Bomb Squad

New York

Left: Rodney Graham in performance. (Photo: Amy C. Elliott) Right: Mikhail Baryshnikov. (Photo: Chance Yeh/Patrick McMullan)

“It’s benefit season again,” sighed one guest as we hunted for our place cards at Bomb magazine’s gala last Friday. Indeed, said season comes with its own brand of subjects, ranging from the predictable—“My friend just bought a new country house on the North Fork”—to the positively absurd, like the tidbit about the guy who trained his dog to growl every time it hears the words “Mark Morris.” The Morris comment wasn’t a total non sequitur: The venerable choreographer had been enlisted to toast his celebrated colleague, Mikhail Baryshnikov, one of the evening’s three honorees. The other two were painter Mary Heilmann and Wooster Group director Elizabeth LeCompte.

Banquet-style tables had been installed in the Bowery Hotel for the occasion. Pink petals abounded. Beneath a heated tent erected over the balcony, early birds surveyed wares at the silent auction: a moody Peter Doig painting starting at $12,500, as well as a much-discussed Joel Shapiro print. Other goodies included Adam Helms’s ink-on-mylar drawing, with its talismanic figures, and a well-composed, enigmatic lithograph by Mamma Andersson.

“I can’t play my standards,” said downtown music maven Marc Ribot, the gala’s DJ. He watched a nearby game of pool while a ’50s jazz number played over the loudspeakers. “Even I wouldn’t want to listen to myself play John Zorn all night,” he explained, adding that his musical inclinations were more suited to “a ’60s whorehouse.” Was he still talking about Zorn?

Left: Artists Marilyn Minter and Mary Heilmann, dealer Tim Nye, and Bomb editor in chief Betsy Sussler. (Photo: Dawn Chan) Right: Choreographer Mark Morris. (Photo: Chance Yeh/Patrick McMullan)

The evening’s joke toasts did their best to live up to our current era’s confessional milieu. Morris’s speech, for instance, opened thus: “Even before Mikhail and I became homosexual lovers, I was familiar with his work.” Minter, saluting Heilmann, remembered those good old days when Heilmann was a surfer and a “smoking babe.” Added Minter: “We were homosexual lovers as well.” Not to be left out, LeCompte followed Casey Spooner’s own toast with the claim: “Casey and I are getting married.”

Over dinner, I discussed some of the more interesting interpretations of Bomb’s name with one of the magazine’s founders, artist Michael McClard, while buyers hurried back to the auction to make their final bids. Dealer faced dean when Anthony Grant and Robert Storr battled over a Nancy Dwyer text piece. Others seemed less enthusiastic: Under another piece, one collector had scratched their name out and scribbled MISTAKE: BUYER’S REMORSE. But regrets and second thoughts aside, everyone went home seemingly heartened by the evening.

Friday’s gala may have been a bit tonier, but Saturday’s Rodney Graham concert certainly didn’t lack production value. Held at the Abrams Art Center, the show, sponsored by nonprofit production organization Public Art Fund, promised the artist-musician’s psych-rock songs and an “amazing Rotary Psycho-Opticon.”

Left: Curator Robert Storr. Right: Ellen LeCompte, director Charlie Ahearn, and Wooster Group director Elizabeth LeCompte. (Photos: Dawn Chan)

Lois, the opening act, got the night off to a rocky start, making a case for the irrelevance of singer-songwriters with acoustic guitars. I was relieved when the curtain rose, revealing, for all to behold, the mysterious Psycho-Opticon: an Op-art backdrop with five circular holes cut to form an imaginary pentagon. Behind the holes whirled a second layer of psychedelia—a pinwheel of stars and stripes.

Much has been made of music-lyric alchemy, that mysterious whole bigger than the sum of its parts. Graham’s got it figured out, that’s for sure: When singing “Just how low / Does your love meter go?” his melody stays unexpectedly high, then takes a last-minute woebegone dip. But it was actually his lyric–Psycho-Opticon pairing that did the most magic. Graham’s doleful quips complemented the contraption’s relentless, mind-melting effects; a terrific tone—wry and dogged—emerged from the mix.

Those who got a behind-the-scenes glimpse postshow discovered that the multistoried whirling backdrop was powered by one Sam Hyatt, “a friend of an intern” who had been instructed to pedal as she felt inspired. As I headed out of the theater for Triple Canopy magazine’s launch party in Brooklyn, I bumped into critics Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith. Saltz was making his way backstage—he said he wanted to try powering the Psycho-Opticon bike himself. After all, who says the critic no longer drives contemporary art?

Dawn Chan

Left: The Rodney Graham Band. (Photo: Amy C. Elliott) Right: Critics Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz. (Photo: Dawn Chan)

Left: Dealers Anthony Grant and David Nolan with artist Eva Bai. (Photo: Dawn Chan) Right: Musician Casey Spooner. (Photo: Chance Yeh/Patrick McMullan)

Left: Artist David Salle. Right: Marian Goodman Gallery's Andrew Richards and artist Gabriel Orozco. (Photos: Dawn Chan)

Left: Musician Marc Ribot. Right: Decorator Ricky Clifton and artist Michael McClard. (Photos: Dawn Chan)

Left: Performa director RoseLee Goldberg with publisher Joost Elffers. Right: Artist Eric Fischl. (Photos: Dawn Chan)

Left: Dealer Carolyn Alexander. Right: Art historian Giuliana Bruno with producer Andrew Fierberg. (Photos: Dawn Chan)