Some people believe brown shoes and black pants should not be paired, but Mikhail Baryshnikov is not among them. In fact, Baryshnikov will also throw in striped socks that peek out when he crosses his legs, as he did last Tuesday night during the first of seven shows put on by the Trisha Brown Dance Company at the Joyce Theater, the Art Deco former movie house on Eighth Avenue whose marquee is now lighted mostly with names like Pilobolus and Momix. For the duration of the performance, “Misha,” Brown’s sometime collaborator, sat with crossed legs, his left foot dangling in the aisle between us, and looked enthralled. Then again, few viewers did not look enthralled. “Easy,” dancer Todd McQuade noted afterward. “It was all friends and family.”
“Friends and family” in this case meant Barbara Gladstone (a longtime benefactor of the company), Laurie Simmons, Alex and Ada Katz, Matthew Barney, Elizabeth Peyton, and about five hundred others. The program, which consisted of three works, old and new, began with Foray Foręt, first performed at the 1990 Lyon Dance Biennale. Faint drum rolls segued into the sounds of a full marching band—an homage to Brown’s hometown, Aberdeen, Washington, where “the Thanksgiving football game was always such a thing”—that played, from the lobby, “Korobeiniki” (the Russian folk song better known as the Tetris theme) and “Sweet Dreams” (by Eurythmics). In shiny metallic blouses and culottes designed by Robert Rauschenberg, the dancers cut elegant figures in the air, made gestures at once stiff and fluid, and were halted midleap by one another. The lights were barely up when the conclusions were drawn: “Absolutely strong and absolutely soft at the same time,” “It does have an Asian feel,” “So gorgeous,” “Tantalizing.” And then it was time for the second act: If You Couldn’t See Me, a 1994 number in which one woman dances alone to discordant, synthesized strains under warm-colored lights, her back turned to the audience.
Left: Deborah Harry, promoter Johnny Dynell, and John Reinhold. Right: Collector Jane Holzer with dealer Barbara Gladstone.
The final work, I love my robots, was having its New York premiere. The eponymous characters were two upright poles attached to wooden platforms that zoomed around the stage amid the dancers, pausing here and there. For the last segment, Brown herself entered from stage right and pawed her way along the brick wall in back. She appeared in front of the black scrim that, in a quick lighting change, had cut her momentarily from view, and enacted a playful pas de trois with the robots. She lay down and rested her head on one of their bases. A woman behind me gasped. Soon Brown spoke the only words in the show: “How old are you? I hear my mother calling: Come home and take a nap. See you tomorrow.” And with that, she scampered off to a standing ovation.
The unmarked buses parked across the street did not bring us to New Jersey or the Bronx Zoo, as some riders worried they would, but to the gala at PaceWildenstein’s Twenty-fifth Street branch. It was the type of staid affair where blue-suited gentleman pay however many dollars to mingle with figures like Debbie Harry—who that night had set up shop, her head wrapped in a bandanna, with DJ Johnny Dynell on one of the white cloth couches (think Diane Keaton’s Hamptons home in Something’s Gotta Give) placed before coffee tables topped with champagne buckets. Tables and trays were loaded up with dumplings, tuna sashimi, and lo mein, but Laurie Simmons and Rosalie Benitez, Gladstone Gallery director, were holding out for the miniburgers. Brown, in a shimmering black outfit and a long string of pearls, stood in back entertaining a revolving cast of conversation partners. Matthew Barney, looking shy, hung next to her and finally had his turn. Brown and I talked a bit about the robots (her dance with them constituted the only “freeform” choreography in the show) and about their designer, Kenjiro Okazaki. And then something shifted. “That’s my professor,” Brown said. She locked eyes with a white-haired woman with a cane across the gallery, and the two danced seductively toward each other as I made my exit.
That the Juergen Teller event Thursday night at Lehmann Maupin Gallery was an art opening seemed beside the point. You heard it at Ruth Root’s opening at Andrew Kreps, and at Carrie Mae Weems’s at Jack Shainman: Those who were actually going were going for the promised sausages (served from an authentic cart with a Lufthansa umbrella) and to satisfy morbid curiosity about “the scene.” After all, if you wanted to see the work, you might as well just open up a copy of Vogue. This is not to say the crowd was filled with major fashion players—it was Fashion Week, mind you. “People sent their assistants to check it out,” was one guest’s verdict.
Most of the photographs were placed on tables under glass. (“What is this—a new German thing?” artist Kathe Burkhart wondered, making reference to the similar layout of Wolfgang Tillmans’s recent show at Andrea Rosen Gallery.) Teller’s series of pictures shot in Kiev (commissioned by the Ukrainian pavilion of the 2007 Venice Biennale) was virtually indistinguishable from the other, more “Western” works: those of (and for) Marc Jacobs, Victoria Beckham, Björk with inky linguine spilling from her mouth. There were many (Ukrainian?) breasts, some natural, some enhanced. Of the latter category, one work in particular caught people’s attention. “I like how one nipple points up and the other down,” Artforum’s Rhonda Lieberman said thoughtfully. “It makes it painterly.”
Film crews and photographers elbowed through, followed by young people dutifully jotting in notebooks. At one point, a fresh-faced Patrick McMullan cornered Teller for his “Party Flash” segment on Full Frontal Fashion.
“How many times did you go to the Ukraine?”
And later: “Do you have another country in mind?”
“No, not really. It was just an opportunity.” McMullan quickly made to hold Teller’s drink, as the artist fumbled with his cigarette pack. Teller lit up and inhaled, deep. And so it went until McMullan departed, and Teller began to lose patience with the crowd. He looked straight ahead, as one blonde scribe from W—the magazine whose fashion shoots Teller had taken as inspiration for his portrayal of Ukrainian life—beat around the bush, pen in hand, and then shouted over the din: “Are you going to the Marc Jacobs show tomorrow?” Teller rolled his eyes.
“I don’t know, some people—”
Left: Visionaire's Greg Foley with Michael Stipe. Right: Dealer Rachel Lehmann with artist Do Ho Suh.
That was the last straw. He mumbled something and wandered away, seeming to toss up his arms at the whole affair. It was a peculiar reaction for someone who had invited (the show’s press agent had noted one week prior) Anna Wintour, Mary-Louise Parker, Urs Fischer, Roni Horn, Gisele Bündchen, Helmut Lang, Sofia Coppola, Dennis Freedman, Kim Gordon, and Thurston Moore. An eclectic list, to say the least, but one that guaranteed a certain number of flashbulbs, hangers-on, and tedious interviews. When Michael Stipe hobbled in on crutches—a “go-kart accident,” he said—one visitor slid a photograph of the REM front man from a thick envelope stuffed with celebrity portraits (he had clearly come prepared for the arrival of just about anyone) and handed it over to be signed.
Left: Dealer Andrew Kreps with artist Ruth Root. Right: Leah Morrison in If You Couldn't See Me.
Left: Whitney curator Chrissie Iles. Right: Percussionist Daphnes Sanchez, dancers Judith Ruiz Sanchez and Todd McQuade, and Ted Hengison.
Left: Diane Madden in Foray Foręt. Right: Publisher George Braziller and Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg.
Left: A view of I love my robots (In air: Judith Sanchez Ruiz, Tony Orrico, and Melinda Myers. On floor: Leah Morrison and Todd Lawrence Stone). Right: Artist Rob Pruitt.