The More the Scarier

New York

Left: Marina Abramovic and Maurizio Cattelan. Right: Jonathan Horowitz and friend.

I arrive at the Saturday night opening of Jonathan Horowitz’s show “The New Communism” to find a sign at the front desk that reads, “Under the New Communism, phone calls to Gavin Brown’s enterprise will be answered by Gavin Brown himself.” (I discover a few days later when I call the gallery to ask a question that this isn’t entirely true; an assistant picks up, as the proprietor is, of course, in London for the Frieze Art Fair.) For some time now, Horowitz has explored ways to reinvest Pop iconography and conceptual strategies with contemporary social and political content, for instance in “Go Vegan,” his last New York outing, at Greene Naftali. (Horowitz has since left Carol Greene for Brown, and this is his first solo show at the buzzing “enterprise,” where his boyfriend Rob Pruitt is also on the roster.) For “The New Communism,” Horowitz has fashioned variations on the American flag, the most piquant being Three Rainbow American Flags for Jasper in the Style of the Artist’s Boyfriend, the boyfriend in question being Horowitz’s and not Johns’s, whoever that lucky guy may be. The checklist proves invaluable for interpreting many of the works (all dated 2005). “It’s actually more effective in describing what the show’s about than the actual press release,” Brown’s director Corinna Durland says, and the artist’s mother is overheard complaining that there weren’t enough of them at the desk. But even without the list, visitors readily identify references to postwar American art throughout “The New Communism”: “There’s the Hans Haacke” (Contribution Cube [Greencross]), or “the Baldessari” (The Medium is the Message, earth, pigment, and linseed oil on hemp), or “the Ryman” (The New Slavery [22 Hours of Illegal immigrant labor],” graphite on cotton), etc. I really like “the Tuttle/Ryman”—Untitled (Support Art About Nothing and Maintain the Status Quo) a grossly enlarged white vinyl sticker recalling the “special-interest” ribbons for AIDS, breast cancer, JonBenet Ramsey, whatever. “I wanted the work to be legible,” Horowitz comments. “I don’t ascribe to the belief that if you can make sense out of something it isn’t art.”

From Brown’s outpost on Leroy and Greenwich streets, I taxi “uptown” to the Jim Shaw show at Metro Pictures on 24th Street. Like most of Shaw’s work, “The Inky Depths/The Woman in the Wilderness” is immersed in Mondo Bizarro Americana, and as such makes for a nice pendant to the graphically and conceptually crisp “problems/solutions” posited in Horowitz’s “New Communism.” The densely layered installation of drawings, paintings, and sculptures is more than I can readily consume at a sticky opening, so I head to the after-party at Hiro, where I’m told that I’ve just missed what a colleague describes as “a classic Helene Winer moment.” Winer, who runs Metro with Janelle Reiring, usually evinces a charming acerbity and decidedly non-touchy-feely style. A little girl of the crazy-cute-demon-seed variety was frenetically darting around, bothering people. Winer crouched down to face level with the child: “We don’t talk to children. We don’t even think they’re cute. We’ll talk to you later, if you grow up to be interesting. What do you think of that?” Winer then resumed adult posture while the child, pensive for a moment, put a finger to her lip, and answered, “Well, it doesn’t hurt my feelings, but it does seem a bit harsh.” Winer: “It’s not personal. It’s more a global remark about kids.”

Anthony Burdin with Jonathan Horowitz's parents. Right: Cecily Brown.

I return “downtown” for the Horowitz dinner in the spacious rooms above the gallery, where long tables have been set up for the guests and an aura of cozy bohemianism reigns. I stop in at the show again briefly to pick up my prearranged date for the evening, whereupon Mark Kostabi, who I wouldn’t think of as a GBE regular, waylays me. We enjoy some pleasant chitchat, and then walk out together. “Well, I’m going to dinner now,” I say awkwardly, and then enter the “special party entrance” to the side of the gallery’s public portal; Kostabi follows me, becoming my soon-to-be-unwelcome plus-two. It’s the usual convivial GBE crowd, with a few surprises besides my own. Chris Ofili, who recently left Brown for David Zwirner, is in attendance. They must still be friends—so adult! Spencer Sweeney, who had the previous show at GBE, is sporting sunglasses; evidently, he has taken Corey Hart’s song “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night” to heart. In just about any other human being this gesture couldn’t fail to annoy, but with Spencer it’s inexplicably charming. Today is Verne Dawson’s thirty-ninth birthday; chocolate cake is served. No dealers are in attendance, except eminent Parisian gallerist Yvon Lambert, who is showing at his Chelsea space Horowitz’s 2003 Silent Movie, a montage of scenes taken from sensory-impairment flicks such as The Miracle Worker, Tommy, and an obscure Joan Crawford vehicle, The Story of Esther Costello; a player piano accompanies the film with a medley of tunes from Tommy. I take a seat among Cecily Brown, Jacqueline Humphries, Clarissa Dalrymple, Rachel Harrison, Emily Sundblad—and Mark, who queries Cecily as to whether she’s a multimillionaire, and when she says no, declares: “I’m a multimillionaire, so you should be too, you’ve got so much more fame and credibility than me.” He proceeds to pull out a digital camera and starts snapping away at Brown, continuing long after his less-than-willing model asks him to quit and edging perilously close to paparazzo-terrorism.

All of this is makes me rather nervous. “This is all your fault, Rimanelli!” Gavin shouts at me. I shrug my shoulders. “Look Gavin, imagine the opening sentence of the next Scene & Herd: ‘Has bad-boy dealer Gavin Brown discovered a new artist swain, a certain Mark Kostabi? Such were the rumors percolating at his dinner for Jonathan Horowitz….’” “David, you might not leave this party alive.”

Left: Janelle Reiring, Jim Shaw, Helene Winer, and John Miller. Right: Gavin Brown presents the birthday cake.

Left: Yvon Lambert and Oliver Belot. Right: Chris Ofili and Maurizio Cattelan.