Monster Balls


Left: Dealer Alison Jacques and Patti Smith. Right: Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff. (All photos: Sarah Thornton)

Last Wednesday, on an exquisite Indian-summer night, London was ringing with hyperbole: I heard more than one dealer proclaim that their young artist was “the next Damien Hirst” and several people declare that London was “the new curatorial capital of the world!” With too many openings to attend, I had to be choosy. First stop, the new Simon Lee Gallery. Beckoned by the giant pineapple sculpture depicted on their invitation, I wanted to see the architectonic work of British artist Toby Ziegler and get the scoop on Lee’s recent emancipation from his business partners Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers. Lee said that the split was “amicable” and pointed out that they will be sharing a stand at next month’s Frieze Art Fair . . . and I heard later that relations will undoubtedly remain cordial, thanks to the bifurcation of the booth by a Berlin-style wall.

After that, all roads led to the Hayward Gallery for an uncharacteristically bustling party thrown to mark the opening of “How to Improve the World: 60 Years of British Art.” With performances, fireworks, and Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs from pop group Saint Etienne spinning vinyl 45s, not to mention huge queues outside and hordes of artists sipping rum cocktails inside, the Hayward looked like it had finally escaped the doldrums of overlooked exhibitions. I attributed this in part to Ralph Rugoff, the evening’s affable host and the gallery’s new director, who stood sentry at the entrance for hours, shaking hands and air kissing. With around 1,600 living artists in the Arts Council Collection but only 124 represented in the show, Rugoff joked that their next project would be an exhibition of all the letters they’d received from artists who were miffed at their exclusion.

Left: Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne. Right: Artist Toby Ziegler with dealer Simon Lee.

The next night, I started out at Alison Jacques’s Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition, hoping to encounter the living icon Patti Smith. The gallery was swarming with some twenty photographers (almost all male, and all wielding their mine-is-bigger-than-yours technology), and even though Smith has a teenage spirit, there was no mistaking her authority when she silenced the greedy paparazzi with an “All right, that’s enough, you’ve taken more pictures than Robert did.” I asked Smith what it was like to see Still Moving, 1978, the film they’d made together, here. “It doesn’t feel like someone else’s work. Robert and I really collaborated on it,” she replied. “It makes me feel happy to see our film, but I’m also very sad because we would have turned sixty together at the end of the year.”

The evening’s second act was Christian Jankowski, who was unveiling new horror-themed films, photographs, and sculptures at Lisson Gallery. Jankowski made two of the works at a horror convention in Chicago, where he invited a monstrous crew of extreme people who dress up as characters from cult movies to describe the worst betrayal they had suffered—and their plans for revenge. Jankowski told me that the strangest character he’d met while making the works was a Starbucks barista by day and a Boris Karloff look-alike by night. “The trouble,” he explained, “is that he is absolutely convinced that he is Boris Karloff’s doppelganger, but he looks nothing like him.” Yet, true to Jankowski’s collaborative and improvisational practice, the artist invited the man to engage in a Duchampian round of chess, which he filmed for Playing Frankenstein, 2006, also on view.

Left: Artists Guillermo Calzadilla and Jennifer Allora. Right: Artist Christian Jankowski.

At the after-party—in a purportedly haunted wine cellar—Lisson owner Nicholas Logsdail was hanging out with Guardian art critic Adrian Searle, who was celebrating his tenth year at the national newspaper and partaking in a healthy dose of tomfoolery. When I asked Searle if we could snap his picture, he cried out “Is it for RatForum?!” then offered to put his tongue in Logsdail’s mouth just for us. Logsdail, putting on a professional face, offered his opinion of the Hayward show, noting that “it’s the first time the Arts Council Collection has been looked at intelligently.” No lip locks here, but there was some action nearby, when Jankowski’s Berlin dealer, Martin Klosterfelde, planted a wet one on his bosom buddy, dealer Henry Allsopp. At the other end of the bar, Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla were just having a drink. They’d been in Cologne, installing at the Museum of Applied Art for the Nam June Paik Award show, and were leaving for New York in the morning, so would miss seeing their work at the opening of the Serpentine’s “Uncertain States of America.” With the reminder that I had yet to celebrate another nation-based curatorial endeavor, I decided that it was high time to drag my Belgian-American ass out of there.

Ellen Mara De Wachter

Left: Dealer Nicholas Logsdail and critic Adrian Searle. Right: Artist Richard Wentworth.

Left: Serpentine Gallery chief curator Kitty Scott. Right: Dealers Martin Klosterfelde and Henry Allsopp.

Left: Artist Mark Wallinger. Right: Artists Victor Burgin and Mary Kelly.

Left: Artist Carey Young. Right: Writer Darian Leader and artist and professor Olivier Richon.