Mortal Coil

New York

Left: Artist Ross Bleckner with designer Donna Karan. Right: Designer Calvin Klein and Nessia Pope. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

MORTALITY LIVES! That could have been the tabloid headline for several exhibitions that opened in New York last Thursday, when the parallel world of Fashion Week began with the jolting news of designer Alexander McQueen’s suicide by hanging. That night, two enduring fashion figures, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, carried the torch for iconoclasm at a reception for Ross Bleckner at Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue showroom. Bleckner, of course, has been mining the territory mapped by tragic loss and fleeting beauty throughout his career, and his waxy new works––clock faces overlaid by bright floral motifs on canvas and paper––continue in this vein and show him in peak form as he returns to gestural painting from recent harder-edged, airbrushed works.

Life is too short for most of us, heaven knows, touched by grief and elevated by love, if we’re lucky. Loyalty was another lure to Bleckner’s opening. “We’ve been friends since high school!” Bleckner said of Karan, giving the designer a hug while fending off a swarm of his present and former students from Columbia and New York University, as well as arty pals like Chuck Close, Jack Pierson, Tom Sachs, and Lisa Phillips. Alec Baldwin also put in a brief appearance looking none the worse for wear, though the gossip columns that day had reported him hospitalized for supposedly taking an “accidental excess” of sleeping pills.

Left: Artist Banks Violette. Right: Artists Uwe and Gert Tobias.

Death-defiant leaps of faith also underscored the two big installations by Banks Violette at Barbara Gladstone’s pristine Twenty-first Street emporium, where a reign of chaos submitted to the “mild boredom of order,” as Walter Benjamin once put it. An umbrella-like chandelier of fluorescent tubes trailing a tangle of wire tendrils, suggesting a maypole imagined by a hallucinatory Dan Flavin, is reflected here in the shiny black surface of an enormous tiled wall that has crumpled like a wad of paper (actually its starting point), frozen in midcollapse like a petrified lava flow. A triangular piece of the same structure rested against a gallery wall, while a third part, a flying wedge erected high on steel scaffolding anchored by absurdly puny black sandbags, stood opposite.

The whole scene resembled the aftermath of a stadium rock concert disrupted by overzealous fans, and contrasted sharply with the clean, pure lines of the space and the genteel tenor of a crowd that included dealer Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn; curators Richard Flood, Chrissie Iles, and Neville Wakefield; artist Elizabeth Peyton; and Violette’s London dealer Maureen Paley. I wondered how the work would look in the more rough-and-tumble environment of an unconverted garage. “I’d like to see that someday, too,” said Violette, who had barely survived a ruptured appendix only days before.

Meanwhile, across the street at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, ghostly shadows doubled and tripled against the walls of chapel-like, white-cube rooms as guests passed before projected lights chiseled by Olafur Eliasson, who appeared a bit more grizzled than usual and slightly dazed by the commotion around him. Ari Wiseman, newly appointed deputy director of the Guggenheim Foundation, tested the Chelsea gallery waters, while old-hander Bard CCS director Tom Eccles led seasoned collectors Joel and Sherry Mallin though the crowd. Artists Alexis Rockman, Tony Oursler, and Peter Saul huddled together under the less flattering lights of the gallery upstairs. But at least there were no mishaps to threaten anyone’s health and stability here.

Left: Gladstone Gallery director Max Falkenstein with dealer Jeff Poe. Right: Dealer Jose Freire.

In the art world, however, the afterlife is a party, and there was a good one at Blaue Gans in Tribeca, where Gladstone partnered with Violette’s dealer Jose Freire to throw a dinner for both Violette and the hunky Cologne-based twins Gert and Uwe Tobias, who were preeming, to appropriate some Variety-speak, “Come and See Before the Tourists Will Do—The Mystery of Transylvania,” a show of large, posterlike woodcuts at Team. Apparently inspired by horror films, they look oddly like Native American designs for totems crossed with Caligari-style expressionism.

The dinner bubbled with cheer, however, as Violette and his tattooed buddies joined artists Kai Althoff and Wangechi Mutu, collector Beth Swofford, and dealers Jeff Poe and Rodolphe Janssen to chow down and chew fat about, among other things, the insanely funny new YouTube video pitting Adolf Hitler against Jeffrey Deitch in the former’s unsuccessful bid for director at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

Let’s face it: A sense of humor is required during a particularly dark, cold New York winter. Bright color helps, too, so Peter Halley’s blinding new Day-Glo grids at Boone’s Chelsea space on Saturday seemed perfectly timed to the moment. “They look like air-conditioning vents on acid,” observed one spectator of the prisonlike bars of Halley’s paintings, which only emphasized the seasonal pallor of otherwise rosy-cheeked attendees like Haim Steinbach and Laurie Simmons. Moscow dealer (and former New Yorker) Gary Tatintsian hosted the buffet supper for Halle and his betrothed, artist Ann Craven, at his old loft, inhabited now mainly by a compelling group of vintage artworks by Carroll Dunham, Vik Muniz, John Coplans, John Currin, and George Condo, and a scatter of strange furniture too avant-garde to sit on very long. “Is the party ending?” asked young Mark Barrow as the room began to clear for hard-core guests who wanted to dance. “Or is it just beginning?” Metaphorically speaking, the question is as unanswerable, and inescapable, as the chicken-egg conundrum. And like the sociable world of art, just as sure to enjoy a good, long life.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Artist Alexis Rockman, writer Dorothy Spears, artist Tony Oursler, Sally Saul, and artist Peter Saul. Right: Artist Peter Halley.

Left: Guggenheim Foundation deputy director Ari Wiseman. Right: Dealer Maureen Paley with artist Ryan McGinley.

Left: Artist Kai Althoff with collector Beth Swofford. Right: Dealer Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn.

Left: Artists Gwen Thomas and Joan Jonas. Right: Artist Elizabeth Peyton.

Left: Artist Haim Steinbach and Gwen Smith. Right: Artist Olafur Eliasson.

Left: Olympia Scarry with curator Neville Wakefield. Right: Artist Shinique Smith.

Left: Curators Tim Goosens and Pati Hertling. Right: Artists Amy Granat and Fia Backstr÷m.

Left: Ian Basilion with artists Jack Pierson and Brian Meola. Right: Collectors Joel and Sherry Mallin with Bard CCS director Tom Eccles.

Left: Artists David Humphrey and Keith Mayerson. Right: Artists Rochelle Feinstein and Deborah Kass.

Left: Artist Mark Barrow. Right: Artists Jane Kaplowitz and Lauie Simmons.