Burrs and the Bees

New York

Left: Artist Agathe Snow. Right: SculptureCenter executive director Mary Ceruti with artist Tom Burr. (All photos: David Velasco)

The chatter at the opening, on Sunday, of Tom Burr’s exhibition “Addict-Love” at the SculptureCenter in Queens concerned in part the three f’s of international art tourism—flights, fairs, and fatigue. Burr’s London dealer, Stuart Shave, for instance, shared with the group his smart new travel tactic: limiting trips to two days and never getting off UK time. Others predicted that Art LA 2008, which opens next week, would soon rival Art Basel Miami Beach. But while the list of talking points for the event may have been standard, there was one late addition, which visitors tossed around with particular fervor: art-world porn.

The tattle had reached just about everyone. Next weekend, Lawrence Weiner would be shooting an update to his 1976 art-world skin flick, using as a set Burr’s other current New York show, a double-feature with photographer Walter Pfeiffer at the Swiss Institute. Speculation ran wild. Who would participate? Was casting closed? How did one “audition”? Details had yet to be established. In the meantime, I found myself viewing the Long Island City exhibition through “blue”-tinted glasses. Burr’s black hinged-plywood constructions looked like reclining figures or some form of s/m chaise longue; his platforms, with their velvet curtains and red spotlights, like strippers' booths; the normally puritanical colonial balustrades like warm-up bars; the straitjackets like—er, you get the idea. The sprawl of sculptural vignettes, all of which relate to three figures who championed “the modern” of their respective times—Weimar composer Kurt Weill, early- to mid-century Wadsworth Atheneum director Chick Austin, and the New York School’s Frank O’Hara (a poem of whose lends the show its title)—looked, well, sexy.

Left: Dealer Stefania Bortolami, Galerie Neu's Alexander Schroeder, and Modern Art's Stuart Shave. Right: Artist Fia Backström with Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer.

According to New York dealer Stefania Bortolami, it also looked “theatrical.” Such a vibe was aided, in large part, by Burr himself, who stood center stage joking with friends, charming visitors, letting out a hearty laugh when one visitor knocked over the chair featured in one of his works. Clad in a sharp jacket and a long scarf, the artist was not unlike a contemporary version of the suave guy appealed to by the vintage Esquire ads, Architectural Digest spreads, and modernist design objects that populate his works, all of which point to a cinematic notion of the American gentleman: tumbler in hand, one foot in Connecticut.

In any case, for many New Yorkers, a trek to Long Island City seems just that, so the big turnout was a welcome surprise, making as it did for a festive occasion and for reunions all around. “Hell-o-o-o-o-o-o,” Mary Ceruti, SculptureCenter director, piped to Liz Mulholland, Andrew Kreps Gallery director. “So good to see you,” artists Angelo Plessas and Andreas Angelidakis, in from Athens, said to a friend. Artists Rachel Harrison, Robert Beck, and Peter Coffin were out and about, as was Whitney Biennial 2008 cocurator Shamim Momin. Nick Mauss, who also shows with Galerie Neu, Burr’s Berlin gallery, noted that the white rubber flooring in one work was the same material that Chick Austin had throughout his house.

Left: Collectors Howard and Barbara Morse. Right: Artists Amy Granat and Stefan Tcherepnin.

Other voices, other rooms. The group show downstairs seemed good enough in that derelict Lower East Side way, an impression enhanced by its dank, claustrophobic environs. Agathe Snow’s contribution—a corridor hung with kitschy wreaths, beginning with an entryway of running vacuum cleaners—seemed popular. Tickling my fancy was Drew Heitzler’s Night Tide (for Sailors, Mermaids, Mystics), 2007—a re-edit of the titular 1961 noir film, in which a young Dennis Hopper plays a sailor, on leave in Venice, California, who falls in love with a sideshow performer, Mora the Mermaid.

An informal dinner followed at local Italian joint Manducatis, but it wasn’t until the after-party at LIC Bar, where I spotted Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer, that I was able to follow up on the porn rumors. My first question: Just how open were the open casting calls? Jetzer smiled slyly: “We are casting for every type of scene: men-men, women-women, men-women . . .” Would he himself be participating? Outlook not so good. But he did joke that some situations, if entered into for “professional reasons,” might not be as sticky as they seem. Letting my mind wander, I found myself sharing the sentiments expressed at dinner by Burr when, as we tried to imagine just what the action would entail—would the players interact either on or with the sculptures?—a look of mock horror shot across his face: “That’s untreated wood!”

Left: Artist Mai-Thu Perret and Elizabeth Valdez. Right: Artists Andreas Angelidakis and Angelo Plessas.

Kyle Bentley