Growing Pains

New York

Left: Artist Jockum Nordström. Right: David Zwirner with son Lukas. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

For thirty years, I’ve heard the art world described as small. Small in its incestuous relationships, personal and professional; small as to who and what matter at any given time. Over the past weekend, however, anyone with half an eye could easily observe that the New York art world, with its hundreds of galleries and thousands of postgraduates eager for the sex of a New York Times review, is anything but small.

In Chelsea, the already impersonal galleries—some, like David Zwirner, of astonishing new girth—are now jammed between some of the dowdiest high-rises in town. These blank, brick-and-glass monsters give the area the look of an upscale prison compound—Kafka, come home!—and this is only the beginning. Yet architecture was on few people’s minds. At the top of the season, everyone just wants to see everyone else. (“Everyone,” by the way, is now under thirty. I knew it would happen one day, just like it did when I was twenty-five.) This was a weekend when art was merely the backdrop to the mapping of a community that has to stay whole against long odds: war, disease, fashion, real estate—even art school. Younger artists seem to have figured out that the quickest way into the system isn’t to question it but to grease it. In this day and age, everyone must be friends for fifteen minutes.

Left: Neuberger Museum director Thom Collins with painter Deborah Kass. Right: Artist Rob Wynne.

“Could you introduce me to Dennis Cooper sometime?” asked Whitney curator Carter Foster at collector Beth Rudin DeWoody’s posh party for Rob Wynne, the Conceptualist who opened Craig F. Starr’s new Upper East Side gallery on Thursday night. Like everyone else forty and under, it seems, Foster is a devotee of both Cooper and YouTube, where he discovered “a teenage boy sitting on a toilet and masturbating to Nirvana’s ‘Rape Me’—the best video art I've seen!”

“Can you please introduce me to Carter Foster?” pleaded painter Deborah Kass, the latest addition to Paul Kasmin Gallery. “You have to meet this man right here,” Adam McEwen told me at his crowded opening at Nicole Klagsbrun, pulling aside Alexander Heinrici. “This man did all of Warhol's printing in the ’80s,” he said. (The ’80s?) “Would you like to meet Steve Martin?” asked PR specialist Sara Fitzmaurice at the party her husband, Perry Rubenstein, threw for the Danish noirist Jesper Just, to whom I introduced myself. “You really have to meet Tony Podesta,” RoseLee Goldberg whispered. “He’s from Washington.” In fact, he is one of the Democrats’ leading lobbyists, but at this point I don’t know what that means.

Left: Steve Martin. Right: Dealer Tommaso Corvi-Mora and artist Brian Calvin.

“Here’s someone I want you to meet,” said Warhol Foundation chief Joel Wachs. He was speaking of the very cheerful Wayne Baerwaldt, who left the directorship of Toronto’s Power Plant last summer for the Alberta College of Art and Design. Baerwaldt had a flash memory card loaded with Just’s new film trilogy dangling from a lanyard around his neck—a new trend about to break? (You can take it on a plane.)

At Zwirner, I wasn’t sure I wanted to meet John McCracken after Neuberger Museum director Thom Collins told me that the artist builds those glossy monoliths to communicate with extraterrestrials. (So it's not about the finish after all?) Instead, I collared the genial Jockum Nordström, who introduced me to his painter wife, Mamma Andersson, and their two teenage sons, after which I scampered over to Friedrich Petzel and found myself in conversation with an old-timer, Georg Herold, who puts beluga on canvas instead of on blinis (“Caviar is so scarce these days, it took me a year to get enough to paint,” he said).

Left: Alberta College of Art and Design exhibitions director Wayne Baerwaldt. Right: Artist Georg Herold.

At Anton Kern, I found Brian Calvin hiding in the front office, where he introduced me to London dealer Tommaso Corvi-Mora. “I know you!” he said. Flattering! “I met you before,” Aaron Young reminded me at the mosh pit of an after-party that Klagsbrun, Rivington Arms, and Harris Lieberman threw for Adam McEwen, Dash Snow, and Young at B Bar. Really? “We’ve already met,” Michael Portnoy told me a minute later. Was I getting senile? “By e-mail,” he added. Thank God. “You know, it’s strange,” said Matthew Barney, sitting on the sidelines between McEwen and Neville Wakefield. “There are an awful lot of people here and I hardly know a soul.” McEwen nodded. “Me neither,” he said. In fact, hardly anyone even noticed them. What does it say about a scene when three of its hunkiest stars are the wallflowers?

Still, the most striking aspect of the whole weekend was the inescapable sense of an art world that has grown smaller than ever. There is something distinctly provincial—musty, quaint—about a lot of new art, and art-world attitudes, too. Shouldn’t our Next Big Thing bring us something objectionable? Something with nerve? What was mostly on display last weekend was good behavior. The most provocative show of all didn't make much claim to art and was partly the work of a critic. I am speaking of Gareth James's collaboration with David Joselit at Elizabeth Dee, on view for just a week. Ostensibly addressing artists whom Dee represents but implicating artists everywhere, the puzzled Joselit said it straight out: “Why do you do it? I mean make art.” Why do we have to ask?

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Artist Jesper Just. Right: Artist Sara VanDerBeek.

Left: Curator Octavio Zaya. Right: Artist Burt Barr and dancer Trisha Brown.

Left: Artist Jessica Stockholder. Right: Artist Dash Snow.

Left: The Kitchen executive director Debra Singer. Right: Artists Slater Bradley and Aaron Young.

Left: Artist Adam Pendleton. Right: Artist Nicola Tyson.

Left: Rose Art Museum director Michael Rush. Right: Artist Chris Dorland.