Night of 1,000 Dealers

David Rimanelli on Mike Kelley

New York

Left: Mike Kelley. Right: Photographer Todd Eberle, Diana Picasso, and Stephane Emeret. (All photos David Velasco)

“If you're coming to the opening, plan on bringing a machete,” Gagosian director Ealan Wingate told a curator friend of mine who had come by the gallery earlier in the day for an informal preview of the much-anticipated Mike Kelley show, “Day Is Done.” He wasn't kidding. When I arrive on Thursday night, there is a queue stretching down 24th Street, with a long velvet rope and several hefty bouncers on hand to keep the throng in check. This sight is unnerving, but luckily I spy a Gagosian operative hovering near the door and she graciously lets me in immediately. I couldn't help but recall my club-going days in the '80s, when a casual friend at the door promised easy entry. As it happens, this memory is surprisingly apt once I penetrate the gallery. It is very dark inside—yes, it initially brings to mind a jittery-making nightclub where you're supposed to be having so much fun. I'm not even going to try to summarize the exhibition: It is staggeringly complex and deserves at least one more and probably several further visits. Kelley's installation—actually, more like a constellation of installations, overlapping and intentionally confusing—evokes spook houses and horror movies (Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses [2003] comes to mind), which makes bare-bones interpretive sense, as the traumatic dread afflicting high-school kids throughout the U.S.A. is a pervasive theme.

Left: Interview magazine's Ingrid Sischy. Right: Artists Jordan Wolfson, John Tremblay, and Cecily Brown.

“It really scared me,” a smart person remarks. But I'm more worried about painless egress. Sarah Watson, the director at Gagosian's Los Angeles base, ushers me through a series of back rooms, until we finally emerge onto the street, where a fleet of livery cars has been summoned to ferry guests to the party at 5 Ninth, the restaurant-cum-speakeasy in the Meatpacking District. “This is one of the things that's great about Gagosian,” Watson comments in passing. “There are so many people working here, they can manage this kind of chaos.” The fête itself is pleasant, but it feels rather unremarkable after the extremity and sensory overload of the show itself. Perhaps abjuring my reportorial duties, I remain seated on the same banquette throughout the party; people can come to me, I asseverate silently if rather grandiosely. I notice that the Metro Pictures gang is very present—Helene Winer, Janelle Reiring, and director Tom Heman—which reminds me that when I first heard about Kelley's doing a show at Gagosian, it was emphasized that he wasn’t necessarily leaving Metro, but that Larry had made him an offer he couldn't refuse: vast gallery acreage and major financing for the artist's most complex installation to date. I overhear Kelley saying, “I want to introduce Niagara, an old friend from Detroit”—that is, his former bandmate (in Destroy All Monsters) and a star in the Detroit underground performance scene. The music playing at 5 Ninth, which the proprietors keyed to the event, is appropriate enough—'70s punk, Sonic Youth, and the occasional, agreeably clashing pop song.

Left: Family members Debbie and George Kelley. Right: Art dealer Nicolai Frahm.

I arrived at the show on the late side, so most of the “important” people had already left for the modern and contemporary auction that same evening at Phillips. As the party gets crowded they re-appear en masse, many apparently crashing. “Every dealer in New York is here,” another dealer tells me. “And all the Europeans!” I do notice a few familiar faces in the packed, three-floor party: Tony Oursler—an old friend and collaborator of Kelley's—and Jacqueline Humphries, Charline von Heyl and Christopher Wool, Anton Kern and Nathalie Karg, Tara Subkoff and Nate Lowman, Cecily Brown, Francesco Vezzoli, Piero Golia, Miguel Calderón, the Gelatin people, Tony Shafrazi, and Hollywood mogul Michael Ovitz. “I've never seen you in a suit and tie before,” Ovitz remarks. “It's my preferred costume nowadays,” I respond. “People see a white man in a dark suit and think, Hey, maybe he has money.” The party is evidently heating up as the night winds on, because as I'm heading out I witness an altercation between Niagara and Kelley's Los Angeles dealer, Patrick Painter. I'm sworn to secrecy on this one, but it looks really scary.

Left: Artist Jesper Just with RoseLee Goldberg. Right: Niagara poses in front of a piece.

Left: Artist Ivan Civic with curator Ema Nobile Mino. Right: White Columns director Matthew Higgs.