Royal Academy

New York

Left: P.S. 1 director Alanna Heiss, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, and artist Tom Sandberg. (Photo: Keith Smith for P.S. 1) Right: Actor Tim Robbins. (Except where noted, all photos: David Velasco)

Observing the long, shivering queue waiting for admission to last Sunday’s winter openings at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, I almost turned back, Scene & Herd be damned. But the line moved swiftly enough, and my perseverance was rewarded with a clutch of excellent shows (eight commenced simultaneously), as well as good people-watching. The schoolhouse was flooded with everyday patrons, art-world aristocrats such as Jonas Mekas and Marina Abramovic, and even some official royalty, namely Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, on hand for the opening of countryman Tom Sandberg’s installation of elegant black-and-white photographs.

Beginning on the third floor with Alanna Heiss’s “Not for Sale”—a show of works that artists have refused to part with—I spied some Oscar nobility, too. A well-bundled Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins stood with friend Rufus Wainwright admiring Squaring, Jennifer Bartlett’s calm painting of matrices of dots. When I approached Robbins, I promptly dropped my press kit, spilling checklists at his feet. P.S. 1 may be a museum now, but it remains the perfect mise-en-scène for awkward high school moments. I watched with some humiliation as Robbins and a security guard—gentlemen of the first order—rushed to gather the papers. Sarandon herself was all grace, too, when, a bit later, standing in front of Dana Schutz’s painting Ryan, I took a plunge and introduced her to the serendipitously present artist. They spoke for what seemed like forever. (“So where exactly is Zach Feuer Gallery?”) Afterward, I chatted with the overwhelmed Downtown for Democracy rep, who admitted: “I couldn’t bear to tell Susan Sarandon that I’d just taken my picture with her replica in the wax museum.”

Nearby, Richard Tuttle silently held court in a room devoted solely to his work, while curator Eugenie Tsai spoke with Shirin Neshat about her own contribution. Roaming about, I bumped into an exhausted Lawrence Weiner and his wife, Alice, just back from an opening in Chicago. “It was insane—too much flying. Yesterday was my sixty-fifth birthday, and I completely forgot,” he said. I pushed on to yet another room of beloved artifacts. While I was standing next to a tire sculpture, a curmudgeon on crutches approached: “You can sit on it, you know.” Weary after witnessing several other patrons chastened by guards for attempting just that, I asked how he was sure. “Well, I made it. I’m Mark di Suvero.” Fair enough. So why didn’t he sell this piece? “You don’t sell toys!” he gasped.

Left: Actress Susan Sarandon. RIght: Alice Weiner and Lawrence Weiner.

If “Not for Sale” offered a few inspiring glimpses into the creative process, the experimental fourth-floor show “Emergency Room,” curated by Dane Thierry Geoffroy (inexplicably known as Colonel), made an argument for why some pieces should be held back. The show, a revolving door of work by over thirty artists, is replaced every day by art responding to world events of the past twenty-four hours. On my way up, I noted several people clad in headbands marked in red Sharpie with headlines variously obtuse (SUBJECTIVITY IS IMPOSSIBLE) and ignominious (DON’T THINK). It made me long for Fashion Week, where at least airheaded commentary is coupled with sartorial savvy (or a gift bag).

The museum was soon to close, so I raced to the main floor to catch a glimpse of “Silicone Valley,” P.S. 1 curatorial advisor Nick Stillman’s more nuanced exploration of superficiality. Stillman said that he wanted to make an exhibition that was “quick and sexy—something you can walk through and leave with a good impression.” I can vouch for its success in that department, but I knew I’d have to return later for a better look. The tired cliché holds water: You don’t go to an opening if you want to see the art.

My companions and I learned the hard way that cabs don’t exist in Long Island City, so we made the short trek to the G train and slouched toward the after-party for Stillman’s show at Brooklyn gallery Jack the Pelican Presents. Somewhat subdued, and certainly less star-studded, a few artists roamed the space, including “Silicone Valley” participant William Pope.L, who complained about P.S. 1’s bureaucratic attempt to bar visitors from entering his smelly installation, a corridor of stuffed animals covered in peanut butter and mayonnaise. While surely not without its failings, after spending a day with Peter Caine’s gyrating sculptures, Julian LaVerdiere’s piles of eagle heads, Dennis Oppenheim’s giant bloody nose, and other artist curios, I thought that a little red tape was a small price to pay.

David Velasco

Left: Curator Eugenie Tsai and artist Shirin Neshat. Right: Artist Dana Schutz.

Left: Artists Jack Pierson and Dan McCarthy. Right: Artist Jonas Mekas.

Left: P.S. 1 curatorial advisor Nick Stillman. Right: “Emergency Room” curator Thierry Geoffroy.

Left: Musician Rufus Wainwright. Right: Project Runway's Angela Keslar (right) with a friend.

Left: MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci. Right: Artist William Pope.L.

Left: Out magazine photo director Sabine Rogers. Right: Artist Eli Sudbrack of assume vivid astro focus and Tim Goossens.

Left: Jack the Pelican Presents founder Don Carroll with collector Erika Flierl. Right: Artist Cameron Martin.