Flattering Light

New York

Left: Artist Terence Koh with Whitney associate curator Shamim Momin. Right: Dealer Javier Peres and Terence Koh. (All photos: David Velasco)

Surely your friends who attended the Whitney’s reception for Terence Koh’s first solo US museum presentation last Thursday night told you that it was a glamorous affair. It brimmed with all the usual suspects and more, from ubiquitous art-world intelligentsia like Thelma Golden (“Is this piece dangerous?”) and Adam Weinberg to icons like Bianca Jagger and twentysomething boys I didn’t even know existed outside their highly tailored Craigslist M4M postings and Manhunt.net profiles. (“Isn’t that LESbtm81?”)

And it was glamorous—especially if you were one of the sixty or so people standing in the path of the most conspicuous component of the piece, a four-thousand-watt ArriSun 40/25 movie light directed with laserlike precision from the museum’s first-floor project room toward a scrim on the museum’s front windows—a thin shield put up (against Koh’s wishes) to help keep the fulgent beam from interfering with traffic on Madison Avenue. Standing there in front of the elevators, within the corridor of palpable white light transecting the Whitney’s lobby, the (art) world seemed to slow to a magically lugubrious pace, liberated from the humdrum tempo of conventional, mortal time.

Koh already tackled something akin to Art Fair Art with his quixotic reproduction of The Cock’s back room—sans any of the lubricious activity that made the original worth reproducing—at the opening of Asia Song Society during last year’s Armory Show. Is he now auguring a genre of Opening Art? For if the Whitney’s press release speaks of Koh’s piece as “creating a psychological interaction that evokes desire and loss, pain and hope,” at the reception it mostly evoked an E! Oscar preparty. It’s like that episode of Murphy Brown in which a guest at an opening—ignorant of the “real art,” a mural on the ceiling—exclaims: “It’s brilliant! We are the art!” Silly, perhaps, but this “misrecognition” easily translates to Koh’s piece: It’s no longer Koh’s work that’s the spectacle, but the audience—a mixed bag of curators, dealers, museum directors, artists, writers, and unaffiliated scenesters who (like myself) took to the light like moths to a flame. (A return visit on Saturday showed a very different scene, with most visitors scuttling through the beam in a desperate bid for the stairwell—though a few apparently stuck around long enough to glimpse a mysterious large lead sphere placed furtively in the corner of the off-limits room that harbors the light.) I don’t envy the piece’s guards, but its rapturous reception on Thursday certainly speaks to the benefits of making everyone at an opening look fabulous, and Koh surely knows which side his bread is buttered on.

Left: Artist Ryan McGinley with Bianca Jagger. Right: Dealer Mary Boone.

Koh’s legerdemain works better on some than others. At a “White Party” at Deitch Projects following the reception, Mary Boone (who held a “gold-themed” dinner for Koh the night prior at Mr. Chow) told me to “tell Javier—tell Terence—that I would love to represent him in New York.” Later I mentioned this to Koh’s dealer, Javier Peres. He seemed gracious but amused, answering: “Terence only works with me.” Can you blame Peres for not wanting to share? Especially considering that a recent New York magazine profile estimated that the artist raked in over one million bucks last year—necessary income, given the amount his dealer spends on his work. While the Whitney installation was, according to Peres, “one of the cheapest Koh projects to produce,” the follow-up fete and performance certainly weren’t, with Jeffrey Deitch rumored to have dropped a whopping $130,000 on the White Party's luscious setup.

It paid off . . . somewhat. Walking into Deitch was like entering a quiet, high-class, visually stunning rave. A fog machine had been pumped up to the legal limit (I didn’t even know there was one), and white shrouds were distributed at the door to those who failed to meet the party’s mandatory monochromatic dress code. Inside, young boys drenched in glaucous white powder wearing nothing but underwear and gossamer white veils circulated through the crowd, while a bar served vodka and white cranberry juice in plastic cups (you’d think you’d get glassware for the price). The performance consisted of Koh huddled on a stage banked by two giant Thomas ZippcumJosiah McElheny Sputnik neon balls, mumbling gibberish in a voice reminiscent of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. One person in the front row was overheard whispering: “This is art history in the making. No one knows it now, but someday . . .” As if in response, another bird spurted: “What a sorry echo of the Fischerspooner show here five years ago, only with less sparkle and substance.”

Afterward, I made my way to 205 Club on the Lower East Side for 032c magazine’s “official” after-after-party, but inside it was a mob scene, overflowing with what looked like stragglers from Vice magazine’s launch party held at the bar the night prior. On my way to Chinatown’s Good World Bar & Grill for the less official after-after-after-party (prior to the real after-hours, I hear, later that night at ASS), I spotted Bruce LaBruce on his cell phone at the edge of a crowd queuing up to get into 205: “Javier! It’s Bruce. Slava and I can’t get in. Javier? Javier?? Javier??? . . . Fuck.” Unable to help, my friends and I staggered off to the next destination, where artists Banks Violette, Bozidar Brazda, and Dan Colen were among those prepping to really kick off the night. There’s more, of course, but you can’t blame me for being circumspect: I want to keep getting invited to these things, after all.

David Velasco

Left: Artist Todd Eberle. Right: Artist Leo Villareal with Yvonne Force Villareal.

Left: Whitney director Adam Weinberg with Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden. Right: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch.

Left: Artists Dan Colen and Terence Koh. Right: Artist A.A. Bronson.

Left: Artist Scott Hug. Right: Nightlife impresario Sophia Lamar.

Left: Javier Peres with artist Hanna Liden and Reena Spaulings Fine Arts's Emily Sundblad. Right: Filmmaker Bruce LaBruce with Ryan McGinley.

Left: A friend with Terence Koh's father Albert Koh. Right: The Whitney's Jan Rothschild.

Left: New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni. Right: Yoon Lee of Spike Magazine, Berlin.