My Hustler


Left: Francesco Vezzoli greets a friend. Right: Vezzoli in a still from Gore Vidal's Caligula.

On Thursday night, the Fondazione Prada is exhibiting Francesco Vezzoli’s 2004 film Le Comizi di Non Amore at the Fondazione Cini on Darsena, the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore; a cocktail party follows for Vezzoli and Rem Koolhaas, Carsten Höller, and Mariko Mori, all beneficiaries of Prada’s largesse (in one way or another) who are exhibiting in the Biennale. I’ve always been a fan of Vezzoli. Though he has had his share of notable admirers, for years now I’ve also noticed a remarkable knee jerk hostility toward him. Too smooth an operater? Too attentive to his career? Too smart for his own good? I can think of many worse offenders. In any case, the prevailing attitude may be changing with the warm reception accorded Gore Vidal’s Caligula, his best film to date, in the Italian Pavilion. Even erstwhile skeptics seem to have grudgingly enjoyed Vezzoli’s latest effort, which takes the form of a very funny short trailer for a remake of the 1970s porno-deluxe movie that screenwriter Vidal later unsuccessfully sued to have his name removed from. This “trailer” doesn’t lack for real stars, either: Helen Mirren as the Emperor Tiberius, Karen Black as Agrippina, Milla Jovovich as Drusilla, Benicio del Toro as Macro, and cracked actress and rock star Courtney Love as the depraved Caligula himself. Unlike most of Vezzoli’s earlier efforts, this one doesn’t depend especially on knowledge of the often obscure stars’ histories—one common critique of the artist that I find unconvincing. Why are people so lazy in the art world? But the backstory is interesting: For instance, the ultimately disastrous team who put together the original film, among them its producer, Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, Jr., and, in Vezzoli’s words, “ass maniac” director Tinto Brass.

Le Comizi di Non Amore takes the form of a pilot for a reality/talk show, and features its share of big stars as well—Catherine Deneuve, Marianne Faithfull, Jeanne Moreau—as well as Antonella Lualdi, the star of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1964 film Comizi d’amore. At more than thirty minutes, this is by far Vezzoli’s longest film—almost tediously so. Upon leaving the screening, I discover that the party is in full effect, and search high and low for Vezzoli himself. I ask Jessica Craig-Martin why Vezzoli has such an iffy rap in certain quarters. “Why would anyone dislike Francesco?” she replies while busily snapping pictures. “He’s so smart and funny and witty, and besides he’s gorgeous.” I find him seated with Yvonne Force-Villareal (naturally a fan, I assume); he looks tired and very stressed, not his usual charming self. “I can barely stand, David,” he tells me. We arrange to speak the next day. As he writes down his number for me, the Wexner Center’s Sherrie Geldin comments, “Oh Francesco, you give your cell phone number out to everybody.” “I am a whore,” he replies with a slight smile.

Left: An Italian couple in Venice. (Photo: Jessica Craig-Martin) Right: Rem Koolhaas, Francesco Vezzoli, Miuccia Prada, Mariko Mori, and Carsten Höller.

I cannot find anyone I know who is going on to the night’s hot ticket, the party for this year’s U.S. representative Ed Ruscha, whose “Course of Empire” is featured in the American Pavilion, so I share a water taxi with Sam Orlofsky from Gagosian Gallery. (Word has it that Vezzoli will show with Gagosian, although I also hear that Mitchell-Innes & Nash are interested. And indeed both Lucy Mitchell-Innes and Jay Gorney, director of the downtown space that the gallery is opening on the site of the former Gorney Bravin + Lee, are in attendance.) We get seriously lost on our way to the Palazzo Papadopoli, where the Ruscha party, hosted by Larry Gagosian, is being held, but arrive pretty much right on time (albeit an hour-and-a-half late). A coveted blue wristband is supposedly the only means of gaining entry. “Where did you get yours?” I overhear someone say. “On eBay?”

Inside, the palazzo is very grand, but after so many events at Venetian palazzi the splendor is growing rather commonplace. It’s crowded, and, feeling quite dazed, I can’t make out all the famous people. I recognize Richard Prince and several Gagosian artists. Miuccia Prada is there with Vezzoli. My friend and fellow Artforum contributor Alison Gingeras introduces me to Franz West, with whom I enjoy a long conversation. Yes, he liked Gore Vidal’s Caligula, too. Michael York (of Cabaret and Logan’s Run fame) is there, still looking very good. A great lady of my acquaintance points out Stephanie Seymour, commenting, “Can you believe how much work she’s had done, and she’s only, what, thirty-eight?” The dinner is not sit-down—except for Cy Twombly’s room, which I never penetrate, and where presumably Ruscha, Gagosian, and other eminences are ensconced.

Left: Octopus, Paul Allen's yacht. Right: Shoes left dockside by Octopus visitors. (Photos: Jessica Craig-Martin)

As the Ruscha party winds down, there is something of a melée at the dock outside as guests frantically attempt to secure water taxis. Many are on their way to the Frieze party at the Palazzo Zenobio. The dock feels as if it might suddenly sink under the weight of so many rich people, so many jewels and blown-out hairdos, and so much power and influence. “Nick Serota stole our water taxi!” somebody screams. For the first time during this Venetian sojourn, I am feeling very tense.

The following morning I meet Vezzoli for breakfast on the terrace of the Hotel Westin Europa e Regina. “Tell me, was everyone in Comizi di Non Amore wearing Prada?” I inquire. “Actually, no one was,” he answers, “except Antonella Lualdi, because she is so fat. Miuccia was adamant that there should be no Prada product placement, but in this case I had to run over to the Prada store and buy a large black dress for Antonella.”

Later that day, I am hanging out at the fantastic villa that Jeffrey Deitch has taken on the Giudecca, right behind Palladio’s Church of the Redentore. Jeffrey has brought his entire staff to Venice, as well as the painter Kehinde Wiley and his boyfriend Donovan Gilliard; Bec Stupac, an assume vivid astro focus collaborator who will have a solo show with Deitch this fall, is there too, with her hula hoop. Bec is an eminent hula-hooper. Tim Noble and Sue Webster are also his guests, as am I, my stint at the Europa e Regina having ended. Jeffrey and I occupy the piano nobile, while the “kids” are shacked up on the third floor. “They’ve got into the habit of referring to the villa as ‘the house,’ which reminds me of MTV’s series ‘The Real World.’ The Real World Venice Biennale,” he comments.

Left: Jeffrey Deitch and Kiki Smith. Middle: Artist Tim Noble. (Photos: Jessica Craig-Martin) Right: 50th Venice Biennale director Francesco Bonami.

That evening, we leave en masse for the MoMA party at the Cipriani, celebrating the museum’s acceptance of the Judith Rothschild bequest, a multi-million dollar collection of works on paper assembled by Harvey Shipley Miller and his assistant, Andre Schlechtriem, with funds from the Judith Rothschild Foundation. The bequest, which includes works by the relatively young and untested as well as the blue-chip, has been a subject of heated speculation, and it was rumored for some time that the museum might not accept it. “Some of the trustees are very conservative,” one big-deal dealer, who understandably requests anonymity, informs me, before giving me her own lowdown on the situation. “For all the stuff they acquired, it will still fit comfortably in a few flat files at the museum. And if they want to, later on, the museum can sell off the Polkes and Richters and Tuymanses at auction.” The mood at the party, however, remains ebullient, and the general feeling is that Shipley Miller did a very good job. Everybody who was everywhere else in the last several days seems to be here. As I am leaving, I notice that the doorkeeper is giving Eddie Ruscha and his wife a hard time because apparently they aren’t on the list. “That’s Ed Ruscha’s son and his wife, and you really ought to let them in,” I explain to the majordomo. “Are you sure?” he asks. “Yes, I am really totally sure.” He lets them in.