Trash and Vaudeville

New York

Left: Artists Dan Colen and Theo Rosenblum. Right: Artist Dash Snow. (All photos: David Velasco)

Ever since Led Zeppelin’s 1969 “Mudshark Incident” at the Edgewater Inn, hotel debauchery has been de rigueur behavior for the belligerent and famous. A consistently popular form of conspicuous destruction, it’s surprising that it’s taken so long for the practice to hit the gallery circuit. (Adam Dade and Sonya Hanney’s “Stacked Hotel Rooms” don’t count.) Enter Nest, Dan Colen and Dash Snow’s tribute to counterculture heroics, an installation at Deitch Projects re-creating their ritual “hamster nests,” in which the artists get a hotel room, tear up phone books, roll around in their mess, and do drugs until they feel like hamsters. Deleuze and Guattari would surely well up at such earnest commitment to “becoming animal.”

Last Tuesday’s private preview of Nest was an unusually intimate affair, the result of a tightly monitored guest list—fifty people, no switcheroos, no gate-crashing. By official accounts, that’s just five more than the number that actually worked to build the exuberant installation. Photographs of its construction had been popping up for weeks on Deitch director Kathy Grayson’s MySpace blog—from documentation of the thirty Pratt students who shredded twenty-five hundred New York yellow pages to provide the nest’s foundation, to the antics of the “fifteen fellow artists” (such as Jack Walls and Aaron Bondaroff) who infused it with mirth and (literal) spirits. “Isn’t it great?” Jeffrey Deitch, relaxed in jeans and a blue cotton dress shirt, asked me on entering the relatively snug confines of his Grand Street space. “It’s hard to keep the crowd this small.”

Left: Deitch Projects director Kathy Grayson. Right: Gang Gang Dance.

Amid the rolling hills of paper is a salmagundi of feathers, unidentifiable filth, and fluids (mostly piss and liquor, though one hopes for at least a smidgeon of blood and cum). Sticks and bottles breach the drywall, while graffiti, scumbled with streaks of mysterious liquid, consumes every inch of the walls. One bit, like a laconic Richard Prince, reads I MAY NOT GO DOWN IN HISTORY, BUT I’LL GO DOWN ON YER LIL SISTER; another, a large doodle of a penis sucking a man’s cock, perhaps unintentionally recalls Keith Haring’s bathroom mural at the LGBT Center. Cinching the Animal House aesthetic, Stella Schnabel’s leopard-print panties hang like a trophy high above the entrance. It’s surprisingly captivating—a rec room for those who make Vice and i-D magazines vade mecums.

Some attendees made reference to Walter De Maria’s New York Earth Room, housed around the corner in a space maintained by Dia, the venerable foundation established by Snow’s great aunt Philippa de Menil. The two works may merit a comparison, but on Tuesday night, the installation most strongly resembled a Chuck E. Cheese ballroom—albeit more flammable and built on a bender. The press release heralds Nest as a “contemporary answer to a ‘happening’” and an affirmation of freedom of expression. True, perhaps, though it’s hard not to add that trashing your hotel room—and then building a gallery show to commemorate the result—is also an expression of rather unusual privilege.

Left: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch. Right: Artist Nate Lowman, curator Neville Wakefield, and artist Adam McEwen.

With Bushwick noise man Prurient and downtown post-postpunk band Gang Gang Dance scheduled to play, I snagged a beer and surrendered to the fray. Snow, in trademark Skynyrd drag, leaped about the room, snapping pictures and welcoming friends—artists Hanna Liden and Nate Lowman, curators Neville Wakefield and Shamim Momin, and his dealers, Rivington Arms’s Melissa Bent and Mirabelle Marden, among many others. A video of a prior hamster nest, concocted in a Miami hotel, played in an annex gallery. Like rare footage of some lost Dionysian cult (or an extreme version of “Boys Gone Wild”), the video should satisfy the contemporary voyeur, though the libertine vision of Colen, Snow, and crew carousing and indulging their basest desires got me wishing that the Deitch installation were a bit more unhinged. At one point, I spied Snow’s eminent grandmother Christophe de Menil watching the video, obviously getting a kick out it. It’s a rare grandma who appreciates both Philip Glass and breaking glass. Snow is a lucky bird.

Just before the concert, I bumped into Terence Koh and downtown fashion guru Benjamin Cho. Koh had just returned from Greece, where he’d spent a night in the slammer with Casey Spooner and designer Bernhard Wilhelm. Apparently, the trio had snuck into the Parthenon along with a few friends to tape a performance and ended up in a rousing police chase with the Athenian authorities. The rest of their posse fled on foot, but Koh, Spooner, and Wilhelm opted for the bus and got caught; the best fun, I was reminded, usually happens outside the gallery. But soon, the lights went dark and the bands began to play, and everyone tossed the floor’s fetid confetti into the air. It was like New Year’s in July—and then we all began to sneeze.

The show is dedicated to Dash’s newborn daughter, Secret, who arrived into this world the morning prior. As I left the gallery, I noticed that Koh had thoughtfully brought a pair of tiny shoes for the wee bairn (who, understandably, along with mother Jade, didn’t make an appearance). I left the peculiar baby shower in good spirits, glad to know that a real shower awaited me at home.

Left: Whitney curator Shamim Momin. Right: Artist Terence Koh with designer Benjamin Cho.

Left: Dash Snow with Christophe de Menil. Right: Cecile and Ara Arslanian.

Left: Prurient. Right: Artist Hanna Liden.

Left: A view of Nest. Right: Artist Aaron Young.