Black Thursday


Left: Artist Jutta Koether. Right: Palais de Tokyo director Marc-Olivier Wahler with artist Olivier Mosset. (All photos: Nicolas Trembley)

The invitation to Thursday’s opening of “La Marque Noire” (The Black Mark), Steven Parrino’s “Retrospective, Prospective” at the Palais de Tokyo, prominently featured a black anarchy sign, suggesting the possibility of a riotous occasion. But the festivities for the event, a “postmortem” for the artist that utilizes every square inch of the institution’s exhibition space, started out more calm than subversive.

A partial continuation of last year’s retrospective at MAMCO in Geneva, organized by Swiss curator Fabrice Stroun, the show foregrounds Parrino’s large black paintings. Here in Paris, the exhibition was curated in collaboration with Palais director Marc-Olivier Wahler. The market for Parrino’s work, already on the up following his tragic death in a motorcycle accident early New Year’s Day 2005, will no doubt continue to soar after this massive survey. Indeed, speculators were weighing heavily the new record price for the artist’s Silver Surfer, 1986, which sold this month for $390,000—more than six times its high estimate—at Phillips de Pury in New York. Also on the scale is the Parrino estate’s recent gallery switch—from Team to . . . Gagosian?

The exhibition was designed as a triptych; within it is a section titled “Bastard Creature,” a continuation of exhibitions originally conceived and curated by Parrino himself. Many of the old friends and artists included—Amy Granat, Maï-Thu Perret, Elizabeth Valdez, and, of course, Blair Thurman—made the trip to Paris, as did gallerist Hubert Bächler.

Left: Artist Elaine Sturtevant and choreographer Trisha Brown. Right: Artist Amy Granat.

Olivier Mosset also put together a “historical” survey titled “Before (Plus ou Moins).” There one can find masterpieces normally considered more Pompidou than Palais, such as works by Warhol, Judd, and Smithson, as well as a Stella on loan from the Beaubourg museum and a series of Stella-inspired Black Paintings by Sturtevant. I escorted Sturtevant to see Metalist Moment, a performance at the opening by Jutta Koether, Parrino’s collaborator in the antipop band Electrophilia. The happening included large projected stills of Parrino and Koether’s installations from the last Whitney Biennial accompanied by texts and by music played very loudly on a small keyboard.

The preview was “private” between 6 PM and 8 PM; wristbands entitled us to a plastic-wrapped sandwich (offhandedly dismissed by critic Mathieu Copeland, who said that such fare would never be tolerated in London), as well as to a drink on the first floor. At 8 PM sharp, the Palais opened its doors to swarms of people, most of whom were twenty if they were a day.

It was time for our meal. I made my way through the Palais’s Tokyo Eat restaurant with Sturtevant, aiming for our table in the back. My esteemed company allowed me to appreciate what it means to be a star. Sturtevant was stopped every ten feet by someone who just had to express their admiration; some recited their theories about her work, while others wanted to be photographed with her. Even Trisha Brown, arriving straight from the opera, raced over to tell us how happy she was to see her again. “An old friend from the Rauschenberg days,” Sturtevant told me.

Left: Curator Fabrice Stroun. Right: Artists Maï-Thu Perret and John Armleder.

The meal was enjoyable, marked by easy familiarity and easy drinking. We were joined by Xavier Douroux from the Dijon consortium, one of the few French institutions to have previously exhibited Parrino’s work; the artist Gianni Motti; and also Sarina Basta, curator of SculptureCenter. (She took over for Anthony Huberman, now curator of the Palais.)

Later, the esplanade swelled with crowds bobbing to the Ramones. The atmosphere quickly fulfilled its anarchic promise, when critic Vincent Pécoil and myself were ambushed by a drunken hoodlum yelling, “Dirty faggots, dirty faggots!” (Obviously not an art lover.). Thankfully, artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar intervened with a few stern words. (Thanks again, Lili!) Feeling less than at home, we escaped to the more sophisticated disorder of Le Baron, where those who love art and faggots can party with abandon.

Nicolas Trembley

Left: Artist Gianni Motti. Right: SculptureCenter curator Sarina Basta.

Left: Art critic Mathieu Copeland. Right: Writer Heidi Fichtner and artist Christoph Keller at Le Baron.

Left: Artist Elizabeth Valdez. Right: Artist Blair Thurman.