Net Benefit

New York

Left: Artist Michael Portnoy, New Museum director Lisa Phillips, and Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer. Right: Artist Michael Bell-Smith and director Lauren Cornell. (Unless noted, all photos: David Velasco)

Am I the only one disconcerted by the decor at Chelsea megaclub Hiro Ballroom? Any flat surface that isn’t wood-paneled is embellished with either kanji characters or questionable pseudoerotic tableaux. Otherwise, it’s a lovely space, and, the New Museum’s new-media affiliate, which curates both real-world and virtual art exhibitions, made the most of the intimate lighting and cozy booths for its benefit on Monday evening. Organized by director Lauren Cornell, the event featured three bands with legs in the art world—Gang Gang Dance, Professor Murder, and YACHT—and multimedia artist Cory Arcangel as MC.

VIPs received a pair of chopsticks from the desk and a welcome from Cornell, who was surprisingly warm and equanimous given that an Artforum staffer (who will remain unnamed) had rear-ended her boyfriend’s rental car the day before. We ascended to the mezzanine, where attendees—mostly thirty- and fortysomething friends of the New Museum—adopted the hunched posture characteristic of people eating noodles from take-out boxes. “Oddly enough, I’m nervous,” said Arcangel, who sat in a corner next to curator Hanne Mugaas. He was preparing for his stage duties by hastily reading a printout of Wikipedia’s entry on “Master of Ceremonies.” “I wouldn’t be nervous if I could take a computer up there with me,” he added, shoring up his geek-chic status. As Arcangel climbed up on stage and introduced the evening, the slightly richer guests bought drinks from the bar (it was decidedly a fund-raiser) and the slightly richest took part in the silent auction. Artist Leo Villareal bid frequently and enthusiastically on Rick Silva’s Recap, but lost out in the final hour to philanthropist and Eyebeam founder John Johnson. One quirky inclusion on the block was a Conceptual piece by artist Lee Walton, who promised to dedicate each of a future golf game’s eighteen holes to corresponding high bidders. “I love the idea of being pressured to land a hole in one for a collector,” explained Walton.

From stage, YACHT—Jona Bechtolt’s one-man band—chanted, “If you say it out loud, you can make it happen!” The flashing, fluorescent video screen that served as backdrop to his set drew a comment from curator Nick Hallett: “I have friends who call this ‘seizure art.’ They wouldn’t be caught dead at this. They’re ‘upstanding’—you know, book deals and the like.”

Left: Curator Hanne Mugaas and artist Cory Arcangel. Right: Gang Gang Dance's Lizzi Bougatsos. (Photo: Dawn Chan)

Next to take the stage was Professor Murder, fronted by Foxy Production video artist Michael Bell-Smith, whose set was driven by the taiko-drumming-on-speed sound that has recently characterized so many of the best Brooklyn bands. While they rocked out, I exchanged hellos with Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky, who found a way (in thirty seconds!) to weave together the words “Karl Marx,” “Angola,” “Venice Biennale,” “Chinese community,” and, if I indeed heard correctly, “era of the documentary.”

Brian DeGraw, Gang Gang Dance’s synth player, had predicted backstage, “None of our fans will be here. It’s the $35 ticket.” But that wasn’t the only reason they seemed subdued; drummer Tim DeWit explained, “We’ve also been recording for days at our studio. I didn’t get any sleep last night.” Still, the four-piece group put on an energetic show, layering their signature reverb and effects over inexorable sixteenth-note-based drumming. They enthralled an audience that ranged from Cameron Bird, the frontman of Architecture in Helsinki (an Australian indie-pop band), to Craig Konyk, an actual architect. Now and then, frontwoman Lizzi Bougatsos would punctuate her wordless ululations with a coltish kick of her heel, and everyone’s hearts would melt.

Just as Bougatsos and DeGraw (both currently exhibiting work at the Swiss Institute) have no compunctions about crossing disciplines, neither does celebrated artist-of-all-trades Brian O’Doherty, whose alter ego Patrick Ireland has been a regular feature of his art since he adopted the persona in 1972. That same evening, O’Doherty presided over the opening of his retrospective at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery. He spoke about his novel in progress: “It’s called Cross-Dresser’s Secret and is about an extraordinary man who lived half his life as a woman.” And when will it be published? “Give me a couple more years.”

Left: Critic and curator Rachel Greene, Whitney curator Shamim Momin, and artist Sue De Beer. Right: Artist Leo Villareal with founder Mark Tribe.

While MoMA’s John Elderfield chatted with dealer Frederieke Taylor, Carlo McCormick turned up, revisiting the site of “The Downtown Show,” the nostalgic blockbuster he curated last year. Surveying the graying guests scattered among the crowd, I wondered if his ruefully humorous comment—“Well, we all left ‘The Downtown Show’ alive”—was meant to sound as portentous as it did. Though O’Doherty said it felt like he’d made all the work on display in “a long afternoon,” the show, spanning sixty-two years and five of his personae, offered a broad overview of his playful but erudite art. The show is titled “Beyond the White Cube,” but it was striking that, as with Rhizome’s experimental benefit, neither event ventured much beyond its respective white-cube-laden neighborhood. The Rhizome event fell just a couple blocks short of Chelsea’s gallery district, while the veterans celebrating with O’Doherty were within spitting distance of the East Village of yore. It was almost as if, after all the discipline-crossing, no one wanted to stray too far from those very galleries they’d finally managed to escape.

Dawn Chan

Left: Critic and curator Carlo McCormick. Right: Grey Art Gallery director Lynn Gumpert with artist Brian O'Doherty/Patrick Ireland. (Photos: Dawn Chan)

Left: Artist Doug Wada, Bellwether Gallery's Becky Smith, and dealer Elizabeth Dee. Right: Foxy Production's John Thomson.

Left: Postmasters Gallery co-owner Magdalena Sawon, New Museum curator Laura Hoptman, and Postmasters Gallery co-owner Tamas Banovich. Right: editor and curator Marisa Olson with Professor Murder's Jesse Cohen.

Left: Curator Nick Hallett with Lauren Cornell. Right: YACHT's Jona Bechtolt.

Left: Artist Lisa Kirk with Lia Gangitano, director of Participant, Inc. Right: Eyebeam founder John Johnson.

Left: Dealer Pascal Spengemann with Foxy Production's Chelsea Goodchild. Right: Artist Megan Marrin with Spencer Brownstone's Meredith Darrow.