LAST FRIDAY, the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture opened its doors for “New York Minute,” an expansion of the 2009 group exhibition at MACRO in Rome. The show whirls together a raucous, at times willfully tasteless take on “New York,” which here translates to a scrappy street-punk style spiked with a certain glamorous credibility: in short, graffiti pegged with aggressively design-conscious wall labels. (“Deitch meets Place des Vosges?” one French curator suggested.)
In putting together the show, curator Kathy Grayson seemed to make lifestyle part of the aesthetic criteria, noting in the press release that the fifty-plus participating artists had all “exhibited together, partied together, dated each other, studied together or painted together.” It’s like the Gossip Girl of traveling exhibitions.
Touching down on the runway in Moscow, I pondered what it meant to fly ten hours from JFK to spend two days looking at . . . the New York scene. Before I could give it too much thought, my phone starting buzzing with frantically traded rumors: “The curator’s been denied entry to Russia!” “Terence Koh’s been arrested on Red Square!” So maybe this weekend held more in store than a mere Deitch Projects family reunion?
That evening I met up with Rafael de Cárdenas, Spencer Sweeney, and some of the other participating artists at the Strelka Institute of Architecture, Media and Design––the It bar for Moscow’s savvier VIPsters, where one can drink raspberry mojitos with Rem Koolhaas and the mix of artists, architects, designers, and thinkers the institute brings together. We had barely finished ordering the first round of vodkas when discussion turned to the text-message gossip. It seems a bureaucratic error had indeed sent Grayson to Ukraine to get an emergency visa the night before the opening. As for Koh, apparently he wasn’t arrested, though his performance—in which he donned a crimson-colored mourning shroud and tried to lay a scarlet gladiola at Lenin’s mausoleum in honor of the leader’s birthday (April 22)—was promptly halted by Moscow police. “The thing is, he wasn’t really even doing anything—I mean, just wearing red,” one of the artists explained. “Seriously, I feel like I’ve seen him looking weirder just walking around the Lower East Side.”
At the opening the following day, Koh was able to perform without interruption (though, ironically, it consisted of him just messing with. . . er, “blessing” everyone else’s pieces––from wooing Evan Gruzi’s mannequin to kissing a Joe Bradley painting to walking right through Kembra Pfahler’s performance). Those not following the procession could be found appreciating Dash Snow’s wall of blown-up Polaroids, Sterling Ruby’s spray-painted canvas, Martha Friedman’s columns of cast rubber knots, and Sweeney’s upside-down police car, suspended from the ceiling and hung with a disco ball to make an impromptu dance floor. “You should DJ under that!” someone suggested. The artist cracked a half-smile: “Yeah, right . . . ”
Around the corner, curator Andrey Erofeev was taking cell phone photos of Barry McGee’s lifelike graffiti artist, captured as if midact alongside a sprawling wall-size tag. (“I thought it was a performance at first,” Erofeev admitted with a shrug.) I paused to watch Moscow veterans Vladimir Dubossarsky and Anatoly Osmolovsky size up assume vivid astro focus’s inflatable, Day-Glo, multi-genital Skydancers, before I followed Dia director Philippe Vergne into the “Cuba in Revolution” exhibition, which had traveled from New York’s International Center of Photography. “Did you see that picture of Castro entering Soviet airspace?” Jeffrey Deitch marveled. Vergne nodded, leaning in to examine an image of Castro gleefully sledding on an old Russian rug: “This show almost feels more revolutionary, doesn’t it?”
Tearing myself away from the portraits of Che Guevara, I rejoined the revelers around the café, where model Natalia Vodianova and textile artist Olya Thompson chatted on a couch with Christie’s Matthew Stephenson, and Olympia Scarry and curator Neville Wakefield poked at the bowls of truffles lining the tables. McGee was coercing his crew into posing for snapshots while Friedman and Brendan Lynch traded Moscow to-do lists over a bottle of wine. Hans Ulrich Obrist and Deitch chose an area slightly removed from the crowd, next to the enormous Zilvinas Kempinas installation ribbing the Garage’s atrium (which gave them a great vantage point but also made them vulnerable to the bolder local artists, who gathered by the bar to practice their introductions). Meanwhile, Dasha Zhukova, looking her usual state of flawless, made the rounds, introducing herself to the artists in the show and thanking them for their work.
The dinner for forty that evening at Solyanka—a club whose piecemeal “vintage” furnishing gives it the Craigslist-chic look of a summer-after-college apartment—was held family-style in the venue’s smallest room. In one corner, Roman Abramovich nestled casually on a sofa, picking at plates of salmon tartar and hummus, while around him oblivious (or simply unaffected?) partygoers vied for ambiguous-looking spring rolls. “Yesterday I peed next to Him,” one of the visiting artists later confided. “You’d best believe I was craning my neck to get a peek. I mean, a handsome, redheaded billionaire––who’s even Jewish! My mother would die . . . ”
Rumor had it that Michigan-based sensations Salem would take the stage later on, but the dance floor was well under siege by the monthly Love Boat party and it didn’t look like anyone was giving up their ground. So instead I hijacked a Garage chauffeur and absconded with cultural maven Anna Dyulgerova, Sweeney, and Lynch to Simachev, where DJs Sergey Poydo and Dima Ustinov were keeping things rowdy (while the bartenders kept things blurry).
Meanwhile, speculation as to Salem’s supposed concert was flooding social networking sites, escalating to a point where one tastemaker was taken seriously when he posted that the group would perform after the morning spinning class at World Class Fitness, a comically posh gym in the center of Moscow. In the end, I couldn’t stay for the actual Salem performance when it did happen, as I had to catch my flight to JFK the next morning. Odd to find myself back on the runway, wishing I had a few extra minutes in Moscow to take in the full “New York” experience.