Team Spirit

New York

Left: Artist Banks Violette. Right: Team Gallery's Jose Freire with Mary Boone.

Now I know why people go to openings of shows by artists they’ve never met. No, not just because they’re looking for dates. It’s because openings can be fun! At least, that’s how it was at Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue gallery last Thursday, when the legendary dealer got the winter season off to a rousing start by turning both of her galleries over to outside curators. Neville Wakefield’s “Hiding in the Light” opens at her Chelsea location later this week, while the future-forward head of Team Gallery, Jose Freire, is already rocking out at Fifty-seventh Street with “View 9: I Love My Scene,” set to play out in three parts over the next four and a half months.

“When was the last time you heard of one dealer asking another to curate a show?” Freire grinned. “Let’s face it,” he confided, “I’ll never have a gallery that looks like this.” And he grinned again. In fact, lots of people were smiling. Was that money in their pockets or were they just glad to get back on the scene after the interminable holiday hiatus? Some scene: Two of the five artists in the show are deceased and none of them are women. If cheerful Carol Bove was any indication, however, these numbers didn’t dampen any spirits. (Bove is in the forthcoming “Scene 3.”) Covered in red dots, the checklist’s story was clear. The show itself took longer to puzzle out.

Left: Artist Keith Sonnier with daughter Olympia. Right: Artist Lane Twitchell.

“Can someone explain all this to me?” whispered Keith Sonnier, whose 1988 neon and aluminum Sphinx Position 1 was one of three way-cool sculptures featured in the main gallery, surrounded by Cecil Beaton and Weegee photos and fantasy drawings of Neoclassical architecture by young Brit Pablo Bronstein. (Real name!) “I’m just a boring old formalist,” said Freire of his choices, a personal blend of classicism and nostalgia for punk, fashion, and art scenes past. The other two sculptures were Lothar Hempel’s deconstructed-bicycle monument to societal meltdown, Abstrakter Sozialismus (Abstract Socialism), 2002, and a poetically titled, burnt-wood cathedral of a modular sculpture by Banks Violette, Hexdriver (Fucked Up and Ready to Die), 2006.

Violette, who incidentally claims Sonnier as one of his heroes, was among the first to make a purchase. The artist nabbed a Cecil Beaton from another lusting customer, dealer Stefania Bortolami, as a gift for his wife (and Sue de Beer screenwriter), Alissa Bennett. Both Bennett and Bortolami thought they looked like one of the photo’s two pouty women in black. Talk about classic! Here was one of those true, every-time-I-hear-the-word-narcissist-I-take-out-my-checkbook moments that define our moment. Violette paid $2,000 for the vintage goodie; his own newborn sculpture was priced at $75,000.

Left: Artist Barry Le Va with art historian Lisa Rubenstein. Right: Writer Alissa Bennett.

“I’m having my second career!” Boone exulted. “I mean,” she said, nodding to the ever-more-svelte Freire, “I’m giving my old career new life!” It had taken fifteen tries before Freire would return her call. “After years of being a nobody,” he explained, “everyone calls my gallery every day now.” Boone laughed. But was she asking other ear-to-the-ground types to suss out new artists for her? “Hardly,” said Boone, who recently hired P.S. 1’s Amy Smith-Stewart to be her in-house curator. “I want to make an impact on the culture.” Freire nodded in agreement. “Anyone can tell you that the big money is in the secondary market,” Boone went on. “I mean, how many people are making fortunes today with work I showed twenty years ago?” (Whoops!) So what did it mean to Smith-Stewart to be the curator of a commercial gallery? “Frankly, I don’t know yet,” she said. “I only just started.”

At Bottino, Boone needed two separate dining rooms to accommodate her guests, three generations of artsters who seated themselves in interesting ways. Guggenheim director Lisa Dennison paired off with Ross Bleckner in the rear private room, while Bruce Ferguson and Barry Le Va took a table together with New York rock photographer Roberta Bayley (who is scheduled for “Scene 2”) in the front, as did young dealers like Daniel Reich and Mirabelle Marden. And what can we say about a table where Anton Kern, Andrew Kreps, and Clarissa Dalrymple choose to spill the wine with Jim Lambie, Lothar Hempel, and Derek Bell, a heartthrob painter from Berlin on whom Sonnier’s sultry seventeen-year-old daughter, Olympia, developed an immediate and not, it seemed, entirely hopeless crush? That in an art world fueled by a powerful blend of pride and resentment, love is always in the air?

Linda Yablonsky