Happy Returns

New York

Left: Artist Katy Schimert. Right: Gallerist Nicole Klagsbrun and Billy Sullivan.

Making the gallery rounds last weekend was an education: First I learned that you haven’t really lived until you’ve been stuck in a small elevator with large personalities like Jack Pierson, PaceWildenstein's Douglas Baxter, and retired JPMorganChase art advisor Manuel Gonzalez; and, second, that you really haven’t lived until you’ve lived.

How else to explain the new wave of mature artists—Billy Sullivan, Amy Sillman, Alexis Rockman, and Katy Schimert—all converging on Chelsea in signature style, showing work with more power, authority, and freshness than any has exhibited in years? Indeed, I even heard people on the street speak of Sullivan, who is about to turn sixty, as the hot new artist of the moment. “Billy Sullivan?” one woman said. “He's going to be very important.”

Left: Artist Alexis Rockman, critic Dorothy Spears, and artist James Siena. Right: Billy Sullivan with self-portrait.

Funny to think of Sullivan as an overnight star. He’s been exhibiting since the ’70s, though never to the acclaim that his appearance in the current Whitney Biennial has brought—and that his affectionate new portraits at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery will likely intensify. They don’t just capture personalities but very particular moments that would be a shame to let pass undocumented. “It’s his breakout show,” said painter Jane Dickson, echoing the general sentiment of the muses on hand.

After the reception, the sluggish elevator to the dinner in Klagsbrun’s West Village penthouse gave us time to reflect on Sullivan’s success. His fairy tale isn’t the kind where the artist graduates with collectors in hot pursuit and scores a double-page spread in a fashion magazine on the occasion of his or her solo debut: Sullivan started showing in a gallery on Fifty-Seventh Street just when the art world was moving downtown.

Last summer, at just about the moment he was selected for the Biennial, his eldest son died in a paragliding accident. “I'm just going to say this here,” Sullivan told the friends at Klagsbrun’s gathering. “I lost my son this year but I feel him very much with me. My pictures are in the Biennial and now I have this show at Nicole’s and you’re all a part of all of it.” There wasn’t a soul among us who didn’t have to fight back tears.

Left: Curator and writer Klaus Kertess. Right: Artist Theo Rosenblum.

“I’m really happy,” Katy Schimert said of her new exhibition at David Zwirner, which included a garden of wire-mesh trees that seemed to bend and sway with the movements of the crowd around them. Clearly, happiness is the new cool. Everyone was smiling as the artist, looking very rite-of-printemps in a gay yellow frock with a bouquet of yellow blooms in her arms, greeted friends, including the Matthews, Barney and Ritchie.

“I’m really happy,” Alexis Rockman echoed at Leo Koenig, where it was clear that he had entered an important new phase in his painting. His canvases are still cast in the doom of global warming, but they have exchanged the old illustrational realism for sensuous texture and material heft. One even has Angelo Filomeno–style crystals embedded in it. What happened? “Dorothy Spears,” Rockman said, naming his partner. They’ve been together for a few years but seem to have created a new excitement—maybe like Marina Abramovic and Paolo Canevari, who were married at last this weekend.

Left: Artist Oliver Herring. Right: Artists Matthew Ritchie and Matthew Barney.

“I'm totally happy,” Amy Sillman kept repeating to everyone in the crush at Sikkema Jenkins who could not seem to get enough of her diaphanous new paintings, semiabstractions with a hint of goofy cartoonishness. No one wanted to leave even after the owners had turned out the lights. They should have known: Artists only ripen in the dark.

Left: New Museum director Lisa Phillips with gallerist Barbara Gladstone. Right: Gallerists David Zwirner and Carol Greene.

Left: Artists Gregory Crewdson, Ellen Phelan, and Joel Shapiro. Right: Artist Don Christenson with writer Lynne Tillman.

Left: Amy Sillman. Right: Artists Sarah Charlesworth and Angelo Filomeno.

Linda Yablonsky