Bard Mitzvah

New York

Left: Stedelijk Museum director Ann Goldstein with collector Audrey Irmas. Right: CCS Bard cofounder Marieluisse Hessel with CCS Bard director Tom Eccles. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

THEY CAME FROM AMSTERDAM, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Dallas, and New York. They included artists, dealers, and collectors, but primarily they were those often neglected, sometimes maligned, and—unless employed by the Gagosian Gallery—usually underpaid brainiacs known as curators. For the twentieth anniversary of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, that only made sense.

But the big draw for the 360 nonprofit banner wavers gathered at Capitale on the Bowery last Wednesday night was the guest of honor, Ann Goldstein, who was to receive the new Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence. Freshly endowed by Irmas, a philanthropist from LA, it is the only CCS award in fifteen years to come with a cash prize.

“How much is that?” New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni inquired of Tom Eccles, director of the CCS. “It’s $25,000,” Eccles replied. “Forget this director shit,” he hooted. “I want to be nominated now too!” He might not have been kidding.

Left: Curator Markús Andrésson. Right: Artist Roni Horn with dealer Paula Cooper.

How ironic that Goldstein had to wait till she left her longtime service as a curator to fill the director’s chair at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. But her twenty-six years at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles were not lost on the many artists present who benefited from solo exhibitions she gave them—Tony Oursler, Haim Steinbach, Christopher Wool, Louise Lawler, and Roni Horn, to name a few.

Goldstein’s curatorial colleagues—Donna De Salvo, Anne Rorimer, Ann Temkin, Kathy Halbreich, Matthew Higgs, Thelma Golden, Lynne Cooke, Elizabeth Smith, Kerry Brougher, Laura Hoptman, and Connie Butler (a former awardee)—all seemed pleased with the choice. “I think everyone here has a happy heart tonight,” said Wexner Center director Sherri Geldin. Dutch architect Benthem Crouwel, who came with financier Rob Defares and other members of the Stedelijk’s board, certainly didn’t mind making the trip from the Low Countries. “We’re very supportive of Ann!” said Crouwel, who designed the new addition to the museum, set to open in September after a long hiatus for renovations.

The cocktail portion of the evening was almost as lengthy, but it gave the dealers present time to rub shoulders with the posses of artists, collectors, and foundation chiefs who moved across the floor in what felt like a reunion, though most saw each other often anyway.

Left: Bard College president Leon Botstein with CCS Bard graduate program director Johanna Burton. Right: Artist Ragnar Kjartansson.

Once the hungry horde found their seats at tables that ran from $5,000 to $30,000, Eccles took the stage to voice a few words of welcome. “We all hold Ann in the greatest esteem,” he said. “Yes, we do,” said De Salvo, and suddenly we were in church. Markús Andrésson, an ’07 CCS alum, walked to the altar—I mean podium—to stand before a tall, saintly object draped in white cloth and congratulate the center on its twentieth anniversary. “Two decades in the art world can be an eternity,” he said, launching into a reminiscence of his time at Bard, where he came to understand that his role as a curator was to “safeguard the irrational…against the beast of rationality.”

The phrase would come back to haunt us as Andrésson’s Icelandic countryman Ragnar Kjartansson unveiled the painted white “art goddess” beneath the cloth—a dead ringer for CCS cofounder Marieluise Hessel, cuddling said “beast.” It looked like Dutchess County roadkill. Spritzing the wooden statue with a fog machine, Kjartansson dived behind it and, moving the puppet goddess’s lips, delivered an a cappella rendition of an early John Cage ballad set to two poems by e.e. cummings.

“Very charming,” said Lawrence Weiner, who designed the night’s pink and blue award after a mileage marker from a Lionel model train set. It came as a surprise to learn that Cage had a lyrical phase. “His music handles the sublime very well,” Kjartansson said, on returning to his front-and-center table. Horn, seated beside him, gave Kjartansson a sidelong glance. “He’s related to Mel Brooks, you know,” she cracked.

Left: Collectors Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner. Right: Ann Goldstein with curators Anne Rorimer and Lynne Cooke.

With that we dug into our plates of beef, until a different art goddess, CCS graduate program director Johanna Burton, mounted the stage. Characterizing the qualities of a top curator as “risky, groundbreaking, and brave,” she outlined Goldstein’s career from her first duties as an unpaid librarian for the inchoate MoCA, through her stint at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and wound up with Goldstein’s return to MoCA, where she organized brave and groundbreaking exhibitions like “A Forest of Signs” (cocurated with Mary Jane Jacob) and “A Minimal Future? Art as Object, 1958–1968,” and defining solo shows for Barbara Kruger, Martin Kippenberger, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Mike Kelley, Cady Noland, Weiner, and more. Many more.

Irmas presented the award, which had been endowed before Goldstein’s selection. “Oh, it’s heavy!” said Goldstein, and gave her own speech. “I intended to be an artist,” she began. “And I thought I could support myself as an artist by working in a museum.” That got laughs. She learned how to curate on the job, and in Chicago encountered the art of the man she would marry, Christopher Williams. “In those days part of his work was not to attach his name to it,” she said, “so I didn’t know who he was.”

He had no trouble identifying her. “I knew the minute I met I her that she was for me,” Williams said later. Yet according to Goldstein, it was Rorimer and another curator, Coosje van Bruggen, who changed her life. Oops! “You never know what you might touch, and what a little luck might bring you,” she concluded. “Get this woman a drink!” Geldin called out.

Then it was Bard College president Leon Botstein’s turn to give what, for him, was a fairly mild-mannered speech about the state of higher learning in America, amid the distractions of iPads, smartphones, and Facebook. “It’s amazing how we speak so frequently and say so little,” he said, but some in the audience had already voiced the same thought. They departed to join the clutch of smokers outside. The moon was nearly full. A wind came up. Taxis stopped at the curb. And what Eccles had called a “warm community of people who deliver what they promise” climbed into them and headed into the night, no doubt to wrestle once again with that damn beast of rationality.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Artist Lawrence Weiner. Right: Dia Foundatiion director Phillippe Vergne with curator Sylvia Chivaratanond, New Museum associate director Massimiliano Gioni, and curator Cecilia Alemani.

Left: Dealer Max Falkenstein with artist Anne Collier. Right: Christie's Amy Capellazzo with MoMA associate director Kathy Halbreich.

Left: Artists Barbara Bloom and Joan Jonas. Right: Dealer Carol Greene and artist Wade Guyton.

Left: Author Siddhartha Mukherjee and artist Sarah Sze. Right: Wexner Center director Sherri Geldin.

Left: Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden. Right: Nasher Sculpture Center director Jeremy Strick with Whitney Museum curator Scott Rothkopf.

Left: Hirshhorn Museum deputy director Kerry Brougher and Americans for the Arts advocate Nora Halpern. Right: Art historians Lucy Freeman Sandler and Irving Sandler.

Left: Artist Charline von Heyl with Frieze Art Fair codirector Amanda Sharp. Right: Collector Mickey Wolfson with artist Michele Oka Doner.

Left: Artist Christopher Wool. Right: Artist Christopher Williams and Ann Goldstein.