Hanna and Her Sisters

New York

Left: Artist Hanna Liden. Right: Williams College Art Museum curator Deborah Rothschild, artist Jacqueline Humphries, and Hannah Bloomenthal.

I meet Carol Greene, Hanna Liden, and Charline von Heyl at Hertz. We’re on our way to Williamstown, Massachusetts, for the opening of an exhibition of paintings by Jacqueline Humphries at the Williams College Art Museum. It starts pouring almost immediately, so it takes us two hours just to get out of the city. Someone remarks that the woods in the vicinity of the Cloisters are a haven for crackheads. “Does crack make you want to have sex?” Carol inquires. “No, it just drives you into a bottomless black pit and makes you want to kill yourself,” Hanna answers. Several hours later, and still a considerable distance from our destination, someone remarks that maybe we should have scored some crack for the road; the beers and pretzels we bought at a gas station just aren’t giving us much of a lift.

Jacqueline, her husband Tony Oursler, and their two-year-old son Jack are there to greet us when we finally reach the museum. Alas, we are too late to see her paintings; the Williams College trustees are coincidentally about to sit down to dinner in the gallery in which they’ve been installed. Charline cruises in without a word from the guards. I guess she looks classier than the rest of us. Jacqueline remains unperturbed; the paintings, she assures us, will look better in the morning light. Humphries’s dinner is being served at the house of exhibition curator Deborah Rothschild and her husband David. It’s still raining, but the prospect of foggy mountains and trees from the Rothschild house is spectacular. Charline and I take a short promenade through the graveyard that adjoins the property, striking campy poses among the obelisks and mausoleums. Dinner is perfectly pleasant, but Hanna and I steal off to our bedroom—like Jacqueline and Tony, we’re bunking at the Rothschilds’—for a divertissement. Evidently, we’re staying in their son’s bedroom, given the large amount of sports memorabilia and overall teenage-boy décor. Hanna and I rifle through the closet, trying on various athletic outfits. (Apologies to Rothschild fils; we put everything back as we found it, promise.) After this naughty time-out, we return to dinner, apparently unmissed.

Left: Artist Cecily Brown, designer Tara Subkoff, Hanna Liden, and Reena Spaulings' Emily Sundblad. Right: Artist Christopher Wool.

The following morning we say goodbye to our gracious hosts and convene at the museum. Jacqueline’s large abstractions, rendered in metallic paint on brazen metallic grounds, have been installed in a capacious octagonal gallery. “It looks really glamorous,” Charline remarks. We all agree that “glamorous” is a good word to describe paintings; “chic” maybe isn’t. I ask Jacqueline about the exhibition title, “Seven Sisters”: “I really hate titling shows, but I thought this was sort of funny. I was thinking of the Pleiades”—the seven daughters of the dispossessed Titan Atlas, condemned to carry the world on his shoulders—“but as Williams was an all-male school until the '70s, the allusion to the Seven Sisters women’s colleges seemed curiously apt.”

I also check out “Jackson Pollock at Williams College: A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe.” The three paintings on display, especially Number 2, 1949, are major, but the wall text about the late MoMA curator, class of ’67, is risible. “Those of us who knew Kirk at Williams—who remember his cotton drinking suit printed with Budweiser labels—were naturally astonished to see him morph into an alpha intellectual and a sex symbol for the girls of Mensa,” writes Hal Crowther, class of ’66.

Left: Rivington Arms' Melissa Bent. Right: Curator Clarissa Dalrymple.

“Williamstown is so creepy,” Charline comments. I thought it was pretty. I preferred it to North Adams, some ten minutes away, where Mass MoCA is located. Carol insisted that we drop in, as one of her artists, Paul Chan, was showing there. Had I known that this was merely a group show (bearing a predictably dum-dee-dum curator-speak title, “Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History”), I might have demurred, but Carol’s driving. The real (bummer) surprise, however, is “Carsten Höller: Amusement Park.” In a darkened gallery the size of a football field, Höller has installed various old amusement park rides; lights blink on and off at tiresomely long intervals, and the Tilt-a-Whirl moves ever so slowly. “It’s a metaphor for . . . time,” Jacqueline says with a laugh. Supposedly, all the rides move in ultra-slow-mo, but I don’t notice, my tolerance for boredom having reached its limit. The real kicker, however, is at the rear of the gallery: a mirrored wall with a rectangular cutout giving a glimpse of the next room. I cringe. “That’s the signifier that he’s an intellectual,” Hanna adds contemptuously.

Back in Manhattan, Klara Liden (Hanna’s younger sister, an inevitable clarification) opens at Reena Spaulings. Inside the gallery, the avant-demimonde is in full force—Emily Sundblad, Rita Ackermann, Adam McEwen, Agathe Snow, Cecily Brown, Tara Subkoff, Nate Lowman, Clarissa Dalrymple, Meredith Danluck, etc. Given the crowd, it’s rather hard to see Klara’s three videos, slideshow projection, and site-specific construction. The latter is a sort of elevated bed, supported by police barricades that the artist “scavenged” from the streets, and then—and this strikes me as a feat of amazing prowess—carried back to the gallery on her bicycle. But the fuzz are always watching: During installation, three plain-clothes cops showed up at the gallery, where Hanna, lending a helping hand, was alone. “Closed for installation,” she said briskly, but then one cop flashed his badge. At this point, Hanna was feeling a tad panicky, but she gathered up all her forces of charm and Swedish diplomacy, and the authorities left after being assured that NYPD identification would be painted over in white. “It’s better this way anyway,” she tells me at the opening. “Less obviously, I guess, political?”

Left: Artist Andrea Fraser. Right: Malin Arnell with artist Klara Liden.

Left: Raina Hamner. Right: Artist Meredith Danluck and Tara Subkoff.