Imagine my excitement on Wednesday when I stepped inside the Turkish galleries at the Arsenale and saw an LCD sign of the word COMPLAIN in bright orange letters. Then I saw the rest of the work (by Hüseyin Alptekin), another sign hanging above a large installation of small shacks with IKEA-style interior decor, meant to represent restaurant dining in Tblisi. This sign said DON’T.
Actually, I had little to complain about. Despite discovering my luggage missing and Wexner Center director Sherri Geldin filling out her own forms at the lost-baggage window on Tuesday afternoon, I was able to retrieve my wheelie only a few hours (and three hundred dollars in water taxis) later and still get to my first Biennale party while the evening was young. At this soiree—like many other social occasions on the art circuit—a number of attractive and worldly people who have known or slept with one another for years gathered around a bar at the start of a big art week to imbibe prosecco and build up their strength for the even longer nights to come.
Of course, context changes everything. For example, Rachel Lehmann and David Maupin regularly host parties for their artists, but they don’t often do so on a yacht owned by the Missoni family and anchored in the Venetian lagoon opposite the Piazza San Marco. And the guest of honor—in this case, Tracey Emin—is not usually sleeping it off below, while a flotilla of the fabulous, led by photographers Mario Testino and Juergen Teller, dealers Sadie Coles and Angela Westwater, artists Guillermo Kuitca and Hernan Bas, curator Neville Wakefield, and many a marvelous Missoni help themselves to champagne and calamari.
Left: Rosita Missoni. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Naomi Campbell with members of the Brazilian art collective Morrinho. (Photo: Ryan McNamara)
“It’s my party,” Emin announced, when at last she appeared on deck wearing hot pants, platform heels, and a low-cut black top. “I thought I ought to mention that.” In fact, Emin seemed to have more lunches, cocktails, and dinners in her honor than any other Biennale artist, including the very social Francesco Vezzoli, corepresenting Italy (with Giuseppe Penone) in the country’s first appearance at the Biennale in umpteen years. It was his new video, Democrazy, that brought Sharon Stone to Venice, so she could pal around with part-time Venetian Elton John, who was supposedly performing on Saturday night.
I didn’t see either John or Stone at the official Italian-pavilion opening on Wednesday night, where Sotheby’s Tobias Meyer, curator Francesco Bonami, New Museum director Lisa Phillips, and her board member Stephanie French kept one another company before dinner within. At Vezzoli’s table, where he was the only man, I saw that Geldin had replaced some of her wardrobe by buying a black Prada sheath—only to be seated next to Miuccia Prada herself. I would have been riveted by this coincidence, but Jeanne Moreau, on Vezzoli’s right, was a seductive distraction, even at seventy-nine. Vezzoli was repeatedly called away by curator Ida Gianelli or some state official. “I have gone from being perceived as Jerry Zipkin to being Noam Chomsky,” he said, in reference to stories about his work in several major European magazines, which raised preshow jitters and transformed him from walker to scourge.
For his part, Penone had cast the walls of one gallery in ruffled leather and covered the floor in rippled marble. The installation, which parked two enormous, gold-studded, cast-leather “fallen” tree trunks beside a circular screening room where Vezzoli’s fake election-campaign videos were playing, was really stunning. As Vezzoli observed, “It’s arte povera becoming baroque, and glamour becoming political.” Even though I hadn’t seen much of the Biennale yet, I didn’t see how things could get much better. Then I heard that a dinner for the Adelina von Furstenberg–curated Joseph Kosuth installation at the Mekhitarian Monastery on the island of San Lazzarro degli Armeni was even more spectacular. What’s more, Kosuth’s guests were each given what must have been the goodie of the week: a glass tumbler finely etched with the word for water in different languages (the essence of the artwork on view).
Left: Artist Thomas Demand, 303 Gallery's Mari Spirito, and curator Francesco Bonami. Right: Yvonne Force Villareal. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)
I knew about this because I was brought to the terrace lounge at the Hotel Bauer after dinner, and people stopped talking about the price of art long enough to show off their newly acquired glasses to us have-nots. (I’m not complaining.) Matthew Barney, dealer Shaun Caley Regen, artist Rachel Harrison, Frieze founder Amanda Sharp—and what seemed to be every other native English speaker in Venice—made the scene, as they would every night that week. What else is there to do when thousands of people wanting an experience of art descend on a small town? Look at Titians and Tintorettos?
By Thursday, however, it was getting to be time to see some art, particularly the Giardini’s national pavilions. But first I had to stop into the Palazzo Grassi for a look at Alison Gingeras’s “Sequence I” installation of François Pinault’s vast collection. Gingeras, who had her work cut out for her, made the most of it with Mike Kelley, Martial Raysse, Urs Fischer, and Franz West. And Rudolf Stingel’s carpets have never looked better.
Detouring for a rainy-day lunch at Cipriani hosted by Yvon Lambert Gallery, followed by drinks at the Florian with dealer Curt Marcus, Warhol Foundation stalwart Vincent Fremont, and his wife, Shelly, and a brief repast at the raucous Madonna restaurant (where I found Jeffrey Deitch heading up a table with Kristin Baker and the Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears), I charged off to find the buffet for Felix Gonzalez-Torres at Palazzo Pisani Moretta. Naturally, he was not expected to attend, but eight hundred other people were. A word of caution: No one in Venice ever gives an address, just the vicinity and, if you are lucky, the name of a vaporetto stop. In other words, I got lost—not a bad thing in Venice. Trudging with my companion back to my hotel, grumpy and discouraged, we happened on the city’s “real” nightlife, in the piazzas and colonnades near the Rialto bridge, where a thousand young people were hanging out in the dark, as they have for centuries, murmuring and shouting and drinking and embracing. When in Venice, do as the Venetians do: Make love, not dinner.
By chance, I would find myself in that very same place on Friday, where Christie’s Amy Cappellazzo had organized a lunch and a trip to see the Beuys-Barney show at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection with collectors Andrew Schiff and his wife, Karenna Gore Schiff. Though her father, Al Gore, might be many people’s favorite for 2008, politics didn’t come up in conversation—nor did art. Talk here mostly involved child rearing, though I did get a word in about an installation of futuristic new bullet-shaped fiberglass furniture by Zaha Hadid that I had seen in a church that morning with London collector Pauline Skarpitas. “Zaha,” I had said to the architect, “it’s fabulous.” She glowered at me. “Of course it is,” she replied.
Clearly, the week was building to a fever pitch. Friday night, my last in Venice, took me from Marina Abramovic’s surprise birthday party for artist Paolo Canevari on the vanilla WPS1 barge (where the primary language was high Teutonic Italo-Franglais; it felt like the trashy-flashy party scene in any 1960s James Bond movie), to the totally entropic Fantastic Man party in the garden of the Guggenheim. At the same time, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, François Pinault hosted a dinner for six hundred guests, a mix of art-world luminaries and real-world celebs—from Naomi Campbell and fashion legend Azzadine Alaia to Salma Hayek and the former empress of Iran—in two enormous colonnaded courtyards at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, itself a short taxi ride away from the hugely vapid (and very fun) L’Uomo Vogue party (for its special art issue) at Palazzo Grassi, where bouncers cold-shouldered Andre Balasz and which was so reminiscent of Studio 54 that I forgot, for a moment, what year it was.
After that, the Hotel Bauer terrace seemed a refreshing idea, but the place was so jammed with Euros rubbing shoulders with the likes of New York artists Aaron Young, Hope Atherton, and Richard Prince and dealers Tim Blum and Lorcan O’Neill that the management stopped serving drinks on the terrace, forcing everyone into the lobby. There I stumbled into dapper Paul Simonon, the bass player for the Clash. I wondered whether he had come to Venice as a collector. “Painter,” he said, with a gap-toothed grin. “And collector. I am the world’s biggest collector of my own work.”
Left: New Museum director Lisa Phillips. (Photo: Ryan McNamara) Right: Art consultant Mark Fletcher with Sotheby's Tobias Meyer. (Photo: David Velasco)
Left: Bill Powers and designer Cynthia Rowley. (Photo: Ryan McNamara) Right: Artist Angelo Filomeno. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)
Left: LACMA director Michael Govan with artist Katherine Ross. (Photo: Ryan McNamara) Right: Guggenheim Foundation director Thomas Krens. (Photo: David Velasco)
Left: Guggenheim Museum director Lisa Dennison. Right: Dealer Barbara Gladstone with artists Elizabeth Peyton and Tony Just. (Photos: David Velasco)
Left: Artist Valie Export. (Photo: Ryan McNamara) Right: Dealer Paula Cooper. (Photo: David Velasco)
Left: New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni and Ludovica Barbieri. Right: Creative Time director Anne Pasternak. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)
Left: Artist Wolfgang Tillmans. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Glenn O'Brien DJs at the Joseph Kosuth party. (Photo: Ryan McNamara)
Left: Artist Daniel Buren. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. (Photo: David Velasco)
Left: MoMA's Tim Goossens. (Photo: Ryan McNamara) Right: Artist Sandra Hamburg. (Photo: David Velasco)
Left: Dealer Anne de Villepoix. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Artist John Gerrard with Yoon Lee of Spike Magazine, Berlin. (Photo: Ryan McNamara)