Mary's and Jesus

New York

Left: Joan Didion and Eric Fischl. Right: Rirkrit Tiravanija at NYEHAUS.

“Nature abhors a vacuum,” playwright Marsha Norman was saying. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of 'Night Mother was speaking of life in New York, but her observation perfectly characterized both the capacity crowd filling Mary Boone's Chelsea gallery for Eric Fischl's show of new paintings and the sudden plethora of Martin Kippenbergers all around town.

At Fischl's opening, just about the only empty space was between the many jostling pairs of legs. The artist stayed near the front of the gallery, greeting friends and fellow Boonies (David Salle, Karin Davie, Will Cotton, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders), while Mike Nichols submitted to an interview with a TV crew from “Gallery HD” that begged to hear about the time the director and Steve Martin traded the portraits that Fischl had painted of them. (Nichols ultimately donated his own to the Met.)

Fischl must do a lot of serious reading, as he seems to count an impressive number of literary luminaries among his friends. Aside from Norman, Joan Didion, Susan Minot, Francine Prose, and Frederic Tuten all flocked to his side, as did musician Arto Lindsay, Robert De Niro producing partner Jane Rosenthal, Bomb magazine’s Besty Sussler, and several generations of artists (from Sarah Charlesworth to Noritoshi Hirakawa), plus a fair measure of uptown bohotantes like Bianca Jagger, Wendy Lehman, and Judy Auchincloss. The half-dozen paintings on the walls behind them were made for bold-faced voyeurs. All were photo- (or rather Photoshop-)based bedroom scenes of a couple caught in various pregnant pauses. No one seemed to want to admit they were good. “They are what they are,” is the usual comment you get in these situations, but what Boone got was a whopping $450,000 to $550,000 each, according to a gallery checklist marked by five and a half red dots.

If Boone's gallery had the smartest crowd of the evening, the most startling art was at Matthew Marks, where Robert Gober's new installation created a cathedral-like hush. During the run-up to the Armory Show, people seemed unprepared for Gober's erotic confrontation with 9-11. At the center of his universe of kinky simulacra (altered New York Times pages, body parts in wax, bronze “ruins”) was a headless, crucified figure with water pouring from its nipples. On either side, two white doors left open a crack revealed the water's source, a rapidly filling bathtub containing a waxen, half-submerged torso. A sad, angry, elegant, and unsettling presentation. Whitney curators Elizabeth Sussman and Donna de Salvo gathered in a tight huddle with Brenda Richardson (who penned the accompanying catalog) and then with gallery directors Jill Sussman and Jeffrey Peabody, to whom they reportedly expressed “institutional interest.” When Marks entered at 6 PM (“Time to turn out the lights!” he said), he and the artist still had not decided whether to divide the show into individual components or sell the whole thing as one work.

Left: Frederic Tuten, Eric Fischl, Karin Davie and Francine Prose. Right: Carol Greene and Tim Nye.

It has been a decade since Gober's last New York show, but the person currently getting the art-world bum's rush is Martin Kippenberger. Admired as he has been by artists and critics, Kippenberger, who died in 1997, never generated a strong market in the United States. Well, that's over. (More than one observer called Kippenberger “this year's Richard Prince.”) Two Kippenberger sculptures were on display in a group show at Metro, Luhring Augustine is showing self-portraits in all media (though none are for sale), and on Madison Avenue Gagosian is opening a Kippenberger roundup “in collaboration with the estate.” (Where does that leave Gisela Capitain?) What's more, Tim Nye chose this moment to inaugurate his new duplex-apartment gallery at the National Arts Club with a show of Kippenberger wares (including a spiffy ninety-five-dollar catalog, twenty-dollar T-shirts, and five-dollar “I [heart] Kippenberger” bumper stickers) organized around a suite of forty small drawings—going for $640,000—from the collection of Kippenberger's friend, patron, and barkeep, Michel Würthle.

Most people blamed the Armory Show, not a conspiracy, for the citywide convergence of Kippenbergers, but Nye's opening attracted a fair number of other dealers—from David Nolan and Jack Tilton through Carol Greene, Anton Kern, Friedrich Petzel, and Andrew Kreps, to Reena Spauling's John Kelsey and Emily Sundblatt. Nolan claimed that Kippenberger's dream was to have seven shows in New York at once. Clearly, God—and the market—were listening.