“I SHOULD GET A JOB with the Chamber of Commerce,” said Kris Kuramitsu, curator, along with critic Christopher Miles, of “Panorama: Los Angeles”—the special focus of this year’s ARCO. Previous editions of the Spanish art fair have highlighted countries (India, China, Mexico, Brazil), so it was unclear whether it was a compliment to my hometown or a backhanded slap to previous foci that LA was getting such outsize attention. Nevertheless, a slew of Angelenos jetted in for the sort of panels, performances, parties, and exhibitions that make up the schedule of every international art fair.
ARCO was once deemed among the most popular fairs in the world, but recent incarnations have been marked by dropouts (most famously, Korean commissioner Sunjung Kim and her curatorial colleagues David Ross and Charles Esche in 2007) and, in 2005, a car bomb. Luck wasn’t much better this year. The global economy is still busting, and typically sunny, post-Movida Spain was wet with rain and sinking under 20 percent unemployment and a briskly shrinking GDP. Besides, just weeks before the opening day, the fair was scandalized by the resignation of eminent London dealer Anthony Reynolds, who dropped out after IFEMA (the organization that runs the fair) attempted to steamroller the selection committee and bulk up the number of participants. (Fair director Lourdes Fernández noted that such maneuvers have been blocked, but the damage was done.)
The fair kicked off strangely with journalists gathering at noon on Wednesday, February 17, for a press conference that never quite materialized. The junket group bemusedly wandered out of the VIP booth where the welcome was meant to be held and into a thin crowd that grew little throughout the day. By closing, many dealers I spoke with were grinning through gritted teeth that they were “holding out for sales later on” (some of which actually happened). But even with the dodgy economy and the odd layout with yawning walkways, good art always outs, and Bilbao’s Carreras Mugica, Zurich’s Mai 36 Galerie, and São Paulo’s Dan Galeria all had very strong presentations. (The last of the three featured Antonio Dias’s darkly funny 1970 painting The Day Tripper, a piece frequently referred to as the great work of the fair.)
The Los Angeles contingent, slotted into a warren of booths designed by LA architects JohnstonMarklee (whose great architectural innovation, besides a shared closet for the galleries, seemed to be a wonky fuchsia stripe painted on the individual booths entryways), intermittently chain-smoked (in the aforementioned closet), and quite a few bragged openly about their ability to bring all the art in their suitcases. For a trunk show, the gathering wasn’t exactly knockout, but it was decent, with smart works by Eric Wesley at China Art Objects, Bill Leavitt at Margo Leavin, and Erik Frydenborg at Cherry and Martin, as well as a beautiful artist’s book by Camilo Ontiveros at Steve Turner, which won the fair’s fifteen-thousand-euro Illy Prize for young artists.
Later that night, we gathered, shot glasses of ceviche clutched in our fists, under a cloud of cigarette smoke in a ballroom attached to the fairground. The opening dinner kicked off with a slew of speeches, which the cheap seats either couldn’t or wouldn’t hear, and the roar of their chatter began to drown out even the dignified mayor of Madrid. Getty Research Institute director Thomas Gaehtgens accepted the International Collectors Award, a prize officially intended to “encourage” collecting. The Getty’s presence brought a gravity to the LA dimension that was otherwise lacking. The institution did its best to keep it real, putting together a large show of SoCal real estate photographer Julius Shulman’s pics in a beautifully converted water tower; they also plugged their $10 million (over ten years) citywide initiative, “Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA, 1945–1980.”
Left: 1301PE’s Brian Butler and Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler. Right: Ooga Booga’s Wendy Yao at the US Embassy in Madrid. (Photos: ForYourArt)
The following day, the wildly popular Prince and Princess of Asturias cut the ribbon at the fair. Their Royal Highnesses did a tour of the galleries, making sure to stop by a few LA booths. Dealer Shaun Caley Regen blushingly “presented” a Lari Pittman catalogue to Prince Felipe. Meanwhile, Kathryn Brennan gushed over her brief audience with the royal couple, then admitted she’d have rather met the director Pedro Almodovar, who was sighted at the fair.
Every night, the rambling demimonde ended up reliving scenes from Almodovar films (Labyrinth of Passion, anyone?) at local watering hole the Bar Cock, whose name generated endless puerile permutations. There assembled an international mishmash of art consultants, dealers, artists, curators, and a few collectors engaging in what art fairs promote best (after cultural exchange): binge drinking. Halfway through one of my last nights (or was it mornings?), I was grabbed from the bar by dealers Guido Baudach and Erica Redling to suss out what our Spanish guide purported to be “the best flamenco bar in Madrid,” the Candela. A taxi and an eight-euro door charge later and there we were; to an admitted amateur, anyway, it seemed to live up to its hype, with booming flamenco on the speakers and an alluring mix of musicians tapping the bar and girls tapping the musicians. Downstairs, though, was another club, where apparently only real aficionados and practitioners were allowed. I didn’t even try. I figured this was one place my VIP pass just wouldn’t cut it.
THE SEVENTY-FIFTH EDITION of the Whitney Biennial opened on Tuesday night with the requisite crush of VIPs, wannabes, trustees, and sundry celebrities (Val Kilmer, Chloë Sevigny, and Todd Haynes among them). Depending on the color of your invitation, it was either one long wait in the rain (black), or a quick jump through the doors (yellow). I ducked under the rope near the front of the line and joined conversations about the possible highs (more women in the show than ever before—only twenty-three years after the Guerrilla Girls’s Biennial protest) and lows (fewer artists) of “2010.” The redundant name of Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari’s much-anticipated exhibition was taking some hits: Some skeptics wondered how it could possibly reflect anything about our recent political and economic roller-coaster ride. “2010? I’m still trying to figure out 2008!” spouted one cynic.
Once inside, I stood on a spiraling coat-check line with Jeffrey Deitch (no VIP treatment here). This was beginning to feel more like the “waiting” biennial, but it allowed more time to mull over my potential route. I could start with the second floor—“a little creepier,” according to Bonami—and then head up to the “fourth-floor spectacle” (again, Bonami). Instead, I began with floor four, where one could find Bruce High Quality Foundation’s Beuysian hearse clashing with Lorraine O’Grady’s tribute to Baudelaire and Michael Jackson. “Jackson’s the last of the modernists,” she chimed. Given the show’s overall subdued, understated feel––with a plethora of two-dimensional works, video, and film largely sequestered on the third floor, and a dearth of sculpture (surely the art handlers were happy)––on first look it added up to a very different, more modest beast than years past, leanness instead of “lessness.” No work in the elevators, bathrooms, or hidden spaces. No imaginary curators or dance parties at the Park Avenue Armory, either. (There will be a small performance series utilizing Martin Kersels’s playful mise-en-scène in the ground-floor project space.) And were there really only two references to Jackson—O’Grady’s and Daniel McDonald’s? OK, three, I suppose, if you count the brief clip of “Black or White” interspersed with other images on the BHQF Cadillac windshield.
I caught up with Paul Pfeiffer, winner of the 2000 Bucksbaum Award, near the elevators on the fourth floor, in front of Piotr Uklański’s sprawling jute-hemp-macramé web (a choice spot, where Shannon Ebner’s stark text-based work was installed in 2008). I asked him what he thought of this year’s treatment of video. “Ten years ago, the videos were all on one monitor,” he replied. “Thankfully, I escaped that because my work had an armature.” Not long after, someone claimed the Uklański was supposed to be a pastiche of feminist art clichés, though there was nary a word about it on the wall text. “Oh, really? That’s a new one,” joked a friend, as we quickly moved along.
Anyway, the one-two-three punch of Babette Mangolte’s curtained-off gallery with pictures of artists like Richard Serra and Stuart Sherman, R. H. Quaytman’s hushed abstract paintings, and a fleet of Charles Ray’s sunny flower drawings—all on the fourth floor—is surely the cream of the crop. Michael Asher’s ephemeral contribution, a request for the Whitney to remain open 24/7 for one week (and the institution’s renegotiation, for budgetary reasons), was a high-water mark, too. While most of the “2010” artists I spoke with seemed thrilled with their spaces (“I can breathe!” gushed Aki Sasamoto), several wished they were with different neighbors or closer to “Charlie’s Room,” as Jessica Jackson Hutchins called it.
Left: Artists Anissa Mack, Gedi Sibony, and Dave McKenzie. Right: Steve Hubbard and artist Alex Hubbard.
I gave up on the third floor after realizing I was spending less and less time with each work, though it was heartening to see Joan Jonas sticking it out in the darkened galleries. I navigated the hordes to the wine soiree in the basement but fled the scene soon thereafter (too much bad synth pop) for what turned out to be a seriously “creepy” affair: the official afterparty thrown by the Biennial’s “fashion sponsor,” Tommy Hilfiger, at his Fifth Avenue store.
Two trussed-up dudes with umbrellas escorted us from our cab to the door, beyond which a crew of suntanned, khaki-clad staff were lined up against the registers to serve strong, syrupy drinks to the beautiful people, Rosario Dawson and artist Fred Wilson among them. Spencer Sweeney DJed, not that anyone would have known from the Lite FM music. No one, it seemed, had plans to stick around, and most conversations hovered around the cloying cookies—shortbread iced with Whitney logos—handed out by even more of the “premium lifestyle” brand’s eager caterers. (“They must be models,” someone said. “They’re too cute to be models,” came the retort, Biennial-land obviously long behind us.) I tried one of the cookies while Carrion-Murayari shared notes about the selection process (and his suit, a gift from Hilfiger) and expressed a sigh of relief to be finished. . . well, almost, with a handful of fetes––and more “openings” on Wednesday and Thursday––to go.
I exchanged post-afterparty tips with Dawson and watched a few more rounds of cookies make their way through the store. By then, the affair just seemed bizarre—the sponsorship that the museum has taken on, certainly necessary during this “recessional” Biennial, less palatable, at least in its native retail context. We split a little after midnight, our final destination a loft party in SoHo hosted by J. D. Samson that ran late into the night. There, a community of “2010”-ers, including Emily Roysdon, Jesse Aron Green, Sharon Hayes, and Erika Vogt, made for a much more affable, less saccharine affair. The evening, an object lesson in incongruity, finally panned out.
Left: Barkley Hendricks, corecipient of the CAA Artist Award for Distinguished Body of Work, and Susan Hendricks. Right: Art historian Griselda Pollock, winner of CAA’s Distinguished Feminist Award. (Photos: Bradley Marks)
“RIGHT NOW.” The words began, and were then woven into, a short but stirring presentation by a young academic who kicked off the Contemporary Art Historians panel toward the end of the multiday marathon (with some sessions this year going until 10 PM––really?) that is the College Art Association’s annual conference. By this point—the afternoon of day three at the Hyatt Regency beneath Wacker Drive in Chicago—absentees, pinch hitters, late additions, and substitute readers were old hat: So many people had been thwarted by snow on the East Coast that I had already adopted a “listen now, identify later” approach to panel going. The CAH’s session is always a big draw at CAA, with the highest chance for brainy “Oh no she didn’t!” moments, and energetic pop songs playing while people take their seats. (Those savvy, iPhone-equipped academics who’d bothered to download Shazam would have been able to identify the tunes.)
The man at the lectern told us that “we need to defamiliarize” the seriousness that “goes hand in hand with trying to be academic-businessmen.” I was impressed by his message and mesmerizing delivery. The confidence of this call to arms reminded me why I go to the conference. (A neighbor whispered that he was from the University of Chicago.) After three days during which artists, curators, art historians, and educators danced around their roles, I welcomed the cocksure manifesto he professed. It wasn’t until later that evening that Stacey Allan, editress of newly formed Los Angeles publication East of Borneo, told me that the opening act was delivered by 2010 Whitney Biennial participant Theaster Gates. An artist!
After Gates’s words, and with the knowledge that panelist Caroline Jones was among the many snowed out, I didn’t have the will to stick it out in the big ballroom; better to savor the moment. Checking my text messages outside, I found an enthusiastic “Passed!!!!” from former CAA president Nicola Courtright, currently my colleague at Amherst College. She was referring to the CAA membership ballot initiative to allow its board to appoint certain members with much-needed credentials to aid in fund-raising, etc., bringing the institution into the twenty-first century.
Left: Art historian Steven Nelson and Paul Jaskot, art historian and CAA board president. Right: Prentice Hall’s Sarah Touborg with art historian Richard Shiff, winner of CAA’s Distinguished Teaching of Art History Award. (Photos: Bradley Marks)
One of the most ubiquitous participants at the conference this year was Chicago-based artist Michelle Grabner, who chairs the painting department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, runs the Suburban Gallery with Brad Killam (where I will show next May), and cocurated the show “Picturing the Studio,” now on view at her college’s Sullivan Gallery. Grabner’s contributions here included a reading of her commissioned (but conspicuously unpublished) skeptical piece about Chicago’s social-practice purveyors Temporary Services, a panel titled “Opt Out of Obscurity” (which I, inspired, opted out of), and a gathering in which twelve New York, Chicago, and LA–based painters (or their representatives) spoke without the aid of visual reproductions about their beloved medium. Strong women artists were in full effect on this panel, and among the most poignant contributions was Rebecca Morris’s rumination on the problem of midcareer studio mind games. “How do you pull off the ninth solo show?” she challenged. “The fucking fifteenth?”
Hans Peter Sundquist, who runs the Chicago gallery Julius Caesar with, among others, the impressive Molly Zuckerman-Hartung (“both ambition and failure are embarrassing now”), came up from the audience to perform brilliantly a 98 percent vowel script (think Old MacDonald via Andrea Fraser) on behalf of Jon Pestoni. “Relaxed old dude” Thomas Lawson reminded us that “competition [used to be] among ideas, not scorecards of biennials.” Hear hear. Anoka Faruqee, sharp and with an eye toward context, spoke of “restraint and trickery,” accidents, mistakes, and failures, while Scott Reeder had me in stitches, particularly with his fictive title for a painting: Cops Ascending a Staircase. (There were more, and they were all funny.) At the conclusion of the two-and-a-half-hour Saturday-morning session, all were invited to attend the four-venue exhibition “ON PTG,” featuring actual works––hence the lack of slide showing––of all of the artists on the panel.
I arrived solo to the second of four shows (which opened in stages from 5 PM until 10 PM that evening at Shane Campbell’s newish gallery on Chicago Avenue), where I began to see people I recognized. I gathered a crew of Angelenos––Michael Ovitz’s curator Nu Nguyen; LAXART curator Aram Moshayedi, who delivered a fantastic LA-pride paper on Womanhouse on Friday evening; artist Shana Lutker, former staffer of the defunct and sorely missed Chicago-based publication New Art Examiner and current managing editor of X-Tra––and we piled into my borrowed, snowy convertible to drive to the final two sections of the exhibition at Rowley Kennerk gallery and Western Exhibitions. People seemed happy to see the work by the artists from the panel but at the same time looked either sick of the conference or actually, physically ill. Around 9:30 PM, I defected north to my parents’ apartment, turned on the Olympics, and read about Amy Bishop’s reaction to tenure denial on the Internet, suddenly glad I wasn’t there to look for a job.
IN HINDSIGHT, I suppose it was inevitable that this year’s SITAC would be controversial. Titled “Blind Spots,” the eighth edition of the annual art-theory conference in Mexico City was organized by Americas Society’s visual-arts director Gabriela Rangel and dedicated to “an analysis of radical discourses and practices such as feminism, cinema, and performance that have originated as ‘blind spots’ or ‘stains’ on contemporary art criticism and theory.” It all sounded benign enough on paper, but doesn’t any discussion of discursive marginalization merit at least a little drama?
After a seventeen-hour trip and the requisite sprint through Charles de Gaulle to make the connecting flight, I was picked up at the airport and taken to my boutique hotel in La Condesa, just a few blocks away from La Panadería, the former alternative space I’d directed in the early 2000s. Once in my room, I was mesmerized by a new age sound track and images of soft porn emitted from the “video art” channel programmed for each new guest’s arrival before I was shuttled off to a cocktail party where other invited speakers had gathered for a preliminary meet and greet. Light banter promptly took a heady turn as Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo (PAC) cofounder Patricia Sloane explained to art historian Lane Relyea and co-organizer Jennifer Sorkin that local advisers had recommended the word feminism be kept out of the conference title to avoid alienating potential audience members unsympathetic to the cause.
A bad case of jet lag excused my participation from some of the mandatory preconference art- and cultural-tourist activities—among them a visit to an exhibition curated by Javier Téllez at the Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros (SAPS), later agreed by many, including me after getting there a few days later, to be the best show seen on that trip. On the way to a lunch hosted by Kurimanzutto gallery in its relatively new permanent exhibition space (its industrial splendor rivaled only by the recently opened gallery LABOR), I shared a car with Klaus Biesenbach (his second time back since his controversial 2002 show “Mexico City: An Exhibition About the Exchange Rate of Bodies and Values” at P.S. 1). We speculated about the current polarizations and rivalries within the Mexican art scene and concurred on the inevitability of return-induced paranoia. The conversation then turned to Berlin, and he mocked my intention to learn German with the wry remark, “It’s a country that deserves for people not to learn its language.” (I admitted I’d always felt the same way about the US.)
Like any endeavor of this scale, the conference had its ups and downs. One particularly adverse condition was the freakishly cold, rainy weather, which kept the massive theater at what felt to be near-freezing temperatures so that panelists were frequently buried under multiple scarves and blankets generously brought from home by PAC director Aimée Labarrere de Servitje, always the image of elegance and grace under pressure. Content ranged from formal academic papers—Tom McDonough’s comparative analysis of the everyday in early ’60s Parisian cinema; Rita Eder’s recuperation of pioneer Mexican video artist Pola Weiss (“Surprising and wonderful!” gushed Museo Rufino Tamayo director Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy later that day)—to more intimate artist-talk-type presentations by Martha Rosler, Vasco Araujo, Dias & Riedweg, and Kader Attia. In response to the question “Is the personal still political?” Silvia Gruner read a thoughtful autobiographical text (appropriately named “An Overdose of Me”) against a montage of seductive filmic images while Judi Werthein performed a work in progress (Obras contadas) in quirky, MC style. Expert respondent Relyea wrapped up a session that included a discussion by curator Sabine Breitwieser on Valie Export’s legacy within Austrian feminist practice with a spontaneous (and uncannily prophetic) call for “dissensus rather than consensus.”
Left: A view of Carlos Amorales's performance. Right: The closing buffet.
The sun finally reemerged from its weeklong hiatus on the final day of the conference, which was scheduled to close just before lunch to offer a much-needed respite from three days of frenetic activity. Shortly after noon, artist Carlos Amorales (né Carlos Aguirre) took the stage dressed in an elegant black suit and delivered what appeared to be a formal lecture about the “migration of form” that took his silhouetted drawings from artworks to record-label logos to designer dresses to sexy women’s lingerie. As he did so, a bulky, mustached man dressed in military attire appeared to his left and began barking out threats to strip-search select audience members. A rather complying young woman—performance artist Galia Eibenschutz, who also happens to be Amorales’s wife—presented herself onstage and was stripped down to her lingerie to the applause of some five hundred delighted fans. A ripple of shock could be felt in the first two rows (consisting largely of guest speakers), and the ever-feisty Sorkin (who the previous day had leveled a devastating critique against Pipilotti Rist’s MoMA installation Pour Your Body Out as its curator, Biesenbach, looked on with perverse delight) quickly grabbed the microphone and demanded to know why Amorales had chosen to undress a woman at a conference on feminism. The artist expressed confusion about why he’d been invited in the first place, gave a feeble apology, and made a hasty retreat before things got really ugly . . . which they did.
Maybe it was all that latent dissensus that had been building up over the prior three days (critic Cuauhtémoc Medina later claimed that it was my “moralistic” position on “poverty porn” during my own talk that had sparked the problem early on) that precipitated such a violent reaction from both sides. Against the advice to just “relax,” given by a young man and his sneering girlfriend seated just to her right (their bad manners mirrored by an alarming number of audience members), Rosler eloquently critiqued the conventional appeal of the naked female body while Monica Mayer (an important fixture of feminist art practice in Mexico City) shot back with a reference to the controversy surrounding the use of Rosler’s collage of naked women on the cover of the catalogue for LA MoCA’s “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution.” (Rosler, of course, took on that comment as well.) The debate eventually took a predictable turn with claims for cultural relativism and accusations about the imposition of foreign discourses that came to a head with Medina’s mistaken attribution of a Seamus Deane quote to Benjamin Buchloh, denounced by Rangel (who obviously relished the error) as part of his overall distortion of her opening arguments. As the tone in the auditorium grew almost unbearably hostile, art historian Francisco Reyes Palma intervened with an earnest attempt to mediate what was clearly an irreparable situation.
Not even the potential for casual networking at a lavish outdoor buffet populated by some of Mexico City’s most preeminent art stars—with the exception of my personal favorite, Miguel Calderón—could remedy the decisively dampened mood of many conference participants, who took their leave of Mexico City the next day with the promises of bland hospitality in a warm and exotic destination somewhat unfulfilled. This year, SITAC’s most memorable elements may very well be not the food or the parties or the chaotic but fun urban setting (all of the above were, of course, great), but a taste of real provocation, unpleasant but perhaps productive.
MORTALITY LIVES! That could have been the tabloid headline for several exhibitions that opened in New York last Thursday, when the parallel world of Fashion Week began with the jolting news of designer Alexander McQueen’s suicide by hanging. That night, two enduring fashion figures, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, carried the torch for iconoclasm at a reception for Ross Bleckner at Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue showroom. Bleckner, of course, has been mining the territory mapped by tragic loss and fleeting beauty throughout his career, and his waxy new works––clock faces overlaid by bright floral motifs on canvas and paper––continue in this vein and show him in peak form as he returns to gestural painting from recent harder-edged, airbrushed works.
Life is too short for most of us, heaven knows, touched by grief and elevated by love, if we’re lucky. Loyalty was another lure to Bleckner’s opening. “We’ve been friends since high school!” Bleckner said of Karan, giving the designer a hug while fending off a swarm of his present and former students from Columbia and New York University, as well as arty pals like Chuck Close, Jack Pierson, Tom Sachs, and Lisa Phillips. Alec Baldwin also put in a brief appearance looking none the worse for wear, though the gossip columns that day had reported him hospitalized for supposedly taking an “accidental excess” of sleeping pills.
Death-defiant leaps of faith also underscored the two big installations by Banks Violette at Barbara Gladstone’s pristine Twenty-first Street emporium, where a reign of chaos submitted to the “mild boredom of order,” as Walter Benjamin once put it. An umbrella-like chandelier of fluorescent tubes trailing a tangle of wire tendrils, suggesting a maypole imagined by a hallucinatory Dan Flavin, is reflected here in the shiny black surface of an enormous tiled wall that has crumpled like a wad of paper (actually its starting point), frozen in midcollapse like a petrified lava flow. A triangular piece of the same structure rested against a gallery wall, while a third part, a flying wedge erected high on steel scaffolding anchored by absurdly puny black sandbags, stood opposite.
The whole scene resembled the aftermath of a stadium rock concert disrupted by overzealous fans, and contrasted sharply with the clean, pure lines of the space and the genteel tenor of a crowd that included dealer Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn; curators Richard Flood, Chrissie Iles, and Neville Wakefield; artist Elizabeth Peyton; and Violette’s London dealer Maureen Paley. I wondered how the work would look in the more rough-and-tumble environment of an unconverted garage. “I’d like to see that someday, too,” said Violette, who had barely survived a ruptured appendix only days before.
Meanwhile, across the street at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, ghostly shadows doubled and tripled against the walls of chapel-like, white-cube rooms as guests passed before projected lights chiseled by Olafur Eliasson, who appeared a bit more grizzled than usual and slightly dazed by the commotion around him. Ari Wiseman, newly appointed deputy director of the Guggenheim Foundation, tested the Chelsea gallery waters, while old-hander Bard CCS director Tom Eccles led seasoned collectors Joel and Sherry Mallin though the crowd. Artists Alexis Rockman, Tony Oursler, and Peter Saul huddled together under the less flattering lights of the gallery upstairs. But at least there were no mishaps to threaten anyone’s health and stability here.
In the art world, however, the afterlife is a party, and there was a good one at Blaue Gans in Tribeca, where Gladstone partnered with Violette’s dealer Jose Freire to throw a dinner for both Violette and the hunky Cologne-based twins Gert and Uwe Tobias, who were preeming, to appropriate some Variety-speak, “Come and See Before the Tourists Will Do—The Mystery of Transylvania,” a show of large, posterlike woodcuts at Team. Apparently inspired by horror films, they look oddly like Native American designs for totems crossed with Caligari-style expressionism.
The dinner bubbled with cheer, however, as Violette and his tattooed buddies joined artists Kai Althoff and Wangechi Mutu, collector Beth Swofford, and dealers Jeff Poe and Rodolphe Janssen to chow down and chew fat about, among other things, the insanely funny new YouTube video pitting Adolf Hitler against Jeffrey Deitch in the former’s unsuccessful bid for director at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.
Let’s face it: A sense of humor is required during a particularly dark, cold New York winter. Bright color helps, too, so Peter Halley’s blinding new Day-Glo grids at Boone’s Chelsea space on Saturday seemed perfectly timed to the moment. “They look like air-conditioning vents on acid,” observed one spectator of the prisonlike bars of Halley’s paintings, which only emphasized the seasonal pallor of otherwise rosy-cheeked attendees like Haim Steinbach and Laurie Simmons. Moscow dealer (and former New Yorker) Gary Tatintsian hosted the buffet supper for Halle and his betrothed, artist Ann Craven, at his old loft, inhabited now mainly by a compelling group of vintage artworks by Carroll Dunham, Vik Muniz, John Coplans, John Currin, and George Condo, and a scatter of strange furniture too avant-garde to sit on very long. “Is the party ending?” asked young Mark Barrow as the room began to clear for hard-core guests who wanted to dance. “Or is it just beginning?” Metaphorically speaking, the question is as unanswerable, and inescapable, as the chicken-egg conundrum. And like the sociable world of art, just as sure to enjoy a good, long life.
Vladislav Delay and Lillevan at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center. (All photos: Michael Wilson)
LAUNCHED IN POLAND IN 2003, the experimental music festival Unsound made its first overseas foray this month, landing in New York for ten days of events in ten venues scattered across Manhattan and Brooklyn. First up, on February 4, was a performance at Lincoln Center’s recently opened David Rubenstein Atrium, an imposing space, though not without the bland atmosphere common to atria everywhere. On offer was a set by superbly named Finnish laptopper Vladislav Delay with visual accompaniment by German video artist Lillevan, and Solid State Transmitters, an unlikely collaboration between German electronica producer Sebastian Meissner and Polish avant-garde ensemble Kwartludium. I arrived to find a line snaking down the block, the venue packed beyond capacity, and Delay in full swing (or better, given his oceanic ambient sound, full flow).
A youthful and sleekly black-clad crowd lapped it up, then turned its attention to SST. If the acronym seems familiar, think of Bad Brains, the Descendents, and the Minutemen. Sure enough, as ill advised as it might sound, what Meissner and Kwartludium were about to attempt was nothing less than a new-music interpretation of some minor classics from the cult American hardcore and alternative-rock label. Beginning with Black Flag’s “I Can See You,” they moved on to Blind Idiot God’s “Roller Coaster,” Grant Hart’s “The Main,” and Husker Dü’s “Something I Learned Today.” Accompanying each piece with a slow-dissolving projection of some of the band’s record-cover illustrations (Raymond Pettibon’s designs for Black Flag being the most familiar to an art-world viewer), they gave each one a different, radical, and surprisingly effective spin. Even Joe Carducci might have approved. Might.
Left: A dancer at Public Assembly. Right: Curator Regine Basha and Christoph Cox at the Goethe Institut Wyoming Building.
Fast-forward to the festival’s penultimate day, last Saturday, and a panel discussion titled “Mapping Sound in Art” at the Goethe Institut’s Wyoming Building on East Third Street. Gathered to address the theme were Artforum contributor Christoph Cox, curator Regine Basha, composer Michael J. Schumacher, and artist Asa Stjerna. As the participants in and audience for a previous panel, “Bass Mutations,” filed out (these events came thick and fast), I overheard New York dubstep DJ Dave Q being accosted by an earnest admirer keen to impress on him the vitality of the Venezuelan dance music scene. If the founder of the Dub War club night seemed to find his devotee a little, uh, intense, at least the man had passion. My panel of choice, while boasting fine minds and eminently reasonable viewpoints, could have used a little of whatever he was on.
After an exhaustive rundown of the panelists’ myriad accomplishments, earnest moderator Kabir Carter began by asking Schumacher for an account of his beginnings in the field. (In addition to making his own work, Schumacher also helms sound art gallery Diapason.) The nonchalant composer’s detailed response led quickly into a discussion of the lack of curatorial understanding of the practical demands of sonic work (or, in Schumacher’s suggested formulation, “listening art”), especially in the context of group exhibitions. “It’s usually either dissonance or cordoning off,” sighed Basha, “and there’s always something in the elevator, or the bathroom.” “They don’t listen with the ears of a sound person,” agreed Schumacher. “I feel for gallery attendants, though,” conceded Cox, in reference to a general feeling that exhibiting institutions tended to put curatorial rigor aside in the name of convenience, describing one particularly uncompromising piece by Tony Conrad that might drive its caretakers rather quickly to distraction. Questions from the floor ranged from the specific—a query about sound art’s place in the art-educational system—to the baffling: When “sound” is referred to as “conceptual vibration energy,” one begins to see the appeal of the “fuck art, let’s dance!” camp.
Fortunately, that evening’s event at the Williamsburg club Public Assembly (temporarily—and slightly worryingly—subtitled The Unsound Bunker) offered ample opportunity to throw some shapes. Scheduled to run from 10 PM until an endurance-testing 6 AM, the night was focused on bass-heavy electronic sounds from American and European artists and DJs, including the aforementioned Dave Q, Dutch techstepper 2562, and cult German tech-dub specialist Pole (am I getting my subgenres right?). The impressive lineup was split between a front room that seemed to attract a mixed but fairly sedate crowd and a heaving back room that was, for no clear reason, where the dance-floor action was. “Lovestep” innovators Sepalcure had a bash at livening things up, bobbing and weaving behind their glowing MacBooks, but it was Romanians TRG and Brits Untold who really moved the crowd. At 2 AM, and despite the snow, there was still a sizable line outside. By dawn, “conceptual vibration energy” had regained some traction.
THE ELEVENTH EDITION of the Art Rotterdam fair took place in the armpit of the world’s largest oil port, in the airy Holland-America Terminal, which gave it the jolly frisson of a harborside carnival. At Wednesday’s preview, burly men in leather aprons served up juicy oysters and smoked herring by the barrels with an impressively choreographed professionalism. There was even a sideshow: American artist Abner Preis told stories from a colorful handmade stage set, like the heartwarming one about famous actor Timothy Teardrop, who finds happiness only after he saves a pigeon’s life.
Before the doors even opened, Galerie Ron Mandos had sold a giant bust of twenty-four-year-old artist Levi van Veluw covered with a dazzling pattern in wooden marquetry to an Arnhem museum by telephone. “The local Dutch institutions always buy my artists here,” said Frankfurt dealer Ulrike Adler, who had returned for her fourth year. The fair’s seventy-six galleries offered an abundance of young talent in a relatively small space, and the whole thing was refreshingly all about commerce at a time when art fairs and exhibitions seem to be merging.
“Art fairs are becoming more curatorial and biennials more commercial,” Art Rotterdam director Fons Hof noted. “This year, for example, Hedwig Fijen is working directly with collectors for Manifesta.” Dealer Aaron Moulton, of Berlin’s Feinkost, added: “I resent fair directors asking for specially produced exhibits that will be shown for only four days—like fast food, or a fake biennial. It is commercially unviable.” Nevertheless Wilfried Lentz’s curated booth, Not Created by a Human Hand, was a fascinating inquiry into issues of authorship with new work conceived by his artists, including Jonathan Monk, Dan Rees, and James Beckett, around a photograph of the Shroud of Turin.
Thursday evening was filled with downtown exhibition openings, including the show “Tales of the Unexpected,” curated by Maria Rus Bojan and Radek Vana, at newly opened multidisciplinary space Dek 22. Artists Rossella Biscotti and Kevin van Braak weighed statues of four key Communist figures, melted down the equivalent amounts in metal, and then compressed them into minimalist geometric forms. It brought to mind Rotterdam itself, a city whose dynamic urban energy stems from its constant state of renewal, in part due to its devastation during World War II. The scrappy little brother to natty Amsterdam has the avant-grunge character of Berlin and a lot more happening in contemporary art than the staid capital. As we stood outside in the cold, Moulton exclaimed, “Rotterdam is the most futuristic city in Europe!” And with that we invaded the MKgalerie to see “As Time Goes By,” a beautiful show of photographs evoking anonymous but emotionally charged places—mirrored by one of the same six artists in the gallery’s Berlin space—after which everyone was invited upstairs to feast on Indonesian food cooked by dealer Karmin Kartowikromo in his cozy home.
On Friday there was an official dinner at the historic city hall, one of few prewar buildings still standing, hosted by Rotterdam’s Moroccan-born mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb. After a speech in which Aboutaleb proudly plugged his contribution as a curator in the Kunsthal show “Inside Out,” which displays the entire contents of Boijmans van Beuningen museum’s warehouse, everyone partook in a robust buffet including potato and salmon salads and lots of roast meat. “Hey, is that Viktor and Rolf leaving?” someone yelled—and with that we all disbanded for the opening of Carsten Höller’s exhibition “Divided Divided,” at the Boijmans museum.
While guests wandered like tiny Alices in a roomful of gigantic mushrooms, the artist stood at the mouth of the aluminum Swinging Spiral, whose nautilus-shaped interior induces disorientation and seasickness the farther you enter. “I can’t stand here anymore. It unbalances me,” Höller said, and moved away. Speaking of the intersection of commerce and art, the exhibition’s Revolving Hotel Room was already fully booked except for one night, which is being auctioned off with a starting bid of €450 (around $600). “Imagine paying that much and then having to tiptoe downstairs and across the entire museum in your towel to take a shower,” joked one cynic. After a drink downstairs, Moulton and some other dealers went off to party at the retro wood-paneled bar of the Grand Hotel Central, nightly haunt for the concurrent International Film Festival Rotterdam.
That next night was another marathon art tour, this time around the newly developing scene of Rotterdam Zuid, a peripheral lower-class neighborhood that is being gentrified by an invasion of artists and galleries. We started at a former school inhabited by the artist initiative B.a.d., where after studio visits and concerts by artist Hidde van Schie and a tranced-out Nina Boas, we crawled through a dark space below a wooden structure and emerged into a smoky room where a jazz trio was playing. After a theatrical performance at Art Plaat and stops at galleries on the charming redbrick Wolphaertstraat, the elaborate system of scheduled shuttles broke down. We took things into our own hands and hitched a ride to performance space De Player, under the rumbling tracks of the Metro, and then ended another night at the Grand Hotel Central.
By dusk the next day, the city was layered with every possible tonality of gray and nuance of fog; it took on a painterly intimacy, with its profusion of towers and cranes lighting up like effulgent beacons against the horizon. I arrived at the Hilton late that night and met up with a crowd of dealers celebrating the fair’s finish, gluttons for punishment who had sampled the local herb and were looking far too mellow. “Want a shot of whiskey?” one asked cheerfully. It was the beginning, and the end, of another long night.
Left: Dealers Gabriel Rolt, Christina Wilson, Juliette Jongma, and Diana Stigter. Right: Hoessein Bouziane and Pim Top of Dek 22.
SF MOMA MAY NOT have gone as far as other institutions to accommodate Luc Tuymans’s notorious smoking habit, but it certainly put its best foot forward to fete the second leg of the painter’s midcareer survey, which debuted at the Wexner Center last fall. In fact, so jovial was the mood on a mild Wednesday evening that it seemed to hint at other developments a-brewing. But despite the high spirits, mum was the word with the SF MoMA staff, who at the time would only tease of big news to come. Bigger than the retrospective’s sole West Coast engagement? Hard to believe—especially for the artist concerned. Just that day he had followed the gracious remarks of curators Madeleine Grynsztejn and Helen Molesworth by thanking a select few, and then half-seriously adding: “I suppose I should also thank myself.”
Taking a peek around the fifth-floor galleries, I must admit that his gratitude is not entirely undeserved. The sprawling exhibition expertly traces Tuymans’s engagement with his medium, which has yielded some indelible imagery as he traffics in the morbid and the banal. Along the way, he’s managed to reimagine history painting (a mode seemingly exhausted by the media age) through his skewed framing, anemic color palette, and detached brushwork—all on proud display under the skylights that the museum uncovered just for the occasion.
Roaming the exhibition, a soft-spoken Barry McGee expressed his admiration—if somewhat unconventionally: “I really like the yellowing of the canvases, and how they’re smoky. If I saw them in a thrift store, I’d kick a hole through them. I’m really into it.” A nearby guard shuffled uncomfortably.
Downstairs, other attendees offered less full-contact accolades. Ratio 3’s Chris Perez voiced his approval, then weighed in on Jeffrey Deitch’s imminent ascension at the Los Angeles MoCA: “What better way to end a gallery?” Artist Jordan Kantor conversed briskly with the guest of honor, until interrupted by art historians T. J. Clark and Anne Wagner. Before making a dash for the door, BAM/PFA director Larry Rinder chatted with emerging painter Conrad Ruiz, whose MFA show centerpiece (a large-scale watercolor of Obama riding a corgi) is now part of BAM/PFA’s permanent collection. An energetic Ruiz, who recently closed his first solo show with Jessica Silverman, added simply, “I’m just trying to keep it going.”
The reception continued next door with an intimate dinner at the St. Regis hotel, though the real action quickly shifted to the smoking terrace. The ever-gracious (and impeccably styled) Grynsztejn admitted that though unwilling to bend California law, the museum did make special accommodations during the show’s install: “We set up a little area so he wouldn’t have to go down five flights each time he wanted a smoke.” Still, it was a far cry from the lounge at the Museum of Modern Art, Antwerp, which the artist still remembers fondly. “It was like being at the airport,” he noted. “And extremely successful!”
The scene on the terrace quickly grew into an impromptu afterparty, and many more seemed to rise up and join the fray of dealers (David Zwirner, Peter Freeman) and museum directors (the Wexner’s Sherri Geldin and the Menil Collection’s Josef Helfenstein), including Tommy Simoens, Tuymans’s studio right-hand, and artist Carla Arocha, who couldn’t help but grumble about San Francisco’s somewhat surprising puritan streak. During the course of the evening, various admirers and well-wishers braved the secondhand smoke, including the consul general of Belgium, who stood politely nearby—whether in a show of national support or to ensure good behavior was not entirely clear. After a few refills of the drink of choice (Triple Crown Whiskey, lots of ice), the crowd took turns sharing Tuymans-related stories, most of which were politely, but firmly, asked to be kept off the record. Collector Shirley Morales made several gracious attempts to provide printable material, but somehow each tale kept going awry. “Better not use that one either,” she added mischievously. There was one, though—involving Tuymans drinking with a crew of firemen who proceeded to escort him in full gear to his Antwerp gallery opening, fire truck in tow—that seemed PG enough to limn. “It was one of my favorite openings!” he added gleefully, before reaching for another Marlboro Red.
Early the next morning, before most hangovers had fully registered, SF MoMA finally unveiled its second reason to celebrate. After a boisterous fund-raising effort, the museum managed to secure more than half the funds for its projected expansion—which will include, among other things, tripling its gallery space to accommodate the Fisher Collection (which the museum inherited after the Presidio museum debacle). Although no architect has been selected yet, the expansion is expected to be completed by 2016—quite a feat in a time when most public institutions are struggling to stay afloat. So we’ll certainly drink to that.
JUST IN TIME for Arte Fiera, the biggest art fair in Italy, Bologna was blanketed in dazzling white snow, a more cheerful vestment than the city’s typical winter gray. The spectacular storm caused delays for some dealers arriving by plane, but once there, the frigid weather made the city’s gigantic exhibition center feel all the more convivial. The economic climate of the fair was also relatively hot, at least compared with last fall’s Frieze, FIAC, and even Artissima fairs. Italy was hit relatively late, and less in extremis, by the world financial bust, and in Bologna—its richest as well as most Communist city—the art market is still healthy.
Thursday’s preview commenced at noon and was unnervingly quiet until around 5 PM, when collectors were suddenly streaming through the aisles. Italians are prudent buyers who mostly invest in midpriced known quantities or blue-chip classics. And that is the beauty of the behemoth Bologna beast: You find everything from modern to contemporary and what are referred to as “contemporary classics.” (For example, the tony Tornabuoni Arte booth featured a kelly-green Lucio Fontana, Alighiero Boetti’s Mettere al mondo il mondo, and a four-million-dollar 1984 Basquiat.) The downside for foreigners is that Arte Fiera is something of a national club. Greek dealer Arsen Kalfayan noted that Italian collectors don’t talk to you unless they already know you. “It seems like a closed system,” SF MoMA curator Rudolf Frieling observed. “So Italian. Always the same artists.”
Left: Collector Alain Servais. Right: Artists Grazie Toderi and Gilberto Zorio with dealer Alfonso Artiaco.
At closing time there, were mobs of people waiting for taxis and public buses that were few and far between, so I hitched a ride on the all-but-empty shuttle bus to the plush old Hotel Baglioni with artists Grazia Toderi and Gilberto Zorio, the latter the subject of a current retrospective at the MAMbo. Elegant and hushed, the hotel was clearly the place to be. I hooked up with curator Joe La Placa, in from London, at the Baglioni’s quiet restaurant, where the waiter told me that I was sitting in the seat just vacated by Eric Clapton. When I left, former dealer and publisher Charles Cowles was in the lobby reading a newspaper, looking the very gentleman of leisure as a group of Italian dealers huddled nearby.
On Friday morning, curator Julia Draganovic gave a tour of “Here and Now,” a series of site-specific installations inserted into fourteen different public spaces: Renaissance palace and museum courtyards, a shopping mall, an airport lounge. Francesco Simeti’s delicate kitelike constructions clung like pretty flotsam to the frescoed Baroque porticoes of the distinguished Archiginnasio, now a city library. The most compelling of several pieces in the Archaeological Museum was Barry X Ball’s hanging marble double portrait of Matthew Barney—a devastating balance of delicacy and heaviness, intimacy and horror.
That night was the fair’s headline event: Diario dell’Anima (Diary of the Soul), a chamber concert by Arvo Pärt conducting the austere and meditative Summa and a selection of other works—most affecting of which were the performances by singer Arianna Savall—framed by Bill Viola’s stunningly cathartic 2005 videos Fire Woman and Tristan’s Ascension. The packed performance was given in the grand vaulted hall of the Aula Magna di Santa Lucia, with a pomp and gravity befitting its historic digs. Politics are never far off in red Bologna, and later we heard the big news: Bologna mayor Flavio Delbono had resigned in response to allegations that he had wined and dined former assistant Cinzia Cracchi with public funds—a melodrama labeled Cinziagate by the local press, which has thrown the center-left stronghold into political chaos. It seemed a minor diversion compared with the flamboyant romantic antics of Italy’s septuagenarian prime minister, and Neapolitan dealer Memmo Grilli (of Blindarte gallery and auction house) commented: “After hearing of the sexual conquests of Berlusconi, Marrazzo, and Delbono, I realize that maybe I am in the wrong profession—you make love much more in politics than in art.”
The afterparty was hosted by collectors Marino and Paola Golinelli, who throw soirees during each Arte Fiera at their attic residence near Piazza Maggiore. The star is the chocolate fountain, which spurts its lusciousness perilously near a neon-hued painting by Ryan McGinness. The house was less throbbing with artwork than last year—fewer Plexiglas-covered paintings underfoot (perhaps cleared out by a recent Phillips auction of their collection). In the dressing room, I noted a newly installed triptych starring madcap Ashley Bickerton in a Balinese adventure. Viola and his New York dealer James Cohan partook in the fete, along with several Italian dealers and gossip columnist Roberto D’Agostino, who vogued around with Galleria Borghese director Ann Coliva. The American video artist was flocked with admirers, largely vying Italian dealers.
Left: Journalist Roberto D'Agostino with Anna Coliva. Right: Artist Sissi and dealer Memmo Grilli.
Saturday evening, after another assault on the fair, I visited the MAMbo with two Neapolitan friends to tour a collection-based show featuring mostly minor works from seminal artists in Italian contemporary art. By the time we got to the party in the museum’s restaurant, it was throbbing with young Italians drinking spritz con Campari and raiding the buffet. Bolognese performance artist Sissi and indie musician Cristian Bugatti, aka Bugo, started the dancing, and tables were moved to make way for bodies being passed above our heads. We finally squeezed out and hopped in a taxi for the gay club Atlantide, a squat at the Porta Santo Stefano city gate emblazoned with political manifestos. Grilli and I caught up with Naples’s MADRE curator Eugenio Viola inside, where there was barely room to wiggle, but the vibe was great and it was all part of the fun.
Left: Calvin Klein creative director Francisco Costa with Penelope Cruz. (Photo: Andreas Branch/Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Ruby Neri, dealer David Kordansky, and artist Kathryn Andrews.
LOOMING OVER SANTA MONICA BOULEVARD like a slab of radioactive ice, the Pacific Design Center—with its ambient elevator music, dropped ceilings, and corporate-kitsch design—is a bewildering environment for displaying art. The complex principally houses high-end home-furnishings vendors, but with many tenants sucked down the housing-market drain, the (presumably affordable) vacant real estate hosted Art Los Angeles Contemporary last weekend. (One darkened showroom was locked and filled, conspicuously, with rolled-up rugs.) Fifty-five galleries, more than half from Los Angeles but several from Europe, tried to make the best of the weirdly gleaming bazaar. Exhibiting dealer Gavin Brown called it a “recession art fair.” We’ve tried piers, tents, hotels, and convention centers—why not this?
While I never imagined I’d see a Picabia for sale in a shopping mall (as I did at Patrick Painter), the Thursday-night preview proved pleasant enough. People were relaxed, at ease—maybe a little bored. Although the initially sparse and mostly local crowd—“old California collectors,” by most accounts—got busier (and, to the annoyance of most dealers, drunker) as the night progressed, nobody was buying much, but nobody expected anyone to. The scene at 1301PE was as congenial as a backyard barbecue: Artist Mungo Thompson, his month-old son Emit strapped to his chest in a Baby Björn, made small talk among friends near diagrammatic crayon drawings by his wife, Kerry Tribe. At David Kordansky’s booth, the dealer had another drink and pontificated about the language of criticism. “I’m waiting for something completely new,” he said. Some pieces gained traction from the setting—Gustavo Artigas’s invitation to vote for the demolition of a local building (at LAXART), for example, or Matias Faldbakken’s crinkled and taped abstractions (at Standard (Oslo)) felt fitting amid the expanse of teal carpet.
Art Los Angeles Contemporary is a new fair directed by Tim Fleming, who defected from Michael Cohen’s five-year-old—now “resting”—Art LA. Some gallery higher-ups hoped the fair’s novelty would generate a positive buzz (that would, presumably, expand beyond buzz into sales), but many others didn’t quite get the point. By the vernissage’s end, Art LA Contemporary’s unique angle, its hook for the global art-fair circuit, still seemed unclear.
At around 9 PM, however, a raison d’être of sorts began surfacing across the street at a reception for the Calvin Klein Collection and Shamim Momin’s Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND), a classy if over-the-top affair that promised, and delivered, fame: As Penelope Cruz and Kate Bosworth (and Neville Wakefield) walked a red carpet to the glare of paparazzi flash, one glimpsed—at least for a moment—the worlds of celebrity, fashion, and art intersecting with smooth, choreographed precision. Marx Foxx’s Rodney Hill pointed out Bosworth by the bar. I spoke with dealer Mihai Nicodim about Cluj. Trash cans overflowed with empty bottles of Veuve Clicquot, and the festivities continued on the venue’s Astroturf-covered rooftop parking lot, where women in ball gowns waited in Porta-Potty lines. Under the clear sky, I chatted with LAXART director Lauri Firstenberg, artists Kamrooz Aram and Mark Verabioff, and the New Museum’s Benjamin Godsill, while marveling at the luster in the cool desert night.
Left: Artist Jennifer West and dealer Marc Foxx. Right: A view of Anthony Pearson's house.
The following evening, after a day at Hollywood galleries and a restaging of works at the old Ferus gallery space (the crowded room saw Anjelica Huston; curator Paul Schimmel; and artists Larry Bell, Ed Moses, and a bronzed Llyn Foulkes out for the occasion) the evening’s parties began—and ended—in houses designed by Austrian modernist Rudolph Schindler. The first at the architect’s sleek, diminutive, and newly renovated 1936 Leland-Fitzpatrick house, where José León Cerrillo staged a “situation” to “activate the space” (a staid cocktail party). Eighth Veil’s Kane Austin and Nicole Katz and artist Stanya Kahn were there. Artist Piero Golia told me about his problems with Le Corbusier—“so I have a real problem with Schindler,” he went on, his drink threatening the pristine carpet as it teetered in his cup. The final party of the night took place at the architect’s much larger 1934 Buck House for Country Club Projects, where a performance by Gabriel Loebell—for which the guests were corralled outside to watch a bathrobe-clad man read J. D. Salinger through the window—had already ended and wine was freely spilled.
In the interim, I attended a small gathering at artist Anthony Pearson’s home (designed by Escher GuneWardena Architects, the firm responsible for Blum & Poe’s gargantuan new space), bringing a moment of calm. Located on a nondescript suburban street, the house’s unassuming postwar-bungalow facade belies the dramatic interior—a gradually expanding space that terminates in a vast open aperture roughly the scale and proportions of a cinema screen. The iridescent Los Angeles grid appeared like an image, while guests (dealers Eivind Furnesvik and Lisa Cooley and writer Kate Wolf, among others) talked quietly in the dark, mesmerizing room.
Back at the Pacific Design Center the next afternoon, X-TRA’s “1 IMAGE 1 MINUTE” event drew a dense, lively crowd to watch some fifty critics, curators, and artists each discuss an image of their choosing for sixty seconds. Approaches were all over the map, with one eloquent and devastating entry by artist Kianga Ford—in which she talked about discovering a news image of the earthquake that depicted her dead cousin—casting a pall over the others, even Orange County Museum of Art deputy director Karen Moss’s brilliant rhyming-and-snapping exposition of a Martin Kersels photograph.
That evening I managed to miss both the Hammer’s Rachel Whiteread opening and gallerist-collector Shirley Morales’s house party honoring curator Franklin Sirmans’s LACMA appointment. But I did run into Morales later at Dinner House M, where a late-night/early-morning party for Klosterfelde and Redling Fine Art had packed the seedy after-hours disco. She was joined by artists Johan Grimonprez and Aaron GM, as well as Kalup Linzy, who had performed one of his popular drag-in-dishabille numbers at her fete. Among the wispy guests lounging on black leather couches, I saw artists Walead Beshty and Leigh Ledare, and the ubiquitous Momin (in a reflective dress) framed by the walls of ivy, mirror, and stone veneer. A few times the venue’s eccentric, spiky-haired hostess cut the audio and instructed everyone to leave, but that was surely just a ruse to clear out the room, as the music kept starting up again.
Left: Artists Stanya Kahn and Marc Horowitz. Right: The hostess at Dinner House M.
THE RECESSION has spurred the mainstream media to produce more stories about the rich. First there were reports that people with money were spending more furtively. Then came word that they had thrown off their shame and were back to buying––art, in particular. This was reassuring. If the rich had to suffer like the rest of us, who would buy us the drinks in which to drown our sorrows? As long as the haves have discretionary income, it can trickle down to the have-nots.
On Friday night in Chelsea, more than two million dollars of it did. The liberated money came through the doors of the Gagosian Gallery on West Twenty-first Street, as it so often does. Only this time, as Sotheby’s chief auctioneer Tobias Meyer put it, there was no house commission. The four hundred swells gathered for the evening were bidding on artworks donated to benefit the Partnership for the Homeless, an idea generated by longtime supporters Richard and Clara Serra.
Serra did not just cochair the event. By personal letter or phone call, he solicited work from eighty-two artists, including the estates of Willem de Kooning and Roy Lichtenstein. The money was to go to the partnership’s Family Resource Center, a children’s shelter in East New York. “It seemed like a good idea,” said Serra, who has done his share for worthy causes before but never as a social butterfly. “When Richard called, we talked for an hour and a half,” artist Ellen Phelan exclaimed. “So chatty! I was shocked, I have to say.” Serra was still on point. “Just look where the country is at right now, and look around here,” he said, glancing over a room that included Agnes Gund and Dorothy Lichtenstein (both honorary chairs), Jo Carole Lauder, Peter Brant, Henry Buhl, Lisa de Kooning, and the evening’s host, Larry Gagosian. “We live in a very privileged community.”
So we do. But could dark times bring a streak of altruism to a river of self-involvement? Certainly an air of goodwill prevailed during cocktails, attended by a number of the artists involved: Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, Joel Shapiro, Seton Smith, Richard Artschwager, and Malcolm Morley, to name a few. All were attracted to the event as much by Serra’s commitment as the business at hand: to raise money for kids without a tether.
On the whole, the evening’s silent auction had some pretty fine shit, as we used to say about other compelling substances. Drawing the most handwritten bids was a small and rather beautiful new lead joke painting by Richard Prince. “Wow,” said Gagosian, cruising by while checking over the lists. “This one is hot!” Alberto Mugrabi agreed. “I have to have it,” he said, keeping an eye out for any competition. (Late in the game, when he wasn’t looking, someone else won the piece with a $30,000 pledge.)
Just before the live auction, Serra made an appeal to “bid and buy.” For some extra motivation, soprano Jessye Norman, national spokesperson for the partnership, took the stage to lead a performance of four standards from the American songbook, beginning with that old inspirational saw “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Norman called it the organization’s “mission statement.” In her magnificent voice, it sounded quite sophisticated. Tenor Steven Cole and pianist Mark Markham performed other tunes by Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington, when Norman returned with baritone Lawrence Hamilton for a duet with a song from Ragtime. It was very upper crust.
Meyer began the sale with a happy birthday for Lisa de Kooning, who had donated a 1970s charcoal drawing by her father (winning bid, $28,000), and set a brisk pace through lots that included a Cecily Brown ($130,000), an Elizabeth Peyton ($48,000), and a Takashi Murakami ($320,000). “Come on,” Meyer said, when bidding started to slow. “Homeless children!” It worked. Gund forked over $22,000 for a small Ed Ruscha painting, and Serra himself jumped in when a Morley watercolor came up, staying with it until Gagosian offered the winning $310,000.
Good to know we can still party like it’s 2008. Damien Hirst’s latest exhibition, “End of an Era,” opened Saturday night at Gagosian’s Madison Avenue location. Charity wasn’t on tap there. Rather, it was Hirst’s own myth that was up for grabs. The title work, a preserved bull’s head with golden horns, was perched on a weighty marble pedestal at the center of the gallery. It wasn’t nearly as distracting as an enormous gold painting festooned with multiple rows of sparkling zirconia, a spread of wealth that looked a little like a Jasper Johns flag executed by the hand of Mammon, which reflected everyone present in its glory.
Surrounding the head were iconlike paintings of solitary diamonds on black and gray backgrounds. Downstairs, a veritable mini-retrospective of butterfly, spin, pill, and dot paintings had more authority. Most of it was sold, though collectors were less in evidence than gallery artists like Takashi Murakami, John Currin, and Richard Phillips, as well as Hirst pals Bono, John McEnroe, Mick Jagger, and style goddess Daphne Guinness, who stepped through the crowd in a pair of heel-less platforms that turned so many heads even the poor bull seemed jealous.
Gossip Girl actor Matthew Settle, attending with his producer/director Joe Lazarov (brother of gallery director Melissa Lazorov), wanted to know how the art world had changed since the early ’90s, the last time he had checked into it. “It’s not the same,” Phillips told him. Settle promised to come around more often.
He better. His face was nearly lost in the crowd of artists and models streaming into Gagosian’s party for Hirst at the gilded Boom Boom Room, atop the Standard hotel. Despite its overtly heterosexual makeup––hard to achieve in today’s art world—it only gathered steam as Terry Richardson, Philip Taaffe, Francesco Bonami, Nicola Vassel, Tom Sachs, Gregory Crewdson, Will and Rose Cotton, Josephine Meckseper, Cary Leitzes, Jeffrey Deitch, and all the rest arrived, and conversation around a bar stocked with art advisers like Todd Levin and Sandy Heller deepened. Looking like innocents abroad, curators Massimiliano Gioni and Cecilia Alemani seemed fixed to the spot.
While Hirst, who arrived late, took a power banquette with Bono, Christopher Wool, and McEnroe, Tony Shafrazi grew demonstrably affectionate with Prince and Peter Brant. “Why not?” he said, giving the abashed Prince a buss on the cheek. “I love these guys!” Indeed love was in the air. Love of art, success, class, and New York, which sparkled in the clear, cold night outside. It didn’t feel much like the end of an era, but a giddy welcome to a future of retro glamour and ease where artists are the center of the universe. “That’s the great thing about Larry,” Currin said of the convivial Gagosian. “There’s always business going on, but it never really feels like it.”
HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED that the Guggenheim’s floor is patterned with circles? It had never occurred to me to examine it, but at the preview of Tino Sehgal’s exhibition last Thursday, down was the first place I looked when prompted to fill in an empty signifier. “What is progress?” asked Kyla, the diminutive, wide-eyed interpreter of Sehgal’s This Progress who approached me as I began to ascend the ramp. Maybe I was also compelled to drop my gaze because of the puritanical embarrassment I felt over the proximity of Kyla and her peers—all born, it seemed, this century—to Kiss, the necking duet in the rotunda’s center. How much time did these children spend watching that languid performance of foreplay between turns of accosting visitors? “Oh, the ramp’s wall is too tall for them to see over,” a kisser later assured me.
Curator Nancy Spector argued that Sehgal’s show, which lacks any objects, was the perfect way to spotlight the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright’s building, in celebration of its fiftieth anniversary. She added that Sehgal’s work fit with the jubilee theme of “art, architecture, and innovation.” But innovation is the very value you’re asked to doubt as you spiral upward, and the four interpreters—after the child, there’s a teen, an adult, and a senior citizen—engage you in conversation about the Internet’s effect on reading, the place of colonial history in France’s national curriculum, manatees and agriculture, or whatever else is on their mind. If reaching the building's apex at the end of This Progress imparts a feeling of transcendence, it’s soon erased by the need to go back down, a voyage that includes the unsettling sight of a nook full of old people, waiting for someone to talk to.
Left: Dealer Carol Greene with artist Craig Kalpakjian in the crowd at the Gelitin performance. Right: Performa founder and director RoseLee Goldberg with CCA Wattis director Jens Hoffmann.
Gelitin’s exhibition at Greene Naftali opened that night, too. Another process work, it was as cluttered as Sehgal’s was spare, autistic where his was social. From the plywood bleachers of a makeshift arena, we watched the artists erect floppy towers from their choice stash of poles, spools, toys, and power tools; it was like being spectators at a match of Chutes and Ladders. Gelitin members Ali Janka, Florian Reither, Tobias Urban, and Wolfgang Gantner all wore blindfolds. But as befits the emphasis on hands over head, sensation over discernment, the blindfolds were the least conspicuous part of their costumes. Gantner’s tighty-whiteys peeked out the hem of his baby-doll dress, and Janka wore flimsy sweatpants with a hole through the seat. (“I can’t stop staring at his butt crack,” a woman behind me blabbed.)
The garb of their “assistants”—on this night Cecily Brown, Lucy Dodd Indiana, Amy Sillman, and Jaiko Suzuki—was drabber, suited to the matronly duty of making sure the boys didn’t draw blood as they screwed plush cats to broomsticks. Brown engaged Urban in a lengthy discussion of the relative merits of pigments to be poured on chunks of Styrofoam. Sillman was content to be a gopher. “They’d just say, ‘Get me a saw,’” she said.
Throughout the evening, Gelitin fueled themselves with mixtures of champagne, whiskey, and Coke—so even they expressed surprise that they were still lucid on arriving at Santos Party House to continue the festivities. Impressively, they didn’t peek at the fruits of their labor before leaving the gallery. Urban vowed that he’d wait until their week in the gallery was up. “I never want to look at it,” Janka said. At Santos, Diana Picasso, P.S. 1 director Klaus Biesenbach, collector Julia Stoschek, choreographer Maria Hassabi, and artists Cory Arcangel and Mika Rottenberg were among those who showed up to fete Gelitin and catch a set by leftist rapper Tara Delong. But for most the real excitement was the presence of “actual” celebrities Beyonce and M.I.A. Greene Naftali director Jay Sanders was quick to note that the gallery was piggybacking on the party that the pop stars were there for, not the other way around. That would explain why said celebs declined to mingle, instead remaining largely invisible behind ropes, bouncers, and the club’s dense darkness, to be talked about but not seen or photographed, as elusive and valued as a work by Tino Sehgal.