CALIFORNIA MAY NOT HAVE THE HAMPTONS, but Napa surely provides a more than adequate alternative with panoramic views and ample drink. Norman and Norah Stone’s annual midsummer soiree has been adding to the pastoral magic since 2007, luring the art faithful (or at least those faithful enough to secure an invite) to their now fabled Art Cave, which has fast become one of the wonders of the West Coast art world. This year’s installment, held the Saturday before last, cemented the reputation even further, with all the bells and whistles of a heavy-duty event, including perky door staff, a jam-packed hillside parking lot, and courtesy shuttle, which prompted one of my companions to ponder: “Is this like art-world Coachella?”
If not quite a festival, there was definitely a jovial mood in the air as we were greeted by our gracious hostess, who had donned a fringed confection that brought to mind a pom-pom reincarnated as the chicest cocktail attire imaginable. Norman, sporting an ingenious mirrored hoodie, ushered guests into the cave, which was inaugurating a new exhibition, “Politics Is Personal”—the excuse for the summertime fete. Mixing recent acquisitions with selections from the Stones’ permanent collection, the show offers an intriguing look at how art has articulated (or disarticulated) politics over the past few decades. It was, of course, filtered through personal taste, but it amply featured the collection’s holdings of top-notch artists like Catherine Opie, Joseph Beuys, Bruce Nauman, and Sigmar Polke—and it rivaled many museum exhibitions in ambition if not scale (a sign of the times if ever there was one).
The centerpiece was a new site-specific installation by Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled (police the police), which includes a large-scale wall mural in charcoal, developed in conjunction with local art students from SFAI, who were on hand for the occasion and looked appropriately awed. Guests were invited to add their voices as well, but most of the well-heeled attendees seemed a little daunted by the work’s artistic capaciousness (or at least the prospect of messy charcoal), opting instead to sort vigorously through a neighboring pile of American Apparel tees screenprinted with the words POLICE THE POLICE. I don’t know what the full political implications were, but the rummaging was oddly satisfying, and I quickly secured my size.
In the adjacent space was an impressive installation by Walid Raad, who was unable to attend but who provided a stand-in/stunt double, Viennese actor Markus Reymann, for the performance-lecture. “I was so blown away by Walid’s lectures that I offered to be his replacement for those he could not deliver in person,” Reymann noted in his preamble. Whether intended or not, the surrogate added an intriguing dimension to the work, speaking to the slippage of bodies, markets, and politics.
I ran into SF MoMA curator Apsara Diquinzio (she might have been the only guest sans a T-shirt), who had just finished putting the final touches on the catalogue for her upcoming curatorial enterprise, “The Air We Breathe,” a gutsy exhibition opening this fall that features all commissioned work around the issue of same-sex marriage. Even in the terminally progressive Bay Area, the undertaking might raise a few eyebrows, and I mentioned the titillating possibility of protesters who might, incidentally, also be great for museum attendance. She assured me that all of the work was quite meditative, but added encouragingly: “Who knows, maybe Michele Bachmann will get wind of it.” I can only hope.
Outside, guests mingled in the summer twilight, with conversation fueled by the Stones’ great wines. I spotted Gavin Brown, Jens Hoffmann, Hope Atherton, James Turrell (an imposing bearded patriarch), and Standard Oslo’s Eivind Furnesvik, recently back from a scouting trip in Los Angeles. “Now the LA-Oslo axis is complete,” he offered.
After an outdoor dinner, revelers gathered at the site’s other pièce de résistance, Turrell’s Stone Sky, an outdoor pavilion and pool that shifted with subtle permutations of magenta and cyan, while the white cube hovered seductively on the water’s surface. Emi Fontana, swaying to the live salsa music, chatted about her upcoming art parade–gathering in Los Angeles, the culmination of the Trespass Parade project, a massive undertaking with over forty artists (which incidentally also includes T-shirts. The new tote bag, perhaps?).
Despite the protestations during dinnertime, after the mandatory half-hour rest (and a few cocktails), most of the guests began to make their way to the pool (led by the student contingency eager to strip down). In the locker room, I tried to look as professional as possible while shimmying my way into a pair of loaner bathing trunks. The effort was only mildly successful, but Tiravanija smiled generously.
Swimming inside the cube and gazing at the night sky was an experience in its own right—and reminded everyone of Light and Space’s staunch California roots. A good portion of the San Francisco art world gathered inside, including Matthew Marks’s Sabrina Buell, Yves Behar, Ratio 3’s Chris Perez, and dealer Jessica Silverman. After the obligatory aahing at the color permutations, the gang proceeded to enjoy some improvised games of chicken and assorted water acrobatics, activating a laid-back magic that the Hamptons would be hard pressed to beat.