Supporting Characters

Linda Yablonsky around the New York fall galas

Left: David Hallberg in Fortuna Desperata. Right: Artist Bridget Riley and curator John Elderfield. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

PEOPLE WHO THINK movie stars and models bring glamour to the art scene have it backwards. The art world is seductive enough without calling in air support.

Witness the weeklong start of the fall gala season in New York. On Sunday, November 1, Francesco Vezzoli kicked off Performa 15 as this year’s Anita Ekberg. Recall that in 2009, the late Italian screen goddess was a silent, sometimes somnolent, witness to Vezzoli’s Pirandellian opener for the performance biennial’s third season.

This time out, the artist followed a gala dinner at the Four Seasons by appearing in the pulpit of Saint Bartholomew’s Church as a silent witness to Fortuna Desperata, his stately collaboration with American Ballet Theatre/Bolshoi star David Hallberg with costumes by Prada design director Fabio Zambernardi. “He likes doing costumes,” Miuccia Prada said. “I don’t.”

During cocktails, Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg, who wore threeASFOUR for the occasion and had chosen the Renaissance as the theme of her biennial’s sixth edition, described her programming strategy as “100 percent risk and 100 percent trust.” Nevertheless, the dinner’s 189 guests totaled a considerably smaller number than attended last year’s plate-throwing extravaganza in Brooklyn. That may have been because ticket prices nearly had doubled, raising around $400,000 for Performa and inspiring the Four Seasons to serve a dinner leached of color and flavor. It sent some diners, including artist Jesper Just and actress-model Dree Hemingway (yes, one of those Hemingways) to the nearest bistro for a burger after the first of the two thirty-minute performances that followed.

Left: Designer and collector Miuccia Prada with Prada design director Fabio Zambernardi. Right: Artist Shirin Neshat and Visionaire editor Cecilia Dean.

By that time, Mrs. Prada and Zambernardi had joined Elton John, k.d. Lang, Laurie Anderson, Julian Schnabel, Jeff Koons, Brice Marden, Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, and many more at a memorial for onetime Artforum and Interview editor Ingrid Sischy at the Museum of Modern Art. No matter. There are plenty of famous faces to go around this town, and Katy Perry, Rachel Feinstein, Victoria Hopper, Inez Van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin, Stacy Engman, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, Toby Devan Lewis, Robert Soros, and an actor portraying artist Ryan Gander as a grizzled, middle-aged man with homemade key chains to sell and sad stories to tell were some of those who filed into the church, only to be faced by a nearly naked Adonis—I mean, Hallberg.

Because he has been sidelined by a foot injury for over a year, and is likely to be absent from the ballet for another, Hallberg’s presence was an invent by itself. The fifteenth-century choreography of the courtship dance didn’t strain his expressive body. It was, Vezzoli had told me, “the movement of seduction before it became Cirque du Soleil.” He did not understate the case.

Monday night, the Jewish Museum lit up for “Unorthodox,” a cross-generational, and truly international, group exhibition curated by Jens Hoffmann and installed, some thought, as if it were an art fair. “I like the vibe,” said collector Marty Eisenberg. “It’s like a great Independent fair. I mean that in a good way,” he added.

Opening-night spectators careened around figurative ceramics by eighty-one-year-old Alice Mackler and, making his art debut, novelist William T. Vollmann, but there were winners everywhere, in every medium, in such dizzying array that it seemed impossible for even the globetrotting Hoffmann to have visited studios on so many continents. “Simple,” he said. “The iPhone camera makes it possible to keep track.”

Left: Artists Philippe Parreno and Liam Gillick with dealer Barbara Gladstone. Right: Jewish Museum chief curator Jens Hoffmann.

Instagram told me that Kim and Kanye were at the CFDA awards dinner, and that Studio Museum director Thelma Golden and artist Ross Bleckner were watching President Obama speak at a performance of Hamilton for a Democratic Party fund-raiser. With forty surrounding blocks closed to traffic until his motorcade passed, I set out on foot to reach Gavin Brown’s house in Harlem in time for the opening of a pop-up show by Rirkrit Tiravanija. (The new location of Brown’s flagship gallery, a few streets away, is still under construction.) Fortunately, it was a lovely evening for a walk.

Tiravanija had scattered tires that he had cast in bronze in Chiang Mai, Thailand, across the first-floor exhibition space, which was now tiled in copper that gleamed in the light from the video projected on a super-large screen at the far end of the room. In the film, the tires catch fire and generate frightening, thunderous sounds as they roll. Upstairs, Tiravanija was serving pork stew to other gallery artists (Joan Jonas, Uri Aran, Jennifer Bornstein), friends, and his dog, Harry, while recalling a political demonstration in Thailand, where citizens set fire to piles of tires.

Meanwhile, the week was only just heating up. On Tuesday night, when Anna Deveare Smith brought a powerful dose of documentary theater to the New York Public Library, MoMA opened “Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015.” This sprawling, extraordinarily un-MoMA-like show marks the series’ thirtieth anniversary with work by nineteen artists of the post-Internet generation. The emphasis here was on the appropriation and dissemination of digital images as zines, sculpture, videos, posters, and, almost as an afterthought, actual photographs. Perhaps the dispersal theme was what compelled first-nighters away from the galleries and into the sculpture garden. Unless, that is, they were escaping the deafening sound of horrible music that MoMA always plays at openings. Does anyone really believe that people in museums at night would rather be at a corporate nightclub?

Left: Dealer David Zwirner. Right: SculptureCenter director Mary Ceruti and artist Carol Bove.

Things were quieter the following evening, when SculptureCenter held its annual gala in the Rainbow Room atop 30 Rock. This was quite a step up, both literally and metaphorically, from the Center’s more informal benefits on the ground near Times Square. “I know!” said collector Jill Kraus. “SculptureCenter… Rainbow Room. Isn’t that an oxymoron?”

Alas, due to a recent makeover, the room is no longer the romantic, Deco palace of yore. Though views of New York from its sixty-fifth-floor windows were breathtaking, its famous, rotating dance floor was obliterated by a patterned gray carpet. “This looks like a Holiday Inn in New Jersey,” said poet John Giorno. “It looks like a Masonic Temple,” said artist Paul Chan. It’s a good bet that neither had ever been in either place. In fact, most of the two hundred or so guests were having their first experience of this landmark. “They kicked me out the last time I tried to get in,” boasted Liam Gillick. On tap to toast honoree Philippe Parreno, he was now properly dressed—with a dark jacket over his black T-shirt. “I don’t know why I love you, but I love you,” he said, in his toast to Parreno, and concluded with a quote from French soccer star Eric Cantona: “Be proud of what you’ve achieved, because a life built on memories alone isn’t much of a life.”

Over the next two days, the galas and auctions held off long enough for the galleries to shore up the memory bank with the mortar of art. Barbara Gladstone filled her Twenty-First Street gallery with a museum’s worth of kinetic sculptures by Jean Tinguely. (“Why not?” she asked.) For her solo debut at Metro Pictures, Camille Henrot delivered several retro-futurist, talking wall-phone sculptures in Martha Stewart colors. Lifting the receivers produced some sixty hours of recorded monologues to dramatize bullying, terror, angst, and grief. “They’re all emergency hotlines,” Henrot said, at least outwardly calm.

To go with her trippy, striped, and flying-curve canvases from the 1980s on display at David Zwirner Gallery, Bridget Riley produced four new ones of black and white triangles on diagonal grids that appear as if they were undulating across the surface. “Do go into the black-and-white room,” said the mischievous doyenne of British Op, just as I was regaining my balance from having done just that. “They feed each other,” she said, as if her paintings only talked among themselves.

Left: Artists Pat Steir and Brice Marden. Right: Artists Joan Jonas and Rirkrit Tiravanija.

There was quite a hubbub at 303 Gallery, where people didn’t just stand around looking at the Mary Heilmann paintings hung, sink-or-swim style, up and down the walls. They sat on the art—that is, on the painted wood, Heilmann club chairs in the middle of the room. “Quite a mob scene, huh?” Heilmann said happily, pushed to a wall by the crowd. “There’s something about Mary,” noted dealer Lisa Spellman, during a boisterous dinner at Lafayette, where Heilmann was touted by 145 of her best friends, including actor-director Joe Mantello, singer Jenni Muldaur, a full copse of artists, and curator Lydia Yee, who is organizing the Heilmann retrospective opening in June at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

Friday night’s openings were up and downtown, east and west. At Sean Kelly, I found Joseph Kosuth aglow in an arcade of what appeared to be every neon text piece he had made since 1965, when the radical conceptualist was first to use that material for art. His post-Minimalist pal Keith Sonnier was busy autographing posters and books at Michele Maccarone, an industrial environment that clarified his latest drawings in neon as seducers of both light and space. And at Matthew Marks, Brice Marden stunned a big-league crowd of artists, museum directors, and collectors by revisiting his early monochromes and adding everything he’s learned about painting since then, including a drippy fringe. A nine-panel green painting was particularly beautiful. “It’s just layers and layers and layers of terre verte,” he said. Just?

Layers and layers of oils from many helping hands make Liza Lou’s woven-bead monochromes look as if they had dark and light stripes. On Saturday morning, she told a group previewing “Liza Lou: Color Field and Solid Gray” at the Neuberger Museum that the beads in each painting were actually all the same gray, white, green, or oxblood. It was the sweat of human labor that made them look like Agnes Martins. “I love her work,” the artist said, in a rare personal appearance on this coast, having returned from ten years of working with thirty Zulu weavers in Durban, South Africa. She needed five hundred volunteers from Purchase, New York, to produce the massive 1,400-square-foot, needlelike carpet of two million glass beads that is the show’s main event. “The bead,” she said, “is an agent of color.”

And the artist is the agent of enlightenment. “I want to play in the shadows,” Mark Bradford told Thelma Golden that afternoon, during a lively conversation that preceded the opening of his new show, “Be Strong Boquan,” at Hauser & Wirth. The title is a line from a searing new black-screen video that Bradford made with a text he wrote after listening to stand-up comedians like Eddie Murphy turn racial, homophobic, and sexist slurs into laugh tracks. “I wanted to know how that happens,” said the onetime hairdresser and disco queen. Asked what would come next, he replied, “Just go back in the studio and turn on the lights.”

Left: Dealer Paula Cooper with MoMA curator Stuart Comer and collector Jill Kraus. Right: Artist Camille Henrot.

The evening was a grab bag of style and events. While dealer Alex Logsdail celebrated his thirtieth birthday in TriBeCa at China Blue, Peter Saul redressed Old Master paintings—Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa and Hyacinthe Rigaud’s portrait of Louis XIV were two—with pointed grotesquerie at Mary Boone in Chelsea. Jim Lambie dropped all kinds of things—painted books, painted potato sacks, painted shoes—at Anton Kern, and followed up his opening by DJing at Highlands, a Scottish bar in the West Village.

Andrew Kreps opened a supercool group exhibition that makes material and conceptual sense of works by such wildly different artists as Lucas Blalock, Jimmy DeSana, Liz Magor, and John Outterbridge. Next door, Kaufmann Repetto was debuting The Guardians, a startling new video by Adrian Paci set in an Albanian Catholic cemetery that itself was left to die by the now-deceased communist regime. Old New York was on tap for the dinner both galleries hosted in the Lillie Langtry Room of Keens Steakhouse. At one time, it must have been the smoking room. The ceiling decor was a frieze of white pipes with handles so long and thin that it felt as if we were inside the rib cage of a whale. “Jonah!” said dealer Mike Egan. “Pinocchio!” Kaufmann exclaimed. Whichever, it was a meat-eaters sort of night.

That was good preparation for “Dash Snow: Freeze Means Run,” the exhibition that Peter Brant opened on Sunday afternoon at his Greenwich, Connecticut estate. It brought, with a couple of hundred scenesters, obvious pleasure to Snow’s grandmother, Christophe de Menil. It also gave Jeffrey Deitch a chance to reminisce about “Nest,” the 2007 all-nighter that Dan Colen pulled with Snow and his family amid hundreds of shredded phone books in the dealer’s Grand Street gallery.

Colen was one among five friends who curated the retrospective, which has content, to quote the signage, “that may be unsuitable for children.” That would be the video on the ceiling of a dark room documenting the performance of volunteers paid to jerk off on the New York Post. The newspapers are also in the show, as are 150 Polaroids that Hanna Liden selected from nine thousand. “I’m exhausted,” she said. Nate Lowman and Blair Hansen did the rest, bringing a clarity to Snow’s anarchic work that wasn’t evident before his 2009 death by overdose.

Left: Artist Liza Lou and Neuberger Museum curator Helene Posner. Right: Studio Museum director Thelma Golden and artist Mark Bradford.

The understated Barbara Gladstone killed it again that afternoon by opening her third exhibition space in Manhattan—the whole of a historic East Sixty-Fourth Street townhouse built for and by the architect Edward Durell Stone—with a show of large-scale drawings by Balthus’s lesser-known brother, Pierre Klossowski. The family resemblance extends to their art, though the women in the latter’s pictures tend to be his own age.

Sunday was not a day of rest. That night, Dia held its fall gala at Artbeam, a two-story warehouse soon to be razed for yet another glass tower to blot out the Chelsea sky. The installation of a Robert Ryman retrospective in the foundation’s West Twenty-Second space was the reason for the shift of venue. That was okay; Ryman was the evening’s honoree. I’m not sure the 450 attendees—or their egos of the many artists among them—would have fit in the other place, anyway.

Dia director Jessica Morgan clearly has been working hard to bring new life to the foundation. (Some guests came from as far away as Seoul and Athens.) After Will Ryman gave a very personal tribute to his father, the droll Roni Horn came on to illuminate the ailing Ryman’s influence by admitting it was difficult to speak about him. “He resists language more powerfully than any artist I know,” she said. “His work makes language unnecessary.”

Left: Collector Peter Brant with Culture Shed director Alex Poots. Right: Dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn with collectors Stewart Resnick and Lynda Resnick, and artist Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, on the other hand, can never say enough. During Monday morning’s private preview of his new “Gazing Ball” paintings at Gagosian’s Twenty-First Street space, he was attentive to press and collectors alike. On the walls were hand-painted (not printed) copies of famous paintings by Manet, Courbet, Picasso, Klimt, and the like—“our cultural DNA,” he said—to which he had attached blue gazing balls on shelves. “It’s all about wanting to participate in a community,” he said.

I believed him. But I was also reminded of something Tony Shafrazi said at Maccarone’s Chinatown loft during her dinner for Sonnier. Speaking of art today, he said, “Either it’s a bull’s-eye or it’s bull-shit!”

And there lies its beauty. You decide.

Left: Artist Keith Sonnier. Right: Artist Shannon Ebner with dealer Francesca Kaufmann and artist Erika Vogt.

Left: Artists Ross Bleckner and Mary Heilmann. Right: Artist Sanford Biggers.

Left: Artist Peter Saul. Right: Dia director Jessica Morgan and Tate Modern curator Andrea Lissoni.

Left: Artist Jesper Just and actress-model Dree Hemingway. Right: Artist Joseph Kosuth.

Left: Art adviser John Connelly and MCA Santa Barbara development director Frederick Janka. Right: Activist writer Grace Dunham and artist K8 Hardy.

Left: Art advisers Alex Marshall and Patricia Marshall. Right: Art historian Noam Elcott and artist Anthony McCall.

Left: Art publicist Capucine Milliot, dealer Antoine Levy-Frebault, and Out of Order editor Dorian Grinspan. Right: Art consultant Amy Cappellazzo and Dia board chair Nathalie de Gunzberg.

Left: Artist Adam Helm with collector Giulia Maramotti. Right: Artist Adam Pendleton and arts lobbyist Nora Halpern.

Left: Artist Dan Colen. Right: Artist Hanna Liden.

Left: Artist Francesco Vezzoli and Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg. Right: Artist Francesco Clemente with choreographer Molissa Fenley.

Left: Artist Jack Pierson. Right: Artist Jeronimo Elespe.

Left: Artist Jim Lambie. Right: Artist Joan Semel.

Left: Artist Korakrit Arunanondchai. Right: Artist Keith Sonnier.

Left: Artist Liza Lou and Neuberger Museum curator Helaine Posner. Right: Artist Philippe Pareeno with dealer Esther Schipper and artist Liam Gillick.

Left: Artist Lucas Blalock. Right: Artist Mika Tajima, Bard CCS director Tom Eccles, and SculptureCenter curator Ruba Katrib.

Left: Artist Tony Oursler. Right: Georgia Horn and artist Roni Horn.

Left: Artists Erik Parker and B. Wurtz. Right: Artist Lee Ufan with Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art deputy director Rayoung Hong and its director RaHee Hong Lee, and artist Kimsooja.

Left: Artists Jack Walls and Chris Perry. Right: ICA Miami director-elect Ellen Salpeter with Jewish Museum director Claudia Gould.

Left: Artists Michael Portnoy and Sanya Kantarovsky. Right: Artists Louise Lawler, Tony Oursler and Haim Steinbach.

Left: Artists Tony Bechara, An-My Lê, and John Pilson. Right: Witte de With director Defne Ayas with MoMA curator Stuart Comer.

Left: Benjamin Godsill & Martin Klosterfelde. Right: Artists Will Ryman, Ethan Ryman, and Cordy Ryman.

Left: Bronx Museum of the Arts director Holly Block with dealers Michele Maccarone and Nicole Klagsbrun. Right: Brooklyn Museum curator Eugenie Tsai with Public Art Fund director Nicholas Baume.

Left: Collector Dillon Cohen and dealer George Newall. Right: Cindy Lew and Whitney Biennial cocurator Christopher Lew.

Left: Collectors Iris Marden and Toby Devan Lewis. Right: Collectors Eleanor and Bobby Cayre.

Left: Collectors J. K. Brown and Eric Diefenbach. Right: Collectors Rebecca and Marty Eisenberg.

Left: Consultant John Connelly and MCA, Santa Barbara development director Frederick Janka. Right: Curator and dealer Blair Hansen.

Left: Curator and adviser Jeffrey Grove and artist Liz Magic Laser. Right: Dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and artist Laurie Simmons.

Left: Curator Ann Goldstein and Walker Art Center curator Pavel Pyś. Right: Collector Robert Soros and Victoria Hopper.

Left: Curator Pati Hertling and Artists Space director Stefan Kalmar. Right: Curator Stacy Engman.

Left: Curator Piper Marshall. Right: Dealer Cooke Maroney.

Left: Dealer Carla Chammas. Right: Photographers Ines van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.

Left: Dealer Paula Cooper with MoMA curator Stuart Comer and collector Jill Kraus. Right: Collector and designer Christophe de Menil.

Left: Dealer Tony Shafrazi with Tommy Cohen. Right: Dia Foundation development director David Morehouse with Dia director Jessica Morgan.

Left: Dealers Pilar Corrias and Silvia Squaldini. Right: Dealers Jeffrey Deitch and Suzanne Geiss.

Left: Flavin Judd. Right: ICA Miami curator Alex Gartenfeld and artists Matt Keegan and Andra Ursuta.

Left: Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum. Right: Dealer Marianne Boesky and collector Abby Hirschhorn.

Left: National Gallery curator James Meyer and collector Connie Caplan. Right: Phillips deputy chair and co-head of contemporary art, Europe, Svetlana Marich.

Left: Performa curator Mark Beasley and artist Ryan Gander. Right: David Hallberg in performance.

Left: Publisher Jonathan Burnham and Whitney Museum chief curator Scott Rothkopf. Right: Writer Mark Magill and artist Mary Heilmann.