Cold Comfort

New York

Left: Armory Show vice president Paul Morris with Merchandise Mart CEO Chris Kennedy. Right: Artist Maurizio Cattelan. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky)

TO WEATHER OUR TURBULENT economic climate successfully, everyone will have to get very creative. And where better to look for creative thinking than the art world, where ideas alone have currency—particularly when it comes to keeping up a front? On Tuesday night, for instance, the chill from Wall Street insinuated itself into the very air over New York, dropping the temperature near zero and turning the city into a ghost town everywhere but Chelsea, where crowds so recently accustomed to lavish parties and lava flows of spirits banded together for a week of less-is-more gatherings around, if not in, the Armory Show.

To kick things off, galleries along barren, windswept West Twenty-seventh Street threw open their doors for exhibitions by Walead Beshty (at Wallspace), Alyson Shotz (at Derek Eller), and Mungo Thomson (at John Connelly). Wallspace co-owners Janine Foeller and Jane Hait put on a particularly brave face by doubling the size of their operation. “Their expansion is sort of counter-recessionary,” said White Columns director Matthew Higgs, eyeing Beshty’s cheerful, Thomas Ruff–like photograms. “You gotta make art with muscle in these times,” said the diminutive Shannon Ebner, another gallery artist, in town from Los Angeles to introduce her new book, The Sun as Error, at White Columns. Humor helps, too. Beshty’s “artist statement” consists of quotes from reviews of his previous shows––arranged in rhymed couplets, no less.

Left: Wallspace's Janine Foeller with artist Shannon Ebner. Right: Artist Charline von Heyl with artist and musician Kim Gordon.

The crowd was just as jubilant at Connelly, where the darkened gallery was screening Thomson’s new 16-mm silent films and a sound work that no one could hear above the burble of chatter—which seemed fitting for the artist who provided the last Whitney Biennial with a film of a tree falling silently in a forest. Meanwhile, Tony Oursler provided a veritable forest of cigarettes (video animations projected on tall white cylinders) for his new plays with scale at Metro Pictures, where everything big and rich (like family relations) was made toylike, and everything small and worthless (like lottery scratch cards) loomed large. It was a nod to a world gone topsy-turvy. “Tony’s just trying to get me to stop smoking,” said artist Jacqueline Humphries, Oursler’s wife, lighting up on the sidewalk outside.

It was too cold to stand around so I trotted over to Twenty First Twenty First Gallery. There, landscape architect Nathalie Karg was launching her Cumulus Studios in a nearly raw but beautifully decrepit third-floor loft that had no heat or insulation. The hundred or so people attending––artists Rob Pruitt and Cecily Brown, New Museum curator Richard Flood, dealers Tim Nye and Toby Webster, and Art Production Fund founders Doreen Remen and Yvonne Force among them––admired the eighteen pieces of commissioned outdoor furniture designs on show by as many artists. They included Rirkrit Tiravanjia’s gleaming chrome Ping-Pong table, a waxed steel table and chairs with red neoprene cushions by John Bock, and a stack of various rubber tires that Pruitt had turned into a working fountain/birdbath. “I waxed this table myself,” Karg said, affectionately brushing the Bock with her hand. “Over and over again.”

On the other side of a long wall was a bar serving wicked Mojitos, a long table, and, oddly for this funky place, a pristine carbon-black kitchen. The main course consisted of small chive-and-cheese omelets prepared to order by two lines of cooks working small burners. Picnicking guests ate them off dessert plates, standing up and with their mittens on. “We look like refugees on a station platform waiting for the next train to freedom,” Princess Alexandra of Greece observed.

Left: New Museum chief curator Richard Flood with dealer Elizabeth Dee. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Artist Christine Hill in her installation at Ronald Feldman's booth.

Wednesday, the Armory Show opened to a generally cheerful crowd attending the preview and vernissage, benefits for the Museum of Modern Art. “The collectors have won!” exclaimed Miami’s Dennis Scholl, who then equated the hedge-fund speculators who have roamed the fair’s aisles like predatory beasts in recent years with Bush-era terrorists.

After several hours at this fair, I can say that the nonprofits are working the least hard for the most benefit. The New Museum quickly sold out of its limited-edition Rudolf Stingel paintings and Mark Bradford papier-mâché soccer balls (both terrific). Smaller galleries like Marc Foxx, the Modern Institute, and Murray Guy seem to fare much better than larger ones. I heard one collector ask a blue-chip Chelsea dealer how he was doing. “Personally, very well,” came the answer. “Professionally, very poorly.”

I heard of plenty of sales, but this fair has not been very good for art in some time. What it is good for is conversation. Bumping into Massimiliano Gioni and Maurizio Cattelan every few minutes was great fun, especially when our paths converged, at the booth for Reykjavik’s I-8 Gallery, with that of Roland Augustine and Lawrence Luhring (pointedly not exhibiting this year), which spun into an excited discussion regarding some drawings by Ragnar Kjartansson. Watching MoMA media and performance curator Klaus Biesenbach squire around subdued Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall brought big smiles to those few who picked her out of the crowd.

Left: Artist Kenny Scharf with Alexandra Mirzayantz. Right: Kim Cattrall with MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach.

Kenny Scharf’s total takeover-by-pink-and-purple painting of the Paul Kasmin booth was one of the lone bright spots. Allen Ruppersberg’s memorial posters to significant figures in his life at greengrassi was another. And Christine Hill’s Armory Apothecary installation and performance at Ronald Feldman brought quite a few takers to her twenty- and forty-dollar consultations, though I don’t think even the power of her “metaphoric treatments” could heal what ails this trade show anymore. (Even cofounder Matthew Marks jumped ship this year.)

I’ve had satisfying and even pleasurable experiences in galleries and museums of late, so it can’t be that artists and dealers have run out of steam. After making my way through the noisy, rather trashy crowd at MoMA’s afterparty, I tiptoed into the guac-and-chips, wine-tasting preview that Nicole Klagsbrun was holding for Adam McEwen and friends in yet another raw, unheated temporary space in Chelsea. (A recession bonus—plenty of room!) This one was painted white and was empty, save for McEwen’s beautiful and spare installation of fluorescent-light fixtures fitted with machined-graphite tubes and hung from the ceiling on long silvery chains. I see Dia:Beacon in its future. “Graphite is carbon, and our bodies are mostly carbon. It’s the life substance,” McEwen said. Better yet, it looks like art.

Left: Artists Adam McEwen and Sam McEwen. Right: Artist Walead Beshty.

Left: Dealer Massimo De Carlo. Right: Collector Joan Quinn with dealer Marc Foxx.

Left: Standard (Oslo)'s Eivind Furnesvik. Right: Creative Time curator Mark Beasley, artist Mike Nelson, and dealer Stuart Shave. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Dealer Toby Webster with collectors J. K. Brown and Eric Diefenbach. Right: Artist Rob Pruitt.

Left: Dealer Anton Kern. Right: Curator Nathalie Karg.

Left: Artist Tony Oursler. Right: Dealer Cornelia Grassi.

Left: Artist Donald Baechler. Right: Literary agent David Kuhn with artist Leo Villareal and Art Production Fund's Yvonne Force Villareal.

Left: Victoria Miro's Glenn Scott Wright. Right: Collectors Dianne Wallace, Dennis Scholl, and Debra Scholl.

Left: CRG Gallery's Carla Chammas and Glenn McMillan. Right: Dealer Andrew Kreps with Gagosian's Sam Orlofsky

Left: Artists Josh Smith and Erik Parker. Right: Peres Projects's Mary Blair Taylor. (Photo: David Velasco)

Left: Artist Mungo Thomson. Right: White Columns director Matthew Higgs.

Left: Dealer John Connelly. Right: Artists Jacqueline Humphries and Charline von Heyl.

Left: Artist Aura Rosenberg, dealer Carol Greene, and artist John Miller. Right: Artist Anne Collier.

Left: Artist Agathe Snow. Right: Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler with I-20 Gallery's Paul Judelson.

Left: New Museum curator Laura Hoptman. Right: Curator Fernanda Arruda and 303 Gallery's Mari Spirito.

Left: Walker curator Peter Eeley. Right: Judith Keller with Fondation Beyeler director Samuel Keller.

Left: Artist Alyson Shotz. Right: DJ Justin Miller.

Left: Dealer Lorcan O'Neill. Right: Dealer Hugo Nathan and collector Micky Cartin.

Left: Art historian Linda Nochlin. Right: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston director Bill Arning.

Left: Writer Julia Chaplin. Right: 7Eleven Gallery's Genevieve Hudson-Price, Caroline Copley, and Sabrina Blaichman.

Left: Photographer Paul Graham. Right: Collector Christophe de Menil.