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New York

Left: Artists Paulina Olowska, Monica Bonvicini, and Amanda Keeley. Right: Reena Spaulings Fine Art's Emily Sundblad. (All photos: David Velasco)

Anyone who was in town on Saturday will remember the day as freakishly warm, making the Chelsea openings circuit less the usual winter march from one heated space to another and more a springtime stroll. D’Amelio Terras presented one lively launch. “The loss of history makes them constantly curious and continuously horny . . .” was the promising title of a group show inspired by a Mekons performance at Dia in 1995. On that occasion, Vito Acconci had designed a hexagonal stage and filled in the gaps in the music with his own spoken narration. At D’Amelio Terras, band and stage were replaced by a multilevel seating unit that also emitted snippets of Acconci’s gnomic commentary, including the show’s title. The setup seemed to remind many visitors of their favorite childhood monkey bars, resulting in an unseemly scramble for the uppermost perch that only the soberest—Whitney director Adam Weinberg, for one, the Times’ Roberta Smith, for another—appeared able to resist.

At Elizabeth Dee Gallery, the game was rather to avoid the centerpiece, a worryingly ephemeral-looking sculpture by Mai Braun. This became increasingly difficult as the gallery filled to bursting with visitors curious to assess new director Jenny Moore’s curatorial smarts. Dee herself seemed overjoyed with the results and enthused, too, about the gallery’s next show, a project by the collaborative team New Humans. My companions nodded and smiled but, it was later revealed, were equally taken by Dee’s outfit, a trouser suit that had earned Scarlett Johansson an appearance in Us Weekly’s fashion “don’ts” column but, by common consensus, looked a whole lot better on the gallerist than it had on the starlet.

The opening of Polish artist Paulina Olowska’s first New York solo show, at Metro Pictures, had been trailed to me at least twice as the hip event of the evening, but it seemed oddly subdued by comparison. The gallery itself was nearly empty by the time I arrived, with just a few diehards, artists Elizabeth Peyton, T. J. Wilcox, and Cheyney Thompson among them, lingering outside. Also making the scene were Liam Gillick and Sarah Morris. I had fun catching up with the former—a fellow Brit—the discussion moving from family to facial hair to the pros and cons of transatlantic cruising in a matter of minutes. (Can it really be true that Ileana Sonnabend bought all the Queen Elizabeth II’s classic modernist furniture only to offload it to the Salvation Army?) After stopping in briefly at the local (and possibly only remaining) dive bar Billymark’s West for the commencement of Elizabeth Dee’s after-party (bemused regulars looking on), I cabbed it downtown to Barrow’s Pub on Hudson Street for Metro Pictures’s event. The venue was fractionally smarter than Billymark’s, but no Bemelmans, as evinced by the repurposing of a pool table for the hors d’oeuvres, not to mention the repurposing of what looked like Chicken McNuggets as hors d’oeuvres. Artist Dieter Roelstraete spun some loungey tunes, but despite the presence of some striking Eastern European clientele, it was another downbeat affair, and after an hour or so, I called it a night.

Left: Artists Liam Gillick and Sarah Morris. Right: Artist Vito Acconci.

What’s the most intimidating kind of gallery? In my experience, it’s not the vast, gleaming Chelsea showroom but the knock-three-times-and-mutter-the-password backstreet shoebox. Artist Bozidar Brazda’s new project space, 127 (my cabbie got lost even with a map), was firmly in the latter camp, a miniscule strip-lit storefront in Chinatown with no sign or any other concession to the uninitiated. Arriving halfway through the Sunday-evening opening of a show of new work by Anna Parkina and Joep Van Liefland, I discovered exactly seven people in attendance (though, admittedly, one of those was Whitney curator Shamim M. Momin, and another Flash Art critic Adrian Dannatt). If Saturday night’s hospitality had been low-rent, here it was stripped down to the bare essentials: a stack of warm Buds in the corner.

Orchard may have been serving actual wine, but the corridorlike space was so dark and packed that I felt like I was in line for a club bathroom rather than angling to get a glimpse of some, uh, “Polish Socialist Conceptualism of the ’70s.” Yes, Gareth James and company had somehow contrived to transform a distinctly unsexy-sounding subject into another destination show. I bumped into artist Ellen Harvey on my way in, and she introduced me to Lukasz Ronduda, who curated the show in collaboration with Barbara Piwowarska. An excited Ronduda reeled off an efficient beginner’s guide to the artworks on view and handed me a sheaf of closely printed pages as “a brief introduction,” before disappearing into the crowd.

Reena Spaulings Fine Art, my final stop of the night, also disseminated some “challenging” text in the shape of an open letter from “Paris-based collective” Claire Fontaine, copies of which were available to all. (Its closing gambit: “Surrounded by a malevolent attention, obliged to perform useless tasks, wanting to change but not knowing how to. We feel alone.” Cheers, “Claire.”) Attendees had all either just come from 127 or Orchard (or Participant, Inc., or Canada, both also opening shows that night) or were just on their way to one or the other, making for some brisk movement up and down the stairs. Carol Greene, Rita Ackermann, and Jordan Wolfson were among those coming or going. Oh, and Tatum O’Neal showed at some point, though whether she, too, was making the rounds with equal dedication was unclear.

Michael Wilson

Left: Dealer Elizabeth Dee. Right: Artists Jordan Wolfson and Bozidar Brazda.

Left: Dealer Emi Fontana. Right: Curators Lukasz Ronduda and Barbara Piwowarska.

Left: Reena Spaulings Fine Art's John Kelsey with LTTR editor K8 Hardy. Right: Artist Fia Backström.

Left: Foxy Production's Chelsea Goodchild with Wallspace co-owners Janine Foeller and Jane Hait. Right: Dealer Lucien Terras.