Road to Ruin

New York

Left: Fernando the Clown at Richard Ruin's performance at The Kitchen. Right: Artists Betony Vernon and Jeff Burton. (Photo: David Velasco)

Hoping for one last evening of Chelsea revelry before the area emptied out for the holiday, I cobbled together an idiosyncratic Thursday-night itinerary consisting of openings, a benefit, and a performance. After drifting around half a dozen receptions, my companions and I ended up at Casey Kaplan Gallery for a show of new work by Jeff Burton, including photographs in which his usual “Where’s Waldo?” approach to bare skin is broadened to include rephotographed ’70s porn-shoot transparencies overlaid with hand-drawn crop marks and disturbingly intimate portraits of iconic filmmaker and Hollywood Babylon writer Kenneth Anger.

Friends of the artist, including the occasional six-foot-tall glamazon in a pleather miniskirt, comprised most of the crowd; Neville Wakefield and the ubiquitous Klaus Biesenbach were also on hand. When I asked Burton about what led to Anger’s patched-up bloody nose, he responded, “I was told he was gay-bashed. He asked me to document his attack. I don’t know if he was telling the truth; it may have just been a performance.” On our way out the door, a friend offered, less charitably, “Maybe his plastic surgeon botched him.”

Left: Artist Peter Coffin. Right: Artists and North Drive Press editors Sara Greenberger Rafferty and Matt Keegan. (Photos: David Velasco)

We were headed to White Columns, where North Drive Press, the annual print-and-multiple publication produced by artists Matt Keegan and Sara Greenberger Rafferty, who met at Columbia’s MFA program, was hosting a small benefit party. The photographs comprising Harrell Fletcher’s exhibition had been temporarily displaced by taped-up examples of the eclectic contents of issue three, available next month. Four exquisite-corpse drawings, each created by four artists and printed in editions of twenty-five, were also on view. It’s NDP week in New York: The duo emceed a “live version” of the publication at The Kitchen on Tuesday that included video screenings, what Greenberger Rafferty described as her “Andy Kaufman-like” presentation of Carol Bove’s sound piece Future of Ecstasy, and a live improv set by band/artist Hurray.

I was myself headed to The Kitchen, for the US debut of Richard Ruin, German artist Martin Eder’s alter ego, and his band, Les Demoniaques. My last exposure to Eder, whose current solo show at Marianne Boesky Gallery includes an artwork that has my vote for best title of the year—Masturbating Woman Surrounded by Bad Towels, 2006—was on a small monitor at Fredericks Freiser Gallery, where he was depicted naked, in a bathtub, vomiting copious amounts of blood. Sure enough, one in-the-know audience member cautioned a woman taking a front-row seat that she might wish to move, as if Ruin were about to treat us to a gory version of a Gallagher performance. Pair that with The Kitchen’s “Adults Only” press-release warning; Boesky’s admission that, while she had heard Ruin’s music, she didn’t know what to expect of the performance; and her gallery director Adrian Turner’s ability to rattle off the daily rate for twins, topless women, and—of course—an old man hired to chase the topless women, and my interest was piqued.

Left: MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach. Right: Curator Neville Wakefield. (Photos: David Velasco)

The audience for the show, which was cosponsored by the Art Production Fund, was largely the collector faithful, though I did spot Clarissa Dalrymple and a few younger artists. Ruin walked onto the stage, which was decorated like a high-school prom with silver foil and black helium balloons, in a sharkskin suit; his five bandmates were equally slick. They launched immediately into their set of vampy rock songs, distinguished by Ruin’s torrents of lyrical clichés: Every song seemed to include “drifting stars” and a “baby” who said things that were “stuck in [his] mind.” These were accompanied by a wall-size projection of Eder’s short video clips (his trademark soft-focus softcore) and interspersed with brief live vignettes involving Turner’s aforementioned cast of characters and Fernando the Clown, all of which added up to what artist Sue de Beer approvingly called an “elaborate seduction.” Indeed, the rousing ovation that greeted him—the audience members tossed onstage the calla lilies that had been laid out on their seats—proved that Ruin’s crooned come-on had worked its charm.

Left: Richard Ruin et Les Demoniaques. Right: Jeff Burton's Untitled #206 (Kenneth Anger Eyes), 2006.