Worlds Upon Worlds

New York
01.14.15

Left: Artist-writer-director John Waters with dealer Marianne Boesky and collector Connie Caplan. Right: Dealer Mary Boone. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)


ALL NEW YEARS FEEL LIKE GOOD YEARS. For a few days 2015 certainly did. Even with the party of self-interest taking control of the United (ha!) States Congress, it arrived full of promise. Then came the Homeland-like January 7 massacre of ten Charlie Hebdo staffers and two cops in Paris. It was a shocking wake-up call to remember that we live in an age of terrorism, that bigotry remains widespread, and that thousands of raised pencils can make as powerful an image as the sight of raised fists.

That night in New York, where large public gatherings tend to take place chiefly on the Internet, one of the art world’s few satirists, Jayson Musson, opened the winter gallery season with the premiere of his new web series, The Adventures of Jamel, the Time-Traveling B-Boy at Salon 94 Bowery. The episode is hilarious. So many crimes have been committed in the name of one god or another that it was almost a comfort to get a secular poke in the ribs.

The next evening, with the mercury dipping well below twenty degrees, opening receptions in Chelsea felt both normal and numbing. Nothing on tap suggested anything that anyone would kill for, though the excellent Israeli artist Yael Bartana raised hackles at the last São Paulo Bienal by casting a drag queen in Inferno, one of two films she is showing at Petzel Gallery. The film, which has all the pomp and bloodshed of a sword-and-sandals Hollywood epic, involves the building and destruction of Solomon’s Temple by a Pentecostal sect in São Paulo, and the strange juxtaposition of piety and commercialism attending religious and social rituals. The only comment I heard was, “That’s heavy.”

Left: Artist Peter Saul and Sally Saul. Right: Artist John Miller.


David Zwirner, meanwhile, was hosting two shows, theatrical paintings of interiors and women in Swedish costumes by Mamma Andersson, and nature video projections by Diana Thater. Two of Thater’s flat-screen video walls take viewers into outer space without leaving Earth, thanks to the Griffith Observatory (where she filmed it), while a projection on the ceiling gives us a unique opportunity to watch a pair of dung beetles climb through their shit. Thater’s last show here was the first to follow the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. “That’s right,” Zwirner recalled. “That was just two weeks after the flood, when we looked like we were back in business but we were really dead.”

Flame-haired Susan Philipsz, the Scottish Turner Prize winner in 2010, brought a show of photographs and music to Tanya Bonakdar. Its subject is the forgotten composer Hanns Eisler, who collaborated with Bertolt Brecht before fleeing Nazi Germany for Hollywood, only to be crushed by the McCarthy-era blacklist and deported. (You want history? Come to Chelsea!) Single, poignant tones from Eisler scores played through twelve speakers as Philipsz spoke of her plunge into the FBI’s website for redacted files on Eisler that she superimposed on the composer’s annotated scores for large photographs that tell the story of his life. Anyone can look up his or her FBI files, Philipsz said. As we know from Edward Snowden, the government has secret files of one kind or another on all of us. Creepy, isn’t it?

Back outside, the sidewalks of Chelsea were filled with unsuspecting gallerygoers speed-walking though the frosty air to warm themselves at Paul Kasmin’s first show in twenty years in New York for Jiri Georg Dokoupil, or to Manuel Ocampo’s show at Tyler Rollins, or to Zach Feuer’s gallery, which fairly vibrated with new paintings by Matthew Chambers and Elaine Reicheck’s tiny, embroidered appropriations—“swatches”—of famous paintings by the likes of Mondrian, Magritte, and Matisse. “You think art is decorative?” she said. “Ah-ha!”

Left: Artists Mike Smith and Joan Jonas. Right: MoMA PS1 curator Jenny Schlenzka and artist Ryan McNamara.


Uptown on Fifth Avenue, former Swiss Institute curator Piper Marshall chose artist and choreographer Ryan McNamara for her inaugural curatorial outing at Mary Boone. McNamara had cleverly turned costumes for his popular Performa 13 commission, MEƎM: A Story Ballet About the Internet, into sculpture that suggested dance moves. That got first-nighters, who included collectors (Charlotte Ford, Andy Stillpass, Shelley Aarons), museum people (Chrissie Iles, Ari Wiseman) and other artists (Liam Gillick, Peter Saul, David Colman, Jacolby Satterwhite) in the mood for the party that followed at Mimi’s piano bar on Second Avenue. Here, a bald man who goes by the name Chicken Delicious—a onetime sex slave, rumor had it—commanded the piano, singing and playing music from every songbook imaginable, changing costumes for each new set. “This is a different sort of art dinner, isn’t it?” said Boone.

Next day came the sobering news of more murders in Paris—this time of Jews shopping at a kosher supermarket—followed by the deaths of the terrorists at the hands of the French police. In Manhattan, however, art carried on with openings on the Lower East Side at Lehmann Maupin, Canada and Jack Hanley, and group shows in Chelsea at Wallspace and Derek Eller, where crowds skewed young and healthy. But at Marianne Boesky Gallery, some people dressed in the manner of Chicken Delicious for the opening of “Beverly Hills John,” the latest from the art world’s satirist-in-chief, John Waters.

On show was an s/m baby carriage, a film of bewigged children performing a table reading of Pink Flamingoes, and hilarious photos pairing the pulp paperback covers of movie scripts for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Some Like It Hot with their porn counterparts, Clitty Clitty Bang Bang and Some Like It Hard. A big winner was a poster-size front page of a fictional tabloid skewering literary figures and screaming headlines like, “Joan Didion Hits 250 Pounds!” And over a picture of Joyce Carol Oates, “Help! I’ve Got Writer’s Block!”

Left: Dealer James Fuentes and artist Amalia Ulman. Right: Artist Yael Bartana.


“If I was the editor of one of those newspapers, these are the stories I’d want to publish,” Waters said, during a genteel party with old friends in a private room at Toro, behind an unmarked entrance that even for veterans of New York’s onetime underground was unbelievably hard to find.

On Saturday night, Marshall was back in action, presenting paintings by John Miller at both Mary Boone and Metro Pictures in Chelsea. It’s been a while since Miller—a popular teacher by the look of some followers—showed paintings. These addressed game shows and reality shows on television, and people caught unawares in the street. The favorites were the people paintings (installed at Metro), and a large cube at Boone that featured reality-show personalities doing what they do best, emoting. “I love the way John uses technology to make paintings by hand,” said Wild Style filmmaker Charlie Ahearn. “I never saw a reality show till I did these paintings,” Miller confessed.

Gillick prepared for the evening by watching game shows. “Jeopardy is really difficult,” he said over a dinner at Bottino, where the guests included Hal Foster, Gavin Brown, Joan Jonas, Marilyn Minter, and Kim Gordon, whose memoir is coming out next month. “I hear it has no sex, drugs, or rock ‘n roll,” said the droll Mike Smith. Then what? Politics? But Gordon wasn’t the only one of few words in the room. For her toast to Miller, Marshall said, “John, it is an honor to work with you. Thank you for a critical and strong show. Thank you Mary Boone and Metro Pictures for this collaboration,” and sat down. “I wanted more,” a mystified Valerie Smith commented. “Did I say too little?” Marshall asked.

Left: Artist Emily Roysdon, Participant, Inc. founder Lia Gangitano, MoMA curator Stuart Comer, and artist Ginger Brooks Takahashi. Right: Artists Diana Thater and T Kelly Mason.


More was coming on Sunday, when Anita Ekberg died in Italy, the Golden Globes went on in Hollywood, and literally millions—absent, inexplicably, the American president— took to the streets in France in a massive show of support for sharp tongues and keen minds everywhere. French-born 303 Gallery director Thomas Arsac was fresh off a plane from his home country when he arrived at Lisa Cooley’s gallery for Lucy Kim’s impressive debut there. “The march was incredible,” he said, his face barely visible beneath his winter armor. “You’re walking with all of these people and suddenly you’re in tears and you don’t know why.”

At James Fuentes, Amalia Ulman, recovered from a horrible accident that kept her hospitalized for months, held her own with wire sculptures of wheelchairs, bicycles, carts, and other modes of transportation she depended on while in rehabilitation. Other galleries on the Lower East Side—Laurel Gitlen, Simone Subal, Marianne Boesky, Bureau, Capricious 88, James Fuentes, Rachel Uffner, Participant—filled with bright-eyed minions beating back the cold with community.

It made New York feel small and almost backstage in a world theater that is by turns horrifying, tragic, confounding, outrageous, scurrilous, twisted, and courageous.

It will take some work for more art to engage with it.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Curator Piper Marshall. Right: Chicken Delicious at the piano.


Left: Artist Marilyn Minter. Right: Guggenheim Foundation deputy director Ari Wiseman and dealer Thor Shannon.


Left: Artists Wyatt Kahn, Lucas Blalock, and Zach Leener. Right: Collector Don Rubell.


Left: Artist Lyle Ashton Harris. Right: New Museum director Lisa Phillips and Jewish Museum deputy director Jens Hoffman.


Left: Collector Charlotte Ford. Right: Artist Hope Atherton and dealer Gavin Brown.


Left: Artist Aura Rosenberg. Right: Artadia executive director Carolyn Ramo and dealer Liz Mulholland.


Left: Artists Deborah Kass, Sean Mellyn, and Pattie Cronin. Right: Dealer Derek Eller.


Left: Dealer Joel Mesler and collector Peter Hort. Right: Artist Elaine Reichek.


Left: Dealer Rob Teeters. Right: Artist Susan Philipsz and photographer Eoghan McTigue.


Left: Artists Tony Oursler and Josiah McElheney. Right: Tiffany Zabludowicz.


Left: Artist-writer Walter Robinson and artist Liam Gillick. Right: Dealer Margaret Murray.


Left: Dealer Laurel Gitlen. Right: Filmmaker Charlie Ahearn.


Left: Hammer Museum curator Aram Moshayedi and dealer Jane Hait. Right: Artist Allyson Vieira and Metropolitan Museum curator Ian Alteveer.