Blonde Ambition

New York

Left: The marching band. Right: Bridget Hall, Cecily Brown, Jeff Koons, Veronica Hearst, and Justine Koons. (All photos: Patrick McMullan/PMc)

“Pam: American Icon,” a series of photographs by Sante D’Orazio of sexy-deluxe former Baywatch star and preeminent pop icon Pamela Anderson, opens at Stellan Holm Gallery in Chelsea. Crowded, but slightly mystifying. Velvet ropes. I stand tentatively at the door until some guy in black waves me in, hearing inwardly a not-altogether-agreeable echo of my club-going days. Paparazzi galore, but, with Ms. Anderson a no-show, who are they planning to take pictures of? Cologne art dealer Raphael Jablonka? It’s almost impossible to see the photographs given the unseemly hordes. I did admire Pamela Anderson, Hollywood, CA, 2000. D’Orazio posed said icon on a narrow path, presumably somewhere in the Hills, clad only in a very short transparent pink rain jacket, pink shades, and spike-heeled silver mules. Bamboo stalks frame this femme sauvage, her long blond tresses coursing down in calculated disarray. I pushed and shoved my way back to the entrance. Outside, I heard a statuesque gentleman on his mobile: “It’s thinning out”—an odd assessment, considering the scads of people still trying to claw their way in. The as-yet-unpublished catalogue promises essays by Jeff Koons and Richard Prince—no sense in not gilding this particular lily.

Of course, Koons and Prince have both visited Ms. Anderson before in their own oeuvres, a connection that provided a nice slithery transition to the night’s big event, a surprise birthday party celebrating Jeff Koons’s fiftieth, hosted by Jeffrey Deitch (along with the artist’s wife, Justine, Peter and Stephanie Brant, Athenian Koons collector extraordinaire Dakis Joannou, and TV producer Bill Bell and his wife, Maria) at his commodious Wooster Street gallery. Guests numbered 160, Pam scribe Dick Prince among them. Jeffrey had promised me an excellent table and delivered: the Rosenblums (Robert is the author of the classic Jeff Koons Handbook), the Mardens, our own Jack Bankowsky, John Currin and Rachel Feinstein, Marc Jacobs, and Lucy Barnes and her fetching swain, Luis Ruiz. Looking beyond my own jolly company, I took note of the critical mass of art-world powerbrokers—including dealers Larry Gagosian and the beyond-blue-chip Bill Acquavalla and New York museum directors Glenn Lowry, Tom Krens, Adam Weinberg, Lisa Phillips, and Michael Govan—a consolidation of clout that made the celebration far more than just a big-year birthday.

Left: Peter Brant, Aby Rosen, and Jeff Koons. Middle: Anna Curtis AKA Lady Ace. Right: Stefania Bartolami and Ingrid Sischy.

The gallery was splendidly tricked up with Koonsiana. Inflatable toys such as those that have served as models for recent sculptures covered the ceiling: Incredible Hulks, dolphins, monkeys, centipedes, and lobsters. Light boxes with images of Koons through the years were arrayed near the entrance. One of them was an actual work by the artist, The New Jeff Koons, 1980: a tidily groomed little-boy Jeff smiles at the viewer, a jumbo crayon in hand and one arm resting on a children’s book, Ethelbert the Tale of a Tiger. This piece belongs to the early series “The New,” which otherwise consists of the famous Plexiglas-encased and fluorescent-illumined vacuum cleaners. The next day, I revisited “The New” in the 1992 SFMoMA Koons catalogue and discovered these words from the artist: “It’s brand new, it’s in a position to out-survive you, the viewer. It doesn’t have feelings, but it is better prepared to be eternal.” Does this remark concern a household appliance or the special-powers kid himself? Both, perhaps, as Koons has always played on fantasias of omnipotence and deathlessness, e.g., the heroic, Canovaesque Self-Portrait, 1991, a gym-bodied stargazer chiseled in marble who emerges from a pristine, unearthly crystalline mound. Whatever the case, there’s no missing Koons’s obsessive calculation of persona from the outset of his career to the present. Two slide montages of the “Life of Jeff” and the full range of his oeuvre—including a great photo of him in his MoMA-membership-selling days, standing in front of Rosenquist’s Marilyn Monroe—drove the theme home. You really have to give it up for Koons, I thought, even if you recoil at the same time; he’s a genius! The loveliest image, for me, was of a giant puppy composed solely of verdure, surrounded by tall trees—a sublime folly worthy of Stourhead.

Mr. and Mrs. Koons finally arrived, and the window gates of the gallery ascended as they entered; Jeff’s ever-smiling countenance didn’t quite disguise his distinct non-surprise. The first person he greeted was Ileana Sonnabend, pushed in her wheelchair by Antonio Homem. And then a genuine surprise: a forty-piece marching band, with an escort of ponies, entered the gallery behind a Gigantor cake, played “Happy Birthday,” and then segued into an oompah cover of Led Zeppelin's “Kashmir.” Of course a blonde bimbo jumped out of the cake, but this was a tad anticlimactic. For one, her boobs weren’t imposing. And I wasn’t alone in hoping that Pam herself would materialize—or even the former Mrs. Koons, Ilona Staller, aka Cicciolina. The party was jumping anyhow. The entertainment continued as Yvonne Force and Sandra Hamburg appeared on the balcony to regale the birthday boy with a song from their upcoming album, Mother Inc. “Jeff, where are you?” Mrs. Force-Villareal purred. “This song is about the post-human condition, something I believe you’ve addressed in your work.” Then the duo intoned a cute ditty about plastic surgery. A youthful guest exclaimed, “This is the greatest night of my life!” and waved his arms toward the stage like an Ecstasy-supercharged raver. In the midst of this jamboree, Robert Rosenblum slyly queried if we had noticed Laura Bush among the guests. No, alas, she wasn’t really there, but plenty of collector ladies and their man-things do look like her set. At this point, John Currin jumped in with the evening’s ne plus ultra zinger: “Did you know that George Bush just bought Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture?” This remains unconfirmed by Nauman’s representative.

A number of Koons guests headed to Sante D’Orazio’s after-party at the Maritime Hotel; Francesco and Alba Clemente prevailed upon me to accompany them. I spoke to a nice woman who had been “handling” Ms. Anderson’s much-desired presence at the unveiling of D’Orazio’s photographic paean, who mentioned that they, too, had wanted Pam to jump out of Jeff’s cake. But the actress just couldn’t make it. She was at Sundance, you know.

Left: Bill Powers and Cynthia Rowley. Right: Sante D'Orazio, Kara Young, and Julian Schnabel.

Left: Katherine Ross, Michael Govan, and Jeff Koons. Right: Alba and Francesco Clemente.

Left: Brice and Helen Marden. Right: Carleen Bonheyl and Marc Jacobs.