IFC’s Ryan Warner. We sorted through the festival’s offerings—from the North American premiere of Madonna’s Filth and Wisdom to rock-documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life. Word was that Man on Wire, about the man who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in 1974, was not to be missed. We put a star next to it.
Each day kicked off with a breakfast panel at yet another cozy seaside eatery—apparently the basic building block of life in Provincetown. Thursday morning’s panel, “Documentary Filmmaking,” featured filmmakers Lucia Small, Randy Barbato, and John Walter. Moderating was film critic Gerald Perry, who opened with the big questions: Why were audience-numbers shrinking after the “golden age of documentary—the year of Michael Moore?” No good solutions. Perry moved on to other, more perplexing, conundrums: Was documentary, as Walter put it, “a redemption of physical reality” or a “social construct”? “We think in forms—and story forms,” Walter said. “When we see something in reality that matches up, we mash the two together.”
That turned out to be the perfect thought to chew on during the screening of American Teen, which won its creator, Nanette Burstein, Sundance’s directing award for a documentary. The movie was a perfect social map of every high school archetype since The Breakfast Club. But was it scripted? Such questions were eclipsed by the distracting charm of one of the film’s leads, Hannah Bailey, a budding indie-filmmaker herself.
If Thursday’s panel focused on larger issues, Friday’s breakfast was devoted to specifics—namely, Towelhead, the first feature directed by Six Feet Under’s Alan Ball. Ball and producer Ted Hope discussed the myriad challenges of making the film. (Given the movie’s much-discussed child molestation scene, it was hard to convince actor Aaron Eckhart that his role wasn’t quite that of a pedophile.)
At a reception that evening held in the Schoolhouse Gallery, director John Waters caught up with artist Marlene McCarty, while dynamo festival artistic director Connie White greased all the logistical and social cogs. (A party a night is no small feat.) Topping off the weekend was an awards ceremony in Provincetown’s high-school auditorium, which spilled over into a makeshift simulcast room in a darkened cafeteria downstairs. I arrived after actress Jane Lynch received the Faith Hubley Memorial Award, but in time to catch Quentin Tarantino, honored with the “Filmmaker on the Edge” prize, being interviewed by Waters, who asked if all the “close-ups of feet” in Tarantino movies were evidence of a foot fetish. “No, that’s just good filmmaking,” Tarantino replied.
Raw oysters helped keep the spirits high at the ensuing gala, where Paper’s Dennis Dermody talked of Provincetown’s good old days, “when John worked at the bookstore and I worked at the video store—and when I could still afford it here.” Towelhead’s next-generation-star Summer Bishil wandered the crowd with her mother. Like all the other partygoers, she had nothing to do but move in circles around the buffet. Gael García Bernal showed up wearing glasses, perhaps feeling more casual now that the designated paparazzi hour was over. As fans surrounded Tarantino, I couldn’t help but recall his response to another question earlier that day. When asked, “What’s the best gift a fan has ever given you?” the filmmaker responded: “Pussy. It’s a gift that doesn’t stop giving: There’s pussy, and there’s the memory of pussy.” And, unfortunately, there’s the memory of Tarantino remembering said “pussy.” Thankfully, any lasting taint in the air was erased by the sight of a local icon on Commercial Street: Ellie, a seventy-six-year-old baritone with long blonde tresses and calf-flattering gold sandals. Stationed in the public square, toting a sandwich board that read LIVING MY DREAM, she serenaded the crowd with “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” And just like that, optimism was restored; all was right in Provincetown.