Scene & Herd

Going Steady

Left: Dealer David Zwirner, Christine Taylor, and Ben Stiller. Right: Dealer Dominique Levy with artist Sterling Ruby. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

EXCUSE ME, but are there more galleries in New York than ever? So it seemed last week, when the fall art season got under way with nearly sixty openings in Chelsea and on the Lower East Side. This was just a prelude to the coming week, when at least forty more galleries will enter the fray uptown and down—and I’m not even counting what the museums have in store. What a bounty! Art must be soothing many a savage toad in the hole. How else to explain the surfeit when economies around the globe are stuttering? “Somehow it all keeps going,” dealer Andrew Kreps observed at one point. “And we have to keep going with it.”

So I went. Wednesday belonged to the LES, where curator Dan Cameron had something of a monopoly, having organized group shows of SVA grads at eight different galleries. As if that hadn’t given him enough to do, he had also put together a show combining art from New Orleans and Turkey at C24, a multilevel gallery that Turkish investors were opening in Chelsea. While in the neighborhood, I stopped at Alexander Gray’s reception for Jack Whitten, a septuagenarian who has been ahead of the curve for so long it’s taken till now to come back around to him. “Those are apps for Obama,” Whitten said, pointing to a canvas with a swimming pool–blue tiled surface and quartzlike appurtenances that suggested the desktop of an iPad. “Everything he needs to know is in there.”

With that comforting thought in mind, I headed downtown through a city that chose to approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11 by going on red alert. Bomb squads roamed the streets, and helmeted cops armed with machine guns were on patrol everywhere but in the art world, where an unmistakable back-to-school optimism emanated from crowds spilling out of galleries under a waxing moon.

Left: Artist Ry Rocklen. Right: Artists Aïda Ruilova and Maurizio Cattelan.

At Salon 94 on the Bowery, Aïda Ruilova was debuting a new slasher video starring Sonja Kinski, Nastassja Kinski’s daughter and a doppleganger for the artist. Dzine (born Carlos Rolon) brought low-rider sounds and plenty of bling, along with a chandelier of Swarovski crystals, to the gallery’s Freeman Alley space, where artists such as Fab 5 Freddy and Luis Gispert watched a manicurist apply tiny versions of Dzine’s glittering objects to willing pinkies. “This is a social project, not a nail salon,” said dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohaytn, though it looked mighty like a nail salon and in fact was called “Imperial Nail Salon.” Alas, it was only sculpture.

Ry Rocklen had blown into UNTITLED gallery from Los Angeles to lay a checkerboard floor made of squares cut from thrift-shop paintings and overlaid with strips of metallic paint. Those willing to remove their shoes to walk on it could examine an installation of award trophies stationed at the back; supposedly it’s a large enough collection to qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records.

Left: Artist Luis Gispert with Fab 5 Freddy. Right: Dealer Sadie Coles with curator Clarissa Dalrymple.

But all this barely added up to a qualifying round in the rest of the week’s competing shows. Gispert was first out of the gate on Thursday at Mary Boone’s Fifth Avenue gallery, a kind of drive-in for his life-size photos of car interiors done up in counterfeit designer-logo fabrics by label fetishists. The evening was also the annual Fashion’s Night Out, but the art and fashion worlds did not collide this year except in duels over taxis. To fill the breach, Hollywood came calling at David Zwirner, where I found Ben Stiller and his wife, Christine Taylor, cohosting a preview of the works that Stiller and Zwirner had collected for an Artists for Haiti benefit auction scheduled for September 22 at Christie’s. Twenty-five artists contributed to the show, most (Pettibon, Rauch, Tuymans, Dumas, Ofili, Abdessemed) from the Zwirner stable, but Jeff Koons, Jasper Johns, and James Rosenquist were among them too—and every one of the works is a winner.

Stiller started doing charity work on behalf of Haiti before its ruinous earthquake, inspired partly by Bono’s “Red” campaign for Africa. After the quake, he said, he redoubled his efforts and was soon introduced to Zwirner by Steve Martin, “a great collector of art,” Stiller said. But Zwirner was nervous about the sale. It was still early in the evening and visitors were few. “It’s so important,” he said. “Tell everybody!”

No problem. But I also had to keep going.

Left: Dealer Tanya Bonakdar with artist Haim Steinbach and Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal. Right: Artists Nick Cave and Rashid Johnson.

A block away at Jack Shainman, it was so crowded with Nick Cave fans that getting in actually took some muscle. The effort paid off. Cave’s monochromatic, six-foot rabbits of synthetic blond hair and trumpetlike figures bound by glittery black fabric are among his best. At Nicole Klagsbrun, N. Dash carried the flag for subtlety in a debut of folded and rubbed indigo and graphite drawings. At Casey Kaplan, Brian Jungen had stretched animal hides over Eames and Saarinen chairs, turning them into playable, ritual drums. And Haim Steinbach returned to the exhibition fold at Tanya Bonakdar with new shelves of collectibles and a slam-bang architectural construction guarded by a squat green alien figure out of Star Wars.

Odd couples populated Nicola Tyson’s bright new canvases at Friedrich Petzel. “It’s all poisonous,” Tyson said of the paintings, referring not to their bondage and disfigurement qualities but to the rich, cadmium colors she used to make them. Dinner at Bottino brought a mini Brit Pack (Gary Hume and Georgie Hopton, Sadie Coles, honorary member Clarissa Dalrymple), and gallery artists such as Sean Landers, Charline von Heyl, and Dana Schutz, Petzel’s latest addition.

Left: Artist Leandro Erlich. Right: Artist Josephine Meckseper with Michael Stipe.

By Friday night, with the 9/11 anniversary closing in, the collapse that Do Ho Suh had built into two extraordinarily detailed models of the artist’s previous homes in Seoul and Providence, Rhode Island, left guests at Lehmann Maupin with a sense of foreboding that might not have resonated at another time. The same darkness also fell on Leandro Erlich’s Hitchcockian but stationary elevators and elevator shafts at Sean Kelly, as well as on Andrea Rosen’s ingenious pairing of Lucio Fontana’s slashed copper paintings with sculptures in ceramic and bronze by Sterling Ruby.

The largest work by the latter is a massive excavation site, a yawning grave that, again, made unintended reference to the remains of the old World Trade Center. Spirits lifted at the dinner for Ruby at Lotus of Siam on lower Fifth Avenue, where Richard Phillips and Josephine Meckseper drove up in a gleaming white race car and Pace Gallery’s Arne Glimcher, who had cheerfully loaned Ruby to Rosen, spent the entire evening in conversation with New Museum director Lisa Phillips. Her former chief curator Richard Flood interrupted with a news flash for Ruby: “I just got a text from Lucio,” he said, waving his phone. “He just got off a plane and is sorry he couldn’t be here, but he says he couldn’t be happier to be in a show with Sterling.”

By Saturday night, it felt as if the art world was settling into itself. Cave showed an outrageous group of new assemblages at Mary Boone that were as theatrical and buzzing as Keren Cytter’s new videos at Zach Feuer were brainy and sober. More surprises were waiting at Algus Greenspon, where the mortal coil provided the central theme for a fascinating show that combined nineteenth-century Romantic and Symbolist paintings, prints, and photographs with twenty-first-century drawings and paintings. “All this stuff is out there,” Algus said of the historical works, which he had found in the drawers of galleries uptown. “It’s just that no one ever brings them down here.”

Left: Artists Alex Katz and Dana Schutz. Right: Ricardo Kugelmas and artist Rachel Feinstein.

Around the corner, an ebullient Alex Katz was making his own unlikely debut at Gavin Brown with huge new portrait heads that showed him to be in peak form. “Gavin said all the right things,” Katz said, explaining why he turned down Larry Gagosian when he left Pace last year. “He talked about them in terms of light and time, which was exactly right. People usually get bogged down in subject matter when they talk about my work, and that’s not what my paintings are about at all.”

During the dinner for one hundred on the gallery’s rooftop, Brown spoke of their light and eternal present in an especially gracious toast. He called Katz’s show “a dream come true” and thanked the artists in his gallery for “making room” for the senior painter, a nod that clearly touched Rirkrit Tiravanija, Spencer Sweeney, and Nick Relph, who were among those at the table. “That was all sincere,” Brown said later. “I meant every word.”

In the sky above, the two 9/11 memorial lights were absent, apparently due to a lack of money to power them up before the day of reckoning. But the moon was now full and bright, the breeze was gentle, and somehow it all kept us going.

Left: Dealer Alexander Gray. Right: Artists Paul Bloodgood and Jack Whitten.

Left: Dealer Mitchell Algus. Right: Artists Gary Hume and Sean Landers.

Left: Artist Josh Smith and writer Beau Rutland. Right: Artist Bruce Davenport.

Left: Victoria Robinson and artist Nicole Eisenman. Right: Dealer Andrea Rosen.

Left: Curators Cecilia Alemani and Massimiliano Gioni with art attorney John Silberman. Right: Artist Nick Relph.

Left: Artists Charline von Heyl and Nicola Tyson. Right: Artist Do Ho Suh.

Left: Artists Nick Mauss and Ken Okishi with Artists Space director Stefan Kalmar. Right: Artist N. Dash.

Left: Dealer Tom Solomon. Right: Curator João Ribas and Guggenheim deputy director Ari Wiseman.