Running with Scissors

Kaitlin Phillips on Susan Cianciolo at Bridget Donahue

Writer Kat Herriman with the RUN Cafe menu. (Photo: Kaitlin Phillips)

ON JUNE SECOND, two weeks before the Summer Solstice, the artist Aurel Schmidt told me she’d been forced to hire a bartender for openings at her gallery Romeo to deter underage beer-stealers. (Nothing like a new crop of thirsty teens.)

The art world’s part-time fakirs—downtown purists sating themselves with free beer and fresh art, and occasional communal-style meals from the likes of Rirkrit Tiravanija and Agathe Snow— did okay from 6 to 8 PM on Thursday. The last night of the summer! For Susan Cianciolo’s “RUN Prayer, RUN Café, RUN Library” at Bridget Donahue, self-serve lime-and-apple sangria was available, albeit in Dixie cups. I kept waiting for people to complain about the booze rationing, or at least recall swishing with fluoride in kindergarten—even when you had a summer cold and could not breathe through your nose! But they didn’t. Everybody was in a good mood. I mean, they were perspiring, obviously. “We have air conditioning,” said Donahue, shaking her head. (Artists like her because she tells the truth, and I must say I like her snappy e-mails.)

The crowd waited patiently for quesadillas personally grilled by Steven Arroyo, the cult owner of LA’s twenty-five-seat Escuela Taqueria. (“He flew in from Los Angeles,” said Cianciolo affectionately.) He’s the strong silent type. A self-contained man! A man unlike the man waiting in line behind me—who I refuse to quote on the grounds that he’s an adult still telling strangers he “went to Bard.” (Why must I make this joke at every party?)

Sensing that I was disturbing the chef’s innate purity, the benign kind that radiates off all humans who like their work, I lurked around the silent, acne-free women Cianciolo solicited and dressed for RUN PRAYER— a performance-art work from 6 to 7 PM, of ten women sitting in a meditation circle. Like a sewing circle that doesn’t gossip! Among them was downtown’s designer Maryam Nassir Zadeh (Cianciolo was wearing MNZ’s apple-red low-heeled shoes). “Who I casted in it was very important to me, I knew they could do it,” said Cianciolo. “They’re all women. That’s what made it so special.”

They did not rehearse, and they were all beautiful in that I-don’t-wear-makeup-French-girl-way. They had what I’m going to call ANGEL SKIN (Peau d’ange), a kind of French lace I learned about while flipping through Sew a Beautiful Wedding by Gail Brown and Karen Dillon in an effort to improve myself in the RUN Library “house.” Especially artist Maia Ruth Lee, the pregnant woman who “famously” walked the Eckhaus Latta runway last week. (The Cut approved.)

On the back of one of the sitters’ chairs was a piece of printer paper with very lightly drawn pencil writing, perhaps explaining the ritual:

women prayer group
history of female saints
being with source
happy with or without symbol
women prayer circle
saints holding hands
holding energy
trees plants

And at the very bottom: I Don’t care if you don’t fucking like me (in cursive).

At the opening of “RUN Prayer, RUN Café, RUN Library” at Bridget Donahue.

I can’t think of anyone in the world who doesn’t love Susan. It’s fairly obvious that she’s popular and angularly beautiful in the vein of Rita Ackermann (they used to be roommates)—but absolutely zero percent divisive, a sort of quiet healer type to all those sober people from the ’90s. (The first JSTOR result for “Susan Cianciolo” is “God Save the Zine.”) Almost everyone I spoke to at the opening said they’ve worked with Susan “forever.” Most just quite literally said, “Oh. I love Susan.”

“She’s fantastical,” said Kat, the young woman who just spent three months organizing Cianciolo’s archive. “You know? It’s like she’s somewhere else . . . Someone gave her a NY tourist scarf, and she made it into a pleated skirt.” (In an interview turned palm reading for Index in 1999, Dam Darcy told Cianciolo: “You have a very long pinky, which signifies that you’re very intuitive, you run on your dreams a lot.”)

As at all openings, starved for some New York neuroticism, I began wide-eyeing literally anyone who would have me. A bubbly woman with a cup of sangria breathlessly introduced herself. “I’m Susan’s neighbor!” She had seen the artist around Fort Greene for five years, only recently learning who she was. “It’s good to know she’s doing something!” We looked at the artist across the room, so well postured and secure. “She just is laughing over there,” said her neighbor brightly.

The neighbor really wanted to introduce Susan to “my friend Susan, who lives in Soho,” and also a friend of hers named Sibyl, “who is doing a performance-art piece about the first day of fall tomorrow at the Whitney Museum.” (“It’s like anti-pretentious and also based in a lot of real ritual.”) Sibyl is Sibyl K-e-m-p-s-o-n. The neighbor wanted to introduce me to Jennifer Krasinski, who she knows from the theater world a lonnnng time ago. “I think she’s written for things,” she said. “I know!” I didn’t say. (Another neighbor of Cianciolo’s posted about being the artist’s neighbor—quite the community in Brooklyn you have there!)

Eventually I found my real friends, by which I mean the painter Sam McKinniss, and waited for people to find him. Within minutes, artist Torey Thornton, of A-Ron’s gallery Moran Bondaroff, strode toward us, already speaking from across the room. “Lessssssss talk about it, lessss talk about it. Let’s. Talk. About. It.” They spoke, for some time, about McKinniss’s crisp white polo shirt from Uniqlo. (“I like white clothes,” said McKinniss, who was born and raised in Connecticut, and is looking very thin.)

Left: Artists Sam McKinniss and Torey Thornton. Right: Bunny Lampert, Susan Cianciolo, and Steven Arroyo. (Photos: Kaitlin Phillips)

Then there was a series of art gallerist blind items:

—How’s he dress? Button-up shirt in raw denim or a fucking muumuu?

—No, he’s in, like, Comme.

—Comme to the toe. All right, all right, all right. That can mean a lot of things. You’re either exotic or stiff.

Eventually, we made our way to the after party at Happy Ending, still discussing various sartorial and aesthetic concerns, like how this month the New York Times featured McKinniss and Thornton in an article called “The Beauty of Ugly Painting,” written by a twenty-six-year-old. Thornton anti-fashionably carried a DUANE READE BY WALLGREENS bag as a purse. (“My partner—my partner doesn’t exist, but if I had one, we wouldn’t collaborate,” deadpanned Thornton. Actually I think he was serious.)

FYI: Happy Ending is now called Better Times, because Happy Ending had a “woman problem.” Or as my friend Dan Allegretto succinctly said: “I guess they took down their ticker tape: Forty days since our last rape!” On the telephone outside, a woman was mock-screaming into her cellphone for the benefit of the smokers, since smokers are the best gossips (because they don’t really believe in the future): “I’m sitting between Brett Ratner and Harvey Weinstein and they’re both like, “How are you?” They’re like violent weirdos, I like it . . . Half of what I do is not my job.” I’m sure she was phoning someone in Los Angeles, because who cares in New York anymore about Harvey Weinstein, unless he’s optioning your novel, just to shelve it for ten years.

Inside, Jamie Simone, a model and freelance DJ at Beverly’s—whom I know from Instagram as Pool Honeys—explained that she’s getting a rotary phone and moving to LA, where her Instagram handle will play better. “I’m not going to pay you back,” she told McKinniss after charging a drink to his tab. “But you know I’m a generous friend. The most joy—I don’t know if it’s like a Cancer thing—the most joy—I’m a Cancer—the most joy I get is from giving my friends joy.” Some people just have great energy.

McKinniss pointed out Bridget Donahue’s mother perched at the bar. “Are you the mother,” I asked. “Yes, and I’m trying to behave myself,” she said, and asked if I knew Thor Shannon. I nodded noncommittally. “Last opening he gave me a cocktail, and I danced on the bar. So this time I’m trying to behave myself.” Me too, me too.