Light and Space

New York

Left: New Museum director Lisa Phillips with Olafur Eliasson. Right: Artist Kelly Burns heads into an Eliasson sculpture.

“We finished this literally two hours ago,” a visibly relieved Ethan Sklar confided to me at the Friday night unveiling of Tanya Bonakdar Gallery’s expansive new ground-floor space. “Fortunately,” the director continued, “the lighting covers up the rough edges.” The forgiving visual effect came courtesy of a suite of new installations by Olafur Eliasson, which employed various kinds of unusual illumination that conspired with a restless crowd to make the just-completed interior seem virtually endless. Frieze US editor James Trainor leaned against a wall for a moment, then, at the suggestion that the paint might still be wet, sprang forward. Polled on the in-progress opening of James Lee Byars’s “The Rest is Silence” at no less than six Manhattan galleries—Perry Rubenstein’s three Chelsea rooms, Mary Boone’s venues in Chelsea and midtown, and Michael Werner’s Upper East Side outpost—he reported that the neighborhood events at least were “deathly quiet, as is appropriate.”

Still curious to take a look, I headed over to Twenty-Third and Twenty-Fourth Streets, both home to Rubenstein. Sure enough, the buzz at Bonakdar was here replaced by a respectful hush as, at the dealer’s largest branch, a few visitors paced solemnly around the late Byars’s The Sun, 1990, a circle of 360 pieces of gleaming white marble. At the bunkerlike smallest space, an attendant offered “decoding advice” to viewers of the four gilded columns that made up part of Self-Portrait, 1959. Rubenstein himself was seen shuttling collectors from work to work, but the geographical spread of the event dissipated its momentum. Exiting on the well-heeled heels of collector-philanthropists Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy, whose one-hundred-thousand-dollar Bucksbaum Award had just been given to artist Mark Bradford at the Whitney Museum, I nipped back to Bonakdar.

Left: Design critic Aric Chen and Tanya Bonakdar gallery director Ethan Sklar. Right: Gallerist Tanya Bonakdar and lawyer Hugh Freund.

“This event should be meditative too,” laughed Lombard-Freid Projects director Christian Alexa above the hubbub as I rejoined the near-capacity crowd, well aware that this wasn’t the evening for an uninterrupted art encounter. Also exploring, and talking it up, were artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, MoMA President Emerita Agnes Gund, the New Museum’s Lisa Phillips and Richard Flood. Your negotiable panorama, 2006, a circular enclosure containing a large central pool of water with a wave mechanism and lamp that cast a rippling line of light around the fabric wall, inspired a great deal of splashing and hooting. Artist Vargas-Suarez Universal cheekily suggested throwing in a coin, or even paying homage to Jackson Pollock’s infamous repurposing of Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace. Upstairs, The inverted mirror sphere, 2005, a twinkling construction suspended from the ceiling of the main gallery, proved irresistible to those tall enough to stick their heads inside.

Over at the Maritime Hotel’s North Cabana, my companion and I were joined at our table for dinner by gallery director James Lavender, artist Leo Villareal, and collectors Bill and Charlotte Ford and Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg. All declared themselves fans, more or less, of the unarguably spectacular show, and compared memories of the artist’s previous solo appearances at the gallery (the last of which was three years ago). After an appetizer, Bonakdar rose to her feet and, appearing endearingly nervous, read out a brief note of thanks to all concerned. The hundred-plus guests, who also included artists Sean Landers and Jason Meadows, curator Douglas Fogle, and Creative Time’s Anne Pasternak, responded with hearty applause. The similarly unassuming Eliasson escaped without addressing a word to the assembly as a whole, but most were happy to indulge his reticence. As did Byars’s, his show alone spoke volumes.

Michael Wilson