Naked and Famous

Hiji Nam around downtown Manhattan

A view of Amalia Ulman’s show at Jenny’s. All photos unless noted: Hiji Nam.

THE SWISS INSTITUTE opening for Ser Serpas and Alfatih took place one day after January 24, which a friend told me had officially been declared the most depressing day of the year. I shared this with gallerist Maxwell Graham, who immediately brightened up. “That makes so much sense!” he beamed. I had the same reaction. After weeks of January melancholia, I felt a fever break last Wednesday. Others seemed to feel it too: Despite a torrential downpour, the Swiss Institute was packed—a reassuring affirmation that we do live in bodies, after all, and that these bodies live in a social body with a shared and often synchronized unconscious. Hari Nef, whom I had seen in a Denis Johnson play in December, chirped that she was now rehearsing alongside Parker Posey for a Chekhov tragicomedy, and Artforum editor-in-chief David Velasco was looking very wet but happy. The dinner at Old Tbilisi Garden was celebratory, wholesome, and drama-free—not exactly ideal for an Artforum diarist.

The following night, a motley group of artists gathered at TJ Byrnes. The former after-party spot for the now-defunct Svetlana gallery has been taken up by Matt Moravec and Eleonore Hugendubel (who run tech entrepreneur Mato Perić’s namesake Collection) as the venue for earnest in-person conversations about art and criticism. First up: Dean Kissick and Manhattan Art Review’s one-man masthead Sean Tatol—who, truth be told, was not doing himself any favors: “If it [art] is good, it’s good, if it’s bad, then it’s bad,” he tautologized. Kissick then ventured an icebreaker about how television and culture at large is currently in a “bad place.” “You don’t read Adorno,” Tatol parried.

A couple of sound bites I did like of Tatol’s: “. . . The smokescreen of criticizing your own work as a defense—a knowing.” (Seth Price, who was in attendance, has always been a genius at this.) Second, Tatol shared that he’d started the blog because he came to the city without any context or friends and wanted to find them through writing. (That’s a glass of Honest Tea—if we were truly nourished by our environments, would any of us need to write or make art?) In a funny way, the event made me excited about the art world again. I liked how it felt in the room, like people were thirsting for something. It was vitalizing. Price agreed, adding that he liked that Tatol is such a romantic.

Artists Precious Okoyomon and Korakrit Arunanondchai at TJ Byrnes.

In a way, Richard Maxwell and the New York City Players’s sold-out play Field of Mars on Friday night was a continuation of Dean and Sean’s conversation.

“What is the song about?” asks one music critic to a musician.

“It’s all trauma, man,” answers Jim Fletcher, playing a character named Jim. “That’s what life’s about . . . What’s bigger than dreams? The music that makes me want to remember—that’s what I like.”

During intermission, Carol Greene said the play was putting her in a “weird place” emotionally. Olivia Shao admitted that she got a whiff of a midlife crisis (nothing wrong with that—personally, I think a little regression is a sign of progress at times). Jason Farago said that he was doing the Perić Collection talk with Kissick in March and that he was a little nervous. I told him I think he’ll be great and meant it.

In the second half, two sets of brothers and sisters start fucking each other; then sister fucks sister; brother fucks brother; other brother starts fucking other sister; sister and brother make love and give birth; baby fucks baby; sister kills brother; sisters and other brother and babies eat brother, etc, etc.

“I’m hungry!” shout the men.

“Kill something!” screech the women.

“I’m fucking hungry!”

“Then fucking kill something!”

Richard Maxwell’s Field of Mars at NYU Skirball.

After the play I met a friend at Chelsea’s El Quijote, where I impressed the bartender by ordering his favorite cocktail (a Naked and Famous), and others eventually joined us following a dinner for Charles Atlas. As we crowded into a friend’s car to head downtown, Glen Fogel was animatedly bitching about “some bitch with an attitude.”

“Who?” I butted in. “Who has an attitude?” (I love a bitch with an attitude.)

“My dog,” answered Fogel. “Coconuts.”

On Saturday, upon arriving to the Japan Society across the street from the UN for CFGNY’s runway performance, I immediately ran into Dean Kissick. 

“Hiji,” he grinned grandly like the Cheshire cat, “I’ve just seen a beautiful portrait of you.”

“What?” I asked, startled. “Where?”

He took out his phone and showed me a series of caricatures on view at Jenny’s gallery for Amalia Ulman’s new exhibition. Ulman’s boyfriend, Nick Irvin, had hinted to me that the show would be “juicy,” but I’d had no idea what was coming. The show is cheekily hung according to an anthropophagic social logic of feuds, romances, and other entanglements within a mix of loosely “downtown” artists, writers, dealers, restauranteurs (I live in Brooklyn but am happy to be right below Keith McNally), ex-friends, ex-roommates, ex–business partners, ex-lovers—Levi-Strauss was right when he said we are all cannibals.

Meanwhile, a different constellation was gathered at the CFGNY fashion show, where artist models including Korakrit Arunanondchai, Trisha Baga, Stuart Uoo, Diane Severin Nguyen, and Fiffany Luu strutted and mimed to the inspired choreography and syncopated rhythms (the show was masterfully scored by Okkyung Lee). After sushi and drinks, I headed downtown with my friend Dani Leder to the after-party for Jenny’s at The River, where everyone was getting sloshed—a notable exception being Jenny’s Mathew Sova, surprisingly on his best behavior. (A couple of weekends prior, he had tried to throw me off the second-floor balcony of the Russian Samovar—Annie Ochmanek and Caleb Considine served as witnesses.)

Cameos were made by Isabel Beatty (daughter of Warren Beatty and Annette Bening) and Jordan Wolfson, who was also being a notably good boy and good friend to me that night. Marlene Zwirner also soothed this distressed diarist when I was feeling unsoothable at one point of the tumbling night. I think I saw a shadow of Jay Sanders for a fleeting moment; if I’d spoken to him, I may have had the balls to apologize for once sitting on a Jana Euler battering ram sculpture. For the record, I am sorry, Jay and Jana. I thought it was a seesaw!

Dealers John Kelsey and Jenny Borland in Morag Keil shirts. Photo: Maggie Lee.

On Sunday, I walked to Reena Spaulings, the denouement to what had been a truly maniacal bender of a week. The same cast of characters that had been present Wednesday through Saturday were at it yet again, where Morag Keil, Nicole-Antonia Spagnola, and Bedros Yeretzian were opening a collaborative exhibition featuring a selection of Keil’s piss paintings. I had brought a health tea from Westville and sipped on it gingerly before allowing myself a single beer—it was time to button it back up and prepare for what I plan to make a much dryer February. I asked Ben Morgan-Cleveland how Keil’s documentary on Real Fine Arts is going (“slow but steady,” for all those waiting); it’s been long overdue, in my opinion, though algorithmically, and spiritually, the time is particularly ripe to mine the post-2008 Weltanschauung for its depraved jouissance.

I got one last cocktail and an order of smashed (not mashed) potatoes at Bacaro with the artist George Egerton-Warburton and Lily Randall, a psychoanalyst-in-training and self-identified “Lacanian pervert.” The Lacanian perv diagnosed me a “textbook hysteric, a dying breed.” The hysteric is doomed (graced?) by her desire to know, which is the desire to know at what cost she speaks. “She’s extremely fun but is always trying to fix herself, when really she should just stay where she is.” Well, on Monday, this hysteric cried the whole train ride to her shrink’s office on the Upper West Side. Why, you ask? The fragility of life and love, the agony and beauty of it—a woman got on the train with her infant, then sat down facing the stroller, securing it between her knees. I could see the child lean in to nuzzle her head into her mother’s lap. This ushered forth a fresh batch of tears.

I recapped my analyst on the week, all the gory emotions and misadventures, then sat down to read for fellow hysteric Jamieson Webster’s class on psychoanalytic bodies that began this week. At the Reena opening, George had asked what I thought “psychoanalytic bodies” means.

“It’s a large container,” I answered.

And so was last week in New York, which one player aptly observed had “felt like an art fair.” Demented, perverted, neurotic, hysteric, psychotic, romantic—yes, indeed, it had truly held, then exploded, all of the above.

Artist Kayode Ojo; dealer Matt Sova; curator Nick Irvin; artist Amalia Ulman; dealers Kai Matsumiya, Jenny Borland, and Tyler Dobson.

Artist Ser Serpas and Serpas’s mother at the Swiss Institute.

Dean Kissick.

Artist Seth Price.

Art conservator Kerry Joyce, actress Hari Nef, and gallerist Quinn Goldsmith Harrelson.

Guests at TJ Byrnes.

Nhu Dong in CFGNY’s runway performance “Fashion Max 2” at Japan Society.

Dealer Eleanore Hugendubel and artist Rachel Rose.

Artist George Egerton-Warburton and artist-dealer Sam Lipp.

Artist Hardy Hill.

Artists Dena Yago and Lena Henke.

Artist Korakrit Arunanondchai.

Gallery dinner at Old Tbilisi Garden.

The author and a sculpture by Jana Euler. Photo: Anna-Sophie Berger.