Taco Swells

New York

Left: Julian Schnabel at Mary Boone Gallery. Right: Guest of honor David Salle.

“Here's the thing to remember: Don't make fun of me, make fun of Mary,” Jeffrey Deitch quipped upon my arrival at the opening reception of David Salle's new show at Mary Boone's Chelsea space. Deitch, who had coproduced the exhibition and was working the crowd, whisked me off to meet Salle himself—until we lost one another in the crush. I couldn't even see Boone to make fun of her, though I did spot Ron Warren, her gallery director, being passed a wristwatch in the back office by the smart-looking couple on the other side of his oversize desk. He examined it tenderly, passing it from one hand to the other, and my eyes popped at the thought that the woman had put her Rolex in hock for a stake in the new work. (Warren disabused me of this notion later.)

But this was Salle at Boone, and the double-breasted suits were running the room as they have for twenty years, so what was I to think? As it turned out, the jewelry “deal” was the evening’s only conspicuous trading-floor moment; indeed, save for a cab ride downtown with Stella Schnabel (Julian’s daughter), who assured me in a blazing five-minute tirade that “everything is shit” (re: every artist I could name apart from Yves Klein) and “people are very confused” (re: the Salle opening), insouciance and reserve outweighed '80s-style bluster. Schnabel senior didn’t even bother with dinner, opting for mischief with Tracey Emin at Lehmann Maupin instead.

Left: La Esquina. Right: Deitch Project's Nicola Vassell with Mary Schwab, Salle's assistant.

Said Salle dinner was at La Esquina, for a minute late last month New York's chicest subterranean boîte. Accessed through a taqueria on Lafayette Street, the entrance is marked by an “Employees Only” sign. “There are four sections: a Jeffrey section, a Mary section, a David section, and, um, a fourth section,” Deitch told me. “I can’t remember which section you’re in.” I knew right off I was in the kids' section because all the other tables were smaller, more softly lit, and had people like Thaddaeus Ropac at them. My bunch was scrappy—as it turns out, there wasn't a bad seat in the house—and included sculptors Gedi Sibony and Robert Lazzarini, he of the distorted telephone booth, former White Columns helmswoman Lauren Ross, painter Lisa Yuskavage, various chums of Salle's, bold-faced and otherwise, and a pair of collectors who were quivering in anticipation of a Barnaby Furnas painting at auction this week.

Sibony, my immediate partner, ruminated with me for a while on the merit (or lack thereof) of Salle's canvases: on the one hand, their rudimentary Photoshop swirls and dry, programmatic psychedelia; on the other, their vastly enhanced paint handling and newly saturated palette. Struggling for closure, Sibony urged me to remember that the show's central vortex motif was “just an asshole, you know, a giant anus.”

Left: Alex Katz outside La Esquina. Right: Artist Robert Lazzarini and curator Lauren Ross.

Mary Schwab, Salle's assistant of eight years, had a sweeter, if inconclusive, line on the work: “I've been living with them every day; I've been there since their conception.” She did, however, venture that the paintings were “happy,” responding to a sincere enquiry after her boss, who looked drawn and uptight all evening. I didn’t help matters any by directing a number of deliberately ambivalent questions his way. “What’s your angle?” Salle demanded at one point. I wouldn't say. He gestured to his pal Adam Green, of the New Yorker, advising me to “talk to this guy, he has very interesting things to say.” After telling me that he wasn’t an expert on art, then explaining that his colleague, the peerless Peter Schjeldahl, was “good with the old stuff,” Green launched a defense of his friend’s work. “I don’t see why everyone has to give him a hard time. Why does he have to answer for everything?”

I caught up with Deitch again as the invited guests hailed cabs and handsome interlopers began to crowd the bar. He was chatting in a corner with the ingénue Tiffany Limos and Artforum editors Tim Griffin and Scott Rothkopf, and happily not giving a shit about anything, exactly the mindset I'd found him in several hours before. Here had been a generous, well-done bash, flashy but free from hysteria. But where was Mary Boone? She kept a low profile, and I still hadn't seen her by party's end.

Left: Artist Piero Golia's twenty-four-hour sleeping marathon. Right: Artist and curator Jordan Wolfson with Dennis Oppenheim.

My last stop was a block away at the Swiss Institute for “24-Hour Incidental,” a noon-to-noon presentation of ten performance pieces curated by video and installation artist Jordan Wolfson as part of Performa 05. There were perhaps twenty youths slumped against the wall when I arrived, just past midnight. I was drunk and a bit beat, and Wolfson, the Swiss Institute's associate curator Gabrielle Giattino, and outgoing artistic director Marc-Olivier Wahler (none of whom had left the premises for twelve hours) had a mad energy that impressed and exhausted me in equal measure. It wasn’t their fault. I scaled Yoko Ono's Yes Ladder, 1966, and almost got vertigo, then hopped on a stool to look through a peephole at Koo Jeong-A's makeshift construction in the gallery's storage area, an evolving diorama of bits and bobs of gallery effluvia. “Looks like Étant Donné,” I offered, the last shred of critical faculties giving way. There was a great intensity in the room, and I was sure then that I had been too promiscuous with my energies at the Salle dinner. It was nearing 3AM, and they had nine more hours to go.

William Pym