Wagon Covered

New York

Left: Whitney director Adam Weinberg. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Biennial artist Christopher Williams with artist Jacqueline Humphries. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

“Have you been around yet? Find me later. I need to dish,” urged artist Mathew Cerletty at the opening of “Day for Night,” the 2006 Whitney Biennial exhibition. I popped out of the elevator at the foot of Matthew Day Jackson’s looming Conestoga wagon and found myself on the show’s “downtown” floor. Predictably, it was impossible to get a real sense of the art, not because of the overwhelming crowds or the scope of the exhibition but rather the zigzagging circulation of the opening promenade is more about scoping fellow visitors than whatever was on display behind them. (One errant cruiser had already stumbled into Yury Masnyj’s installation, which Masnyj was hastily trying to reposition in anticipation of an even bigger crush the next night.) With the usual celebrity suspects—Chloe Sevigny, John Waters, Kim Gordon, and Thurston Moore—on hand, the game was in the meta-moment: Clarissa Dalrymple attended her portrait by Billy Sullivan; graffiti-chic entrepreneur Aron, who is thinly disguised as the baseball bat-wielding “Arod” in the novel Reena Spaulings, hung out with Biennial-featured Bernadette Corporation members, and Jeff Koons appeared doubled in Adam McEwen’s fake obituary of the neo-Pop star.

Left: Artist Spencer Sweeney with Participant Inc director Lia Gangitano. Right: Hanna Liden. (Photos: Michael Wang)

At the basement bar, I overheard one woman ecstatically describing works that “looked like the back of Artforum” (referring to Galerie Bischofberger’s signature ads featuring Alpine folk scenes)—perhaps thinking of Hanna Liden’s ambiguous staged photographs on themes culled from the Nordic folklore and pagan ritual. Indeed, a flavor of the occult mingled with the cult this year, with works by Steven Parrino, Jutta Koether, and Anthony Burdin channeling nihilistic shamanism. Rirkrit Tiravanija and Mark di Suvero’s restaged Peace Tower (which includes the work of many of the original artist-contributors) ambivalently filled the activist-art quota with its deadpanned blend of idealism and post-nostalgia. Of course, celebrity culture and the mainstream press also staked their artworld claim. A man in a business suit asked me where he could find Francesco Vezzoli’s star-studded Caligula remake. “It’s gotten so much press I have to find it tonight,” he explained. “Gawker?” I ventured. “No, the New York Times.” With the crowds filtering down toward the bar and the artists and gallerists disappearing into the VIP room to exchange toasts, I headed to downtown restaurant Lovely Day to partake in the festivities honoring Rivington Arms artists Dash Snow and Hanna Liden. The endless fried rice certainly beat the Whitney’s calculated artistic fare, and Iles and Vergne showed up in time for dessert. Guests, invited or otherwise, kept streaming into the rather intimate venue and the party was forced to move up to Gavin Brown’s Passerby. “The Whitney was b-o-o-o-ring,” complained writer David Rimanelli. “This is where all the glamorous people are.”