All at Once

Left: SculptureCenter director Mary Ceruti with artist Emily Sundblad. Right: Artist Maurizio Cattelan with collector Dakis Joannou. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

WHAT’S BETTER: taking home an overpriced picture by a deceased artist, or being seated next to a fashionable one at dinner? Both options were at hand in New York last week, as they are every week. But because the arrival of the fall auction season coincided with the fall benefit season and the opening of Performa 11, the choices came with more pomp and puffery than usual.

Wednesday, November 2, was the day after the sale of modern and Impressionist art tanked at Christie’s, when primary market dealers joined nonprofits like SculptureCenter and the Dia Foundation in putting out their hands to shake a few shekels out of supporters without ruffling any feathers.

Oh, for a healthy scandal to ripple the waters of complacency that even a brief downturn in the market can’t seem to stir. SculptureCenter took the high road by dispensing with commercially sponsored goodie bags in favor of artist-made souvenirs. Before dinner at the Edison Ballroom, a Deco supper club near Times Square, patrons mugged for the camera in Shannon Plumb’s “photo booth,” turning their poses into personalized flip books. For a mere $250, guests could buy the centerpiece on their tables—a clever sculpture of flattened paper cups by Allyson Vieira. Once he realized it was not the pile of extra napkins he first thought, dealer Leo Koenig snapped one up and encouraged everyone at SculptureCenter president Fred Wilson’s table to do the same.

Left: Artist Jim Lambie and son. Right: Artist Ragnar Kjartansson.

Generosity was in the air for this eighty-year-old institution, based in Long Island City since 2001. Founded by artists as a social club for the purpose of having fun with drink and clay, it is now a modest, million-dollar-a-year operation that director Mary Ceruti praised as “a cost-effective think tank.” To begin the entertainment portion of the evening, Emily Sundblad, the thinking person’s performance artist, gave a speech she had composed on her iPhone on the way to dinner, then sang a Swedish drinking song very much in keeping with the original Clay Club’s mission. (“When I drink I get drunk,” the lyric went. “When I’m drunk I’m beautiful.”) Later on, a tuxedoed Ragnar Kjartansson hammed it up in a Jolson-like performance of two romantic ditties to polite applause.

The civilized tone of this event carried into a Thursday night of divided loyalties. In Chelsea, Claire Fontaine made a bagged–soda can debut at Metro Pictures, while Jon Kessler and Mika Rottenberg brought seven sweating laborers to their eccentric Chakra Juicer, a Performa premiere at Nicole Klagsbrun. The impish Jim Lambie showed up at Anton Kern dressed in zipper-accessorized trousers to match the canvases in a show that also included a giant belt and pieces of shirts preserved in glass jars. “It’s all zippers, belts, and T-shirts—just the basics,” he said, before moving on to DJ his late-night party at the suitably Glaswegian Highland Pub.

Meanwhile, Maurizio Cattelan’s gravity-defying retrospective “All” at the Guggenheim gave the hundreds attending his retirement party of an opening plenty of reason to crane their necks. Replete with trussed-up taxidermy, hanging effigies, and raised fingers, the so-called prankster’s life-in-art hung from the ceiling like a dark night of the soul. “We’re all suspended here,” said an admiring Mera Rubell. “It can all disappear in a heartbeat.”

Left: Curator Tom Eccles with dealer Andrew Kreps. Right: Dia Foundation director Philippe Vergne.

The spectacle, however, endured the scrutiny of an awed but not entirely fawning crowd that included Marina Abramović, collectors Marty Eisenberg and Dakis Joannou, architect Charles Renfro, New Museum director Lisa Phillips, and Sarah Morris, while Cattelan cohorts Massimiliano Gioni and Francesco Bonami turned a soigné eye on the ramps from the bar on the rotunda floor. Outside, a stretch limo emblazoned with the logo of Cattelan’s picture magazine, Toilet Paper, sat at the curb like an orphan from the suicidal hang inside, waiting to speed the guest of honor to his Boom Boom Room party downtown.

I thought about hitching a ride, but I was already late for the Armani-sponsored fall benefit for Dia in an antiseptic Tribeca party room so bland that even the combined glamour of guests like Lorraine Bracco, China Chow, Bruce Weber, Parker Posey, Olympia Scarry, Todd Solondz, Hope Atherton, and the Armani-jumpsuited model Karolina Kurkova could not give it character. I am among those who long for Dia’s return to Chelsea, but this location was too far a cry from the elevating environs of the Harlem church where its last several benefits were held.

Nonetheless, it couldn’t have spoken any better to the foundation’s need for capital. Dia loyalists such as Lawrence and Alice Weiner, Terry Winters, Lisa Yuskavage, David Zwirner, Barbara Gladstone, Ingrid Sischy, and Sandra Brant held their ground through a performance by Girl Walk/All Day strange enough to mystify even former Warhol Superstar Taylor Mead. “How far is the elevator?” he said, edging his way across the floor before the W Magazine–sponsored afterparty down the hall could begin. By the time that commenced, Dia president Nathalie de Gunzburg was already out the door.

Fortunately, the Lambie crowd—Tom Eccles, Toby Webster, Matthew Higgs, Andrew Kreps, Michael Joo—was still dancing at the Highland Pub, as if the next spate of openings weren’t just a few hours off. Clearly calculated to catch visiting collectors in town for this week’s contemporary auctions, Friday evening began at Gagosian’s West Twenty-First Street gallery, where Andreas Gursky was showing enormous, vertical, and entirely abstract photographs of a Bangkok river defined by reflected natural light, plus a suite of horizontal, digitally manipulated aerial seas downloaded from NASA satellites.

Left: Paulina Sprüth and Monika Sprüth with artist Andreas Gursky and Cynthia Gursky. Right: Artist Tom Sachs.

Across the street, Eva Rothschild brought the bright color of her space-invading sculptures to 303 Gallery. “This is the only non-German show we’re going to see tonight,” Kreps noted, speaking for himself and Berlin dealer Martin Klosterfelde, who accompanied him to Bortolami. There, a leather-jacketed Jonathan Meese was haranguing visitors with a stupidly offensive speech declaiming a “dictatorship of art” that could have changed history, had Hitler been aware of it. I wondered how this act had played in Germany. “Badly,” Klosterfelde said.

At David Zwirner, Neo Rauch and Michaël Borremans attracted a large number of enthusiasts to their new paintings, most of which were also dark but more intriguing. Continuing downtown, I stopped in at Sperone Westwater on the Bowery, where Tom Sachs was showing “Work,” and a lot of it. It certainly took some to move through this awkward, Norman Foster–designed building in the dense crowd circling simulacra that included a salon hair dryer and a sarcophagus-like resin ice chest.

Farther down the Lower East Side, at the Abrons Art Center, Frances Stark fleshed out her obsession with sex-chat texting, and the aggressively sexual Jamaican dance called daggering, in a sold-out Performa program that required a lot of reading on the part of the audience. Dressed in a billowing “telephone dress,” when she wasn’t in a flesh-toned bodysuit, Stark shared the stage with Mark Leckey’s enormous BigBox speakers and dancehall “hype man” Skerrit Bwoy—a stranger to these parts in one of the strangest, and most disturbing, performances of the week.

Left: Mary Hodges with artist Justin Vivian Bond. Right: Frances Stark onstage.

Saturday brought Jim Hodges’s first exhibition with Gladstone, a two-gallery affair that contrasted the ephemeral with the enduring. A longtime AIDS activist, Hodges had installed a Stonehenge-like arrangement of dented boulders “draped” with metallic enamel sheets in the West Twenty-First Street space, and a five-foot-deep wishing well dug into the concrete floor on Twenty-Fourth. Over twenty minutes, a mirrored disco ball descended into the well water from the ceiling and rose back up again, casting planetary shadows on the starry firmament reflecting off the ball.

For a change of pace from this sober and silent testament to death and rebirth, guests only had to walk to the next room, where Hodges had built a stage that literally rained brightly colored paint on the heads of those who dared to walk under it. For a change of scene, the rest only had to get themselves to Del Posto, for a very gay dinner that seated Justin V. Bond, Danh Vo, Lyle Ashton Harris, and VISUAL AIDS associate director Nelson Santos together at what an envious Ari Wiseman called “the fun table.” Hodges’s live-wire sister and father were at another, while artists Jack Pierson and Andrew Lord, Whitney curator Carter Foster, Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume, and Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs were scattered about the room.

“This combination of delicacy and power is very rare,” Gladstone said in her toast to Hodges’s work, visibly welling up when he replied with a poignant acknowledgment of what he called her “profound influence” on him. But collector Glenn Fuhrman probably best summed up the show, and the atmosphere around town, by standing to declare, “There really is some powerful something going on over there.”

Left: Studio Museum director Thelma Golden. Right: Artists Jim Hodges and Larry Collins.

Left: Artists Ed Atkins and Haroon Mirza. Right: Artist Jordan Wolfson.

Left: Artist Cory Arcangel. Right: MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach with dealer Larry Gagosian.

Left: Dealer Cristian Alexa with artist Eva Rothschild. Right: Artist Pierre Huyghe.

Left: Artist Jonathan Meese. Right: Artists Spencer Sweeney and Elizabeth Peyton.

Left: Dealer David Maupin and China Chow. Right: Artist Danh Vo.

Left: Artist Lyle Ashton Harris. Right: Dealer Gerd Harry Lybke with artist Neo Rauch.

Left: Dealer Leo Koenig and Margaret Liu Clinton. Right: Artist Sanford Biggers.

Left: Guggenheim Museum deputy director Ari Wiseman. Right: Artist Michael Joo with dealer Anton Kern.

Left: Artist Lisa Yuskavage and director Todd Solondz. Right: Artist Lawrence Weiner and Alice Weiner.