Skin Crawl

New York

Left: Collector Dakis Joannou and artist Jeff Koons. Right: New Museum director Lisa Phillips, U2’s The Edge, and collector Peter Brant. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky)

NEW YORK IS A MOST ACCOMMODATING HOST for art people. It has yellow cabs, black cars, chic hotels and dark bars, world-class museums, hundreds of galleries, thousands of artists. As if that weren’t enough, this week it also offers a few art fairs. (Upward of seventeen, by some counts.) Not that anyone needed another trade show to occupy recession-sensitive wallets, but the critical mass of parties, performances, and personalities they brought to town did more to make a native feel as restless as a guest than ever before.

On Monday, as a prequel to festivities to come, artist John Bock treated early birds arriving for the opening of his new show at Anton Kern Gallery to one of his mad lecture-with-sculpture performances, accompanied by an equally mad dance by first-time collaborator Colin Stilwell. There was the inevitable party afterward (at the Bowery Hotel), but that was a minor event compared with basketball star Shaquille O’Neal’s debut as a curator for collector Glenn Fuhrman’s Flag Art Foundation on Tuesday night, when this mountain of a man held court at a reception for the exhibition “Size DOES Matter.” Sure seemed like it.

“I love art,” Shaq told reporters, favoring a bandaged hand that had seen surgery the day before. “Everything I love is art. This cast is art.” So is Shaq, who appears in a life-size portrait made for the show by his favorite artist, Peter Max. “How long did it take to make that painting?” he asked the Pop illustrator. “Oh,” Max said, scratching his head, “about four or five hours, I guess.” Even Shaq looked small next to what he called “the big man,” a sculpture by Ron Mueck, but when photographer Todd Eberle persuaded him to climb onto a chair of Robert Therrien’s enormous dining-room set, he was nothing short of gleeful at finding a piece of furniture that made him feel like a toddler.

Left: New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni with curator Tom Eccles. Right: Curator Shaquille O’Neal.

This was definitely a night for giants. There were several among the artworks chosen by Jeff Koons, making his own curatorial debut that night at the New Museum, where the opening of “Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection” brought a record two thousand guests through the doors (including one hundred Joannou pals who flew in from Athens). This is the show that made the Little Institution That Could into front-page news in the New York Times last November, when the very idea of asking the most prominent artist in the collection of one of its trustees to organize a show loaned by said collector stirred up widespread debate on ethics.

No one at the opening cared a whit which way the winds of cultural politics were blowing, certainly not any of the chosen artists present, who are only too happy to be embraced by one of the art world’s most agreeable patrons. And Koons’s one-hundred-plus-piece take on the collection, which now numbers at least fifteen hundred works, found many admirers for his color-coded, pedal-to-the-metal installation on all four exhibition floors. This being the art world, there were detractors as well. “It looks like a fucking auction house,” said one young artist, who added, “Of course, I’m not in the show.” But the collector whose ego the museum was vigorously massaging was all warmth and smiles. “I’m blown away,” he said, embracing Sue Webster—an artist who is part of the show. And New Museum director Lisa Phillips, guiding the Edge through it, pooh-poohed the whole “non-troversy,” as she put it. “Dakis developed his collection together with artists,” she said. “So it’s only right that the first one should organize this show.”

I thought Koons did a pretty handy job of masking the sterility of this mausoleum-like building. His emphasis was obviously, perhaps predictably, on what he often calls “the biological” (read: sex and death): Maurizio Cattelan’s erect JFK in his casket; Paul McCarthy’s orgiastic tabletop tableau, Paula Jones; Janine Antoni’s crawling rawhide woman, Saddle; and Cypriot artist Haris Epaminonda’s working-vulva video, Nemesis, being just a few examples. Also predictable for someone who blows up balloon dogs to gargantuan proportions, Koons went for gigantism (Terence Koh’s white-chocolate twin towers, Roberto Cuoghi’s twenty-foot-tall winged demon, David Altmejd’s fuzzy take on Michelangelo’s David, and Charles Ray’s statuesque fashionista).

Left: Pawel Althamer’s Schedule of the Crucifix. Right: Artist John Bock with dancer Colin Stilwell.

The genial Koons did have moments of modesty (see Adam Helms’s inked silhouette on Mylar and Christiana Soulou’s penciled costume sketches). “It was all pretty intuitive,” he said of the show. “A lot of the work was black or white, so I put in some color.” The crowd in attendance provided even more. Among the fans lining up to give him congratulatory hugs and handshakes were collectors Jason and Michelle Rubell, Peter Brant, Christie’s Amy Cappellazzo, Sotheby’s Lisa Dennison, and Cyndi Lauper, as well as fellow collectees like Webster and Tim Noble, Urs Fischer, and Andro Wekua, who admitted that he had made a “small adjustment” to the installation of Sneakers 1, one of his two abject works in the show.

Appearing on one of her last nights of social interaction before mumming up for her Museum of Modern Art retrospective next week, Marina Abramovic grew increasingly worried about the health of the actor bound to Pawel Althamer’s Schedule of the Crucifix. The poor loinclothed lad hung from the cross so long his feet and legs turned blue. “You must ask him to get down,” the endurance queen told New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni. “I know better than anyone what that is like, and even I can’t take it!”

Moving down the stairwell between the fourth and third floors, I found the Edge entranced by Nathalie Djurberg’s brilliant video It’s the Mother, which debuted last year at the Venice Biennale. “Who did the music?” he asked no one in particular, hooting at the sight of babies crawling back into the womb. A moment later, a woman tapped the U2 guitarist on the shoulder and asked whether he was Robert something-or-other. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, when he shook his head. “I thought you were someone else, a musician I know.”

Left: Artists Cecily Brown and Elizabeth Peyton. Right: Artists Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili and Andro Wekua.

Just after 9 PM, the crowd started ambling up the street to the party Joannou was throwing for the museum at the Bowery Hotel. No one was expecting dinner, the times having inured many of us to passed-hors-d’oeuvres affairs, but we should have known better. Joannou is nothing if not generous. “There’s quite a big spread inside,” dealer Maureen Paley told me as I lunged, famished, at a tiny cheese tart on a passing tray. “It’s a very good party.”

In fact, it was a fantastic party, much like those Joannou gives at home in Athens. Drinks flowed, tables were laden with pasta, roast vegetables, and sushi rolls, and conversation bubbled over the loud music that eventually would get some of the more hard-core revelers to the dance floor later in the evening. Hundreds of people in town for the Armory Show and the new Independent fair crowded every available space.

Some people were comparing the Koons show to the Whitney Biennial. “That’s like comparing a chandelier to a shoe,” scoffed Biennial curator Francesco Bonami. He didn’t say which was which. At the bar, Webster was drinking cosmopolitans and paying homage to Sex and the City. “I think it’s brilliant,” she said. “My favorite show. It’s inspiring. I mean, I have a man in my life, but I don’t know what I’d do without my girlfriends.”

Left: Studio Museum director Thelma Golden and curator Rochelle Steiner. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Dealer Leo Koenig. (Photo: John Arthur Peetz)

The art world travels in packs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many people as the thousands who attended the Armory Show’s vernissage the next day. “It’s a good fair,” I kept hearing people say. But it turned out all they meant was that it was better than last year’s, which was dismal.

Who was there? “Everyone you would expect,” more than one dealer said. “You know, the Rubells, the De la Cruzes, Mike Ovitz, Sofia Coppola, Beth Rudin DeWoody, and Dakis, of course.” Joannou was among the first to arrive, though he was still at his party when I left it the night before. Perhaps he came straight over.

Personally, I was most impressed by the single-artist presentations: Josephine Meckseper at Elizabeth Dee’s booth, James Nares at Paul Kasmin’s, Adam McEwen at Nicole Klagsbrun, Kris Martin at Sies + Hoke, Nancy Chunn at Ronald Feldman, Tony Feher at PaceWildenstein. Most depressing was the food situation. It may seem as if I care about little else, but no one can spend an entire day negotiating monsoons of people and art without something more than a sixteen-dollar glass of bad champagne.

There were a few sandwiches in the so-called VIP Lounge (a crowded corner of a tented area), but what was more invigorating were the Icelandic artists supporting I8 Gallery. They included the jolly Ragnar Kjartansson and Björk, who was literally wearing a hair suit—a sweater festooned with fake hair. “I got it years ago at a thrift shop,” she said. It was the most unique object I saw all week: anonymous, intimate, and funny. And not for sale.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: David Por Jonsson, Björk, artist Ragnar Kjartansson, and Asdis Sif Gunnarsdottir. Right: Dealer Marc Foxx with artist Maurizio Cattelan.

Left: Dealer Joel Mesler. Right: Artist Marina Abramovic and musician Casey Spooner.

Left: Dealer Nicole Klagsbrun. (Photo: John Arthur Peetz) Right: Michael Stipe and photographer Thomas Dozol. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Curator Nu Nguyen with collector Michael Ovitz. (Photo: John Arthur Peetz) Right: Vita Zaman. (Photo: David Velasco)

Left: Dealer Massimo De Carlo. (Photo: John Arthur Peetz) Right: Dealer David Zwirner and Magasin 3 director David Neuman. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Dealer Iwan Wirth with artist Barry Rosen. (Photo: John Arthur Peetz) Right: New Museum curators Benjamin Godsill and Laura Hoptman. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Dealer Lorcan O’Neill and performance artist Johnnie Moore. Right: Collectors Jason and Michelle Rubell.

Left: Warhol Foundation director Joel Wachs. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Dealers Jessie Washburne-Harris and Michael Lieberman. (Photo: John Arthur Peetz)

Left: Dealer Emmanuel Perrotin. Right: Dealer Tanya Leighton. (Photos: John Arthur Peetz)

Left: Wallspace’s Janine Foeller and Elizabeth Lovero. (Photo: John Arthur Peetz) Right: The Breeder’s Nadia Gerazouni with George Vamvakidis and Stathis Panagoulis. (Photo: David Velasco)

Left: Dealer Victoria Miro. (Photo: John Arthur Peetz) Right: Dealer Nicholas Logsdail. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Artists Tony Oursler and Jacqueline Humphries. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Dealer Rachel Uffner. (Photo: David Velasco)