Pussy Galore

New York

Left: Frieze's Amanda Sharp, Sarah Watson, and artist Rachel Feinstein. Right: Artist John Currin (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

There was an amazing amount of pudenda power on the walls at John Currin’s uptown Gagosian Gallery debut on Saturday night, and plenty on the floor, too—at least judging from the “Victoria's Secret Unplugged” atmosphere in the main room. The art seemed to trigger a concordance of emotional responses in the well-heeled crowd filling the hallways, stairwells, and elevators: admiring (Inez van Lamsweerde), alarmed (Currin’s professorial dad), enraptured (Sean Landers), giddy (Helen Marden), gleeful (Piotr Uklanski), guarded (Rudolf Stingel), effusive (Yvonne Force Villareal), and unfazed (A. M. Homes).

So what shall we call these new hard-core paintings? Will “postporn” do? “Sublingual”? “Pre-op”? I heard all sorts of comments as I minced along, all avoiding confrontation with the obvious: “Such beautiful painting!” “I love the pearl!” “That black glove is the best!” “That underwear is perfect!” “This painting would be nothing without the crockery.” “I really wanted to hate this stuff,” one painter confessed. “But I don’t hate it,” he said. “In fact, I love it!” The size queens had a field day, comparing everything from rumps to reputations. Someone insisted that Jeff Koons, who made only a brief appearance, was so jealous that Currin had pulled off such a rub-your-face-in-it triumph that he had to leave, but this voice was immediately trumped by another protesting that Koons was the one who had got it right years ago, by putting his own sex life on the line instead of just borrowing from porn and acting coy about it. “I just want to see what Currin looks like,” one curious onlooker remarked. “I don't know what to think of this show, but if I see him it might help.”

Perhaps Currin is really a feminist who decided, even at this late date, to expose the “male gaze” once and for all, like Stanley Kubrick with Eyes Wide Shut. Or perhaps he is just another sexist pig who refuses to admit that he’s trying to keep this subject matter in male hands. Or perhaps he is simply making fun of his own penchant for Courbet. Or perhaps he really gets off on painting porn. Possibly, he is fatally enamored of the human figure and just wants to paint it every which way, including the Indian. Or perhaps he is headed for disaster. Of course, it doesn’t look that way when every single painting sold for prices rumored to range from $450,000 to $900,000. (Now say you don’t care.)

Left: Marieluise Hessel with curator Tom Eccles. Right: Artist Richard Phillips.

“For people who like this sort of thing, there is a lot to like,” said Currin’s father, paraphrasing Max Beerbohm (evidently by way of Jerry Saltz). It would be nice not to have to take any of “this sort of thing” seriously, but at these prices that may not be possible. As for Currin, he was openly laughing all the way to, er, dinner at the Neue Galerie, while his wife, Rachel Feinstein, had to fend off persistent questions concerning her role in the new sex paintings. Answer: no role.

About that dinner. I don’t know about you, but looking at art gives me an appetite, especially when I’m looking at art that is only about appetites. When no food appeared, I stalked into the Café Sabarsky, only to find most of the tables removed and guests standing shoulder to shoulder, pouncing whenever a tray-bearing waiter came along with a dime-size hors d’oeuvre. Now, I am not one to complain when, out of the generosity of their hearts, dealers treat hundreds of an artist’s best friends to a meal. I expect nothing. But why call it dinner when it isn’t? It doesn't seem fair.

After Richard Phillips made his engagement to Josephine Meckseper official, Cecily Brown swore her love for Michael Fuchs (“She never says that at home”), Perry Rubenstein returned from a visit to the Klimt galleries upstairs with the observation that “the Currins up there are really outrageous,” and Marc Jacobs arrived from Paris flush with the success of his debut as a costume designer with the Opera Garnier, I decided to relax and just drink more cold, flat water. And wouldn’t you know, just as Currin decided to reveal the secret of the “vein technology” he used to paint hard-ons, Alan Rickman arrived with My Name Is Rachel Corrie star Megan Dodds, and Juergen Teller reported how his Berlin gallery sent US friends exhibition postcards backed by the image of his asshole dancing to a piano-playing Charlotte Rampling—no brown wrapper or anything—and they all got through (I think the secret was Charlotte Rampling), when the food finally arrived. Is it any wonder people were talking Borat?

Left: Cynthia Rowley with Bill Powers. Right: Helen Marden.

I was still hungry the next day, when I arrived with Clarissa Dalrymple at Bard College for the opening of the Hessel Museum of Art, where we both had been invited for lunch. The inaugural exhibition, “Wrestle,” curated by Tom Eccles and Trevor Smith, is an extremely thoughtful collection show organized around identity issues (nostalgia!) and what the exuberant Eccles called “a formal morphology,” or something perfectly grand like that. Also wonderful was Martin Creed’s syncopated, all-day oompah symphony, Work No. 593, played by an excellent student orchestra seated in barrier-reef formation across the Lawrence Weiner–lined lobby that connects the original building to its twelve-million-dollar addition. (Hessel anted up eight million herself.) With this week's contemporary sales looming, I asked the patron: Would you spend as much on a big-name artwork? “I would only buy at auction to fill in a hole in the collection,“ she replied. ”And anyway, I doubt I would ever spend a million dollars on a single work. It simply isn’t necessary.”

Left: Michelle Landers and artist Sean Landers. Right: Actor Alan Rickman.

Left: Artist Marilyn Minter. Right: Artist Jack Pierson.

Left: Artist Leo Villareal with Yvonne Force Villareal. Right: Artist Mary Heilmann.

Left: Artist Piotr Uklanski. Right: Artist Joesphine Meckseper.

Left: Salon 94 director Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. Right: Artist Peter Saul.