Deep in the Shallows

New York

Left: Artist Rachel Feinstein. Right: Artist George Condo and Kanye West. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

LAST TUESDAY NIGHT, after three disgruntling years in its grim white tower on the Bowery, the New Museum finally came up with a winner: “George Condo: Mental States.” Gone were the ragged installations and pallid provocations of its recent past. Gone was the fluorescent morgue lighting and repellent white cube. Here was warmth and splendor, gentility and genius—and unbridled pleasure in (gasp!) painting.

The once forbidding south wall of the fourth floor, now a velvety gray, supported fifty variously sized examples of Condo’s scabrous Pop-Surrealist twists on old-master and modern figuration. They looked magnificent in their salon-style hanging under soft, warming spotlights. And the attending crowd had just enough stardust to give the opening a fleeting boost on the blogosphere’s fickle celebrity meter.

Kanye West probably had to show, following his collaboration with Condo on the cover of his new album. Sporting gold chains, gold rings, and gold teeth, the rapper looked made to order for the paparazzi when he posed with Condo before a display of the artist’s golden bronze busts. “Gold is good!” West avowed, before walking through the show with his entourage, while Marc Jacobs, Mary-Kate Olsen, and Adam Kimmel had to parse it out on their own.

Left: Artist Julian Schnabel. Right: Dealer Tony Shafrazi with artist Malcolm Morley.

But none of them turned as many heads as the elderly gentleman in a pin-striped suit and fedora picking his way across the room on the arm of Tony Shafrazi. “Who is that man in the hat?” asked Gavin Brown. Massimiliano Gioni wondered the same, as did several others. “That’s Malcolm Morley,” I said. “Oh wow, Malcolm Morley!” was the awed response each time. Clearly enjoying the ruckus he was raising, Morley let himself be surrounded by admirers, while Condo received guests beside his longtime German dealers Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers. “We had our first show with George in 1984,” said a beaming Sprüth. Nowhere to be seen were Lawrence Luhring and Roland Augustine, who had been Condo’s American dealers before he signed up with Per Skarstedt last year.

I asked Condo whether it had been his idea to repudiate the tired white cube, whose eradication from contemporary art cannot come soon enough. “That was completely Ralph Rugoff,” he said. (Rugoff organized the show for the Hayward Gallery, where “Mental States” will open during Frieze week next fall.) “It’s worked out well,” agreed Laura Hoptman, who brought the show to the New Museum, her last before her recent return to MoMA.

The Julian Schnabel family, including one ex-wife, one girlfriend, and at least three grown children, fanned across the room as if to conquer it. John Currin arrived absent his wife, Rachel Feinstein, who was, he said, at Lever House in her hazmat suit installing The Snow Queen, a massive exhibition of baroque statuary, larger-than-life wooden soldiers, and painted mirrors that attracted much of the Condo cohort, including Condo, to its opening a mere forty-eight hours later, on Thursday night.

Left: Lorenzo Martone and Marc Jacobs. Right: Artist John Currin.

At the Lever House opening, there were the Schnabels again (minus Julian); there was Jacobs with his “good friend” and ex, Lorenzo Martone; there were Calvin Tomkins and Dodie Kazanjian, whose flattering profiles of Condo and Feinstein (in the New Yorker and Vogue, respectively) gave them a certain claim to face time with the artists.

And there were plenty of others from the Currin-Feinstein firmament to populate the scene: Sean and Michelle Landers; Lisa Yuskavage and Matvey Levenstein; Sarah Morris and Liam Gillick; Tony Oursler and Jacqueline Humphries; Sarah Sze and her doctor-author husband, Siddhartha Mukherjee. From the film world came Sofia Coppola and Bob Shaye. Feinstein’s parents and sister easily moved among them all, hobnobbing with Aby Rosen and Samantha Boardman; Lever House curator Richard Marshall; and novelist Francine Prose, whose book Goldengrove Coppola is adapting for the screen. Feinstein cleverly balanced her duties as a mother with her obligations to her art by making one resin maid with two of her three children. “Francis and Holly made the birds,” Currin said proudly of the pigeons on the figure’s colorful head.

Rosen, who owns Lever House, now also owns every piece in the show with Tico Mugrabi. The exhibition’s emphasis on decor radically departs from previous lobby fare served up by the likes of Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, and Tom Sachs. “We like different!” Rosen said, before leading the way to the casual, finger-food dinner next door at the Warhol-bedecked Casa Lever.

The fairy-tale character of the evening contrasted sharply with the eeriness of the Pierre Huyghe show that opened on Friday at Marian Goodman. A feature-length film, The Host and the Cloud, made in part in a deserted Parisian folk art museum, mystified many of those watching at one end of the darkened gallery. Staff members whose heads the artist outfitted with lighting fixtures illuminated the path to the other end, where small and utterly transfixing sea creatures slowly moved through the rocky regions of three aquariums, each of which Huyghe had given a different monochrome palette—terra-cotta pink, cobalt blue, dusty gray—and a different set of otherworldly organisms that had never seen either the light of day or dry land.

Left: Filmmakers Rainer Judd and Sofia Coppola. Right: Dealer Marian Goodman with art historian Linda Nochlin.

In the blue tank, what appeared to be heavy rocks floated improbably on the surface of the water while tiny luminescent fish huddled in tight formation below. A reddish slug with a long tail and a tiny head oozed up the side of the terra-cotta tank. Most hypnotizing was the gray tank, where a spiky black weirdo climbed up one spongelike rock as a feathery white creature with no discernible body flailed at the bottom and two other indescribables tangled in the back. “What am I looking at?” I asked Huyghe. “It’s a performance,” he said. “Last year performance art was everywhere. This is my contribution to the genre.”

The surreality of the evening continued downtown at the deliberately tacky Westway, a former strip club on the West Side Highway that Matt Kliegman and Carlos Quirarte—proprietors of insiders’ NoHo boîte the Smile—are turning into . . . a strip club, but for hipsters of both sexes. Ten- and twenty-foot poles for dancers (not present) begged for action while inexperienced staff offered cold crab cakes and skewered chicken to guests including artist Steve McQueen, Whitney Museum chief curator Donna De Salvo, MoMA film department curator Josh Siegel, critic Dennis Lim, and Participant’s founder Lia Gangitano. She was with a young man who had just nailed a job as a stripper and was eager to start training on the poles.

This was a far cry from the old-school ambiance of the three-person show opening Saturday night at Sikkema Jenkins. Andrea Blum held court in the project room, where fellow artists such as David Humphrey, Kelley Walker, Wade Guyton, Allan McCollum, Rochelle Feinstein, and Seton Smith were studying a variety of computer-generated images derived from Blum’s “rainbow house,” a hilltop cabin with tinted windows that she has designed for a pair of Italian collectors. “I was thinking what it might be like to look at life from the inside of a rainbow,” she said. In today’s art world, it seems, there is no other way.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Curator Cecilia Alemani, artist Aďda Ruilova, and New Museum associate director Massimiliano Gioni. Right: Artist Pierre Huyghe.

Left: Mrs. Feinstein and collector Aby Rosen. Right:
Artists Aura Rosenberg, Andrea Blum, and Allan McCollum.

Left: Curator Simon Castets with Whitney Museum chief curator Donna De Salvo. Right: Artist David Salle with writer Francine Prose.

Left: Film producer Laura Bickford with New Museum director Lisa Phillips. Right: Participant founder Lia Gangitano.

Left: Artist Tony Oursler with writer Dodie Kazanjian. Right: Artist Kenny Scharf.

Left: Designer Cynthia Rowley. Right: Artist Cecily Brown and designer Victoria Bartlett.

Left: Artists Marco Brambilla and Sarah Morris. Right: Singer Patty Smythe.

Left: fordProject Gallery's Tim Goossens and Rachel Vancelette. Right: Artist Tracey Moffatt and dealer Tyler Rollins.

Left: Graphics designer Richard Pandiscio and artist Lisa Yuskavage. Right: Artist Sarah Sze and Dennis Freedman.

Left: Artist Liam Gillick. Right: Dealer Vito Schnabel with Olmo Schnabel.