Various Artists

New York

Left: Dealer Casey Kaplan and Matthew Drutt, executive director of Artpace. Right: Martin Creed. (All photos: Michael Wilson)

Perhaps I just haven’t been out enough lately, but Thursday evening in Chelsea had the freewheeling, celebratory feel of a new season. After stopping in at Yvon Lambert’s new space for a quick view of the dense Joan Jonas show, Cheim & Read for a glass of wine and a side order of Jonathan Lasker, and a surprisingly hectic Betty Cunningham Gallery for a reminder of Philip Pearlstein’s continuing popularity—at least among the over-seventies—I eventually made my way to my assigned destination, Casey Kaplan Gallery, for the opening of Jonathan Monk’s “Some Kind of Game Between This and That.”

Monk is a Kaplan regular—this is the British artist’s fifth solo appearance—and his comfort level with the space is obvious. Using a wide variety of media, he has presented a broad range of likable, accessible takes on classic Conceptualism, augmented by shades of autobiography and pop-cultural play. Two crowd favorites were The Cheat, 2006–2007, a 16-mm film loop extracted from an old black-and-white comedy, accompanied by random sound from a connected boom box, and Light, 2006–2007, an installation in which a red laser beam hits a photograph of a Stetson-wearing René Magritte at the right spot to light his cigarette.

Dinner afterward was an intimate affair at cozy standby La Luncheonette. I enjoyed chatting with Onestar Press publishers Christophe Boutin and Mélanie Scarciglia about their past and current projects and with gallery manager Chana Budgazad about the time we competed for the same job (she got it). Also in fine form were gallery artist Nathan Carter and his wife Miko McGinty, and a not-very-shy-at-all Douglas Gordon, who performed a curious “Scottish dance” for the edification (or was it to the bafflement?) of those assembled, then drew on the tablecloth (I should’ve made off with that piece), and later rode a Tenth Avenue traffic barrier as if it were a bucking bronco. As the night wound down for most of us, it stayed young for Carter, who led a hard-core coterie of celebrants onward with a barely reassuring “I know where we’re going, but not what the place is.”

Left: Onestar Press's Mélanie Scarciglia, artist Douglas Gordon, and Onestar Press's Christophe Boutin. Right: Artist Nathan Carter.

The following evening, I found my way downtown for the first US performance of British artist Martin Creed’s Variety Show, at the Abrons Arts Center. As I took my second-row seat, I found myself behind inseparable pranksters artist Peter Coffin and gallerist Andrew Kreps, as well as editor and writer Priya Bhatnagar. Those familiar with Creed’s deadpan wit wouldn’t have been surprised by his delight in such deliberately unspectacular “stagecraft” as “bringing down all the things that come down” (lighting rigs, curtains), or by perhaps the least showy use of dry ice ever, or by his punctuation of the action with such helpful Brechtian announcements as “That was the sequence at the start of the show; this is the bit before the middle section.”

In the show’s most overt concession to conventional entertainment, Creed’s band performed a number of songs including—to a distinctly muted reception—“Fuck Off” (the lyrics of which are contained entirely within the title), “Nothing” (ditto), and the delightfully nihilistic “What’s the Point of It?,” which successfully preempted the more skeptical reactions. We were also treated to a string quartet and a couple of videos, including a delightful sequence of a woman throwing up (“Play it again!” shouted an audience member. Creed demurred. “Backward!” came the immediate response). Though characterizing himself as “naturally reticent,” Creed’s spoken interludes were the glue that held the hour-long event together, even, or perhaps especially, when they consisted of pronouncements (punctuated by giggles and halting corrections) such as “You don’t have to clap ’cos we’re gonna do it anyway” and “You can decide, if you want to, to leave now. Although you have been free to leave all along.” Despite the invitation, we waited until curtain to take this most literal of artists at his word.

Michael Wilson

Left: MoMA's Cara Starke with Creative Time's Maureen Sullivan. Right: Douglas Gordon.